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.

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.

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.

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!

A 2015 Blessing and Stuff

Joy2In this first week of 2015, as we anticipate the next 12 months and all they may offer, I wish you a year filled with growth, joy and whatever it is you would like it to be filled with. But in case you prefer more specific blessings…

May you always have privacy in the bathroom. (Parent shout-out.)

May your children always be as sweet to you and others as they are right before they drift off and right after they wake up.

May you and your whole family sleep an uninterrupted 8-12 hours every night, including on Sunday nights, and not feel guilty or like you should be doing something else when you do.

May your meals taste rich and decadent but actually contain the exact amount of calories required to chew them.

May you learn to love exercising and find a physical activity that holds your interest enough that you do it frequently throughout the year.

May you have nights (or days) out with your most special someone often enough that you are comfortable going to a movie in yoga pants, hiking until you’re covered in desert dust, or eating buffalo wings and playing trivia.

May you have many wonderful, trustworthy caregivers who are always available so you know your children are happy and well cared for when you do.

May you find that thing you lost two years ago but could never figure out where it went, and it’s not damaged at all.

Beside it, may you find a $50 bill…that you don’t need because you already have all the abundance you require.

May you discover some thing, some place, some idea or someone that is entirely new and makes you see things differently.

May you be truly and delightfully surprised at least once.

May you find new energy and enthusiasm for what you do every day. If you don’t, may you easily and quickly find something that brings new energy and enthusiasm to your life and purpose to your soul.

May you feel the ocean-deep and cosmos-wide support of a strong universal community—affectionate friends filled with laughter, family filled with unconditional acceptance, cities filled with friendly neighbors, countries filled with helpful citizens, planets filled with open hearts and open minds, and everlasting love from all.

May you have at least one moment when you know to your core you are a vital part of an intricately intertwined and unfathomably beautiful matrix of souls and lives that offers a reason for everything and only has the greatest good of all at heart. May you therefore be filled with peace, awe, clarity and empowerment. May that carry you through your darkest days.

May you always feel heard.

May you always feel understood.

May you always feel safe.

May you always feel honored and respected.

May you always know you are deeply loved—by those nearby, but also by the power/source/being/God/universe/Spirit/light that exists within and all around you. May you know true love of self, and know you are worthy of it.

Above all, may you regularly lift your face to the sky and laugh with pleasure just to be alive.

Many blessings to you and yours. Bring it on, 2015.

—————————–

Want to know when and where you can get Rebecca’s upcoming book? Sign up for updates at www.laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!

Holiday Meditation

Meditating Santa from tonykuhn.com
Meditating Santa from tonykuhn.com

The 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 clean off 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.

How many spirits does it take to change a lightbulb?

I am fortunate to be surrounded by writers and souls who continuously illuminate, enlighten, amuse and offer great wisdom. Jennifer Mathews is one of these beautiful souls. Please enjoy this most recent post from her regular blog, Seeing Death in a Different Light, and be sure to sign up to get a free copy of her upcoming e-book. Until next time, many holiday season blessings to you all.

–Rebecca

———————————————————————————————————————-

idea concept

Up high above the staircase to our bedroom, there was a light bulb in a parchment paper globe hanging from the ceiling. To change it required a ladder precariously placed on boards, or one of those special extended light bulb poles you can buy at Home Depot. So when the bulb finally went out, we didn’t bother to replace it.

This meant that my partner Kate and I walked upstairs in the dark every night, step by step, touching the wall for balance. I tended to push my toes into the base of each stair to feel stable. Sometimes, I closed my eyes because sensing each step felt easier that way. Once my toes no longer felt another step, I knew I arrived at the top. Then I’d reach my left hand into the bedroom, and turn on the light by pressing in the round dimmer switch knob before walking into the room. This became our routine.

Then after a number of months had gone by, my walk up the dark staircase became a solo journey.

Experiencing Kate’s spirit

Kate had been diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer in the fall, and would return to spirit soon thereafter. Before she died the evening of December 3rd 2011, I had gone upstairs for a minute. Afterward, I sat in the dark on the top carpeted step, candlelight glowing in the living room below, music playing softly in the background. I watched her body rise and fall as she breathed.

In that moment, I felt her spirit so strongly that I physically had to move over and make room for her ethereal body to sit next to me.

Silently, I asked her if she was witnessing what I was, looking down at herself, laying in the hospital bed. In my mind, I heard her answer that it was exactly what she was experiencing since much of her spirit was already out of her body. I could barely believe what was happening, and yet at the same time, I was certain it was completely real.

Months later . . .

