Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Many Benefits of Unconditional Love (and how to get there)

Love. We crave it, we cling to it, we wrestle with it. We are like clowns juggling bowling pins in relation to it. But the only kind of love in which we find ongoing joy and freedom is unconditional love.

Most people are familiar with the experience of unconditional love only in relation to their pets, creatures from which they make no demands and consequently are freed up from all the needs and resentments we often hold for those other sentient beings, humans, that we engage with in the otherwise complicated act of loving.

“Perhaps if he (or she) would just stop talking,” we say to ourselves, “then I could love my partner as much as I love this furry creature that waits adoringly at my feet.” Perhaps, as it is through language that we mediate most of our needs and desires. But there is another, more simple, prescription for loving our lovers, partners, spouses unconditionally than them being suddenly struck dumb. And that prescription is unconditionally loving ourselves.

When we begin the daily practice of loving ourselves, of recognizing the autonomous and divine spark in our own being, of nurturing and expressing tender affection for ourselves, then we do not need to enter our relationships with our partners from a place of needs or demands. We are already complete.

And it is from this place that we are able to—as Mary Oliver invites us to do in her poem Wild Geese—“let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Utterly, unconditionally. And before anyone else, what it loves is you.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Some say that every 7 or 10 years, depending on who is doing the telling, that every cell in our body has been regenerated, replaced.

Others say that every inhalation and exhalation is a complete cycle of birth and death.

Then there is the snake, which regularly molts and sheds, freeing itself of its outgrown skin.

There are many ways we shed our own skin, slither out of our too-tight sheath. We quit a job, leave a relationship, move across the country. When we walk away from people, places and things that restrict our growth, we are engaging in the important practice of molting.

But molting can also cause us to feel more vulnerable. When a snake is molting its vision may be impaired and, as a result, it may act more defensively. When we are sloughing of those things that, in some way, keep our worlds small, we may also be without long range sight. We may not even know what is coming next. 

It is precisely this vulnerability, or the fear of it, that all too often keeps us in unhappy situations. But our vibrancy, the magnificence of our lives, depends a continual process of molting.

The snake begins to shed with the simple act of rubbing its nose against a rough surface to split the old skin. You can begin the process by asking yourself, what in my life is holding me back, weighing me down, preventing my growth and fulfillment? You may notice subtle constraints that result from the way you talk to yourself—the judgments and self-criticism. You may notice larger constrictions that come from the way you let others treat you. Or you may discover that your job or environment is so limiting that you are being suffocated by it.

In many Native American cultures, the snake represents the transmutation of life. Through the shedding of its skin, the snake dies and is reborn over and over again. We too need to continually transform, slipping off our old skin in order to slither into the ever-expanding luminosity of our lives. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Moving Wondrously, Less Wildly Forward

Things move too fast, they move too slowly, we want more, we want less. Such silly creatures, these human beings, someone somewhere must be saying.

These past few months have  flown by. It was fall, then winter, and now it’s almost spring. And all the while, I have been kicking and screaming about all the movement and change, the incredible speed with which everything has come and the seemingly endless amount of work it takes to keep up with the magnificent life I am creating. Huh. Right. I am creating. I am creating the change and too the hurried, harried pace. 

As Diane Ackerman says, “I don’t want to be a passenger in my own life.” Yes. And too, I don’t want to be in a car chase. So my intention now is to move wondrously, but less wildly forward, maintaining, even in motion, some sense of ease.

I liken this intention to running. It is one thing to be running because we feel like we have to or we must, as this creates some recklessness in our bodies. You can even see this recklessness in the grimaces on people’s faces; every step hurts a little, some twisted pressure to the ankle, knee or hip. It is another thing to run with purpose and breath, to let the spine settle lightly on the pelvis and the knees lift gently with each step. To match movement and breath. You can see this connection on people’s faces as well; they are the ones who are smiling, taking pleasure in each stride.

This analogy is offered as an invitation. In this moment between winter and spring, consider how you are moving forward. The motion itself is wonderful, as is the pleasure we can take in our own progress. But there is no need to suffer the discomfort of an overly harried pace. Simply shake your shoulders, lift your spine, align your hips and heels and remember to breathe. Joy does not come from being out of breath. Joy comes from breathing deeply and relaxing into the run. We are traveling a great distance. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Invitation of Fall

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
 - Norman Cousins

This from a man who treated heart disease and arthritis with high doses of vitamin C and laughter, a man who dedicated his life to nuclear disarmament and world peace. 

As we move into fall, the air cools and the trees loose their leaves. There is much within our selves that begins to draw inward, pulls back toward our root. I am marking this seasonal shift with a 10 day cleanse, a process of shedding habits and foods that do not nourish me. This is my fourth cleanse and none of them have been easy. But it is amazing what shows up when you let everything that is not serving you and your body fall away: caffeine, alcohol, sugar, animal proteins, gluten. For me, what shows up is a sense of peace in my body and a lightness to my entire being. 

But fall is not only a process of shedding and removing, it is also about getting back to what lights the fire within us. What makes our hearts sing with joy. For me this always means making more time for writing and spending more time running, cycling or swimming in the beautiful natural spaces around the Bay Area.

