22 December, 2010

Hip Hip Hurray!

I have hips. If I sound shocked it's because I'd forgotten (again). But this morning after taking my first Zumba! class, I marvelled at how foreign the sensation was to move my hips as they were meant to move - from side to side.

I've had this experience before, forgetting my hips. I remember taking belly dancing for the first time when I was 10 months pregnant with my first son and then again when I was pregnant with my second son. I liked the way the baby moved in response to my own movement and I liked how sensual and powerfully feminine it made me feel - even despite the newness of the dance to me. I remember the instructor speaking about the roots of belly dance being about birthing and how it is a celebration and an expression of women's power. Of women's stories. Of women's wisdom. Most of all, I remember being in labor with my sons and moving my hips in a figure eight for hour after hour as I brought new life into the world. I can't think of another time I felt more powerfully feminine.
And yet this way of being seemed to be the exception in my life.

Growing up in my tribe of white women, I learned to find my way in a world that values predominately the masculine. I let myself lose my connection to my hips. I became a runner and often joked that "I didn't have hips" because how my body was shaped, lean with a wide waist and narrow hips. I entered corporate america and learned to walk tall and straight, not a sashay or wiggle in sight.
As I think of it now, it makes me sad. Don't get me wrong, I love my masculine side - the part of me that stands firm like a mountain and moves directly in a line, swift and efficient. But that is only half of me and, truth be told, takes a fair amount of energy and consciousness. By denying or discounting the feminine in me, I had made a part of myself invisible - sawing off part of who I am without much thought. How terrifying how that happens. And it seems I'm not alone.
Last week, twenty-two women came together at my winter Tribal Gathering to talk about sensuality and power in women. We remembered our hips - indivdually and collectively - and honored their desire to move from side to side as something that is destinctly feminine. And powerful. We talked about connection between spirituality, sensuality and power in women and acknowledged how this feminine way of being in the world - being with the world - will heal us.
So let's move our hips again. It's time. When you have a free moment today, put your finger tips to your hip bones. Literally connect with them. And listen to what they have to say. Watch as start to move with ease from side to side as you walk. Give them a little shake or shimmy and celebrate how this ancient instinct still lives within you.

31 August, 2010

Dirty Harry

August plays a mean game of chicken. With September barreling toward us like a runaway freight train, August holds its ground like Dirty Harry in a desert town. "This town's not big enough for both of us", August sneers, its eyes squinting at the hot sun as a tumbleweed rolls on by. And September screeches to a halt, idling at a distance and biding its time. Like Clint Eastwood in those infamous Dirty Harry movies, there is something audacious and unapologetic about August. It doesn't care if there is work to do, plans to make or logistics to coordinate. It doesn't need your permission or approval. It really doesn't. With its heat and seductively beautiful days, August squeezes the last days of summer out of us and we are the better for it. We instinctively know that there is wisdom in the mandate of August to resign and resist sneaking peaks at the freight train waiting just outside the town line. "Stick with me, kid", August says, "it'll be waiting for you when I'm done."

13 August, 2010

Seek Out A Little Solace

It's a radical act to strike out on your own. On purpose. With intention. And yet, however terrifying that prospect might seem, I am firmly convinced it is elixir for the soul. Keeping good company with your own self is an exercise in unconditional love. Free from the distractions of prater and chatter, cell phones and wifi, friends and foes, the hum of our own operating system can be heard.

Every year, sometime during the week of my birthday, I take myself away for one night and two days. I started doing this the year I turned 39 and it's become something of a ritual. I always go to the same place up the coast. Every year on the day I leave it rains. And the kids whine and beg me not to go. And awful stories swirl around in my head about being selfish, inflicting unnecessary stress on my family and spending money on myself that could go toward something else. Something more important. But I somehow muster the fortitude to drag myself out of the house, into the car and up the coast.

When I tell this to people - friends and clients - I get a lot of "well, that must be nice..." or "I wish I could do that, but it would be so hard to get away." Let me tell you right now, "nice" is not the word I would ever use to describe that journey, and it's never ever easy to get away. Ever. It's rugged and it takes every ounce of courage I have. But having fulfilled that commitment to myself for three years now, I am a believer. It's so worth the angst, the sweat and the money. It's my annual anchor and it deeply nourishes my spirit and soul.

Each year, I have many rituals I go through and very clear intentions for my time away. Some of them soothe my soul so I relax and some of them stir the pot and agitate me into a state of clarity. The best description of what I do, however, I found in the KT Tunstall song, Someday Soon:

Think it's time to put myself away
Seek out a little solace
Close the doors and sit a while
And walk a little

As I put my words away
The flow slows...

It is this same belief that inspired me to offer Homecoming: A Women's Retreat back in 2008 for the first time. Forty-one women joined me at that retreat back then. This October, I will be holding the retreat again and it's likely we'll have twice that number. It seems that "radical' is the new black. More and more women are putting firm stakes in the ground and are carving out time for themselves. Look at what a phenomenon Eat, Pray, Love has become (it opens today, by the way...)

Will it be hard to pull yourself away? Sure it will. Might you feel awkward or self-conscious at first? Of course. But that won't stop you, will it? Because if you're reading this, you're a believer, too. And if you need a bit of encouragement or a primer, check out this awesome YouTube video called Learning to Be Alone. It's a thing of beauty and calls to each of us to see ourselves as such.

05 August, 2010

The Flip Side of Anger

I’m quite confident I’m going to kick the hornet’s nest on this one, but let’s get it out there and see what happens, shall we?

I think anger gets a bad rap these days. It’s not surprising that this emotion is feared, denied, repressed and shushed. After all, “anger” has become almost synonymous with “violence” and it’s so pervasive these days, who in their right mind would become a “fan” of that page, eh?

But I was thinking about anger today. And actually feeling a bit sorry for it. I think it’s one of the most misunderstood emotions we have because it spends so little time in the light of day. It’s shunned and left to fend for itself in the darkness, mumbling in the cave and scuffing up the dirt in frustration like a petulant child. I don’t blame it – I’d be a bit ornery, too, if I were that devalued and misunderstood. Because at its essence, Anger is just really another form of energy, isn’t it? Unlike “violence”, Anger is not a behavior, it’s an emotion. It’s an emotion with Tabasco sauce sprinkled on top. And it generally has something for us to hear. Something that’s coming from a deep and meaningful place – like lava rising up from the depths and spilling out over the rim of the volcano.

