Category Archives: About this Blog

Happy Birthday, A Thousand Shades of Gray!

Today is the one year anniversary of my first blog post on A Thousand Shades of Gray. When I pressed the publish button that first time, I had no idea where this was headed or what it would become, I just knew I had to start, I had to do it. And that’s exactly what the initial post was all about–the starting, the beginning, and how hard it could be. And yet, as I said then, “That wish, first whispered when I was in the second grade, was still there: I want to be a writer.”

Fortune on my computer monitor

the picture from that first post

Even though a year ago, I felt uneasy saying it, I have since claimed it.

I am a writer.

But what came first is “I am a blogger.” This first year was about starting, about maintaining a writing practice in a public space, connecting with an audience of kind and gentle readers as well as a community of like-minded and like-hearted bloggers, developing my craft, finding my voice.

In the next year, I would like to continue these things, but I also have a few new goals. I’d like to get professional pictures taken. When I met Andrea Scher for the first time in person this summer, she said something like “you should get new pictures taken for your blog, the ones you have don’t show how beautiful you really are.” I agree that someone who knows what they are doing would do a better job capturing my likeness than my attempts at self-portraits. And almost every picture that Eric tries to take of me turns out terrible, makes me look older, angrier, tireder, and heavier. I’d like to have some better shots of me to use “professionally.”

I’d also like, in the next year, to have a “real” site. I want to design, build, and host my own blog, so that it is more individual, unique to me than is possible with a WordPress template, to learn those things, develop my skill set, and make my blog more professional, (there’s that word again). I aspire some day to no longer need my paid work at CSU because I am instead writing and publishing, teaching ecourses, running workshops and retreats, teaching writing and meditation and yoga, helping people discover a wholehearted life. I’d like to build a robust platform for my work, a place I can grow into as I develop such offerings.

our fortunes from last night’s dinner

And yet, the most important things will continue on as my priorities: the writing, my readers, my mission to remind all of us of basic goodness, to inspire us all to live wholehearted lives, supporting that aspiration in any way I can, and continuing to connect with a larger community that shares these goals.

The most important thing to recognize on this anniversary: You, my kind and gentle readers. Without you, this would be a worthwhile exercise, a valuable effort and practice, but emptier and certainly lonelier. I feel so much gratitude and so much love for you, am so thankful that you continue to show up, to listen and respond, to encourage and allow me to sometimes do the same for you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Cultivating Courage and Daring Greatly

Brave BellyRecently, I have been feeling a real need to be brave. My life has been presenting all kinds of opportunities to show up with an open heart, even though I am terrified. There are two things coming up I am certain will be of great help to me in this practice: Andrea Scher’s Cultivating Courage ecourse and Brene’ Brown’s Daring Greatly book and read-along.

Brene’ Brown’s book Gifts of Imperfection was a critical resource when I started the Life Rehab this blog chronicles. It made me see I had been in a long term abusive relationship–with myself–and helped me to understand the way out of it. I’ve had the opportunity to hear her talk multiple times about her work and research, her life and experience, and her new book is going to be brilliant, (my copy is in transit, on its way to me as I write this, and I can’t wait).

P.S. Look at what showed up just a few hours later!

By showing up, opening her heart, sharing the truth (part research, part personal experience) about shame and vulnerability, daring greatly, and living a wholehearted life, Brene’ Brown is helping so many to discover the value of being brave, in being exactly who we are, in living a wholehearted life. This is the trailer for the book:

And what better to match the Daring Greatly read-along than a Cultivating Courage class with Andrea Scher?! Everything Andrea does is magic. I have taken three classes with her, and every one expands my sense of possibility and purpose. She is electric, pure love energy, vibrant and wise and playful. Just thinking about this latest offering, I feel braver already.

Andrea asked for courage stories from her readers to use in this class. I sent her one, and want to share it with you, kind and gentle reader. Maybe you need a little dose of courage too? Maybe I’ll see you in class?

Our first dog Obi, a Rottweiler/German Shepherd/Husky mix my husband and I rescued at eleven weeks old, was diagnosed with lymphoma, a treatable but incurable canine cancer, right after he turned seven years old. Just after his birthday but before the horrible phone call confirming his cancer, I told my friend, “I don’t know what it is about seven, but I feel like if something happens to him now, I don’t have the right to say it’s not fair. He’s had a really good life.” A few days later, when I told her about his cancer, she whispered, “Do you remember what you said? Do you think you knew?”

