On Friday a friend of mine sat in my living room and she started crying. "I'm so embarrassed to admit this, but I am totally filled by being with my kids. I don't think I want to work right now."
On Monday a friend, a physician, told me a story about taking a stand to spend more time with her kids, "It was so hard to say what I needed. I felt judged," is how she put it.
Yesterday, one friend whose entrepreneurial career has grown into a form of service that helps and inspires other entrepreneurs, she said, "I worry I should be volunteering more at school."
And then in a second conversation yesterday another friend said to me, "My boss just couldn't understand why I didn't want the next promotion. It's like those power woman conferences that I've stopped going to. They just don't get me."
I've felt it too--the doubt, the wondering if I'm fitting in or getting it right.
I'm not exactly sure what it is that is plaguing us, but there is a lot of it going around. Here's what it feels like to me.
It feels like we are tap dancing fast on the the head of a pin.
It feels like we are wondering if we are going to get an A or a B or a C in how we choose to spend our time.
It feels like something is shaming us, something inside and something outside too.
And it feels like we are exhausted of the whole thing, tired of trying to get it right.
Did I capture that for you? That's what it feels like to me, and I want us all to stop with this madness. Indeed, I believe it would be a great service to the world if we could figure out how to stop spinning our wheels on all the ways we might be falling short. A lot of good energy would become more available.
What I want to propose is that, when we are doing what is necessary, we don't feel all that confused. We may be working hard, we may not even like it, but at least we know we are doing the right thing--the thing we have to do. In those times we go to bed the good kind of tired and sleep all night long. The trouble comes with choice.
The tap dancing feeling comes in when we are at choice, but we are no longer in charge of ourselves, when we are doing and doing because we feel pressure from the outside, but we can't figure out how to stop. My sense of what I've heard out on the street is that we are in a position of having choice, but we don't ever feel confident that we are choosing the right thing. This is causing a lot of suffering.
I think it is within our abilities to quiet a good bit of this turmoil. And it has to do with a shift, a shift from outer to inner. A shift from doing to listening. A shift from comparing to curiosity. A shift from accomplishing goals, to becoming more ourselves.
Yes, that is it--becoming more ourselves. This is what I really want for us. That would feel like stepping off the head of a pin, and finally letting our bare feet touch the vast grassy field that is waiting for us. I think if we decided to measure our choices by whether or not they helped us become more ourselves, and then we were actually brave enough to let ourselves live this way, a lot of the doubt would disintegrate in an instant.
My biggest hope in hosting Tara Mohr with Kirsten on November 2nd, is that you will feel a new sense of permission to listen to your inner voice and Play Big from there. That you will find some words, or a new perspective, that might help you commit to becoming more yourself, knowing this is exactly what the world needs now. We do not need bright women with choices and resources to be comparing themselves to other people, cloning each other's success. We need this group of women to serve as pioneers who find new ways, or advocate for old ways that are about to be forgotten, or who go sideways to find a new way through. We don't need to measure up, we need to create anew. Love you guys.
Dear friends, Today I want to be at prayer. I want to stop caring about how or if it works. I want to release myself to my instinct to lay my head in my hands and let the words of communion with the divine flow without reservation. This is my deepest desire. I am exhausted of my search for understanding. I give up. I understand nothing. And maybe I don't need to. Maybe it is time to let intellect take a rest, and let the words flow through light a song, like the babble of a creek, like the rain on a tin roof. It doesn't need to mean anything. I may end up the babbling lady in the back corner, you may think I'm crazy. I'm ok with that. At least right this minute, I'm ok with that. Work heart, work. Suzanne, our mantra continues
In my last post, I stirred up some confusion. It's about the blazer. I think it's worth exploring for a minute, because what we wear matters. I mean on one level we know it doesn't matter; we are not what we wear. And yet what we wear identifies us in the world--this is the purpose of uniforms, after all. So who was I being when I did that ten minute speed-shop?
I was running on instinct that day. It was time for me to move and take action, and I had ten minutes. So I stepped into a well-worn part of myself that had learned one way of being in the world. That one way required a blazer, an ivy league education, and sterling achievements. I was competent, trained to produce excellent work, in order to be called on to do more excellent work. For ten minutes, I was that blazer wearing young woman who lived and died by the reviews again.
