Monthly Archives: May 2012

Instructions for Living a Life

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
~Mary Oliver

This morning, walking the dogs with Eric, I saw: a huge tree that’s been dead for a long time finally fell down (and it was big enough that it certainly went “boom” when it did), a dead beaver carcass, two white tailed deer, one whose tail wasn’t quite working so it might be hurt, one massive turtle still looking for a spot to lay her eggs walking like a tiny dinosaur through the grass by the creek between Wood Duck Pond and the McMurray Ponds (same exact date we saw her last year, so May 31st is now officially Turtle Day), two mini Herons, one of which looked more like a Penguin as he stood on a log fishing (turns out they are actually called a Black Crowned Night Heron), one large Blue Heron in flight over the river that later was heard squawking and flying in the other direction, and finally, a bicycle parade.

I paid attention and was astonished, and I wanted to tell you about it.

Black Crowned Night Heron

I received gifts: access to workshops with amazing women at the World Domination Summit in July (yoga with Marianne Elliott, Writing with Susannah Conway, Book Content Mapping with Cynthia Morris, and Identifying Superpowers with Andrea Scher…holy wow, such amazing women that I so adore, my head/heart might explode), my Kickstarter reward from Danielle Ate the Sandwich arrived, along with her new album, which is every bit as good as I knew it would be, and I found a heart-shaped rock on our walk.

I paid attention and was astonished, and I wanted to tell you about it.

I gave gifts: some were shared words of wisdom and kindness, others were scholarships for Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project Practitioner level, and finally there was my heART exchange project, which I finally finished and mailed to Australia today. I plan to write a post about the process (I didn’t just make something, I learned stuff) once my swap partner receives it.

I paid attention and was astonished, and I wanted to tell you about it.

heART exchange project sneak peek

Tribe: it’s Tribe week in my Unravelling ecourse with Susannah Conway, so I’ve been thinking a lot about that, how we can be a tribe of one even. I spent a little bit of time being a tribe of one, writing and eating lunch while waiting for a friend to arrive so we could be a tribe of two and have a long talk about perfection, art, boundaries, dogs and trust. Then, I spent part of the afternoon having another long talk with another good friend, drinking mango lemonade and eating a blue flower cookie as big as my head. I have amazing women in my life, in my tribe.

I paid attention and was astonished, and I wanted to tell you about it.

Yay Turkey, Split Pea Soup, Root Beer, and a notebook at Red Table.

I’ve had moments of being wholehearted, with myself and others in my tribe. These two quotes from Anne Lamott remind me how wonderful and difficult that is: “The love and good and the wild and the peace and creation that are you will reveal themselves, but it is harder when they have to catch up to you in roadrunner mode” and “We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.” I am reminded to slow down, stop doing so much and be.

I paid attention and was astonished, and I wanted to tell you about it.

Wishcasting Wednesday

from jamie’s post

What heights do you wish to reach?

In the Shambhala Buddhism tradition, “there is a developmental process for deepening and furthering authentic presence…called the warrior’s path of the four dignities,” (Shambhala Training Glossary). One of the four dignities is the Dragon. Sakyong Mipham Rinphoche describes the Dragon this way:

The dragon’s confidence is prajna, deep wisdom based on knowing how things are. The dragon knows we’re always trying to project a concrete world onto a fluid process, mistaking our ever-changing experience for a self. Like the elements, this kind of wisdom doesn’t need to be propped up. It is a direct experience of reality, empty and ungraspable.

As the wisdom of the dragon destroys our illusions, we begin to understand basic goodness, the unconditional purity and confidence of all. With this view, life itself becomes our source of energy, and the enlightened world begins to appear. The wish-fulfilling jewel of wisdom and compassion are liberated, and we can play in the blessing and magic of our everyday existence.

I wish to reach the heights of the Dragon, to soar in the sky, gentle and wise, above all my illusions and confusion and suffering, to “play in the blessing and magic of our everyday existence.” More specifically, if I had to guess, that might look like this:

  • Doing work I love, work I’d do anyway, for pay. To spend my days writing, making art, practicing yoga and meditation, engaging with amazing women, studying and serving. I would make a loving living, with the same quality of benefits and pay I have now. I’m not going to rush or push this, don’t need to force what I love to pay my bills, but I think that eventually it’s possible, and that I would be of more value to others, be more personally satisfied if this were how things were.
  • Yoga and Meditation Instructor Certification. These practices have meant so much to me, been so helpful, that I want to be able to share them, teach them, and want the proper training and wisdom to do so ethically and safely.
  • To reach my optimal physical strength and health, quickly and without obstacle. Resting when I need rest, practicing loving self-care, enjoying moving through the world in this body with minimal pain, breathing, walking, hiking, headstands in yoga, running, playing, eating, being nourished.
  • To be in a position to give, to help, to decrease suffering in the world.
  • Published and paid writing. Again, I don’t necessarily want to strip the joy from my writing by making it too work-like, but I also think there’s value in being recognized, validated for that work in these tangible ways. I don’t have a specific idea of what this might look like, but it would make me happy for my books to be a physical manifestation in the world, to be held in people’s hands.
  • Confidence. To manifest the funny, silly, brave, confident, open-hearted, generous, wise, gentle, kind, and creative women that lives deep in my heart. I want everyone else to know her like I do. They don’t all have to love her, I know she’s not for everyone, but I want her to be seen, to be known, to be realized and embodied, instead of a secret I kept, instead of a quiet whisper in the dark. To be confident in the way Susan Piver describes it, “the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.”

Three Truths and One Wish

1. Truth: Pain is inevitable. There really is no way to be in this world, live this life without getting your ass kicked. Just showing up guarantees it. You can try what you might to numb yourself to the pain, but what you do to numb it only brings about more, which you then have to numb, which brings more, and so on and so on until you are dead. It won’t work.

Reality is brutal, and that’s the truth. You will get hurt, you will lose things, you will fail, bones will be broken, angry words will be said that you can’t take back, you will get sick and old, things won’t be fair, and a mess will be made. Your boss will be a jerk. You’ll get a dog, love it with your whole heart, and before you could ever be ready for it, before you’ve had enough time, he will die. Someone you love will get cancer, the treatments won’t work, and she will die too. In fact, everyone you ever love is going to die. The end.

2. Truth: Suffering is optional. So, yes, all these bad things are going to happen to you, but it is entirely up to you how to respond. Suffering is our habitual pattern, the way we’ve trained our mind to respond to pain. It’s the choice we make to wallow in our suffering, indulge our feelings of being a victim, cling to our tragedies and hurts, tell ourselves long and ongoing stories about how horrible everything is for us, obsess about all that is wrong in the world, catalog our complaints, feed our suffering as if it were a treasured pet.

It is absolutely appropriate to notice pain, to do what we can to address the situation (if anything), respond with wisdom and compassion, but then, if we don’t wish to suffer, it is necessary to let it go, not to reject it or push it way, but to open our heart and allow it to dissolve as it will naturally, to float away from us. Once this happens, we can shift our attention to something else, (suffering would require that we continue to dwell on it), we let go and move on. Depending on the pain, this process of noticing, letting go, and shifting attention will take on different forms, require different approaches, take varying lengths of time. Sometimes we can work through the whole process in minutes, other pain will require more, like water wearing away at a rock.

3. Truth: There are three root causes of suffering–ignorance, attachment, and aversion. In Buddhism, these are also referred to as the “three poisons.” Ignorance is actually the starting point for the other two, the center, the hub of all suffering. Ignorance is delusion, confusion, bewilderment, a basic misunderstanding of reality, a confused relationship with ourselves and our feelings and our thoughts and our bodies. Attachment is clinging, passion, greed, grasping for that which we think will please us or make us happy. It’s what George Carlin was referring to when he said, “Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.” And the third poison, aversion, is rejection, aggression, hatred, animosity, dread, dissatisfaction, wanting things to be other than they are.

One Wish: That we all would be free from suffering. You, me, all of us. It’s the wish at the heart center of every other wish I ever make.

Something Good

1. I am still completely grooving on Yuna’s album today. I think in the last 48 hours, I’ve listened to it at least 20 times. Favourite Thing is another great track. It reminds me of Eric, my favorite.

It’s the way you drink your coffee
And how you have faith in me
And you love your cameras and you tell me that I’m good enough
Boy you bubble-wrap my heart

And all the things that I used to be afraid of
Suddenly it all disappeared

You remain my most favorite thing
And everywhere I go you’re here with me
You remain my most favorite thing
And all the time I keep you near me

The way you look out of the window
And you stay because you know
It wasn’t your intention but you caught how boats are crashing
Like the wave I’ve been waiting for

And all the things that I used to be afraid of
Suddenly it all disappeared

You remain my most favorite thing
And everywhere I go you’re here with me
You remain my most favorite thing
And all the time I keep you near me
The way you look out of the window

When I feel like the world has turn its back on me
When I feel all alone and I’m loving nobody
Oh, when the people wanted me to be somebody else
But you love me completely

You remain my most favorite thing
And everywhere I go you’re here with me
You remain my most favorite thing
And all the time I keep you near me
The way you look out of the window

2. The Fine Art of Limitation on Be More With Less. I have trouble (real, big trouble) with setting limits, so this piece was a good reminder. Courtney Carver promises “I want you to have everything you deserve, and by setting limits, you’ll discover that everything you deserve is available. A lovely life is yours for the asking.”

