Let us pray

Tomorrow, we will act. Tonight, let us pray.

Dear God,

We pray for peace to blanket us, our nation, our children and the world. In the softness of this peace, first bring about an awareness of your divine presence within all of us.

Next, please free us all from hate, from that which gives us the illusion we are separate from you and from one another.

Remove our fear, replace it with love and help us to think, feel and act from our highest and greatest selves.

We understand we are called to love and forgive as your son, Jesus, and others have done before us.

We know we have work to do, so please clear our path. Show us the thoughts and actions you would have us take today, tomorrow and always. Give us the courage and wisdom to act, to manifest.

Guide our leaders. Guide our adversaries. Guide our children. Guide our hearts. Protect us. Heal us. Connect us. Shine through us. Bless us all.

We thank you for this opportunity to love the way you would have us love.

In God’s name,

Amen

Note:

In the spiritual journey, it’s sometimes said that the closer you get to the light, the more fiercely darkness, or ego, rears its head.

In the therapeutic journey, just as you’re reaching a major breakthrough, it’s common to hit a roadblock. Also known as “trouble at the border.”

In both journeys, you press on. Eventually, you reach the light, the breakthrough, the next phase of consciousness.

Tonight fear and ego appear to have risen, embodying this metaphysical and therapeutic phenomenon in a political arena. And so it seems, my wonderful warriors of love and light, it’s time to press on. We have some love to spread. Let’s do this.

Just swimming in metaphors

You are suddenly a mermaid. Swathed in cloudy turquoise light, you dive down, down, down toward sand and tiny threads of seaweed growing from the bottom. Soaring through the water, for a second you are almost certain you are part-woman, part fish.

Ripples in the sand, not a creature in sight. Surrounded by unbreathable faded blue, this Atlantean water feels familiar, like you know it. You feel like you could stay there forever, making waves of your body beneath the waves of the ocean, bright yellow fins propelling you along the sand you’re grazing with your chest.

No one is watching you, no one knows where you are. You remember hearing about bull sharks in this area. You haven’t speared any fish, and you’re not particularly afraid, so you’re not high on a shark’s radar, but the fact that you can’t even see two feet in front of you does make you a little uneasy. They say the sharks in your mind are scarier than the real thing.

You turn over, do a quick 360 scan for dorsal fins and recline into your favorite place in the world—on your back, in the ocean, submerged in water, breathing air, staring at the sky, your body rolling with the waves. Your feet rise, then fall, gently, so gently. The water raises and releases your knees, your hips, chest, head and eventually your arms, the swell at last lifting your fingertips and setting them softly back down where they were. And the next swell comes. And another. And the clouds are beautiful. And you are certain there’s no more mystical place to be than in between earth and sky, buoyed by the sea, which you equate with God or Spirit, all by yourself, and somehow nowhere near lonely.

At the same time, it’s hard being alone sometimes. As a single, working mom, that is. You’re thinking about it a lot on this trip, which you’ve been anticipating for two years. One of your best friends curated her best friends for a birthday trip to her parents’ home in the Bahamas, and these women are awesome in all kinds of ways—funny, graceful, powerful, kind, running companies, raising families, blazing trail, nailing it in general. They each delight in their respective marriages and you’re very aware—because of you, not because of them, and no more clearly than when they wrest you away from the dashing Southern sportsman you all call “Marky Mark” at the bar because it’s just time to go home—that you are unaffiliated.

They jokingly wish that the guy, provided it’s a guy, who owns the ridiculous yacht in Baker’s Bay (Podium, if you’re curious), whoever he is, will find and fall in love with you. That, or a fun, kind, open, spiritually evolved, sexy, athletic hedge fund owner who likes you and your kids. In other words, a unicorn. You well up about the sense of aloneness at dinner one night, and one of the girls says very clearly and directly: “This is just one moment in time in your life.”

Right. It’s easy to forget. This transition you’re in, it won’t last forever. You’ve just got to move through it.

You can’t help spotting the metaphor in the opaque sea around you, and tying it to this broader moment in time. You’ve been swimming in “unknown waters” with limited visibility for a while now. Not ideal conditions. You wish it were clear, like some of your dives off the Ambar III in the Sea of Cortez, or like the deep blue off the coast of Kona. You want to see in front of you and behind you and beneath you. When you dive down, you want to behold something wondrous and to reach for it. But here you are in a cloudy, unknown corner of the ocean. You have no idea what could be swimming—or not—around you and you are not entirely sure where you’re heading.

It feels a little nerve wracking, this not knowing what surrounds and awaits you. And yet you don’t get out of the water. You heave a deep breath, pop your snorkel out of your mouth and go down, fin tips the last to disappear beneath the surface, dolphin kicking, clearing your mask and ears, to the sandy bottom, which you cannot see until the very moment you touch it.

That’s what this season of your life must be about. Diving, going, trusting, moving forward fast and hopeful into unknown waters to see what’s there, open to whatever you find. (But you think it might be nice to come across that unicorn…)

Eventually you do come back to shore, the setting sun shining a light so magical you can’t believe it. Stepping out of the hazy turquoise breaking on the beach, a mermaid transformed, you look down to see your skin appears golden. It actually looks gold in this light. And although you don’t have anything figured out, and you don’t feel any lighter, wiser or more secure than when you entered the water, in this moment in time, you know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Slathered in sun and saltwater, glowing and unknowing.

Note: This is just one tale from your visit to the Bahamas, a mere snippet of a broader four-day experience, which involved all sorts of succulence you embraced with abandon. Lobster salad, island hopping, fast boats, strolls through quaint towns, conch fritters and cold rose, meditation under infinite stars, dance parties, conversations with awesome women, yacht gawking, rum punch, daily solo SUP-ing, the world’s most generous hosts, private air travel, delightful new acquaintances, swimming, paddling, laughing, reading, writing, eating. A beautiful journey. You are ready to return immediately. Still, the ocean brings stuff up for you, and even amid all the wonderment, shit gets real, so that’s what you write about.

