Get Your Groove On, Virginia

Posted January 20th, 2017

Mrs. Claus and I had a rather spirited exchange this past Christmas season. It came on the heels of my SheSpeaks storytelling evening — the one in which I wore a long red dress, made an entrance strutting through the sold out crowd to Christina Aquilera’s Show Me How You Burlesque, stood proudly in the bright hot white light on the stage, and let it rip with my whole heart.

I have never felt sexier and more powerful in my life than I did that night.

And then I got offstage, went home, took off the dress and went back to normal life. No entrance song, no lights, no white hot lights, no stage. Just my everyday life, plus a sink full of dishes and a pile of back-logged work I’d put off until after the event. The magic was gone. Or so I thought.

It never occurred to me that I had woken up and tapped into something vital in me.

Shortly after that, we got busy with our preparations for the holidays, which included shopping for presents. Our two boys have historically written to Santa Claus each year, so I began prompting them to get on that task stat. My fourteen- year-old rolled his eyes and gave me the all-knowing wink that assured me he was going along with whole “believe in Santa” bit for the sake of his younger brother.

His brother, now 9, looked at me point blank and asked: “Do you believe in Santa Claus, Mom?” I gave him the same answer I have consistently given both of our kids over the years — and to myself in my life: “I believe in things we cannot see with our eyes. I also believe in magic. So yes, I choose to believe.”

And then I thought: “…or do I?” Because this past November’s election tested that belief mightily. I felt as if I had used up every last ounce of my hope in the years leading up to that one day, like I was swimming up to the surface from the bottom of a very deep lake using one big breath. Except I didn’t break through the surface. It just moved further away…like it was in sight of me, but not possible to get to. It was like that scene from the movie Passengers when  Jennifer Lawrence is swimming in the pool when the gravity lock stops working, and all of a sudden there is no surface, just a blob of floating water with her trapped in it. In the movie, gravity eventually kicks in again and all the water splashes back into the pool and she finally breaks through to air. But this? This shit is real. And I panicked, then got furious, until despair moved in.

Do I still believe? Back in December, I was struggling with this. 

We all ended up sitting down to write Santa Claus one night as we usually do, but I chose to direct my letter to the woman behind the scenes: Mrs. Claus. The one, I suspected, that keeps the entire operation running smoothly at the pole. I decided I would talk to her as I never have before, woman to woman.

It might sound strange, but writing that letter to an archetypal female was like sending out a prayer into the universe: Show me how to do this. Help me. 

And then the strangest thing started to happen. In the days and weeks that followed, I got some very clear messages and started to see the same things replicating over and over…things that didn’t make sense or seem related at first. Until they did.

I started to hear women talk about the familiar topic of self-care in new and different ways…like they meant it this time. For real. No more half-assing it. As if ensuring they stay whole and healthy was now much higher of a priority — even as the flurry of the end of the year activities kicked into high gear.

It’s like women were starting to get the direct connection to their own vitality and their ability to affect change. 

Somewhere in the mix, those conversations with my friends and clients (and myself) were shifting away from concerns about guilt and feeling selfish or self-indulgent to being about their ability to be more fully of service and the desire to assume responsibility for ourselves as women with more reverence.

One evening as my women’s circle gathered we were talking about the feminine (being feminine, the Divine Feminine, feminine energy), and the topic of our sexuality came up, as it often does. Someone mentioned that she thought she’d feel feminine when she became sexually active, but when she really felt it for the first time was when she learned she was capable of giving herself an orgasm. All. By. Herself. We talked about the power of being able to give and receive our own pleasure, and what an inherently loving act that is: Self-care. The words Queen and Goddess entered into the conversation having it, again, feel more reverent, as we started to envision our bodies as alters.

Photo credit: Anita DoreI was reminded of the story told on stage at SheSpeaks about the intersection of our sexuality and our spirituality and how it is has been systematically severed through our enculturation, education and religious doctrines. She called it a form of bullshit oppression.

“If our bodies are holy, then sex is worship”, she said.

That very same message seemed to be everywhere I looked after that. I felt as if Mrs. Claus was whispering hot sweet nothings into my ear all the way from the icy north pole. And I was listening.

I finally picked up Regena Thomashauer’s latest book Pussy: A Reclamation one night and I read:

“I had never thought to look at myself like this, to notice my own beauty….to my utter surprise, when I looked for my beauty, I was completely enraptured with my reflection. I found myself to be so radiant, so lovely, and so touchingly gorgeous…I realized in that moment that women have no clue about our own beauty; no clue about the connection between pleasure and time; no clue about this deep, delicious, endless replenishing source of divinity within each of us.”

Wait, what? Pleasure is my access point to an endless source of Divinity? And it lives inside my body? Whoa Nellie.

But it made sense. Something deep and wise inside me knew this. I had just forgotten how to find my way back to it amidst the shame, guilt, noise and all those walking heads preaching something entirely different. My body knew it was true. It always does. It’s just a matter of reconnecting my body to my head, and pleasure, I was learning, is the glue that will bind them together again.

I started to dig around some more and then found this in Christiane Northrup’s book Goddess Never Age:

“Our bodies are not designed to limit or contain our pleasure. They are meant to experience it as the medicine it truly is…If you want to live healthfully and as a goddess, you need to know how to work with your innate sex drive and spiritual life force, bringing it down into your pelvic organs and your female erotic anatomy. Spirituality and sexuality are two aspects of the same thing, despite the fact that they have been separated by many cultures and many religious for millennia.”

Medicine. Pleasure as medicine. What a delicious concept.

I thought back to how I felt that night on stage in that red dress, and how I had brought intention and a boatload of permission to myself leading up to that event to revel in my body with reverence — as if I were showering it with gratitude for being the container that allowed my spirit to stand in that light, be seen, and ultimately be of service. As if I were a holy offering — a wholly offering. I had finally done what one of my wise friends suggested I do years ago:

Find out who you are and adore yourself accordingly. 

But what about the regular days? When the sink is full of dishes and the magic feels far, far away? How could I bring that intention and permission I had given so generously to myself on stage to my everyday life? To the non-special days.