I didn’t, couldn’t have guessed it. Other than a tiny lump in his chest the size of a pea, he was completely healthy, vibrant and fully alive. We didn’t know the lump was a swollen lymph node, weren’t even worried enough to make a special appointment to have it checked, simply waited and asked during his next visit. Our vet insisted on doing a needle biopsy right away. The resulting diagnosis was a complete shock, the worst kind of surprise.

Courage can mean either doing something that frightens you, or having strength in the face of pain or grief. Caring for a terminally ill loved one requires the full measure of courage, the entire weight of its meaning. There is no place to hide when the quality of a being’s life is your responsibility, when they are sick and cannot help themselves, when you love them with your whole heart. Because Obi couldn’t tell me what he wanted, it was up to me to intuit what he needed, and to judge when his suffering got to be too much. I had to be present with his pain, and love him enough to let him go. When the time came to make that decision, I made the phone call, provided a loving and safe space, and stayed with Obi as he took his last breath, with my heart open, broken and raw, loving him and letting him go—courageous.

Loving any dog takes courage. In all likelihood, you will outlive them. It might even be your responsibility to make an end of life decision for them. No matter how it happens or when, you won’t be ready, it won’t be okay–and knowing that, you open your heart, invite them into your life anyway. To love a dog, to love anything mortal, knowing you will eventually be separated, that you will ultimately lose them, is the purest form of courage I know. The magic, the medicine is that every time my heart breaks, it expands, gets stronger, and my capacity to love grows with it. Because of my grief, my loss, I have the heart of a warrior, open to both the tenderness and the terror of life.

sweet obi

Book Writing Saturday

Throughout the week, as I’ve been thinking about my upcoming Book Writing Saturday, where I would spend four hours working on my book as I’ve been doing every Saturday for the past month, I had a strong sense that that I had to alter my approach.

For starters, Dexter was pretty sick this week. The anti-inflammatory we were giving him to ease the discomfort of his maybe probably most likely but we can’t really be sure cancer did a real number on his belly. By Monday night, he couldn’t even keep water down. So we had a long, hard week of more vet visits, more medication, more suffering, more sleepless nights and worry. Thankfully, already by Tuesday night, he was feeling much better, but I’m feeling distracted and tired.

at nine years old and so gray, he still looks like a puppy sometimes

Book Writing Saturday was hard enough when it was simply a matter of already having an intense, full time job, already getting up at 4:30 am every morning so I can do everything that needs/wants done: laundry, dog walking, groceries, cleaning, exercise, sleep, paying bills, blogging, self-care, yoga, meditation, maintaining relationships, etc. There is so little extra time, and already not enough play or rest. But I noticed it wasn’t just that–I was being a bully to myself about the whole thing, pushing to get four hours of work, work, work done on my book. I was beating myself up, wasn’t having any fun. And if I’m just going to be mean to myself about it, what’s the point?

Love is the point. I love writing. I love telling stories. I love inspiring others to live more fully, to love more deeply. I love sharing my truth, and in so doing hopefully reminding whoever is reading that they are loved, that they aren’t alone, that they are already perfect, basically and fundamentally wise, compassionate, and powerful. There is a book inside of me that wants out, and at times it feels like the creature from Alien, so I really have no choice.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~Maya Angelou

I started off today by using a prompt suggested by Courtney Carver at the end of her post, On Writing, to write about a detail of your childhood. When I touched my pen to the page, the thing that came up was something I stole. In fact, it was the first thing I remember taking, knowing that it was wrong but doing it anyway because I wanted it so bad. It was a small, white glass Avon empty perfume bottle (Sweet Honesty) made to look like a Scottish Terrier with a gold collar, just like this one. I took it while I was playing at friend’s house, taking it into the bathroom and hiding it in the waistband of my shorts. I loved it, and in my blind desire I justified taking it without asking, (because I couldn’t risk that they’d say “no”). As soon as I got it home, took it out and rubbed my finger against it’s smooth side, I knew I would never be able to enjoy having it, no matter how much I wanted it, but I also was too embarrassed, too ashamed to return it, so I took it to a vacant field at the end of our street and threw it as hard as I could into the emptiness.

