As a child, I lived in a house where Conflict Avoidance was the primary communication style. I didn't learn how to argue. Arguing didn't happen in my house until one traumatic day, my parents were arguing and my mother left. From that point on, I saw her every other weekend. It sent me on a lifelong journey of studying communication. And to this day, I live in study of this rigorous and rewarding field.
Today I learned that even when we extend ourselves with courageous and kind hearted intentions, our actions can hurt people we deeply, dearly love.
Life is messy.
If you want to live with a big, bold, loving heart, you will make messes. You can't control this. Your heart will push itself outward, sometimes disregarding the laws of the world, and at some point you will really upset somebody you never, ever, in a billion years thought you could deeply upset. It's the last thing you would expect. Are you kidding me? says the rational mind.
Enter heart, again.
If you're fortunate enough to have people who will sit with you and talk things through, seize the opportunity. It's richer than gold. Go over there, to her (or his) eyes. That wasn't what you meant to have happen. Still, it happened. You are having a human experience and it is messy.
Apologizing for your impact does not mean you are kneeling before an unloving God who says you've sinned. Nope, nah, nizzle. Get over trying to protect your ego. You are valid, valuable, loved. Your feelings matter. And theirs do too!
Apologizing for your impact means you're humble enough to honor their feelings, and that you acknowledge an impact happened that you did not intend.
I am so glad to have been studying communication all my life, prompted by the gift of my parents' divorce. Every bone in my body wished intensely that my mom and dad -- who I adore indescribably -- could communicate more effectively. They were doing their best, and on that summer day, it was painful and messy. They didn't intend for it to be, and it was.
From here on out, if you have a child or intend to live bigger in Love tomorrow than you did today, simply accept that conflict is human and it happens.
You can choose to be afraid of it or you can choose to face it when it comes. You can choose to teach your child the myth that conflict is unnecessary or unhealthy, or you can choose to help them prepare for what is inevitable.
Tonight my heart got to witness the pain I unintentionally caused two people I respect and love. It hurt then, and it still hurts. My skin, eyes and heart feel raw. Rawness takes time to melt away. And that's OK. Right now I am more humble and strong than I was before this conflict showed itself. I have no regrets and enormous gratitude for friends who are brave enough, and who respect themselves and me enough, to stand tall through conflict -- however awkward and uncomfortable it may be.
Your child can find him/herself shocked by conflict at age 28, in a marriage with emotional abuse and unable to engage healthfully. Or your child can start learning now that conflict is normal, and we can become skillful communicators, empathetic beings, who aren't afraid to face the fire.
Lead the way.
Mothers hold... so much.
I see it, I'm stunned by it, I try to grasp why mothers' work is so undervalued and...
How the heck could it be so hard for us mamas to articulate the "all" of what we do, and hold? and...
I'm left speechless.
But I'll find words soon. Because it's a really, really big important deal.
And if you're a devoted mama? I see you. I see all that you hold. You are doing the great work. Thank you.
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 email@example.com / (707) 658-1751 to sign up. Cost per workshop is $30.
As published in the Natural Parent magazine, February 21 2019, New Zealand.
Halfway through a childbirth education class, I was seven months pregnant and it landed on my forehead. Surrender. The word, the idea, the powerful call. It was the one thing I most needed to do at this point, as I neared the big day of bringing my child into this world.
Before that, it had been so many things. Eat well. Move my body. Hydrate, hydrate. Surround myself with people who would not tell me their birth horror story or try to scare me out of a homebirth, but who would instead affirm that a woman’s body was made to give birth to new life. “You can do this” kind of people. As Ina May Gaskin said to women, “Your body is not a lemon.”
Now it was surrender calling my name. The rest was in place. Now, surrender.
It turns out surrender was exceptionally helpful during labor. Oh, the pain. Oh, the power of what was coming through me. It was all so big, the only response that seemed to match it was to surrender. So I did. With my heart, I reached deep into my womb for a sense of my co-leader’s strength, and we chose surrender together.
What did that look like? Knowing ultimately, between contractions in my candlelit bedroom, I was not in control. Knowing a larger power, the divine, was holding me and my child during this experience. It mostly meant letting go of all my hopes and wanting, so I could allow this baby to emerge knowing we were held and wanted by something I could surrender to.
Moving into my daughter’s early years, surrender kept showing up. Always with a powerful invitation, not always easy for me to accept. Some of these themes are common for other mothers, so I share this as an invitation to open yourself up to surrender when it might be a really, really helpful thing to do. To stop the pain of clinging.