 

Pat yourself on the back

It’s January, the month when everything that fell under the soft, twinkly haze of the holidays is cast in the glaring light of the New Year, and acting all prickly. I’ve spoken with more than a handful of friends who are having a tough week, mostly regarding work, specifically, so I think it’s time to unveil Charlie’s latest invention: The back-patting machine.

Maybe what we all need no matter our career lot is a little encouragement right now, so here goes… You’re awesome.  Don’t waste any more energy doubting yourself. Whatever it is, it doesn’t define you. Listen, learn and do your thing. Be you. Get some rest. Take good care of yourself. Because you’re darn good at providing care, and only the best will do for you. Have some fun today. Fun is good for you. You are good. So good. Everything is going to fall into place. You can do it, no matter what “it” is. You got it goin’ on. Love yourself. I love you. You’re awesome.

Now go ahead and pat yourself on the back, you magnificent thing, you.

This is a Boy Scout (note the neckerchief) wearing a helmet with a robotic arm, the sole purpose of which is to pat your back. Well done!

This is a Boy Scout (note the neckerchief) wearing a helmet with a robotic arm, the sole purpose of which is to pat your back. I say well done! (pencil sketch by Charlie.)

Announcing Sensory Kid book project! + Long-distance haiku dedications

Big reveal! I’m working on a book proposal. The book’s working title is “Sensory Integration at the Soul Level: An intuitive toolkit for parents of today’s Sensory Kids.” I’m still writing it (in fact I should be writing it right now instead of crafting haikus, probs) but, in short, it’s a nonfiction ditty on the spirituality of sensory integration issues in children, and it’s full of ideas to support Sensory Kids and their parents on their journey. I’m not stoked about the title. Ideas welcomed.

So, it turns out agents and publishers kinda want authors to have a gazillion fans before they ever publish your work. So I called up my friend, Facebook, and offered to write thank-you haikus to the first 10 friends who followed my blog yesterday. I threw in a couple extra for two ladies who shared my post with their friends (thank you!) and one more for one of my dear longtime followers on the occasion of her birthday.

So, following are a few 17-syllable thank you notes to those who showed up in a cool way yesterday to help me grow my readership. I’m writing haikus for 10 people today, too, so it’s not too late to forward to your friends and suggest that they follow me by email. You know, if you wanna…

Kate R.B.

Visionary Kate,

You are one of the bold ones.

Sharp mind, brightest heart.

Kristy M.

Pure, breezy, lovely

You glow, warming all with love.

Kindness radiates.

Frank B.

Your still countenance

And air of acceptance puts

Friends in a bliss place

Moira S.C.

Southern charm in spades

Your great laugh is contagious

Fun, fascinating

Wes R.

You are the rare spark

That happens when heart and mind

Ignite with spirit.

Marie F.

Though you have many,

One superpower stands out:

You give gifts of laughter.

Dana McJ

When you speak and smile

We perk up our ears to hear

Still waters run deep

Nicole A.

Soul sis at first sight

Dazzling spirit, shining smile

Strength and grace abound

Christie B.

Hot aerospace girl

Mad brains and a giving heart

Got it goin’ on

Whitney G.B.

Nothing’s better than

a spirit so generous

and a smile so warm

Dana M.

I wonder if you

Have any clue how very

Luminous you are

Becca U.

The vastness of your

Inner and outer beauty

Grows richer with time

So quiet outside; so loud inside: My retreat recap

It’s been a while since I’ve written, so I’ll catch up on everything soon—our trip to Baja, family camp, my inner life and more—but first, the meditation retreat…

IMG_2830

Paramahansa Yogananda’s hermitage in Encinitas, Calif. This is the window near which he wrote “Autobiography of a Yogi,” the most formative book I’ve read. My guru’s hermitage holds a definitive magic for me.

Two months ago, I went on a three-day silent retreat at the Self-Realization Fellowship ashram in Encinitas, Calif. Ever since, I’ve been telling friends who ask about it: “It was great. Intense, but awesome. I’ll share more about it later.”

I keep waiting for fascinating words of inspiring profundity, but they haven’t come. This business of leading a spiritual life can be so personal, so gritty, so impossible to explain.

As such, instead of my typical long-form essay, here’s a stream-of-consciousness re-cap on what it was like to keep silence, meditate way more than is normal for me and be alone with God for three days, in chronological order, with several parts missing:

  • Excitement
  • Aw, I look super cute today. This is just the perfect outfit for meditation.
  • I’m kinda nervous. What might come up when I get quiet?
  • Silence now? I thought the retreat didn’t officially start until tomorrow?
  • It’s weird not talking at the dinner table
  • Substitute smiles and eye contact for words. Hmm. I kinda like this.
  • Nature Gardens Wildlife Waves Hummingbirds Euphoria
nature

View from my favorite meditation bench in the gardens. Sitting there, I was surrounded by jasmine, hummingbirds, jackrabbits, giant jade bushes, koi ponds, palms, birds of paradise and the massive Pacific.

  • Breathing
  • Quiet
  • Soundest sleep I’ve had in months
  • Wake up. I choose to shower instead of meditate. Again, I find the perfect outfit and lip gloss for the occasion.
  • Meet up for energization exercises and group meditation
  • Darkened chapel, sit down, straight spine, woo! Here we go!
  • Peace, quiet, gratitude for the time to do this
  • Here comes the back pain
  • Break. Sneak off during the break to get a massage in Encinitas. The back pain is unbearable.
  • Return for more meditation.
  • This chapel is so peaceful.
  • I would like to feel as peaceful as that woman sitting over there smiling.
  • I talk too much in real life.
  • So quiet outside; so loud inside
  • Get distracted while meditating, draw myself back (repeat times a billion)
  • Feel an inner storm rising, shudder at the thought, tell myself that’s why I’m here, and try to trust that I’ll be ok no matter what comes up for me.
  • Feel ridiculous for even thinking about clothes and lipgloss
  • Breakfast is delicious
  • Loooong period of meditation (2.5 hours)
  • Stabbing upper back pain
  • Inner storm hits
  • Frustration
  • Gurus, could you take away this back pain so I can concentrate better?
  • Cool. Thanks!
  • Dang. It’s back again. Mother effer! This is so hard.
  • Despair
  • Tears
  • Please, God, make this easier, I want to hear You.
  • #$%&!!!
  • Resignation to the fact I’m going to be here a while.
  • Keep dragging my mind back to the techniques.
  • Relief! It’s finally over. And now we chant.
  • Can I go home now? I’m sure Marina will let me stay with her the next couple nights…
meditation bench

I passed a few hours in meditation and general reverie on this bench overlooking the Pacific. This spot was like salve for the stings that came up during my chapel meditations. Being outside is always what soothes me.