This led to more writing about theft, desire and longing, shame. But then the writing took a turn. You see, kind and gentle reader, yesterday Tammy from Rowdy Kittens included a link to one of my blog posts in her Inspiring Links. That more than doubled the amount of traffic I normally get, which gave me that feeling of “if I would have known you were coming, I would have cleaned up a bit.” It made me start thinking about changes I’ve been wanting to make on my blog, which is perfect timing because tomorrow is my one year blog anniversary.

Which ended up meaning that today wasn’t so much about book writing as blog writing, blog brainstorming, blog planning, blog design and redesigning, blog dreaming, blog inspiration, blog love.

An open love letter to Andrea Scher

Photo by Mara

I’ll admit, kind and gentle reader, I am afraid to write this post. I have avoided it for months, while at the same time silently writing and rewriting it in my heart, longing to say it out loud, to tell her. But what do you say to someone who has given you so much, altered your experience so completely? How can you ever possibly thank them? See…I’m right to be afraid, because every time I think about it, about how much I adore her and how grateful I am, I start to cry (now, for example).

Andrea Scher has been the sun at the center of a universe of amazement and goodness, the shiny middle that all the other bright and precious things orbit around.

self-portrait by andrea scher

Here is just a short list of what she’s given me, what she’s introduced me to: Boho Girl, Susannah Conway, Kelly Rae Roberts, Brene’ Brown (!!!), Jen Lemen, Flora Bowley and the wonder of painting, Laurie Wagner, Rachel Cole, Mondo Beyondo thinking, and the joy of photography.

I’ve taken two of Andrea’s classes, Mondo Beyondo (which she taught with Jen Lemen) and Superhero Photo, and on Monday, June 18th, I’ll be starting Mondo Beyondo Dream Lab.

Horse or Dog?

horse or dog? picture I took of sam during superhero photo

Superhero Photo altered how I saw the world. I got down on the ground, climbed on chairs and tables, went out in all colors and weights of light, looked close and far away, and went on treasure hunts. I took some of the most magical pictures I ever had, and I haven’t stopped taking them.

Mondo Beyondo fundamentally shifted the way I approached my life, the way I saw myself. In this post, (which Andrea wrote when she first introduced the course in 2009), she describes the concept of a Mondo Beyondo list, what that approach looks like and means. She says,

I had been making these kinds of lists for years but had never had a name for it, or ever formalized my mental list by writing it down. My Mondo Beyondo. I liked the sound of it. I also loved the idea of stretching yourself into this world of the outrageous. If your imagination could reach a bit farther with this exercise, then you were giving yourself a powerful gift: expanding your idea of what is possible.

image by jen gray

Here’s the list of what I’ve done because of Andrea Scher, things I can cross off my Mondo Beyondo List:

  1. Started writing this blog
  2. Bought a ticket to World Domination Summit (WDS, just a few weeks away!)
  3. Took a few classes with Susannah Conway, got a signed copy of her book (sent by her!), am taking a writing workshop with her at WDS, and attending an event on her book tour at Kelly Rae Robert’s studio (!)
  4. Met Brene’ Brown (holy crap, I even talked to her!), took a two-day workshop with her
  5. Signed up to take a yoga class with Marianne Elliott at WDS
  6. Went to a Fearless Creativity writing and meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center with Susan Piver (oh how I adore that woman!)
  7. Hosted a Well-Fed Woman Mini Retreatshop led by Rachel Cole
  8. Started writing a book

Maybe for some people, this list wouldn’t seem that astonishing, but we are talking about me here: INFJ, introvert, highly sensitive person who suffered from depression, anxiety, and writer’s block for 25+ years, (maybe longer?). This list is huge, ginormous, crazy wild amazing.

andrea scher, taken by laurie wagner

I found Andrea Scher’s blog, Superhero Journal, at a time when I was so brokenhearted, such a mess, so stuck, so tired. I didn’t know how to keep going, where to even start. I was searching, my view clouded by grief, knew that I had abandoned myself and my dreams, but didn’t know how to find my way back.

