Eruptions From My Soul

Posted February 5th, 2016

photo credit: Melissa Mullen PhotographyLast week I wrote about the empty spot I was feeling inside me. The one that was created when my book was released, like a recently vacated womb.

I didn’t plan on writing about that. That post started out as something entirely different.

But then I felt it. The way my writing shifted – first coming from my head, then moving further down inside me, until it was sourced from my heart alone.

Writing that post was like uncorking a bottle. I felt myself exhale deeply, and felt fresh oxygen swirling in my blood. I felt my whole body relax. I felt aligned. Validated. Loved.

That’s what writing does for me. It’s how I live my prayer. 

I heard from so many of you after that post was published. Once again, I realized I’m not alone. It turns out many of you are living – and feeling – similar versions of my story.

You’ve stopped working (which you are clear isn’t “retiring”), and are consciously sitting with the void that the absence of “work” has created.

The kids are grown, and the house is quiet and empty, leaving you wondering who you are now – and what you want next.

A sick child or an ailing parent has called you to take time off from work, and as you wait for test results and navigate the health care system, you find you are lost in thought, taking stock of life and tenderly touching what matters most. 

You’ve just navigated a number of rugged transitions over the course of the last year and are suddenly aware that life is just too, well, quiet – which is foreign and disconcerting given the noise, trauma, and drama you had grown used to.

You just had a baby, which had you pause your busy life and fast-track career, and now you’re questioning everything as a result.

You left a career that you could have resigned yourself to be happy in (had you successfully convinced yourself to stay), and now you find yourself sitting in the empty space that job used to fill – which is weird and wild.

photo credit: @nowmaste_It seems many of us are consciously sitting in empty and open space – space we have designed with a great deal of intention – that now we don’t know how to be in. We are asking ourselves, how, exactly,  do we “do” empty? No one trained us, taught us, or showed us how to be in this place. Hell, most people don’t even talk about this.

But I will. Not because I have the answers (because you know I don’t), but because that’s where I find myself now, and writing is how I figure myself out – how I slow myself down enough to see myself. It’s me, the extrovert, “writing out loud.”

I went to an acupuncture appointment last week for this first time in three years. Not five minutes into the session, his needle found its way into a block in me that felt like it was the size of Madagascar. I literally felt electrocuted by the sensation of the block being removed and all my chi flowing through me once again – like when a great surge of water is released from the dam on the river in rafting season.

This guy is as close as I know to a medicine man, and I go to him because of that. He’ll periodically stop and read me a poem or tell me a story that inevitably is connected to the messages my body is trying to tell me. And so, when this block was removed he stopped and – seemingly out of the blue – asked me if I knew what my virtue was.

“Huh?”

He asked me what my astrological sign was (at least I knew that: Scorpio), and then picked up this book that talked about the virtues of each sign.

It turns out the virtue associated with Scorpio was “patience,” which literally made me burst out loud laughing because that is not something I’ve ever felt I’ve had in my possession.

But then he kept reading aloud, telling me how the shadows of this virtue are “rigidity” and “impatience.”

…and BINGO was his name-o. Those are qualities I knew on a first-name basis.

Lulled by my free flowing chi and2014-11-26 13.09.18_1024 the sound of his voice, I listened until he uttered a phrase from the book that made my breath catch in my chest: “The Plentiful Void.”

My mind conjured up images of rolling fields covered with white snow and how it sometimes blends seamlessly with the horizon. I thought of Maxfield Parish’s Hilltop Farm painting with stark trees set off against winter sunsets at twilight.

Plentiful void… Plentiful void… Plentiful void… 

That one phrase described the empty space I had been intending – sometimes forcing – myself to honor in these days. He paused in his reading and said that it’s only by spending time in the plentiful void that you can bring some light to the darkness.

That was such a gift, that phrase. Because the word “plentiful” held so much more appeal for me than “empty.” It had hope. It was magnetic. More than that, it promised to be deeply nourishing. Like a feast.

And that’s when I remembered: finding the right language to describe what I want helps me to drop down into that desire more fully. It breaks down my resistance. I had been calling it “empty” before, which had me feeling self-conscious and aware of the slow passage of time, anxiously glancing at the clock to see if I was “done yet.” But “plentiful?” I happily lost track of time when I held the void that way. It was like a soul nourishing trough had been placed in front of me, and I was a happy pig.

Nothing had changed, and everything had changed. Just by choosing my words with intention. 

The next day I happened to be talking with a good friend about this space of “not doing” more than what’s absolutely necessary these days – and how I feel a bit gangly and self-conscious in it, like a newborn colt walking on its legs for the first time.

“Do only what erupts from your soul, Lael.”

I swooned a bit when she said that. Because inside that phrase was permission. Permission to honor my body’s wisdom, my deepest knowing, and my instincts. Permission to honor with the added promise of nourishment for my soul.

I was reminded of the client I had been working with earlier that week who, poised to give herself permission to govern her actions by her truest desire, paused and asked (herself more than me), “Am I allowed to do that?”

My response to her was, “Want to find out?”

But I get her question now more deeply, being at that place myself – the intersection of desire and duty. That place of wanting something that feels decadent, delicious and divine – of taking a hot bath in the plentiful void – but worrying that it’s somehow not allowed, like it’s selfish, greedy or overly indulgent.

But the reality is that I am hungry. And that suggestion from my friend felt so luscious to me. I found I just kept saying it aloud, letting it roll around on my tongue like a good piece of dark chocolate. I wanted to savor its sweetness before swallowing it down.

Only say yes to what erupts from my soul.

Over the last week I’ve taken that invitation to heart, and here’s what I’ve noticed is erupting:

MAKE ART

2016-01-24 09.03.58I recently heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk about how important it is to “feed” our creativity, lest it wreak havoc in our lives. She talks about creativity being like a dog, suggesting that if we don’t throw it some sticks to chase, someday we’ll come home and find it has eaten the couch.

That got me thinking about how the book I had just written has been like one of those automatic tennis ball chucker machines you see at racquet clubs, hocking ball after ball for my happy creative dog. And now it was empty. And quiet.

So I pulled out my art journal – the one that I’d forgotten about – and found my way back to doing my art thing – drawing designs and coloring them in with crayons or markers. I lost myself for hours doing this – in a good way. My mind quieted, my heart was happy, and my creative dog settled in for a good chew. The couch remained in one piece.

GIVE FROM THE HEART

2016-01-12 18.15.43This began in earnest when two massive boxes arrived on my doorstep containing forty copies of my book. I actually remember salivating in anticipation of what I was about to do: thank people. My plan was to send a book with a hand-written note to every person that had supported me in writing this book over the past year – editors, photographers, designers, guinea pig readers, comic relievers, ass kickers, body/mind/spirit healers, I believe in you champions, sounding boards… And I did write to all of them, savoring every last bit of that act.