The following spring, months after Kate’s death, I carefully made my way to the top of the stairs on another pitch black night. I reached into my bedroom, pressed the knob to turn on the light and POP!, the quick flash and electrical sound of a blown bulb.

“Bummer!” I said out loud to myself, because it was totally dark in my room. I clicked the knob many times and turned the dimmer dial right and left, hoping it would come back on so I didn’t have to add this to my “to do” list. Yes, a simple thing – to change a light bulb right over my bed – but it’s another thing to procrastinate on doing.

A few weeks had gone by, and I often forgot the bulb was out. I’d press in the knob, or spin it, and no luck. No light. Then on one particular morning, I woke up early. I’m not really sure why I opened my eyes since I knew it was much earlier than I need to get up. I looked at the clock – 7:28am – and I thought, “Great. I can still get two more hours of sleep.” I’m a night owl, not a morning person.

Laying on my back, I looked up at the ceiling.

The light above my bed was on.

In my sleepiness, I followed my mind attempting to figure it all out: Did I fall asleep with that on last night? But I can’t fall asleep with lights on, so that’s strange. Hmmmm, was the electricity out when I went to bed, and then came back on? Then I remembered. No, Jen, that bulb is dead.

And then it dawned on me . . . WHOA! The light is ON!!

Experiencing Kate’s spirit yet again

I could feel Kate’s presence in the room.

I immediately said “Hello, Kate,” and shook my head, smiling. My mind drifted from disbelief to thanking Kate for repairing the blown-out bulb. I realized she may even have changed it, as I heard her say it’s a “simple” thing to do. Then I remember her voice in my head, offering me this joke:

Q. – How many spirits does it take to change a light bulb?

A. – One.

At first, I laughed because it is – of course – a classic joke. But I thought maybe I heard the punch line wrong because it seemed too boring. Like a child telling a joke that wasn’t really funny, but you laugh anyway because they’re trying. But a split second later, with her voice and gentle chuckle in my mind, I heard her add the true Kate flavor:

Because we are ALL ONE!

Ha ha ha! I laughed out loud. A spiritual light bulb joke. Good one, Kate.

“Can you change the lightbulb in the hallway above the stairs, too?” I joked with her. I felt her smile.

I wanted to call her family right away, email my friends, let people know about this incredible connection. But then I wondered if they would even believe me, or if they would rationalize all the reasons this miracle hadn’t actually happened.

What I realized that morning was not that it’s possible to communicate with those in the spirit world. I already knew that. What I realized was that it didn’t matter if anyone believed me. I knew what happened. I was clear. Yes, I can indeed communicate with those who have died, and now, I trusted this more fully, rather than being skeptical of my own first hand experience. Whether others believe me or not doesn’t diminish what I know I experienced, what I know deep down to be true.

The light bulb lesson I learned is that I don’t need to convince anyone of anything! I just need to tell my stories, to tell the truth. So here I am, telling you.

And here’s the rest of the story . . . A few days later, my landlord arrived at the house out of the blue. He said he just bought one of those long poles needed to change the light bulb above the stairs! I hadn’t talked to him about this for many months. I thanked Kate for giving him a nudge to take care of it. What service!
———————————————————————————————————————-
Jennifer Mathews, M.A., is a writer, speaker and consultant who lives in Mt. Shasta, CA. Based on her own exploration of death, grief, joy and optimism, she offers fresh perspectives and practical tools to support others on their journeys. You can find more of her blogs and sign up to receive a free copy of her upcoming e-book by going to jennifermathews.com.

What’s your soul doing?

silhouette-jumped-boy-sunset-background-41488310Our family woke up this morning talking about death and taxes. It sounds depressing and stressful, and I’m not going to lie and tell you our exploration was all purple pansies and smiley faces. But it wasn’t sad.

My husband Larry and I had been up a few minutes talking about some financial planning we needed to do for next year. We both are self-employed and have to plan ahead a bit when it comes to reporting and paying taxes, and we were thinking ahead to adjustments we needed to make to prepare for 2015. Scintillating morning bed conversation, I know, but it was sweet and intimate in its own way—filled with hope and excitement for what’s to come and shared responsibilities for helping it happen in the most graceful and connected way possible. But as we continue this relatively new exploration into being completely self-employed, talking about money is never without some level of pressure.

Soon our sleepy-eyed five-year-old son Henry climbed onto our warm, messy bed and we happily suspended our discussion. As Henry gave us both morning “boops,” or bumped noses as the rest of the world would call it, Larry asked him how he slept and what he dreamt about.

