10 Ways to Stop Being ‘Insanely Busy’

Today’s episode is all about taking a break from the grind, whether that’s a much needed lunch break of the 10-month sabbatical my guest managed to take. Rest has been proven again and again to increase our well-being dramatically … and yet, we don’t do it.
Here’s a reprint of my post popular article on this subject. I’m running it while I’m on a vacation in France getting my own rest. I hope you find it valuable!

If you’re like many of us, you work 50-60 hours in an office. Or you take work home, work on weekends — and try to juggle the rest of life as well. It gets overwhelming, doesn’t it?
That plus the ever present demands of children, ageing parents, and community sends us over the edge. No wonder we get mired in self-talk about the impossibility of work-life balance. But here’s the thing …
 Would you unplug if you could?

Often we get lulled into thinking we have no choice. We believe we have to overwork in order to succeed, in order to be viable. We believe we have to suffer to be whole.
For one week why not try some of these unplugging ideas as an experiment in self-care? You’ll find out exactly how willing you are to stop being so busy. And you may just find your way back to greater peace.
1. Begin to breathe. Take five minutes at the start of each day – before you even reach for your phone. Sit up, get comfortable, and simply breathe with your eyes closed. Follow your breath in and out. Just observe it. Let your mind go crazy but keep coming back to your breath. Do this every day for one week, and then notice. Are you starting to feel calmer?

2. Forgive those who anger you. Easier said than done, perhaps. Take at least thirty minutes of quiet time on a lunch hour to write out all of your resentments towards a particular person. Write it all down. Eventually, you will get to the end. And there you will naturally find forgiveness – which feels so much better. (If you think you don’t have 30 minutes, what can you change so you actually do that have that time? Reminder: We all deserve an hour off at lunch.)

3. Acknowledge yourself. When is the last time you tuned into your inner conversation about yourself? It’s there – trust me. Consider adding some kind words or a little pep talk each day when you’re taking a shower or brushing your teeth. Picking a regular time seems to help.

4. Take back lunch. If you work through lunch, stop immediately. You need this break. Really! Allow yourself to shut your door and relax. Bring your lunch to work and find something fun to do with this precious hour. Read a juicy novel. Knit. Take a walk. Bring an instrument and consider starting an office jam session. (I once witnessed this in an award winning Swedish ad agency!) This step, alone, could start a small revolution … and such truly alternative ‘brain breaks’ have been proven to increase overall effectiveness in work.

5. Turn off the ringer and all notifications on your phone. Let your phone fade into the background. Check it sporadically … you can do it! You’ll find you become more present, more relaxed. And far more inspired. If your boss demands you keep it on, simply smile and keep setting that firm, polite boundary. This is restorative time that allows you to work more efficiently in the afternoon.

6. Turn off your phone at lunch. Just try this for one week, even if it feels incredibly uncomfortable. You will find that what once seemed incredibly important isn’t so crucial now. And so balance returns.

7. Start to walk places – or ride a bike. This is a good one if you can’t make time to exercise. If your daily commute is filled with traffic, get around it hopping on a bike. If that’s not practical, outfit your bike with a basket or panniers and do your errands this way. Or carry a small backpack and walk. The natural endorphins you’ll experience may make this irresistible.

8. Take a nap. Insane right? Au contraire. According to The National Sleep Foundation, a 20-30 minute nap will leave you far more alert and better able to perform, without grogginess. Try to find a place at work to curl up – read a great book called Take a Nap; Change Your Life  for inspiration.

9. Find a buddy. Making changes in old habits and mindsets requires support. Find at least one good pal you can call as you travel new roads. Check in each day by phone or email on how this slowing, calming process is working for you.

10. Ask yourself what you need … then provide it. So often we put ourselves last in the rush to please others and get ahead. But our needs never stop. Get in the habit of asking yourself several times per day what you need. Take the first answer you get, even if you don’t like it. It’s okay … you really can trust yourself to know the truth.

Remember, you were designed to be whole and complete — without overwork or stress of any kind. And you can get back to that sweet place by simply allowing yourself to unfold a little.

