This is the fifth piece from The Motherhood Letters, a monthly column of letters written by Leaning into Light founder Jessica Rios for Mothering Arts.
I’m writing to remind you that we’re mortal. (Go ahead, start laughing about your nutty aunt now, I know I toss you some funny curveballs in life.) 😉
We're mortal. Not your soul, not the Spirit you’re made of, not the love in your heart. That’s all eternal. Our bodies, dear nephew, will die. Yours, mine, everyone’s.
Ridiculous, right? Why would I take time to write you a letter about this, I mean, come on, you’re 19 years old. You are well aware that every body dies. But are you, really?
Let me tell you why I ask. Let me tell you why I’m writing you this letter.
Plain and clear, we live in the west where most people pretend they’re not going to die. Living this way is a lie, and I love to you too much to miss this chance to help you live awake to the fact that your body will die.
Look around. Most people eat like it doesn’t matter what we put into our bodies, as if their bodies will tolerate crap forever. Most people withhold the truth from themselves and others, and they sit around wishing and dreaming without stepping up to the plate to follow their dreams.
Following your own joy will show you this tragedy, because you will have awakened eyes to see how unusual it is for many people to follow their joy, and when you see this it will break your heart.
Let’s admit it. Often times, people seem half dead. Eventually they will lay dying in a hospital or sit dying in a wheelchair, and they’ll wish — they will wish — that they could turn back the clock to when they were your age, and make different choices. They’ll wish they had loved more, worried less, and spent more time with people who love more and worry less.
The bad news is that living in a culture where people pretend we don’t die means you’ll absorb some of this mentality.
The good news is that no one else’s beliefs have power over you. You choose what you believe and how you live your life.
In my life of adventure — with all its challenges and joys — I have found that life is most vivid, vibrant and satisfying when I remember I could die tomorrow. It doesn’t make me depressed; it gives me confidence! It gives me courage to take risks that lead to great learning. To say things that are in my heart without walking on egg shells. To follow my dreams even when I’m afraid. It attracts people to me who are truly interesting and alive.
My handsome, kind and funny nephew, you’re there now, in your young healthy body, facing the bulk of your life. What an exciting time! So much is unknown.
I’m not your mom; I am your aunt. Still, I love you like crazy. I care for you so, so very much. I want you to love this one life you’re living. And I’m here to support you 100% to make it so.
At your age, very few people know what they want to do for the rest of your life. Literally very few. Some people have an idea about what they might enjoy doing, that could earn them money — such as becoming a police officer, nurse or school teacher — but even people who “know” at age 19 might find later on that they were just settling. They didn’t really know.
To really get a sense of what you would deeply enjoy doing for work, it takes time, travel, experience and exposure to the great big world. Please don’t rush it.
Looking outwardly at what careers are available will give you some insights. It is by looking within your own gorgeous heart -- at what brings you most alive -- that you will find what lights you up.
Ever heard this quote?
Don’t ask what the world needs. As what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. — Howard Thurman
Alright. Now that we’ve gotten that out…
Will you play a game with me?
Every day for one week, starting as soon as you finish reading this letter, I want you to ask yourself this question, and answer it honestly. Write the question and answer in your journal. Journaling is powerful stuff! No need to share your answers with anyone, this is for you.
Here's the question.
If I knew I had one year left to live, what would I do today? (Then do it.)
I’ll step up to the plate to give you an example. If I knew I had one year left to live, today I would decide what three songs are my favorite to sing, and I would sing them out loud, today.
Alright, another example. If I knew I had one year left to live, today I would update my Living Will so that all my friends and family hear what I most want to say to them — and where I want my stuff to go, so they don’t have to think about all that when I die.
I know you’ve felt moments of being truly alive in your life. Aren’t they awesome in contrast to those moments when you feel bored or uninspired?