I’ve been tracking Anger for a while now – in myself and in my clients – and I’ve come to actually appreciate it much, much more. And here’s why: it signals passion, conviction and a willingness to take a stand, draw a line and make a change. For a coach, this pay dirt when working with a client because all of the sudden we have access to a reservoir of potential energy for change that had previously been contained. Someone giving voice to their anger is a powerful thing to witness. Often it unfolds like a fiddlehead in the spring…beginning with sadness, maybe with a pinch of disappointment thrown in, then making its way gradually into annoyance and then finally entering into the realm of downright anger. Upon entry into that often “forbidden” land, I often see clients make passionate proclamations, and then clamp their hands over their mouths, their eyes wide and startled-looking as they kind of giggle at themselves. I love that place in working with clients…helping them to hold onto that which can be slippery and saying, “oh, hi there…well, well, well…what have we here…?” And then we listen. Deeply.

In writing this, I am reminded of that awesome book by Judith Duerk called A Circle of Stones (the very same book that was the inspiration for the title of my blog). In it, she poses the question: "How might it have been different for you if, earlier in your life, the first time you as a tiny child felt your anger coming together inside yourself, someone, a parent or grandparent, or older sister or brother, had said, “Bravo! Yes, that’s it! You’re feeling it!”

It’s about naming it. Honoring it. Bringing it out into the light of day. And listening to what it has to tell you. And then watching as it dissipate back to nothing. What it we were to stand before it and receive its gifts with a more loving and trusting heart rather than running from it, looking over our shoulder with fear? My guess is we’d be a mite more healthy.

What’s your take on it? Go ahead. I already gave the hornet’s nest a big ‘ole kick. They’re going to be angry at me, not you.

29 July, 2010

July: The Lazy River

Like a bright red juicy strawberry, July is dripping with sweetness and a sense of indulgence. With the fruits and vegetables swollen and nearly dropping off the vine by themselves, we kick back and give in to the seductive "don't lift a finger" mentality that is July. It's the siesta of the year, when everyone finds a shady tree to lounge under and contemplate our navels a spell. Making our way through July is like tubing down a river - you don't have much control (there's really no way to steer), you might not have a sense of where you'll come ashore or how you'll get back upriver, so you just rest your head and watch the world float by. Thoughts don't dally long in our heads and worries can't seem to get a foothold in this sweaty and swollen month. As the cicadas and kids call out to us, we lose focus, laugh at our inability to get things done, and eventually throw up our hands and say, "Oh well, it'll get done tomorrow, I guess..." And it does, or not. But July doesn't really care, now does it? Because it's all about those fat juicy moments filled with nothing that fill us up and make us rub our bellies and delight as the sweet juice drips off our chins. What are you going do, eh? Flow baby, flow.

22 July, 2010

Just Like She Said

I thought it was all my imagination – that feeling that we are on a cusp of huge change or are approaching a tipping point as a society. But it seems I’m not alone. At least there are thirteen grandmothers out there that would be nodding their heads in agreement as I write this.

For a while now, I’ve been fascinated by the Mayan prophecy of 2012. I love how it reminds me of the larger cycle of our evolution. It invites me to relinquish control (as if!), let go and have trust and faith in the natural order of things. The whole notion offers me tremendous hope - a far cry from the doom and end-of-the-world feelings that it has generated in others.

For those of you not familiar with it, the Mayan prophecy foretells of the approach of a signification date (Dec 21, 2012) – one that will signify we have completed a full cycle in our evolution and will begin another. In my mind, it offers a larger framework in which to make sense of all the crumbling – literally and figuratively – in the economy, our environment, our health and the organizations and institutions we have come to rely upon and view as indestructible. In the larger cycle of life, this is the death and destruction that makes space for something new to be born. It was this fascination with the Mayan prophecy and an incredible PBS special on the topic, that led me to the grandmothers.

So here’s the deal. In mid-October of 2004, thirteen indigenous grandmothers “from all four directions” of the world gathered in New Mexico to share their visions, prophesies and healing to inspire others to more consciously partake in the unfolding of our world. “So what?” you might think. Well, it’s really the story of how this group of grandmothers found their way into being a council that grabbed me the most. Apparently, this gathering of wise women from all over the world has been a long time in the making.

Here are some excerpts from the book Grandmothers Counsel the World that explain how and why this is all coming about:

• “The council, which had been spoken of in prophecy and seen in visions since time immemorial, finally emerged in the aftermath of 9/11. The Grandmothers’ participation in the council had been foretold to each of them in different ways. When they were very young, a few of the Grandmothers had been told by their Grandmothers that this was their destiny. All of the Grandmothers had been invited long ago, in a time before time as we know it, to meet at the time of the Great Turning to become a force for peace in the world. Prophecy revealed to each on that they must now share even their most secret and sacred ways with the very people who have been their oppressors, as the survival of humanity, if not the entire planet, is at stake.”

• “All of the Grandmothers who accepted said they knew deep within that they were meant to participate, even if at first they might have felt unworthy…they knew they were being called to action.”

• “The Grandmothers first learned that thirteen was the correct number of council members when tears welled up in Yupik Grandmother Rita Pitka Blumenstein’s eyes as she introduced herself on the first day of the gathering. She handed out thirteen stones and thirteen eagle feathers to each of the Grandmothers, a gift she had been holding and waiting to give for a very long time. The thirteen stones and thirteen eagle feathers had been given to Rita when she was nine years old by her great-grandmother, who told her to give them to the women of the Council of Grandmothers when they all finally met, a council Rita would someday be a part of.”

• “The return of the Grandmother has been foretold for hundreds of years. A vision of the Grandmothers Council has been seen by many peoples, indigenous and nonindigenous alike. The Grandmothers are gathering because, according to the prophesies of many religious traditions, the end of the world as we know it is near. The Grandmothers tell us that balance as a way of living is returning, balance in all relations, including with our Mother Earth. A thousand years of peace is being ushered in for those who will make the necessary changes in their hearts.”

