White Women Cake

Posted September 19th, 2017

For most of my life, I have been accused of being angry. I say “accused” because it very much felt like that. Words like vicious, ruthless, and combative would attach themselves to me, and I accepted them, feeling ashamed, like I was too much for people to handle and therefore needed to be really careful with how I show up in the world lest I inflict harm.

I was told to pipe down, just relax, cool my jets, get over it, let it go, pick my battles, and move on. Sound familiar? 

On the playground in elementary school, I used to get in the face of kids who were nasty when the teachers weren’t looking. In middle school, I used to look directly at bullies through my tears and call them out on their actions. In high school, I used to speak up when kids used others as stepping stones (or public punching bags) to make themselves look and feel more powerful. In the corporate world, I blurted out comments when the emperor had no clothes or bullshit was being served up on a platter. As a parent, I did not turn the other cheek when shit was going down.

All of this made me wildly unpopular at times. I was, of course, singled out by the bully when I diverted the attention to me. I sealed the fate of my dorky outcast status in high school. I was tightly managed in the corporate world. And I felt like a pariah at pick-up time from my kids’ schools, sports sidelines and dinner parties. At one point in my mid 40s—when my give-a-shit meter was just starting to go on the fritz—another mother actually cautioned me to “be nice” as  I was walking into a school community gathering.

As a result, for most of my life, I tried to walk this razor thin line between taking a stand (which had me speaking up) and muting myself (which had me playing small). I harbored this secret shame that I was unbelievably cruel and mean and capable of  doing some serious harm. In short, I battled this chronic fear that if I weren’t careful, I would use my powers for evil, not good. I became afraid of feeling angry, and learned it’s best to keep that shit under tight wraps lest I express it outwardly and lay waste to everything I hold dear.

It wasn’t until I started questioning my own beliefs about myself (you know, the ones I had been given and swallowed whole without chewing?), that I started to see there was an enormous gap between the words I’d associated with myself and people’s actual experience of me. Big. Huge. Gap.

When I had a really honest conversation with myself and pulled out the feedback, cards and emails I’d collected from clients over the years to examine the actual comments about my work and people’s perceptions of me, I could finally see what I had missed. It turns out the most common descriptors of me were: warm…big-hearted…make me feel safe..honest…keep it real… inspiring… feel like I can be myself, can say anything…

That was a watershed moment for me.

I realized that somewhere in my youth, I had been called vicious and ruthless or mean maybe a couple of times by a couple of people, and because of its impact, it stuck. I assumed it was true and  never questioned it. Until about 30 years later.

I wrote about this in my book, telling my story of facing and unpacking anger for myself and how I reframed it and, ultimately, reclaimed it. Because you know what lived inside that bundle of shame? My truth, my voice, my effectiveness as a leader, and my ability to affect change. Today, anger, as it relates to women, has been the single most requested topic people want to explore with me during interviews, book readings and storytelling since releasing my book.

Now all this is not to say that I can’t be mean (I can), and that I’m not capable of hurting someone with my words or actions (I do), or that I’m now magically fearless or unfettered (I’m not). My (big) heart still beats wildly in my chest right before I say something out loud that I know will be unpopular, hard to hear or will challenge the status quo. I still replay the video tapes in my head afterward, double-checking myself. Am I mean? Am I blind? Am I delusional? 

But now? Those are genuine questions born out of true curiosity, not out of desire to participate in my own shame. Those questions keep me honest, not small. Those questions keep me humble and connected—living from my heart and my light, not from my head and a desire to hide.

I know I’m not alone, and that helps give me courage. I hear similar versions of the same story from women who make the move, step out, speak up, use their voice, and show themselves. So often those stories begin with being confused, disappointed, concerned, perplexed, frustrated, hurt, and even sad. But you know what’s waiting for us when we dig beneath all that stuff?

Anger. Even rage.

“‘In hard times, filled with hate, look to your highest self instead of getting angry,’ they say. As if my highest self isn’t angry as fuck.” – Andréa Ranae

And here’s the part where anger intersects and clashes wildly with our white women culture. Anger is seen as unattractive, distasteful, threatening and destructive. We are taught from a young age to get rid of it quickly and discreetly, passing it on like a hot potato to someone else if need be. We don’t have a lot of practice being with it, let alone giving voice to it. The result? We kind of suck at expressing our anger at a time when many of us are full to the brim of it, and we could be using that energy to create and lead change.

The bottom line: We white women have some work to do owning and expressing our anger. 

Now let me just pause here and clarify that this is not to suggest that white women are the only angry women. Nor do I mean to suggest that women of color have all that anger shit figured out either. There are plenty of angry women in our world these days, and legions of us are getting loads of opportunity to experience it. What I’m seeking to do—for myself and other white women— is to shine a very particular light in the corner of our white women culture that we don’t often discuss: all that anger we feel and what we do with it.

Because that stuff in our corner? It’s still there, and getting bigger. And if we don’t allow it to exist because we’re uncomfortable (or out of practice, or afraid of not being liked…), we run the risk of it coming out sideways, having it be misdirected, and ultimately rendering it (and us) ineffective.

Ever been dismissed as a bitch, hysterical or an angry feminist? Then you know what happens next. Most of us shut up or get shut down.

But keep all that anger inside, and it rots and festers within us.  I can’t help but make the connection between this unexpressed (in many cases, unvalidated) anger and the state of women’s health. Heart disease. Breast cancer. Depression. What’s that phrase Carolyn Myss, Christiane Northrup and so many others talk about? Our biography is our biology. And when you lay over the history of women and the impact of years of patriarchy? Well now, that’s a pretty rich history that we carry in our collective cellular memories as women.

You know what helps? Practice. 
You know what doesn’t? Shame. 

Why is this important? Because in the absence of doing our own work with anger as white women, we will shop around for others to express that anger for us—like men and women of color or white men. We’ll ask other people to hold the hard stuff we don’t want to be with at a time when many people of color have their arms full of stuff already. There is much to be angry about these days—the injustices, the oppression, the corruption, the violence — and we need all hands on deck if we are to right this ship. Waiting to get comfortable with our anger, be good at voicing it publicly, or having it feel safe is an exercise in white privilege; just as getting self righteous about it is —both actions serve to disconnect and divide us further from ourselves and each other.

You know what helps? Curiosity.
You know what doesn’t? Judgement.

Like many of you reading this, I have been struggling mightily with the anger that has kicked up for me in the wake of our last presidential election. I find I have been working overtime to face and feel the intensity of my anger and use the power of my voice with intention. And yet, many days I am overwhelmed with what I see…how the opportunities…they seem to be…everywhere.

I was sitting with my therapist recently recounting one of them, qualifying it as “not a big deal”, but more of an example of how microaggressions can pile up pretty quickly. I was telling her the story of talking with a man when another man came over and started talking over me, not even acknowledging that A) I was there, or B) I was talking. Without skipping a beat, the man I was talking to stopped listening to me and diverted his attention to the other man. And off they went. I stopped talking and and no one noticed. Or cared. I was fuming but bit my tongue.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” my therapist asked.
“I didn’t want to be, you know… THAT angry feminist,” I responded.
“Why not? “she countered.

Good point. Why not, indeed.

“The patriarchy is so scared of women’s anger that eventually we learn to fear it, too. We walk around as if we were bombs about to go off, worried about admitting how livid we really are, even to ourselves.” – Laurie Penny

Writer Laurie Penny talks about this very thing in her book Bitch Doctrine, exploring why women hide anger, why we fear it and how we can use it to create change. She is clear about the need to distinguish anger from hatred (“anger is an emotion, hatred is an action…”Gloria Steinem has been talking about anger for most of her life. Danielle LaPorte’s latest book explores the notion of “spiritual bypassing” and how “all the woo [can] keep us from dealing with our poo.” Most recently, Tina Fey—in only the way Tina Fey can do—shined a humorous and extremely well-pointed barb on the rage living inside women these days, stirring up a mixed-bag of responses with her “sheet caking” alternative to protest, that would have women yelling at their cakes.

You know what helps? Acknowledging the suckage and trying anyway.
You know what doesn’t? Pretending it doesn’t matter and expecting things to change.

So I, for one, will continue to pull up my plate of anger and sit it squarely in front of me—my version of a sheet cake, I guess. Which means I will get messy with it, make mistakes, make an ass of myself, maybe even offend someone. But you know what? I’ll learn something in the process.  I will have practiced something hard and will suck less at it each time as a result of that effort. I have no intention of stuffing my words down with cake or misdirecting my anger at some shapeless mass of empty carbs, though. And I will try my best to remember this:

It’s not about being nice; it’s about feeling angry.
It’s not about being unproductive; it’s about being honest and showing up.
It’s not about being ready, it’s about being present.
It’s not about feeling safe or comfortable, it’s about being accountable.

And if that doesn’t work, I will hold the image of Tina yelling at the camera with frosting all over her face and her fork flailing around. And if I am so moved, I will lift up my fists full of frosting and make some noise for change — ready or not.

 

Want to hear more stories like this? Check out my Unscripted Evening coming up this September 28th in Yarmouth, Maine. Tickets are now on sale.

 

And if women’s storytelling is your thing, save the date for this year’s SheSpeaks being held at One Longfellow Square on December 7th. The theme is “Life In The Arena” and tickets are on sale now if you’re a planner!

Get Busy Living

Posted May 12th, 2017

What would I be doing today if I only had thirty-seven days to live? 

I love that question. I hate that question. I forget it often. I remember it constantly. That question keeps me grounded and honest, but it also is something I resist because it insists I live here, and not there—that place when I’ll finally be ready and enough. And have permission.

