Five months into our family’s yearlong adventure living abroad in Sweden, I'm wondering where all the light went. It sure is dim and dark outside. Yeah yeah, I knew it would be like this. But living in it is always different than knowing, in your head, it is coming.
In my life I’ve had many, many experiences of choosing to “lean into light” — to recover from fear and pain to love and joy — yet this is the first time I’m actually facing this kind of dark.
Long seasons of cold, rain, wind and dark have been known to knock people off-center, and I am committed to utilizing all the tools I’ve got for self care, as the season rolls on. Buy a UV light? Maybe. Get outside, walk up stairs and hike up hills? Oh yes.
How would you make it — without too many grumpy days — through a long dark winter?
Letter writing has always been a therapeutic art for me, so I’ll write through the winter. Last week I wrote this letter for parents to use as they wish, since there is a growing number of parents who want their holidays to be less about presents, or “stuff” — and more about connection and quality time.
Whether you are a parent or not, chances are you want less stress and debt this holiday season. Consider this. How much more rewarding would it be to spend less time, money and attention on presents and more quality time with people you’ll miss indescribably when you die? Yep, when you leave your body. Because we all will, right?
In western cultures, we tend to avoid talking about our inevitable physical death. What purpose does this serve? If anything, I've seen people enjoy life more when they stop pretending to be immortal.
There’s no good reason to wait until we’re taking our last breaths. Ask the big questions now. Express your big feelings now. To your friends, to your mom or cousin or favorite co-workers…
What would you do if you knew you had two weeks to live?
What art is living inside of you, that you are denying and want to step-up?
What makes you feel alive, and are you doing that enough?
They'll feel your love.
From one perspective, living in a human body is rivetingly blissful and filled with pleasure. From another perspective, our bodies are limited and the real "light" is on the "other side," after we leave our bodies. Wherever you stand in the range of these beliefs, I will assert that we are here on this Earth to become really good at leaning into light. During long dark winters, or divorce or destructive wildfire, or adolescent growing pains or while we're looking for a new job that actually feels worth our time...
Asking the big questions and expressing the big feelings can help us feel alive.
As Christmas approaches, I am being courageous and communicating about something important to me, even though it’s a bit awkward and out of my comfort zone. Being courageous in communicating about things that are important to her is what I’d want my daughter to do — so shouldn’t I model this courage myself?
In giving myself permission to communicate this with you and others who I care deeply about, I ask that you first and foremost keep in mind that: 1) I love you, 2) I value you and all the ways you are generous with our daughter, and 3) this is nothing personal about any one person, including you. It is simply an expression of our family values — something we genuinely believe in — and I trust that you will receive this in a spirit of curiosity, with an open mind and a warm heart.
Here’s what we’ve noticed.
Whenever our daughter receives a lot of presents, she feels overwhelmed. It’s like her nervous system is frayed, and she can’t seem to appreciate or focus on any one thing. It’s as if she would prefer quality time rather than a lot of presents. It’s as if she is — without words — asking us to “step up our game” and show her how meaningful life can be without material excess.
She is fortunate. We are fortunate. And we’re grateful. So grateful that, in fact, we want to extend our gratitude into a family challenge to focus our time and attention more on laughter, music, conversation, cooking together — rather than having a holiday that is swimming in stuff.
We want this for our daughter, so that her holiday memories are rooted in the sharing of love. Yes, presents are usually given with love. Yet — they can also easily overwhelm children, and there is a growing movement among parents who recognize this overwhelm and want to teach their children how to live with less stuff. And less debt.
We also want our daughter to know that this living planet we call home — Mother Earth — is our life support system, and that we honor her future on it. We want her to know that buying more stuff is not good for the planet we love — which is her home.
My wish for our daughter is that she receive one very special gift from her family at Christmas. When we sit around our tree on Christmas morning, we would like her to revel — with attentiveness, presence and joy — in one very special gift her family has come together to purchase for her. We want her to feel what it's like to thoroughly appreciate and enjoy one gift. The magic of presence.
Trust me, if you want to be part of this gift I will be sure she knows that you are, as is anyone else who contributes to make it happen.
This year, we’re still on the case 😉 investigating what one “big” thing she would like for Christmas. Maybe it’s ice skates or a sled, or a day in the snow with a friend. Maybe handmade doll clothes. If you would like to contribute, please let me know.
