The Thirty-Minute Exercise That Helped Me Forgive and Forget

There are people in this life who make me weary.

You know who I mean — the lover who discarded me; the boss who denigrated me. Even the kids who relentlessly bullied me in grade school. For many years, there was an entire cast of characters in my psyche I thought I was done with.

Except that I wasn’t.

They still chimed in from time to time, simply as disembodied voices in my head. And why? Because again and again, I invited them in.

The truth is I longed to let them go. Fie on those bully kids and that impossible-to-please boss. And what about the toxic lover? I longed to get rid of her, too!

How I craved some much-needed space in my head. Once I had it, then all kinds of kind, lovely, nourishing things could grow in my mind instead.

So I decided to set these angry rants free.

A book I was reading at the time suggested it would be as simple as writing a letter to each person I was still resentful with. I would never send the letter, of course, but instead simply write it. And that alone would free up space in my heart.

Okay. Fair enough. At this point, it was three years after the toxic relationship, 31 years after the obnoxious boss, and 46 years after the bully kids … so why not let it all go? I’d had those negative voices in my head far too long already.

I sat down to write each person a letter and a very surprising thing happened. I began with my former lover, a person I felt had done me wrong in many ways. I really let it all hang out as I wrote.

Spiritual bypass was not allowed — I scrawled every last one of my petty, crude, pissy thoughts. I gnashed my teeth on paper. I told her exactly what I thought of her … and then half way down the page, the tone suddenly shifted.

All of the sudden a small awareness of my role in the relationship became clearer. I found myself writing, “Of course, I invited you into this dynamic by being a vacant, pliable victim … so we acted out our little drama just like actors in a play.”

Whoa. Really?

Yes, really. The fact was I was being so nakedly honest gave me no recourse but to be honest about my own responsibility, too. Did she mistreat me? Did she use me? Did she manipulate and control me?

Absolutely! And did I manipulate her right back?

I certainly did.

Every time I was silent and let my former lover abuse or control me, I fed our off-kilter dynamic. Every choice I made that didn’t serve me merely cemented the unhappy lockstep we both found ourselves stuck in.

As I continued to write my letter to her, I discovered what a great thing our break up was. It was actually a great relief when she dumped me. Now I could actually see how critical this relationship was to my personal growth.

As a direct result of that break-up, I found my way into work that helped me become humble again. I learned to live in a far healthier way and found a new, far deeper connection to God.

Out of this work, I also found the truly happy, deeply loving marriage I am now in.

Our greatest teachers often show up as irritants in the path – the rock around which we must flow. The bully kids taught me to protect my most sensitive self, and let her only be seen in ways that are safe and whole.

The obnoxious boss taught me how low my standards were, and how to aim higher with the next job I got – and then the next, and the next after that.

Again and again, life conspires to bring the very best teachers our way, whether we like them or not. I say our souls demand it – for how else can we really grow?

By finally telling the truth, I owned the entire picture of what had happened. Here was my safe forum to truly express myself, and so discover the lessons buried behind the grief. Now I found I truly was ready to let go of the hurt, the pain and the anger.  

At the end of the letter, I was filled with compassion, empathy and even gratitude for this remarkable woman I had once loved. I knew that part of me would even love her for years to come, whether or not we ever spoke again.  

I had been reborn — simply because of one small, thirty-minute exercise.

If you are carrying resentment towards anyone in your life or your past, why not lay your burden down? All that you will lose is the artificial crutch of your resentment.

There is an innate joy that awaits all of us. It lives on the other side of humility, honesty and willingness.

I invite you to write a letter of your own – a letter you never send. For, if nothing else, it will be a supreme act of self care.  
As it turns out, all this letting go of resentments is part of becoming truly happy. If you’d like to find your own innate happiness, listen to our new podcast with happiness expert Andrew Matthews.

 

 

 

 

How to Talk Yourself Out of a Funk

Okay, everyone, repeat after me.

We are good and wonderful people – even WHEN we feel like hell.

I woke up with the blues the other day, and had a profound experience of finding my way back to some good and loving self-kindness.

Here are the steps I took. May they serve you well the next time you feel back to black.

 

1. Call a friend. Really, we were never meant to slog through this life alone – whether we are with a soul mate or not. Furthermore, those who care about you do want to help. So resist the urge to go off and lick your wounds alone. Generally that just makes things worse, right?

2. Remember you have no perspective. It’s your life, so generally you can’t see the forest for the trees. Just like Mark Twain thought Huckleberry Finn was a piece of trash, and Michelangelo said, about the Sistine Chapel, “I am no painter.” If you’re doubting your self worth, keep in mind your perspective is not reliable. (Then see #1 above.)

3. Expect the occasional s**tstorm. Because that’s how life is. You will know suffering just as you know joy – even sometimes at the same time. Not only is suffering a reliable life experience, but it will ultimately become your post powerful teacher. Because that’s how it is in this mortal coil.

4. Know you will be fine. Think about it. Even when times were bleak, you came out of it okay, if a bit dinged up. You always have been fine, and you always will be fine. And then one day you’ll die. Job completed. Mission accomplished. Discomfort always, inevitably leads to something better.

5. Expect a miracle (or ask for one.) Even if you don’t believe in a great spiritual organizing principle in this life, why not give it a whirl? No matter what, your mind will be soothed, your body will relax, and you will feel protected. Which ultimately leads to … yes … miracles.

6. Ask for guidance to ‘Bless it or Block it.’ This is a little trick a friend showed me who has a profound faith in a higher power that guides us all. When you are really feeling uncertain about which course to take – or so scared you literally can’t take the next step – ask Spirit to bless or block your endeavor. The answer usually follows.

7. Remember the stuff that is working in your life. Somewhere in your dark stew of an existence, there are soft, clear, sweet spots. Perhaps that’s a beloved friend, or a special place that makes you feel wonderful. Maybe even a treasured letter or photograph. Possibly it’s your work, or your health, or your kids. Name it now and thank it profusely for being in your life. Then see if that doesn’t give you a bit of a shift.

