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. 

 

 

Winnowing

Posted October 8th, 2013

winnowingI slept horribly last night, and not for lack of trying. It happens when I’m approaching a creative jag, most commonly around the equinoxes in spring and fall.

I know I’m not alone in this pattern – I work with enough writers to know this is the blessing and the curse of the creative mind: very little sleep ultimately yields fully formed thoughts and pages that take shape in our heads long before pouring out of us effortlessly upon waking.

My husband has found me many times crouched on the edge of the bathtub in the middle of the night, madly scribbling notes on a scrap of paper with only the dim night light to illuminate the page. He once watched me for a half hour as I wrote down my thoughts in the pitch dark of our bedroom while laying in our bed, trying to ascertain if I was asleep (and enacting a bizarre dream) or, in fact, awake (and possessing a freakishly odd talent for writing in the dark). It was the latter, by the way.

At the age of forty-four, I’ve come to appreciate the need to strike while the creative iron is hot – to ride the wave of inspiration as it’s rolling to shore. As much as we’d like to, I firmly believe we can’t schedule or force moments like these – they are just born. Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself these days as inspiration finds me in the middle of the night.

It beats the hell out of the other reason: Perimenopause. That would just be sad.

Here’s the seed of inspiration that found me as I tried to sleep last night – and I think it’s pretty apt, given the season we’re in: Winnowing. It’s a concept I share frequently with my clients, and it seems to find a home with them as they navigate change, and find themselves sorting through what they want, and what’s just old and coming along for the ride.

The concept of winnowing is ancient, but my story with it begins when I was eight or nine. At the time, we had a parakeet named Happy (how odd that we had a bird, and how telling that was his name…). My job everyday was to change Happy’s cage and make sure he had plenty of food and water. On special days, I got to cut the leafy ends off of the celery and toss it into his plastic “bath” that snapped onto the side of his cage. The bird would go nuts with excitement on those days, offering up one of his many swearwords he favored (also telling…), but I digress…

The most challenging part of my job was to separate out the old husks of his bird seed from the uneaten ones. Ordinarily, this would be a daunting task for a young girl with limited patience, but my mom –  wise woman that she was – made it fun and easy for me. She sent me out into the back yard with two old Folger’s coffee cans. Demonstrating the process to me, she taught me how to fill one can with the seeds from Happy’s cage and then, holding my arms out, pour the seeds from one can to the other repeatedly, letting the wind carry away the empty hulls. I still get goosebumps as I think of those old seeds simply flying away on the wind.

I remember being mystified by the process, like I was some high priestess offering symbolic seeds to feed the sky gods.

As a “grown-up” now, working with people navigating change, I find I use this metaphor a lot with my clients to illustrate how simple and effective the process of “culling” one’s life can be. It can be fun and easy, leveraging the wind in our life as an unassuming ally to rid of us of that which is no longer serving us. “Empty seeds” in some cases might be friends who would rather we not change or grow, old stories we keep telling ourselves out of habit, or “shoulds” and outdated expectations we’ve been carrying with us without even realizing it.

Pass the seeds from one can to another, and watch what drifts away on the wind. 

Give it a try. Step out into nature – find a patch of grass or go whole-hog and climb a mountain – and bring your “can of seeds” to sort, literally (I’m all about the ritual..) or just figuratively. Don’t over think it. That’s not what this is about. Let it be about motion, the elements, and the wisdom of the wind. Watch for what flies away and see if you can name it…feel it leave you. Say goodbye to it, and thank the seeds from past meals for their nourishment. Notice how your can feels lighter, and yet more solid – full of substance and free from waste. All meat, no fillers.

That’s the good stuff you want in your can. Happy food.

Don’t worry if you feel like an ass doing this. You will, trust me. Especially if you’re not eight and don’t have a pet bird swearing from his cage in the corner. But know that you won’t be alone. You’re actually in good company. This is happening more than you realize. Just think of that every time you feel the wind on your face.

Winnowing: It’s not just for the birds.