3. Mad with joy… from Carry it Forward. This is a great post from Christa, and starts with one of my new favorite quotes from Iris Murdoch: “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things with us.”

4. The Courage to Be Uncool from Owning Pink. Not sure if you’ve noticed this, kind and gentle reader, but I am not cool. I used to care, but now I am totally okay with it. Still, a post like this from Lissa Rankin, reminding me that it’s okay, more than okay, is really nice.

5. Neil Gaiman Speaks to The University of the Arts in Philadelphia Graduating Class. Oh my, how I love this man: his mind, his voice, his work. He is brilliant and funny and so utterly himself, and wants the rest of us to be the same.

6. This is Your Guarantee of Failure. Proceed anyway. It’s not a surprise that Danielle LaPorte is on fire with white hot truth, but holy wow and holy crap, I love this! I printed it out and have been reading it to myself from time to time. This is so important. Please read it. Every time I get to this part, I cry, and then I forgive myself.

There will be many, many things that you’ll wish you had said — fiercely loving and bravely tender things, righteously justice-rendering things that could change everything — but instead, you’ll fail to rise in the way you wanted to.

7. The DIY: Fastest Friendship Bracelet Ever. I’m not sure I’ll ever grow out of my love for these, and I feel the need to make some and give them out, tie them around the wrists of the women I love. Blame it on summer vacation, I suppose.

8. 60 Selfless Ways to Pay it Forward from Marc and Angel Hack Life. I like this much better than my to-do list.

9. So You Think You Can Dance clip. This makes me cry every time I watch it, and I have a huge crush on this girl. The way she moves, the way she is: beautiful.

10. An amazing lip dub marriage proposal. You may have already seen this, but if you haven’t, it’s pretty sweet. I love a good flash mob, and combining that with a marriage proposal?! The goodness just about kills me.

11. Creative Writing Prompts. Lots and lots of them.

12. What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.

13. Beating the Anxiety of Online Reading on ZenHabits by Leo Babauta. I needed the reminder, so thought you might too. But Leo, there’s just so much good stuff out there…

15. This quote from Cheri Huber, in honor of the two awesome yoga classes I’ve attended in the past 48 hours:

Practice offers us a lens through which we can examine suffering—what
causes it, why it happens, how it happens. It gives us the tools to tap into our authentic nature and to experience being lived by Life – present, whole, and joyful.

Day of Rest

You might not know this about me, but the one thing I love as much as books is music. It has been a constant in my life. My childhood home, church, and school were filled with music. That infusion carried into my adult life. As a highly sensitive person and introvert, I value quiet, but music feeds me. I listen to it in the car, when I exercise at the gym and then after when I take a shower, when I work and when I do chores around the house. Sometimes, I do nothing else, just listen to the music. I never go a full day without it.

Yesterday, listening to the Chill station on satellite radio, I heard a new song by an artist I didn’t know. I was loving the lyrics and completely grooving on her voice, so I wrote down the title and artist, logged in to my Rhapsody account and listened to the whole album…over and over and over. It is amazing fantastic heartbreaking beautiful precious holy wow holy crap I am in love with this woman good.

Yunalis Zarai (aka Yuna) is a 25 year old singer, born in Malaysia. Her biography on her website says:

Music is one of the most powerful forces of unification. It has the power to heal, the power to help, the power to inspire, and the power to change. [Yes! Yes! It does.]

Yuna understands the importance of music and has the ability to write songs that transcend any and all boundaries. With her soft vocals and warm acoustic guitar, this singer-songwriter crafts intriguing and infectious ruminations on life, love, and so much more.

The song that captured my attention yesterday is “Live Your Life.” Beautiful voice, melody, and message.

Find your light
Don’t hide from what you are
And rise before you fall
And hope for something more
Live if you really want to

All my life I’ve been looking for something amazing
It’s almost like I’ve been stargazing
The sky is right above me
We were meant for something bigger than this
Don’t ever try to dismiss yourself cause you don’t have to

Find your light
Don’t hide from what you are
And rise before you fall
And hope for something more
Live if you really want to

All my life my dreams just seemed so far away
And now it’s like they’re here to stay
I hold it close to me
We were meant for something bigger than this
Don’t ever try to dismiss yourself cause you don’t have to

Find your light
Don’t hide from what you are
And rise before you fall
And hope for something more
Live if you really want to

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised I love Yuna’s music so much, since another of my most favorite singers is also from Malaysia.