This life is yours, bud. Don’t follow anyone else’s truth. This is your one precious life. Follow your joy, follow your heart, that is where your wisdom lives. And as you tell yourself the truth, the path forward will reveal itself — one small step at a time — one day at a time. You are young, and time will reveal what you want to do in life. Travel. Read. Follow honest media sources. Watch people, watch life, listen for clues to the song your soul wants to sing. That is beauty. And you’re up for it. I’ll always be your ally.
Love and hugs,
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 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.
Tricky, tricky, tricky. Life keeps doing its thing, keeping us on our toes.
Twenty-three years ago I stopped watching TV. For me, life outside the screen is just more interesting.
I don’t experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I still stay tuned to enough news stories. I still live in the modern world, lacking nothing that TV offers. As a matter of fact, I have seen my quality of life largely enhanced by this choice.
Yet clever ol’ life has outsmarted me once again, depositing the next big challenge right in the palm of my hand. A computer phone — commonly called a smartphone — and it’s packed with sweet social media temptation. Two decades after I’d stopped finding any allure behind the screen, now I can blast my love-note-rockets across the planet instantly, to family and friends 200 or even 5,328 miles away. What’s fabulous about that? My husband’s family lives in Sweden, and it is really nice to so easily share photos of our daughter with them.
From not-even-a-little-bit-tempting, to suddenly delicious. Oh, boy.
We’ve all got ways our life is made more meaningful and fun with social media. Entirely shutting ourselves out of the joys of modern technology is neither reasonable nor very productive. Years ago when I tried to go back to a call/text-only phone, it clogged my ability to do many things I enjoy. That wasn’t the answer for me. And it’s not the answer I seek for the problem we face as a society: a mass addiction that we rarely discuss and barely even see.
Tricky, tricky, tricky. Not cut and dry. Not black and white. And not One Size Fits all.
Enter, Screenagers the movie.
Produced by a concerned mother who’s a Stanford trained MD, the movie explores screen life among teenagers, children and families. Impacts on the brain of adolescents, tendencies of boys to play violent video games while girls take selfies and aim to look “good,” the importance of role modeling by parents and how families can benefit from the use of structures like agreements around smartphone use.
The film features Sherry Turkle, Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, who has rigorously researched and explored the use and impact of screens in our time.
As I watched the film, it was like I’d walked thirsty for miles and finally reached water. Bothered for many years by our societal lack of mindfulness around screen time, I have initiated some conversation around it and taken my own strides toward a more conscientious relationship with the screen. When we’re bothered, we need to take personal responsibility first and foremost. If I’m picking up the phone-computer or laptop-computer every time I sit down to relax, what does that tell my daughter? Children mimic what we do, and I don’t want her to treat the computer like a best friend.
Isn’t this what we do? As with a best friend or lover or newborn baby, we tend to our computer-phones with utmost devotion.
Like keys, wallets and lip gloss, we know where our computer-phone is at all times. It buzzes or beeps and we tend to it within seconds. Hundreds of times a day, we interact with it. It sleeps next to us and sits on our dining table top like a precious jewel. Last week, as I sat at my favorite cafe planning my week, I noticed a screen at every table surrounding mine — and I took these photos. Surely they’re not unfamiliar to anyone reading this.
Perspectives on screen use vary widely. With this issue as with life itself, we are best off when we discover and honor our own values, allow others to do the same, and don’t take it personally when people don’t feel the way we do.
Some parents say computers are “the future” and want their kids using them as much as possible to keep up with technology. Some parents — consciously or unconsciously, the whole range exists — use computers as babysitters, either for an hour a day or even 6 hours a day. Some families don’t allow screen time at all in the household, because they feel the society will provide enough of that and they want to be sure their children are sufficiently exposed to things like outdoor play in nature, music and human interpersonal connection. As shown in the Screenagers film, some parents have established boundaries and practices like Tech Free Tuesdays where dinnertime is screen-free and conversation centers around sharing with each other about screen habits, what’s working and what’s not working, concerns and joys. That’s just a sampling of how screen-life looks in families. You might have a situation that’s totally different from any of these.