8. Know that this, too, will pass. Tomorrow you will wake up with 232 billion new cells in your body. That, alone, is reason for hope. Your life is constantly changing and evolving towards what is just ahead. So this place you’re in right now? By tomorrow, it will probably be gone.

9. Above all, believe in your own perfection. Yes, you are already perfect, just as you are, and this experience or uncertainty or doubt or dilemma is perfect, too. Easy for me to say, right? Yes! And … it’s all happening for a reason.

The key is to trust that you have everything you need, here and now, to resolve anything you must resolve.

Not only do you have everything – you are everything. You were born whole and complete, and you will die whole and complete. We were designed to be enough, and have enough, every minute of every day. Even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Once you even begin to wrap your head around this truth, the next one falls neatly into place.

10. Give back and know peace. The ultimate game changer is service, given from the heart. Try it, even if you don’t want to. What is your special gift you could give someone today?Go give it, and immediately, you really will know peace.

 

The Eight Secrets of Emotional Self-Care

item-img1You hear a lot about self care out there – the massages, the meditation apps, the healthy walks. The apple a day.

But what about your emotional life? How do you live so your emotions generate less stress and more happiness?

Here are eight simple guidelines I find invaluable as I focus more and more on my own self care. May they serve you well …

1. Honor your emotions. Feel them, listen to them and let them naturally cycle through you. This is one of the wonders of the human organism. We are designed to constantly cleanse our psyches by allowing our emotions to move through us. But first, we have to allow them to do that.

Delaying, ignoring or ‘stuffing’ your feelings does no one any good. (P.S. This does not mean going off and dumping those emotions on someone else, willy-nilly. See # 3 below.)

Reminder: your anger and your fear are here to protect you. So let them do their job.

2. Realize it’s all about you and your mother. We are always processing emotional sludge, most of which we think has nothing to do with us. But actually, all of it has to do with us — and the gigantic filters we have that constantly trigger memories from our past.

When something challenging or even joyful happens, these memories pour through our subconscious. They can make us euphoric, just as they can render us mute with anger when, say, someone snaps at us.

Believe it or not, that oversized, white-hot rage you feel when a car cuts you off is a flicker from your past, albeit a strong one.
You can tell you’re triggered because the event usually does not warrant the huge reaction you have.

Good self-care means gently reminding yourself you are triggered. Then allow your feelings to flow in the quiet of your own private space, until eventually they resolve.

3. Become humble. It’s hard to be a humble human, and yet, when you are, you set yourself free. Humility means you don’t need to be perfect … nor do you need to be right.

In fact, you don’t have to be anything other than just good old you, as you are, right here and right now.

Humility also means everyone else gets to be the equally flawed creatures they are, as you remember we are all in this together.

Ironically, humility insists you give yourself the self-care you need first, so you can then turn your eyes in service to the rest of the world. It means listening with curiosity, then learning.

Always … we are learning as we go.

4. Know (and express) your boundaries. Being clear on your boundaries and setting them in a kind way is a great life skill.
Sometimes we don’t get to do that as kids, so we are learning now as adults. Which is great!

The key is to honor our emotions (see #1 above) and then find the courage to speak up kindly. Requests work well here.

If you feel shy about this, keep this in mind. People often appreciate it when you are clear about your boundaries. Then they don’t have to awkwardly wonder, guess and try to accommodate you anyway.

5. Own your own stuff … and nothing more. Good emotional self-care would include only being responsible for ‘your side of the street’. Take note if you come from an abused background, and you tend to say you’re sorry a lot.

You don’t have to apologize to someone who dumps on you for no good reason, any more than you have to apologize for inclement weather.

That would be someone else’s business … not yours.

By the same token, always be honest when conflicts happen. So if you actually do need to make an apology, you do so.

This is how you find your way back to true ease and freedom –- which is the heart of emotional self-care.

6. Forgive and set yourself free. That sticky pile of resentments you’ve been carrying around is a massive energy suck. Within those upsets is usually a piece of you, also waiting to be forgiven.

The fact is that conflicts are seldom one sided. It takes two people to make a snit. But once your issue forgiveness yourself and the other person … and you own your own part as well … your heart can relax. And your soul can breathe once more.

7. Stay out of harm’s way. Your emotions are always on, like finely tuned radar, reading the people and places all around you, scanning for safety.

So it’s worth noticing when you find yourself feeling a bit uncomfortable or even mildly frightened by someone else, or the place you are in. That’s when you may need to leave. Or, if you can’t, simply pull down your ‘invisible shield’. That would be your inner protective armor, which is always at the ready waiting to help.

Also bear in mind that you can still love someone, and even respect them, though you may not want to spend much time with them. (I’m thinking of difficult family members here.)

Above all, be true to yourself. Your guidance system is on for a reason.

8. Be patient with yourself. Did you know that you are a work in progress until the day you die? But then, isn’t the point of life to learn, evolve and grow?

That means you won’t ‘get it right’ the first time, or maybe even the fiftieth. But you might just do it the fifty-first time.

Here is to your tender heart.

If you serve her well, she will most abundantly serve you.

How to Move On … When the Time is Right

goddess-deckHave you ever had the feeling that there is a next step for you to take, perhaps even a big one, but you have no idea how and when to do it?

That’s been my experience lately. It’s been more than four years since the death of my daughter, and I have slowly and powerfully moved through my grief … or at least most of it.

I no longer fall apart at the mention of her name. I have energy again, and have stopped feeling like I live in a heavy cloud of uncertainty all the time.

So I keep thinking it is time to for me to work longer and harder, and produce more to be of real service in the world. There are things to do, my busy mind tells me. A podcast and a memoir need to be finished. A course needs to be set up. And another novel needs writing. And … yet.

I hang back.

At such times, I still cling to the sweet, warm sanctuary of my grief.

How can I step out into the world again as I once did, now that I am truly vulnerable. My turtle shell of defensiveness and ambition are simply gone. I am raw, exposed, and as I get older, so much less driven.