 

Trying To Be Born

Posted March 7th, 2013

2013-03-07 11.55.14I’ve missed you. I haven’t been out here at my blog since last November, and there’s been a little hole in me as a result. But it’s a hole I’ve created by design. On purpose. For a reason I’m just now begin to see is real. And not a fluke.

There is a quote from Mary Oliver I always hang among the hundreds of “prayer quotes” at my Homecoming women’s retreat. It’s always sung to my soul. It reads: “Don’t disturb me. I’m trying to be born.” That’s me now, with writing. In fact, I’ve posted that quote in my office to remind me.

Something is trying to be born through me.

Now here’s the funny part. Well, not exactly funny, “ha ha”, but more ironic. This month, for exactly 14 days (…but who’s counting), I actually thought that “something” was a baby. As in a real one. With diapers. And me, at the age of 44. Gulp. I’ll spare you the particulars of that story (you’re welcome), but I will tell you this: the gift embedded in that holy shit event was that it forced me to consider how I would make space in my busy and full life for something else to enter. And so I did.

It’s amazing where you can find space when you need to.

Somewhere along the way, I got the sense this thing that was trying to be born has to do with writing. My writing. So I started. Writing, that is. It wasn’t about anything in particular or with any destination or purpose in mind. I finally gave myself permission to not have it all figured out in advance, but to simply write – to start from the middle and work myself up, out, in or down until I got oriented. It was quite liberating, actually, not having a map, feeling free to roam purely on instinct. It connected me to the part of myself that loves to travel and discover distant lands. Now I’m clear that my travel is a journey with words these days, at least for right now. I know myself as a traveler – I’m fearless, infinitely curious, and wide open to possibilities and serendipity along the trail.  So in this spirit, I am embarking on my road trip with words. I trust, whatever “it” is I am meant to discover will soon be revealed to me. But for right now, my job was to simply write.

It seems I’m not too far off the mark with that internally-driven edict. Yesterday, I saw an incredible intuitive who was able to relay some guidance to me from my spirit guides (not sure if that’s your cup of tea, but they are my go-to peeps when I need assurance I’m on the right path…) The first thing she said is, “Are you writing?” At which point I laughed, “Yes, yes I am.”

And that’s no lie. For nearly a month now, I have been pulling out my computer daily and just writing whatever comes to mind. Anything and everything. It was clunky and awkward and disjointed at first, but just as promised, I’m beginning to vaguely see some form take shape, although it’s too early to tell what it is exactly. Kind of like looking at an ultrasound when a baby is 8 weeks old in utero. It’s just a pulsing, amorphous mass on a screen, but somehow, deep down, you know it’s a baby that’s going to be born some day.

So I’m am over here writing.

Part of that is because of your urging, your asking, and your prodding me to do just that. So thank you for playing a large part in this. I feel so blessed to have so many diehard champions in my posse. I hope to meet you out here more frequently now that the words are flowing, but if I don’t, know that I’m am over here trying to be born.

Lessons from the Boat

Posted August 29th, 2012

Okay, so to be clear…that’s not a picture of me in the boat. But after learning how to row this past month, and having found myself as part of an awesome boat of four women rowers, that picture represents who I see myself becoming.

I have wanted to learn to row ever since I turned down an offer to join the Rutgers crew team my freshman year in college (5:30 am practice? No, thank you.) Living in Maine, I thought it might be easy to pick up, but there is gear, the time on the water and that “you gotta know someone” vibe that made it rather elusive and hard to land.

But I’m so glad it finally found me.

Thanks to a tip this summer from a client (turns out I did know someone…), I found my way into a boat of four women this August. We’ve done well as a team, it seems, and we’ve been given the nod by our coaches to continue rowing into September. They’ve all suggested we stick together. Apparently there is “magic” in our boat, so we’re going with it.

