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.

 

 

What a Begonia Taught Me About Going Through Hell

portrait-painter-1This is the story of a survivor. Namely, a Starlight begonia. Like a lot of survivor tales, it isn’t pretty. But bear with me – her story has an important life lesson for all of us.

This begonia began her life with me when I fell in love with the woman who is now my fiancée. I chose her as the perfect house gift on our first weekend together. We found a good spot for her outside, where she thrived during the summer. Then she limped along in a sunny windowsill indoors in the winter.

Finally she died … or so it appeared. We left the begonia for dead in a forgotten corner of the kitchen, and kept meaning to yank her roots and replace her with something young and thriving.

But then one day a small miracle happened as winter was ending. One tiny, tender leaf appeared. Then two. Improbably, after an entire winter of neglect with no sun and no water, a dead plant that was no more than a dried up wisp of a stem came back to life. Right there in a dark kitchen corner, We watered her, put her outside and hoped for the best.

Here’s the most interesting part: the former plant was as light and fluffy as a twirly girl at a prom. But the new plant was far more industrial strength.

This time around she’s clearly built to last, so at first she seemed a little scary. Her main stem is nearly a quarter inch thick, as if she had been toughened by her ordeal. Like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.

I had my doubts about the plant, but my partner kept urging me to water her and feed her plenty of worm sludge. “Life wants to live,” she said.

Flowers began to appear – at first just a few. I frowned and shook my head. “She’s never going to be normal,” I fretted. Rachel just patted my arm. “Life wants to live,” she reminded me. So I gave her more water, more worm sludge, and hoped for the best.

The real breakthrough came, however, when we gave her one final dose of neglect. We went away for a week, during which time the starlight begonia baked under the relentless California sun without a single drop of water. I found myself worrying about her while I was gone. Would she be alright?

As if through sheer tenacity – perhaps the tenacity learned in the winter of her neglect – she not only survived, she thrived. I came home to find her putting out new flowers, new shoots, and new leaves. She became an entirely new plant in my absence.

I can relate to the begonia, because this is my story as well.

I was in twirly prom girl mode myself before the bottom dropped out. I, too, became toughened by death, destruction and test after test. What nature proves to us is that if we’re just patient, and we apply enough compost, water and loving attention, our roots can find their way back to life again. They simply, always do.

When we come back, we are stronger, more mature, and seasoned by all that we have learned. This is the way we find our way  to true and lasting peace and happiness. For at this point, we are no longer infatuated with all that sparkles. Now we have become mature keepers of the heart and soul of life.

We know the secret value of ripping away all that was once familiar, and perhaps outgrown. We understand how to compost the old, and so lie fallow for a long time.

On the other side of rest and restoration lie the miracles. And so we are delivered to the next phase of our journey … if we let the magic of life unfold.

Like most things of value, this process takes time. For me, it’s been four year since my midlife meltdown began, but today my life is far better for my losses. I miss the daughter I lost but I have learned to live peacefully – even richly — without her. And I think about that young wife and mother I once was with a certain tenderness.

More importantly, my life is new and fresh again. This is what comes of burning everything to the ground. Each day I learn a little bit more about humility, and how to lay back and let life come to me, without pushing, striding or needing.

So each day I am rewarded. I wake up to another set of possibilities that nudge me forward, like a new flowers unfolding. But then, why wouldn’t my life be full of miracles … including a sson-to-be marriage at the ripe old age of 57?

It’s a fact. Life truly does want to live.

Tapping Into the Joy of Life — A Word From Teal

Photo: Britt Nielsen

Photo: Britt Nielsen

This is the week each year when I celebrate, and grieve, the loss of my daughter, Teal. Four years ago she died from a medically unexplainable cardiac arrest … and since then she’s been anything but quiet.

So my entire perspective about both life and death have shifted radically. I no longer fear other people, or face the world with my tough-girl game face of intimidation. Instead, I’m far more interested in fun.

No longer must I know how everything will come out, or ‘work hard’ to micromanage and coerce results.Turns out I don’t have to grip and hold on to be safe.

Instead I’m learning to tap into the gorgeous flow that surrounds us, and ride the undulating waves of life with unexpected ease. And to accept what comes as necessary and important.

So I just surf – and when I fall off, and get sidetracked into some unpleasant emotional experience, I do my best to shake myself off, get back on the board and … ride! It’s a practice. And that’s the other thing — I don’t have to do it perfectly.

And so life has become fun again. Even death isn’t a particularly big deal any more.

