Full Enough

Posted June 15th, 2017

Here’s a confession: I was on a walk with a friend recently and when she asked enthusiastically, “So what’s next for you?” I almost burst into tears.

But I didn’t. Instead, I threw some words out that talked about this and that…to fill the space and answer her question. At which point she asked me more questions about specifics…to be helpful. And then the “Nos” started coming out of my mouth…much to my horror.

Have you ever thought about doing this?
Not really.

What about that?
Nope.

Have you ever considered this?
No…

What about doing that…you’d be great at that.
Nah.

I felt like a failure—like I’d let her down with my vague responses and lack of specificity.
I felt ashamed of the abundance of my NOs and my refusal to cooperate with her obvious desire to be supportive and helpful.
I felt like I was wrong to feel what I was feeling.
I felt like I was missing out on something everyone else was already going after.
I felt unambitious.
I felt like a fraud or a charlatan.
I felt insecure.
I felt exhausted.

The reality is that I was full – I wasn’t hungry for more just yet.
The reality is that I am neck-deep in the process of writing a book that is consuming my thoughts and scaring the shit out of me.
The reality is that I am completely feeling enough right where I am.
The reality is that there is a time and a place for outreach, brainstorming and “ambition” and it is not now or here (for me).
The reality is that I am not a failure, I am not vague, and I have never lacked ambition.
The reality is that I am crystal fucking clear on what matters most and am all over it right now.
The reality is that I have never felt more proud, aligned and full of integrity as I do now.
The reality is that I know myself really well and I’m really good at honoring the me that I am.

This woman is an amazing person, a wise soul, and a fierce champion. I treasure her. So this is not about her, and I know that. Her intentions were only the best and her questions were from a place of love. I get that. I love her for that. I know this is about me, not her.

My point is this: I had no business being on that walk. I knew better than to put myself further out in the noise unnecessarily.

Another friend—who happens to be a creative soul as I am—put it best for me years ago. She said that there are times for inputs and there are times for outputs. Glennon Doyle talks about her creative process in terms of an inhale and an exhale. The moon waxes and wanes. The tides are high and low. There is a time to sew the seeds in the fields and there is a time to reap the harvest from them.

I’m outputting.
I’m exhaling.
I’m a waxing moon.
I’m a high tide.
I’m reaping my harvest.

I get this. I live this. I work with other women to get this and live this. And yet, I forget this…until I remember it again.

That’s what I mean when I say I had no business going on that walk as I did. What I ought to have done instead was to assume more responsibility for where I was and what I needed—to name it clearly and give voice to it publicly. She totally would have been down with that. And I would have left that walk energized and not depleted.

Now did I realize all that in the moment? Hell no. That insight (remembering) only occurred to me many weeks later when a client forwarded me this amazing article on making space in our frantic GO BIG society for mediocrity to be enough. You know, those moments when we feel at peace and embrace where we are just as we are? So this is hindsight talking. But I’m hoping that by sharing this with you today I will be pocketing away something useful next time I find myself here.

Being full enough.

 

Want to follow along with me as I write my book?
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Living My Prayer

Posted April 15th, 2016

2016-04-15 12.01.28Do you have a minute? (sure you do.) Do you wanna play? (it’s okay if you’ve forgotten how…) You’re not alone.

This TED talk by Shonda Rhimes has just moved into the top slot of my all-time favorite TEDs (sorry Liz and Brene…). I think I held my breath the whole time I watched it just now…she just spoke so directly to my soul, I didn’t want any ambient noise to distract me. Even my own. Her bottomline (which I assure you is not a spoiler…) is this:

“Work doesn’t work without play.”

There was one particular part of her TED talk that pinged something in my core. She was talking about how “The Hum” she consistently had been getting from her work in the world — a self-proclaimed “Titan” writing and producing three to four award-winning television shows simultaneously season after season — had simply gone away.

The Hum she likened to “God’s whisper right in my ear” — the very thing that kept her feeling fulfilled, fueled and inspired; the very thing she had come to attach her identity and worth to — wasn’t there for her anymore. It just stopped. And was replaced by silence.

She’s quick to admit that outwardly nothing appeared to have changed (“all the colors were the same”) — she still showed up, wrote, produced and assumed the role of Titan. But on the inside? It was a different story.

She feared her Hum was broken — like its engine had died.

