Re-Membering

Posted January 23rd, 2018

I liked this TED talk. AND it triggered me at various points. Many, in fact.
Maybe you don’t know this about me because of, you know, what I DO right now, but I’ve spent most of my life identifying more with men than I did with women. Not with regards to gender identity or my sexual preferences, but as it relates to my closest friends—those with whom I chose to spend the bulk of my time and energy. Men just GOT me and I GOT them, so that’s where I gravitated. That is, up until I had my first child, which “outed me” as a woman, effectively catapulting me into a new club. I untangled this hairball for myself and wrote all about that journey in my first book if you want more backstory—and to learn what was waiting for me (spoiler alert: the feminine…) when I got here. 

 What I know NOW that I didn’t know back then, is that my behavior as a woman with women wasn’t as much about it being natural, as it was about it being learned. But then, maybe you know this. Maybe you also lived this. Maybe you can see and appreciate how women are actively trained and indoctrinated into our masculine culture (I’m not saying patriarchy here—because that word doesn’t quite do it for me—but that’s essentially what I’m pointing to) as women.
Lisa Lister, author of Witch (just get it, it’s friggin awesome…) writes about us living in a dude-centric world of lines—one that doesn’t feel natural or sustainable to us, as we literally are designed to move in cycles and seasons. She reminds us how we are designed to be inconsistent. You know, like nature. And look how She is faring these days, right?
In so many ways, we (btw: a strong case could be made for both men and women being included in that we…) are taught and trained to disassociate, malign, and distrust women—including the woman in ourselves. Some women I know don’t relate to this experience, and I often envy them. I wonder if I might have been one of those women had I not spent a fair amount of my professional life in the corporate world. But honestly? It began long before that.
Happily, there are so many women out there doing amazing work to help us re-member this thing that use to come so naturally to us as women—our sisterhood.
Mama Gena and her School of Womanly Arts is all about healing women’s relationships—with our bodies, other women, and our sisterhood—by offering new (ancient) paradigms in the context of our modern day world. She shares her own story beautifully in her book Pussy: A Reclamation. While I have not participated in her programs, many of my clients have and rave about the power of her work—and in themselves after going through her programs and experiencing the community of “sister goddesses” she creates all over the world. A reclamation, indeed.
Most recently, I attended a Women’s Naked Yoga workshop (yup, I did…and it was mind-blowingly awesome!) with Kimberly Baker Simms, when she made the trip up to Maine from NYC to join me on stage at my December SheSpeaks storytelling evening. She is all about inviting women to literally shed what no longer serves them, ultimately returning us to the essence of who we are with the intention of bringing sacredness back to nakedness. More reclamation. I’ll never forget when she said, “…ten minutes…that’s all it took for this to feel natural…” and how I agreed with her as I stood naked in a circle of 20 women (side note: I am SO not a naked in public person, either...). She likened us to flowers in a garden, and said, “it doesn’t occur to a rose to compare herself to a lilly…”

 So back to watching this TED talk (click here if you don’t see it pictured above…) with these two powerhouse women I admire…it had me touch that nerve of regret. Sadness, even. Then shame and anger followed close behind. Like when I saw the movie “Hidden Figures” and had that “WTF, are you shitting me” moment when I truly GOT in my bones (again…) how history has systematically erased women’s critical—GAME CHANGING—contributions. Just because of who has the proverbial pen.  So there’s that.

The other part that triggered me was around the WORDS and PHRASES we women use when talking about men and boys….which only serve to reinforce the these stories written by our culture. Our words give these stories more and more power. As the only woman in my house, I am constantly surrounded by boys and men. Even the dog is a male. And those statements sting and make me crazy mad—because I SEE with my own eyes and experience in my own heart such a different reality unfolding, even if it’s just in the container of our home.
I would like to see more of us differentiate what boys/men are TAUGHT from what they are CAPABLE of feeling and being, because there is a big friggin gap. Like a Grand Canyon gap. And we do so much to unwittingly buy and sell those same stories that keep their stock prices high, viable, and on the open market. Our language is powerful and how we shape our world. We’re all in this together. 
The final thing I’d leave you with is this… Lilly Tomlin said “Female friendships are just a hop to sisterhood, and sisterhood can be a very powerful force to give the world the things that humans desperately need.” And then Jane Fonda said, “Women’s friendships are a source of renewable power.” The moderator, Pat Mitchell, then asked the BEST question…a simple, yet powerful one that I’ll share with you now:

“So how do we USE that power?”

My immediate thought reminded me of something Elizabeth Lesser once referenced when interviewed by Oprah years ago about women and power: She said, “We need to ride our chariots of love into the center of town.” I have ALWAYS loved that image. And invitation to women. That’s what I want—for me, for us, for our world: lots and lots of women’s chariots pulsating with love and crowding up town centers all over our world.
I want us to re-member that we know how to do this. 
What about you? What comes up for you as you watch this? What are you re-membering? 

Want to hear more stories like this? My book Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer is chocked full of them.

 

Hungry for more storytelling and inspirational mojo, grab a ticket for my Unscripted Evening on March 15th.

White Women Cake

Posted September 19th, 2017

For most of my life, I have been accused of being angry. I say “accused” because it very much felt like that. Words like vicious, ruthless, and combative would attach themselves to me, and I accepted them, feeling ashamed, like I was too much for people to handle and therefore needed to be really careful with how I show up in the world lest I inflict harm.

I was told to pipe down, just relax, cool my jets, get over it, let it go, pick my battles, and move on. Sound familiar? 

On the playground in elementary school, I used to get in the face of kids who were nasty when the teachers weren’t looking. In middle school, I used to look directly at bullies through my tears and call them out on their actions. In high school, I used to speak up when kids used others as stepping stones (or public punching bags) to make themselves look and feel more powerful. In the corporate world, I blurted out comments when the emperor had no clothes or bullshit was being served up on a platter. As a parent, I did not turn the other cheek when shit was going down.

All of this made me wildly unpopular at times. I was, of course, singled out by the bully when I diverted the attention to me. I sealed the fate of my dorky outcast status in high school. I was tightly managed in the corporate world. And I felt like a pariah at pick-up time from my kids’ schools, sports sidelines and dinner parties. At one point in my mid 40s—when my give-a-shit meter was just starting to go on the fritz—another mother actually cautioned me to “be nice” as  I was walking into a school community gathering.

As a result, for most of my life, I tried to walk this razor thin line between taking a stand (which had me speaking up) and muting myself (which had me playing small). I harbored this secret shame that I was unbelievably cruel and mean and capable of  doing some serious harm. In short, I battled this chronic fear that if I weren’t careful, I would use my powers for evil, not good. I became afraid of feeling angry, and learned it’s best to keep that shit under tight wraps lest I express it outwardly and lay waste to everything I hold dear.

It wasn’t until I started questioning my own beliefs about myself (you know, the ones I had been given and swallowed whole without chewing?), that I started to see there was an enormous gap between the words I’d associated with myself and people’s actual experience of me. Big. Huge. Gap.

When I had a really honest conversation with myself and pulled out the feedback, cards and emails I’d collected from clients over the years to examine the actual comments about my work and people’s perceptions of me, I could finally see what I had missed. It turns out the most common descriptors of me were: warm…big-hearted…make me feel safe..honest…keep it real… inspiring… feel like I can be myself, can say anything…

That was a watershed moment for me.

I realized that somewhere in my youth, I had been called vicious and ruthless or mean maybe a couple of times by a couple of people, and because of its impact, it stuck. I assumed it was true and  never questioned it. Until about 30 years later.