An open love letter to “this i know: notes on unraveling the heart” and Susannah Conway

I first discovered Susannah Conway’s blog the way I’ve discovered all my favorite women on the internet: through a link on Andrea Scher’s Superhero Journal blog. For me, Andrea has been the sun at the center of a universe of female planets, the shiny middle that all the other bright and precious things orbit around. The next love letter I write will be to her.

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the whole sky.


I started following Susannah’s blog and immediately adored her. She is consistently honest, open-hearted and funny, willing to share her “wobbly bits” along with the brilliant beauty of life. Her words and photography are gorgeous and authentic, and at times heartbreaking (in the very best kind of way, cracking you open to let in the light).

In March, I took her Blogging from the Heart course, which was absolutely brilliant. I am currently taking (and falling miserably behind) her Unravelling: Ways of Seeing Myself course, which I am also loving. Her lessons and prompts are full of opportunities to unravel, which she describes in this i know.

It’s not coming undone or losing control. It’s letting go in the best possible way, untangling the knots that hold you back, unwrapping the gifts you’ve hidden for too long, unearthing the potential that’s always been there, finally ditching the labels and should-haves, and letting yourself be what you were always meant to be.

For two back to back afternoons, I sat under a tree in a lawn chair in my backyard, reading this book, the sun making leaf shadows on the pages and birds singing in the background, taking the occasional break to throw a toy for one of the dogs or to stare at the sky.

At first, I didn’t want to mark the pages of this copy, sent to me and signed by Susannah, the most precious of gifts. I wanted to keep it pristine and protected. But as I turned the pages, read the words, I felt exactly the way I do about cake, not knowing if I should go slow and savor every bite, make it last, or gulp down huge handfuls, devouring every last crumb as fast as I could. I found myself wanting to tear out the pages and eat them, taste the colors in the photographs.

Then I remembered the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which is all about accepting transience, and about knowing what is beautiful is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Something is wabi-sabi if “an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing” and this view “nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect,” (Wikipedia entry on wabi-sabi). I got out my pencil and started underlining my favorite bits, making notes in the margins, loving this book in a real, messy, wabi-sabi way.

At the end of those two afternoons of reading, something had shifted in me. A calm determination had settled into my core, a deep knowing–this was absolutely possible and so certain it might as well have already happened. Confidence bloomed in my belly, the kind that Susan Piver describes as “the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.”

This confidence has to do with two things. First, I know I will stop smashing myself to bits, I will manifest my basic goodness, I will embody my inherent wisdom and kindness, I will save myself, I will be a beacon to others looking to do the same, I will live a wholehearted life. I will do as Susannah suggests in the book, “Living mindfully, appreciating what I have, learning to let go of what I no longer need, and practicing kindness as often as I can–especially toward myself.”

Second, more than two years ago, I had a vivid dream about a book. At that time, I was sure it was the book of a friend–must be, because I was not an artist, and in my dream, the book was a mix of art and text–so I told her about it, that she needed to write it. Two years later, she still hadn’t, and I realized it was my book I’d dreamed. I started to see books that reminded me of it, were physical manifestations of what I’d dreamed, showing me it was indeed possible. But it wasn’t until I held Susannah’s book in my hands, the weight and the color of it, that I knew for certain. My book hasn’t yet been written, nothing exactly like it done by anyone. It’s waiting inside of me to be born, will never exist if I don’t make it–messy, raw, small and simple, brutal and beautiful.

I held in my hand a love letter to my own possibility.

image by susannah conway, her beautiful hand, her brilliant ring, and her precious book

Any woman who has experienced grief and loss (that is, every woman alive) should read this book. For some of us this is the loss of a loved one, for others the loss of self, or for others still it might be the loss of both. This book is a map of one woman’s personal journey through bereavement and rediscovery of self, but it is also offered as a guidebook for those making their way along the same path, traveling through that same territory of loss. And yet, as Susannah says, this “is not a story about grief, although it informs everything I’ve learned about life. This is a book about unraveling the layers of our lives and exploring what we find in order to better understand ourselves, our relationships, and our path.”