She pops up from time to time, because she still lives inside of me, that competent performer, who craves the good reviews. She was the CEO of my mind for a good long time, and she did a fine job. But motherhood ousted her from the position as the boss of me. Looking back on the early days of parenting... the days when, "I wasn't trained for this," was the phrase that went through my head. The days I resigned to walking around with spit up on my t-shirt because I just couldn't keep up with keeping myself in clean clothes. The days when I took my rest standing up and sought refuge with other friends who were weathering the same transition... When I think about that time now, I give myself more space to feel into how hard that was. I had no idea how much I was changing.
Motherhood taught me to be with myself without my achievements. My children, my husband, my own parents, my struggle to get by from day to day, all insisted that I move on from seeking praise and laying blame. I hate to say it but it was all very humiliating for me. Our culture is not much into humility, and I know you'll probably cringe at the word, but humility was the antidote for for the blazer.
Because I learned I was loved anyway. Me without all the bells and whistles, me in a t-shirt with spit up on it, me totally incompetent, often unpleasant, a bit screwed up, I still mattered. Not for what I could do, or how I was, but for the fact that I showed up at all. Day by day I started to learn that showing up, just showing up and attending to what was necessary, mattered. It mattered a lot, maybe it mattered the most of all.
Now, I want to be very clear here. This is not some romanticization of motherhood, this is not some vaulting up of the domestic life, or argument for or against anything. This is just a story, my story, about discovering what matters and shaking off expectations that get digested over a lifetime. This can happen in your life anytime anywhere--a lost job, an illness, moving to a new city, it could be anything really--even winning the lottery.
Motherhood is what did it for me. It took me to the core of my life where I learned to love what I love without being driven by big expectations. I know, you're probably going to cringe at that too--we live in a go big, or go home era--we just love that word big. But giving up big expectations does not mean you end up with nothing. Giving up big expectations, especially externally driven ones, means you get to play again, you get to fall in love with what you love again, and just enjoy that. One thing I learned through that kind of play is that growth is our nature--and that is big. Even when we sit still and do nothing, there is something. This is a core principal of zen practice, and the only way to learn it is by seeing for yourself. The something that remains in meditation feels a lot like love. Its been important to my writing, to the events that I've produced, and to becoming a coach. The blazer girl thought all of those things weren't worth the time. The outcome was too risky. The projects were too small, too sweet, too nice, they didn't pack enough of a punch. She was wrong, she didn't know about the something that feels like love, and so she had stopped playing at all.
As I drove the last few blocks to my house from the airport last week I looked up and noticed that the cathedral of trees sheltering Bryant street had aged while I was in Italy. Fecund branches, drooping with sumptuous green leaves, full of as much life as the legs of a teenage girl in shorts, had become her mother, crackling and vivid, on her way to the final beauty pageant of the year. The season had changed. Just like that.
The Final Beauty Pageant
And so it has for me too. It feels like not so long ago that I wrote about the day I walked down the aisle of Whole Foods, eating pretzels from an open bag, and realized something had just changed inside of me. Something was ending and something else was just beginning to show itself to the world. My sense at that time was that I needed to step out of the nest a bit, to share myself, my energy, my abilities with the world beyond my doorstep. So I did what any smart woman who came of age in the eighties and nineties would do. I went to Bloomingdales and bought myself a blazer. Seriously, I did. Even that day, as I took the ten minutes between carpools to speed shop, the idea of buying a blazer felt ridiculous, outdated, and tinged with desperation. But it was something. It was a next step--not the perfect step, not the right step, just one step. There are so many times in life that we don't know what the next step is, nothing feels exactly right, confusion reigns, paralysis threatens. The thing we do right there, in that moment, matters so much. First things first, we must be still and remember, we are called on to love, to heal, to create, not to be perfect.