I wrote about this in my book, telling my story of facing and unpacking anger for myself and how I reframed it and, ultimately, reclaimed it. Because you know what lived inside that bundle of shame? My truth, my voice, my effectiveness as a leader, and my ability to affect change. Today, anger, as it relates to women, has been the single most requested topic people want to explore with me during interviews, book readings and storytelling since releasing my book.

Now all this is not to say that I can’t be mean (I can), and that I’m not capable of hurting someone with my words or actions (I do), or that I’m now magically fearless or unfettered (I’m not). My (big) heart still beats wildly in my chest right before I say something out loud that I know will be unpopular, hard to hear or will challenge the status quo. I still replay the video tapes in my head afterward, double-checking myself. Am I mean? Am I blind? Am I delusional? 

But now? Those are genuine questions born out of true curiosity, not out of desire to participate in my own shame. Those questions keep me honest, not small. Those questions keep me humble and connected—living from my heart and my light, not from my head and a desire to hide.

I know I’m not alone, and that helps give me courage. I hear similar versions of the same story from women who make the move, step out, speak up, use their voice, and show themselves. So often those stories begin with being confused, disappointed, concerned, perplexed, frustrated, hurt, and even sad. But you know what’s waiting for us when we dig beneath all that stuff?

Anger. Even rage.

“‘In hard times, filled with hate, look to your highest self instead of getting angry,’ they say. As if my highest self isn’t angry as fuck.” – Andréa Ranae

And here’s the part where anger intersects and clashes wildly with our white women culture. Anger is seen as unattractive, distasteful, threatening and destructive. We are taught from a young age to get rid of it quickly and discreetly, passing it on like a hot potato to someone else if need be. We don’t have a lot of practice being with it, let alone giving voice to it. The result? We kind of suck at expressing our anger at a time when many of us are full to the brim of it, and we could be using that energy to create and lead change.

The bottom line: We white women have some work to do owning and expressing our anger. 

Now let me just pause here and clarify that this is not to suggest that white women are the only angry women. Nor do I mean to suggest that women of color have all that anger shit figured out either. There are plenty of angry women in our world these days, and legions of us are getting loads of opportunity to experience it. What I’m seeking to do—for myself and other white women— is to shine a very particular light in the corner of our white women culture that we don’t often discuss: all that anger we feel and what we do with it.

Because that stuff in our corner? It’s still there, and getting bigger. And if we don’t allow it to exist because we’re uncomfortable (or out of practice, or afraid of not being liked…), we run the risk of it coming out sideways, having it be misdirected, and ultimately rendering it (and us) ineffective.

Ever been dismissed as a bitch, hysterical or an angry feminist? Then you know what happens next. Most of us shut up or get shut down.

But keep all that anger inside, and it rots and festers within us.  I can’t help but make the connection between this unexpressed (in many cases, unvalidated) anger and the state of women’s health. Heart disease. Breast cancer. Depression. What’s that phrase Carolyn Myss, Christiane Northrup and so many others talk about? Our biography is our biology. And when you lay over the history of women and the impact of years of patriarchy? Well now, that’s a pretty rich history that we carry in our collective cellular memories as women.

You know what helps? Practice. 
You know what doesn’t? Shame. 

Why is this important? Because in the absence of doing our own work with anger as white women, we will shop around for others to express that anger for us—like men and women of color or white men. We’ll ask other people to hold the hard stuff we don’t want to be with at a time when many people of color have their arms full of stuff already. There is much to be angry about these days—the injustices, the oppression, the corruption, the violence — and we need all hands on deck if we are to right this ship. Waiting to get comfortable with our anger, be good at voicing it publicly, or having it feel safe is an exercise in white privilege; just as getting self righteous about it is —both actions serve to disconnect and divide us further from ourselves and each other.

You know what helps? Curiosity.
You know what doesn’t? Judgement.

Like many of you reading this, I have been struggling mightily with the anger that has kicked up for me in the wake of our last presidential election. I find I have been working overtime to face and feel the intensity of my anger and use the power of my voice with intention. And yet, many days I am overwhelmed with what I see…how the opportunities…they seem to be…everywhere.

I was sitting with my therapist recently recounting one of them, qualifying it as “not a big deal”, but more of an example of how microaggressions can pile up pretty quickly. I was telling her the story of talking with a man when another man came over and started talking over me, not even acknowledging that A) I was there, or B) I was talking. Without skipping a beat, the man I was talking to stopped listening to me and diverted his attention to the other man. And off they went. I stopped talking and and no one noticed. Or cared. I was fuming but bit my tongue.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” my therapist asked.
“I didn’t want to be, you know… THAT angry feminist,” I responded.
“Why not? “she countered.

Good point. Why not, indeed.

“The patriarchy is so scared of women’s anger that eventually we learn to fear it, too. We walk around as if we were bombs about to go off, worried about admitting how livid we really are, even to ourselves.” – Laurie Penny

Writer Laurie Penny talks about this very thing in her book Bitch Doctrine, exploring why women hide anger, why we fear it and how we can use it to create change. She is clear about the need to distinguish anger from hatred (“anger is an emotion, hatred is an action…”Gloria Steinem has been talking about anger for most of her life. Danielle LaPorte’s latest book explores the notion of “spiritual bypassing” and how “all the woo [can] keep us from dealing with our poo.” Most recently, Tina Fey—in only the way Tina Fey can do—shined a humorous and extremely well-pointed barb on the rage living inside women these days, stirring up a mixed-bag of responses with her “sheet caking” alternative to protest, that would have women yelling at their cakes.

You know what helps? Acknowledging the suckage and trying anyway.
You know what doesn’t? Pretending it doesn’t matter and expecting things to change.

So I, for one, will continue to pull up my plate of anger and sit it squarely in front of me—my version of a sheet cake, I guess. Which means I will get messy with it, make mistakes, make an ass of myself, maybe even offend someone. But you know what? I’ll learn something in the process.  I will have practiced something hard and will suck less at it each time as a result of that effort. I have no intention of stuffing my words down with cake or misdirecting my anger at some shapeless mass of empty carbs, though. And I will try my best to remember this:

It’s not about being nice; it’s about feeling angry.
It’s not about being unproductive; it’s about being honest and showing up.
It’s not about being ready, it’s about being present.
It’s not about feeling safe or comfortable, it’s about being accountable.

And if that doesn’t work, I will hold the image of Tina yelling at the camera with frosting all over her face and her fork flailing around. And if I am so moved, I will lift up my fists full of frosting and make some noise for change — ready or not.

 

Want to hear more stories like this? Check out my Unscripted Evening coming up this September 28th in Yarmouth, Maine. Tickets are now on sale.

 

And if women’s storytelling is your thing, save the date for this year’s SheSpeaks being held at One Longfellow Square on December 7th. The theme is “Life In The Arena” and tickets are on sale now if you’re a planner!

A Witch Waking Story

Posted August 3rd, 2017

I’m going to tell you a story that has five parts. Five, I’ve learned, is associated with the universal symbol of the witch. When connected, they form a pentagram, which is the very same design you’ll find when you cut through the center of an apple – you know, the one that made Eve the patroness of Nasty Women? No coincidence, right?

I’m telling you this story because, while deeply personal to me, I’m starting to see how it’s bigger than just me. I’ve been doing this work for nearly twelve years now, so this isn’t a new awareness by any means, but it seems to continually smack me upside the head in bigger and bigger ways.

And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re starting to get that, too. Maybe you’re getting curious about your own story as a woman. Maybe you have a daughter and you’re watching her wondering if her story will be different than your own. Maybe you’re wondering what the hell is going on in our world and you’re questioning everything you’ve ever been told or believed about being a woman. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in these words—in this story—and it will create an opening in you. For you. To go into.

I dunno. But there’s one way to find out, eh?