Please feel free to listen to my podcast, Before the Afterlife, where I interviewed Linda Claire Puig about How to Go On a Magical Sabbatical, See the World and Change Your Life.

Also, please share with me your own ideas about how you avoid being ‘insanely busy’.

I’d love to hear from you,

 

 

 

 

 

Are You a Wounded Decision Maker?

Throughout most of my life, I made decisions based on one thing: how I felt in the moment.

Turned out to be a bad idea.

Back in my early twenties, when I was starting out as an advertising copywriter, I chose to work for an abusive jerk in one of the most notorious hack agencies in New York. It was the place that invented that American icon, Madge the Manicurist. And working there was hell.

At the same time, I ignored an invitation to interview with Ed McCabe, the grand circus master of creative boutique agencies. He was the guy every young writer wanted to work for. He was fun, engaging and swept every awards show. But I blew off his entreaty.

Why?
Because I had no idea what I was doing. Blithely, I assumed I should just go on instincts, so I made a very bad choice.

The bottom line was that I didn’t know how to ask for help. Nor did I even know I needed help.

At age 20, I thought I knew all the answers. “All ad agencies are alike,” I told myself, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. So I chose rashly, with no preparation.

Thirty-two years later, I discovered I was still making the same mistake. Fresh out of a 25-year marriage and newly out as a lesbian, I was in no mood for circumspection.  I dove headfirst into a love affair with an unstable person.

A month later I came to my senses and walked away – only to return to her a month later on an impulse. A friend at the time advised me against it.

“You’re scaring me,” he said. But I ignored him.

After all, I always knew the correct answer … right?

Wrong.

Only in the last several years have I learned to make decisions slowly and with a great deal of thought. The bigger the decision, the more thought goes into it. It feels like an act of Grace.

Conscious decision-making has taught me that I am not alone. That it’s best to get feedback from trusted friends. So I’ve come to think of these wonderful advisers as my personal ‘board of directors.’

Friends talked me off the cliff of compulsive overwork when it was time grieve my daughter’s death. Others advised me to walk away from a potential abusive relationship, and run towards the woman I was really suited to.

Still others kept me from snuffing out my pain with an impulse to buy a painting I couldn’t afford.

In the end, each choice I’ve made has always been mine. But I’ve learned to make them with eyes open and all the options on the table.

In this way, conscious decision-making has saved my bacon many times in recent years.

Here’s the part I really love: this Zen-like approach to decision making is fun. The pressure is off!

Especially when I regard each decision as an experiment – one that may work beautifully, or, instead, become a ‘learning experience.’

No longer must I be the swashbuckling hero of the moment, swooping in to make a big decision with no forethought or research. No longer must I save the day the way I used to as a child in an alcoholic family.

Instead, now I can take my own sweet time. I can decide when I’m damn good and ready, and not a moment sooner.

Not surprisingly, the woman I am now married to is a beautiful decision maker. She vets every choice thoroughly, turning it over from all angles. She’s not interested in seizing every opportunity, but instead, in exploring the potential downsides as well.

She takes her time, and she is teaching me to do so, too’.

At times, it’s still uncomfortable to peel myself away from a rash decision. The old buzz of pheromones and the thrill of the adrenal rush sometimes beckon.

But I stop to reflect before I choose. Because I know that on the other side is excellent self care, which is far more sustainable than the sugar rush of a fast choice.

Do I still honor my instincts? Absolutely. It’s just that now I know how to sit with them.

The world will not end tomorrow if we don’t act today. We can act in good time, slowly and consciously, and so enjoy the warm glow of satisfaction from a decision well made.

May you choose well and slowly.

If you like this conversation about how to avoid making knee-jerk reactions, you might love my latest podcast with Chel Hamilton. She has a lot to say about overcoming ‘knee-jerkery’.

How to Stop Trying to Get Meditation ‘Right͛’ … and Just Relax

I used to be a really busy meditator. You know the type.

I could barely sit still because I was so busy feeling my divine energy consume my body, moving me this way and that. Or I was constantly opening my eyes, focusing on this timer or that crystal to keep my meditation ‘on track’ and perfect. Or maybe I was working on memorizing some really long, complicated mantra while I meditated.