I keep thinking about my time with these women – essentially three strangers, and this boat, and being out on the water. That’s the thing rowing has given me this summer…time to think and reflect. It reminds me of when I was nursing my babies on the couch, that sensation of not needing to be anywhere but where you are and just having one clear task to do. So imagine my surprise when I have this same sensation, but with three other people “on the couch” with me. We are in a boat no wider than our hips. Riding low on the water. It’s all been quite remarkable and – as is my tendency – I can’t help but see it as a metaphor for how I am living my life. It’s rich.

This experience, as it turns out, is teaching me more than just how to row a boat. It’s gently teaching me about how to live my life.

What follows are some of my lessons from the boat, and how they are relevant to my life.

 

The hardest part is getting the boat in the water

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – that boat is unbelievably heavy. I’ve always thought I was pretty strong, but was seriously humbled by having to heft up and haul that bad boy above our heads. And at 38 feet long, it’s no easy task. There is rigging for each of the four oars that jut out, places you can and can’t grab, and this biting sensation when you let the boat rest on your shoulder as you walk. The whole procedure of getting the boat out of the racks and down to the water is riddled with awkward moments and ungainly motion. But what I’ve come to appreciate about this is: isn’t that always the case when we’re positioning ourselves for something we want? I think of giving a birth to a baby, starting my business, parenting…yup. Lots of awkward “unracking” to get me down to the good stuff. But when that boat finally comes off the shoulders and slips into the water, it’s all suddenly worth it.

 

It’s best not to look around

When you’re rowing with a group of four women, the boat can get kind of tippy. When you take your eyes off the gunnels (sides of the boat) or the person in front of you, things get dicey – you lose your focus, your weight shifts enough to make a difference, and you tend to overcompensate as a result to “fix” the problem. So I’ve learned it’s best not to look around. Then everything seems to fall into place. It reminds me of some advice heard recently that recommended “keeping your eyes on your own paper.” It was in reference to how distracting and ineffective market research can be in helping us with our own work. The idea is to stop spending time looking over there, at them, comparing and contrasting (and keeping up) with what others are doing, but instead limit the scope of your gaze to your own ideas, your own creation and your own work in the world. To focus on what is within your control and worry less about what everyone else is doing. I laugh just thinking about the idea of me trying to focus on the other women in my boat and how they are each rowing. The idea is absurd. In fact, one of our coaches said she has actually blindfolded her rowers in practice just so they can learn to feel their own way, focus on their own stroke and feel how it matches the rhythm of the boat as a whole. We should all be so wise.

 

Power flows beautifully into grace

I think I finally got this one. It’s something I’ve been after for a while – the ability to honor both power and grace without watering down or diminishing either. The boat taught me how. When you are at the front of your seat, in the “catch” where you are poised to pull your oar through the water, THAT is the moment for power to flow through you mightily. But then after the stroke, when your legs are extended and you’ve pulled the oar as far as you can, it’s time for the “release”, where you slowly bend your legs, back and then arms to return yourself to the front position again. The key is SLOW with the release. Not my strength, I’ll admit. I’m a power lover, so I took heed when the coach kept yelling, “EVEN SLOWER, LAEL!” Right. Slow for grace. Fast for power. She even taught us to count out the rhythm…the pull (power) is on 1, while the release occurs on 2, 3, and 4.  I see now how they both get their time in the sun. One fuels the other – grace fuels power, power fuels grace. Push hard when it’s time for power. Move slowly when it’s time for grace. Got it. I’m all over it.

 

Work with motion, not against it

This was a tricky one, and I’m still not entirely clear I get it, but it feels important…like it’s a metaphor for a way to live with a bit more ease and efficiency. After one particular hard stroke, the coach asked us to freeze in position, right after we had pulled the oars. Over the screams of my abs as I held myself in that laid back position, I heard the coach yell, “which way is the boat moving?” We all pointed backward. Then she asked, “Which way is your body going to move next?” We all pointed forward. So conceivably, we were going to be working against the motion we just worked so hard to create. If we didn’t take our time with our “release” – to let go and return ourselves to the front of our seats with as much grace as possible (“like a dancer”, she said), we could undo all that effort of that last stroke. She had us look at how far and how fast we could propel our boat with just one stroke. Then, she asked us to essentially tip toe like mice to the front again, so as not to disturb any of that motion. And it worked. Just as the boat started to slow down in its glide, we were back in the “catch” and ready to give it another pull. It got me thinking of how often I might be undoing my own efforts, because I’m stuck in tiger-mode, instead of moving like a mouse.


