You can be soft and still be sturdy.
You can be a force and still be delicate.
- Alex Elle
I've spent a lot of my life strategizing my happiness.
I've spent a lot of my life trying to clean up my own messes and those of a very messy world.
I've spent a lot of my life trying to figure out the perfect life equation that will keep me calm, "balanced," present and healthy.
And just a few months ago as I was scribbling my next strategy into my notebook, I realized: This isn't working.
It's not that I don't wholeheartedly believe in conscious calendaring, life design and making a plan. I do. And I love doing it all.
But there must be space for quiet and allowing and magic making. We are limited to what we know and from what we know comes what we believe about ourselves and our life. From what we know comes a limited vision.
I've been spending more time being soft and spending more time dreaming. My teacher Martha Beck refers to this as accessing "wordlessness."
Martha describes wordlessness as:
Unlearning almost everything you were taught in school about what it means to be intelligent. The sharp focus you were told to sustain is actually a limiting, stressful, narrow attention field — something animals only using the the moment of ‘fight or flight.’ Dropping into Wordlessness moves the brain into its ‘rest and relax’ state.
By spending more time in the dreaming state and in surrender we give ourselves permission to break free of the hustle and the constant effort. We follow our natural rhythms without guilt or fear that we will be left behind.
Soft and sturdy.
Force yet delicate.
Want to do some coaching together? I have recently relaunched my offerings and have room for just a couple of clients. Check out my coaching offerings here.
To protect my energy it's ok to change my mind.
To protect my energy it's ok to cancel a commitment.
To protect my energy it's okay to take a day off.
To protect my energy it's okay to not answer that call.
To protect my energy it's okay to not share myself.
To protect my energy it's okay to do nothing.
To protect my energy it's okay to be alone.
To protect my energy it's okay to speak up.
To protect my energy it's okay to move on.
To protect my energy it's okay to let go.
To protect my energy it's okay to change.
To protect my energy it's okay to say no.
Boundaries have been my biggest work in the past year. People pleasing is in my blood. It's a mixture of my sweet parents who will do absolutely anything for anyone who needs it and being raised in the Midwest where politeness reigns above all. The word "no" was not a word that was in my vocabulary up until my thirties. For years, I often looked at my calendar only to find that it was packed with so many obligations and "get to know you" coffee dates that there was almost no space for ‘me’ on it.
I think in some ways my unconditional yes started as a survival mechanism as a kid. If I was always accommodating, always helpful, always available then people would like me... Right? Wanting too much or being too much myself might rub people the wrong way. (Spoiler alert: It does and it's amazing.) So I stopped doing that. I did what I was asked, showed up when I was needed and was who I thought people needed me to be. Screw my own needs and expectations.
I think in some ways my unconditional yes started as a survival mechanism as a kid. If I was always accommodating, always helpful, always available then people would like me... Right? Wanting too much or being too much myself might rub people the wrong way. (Spoiler alert: It does and it's awesome.) So I stopped doing that. I did what I was asked, showed up when I was needed and was who I thought people needed me to be. Screw my own needs and expectations.
I met Jess, the founder of the Folk Rebellion movement, soon after I turned 30, and I was floored by how she spoke about her boundaries, her schedule, her email inbox. She was the boss, and she was in control of what she could be. Lucky for me, she's become one of my best friends and someone that I look up to like a sister. One of her secrets was saying no.
In my mind saying no to things you didn't want to do was a revolutionary, rebellious act. And the idea of using ‘no’ was terrifying. Today, I use the word "no" quite a bit, mostly from a loving, confident space. It took time and baby steps and practice. And has been so worth it. As Danielle LaPorte says: Open, gentle heart. Big fucking fence. This isn’t “wrong.” This is loving. For yourself, to others, for the world.
Along the way, I’ve asked just about everyone I admire about their own boundaries and how they manage their time. Here's some of what I've learned:
1. You don't have to explain yourself. I am the queen of explaining exactly why I can't teach that yoga class or make it your kid's second birthday party. I think it goes back to that middle school people-pleasing syndrome. I've since found that my close friends and family deserve an explanation, but I don't need to explain myself constantly. It's freeing. It's liberating. It even feels a bit rebellious.
2. A "no" makes way for a bigger, better yes. I had my first taste of this when I was dating in my twenties. I'd often say yes to dinner or a coffee or whatever because I didn't want to make some dude feel bad. But while I was out to dinner listening to Mr. Boring talk about the stock market or his workout I was missing out on meeting someone really interesting or, better yet, an evening out at a dive bar with my girlfriends. This applies everywhere. Say no to what doesn't light you up so there's room for that job, opportunity, person, or ice cream that will. (This does require trust but get to building that muscle because it's important.)
