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.

 

 

 

 

The Healing Power of a Good Long Walk

It’s not about the dog.

Really.

I walk because my body tells me it’s time to move … and because I have a thousand things to think through. So I let the dog take me for a walk.

Walking is this wonderful movement that requires almost no thought, no particular skill, and really nothing more than a little time and some comfortable shoes. The very reliability of it makes it soothing.

Walking was an essential piece of my self-care when I was recovering from the loss of my daughter. In those raw days of grief, just the simple act of putting one foot in front of another saved me in some basic way. The promise of a walk got me up and out. So I emerged, blinking, into the sunlight.

At that point, even twenty minutes was a triumph.

But as my grief healed, I began to relax into this walking thing more and more. I found the feeling of the breeze on my face, and the dirty under my feet was consoling. There was something simple and real about it.

Unlike my forays to the gym, I didn’t have to look good. In fact, I cried a lot as I walked the trails at a local park, and no one seemed to mind a bit.

That’s when I discovered I needed to walk, even in the rain. And that’s when I discovered walking in the mud.

Now, walking in the mud is a particular pleasure all its own. You put on some big rubber boots and you just have at it. And if the mud is thick and gooey, or full of mud puddles, you can splash. You can slop. You make a great, big glorious mess, and it’s actually a lot of fun.

Then when you get back home, you leave your boots outside the front door, and you look down at your mud-spattered jeans, and you think, ‘I’ve done something today.’ Your heart beats with a little more vigor, your soul feels refreshed, and you enjoy the glow of accomplishment.


This is why I walk, in the rain and in the sun. The very reliability of the Earth to welcome me, comfort me, and provide a little interesting scenery as I go puts me back together.

Nothing is expected of me as I walk, and so I get ideas and find sudden inspirations. It’s like shaking hands with life again, every time.

And yes, the dog doesn’t mind one damn bit.

Want to know how your brain actually ‘cleans house’ when you take a walk or do any kind of exercise? There’s real science to this. I found out when I interviewed personal trainer Will Belew on my Before the Afterlife podcast … check it out here.

You can find this episode below, or subscribe with any podcast player.

Here are the links to iTunes and Google Play!

 

 

 

How to Get Along at Dysfunctional Family Get-Togethers (the Buddhist Version)

For many holiday seasons over the past 15 years I’ve published variations on this essay. This year, in honor of the wonderful Buddhist sangha I joined at the East Bay Meditation Center, I’ve crafted this variation.

jizosanta2-500x330Ah, family. We can’t live without them, yet sometimes we can’t really live with them, either. Especially at the holidays, when we are all just a little extra keyed up.

For every ounce of deep, family-bonded joy we feel on the holidays, there’s sure to be at least one moment when we want climb into Aunt Nanny’s coat closet and have a silent scream.

Trouble is, children are watching. Elderly people you see once a year are watching. You really do want to keep it together.

Ah, grasshopper … this is actually a teachable moment. It goes back to the original Buddhist belief that there will be suffering. Not only will there be suffering, you are entirely at choice in how you engage in it. Author and teacher Robert Thurman refers to this phenomenon as ‘changing the channel.”

Changing that channel, of course, can be damn near impossible. So this is when help must be evoked. A prayer can be handy.

Like this one, the Buddhist ‘Extended Compassion Practice’ from the Divine Abodes. It goes like this:

If I cannot be loving in this moment, may I be kind

If I cannot be kind, may I simply notice

If I cannot just notice, may I not cause harm

If I cannot not cause harm, may I cause the least amount of harm possible

May I strive to not exile anyone from my heart

I particularly love that last point. Because I really hate it when I exile someone from my heart. It feels just awful … and like all of us, I do exactly that from time to time.

When my mother was still alive, there was always one moment every holiday when she’d be a complete outcast as far as my heart is concerned. I’d be filled with my hurt feelings, or my righteous indignation, or my screaming anxiety that at any moment she might blow up.

It really didn’t matter what happened, or what kind of story I told myself, the pattern was always the same. Show up at home, be genuinely delighted, and fairly delightful as well. But by Day 3, things had shifted. You just knew the fur was going to fly once the drinks got flowing.