But then something else happened. I found I did other things like surprising someone with a wild flower delivery “just because,” and picking up an extra tub of lotion for the owner of a studio because every time I went to class she complimented me on the scent I was wearing. I made time in my day to send cards to friends and family – to celebrate a birthday, to acknowledge a sick parent or child, or to simply let them know I was thinking of them. I called friends I hadn’t seen in ages and told them I loved them.

It felt so deliciously good – like I was giving back and making heart-felt deposits into a universal system that has given so generously to my life over the past year.

TELL BIRTH STORIES

After the birth of my first child, in those first few weeks when people would come to visit and meet the baby, I found I kept doing the same thing: telling my birth story. People would ask about it, and I would tell the story. Groups of new mo2015-08-24 13.35.09ms would gather at someone’s house and out it would come again, sometimes with new information and insight. Again and again I would caress this story of birth, and now I know why:

Much like an animal will lick her newborn right after birth to get it to breathe on its own, I was rhythmically stroking a major life event with my words, helping me to process something that had transformed me from the inside out.

So, not surprisingly, that desire is something that naturally erupted from my soul after the birth of this book. People asked about it, and I would tell the story – of conceiving it, writing it, having it edited, re-writing it, designing the cover, writing the copy, publishing it, and hearing the response as people started to read it.

And then something curious happened. Much like the dynamic that occurred in the circle of post-partum mothers, I found I was also hungry to hear other’s birth stories. It wasn’t a conscious choice as much as it was a gravitational pull. I started reconnecting with friends I hadn’t seen in years who had gotten divorced, fallen in love, left jobs, started businesses, moved, or lost parents, and I listened as they told their stories of upheaval and transformation.

I’m finding that the simple act sharing of stories has the power to bring connection, perspective, warmth and community to the void, offering solace and sustenance at a time when we’d otherwise feel isolated and alone with our thoughts.

FEED THE SENSES

This one has been interesting and the most surprising eruption.

2016-01-02 18.33.13It began with a desire to unload my body of all the toxins that I had put in and picked up in my body over the course of the last year (you don’t want to even know how many M&Ms I consumed in writing that book…and the caffeine? Oy.)

Our whole family did the Whole30 cleanse beginning on January 1st. How original, right? But when we decided to start the year off like that, it felt like much more than simply a New Year’s resolution. It was more like getting the windex out to give the white board in your office a good scrub down – not just erasing it, but actually cleaning off the ghosts of meetings past. It was truly refreshing – having me feel squeaky clean.

And then other stuff happened, like wanting to use more essential oil, and eating our dinner by the fire every night, and taking hot showers with lavender soap before bed. I started to make concoctions of seasonal tea, discovering the medicinal powers of turmeric root, which I mixed with ginger, cinnamon, lemon juice and cayenne pepper.

It was like all my senses were starting to wake up from a deep slumber in this plentiful void, noticing the colors of the sky, the texture of fabric and the scent of the wind. All of which made me hungry for more. Like a domestic animal returned to the wild.

DANCE FREELY

And finally, this eruption – which was my first, and will always be my favorite of the lot.

When my book first came out, my immediate response was to dance. First it was around my living room with my book, then it was with my kids, and then it grew to wanting to have a big dance party with a bunch of my friends. I envisioned really 2016-01-16 22.33.02loud music and getting sweaty happy with some of my favorite free spirits, playful misfits, and fierce freak-flag wavers. I made a list of forty people, and tested the water by texting some of the people who would be traveling the farthest to join me.

And then I freaked out a little bit. I started to worry that no one would come because of the weather or the fact that I was planning it for a holiday weekend when a lot of people would be heading off to ski. I started to feel vulnerable.

It did, in fact, snow – enough to almost have me cancel it. But a good friend who knows me well insisted I go through with it, reminding me that this was a moment that might never come again. And my husband, good man that he is, reminded me that at the very least, it would be just the two of us dancing together, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

A pile of people ended up rallying to join me and we danced our asses off that night for three hours under a disco ball. Sweaty, wild, loose and fluid, we stomped, strut and shimmied until we were slick and sated. Frankly, I find I don’t want to stop dancing these days, having recently discovered Buti Yoga, which has felt like it’s reintroduced me to my body again.  It’s been the gift that keeps giving.

All of these eruptions happened because something wise in me decided not to get busy. 

All of this happened because I got curious instead of critical, stayed open instead of shutting down, and listened deeply instead of talking over my instincts and honoring the noise of life instead of the quiet of the void. It wasn’t easy at first, I’m not going to lie. But having fully digested the first few spoonfuls of nourishment from that plentiful void, I will leave you with this:

Juicy eruptions continue to keep bubbling from my soul like an endless font of desire I’ve tapped into. And truth be told, I’m not eager for them to stop. And in case it’s not patently obvious, what I’m talking about here with the plentiful void is plugging into and feeding the feminine energy in me – the parts of me (my emotions, my intuition, my spirit, my body) that live deep in the quiet of my soul: my roots. If you want to know why I’m so hungry for that or what I mean by the feminine, I’ll gently point you in the direction of my book, where I offer 38 deeply personal stories that have helped me to figure all that (and indeed, myself) out.

So I think I’ll just stay in this place for a while to see what else I discover. But feel free to join me. The water – and the food – here is mighty fine.

Laying Hands on The Empty Spot

Posted January 28th, 2016

2016-01-12 18.23.31Last week I needed a lifeline. I got one (thankfully) when I reached out to a good friend. Here’s what was going on:

My book, Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer, finally came out on Amazon on December 30th, just getting in under the wire before a new year started.

I say “finally”, because it felt like I had worked and waited an eternity for that moment. I had talked about it, written about it, and eventually grew disenchanted with the whole stale topic, thinking (on my worst days) that the day I was waiting for (“It’s OUT!!!”) would never come. I know in the larger scheme of things that sounds like a gross exaggeration and, admittedly, it is. Books often take years to be born. But I wasn’t operating in the larger scheme last year – I was in my scheme. The one where it felt like an eternity.

But on that sweet night of December 30th, when the last approval had been submitted, the last switch had been thrown, and all the proper fields of information had been filled out, I let out a huge whoop of delight and did a little dance around my house to celebrate.

Elated and prancing about, I told my 13-year-old son that getting that book out of me was an even bigger relief than when his 10 pound body finally slid out of me after six hours of pushing. He kind of winced, mortified, no doubt, by that graphic image, but my whole body broke into a wide grin at that comparison. Because it remembered that sensation and agreed. My body knew what I was talking about.

I was thrilled. Proud. Relieved. And completely and utterly exhausted.

I felt my whole body exhale, as if I had been holding my breath for 16 months and hadn’t realized it. My shoulders started to detach from my earlobes, and the winced-pinched expression on my face started to smooth out a bit, I’m quite sure. Suddenly, there was a taste of sweetness, as if honey and dark chocolate had replaced the lemon and vinegar taste I’d been so used to in my mouth.