My only ambition now is to serve God’s will … yet that will does seem to be nudging me right back to where I came from. So how do I proceed?

With caution, taking my time? Or with abandon, throwing myself into my work once again? Isn’t this just an uncomfortable ‘hump’ I have to force myself over?

This is where Teal’s Goddess Cards come in. At the end of her life, she relied heavily on Doreen Virtue’s Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards to help her navigate times like this. So I pulled her cards out recently.

Shuffling the deck, I held a mental image of my question: ‘Should I push myself to be more productive again?’

I pulled three cards and lay them on my desk. The card on the left was all about my immediate past.

Not surprisingly, the goddess pictured here was Ishtar. “Boundaries,” read the card. “Love yourself enough to say no to others’ demands on your time and energy.” A note also cautioned against doing things out of guilt or obligation.

An apt description of where I have been with my grief.

The middle card, which showed my current situation, pictured the goddess Ostara, for “Fertility.” “It is the perfect time for you to start new projects, access new ideas, and give birth to new conditions,” the text explained. Notably, the card was upside down, meaning I had work to do here.

Okay, so I was meant to proceed with my projects. But … how?

The card said, “Giving birth to new conditions.”

Perhaps that meant I needed to create better working conditions for myself. Like not doing things simply to make income, but doing them instead through divine flow. This would be work marked by a happy sense of ‘rightness’, ease and inspiration, instead of guilt and obligation.

This would be work done because it feels inherently good.

And that would mean trusting my process and knowing all is moving ahead just as it is meant to. After all, my needs have being well taken care of every minute of the last four years. I have had abundant time, money, health, friends … even overflowing love. I truly want for nothing.

The only time that has not been the case was when I ignored my own guidance, and attempted to push myself to work.

So why on earth am I pushing myself so hard now?

The third card I pulled, indicating what lies ahead, said it all. The goddess pictured here was Maeve, who represents “Cycles and Rhythms.” “Honor the cycles of your body, energy levels and emotions,” read the card.

Wow. The light now dawned.

There is a right time to everything, and the natural cycles of my energy and emotions will deliver me to the perfect moment for creating the podcast, the memoir, the novel, and the courses.

I don’t have to forge ahead just for the sake of forging ahead. That will help no one, least of all me.

Furthermore, I must not rush the flow of the Universe. Instead, I can join with it in an easy dance informed by love for myself and the world, and honor the notion of right timing.

This is how we create in gentle wholeness, consciousness and well-being. For there is no ‘there’ to get to , friends. There is only the whole and healthy living of each day, each minute, to the best of our abilities.

May you and I both move through our lives in ease today … and every day.

Namaste.

 

 

Eight Important Lessons I Learned When I Lost Everything

Was there ever a time in your life when you lost something very precious to you … and became better for it?

This has been very much on my mind as I prepare for a media campaign around my book, Surrendering to Joy. I wrote it as I was healing from a year of losing everything – relationship, marriage, home, career, my child and then my mother.

What I am now realizing is that this total meltdown was an extremely powerful and necessary experience. I would even say my soul demanded it, for that is how it is with crisis and loss.

Breakdowns happen because something in our system demands it.

The status quo cannot go on; we are being called upon – even forced – to grow.

When all of this came down in my own life, I was lost. I was living in a sketchy apartment building in which the super was a prowler. The flu I’d had for 6 months made no sign of stopping. I was struggling to keep my head above water in a toxic relationship. And I had blindly gone into a brand new business partnership I didn’t need or even want.

None of it felt right. And yet all of it, magically, was very right.

Everything began to unravel and that is when things started to feel better — even though the circumstances were heinous. Into that void of nothingness I walked willingly, mainly because I had no choice. Immediately, even in my grief, I could see the integrity of what was happening.

Here are some of the realizations that landed then … and still resound every day in my life.

  1. I am not alone and I don’t have to heal alone. I have many supportive circles of friends around me now, even though I had few when my breakdown began. Supportive friends make the ride so much easier. In fact, I’d say they are critical.
  2. It’s OK to be in the Void for a while … The Void, while scary at first, is an enormously creative place. If you can tolerate the stillness, eventually life returns. Ideas drop in. Joy descends. Feel free to stretch out and hang for a while. It’s a great place to heal.
  3. I don’t have to know the answers right now. Or ever, really. I just have to know what I know right now. And know that I’ll be fine. This has been a particularly important lesson for this ‘information storm trooper’, who has spent her life actively chasing information and knowledge.
  4. Grace happens when you least expect it. Again and again I have been surprised by the incredible generosity of others, which always magically arrives at just the right moment – in ways I couldn’t even plan or hope for. This grace seems to be linked to me being in the flow, the enjoyment of life. Reminder: God wants us to be happy!
  5. I won’t get ‘there’ by striving (wherever ‘there’ is.) Instead, what if life was like a great take out delivery? You decide you want Chinese, you make a call, then sit down to watch TV. Suddenly at just the perfect moment the doorbell rings and in comes steaming Moo Shu Pork. While having goals and ideas is commendable, pushing doesn’t work. Making the request and allowing it to be delivered does.
  6. I am whole and perfect just as I am. Yeah, there are rough edges and every day I say a prayer asking that my character defects be removed. Meanwhile, I’ll take ‘em. They are me, just like my various scars and wounds. As long as I do my best to do no harm, I will work with what I’ve got.
  7. I truly do have everything I need right now. My own breakdown and subsequent inquiry has meant two years of not earning much and living very simply. Which has been an unexpected delight! I find I’m attached to low cost pleasures like living with a dear friend, consignment clothing, my dumb phone and camping. And … it’s fun! More importantly, I feel liberated. I no longer do things ‘just for the money’. I don’t have to and I don’t want to.
  8. Freedom is the point. Janis Joplin wails, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” But personally, I feel richer than I ever could have imagined since my breakdown. While I may not have much by some standards, i.e. a house, a mortgage, or even a family nearby, I truly love my life and I wake up excited every day. And isn’t that the whole point?

