The ability to give good and thoughtful gifts is a precious one, and my Mom has it. For this past Christmas, Mom gave me Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea. This was only the second Christmas without my Dad, and we weren’t able to be together for the holiday. We were both looking for ways to stay connected across the miles that separate us.
All alone, this book is a good gift for me. I love the ocean, I love to read, I love women’s stories. My Mom didn’t stop there. She had already read the book, and she highlighted passages that spoke to her most profoundly. She created a list of those topics and the corresponding pages and gave me slips of paper with each page and topic. She also wrote a beautiful, heartfelt letter to accompany the gift and explain the slips of paper.
Today, I chose a slip of paper from the bowl in which I keep them: Simplification, page 18. I pulled the book from the shelf and began to read.
Drawing “simplification” made me chuckle as my wife and I have been trying to tame the clutter that is determined to take over our small home. I have been struggling a bit these days – adjusting to a new home far from Mom and friends, looking for work that feeds my spirit and my bank account, learning how to be married, finding ways to work against the forces of racism and sexism, and just dealing with the day-to-day of life. I knew my Mom could relate when I saw that she had highlighted Lindbergh’s summary of this modern dilemma:
It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.
Lindbergh explores this idea and marvels at the privilege we have, as American women, to choose complexity rather than be forced into a narrower existence. She also marvels at how many of us choose to forego simplicity in favor of complexity when we have the choice. This made me pause and consider how often I and my peers deny that the complexity of our lives is a choice. Lindbergh raises the question of how much of the complexity is necessary. Some of it is, certainly, and, just as certainly, some of it is not. Many of us have the agency and resources to make meaningful choices about the structure of our lives and our time, and many of us choose complexity. Despite this choice, many of us also shirk the responsibility for that choice and chalk up our frenetic, distracted lives to the demands of other people, of employers, of culture and society, of our educational system, of traffic patterns. And some of us face highly constrained choices, but many of us have the luxury to choose. And many of us choose complexity.
Why? What benefits do we claim from it? What satisfaction? What difficulty are we able to avoid as a result? There is nothing wrong with complexity as a choice. What troubles me, however, is that many of us are not using the privilege and agency that we have to make intentional choices about how we structure our lives and prioritize our time. I look at my own life and notice Grand Canyon sized discrepancies between what I say I value and what I do with my time each day. How do I begin to shrink that distance? How do I begin to live with more integrity? How do I exercise the power and control I have over my life in a more responsible way?
Lindbergh acknowledges that there is no easy answer. So it’s not just me. She discusses the “shedding” that going to her cottage by the sea requires of her – fewer clothes, fewer material things, fewer adornments, less indoor space. And she says this, which made me jump up for my highlighter:
As little furniture as possible; I shall not need much. I shall ask into my shell only those friends with whom I can be completely honest. I find I am shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. (emphasis mine)
Now I could take issue with whether this is the most exhausting thing (poverty, loss, and violence come to mind as being worse) in life, but it is certainly in the Top 40 or so. I read the sentence about only friends with whom I can be completely honest and nearly wept with relief at the idea of an afternoon or even a whole day spent not pretending in the company of another. How sad that this feels such a rarity.
The ask that’s being made here is one of loyalty, and I’m reminded of the 3 of Flames card in the Daughters of the Moon tarot deck. This card depicts a woman standing strong in the face of challenge from women she respects. She risks their rejection to uphold her own integrity and truth. She faces one of those life tests that come in so many different forms; the tests that ask, “who are you when everything is stripped away?” The answer she gives, and the one that most of us hope to give, is, “I am myself – fully and completely myself.” To echo Lindbergh’s summary of the problem we face, the question is how do we bring that full and complete self into the swirling, overly scheduled, busy world of our day-to-day? How do we cultivate the courage required to walk into board rooms, conference calls, webinars, checkout lanes, call centers, schools, and all the circumstances of our lives without checking part of our selves, often the very best parts, at the door? How do we bring our whole selves – with courage, with sincerity, with tenacity – to the work and play of our lives? Lindbergh offers this (is it necessary?, page 28):
I love my sea-shell of a house. I wish I could live in it always. I wish I could transport it home. But I cannot. It will not hold a husband, five children and the necessities and trappings of daily life. I can only carry my little channelled whelk. It will sit on my desk in Connecticut, to remind me of the ideal of a simplified life, to encourage me in the game I played on the beach. To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say – is it necessary? – when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.
