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,

 

 

 

 

 

How I Gave Up My Home and Found Freedom

NOTE: This essay was first published just after I moved in with the woman who is now my wife. I wrote it in May, 2015, and I think it’s a perfect reflection on what my life was like then … still, quiet, and waiting to begin again.

I just moved again. Only this time … I’ve finally come home.

Since my daughter died and my one-time life fell apart in 2012, my undulating path has led me ever forward.

Again and again I’ve been called to up-level who I am, what I do … and even where I live. Challenges have abounded. Wild waters have had to be crossed. Yet I have persisted. And now, finally, I am thriving.

Oddly, I followed the path that Teal, herself, followed just before her death. Here’s how it went.

A few months prior to Teal’s death I gave up my apartment in San Francisco and moved in with a lover. The relationship ended shortly after I arrived … and so I found myself without a home. A nester by nature, I always held having no home as certain death. This was literally my worst fear as a small child.

Yet somehow, this time I rose above it and did something radical.

I dumped my stuff in storage, packed a few lean bags and went off to find myself.

“Nice,” said Teal approvingly. She, herself, had just landed in an apartment after six months of couch surfing with friends, preceded by six months of backpacking around the world. “I don’t really need a home,” she explained lightly.

At the time I didn’t get it, but now I do. Completely.

Home is our tether to who we are – which for me was a rigid identity, forged in the crucible of a dysfunctional childhood. But now I was being called to let go and head for the unknown.

In fact, in my homeless state, I was searching for the supreme ideal that formed every moment of Teal’s life: freedom.

So it was that I wandered here and there.

I spent a memorable month sleeping under the stars at a hot springs filled with gentle, naked Californians. Then I travelled, visiting friends and traveled here and there around the US and Canada. I was subletting a home in a small women’s commune in the wine country when Teal died.

With her death came a new level of surrender. Having a real home now suddenly seemed out of the question. I wanted nothing more than to drift.

I found my way to a small, safe cocoon – a sunny bedroom in Petaluma, a sweet little town north of San Francisco. My housemates were funny, interesting, and forgiving of my frequent need to disappear and cry.

My identity continued to disintegrate.

It began to dawn on me that I was no longer capable of doing the business coaching that had sustained me for the last decade. Really all I could do at this point was drink tea and write, with a long-haired cat tucked by my side. Then my aging, infirm mother died and so I received a modest inheritance.

This time I packed up and moved to Paris for two months. Here I could let go of the last vestiges of the compressed, anxious high achiever I’d become. A room for a mere 20 euros a night landed in my lap. So I walked through Paris every day for hours. I made friends, bought groceries among the Parisians and practiced my French with everyone who would let me. I pretended for a while that Paris was my home.

When I finally came home, I was relaxed, centered, newly grounded. Just as Teal was when she returned from her own wandering travels in Europe and Asia.

At this point, it was sixteen months after Teal’s death. I was ready to emerge … somewhat. But only in the safest and tenderest of ways.

It was at this moment that a kind, loving old friend invited me to live with her. Now I found myself in yet another new town – Sebastopol, known for its hippie bus mindset and chill vibe. Here I found my yogi, a kind and guided soul who introduced me to another of Teal’s loves: goddess spirituality.

Every time I went to Kashi’s studio and practiced the gentle, healing yoga she taught, I felt another part of my heart open and let go. It was here that I became fully, completely surrendered on the path.

In Sebastopol, I set up the tiniest of roots. I rented a small office and created an altar, which I lit with electric candles and strewed with rose petals. Regularly, Teal and the goddesses would drop in and advise me.

For another sixteen months I dissolved back to a new layer of calm, and simple Me-ness. I gave up trying to make money and within a few months a paying gig writing novels came my way. Everything I needed simply kept showing up, again and again.

During this time I stopped striving and as I did, the best thing of all happened: I fell in love.

Now I live with my love, and slowly the foundation of our new life is being built. My storage unit is getting emptier and emptier as I let go of no-longer-needed pieces of my past. And each day we knit ourselves together on the soul path we agreed to an eternity ago.

In my new life, I am finally free. My self-imposed prison is gone. The need to suffer has lifted. The relentless perfectionist has been silenced, and the little girl who lives inside of me has been liberated.

I find myself now with a new and gleaming path ahead, not to mention a home. Every inch of it is informed by my three years of wandering and living like Teal did …

In wonder, grace and curiosity, simply waiting to see what would happen next.

If you want to learn more stories about letting go, you might love my latest podcast, A Master Conversation About Letting Go with Timber Hawkeye. 

