Are these tough times? Oh my. Our U.S. Postal Service is really struggling, and that's no good. We've got one of the best postal services in the world. It's a very positive element of our country.
Yet there's SO much beauty spilling out of the cracks these days. Huge light, beaming from all sorts of awkward and fresh-brewed places. People are buying postage stamps to try to help save the USPS. People are helping each other with groceries and other errands. People are slowing down.
Three friends today sent me the same very, very sweet news link. An 11-year-old girl and her postal mail magic. She is spreading joy, uplifting others, and her story rocked my world. Here's a glimpse of some real-life magic, straight from the heart of a child.
In a nutshell, the message I'm extending to you right now is this:
Love is the most powerful force in the universe.
You've got the power of Love in your hands.
And one very easy way to express it is through a hand written letter.
So get out your pen! Life is slower these days for most of us. Grab. A. Pen. And a postage stamp. You can easily make an envelope if you don't have one already. Writing to somebody you care about is a very kind thing to do. Your recipient will be moved, touched, honored.
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 to sign up. Cost per workshop is $30.
I wrote this poem-like letter in my journal in 2011, after becoming certain I wanted my own chid someday. I had never been pregnant and was starting to feel concerned. Fortunately, in 2012 I got pregnant and began a journal to the life inside my womb. Six years later, I still keep a journal of letters for my daughter. It's deeply rewarding. After I leave this body, my daughter can read her mother's thoughts and stories -- all in my own, real hand writing.
Dear Baby Boy Soul,
Are you calling to me?
I dreamt of you last night.
Someone in India had asked me to care for you while traveling.
For two weeks, you'd be mine to watch and care for.
And in that dreamscape where all lines cross
and one reality becomes another
you felt like
my little boy.
Then one day our group of travelers
went to the mall. I had dressed in a full silk sari
fuchsia, magenta, pumpkin colored
wide skirt flowing at my ankles.
A tall American girl I had befriended
walked beside me and somehow
she was holding you now. She said,
"I'm going to hold him for the next few hours."
My heart fell deep into pain.
I had loved holding you.
It was heaven and I'd waited all day
to be with you again
your soft brown hair and chubby thighs
felt like my hands were designed to hold them
as you sat on my hip.
"No you're not," I said to the tall girl.
"I've been wanting to hold him all day and he's
my responsibility. I'm watching him."
She said, "Well, too bad because I'm holding him."
I stood there shocked, jaw dropped down toward
layers of pink and orange
floral print silk.
Fighting energy does not belong
I would not grab you from her arms
She would give you back later
but the grief...
Baby boy soul
are you real?
Like in Velveteen Rabbit...
are you real because I love you?
Will you pass through my body someday
bewildering my being
with the sheer miracle of yours?
I would die with love for you every day.
Am I going to have you?
And if not, why do you keep
showing up in my dreams?
It's good in an almost unbelievable way.
Our former postal delivery person, Ruben, is the kind of person who wins Positive Attitude awards. He seems universally friendly, like the universe. Goodness beaming from his smile and through the classic, shiny yellow smiley button on his gray-blue U.S. Postal Service baseball cap. He lifted up our neighborhood with his gorgeous glow within. Our daughter got to cherish him. He's got that "presence power" sort of way about him, never seeming to be in a hurry, always wanting to say hello.
Living in a Swedish city for 13 months, we didn't know any of our postal deliverers. It doesn't tend to work that way in the city. Plus the Swedish postal service has significantly declined in quality, having gone to a different ownership model.
Back in Petaluma, California, a new deliverer would await in our new neighborhood. Within the first few days of living in our cozy den home, we were sending love notes to friends big and small. Enter, Sean the Postman. Strong, sturdy smile and legs, with a kind-eyed, swish-rustled breeze in his smile.
Our postal karma is delivering the goods.
Who would have thought -- one of the best things about the USA is our postal service? Beyond fair prices and an excellent delivery record, somehow wherever I live we always get highly charmed postal delivery people.
Letters. They feel so good and they make life feel good too.
Thanks, Ruben and Sean and all the postal delivery workers in the world. Letters are powerful and you deliver ours. We trust you appreciate the way we beautify envelopes, to sing a little on their way over. We sing to you, in thanks. Your work is valued and honored!
This is The Motherhood Letters #11, previously published by Mothering Arts.
Dear Matt and Peter,
Thirteen days ago, the town where we met back in the late 90’s changed drastically overnight. Up the hill, Paradise roasted in flames from the Camp Fire as Chico sat close-up watching, in shock. Thousands of jaw-dropping stories rolled down social media streams. Friends lost their homes as parking lots turned into donation centers and wind blew toxic smoke to Sonoma County where I live.
