Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Saying Goodbye and Saying Hello

Just yesterday, Eloise asked me, "Mommy, why doesn't our trees don't have flowers on them anymore?"  She was referring our pear trees out front that blooms delicate white flowers which blow down like snow in March.  And I tried to explain to her that the seasons had changed.  That was spring and this was summer, leafy, green, warm, summer.   And even though I love summer and imagine that she will too, officially saying goodbye to the pretty decor of spring was a little sad.  

The seasons are changing here on many fronts, not just the weather.  The girls are getting bigger.  We're wrapping up another year of school, the piles of papers coming in, the library books desperately screaming from the nooks and crannies of our house...Return us, or else.  And this mom, seeing the time pass, feeling tender for all of it, and yet needing a little more, a playground of my own, with mental challenges and adults to play with.  

It was in the aisle of Whole Foods the other day that I saw it.  Eloise was in the child's seat, hungry, asking for a snack.  I opened up the bag of salted pretzel sticks, gave her a few, and put one in my own mouth.  And strolling the aisle like that, in my sweat pants, a baby in the cart, and an open bag of pretzels, ended something for me.  I'm not sure what exactly.  But I'm thinking things will start to get a little different around here.  I hope you'll stick around to find out how.

In the meantime, we're saying hello to summer, and on the blog, I'm thinking I'm going to continue celebrating, but for the summer it will be about celebrating less structure.  I'm going to be writing more free form, maybe talking about things that are a little outside the realm of family and celebration.  But we'll see.  I'm also going to give myself some time to recharge, and I hope you do too.

Happy Summer!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Is it just me?

Lately I've been getting that feeling with unnerving frequency.  I've been feeling doubts about how I spend my time, doubts about the state of gender equality, doubts about what success looks like and what it actually is, doubts about the future of the know, the small questions.  They pop into my head and I suddenly feel like I'm looking over the edge of a high precipice.  Everyone else has safely distanced themselves from the ledge, and there I am with a foot on crumbly ground that might fall into the sea at any minute.  My heart beats faster and my breathing gets a little shallow.   I peer over the edge, and I wonder how much longer the ground will hold.

I know, it sounds dramatic.  My emotional tone is sometimes like Woody Allen trapped in Lululemon pants.  I'm sure my buddy, Laurel, would be glad to attest to that.

Because I'm not at the ledge, at all.  

I'm nowhere near it.  I'm actually mostly driving my white minivan (aka Big Marshmallow) padded by safety on all sides.  But lately, I've been wondering if I've somehow gotten snared into the 2013 version of The Feminine Mystique.

Is it just me?

It turns out, this is the perfect question to take on retreat, which would not surprise my teacher, who would probably say something like retreat is the right place for all questions.  

(Zen is so weird like that, so empty, so pointless, really, that there is space for anything and everything under the sun.  I don't really get it, and if I did I probably wouldn't end up on retreat.)

Because if you're lucky, you've never been on one of these retreats.  

They are long, physically challenging, and excruciatingly boring.  You only end up at one of them if you've exhausted all of the other options.  (Note: this was not my first retreat.  I got to the point of exhausting all my other options sometime in 2001, and since then, I don't waste time with the other options, or at least I waste less time with the other options and then I just go because it works for me.  I can't explain it, and half the time I don't even believe it will help, but I just go).  The lingering feeling is that retreat is good, very good (the blog I wrote before leaving proves that I was actually looking forward to this experience).  But it's kind of a trick of the mind, because before it is good it can be hard, very hard.

When I packed the car on Saturday I was all happy like I was about to go do something fun.  I had even invited a friend, a real girlfriend road trip.  Fun.  And then the sitting began.  And it was long.  Physically challenging.  And, excruciatingly boring.  Relief came in the form of silent, brisk walking in a circle around the edge of the conference room in which we were sitting.  Consider yourself lucky that you weren't the friend I roped into this.

Because what good could ever come of sitting still, in some degree of discomfort, for a really long time?  I'm not exactly sure how I would describe it, but the word basic comes to mind, basic good.

1.  Food tastes good.  

I experienced this the last time on retreat too.  It turns out sitting still and attempting to focus your mind is actually physically draining.  I think the last few times I felt that kind of hunger was after delivering my third child and after running a half marathon.  I'm not kidding.   

When that kind of hunger meets simple, well-prepared food...well, I think it could be one reason why the monks say that enlightenment comes cleaning the rice bowl.  No big mystical thing.  There is just simple comfort in basic needs being met.  Period.  Nothing extra.  Just that.  The delight of food when you are hungry.  

2.   What you need to do is clear.

There are instructions for everything.  How to sit down, how to stand up.  When to bow.  Even what to say when you meet your teacher.  No need to be creative or stand out or be "attention getting" whatever that means.  When you meet your teacher you say your name and tell your teacher what your practice is (the teacher will even tell you what your practice is--it's counting your breath).  The only think you need to know is your name.  Check!