Back then the last thing on my mind was whether or not I exiled anyone from my heart. Instead, I was full of my hurt and angry inner monologue, my carefully written story of injustice.

And yet, here – exactly here – is where I needed to be careful. This is exactly where I actually could have asked for help, and so been able to keep my cool.

I could have taken myself away at the appropriate moment, closed the door and meditated for a while.

I could have pulled out a piece of paper and done a little remedial journaling.

I could have asked God for help as I repeated a prayer like the one above again and again.

And most of all, I would have known that exiling anyone from my heart hurts me most of all.

But, of course, I didn’t have access to such good wisdom back in those days. What I had was a pattern of dysfunctional family drama in which I played a key role. Today, however, it’s a different story.

Now I know what to do when I feel myself getting anxious. I take myself away, and figure out what’s causing me upset. I allow myself to have whatever dark feelings I’m having away alone, in a nice safe place. And I give myself some space to have those feelings.

Then I remember that we’re all full of awkwardness, upsets, and the swirl of emotions. And most of the time, we truly do regret our hasty, unskilled remarks. The fact is, we’re all in this leaky lifeboat together, and so we must learn to row it together.

If we can live in a place of self-compassion, and general compassion to all around us, that rowing is going to happen a whole lot more easily. But, of course, that’s what this holiday season is really all about, isn’t it?

When I keep mulling over my feelings, and basting in the juices of righteous indignation, I do nothing more than dull my heart. That helps no one, least of all me.

A companion prayer to the one above puts it this way:

May I strive to not cause myself suffering

May I strive to keep my heart open to the suffering of the world

May I learn to decrease suffering in my own life

May I learn to decrease the suffering of others

This holiday season,  if you are fortunate enough to be with family, may you honor yourself and them as the profound teachers that they are. And may you give them — and yourself — a great big break and a whole lot of love.

Most of all, here’s to your own fragile heart, my friend. May you tend it well.

Happy Holidays.

 

 

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.

 

 

Anger for People Who Never Get Mad

mad-girlI don’t know about you, but I hate getting mad.

Four years ago I lost my daughter to a sudden cardiac arrest. Along with my grief rode a sidecar of toxic, bitter anger. I found myself becoming furious at small, irrational things. Again and again I felt caught in the quick of these dark failings.

But … was my anger really a dark failing? Or was it actually alright?

Yes, it was. Turns out my anger was the sign of something stirring in the dark, narrow passageways of my grief. It was the ghost just down the way, beckoning for me to come hither.

Even Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said I was supposed to get mad.

Still,  I hung back fearfully at first. I found myself twisting my anger into silent, furious knots instead. Finally I could avoid it no longer. That’s when I found out it was not only okay to get mad … it was necessary.

Just like a cool breeze on a hot day, when I finally allowed myself to feel my anger, it refreshed and restored me. It literally healed me, and became just as critical to my well-being as clean water, rest and the great outdoors. So I moved on in far greater peace once I began to own ALL of my feelings — even the less attractive ones.

If you were like me, you were raised to believe that anger is bad and that good girls don’t get mad. And certainly not at their controlling addict mothers. In my family or origin, I could never get mad at Mother under penalty of serious punishment. So I pretended ‘mad’ didn’t exist, stuck my fingers in my ears and avoided such things for the next 50 years.

This is how we grow up: numb and afraid to own or even know our anger – until it comes exploding out of us in untoward ways.

Of course, one must handle the sword of anger responsibly. But this can be learned. It simply takes practice. First you have to  take some time by yourself to just breathe. And feel. Organically, your anger will rise up and then pass through you. Only then are you ready to see the truth of the matter, and possibly have a conversation about what’s bugging you.

So I’ve come to trust my anger.

Now I realize that it can be a balm to the soul. It is the release of the pressure valve, and the surrender of the false veil that has us parked in ‘Everything’s fine!’ all the time. So yes … it feels good to get mad sometimes.

When I’ve allowed it, my anger has told me again and again when things were out of balance – when I was off kilter. When danger lurked. All those years ago, when Mom was raising hell while I was trying to do my homework or possibly sleep, my anger was nothing more than warning flashers that my space was being invaded.

