family

waking up to my white privilege

dixondwhite

recently i saw a video which moved me to tears. it was posted by a man who called himself “Dixon D. White.” sitting in the cab of his F-150 truck somewhere in the southern U.S., he made a passionate call for white people to wake up to our unowned racism and undeniable privilege. it was so palpable in its sincerity and humility that, as i watched him speak to so many aspects of how racism plays out in millions of peoples’ lives, i was moved to tears multiple times. i was also deeply impressed by his eloquence on the subject, especially given that he alluded to the fact that he was not necessarily a well-educated man and had a difficult background. he spoke about being a racist himself, but had had an awakening and needed to speak out. he spoke from a place so deep and true and real… he spoke from his heart.

that afternoon, i posted his video on my Facebook page and quite shortly thereafter received a couple of comments which gave me pause, and ultimately inspired me to address the first one in this blog. the other one, i’ll address next time. before i go any further, i want to be very clear that this is simply my opinion, that i’m bringing as much compassion as possible as i can, and that i’m still learning about this (in other words, the more i learn, the more i realize i need to learn and the more i’m seeing my own internalized racism at every turn). i’m not saying i'm right; i'm just offering my perspective as a white person who is deeply sad about what’s going on.

what about reverse racism, anyway?

the comment:  ”I don't know if I agree with all the self hating white talk going on. It's one thing to recognize, reflect, correct and move on, but it's all that is talked about now`a day's. It gives excuses to victimize and use excuses to be violent and create reverse racism. Until everybody wakes up and stops using the race card on every level, we will always have racism, and reverse racism."

before i go on, i want to say, i hear you. i make up that it saddens you to bear witness to the violence you may be seeing wherever you are seeing it (on TV, social media, etc.) and that you are frustrated with the continuing of a conversation that seems to be getting nobody anywhere. i, too, am saddened by the continuing violence and the fact that we are still very much in the throes of this conversation. however, i want to point out a few things which i hope will give you some food for thought.

first, most of the violence in our society is, in large part, due to something called oppression and its offshoot, internalized oppression. it is a well-documented fact that, whenever a group (people of color, women, LGBT people, religious minorities, any marginalized group… the list goes on and on) is oppressed by another group (in our case, mostly white people) for any length of time in a regular, systematic and institutionalized way, the people in the oppressed group can easily begin to believe that they deserve no better. even worse, they can often play out that oppression on themselves, each other and society at large. thus, the violence (physical, mental or emotional) which has victimized millions continues to beget violence in many, many ways.

second, our black and brown brothers and sisters on this continent have been victimized since the day white Europeans came into contact with them. i'm not saying that every white person who ever came into contact with a black or brown person did bad things or never stood up for them. what i am saying is that, as a group of people, we white people have systematically and institutionally made other groups of human beings the targets of severe oppression with every possible form of injustice, violence and hatred known to humankind. remember, this country was built on the backs of the people shipped here like cargo from another continent and expanded through the forced removal and relocation of prior inhabitants. i’m not saying that the U.S. is all bad. it was founded on some wonderful ideals with an amazing document to try to uphold them (although i know it’s not a perfect document, i don’t recall the constitution saying all white men are equal). but, we cannot ignore the basic facts that, even though the European settlers came here to escape religious persecution (a form of oppression), we didn’t do a very good job of living up to those ideals. 

third, even if we want to educate ourselves about what really happened and what is really going on, mainstream education (being part of that institutionalized system) perpetuates the myth that, "oh, yeah, slavery happened... way back then, and we're sorry to hear how badly folks were treated but it's way more important to educate you about the battle of (fill in the blank)." mark my words, it is no mistake that we don't know the stories of people who were thrown overboard on slave ships in order to conserve food, who were driven to near extinction by disease and massacre, the thousands of families torn apart never to see each other again. it’s no mistake that the daily acts of violence perpetuated against our black brothers and sisters in the south before, during and after the civil rights movement barely get a mention in history textbooks. it's no mistake that most states still celebrate Columbus Day, even though Columbus and his compatriots were responsible for reducing the population of the Taíno people of the Caribbean from over 1,000,000 to less than 500 in just over 50 years. i could go on and on. are you getting my drift?