That question is all about living in the now. It doesn’t give two shits about what happens later. In fact, it has the audacity (in this world that loves vision and asks annoying where do you see yourself in five years questions…) to suggest that NOW is all we have—now is real, whereas then is a mirage that seduces us with something that may or may not ever materialize.

I stumbled upon this magnetically repulsive question years ago after picking up Patti Digh’s book Life Is A Verb. The premise of her book revolves around her own intimate exploration of that question—one that was framed by the sudden diagnosis and death of her stepfather that occurred within a thirty-seven day window. Helping him to live—and die—in that brief period of time brought her face to face with her own life and how she was (and was not) living it. It was a reckoning.

“The time frame of thirty-seven days made an impression on me. We often live as if we have all the time in the world, but the definite-ness of thirty-seven days was striking. So short a time, as if all the regrets and joys of a life would barely have time to register before it was up.”

If you were to sit with this question for any length of time, you might imagine where it ultimate took her: the realization that life was about living each day with more intention. Fully inhabiting the life we have been given each new day as if it were a gift, and making choices from that space and place.

What she concluded about her life, wasn’t about creating whole-scale change (although this might be the case for someone else), but rather about being more present to her experience and her desires, and using that awareness to inform her daily decisions. To be intentional and deliberate.

This is an active endeavor, not a passive one. Ergo her title: Life Is A Verb.

It’s about not waiting another day to make that thing, say those words, take that action—not in a frantic, irresponsible or desperate manner, mind you, but in a deliberate one. Actively moving toward the life you want to be living. Each day. And then get up and do more of that again, for as many days as you are given.

I’ll give you an example of how this looked for me. Years ago, after hearing one too many amazing stories from a friend about the travel and adventures she went on with her family, I lost it. In one of my more caddy moments, I made a snide remark to another friend about how she must have a trust fund, and how it must be nice to be able to afford all that travel, and how she was so lucky and I was so wretchedly miserable and Maine-bound and tight-budgeted. Wah, wah, wah.

Thankfully, I was talking with one of those friends. You know, the ones that won’t buy what you’re selling, and know you well enough to call bullshit on your whining? So she listened to my woe-is-me story that day and then she said quite plainly, “Oh Lael, you’re jealous! Look at you—you want to travel!”

YES! YES! YES! Something in my soul did a double fist pump and then high-fived my friend.

But no sooner had I plugged into that outlet in myself, did I then I sever my own cord, telling myself I couldn’t afford it. I piled on other excuses that felt more noble, like having young children who needed me, a business that didn’t pay me to take vacation, and needing to build up our savings and put money away for retirement. And just for good measure, I started to shame myself by saying how lucky I was just to have a job and a family. And my health. And a home. What kind of a selfish person would ask for more than that? Look at me—a greedy bitch.

Which, of course, was an thoroughly ineffective strategy, throwing all this guilt and shame on top of a raging desire…not a winning move.

But you know what was? Driving my ass to the post office and picking up an application for a passport, that’s what.

With all my whining and kvetching, what I had failed to realize is that if someone had literally given me a plane ticket that very day, I wouldn’t have been able to physically leave this country because my passport had expired.

That was me, answering that question and living life as a verb: Lael-ing.

One year (and multiple applications) later, I finally had a passport in my hand, as did each member of my family.

That one simple act broke the damn on my desire and set me in motion. Later that fall, I spontaneously joined my husband in New Orleans at a conference he was attending for a week, falling right on our anniversary. Four months after that, our family rented a VW Westfalia, travelled up the coast of California and camped out in the canyon lands for two weeks, after having spent months together as a family pouring over maps and planning our trip with unbridled anticipation. A year after that, we went on our first family trip out of the United States skiing in Canada (thank you passports!). And two years after that my husband and I bought tickets to go to Paris for our 20th wedding anniversary.

We marveled at all of this because we hadn’t seen this coming—we just kept taking steps toward it, watching the road unfold before us with each deliberate step. All because I finally picked up that damn passport application that broke the seal on my excuses.

It was symbolic and it was active. It had me living in my desire, and not wait another blessed day to take action on something that mattered deeply to me.

This is not a novel or original idea, I realize. In fact, years ago, I heard a Native American storyteller speak about the importance of saying “some form of a yes“, suggesting that it really didn’t matter what you specifically did, just as long as you are doing something that is a nod to start moving in a direction. More recently, Shonda Rhimes touches upon this very thing in her book Year of Yes, when she talks about her personal philosophy of doing her way into her dreams. She calls it “laying track“. There’s that verb again.

Perhaps my most favorite illustration of this invitation comes from a line in the movie, Shawshank Redemption, when Tim Robbin’s character says to Morgan Freeman’s character that it comes down to a simple choice: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” At the time they were both in prison, talking about his dream of spending the rest of his days in a far away beach town in Mexico called Zihuatanejo. And as we watch beyond this scene, we see how that character gets busy living, moving toward this dream, literally brick by brick.

I get to do this work with my clients every day, helping them find the hairline cracks in the cement of their logic, unearthing the symbolic actions and their “some form of a yes” that will begin to move them toward what they want so that they are no longer postponing their joy or waiting for the “someday”—their versions of Zihuatanejo —out there in their future.

One of my clients said it best, quoting a line from a movie I’d never seen: “I don’t want to save anything for the swim back.” 

With every passing year of my life, I find this question is getting louder and louder in my mind. At the age of 48, as I’ve personally lived through a handful of life’s cosmic 2×4 moments and have witnessed so many of my family, friends and clients face down illnesses, accidents and death, life seems to feel even more precious and fleeting.

What would I be doing today if I only had thirty-seven days to live? 

I used to think that question was morbid and overly-dramatic. I used to feel selfish, entitled, ungrateful for wanting to answer that question. I used to think that question didn’t apply to someone like myself—someone who was healthy, happy, and fulfilled. Now I see it as deeply in service of cultivating and sustaining that very thing—my health, my happiness, my fulfillment. As a daily act, not a desperate measure.

I find I am rising up to answer that question more frequently and more boldly. I am still afraid. I am still not sure. I am still not ready. But something in me is starting to trust that I am enough as I am. Something in me has given me permission to want what I want.

And somedays I whisper to myself, just to make my soul smile: Zihuatanejo…

Anger Advocacy

Posted December 16th, 2016

kaliI had a fight with my son this morning. It was one of those times in the car that leaves both people fuming with tense jaws, bitten tongues, and cold steely eyes starting straight ahead. It was awful.

But that’s not what I’m going to tell you about here because honestly, it’s bigger than my relationship with my son and I value our privacy.

 

This is a post about Anger. More to the point, this is about what happens when a woman expresses her anger.

Here’s the gist of what led up to this morning’s stand off in the car:

For the past month, my husband and I have been jumping through the hoops of refinancing our house. We could have gone with another lender and have been done with all this hoopla by now, but we felt strongly about keeping our business local and giving our existing lender a chance to keep our business. That’s all well and good, but the lender has been dropping the ball internally, dragging their feet in making things happen, and making excuses for what essentially amounts to horrid customer service and communication skills. The final nail in the coffin came this week when the appraisal for our home came back (late) and was far below market value. We looked at each other and scratched our heads, having lived in this home nearly 20 years together and having been through this dog and pony show of refinancing many times.

Upon further inspection of the appraisal, it was clear the guy had left off — or failed to make note of — some key things that would have made a difference, like not including all of our rooms, factoring in all the energy efficient windows we’d put in as well as converting our home heating to gas and investing in a high efficiency on-demand water heater. We also learned that the comp he used for our home was one that was significantly smaller, run down, and located on a major through street (versus ours which is at the end of a dead-end street). In fact, a smaller house up the street from us that has an ancient asbestus boiler system and no garage just sold a couple months ago for much higher than the appraisal had come in for our home.

 

Something wasn’t right. So we spoke up. And asked some questions.

The bank basically said tough shit — it’s good enough for the refinance to go though, so we got what we need. Wait, what?

That’s when I called the loan officer directly and spoke up. This time louder. More clearly. More pointed. I was angry they weren’t valuing their relationship with us, given the fact that we could have taken our business elsewhere. I was angry that they knew they had us over a barrel now that the interest rates were going up. I was angry they weren’t fully comprehending that when one customer is dissatisfied, it impacts about 19 other potential customers because consumers talk to each other. I was angry they were confusing disappointment with downright disagreement. I was angry that the loan officer was resentful of our inquiries and inconvenienced by our calling into question the accuracy of a such an important document that was clearly so subjective.

I was just fucking angry.  I started to hear those common phrases play in my head.. move on, get over it already, suck it up, don’t be a sore loser … and I felt the irritation of my chapped skin and raw scab from November’s election flare up again, reminding me how the popular vote in our “democracy” didn’t matter one iota because of the elector college (WTF!?).

Clearly all this was stewing and churning in me as I got into the car and drove my sons to school this morning. It’s clear my glasses were not rosy, and as is often the case in those situations, I started to notice and feel every irritant more deeply. I got frustrated by the driver that didn’t seem to get how to insert a car into traffic by just creeping the nose out little by little and giving the friendly “mind if I cut in?” wave (isn’t that universal?) to the next car in the slow moving chain. I stood on my horn (did I mention I’m from NJ?) when a driver ran a red light and almost slammed into my car.

My son, experienced driver that he is of 14, commented on my driving. I got defensive. I got angry. And then I shut the fuck up – because isn’t that what we’re trained to do as women when we get angry? Like Elsa in the movie Frozen, we are taught to conceal, don’t feel…don’t let them know! We are taught to fear our anger because it could do damage, wreak havoc, lay waste.