 

 

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

 

How Living on Nothing Can Be More Than Enough

One night recently I found a program on Netflix called The Kindness Diaries. In it, a curious British philosopher travels the world on a cute yellow motorbike, asking for nothing but handouts. His goal is to prove that people are, essentially, kind. And occasionally, when warranted, he gives back generously.

It’s a great idea, if a slightly flawed premise, because coming along for the ride is his three-person camera and sound crew. So who wouldn’t want to ‘help out’ if it means you get to be on international TV?

Still the idea stayed with me. I kept thinking, ‘Wow, it would be cool to interview that guy on my podcast.’

Spirit, evidently, was listening. Because my guest for this week’s episode is NOT the Kindness Diaries guy, but someone even better.

Maria Terese is a spiritual intuitive who has also traveled the world on a donation basis. But unlike the Kindness Diaries guy, for her this means giving away her spiritual guidance on a strictly donation basis.

This means you can book a session with her and pay her whatever you want – even if it’s nothing at all.

I love this idea because of its spiritual purity. Maria Terese has no desire to get rich from her work, or be seen by millions. Instead, this simple soul just wants to help people, one person at a time, and she wants to make it possible for as many people as she can.

There is something pure and cleansing about living with little or nothing. I know this because after my daughter’s death, I lived on remarkably little for almost two years. I couldn’t work. I didn’t have disability insurance. And so … I was delivered.

That’s how I think of it. Because really, it was a sublimely simple life. I stayed with friends. I walked in parks. I swam in a public pool. I didn’t buy much of anything. And I practised something Teal herself revered highly: just being.

In time, money and opportunity returned. But I will never forget the incredible privilege it was to live on very little for a while. I had my needs met abundantly. Again and again, people showed up with support when I needed it. The entire experience taught me it was safe to relax, stop worrying and just receive.

I did, indeed, have enough. In fact, I had more than enough.

Furthermore, whenever I bucked this trend, I was soundly castigated. Twice I tried to restart my former business and twice it crashed and burned. It was no longer in alignment with who I was becoming … and so I was rebuked.

In the end, ‘just being’ turned out to be an excellent plan.

My guest on this week’s podcast is an expert at just this kind of letting go – and so it has led her to deeper and deeper levels of real transcendence. She believes this is how she can help more and more people … a worthy goal.

Listen to my interview with a woman who calls herself ‘a divine vessel of light and love’, Marie Terese.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

What Donating My Daughter’s Organs Taught Me About Love

3a334400f50811a048df700714c76033Three and a half years ago, I sat by my daughter’s bedside, watching her slowly die as I held her hand. As machines were unplugged and the minutes ticked by, a strange new reality settled in around me.

I was losing an inextricable piece of my heart. My beautiful 22-year-old girl — who only days before was buying books for her college classes — would instead be returned to dust.

Her father, her brother and I watched, dumbfounded, as the Neuro-Trauma team went about their end of life tasks.

In an instant, life had turned radical on us. Save for one small grace.

Because of the nature of Teal’s death – a medically unexplainable cardiac arrest – her organs and tissues could be easily donated. Lives could be saved, and so my own shattered life could somehow begin to make sense again.

Today I find myself awash with gratitude.

Believe me, I’ve thought long and hard about this experience. And I’ve extracted some precious truths. For donating life is not a cut and dried experience; it lives in your heart and soul like a small, eager plant, winding its tendrils around your everyday experiences.

If you let that precious vine of love do its work, you can, in fact, be renewed. I know I was.

One of Teal’s kidneys and her liver went to two women in their fifties. Her heart and her other kidney were received by a free-spirited young woman not much older than Teal. A young woman I’ll call ‘Amy’.

“It may sounds strange,” Amy wrote to us in a letter overflowing with gratitude, “but I feel your daughter and I would have been good friends if given the chance ….”

This young woman and I have never met, though we’ve corresponded and spoken on the phone. And just those few conversations have been enough to blaze a path through my soul, as a tiny bit of light cracks open around me.

This is a really hard thing to get.

A life was saved. Like .. saved. Yes, someone’s life was actually saved.

By me. By us. By our small consortium, standing in the Neuro-Trauma unit of San Francisco General Hospital making a decision on an August afternoon. Somehow the celestial joined us that day, and waved its fairy wand.

And so a life was saved. Maybe even several.

There is someone walking around out there – a young woman, like Teal but not like Teal in her own beautiful way – who can walk up hills now without becoming faint, and who has color in her cheeks again. She can roar through the woods on zip lines, and travel around the world …

There is a young woman out there who is now free to find the career of her dreams. She can marry, have children, and pursue anything else she so desires.