how many decades of violence have our brothers and sisters endured while we have had the unearned

benefit of being able to turn away? to whom have they been able to turn? how many frustrating conversations must they have with white people who make all sorts of assumptions about them without even thinking? where have they been able to go to find respite and space from a system which does its best to disempower them at every turn? what gives us the right to think that we can avoid having the crucial and, yes, probably very difficult conversations that our predecessors were too afraid or too unconscious to have?

i don't believe it's "self-hating white talk." this isn’t about making you, me or any other white person wrong for what’s happened. it’s about being accountable to the fact that the only best way to truly end racism is for white people to wake up to our part in continuing this cycle of oppression. it seems like "it's all that's talked about now`a day’s" because it's important.

martin-luther-king-jruntil we really address racism and the multitude of ways it plays out in every level and area of our culture, it will continue to be an important conversation. until we realize, as white people, that it is our job, our duty, to stand up for our black and brown brothers and sisters personally and systematically, we will continue to need videos like this to wake us up to the very real and sad fact that the color of our skin gives us the unearned privilege of “not knowing” more than we do about their suffering. that is a huge part of what perpetuates this conversation which i make up seems so uncomfortable to you.

look, i don’t mean to make you feel bad, but actually we need to feel bad. 

a huge part of the reason why racism continues to have such a grip on our country is exactly because we white people have been unwilling to feel the guilt, shame, sadness, grief, regret of what our ancestors and fellow citizens did and continue to do to other human beings. it is absolutely a shame that the things done in the name of progress or money or ignorance continue. it is time to look at it, to acknowledge our part (even if that part is “just" being able to ignore it), and to make real changes. and that, my friend, is an inside job for every single white person in this country, including me.

although i acknowledge that you may already be doing these things, i have a few questions for my white brothers and sisters: what are we so afraid of when we deny that we are part of a system - consciously or not - which engenders the continuing treatment of any human being as less than any other human being? what will you do the next time you see someone being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin? will you inform the person who is being rude, hurtful or even hateful to them that what they’re doing is wrong? or will you look the other way?

finally, although i acknowledge the pain and frustration you are obviously expressing about your own experiences, the concept of "reverse racism" holds no weight in my book, and, more importantly, in the experiences of millions of people in this country. the truth is, the race card will continue to be played until we, as members of the white group (whether we want to be labeled as part of that group or not), decide it is time to stop playing the race game. it is up to us to end it. not the other way around. in other words, there is no such thing as “reverse racism."

you are right about one thing, though… everybody must wake up. and, that “everybody” is mostly white.

what can i do?

i believe - strongly - that, as Mr. Moran said, it is up to us white Americans to stand up and speak out with ferocity and conviction for our oppressed brothers and sisters, many of whom have suffered all too long at the hands of a system designed to keep them in the place of providing a good labor force to produce the products and services which ultimately continue to serve us and uphold the great disparity between those who exercise the unearned “right to not know” (you and me) and those who have no choice but to live every day with the knowledge and experience that their lives are often used as collateral to maintain an unjust and rigged system.

it is up to us white Americans to speak out and call forth a continuing dialogue about how we can transform our story of underlying racism which permeates every sector of our society into a story of real equality and collaboration to try to prove, if only to ourselves, that we can actually live from love and respect for everyone. i’m not saying it’s easy. i’m not even saying it’s possible. it may be impossible. but i, for one, at least have to know i did my best.

it is up to us to support our non-white brothers and sisters when they speak up and not rely on them to educate us or do all the work for us. that is not their job!

lastly, i would be remiss if i didn't acknowledge that i am just scratching the surface here… that i’m an active participant in this system, whether i want to be or not… that i’m still learning about this and have not acknowledged so very many issues here… that i need to apologize for my unconscious actions and words and will continue to need to do so, likely, until the day i die. the thing is, i feel passionately that this is one of the most significant conversations of our time... it runs deep and wide through every sector of our society and has a profound impact on how we treat each other, how we treat ourselves and how we treat the planet.

so, if you are one of my white brothers or sisters, i encourage - no urge - you to watch Mr. Moran's video, read blogs by people like Tim Wise, Tiffanie Drayton and Jamie Utt, watch videos that make you uncomfortable… and take notes. i urge you to educate yourself - not with the mainstream media, but with alternatives providing the information our white-dominated system wishes would remain hidden. share what you learn with others about what really happened, what’s really going on and what you can do to help. then, i ask you to stand up and speak out at every possible opportunity. in other words, be an ally to your friends, neighbors, fellow citizens who have to live every day with circumstances you may likely never have to know.

remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr…. “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

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wendy's incomparable joy

it's March 15th, the day my mom died 14 years ago. i've been writing about her on this day pretty much every year since, but today i don't feel like i have a lot to write about other than that i have a deep appreciation for who she was in my life and the lives of my children, family and community. whenever i talk about her with some who knew her, they always have the fondest memories of her wackiness, generosity, playful spirit, great parties, commitment to our planet or her love of dogs. she was a powerful presence in the lives of many people. although she wasn't particularly fond of babies nor of other peoples' young children, she was also a wonderful grandmother who loved my children with all her heart, especially after they got old enough to have real conversations with her. and, although i don't really miss her anymore the way i used to, i do feel sad sometimes for my kids not having her here for the important moments of their lives. she would have loved the fact that they're renting an apartment in Paris right now.

Wendy with her prize radishes

as i reflect on who she was and all the many gifts she gave me, i am especially grateful for the love of the earth i inherited from her and her father Elsworth. her joy in getting her hands in the soil and growing things was a big part of her life after she moved back to Love Creek Ranch, and i've been thinking about her all day as we we planted hundreds of seeds in our garden. she'd pop into my mind as i held the packet of radish seeds (remembering this wonderful photo of her), stopped to thank the little hummingbird who watched over our proceedings or said hello to the worms in the ground.

we also had the honor and pleasure of having our friends Kaedence, Laura and Tiger here with us in the garden to plant, chat and celebrate Laura's birthday. as i shared with her that her birthday is the same day as the day my mother passed, i felt a deep wave of appreciation wash over me for Laura's presence in my life. although she's more like a big sister, in many ways she holds that motherly space for me... always unconditionally loving, truthful, deeply affectionate and kind. i wish she and my mom could have met each other. they would have hit it off right away.

i'm so grateful to have had this day out in the warm sunshine with Jakob and our friends planting, singing, sharing a good meal and reconnecting with the Mother of All Beings. i'm sure my mom would have loved it, too. i have a feeling she was there... laughing, dancing and singing around the garden, infusing the seeds with her incomparable joy.

1907474_10153679362368574_7354749017361975124_n p.s. i just wanted to note that i forgot to post this until March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, which happened to be one of mom's favorite holidays. Happy St. Paddy's Day mom!

 

The Courage to Choose

when we choose to live fearlessly, it doesn't mean we're choosing without fear… it means we're choosing to fear less. in other words, when we bring fear with us, we receive its powerful energy as our ally, our friend, and have opportunities to be courageous - to take heart - in the choices we make. and.. we are not alone. there are countless millions around the world who are courageously choosing to live fear-lessly, inspiring others to step up and do the same. in mid-January I boarded a train to San Francisco after spending five wonderful days with my daughter on a trip to southern California where she was going to attend a new college. we had some time on the front end of our trip, so we decided to take the coast highway. we both kept remarking how glad we were that we decided to do that. it was leisurely, beautiful and inspiring, and it gave us time and space to have some wonderfully heartfelt conversations about school, work, the beauty of California, relationships, family and life in general. it was a beautiful journey on the outside, but more importantly, i was inspired by the beauty of her inner journey and proud of her for being so courageous in the face of all the choices in front of her.

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when we arrived at Pitzer College, Jemma realized that she felt less certain about her decision to be there as she had been a few months earlier. and, although we spent three days getting her settled into her dorm, shopping for supplies and visiting with our lovely hosts, this feeling persisted. and, though she felt certain, we decided that i would leave on Sunday, giving her a couple of days to be there on her own and deepen into her decision to stay or not. as I made my way back up the middle of the state, I felt a wave of sadness at leaving my little girl all alone in a faraway place, but i wholeheartedly trusted her capacity to make the right choice for herself.

i am deeply honored she asked to spend that time with me and to witness her process of becoming clearer about who she is and what she wanted. two days after i left, she called another college to which she had applied to inquire if they still had her package available- and they did. so she took the necessary steps to withdraw from Pitzer, packed up her things, drove the 8 hours back to the bay and enrolled the next morning at her new school. inspired by her courage, self-awareness, wisdom and clarity, i learned much from her willingness to live in the mystery of a lot of uncertainty, her ability to listen deeply to her own heart, her courage to change her mind and her capacity to navigate the world with a maturity that is rare and precious. she made the right choice, even though it meant changing her mind and possibly appearing fickle in the eyes of others. she chose courageously and well.