If there is something special that you want to give her, let’s do it at a time when we can be with you, outside the holiday rush perhaps over a peaceful dinner, spending quality time enjoying the gift of your generosity and the huge blessing of your love in our lives.
Most of my life I’ve been guided by some version of the question, “What does Love want from me right now?” This question helps me focus on what’s most important in life — my relationships, my spiritual, emotional, mental and physical health, and my humanitarian service — rather than wading in less satisfying waters.
This morning I was in a fussy mood and I knew a hike somewhere green would uplift my spirits. So off we went to the Botanical Gardens, my little family, and hours later I’ve got a refreshed perspective on life and my body feels relaxed and content.
Being outdoors moving my body felt great physically, and it also gave me insight into one way I can support my daughter’s current developmental challenges: by giving her more opportunities to lead. After answering this powerful question, following its lead and getting outside a bit, I felt happier and more connected to my husband and our daughter.
And it all started with the question, "What does Love want from me right now?"
You know where this is going: What does Love want from YOU right now? Not tomorrow, not later on today or when you get a raise or have more time... right now. And remember, small steps can be big.
Anyone who’s been in a committed relationship knows it’s not easy. Down the line, divorce and affairs are common. Couples begin with starry-eyed mutual adoration and eventually find themselves facing some of their toughest life’s work.
Those who are a good match, with shared values and vision, who are willing to do the work presented by the relationship, can end up in an extremely satisfying place with an expanded sense of what’s possible in life. Maybe you know a couple who has made it this far.
There’s no right or wrong — in my book — about whether you have or haven’t made it through huge bumps and reached the other side. It doesn't make you more worthy of love, just because you have done the work partnership has presented to you, and come to a place of discovering you are both “new” people with grown spiritual and emotional muscle.
Whether we do this or that, whether we show the face of fear or love more often, we are all equally worthy of love. Still, it is very impressive and worthy of applause when two people do reach the "other side" in relationship.
If you are someone who’s done the work of long term intimate partnership, I commend you. I applaud you. Please share your insights with others, however it feels natural for you. People all over the world are longing for more satisfying relationships, and sadly, many are not willing to ask for help.
One of the big dying myths of our time is the myth that we don’t need each other.
Why stand at the wedding altar and ask that all all our guests be witnesses and help us out when things get tough, if we aren’t willing to ask them for help when we need it?
Friends, cousins, peers, coaches, many people in our lives would be happy to offer wisdom or a listening ear when we face relationship challenges. I am outrageously fortunate to have worked with a masterful relationship coach for 13 years. There are countless mediocre coaches out there, yet there are great ones too and there is one who’s a match for every one of us. And in asking for help, from whoever you ask, there is deep sweetness awaiting your soul. That place within you that values yourself enough to feel worthy of support, is a very sweet place.
If you’ve got one really good friend, or a sister or father or neighbor who genuinely cares for you, ask for help, alright?
There is no need to struggle in relationship.
Let us not wait for hurricanes, wildfires and war to teach us that Love is the way. Giving it, receiving it, any way you look at it... Love is the light.
Are you living a life of adventure or are you more drawn to a life of stability? One can exist within the other, for sure.
Yet for many people, there are big dreams, wild dreams, wanting to be lived and just waiting, waiting, for the light of day. For others, there is too much adventure and not enough stability. Yet others have a splendid balance that works just right for them!
Where are YOU in your life balance between adventure and stability -- right now?
Today I filmed a little video on the topic while taking a walk. Frozen lips and all... Enjoy!
Twice a year I take a one month break from social media. No Facebook, no Instagram, none of it. Usually it's February and July. This year it was February and it'll be October instead of July due to family travels happening this summer that I really wanted to share on social media. Ahhh, I am SO ready -- I've got "that feeling" again.
That feeling of I need a break. That feeling of irritability when you've spent too much time with anyone or anything, and you just. Need. A. Break.
I'm not here to share profound discoveries about why I think everyone who uses social media would be wise to take significant breaks from it. I'm just here to share that I do it, how it's helpful, and that it improves my overall sense of confidence and fulfillment in life. More mindfulness, less habituation. That's the world I'm for. You can choose if it makes sense for you.
Why do I do it?
Taking a break gives me space to consider how I want to be in relationship with my computer-phone device. Without social media eating up an hour or two (three?) every day, my brain has more space for other priorities.
The dazzle of instant gratification through photos and updates from my friends, gives way to the more subtle, deeper shine of whatever is presenting itself to me here and now, in my home, in my body, or with my child. Maybe I would be happier with a 20-minute walk in a new neighborhood than I would with a 20-minute Instagram session.