Never underestimate the power of strangers to work together

As far as athletics are concerned, I’ve never really considered myself a team player. I like my own lane, my own equipment, my own success or failure with which to reckon. But rowing has shown me a side of myself I didn’t even know existed. Something has happened in that boat, and I apparently have been a part of it. The coaches keep commenting about how we’re a natural team and how we all seem to be plugged into each other. And there is not a lane in sight. I literally only have one oar in my possession. Last night we had the moment we’ve all been waiting for. We were ALL allowed to row at once – all four. Up until that point, we’d been rowing in teams of two, essentially creating two boats – one that rows and one that stabilizes. But last night we were given the green light and were instructed to match our strokes to the woman in the stern seat, who is at the front of our row of four (which is actually the back of the boat, and messes with my dyslexic brain to no end). We were all over the place, lurching and splashing. Apparently that’s to be expected. But then the stern woman started counting to herself to set the pace: ONE, two, three, four…ONE, two, three, four…” and one by one we all joined in. And that did it. One by one, we all connected ourselves to each other. No splashing, no lurching. Just one. Clearly we are miles from Beijing, but I’ll tell you this much: I will never again underestimate the power of strangers to move as one. Especially women.

Mama Had A Baby And Her Head Popped Off

Posted July 10th, 2012

Author’s note: I wrote this post nearly five years ago (August, 2008). It was at the end of a long and crazy summer, as I recall – I had a five year old, a two-year old business, a one-year old baby, and was gearing up for my very first Homecoming women’s retreat. It has been brought to my attention lately because out of ALL my posts, this is the only one that gets spam comments  – we’re talking 4-5 new ones each day (one way to get my attention…) So I’m re-posting it today, hoping to correct that glitch. But in doing so, I can’t help but notice how little has changed in those five years with regard to my head still getting “popped off.” Some things never change…like that little ditty.

Remember that little ditty from your childhood days? So there I was in the midst of the frantic morning rush to get my two boys to child care and then rush home to start my “work” day and I hear my five year old singing this in the back seat. I pause and then it hits me, “Oh, that’s what happened!”

Seriously. It all made sense to me in that moment. Suddenly, I felt validated and no longer insane. After all, they wrote a song about it at one point in time, so it had to have some kernel of truth, right?

After giving this some more thought, I think I’ve found the kernel of truth (for me, anyway): My head didn’t “pop off” – those of you who know me will attest that it is firmly rooted to my body – but it was replaced by a bigger, much heavier head. It’s not the self-inflated sort of “big head” that comes with the big ego or delusions of grandeur. It’s more like the size has stayed the same, but now it’s filled with a heavier material – a “mommy head” that’s chocked full of those weighty buckwheat hulls, like the soothing microwave bags you buy at new age stores, only minus the soothing.

The result? I realize that I’m responsible for carrying a lot more weight with this heavy head. No wonder the notion of achieving “balance” in my life continues to be so elusive; my equilibrium has been forever altered. Don’t get me wrong. I love all that in my life that has caused my “mommy head”, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I just feel validated now. Like I can give up the fight to return to “normal”. As my dear friends put so aptly after making their way through the countless emotions, tests, and treatments when they learned their five year old daughter had leukemia, there is a “new normal”.

What this little ditty my son so graciously brought back into my life also reminded me was to not take myself so seriously. Indeed, the very notion of my “head popping off” made me howl with laughter when it hit home with me. The gift of this realization invited me to throw up my hands and recognize the fact that I can’t do it all (perfectly, no less) and have it all (immediately, no less). I must choose, be clear what I want and learn how to say no.

