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. 

10 May, 2011

Mastering Slow

You know the fable about the tortoise and the hare? I’ve always secretly rooted for the hare. I know the turtle is wiser, more patient and certainly strategic, but the hare just seems like she has more fun. That bushy tail? The sassy attitude, the outward confidence, the witty banter? And the speed! Don’t even get me started on that…

But here’s the thing: at the age of forty-two, I’m beginning to change my tune a bit. I’m thinking the tortoise might have an interesting idea. I’m not thick – I get that that’s the moral of the story – it’s just that I never thought it would be remotely appealing to me. 

Training for triathlons, I’ve often joked that my mind is writing checks my body can’t cash. In my mind, I’m that rabbit, moving from here to there and back again with grace and ease. But if you were to replay the video tape of the rabbit a bit, she looks a little tired, bordering on frantic. Certainly anaerobic.  And who am I kidding, it’s not just about triathlons, it’s kind of a way of life. A hare’s way.

Most recently I’ve been working with a Master’s swim coach who has me training using my heart rate as a guide. Um yeah. My hare’s heart rate. Swim. Count your heart beats for six seconds. Swim slower. Count. Swim s.l.o.w.e.r. Seriously? Frustrated I asked, “so slower is better?” “No”, she responds (10 bucks she’s in the tortoise camp), “efficient is better.” Oh.

That did it for me. I’m giving it a try. Being a tortoise, that is. I’m all about efficiency these days, so maybe it’s time. I going to lengthen my strokes, keep it steady and smile my slow turtle smile. My only ask is that I keep my bushy tail. 

I’ll let you know how it goes.

03 May, 2011

Co-Creating a Life with the Universe

For those moments when you feel like you're all alone... here's a slightly different perspective to keep you company. And an invitation to play a bit. Because life is too short to miss a chance to play.

26 April, 2011

I Pledge Allegiance to Myself

I'm stepping out this year in big and bold ways. I'm writing a book, I'm creating new offerings and I'm stopping some old ones. I'm poking holes in my logic and challenging myself to get out of my own way. I'm going for the brass ring, taking myself more seriously and finding more joy and play along the way. I'm terrified and excited all at the same time - creating periodic bouts of nausea I've come to call "vomit moments". Having experienced these moments at key points in my life, I've come to recognize them as sure-fire indicators I'm on to something important. I pay attention to vomit.

I've been experiencing a lot of vomit moments lately. As is my process, I tend to "stop, drop and roll" in these times - putting my ear flush to the ground to listen for hoof beats on the earth and whispers (or screams) from my soul to give me direction. This used to be an intensely private experience for me. But now I'm taking it public and here's why: Brene Brown and her insanely good TEDTalk on the Power of Vulnerability. If you haven't yet seen this, I highly recommend stopping everything you're doing and watch it now. I'll wait...

I've decided to go public with my vomit moments for two reasons: 1) I'm a coach who works with women to take leaps into the unknown and I want them to know I share their courage and walk my talk and 2) I'm proud of my commitment to opening myself up to being vulnerable. This last point is new for me...the pride. In watching Brene Brown's talk about it, I learned that this ability to make myself vulnerable was actually a testament to my degree of self worth and my desire to have myself be seen fully - by me and others - so that I am able to make substantial and real connections. According to Ms. Brown's extensive research on the topic, people who are willing to make themselves vulnerable tell their story with their whole heart (which incidentally is at the root of the word "courage", from the French "coeur") because they believe that what makes them vulnerable is what makes them beautiful.

So there it is. Vulnerability=Beauty.

And here it goes. In this season of stepping out and cliff-leaping, I'm pledging allegiance to myself. I've done this countless times before, but this is the first time I'm doing so publicly. I have a list of 10 things I wish to uphold for myself in the coming months. I call them "Lael Code". They may not mean much to you, but I assure you they do to me. I'm not going to go into much detail on them, but if you're interested, I'd be happy to elaborate...just ask. And here's my ask of you. Hold me accountable. Let me know you've read this. Pick one of the ten you like and ask me how it's going. When you see or hear me do something, help me connect the dots and celebrate I'm actually honoring them (like this post being an example of #3 in action, for instance...). Thank you. 
  1. Believe in what you can't see
  2. Feast on your life
  3. Ask for what you need
  4. Tell your story with your whole heart
  5. Practice gratitude in moments of terror
  6. Let yourself be seen
  7. Do it anyway
  8. Feel your feelings
  9. Receive the gift of myself
  10. Let go and enjoy the ride
There is tremendous power in making something public. I highly recommend. But go for the vomit. Everything else is just decoration.