Big, long, lush E-X-H-A-L-E. 

But it was also still the holiday season and the beginning of a new year, so there were lots of fresh starts, shiny new intentions and family rituals that bedazzled the turning of the year in our house and my business, like sparkling diamonds glistening on the freshly fallen snow outside.

2016-01-11 08.21.17Texts and emails started to roll in from my friends and clients who had already bought – and were loving – the book I had written. People were posting pictures of my book on Facebook with their babies, mugs of tea and happy, smiling faces next to it.

Smart, accomplished, competent, and discerning women I admired, trusted and respected reached out to thank me for writing what I wrote – telling me that my words and stories had them deep in thought, laughing and crying as they resonated with my experience as a woman, feeling both validated and inspired. One woman even said she was feeling more loving toward herself, which made me weep in gratitude.

2016-01-25 11.42.51Have you ever had one of those moments? When the massive project was completed and met with rave reviews? When the huge event went off without a hitch? When you finally fulfilled the classes and got the degree? When the thing that had consumed you for so long was now behind you – and all that remained was to put away the chairs, sweep up the confetti and turn off the lights on your way out?

Then you know. You know the elation and the deep sense of accomplishment and profound gratitude. You know the huge exhale and the intense feeling of relief, satisfaction, and pride of an effort that was met with success.

And perhaps you might know the void that follows.

Years ago, after the birth of my rather large first baby mentioned above, I went to get a massage. I had gone to this particular woman throughout the entire course of my pregnancy – from the “I think I might be expecting” early days to the “I can’t breathe there’s no room” overdue days – so she had witnessed my body and its changes for a year. On this first massage post-partum, I was feeling a bit tender and lost without that singularity of purpose in my belly – but I didn’t know it then.
2016-01-12 18.18.48All I knew is that I was bone tired, a bit dazed by what had just happened in my body, and stunned by the vast unknown that lay ahead of me. I was also weepy. Very, very, very weepy.

The kind and serene masseuse lay her hands on me, noting that this was the first time in a long time that I was flat on my back. She suggested we might begin with my stomach, seeing that was the source of much activity over the past 10 months. As she put her hands on my belly, which felt mushy and poochy with extra skin, she made a sad face and said,

“Oh… it feels so empty in there now.”

At which point, I burst into sobs. She didn’t know the potency of what she had said – she was young and had not grown a child in her body yet. But her words – raw and uncensored as they were – helped me to name exactly what I was feeling: Grief.

The empty spot in me where something beautiful had been growing.

That’s the image that has been in my mind as I’ve been 2016-01-13 12.51.16traveling about these past three or four weeks since my book was released. The grief for the book that had been my primary focus, my key bearing, and my constant traveling companion for over a year. The sweetness of knowing something beautiful – something I gave life to from inside my body – is now living on its own outside me. And the sadness at having that empty womb – the spot in me that was created by its birth.

It’s a lot to wrap your brain around. 

How do you hold so much gratitude and joy, while also holding a sense of loss? Perhaps you know. Perhaps you’ve been there at the very place I have been standing. Perhaps you know, then, how very easy it is to just get busy.

And that’s exactly what I tried to do in those weeks after the holidays faded and we all got back to the grind of our work weeks and usual routines. I thought* I gave myself some latitude (*thought being the operative word there…) in those first few post-partum weeks, telling myself to be gentle and savor and take my sweet time.

But inside? Inside was a fucking street fight that was getting ugly. A battle between sweet and sour was being waged, and blood was about to be shed.

Marching orders were coming in fast and furious over my wires, like the tick-tick-tick of a Morse Code machine – loud, urgent, and almost indecipherable.

You need to get busy now. 
You need to know where you’re going with all this. 
You need to promote this – get out there and promote this! 
You should go on a book tour!
You should do local book readings!
You should write about your book! 
You need to get out there – hire a PR person! 
Should…! Ought to…! Have to…! Must do…! 
Chop, chop! Tick tock! Time is wasting.
MOVE!!!!

I had responses and answers to all of those commands (“No”, “I don’t want to”, “I don’t feel like it”, “Not now.”), but apparently they weren’t the right ones because the marching orders got louder and just started barking at me in shouty caps. Relentlessly.

2016-01-13 14.06.46My body was giving me such clear messages, but they weren’t jiving with my head. My head was insisting I overrule those messages, but as I started to rest and play and relax more into the expanse of this post-partum time, my body was just feeling so damn good I didn’t want to budge. Even in the face of some really loud voices telling me I was wrong.

And that is why I needed a lifeline. 

I called my friend, a published author herself who, ironically, is now post partum from a baby of the human sort, who has been there, done that, and had come out the other side of it. I told her how I was feeling right and wrong at the same time.

And like the masseuse did that day 13 years ago, my friend gave me the words that helped me touch the empty spot that was actually still very much full inside me.

It was empty from the book that had been living inside me, sure, but now that same spot was quite full from receiving gratitude after its birth.

“The key is digestion. You’re full. Even unacknowledged good stuff will turn to shit if it’s not digested.”

She went on to tell me how “a book is forever” –  a phrase that felt like luscious balm on my soul – and how there was no timeline that needed to be followed, no prescribed steps that needed to be taken. In fact, in a surprising twist, she said she was actually watching me in how I was going about the release of this book, saying that “non-launch launches” are actually the new thing right now (who knew?)

Once I heard this from my friend – the one I trusted, my lifeline for this particular topic – I started to see signs everywhere I looked that were reinforcing that same message. My acupuncturist whom I hadn’t seen in two years felt my pulse and said that my body was incredibly low on resources – specifically my “fluid…which is the home of the feminine energy in you.” I ran out to the car one morning late to work and my car battery had died. My iphone went on the fritz not responding to any of my touches and then just stopped all together. A handful of clients rescheduled, leaving my week feeling expansive and deliciously open.

It was all so clear now. So why did it have to be such a knock-down-drag-out-fight to get me to see that?

I suspect it has something to do with my relationship to “empty spaces”, the void of the unknown, or more specifically, grief. Like a cat in an open room, I freaked out a little with all that openness.

It’s also easier and often preferable to listen to the noise of busy instead of the quiet of empty – I know this from my own experience.

But I also know what’s waiting for me on the other side of that listening:

  • more internal resources
  • more juice for my battery
  • a happier and healthier digestive tract
  • a fully-charged me that’s not on the fritz

So now that I’ve got all that sorted out in my tired brain, the fight in me has remarkably dissipated. I’ve tuned into the quiet urgings inside me, am hot on its trail and am eager to lay hands on it with love.

Thankfully, I’m in good hands. It seems I always was. I just needed a lifeline to point it out.

Word Food

Posted October 8th, 2015

2015-10-08 09.17.53I am a huge fan of words. I have often said that my idea of heaven is being alone in a bookstore with no sense of time, just being able to roam endlessly among all those words.

Books are my happy worm holes.