Part 1: My story begins with my body. Because truly, doesn’t every story begin with our bodies? I wrote about it recently on Instagram, feeling vulnerable and self-conscious as I did, but also thinking, “I can’t be the only one experiencing this…” And sure enough, I wasn’t. Because I heard from you offline (which is telling that it’s still not entirely safe talking about our sexuality and the power that lives in our bodies publicly in the comments).

I wrote about how I had been terrified for months that I had cancer—or something equally devastating. What began as a head cold back in March, sort of settled in my throat and never really went away. It lingered and then got worse, giving me the sensation of having one of those large marbles lodged in my throat. Sometimes the sensation moved down into my chest, having me feel short of breath, never allowing me to get that last full part of my inhale, just like I did when I was very pregnant with my babies and was carrying them high. I just. Couldn’t. Breathe. I found I was putting my arms above my head and grabbing onto the tops of doorways in my idle moments, hoping to create just a bit more space inside me for my breath to enter.

In the back of my mind, I knew it had everything to do with what I had just lived through in my woman’s body following November’s election. I remember the sensation of that night, and the wise voice in my head that started speaking shortly after that, cautioning me about staying whole, helping toxins to move through my body, and the need to feel my feelings.

So, like many women did, I got my ass to a crackerjack therapist—a new one—who helped me to cry my tears and give voice to the truth and the anger and the despair that was bubbling up in me. I gradually got off Facebook and started turning off the news.

I also started writing my second book—the one about women not waiting (to do that thing, go for it, make it happen, step into the arena, live their life, lead)—which was flowing out of me like hot lava at the time.

The marble in my throat got bigger and more time passed. I got better at living with it, ignoring it most days and powering through it. I doubled down on things like gratitude, prayer, and solitude, but I also stopped moving my body. I started holding myself still. At some point, I became frozen, like one of those mosquitos stuck in amber. I told myself I was stressed, heartbroken, angry, and that it would eventually pass. But inside? Inside I was terrified I had finally pushed the needle too far. Inside I was convinced the other shoe was about to drop.

Eventually, I got worried enough that I decided to seek counsel from the world of traditional medicine, feeling like I needed some concrete data on my body to put my over-active mind at ease. I was ready to know. I started with a full work up with my blood, and when that came back “normal”, I felt something in my body exhale. When the kind doctor looked down at me after completing my endoscopy and said, “You don’t have cancer. You’re perfectly normal”, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. More relief. I looked up at her, this stranger, and asked, “So this is stress?” She nodded.

Which honestly, was a relief, but was also a source of shame. How could I let this happen knowing what I know? I knew better, and yet I let this get to me—get inside me. And more shame: I couldn’t talk about this because I had no right to complain…I am white and have so many privileges as a result—who am I to complain about the stress getting to me? But you know what? None of that mattered. My body patiently waited with its marble while I made my way out and about and finally, back into my body.

Part 2: Then my witch woke up. With a twinkle in her eye and a full body stretch. It seems she had been waiting for me. It began in earnest when I started reading Lisa Lister’s mind-blowingly awesome book Witch. Always a fan of anything prefaced by “Un”, I was immediately drawn to the subtitle: Unleashed, Untamed. Unapologetic. Having written a book entitled Unscripted, I immediately sensed that this woman was a soul sister living across the pond.

I’d always loved the word “witch”, but tended to use “witchy woman” so as to differentiate my meaning from its identification with Wiccan, which is a specific spiritual practice I don’t necessarily adhere to. That being said, in recent years women have been referring to my women’s circle as their coven, so there’s that.

Lisa defines a witch as this:

“The witch represents the part of each of us that has been censored, ignored, punished and demonized. And it’s a part that wants—no needs—to be accessed and fully expressed. The witch is a woman fully in her power. She’s in touch with the dark. She knows how to be the witness, how to let things go and how to follow her own counsel. Most importantly, though, she questions EVERYTHING. She’s connected, pussy to the earth. She hears the whispers of those who have gone before her, and she feels the ancient secrets that are in her bones. She’s the one who knows without fail that there’s more of this life than actually meets the eye. She causes hierarchical power structures to shake in her wake. She knows that in any given moment, she can be a hot mess, a woman of grace and beauty, angry and grief-struck, loved and pleasure-sated, tired and soft or raw and vulnerable. She also knows that in some moments, she can be all of this at once. She is whole.”

Yea. That.

That is what I have been referring to all these years as “the and”. That was why I needed to write my first book for myself—to sort all that shit out and to reconfigure myself in a way that made sense to me—that allowed me to see the fullest range of myself, to grab all that is within me without apology, and then to put it to use in the world.

I’ll never forget where I was when I was reading her book. We were camping on the shore of this beautiful river, and it was like the sounds of the water moving over the rocks matched the words on the pages I was reading. It reminded me of the currents inside myself that would always lead me home. Inside my body.

During our three day stay on the river, my youngest son and I made it into a sacred place, erecting over twenty tall cairns of stones all along the shore. I felt like a witch, and I watched as both my husband and my son looked at me, and were drawn to me and the power I was clearly tapping into.

I came home from that trip and found a package resting on my doorstep. It turns out it was a random “just because” present sent by one of my oldest and dearest friends. She had taken a trip to Italy with her daughter this past spring and she wrote: “Saw this in Florence and immediately knew it was for you.” I opened the package, and a tsunami of energy washed over me—a combination of gratitude, love, serendipity and what I can only describe as witch-power. My hand flew to my chest as I picked up the leather bound journal that featured an embossed rendering of Botticelli’s Three Graces.

Not two days before, I had said aloud “I need a grimoire to write down all this stuff.” And now here it was.

Part 3: I got to work healing my body with my body. Meaning: I handed the reins over to my body and said “you steer”. I did what I could to get really quiet and I made more of an effort to listen. I tried my best not to laugh or dismiss the ideas that rolled into my consciousness, like when I couldn’t get the word “jasper” out of my head and finally looked up the significance of that stone and then made a new set of mala beads out of them and bought a jasper yoni egg so I could both wear that stone as well as carry it inside me. All hands on deck. Full court press.

I cracked open my grimoire and I started becoming a student of what I already knew deep down inside me. I started unearthing wisdom in myself that felt exciting and new as much as it did affirming and ancient.

I pulled out all my essential oils and started to use them with intention. I allowed myself to be drawn to certain colors. I paid attention to my appetite and what I was hungry for—and gave myself permission to not eat for long periods of time if my body didn’t feel like it, even when it was “time to eat”. I started to make a more direct connection for myself between my sexuality and my vitality—an awareness that had been building in me for a while, but that got hijacked by my brain so easily in this world of busy and doing and thinking. I started to crave making teas and concocting things like rituals and spells and magic. I started to consider the fact that there was more power in me than I realized—like I had been using just the little finger nail of my pinky, when, in fact, I could be using the entire hand. And my full body. I started to use the phrase “I desire” and then smiled when I realized that is the very same word I chose in January to be my word of the 2017 when we painted our words as a family on the wall of our kitchen.

I knew how to do this.

Part 4: I followed where my path led me. Yesterday, when I was flat on my back getting a “massage” (I put massage in quotes because this woman is clearly a mad-skilled wild woman witch who does more than simply work with my muscles…), I felt her hands and energy be drawn to my heart. She knew about the marble in my throat—I had shared that much with her—and had asked her to tune into the conversation my body was trying to have with me. She put one hand under my body between my shoulder blades and the other she placed lightly on my chest. And she held them there. For a while. Until I felt this wail build up from the depths of me (Oh no, I’m going to lose it…shit, here it comes…stand the fuck back, it’s gonna blow!), and I made sounds that I’d only heard myself make one other time…when I was in the depths of labor birthing my sons. As her hands held steady, my body convulsed with sobs underneath them. One passed, and another started to build, like waves hitting the shore after a storm.