12 April, 2011

Good Rules

I swear I'd never thought I'd put those two words (Good and Rules) together, let alone write them. Together they create a bit of an oxymoron. For anyone who knows me, rules are not something I put a lot of stock in. To me, they are meant to be questioned, poked at, and certainly tested. Perhaps it's my New Jersey roots acting up again or perhaps it's just the pot-stirrer in me having fun. But my friend Jessica Esch changed all that one day and now I'm a believer.

Instead of creating new year's resolutions every January, Jess writes new rules for herself. These serve as her guidelines to which she promises to uphold and obey during the coming year. They inform her decisions, help her select perspectives that serve her intentions and give her permission.

Like I said, I'm a believer.

The magic in these rules is that they have been hand crafted and selected just with Jess in mind. She chose them. She wrote them down and agreed to their terms and conditions (but please note the clause at the bottom of her rules, lest you are concerned about locked in)

Being a witness to Jess and her rules has totally reframed my previous notions of them. If asked what the key has been to growing my own successful business has been, my number one response would have been, "I gave myself permission to break the rules."

And it's true, I didn't do market research when creating any of my offerings like Homecoming, my women's circles or Tribal Gatherings. I joked about having a "focus group of one" and constantly asked myself the question, "Well, what would I want?" and then designed accordingly. I didn't do benchmarking or extensive research on my "competitors" to see what was already out there. In fact, I adamantly refused to see them as competitors (much to the chagrin of many), and chose to enlist them as allies, as sister organizations on a similar mission. This paradigm shift is often referred to a "Blue Ocean" approach to strategy and assumes abundance versus lack - far from the shark infested and bloody waters of the "Red Oceans", which insist we go toe-to-toe and grab market share from our would be competitors. But why we insist on doing that is another post altogether...

The rules I'd advocating in this case represent more than just permission, though. They honor our need to be in control of our destiny. Yes, I said control. There, it's out of the bag.

Control gets a bad rap these days because it suggests it precludes working in isolation of faith, serendipity and openness. But that's just not the case. Control, as I see it is more of a manifestation tool. It is not the end, it is part of the means to the end. It's like the infamous story of the man begging at the feet of the statue of a saint to win a lottery ticket. Every day he'd say the same thing, "please, please let me win". One day the statue came to life and said, "my son, please, please buy a lottery ticket." Exercising a degree of control and honoring that urge is buying your lottery ticket. In working with my coaching clients, I often refer to it as a "woubbie", something that feels good, smells good and is comforting to hold. Like a soft and well-loved blankie of a toddler.

These "good" rules - or your version of them - can be a great woubbie to get you through the dark nights and lonely days on the transition road. They can be the anchors and bell buoys in your harbor. And as long as you hold fast to your belief that there are a lot of other variables at play - the direction of the wind, the turn of the tide, the harbor master's whim and the other boat traffic, they'll serve you well.

Want some inspiration? In addition to Jess's rules above, here are a few more from some women I admire:

  • Start with the love and then work very hard and try to let go of the results (Elizabeth Gilbert)
  • Cast out your will and then cut the line (Elizabeth Gilbert)
  • Trust the spark. When you find your natural exuberance, you will find security (Tama Kieves)
  • Let life get wind of you. Catch on fire and the world will catch onto you (Tama Kieves)
  • Obey your instincts (Martha Beck)
  • Open your eyes, follow your heart, and trust that life is unfolding (me)
  • Create your own music and join in the dance, for in it lies the magic of life (me)

So pull out a pen and get yourself a clean piece of poster board. Give yourself the permission that no one else can give you. Write the rules that you want to obey. And then hold them lightly and watch what happens. Honestly, it's pretty amazing. As are you.

05 April, 2011

Stupid Rules

My face hurts. It's because of laughing. About balance.

Last night one of my women's circles gathered around that very topic and we howled (and cried) as we teased apart this thing they call Balance (and for the record, by the end of the night, most of us ditched that term in favor of "grounded" or "centered" or even "in control.")

As a group, we were fascinated by the ridiculous and often unattainable expectations we set for ourselves. We discovered we shared a mutual penchant for wanting to "have it all", despite our recognition that this was clearly not possible. We howled out loud - and were brought to tears - as we spoke of our frustrations in trying to juggle the various roles we have, our disappointments at letting ourselves (and others) down, and the resulting shame we often felt in not having figured it out yet. We came to realize these thoughts and expectations were like this "dirty little secret" women didn't talk about. Except last night, of course. When we broke the rule.

The laughter felt damn good.