What works for you? Have you found a healthy balance for your family or household, one that honors the desires and freedom associated with computer use and also has a solid tone of mindfulness around use, risks and benefits?
Striking a balance around device-use requires self-awareness, mindfulness, and a desire to have your impact in the world be more intended, than unintended. This doesn't just happen. We have to step in and step up.
For our family, with two parents who have strong preferences in most areas of life and one three year old daughter, it’s absolutely a work in progress.
Mama Bear Rio will now give myself permission to share passionately about my perspectives on the issue, for the sake of my own clarity and expression, and for any others who find it helpful as you consider yours.
From my maternal instinct and personal sense of human responsibility, I approach screen-time with the eye of a skeptic. I smell with my primal mind the addictive nature of screen-time and I’m on to it; it will not have power over me. If I am going to depend on something so much, and let it be close to me so often, then I’ve got to have a really clean, beneficial relationship with this thing.
We are, after all, engaged in an intimate relationship with our phones — are we not?
Boundaries and agreements are an essential part of healthy intimacy.
My phone doesn’t sleep next to me; it sleeps on the kitchen counter.
I do not respond to texts or calls right away unless I want to in that moment.
We do not bring our phones to the dining table; that’s a sacred place for gratitude and presence, above all things.
Once the sun goes down, the screen stays off.
I trust myself and my ‘inner meter’ of awareness, to tell me if any given day — or road trip, or week, or morning — has had too much screen time and not enough play, music, reading, eye contact... or just being.
When I’m with my daughter, unless I’m engaged in something timely or on a roll with writing, or otherwise genuinely needing to tend to whatever I’m doing on the screen, she is the priority. When she needs something, the screen waits. There will be no hazing and dazing out in La La Screen Land when my greatest spiritual teacher is in my company.
How does this work? I simply try to power-out my screen use when she’s not around, taking care of things in a more productive and condensed fashion. Her presence holds the bar high for me in this area, and I’m the last person who’ll deny her invitation to step up my game. Every few days she might glimpse something on my screen, like a Facebook photo or a music video, and that’s fine.
For us this isn’t about extremism. It’s about finding a reasonable, authentic balance for our family.
And these aren’t hard rules I am chained to. They are principles that guide what feels like a healthy relationship, between myself and the computer screen, for the sake of our family.
In his February 2015 post The Device Diet, Mindfulness Based Health Founder Pete Kirchmer writes, “Five years ago I’d never had a client request coaching around social media compulsion and device addiction. This is a phenomenon that has been around for awhile but is more recently emerging as a relevant topic for all of my clients, despite demographic or the primary coaching goal they came with. It seems we are all united by this common distraction and our desire to gain control over it.”
Anytime I contemplate the relationship we have with our screens, our devices, at first it all seems a bit daunting. Then I remember how useful it is for us humans to face challenges — spiritual, physical, emotional, mental — so that we can practice all the great things worth practicing.
Presence is one of these great things.
Mindfulness has become a very popular subject in recent years and I can’t think of a better challenge to set the bar high, than the allure of these handy little pocket-computers, with all their little charming emoticons and customizable alert sounds, the ability to take and share photos and videos in a split second… It’s all pretty snazzy.
Yet we’re made for these times. The huge success of the movie Screenagers gives me hope that we may be facing quite a jewel of a challenge, in actuality — one that’ll “call out” humanity in a compelling enough way to bring us far-more-fully into the present moment. The "precious present," as it has been called. The place where mindfulness leads.
For now, it’s dark outside and I need to shut down this screen.
For many people, the thought of children leading the world is a crazy one. What are we talking about here, a world with trampolines on every street corner, magic flying carpets instead of cars, and children making all the rules? No, not necessarily. Yet I do assert that the appropriate design for a world that honors life, first and foremost, is one where children lead with the biggies. Let me break this down and tell you why.
