Eruptions From My Soul

Posted February 5th, 2016

photo credit: Melissa Mullen PhotographyLast week I wrote about the empty spot I was feeling inside me. The one that was created when my book was released, like a recently vacated womb.

I didn’t plan on writing about that. That post started out as something entirely different.

But then I felt it. The way my writing shifted – first coming from my head, then moving further down inside me, until it was sourced from my heart alone.

Writing that post was like uncorking a bottle. I felt myself exhale deeply, and felt fresh oxygen swirling in my blood. I felt my whole body relax. I felt aligned. Validated. Loved.

That’s what writing does for me. It’s how I live my prayer. 

I heard from so many of you after that post was published. Once again, I realized I’m not alone. It turns out many of you are living – and feeling – similar versions of my story.

You’ve stopped working (which you are clear isn’t “retiring”), and are consciously sitting with the void that the absence of “work” has created.

The kids are grown, and the house is quiet and empty, leaving you wondering who you are now – and what you want next.

A sick child or an ailing parent has called you to take time off from work, and as you wait for test results and navigate the health care system, you find you are lost in thought, taking stock of life and tenderly touching what matters most. 

You’ve just navigated a number of rugged transitions over the course of the last year and are suddenly aware that life is just too, well, quiet – which is foreign and disconcerting given the noise, trauma, and drama you had grown used to.

You just had a baby, which had you pause your busy life and fast-track career, and now you’re questioning everything as a result.

You left a career that you could have resigned yourself to be happy in (had you successfully convinced yourself to stay), and now you find yourself sitting in the empty space that job used to fill – which is weird and wild.

photo credit: @nowmaste_It seems many of us are consciously sitting in empty and open space – space we have designed with a great deal of intention – that now we don’t know how to be in. We are asking ourselves, how, exactly,  do we “do” empty? No one trained us, taught us, or showed us how to be in this place. Hell, most people don’t even talk about this.

But I will. Not because I have the answers (because you know I don’t), but because that’s where I find myself now, and writing is how I figure myself out – how I slow myself down enough to see myself. It’s me, the extrovert, “writing out loud.”

I went to an acupuncture appointment last week for this first time in three years. Not five minutes into the session, his needle found its way into a block in me that felt like it was the size of Madagascar. I literally felt electrocuted by the sensation of the block being removed and all my chi flowing through me once again – like when a great surge of water is released from the dam on the river in rafting season.

This guy is as close as I know to a medicine man, and I go to him because of that. He’ll periodically stop and read me a poem or tell me a story that inevitably is connected to the messages my body is trying to tell me. And so, when this block was removed he stopped and – seemingly out of the blue – asked me if I knew what my virtue was.

“Huh?”

He asked me what my astrological sign was (at least I knew that: Scorpio), and then picked up this book that talked about the virtues of each sign.

It turns out the virtue associated with Scorpio was “patience,” which literally made me burst out loud laughing because that is not something I’ve ever felt I’ve had in my possession.

But then he kept reading aloud, telling me how the shadows of this virtue are “rigidity” and “impatience.”

…and BINGO was his name-o. Those are qualities I knew on a first-name basis.

Lulled by my free flowing chi and2014-11-26 13.09.18_1024 the sound of his voice, I listened until he uttered a phrase from the book that made my breath catch in my chest: “The Plentiful Void.”

My mind conjured up images of rolling fields covered with white snow and how it sometimes blends seamlessly with the horizon. I thought of Maxfield Parish’s Hilltop Farm painting with stark trees set off against winter sunsets at twilight.

Plentiful void… Plentiful void… Plentiful void… 

That one phrase described the empty space I had been intending – sometimes forcing – myself to honor in these days. He paused in his reading and said that it’s only by spending time in the plentiful void that you can bring some light to the darkness.

That was such a gift, that phrase. Because the word “plentiful” held so much more appeal for me than “empty.” It had hope. It was magnetic. More than that, it promised to be deeply nourishing. Like a feast.

And that’s when I remembered: finding the right language to describe what I want helps me to drop down into that desire more fully. It breaks down my resistance. I had been calling it “empty” before, which had me feeling self-conscious and aware of the slow passage of time, anxiously glancing at the clock to see if I was “done yet.” But “plentiful?” I happily lost track of time when I held the void that way. It was like a soul nourishing trough had been placed in front of me, and I was a happy pig.

Nothing had changed, and everything had changed. Just by choosing my words with intention. 

The next day I happened to be talking with a good friend about this space of “not doing” more than what’s absolutely necessary these days – and how I feel a bit gangly and self-conscious in it, like a newborn colt walking on its legs for the first time.

“Do only what erupts from your soul, Lael.”

I swooned a bit when she said that. Because inside that phrase was permission. Permission to honor my body’s wisdom, my deepest knowing, and my instincts. Permission to honor with the added promise of nourishment for my soul.

I was reminded of the client I had been working with earlier that week who, poised to give herself permission to govern her actions by her truest desire, paused and asked (herself more than me), “Am I allowed to do that?”

My response to her was, “Want to find out?”

But I get her question now more deeply, being at that place myself – the intersection of desire and duty. That place of wanting something that feels decadent, delicious and divine – of taking a hot bath in the plentiful void – but worrying that it’s somehow not allowed, like it’s selfish, greedy or overly indulgent.

But the reality is that I am hungry. And that suggestion from my friend felt so luscious to me. I found I just kept saying it aloud, letting it roll around on my tongue like a good piece of dark chocolate. I wanted to savor its sweetness before swallowing it down.

Only say yes to what erupts from my soul.

Over the last week I’ve taken that invitation to heart, and here’s what I’ve noticed is erupting:

MAKE ART

2016-01-24 09.03.58I recently heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk about how important it is to “feed” our creativity, lest it wreak havoc in our lives. She talks about creativity being like a dog, suggesting that if we don’t throw it some sticks to chase, someday we’ll come home and find it has eaten the couch.

That got me thinking about how the book I had just written has been like one of those automatic tennis ball chucker machines you see at racquet clubs, hocking ball after ball for my happy creative dog. And now it was empty. And quiet.

So I pulled out my art journal – the one that I’d forgotten about – and found my way back to doing my art thing – drawing designs and coloring them in with crayons or markers. I lost myself for hours doing this – in a good way. My mind quieted, my heart was happy, and my creative dog settled in for a good chew. The couch remained in one piece.

GIVE FROM THE HEART

2016-01-12 18.15.43This began in earnest when two massive boxes arrived on my doorstep containing forty copies of my book. I actually remember salivating in anticipation of what I was about to do: thank people. My plan was to send a book with a hand-written note to every person that had supported me in writing this book over the past year – editors, photographers, designers, guinea pig readers, comic relievers, ass kickers, body/mind/spirit healers, I believe in you champions, sounding boards… And I did write to all of them, savoring every last bit of that act.

But then something else happened. I found I did other things like surprising someone with a wild flower delivery “just because,” and picking up an extra tub of lotion for the owner of a studio because every time I went to class she complimented me on the scent I was wearing. I made time in my day to send cards to friends and family – to celebrate a birthday, to acknowledge a sick parent or child, or to simply let them know I was thinking of them. I called friends I hadn’t seen in ages and told them I loved them.

It felt so deliciously good – like I was giving back and making heart-felt deposits into a universal system that has given so generously to my life over the past year.

TELL BIRTH STORIES

After the birth of my first child, in those first few weeks when people would come to visit and meet the baby, I found I kept doing the same thing: telling my birth story. People would ask about it, and I would tell the story. Groups of new mo2015-08-24 13.35.09ms would gather at someone’s house and out it would come again, sometimes with new information and insight. Again and again I would caress this story of birth, and now I know why:

Much like an animal will lick her newborn right after birth to get it to breathe on its own, I was rhythmically stroking a major life event with my words, helping me to process something that had transformed me from the inside out.

So, not surprisingly, that desire is something that naturally erupted from my soul after the birth of this book. People asked about it, and I would tell the story – of conceiving it, writing it, having it edited, re-writing it, designing the cover, writing the copy, publishing it, and hearing the response as people started to read it.

And then something curious happened. Much like the dynamic that occurred in the circle of post-partum mothers, I found I was also hungry to hear other’s birth stories. It wasn’t a conscious choice as much as it was a gravitational pull. I started reconnecting with friends I hadn’t seen in years who had gotten divorced, fallen in love, left jobs, started businesses, moved, or lost parents, and I listened as they told their stories of upheaval and transformation.

I’m finding that the simple act sharing of stories has the power to bring connection, perspective, warmth and community to the void, offering solace and sustenance at a time when we’d otherwise feel isolated and alone with our thoughts.

FEED THE SENSES

This one has been interesting and the most surprising eruption.

2016-01-02 18.33.13It began with a desire to unload my body of all the toxins that I had put in and picked up in my body over the course of the last year (you don’t want to even know how many M&Ms I consumed in writing that book…and the caffeine? Oy.)

Our whole family did the Whole30 cleanse beginning on January 1st. How original, right? But when we decided to start the year off like that, it felt like much more than simply a New Year’s resolution. It was more like getting the windex out to give the white board in your office a good scrub down – not just erasing it, but actually cleaning off the ghosts of meetings past. It was truly refreshing – having me feel squeaky clean.

And then other stuff happened, like wanting to use more essential oil, and eating our dinner by the fire every night, and taking hot showers with lavender soap before bed. I started to make concoctions of seasonal tea, discovering the medicinal powers of turmeric root, which I mixed with ginger, cinnamon, lemon juice and cayenne pepper.

