Two weeks ago an article appeared in my Facebook feed with these words: You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed. It was written by a former Facebook executive, and my response was simply to shrug because, frankly, I know that. Look around you. On buses and trains, at dinner tables in people’s home or out at restaurants, everywhere you look, people have married their screen devices. Computer phones. Whatever you want to call them, these devices are “smart” in that they’re very much designed with the intention to grab your attention, and keep it.
That’s it, I thought. I’m out. It’s time. And in that moment, after skimming the article which was basically an affirmation of my own years of discomfort with humanity's screen device habits, I decided I’d take two weeks and deactivate my accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
It wasn’t the article that tipped me over. Other people’s thoughts don’t have that much power over me, or so I think. I brought that discovery into my life to help me make the tip, the lunge, the leap.
What about the joy? Oh, there is indeed joy. My top intent while spending time scrolling social media scenes is to share joy, to share love, to illuminate the beauty in being human. Openly I share my huge heart’s love for humanity, one person at a time. Openly I offer kind words to anyone who seems to need them in one post. Or another. On it goes, joy being shared, big questions asked, some useful information gathered, yet overall…
Wellness is only a slice of the feeling I get from participating in social media. For every bit of my precious life that I enjoy interacting there, in the background there’s a tension, sometimes hard to notice, often hard to name.
What could be bothering me?
Could it be that I stopped watching TV in 1993 and suddenly I feel like I got snatched from behind, tugged into a TV-like landscape that I didn’t really know I’d get so tugged into? It’s awfully cunning, the waterfall of tricks and drips of happy, hooking hormones showered upon us as we use social media.
Did someone else tug me into it or did I willingly dive? As one wise friend pointed out, we cannot be programmed unless we allow ourselves to. She’s so right, on an essential level. Yet very few people I know have actually mastered the art of having full command of their attention, very few people I know find a deeply balanced relationship with screen device use. Quite frankly, almost everyone I know -- myself included -- has become more habitually enslaved to their devices, than not. Who’s doing the programming? This is where I give both parties credit.
It’s a relationship. And a very intimate one.
We take our phones to bed. They live against our skin, in pockets and bags. They sit on our dinner tables, always ready to serve. We’ve basically married them, but never written vows, and never consciously acknowledged we were entering an intimate partnership. We tend to our phones more closely than we do to most -- all? -- people in our lives. Including ourselves.
This is the itch. Something is tugging at me, itching my skin, and it’s stronger than the tug of sharing life with friends and family on computer screens. One thing I’ve learned that I’m downright thrilled to know, is that feelings aren’t usually easy to name, especially when they’re edgy, and yet they must be honored. Feelings don't just go away because we deny them and try to pretend they're not there.
Just because I can’t articulate my reasons for leaving social media with highly sophisticated eloquence, I know for sure it’s the right thing to do. For me. I know for sure that I will find pleasure in re-routing the ways I share life and joy with people. I know for sure it feels good to be honoring this feeling, and that life outside social media will satisfy me in at least these three ways: It’s less noisy. It’s less shallow. It’s less cluttered.
When I choose quiet over noise in life outside the screen, why would I choose the noise of social media as part of my everyday life?
When my deep-feeling heart extends itself to feel big things in the collective human experience, needing close relations to listen, to witness, to really see me with their eyes, presence and words, why would I spend so much time in a landscape I find so shallow?
When I don’t allow clutter in my home space, it simply doesn’t get to live with me, why would I allow my eyes, ears and attention to lay in a landscape filled with clutter?
Questions, for me.
For you they may have no ring, no resonance. For you social media might be a wonderful place where you love to play, where you feel your time is well spent, with no tug to do otherwise. You might even be one of the rare ones who’s found gorgeous balance in your own engagement with screen time. To you, I bow in respect! I seek that balance. I haven't found it yet.
Even with minimal engagement on social media, implementing my own mindfulness practices including focusing on those who are dearest to me, keeping comments brief yet packed with Love’s punch, and rarely scrolling my own "Home" wall or anyone else's, I’ve found it to be too much. Even with limited engagement, the tug of irritation has persisted.
