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.

Simply Love.

Posted September 11th, 2015

2013-12-11 13.15.54The past two weeks have been hard. I’ve officially decided that the beginning of September is an annual shit storm no matter how I try and slice it.

The air was sticky and suffocating. The noise and chaos of the kids returning to school reached high decibels and felt like it came out of nowhere – fast – even though we knew it was coming. We were bombarded with paperwork and gobsmacked by structure and routine as our family wheels ground forward in a car that was out of gear and had seemingly viscous oil.

We forgot how to do this. We didn’t want to do this. And yet it happened anyway.

As the kids went back to school, I went back to work, having been out for a month writing the final edits on my book and taking some family vacation by the water (which was lovely, thank you). My first day back at work, I opened my laptop ready to face my busy week with as much gusto as I could manage. I tapped a few keys. Nothing. Just a blinking cursor. Tried again. Still nothing. Stymied (and sweating), I started a systematic inventory of what keys worked and what keys didn’t. I quickly learned that the entire numeric key pad had shit the bed, as well the delete and backspace keys. And the apsotrophe and quote keys.

(As a side note, you would be amazed at how much you need a damn apostrophe key.)

Ever the plucky and resourceful entrepreneur, I focused my attention on the numbers in my function keys on the top row above the letters. But it was really the delete and backspace keys that kicked me in the teeth, and I couldn’t help that feel like this was some cruel cosmic joke – like I was on some twisted entrepreneurial edition of Candid Camera or was a pawn in a small business behavior experiment. Having just written an entire book over the past year, my keyboard had become like another appendage to me – it was as familiar as my skin, just colder. And now it was fucking with me. Traitor.

Returning to the family in our hot and sticky home that night, it seemed chaos and short-circuiting had run rampant. The SRS red light had gone on in the dash in our car for no apparent reason. The dog peed on the carpet for no apparent reason. The ice maker in the freezer leaked water for no reason, creating a three inch frozen slab that made it hard to open. The little rubber head of the plunger came completely off mid-plunge for no reason, leaving my eight year old with just a stick in his hand looking a little lost at the clogged toilet.

It got to be comical, that first week – a comedy of errors. But Labor Day was on the horizon with the promise of a long weekend. So we mustered and we rallied and we plunged our way through that week, thinking the worst of the transition was behind us. How foolish of us.

2015-08-23 15.59.17Denial, it seems, works in a pinch.

We returned to start our next week, buoyed from an awesome camping trip – sun soaked and souls slaked by the cool water of a lake and velvet black skies filled with stars. It was as if nature had cleaned off our congested white boards, wiping our memory banks of the previous week. We were ready.

Except we weren’t. Clearly.

The heat returned. More paper came home from school, and with it came the school conferences. And then the sports practices. Crap piled up – everywhere – and something unidentified stunk in the house. The days started getting visibly shorter – almost overnight – while the sweltering heat seemed to intensify. We swore more. And moaned about having to wear pants and shoes.

Wah wah wah. Poor unfortunate souls. How pathetic.

Then came the fatigue, and we started using phrases like “bone tired” and became snappy and snarky. All of this ultimately led to the tears. That’s when it clicked for me.

Grief. We were grieving. Or trying to. 

We were having to let go – of the summer, the sun (such a rare treat in a northern climate), longer days, lax rules, lower expectations, bare feet, spontaneity, minimal clothing – but found we were holding on. Tightly. Ergo the shit storm. Which forced our hand as a family and had us fold, realizing we were coming up short in the face of a rather large pile of grief.

So we started talking about it – naming the things we missed and touching the aches in our hearts with words. We listened to each other and nodded in understanding, not feeling so alone in it all. We held each other, making space for the tears to fall.

We allowed our feelings to be right, not wrong. 

That’s when the shit storm finally stopped. The moment we stopped trying to run from it, rail against it, or plow through it, we were able to simply be present to it. And you know what happened next? Unbelievable waves of gratitude moved in. Here’s the story of how that happened over the course of dinner last night.