A trip to Target gave me a clue. I happen to be trolling the shoe aisles looking for winter boots for my kid, and my eye caught these thigh-high black suede boots with three inch heels. Now, I’m a pretty tall woman in bare feet, so when I wear heels, I’m extremely tall — people inevitably make the comment “You’re SO tall!”, as if I’ve stepped outside the bounds of acceptable size and taken up more than my fair share of space in the world.

But I couldn’t stop staring at the boots. And I swear I heard Mrs. Claus’s saucy voice in my ear breathing, “yeeesssssss.” So I bought them not knowing why…All I knew is when I put them on, something in me went “yeeeeessssss”. And when I coupled them with something spicy, the volume of that affirmation turned up even louder.

I didn’t want to wait for a special occasion any more. I wanted to be my own special occasion. I didn’t want to wait for a reason. I wanted to be the reason.

I was ready to embody who I am more fully and adorn myself accordingly. Just because I can. 

And the final bit of intel this whole conversation with Mrs. Claus gave me is this: I need to move my body more. I need to dance. I need to get my groove on more frequently so I could feel my hips move in circles and remember that I’m living in a woman’s body. And I need to do this in the company of other women who are also hungry for that movement, so we can feel the collective power — that “endless replenishing source of divinity” — that lives inside our bodies as it wakes up and comes out.

So I did. On Friday, January 13th I held a women’s benefit dance called HerMojo, and women came out in droves to dance out their prayers and find their swagger again — all for a good cause (resulting in a gift of $900 to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England). Together we swirled and stomped and sweat, and I was so keenly aware that somewhere in the magic of that evening prayers were being said with our bodies and visions for change were being conjured.

Medicine” was the word I heard again and again that night.  And it was.

I share all this with you because if you’re feeling at all like I was back in December — at a loss of what to do, angry or full of despair — check in with your body and see if it’s glued to your head these days. And if it’s not, reach for some pleasure (which I will tell you is heretical, but if you’ve read this far you’re probably good with that). Take a bath by candlelight, buy yourself some flowers for your bedroom, feed yourself chocolate, adorn yourself with oils, do something that makes you feel sexy, take yourself out to listen to live music and dance with wild abandon, or make love to yourself. But find your way back to your endless source of divinity that is waiting patiently somewhere inside you.

That thing I felt on stage that night? It wasn’t about the event or the dress. It was about the energy I had tapped into and allowed to flow through me. It was eros – that distinctly feminine expression of desire. As Regena Thomashauer writes about, it was that “golden buttery caramel feeling” that was fueling my vitality that night, having me feel like a Queen or a Goddess. Worthy of reverence. That is what I’m talking about. And it’s in you, too. We’ve all got it and we don’t need a stage to access it. It’s ours for the taking each day.

So find it. Grab ahold and adore it accordingly. It’s good medicine.

Just ask Mrs. Claus, the saucy vixen.

Want to get your groove on?

Come join me on February 16th for An Unscripted Evening
For those of you who attended SheSpeaks (or missed it, but heard about it), this might be for you. It’s essentially my version of a revival for heretics, misfits, rabble rousers and mavericks. Part storytelling, part improv, part book reading (not necessarily my own), this evening is me at my most real and authentic self. It’s me: Unscripted. In a sanctuary. Tickets are on sale now via Brown Paper Tickets.

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. I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from this over the holidays, but will be loading up new episodes soon (so thanks for asking!). In each episode I read a chapter from my book and also 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 winter/early spring on my homepage
I’ve got some new experiences lined up for those of you who are not local to Maine, but might be hankering to connect. And yes, I believe I’ll be offering another HerMojo benefit dance sometime in April… Fun! 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.

Anger Advocacy

Posted December 16th, 2016

kaliI had a fight with my son this morning. It was one of those times in the car that leaves both people fuming with tense jaws, bitten tongues, and cold steely eyes starting straight ahead. It was awful.

But that’s not what I’m going to tell you about here because honestly, it’s bigger than my relationship with my son and I value our privacy.

 

This is a post about Anger. More to the point, this is about what happens when a woman expresses her anger.

Here’s the gist of what led up to this morning’s stand off in the car:

For the past month, my husband and I have been jumping through the hoops of refinancing our house. We could have gone with another lender and have been done with all this hoopla by now, but we felt strongly about keeping our business local and giving our existing lender a chance to keep our business. That’s all well and good, but the lender has been dropping the ball internally, dragging their feet in making things happen, and making excuses for what essentially amounts to horrid customer service and communication skills. The final nail in the coffin came this week when the appraisal for our home came back (late) and was far below market value. We looked at each other and scratched our heads, having lived in this home nearly 20 years together and having been through this dog and pony show of refinancing many times.

Upon further inspection of the appraisal, it was clear the guy had left off — or failed to make note of — some key things that would have made a difference, like not including all of our rooms, factoring in all the energy efficient windows we’d put in as well as converting our home heating to gas and investing in a high efficiency on-demand water heater. We also learned that the comp he used for our home was one that was significantly smaller, run down, and located on a major through street (versus ours which is at the end of a dead-end street). In fact, a smaller house up the street from us that has an ancient asbestus boiler system and no garage just sold a couple months ago for much higher than the appraisal had come in for our home.

 

Something wasn’t right. So we spoke up. And asked some questions.

The bank basically said tough shit — it’s good enough for the refinance to go though, so we got what we need. Wait, what?

That’s when I called the loan officer directly and spoke up. This time louder. More clearly. More pointed. I was angry they weren’t valuing their relationship with us, given the fact that we could have taken our business elsewhere. I was angry that they knew they had us over a barrel now that the interest rates were going up. I was angry they weren’t fully comprehending that when one customer is dissatisfied, it impacts about 19 other potential customers because consumers talk to each other. I was angry they were confusing disappointment with downright disagreement. I was angry that the loan officer was resentful of our inquiries and inconvenienced by our calling into question the accuracy of a such an important document that was clearly so subjective.

I was just fucking angry.  I started to hear those common phrases play in my head.. move on, get over it already, suck it up, don’t be a sore loser … and I felt the irritation of my chapped skin and raw scab from November’s election flare up again, reminding me how the popular vote in our “democracy” didn’t matter one iota because of the elector college (WTF!?).