The work didn’t change, but the nourishment she derived from it did. And now she was starved for her Hum, but not knowing where or how to get it from any place other than work. She missed it so much she started to wonder: “Who am I without the Hum”…or even more to the point: “What am I without the Hum”?

And then she said it. That phrase that made something cold inside me start to melt just a little, like the girl from Frozen Shonda references that finally let go of whatever the thing she needed to let go of:

“In the homelessness of my humlessness, I have nothing to do but pay attention.” 

I was dumbstruck by that phrase. Slack-jawed with the resonance of what it touched within myself:

My worry about where my Hum has gone. 

Because something in me has shifted in me since I wrote and released my book. At times it’s exciting (yay: intrigue, curiosity, shiny new toy), and other days it’s completely terrifying (holy shit: panic, fear, bracing for impact).

It’s still hard for me to put words to it, but I sense the shift when I am aware of how much time and space and silence I seem to be requiring these days. This need of mine appears to have grown exponentially over the last year, and I’m a bit intimidated by it.

—How do I honor that need and still run a profitable business?
—What if I’m becoming lazy or worse…selfish?
—What is happening to me?

I suspect it has something to do with the pinky swear I made to myself last year. I wrote about this experience as “giving birth to consent” in my book — it was the moment I made a sacred promise to honor the feminine energy that lives within me; to never again turn my back on her. So long as we both shall live.

2016-04-15 12.44.33We even got hitched — a ceremony, vows, a ring (I thought a moonstone was a nice touch…) — and made it all official.

Here’s what I know about my relationship to the feminine and what it will ask of me thanks to the work of Marion Woodman:

“The feminine can’t be understood, it can only be experienced as presence.”

So not to put too sharp a point on it, but apparently I can’t think, strategize or muscle my way through this one. I have to yield, open, create space, and listen.

It’s about Play for me. As in the verb. 

Which, to be honest, I have resisted. I get that now, but it’s been a process to see the degree to which I have tightly managed that desire. I remember not too long ago on one particular toothy phone call with my editor, I instructed her to yank the chapter entitled “Simply Play” from my book because we had hit a snarly editorial knot. I even joked with my husband that my new favorite phrase was “just fucking delete it.” 

But a second after I’d offed Play and relegated it to the cutting room floor, I caught myself and said: “Hold on…I think that’s what I’ve been doing my entire life…” And then I fought for it to stay in.

And now? I’m doing my damnedest to live it. The SPACE (not my ability, mind you, but my intention) I hold for Play in my life has become the essence of the “living prayer” I talk about in my book.

I’ve realized that “work” isn’t work for me at all — it’s easy. It comes naturally and is sanctioned, supported, and publicly celebrated in our society. But “play”…ah that is where I need to stay awake and alert. THAT is what I need to actively nourish.

And in case it’s not patently obvious — which it might not be if you haven’t read my book yet… — “work” is how my masculine energy shows up in the world in all its glory. It has a robust appetite and I am extremely skilled at feeding it. “Play”, on the other hand, is how my feminine energy is expressed, and like many of us…I’m still on training wheels when it comes to its feeding schedule. But I’m in it for the long-haul and I’m hellbent on learning how to ride this bike on my own. With both of my wheels —work and play, masculine and feminine — moving me forward.

The feminine is about being present to myself. Period.

That realization is all well and good, but in a very similar vein to Shonda’s story, things started to get wonky right after that spit and shake with the feminine in me. For instance, my internal world started to demand to be fed much more than it has in the past. It’s no longer satisfied with the little licks of nourishment I had doled out to it on the sampler-sized ice cream spoons in the past.

The feminine in me wanted more than just a little lick. 

And after what I considered a good feeding — a handful of days off to play hooky, unplugging, a more gentle schedule, lower expectations, permission to push things off — my appetite for it didn’t wane, it actually grew.

Which in one regard was a good sign, right? The feminine in me was getting stronger, more comfortable, and confident in the solidity of our relationship. But on the other hand, it begged the question of its capacity to eat…would it ever leave me alone? Would it ever be full?

The answer to that, I know, is yes. 

But in the meantime it’s uncomfortable and weird and slightly terrifying to trust myself — and my instincts around nourishment — to this extent.

I bump up against selfish, and privilege, and shame daily as I invest in my relationship to the feminine in me.

ShondaBut I want to talk about it with you here (among other places), because I firmly believe this is the way I will live my prayer out loud. I want to be that brave. Like Shonda is.