switching train tracks

recently, i've had some opportunities to make my own courageous choices which have helped me grow and learn in ways i didn't realize were available to me. i've had opportunities to lean into discomforts, to question my own motives, to stretch into love and to take an even deeper, more courageous look at who i am and what i'm here for. if you really knew me, you would know that i've often had lofty ideas of making get that you matter a global movement which inspires, informs and ignites millions of people to make their greatest contributions to the world. i've spent countless hours dreaming and scheming about how to make that happen, and what i've come to realize is that i have to reel it back in. i have to get back to the roots of the entire message which was to write a book called Getting That You Matter. that was it. it wasn't "you need to create a global movement" or "you need to inspire millions of people to take action." it was to write the book.

what i'm coming to see is that, in getting back to the basics of this message, in returning to what sang to my heart seven years ago this month, i am courageously choosing to follow this path from a place of what inspires, informs and ignites me rather than from a place of strategizing about what may inspire others to get that they matter. in other words, there is no way for me to share this message without BEing it myself. so, i'm taking a long, hard look at all the ideas i've had, and am giving myself an opportunity to see that the only person i can choose for is myself. although i can - and i do, to the best of my abilities - live from the place of this message being out in the world in a big way, the way to actually allow that to unfold in the best way is to return my attention to the simplicity of it. in doing so, i have yet more opportunities to let go of my attachment to my identity, to step bravely towards love, and to continue to surrender to the moment while standing firm in the bedrock of who i am underneath all of the memories, stories and dreams.

Temple sunrise on the playa

in diving deep into my personal process of surrendering to awakening and letting go of identity (sometimes grieving and celebrating all at once), i am becoming more and more present to the perfect unfolding of it all. in choosing to love wholeheartedly without expectation and to forgive myself and others for choices we've made that weren't always courageous, i'm giving myself repeated opportunities to Be Love. in shedding my old skin for what's to come and trusting that, in balancing what's in front of me with what needs to happen to bring this message to the perfect audience, i am choosing to be the messenger i'm here to be.

as i have told my daughter many times, "it's always okay to change your mind. what matters most is what you think of yourself, not what others think of you." what matters most is that we get that we matter, that we choose courageously for ourselves and live from that place of authenticity. that is the only place from which we can create powerfully.

where in your life are you being courageous? what choices are in front of you that feel stretchy or uncomfortable? are you in a situation in which you need to change your mind, like Ray Anderson of Interface Carpets, in order to bring yourself or your organization into integrity? like this amazing teacher in Washington D.C. or my friend Ian Mackenzie, do you have something you need to speak out about courageously? where are you making fear-less choices? what do you stand for enough, believe in enough, love enough to make a different choice than you're making right now? what choices could you make in order to Be Love over everything else?

Being Trusting

Family Times: Learning and Leaning into Trust My sister and favorite person in the world invited me on a road trip this fall and I now find myself right in the middle of it and having a ball- not unexpected at all. The trip is basically a big circle of the upper midwest to northeast to visit several graduate schools that my sister is looking to attend for a masters in Arts Administration. If you knew anything about my sister, you would know that she is the kind of person you would want on pretty much ANY important project, event, or endeavor. She is cool under pressure, extremely methodical, organized in a way that is accessible to others (her systems are rooted in common sense), and she is firm but kind when it comes to explaining and implementing her ideas. So naturally, that when I heard she was considering grad school, I was ecstatic and immediately had no doubt in my mind that she would find a great program and succeed. Yes, I am a very proud big sister.

In between school scoping, we took some nostalgic detours including a expedition to Bear Mountain State Park (in New York state)- a favorite childhood day trip for sledding, skating, walking on the frozen lake, swimming, fishing, and picnicking. My sister and I remember her getting lost there as a little girl and finding her way back to the picnic area w/the assistance of a friendly park ranger; she was resourceful and smart even as a little child. The park was beautiful-- the beginning of autumn was slightly showing itself in small clusters of colored leaves here and there, treasures to be captured by the eye, in the park and a delightful cool dampness in the air after a hard rain that seemed to announce summer was giving way- a familiar but ancient kinesthetic sensation to us having lived in places with 2 seasons the past 10-20 years.We began our trip by meeting in Chicago to take in the beauty and blues and to celebrate her 30th birthday- it was super fun and we found that we didn't even want to leave. A couple days later we drove to Bloomington to check out Indiana University (A “big ten” school). We moved on to Ohio, and the University of Akron and rounded off the school tour in Winston-Salem to explore University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). The purpose of visiting these schools in-person was not only to meet some of the faculty and students and to check out the grounds and the feel of the school but also to feel out the towns they were nestled in to determine if they were areas she could see herself being comfortable living and working in. So along with touring each campus we also drove around the downtown areas, went out on the town in the evenings, chatted with the locals, and scoped out the local art and theater scene.