But in my silent front seat stewing I started to think about why it is I felt the need to clam up. Beyond the circumstances of my week or the particulars the conversation with my son, I started to see the arc of our culture’s beliefs about women and anger. More than just a frustrated mother of a typical teenager, I sensed there was something of import to convey about a woman’s experience in a world that is governed by white men…a club to which he belongs whether he is aware of it or not.

 

It’s not okay for a woman to express anger in our society. 

I explained to him that as a woman, I have been shamed, shut down and silenced my entire life any time I have attempted to express my anger. I stated this quite plainly. I also said that this is not okay — and especially hurts when it comes from family. Specifically someone I grew inside me.

That was the end of our conversation that I’ll share, but I will say that it was the beginning of a long conversation with myself about this. I started to think about the specific ways we systematically train anger to go underground in women — pummeling it down with a heavy wooden mallet in a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole.

Here’s the series of escalating steps that formed inside my head:

— We tell women they are over-reacting, being too sensitive, making a big deal out of nothing. Somewhere in there we suggest they calm down, relax, and be more patient, compassionate, grateful it’s not worse (I believe we used to call them hysterical and take out their uteruses…)

— If that doesn’t work, we patronize them, patting women on the head, using terms like humoring, tolerating, and allowing her to vent, rant, or blow off some steam.

— If that doesn’t work, then we resort to shaming, suggesting (or outright saying) women are stupid, uninformed, hormonal, or not capable of understanding something complex.

— If that doesn’t work, we try name calling and labeling women as a means to vilify, ostracize, and humiliate them: bitch, shrew, cunt, witch, man-hater.

— If that doesn’t work, we make them invisible, disassociating, physically or mentally shutting them down and cutting them off.

 

So yea, you can see why women hesitate to express anger or are quick to shut it down in others.

I bring this up because from where I sit, the topic of anger among women is swirling all around us these days. Last week on stage at SheSpeaks, several of the speakers made reference to it in their stories, one of them even asking herself (in front of the audience), “What do I do with all this anger I’m feeling?” My individual clients talk about the anger they are feeling these days — at work, at home, in the world — and my women’s circle dances with it as well.

My most recent thought about it is this: if we don’t heal our internal relationship to anger as women, we’re in for many long, dark nights of the soul (there’s a reason heart disease is the number one killer of women…) But moreover, if we don’t make space in our society for women to express their anger externally, we’re in for a long slow road to change in this world.

There is a fundamental difference between anger and violence, but so often they are interpreted as synonymous, and our fear of one keeps us from expressing the other openly.

“I think anger is one of the most misunderstood emotions we have because it spends so little time in the light of day. It’s shunned and left to fend for itself in its dark cave, mumbling and scuffing up the dirt in frustration like a petulant child. I don’t blame it – I’d be a bit ornery, too, if I were that devalued and misunderstood. Because at its essence, anger is just really another form of energy. It’s an emotion with Tabasco sauce splashed on top. And it generally has something for us to hear. Something that’s coming from a deep and meaningful place.” – Unscripted, pg 135

We are taught that anger is toxic to our bodies, and I agree, but I want to clarify and expand upon that notion. Anger is a natural human emotion that can be a catalyst for incredible change, even a source of power in that it can fuel and drive us forward. But if it remains unexpressed and silenced or stuffed, it can sour and ferment inside us, setting us on the path to one of two outcomes: outward violence (verbal, mental, physical abuse that disconnects us from others and does harm) or inward violence (self-loathing, shame, sickness and dis-ease that disconnects us from ourselves and does harm).

The good news is that we are all capable of making our own choice with how we want to be with anger — our own and others.

We can get out our hammers, participate in our own shame, and do our best to erase the truth inside the anger with a sorry. Or we can increase our capacity to be with it — which means being willing to get messy, be uncomfortable, ruffle feathers, or even offend. But there is one thing that is undeniable in all this:

 

Anger is here, like it or not. It’s the mole that refuses to be whacked.

So what do I plan to do about it?

That experience this morning got me thinking about all the ways I have experienced my plain truth of anger as a woman, and also all the ways I have contributed to whacking it down. While I can’t control how other’s experience me, I can control my own relationship to anger and how I allow — or don’t allow — myself to express it. I can control how I dance — or don’t — with other people’s expressions of anger. I can also control how I give voice to it as a means for bringing it into the light of day — giving space for it to exist, be safe, have merit. Ergo this post.

When I think about it in the light of day, Anger isn’t something that needs to be “managed” or even tolerated, it needs to be actively practiced — so we can get better at expressing it. Look what happened to Elsa in Frozen when she finally took off the gloves and assumed ownership for something that flowed naturally from her. Sure, the village experienced a momentary freak freeze (ever heard of the Hindu goddess Kali?) and perhaps some people got startled or scared, but ultimately, she lead the kingdom and leveraged her gift to create colorful beauty from cold ice.

And sure, you could make a case for that simply being a kid’s movie…but isn’t that we’re all just doing here anyway? Playing our parts, hitting our marks, and following the scripts that were written for us?

I don’t know about you, but I’m auditioning to do the voice-over for Anger. I think I’d make a badass advocate for that character.

The Heart is A Muscle

Posted November 30th, 2016

2016-06-26 13.23.26Last night I sat in a circle with a group of women and we talked about how so many of us are openly grieving – and how refreshing and healing it is when we find (or create) safe spaces and communities in which to do that work. We talked about the feminine, and how often she is told to be quiet, pull it together, be productive, get over it already and move along. It reminded me of this post I wrote this past summer about the heart being a muscle. It’s about my most recent experience of heartbreak… something I did not expect to feel so soon again…like this November. Until I did. And like this summer, I watched the familiar anti-crying war being waged – this time not privately inside just me, but publicly as this energy it swirled around so visibly in many of us in our post-election society. 

So in case your heart is feeling ripped and bruised still, and in case you’re wondering if your tears will ever stop, or in case you’ve resisted letting them ever start… this one’s for you. And our collective heart muscle growing stronger.

Originally posted 6.30.16

Last Sunday I dropped my eldest son off at overnight camp for three and a half weeks. And then I proceeded to crumble.

No, that’s not entirely true. The truth is that the crumbling — much to my horror — began in earnest the night before.

On Saturday night, I was standing in the kitchen trying to put candles on the strawberry shortcake “cake” for my youngest son’s 9th birthday. A small gathering of our family in the backyard was eagerly waiting for me to reemerge with the lit cake and launch into a rousing rendition of “happy birthday” to celebrate him.

But me? I just wanted to cry. But I didn’t know that at the time. Instead, I was waging a full-out anti-crying assault in my mind:

YOU CAN’T CRY! It’s a goddamn birthday party…this is no time to be sad! What kind of mother cries at her kid’s birthday party?

DON’T BE SELFISH! This is not about you, for fuck’s sake! He’s all excited to go to camp! Don’t make him feel badly because you’ll miss him! You’re supposed to be the grown up here!

SUCK IT UP! It’s only three and a half weeks, for crying out loud! He did it last year and it was fine! Pull it together, woman. This is just silly.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!? You’re totally losing it for no reason. You’re a camp person! This is what you wanted! You’re supposed to be excited about this. Something’s wrong with you…

These were all the loud voices going through my head pre-crumble. Loud, loud, loud. Very anti-cry.

Apparently I was in the kitchen “lighting the candles” a bit longer than I had realized. Because soon enough, my eldest son appeared in the kitchen asking me if I needed help.

That’s when the first crumbling happened. I pulled him into a hug and sobbed “I’m just going to miss you SO much.” We stood there, together, and just had a quiet moment in the kitchen. Finally, I pulled away and told him I loved him, thinking that would be the last of the crumble.

You know where this is going, right?

Yup. Turns out that initial crumble was the beginning of a two-day blow.

The next day we drove him up to camp, met his counselor, got him settled in his tent, and said our goodbyes with a fair amount of grace — his younger brother was totally fine, and his dad and I were wearing these weird grins on our faces, but by and large the drop off was a non-event. 2016-06-26 18.18.12

But then after? I was a fucking mess. I crumbled like all my bones had been taken out. I cried big fat silent tears on the ride home. I cried standing in the empty kitchen. I cried sitting on my front stoop. I just couldn’t seem to stop crying.

None of my usual tricks were working. Trying to reason with myself didn’t work. Trying to “snap myself out of it” wasn’t working. Reading? Making art? Going for a run? Nope, nah, nothing.

I panicked, actually, wondering if my crying would ever stop. I’m mean, is it possible to literally die of crying?

And that’s when it hit me. I was heartbroken. 

My heart, like my quads sometimes feel after a particularly long run, had a little tear in it. My heart was a muscle, and it had stretched — like it had been given an emotional workout — to the point of ripping it a little. A Couper-sized rip.

When I made this connection in my mind, something shifted for me. Having been an athlete most of my life, I knew that those little rips of muscle were what made them grow bigger and stronger. That kind of pain was familiar to me – a welcome sign that was often indicative of a really productive workout.

The heart is a muscle. The heart is a muscle. The heart is a muscle. 

This was something that started to play in an endless loop during that two-day blow, and with each new loop of it echoing in my mind, I found I was giving myself more and more permission to feel what I was feeling. To have it be normal, expected, and even welcome. To see my tears as a result of my strength, not my weakness.

2016-06-26 18.22.50It felt like a tremendously loving act, that permission. 

