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!

A Witch Waking Story

Posted August 3rd, 2017

I’m going to tell you a story that has five parts. Five, I’ve learned, is associated with the universal symbol of the witch. When connected, they form a pentagram, which is the very same design you’ll find when you cut through the center of an apple – you know, the one that made Eve the patroness of Nasty Women? No coincidence, right?

I’m telling you this story because, while deeply personal to me, I’m starting to see how it’s bigger than just me. I’ve been doing this work for nearly twelve years now, so this isn’t a new awareness by any means, but it seems to continually smack me upside the head in bigger and bigger ways.

And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re starting to get that, too. Maybe you’re getting curious about your own story as a woman. Maybe you have a daughter and you’re watching her wondering if her story will be different than your own. Maybe you’re wondering what the hell is going on in our world and you’re questioning everything you’ve ever been told or believed about being a woman. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in these words—in this story—and it will create an opening in you. For you. To go into.

I dunno. But there’s one way to find out, eh?

Part 1: My story begins with my body. Because truly, doesn’t every story begin with our bodies? I wrote about it recently on Instagram, feeling vulnerable and self-conscious as I did, but also thinking, “I can’t be the only one experiencing this…” And sure enough, I wasn’t. Because I heard from you offline (which is telling that it’s still not entirely safe talking about our sexuality and the power that lives in our bodies publicly in the comments).

I wrote about how I had been terrified for months that I had cancer—or something equally devastating. What began as a head cold back in March, sort of settled in my throat and never really went away. It lingered and then got worse, giving me the sensation of having one of those large marbles lodged in my throat. Sometimes the sensation moved down into my chest, having me feel short of breath, never allowing me to get that last full part of my inhale, just like I did when I was very pregnant with my babies and was carrying them high. I just. Couldn’t. Breathe. I found I was putting my arms above my head and grabbing onto the tops of doorways in my idle moments, hoping to create just a bit more space inside me for my breath to enter.

In the back of my mind, I knew it had everything to do with what I had just lived through in my woman’s body following November’s election. I remember the sensation of that night, and the wise voice in my head that started speaking shortly after that, cautioning me about staying whole, helping toxins to move through my body, and the need to feel my feelings.

So, like many women did, I got my ass to a crackerjack therapist—a new one—who helped me to cry my tears and give voice to the truth and the anger and the despair that was bubbling up in me. I gradually got off Facebook and started turning off the news.

I also started writing my second book—the one about women not waiting (to do that thing, go for it, make it happen, step into the arena, live their life, lead)—which was flowing out of me like hot lava at the time.

The marble in my throat got bigger and more time passed. I got better at living with it, ignoring it most days and powering through it. I doubled down on things like gratitude, prayer, and solitude, but I also stopped moving my body. I started holding myself still. At some point, I became frozen, like one of those mosquitos stuck in amber. I told myself I was stressed, heartbroken, angry, and that it would eventually pass. But inside? Inside I was terrified I had finally pushed the needle too far. Inside I was convinced the other shoe was about to drop.

Eventually, I got worried enough that I decided to seek counsel from the world of traditional medicine, feeling like I needed some concrete data on my body to put my over-active mind at ease. I was ready to know. I started with a full work up with my blood, and when that came back “normal”, I felt something in my body exhale. When the kind doctor looked down at me after completing my endoscopy and said, “You don’t have cancer. You’re perfectly normal”, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. More relief. I looked up at her, this stranger, and asked, “So this is stress?” She nodded.

Which honestly, was a relief, but was also a source of shame. How could I let this happen knowing what I know? I knew better, and yet I let this get to me—get inside me. And more shame: I couldn’t talk about this because I had no right to complain…I am white and have so many privileges as a result—who am I to complain about the stress getting to me? But you know what? None of that mattered. My body patiently waited with its marble while I made my way out and about and finally, back into my body.

Part 2: Then my witch woke up. With a twinkle in her eye and a full body stretch. It seems she had been waiting for me. It began in earnest when I started reading Lisa Lister’s mind-blowingly awesome book Witch. Always a fan of anything prefaced by “Un”, I was immediately drawn to the subtitle: Unleashed, Untamed. Unapologetic. Having written a book entitled Unscripted, I immediately sensed that this woman was a soul sister living across the pond.

I’d always loved the word “witch”, but tended to use “witchy woman” so as to differentiate my meaning from its identification with Wiccan, which is a specific spiritual practice I don’t necessarily adhere to. That being said, in recent years women have been referring to my women’s circle as their coven, so there’s that.

