It's been a long winter in California. While grateful for rain, it seems everyone was out hiking or otherwise soaking up the sun this weekend. Finally, spring came.
Spring has a way of inviting humans to open up like flowers: our smiles, our sidewalk hellos, our eagerness to create and connect.
Spring says, "Come, try something new, let me see your petals too."
One way I show my color, my petals, the life inside of me -- is through letter writing. This spring I'll begin a yearlong workshop guiding participants to create or deepen intimacy with key areas of life: your body, food, family, friends, money, ancestry, home. We'll write letters to all these areas, these places where we are in relationship.
Life is relationship. Just as we can share human experience and deepen connection with a close friend or spouse, we can do this with non-human relations. Truthfully relating with anything or anyone -- in this case, through letter writing -- brings enhanced mindfulness, communication, and personal power.
Participants can join in person north of San Francisco in Sonoma County at Literic Petaluma, where I will lead the workshop. Those unable to attend in person can join the separate (but similar in content) online version, which I will post the week after.
I've written thousands of cards and letters in my life.
Some delivered, some not. Some graceful, some clumsy. Some potent with love and wisdom, some flapping in a sea of insecurity.
Each letter has given me greater clarity about who I am and what I want. Each piece of hand written correspondence has conveyed to its recipient, however short of long, that I value them and want them in my life. Some friends have hundreds of letters and cards from me tucked away in a box. Not emails, as those can't be touched.
Letters please the senses. Letters say spring.
If you want to deepen intimacy with key areas of your life, infusing your world with truth telling power and vision in ink, on paper, for the senses, for the fullness of life... Join us! If you're in Petaluma, call or email Literic at firstname.lastname@example.org / (707) 658-1751. Those wanting to participate online can check in mid-April for links. In-person cost per workshop is $30. Online version will be $8. Email Jessica with questions.
Those of you who read my blog regularly are likely aware that I'm not talking about money. I am talking about what makes us truly rich, not financially rich.
I'm talking about relationships. Any not just the romantic kind.
Your long time closest friend. Your newest close friend. Your uncle, your mother, your hilarious free-spirited cousin. Your postman, postwoman or favorite barista. Your next door neighbor who gives you butter or lemons when you run out. Your spouse. Your boss. Your daughter. Your dog.
One of the most comprehensive studies of emotional well being in history, The Harvard Study of Adult Development, found the one thing that makes people happy is good relationships. What does this mean, in simple terms? "They care about me and I care about them," says masterful relationship coach Charles Zook.
What does this have to do with being rich?
To be happy is to be rich. To genuinely feel satisfied with what you have, to exhale daily thanks for your health and family, to revel in the majestically giving and gorgeous planet we get to call Home. Happiness gives us a feeling of being so-filled-up, we're rich. Full. Basking. Profoundly grateful.
Showing love has been my thing since early childhood. Giving eager hugs to my aunt Irma, telling my parents I love them, writing letters to friends in the mail... It has always been a high priority for me to invest in relationships. It feels natural. It feels real. It feels good.
So it struck me a few years ago that calling people rich primarily or only when they have abundant financial resources is a very silly thing. That isn't true richness. Money is useful, important, yes. But it isn't what makes us rich -- not in my values system.
Love makes us rich. And where do we give and receive Love? In our relationships. With ourselves, and with the people we hold most dear.
If you are starting to feel swallowed up in the commercial culture of heart-shaped candy and red roses surfacing for Valentine's Day, I feel for you. Making a consumer issue out of Love is rather sick.
Yet, though the culture has a big impact on us, it does not have power over us. You can choose to feed your sense of richness, feed your joy, by doing one simple and profoundly enriching thing: Feed Your Relationships.
Today, give this to yourself. Don't let yourself be under-fed. How? Pick someone in your life, call them and be curious. Be interested. How are they really doing? Have they healed from the death of their loved one? What are they creating these days? Where do they see themselves in 20 years?
Yes it is very simple. Still yes, we need reminders.
Go for a hike with a friend. Call your aunt and uncle to congratulate them for 55 years of marriage. Ask your dad if he needs help with his computer, or anything else. Thank your postal delivery person for their work, rain or shine.
This month, invest your time and voice in your own richness by showing Love to those who you value in this one precious life.
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!
Originally published in Natural Parent magazine July 12, 2018
Recently in a greeting card mailed to me by a wise and long-time friend, she wrote that I “more singularly identify with being a mother” than any other mama friend she has. My initial inner response was, Oh great, am I weird in yet one more way in life? Does that mean she thinks I’m boring now? Have I gotten lost in the dance of mothering, and given up on my other passions?