So thank you, Shonda Rhimes. Thank you for telling your story so that I don’t feel so alone. Or crazy. Or both.

You’ve inspired me to keep going on this path.

And to keep saying yes to Play. 

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.

Sourcing The Feminine

Posted May 14th, 2014

Lael Sourcing - Melissa Mullen PhotographyThe following is a transcript from last week’s SheSpeaks, my evening of women’s storytelling. This particular piece was my second of the evening, and was told prior to Kate Davis’s story on The Strategy of Magic.

I’ve been doing this thing recently (draw infinity sign) – I don’t think it’s a tick, but it’s actually starting to concern me because I can’t seem to stop doing it. Seriously. My life seems to be all about this (draw) right now and I’m just starting to understand what that means.

It first started for me when my women’s group this winter was exploring the topic of “work life balance” – go ahead and role your eyes if you’d like, because that’s what WE all did. It feel chronic, never-ending, and almost cliché. In fact, we dabbled with calling the topic that night “Fuck Balance!” because it just seemed impossible.

And in many ways, it is. Because what we’re doing is essentially asking ourselves to choose – at any one moment in time, between work or life. The way we have it set up is that to fulfill one, necessarily comes at the cost the other. Which is bullshit. Most of us want both. We know we can’t have it ALL (we get that now), but surely we don’t need to CHOOSE between TWO things that matter to us. So we started looking at the conversation underneath that “balance” conversation as a means to uncover what we were REALLY talking about. And wanting.

I’m an artist at heart, so I started drawing as we were talking. We wanted to feed our ambition, use our voices, our power and intellect. We wanted to have impact, make some noise, rattle some old cages, be independent and make more money. We also were tired and wanted to retreat, to be still, to take naps in the sun. We wanted to feed our spirits, fill our senses, move our bodies, write, read and make soup. Maybe some bread.

And that’s when it occurred to me, we’re not really talking about “work and life” in this whole conversation, we’re talking about The Masculine and The Feminine. We weren’t talking about balance, we were talking about integration.

Then we did the coolest thing. Someone called for a show of hands: Who identifies with the masculine? All eight hands but one flew up. We gasped audibly, I guess because we were surprised that we weren’t alone. Here was this group of women – sitting in a WOMEN’S CIRCLE that was called ON BEING A WOMAN…which was hosted by SHEChanges –  and we were acknowledging that most of us were dripping with masculine energy, craving The Feminine, but feeling unsure of what that even meant. Or when we understood it, we’d even want it.

So how does all this relate to our theme of Sourcing tonight? What I’m suggesting is that SOURCE – our source, THE source, your source – where ever you go to get the goods, answers, guidance – IS The Feminine. They’re one and the same. So what we are actively seeking to pull in to our lives more – what we are craving – is actually The Feminine energy living in us, demanding to be fed. 

Now, here’s something to try at home: do a quick Google search for “The Feminine” and see what it offers you. What you’ll most likely find are a whole bunch of references of Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, about “the problem with no name.” You’ll also be inundated with LOTS images of scantily clad women and tons of sexual references and innuendo.

But The Feminine is more than just political agenda, gender roles or sex.

Here’s another experiment…try to engage a group of women or men or a group of both in a conversation about The Feminine and watch how it flares up, quickly morphs into a conversation about “men and women” and then just as quickly peters out. It reminds me of what Brene Brown says about her researcher on subject of shame…it’s a sure-fire way to repel people at dinner parties. Funny, how those two topics trigger similar responses from people.

The challenge we face, then, is that when we are seeking to “source” The Feminine, it strangely elusive and hard to track down.  You’re also on your own and left to your own devices to figure it out, because it’s difficult (if not impossible) to engage others in a conversation about The Feminine. Sometimes I feel like that lost baby bird in the Dr. Seuss book wandering around looking for its mother…are you my mother? Are you my mother?

But here’s what I do know. Whatever it is: we want it. The Feminine represents much – if not ALL – of what we’re craving in our lives. In our world: peace, flow, grace, ease, connection, communion, reverence, awe, intimacy, compassion, depth, presence, wisdom.

One of the women in my women’s circle this past winter said it best: “I don’t know what it is, what it means, or how to get it, but when you put a THE on THE FEMININE, I so want a piece of that!”