Liza Donnelly, a New Yorker cartoonist, is a master at getting people to laugh at these rules we set for ourselves as a society. She spoke about her own experience recently at TEDWomen and shared her story of how she's used humor as a tool to combat her "fear of womanhood". As her cartoons flashed behind her (and the audience roared with laughter), she illustrated her point of how we are imprinted with messages at birth and then bombarded with more messages - often conflicting - that tell us how to be. We know this, right?

Well here's an interesting twist she put out there for us to consider. Women, she asserts, often are the ones to police the rules because we are the carriers of the traditions. So we pass these rules down from generation to generation. The problem with the rules is that they are vague. Those rules that we do know, we're not terribly fond of - and they are constantly changing. She points out the obvious tenuous position this puts us in as women.

So what to do? Use humor to change them. Liza believes that women+humor=change. Why women? "Because women are on the ground floor and we know the traditions so well, we can have amazing antennae and can bring a different voice to the table"

Her mission? To think about these stupid rules we're following as well as laugh. She believes "we can change this thing, one laugh at a time."

I don't know about you, but I'm willing to have a sore face if it means creating some change in this world.

31 March, 2011

Perspectives on March

March is the shape-shifting maverick of the lot, taking us to the brink of despair before rumpling our hair like a big sister saying, "Don't be silly, I was just kidding..." It does little to reassure us, this pat on the head. We're onto March's Jekyll and Hyde ways and know better. But March has a way of lulling us into believing again and again. We end up trusting it despite our doubt. With its breaking ice, melting snow, and early bloom poking up through the dirt, we're served up days of hope in March that melt in our mouths like bitter-sweet chocolate. We stagger outside into the warm sunlight like giddy and grinning moles groping their way into a bright new world with limited vision. Because ultimately, we have faith in March. It may be unreliable and crusty, but March is the only sherpa we've got to guide us into Spring. So we follow where it leads and resign to being vulnerable, looking a bit awkward and feel entirely insecure and unprepared. In March, we trust.

29 March, 2011


I recently took a self-imposed sabbatical. I didn't talk about it much or shout it from the rooftops. I just quietly carved out a four week chunk of time where I didn't see clients. I just saw me. I was my primary client. Even though I knew it was needed and wise - strategic, even - I still felt the requisite terror that comes with making a decision to stop spinning.

I was braced for a lot of snide "must be nice..." comments and was sensitive to how this leave would be perceived by others. Surprisingly though, all that came my way from clients, family and close friends was a resounding "GOOD for you!" I still was self-conscious, despite my commitment to this pause-by-design. Having been raised by a single mom, I was acutely aware of my privilege in taking this sabbatical and had to beat back that guilt with a wooden spoon daily.

I felt like I was breaking the rules. I hadn't broken a leg, come down with diphtheria or just given birth to a baby (thankfully). But I did have a purpose.

I wanted to create some space - a intentional pause in an otherwise busy life.

I've had pauses like this before, but I've always had a baby suckling on me - or needing to be changed, held, picked up, put down or soothed. Those maternity leaves I had were some of the most profound moments of clarity I've ever experienced, which is amazing given the physical and mental demands of birthing and caring for a newborn. I came to see those leaves of absence from the world of work as a time to give birth to more than just a baby.

My business, for example, was born during a particular unique maternity leave, during which I had no baby to hold. That was a big one. I've have come to believe that I gave birth to myself during that leave.

My Homecoming Retreat was born during the maternity leave of my youngest child. I remember sitting on the couch one warm summer day, shortly after his birth, watching the sprinklers in the back yard go back and forth and back and forth while he nursed and then napped at my breast. It was in that moment that I realized I was ready to offer up Homecoming, which shocked me to no end (I thought that retreat was years down the road for me.) I've come to believe that dear, sweet child of mine actually pulled the idea for Homecoming out of my heart and into the light of day through his nursing (he was quite a vigorous nurser!)

So you can see how I've come to be a believer in leaves of absence.

So now, nearly four years later, I decided to embark upon another one, calling it a sabbatical this time. Having had some experience taking leaves, I thought I knew what I was in for. Ha ha ho ho ho.

I had forgotten about the need for undoing. I learned about this process - and fell in LOVE with that word - after reading This Time I Dance by Tama Kieves. If you don't have this book yet and suspect you might go through a transition sometime in your life...or know of someone else who might go through one, buy it. I read it the first time after leaving my cushy corporate job after eleven years to start my own business.

"Undoing", as the author explains it (and as I've experienced it and as I've witnessed my clients going through it), is necessary because the first step of change is to grieve a loss. A loss of an identity, a loss of a suitable answer to the question, "what are you doing?", a loss of purpose, a loss of a known routine and, most significantly, a loss of "stuff to do".

