Pointing to the Moon: Look Beyond Candidates’ Words

lunaditoThere’s one thing nearly every person is aware of at this very moment: the world is shifting and changing, faster and greater than ever before. As people and as humanity we are in the process of accelerated evolution, which is a fancy way of saying we’re all on a freight train speeding over a hill and where the track goes beyond that is as yet unknown. In the US, our current contest for who can convince enough people to vote for them is the most poignant proof of the conflict that typically comes with change. It is shining an unflattering spotlight on our foibles and flaws as a country and society—most obviously the often alarming push-pull between our desire to connect and our fear of getting too close to people different from ourselves.

As I watch our political season play out in all its splendor, an image keeps popping into my head. The candidates are lined up on a stage, all standing behind a podium, their mouths open but no words are being spoken. I know it’s difficult to believe, but they’re actually silent for a minute; just go with it. Each person’s arm is raised towards the darkened sky and pointing to their own individual moon. It took me a minute to figure out why this image meant something, but I remembered something I learned about an ancient teacher, originally in the appendices of the beautiful novel A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. (Find out more about her and her writing here.) I’ll explain.

Is the truth in the words?

Political candidates are constantly talking. Then people talk and write about what they say. Then they say some more and the cycle endures. With each discussion, the original meaning and energy of those words are distorted a bit more, often to support the viewpoint of whomever is now speaking. A twisted messaging telephone game.

Words are powerful, particularly in politics. A few well-timed and expertly delivered speeches can win a black man with a Muslim middle name the presidency. Twice. (The best example can be found here.) As a writer, I am hyper-aware of their usefulness and magic. Words can inspire and motivate. They can broaden perspectives and open people to new ideas. They can create change.

But they also can manipulate. They can validate fear. They can light a fire beneath underlying resentment. Words can transform a crowd wishing to connect with people who share some of their beliefs and hope for the future into a mob incited to reject and eject, literally and sometimes forcefully, those they feel threaten these beliefs. (Watch one example here.)

They are powerful, but they aren’t everything.

Over the years, the details of politics have become less and less interesting to me. I have very smart, knowledgeable, passionate friends and family who believe that politics is won and lost in the minutiae. What does the letter of the law actually mean? What can we actually put on the ground as a result? That used to light my fire. Let’s break it down into bits and determine how we can actually create change using well-crafted policies, government funding and human-generated power, and how I can get my hands in there.

As I get older, politics has become more of a personal philosophical pursuit. The actual acting on my beliefs is still important. I just don’t want to spend hours debating them, dwelling on the words and defending their meaning, and I’m not sure effective solutions are found within government and political discourse as much as I used to.

Still, as much as I’d like politics to be something separate from my time here on Earth, it isn’t. Nothing is, really. How and whether I vote, what I say about it, what I believe about certain candidates, what I believe the role of society should be in supporting those in need or those with diminished rights, how I treat my fellow human beings as a result of my beliefs, how I believe our laws should or shouldn’t support that, how I believe equality and justice should play out. It’s all tied to who I am as a person. And I am, as we all are, a person who lives, writes, thinks, believes and behaves in the world based on where I am in my own personal evolution.

Political candidates are no different from all of us in this respect. Knowing, as best we can, what their true intentions are is more important to me than what they say they will do. Many of my friends and family might call me naïve, and some of them have. Nevertheless, unlike some popular candidates (see story, including video, here), I believe that if the convictions don’t shift, if the pre-programmed mindsets don’t alter, neither will the system. Hands follow the heart. That’s how true change occurs.

If a candidate’s heart is genuine and ego reasonably managed (as much as a politician’s can be), the “doing” will come from the right motivation. They will play the long game and things that can truly and positively impact our society will materialize from the resulting policies—perhaps not immediately, but inevitably.

Herein lies the rub… Before anything can happen, we have to talk about it.

The Sixth Patriarch of Zen (Read more about him here.), who was illiterate, said looking for truth in books (e.g., words) was like seeking truth in the finger pointing to the moon. The moon is the truth, and words can only point the way. Writing is a beautiful and powerful art, but it’s a terrible way to communicate if you’re trying to do so indisputably. Speaking charismatically is a wonderful skill, but the words you choose are only a sliver of the truth. And for some, it’s only a version of someone else’s truth they wish you to believe is theirs.

As much as I love language, it is inherently flawed. Shared stories and ideas are limited, a reflection of one person’s perspective. They will be received the same way, through a filter of the other person’s experiences, memories and beliefs.

Words lined up into powerful messaging statements or in the most pleasingly logical order so our brain can comprehend them only wrap us in a comforting blanket of reality that doesn’t exist. They make solid something that is of the air. Truth is just floating out there, waiting for us to see it. Words manifesting as phrases, anecdotes, doctrines, plans, policies, speeches, books and all the rest of what we believe we need to understand things, just get in the way of us seeing and knowing it.

So, we need to look beyond the words.

Here’s what the image reminded me to consider… The intention and energy behind what someone says and writes is more important than the language. And what you see reflected back to you is just as critical. We need to look closely at both, with clear eyes.

It is crucial to know if a candidate is speaking frankly because they don’t want to waste time getting to the core truth of the matter or pretending to speak frankly to build credibility with a crowd disillusioned after decades of political doublespeak.

It makes a difference whether this straightforward rhetoric contains substance, ideas, thoughtfulness and empathy, or simply uses words they know we will identify with—probably via focus groups, political operatives and crafty polling.

It is vital that there be something other than verbiage to support these ideas, such as past or present behavior, established or appropriately rejected relationships, a sense of the person behind the image (for the many of you who trust your intuition on such things).

It is paramount that the intentions behind the words and the actions to follow be positive and not only motivated by ego, fear or desire for power.

With every speech, debate, rally, interview and opinion piece, we need to understand that a candidate’s words are pointing to something, but the finger is only a finger. The moon is what we should be looking at, and which one we choose is up to us.

It is a reflection of us.

Who you trust and how you vote is up to you.

It is a reflection of you.

Make sure you aren’t following the finger that simply sounds the most familiar or rousing.

And make sure you can live with the person standing beneath it.

om

The Life Cycle of Truth

dandelion_life_cycle_greeting_card-r917a25e735d04a3d81d6f384a09faea3_xvuak_8byvr_324 - Version 2Nothing makes me smile wider than when I hear a perspective or idea I once offered to someone — a friend, a family member, a reader, a client, a child — offered back to me with both confidence and no recognition of where or when they first considered it. The moment the pilot light ignited is a clear and happy memory for me. For them, the energy of it is so internalized that they only know it to be true. The moment they learned it or, perhaps more accurately, recognized it is long forgotten.

I hope those who first introduced certain truths to me, the many teachers whose offerings I don’t recall, also smile when they see things I now know in the space in the center of my head, in the movement of my cells, in the pulsing of my heart. The things I’d forgotten or rejected until I watched them lived with conviction or heard them said using the words I could hear in the right moment with the right amount of clarity.

They are mine now because they were once given freely and with love. They are yours because you are open to seeing and, like me, hungry for truth.

The cycle continues as long as one being is willing to share with another.

And so it goes.

om

A Writer Lets Go: Knowing When It’s Time to Move On

Floating Books by Fanny Brennan
Floating Books
by Fanny Brennan

Writing is a turbulent journey. When you do it for long enough, you attempt nearly every kind of piece imaginable, all with varying degrees of success. Writers learn to discern quickly when something meets the need of the moment, the client, the assignment, the vision, the expectation, the expression, even the higher purpose when a greater objective is at stake.

It can be difficult to see when it doesn’t, and even harder to let it go.

Most of our work is so personal, filled with love and pain and secrets we wouldn’t tell unless the story benefited. They are that friend who demands attention at the least convenient moments, who forces you to see and make peace with the thorn in your heel you pretend you don’t feel any more, who leads you by the hand through tearful memories and makes you laugh at your own ridiculousness.

A book is a stimulating, even if infuriating, confidante. The one you need right then. Some are not meant to be with you until the end.

I wrote a book. Another one, that is. Another memoir — this one named Laugh at the Sky, Kid, inspired by the Buddhist saying. I took my time. I wrote a draft, worked on it, sat with it, offered it to both professional and trusted amateur editors, revised it, honed it, fed it, talked to it, gave it time to breathe, then took the big step of adding FINAL to its filename and my address to the cover page.

It is challenging and joyful, full of jagged truth and flowing hope. It is an invitation to anyone lost and searching in the beginning of their personal spiritual journey, as I once was. It lights one path toward greater grace and purpose, and therefore illuminates the limitless number of paths available to everyone.

I love it. Most of the people who have read it love it. Friends and family, of course, but even the writers and influencers who I have shared it with have been enormously supportive. It’s one of the reasons I hung on to her for so long.

The publishing industry, not so much. The book is difficult to place neatly in a category, making it seem tough to market despite my willingness to travel non-traditional marketing paths on my own. But right now publishers don’t have patience for noncompliant, even if enthusiastic, writers.

No bother, I said. And I meant it. I was committed to this work’s message. It had something to say beyond words and I believed it was created to be shared.