Thank you, Mom, for this perfect gift. Today, it was absolutely necessary.
My neighborhood is coming alive as spring puts on her greens and yellows. We’re all relieved to see a little more color and a little less gray and brown and white. As the snow melts, I’m delighted to become reacquainted, or acquainted for the first time, with my neighbors’ yard art. While yard art is often mocked for its tackiness, its tendency toward the gauche and gaudy, and its hodge-podge of woodland animals meet arrow-shooting cherubs meet fairies meet religious icons, I love it. I love that, in this small way, some of my neighbors proclaim, “here’s a bit of who I am and what makes me smile.” I imagine them going on to say that they know it doesn’t all match and look “just so.” I imagine they might reference Martha Stewart’s standards and say that they know they’re never going to meet them anyway, so they just did what they liked. And they did it out front. In the yard. For everyone to see. I love that. I love it when people are precisely who they are and want to be. I love it when people don’t apologize for their love of a raccoon and a red ball or a sweet-faced plaster puppy in an unused doghouse. When I see yard art, I get curious. I want to know the stories behind the placement, and I want to meet the people that put them there. I want to find out what particular brand of quirkiness they’ve cultivated in their lives. Because, let’s face it, if we’re honest, we’re all a little quirky. We all have something that brings a twinkle to our eyes and a giggle to our lips just because it does. Maybe it’s yard art, and maybe it’s something else, but we’ve all got some little quirk to our personalities. Too many of us go to great lengths to hide it. We’d be better off plunking it right in the center of the lawn, surrounded by statuettes of Mary or an angel in a hammock or stones that say “breathe.” The quirk is what makes us who we are, and it should be celebrated.
Embrace the quirk.
Ahhh, love. It has arrived.
It was a long, long wait. There were false alarms along the way, including many that involved real and true love, but poor timing and circumstance. This time, I trust, all the stars are aligned, and there’s no whispering (or shouting) “only if” and “what about” in the back of my mind.
Last year, my word for the year was “love,” and I was ready to be okay with it if that meant a deeper care and affection for my own sweet self and the friends I adore. I also had my fingers crossed that the big capital-L Love would show up once and for all. Lo and behold, it did, and it’s a miracle. I’m spending some time in these LAST TWO MONTHS OF MY LIFE AS A SINGLE PERSON looking back at how I’ve come to be precisely here.
I’m also holding close to my heart several friends who are presently looking for love. One of whom has chosen “love” for her word this year. I wish it for her so very much. I know how deeply and dearly she longs to be loved, and she is so tremendously deserving. She is warm, kind, sweet, funny, open and honest. She is one of the dearest and most genuine people I know, and she has a laugh that could power the world. She’s not afraid to try new things and make bold moves, and she’s not afraid to feel, even when it hurts. I respect and admire her courage, her authenticity, and her buoyancy. She’s a treasure. Whether or not she finds the love of her life in another person, she is absolutely and completely worthy of it. I guess my wish for her, even more than love, is to know that she is worthy. Just like I was. Just like you are. This is for her – and the parts of all of us that are just like her. The hard thing is that it’s tough to feel worthy of love until you’ve got it streaming into your life from the right sources.
I spent a lot of time worrying that I wasn’t enough in some way, and then I spent a lot of time trying to make myself enough in those ways. Even when I was a complete and utter mess, I was worthy. Damn, I wish I had known that then. I am worthy of love just as I am – not when I have finally sorted out the mess from my childhood, not when I have stuck with my exercise plan for 3 months (or 3 days) in a row, not when I get a haircut that looks just right, not when I figure out how to successfully don skinny jeans on my not-skinny body, not when I am different. I am worthy right now just like this.
It’s noon on Monday, and I’m still in my pajamas. My hair is sticking up, and I’m not wearing a bra. I am still worthy of love. And maybe a little good-natured laughter, because my bedhead is epic.