I have been known to spend days – weeks, sometimes months – with my face winced in something akin to physical pain as I search for just the right word to describe an experience I’m having, an event I’m creating, or, most recently, a book I’m writing.

But it’s always so worth it, because when I finally find it – or more aptly feel it land in my bones – it’s such a delicious treat, like warm, dark chocolate mixed with a dollop of honey and a dash of cayenne melting on my tongue.

Words are my ultimate accessory.

I wear them like earrings, stack them like bangles and wrap them around me like the most luxurious pashmina. I’ve never been a fan of gems or jewels – much to my mom’s chagrin who insists to this day that I will eventually love them. Words are my jewels, and I wear them like a priestess.

Upon my death, I would love nothing more than if those whose lives I have touched gift me with their favorite word, writing it in red and kissing it before offering it to the ground with my ashes. Morbid, I guess, but I think about these things.

Words like “fecund”, “luminous” and “effervescent” send electric currents of pleasure through my body. Indeed, I do believe words have the potential to be the ultimate sex toy. And don’t just take my “word” for it…read some poetry or pick up some erotica and try it for yourself.

For many women, the right word has the ability to transport us to the feminine energy in ourselves like a high-speed lane – traffic jams, red lights or construction zones be damned. It’s right up there with nature and movement when it comes portals that help us to plug into our bodies and our truth.

I love fiction, but what really nourishes my soul are the stories women tell about their own lives. The ones that make me weep and laugh and moan. The ones that make me not feel so alone. Or crazy. Those books.

In fact, it was that very gratitude I have felt many times from reading another woman’s story was the inspiration for my own book’s dedication:

For the woman who feels alone. Or crazy. Or both.

2015-09-14 10.59.40Those are the women for whom I wrote Unscripted – the ones who lay awake at night thinking, “Am I nuts…does everyone else have this figured out but me?”

[And for those of you who have asked about the latest ETA on my book’s release…an update: I’m doing a “clean read” of the final manuscript this weekend, and am on track to upload it to CreateSpace on Oct 19…which would hopefully put me on track to release it by Halloween (how perfectly auspicious, right?) So almost there!]

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do over the past year in writing this book out of me, is to intentionally cut myself off from those books that nourish me the most – the stories written for and told by women. Why? Because I had to go down into my own worm hole (so to speak…). I had to tune out all the other voices of women so I could hear just my voice in this noisy world…to create a void for the quiet whisperings of my soul to talk to me.

That was really, really hard. And I can’t tell you how many times over the past year, I’ve picked up and put down books stacked beside my bed written by Amy Poeler, Meggan Watterson, Kitty Cavalier, Amanda Palmer, Sera Beak, Christiane Northrup and Brene Brown with a reverent nod, promising, “someday soon, my tasty morsel…I’ll be back for you.”

And I’m happy to report: That day has come. There are days I never thought it would, but sweet mercy, it’s here! And just in time, too. Right on track – even despite my impatience and fit-throwing foot-stomping.

Having read my own manuscript no less than eight times cover to cover – after having been brought to my knees writing it – and with my last “clean read” in sight, I cannot tell you how excited I am to tuck into someone else’s words and stories other than my own. Honestly. The prospect literally makes me drool and, no, I’m not being overly-dramatic.

2015-10-08 09.19.09Yesterday, while I was waiting for one of my clients to arrive, I literally turned the wheel of my year. I have this framed wheel in my office that represents all the seasons, the elements, months and, of course, words I associate with each season.

Turning that wheel a quarter turn four times a year, helps me to orient myself with the seasons of me, turning my attention and intentions toward the invitations embedded in each season. People have called this framed thing,  “art”, but I’ve always resisted that notion, seeing it as entirely functional. Let’s just say it’s functional art I made.

So yesterday I turned the wheel a quarter so that the fall – September, October, and November – was on the top left, and the winter – December, January, and February – came onto the scene, stage right. I had a moment of grief – for the summer that had passed (it was an insanely good one), and for the year I had spent writing this book (now it would live in print instead of my body).  Turning that wheel yesterday gave myself permission to grieve what has passed and to move into what is becoming.

I went home that night and finally – blessedly! – felt ready to read another woman’s story. Sure, I still did that thing I do – reading the acknowledgments first, checking the front matter for the publisher, reading her bio, making note of how she chose to format her book – but mostly, I allowed myself to be fed by another woman’s story.

And it was so damn nourishing, slaking my parched soul instantly.

2015-10-03 17.20.39The book was literally called The Book of She, and it arrived on my doorstep this past weekend after having pre-ordered it six months ago. I have long since been a fan of Sara Avant Stover’s, so I was delighted to lay my hands on this book that I knew came from the depths of her soul.

A soul sister’s soul.

My eyes landed on a particular phrase as she set the context for what she calls the Heroine’s Journey: “…the feminine teaches most potently through storytelling…

I put the book down and wept. 

The full magnitude of my book – and what I had put in it – started to flow into my heart. I had just spent over a year of my life gathering, writing and weaving together pieces of my story. Many, many pieces. Which means that I had been generating nourishment for the feminine of any woman – or man – who chooses to feast on it.

This was me feeding the collective feminine in us. 

I felt so honored, and bowed my head in gratitude at the gift I had been given to write this book. I bowed to myself (such a new behavior for me) with gratitude for saying yes to that ask. I bowed to the feminine, for patiently waiting for us to get ripe and ready. And finally, I bowed to all those people out there who are courageously giving the feminine a voice and an honored seat at our table so it starts to flow over us in wave after wave, nourishing our tired bodies and worn out spirits.

I felt pride – as if I had brought a really good dish to a pot luck dinner. It turns out my words are food. And my book – the one I hope to put in your hands very soon – was me replenishing some word food from others that had nourished me over the years.

And with that happy and full heart, I tucked into a good book and ate.

Simply Love.

Posted September 11th, 2015

2013-12-11 13.15.54The past two weeks have been hard. I’ve officially decided that the beginning of September is an annual shit storm no matter how I try and slice it.

The air was sticky and suffocating. The noise and chaos of the kids returning to school reached high decibels and felt like it came out of nowhere – fast – even though we knew it was coming. We were bombarded with paperwork and gobsmacked by structure and routine as our family wheels ground forward in a car that was out of gear and had seemingly viscous oil.

We forgot how to do this. We didn’t want to do this. And yet it happened anyway.

As the kids went back to school, I went back to work, having been out for a month writing the final edits on my book and taking some family vacation by the water (which was lovely, thank you). My first day back at work, I opened my laptop ready to face my busy week with as much gusto as I could manage. I tapped a few keys. Nothing. Just a blinking cursor. Tried again. Still nothing. Stymied (and sweating), I started a systematic inventory of what keys worked and what keys didn’t. I quickly learned that the entire numeric key pad had shit the bed, as well the delete and backspace keys. And the apsotrophe and quote keys.

(As a side note, you would be amazed at how much you need a damn apostrophe key.)