3. Teach people how to love you. My husband, my family, my close friends, even my dog all know this: I may love the shit outta you, but I must be alone for a little bit each day. I'm more of an introvert than an extrovert, and even though that party sounds really cool so does my pajamas and Stranger Things 2, so tell me all about it tomorrow over coffee.
4. You are not for everyone. And vice versa. Man, I'd love to wrap little middle school me in a bear hug and tell her she was perfect in all of her awkward glory and to keep at it. At 34, I own who I am. I laugh really big with my mouth wide open and one eye closed. I would likely pick an evening in with girlfriends over some Hollywood bash. (Okay, there’s nothing ‘likely’ about it. I would totally pick the evening in.) The more truth-telling and more vulnerability, the better. And guess what? Not everybody's down with that. But it sure weeds out the ones that aren't for me and shows me the gems that are on my path.
The word "no" has opened up far more doors than those skim milk, heavily diluted "yeses" ever did. Start saying no and start living from your real deal self.
We of Rock Your Bliss are hosting an online Boundaries workshop on Wednesday, March 21. We will define our boundaries, implement a practice we can commit to and let go of any "people pleasing" guilt. Link to register:
I haven't written for awhile because honestly it's hard to. Never in my life have I felt things so deeply and it feels imperative to simply put one foot in the front of the other. To pause and feel but then back to the shuffling of the feet.
It's been nine weeks since we met Baby A. Nine weeks since I started walking around with my heart outside of my body. Nine weeks since I meditated when I woke up. Nine weeks since I became a mama.
As I've said before a lot of our days are filled with normal mother things - watching him smile, doing four loads of laundry, Googling "Is this normal?", walking around the lake with him tethered to my chest. We were moving forward. We were continually getting good news. We were watching him thrive and witnessing our hearts growing six times the size.
We had a court hearing coming up but nothing had really occurred so we knew it would be more of the same. Then I got a phone call and that changed.
Though I'm not divulging the details here or in person, I talked to a social worker who said: If court goes this certain way, he could leave that evening.
I pretended to understand and whispered "Oh my God" after I thought I'd hung up. (I hadn't but she pretended not to hear.)
This phone call also happened to coincide with his first day, two hours really, of daycare so I was already feeling "normal" mama feelings and then this.
My husband was on a work call so I went and sat in the yoga room. I tried to feel my butt on the ground, to witness the tears streaming down my face, to keep breathing in and out. I knew this could happen, it's part of foster care, the nature of what we are doing. But just out of the blue? That I wasn't prepared for. (And now I'm not sure you can really prepare yourself for any of this.)
I calmed down as much as I could manage. I talked to Matt who wrapped me up in his arms and said "We will be okay" but his voice was shaky. I talked to my mom and Jacki. I called our FFA social worker. I made an altar. I prayed. I read about loss. I talked to foster moms. I ate the popcorn my friends brought me.
I recalled what one of my friends who is a Buddhist meditation teacher would often say:
Right now it's like this.
This is the circumstance. These are the feelings. THIS right here is love. This is our reality and it only hurts more if we struggle and flail against it.
The day before court I picked up little man from daycare, a big smile plastered on his face. I wrapped him in the papoose and walked around Echo Park Lake with Rosy. I felt his little body against my heart and I thought, "If this is the last day I spend with you, I am so grateful for every single second."
And this past Thursday I sat on a hardbacked orange chair for eight hours, reading my Pema Chodron book and holding a crystal so tight in my palm I thought I might bleed. I reminded myself that I was here now, in this space, and this fear was normal. That no matter what happened in that court room, however painful, I would be okay. Baby A would be okay, even if my idea how his life could be was so different from reality. That Matt would be okay.
I took deep breath after deep breath and shuffled my feet to the cafeteria for lunch. Matt walked in right before the hearing began (you never know what time they will be so you have to be there all day) and we held hands as we sat in the back.
And for today, Baby A is home safe with us.
My husband and I sat on the couch that evening watching him sleep. He looked at me and said "I would do this a million times over to feel what I feel in my heart. We are alive."
It's so true. I've spent so many years trying to numb feelings and doubt and worries and a God-shaped hole but I am now truly the opposite of numb. So present, so alive, so on the line. Not at all sitting on the sidelines of my life but in the very middle of the arena.
My friends, everything is in flux, everything will change. But I'll tell you what, I look at this little boy with the biggest, wonder-filled eyes every single day. That walk around the park is how I want to live out all of my days. As though it's our last and so fucking grateful when it isn't.