There wasn’t anything wrong with me. I had simply let myself love with my whole heart…and then a little bit more for good measure. I had let myself love more than my heart had previously been able to hold.

There wasn’t anything wrong with that. There wasn’t any shame in that. In fact…once I thought about it some more, there was a fair amount of pride. There’s a reason the word courage comes from “coeur”, the French word for heart: I was being brave-hearted.

This is good pain I was feeling, not bad pain.

We talk about that a lot in our family — the difference between “good pain” (that comes naturally from growth, learning, reaching, challenging) and “bad pain” (that comes from injury, sickness, an accident, or something foreign being inflicted upon you). To illustrate my point, I have often told my sons the story of their births, and when they ask me if it hurt giving birth to them (“naturally”), I always respond honestly saying, yes, it did, but my body knew it was good pain so I was okay with it.

When my kids are literally experiencing growing pains behind a knee or in an arm, and come to me concerned, the first question they’ll generally hear me ask is: Does it feel like good pain or bad pain?

This connection — a framework, really — of my heart being a muscle that is capable of growing gave me the permission I seemed to need to cry my tears. I found I stopped apologizing (no one had been asking for it anyway), explaining (no one seemed to need one), and worrying (no one expressed concern for my sanity).

I just cried, and let my body heal my broken heart. 2016-06-25 15.54.17

Such a simple thing for my body to do, but unfortunately began with such an epic battle in my mind.

When I really let myself crawl inside that Couper-sized rip in my heart, here’s what I found:

Sadness at how the passage of time seems to be going faster and faster with our kids.
Grief for having moved beyond the phase of our kids being small and needing us as much.
Panic that there will be many more — and bigger — drop offs and goodbyes ahead of us.
Gratitude that I have been given the gift of motherhood.
Joy at knowing my son was in his happy place.
Pride at knowing that we had raised a child who felt confident enough to be independent.

And then the most amazing thing happened. I woke up Tuesday morning and felt so wonderful. The “soreness” I had been feeling in my heart from that Couper-sized rip had been repaired seemingly overnight. My permission to feel and cry my tears had helped, much like gentle stretching and the potassium in bananas goes to work on my sore muscles.

I was not only all “better”, I was stronger. I could feel it. 

Apparently I had given my heart one helluva workout and discovered that not only was it capable of rising to the occasion, but it was quite naturally ready for more.

Want some good medicine for your heart muscle?

Today is the LAST day of my November Birthday Sale of Unscripted, my book
For the entire month of November, I’m celebrating my birthday and the art of creation by selling Unscripted for $19.68 (the year I was born, get it?) rather than it’s usual cost of $34.69.

There are still some tickets left for SheSpeaks for next Thursday (December 8th)…
If you’re looking for some mojo, some inspiration, some light in the darkness, or some kindred spirits, SheSpeaks is for you. It’s an evening of women’s storytelling I’m hosting on December 8th. This will be the 7th SheSpeaks I’ve held but the first time that I’ll be holding it since writing/releasing my book. And the theme? A Living Prayer. Seven speakers will be taking the stage to explore that theme with me that night at One Longfellow Square. I received word that it was officially sold out yesterday, but the venue JUST released 15 more tickets for sale…) . So if you want in, make a plan and don’t delay — tickets are on sale now at One Longfellow Square.

Listen to and/or follow my podcast An Unscripted Woman
If you haven’t checked this out already, this is basically my creative response to requests for an audio version of my book. Each week, I read aloud a chapter of my book in an episode and do a riff at the end about what I’ve learned, noticed, and am aware of since writing it.

Check out the new events I’ve got coming up this late fall/winter on my homepage
My women’s circle is full and will started up last week, but it’s never to early to look at it for next year (seats fill up way in advance!), and I’ve got some new experiences lined up for those of you who are not local to Maine, but might be hankering to connect. Also, the video of my story I told at October’s SoundBites just became available, if you missed that event but want to check it out.

Life In The Area

Posted November 15th, 2016

This is a repost from something I wrote last year. At the time, I was poised to release my book into the world, and writing this helped me to name what I was feeling. A year later, I find myself returning to my own words in a different context, but with a similar intention: To name what I am feeling in the wake of this election. Unlike when I wrote this, what I find myself facing today is not simply an exercise of navigating “what if…”, but engaging in the stark reality “here we are…” 

This is me throwing another rock to create ripples of change — for myself and others. And this is me, still standing in the arena, resisting my familiar urge to fight for change (for like you, I am tired of that stale strategy), and challenging myself to live my life as a prayer — asking myself what that means and how that looks for me today. I am sitting with that actively. And, like you,  I am mustering the courage to find out. 

When I posted this last fall, it received 2,500 hits in just a couple of hours — telling me, once again, I was not alone and had struck a resonant chord for many. Perhaps it will resonate again in the light (or darkness) of a new day. 

Originally posted: 9.25.16

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechangesMy 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 saying 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.

Want to learn more about being a living prayer?

I’m having a November Birthday Sale of Unscripted, my book
For the entire month of November, I’m celebrating my birthday and the art of creation by selling Unscripted for $19.68 (the year I was born, get it?) rather than it’s usual cost of $34.69.

Make a plan, rally your friends, and reserve your ticket to SheSpeaks for December 8th
If you’re looking for some mojo, some inspiration, some light in the darkness, or some kindred spirits, SheSpeaks is for you. It’s an evening of women’s storytelling I’m hosting on December 8th. This will be the 7th SheSpeaks I’ve held (and it’s generally a sold out event) but the first time that I’ll be holding it since writing/releasing my book. And the theme? A Living Prayer. Eight speakers will be taking the stage to explore that theme with me that night at One Longfellow Square, and tickets are flying off the shelves. So if you want in, make a plan and don’t delay — tickets are on sale now at One Longfellow Square.

Listen to and/or follow my podcast An Unscripted Woman
If you haven’t checked this out already, this is basically my creative response to requests for an audio version of my book. Each week, I read aloud a chapter of my book in an episode and do a riff at the end about what I’ve learned, noticed, and am aware of since writing it.

Check out the new events I’ve got coming up this late fall/winter on my homepage
My women’s circle is full and will started up last week, but it’s never to early to look at it for next year (seats fill up way in advance!), and I’ve got some new experiences lined up for those of you who are not local to Maine, but might be hankering to connect. Also, the video of my story I told at October’s SoundBites just became available, if you missed that event but want to check it out.

Be on the look out for some of my favorite blog posts to be reposted this month 

Stay On The Mat

Posted November 4th, 2016

stayonthematI had no business being up at 3:00 a.m. But I just couldn’t seem to stop myself.

I had picked up Glennon Doyle Melton’s new book Love Warrior, and now I couldn’t put it down. More than just being thoroughly engaged or committed to see it through, my experience was of being found. Truthfully, it was more like being found out. As in busted.

I was reading this woman’s story — a story that is vastly different from my own — and something she writes about suddenly flips a switch in me.

“As I fall asleep, I decide to stop writing for long while. I need to live this, not create it. I need to let it be what it is, let it become — without forcing my pain into my art. I need whatever happens…to be real, not shoved into a storyline. I will not try to control it by making sense of it. This is not material. This is my life. I’ll let go of control and live this instead of write it. I will not hide from this by hovering above or diving below. I’ll land inside it.”

Gasp. Sputter. Pft. Fuck.

I’m not sure I’m going to be able to articulate this well (in case you need me to elaborate beyond the above guttural noises), but I’ll try to sum it up:

I think I’ve been hiding from something by writing about it. 

And that something? It’s my feelings — ones that I’d rather not feel. Like confused, out of control, and lost. Instead, like Glennon so beautifully admits to herself, I’ve been observing my life as an outsider, rather than living it as an insider. She talks about her tendency to “hover above” or “dive below” as a way of using her mind to download wisdom instead of her body.

To be clear, what I’m talking about is trying to control the feeling of being out of control — playing whack-a-mole with the things that threaten me most: confusion and chaos. Because clearly feeling out of control is not an option. And it’s no wonder. I live in a society that has trained me well, and I have been a good solider. Glennon talks about the “easy buttons” marketers sell to us to help us not feel what we’re feeling (Brene Brown calls this “numbing” in her TED talk) This is apparently where the abandonment of self happens — when we reach for and desperately push those button that dull the pain of our very human experience.

Fix it with THIS is the story we accept as truth.

My button? Writing. I reach for writing to understand myself. I reach for writing when I’m in pain. I reach for writing when I’m feeling alone or crazy. Or both. I reach for writing when I’m lost and lonely. I reach for writing when I’m desperately on the run from something I don’t want to feel.

What do you reach for? What’s your easy button?

I didn’t see mine at first — it’s one of those slippery crutches that felt noble, productive and healthy, like learning can be for some people (don’t know what to do? better get another degree…take a course…read that book…do some research…but DO SOMETHING…do whatever you can to not feel what you’re feeling, right?)

“Our pain is not the poison; the lies about the pain are…you are not supposed to be happy all the time. Life hurts and it’s hard. Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody. Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.”

I read that passage from her book in the wee hours in the morning and I saw for the first time with crystal clarity that I had been denying myself my basic human right to feel my full pain. I had abandoned myself too often, opting instead to look like I was “landing inside it” when, in fact, I was really just hovering above it or diving below it.

Smoke and mirrors, baby. Smoke and mirrors.

Now this is not to say that I haven’t been honest — brutally honest — and open in the past. It’s also not to say that I’ve not allowed myself to feel vulnerable, I have. I know I haven’t just been mailing in this life to date. It’s just that I know there’s more for me to feel and be with here — like where I am right now, for instance —  instead of simply being content dig down a few layers, make sense of it all, organize it in my mind, put a ring on it and call it good.