The bottom line is this:

• “The Grandmother of all creation, the One who is the maker of life, the One whom we have forgotten, is calling us. She is not angry with us, but She is sad that we have forgotten who She is. She’s is coming back into our consciousness through prophecy and visions. She is bringing a profound nurturing, a depth of compassion, and a kind of love we not longer remember, but which was strong in ancient times. This pure female energy will awaken men as well as women, through a story we will already know in our hearts once we hear it.”

Imagine that!? Happy sigh. I don’t know about you, but it looks like being a Grandmother is totally where it’s at these days. Want to learn more about the specifics of their vision and prophecies? Read the book. Or just watch the world change. Whatever works for you.

14 July, 2010

Ditch the Soggy Bread

I hear it again and again from women I work with… “I make a comment or suggest an idea and nothing happens. Then a man suggests the same idea five minutes later and everyone says, ‘good idea!” We could go down a road of looking how society diminishes or makes invisible women’s voices. But I have a juicier place to look: how YOU are creating that dynamic.

I’d invite you to listen to your own language with a keen ear for the next week. See if you can hear how you publically disqualify your own ideas or thoughts. You might be amazed at how frequently you are your own worst enemy when it comes to taking yourself seriously. And practically speaking, if you don’t…why should we?

I’ve come to appreciate how women – myself included – have been encultured to create kind of a verbal “soggy sandwich”, so that the substance in the middle gets lost or watered down to mush. Here’s how it typically looks: we start a sentence with a disqualifier such as “This might be a crazy idea…” or “You’ll probably think I’m off the wall for suggesting this…” or “I’m sure I’m the only one who feels this way, but…” Then we share our insightful thought or bright idea. Finally, we finish it off with a straggly ending, often tapering it off to the point of just muttering: “…told you it was out there…” or “…but that’s just my two cents…”

The impact of this is that people stop listening before you’ve even began sharing your thoughts. If you think about it, why would they after that stellar beginning, eh? And if you did successfully hook someone with what was undoubtedly a sound idea or valid point, your straggling ending loosens their tenuous hold on it like a slippery noodle. They literally can’t recall what you’ve said amidst all those other soggy words.

Do we do this ALL the time? Not at all. Nor am I suggesting we do. But, I would wage a bet that you do this more often than you realize. Test it out. Enlist the support of a trusted colleague or friend to track your comments over the course of a week and see what you can learn. Then laugh it off and move along. In my experience, once you realize what you’re doing to detract from your own impact, you will catch yourself as it happens and will correct it. Eventually you will catch yourself before it happens, and voila! You’re there!

I feel passionately about this because we are at a time in our history where women – what they think, experience and have to say – are being called forth more and more to center stage. There is a window of opportunity for women to advance themselves – and the world. But this will require us to take ourselves seriously and to get our voices out there – crisply and cleanly, no holds barred. As Maddie Dychtwald writes in her new book Influence, “This is moment historians will look back on, pointing their fingers and tracing the era on timelines for students of the future: See it there! See the rise of the woman at the dawn of the twenty-first century! …The lightning’s moving closer; the storm is about to break….but this moment won’t last forever.”

08 July, 2010

Seeing Is Believing

I have this sign on my fence – strategically placed so that I see it multiple times a day. I see it when I pull into my driveway. I see it out the window when I’m coaching clients. It’s that important. In many ways, it represents the belief on which my business – no, really my life – is based.

Sure it’s a bit rusty and dented, but you would be, too, if you were a cheap piece of metal from the Christmas Tree shop asked to endure the rugged Maine winters, only to be knocked off your cheap nail time and time again when an overly-zealous child slams the adjoining gate a bit hard. But I still see it.

That sign has stood the test of time and so has my belief.

Magic is amazing when it just appears before you – manifesting seemingly out of no where and delighting us with feelings of serendipity and mystery. But calling in magic. Drawing it down to you like the moon pulls the tides? That takes moxie. And guts and courage, sweat and faith. And, if you’re lucky, a hearty tribe of like-minded people that believe in you.

This week has been filled with examples of that sign. And that is worthy of pause and celebration. This week, I’ve witnessed women taking sharp intakes of breath and finally walking over the threshold of their dreams they’ve brought to reality. I’ve shared in the excitement as women have handed in their resignation letters, reinvented their marriages and said YES to themselves for the first time ever. Without guilt or looking back. All of them have referenced magic.

They are believers. And I am honored to call them my clients. Here’s to having moxie.

01 July, 2010

Of COURSE It's Terrifying!

The potency of anticipation is so often underrated. It can be quite a sticky-wicket to set realistic expectations. Especially when you’re scared. Or full of doubt. I mean, you make a BOLD decision, you finally COMMIT to something that’s important to you, you take that FIRST step toward your dreams, you LEAVE the fleecy blanket of comfort for the open tundra of the unknown and what….you thought it would be…Easy? Comfortable? The same as before? Uh, yeah. Think again.

It’s all about that sharp intake of breath in anticipation – like the moment before you plunge into an icy cold ocean on a warm day. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s all about that moment.

It’s easy to fall prey to the seductive lure of the irrational expectations, isn’t it? Especially when we’re about to embark on a whole new chapter or we’re poised to take a leap of faith into the unknown abyss. It’s a way we psych ourselves up for actually taking that leap or making that change. Perhaps that’s why the phrase, “ignorance is bliss” was created. It’s all part of the hokey-pokey of navigating change.

If I sound like I’m making light this dance we do with change, I kind of am. And I’m guilty of it, too. It’s just that sometimes we’re so adorable as humans, it’s kind of endearing to witness ourselves dipping our toes in and out and in and out of the icy water. Or running up to the edge of a cliff and then screeching to a halt. What we’re really talking about is a rite of passage. And feeling it in our bones. Deep down, we know the person on the other side of the leap isn’t going to be the same person anymore. So of course it's terrifying. Whatever happens as a result, you will ultimately land on the other side of the sharp intake of breath. You might still be holding your breath, but you’re on your way to an exhale. So that feeling – call it terror, fear, or exhilaration - it’s kind of part of the package. In that context, there’s really no escaping it.