So yeah, there’s an end to the rainbow if you follow it. And ironically it’s about seizing what is here and now.

That’s my invitation to you in this moment, this hour, this day, my dear friend.

 

How to Finally Decide You Are Enough … Just As You Are

f5529885d921ca3510d8e8d81e578fd8The image was frightening. Hannibal Lector’s face, complete with face mask, peered out from inside a small cage. The metal bars covering his mouth glinted in the sun.

No, this wasn’t Silence of the Lambs 2. It was my dream, and it annoyed the hell out of me.

 

Because for me, the message was clear:

Stop locking yourself in a cage of your own making, refusing to be heard.

The previous day I’d been in a slump, damning myself for not being more productive, more inspired, more ‘fire in the belly’.

Now in my fifth year of grief after the death of my daughter, now at the ripe old age of 57, I should be all better. Or so argues my mind.

I should be just like I was before her death — even though I am now a significantly different, older person. And even though my life has been profoundly changed.

Somehow it feels like my current level of productivity is not enough.

Enter Hannibal Lector.

When you suffer a shocking loss, you grow and evolve differently as a result. You can’t help but be changed by it, and perhaps that is the point. For what is life but a non-stop series of tumbles, splats, triumphs and recoveries?

This is how we learn.

Furthermore, we are designed to take big hits, so if we choose we can rise up again. Still we won’t ever be the way we once were. Nor should we be. We will be altered forever by our misfortune, and hopefully become wiser as a result.

For me, I am definitely humbler. I don’t need to wave flags and get all eyes in the room on me anymore. And my spirituality has grown deeper and far more connected. Part of me no longer cares about my prospects for success, either.

Yet at the same time I often feel like I just don’t quite measure up.

My mind wonders … is this softer, gentler me who lacks ambition really okay?

Is it alright, after years of grief, to not need to burn the world up anymore? My needs are met. I have everything I could possibly ask for.

So is this life I’m living actually enough, right here and right now?

Even in this driven world of striving and ambition?

At such times I always come back to an important set point. There are only two things that matter to me now. Self care, which includes the deep love I share with my partner, and my call to become a better person and share that path, step by step, with my readers.

But when I’m locked in my cage of self-doubt, I forget all of that. Then nothing I’ve done seems significant at all.

The Buddhists say I’m at choice here. I can give in to the voice of dukkha, or ‘unsatisfactoriness’, in my head and really milk it for all it’s worth. Or I can just observe it, acknowledge it and let it go.

It’s sort of like turning off the Trump-Clinton presidential debates, and deciding I don’t need all that negativity in my head.

So I am cultivating a practice of letting my feelings of weakness simply be. Because that’s all they are — just feelings and nothing more.

They are not a pronouncement about my worth in the world. They aren’t predictors of my future. And they certainly aren’t reliable signposts.

For this, too, will change. Today I might feel weak and indecisive. But tomorrow, I could get a whole new outlook on life. We are always in flux and that is an exciting thing. We never really know what could happen next.

What’s important today is to forgive myself for not being as ‘on’ as I once was. I need to give myself a compassionate pat on the back, and allow myself to do what I can comfortably do … expecting nothing more.

Then, magically, I am enough and the cage door swings slowly open. So I emerge once again, ready, willing and able to help.

Ironic, isn’t it?

But then isn’t this the sweet process of life as it unfolds, one day at a time, ever pushing us forth to become better, humbler, kinder … the embodiment of love.

 

 

Why Is It So Difficult to Know What You Want?

woman standing by gauzy curtainsIt is said that the greatest guide to living a prosperous, happy life of love is to listen to your heart.

Just follow its guidance and you’ll be all set. At least that is the conventional wisdom that drives us to eschew the ordinary life and set off on the road less traveled.

And yet … there seems to be a design flaw.

I don’t know about you, but I have one hell of a time hearing my heart. I know its wisdom is back there somewhere. But it’s lodged behind the ranting of my incessant, worried mind, a million to-do’s, and a cacophony of mid-life emotions.

It’s also buried behind the subtle over-layer of apps, texts, emails, phone calls, appointments, traffic jams, calories, doctor appointments, instant messages, chats, whether to eat chocolate or not, and the frenetic microcosm of social media.

Bottom line: I can’t frigging hear my heart!

And yet … I know if I just stop and listen, like really stop and listen, I can hear it.

The fact is I don’t want to listen.

My heart will tell me that my constant ‘doing’ must end. That I must be willing to let go and hang out with the mystery of life for a while. If I really want to feel my feelings, I must stop being so busy-busy-busy.

My heart will say that far more urgent than anything on my ‘must do’ list is my own – our own – continued healing.

Many of us are all in a state of subtle emergency most of the time. But we proceed as if this is the human condition. And yet … it’s not.

Underneath all the furor of modern life, we are calmly rational. Furthermore, we know exactly what to do at any given moment. In fact, our nervous system is always ready to chime in with its intuitive hit to set us straight. But really … we just can’t bear to hear it.

Then change might be required. Change for which we feel ill prepared. Change that might lead us to failure.

At least that’s what the ego thinks in its protective, if misguided way.

So it is that we hang out there in vagueness … longing for something but unable to say exactly what.

So I have been quietly learning that I have no choice. If I want to be happy, I have to follow the directions of my heart whether I like it or not. Really, my heart’s the only sane driver on board.

Because when I slow down long enough to listen, life calms down. Then my faith returns and I remember I’m not alone. Instantly, I feel stronger, wiser. And somehow, I know what to do.

Bear in mind this: your heart will not ever try to set you off course. Nor will your heart ever try to hurt another. Instead, it only wants to lovingly steer you onward to become your best, every day.

That’s all that happens when you make enough time, and create enough peace, to finally listen.

What is your heart trying to tell you today that you may be avoiding?

How I Finally Learned to Open My Heart

Some yestrawberry heartars ago a psychic in Key West, FL told me something I’m only just now beginning to understand.