I am an earnest journalist to these places in me — it’s my beat, not my full-time residence.

Now this is not an entirely bad thing, I realize — after all, you’re reading this because you’ve related to something I’ve said or written about at some point, so there’s that: the connection, the resonance, the community. But if left unchecked, my desire to be writing about living my life can actually getting in the way of truly living it.

Here’s how that looks for me, specifically: it’s like my eyes are cameras, my ears are recorders, and my brain is a ticker tape dutifully capturing everything for the record like a court stenographer. Wherever I go…whatever I’m experiencing… whatever I’m noticing…I’m generally writing about it in my head.

And in case you’re not getting it: HEAD is the operative word here.  My big, fat, tired head that often feels like a swollen tick.

So there I am, at 3:00 a.m. reading about Glennon’s decision to not write for a while so she can “land inside it” and “live this instead of write this“, and something in my whole body sighs at that idea. The permission. The clarity. The decisiveness. I admire her. I am inspired by her.

And then the panic sets in. What would I do if I couldn’t write for a while? How would I figure myself out? Wouldn’t I get a backlog of shit I need to figure out that I’d just need to deal with (read: write about) later? Oh wait, I already have that backlog. Well, wouldn’t I miss the Marco! Polo! game I’d been playing with readers for years — the one that gives me a lush and fecund sensation of validation — and even service— with every new sharing, with each new “like” or heart emoji?

What did Glennon do (WDGD)? Ah! Of course. The fucking mat.

I got out of my bed at that ungodly hour of the night/morning and found my phone. I pulled up the website of the yoga studio I hadn’t been to in over two years (three?) and decided I would go to a class the next morning. And — bonus! — I already had my damn intention (am I the only one that frets about having a perfect intention?) because I was borrowing Glennon’s (at this point in the night/morning I was considering us the best of friends.)

“My intention is just to stay on this mat and make it through whatever is about to happen without running out of here”

Glennon gets it — she knows and has lived the AA practice of focussing on the next right thing. And then the next. And while we don’t share that same thread of story, somewhere in my tired mind I join her and weave our stories together in dark of my night. Somewhere in that joining, I make some promises to myself for my birthday which  falls right between the Day of The Dead (Halloween) and All Souls Day.  It feels like magic, this swirling of commitment and sacred soul intentions. I make a list:

Take a break from writing the entire month of November.
And don’t jot notes about what you want to write about in your journal (that’s writing, too)
Go to yoga and stay on the mat.
Let your body teach your mind — let it take the wheel
Inhabit your body — unpack, make an alter, hang some art — make it your own

I got up the next morning and drove my ass to yoga. I could feel the tears starting even as I was rolling out my mat. I could feel my spirit inhaling with anticipation, even as I panicked that the instructor didn’t put on any music. I could feel the wave of questions crash over me in that noisy silence, and I nodded my consent with a pinched face.

So it’s official: Yesterday was Day One of me living inside it for the entire month of November. And if this feels overly rigid, extreme or a bit intense, let me assure you that is entirely by design. I do my best work in concentrated spurts, so throwing down self-imposed gauntlets works for me (case in point: I wrote my entire book in 20 days…rewrote the entire thing in 10 more). It’s how I roll. So in addition to seeing clients, starting my women’s circle and working with the women of SheSpeaks over the next month as they prepare for my December 8th evening of storytelling, this is where I will be. On my mat — literally and figuratively — doing my best to land inside each experience as it visits me.

So Glennon? Thank you.

Want to stay in touch in the meantime?

I’m having a November Birthday Sale of Unscripted, my book
For the entire month of November, I’m celebrating my birthday and the art of creation by selling Unscripted for $19.68 (the year I was born, get it?) rather than it’s usual cost of $34.69.

Make a plan, rally your friends, and reserve your ticket to SheSpeaks for December 8th
I’ll be working with the eight speakers over the next five weeks as they sit with and unearth the stories they will be telling on stage that evening, but don’t delay — tickets are on sale now at One Longfellow Square and they are going fast!

Listen to and/or follow my podcast An Unscripted Woman
If you haven’t checked this out already, this is basically my creative response to requests for an audio version of my book. Each week, I read aloud a chapter of my book in an episode and do a riff at the end about what I’ve learned, noticed, and am aware of since writing it.

Check out the new events I’ve got coming up this late fall/winter on my homepage
My women’s circle is full and will be starting up in November, but it’s never to early to look at it for next year (seats fill up way in advance!), and I’ve got some new experiences lined up for those of you who are not local to Maine, but might be hankering to connect. Also, the video of my story I told at October’s SoundBites just became available, if you missed that event but want to check it out.

Be on the look out for some of my favorite blog posts to be reposted
In January, I will be celebrating the 11th anniversary of SheChanges (that’s amazing to even write…), and anticipation of that event, I will be digging some of my favorite and most popular pieces out of the archives for an encore performance.

The Right Hook of Physics

Posted October 12th, 2016

physicsA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about this amazing experience I had where I literally drew my intention with my whole body. My intention?  To be more luminous.

I shared how I felt luminous as I embodied that word in the circle of women gathered that night. It was powerful and mysterious. Like magic.

I felt like a High Priestess conjuring something from the depths of my soul.

Driving home that night, my whole body felt alive and vibrating with vitality — as if I had tapped into some divine charging station that continued to juice my batteries. I felt deeply connected – to myself, to the circle of women that had been strangers earlier that night, and to my purpose. I felt as if the aperture of my soul had widened, allowing in some much needed oxygen, creative energy, and mojo. I could breathe. Deeply.

There was a halo effect from that experience as well. I went through my week feeling grounded, present and grateful. I gathered my family for a similar ritual to honor the new moon in Libra. We pulled tarot cards, created “God boxes” and did an amazing despacho ceremony (an offering of gratitude back to the earth). We were digging it. The whole family — and even my eldest son’s best friend who happen to be spending the night — commented on how peaceful and relaxed they felt afterward.

ritualThat evening ushered in a weekend that felt deeply nourishing.

Now maybe you know what happened next, but I sure as hell didn’t see it coming. What happened next felt like a right hook out of no where that left my jaw sore, chaffed my spirit and made my ass twitch in annoyance — like I’d been bamboozled or something precious had been taken from me.

Here’s what happened:

As the weekend rolled on into Sunday, life started to feel more congested with brass tacks. Reality started to hit. I dragged out our bill basket, collected all the debit receipts, and opened the computer, knowing full well the rat’s nest of untangling that lay ahead of me as I did our bi-weekly bookkeeping. My husband, meanwhile, tackled the mounting dirty laundry piles, replacing them eventually with clean laundry piles stacked in the room all around us needing to be put away. He also fell on the sword and did the grocery shopping for the week, coming home with more bags that now filled up the kitchen floor, adding more receipts to the pile that seemed bottomless.

He looked tired and disenchanted and I felt like Bartleby the scrivener all hunched over the computer and myopic in my vision. We both were sighing a lot. Audibly.

Later that night, we dug into all of our financial files, printed recent statements, and ran reports because we had been putting off compiling all the necessary documents for the new financial planner we were starting with who needed them the next day. We were cranky, overwhelmed, and pissed that we had waited until the last minute to do this dreaded task.

This is all normal household stuff and part of living, I realize. And yes, I’m grateful we can afford groceries, have a home, and have access to a financial planner. I am aware many people cannot and do not. I’m also grateful I have a committed and loving partner in all this. My point is not to complain about the daily grind of living that most of us are all too familiar with these days. I could just suck it up, stuff it down, and suffer in silence, saying mean-spirited things to myself (you have no right to feel this way…you have nothing to complain about…you’re so lucky you miserable shrew!), but that’s not what I’m about these days. I’m kind of done with actively participating in my own shame.

Now, I’m about keeping it real, being honest, and showing myself more fully. So hang with me. Because what happened next was…ironically illuminating.

My point is that suddenly, almost overnight — like a switch had been thrown — everything started to feel pinched, constricted, and dire. As we pulled out insurance policies, I started to worry about fires, theft and total disaster. I started to think about death and destruction and how devastated we would feel. I started to think about all the people, things, and dreams we could lose at the blink of an eye. I started to focus on everything we didn’t have instead of everything we did have.  I started to think about the political election we face in November, the environmental crisis we’re in, and the epidemic of violence that seems to be running rampant.

In short, I started to feel vulnerable, and found myself knocking on wood, crossing myself (even though I’m not christian), and noticing the black cats in the neighborhood (when did there get to be so many?) My husband found me wrapped in a blanket that cold, gray Monday afternoon after I’d brought my youngest son home from school, knees to my chest, rocking back and forth with a deeply furrowed brow.

What happened to being luminous?” he asked gently. 

He held up the mirror of me not three days before in which I could see myself then — all glowing and expansive and radiant, which gave me pause. What had happened to me? Where had that woman gone? Why wasn’t I fucking luminous anymore? I wanted that shit back again. Stat.

I felt like I’d done something wrong, like I’d misplaced my intention, dropped my eye from the ball, or fallen prey to the pervasive suck of fear, lack and disconnect that is seems to saturate our consciousness through main stream media these days.

To be honest, I couldn’t even remember that woman who felt luminous just three days before. In that moment, she felt like a figment of my imagination — trite, silly, lacking substance. Gone.

Thankfully, the very next day I happen to be sitting with a wise woman. I was explaining to her how I’d lost my luminous, and she smiled at me.