Read on for the rest of this piece, which was printed in the July/Aug issue of Holistic Parenting Magazine.
I’m grateful. Really, I’m grateful for you. You were the 3rd migraine in my life and all three happened over the course of one year.
Clearly, you have all been trying to tell me something. Clearly, the human body is a messenger letting us know what needs attention. When we listen, things go well. When we don’t, we tend to suffer.
But you see, Leadership. You know?
No, no, not status or a professional or scholarly title. Leadership: the art of expressing your vision in the world, giving it your best so that it thrives, thereby having more of what you want, and creating more of the kind of world you want to live in.
Beginning in childhood and throughout my life, I’ve been supported vigorously enough to believe my vision mattered. Confident and resourceful, I’ve started numerous businesses and not-for-profit organizations, and given birth to many movements, ideas and pieces of edgy, thought provoking writing. Leadership? I got this. Even in the realm of romantic relationship, at least three times I have written and refined a list of what I wanted in a partner, only to have that vision show up right before my eyes.
So after giving birth to my daughter at home without any drugs or interventions, boy I sure thought I could do anything. And anyone could do anything, as long as the essential ingredients are present: Vision, Alignment, Action, Surrender.
Wait. That last part.
Sigh. Apparently you, dear Migraine, came to help me with that part.
After a vibrant launch of my new project, Leaning into Light, a hub for human fulfillment offering phone workshops and blog posts addressing the deepest, most fundamental human needs, you showed up. Weeks of pressing on, trying to figure out how to make income from this project, investing potent heart, wisdom and soul into it… It wasn’t giving me back one of the fundamental ROIs a business should give: income. Press on, persevere, figure it out… Boom. You arrived. And as with the last one, my head throbbed painfully with a message I still needed to hear. Again. Surrender.
Wait. Just surrender. Let go. Release. No figuring it out. No pressure.
Spaciousness. Relax. Joy. Ease. Allowing. Spaciousness. Right underneath you, dear Migraine, was a layer of communication saying, “Spaciousness.”
That’s when I posted a note on the Leaning into Light website about how spaciousness came calling, and I answered. Prince had just died; I wanted to dance. And cry. The whales were migrating down our coast; I wanted to tune into their big, slow song.
So I did.
I didn’t know what would happen, I didn’t know where it would lead, everything was unpredictable but I knew one thing: Living my truth is the way I want to live. Anything else is a disgrace to this precious life I’ve been given.
The day after I made this decision, I was still breathing.
My daughter was still the most magnificent thing I’d ever known. Our family was fine, sheltered, and happy in our simplest moments. Nothing exploded. And within two days, you were gone.
I stopped trying to figure anything out.
I opened up to let the voice within take center stage.
I got quiet.
And when I get quiet, as in, days of defaulting to quiet, that’s when I know things are gettin’ real good.
Here I am now in the Great Unknown. I’ve heard it is Love, and I trust that even though my faith wobbles, fragile, in occasional moments. I know it in so much of me; I want to know it completely.
You came to lead me back to the greatest truths I know:
I am here to be happy.
Joy is my birthright and welcomes me as much as I am willing to allow it in.
I can recover to feeling good every time I slip.
I am blessed beyond words.
Love is who we are, and our natural state of mind is always available.
Circumstances have no power over our experience unless we give them power.
I know how to feel good, and my choice to feel good is a gift to all of Life.
These are inherent human truths, and anyone can choose to accept or deny them.
Enough about me. What’s next for Leaning into Light?
No Earth shattering news here. Deep in my bones, I feel resonance with this project, this endeavor of art and soul. As the main steward of Leaning into Light, I will keep writing blog posts to express my love for the human spirit, and to invite others to embrace their own authentic lives more fully. Workshops are paused at the moment, but only to give them some breathing room away from the incessant noise of left-brain planning, internet marketing and automation technology. They will be back with more refinement, more punch, more power.