Giving birth? Yeah, it hurts. Getting a tattoo? Yeah, that hurts, too. Falling over on your bike when you’re using clipless pedals on your bike for the first time? Hurts. Disappointing someone you love or feeling guilty because you put yourself – just this once – at the top of your priority list? Ouch. Leaping out of a plane and potentially going splat on the ground? Yup. Uber hurt.

But I think hurt and fear get a bit of a bad rap in our culture. We brace for it, we cringe in anticipation and contract all our face muscles as we avert our eyes. Like getting a tetanus shot at the doctor’s office. It’s only natural, right? A human response to avoid pain. But what if we turned into it instead? Anticipated that sharp intake, so when it came time, it was more of a friend than a foe? What if we named that feeling without shame, but with honor? Reverence, even.

Would that rob us of an essential ingredient of transition? Would it still constitute a rite of passage if we didn’t feel the terror or grip of fear that taking such a risk can elicit? I’m not sure. This is my fervent wish, though: I hope we can move to a place of pride in those intake moments. As when a baby crowns or the icy water engulf us in a polar plunge, I hope we can one day exhale and say, “Ah, this is to be expected…”

30 June, 2010


Like a good piece of fat wood thrown on a fire or the exuberant face of a child's first cannonball, June arrives with a POW and makes itself known in a hurry. June is a bit like being shot out of a cannon - it's all dark and muffled at first and then before you know it, you're airborne, sailing high above the crowds gathered under the big top. It's exhilarating and a bit wildly out of control. Like an eager bull busting out of its pen for the first time in the season, June reminds us how good it feels to be alive and casually shrugs off our angst and caution by telling us to just hold on tight and pray for a soft landing. And land we do - with splashes and big noises and cheesy grins. "Again, again, we cry!" as we climb back in the saddle for another go of it. And so goes June - reacquainting us with the blessed joy of taking risks or trying something new and demonstrating the value of just plunging in and getting all wet. With it's longer days and hotter nights we shed our layers and cut loose a little (okay a lot) as we are reunite with our fiery spirits and passion. We emerge from June with a few bruises and sore places, but feeling scrappier, happier and heartier than we thought possible. Go figure.

21 June, 2010

Now You See Her, Now You Don't

I’m not too keen on what we do to older women in this society. It seems we have become quite adept at making them invisible and that bothers me deeply, partly because I will eventually be an older woman myself and also because I have this nagging sense that I’ve unwittingly played a role in perpetuating this tendency to marginalize older women.

There are many wonderful books about the phases of a woman’s life – from Joan Borysenko to Christiane Northrup and Jean Shinoda Bolen – but my mental model has essentially three phases: the maiden, the mother and the crone (like the waxing, full and waning phases of the moon.) But unlike some of the ancient cultures which appear to have reverence for the wisdom of age, our western society tends to diminish it or – worse yet – turn away from our older women as if they didn’t exist. This is what I mean when I say we “make invisible”. Take a look and you’ll see it all around you – from the “anti-aging” creams to the subtle and not so subtle “tuning out” that occurs in our board rooms and at our dinner tables. I know it’s ugly and we don’t like to talk about it, but I’m going there. You with me?

When I took belly dancing a few years ago when I was swollen with a baby in my belly, I looked around the room and marveled at the beauty of all the different women – all shapes, sizes and ages – moving in their bodies. The instructor told us about the women in her family and how her heritage (Lebanese) is one that believes a woman’s belly dance gets better and richer with age – because they have lived more and experienced more and can add that into their dance. She said the elder woman of a family will often be the last to dance in accordance with this belief, and I imagined a room brought to silence by the sheer power of a wise woman dancing her life story.

And yet, when I look at my own culture and the older women in my life, I see a very different picture. I watch as older women fight to be heard (literally yelling at times), are dismissed and not taken seriously for their thoughts or ideas, and are silenced or excluded from the conversation. In truth, we could make the case that we do this with our very young and our very old in this society, but I’m most curious about the women.

And how am I culpable? What are the subtle– and not so subtle – ways I perpetuate this cultural behavior as a “full moon” woman? I start with me because I believe change begins with each of us asking ourselves that question. If we are to rewrite the script for how we will be perceived as older women, we must begin by taking responsibility for our role in “making invisible” the older women in our lives today. Start there. Go there.

08 June, 2010

Hardiness Zones for Women

Sometimes it’s really lonely being a woman leader, isn’t it? I have found this to be true in my own experience and hear it echoed time and time again among the women leaders in my practice. And it’s no wonder why: we live in a society that tends to be obsessed with pitting women against each other. This is more than a little disturbing because – when you really look at it – it is just not in our nature to attack each other. So this loneliness? It’s a product of our culture. There's even a name for it: internalized sexism.

Having seen (and sadly, taken part in) this dynamic with women during my corporate career and as I watch the proliferation of media that swirls around us, I can despair at how women can be their own worst enemies. Then I participated in a Hardy Girls Healthy Women training on creating Hardiness Zones for girls and felt a light bulb of hope turn on inside me.

Hardiness Zones for middle school girls, which is based on the research of Lyn Mikel Brown, is about a creating a safe community for girls to be allies for each other in an otherwise “toxic soil”. Adopting a strength-based approach, the girls in these coalition groups examine their experiences, realities and reactions so they are able to gain perspective on them and, ultimately, make choices that give them control. In these groups, girls are not necessarily friends with each other, but respect each other enough to tell the truth, validate and stand by one another. Research has shown it works. More than that, it’s just plain inspiring.

So what if there were Hardiness Zones for women? Different than a social gathering, affinity group, or mentoring programs, these would be strategic and diverse coalitions of women in the workplace designed to support women in being allies for one another. Far from another diversity program or a "fix the women" initiative, this group would be a place where other women could validate and help you to name what you’re feeling or experiencing. Imagine anger being seen as a strength for creating change instead of a personal weakness? Imagine looking around and seeing you’re not alone? What if you felt other women standing with you as you fortified yourself to resist the status quo and push for change? What if you had a place in which to process how it went with like-minded women who cared?

How might your experience as a leader be different? What might you be cabable of then?

03 June, 2010

Spine a Shotlight

You know when someone says something by accident? And it turns out to be this profound statement of truth? I witnessed one of those recently.

