25 October, 2011

Looking for Me? I've Moved!

Come check out A Circle of Stones' new digs on Word Press! New look, new functionality, but still the same sweet and saucy content served up!

All the posts from my past five years are now there waiting for you, too.

Just another chapter the life of this writer...

So come on over...see you there!

31 August, 2011

Reflections on August: Go Big or Go Home

There is something undeniably "in your face" about August. Let's face it - it's a bit of a bully. As the last official month of summer, it's the biggest kid on the playground prodding its pudgy little finger in our chests, saying, "Oh yeah, whataya gonna do about it?" We start getting feisty - panicked, even - and start our rebel yells about summer not being over until we say so. We find ourselves quoting movies from the 80s ("nobody puts Baby in a corner") and rally our friends and neighbors to suck the marrow from the bone of summer with us. We throw spontaneous barbecues and blow out parties. We stir up trouble and get naughty, using up all our extra fire crackers, marshmallows and laughing until our sides hurt. We grab random vacation days, long weekends,  and stolen hours like little bits of candy spilling out of a pinata.  Mother nature even joins in the rebellion, offering dramatic shows of lightening and yes, even a hurricane. And as the last days of the month draw to a close, we are spent and sagging with the exhaustion of a time well had. The bell rings and, with a sly satisfied smile to the bully, we make our way into the shade of the school.

20 July, 2011

Add Water And Mix

What if it were easy and we were all bent on making it hard?

I saw Oprah speak in her Master Class series a while back and she told the story of a mother who was holding her son as he was dying. He had a terminal disease and these were his last moments. As he began drift between worlds, he got this big grin on his face and said, "Oh Mommy, it was all so easy!"

But we don't like easy very much, do we? I'm mean, we say we like it - we even say we want - but when push comes to shove, we don't buy stock in it...we're skeptical, we say things like we "got lucky" and we often brace and wait for the "other shoe to drop." It's ironic really. We're so busy dissecting the anatomy of easy, we miss the point entirely. Our enduring love affair with "hard" prevents us from noticing the wind is at our backs.

Listen  to the language of our western culture and you'll hear our values: "sweat equity", "roll up your sleeves" and "pull yourself up by your bootstraps", "no such thing as a free lunch", "put some elbow grease into it", "no pain, no gain", "this is too easy..." You get the point, right? So no wonder we've been groomed for "hard". It's in our blood.

But there is a ground swell of change happening that is having more people relocate into the "easy" camp. It's got a bunch of different names. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it "flow", Martha Beck refers to it as "steering by starlight" by using your "north star",  and you remember the smashing success of The Secret, that expounded on the work of Abraham-Hicks and the Law of Attraction? It's all essentially pointing to the same thing.

Believe in Easy and it will Become Easy.

Now, I can hear a bunch of you saying, "That's all well and good, but it's not that easy..." Gotcha! You're more than entitled to hold onto your hard (so to speak), but here's a little trail of bread crumbs in case you're interested in heading down the easy path.

Danielle LaPorte, a rock star woman and author of The Fire Starter Sessions (I highly recommend these!) for entrepreneurs, recently boiled down the whole "easy scene" for me in a way that totally sealed the deal. She calls it "The Metrics of Ease" and "The Strategy of Desire". She begins by asking the reader to answer one simple question:

How do you want to feel?

Her premise is that knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have. That question is the answer to your strategy, your to-do list, your business plans, your prioritizing, your choices. Her philosophy of living puts a twist on Descartes "I think, therefore I am", moving us into the realm of "I feel, therefore I am."  Her strategy is simple:

Know how you want to feel and do whatever it takes to feel that way.

 She suggests writing three-five words or phrases (her words are connected, affluent, divinely feminine and innovative) on a sticky note that describe how you want to feel and let those words be the rudder of your ship. She gives the example of a handful of things she could do to feel affluent, for example: making a donation to a cause dear to her heart, wear her favorite cocktail ring, transfer fifty bucks into her savings account, buy a burrito for the homeless guy on the corner, sit in one of those Herman Miller Aeron Chairs that she's saving up for. Her message - don't delay. Feel the feeling now and it will expand - it will take root, find a home and grow in you. Now you try...

Ask yourself, "What can I do today or even right now to feel ____?" (insert your desired feeling here)

Sure, you can make it hard. We've got hard dialed in and perfected (which makes it kind of "easy", interestingly enough...). But what if that little boy was right?

What if it were easy?