When I take a break from social media for one month out of every six, it's enough to make me not feel so "owned" by my phone the rest of the year. I feel more at-choice, more internally motivated rather than tethered to my phone for inspiration, relationship meaning, news stories, or even quick-fix text exchanges.
It's important to be mindful about things we're married to. Yup. We've basically married our devices, nonverbally committing to tend to them intimately every hour every day, and we still have so much room to grow in the area of creating agreements. We haven't written our vows. When do I use it? What do I use it for? How do I communicate with others when I'm using it around other people? When do I not use it?
In time, I sense more and more people will choose to take regular breaks from social media, or from their computer-phones altogether. We need space from our marital partners, our children, our best friends, so why wouldn't we need space from our devices too?
As published by the Findhorn Foundation.
Have you ever wondered what life on Planet Earth might be like in 100 years, when maybe, just maybe, humanity has reached a point of valuing spiritual intelligence (SQ) as much as we seem to value rational intelligence (IQ)? We have barely begun valuing emotional intelligence (EQ) so how long might it take before we value what is seen as yet another essential leap into the intelligence and potential of humanity — spiritual intelligence?
With the future being unpredictable, that question may be less helpful than those presenting themselves more readily in the here and now. What is SQ? And as for our own inner questioning, how does each of us embrace it more fully in our own lives?
Exhibiting how humanity is grappling with this relatively new area of study, many definitions have been presented for SQ.
Whereas IQ is associated with the left brain and EQ is associated with the right brain, SQ is noted as a “third way” of human intelligence, including elements of the intangible or immeasurable aspects of living in a human body.
Perhaps the most succinct definition comes from Richard Griffiths, former National Chairman of the Transpersonal Psychology section of the Australian Psychological Society, who says, “Spiritual intelligence equals IQ and EQ exercised with presence.”
Griffiths defines presence as the movement of awareness from ego to soul. Coming from ego, we tend to focus more on fear, short term vision, our limitations, and seeing ourselves as small or insignificant — even if that small sense of self is sometimes masked by conceit or arrogance. Coming from a sense of soul means our view is more vast. We see ourselves as part of a great web of life, relationships, patterns, all of which are significant in their impact on the world we live in.
The term Spiritual Intelligence was coined in 1997 by Danah Zohar when she introduced the concept in her book Rewiring the Corporate Brain. In this book Zohar explores the implications of SQ and other sciences that were new at the time, relating them directly to organisational problems and challenges faced by corporate leaders. She wanted to illustrate how humans can exercise full creative capacities, rather than making IQ the indisputable heavyweight among our intelligences. Considered one of the world’s greatest thinkers in the realm of management, Zohar studied Physics and Philosophy at MIT and did her postgraduate work in Philosophy, Religion and Psychology at Harvard.
To be clear, definitions of SQ note that spirituality is distinct from religiosity, equating SQ with existential intelligence. In his 2004 book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen Covey wrote, "Spiritual intelligence is the central and most fundamental of all the intelligences, because it becomes the source of guidance for the others."
While there is yet no universally accepted method of measuring SQ, there are many well developed tools. Principles and measurement criteria found in them include: valuing other people for their differences, not despite them; self-awareness; spontaneity; positive use of adversity; bilateral respect in our relationships; maintaining a sense of tranquility regardless of workload; the ability to utilise spiritual resources to solve problems, and; ego self mastery.
One assessment tool which has been tested and also cross-correlated with an instrument from Harvard University is called SQ21. It uses a framework of 21 skills to map strengths and identify development areas. The Findhorn Foundation will be hosting a workshop in June 2018, Next Level Leadership, that uses this model, giving participants a full assessment.
What becomes possible when we amplify our own spiritual intelligence?
Reflecting on how SQ might have touched my life, I am reminded of a noteworthy moment in 1997 during my last year of college when something called to me about Hawai’i. From someplace deep within me, I wanted to go. And I wanted to go all by myself. In my mind I recalled images of endless, lush greenery. Specifically Kaua’i, I had heard, was “the most beautiful place on Earth.”
Some close friends had traveled alone, but in my family this wasn’t common for a person my age. My sister was concerned. My dad was concerned. I was cautioned against it. Still I felt called to go. And while there were left-brain (IQ-related) reasons supporting my longing — such as the knowing that it was part of the USA, my own native country, and that the main spoken language was English — I could have also followed the advice of the TV media. Don’t travel alone; it isn’t safe; stay close to home; bad things happen to good people. What if…? What if…? What if…?