Then we take one small step--write one sentence, make one phone call, buy a blazer...whatever we have to do to move in the direction of yes. Today I'm looking back at the memory of myself buying that blazer and giving that gal in the frame a high five. I'm proud of her. She did it, she took a step "straight on" as my zen teacher would say. I have gotten some writing done. I've made progress on projects I care about. And today I am proud to announce that Kirsten Romer and I are launching our new business together. It is called Impact Guild. With Impact Guild, Kirsten and Cristina are on a mission to amplify wise, creative voices. Through unique events, group experiences, and individual coaching we are holding space for new leaders and creative work to emerge and have positive impact in the world. We will launch our collaboration on Sunday afternoon, November 2nd as we host rising star Tara Mohr, fellow blogger, CTI coach, and creative soul who you have met here on my blog before. She has just published a new book called Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message in which she advocates for women's voices. Her work encourages us to listen in closely to our wisest selves in order to leap in the direction of yes, whatever yes looks like for us, for the sake of ourselves, our families, and our world. Come join us and celebrate the beginning of Playing Big!
This evening seems like just the time for Five Beautiful Things.
Five beautiful things is a practice in which you take notice of five beautiful things as a way to shift your energy. It came into my life throughTara Mohr via my friend Laurel Holman. I highly recommend experimenting with the practice yourself. Its essence grows out of mindfulness, but what I like about it, is its willingness to linger on beauty. After a full week of touring and jet lag, I'm tired, and feeling homesick for Graham, for the kids, for my own bed, for my writing. So am turning to this practice to give me a quick surge of creative energy. Over the last two weeks I've been immersed in research about my Great Grandfather Camillo. First at Stanford, where he taught in 1893, then in Ivrea, Italy, the town where my family is from (and where my uncle and cousins still live). It's hard to pick just five things to share from Ivrea, but the trick here is to be quick--I've still got to pack to get out of here at 6:45AM tomorrow. Five Beautiful Things from Ivrea
The Dora River flowing under Ivrea's old Roman bridge. The water of the Dora descends from the mountains, arriving in Ivrea like an aqua opal--it's not clear, but the water is remarkably beautiful.
A corner of the frescoes that line the walls of Il Convento--the home where my great grandfather raised his family. The frescoes are in a chapel that had been used as a barn for many years, but was restored in the 1950s by the Olivettis. For anyone out there who is an art history buff--the frescoes are beautiful in execution, and incorporate both Italian renaissance elements (perspective, human form, etc) and Flemish renaissance elements (glowing light, nighttime scenes, luminous details). This was the second time I've had a chance to see this work of art--the first time brought me to tears--that something so beautiful had been curated in my lineage.
A hand drawn sketch of the original Olivetti logo from the Archivio Storico Olivetti (the Olivetti historic archives).
The Olivetti M1, the first typewriter shipped by Olivetti in 1908, with the logo from above.
And a sweet ending. This is the "Torta Nove Cento," Ivrea's traditional regional dessert. Imagine something between a chocolate lady finger and a chocolate meringue that floats on the top and lines the bottom of something that is like a chocolate mousse, but lighter, more fluffy--almost whipped cream. I had never had one before, and my aunt served one for dessert my last night in Ivrea. I liked it so much I asked my father take me to the bakery the next morning so that we could have it again for breakfast. I want to save that single moment, sitting in a pasticceria with my father, eating dessert for breakfast. It was simple and sweet, a totally unplanned surprise, and yet the very reason I made the trip--to learn more about where I'm from and savor time with the Olivetti side of my family.
Today I am thinking about wholeness, and I am surprised that what pops up is a memory of the Parthenon from this summer. Many people have asked me what Greece was like and I have pleasantly told them how delicious the food was, or how wonderful it was to have a cultural experience combined with time at the beach. What I haven’t been able to express in casual conversation is how moved I was while there, especially by the Parthenon.
I want to take you inside the new Acropolis Museum with me. I want you to feel the relief of dim lighting and cool air, the way that the back of your neck is finally free from the sweaty hair that has clung to your skin for what feels like hours. I want you to come take your seat next to me on a gray marble ledge. In front of you is the restored pediment of the Parthenon, and over your right shoulder, you see through clean glass, all the way to the Acropolis, where the skeleton of the Parthenon stands overlooking Athens.
How carefully someone has imagined us here, looking over our shoulders. Our back and forth gaze from the indoor restoration to the Acropolis across the way reminds us over and over again of the tenderness of their work. How real people called us forth, before we even knew we were on our way. How much they wanted to show us the very thing we see right now, sitting here on this bench.