It was like all my senses were starting to wake up from a deep slumber in this plentiful void, noticing the colors of the sky, the texture of fabric and the scent of the wind. All of which made me hungry for more. Like a domestic animal returned to the wild.

DANCE FREELY

And finally, this eruption – which was my first, and will always be my favorite of the lot.

When my book first came out, my immediate response was to dance. First it was around my living room with my book, then it was with my kids, and then it grew to wanting to have a big dance party with a bunch of my friends. I envisioned really 2016-01-16 22.33.02loud music and getting sweaty happy with some of my favorite free spirits, playful misfits, and fierce freak-flag wavers. I made a list of forty people, and tested the water by texting some of the people who would be traveling the farthest to join me.

And then I freaked out a little bit. I started to worry that no one would come because of the weather or the fact that I was planning it for a holiday weekend when a lot of people would be heading off to ski. I started to feel vulnerable.

It did, in fact, snow – enough to almost have me cancel it. But a good friend who knows me well insisted I go through with it, reminding me that this was a moment that might never come again. And my husband, good man that he is, reminded me that at the very least, it would be just the two of us dancing together, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

A pile of people ended up rallying to join me and we danced our asses off that night for three hours under a disco ball. Sweaty, wild, loose and fluid, we stomped, strut and shimmied until we were slick and sated. Frankly, I find I don’t want to stop dancing these days, having recently discovered Buti Yoga, which has felt like it’s reintroduced me to my body again.  It’s been the gift that keeps giving.

All of these eruptions happened because something wise in me decided not to get busy. 

All of this happened because I got curious instead of critical, stayed open instead of shutting down, and listened deeply instead of talking over my instincts and honoring the noise of life instead of the quiet of the void. It wasn’t easy at first, I’m not going to lie. But having fully digested the first few spoonfuls of nourishment from that plentiful void, I will leave you with this:

Juicy eruptions continue to keep bubbling from my soul like an endless font of desire I’ve tapped into. And truth be told, I’m not eager for them to stop. And in case it’s not patently obvious, what I’m talking about here with the plentiful void is plugging into and feeding the feminine energy in me – the parts of me (my emotions, my intuition, my spirit, my body) that live deep in the quiet of my soul: my roots. If you want to know why I’m so hungry for that or what I mean by the feminine, I’ll gently point you in the direction of my book, where I offer 38 deeply personal stories that have helped me to figure all that (and indeed, myself) out.

So I think I’ll just stay in this place for a while to see what else I discover. But feel free to join me. The water – and the food – here is mighty fine.

Laying Hands on The Empty Spot

Posted January 28th, 2016

2016-01-12 18.23.31Last week I needed a lifeline. I got one (thankfully) when I reached out to a good friend. Here’s what was going on:

My book, Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer, finally came out on Amazon on December 30th, just getting in under the wire before a new year started.

I say “finally”, because it felt like I had worked and waited an eternity for that moment. I had talked about it, written about it, and eventually grew disenchanted with the whole stale topic, thinking (on my worst days) that the day I was waiting for (“It’s OUT!!!”) would never come. I know in the larger scheme of things that sounds like a gross exaggeration and, admittedly, it is. Books often take years to be born. But I wasn’t operating in the larger scheme last year – I was in my scheme. The one where it felt like an eternity.

But on that sweet night of December 30th, when the last approval had been submitted, the last switch had been thrown, and all the proper fields of information had been filled out, I let out a huge whoop of delight and did a little dance around my house to celebrate.

Elated and prancing about, I told my 13-year-old son that getting that book out of me was an even bigger relief than when his 10 pound body finally slid out of me after six hours of pushing. He kind of winced, mortified, no doubt, by that graphic image, but my whole body broke into a wide grin at that comparison. Because it remembered that sensation and agreed. My body knew what I was talking about.

I was thrilled. Proud. Relieved. And completely and utterly exhausted.

I felt my whole body exhale, as if I had been holding my breath for 16 months and hadn’t realized it. My shoulders started to detach from my earlobes, and the winced-pinched expression on my face started to smooth out a bit, I’m quite sure. Suddenly, there was a taste of sweetness, as if honey and dark chocolate had replaced the lemon and vinegar taste I’d been so used to in my mouth.

Big, long, lush E-X-H-A-L-E. 

But it was also still the holiday season and the beginning of a new year, so there were lots of fresh starts, shiny new intentions and family rituals that bedazzled the turning of the year in our house and my business, like sparkling diamonds glistening on the freshly fallen snow outside.

2016-01-11 08.21.17Texts and emails started to roll in from my friends and clients who had already bought – and were loving – the book I had written. People were posting pictures of my book on Facebook with their babies, mugs of tea and happy, smiling faces next to it.

Smart, accomplished, competent, and discerning women I admired, trusted and respected reached out to thank me for writing what I wrote – telling me that my words and stories had them deep in thought, laughing and crying as they resonated with my experience as a woman, feeling both validated and inspired. One woman even said she was feeling more loving toward herself, which made me weep in gratitude.

2016-01-25 11.42.51Have you ever had one of those moments? When the massive project was completed and met with rave reviews? When the huge event went off without a hitch? When you finally fulfilled the classes and got the degree? When the thing that had consumed you for so long was now behind you – and all that remained was to put away the chairs, sweep up the confetti and turn off the lights on your way out?

Then you know. You know the elation and the deep sense of accomplishment and profound gratitude. You know the huge exhale and the intense feeling of relief, satisfaction, and pride of an effort that was met with success.

And perhaps you might know the void that follows.

Years ago, after the birth of my rather large first baby mentioned above, I went to get a massage. I had gone to this particular woman throughout the entire course of my pregnancy – from the “I think I might be expecting” early days to the “I can’t breathe there’s no room” overdue days – so she had witnessed my body and its changes for a year. On this first massage post-partum, I was feeling a bit tender and lost without that singularity of purpose in my belly – but I didn’t know it then.
2016-01-12 18.18.48All I knew is that I was bone tired, a bit dazed by what had just happened in my body, and stunned by the vast unknown that lay ahead of me. I was also weepy. Very, very, very weepy.

The kind and serene masseuse lay her hands on me, noting that this was the first time in a long time that I was flat on my back. She suggested we might begin with my stomach, seeing that was the source of much activity over the past 10 months. As she put her hands on my belly, which felt mushy and poochy with extra skin, she made a sad face and said,

“Oh… it feels so empty in there now.”

At which point, I burst into sobs. She didn’t know the potency of what she had said – she was young and had not grown a child in her body yet. But her words – raw and uncensored as they were – helped me to name exactly what I was feeling: Grief.

The empty spot in me where something beautiful had been growing.

That’s the image that has been in my mind as I’ve been 2016-01-13 12.51.16traveling about these past three or four weeks since my book was released. The grief for the book that had been my primary focus, my key bearing, and my constant traveling companion for over a year. The sweetness of knowing something beautiful – something I gave life to from inside my body – is now living on its own outside me. And the sadness at having that empty womb – the spot in me that was created by its birth.

It’s a lot to wrap your brain around. 

How do you hold so much gratitude and joy, while also holding a sense of loss? Perhaps you know. Perhaps you’ve been there at the very place I have been standing. Perhaps you know, then, how very easy it is to just get busy.

And that’s exactly what I tried to do in those weeks after the holidays faded and we all got back to the grind of our work weeks and usual routines. I thought* I gave myself some latitude (*thought being the operative word there…) in those first few post-partum weeks, telling myself to be gentle and savor and take my sweet time.

But inside? Inside was a fucking street fight that was getting ugly. A battle between sweet and sour was being waged, and blood was about to be shed.

Marching orders were coming in fast and furious over my wires, like the tick-tick-tick of a Morse Code machine – loud, urgent, and almost indecipherable.

You need to get busy now. 
You need to know where you’re going with all this. 
You need to promote this – get out there and promote this! 
You should go on a book tour!
You should do local book readings!
You should write about your book! 
You need to get out there – hire a PR person! 
Should…! Ought to…! Have to…! Must do…! 
Chop, chop! Tick tock! Time is wasting.
MOVE!!!!

I had responses and answers to all of those commands (“No”, “I don’t want to”, “I don’t feel like it”, “Not now.”), but apparently they weren’t the right ones because the marching orders got louder and just started barking at me in shouty caps. Relentlessly.

2016-01-13 14.06.46My body was giving me such clear messages, but they weren’t jiving with my head. My head was insisting I overrule those messages, but as I started to rest and play and relax more into the expanse of this post-partum time, my body was just feeling so damn good I didn’t want to budge. Even in the face of some really loud voices telling me I was wrong.

And that is why I needed a lifeline. 

I called my friend, a published author herself who, ironically, is now post partum from a baby of the human sort, who has been there, done that, and had come out the other side of it. I told her how I was feeling right and wrong at the same time.

And like the masseuse did that day 13 years ago, my friend gave me the words that helped me touch the empty spot that was actually still very much full inside me.

It was empty from the book that had been living inside me, sure, but now that same spot was quite full from receiving gratitude after its birth.

“The key is digestion. You’re full. Even unacknowledged good stuff will turn to shit if it’s not digested.”

She went on to tell me how “a book is forever” –  a phrase that felt like luscious balm on my soul – and how there was no timeline that needed to be followed, no prescribed steps that needed to be taken. In fact, in a surprising twist, she said she was actually watching me in how I was going about the release of this book, saying that “non-launch launches” are actually the new thing right now (who knew?)