Lisa defines a witch as this:

“The witch represents the part of each of us that has been censored, ignored, punished and demonized. And it’s a part that wants—no needs—to be accessed and fully expressed. The witch is a woman fully in her power. She’s in touch with the dark. She knows how to be the witness, how to let things go and how to follow her own counsel. Most importantly, though, she questions EVERYTHING. She’s connected, pussy to the earth. She hears the whispers of those who have gone before her, and she feels the ancient secrets that are in her bones. She’s the one who knows without fail that there’s more of this life than actually meets the eye. She causes hierarchical power structures to shake in her wake. She knows that in any given moment, she can be a hot mess, a woman of grace and beauty, angry and grief-struck, loved and pleasure-sated, tired and soft or raw and vulnerable. She also knows that in some moments, she can be all of this at once. She is whole.”

Yea. That.

That is what I have been referring to all these years as “the and”. That was why I needed to write my first book for myself—to sort all that shit out and to reconfigure myself in a way that made sense to me—that allowed me to see the fullest range of myself, to grab all that is within me without apology, and then to put it to use in the world.

I’ll never forget where I was when I was reading her book. We were camping on the shore of this beautiful river, and it was like the sounds of the water moving over the rocks matched the words on the pages I was reading. It reminded me of the currents inside myself that would always lead me home. Inside my body.

During our three day stay on the river, my youngest son and I made it into a sacred place, erecting over twenty tall cairns of stones all along the shore. I felt like a witch, and I watched as both my husband and my son looked at me, and were drawn to me and the power I was clearly tapping into.

I came home from that trip and found a package resting on my doorstep. It turns out it was a random “just because” present sent by one of my oldest and dearest friends. She had taken a trip to Italy with her daughter this past spring and she wrote: “Saw this in Florence and immediately knew it was for you.” I opened the package, and a tsunami of energy washed over me—a combination of gratitude, love, serendipity and what I can only describe as witch-power. My hand flew to my chest as I picked up the leather bound journal that featured an embossed rendering of Botticelli’s Three Graces.

Not two days before, I had said aloud “I need a grimoire to write down all this stuff.” And now here it was.

Part 3: I got to work healing my body with my body. Meaning: I handed the reins over to my body and said “you steer”. I did what I could to get really quiet and I made more of an effort to listen. I tried my best not to laugh or dismiss the ideas that rolled into my consciousness, like when I couldn’t get the word “jasper” out of my head and finally looked up the significance of that stone and then made a new set of mala beads out of them and bought a jasper yoni egg so I could both wear that stone as well as carry it inside me. All hands on deck. Full court press.

I cracked open my grimoire and I started becoming a student of what I already knew deep down inside me. I started unearthing wisdom in myself that felt exciting and new as much as it did affirming and ancient.

I pulled out all my essential oils and started to use them with intention. I allowed myself to be drawn to certain colors. I paid attention to my appetite and what I was hungry for—and gave myself permission to not eat for long periods of time if my body didn’t feel like it, even when it was “time to eat”. I started to make a more direct connection for myself between my sexuality and my vitality—an awareness that had been building in me for a while, but that got hijacked by my brain so easily in this world of busy and doing and thinking. I started to crave making teas and concocting things like rituals and spells and magic. I started to consider the fact that there was more power in me than I realized—like I had been using just the little finger nail of my pinky, when, in fact, I could be using the entire hand. And my full body. I started to use the phrase “I desire” and then smiled when I realized that is the very same word I chose in January to be my word of the 2017 when we painted our words as a family on the wall of our kitchen.

I knew how to do this.

Part 4: I followed where my path led me. Yesterday, when I was flat on my back getting a “massage” (I put massage in quotes because this woman is clearly a mad-skilled wild woman witch who does more than simply work with my muscles…), I felt her hands and energy be drawn to my heart. She knew about the marble in my throat—I had shared that much with her—and had asked her to tune into the conversation my body was trying to have with me. She put one hand under my body between my shoulder blades and the other she placed lightly on my chest. And she held them there. For a while. Until I felt this wail build up from the depths of me (Oh no, I’m going to lose it…shit, here it comes…stand the fuck back, it’s gonna blow!), and I made sounds that I’d only heard myself make one other time…when I was in the depths of labor birthing my sons. As her hands held steady, my body convulsed with sobs underneath them. One passed, and another started to build, like waves hitting the shore after a storm.

Then, she flipped me over onto my stomach and put both hands on my back. I heard her ask out loud (to my guides, to her guides, to the universe…) What IS this? I was so relieved to have someone other than myself asking that question. A moment later, she said “Mama Bear energy”, and again, I sobbed, this time with anger at the injustice, violence and whole-scale systematic oppression of women that now seemed publicly sanctioned. Apparently I had been carrying that around on my back, reluctant to put it down lest I forget it.

