Category Archives: Courage

How to let go.

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When I arrived at yoga the other day I saw her sitting on her mat at the front of the room.

She was young, too young, and maybe that’s where my irritation began.

Or maybe it was because she was far too skinny and I prefer a yoga teacher with a little more meat on her bones, someone who is a bit more plump with life + age. Even her voice irritated me (a bit too California) and as we stretched, I wondered if her features were too big for her otherwise pretty face. (I know, grumpy, grumpy thoughts) These harsh judgements ran through my mind like ticker tape until she suggested we sing, to repeat after her, a prayer in Sanskrit.

And this is when I woke up.

Her singing voice was nothing like her speaking voice. It was pitch perfect, so beautiful, that all of us opened our eyes and watched her. Her eyes were closed in concentration + her hands were folded into prayer at her heart. None of us repeated the words, not wanting to interrupt the perfection of her song. We were rapt.

In one of the recordings I have of Eckhart Tolle, he is asked how you drop a certain way of thinking or change a belief, and he responded, “You just drop it. Like you would a bag of groceries. You just let it go.”

And so I did.

And when she said (during a thigh-burning squat pose) “Feel the heat. That’s where the transformation happens…”
I believed her.

 

 

 

How I earned my white belt in desire.

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As Ben lay his head down on the pillow, he said to me with unbridled excitement, “I can’t wait to get my white belt tomorrow!”

My immediate thought was this: He’s not getting his white belt on the first day of class! He’s going to be so disappointed when he finds this out…

“Ben, I don’t think they give out white belts the first day of class. Don’t get your hopes up, okay?” His face immediately crumbled + squished into a cry and tears pooled in his eyes. “I’m not talking to you!” he shouted. “You just ruined all my happiness!”

And this is what we do, right?

With love in our hearts, we try to protect our kids from sadness and pain. We try to shield them from what we think will hurt more – being blindsided by disappointment. It’s vulnerable to want something. Especially if we don’t know if we will get it. We would rather say to ourselves, Well, it probably won’t happen. Or, It would be nice if it happened, but I don’t really care. We get so good at protecting ourselves that often our desires never even make it to our radar.

I could see in this moment with Ben that I really was ruining his happiness. I was squashing his delight. I was telling him in some subtle way to not want what he might not be able to have. Probably because I couldn’t be with the vulnerability of it.

Could I have just let him have his excitement?

 

The next day we went to karate class. And after breaking a board in two, Ben earned his white belt. ON THE FIRST DAY OF CLASS.

And me? I earned a valuable lesson in desire. (Maybe even a white belt)

We want what we want. We will get it or we won’t.

But it takes courage to want something. It leaves us vulnerable and that’s why it feels scary.

But to desire is our birthright. And maybe even half the fun. Maybe even half the joy.

 

 

Underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.

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“What I want is to open up. I want to know what’s inside me. I want everybody to open up. I’m like an imbecile with a can-opener in his hand, wondering where to begin – to open up the earth. I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.

I know it because I feel so marvelous myself most of the time. And when I feel that way everybody seems marvelous… everybody and everything… even pebbles and pieces of cardboard… a match stick lying in the gutter… anything… a goat’s beard, if you like. That’s what I want to write about… and then we’re all going to see clearly, see what a staggering, wonderful, beautiful world it is.” -Henry Miller

I have had this quote tucked away in my special cigar box for over 20 years. The cigar box is full of sacred items – old photographs of family, love notes, birth certificates… And this.

Photography is one of my ways in. It’s my superhighway into the marvelous. I see those pink petals against the fog and my heart leaps a little. I look through the viewfinder and get that zing in my belly just before the shutter goes click. Even on the hardest of days, the beauty of the world can pull me back. I can literally see the world through a different lens – one that honors the miraculous. The bright green sprig of life bursting through a crack in the sidewalk, the way the white petals fall like confetti onto the concrete, the impossibly long lashes of my boys.

Underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.