  • Another meditation
  • I can’t effing believe I’m going back for more. Not fun. I should’ve booked a beach vacation with girlfriends…
  • Straight spine, open heart, aching back
  • Praying, praying, praying for help
  • Kriya-o-rama
  • Light across the Christ Center (third eye)
  • Joy

Sister Yogamahi—my fave nun—pulls me aside because she feels like I could use a counseling session. OMG! She’s like a rockstar nun! And she’s going to talk with ME about MY problems! Squee! I break silence to chat with Sister Yogamahi

Me: blah blah blah, bunch of majorly un-spiritual admissions I can’t believe I tell a nun. Vent, vent, vent. What would Master say about this? Cry, cry, cry. Do you have any advice?

Sister Yogamahi: Warm smile, gleaming eyes, doles out real-deal wisdom, offers perspective, cracks some jokes, makes me laugh, gives me support with zero judgment, promises to pray for me and it feels like I’ve just hooked up with God Himself, tells me stuff that comforts me, puts me back in touch with my own ability to feel God’s presence, makes me wonder if she’s not actually on the line with Jesus and Paramahansa Yogananda as she’s talking with me.

Me: “Wow. Thanks. Can I hug you? Wait, do nuns hug?” (It occurs to me she might prefer to connect with the heart than with the body, or her vibration might be so high from meditating like a boss all these years that touching a mere mortal might send my nervous system reeling.)

Sister Yogamahi: Only when no one is looking. And I think we’re being watched. She laughs.

Me: Etheric hug, then! (I clasp my hands at my heart and bow my head in gratitude to her.)

Sister Yogamahi: Smiles with a bazillion watts of God’s love, then swishes away in her ochre robes.

Me: 80 pounds lighter and heaps clearer than moments before.

meditation gardens

Amazing how so much soul gunk can find its way up in a place bursting with this much beauty.

  • Another long period of meditation. I approach sans dread.
  • Breathing
  • No more back pain
  • No more caring about what I’m wearing, or how cute I look for this
  • Kriya-o-rama
  • Depth
  • Clarity
  • Peace
  • Happiness
  • Melancholy about leaving, about returning to the noisy world
  • Missing my family, but loving the peace that’s finally settled. It’s a bittersweet farewell
  • Fly back home

That’s that. Someday maybe stories of substance will emerge, but this was my experience. If any of you have ever gone within for several days, I’d love to hear of your experience. What went down for you when you went inward?

I’ve been told Jesus loves me.

Note: Below I’ve written about God, Jesus and Mary because that’s what I experienced. That said, I well know the Divine extends far beyond the Christianity of my Bible Belt beginnings, so please feel free to replace my vernacular with words that resonate with you…the Universe, Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia, the Greater Order, Goddess, your guru, Divine Mother, Buddha, Krishna or any deity that resonates with your heart. After all, we’re all one.

Most days, after I drop off the boys at school, I duck into the nearby church sanctuary for five to 10 minutes. Once inside, I pause to gaze at the statue of Mary as I take a seat beneath cathedral ceilings smudged with stained-glass-filtered light.

Sometimes I admire Mary’s likeness. You’ve got it all locked up, Mother of God. How do you do it?

Sometimes I feel awe. Wow, you are pure grace. Amazing.

Sometimes I want to cry. When you were living in the body, did you ever feel the stuff I’m feeling now? You were a woman in the world before you were divine, right? So how did you handle it? What did you do when you struggled?

Sometimes I feel gratitude. OMG, you are really actually here for me, Mary. I can feel it. Thanks for being so expansive.

Sometimes I ask her for help. I wish I could be more like you. Could you help me do that? Work through me. I am so, so lost right now. Please take over because I am just not nailing life at the present.

For reference only, this is me nailing life. It happens sometimes.

For reference only, this is me actually nailing life (with holes in my socks).

After a minute or so of reflecting on Mary, who I experience as an expression of the Divine Mother, I sit up straighter and close my eyes to meditate. Looking toward the center of my forehead, I repeat a silent “hong” on the in breath, and sau (pronounced “saw”) on the out breath. In repetition, this mantra slows the heart rate and paves the way for greater concentration. (Pow! That’s meditation. ‘All there is to it.)

Sometimes I float into bliss for a while. Sometimes my mind races the entire time. Eventually, I end with a prayer of protection and thanks to Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Christ and all the great ones. And then I walk out the big double doors and into my day.

Today a woman wearing a long, hooded powder blue coat waited for me at the door. I gave her a friendly smile and she followed me out.

“I see you in here praying a lot,” she said, squaring her body in front of me on the steps. She had a low, melodic voice and was tall—a little taller than me. She looked to be halfway between my mom and my grandma’s age. Her face was smooth and soft, and even the skin around her eye area was youthfully taut. She wore no makeup, and her light brown eyes were twinkly. If I had to read her energy, I’d say it was loving, strong, protector-y and practical, in that order.

“I want to let you know about a special chapel I think you’d like,” she said. “It’s not far from here and if you enjoy praying in this sanctuary, I think you’d really enjoy this other chapel.”

She proceeded to tell me about the tiny 24-hour chapel of a huge Catholic church a couple miles away. I’ve seen the church before, and it’s beautiful from the outside. She told me of the chapel’s beauty, of the special feel it has, of how the laity meticulously maintains it, of the beautiful statue of Mary and of how adorers are welcome at all hours of the day.

“Adorers?” I asked. I’ve not heard this term before. Is that like what I did with Mark Wahlberg this summer?

