The (Re)Birth of a Nation

Posted January 8th, 2021

Years ago, as I rapidly approached the birth of my first child, I started to wonder (panic, honestly), “How the $&%$ is this all going to go down…exactly!?” My wise midwife gave me great counsel. She said that nature would run its course. She reminded me that my body was built for this and would know what to do. In the meantime, she suggested it might be a good idea to get myself an art project to occupy my mind as I was waiting for active labor to begin. Giving something for my hands to do would soothe me, she assured.

So as my body dilated and the mild cramps became more regular and significantly sharper, I pulled out my art supplies and I make this sign. which is now 18 years old. Something in me—or my wise body—knew that I would need to focus on the task before me, and to mitigate against distraction by alerting any who came onto the scene that there was something BIG happening—that new life was being born.

 

The sign, quite simply, read: Mother at Work.

 

This morning, as I got texts from clients that read: “What have you got on this, Lael?” my feet took me down to my basement and I started digging through boxes, muttering, “Please tell me I didn’t throw that out, please tell me I didn’t throw that away…” And then, all the way at the bottom of the box, I found it. My sign.

Mother at Work.

Because that’s what I’ve got: A reminder to myself (and instruction to others) that new life is trying to come through a very small opening in a body, which can be loud and messy and terrifying and yes, often dangerous. And yet it happens everyday, all over the world—often without a helpful midwife, a clean hospital, and certainly without an instruction manual.

It’s organic. It’s ancient. And it’s happening now.

I’ll pause here and check to make sure we’re on the same page: you get that I’m not talking about a baby in this case, right? And that I’m using birth as a metaphor for what we’re navigating this very week as a country, when so many people are asking “How is this all going to go down…exactly!?”

 

We are a nation rebirthing itself. We are the mother in labor, breathing hard and bearing down.

 

I joked with one of my clients this morning via text that I had the urge to drive to the nearest border and post a handmade sign that read: “Please excuse our appearance, we’re in the process of (re)contruction.” Because isn’t that what we do when we tear down a bridge and reroute traffic? Isn’t that pretty standard fare when a building temporary inconveniences its patrons in favor of a longer-term service that will benefit them? We don’t stop traffic or close the store—we simply post a sign, put up some drop clothes or mark the area off with orange cones. All of these are visual indicators that “this is temporary…”, while subtly implying “…you’ll thank us later, because it will be even better than before…”

So this? This is the dismantling of what was so we can make room for what will be. This is the tear in the tissues of our most tender place (our nether regions) that rips a wider opening for life to come through.

 

This is, as midwives call it: The Bloody Show.

 

And I will say—as a woman who has opened her body wide enough for two, ten-pound babies to pass through her, and also as a professional who has worked for 20 years with people giving birth to new phases and chapters and endeavors in their lives—it’s really, really, really hard to hold the belief that this is about NEW LIFE coming forth, when you physically (emotionally, spiritually) feel like you’re going to die.

It’s really hard. Damn near impossible. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Once that birth is set in motion, you actually don’t even need to believe in it for it to occur. How many times have you heard stories of teenage mothers that weren’t even aware they were pregnant or hid their pregnancies and then gave birth in the bathroom stall of their high school between math and gym classes?

 

You can be in denial and still give birth.

 

Which brings me to the other piece of magic that found me last night as I collapsed on our couch, exhausted without understanding why and mindlessly scrolling Instagram. I noticed someone new started following me and I couldn’t quite recognize the post of mine that they liked—it felt really old.

So I clicked through and saw a photo of Maya Angelou smiling at me with this quote: “You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.” My whole body exhaled. And then I went on to read her words:

I’m experiencing some heartbreak with this latest news.
And I know I’m not alone.
I look at my children,
And I find I am holding my breath.
At times, fending off despair.
Blowing on the embers of hope within me,
Pleading, “please catch, please ignite.”
Help us help ourselves.

Again, my body exhaled. I saw the date of this post (June 2, 2017) and marveled at how something three years ago could find me at the very moment I needed it, like magic. And then? My jaw dropped as I realized those weren’t Maya’s words at all—holy shit, they were MINE. I had written that post two and a half years ago, inspired by Maya’s quote, and was reading my own words—how had I not recognized myself? My own medicine?

 

How had I become so distracted from the wisdom that lives inside me?

 

When people ask me what I’ve got these days, when trying to figure out these times and what to make of it, my response generally has something to do with this: The Divine Feminine at work. Because I do believe She’s working hard right now, focused, bearing down to deliver something better that we can’t even imagine exists.

