What If?

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What if there was no Us vs. Them?

What if there were no Democrats vs. Republicans?

What if there were no sides to take?

What if we were all just humans trying our best to live satisfying lives? What if we were one?

There isn't. There aren't. Nope, we're all on the same side. And we are all humans. We are one.

Right now, these times and the way I'm feeling as a human living through them, remind me so much of almost 15 years ago when I first became a mother. I didn't babysit much when I was young and I wasn't someone who spent hours dreaming about becoming a mom someday. But when I became pregnant with my first child, I was thrilled. I immediately began to envision all the possibilities, all the adventures ahead, and all the love that my husband and I would shower upon our child.

A huge part of that vision was the inner knowing that I would become a mom. I would join the ranks of my ancestors and my friends who were also becoming mothers and reporting back that it was a downright brilliant experience.

Meeting my nephew. Loving my sister.

Meeting my nephew. Loving my sister.

And then my baby was born. And then I became not just a mom, but a nursing mom. A stay-at-home mom. A disposable diaper mom. A mom who would eventually feed her kid hot dogs and fruit snacks and may even let him try ice cream before milk was recommended by the ADA. In the process, the narrative being built around me pitted me against the formula moms. The working moms. The cloth diaper moms. The moms who held true to their preconceived notions of the very best ways to feed their children.

The lists grew and I kept thinking, "But WAIT! WE ARE ALL MOMS!!!" I didn't understand why we were fighting against each other over very personal choices we were making for our families when we could have been talking about the real fights we were facing together as moms. The fights for sleep. For our marriages and relationships. For our children. For a shower. 

The stories we are fed about what it means to be a mom are parallel to the stories we hear about what it means to be a democrat, a republican, a feminist, and a woman in America. The people feeding us these stories rely on us to believe them. They take it for granted that we will believe them. They profit from us believing the stories. They keep power over us with these stories. They assume we will always believe and uphold these stories.

It is time for us, especially those of us who identify as women - all women, not just any one kind of woman - to write new stories.

We are the ones who get to define what it means to be a woman.

The definition is not likely to be the same for each of us. That's okay.

As individuals, we have the power to define womanhood, motherhood, fatherhood, marriage, and family for ourselves. That's it. We don't have the power to define it for anyone else. That's not our job. We're off the hook.

When we let go of the need to be "right" or on the "right side" of an argument. When we allow each other to speak and when we listen to each other while each of us is speaking, we will move mountains, as the saying goes.

We need to stop fighting against each other and instead stand alongside each other.

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We need to look each other in the eyes and see each other as humans. Let's also acknowledge that a woman of color's experience as a woman in America is influenced by the color of her skin and as such, the challenges she faces are not the same as those a white woman faces. We must acknowledge that. We must acknowledge that those with wealth, with access to resources, and with privilege move through their lives with much more ease than those who are struggling to eat, to keep a roof over their heads, and even to survive. Let's open our hearts to the reality that being a Muslim woman is not the same as being a Christian woman in America. We must do that. Let's honor the fact that marriage equality isn't a mountain that heterosexual women are asked to climb. Let's listen to the stories of transgendered women whose everyday lives are complicated by the ways in which most places are set up to accommodate cisgendered women. There are so many incredible women with stories to share. I know there is a much longer list of ways women identify and I apologize for not mentioning every single kind of woman. We're missing out on these women and their stories - here and in the broader dialogue happening in our country.

In the midst of all these arguments, I wonder what are we really fighting about? Do we even know the people we're trying to defend? Do we even know what we're talking about? So much has been called to question. 

I do know that beneath our desire to "win" an argument, most of us have the capacity for infinite compassion. I know there is so much more love than there is hate in the world. I know if we focus on that love for each other as humans, we will want nothing more than to help each other. We won't care how any of us voted or who we sleep with or what we feed ourselves or our children. We won't care who we pray to. We will realize how beautiful it is to be united as one human family.

Yes, I am an idealist. I can be naive. I tend to hope for the best. That said, this is not an airy fairy forecast for an impossible Utopian future. This is all possible.

Unity is possible.

Love is possible.

It starts with each of us getting real clear on who we are, what we prioritize, and how we're willing to show up for each other.

Then, we open our hearts and minds to new ways of understanding our fellow humans. No judgment. No expectations. No need to negate another human's experience. We just listen.

As we listen (truly listen, not the kind of listening where you're thinking about what to say next or what to make for dinner), we soften. We acknowledge and honor the ways we are different and we start working from the places where we are the same. Humans. Deserving of love, justice, and freedom. All of us.