“Yes, adorers,” she said matter of factly. “Of Mary, of Jesus.”

“Oh, ok,” I said, feeling silly. “That’s beautiful. I’m not Catholic, so ‘adorer’ is not a word I’m familiar with.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be Catholic. I invite Muslim people there, too. You’ll feel Jesus, and it doesn’t matter, he’s for everyone,” she said, pausing for a few beats and looking deep into my eyes with a gaze so steady and warm I felt myself melting into it.

“Jesus wants to love you,” she said. “That is a grace you are blessed to have. You know.”

Instantaneously, I began to cry.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a chat with nun at my guru's hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a little chit chat with a Self-Realization Fellowship nun at my guru’s hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

Something in her countenance when she said “Jesus wants to love you” reached into my being and ripped down a hard-fought wall, releasing a swell of emotion. She stood solidly before me, gazing at my face with serenity and compassion from Lord knows where. Or how. I swear she glowed. What was this phenomenon? I felt wrapped in love beyond love, unaware of space, people and things around me. Unable to stop the tears from coming, I smiled bashfully and threw my hands in the air as if to apologize for my show of emotion. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly and she nodded her head once like she’d seen this a hundred times. She stood close, simply regarding me.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling and shrugging my shoulders, mystified. “Thanks so much.”

Her mouth turned up further into a sweet smile and she excused herself. I rushed off to the car. Once alone, the tears continued, and in the same moment, they became laced with laughter. Joy in abundance. “What was that?” I heard myself say aloud. “Who was that?”

I don’t know why I was incredulous. This morning before leaving the house, I read that today, Feb. 19, is a good day to ask for guidance from your higher self. So I did. Instead of just asking to receive the guidance, I asked to feel it, to experience it and to have the courage to take action on it. Additionally, as I do every morning, I asked to be a channel for God’s love to all I meet.

I figured I’d receive some sort of mandate from my higher self, like, “Yes, we know you’re having a hard time right now but be spiritual about it and rise above it all, will you? You want superconsciousness? You better straighten up and fly right. Get over all this dumb human stuff already.”

It’s like I was expecting my guidance to come with a healthy serving of shame. But that is just not how God works. I always forget.

When I asked for it this morning, I never suspected I’d receive divine encouragement to let myself be loved. And by Jesus, no less. It’s too simplistic, too nice, too outrageous. But it was unmistakably divine. “Jesus wants to love you,” said the woman in blue. To me, implicit in her words was, “Open your heart and receive the love of all loves. You are worthy. Jesus wants to love you.” Suddenly it was so obvious: I can share God’s love with others only if I allow my own self to revel in that great love first.

I don’t know why this woman chose today of all days to speak to me. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for why she was bundled in a full-length, light blue down coat on the warmest day of the winter, and why she had her hood covering her head. But despite all logic, standing in the morning sun of those church steps, she looked every bit like Mary to me. What’s more, she felt like Mary. As sometimes happens with phenomena, I may see her again and experience her in a completely different way, but what matters to me is that today, on the day I asked for an experience of divine guidance, I was overcome with wonderment on feeling Mary’s love flowing through this very person.

So, my wish for you today is that you open yourself to an experience of divine guidance.  Just ask for it, aloud or in your heart. Then, when you have the experience, I hope that you know it, and that it moves you in some wonderful way. Finally, may you allow yourself to revel in the love of all loves. Just like I was told this morning, Jesus wants to love you.

357-word review of Frozen (yep, that Disney cartoon)

You don’t have to see the movie, Frozen, for a good gobsmacking, but if you like cartoons and musicals as unashamedly as I do, I recommend it. (Cynics, be still. Everybody knows neither cartoons nor musicals are “cool” and I just don’t care.)

Yes, the characters are vibrant, the compelling love story is between two sisters rather than a shallow prince/princess and the music is off the chain. In any event, the importance of Frozen lies less in the visual and aural appeal, more in the prevailing theme, which is this: Fear and love cannot coexist.

When Queen Elsa is raked with fear of her own power, everything becomes cold, frozen and bleak. When Elsa chooses love over fear, everything melts, blooms and flows again. Her fear causes destruction. Love makes everything ok. And love allows her to step fully into the brilliance of her own power.

Did you get that? Because my kids sure did. And, whether they were conscious of it or not, so did every other kid in that theatre, something for which I want to high-five the hell out of Disney.

But let’s talk about you. Did you know fear and love were incapable of coexisting in your consciousness at the same time? It’s true. Try it:

  1. Think of something that terrifies you. Something you can’t control. Someone you don’t want to lose. A possibility that makes you shudder.
  2. Now think of the object in those scenarios, whatever or whoever it is, and send loving thoughts toward her, him or it and send love toward yourself as well.
  3. Buh bye fear. Hello, vulnerability. (Not that vulnerability feels good, exactly, but it gets better over time, and anything is better than the fear space.)
  4. Eventually, with practice, that gripping, freezing fear automatically transforms into a cagey sense of vulnerability, which ultimately melts into blossoming love and tranquility.

You can either freeze or you can bloom. You can choose fear, or choose love. Please choose love, if only for this one moment. And maybe the moment after that. And again after that. Just go see Frozen if you need more convincing.

In time for the Winter Solstice, let’s all explore my boozy alter ego!

AKA, MEETING MY DARKNESS AT THE DOOR LAUGHING AND INVITING HER IN (Special thanks to Rumi for the alternate title)

We all have many sides. Some are light, some are dark. And that’s that.

Personally, I have Empathetic Emily, Joyful Emily, Compassionate Emily and Deep-Connecting Emily. On the darker end, I’ve got Self-Absorbed Emily, Serious Overthinking Emily, Talky Emily, Worrying Emily, Judgmental Emily and…

Coming soon to a cocktail party near you: Saucy, Unbridled Emily. (Mom and Dad, feel free to discontinue reading here.)

And she's off. Little Miss Life of the Party.

And she’s off. Little Miss Life of the Party.

PART ONE

Boozy alter-ego: Is she light or is she shadow?