Whether or not I give myself credit for it, I have been doing just that. I have consciously chosen not to write in my blog for the summer (feverishly sweeping aside well meaning comments reminding me, “Lael, you haven’t written anything since May 31st!!!?”). I also have chosen to loosen the boundaries on my work, allowing myself to make some much needed calls on my “home” days while I’m playing with my boys (again, fervently battling the feelings of guilt, “if I die tomorrow, will my youngest son think this phone is actually part of my head?”).

So now I move forward, as we all ultimately do. To my “new normal”. I’m learning to say no with more confidence. I’m learning to lower my standards a wee bit and to manage the distractions that inevitably come-a-callin’ when I’m trying to focus.

And here’s the cool part: I’m not alone. One of the benefits of coaching and consulting with primarily women and women’s businesses is that I get lots of insight into their lives and their experiences. I also am affiliated with a number of women’s organizations and am running a women’s retreat this October so I get to come into contact with and hear from amazing women all the time! I hear their stories and I see my own reflected in them. In those instances, I get the validation I am longing for: I am not alone.

When my head popped off last week (one of the three times…), I serendipitously had a friend come over. I recounted to her my story of the week: accidentally assaulting another car (turned out it wasn’t mine – oops!) when my key failed to unlock it. All the while, I was holding a baby, gripping the hand of my five year old in this busy parking lot, and answering a call on my cell. By the time I had relayed the story, we both had tears in our eyes from laughing so hard at this absurd and outlandish tale that was my life

Another time, a neighbor overheard me “holding the line” with my five year old at breakfast during an incident which has come to be known as the “yogurt standoff”. I was beating myself up about how I handled it when I got a call. She quite simply said, “I just want to let you know, I heard how you handled that this morning and I think you’re a good mom”. Needless to say, I sobbed with relief. Validation.

Here’s what’s been born out of this realization: an unwavering commitment to gather women for just this purpose. To sit in circles and tell our stories and have ours reflected back to us. To laugh, to cry and to be validated. Sometimes, it feels as simple as getting your parking garage ticket validated by a local vendor – you’re looking for the stamp to get you out for free. Some days, I hear myself cry out, “stamp me, sistah”; “tell me I’m not crazy and I’ll tell it right back to you.” It’s on those days I am reminded that no matter how far fetched or unique our circumstances, there will always be another woman in the crowd who will say, “I hear you. You are not alone. I get you.” And then you breathe and begin anew.

Ready Enough

Posted June 22nd, 2012

In my last Touchstones newsletter, I likened the experience of May to standing on the high dive, mustering up the courage to finally take the plunge. The response to that newsletter was incredible. I’d like to say I was surprised (that would be the modest thing to say), but the truth is I knew it would resonate with the women of SheChanges.

Because I see it everyday – those women standing on the high dive.

I watch as they put the stake in the ground for themselves – they sign up for coaching and say “let’s do this”, they decide to rehaul their business to work better for them and say, “I’m ready”, they take themselves away for an entire weekend and say “I want this.”

I call these “shitchyea” moments.

I see it. I hear it. I feel it echo in my own bones as a woman. And I love it. Because in many ways, I am still that swimming instructor standing on the dock watching those committed and terrified souls stand strong out on the end of the high dive.

If you missed my last newsletter, here’s what I wrote:

Back in the day, I used to teach swimming to kids during the summer months. One of my favorite things was when a kid made the decision (or the test required) that today was the day they were going to jump off the high dive. I especially liked working with the ones who were terrified.

They would swim out to the dock, climb up the high ladder, and walk to the end of the diving board, staring down at the black water of the lake. I would stand on the dock below, walking them through the process, encouraging them, letting them know their courage would not go unnoticed.

The camp record for a kid standing out there on that high dive was nearly two hours. Dinner bells rang, clusters of kids came and went, and still we stood. To the casual observer it looked as if nothing had happened. But that kid and I knew better. She was mustering. With every moment she stayed out there, she was not giving up, not retreating, not saying no. She was readying herself for a heroic leap, and that is a very personal process.