Once I heard this from my friend – the one I trusted, my lifeline for this particular topic – I started to see signs everywhere I looked that were reinforcing that same message. My acupuncturist whom I hadn’t seen in two years felt my pulse and said that my body was incredibly low on resources – specifically my “fluid…which is the home of the feminine energy in you.” I ran out to the car one morning late to work and my car battery had died. My iphone went on the fritz not responding to any of my touches and then just stopped all together. A handful of clients rescheduled, leaving my week feeling expansive and deliciously open.

It was all so clear now. So why did it have to be such a knock-down-drag-out-fight to get me to see that?

I suspect it has something to do with my relationship to “empty spaces”, the void of the unknown, or more specifically, grief. Like a cat in an open room, I freaked out a little with all that openness.

It’s also easier and often preferable to listen to the noise of busy instead of the quiet of empty – I know this from my own experience.

But I also know what’s waiting for me on the other side of that listening:

  • more internal resources
  • more juice for my battery
  • a happier and healthier digestive tract
  • a fully-charged me that’s not on the fritz

So now that I’ve got all that sorted out in my tired brain, the fight in me has remarkably dissipated. I’ve tuned into the quiet urgings inside me, am hot on its trail and am eager to lay hands on it with love.

Thankfully, I’m in good hands. It seems I always was. I just needed a lifeline to point it out.

Catching & Releasing My Shame

Posted November 19th, 2015

2015-06-05 09.04.54I’m going to tell you a story I could easily not tell. It’s a rather ugly story that reveals an unsavory part of my character. But I’ve decided to share it with you because here’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year:

Shame can’t live outside me. 

Holding onto it by keeping it inside me not only sours my joy, limits my expansiveness, and dampens my radiance, it also puts a wedge between me and others. I’ve found this is especially true for women, and have marveled at the degree to which my feelings of judgement are rooted in my feelings of shame. Simply put: if I can catch my own shame about something, I often am able to release my judgement about others that might be triggering it. It just breaks the cycle.

Catching and releasing my shame has become my new thing. 

I talk to enough of you out there that I know I’m not alone. I hear my experience of judgment echoed back to me every day with my clients. So perhaps you know something about the wedge we can conveniently put between ourselves and other women, having us judge each other instead of giving voice to the source of it – a hidden shame, an unrequited longing, a silenced desire.

Most recently I was inspired by Brene Brown when I heard her being interviewed by Elizabeth Gilbert on her podcast, Magic Lessons. In talking about whether or not she believed herself to be creative, she admits that if she had been asked that question even as recently as a year ago, she would have responded, “Oh, isn’t that cute. No, I don’t have time for A.R.T. because I have a J.O.B.”

How refreshing to hear such an accomplished and celebrated woman be so fucking honest about the shameful thoughts that had her secretly judging others – the “creative” people. Hearing her story inspired me to share my own with you. So thank you, Brene.

So here’s my tale of catching my shame in action – lest you think you’re the only one out there that has this experience – and the 10 clues I use to track it down and then release it.

2015-10-27 21.59.34I must start by telling you that this story unfolded for me when I was not in a very good way (this is probably true for most stories of shame – they tend to take root when we’re depleted and down). I was exhausted after a year-long sprint-and-then-wait experience of writing my first book that – for the life of me – didn’t seem to ever end. With every well intentioned query, “is your book out yet?“, I turned a fiery and fierce glare on my weary editor – an unbelievably gracious and talented soul who has been working feverishly day and night in service of me. I felt like a bully, allowing my impatience (will this EVER be done?), insecurity (will people like it?), and fear (what if they don’t…?) turn into toxic vitriol spew.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m finding more shame there. Shame I have since given voice to with her as I’ve dropped the reins and told her to take her time – that I trusted her (and her process) and was just full of my own sour energy that was coming out sideways. [which brings me to a side note: the book will be out when it’s out; I’m thinking it’s soon, but who knows…]

But this isn’t a story about my editor or my impatience in waiting for my book to be released. Nor is it the story of being busy, feeling spread too thin with obligation, activities, events and the general noise of life. It’s also not the story of transition and acclimating to the shorter and colder days of the winter, while grieving the summer. No, all that would be an excuse.

This is the story about shame – plain and simple. And how damn easy and seductive it is to sidle by it, laugh it off, pass it off or onto another unsuspecting person in the form of judgement.

Here’s what happened:

My son was invited to a halloween party at a classmates house. The handwritten invitation came weeks beforehand on an orange square of paper. You could tell it was heartfelt and therefore going to be eagerly anticipated by both the host and her daughter. There were references to coming in costumes and bringing a healthy halloween-themed snack.

I clipped it to our calendar knowing full well my son intended to go and didn’t RSVP until the night before the party. That should have been my first clue (#1. passive aggressive behavior). I could make a million excuses here (and maybe you’re reading this doing it for me?), but I’m not. This is me being honest: Something in me knew what I was doing.

Fast forward three weeks, and I find myself frantically emailing the mom (whom I have never met), falling all over myself with apologies for RSVPing the day of the party, and asking what I could bring. That should have been my second clue (#2 giving my power away to a complete stranger – especially when she wasn’t asking for it).

I drop my son off at the party later that evening, and that’s where the story really gets rich. This lovely woman opens the door and welcomes me into her beautiful home. My jaw literally falls open as I take in the festive and completely immaculate scene before me. It’s like a photo shoot had been set up for Martha Stewart Home or Real Simple: Halloween Edition. The woman that greets me seems calm – serene even – and I begin to be aware of how frenzied and frantic I feel, thinking of my own messy home that was void of anything festive.

As I fully absorb the showcase beauty of her home – the dozen white candles in clear glass pillars on the mantle, the red couch that is both pristine and lusciously inviting (how is that even possible, I wondered), the warm butter yellow walls that were flickering with candlelight – I start telling myself the story that this woman’s home always looks like this.

I start to prattle out loud about the room having “good feng shui”, even though I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about other than some vague recollection that yellow and red are “good” for prosperity. That should have been my third and fourth clues (#3 nervous prattle and #4 me handing over what’s left of my power).

She invites me into the dining room, which I realize is filled with other moms, some of whom I know. I am standing there, empty-handed (I had done as the host suggested and “not worry” about bringing something), and was suddenly aware that I most 2015-10-31 14.51.12likely had bits of green fleecy fuzz stuck in my hair from the Oscar the Grouch costume I had been frantically making earlier that afternoon. I felt like Kramer from Seinfeld – zany, unkempt, marginally tolerated, and just a hair away from losing it. The other moms, as my frantic eyes scanned the room, all seemed to be relaxed, composed and completely at ease, standing around drinking white wine. I silently cursed the fact that I was born a woman yet I detested white wine (why can’t I just be normal like other women?).

As I took all this in, I started to make up other stories about these women  – how they only have ONE child, no large hairy dog that was constantly shedding or drooling, and probably enjoyed spending time on Pinterest thinking of something “halloween-themed” to make. My mind was in over-drive now making up loads of shit in an attempt to make myself feel better: They probably have clean houses and crisp linens, a house cleaner, a trust fund, they don’t work, they don’t feel like they’re hanging on by a thread most days…

That should have been my fifth clue (#5 widespread panic inside me).

I have never seen such elaborate and wildly creative and scary snacks as the spread set Bloody Glass Cupcakebefore us in this butter yellow candlelight-flickering room. They were everywhere. In one corner I saw an artfully displayed platter of cupcakes that had “blood shattered glass” sticking up from the white frosting. I asked the mom who made them how she did it. While she told me about the idea she found on Pinterest (I knew it! Fucking Pinterest!), and how tricky it had been to get the temperature just right on the candy thermometer, I made a self righteous note that she only has one child and no dog (while conveniently ignoring what else I knew: she was a single mom that worked full-time).

That was clue number six arriving in my feeding frenzy of judgement (#6. self righteousness)

I could feel the sweat on my upper lip forming, and how the humidity on that unseasonably warm day was turning my chunky curls into a helmet of frizz.

“I really should go”, I said. What I really wanted to say was “GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”). And there it was: the seventh clue (#7. running away from something I didn’t want to feel) 

And I did. Leave. Quickly.

I went home and walked in our messy home, entering it like I had just narrowly escaped a brush with death. My husband took one look at me and said, “What just happened?” And so I told him, embellishing as I went and peppering it with plenty of “can you believe that shit!?” and “what the fuck, right!?” Finishing my story, I seemingly dismissed the whole experience by shrugging and saying, “who has time for that shit?

A little bit later I texted my sister and told her the story, this time zooming in on the use of the candy thermometer, knowing full well this would set her off because she owned exactly five mismatched pieces of old cutlery – just out of spite. Like the good sister she is, she went off on a tirade, guffawing at the absurdity and laughing in agreement with me. And there was my eighth clue (#8. shopping for validation, aka “leading the witness”)

A couple days later I had an informal gathering for my birthday that began with a brunch in my messy home. The plan was to catch up and reconnect with my friends before heading out to a dance class that was being led by a friend in my honor. As we sat around the living room by the fire catching up, I (once again…) started telling my story – embellishing it even further this time and zooming in on the blood shattered glass in the cupcakes.

I got what I was looking for from my crowd – a bunch of “are you kidding me!?“, lots of shaking heads and rolling eyes, and even a handful of comments intended to demonstrate their loyalty to me by saying, “that stuff makes me crazy, too…” That should have been clue number nine (#9. permission to completely disassociate).