Clearly all this was stewing and churning in me as I got into the car and drove my sons to school this morning. It’s clear my glasses were not rosy, and as is often the case in those situations, I started to notice and feel every irritant more deeply. I got frustrated by the driver that didn’t seem to get how to insert a car into traffic by just creeping the nose out little by little and giving the friendly “mind if I cut in?” wave (isn’t that universal?) to the next car in the slow moving chain. I stood on my horn (did I mention I’m from NJ?) when a driver ran a red light and almost slammed into my car.

My son, experienced driver that he is of 14, commented on my driving. I got defensive. I got angry. And then I shut the fuck up – because isn’t that what we’re trained to do as women when we get angry? Like Elsa in the movie Frozen, we are taught to conceal, don’t feel…don’t let them know! We are taught to fear our anger because it could do damage, wreak havoc, lay waste.

But in my silent front seat stewing I started to think about why it is I felt the need to clam up. Beyond the circumstances of my week or the particulars the conversation with my son, I started to see the arc of our culture’s beliefs about women and anger. More than just a frustrated mother of a typical teenager, I sensed there was something of import to convey about a woman’s experience in a world that is governed by white men…a club to which he belongs whether he is aware of it or not.

 

It’s not okay for a woman to express anger in our society. 

I explained to him that as a woman, I have been shamed, shut down and silenced my entire life any time I have attempted to express my anger. I stated this quite plainly. I also said that this is not okay — and especially hurts when it comes from family. Specifically someone I grew inside me.

That was the end of our conversation that I’ll share, but I will say that it was the beginning of a long conversation with myself about this. I started to think about the specific ways we systematically train anger to go underground in women — pummeling it down with a heavy wooden mallet in a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole.

Here’s the series of escalating steps that formed inside my head:

— We tell women they are over-reacting, being too sensitive, making a big deal out of nothing. Somewhere in there we suggest they calm down, relax, and be more patient, compassionate, grateful it’s not worse (I believe we used to call them hysterical and take out their uteruses…)

— If that doesn’t work, we patronize them, patting women on the head, using terms like humoring, tolerating, and allowing her to vent, rant, or blow off some steam.

— If that doesn’t work, then we resort to shaming, suggesting (or outright saying) women are stupid, uninformed, hormonal, or not capable of understanding something complex.

— If that doesn’t work, we try name calling and labeling women as a means to vilify, ostracize, and humiliate them: bitch, shrew, cunt, witch, man-hater.

— If that doesn’t work, we make them invisible, disassociating, physically or mentally shutting them down and cutting them off.

 

So yea, you can see why women hesitate to express anger or are quick to shut it down in others.

I bring this up because from where I sit, the topic of anger among women is swirling all around us these days. Last week on stage at SheSpeaks, several of the speakers made reference to it in their stories, one of them even asking herself (in front of the audience), “What do I do with all this anger I’m feeling?” My individual clients talk about the anger they are feeling these days — at work, at home, in the world — and my women’s circle dances with it as well.

My most recent thought about it is this: if we don’t heal our internal relationship to anger as women, we’re in for many long, dark nights of the soul (there’s a reason heart disease is the number one killer of women…) But moreover, if we don’t make space in our society for women to express their anger externally, we’re in for a long slow road to change in this world.

There is a fundamental difference between anger and violence, but so often they are interpreted as synonymous, and our fear of one keeps us from expressing the other openly.

“I think anger is one of the most misunderstood emotions we have because it spends so little time in the light of day. It’s shunned and left to fend for itself in its dark cave, mumbling and scuffing up the dirt in frustration like a petulant child. I don’t blame it – I’d be a bit ornery, too, if I were that devalued and misunderstood. Because at its essence, anger is just really another form of energy. It’s an emotion with Tabasco sauce splashed on top. And it generally has something for us to hear. Something that’s coming from a deep and meaningful place.” – Unscripted, pg 135

We are taught that anger is toxic to our bodies, and I agree, but I want to clarify and expand upon that notion. Anger is a natural human emotion that can be a catalyst for incredible change, even a source of power in that it can fuel and drive us forward. But if it remains unexpressed and silenced or stuffed, it can sour and ferment inside us, setting us on the path to one of two outcomes: outward violence (verbal, mental, physical abuse that disconnects us from others and does harm) or inward violence (self-loathing, shame, sickness and dis-ease that disconnects us from ourselves and does harm).

The good news is that we are all capable of making our own choice with how we want to be with anger — our own and others.

We can get out our hammers, participate in our own shame, and do our best to erase the truth inside the anger with a sorry. Or we can increase our capacity to be with it — which means being willing to get messy, be uncomfortable, ruffle feathers, or even offend. But there is one thing that is undeniable in all this:

 

Anger is here, like it or not. It’s the mole that refuses to be whacked.

So what do I plan to do about it?

That experience this morning got me thinking about all the ways I have experienced my plain truth of anger as a woman, and also all the ways I have contributed to whacking it down. While I can’t control how other’s experience me, I can control my own relationship to anger and how I allow — or don’t allow — myself to express it. I can control how I dance — or don’t — with other people’s expressions of anger. I can also control how I give voice to it as a means for bringing it into the light of day — giving space for it to exist, be safe, have merit. Ergo this post.

When I think about it in the light of day, Anger isn’t something that needs to be “managed” or even tolerated, it needs to be actively practiced — so we can get better at expressing it. Look what happened to Elsa in Frozen when she finally took off the gloves and assumed ownership for something that flowed naturally from her. Sure, the village experienced a momentary freak freeze (ever heard of the Hindu goddess Kali?) and perhaps some people got startled or scared, but ultimately, she lead the kingdom and leveraged her gift to create colorful beauty from cold ice.

And sure, you could make a case for that simply being a kid’s movie…but isn’t that we’re all just doing here anyway? Playing our parts, hitting our marks, and following the scripts that were written for us?

I don’t know about you, but I’m auditioning to do the voice-over for Anger. I think I’d make a badass advocate for that character.

The Heart is A Muscle

Posted November 30th, 2016

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

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

Originally posted 6.30.16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know where this is going, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want some good medicine for your heart muscle?