So if you’re out there on the end of your diving board, looking down at the black water, stay strong. Know that you are making progress even in stillness. And trust that sooner or later – when you’re good and ready – you will make your leap.

Since sending out that newsletter, I have received countless e-mails and messages from women via Facebook and Twitter telling me that they were that woman out on the high dive. And how knowing they weren’t alone – that others were out there standing on high dives too – gave them courage to persevere, to stand a bit longer despite the ringing dinner bells and the gawking crowds. The power, I suspect, was in reframing stillness as movement-in-waiting. They could see they were no longer stalling, or playing chicken – they were mustering courage, which is action in its own right.

And now here we are in June. We passed summer solstice earlier this week, and with it, we acknowledged the longest day of the year. We find ourselves once again at the zenith of the year – a time full of gusto and heightened energy, where life breaks free and fiery passion ignites bold action.

So if you are still out there standing at the end of your diving board, good for you. You have not climbed back down the ladder. You have not given up.

But perhaps you are more ready than you think.

Look down at the water below you. Consider that the longer days have heated the water a bit, maybe made the lake look a bit more inviting from that high vantage point. Maybe it’s not as far down as you initially thought. Maybe you can do this. After all, you’re still on the board.

Maybe you’re ready enough.

 

 

Busted

Posted May 16th, 2012

I hit the yoga mat for the first time this morning in nearly two years. I could make a bunch of excuses as to why that is –  some of them actually hold water. But the truth is I was avoiding it. Because something happens when I do yoga. I crack open. And that means losing control. Gulp.

But there was this sweet convergence of events that happened recently that helped me to find my way back to the mat. The first is I made the decision not to register for any triathlons before September, essentially giving me a free pass on training for the first time in four years of doing two or three a summer. At the time I didn’t know why I was choosing that – I just noticed I wasn’t registering and decided maybe there was a reason. One of my wonderful tri buddies helped to name it for me. Upon hearing my decision she said, “I wonder what’s going to move into that space you’re creating…” That was it.

Space.

I desperately needed some space. And that realization scared the shit out of me because I’ve long since learned that me + space = change. And frankly I was tired, having just caught my breath after eighteen months of turn-myself-inside-out, rehaul, rehash change. I was cooked. Put a fork in me.

Then I met a friend for coffee and serendipitously stumbled upon the final event that led me back to the mat, like a seductive lover walking me to bed. She had just come from this amazing yoga class and I remember looking at her fresh and sweaty face, bright eyes and shiny spirit thinking, “I’ll have what she’s having.” It turns out the yoga place was right next door to where we were meeting for coffee, so she walked me over and I proceed to fall in love. Again. Despite my fears and resistance.

I was out of excuses. It was all too easy. Could the universe be more obvious in its signs? I sighed and bought a punch card for 10 classes.

Busted.

Which led me to the mat this morning. It didn’t take long for the cracking open to happen. Two minutes into the 90-minute heated vinyasa flow practice, and I was in child’s pose, sobbing quietly into my mat. “It’s okay,” I reminded myself, “you don’t need to understand what this is about, just let it out. Create some space in you. There you go.” It was like one of those instructions you read on shampoo bottles: Rinse and repeat. Again and again.

After the awkwardness of the initial release, it felt deliciously good.

I was so in the zone of my own experience, I wasn’t even aware of the other thirty people around me. I just assumed they were moving fluidly through the poses, while I was the odd woman out silently sobbing on the floor in child’s pose. After class, I spoke with the instructor and sheepishly acknowledged how child’s pose tends to have that effect on me – often catching me off guard, emotion coming up from inside me like bubbles dislodging off the sides of a glass of ginger ale.

“You’re so not alone”, she said.

Apparently the whole class this morning was teeming with emotion, with people frequently dropping down into child’s pose, their backs shaking slightly as they release the tears that came up. That’s when I got it: we’re in a lot of pain right now as a society. It’s universal. We’re tired, over-worked, worried, anxious and in need inspiration, meaning and connection.

Our reserves are depleted and we know we still have a ways to go.