Feeling relieved and lighter by all of our raucous laughter, we started to swap stories about the latest news of our lives. A few of my friends knew I had gone away for my annual birthday retreat and asked me about it. I shared that I had found my “word” (swoon) for the year, and recounted how the practice of finding a word really grounds and guides all of my intentions – personally and professionally- for the coming year. I happened to mention the ritual I do at this retreat of closing out my year by capturing the highlights, memorable experiences, key learnings and accomplishments from the year before turning the page and considering what I want to create for myself next year.

2015-09-13 11.10.04I noticed they had stopped smiling and nodding, and were now looking a bit stunned by me, but I continued on telling them that our entire family chooses a word for the year that we paint on our kitchen wall over the holidays as kind of a New Year’s ritual. Inspired to give them more context, I pulled out our big orange family goal book and explained how we each take time over the holiday to capture our favorite family highlights from the year and also reflect on what we want to create for ourselves for the coming year. I showed them how we each have our own page to play with every year, and how Todd and I also have pages for just us as a couple.

At this point I realized there was complete silence. I looked at my slack-jawed stunned friends and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I admitted aloud to them:

“Holy shit, THIS is my version of blood shattered cupcakes, isn’t it!?” 

They nodded at me and their laughter and suddenly smiling faces revealed to me the shame/judgement game I had been playing with myself. What I had been doing to that woman (I believe it’s called judging…) and her perfectly cleaned and decorated house and festive cupcakes, my friends had been doing to me in that moment – taking in my word wall, goal book, countless intention practices and family rituals.

That was when I got smacked in the side of the head by my tenth clue (#10 seeing the hidden shit underneath the judgement: jealousy, desire, insecurity, fear, vulnerability).

Here’s what I was beginning to see as a result of that experience:

I was feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed by all the clutter in my life – my house, my book, my schedule, our garage, our basement, piles of stuff seemingly everywhere – and was desperate for some order in the chaos.

I was feeling vulnerable about releasing my book in the world and as a result was anticipating feeling judged. There is so much of me and my story in my book, somewhere inside me, I was questioning whether I would still be loved by my friends and family after they read it and “found me out” 

I was jealous of women who seem to “have it together” because I felt like I was literally coming apart at the seams. 

I had been feeling like I was coming up short and lacking everywhere – especially as a mom – and was feeling guilty and selfish for having been so distracted over the past year of my boys’ lives. 

I was feeling insecure because I never quite feel like I fit in with other moms. 

I was ashamed for having trash talked a perfectly lovely woman – and her home, and her party – behind her back. 

That was a tender moment I had in front of my friends – one that nearly brought me to tears when the curtain was pulled back and it finally hit me. One of them, in seeing the bright white lightbulb of awareness glow over my head, said very lovingly, “I’m glad you see that now, Lael.”

But that public reckoning I did with my shame was so damn powerful that I won’t ever forget it. So powerful, in fact, I’m sharing it with you.

Because we all have our own version of blood shattered cupcakes – those things we do in the world that just come naturally to us. Those things we say or create or provide that we take for granted – because they don’t feel like hard work, they just flow from us with ease. They are our gifts. Those things we do that, ultimately, we are admired for being able to do so well.

We ALL have and do things that make other women jealous or insecure. But we probably can’t see them. 

Which really shines a light on the fact that jealously, at its core, is really just a curdled version of longing. When we are jealous, we are actually being inspired.

But don’t take my word for it. I could just be a self-congratulatory bitch. Have a go at it and see for yourself. Notice where you are judging or jealous. Make note of who has you feeling insecure. Pay attention to what makes you want to run for the hills. And then get curious. Dig underneath your initial story a couple – or 10 – layers to get to the good stuff.

I bet you hit pay dirt like I did.

Notes in the wake: After posting this, I forwarded a link to the woman mentioned above – the host of the party I barely knew. I was scared shitless, but knew it was important. It was about integrity for me – like the last vestige of shame was still hanging on because I hadn’t fully owned it with the one person who mattered. The person I had judged. So I wanted to “come out” clean with her – even though I knew she would probably be oblivious to all this going on for me – and apologize. But more importantly, I wanted to thank her. So I did. This morning. 

Within ten minutes of sending her the link, I got the most lovely phone call from her. She thanked me and said how much she admired my courage for sharing it with her. She was gracious and grateful to ME, and with that my heart cracked wide open. She ended her message saying she wants to be my friend and we’ve set a date to go out together. Wow.

More evidence of what can be born from catching and releasing our shame – admiration, gratitude, and an unexpected friendship.

Word Food

Posted October 8th, 2015

2015-10-08 09.17.53I am a huge fan of words. I have often said that my idea of heaven is being alone in a bookstore with no sense of time, just being able to roam endlessly among all those words.

Books are my happy worm holes.

I have been known to spend days – weeks, sometimes months – with my face winced in something akin to physical pain as I search for just the right word to describe an experience I’m having, an event I’m creating, or, most recently, a book I’m writing.

But it’s always so worth it, because when I finally find it – or more aptly feel it land in my bones – it’s such a delicious treat, like warm, dark chocolate mixed with a dollop of honey and a dash of cayenne melting on my tongue.

Words are my ultimate accessory.

I wear them like earrings, stack them like bangles and wrap them around me like the most luxurious pashmina. I’ve never been a fan of gems or jewels – much to my mom’s chagrin who insists to this day that I will eventually love them. Words are my jewels, and I wear them like a priestess.

Upon my death, I would love nothing more than if those whose lives I have touched gift me with their favorite word, writing it in red and kissing it before offering it to the ground with my ashes. Morbid, I guess, but I think about these things.

Words like “fecund”, “luminous” and “effervescent” send electric currents of pleasure through my body. Indeed, I do believe words have the potential to be the ultimate sex toy. And don’t just take my “word” for it…read some poetry or pick up some erotica and try it for yourself.

For many women, the right word has the ability to transport us to the feminine energy in ourselves like a high-speed lane – traffic jams, red lights or construction zones be damned. It’s right up there with nature and movement when it comes portals that help us to plug into our bodies and our truth.

I love fiction, but what really nourishes my soul are the stories women tell about their own lives. The ones that make me weep and laugh and moan. The ones that make me not feel so alone. Or crazy. Those books.

In fact, it was that very gratitude I have felt many times from reading another woman’s story was the inspiration for my own book’s dedication:

For the woman who feels alone. Or crazy. Or both.

2015-09-14 10.59.40Those are the women for whom I wrote Unscripted – the ones who lay awake at night thinking, “Am I nuts…does everyone else have this figured out but me?”

[And for those of you who have asked about the latest ETA on my book’s release…an update: I’m doing a “clean read” of the final manuscript this weekend, and am on track to upload it to CreateSpace on Oct 19…which would hopefully put me on track to release it by Halloween (how perfectly auspicious, right?) So almost there!]

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do over the past year in writing this book out of me, is to intentionally cut myself off from those books that nourish me the most – the stories written for and told by women. Why? Because I had to go down into my own worm hole (so to speak…). I had to tune out all the other voices of women so I could hear just my voice in this noisy world…to create a void for the quiet whisperings of my soul to talk to me.

That was really, really hard. And I can’t tell you how many times over the past year, I’ve picked up and put down books stacked beside my bed written by Amy Poeler, Meggan Watterson, Kitty Cavalier, Amanda Palmer, Sera Beak, Christiane Northrup and Brene Brown with a reverent nod, promising, “someday soon, my tasty morsel…I’ll be back for you.”

And I’m happy to report: That day has come. There are days I never thought it would, but sweet mercy, it’s here! And just in time, too. Right on track – even despite my impatience and fit-throwing foot-stomping.

Having read my own manuscript no less than eight times cover to cover – after having been brought to my knees writing it – and with my last “clean read” in sight, I cannot tell you how excited I am to tuck into someone else’s words and stories other than my own. Honestly. The prospect literally makes me drool and, no, I’m not being overly-dramatic.

2015-10-08 09.19.09Yesterday, while I was waiting for one of my clients to arrive, I literally turned the wheel of my year. I have this framed wheel in my office that represents all the seasons, the elements, months and, of course, words I associate with each season.

Turning that wheel a quarter turn four times a year, helps me to orient myself with the seasons of me, turning my attention and intentions toward the invitations embedded in each season. People have called this framed thing,  “art”, but I’ve always resisted that notion, seeing it as entirely functional. Let’s just say it’s functional art I made.

So yesterday I turned the wheel a quarter so that the fall – September, October, and November – was on the top left, and the winter – December, January, and February – came onto the scene, stage right. I had a moment of grief – for the summer that had passed (it was an insanely good one), and for the year I had spent writing this book (now it would live in print instead of my body).  Turning that wheel yesterday gave myself permission to grieve what has passed and to move into what is becoming.

I went home that night and finally – blessedly! – felt ready to read another woman’s story. Sure, I still did that thing I do – reading the acknowledgments first, checking the front matter for the publisher, reading her bio, making note of how she chose to format her book – but mostly, I allowed myself to be fed by another woman’s story.

And it was so damn nourishing, slaking my parched soul instantly.

2015-10-03 17.20.39The book was literally called The Book of She, and it arrived on my doorstep this past weekend after having pre-ordered it six months ago. I have long since been a fan of Sara Avant Stover’s, so I was delighted to lay my hands on this book that I knew came from the depths of her soul.

A soul sister’s soul.