As I sat there in front of her, in a darkened room all full of incense, she intoned: “You’ll have the success you want, Suzanne… but only when you open your heart.”

I wasn’t sure what this meant, exactly, but I did what any good self-help devotee would do. I set out to crack the code on what ‘opening your heart’ meant.

My first stop was the aromatherapy store, where I spent a good hour sniffing this and that until I’d whipped up my own little brew designed to split open a congested heart chakra. (Mind you, I had no idea what I was doing, but this did seem like the place to start.)

Then I headed over to my friend, Mary, the Oriental Medicine Woman. Mary listened to me quite seriously when I requested she set lots of needles that would open my heart. After the third treatment, she gingerly asked how it was going.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“Well, what would ‘opening your heart’ be like?” she asked.

Again, I could not answer. Meanwhile, a nightly application of my heart chakra oil was giving me nothing but a greasy, rose-scented chest. Ultimately, I forgot about opening my heart as the whirlwind of life sucked me on toward the next endeavor.

Then one night I sat up in bed, suddenly aware of exactly what opening my heart really means. At the time it meant working extremely hard on my passion, and investing time, money, and energy in getting it out there. And it meant facing down fear, and being uncomfortable, and having the courage to truly share myself with others.

I thought I knew this already from leading my first workshop. During the weeks that I created it, I was racked with doubt; I had to keep making one uncomfortable phone call after another. Yet, when that first day was over, we all seemed to be floating a few feet above the ground.

For the first time I saw how I had really moved people. The feeling was one of deep, intimate connection with others. It was profound and unforgettable.

Now, decades later, ‘opening your heart’ has come to mean something else, yet again.

In the first few years after losing my daughter, it meant having the courage not to work incessantly, but instead to become to very still and focus on feeling. To let my own grief well up inside until it found its way out into the broad daylight. And to let myself have the luxury of many a good, long cry.

Then as my grief receded and I returned to the swing of life, I found opening my heart meant tuning in to the people around me. So I learned not do to my work not for the sake of success and ambition … but for the sake of love.

In this way I have found my way back to empathy, and true forgiveness – a deep, deep place of surrender, humility and grace. Over the last few years I learned, for instance, to really forgive my mother. To finally let that poor woman, as flawed as she was, off the hook.

I have also learned to cut myself a break as well. No longer do I have to do everything perfectly. Nor must I intimidate or impress people with my toughness, and my professional valor. I don’t even need to run from every person I fear or even disagree with.

Instead, these days I can be soft and gentle. I can listen to others, and I can comfort myself. I can tune into my needs and make requests. When I do this … it turns out the world is a pretty wonderful place.

In forgiving the world, I have learned to forgive myself, as well. And so I dissolve into love.

This is the love that waits, like a pool in our heart, for us to come swim in its bliss. And it is nothing more than our own shimmering, endless sea of bounty.

You have it and I have it.

Turns out this is the gold that awaits when we open our heart.

Go within to find your own place of letting go. What or who holds you fast in resentment, anger, chaos or confusion? What is the decision you made that you cannot forgive yourself for?

What is the loss you cannot face? What is the choice that will set you free?

Perhaps not today, but soon, you will find yourself releasing the bonds that hold you fast so you, too, may swim in the sea of bliss.

The water’s fine … I encourage you to dive in!

 

Stop, Drop and Feel – A Recipe For Moving Through Fear

crying_ladyThis morning I was being interviewed by a radio host, and he asked me a simple but critical question: What do you do to move through fear?

I am happy to say that first of all … I had an answer! Secondly, the trick I shared is something anyone can do. And it works.

But first … let’s talk about our fear. Cause we all have it, right?

I know I do.

Our fear is pretty much the shark that is always lurking just off shore. Once you wade through anger, anxiety, frustration, depression, confusion and dread, you find fear back there, driving all of it.

It’s our basic, go-to emotion when the going gets rough. My theory is that this is all about our flight or fight response. These days we are smart phone jockeys who spend our days tethered to a computer. But the problem is that we’re still wired to outrun (or outsmart) a lumbering T-Rex.

So when a stressful emergency strikes, we react as if our lives are in mortal danger. Before we know it, we are having a dinosaur-sized adrenal rush. Suddenly we are three again and in total survival mode. We feel a surge of panic and then all that other emotional intensity kicks in.

For me, fear has often driven my angry outbursts. Or my need to control and micromanage others. For years it drove a whole lot of nail-biting. Sometimes I just flaked out, put my fingers in my ears, and pretended some big scary grow up issue wasn’t happening all around me.

But then I learned a much better way to deal with it. An example …

A few years ago I got to live one of my dreams and hang out in Paris for two months. My entire adult life I’d wanted to do this. And yet, when I finally arrived after a 12-hour flight with numerous delays, I had a total lying-in- bed, sucking-my-thumb, weepy meltdown.

I could have made that retreat to infancy all about tough travel or my lost luggage (it eventually showed up) or the intense new stranger I found myself living with, courtesy of Air B’n’B.

But instead I remembered what to do in case of emergency: I checked in. I went into my bedroom, closed the door and lay down. Then I put my hand on my belly and my feet flat on the bed, and I allowed myself time to just breathe.

Pretty soon my feelings came rushing up: anger, sadness, real grief, anxiety … followed by cold, bald fear.

I realized I felt like a four-year-old who suddenly got lost at the mall. I wondered why I assumed my college French would get me around Paris — for two long months! Really? What the hell was I thinking??

The tears began and I breathed into them. And then the sheer shaking misery of the fear welled up. Oh, I was so uncomfortable! I had visions of myself getting permanently lost in Paris’s labyrinth of streets. I saw myself a stranger in a strange land, desperately lonely on a Saturday night.

The more my fear came up, the more my heart pounded. My palms began sweating and hot flash after hot flash descended. I began to feel terrified. But I remembered the advice of a therapist and I kept breathing through it.