I’m smart, I said. I know people. I’m willing to spend the time and money to do this “right.” I can do it myself, get creative with distribution models. Start beneath the soil and nurture a beautiful independent commerce blossom, bright enough to be seen by anyone who needs to see it.

And so, in 2014 I committed to self-publishing in 2015 if no publishing deal was struck by then. By mid-2015, I changed the date to 2016. I believed it was because I was saving enough money to do it professionally and in a manner reflecting the purpose of the book. As the second half of 2015 arrived and self-publishing seemed more imminent, I decided to re-read this beloved manuscript that had been sitting in my laptop untouched for months.

Hm.

It needs…something, I thought. It doesn’t speak as clearly as it once did, I admitted. I’d evolved as a writer, and to revise it accordingly would require a significant amount of work, but that wasn’t it.

I’d evolved as a person and a spirit. The book, forever fixed in time, hadn’t.

This invitation I issued from my heart and soul back in 2014 doesn’t speak the same language any more. The words are identical, the ideas and stories unchanged, but everything around them has shifted, including me. Especially me. The story doesn’t resonate the way it once did. My life continues, my perception of it changes as it goes, and the world turns and evolves faster with each passing moment. Our collective human tale has transformed just enough that this particular version of mine no longer contributes to it in a way that is meaningful, or at least meaningful enough for me to spend the time and energy to publish and promote it.

Forcing it would only shove something into the world simply because that was the plan all along. If it doesn’t resonate with me anymore, it won’t resonate with anyone. If it feels compulsory, that’s how it will read.

So, through tears I concluded it’s time to make space for something else.

I will miss her, but I have no regrets. I’m glad I wrote it. It accomplished what it was supposed to. I am a different, more aware, more confident, more conscious human, parent, writer and coach for completing it. I am stronger for having struggled through the tough days. I am wiser and happier for what the process revealed. The days I soared and swam and scampered through the literary wilderness, my eyes widened with wonder, I remembered why I do this at all.

Without this piece of writing, I would not be in this place and time, open to what is to come. I will always love it and always be grateful to my dear friend for walking with me for a while.

Thank you for everyone’s interest, support and help over the last few years. It is not wasted energy. I carry it with me moving forward. New ideas are bubbling up and old ideas are showing up in new clothes. I’m just going to pause a minute before I take the next leap. It’s a big step, and I’ve learned over the years to choose my friends wisely.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, visit rebeccagifford.com or email her at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

Happy Holidays: A Ho Ho Ho Meditation

hooooooThe hustle and bustle leave my mind and body as I sink into this chair, reserved for this time and this way. My heart opens. It knows what it needs to do.

I take in a deep breath of pine, cinnamon and family. I breathe out obligations, worry and shipping charges. I close my eyes and let the energy run.

Today I welcome abundant Santa, warm menorah candles and the unconditional love of a boy born in a manger. I choose the sparkly silver that fills the car as my son and I sing about cows and sleigh rides on the drive to school. I free the jaggedy chartreuse of world events and bizarre violence becoming too frequent to be shocking.

Seeing where it came from is worthy. Playing a role in where we’re headed is imperative. But right now is nothing more than space. And the space I occupy is loosely wrapped in tinsel.

Today my heart is bright red and green and tinged with laughter. My holiday table is overflowing with love and abundance. There is plenty to share. It flows out peacefully, covering the earth. It soaks through the dense cities and rolling countrysides, through fault lines and tree lines, all the way to the fire in the belly. It rises up and out in a jubilant rush that fills every molecule, every dark place, every light place and all the spaces in between, and it doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch. A smile. A soft jingle of a bell.

Happy holidays, world.

om

A Meditation for Peace

worldI can feel it already. That familiar spot in that quiet place. Peace is less normal in our world these days, but this time, this space, this chair doesn’t know that. My weight drops into it. Blessed relief.

Take in a deep breath of silence. No news, no chatter, no pictures that aren’t of my own making. Only truth. Breathe out whatever else there is. Close my eyes and let the energy run.

Today, welcome the perfection of the present moment, the confidence of your knowingness, the pure intention of your nature, the wisdom of your soul. Cry for humanity’s hubris and foibles, and celebrate its terrible beauty.

My heart is filled with love and a desire to ease suffering. It is overflowing. There is plenty to share. It flows out, covering the earth, sating the hearts of all those in pain. It soaks through the dense cities and rolling countrysides, through fault lines and tree lines, all the way to the fire in the belly. It rises up and out in a jubilant rush that fills every molecule, every dark place, every light place and all the places in between, and it doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

Love is a tether to the limitless. It is the limitless. In truth, it is all there is. Just keep saying it, I hear. Live it. Be it. It will, eventually, become humanity’s truth.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch.

Much love to you all.

om

Call for comments: Are we too reliant on technology?

cellphonesIt’s in vogue these days to be critical of most people’s frequent use of and strong reliance on smart phones. Even in the broadest sense, it’s a hot topic. The careful balance of power between modern technology/science, human interaction and intention, and traditional (even ancient) beliefs in our modern society comes up more and more frequently in the media and among those in my circle.

The Huffington Post recently published a column by Hector L. Carral that went viral, called Stop Saying Technology Is Causing Social Isolation. I posted it on Facebook along with my story below and asked for comments. As expected, people had things to say. So, I’m posting the link to the article here, and after that you can read my little personal story below if you like. Please feel free to comment or send me your thoughts. Happy typing!

A few years ago, after just moving to Seattle, I took my then-two-year-old son to the beach for some fresh air and a break from the temporary housing. While there, I received an important and potentially volatile email from a client requiring an immediate response. I sat in the sand, typing on my device periodically while also responding to my son when he needed me, as I crafted my reply.

A fellow toddler, his mother and his grandmother wandered over and started playing with Henry. I politely said hello and returned to my task. They played with him for a while and I took little breaks to interact a bit and make sure my son was okay. But really I just wanted a minute to finish my email so I could focus on him. They stayed for a little, completely distracted by the fact that I was typing away, then walked away in a huff, judging me in full voice for finding “texting with my friends more important than playing with my son” and other ways my rudeness illustrated the technology-driven downfall of humanity. Once they left I was able to finish the email quickly and then focus entirely on H for another hour or two of peaceful midday beach play time.

Modern technology offered me the opportunity to diffuse a touchy professional situation (immediately) for a few minutes while sitting in the sand with my son on a lovely day. Once done, I was free to fully engage for as long as I wanted and needed to. It helped both my son and me have a more pleasant day and I accomplished two critical things at the same time. Without knowing the full context of what was going on (since I didn’t want to take the time to divulge it to strangers) the people around me assumed I was being a selfish slave to my phone.

It’s all about perspective and intention. We use the tools and technology we have to accomplish what is important to us–now much more quickly and conveniently than we used to. It’s up to us to decide what we do with that power.

Thoughts? And before you come to my defense saying these people were just judgmental thingamobobs, etc., know they are not alone in their attitude. Society is already judging me, you or anyone they deem too attached to their technology. It’s not about my little story. My son and I are fine. It’s about the larger themes it illustrates. Thanks for reading!

om

Except for the gray

fogToday I walked

In the gray

In the quiet

of the fog.

 

It was my usual path.

Twisted oaks,

golden grass,

steady breath.

 

But the road was obscured,

The path unknown.

Nothing

except my feet,

the autumn chill.

 

A rustle,

a distant engine,

a whisper.

They weren’t with me.

They were not mine.

They couldn’t see me.

 

All I saw was me.

Except for the gray.

It stayed in the shade

waiting for the sun.

 

There is much I don’t know.

And much I do.

 

Right now

the strength of my legs,

the openness of my heart,

That there are still surprises

beyond the fog.

 

What you cannot see yet,

It is as beautiful

and as valuable as

What stands before you

bathed in light.

6 Reality Checks for New Authors

Reality-CheckThe most common questions I get from folks inquiring about my writing coaching services aren’t about writing.

Most people who have written or who want to write a book already write to some extent, probably with some amount of skill. They likely believe completing the manuscript is their strength, or at least something they can figure out along the way, and they probably believe it’s the easiest part of their publishing process.

So, once some new authors get to the part where they’re considering outside help, they are already thinking beyond the manuscript. They have moved on to that imposing question we all face…

What do I do when it’s done?

Their head swimming with the mere notion of literary agents and query drafts, they ask if I have any advice for them. My response is to say the portion of the process beyond writing and editing isn’t my area of expertise. Like many, I’m figuring it out as I go along. That said, I have some tidbits to offer based on my own experience and research.

This is not even close to an exhaustive list of things a new author needs to know, but it contains the reminders I find most valuable as I go through the publishing process myself. And it’s usually enough of a reality check to propel writers new to this world to make some crucial decisions.

  1. Slow down. You’re probably not as done as you think you are.

First-time authors are notoriously full of hubris, and likely a bit naïve, which feeds the hubris. This is said with love and empathy, but it’s the truth. Completing a book is no small task, and everyone who does this should be proud and pleased. But it may or may not be the perfect tome you believe it to be. The process of getting it where it needs to be to compete with all the other books clamoring for limited publishing space will be challenging, and even the most experienced authors need lots of help along the way.