We had all come from twenty different directions, late and flying in the door from work, practice and school with lists and more papers, more dates, more expectations, more commitments. No food to speak of, no meal plan, no focus, no energy, no patience. Snarking, barking, tears and mess. We through something together, shoved it on some plates and called it dinner.

As I came to the table, I noticed all three men in my life were standing up, waiting for me to be seated first. This was something they had been doing for a while now, having talked about what “chivalry” meant. But this night, seeing them do that melted something in me, bringing me to tears. I told them they made me feel like a Queen. We sat down at our round table, and I was aware of our circle – a shape that has always felt sacred to me. Instinctively, I reached out my hands and asked if we could just breathe together for a moment – something I’ve rarely done.

We just breathed together. In and out. In and out. 

With each breath, I could feel us melting – melding – together as a family. It was delicious – like balm for my weary soul. I found I was more hungry for that connection than I was for our dinner. That was what I needed to fill me.

Love was the nourishment I needed most. 

We told stories and news about our day – just as we usually do at dinner – but it felt slower paced, like we were being more present to each other, witnessing and listening. More questions were asked. As we finished up, the kids left the table, leaving Todd and I to talk.

I was aware the music changed in that moment to a slower song on the stereo – something slower, more soulful, and heart-felt. Romantic. I reached for my husband’s hand and asked him if he’d dance with me, knowing full-well that this northern nordic man was damn near melting in the heat of the week and might be put over the edge by more body heat.

“Always”, he said. And we began to move our bodies together with the music. Our music.

Dancing with him, I was transported back to the first month we met and fell in love, which was – ironically – September. It was the month of our first date and the month we moved into our first apartment together and the month we got married. September, it seems, is – and will always be – our month. Shit storms and all.

In that dance I remembered he was home to me and that I was home to him. I remembered the first time he sang Sting’s song “Shape of My Heart” softly into my ear. I remembered the long drives on the winding country roads we used to take – for no particular reason, but just because – in his Audi with the sunroof open and the dark night skies enveloping us. I remembered the sensation of looking up into his chocolate pie eyes and how delicious and lovely it was that he was taller than I. I remember him literally picking me up and squealing with delight at being carried by his strength. I remember the feeling of finally coming home.

I was feeling with my whole body as we danced. Which made my heart swell and get warmer.

That was the final kiss of that surprisingly magical evening last night. We didn’t see it coming. In fact, we were loaded for bear, and trying our best to hold on, like we were all in raft heading through class four rapids without paddles. But without even really trying or making a conscious decision, we morphed the shit storm we seemed to be in right before our eyes into something lovely and deeply nourishing. Connection.

Love, it seems, is simple that way. 

How Big Your Brave Is

Posted July 30th, 2015

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

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

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

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

You know where this is going, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because shit’s getting real.

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

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

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

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

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

So bad I could die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want my brave to be that big.

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

 

Lie Detector

Posted June 12th, 2015

2015-06-09 19.39.00Earlier this week I felt like crying. Truth be told, it wasn’t just a moment of feeling – it was actually two entire days of wanting to cry. The sky was crying on both of these days, with intermittent rain and clouds that were gray and swollen with precipitation wanting to fall to the ground.

But me? I wasn’t allowed to rain.

Because I had all these good reasons not to. As I moved through those two days, feeling heavy with precipitation, I had this long list of excuses running through my head, an endless litany of justifications that were seeking to staunch the welling up of emotion in me like a tourniquet stops the flow of blood.

You have nothing to be sad about.
Crying doesn’t solve anything.
You just need to get busy.
This makes no sense.
You shouldn’t feel this way.
There’s no reason for this.

Except there was. My feelings apparently were my “reason” for feeling this way. And with them came a deep and insistent desire to honor them.

Except I didn’t. I marched on. Swollen.

And that is how I came to find myself crying openly at the end of my street later that night, in plain view of the rush hour traffic on one of the most heavily traveled roads in Maine. I didn’t mean to – obviously I had been working hard to avoid this very thing all day – but I credit my eventual downpour that night to an unsuspecting eleven-year old kid in our neighborhood. He was the one that finally got me to blow through my reasons.