My eyes landed on a particular phrase as she set the context for what she calls the Heroine’s Journey: “…the feminine teaches most potently through storytelling…

I put the book down and wept. 

The full magnitude of my book – and what I had put in it – started to flow into my heart. I had just spent over a year of my life gathering, writing and weaving together pieces of my story. Many, many pieces. Which means that I had been generating nourishment for the feminine of any woman – or man – who chooses to feast on it.

This was me feeding the collective feminine in us. 

I felt so honored, and bowed my head in gratitude at the gift I had been given to write this book. I bowed to myself (such a new behavior for me) with gratitude for saying yes to that ask. I bowed to the feminine, for patiently waiting for us to get ripe and ready. And finally, I bowed to all those people out there who are courageously giving the feminine a voice and an honored seat at our table so it starts to flow over us in wave after wave, nourishing our tired bodies and worn out spirits.

I felt pride – as if I had brought a really good dish to a pot luck dinner. It turns out my words are food. And my book – the one I hope to put in your hands very soon – was me replenishing some word food from others that had nourished me over the years.

And with that happy and full heart, I tucked into a good book and ate.

Yes, And…

Posted October 2nd, 2015

30330_1498133615858_6145634_nEarlier this summer I walked into a room at the Kripalu retreat center in the Berkshires and thought,

“Oh shit…I don’t belong here.”

One look around at the 108 women that had gathered for the REVEAL immersion weekend – an experience curated and led by Meggan Watterson that invited women to “embody the divine feminine” – and I broke out in a cold sweat, feeling like a fish out of water.

These women all seemed to know each other. They were embracing, talking about “the sisterhood” and exchanging stories about Mama Gena and previous REVEAL experiences. They were dressed in flowing maxi dresses that swooshed softly when they walked. There was lots of flowing hair and red lipstick. They looked graceful, almost feline, folding themselves beautifully into the back-jack chairs arranged in neat rows on the floor.

Sweat ran down my stomach and I’m quite certain my face winced as if I were in pain. I felt so fucking obvious in this crowd with my curls pulled back in a clip and my face bare. I caught a glimpse of myself as I walked by a window wearing my favorite pair of thai fisherman pants and my fitted black yoga tank and felt a weird mixture of pride and self-consciousness. The pride was in my stance of a competitive athlete, the broadness of my shoulders, and the knowledge that I was truly honoring myself by not wearing make-up. The self-consciousness was in my edges, how my heels pounded the ground as I walked determinedly across the floor, and the way I looked more ready to rumble than retreat.

No one noticed me, I’m quite sure. But I felt like an M&M in the middle of a bowl of Skittles.

Photo credit: Anita Dore

I settled into my seat and the panic receded a bit. I reminded myself that I had chosen this experience. In fact, just three days before I had announced to my husband that I was going, insisting, “I can’t explain it, but I feel like I’m supposed to be there.” And so I got myself there. So why was I uncomfortable and sweaty, cursing my instincts?

I knew it was going to be good. I had been following Meggan’s work for years, and in addition to her, there would be two other women I admired revealing their stories: Christiane Northrup and her daughter, my friend, Kate Northrup Watts. In fact, Kate and I had spoken earlier that week about this retreat, and I had grilled her at length on the specifics of the event asking her if she thought my instincts to be a part of it were onto something. And yet I walked in to the retreat and…

I don’t belong here. There was that damn feeling again.

The last time I had that feeling was eleven years ago when I entered a room containing the top 150 leaders of my company at their annual leadership retreat. I had walked into that same room with those same people for many years prior to that, but on that day I was gobsmacked by what I saw – as if for the first time: a sea of white men. At the time I happen to be 9 months pregnant (and due any minute), and I remember looking down and seeing just the tips of my shoes sticking out from underneath my swollen belly.

“Oh. I’m a woman.” And then, “I don’t belong here.”

That awareness marked the beginning of the end of my corporate career, and launched me into what is now my business, SheChanges. You know, the one where I work with women every day to create change for themselves and our world.

So imagine how confounding it was to walk into a room ten years later that was filled to the brim with women and have the same damn reaction I did when I walked into a room of men.

This wasn’t about gender confusion or identifying as a woman. I was clear on that. Nor was it about my ability to relate to men over women or visa versa.

It was about the two distinct energies inside me – the masculine and feminine – and how I was (or wasn’t) honoring them in myself. 

Lael-Making-ChangeWhen I find myself in the company of men, I often feel right at home. That was the case in my childhood as a girl among boys, and followed me into my corporate career as a woman working in a predominately male organization. Being steeped in that world for as long as I did gave me the freedom to feed the masculine energy in myself, super-charging my ambition, honing my directness, and fortifying my confidence and sense of worth. That world has me feel commanding, formidable and an undenaible force for change.

2014-01-28 09.51.16Being in the company of women, I experienced a foreign-yet-familiar sense of my feminine energy. It often begins with a undeniable magnetism that draws me in (even as I resist it) without fully understanding why. Working with primarily women in my business has super-charged my intuitive abilities, cracked open my heart, and plugged me into my body as a homing device for truth. That world has me feel nourished, connected, and purposeful, seeing myself as a powerful instrument of service.

And yet, I haven’t found many places in which both energies are simultaneously welcome and celebrated. While it’s become increasingly en vogue for men to discuss the feminine in themselves, I don’t experience a lot of women talking about their masculine energy. Even engaging women in conversations about the feminine in themselves is challenging and often uncomfortable. I know this having run countless women’s circles and retreats over the past ten years. But lets be honest: Who am I to engage in this conversation when I can’t even walk into the REVEAL immersion without sweating?

Who am I to talk about this?

I am a woman who has had a persistent and unrelenting hunger to find people and a space that embraces – and celebrates – both the masculine and the feminine in a body. I am a woman who stays up at night with a gnawing sensation that I’m onto something important, if only just for me. I am the woman that hears “I thought it was just me” every time I share my story with the women of SheChanges. I am also the woman that women come to when they want to connect with more people like them – so they don’t feel so alone.

Which explains how I became the woman that eventually wrote a book about this. 

But it wasn’t until I wrote the book and was reading the “final” manuscript (insert laughter here for anyone who has ever written a book…) on my front stoop this summer that it finally clicked for me.

I had just gotten back from the REVEAL retreat and was filled with new insights and understanding about the feminine that I never could have gotten had I not sat in a room full of women all weekend experiencing it. Indeed, Meggan Watterson said at the immersion, “I can do this on my own, but when I do it with other women, it’s like a slip ‘n slide…” And it was.

I got the feminine in my bones that weekend. My feminine – how that looks and feels, what that means to me, for me, and how I can continue to access and leverage it in my life. I was able to release my desire to marry the masculine with the feminine inside myself, and instead allow myself to fully focus on and experience the feminine so I could come to know it better. And I did.

On that long trip home from the Berkshires to the coast of Maine I thought about the women I work with and the book I had written. I had one of those (rare) moments of clarity, where I could see that part of the work I do with women is to meet them in their masculine energy – connect with them there and support them in breathing life and love into that side of themselves – and then, when they’re ready, take a stroll with them over to their feminine energy to check it out, sniff around, maybe even try it on for size.

photo credit: Melissa Mullen PhotographyIt really solidified for me when I read an interview in Fast Company with Amy Poehler. In it, she spoke about her book, Yes Please, pointing to the fact that “it all goes back to improv” when discussing her relationship to change.

She described the “Yes, and…” rule of improv and how she has let it bleed into her daily life. As I understand it, this rule means that you have to take what is presented to you as truth, as fact. You have to agree with it (Yes.) Which means that it can never, ever be wrong. You’ve agreed. And then, you can build off of that truth (And…), layering other truths on top of it that might put a different spin on it, maybe even take it it another direction. Yes, And…

I  want this “rule” to apply to how I dance with the masculine and feminine energies that live inside me.

Here’s how that might look:

YES I am a woman, AND…I also have a ton of masculine energy.
YES I can grow a business, AND…I can let a business grow me
YES I am decisive, AND… I change my mind constantly
YES I am extremely competitive, AND… I see my success as connected to others.
YES I do my best thinking with other people, AND… I need a lot of alone time.
YES I am very confident, AND…I’m also vulnerable and full of doubt.
YES I am strong and a fighter, AND…I am easily hurt and emotional.
YES I can push hard to make things happen, AND…I can be with all that’s unknown

Needless to say, I revised the beginning and wrote an entirely new ending to my book after coming home from the Berkshires. I was finding a way to touch what I desired. It wasn’t “balance” (which is impossible) and it wasn’t “having it all” (which is overwhelming). It wasn’t even “integration” (which felt so clinical and academic).

I wanted improv. I wanted to live my life more like a dance between two equally amazing parts of myself. I wanted to acknowledge and honor what was present for me in any circumstance or situation – letting it be true and right and good – while also giving myself the freedom to build off of that experience, shift energies, and expand into another part of myself.

Yes masculine, and…feminine. That’s me. Rinse and repeat.

My book will be available for sale later this month, and if you’d like you can read more about my story then. But here’s what I know about my story now: I wrote this book because of my masculine energy, but I wrote it using my feminine energy.

Had it not been for the audacious (bordering on arrogant) belief that I have something worthy to say, and that my experience would be relevant to more than just me, I would have never written a word. Had I not had the fortitude to put a very public stake in the ground to create some accountability and ask for what I needed to structure that process for myself, my book would have withered on the vine. Had I not said some really hard no’s – disappointing and making myself unavailable to clients, to friends and family, to my business “plan” – I would have never created the space for this one sacred YES. That was my masculine energy at work.