Then, she flipped me over onto my stomach and put both hands on my back. I heard her ask out loud (to my guides, to her guides, to the universe…) What IS this? I was so relieved to have someone other than myself asking that question. A moment later, she said “Mama Bear energy”, and again, I sobbed, this time with anger at the injustice, violence and whole-scale systematic oppression of women that now seemed publicly sanctioned. Apparently I had been carrying that around on my back, reluctant to put it down lest I forget it.

Needless to say I was spent. Wrung out like a sponge.

My “plan” had been to go to this massage and then pop into a coffee shop to crank out some client work before heading out on my August break. She knew this plan, and after working me for much longer than we both had anticipated, she gently suggested that I take a moment before shifting gears—“…maybe take yourself to the water…” 

Which I did. I found a country road and followed it along the coast until it ended. I just keep taking these big huge sighs, and with each one I felt a bit lighter.

I came to a place along the water and pulled over, thinking I would literally get right by the water, maybe even in it.

I wasn’t supposed to be here. I hadn’t planned on it. I didn’t have time for this. I had a mountain of work to get through and here I was just…wandering. I was going to disappoint someone because shit wasn’t getting done when I said it was going to get done. Why couldn’t I just focus, put my head down and get it done? That’s the gist of what my tired brain was saying.

But my body? My body said YAAAAAAASSSSSSS. This is where you are now. Right here is where you’re supposed to be.

So I plopped myself down, pulled out my mala beads (I wear them around my neck for just this occasion…) and went through all 108 of them. When I was done, I opened my eyes and looked across the water at this rocky ledge that was jutting out. And that’s when it hit me.

I’d been here before. Right in this very spot, only last time I was out on that rocky ledge, talking about my life and my business with a trusted friend. It was almost exactly six years ago. I was at a crossroads in my life—wanting something more, but not really knowing if I was worthy of it or could pull it off. You know, that Who Am I…? conversation Marianne Williamson talks about. Sigh. That one.

The conversation on that day was a catalyst for me to make some big changes at SheChanges. Shortly after that I completely re-hauled my website, clarified my brand, stepped away from what felt stale and no longer served me, and grabbed ahold of the idea that would become SheSpeaks, the ever-popular evening of women’s storytelling that, ultimately, was the springboard for my first book to be born.

What my friend and I didn’t know at the time was that there was a woman who was painting us as we were sitting out there. We had seen a woman with an easel, but we weren’t aware that we had ambled into her field of view and become subjects in her painting.

And here’s the really cool part. My friend? She managed to track down the artist, buy the painting, and give it to me with a note that read: As a symbol of our friendship and women making change in the world. For years, I had that painting packed away, but just found it again last year and put it on our bookshelf. When I came home yesterday, I flipped it over on the back and saw that the artist (who’s name, sadly, is illegible…) wrote: Solving? or Creating? Problems!

I shit you not.

Part 5: Coming full circle. Which brings me to where I find myself today.

Driving over to that spot yesterday—long before I realized where I was heading and what its significance would be—I had this thought: I gather the witches. And sometimes the men who love them.

I was thinking about the event that scares the shit out of me this September, and the six brave women who will join me on stage this December at SheSpeaks, and the six women who will gather with my for my women’s circle this fall and winter. I was thinking about the men’s group I have almost had on multiple occasions, that feels more timely now than ever. I was thinking about the second book I am writing that has my hair on fire and can’t come out fast enough.

But I know I am poised at another crossroads in my life now. Sitting there yesterday thinking Who am I…? with that marble in my throat, holding back my heartache and anger for fear of….what? It’s power? It’s impact? My safety?

And like that day on the rocks, I already know what my answer will be. It’s the same one it always is: Yes.

Why? Because that’s the witches’ word. A solemn oath. An ancient promise that has me coming full circle again and again and again. Walking my path with as much courage and moxie as I can muster in my white, privileged woman’s body.

 

Want to hear more stories like this? Check out my Unscripted Evening coming up this September 28th in Yarmouth, Maine. Tickets are now on sale.

 

And if women’s storytelling is your thing, save the date for this year’s SheSpeaks being held at One Longfellow Square on December 7th. The theme is “Life In The Arena” and tickets will go on sale November 1st.

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.

A Living Prayer: Embodying Intention

Posted September 30th, 2016

woman-prayingThe woman’s word was “WORTH“, and I watched as she went first, embodying each letter of that word — her intention – with her body, spelling it first forwards and then retracing it backwards.

I was her partner. My job was to witness her.

It was an exercise, really — something we were asked to do as part of a ritual for a new moon Qoya gathering. If you’re not familiar with it, the foundational belief in Qoya is that through movement, women remember they are wild, wise and free.

A friend of mine who is trained in Qoya recently decided to offer a series of new moon rituals with a small group of women here in Maine. The last time I attended one of her sessions it inspired the opening scene from my book. Needless to say, I was keenly aware of reentering that sacred space again just over a year later. Part of me couldn’t help wondering if dancing in this barn was how I would begin all of my books.

But as I stood there, watching my partner dance her intention, all my thoughts and wonderings sloughed off me and slid soundlessly to the floor. I watched as this woman — whose voice was barely above a whisper when she spoke — close her eyes and move deeper and deeper into her skin as she embodied each letter. I became transfixed by her as she moved through the W and onto the H and the O and the L, eventually getting to the E. When she finished each pass, she quietly gathered herself, keeping her eyes closed, and made her way back through the word, ending where she began, with a W.

Back and forth she went as I watched, sometimes in capitals, and sometimes choosing to embody a lower case letter. While music played softly in the background and three other women traced their words with their bodies behind her, I watched my partner, enrapt. I could see the moment where the exercise moved from her head and melted down into her body. And then her soul. I watched as her expression of the word “WHOLE” shifted from being a thought or an intention “out there” to a whole hearted embodied desire “in here”.

And as I widened my gaze beyond her particular movements, I could take in the other women moving in the space, eyes closed while they invited their desires to inhabit their bodies more fully. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before – no choreography, no synchronization, no consciousness or awareness of how they were sharing the space in this small magical barn in the middle of the woods. They just moved from someplace deep down in their bodies — and when taken as a whole, the scene was utterly breathtaking like some mystical ballet was happening before my eyes.

When the music paused and my partner opened her eyes and looked into my own, we both had tears streaming down our faces. The awkwardness was gone, and a deep intimacy had moved in its place, bonding me to this woman who had been a stranger 30-minutes earlier.

Then it was my turn, and she waited patiently as I gathered myself and wrote my (long) word on a piece of paper so I would know how to spell it backwards. My word was “LUMINOUS”, and my breath caught in my throat when I felt myself write it down — as if I were taking a sacred vow with the Divine.

I began as she did, a bit awkward and literal in my movements, wondering if my partner could “read” what I was “writing” with my body. And then, as she did, I felt the shift. Far from a flip of a switch, the sensation felt more like a faucet had been opened to its widest aperture within me. I could feel I was dancing with and for something much greater than simply my own intention.

I felt like a high priestess. I felt deeply of service. 

I felt luminous as I was embodying the word “LUMINOUS“. It wasn’t simply something I was wanting or aspiring to be…it was actually ME in that moment. More than that, it was flowing out of me, like my body had become one of those a metal spiles that gets tapped into a maple tree, and this warm viscous syrup was just pouring through me — and out of me — like a gift.

When the music stopped and my friend instructed the dancers to open their eyes, I felt the same sensation I had when my partner met my eyes after her dance — a deep connection that felt more like gratitude; as if witnessing me and being in my presence had somehow nourished her.

I have never experienced anything quite like that in my life, and that’s saying a lot because if you know me at all (or have read my book), you know I’m no stranger to being exposed to things like this. But this was different. And, I assume, timely and by design.