Within moments, my little self-doubt voices dissipated. Her words then struck me as a powerful invoking of reflection about the last five years of my life.
Let me call myself out, to begin. Curiosity is powerful in relationships and I have not yet asked this dear friend what she meant by “singularly identified”. Letter writing is a slow exchange, more spacious than talking or texts, and my next letter to her will include a question seeking to understand what she expressed from her bold, loving heart.
According to standard definitions, I could interpret what she said as this: I am more remarkably, extraordinarily, and exceptionally identify as a mother than any other mama friend she has. Sounds like a big, kind compliment, right?
My friend’s bold way of showing me love in her letter left me with a feeling of pride about how I mother. Her words felt like a spotlight on a stage where I am dancing the awkward, passionate, indescribably rewarding dance of being a mama. So that is what I will respond to here, as I know many of you reading this have your own way of shining in your very own mothering stage.
On the surface being a mother is all about playgrounds, naps, tantrums, cuddling and a giving-up of self.
Right beneath it, there appears a mountaintop presenting to a mother some of the richest and most fertile personal expansion terrain available in life.
It has been said our children are our greatest teachers. To actually experience this in life can be fascinating, blissful and grueling at times. We can pay money for meditation retreats and gurus, yet our children offer astounding spiritual lessons for free on a daily basis. Children are the original gurus.
And I’m up for that. My religion is Love. In this life I want to shed all my layers of fear and bloom open to what Spirit, what Love, has to offer. Bring it on, little guru.
So it isn’t surprising that life hasn’t let me detract substantial attention from this opportunity in order to “make” other things happen, since my child was born. While I’ve tried to create a stable income flow, I’ve instead seen a path dotted with seemingly random creative output, unstable income and no clear sign of what’s to come. When we are trying to force something to happen, it is a pretty clear sign that it’s not meant to happen right now. It’s just not time.
In a way, motherhood has swallowed me whole. I have allowed it, though, feeling the briefness of this sacred encounter. Years fly. My guru won’t live with me forever.
My top priority is being the mother I am meant to be. It appears the priority is my child, but equally the priority is me giving her the all she deserves… Me welcoming the extraordinary and unmatched opportunity of being spiritually stretched and widened, that she presents to me. It is about me being the fullest version of myself that I can be, expanded by the presence of a being who I love as much as, dare I say, God. Or so it feels that way.
To the friend whose handwritten words led me to this helpful self-reflection, I extend my deep thanks. You see me from a perspective I value. However clumsy and grumpy I may sometimes be, I like who I am as a mother and as silly ol’, perfectly imperfect me.
It was mid-July and we were preparing to celebrate Sweden’s biggest holiday: Midsummer.
Days were full, with sunrise around 4:00 in the morning, and sunset around 10:00 at night. Children gathered flowers for crown making, and in the kitchen sat mounds of strawberries and a big metal bowl of fresh whipped cream. A cool breeze whirled in the bright sky, the sounds of my daughter squealing in glee with her new friends who lived on this land. We erected a giant Midsummer pole and decorated it with branches, vines and stems of white, purple and yellow flowers.
My family had been in Sweden for more than 12 months and we were heading home to California in two weeks. Though I knew we’d back in my familiar native land soon, I still stood on Swedish soil 5,200 miles away. Winter’s long, dark days had not been easy.
Then the bus pulled up across the rural road. In the farmland quiet, I heard the front door open and began to watch feet step down onto the roadside gravel. Her black clogs emerged, and with them her gait, which I knew, having walked many miles with her in life. When she reached the back of the bus and turned toward the house where I stood, her face beamed in its born-smiling way and she began to cross the road.
Emptiness filled my body. I felt as if all the strain of winter’s icy grit and gravel suddenly blew out of me with the cool summer wind.
Was this really happening? Was one of my soul sisters from the past 15 years actually walking towards me? My eyes could see her, yet it was almost hard to believe this was actually happening. Weeks from home, and yet… right here, Serra.
We hugged. There were tears. I didn’t want to let go. Touch is essential for healthy newborns and though we pretend it’s not, it is also essential for healthy adults.
We talked, we ate, we watched our children play together with the usual sense of awe and fortune we feel when it comes to our children. Into the night, we talked more.
Sleep had its restorative way with me, and in the morning I awoke ready to release some of the big feelings that had built up over winter.