I did a bunch of stuff over the years to figure out love. I don’t think any of it is a magic formula to bring it into being. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were such a thing? But I do think that the process of sorting out all my thoughts and fears and baggage about love certainly helped me recognize this latest miracle in my life and have the courage to say “yes” to it.
Here are some of the things I’ve done:
1. I drew a picture of the love I want:
The cool part of this picture is that my current love includes ALL of it! Every single bit of it. How fantastic is that?
2. I created a “LOVE” notebook in which I determined to “resolve all of my issues with love and relationships.” Ha ha ha ha ha. If only. While it may have fallen short of that lofty goal, it did help me parse out what my issues really were (and are) and what stuff I could safely say I had resolved. It also helped me realize a few things, like when I tried to make a list of the benefits of relationships and could only come up with three. Any wonder I wasn’t welcoming new love into my life when I didn’t see many benefits? Here’s the cover of that notebook:
The little quote on the front is an invocation that says, “If this dream I have is for my highest good, please show me a way to achieve it. Help me to have passion for this dream, to have courage and persistence. If this dream will not benefit me and others, redirect me. I surrender this concern to you and ask you to fill me with peace.” Now, I’m not the most comfortable with this kind of prayerful language, but it really did sum up the attitude I wanted to have. I wanted – and still want – a beautiful, full, rich, and love-filled life. I want that whether or not I have a partner. I feel so damn lucky to have my partner, and my life is better for her presence. But it was already pretty darn good.
3. I worked my “love” issues like mad. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote “ideal scenes” from a relationship I didn’t yet have. I made lists. I read books about love. I repeated this quote from Kimberlee Auerbach endlessly, “You should never fall in love with someone’s potential.” I made collages. I took tests and quizzes. I drafted love affirmations, recorded them, and listened to myself tell myself that “I deserve love” on repeat.
I prattled on in therapy. I made lists of rules to follow in relationships. I broke them. I made up new rules and broke some of those, too. I tried again. I went to support groups. I promised that I would always choose love. I discovered that meant that sometimes I would have to choose being single because sometimes love gets all mucked up with criticism and resentment and can’t be fixed, and the only thing you can do is love yourself and, corny as it is, let your beloved go. I declared myself ready for love.
The funny thing is that readiness can’t really be measured, because a big part of finding love hinges upon happenstance. Love is out there, but somehow you and your love(s) have to cross paths. I don’t have any magic formula for that, either, other than to advise you to try something. It is decidedly unlikely that your love will knock upon your door on a random Monday at noontime. And, if you’re like me and still in your PJs with epic bedhead, you wouldn’t answer the door anyway. So post that profile; talk to that person that smiles shyly at you; go to that singles’ event; let love find its way to you.
I wish you love.
Each year, I choose a word. This word serves, throughout the year, as a focus, a lens, a touchstone, an intention, and a reminder. While most years bring my word quickly and clearly, some years – and this is one of them – require me to do a bit of coaxing and enticement to get the word to show itself. For a while, I thought the 2015 word would be “listen.” It kept showing up everywhere I looked, including this chapter of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I even found it scrawled on a bathroom wall in all capital letters.
Listening is certainly something I want to do more of in 2015, but it didn’t feel complete. In addition to listening, 2015 requires action. Many of my intentions for the year ahead hinge upon my ability to initiate and sustain action. Listen seemed just a little too quiet and tame. I want to settle in, gentle down, and hear my inner voice. Of course, I always want that. But I also want to make some noise, build more love and justice, move this body of mine, and grow my work into an endeavor that is both lucrative and meaningful. That requires more than just listening.
In my spiritual practice, I often organize my thinking according to the elements and directions: East/air, South/fire, West/water, and North/earth. At the start of this year, I identified an intention for each direction, and I wanted my word for the year to tie these together and serve as the balanced center of the wheel of the year.
- For the North and the element earth, which connects to practical and physical issues, I will move my body more and eat well. I will swim, walk, and dance my way into greater health. I will take time to sweat and time to rest. I will listen to the needs of my body.
- For the East and the element air, which connects to the intellect and world of ideas, I will grow my work – both paid and volunteer. I will write, perform, and play with words, and I will find forums for sharing my work that honor my intuition and integrity. I will exercise my mind.