Who had time to just become empty and still?

I didn’t. I was too busy getting my meditation ‘right’ to actually relax.

But that was before I discovered the true, messy imperfection of meditation. In its simplest state meditation isn’t anything in particular, other than stilling the mind. And that’s hard to do … hence the plethora of meditation tools, apps, props, supports, recordings, mantras, breathing practices and experts. All of which want us to get meditation ‘right’.

But what if there was no right way to meditate?

Only now, nearly 35 years after I began meditating, do I appreciate the value of letting my mind roam as it must. When I notice it, I gently steering it back towards nothingness. That’s all I need to do, it turns out. Just kindly return myself back towards nothing again … and again … and again … and again …

When I do this, and my timer rings at the end of fifteen minutes, I find myself calmer than I was before. I’m refreshed. Ready to move into my day. That’s what meditation does for me, and its benefits are subtle and deep.

I notice, for instance, that I’ve lost my old love for drama. Over time, meditation makes the mind lose its tolerance for chaos and chaotic people. Likewise, you lose your interest in that which grates. Instead, you become remarkably kind to yourself.
Now, when I make a mistake, I find I no longer chide myself. Instead, I remind myself that life is just this really big experiment. If I get it wrong, that’s okay. Maybe I’ll get it right next time … or maybe I won’t.

Bottom line: it doesn’t matter.

Really.

That’s the big thing I’ve gotten from meditation. As the hours slip by, day by day, and your tolerance for pure nothingness increases, you can’t help but embrace the now. For that’s really all we have, isn’t it?

Right here, right now, in all of its unvarnished glory.

Mind you, I’m anything but perfect on this count. I find myself planning and strategizing as if I could personally plot out every twist and turn in my future. But I can’t. Wordlessly, meditation reminds me of this truth again and again, without even trying.

But then, sometimes, things happen. Unbidden, sudden insights can drop in when you’re meditating, yet you can’t go looking for them.

Instead, your only job is to relax … and empty your mind … and let go.

In 2010, Teal wrote in her journal about her own meditation practice, and I think this passage sums up this phenomenon nicely. She wrote it while she was backpacking her way through the world, one day at a time. On this particular afternoon, she happened to be in Italy.

On my way back I saw this cemetery … It was white marble and really amazing … overlooking the sea, cliffs, mountains, and towns. So I chose to sit down there and meditate and I got: ‘Go to Thailand, open your heart, open your soul and be.’

“The whole ‘be’ thing really made an impact on me. I realized in life I am never really there. I tend to be thinking about the future or past or something someone said instead of being in the moment, and taking it in for all its beauty. 

After this meditation, I knew I had been transformed because I looked out over the ocean and mountain scene in front of me and I started to cry. I was really able to take it all in and I finally realized how blessed I am to be here, and how many beautiful things there are here.”

When you can finally let go and embrace nothingness, it seems the entire world opens up to you. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Because the finding of serenity, of peace, of true freedom, comes not from getting or seizing anything.

True peace is found only by letting go.

If you’re interested in learning more about meditation, you might enjoy this week’s podcast with hypnotist Chel Hamilton as she talks about teaching meditation and what it does for the brain. It’s like ‘mind floss’ she says, and I agree. 

You can find the recording here

The Value of a ‘Why Not’ List 

One of the big illusions about life is that somewhere out there … it’s better. Someone other than me is working harder, delighting more readers, and generally looking a lot hotter.

And so, presumably, they are on track to be the so-called winner. Maybe they even get to take home a big stuffed bear.

A part of our brain often gets fixated on how our lives should be … as opposed to how perfectly satisfying and wonderful they are right here and right now.

My friend Jon calls this sad habit ‘shoulding on yourself’.

As in ‘I should be working 50 hours weeks building my empire,’ or  ‘I should have a massive list by now’. And let’s not forget that perennial favorite, ‘I should be ten pounds thinner.’

If you’re like me, you slip into shoulding without even thinking about it. I notice I get particularly should-y when thinking about my work, no matter how much I’ve accomplished. And no matter what’s going on in my life.