“I died,” he said. “So did you and you. In water. Ahhhhh!” He mimicked the sounds of a person drowning, though I know he’s never seen that on television or in a movie.

Larry and I smiled to each other. I know this sounds extreme and scary, but this wasn’t the first time he’s told us of vivid dreams and memories of some sort of death. Often he remembers us, or at least a mother and father, being there too. He rarely feels afraid after experiencing them—more a neutral memory than a premonition—and he always describes them very matter-of-factly.

“What happened after you died?” Larry asked. “Did you go somewhere?”

Death has been more present for our family lately, as it has been for so many of us. Only a few weeks ago, Larry attended the funeral of a good friend who was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier in the year. She was only a year older than us. The funeral was a meaningful celebration of her life, as well as an opportunity to check in on our priorities, experience the universal cycle of life in a profound way, and reconnect with some good friends who had drifted.

Henry contemplated Larry’s question quietly, like there was something he was considering saying but couldn’t find the words. “I don’t know. Don’t ‘member. I’m hungry.”

Henry ate his breakfast quietly at his favorite spot along the kitchen counter while Larry and I continued our financial planning conversation. We talked of tasks to be done before the end of the year and new and potential client work. We both admitted we were worrying about it all a little more than was helpful.

Twenty minutes later, I was still in get-it-done mode.

“Wash your face, please. Shoes. Jacket. Backpack. Time to go to school,” I said as we finished our 14th car race along the step to the dining room. I made a quick note to myself about starting the computer with our account records on it as soon as I got home, and we walked out into the wind and rain.

“Mommy’s car! Mommy’s car!” Henry said excitedly. It is the much older car of our two and we usually don’t drive it unless we have to, but there was no reason not to, so we got in.

“Mommy, Bubbles!” Permanently inserted into this car’s CD player is the first disk of the What Color is Your Bubble? series for kids. His friend Alison talks him through some simple energetic and meditative exercises. We hadn’t listened in weeks. I turned it on and Alison began the second exercise all about setting and changing your grounding cord.

We pulled up to the stop sign at the end of our street, lists of numbers dancing in my head, as Alison asked, “What does your grounding cord look like today?” I chose not to look, instead imagining the spreadsheet I had in mind. Then I heard a voice from the back seat.

“What’s your soul doing?”

I turned Alison down, not sure I’d heard correctly, and I looked at Henry in the mirror as he asked it again the exact same way. He looked directly at my reflection with clear, calm eyes.

“What do you mean, Sweetie? You want to know what my soul is doing?”

“Yes.”

It was a simple question. A profound one. One I have an answer for. An answer I’ve heard over and over and know to my core and beyond. As I thought of what words to say, a calm came over me. In an instant I was in my body, connected, confident, clear. The top of my head tingled and suddenly the driver’s seat of the “old car” was the most comfortable place in the world. All thoughts of money were gone.

The answer that quickly and easily popped into my head and heart also was the simplest and most accurate. “Henry, I believe my soul is in this body right now so I can learn what I’m supposed to learn.”

He was silent at first, but his gaze never wavered and his ears and heart were wide open. Then he started to talk and explore the notion in his own way. As we continued the conversation over the next couple of minutes, concepts and energies flowed between us like an easy stream of water. Love, peace, growth, clairvoyance, healing, sharing, family. Most of it never made it into words, but we did talk about how we all chose to be together in this lifetime. He spoke quietly about how when he was a baby he wasn’t in our family yet, but then he was.

“How do you feel about that, Henry?”

“Happy.”

And then it was done. Less than three minutes from start to finish.

It didn’t take an hour of meditation and energetic cleaning. It didn’t require any practice or body position and wasn’t specific to any belief system. It didn’t even take the whole second track on the CD.

With one question asked by my greatest teacher, together we refocused, shifted perspectives and got to where we needed to be for the day: What’s the big picture? What’s the “why” behind what you’re doing right now? Behind it all? Why are you worrying about these practical things when the greater good, the longer path, the lessons, the love is all that really matters?

Perhaps Henry had tried to get us there first thing in the morning as he remembered his dreams and previous lessons. Death and the afterlife are bigger than taxes, despite their mutual inevitability. But today the cycle-of-life, universal-plan reminders that came with our friend’s funeral weren’t enough to bring us home. Given a second chance, Henry intuitively knew what to do. It was so simple. So clean and perfect. And it worked.

By the way, Henry wanted me to ask you something.

What’s your soul doing?

——–

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and coaching services, go to rebeccagifford.com or contact her at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

Knowing Great Love

love handsMy world is filled with all kinds of parents. Not one of us is perfect, nor would claim to be. But all of us know great love.