I had taken the dogs for a walk that evening – my dog, Max, plus a friend’s dog, Zoe, who happened to be spending the day with us. Max and Zoe are the best of friends, having spend many happy hours chewing on opposite ends of the same stick, and passing a slobbered tennis ball from one mouth to another. They are in love. So, naturally, they were thrilled at the chance to spend an evening together walking through our neighborhood. I’ve never walked two large dogs together at the same time before, and was a little nervous about their leashes getting tangled up, but it turns out they were happy enough to just walk side by side – one male water dog, sleek and black, and one female herding dog, fluffy and white. As I walked behind them, I marveled at how they completed each other – one land-loving, one water-loving, her white to his black, his sleek to her fluffy, her insistent bark falling into his constant silence. They were like Jerry McGuire “you complete me” dogs, each complimenting the other to make a whole. No wonder they were friends.

All was going well on our walk that night until I was about to round the corner to our quiet street. That’s when I heard them.

The bagpipes.

I stopped in my tracks when the first strains of their unmistakably discordant music reached my ears, feeling that all-too-familiar lump in my throat build. The one I get right before I cry. Because bagpipes always make me cry. Always. They make me think of my grandfather and our family’s Scottish heritage. They make me think of my name and its ancient Gaelic roots. They make me think of weddings and funerals and people gathering for somber and celebratory occasions. The sound of bagpipes have always transported me back in time, having me feel connected to myself and the earth in a way that is both primal and sacred. Because the sound of bagpipes just makes me feel – whether I want to or not.

So of course, upon hearing them, I quietly started to cry.

2015-06-09 19.39.46

I stopped with the two dogs, and turned to watch the eleven year-old classmate of my son’s march around this triangle patch of grass in the small park located at the end of our street. I can only assume he was practicing for the upcoming Old Port Festival parade coming up this weekend, but in that moment, it felt like he was part of a divine intervention for me. I could see him glance at me from a distance, as if trying to determine if he was, in fact, the reason I had stopped. He seemed a bit uncomfortable in that moment – probably because of the tears streaming down my face – but he simply marched on, practicing while his parents sat on a nearby bench. It was then that I remembered what I had known all along.

My body always knows what’s true. 

As I stood at the end of our street that night, I cursed those bagpipes for blowing my cover, and at the same time was so very grateful to them. Because their presence – that ancient music that seems to speak to my soul – got me out of my head and into my body. It quieted my tired brain and opened my heavy heart. It had me feel instead of decide, and yield instead of negotiate.

And with that opening, I was finally able to allow my tears to fall for so many things my mind had not been able to wrap its brain around. I cried tears for Sheryl Sandberg and the husband that died in an instant, even before she could say goodbye. I cried for the children she had to hold each night when all she wanted to do was to be held herself. I cried for the empty side of her bed, and how my own bed had felt so empty just the weekend before when my husband was gone a motorcycle trip. I cried for how frail and fleeting life feels sometimes, and the unbelievable courage it takes to love someone despite that fact. And then other sensations flowed out of my heart – the sadness at having my son go away for camp for the first time in his young life and the exhaustion of being brave and trying not to worry; the despair for the family member who drinks too much and doesn’t quite know how to stop;  the angst and doubt about having written an entire book with my whole heart and wondering if it will have been worth it. 

I wasn’t a slobbering mess on this walk, quite the contrary – my tears were falling, but all the fight had gone out of me. They were flowing freely, and with every tear, something in me opened, released, and sighed with relief. In hindsight, I think I took solace on that walk, knowing that somewhere else in the world, there was probably a woman doing the same thing – letting her body talk to her.

I know this because I hear similar versions of this same story from women every day.

I work with a client who instructed me to have her “ask her body” whenever she says she doesn’t know what to do, or is overwhelmed, or scared, or confused.

“My body always knows,” she says. And it does. Every time. 

Another client’s eyes well up when we touch upon a particular phrase, without fully understanding why. So we pause, and wait for the understanding to flow from the feeling, like words from the tears.

One woman tells me to look for her tears and get curious about them, because she believes, “there is always truth in my tears.”

The reality is, I can try to lie to myself – to cajole, convince, persuade, reason, or even bully myself to believe something contrary to what I’m feeling – but my body will eventually rat me out. Especially when there are bagpipes around.