This book embodies, through both word and image, the tender heart of that sadness, not shying away from the reality of it, the truth that life can kick your ass but that we can also lean into joy and be softened by beauty, can and will encounter grace, and know love. We may have tears streaming down our face or feel bad about our thighs, but with our eyes and heart open wide to both the brutality and beauty of life, we can heal, we can live a wholehearted life.

This book might first be about one woman’s individual journey towards wholeness, but in the end, it is an offering to the reader, an invitation to unravel our own hearts. Sometimes, simply knowing that others have walked a similar path is all the medicine and advice you need, but Susannah Conway takes it one step beyond, offering a reflection at the end of each chapter, small creative exercises that invite the reader to explore, to unravel. In this way, it is a book that one could come back to again and again.

In the end, this book is like a long, intimate conversation with the best girlfriend ever, one who has been where you are, can authentically sit in that dark place with you, but who also has a map that shows the way out, an invitation to the rest of your beautiful life.

I’ve already given away one copy of this book, and I plan to give out many more. The brilliance at the center, the wisdom at the heart of the book is this:

I believe that by being the best and most healed version of ourselves we can truly make a difference in the world.


Gratitude Friday

This post is a mashup of The Little Bliss List and Joy Jam, and as such is meant to celebrate: the little things that brought me hope and happiness this week, the sweet stuff of life, those small gifts that brought me joy this week. By sharing them, I not only make public my gratitude, but maybe also help you notice your own good stuff and send some positive energy out into the world.

1. This tshirt. I just bought it and a few others from Cafe Press, (on sale, plus an additional 35% off, I am my mother’s daughter and love a good deal). I love this shirt because it makes me smile and because it’s true.

2. Resting and Play. Sleeping in, napping, sitting in the backyard reading a book, long walks, yoga class, meditation, writing, thinking, making art, having conversations, staring at the trees, closing my eyes and breathing, even cleaning: all these things restore, renew, rejuvenate, give me energy and stillness, a sense of space. Instead of constantly counting the days, marking time, being acutely aware of the ticking of the clock, I can simply be present in my life, with myself, in a state of wholeness and enough.

3. Buds and Blooms. I am enjoying so much the explosion of green and blossom that Spring brings. I’ve even been enjoying the rain that’s feeding it, (*gasp* I know, right? Me, enjoy rain? Weird…). My yoga teacher gave me three new plants from her garden–salvia, feverfew, and phlox, (last year she gave me lilies and white irises)–so I was weeding my front flowerbed the other day, making room for them, in the rain, planting them in the mud, getting so dirty and wet, but loving it. I truly do have farming in my DNA. While I was working, I was amazed at all the life happening in that tiny patch of dirt, a short and thin strip of dirt between our driveway and the neighbor’s lawn, bugs and insects and even a fat little toad.

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things with us. ~ Iris Murdoch

4. Amazing Women. I am lucky enough to have many of these directly in my life, in my community. But there are also so many others who I can look to for inspiration and support, online and in text. I am so lucky to live in a time when print and the internet are easily accessible to me. The richness, the brilliance and preciousness of books, blogs, websites, flickr and instagram, tweets, tv shows and films, ecourses and workshops. Artists, mentors, and healers who model what it means to live a wholehearted life.

5. Lazy, Unscheduled Time with Eric. During the academic year, we are both so busy, so it’s nice to have this time together, to be able to barbeque for lunch, go for long walks, take naps, hang out in the backyard for hours, talking and reading and making each other laugh. He really is my favorite.

6. HeART Exchange Art Swap Project. I did this the first round with the openhearted and talented Lindsay, and it felt like I didn’t just get a wonderful piece of art, but I gained a new friend. I wasn’t sure I’d do it again, but at the last minute, I decided to dive in. Before I got my art swap partner info, I had been planning to try to do a painting, following the techniques from Flora Bowley’s new book, Brave Intuitive Painting: let go. be bold. unfold. Well, I got my partner’s info…and she’s a painter who has taken an in person workshop with Flora! *gulp* I will not be painting for her. But, out of that surprise came an even better idea (I think), one that could be the start of a series of projects. I’ll share as soon as the swap has happened.

P.S. I just found the note I wrote to myself about this: “Uh-oh, she’s a painter. Would she really want my very first attempt at a Flora style painting, when she’s taken a workshop directly from her? Blergh…what to do now? Cross stitch?” So funny…

Bonus Joy: I can hardly believe it, but this is my 300th blog post! I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating–after so many years of writer’s block, this blog has been such a gift. Thank you, kind and gentle reader, for coming here to visit, to witness, to listen, to support me. You could never know how much I appreciate it. Big gratitude!