You don't have to think.  This is the point.  When, in your adult life, has someone told you not to think?  People say don't worry about it.  But what that sometimes feels like is that what worries you is not really important to the other person.  This is different.  Something else is allowed to be in charge.  In fact, thousands of years of tradition has figured this out for you.  In Silicon Valley terms, this is "big data;" generations of information passed down in a specific set of instructions.  All you have to do is show up and let the process work you.  This is simple, but far from easy.  The hard part is believing that just following the instruction is enough.  That somehow, saying your name and stating your practice will somehow help answer all of these big overwhelming questions.  I'm still not sure how I feel about this.  But one thing I am sure about--I know my name.  I have no idea how my presence on the planet might contribute to answering those big hairy questions, but at least I know my name.  In the spirit of doing what I can--when the minimum requirement is knowing my name--at least I have a place to start.

3.  You are not alone.

We were given time to ask questions after sitting.  One woman said, "Here's the thing, when I get bored, I have all of these things I start to think about.  Things I kind of like to think about.  What's that about?"  Another woman said, "When we practiced with our eyes open it got boring.  And I started finding these animals in the pattern of the carpet.  I saw zebras and I thought of my autistic son and what he sees."  Another woman, one of the priests there said, "I saw those animals too."  And there was great comfort in that.  We were all bored.  Our minds all did the same things when we were bored.  They wandered, they looked for an interesting story or decision to chew on.  We realized we all live with this kind of mind, and just knowing that minds do this can be reassuring and helpful.  

So is it just me living with my Woody Allen in Lululemon pants in my head?  Well, I think the answer is probably yes and no.  Yes, other people are being harped at by other voices inside their heads, and probably yes, there might be other women wondering if they've somehow landed in a post-feminist gender role fun house.  And well, as for Woody Allen in Lululemons, I hope the voice in your head is a little less neurotic than that.  I hope you don't worry about doing enough for your kids, or doing too much for your kids, or if it's ok to buy strawberries that aren't organic, or if the kids on the other side of the highway are getting a decent education, or if the one plastic bottle of water you just bought is going to be the thing that tips our environment over the edge, or gives you cancer, or chokes a seal or something like that.  I hope you don't have a friend or a loved one who is facing a serious health challenge.  I hope no one you know lost their child, or their mother, or their brother.  I hope you never suffer these losses yourself, and I hope you never worry if your about whether or not your life is on the right track, because I tell you, that particular one can really get my Woody Allen stuffed into Lululemon pants going, because of course, if I'm not on the right track it must be all my own fault.  Well, anyway, if none of that ever bothers you, consider yourself lucky.  You'll definitely be able to resist when I reach out and ask you if you want to go on a retreat with me.  For the rest of you, I promise I won't lie and tell you it's really super fun.  That it will be awesome and you'll feel so empowered (not that I have a problem with you feeling empowered).    What I can tell you is that it will be good, basically good, and that if all you know about your life right now is your name, well that will be a very encouraging place to start.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

What I found

This is what I found when I went on retreat last year:


The Dining Hall
to Carolina and Cristin

Was there ever anything
so friendly
as a mound of ripe bananas
a hot chafing dish
weighed down
with uncountable eggs
when we were famished?

The next time
I meet up
with this much

no sunshine at all
I will think of you.

I'm very curious what I will find this time, while I'm here:

Monday, June 3, 2013

Want to Make Braver Decisions?

Dear Friends,
Please enjoy this interview with Tara Mohr from June 2013.  I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to invite you to celebrate the successful publication of her new book Playing Big:  Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message. 

Meet Tara Sophia Mohr Tara is an expert on women's leadership and well-being. She is the founder of the Playing Big women's leadership program and author of 10 Rules for Brilliant Women.  A few weeks ago, I participated in her Grandmother Power blogging campaign, and I was delighted that she agreed to answer a few questions about courage, the most recent theme of my blog.  Doing this interview was incredibly fun and inspiring.  Read on to find out Tara's secret to making braver decisions!  

You strike me as a courageous person.  Have you always been that way?  Are there things you do in your day to day that strengthen your courage?  Is there anything you’ve found you needed to stop doing, in order to live more courageously?

Early in my career, my fears were running the show. I chose a career path that was “safe” in that it didn’t involve much emotional risk, because I wasn’t really going for my dreams.

Over time, the pain of not following my dreams got intense enough that I started to make change. I find that’s often the case. I don’t suddenly get an injection of courage. The safe route becomes so uncomfortable that I had to find the courage to go for what I really long for.
Two practices help give me courage:
  • In the mornings, taking a few moments to read some spiritual literature and remember the big-picture change I’m trying to bring about -- a world where we hear more women’s voices. When I’m really connected to that purpose, my fears don’t get in the way as much. I’m thinking about who I want to serve, not about my own ego!
  • Second, as I move through my day, and particularly when I get stuck, I identify my inner critic’s voice, and separate it from the voice of my own best thinking. I believe the goal is not to mature beyond our insecurities—because that’s impossible. The goal is to be able to have all the self-doubts but not let them stop us from going for our dreams.