There’s also a mother out there, who can rest easy at night now, knowing her daughter won’t die tomorrow. All because Teal died and we agreed to donate her organs.

So I ask you — isn’t this the point of life, to share the love, however we can? At the time, I had no idea how big this gift was – nor did I understand how it would keep giving back to me again and again.

Yet, that is exactly what happened.

You give an anonymous gift from the heart, simply because it feels like the right thing to do. And that heals your own tattered heart.

Now I understand both the fragility of life, and our own power to support and save each other. But more importantly, I understand the critical calling to save someone you may never know.

So I become uplifted every time I think of those people who have Teal’s cells, organs, and DNA in their bodies. I don’t have to know their names … I just need to know that now we are a little bit closer, these strangers and I.

We are invisible friends in the unified field of love – a magical place that unites us all. For in the end, what are we beyond bones, skin, tissues, and organs?

We are love, my friend.

In the end, we really are just love.

 

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.

What a Dead Cat Taught Me About Compassion

551828_331722296896983_938964339_nI don’t know about you, but a whole lot of the time, I lack compassion. It’s what we overstuffed Americans do, generally speaking.

Yeah, I go to church on Sundays. I meditate with the best of them. I have given hundreds of dollars  to addicts with rain-soaked cardboard signs on street corners in Oakland.

But I still don’t know what it is to be compassionate … not really. I contend that in the Western world, we spend our lifetimes unlearning the innate compassion we are born with as babies.

Compassion is that ability to feel another’s pain, to know their suffering and to surrender to your own inclinations to give and give generously. We’re hard wired to do this — but it’s hard to get to if you’re squarely focused on yourself.

Several thousand times I’ve had the thought that I need to go teach incarcerated kids about writing. But have I?

No.

Last summer I attended Anna Deavere Smith’s inspiring performance, Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education. In the piece, Anna shared the various arguments to feed the school-to-prison pipeline for young African-American men in America.

During the show, there were two workshop-style breaks. Here small groups of audience members could brainstorm with a facilitator about how they could serve this high need population. At the end came a list of organizations who needed volunteers.

I leapt in eagerly. The next day I began the conversation with a local librarian who connects juvenile offenders with writers.

“Call me,” she exhorted.

I promised I would … but I didn’t.

Why?

Call it fear — fear of feeling vulnerable in front of a tough audience. Fear that I won’t say the right things, and make no difference at all. Even the fear my car would be broken in to.

But then there was the worst fear of all: my fear of being moved.

Oh, I told myself I was too busy to volunteer, but you and I know the real reason. It was the fear that got me. Underneath all of our accomplishment, our busy-ness and our day-to-day struggles, we are tender people. We feel each other so deeply, that it truly hurts to know another’s pain.

I have touched into that place from time to time in my life. Most memorably, perhaps, when I struck and killed a cat one night while driving on a rural road.

There was one house nearby, and I knocked on the door, the now dead cat in my arms. An elderly woman opened it.

I burst into tears, unable to say anything.

She looked at me and her dead cat, and she shook her head slowly. Stroking the cat, she said in the gentlest of voices, “So is this how you will go, old friend?”

Together we brought the cat in and lay its body down in the living room. She invited me to sit for a moment while I dried my tears. I explained the circumstances — that the cat darted out from a hedge just as I was passing by.

I was a teary mess throughout the conversation until finally I knew I had to leave.

“It’s okay,” she said evenly. “There was nothing you could have done.”

“No, nothing,” I affirmed. She patted my arm and we hugged. I was so moved by the old woman’s incredible grace and love.

Recently I read through my daughter’s posts on Facebook from the last year of her life. Scrolling down I was reminded how Teal embodied compassion. Nearly all of her posts were greetings to other people: encouragement, birthday wishes, exhorts to go have some fun together.

Then there was this shared quotation, paired with the picture above:

“When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him, you will see yourself. As you treat him, you will treat yourself. As you think of him, you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself.”

~ A Course in Miracles

What Teal understood so clearly through her whole life, and particularly in that last year and a half, was the incredible importance of people.

Just … people.

We are each other’s keepers, whether we know it or not. We will shape each other’s destinies, and open or close the abundant faucets of love. We will teach each other profound lessons, and inflict pain that is often life changing — even if we are capable of far better.

When we allow our love to be freely given, especially to those whom we would never ordinarily know, we love ourselves just a little more. This is why it feels so good to give abundantly.

In the course of writing this essay, I went back and found the email I had written to the librarian who works with incarcerated kids. Her number is now on my to-do list again … and this time I’m going to call her.