Whether it effects us directly or is a result of our personal circumstances, it doesn’t matter. We’re all swimming in it every day just by virtue of living. It’s out there, the pain, like a collective sob that wants to happen. It’s a natural consequence of the times we’re in – we see, we hear, we feel. We’re humans being and sometimes we get full-up and need to be emptied.

So I’m happily busted. I’m so grateful for the mat and that space. And the fellow breathers along side me.

Amazing things happen when people breath together. This is know.

The Bittersweetness of Leaving

Posted March 20th, 2012

I’m going away tomorrow. By myself. It’s a thing I do two times a year. I go away so I can hear my voice more clearly, and ultimately remember who I am – me, stripped away of all my roles, relationships and circumstances.

I know it’s time. I know it’s needed. I know it will yield results beyond measure. I’m no stranger to the open road – it’s my seventh year of doing this.

But it has me feeling sick to my stomach this morning.

I’m not surprised by the upset. It’s right on track – a predictable part of the process of going away. First there is the excitement from my spirit of adventure awakening. Then comes the focused (often stressful) effort of getting ready to go away – crossing things off my list, preparing for departure. Then comes the guilt of leaving behind all that I love – my two sons, my beloved, my beautiful life. Finally, the morning before, angst and fear arrive – like unfortunate taxi drivers to my destination.

This morning as I felt them arrive, I had a sense of what gifts they were trying to give me. Yes, I said gifts. Because sure, I could label angst and fear as bad characters, but the reality is they exist. They are here – very present – and in me wanting to be heard. So this morning I listened to them.

What I realized is that in taking myself away, I am invited to say goodbye to those I love and to my life as I know it. And not to be morbid, but yes, I’m talking about the BIG goodbye. Hang with me here for a minute… Because these emotions were asking me some really powerful and gracious questions:

Have you lived a good life?

Have you told your loved ones how much you love them?

Do you have any regrets?

Have you left a mark on the world?

Has your life made a difference?

Is there anything left to be done, to be said?

Am I being dramatic? Some might say that. After all, I’m just going to North Carolina. But they’d be missing the point. Going  away by yourself is an mighty invitation to take stock of your life. Like that age-old “funeral test”, it has a way of cutting through all the crap and noise of our day to day living and shines a light on what matters most.

So I’m taking stock this morning. And I’m finding a boatload of gratitude and love and perspective is arriving in me as a result.

Who knew fear could come bearing such life-giving and heartfelt gifts? I’m realizing that sometimes all it wants is to give you its gift so it can leave in you peace.

Lessons from Clay

Posted January 25th, 2011

So I’ve started taking pottery classes. You know, the kind with a wheel. The experience is a bit like walking into a formal cocktail party wearing your bra and underwear on the outside of your clothes. Not that I’ve ever done that, but I’m just sayin‘…