- For the South and the element fire, which connects to creativity and passion, I will build connections that brighten and warm my life and spirit. I will make new friends, and keep the old (Sorry! I couldn’t resist.). I will use my skills, privilege, and energy to call for accountability and justice in my communities. I will embody my values.
- For the West and the element water, which connects to the emotions of our tender hearts, I will nurture the love in my life. In this year of our wedding, I will work and play with my sweetheart to create a sturdy foundation that will serve us well in our lives together. I will remember that this love is my purpose and my reason. I will love with all of my being.
And then the word came.
This idea of tending kept returning, so I looked it up and found these elements of its definition that cemented its choice as my word for 2015:
To pay attention: apply oneself
To act as an attendant
To cultivate or foster
To move, direct, or develop one’s course in a particular direction
The more I tossed this word around in my mind and tried it out in my speech, the more I found that it was just right. It encompasses initiative, action, and sustainability. It calls for deliberate action, punctuated by rest and listening. It asks me to stretch and take responsibility, and encourages compassion and care for others. It provides the balanced center from which I will generate health, enhance my work, strengthen my community, and sustain my sweet love.
Like a garden. Like a business. Like a community. Like friendships. Like a beloved parent. Like a purpose.
To my home and work. To my health and heart. To the needs of loved ones and strangers. To this hurting world. To this miraculous love.
I’ve been feeling stuck lately and spinning my wheels as I flit from one half-finished effort to another. Combine that with shorter days and colder weather, and it’s a recipe for depression, if not disaster, for me. I tried some of the standard advice about time management and setting priorities, and it just wasn’t working. I spent way too much time reading comments about current events on social media and getting riled up – NEVER READ THE COMMENTS. I felt unproductive and frustrated. I was getting increasingly hard on myself. Then I remembered a few things that I know to be true for me:
- Less is often more.
- When I combine creativity, spirituality, and simplicity, I get stuff done.
Last year, my sweet Mom gave me an assortment of art supplies, including this little stack of business card-sized paper. She’d noticed my tendency to write myself little affirming notes and post them around the house. This is the kind of thing she likes to encourage, and one of the reasons I have the Best Mom Ever. I pulled out those little cards, some fancy markers, and I made this little set of cards:
Each one of the 10 cards represents an area in which I want to invest time and energy. They are, from the red one at the top:
- Create – Write – Study – Ponder – Reflect – Make Art – Work. For too long now, I’ve seen my creativity and my work (i.e. income-producing efforts) as two wholly separate endeavors. I want to bring them together.
- Be outside. I love being outside, but I’m also one of those people who is pretty content being all cozy and warm indoors. I have to remember to go out there. And I live in this cool city with amazing parks that I have no reason not to go explore
- Foster connections. I’ve recently moved to a new city and state, and one of my priorities is both maintaining connections in my former home and building new ones here. Also, I’m in love and planning a wedding with my sweetheart. I want to take care of that miraculous gift.
- Get your Woo-Woo on! I love to dive into my spirituality, and it’s easy for that to get neglected with so much other stuff to do. Calling it my woo-woo reminds me not to get too heavy and serious about it. Laughter is just as sacred as tears.
- Justice. Like so many, my heart has been breaking again and again as I watch and join the movement for justice and equality in response to the killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Tanesha Anderson, and so many others by those sworn to serve and protect. Add that to the injustices that were already at the forefront of my mind: male violence against women, the rights and dignity of workers, racism, sexism, mass incarceration, environmental degradation, economic inequality, continued colonization of Native people and their lands, political corruption, child abuse. The list just goes on and on. I must commit time, energy, and skills to working toward something better. This cannot continue.
- Be still. I can get going so fast with the distractions – both legitimate and not – of life that I can’t hear myself think or feel, and I get off kilter. I need not just to slow down, but sometimes, I need to stop and just be still and listen.
- Nurture love and kindness. Not to brag, but I’m mostly a pretty nice person. Even so, when I get frustrated and feel unproductive, I get snippy and cranky. I take it out on those closest to me. I don’t want to do that. I want to be gentlest and most generous with those I love the most, and still be kind to the strangers and acquaintances. I want to remember that people are mostly good, and that all of us deserve compassion and, usually, another chance.