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

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

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

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

Life In The Area

Posted November 15th, 2016

This is a repost from something I wrote last year. At the time, I was poised to release my book into the world, and writing this helped me to name what I was feeling. A year later, I find myself returning to my own words in a different context, but with a similar intention: To name what I am feeling in the wake of this election. Unlike when I wrote this, what I find myself facing today is not simply an exercise of navigating “what if…”, but engaging in the stark reality “here we are…” 

This is me throwing another rock to create ripples of change — for myself and others. And this is me, still standing in the arena, resisting my familiar urge to fight for change (for like you, I am tired of that stale strategy), and challenging myself to live my life as a prayer — asking myself what that means and how that looks for me today. I am sitting with that actively. And, like you,  I am mustering the courage to find out. 

When I posted this last fall, it received 2,500 hits in just a couple of hours — telling me, once again, I was not alone and had struck a resonant chord for many. Perhaps it will resonate again in the light (or darkness) of a new day. 

Originally posted: 9.25.16

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechangesMy son and I sat on the couch last night and looked at the proof for the cover of my book. He nodded, and then got really quiet. I asked him why.

“I’m afraid you’re going to get bullied.”

I was speechless. His one comment touched on two raw nerves of mine: 1) the intense vulnerability I am feeling in releasing this book into the world and 2) my sadness that he is growing up in a world that has kids fearing the likely reality – not just for themselves, but for their parents – of being bullied.

I don’t remember being afraid for my parents.

And he’s right. I am terrified. Even as I move forward. Because it is a reality I face. I support my clients in facing down that fear daily in my work, and with this latest creative endeavor of mine, I know that feeling all too well in my own bones.

Here’s the likely reality:

Someone will think what I’ve written is a crock of shit, a load of bunk, or pointless drivel

Someone will call me an entitled white bitch, an angry feminist, or a self-absorbed narcissist

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechangesSomeone will take offense to what I’ve written and will reciprocate by offending me

I’ll be called stupid, foolish, delusional or a whack job

Someone will say that buying my book is a waste of good money or reading it is a waste of valuable time

Someone will find a typo or a grammatical error on page 46 (to name just one) and will use it as evidence of my stupidity

Someone will say they are disappointed by my book…that they expected it to be better, more, different

Someone will feel the need to inform me of all the nasty and mean-spirited things being said about me that I might have missed

Some of these people will be well-intentioned, but many will not. Because sadly, that is the reality of the world we face. Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk touched on this, pointing out that we have made public shaming a blood sport in our society.

I’m not being dramatic. I’m being realistic. Even as I move forward.

When I think of “blood sport”, I think of gladiators and how they entered the arena knowing there was a strong likelihood they would die. They entered the arena with the intention of fighting for their life in front of a crowd that was hungry for blood to be spilled. I remember a similar sensation when I went to a monster truck rally with my sister, feeling an embarrassingly strong desire for some horrific crash to happen. Blood.

Part of me knows it is in our nature as humans to be drawn to death – we do it every day when we slow down at the scene of an accident: it’s called rubber-necking. But social media has taken this sometimes event and turned it into an everyday occurrence. It’s the new normal.

Brene Brown’s TED talk revealed her own experience with this phenomenon when she first sought to engage us with topics like shame, humiliation and vulnerability. I saw her speak recently to a sold out audience for her latest book tour, Rising Strong. She shared the story that helped me finally get off my ass over a year ago and start to write my book that was inside me.

Her story was about sitting in bed one morning in the weeks after releasing one of her books, and reading – even though she promised herself she wouldn’t do it – the scathing comments on Amazon. She was called fat and ugly and other horrific hurtful things.

It broke her heart, and damn near broke her spirit.

2015-09-25 10.26.30And then, she stumbled upon a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that helped her to see her own bravery – for having the courage to step into the arena and get messy, maybe even fail.

In that moment, she decided she would only take feedback from those who were also in the arena – those brave souls out there with her that were also taking risks, doing something that scared the shit out of them, and doing so publicly – agreeing to have their endeavors (good, bad or ugly) be seen by the masses, and consenting to be vulnerable.

Hearing her story was the catalyst for me saying yes to this book – for me going into the bowels of the arena, taking the creaky elevator up, and stepping out in the bright light, knowing there are most likely lions lurking and ready to pounce.

I want to be one of those brave people – like Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games, when she first arrives in the arena with the other tributes, many of whom become allies.

Except I’m not going to engage in a battle. I’m not going fight in the arena – I’ve done that, been there, bought the t-shirt. And I’m tired. It’s an exhausting strategy.

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechangesI’ve decided I’m simply going to be present in the arena – to stand on my patch of dirt and to live my life as a form of prayer. To burn with an intention so bright, I am luminous and able to be seen clearly by others.

A Living Prayer. I write about this in my book, but what I essentially mean by that statement is that I want to live life with the intention – for me, for women, for us all – to be free. To be who we are without all the apologies, explanations, justifications, qualifications, and ramifications.

Because I want more people in the arena. I want a crowd. A village. A party. A revolution.

I want the arena to be where it’s at, and I want the stands for spectators to feel barren and desolate…unappealing to the masses.

So I’m being very public with my experience of writing this book – which includes my process of entering the arena. Brene Brown (and Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Glennon Doyle Melton, Anne Lamott, Danielle LaPorte, Tama Kieves, Christiane Northrup…as so many more) did it for me, so I’m paying it forward.

If you’ve found your way to SheChanges and you’ve stumbled upon this – and read this far – I’m going to take a wild guess that you are poised to enter the arena in some capacity.

So for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Shame doesn’t help
Trying to talk myself out of my fear by telling myself I have no reason to feel it? That is just piling shame on top of fear – a toxic stew for the soul. And yet it’s so seductive, it lures you in without even realizing it, like sirens on the rocks. Here’s how that looks: just this morning, I stumbled upon an interview with Aberash Bekele, a Ethiopian woman who was imprisoned at the age of 14 for three years for killing her abuctor-cum-husband, only to be released, exiled from her country and family, having to go silent about her experience for fear of her life being taken. THAT woman has right to be afraid, not me – the western white woman with advanced degrees and a life of privilege. What right do I have to be afraid? Truth? Absolutely – a solid case. Helpful? Not in the least. Shame silences soul whispers and snuffs out desire. It tells us we are not worthy and have no right to feel what we feel or want what we want. There are plenty of people who will do it for you, and we have no control over that. But what I’m learning is how to catch myself when I am actively participating in my own shame.