Ever the plucky and resourceful entrepreneur, I focused my attention on the numbers in my function keys on the top row above the letters. But it was really the delete and backspace keys that kicked me in the teeth, and I couldn’t help that feel like this was some cruel cosmic joke – like I was on some twisted entrepreneurial edition of Candid Camera or was a pawn in a small business behavior experiment. Having just written an entire book over the past year, my keyboard had become like another appendage to me – it was as familiar as my skin, just colder. And now it was fucking with me. Traitor.

Returning to the family in our hot and sticky home that night, it seemed chaos and short-circuiting had run rampant. The SRS red light had gone on in the dash in our car for no apparent reason. The dog peed on the carpet for no apparent reason. The ice maker in the freezer leaked water for no reason, creating a three inch frozen slab that made it hard to open. The little rubber head of the plunger came completely off mid-plunge for no reason, leaving my eight year old with just a stick in his hand looking a little lost at the clogged toilet.

It got to be comical, that first week – a comedy of errors. But Labor Day was on the horizon with the promise of a long weekend. So we mustered and we rallied and we plunged our way through that week, thinking the worst of the transition was behind us. How foolish of us.

2015-08-23 15.59.17Denial, it seems, works in a pinch.

We returned to start our next week, buoyed from an awesome camping trip – sun soaked and souls slaked by the cool water of a lake and velvet black skies filled with stars. It was as if nature had cleaned off our congested white boards, wiping our memory banks of the previous week. We were ready.

Except we weren’t. Clearly.

The heat returned. More paper came home from school, and with it came the school conferences. And then the sports practices. Crap piled up – everywhere – and something unidentified stunk in the house. The days started getting visibly shorter – almost overnight – while the sweltering heat seemed to intensify. We swore more. And moaned about having to wear pants and shoes.

Wah wah wah. Poor unfortunate souls. How pathetic.

Then came the fatigue, and we started using phrases like “bone tired” and became snappy and snarky. All of this ultimately led to the tears. That’s when it clicked for me.

Grief. We were grieving. Or trying to. 

We were having to let go – of the summer, the sun (such a rare treat in a northern climate), longer days, lax rules, lower expectations, bare feet, spontaneity, minimal clothing – but found we were holding on. Tightly. Ergo the shit storm. Which forced our hand as a family and had us fold, realizing we were coming up short in the face of a rather large pile of grief.

So we started talking about it – naming the things we missed and touching the aches in our hearts with words. We listened to each other and nodded in understanding, not feeling so alone in it all. We held each other, making space for the tears to fall.

We allowed our feelings to be right, not wrong. 

That’s when the shit storm finally stopped. The moment we stopped trying to run from it, rail against it, or plow through it, we were able to simply be present to it. And you know what happened next? Unbelievable waves of gratitude moved in. Here’s the story of how that happened over the course of dinner last night.

We had all come from twenty different directions, late and flying in the door from work, practice and school with lists and more papers, more dates, more expectations, more commitments. No food to speak of, no meal plan, no focus, no energy, no patience. Snarking, barking, tears and mess. We through something together, shoved it on some plates and called it dinner.

As I came to the table, I noticed all three men in my life were standing up, waiting for me to be seated first. This was something they had been doing for a while now, having talked about what “chivalry” meant. But this night, seeing them do that melted something in me, bringing me to tears. I told them they made me feel like a Queen. We sat down at our round table, and I was aware of our circle – a shape that has always felt sacred to me. Instinctively, I reached out my hands and asked if we could just breathe together for a moment – something I’ve rarely done.

We just breathed together. In and out. In and out. 

With each breath, I could feel us melting – melding – together as a family. It was delicious – like balm for my weary soul. I found I was more hungry for that connection than I was for our dinner. That was what I needed to fill me.

Love was the nourishment I needed most. 

We told stories and news about our day – just as we usually do at dinner – but it felt slower paced, like we were being more present to each other, witnessing and listening. More questions were asked. As we finished up, the kids left the table, leaving Todd and I to talk.

I was aware the music changed in that moment to a slower song on the stereo – something slower, more soulful, and heart-felt. Romantic. I reached for my husband’s hand and asked him if he’d dance with me, knowing full-well that this northern nordic man was damn near melting in the heat of the week and might be put over the edge by more body heat.

“Always”, he said. And we began to move our bodies together with the music. Our music.

Dancing with him, I was transported back to the first month we met and fell in love, which was – ironically – September. It was the month of our first date and the month we moved into our first apartment together and the month we got married. September, it seems, is – and will always be – our month. Shit storms and all.

In that dance I remembered he was home to me and that I was home to him. I remembered the first time he sang Sting’s song “Shape of My Heart” softly into my ear. I remembered the long drives on the winding country roads we used to take – for no particular reason, but just because – in his Audi with the sunroof open and the dark night skies enveloping us. I remembered the sensation of looking up into his chocolate pie eyes and how delicious and lovely it was that he was taller than I. I remember him literally picking me up and squealing with delight at being carried by his strength. I remember the feeling of finally coming home.

I was feeling with my whole body as we danced. Which made my heart swell and get warmer.

That was the final kiss of that surprisingly magical evening last night. We didn’t see it coming. In fact, we were loaded for bear, and trying our best to hold on, like we were all in raft heading through class four rapids without paddles. But without even really trying or making a conscious decision, we morphed the shit storm we seemed to be in right before our eyes into something lovely and deeply nourishing. Connection.

Love, it seems, is simple that way. 

Remembering

Posted May 29th, 2015

Colorful-dancing-woman-Kashe-Mama-LargeI went to a dance class earlier this week. I wasn’t supposed to. I was supposed to be working – you know, being productive – but for whatever reason I had an invitation from my friend land right into a patch of open time. And I couldn’t say no, even though I felt like I should.

That invitation felt like a delicious cocktail of divine intervention and desire to play hooky. My favorite flavor.

So of course I said yes. 

And that is how I found myself Wednesday morning –  driving up the coast to an unknown location, late and lost, wandering around someone’s property mumbling “gorgeous barn…gorgeous barn…where the fuck is the gorgeous barn!?” – cursing my instincts, even as I followed them. Because deep down I knew.

I knew this would be one of those happy accidents that starts with resistance.

It didn’t take me long to have that sense validated. Even as I arrived late, sweaty and stressed with some leaves stuck in my hair, I felt the “rightness” of the space and how I was supposed to be there. As I locked eyes with my friend, now pregnant with her first child, and saw the wall of windows behind her that looked out to this faerie forest, I could feel it.

I could feel me there. The me that has been patiently awaiting my arrival.

It wasn’t an immediate reunion with myself that morning, but a gradual one – even with some shy awkwardness, mumbling and fumbling around myself avoiding eye-contact.

That was the beginning. Reconnecting.