I am lucky enough to have brilliant models — both fellow parents and trusted caregivers. Some have been in my life for always and some I’ve known less than a week. None is like another, but they all have wonderful qualities to watch and emulate: boundless loyalty to their children’s happiness and best interests, respect, trust, open-mindedness, creativity, presence, an easy and natural way of moving through the day with their children, love and laughter even in the face of adversity, endless energy for play and talking and storytelling and discovering, unconditional support for their children’s eccentricities and unique qualities, and lots and lots of patience.

Even the most even-tempered caregivers struggle daily to maintain at least some of these qualities, but the desire to keep struggling and growing is what makes them real and wonderful. I love all my teachers. They share such unique gifts with our family. But as I embrace all these remarkable souls, one in particular keeps showing up.

During National Adoption Month, I’d like to honor Henry’s birth mother.

Her time in Henry’s life was very brief. Depending on Henry’s choices later in life, she may or may not ever be in it again, but I always will consider her a strong example for me, Henry and us all — for her great compassion to create and nurture such an extraordinary being in her womb, great courage as she struggled with impossible choices, and great strength as she relinquished her parental rights to my husband and me.

Now four and a half years later, I continue to feel her love and supportive energy as it travels over the mountains of Taiwan, across the blue water and lands gently next to our family as we giggle at the dinner table, sing in the car or dance with the pelicans on Moonstone Beach. She makes sure we know she is happy for us and still loves her son. I smile and send love and gratitude back to her, over the oceans and mountains, to wherever she now calls home. I make sure she knows our families are bound forever.

She holds a special seat in my circle of trusted parents, caregivers and guides.

She, perhaps more than most, knows great love.

Heart Meditation

heart-meditation-by-jen-gouvea-285x190
Artwork by Jen Gouvea http://www.engagedheart.com

Just by sitting down, by entering the sacred chair in this sacred space, the breath deepens and slows. The lungs and tired muscles smile in gratitude. My heart opens wide. It knows what comes next.

Remembering where it came from is something. Where it’s going is where it will be some day. But right now there is love and light. Space. And freedom to just be.

My heart, as it continues to break open and heal over and over, has enjoyed an abundance over lifetimes. There is plenty of love to share. It rushes out in a tidal wave covering the earth. It soaks down through the rainforests and deserts and oceans and rock, all the way to the fire at the center. It rises up and out in a quantum rush that fills every atom, every dark place, every light place, and doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

Every cell smiles. Thank you, they say. My spirit smiles. Thank you, she says. The universe continues to swirl and challenge and love. Thank you, I say.

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

Hello, world.

Allergies and ego trips

allergy2It just makes me laugh. How the universe brings the lessons and messages so perfectly timed and in such a perfect package—the one I can see and hear in that moment.

Yesterday it was this video of a Seattle event hosted by Matt Kahn and Julie Dittmar of True Divine Nature, which offered wisdom regarding several of my current challenges (to some extent, all four of his “inflammations” spoke to me) but especially one.

The last few weeks I’ve been experiencing the classic struggle of every author: the transition from talking through my book to talking about my book for the purposes of getting it published, distributed and read by those meant to read it. Among many other things, in my memoir I describe my recent struggles with understanding ego, the role it plays in a conscious life and my own set of lessons regarding it. Now, immediately following completion, I’m faced with this challenge.

Ironic? Perhaps. More like the universe at work. During the shilling process I’ve felt everything from humbled by the amount of help freely offered to irritated at the need to ask for help at all, even from more-than-willing colleagues and friends. And the social media. God help us. Websites, list services, Facebook pages, Twitter engagement, and what is this Google+ thing and should I be on it? I just spent a year writing and revising and rewriting and editing the damn thing, I thought. Can’t that just be enough? For many of us with the greater good intentions behind our work, isn’t it easy to question why it should be challenging? If it’s truly in the best interest of all concerned, why should we have to work so hard?

Perhaps I am simply allergic to the process, I thought.

No, I’m just allergic to seeing it as a burden or a chore rather than an opportunity. There is a lot of inflammation going on but the allergen, the toxin overstimulating my nervous system, is nothing more than my own ego believing I shouldn’t have to do any of this. That the major life lessons built into this path aren’t worthy of my time and full attention.

As I watched Matt’s video, I began to open up. I could hear the wisdom in his words. They were my own higher self’s message that I hadn’t been able to hear yet for all the swelling around my ears. Walk the walk, she said. Find the balance by freeing your soul’s personality and its story so those who are seeking it can find them in the clutter. Let the book—or the cause or the small business or the passion project—be your voice and your guide. Encounter everyone and everything along the journey with an open heart, true interest, acknowledgement of their beauty and gratitude for the lessons they carry with them. Meet your own allergic reactions with love and healing compassion. As long as you are true to who you really are—not the entitled author your ego says you are—the rest will take care of itself.