Naming and feeling your fear feels counter-intuitive, but it greases the skids and helps you move forward
Wanting something with your whole heart means you run the risk of getting heartbroken. It just does. I sat with a client yesterday who was poised to go after her dream with her whole heart, and had hired me to hold her to that intention. We talked about how “scared” and “uncomfortable” would be her new metrics of success. When we started to drill down to specifics and brass tacks, I saw what I often see in my clients (and have felt in my own bones): paralysis. Fear moves into terror, which has us want to hold perfectly still – not breathing, not moving a muscle, hoping the feeling will recede. But it doesn’t go away. It lingers, and we soon find ourselves stuck and lacking oxygen. This was the case with my client yesterday and when I paused at that moment and asked what she was feeling, she burst into sobs and was unable to speak. What we touched was her fear: what if I do this and I fail? By touching it, we honored it – we made it right, we allowed that fear to come into the light of day and have an audience with us. Which allowed the death grip to be loosened, the breath to return, and the body to relax and feel safe again.

Hang around with brave people
This one is tricky to navigate. What I’m talking about is not the people who necessarily comfort you, but those who inspire you to come out from behind yourself (into the arena). Many times they are in the arena themselves. But more often than not, they are the people that don’t see you in harms way or in danger – they see you on an adventure or a mission. They don’t soothe as much as they agitate, like that cycle in the washer that gets out the stubborn stains. In the coaching world, we call this technique “calling forth” someone – locking eyes, saying “I see you”, and standing fiercely beside them in the face of fear (or doubt, anxiety, the unknown, obstacles…) Brave people are the ones that see life as an adventure to be lived. Brave people have fallen down and would do it again in a heartbeat. Brave people know how to “feed your strengths…pet the tigers…and don’t worry about the amoebas”, as Tama Kieves writes about in This Time I Dance. Brave people love you too much to have you stay where you are. Find them.

Shake it off…literally
Rochelle Schieck, founder of Qoya (although she’s quick to admit Qoya founded her) taught me something so valuable when I attended one of her dance experiences this past summer at Meggan Watterson’s REVEAL immersion at Kripalu. Her premise is that when women dance, they remember they are wise, wild, and free. At some point during this guided dance experience, she tells a story about a gazelle being chased by a lion. She points us back to our animal instincts, when she shares that after the gazelle is out of harms way it begins to shake. All over. Not because it’s afraid, but because it is systematically inviting the fear to exit its body, one appendage at a time. So she has women do that – shaking hands, hips, butts, heads, feet – showing us how the earth is able to receive that fear from us and use it as compost. The result? More lightness, heat, and vitality. Try it. Shake one hand really hard for ten seconds or so, and then stop and hold it up next to your other hand. Notice a difference. Yea. So if you’re feeling scared, nervous, anxious, overwhelmed, overcome: shake.

Ask for what you need
And know that this will change, sometimes daily. This is often the hardest bit for women, because asking for what we need takes us into the realm of feeling selfish, guilty or needy (all variations of the shame theme above). Having navigated this over the last year, I found the muscle I’ve needed to strengthen the most was providing specific direction to those in my life on how I needed them to be with me. For instance, I would tell my husband and sons that I was in a deeply creative hole, and so if I seemed overly distracted or preoccupied, I need them to understand it was because I wasn’t really here in this realm, but was far, far away – deep inside myself. In another example, I told a group of women I meet with regularly that I just needed to give voice to my shame so that it could be witnessed by someone outside myself, asking them to resist the urge to rescue, fix or soothe me in that moment.  What this has required of me is a degree vigilance and self-awareness I didn’t know I possessed. But when I was able to connect my needs to the service I was seeking to honor by writing this book, I was somehow able to become a better wing woman for myself.

Figure it out as you go
The phrase “I don’t know” has become a familiar traveling companion over the past twelve months. In fact, not only am I saying that phrase with more frequency, but I’m also believing it. I never thought I’d get to that point, but it speaks volumes to my relationship to the unknown and the degree to which I’ve had to acclimate to feeling uncomfortable, exposed, and vulnerable. Because the reality is, as my friend Kate has been known to say, “none of us know what the fuck we’re doing.”  I have taken such solace from that over the past year. It’s what has helped me not feel so alone. I used to look at accomplished women and tell myself a story about how confident, supported and fearless they must feel. Then I heard Kate’s mother, Christiane Northrup speak in front of a group of women this summer about how being at the edge is always lonely. Always. With tears in her eyes and a heart full of gratitude, she shattered my perception of her life – having me see that just because she has written countless books, done PBS specials and been interviewed on multiple occasions by Oprah, she was no less impervious to fear and vulnerability than I am. Fear, it seems, is a constant companion at the edge – and in the arena. Necessity is the mother of invention. Feeling fear (and doubt and insecurity) is an prerequisite to figuring it out.

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechanges

So I will not be engaging in a battle in the arena. I will be living my prayer and inviting you to do the same.

I will be thinking about the wise friend of mine who told me that my job was to throw my rocks into the water – and to stop expecting to see all the ripples it creates.

“Just keep throwing rocks, Lael.” 

I will be thinking about the woman I will most likely never hear from or read about. The one who picks up my book in the middle of the night, relates to something I’ve written, and doesn’t feel so alone as a result.

I’ll be thinking about her.

She will have made my trip into the arena worth every moment.

Want to learn more about being a living prayer?

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
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 (and it’s generally a sold out event) but the first time that I’ll be holding it since writing/releasing my book. And the theme? A Living Prayer. Eight speakers will be taking the stage to explore that theme with me that night at One Longfellow Square, and tickets are flying off the shelves. 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.

Be on the look out for some of my favorite blog posts to be reposted this month 

The Right Hook of Physics

Posted October 12th, 2016

physicsA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about this amazing experience I had where I literally drew my intention with my whole body. My intention?  To be more luminous.