That’s when I knew it was time, and that’s when the article appeared. Ha! Don’t you love the swift-winged synchronicity of this universe?
So here I sit, with one day left before I deactivate my accounts and begin the rerouting process. One day after deciding, I already felt weight lifted off my shoulders. In my bones, I know this is right for me.
Still, leaving social media when I’ve been engaged with it intimately for nine years is no small thing. It’s 2018. Come on. Social media is, like, life. Right? Riiiight?
How will I reroute regular contact with my teenage nieces and nephews? Will it be arduous, like that one time I tried to dump my new computer-phone for an old phone, and realized it just made life more difficult? Will it feel effortful to engage in causes I care about -- like Raffi’s Centre for Child Honouring, the Free Range Learning Community, Wild + Free, or simply hearing about fabulous things my friends are doing, parties they’re having, prayers they’re calling for?
I am left with trust that all will find its way, as I know I’m the one person alive tasked with taking great care of me. And as I age, I take this job more seriously and find it more and more delicious.
When my daughter looks around and sees people plugged into their screen device most of the time, I want her to have another example.
I want her mother to be one of the people who offers a way that’s more real-touch, real-time. More based in pleasure, the sand, the light of the sun not the screen. Ultimately I’d like to offer her and me, a way of using screen devices that is balanced, moderate, engaged, while not being tethered. I haven’t found that yet, and stepping out feels like the best way to rewire my own brain’s engagement, while rewriting the story I tell about sharing life and joy with those I love.
You’ll find me most easily via email, through the articles I soulfully write for a number of international publications, all of which are posted on my blog, and through my newsletter (sign up!) which will contain all the goodies I produce including news of my first book, coming out in the fall of 2018, and the podcasts I’m about to bust out.
With love, I salute you and your choices.
With love, I salute me and mine.
See you ‘round the way!
as published in the Natural Parent magazine, New Zealand
Idealism can be a blessing and a curse. To be at peace we must surrender our ideals at times rather than clinging to high dreams. Yet the imagination is a gift, and if we are in love with the human spirit — as I am — we ask ourselves which elements of society best honor the human spirit, and which do not. In this article I will leave out criticisms of school, its original design, and how it fails young humans and our future. Those critiques are not the best use of my writing. Sharing what I believe does serve life, is.
What I will assert is that all children are naturally curious. All children are born ready to learn, and homeschooling is a brilliant way to honor a child’s inherent beauty and wholeness.
Once led by religious families who wanted God to be central in their education, the homeschooling movement is now comprised largely of families who simply want their children’s learning to be natural. Less forced, more free.
Consider 30-year-old Tiffany Smith, who was homeschooled from 4th-12th grade and completed all her degrees, Associates through Doctorate, online. “My mom paved the way for child-led learning for me. She let me choose what I wanted to learn. I graduated two years early, valedictorian out of a class of 600 in our homeschooling program, then went on to achieve awards and graduate with honors for every degree. I am very grateful for my mom’s faith in me.”
On average, two hours per day are required for a homeschooled child to learn the subject matter. In school, this is found to be the actual amount of time spent learning subjects.
How about socialization? The myth that homeschooled kids are largely under-socialized is amusing to me at this point. Homeschooled kids overall do not lack social skills in contrast to schooled kids. In my experience, homeschooled kids often possess unusual levels of maturity in social scenarios, including a noted ability to interact with adults.
My own self-directed learning journey began in college when I stepped into a professor’s office in tears about something disturbing I had learned in his class. He listened attentively, said I’m not an average student and that I might want to write my own major. We opened the Course Catalog, I chose courses that were highly appealing and spoke to my strongest curiosities, and two years later I graduated with a BA in Social Ecology and Personal Ethics.
No, those two years weren’t easy. Charting a homeschooling path for our own children isn’t easy, either.
Most parents who homeschool their kids find themselves asking, every so often, Was I crazy to do this!? Yet quickly they bounce back to being 100% convinced it is the richest and most joyful educational path, worth all the time and heart, courage and vision it entails.
As with any rich topic worth exploring, it’s wise to keep an open mind and trade defensiveness for curiosity.