(this is where it gets good — I love when people smile at me like that…) 

It makes sense that if you want to feel more luminous, you would also experience greater darkness.” 

forcesinpairsDoh! As I heard her say that, a flood of rightness washed over my body like someone had finally taken her finger out of the dam. The “someone”, in this case, was me.  I had been doing my best to staunch the feelings I had been making wrong in me, when, in fact, they were a natural consequence of the laws of physics.

My whole body exhaled with relief. Permission to honor the entirety of my human experience came riding in on the next breath.

Nothing was wrong with me…it was simply science that was right. And then I smiled at the wise woman sitting across from me and said:

“Of course. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” 

It was not only entirely natural, it was a LAW. It wasn’t just me experiencing this — it’s everything that does…the tides, the moon, and those little paddles with the rubber ball connected by a string. I started to remind myself of all the ways this was true…

If you push your body physically beyond what it’s used to, your muscles will be sore the next day
When you knead pizza dough on the counter, it will both expand and contract
The longest day of the summer will be mirrored by the darkest day of the winter
When the tires of a car push against the road, the road will naturally push back against the tires
The wings of a bird push air downwards, the air pushes the bird upwards

It’s how friction is created. It’s what enables something to have form and move. 

Now this is where I come clean and let you know that one of my few regrets in this lifetime is that I never had physics in high school or college. So there’s that.

But there’s also a deeper appreciation of this: the degree to which I challenge myself to become more luminous — to allow myself to shine brighter, be more visible, and be powered by my fullest wattage — needs to be equally matched by my willingness to feel a deeper level of darkness, which naturally comes as a result of that lightness.

It’s the shadow side of a luminous life.

If being luminous was the full moon, being with darkness was the new moon. It’s a package deal, apparently. So clearly, I need to be gracious enough with myself to receive both of these gifts, and stop pretending as if I can simply chose one and opt out of the other.

There is no surprise here. I had simply forgotten what’s natural.

Brene Brown talks about this a lot, suggesting that those people who live their lives most whole heartedly are also the ones who are willing to feel the most vulnerable. Not just once, but always. Danielle LaPorte talks about how “being the giver” is a sure fire way to experience a life of abundance — and I would add that it also makes you keenly aware of the level of need, potentially raising internal conversations around greed or selfishness. Want to live a life with more integrity? Better be willing to look at shame. Want to live a more balanced life? Get ready to experience some imbalance.  Want to live more simply? You may be gobsmacked by the complexities of life. Debbie Ford writes about the need to face these very things within ourselves in her book, The Dark Side Of The Light Chasers. Hell Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock even sing about it.. “Joy…and pain…sunshine…and rain.” 

It’s powerful information to know what lives on the dark side of your moon. 

And now that I had remembered, the darkness doesn’t seem as scary as it once was. I am finding I’m not bracing for it quite like I used to, clinging to the light side for dear life. I now see them as allies, not adversaries. Sort of a dynamic duo that will ultimately support me in moving forward.

Which means my work now will be about foster better relationships with each of them individually, learning how to move through my days exposed to both brighter light and deeper darkness. Increasing my capacity to be luminous, while also increasing my capacity to be with darkness. I can’t want more of one without expecting more of the other to show up in equal measure.

This realization feels new, but in many ways it’s another version of what I’ve been writing about for years. It’s just that I’m having another go at it, having the very real human experience of forgetting, only to remember something anew. And that, too, is natural. When we are in the light, we literally cannot see the dark, so we tend to forget about it — out of sight, out of mind. Until we see it again — and then we wonder that the light ever existed.

It seems Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock were onto something…it does take two to make a thing go right.

Help: Given & Received

Posted August 2nd, 2016

HelpJuly was a bit of a train wreck for our family.

At first I thought it was just me, and I did my thing of quietly hunkering down to power through a rough patch that seemed to appear out of nowhere. But the more I talked about it with my friends, family and clients, the more I discovered I wasn’t alone in my experience of this month.

It seems an inordinate amount of people have had accidents, gotten sick, been diagnosed, or have had other sudden life-changing circumstances descend upon them in July. When I pulled back from my immediate environment, and looked at the larger context of the United States and recent world events, it felt like there was a heightened din of mayhem, violence, and dis-ease that was undeniable.

But this isn’t a post about that. There are plenty of wonderful people talking and writing about that beautifully.

No, this is post about how we CARE for each other in that context.

Because as I’ve heard how many of you out there got the call, heard the news, and had the shit hit the fan in your own lives last month as well, it has felt like we’re all – ready or not – getting a crash course in the need to care for each other.

In the midst of all this in my own life, what I became aware of is how woefully unprepared we are to do just that — myself included. We’re trained to qualify, put on rose-colored glasses, and pick ourselves by our bootstraps to make it all feel somehow neater. We’re not trained to be with the mess of it – to be with the unknown, the unanswered, and the tough emotions. We’re not trained in being to the degree we are with doing. This is not to say or suggest in any way that we don’t have the innate capacity to  care — I believe in big hearts and best intentions — it’s just that our culture truly doesn’t really train us well in how to BE WITH each other in these ways.

And now more than ever, I believe the heart of our healing — how we give and receive help from one another — is about how we relate (or don’t relate) to each other in these places.

More than just muscle and brawn (broad shoulders and capable hands), what I’m pointing to — in myself and others — is our need for us to also care for each other with our hearts and our very presence.

Caring with our whole human beings, and not simply just our human doings.

I’m going to tell you a story of my most recent experience of this — mostly because writing about it (with you as my witness) is my primary way of figuring myself out. It seems that’s what writers do.

On July 5th, I got a call from my husband letting me know he had just broken his arm at work. “It’s really bad”, he said. I’ll spare you the details on exactly what happened, but let’s just say that was a gross understatement. That call from him began a three week shit storm, that ran the gamut from alarming to affirming, exhausting to inspiring, and painful to healing. It was — and to some degree still is — a time filled with lots of questions, very few answers, big stretches of waiting and seeing, huge learning curves, new systems to navigate, an alarming amount of “new normals”, and lots of emotional swamps to wade through with fear, pain, gratitude, vulnerability, guilt, self-consciousness, more gratitude, anger, reflection, and grace.

The bottomline (today’s) with regard to his injury is that he now has an external fixator (think Edward Scissorhands) holding his arm in traction for the next 8 weeks so the bones can heal appropriately. He apparently doesn’t have any nerve damage to his hand, but several fingers are still numb. “Clean and dry” are our operating instructions, as he will have five open wounds in his arm where the metal rods that are screwed into his bones come out of his skin. So yea… scary and now, somehow, normal. Beyond this phase, he’ll have another surgery to remove the device, and then will heal some more in a cast before engaging in lots and lots of physical therapy which will restore his left wrist to 50% functionality.

His goal is right now is to be able to carve the Thanksgiving turkey.

As I have been processing all that’s happened over the last month of our lives — and specifically my role in holding our family in a remotely upright position — I am keenly aware (and profoundly grateful for) the help we have been given. More to the point, I have made lots of mental notes about what worked, why it worked, and what didn’t work in receiving that help.

Because all this help we’ve received? It’s made a world of difference to us. It’s had us feel loved and held, safe and cared for, seen and validated. But there’s a real art to it, I’ve found. Sometimes help — even when offered with the best of intentions — doesn’t feel like help at all. It feels like more work and therefore burdensome. There have been some amazing shining examples of what I want to pay forward to others — as well as things I want to avoid because I know, firsthand, how they have felt to receive.

I want to pocket the learnings I’ve had from this time because they’re rich.

For starters, I have an even greater appreciation for caregivers and what they experience. Aside from the daily trials of parenting, my own experience of it has been brief and humble,. But the last month has given me a glimpse into this role a bit more. It has me thinking more compassionately about newly single parents, caregivers for chronic or terminally ill people, as well as partners to those in the merchant marines or the military who leave home for extended periods of time.  Here are my top ten lessons from being a caregiver:

1. Communication becomes a full-time job. Immediately. And everybody, it seems, wants to hear directly from you. Group texts or emails with updates help, but they also set in motion days of follow-up with individuals as more information comes out and people ask to be kept in the loop. Oh, and the size of “the loop” grows exponentially daily.

2. The workload doubles (or quadruples) almost immediately as you learn for the first time all the things the other person had done that were invisible or you had taken for granted. In addition to this, each “new normal” arrives with another set of activities you never even thought to imagine, like bagging an arm before a shower or cleaning and sterilizing metal pins that stick out of an appendage.

3. Detailed, specific and very critical information and instruction hit you like a tsunami at the exact moment your ability to focus, comprehend and retain complex information reaches an all-time low because of stress and sleep deprivation. Simply put your attention span is nil and your memory is shit.

4. You move through your days coming into contact with other people’s grief, anxiety, and worry when your own load of it is already feeling more than you can bear. “Good” and “fine” feel like minimizing (or lying), while “not good” or “awful” feel alarming, so you learn to use neutral terms like “to be expected” or “day by day” so you don’t spend valuable energy soothing someone else.

5. You are forced to prioritize things that all seem equally important, like choosing between eating and a shower, paying bills or doing laundry, playing with a neglected kid or responding to a patient client, and getting sleep or catching up on work.

6. You feel like you can’t complain because it’s not you that’s hurt or sick or being brave. Period. And on a related note, it’s also hard to take time for yourself because you feel guilty or selfish – going for a run on a beautiful day when someone else has five metals bars sticking out their arm and is stuck inside just feels like rubbing salt in a wound.

