Topanga Canyon

Wendy at Seventy… August 21st, 2010

Today my mom, Wendy Lou Alford, would have been 70 years old, had she made it past 60. And she would have had a rip-roaring party, I tell ya… especially since it's on a Saturday!
However, nine years ago, her life was cut short from a disease which, although she was able to stave it off for years with good self care, Chinese herbs and a lot of support from her family and community, finally got the better of her formerly strong body - hepatitis C. But it's not her death, nor even her living about which I'm thinking this morning, as I sit here watching the sky lighten from dark to day. It's about her essence and her gifts; it's about what she brought – and still brings to me, and I would venture to say, and all those who knew and loved her. It is a testimony to her spirit that, for the last nine years, I still receive calls and emails on her birthday, and every time I've sent out an email or posted a note, I've received numerous responses saying that others were thinking of her on this occasion, too. It's that – her indomitable spirit, her undying gift for leaving a lasting impression - which is on my heart this morning.
Since she passed, my life has changed in more ways than I could have possibly imagined. Although I knew my kids would grow and leave to create wonderful lives of their own, I had no idea that they would both become world travelers, nor that they would come to be the unwavering pillars of love, strength and support they have been in the years since her death. I have stepped into living as a single woman in her 40's, feeling stronger and more confident than ever before, in many ways following in my mother's footsteps. I have moved away from the home I thought I would inhabit for the rest of my life, carving out a new path and creating a new community in a place I could never have imagined hanging my hat – Los Angeles. And, although I have relocated, it seems ironic yet so fitting that, of all the places I could have landed, I landed in Topanga Canyon – a place much like our home in the Sierras.
Nothing, really, has remained as it was when my mom was alive. And it is this about which I am thinking this morning… the way in which her living – and her dying – always inspired me and so many who knew her to stretch beyond our comfort zones and go for our best lives, even when – especially when – it meant going out on the "skinny branches" into unknown territory.
I've written many pieces about her and who she was, about her being larger-than-life, her unwavering courage during her battle with Hep C, her phenomenal ability to make friends in an instant with anyone she met, her deep love of the natural world, and her incredible ability and all of these things were who she was. The thing is, she still inspires me on an almost daily basis.
Honestly, I feel at a bit of a loss for words, but the essence of what I am trying to say is that, in her courageous living and dying and beyond, she has carried a torch of sorts for me. She has walked ahead on this path called life, pointed out the roots and rocks upon which I might stumble - or not and let me stumble and learn. She's held my hand in the particularly dark and scary parts where I might have been too afraid to venture without her by my side. She's stopped me short in my tracks – countless times – to stand in awe and amazement at the beauty of the scenery before me, the sounds of the wind in the trees, the scent of fresh rain, the wonder of being alive.
It seems so ironic that, for a woman who was so vocal about how beautiful and precious and wondrous the world is, I am more moved by her guidance to recognize it now than ever before. She walks with me in the mornings on the misty mountain trails, dances with me on the beach, smiles through me at each stranger on the street, and most importantly gets me up on many a morning when I'd rather stay cozy in bed to write, to correspond, to plan and execute this big life I've chosen to live.
It is she – and the vision of my children's hopeful yet uncertain future – who reminds me that if I want to be of service to humanity and the world, it takes me getting up and staying up, getting uncomfortable and pushing on to do it. No one is going to do it for me. Her favorite quote, from Anais Nin, sums up her life and legacy, "…and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud became greater than the risk it took to blossom." In everything she was and did during her brief visit here, in her determined month-long fight to live long enough to receive a liver transplant, and in her guidance from beyond, she shouts from the top of her lungs, "Be the one you are waiting for!"
In this moment, then, I ask you, on behalf of a woman whose large life, and even larger spirit continues to inspire her daughter, her grandchildren and countless others, what will it take for you to risk blossoming? In the words of Mary Oliver, "What will you do with this one wild and precious life?"
I ask you because the world needs you now and Wendy is out there, somewhere, cheering you on, holding you accountable and lifting you up to Be the Change you wish to see in the world.
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Topanga Canyon Part Two... Leaping from mountains to ocean and everywhere in between

When I woke up the first morning here in Topanga Canyon, I was excited, energized and ready to take on this strange new world. However, after a day of absolute bliss, the disorientation set in... I felt like I'd plunked myself down in the middle of a foreign country (which, in a way, I have...) where I didn't know the language (which I kinda don't...). The truth is, though, I know it's the right place to be, regardless (which I do...).

But, jeez… I forgot about the whole "What the hell was I thinking?!?" part of taking huge freakin leaps of faith when I decided to actually listen to that Voice! Friday was a doozy, I tell ya. Self-esteem in the toilet, absolutely heart-wrenching loneliness, totally disoriented when I went "down the hill" to Santa Monica; everything in me wanted to go home… and I don't mean to Topanga Canyon.

Every day since, however, feels a little less strange and a little more real. This weekend was good and each day is brighter, feeling more hopeful, and in my search for connections for my book, Getting That You Matter, and work here in L.A., I'm meeting some really amazing human beings like Duncan, Julie-Ann, Aniko, Alessandra, Philip, E.B. and Marcy. I'm reconnecting with some great friends like David, Erin, Janette, Michelle, Laura, Michael and Maura. And I'm being showered with love, support and gifts, like tickets to events, lunches, tea and lots of hugs. Gotta love hugs! As a matter of fact, I think I'll go out and give some Free Hugs some time in the next few days. Heck, I've got the signs in the trunk of my car! Hmmmmm….