I’m thinking about my wedding six months ago. These were the days of wine and roses! Yet my mind was squarely parked on how much work I could cram in before the guests start arriving … purely out of should-i-ness.

But was I actually getting it done? Not really. I was too distracted! I wanted to take a champagne bath, and try on my wedding ring fifteen more times. I want to call all the family and friends who were showing up for the big day.

I wanted to hold my love and look dreamily in her eyes.

Which I would have done … except for that taskmaster, Should, in my head. Silently, she tapped her stick against her hand.

Here’s the supreme irony of it all. We don’t actually get that much done when we are being all ‘shouldy’. We’re much more likely to really rock the results when we let go completely and honor what’s happening here and now.

Jon, who is a very wise soul, reminds me that even a state of inertia can be God’s will for us.

Think about that … even a state of inertia can be God’s will for us.

Wow.

After all, God’s not standing around, tapping a foot and impatiently waiting for results, right? We’re the ones who do that.

Instead, God, or the Universe, or Spirit (or whomever you recognize that great guiding Force to be), invites us all to let go and slide into the great slipstream of love. Here we flow from one task to the next, effortlessly.

Here we let go and surrender and find our way to whatever would feel right next.

So instead of a ‘To Do’ list, may I humbly suggest a ‘Why Not?’ list.
Why not take a walk and watch the clouds for as long as you want? For if you do, some inspiration will surely descend.

Why not call someone you love and tell them so. Then your heart will expand just a little more greatly.

Or why not take a chance and submit a story to that hot media outlet you’ve been craving because suddenly … it feels right?

That’s flow, baby. I highly recommend inviting it into your life.

When we get ball-and-chained to our To Do lists, there is no room for us to breathe. So we forget the very core of our aliveness. This is how we get so very, very tired. We can’t keep up, and the strategies we’ve invested our time, our money, and our belief in begin to crumble.

This is when the ‘shoulds’ begin in earnest. And rightly so because (gasp!) … we rall behind. And we know in our hearts we will never catch up.

This is how we wind up soundly parked in self-doubt.
Which is exactly where I was when I spoke to my friend Jon. I needed to hear him say that that there is no ‘there’ there. There really is nothing to push towards.
There is only the here and now, one beautiful day at a time.

May you join me in embracing what is, for all of its warts, bumps and obvious gaps. They, too, are God’s will … just as you are.

You have been given a sacred job of simply being, my friend. So the question remains: is that good enough for you?

Me? I say yes!

 

 

P.S.

Do you want to learn more about walking away from the to-do list? Listen to the latest episode of Before the Afterlife, How to Walk Away from the To-Do List – with Jen Riday

 

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 Secret to Relaxing About Life

There is a strange paradox about life. Seldom is the one we are living the life we think we should be living. 

Somehow we can never get quite enough money, or power or titles or sex or adventures or love or anything to truly feel we’ve got our share. Like hungry birds in their nests, our beaks are always open, demanding yet another worm. There is always some better position, some higher level of responsibility, some more exalted realm we think should be ours.

At least, this much has been true for me … until recently.

Not only have I consistently believed throughout my life that I didn’t have ‘enough’, I believed that I wasn’t enough either. I honestly thought that if I got that million dollar book deal/perfect body/perfect … whatever … then I’d finally be whole and complete.

Then I could relax! Then I could be happy! I could stop pushing so hard and endlessly striving. Then, in the eyes of the Universe, Mom, and everyone else I would finally be enough. Or so I thought.

It was only recently, at the ripe old age of 58, that I finally decided to let go of this toxic illusion. This, right here and right now, is the life I’ve been given. And this, right here and right now, is as good as it gets.

What happened was that I was standing in our church singing in one of our annual concert, singing my heart out with my fellow choir singers. There was nothing slick or high visibility about the event. The audience was peppered with families and dotted with unruly kids and crying babies. Heck, we barely had microphones.

And there was nothing slick about my life. My work continues along on a humble path. There is no massive book deal, no high visibility position, none of the things that I’d always imagined would make me happy.