This was me living my prayer with my whole body. Or perhaps my wholly body.

A living prayer. I’ve written about that concept, and maybe you’ve even heard me talk about it. The tagline of my book is even entitled “A Woman’s Living Prayer“. But now I get that writing those words on my book was really the equivalent of me opening yet another door inside myself, saying “this way, Lael…this way.

The first was an intellectual exercise (naming it) as I started to chew on a new desire, and the latter is actually me deciding and learning how to embody (own) that desire. The first was saying my prayer, the latter is living it.

This is something I’ve actively been making space for in my creative life lately — inviting that living prayer into my body more fully and feeling my way as I go. I know now that I can’t simply just understand it. I have to experience it. And I am, more and more. I’ve had moments in nature recently where I feel completely present and connected to the earth, feeling its pulse as my own. I’ve held my boys and smelled their heads and experienced profoundly new degrees of presence. I’ve made art and gotten in the dirt. I’ve immersed myself in lakes and oceans, and have felt the wind hit my skin in new ways. In all of these instances, I’ve slowed down – by choice, by circumstance, or by design. Most recently, I found myself singing that song by Alison Krauss — the very song that inspired the tagline of my book — the other night in the shower:

Take my life…and let me be….a living prayer…my God to thee. 

In the hot water and the mist of the shower, naked and with my eyes closed, it did, indeed, feel like I was making a prayer with my whole body. A prayer that had me being of service, of doing work that felt sacred, of using myself to let some amber syrup run into the world. A prayer that had me vibrating with such a clear intention that I am luminous.

I’m finding my way into this, I am. I can feel it in my bones, but more to the point, I can feel it in my soul. It’s not always graceful — and certainly not without a good fight every now and then just to prove to myself I’m alive and kicking. But my senses are more alive now than they’ve ever been which, in this culture and landscape, has been both wonderful and challenging. My increased senses have literally made me more sensitive.

But now? Something new has emerged from all this: a curiosity. A desire to hear from and connect with others who are interested in this idea of being a living prayer. In fact, earlier this year when I announced I would be relaunching my SheSpeaks event (my evening of women’s storytelling) this December 8th, I decided the theme for this one would be “A Living Prayer.” I want to hear from more women on this topic: What is your living prayer and how are you living it? But more importantly, I want to bear witness to them embody it that night, just as I did my partner as she traced her intention with her body.

I am envisioning an entire audience dripped in warm syrup by the end of the evening.

So join me — and them — if you’d like on December 8th (tickets are on sale now), but in the meantime I’ll leave you with this invitation on this new moon in Libra (an uber powerful time to manifest, by the way…):

— Pick a word… a word that lights you up, makes your whole body smile, and represents a deep desire for yourself
— Put on some quiet music
— Enlist a partner to witness you or simply keep company with yourself
— And invite your word to move into you more fully by slowly tracing each letter with your body, first forwards then backwards
— Repeat this (S.L.O.W.L.Y.) until you feel it move out of your head and into your bones…wait for the faucet to open

Somewhere in all that, see if you can feel how what you want — your living prayer — is actually connected to us all. See if you can feel how the service you are doing, the nourishment you are providing, the gift you are offering starts with you and ultimately pours out to us like syrup.

And then thank yourself for being such a badass rockstar of a living prayer. I know we will.

Undeniable Perspective

Posted May 6th, 2016

I posted this video on my SheChanges Facebook page yesterday as a nod to my mother who celebrated her 77th birthday this week. I am who I am because of her, and yet — as the video below reveals — our stories around moving into motherhood while working in the workplace are disturbingly similar, despite being separated by 37 years (my mom’s first child being born in 1965 and mine in 2002).

The other reason it felt particularly relevant to share this story is that Mother’s Day will be celebrated by many of us this Sunday. When I think of Mother’s Day, yes, I admittedly think of the heartfelt poems and pictures from my boys that I will inevitably treasure, but I also think of Julia Ward Howe and her Mother’s Day Proclamation.

“Arise all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.”

The operative words there for me are “firmly” and “decided”. Given our political landscape these days, Howe’s message just feels so damn relevant (still) and speaks to the role of women’s voices in shaping our society. That proclamation, written back 1870 to “appeal to womanhood”, for me, is still a very active and alive invitation: Arise.

As I sit with that today — as a 47 year old woman (when did THAT happen!?), a mother of two boys, and a business owner committed to creating change powered by women — I am honestly gobsmacked by how little has changed for women in the workplace when it comes to becoming mothers. And now we can add many fathers into that mix, too, given the desire many men are actively voicing for paid paternity leaves.

In my video above, I reference hearing a story on NPR the other day. The piece was seeking to shine a light on how little air-time was being given to this topic in the presidential campaign conversation compared to the huge need that so many people are talking about on the playgrounds, offices and break rooms at work. I learned that in actuality, paid family medical leave (FMLA) is only available to 27% of employees in the private sector, and for those whom it’s available, only 39% of people actually take advantage because most can’t afford that time off without using paid vacation/sick time to make ends meet (which, sadly, many people also don’t have access too).

So apparently, we don’t have a national plan that allows for us to get sick,  have children, or enjoy time off. Right…. that makes sense.

It seems people need their incomes to survive financially. Imagine that.

When I had my first son, I was one of the lucky 27% that had that paid FMLA (which, as an aside, is really a fancy spin on short-term disability…I remember having to fill out forms that forced me to list where the “accident” occurred and laughing as I wrote “the living room rug”). I also remember being blown-away by the fact that I would only be receiving 2/3 of my pay for that that leave.

Shame on me that I didn’t do my research before I was in that position, but I’m fairly confident the “accident” on the living room rug would still have happened.

When I learned I wouldn’t be getting my full salary, I freaked out. We needed every penny of my income to get by, not just a percentage of it. But I felt like I couldn’t complain or say anything. I mean I was one of the”lucky” ones, right? No denying that – I was (and still am) a white woman with advance degrees working in the corporate world and I had a partner who was also working. We were DINKs (double income, no kids). I had no business complaining that we couldn’t make ends meet. So we sold our truck, used the bulk of my vacation time for the year, and cashed in some of my retirement funds to make it happen. And then we prayed we’d have a healthy child with no complications as well as a labor and delivery that didn’t bring me to my knees physically. That would have messed with our carefully calculated plan.

I was ashamed I wasn’t more prepared and hadn’t seen this coming. I felt guilty for feeling the way I was feeling because I knew so many women had it so much worse that I did. I was lucky. I should have been more grateful.

So I never spoke openly about it. Until now.

Listening to the NPR piece about this “issue” of paid medical leave — when that baby I had is now 13 years old — I had the realization that it has not gotten better for women, it’s actually gotten worse because of the economy and healthcare costs. And in hearing my mom’s story from 1965 of being sent home from work “sick” for being pregnant, I started to wonder what it will take for us to see this as not just a “nice to have”, but an absolute need to survive economically as a country.

Maybe that’s why so many other countries that are way less developed than the United States have mandated it. You think?

When I heard my mom reflect on her experience of being sent home from work that day she made her pregnancy public, I asked, “So were you fired?”

“I’m not sure,” she said “but I got the sense I was done and they didn’t want me coming back.”

Huh. Isn’t that telling (sad, really) that 37 years later, “done” was what I would be called, too — not in a mean-spirited or malicious way…just as a matter of doing business.

So my response to that comment (“you should be grateful…we have come so far”) I hear come my way so often — usually from other women? My response is this:

“Not far enough. Not fast enough.”

This is me rising up with my big heart and saying it firmly. I get to decide how I feel.

And I don’t feel “done” with this “issue”. Not by a long shot.