Conversations about parenting and how we educate our children can lead to divisive degrees of blame and other negative emotions and communication dynamics. School teachers and parents who feel judged or threatened by the idea or practice of homeschooling are a prime example. Yet it is possible to find teachers and parents with open minds, who accept that we don’t all need to see or choose like each other. Chances are, you will find open minds when yours, too, is open. That said, don’t expect to find these conversations easy at every turn. This is not the easy path.
I don’t want to paint an excruciatingly rough picture, and I also don’t want to portray homeschool life as “eating Bon Bons on the sofa all day.” One defensive school teacher mom voiced this remark and I mention it as a reminder that those who choose to homeschool are in the courageous minority — fast growing, yet requiring maturity to face ignorant perspectives like this, and then move on.
Thank goodness we are well supported by our own primal instincts and maternal intuition, by studies, and by a blossoming number of well informed leaders and organizations.
Turning to other moms is my Step Numero Uno when facing a tough issue or decision. Half of the time, that’s all I need. Where I live in coastal Northern California, there’s an abundance of homeschooling and the well informed open-mindedness required to do it well. When a mama friend isn’t enough to solve my problem, I reach for movement leaders and organizations with deep wells of wisdom and resources to share.
Wild + Free began as a small community of Instagram’ing mamas on the U.S. east coast and grew a ton in recent years. At the heart of W+F is the desire to give children a quality education while preserving the wonder, freedom and adventure of childhood. Recent articles released by W+F include Shaping Souls that Break the Mold, The Lost Art of the Family Walk and Nature Journaling the Human Body. “For as long as humans have lived on this earth, children have been schooled at home. Still, we homeschooling mamas often feel like pioneers forging a new path for the next generation,” writes W+F founder Ainsley Arment.
Feel the spirit? Pioneering requires great courage, so having a supportive community is essential.
Self-Directed Learning advocate Blake Boles quit his college astrophysics program to design his own degree in alternative education. Blake leads teenagers on international self-directed learning trips through his company Unschool Adventures, and is the author of three books including The Art of Self-Directed Learning (2014) and College Without High School (2009). He also wrote one of the most compelling pieces I’ve ever read on education: What Does it Mean to be Educated?
Thirsty for a deep critique of school? Turn to one of the greatest minds in the homeschooling movement, former New York State and NYC Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto, who wrote Dumbing Us Down and The Underground History of American Education.
Speaking in London on The Purpose of Education in 2012, Noam Chomsky rolled out genius reflections that may be tough for some to swallow yet will thrill anyone who is open minded and interested in the brave pursuit of an authentic life for self and child.
School reformer, youth rights theory pioneer and former classroom teacher John Holt (1923-1985) published several books including the popular How Children Fail and How Children Learn.
Numerous groups are available online for homeschooling families. Laura Grace Weldon’s Free Range Learning Community is one of my favorites. For bedtime reading without the glare of blue light escorting your dream state, her book Free-Range Learning beautifully explores the meaning and importance of natural learning.
Unschooling is a form of homeschooling guided by the learner, where self-chosen activities and life experiences of the learner lead the way. The Alliance for Self-Directed Education created a fantastic short video for those curious about what self-directed education means and why it’s beneficial for learners.
Most of the homeschooling parents I know are far-out passionate about providing a rich educational life for their children, one rooted in the most natural way young humans learn — based on interest, with freedom to play, non-coercively.
Yet for many parents who want to homeschool, it just doesn’t work out. For many families, school is an easier path for one reason or another.
Lifestyle and income play a huge role. Often in homeschooling families, Papa works at a paid job full time and Mama leads the homeschooling journey (on top of her other unpaid jobs). But this recipe doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t work for my family. As with any path worth walking, this one requires a willingness to explore possibilities and see what works for you. Buying less stuff? That helps. Spending more time with our children sometimes asks that we be willing to downsize, live minimally.
Parenting is the big work of life. We are all doing our best. A mother’s intuition is one of a child’s greatest allies. After all, as Laura Grace Weldon wrote, Mother and Child are Linked at a Cellular Level. Humanity will become more clear of this in time.
Be honest about what you want. Find community to lean on.
In the words of former Waldorf teacher and homeschooling mother of three Melanie Heysek-Macdonald, “Do what feels right for you. There is lots to consider, and there are so many options for what’s right out there.”