We also visited my sister's friend in Brooklyn and I was reminded of my sister's “New Yorker” origins as her gruff but playful attitude toward drivers and the hustle and bustle of pedestrian, bicycle, and auto traffic proved a constant surprise that kept me on the edge of my seat like watching an action-packed film. This is real life in New York. While in Brooklyn one evening, I reconnected with my first best friend in elementary, Dagna, whom I realized I hadn't seen in 24 years! It was amazing to reconnect and also to get how much of an impression we can make on each other even at such a young age. Dagna and I were 7 when I left Manhattan with my family. I was embarrassed to discover that she thought about me for years afterwards when I had moved on so quickly. My siblings and I attended 13 different schools by the time we graduated high school. We learned to adapt, accept change, make new friends and allies quickly, and not to mourn but to forget the friends we left behind because that is all we could do to move on....

There were many other adventures including our short dip into the National Mall and a few of its more famous and intriguing memorials and museums: the Lincoln Memorial, the Botanical and Sculpture Gardens, and my favorite DC memory from childhood ever: the National Air and Space Museum. We deemed this our “speedy DC” trip, walked fast, gazed mystically, and laughed heartily at the nearly head spinning pace with which we were taking in such a large, and densely academic historical landmark.

My sister and I love each other enormously and, probably because we trust each other so much, we often clash and end up having at least a fight or two as we get accustomed to being in each others worlds again after years apart. During this trip, we have had many opportunities to regain trust and love for each other. Our family has been through some really tough times together. Being together, although often awesome, also usually entails some form of healing and regaining of trust. This commonly occurs through how we communicate with each other and ourselves as wounds come up to be healed and lack of trust is revealed in our actions, attitudes, or words. I'll give you an example. Being the elder sister, I often not only want to but also feel it is my obligation to take care of her, my younger sister. However, after years of me often imposing this care on her whether she wanted it or not (my way of showing I care), she has naturally developed a tendency not to trust me to know that she can take care of herself. And so, the healing of that trust entails me being more hands-off with her when we are together. It takes me taking a breath and noticing when I am acting from that motivation wanting to prove my love by doing things to “take care” of her. It means doing the work of reminding myself of how awesome it is to have a sister who is so self-reliant. For her, I imagine the journey of regaining trust with me is also to be aware and remember that I really do know she can take care of herself and then to choose to trust that I will treat her like an self-reliant adult most of time even when I don't- and speaking up when she needs to. It's up to me to listen when she speaks up and respect her request. When I can get to this place, it can be quite freeing because all there is to do is enjoy her company and not have to worry about whether or not I am being a “good sister”. She feels empowered and we both enjoy ourselves and being around each other the more for it.

When this wound of lack of trust comes up, our conversation might look something like this:

Sister: scowling with her arms crossed in the passenger seat

Me: How ya doing over there?

Sister: Fine. I don't want to talk about it.!

Me: All right, I understand that. Can you tell me what you don't want to talk about so that I can try to steer clear of those topics when we are in a conversation?

Sister: Why do you we have to keep having this conversation? Why do you always have to make such a big deal/thing about it when I don't want to talk about stuff? It's so frustrating.

Me: Okay, I'm just trying to support you in the way I know how. But if you don't want my help then fine, keep doing what you're doing because I can see it's really working for you and you seem really happy (passive aggressive sarcasm).

Does this scenario sound familiar? Perhaps some of you parents go through this same game of trust. It can be so difficult but SO rich to be with and then see our way through these dynamics and conflicts.