The person I am today: writer, artist, warrior, brave, open-hearted, funny, strong, joyful, sane, is possible in part because of Andrea Scher. She invited me to expand my idea of what was possible. She encouraged me, was kind and honest. She was constantly admitting the things that are hard and messy, while still pointing out what’s beautiful and precious. She reminds me of this quote from Muriel Rukeyser, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Split open, and through the cracks, the light would get in (or maybe get out?).

Thank you, Andrea. I adore you and am so grateful for your work, your truth and your light, which have been of such great benefit to me as I stumble along.

If you really knew me: a list of 31 things

If you really knew me, you would know that:

I struggle with trusting myself, caring for and loving myself, and I have a bad habit of trying to please and take care of everyone else even if it means I am being hurt or suffering.

I act tough but I am incredibly sensitive.

I seem like an extrovert but am really an introvert who’s curious, who wants approval and appreciation.

I suffer from poverty mentality, don’t think I am enough or believe there will be enough for me.

I have all of these surface level issues, blockages that cause me so much suffering, but underneath, I am wise and compassionate and powerful.

I love big, a love that is unbound, a love that breaks my heart wide open.

I hold a grudge, am judgmental and critical, but I would never hurt anyone intentionally.

I’m glad that dogs can’t talk because if they could, I might find out they don’t love me as much as I think they do, and I couldn’t bear that.

I am obsessed with anything about the Holocaust, went to Amsterdam just to be able to see the Anne Frank House.

I can’t swim very well because I am afraid of drowning, which makes me tense up and start to sink.

I have dreams about being able to fly fight like in The Matrix or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The only “make-up” I wear is moisturizer and Strawberry Chapstick.

I prefer flip-flops, clogs, or boots to heels or sandals, but I’d rather not wear shoes at all.

I like doing laundry.

Lilacs are my favorite flowers.

I couldn’t live without music—well, I could, but I wouldn’t be as happy.

This is my second marriage.

My two favorite and most read authors are Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, and my favorite poet is Mary Oliver.

I was in theater and two different choirs in high school. I miss it.

I dream about learning to play the ukulele I already own and taking singing lessons so that someday I can be in a band.

I have two tattoos.

I want to be in a flash mob.

I lived in the same house for the first 18 years of my life, and the house I live in now, have for 12 years, has the exact same floor plan and was built around the same time.

I was scared of the dark and being alone until I was 31 years old, the same year I got my first dog.

Letting go of that dog, my Obi, was the most difficult and most loving thing I have ever done.

I prefer mending and keeping old things over buying new ones.

I have two places I consider “home.”

My favorite pastry is a maple bar (unfilled), my favorite ice cream is maple nut, and I love any breakfast eaten with maple syrup.

I would almost always choose staying home in my pajamas and reading a good book over dressing up and going to a concert.

I have Ménière’s disease and Hypothyroidism.

I have wanted to be a writer since I was in the second grade, when I first realized writing was an occupation and therefore a possibility for me. It’s still the thing I want most.

Well-Fed Woman Retreatshop Intro

Sometimes, when Eric or I have a big presentation to give, we like to “talk it out,” to practice, either alone or with a small, respectful, safe audience (usually the dogs). I am going to introduce the Well-Fed Woman Retreatshop tomorrow, explain why I instigated it and invited Rachel to come. I’m anxious, a little nervous, and so excited for this, the whole event, the whole weekend, and the introduction, so I’m going to practice it here. This is going to be a longer version of what I’ll actually say tomorrow, because although I am planning and practicing, I won’t have notes and am going to trust my heart in that moment to tell me what to say and how to say it, but it will help me to write it out, to share it in a safe space with a gentle, loving audience.

First I want to say: you all are so brave for being here. Signing up for this, you knew you wouldn’t be able to fake your way through it, sit in the back of a large lecture hall and pretend to be invisible. You knew you would be making yourself vulnerable, taking a risk–your heart might open, you might see and speak truth, you might be shocked, uncomfortable, comforted, and inspired to do different, to be different, to wake up, to live the life you have imagined, and to imagine that it’s exactly what you deserve, to know that you are enough. You knew that shit might just get real, but you signed up anyway. I hope that you have given yourself credit for how brave that is.