But nonetheless I remain committed to this self-imposed creative experiment and am starting to see the fruits of my labor – beyond just some pretty cool looking bowls.
I’ve come to vehemently believe one thing about pottery and working on the wheel: it’s not about the clay. I have been continually amazed at the richness of the metaphor of throwing pots, much to the chagrin of my classmates, I’m sure (it’s not easy have a coach in your midst…everything becomes a metaphor for living).
It’s ingenious really, clay. Because embedded in it, mixed up with all the sand, sediment and water is, well, me. Who would have thought going to pottery class would have the same impact as therapy, coaching, intuitive reading and body work combined? Ok, so I’m exaggerating, but it’s not far off base. Here are my latest lessons in clay to illustrate what I’m talking about:
Be committed, but don’t get too attached
Working at the wheel forces you to recognize that something you’ve labored on and sweat over is simply a thing. That’s all. No matter how much you love it and are proud of it, your creation can flop over, slop apart or shatter in a moments notice. Again and again. It kind of desensitizes you to material loss on a small scale. Until you realize that it is what it is. At which point, your focus shifts to the process of making the bowl instead of the destination of the finished product.
It takes time and patience to center, and you’re dead in the water without it
Ah, centering…we meet again. “Centering” is the act of getting your lump of clay exactly in the middle of the wheel while the wheel is moving around and around. Sounds easier that it is, but it takes time and a boatload of patience to master. It’s one of the hold-your-breath-wince-and-tense-up-your-shoulders kind of “simple” things. Like meditating, some would say. It makes you sweat even on the coldest of days and is the price of entry to any good pottery piece – if you don’t center your clay, your pot is doomed to a long, slow and ugly demise. Ah, but once you pass through those pearly gates, it’s all downhill sailing – life, I mean throwing a pot, is so much easier. Oh, and one bright spot on the centering front? I’m happy to report there is such a thing as “plenty centered”, so no need to hold out for the “perfectly” category. Plenty will do just fine.
Fear won’t serve you well at all, so just get over it
There is nothing more humbling than the realization that a half-pound lump of clay is holding you captive with fear. Seriously. And when that clay starts to take shape into something more functional, dare I say, beautiful, the stakes go higher and so goes the fear. Of failure. Of ruining something after running through all those gauntlets. It’s like those feverish game show contestants, knowing when to say “deal” or “no deal” and cut your losses or go for the big bucks. As you watch the wheel spinning round and round you continually butt up against choice points and option “A” always seems to be “be afraid.” This is not simply a trick question, it’s an open invitation to see through to a different option, a different way of being. The lesson here is that you’ll always have fear, it’s like the loyal collie companion of living, always at your beck and call.
Keep the wheel moving
This has become my mantra – thanks to the multiple times during class I hear my plenty-patient instructor utter those very words as she passes by me. It reminds me of that physics law, “a body in motion stays in motion” and I have found, as in exercise, it forces me to breathe (you can only hold your breath for so long, you know…) Keeping the wheel moving is a practice that forces you to work with things as they are in motion, to match your form to a moving form, and to breathe independently of my actions on the wheel. In this start-stop, hurry-up-and-wait, want-it-now culture, I’ve found it’s a radical act to keep my foot slow and steady on the wheel. Going zero-to-sixty, slamming on the brakes or making sudden herky-jerky movements just don’t fly with the wheel world. Slow and steady she goes.
When you let go, let go gently
Yeah, this one was a one-two punch for me (in a good way). There’s the whole “letting go” thing, but then kissing up against it is the whole “gentle” thing. Friends with benefits, they are. Here’s how it looks: you’re moving your hand across the bottom of the bowl and then smoothly up the sides to pull them up higher and higher and then – BLAM – you withdraw your hands like you’ve been jolted with a lightening bolt (in my case because I’ve run out of breath…which I’ve been holding.) So now a perfectly smooth and graceful line has a pinch and a wobble to one side. The letting go, well, that’s an obvious lesson, but here’s the subtle nuance when you overlay it with the “gentle” thing. My instructor watched me today and said, “right before you let go, you need to gently release pressure until you’re no longer touching it.” I nearly broke into tears with understanding. I thought of everything I loved so dearly – my children, my beloved and the life we’ve built together, my business that I adore. I thought of that adage, “if you loved something, let it go” and how it will come back to you. So letting go is about love and gently releasing our hold on it.
Don’t take yourself so seriously
So how do you – or I, in this case – stay sane when all these thoughts and realizations are pouring out of me as the wheel keeps spinning and spinning around (make it stop!) Laughter. Thank heavens it comes easily to me – a saving grace, for certain. I look over at my neighbor and we both roll our eyes and exchange knowing nods and we chuckle. I watch as my classmates learn to make handles for mugs by “pulling from a pot” and I bust a gut at the suggestive nature of it (google it…you’ll see what I mean.) I channel my friend, Katie West and the philosophy that is the basis of her Levity Institute and periodically chant ha-ha-ho-ho-ho or rehearse a laughter story I will tell later to my friends and clients. If none of that work, I just look down and see that I’m covered in head to toe in brown slop and slurry – is there anything more hysterical than a person trying to take themselves seriously looking like that!? I rest my case