But that all started to change when my friend invited us into the movement of Qoya by spinning various parts of ourselves in gentle circles – first our wrists, then our arms, head, ankles, and finally our hips. I kid you not, when I say I nearly wept with relief at this motion. Even as I write this my whole body is doing a deep inhale. And exhale. 

Because it was in the circles that I remembered.   

Purposely asking my body to move in circles and curves, accentuating the bumps and swells of my soul felt like pouring a cool glass of water over my parched head – like standing under a rain shower and being watered down to the tips of my toes. Warm feminine rain.

And just as I was starting to rejoice in this sensation, to be fully present to this experience in my body, I started to have these thoughts.

HerMojo2

How is it that I had forgotten my body could move like this? How is it that I had fallen back into my old ways of lines of moving as if between two panes of glass – forward, backward, up or down. I knew better than that! Hadn’t I just written a book about this? Wasn’t I all over this!? Why the fuck did I keep forgetting to find and feed the feminine in me with my body? When, when, when was I finally going to get to that place of remembering this and STAYing there?

These are the mean-spirited things that ran through my mind as I moved in that class. Berating myself, even as I felt relief for having reconnected. Lamenting the loss of an soul-promise intention, even as I greeted the arrival of it at my door.  It was weird and embarrassing, leaving me grateful all this ruckus was happening inside me, safely hidden away from others. Or so I thought.

This was the middle. The street fight.

Thankfully, just about as this was reaching a heightened crescendo in me, my friend instructed us to move into downward dog, reminding us that we could drop down at any time into child’s pose if we felt so moved. And then she asked a question that finally pulled the cork out of my bottle:

“How would you move if this were a prayer?”

At which point, I dropped down to the ground to child’s pose with a soft thud and quietly started sobbing. And the universe started talking, softly rubbing soothing circles on my lower back. And I stayed there having the earth hold me as I listened and filled myself up. I stayed there long past the point when others had moved on. I stayed there knowing I wasn’t alone. I just stayed there. Until I felt ready to move again.

And that was the end. Sacred union. 

That was when I remembered (again). Everything wants to be round – including me, it seems. Beginning – middle – end…string them together and they form a circle. A cycle. Forgetting wasn’t a fatal flaw, it was a natural consequence of the turning of the wheel. Remembering wasn’t meant to be a forever state of being, it was a constant process of renewal.

I wasn’t wrong. And I wasn’t right. I was simply a human being moving forward. Like a round wheel.

Sometime during that dance class I made another soul-promise to myself – and this one I’m pretty sure I can honor. I want to bring some reverence back to the process of forgetting. I want to stop participating in my own shame when I have lost my way. Forgetting isn’t shameful and neither is remembering nobel. They are simply two sides of the same coin – integrally linked and connected to each other, not separate and distinct.  I need both of them in me. To turn. And move forward.

Even as I resist. Even as I embrace. 

I remember that now. But I reserve the right to forget it again.

 

 

Going To My Happy Place

Posted May 22nd, 2014

The following is the transcript from my final piece of story from SheSpeaks, my evening of women’s storytelling 5.8.14, and set the stage for Donna Desilet’s story: Salty Tears, Salty Sea.

Lael on stage at Sourcing SheSpeaks B&W 5.8.14 - Melissa Mullen PhotographyI want to try something with you. You know when you do a guided meditation or one of those stress reducing things they ask you to go to your “happy place”? I want you to go there now. Get in your mind a picture of your happy place. You got it?

Ok, now by a show of hands, whose happy place is outside in nature? That’s what I thought… For many of us: the source we go to in our minds – if not in reality – when we need fortification, nourishment, connection, peace – is often found in nature.

I have two happy places. The first is on a dock on a lake in New Hampshire. I can go there in a flash and feel the wind come across the water and hit my face. I can smell it and hear the waves slapping and sloshing under the dock.

But my favorite happy place – the one I frequent most often – is in the mountains and I can go there in a flash if I need to. It’s on Mount Monroe, some of you might know it…it’s a small pip of a mountain just down from the summit of Mount Washington, and next to the Lakes of the Clouds hut. I’ve been to this place many times, but there was this one time… We hiked up after dinner to watch the sun set and were kind of bummed because it was pretty foggy and socked in. But we climbed up to the top and stood and waited. And then, like magic, we watched as this cloud came across the neighboring peak, dipped down into the ravine in front of us, and then crept up the other side of the ravine toward the peak of the mountain we were on, and then PASSED THROUGH US and went down the other side. I’ve never experienced anything like that.It still gives me goosebumps just thinking about that moment today.

But one part of that story that I’ve NEVER told – a part that I thought was silly and unrelated – was that while all this was happening on that mountain that day, this very cute British guy – one of the trip leaders with me – was standing behind me with his hands under my wind jacket, on my breasts. To the casual observer, it just looked like I was leaning back against him, while he was hugging me from behind. And I could make a case that it was very cold that evening… But Ed and I knew better. And now today, as I reflect on that moment and share with you that “hidden” piece of the story, I see just how relevant to my experience in nature – OF nature – it was. It’s an important part of my story because THAT was the moment – the first moment – I discovered the deep connection between nature and the erotic. 

Did you ever see that movie Chocolat with Juliette Binoche? She’s in southern france, with this glorious cape, and she tosses open the window and FEELS the wind calling to her to follow it. And she does, time and time again, despite the pleas from her daughter to stay in one place. I get that. I have felt that call of the wind many times in my life, and my response is always the same, to close my eyes, breathe deeply and look up. Almost as if I’m letting it know that I hear it, see it, feel it.

It’s sensual, really.

Some of you might not know this, but my earliest versions of SheSpeaks started out as something I called “Tribal Gatherings”. They weren’t really me, but they were relatively successful and I now see it was the seed for this event to bloom.  The first one I did was on the topic of SENSUALITY and what that meant. I remember that being such an expansive and generative topic for women, clearly striking a hungry nerve. We talked about how sensual had been reduced to sexual, when it was so much more than that. And we spoke of many things we’re touching upon tonight – the elements, the wind, warm rains, hushed snow, fireflies, certain foods, the smell of dirt, the warmth of red wine in the belly, the colors of a canyon or the changing blues in the ocean, experiences in nature like skinny dipping and campfires and sleeping under moonlight.

We got it, this group of women. But most recently, I’ve heard a number of men I know accessing – or wanting to access – a similar source inside them, I would argue The Feminine inside them.

I watched my husband have an experience like that this summer while we were on vacation on a lake in New Hampshire. I came out to the front screened in porch and found him standing there, awe struck, with his jaw wide open. I could see he was trying to make sense of what he had just seen, but couldn’t. When he was finally able to describe what he saw, he spoke about a “loon dance.” For those of you who don’t know what this is, apparently in the weeks prior to leaving a lake for the season, all the loons will gather in a big circle, flap their wings, call out to each other and, well, dance. It’s very rare that you witness it, because it happens in the early morning hours. But that morning, I could see it all over Todd’s face – he had witnessed something profoundly magical, deeply spiritual, and incredibly special. A once in a lifetime moment.  

