It was 1996. I was at a college party with the usual dynamics at play. Youngsters flirting and flaunting goofy theatrical dance moves, getting into conversations deeper and looser than those that happen sober. The hotness factor was high, hormones ripe and bodies ready. We were 20-something adults from Marin and Southern California, living in Chico for an education and to party, in good shape with stylish clothes.
My two housemates at the time were San Diego beach-born and -raised, pretty and full of spice. One of them had mentioned her name before. Piper. A girl she didn’t like much for whatever reason.
I had learned in high school not to like or dislike others because of what someone else said. I hadn’t met Piper yet.
And then she came shining.
I didn’t know who I was seeing at the time. What I saw was a young woman whose confidence lit up the room like fire.
Her humor wasn’t the kind used for distraction or avoidance. Her words weren’t used to impress anyone else. Her ways seemed to come from a deeper well. Hers was the kind of confidence that other girls wanted, not the temporary boost gained from mascara or a fresh tan. I was stopped. I fell in love. Her soul captivated me. My respect for her ways and choices led me to aim within myself for more confidence, too. Her name was Piper.
Twenty-two years later, she remains one of my closest friends. Our friendship has ebbed and flowed as great ones do, and through it all she has beamed. She is a shining ray of rooted woman confidence that comes from deep within herself, tapped into the divine.
Through my 13-month postpartum depression, with all its riveting questions and despair, it was Piper who helped me realize that I parent by instinct. Beyond attachment parenting, mothers can honor our instincts — ancient, clear and piercingly beautiful — and this was the way I was meant to mother. Accepting this has given me freedom I couldn’t find anywhere else. I was fortunate to have a lighthouse to look to. In Piper’s confident claiming of her own parenting style, I found mine.
Being witness to this kind of confidence in a woman during my 20s gave me a renewed sense of what is possible for women. Five years ago when I gave birth, a strike of lightning reaffirmed this possibility. When women wake up to our own power, astonishing beauty unfolds. Our power lies in no one else’s hands.
If I could show every teenage or 10-year-old girl what it’s like to feel deep inner confidence like I’ve seen in Piper, I’d wave my wand and do it fast. No soap opera Kavanaugh courtrooms could live in that universe.
On this day, her birthday, I bow to the willingness in my friend Piper. And I bow to the willingness in a woman, every woman, when she chooses to lead from the power within her.
If you have a woman friend like this, call her now! She is actively creating a world in which women are valued.
Happy Birthday, friend. Your willingness to open to the divine and let it lead your life makes my head and my hips shake with wonder. I love you past the soft rolling hills of Denmark and into the furthest peppery galaxies!
This is the fifth piece from The Motherhood Letters, a monthly column of letters written by Leaning into Light founder Jessica Rios for Mothering Arts.
I’m writing to remind you that we’re mortal. (Go ahead, start laughing about your nutty aunt now, I know I toss you some funny curveballs in life.) 😉
We're mortal. Not your soul, not the Spirit you’re made of, not the love in your heart. That’s all eternal. Our bodies, dear nephew, will die. Yours, mine, everyone’s.
Ridiculous, right? Why would I take time to write you a letter about this, I mean, come on, you’re 19 years old. You are well aware that every body dies. But are you, really?
Let me tell you why I ask. Let me tell you why I’m writing you this letter.
Plain and clear, we live in the west where most people pretend they’re not going to die. Living this way is a lie, and I love to you too much to miss this chance to help you live awake to the fact that your body will die.
Look around. Most people eat like it doesn’t matter what we put into our bodies, as if their bodies will tolerate crap forever. Most people withhold the truth from themselves and others, and they sit around wishing and dreaming without stepping up to the plate to follow their dreams.
Following your own joy will show you this tragedy, because you will have awakened eyes to see how unusual it is for many people to follow their joy, and when you see this it will break your heart.
Let’s admit it. Often times, people seem half dead. Eventually they will lay dying in a hospital or sit dying in a wheelchair, and they’ll wish — they will wish — that they could turn back the clock to when they were your age, and make different choices. They’ll wish they had loved more, worried less, and spent more time with people who love more and worry less.
The bad news is that living in a culture where people pretend we don’t die means you’ll absorb some of this mentality.
The good news is that no one else’s beliefs have power over you. You choose what you believe and how you live your life.
In my life of adventure — with all its challenges and joys — I have found that life is most vivid, vibrant and satisfying when I remember I could die tomorrow. It doesn’t make me depressed; it gives me confidence! It gives me courage to take risks that lead to great learning. To say things that are in my heart without walking on egg shells. To follow my dreams even when I’m afraid. It attracts people to me who are truly interesting and alive.
My handsome, kind and funny nephew, you’re there now, in your young healthy body, facing the bulk of your life. What an exciting time! So much is unknown.