So I now regard my anger as a well calibrated  internal warning system that tells me where to set boundaries, avoid danger and generally protect myself. In fact, it’s become a critical information source.

May you learn to enjoy your anger when it bubbles up … and honor it for the innate and powerful wisdom that it is.

As they say in the liquor ads, ‘Enjoy responsibly.’

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!

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!

 

How to Keep the Faith When All Hell is Breaking Loose

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.

               – Cynthia Occelli

seed breakDo you know this place of complete surrender? Life happens and you are swept along with it. You stand in the wind and feel nothing beneath your feet as you are buffeted here and there. Yet … if you look … you will find there is something beneath your feet.

That something is belief. — you know it in your heart . As the wind rattles everything around you, you distantly recall platitudes about ‘this too will pass’ and windows closing and doors opening.

But belief’s a slippery bugger, and it’s so hard to hang in there when life seems to threaten your very existence.

Here are some things you can do to keep the faith while your own seed is breaking open.

  1. Remember that nothing is permanent. Whatever is happening right now really will pass. In a year’s time it will be a memory, perhaps sooner. And with that remembering comes perspective. Right now is possibly the worst this experience will feel.
  1. You might as well embrace reality. Trying to duck it is basically like trying to swim upstream against an impossible current. You will eventually get pushed back to that inevitable truth. So make life easy in the end by opening that letter, making that phone call, having that conversation now. Then just let the chips to fall where they may – no matter how painful. By honoring the flow of life, you will ultimately be rewarded.
  1. Enjoy what there is to be enjoyed. There will be strange little flickers of joy (and even big ones) along the way. They are Spirit’s way of saying, ‘It’s OK, you can take a break from all of this heaviness.” I saw it all around me in that terrible week that my daughter lay dying in the hospital. At the time I couldn’t understand the joy, but now I do. There is divinity even in great pain and loss. By recognizing it and even savoring it, you give your heart a little relief.
  1. Take time for yourself. Whatever is challenging you, you can allow space and time to comfort yourself. You must if you are ever to get to the gold buried deep within the fire. (Did I mention there is gold there?) Take a walk, write in a journal, listen to soothing music, read something comforting. Close the door on the rest of the world and allow yourself to actively feel what you need to feel. Then breathe, and know in the end everything’s going to be okay. This is where the magic healing happens.
  1. Ask Spirit to show you the way. Know that this, too, is part of the divine plan, no matter how heinous or difficult your circumstance. Who said life was meant to be easy and free all the time? Where would the growth be if it was? Above all know that God has your back, now and forever, and nothing that happens is without reason. Whenever you need to understand more, or get more guidance, simply ask. The answer is there.
  1. Create a bed of support. No one says you have to cross the desert alone. It wouldn’t be in your best interest to suffer excessively. So ask for help. Call a trusted friend or five. Reach out to family. Find a good therapist. Go to a support group, like  hospice grief groups, or even 12 Step recovery groups. These are people you can learn from and support, in turn. People understand and they genuinely want to help you. They really do.
  1. Trust the process. You may feel excruciatingly alone. You may feel like you are so lost you will never recover … But here’s the thing. This is all happening for a reason, and you will never be the same again. So allow the magic of life to do its work and set you free. Your soul will thank you for it, and you will emerge stronger and better for it. You really will.

How do I know this? I was given this truth after my own seed exploded into the Universe with nary a trace left behind. It is only in complete surrender that you can know the most profound joy.

Believe it or not, there is magic here, friend. But you must let go to let it in. And so it is.

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 …

 

What the LGBT Murders in Orlando Taught Me About Love

Rachel & SVF. Pride 2015For the first time in my adult life, I feel scared – and at the same time defiant and even joyful – about who I am.

I am a lesbian who did not come out until age 52. So I lived my first half century as a content member of the mainstream straight world, complete with husband and kids. I felt safe, a little smug, and protected by society.

Now, in the wake of the horrific mass shootings in Orlando targeted at the gay community, that security has been shot to hell. I feel my vulnerability like never before.