"In this slowdown, meltdown phase of your journey, you have the opportunity to sort through layers of your self and decide which ones travel on and which ones get shelved...This undoing process works like painting the interior of an old house. First, you clean the walls, sand them down, and patch them up, or else you paint over the old infirmities, the same warps and clumps of history....The doing of our chosen work comes easy, it's the time of 'undoing' that requires every ounce of strength, vision, and persistence... Every belief that ever held you back from your desires will now come forth and stand before your door. This time will make you stand in your strength like you never have before." - Tama Kieves

So what did this mean for me upon taking a sabbatical? It meant all those expectations I had, all those lists I made, well-set intentions...they had to wait. Instead, I cleaned out the basement. When I was done with that, I bored out closets, cleaned out my filing cabinets and took bags and bags of clothes, toys and books to Goodwill.

Like a dog that has to circle round and round in one of those poofy beds before finding just the right positioning, I found this busy work of cleaning out, organizing and purging remarkably soothing and incredibly satisfying.

Near the end of my sabbatical, I could feel that I had unraveled - not unlike the sensation of finally being ready for a vacation on the last day of vacation. I had arrived. I was undone - or nearly there. And with that realization, with that deep inhalation into the expanse I had created, I could finally think and see clearly - new ideas and thoughts came flooding in as possibilities. Like someone who has just completed one of those body cleansing programs, I felt my energy and creativity returning to me like the tide coming in during a full moon.

It was so worth it.

22 March, 2011

A Jump Start is Better Than No Start

Sometimes a shove is needed where a nudge won't do. Sometimes, sadly, a kick in the pants is just the ticket to spark some serious change. Sometimes being impatient is a good thing.

I am a big fan of lines drawn in the sand, I admit. They excite me to no end, because they signal a boundary has been set or in some cases, a gauntlet has been thrown down.

There has been much debate about the World Economic Forum's decision to institute quotas for their most recent annual meeting held in Davos, Switzerland. Frustrated that women make up less than 16% of the delegates, they decided to set quotes requiring a fifth of the delegates sent by their strategic partners be women. A spokesperson for the WEF said the intent was to give a "gentle nudge toward gender parity."

Many applauded the bold move, even while expressing sadness that it took such drastic measures to ignite some real change. Others were outraged, suggesting the quotes weren't having any impact and were effectively reducing women's participation to simply numbers, and detracting from the value they bring. When I asked women on my SheChanges Facebook page, I heard a similar mix of opinions. The overriding sentiment, however, is that the main objective is to get more women at the table. Most everyone agrees that nothing will change if women remain on the sidelines. One women suggested the focus should be on the results produced by the quotas, rather than the quotas themselves: "I think we should not demonize or idealize quotas or anything that [gets more women to the table]. We just need to do it and get them there."

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of Rework, offers some relevant insight on the power of drawing a line in the sand: "Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or a service. You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone. You need to know what you're willing to fight for. And then you need to show the world." They assert that this strong stand of drawing a line in the sand - as radical and counter-intuitive as it seems, actually results in attracting "superfans" - people who will defend your actions and spread the word.

The World Economic Forum drew a line in the sand. And so did Norway in 2002, when it began using quotas to ensure 40% of all board seats were filled by women. And after seeing the results, Spain, France and Britain are following suit.

The general consensus is that the business world won't see or feel much of a change until there is a 50/50 representation of women and men in the workplace. Until then, the primary jumper cables to achieve more gender parity in our engines are quotas and women's conferences.

But where my attention goes in the wake of this controversial WEF gender quota is how much rousing discussion and debate it triggered. Sure, there might not have been many more women at Davos this year than in years past, but there it sure sparked a lot of attention. Heads turned and people took notice. Some smoke was created. And where there is smoke there is fire.

15 March, 2011

Eviction Notice

What if Fear, Guilt, Angst and Doubt were sent packing? By you. After all, they're tenants in your house, are they not? Haven't you been saying how tired you are of them blasting their heavy metal music all hours of the night, leaving their dirty dishes in the sink, the toilet seat up and let's not even talk about the icky hair they leave behind in the shower drain.

So let's, for a minute, assume you evict them. You put on your big girl panties, march up to their respective rooms and give them notice. Sure, they might be surprised - maybe even put up a fight. Can't blame them, really. They've never heard you talk to them like this before. Realizing you're not going to back down, they finally pack up their bags and shuffle off to Buffalo (or wherever else they're wanted.)

What would your house be like then, eh? Are you liking this image? Let's sweeten the pot, shall we?

Now, let's suppose you put a rockin' ad on Craig's list for some new tenants - boarders that would breathe some light and fresh air into your home, ones that would carry their weight and actually make your home happier, healthier and more alive.