When the worst thing that can possibly happen comes to pass, you discover an unexpected sweetness on the other side of that crisis. A transformation comes that makes your entire life far better.

If you allow it.

This morning I felt Teal around me, speaking into that small, still space between sleep and waking. It’s the very same space we heard a lecture about only a few hours before her collapse … the ethereal passageway that shamans travel in between the afterlife and our world.

And so I received a message from her that I am meant to share with you here.

Do not judge death with the same limited mind that barely learns or understands the potential in life.

You feel that potential sometimes in life’s magic – the touch of a lover’s hand, the triumph of a long-cherished dream. Or in the laughter of a child.

But you are afraid of that power and so you hang back.

Do not hang back. Instead, become quieter and quieter until you are fully suffused with the power and majesty of God who lives inside of you.

Then let go. Do what you want. Allow yourself to truly feel your own deep, soaring magnificence.

The full, God-given gift of life is available to those who do not fear death. For loss is only temporary, a fleeting stab of pain.

Namaste!

Healing Grief With a Memorial on Wheels

IMG_0359In the last four years, I have learned a lot about how to process grief.

You know grief.

It’s that terrible, black sadness after loss that consumes us when we let it. It’s also the reason so many of us drink, shop, drug, and chew ourselves into oblivion.

We think we can’t handle our grief – so we do anything to avoid it.

I say we can handle our grief; that we’re biologically wired to process it. My proof is that unprocessed grief sticks around. Our grief is always back there, simmering in the background, until the fateful day we finally take it on and deal with it.

There are things we can do. Studies indicate creating an altar, memorial or shrine is one of the best ways – even for a loss that happened years earlier.

I know I’ve found this a tremendous comfort since Teal’s death. In her memory, I turned my Teal-colored car into a moving altar.

Tealster plateI bought the car six months before my daughter died. The first time I drove her around in it, I proposed we call it ‘The Tealster’ – her nickname from childhood, long since outgrown. “Great idea!” she said with a laugh. “Then you won’t call me that anymore.”

My Teal Memorial on Wheels just naturally happened after her death. The first thing I did was put a sticker on the back window; it’s of the Hindu goddess White Tara, who symbolizes sensitivity . Teal was tremendously sensitive and a lover of all things relating to Goddesses, so it seemed a good fit.

Then I had a license plate made that said ‘TEALSTR’.

People often think it means ‘Teal Star’ – and I don’t disagree when they ask about it. I simply tell them about Teal and what an angelic, thoughtful, compassionate presence she was.

Worded on the license plate holder was a phrase she received in meditation one day: ‘Give Fearlessly and You Shall Never Want.’

A tiny tray of origami stars in varying shades of teal fills part of the console. And on the dashboard is my ‘Goddess of the Month’ – currently Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity and abundance. Though the Hindu goddesses were new to me when she died, I have studied them extensively since her death. It’s a way to stay connected to all things Teal.dashboard Lakshmi

Not surprisingly, I often feel her around me when I drive. So much so that driving has become a critical part of my healing.

For the first two years after her death, I always had a box of tissues in the front seat, and I cried freely as I drove. As I felt Teal’s energy swirling all around me, I allowed myself to surrender to life as it is, in spite of the pain.

And so I learned that grief is not to be feared, but is simply the way back to a whole and healthy life.

Lately, I’ve been thinking I will buy a new car – not immediately, but pretty soon. I take this as a sign that my heart has healed a great deal. For sure, my life is the happiest it has ever been, even after the worst loss imaginable.

Perhaps this is why. For by allowing myself to have this little sanctuary on wheels – one I was sure to visit at least once every day – I allowed myself to literally sit with my daughter’s memory for many, many hours. So I could embrace my grief and cry for all I was worth (and yes, I pulled over a lot when crying on the road.)

If you’re struggling with someone or something you have lost, I recommend creating a mobile altar on wheels that allows you to get the peace, and privacy, you may need to really let go. Drive to the beach, a park or a favorite place, and bring your memories along for the ride. If you need to pull over to cry in peace, do it.

Give yourself all the time in the world to  enter that most sacred of spaces – your emotions. In letting go you will embrace what is, and so find your way back to peace.

Namaste.

PS. Want to talk to me live about altars, grieving and such? I’ll be on Facebook Live, Tuesday, March 22 at 10AM PT/1PM ET. You can find me on my profile page — A recording will also be posted on my fan page. See ya there!

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 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.