It happened during a conversation about leadership with some other women at the Maine Women’s Fund. The essence of the conversation was about women stepping up more immediately up as leaders; not waiting for permission, authorization or “just the right” convergence of circumstances and gumption. Up until this point in our dialogue, we had touched upon the many reasons that women don’t step up – our penchant for influencing from behind, our low appetite for receiving credit, our exhaustion and tendency to “pick our battles.”

At one point, a member of our group blurted out (in her frustration), “We just need to spine a shotlight on the need for women to step into leadership roles…. I mean shine a spotlight.” We all chuckled and then paused. There was something in that turn of phrase that was magical and struck a chord with me and the other women in the group. Our conversation shifted after that. We began to talk about not waiting and doing something today to “be the change”. One woman shared a quote made by a friend recently, “every step I take is a women’s movement.”

Maybe that is invitation to us as women: to SPINE a shotlight; to embody the spotlight and let the light come from within each of us, rather than assuming it will somehow manifest outside us. Wouldn’t that, indeed, be the perfect image of women as agents of change? I instantly got the image of women walking around in the world with the light of their own visions for change radiating out from their solar plexuses.

In my work with women leaders, I often pose the question, “What if YOU were the leader you’ve been waiting for?” Too often – in myself and in my clients – I witness us waiting, pausing, second-guessing our instincts, our ideas or our value at the table. If more women were to “spine the shotlight”, perhaps we might bypass our minds and allow the full potency of our force for change flow from our core – unadulterated, unfiltered and unmistakable. Like the Kundalini energy of creation that ancient cultures believe lies coiled and ready at the base of our spine, women could awaken this dormant energy in ourselves and be virtual spotlights for our world.

31 May, 2010

Thank You, May

May is the wild child of the lot – you never know what you’re going to get. With a sparkle in its eye, May moves in us and through us and around us with an impish grin, like an annoying wood sprite delighting in our earnest efforts to orient ourselves as we make our way through bright and shiny days, torrential rains, muggy messes and frosty nights. One day we’re sunburned and the next day we’re sodden. May is the trickster that has us swatting at flies and scratching our heads, not sure which end is up. Unsure of how to respond, we find ourselves just running in circles, self-conscious and slightly miffed at the fact that the birds have seemed to figure it out just fine. And that is the pure genius of May: its ability to roust us out of our stupor and get our juices pumping by simple irritation. Like a black fly biting a waking giant, May is relentless about getting our attention and won’t stop until we are clear-headed and running out of the woods for the open air.

27 May, 2010

A Quiet Revolution

I recently attended a conference for mothers of boys. The keynote speaker, Kate Stone Lombardi, spoke about our society’s deep cultural belief system that suggests boys need to be pushed away from their mothers, lest they become “mama’s boys” (and therefore feminine…which would somehow be undesirable.) She also made note of "an underground social movement that is quietly ignoring those messages" and my ears perked up. This "quiet revolution", as she put it, is happening because more and more women are simply choosing to break rank with this belief system and were just mothering according to their own instincts. And – here’s the cool part – because they were flying under the radar, not making a big deal about it or announcing it, no one noticed. Or cared. A revolution that can happen right under our noses and in broad daylight? How wonderfully brilliant.

This whole notion got me thinking about change as a way of being as opposed to an event or a specific action. We talk so much about “fighting” and “doing battle” and “going toe to toe” and “head to head” and “speaking out” and how “complex” change is (yada, yada…) it's easy to understand how we might get lulled into staying put. What if we just lived our way into it – whatever “it” is to you – today instead of merely talking about it? What if we all stopped waiting for just the right circumstances to miraculously appear to create this change? What if profound and revolutionary change occurred in our everyday - or every moment - actions? What if the change you are seeking could begin happening RIGHT NOW? What if it could be that simple?

But wait, IS it that simple? Not necessarily, because to adopt this way of being in the world requires us to authorize ourselves to act on our instincts and our intuition – to be our own green light and not wait for permission or external validation. It requires us to take responsibility and to listen deeply to our own inner knowing and obey it. It potentially sets us up to be different than others, to be judged, to fail, to disappoint ourselves or – worse yet – others. And yet, women are doing just that every day. They are living their way into change. Some we see and some we don’t. But make no mistake, there are quiet revolutionaries among us.

So the question is: Are you ready to break rank and be one?

26 May, 2010

Full Disclosure

Hi there. It’s me, Lael. It’s been a while. I’ve been thinking over here. And here’s what’s on my mind: I love to write, but the way I’ve been writing up to this point has not been sustainable (clearly) in that my posts are so long and involved, I don’t write as often as I’d like because I’m either A) not ready yet…still percolating on an idea or B) procrastinating…it just takes too much time/thought to get it out. So, I’m trying something new – a grand experiment. I’m going to make more choices (tah dah!) and keep each post shorter, crisper and more focused. I’m hoping this will increase the frequency with which I write and, in turn, will be more engaging for my readers. So there it is. Let me know how it goes for you.

30 March, 2010

Looking Outside the Window

The passage of time is a funny thing, isn't it? Some days it goes by at warp speed, leaving us jostling in its wake, and some times it slows to a snail's pace, marked by almost invisible shifts. As a working mother of two, I have found my relationship with time these days to be complex and tumultuous, leaving me feeling exhausted and totally at odds with the world around me - rush, rush, hurry, hurry or slow down, you move too fast....it's maddening. Even more so when I consider that this is my doing - I am the one struggling to, well, control.

In the spring of 2009 I decide to make a change. My intention was to live more in sync with nature and the cycles of the year. Because I live in the Northeast, the seasons are distinct and offer radically different perspectives - from the stark contrast of bare naked trees against a gray sky to the blaze of autumn foliage reflected in a chilly lake. So I promised myself I'd look out my window more as a means to give insight to what might be going on inside me.

I began by completing a project I had started four years prior - a Wheel of the Year - that had been inspired after reading The Circle Within by Diane Sylvan. In each season of the year, and each month within that season, I made note of particular words or phrases that lived in that space - the elements, the emotions, the activities, the functions, the gifts. I had it framed and hung it it in my office, literally turning it each month to mark the passage of time and plug me into to where I was in it.