Those messages simply didn’t resonate. There was a tug too strong in my heart, an instinctual tug, that urged me to listen. From an EQ perspective, my feeling of trust that it would work out just fine, took centre stage. Very clearly there was a feeling in my heart that knew I was safe. Perhaps my intuition and soul awareness, both aspects of SQ, intermingling with IQ and EQ in the dance of this decision, were what allowed this to become a defining moment in the rest of my life.
Sure enough, though I stayed only with ‘strangers’ and went with very little money, it took less than a week for one of the most life changing experiences of my life to occur. Almost as in a dream state, I found myself sitting in the living room of a man who is internationally renowned for his spiritual clarity, a teacher of forgiveness, who ended up being a dedicated spiritual mentor and friend to me over the last 20 years.
Something tells me it was this deep-rooted sense of safety — an unwavering sense of certainty in who I am rather than what I am being in this moment or that moment, the connection I had to my own soul, the refusal to buy into messages of fear — that led to this experience. When we have a strong internal sense of who we are, on a bigger and deeper scale than what is showing up in our present moment circumstances, our decisions are enveloped in SQ. In those moments when we are aware of who we are, our essence, we may find ourselves in places we would not have imagined ourselves. Something much greater is at play. This is what SQ can lead us to; this is leadership when SQ is engaged. Had I listened only to left- or right-brain information, I might have had a great trip. But I don’t suspect it would have been epic.
We are in good company.
SQ is universal; each of us can access it when we choose to. No one has “a corner on the market” as my coach likes to remind me. Whether afraid or not, whether others approve of our explorations or not, when we open up to our own SQ, it smiles back at us like a lavender bush stretching for the sun.
Today, we live in a world with almost incomprehensible human suffering. The atrocities that happen every single day due to humanity’s unloving choices can feel debilitating, like a heavy dark cloud that zaps our motivation. Fortunately, to provide leadership for addressing the magnitude of these problems, there are many, many examples of SQ in our midst. Now that there are various tools for measuring SQ in individuals, hundreds of humans have been widely recognized as having high levels of SQ. Among them are Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Don Miguel Ruiz, Caroline Myss, Adyashanti, Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coelho, Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Gary Snyder. This is just the very tip of the iceberg.
It is not necessary to know someone personally to benefit from the chemistry exchanged between us. Reading a book by someone who embodies SQ or listening to a talk in person or online are both good ways to enhance our sense of spiritual wisdom. Simply deciding that SQ is important to us is an act of commitment as it expresses our values and vision and leads to thoughts, feelings and actions that support this decision.
May we all find ways to engage playfully — and even engage a bit of spiritual ‘mischief’ — with our own SQ, inviting it to surface from our wise inner depths before we have a chance to think too hard about it.
A simple question I like to ask myself sometimes, when faced with a difficult situation such as conflict with a loved one, is: How would my spiritual self guide me here? It is almost shocking how quickly we can seem to trick ourselves out of fear-based thoughts, turning instead to our own timeless wisdom.
Last night it was our old next door neighbor. The one back home in Petaluma. In my dream she was sorting through things in her car. And she was pregnant.
Each night before, for the past two weeks since we left our home in Northern California, it was another dear one. Somebody who’s tucked way deep into the caves of my heart, whose love I must feel as I sleep, to be here, to be brave, to wake up optimistic about all the new sounds, words, sights and choices each day brings.
Two weeks ago we came to Sweden. It’s lovely. Waterways and ferries, charming schools, clean streets, lots of bicyclists, people walking with their families, often with a scoop of summertime sunshine in hand — ice cream. We’re staying for a year, through the dark and cold of winter, so my daughter can absorb her father’s native culture into her bones — its language, her grandparents and cousins, a whole new map of humanity to add to the one she’s known all her life in America. And I am here to see my life and homeland from a distance — to gain some perspective.
It is a mystery, what exactly this year will bring. As always in life, we do not know. Yet adventure seems to make life more unstable… usually in a positive way.
Daily I begin writing blog posts in my head...
How to Support a Child During a Big Move
The Mama Bond and How It Impacts Parenting
Social Solidarity and Unschooling
What if Everyone on Earth Had Their Own Dream-Space for Art?