Suddenly tears come, because the most obvious thing from here, is how broken the Parthenon is. Entire slabs of her marble skin and the accompanying sculptural work are missing. Dismembered body parts are frozen in time: a goddess’s hand gently draped, the foot of a soldier planted, liquid folds of robes standing in headless columns. Each stone shard lovingly placed in it’s right relationship to the monument as she stood in her heyday, so that when you see her remains, you also see the ghost of what she once was.
What floods up is a heave of emotion, right there in the museum, for every broken thing, for each separation as it has occurred. For the crumbling twin towers on 9/11, for your parents' divorce, for the friend you treated badly in seventh grade, for the thousand ways you fail to be the parent you aspire to be. All the falling apart is right there in front of you, mixed up with the Parthenon's rubble--a heap of irreparable damage. And then you look one more time over your shoulder, back and forth between the Acropolis and the museum, and you realize that not all has been lost. After generations of religious war and political infighting, the Parthenon has been released into the care of the New Acropolis Museum (opened in 2009). Her remains have found their way to the hands of curators, whose life work has been to put the pieces back in order.
The care of this work has ushered the Parthenon into a new chapter that might be called the age of restoration, where the tasks at hand include cataloging the remains, figuring out where they belong, and laying them out in an order that will tell her story over and over again for all time. Sitting on the cold marble bench, you wake up to the notion that this where wholeness appears--in the age of restoration. It is not in the original undamaged structure. Wholeness is not about perfection, it is not as rigid as a single form. It rises out of the rubble and the falling apart, the longing for peace that comes from the wreckage, the desire to be part of the team who puts the remains back to rights. Wholeness is the holding, the moment to glance at the ruin, to feel the pang, and to recommit to gently loving the remains. On that note, I am off to the archive at Stanford today, where I will don white gloves and sort through ephemera from the University's very first president, David Starr Jordan, in hopes of encountering any bit or scrap of information I can find about my great-grandfather Camillo, who was employed by the University in 1894. May I move forward gently.
Yesterday I emailed a friend I haven’t seen in a while, to see if she could have dinner with me on short notice. “That sounds like it would be wonderful, but it couldn’t come at a worse time.” She went on to tell me that a good friend of hers died suddenly this weekend, doing something that I love to do, that I want my kids to love to do, that I imagine many of you love to do too--he died while swimming in the ocean.
Her news struck me in the chest where something crumbled. Words fell away, and even after trying to think of how to reply, all I could come up with was “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”
What I found in that wide open place of “oh dear” is something that felt tiny and pink, maybe like a baby bird, that is always there, but mostly shielded by ten thousand layers of thoughts and plans. It is the emblem of tenderness, it is the reminder of how small we are in the face of things, it is the soft spot that when we touch it we feel humble and full of awe.
I could write a gratitude list everyday a never be transported to this place. The thinking involved, the question itself, “what are you grateful for?” the finitude of a list, circumvents raw feeling, and without connection to that feeling, writing a gratitude list can feel like small practice given the vast unknowableness we encounter in this lifetime. I’m not saying I’m against gratitude lists, I think what I’m saying is that writing one doesn’t always get at the whole of things. For me, it can skim the surface, barely touching “the size of the cloth.”
And so last night, instead of asking the kids what they were grateful for that day, I told them this story, of a dad who went out for a swim and didn’t come back. It was a heavy load, and I’m not sure I did the right thing. But I needed them to know, to start to understand, that no one knows what happens tomorrow. We have today to love each other, to take care of each other, and to create from that raw open feeling. When we are connected to that baby bird place no thought is necessary, no list is required. I know my smallness, and that makes a lot of room for everything else.