Early childhood vaccinations asked for surrender, big time. Conversations were heated with other mothers who were making different choices than we were, with their babies. We argued about the diseases and the vaccines, what made sense, what was loving. We tried to convince each other, usually unsuccessfully. I hang with other strong women; we don’t budge easily.
Ultimately, for us surrender meant honoring our values and research around vaccines for our daughter. It meant being willing to let go of friendships where the conversation was unfriendly, seasoned with blame.
When it came to diseases, vaccines and the pharmaceutical industry, keeping friends wasn’t our top priority. We were interested in making wise choices for our tiny daughter’s body and life. Thankfully, years later one of my dearest friends is someone who has made the “opposite” choice from ours. The rigor of those heated exchanges fed us. Now our children are almost six years old and we can hear each other and respect our right to differ without feeling a deep lingering divide.
Mainstream pop culture has required significant surrender for our family, too. Overconsuming sugar, playing with plastic or mechanized toys, watching TV or engaging in hours of mobile phone screen time every day, all these things are the norm for most families. For us, they’re not. And although we have confidently communicated about these things, creating community that is solid around values we hold dear, we have also had to let go sometimes.
We don’t solely have eco-friendly toys and books with hand-created art rather than computer art. Allowing some of these things into our space has been, in part, an expression of my willingness to open my heart in a sigh of humility around the choices our culture makes. Maybe sometimes it’s OK to expose our children to those things. Idealism and surrender are a healthy pair.
One of the most challenging places surrender has come into play for our family is around our finances.
What I want more than new shoes and frequent travel or a big house, is to mother my daughter in a way that blows my mind.
She chose me, and I know fierce love. But love is not a prominent value our culture is led by, so… Sigh… Finding paid work that supports this way of mothering has not been easy. Mothering by instinct, with strong attachment, gentleness and beauty, has meant surrendering my high-paid consulting work and the lifestyle that came with it.
I want my child’s wellness more. I can’t be with her the way I want to, guiding her with my fierce love, if making “good” money weighs more.
And hear me, this has been hard. Not because I ever struggle with the choice around how to mother her, but because it made me really angry when I realized how hard it could be for a mother to thrive financially, while, oh, doing the most important work there is: delivering and lovingly guiding new life. Surrender has been essential in this place. Otherwise, I’d be walking around holding on to anger, not a healthy choice.
Overall the most beneficial way surrender has shown up in my parenting life, is through my choice to embrace our family’s values and accept that this would not present to us the easy path.
Quiet over noise and busyness, a small space to live rather than something fancy, choosing earth-honoring materials for toys, reimagining holidays away from consumption as a central principle, and now unschooling rather than school. All these ways have given us a chance to grow as communicators, to stand for our values, and this often involves finding the language to let our daughter know they why of it.
We love Mother Earth, so we want to respect her gifts and take care of her.
We like a small home, because it helps Mama be less grumpy about cleaning up.
You want Valentine’s notes for your friends? Let’s make some! We put time and love into things because it feels good, and we don’t have to go to a store to buy our joy.
For the naturally minded parent, surrender is necessary for sanity. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people is important so we feel seen and supported. Yet the world that’s not so resonant will greet our paths, too, and unless we want to cling and create ludicrous pain as a result (e.g. my two years of horrifically painful, multi-day migraines, which are now over!) … we must make surrender a very good friend.
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.
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?
Do you believe there is one thing you were born to do or be? Were you born to be an ice skater, or to sing opera, or to help transform the way humans relate to plants? Though there are people who have found that "one thing," to me it seems we are all vastly talented -- how could there be just one thing?
If there is one thing I was born to do, it is to love people through writing letters. To feel the Love that powerfully pulses through my heart, the connection, the admiration, the curiosity, the thanks, and to put pen to paper. I've placed 1000s of letters in mailboxes in my lifetime, using this powerful art form to find people feeling more loved, more seen, and more valued than they did before getting my letter.
It started when I was five years old — now it's time to take it to a new level.
That's why I'm sharing this big announcement with you! Beginning this year, I am offering my lifelong art of letter writing more widely, as a service to humanity. I offer two services to help you experience the power in this simple, affordable, powerful, seemingly old fashioned art form.