I’m not your mom; I am your aunt. Still, I love you like crazy. I care for you so, so very much. I want you to love this one life you’re living. And I’m here to support you 100% to make it so.
At your age, very few people know what they want to do for the rest of your life. Literally very few. Some people have an idea about what they might enjoy doing, that could earn them money — such as becoming a police officer, nurse or school teacher — but even people who “know” at age 19 might find later on that they were just settling. They didn’t really know.
To really get a sense of what you would deeply enjoy doing for work, it takes time, travel, experience and exposure to the great big world. Please don’t rush it.
Looking outwardly at what careers are available will give you some insights. It is by looking within your own gorgeous heart -- at what brings you most alive -- that you will find what lights you up.
Ever heard this quote?
Don’t ask what the world needs. As what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. — Howard Thurman
Alright. Now that we’ve gotten that out…
Will you play a game with me?
Every day for one week, starting as soon as you finish reading this letter, I want you to ask yourself this question, and answer it honestly. Write the question and answer in your journal. Journaling is powerful stuff! No need to share your answers with anyone, this is for you.
Here's the question.
If I knew I had one year left to live, what would I do today? (Then do it.)
I’ll step up to the plate to give you an example. If I knew I had one year left to live, today I would decide what three songs are my favorite to sing, and I would sing them out loud, today.
Alright, another example. If I knew I had one year left to live, today I would update my Living Will so that all my friends and family hear what I most want to say to them — and where I want my stuff to go, so they don’t have to think about all that when I die.
I know you’ve felt moments of being truly alive in your life. Aren’t they awesome in contrast to those moments when you feel bored or uninspired?
This life is yours, bud. Don’t follow anyone else’s truth. This is your one precious life. Follow your joy, follow your heart, that is where your wisdom lives. And as you tell yourself the truth, the path forward will reveal itself — one small step at a time — one day at a time. You are young, and time will reveal what you want to do in life. Travel. Read. Follow honest media sources. Watch people, watch life, listen for clues to the song your soul wants to sing. That is beauty. And you’re up for it. I’ll always be your ally.
Love and hugs,
This will be one of my shorter posts. I’m feeling not so wordy today, though certainly touched deeply by life’s beauty, by many elements of life’s beauty, as the holidays wind down toward the new year.
One thing especially has gifted itself to me this holiday season, and that is the grace of humility as delivered, it seems, through aging. And although this is about a happy place I’ve reached with this particular challenge, what is taking place is the culmination of many years of trying and confusion, disappointment and longing.
Short and sweet. I am glad I’m aging. What is coming along with it for me includes a level of humility that wasn’t here in younger years.
Grateful for this, I will state some simple commitments that I will carry further in my own life, and that I trust will be encouraging for readers of my blog.
I commit to…
May we all thrive in our relations, especially those nearest to us that carry the most potential for expansion of the human heart.
On Michael Jackson's Thriller album, producer Quincy Jones talks about how the music gives you chills. He calls it "the chill factor" and says this is nothing less than divinity.
And it's precisely how I feel about exquisitely fine milk foam on a cappuccino or latte. The texture, the sensual wholeness, the smooth taste. There is nothing quite like spectacular milk foam.
This is why, as I stood watching one of my favorite baristas make my favorite drink recently, I literally stood there and cried. Slow, graceful, pausing tears. The kind that drip devotedly, in love with what the heart's eyes are seeing.
Why the hell was I crying about an espresso drink?
It is quite simple: Tears are a sign of an open heart. An open heart is willing to give and receive love. And Love is beautiful. To elaborate...
- Happiness and love are close relatives. There is great happiness found in simple joys. One living breathing moment to the next, all we've got is a taste of our latte, a fold of the laundry, a flush of the toilet. If we can't find happiness in the small things, where will we find it?
- Telling the truth is far more powerful than we acknowledge. The drink I like, with the kind of foam I like, is very, very uncommon. "Can I have a deep-wet-foam latte...? Every time I approach a cafe counter, I contemplate whether to ask for it or not -- and if so, how. Do I just order a coffee, or do I try to convey what I really want, and see what shows up? How annoyable does the barista appear? (And boy, this varies.) This process has allowed me an opportunity to clarify what I want, refine my language in asking for it, and surrender to what shows up, knowing it usually won't be exactly as I hope. Telling the truth takes courage. Owning our desire takes courage.
- It also takes courage to be true to your dreams -- and shizz, I really love this drink -- especially when it's not popular. The more we live authentically, the stronger those muscles get. Still, sometimes it seems a lot easier to just. Order. Coffee. Just go with the cultural flow. Stop dreaming, stop your fantasy world imagination, go with what is. There's power in that too sometimes, yet authenticity sure can fire up the heart.
Our free recording for November is here! Listen to The Spirit of Waldorf Education and Tips for Parents, our 55-minute interview of Education Director Shannon O'Laughlin, here.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternally a fan of Fred Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.