Brewing slowly yet with giant fire underneath the blog posts and workshops is a deep-core vision I have had for years. It’s that “one thing” I’d do if I knew I had one year left to live, type thing. As in, the thing I am supposed to be doing n-o-w because this is it. This is what I’ve got and all I’m guaranteed. The here and now. It is about the illumination of the beauty of the human spirit. Yes... more of that.
This piece? It's close.
I feel its breath on my face. I feel its hand in my pocket. Truth. It’s right here, whispering to me. And I am listening. There is no hurry. It is my art.
Farewell Migraine. I don’t really like your company but I appreciate you. I see that you’re just the rough side of an inner messenger trying to guide me to Light. And if I ever said I didn’t need help leaning into light, I was ridiculously mistaken.
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.
If women fully own our power one day, we won't recognize the world we live in the next day. And so, to offer my gifts to more women around the world, I have decided to venture into delivering my services online! Took me awhile, heh heh.
What happens when women own our power? Quite frankly, the power within us is unstoppable. When we own our power we:
- move more freely and uncensored, in our day to day lives
- amp up the potency of our intimate partnerships
- more easily let go of relationships that don't bring out the best in us
- draw in new friendships that are deeply energizing
- have a potent, magnetic impact in business and social endeavors
- feel deeper bliss in our hips and bones
- adapt to change more easily
- become stronger and more gracious role models for our children
- invite masculine power to become more balanced and mature
- create a world with less war and more love (hands down, no doubt, 100%)
Only when we ourselves honor and own our power -- which can be distilled all the way down to Love itself -- will the world “outside” of us mirror back its reverence for woman.
We have the power to bring new life into being. Stop for a moment, right there.
We have the power to choose who our partners are, which jobs we want and which jobs we don’t. We have the power to embody grace in the face of chaos, the power to support our families in highly skillful ways that society doesn’t recognize and honor, the power to be present to complex systems dynamics as we lead projects with enormous compassion and inclusivity, a high level of attention to detail, and even mastery.
We have the power to wear make-up, high heels, men's shoes or women's shoes, pants or dresses, or whatever we feel like wearing. We have the power to feed babies from our own bodies (this one is a superpower).
Whether or not we can have babies, whether or not we can debate about political or historical subjects with a table of men, whether or not we can mesmerize an audience with our voice or guitar, whether or not we can impress people with our frisbee skills, ALL women are ALL powerful when we choose to own it, stand in it, honor it.
It is a CHOICE.
There is no end point in owning our power. No finish line. Every day we choose 1,000 times whether we honor the power within us, or give it away out of a sense of lack of self worth or other fear. Practice, practice, practice. Every moment, every single day. The answers and the power are within.
P.S. Thanks to our collaborators, partners and friends for being part this very exciting moment of Leaning into Light as we venture online with our workshops! Loving more widely is a big part of our big vision!
To My Dear and Precious Daughter,
I am writing this letter for you to read in 10 or 20 years. You are napping, now two and a half years old, still so perfectly brave and unfiltered, still so willing to "own" your power. Actually, you're unwilling not to. You know that Love is who you are; you were born knowing this.
What do I mean by "own" our power? To know it; to acknowledge it; to fiercely stand in it; to honor it. To refuse not to embrace the exquisite expression of life that you are.
When you're five years old, or 11, or 26 or 40, will you want to own your power? Certainly you will. For right now, you might be wondering why the hell I'm even asking this.
I ask because women do not fully own our power. If we did, overnight, the world we see tomorrow would barely be recognizable. We instead give our power away--> to men, for a night or for an instant or for a lifetime, for their approval... to jobs we don't love, for years or for moments or for months, for the sense of safety we feel they give... to cultural expectations and images of what we ought to look like, to fill the holes of self-judgment we inhale starting in childhood.... We give our power away to other people's judgments, by letting them sink into our own eyes... We give our power away when any thought we think, feeling we feel, or action we take does not acknowledge that Love is who we are. We aren't bad or wrong for doing it; we're always just as lovable. Yet gosh, sweet child of mine, wouldn't it be marvelous if women stopped giving our power away so much?