Let’s explore this a bit, shall we? Except in the case of very close friends, who have to deal with my complete personality with some frequency, Saucy, Unbridled Emily usually only makes an appearance while cocktailing. So, because she surfaces when I’m in a less conscious state, it follows that she plays for Team Shadow. (Naturally, our Team Light traits are probably fielded by the personality aspects we want everyone to see in the light of day. The ones we can cultivate.)

After reviewing the fuzzy details from a particularly big night for Saucy, Unbridled Emily at a superbly festive cocktail party, and then feeling the aftermath of “Oh, boy. Did I really go there?” I feel called to explore her. After all, she must be trying to tell me something. I’m not done delving on my own yet but, for starters, I *think* she wants me to grow comfier with her and with owning the things she’s about. She wants me to embrace and display my whole self, not just put my socially acceptable “pretties” on display as for company. In case it helps convince you to explore your own version of a shadowy alter ego, Winter Solstice is next week and we could all be taking advantage of the seasonal support to dive into our own darkness. ‘Tis the season for that.

‘Tis also the season for parties and drinks with friends, which means Saucy, Unbridled Emily has been climbing out of the shadows more than usual. She’s very pleased to meet you, by the way. In fact, she finds you riveting. She wants to know all about you, and she has no taste for small talk, so she’s probably going to say some bold things to coax you into sharing some of your own real stuff. If you shock easily, it might be a little uncomfortable at first, but you’ll warm up as you go along and, in the end, you’ll at least have a modestly entertaining conversation.

Linds and Em

Saucy, Unbridled Emily likes to wear sparkly things. She’s loud. She’s flashy. She’ll tell you like it is. And then some.

—PAUSE—

Let’s take this out of the third person because, holy cow, it’s time I own the fact that “she” is actually me. I am Saucy, Unbridled Emily. There. I feel better already. Now let’s give some examples of what you and I might chat about should we find ourselves sharing a couple bottles of bubbles, or something with bourbon in it.

Top 10 conversation topics Saucy, Unbridled Emily is most likely to bring up after her third glass of wine

  1. Why we should either go out dancing or put on some 90s jams and have a dance party right in there in your kitchen. Excuse me, Pandora, can you play “Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thang.”
  2. The clear vision I had of a past life with you. What? You didn’t know I believed in past lives? Oops. I guess we’ve never talked about this before. Yeah…sometimes I have psychic experiences, which sometimes involve visions, which might sometimes involve you. In a good way, though, I promise. It’s totally not as weird as it sounds…
  3. That time I was propositioned by swingers. No, no, no. I hailed a cab long before the catsuit actually came out of the closet.
  4. The metaphysics of Sensory Processing Disorder. Let’s talk about today’s ultra-intuitive kids and the book I’m going to write about them. But first, who needs another drink?
  5. Couples therapy. Mine, that is. Likely as a segue to suggesting you get some, too. Because marriage is hard for everyone, you know? And it’s worth working on. Once you see how normal I am, there’ll be no question therapy is right for you, too. Right?
  6. Outlandish stories about my husband when he was a young, single wild child. Fine. You won’t quit prodding about why he went home early, or why he’s not out with me, so here’s your answer: A.) He’s more of an introvert than I am. Like, by a long shot, B.) He was tired and didn’t want to drink any more and C.) He got his hardcore partying out before we even met. Here, let me tell you about the time he was a ski bum in Aspen in the 80s…
  7. My deep admiration of men, and of women, for all the magic that each of them hold. Hush. No human is hotter or better suited for me than my husband, scout’s honor. But a girl can still enjoy the human form and spirit, especially while she’s drinking like the good sorority girl she was.
  8. The names and personalities of my spirit guides. I know, I know. Crazy town. But the thing is, you have spirit guides, too. Yes, really. Hold on. Lemme see if I can tune into them for you… Maybe? Nope. I’m a little fuzzy right now. But you totally have spirit guides. Ask me about this again when I’m not drinking.
  9. Tales of one or two unconventional relationships from my single days. I mean, didn’t you experiment, too? Oh, you didn’t? Oh, ok. Now this is awkward. I’m gonna get another drink now.
  10. All things TMI. (also, bawdy jokes, prodding questions and a general vulnerability floodlight.) It’s so great getting to know you better. Thanks for opening up so much. I hate small talk, so this conversation is the bomb.

Get a few glasses of wine in me and we’re diving right in. Because, after all, I mean, who likes small talk?

Small talk? I will not have it. This is my serious listeny face. It's a face I might make while you dish up some of your real-life stories. (I can't be sure of this, but I suspect my Oprah's Lifeclass face and my Saucy, Unbridled Emily listening to you talk about real stuff face might look similar.)

Small talk? I will have none of it. This is my intent listening face. I suspect my Oprah studio audience face and my Saucy, Unbridled Emily listening  face might look similar.

PART TWO (Here come the gratuitous selfies)

Let’s explore a little more about how I feel when I look at Saucy, Unbridled Emily. What purpose might she be serving, for example? What am I to learn from this side of myself? (Feel free to apply these questions to your own boozy alter-ego, whomever he or she may be.)

What I like about myself as Saucy, Unbridled Emily:

  • I’m fearless.
  • I laughingly own up to my shortcomings.
  • I brazenly claim the stuff that makes me awesome.

Those all sound like things I might want to apply to my life across the board. However, when I wake up the next day to find a more conscious version of myself is in charge, it still feels a little icky.

What I don’t like about myself as Saucy, Unbridled Emily:

  • I experience a sense of vulnerability from sharing details of my inner life.
  • I feel a sense of shame for losing sight of my normally steadfast commitment to higher consciousness. Simultaneously, I feel concerned that “Nice Girl” and “Good Girl” were nowhere to be found in Saucy, Unbridled Emily’s spotlight.
  • I’m embarrassed about certain parts of myself. Like, the fact that I turn into a loudmouth hedonist when I choose to imbibe.