Because you are the powerful manifester you are, soon four new tenants move in your house: Honesty, Impatience, Inspiration and Audacity. Clearly Inspiration is the warmest of the bunch, but something in your gut said the others were the right fit for you at this stage of your life, so you trusted it.

You welcome them in , a bit guarded and skeptical at first (who can blame you after the last bunch, eh?) The house and all its inhabitants soon settle into a new routine and here is what you notice:

Honesty is hard to be with at times - kind of grates on the nerves a bit with its close-to-the-bone comments. But we can't help laughing when Honesty is around because its observations are just ridiculously on-target. Honesty doesn't say all that much, but when it does, there is not a grain of sugar to be found. We've all come to appreciate just how much sugar we've had in our diet before living with Honesty.

Impatience was a surprise, really. A bit of a wild card that turned out to be a bonus. We all kind of tip-toed around it for a while - especially before it had its coffee in the morning - but now we're used to it. Impatience is the "get it done" voice in the house and keeps us from whining and bemoaning our lives. Without Impatience, we'd all be hung up in our underwear, spinning our wheels and waiting for someone to rescue us.

Inspiration is the one that stays up eating chocolate in the kitchen until the wee hours of the morning, talking, dreaming, exploring and doodling incessantly on this little white board it wears around its neck. Exhausting at times - especially after having its morning cup of coffee - Inspiration is the most creative person in the house, always questioning our assumptions and playing "what if" games with us.

Audacity rapidly becomes known as the pot-stirrer in the house, always saying something a little edgy or shocking with its raised eyebrow, watching to see how many waves it can make. We've all become used to it by now and are envious of the fearless nature Audacity possesses. Audacity keeps the house and everyone in it fresh by adding a bit of healthy tension to our lot, never allowing us to settle, get too comfortable or play it safe.

What a different house you've created for yourself, no? The air feels fresher, the light feels brighter and there is some substance in the house that wasn't present before. Where as Fear, Guilt, Anger and Doubt used to drag you down and hold you back, the people in this house are invested in life and take responsibility for constructing a life that fulfills them. It's also a highly creative environment, not one caught up in "keeping up with the Joneses" or paying much mind to what other people think you "should" be doing, saying or being.

What we're really talking about here is choice, right? Actively choosing your life. Your circumstances might not change a bit and certainly Fear, Guilt, Anger and Doubt will make cameo appearances in your life again. But what if it wasn't as hard as we thought? What if taking control of the thoughts that get to live in our OWN house was a choice we could make daily?

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her own experience with this in Eat, Pray, Love: "I've started being vigilant about watching my thoughts all day, and monitoring them. I repeat this vow about 700 times a day: 'I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore.' Every time a diminishing thought arises, I repeat the vow....The harbor of my mind is an open bay, the only access to the island of my Self . This island has been through some wars, its true, but it is now committed to peace, under a new leader (me) who has instituted new policies to protect the place. And now - let the word go out across the seven seas - there are much, much stricter laws on the books about who may enter this harbor."

Similarly, Martha Beck writes about the moment a woman reaches her "breaking point" and realizes she has been playing the role of society's version of what she should be: 'You know, this is a really stupid script. All this fussing and fighting and sweating and shaking is giving me a migraine. And besides, I like happy endings. Y'all can keep going or y'all can come with me, but I'm going backstage to rewrite my part. She sits down in one of the chairs, loosens the collar of her space suit, and begins to jot notes to herself on a pad. 'Let's see,' she murmurs 'I've always wanted my character to do this...' "

For some this notion of "choosing" might be a radical paradigm shift, for others it might be subtle. But the question remains the same: "What if you get to choose who lives in your house of you? Would you choose a sustainable community or a combustible one?"

And before you go down that road of "it's not that simple..." or "easier said then done...", what if you were to consider it a matter of civic responsibility? Elizabeth Gilbert called this act "assuming custodial responsibility for the care of your soul." Imagine how making the decision to improve your house would also benefit everyone that comes into contact with it. You've not only created health and happiness for your own home, you've also spruced up the neighborhood, inspiring your neighbors and friends to do the same.

What if your choice not only impacted you and your life? What if it impacted the world? What would you choose then?

01 March, 2011

Border Collies Get It

So I have this new theory about Balance - or lack thereof. It's helped me to ditch the unrealistic expectations and see things for what they are: constantly in motion and always changing.

My sister used to have this border collie named Bobo. She was a rock star. She had one purpose in life and she took it very seriously. Her job was to account for all the sheep and keep them together at all times. The only problem was that my sister didn't own any sheep. So any people that came into her home inadvertently signed up for this role.