7. You feel the need to start every sentence with “I’m sorry” or “thank you SO much” even though you know you don’t have to. You just are — sorry (for the inconvenience, the disappointment, the distraction) and grateful (for the help, the support, the understanding). AND eventually those two phrases start to feel shallow and insincere. Sadly, you also start to listen for them coming your way (like when the ungrateful cashier at the supermarket hands you a receipt for spending $275 on groceries with a “here ya go”).

8. People get really flustered when “strong” people break down, which often means they feel the need to rescue (You can handle this), reassure (You’re so strong) or point out all the silver-linings (It could have been much worse).

9. Sometimes touch is so much more affective than words. Eye contact. Someone touching their heart. A dry steady hand on your sweaty shaky one. A warm hand on the shoulder. A big bear hug. A rub on the knee. These all speak volumes.

10. Sometimes there is a weird pride and gratitude for the opportunity to help, like when you grill an amazing steak for the first time your 47 years, or you bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan, or when you get giddy at the chance to finally learn how to use a mower because someone else has always done it and now can’t.

But mostly, here’s what I learned as I’ve received helped from others:

Make a statement. Questions add to the noise.

How are you? How is he? How did it happen? What’s the latest? Do you need some help? What do you need? What can I do to help? How are you holding up? When can he return to work? What’s his pain like? How’s his arm healing? Are the meds helping? Do you need me to do something for you? How are you feeling? Are you okay? Is he okay? Anything I can do to help? All wonderfully loving, kind-hearted and generous questions. And…questions. Lots of them. Coming at us fast like one of those automatic tennis ball servers that has you running all over the court chasing them down.

These well-intentions questions are added to the mix of everyday questions that tend to swirl around us. What are we having for dinner? What does my work schedule look like today? Tomorrow? Next week? Who’s going to pick up the kids today? Where ARE the kids today? Where do they need to be tomorrow? Do we have food? Did we do the laundry? What bills are due? Did the dog get fed? 

What happens next? Circuits overload. Texts, emails and phone calls go unanswered. Patience wears thin and guilt gets a foothold. An I don’t know stupor sets in, followed by an it doesn’t matter meltdown, which eventually leads to grid lock in the brain. And then you find yourself crying uncontrollably in the cereal aisle at the grocery store with complete strangers asking you if you’re okay. More questions.

What I’ve come to appreciate more fully through this experience is how very little we know about anything at any one moment in time. We just don’t. Which causes a great deal of anxiety for most of us. But when we were in the thick of it earlier this month, we got so overwhelmed and stressed out trying to address all the questions and options coming our way from the medical people, that we didn’t have anything left over to cope with anyone else’s questions. All those just sounded like noise, even as we knew they were well meaning.

What did cut through the noise, however, were the statements people made to us, whether in person or by text. I am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers. We’re sending you love – no need to get back to us, we just wanted you to know we’re here. We’ll be thinking about you tomorrow. Lit a candle for you today. I’m making you a meal next week. I’m stopping by to see you on Thursday – leave the door locked if you’re not up for it. I’m here if you need me. 

Decisiveness is a tremendous gift.

When we were preparing for the labor of our first baby, our midwife gave my husband some sage advice. She said, “Don’t ask her if she’s thirsty, just stick the straw by her lips…if she’s thirsty, she’ll take it…if not, she’ll bat it away.”

Decisiveness can be a gift. Questions can distract those who are in pain — be it emotional, physical or mental. It feels counterintuitive and presumptuous to decide something for someone, but when someone’s world is saturated with unanswered questions, the biggest “help” you can give them is to not add to the pile. People who tell you they want to help and repeatedly ask you how they can do that are unwittingly adding to the burden of questions to answer — even when their intentions are good. They are adding their needs to the list the caregiver is inevitably carrying.

One of the biggest learnings I got from this whole experience was from those who were bold enough to just decide something for me. They didn’t ask me my opinion or consult me in advance. They didn’t ask my permission or have me weigh in on choices or options. They didn’t feel the need to coordinate logistics or be involved in any way. They just decided.

Like the friend who, upon finding out Todd’s surgery had been started and then aborted because of the rash they found under his cast, texted me to announce I’m bringing you dinner tonight. Or the friend who was with me at the hospital that has an amazing recollection of details who chose to call my parents for me without being asked simply because he knew they’d be anxious and would want an update. Or the family member who made it a point to plan a movie date and a beach day and a concert in the park with our youngest child because she knew we would be worried about him feeling anxious and neglected as we navigated this time.

Each time this happened — and there were many — my whole body sighed with relief when someone else took the reins and decided something for me. These people just made it so easy and simple for me to say yes to their help. They just stuck a straw near my mouth when I didn’t even know I was thirsty. And I sipped.

Meet people where they are, not where they might have been.

You’re lucky, it could have been his head that got crushed…or his leg. He could be paralyzed right now. You’re lucky he didn’t die. You’re lucky it happened at work. You’re lucky you have each other and you’re not single. You’re lucky you have flexible work. You’re lucky you have a supportive workplace. At least it’s not chronic or terminal. At least it wasn’t his dominant hand. It could have been much worse. Yes, all of that is true. And it’s not remotely helpful to hear.

Most people say stuff like this with the best of intentions – they’re trying to cheer you up, have you see the silver lining, or help you to focus on the positive. What it does do instead? It immediately takes me back to the trauma, and all the what ifs and it could have been thoughts and greatest fears that churned wildly in the wake of first learning the news. It picks a scab, makes me more anxious, and ultimately has me feel guilty because try as I might, I just don’t feel “lucky” right now. What’s worse, I now feel like I can’t complain. Or say anything, lest I sound ungrateful. So I shut down.

The other thing that happened — and I suspect this is a well-meaning, but misguided attempt at relating to our story with another — is that people started to share all the gruesome and tragic stories they knew of people who got in accidents. Like the nurse in the ER who tells us we’re lucky because just last week a 62-year-old woman tripped on an acorn while on a walk with her husband, hit her head, and BOOM – died instantly. Or the person who fell down the steps and became a quadriplegic, or the person who got in a car accident and has massive brain trauma. Yea, laying on more trauma stories as a means to illustrate all the ways we’re lucky? Not so much.

Instead, I’m making a note to meet people where they are because that is what felt so damn good and helped me to feel seen and safe to open up. One of my favorite openers was You’re fucking shitting me, that sucks. Another was This must be really hard. Or one that Todd got was The man who’s always helping everybody else, now has to accept help from others. Those were real, honest and gritty responses that gave us the safe space we needed to drop into and admit: Yea, this fucking sucks right now. This is hard. I am scared. Meeting us where we were in any given moment gave us permission not to see the bright side, not be grateful, and not assure people we were “fine” when all we really wanted was to lose it or fall apart.

Be an angel investor. Presence is a fantastic present.

The afternoon we came home from Todd’s second — and successful  — surgery, we got a call from a local pizza place confirming a delivery. The guy said dinner had been called in for us and was all taken care of. Thirty minutes later two artisan pizzas, a big order of caesar salad and four cannolis magically arrived at our door. Some guy named “John” ordered it for us. We still have no idea who that kind soul is — even after checking with a few of the people we know by that name — but we were so very grateful to him. Clearly he didn’t need us to know, he just wanted us to be fed.

Anonymity in caring for people is underrated. It’s like being cared for by an angel, discovering that some amazing person helped us out when we weren’t looking. It had me realize that overly involving me in the logistics of help or trying to coordinate the delivery of it creates more noise in the system, having me feel the need to acknowledge the giver more than simply accepting the gift. And try sending a thank you note to an angel named John. Yea. That’s not something that can fit on a to do list. Crafty.

There were so many instances of this, and frankly we are still delighting in discovering them. Just last week we finally “caught” the neighbor who had been returning our garbage and recycle bins back to our garage each Thursday morning. We have gotten gift certificates to restaurants and handfuls of lottery tickets from people we barely know. I’m quite certain a pile of people have included us in their prayers at church, dedicated their yoga practice to us, or silently offered us loving and healing energy during their meditations. Angels. Every one of them.

We have this thing we say in our house when the boys ask us what they can do to help. We tell them look with your eyes. We mean to teach them to notice what needs to get done or could use some help as a means to encourage them to take initiative, rather than rely on instructions. But more recently, I’ve made a note to add to that. I want to also tell them to feel with your heart. To have them feel what needs them and respond accordingly — with a hug, a bit of encouragement or some simply love.

Leverage your strengths. Do more of what makes you awesome. 

This was one of my coolest learnings, because it was just so clear and simple to see as the receiver of help. I started to notice that the gifts were that were the easiest to receive — and sometimes even ask for — were the ones that came naturally to the giver.

Like when the neighbors who go to the beach every weekend said they wanted to take our youngest son to the beach with them for the whole day to teach him how to boogie board. Or the other neighbor who makes fresh-baked muffins every morning for her Airbnb guests, brought some extra ones over for us. She’s also the dog lover and devout walker who made sure she had a key and knew where the leash was so she could come in and take Max out for some exercise. Or the other neighbor who mows her lawn like clockwork ever week, so figured we wouldn’t mind if she mowed ours, too. Or the friend who shares our sense of humor and brought over a box of classic DVDs from the 80s and 90s to make us laugh. Or the friend who loves current events who noticed we didn’t have a subscription to the paper and thought having one delivered to the door each morning might help us feel connected us to the world. Or the co-worker that sent a text a couple times a week that made us laugh because she has a seemingly endless supply of funny dog pictures or cat videos to express something she knows we must be thinking or feeling. Or the quiet friend you could talk to for hours that cleared his calendar and stopped by for a visit to help pass the time. Or the kind-hearted spiritual neighbor who sat with us and listened intently while the tears flowed and then gradually stopped.