But in that moment as I looked out over the crowd and sang, delivering my gift for that particular moment, I felt intensely bonded to each person sitting there. I could feel the love rising in the room, and the slightly sweaty, restless-child imperfection of all of it at the same time.

It was spectacularly beautiful.

These were my people, I thought to myself, and I am in exactly the right place doing the right thing at the right time. On the other side of the choir, my new wife Rachel was singing in the tenor section. We were experiencing the uplift of the music together, as our choir director beamed his approval.

Simply put, we were one with the audience, with each other and all the good and caring musicians around us.

That’s when I understood, unequivocally, this is as good as it gets.

And that’s when I saw a grand illusion that my long held dream has been. As long as I quantify my life by many book deals, or income hikes, or vacations, or … whatever … I receive, there will probably never be “enough.” Not in this congested, tired little mind.

Furthermore, I will miss the deep and beautiful treasure of the life that’s happening here and now.

I realize now that it’s okay to have dreams and goals as long as they are accompanied by an intense sense of gratitude for what is present now. As long as I don’t reject the reality of the present moment for some cherished illusion in my mind – because that illusion has no substance.

Down here, in the thick of life, only one thing counts and that is tapping into the love that is here and now, in this present moment. And then being grateful as we gaze ahead, ready to be surprised by life.

Wherever you are and may you know that, today, right here and right now, you are enough.

 

 

 

P.S.

On my Before the Afterlife podcastTony talks about maintaining a zestful life, and what his ‘magic bullet’ is for Emergency Zest as needed… 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!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

The Magical (and True) Story of How My New Healing Podcast Came to Be

I drove up to Sebastopol on a foggy Bay Area morning last fall because something was pushing me. I just kept feeling the urge to go back  to this sweet town where I once lived. At the time, I felt stuck. I couldn’t move forward, though I badly wanted to.

In my meditation, when I asked what was next for me, the image of Sebastopol’s main street and it’s intersection in the middle of town was shown to me. It was an image that had come to me repeatedly since Teal’s death, at one point prompting me to live there for a year and a half.

Although I moved away, Sebastopol still calls to me and invites me in …this is a place where I resonate and where Teal’s spirit really comes alive for me. Especially as I drive up there.

While I was driving on that particular day, I felt so lost. I was at some kind of crossroads with my work. The novels were being published but I felt incomplete. I submitted an  excerpt from my memoir to an agent and was waiting for her feedback. I was ‘on hold’ and I didn’t like it.

So I prayed to Teal as I drove. “Please show me what I’m supposed to do. Make yourself apparent to me. Help me know what is next.”

After I got to Sebastopol, I did what I always do … I went into Infusions, ordered a cup of tea and a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, and put down my backpack. Then I looked through the big glass doors of the tea shop.

Standing there was a blonde woman talking to Magick, the psychic who usually sits outside. I studied her. I was instantly drawn to her though I really didn’t know why. It could have been because she is beautiful, but there was some other, bigger reason I couldn’t put my finger on. I thought perhaps I knew her.

Then I realized it was Michaela, the shaman who Teal had done a session with her only a week before her death. It was Michaela who’d gotten Teal so very interested in shamanic healing in the first place.

It was in this very spot that I’d run into Michaela several times over the last four years. I said hello to her, we hugged, then spontaneously sat down to tea together.

Ninety minutes later, I had a clear sense of my purpose moving forward.

Because Michaela is a shaman, she ‘travels between worlds’ and often talks to beings such as Teal who inhabit the other side. We started chatting and inevitably Teal’s essence began seeping into the conversation.

We talked about life, and then moved on to the topic of organ donation. Teal’s heart was donated to another young woman about her age whose life was saved, and who moves through this walking life right now because of Teal.

Michaela began to receive all kinds of information from Teal, then, about what happens to the stored memories in the cells of the transferred organ. She went on to channel Teal at length, ending with these words.

When my heart stopped I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. My soul was ready to go, but I was not aware that my heart had a different trajectory … when I was young I didn’t understand the pain that my heart was in. And I didn’t know if I could sustain it. There was an aspect of denial that is part of being young, which prevented me from expressing the pain and working with it in a substantive way.