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!
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 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.
It's common knowledge that gratitude improves quality of life. Simply put, when we feel grateful, we feel good. And feeling good makes life feel better.
When our daughter Helena was one year old, we began a family ritual. Every night as we sat down for dinner, before picking up a fork or taking one bite of food, we would share three things we're grateful for. What began as a way to bring more joy into our lives has not only lifted us up after long days at work. It has made us laugh and probably helped us digest our food better and eat more mindfully, too.
At first Helena would say, "I'm grateful for blueberries." That was it, blueberries. That was her thing for weeks on end. Other fruits entered the scene, and then it was "pink" for a while. Tonight at dinner it was, "All the colors." Her shares are almost always more laugh inducing than mine.
So in the spirit of this delightful child we've been blessed with, and in the spirit of The Child, who lives within each of us and freely shares her/his joy, let me share my Top Ten Gratitudes for the day. Just for today -- tomorrow they may be different.
As is the case with most of my writing, this is both an honest, personal share, and an invitation for you to explore what brings you joy... what you're grateful for... Both are an expression of my love for humanity: all of you, and me.
10) I'm grateful to have a pro skateboarder friend who's super kind and generous and will gladly send a few skateboarding goodies to me for my young skater pals' birthdays. His generosity feeds the healthy passions of my young pals.
9) I'm grateful for the last 3 weeks off Facebook. I don't miss it.
8) I'm grateful my ego gets weaker every day.
7) I'm grateful to like who I am, even though I sometimes piss off close friends with the bold things I'm not afraid to say.
6) I'm grateful for the college professor who encouraged me to write my own major.
5) I'm grateful my husband loves to cook, and is really good at it.
4) I'm grateful our daughter survived after being born with pneumonia.
3) I'm grateful for our backyard golden raspberries (pictured above). They are my favorite thing about our current home, ripening abundantly every spring.
2) I'm grateful to have studied communication since I was about 8 years old, even though it took childhood trauma to launch this passion.
1) I'm grateful for acupuncture, frisbee and smart friends to help me refine my resume.
It's addictive! See how I snuck in three on that last one? What are Y-O-U grateful for today?
Get out a pen, write down your ten. Choosing to feel grateful results in feeling more grateful. What we focus on, grows. Simple physics. What we acknowledge, we get more of. If your attention is on it, you are giving it power.
I'm grateful you just read my blog post.
No, I don't have a crush on him. (We have to say that, right, in a culture that equates love with romance?) But I do think our mailman Ruben is a stellar example of "love at work" -- a spirit of love embodied in the workplace -- and for that he has my utmost respect. He has found a way to enjoy the task that eats up most of his waking hours, and this places him in the small minority among Americans.
More than once I've wondered how he gets his job done on time. Always willing to say hello, never giving off the feeling that he'd rather rush from house to house than spend a moment saying hi, he has a Buddha-like presence that's profoundly admirable. He is present. How many of us bring true presence to our working moments, day in, day out?
He wears a smiley face button on his hat and it's quite possible that iconic grin was made in his impression.
As I walk the neighborhood with my napping toddler, I notice him zipping along with letters in hand, always seeming to smile from the inside out. He chooses joy.
There is something simple about Ruben... a feeling that he isn't here to prove anything, that he just wants to enjoy life. And he does! From what I can tell, he has found a way to live in a contended state of mind, something most humans strive for to the grave.
Without knowing it, Ruben probably brings therapeutic wellness to dozens of people on a daily basis. We don't pay him anything (except a miniscule percentage of a penny from income taxes) and he loyally delivers the mail to us every day he works.
Is the U.S. Postal Service, his employer, partially responsible? Judging from the bulk of postal workers I've met in my life, as someone who's written and mailed 1000's of letters, I highly doubt it.
I think it's just Ruben. It is what he's chosen. He wants to enjoy his life and he has, through some of the simplest and most profound of values -- presence, joy, contentedness -- found a way to do that.
