hey there little girl

Circa 1987.

Hey there little girl,

It’s been awhile since we last talked.

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve been thinking about you–a lot. First, I gotta say–you are 100% sass and a half. Look at you! A red skirt! I don’t remember owning cowgirl boots back then, but I’d like to think you’re rocking them out. This calls for three snaps and a head roll, ‘aight? I’m so proud of your style.

I’ve been thinking about summers of kickball with the kids down the street, playing with Chum and Town and Jesse, the three guys around, because there were no other girls–except for summers when Tamika came from Florida to stay with Ms. Grayson.

I’ve been thinking about Tropical Punch kool-aid, and popsicles and bomb pops.

I’ve been thinking about how dad used to let us stay up until 2am on the hottest nights. “No one can sleep when it’s hot, anyway,” he said. And we agreed with him, didn’t we, because it was pretty cool to stay up that late, playing CandyLand and Parcheesi and Clue and Checker and Trouble and Connect Four.

I would want you to know that I can still kick some butt at Connect Four.

I’ve been thinking about how scared you were all those years, watching things happen around you and thinking, “This is pretty messed up.” Adults are funny creatures, aren’t they? They kind of expect you to bend to their will and do what they say–not as they do. And you saw that and didn’t understand it, but you learned how to stay out of the way. You were really smart like that.

I’ve been thinking about how brave you were, how courageous you were. I’ve been thinking about how you lived with your whole heart, making art and writing books and playing piano and climbing trees and running faster faster faster than the boys and when they started cussing, or when they peed in corners, you looked in the other direction–but girl, you sure didn’t run off scared, did you? You could hang with that.

I’ve been thinking about how you lived so BIG that you were always scuffing your elbows and knees and my fingers run tenderly over those scars today. They are my most sacred tattoos, the scars that you gave me, the ones that you risked because you were willing to live with a heart that wide open, with passion unmasked. Running more carefully would have involved living less fully alive, and you weren’t about to do that.

I’ve been thinking about how/when being brave and courageous turned into steeling your small frame against chaos–look at those little bones, that tiny little frame, how could it hold all of that?–and sacrificing you, becoming the adult that you needed to become, early, in order for us to survive.

I would want to thank you for understanding the concept of sacrifice even better than the adults around you. To sacrifice a childhood is the ultimate sacrifice.

I would want to thank you for loving me too big to ever let my heart close entirely, too big to let others convince me that my tears were weak, too big to ever stop wishing and dreaming. I am in awe of your indomitable spirit, your refusal to become a cynic in the face of everything. I am so honored to have grown forth from you.

I would want to let you know that your sacrifice was not in vain–that in the end, we did get to create the life we wanted, didn’t we? In the end, we do get to choose a life that has a lot of PLAY in it.

I would want you to know how happy I am to be making up for lost time. Almost every day has a bit of play in it, now, and when it doesn’t, I appreciate that you remind me of its necessity. It’s kind of cool to get older and then recreate childhood, do it all a second time.

And this time, we get to do it right.

Do it the way it could have been done–with PLAY and hugs and kisses and love and reminders every day that you/I, are/am, exactly enough.

Thanks for hanging in there, so that we could get to this space. I love you.

~ me ~

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passion and play

Painting in my office.

This weekend, Andy and I went by the DeYoung Museum’s new exhibit of Impressionist paintings that are from one of my favorite museums in the world, the Musee D’Orsay, in Paris. Ohmigosh. So, so, so very beautiful.

I left the museum that afternoon feeling something that I feel every time I leave a museum: With that delicious feeling of, “I wanna do that!”

I call this following your “inner YES!”, that feeling inside that knows it wants something, craves something.

Some of us are people who have a LOT of inner “YES!” feelings, and then the challenge becomes knowing which ones to follow. I am one of those people. There is so much beauty, so many beautiful things that I’m attracted to, that in the past I have frequently found myself thinking I needed to figure out what my calling was, and stick to it.

I used to think that passion and play were not “the serious stuff,” that what I really needed to focus on was something like getting my life all “pulled together and balanced.”

It was only after my coach challenged me to make a joy list and do at least 2 things on that list, daily, that I realized how much resistance I had to passion and play. I had plenty of experience with anger and sadness, but my childhood and subsequent early adult years had not provided me with a lot of training in how to have a really fun, joyful experience. Sure, I laughed and made jokes. But did I walk around with an experience of real and true deep inner joy?

No.

And the side of me that was in need of a lot of healing told me that it wasn’t “practical” to expect that I would feel a lot of joy during my day. It wasn’t “realistic” to expect to be joyful within. And besides, weren’t those joy-filled types the ones who got made fun of as cheesy and ridiculous? I wouldn’t want to be one of those people.

Or would I?

There’s this thing that happens when we start tapping into more passion and play in our lives, this really cool thing where we start realizing first that the more unhappy one is, the more it is a choice. And second, that there’s an immense amount of compassion to have for anyone making that choice (not pity–compassion. True acceptance that that’s the choice they make, it’s painful, it isn’t easy, and that they’re making the choice for good reasons, while holding space that at any moment they’ll choose to shift out of that).

Choosing passion and play in my life has turned out to be the most practical of choices, the choice that strings life together in a completely different way. And yup, it is even practical to believe that one can occupy that space a good amount of time (the part that gets people into trouble, usually, is when we expect ourselves to be that all of the time, to never struggle, and then we want to give up at the first sign of setback. I totally get it.)

Also, the joy-filled types do get made fun of–and that’s okay. I’m choosing the experience I want to have on this earth, and others are choosing theirs. Why not simply accept that they have as much right to choose theirs as I do, my own? I’m fully behind my choices for my life. They serve me.

It’s a Story that there is just this one thing we are meant to do with life, or that there is a “Jack of all trades, master of none” thing going on. I think that it’s totally possible to dive into following your Inner YES! with abandon, and that all sorts of lovely things come out that way. I also think–and this is important!–that all of the bits and pieces of our lives need not be perfectly aligned for joy to come in.

We can start now, and start small. I don’t have an artist’s studio. My “studio” is a 2×3′ table purchased for $20 from IKEA. Many of my supplies are stored in a disorganized and haphazard fashion. I have to pull almost all of them out if I want to create anything. I remember the days when I told myself that I needed “a space” to create. I also no longer believe that one needs lots of “time.” Twenty minutes a day can go a long way towards connecting you with your passion and play.

This is one of those areas where the question must be asked: To what are you more committed, your vision or your resistance?

It’s okay to be in a resistant space. You’ll still be loved. Just keep noticing what you’re more committed to, moment to moment, and be prepared to make a leap when you’re ready for something to shift.

Where would you most like to introduce a lightness, a sense of fun, more passion, and more play into your life?

the sad place

New Tattoo #2.

I used to have clinical depression.

I was not “having a case of the Mondays” or “feeling down.” I was depressed. A lot of this was in high school, a naturally depressing time, and it infiltrated itself into my college experience, which felt sort of like a continuation of high school. This depression manifested itself as extreme isolation, crying, eating disorders, cutting, and being borderline suicidal–a lot of “I wish I could just go to sleep and not wake up.”

I didn’t want to end my life so much as I wanted the pain to end, though I did not have words for it at that time. I bounced around on a bunch of different anti-depressants before deciding that for me, they just did not work.

I look back now and think that much of my depression centered around feeling powerless. I felt stuck. I was in a lot of places where I didn’t want to be, I had all of this creative energy, I couldn’t seem to find my right people, I felt misunderstood.

It was when I started being where I wanted to be, using my creative energy, putting effort forth to find my right people, and then trusting that I would be understood that something shifted. The process was slow, and I went through big chunks of it without guidance. (This last, I do not recommend.)

The power thing is so important. It seems to me that depression is, at its essence, a feeling of being pressed down, unable to get up, unable to effect change in one’s life. In my case, stuff kept happening and I just didn’t know how to react, except for getting angry, which cost me friends and my health. So then I would get depressed because I didn’t have any other tools in my toolbox. I knew I wanted to shift something, wanted that connection, yet didn’t know how to go about getting it.

The sad place is often the seemingly powerless place.

The powerless part is the illusion, though, because within the sadness we do have a choice: choosing compassion.

One of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject is Cheri Huber’s The Depression Book. It’s all about being with what we feel, acknowledging it without shaming ourselves out of feeling it, courageously navigating those waters, learning what it has to tell us.

What would your sadness tell you, if you gave it a voice?

I know that mine all those years would have sad how lonely she felt, how isolated it was to be a Do-er (someone who does lots of stuff). How the thrill of finishing a project did not even remotely compare to the stress and sadness and exhaustion of doing more and more, and how disappointing it was that recognition did not translate into connection.

So, then. Again: What would your sadness tell you, if you gave it a voice?

We’re often afraid to go into our sadness because it can seem like this bottomless hole that we won’t get out of. This is something that I talk about in The Courageous Living Guide–how do we bravely step into something that blocks us (not releasing emotions is a block), while simultaneously feeling like there is no way around the block?

It takes getting help, getting support for what you face. Acknowledging that you deserve to live life bigger. Willingness to navigate some scary spaces.

It also takes compassion. Compassion for the sadness (rather than shoulds or guilt). Compassion for yourself if you realize that you’re just not ready to go there, yet. That’s okay. It’s okay to not be ready.

HOW DO I GET STARTED? This is a good question to ask. How does one get started when they’re feeling this down at the bottom of something? Here’s my personal answer, which you can extrapolate to yourself as needed:

Move.

Move one thing.

Move a paperweight or a book, then a pencil and then a piece of paper. There’s something about movement that either brings on the feelings or expels them.

Here’s another thought: Don’t move.

Sit with it. Sometimes I sit on my zafu and stare at a wall and resolve not to move until something has shifted. Sometimes I’ll bring with me a clarifying question, a question like “What does my sadness want to tell me?” and then maybe the answer will reveal itself and some tender place in my heart will unlock and I’ll bow my body and cry into my knees a bit, but that’s real and when I’m done crying, I blow my nose and have that nice, cleaned-out feeling.

Those are just two options that I choose.

There’s such a huge range to explore with the topic of sadness. One area that is difficult is knowing when it’s “serious” versus when it’s not. I think people tend to err more on the side of “Oh, it’s not serious” and then they don’t get help. And if that’s you, I encourage you to reach out, professionally or otherwise, and start talking to people. Own your sadness. Claim it. Give it a voice. It might transform from there. Simply having permission to be what it is without the admonishment to “Get happy!” is a powerful thing.

What does your sadness tell you?