It’s true. Saucy, Unbridled Emily is a hedonistic, show-offy aspect of my makeup that, somewhere along the road, must have been deemed frivolous and indulgent and inappropriate and dirty and naughty and not allowed and therefore stuffed into the darkness only to emerge when my tight controls were compromised. Around that time, “Nice Girl” and “Good Girl” began their salad days, gradually evolving into deft oppressors of Saucy, Unbridled Emily, and other shadow sides. See, look how socially appropriate I can be. But, as we know, when you push something down, it’s going to keep coming up until–

See? There she is!

See? There she is! No more hiding. This moment just calls for a selfie, don’t you think? (Admittedly, this pic is rather chastely inspired, as I sent it to Brian because I was appreciative of the fact he’d made me breakfast that morning. Lest anyone think I’m into sexting. It’d surely take a lot more drinks for me to go there.)

Boom! It’s so obvious! You can’t turn away from it, girl. Look at it, look at it, look at it…

Aw, man. Throughout my adult life, I’ve been using occasional big-drinking nights to silence “Nice Girl”* and “Good Girl”* so that saucier sides might emerge.

*I use scare quotes here because what the deuce do “nice” and “good” even mean? The expectation to be “nice” and “good” is woven into many a woman’s inner fabric, still without clear definition, I might add.

Hear this, Socially Appropriate Emily:  Saucy, Unbridled Emily refuses to be pushed down any longer.

These shadow sides of ourselves, whatever they look like to you, want to, need to surface. And there are two ways they can come out:

  1. Getting yourself chemically uninhibited or otherwise “weakened”
  2. Asking for it.

I’ll be darned if I haven’t repeatedly done both of those things this holiday season. One, alcohol. Two, prayer:

“God, please help me to discover and understand all that stuff I’ve pushed down over the years because I somehow decided it’s not fit for human consumption. Yep, I want to see that stuff, and I want to embrace it. I know it’s in there because I can feel it prickle me sometimes. I want to understand it. I want it to not be so scary and powerful anymore. And, whatever it is, I want to integrate it into my everyday persona. I want you to shine some light on it and make it visible so that I can move beyond and be bigger and better for you. Cool?”

PART THREE

I find a lot of people who don’t want to know what’s lingering there in the dark. It’s terrifying. It’s deep down there for a reason—not going to bring it up. Don’t even go there. What would happen?

I’ll tell you what can happen when you “go there.”

Just Saturday morning, after a very back-bendy yoga class with a friend, I found myself standing on the curb in the noonday light crying in her arms. Our casual after-class conversation got real when a truth from the darkest corner of my shadow came rolling off my tongue. I was safe with her, but this part of me was painful to release, because it was not at all in line with who I’ve long thought I’m supposed to be in order to be “good” and “nice.”

I showed her my darkness. After she beamed her own warming, understanding light directly onto my patch of spiky, neglected shadow, do you know what she did? She thanked me. She said my vulnerability was a gift to our friendship, and she wrote me: “Know that there is no judgment, only compassion and empathy.” I felt a kind of emotional freedom I never imagined. She then sent me the Rumi poem that follows.

In one very well-timed, no doubt divinely orchestrated conversation with a true and wise friend, all my tremendous fear of these darker aspects of myself softened into curiosity, even compassion. I’m still figuring things out, but I can see a faint glimmer of how I’ll feel and who I’ll be once I’ve completed the process of observing, embracing and integrating my various shadows into the me everyone sees. It’s hard to describe, but this future vision is so comforting, so surprisingly empowering.

In any event, for the time being, Saucy, Unbridled Emily, (and all the other shadow aspects of myself) I bid you a warm welcome to the Guest House.

The Guest House

By Jelaluddin Rumi
Translation by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Charlie put this sticker on my throat once because he said it would help my fifth chakra get stronger. Sure enough, blue is the color of the throat chakra, which is all about self expression and sharing your truth. I think it's pretty appropriate for where I am right now. Figuring out how to be me. All of me, all the time.

Charlie put this sticker on my throat once because he said it would help my throat chakra get stronger. Sure enough, blue is the color of the fifth chakra, which is all about self expression and sharing your truth. I think remembering this sticker is pretty appropriate for where I am right now. Figuring out how to be me, how to express my true self, all the time.

What’s in your internal box office? I try giving it up to God and get huffy when it doesn’t go MY way.

My husband has a great expression he uses to explain the conservation of energy for the things you really want to do. “Fun tickets.”

Basically, he says, you’ve got a finite amount of energy, aka fun tickets, to use in a day, so you can choose either to use them up all at once, or conserve them for later.

It goes back to his days when he summered as a roughneck on drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico in order to winter in Aspen as a ski bum. It was the early 1980s, where, if you felt like it, you could dance all night beside a glass coffee table laden with overflowing ashtrays of white powder. However, if the other kind of white powder was falling, he forewent the Don Henley lifestyle and went to bed early to make sure he had enough fun tickets for the mountain. After all, even as a young buck, you only have so many fun tickets in a 24-hour period. You can borrow from the next day’s stash, but you have fewer to work with once the sun rises. Reliably, being the first one down the hill on a fresh powder morning was his preferred buzz.

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(photo caption) This is my man back in the 1980s and 1990s, when he cashed in a lot of fun tickets. Back then, he was known by his initials, BQ. His Copper Mountain employee ID is cool, but the real gem is that guy in the teeny shorts, presumably just after he moved to Maui. There’s no shortage of shirtless-BQ-with-fish pics and feather-haired-BQ-embracing-gleaming-feather-haired-woman pics in the big black bag where he keeps his photos. Gotta love a man with a rich tapestry. I know I sure do.

Are there other kinds of tickets?

If homemaking and motherhood have anything at all in common with recreational drug use in the eighties and life as a ski bum circa Hot Tub Time Machine, it’s that your body only has a limited number of fun tickets available.

Same goes for perfection tickets and nice tickets, among a legion of others in our internal box office. If you’ve ever run out of nice, you know what I mean.

Let’s extend this ticket metaphor to the topic of preparing for a home appraisal, which my former ski bum and I have been doing this week, in which case you might discuss “meticulous” tickets.

I am plumb out of them.