For many years, gratitude practices eluded me. I didn’t feel grateful. I just felt ashamed… for all that I was blessed with and how sad I still felt.

What I was still able to do however was appreciate beauty. And this saved me. Those glittery beads of dew on the grass, the clouds I found in puddles of water, the inside of a dandelion. They saved me from being swallowed up by grief.

When we can catch glimpses into the marvelous, it is a gift. Be on the lookout today. And if you are in a place where gratitude is hard to access, see if you can find some simple beauty. For me, it was the most powerful kind of medicine.

You are beautiful.

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This sign sits on the wall next to my bathroom mirror. It’s the first thing I see when I get out of the shower in the morning and as I dry off I read those words- You are beautiful.

Sometimes a voice in me says, “Ha! Yeah, right.” Other times it makes me smile. Some days, I make a practice of trying it on. What if that were true? What about that feels true? 

When I was 9 years old, I remember my gymnastics coach telling my mother that my legs were chunky and that I needed to lose weight. (I was a competitive gymnast and was as strong + athletic as can be)

I remember a close family member calling me thunder thighs, maybe once, maybe more? And I remember the warm wash of shame that flooded my cheeks and the immediate desire to hide my legs. Like, forever. (Which I mostly did)

I remember when my best friend in high school told me about something revolutionary she discovered - If you eat too much, just throw up! and it’s like it never happened. Then she showed me exactly how to do it in the school bathroom stall. It made me feel relieved, like no matter what, there was an escape hatch. There was no mistake you couldn’t undo.

I used to think that if I was just perfect enough, I could be worthy of love.

Yours truly, photo by Sasha Wizansky

Me, La Paz, Mexico, photo by Sasha Wizansky

My body has changed since the above photo was taken 15  years ago. My washboard tummy has been replaced by something much more smooshy and mama-like. There is an extra layer of flesh that never disappeared after boy #2 and I find myself sucking it in for photos. I even suck it in for myself in the mirror! (How funny to deny my new reality even to myself)

And then there are the disappearing boobs. The ones that were once perky little scoops (a term my friend and I affectionately coined upon discovering we were boob twins) and now are, well, slightly melted scoops.

But here’s the irony.

Those words – you are beautiful- have never felt more true.

How is that even possible? How can I be feeling beautiful for the first time in my life?

At the beginning of last year I had a remarkable angel reading with Laurel Bleadon-Maffei. She shared a lot of wisdom with me, but the thing that stuck was when she said this – If you want something new to come through you, you have to stop looking back at what you’ve done in the past. If you could take the next 6 months as a kind of sabbatical, I would suggest that, although I know that might not feel realistic on this plane. But think of the next 6 months as such – Daydream. Walk in the woods. Sit at the beach. Allow the next thing to find you. What is it that you want to bring to the world? Let your higher self and your knowing speak to you.

For me, this was an entirely new approach to creativity. And it required a kind of trust I wasn’t so sure about. Really? Walk in the woods for the next 6 months? Daydreaming sounded so flaky. The part of me that tends toward Type A felt threatened- everyone is going to get ahead of me! I’m going to fade into obscurity! I’m not going to make any money! I’m going to WASTE. SO. MUCH. TIME.

But here’s what I discovered. Walking in the woods allowed the words to come when I sat at my desk. Going to yoga class made space for great ideas to find me while I relaxed in savasana at the end. Having coffee with friends sparked inspiration + helped me shape my fledgling ideas. Having little adventures made space for delight, rejuvenation + fun stories to share.

There is a way that putting a little yin in my yang helped my creativity find me. I didn’t have to pursue it so much as be awake + alive + ready to receive. It also made space for a deeper knowing to come through. It felt like a distinctly feminine approach to creativity.

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Putting a little yin in my yang helped me to integrate my feminine. I learned to embrace my softer side. The part of me that wants to wear pink. The part that is willing to be vulnerable. The part of me that can hold things with so much more compassion.