So often in our society we are asked to choose between two things – I mentioned work or life. In the case of sourcing The Feminine, does that mean we need to jump ship and leave the masculine behind!? In this either/or society, sometimes that’s what we’re led to believe. I don’t know about you, but there is no friggin WAY I want to part with the masculine energy inside me. I adore it. In many ways, it’s all I’ve ever known. I would NOT give that part of me up without a fight.

But this is not about giving up anything. It’s about expanding into what we are already. It’s about allowing ourselves to inhabit MORE of ourselves. It’s about dancing with both energies – the masculine AND the feminine – that live inside each of us. It’s about integration, not balance. It’s about dove-tailing, not a zero sum game. It’s about this (draw), flowing between two fuel tanks within us, not throwing a switch, turning one on or shutting it off. 

Intermission

Posted September 5th, 2013

2013-09-05 08.15.23Many years ago, I was pulled out of the corporate rat race very suddenly for a medical leave. Up until that day, I thought I had it goin’ on – I was feeling in the zone, spinning all my plates, dazzling people with my fancy footwork, and buying into my illusion of feeling invincible. Never mind the fact that I was bone tired, spiritually emaciated, and completely disconnected from all my sources of nourishment. I was a junkie and work (and the accolades that came from it) was my heroin.

Then I got a wake up call.

The very next day I went out on a medical leave for three months – a maternity leave, minus the baby. All those important meetings I “needed” to attend? Gone. My schedule that was a solid block of busy from 8-7? Wiped clean. Obligations? Promises? Intentions? All renegotiated, tabled, forgiven, or forgotten. In less than 24-hours, I literally worked myself out of a job. It turns out I wasn’t that important. I quickly learned the earth would keep turning on its axis even in the face of disappointment, incompleteness, or failure to produce, do, or deliver.

I will forever be grateful for that lesson.

Because in those three months I found myself again in all the noisy confusion that had become my life. It was a good life, yes, with lots of fulfillment and riches – but it was loud, had too many moving pieces, and wasn’t ultimately sustainable. In those months, I asked for help and guidance from the universe, from my family and friends, and from a few wise and trusted spiritual teachers. I was trying to make sense of my life. And somewhere along that journey, I realized that isn’t possible using just my head. I couldn’t simply will myself to make it all work. I had to listen to the entirely of me for that to be possible – using my heart, my spirit and my physical body for counsel as well as my mind.

I realized I had let myself become reduced to simply a head with feet.

996167_626027297408414_1096786616_nMany life-altering realizations were born out of that time. In fact, I often bless the child I lost at the beginning of that leave, for giving his life so that I could rebirth my own life – this time more fully and with much more intention. It was on that leave that I decided it was time to exit the corporate world to start my own business, and I began to create SheChanges (although I didn’t know what it was called at the time…that would come much later). I also realized (contrary to my previous beliefs about myself) that I was a deeply spiritual person, and began to see the degree to which I had cut myself off from any forms of spiritual connection – nature, silence, spiritual practices, even movement.

I began to more fully appreciate the space that was needed in order for me to live my life more fully.

As an extroverted person who thinks best in a crowd and gets infused with energy in social gatherings, I had overlooked my need for privacy and quiet reflection. I came to appreciate the importance of holding counsel with myself, which is much more than simply being alone – it’s about deep listening to one’s own voice. Because as much as I love to generate and create in the presence of others, my best seeds of ideas and embers of wisdom are born within me. All of me. Alone.

I made a promise to myself on that leave to design a life that incorporated my need for space and reflection.

As grateful as I am to that leave for waking me up, I never want the universe to have to intervene in my life to that degree again. I never want to experience another cosmic 2×4 upside the head. That was rugged, and jarring (to say the least), and extreme. During that leave, I pledged to assume responsibility for my own life, which included the care and feeling of my entire being – even if it wasn’t convenient, even if I didn’t have “enough” (time, money, justification) to make it happen, even if I was needed elsewhere, even if others didn’t understand it or thought me selfish.

It hasn’t been easy or smooth sailing. I’ve failed grandly at times – gotten sick, run down, and fried as a result of burning the candle at both ends and overestimating my capacity to get shit done. But I have had successes, too. Many of them. I take myself away two times a year for a solo retreat – nothing fancy, just a couple of days in a cheap inn or crashing at a friend’s island cottage when they’re not using it. But it does the trick – just two days, sometimes three, all by myself. No distractions, no noise, no obligations other than to listen deeply. Many of my clients have been inspired to adopt the same practice for themselves, one even calling it her “Me Retreat”, and have discovered both the challenges (guilt! too busy! selfish!) and the benefits (clarity! perspective! guidance!) firsthand.