The we write new stories. Our own stories. From our own hearts. We shape the narrative. We share the profits. We share the power. We share the love.

Let's get started.

xo

Happy New Year!

The Heart Connected highlights of 2016 include publishing my first book and the Heart Connected Retreat. I am so grateful to the courageous souls alongside me on this journey.

The Heart Connected highlights of 2016 include publishing my first book and the Heart Connected Retreat. I am so grateful to the courageous souls alongside me on this journey.


Hello! Happy New Year!

I hope you are finding peace and joy in this New Year. 2017 is bound to have some surprises in store for us (I think it's safe to say that is already the case).

I will be honest: the last two years have been tumultuous over here, so I am grateful for this new beginning and I welcome it with open arms. The extremes have been intense from both ends of the spectrum. I've experienced some of the lowest lows and the highest highs. Ever. In as much as trying to ride these waves has been challenging, I know the extremes are real and true to the nature of life. I am even grateful for them. 

What I didn't expect, is that all of it felt a lot like grief to me.

I have known that grief in and of itself is a universal experience. Every human will experience loss and grief as a result of that loss. Grief is so much bigger than that though. It is ongoing. There is always something calling to be grieved. At the same time, generally speaking, I've seen a lot of resistance to the word: grief. I understand it sounds daunting and is most often associated with death so not many of us welcome even the idea of grief at our doors. The word grief could be an onomatopoeia after all. It starts out strong with a fierce G in the same way grief can catch us off guard and then softens, potentially leaving a person in a puddle.

Contrary to what most would think, I continue to see how grief sets us free. Once one agrees to face the sadness, heartbreak, angst, and anger that comes with grief, and allows that grief to break her open, it is just a matter of time before spirits are lifted. Grieving is more like a release valve than it is an anchor.

With the release of my book My New Friend, Grief, I've had the extreme privilege of meeting and some awe-inspiring people. I've also connected with people I already knew in new and powerful ways. I wish I could transcribe each and every courageous conversation I've had with these lovely beings because there is so much to be gained from sharing our stories with one another. To me, the most important reminder I receive in each of these exchanges is that none of us is alone. We are in this together. There is some comfort in that.

At the same time, I am aware in every cell of my body of the emotional climate here in America. It is intense like the waves I, and many of my friends and family, experienced in 2016. Americans are on high alert and it doesn't even matter which "side of the aisle" we cast our vote upon anymore. What we're facing is not a matter of taking sides. What I see is a crisis situation where many of our citizens are feeling betrayed by the sides to which they have pledged allegiance. I have great compassion for that sense of betrayal and I cannot deny that in the midst of betrayal we will never know the true scale of the battles being fought by those on whom we depend. I do know there are some, really good people, fighting hard to defend basic human rights for all of us. Sometimes lately we cannot even seem to agree on what is basic though. 

My faith lies in the balance between what is known and unknown and I believe that despite what we hear on the news each day and despite what we've come to believe about our leaders and each other, more good than bad is available to us.

In the meantime, we must learn to cope with the extremes and maybe even feel peace as we experience them. I think much of our challenge lies in a culture that tells us to "get over it". The only way I know to get over it, is to first feel it. All of it. Sometimes I fear it will destroy me. But, guess what, I'm still here. Only after the emotions have moved through me, can I let anything go. Sometimes what I've released comes back to me and the process of feeling it begins again. I don't know how Americans will ever move beyond this discontent we are experiencing without first feeling the betrayal, the anger, the fear, the sadness, and even the jubilation that some want the freedom to feel. Denying these feelings exist is holding us back.

We are entitled to our feelings.

As hard as I've seen people trying, none of us can deny how another person feels. It isn't okay to say another person can't or shouldn't feel the way they feel. Let's not do that anymore. Let's let each other feel what we need to feel. Let's hold space for those feelings, even when they are uncomfortable, knowing they are only feelings.

I dare you.

Just try it. The next time someone you know or someone you barely know expresses a feeling and you don't think that feeling is justified, instead of denying the feeling out loud or even in your head, simply say I hear you. Maybe even say that sounds hard.

You might be amazed. The power of making space for feelings lies in the simple effect it has on our bodies. We relax. We soften. We open. We develop compassion for person to whom we are speaking and, ultimately, we have compassion for ourselves.

Let it be known that grief is normal, natural, safe, and it can set us free

Thank you for being here. Let's do this, 2017!

xo

Be free...!

When the World Seems Unloveable

Artwork by Kathleen Hodges

Artwork by Kathleen Hodges

In the last few years or so, after a devastating event takes place in the world, I see a lot of calls to love. Love more. Love harder. Be love. Let love in. Love Wins! And as the news sinks in and I resolve to love more, within minutes my kids start arguing. I wonder how I could ever expect the world to be a more loving place when I can't even manage to make my own kitchen a more loving place?