A couple of weeks ago, a client used the word “enraptured” in an email to me describing how she wanted to feel. Upon reading it, I heard myself take a sharp intake of breath. Like the woman in my circle, I thought, “I don’t know exactly what that means, but I want me some of that!” I immediately looked it up and found it meant “intense pleasure” or “delighted beyond measure”. When I saw this client later, she said that she had ditched that word because as a “recovering catholic” she couldn’t get over how enrapture was too close to “rapture” (which not being Christian I had to look that one up, too).  Apparently it comes from the latin meaning of “to seize or take away”, and essentially means the end of the world. So it seems to a large portion of our society “intense pleasure” essentially equates to “the end of the world.

But here’s where I landed with all that. Nature is intensely sensual and so full of pleasure that we are easily swept up in it. Enraptured. It’s also right there, outside our window, wherever we look. We just have to slow down enough to notice it. Which means opening our eyes. And hearts. And asking our intellects to step aside for a moment.

If You’re Stuck, Think Sappy Thoughts

Posted February 28th, 2014

TreesI’ve come to thinking of this time of year as my “season of UN”. UNfinished. UNresolved. UNrelenting. UNruly. UNderestimate. UNder the weather. UNsure. Unprecedented. Undecided.

It’s the time of year where I feel most ripe with ideas and possibilities and promises. At the same time I feel least motivated to do anything about it. Yea, unfortunate combination. It is, by definition, the experience of “stuck”. Which sucks. But it’s more than that. With all those thoughts and ideas and inspirations I’ve got brewing inside me with no definitive or sustained action , it’s actually more like constipation.

Which really sucks.

But thanks to my clients this week, I was reminded (repeatedly) of a metaphor that helps during this time. One that “normalizes” me in this time of year (and this part of my cycle of creativity), and offers me a seed of hope.

Trees. And sap.

My clients have referred to trees all week – being them, resonating with them, taking solace from them, feeling like one, wishing they were one. Up here in Maine, they are pretty hard to miss this time of year. They stand like stark naked sculptures, most of them large and looming, black against a steel gray or cool blue sky. They stand still. Just watching. Waiting patiently. Timeless and trusted. One of my clients call the trees in her area “sentries” because she feels as if they are there for her, guarding and honoring the ancient wisdom they know lives within her. Even when she forgets.

Especially when she forgets. Like I did today.

But then I had this moment in my car this morning when it all kind of clicked together in my head. So I captured it for you. And me. Nothing glamorous (you know me better…), and nothing prepared. Hell, I hadn’t even had a shower yet. Just some heart-felt food for thought with a generous pinch of vulnerability to make it go down a bit easier.

From one tree to another. Here’s to waiting for our sap to run with a bit more grace.

A Noble Goodbye

Posted October 22nd, 2013

All Saints DayI’ve been thinking a lot about death these days.

It’s not a totally unusual experience for me, especially now. This is, after all, the “waning” time of year – the season of the crone – where we put our gardens to bed, give thanks for gifts received, and have the urge to gather our loved ones closer to home and hearth.

I’m also a Scorpio, and was born on November 1st – the day that falls smack dab between Halloween and  The Day of The Dead. Some refer to this day as All Saints Day, but that’s never really resonated with me (go figure).

So it’s no wonder I’m drawn to death…’cos baby, I was BORN this way.

Now, let me be clear, when I say “drawn to death”, I’m not talking about it in the morbid sense – the sort of commercialized version of death we are taught is something to be feared, or is associated with the occult. I didn’t go through a goth phase in high school, and don’t wear amulets filled with my beloved’s blood around my neck or anything (not that there’s anything wrong with that..Angelina is nothing to throw a stick at).

What draws me to death is a sense of reverence.

Death, to me, is a celebration of life. It’s also a celebration of the living, as anyone who has sat by a dying person’s bedside, or has attended a funeral or a memorial service will attest. The presence of death has you look hard at how present you are to being alive. It has you take stock, make decisions, and create change.

Being in the presence of death can change you – for the good.

I’ve always known I have an unusual capacity to be in the presence of death. Thankfully, it didn’t take me down the path of organized religion, but it did imbue my work in the world – all of it, from parenting to the work I do with women – with a deep sense of spirituality.

When I was five, I dressed in a nurse’s uniform and tended to my beloved grandfather as he died in his home from pancreatic cancer. I remember putting on skits and shows and telling him elaborate stories, feeling so blessed to have a captive audience. I now know I was acting in service of his process of death, bringing to it a celebration, a humanity, a joy. I remember crying at his funeral, but mostly because my loved ones were so stricken with grief it scared me.

When I was 28, I was asked to speak at my grandmother’s funeral. I was delighted and so proud to have been given such an honor. I remember worrying about how I was being perceived by the audience in this dire and dark Episcopalian church, as I laughed and swore and told stories of my grandmother’s mischievous adventures. That was one of my first experiences of breaking rank from “adult code”: it was clear I wasn’t appearing sad enough.

When I was 36, I gave birth to a son whom I knew would not survive. I was 20 weeks pregnant. That was the biggest test for me. Holding my own son and telling him it was okay to let go, that we loved him and would always hold him close to our hearts. I promised him we would be okay. That was surreal for me – one of those rare life moments, that changes you so significantly you feel like your DNA is actually altered by its impact.

All Saints Day - credit local-lifeTwo years later, my sister-in-law, Grace, was in the final stages of dying from an aggressive form of breast cancer. She had outlived her initial prognosis of 18 months by nearly five and a half years. She was 45 – the age I will be turning in a few weeks. We had been supporting Grace in living – in “fighting”, truth be told – for a while as a family, so supporting her in dying was completely foreign to us.

In a moment of courage, I wrote to Grace and asked her if she’d like me to sit with her and help her to write letters to her children, then ages nine and five. I knew she was too weak to hold a pen, and I also know she had stuff to say – Grace always had stuff to say. It was something I knew I could offer her. She accepted, and we did write many letters, touching upon important topics and relaying all the pearls of wisdom her tired body could deliver in those last days of her life.

Most recently I stumbled on this TED Talk by Kelli Swazey that give us insight into one society’s belief that death is a gradual social process capable of knitting an entire community together. It got me thinking even more about the process of dying and the way we go about it in this country. I’m at the age when I’m starting to think about supporting my parents as they – and we – navigate this end-of-life rite of passage. Not to put too sharp a point on it, but I think we actually suck at it.

Not that we can be expected to be “good” at death, or anything. But better? Absolutely.