But this summer I did something that surprised even me.

2013-09-05 08.15.13Earlier this year I decided I would take the entire month of August off. And I actually did. Four. Whole. Weeks. I still laugh when I think about it, because there were so many reasons I could have used on myself not to make it happen. I had just moved into an amazing new office in June, after having worked out of my home for the past eight years. This new added expense – not to mention the excitement of wanting to be IN it – could have been enough to have me reconsider. But nope. I pulled the trigger, telling my clients I was NOT going to be in the office August (gulp), squirreling away money each month to finance it (YES!), setting up my auto-responder (gotta love technology), and then getting myself out of dodge. I unplugged, got off social media, put down the iphone and picked up my camera, stopped writing to do lists, and made decisions for my days using the weather, my mood, and our family’s inclinations (within reason…) as our only guides.

I did it. And I’m wicked proud.

I got so much out of it, I’ve decided to make it an annual occurrence. As a way of honoring the fact that I actually set the intention and followed through with it (tah-dah!), I thought I’d share my top learnings from the month (in no particular order…) – lest I forget them in the heart of winter when I’m having doubts about doing it again…

  • You can go for a really long time without a shower if a lake is around
  • Coloring with crayons is a fantastic form of meditation (pictures in this post are from my journal)
  • It’s amazing how much more I laugh when I’m not thinking so hard
  • My senses come out to play in full force when technology/noise is turned off
  • Carpets are over-rated, dirt rules
  • It’s possible to function quite well with very few clothes to choose from
  • Clock-free living is the fastest way for me to plug into my own rhythms
  • I return to center very quickly given permission
  • I’m a better mom, wife, neighbor, friend when I give myself what I need with wild abandon
  • Living sensually and being a sexual being is so much more than simply sex
  • Things (the answers, the keys, the idea…) will find you when they’re ready to
  • Directions, recipes and guidance are merely suggestions, not the gospel

And finally…Gratitude.

2013-09-05 08.14.55Thank you to everyone who has believed in me – past, present, and future. Thank you to those who said “Good for you!” and “That’s fantastic!” upon hearing my news of an August hiatus, instead of the “Must be nice…” and “I wish I could do that…” comments I feared I’d get. Thank you for your encouragement, your support, your hive-fives, and your warm reception back as I’ve re-entered.  Thank you for recognizing that taking a break like that was not easy and took a bunch of courage – to not only DO, but to publicly SHARE with others. Thank you for reminding me how easily we confuse jealousy with inspiration.

Here’s to a life filled with juicy and life-giving intermissions.

 

Lessons from the Lake

Posted September 18th, 2012

The halo effect from August is still very much with me. I just keep thinking about what a gift that month was to my psyche and my body. It’s still giving to me.

In many ways, I feel like I swam my way through this past August. Literally. I was in the water every chance I could get, loving the sensation of pulling and pushing my body through the water. I had fish envy.

As a water sign, I get power from all things water – tears, lakes, even rain – so this isn’t  any new revelation for me. But this summer it felt even more powerful.

Maybe I was just ready to receive the gifts of the water this summer. Maybe 43 was my magical number for really being able to drink in the lessons of the water. Whatever is was that enabled me to take it all in – my own wisdom or simply the expansiveness of a series of perfectly blissful days on the restorative lakes of Maine and New Hampshire – I am entirely grateful to the water and its offerings this summer.

Here is what it taught me:

Breathe with the waves, not against them

It sounds obvious, but if you’ve ever done an open water swim in really choppy water, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes you turn your head to breathe and you get a lung full of water instead of air. Sure, you can muscle your way through and charge ahead – which is what I would have done if I were training. But this year, I let the water tell me what to do – I let it instruct me on how best to be with it. And surprise, surprise – it worked! Feeling the waves roll through my body as I swam, I could sense when I was up on the crest of the wave (and could breathe), and when I was in the trough (and need to keep my mouth shut and head down). I went to sleep many nights in August with that rhythm of the waves rocking me to sleep, as my inner ear continued to play out the movement on dry land. That’s when it hit me…I could heed the water’s instruction to me on dry land, too: breathe at the crest, rest at the trough, look up and get your bearings at the top, put your head down and trust at the bottom. It’s amazing how I effort less when I work with that rhythm. It just makes sense.

