The Heart is A Muscle

Posted November 30th, 2016

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

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

Originally posted 6.30.16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know where this is going, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want some good medicine for your heart muscle?

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

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

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

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

Stay On The Mat

Posted November 4th, 2016

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

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

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

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

Gasp. Sputter. Pft. Fuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke and mirrors, baby. Smoke and mirrors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Glennon? Thank you.

Want to stay in touch in the meantime?

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

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

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

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

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

Help: Given & Received

Posted August 2nd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make a statement. Questions add to the noise.

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

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

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

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

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

Decisiveness is a tremendous gift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be an angel investor. Presence is a fantastic present.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heart Is A Muscle

Posted June 30th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know where this is going, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Yes, And…

Posted October 2nd, 2015

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

“Oh shit…I don’t belong here.”

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Anita Dore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I to talk about this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how that might look:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

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.

Sourcing New Stories

Posted May 30th, 2014

2012-10-06 11.26.26I’ve been playing around with the idea of our stories as a source – and how the things we tell ourselves ABOUT ourselves can guide us…but only up to a point. My most recent thought about this is that around mid-life, our stories start to run out of gas…we reach the end of the line with them and they start to give us diminishing returns.

When you think about it, the stories we collect and share are really just evidence of the beliefs we hold dear. They serve to reinforce themselves time and time again each time we share them. Until they run out of gas and sputter out.

One such belief of mine is “I’m a fighter”.

I’ve long cherished this belief about myself, and have countless stories I could tell – of my childhood and having been completely deaf for nearly a year before anyone realized it…  living with my mom as she navigated a drawn-out and nasty divorce…being a division one runner…to being a woman working in the corporate world – that would serve as evidence to reinforce that belief of me being a fighter. Scrappy. Resourceful. Resilient. Fierce. Strong.

Earlier this year, my eldest son and I got totally sucked into the Divergent book series. The book is based on a dystopian society, where at the age of 16 you have to make a choice to identify with one of five factions – each one valuing a particular quality. We both flew through the books, knowing the movie was coming out soon, and were eager to compare notes. We both wanted to know which faction WE would have chosen for ourselves.

In my mind, it was a clear cut choice for me – a no-brainer, plain as the noise on my face. I would have chosen the Dauntless faction. This was the faction that valued courage above all else. They were the warriors of the society, totally badass – physically capable, mentally strong, fiercely loyal.

But I didn’t say any of this, I just asked my son to guess my faction. He looked at me thoughtfully, and said, “I’m thinking you’d either be Amity (which valued Harmony) or Abnegation (which valued selflessness)”. My jaw dropped. Images flashed through my mind from my life, and I felt ridiculously close to having an identity crisis.

How could my son not see me more clearly? How could he not get that my most treasured quality is courage?

After all, this was the SAME son, who when he was six on our vacation at a lake house accidentally knocked over a steel davit– one of those big hooks that held boats away from the docks – in such a way that it actually fell down on top of him, pinning the skinniest part of him to the ground. Had it not been for a railroad tie by his feet that acted like a fulcrum displacing some of the weight, he would have been crushed.  I heard his screams and came running outside. Without hesitation, I lifted up the davit and told him to drag himself out from under it, which he did. He was rattled, as were we, and we went to the ER to make sure he had no internal damage. “How much did that davit weigh?”, I heard the Doctor ask my husband. “About 500 lbs, the same weight as my motorcycle.” My jaw dropped. I had heard about mothers lifting cars off their children, but I honestly didn’t believe it. It hadn’t felt that heavy, but try as I might later that night, I could NOT lift that davit one inch off the ground.

Surely that act alone, would qualify me for the Dauntless faction.

In many ways, that’s who I am. I rally, I rise, I respond to the call, ready for action. Ready to fight, if need be. So as I listened to my son that day, I could feel myself DIGGING in. HOLDING ON.

Around this same time, I was reading the Desire Map and trying to solidify my five words that best described how I wanted to feel in life.  I put DAUNTLESS right at the top of my list. Other words followed like POTENT and RESOURCEFUL and SHINING. I wrote them on a pink sticky and posted them in my office.

And then the strangest thing happened. I noticed that every time I saw them, I felt exhausted. Drained. Uninspired. I sighed a lot when I looked at them. They depleted me just hanging out on a stickie, let alone considering putting them into action.

I told one of my friends, “It’s like all the fight has gone out of me.”

What I’ve come to appreciate through the convergence of a bunch of other events since that day, it that my masculine energy in me – the fighter in me – has been tapped one too many times. Depleted. It’s simply not working for me like it used to. It’s a story that has told itself out, making way for a new story to emerge – one where The Feminine energy in me is the main character. Which, to be quite honest, is a completely foreign concept to me.

When I went to an energy worker earlier this year, she said, “Hmph. Your entire body – especially your lymphatic system (the fluids that house your emotion and spirit) is stuck in fight mode. And fight is just another form of protection. Which means your body is afraid….and has been for many, many lifetimes. It seems it’s all you’ve ever known.” Oh. So I asked her what she thought I should do.

“Do? There is no doing here. Only feeling. And being. Everything right now needs to flow from your heart, not your head.”

Shit. Then I asked, “For how long?” And she just smiled. 

Yielding. That’s what I’m talking about here.

Yielding as means of sourcing my Feminine energy. It’s all about opening, receiving, allowing, and feeling my way as I go. Allowing myself to feel vulnerability as I’ve never felt it before. No fighting, no rising up, nothing to protect. Just some fresh new stories to live.

The preceding was a transcript from a portion of my own story I shared on stage at SheSpeaks, my evening of storytelling held 5.8.14. This particular segment was used to set the stage and segue to Erin Oldham, the fourth storyteller of that evening.