Then suddenly, the fear began to lift. As quickly as it came upon me, my panic subsided.

And then …just like that … it was gone.

In fact, now I felt great! I got up, washed my face, put on my coat and went out to greet my new, incredible city. Five hours and a few café crèmes later, I was still at it – reborn, renewed, in bliss.

What we so seldom do in moments of crisis is relax and allow in the surge of emotions. Instead we focus on what’s happening and scramble to manage and control. Or we go hide and shame ourselves for needing to have a good cry. We do anything we can to resist that necessary upwelling of emotions.

Yet this is just the natural process the body and soul go through when an auto-correct is needed. When we do allow ourselves to honor our emotional flow and simply feel, we truly can be reborn. That, friends, really is the shortest route back to joy.

Take a moment and probe this question for yourself. How do you handle your fear? I highly recommend the ‘Stop, Drop and Feel’ approach the next time you find yourself melting down.

Try it! You might even like it …

 

Is Letting Go the Key to Happiness? (Absolutely!)

releasing flower petalsQuestion: what do you long for, dear friend?

What, in your heart of hearts, do you know you could have if only …

If only, what? You won the lottery? You had more time because you didn’t have this %$%#$&amp**
[INSERT PERSON, PLACE OR THING] that holds you back?

If so, then it could be time to surrender — but only if you are willing to let go. (And I do mean completely.)

Here’s the catch.

Innate to the human condition is a certain level of suffering that is just … there. We somehow have it wired up that we must suffer on some level. Perhaps people were not kind to us when we were young and we think we deserve a certain amount of pain. Or perhaps we made a karmic decision before we entered this life that we would have all sorts of lessons, usually delivered through harshness.

Whatever the case may be, we are mere babes as we move through this life and subject ourselves to a huge amount of suffering. Yes, we think we are all powerful, wielding credit cards, cell phones, tight schedules and big demands. Yet behind all of that posturing is our fear.

We are afraid that our suffering will catch up with us. That we will lose our steely grip on control and be brought to our knees by circumstance. Or that we will lose everything, and so we will crumble to the ground and die.

What we don’t see is that when we have nothing, when we finally let go and fall apart, then we are finally free.

In that moment, we become surrendered enough to acknowledge the truth – that all of this resistance and suffering we’ve cooked up is unnecessary. We start to see that we can have anything we want … if only we will allow ourselves to trust the Universe to bring it our way.

Ranier Maria Rilke wrote: “Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”

If we can allow ourselves to relax into that receptivity and stop the incessant striving and pushing, then life can finally, truly turn our way. Perhaps for you that critical surrender means losing a treasured client or contract you’d wanted forever. Without that guaranteed source of income you think you will never make it. You believe you will simply dissolve, and cease to be the glorious You
you keep trying to be.

Ah, but friend, what if …

What if the real You is actually waiting behind all the letting go and the chaos? What if the Universe has something even better prepared for you? Can you let go and surrender into that infinite possibility? This is when your heart opens, your love for the world expands and you are finally set free.

When I gave up my 23-year marriage, my big showcase home, my identity as a nice straight lady, and then, subsequently, the woman I thought was the love of my life, I began to surrender and truly fall apart.

For a while I roamed around, staying with friends here and there, not sure exactly what to do. And then, incredibly, my daughter suddenly died. And so, in a curious way, I was reborn. Now my life has finally come into an amazing alignment in which every day I feel more confident, more powerful and stronger than ever before.

And all I had to do was let go. Completely.

There is something unexpected and sweet about this state of non-attachment. The usual supports are gone; unusual taboos are being lived. And in the chaos you realize you are made of unique and beautiful stuff. Above all, you discover you are loved and supported in ways you’d never imagined.

For in that ultimate moment of self-reliance, devoid of all your usual props, you can finally know what you are made of. And what you are made of is love. You are not your judgments, your hurts or your long list of to-do’s. Nor are you your self-criticisms and your relentless drive for perfection.

No, dear friend, you are nothing more than your big, beating heart. The degree to which you can know and live this love is the degree to which you will set sail and honor the path you have been given.

There is no valor in holding back in the name of practicality. Do that thing you have been given to do in the small of your heart – the one that propels you forward with an ‘if only …’. That is where the magic is.

If it means some carefully constructed structures must dissolve as you face your worst fears, then so be it. On the other side of all that loss is simply freedom.

You will survive – and, in fact, you will thrive; I can promise you that. That dream of yours is like a great beam of love waiting to pour out into the world and light your path as it lights others. And in that divine consciousness is all the magic and power in the world.

Why resist, dear friend? Why not just dissolve? For I can tell you right now with a smile and an arm around your shoulders: Not only do you deserve it … we all do.

We truly do long for your gifts.

So will you just surrender?

 

Lessons from the Afterlife: What I Learned Since My Daughter’s Death

door-light-nsphny.betterIt has been more than three years since my daughter Teal’s sudden death from a medically unexplainable cardiac arrest. This week she would have been 26. Though I have known the worst grief of my life since her death, I have also — unexpectedly — been lifted up to a far greater place.

In a letter she gave me the Christmas before she died, she described a psychic’s words about our shared path. “We are supposed to be leaders in light supporting each other,” Teal wrote in her usual worldly wisdom. “So from now on I support any light leadership you have to bring to the world … so let’s be leaders of and in light. Ya!”

These are the lessons I  learned from Teal not in her death, but in her life everlasting. If you listen hard enough, if you open up fully enough, if you, too, are willing to believe that good can come from bad, you can discover your own lessons.

