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.
Ever since high school, I have been into this thing called leadership. Holding various leading positions, starting non-profits and businesses, following the recipe: 1) Listen for the fire in your soul, 2) Clarify your vision, 3) Make it happen with your voice, hands and heart. Always holding a vision for what the world would look like if your big dream came true.
That vision of what is possible can help you rise out of bed every day. It can put a spark in your step. It can motivate you to put in that extra hour of work, believing in something you cannot see with your eyes.
Yet until recently, there was something missing for me. It had to do with being too focused on my vision, too caught up in making it happen, not relaxed enough to feel a true sense of enjoyment about it all. At times I got so caught up in trying to make something happen, that it gave me severely painful multi-day migraine headaches. Too much pressure.
What was missing was a simple practice, a new way of being with leadership. This new way kept tugging at the back of my neck, gently, a little more every day…
One day at a time. That is all I can do.
One day at a time. That is all I am being asked.
It’s a whisper in society’s sea of noise...
One day at a time.
The first time I remember practicing this was to try and get out of a 13 month postpartum depression. I had gone through trauma starting two hours after my daughter was born, and in the days that followed, some of the things I noticed about our world felt really, really sad. It was a heavy load to carry on my mind, and I didn’t really know how to get out.
One day it struck me that I was the only one who could break this cycle for myself, creating peace of mind and a sense of contentedness. I decided I would engage in a simple process of asking myself questions, one moment after the next.
Springtime sent the scent of lilac across our front patio, through our front door. Following the heavenly lure, I stepped out for a walk. I took one step forward, my daughter in her flower-picking state of toddling glee, and paused to silently ask myself, “In this moment, am I depressed?”
“No!” I responded, again quietly, “In this moment I am walking on a sunny day, with my healthy child. I feel grateful.”
With my next step, I paused again to ask. My response was, “In this moment I am admiring a cheerful, crisp purple paint job on my neighbor’s house, my daughter is laughing, I feel good.”
Within moments I realized I had taken the power back from my own cyclical sad thoughts. I could decide with each step, how to feel. And within a few days the dense fog that sat with me for 13 months was lifted.
That was four years ago. Since then, I’ve experienced dozens of highly challenging situations and adventures. What seems to be rising to the surface is this simple way of living taught by many living and ascended masters. Take life one day at a time. Take life one moment at a time. One step, pause… Here we are now.
It doesn’t interest me to dive into the question of why we get so caught up in the future, or in the past.
What interests me is sharing with you how much freedom greets me when I take life one day at a time. How much freedom is available to you, through your own choice about where you put your attention. All it takes is the awareness that when you feel tense or strained, unpleasant or frustrated, you can check in and bring yourself back to this day. Feel what you’re feeling now, even if it hurts. But don’t feel what you might be feeling tomorrow, because you’ll never be there.
You can only be here, today, now.
And I suppose that’s the truth behind it all. Tomorrow never comes, it is only a dream that tries to take us away from this precious present.
May you remember in this moment -- as you read these words -- how loved you are, how brightly the earth shone on the day you were born. May you look around you and focus on what you appreciate, knowing your appreciation and attention will help it grow. Listen within for your leadership vision, clarify it, give yourself to it, and let it go so you can enjoy this one precious day you’re living in.
Turn off the TV, put your cell phone away for the weekend. Screens aren’t so helpful in magnifying the beauty of the now.
Stare at the sunlight bouncing off your Marigolds in the garden. Listen to the soft texture of the wind. Somewhere, an elder is being served warm tea, her wrinkled hands shaking in thanks as somebody values and cares for her. Somewhere, somebody is opening a handwritten letter they got in the mail today.
One day at a time, may the light within us rise.
It's late morning on day three at Findhorn, 450 miles north of London on the Scottish coast. I'm sitting cross legged on a maroon love seat while a blooming lilac bush outside darts back and forth in a dance orchestrated by a cool breeze and a drizzle of rain.
With each day that passes, I feel more here. More me. More in the now. For three nights I've slept more deeply than I have in five years.
I first heard of Findhorn through Tom Carpenter, my spiritual mentor of 21 years, who has given talks here before. It's been a distant trickle in my mind since then, and now with five years of devoted mothering behind me, I walk on its soil. I am here in celebration of all I have given to and learned from my precious daughter — I am here on retreat to write, rest and refuel a bit.
Every few steps I take on this land, I am stopped. My chest feels throttled by the outright and subtle beauty, and my jaw drops in awe, invoking silence or some sort of, "Whaaaat? Are you kidding me?" This place is outrageously charming, tended to over the years for hundreds of thousands of hours by many, many people who love to create beauty in the outer world and within their own being. It's what Findhorn Foundation's all about. Listening for the divine within, doing our inner work as we tend to this miraculously rich and generous planet we call home.
It's striking. It's remarkable. What they've done all these years since the three founders began on a flat patch of relatively barren ground — a magical community now exists for over 100 people who live here and thousands of visitors who come for retreats every year.
Yet as I am floored by the beauty, tears of admiration swelling from my eyes, I notice something else too — I feel hurt. Like my heart is broken. So I listen for what's there.
What I notice is that the beauty I see and feel at Findhorn is a huge contrast to the environment I've been living in the past 10 months. We have been living in a city of 400,000 people, and for me that's a harsh amount of exposure to human noise, machines and concrete. The contrast between here and there hurts.
Here, it's like I'm falling back into the arms of the beauty I want to hold me. Back into the pleasure and yes-ness I feel when immersed in a place where Earth is respected and people actively engage in their spiritual practice, whatever it is. Back to... a place that feels like Home.
So I fall, and the hurt comes and goes for a day, and then it's gone. As soon as I let myself feel all the "ouch" of contrast, as soon as I remember I can bring elements of this place back with me when I leave, the hurt melts away.
I hug a majestic, wide-canopied tree in bloom and carry on.
Writing this post is part self-therapy and life processing, and part share and invitation — especially for those of you who have really wanted to visit Findhorn and have yet to come. At least a few people have told me with a song of longing in your hearts, "Ohhhh I have wanted to go to Findhorn for years." If you've wanted to visit, how about: Book your trip! Not ready for that yet? Write a date on your calendar to book a ticket.
You're perfectly lovable no matter where you go in life, and... if you really want something, why not open up and let it in?
Since I'm not on social media for a year or so, this is where I'll share my Findhorn photos. Below are several brief slideshows to give you a peek into this place.
Whoever and wherever you are, I hope you enjoy this little tour through one of the most enchanted spots on Earth.
slideshow one: en route from airport & arriving
slideshow two: the awe keeps on awe-ing
slideshow three: compassion & more gardens
slideshow four: kissing flowers & such
slide show five: more beauty
slideshow six: epic stonework & a nearby village
slideshow seven: come closer
slideshow eight: death, gnomes and unicorns
slideshow nine: laughter & stained glass
That's a wrap.
With love for the beauty inside of YOU~
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.
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.