Learning how to be

Thoughts on finding your place, after losing your place, straight from my journal.

When reported.ly folded, countless people asked me what I was doing next. The first answer was, “going on a hippie-dippie retreat because I don’t remember how to just be.” That’s still true. I have a few plans now (freelancing, training journalists in Vegas, working with UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Investigations Lab, any idea you might propose to me). It’s still a time of waiting for me. Waiting for my mind to get to the right place, waiting for answers, waiting.

I just got to the retreat. I got lost, I took my time getting there, but here I am and I’ve eaten dinner and unpacked.

It is so quiet that all I can hear is the tinnitus in my ears. The ringing is at once comforting and discomforting. I don’t often hear it. There are always sounds around me — breathing, the water filter, laundry, the dishwasher.

But here, nothing.

I go through each and every cabinet, just to see what is there. I mentally catalogue the tea. At home, I call this “taking stock,” the act of me opening the fridge and cabinets just to see what is there. Here, it’s being nosy. I try to find a light for the meditation room, no light. I grab a flashlight and look through all the meditation CDs. Instead I go back downstairs and chose some strange new age saxophone CD to listen to.

I get my journal, I flip through a book. I get up. I make tea. I sit down. I write one line.

I pace.

I have nothing to do but be and I don’t remember what that is.

I can’t sleep in the next morning. It’s like that now, I either sleep in and try to replace the bad dreams with good, or I wake up and give up on anything else but being awake. I play a game on my phone. It’s how I ignore everything and stop thinking for a bit. I read some news. I stop, because I’m not supposed to be doing that.

I stayed at Spirit Mountain Retreat. A gorgeous place.

I get up. I do some yoga, then sit outside in the garden and stare at a squirrel for 30 minutes. I do not know what to do with myself.

I go back inside, sit down at my laptop and force myself to type, something anything. It’s the first I’ve written in weeks and it’s not very good.

I sit. I try to be.


I am home now. It feels better, like a bit of pressure relieved. I managed to write. I managed to take long ambling walks and not pace so much. No strange images came to form on the back of my eyelids for a bit.

I am reading stories of sexual assault and trying not to think about my own. I am trying to forget my therapist’s counseling to try and confront the thought that I was assaulted repeatedly instead of saying that thing that happened. I hate putting a word to it and here it is, all over my Twitter feed.

I go shopping. I walk through the mall, look at some bags, anything to think about anything but what is crowding my mind.

This is worse than trying to forget war-torn images, because this was my own war, one I’d like to come back from and never speak of again. I understand some veterans. Some things are better left unsaid.

I try to write about it, but true to form, I write about everything but what happened.


It’s his birthday and we are at a show. There is a mosh pit, which I usually avoid in my thirties, but slightly intoxicated, I decide it’s worth a go.

I remember being young, with steel-toed boots and my shirt tucked under my bra, dancing to a band, throwing my head and body into it. I do the same here.

I strive to remember putting everything into one moment, instead of partitioning my brain to do other tasks. I attempt to be. I get pushed, I push back. The music throbs and the crowd moves as one.

A mosh pit is my central understanding of how the world should work. Everyone has their own dance, their one movement to the same song. They intersect, the push against one another, they fall back. Sweat and grime and tears and love all smell like being human. Together. We jump together, but not exactly in time. Someone gets far too into it, they fall, tripping over someone else. Everyone reaches out, stops, and picks them up. Someone pauses because they need to tie their shoe, or they have lost their shirt. Hands go up around them, the area illuminated by an unknown cell phone. They take a moment to breathe, then go back in to the mess.

Mosh pits are the way we should all live — our own dances to the world, but coming together when need be.

I remember this as I dance wildly in my totally inappropriate-for-the-situation dress and sandals. I would have laughed at myself.

I try to be.


I take deep breaths and try to explain what it is like again.

This isn’t PTSD, the images do not reappear, I do not jump or live in fear. I do not relive an incident.

But as I see the pictures again, one more town in Yemen being hurt once again. More crying children, more mummified bodies. I’ve lost the ability to cry about it long ago. I’m not sure I ever did, really.

I try to click away, scroll past, walk away from the screen.

I pull open a meditation app, a nothing voice tells me to close my eyes and clear my mind. But my mind is not clear. It is never clear. It is full of the push to tell the story, the sadness of someone being unheard, the weariness of being.


The emptiness of being.

That is the phrase I wrote over and over again in my journal when I sat at the retreat, staring at a buddha statue, trying to be. I feared a three-day panic attack, but instead I got the emptiness of being. The glass not even half full, but running on “E” and no gas station in sight.

It hurts to be, it is lonely to be.

I have pondered this since trying to learn to be. Maybe it is because I want to do so much. I want to do. Not be. It is empty to be. It is hard to be. But doing, doing is what I know. As much as it is difficult some days, as much as it unnerves people who demand I sit still, I have been moving for so long, the kinetic energy demands more.

I have yet to learn to be.

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