I don't know about you, but I'm banking on that little boy and his wisdom. I'm banking on easy (not lazy, not lucky, not passive, but easy). I'm going to effort-less. Join me?

14 June, 2011

Front Row Seats

I fell in love the other day. With a concept. It's not the first time it's happened, but it was sweet love nonetheless.

I recently had a fight with a family member. I left the exchange feeling invisible, misunderstood, and worse, judged. What made it even more difficult was that I recognized it was a pattern - something, sadly, I'd come to expect.

Needing to process my thoughts, I turned to a wise soul who, happily, lives two doors down. He listened to my story with the patience and presence of Buddha and nodded his understanding. Then he said something which rang so true for me it left me slack-jawed and deep in thought for days afterward. Intrigued yet?
He said:

"Some people aren't deserving of a front row seat to our lives."

When he said this phrase, he continued on with his other thoughts, but I found I couldn't move on. I just kept uttering that phrase, rolling it over and over on my tongue, liking the taste of it more and more. It was like I had been given a truffle. 

In my mind's eye, I envisioned a theatre filled with blood red lush velvet chairs. The notion that I got to choose who got the front row seats was thrilling. It wasn't new, exactly, but more of a refreshed understanding  - one that I had let slide a bit. I was at once aware of the fact that I hadn't taken inventory in a while. Did I know who occupied those seats? And were they there by invitation or out of a sense of entitlement or by default? Was there anyone squatting, assuming their front row seat was somehow a tenured position and couldn't be revoked? 

The notion of "being deserving of a front row seat" underscored my belief in the privilege of intimacy. I have long-since believed that to share in the majesty, the mayhem and the magic of another person's life is an extremely privileged and sacred gift.  It is by invitation only and must be treated with the utmost honor and respect, even in the heat of battle - especially in the heat of battle.

It is in the spirit of this philosophy that I will often say, "our children chose us" when describing how we came to be as a family. It's also because of this that I see "family" having not a lot to do with blood. I see each of those front row seats as a place of honor - not one of politics, "shoulds" or guilt.

To be honest, I'm still unpacking the full meaning of that phrase "deserving of a seat" and considering whom I wish to occupy those chosen spots in my life, but I offer you the concept to consider with this question:

Who do you wish to have seated in your front row - and are they there now?

07 June, 2011

Lightening Bugs, Not Bolts

When we're stuck, at a crossroads or wanting some clarity on the direction of our lives, we often say we're waiting for those "lightening bolts" of understanding to strike us. Some of us might call them epiphanies - those transcendent moments when everything becomes clear and we know just what to do, what's most important, or how best to proceed. We wait for those moments for it to all make sense.

But here's the thing. What's the likelihood of that actually happening? You know the statistics on lightening right? How you have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting struck by lighting? And yet, I've fallen prey to this seductive notion time and time again and so have my clients - joining the legions of people wandering around the open fields of our lives waving a lightening rod, desperately hoping for that lucky strike. While I will always hold a soft spot in my psyche for this romantic notion, I've come to believe it's actually not a winning strategy.

Like love, you can't go looking for lightening. It's one of those things that finds you when you least expect it.

It also has us looking outside ourselves for the answer, which can be an easier and yes, I'll say it again - seductive - trap when seeking the answers to those burning questions. You've heard the infamous story of the guy begging at the feet of the statue, right? The guy goes to the statue every day begging, "please, please, please let me win the lottery!" Frustrated, the statue comes to life one day and says to the man, "please, please, please buy a lottery ticket!"

The answer (the clarity, the understanding), I've come to believe, does not live outside ourselves, but inside our daily choices and actions.

I use this example a lot with clients when they are longing for some clarity on "what to do" or "where to go" next. Standing at those crossroads is not for the weak of heart, and it's only human nature to want to plug in our "next" coordinates into the GPS and get going. So what to do in the meantime for those brave souls who want to hold true to their intentions and stay open to possibilities?

Here are some perspectives and strategies for navigating those times that have worked for me and my clients:

Stuck is the New Black

The ecstatic Sufi mystic Rumi once wrote a poem about the pain of being a "chickpea to boil" in the stew of life, continually being whacked down by "the cook's" wooden spoon so that it may soak up all the spices of life, even through it is so damn tempting to jump ship out of the pot (eventually the chickpea is grateful, but  clearly the stewing part sucks). That's kind of the idea here - shifting your perspective of the "pot" (or stuck place you're in) from being purgatory to being a teacher, actually giving you something you need for your journey. Let me reassure you, it seems we are in a time of great universal stuckness. You are so not alone if you are feeling this way - I see it every day in my work with clients. People are questioning the constructs of their lives and are reorganizing them around what makes them happy, healthy and more fulfilled. Yes, even in this crazy economy. So you're not alone. Stuck is the new black. 