Had it not been for my ability to tap into and listen to the whisperings of my soul in this noisy world, and to value the emotions that bubbled up to my surface, I would have written this book only using my head and it would have felt flat. Had I not allowed myself to feel scared, be overcome by vulnerability, and overwhelmed by the pitch black of the unknown, I would have never gotten to the heart of my story – and turned on a light inside myself. Had I not held this book as a work of art and seen how it is deeply connected to my spirituality, I wouldn’t have accessed the humility I needed to take you with me and see that this is bigger than just me. That was my feminine energy at work.

So dance with me, will you? Or just meet me at the improv.

Life In The Arena

Posted September 25th, 2015

Photo credit: Melissa Mullen PhotographyMy son and I sat on the couch last night and looked at the proof for the cover of my book. He nodded, and then got really quiet. I asked him why.

“I’m afraid you’re going to get bullied.”

I was speechless. His one comment touched on two raw nerves of mine: 1) the intense vulnerability I am feeling in releasing this book into the world and 2) my sadness that he is growing up in a world that has kids fearing the likely reality – not just for themselves, but for their parents – of being bullied.

I don’t remember being afraid for my parents.

And he’s right. I am terrified. Even as I move forward. Because it is a reality I face. I support my clients in facing down that fear daily in my work, and with this latest creative endeavor of mine, I know that feeling all too well in my own bones.

Here’s the likely reality:

Someone will think what I’ve written is a crock of shit, a load of bunk, or pointless drivel

Someone will call me an entitled white bitch, an angry feminist, or a self-absorbed narcissist

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechangesSomeone will take offense to what I’ve written and will reciprocate by offending me

I’ll be called stupid, foolish, delusional or a whack job

Someone will say that buying my book is a waste of good money or reading it is a waste of valuable time

Someone will find a typo or a grammatical error on page 46 (to name just one) and will use it as evidence of my stupidity

Someone will say they are disappointed by my book…that they expected it to be better, more, different

Someone will feel the need to inform me of all the nasty and mean-spirited things being said about me that I might have missed

Some of these people will be well-intentioned, but many will not. Because sadly, that is the reality of the world we face. Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk touched on this, pointing out that we have made public shaming a blood sport in our society.

I’m not being dramatic. I’m being realistic. Even as I move forward.

When I think of “blood sport”, I think of gladiators and how they entered the arena knowing there was a strong likelihood they would die. They entered the arena with the intention of fighting for their life in front of a crowd that was hungry for blood to be spilled. I remember a similar sensation when I went to a monster truck rally with my sister, feeling an embarrassingly strong desire for some horrific crash to happen. Blood.

Part of me knows it is in our nature as humans to be drawn to death – we do it every day when we slow down at the scene of an accident: it’s called rubber-necking. But social media has taken this sometimes event and turned it into an everyday occurrence. It’s the new normal.

Brene Brown’s TED talk revealed her own experience with this phenomenon when she first sought to engage us with topics like shame, humiliation and vulnerability. I saw her speak recently to a sold out audience for her latest book tour, Rising Strong. She shared the story that helped me finally get off my ass over a year ago and start to write my book that was inside me.

Her story was about sitting in bed one morning in the weeks after releasing one of her books, and reading – even though she promised herself she wouldn’t do it – the scathing comments on Amazon. She was called fat and ugly and other horrific hurtful things.

It broke her heart, and damn near broke her spirit.

2015-09-25 10.26.30And then, she stumbled upon a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that helped her to see her own bravery – for having the courage to step into the arena and get messy, maybe even fail.

In that moment, she decided she would only take feedback from those who were also in the arena – those brave souls out there with her that were also taking risks, doing something that scared the shit out of them, and doing so publicly – agreeing to have their endeavors (good, bad or ugly) be seen by the masses, and consenting to be vulnerable.

Hearing her story was the catalyst for me staying yes to this book – for me going into the bowels of the arena, taking the creaky elevator up, and stepping out in the bright light, knowing there are most likely lions lurking and ready to pounce.

I want to be one of those brave people – like Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games, when she first arrives in the arena with the other tributes, many of whom become allies.

Except I’m not going to engage in a battle. I’m not going fight in the arena – I’ve done that, been there, bought the t-shirt. And I’m tired. It’s an exhausting strategy.

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechangesI’ve decided I’m simply going to be present in the arena – to stand on my patch of dirt and to live my life as a form of prayer. To burn with an intention so bright, I am luminous and able to be seen clearly by others.

A Living Prayer. I write about this in my book, but what I essentially mean by that statement is that I want to live life with the intention – for me, for women, for us all – to be free. To be who we are without all the apologies, explanations, justifications, qualifications, and ramifications.

Because I want more people in the arena. I want a crowd. A village. A party. A revolution.

I want the arena to be where it’s at, and I want the stands for spectators to feel barren and desolate…unappealing to the masses.

So I’m being very public with my experience of writing this book – which includes my process of entering the arena. Brene Brown (and Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Glennon Doyle Melton, Anne Lamott, Danielle LaPorte, Tama Kieves, Christiane Northrup…as so many more) did it for me, so I’m paying it forward.

If you’ve found your way to SheChanges and you’ve stumbled upon this – and read this far – I’m going to take a wild guess that you are poised to enter the arena in some capacity.

So for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Shame doesn’t help
Trying to talk myself out of my fear by telling myself I have no reason to feel it? That is just piling shame on top of fear – a toxic stew for the soul. And yet it’s so seductive, it lures you in without even realizing it, like sirens on the rocks. Here’s how that looks: just this morning, I stumbled upon an interview with Aberash Bekele, a Ethiopian woman who was imprisoned at the age of 14 for three years for killing her abuctor-cum-husband, only to be released, exiled from her country and family, having to go silent about her experience for fear of her life being taken. THAT woman has right to be afraid, not me – the western white woman with advanced degrees and a life of privilege. What right do I have to be afraid? Truth? Absolutely – a solid case. Helpful? Not in the least. Shame silences soul whispers and snuffs out desire. It tells us we are not worthy and have no right to feel what we feel or want what we want. There are plenty of people who will do it for you, and we have no control over that. But what I’m learning is how to catch myself when I am actively participating in my own shame.

Naming and feeling your fear feels counter-intuitive, but it greases the skids and helps you move forward
Wanting something with your whole heart means you run the risk of getting heartbroken. It just does. I sat with a client yesterday who was poised to go after her dream with her whole heart, and had hired me to hold her to that intention. We talked about how “scared” and “uncomfortable” would be her new metrics of success. When we started to drill down to specifics and brass tacks, I saw what I often see in my clients (and have felt in my own bones): paralysis. Fear moves into terror, which has us want to hold perfectly still – not breathing, not moving a muscle, hoping the feeling will recede. But it doesn’t go away. It lingers, and we soon find ourselves stuck and lacking oxygen. This was the case with my client yesterday and when I paused at that moment and asked what she was feeling, she burst into sobs and was unable to speak. What we touched was her fear: what if I do this and I fail? By touching it, we honored it – we made it right, we allowed that fear to come into the light of day and have an audience with us. Which allowed the death grip to be loosened, the breath to return, and the body to relax and feel safe again.

Hang around with brave people
This one is tricky to navigate. What I’m talking about is not the people who necessarily comfort you, but those who inspire you to come out from behind yourself (into the arena). Many times they are in the arena themselves. But more often than not, they are the people that don’t see you in harms way or in danger – they see you on an adventure or a mission. They don’t soothe as much as they agitate, like that cycle in the washer that gets out the stubborn stains. In the coaching world, we call this technique “calling forth” someone – locking eyes, saying “I see you”, and standing fiercely beside them in the face of fear (or doubt, anxiety, the unknown, obstacles…) Brave people are the ones that see life as an adventure to be lived. Brave people have fallen down and would do it again in a heartbeat. Brave people know how to “feed your strengths…pet the tigers…and don’t worry about the amoebas”, as Tama Kieves writes about in This Time I Dance. Brave people love you too much to have you stay where you are. Find them.

Shake it off…literally
Rochelle Schieck, founder of Qoya (although she’s quick to admit Qoya founded her) taught me something so valuable when I attended one of her dance experiences this past summer at Meggan Watterson’s REVEAL immersion at Kripalu. Her premise is that when women dance, they remember they are wise, wild, and free. At some point during this guided dance experience, she tells a story about a gazelle being chased by a lion. She points us back to our animal instincts, when she shares that after the gazelle is out of harms way it begins to shake. All over. Not because it’s afraid, but because it is systematically inviting the fear to exit its body, one appendage at a time. So she has women do that – shaking hands, hips, butts, heads, feet – showing us how the earth is able to receive that fear from us and use it as compost. The result? More lightness, heat, and vitality. Try it. Shake one hand really hard for ten seconds or so, and then stop and hold it up next to your other hand. Notice a difference. Yea. So if you’re feeling scared, nervous, anxious, overwhelmed, overcome: shake.

Ask for what you need
And know that this will change, sometimes daily. This is often the hardest bit for women, because asking for what we need takes us into the realm of feeling selfish, guilty or needy (all variations of the shame theme above). Having navigated this over the last year, I found the muscle I’ve needed to strengthen the most was providing specific direction to those in my life on how I needed them to be with me. For instance, I would tell my husband and sons that I was in a deeply creative hole, and so if I seemed overly distracted or preoccupied, I need them to understand it was because I wasn’t really here in this realm, but was far, far away – deep inside myself. In another example, I told a group of women I meet with regularly that I just needed to give voice to my shame so that it could be witnessed by someone outside myself, asking them to resist the urge to rescue, fix or soothe me in that moment.  What this has required of me is a degree vigilance and self-awareness I didn’t know I possessed. But when I was able to connect my needs to the service I was seeking to honor by writing this book, I was somehow able to become a better wing woman for myself.