Tea mug in hand, I sat on a bar stool at the kitchen counter and Serra sat next to me. Could I really touch her? Was one of my best friends really right next to me, like, in hugging distance? I reached out to hug her, and then the sobbing began. On her shoulder, sobbing, tears all being emptied from many 18-hour days of darkness and more than enough slips on the icy sidewalk. Sobbing out my longing for home. Home had come to get me.
In all my years of looking toward the light we’re made of — which is Love — it has been clear that along a way, I’ve often devalued the body. The physical part, the form. Eh, that’s not who we are, so… Not consciously devaluing the body, but using this lofty spiritual lens to escape from the fact that I am having a human experience, an embodied one — when the truth is, the body matters.
On this day it wasn’t the conversation or the companionship that moved me to sob on her shoulder. It wasn’t her friendship; that was always mine. Through winter I hadn’t felt abandoned by Spirit, as if my friends didn’t love me anymore. None of that intangible stuff was lost.
It was the touch piece. The physical being-with. Her skin, her teeth, her warmth of presence. Her hands brought me home, though we still stood far from our California shores. Her strong, open arms welcomed me back to the feeling of being held — which we all need.
And so, for being the Home that came to get me, Serra, thank you. You wrote to me in Sweden. We talked when time zone coordination made it happen. You showed up for me. Yet in person, something else showed up that mattered. After every big adventure there awaits a set of arms that offers release and return. After the biggest adventure of my life so far, these arms were yours.
Sometimes life feels hard. And sure enough, sometimes circumstances are muddy, mucky and real rough. Especially with our closest relationships, things can be intensely challenging.
Sometimes though, we make our own lives more difficult — usually without realizing we’re doing it. Each of us has much more power to influence our lives than we accept.
The good news is that this is changing.
Every time one of us steps up to sharpen our communication skills, we bring more skillfulness and humility to our relationships. And every time that happens, the world becomes a place that is more loving, safe and kind.
Whenever I discover a simple tool that helps bring about this kind of world, I share it. Reflective Listening is a widely known skill in the world of interpersonal communication, coaching and couples therapy. It is exceptionally simple and I’ve detailed it below so you can practice. All humans would benefit from communication classes starting at a young age, with this exercise being practiced starting around age 10.
If you’re in a committed partnership with someone who’s open to learning new things and wants to see the relationship become more fulfilling over time — someone who’s willing to do their part and not just expect things to improve on their own — you are fortunate. Practice with them. I am extremely thankful my husband is willing to use these tools with me. Reflective Listening has been transformative for our our marriage.
Otherwise, ask a good friend or family member to practice with you. It doesn’t have to be deep or intense -- you can talk about ice cream or travel if you want.
For a short taste of what it’s like, you can take 10 minutes, five each, trading places halfway through. For a fuller experience that might be more rewarding, set aside a whole hour and each take 30 minutes. Or, you can have your turn today as Sharer, or Listener, and switch places tomorrow.
Benefits of Reflective Listening often include:
Ready for some of that sweetness?
Reflective Listening: The Basics
Try it, let me know how it goes for you, send me an email if you want to share what worked and what didn't. Be gentle with yourself. Even a simple exercise can be challenging, especially when it has the potential to bring about so many positive changes.
And if you find yourself all jazzed up about the power of Reflective Listening, share this link with a friend who’s struggling in relationship. Or if you have the spirit of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street running through your veins like I do, and being a good friend is enormously important to you in life, call a friend on the phone today and tell them you want to gift them 20 minutes of your time, as Listener in this exercise. Lead them through it.
It feels really, really good to have someone truly listen.
Of the hundreds of people I’ve met and had conversations with, there are probably 10 who I consider to be masterful listeners. To those people, thank you. I’m not there — yet. I am definitely on my way. To all of us who are heading that direction, kudos, it is good to be in your company!
I want to make something clear today, with this short blog post written from a darling cafe in downtown Stockholm, Sweden.
The art of hand written correspondence is not dead.
Granted, maybe you haven't received a piece of personal mail in months. Or years. Or ever. (Oh that is so very sad! Let's do something about that.) Maybe you haven't sent a piece of hand written mail in a while. Or you only send birthday cards to a few people in your life.
This describes most people who I've spoken with. And it gives us a clue as to why many people think the art is dead! It most certainly is not.