It’s like having a built in lie detector with me at all times. 

2015-06-09 19.38.09But walking with the dogs that day, Max and Zoe, I made another connection for myself. I looked down at them, walking side by side so happily, and was struck by how they were a metaphor for me “walking” with the feminine (Zoe) and masculine (Max) energy in myself. I laughed at the fact that Max was actually the only dog that I “owned”, because clearly I am much more at home with the masculine energy in myself. But the feminine? Not so much. Zoe, a visitor to our neighborhood, had been barking up a racket all afternoon, letting herself be known to me and anyone else who was within earshot. Zoe, like the feminine in me, it seems, was not to be ignored.

What I learned through the process of writing my book, is that I tend to lie most to myself when I’m craving my feminine energy, but am resisting accessing it. I tell myself little paper-cut lies like, it doesn’t matter, I’m over-reacting, I’m too sensitiveI’m out of control and losing it, or I have no reason to feel the way I feel. 

Liar, liar pants on fire.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t need a reason to feel, I just need a body. And thanks to Max and Zoey, I was using mine that day walking outside, breathing in the natural world, and hearing the bagpipes. My body knew my truth. My body was what was holding the leashes that day with the dogs.

And as I looked down at those two dogs walking side by side on the leashes I was holding in my hands, I started to get a glimpse at how it might look to have my masculine and feminine energies be integrated to make up the whole of me, walking together with me in the same general direction – happily, even, with no tangled leashes or tugging.

So that’s what I’m playing with now, trying to own the feminine energy in me more fully, and integrating it more happily with my familiar masculine energy, like two dogs walking down the same sidewalk – with Zoe as my muse and the bagpipes as my soundtrack.

My Next New Thing: Food For Thought

Posted June 3rd, 2015

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

Argh…BOOM! Ahhhhh…. YES!

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

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

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

Contributing A Verse

Posted September 10th, 2014

Contribute a verseFour weeks ago, I sat in a stale-smelling, artificially-lit waiting area of Maine Medical center. It was 6:30 am and my first-born child had just been wheeled into surgery.

First child. First surgery.

I was told – first patently, then patronizingly – that I had “no reason” to worry. The arrogant and emotionally-stunted – albeit brilliant, or so I was told repeatedly – surgeon insisted my son’s surgery was a non-event and nothing to be worried about, and attempted to mollify my concerns and questions by recounting his vast years of experience, reminding me that he could work at any hospital in the country. He was that brilliant, that good.

In one fell swoop, this surgeon-cum-God informed me that not only was I wrong to be worried on that cold medically-induced morning, but I was also remiss in not understanding how lucky I was to have him performing the operation on my son. Wrong on two counts, I was.  Yup, we were mixing like peanut butter and mustard on cinnamon-raisin bread.

In the large scheme of things, he was probably right. This wasn’t a big deal, was it? Four months prior, my son had the misfortune of getting a rather large splinter lodged in his foot when he slid across the length of his friend’s hardwood kitchen floor in socks. Unbeknownst to us, a piece remained after the initial extrication, and continued to fester – stubbornly – in the bottom of his foot, a fat and fetid chunk of dirty wood suspended in a large pocket of pus (lovely, right?) So yea, I guess a case could be made for it not being a big deal. After all, it wasn’t his heart or his brain being cut open. He didn’t have cancer. Nothing was broken, really.

My otherwise healthy eleven year old son was having a one-inch piece of wood surgically removed from the bottom of his foot. The foot that I grew inside my body. From scratch. The one that had never been cut open before by a surgeon’s knife.

I get how in the large scheme of things, I ought not to have been concerned. But here’s the thing: that morning in the hospital – and in the days leading up to it – I wasn’t living in the larger scheme. I was living in my scheme. The one where I had the right to worry. The one where worrying was a normal reaction. The one where putting my child under with general anesthesia and signing a waiver that if something went wrong it wasn’t the hospitals fault was a very big deal.