Shortly after, I began sending out my monthly Touchstones newsletter, a practice I continue to this day. Each month has a theme and begins with a piece specifically dedicated to honoring the month - its unique purpose, flavor, feeling and perspectives - so that it's not lost in the shuffle of the year. Before rushing headlong into each month, it's my attempt to ask, "what was that all about?" and simply say, "Oh, yeah. Thank you." That specific piece of my Touchstones newsletter has been incredibly well received and each month I receive countless e-mails sharing how well my description and "take" on the month resonates with women. So it seems I'm not alone.

This month, a little over a year after I began writing Touchstones, I found myself describing March as the "birth canal of the year", transporting us from one place (winter and death) to another (spring and life) and it occurred to me that I had travelled a full cycle. I celebrated just how far I've come in my relationship with time. I look out the window so much more than I used to and let nature and the cycles of the year whisper in my ear. I honor each month and am grateful for its role in informing my life.

So, as a tribute to that practice, I offer you the cast of characters for the past "year" of the turning wheel as a way of kissing them all goodnight and thanking them for showing up year after year - as a welcome guest or not. So take a stroll through memory lane...give a nod to all of them or go directly to those months that hold significance for you or that you tend to dread or want to skip over all together. See what clues might be waiting for you. Be my guest.

March 2009: Itchy Skin
This time of year, we come to realize that "March madness" is not just about a basketball tournament. Having endured the lion's share of the winter season, we grow restless and itchy. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and our muscles twitch with anticipation. People roll their eyes with impatience and tempers get short. Clearly, this month of "gray" challenges our "black and white" loving society to live in ambiguity a bit longer than we'd like. Similar to Rumi's sentiment in his "Chickpea to Cook" poem, March essentially acts as a stew pot that calls us chickpeas to boil new life; reminding us that this time is well spent, "giving us flavor so [we] can mix with spices and rice and be the lovely vitality of a human being[s]." So in this season, as the light of the full moon is amplified by the snow and crisp air, I invite you to soak up the last of the season's savory spices; resist the urge to scratch a while longer. Be the chickpea. We'll all be out of the pot soon enough.

April: Tender Greens
April is the month we are welcomed out of the cave. We see the tender shoots of pale greens poking through the soil and feel the same energy of hope and rebirth surge up within ourselves. We begin to feel the light and warmth on our skin and take deep, fresh breaths of cool air. All of the sudden, it seems, we begin to allow for more possibilities. We see things with fresh eyes. We move out of slumber and into "day" dreaming, and with it comes a renewed excitement and investment in life and living. We remember we are on this earth for a reason, and recommit to the quest of bringing whatever "it" is into the world more fully. April is the season of newborns. Babies take center stage on earth in the forms of buds on the trees, swollen bellies of mothers and peeping birds in far up nests. As we stretch our bodies awake from our season of hunkering down, notice what is waiting to be born in you. What are your tender greens? Don't know yet? Step out of the shadows and into the sun and watch them grow. It might be that simple. Like nature intended.

May: First Tastes
May comes to us like a fine piece of chocolate rolling about the tongue - sweet and so welcome and, sometimes, gone too soon -- leaving us hungry for more. This time of year invites us all into the "catch me if you can" spirit, savoring the warmth of the sun and summer-like feel on the good days and patiently waiting out the cold and rain on the other days. Bright beginnings are exploding around us as, overnight it seems, trees and flowers bring color once again to our previously dark and dull world. The days are longer, and yet there is a sense of a chapter closing as the end of school year comes into sight. May invites us to shake off the last vestiges of spring, like an athlete warming up on the starting line before a race. Our blood starts to run a bit quicker in anticipation of all the action and aliveness that summer is sure to bring. We are poised and eager, our pockets full of shiny new commitments, dreams and ideals. As you travel the remaining days of this transitional season, may your chocolate be sweet, satisfying and finger-lickin' good.

June: Full Bloom
June has arrived. The zenith of the year is upon us, and we approach summer solstice holding our breath with the excitement of being alive. Splashes of color extend into bright and expansive sunlight. It's impossible to ignore the lushness of life around us. June is the time when we can see visible signs of our labor - possibilities are coming to fruition and imagination and dreams have taken hold right before our eyes. Just as the atmosphere does, we start to heat up this time of year. The passion and the longing that has been building up within us is becoming impatient and is not easily contained. It wants to see the light of day. There is no stopping June. We tire of the fight with our instincts and urgings, and choose instead to plunge into the flow of our lives with wild abandon and deep faith. We stop thinking so much and start acting more from our hearts. As your life moves into this height of illumination, take stock of what is impossible to ignore. What is calling you to leap?

July: Play
Mmmmhmm? I'm sorry, did you say something? Sigh. Doobie doobie doo....da, da tah dah da...And so goes July. There is a timelessness about this month that invites us to get lost in our own thoughts, dreams and whims. People daydream. Kites fly high. We sit back in our chairs and kick up our feet, content to watch the day unfold as it sees fit. In July, we ride the wave of our previous efforts, and allow ourselves to wander aimlessly and sometimes get naughty. We play hooky. We stall. We give into the child-like urges to stay up late and bend the rules a bit. We throw down the reins for a spell, knowing there will be time enough for that later. In short, we play. July is heralded in with a sky full of fireworks and winds its way into the heart of the lazy days of summer. As we head into the homestretch of this fat and happy month, take your sweet time...stay for that extra something, finish your thought, follow your whims and roll around in the green grasses a bit longer than you ought. It will wait - whatever "it" is.

August: Fever Pitch
Things heat up for us in August. Our pulse quickens, our eyes and minds and intentions dart from here to there and back again. There is an irony that emerges during August - a sense of the "lazy days of summer" converge with an urgency to hurry and fit it all in before we start the slow descent into dormancy once again. There is a frenetic energy about August that is at once intoxicating and exhausting - like we are all a bunch of mexican jumping beans hopping about a hot plate, having the time of our life in a rather scattered and random fashion. At the heart of August is an invitation to make choices. Faced with all those expectations and intentions we set forth in June, we are asked to reconcile our lists one last time. In this spirit, we breathe in these last days of summer with great reverence and appreciation as we listen to the cicadas build to a climax. Tired from our summer journey and hot from the sun, we are invited to put down our oars and relax into August's strong and capable arms, trusting that we will be safely transported into a new season with everything we need.