Picture this: You are at a party at my sister's house with about twenty other people. You're talking, having a glass of wine and meeting some new people. All of a sudden you realize everyone at the party is standing really close to you. You look around and discover that all the guests at the party are tightly concentrated - some would say even squished - into the center of the living room. You don't even need to check. You know Bobo is out there. You hear her clicking toe nails dutifully encircling us. The sheep. You know she's smiling her doggie smile at having contained us all so neatly.

Until one of us breaks rank. Someone has to go to the bathroom, or maybe gets nervous in the presence of so many "close talkers" and moves to the outside edges of the room or makes a break for the kitchen.

See, Bobo? She gets it. She knows that sheep will always, always needed tending. Happy as she is with her job, she expects the errant sheep. It's job security for her. Keeps her on her toes, entertained even.

So how does this relate to balance? I don't know about you, but I fall prey to the illusion of all my sheep staying put. I circle them once and then crash on the couch, assuming they stay where I left them like good little sheep. At least until I'm good and ready to round them up again.

I've come to realize that's some seriously flawed logic. Here's how that scenario plays out:

I do the laundry, pay the bills, grocery shop, clean the house, straighten up, do the kids' paperwork for school, get my hair cut, exercise, sleep, have sex, connect with my friends, work with a client, empty the dishwasher, drop off the dry cleaning, meditate and shovel the driveway. There. All the sheep are accounted for and in a nice tidy bunch. All done, right?

No, because I look up from the couch and there it is. Chaos. The sheep are all over the place! Again.

And that's why Bobo is so wise. She knows this thing we humans call "balance" is really an illusion. It's never "there" or "done". Ever. She knows it's all relative and fluid, never static.

So the grocery shopping didn't get done, but the dog fur is vacuumed up and the kids lunches were made! Of course you didn't sleep much this week, because you grocery shopped and cooked up a storm to fill your freezer with meals and even made some for your sick neighbor! So the bills are all stacked up on the office desk (which is a mess), but you got some good lovin' this week and are feeling totally sated because of all that exercise! Sure all that laundry is done (and actually put away), but you look see yourself in the mirror and see all that crazy hair and those eyebrows which have taken on a life of their own...

You get the picture. Sounds familiar, right? Dare I say, "realistic"?

See, Bobo knows life is like a spider web. You pull one corner of the web and another corner has to give a bit. If you spend time chasing down one errant sheep, another sheep is bound to take advantage of the situation and make a run for it.

It just makes sense. So maybe it's a new theory and maybe it's just new to me. But Bobo knows.

15 February, 2011

Grace Letters

Years ago I was given a gift by my late sister-in-law, Grace. That gift, over time, has evolved into a ritual much like a grain of sand creates a pearl. Because it's bittersweet, this gift. Just like the grain of sand in the oyster, it causes friction and discomfort before the beauty emerges.

Grace was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer when she was 39. She fought valiantly with great courage and, well, grace. She was a woman capable of great love and had an unwavering faith. It was this winning combination (along with an incredible family and a stubborn northern Maine constitution) that enabled her to long-surpass her 18 month prognosis, living a full five years beyond what was expected.

In the last days of her life, I wrote Grace a letter offering to help record her thoughts and lessons on life, love and loss for her children to read some day. At the time, they were ages 9 and 12, and I imagined she was full of information, advice and instructions for them knowing they would be growing up without her in their life everyday.

She accepted my invitation and I remember how honored I felt by the intimacy of that moment. We began each session with Grace selecting a topic from a "menu" of questions that covered topics like faith, community service, marriage, love, sex, education, parenting and beyond. She would talk and I would write. When she'd had enough, I'd go home and transcribe it, print it, put on a clipboard with a red pen and drop it off at the hospital for her to edit. And edit she would! I'd make the changes and show her again. Then we'd capture some more. And so we proceeded until we had pages and pages of her thoughts written down in her own "voice."

Grace died the following week. As the family grieved and clung together over the next few months, I watched how those "Grace Letters" comforted first her husband, and then her children. Their dad would read excerpts to them periodically as a way of gently touching the tenderness of what they were feeling and offering some solace and connection to their mom at a time when they needed her most.

The experience of helping Grace to write those letters was the gift of a lifetime. It's also a gift that keeps giving.

Every year, as I take myself away for my birthday retreat to reflect, I have a ritual of writing each of my boys a Grace Letter before I return home. In it, I thank them for the privilege of mothering them, and I recount some of the lessons they've taught me. I also share a bit of my own perspective on life as it relates to where they are developmentally or what I'm witnessing in each of them. Most recently, I've taken to writing these letters in a special book, so that they're all in one location rather than floating about the house. It's a gift, that book - to me and to my family. I don't wait to read the letters to them either (it's not my style, to wait.) Having done this ritual now for four years, they have come to expect their letters and are excited to hear what's in them each year.