But, sadly, you know what I did when faced with this reaction from the doctor? I allowed myself to be shamed and ultimately silenced. I’d like to say it was unconscious on my part, but I’d be lying and well, let’s just not do that here. Truth be told, I actively participated in stepping down in the face of a bully with a scalpel who was deigning to care for my child, despite his annoyance with me as his unfortunate mother.

I blamed it on my pediatrician, the DO with whom I had entrusted my children’s care for nearly twelve years. The one who listened compassionately and offered the perfect blend of head and heart, traditional and alternative care, listening and counseling. The one who has assured me that I had a right to ask questions and encouraged me to be resourceful and gather information and options until I had answers. The one who validated that it was, in fact, my job to advocate for my child. The one that told me to listen to my instincts. The one who told me it’s not a crazy outlandish notion to want to feel that you can trust someone with your child’s life.

But instead, I got out the flog and started beating myself with it (for shame, Lael!) I told myself I was spoiled and had come to expect too much from doctors. I told myself that most surgeons were like that. I told myself that they had to be that way, and that it made them better when they were not caught up in the emotion of it all. I told myself that I had no reason to complain because there are plenty of parents out there every day with real reasons to worry. It’s all fuzzy to me now, but I believe I even used words like “silly” and “over-reacting” and “hormonal” in this internal rant.

I essentially told myself to shut the fuck up. And I did.

They wheeled my son off for surgery and I sat down in the doughy and stained chair to wait. Resigned, I picked up a newspaper and there was the news that Robin Williams had just ended his life the day before. That was all it took. I burst out into sobs, days of frustration mixing with worry and angst and grief at such a tragic loss. Because you see, like many of you, I grew up with Mork. I moved onto him after the Fonz wasn’t cool anymore. My friends and I actually said “Nanoo-nanoo” and I never did get, but oh my, did I want a pair of those rainbow suspenders. Then, as an adult, I got to appreciate his intellectual brilliance in addition to his artistic talent and timing, marveling at how smart he had to be deliver that fantastic political-cultural-comical shit so fast and furious. It was dazzling. And then he could switch gears and deliver these heart-felt dramatic performances. Mind blowing, he was.

And now he’s gone. And I’m crying.

Fast forward a week, and my son is at home with me, bandaged foot (minus the splinter) propped up on the couch. Admittedly, I used that convalescing time to go on a bit of a Robin Williams movie bender. It was cold and raining outside. We both love movies. I had been holding out watching Dead Poets Society with him, though, because it had been so long since I’d seen it I couldn’t recall if it was appropriate (it wasn’t). And how ironic, with the suicide theme. But it a conversation is sparked for us about education, and how the best moments of learning can feel so amazing – so alive. I play for him this scene where Robin Williams’s character, John Keating illustrates the power of a poem (Walt Whitman’s Oh Me, Oh Life)  to evoke desire, to ignite dreams, to call forth inspired action.

We start talking about his move into middle school in a few weeks and how this new community he was about to enter favors an expeditionary model for learning. I smile, knowing that he’s about to be introduced to one of my favorite ways to learn – the kind of experiences that are electrically-charged, powered by an entire community, shared freely like a productive virus, and entirely memorable. The kind of experience that sneak up and teach you without realizing you’re learning. I start to get more and more animated (frothy mouthed at this point, I’m sure) about how awesome learning feels when it’s charged with excitement, possibility and a sense of adventure.

We talk about that line from Walt Whitman’s poem: “The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse” and what that means. The gift of a life. The choice that is ours to make. Daily. The footprint that is your distinct mark to leave on this world. Your verse – a legacy, an impression, a contribution. All yours. For us.

The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.

Then I ask him the same question Robin Williams asks his students in that scene: What will your verse be?

As a side note – and an ironic twist of fate – Apple used the voice-over from that same Dead Poet’s clip when they launched their iPod Air TV ad campaigns back in January of this year. Gives me chills watching it. Every. Time. It describes why I do what I do in the world. All those verses just waiting to be written…or not. Frothy stuff.

As another side note, I’m fairly certain most of that conversation I had with my son went over his head. I’m also relatively sure it had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. Thankfully, wise and gracious kid that he is, I think he got that impression, too (the frothy spittle probably gave me away…), and lucky me, he didn’t make a big deal about it.