And who's the Jedi? It's Master Relationship Coach Charles Zook. Here's his bio. Charles Zook, MBA, CPCC has been coaching professional and personal relationships for over 20 years and he loves it. He has advanced systems coaching training from the Center for Right Relationship and has worked with for-profits, e.g. Unilever, non-profits, e.g. Stanford Medical Center, and governmental agencies, e.g the State of California. What inspires his work with well over 1,000 couples is not only the impact it has on the couple, it is the impact it has on the children. His work allows clients to create fulfilling relationships and is so effective his only source of clients is referrals. He and his wife, Sandy, consider their relationship a laboratory for how to have challenges in relationship and know how to address them effectively. They have two adult children and a grandchild.
I'm turning to you because you have achieved a level of mastery in relationship, and the world needs what you have to give. As a lifelong letter writer, I extend my heartfelt sharing and asking, in this letter, to you.
Since I was a kid I've noticed that people's lives really seem to be wonderful if their relationships are healthy, and not so fulfilling if there is a lot of struggle in their relationships.
I've seen marriages end, mostly without much dignity or grace, and wondered why it seems so hard to complete with appreciation, when there was once such a shared sense of care. I've seen siblings, who were the best of friends for decades, tensely part ways after a parent dies simply because they didn't know how to handle the big, challenging feelings involved. Shouldn't we be taught this all of our lives?
I have so many questions about intimate relationships... between couples, parents and children, siblings, business partners... you name it. Here are a few I hope you'll share your insights on.
Jessica: Why is it so tough to be in committed partnership?
Charles: In supporting so many couples with this issue, the biggest impediment to creating fulfilling relationship is the idea that it should not be so tough (or challenging, or effortful, or time consuming) to be in a committed relationship. We live in a culture where we are taught that when I meet the "right" person, we will live "happily ever after", as the oft told story goes. When we get in a relationship and inevitably it moves beyond the superficial level, very predictably we encounter not agreeing about something or unskillfulness that results in misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
Without any models or education about how to work with these very understandable challenges, we are left with the mythology of the culture. If I am not "happily ever after," then you must not be the "right" person, so I have three bad choices.
1) Just do what I have seen others do, argue, defend, attack, make wrong, etc., which results in nothing really getting resolved or improved.
2) Get out of the relationship with this person who is obviously not "right" for me, because if my partner was the "right" person, it would not be this hard, and go back out and try and find the "right" person with whom it would be easy to live "happily ever after", and try again. Or,
3) Give up. Give up and stay in relationship, or give up on being in relationship at all, and just live out your days never finding a way to feel loved in this way, or to share your love with another.
The alternative to these options is to realize that contrary to what the culture teaches us, committed relationship, in my opinion, is the most challenging thing humans can undertake. Potentially very rewarding also, if we learn how to do it. Climbing Mount Everest, easier. Starting a successful business or career, easier. Being a Buddhist monk, easier. Committed relationship, constant challenge, constant growth and learning, 24/7/365. Intensely challenging and can be intensely rewarding if we are willing to undertake it as a learning environment on how to love and be loved.
Jessica: In romantic partnerships, few couples seem to maintain a shared spark after years of committed relationship. How do the couples who have this spark keep the fire alive?
Charles: Couples who keep the fire alive keep choosing to do what would keep the fire alive. Instead of continuing to do all of the things that made the relationship special early on, most people let the relationship decline.
In practical terms, when we do not know how to resolve challenges, it becomes harder and harder to choose to do the things that would keep the spark going. Couples who keep the spark going make very intentional choices to do the things that keep the spark going. In simple terms (and it is not simple), they focus on their goal of what can I do to keep the spark going rather than not focusing on those choices. When the relationship is young, we are highly motivated to make sacrifices for what is sacred to us, having our partner feel loved and appreciated, desired, special. As time goes on we are less motivated to make those sacrifices and we lose something sacred, the opportunity to share our love with each other in a way that has our partner feels special and desired. Commonly, we would rather be right than in love, and sadly, when we don't make sacrifices to keep the spark going it becomes the new normal that the spark is gone. This really sets the stage for loneliness and pain, which leads to more "hurt people hurting people", addictive behaviors, affairs, etc. All of which is super poor modeling for the next generation to be left with similarly poor choices.