Take me, for example: I send an average of 10 personal cards or letters every week. In one single day, my record is 80 letters. Yes, eighty. Still don't remember how that happened, but it did. One mug of steamy Earl Grey after another.
Heard of Mail More Love? They deliver a monthly assortment of cards and tools to create a world with more love in the mail. My kind o' people! And they've got lots of subscribers who know this art is alive and well.
Then there's my daughter. She's 4 years old and has already sent more than 100 hand-drawn pieces of mail in her life. She knows where the postage stamp goes, she knows not to draw all over the "address" side of the envelope. This girl costs me some real money on postage, especially now that we are in Sweden and 99% of our mail is sent to California! (That's $2.52 USD per stamp.)
It is money very well spent. Thank goodness, the next generation seems to grasp the beauty of mail you can touch more than my generation.
I had to "push back" on this one. I hear someone say the art is dead every week or so, and it simply isn't. Be part of the joy. Write a letter today!
Dear Mr. Rogers,
As the slowness of this holiday sits in the air, you are thick on my mind. I come to my computer to get "work" done yet find there's nothing more worthwhile than watching clips of your old TV show. Your strong, gentle voice, your unabashed reverence for children and simple, profound principles like kindness, compassion and friendship...
Your Emmy acceptance speech for the Lifetime Achievement Award has me deep in thought, wondering how I might direct my desire to express love through a medium I struggle with, the TV of our time. Just as you "hated" television (such a strong word for highly sensitive souls like us to use, yet I can relate) and worked to use it as a tool for good, I wonder how I might turn my significant distaste for our cultural mindlessness around smartphone/computers -- a far more complex machines than TVs -- into something as powerful as your show did.
When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s I watched your show every day. You've probably had as much of a parenting imprint on me as my parents. Twenty-two years ago (more than half my life), I stopped watching TV, and I had almost forgotten that my worldview and ways have been significantly shaped by your teachings and your show. It's almost as if I would only be a fraction of the person I am without your imprint on my most formative early childhood years.
The way you captivated this 1969 Senate hearing, luring its leader into a devotee of your simple "expression of care" ... only Love can melt a room like this.
Lately it has become obvious we all have an artist within us, longing to burst out and take center stage. Whether it's frisbee or mountain bike racing, cooking, piano or painting, inside each and every one of us there is at least one place, one experience, where presence and joy hold our attention outside of space and time.
You were born and you died in the sign of Pisces, the sign most associated with artists. I never met you in person, but I wonder what you would have to say about yourself as an artist.
I am convinced my most important work in this life has been, and will increasingly be, related to work like yours: work with a simple, accessible message of care, truthfulness, love and friendship. The kind of work adults may "laugh off" if only for a moment, until someone close to us dies and we remember it's the basis for all good things in a healthy society -- the ethical center that guides how we treat each other.
I admire and love you dearly and forever, and I'm so glad you're on my mind today...
P.S. This song melts me. It's you... I like...
One of the most mind-altering things I've ever done is write a living will.
I started writing without thinking, just writing from my heart about what I would want people to know if I were to die young and unexpectedly. It was instantly ego-crushing, and heart-opening.
Writing my own living will brought the most important things in life to the surface of my attention and allowed the unimportant things to simmer out of sight.
If you're looking for a way to paint your life with a touch of exquisite depth, consider writing your own Living Will. You don't need to get it notarized unless you want to. For now, it can just be an act of truth telling and a powerful way to listen to your clearest inner wisdom.
Here's the exercise...
Pull out a piece of paper and a pen. Take some deep breaths, inhale, exhale... to get grounded. Invite your heart to take center stage.
Now imagine yourself suddenly passing on, so tomorrow when the sun rises, you are no longer physically embodied in the lives of those who love you most.
At the top of the paper, write, "To the people who love me most in life..." and then continue writing whatever comes up in your mind.
Here are some prompts:
What is most important that they know about you?
How would you like them to remember you?
What hasn't been said that you'd like them to be aware of?
How would you like them to handle any of the material things you possess?
What are you grateful for, that they showed you, gave you, wanted for you?
How would you want to be remembered? What kind of celebration or ceremony would you want them to hold in your honor?
What is your wish for them in life?
It can be two paragraphs, 5 pages, whatever your heart genuinely wants to spill. Kudos for taking a deep dive to let your inner wisdom be seen and, more than before, lived.
Our featured free recording for the month of March is a 40-minute interview with Brazilian Mestre Paulo Batuta Lima On the Art of Capoeira. You can listen here!
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (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.