She’s rerouting traffic, she’s posted orange cones and she’s gotten to work. It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s inconvenient and yes, even dangerous. That is the power of the Divine Feminine to deliver life, even as so many of us are still in denial that we’ve been pregnant.

She doesn’t need permission. She doesn’t need a brightly lit room and a scheduled surgical procedure to make it happen. Truth be told, she doesn’t even need to hang a sign on the door to explain herself.

She’s that focused on her task—on her mission to bring new life into this world.

So here’s the bottomline: we can put out our hands and catch this new life, we can stomp out of the room and pretend like it never happened, we can marvel at it or we can rail against it. Each of us gets to choose how we’ll respond, so that’s on us to decide now or later. But to some degree it doesn’t matter.

 

New life is coming. Some might even say it’s here.

 

So if you, like many of us, are wondering what actions we can take in this moment, maybe sit with this question: How will I respond to this (re)birth? What will I choose? What role will I assume?

There is room for all of us at this birth, but it’s not over yet so you’ve got time to decide. In the meantime, take note of the homemade sign still hanging on the door. Depending on how you choose to enter, it is both a gracious reminder and a firm caution of a mother hard at work.

 

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.

Mea Culpa

Posted September 20th, 2016

episode7meaculpaDid you know I’ve got a new podcast out? Yup! It’s called An Unscripted Woman and it’s available right now via SoundCloud – which means you can subscribe to it through your podcast app on your smart phone. Easy peasy.

I started this as an experiment back in July this summer, and the response was really positive, so I’m back for more this September, as promised! Essentially, this podcast is my creative response to the question I’ve heard from so many of you:

“Where can I get an audio version of your book?”

To be clear, this isn’t an audio version, per se, but it is me reading from my book aloud — chapter by chapter. It’s also a chance for me to riff out loud with you on my thoughts, learnings and experiences that I’ve had since writing each chapter. I’ll be posting each episode right here in my blog as well as on Facebook, so listen however — and wherever — you’d like if it you want to come along with me on this audio journey.

Beyond that intention, we’ll see where it leads us.

Oh, and rest assured…just as I said about reading my book, don’t feel like you need to listen to the episodes in order. Each one will stand on its own just fine — so no rules or shoulds here. Start from the first episode, join me at the latest, or follow your nose to sniff out the one appeals to you most. You can’t do this wrong.

But I do hope you join me at some point. It’s so much more fun when you do.

Scroll down and start listening if you want to catch my latest episode — Mea Culpa.

This is the first chapter I really dig into the specific stories of masculine energy and my experience of it as a woman. In doing so, I also explore how I wasn’t able to even get to that conversation with myself until I really started to sit with and ultimately own my identity as a woman — a tall order, considering I had essentially dissociated from that fact (Why does that matter? How is that even relevant…?) for more than half my life. And then I became pregnant with my first child, and everything, it seemed, “outted me” and forced my hand along this road. This is the story where I started to see the degree to which I had been actively participated in my own shame, and how once I decided to face it — and assume responsibility for it, with compassion — I was able to more fully access and leverage some of my favorite parts of myself.

Thanks for listening — now or later!

Living My Prayer

Posted April 15th, 2016

2016-04-15 12.01.28Do you have a minute? (sure you do.) Do you wanna play? (it’s okay if you’ve forgotten how…) You’re not alone.

This TED talk by Shonda Rhimes has just moved into the top slot of my all-time favorite TEDs (sorry Liz and Brene…). I think I held my breath the whole time I watched it just now…she just spoke so directly to my soul, I didn’t want any ambient noise to distract me. Even my own. Her bottomline (which I assure you is not a spoiler…) is this:

“Work doesn’t work without play.”

There was one particular part of her TED talk that pinged something in my core. She was talking about how “The Hum” she consistently had been getting from her work in the world — a self-proclaimed “Titan” writing and producing three to four award-winning television shows simultaneously season after season — had simply gone away.

The Hum she likened to “God’s whisper right in my ear” — the very thing that kept her feeling fulfilled, fueled and inspired; the very thing she had come to attach her identity and worth to — wasn’t there for her anymore. It just stopped. And was replaced by silence.

She’s quick to admit that outwardly nothing appeared to have changed (“all the colors were the same”) — she still showed up, wrote, produced and assumed the role of Titan. But on the inside? It was a different story.

She feared her Hum was broken — like its engine had died.

The work didn’t change, but the nourishment she derived from it did. And now she was starved for her Hum, but not knowing where or how to get it from any place other than work. She missed it so much she started to wonder: “Who am I without the Hum”…or even more to the point: “What am I without the Hum”?