I hope this video speaks to you as much as it did to me.

Blessed lack

sitting-stillI woke this morning thinking about this blog. What to write. What’s on my mind. In my heart. What’s important. I found myself thinking about lack—of motivation, of a driving notion aching to be expressed. The absence of a great idea.

Perhaps I just need the quiet for the inspiration to come, I thought. Yes, that’s it. Sit. Comfortable chair. Quiet room. Deep breath. Open wide. Let it run. Birds outside the window. Breakfast in the kitchen. Lavendar oil on my t-shirt. Deep breath. Moment. Quiet. Peace. Blessed peace. Blessed lack.

In this notion sat the space to be and time enough to see. The welcome memory that lack doesn’t exist. There are always infinite possibilities and just as many answers. Even in the feeling there is a hole to fill or fissure to fix, there is supreme humanity ripe for compassion. In conscious absence there is wisdom. In the quiet is the sacred music of bliss.

More Water on the Fire

Photo by Aquariann.com Raphell Fountain Sculpture at Brookgreen Gardens
Photo by Aquariann.com
Raphell Fountain Sculpture at Brookgreen Gardens, Myrtle Beach, SC

The below blog originally was posted in February 2013, partially as a reaction to a hot topic of conversation at the time — a song Seth MacFarlane sang while hosting the Oscars that year. In recent days, another controversial story is again on many lips. Ray Rice, the NFL and Janay Rice all have reminded us of the continuing resistance to the feminine and the resulting oppression of women on an individual and institutional level. So did the recent reports of sexist remarks made toward congresswomen and female congressional staffers. 

On some level, it warms my heart to see all the indignation and anger from women and men alike as these stories continue to unfold and these behaviors and ingrained beliefs are revealed even more fully. Last night I watched Jon Stewart and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand talk on The Daily Show with such passion about the NFL scandal, the struggle many women still experience in the workplace, rape culture, and the antiquated attitudes still demonstrated by some in Congress and the military. I empathized with their anger and their desire to do something to “fix it.” But anger isn’t how it gets done. The answer isn’t in any new policies or organizations created from their desire for justice and a forced attitude shift. It’s not in viewing women as victims or in feeling like one yourself.

The answer is in embracing and embodying the feminine energy our society needs so desperately to balance the playing field. That can’t be forced or even compelled; that’s the masculine way of doing it. It needs to be demonstrated, lived and loved. That is where strength can be found. Show folks how to be comfortably feminine and supportive of feminine energy in their daily life. Talk with everyone about it, even those who can’t see it yet, with compassion. Embrace your own open, vulnerable heart and don’t be afraid to bare it for your own good or for the greater good. Love freely. Listen without judgment or a desire to fix things. It will continue to catch on, and the changes we’ll see for the better will come from a true embracing of women and shift toward feminine energy.

In the meantime, enjoy the below…

———————————————————————————-

From Laugh at the Sky, Kid in February 2013:

It’s taken me most of my life to understand. I’m a woman. That’s a remarkable, beautiful thing. My femininity and the strong and divine life force that comes from embracing it are important and inescapable parts of me.

We could get into why it took me until recently to appreciate this, but that would require “a very special” series of blogs and a trip to the store for tissues and it isn’t really important to what I have to say. What’s more noteworthy today is that my struggle to embrace both my feminine and masculine sides, a struggle that may sound familiar to you, is merely a microcosm of what’s going on in the world.

Our collective feminine energy – receptive, open, creative, supportive, unconditionally loving – has been challenged for millennia. You can track patriarchal domination, and consequential oppression of women, from as far back as 4,000 BC all the way up to Seth MacFarlane’s boob song at this year’s Oscars. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed Mr. MacFarlane’s edgy humor many times over the years, as I did that night. When I tune into Family Guy I expect misogynistic jokes — often ripe with satire and provocative social commentary — just as I expected to see them on Sunday. That’s what the Academy bought, right? But I couldn’t deny my disappointment as it illustrated yet again our world’s decidedly masculine bent.

As many writers and historians and ordinary folks like you and me have observed: Look where this has gotten us. As liberal as most first-world cultures are compared to many places in the world, we are still a society more interested in power and ego than the greater good. In economic strength more than feeding the hungry or caring for the planet. In controlling more than teaching and supporting. In doing-doing-doing more than just being and receiving what’s already there. In getting an easy laugh at a bright, talented woman’s expense simply because she has breasts and was brave enough to reveal them to tell an important story…more than saying something funny that also tickles the brains of that 40 million-person audience.