Inhale and Exhale

Posted April 8th, 2016

2016-04-04 18.20.16I’ve been reading like crazy these days. I usually have a couple of books going at a time — one fiction and one non-fiction.

But lately I’ve been all about the non-fiction. It began in with Red, Hot & Holy by Sera Beak and The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, and then really kicked up a notch with Find A Way by Diana Nyad.

It was that last one — the extreme dream adventure of swimming from Cuba to Key West — where I realized I was no longer just sipping, but was actually chugging something from this book other than the words.

What was it?

I found myself physically mourning Diana Nyad’s book when it was over, desperately trying to pick some other meat off the sucked bones by streaming interviews and documentaries about her epic tale over YouTube. I was transfixed.

Admittedly, so was most of America, and indeed the world, as they watched this 64 year old woman finally succeed in swimming the most badass stretch of open water in the world. 110 miles. 54 hours. No shark cage. A raging gulf stream that made every stroke forward nearly impossible. Flotillas of fatal box jelly fish. And here’s the clincher: four previous (and very public) failed attempts at the same route, losing team members, sponsors, money, coverage and faith along the way.

What I marveled at most about this woman’s story is that it her quest was so extreme in nature, but the way in which she went about it was so measured and deliberately paced. She set her sights on doing something almost everyone thought impossible — especially at her age and with all those horrible conditions and circumstances working against her — but did so with a cadence that was steady and sure.

It’s like she knew the rhythm of her efforts would ultimately be the key to her success. Even as she failed.

I’ll never forget her telling the story of how she managed to stay sane and motivated during all those long hours of sensory deprivation when it was just the pitch black water blending with the pitch black skies, miles from seeing any lights on shore, with only the sound of her labored breathing and exhausted heartbeat to keep her company. She developed an internal playlist that helped her match her stroke to the rhythm of 85 songs she had committed to memory (“Busted flat in Baton Rouge… waitin’ for a train…and I’s feelin’ as faded as my jeans…”) And when she got to the end of each song (“…La da, la da, la da, la da, la da, la da, la da, la Hey, hey, hey, Bobby McGhee, yeah!”), she’d say to herself “ONE!” And sing it 999 more times. She had it down to a science,  so that when she got to a count of 1000, she knew she would have swum 9 hours and 45 min. Exactly.

She knew it was about the rhythm of the inhale and the exhale.

In and out. And in and out. In equal measure, time and time again. Her quest was extreme, and Diana and her team never knew what new obstacle, danger or unanticipated variable would arrive, but her breathing remained constant.

She knew her breath was the only thing out there she could control in that crazy ass environment, so she designed her entire mission around its rhythm. She synced everything on that historical crossing to match it. Time and time again, until she finally arrived at the other shore.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own breath — and how I work with (or against) it.

But it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a quote in Glennon Doyle Melton’s book Carry on Warrior that it clicked into focus for me, right there in black and white:

“Reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale” 

My whole body moaned a yyyeeeeesssss of recognition. Validation flooded my body.

Much like Diana Nyad and her internal playlist that held the beat for her, I felt like I was starting to stumble on a framework that could hold the beat for me in my creative life — breathing in, and breathing out, reading in, and writing out — in a more rhythmic fashion. I had the realization that while my exhales have been big and long and powerful blows, the inhales have felt like little sips from a coffee straw.

2015-08-05 09.15.48Next week will mark the one year anniversary that I delivered the first draft of my manuscript to my editor for my book. EXHALE. Which represented an intense creative effort in the nine months prior to that to get it out of me. EXHALE. And marked what would be the beginning of a six month process of revision and editing after that. EXHALE. And then it was finally published and released on Amazon. EXHALE.

Then? SIP. SIP. [inhale.]

I tried to exhale. [nothing]. So I waited a minute and tried again. [nothing]. For the life of me I could. not. exhale.

It became really clear to me the degree — and the depth — to which I needed to inhale. My sips were no longer cutting it after so many long and hard exhales. And moreover, I didn’t want them to cut it anymore. I was kind of done sipping. Something in me had shifted.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

What I’ve come to appreciate is that my relationship to inhaling is essentially about my relationship to the feminine, and how often and well I nourish myself and that energy. Self-care doesn’t even begin to describe it for me. It’s so much more than that, encompassing a whole host of other things like permission, receiving, slowness, solitude, dreaming, listening, reflection, questioning, and feeling.

After enough false starts with myself to exhale during the first quarter of this year, I finally gave up trying to rally and muster and jostle myself into any specific gear, and decided instead to take my sweet time inhaling as a means to offset the series of exhales I did over the last year and half of writing my book. This has been both hard and delicious.

But now something else is moving in, and it I’m hearing Diana Nyad’s rhythmic playlist starting in my head almost as an invitation: “Busted flat in Baton Rouge…waiting for a train…and I’s feelin’ as faded as my jeans…” It’s been dogging me, tapping me persistently on the shoulder.

Perhaps she’s onto something. She did, after all, manage to swim 54 hours in shark and jellyfish-infested waters.

T2016-04-05 17.49.06here is a framed mirror in our home that has given me a clue as to how this might look for me. It was a wedding present from my parents nearly 20 years ago. Honestly, we’ve had it for so long, I’d almost forgotten what it said. But the other day, as Diana’s song played in an endless loop in my head, I found myself walking over to it to look at it more closely. At the top it reads: “Go out for adventure, come home for love.” 

What if writing became the adventure that takes me out into the world and reading became the love that brings me home? Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. In equal measure, not in massive pushes and small sips.

I imagine I’d be free to make it to just about any damn shore I set my sights on.  Just like Diana did.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…nothing don’t mean nothing, honey if it ain’t free..”

Making Room To Read In March

Posted March 1st, 2016

1277701_781042271906915_6341253550155768305_oDo you remember that book you read when you were little that just lit you up inside? Maybe it had you not feel so alone because you related to the main character. Maybe you felt inspired because you read how the character overcame unsurmountable odds and grew stronger as a result. Maybe entirely new worlds opened up before your eyes, having you touch lands and cultures far different from your own.

I bet you still remember that book, don’t you? 

I do. It was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. I still remember the feeling of finding her in the pages of a book, like I’d stumbled upon a fictional best friend and soul sister. In many ways, Pippi was everything I aspired to be – loud, audacious, and fiercely independent. She questioned authority and rules. She  told marvelous and colorful tales of her adventures, and it was never quite clear or mattered which ones were real and which ones were made up. She marched to the beat of her own drummer, had a pet monkey and carried her horse. Meeting Pippi on those pages was like encountering the favorite parts of myself that I wanted to embody more fully.

Pippi is the one who turned me on to reading. And made me hungry for more.

It was this memory of being lit up as a young reader that made me burst into tears this weekend. It was this memory – and my deep gratitude for having experienced the power of books – that helped me finalize a decision I’d been wanting to make. Let me explain.

When my book Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer was released at the end of last year, I set the intention of donating the proceeds from a particular month of sales to benefit women and girls somehow. I’ve done things like this before and it always feels good to plug me (and by extension, the entire SheChanges community) into the greater good. Philanthropy, at its core, is about our love of humanity. But to be honest, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve organized my community around a gift. And after a really intense year of writing, editing and re-writing something that was so deeply personal (an inherently privileged opportunity), I was hungry to shift that inner focus to the larger world and give back.

I had my sights set on March as the month I would donate sales since it’s Women’s History month, but as the days in February flew by, I still wasn’t finding the organization that grabbed me as the best fit – and let’s be honest, there are so many organizations doing so much amazing work in the world, it’s almost overwhelming to choose just one.