Being Game - Trusting

For most of us, wounds (issues we haven't quite gotten over and are still working with/on) can often come up when spending chunks of time with the family members we don't often spend time with. At least, this is the case when it comes to me and mine. For most of us, our families are our relationships of origin that contain the people we've learned the game of trust with and from. For some, we learned how not to trust as we grew up. For others, we've learned how to trust ourselves and then how to trust others. Many of us learned to trust our parents first. And some of us even got the lesson on how to regain/rebuild trust. Many of us learned all of those lessons and more with and from the families we grew up with. What I've learned about trust is that it can always be regained (either within myself or with another) if I am willing to be open minded and communicate. Here's how I do it:

  1. I look at the situation/relationship in which I've either lost trust or experience a loss of trust. I determine what I've learned in the process of this interaction w/out making up anything that demonizes or diminishes myself or the other person the process.
  2. I take a hard look at what I may be assuming about myself and others. In the example with my sister, I assumed that she needed a certain kind of care to feel loved and that I would not be a good sister if I didn't try to take care of her in certain ways. Where did those assumptions come from? For the most part, I made them up based on a few isolated past experiences and then started collecting evidence to prove to myself and probably my sister that those assumptions were true. In truth however, I mostly made those assumptions up!
  3. Next, I lean into the discomfort of what it would look like through my actions, speech, and attitude to trust myself and the other person/situation. In the example with my sister, it simply looked like being accepting of who she really was as well as myself, releasing the need to control our relationship or being attached to it looking any certain way, and the being present with whatever occurred between us when we were together.
  4. This may result in some direct communication with my sister in the form of an apology.For example, I might say something like: “Hey, I realize I've been making up that you need to be taken care of in a certain way in order to know that I love you. I realize this has not actually been what you want and I apologize for this and for the frustration I may have caused in acting from this assumption. I'm not committed to treating you in a way that leaves you feeling unseen or respected. You can count on me to remember that you are perfectly capable of taking care of yourself and that you will reach out to me if you need help. Do you have any requests of me?”
  5. Going forward, I continue to pay attention and notice what my thoughts, speech, and actions are when I'm experiencing a lack of trust with myself or others. In the case with my sister, I continue to do this and it gets easier to do as I begin to see that it works- which it does so well!
  6. Finally, and most importantly, I stay with the experience without acting out and allow myself the space to go through numbers 1- 3 on this list as many times as I need to before I decide to take an action or say something to restore the trust.
  7. Meanwhile, I remind myself to be patient and kind to myself throughout this process remembering that (especially in family dynamics) it took me a long time to learn not to trust myself and others so it's probably going to take some time to reconnect and restore love and trust.

 

So, here's how the new conversation with the sisters might go:

 

Sister: sulking in the passenger seat with her arms crossed

Me: how're you doing over there?

Sister: Fine. Just really don't want to talk about it.

Me: Okay. I understand you don't want to talk about it. What do you need right now?

Sister: Nothing. I just need for us not to talk right now at all.

Me: Okay. No problem. I've got some work to do anyway and you know I'm here if you need me. I'm going to turn the radio on, okay?

Sister: Yeah. Can you tune it to NPR? Thanks. Smiles.

Me: I smile.

 

How do you deal with trust in your family dynamic? What are you learning about yourself and others? What ways of communicating are working for you and what ways aren't? I couldn't imagine a better person to learn these lessons with than my sister. Who in your family is your greatest teacher? Have you considered thanking them for all they've helped you learn about yourself and how to relate to others?

 

Ella and Yeb in Brooklyn

 

Mourning and the call to fulfill our destinies

Sweet DarknessWhen your eyes are tired the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you. Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own.

There you can be sure you are not beyond love. The dark will be your womb tonight. The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.

You must learn one thing. the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

(David Whyte, The House of Belonging)

It has been quite a month. On Presidents Day weekend, I mourned the loss of two ancient redwood trees and of two of the most important women in my life, my godmother Carol Granger Bennett and my teacher Debbie Ford. And today marks the 12th anniversary of my mother's death. Needless to say, it's been a powerful, deep and insightful time as we celebrate spring and Women's History Month.

On February 16th, I had the great honor of sharing the day with Megan Hollingsworth, my dear friend Mark Dubois and Trish Noble. Starting out at 6:30 am, we hiked the 7 miles from my home to Big Trees State Park to mourn the tragic loss of two of the oldest beings on the planet - the Discovery (grandfather) Tree and Mother of the Forest (grandmother) whose lives were unceremoniously cut short in acts of greed and shortsightedness over 100 years ago. After a beautiful ritual of grieving and blessings for the lonely stump of the grandfather tree, we walked to the grandmother tree whose bark was stripped off up to a height of 116 feet, leaving her unable to withstand the massive injury. If you look up at her charred remains from a particular angle, you can see that she looks as though she is screaming a loud, long "Nooooooo!" at the injustice of this cruel act.