Sometime this summer my mom and I had a conversation about housework. She talked about ironing and making her own bed, and about how her home and all the stuff in it felt more like they belonged to her when she did her own housework. As I imagined her finger tips pulling on bedsheets, it struck me as true that her hand transferred something more, invisible, yes, but definitely something more. I might call it, a kind of cozy, essential spirit of ownership or claiming. I could see sweet clouds of attention blooming in all corners of my mother's house, there at her stove, back near the front door, across at a side table, the silent pulse of her home beating softly. And because my mind has not yet escaped the trap of this or that, the comparing, the measuring, the evaluation, I wondered what that said about me these days. Because lately, I've had a lot of help with housework. And if I'm being really honest with you all, I have to admit that I don't do as much as I think I should. The question tumbled in my mind as my family traveled through out the summer. From time to time it made me feel a little bit hollow, and had me wondering if I would be a better person (ha, see that...it's that halo aspiration again), or alternatively if my life would feel connected, if I did more housework. The question would pop in and out like the moon on a cloudy night, until one day I experienced the question differently. I was standing at the edge of Mokapu beach in Maui, the same one I wrote about last February. Hot, and sweaty and worked out at the end of a jog, I peeled off my vacuum sealed running outfit, down to a basic bikini that I had layered underneath. A warm breeze blew against my skin, and my toes wiggled at the edge of the enormous, unquantifiable pleasure I was about to dive into. Right there, the question flipped for me. If my mother's home became more hers by her touch, what happened to the ocean when I offered up my whole nearly naked body? It was obvious that a thing so vast and unknowable as the ocean would never, could never belong to me. And yet there was an exchange going on. There was the salt that I licked from my lips and that dried my hair into sticky curls at the back of my neck, there was the way that the sound of my breathing, no matter how far I was from the sea, could always, always take me back to the shoreline, and there was the fact of me, my whole body submerged. What was that? And then it occurred to me. The ocean did not belong to me, but I belonged to it. Before any knowing or thinking was born in my mind, before I was ten, before I was one, before all things, I was claimed by the sea in a way that would always and forever be one of the truest things about me. It is my homecoming, the place where I can breathe and be and remember that I am not the sum of my achievements. The ocean is not the only thing I belong to, but it is one of the ones that is most essential. Similarly, my mother's home belongs to her, but if I asked her, I think she would agree that she belongs to home, not just her home, but the spirit of home, the home of all things. As a therapist she is the ultimate tender of the home fires, lighting the spark, fanning the flames, even-ing the glow of that inner fire that is each of her patients' inner home. As a mother, she is expert at creating a sense of family and safe haven through a good meal, a hot cup of tea and an infinite collection of things that at one time belonged to one relative or another. As a person of faith, she is Hestia's priestess, speaking the gospel of the hearth, taming the flames that cook up all that life has to offer. Not only do I think she would agree with this, I actually think she might like it. I hope when she reads this she feels like her housework is mythical, because I think it might just be. And so it really was never a question of housework or being a better person, after all. It was a question of what I belonged to over the summer and what I belong to right now. Right now, back in Palo Alto I belong to my family, I belong to a few heartstrong friends, I belong to Palo Alto and all it means to me, to writing, to coaching and to a creaky old German Shepherd named Chicca. There are a few other things in there, I'm sure, but for now, for this season those feel like the ones claiming me. It's good to be home after break. Welcome back to the blog. I've really missed the the feeling of my writing mingling with people I care about. Welcome back.
"Be intimate with your life." This is instruction I've heard more than once from Karen Maezen Miller. It's a teaching she passes on from her teacher, Maezumi Roshi. That she passes it on from him, gives the instruction added weight, like it's an old timer that's been around the block a few times.
What I'm learning this summer is that being intimate with my life is sometimes like eating a summer peach, sweet and unimaginably juicy. At times like these I follow the instruction and feel a kind of halo of goodness shimmer around me as I devour every last drop.
And then there are days like today (none of the pictures in this post were taken today!), when stuff happens that I don't particularly enjoy (let's just say the dog didn't feel well last night), when suddenly, the instruction to be intimate with my life, which was so fun and cozy last week, feels like a knowing parent pointing a finger at me. Accordingly, I transform into a whiner (can you hear me whining??). I wonder out loud to Graham whether or not he thinks Oprah has installed a hotline in each of her homes to deal with this situation--I'm dying to know if there is a dog owner alive who has figured out how to escape this particular intimacy, because in the moment, seriously, I need to know how to get out of this!
I watch myself turn on my life so quickly, in an instant really. If it weren't for the further instruction "You don't have to like it," I'd be downright depressed with myself.
Having gotten over that hump, it did occur to me that there is a kind of agreement in the intimate life. That to enjoy the clear waters, you probably also have to be willing to clean up the mess (and get over the bit about the halo already).
If this really is the deal, and I think it may very well be. Then there's no question.