Shaking Pennies In a Can

This can be a great time to mix it up a bit. Take a different way to work. Tackle that basement and get rid of the junk in the trunk. Go out with some new friends. Try something creative - start a blog, take a pottery or photography class, create a garden, build a labyrinth in your back yard. Surprise yourself. Say yes to wild and woolly invitations. The idea is to create some friction, some noise and agitation. If that sounds unappealing, consider the things that can be born out of friction - a single grain of sand creating a pearl, an incredible work of art, an orgasm (yes, I said orgasm). So mix it up by design. Let in some oxygen, shake off the dust bunnies and see what emerges.

Lightening Bugs, Not Bolts

While lightening bolts happen as a freak of nature, sudden and surprising, often destructive, lightening bugs are more common and certainly more tame by comparison. And they also offer light on those dark nights. Consider how easily it can be to track a lightening bug on a summer night, following its arc and gentle journey. Now imagine how luminous it would be if you were to collect a whole bunch of them in a jar. They would work together to light up the night. The same could apply to your individual ideas - those fleeting thoughts or images that waft in and out of your consciousness. If you were to capture each of those and hold them in a jar, they might work together to reveal a clearer image or picture that could light your way; answer your question, if you will. Perhaps it could be that easy, that organic of a process. And it would give you something to do in the meantime. Becoming a student of yourself - witnessing yourself - can be a powerful exercise in unearthing a personal vision.

Control Gets A Bad Wrap

The word "control" - and everything that's associated with it - comes up a lot in the work I do with women. Most often, it has the tinge of "bad" on it (as in "control freak" or "too controlling"). But here's the thing...it feels good sometimes - especially in those times we feel most out of control and adrift in our lives. It's human nature to crave some control in lives in response to chaos and turmoil. It helps us make sense of our world - to bring order to a corner of our lives, to offer some structure, some predictability in an otherwise disorienting time. So during these "crossroad moments" in our lives, give yourself lots of latitude when it comes to that instinct to create order and, well, control. Get some Rubbermaid containers, a label maker and go to town on your basement or that hall closet. Create a new filing system on your C: drive. Sort through and box up all those photos. Color code your spices or DVDs. The bottomline: scratch the itch. You can still hold your intention while you're scratching...it will just give your hands (and mind) something to do and will offer a reprieve from the heavy lifting of the "what should I do with my life" questions.

Right Foot, Left Foot 

When an idea does strike, take a step toward it. It's not a commitment, it's just a step. Martin Luther King, Jr. once invited us all to "take the first step in faith," reminding us that "you don't need to see the whole staircase" to take that first step. The same holds true for being at a crossroads. Too often I see "analysis paralysis" kick in with clients because they might see that first step, but they can't see clearly where it will take them. A first step of a career transition, for example, might just be telling your beloved or a trusted friend, "I'm going to leave my job" or "I'm not happy at work and that's not okay any longer". It's making it public. Sharing your intention. Another example might be revamping a resume or populating an excel spread sheet with potential contacts or networks to tap into. It's not necessarily quitting the job you're in, as some might think. The key here is small movement toward something more meaningful - even if you can't see it clearly yet.

If you are at a crossroads and you're reading this, I hope you'll share your thoughts and experiences. It can be a lonely and terrifying place, those transitional crossroads (insert a mental image of tumbleweeds at a sign-less intersection in the dessert, sun beating down, wind whipping, vultures circling.) It's a insanely personal journey, I realize, but somehow it feels better to know that people are standing at those crossroads in another town or country. So lend your voice. Be a lightening bug for someone who may be craving some light.

24 May, 2011

Know What You're Worth

Tired of the wage gap? I am. Women make seventy-seven cents for every dollar earned by a man who has similar experience, skills and education. Yes the organizational systems, paradigms and culture need to change in order for parity to be achieved, but more and more the conversation also includes an invitation to women to own their role in keeping the wage gap where it is.

The invitation, quite simply, is to do our own research, know our worth, and make the ask. The good news is, there is a whole generation of women entering the workforce that is already doing this. So find a woman who does it well, learn from her and let's tackle this puppy once and for all.