That’s when I started to see that sometimes getting the answer to What can I do to help? is as simple as looking at what already comes naturally to you. You don’t need to break the bank, turn into Martha Stewart or channel Ina Garten. You don’t need to make things a big hairy deal or twist yourself into a pretzel. Sometimes just doing more of what you already do easily is best. And as someone who has received these gifts, seeing them flow naturally from the giver makes it somehow easier to receive them because I know it was just an extension of who they are.

It would be tempting to close this post by making all kinds of comments that would serve as disclaimers and qualifiers to remind you just how grateful I am. But that would be just participating in my own shame, and frankly I trust you more than that. If you’ve read this far, I trust that you know I know all that, or at least are gracious enough to assume it.

This is me telling my story with my whole heart, which Brene Brown believes is the very definition of “courage”. This is also me shining a light on all the ways we can do that “lean and catch thing” Kelly Corrigan writes about in her essay Transcendence. Because, as she says, “it is only together that we will rise.”

So here, take bits and pieces of my story, and add them to your own. Share them with a friend, and then go out and live some more. Tell someone what you find and experience, so we can learn some more.

Let’s heal and be healed together, shall we?

The Heart Is A Muscle

Posted June 30th, 2016

2016-06-26 13.23.26Last Sunday I dropped my eldest son off at overnight camp for three and a half weeks. And then I proceeded to crumble.

No, that’s not entirely true. The truth is that the crumbling — much to my horror — began in earnest the night before.

On Saturday night, I was standing in the kitchen trying to put candles on the strawberry shortcake “cake” for my youngest son’s 9th birthday. A small gathering of our family in the backyard was eagerly waiting for me to reemerge with the lit cake and launch into a rousing rendition of “happy birthday” to celebrate him.

But me? I just wanted to cry. But I didn’t know that at the time. Instead, I was waging a full-out anti-crying assault in my mind:

YOU CAN’T CRY! It’s a goddamn birthday party…this is no time to be sad! What kind of mother cries at her kid’s birthday party?

DON’T BE SELFISH! This is not about you, for fuck’s sake! He’s all excited to go to camp! Don’t make him feel badly because you’ll miss him! You’re supposed to be the grown up here!

SUCK IT UP! It’s only three and a half weeks, for crying out loud! He did it last year and it was fine! Pull it together, woman. This is just silly.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!? You’re totally losing it for no reason. You’re a camp person! This is what you wanted! You’re supposed to be excited about this. Something’s wrong with you…

These were all the loud voices going through my head pre-crumble. Loud, loud, loud. Very anti-cry.

Apparently I was in the kitchen “lighting the candles” a bit longer than I had realized. Because soon enough, my eldest son appeared in the kitchen asking me if I needed help.

That’s when the first crumbling happened. I pulled him into a hug and sobbed “I’m just going to miss you SO much.” We stood there, together, and just had a quiet moment in the kitchen. Finally, I pulled away and told him I loved him, thinking that would be the last of the crumble.

You know where this is going, right?

Yup. Turns out that initial crumble was the beginning of a two-day blow.

The next day we drove him up to camp, met his counselor, got him settled in his tent, and said our goodbyes with a fair amount of grace — his younger brother was totally fine, and his dad and I were wearing these weird grins on our faces, but by and large the drop off was a non-event. 2016-06-26 18.18.12

But then after? I was a fucking mess. I crumbled like all my bones had been taken out. I cried big fat silent tears on the ride home. I cried standing in the empty kitchen. I cried sitting on my front stoop. I just couldn’t seem to stop crying.

None of my usual tricks were working. Trying to reason with myself didn’t work. Trying to “snap myself out of it” wasn’t working. Reading? Making art? Going for a run? Nope, nah, nothing.

I panicked, actually, wondering if my crying would ever stop. I’m mean, is it possible to literally die of crying?

And that’s when it hit me. I was heartbroken. 

My heart, like my quads sometimes feel after a particularly long run, had a little tear in it. My heart was a muscle, and it had stretched — like it had been given an emotional workout — to the point of ripping it a little. A Couper-sized rip.

When I made this connection in my mind, something shifted for me. Having been an athlete most of my life, I knew that those little rips of muscle were what made them grow bigger and stronger. That kind of pain was familiar to me – a welcome sign that was often indicative of a really productive workout.

The heart is a muscle. The heart is a muscle. The heart is a muscle. 

This was something that started to play in an endless loop during that two-day blow, and with each new loop of it echoing in my mind, I found I was giving myself more and more permission to feel what I was feeling. To have it be normal, expected, and even welcome. To see my tears as a result of my strength, not my weakness.

2016-06-26 18.22.50It felt like a tremendously loving act, that permission. 

There wasn’t anything wrong with me. I had simply let myself love with my whole heart…and then a little bit more for good measure. I had let myself love more than my heart had previously been able to hold.

There wasn’t anything wrong with that. There wasn’t any shame in that. In fact…once I thought about it some more, there was a fair amount of pride. There’s a reason the word courage comes from “coeur”, the French word for heart: I was being brave-hearted.

This is good pain I was feeling, not bad pain.

We talk about that a lot in our family — the difference between “good pain” (that comes naturally from growth, learning, reaching, challenging) and “bad pain” (that comes from injury, sickness, an accident, or something foreign being inflicted upon you). To illustrate my point, I have often told my sons the story of their births, and when they ask me if it hurt giving birth to them (“naturally”), I always respond honestly saying, yes, it did, but my body knew it was good pain so I was okay with it.

When my kids are literally experiencing growing pains behind a knee or in an arm, and come to me concerned, the first question they’ll generally hear me ask is: Does it feel like good pain or bad pain?

This connection — a framework, really — of my heart being a muscle that is capable of growing gave me the permission I seemed to need to cry my tears. I found I stopped apologizing (no one had been asking for it anyway), explaining (no one seemed to need one), and worrying (no one expressed concern for my sanity).

I just cried, and let my body heal my broken heart. 2016-06-25 15.54.17

Such a simple thing for my body to do, but unfortunately began with such an epic battle in my mind.

When I really let myself crawl inside that Couper-sized rip in my heart, here’s what I found:

Sadness at how the passage of time seems to be going faster and faster with our kids.
Grief for having moved beyond the phase of our kids being small and needing us as much.
Panic that there will be many more — and bigger — drop offs and goodbyes ahead of us.
Gratitude that I have been given the gift of motherhood.
Joy at knowing my son was in his happy place.
Pride at knowing that we had raised a child who felt confident enough to be independent.

And then the most amazing thing happened. I woke up Tuesday morning and felt so wonderful. The “soreness” I had been feeling in my heart from that Couper-sized rip had been repaired seemingly overnight. My permission to feel and cry my tears had helped, much like gentle stretching and the potassium in bananas goes to work on my sore muscles.

I was not only all “better”, I was stronger. I could feel it. 

Apparently I had given my heart one helluva workout and discovered that not only was it capable of rising to the occasion, but it was quite naturally ready for more.

My Latest Leap

Posted June 23rd, 2016

2016-06-16 12.27.55I can’t tell you how many days I wake up and think: I want to be as brave as my clients. 

And let me tell you…from where I sit, that’s a tall order.

In my work, I tend to be a brave people magnet, so I find myself surrounded by them daily — people striking out into unchartered waters with the voice of doubt hollering from the back of the boat, people walking a thin yet strong cord of inspiration toward a hazy vision that’s often clouded by fear, and people that are actively engaging a conversation with the unknown, even if they aren’t yet convinced they want a relationship with it…or trust that it’s telling the truth.

Brave people. 

These are my clients. We speak the same language. We inspire each other (although I don’t know the degree to which my clients realize they inspire me as much as I inspire them).

Ergo my waking invitation to myself: I want to be as brave as my clients. What does that mean?

I want to trust my intuition even more than I imagined possible — even more than the last time I did, when I scared the shit out of myself. I want to engage my fear as well as my desire. I want to acknowledge when I’m hungry, and not wait a moment longer to feed myself what I’m hungry for – creatively, spiritually, professionally, physically, emotionally.

I want to walk my talk. I want to take my own medicine. I want to feel what I am asking my clients to feel. I want to trust myself to the degree that I am asking my clients to trust themselves. It’s about integrity, alignment, and truly belonging to a tribe. A brave-hearted tribe.

So here’s my latest endeavor.

I’ll be hosting an event on July 7th in Yarmouth, Maine called An Unscripted Evening. I’ve never done anything like this before, and truth be told that excites me to no end. It’ll be part book reading, part riff on topics that are present and most relevant to the work I’m doing with my clients, and part Q&A with you, the audience. But mostly, it’s about the nourishment that happens when a community of kindred spirits gathers in the same place at the same time. It’s about the courage that can grow exponentially in the presence of others being courageous. It’s about moving toward the unknown, bantering with the what ifs, and entertaining the why nots.

It’s about being a part of a revolution, really. 

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to your instincts and what they’re telling you. Join me and a pile of other amazing people the evening of July 7th and let’s make the lights blink with the power surge that happens. Bring your journal, bring a friend, or bring your village. Bring your questions, bring your intentions, or bring your curiosity of what’s waiting for you there that night — wanting to grab your attention, bend your ear, ignite your spirit, or open your heart.

You can check out my website more more detailed information about the event. Advance tickets are now available on-line now via Brown Paper Tickets, so if you know you want to be there, I’d highly recommend grabbing your’s today. Tickets (cash only) will also be available at the door that night, as will signed copies of my book, Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer.

Here’s to leaping. Together.