This wake-up call will happen. There’s no avoiding it. And, it’s a good thing. The most effective way to accomplish it is to attend a writer’s conference, talk to lots of people and even pay for feedback from an editor or agent if this is offered. You’ll come out the other side feeling a bit squashed, but much more savvy and wise. Any amount of research online or a browse through the writing and publishing advice section at your local bookstore may offer a similar experience.

The most valuable thing I learned was slow down. Edit your manuscript. Now edit it again. Now edit it again. Have friends or colleagues who are writers and/or avid readers and will be honest with you read it and send you their observations and reactions. Join a (good) writer’s workshop if that’s available or appealing to you. Now have at least one reputable professional editor critique and/or edit it. Take the time to thoughtfully and sincerely consider everyone’s comments and get a little time away from the manuscript. Now read it like you’ve never seen it before and edit and rewrite as necessary. Now have someone proofread it. Now go through it again and make sure it’s as good as you know how to make it before you even think of sending out queries.

The biggest mistake new authors make is rushing. Or assuming their publisher or agent or an e-book reader will forgive major story flaws, amateurish writing or errors made because they were in a hurry to get it out into the market.

Take your time to create the book you can send out without a moment’s hesitation. Most publishers will only publish books that meet the high standards they and most readers have—quality writing, engaging content, and a unique voice and/or perspective being some of the biggies. They can teach you some of the rest (even if they don’t want to), but they can’t and won’t teach you how to write.

  1. It may be more than you thought you were getting into.

The industry is evolving rapidly, mostly due to the advent of e-books and social media marketing. Even some of the larger houses are still in the process of catching up and are cutting budgets, advances and staff. This means their sales expectations are typically high, which means they have a narrowing view of what books are worthy of their investment, which means you must meet some pretty specific criteria to be published by them. This does not mean your book isn’t good or even great. It just means they aren’t convinced it will sell with minimal effort and expense.

There are a lot of specialty and small publishing houses, which is where you (or your agent) may have better luck. But just like the larger houses, they are tightening their belts, offering little to no advances and asking for extensive rights to your book and often future work.

Before approaching any agent or publisher, you must have a strong sense of how to market your book and a willingness to do the vast majority yourself.

To that end, you will need a stellar query letter and a solid marketing proposal. You can find great advice and some good examples of these documents both online and in the myriad of books about them. I often tell new authors to start with Writer’s Market’s online subscription content, then figure out for themselves the experts and lists that are most helpful to them. There also are some professionals who specialize in getting you through this part of the process. (Here are links to Rabid Badger and Author Biz Consulting, as examples of folks who are happy to help.)

You will be expected to have not only a detailed idea of who will want to buy your book and how to reach them, but already have an impressive number of them in the hopper via social media, blog followers, podcast/newsletter/website/YouTube subscribers, radio show listeners and TV viewers, students/clients/customers, etc. The magic number will vary depending on the size of the house you or your potential agent approach.

At minimum, if you don’t already have a blog, start one and start promoting it more assertively. If you haven’t signed up for Twitter or don’t have a website or Facebook page related to your book or its content, get that going. There’s a ton more to talk about here, but it’s not my wheelhouse and it would take days to detail all the potential outlets and offer advice about the best ways to market via the web and social media. A good Google search will reveal the many, many much more qualified professionals and resources that are happy to offer advice along these lines.

  1. Know your book and why it is worth it.

The benefit of being forced to write a great query and marketing plan is that you have a built-in opportunity to soul search. It’s also a necessary business-oriented wake-up call, don’t get me wrong, and an opportunity to figure out how (and maybe if) this is all going to work. But it also is an opportunity to commit to words, as briefly as possible, why this book is worthy of your attention and the attention of potential readers.

[A quick note: If you’re in it for the money, stop reading and go find some other outlet for your energy, time and hard-earned cash.]

Why are you passionate about this story or topic?

Why is your perspective or story unique?

Why are you willing to commit to the publishing process knowing there likely isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

What will readers get from this book and why is it important for them to get it?

Are you propelled by vanity and ego, or do you have something meaningful to say?

Are you willing and able to speak openly and authoritatively about everything in your book to whomever will listen?

Bottom line: What is your intention, are you able to carry it off, and is it enough to sustain you through what will be months of pounding the literary pavement?

  1. Don’t be afraid to do it on your own, but do it well and go in with your eyes wide open.

If you don’t think you can or you don’t want to do it in a way that satisfies the traditional publishing industry, you have options. Self-publishing is more respectable and a lot easier to do well than it used to be. Depending on how you do it, it allows you to keep all of the rights and all or most of the profit.

I recommend doing it with an eye toward quality and professionalism. That means more than putting it on Amazon for a couple of dollars. If you don’t know how or you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, there are professionals and services to help you do everything from cover design and e-book formatting to setting up virtual book tours, depending on how much you’re willing to spend.

It’s a lot of work, but if the intention for the book and your commitment to it is strong enough, it can be done and done successfully. Ingrid Ricks self-published her memoir Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story and ended up on the New York Times Bestseller list for e-book nonfiction. Then it was picked up by Penguin Random House’s Berkeley Books. More on this fascinating and inspiring story here (Ingrid Ricks’s Great Escape).

That said, self-publishing also is not for the faint-hearted. More than 400,000 books are self-published every year. A great article on the reality of self-publishing can be found here (What Your Friends Can’t Tell You About Your Self-Published Book).

  1. Believe that you will reach who you’re meant to reach.

This is a lot. I know. I can feel all of your heads being cradled in your now-clammy and overwhelmed hands. Once I offer various versions of this advice to current or potential clients, some lose heart. That’s okay. There are no wrong choices. The good news is that if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve probably got the goods to make a go of it.

If you believe you are meant to reach people with the message of your book, then you are. They are there. Every book has an audience. Every book with positive intentions affects someone positively. Even if you have a message that’s been offered before, it has never before been offered by you. Because you haven’t said it yet, there are some who haven’t been able to hear it yet. If you’re okay with the notion that it may only be a few dozen people hearing it instead of 100,000, then I encourage you to move forward.

  1. Enjoy it. Own it.

What we focus on is what we cultivate. Though the reality check of the post-writing publishing process can be a jagged pill at first, especially for typically introverted writers, it also can be extremely gratifying and even joyful. Allow yourself to fully experience it and even like it.

See the feedback and editing process as a master class in writing.View the query process as a creative exercise and opportunity to own and spread the energy of your book. See the rejections and non-responses as preparation for the inevitable (but hopefully rare) negative reader reviews. Approach the marketing process as an opportunity to affect people directly and get immediate feedback, not just a necessary evil.

Along those lines, don’t be afraid to spread the good news about your book. No matter the outcome, it’s a great accomplishment, so own it. Once you’ve gone through this process, you should have the language to do just that, and do so genuinely, comfortably and confidently.

Remember, speaking well of your book and your expertise doesn’t mean your ego has taken over the henhouse and suddenly you’re a braggadocios rooster. When you do it with heart it just means you believe in your work and you know it’s worthy of being read and discussed.

And you know what? You’re right.

Stay strong!

Happy writing.

om

Rebecca is an author, copywriter, writing coach and editor. Find out more about that here and here. Her next book, titled the same as her blog, will be available in 2016. Find out more about that here.

In gratitude for the darkness

spiral fallPerhaps it’s the seasons shifting and dusk arriving earlier that remind me to thank those who have offered the greatest growth. Now is as good a time as any. Better, in fact, since I need to get it done before the sun goes down.

Thank you to those who have generously shown me their dark places, whether they were also able to show me their light or not. I saw it anyway.

Thank you to those who directed their energy my way and lit up the hidden fractures I was unable to see before. I can see them now.

Thank you to all who did things they believed required forgiveness, asked for forgiveness and therefore showed me all the ways I needed to forgive myself.

Thank you to all who never asked for forgiveness and showed me even more clearly all the ways I needed to forgive myself.

Thank you to everyone who withheld their love and taught me that love for myself is the only love that is required.

Thank you to those who have judged, ridiculed, diminished, feared, patronized and ignored me. You make it easier for me to see when I do this to others.

Thank you to the people who behave hurtfully because they are mistreated, overlooked, misunderstood, confused, abused, depleted or sick. You remind me that everyone deserves love and compassion, simply because they are. But you need it more than most.

Thank you to everyone who has emerged from their own darkness, embraced their vulnerability and shared even one small moment of it with me. You have taught me we are all made of beautiful shade and light, and we live in the complex gray areas in between.

Autumn is about fading and shadows, endings, and the loss required for rebirth. It is a path to night and winter’s quiet. That’s why it is beautiful. It offers an opportunity to see and embrace even those parts that are most shaded, knowing they will lead once again to the light.

I am profoundly grateful to those who have shown me, guided me to or walked with me through the darkness.

Have a peaceful autumn.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and services, visit rebeccagifford.com.

Using technology to connect to ourselves

Laptop on stumpTechnology is not the devil. There, I said it. Whew.

What a relief to admit that I don’t believe that email, the Internet, smart phones, Bluetooths, social media, YouTube, online news, television, radio, podcasts, blogs and vlogs portend the end of civilization. That they are so interwoven into our daily lives does reveal that civilization is changing extremely and quickly. So, perhaps it reveals the end of civilization as we know it and that we are smack in the middle of a massive paradigm shift most of us feel in our very cells…but not the demise of all.

Perhaps what makes us feel sometimes like the end of the world is nigh is that we are still struggling with the balance between embracing the new—innovations that help us connect, evolve and expand—and continuing to use and learn from the old—indigenous cultures, nature’s wisdom, naturopathic medicine, long form storytelling, human contact, the art of conversation and, most importantly, the spiritual connection and self-awareness that brings profound healing.

I believe it’s possible, and vital, to embrace both. (And, between you and me, this is the major theme of a novel currently in the works.) So, nothing thrills me more than when I discover a “new” use of technology that serves as a bridge to one of the less concrete qualities of the “old.”

I believe that’s its truest and highest purpose.

Reply All is a podcast about the Internet produced by Gimlet and hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. It tells poignant, weird and funny stories about how people use and react to the Internet. It produced its eighth episode in January, but as I’ve just discovered these 15- to 25-minute audio nuggets I just listened to this one about Paul Ford. He is a writer and programmer who creates Web sites to address most of his life issues, including a site to remind him of things decades away and a weight loss site only he and his therapist have access to where he records his daily calorie counts.

Healing through technology innovation, and a little humor

Paul also struggles with paralyzing anxiety. As he describes on the podcast, he constantly hears that niggling, negative voice in his head telling him he’s weird and bad and in danger, no matter what is really going on. His reaction, create anxietybox.com.

Here’s how it works. The site—or, more accurately, the bot inside the site—essentially outsources his anxiety’s voice. He can add as many anxieties as he likes and his email address, and the site sends him messages from his anxieties.

The horrible, negative things he used to hear in his head—e.g., “History will forget you because history forgets people who are unable to finish anything.” Or, my favorite, “People on Facebook look at your picture and think ‘in possession of a weird nose.’”—are sent to him throughout the day. They’re funny, but ruthless.

As I listened to the examples Paul read, I cringed. The host was similarly skeptical. Why would anyone subject themselves to these negative reinforcements? How could that possibly help? He was losing me fast.

But then Paul described his reaction, and I changed my mind completely.

Because he externalized his anxiety’s voice, he was able to look at it. Laugh at it. Even reply. He could see it for exactly what it was: his mind and ego, trapped in a cycle of anxiety and self doubt, intelligently crafting ways to make his true self feel badly.

Once he saw it, everything shifted. He understood the pattern of suffering and its source, and he was able to put it all into a broader perspective that helped him minimize its effect.

In Paul’s words: “It’s so ridiculous to scream at yourself all day long… Seeing it actually externalized as 20 messages in a Gmail inbox, it was so much like what my brain was producing. It was like, oh my god, I’ve been wasting so much time with this son of a bitch.”

Because of this simple technology, created by him, he was able to see the anxiety as something separate from his true self, soften it and eventually stop having anxiety attacks altogether.

He reminded me of a critical but tough lesson: awareness brings healing, and eventually peace. Once we are willing to acknowledge and truly see something or someone for what it is or who they are, their power over us diminishes. In the light of our gaze, it can only be exactly what it is. With the clarity of truth, we see ourselves for the perfectly flawed and mighty beings we are.

Truly looking at the things or people in our lives that we have created unhealthy patterns around is difficult. But once the truth has been seen, it can’t be unseen.

Anxietybox.com. Genius. Counterintuitive at first glance. But truly moving in its simplicity. Paul intuitively used what he knew—technology—to build a bridge to what he needed. This time it connected it to himself.

It doesn’t get more old school than that.

om

To find out more about Reply All, go here. To find out more about anxietybox.com, go here. To subscribe to updates on Rebecca’s upcoming memoir, Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go here. To find out more about her writing and coaching services, go here.

A Meditation for Dealing with the Crazy

swirlImages and thoughts surround me, circling around and within. But I can feel it already. That familiar spot in that quiet space. They all slow down, waiting to see if I will set them free.

My heart opens. I see the world and so many of its inhabitants continuing to spin, too fast to be able to see anything but a blur. We are distracted by comb-overs, county clerks, rivers of refugees and hashtag movements. We are overcome by life. But our hearts know it is only a dream. My mind tries to recreate memories, pictures and lingering pain—my own and others’—but I remember: my center is always calm, always open, always connected, always available.

I take in a deep breath of joy. For being alive in this tumultuous, confounding time. For knowing my place in the shift. I breathe out confusion, fear and the judgment that can only come from feeling separate. I close my eyes and let the energy run.

Today I welcome the silliness of a playground, the warmth of a bowl of homemade food, the laughter that comes when someone truly sees you and still wants to be with you. I welcome the ability to watch closely, speak carefully and create change without revisiting the anger.

Simplicity is healing. This moment is all there is. Connection is real. Love is the truth.

Today my heart is filled with a desire to help and heal, to slow the merry-go-round long enough for everyone to just be. It is overflowing. There is plenty to share. It pours out resolutely, covering the earth. It soaks through the dense cities and rolling countrysides, through fault lines and tree lines, all the way to the fire in the belly. It rises up and out in a jubilant rush that fills every molecule, every dark place, every light place and all the places in between, and it doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

My mind opens, and all that churns within is released. It rises to the sun, explodes in fireworks of transformation and rains pure gold upon us all.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch. A smile of relief.

I wish you peace, world.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and services, visit laughattheskykid.com and rebeccagifford.com.

5 Ways to Avoid Being Misled, Deceived or Otherwise Hoodwinked

overprotected2We’ve all been there. You discover a secret, a deception, a falsification of fact or identity. It could be relatively innocent, perhaps finding out a friend lied about being busy to avoid a social occasion and didn’t want to hurt your feelings or your bachelor neighbor fibs about being divorced.

But sometimes it’s a whopper—a web of lies carefully spun and expertly crafted over the years with a deft hand, using the unique combination of words she knew you wouldn’t be able to doubt.

Once the truth is out, you and your ego feel hurt, angry, naïve, vulnerable, and—even though my son would call me out for saying this forbidden word—stupid. You begin to wonder if “they” make seeing eye dogs when your third eye is on the fritz. Are there spirit guides who hover next to your head and tug on your left earlobe when someone isn’t truthful? Two tugs when it’s a big one worth challenging.

I suppose you can get one if you like. I heard they might be available for a limited time on the astral plane, or craigslist. But, if you follow the below airtight tips, you won’t need one. There are things you can do that are (nearly) guaranteed to help you avoid the catastrophe and interminable burn of human betrayal.

Protect yourself. Build those firewalls carefully, people. Make them strong using concrete, cynicism, mistrust and doubts about the human spirit. Without impenetrable barriers, defensive weaponry and other forms of protection, who knows what kind of lies or energy or magic can creep into your space and taint everything, maim your dog and ruin Christmas. If you can’t fire at will upon what may or may not be out there with your worst interests at heart, what is the use of trying at all? And keep all your passwords in a safe place.

Keep quiet. Never share your thoughts, your truth or your real feelings. Openness only reveals you to be weak and vulnerable to attack. When asked nosy questions like “What would you like?” or “How are you?” change the subject, accidentally topple the interrogator’s drink or, better yet, distract them by pointing out a squirrel on a tree and run away. Best to evade any attempted intimacy or follow-up questions.

Avoid human interaction, relationships and all forms of social media. Repeat after me: Connection is bad. Knowledge is worse. We were meant to be distant. Communication should be difficult and slow. Relationships are supposed to be hard. These days we’re all way too close to each other. All this interconnectedness just gets us in trouble, and frequency of interaction—in-person, soul to soul or digital—only gives everyone more opportunity to share stories and spread falsehoods.

Don’t try to understand. It only opens the door to empathy. And empathy, my friend, is not your friend. Questions only lead to more information and more connection, both of which I’ve already explained are an enemy of any committed Deception Dodger. If you look for the pain, doubt or isolation that led to the lies, what’s to keep you from feeling these yourself? What’s to keep you from becoming a liar? You’ve never lied before, and you’ve surely never felt any pain that would induce you to mislead. So why start now? Best to allow them to wallow in their guilt and what surely is an uncomplicated existence focusing on only two things: a) deceiving you and 2) hurting you. Just leave them to it.

Never, ever love. Even if you don’t take any of these other tips to heart, please heed this one. To be a true friend, partner or family member—to truly love—is the most vulnerable and hopeful thing you can do. So, of course, it’s absolutely forbidden if you want to avoid being betrayed by your fellow human beings. And with our inherently flawed nature, how could any of us deserve it? It wouldn’t make any difference if we chose to offer love to someone who feels like they must lie to survive, or questions themselves so much they’re not sure what truth is anymore, or is caught in a cycle of addiction, programming, disease or imbalance that makes reality unbearable. To do that would validate them, acknowledge what they’ve done and why, or perhaps even help them. Worst-case scenario: you might forgive them.

And finally… We live in a universe where we have free will but our shared consciousness, our collective journey as both humans and souls, our beautifully complicated web of lives and identities, means we are all in this together. When one tether of the web shakes or falters, we all do. Some of us are closer to the shaky ones than others and more profoundly feel their imbalance, often manifested as deception inadvertently directed at us.

There are lots of ways to handle it once it happens. Or you could simply follow the easy steps I’ve outlined above. Your choice.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and coaching services, visit rebeccagifford.com. To get updates on the publication of her memoir, visit laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!

Book Excerpt: Parents, are you ready for unconditional love?

 

Illustration by Kate Whitley www.littlethingsstudio.com
Illustration by Kate Whitley
http://www.littlethingsstudio.com

There are two reasons I’m finally posting an excerpt from my hopefully soon-to-be published book with the same title as this blog.

a) I haven’t been writing about parenting much lately, even though it was one of the main intentions behind starting this blog. When I asked myself why, I realized I put most of my best writing about my son and my own parenting experiences in said book. I decided it’s time to move the veil and share some of it.

2) People are naturally curious and asking me about it. A lot. I understand. In this era of instant gratification through technology, reader patience is short.

I’ve been talking about it for a bit now, and was working on it for quite a bit before that. The publishing process is slow and, truth be told, the manuscript hasn’t found a forever home just yet. So, in an effort to appease, tease and keep the energy around the book moving along that magical path to full maturity, I’ve chosen most of a later chapter to share with you below.

It tells a portion of our adoption story, but more importantly it describes the universal parental struggle to figure out what kind of parent you want to be and what unconditional love truly means. I hope you enjoy it.

——-

Larry sat across from me in an identical soft chair, his one-click video recorder in his hand. The bustle of businesspeople and tourists starting their sunny spring morning in Tainan City in southern Taiwan swirled around us, but we were plastered to our seats, terrified of moving too fast or too soon toward the cab ride to the nursery where our son had been waiting for us for more than ten months. If we are too eager to touch him to prove he’s real, does he blow away?

“What do you want to say?” Larry asked, holding up the camera to begin his detailed video memorializing the day.

So much, I thought. I wanted to tell him how excited I was, how long we’d waited, how many things he’d already taught us. I wanted him to know how I adored his home country and looked forward to introducing it to him. In only four days we’d seen so much of this strange yet familiar place, we began to feel at home. We navigated Taipei’s crowded Shilin Night Market holding a map hand-drawn by the young woman at the National Palace Museum jewelry counter and a list of items to buy at her favorite fried food stall, all written out in Chinese characters so anyone along our path could help if we needed it. We hung on for dear life as the rickety public bus took us to aboriginal Wulai for a hot spring soak and a trip up the mountain in the tiniest train in Asia. Only the day before, we’d spent a sunny morning at the original Confucius Temple across the street from soupy, sweet dumplings both Taiwanese and Western bloggers claim are the best in the country. We wandered into a Tainan tea shop looking to buy a proper set and were invited to an afternoon tea service by a group of elderly regulars who spoke only Taiwanese, rendering our English to Mandarin phrase book useless but reminding us kindness is a universal language. I felt so comfortable in his culture; I had to have spent some time here in another life.

Instead of all of these stories that surely would be told when he was old enough to ask, I said what I’d been saying to myself for months. “I just want to meet him.” I’d only uttered it out loud once before.

The past few months had been both the most excruciating and the most beautiful time of my life and our marriage. Waiting in a bubble of absolute lack of control, feeling a bond with a child on the other side of the world, gaining legal custody even, but not seeing or hearing anything of him for weeks. If I could have given up reality for a constant meditative state, I would have. It was the one place I knew I always could find refuge from all my expectations. My higher self, now a constant conversation companion even when I’m not in the mood for her company, reminded me many times that we don’t live to meditate with the divine. We meditate to help us live in the divine. “Thank you, higher self,” I said, giving her a sarcastic smirk…

…Larry and I were slowly realizing that we wanted to parent largely differently from how we previously believed we should. We wanted to allow our son the freedom to learn and explore his own truth in his own way and in his own time. I still didn’t know exactly what that meant, what we as parents would look like, or what choices we would make when the time came. Would we fold like a lawn chair when the shit hit the fan? I only knew our child and our family would be so different from those we understood that we would be required to throw out most of what we thought we knew.

Our trip to Henry neared and the nesting process was full of all the expected fear and excitement, but mostly curiosity. My mantra held true. Who was he? What were his preferences and quirks? How would he change the dynamic of our home? Would he get along with our beloved Pepperjack, who by all accounts was resistant to the mere suggestion of competition?

We were already in love with him. The stories and photos provided a small sense of his personality. We knew he was easily amused, easily frustrated, a showman, requiring a lot of human interaction and not afraid to speak out to get it, a good eater, small but freakishly strong. And more than once we practiced our new skills by checking in on him during meditation and sleep.

There already was a recognition of his energy, that we knew each other previously, that we were becoming a family in this lifetime to accomplish significant things. We are coming together to help keep each other in check and open up to what is to come.

“Your child is special,” I heard over and over.

“I know,” I responded.

“No, really.”

“Okay,” I said. Deep breath. “What do I do?”

Silence. For now.

When you are truly open to a new idea, a new way, but don’t yet have any vision or certainty about how to live in it, the universe eventually shows you what you crave. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. With impatience and a haunting sense of responsibility, I sat back and waited for my new teachers to appear.

My friend Sally’s daughter is a very sensitive, very gifted, very connected healer and human being. I don’t know her well; I believe I insulted her the first time we met. We were the only two energy healers participating in a promotional open house for her mother’s new company offering chair massages, healings and other kinds of group energy sessions to companies and organizations. Sally asked her daughter to lead an opening meditation for the practitioners. She was a teenager at the time and I was in my late thirties and, I’m ashamed to admit, my ego set my jaw in a familiar clench as she explained how she didn’t do what “other healers” did and mixed and matched techniques and such. Rather than seeing her youth and pure intentions, I saw a whippersnapper trying to set herself apart from the only other energy healer for the day, and doing so inaccurately. When the chair massage therapist I was sitting next to asked me what I do, I said, perhaps a little too loudly, “I don’t rely upon only one technique either.” She avoided me the rest of the day, but as I caught glimpses of her work in the area next to mine, I knew she was a bright light to be reckoned with. I knew Sally understood what it’s like to be responsible for such a human being.

After a healing trade beside her warm suburban pool, Sally gave me the simplest and truest parenting advice I’ve ever received. I was bemoaning my self awareness that I truly have no idea what I’m doing, especially since we have no idea what kind of development issues Henry might have or how he might be behind when it comes to walking and talking, and neither the parenting classes we took at the adoption agency nor the books we’ve been reading really address that too well. Plus, there’s the whole bonding thing that we hoped wouldn’t be too difficult.

When I stopped, she said, “The only thing you really have to do is love him unconditionally. The rest will come in time.”

Unconditional love? That’s all? Then what were all these parenting classes for? I got this, I thought, and relaxed into my post-session glass of water and glints of sunshine reflecting off the pool.

By the weekend, I was already questioning myself and checking this new information against all I’d learned. Quantum parenting. Clairvoyant motherhood. Nature Mama. These are fantastic aspirations, but what do these grand designs mean when your child takes his first steps or vomits into his fruit bowl? If the universe we’ve created is a meticulous illusion created by us to allow for growth, then the small moments have to mean as much as the broad philosophies. If our reality is just a reflection of our own energy and beliefs, then with every interaction we potentially impose our version of reality onto our children about everything from food to sexuality. Our beliefs about others, but also our beliefs about ourselves. How we treat others, but also how we treat ourselves. Ultimately, how we love ourselves. These things determine how we treat our children. Somewhere at the end of this internal tirade I recognized the bare truth: I am only able to love my child as well as I love myself.

“Do you love yourself unconditionally?” I heard.

I considered it, but I already knew the answer. “I have happiness, peace, love and gratitude,” I said. “I’ve healed so much, forgiven so much. I know my intentions are good. Does that count?”

“Sure,” she said. “But it doesn’t answer the question.”

Unconditional love. I’ve felt it. I feel it every day from my husband. I knew it was possible. I’d had glimpses of it, moments of perfection and absolute knowingness. I’ve walked on the clouds, crawled in the dirt, swam through the seas and sped to the stars. I’ve felt as small as a molecule and as large as the universe at the same time. I’ve sat in meditation and suddenly lost all feeling and sense of the chair beneath my body or the walls and ceilings around me. I’ve experienced both the bright light of all and the peace of endless space. I know beings who exist in a realm beyond my human comprehension but are with me the moment I need them. I am part of a collective consciousness that emanates from a source of love that knows no bounds. I have felt the reasons why, and they have nothing to do with who I am or how I live and everything to do with the fact that I am. You are. And therefore we both are worthy of love.

These are lovely words and magnificent experiences. But when my higher self asked if I loved even my big butt, tendency to come across as a know-it-all and non-producing ovaries, I couldn’t say yes.

I know unconditional love. Yet, I still believed this universal truth, creator, source energy, Spirit, whatever God is and whatever love these things may offer comes only from without. I sadly confessed that I believed there were times when I deserved more of its love than others.

The tears came then as oceans of memories and regrets. Reasons I remained unworthy. False humility masking internal self-flagellation as I held lifetimes of misdeeds in my heart like Scarlet As, reviewing flashes of them like a horror movie, refusing to take them off for fear of repeating.

The greatest knowing can arrive in less than a moment, and not less than a moment before you’re ready to receive it. In a flicker, the tirade ended, the movie stopped, my brain was quiet, and I knew the only karma we keep or feel the desire to resolve is the karma we believe still exists. At the point it no longer serves you, you must let it go. I knew as well as I knew anything that those I’d wronged have long since forgiven me and now are too busy spending lifetimes resolving their own misdeeds to worry about mine. Even if they haven’t, it wasn’t their forgiveness that was the key to my salvation. It was time for me to forgive myself.

And so it was. Just like that. Well, first there were multiple lifetimes of growth and recent mountains of self-discovery and healing. Then there was forgiveness. And then unconditional love.

I could see straight through to the answer to my questions. I saw that it’s not a matter of whether I love myself. I am love. It’s not a matter of finding God or even determining whether God exists. I am whatever I believe God to be or not be. I don’t need to go somewhere to find the light. The light shines from within. How do I know? Because I am. How do I know Henry, no matter how he comes to us, is a piece of perfection right here on Earth? Because he is.

Larry and I clutched hands the entire cab ride to the nursery, and not only because driving in Tainan is like navigating a congested demolition derby track. I still had no idea what I was doing or what kind of mother I would be, but I felt more comfortable with the uncertainty of so much as long as I had the certainty of what mattered. Somehow I knew that Henry would tell me how to be his mother, if I only loved him.

We sat in the receiving room for two hours before Henry arrived. He was sick with bronchitis, drowsy from medicine and thoroughly confused about who these two nervous, smiling white people were. When the nurse put him in my arms a wave of pure love and compassion washed over us all. Nothing else mattered. He was my son, and he was absolutely perfect. I was glad to finally meet him. I wondered what he would teach me first.

om

 

Comments and conversation are always welcome below. To sign up for updates on the availability of Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go to www.laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!

Why losing your work is the best thing that could possibly happen

oh-noThe world is crashing. First United Airlines, now the New York Stock Exchange. My mind fills with conspiracy theories, but I truly have empathy for anyone feeling the pinch of these hacks…er, system glitches. In honor of the day’s excitement, I’m re-posting an earlier blog proclaiming the virtues of a clean slate and a fresh start. Whether it be created by an evil virus or simply a symptom of poor planning, it’s an opportunity to (re)create something great.

Seize it! And happy writing.

————–

My friend Rita recently posted a social media rant. It was peaceful and polite, but still a rant. She’d just spent hours on a beautiful short story, her computer did something-or-other and all of her work disappeared into the virtual equivalent of that place where all lost socks go.

She was understandably devastated, angry, frustrated and cursing her faulty auto-save feature and back-up gods. It was the first story in a collection she’s working on after being away from writing for some time focusing on her photography business (click here to go to Knots and Tots Photography) and other pursuits. She was proud of what I’m sure was a connected, creative and beautifully written piece. She was proud she’d finished it at all. Now she has nothing concrete to show for that time.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com or send her a note at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

It’s terrible. Heartbreaking. I’m sorry it happened to her. It’s happened to many of us at some point, and to me several times, including to an entire chapter of my most recent book. It is a loss and I have empathy.

But losing her work was probably the best thing that could have happened to Rita in that moment. It’s a lesson I share with my writing coaching clients, but often it doesn’t sink in until something like this happens.

All art, even very personal art, is only temporary. Writing is just energy. It’s frequency, intention, ideas and emotion made manifest into conscious form through words. It can and will be reimagined, reformed, recreated and reborn infinitely. It will be absorbed, perceived and reacted to (or not) differently by everyone who experiences it – often not just a little differently, but vastly differently. Once the reader absorbs it, it becomes something else. This lovely, thoughtful, creative, edited, downloaded, uploaded and intimate labor of love…it shifts, melds with the reader’s energy and essentially disappears the moment it’s been shared.

Not to worry, what you create is yours for a time. It’s connected to you, even a part of you. Most of the time it’s extremely personal. That’s why it’s so hard to watch it go earlier than you intended because you forgot to set up your iCloud backup. Once it’s released out into the world, it’s no longer yours anyway. It becomes something universal and collective. It’s a wisp, a wave, a series of codes.

There are three important lessons the universe reminds me of every time I lose my writing:

  1. There are no coincidences. If you lose a piece, even a brilliant one, there is a reason. It wasn’t meant to exist in this form. Perhaps it was a sacrifice so you could learn the universal truth that everything is always changing. Perhaps your ego or identity was too connected to it. Perhaps expectations about publication, reaction or success were too present in its creation. Whatever the reason, somehow the universe knew that it would have a greater impact if it went away and your perception was forced to shift. So it did.
  2. If you can let it go, what you create next will be even better. Every time – I mean every time – the next version of the work I lost was better than the first. And often not just a little better. Usually it’s a lot better. With time and space to germinate and reimagine its creation, you have an opportunity to tell a better story. With no ties to the previous structure or word choices, you have the freedom to explore a different path. With a sense of urgency to make up for the lost time, you are more inclined to write economically and make more thoughtful choices. As you revisit the same content again, your comfort level with it is greater. In its second draft, as with all second drafts, it becomes something more. Only this time you have the opportunity to work from a clean slate, and the result is always much better than the first.
  3. Writing well requires unconditional love. You need to love and embrace what you’re doing, every part of it, including the blocks, the doubt, the fear, the rejection. Even what Anne Lamott refers to as “shitty first drafts,” the computer glitches, the time you’re stuck in a meeting or in traffic while the fantastic idea or story you just wrote in your head floats away. These are all critical parts of the process and, as #1 clarifies, it’s all meant to happen on the path to the work you can’t wait to share with the world.  More importantly, writers need to have unconditional love for themselves as they experience all of this. Great writing is truly a labor of love and more. In this day and age there isn’t a lot of material or professional gratification to be found at the end of the Road of Persistence. The path is absolutely worth it – for the promise of great work, storytelling, connection, growth, self-expression, fun, contribution to the greater good, reaching the people who need to hear what you have to say, and the potential of at least enough abundance to continue your work. But it isn’t easy, you will make “mistakes,” and you won’t always handle them well. It’s okay. All the more reason to love yourself, forgive yourself, believe in what you’re doing and move forward.

So, Rita, please keep writing. Make sure you save early and often and have a computer back-up plan in place, but keep doing it. Because of this temporary setback, you will be a better, stronger writer and ultimately more people will benefit from your stories and perspective. I promise. Whatever you wrote once the fury subsided likely was fantastic. I can’t wait to read it.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com. For more info on her upcoming memoir Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go to laughattheskykid.com.

10 Things Great Fathers Know How to Be

Photo by: Larry Gifford
Photo credit: Larry Gifford

Each father is as different as their own story and the children they’ve chosen to have in their life. I know some fantastic ones, including the one I share my life and parenting privileges with. In honor of Father’s Day, I’m offering the reasons these fathers are so great.

You are strong. You look your children and the world in the eyes whether you are standing in the center of your talents or on the edges of your vulnerabilities.

You are serious, but not for too long. Your natural silliness will not be contained. You’ve learned laughing with your children is not only loads of fun, but an elixir for you and for humanity.

You are boundlessly supportive. You sincerely wish your children a joyful life lived true to who they are, full of purpose and passion, even if it takes them on an unfamiliar path leading away from you.

You know love. You allow yourself to feel it, receive it and share it with your children in every moment of your time together, and even when you are apart.

You notice. You see when they are in pain. You help when you are needed. You smile when they’ve learned something new all on their own or they do something clever or kind when they don’t know you’re looking.

beachguysYou play. You go all in, every time, even when you’re exhausted, even when you’ve been playing the same game for two hours and the minute you start to walk away your child asks yet again, “Daddy, will you play with me?” You show them how to commit to a storyline and stick with a Lego project even when it’s tougher than usual. You are a playing machine, because you know that’s how they learn and grow.

You share. When you were a boy, you probably fought your siblings or friends for food, toys, control of the TV and attention. You learned to give up the fight when it was futile and to share because kindness was easier and made everyone happy, including you. Therefore, it is perfectly okay when you make a snack for yourself and your child climbs onto your lap and asks, “What are we having?” It just makes sense that people are drawn to their magnificent light before they notice you. It feels natural to share your highest quality time with them. And when they love Peppa Pig but not Top Chef, you snort with Peppa together.

You refuse the recognition. It bothers you when people, society and the media celebrate you and other fathers for changing diapers, for doing half the cooking, for taking off work to go to parent-teacher conferences, for learning the dance routine, for knowing where the band-aids and the fabric softener are, for smiling and laughing and being present with your children…for being a parent. “That’s the job,” you say. “And it’s a pretty cool one. Hold your applause.”

You are sensitive. You cry with them. You hear what they’re saying even when they’re not talking. You empathize with their childhood dramas and angst. You listen without judgment and support without fixing. You empower them to find their own solutions and open your heart so they know you’re in this thing together as long as they need you to be.

You aren’t perfect, and that’s okay. You will do and say things as a father that you’ll regret. Take a deep breath. Give your child a hug and tell them you love and accept them exactly as they are. Then do the same for yourself.

It’s in your eccentricities, foibles and gifts that the father you’re meant to be, the one tailor-made for your child, is found. It is in your most challenging moments that your children will learn how to face them, learn from them, let go of the past, move forward and love themselves unconditionally. This is when they discover that manhood isn’t all about control, power or being stoic and sturdy no matter what. There are lessons and strengths found in allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of them, in forgiving yourself for your imperfections, in showing your true self all the time and being gentle with yourself—and with them—through difficult growth periods. Please, never forget that.

Thank you and happy Father’s Day to all you magnificent fathers. Feel free to share this with the great fathers and father figures in your life.

om

 

Patience

handsMy radio spoke to me the other day. Actually, it was Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, making a speech to a theatre full of people at the University of Southern Maine being broadcast on my local NPR station at Noon on a Monday. But it was like she was speaking to me and all who are experiencing, participating in, supporting, encouraging, watching, feeling, talking about and not talking about the many shifts occurring in our country—around race and so many things.

Normally, when there is an issue I believe is critical for society to see and act upon, where awareness and conversation can help, I am compelled to speak. Honesty, positively intentioned debate, listening, awareness, meditation, prayer, passion and community all lead to greater consciousness and ultimately positive change.

However, as I explained in my last blog, my own voice on the challenges the black community is experiencing, especially those illustrated so clearly within our system of law and order in recent years, has been hesitant and very quietly filled with a mixture of outrage, sadness and compassion for all who have felt the claw of injustice in both its raw and subtle forms. As a white person, for a long time I didn’t have certainty about what I can say that is helpful in the immediate situation or, more importantly, doesn’t cause unproductive conflict.

I told myself that I should only speak about the issues “other communities” are experiencing when I was ready to express myself in the clearest and most thoughtful ways, when it can have the greatest impact. It is my responsibility as a writer and as a human, I said. Fear of saying it “wrong” or saying too much or just not being able to make anyone listen no matter what I said kept me from saying or writing anything. So, I let other voices speak. And I continued to draw attention to some of them, especially when their messages shone so brightly they lit a new path in the darkness.

In her speech, Ms. Garza told the story of how #BlackLivesMatter came to be in 2012, born from a love letter she wrote to the black community as the Trayvon Martin story unfolded. I hung on her every truthful, connected, peaceful word. She told us how her deep love for her community, exactly as it is, drives her passion. About how activists and organizers outside the largely heterosexual black male establishment—desperately needed feminine voices among the many masculine ones—struggle to be heard even within their own community. About how this movement isn’t about anger, but about love and justice.

A link to the 30-minute broadcast is {here}, and everyone who’s made it this far into the blog, no matter your race or opinion on such things, should listen to the entire recording. But at 23:45 she speaks another universal truth I found particularly comforting and inspiring, a reminder that shifted my views on everything I’ve said so far. A student asks her how she can better convince her friends to care about the need for change. I waited to hear the response I expected about organizing more effectively or working smarter not harder or never letting up. Ms. Garza’s response:

Be patient…

…Consciousness raising and growth require a huge internal shift, a death of the old and willingness to move forward into an unknown filled with risk and change. It requires being able to look beyond your own survival—a difficult thing for those struggling daily to survive and thrive, for some in a society that behaves like it doesn’t want them to. The human reaction is fear that reveals itself as resistance or, more commonly, apathy. This can be infuriating for those who understand that the slower these individual evolutions happen the longer the societal evolution takes.

But Ms. Garza said that instead of responding with impatience, anger or more forceful strategies to make change happen faster, this student should respond with patience, love for her fellow human beings and understanding. She urged her to continue to speak up, to be persistent and passionate, but with acceptance that she won’t reach everyone and that those she does reach will change in their own time and in their own way. Always respond with love, she was essentially saying, because they are human, you are human and our collective ability to thrive is at stake.

A right and responsibility to speak out

In a few simple words, as an answer to one woman’s heartfelt question, Ms. Garza soothed and washed away any discomfort I still had about speaking my truth or writing about the controversial issues of the day. It doesn’t matter that I’m not black and don’t want to annoy my black friends or offend the many wonderful police officers I know. It doesn’t matter that I’m not gay and I want to share my support for same-sex marriage even when in potentially resistant company. No matter how it is received in the moment, the change will continue. The message expressed with love for all of humanity will be heard by whoever is ready. The growth and shift will continue within myself and others on a similar path, and over time everything around us will shift, too.

Most importantly, we have a right and responsibility to speak for those being oppressed because we are speaking about our fellow humans. We should support our black sisters and brothers publicly and vehemently because our souls, and therefore our liberty, are connected.

When we speak harsh but loving truths about freedom and justice and give everyone room to accept it in their own time and in their own way, the effect is bigger and wider than just you. It reaches all the way to those who need it most.

om

 

To find out more about #BlackLivesMatter, please go to blacklivesmatter.com. To watch videos of Alicia Garza’s talk at USM, click here and here.

Why losing your work is the best thing that could possibly happen

book-disappearing-textMy friend Rita recently posted a social media rant. It was peaceful and polite, but still a rant. She’d just spent hours on a beautiful short story, her computer did something-or-other and all of her work disappeared into the virtual equivalent of that place where all lost socks go.

She was understandably devastated, angry, frustrated and cursing her faulty auto-save feature and back-up gods. It was the first story in a collection she’s working on after being away from writing for some time focusing on her photography business (click here to go to Knots and Tots Photography) and other pursuits. She was proud of what I’m sure was a connected, creative and beautifully written piece. She was proud she’d finished it at all. Now she has nothing concrete to show for that time.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com or send her a note at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

It’s terrible. Heartbreaking. I’m sorry it happened to her. It’s happened to many of us at some point, and to me several times, including to an entire chapter of my most recent book. It is a loss and I have empathy.

But losing her work was probably the best thing that could have happened to Rita in that moment. It’s a lesson I share with my writing coaching clients, but often it doesn’t sink in until something like this happens.

All art, even very personal art, is only temporary. Writing is just energy. It’s frequency, intention, ideas and emotion made manifest into conscious form through words. It can and will be reimagined, reformed, recreated and reborn infinitely. It will be absorbed, perceived and reacted to (or not) differently by everyone who experiences it – often not just a little differently, but vastly differently. Once the reader absorbs it, it becomes something else. This lovely, thoughtful, creative, edited, downloaded, uploaded and intimate labor of love…it shifts, melds with the reader’s energy and essentially disappears the moment it’s been shared.

Not to worry, what you create is yours for a time. It’s connected to you, even a part of you. Most of the time it’s extremely personal. That’s why it’s so hard to watch it go earlier than you intended because you forgot to set up your iCloud backup. Once it’s released out into the world, it’s no longer yours anyway. It becomes something universal and collective. It’s a wisp, a wave, a series of codes.

There are three important lessons the universe reminds me of every time I lose my writing:

  1. There are no coincidences. If you lose a piece, even a brilliant one, there is a reason. It wasn’t meant to exist in this form. Perhaps it was a sacrifice so you could learn the universal truth that everything is always changing. Perhaps your ego or identity was too connected to it. Perhaps expectations about publication, reaction or success were too present in its creation. Whatever the reason, somehow the universe knew that it would have a greater impact if it went away and your perception was forced to shift. So it did.
  2. If you can let it go, what you create next will be even better. Every time – I mean every time – the next version of the work I lost was better than the first. And often not just a little better. Usually it’s a lot better. With time and space to germinate and reimagine its creation, you have an opportunity to tell a better story. With no ties to the previous structure or word choices, you have the freedom to explore a different path. With a sense of urgency to make up for the lost time, you are more inclined to write economically and make more thoughtful choices. As you revisit the same content again, your comfort level with it is greater. In its second draft, as with all second drafts, it becomes something more. Only this time you have the opportunity to work from a clean slate, and the result is always much better than the first.
  3. Writing well requires unconditional love. You need to love and embrace what you’re doing, every part of it, including the blocks, the doubt, the fear, the rejection. Even what Anne Lamott refers to as “shitty first drafts,” the computer glitches, the time you’re stuck in a meeting or in traffic while the fantastic idea or story you just wrote in your head floats away. These are all critical parts of the process and, as #1 clarifies, it’s all meant to happen on the path to the work you can’t wait to share with the world.  More importantly, writers need to have unconditional love for themselves as they experience all of this. Great writing is truly a labor of love and more. In this day and age there isn’t a lot of material or professional gratification to be found at the end of the Road of Persistence. The path is absolutely worth it – for the promise of great work, storytelling, connection, growth, self-expression, fun, contribution to the greater good, reaching the people who need to hear what you have to say, and the potential of at least enough abundance to continue your work. But it isn’t easy, you will make “mistakes,” and you won’t always handle them well. It’s okay. All the more reason to love yourself, forgive yourself, believe in what you’re doing and move forward.

So, Rita, please keep writing. Make sure you save early and often and have a computer back-up plan in place, but keep doing it. Because of this temporary setback, you will be a better, stronger writer and ultimately more people will benefit from your stories and perspective. I promise. Whatever you wrote once the fury subsided likely was fantastic. I can’t wait to read it.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com.

Other People’s Stories: Helping writers realize their dreams keeps joy in mine

let-the-light-guide-your-life-storyI love what I do. Truly. It took me a long time to figure out:

1) how I wanted to spend my time

2) how I was meant to spend my time, and

3) how to make it all come true.

It’s still evolving to some extent. The scenery is always changing, the players come and go and shift on their own paths, and words written with certainty transform and grow with each new day and new lesson. New opportunities may offer more than expected, more than the pursuits that have proven their grit and loyalty over the years by never, ever going away even when I kind of want them to. They are as present for me as my husband and son, and just as engaging. My purpose will never fade, but its appearance may alter from time to time.

These days I’m spending at least as much time helping others with their writing dreams and business goals as I am writing anything in my own voice. My writing coaching services are starting to appeal to folks. I have some fascinating clients, each so different from the next it’s like walking down a twisty literary path as scenes from different worlds play out among the trees and bramble. Add a road full of copywriting work (which I am always grateful for) and a surprise shower of cold and allergy season and you’ll get why I haven’t written a blog worth sharing in three weeks. The novel I’ve begun hasn’t been getting much attention either.

But I have to be honest. I don’t mind the break. One can get tired of the sound of one’s own voice, especially if you’re talking just so there are words on the page because I said I would blog something every other week and damn it the rules of social media say not to let your audience go too long without hearing from you because other people who are talking to them louder will draw them away like the pied piper and you’ll never get them back and what are you gonna do then?!

Loving what others do too, and helping them do it

Right now, the sound of other writers’ strange and beautiful voices are far more interesting to me than what that one might say. These brave souls allow me into their hearts, their psyches and their perfectly imperfect worlds, so I can help them tell the story blossoming inside them. They are still somewhere in Phase 1 or 2, but at the end of each session we smile at each other (through the magic of Skype) and know we got a little closer to 3. This fills me with joy and gratitude. Right now, just for a little while, that’s enough.

Writing is meant to be shared. I adore the interaction, the energy exchange, the perception shifts and infinite lessons we provide one another. But it is more meaningful when the perspectives are thoughtful, fresh and come from life lived outside of an office. So, the blog furlough will continue just a little longer. Projects, clients, guests and travel will make my writing time and online presence scarce for the next few weeks. That’s okay because I will come home to my writing full of new ideas, new energy for my work and many blog-worthy stories experienced with people I haven’t seen in way too long.

Meanwhile… I hope you writers keep writing and living and then writing about the living. May the characters, scenery and ideas shift just often enough to keep you working and playing with enthusiasm. May your voice be confident and stories be clear whether you have everything figured out or not. And may you love what you do, even if you’re not sharing the results with the world just yet.

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To find out more about Rebecca’s writing services, visit www.rebeccagifford.com. To read an excerpt from her upcoming memoir and sign up for updates, visit www.laughattheskykid.com.

Just be.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff www.stuckincustoms.com
Photo by Trey Ratcliff
http://www.stuckincustoms.com

There is such beauty in the quiet. When the snow, the season, the microbes urge us to slow down and see. It is how we’re meant to live.

Breathe. Watch. Walk. Smile. Love. Do, but at a pace that matches who you are and where you’re going.

The universe is clever that way, always reminding us it’s okay to slow down and enjoy the calm.

My son just started horseback riding lessons at a farm in wine country. It’s remote and peaceful out among the grape vines and olive trees. During his first lesson they taught him how to lead the horse. Hold the lead securely but not too tight. Look in front of you, where you are and where you’re going. Embrace the direction you’ve chosen and walk slowly but purposefully. Know that as long as you’re calm and kind, you are in command. Notice the breeze, the rolling hills and the gentle sound of hooves on earth. The smell of your companion’s mane and breath. When you need to pause, a simple “whoa” and tug of the lead will do. When you’re ready to move forward again, take a step.

Look forward. Notice. Walk. Breathe. Smile. Love. Just be.

There is such beauty in the quiet.

Om_Symbol

Feel free to sign up for updates about where and when to get Rebecca’s new book at http://www.laughattheskykid.com.

Your Story Matters: Finding your authentic voice and a way to share it

breath of lifeExquisite voices are everywhere and within us all. Some of us sing like an angel or a rock star or the best freeway vocalist we know. Some speak with grace dripping from every word. Some rouse laughter with a whimsical tone. Some provoke change with harsh truth offered with love. Some make people smile with only a hello. Some write with an idea that a well-told story can move mountains one boulder at a time. Some tell their own secrets to illuminate the perfectly flawed beauty in us all. Some voices defy descriptions or, like Harper Lee, offer words so moving that generations jump for joy when she decides to publish her second novel decades later.

No matter what your authentic voice sounds like, it is unique and worthy. It deserves to be heard. Someone is meant to hear it. And if you share it, you are contributing to our collective story and inherent connection.

Who the heck cares?

As I begin to work more with clients who are seeking their authentic writing voice and trying to get more comfortable sharing it, it’s not surprising this question arises as a very common stumbling block. I get it. Most writers do. In fact, a well-timed hike with a friend a few years ago forced me to answer it for myself. It gave me the push I needed to get back on the writing horse I had neglected for years. It’s the energy I rediscovered that day that keeps me writing, not just for myself but with an intention of sharing it…

Your exquisite voice.

One foggy day, as we climbed a brushed and muddy mountain outside LA, I asked a dear friend a question. After she yet again shared an engaging story containing some very wise and eloquent advice, I asked if she ever had considered writing a book.

“Yes,” she replied. “But why would anyone who doesn’t know me want to hear anything I have to say? What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said before?”

It’s the writer’s dilemma, the human dilemma, the same doubt anyone who has a pen or a computer or vocal cords faces. At least on those struggling days as we sit with ourselves wondering how we dare to presume our words are worthy of being heard or if anyone cares what our story is or what ideas swirl in our hearts and imaginations.

When my friend asked these questions of the mountain sky I was fifteen years and one published cancer memoir into a writing career. I had asked these questions off and on for that many years, usually in particularly vulnerable moments – while questioning the invention of the printing press, my mere existence as a result or why Madonna’s brother was a best-selling author as my little memoir struggled to sell those last five remaining copies in Amazon’s “why can’t we get rid of these” storage lockers.

Your story matters, believe it or not.

Every day as I wrote and then promoted this book, I asked why my story, shared by so many young cancer survivors, was worthy of anyone’s attention? Why was I so compelled to share it nonetheless? Until the mail started coming in. They said no one was telling this story – my story, their story – so honestly. No one else knew what they were going through. In fact, there were several young survivors telling lots of stories, many very similar and some much more fascinating than mine, including pre-scandal Lance Armstrong who had a best-selling autobiography on his shelf next to his many trophies. But these readers were convinced I was the lone voice in a sea of folks they couldn’t hear yet. And they were grateful I was willing to share it.

So, I understood my friend’s doubt. But I remembered this lesson learned years before and heard the message meant for us both. I offered it to her and the same sky she’d asked. It’s what I tell myself and my writer clients in those dark moments. It’s what we all need to remember every time we open our mouths…

Your voice will be heard by anyone who can and wants to hear it. It’s different and worthy because you are the messenger, and there is someone out there who can’t hear yet because you haven’t said it yet.

Not everyone will care what you say. Not everyone is meant to. But in this moment, with your story, with your energy and words, someone is getting the message, the information, the healing, the inspiration, the provocation, or the perspective they need and have been seeking, perhaps without even realizing it.

You deserve to be heard.

In return, you will know you are heard. You will feel the frequencies unite and your experience, shared as you will, will combine with those you shared it with to become something even greater. You will understand that you don’t need a book or a blog or a microphone to communicate something exquisite that can be exquisitely heard. But look at what you can do if you try.

Every day I thank my friend for reminding me why I write. We all have an authentic voice that offers transforming beauty, healing laughter and truth that transcends what we think we understand. The lesson is in knowing you do and rising above your fears to offer it to a world that will be better off for having heard it.

For when we are brave enough to tell our stories, we all benefit.

When you speak with your authentic voice, the world can hear it.

breath of life

If you want to find out more about Rebecca’s latest book, please go to www.laughattheskykid.com. If you’re curious about her writer coaching or other writing and editing services, feel free to email giffordrebecca@gmail.com or visit www.rebeccagifford.com. Thanks for reading!