Here’s an example – and I’m sure this will kick up dander, as it challenges some religious beliefs: the expectation we have that families organize a funeral and a reception immediately after the person they love has died. I get the logistics of it. I understand the tradition and the value we hold dear in this society around “moving on.” We say it’s important to “give us closure”, but what if we want to stay “open” longer? Having seen this TED talk, I’m seriously questioning the pace with which we move through this important passage. It gives me anxiety just thinking about it, being expected to host a party I do not want following the death of my loved one, feeling compelled to assure people I’m okay (when I most likely won’t be) and assuage other people of their grief when I just want to bury myself deeply in my own. It just seems unfair, cruel even. Why not wait…even for a little bit? Kind of like couples who choose to go on their honeymoon six months after the actual wedding ceremony.

All Saints Day - Photo CreditKelli Swazey, in the TEDMed talk I mentioned above, gives us insight into a culture that does just that. And in giving us more time to acclimate to the loss of our loved one from this world, she believes – and I agree – that we bring a much needed reverence and integrity back into the process of dying, which, she asserts, greatly impacts our process of living.

Fast forward to today, and I am sitting on my bed in an inn on an island. I’m on retreat – my annual solo birthday retreat when I reflect on the past year and open the door to the next year of my life.

And what am I thinking about? Death.

But it makes sense, if you think about it. My retreat is all about bringing conscious closure to a year of my life, before crossing over the threshold to my next year. Not grieving (although some years I have done that…), but reflecting, appreciating, and celebrating me and my life. While I’m still alive.

By chance, I stumble on this TED talk by Amanda Bennett. She tells the story of her husband getting cancer and how they fought valiantly to defeat it, never giving up hope that they could win. She admits, she wouldn’t have done anything differently, but she asks to consider our narratives about saying goodbye. “We don’t have a heroic story for letting go“, she says, which is so true. Our story is limited to “fighting” or “giving up”, but what if neither of those is appealing?

I want a new story for the process of dying. I want to re-brand death.

Without it, I truly believe the quality of our lives will suffer. We have riches to mine in allowing death to take a seat of honor among the living. Fear and haste hasn’t served us well, but our love of a heroic ending just might. What if we could design a story that allowed for a noble path to dying in our society, as Amanda Bennett suggests? What if our narrative of death made space for both “a valiant battle and eventually a graceful defeat”?

Imagine how that might alter our process of living, let alone dying – if fear and haste were replaced with reverence and presence?

Note: This post is dedicated to my client (you know who you are) who shares my passion for bringing more ritual and ceremony to end-of-life transitions. Rock on.

Winnowing

Posted October 8th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winnowing: It’s not just for the birds.

 

Touchstones

Posted October 1st, 2013

2012-10-25 15.30.53As is my ritual, I take a moment at the end of every month and reflect on what just happened – for me, in the context of what my clients are experiencing, or what I’m noticing happening in the world at large. It’s my way of making sense of  it all. And slowing down.

Some months, my reflection is driven by a “WTF!?” need to make sense of things. Other times, it’s a means to pay homage to the sweetness I’m experiencing. It’s also a constant reminder that I am not, in fact, in control of turning the wheel. I know this to be true in my bones, but damn if I don’t forget it at some point during each month. This monthly practice – together with my seasonal reading of The Way of the Happy Woman by Sara Avant Stover – keeps me honest and helps me to reconcile my fierce and persistent will with my belief in the need to surrender to the Universe’s divine wisdom and timing.

It works for me.

I call this practice my monthly Touchstones. Stones have always anchored me, and are a constant fixture in my business brand as a result. Sometime back in 2007, it became the basis for my newsletter that I share with the SheChanges community. “Newsletter” is a misnomer, really (note to self: change that), because at its core, my monthly Touchstones isn’t really about marketing or sales. It’s about creating some conscious space to notice our lives and how they are unfolding – individually and collectively. It’s about celebrating those people that cross my path – literally or virtually – who inspire me, inform my thinking, and embody the values I share around creating change. It’s also about sharing the love – passing along some juicy resources, links and experiences that have rocked my world and make me drool with joy and excitement.

Touchstones = Good food for Brave Pirates

I’m blown away when people in my community tell me they eagerly anticipate receiving my Touchstones each month. After sending it out, my inbox is flooded with amazing comments from people who share my sense of what the month was about, or appreciate the perspective on change or the resources I shared within it. It never ceases to amaze me and here’s why: I’m not a “newsletter” reader. I tend to get my fix through Facebook or Twitter feeds, or random collisions with people, not by reading blogs or monthly newsletters on a regular basis. But clearly others do. Which makes it all worthwhile.

So thanks for that.

But I realize that receiving an email every month from me isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (exhibit A: me). So moving forward, I’m going to be extending my reach with my Touchstones practice, posting my monthly reflections as a blog post as well. To give you a sense of what I will be sharing, here is an excerpt from September’s Touchstones that just dropped in people’s inbox last night.

A Note from Lael

When I think back to my experience of September, it all feels like a blur. Lots of transitions colliding with sweet and sour circumstances, like grieving a loss while also gearing up for a new beginning. Lack and bounty meet, like two fat rivers merging. It’s like the excitement of clutching brand new sharp pencils and a fresh journal, and also feeling despair looking at garden beds that are dying. In many ways, it’s hard to reconcile it all. And from what I’ve certainly felt in my own body, and have also seen reflected by my clients, this month had a “buckle your seat” belt sort of energy to it that was fast and furious and packed some Gs around the tight corners. But one thing I’ve come to appreciate in the swirls and eddies of September, is that there is truth at its epicenter – sometimes blissfully sweet music to our ears, and sometimes confusing and hard to swallow. All of it medicine for the road, I presume, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out what it means and why we’re in need of it. What all this has reminded me is the incredible grace it takes to ride through life. Some days I feel full of it, and other days I am craving a river guide at my side, reminding me to “swivel at the hips” and enjoy the ride the current clearly wants me to have. Here’s to the ride of our lives. And a boatload of grace. Rock on.

Reflections on September: Truth Serum

September ushers us into fall like a well-seasoned hospice worker, nodding with understanding and compassion as it lays out the reality of the situation. It’s kind, but firm and insistent – reminding us that the promises from the summer have all been delivered and how its best to take stock before heading into the dark of the winter. We see the squirrels frantically chasing down nuts for their stores, and feel restless and resistant to the inevitable turning of the wheel. But September is there, holding space for us to transition at our own pace like a wise crone, sometimes tolerant, often stern, as it guides us through. September asks us to face the truth of this season, even if it’s sad or confusing or we simply don’t want to. Because September knows what we would like to forget – that the wheel will keep turning even if we drag our feet and dig in. September smiles at us, offering us crisp days and fiery colors, as it cools down the temperature, and leads us lovingly into darker days where we will get the rest we didn’t even knew we needed. And as the days begin to gradually shorten, we reach out to hold September’s hand as the wise and trusted companion it has become.

If you like this sort of stuff, feel free to sign up on my home page to receive Touchstones directly. Or you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and you’ll see the link pop into your feed sometime at the end of every month. Choose whatever flavor works for you. Or just join me here if you’d like. And we’ll ride it out together.

Rock on.