Small Mirrors

Posted May 27th, 2014

Little MirrorsThis past Mother’s Day, my littlest son crawled into bed with me in the morning with a big grin, ready to finally give me the gift he’d been waiting a six-year-old’s version of forever to give me.In the days leading up to this big moment, he’d tried on multiple occasions to strike sophisticated bargins that would enable him to give me this heart-felt present sooner.Needless to say, I made him wait.

And it was so worth it.

Because in that moment, as his little chest was near-to-bursting with anticipation and pride, I unrolled a beautiful piece of his artwork that was lovingly prompted and laminated by his teacher. And in doing so, I unrolled myself.

My son didn’t just give me a gift. He gave me myself. Laminated.

There it was – there I was – all boiled down to words and phrases that expressed how he saw me. The things I knew and took pride in – the fact that I’m creative, own my awesome (or “osum”), and make a mean chocolate chip cookie. Then there were the things I didn’t tend to see in myself – my beauty, my compassion and the degree to which I care for those I love.

But as I read through all this on that morning with him by my side, one-line shimmered brightly through my tears:

“My Mom always says be careful (or carfl)”

Long after we had snuggled and marveled over the color choices in his art and the heart-felt words he chose, I stayed in bed and thought about that one particular shimmering phrase. I wasn’t simply belaboring a short-coming, beating up myself again, or fretting over the past. I wasn’t discounting all the other thoughts and sentiments on his card. There wasn’t any harsh judgment or charged accusations in the bed as I held his card. It was different this time. This time I was I was seeing myself more clearly as a result of looking through his eyes. He was mirroring me. For me.

And the thing was: it was perfectly timed.

He couldn’t have known it at the time, but he was delivering to me yet another story that I had outlived. More than something I had moved beyond in my past, this particular phrase was now getting in my way of living into my future. Here it was – the thing that had been getting me hung up in my underwear – that constant caution I carried in my psyche. In my body. In my heart.

Be careful.

I read that phrase, and I winced. Because I knew if I were to unpack that particular phrase, I would find an infestation of words that had me playing small, living in doubt, feeding my fear. Inside that phrase there would be things like “get it right”, “don’t take risks”, and “you’re not _____ enough”. I knew them all intimately, but never before had I seen them together so clearly, presenting such a united front. Staring me down boldly from behind the safe cover of lamination.

As I sat there that morning, I reflected on how often I had uttered that phrase, “be careful” to my kids. My eldest joked about it with me, saying that if I had my way I’d wrap them both in poppy paper. Now my youngest had it laminated. I could make a case for that being a patent and perfectly standard caution that comes out of most parents’ mouths without us even realizing it. But that would be an excuse for me not to look closer at what was being shown to me in that moment.

I thought of what I valued and what I wanted to teach my kids: my legacy to them. Did I want them to be careful, to mitigate against risk, to proceed through life with caution and a guarded nature? This is not a trick question I was presenting myself, but a genuine reckoning I was having with myself as a parent. And the answer, not surprisingly, was a resounding “NO”. I thought of my most treasured values (learning, growth, courage) and mantras (figure it out as you go, launch and learn) and people I admired who inspired me (Anne Lamott, Danielle LaPorte, Cheryl Strayed), and realized – with crystal clarity – how that “be careful” story I had been carrying around so diligently (sometimes absently unaware) for most of my adult life was in direct opposition to what I wanted. What I loved. To the process of living, really.

I wanted to be the mom who said “Go for it!”

2014-05-23 16.11.14The next day, I pulled my littlest aside and thanked him for his gift. I told him about my discovery and my new-found desire to leave “careful” behind. Then I enlisted his support, having learned years ago that my kids were rock stars in little sneakers when it came to holding adults accountable. He listened with a glimmer in his eye as he heard my plan to replace the majority of “be careful’s” in my life with “go for its”, and nodded with wisdom beyond his years when I said it might take me a while to break the habit. A deal was struck in that moment. In witnessing my proclamation,

it was if he was saying, “Go for it, Mom.”

Since that day, I’ve been reflecting just how much those two stale words “be” and “careful” have soured my life’s ambition. To be honest, I’m proud of the risks I’ve taken personally and professionally. Thankfully the sail of my spirit of adventure has been vast enough to hold a fair amount of wind and weather some storms along the way. But there is more. More wind, a reserve sail I’ve been saving, and much more of me that has been cowering in the wings, waiting for it to be safe enough to come out and play. Of that I am certain.

My decision to write a book that would put more of me out further into the world is the most recent example, and seems to have created an opening for “be careful” to take up residence in my sinews once again. It leads me to creep and lillydip, taking one step forward, and two steps back, instead of plunging into this new creative endeavor with wild abandon. “Be careful” has been a downer, a buzz-kill, and a drag, kind of like inviting an actuary, an insurance adjustor and an accountant to join you on a long road trip to who-knows-where.

It’s fear I’m facing, really.

Anne Lamott wrote about it last week in a Facebook post. She spoke about how “perfectionism is the great enemy of the writer, and of life, our sweet messy beautiful screwed up human lives.” She writes that it will “keep you very scared and restless your entire life if you do not awaken, and fight back, and if you’re an artist, it will destroy you.” Yup, I’ve got that, Anne. Laminated and everything.

So it seems I’ve been “careful” of the wrong thing…It’s not making messy art or plunging into the unknown I ought to fear, it’s the call to perfectionism and way it lulls us to sleep, whispers sweet nothings about safety, and keeps us from going for it – our dreams, the discovery, the experience, the journey. Living. Life.

So I’m going for it. And I have a witness, now many, if you’d be so kind. No need for lamination this time, I’ve got it committed to memory.

Thanks to my little mirror and his gift.