I downsized my horse business, got divorced, moved across the country and started a new life. Then the pandemic hit.
I live in Aspen, Colorado, now—a dreamland of outdoor adventure. The sun shines all winter long, the hiking is magical in summer lushness or packed snow, and I’m remarried now, to the person who made me believe in soul mates. We eloped in the mountains in late September, in our favorite valley of golden aspens.
And amidst all these wonderful things, it’s a strange time to be building a new life in a new place. I haven’t seen my family in a year. A close friend I made soon after arriving here is on COVID sabbatical in Mexico; another friend is stuck at home in Australia, unable to return and teach skiing this season. And in any case, seeing friends who are here isn’t straightforward.
Pandemic life confronts us with loneliness. It also amplifies the dynamics at play in our relationships with ourselves and the others in our home. I count myself lucky to live with someone I dearly love—and that both of us feel that spending time together, in whatever capacity, is a treat. And I also believe that no romantic relationship, no matter how wonderful, can replace the need for close friendships. My lifelong friends are at the core of my world, and it’s been jarring to lose the ease of walking onto an airplane and visiting each other. Zoom helps, but it’s also not the same.
In the realm of relationship with self, my meditation practice has become all the more important. I’ve just started into the two-year Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, two of the teachers who have most inspired and helped me. In mindfulness meditation, the core of the practice is cultivating the capacity to hold whatever arises in loving awareness; to be fully present in this moment, with nonjudgmental, kind attention; to ride the waves of experience without getting swept up in fear and separation. Mindfulness brings us back to our hearts.
Boy has the pandemic given us a chance to practice!
My meditation practice often connects me with the deep peace that is always available inside me, if I know how to access it. And other times my practice brings up strong and difficult emotions. When I pause and get still, feelings and realizations can arise. Sometimes it’s a chance to work through something and release it. Just holding space kindly for our own experience can be powerful. And there are certain practices, like the RAIN practice Tara describes in her book Radical Compassion, that help us transform and soften difficult feelings, in order to move through them.
The meditation heart practices of forgiveness and lovingkindness have also helped me enormously. Healing the difficult experiences that led me to change my life so drastically has been a journey. And the heart practices have been both a comfort and a powerful path of healing. Sometimes we hold against ourselves and others in ways we don’t realize until we go deeply inside and allow ourselves to sit with whatever arises. These practices can’t be forced when we’re healing trauma or other kinds of deep interpersonal pain. But the simple intention to soften my heart, for the sake of my own healing, has brought me toward freedom—the freedom of living without the weight of the past.
And the new adventures of my life have stretched me in all kinds of challenging and rewarding ways. I’d never skied before moving here two winters ago. I’d never even been to a ski town. I was so busy with my riding career, and then later, with recovering from major injuries, that I’d never had a ski vacation. All things ski-town were totally foreign to me. My husband, Brendan, is one of the lead pros in town and got me started from the very beginning—i.e., him skiing backwards holding my hands. Before the shutdown that spring, I skied my first black run, following in the tracks of Brendan’s expertly-chosen line.
Also, I’d never lived at a high altitude, which brings its own array of things to adjust to. First, it was strange to feel out-of-shape hiking. (Of course, then once you do get fit at high altitude you feel like a superhero back at sea level.) Then there are the surprising things, like cooking rice, eg., which takes more liquid, more heat, and more time than the normal-elevation instructions say. And biochemistry-wise, humans’ serotonin and iodine levels are lower up here in the mountains, so there are some specific things it’s wise to do in terms of supplementation and self-care.
I’m learning. And the sunshine, fresh air and outdoor activity are definitely a balm to the psyche. As is being married to a man I can count on to be just deeply kind and loving. It is a gift. Not to be taken for granted, and yet it’s what we all deserve.
I never could have predicted these turns my life would take. It’s an ever-unfolding adventure. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.” This has been true for me in so many ways in recent years. I’ve learned to trust in the unfolding, tune into myself, remain open to possibilities.
Our mountain elopement (photos by Kelsey Brunner):
Scenes from hiking: