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.
Last Thursday morning my daughter and I were headed to stay in Chico for three nights with my core tribe, my people. It’s three hours north and we go regularly to bask in the sweetness of friendships I’ve put 20 years of myself into. As I sipped my morning Earl Grey, a text came in from Serra who we would be staying with.
“Are you gluten and dairy free right now? Thinkin’ of an old awesome mac n’ cheese dish for Saturday dinner.” Or something like that. Her two small kids were reading and playing in their morning way, and she was checking in with me about dinner.
Ten minutes later, she called. Frantic, frenzied, breathing fast. “Jess there’s a fire. It’s big. I might have evacuated friends staying here. Can you check in with me later?”
“Forget about me,” I told her. “We’ll stay home.”
For ten days now the air has been gray-orange where we live. Wind has blown some of the most toxic air south, 160 miles from the fire. Hundreds of texts have flown back and forth between me and six of my dearest friends there, as they watched Sheriff fire alerts on Twitter and friends’ posts on Facebook. They packed their belongings. Sent photos of a dark smoky sky that turned red in two days’ time.
What do I do?
What do we do?
Bewildered, we ask each other. We ask ourselves.
I turn to the place in me where the spirit of the great Fred Rogers lives... What are people feeling? That will help us know.
In canyons and up and down steep hillsides, that fire moved so fast, swallowing so many homes. Is this really happening? Shock runs deep in people’s traumatized bones. Suddenly our lives and bodies feel so fragile, even or perhaps especially for those hundreds of people who just escaped driving through miles of flames.
Disbelief in my blood. All my children’s things are gone? This cannot be. To the pure part of our mind that knows we are eternal in Spirit, this is unreal.
Is this the new normal? Fires strung across our summers and now a smoke-filled Thanksgiving, with air too hazardous for kids to play outside? This feels like war. Have years of drought and irresponsible human behavior really led us to a place of survival, where we’re making sure we can breathe, scrambling to provide clothing, food and beds for those suddenly homeless? Schools closed for weeks. Taping the leaks in our old window frames. Saying “I love you” more than we ever did before.
So what do we do? There are thorough lists like these from Daily Acts, a group in our town offering support for last year’s massive fires nearby. They group the first of two lists, Daily Actions to Reduce Toxics Exposure, into five areas: 1) Reduce Exposure, 2) Nutritional Support, 3) Herbal Support, 4) Gentle Detoxification, and 5) Self Care.
Love, as vague as that one word may sound, is the only thing that heals.
Love expresses itself in endless ways. In each moment, you choose what feels like Love to you. I aim to choose Love over its alternative, fear, as often as I can. We all slip. Then we recover. This is leaning into light.
Broken down into three parts, here are the top three ways I can suggest for responding with Love to the disaster we’ve named the Camp Fire.
1) Feel it all.
Waterfalls of tears and shock can be painful. Ouch to the heart, ouch to the mind. So. Much. Sad. Yet tears and shock will not kill you. If you feel all the horror, sadness, confusion, the sense of being lost…
Letting these feelings be felt through you will expand your capacity to feel — and feeling is the most powerful thing humans can do.
Ultimately, we are usually sad because of Love, because of love for what was lost. Trauma like this surfaces all kinds of feelings. They don’t need to “make sense” to your rational mind, for you to honor them by listening to them and letting them move through you. Anger, blame, it’s all worth listening to because it can all lead you back to Love if you let it.
A short video from Megan Devine on How do You Help a Grieving Friend? offers clear, powerful guidance for being in the presence of feelings this big and painful. It is an animated guide to healing for self and other.
2) Offer and ask.
With so much loss and need, step in and give. Extend Love; that is what Love naturally does. And your giving isn’t better or worse than anyone else’s. Love has no degrees; Love is Love.
Whether you offer free coffee from your RV window early in the morning, or volunteer at an evacuation center, or sit and listen while a grieving friend spills out her sheer despair and soaks your sweatshirt shoulder in her tears — your offer of Love creates a world with more Love in it. And if you’re like me and not in the belly of the disaster, instead a distance away, extend Love however you’re guided to from there. Call someone, tell them you’ll listen. Ask what you can do.
If you lost your home or a friend, the practice of asking for help may have gone from zero to 60 overnight. Let’s put it this way: Don’t rob others of the opportunity to show you love. It is life’s greatest honor. And you are a splendid person to love — always have been.
For others who are not in the heat of the trauma: That doesn’t mean your rights are less valid than anyone else’s. Ask for what you need. You matter. Our air quality has been awful; our house didn’t burn down. I didn’t lose my daughter. Yet still my feelings matter, and the needs of me and my family are as real as anybody’s. Five days into awful air quality, my eyes scratchy and with chance of migraine increasing, I asked my husband to buy us an air filter. Two days after that, I asked which friends we could stay with at Lake Tahoe where the air is cleaner. Ask for what you need, and let Love in.
3) Express gratitude.
We cannot live in two moments at the same time. If you didn’t lose your home to the fire, how fortunate you are. If your child, grandfather or best friend is still alive, there is wow in your world to be grateful for. There is always something. Focus on that for a moment. Bask in the shower of light that is gratitude.
Here in the west we walk around pretending our bodies won’t die. If you've been to India, you've seen that they accept the fact that we all die. In the west we live in deep fear and pretending. Times like these, however atrociously unfortunate and sad, can help us remember the most important thing: In this moment, show Love. In the next moment, show Love.
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,
Ever since high school, I have been into this thing called leadership. Holding various leading positions, starting non-profits and businesses, following the recipe: 1) Listen for the fire in your soul, 2) Clarify your vision, 3) Make it happen with your voice, hands and heart. Always holding a vision for what the world would look like if your big dream came true.
That vision of what is possible can help you rise out of bed every day. It can put a spark in your step. It can motivate you to put in that extra hour of work, believing in something you cannot see with your eyes.
Yet until recently, there was something missing for me. It had to do with being too focused on my vision, too caught up in making it happen, not relaxed enough to feel a true sense of enjoyment about it all. At times I got so caught up in trying to make something happen, that it gave me severely painful multi-day migraine headaches. Too much pressure.
What was missing was a simple practice, a new way of being with leadership. This new way kept tugging at the back of my neck, gently, a little more every day…
One day at a time. That is all I can do.
One day at a time. That is all I am being asked.
It’s a whisper in society’s sea of noise...
One day at a time.
The first time I remember practicing this was to try and get out of a 13 month postpartum depression. I had gone through trauma starting two hours after my daughter was born, and in the days that followed, some of the things I noticed about our world felt really, really sad. It was a heavy load to carry on my mind, and I didn’t really know how to get out.
One day it struck me that I was the only one who could break this cycle for myself, creating peace of mind and a sense of contentedness. I decided I would engage in a simple process of asking myself questions, one moment after the next.
Springtime sent the scent of lilac across our front patio, through our front door. Following the heavenly lure, I stepped out for a walk. I took one step forward, my daughter in her flower-picking state of toddling glee, and paused to silently ask myself, “In this moment, am I depressed?”
“No!” I responded, again quietly, “In this moment I am walking on a sunny day, with my healthy child. I feel grateful.”
With my next step, I paused again to ask. My response was, “In this moment I am admiring a cheerful, crisp purple paint job on my neighbor’s house, my daughter is laughing, I feel good.”
Within moments I realized I had taken the power back from my own cyclical sad thoughts. I could decide with each step, how to feel. And within a few days the dense fog that sat with me for 13 months was lifted.
That was four years ago. Since then, I’ve experienced dozens of highly challenging situations and adventures. What seems to be rising to the surface is this simple way of living taught by many living and ascended masters. Take life one day at a time. Take life one moment at a time. One step, pause… Here we are now.
It doesn’t interest me to dive into the question of why we get so caught up in the future, or in the past.
What interests me is sharing with you how much freedom greets me when I take life one day at a time. How much freedom is available to you, through your own choice about where you put your attention. All it takes is the awareness that when you feel tense or strained, unpleasant or frustrated, you can check in and bring yourself back to this day. Feel what you’re feeling now, even if it hurts. But don’t feel what you might be feeling tomorrow, because you’ll never be there.
You can only be here, today, now.
And I suppose that’s the truth behind it all. Tomorrow never comes, it is only a dream that tries to take us away from this precious present.
May you remember in this moment -- as you read these words -- how loved you are, how brightly the earth shone on the day you were born. May you look around you and focus on what you appreciate, knowing your appreciation and attention will help it grow. Listen within for your leadership vision, clarify it, give yourself to it, and let it go so you can enjoy this one precious day you’re living in.
Turn off the TV, put your cell phone away for the weekend. Screens aren’t so helpful in magnifying the beauty of the now.
Stare at the sunlight bouncing off your Marigolds in the garden. Listen to the soft texture of the wind. Somewhere, an elder is being served warm tea, her wrinkled hands shaking in thanks as somebody values and cares for her. Somewhere, somebody is opening a handwritten letter they got in the mail today.
One day at a time, may the light within us rise.
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.