My Thank You Letter. By Ingrid Cohen. *trigger warning. Mention of rape.
This is inspired by a piece written by Jen Pastiloff and is now an exercise in her signature Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human®. Click here to read.
I’d been on retreat with Jen before. She’ll read some of a “Thank you, Fuck you” piece she wrote (it’s brilliant). She’ll walk, as she reads aloud, through the space between the yoga mats where we’ll sit. Most will sit in frozen appreciation of her work while some will continue their own letter she’d already have asked us to write. Her voice, the way her hearing loss affects her annunciation (making her words more pure, almost as if they come directly from her soul), will ring in my head days later, long after the retreat has ended. I’ll be sitting at my desk on Wednesday morning at 10am, striving to be productive at a job I hate, but her voice will play on repeat. The part about thanking the women, the ones whose voices got real high when asking for more salad dressing, will almost scream. You’ll be pulled back to that room. Lindsay Lohan. Organic eggs. Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Normally I wouldn’t write a letter to the good and bad stuff in my life. Especially the bad. I’ve spent the better part of my life numbing out the bad stuff (it doesn’t work). But, when the person asking is Jen Pastiloff you take a leap of faith. You trust her. You want more of what she has. She’s got an aura of amazingness. Anything is possible when she’s around. I hate trying to give her a title. While she’s a teacher, yogi, writer, retreat leader, creator of Manifestation Yoga™ and a host of other things, she does each with such an unorthodox approach. It’s this unorthodoxy that speaks so loudly to her tribe. She manifests, or “Makes Shit Happen” (as she calls it), magic. This petite, yet silently strong, woman with thick dark hair to her lower back, porcelain perfect skin and a contagious laugh, is a magician.
But there we were, in Costa Rica. On retreat. I was sitting on the floor of an open air yoga studio that overlooked the ocean. I could hear the waves. The sun was setting and colored the sky ablaze with a hue I can only call passion. The perfume sweet smell of the ylang ylang tree, nicknamed the true Chanel No. 5, below wafted in. I had to write the letter. Just spoken, her words had already become trapped in my head and were ricocheting around like a lost pinball, but far more prolific.
Thank you for the pineapple (the sweetest and most fresh pineapple I’ve ever tasted). Thank you for the waves, the way they crash and slam and yet are still beautiful. Painfully beautiful. Thank you for the sun that is so strong it soothes my bones. Saturation, penetration.
Thank you, Eric, for raping me. I’m not sure why I’m thankful but I know it made me stronger. Oh, hey, and a fuck you too.
Thank you, Nicki Clement, for asking me, in front of everyone, if I carried diseases at Jackie Gould’s sleep over in 4th grade. It taught me how to cry myself to sleep. Thank you basement full of girls who laughed with her .
Thank you, sobriety. Thank you, alcoholism. Thank you, anorexia. Thank you, depression. Thank you, meds. Thank you, feelings of not wanting to be alive. Thank you, emptiness and worthlessness. Thank you, fear.
And a big thank you to cancer. You were supposed to make me feel like I got a new lease on life after you were slayed, but instead just stole my young adulthood. Thank you for the Reynauds the chemo gave me and thank you for the tattoos from radiation.
Thank you, women, who hold space. Thank you, food, for nourishing more than just my stomach.
Thank you, Emily Wilkensen, for choking on a sandwich crust one rainy Tuesday afternoon during lunch at the Mary E. Finn school in first grade. Thank you for choosing that rainy Tuesday to sit next to me. Thank you for throwing up. Thank you for turning blue. Thank you for needing the ambulance to come and take you to the hospital. Thank you roomful of six and seven year olds who all fell silent. Thank you for giving me a complicated relationship with food. Thank you for giving me the fear of choking. Thank you for making that fear so loud that I didn’t eat solid foods for a year (thank you dad for sneaking me peanut butter when mom wasn’t watching. Why didn’t I consider peanut butter a solid?). Thank you for introducing me to panic attacks that I still get when eating or in a crowded place. Thank you mom for thinking this was just a “phase” from which I’d outgrow. And thank you Mrs. Wolfe for dying that same year and teaching me abandonment.
Paul, thank you. Thank you for comparing me to a bag of chips, a nice treat but not crucial to a meal. Or telling me you want to want to date me but could only offer a friend with benefits package. Thank you, self, for making the choice to accept those crumbs from that table (secretly hoping I’d be offered more).
Thank you for the unnamable itch just out of reach that sent me here.
Thank you, God. Whether I believe in you or not I thank you because who couldn’t be in awe of the miracles that surround me?
Thank you, envy. You’re a bitch but show me where more work is needed.
Thank you, body. I hate you but want to learn to love you. Show me the way home?
Thank you for this moment knowing I’m not appreciating it as much as I will in a week from now.
Thank you, opportunity. I’m gonna take a ride with you.
Thank you, clarity. We’ve only just met but I think we’re going to have a sultry love affair.
Thank you, burdens. You always reveal yourself to be the biggest blessings.
Thank you, U2 and Mary Oliver. You’ve saved my soul many times.
Thank you mistakes, you’ve paved the road.
Thank you for it all.
And so it was. My “Thank you, Fuck you” letter wrote itself on Friday while sitting on the floor of an open air yoga studio in Costa Rica on a Jen Pastiloff retreat.
A professional daydreamer, Ingrid is a dog loving vegan who lives to laugh and connect. When she’s not reading, she’s threatening to write. Coffee or kombucha in hand, Ingrid is happiest when she is appreciating the overlooked beauty of the moment and exploring. She always roots for the underdog. She’s a cancer survivor, sober, recovering perfectionist, and has a really underappreciated love of pun jokes. Ingrid can be reached online at https://www.facebook.com/ingridwrites.
Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, Salon, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Modern Loss, xojane, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen’s leading a weekend retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Seattle (May 17/18) and London July 6. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)