I shared how I felt luminous as I embodied that word in the circle of women gathered that night. It was powerful and mysterious. Like magic.

I felt like a High Priestess conjuring something from the depths of my soul.

Driving home that night, my whole body felt alive and vibrating with vitality — as if I had tapped into some divine charging station that continued to juice my batteries. I felt deeply connected – to myself, to the circle of women that had been strangers earlier that night, and to my purpose. I felt as if the aperture of my soul had widened, allowing in some much needed oxygen, creative energy, and mojo. I could breathe. Deeply.

There was a halo effect from that experience as well. I went through my week feeling grounded, present and grateful. I gathered my family for a similar ritual to honor the new moon in Libra. We pulled tarot cards, created “God boxes” and did an amazing despacho ceremony (an offering of gratitude back to the earth). We were digging it. The whole family — and even my eldest son’s best friend who happen to be spending the night — commented on how peaceful and relaxed they felt afterward.

ritualThat evening ushered in a weekend that felt deeply nourishing.

Now maybe you know what happened next, but I sure as hell didn’t see it coming. What happened next felt like a right hook out of no where that left my jaw sore, chaffed my spirit and made my ass twitch in annoyance — like I’d been bamboozled or something precious had been taken from me.

Here’s what happened:

As the weekend rolled on into Sunday, life started to feel more congested with brass tacks. Reality started to hit. I dragged out our bill basket, collected all the debit receipts, and opened the computer, knowing full well the rat’s nest of untangling that lay ahead of me as I did our bi-weekly bookkeeping. My husband, meanwhile, tackled the mounting dirty laundry piles, replacing them eventually with clean laundry piles stacked in the room all around us needing to be put away. He also fell on the sword and did the grocery shopping for the week, coming home with more bags that now filled up the kitchen floor, adding more receipts to the pile that seemed bottomless.

He looked tired and disenchanted and I felt like Bartleby the scrivener all hunched over the computer and myopic in my vision. We both were sighing a lot. Audibly.

Later that night, we dug into all of our financial files, printed recent statements, and ran reports because we had been putting off compiling all the necessary documents for the new financial planner we were starting with who needed them the next day. We were cranky, overwhelmed, and pissed that we had waited until the last minute to do this dreaded task.

This is all normal household stuff and part of living, I realize. And yes, I’m grateful we can afford groceries, have a home, and have access to a financial planner. I am aware many people cannot and do not. I’m also grateful I have a committed and loving partner in all this. My point is not to complain about the daily grind of living that most of us are all too familiar with these days. I could just suck it up, stuff it down, and suffer in silence, saying mean-spirited things to myself (you have no right to feel this way…you have nothing to complain about…you’re so lucky you miserable shrew!), but that’s not what I’m about these days. I’m kind of done with actively participating in my own shame.

Now, I’m about keeping it real, being honest, and showing myself more fully. So hang with me. Because what happened next was…ironically illuminating.

My point is that suddenly, almost overnight — like a switch had been thrown — everything started to feel pinched, constricted, and dire. As we pulled out insurance policies, I started to worry about fires, theft and total disaster. I started to think about death and destruction and how devastated we would feel. I started to think about all the people, things, and dreams we could lose at the blink of an eye. I started to focus on everything we didn’t have instead of everything we did have.  I started to think about the political election we face in November, the environmental crisis we’re in, and the epidemic of violence that seems to be running rampant.

In short, I started to feel vulnerable, and found myself knocking on wood, crossing myself (even though I’m not christian), and noticing the black cats in the neighborhood (when did there get to be so many?) My husband found me wrapped in a blanket that cold, gray Monday afternoon after I’d brought my youngest son home from school, knees to my chest, rocking back and forth with a deeply furrowed brow.

What happened to being luminous?” he asked gently. 

He held up the mirror of me not three days before in which I could see myself then — all glowing and expansive and radiant, which gave me pause. What had happened to me? Where had that woman gone? Why wasn’t I fucking luminous anymore? I wanted that shit back again. Stat.

I felt like I’d done something wrong, like I’d misplaced my intention, dropped my eye from the ball, or fallen prey to the pervasive suck of fear, lack and disconnect that is seems to saturate our consciousness through main stream media these days.

To be honest, I couldn’t even remember that woman who felt luminous just three days before. In that moment, she felt like a figment of my imagination — trite, silly, lacking substance. Gone.

Thankfully, the very next day I happen to be sitting with a wise woman. I was explaining to her how I’d lost my luminous, and she smiled at me.

(this is where it gets good — I love when people smile at me like that…) 

It makes sense that if you want to feel more luminous, you would also experience greater darkness.” 

forcesinpairsDoh! As I heard her say that, a flood of rightness washed over my body like someone had finally taken her finger out of the dam. The “someone”, in this case, was me.  I had been doing my best to staunch the feelings I had been making wrong in me, when, in fact, they were a natural consequence of the laws of physics.

My whole body exhaled with relief. Permission to honor the entirety of my human experience came riding in on the next breath.

Nothing was wrong with me…it was simply science that was right. And then I smiled at the wise woman sitting across from me and said:

“Of course. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” 

It was not only entirely natural, it was a LAW. It wasn’t just me experiencing this — it’s everything that does…the tides, the moon, and those little paddles with the rubber ball connected by a string. I started to remind myself of all the ways this was true…

If you push your body physically beyond what it’s used to, your muscles will be sore the next day
When you knead pizza dough on the counter, it will both expand and contract
The longest day of the summer will be mirrored by the darkest day of the winter
When the tires of a car push against the road, the road will naturally push back against the tires
The wings of a bird push air downwards, the air pushes the bird upwards

It’s how friction is created. It’s what enables something to have form and move. 

Now this is where I come clean and let you know that one of my few regrets in this lifetime is that I never had physics in high school or college. So there’s that.

But there’s also a deeper appreciation of this: the degree to which I challenge myself to become more luminous — to allow myself to shine brighter, be more visible, and be powered by my fullest wattage — needs to be equally matched by my willingness to feel a deeper level of darkness, which naturally comes as a result of that lightness.

It’s the shadow side of a luminous life.