After eight days of unhealthy air, I’d had enough. I needed to get my child out. We drove up into the Sierra Nevada mountain range on Friday to find you waiting.
For two nights we stayed with you Matt, and your daughter and son. For the next two nights we stayed with you Peter, and your two daughters.
I could breathe. My child could breathe.
In Tahoe’s fresh air, 7,000 feet above the smoky valley, my heart and lungs felt relieved of the physical and emotional intensity they had been holding for a week. My child and I were gifted “tribe time,” four unexpected days and nights with you and your precious, fast-growing babies, who I adore deep in my Tia Jess bones. I watched my child run, giddy, with your children. My own dull-aired living room more than 200 miles away, I exhaled deeply, gazing out the window at redwood trees as I listened as your child read books to mine, chased her around like a wild tiger, helped her feel like family.
And we are. We are Soul Family. We chose each other. And we still choose each other.
All three of us know we are fortunate to have had those days together. We all know we are fortunate to be alive, with homes intact.
What I mostly want to tell you isn’t “Thanks, Again.”
What I want to tell you is that I’m floored by your fathering.
I’ve been watching you parent for a decade. As your children were born and grew into toddlerhood, I watched you. You have always been good fathers. Yet this time it was different. Somehow, the beauty of fatherhood has seeped into your skin in a way that’s left me feeling really, really fortunate to know you.
You know I revere children. Watching you with yours was like seeing the future treated with the dignity it needs to become bright.
You weren’t like a magazine of picture perfect fatherhood. You did your own thing as they did theirs. But all through those high alpine moments, your voice for them was one of Love. Both of you, in your own ways. How could I not notice that, as a result of a devastating fire, I got to witness two spectacular fathers, one after the other, each for two precious days and nights? This isn’t the norm. Great fathers aren’t everywhere. How could I not be head-shakingly grateful that you are two of my dearest friends? In so many ways, you shone the light of powerfully loving fatherhood upon those days.
When your children needed boundaries, you set them. You named them, you clarified them, you checked in with your children, you listened with your heart engaged.
You didn’t make demands; you made requests. Do you realize you might have prevented a future mean-spirited boyfriend or girlfriend from violating your child, because you’ve shown them that somebody who cares for them will not try to control them?
You didn’t use fear to force them to comply; you used a strong, loving voice to show them the limits.
We’ve had some wild times together, having known each other since college. The men I see now aren’t the same men I met 20 years ago. Your children have offered you a chance to expand into a fuller, more step-up-to-Love’s-plate place within yourselves and you accepted. You stepped right up to that plate. Far fewer fathers do that, than children deserve. Watching you father your children makes me love you even more — did I just say that? Was that even possible?
Deep bow to you both. Thank you for all the stretching you have done over the years to evolve into such beautiful fathers. This is not easy work. Parenting well is high service to humanity — nothing less. What you are doing for your children is the greatest work there is, and I admire you with all my Tia heart for it.
A week after Donald Trump was elected. I walked into the café, ready to order my cappuccino, and there you stood.
Rather than sharing café small talk, you asked how I was doing and I knew you didn’t want to hear, “Fine.” You didn’t want to hear an answer that superficially informed you of where I was going next. You wanted to know how I was really doing, and it showed in the warm presence in your eyes and the spaciousness in your heart.
That’s just your way. You actually, really care.
I had been numbing myself. Until that morning when I saw you, hiding in my own escapist ways from the shock of what had just happened on the national stage. Suddenly, in your presence, the tears emerged. Standing there by the espresso machine, I cried out some of my despair. It needed to happen.
Within minutes, thanks to that moment of opening, I made a decision that led to the biggest adventure of my life so far. My family and I would move to Sweden for a year to be near my husband’s family in his native culture. Your open heart, attentive eyes, and deep capacity for listening were the container I needed to really hear what wanted to happen. Looking back now, almost two years after that café conversation, I see that it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I’m not putting you on a pedestal. You wouldn’t accept that from me. I’m not saying you made the decision for me.
I’m saying that in your strikingly beautiful presence, I was able to live my truth in a way I might not have been able to without you. Every mother needs this kind of presence in her life.
Think about it. Right now there is a mother reeling from last night’s drunk abuse, somewhere in America. Right now there is a mother whose child is dying in a hospital bed. Right now there is a mother so lost and lonely she doesn’t know if there is a way out. In fact, there are millions of these.
All these mothers could use a presence as spacious and honest as yours. Thank you for being the way you are. May all these mothers find — now — what you showed me that morning.
And may I be a sliver in life, for others, of what I find in you.