As the instigator of this event, I have my own reasons for being here. Two years ago, I lost two beings that I loved very much, both too young to die, both taken by cancer. I was also in the midst of a toxic work situation, and even though being a writer was the thing I had wanted most since I was in the second grade, I had struggled with writer’s block for 20 years, and I was a highly functioning food addict. I was at a crisis point. Something had to change, everything had to change.

I decided to start by being a better friend to myself. I renegotiated my job. I took my practices of yoga, meditation, and writing more seriously. Early on in this process, I had a realization: I had been in a long-term abusive relationship, with myself. To work on that, I embarked on a life-rehab. I started by reading Brene’ Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. I started writing this blog. I took online classes, the first with Andrea Scher and Jen Lemen, Mondo Beyondo: an Online Class about Dreaming Big. I had already been reading Andrea’s Superhero Journal blog and Jen Lemen’s blog, and one day, Andrea posted about her friend Rachel Cole. There was this picture of Rachel leaning in the doorway of her kitchen, wearing an apron and holding a cherry raspberry pie. Her smile made me smile.

I clicked on the link and went to Rachel’s website. The content and design of her site communicates so perfectly who she is: creative, alive, vibrant, but also calm, peaceful, stable. She is both inspiring and supportive, she glows with energy and love. I became a faithful reader, a follower, and hoped I’d get to meet and work with her some day–so when she mentioned she was “taking it on the road” and doing a tour, I emailed her and asked how I could get her to come to Colorado.

And now, she’s here, we are here with her, so let’s not waste any more time. Everyone, I’d like you to meet Rachel Cole.

Day of Rest

Yesterday, I took vows. Other than with Eric, I have always been reluctant to take vows, become a member of anything, to be contained or defined and responsible in that way. My spiritual path, as I have mentioned before, is meditation, yoga, writing, and dog. There isn’t a single church for this, and yet, I do feel as if I “belong,” feel like I have a sangha: an association or assembly, company or community with common goal, vision or purpose–it’s just that I don’t typically find them all gathered in one place. Some are at my yoga studio, some in my writing group, some are my friends, some practice meditation with me in various locations, some are walking the trails I walk, some are online, and some are even where I work.

And yet, when I read the Shambhala Vow and the Enlightened Society Vow, there was nothing there I disagreed with–plenty of things that would be difficult, but nothing that I didn’t already wholeheartedly believe, nothing I wasn’t already committing my life and practice to, so why not vow? Make a solemn promise, take an oath, speak the words in a ceremony with witnesses, swear it, make a pledge to it. These were the socks I wore, and while it is a brand name they are marked by, it was true–no nonsense. This was me, speaking the truth and making a promise.

These vows solidified, stated and celebrated what I am doing in this year of retreat, this life-rehab. In the first, the Shambhala Vow, one section says: “From now on, I will honor my vow of basic goodness by being gentle with myself, kind to others, and courageous in my life.” If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know this is what I am trying to do, exactly. “Having compassion for others and kindness toward the world, I will regard my entire life as a journey of deepening and training” — a year long retreat, a life-rehab, yes. “I will share humor, sadness, and delight with my fellow warriors. I will reflect on the profound wisdom of humanity daily, never losing enthusiasm for human potential.” That’s you, kind and gentle reader, fellow warrior, and what I am doing here is a reflection of my gratitude for, my awe in the face of our potential, the tender and open-hearted vulnerability and bravery, the sadness and love I have for all of it, the chance we have to heal ourselves and heal the world.

My favorite part of the second vow, the Enlightened Society Vow, is this:

This brave and fearless mind will constantly strive, day and night, to create enlightened society on this earth. This is the warrior I will be. May creating enlightened society be my first thought in the morning, my last thought in the evening, and even accompany me in my dreams.

Knowing that such courage intimidates others, through enlightened reflection and deep contemplation, I have come to this conclusion: if humanity and all beings who suffer at the hands of their own doubt are to be truly happy, they must discover their own basic goodness.

A society of such great and courageous beings can change the tide of humanity from a force of environmental and self-destruction to one of personal confidence, self-liberation, and environmental harmony.

Yesterday was a long and beautiful day. And today I rested. I am bound by these vows, as I am by the vows I spoke when I married Eric, but in both cases, the connection, the obligation, this statement of faith and love is a path to freedom.