Once again I’m filled with hope that my love might overflow into someone else’s life, and I may do just a small bit of good in the world.

It feels good to love people again.

I am grateful for the chance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Five Minute Antidote to Your Fear

wheel-of-dharmaThere came a time not long ago, when I felt like I was on top of the world. My work was going well, my relationship even better – I had a spring in my step as I climbed out of bed each morning. I simply couldn’t wait to unwrap another excellent day.

But now it’s another story.

Today I am fresh out of minor surgery, which means I’m limping around with a black plastic ‘boot’ on my foot. I feel immensely sorry for myself. I’m also battling some age-old demons in my head as I launch my first novel in 25 years.

I feel vulnerable, weak and afraid.

So when am I going to get this right, this slippery, disorganized thing called life? When am I going to finally dissolve into that place on the horizon where money and health are abundant, the weather is always  excellent, and me and my pals are relaxed AND have plenty of time to chat?

Oh yeah … that would be never.

Sometimes I just forget.

The Buddhists say this is one of the Four Noble Truths – the notion that there will be suffering. They even have a name for it: Dukkha.

Dukkha is all about craving and clinging, and wishing that things were any other way than they are at exactly this moment. And if I think long and hard enough, and listen to the sweet consolation of my love as she encourages me, I finally get the point.

Dukkha is actually a critical part of life. And why, you ask? So you and I can get over it, basically, and thus move forward. Which is another one of the Four Noble Truths; there is an end to suffering. We simply must do the work necessary to get there.

I’m not a practicing Buddhist and I’m sure I don’t have the subtleties right here. But I do know when Life presents me with one of her lessons.

The mad, deep fear in my gut comes from long ago. I had an ambitious father who wanted me to be a star, and a mother who was competitive, jealous and wanted me to stay in the background. They have been duking it out in my head for decades now. And the beautiful thing is that now I know when they’re at it again.

So of course I’m going to feel afraid about launching books and being in the spotlight. Yet, at the same time, here I am laid up and unable to move around much at all. So I have plenty of time to contemplate the blank screen, and chip away at my endless list of book promotion tasks.

They go together rather neatly, don’t you think?

It’s as if Spirit just couldn’t resist the chance the help me really live into that old fear of mine – and do something about it. Which is exactly the way I resolve such conflicts.

Where I’m heading is detachment; that divine state of nothingness in which I crave nothing more than doing the next right thing.

In such a simple, joyous place, I imagine I won’t feel beholden to any agenda at all. I’ll be in happy free-flow all day long, taking the path one step at a time. Do you know that essential place of bliss I’m talking about?

There is no second-guessing, no doubting and shame. There is no wallowing in stories, or853876 peeved fist-shaking at the past. Instead, there is a simply, gracious focus on what is, right here and right now.

Oh … wait. I can do this in this moment. And actually, so can you. All we have to do is look at our fear and get clear on what it is – a ghost from the past, here to remind us to look elsewhere. And then we have to surrender to it. It’s a fact; There will be suffering. So why try to avoid it or feel sorry for yourself about it?

When I remember this, I can forget about the saga of my Achilles tendon and get busy creating the next right thing. I can take three deep breaths and refocus my attention as I choose, very intentionally, what to do next.

I can forget all about my little dramas and let the next moment unfold, held once more  in the lovely grace of divine flow.

So what can you do right now to dissolve your own web of tension? What next right thing can you relax into?

I invite you to consider that this moment – right here and right now – is yours for the taking. So may this be your invitation to take it.

Namaste.

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

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

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

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

These are mine:

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

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

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

A Spiritual Moment at Notre Dame

IMG_1250This morning I put aside my work and found myself making a beeline for Notre Dame, because suddenly something told me to. When I get those urges, I always listen. And I am so glad I did.

I made my way to Notre Dame and waited in the line outside the door for a long time. When I got inside, an angelic chorus of young women’s voices filled the cathedral. There were probably about twenty of them, a choir of high school girls, and they were nothing less than angelic. As I walked up the side of the cathedral towards them, I could feel the pure, sweet, spiritual ecstasy that has made Notre Dame so beloved for centuries.

I’m not a religious person — but if I were, this might be one of those moments of divine transcendence. For when I got to the transept where they were singing, the familiar opening bars of my favorite piece of music, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, poured through the air.

At that moment, I was surrounded by these beautiful windows, and that exquisite music. For once the sun was shining in Paris, and I was filled with the exquisite beauty of this place in this moment.

For this I offer my own quiet Hallelujah.