But here’s what I’ve concluded having come out the other side of living that story: it is a big deal.

My verse. And contributing it to the play we are all living.

That’s what I traded in when I told myself to shut the fuck up that morning. That’s what I thwarted when I silenced myself with shame. That’s what I started to give up, to hand over when I trash-talked my instincts and mocked my needs.

My verse. My voice.

It’s not “silly”, it’s honest. I wasn’t being “hormonal”, I was experiencing blatant sexism. I wasn’t “over-reacting”, I was being bullied and feeling invisible.

So thank you, Robin. For reminding me of the gift I – we all, each one of us – have been given. And thank you for reminding me it is – and has always been – my choice as to how I use it. Or don’t. Thank you for making me laugh first, and cry later, which helped me to stand up a bit taller and feel a little lighter. Thank you for asking me – us all – that question time and time again, which serves as a reminder that we can choose to write that verse with each new day.

I know what my verse will be.

Actively Disrupting Normal

Posted August 7th, 2014

Crossroads-tracks-flickrIf I had a file folder in my office labeled “BIG DOINS” it would be bursting at the seams right about now.

Whitney Johnson calls what I’m doing “disrupting myself”. That sounds about right. I first heard her own disruption story at Business Innovation Factory’s annual summit (#BIF7) and something about her strategic and systematic approach to creating change resonated with me. It was brave and badass. Not for the faint of heart. Unlike the myriad of circumstances that can intervene and bump us off course (downsizing, illness, markets crashing, bubbles popping), “disrupting” by her definition is about consciously setting about altering your course with the intention of making space for something new to move in and/or reveal itself.

That’s what I’m doing. Disrupting myself to beat the band.

Most days this has me over-the-moon excited and chomping at the bit. But some days – especially last week, when I was making decisions and pulling triggers – it had me saying holyshitholyshitholyshit. Here is what I know to be true, though. What always helps me to navigate these moments in life – when my toes are curled and gripping the edge in anticipation of taking a leap of faith – is to tell my story.

That, my friend, is where you come in.

I’m going to crack open my bulging file and let you in on what’s going down – and up and over. I want some witnesses. I want to celebrate the abyss I am flying into with wild abandon. It’s what I ask of the audience at my SheSpeaks events…to catch the stories as they are being told, even lived. You don’t need to understand all of it, respond to it, or even agree with it. Just bear witness to it. And do me a favor if you will, and hold me like you love me while I lay it all out. That helps, too.

I’m taking all of August off. Again.
2012-10-06 11.26.26Last year, I made the decision to finance a mini-sabbatical for myself. One delicious month off where I wouldn’t be in the office or work with clients. Far from a personal retreat in Bali, it was more of a logistical stop-gap measure brought about by the fact that we didn’t have camp/childcare coverage for August. Plus, it secretly scratched my Spicoli-sized itch I get nearly every August that tempts me to play hooky (everybody does it…), blow it off (it can wait…), jump ship (you only live once), fuck convention (it’s boring) and chillax in my flip-flops like my life depends on it. Now let me be clear: enjoying this time isn’t what’s hard. In fact, I often joke that if vacationing were an Olympic sport I’d be a serious contender. No, the hardest part is authorizing myself to take it, and trusting that I will have a reason to come back.  Believing that an investment in me is, in fact, an investment in my business. The truth of the matter is, I do. I believe in unplugging and leaves of absence and don’t want to wait for a cosmic 2×4 to need to run interference in my life (again) to make that happen. I know life is short. And my long summer days with young kids, coloring with chalk in the driveway, having water fights and doing delicious amounts of absolutely nothing are seriously limited. So last year, they – my kids were my excuse. This year, I am. Actually, scratch that…this year I realized I don’t need an excuse. I’m taking this month off – August – off again. Period. I am a fierce champion for my clients taking bold and badass leaps of faith fueled by courage and a strong hunch. This is me matching their courage stride for stride. Because I can. So I will see you in September, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed and full of fresh new me-ness.