Until I found it on Sunday.

rtr_logo_color_largeI stumbled on the Room to Read site after doing a search for organizations that buy books for girls. Like finding Pippi way back when, I felt lit up by this organization that is all about creating world change by educating children – specifically by focusing on literacy and gender equality. Reading about the work they do in Asia and Africa (programs, libraries, publishing, and working with educators) literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes because it was giving voice to a desire that lived right at the center of my heart.

Philo+Anthropy = Love+Humanity 

Ergo my tears (I was moved) and my decision (I was committed) to donate 100% of the proceeds of my book sales this March to Room to Read. My 13-year old son happened to be coming down the stairs while I was coming up them, wiping away my tears. We stopped in the middle and he asked me if I was okay. With fresh tears and a happy grin on my face, I said:

“I found it! I found the organization!” 

And I told him the story I just told you. He got teary-eyed and wore a happy grin, too, as we felt the electric juice of a sound decision swirling around us.

But I can’t do this alone. Just making a decision isn’t enough. Our action is. So here is my heartfelt ask of you.

March is Women’s History month. And you and I have benefited from the ideas, efforts and 2016-02-28 12.21.11gifts (time, talent, and/or treasures) of countless brave and courageous women before us who tirelessly created change, opened doors, and fought for the freedoms that many of us take for granted today.

Let’s rally and give a gift this month to pay homage to all those women who have come before us to pave the way. And let’s give it to all those girls who are growing up after us. Let’s work together be a link in the chain of women.

Let’s give a nod to our history and a boost to our future as women.

If you’re with me, here’s how I envision this looking:

For every sale of my book in the month of March, I will donate 100% of the royalties I receive as the author to Room to Read. To be clear, each time I sell a book, I receive $15.16. So if 50 copies of my book are sold, we will have raised $758 that I will donate on our behalf to Room to Read. If 100 copies are sold, we raise $1,516! How cool would THAT be!?

I know a huge number of you have already purchased Unscripted, and I’m so very honored and grateful. The response to my book has truly been overwhelming and has touched my heart. To those women, since many of you have read the book and know what it’s about, I’d ask you to consider buying it for another woman in your life. Surprise her with a gift from you in honor of Women’s History month and know that when you do, you’re not only loving up another woman, you’re also giving a gift that will support literacy and gender equality in education for girls in Asia and Africa.

If you have been meaning to buy the book, but have not yet had the chance, now would be a great time to make the purchase. As I floated this idea out there with some women, I’ve heard many of you say this would feel deliciously good to do, even though you have a pile of other books in your “to read” stack. And as you invest in yourself, know that you will also be making an investment in a girl’s education in Asia and Africa.

So are you with me? 

I’m so excited to make this happen, but I can’t do it alone.

We can do this. Together. Always.

So let’s do it, shall we?

Let’s put our philos into gear and make some anthropy history!

Love and gratitude to you.

Catching & Releasing My Shame

Posted November 19th, 2015

2015-06-05 09.04.54I’m going to tell you a story I could easily not tell. It’s a rather ugly story that reveals an unsavory part of my character. But I’ve decided to share it with you because here’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year:

Shame can’t live outside me. 

Holding onto it by keeping it inside me not only sours my joy, limits my expansiveness, and dampens my radiance, it also puts a wedge between me and others. I’ve found this is especially true for women, and have marveled at the degree to which my feelings of judgement are rooted in my feelings of shame. Simply put: if I can catch my own shame about something, I often am able to release my judgement about others that might be triggering it. It just breaks the cycle.

Catching and releasing my shame has become my new thing. 

I talk to enough of you out there that I know I’m not alone. I hear my experience of judgment echoed back to me every day with my clients. So perhaps you know something about the wedge we can conveniently put between ourselves and other women, having us judge each other instead of giving voice to the source of it – a hidden shame, an unrequited longing, a silenced desire.

Most recently I was inspired by Brene Brown when I heard her being interviewed by Elizabeth Gilbert on her podcast, Magic Lessons. In talking about whether or not she believed herself to be creative, she admits that if she had been asked that question even as recently as a year ago, she would have responded, “Oh, isn’t that cute. No, I don’t have time for A.R.T. because I have a J.O.B.”

How refreshing to hear such an accomplished and celebrated woman be so fucking honest about the shameful thoughts that had her secretly judging others – the “creative” people. Hearing her story inspired me to share my own with you. So thank you, Brene.

So here’s my tale of catching my shame in action – lest you think you’re the only one out there that has this experience – and the 10 clues I use to track it down and then release it.

2015-10-27 21.59.34I must start by telling you that this story unfolded for me when I was not in a very good way (this is probably true for most stories of shame – they tend to take root when we’re depleted and down). I was exhausted after a year-long sprint-and-then-wait experience of writing my first book that – for the life of me – didn’t seem to ever end. With every well intentioned query, “is your book out yet?“, I turned a fiery and fierce glare on my weary editor – an unbelievably gracious and talented soul who has been working feverishly day and night in service of me. I felt like a bully, allowing my impatience (will this EVER be done?), insecurity (will people like it?), and fear (what if they don’t…?) turn into toxic vitriol spew.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m finding more shame there. Shame I have since given voice to with her as I’ve dropped the reins and told her to take her time – that I trusted her (and her process) and was just full of my own sour energy that was coming out sideways. [which brings me to a side note: the book will be out when it’s out; I’m thinking it’s soon, but who knows…]

But this isn’t a story about my editor or my impatience in waiting for my book to be released. Nor is it the story of being busy, feeling spread too thin with obligation, activities, events and the general noise of life. It’s also not the story of transition and acclimating to the shorter and colder days of the winter, while grieving the summer. No, all that would be an excuse.

This is the story about shame – plain and simple. And how damn easy and seductive it is to sidle by it, laugh it off, pass it off or onto another unsuspecting person in the form of judgement.

Here’s what happened:

My son was invited to a halloween party at a classmates house. The handwritten invitation came weeks beforehand on an orange square of paper. You could tell it was heartfelt and therefore going to be eagerly anticipated by both the host and her daughter. There were references to coming in costumes and bringing a healthy halloween-themed snack.

I clipped it to our calendar knowing full well my son intended to go and didn’t RSVP until the night before the party. That should have been my first clue (#1. passive aggressive behavior). I could make a million excuses here (and maybe you’re reading this doing it for me?), but I’m not. This is me being honest: Something in me knew what I was doing.

Fast forward three weeks, and I find myself frantically emailing the mom (whom I have never met), falling all over myself with apologies for RSVPing the day of the party, and asking what I could bring. That should have been my second clue (#2 giving my power away to a complete stranger – especially when she wasn’t asking for it).

I drop my son off at the party later that evening, and that’s where the story really gets rich. This lovely woman opens the door and welcomes me into her beautiful home. My jaw literally falls open as I take in the festive and completely immaculate scene before me. It’s like a photo shoot had been set up for Martha Stewart Home or Real Simple: Halloween Edition. The woman that greets me seems calm – serene even – and I begin to be aware of how frenzied and frantic I feel, thinking of my own messy home that was void of anything festive.

As I fully absorb the showcase beauty of her home – the dozen white candles in clear glass pillars on the mantle, the red couch that is both pristine and lusciously inviting (how is that even possible, I wondered), the warm butter yellow walls that were flickering with candlelight – I start telling myself the story that this woman’s home always looks like this.

I start to prattle out loud about the room having “good feng shui”, even though I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about other than some vague recollection that yellow and red are “good” for prosperity. That should have been my third and fourth clues (#3 nervous prattle and #4 me handing over what’s left of my power).