17 May, 2011

Get Your Growl On

I do triathlons with a friend that growls when she swims. With every stroke she takes in the water, she puts so much into it, she makes this noise –  like a bear that is fierce and focused, low and guttural. You can almost feel the water vibrate around her.

I’ve come to appreciate that’s her way of living in the world – making the most of every stroke, putting her whole being into it. More than attacking the water – or in this case the other swimmers in her way – she’s letting herself be known to the water. “I’m here”, her growls say, “and I’m committed.” 

The fact is, it’s pretty hard to hide or be innocuous when you growl. You make your presence known – first to yourself, then to the water, then to those around you. I love swimming with her – often behind her – listening to the rhythm of her growls and watching how that inner focus pulls her through the water. 

I’ve never asked her about the growl, because I don’t want her to ever stop or even tone it down out of self-consciousness. But I have a story about why she does it. I don’t think she does it for the “fear factor” that you might be guessing – although a growling swimmer in a wet suit might be cause for alarm for the novice competitor. Instead, I suspect she does it to hear herself – to be an auditory witness to herself, her power, her renewed commitment and determination with each stroke. 

So I’ve tried growling. And not just in the water, but in other, seemingly odd locations, like the grocery story, at the keyboard, and in sessions with my clients. Now, before you laugh and brush me off, I say try it. Because here’s the thing, a growl is simply a voice coming from a deeper place, a more guttural and pure source.   

A growl is about commitment – it’s got to be by its very nature because it just doesn’t happen by accident like a squeak or a squawk might pop out of someone. It requires some synchronization – some intention. You have to call the air in and then suck it down – way down – and then slowly, with constricted throat muscles (and face, if you want the added effect of looking the part), let it back up and then out. Go ahead and try it, I’ll wait.

The thing is, I’ve been working with women and accessing their voice for years. When clients come to me wanting a particular change in their lives, we’ll often discover there is a big (you might say, “bear of a”) longing that is driving that change. But it’s been covered up – for whatever reason – with some blankets, and maybe a plastic tarp, and just for good measure, it’s weighted down with one of those Wile E Coyote anvils from the Acme Supply Company. I’ve seen women light up with something, open their mouths to give it voice, and then snap their mouths shut before anything comes out.

I’ve done it, too. During the period I was first harboring my dream of leaving the corporate world to start my own business that focused on women and transition, I found myself at one of those gatherings where everyone goes around the table and introduces themselves – who they are an what they do. I surprised myself by sharing that I was starting my own business (growl), and then snapped my mouth shut before anything else could escape. Traitor! Everyone's interest was piqued, if not by my words, then certainly by my tomfoolery antics. The questions came at me like buckshot – “What kind of business?” “When are you doing it?”, “Who will you work with?”, “What will you call it?” And even, “Can I work for you?” Years later, I still am reminded of that moment. Of my growl. 

It happened again, more recently. I went away for a night to an island to do something thinking about my business, reflect and do some writing. As I checked into the Inn, the proprietress ask me what I did and I said “I’m a writer.” Growl. Snap. Traitor! And yet here I am.

So you see, growls are harbingers of a force waking up in us – either by design, by accident or completely unbidden.  Like a bear coming out of the cave after hibernation, it grabs our attention, can make our hair stand up on end and, yes, even climb a tree. 

I pay close attention to the things clients share with me in “the voice” – that quiet, “just between you and me”, if-I-whisper-it,-it-doesn’t-really-count-as-saying-it voice. The kind that has us both looking over our shoulders to see if anyone is overhearing what is about to be shared, even though we know we’re alone. Sometimes it can take on a “cutesy” tone – one that is so out of character it almost makes you laugh. I’ve come to recognize that “voice” is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing -  it’s is actually a growl that’s been toned down, or altered, as if someone switched the language preference on the DVD remote to “buffoon." I pay attention to those voices, fleeting as they may be, and start to dig through all the paraphernalia and contraptions that are muffling it. 

In my experience, that “digging” generally takes the form of blowing out the clog, kind of like a figurative Draino boring out a clean path from the back of your throat, down to your vocal chords, into your lungs and finally your gut. How this looks might be literally singing at the top of your lungs to 80s tunes in your car, to howling at the moon or laughing out loud. The idea is to open up the pipeline a bit so more sound – the growl that was meant to be – can actually come up and out. It’s like an auditory angioplasty.

So go ahead. Get your growl on. Find a safe space and let 'er rip. Open your mouth and see what comes out. Sing it loud and sing it proud. If only for your own ears. But I tell you, it sure as hell sounds good in water. Grrr.