As wise teachers and indigenous cultures have told us for as long as we’ve been able to hear them, we need something different. We need a world filled with people who see creative, nurturing energy as strength. Individually and collectively, we need to offer support and love to everyone in pain, especially ourselves, so we can heal, find our purpose and contribute. We need to love the dark and the light, the yin and the yang, knowing they are both sacred and necessary to creation. We need to celebrate everyone just as they are. We need to embrace our feminine energy.

This is the new paradigm and that scares the bejeesus out of a lot of men and women alike. Hence the continuous attempts to repress it occurring every day in every corner of our world – and these are only the stories being told.

This is not new or news to most of us and many are very, very angry. You can read about it all day long online or in a stack full of books. You likely can feel it in many of the women – and men – in and out of your life. The anger is justified.

Confession: I am no longer angry…well, mostly. As I fully embrace my feminine energy, it dissipates. I can see what’s going on. It disappoints me. I am moved to speak out and shift my own energy in an effort to help. But over time it makes me less and less angry.

That’s the nature, the immense strength, of the feminine. It allows. It embraces. It supports. It holds the energy we all need to grow and thrive. It loves. It doesn’t know anger or resistance.

It’s a masculine society that taught us that anger is a fabulous motivator. That fiery rage moves us to impose change by doing something. Feminine energy offers water to the fire and welcomes the peace and change that comes from simply being different.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sufi teacher and author of The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul wrote:

If women can come to know the sacred dimension of their own and the earth’s suffering, if they can see that it is part of the mysterious destiny of the soul of our world, if they can look beyond their own personal pain and anger to accept their larger destiny, then the forces of life can flow in a new way. The imprint of the divine face can become visible in this world and the glory of oneness be known, and once again life can become sacred.

While I’ve made some grand declarations above, I’m the first to admit I don’t know exactly what that looks like in our daily lives here on Mother Earth, and I’m certain it is easier said than done. What I do know is there are countless wise souls I can turn to for example, guidance and perspective. Some are magnificent women with boundless love in their hearts and laughter in their bones, many of whom already have guided me through hard lessons and shown me how to be both feminine and strong. Some are beautiful, strong men – two of whom I share my home with – who embrace their own feminine energy and know their unconditional support is just as valuable as their ability to do amazing things. Some are teachers like Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee with the guidance of goddesses in their hearts and on their tongues.

Because of them, I have hope, and perhaps I do know what it looks like. It’s already here. It just needs a little loving care.

Vibration and frequency: a return to music

Young Clarinet by Tony Macelli (http://www.ndoylefineart.com/macelli1.html)
Young Clarinet by Tony Macelli http://www.ndoylefineart.com/macelli1.html

At age nine my fourth grade music teacher told me I needed to start playing an instrument. Whether I liked it or not, whether I did it well or not, it was required that I try as part of my proper music education. I’d been taking piano lessons for two years at that point, but that wasn’t an option in the Longfellow Elementary fourth grade band. My parents pulled out my sister’s old clarinet—picked up and quickly dropped once she completed her required musical instrument segment, even though she was pretty good—and suggested I give it a try.

I looked at the scraped up keys, beaten up cork and the thin pieces of wood I was supposed to soak in my mouth and then blow across to make something resembling music. When my sister played it, the higher notes made me wince but the sprawling vibrations of the lower tones rattled through my body like a big truck barreling past the house. Truth be told, it kind of frightened me. But the keys were shiny and complicated, and I did love finding out what buttons do.

Ten years, two performing arts schools, thousands of hours of rehearsing and practicing, dozens of shows with bands and orchestras and ensembles, hundreds of reeds, days of sore lips and one very old and expensive wooden clarinet later, I was still playing that crazy contraption. I was working my way up the ranks of the Ohio University orchestra woodwind section, still taking weekly lessons and master classes, still enjoying it even though it was not my major nor my career focus. It helped there was no more pressure to perform or compete.

After a bit of working together, my faculty clarinet teacher proposed I try out for a coveted student woodwind quintet position. He told me it would require more rehearsal time as they prepared for multiple performances around the state.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not even a music major.”

“Well, then I guess you have a choice to make,” he said.

I’d chosen OU primarily for its prestigious journalism school. Words, I’d decided, were my expression of choice. They were much more specific and impactful, I believed, and I just didn’t love the clarinet enough to do what it takes to make a living playing it. As I looked at colleges and contemplated majors, I justified writing was still an art; it just made more sense to me. And luckily research revealed there were lots of ways to continue to play in college even if it wasn’t my major.