And then she said it. That phrase that made something cold inside me start to melt just a little, like the girl from Frozen Shonda references that finally let go of whatever the thing she needed to let go of:

“In the homelessness of my humlessness, I have nothing to do but pay attention.” 

I was dumbstruck by that phrase. Slack-jawed with the resonance of what it touched within myself:

My worry about where my Hum has gone. 

Because something in me has shifted in me since I wrote and released my book. At times it’s exciting (yay: intrigue, curiosity, shiny new toy), and other days it’s completely terrifying (holy shit: panic, fear, bracing for impact).

It’s still hard for me to put words to it, but I sense the shift when I am aware of how much time and space and silence I seem to be requiring these days. This need of mine appears to have grown exponentially over the last year, and I’m a bit intimidated by it.

—How do I honor that need and still run a profitable business?
—What if I’m becoming lazy or worse…selfish?
—What is happening to me?

I suspect it has something to do with the pinky swear I made to myself last year. I wrote about this experience as “giving birth to consent” in my book — it was the moment I made a sacred promise to honor the feminine energy that lives within me; to never again turn my back on her. So long as we both shall live.

2016-04-15 12.44.33We even got hitched — a ceremony, vows, a ring (I thought a moonstone was a nice touch…) — and made it all official.

Here’s what I know about my relationship to the feminine and what it will ask of me thanks to the work of Marion Woodman:

“The feminine can’t be understood, it can only be experienced as presence.”

So not to put too sharp a point on it, but apparently I can’t think, strategize or muscle my way through this one. I have to yield, open, create space, and listen.

It’s about Play for me. As in the verb. 

Which, to be honest, I have resisted. I get that now, but it’s been a process to see the degree to which I have tightly managed that desire. I remember not too long ago on one particular toothy phone call with my editor, I instructed her to yank the chapter entitled “Simply Play” from my book because we had hit a snarly editorial knot. I even joked with my husband that my new favorite phrase was “just fucking delete it.” 

But a second after I’d offed Play and relegated it to the cutting room floor, I caught myself and said: “Hold on…I think that’s what I’ve been doing my entire life…” And then I fought for it to stay in.

And now? I’m doing my damnedest to live it. The SPACE (not my ability, mind you, but my intention) I hold for Play in my life has become the essence of the “living prayer” I talk about in my book.

I’ve realized that “work” isn’t work for me at all — it’s easy. It comes naturally and is sanctioned, supported, and publicly celebrated in our society. But “play”…ah that is where I need to stay awake and alert. THAT is what I need to actively nourish.

And in case it’s not patently obvious — which it might not be if you haven’t read my book yet… — “work” is how my masculine energy shows up in the world in all its glory. It has a robust appetite and I am extremely skilled at feeding it. “Play”, on the other hand, is how my feminine energy is expressed, and like many of us…I’m still on training wheels when it comes to its feeding schedule. But I’m in it for the long-haul and I’m hellbent on learning how to ride this bike on my own. With both of my wheels —work and play, masculine and feminine — moving me forward.

The feminine is about being present to myself. Period.

That realization is all well and good, but in a very similar vein to Shonda’s story, things started to get wonky right after that spit and shake with the feminine in me. For instance, my internal world started to demand to be fed much more than it has in the past. It’s no longer satisfied with the little licks of nourishment I had doled out to it on the sampler-sized ice cream spoons in the past.

The feminine in me wanted more than just a little lick. 

And after what I considered a good feeding — a handful of days off to play hooky, unplugging, a more gentle schedule, lower expectations, permission to push things off — my appetite for it didn’t wane, it actually grew.

Which in one regard was a good sign, right? The feminine in me was getting stronger, more comfortable, and confident in the solidity of our relationship. But on the other hand, it begged the question of its capacity to eat…would it ever leave me alone? Would it ever be full?

The answer to that, I know, is yes. 

But in the meantime it’s uncomfortable and weird and slightly terrifying to trust myself — and my instincts around nourishment — to this extent.

I bump up against selfish, and privilege, and shame daily as I invest in my relationship to the feminine in me.

ShondaBut I want to talk about it with you here (among other places), because I firmly believe this is the way I will live my prayer out loud. I want to be that brave. Like Shonda is.

So thank you, Shonda Rhimes. Thank you for telling your story so that I don’t feel so alone. Or crazy. Or both.

You’ve inspired me to keep going on this path.

And to keep saying yes to Play.