September: Sharpened Pencils
September blows in with a bushel full of "firsts" and slowly reveals the blank canvas of our lives. From the back to school busyness to the Jewish New Year celebrations, we can't escape the sense of a fresh start unfolding before us. The air, the spirit and the sights around us feel crisp and ready - like freshly sharpened pencils and the allure of a brand new notebook. We are filled with possibility and childlike awe as the leaves above us blaze their colors seemingly overnight and dance throughout our days. Grieving for the long and lost days of summer, gives way to an excitement and our breath catches as we wait to see what's coming next. Life feels rich and as abundant and colorful as the farmers markets, and yet intuitively we sense this sliver of time is fleeting and special. In this month, we are constantly drawn back to the present moment as all our senses are engaged. The blustering wind invites us to pick up our pencils and put it to paper - to step into something that is uniquely our own and celebrate ourselves in all our glory.

October: Homecoming
There is no hiding from October. It wants to be seen. It dazzles us with its color and blustery shows as a way to capture our attention and lovingly reveal what is real and true and at the core. As the leaves fall away from the trees, we see once again the structure that has been there all along - the strong and enduring trunk, the branches that have withstood countless storms - and are reminded of our own strength and resilience. October invites us to see what is before us more clearly - to forgo the guess work and to take stock of what is real - good, bad or ugly - so we might have a more accurate sense of where we stand and what is most important. Standing in the bracing winds of the late fall, we are no longer buffered from the elements. And yet we still stand, the ultimate homecoming. There is a pride and a reverence that comes in on October winds, like the surrender that comes with a deep sigh. We begin to lean back into the arms of whatever holds us and learn, once again, to trust in the natural cycle of our lives.

November: Gray Skies
November leaves a lot to our imaginations. The gray skies and low ceilings offer us a blank canvas and invite us to go inward for inspiration. The distractions of the bright fall leaves and final surge of autumnal activity have given way to a more reflective and private world of our own inner thoughts. November brings us back to our own resourcefulness, reminding us that we hold the answers we seek. However we enter the darkness of this time of year - kicking and fighting or eagerly awaiting - we are returned to ourselves; what we want, what is unfinished, what is next. Big questions begin to descend upon us and we eventually find our way back to a way of being that allows us to sit with all that is unknown or waiting to be heard or to be born. Silence and reflection finds us in this month and we know instinctively to welcome it. We make hot cups of tea, pull out our fuzzy socks and begin the process of hunkering down. We build our fires for the long winter and we sit ourselves down - waiting, watching, listening for what it is we are meant to receive.

December: Tying a Bow
December is a mixed bag of confusion and clarity, angst and peace, activity and stillness, social and solitude. As we head toward the end of another year, many of us are at a bit of a loss with what to make of December - it seems to have had a mind of its own in that regard. This month, we are inevitably gifted with a blessed mindset of "doing the best we can" or "making the most with what we've got." In short, December gives us a hall pass to keep our high expectations and best laid plans at bay and invites us to just wrap it up as best we can. Winter solstice smiles upon us with a good-natured nod, reminding us that our time of light and "doing" has reached its final curtain call for the year. With that understanding, we breathe a sigh of relief, dust off our chapped hands, sit back on our haunches to admire our handiwork and chuckle at the oft-lopsided bow we have tied on the package of our year. And as we curl up under the blanket of the year, we dream about beginning anew and all that might be possible as a another light within us is born.

January 2010: Winter Weeding
January is a naked month. Stripped bare and washed white, there is a stark reality about January that invites us all to throw up our hands, keep it real, call it out - with ourselves, our circumstances, or others - and shore it up accordingly. It's the month we tackle what we've been putting off or stepping over, making fresh new commitments and shiny resolutions that have some teeth and pack a punch. We mean business in January. This month we find ourselves "weeding" out all the gunk in our trunks, sorting through the piles, casting off any dead weight, lightening the load and generally making a bigger clearing in which to live our lives. We go into corners with flashlights, clean out under the beds, open neglected and overstuffed closets and bag up loads of unnecessary stuff. Satisfied with our handiwork, we wipe off our dusty brows, sit back with a satisfied smile and take in the space that's now opened up as a result of our weeding. Ah! Much better!

February: Runt of the Litter
As the shortest month, February is the runt of the litter in our year. Like the littlest pig, it's scrappy and resourceful, scrambling around its more robust and appealing siblings, doing what it can to garner some attention and nourishment. There is nothing fancy or flouncy about February. It's actually quite plain and nondescript, often getting lost in the shuffle between the newness of January and the home stretch feeling of March. And yet it is the month of Love. February tests our capacity to love unconditionally. As it desperately jumps up above the heads of its sibling months, yelling "pick me, pick me!", we ultimately recognize the ugly duckling appeal of February and taking it under our wing with a gentle pat of affection. February teaches us to see simple pleasures in the most unlikely places - the blessing of a sunny day, a confused bulb pushing through the ground a bit early, the stark contrast of bright red hearts against a grey sky, even an prophetic groundhog. It doesn't take much to please February and with its passage, we are once again reminded that sometimes the best things can come wrapped in the plainest of paper and smallest of packages.

March: Turkish Twist
Like one of those disorienting and gack-producing rides at amusement parks, March spins us around and around and around, cementing us to its side with centripetal force. We lose the ability to focus or make sense of any one thing, blurring our realities. Every effort at lifting our heads or moving a leg feels like a herculean task, like mountaineers facing the final ascent of Everest without oxygen. Displaying a cruel irony, March has the viscosity of molasses, making “marching” virtually impossible. And just when we abandon our feeble attempts to unstick ourselves from the walls, the bottom drops out and suddenly being attached to the wall of this “ride” becomes an attractive option. Therein lies the gift of March: surrender. It is the birth canal of the year; the one that asks us to be still and patient, promising us that on the other side, beauty and life will once again be born. And so we spin around and around, often closing our eyes in an effort to find our “happy place”, trusting the ride will soon stop and put our feel on solid ground.