But now in my sophomore year, the more demanding journalism courses were starting to kick in and my adviser began asking what I was doing in my precious non-class time to build my resume and get some practical experience. The school newspaper is one of the best in the country and the yearbook always is looking for staff, he mentioned several times. At that week’s clarinet lesson, my teacher asked yet again if I was going to audition for the quintet, and maybe we should increase our lessons to twice a week if I really wanted to make a go of it.

The next academic quarter I put my treasured clarinet in the closet. Ten years later, I sold it to a music store in suburban Los Angeles owned by a man who could restore its loose keys and nourish the old wood back to its original splendor. He was sure a promising young clarinetist in the community would buy it and use it well.

I hadn’t played the instrument in years, but when I said goodbye I felt a clear sense of loss. Neither choosing writing over music nor selling my clarinet were difficult at the time. My talent, my contribution, is as a writer. But not until it was gone did I recognize a bit of what it offered: comfort in knowing I could pick it up whenever I liked and express myself in this familiar way.

Playing was so clear, so simple. It always seemed like a miracle to me that it worked at all, let alone made music. If I blew air at the right speed across a thin piece of wood strapped to another piece of hard rubber and pressed some buttons to determine where the air goes, I can make a pleasing and unique sound. Playing with these frequencies and incorporating my own voice into the music wasn’t something I understood or knew how to do consciously when I was younger, but I must have gotten it on some level.

Two days ago, I opened up a box and pulled out a brand new (plastic) clarinet, a high-end mouthpiece and ligature, a full set of Vandoren reeds and two new books of sheet music. It was a birthday gift to myself, something my higher self brought to my consciousness only a week or so before. Well, in the universe’s crafty way she’d been bringing it up periodically over the past year in casual conversations, in articles about local adult orchestras, etc. More recently she’d told me I needed to return to this familiar expression, but this time it would be different.

My son watched closely as I slowly put the shiny contraption together. I tossed a reed into my mouth to ready it for squeakless sound and then lovingly placed it on my new mouthpiece and tightened the ligature. It was all so familiar, but completely strange under the watchful eye of my son seeing it for the first time. I walked outside on to the deck for the first blow, unsure if it would be a pleasing noise after so many years. A loud, confident note sang down the narrow passage along the upper level of our home and rang out over the trees. A bird rustled in a nearby bush and flew away. My fingers moved hesitantly, but they knew where to go for the most part.

My mouth found the right shape as it remembered a proper embouchure is formed when you smile.

I walked back inside where my family was waiting patiently for me to share this old but new ability with them. They’d heard the music I’d sung to the forest, and now Henry jumped up and down with excitement yelling, “More! More!”

When the high-ceilinged room filled with sound and echoes, Henry’s eyes went wide. He ran over to me and sat directly beneath the bell of the clarinet, peering up into it trying to figure out where it all came from. When I started a chromatic scale down to a low E, he giggled and involuntarily wiggle-danced, the sprawling vibrations shaking through every cell of his body and mine. He and my husband began to clap and cheer.

The smile of my embouchure remained even after my mouth left the reed. I’d almost forgotten how that note, stretching the length of the instrument, requiring breath from the depths of your soul, could make you feel. It’s a vibration, a frequency that can’t be described by words. It’s an energy that communicates at a different level.

I guess I was finally ready for it.

Days of resting eights

turn_it_on_its_sideMy son has a book called Infinity and Me (by Kate Hosford). In the story, eight-year-old Uma seeks the meaning of things as she looks at the stars and feels small and cold within the vastness of the universe. She knows “infinity” has something to do with it, but she doesn’t quite get it so she goes on a quest. She asks her friends, her teachers and the school cook. They all offer fascinating takes on the concept. It isn’t until Uma recognizes the boundless love she has for her grandmother that she finds her own way of experiencing infinity and the universe.

The most charmingly human part of the story is Uma’s struggle with uncertainty. She doesn’t grasp what infinity is, but she wants to. She feels insignificant until she can. Her head hurts with all the questions and thoughts she’s having as she works so hard to understand and find meaning. It isn’t until she opens her heart and feels her grandmother’s unconditional love, and realizes she feels the same, that the endless stars in the sky begin to feel warm with effortless wonder.

Like Uma, I find myself looking at the universe differently day to day. Some days the stars are shrouded in suspicion and the lonely oxygen-less air of outer space. These are the days where the uncertainty of life and humankind become manifest in the questionable future of projects, unreturned emails, frustrations about not knowing whether my son will be in the morning or afternoon kindergarten class until three days before he starts, not to mention general bewilderment about world events.