Just ask the Universe

Earlier this week Kip came home with one of those rainbow loom bracelets all the kids are into these days. If you’re not as hip as I am, these colorful bracelets are made of a million tiny rubber bands looped together in a formation similar to the shape the old jelly bracelets once took on when I forced them into my mouth to pretend they were a retainer. At least here in Chicago, it’s a wrist-side sensation among the elementary set. Kip’s little buddy made one for him, which filled his heart with joy. And made Charlie cry. “I want one of those bracelets…” he immediately whined, lips contorted into that about-to-wail face.

“Ok, buddy. Well, first, it’d be really nice if you told Kip that you like his bracelet and that you’re happy for him he got one from his friend,” I explained over his sobs. “Next, why don’t you just tell God and the Universe you’d like to have one of these bracelets? And open yourself up to the possibility that one of your pals may make you one.”

“Oookay, Mommy,” Charlie sniffed. “Universe, I would really like to have one of those bracelets.”

The appraisal

The next day, yesterday, we had our home appraised, very hopefully at that, for a potential refinancing that, by our calculations, would’ve made everything awesome. So, a few days before, we got busy. Sprucing up paint, hanging hooks, cleaning the back yard. We don’t have house cleaners (chief among my WASP-y woes) so we pooled our respective resources of meticulousness and turned our house into a museum for a day. (for some magical people, the museum house is life. For me, it’s no-effing-way-could-i-do-this-everyday-and-still-get-enough-sleep-to-do-it-again-the-next-day.)

Banking on the first-impression factor, we even washed, dried, folded and put away ALL the laundry in our house, a feat never before achieved. It was a lot of work. We were manic. No home of two kids, three dogs, one untidy man and his right-brained wife was ever so sparkling.

Ok, I understand that an appraisal is different from a realtor’s showing, for which you’re required to make would-be homebuyers believe you live in a catalog (click here to treat yoself to my favorite ironic website of all time, Catalog Living), but we wanted everything to look nice nonetheless. You know, like we take care of our stuff, which we do, but if you walked in on an average Tuesday afternoon, it might not be apparent. I even sent the appraiser off with some homemade granola for his family. So gracious I am. It’s the little things, you know?

I don’t have to tell you we didn’t get the loan. The appraisal came in way under what we needed, as a result, per our real estate agent, of faulty comps the appraiser pulled from the neighborhood. My numbers-genie of a husband, our heroic real estate agent and our family CFO (read: deft financial advisor) are on the case for a rebut. Me? I’m sitting here thinking, “But I thought… Damn. And I gave that guy some of my granola. What is up, Universe?”

Rainbow loom of abundance

Not 10 minutes before I received the email of our unfortunate appraisal, on the walk to the car after picking Charlie up from school, Kip’s little buddy silently removed all the bracelets from one of his wrists and handed them to Charlie. Not a peep from Kip’s friend, His Blond-Locked Highness of Three-Year-Old Generosity. Just a humongous smile as he handed them over. How did he know? Charlie was joyfully incredulous. As he put them on his own wrists, he looked like Scrooge MacDuck swimming in gold coins at the beginning of Duck Tales. (Forgive me. These bracelets really take me back to the nineties.)

Walking to the car, I reminded Charlie of our last conversation about these bracelets and his face shone with 10,000 candles. “Oh yeeeeah,” he grinned. “Wow. Thank you, Universe.”

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(photo caption) After coming home, Charlie pronounced the bracelets “itchy” and placed them just so beside the Halloween cat on our front hall chest.

Falling from Cloud 9

I was on such a high. Following the uncanny answer to Johnny’s prayers for a bracelet and an awakening session with my energy healer Monday, I was more faithful in miracles and the magic of the Universe than I had been in a while.

So it was interesting to observe how the news of the appraisal brought my vibration way down.

In an attempt to recover the high, the boys and I baked cookies. I suppose I could’ve turned on the TV to distract the kids while I snuck away to meditate or journal, but baking brings about an instant, affirming comfort. It makes me feel motherly, generous, cozy and safe. Baking also gives me something I can control. Mix this. Stir that. Bake this. Eat that. In the face of uncertainty on our home loan and confusion over why it didn’t work out as I’d planned, I wanted to feel like I was directing something.

These cookies are the bomb. (Thank you, back of the Trader Joe's oats package.) But what's really crazy cool is what time it was when I took this photo. If you know a thing or two about angel communication, this 4:44 was one timely and welcome reminder to me in the midst of my appraisal tailspin.

These cookies are the bomb. (Thank you, back of the Trader Joe’s oats package.) But what’s really crazy cool is what time it was when I took this photo. If you’ve studied any numerology or angel communication, this 4:44 was one timely and welcome reminder to me in the midst of my appraisal tailspin.

Oh, but how many times do I have to be reminded that I’m no director? I accept the title of co-creator of my life, but not director. As co-creator with the Universe, I’m the “idea guy.” I come up with a vision and walk in my desired direction. God is the one who brings my dreams about in ways that far surpass what I ever could have envisioned or executed.

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(photo caption) For example, what human could ever fathom the task list that starts with the above event, progresses to childbirth and culminates in a living, breathing, sperm-and-egg drawing human being who decides casually to make this fancy little picture while coloring quietly on the floor at your friend’s cocktail party?

Have you ever experienced this sort of magic in your own life?

Most of the time, God and the Universe, which are synonyms in my mind, have much grander plans for us than we have for ourselves. And God, masterful fixer that He is, knows how to make stuff happen in ways we can’t even imagine.

This is no time for sulking. I turned it over to God long before I gave that guy the jar of granola. Who knows what’s at play? All I know—because I have faith in this truth—is that all is as it should be. All will unfold just as it’s supposed to.

And now I may be out of meticulous tickets, but if I check my stash, I have a refreshed supply of faith tickets and I think I still have some fun tickets left. Just in time for the weekend.

Happy Friday, all!