The thing is, I'm writing this book and, truth be told, it's taken me years to get that I mattered for who I am, for what I love to be and do in the world. The truth is, it's a journey that's taken a lifetime and a lot of struggle and effort to bring me to this place and time right here. Through two divorces, four network marketing companies and more personal growth workshops than I can count, among many other things, the thing that's been constant is how much I love people and love to see them connecting with their own inner passion and sharing that with each other.

It's funny, I've always thought of taking leaps of faith as being this sort of "on purpose" kind of thing, but from where I'm floating now, I can see that it wasn't "on purpose" at all. Actually, it felt more like I was standing on the cliff backwards, toes clinging to the ledge (like a diver doing a reverse flip, or whatever they call them), and the Universe, with its ever-so-loving nudge, gently pushed me off. Arms and legs akimbo, screaming "Waaaaaait!!!!" I didn't so much leap as lurch. But then this funny thing started to happen… teeny tiny wings sprouted out of nowhere, expanding quickly, and just as my nose was about to scrape the canyon floor, they took me on a sharp turn upward.

All in all, I have to say, this foreign country is starting to look more familiar – I'm remembering street names and short cuts, and learning to allow way more time than I think I need to get anywhere but just down the road. The language is getting easier to manage – I'm learning that cynicism is just part of the territory down here but when you scratch the surface, everyone still wants to be connected and loved. And, more than anything, this is the right place to be, regardless – there is so much going on here, more than I ever could have imagined….

So here I am pumping away, like some sort of moth in the night, hovering in the flame of passion and purpose that lives inside my heart, trusting that my little monkey mind that says "Who do you think you are?" will quiet down when I tell it to Please Be Quiet, and knowing that It's All Good.

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Friday morning, Topanga Canyon... free-falling after the leap

Last night was good but strange. I went to dinner with my host and two of his friends, a lovely couple taking a break from traveling the world to visit friends and family before heading out one more time. They were lovely people and I hope I get to know them better, but I felt very quiet and shy, and all I wanted to do was listen and observe. The introvert in me was in full bloom, and I felt strangely out of place, almost an intruder even though the three of them seemed quite happy to welcome me.

I felt awkward and almost dispassionate when Amy asked me why I'm in Los Angeles. I stammered out a crude explanation about the directive I received last fall to "go to L.A.," my desire to make connections and look for investors for the book project, and the fact that I was also looking for work that will sustain me in the meantime, but it all felt flat. What I really wanted to say was, "I have no freaking idea why I'm here!"

Why am I here anyway? Because a loud, booming voice from the sky told me to come here? Yes! Is it the same loud, booming voice I heard three years ago this month when I was told to write this book that's taking forever to complete? Yes!

So I listen and follow directions like the good girl that I am, and now I'm sitting in someone's (a very kind and generous someone, I might add) back patio, overlooking Topanga Canyon, watching the sun make its way over the crest of the mountain, feeling alone and scared, wondering why in the hell I'm here. "My GOD, what have I done?!?"

I guess the single simplest explanation is I've taken a leap - a giant, free-falling leap of faith. But doing it alone at 47 feels a lot different than doing it at in my 30's with a husband and a plan. It feels way scarier, even than taking a trip around the world with company, way more risky, and way lonelier.

Truth be told, if I were to give my Inner Critic full reign, it would say, "What the hell are you thinking?!? I mean really! You're up to your eyeballs in debt, have no idea how you're going to pay the bills due next week, and you're sitting here writing about it. You should be out there pounding the pavement. You should be looking for work right now. You should get up off your ass and do something! Instead you're sitting on your ass, sipping tea and writing about it." That's what my Inner Critic says.

And yet, when I say ever so kindly, "Thank you for sharing. Now please be quiet," when I take a deep breath and feel the depth of my loneliness as well as the rightness of where I am and the depth of conviction that this is the right place for me to be and I'm doing exactly what I need to do, I remember that listening to that big, booming voice (no, not the Inner Critic) has gotten me this far with great success. I've created a really amazing life for myself. Despite not yet having all the material things or financial freedom I desire, I have a beautiful home in the mountains I can go back to any time I wish, I have more amazing friends than I could have ever imagined, two incredible children who are creating amazing lives for themselves, and so much more. I remember that I've known for a year that I needed to come here, even if it meant feeling completely alone.

So, I take a deep breath and a good look around at the beauty of this scene, listen to the birds arguing, the cars driving by down below, hitch up my britches and exhale... I remember. I am right where I need to be and everything - everything - is okay. Even the rapid beating of my heart. Even the feeling like I'm either about to explode or pack up the car and head home as fast as possible like this was all just a big mistake. Even the feeling that this place is just too big, too cynical and too hard for an open-hearted, thin-skinned country girl like me and I have no idea how to maintain my open heart and greet everyone I meet from that place, like I seem to do so easily at home. Even that

I just have to breathe and be - in this moment, and this one, and this one. That's all I have to do to keep that monster in my head at bay.

After I do that for a bit, what's next? Post this blog, make some calls, get on craigslist and look for some jobs, then get in my car, head out of this protective canyon and into the big, wide valley of possibility. As my son wrote in the very sweet note he left on my passenger seat, "...give 'em hell. LA won't know what hit 'em.

Amen.

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