The Art of Knowing Nothing
And then, all that lands on paper is letters. To friends back home. To my mom. Letters write themselves so easily through me, because they are an expression of love in relationship. No thinking required.
So here, I’m doing a little of that in a blog post. Highlights “on the surface” of my intercontinental family move, in the form of five Notes to Self. Under the surface, in the subconscious and unconscious mind — in that place of dreaming-asleep — all the musings inside that place are way outside of words even between me and myself, so I don't dare try to make any sense of them on paper. Here are the ones I can make some sense of — those personal bits I’ve dug up from my own life that might be of value to you.
#1: Way to land it, Mama! Six and a half months of deciding, planning, envisioning, orchestrating, and you have landed this family plane! Now rest. If that pressure behind your eyes has anything to do with the long daylight hours, you can rest assured knowing fall and winter will bring plenty of relief from light. But let’s just say that you’ve worked your tail off, with bucket-loads of help from friends and family, to get here and now… You. Are. Here. Note to Self: Stop. Slow down. Give yourself time to recover not just from the jet lag but from all the project management energy you exerted to make this shift. Rest is so, so important. Stay true in knowing that, even when the ‘outside’ world tells you to go, go, push on, go.
#2: Our shipping crates are somewhere off at sea. Estimated delivery was five days after our arrival, now changed to seven weeks. We’ve got clothes and a few toys and books for our daughter, but there is no doubt those carefully chosen material things we packed into crates bring enormous value — joy, familiarity, a foundation. Things that are helpful on big adventures. Note to Self: Continue on your journey of finding true balance and joy — sufficiency as Lynne Twist calls it in her famed book The Soul of Money — with material things in life. And when you have what you perceive as “too much” in life — clutter, excess, gluttony — aim to be grateful that at least you have enough. And when you don’t have quite all the things you’d like to have, like now, be grateful they are coming, and that you can find happy days as a family even with only the things you packed into a duffel bag.
#3: I’ve never stuck with gyms for long. I join, the going feels great and then I fall out of love. Only those movements that bring me real joy — like frisbee, dancing and bicycling — tend to last. So I’ve noted for a good life, this body needs those playful things. And meanwhile, here I am living my dream of not owning a car for a year! It’s been a decade in waiting. I’ve wondered how much America’s obesity epidemic has to do with how people move — or don’t. Here we’ve been walking a lot every day and it feels so good to know this won’t end in two weeks when my vacation is over. This isn’t a vacation; this is our life on a different continent. And… Note to Self: Though you might feel lighter — and better — with all this walking, do not forget that it is playful movement that truly lights up your body from the inside. You will find that capoeira class. Its berimbau song sings you awake like nothing else. Fall in, girl.
#4: As ten of your dearest lady friends told you two weeks ago, seated on colorful blankets circled up in a farewell ritual, they are holding you. Your web of women is something fierce, in a landscape of loneliness. You will never be lonely for long because of the way you revere your relations. Note to Self: Even when your letter writing and other ways of feeding friendships seem to be devalued — as they’re not compensated financially and the bonds aren’t always tangible or visible — they hold you up. Keep them strong. This you know. Without your tribe, you fall and it hurts. With your tribe, you fall and look around to hear familiar songs singing you right back up.
#5: Despite the temptation to ask, “Now that I’m in a new place, who am I here?” you are who you are, in essence — everywhere. Joy is joy wherever you are. You don’t need to search for a new joy, though many might find you. Note to Self: Music lifts your soul; Sing loud every day. (Presently overhearing my daughter leading her father through Bob Marley’s song One Love in the kitchen… She knows.) Art keeps you grounded, so you know that your place on Earth is a beautiful one, no less useful than the sun as it shines on moss green fields of rice. You were born a “profound romantic” — a lover of humanity — and expressing this through writing is your gift and your art. Keep giving. Find your paper people, those who know the art of letter writing is not dead. Dance in the joy of that knowing, together. An art is not dead if it is being lived.
My dream is to write like crazy while we’re here in Scandinavia. I know this can happen, and it likely will. Being in a culture that truly values art is indescribably refreshing — but I can’t say just how, at the moment. Receptors are inward, picking up, not yet forming the full articulations of what I am noticing.
Thank you for being with me, anyone who’s reading this, as we journey on. May our little family's adventure light up your own desires to move upon this great, glorious small planet we call Home, our precious Mother Earth.
(also published in Holistic Parenting Magazine, spring 2017)
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, a mother, freelance consultant and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.