When I sat with Grace nearly four years ago, I watched as she fretted about what to include - it all felt so important, and time was limited. I can still hear her saying, "where do I begin?" I learned from Grace that we are all in the process of dying, she just knew her death was coming sooner than later. She left me with a deep appreciation of "beginning now" - writing the story as it unfolds. Loving the story as it unfolds, with all its twists and turns and uncertainty.

I received many, many gifts from Grace, but I'll always be thankful for the one that helped me to see life for what it is - a gift to be opened each day. My Grace Letters are the red bow that ties together a whole year of my days.

Thank you, Grace.

08 February, 2011

Creating Stuck

Have you ever had one of those days - or weeks or months - where you have a pile of work to do and yet you just stare off into space, stall and allow yourself to be distracted? Yeah, me too. More often than I care to admit, actually.

My friend calls it "chasing after shiny pennies". A colleague used to call it "alphabetizing her rolodex" (yes, I'm that old). I prefer to call it purgatory. As a working mom running my own business, I need to be uber efficient. Caffeine is my friend and I admit I love that feeling of crossing things off my list (yes, I have been known to write down things I've already done so I can get "credit" for doing it...there, I said it)

There are plenty of references to this chronic affliction. It's most commonly referred to as "wasting time" (what does that mean exactly?) Abby Seixas wrote about "The disease-of-a-thousand-things-to-do" and how it results in us chasing our tails. Carl Honore claims it is a logical consequence of the addiction to the "cult of speed" that has run rampant in our society. My sister, who teaches yoga to children, calls it "the monkey mind." My clients - busy, fast-moving, women - visit this place of being stuck so frequently, I jokingly tried to make it a cooler place to by, saying "stuck is the new black."

You know the place, right? That sensation of spinning your wheels and not being productive? Having nothing to show for your time? In a society that values doing, measuring, and moving, it's only natural that we want to avoid this place. Wasting time=bad. I used to buy into this, but not anymore.

Last fall I saw an intuitive that totally reframed this notion of "wasting time" for me. She said, "Oh, you create 'stuck' for yourself as a way of slowing yourself down." I create stuck? She went onto tell me "I do stuck really well", meaning when I get stuck, I respond quickly by dropping down into it. I simply surrender. So this place - this purgatory - is apparently by design. My design. It's not some fatal character flaw as I had long-since suspected. This was good news. In a bizarre twist, I began to actually take pride in my proficiency at "creating stuck", rather than feeling shame and beating myself up when I had trouble focusing.

When I thought about it, it made perfect sense to me. I move fast through life - one person referred to me once as a comet. But what do we know about comets? They burn out. As I tracked back my thoughts leading up to this "stuck" place, I noticed I pattern. Right before that moment of disengagement, I was lamenting how tired I was, how much I needed a break, how I couldn't keep going at this pace. So my body, mind and spirit, in all its wisdom, responded to my request and created some "stuck" for me.

Sometimes I would get sick. Sometimes we would have a snow day and I would have to cancel all my plans to stay at home with my kids. Those are the obvious ones and I tend recognize those easily enough.I gave myself permission because they were "good excuses." But it's the subtle ones that were tricky to sniff out. The times there was no apparent reason I wasn't able to focus. I would try and muscle through those places, cracking the whip and berating my inability to produce one measly thing of worth. It used to turn into this long and drawn out day-long battle, complete with sweat and often, tears.

Now my sniffer is more attuned to those subtle hints that I am in a stuck place. I recognize them easier and have come to expect them. I actually - and this is the cool part - have come to value them. Rather than kicking and dragging my feet, I treat that "stuckness" as a menu item I have specifically ordered with my needs in mind. And I eat it up. Every crumb. Because it nourishes me at the times I need it most.

Could this be a massive justification for procrastination and sloth-like behavior? Sure. But I think we both know it's not. Try stuck on for size and see if it fits. They say it's the new black.

25 January, 2011

Lessons from Clay

So I've started taking pottery classes. You know, the kind with a wheel. The experience is a bit like walking into a formal cocktail party wearing your bra and underwear on the outside of your clothes. Not that I've ever done that, but I'm just sayin'...

But nonetheless I remain committed to this self-imposed creative experiment and am starting to see the fruits of my labor - beyond just some pretty cool looking bowls.