Orientation is everywhere if you just open your eyes

If I don’t have a kayaker with me to accompany me across the lake, my tendency is to pick a 200 meter stretch that’s close to shore and use this to do do “laps”. What’s key here is having a fixed bearing to orient myself (like a buoy or a dock) so that I make a direct line from here to there. That’s all well and good when it’s relatively calm, but when it gets choppy and the whitecaps pick up on the lake, it’s really difficult to keep them in your sights. At times I felt really distracted and disoriented – maddened, even – by this fact. Until I realized – duh! – that I could use the underwater bearings to orient me just as well. There is a whole landscape underwater- downed trees, distinctive rocks, even the occasional coke can – that be used to orient, much like lights that line a runway for planes. Once I realized I could use this secret underwater guidance system, I relaxed into the water and stopped fighting gravity so much. Again, I thought about the relevance to my life…where else was I missing information and guidance that was literally right under my nose waiting to be discovered? Where else was I struggling to keep my head above water, when the answers I needed were below it? I began to see where else I might get orientation – perhaps even relying on senses other than sight, tuning into sensations or sounds to guide me along the “right” path.

Rest and rigor aren’t mutually exclusive

I’ve often joked that I have two speeds: really fast and stop. It’s a rather extreme way of living, and yes, I’ve crashed and burned many times as a result of stripping my gears trying to move from one to another – or worse yet, getting stuck in one. But I had it all wrong. The water taught me that. The rigor that comes when I move fast and focused isn’t mutually exclusive with the rest and ease that can come with stopping. When I was swimming longer distances this summer, I experimented with trying to relax AS I was swimming hard – to see if I could access that sweet spot of surrender and ease, at the same time I was exerting myself. It wasn’t immediate, that awareness of just how to do that, but I did find a way to hold them both in my body at once. I found the key was my breathe (duh!) and keeping it deep and even. I also found another clue in the length of my extension and in my willingness to allow for my glide between strokes to come to its fullest expression. I think it’s what my master’s swim  coach has been trying to teach me for years, but I finally got it – it’s about efficiency and not rushing my stroke. It’s about letting all the pieces of my stroke work for – and through – me. Having recently learned to row, I now see it is a similar lesson to leveraging both the “catch” and “release” of a stroke. It seems the are not mutually exclusive as I had once thought, but are two sides of the same coin.

The noise under the noise is so sweet

I am a night owl, often staying up way after everyone else in my family has drifted off to dreamland. It’s my special time, where I do my best thinking and dreaming and plan-hatching. Spending so much time by the water this August, I found myself drifting outside, drinking up all those private sounds that echo off the lake at night – the cry of the loons, the unseen water lapping gently against the dock, the spring peepers, and the occasional sound of laughter or the random piece of story from a nearby neighbors. We live in an extremely noisy society. I’ve always known this (and loved it, at times, being a relatively noisy person…), but this summer I was reminded of the sweetness that lies just below the noise. It’s invisible during the day, but it’s always there, patiently waiting for the noise to stop. So I made a promise to myself this August – to make sure I”m make more space for this underlying sweetness to emerge from the noise of mylife. Which means I need to shut up more. And shut down. And listen. Because it speaks to me in volumes, that sweetness, and I want more of it in my life. I even recorded a 20 second clip on my iphone of what it sounds like so I can have it remind me when I forget.

Storms are better observed than endured

Is there anything more spectacular than witnessing an awesome thunderstorm roll across a New Hampshire lake!? I marvel at it every time. But this year, it taught me something about storms. It offered me a new way to be with them: reverence. Growing up as a runner, I was trained to never let the weather stop you – to run in rain, ice, and yes, storms. But as a former waterfront director, I know all too well the protocol for storms on a lake: GET OUT OF THE WATER, find shelter, and wait for the storm to pass. Which it will. It always does. Watching the storms blow through those days in August, I thought about my relationship to them in the context of my life – did I resent them? Resist them? Nope. I endured them. What a waste! What have I missed as a result of “getting through” a storm – the spectacular displays, the majestic forces of nature at work, the sweetness of shelter… So this summer, I silent thanked the storms for their lesson. And I made a note to bring a bit more reverence to them in my travels beyond the lake.