I'From the day you were conceived, my life and voice became bolder than ever. Your existence has raised the bar for mine more than anything else ever will. Giving birth to you gave me many things, one of them being a swift, solid smack in the face to stop EVERY single thing I was doing to not love myself. This I must do, for you. No, not for you. But because of the Love you have helped expand inside my being. Can I put this all into words? No, sweet One. But still I'll always try.
There are no easy answers. Owning our power as women requires that we be our boldest, bravest, most rigorously honest selves. No one has the answers for anybody else. The point is to create space for the answers we all have for ourselves, to rise to the surface. We can be curious. We can ask questions. And questions are powerful, very powerful.
When women ask powerful questions, and make space within ourselves to answer them from a place of empowerment, fierce honesty, and deep self-love... Oh my, Dear Daughter, Oh my. Your mama squints at the thought of it. It isn't about power over anything (men, other women, or anything else). It is about power for the sake of life.
Forever yours, dear daughter,
P.S. In your honor, I am inviting a group of women to join me for a 3-part series, three one-hour conversations, about what life will be like when women own our power. Because it isn't a question of if; it's a question of when. Supported by other women and by the power that lies within us -- which is Love itself -- nothing will stop us. How dare I claim this, dear daughter? Because as you well know, and so breathtakingly exhibit with every move you make and every deliciously delightful word you say and tear you cry... Love is unstoppable.
Since our daughter was born in the spring of 2013, I have experienced thousands of moments of feeling profoundly in love. It isn't just when she beams light through her eyes. It isn't just because I feel like the best me I can be, in my role as her mama. It is all sorts of moments. When a tantrum bubbles-up from her passionate emotions, I feel in love with her honesty and full permission to express her needs. When she resists leaving the playground I feel in love with her invitation to be a more effective communicator and guide. I even feel that deep in-love-ness when I change her poo diaper. Her digestion is working; how miraculous is that!?
I am in love with her more consistently than I have ever felt in love with anything. And I am completely not unique here. So, so many parents relate to this almost bewildering sense of love.
Glancing back at my entire life, this feeling of love for children most universally captures the sense of joy, and innocence, freedom and delight, purity and raw, perfect beauty we are capable of feeling as humans. Effortlessly evoked within us by the presence of a child.
So it is evoked. We feel bliss. We feel completely enchanted. Our eyes get dewy. Then what?
What if... the impact of children settled in within us a bit deeper than we currently let it?
What if... we allowed that feeling of love evoked by children, to guide our lives more fully?
Nothing in my life has ever set "the bar" higher than Helena's existence. The love I feel for her means I do not swallow my bold words; I honor my feelings and intuition despite a culture that may see differently. I take better care of my body. I am more committed to my spiritual practice than before she was conceived. Her impact sends me on a deep-whale-dive to express more joy in this life. It means all that and so much more. The love I feel for her has raised the bar for everything.
So what? What does a "raised bar" mean? Given that our lives play out in as many different ways as there are people, I imagine the answer will be different for everyone. And I am also curious if some patterns emerge. This is one of the biggest questions ever to surface within me; it gets at the deepest existential questions and roots of our being.
If you relate to this feeling of being profoundly in love with the presence of children -- if you feel called forth to devote yourself more fully to "goodness" in whatever form that takes for you -- then what does that look like? Will you share?
If the astounding beauty we can so easily see in children were to have its greatest impact on us as adults, then what..? What would that look like in your life?
Listen to our free recording for July, a 33-minute interview with Jessica Rios & Mirsad Cindrak, called Perspectives from a Refugee Hairstylist... here.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternally a fan of Fred Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.