Enoughness Project Series #11: One art exhibit shifts my worldview: perfection rejection

This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I am abstaining from frivolous material purchases, accepting all blessings that come my way and focusing on gratitude for all that I have. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives for material consumption; grow my understanding of when/why I buy things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

I love art. I have no fancy credentials to prove how much I love it—all I have is a cool garage door and a messy house. I don’t spend every weekend at ballets and shows, go out of my way to catch exhibits and I’m not tight with any important gallery owners or artists (unless you count my sister-in-law, who’s working on an incredible project on the Hudson River right now). Nonetheless, art is the thing that sparks me more reliably than almost anything.

Last spring, I had 36 hours alone in my city. It was the most indulgent of luxuries. I strolled Michigan Ave.; emerged with what is now my favorite pair of jeans; sipped champagne with some dashing Viennese businessmen; declined their generous invitation to dinner in favor of room service, a bath and an uninterrupted night of sleep; and, the next morning, walked straight to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) for some time alone with art I’d never met.

I walked through a torn paper archway reminiscent of a Texas high school football run-through sign, which is, in effect, what it was, but constructed of heavy golden paper ripped in artful swaths by Saburo Murakami, one of the leaders of the Japanese Gutai art movement following World War II. My inner zing was going off.

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“Entrance,” by Saburo Murakami

The exhibit was called “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962” and I felt the swell of liberation immediately on walking through Murakami’s Entrance. The swell turned rogue wave when I saw the calculated slashes and stabs with which Lucio Fontana gutted his paintings. And when I saw the film of Gutai artists blaspheming Japanese culture by painting with their bare feet, I was profoundly engaged.

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“Spatial Concept,” by Lucio Fontana

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Lucio Fontana

As I saw it, many of these artists either created their work in a fashion that was not at all acceptable in the art world at the time, or they first created a perfectly good painting on a regular canvas and then proceeded to beat the hell out of it.

One of the artists wrote that he sat back and watched the painting until the energy rose inside of him and he flung his body at the canvas. The result was total physical destruction of his canvas.

As I sat contemplating the work and listening to a music student figure out Chopin’s Nocturne in something or other, I realized what it was about the exhibit that struck such a chord:  a.) It reminded me of what meditation does to a person, of how it torches old sides of yourself you no longer need and slices through what seems to be just fine, making it something more authentic, something that may be dissonant with others’ expectations, and yet more unique and more powerful than before. Also, b.) I want the courage to approach my life like these artists so boldly approached their canvases.

Who’s with me?

They were deemed madmen at the time, taking the sanctity of a proper painting and precisely burning, splashing, shooting and gashing it. And, yet, the work didn’t feel violent and angry to me; it felt liberating, even playful. Staring at this art, I recognized within me the desire to transform the canvas of my life, to take a traditional form and turn it into something totally my own, something that may make me look like a heretic, but who the fuck cares? It’s the real me, and I’m enough, and it feels freaking unreal and, by the way, you should try it because, trust me, you want to feel as free and electric as this…

Granted, the art in this exhibit was in response to the horrors of WWII, so it’s misguided to compare my charmed American Gen-X/Y life to that of these artists in 1940s and 1950s Europe and Japan, but just as these artists were reacting against the ways of the world that spawned a global war at the time, perhaps my desire to de- and re-construct my life canvas is in response to the perfectionism that’s expected of all of us in this Facebook-i-cized American culture right now. Look perfect, shop perfect, cook perfect, parent perfect, decorate perfect, be married perfect, clean perfect, work perfect, impress perfect, be perfect. It’s not piles of burning books in Nazi Germany, or worse, but this beckoning to live perfectly, and publicly so, can be decidedly oppressive.

Have you checked Pinterest lately, or scoured Facebook till you uncovered enough images to confirm your own lacking? Or made haste to upload a pic of yourself looking fab and doing something awesome to show everyone–including yourself–that you’re really totally supercool and your life is amazing? Oppressive.

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I’m shamefully guilty of feeding the perfection machine. I was all, “I kinda like this pic of myself flanked by two super handsome, well-dressed friends, so I’m totally posting this.” And, yes, I did post this pic to FB a few weeks ago. My caption: “Pretty delighted to have gotten to hang out with these cats last night.” All nonchalant, like, this is what I do all the time. This is how I always dress. And I attend fabulous events every Saturday night. You don’t? Aw, sorry to hear that.

By all appearances, I have created a lovely canvas—a beautiful family, a warm home, wild little boys, a vibrant spiritual life, part-time work that nourishes me, relationships that enrich me, and this blog—and, yes, I’m very grateful for that. Yet I reject the compulsion to make the world think that it’s all easy and precious and perfect. I feel this desire to go beyond what appears to be a perfectly good creation. I want to resist the pull to seem perfect, to “destroy” (my synonyms: transform, personalize, authenticate) the picture and to make it breathtaking from the inside—rather than curating an outwardly appealing portrait. What if my picture could be bombastically evocative of the reality of and the stunning beauty of imperfection?

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In reality, this is what most of my Saturday nights look like: Striving for some semblance of a grown-up night out with my husband, so we hit up a neighborhood dive restaurant, where we try with all our might to make the three-year-old sit quietly in his chair like a gentleman while my five-year-old seizes the window of my distraction to grab my olive wand and create tidal waves of ice in my martini, all while I stifle a grimace. Real life takes place at unflattering angles. And, know what? I didn’t post this to FB, but there’s undeniable beauty in these angles, too.

What if everyone destroyed their picture and made it what they wanted it to be rather than what society expected it to be? What if we were all honest about who we are and what we’re feeling?

Instead of using media like blowtorches, bullets and razor blades, as the artists in the MCA exhibit, I could use my budding indifference to society’s expectations, a bright inner knowing and unfailing trust in God’s way of providing for me as my tools. What would be your tools, or your artistic media?

Will you join me in destroying your picture? Because I could use a community in this adventure. Will you join me in approaching your life with the same fearlessness, expressiveness and willingness to test your own boundaries that these artists explored with their work?

The final product won’t end up in a museum touted as important art—or even on Pinterest—but living with abandon will darn well enrich my life and, because I will be more my authentic, empowered, liberated self, my loved ones will benefit as well.

I’m in. You?