If being luminous was the full moon, being with darkness was the new moon. It’s a package deal, apparently. So clearly, I need to be gracious enough with myself to receive both of these gifts, and stop pretending as if I can simply chose one and opt out of the other.

There is no surprise here. I had simply forgotten what’s natural.

Brene Brown talks about this a lot, suggesting that those people who live their lives most whole heartedly are also the ones who are willing to feel the most vulnerable. Not just once, but always. Danielle LaPorte talks about how “being the giver” is a sure fire way to experience a life of abundance — and I would add that it also makes you keenly aware of the level of need, potentially raising internal conversations around greed or selfishness. Want to live a life with more integrity? Better be willing to look at shame. Want to live a more balanced life? Get ready to experience some imbalance.  Want to live more simply? You may be gobsmacked by the complexities of life. Debbie Ford writes about the need to face these very things within ourselves in her book, The Dark Side Of The Light Chasers. Hell Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock even sing about it.. “Joy…and pain…sunshine…and rain.” 

It’s powerful information to know what lives on the dark side of your moon. 

And now that I had remembered, the darkness doesn’t seem as scary as it once was. I am finding I’m not bracing for it quite like I used to, clinging to the light side for dear life. I now see them as allies, not adversaries. Sort of a dynamic duo that will ultimately support me in moving forward.

Which means my work now will be about foster better relationships with each of them individually, learning how to move through my days exposed to both brighter light and deeper darkness. Increasing my capacity to be luminous, while also increasing my capacity to be with darkness. I can’t want more of one without expecting more of the other to show up in equal measure.

This realization feels new, but in many ways it’s another version of what I’ve been writing about for years. It’s just that I’m having another go at it, having the very real human experience of forgetting, only to remember something anew. And that, too, is natural. When we are in the light, we literally cannot see the dark, so we tend to forget about it — out of sight, out of mind. Until we see it again — and then we wonder that the light ever existed.

It seems Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock were onto something…it does take two to make a thing go right.

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.

My Latest Leap

Posted June 23rd, 2016

2016-06-16 12.27.55I can’t tell you how many days I wake up and think: I want to be as brave as my clients. 

And let me tell you…from where I sit, that’s a tall order.

In my work, I tend to be a brave people magnet, so I find myself surrounded by them daily — people striking out into unchartered waters with the voice of doubt hollering from the back of the boat, people walking a thin yet strong cord of inspiration toward a hazy vision that’s often clouded by fear, and people that are actively engaging a conversation with the unknown, even if they aren’t yet convinced they want a relationship with it…or trust that it’s telling the truth.

Brave people. 

These are my clients. We speak the same language. We inspire each other (although I don’t know the degree to which my clients realize they inspire me as much as I inspire them).

Ergo my waking invitation to myself: I want to be as brave as my clients. What does that mean?

I want to trust my intuition even more than I imagined possible — even more than the last time I did, when I scared the shit out of myself. I want to engage my fear as well as my desire. I want to acknowledge when I’m hungry, and not wait a moment longer to feed myself what I’m hungry for – creatively, spiritually, professionally, physically, emotionally.

I want to walk my talk. I want to take my own medicine. I want to feel what I am asking my clients to feel. I want to trust myself to the degree that I am asking my clients to trust themselves. It’s about integrity, alignment, and truly belonging to a tribe. A brave-hearted tribe.

So here’s my latest endeavor.

I’ll be hosting an event on July 7th in Yarmouth, Maine called An Unscripted Evening. I’ve never done anything like this before, and truth be told that excites me to no end. It’ll be part book reading, part riff on topics that are present and most relevant to the work I’m doing with my clients, and part Q&A with you, the audience. But mostly, it’s about the nourishment that happens when a community of kindred spirits gathers in the same place at the same time. It’s about the courage that can grow exponentially in the presence of others being courageous. It’s about moving toward the unknown, bantering with the what ifs, and entertaining the why nots.

It’s about being a part of a revolution, really. 

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to your instincts and what they’re telling you. Join me and a pile of other amazing people the evening of July 7th and let’s make the lights blink with the power surge that happens. Bring your journal, bring a friend, or bring your village. Bring your questions, bring your intentions, or bring your curiosity of what’s waiting for you there that night — wanting to grab your attention, bend your ear, ignite your spirit, or open your heart.

You can check out my website more more detailed information about the event. Advance tickets are now available on-line now via Brown Paper Tickets, so if you know you want to be there, I’d highly recommend grabbing your’s today. Tickets (cash only) will also be available at the door that night, as will signed copies of my book, Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer.

Here’s to leaping. Together.

Mustering Courage: An Interview with Lael

Posted June 16th, 2016

I’ve always found the field of coaching to be a tough thing to describe. Sure, there are words, catch phrases and pithy pitches that make coaching all seem pretty and neat. But pretty and neat have never been my style.

Messy is more my style, with a colorful side of real and gritty. And certainly a generous splash of heart. It makes sense. I’m an artist at heart, and making art without being willing to getting messy is kind of boring to me. You’d think that might pose a bit of a sticky-wicket in running a successful business, but happily that hasn’t seemed to get in my way. The people I am meant to work with just keep finding their way to me — it’s like we’re magnetically drawn to each other or share a heat-seeking radar that is tuned to the same frequency.

But truth be told? I always credit the success of my business to my clients — the ones that work with me from all over the country, and then share me with their friends, family and co-workers. After nearly eleven years in business, it’s a really bountiful and fecund network that just keeps giving, and I am so very grateful to be the happy spider in the midst of their web.

But this interview? This is just about as good as it gets with regard to me describing who I am and the work that I do with my clients. This is me. All heart, even some tears.

So if you’ve ever wondered what coaching is (with me) and how it feels — what it’s truly about and what it aims to do…this interview conducted by a former client of mine, Rachel Horton White, will offer you an inside look. We talk about what coaching is (and isn’t), my work with clients, my own story of becoming a coach, how I (and my clients) dance with fear and desire in equal measures as rocket fuel, and how we all have the capacity to access and muster courage if we make the decision to do it. Daily.

Her podcast is called The Courageous Path, and we talk about what a lonely path that can be for many of us. We also explore how storytelling and the willingness to put ourselves out there publicly and be vulnerable are contagious acts that can inspiring more and more brave souls to walk that path.