For those who want to write your own letter, I offer coaching to help make the letter say just what you want, in a way that matches your style and voice. I help you find the essence of what you want to say. You might want to strengthen or heal a relationship that is important to you. You might have something difficult to say that you'd rather put in writing than say it via phone. Or you might just be struck by someone... their grace, their wisdom, their dance moves... ;) and want to put your admiration into words. My coaching happens over the phone, so you can be anywhere in the world.
For those wanting me to write the letter for you — using your wisdom, your feelings, and some of your words intermingling with mine — I can be commissioned to write a letter. This involves a coaching session (via phone) and then I write your letter and send it to you via email so you can hand-write or print it, and mail it yourself.
Fun, huh? For me, it is! Letter writing is rewarding, meaningful, therapeutic, generous and sensually pleasing. I write like I breathe. I was born for this. The photo above was taken in Ladakh, northern India in 2006. As usual, I was writing letters, and as seen here licking stamps, this time on a rafting trip in the Himalaya.
To explore more, check out my letter writing website here. Thanks for helping to spread the word, too! As I'm not on Facebook these days, I'd appreciate it if you shared this post there for others to see.
For a solo-go at activating your letter writing practice, read my post A Year in Letters and begin!
What if you wrote 52 letters this year? One a week, with your pen, stamp on the envelope, gone. Would that be crazy? As in, no way? Or would that be easy, and you'd simply need to write it in your calendar to remind yourself to follow through?
Whoever you are, if you want to do it, here is your nudge to begin.
Think of how good it feels to find a card or letter in your mailbox, with your name and address hand written by someone important to you. Holding their letter in your hands, knowing they took time to put their thoughts into words for you in this seemingly old-fashioned way.
It can be two sentences inside a small note card. It can be seven pages long. What seems to matter most when you send a letter is that you put your heart, your words, on paper for someone who is dear to you, using your hands to write it, your body to pop it in the mailbox. It wasn't all done by machines, it is real, raw, touchable.
To begin, find paper for the first week. Whatever paper, envelopes, cards you've already got. Put them on your desk or near the bowl of citrus on your table, set a pen down next to them, and if you're super-prepared you might even have postage stamps ready to go.
Who, right now, can you show love?
Who did something generous for you last week or last year?
Who is up to something professionally or athletically, artistically or as a human citizen, that you admire and want to support with your words?
Who could use a boost of confidence, a sense of companionship, someone you can encourage and offer softness?
Consider an elder, someone who might be lonely in a culture that doesn't value elders. Consider a child who might not have ever gotten a letter in the mailbox. Consider your mom -- when was the last time you thanked her for carrying you in her womb?
Choose someone and write their name on the envelope. You know these basics, the rest of the envelope part is easy. Sometimes I simply scan my address book and find names that pop out at me.
Now, sitting ready to write, ask yourself... How much love is my heart willing to express? Think of one strong note of positivity that you feel for this person. "I see how much you give," or "Your work is such a contribution to the world," or "Last year I was lifted out of many dark moments because of your friendship."
It is totally fine to simply write their name, "Thank you for being you," and sign your name. Done. Truly, a simple acknowledgment is a perfectly wonderful use of paper, a stamp and your time.
Make this easy on yourself. Just write something.
Pick someone, find what your heart wants to say to them, and send it off. Perhaps you know a child who doesn't like school. Let them know they're seen! You could write something like... "One day at a time, find something you like about school and enjoy it! Then write down the stuff you don't like in your journal. Then you'll know what you don't want in college, or... ever again! Heck, you could even design your own school without all the things you don't like about yours!" A little humor goes a long way to soften tough situations. Just being with someone, on paper, letting them be seen by your heart's eyes, can make a big difference.
Next week, same thing. Calendar it. Sunday morning with tea? Tuesday at bedtime?
My bet is that if you stick to it, and weeks pass, as you create your practice you will begin to feel a delightful sort of astonishment at how much love this can light-up in your life. If your letter writing practice is anything like mine, people will be touched you wrote to them, you'll feel therapeutically uplifted after writing, and all this for about 50 cents (for a US postage stamp) and some paper.
Tempted to complain about the US Postal Service? Take it from someone who's written 10s of 1,000s of letters and cards in my life --> we've got a good one. The US Postal Service has lost very few of my letters over the years, and its prices are reasonable. Living in Sweden for a year, letter writing was a hefty hobby at 21 Swedish Krona (the equivalent of $2.52) per international letter. Our postal prices and delivery were one reason I was glad to be home.
Try to write without thinking. Let your heart write for you. You've got this.
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.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, Love-based leader, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. 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.