It’s compassion that has helped me embrace my imperfect, very  human self. It’s compassion that has turned me from feeling unlovable (broken, damaged goods) into something beautiful + cracked + holy.

Self-compassion (and the wisdom of age) has allowed me to see my own beauty. Not the perfect, magazine kind of beauty, but the real kind. The kind that stays with you a lifetime. The kind that is your essence. Your magic.

 

*In honor of Susannah Conway’s birthday a collection of us have come together to talk about aging in empowering and beautiful ways. So honored to be part of it!

 

 

It’s time to own it.

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Painting in progress

When I was in my early twenties (and just starting to paint and sell my work) I lived in Santa Barbara with my dear friend Chris. I was in a fearful place around money, my talents and my ability to make a go at a creative life. My inner critics were having a field day. I’ll never forget when Chris stopped me, looked in my eyes and said (more frustrated than I had ever heard him), “When are you going to take for granted that you’re an artist? And start creating from there? Stop trying to prove it!”

He said this in a moment of utter exasperation – probably tired of hearing my fears and self-diminishing chatter.

If he was Madonna, he probably would have said, “Darling, just fucking own it.”

And all these years later I can see it. Of course I’m an artist. Why all the drama? Why did I waste so much time trying to prove it? It’s all I’ve been doing since I was a little girl – drawing, painting, making jewelry, choreographing dance routines. How could I ever have questioned it?

And yet. We do this.

Even now, I can see that I’ve owned being an artist, but as a writer? I still need to own it.

How about you? Where in your life would owning it shift things in a profound way?

Is it your beauty?
Your talents?
Your ability to write?
Your voice?
Your ability to be a leader?
Your joy?

Take a moment and consider where in your life you need to own it.
Where have you been trying to prove your worthiness?

What if you took __________________________ for granted and started to create from there?

(Fill in the blank in the comments)

 

The dinner nanny + other Mondo Beyondo dreams you might have thought were impossible.

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Ben’s happy toast.

Sometimes you hear a story that you will never forget. It rearranges you and changes how you think forever.

During the Opening the Creative Channel retreat in October, we played a round of Storybowl. As we passed the bowl around, everyone got a prompt to tell a spontaneous true story from their life. Nicole’s prompt was this: A wish that came true.

She thought for a moment. And then told us the most awesome story.

First, I should mention that Nicole is the mother of two small kids. She also has a big time corporate job where she works long hours and is in charge of a lot of people. At the time when this story unfolded, she was so exhausted at the end of each day she could barely move past 8pm. Some nights she would sleep on the couch downstairs so she wouldn’t have to make the trek all the way to bed. It was so extreme that she and her husband started to wonder if their was something medically wrong with her. But after rounds of tests the doctor simply said, “You have a demanding job and two small kids.” Ah yes, that.

And then she had an idea. She wrote a Mondo Beyondo list and created a new dream called “Dinner Nanny.” In Nicole’s words below:

I am a dreamer. I love to dream about my ideal life and then make that happen. All of the wonderful things in my life started as detailed dreams. Andrea and Jen’s Mondo Beyondo class made my dreaming even stronger. And it was after taking Mondo Beyondo that I created a new dream that I called “dinner nanny.” Because the #1 thing in my life that I liked to do the least was making dinner during the week. Not just making dinner but shopping for and thinking about dinner. Especially thinking about dinner.

I thought, what if I hire a culinary student to plan and shop and make our dinners during the week? But then I pushed the dream further. What if I hired someone to take care of dinner and the laundry? What if I hired someone to take care of dinner, the laundry and tidying the kids’ rooms after school? Who could pick up the kids from school when I’m traveling for work and give my husband a break? Who could allow us to go on a date night once a month? Who could dogsit when we’re out of town? Who could drop off the library books and dry cleaning? Who could get the oil changed on the car every 3 months? Who can water the plants so they don’t die in the summer? Who could ask me if I ate lunch that day or exercised?