We went to honor these sacrificial trees in the hopes that future generations may witness what we are capable of and make other, better choices. Little did I know that this ceremony, this ritual of grieving the trees which have been lost forever and so much else which we stand to lose forever, would be the harbinger for my personal grief two days later.

On Sunday, just as Megan and Mark were preparing to leave, I learned that my dear godmother, Carol Granger Bennett, had suffered a massive heart attack Saturday morning - during the time we were in ceremony. She was deeply sedated after having three stints placed in her heart, and the doctors weren't sure she would survive. So, after many phone calls and much deliberation, I decided to ride to the bay area with Mark and Megan so my daughter and I could make the six hour drive to Ashland as early as possible Monday morning in case she wasn't likely to make it. It felt good to be mobilized and close to my daughter.

Early Monday morning, however, I got the call that they had taken her off of life support and Carol had died peacefully with her loving sister and nieces by her side that night. I was heartbroken. I had so wanted to be with her, to see her one last time and tell her I loved her before she left her ravaged body. I spent some time allowing myself to feel the guilt of not having rented a car to drive up the night before, of not having called her more often, of not having gone for a visit over the holidays. There was so much more I could have done to let her know how very much she meant to me. It also brought up the sadness that still sometimes washes over me at losing my mom Wendy, Carol's best friend, confidant and soul sister, nearly 12 years ago on March 15th, 2001.

Then, a few hours later as I was riding the train to return to my mountain home, I read that my teacher and mentor Debbie Ford had lost her long battle with cancer that same night. I was overwhelmed with grief and shock. Debbie was truly one of my greatest teachers and in many ways I struggled with our relationship. A true dichotomy - a fierce tigress with laser-like ability to cut through the bullshit of the ego, and a fragile little girl who just wanted to be taken care of, she challenged me, called me out on my shit, and pushed my buttons pretty much like no one else. She also supported me and thousands of others in finding freedom in embracing our deepest shadows and creating the lives our dreams. Debbie embodied Love in only the way she could - with passion, directness, humor and the deep compassion of a Bodhisatva.

Debbie, Carol and my mom were courageous, fierce champions for the triumph and freedom of the human spirit, deeply committed to everyone around them remembering their divine connection to themselves, others and all that is. They exemplified that triumph by showing us that the only way to live from our divinity was to be brutally honest about our humanity… to own the ugly and ridiculous in order to allow the beauty and brilliance to shine through. None of them could ever have been accused of living small lives.

As I continue to be with the passing of these three very special women, I have been musing about the trajectory of my own life now that I'm well into my 51st year. Debbie Ford was so young when she died - only 57. But she loved big. And wide. She touched millions of peoples' lives. My mom was only 60 when she succumbed to her illness, but she lives on in the lives of everyone who knew her as the colorful, big-hearted matriarch of our community and a pioneer in so many ways. My godmother, Carol, was 78 when she passed away, but she was deeply loved for being the "mama" of her 12-step community, for being unabashedly expressed and for having a huge heart.

In my musing, I have come to the conclusion that my desire to live past 100 is not so much because I want to have more adventures or make my mark - which mom, Carol and Debbie did so beautifully. But it's because I want to have the time to create as many opportunities to love as possible - which they did wholeheartedly with utter grace. To be of service to Love as long as possible is my greatest wish. And, when I really tap into that desire, I come to the conclusion that my life will be as long as it needs to be for me to do that.

Last night, as I was thinking about her, I heard Debbie say, "Stop resisting what you are here to do. Write this blog, finish your book and Be Love. Fulfill your destiny. All who are grieving the loss of me can say that I gave and taught you so much, but you let me. In the end it's not about me. It's about each of you."

How right she is. We may think we're grieving those we lose because they gave us something or taught us something or changed our lives, but the truth is we did that. We let them in. We said "yes" to their love. And when we say yes to letting someone in, our hearts expand to make room for them and everyone and everything else. Our grief is for the holes that are left in our lives because they are gone. Our grief is for what we haven't done to live better and love bigger.