These are mine:

  1. I am not special. I am no different from you or anyone else — so I don’t need to keep proving how special or important I am. In fact, I am just like you so I can feel your pain, understand who you are, and so know our common one-ness.
  2. It’s safe to take a rest. I don’t have to keep frantically ‘doing’ and reinventing myself time and again. I can actually stop and rest for a while and, as my friend Jon put it, “let the game come to me.”
  3. I am loved — and lovable. Once I surrounded myself with angry, controlling lovers who I considered to be ‘my people’. Then I found love with a woman who was far more interested in enjoying life with me than managing me. The key was deciding for once and for all that I am lovable. It took a while to talk myself into it … but, oh, it was worth it.  When I was ready, she simply appeared.
  4. The Universe always has surprises just ahead. Sometimes they are devastating — but sometimes they are unspeakably beautiful. I had to lose everything to learn this, and so create a terrifying gap in my very sense of who I was. Yet into this gap poured pure goodness, the likes of which I had never seen before. By letting go, I have manifested true love, a wonderful home, an abundant paying job writing books and speaking from the heart, and an awesome community of friends. The void is an amazingly creative place.
  5. I am enough just as I am. I don’t have to be a superstar like my dad wanted me to be. And I don’t have to be the socially correct, preppy Martha Stewart my mom wanted me to be. That’s who they were. Turns out I get to be me … which is ever so much more fun.
  6. There is a spiritual tenderness to every moment. It doesn’t live in yesterday’s concerns of tomorrow’s hopes. It lives in the here and now and it is always available — if you look for it.
  7. Happiness is well worth cultivating. After we teach ourselves to suffer, to be angry, to be righteous and sad; after we fill our heads with a million hard stories and festering excuses, we have a choice. We can bravely grieve the past and let it go. We can move through our pain one one day at a time until it’s finally complete. We can stop clinging to illusions and finally stand up in our strength. We can look outside ourselves and see there are people all around us whom we don’t even know. We can reach out and so once again find our strength. The past is only the past, not a set of good excuses for the loneliness and suffering of today.
  8. The human heart is designed to heal, to beat more brightly with greater love as it lives each day. It is our responsibility simply to listen and follow, for this heart of ours is our guiding light and our most precious north star. So I have learned to come back to myself and become the woman I was meant to be — alive, honest, and free in my own skin.

I have become a leader in love and light just as Teal knew some day I would be. Little did either of us realize what it would take for this to happen.

Yet this, as with everything else in life, truly is completely perfect.

The Fine Art of Celebrating Death

day-of-the-dead-skullMexico has just marked their infamous holiday, Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Families gather in cemeteries and sing, eat, pray and celebrate on the graves of their deceased relatives. Painted sugar sculls decorate shop windows and homes. Children build altars to the memories of other deceased children. Marigolds, specially prepared dishes and all kinds of photos and memorabilia are put on altars for grown ups as well. Even government offices and public schools have altars for the dead.

My Mexican friend Luis tells me it’s one of the best holidays of the year. It’s an honest to God party, yes, but it’s also one with feeling. Not a lot of maudlin suffering, here. Instead, Day of the Dead is a humorous, joyful, love-filled tribute to lives well-lived, and souls ascended to a much better place.

A big piece of this ritual involves cleaning and decorating the grave with altars. Children’s graves get toys; adult graves get bottles of tequila or mezcal. Much like the ancient Egyptians packed up their mummies with lots of necessities for the ride, the Mexicans often do the same, leaving pillows and blankets, as well. And the art blows me away. Everywhere, skeletons can be seen in beautiful, joy filled images that seem to laugh at the viewer.

It’s an exquisite combination of both horror and delight, for such is life.

In my experience, this is what a death really is. For even in the most tragic deaths, the joy is still lurking there, in and around the crisis at hand. I was reminded of this by an old college friend’s post on Facebook yesterday.

Fran lives in Key West, Florida, home of one of the wildest Halloween parties out there – Fran Decker.Fantasy Fest graveFantasy Fest. It was a holiday her late husband, Bob, adored and the two of them dug into it with gusto. So as a tribute, Fran and some friends decorated Bob’s grave with … well … some of the items he might have worn to Fantasy Fest this year.

For instance, Bob never missed wearing the one-of-a-kind decorated bras he bought at fundraising auctions every year. So yes, there’s a bra, right on his grave. Along with flowers, beads and all the things that make a good tribute. That’s what I’m talking about!

Grief experts say such memorializing is critical to grief recovery. For along with the necessary mourning, you have to be able to smile as well. In this same vein, my former husband, Larry Barns, recently suggested we make a tribute to Teal, our late daughter, involving pomegranates.

Teal adored pomegranates – so much so that she would take them to school in her lunch, and insist all of her friends try them. (As one friend put it, this was back before pomegranates were cool.) So Larry proposed we create an annual ‘Eat a Pomegranate for Teal’ ritual when the fruit is in season in the fall.

holding pomagranatesTo this I would suggest we share a pomegranate, because Teal loved to get everyone excited about the things she adored.

What is the celebration of death if not a comment on a life well lived? At the end, all of us will be remembered with some sorrow, yes. But hopefully, we will also be remembered for the thousands of moments of happiness we enjoyed ourselves and shared with others. Like Bob and Teal, and their ecstatic embrace of the pure zest in life.

What more could a person really ask for in this short life? Viva la Dia de Meurtos!

 P.S. Why not try a pomegranate while you’re at it? You might just like it!

The Value of an Excruciating Relationship

love_for_music__by_this_is_the_life2905-d3g1hwhOnce, for sixteen months, I marched straight into the desert but somehow couldn’t extricate myself.

I fell so deeply in love that I couldn’t see how bullied I was … or what a gelatinous ball of mush I had become.  I got to see graphically, up close and personal, exactly how far I could go for love and acceptance.

In this relationship, I chose the role of victim and spent night after night on the couch crying my eyes out … yet still I couldn’t leave.

Today I regard this woman as a profound teacher. Because after I walked away licking my wounds, I began the most intense personal growth of my life.

But then desperation can do that for you.

We choose the role of victim because we know it intimately.

Oddly, it’s comfortable. We choose our abusers because we know them somehow, too. Meeting this particular girlfriend was a landmark event for me. I was immediately captivated by her charm, her smile, her wit, her intelligence. In my eyes she had it all.