I made a list. I showed it to my husband. He said “There’s no way you can ask someone to do all of this.” I said, “Let’s see what happens.” I posted my job description on a site called Barefoot Student, which is like Craigslist, but for college students.

I hired the first person I interviewed. Her name was Deirdre and she had worked in a restaurant. Deirdre knew her way around the kitchen. Deirdre made delicious food. Deirdre was really great with my kids. Deirdre instantly made life better. Our friends said, “You look different.” My husband explained, “It’s the dinner nanny.”  

The dinner nanny transformed Nicole’s life! It freed her up to play with her kids when she got home. It gave her more energy and vitality. It allowed her to be more present for the parts of her life that mattered most.

The dinner nanny has become a symbol of ease for me.

Of asking for help and actually receiving it. Of allowing ourselves to imagine what we might need, articulating it, and possibly even getting it. But you know what? Letting ourselves want what we want is its own muscle. Can we allow ourselves the full breadth of our desire?

Getting it or not is an entirely different matter.

Can we allow ourselves to want what we want, whether we get it or not? This is a big edge for me. And probably why this story inspires me so much.

Maybe having a dinner nanny for you is someone who comes in to cook dinner twice a week. Maybe it’s deciding to have pizza delivered every Tuesday night so you can play with your kids. Maybe it’s just having company more often so that the evenings are more fun…

Dinner nanny has simply become shorthand for, how can I bring more ease + joy into my life?

Kids or not, where would you like to invite more ease + joy into your life? What would your version of the dinner nanny look like?

 

P.S. The next session of Mondo Beyondo starts January 6th! Join us.

 

 

 

Things to remember.

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Handful of seaglass, Baker Beach, SF

Don’t miss this. Pay attention. Wake up. Be kind and gentle.

The world is a manifestation of your beliefs, so believe good things. Things that empower you. Things that delight you. Stay in the light.

People will die. Remember this, but don’t let it paralyze you. Let this allow you to pick up the phone, even when you don’t want to. To put down your armor. To say I love you more.

Write thank-you notes by hand. The kind they will tuck into their wallet and will pull out years later. The paper will feel soft like fabric and their heart will swell. Except you won’t know this.

When you can, let people ahead of you in traffic. It’s kind and it will make you feel good + generous. It will make you feel powerful, that you could give this one good thing. So go ahead. Let them in.

Tell the truth. And by truth, I mean the messy kind. Like a few months ago when you were crying on the couch feeling lonely, tender, disconnected. And you shouted from the couch, “I need you to love me right now!” and it was the hardest thing + the truest thing you had said in a long time and you cried and cried as he rubbed your back.

Things to remember.

Eat cake when you go to a birthday party. I don’t care what kind of cleanse you’re on.

Learn the what-does-the-fox-say dance and dress up like one of the foxy fly girls for Halloween. Or the Thriller dance or the Cup Song. Learn something that’s been on your mental list – ukulele, italian, how to make kombucha – it doesn’t matter. Just keep learning.

Lay down next to Ben before he falls asleep. Take in his messy boy scent. Notice how he wraps all of his limbs around you in a kind of choke hold, but enjoy it because it won’t last forever.

All of this. It won’t last forever.

What’s on your list of things to remember?

 

Magic 42. The softening.

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I always knew 42 would be a magic number. I’m not quite sure why, but I always knew that turning 42 would be auspicious.

Let’s start with the basics.

I have never felt so loved as I did this week. Let me rephrase that. I have never felt so receptive to the love in my life as I have this week. It’s as if every pore in my being was open. I feel supple + soft.

I have softened over the last couple of years.

Let me first give a shout out to the Zoloft. It has been exactly one year since I started taking it and my life has shifted dramatically. There is a clear before and after – life before Zoloft and life after. I still say a prayer of thanks every morning when I take that tiny blue pill. Thank you thank you thank you.

Now that the wound-up, hypervigilent, fight or flight, oh-my-god-the-world-is-way-too-stimulating, what’s-with-all-the-freaking-noise-on-the-internet, nervous system has calmed down, there is so much more space.