Needless to say I was spent. Wrung out like a sponge.

My “plan” had been to go to this massage and then pop into a coffee shop to crank out some client work before heading out on my August break. She knew this plan, and after working me for much longer than we both had anticipated, she gently suggested that I take a moment before shifting gears—“…maybe take yourself to the water…” 

Which I did. I found a country road and followed it along the coast until it ended. I just keep taking these big huge sighs, and with each one I felt a bit lighter.

I came to a place along the water and pulled over, thinking I would literally get right by the water, maybe even in it.

I wasn’t supposed to be here. I hadn’t planned on it. I didn’t have time for this. I had a mountain of work to get through and here I was just…wandering. I was going to disappoint someone because shit wasn’t getting done when I said it was going to get done. Why couldn’t I just focus, put my head down and get it done? That’s the gist of what my tired brain was saying.

But my body? My body said YAAAAAAASSSSSSS. This is where you are now. Right here is where you’re supposed to be.

So I plopped myself down, pulled out my mala beads (I wear them around my neck for just this occasion…) and went through all 108 of them. When I was done, I opened my eyes and looked across the water at this rocky ledge that was jutting out. And that’s when it hit me.

I’d been here before. Right in this very spot, only last time I was out on that rocky ledge, talking about my life and my business with a trusted friend. It was almost exactly six years ago. I was at a crossroads in my life—wanting something more, but not really knowing if I was worthy of it or could pull it off. You know, that Who Am I…? conversation Marianne Williamson talks about. Sigh. That one.

The conversation on that day was a catalyst for me to make some big changes at SheChanges. Shortly after that I completely re-hauled my website, clarified my brand, stepped away from what felt stale and no longer served me, and grabbed ahold of the idea that would become SheSpeaks, the ever-popular evening of women’s storytelling that, ultimately, was the springboard for my first book to be born.

What my friend and I didn’t know at the time was that there was a woman who was painting us as we were sitting out there. We had seen a woman with an easel, but we weren’t aware that we had ambled into her field of view and become subjects in her painting.

And here’s the really cool part. My friend? She managed to track down the artist, buy the painting, and give it to me with a note that read: As a symbol of our friendship and women making change in the world. For years, I had that painting packed away, but just found it again last year and put it on our bookshelf. When I came home yesterday, I flipped it over on the back and saw that the artist (who’s name, sadly, is illegible…) wrote: Solving? or Creating? Problems!

I shit you not.

Part 5: Coming full circle. Which brings me to where I find myself today.

Driving over to that spot yesterday—long before I realized where I was heading and what its significance would be—I had this thought: I gather the witches. And sometimes the men who love them.

I was thinking about the event that scares the shit out of me this September, and the six brave women who will join me on stage this December at SheSpeaks, and the six women who will gather with my for my women’s circle this fall and winter. I was thinking about the men’s group I have almost had on multiple occasions, that feels more timely now than ever. I was thinking about the second book I am writing that has my hair on fire and can’t come out fast enough.

But I know I am poised at another crossroads in my life now. Sitting there yesterday thinking Who am I…? with that marble in my throat, holding back my heartache and anger for fear of….what? It’s power? It’s impact? My safety?

And like that day on the rocks, I already know what my answer will be. It’s the same one it always is: Yes.

Why? Because that’s the witches’ word. A solemn oath. An ancient promise that has me coming full circle again and again and again. Walking my path with as much courage and moxie as I can muster in my white, privileged woman’s body.

 

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 will go on sale November 1st.

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.

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 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.

Eruptions From My Soul

Posted February 5th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plentiful void… Plentiful void… Plentiful void… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only say yes to what erupts from my soul.

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

MAKE ART

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

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

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

GIVE FROM THE HEART

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

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

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

TELL BIRTH STORIES

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

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

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

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

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

FEED THE SENSES

This one has been interesting and the most surprising eruption.

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

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

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

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

DANCE FREELY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laying Hands on The Empty Spot

Posted January 28th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big, long, lush E-X-H-A-L-E. 

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

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

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

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

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

And perhaps you might know the void that follows.

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

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

“Oh… it feels so empty in there now.”

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

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

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

It’s a lot to wrap your brain around. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is why I needed a lifeline. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching & Releasing My Shame

Posted November 19th, 2015

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

Shame can’t live outside me. 

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

Catching and releasing my shame has become my new thing. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what happened:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I did. Leave. Quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bet you hit pay dirt like I did.

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

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

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