In deep respect,
Originally published in Natural Parent magazine July 12, 2018
Recently in a greeting card mailed to me by a wise and long-time friend, she wrote that I “more singularly identify with being a mother” than any other mama friend she has. My initial inner response was, Oh great, am I weird in yet one more way in life? Does that mean she thinks I’m boring now? Have I gotten lost in the dance of mothering, and given up on my other passions?
Within moments, my little self-doubt voices dissipated. Her words then struck me as a powerful invoking of reflection about the last five years of my life.
Let me call myself out, to begin. Curiosity is powerful in relationships and I have not yet asked this dear friend what she meant by “singularly identified”. Letter writing is a slow exchange, more spacious than talking or texts, and my next letter to her will include a question seeking to understand what she expressed from her bold, loving heart.
According to standard definitions, I could interpret what she said as this: I am more remarkably, extraordinarily, and exceptionally identify as a mother than any other mama friend she has. Sounds like a big, kind compliment, right?
My friend’s bold way of showing me love in her letter left me with a feeling of pride about how I mother. Her words felt like a spotlight on a stage where I am dancing the awkward, passionate, indescribably rewarding dance of being a mama. So that is what I will respond to here, as I know many of you reading this have your own way of shining in your very own mothering stage.
On the surface being a mother is all about playgrounds, naps, tantrums, cuddling and a giving-up of self.
Right beneath it, there appears a mountaintop presenting to a mother some of the richest and most fertile personal expansion terrain available in life.
It has been said our children are our greatest teachers. To actually experience this in life can be fascinating, blissful and grueling at times. We can pay money for meditation retreats and gurus, yet our children offer astounding spiritual lessons for free on a daily basis. Children are the original gurus.
And I’m up for that. My religion is Love. In this life I want to shed all my layers of fear and bloom open to what Spirit, what Love, has to offer. Bring it on, little guru.
So it isn’t surprising that life hasn’t let me detract substantial attention from this opportunity in order to “make” other things happen, since my child was born. While I’ve tried to create a stable income flow, I’ve instead seen a path dotted with seemingly random creative output, unstable income and no clear sign of what’s to come. When we are trying to force something to happen, it is a pretty clear sign that it’s not meant to happen right now. It’s just not time.
In a way, motherhood has swallowed me whole. I have allowed it, though, feeling the briefness of this sacred encounter. Years fly. My guru won’t live with me forever.
My top priority is being the mother I am meant to be. It appears the priority is my child, but equally the priority is me giving her the all she deserves… Me welcoming the extraordinary and unmatched opportunity of being spiritually stretched and widened, that she presents to me. It is about me being the fullest version of myself that I can be, expanded by the presence of a being who I love as much as, dare I say, God. Or so it feels that way.
To the friend whose handwritten words led me to this helpful self-reflection, I extend my deep thanks. You see me from a perspective I value. However clumsy and grumpy I may sometimes be, I like who I am as a mother and as silly ol’, perfectly imperfect me.
This is #7 in The Motherhood Letters, a monthly feature in the Mothering Arts community by Leaning into Light founder Jessica Rios. Rooted in universal themes of motherhood, Jess shares the essence of her unique art of mothering through letter writing.
It’s only been two days since we said goodbye. Our little family of three is jet lagged as expected. Sweden to San Francisco, for us, meant a 26 hour trip. And after every plane I’m in that lands, my heart is wide open. I know I could have died. Life is more lucid than it was the day before.
I’m writing to you because my heart is filled with a bewildered sort of thanks.
It's the kind of thanks that questions why we can’t all be as good at showing up for others, as you are. It is the kind of bewilderment that wonders how I got so blessed to live a life with people like you in it.
Moving to a different continent and culture 5,200 miles away from my California home took a lot of courage. Even though I knew it was the thing to do, the experience presented multiple stretches way outside my comfort zone.
For our entire year there, you lived close by. So close that you saw my first bout with anxiety, when physical circumstances stood my hairs on end because I feared for my daughter Helena’s life. So close that, as her grandfather’s long time wife, you spoke up about it. You felt it, too. You voiced your Mama Bear concern, assuring me that I had a right to be scared. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. You were that mama for me.
Through your empathy I stood stronger in my own mothering skin.
From the moment we landed, you were abundant in the attention you shared with me and Helena. You gave generously with your curious, attentive spirit, becoming her gardening partner and playful companion. I knew I could trust you to be honest with me, and that made me feel more at home even though I was so far from it.
When I accepted that I didn't feel a genuine desire to learn to speak Swedish while there, simply because my "plate" felt too full already as a mother and writer living abroad, you accepted me. I didn't feel judged by you.
That kind of love is really, really helpful to a mother of a young child, who is navigating life in a whole new land.