I can let so much more in.

The chaos of  having two boys. The loudness of their cries and whines. The tactile stimulation, the whirl of them sprinting (literally) in circles around the house. The way they dive bomb me, knocking me down in a playful wrestle whenever I kneel toward the ground.

I have the capacity to hold so much more now.

I can hold their energy + embrace their bodies. I am like a wider, heartier version of myself – grounded, arms outstretched, willing to take them in. Where before I had an aversion to their intense boy-ness, kept them (sometimes literally) at arms length, I am so grateful for this new capacity.

And with this ability to hold the bigness of their energy also came an ability to let more love in too.

And I haven’t felt that so palpably until now. This birthday. This week.

It started with an incredible storytelling event called Journeys on Wednesday with my “joy buddies” Ellen + Sherry. (We take a course called Awakening Joy together) We heard amazing stories by the creators of Life Factory and Numi tea plus one of my all time favorite storytellers – Joel Ben Izzy. Then I went to Golden Gate park and rowed a boat in Stowe Lake with my dear friend and mentor SARK. We rowed and chatted for hours… If that isn’t a perfect date, I don’t know what is!

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The amazing SARK, in our row boat in Stowe Lake

Then Matt and I laughed for hours on Saturday night at a Mortified event in Oakland. If you haven’t seen a Mortified show, get to it! Kind of like The Moth, but everything is based on the storyteller’s junior high and high school diaries. Unbelievable. Hilarious. Genius. (You can watch the trailer for their documentary here)

But I’m getting off topic.

The point is this: I am 42 years old and what I am celebrating most right now is that I have the capacity to hold so much more of all of it – the chaos and the joy. There is something my friend Brene Brown says that has always stuck with me. “You cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. When we numb those emotions, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”

And I think it worked the same way for all of those years of post-partum anxiety. With my nervous system all whacked out, I was overstimulated by everything. I had to keep life at a distance in order to shield myself.

But over the last year, a profound softening has unfolded. An unexpected gift.

It began with saying I love you more.
Then I noticed I was allowing myself to be hugged a bit longer.
I can look into your eyes now and be with you in a more grounded way.
I can hold my kiddos big feelings and let them dissolve into me.

And as of this birthday, I can see how I am finally letting in more joy. The neuroscientist Rick Hanson teaches that when you are experiencing joy, it’s good to put your hand on your heart and say, “This is joy.” Then those particular neuro-pathways can deepen.

I have been doing that a lot this week, trying to seal all the goodness in.
This is joy. This is joy. This is joy.

 

 

 

The courage to believe there is room for everybody.

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Launching this course was a huge act of courage for me.

I had been designing the curriculum for Cultivating Courage last year and was getting really excited about the idea of a 30 day courage challenge. One day I googled “30 days of courage” (what I was originally going to call the class) to see if anyone was doing something similar. I was shocked to discover that not only was someone already doing a course by that name, but it was someone I knew! Someone in my creative circle who I have always adored and admired – Marianne Elliott. Crap! I thought.

While we hiked the following week (she happened to be visiting the bay area from New Zealand) I brought it up: “Marianne, you won’t believe this, but I have been creating a curriculum for a class about courage and just discovered that you already launched one! I would never want you to think I was copying you.”

She laughed. “That is hilarious! Kate Swoboda just emailed me about the same thing. She is launching a 30 days of courage class also!”

My heart sank. Another person in our circle offering a 30 days of courage class as well?! This was getting to be a bummer. And I was launching last, I thought. It was going to look like I copied.

Even though Marianne was relaxed about it, I was catastrophizing back at my desk.

  • They’ll probably do it better than me.
  • Look at Marianne. She was a UN peacekeeper in Afghanistan! What do I know about courage?
  • Kate’s whole website is about courage. Maybe this is her terrain and not mine.
  • They’re going to think I’m copying.
  • I have nothing unique to say.I suck. I should just quit.
And then I got a note from Marianne.
She said: “I’ve had friends totally freak out when they see someone else doing something similar to what they are doing – either because they assume they are being copied (which I think is very rarely the case) or because they think they’ll be competing.
 