Figure it out as you go
The phrase “I don’t know” has become a familiar traveling companion over the past twelve months. In fact, not only am I saying that phrase with more frequency, but I’m also believing it. I never thought I’d get to that point, but it speaks volumes to my relationship to the unknown and the degree to which I’ve had to acclimate to feeling uncomfortable, exposed, and vulnerable. Because the reality is, as my friend Kate has been known to say, “none of us know what the fuck we’re doing.”  I have taken such solace from that over the past year. It’s what has helped me not feel so alone. I used to look at accomplished women and tell myself a story about how confident, supported and fearless they must feel. Then I heard Kate’s mother, Christiane Northrup speak in front of a group of women this summer about how being at the edge is always lonely. Always. With tears in her eyes and a heart full of gratitude, she shattered my perception of her life – having me see that just because she has written countless books, done PBS specials and been interviewed on multiple occasions by Oprah, she was no less impervious to fear and vulnerability than I am. Fear, it seems, is a constant companion at the edge – and in the arena. Necessity is the mother of invention. Feeling fear (and doubt and insecurity) is an prerequisite to figuring it out.

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechanges

So I will not be engaging in a battle in the arena. I will be living my prayer and inviting you to do the same.

I will be thinking about the wise friend of mine who told me that my job was to throw my rocks into the water – and to stop expecting to see all the ripples it creates.

“Just keep throwing rocks, Lael.” 

I will be thinking about the woman I will most likely never hear from or read about. The one who picks up my book in the middle of the night, relates to something I’ve written, and doesn’t feel so alone as a result.

I’ll be thinking about her.

She will have made my trip into the arena worth every moment.

How Big Your Brave Is

Posted July 30th, 2015

2015-07-24 13.49.26Last week I played hookie with my two sons. We’d been planning it all week, so technically that might disqualify us from the official “hookie” category – you know the one that feels deliciously deviant, boldly spontaneous and wildly out of the ordinary. But still, we called it hookie.

Our destination? Canobie Lake Park, an old school amusement park in New Hampshire that has some new tricks up its sleeve. I’m pretty sure the last time I was there I was a hungover teenager blowing off some steam from the stressful “work” of being a counselor at an overnight camp.

My boys, ages 8 and 12, hatched their plan of attack all week, measuring themselves to make sure my littlest would qualify for the “real” rides, printing out a map of the park, plotting out the best strategies to hit all the rides, and feverishly consulting YouTube videos and reading reviews of the park.

Friday morning, we packed up some sandwiches, piled into the car loaded for bear and feeling fully equipped to tackle any challenge thrown our way.

You know where this is going, right?

One look on my eldest son when we walked into the park told me there was one thing we couldn’t prepare for enough: FEAR.

2015-07-24 13.49.35And there it was – Untamed -the hat-hanger of a ride the park boasted about on its website and glossy brochure. It was all gleaming white steel, rising up to create a stark and cold menacing profile against a blue sky. The three of us stared straight up at it, hearing the screams of terror raining down upon us from the eight brave souls who were being carried on their way up – straight up – to uncertain doom. We watched, entranced, as the faces of those eight terrified people gradually came into view, and then faced us directly as they plummeted back down to earth, and then whizzed by on their way to make a full loop.

When it passed us and there was a lull in the action, both of my sons looked at me. I’m fairly certain I was grinning manically, having grown up at Great Adventure in New Jersey and realizing my kids were finally at the age where we could hit the big league rides. In my mind, I was planning road trips to all the big parks I knew.

“I think we’re going to need some courage. Let’s go get a slushy” my eldest son said.  

As much as we had planned for this trip, studied the rides, and rallied ourselves senseless, nothing could truly prepare us for the actual fear of getting in line for this ride.

Watching my sons sip their hideously red and neon green slushies, it occurred to me: you can’t logically reason with fear. Especially while you stand safely on the ground looking at it outside yourself. You’ll just go nowhere and stay put. Transfixed. You have to feel fear and let it move through you, like the thunderstorm we would see move through the sky later that day in the park.

Fear is not something you think. It’s something you feel.

Which is not to say that our thoughts can’t create  – or compound – our fears. They can. But if we want to move beyond the fear? It’s gotta be felt.

And that’s what my eldest son decided by the time he got to the bottom of his slushy. He stood up and said in an official-like tone “let’s go”, and we marched ourselves over to get in line.

“The hardest part is just getting in the line” I heard myself say to him.

What a crock of shit that was coming from me at that moment in time, and I knew it. Just days before I had received my manuscript back from my editor, having waited for its return to my wringing hands since I sent it to her in mid-April. So conceivably, I had been standing in the fucking “line” since deciding to write this book last summer (give or take ten years…), and it wasn’t getting any easier. It was, in fact, getting harder. I wasn’t feeling any less fear. I was actually feeling even more afraid. And why?

Because shit’s getting real.

That phrase is a favorite of my friend Kate, and as a published author herself, she knows only too well the hot coals I have walked over to get to this point of having a finished manuscript.

2015-07-24 13.50.28And that is exactly the look I saw on my eldest son’s face when we took our “before” picture as we were standing in line. He wasn’t feeling any less fear. It was growing bigger with every step closer to our turn to get on Untamed.

But we stayed in line, moving up little by little, getting closer and closer to the pathetically small cage we would be strapped into with five other strangers. And why?

Because we wanted to be that brave. We wanted to be those people that road that ride.

As we made it to the front of the line and we strapped ourselves in and pulled down on the heavy shoulder bars, I thought of how scared I was to do the final edits and release my book in the world. To release me into the world in a much bigger and more public way. I thought of how vulnerable I felt and how grossly unprepared I was to deal with whatever might come my way. And what was that exactly? I didn’t know, but as I sat there strapped in that cage, it felt like it would be bad.

So bad I could die.

And then we were moving, gliding around the final corner in front of the sympathetic and worried eyes of the line members we had once been. Allies who also said yes to the near-death experience. Fellow fear-feelers. Our cage tilted back ninety degrees and suddenly we were on our backs, looking straight up at the sky, with only a glimpse of the rails appearing just over our toes. I started screaming- chanting, really – at the top of my lungs:

Brave! Brave! Brave! Brave! Brave! Brave!…

I thought back to all those questions I hadn’t been able to eloquently (or even adequately) answer: “So what’s your book about?” And how my mouth had this habit of popping open with a look of confusion and almost-pain passing over my face, before I snapped my mouth shut again. I was becoming a venus fly trap, snapping myself shut on the unsuspecting fingers of the curious. Beating myself up for missing yet another opportunity to speak about my book in any form or fashion.

That experience happened to me earlier in the week, when the woman who will be writing in my office during my August break came by to get the key. A writer herself, she was curious to hear about my book and where I was in the process. Again, I did it. Open, sign, snap shut. The words bound up in me, constipated by the fear I wasn’t fully feeling. Fear I was trying to think my way through. Fear I was trying to negotiate with, discount, or even 2015-07-24 13.49.38dismiss. Fear I didn’t want to feel.

What if it sucks?
What if I’ve lost my mind and people find out?
What if no one likes it?
What if I’m fucking stupid?
What if I’m too “out there”?
What if I’ve got it all wrong?
What if I’ve just wasted all that time and money?
What if…
What if…
What if…

I’ll never forget what this woman writer said to me when she saw my mouth snap shut that day. She looked at me with these kind eyes and said, as only one writer can to another: “The words will come. They will. You won’t always be here.” And she was right. They will come – and had come. It was the fear I was wresting with and resisting, not the words. And she knew it. Because she had been there. In the line.

On that day we got Untamed, and conquered our fear of that roller coaster, I thought back on how the hardest part was the build up, the anticipation, the slllllloooowwww moving time just before the sudden drop of action. The release from the top was easy compared to the climbing up. We surrendered at the top and conceded the fight to gravity, but we fought tooth and nail on the way up. Even as we were strapped in and ready.

And that’s all natural. It’s part of the process and ultimately didn’t get in the way of our ride.

2015-07-24 14.06.57After our first (of many) ride on Untamed, we took an “after” picture and talked about the difference we saw. We talked about the joy we felt at having surmounted – and survived! – our fear. We strutted around, chests puffed out with pride, knowing we were one of the brave people – you know, the untamed people. We even bought stickers with bear claw slashes on them to show that we were, in fact, the real deal.

As I head out for the month of August, I will be spending the first two weeks finalizing the edits to my book, and the second two weeks hanging out with my family on vacation. The second part comes naturally to me. But riding Untamed helped me to see how I want to ride through the first part – the book part.

I want to focus my sights more on how the after-party will feel, like it did with my boys after our first ride. I want to say out loud  BRAVE!BRAVE!BRAVE! whenever I feel like I’m rising to new heights and scared shitless I might fall to my death. I want to look up to the sky and see how close I am to the top of the rails. So very close. Just a moment away from the exhale and the release that comes with surrendering to gravity.