So here’s to the path. And walking it. However that looks for you. Whatever your edge.

Whoopsie

Posted April 13th, 2016

MoneyI made a startling realization the other day. One that actually made me say “whoopsie” out loud – and had me kicking myself for letting it happen on my watch.

The realization? I had inadvertently made the amount of money I earn the sole measure my worth.

Whoopsie. And wtf! I knew better than that, yet there I was – caught red-handed with my own realization.

It’s not surprising how that happened. I mean, this is tax season — the time many of us have a reckoning between last year’s best laid plans and this year’s actual reality. It can often be a nail-bitting, breath-holding time of year as we run all the reports, gather up the receipts, fill out all the forms, and then….wait. Wait for the final verdict – which, depending on the degree of your fiscal planning acumen (and discipline) can run the gamut from pleasantly surprised to totally blindsided (and everything in between).

To be completely honest, I pretty consistently fall in the “somewhere in between” camp. Such is the life of a hard-working optimist who loves strategy and also believes in magic.

I love playing with numbers and making them sing in our personal household finances as well as my business. I have done a shit ton of work around money (thank you Kate Northrup ) over the past years, and am proud of the solid and respectful relationship we’ve fostered, Money and I.

Thanks to teasing apart my truth from what I had been taught, I was able to face down fear, slay some old dragon beliefs I had been carrying, and fully own my desire as a woman to feel financially free and prosperous. The result is that my relationship to money feels lighter, more powerful and yes, even nourishing — having me feel financially fed as I run a profitable business while also feeling spiritually and emotionally aligned and connected to my work.

I am undeniably passionate about women realizing and getting their financial worth. I look at the wage gap, and I see all the systems, cultures, and antiquated mindsets we still have that get in the way of us making more forward progress. It’s a lot to look at — at times overwhelming — even with rose-colored glasses.

But in my work? I look at the woman I see in the mirror. And I look at the woman sitting across from me (in person or over the phone) and I ask: How are you culpable here? How are you contributing to the wage gap? And then I invite us both to look at that topic of worthiness (or confidence, assertiveness or negotiation), because that is something we women have direct control over – our relationship to money and how we show up (or don’t).

All good stuff, right?

On most days, yes, absolutely. I walk my talk around money, “touching” it on a weekly basis, looking at it from all different angles, and doing analysis in both forward and backward directions to orient myself. All of that lends credibility to the work I do with women leaders and business owners who are also seeking to increase their income at the same rate they are unleashing their value-added contributions. Turns out I’m not the only woman out there wanting to make her numbers sing more.

Sure, there are plenty shit-hitting-the-fan, oops-we-forgot-about-that, or YOLO moments that happen throughout our year. There are many, many nights I lay awake just worrying about what could happen in the blink of an eye — the unexpected health scare, lost job, ailing parent or heaven forbid child, natural disasters, and things (cars, furnaces, septic line, roof, relationships, contracts, social security system, the power grid…) that could break. 

Which of course has me feel vulnerable. Like a turtle without its hard shell.

I kid you not, I actually woke up the other morning listing in my head the insurance coverage and policies we had that helped offer some semblance of a “shell” that would mitigate against disaster if something unforeseen went down or exploded. It took me a while. Let’s just say I needed more than 10 fingers to tick them all off.

And then I thought (yes, still laying in bed…I’ll even use worrying as an excuse to stay in bed a bit longer…): What the fuck is wrong with this picture? So much insurance. So much bracing for disaster.  So much fear.

So much riding on making, having, and spending money. Like a machine.

But the thing is, I’m not a machine. Nor do I wish to be one — or even play one on TV. I actually am the turtle without its shell. All that other stuff is just an illusion. A source of comfort, sure, but ultimately smoke and mirrors.

Which brings me back to my worth and the realization I had the other day.

I had forgotten to make space for other measures to define my worth.

That’s my job — clearly our society won’t do that for me just yet — and I had fallen down on it. I’d let money be the sole measure of my worth. Whoopsie.

I came home that night and catapulted into the kitchen, eager to share my latest realization with my best friend and life partner. He smiled at me, knowing me well enough to know that my whole-body-wagging sensation would only be abated when I shared my new found treasure with him.

“I can’t believe I have been basing my entire worth on how much money I’m making! Do you realize what a mistake that is – and how limiting it can be? Dangerous, even. It sets me up so that if I’m making money, I’m worthy…but if I’m not making money – or enough of it, I’m what…unworthy!? Or worse..worthless? That’s fucking bullshit. How did I let that happen?”

Again, he smiled. Reminding me of the time I came home earlier this year — after having written blog posts for 10 years, and having written, re-written, edited, and actually published a book — and said with a gobsmacked expression on my face (so I’m told): “I think I’m a writer…”

That guy…he just gets me. Even when something “new” dawns on me when to him it has been obvious and plain as day all along.

So I’ve been getting busy. Now that the tax season is nearly behind me, the “somewhere in between” big reveal has happened once again, and I’ve done my annual crunching of the numbers to position myself for next year, I’m taking a step back from all that.

I still love to make my numbers sing, and I will always have that. But I want to widen my definition to include more measures of my worth — ones that don’t hinge so much on my ability to make money, the size of my savings account, the state of our readiness (insert laugh track here) for our sons’ educations and our eventual retirement.

It’s got to be a broader. And it’s up to me to put the rib spreaders on the chest of that existing definition to crack it open.

As I sit here today, I think I have my first clue. I’ve been writing this post in a local coffee shop, hearing the Beatles croon in my ear. First across the speakers, and now in the lovely ear worm it left inside me playing loop after loop of the same refrain:

2014-01-28 09.51.16All you need is love 
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need. 

I was humming those words to myself again and again without even realizing it.

I was reminded of that opening scene from one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, where Hugh Grant, in his lovely British voiceover, reminds us that when you need to counter the gloom of the state of the world, all you need to do is consider the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport in London…or the messages sent from the people on board the planes hitting the twin towers.

“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that you’ll find love is actually all around.” 

Which makes a pretty solid case for worth having a lot to do with our capacity to both give and receive love — as well as to see it when it’s all around.

Yup. I’ve got that in spades.