What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

When I write something and I feel like it’s radical, or very vulnerable, or likely to bring criticism or ridicule, but I hit the publish button anyway, I feel brave.

When I apologize for something that I’ve done, even though I find it excruciating to face the person and the situation, I feel brave too.

What are your personal strengths or internal resources that empowered you to take that courageous action?  Were there any external conditions or circumstances that spurred you on?

Holding empowering ideas helps me make braver decisions. For example, the idea that I don’t have to get it all right in my writing, or please everyone, but instead that I just need to tell my slice of the truth. The idea that I don’t need to be a fully cooked “expert” but that I can teach as I learn and that I can teach what I most need to learn. These ideas lead to brave actions.  

You teach a course for women called Playing Big.  What does courage have to do with Playing Big?  What has teaching this course taught you about women and courage?

There’s an old-school, masculine definition of “Playing Big” that involves making a lot of money, achieving your every ambition, doing high status things. We start my course by setting aside that definition and redefining Playing Big as self-actualizing: becoming who you really are. Going for our real dreams feels vulnerable: it puts us at risk of failure. It demands that we “leave the herd” in some way.

To be brave in the face of all that, you need some knowledge and some tools. In Playing Big, we learn how to deal with fear, how to manage the inner critic, how to tap into a wiser voice within us, how to deal with criticism and tough feedback. When you start applying those tools and understanding, what you get is some gloriously brave actions and leaps: giving talks at major conferences, speaking up to a boss, asking for more money, starting new businesses, and so on.

Your work encompasses many different kinds of projects, not just teaching the Playing Big course.  It seems to me, it would take courage to decide which projects to commit your time to and which projects to let go of.  Can you talk a bit about how you make these kinds of decisions?

The first criteria is that the project authentically resonates with me and excites me. Otherwise, what’s the point!? But no entrepreneur gets to pursue every project that excites them, because the second criteria is what your audience wants. I usually test out the projects that most excite me most with a small subset of my audience. If sufficient demand is there, I begin offering them to my whole audience.

The theme of my blog this month is Celebrate :: Courage.  In your life, do you do anything to mark or observe courageous actions or accomplishments?  What role does self-care play for you as a way of acknowledging or observing your own courage in action?

I’m a big fan of celebrations. With some friends, I just started a practice of throwing parties for a guest of honor with no particular reason – not a birthday or a milestone – but just to celebrate that individual and shower him or her with love.

When something happens that feels significant in my life, I’ll often celebrate. I tune in and ask myself, “How do I want to celebrate this?” and then listen for the real answer. Sometimes I want to do something with cheerleaders and witnesses (meaning, with friends). Sometimes I want to do something on my own. Sometimes I might want to do something that is totally joyful for me but that no one else would  “get” (like, for me, taking an afternoon to get my very-processed-so-almost-never-have-it latte drink in the Starbucks in Target and wander the isles in a daze looking at everything. LOVE that.). And sometimes I just celebrate inside, silently, honoring what I’ve done as I go about my normal routine. I think what’s most important is that we 1) do celebrate and 2) celebrate in the ways we truly long for. For women, looking inward to find out how we want to celebrate and then doing it (or asking others for it) is a big thing – a skill a lot of us still need to develop.  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Celebrate :: Courage

As I look back on May and my theme "Celebrate :: Courage" I want to lay down and put a wet cloth on my forehead.  I am drained.

This month's theme hooked up with my personal life in a very powerful way.  I took steps that I never would have imagined myself taking, and the experiences have reminded me that, for many people, life's most heroic moments unfold in private.   Perhaps in the shade of a hospital curtain, in the dark silence of a solitary night, or, like for me, in one-on-one conversation.  Could it be that heroic behavior we witness in public is seeded in times of solitude; that the heroes we see around us, were courag-ing in private, appearing on the surface as if "nothing" were happening, and that we lay eyes upon them only after some inner decision has been made?

On the lighter side, these new courageous forays have brought in some very wonderful energy and opportunities too. Next week I will post an interview with Tara Mohr, an inspiring woman on the rise, author of the post Ten Rules for Brilliant Women, who will be a keynote speaker at this year's Emerging Women Live conference.

And as part of my journey with "celebrate" as my word, I organized an informal celebration of courage for our Friday group.  The word playful has struck me twice recently, and it seems to be a good antidote for some of what has been heavy this month.  So I went with that theme.  

It was a very simple practice.  Each of us in the group was given a card.  We wrote our name in the card, and then passed it to the next person.  As the cards went around the circle, we jotted down what we saw each other doing that was courageous.  Then we read our cards out loud.  Once all the cards were read, we each opened an "award."  It is pictured below.

I think it might be impossible to start a meditation group and not have some sense of it should look, how it should feel, what you should do.  I'm pretty sure wearing Wonder Woman aprons while sitting broke through our should barrier. 

Wednesday May 29th, 2013

"Healthy wolves and healthy women share
certain psychic characteristics:
keen sensing, playful spirit,
and a heightened capacity for devotion."
--Calrissa Pinkola Estes,