Thank ever-loving goodness there are the other kind of days too—when infinity becomes the peaceful “resting eight,” perfect for ice skating and endless bike rides. On those days I see the stars in the heavens are filled with mystery and discovery, and the demands of the mind become the curiosity of the heart. On those days, projects with uncertain futures become new tree-lined paths to wander down and societal frustration becomes an opportunity to offer compassion. The love my son and I share becomes more important than whether he’ll be in the kindergarten class that best complements my schedule, and that fills me with infinite warmth.

In this eight month, I wish you many days of resting eights, when you know the path of the universe will come back around to meet you where you are and show you where you can go. May the infinite possibilities fill you with joy and gratitude. May the vastness of the stars always cover you in a blanket of love and effortless wonder.

Robin Williams: the ripples will go on

Robin Williams in What Dreams May ComeLike so many around the world, I was saddened by the sudden loss of Robin Williams yesterday. His presence in my life as an entertainer, magnetic personality and model of creative openness—albeit from an admirer’s distance—is undeniable. His characters and films that were most formative for me were his dramatic roles: The World According to Garp, What Dreams May Come, Being HumanGood Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Patch Adams, Good Will Hunting and even The Birdcage.

I always felt what he offered us onlookers transcended the bounds of “actor and comedian,” and the enormous reaction to his death confirms it wasn’t just me. He was a compassionate, connected, supremely human being whose desire to bring joy and comfort hid to many his own sadness. His influence as an artist, but also as a loving soul, will continue to ripple for a long time, both on this earth and beyond.

Many are wondering how someone who could bring both peels of uncontrollable laughter and tears of genuine compassion to multiple generations could feel so alone in this world. None of us can understand anyone else’s journey. We can empathize, love and appreciate him. We can be grateful for what he offered during his precious 63 years. But we can’t know the unique and long journey that brought him to the moment where he decided releasing himself from the anguish of his mind and his body was his best option. But I’m glad that as a society we’re starting to ask the questions.

With all the dear souls like Robin suffering and leaving this earth right now—and there are many—I have to believe that through their pain and sacrifice they are contributing to a larger healing and evolution. He was a great spirit dealing with a human condition that is both astonishingly prevalent and astonishingly misunderstood. The shock of his death by the means it occurred will bring our awareness to those suffering within and without our own spheres—an understanding perhaps unattainable by other means.

The ripples don’t stop there. The soul we knew as Robin Williams is only just starting. He had no idea the positive effect he had on the world while he was here, but he does now and he’s having a fantastic time. Look at all he can do from where he is? Quantum joy. Astral silliness. Compassionate hilarity. We need cosmic comics right now more than ever. We need help maintaining perspective and lightness. As a species, we so desperately need to be reminded our lives are, above all, an opportunity to play and learn and give of ourselves fully. And who better to offer a celestial master class in that?

Thank you, Robin, for all you so generously gave us while you were here. I wish you were able to stay a bit longer, but I look forward to what you’re going to offer next.

Help

stepping_stones_of_memory_by_nwwes-d3krg59I have lots of help. I am surrounded by a community of family and friends who, despite not always understanding my choices, support and trust me. I also benefit from the broader “help” available to me, a community larger than those who appear as flesh and blood in this life and on this earth. I am continuously humbled by the support I receive from both when my intentions and actions match a greater purpose.

As I’ve discussed in earlier blogs, I’ve written another book in an attempt to reach a broader audience. While the process hasn’t been without obstacles — that’s where the lessons are learned, after all — the validation; the offers of help, resources and creative support; the loving and wise feedback; the number of folks who “get” what I’m trying to do here… It’s overwhelming. And the process has only just begun.

I’m writing this partly so I have it to refer to on those days when I doubt my purpose or why I’m making myself, my secrets and my family so vulnerable. Or when I wonder why my book merits the attention of anyone outside my doting and biased inner circle. I will need to be reminded that reaching people, touching people, lighting a path, holding up a mirror and allowing them to see themselves in my story is a major part of my soul’s purpose in this lifetime. I will need to remember all the assistance I enjoy and that they wouldn’t be with me unless there was a grander design behind it all.

I have a lot to be grateful for. But today I am grateful for this phase of the journey and those walking beside me, holding my hand, whispering in my ear lovingly when the doubts and fears arise, helping me see the next stable stone across the rushing river, and cheering when I successfully jump onto it.

In the truest sense, I wouldn’t be able to do it without you. Thank you.