Enough.

Posted November 29th, 2011

Last month I got a series of frantic calls from Verizon. “You’re about to go over on your minutes! We need to act NOW so you won’t go over…We can easily just upgrade your plan to take care of that…”

Or, I thought, I could just talk less.

Honestly, with all the other urgent issues in the world – global warming, domestic violence, a failing economy, a WAR – was the fact that I was approaching my limit of cell phone minutes for the month THAT much of a crisis?

Apparently so.

More. Better. Faster. Newer. Unlimited. Super-size. Value-pack. High-Speed. Anytime. Mega. Supercalifragilisticexpilodocious.

The bottomline for me is I want to stop. I need to stop. And if having fewer minutes forces me to reign my busy little self in, then so be it. I want to put down my phone and play Rukus with my kids instead.I want to be “out of range”  and not have access to wi-fi sometimes. I want to hear a “ding” and know that it’s not my phone that’s calling to me. I don’t want to be available as much as my technology would deem appropriate.

I want to deem what’s appropriate.

I don’t want to buy things in bulk. I don’t want to have extra stuff kicking around in case I need it. I’d rather have my space back. I don’t want to be told I’m a fool to pass up an offer to get two for one or all you can eat. I don’t want to super-size my life, thank you very much.

I just want to have what I need. Enough.

But it’s so damn hard when I am constantly made to feel like I’m a throwback to the Richie Cunningham days. Yes my phone is still 3G. Yes we are stubbornly clinging to the basic cable package with only 12 channels. No, we don’t have call waiting. No, we don’t have unlimited minutes on our phones. Yes, we finally let our BJ’s membership lapse when we  no longer had the excuse of buying diapers.

Do I think this makes me a better person than other people who have all these things or make different decisions? Absolutely not. Make no mistake about it, I’m not self-righteous. I’m desperate.

I’m drawing my line in the sand. I’m keeping my minutes just where they are, Verizon. Thank you for your concern for my well-being, but I’ll work with what I’ve got.

And maybe I’ll bring back poodle skirts while I’m at it.

Mastering Slow

Posted May 10th, 2011

You know the fable about the tortoise and the hare? I’ve always secretly rooted for the hare. I know the turtle is wiser, more patient and certainly strategic, but the hare just seems like she has more fun. That bushy tail? The sassy attitude, the outward confidence, the witty banter? And the speed! Don’t even get me started on that…

But here’s the thing: at the age of forty-two, I’m beginning to change my tune a bit. I’m thinking the tortoise might have an interesting idea. I’m not thick – I get that that’s the moral of the story – it’s just that I never thought it would be remotely appealing to me. 

Training for triathlons, I’ve often joked that my mind is writing checks my body can’t cash. In my mind, I’m that rabbit, moving from here to there and back again with grace and ease. But if you were to replay the video tape of the rabbit a bit, she looks a little tired, bordering on frantic. Certainly anaerobic.  And who am I kidding, it’s not just about triathlons, it’s kind of a way of life. A hare’s way.

Most recently I’ve been working with a Master’s swim coach who has me training using my heart rate as a guide. Um yeah. My hare’s heart rate. Swim. Count your heart beats for six seconds. Swim slower. Count. Swim s.l.o.w.e.r. Seriously? Frustrated I asked, “so slower is better?” “No”, she responds (10 bucks she’s in the tortoise camp), “efficient is better.” Oh.

That did it for me. I’m giving it a try. Being a tortoise, that is. I’m all about efficiency these days, so maybe it’s time. I going to lengthen my strokes, keep it steady and smile my slow turtle smile. My only ask is that I keep my bushy tail. 

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Stupid Rules

Posted April 5th, 2011

My face hurts. It’s because of laughing. About balance.

Last night one of my women’s circles gathered around that very topic and we howled (and cried) as we teased apart this thing they call Balance (and for the record, by the end of the night, most of us ditched that term in favor of “grounded” or “centered” or even “in control.”)

As a group, we were fascinated by the ridiculous and often unattainable expectations we set for ourselves. We discovered we shared a mutual penchant for wanting to “have it all”, despite our recognition that this was clearly not possible. We howled out loud – and were brought to tears – as we spoke of our frustrations in trying to juggle the various roles we have, our disappointments at letting ourselves (and others) down, and the resulting shame we often felt in not having figured it out yet. We came to realize these thoughts and expectations were like this “dirty little secret” women didn’t talk about. Except last night, of course. When we broke the rule.