I decided to research love. I've been on the hunt for insight and guidance on how to love more in a world that sometimes seems unloveable. There is unending evidence that points to love as the antidote to hate, to fear, and to misunderstanding. Beyond a doubt, love is our most potent medicine.

Today it occurred to me that it's not love that I need to better understand. We are made of love. We were made to love. Love is at the very center of our beings. It's who we are. We are born little baby bodies of solid love. Love comes easily until we are hardened by our surroundings, but no matter what happens, we can always return to love.

So, what is it that we need to make more space for if it isn't just love?

The answer may surprise you.

the answer is anger. The answer is sadness. The answer is grief.

This is more obvious than ever in my lifetime as I witness the aftermath of Tuesday's election. I have seen more expressions of fear, hate, anger, and sadness than I've ever really experienced all at once. I don't think I need to describe it. I think you know what I'm talking about. The one thing I've noticed across the board is that this election riled something up in just about everyone. It's not just the people who voted one way or another, EVERYONE is feeling SOMETHING.

Many people are expressing those feelings. It's making many more people uncomfortable. Some of us are telling others to get over it. To move on. To just love more. Some of us are saying "You can be mad or sad, but keep it to yourself". Some of us are suggesting that others' feelings aren't valid. Some of us are just fine, but mostly we are all over the place. We are in a raging storm of emotions.

So, yes, let's love more.

AND, let's make more space for our anger and our sadness. Let's make space for this grief.

I know, it's uncomfortable. I know it's hard. I know most of us weren't taught to do that.

Nobody enjoys seeing others in pain. In American culture especially, we don't like it and we don't want to see it.

In fact, the only place where it actually seems acceptable for people to fully express their emotions is at a sporting event. For the most part, it's okay to let it all out there. We rage, we yell, we scream, we clap and stomp, and cheer. Some of us even wet our pants. It's all good.

But after you leave the stadium or turn off the TV, you better pull yourself together. And if we're being honest, I think this one place where we get a free pass for expressing ourselves mostly benefits men. And even then, only men who watch sports. I love you men and I'm glad you have this place because God knows you receive very little support for expressing yourselves emotionally, and at the same time I envy you.

For lack of better space to express ourselves, we turn to social media. Witnessing the outpouring of emotions on Facebook this week, can take a girl down. It has made me want to crawl under my covers and stay in bed indefinitely. What is the world coming to when even the people suggesting love and prayer are even getting shushed? I get it though.

Each of us is processing what is happening in the world around us in our own unique ways. 

And like it or not, it is all okay.

It is in service to no one to try to suppress your anger or your sadness. Emotions left unexpressed fester inside us. These emotions can and do manifest in stress, anxiety, depression, illness, and disease. Quite frankly, they are deadly.

We need to let each other be fully expressed, no matter how hard it is to watch. Fortunately, nobody is forcing us to watch. If we don't like it, we can turn the other way. Yes, let's take responsibility for how our expressions may impact those who see them. But let's not censor each other. Especially not now.

To meet other people right where they're at and to allow them the space to say what they need to say, that is love. If we want to love more, let's start by doing that. Love doesn't make judgments or have expectations of others. Love can hold space for whatever comes up.

Love yourself and let yourself feel every last bit of it. Expect cycles, waves, and spirals of emotion. Scream, cry, and let it all out. There is no timeline. There is no right way to do this. The only way out is through. Know that love surrounds you.

Love others and let them do what they need to do. Have compassion for their feelings and their need to express them (even in your kitchen).

Trust that by making space for anger, sadness, and all that is grief, we are also making space for more love in our hearts.

And the best part? Transformation. True change can only come when we get it all out on the table. No holding back. When we've assembled piles of all the pieces, we can rebuild. We will rebuild.

Until then, peace. xo

 

100 Days of Light

There are two things that make me feel uneasy when I see them on Social Media (aside from hatred, violence, abuse, intolerance, and things that would rightfully make one feel uneasy). The first is 100 day challenges. 30 day challenges. One day challenges. Any challenge whatsoever. The second is posts about how people try to make everything look picture perfect on Social Media.

Challenges make me squirm. I don't like being told what to do and I don't like recurring commitments. Admittedly, not my best qualities. If I were my therapist, I would guess that taking on challenges translates as yet another way to let myself (or others) down and I hate letting people down, so no challenges. Easy peasy.