28 January, 2010

Riding Two Horses

I’ve come to appreciate a delicate balance. And I assure you, I do not mean “balance” in the typical sense – that droll and droning work-life balance conversation that saturates most women’s media these days and bores me to no end (I’ve officially given up on that term, preferring “integration” these days, but that’s another topic I’ll write about in a separate post…).

No, the balance to which I’m referring to is much deeper than that, and I’ve come to see it at the heart of women seeking to creating change. What I’m talking about is essentially a paradox: it’s about taking yourself (your ideas, your needs, your intentions, your dreams) very, very seriously while at the same time not taking yourself too seriously. It’s about holding all of that as sacred and true, but loosely, knowing that at any moment you might receive new information or insight that changes your mind or requires you to shift your balance a bit.

Let me paint a clearer picture of what I’m talking about here. I was once working with this incredibly wise woman who gifted me with the perfect visual to describe the delicate balance I’m referring to. As I sat with her, wringing my hands, I shared my angst at managing my ego at the same time I was also seeking to honor the divine and serendipity. I now know what I was talking about was the age-old discussion of free will and fate. I recall my despair and confusion so vividly. I felt torn in two. Could I be myself – confident, self-assured and driven – and still be open and willing to surrender to the wisdom of the universe? What I was essentially grappling with was control. In my mind, it was one or the other – either I had the reins or the universe did; not both. And yet, I loved, trusted and wanted to honor them both. Thus my angst; I felt like I had to make a choice. I didn’t know how to have them both.

This wise woman smiled at me asked a simple question that changed my life: “can you be the powerful wave that rises up to a crest and then comes charging toward the shore, and at the same time look over your shoulder and see that you are a part of this massive ocean?”

With this beautiful image, she opened my eyes to how it would look if I held both of those truths – these two loves – simultaneously. In that moment, I saw how I wouldn’t have to shrink or play small to bow down at the feet at the divine and I also wouldn’t become an ego maniacal narcissist, thinking I was solely responsible for turning the world on its axis. I got how we – the universe and I – could work so beautifully in concert with one another. It was exhilarating.

I share my own story, knowing that it is far from original, in many ways representing the universal struggle of the human condition. Certainly our society does nothing to ease the tension, being a country built upon the principles of independence, self-reliance and freedom. So it’s only natural that I would feel torn and conflicted, right?

As my practice centers primarily around women – powerful, self-reliant, opinionated and driven women like myself – I have become acutely aware of just how relevant this story and, indeed, this topic is to our perception of ourselves as architects of change. I see this topic surface time and time again as I work with women. Most commonly, it comes up in one of two ways: women are either concerned about being “a control freak” or they are concerned their “ego is out of control.” No matter how you slice it, they are concerned and berate themselves for “white knuckling” their lives or their circumstances. In most cases, these women find their default response is to drop the reins, back-pedal or shrink themselves down to an almost minuscule version of the woman they know themselves to be. It’s like a reflex – one that I am all too familiar with from my own story. And yet, I see how it's not a winning strategy for women, triggering resentfulness, bitterness and disengagement with life – essentially because they are acting in ways that are counter to who they truly are. I get it: it’s a tug of war and they have elected (albeit reluctantly) to drop the rope. Better to save face than to become your worst version of yourself.

But what if there were an alternative as this wise woman suggested? What if there were no rope? And we didn’t have to tug? What then?

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love offers another powerful image that illustrates how this balancing act might look. Much as my wise woman did, Gilbert describes the interplay between destiny and free will as a relationship – “a play between divine grace and willful self-effort.” I personally gravitate to the notion of “play” here…much more appealing than “tugging”. The way she describes it, we are neither entirely a puppet of the gods, nor entirely the captain of our own destiny; we are a little of both:

“We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses – one foot is on the horse called ‘fate’, the other on the horse called “free will.’ And the question you have to ask every day is – which horse is which? Which horse do I need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?”

When I use this image in working clients in my women’s circles, I often will joke that I’ll be confidently riding along, like a powerful amazon with one foot on each horse, and I’ll look down and see that my “fate” leg has completely atrophied, meaning that my entire weight (existence) is being supported by my “free will” leg which is sculpted muscle but is locking up with the stress of it all. It always gets a laugh (especially with some good sound effects thrown in), but it illustrates the point that Gilbert makes about it being a DAILY question you need to ask yourself. Because without that daily check-in, you run the risk of sliding down that slippery slope of the ego.
So what does a daily check-in look like to you? I think you know. Is it a deep breath? Is it a favorite phase that pulls you back to center? Is it meditation? Prayer? Laughter?

Not to belabor Elizabeth Gilbert as an example (can you tell I’m a big fan?), but when I saw her speak recently, she gave some wonderful historical context for just how we came to be this way in western society. She spoke about the notion of “creative genius” and how it was originally thought of an expression of divine inspiration that would visit and flow through particular individuals. Then, sometime after the renaissance and the advent of rational humanism, “genius” was understood as something that actually took up inside certain people, rather than flow through us. So people were seen as “being a genius” instead of “having a genius.”

So in this context, it would make sense why we have such angst and fear around our own creativity and drive and inspiration. In this model, there is no flow, there is only a pile of internal pressure and expectations to have all the answers. In this model, all the doorways to the universe or divine grace have signs on them that read, “out of order”. So back to self-reliance we go.

But here is what I’ve come to appreciate: if you can hang out on top of the horses and keep your balance in check, there is a lot of ease and power than can find its way into your life. What once was a solitary slogging through a mine field, can become a graceful dance with a little cha-cha-cha thrown in to boot.

Simply put, the horses can ride together a lot better than we give them credit for. In fact, they were originally trained with just that in mind – it’s just that the damn rider got in the way so many times it messed up their once perfectly organic relationship.

So here is an invitation to play more intentionally with who you are in relation to the greater power you believe in. Reacquaint your horses with one another, adjust your saddle or get a new one. Experiment with loosening your hold on the reins but resist the urge to drop them all together. Recalibrate yourself daily as you teach yourself how to ride again and, as Gilbert suggests, you will eventually “assume custodial responsibility for the maintenance of your own soul.”