Yet in the months that followed I disappeared emotionally as she became more and more controlling. We had this deep soul connection, a shared humor that wouldn’t quit, and a true appreciation for each other. Yet at the same time, we also had endless drama, manipulation, and torment. We were in lock-step with each other, creating our suffering together through some silent, mutual pact.

By the end I was pretty much inert and would do anything she suggested. I had lost myself completely and began making crazy choices. When April came I even considered not paying my taxes for the first time in my life. I had chosen an unstable person to be with because I, myself, was unstable as well.

What I see now is that I was needy.

My marriage of 25 years had just ended and I was grieving. The trouble was I didn’t know how to grieve. Instead of holing up and giving myself time to go through the process, I decided to pretend it wasn’t happening. Little did I realize how vulnerable this would make me.

Exploitation is what often happens to needy people — or sensitive, creative, talented people who are trained from young childhood to perform for others, as I was. I was reminded of this by the new Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy. In it, Wilson, a true sensitive genius, was prey to an abusive, vindictive father, and then an equally abusive, seriously crazy psychoanalyst, Dr. Eugene Landy.

Wilson was both terrified of Landy and yet unable to leave. I can relate to that. I convinced myself that leaving my girlfriend would prove my undoing. I believed there would never be another onr like her, and that I was supremely lucky to have her in my life at all. When it ended, I felt both anguished and relieved.

This is how growth happens, in painful splats and weary staggers forward.

Three years later, I have emerged whole. I no longer need people in my life who disrespect or use me. And I’ve found a love that is right, whole and complete. What is really remarkable about my current relationship is that there is no drama. It simply doesn’t exist. Instead, there is deep acceptance, deep listening and a truly profound joy.

Turns out that’s what real love is all about.

By simply listening to myself and allowing myself to let go and grieve, I became whole. I stopped dating for the better part of two years and progressively became more accepting of myself. I started to trust my own capability, and forgive my mistakes. I found satisfaction in a quiet life, and fulfillment in the process of grieving.

I stopped being the scooped out artist who waited for others to define her and give her value. I started speaking up for myself and became my own fierce advocate – which was incredibly uncomfortable at first but then, remarkably, became fun.

And I did not do this alone.

I found all kinds of groups to guide me through this process – grief groups, 12-Step groups, friends, family, mentors, coaches and a good therapist. It turned out there is no valor in forging a difficult path alone. And there is great wisdom to be gained from a group conscience.

Now I have dissolved back to joy, for that is how it feels. The brittle, artificial structure that propped me up for so many years is gone, no longer needed. I am clean, whole and strong once more.

This is the value of hitting an emotional rock bottom and enduring the pain of finally, sadly telling the truth. For then there’s only one way to go.

If you’re paying attention, that way will be up.

 

 

How I Learned to Take Exquisite Care of Myself

imagesRecently while driving I heard an interview with Christine Carter, a life balance expert, talking about how to be happier. Really, she said, it all boiled down to self-care.

I put the car into park and listened as her words filled me with a quiet, certain joy.

The way she got back to that much desired productivity ‘sweet spot’, she said, was by slowing down. Doing less. Listening to herself more. Refusing to multi-task.

That’s exactly what I have been doing over the last few years. In Christine Carter’s case, a sudden serious illness forced her to stop and reassess her life. For me, it was the death of my daughter.

Even then – in the most severe of situations – letting go was nearly impossible for me to do. All my life I had been an achiever, a doer, a leader. Yet now the bottom had dropped out.

 Could I really take a break? Who would I be if I truly let go?

My inner bully insisted this would be the end of everything. It advised me to hang on, no matter what. So I tried to, believing that my success and well being rested solely on how hard I worked and how much I pushed.

Like a veteran soldier I forged ahead. Six weeks after my daughter’s death I launched a new business right on schedule. God forbid I stopped and felt my feelings, because then I would be truly immobilized.

The launch was relatively successful, but within a month I was a wreck. Delivering the new work was much harder than I had anticipated. A dear friend advised me to stop. So I finally did, crawling off to bed as if my life depended on it. The new business quickly evaporated.

For weeks that turned into months, I did nothing but rest. I kept thinking I needed to get back to work, but somehow I couldn’t. My inner bully tried, valiantly, to get me back in motion. But something had changed.

I began to realize I deserved a rest after all these years. Certainly I needed one now, as I began a radically different life alone in California without my beloved daughter.

So I gave myself massive permission to be however I needed to be.

I lay in bed whenever I wanted to. I let myself cry as much as I needed to. I went on long walks in redwood forests or along the coast. I exercised. I drank a superfood smoothie every day. And I went to support group meetings where I talked about my pain.

At first I was going to take two months off, then four months. That became six months. Finally after an entire year of self-care, I emerged and began to work. Along the way I had stopped questioning when I would get back to work, or even what I was doing.

I kept hearing Teal’s voice in my head, “Just be, Mom. Just be.”

So I practiced being, and along the way I began to find myself again … my true self. The one who was forgotten all those years ago. I rediscovered yoga, wearing lots of lace, and listening to classical music. I went to Paris for two months. I found new friends and even fell in love.

Now, two and a half years later, I have returned to my true work as a writer. I am in a wonderful, deeply loving relationship. And I no longer get woken up by my inner bully every day,  jamming my head with to-do’s. Instead I meditate. I go to my yoga class. Then I sit down at the right time and I write.

The inner bully is still there, of course, but she’s become a gentle chider. And I chide her right back. We have become friends because now I’m on to her.

True effectiveness is not about pushing yourself with caffeine or getting the right apps to pound out more work. It’s not about strategically napping, or figuring out more ways to manage email so you didn’t feel overwhelmed.

It’s about allowing yourself to unfold like the perfect flower that you are, petal by delicate petal. So we surrender to that river of joy that lives within all of us but that is so seldom heard or felt in the rush of life.

This is one of the great ironies of life. We are far more fragile than we know — yet when that fragility is honored, and we deeply care for ourselves, we become far more powerful.

May you care for yourself well today, friend, in all that you do.