I hold authenticity with such high esteem that it sometimes gets me in trouble. Sometimes, a girl doesn't need to say what's on her mind, you know? Sometimes she does. Sometimes it's a fine line. When I see a post about how "we" try so hard to show our best angles on Facebook or Instagram, I feel prickly. I consciously try to be real with what I share (I even wrote a rather raw book about GRIEF, of all things!), and choosing to acknowledge and celebrate the brighter moments in my life doesn't feel like curating to me, but I get it.

I know posts about trying to make things look perfect make me uneasy because they cause me to wonder about the stories I'm telling about my life on Social Media. And, I get that when I'm having a bad day or just a day, and I see all the "life is perfect" posts on Facebook, I can feel like a complete loser because my life is not perfect. I love my life. It has taken me a long time to feel safe admitting that. It is a lovely life and it is far from perfect. I know nobody's life is truly perfect, but there is this sense that maybe somebody has it all figured out when she posts a photo of all her people smiling like angels at the camera and my people scowl at me when I ask them to smile.

Theodore Roosevelt said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."

He is right and most of us are quick to compare, especially when someone else appears to have the answers we are seeking.

With that, I give you 100 Days of Light.

Yep, I am taking on a 100 day challenge. And the intention behind it is to share the story behind the story. The real story, not just the one you see in the picture.

Choosing the light - the sunshine, the rainbows, the smiles, or the celebrations - doesn't always come easy to me. When I was a little girl I read a lot. I had an active imagination. I more or less lived with one foot in reality and the rest of me in a daydream. I preferred the daydreams - the Secret Gardens and the doors to Narnia. I'd take fairies and angels and portals to other lands over my everyday reality any chance I had. I was shy, but mostly smiley and happy as a kid. Around the end of eighth grade the portals closed. People had become accustomed to me being happy so I kept wearing that smile. It was more of a mask though. I was often dying on the inside. Navigating life was hard for me. My feelers are hardwired for maximum feeling capacity. I was born to feel the feels and that's cool, except I didn't know how to feel them when I was younger. I did know how to smile and to pretend that everything was okay.

Much later, in the last several years or so, I found that everything could only be okay for me, if I stopped pretending. I learned to feel. It's still not easy! I am committed to being true to myself though and to do that I must feel. Sometimes it's a struggle, like a wrestling match kind of struggle, and sometimes it's not. It varies. It can be SCARY! But when the feelings have bubbled up and out of me, I can make a choice about where to go from there.

I try to choose the light. 

Since I've begun to feel, I can honestly say that I appreciate the sunshine and rainbow moments in a much different way. I find them in places that were previously hidden. Since I am being honest though, I will share that lately the sunshine and rainbow moments have been less clear to me. The air is heavy with election drama and trauma, with hate, with fear, and dread. I can feel it all around me and my kids are feeling it too. Even if you don't watch the news and do unfollow unsavory posts on Facebook, the reality that we are living in trying times is hard to avoid. It's challenging for a big feeler girl like me. I want to choose the light and yet the space between feels is getting smaller. So, this is my challenge: to find the light. To share the light. Ultimately, to be the light I want to see in the world.

Be the change you want to see in the world - Mahatma Gandhi 

Will you join me? Again, I'm not advocating for avoiding the darkness altogether. I'm saying: GO THERE. But let's not stay there. Let's not stew there. Let's feel all of it, hold it, wrestle it, and turn it around and around, and THEN make a choice about what to do next. Maybe sit with it a little longer? Maybe integrate it into action? Maybe let that shit go.

I'll be posting on Instagram for 100 days (seriously? holy crap!). I may use filters because they are so fun. Actually, I'm not going to make a lot of rules because rules...make me squirm. My practice will be to share a moment in my day that feels like light to me and in the caption I will talk about why. Almost as simple as avoiding a challenge altogether.

I think I'm going to appreciate the breath of fresh air in all this heaviness I've been feeling. Please jump in if you feel called.

OH! Also, this idea was inspired by the fabulous Christianne Squires at Bookwifery  She has been celebrating her launch with 100 Days of Love Notes for Writers! She sheds such beautiful light on the process of writing. I love her words and her work. Check her out.

With loving kindness, xo

#100daysoflight #gowherethelightis #bethechange #bethelight

Who Is Served By My Silence?

America the Beautiful

America the Beautiful

When I registered to vote I was proud of myself for registering as an Independent. I thought I was pretty cool. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans seemed to represent me completely. Plus, I wasn't political so I didn't want to be affiliated with a political party. Or, so I thought.