I believe with my whole heart in what we are doing and I know that sense of purpose will buoy us forward. Hand in hand. Because no one can do this alone.
“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”
- Pema Chodron
The moment I wake up, I pad down the stairs and stand in the nursery. Light floods in through the window over the crib. I glance at the Ganesha statues and elephants I’ve nestled in every possible corner in hopes of removing some of the unseen obstacles that no doubt lay before us.
I will become a mom in the coming weeks. Like most new mothers, I’m nesting and excited and scared. Though unlike most new moms, this baby is not with me now. I haven’t had headphones on my growing belly, sending early good vibes from Van Morrison. I haven’t felt any kicks. I haven’t seen any sure signs of there you are.
That’s because my husband, Matt, and I will be brand-new foster parents, and we’re currently waiting for the call. Every time the phone rings, my hand goes instinctively to my heart. This could be it. While all new parents have no idea who they will meet until their little being arrives, we are preparing to foster children who’ll come into our home for a week, a few months, a year, and hopefully even longer, eventually adopting a child—or children—who will become part of our family. And now, after holding more anticipation than I could’ve ever imagined, all we can do is wait.
Matt and I started the journey to becoming parents last year. When we didn’t conceive, we saw a fertility specialist who recommended intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). That appointment was immediately followed by another with a financial advisor, who threw a lot of (big) numbers at us. Because so much was still unknown—we hadn’t spent that much time trying to conceive, and I hadn’t seen any of the alternative practitioners my friends had recommended—the paths being presented to us didn’t feel quite right. So we left, got an ice cream cone, and tabled the baby conversation.
A few days later, Matt and I were on a walk when I asked him, “What do you think about adoption?”
He looked at me with big eyes and said, “I think it’s beautiful.”
“Yeah, me too,” I replied with a big smile. “Really beautiful.”
Fast forward a few weeks and we’d sought the advice of a student of mine, named Taylor, who is a foster-adoption lawyer. She’d been coming to my classes for years, always setting up her mat front and center. Life is like that, not letting you miss the important people who will change everything. After talking to Taylor, Matt and I met with a foster-adoption agency and made the big, scary, beautiful decision to become foster parents. With more than 34,000 children receiving services in Los Angeles, where we live, we thought surely a few of these kiddos were looking for us as much as we were looking for them.
In addition to the unknowns all parents face, we’re staring down a few more. We’re not sure how old our baby will be, and we won’t know the gender, race, or even what kind of prenatal care this baby’s birth mama received. We may foster a baby who is ultimately reunited with his or her birth parents; we hope to foster a child who we’ll ultimately adopt. We will ask questions and get some answers, and amid all of the uncertainty, what we know for sure is that this will be an education in trust. Trust that no matter what happens, we will be united with this child who we thought my body would carry and who our hearts have always wanted to hold.
Back in the nursery that morning, as I looked into the crib and wondered about the baby who’d soon lie in it, I silently repeated my new mantra—I don’t know—a phrase that’s offered me more hope and comfort than I’d ever imagined it could.
When we met with a social worker to talk about the foster system, she warned us, “You’ll fall in love, and you might get hurt.” Scary, to be sure, but isn’t this true of so many things in life? After all, so much of what’s worth doing is a messy path for the heart.
I’ve spent most of my life bracing myself for the impacts of those messes. These days, I’m choosing to dance with uncertainty.
Becoming a foster parent feels a bit like a free fall, and of course one part of me wants to engage with the countless worries and what-ifs. Yet more of me is tapping some well of wisdom I didn’t even know I had, and one day at a time—even one hour at a time—I’m simply putting one foot in front of the other, trying to make the next right choice. And with my eyes and heart wide open, I’m reveling in the I don’t know.
This originally appeared in the March 2018 print edition of Yoga Journal.
Having my parents here to help me rock this very dynamic mama life.
Chillier weather so I can bundle up with baby boy.
London Fog lattes. Earl grey and a little vanilla in steamed almond or coconut milk.
Laugh crying to my best friend a few times a week. Our beautiful lives have a lot of poop in them.
Rocking that wild curly hair.
And makeup free skin.
Those nights where I sleep next to baby boy and rock the bottle feeding.
And those nights when I sleep upstairs all by lonesome.
Making Rock Your Bliss playlists on Spotify.
Taking a notebook to Echo Park Lake to scribble thoughts and ideas and definitely worries.
The view of the mountains in the background when I'm driving around LA.
Being okay with messiness.
Being okay with being imperfect.
Being okay with just being okay some days and on top of the world the next.