The laughter felt damn good.

Liza Donnelly, a New Yorker cartoonist, is a master at getting people to laugh at these rules we set for ourselves as a society. She spoke about her own experience recently at TEDWomen and shared her story of how she’s used humor as a tool to combat her “fear of womanhood”. As her cartoons flashed behind her (and the audience roared with laughter), she illustrated her point of how we are imprinted with messages at birth and then bombarded with more messages – often conflicting – that tell us how to be. We know this, right?

Well here’s an interesting twist she put out there for us to consider. Women, she asserts, often are the ones to police the rules because we are the carriers of the traditions. So we pass these rules down from generation to generation. The problem with the rules is that they are vague. Those rules that we do know, we’re not terribly fond of – and they are constantly changing. She points out the obvious tenuous position this puts us in as women.

So what to do? Use humor to change them. Liza believes that women+humor=change. Why women? “Because women are on the ground floor and we know the traditions so well, we can have amazing antennae and can bring a different voice to the table”

Her mission? To think about these stupid rules we’re following as well as laugh. She believes “we can change this thing, one laugh at a time.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to have a sore face if it means creating some change in this world.

Border Collies Get It

Posted March 1st, 2011

So I have this new theory about Balance – or lack thereof. It’s helped me to ditch the unrealistic expectations and see things for what they are: constantly in motion and always changing.

My sister used to have this border collie named Bobo. She was a rock star. She had one purpose in life and she took it very seriously. Her job was to account for all the sheep and keep them together at all times. The only problem was that my sister didn’t own any sheep. So any people that came into her home inadvertently signed up for this role.

Picture this: You are at a party at my sister’s house with about twenty other people. You’re talking, having a glass of wine and meeting some new people. All of a sudden you realize everyone at the party is standing really close to you. You look around and discover that all the guests at the party are tightly concentrated – some would say even squished – into the center of the living room. You don’t even need to check. You know Bobo is out there. You hear her clicking toe nails dutifully encircling us. The sheep. You know she’s smiling her doggie smile at having contained us all so neatly.
Until one of us breaks rank. Someone has to go to the bathroom, or maybe gets nervous in the presence of so many “close talkers” and moves to the outside edges of the room or makes a break for the kitchen.
See, Bobo? She gets it. She knows that sheep will always, always needed tending. Happy as she is with her job, she expects the errant sheep. It’s job security for her. Keeps her on her toes, entertained even.
So how does this relate to balance? I don’t know about you, but I fall prey to the illusion of all my sheep staying put. I circle them once and then crash on the couch, assuming they stay where I left them like good little sheep. At least until I’m good and ready to round them up again.
I’ve come to realize that’s some seriously flawed logic. Here’s how that scenario plays out:
I do the laundry, pay the bills, grocery shop, clean the house, straighten up, do the kids’ paperwork for school, get my hair cut, exercise, sleep, have sex, connect with my friends, work with a client, empty the dishwasher, drop off the dry cleaning, meditate and shovel the driveway. There. All the sheep are accounted for and in a nice tidy bunch. All done, right?
No, because I look up from the couch and there it is. Chaos. The sheep are all over the place! Again.
And that’s why Bobo is so wise. She knows this thing we humans call “balance” is really an illusion. It’s never “there” or “done”. Ever. She knows it’s all relative and fluid, never static.
So the grocery shopping didn’t get done, but the dog fur is vacuumed up and the kids lunches were made! Of course you didn’t sleep much this week, because you grocery shopped and cooked up a storm to fill your freezer with meals and even made some for your sick neighbor! So the bills are all stacked up on the office desk (which is a mess), but you got some good lovin’ this week and are feeling totally sated because of all that exercise! Sure all that laundry is done (and actually put away), but you look see yourself in the mirror and see all that crazy hair and those eyebrows which have taken on a life of their own…
You get the picture. Sounds familiar, right? Dare I say, “realistic”?
See, Bobo knows life is like a spider web. You pull one corner of the web and another corner has to give a bit. If you spend time chasing down one errant sheep, another sheep is bound to take advantage of the situation and make a run for it.
It just makes sense. So maybe it’s a new theory and maybe it’s just new to me. But Bobo knows.