I've come to vehemently believe one thing about pottery and working on the wheel: it's not about the clay. I have been continually amazed at the richness of the metaphor of throwing pots, much to the chagrin of my classmates, I'm sure (it's not easy have a coach in your midst...everything becomes a metaphor for living).
It's ingenious really, clay. Because embedded in it, mixed up with all the sand, sediment and water is, well, me. Who would have thought going to pottery class would have the same impact as therapy, coaching, intuitive reading and body work combined? Ok, so I'm exaggerating, but it's not far off base. Here are my latest lessons in clay to illustrate what I'm talking about:

Be committed, but don't get too attached
Working at the wheel forces you to recognize that something you've labored on and sweat over is simply a thing. That's all. No matter how much you love it and are proud of it, your creation can flop over, slop apart or shatter in a moments notice. Again and again. It kind of desensitizes you to material loss on a small scale. Until you realize that it is what it is. At which point, your focus shifts to the process of making the bowl instead of the destination of the finished product.

It takes time and patience to center, and you're dead in the water without it
Ah, centering...we meet again. "Centering" is the act of getting your lump of clay exactly in the middle of the wheel while the wheel is moving around and around. Sounds easier that it is, but it takes time and a boatload of patience to master. It's one of the hold-your-breath-wince-and-tense-up-your-shoulders kind of "simple" things. Like meditating, some would say. It makes you sweat even on the coldest of days and is the price of entry to any good pottery piece - if you don't center your clay, your pot is doomed to a long, slow and ugly demise. Ah, but once you pass through those pearly gates, it's all downhill sailing - life, I mean throwing a pot, is so much easier. Oh, and one bright spot on the centering front? I'm happy to report there is such a thing as "plenty centered", so no need to hold out for the "perfectly" category. Plenty will do just fine.

Fear won't serve you well at all, so just get over it
There is nothing more humbling than the realization that a half-pound lump of clay is holding you captive with fear. Seriously. And when that clay starts to take shape into something more functional, dare I say, beautiful, the stakes go higher and so goes the fear. Of failure. Of ruining something after running through all those gauntlets. It's like those feverish game show contestants, knowing when to say "deal" or "no deal" and cut your losses or go for the big bucks. As you watch the wheel spinning round and round you continually butt up against choice points and option "A" always seems to be "be afraid." This is not simply a trick question, it's an open invitation to see through to a different option, a different way of being. The lesson here is that you'll always have fear, it's like the loyal collie companion of living, always at your beck and call.

Keep the wheel moving
This has become my mantra - thanks to the multiple times during class I hear my plenty-patient instructor utter those very words as she passes by me. It reminds me of that physics law, "a body in motion stays in motion" and I have found, as in exercise, it forces me to breathe (you can only hold your breath for so long, you know...) Keeping the wheel moving is a practice that forces you to work with things as they are in motion, to match your form to a moving form, and to breathe independently of my actions on the wheel. In this start-stop, hurry-up-and-wait, want-it-now culture, I've found it's a radical act to keep my foot slow and steady on the wheel. Going zero-to-sixty, slamming on the brakes or making sudden herky-jerky movements just don't fly with the wheel world. Slow and steady she goes.

When you let go, let go gently
Yeah, this one was a one-two punch for me (in a good way). There's the whole "letting go" thing, but then kissing up against it is the whole "gentle" thing. Friends with benefits, they are. Here's how it looks: you're moving your hand across the bottom of the bowl and then smoothly up the sides to pull them up higher and higher and then - BLAM - you withdraw your hands like you've been jolted with a lightening bolt (in my case because I've run out of breath...which I've been holding.) So now a perfectly smooth and graceful line has a pinch and a wobble to one side. The letting go, well, that's an obvious lesson, but here's the subtle nuance when you overlay it with the "gentle" thing. My instructor watched me today and said, "right before you let go, you need to gently release pressure until you're no longer touching it." I nearly broke into tears with understanding. I thought of everything I loved so dearly - my children, my beloved and the life we've built together, my business that I adore. I thought of that adage, "if you loved something, let it go" and how it will come back to you. So letting go is about love and gently releasing our hold on it.

Don't take yourself so seriously
So how do you - or I, in this case - stay sane when all these thoughts and realizations are pouring out of me as the wheel keeps spinning and spinning around (make it stop!) Laughter. Thank heavens it comes easily to me - a saving grace, for certain. I look over at my neighbor and we both roll our eyes and exchange knowing nods and we chuckle. I watch as my classmates learn to make handles for mugs by "pulling from a pot" and I bust a gut at the suggestive nature of it (google it...you'll see what I mean.) I channel my friend, Katie West and the philosophy that is the basis of her Levity Institute and periodically chant ha-ha-ho-ho-ho or rehearse a laughter story I will tell later to my friends and clients. If none of that work, I just look down and see that I'm covered in head to toe in brown slop and slurry - is there anything more hysterical than a person trying to take themselves seriously looking like that!? I rest my case