She invites me into the dining room, which I realize is filled with other moms, some of whom I know. I am standing there, empty-handed (I had done as the host suggested and “not worry” about bringing something), and was suddenly aware that I most 2015-10-31 14.51.12likely had bits of green fleecy fuzz stuck in my hair from the Oscar the Grouch costume I had been frantically making earlier that afternoon. I felt like Kramer from Seinfeld – zany, unkempt, marginally tolerated, and just a hair away from losing it. The other moms, as my frantic eyes scanned the room, all seemed to be relaxed, composed and completely at ease, standing around drinking white wine. I silently cursed the fact that I was born a woman yet I detested white wine (why can’t I just be normal like other women?).

As I took all this in, I started to make up other stories about these women  – how they only have ONE child, no large hairy dog that was constantly shedding or drooling, and probably enjoyed spending time on Pinterest thinking of something “halloween-themed” to make. My mind was in over-drive now making up loads of shit in an attempt to make myself feel better: They probably have clean houses and crisp linens, a house cleaner, a trust fund, they don’t work, they don’t feel like they’re hanging on by a thread most days…

That should have been my fifth clue (#5 widespread panic inside me).

I have never seen such elaborate and wildly creative and scary snacks as the spread set Bloody Glass Cupcakebefore us in this butter yellow candlelight-flickering room. They were everywhere. In one corner I saw an artfully displayed platter of cupcakes that had “blood shattered glass” sticking up from the white frosting. I asked the mom who made them how she did it. While she told me about the idea she found on Pinterest (I knew it! Fucking Pinterest!), and how tricky it had been to get the temperature just right on the candy thermometer, I made a self righteous note that she only has one child and no dog (while conveniently ignoring what else I knew: she was a single mom that worked full-time).

That was clue number six arriving in my feeding frenzy of judgement (#6. self righteousness)

I could feel the sweat on my upper lip forming, and how the humidity on that unseasonably warm day was turning my chunky curls into a helmet of frizz.

“I really should go”, I said. What I really wanted to say was “GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”). And there it was: the seventh clue (#7. running away from something I didn’t want to feel) 

And I did. Leave. Quickly.

I went home and walked in our messy home, entering it like I had just narrowly escaped a brush with death. My husband took one look at me and said, “What just happened?” And so I told him, embellishing as I went and peppering it with plenty of “can you believe that shit!?” and “what the fuck, right!?” Finishing my story, I seemingly dismissed the whole experience by shrugging and saying, “who has time for that shit?

A little bit later I texted my sister and told her the story, this time zooming in on the use of the candy thermometer, knowing full well this would set her off because she owned exactly five mismatched pieces of old cutlery – just out of spite. Like the good sister she is, she went off on a tirade, guffawing at the absurdity and laughing in agreement with me. And there was my eighth clue (#8. shopping for validation, aka “leading the witness”)

A couple days later I had an informal gathering for my birthday that began with a brunch in my messy home. The plan was to catch up and reconnect with my friends before heading out to a dance class that was being led by a friend in my honor. As we sat around the living room by the fire catching up, I (once again…) started telling my story – embellishing it even further this time and zooming in on the blood shattered glass in the cupcakes.

I got what I was looking for from my crowd – a bunch of “are you kidding me!?“, lots of shaking heads and rolling eyes, and even a handful of comments intended to demonstrate their loyalty to me by saying, “that stuff makes me crazy, too…” That should have been clue number nine (#9. permission to completely disassociate).

Feeling relieved and lighter by all of our raucous laughter, we started to swap stories about the latest news of our lives. A few of my friends knew I had gone away for my annual birthday retreat and asked me about it. I shared that I had found my “word” (swoon) for the year, and recounted how the practice of finding a word really grounds and guides all of my intentions – personally and professionally- for the coming year. I happened to mention the ritual I do at this retreat of closing out my year by capturing the highlights, memorable experiences, key learnings and accomplishments from the year before turning the page and considering what I want to create for myself next year.

2015-09-13 11.10.04I noticed they had stopped smiling and nodding, and were now looking a bit stunned by me, but I continued on telling them that our entire family chooses a word for the year that we paint on our kitchen wall over the holidays as kind of a New Year’s ritual. Inspired to give them more context, I pulled out our big orange family goal book and explained how we each take time over the holiday to capture our favorite family highlights from the year and also reflect on what we want to create for ourselves for the coming year. I showed them how we each have our own page to play with every year, and how Todd and I also have pages for just us as a couple.

At this point I realized there was complete silence. I looked at my slack-jawed stunned friends and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I admitted aloud to them:

“Holy shit, THIS is my version of blood shattered cupcakes, isn’t it!?” 

They nodded at me and their laughter and suddenly smiling faces revealed to me the shame/judgement game I had been playing with myself. What I had been doing to that woman (I believe it’s called judging…) and her perfectly cleaned and decorated house and festive cupcakes, my friends had been doing to me in that moment – taking in my word wall, goal book, countless intention practices and family rituals.

That was when I got smacked in the side of the head by my tenth clue (#10 seeing the hidden shit underneath the judgement: jealousy, desire, insecurity, fear, vulnerability).

Here’s what I was beginning to see as a result of that experience:

I was feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed by all the clutter in my life – my house, my book, my schedule, our garage, our basement, piles of stuff seemingly everywhere – and was desperate for some order in the chaos.

I was feeling vulnerable about releasing my book in the world and as a result was anticipating feeling judged. There is so much of me and my story in my book, somewhere inside me, I was questioning whether I would still be loved by my friends and family after they read it and “found me out” 

I was jealous of women who seem to “have it together” because I felt like I was literally coming apart at the seams. 

I had been feeling like I was coming up short and lacking everywhere – especially as a mom – and was feeling guilty and selfish for having been so distracted over the past year of my boys’ lives. 

I was feeling insecure because I never quite feel like I fit in with other moms. 

I was ashamed for having trash talked a perfectly lovely woman – and her home, and her party – behind her back. 

That was a tender moment I had in front of my friends – one that nearly brought me to tears when the curtain was pulled back and it finally hit me. One of them, in seeing the bright white lightbulb of awareness glow over my head, said very lovingly, “I’m glad you see that now, Lael.”

But that public reckoning I did with my shame was so damn powerful that I won’t ever forget it. So powerful, in fact, I’m sharing it with you.

Because we all have our own version of blood shattered cupcakes – those things we do in the world that just come naturally to us. Those things we say or create or provide that we take for granted – because they don’t feel like hard work, they just flow from us with ease. They are our gifts. Those things we do that, ultimately, we are admired for being able to do so well.

We ALL have and do things that make other women jealous or insecure. But we probably can’t see them. 

Which really shines a light on the fact that jealously, at its core, is really just a curdled version of longing. When we are jealous, we are actually being inspired.

But don’t take my word for it. I could just be a self-congratulatory bitch. Have a go at it and see for yourself. Notice where you are judging or jealous. Make note of who has you feeling insecure. Pay attention to what makes you want to run for the hills. And then get curious. Dig underneath your initial story a couple – or 10 – layers to get to the good stuff.

I bet you hit pay dirt like I did.

Notes in the wake: After posting this, I forwarded a link to the woman mentioned above – the host of the party I barely knew. I was scared shitless, but knew it was important. It was about integrity for me – like the last vestige of shame was still hanging on because I hadn’t fully owned it with the one person who mattered. The person I had judged. So I wanted to “come out” clean with her – even though I knew she would probably be oblivious to all this going on for me – and apologize. But more importantly, I wanted to thank her. So I did. This morning. 

Within ten minutes of sending her the link, I got the most lovely phone call from her. She thanked me and said how much she admired my courage for sharing it with her. She was gracious and grateful to ME, and with that my heart cracked wide open. She ended her message saying she wants to be my friend and we’ve set a date to go out together. Wow.

More evidence of what can be born from catching and releasing our shame – admiration, gratitude, and an unexpected friendship.

Life In The Arena

Posted September 25th, 2015

Photo credit: Melissa Mullen PhotographyMy 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 staying 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.