I’m starting a men’s group this fall. Ready or not.
This one has me throw up in my mouth a little, I’m so excited. For years, I’ve had this idea of forming a men’s group. Unfortunately, I’ve also had a rather loud and obnoxious voice of doubt saying, “you can’t do that, you’re a woman!”. So I waited for someone else to do it. I even approached several men I know about the idea, suggesting what a great idea it would be and offering to help them get it going. Nothing. Nada. This year, I finally said “fuck it” to that loud voice in my head.The Men I Know I raised my hand, called on myself, and started talking aloud to others about it. What I discovered is that it’s a good idea. And a timely one. So today, I’m thrilled to announce that not only have I designed the men’s experience I envisioned, but I’ve met with seven men who are interested in participating and it’s nearly full. So it’s happening. Finally.

I’m writing a book. For real.
For those of you who have been following me and supporting me over the years, this might not be news. But it is. Because although I have talked about it a lot – in my writing, on stage, with my clients – it wasn’t moving forward. It. Just. Wasn’t. I’ve had some promising fits and starts over the past year after I set that intention, but nothing of substance that lit me up enough to morph a daunting task into a I-have-to-keep-going-with-this-or-I’ll-explode experience (the latter is where I do my best writing, by the way). But all that changed earlier this summer. I upped my ante with my own coach, got fierce with my time, and enlisted a KICK-ASS posse of people to be my “batch-catchers”, essentially creating a reason for me to write each week. At this point, I will bow down and kiss the feet of my 12 devoted BCs…without you reading my shizzle weekly I would be a hot mess of constipated words. I would also like to give a shout out to the amazing, Melissa McCarthy and her performance in Bridesmaids, which inspired me to use the phrase “it’s comin’ outta me like lava” to describe my process of writing these days. So. Stand. Back.

And please pardon my absence on this blog, Facebook, Twitter, my monthly Touchstones and all other forms of social engagement while I unleash the hounds, inflate a creative bubble around me, and ride this beast of goodness I’m on until it’s done. It helps to lower the cone of silence as I dig into and make this particular form of art. And yes, of course I’ll still be seeing my coaching and consulting clients as I do this…as well as my women’s circle and my men’s group. I’m only disrupting myself, I’m not completely bat shit crazy.

I’m taking a year-long hiatus from SheSpeaks. Gulp.
Lael Sourcing - Melissa Mullen PhotographyThis was perhaps the biggest decision I made recently. If you’ve been to any one of the SIX SheSpeaks I have held over the past three years, you’ll know that this evening of women’s storytelling I offer is near and dear to my heart. You’ll also know it’s typically sold out in advance, being one of my most popular events. But every time I get off stage from that event, a number of people approach me in person or over email and say, “so when are you going to write a book?” I have been asked, encouraged, and thumped on the back for years, by clients and strangers saying they wanted to read the book I would someday write, which has felt equally awesome and intimidating. In many ways, it was this encouragement that enabled me to make this hard decision to cancel the Winter (Dec 4, 2014) and Spring (May 2015) SheSpeak events. Which I have done. Sigh. Gulp. The five speakers I had lined up for my December SheSpeaks “Swagger” have all graciously and enthusiastically accepted my invitation to join me on the stage NEXT December instead of this one. Hard, hard, hard. But right, right, right. Write. That’s what freeing up this creative space is about. Gathering up that space and creative mojo and channeling it into my book, instead of preparing more bite-sized pieces for the stage. Lawd, I hope this is worth it. My toes are still sore from hanging onto the edge of this one. But somewhere deep in my heart, I thought I heard a deep sigh. And a resounding “yes”.

So there it is. My new normal. Or at least the latest series of disruptions I’m invoking to deliver me to its doorstep. Truth be told, I’ve always thought “normal” was a bit over-rated, preferring to identify with the “Abby Normal” set as per Young Frankenstein.

So scary? Toe-curling? Vomit producing? Nail-biting? Sure. Risk tends to have that effect on people. We’re only human.

But Thrilling? Edge-of-your-seat suspense? Eye-popping excitement? Feeling wide awake to life and how it’s unfolding? You betcha.

That’s me. Abby. Abby Normal. Shaken, not stirred.