And yet, my heart’s journey was really to impart information from another dimensional aspect, so people could hear the wisdom of my heart and other hearts. I was not capable of doing that psychologically in my body, and with the personality that I had. I wasn’t evolved enough to understand that in order to heal the heart, I had to experience what the heart was harboring.

Now when I look at it, it’s more like I had to learn how to play the chords, so that I could improvise in a major way. I’m now improvising in a major way, but I didn’t have the tools to do that when I was young and alive.”

Then Michaela looked at me. “Teal says, ‘To be continued,” she said.

Michaela had no way of knowing that that Teal was a musician … a musician who loved to improvise. Nor did she know that when Teal was dying, she came to me several times as thoughts in my head. When I asked what she was doing, she told me, “I’m trying to reconcile my heart and my soul.”

At the end of our conversation we both felt great. Uplifted, serene, content, happy. And energized in an entirely new way.

And suddenly I knew exactly what I needed to do next – the path was crystal clear. I knew I was to create a podcast and have Michaela as my first guest … and a repeat visitor. It was to be an exploration of the Afterlife, and whatever we can learn from this side of the divide.

I got my confirmation on the drive home. Sensing Teal around me once more, I turned on my iPod which is always set to Shuffle. Immediately, I heard Teal humming the beginning of the introduction I’d recorded a few years earlier for a podcast that never happened .

Of the nearly 2000 songs on my iPod … this was the first one I heard Now it all made perfect sense.

I’m pleased to announce our podcast will begin on February 21. Naturally, Teal popped in with a name for it while I was interviewing Michaela … Before the Afterlife. I’ll be sharing my own stories, and talking to mystics, psychics, shamans, monks, brain geeks, authors and experts who deal in happiness. It’s about healing, spiritual guidance, and how to be happy before you go.

Now you know the story behind Before the Afterlife … I do hope you’ll give a listen.

Thank you. And as ever, Namaste.

Before the Afterlife will be available on iTunes by February 20 … Hope to see you there!

 

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.

 

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 Stop Living in the Land of ‘Should’

Mute swan Cygnus olor gliding across a mist covered lake at dawnOne of the big illusions about life is that somewhere out there … it’s better. Someone other than me is working harder, delighting more readers, and generally looking a lot hotter.

And so, presumably, they are on track to be the so-called winner. Maybe they even get to take home a big stuffed bear.

A part of our brain often gets fixated on how our lives should be … as opposed to how perfectly satisfying and wonderful they are right here and right now.

My friend Jon calls this sad habit ‘shoulding on yourself’.

As in ‘I should be working 50 hours weeks building my empire,’ or ‘I should have a massive list by now’. And let’s not forget that perennial favorite, ‘I should be ten pounds thinner.’

If you’re like me, you slip into shoulding without even thinking about it. I notice I get particularly should-y when thinking about my work, no matter how much I’ve accomplished. And no matter what’s going on in my life.

For instance, in five days, I’m getting married. These are the days of wine and roses, right? Yet my mind has been squarely parked on how much work I could cram in before the guests start arriving … purely out of should-i-ness.

Have I been getting all that  work done? Not really. I’m too distracted! I want to take a champagne bath, and try on my wedding ring fifteen more times. I want to call all the family and friends who are showing up for the big day.

I want to hold my love and look dreamily in her eyes. I want to lie around and think about this big, gorgeous step I’m taking, savoring every minute of these pre-wedding days.

Which I would do … except for that old taskmaster, Should, in my head. Silently, she taps her stick against her hand and regards me with dismay.

Here’s the supreme irony of it all. We don’t actually get that much done when we are being ‘shouldy’. We’re much more likely to really rock the results when we let go completely and honor what’s happening here and now.

Jon, who is a very wise soul, reminds me that even a state of inertia can be God’s will for us. After all, God’s not standing around, impatiently waiting for results.

Instead, God, or the Universe, or Spirit (or whomever you recognize that great guiding Force to be), invites us all to let go and slide into the slipstream of love. Here we flow from one task to the next, effortlessly.

Here we let go and surrender and find our way to whatever would feel right next. So instead of a ‘To Do’ list we keep a ‘Why Not?’ list.