So what keeps the spark alive? It is very different for each individual and couple and it even evolves over time. You have to want to discover what it takes, which can be an amazing adventure.
Jessica: Whether siblings or business partners, romantic couples or best friends, what does it take to be in a deeply fulfilled relationship? What's their secret?
Charles: BIG BIG question, teeny tiny answer. Tell the truth with yourself and each other that you want it and make it a priority to do what it takes to create it. Be willing to learn and try things and discover what moves you closer to your shared vision of fulfilling relationship. Accept that this is not the same for every relationship, we need to discover what works for us, which is complicated and takes sustained effort. Learn how to do better at building the positivity, the good feelings between the two of you. And, learn how to do better at dealing with the negativity in a constructive and effective way, the miscommunications, the hurt feelings, the incompletions. Be willing to be intentional about making the relationship a priority, especially when it does not feel like your inclination. Compassion, curiosity and intentionality are big pieces. Be learners and learn more about this, IF it is important to you.
I realize these are very partial answers to very complex questions. I hope I have been even the smallest bit helpful. All humans desire to love and be loved. It is hard work to create it and it is very lonely to give up on creating it.
Thank you for being so passionate about relationships, and devoting your life to seeing them thrive, so the people in them are fulfilled and can give more of themselves to create a more love-filled world.
With enormous gratitude,
I used to think intimate relationships were all about romance. I had watched enough Disney movies and chick flicks, swooning over the guy who constantly dotes on the girl. It seemed dreamy to be in a partnership where "we always get along" and that seemed so very possible based on the movies and fairy tales. Disagreements were a sign of failure, because couples who always got along were the happiest... right?
Well, actually, there's no such thing.
Sure, in the beginning of many relationships, there is a period of time where the waters between you and your partner feel like they're sparkling, when you're so enraptured in the newness of this person, so enamored with the way you feel in their company, that a significant disagreement seems almost impossible.
Arguments have no room here. This time is meant for feeling what it's like to fly together -- because later on, if you stick with it, you'll need to know that this sense of flying is possible. You'll need that early state of ecstasy to keep you rooted in doing the work that long term intimate partnerships are meant to offer.
The truth is, relationships are always mirroring back to us precisely the work we need to do in order to grow spiritually. While companionship is certainly a jewel of committed partnership, the big gift it offers is the deep and brilliant beauty it can illuminate within us. Relationships are the core of life; they present us with the greatest opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth, and for joy.
All my life I've been observing relationships. My own, my friends', my parents'. Real relationships, not the kind in movies. I've watched what makes them thrive, I've watched what deteriorates them, I've watched how people tolerate mediocrity even when their insides are screaming out for something more fulfilling. I've watched the courage that it takes to let them take each partner to a higher level of being.
I've felt suffocated in my own partnership, feeling I'd done everything in my capacity to rise to the occasion and "do the work," finally choosing to end the relationship because it had milked everything out of me. It had served its purpose; it was time to move on. Staying would only be an attempt to force something to work that wasn't working. And damn, I took good notes that time around. One of the notes was that I could only do my own work; I couldn't do somebody else's.
What's become clear now is that if we are to rise to the occasion as a species devoted to advancing our potential spiritually, we have a stellar tool in relationships. (Here's a recent talk on Oprah by Marianne Williamson called The Spiritual Purpose of Relationships.)
Whether you are:
Then, I want to say that all the love in the world is "on your side." The key factor here is your desire. If you are ready to see a shift, even if it involves stepping out of your comfort zone -- and it likely will -- then it is simply a matter of knowing what's true for you, honoring it in word and action, and inviting your partner to step into this place with you.
For me, the rigorous personal and spiritual work of intimate partnership has required stellar support, both from friends and family members, and from mentors and a coach. I have able to stretch myself spiritually only because I've asked for and received help from others who care for me.
Energetic applause goes to anyone doing "the work" of intimate partnership. It is far from easy, and everything you do helps to make this a world with more skillfulness and compassion between people.
P.S. Walt Disney has contributed a lot to the world of family entertainment, but Disney films have not been so good at presenting a guidebook for real life relationships.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, Patreon Creator, freelance consultant and lifelong letter writer -- and eternally a fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our FREE recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.