At dinnertime during one of my horrible multi-day migraines, you asked if I wanted the overhead lamp turned off. I could barely answer; I could barely think. You didn’t wait for me to reply. You stood up and turned the light off. And that wasn’t the first time you noticed something on my behalf, or Helena’s, and took action because…
Village. We had a village together for that one precious year.
In a world so far away from what I knew, your outrageously radiant smile shone through your eyes at me, reminding me that mamas always have each other’s backs.
And I also saw you honor your own limits. When you were tired, you told me you were tired and you told Helena, too. You didn’t force yourself to be something you were not. Through this you showed me and my daughter how women can take care of ourselves. It helped me to give myself full permission to be my true self, too. When I was grumpy about the long winter or my marriage, you were fine with me where I was. Not taking sides, not feeding my complaints, just letting me be me.
When I birthed this child and married her father I had no idea you were coming along with the deal. I had no idea I would gain in my life, a woman who I’d lean on intensively, and who would show up with a spirit of sheer generosity as I lived out one of my life’s greatest adventures.
Mamas need each other. Women need each other. Life depends on other life. You aren’t my mother, and you sure showed me and Helena love that felt as deep as a mother’s love, while we were there.
We miss you with every jet lagged, bewildered tear our eyes shed. OK, she’s not shedding tears. I am. I really love you.
Endlessly, endlessly, thanks.
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,
It was September, just starting to get cold here in southern Sweden, and I remember the looks on their faces. When locals would ask me if I had ever been through a whole winter here, I would say, "No, this will be my first."
No matter who it was, their whole face went sour. "Ohhhh..."
October came. Layers started piling on. An underlayer of wool pants, long sleeve shirt, a scarf you actually needed so the breeze didn't chill your neck. In November, beanies became the norm, plus long wool or down coats and mittens. My husband schooled me on how mittens are warmer than gloves because your fingers share heat inside them. Every day my daughter Helena wore snow pants with suspenders to preschool, along with all the other clothing necessary to stay warm and dry here and one day as she flopped to the floor in frustration over all the stuff she had to put on and take off several times a day, I counted 12 items. Twelve tops and mittens and socks and layer upon layer upon, oh sweet darling spring will come, layer.
On Christmas Day out walking with family, the icy wind chill of the drizzling gray day left me realizing I was really in for it. We were really in for it. This winter would be long, dreary, dark and cold in a way we'd never known before.
This photo of my daughter and me on Christmas day in 2017 shows how we felt about the Nordic cold.
Ohhhh, what this winter strained out of me. How I've gushed silent spills of praise for my California home climate. Deep longing for sun. My skin more pale than it's been since I was in my mother's womb.
Winter in Scandinavia is a big adventure all to itself. Letters lifted my daughter and me out of many dark days this winter.
Once among the best postal systems in the world -- surprise surprise, we are talking Sweden here -- these days it's dropped down several notches. In recent years it became semi-privatized, and now natives comment on how disappointing service is these days.
On many days my frustration about postal cost and delivery here led to praise, once again, for our U.S. postal service. It is one thing we do well in the States. Complain about long lines and underfunded offices all you want; it is cheap to send a letter in the US, and our postal system does it pretty darn well most of the time. In 38 years of sending lots of mail, I've had almost unnoticeably low mail loss, delay or damage. An international stamp in the US costs $1.15. In Sweden, it's 21 SEK, which converts to $2.53.
Yowch, that's an expensive habit.
Yet it's a happy, healthy habit. For every 10 letters or cards I write and send, about one person writes and sends one back. Decades ago I decided this is just fine. My soul spins in joy to write to people. It is as much a gift for me as for the receiver. And because I write a lot -- and Helena now has a card-making practice -- we've gotten mail every week for the past 9.5 months, all the way across the world. Sometimes it's one letter. Sometimes it's a stack of ten, and wow how good that feels.
I see the hand writing on an envelope from someone who loves me...
She touches the orange and purple crayon drawing of a pal back home...
I notice people seem more willing to vulnerably share feelings from across the ocean...
I strategize on how to "make the most" of each piece of mail we send...
And I reach for courage to ask friends to write to us, because it really does make a difference...
Receiving mail from friends and family 5,200 miles away has made us feel like we were still being held in the love of friends and family back home.
It has eased winter's edge. And it has helped my daughter retain a memory of friends she treasures, so that she's rooted emotionally, so that she has continuity in her relations, and so that when we return home, she sees faces and hears voices that are familiar to her, where she feels safe, seen and loved. How wondrous is this for a child who has just lived for a year in a whole new land, learning its language and adapting to its climate and culture?
To all the friends who have written to us -- and to my mother, who has been outrageously thoughtful and generous in sending us packages -- WE THANK YOU. Letter writing is a powerful art. It is an art of Love. Your mail has been the sun on many dark days.
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.