So, I wonder today, as I write about these three remarkable women - Wendy, Carol and Debbie - and as I remember that day of grieving for the trees, how am I contributing to the world? Who will have felt their lives made just a little bit better by my presence in it, remembering that it's not now, nor was it ever, about me? What will I do with the rest of this one wild and precious life to Be Love in the biggest, best way possible?

As hackneyed as it sounds, it's not about how long we live... it truly is about how well we live.

Happy Birthday, Wendy... don't forget to write!

I hardly know how or where to begin it's been so long since I've actually sat down to "just write." No agenda. No strategy or plan. Just writing. I've forgotten.... This weekend, I had the great pleasure of leading a Sacred Commerce workshop in San Francisco with an amazing dear friend, Batul Trueheart, and it brought me to yet another round of deeper thinking - the spiral "peeling of the onion," so to speak. In coming up on my 50th birthday, I'm experiencing a re-assessment of my life in a more thorough way than I have in a while. I was saying to someone the other day, "It feels like my soul is being roto-rootered" - scrubbed with about 25 boxes of steel wool, so nothing is left undone. It's as if every spot of whatever has been stuck on the walls of my heart for the last few years is getting a fair amount of extra elbow grease from God.

One of our homework assignments we invite our participants to do is make an "Integrity List." It's a list of all the places where we're out of integrity in any way- unpaid bills, unspoken communications, broken agreements - to which we attach dates for completion (sooner rather than later) that we can use to recalibrate ourselves. It's what helps us "course correct" to stay in alignment with our mission or purpose and step up as leaders in our own lives. Some of the items on that integrity list may include communications such as requests, apologies and acknowledgments.

In reflecting on the weekend as I was driving back home to the mountains, I realized that I have a longer integrity list than I care to admit, including some fairly size-able apologies and requests. Let the roto-rootering begin! Waking up this morning to a mosquito buzzing in my ear and a slight breeze whispering in the branches above, I knew it was time to start writing again - regardless of what it was about. I knew that one of my biggest out-of-integrity pieces was the commitment I made this January to write, no matter what - even if it was for five minutes a day, to keep up my blog and write a monthly newsletter for Get That You Matter.

I have utterly failed at keeping that commitment. And I know that failure doesn't mean anything unless I make it so. And, in all honesty, I have made this particular failure mean so much that I've actually started to avoid any substantial writing because I've made up a story that there's so much to write about, I can't even begin to begin. I got so caught up in the "doing" of starting this company, I kept putting off the very thing that was the catalyst for this whole enterprise in the first place.

In honor of working on my integrity list, I apologize to myself and anyone else with whom I shared that commitment. And... I re-commit to writing as much as I can - even if it's only for five minutes. The great thing is, now I actually have an amazing team with whom to share the work of Get That You Matter. This is truly helping me to give myself the experience of feeling more spacious and peaceful - the qualities I cherish for my writing time.

 

It is also a special day today... August 21st. It would have been my mom's 72nd birthday.

In reflecting on her life, her impact on everyone around her and her legacy, I feel a nudging from her spirit... as if she's saying, "Don't forget to write," which are the words on a pencil I found almost exactly two years ago while hiking in Topanga Canyon with my wonderful friend, Alejandra. We were actually talking about my mom when, suddenly, I got this urge to look down and I saw a pencil lying in the dirt. I picked it up and noticed along its length, in small silver letters, were inscribed the words, "Don't forget to write." Of course, I got chills all over and knew it was a message from my mom.

Despite our challenges, she always, always encouraged me to be myself, to listen to my heart and to follow my dreams. She was an unparalleled cheerleader who made everyone around her feel as if she was always there for them... and she often was, even when she was sick and barely able to get off the sofa. She had more of an influence on me than I will likely ever know, and I'm grateful for those moments when I look in the mirror and see her in the shape of my mouth, the look in my eyes or the expression on my face.

Mom, thank you. Thank you for being such a vibrantly creative person. Thank you for being such an invitation to everyone who met you - an invitation to fun, joy and celebration as well as to reflection, deep conversations and connection. Thank you for being such an amazing friend - to your siblings, your neighbors, your colleagues, your grandchildren and to me. Thank you for BEing Inspiration... your spirit lives on. I love you and am so grateful to have had you with us for as many years as we did.

Happy Birthday, Mom! We miss you... don't forget to write!