- Tend your home. You know that exquisite feeling when the laundry is done, the house is clean, groceries have been bought and put away, and dinner is on the table? I want to feel that more often, and I also want to contain the energy I spend on that effort. I want to fully attend to “home-making” when I’m doing it, and I want my energy freed from what can feel like drudgery when I’m not.
- Move your body. I’m at that point in life where my body seems to be issuing an “use it or lose it” ultimatum. I want to be stronger, more flexible, and less ache-y. I want to stretch and swim and dance and move.
- Try new things. I want to cultivate courage and curiosity. It is so easy to slip into comfortable stagnation, and I want to resist!
With my set of cards made, I choose a few on which to focus each day, and I structure my time around making those things happen. Here’s today’s set:
This gives me an easy way to decide what to do and what not to do. When an opportunity presents itself, I ask if it fits into one of these categories. If it does, I do it. If not, it can wait. It also allows me to check in throughout the day and ask myself, “Have I moved my body? How have I fostered connections? What needs tending at home?” and adjust my plans accordingly.
My hope is that this will be a tool that allows me to feel more “in charge” of my time and brings my daily activities into closer alignment with my values. Ultimately, I want to live a life about which I feel excited, proud, and passionate. I hope this will help.
What do you do to help yourself get things done?
Many of us look for ways beyond the traditional New Year’s Eve parties, champagne toasts, and doomed resolutions to ring in the new year. Here are 15 for you to consider, and only one of them is a bit of shameless self-promotion.
- Choose a word for the year. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and it provides a focus for the year. Twice, I’ve had a mosaic artist friend craft me a necklace with my word of the year on it (see 2013’s “Thrive” below). Often, by the end of the year, I have a very different relationship with the word I’ve chosen than at the start of the year. Some of the words I’ve chosen have been courage, trust, and love. I’d love to hear what you choose!
- Get a reading – or do one for yourself. I offer Year Ahead readings which are some of the most powerful ones I do. Find a reader you trust at a price you can afford. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and express concerns if you have them; a good reader will respect you for it and take time to explain. Or find your own deck of Tarot (or other divination) cards, and try your hand yourself. Yes, it’s okay to use the book. Yes, it’s okay to trust your intuition. Yes, you can do it the way you think might break the rules.
- Collage your intentions. Gather all those old magazines that you need to recycle anyway, and snip out images and words that speak to you about what you’d like to create for 2015. Arrange them on a sheet of paper, glue them down, and – voila! – you have a visual representation of what you want. Some people call this a “vision board.” Whatever you call it, it’s a fun way to get creative and reflective at the new year.
- Write yourself a letter to open at the end of the year. My only suggestion? Be nice to your future self. You can even do it online.
- Write letters to 15 friends. Be nice to them, too.
- Skip the resolutions and write down 15 accomplishments from the past year that you can build upon in the new one. Harness that momentum.
- Find a talisman for the year ahead, and carry it with you.
- Donate $15 (or $15 a month, even better!) to an organization doing important work. Send them a note with your donation telling them why you support their work.
- Donate 15 minutes a week – or about an hour a month – to an organization that could use your help.
- Build community. Introduce yourself to 15 of your neighbors.
- Cultivate courage and curiosity. Try 15 things you’ve never done before.
- Spend 15 minutes outside. Notice what you notice.
- Learn the names of people with whom you interact on a regular basis, and use them – think of your library clerks, grocery store cashiers, postal carriers, office janitorial staff, or coffee baristas.
- Make a list of 15 things at the end of every day/week/month (you pick what works). List 5 things for which you are grateful, 5 things of which you are proud, and 5 wishes you have for the future. See what happens.
- Commit to paying other people 15 compliments each day. Say something nice.