But most of all I want to remember the other people in the line with me. The ones that have gone on this ride before and the ones that will go after me. The writers who have written books and have had the courage to cast them out in the world for others to read. The client of mine who is following the calling of her art to the outer reaches of what even she imagined. The woman who called me today from the corporate conference room, and said through her tears, “I’m calling you because I know in my bones it’s time to leave but I have no idea what comes next.” There are so many of us in the line, and yet its so easy to forget – and to feel alone.

The ride? Untamed. My book? Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer.

They’re not that different. And as I said to the boys that day in the park, “I’ve never met a ride I wouldn’t try at least once.”

I want my brave to be that big.

So this month, as I make my edits, I’ll be feeling my fear. And I’ll also telling myself to “say what you want to say, and let the words fall out…honestly.” I’ll be back in September and hope to post my own “after” picture here as well as announce the release date of my book this fall. I am so ready for the after-parties to begin.

 

Food For Thought: Your Worth

Posted June 10th, 2015

2015-06-03 14.47.09This is the latest in a video series I’m calling “Food for Thought”, where I explore a topic that seems to be really present and relevant among the women I know – which includes me.

Since posting this video on my YouTube Channel last week and hearing how it’s resonated with women in the SheChanges community, it seems like it’s a timely topic – one that is collectively being chewed on by women.

Rock on. For all you’re worth.

My Next New Thing: Food For Thought

Posted June 3rd, 2015

2015-06-03 14.46.09I am always so grateful when a period of intense introspection is rewarded by a sudden burst of inspiration.

Argh…BOOM! Ahhhhh…. YES!

It so good to get to the other side after walking over hot coals (which to be clear, means having myself sit still, “do” nothing, blow shit off, let the house look like a bomb went off in it, make space, get silent, and go inward…) Good times, indeed, let me tell ya. But so worth it.

That was the case for me earlier this week. When I got clear (again) on why I’m here, what that means to me now, and why it matters. But most importantly, it had me arrive at the doorstep of what comes next.

Here is the back story on my “what comes next” moment with myself and what I intend to do about it.

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Posted May 19th, 2015

2015-05-15 13.26.05I’ve never been a huge fan of Tom Petty, but maybe he had a point with this one…because in my book – and from what I see daily in  my clients’ worlds – the waiting IS most definitely the hardest part.

You know what I’m talking about, right? You’ve made the ask. You’ve set the intention. You’ve said yes to the calling.You’ve cracked yourself – your life – wide open. You’ve raised your hand and have said you’re ready. You’ve made the space, done the work, talked the talk and walked the walk. And then you pause, listen and look for a sign, a signal, a crumb of clarity or assurance that your courage will be rewarded – hoping you have finally arrived at that moment when the fruits of your labor finally ripen and drop effortlessly from the tree.

Inside, your mind is full of noise. But outside you only hear only crickets.

So you fill the void with some of your own assurances, making references to Noah building an arc when there is no flood, Henry Ford building a car when all people want are horses, or Kevin Costner building that crazy baseball field in the middle of nowhere. Because, like me, these are your people and they remind you you’re not alone. We are the believers. The faith-holders. The leap-and-the-cliff will appear people. And we want our fucking fruit. Preferably sooner than later.

But you know what no one talks about? The waiting. And how fucking messy it is.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve been navigating the month between sending my editor my finished manuscript and getting it back to make revisions. As I’ve listened to those fucking crickets, I realized I made dreadful mistake. When I printed and whole-punched and lovingly fit those 400 pages into a very funky three-ring binder and artfully wrapped up the bundle in a luscious piece of red fabric before sealing it up and mailing it to my editor to NYC, do you know what I did on purpose by accident?

I put all my power in that box. And mailed it to my editor. Oops.

Weeks later, as I came back from a blissfully unplugged family vacation I realized my mistake. I felt my face pinched and the constriction of worry set in. Even though I had just come back from an awesome vacation and felt rested, I could feel myself holding my breath – bracing for impact. This is what waiting without power feels like to me – pacing back and forth like a caged lion, seeing the juicy steak waiting for me on the other side of the bars, and telling myself I have no control. Reprimanding myself for not being more patient, relaxed and comfortable. “Shh!”, I said, “stop that!”

Which, of course, threw me into a fit of epic proportions. 

2015-05-13 19.50.11Look no further than the title page of my book, and you’ll see evidence of my thrashing about. Not convincing enough? Check out the state of my closet. Complete and utter mayhem. Shit strewn everywhere. I could see and feel it happening with each new piece of clothing thrown on the floor or crumpled on a shelf, even joking with my husband, “if you want to know what the inside of my head looks like, look no further than our closet.” But wait there’s more! Check out my basement and the chaos that lives within that fetid hole in the ground. Ask me how many times I’ve talked about purging out this mess of nasty and how many weekends I’ve put it on our list to tackle. Honestly, I feel like that bee in Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie, flying into the pane of glass in the window again and again, saying “THIS TIME! THIS TIME! THIS TIME!”

All that’s gotten me is a sore head – and more mess. Just out of spite.

2015-05-13 19.48.55I know I’m not alone in this fit-throwing-while-cricket-listening behavior. Ask any of my clients and they will tell you similar versions of the same experience – how the state of their basements and closets (add garages in there too, if you want) speak volumes about the state of their mind. Because, like me, they know this is an outward manifestation of their inward state. They will roll their eyes, nod their heads with understanding, and talk about their own hot messes they’ve let build up in their time of transition.

It’s not easy. It’s not fun. And sure, it’s often embarrassing (especially when posting pictures of it for the world to see…) But there are some surprising riches to be mined here if you’re willing to hang with the mess of the waiting thrash. Having recently navigated a particular thorny patch of it recently, here’s what I’ve come to appreciate about waiting:

It has you take stock – taking back what’s yours, and giving back what’s not.
Take my power, for instance. My editor didn’t ask for that to be sent – I’m sure she’s got enough of her own. But in writing my book, I had expanded myself in such a way that I was stepping into a more powerful version of myself – without fully realizing it. All I knew is that I was scared shitless and feeling vulnerable. So it makes sense that I tried to ship some of it to someone else for safe-keeping. Except she didn’t ask for it – and it was mine to keep. It wasn’t something that I’d borrowed and needed to give back, it was something I had tapped into in myself – like a deeper reservoir of power I didn’t know I had. Once I recognized this – saw what I had done – I took it back and began the process of acclimating to that expanded version of me. The same could be said of giving back stories you’ve been told about yourself, outdated goals, someone else’s dreams for you, beliefs that aren’t yours. Those can be packed up in the moments of waiting and sent back to whom they belong.

It’s liberating.
Have you ever put down something you had been carrying that you hadn’t realized was weighty – like a unwieldy bag or a stack of books under your arm? What about an expectation? Ever felt the relief of putting down a particularly heavy one of those? That’s what I mean by liberating. It inevitably lightens your load, buoys you up, and puts a spring in your step as a result. In the wildest of times, it also can leave you remarkably uninhabited, having your “give a shit meter” go way down as you find you start to care less about the things that don’t really matter, and give them up in favor of the things that do matter – like family, play, and presence.

It can be deeply nourishing.
When I find myself throwing a fit about something and have the ability to ask what I need in that moment, I inevitably find it’s something that is well within my control to give myself – like love, affirmation, permission, compassion and latitude. I marvel sometimes how this list, for me, goes on and on at times – approval, respect, acknowledgement, space to play, quiet time to connect, validation, encouragement to feel my feelings or authorization to cast out a half-baked plan, trusting I will figure it out as I go… In that way, these “hard” times are actually a boon for me, plugging me into resources I didn’t realize were within my power to supply.

It inspire others.
This is the one a lot of people miss. It’s also the one that made me write this deeply personal post and share not-so-flattering pictures. When people show themselves, when they have the courage to be publicly vulnerable – to share the real, raw and honest underbelly of their human experience – it has the power to connect us all. Our experiences and situations maybe be different, but the emotion of vulnerability is universally known and felt. It’s why its so hard to share at that level. But think of how refreshing it is when people do. You don’t see that very often posted on Facebook, but when you do, people rise up and connect as a result. Often all it takes is one. This post is my turn to be that one.

Being messy is ridiculously fun if you let it be.
I’m starting to see the degree to which we adults get all weird and hung up in our underwear about things being “neat and tidy.” Even as we know better and that life just isn’t like that. Kids get it – like when my son came in for dinner covered in pink chalk dust after having given a full-body hug to the drawing he had made in the driveway. Or how the kids’ place mats, faces and sleeves carry dinner on them long after the meal has been eaten. The same could be true for adults if we let it. For example, I’ve recently given myself FULL permission to get my closet as messy as possible, making it something of a contest in our house – to see just how “bad” I can let it get before I can’t take it any more and finally clean it up. And you know what!? It’s fun. It feels good to laugh at myself instead of berating a situation. It’s fun to embrace it as a game, instead of writing it off as a character flaw. What the fuck, right? When in Rome. Turns out it suits me well.

All of this isn’t rocket-science, and you know this as well as I do. It’s primal and ancient territory – that has us touch our need to belong and be seen and ultimately, to be loved. But last week, when I turned to my husband, who was just setting out to read my book for the fist time (gulp, wince, flinch…) I heard myself say with all the authority I could muster at the time, “You know what? I don’t need anyone to tell me this book is good. I know it is (gak. blink). I just need it to be edited, not approved.” It was in that moment I could start to feel the strength of a new muscle develop inside myself.

Call it self-authorizing. Call it being comfortable in my own skin. Call it confidence. It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is it was born out of waiting. Which might be the hardest part, but it’s worthy of my respect.