As I shared this with one of my dear, wise friends shortly after she also registered to vote, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Anna, you are political whether you believe it or not." We Americans, we are all political. Politics impact us at every level of our existence. We live in a country governed by a political system. Essentially, we are the system.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I registered as a Democrat after that conversation. Of the two main parties, I felt my values were most aligned with Democratic values.)

When I hear people say they aren't voting in the upcoming election because they "don't like either of their choices", it is like hearing my 8 year-old say she isn't eating dinner because she doesn't like what I made (only she is 8 so she doesn't yet know any better). Many factors merge together to make it possible for me to serve a meal to my family. Farmers, animals, truck drivers, sun, dirt, the person who stocks the shelves at the grocery, the cashier, my husband, his employer, and me. Meals don't just magically appear on our table.

The same is true for voting. The blood, sweat, and tears of many, many people built and sustain this country. Wars are fought. People die. All so we can vote. The freedoms we enjoy as U.S. citizens didn't just magically appear on our table. It is disrespectful not to honor the essence of this country by not voting. It is essential that we do our civic duty.

Let's be clear about what that duty entails. Our job is not to choose between two dudes we'd like to meet for drinks after work. We aren't looking for someone to meet us at Starbucks to discuss recent episodes of the Walking Dead. We're not hosting this person for Thanksgiving dinner. You and I, we might not ever truly "like" our presidential candidate. How can we? We don't KNOW them. We probably never will. Our duty is to use our votes, our voices, to hire the most qualified person for the job of President of the United States. We are not choosing a new friend, we are making a hiring decision. This is serious business. Now is not the time to stay silent.

And as for the candidates representing the two main parties in this election, I'm not here to share statistics or a political analysis. I'm only here to share from my heart. My opinion of Donald Trump is not born from news reports, allegations, conspiracy theories, or speculation. I base my opinion of him on the words I have heard come out of his very own mouth. Granted, there could be a little of what my dad used to call "TV magic" at play, but regardless of how Trump is portrayed in the media, I think he gives us a crystal clear picture of who he is. As much as I dislike him and all the hateful things he says, I must give him credit for bringing America's demons to light. He embodies every awful aspect of mankind.

My opinion of Hillary Clinton is somewhat shaped by the few moments we shared together when I met her earlier in the election. She was kind. She looked me in the eyes when we shook hands and I knew by the way I felt with her that I could trust her with the job President. Plus, I got a glimpse of her great sense of humor. And, whoa, with her years of service, expertise across the board, dedication, and ability to take command of a room, we should be thanking her for giving us the opportunity to elect her as our President. Have we ever had a candidate apply for this job who was as qualified as Hillary Clinton? No. I could go on and on. 

It is obvious that many, maybe even most, Americans are desperate for change in our political system. We would probably be better off turning it all on its ear and rebuilding it from scratch at this point. Much of the system is antiquated, and it doesn't work for a lot of people as it stands. We don't have much time though, so for now, let's do the best with what we have.

For the most part, there are two kinds of people are expressing the need for change. There are the people who say they want "things" to change, but they don't want to change along with the things. These people benefit from the systems that keep oppressed people oppressed and marginalized populations in the margins. That is, our entire system, by the way. These are the people who say they want change, but they actually fear change. What they really want is for everything to stay as it is, or worse, to go back to the way it used to be. 

Then there are the people who don't want to be part of a system that holds others back and keeps them down. They are not afraid of change because they believe there is a place at the table for everyone. They believe it's a really big table.  They see that the faces around the table now all look the same and the insights coming from the table lack perspective. They want to hear more voices and see more faces around the table.

The beautiful thing about American democracy is that we get to choose which kind of person we want to be. We get to decide what kind of change we're really longing for. Independent of our parents, our children, our spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, our schools, our churches, and our places of business, we get to choose for ourselves how we show up in the face of this election. We get to be the change we want to see (thank you Mahatma Gandhi)

More and more I hear stories of people saying things like, "I never thought I would (vote for a Democrat), but I cannot bear to vote for Trump." In the face of this election, we are doing things we never thought we would do. Some of us are breaking free from systems that owned and operated us for our entire lives. We are owning ourselves now. We are visioning a world with a very big table, and with leadership like we have never known. We are rooted in love and compassion. It is astounding what kind of change we can affect when we are making thoughtful, deliberate choices, rooted in compassion.

What are you going to do? Who are you going to be?

Wait. Don't tell me just yet.

Put your hands over your heart and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself, "What am I going to do? What is my heart telling me to do? What does the world need me to do? How will I represent my own values and those of the people who don't have a voice here in this election - people like our children - on Election Day? Who am I going to be?" Wait. Listen.

Q: Who is served by silence?

A: Nobody. 

xoxo