Sometimes issues pop up in our lives that require a little extra oomph to push on through. There are all kinds of ways to harness that oomph: therapy, energy work, coaching, good friends, rituals, exercise, Tarot readings, books, classes, and the list goes on. One of my favorite ways to do just about anything is through play, and so a tool that I turn to time and time again is The Transformation Game.™ It’s a board game; it’s a boxed therapy session; it’s a little bit woo-woo and a whole lot practical; it’s a kind but firm coach; it’s a handful of synchronicity mixed with a bit of magic; it’s an opportunity to quiet down and listen up; it’s a cross between a Choose Your Own Adventure book and a grown-up Game of Life. It’s one of the tools we’ll be using at The Spring Reflective.
The logistics of the game involve dice, cards, and moving a game piece around the board. In that sense, it’s like playing any other board game. The difference is that you set an intention for the game related to something in your life that needs some transformation. Some of my intentions have included:
- Increasing my health and vitality
- Inviting love and intimacy into my life
- Finding the right professional path
- Creating peaceful relationships with challenging people
With their intentions in mind and heart, players move around the board to spaces that include blessings, insight, free will, setbacks, appreciation, service, the dreaded depression square, and the coveted transformation square. As players move through the four levels of the game (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual), awareness is gained, pain is cleared, and transformation begins. Players have time to reflect and share about the moves they make in the game, and they have the chance to hear the perspectives of other players as well. Often, players serve as mirrors for one another and common themes, despite very different areas of focus, emerge.
Sometimes the magic is in the cards that are chosen. Sometimes a player reads a card, and it says just the thing that clarifies the issue. Sometimes it can bring laughter. I remember receiving a card that said something like, “You dismiss ideas that don’t seem to fit without consideration,” and I tossed it down and said to the other players, “well, that just doesn’t have any relevance.” They laughed, seeing the obvious parallel that I wasn’t able to see. Because it’s part of a game – how seriously can you take a game? – I was able to look again at the issue and connect it to areas of my life where I wasn’t very open to new ideas.
Other times, the magic is in the dynamics of play. I remember one game in which I breezed through the first two levels, but once I got to the mental level, I just couldn’t get anywhere. I got setback after setback. Nothing seemed to help. I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong, and eventually I realized this wasn’t an issue I could think my way through. When I considered my intention for the game, I saw that I was using my intellect to keep myself stuck in anxiety and worry rather than using it for problem-solving and forward motion. I needed to balance my logic and analysis with a bit of trust and faith.
Another example is the intuitive flash square. I dreaded this square for a long, long time. This spot requires the flipping of a coin, and I am a remarkably unskilled coin-flipper. I get so worked up and anxious about flipping the dang coin that I inevitably tune out my intuition and get a cosmic scolding from the cards. When I apply this to my non-game life, I see places in which I’m overly concerned with “doing it right” and I allow that to cloud my judgment and clarity. During one game, another player offered an alternative method of coin-flipping that allowed me to relax and hear my intuition again, and I found radically different results – and I got the messages: Ask for help. Try a different way. Let it be easy. Relax.
Sometimes, there’s one piece that eludes a player. One way to advance to the next level is to gain six awareness tokens and a service token. I’ve watched players stack up awareness after awareness, well past the required six, but manage to avoid that service token. This raises the question about whether the player might want to look for more opportunities for service in their lives outside the game. It’s easy to become so focused on our own growth and development that we forget to share our gifts with others, and sometimes that’s just the thing that will allow us to move forward to what’s next.
Sometimes the magic of the game is in the other players. Sometimes one of those players says something, gets stuck somewhere, or cruises through an area, and it brings a point home powerfully. Sometimes watching someone else work their own process of transformation can nudge us along our own paths. Sometimes hearing their stories and telling our own, seeing and being seen with support and warmth can give us the encouragement we need to push through, to tap into that oomph, to transform that stubborn stuckness.
When the game is done, I try to make it real in some way. I might write affirmations based on key insights from the game and post them around my house. I might create a collage with words and images that remind me of the changes I’ve set in motion. One of my favorite things to do, though, is to draw a little cartoon, like the one in the photo here. I’ve sketched in the setbacks as big rocks, insight and awareness float around me, and there are even a handful of angels in hearts offering magical support. It’s a gentle and playful reminder of the game.
I’m happy to have this as part of my tool box – or should that be toy box? – to help me harness the oomph I need, and I hope to share it with you soon! If you’re interested in joining The Spring Reflective, you can purchase tickets here.