Just as so many generations of LGBT people have before me.

Yet, just as dark is always followed by light, I feel my courage, my resilience and my spirit rise up. Just like all my gay brothers and sisters who lived and died before me.

This is what LGBT Pride is all about.

Here, on the edges of social norms, we live and love more intensely than we ever could have in the straight world. We do this because we need to. And because it’s our right.

Every time I walk down a street, holding the hand of my fiancée, I still feel a small swell of the pure joy of being out, proud and uniquely me. Even after six years as a lesbian.

I hope I always will.

Those who would call us infidels and push us from tall buildings, or walk into night clubs and gun us down in cold blood, or even pass laws barring us from bathrooms, have forgotten something.

Because we are outliers – the so called ’10 percent’ – we have gotten very, very strong. And we have built a community that is like a force field.

At this point, after Stonewall, the murders of Harvey Milk, Brandon Teena, and Matthew Shepherd, decades of AIDS and HIV, and hate crime after hate crime, it would have to be.

Not only is the community incredibly creative and resourceful, it’s rock solid. And it will not quit.

Ever.

My fiancée tells me stories about what it was like when marriage was legal, then it wasn’t, then it was, then it wasn’t in California. It was a situation that wreaked havoc. Still the community pressed on, until the Supreme Court’s historic decision came down legalizing same sex marriage in the U.S..

When my beloved and I marry in October, we will joyfully celebrate not only the joining of our lives – we will stand up for all people everywhere who honor their personal bliss.

No matter how unique. And no matter how potentially dangerous.

We will also remember the 49 victims who died and the 53 who were wounded in Orlando, just because they were dancing, enjoying life and honoring who they were.

In the end, only one thing is certain.

You can’t kill love.

 

Seven Simple Ideas for a Happier Life

7simpleideasI woke up this morning with the most beautiful insight. I realized I genuinely love people. Like … everyone. It wasn’t always thus.

This sense has been a lifetime in coming. Mainly because I spent a lot of my life mad at people. And who can blame me? I was Susie Codependent – forever controlling, cajoling, managing, and manipulating. I thought it was my job to force reality every step of the way … just to be on the safe side.

So when life didn’t give me what I wanted, I was mad. That’s what happens when we suffer childhood traumas. (These can be anything from severe bullying to having an addict parent to the illness or death in the family.) We build ourselves tough little cages of steel to live in … and so we suffer.

Mind you, a lot of us were exceptional children. We were the kids who were wise beyond our years, who knew how to cope with any disaster. We were the responsible ones who stayed late helping the teacher after school – usually to avoid the chaos at home. And we were often the tender kids who couldn’t play sports but wrote awesome poems.

This is the gift of severe loss. We have heightened sensitivity, and an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. We have anger – yet we have empathy as well. We feel the pulse of life a little more deeply.

So in adulthood, our work is to take down this jerry-rigged defense system we’ve build around us. And sometimes it takes a real disaster to make that happen.

Losing my daughter and letting go of my former life did the trick for me. Immediately my perspective shifted. I relaxed and have turned the spotlight back on me.

Now these have become my guiding principles. They’re simple, they cost nothing, and they don’t require any ‘doing’. (No, you don’t have to meditate, though that’s always a help.)

  1. I don’t need to make anyone happy but myself. It’s actually my more important responsibility.
  2. I really can – and do – say ‘No’ whenever I need to now. The sky doesn’t fall. It’s great!
  3. No one has to march to my tune but me. Everyone else has a right to live their life EXACTLY the way they want. As do I. If that means we need to go separate ways, so be it. It’s just part of God’s plan.
  4. Things usually work out just fine. Once you’ve been thru the worst thing that can happen and you emerge better for it … you learn to go with what comes. Really, truly. Things do work out.
  5. Stop worrying. Turns out worrying doesn’t actually help – and it just produces a lot of agita. So I try not to spend time there anymore.
  6. We can’t force reality. What a shocker! So thought I could. Kind of hilarious when you think about it.
  7. In the end, all we’ve got is love. Turns out accumulating stuff is highly overrated and somewhat lonely. But love really does heal all wounds.

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?