I’d love to find another path through this, I think it’s magical that you and Kate and I are all in the same space geographically at the moment so we can meet in person and talk about it. And I really do think there is some powerful learning in here, learning worth sharing once we get there.”

And that’s when I had a revelation — that there was an opportunity for us to decide, collectively, that there was room for all of us. That we didn’t have to compete but could support each other instead.

I was nervous when I got to the restaurant. We chatted about life in general for a long time, then I shyly brought up the courage courses. We each took turns describing what our courses were like and we started to see what I sincerely hoped was true — that we each had our own unique voice. That our approaches were different. That there was no way anyone else’s course could be like mine, because I am the one writing it!

I also remembered that I have my people and they have theirs. And that our people wanted us. They wanted our voice, not somebody else’s.

In the midst of this conversation, I also remembered my first art wound. I was in the 4th grade and we were told to write an essay about something we were afraid of. The teacher gave the example of being afraid to drive Highway 17, a dangerous highway near our home where people had accidents regularly. I have the same fear! I thought. What a coincidence! And so I wrote about that.

The next day she held up my paper in front of the class and read the first paragraph. “What’s wrong with this paper?” she boomed.

“She copied you!” the kids shouted.

“What grade do you think this student should get?”

“An F!” the kids yelled.

I was aghast. And crushed. And humiliated. And wanted to die.

To this day, I am deeply afraid of anyone thinking I have copied them. I try hard to be unique in everything I do and feel horrified (the same horror as that day) if anyone says my work is like someone else’s. I was careful to not even read the sales pages for Marianne or Kate’s courses lest I inadvertently be influenced in some way by what they were creating. Crazy, right? This wound has held me back in countless ways, often paralyzing me even before beginning. (Why bother? Other people have already said it or said it better) 

As I shared this with Marianne and Kate, I could feel a new layer of that story was being healed, right there at the restaurant. We actively decided that we would not compete with each other, but would be allies instead. We decided to be examples of a different way through. That instead of feeling threatened by each other, we would choose to support + celebrate each other’s work. 

In a world where we are all vulnerable to the comparison game, the not-enough game, the there’s-no-room-for-me game, this felt like such a sweet victory.

In the end, I decided to change the title of the course to Cultivating Courage (hooray!) so as to not create confusion. This felt good and right. The whole process though was, you guessed it! an exercise in courage:

  • Courage to keep going anyway.
  • Courage to keep writing in the face of my very active gremlins.
  • Courage to trust myself–trust that I had something to say and would say it in my own unique way.
  • Courage to believe that there was room for everybody.

I’m so glad I did. This course has been such a bright spot in my life.

This is one of the many stories in the Cultivating Courage course. I would be so honored if you would join me!

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The next session begins on Monday, November 4th, 2013. Cost is $79

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My money memoir

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Dear Superheroes,

I’ve just bared my soul about something tremendously personal: money!

It’s part of the Money Memoirs Series: a free, month-long gathering for healing and truth-telling about money, hosted by my dear friend and colleague, Bari Tessler Linden. Bari is a financial therapist who leads a year-long global money school, The Art of Money.

For the entire month of October, Bari has invited some of her favorite people to share the tender truth about their own money stories. We’re bringing our money stories out into the light. To spread a message of healing, un-shaming, and love, and to create a sacred doorway into the opening of her year long Art of Money program, which will happen in the middle of the Money Memoirs month.

Click through to Bari’s blog to hear my Money Memoir: my triumphs and challenges, how money has affected my relationships and career, and what I’ve learned from it all.

I hope hearing my story will inspire your own honest and loving un-shaming about money. And, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating everyone who shares their stories with Bari, the entire month of October. Please join us for this intimate gathering as we bring healing, humanity, and empowerment to our money relationships. Click right this way to hear my Money Memoir.