Why not take a walk and watch the clouds for as long as you want? Maybe inspiration will descend. And maybe it won’t …

Why not call someone you love and tell them so for no good reason. Then perhaps your heart will expand just a little more greatly. Or someone else’s will.

Or why not take a chance and submit a story to that hot media outlet you’ve been craving because suddenly … it just feels right?

That’s flow, baby. I highly recommend inviting it into your life.

When we get ball-and-chained to our To Do lists, there is no room to breathe and we forget the very core of our aliveness. This is how we get so very, very tired. We can’t keep up, and the strategies we’ve invested our time, our money, and our belief in begin to crumble.

This is when the ‘shoulds’ begin in earnest. And rightly so because (gasp!) we are behind. And we know in our hearts we will never catch up.

This is how we wind up soundly parked in self-doubt. Which is exactly where I was when I spoke to my friend Jon. I needed to hear him say that that there is no ‘there’ there. There really is nothing to push towards.

There is only the here and now, one beautiful day at a time.

May you join me in embracing what is true right now, for all of its warts, bumps and obvious gaps. This, too, is God’s will … just as you are.

You have been given a sacred job of simply being, my friend. So the question remains: is that good enough for you?

Me? I say yes!

Why not you, too?

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.’

How to Deal With Bad Reviews

anxious_woman

One of the things that happens when you publish a book is that you get reviews. Some of them are really positive. And others? Well … they’re terrible.

People misinterpret you. You misinterpret what they misinterpret. Then you lie awake at night, annoyed. Troubled. Scared.

You think … what if my book doesn’t sell?

As the great Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, all conflict is a result of misunderstanding.

This is so true! When we hate the feedback we get, we think people have it in for us. Whether we’re artists in the public spotlight or employees showing up for a performance review, we forget something critical.

It’s nothing personal.

It’s the reviewer’s right to express an honest opinion. In fact, it’s their obligation.

After a lifetime of fleeing criticism, I finally get this. And I’m so relieved! When I was younger, I fought the specter of doing things imperfectly. I had to be brilliant at everything – or so my twenty-something brain thought.

When I published my first novel at 29, I was terrified to read my reviews. I told my editor to withhold them (yes, this was before the Internet.) I was convinced that one bad review would shut me down forever. I stuck my head in the sand and would not come out.

Twenty years later, I performed a one woman show on the Fringe Festival circuit. By now, at age 50, I figured I could take it … so I read my reviews. They loved me in Miami! They even appreciated me in Washington, D.C.

Then I got to Vancouver.

Here the reviewer tartly compared me to William Hung from American Idol, and went on to describe it as ‘painfully awkward’, ‘clued out’, ‘stale’. The list of negatives goes on and on.

As one of my fellow actors put it, ‘That review was so bad it doesn’t count.” The show flubbed in Vancouver … and so it goes.

Did it hurt? Yes.

Does it matter? No.

This experience taught me that a) my show wasn’t for everyone … and it probably needed more work and b) bad reviews won’t kill you.

Again, a review is one person’s opinion. And yes, if fifteen people say something needs work, then it probably does. That’s when reviews are truly useful.

But should we use reviews to define our worth or chart the path of our destiny?

That’s a really bad idea.

Recently I looked up the reviews for my first novel … the ones I refused to read back in 1990. Yes, some of the reviews were negative in very specific ways. And yes, their points were well taken.

But another review compared me to a ‘budding Nora Ephron’. That was a compliment I could have used back when I was young and terrified.

It was also proof that there’s no accounting for tastes.

Ultimately, there will always be people who love our work … just as there will always be people who don’t. Back when I published my first self help book, How Much Joy Can You Stand?, I literally got hate mail for writing a book about happiness.

So we all stumble through life with our corrective lenses on, trying to find our way. And we bash into each other, sometimes unapologetically.

This is life.

If we wish to express ourselves out in the maelstrom, we must expect whatever comes to come. And know, at the very same time, we are safe, we are whole and we are doing the best we can.

Then no review, good or bad, will make much of a difference at all.

(If you’d like to learn more about my books in print, please click here.)

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.