So as the days shorten and you begin your own movement into fall, think about the invitation this season presents, the habits you can shed and the practices and/or activities you engage in more often in order to fuel the hearth of your heart.

Because the greatest loss is to live our lives as if habit. To stumble through our lives in a sequence of repetitions that is not unlike those of the half dead.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September’s Song

September is a time of transition. This period of late summer marks the movement of fire (summer) to earth (late summer). There is a slowing down during this time, a settling in. I am often reawakened to the concept of health, of cultivating a deep sense of well being, in September as it is the month of my birth and thus the month that connects me most deeply with my sense of growth and change.

Part of this movement toward earth involves a release of the heat we build up during the playful and energetic time of summer. But sometimes we struggle to let go, to open our hands, to release the grip. For our health, all five elements need to move in an uninterrupted flow. Fire to earth, earth to metal (fall), metal to water (winter), water to wood (spring), wood to fire.

We can no more insist that the elements cease their movement than we can demand that aspects of our lives remain the same. This truth was rendered so completely for me recently when coming back from a brief but fantastic weekend getaway. I didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to go back to the hustle of my life, of building my business, writing my book, training for a triathlon. I wanted to rest on the porch overlooking the ocean and when the sun set, move my place of relaxation from the deck chair to the hot tub. (Yes, it was a lovely getaway.)

But the purpose of a weekend getaway is to rest and rejuvenate not resent returning to the beautiful life that I have created. And resent it I did. I found myself in an old and familiar place, occupying the wanting self.

According to Tara Branch, author of Radical Acceptance, “we are unable to give ourselves freely and joyfully to any activity when the wanting self is in charge. And yet, until we attend to the basic desires and fears that energize the wanting self, it will insinuate itself into our every activity and relationship.” 

Hmmm. Such a small thing, resenting the end of a vacation, and yet, it pointed me back to the ongoing work of being human, to attend to that part of me that lived in fear, that remembered only absence, lack, abandonment, that would do anything to stave off the end of vacation because such an end would signal the return to the emptiness I felt so strongly for most of my childhood and early adult life. 

Wow. I had managed to turn the end of a dreamy weekend in a house overlooking the sea into a battle against suffering. A battle by its very nature that never ends and no one ever wins.

As Tara Branch writes, “there are many streams of condition that give rise to the wanting self.” The key is to simply let it rise, to not act from its grip. When the wanting self arises we can sit with her, walk with her, dance or breathe with her, until the grip of the wanting self releases. And it always does; nothing is permanent. Once it passes it is easy to see that all things are moving, cycling, shifting. That we are not who we once were and that our lives are not doomed to repeat themselves over and over. At any moment we can acknowledge the longing and grief, its older twin, and simply let it go.

When all five elements move in an uninterrupted flow, when all our fears and desires can rise and fall, then we, like all things in nature, of nature, have optimal health and, with it, continue to grow.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Our lives are a continuous series of creative acts. From the moment of birth to our first few steps, from our childhood friendships to our life partnerships, every act, every relationship is a creative construction, a manifestation of choice.

In the early phase of manifestation, we are usually consciously at play. We paint the grass red then blue, then a brilliant fuchsia. We are creating. Anything is possible.

As with all manifestations, what we create takes form, solidifies, and—without attention to our creative construction—becomes rigid. We chose a job which provides learning and growth and at some point both the learning and growth stop. We chose a relationship which is passionate and filled with love and then one day we find the passion has faded and the love atrophied.  Somewhere along the way, we have lost sight of our continuous, creative process; the ongoing cycle of change and choice.

It is easy enough to do. The world is one in which stability, structure, repetition are reinforced. And yet nothing remains the same, especially our consciously creative selves. Even unconsciously, this energy of creation is inside of us. Without being given ample movement, it begins to bang insistently at our door. The creative self, the bountiful life spirit, is screaming to be let out. And with good reason. It is through our creativity that we are most closely connected to the divine.

Play is at the root of any manifestation. Imagine you are floating down a river on a raft, basking in the afternoon sun. Or grab a bathing suite and a blowup mattress and head out the door to make a beach of the local parking lot. Put up an umbrella; make a pond out of a plastic tub and some water. Either way, you are consciously creating. What are the sights, sounds, sensations that you experience floating down the river of your imagination or lying on a mattress in a parking lot in your best bathing costume? What could you add or adjust in your life that would bring in more of these sensations everyday? What could you create in your relationships with family, friends, your partner that would surface this sense of pleasure and playfulness?

When we cease to create and we become focused on accommodating the angles and hard surfaces of our lives, we have lost touch with our power of manifestation. Without a connection to this power we become victims of our life circumstances. But we are only victims to the degree that we ignore our power of conscious creativity. Take this moment now. What are your creating in your life? Does it bring you pleasure, playfulness, joy? If not, then paint the grass fuchsia, go on a river rafting tour. Anything is possible when you connect to the divine, the creative life force inside of you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The last nine months have easily been the most difficult of my adult life. What I have come to understand through navigating this time is that the challenges are the gift; if accepted, they lead to immense transformation, resurrection, rebirth.
I have found this to be true for my coaching clients as well. Illness, unstable housing situations, loss of employment, the end of a long-term relationship, the loss of a loved one, all of these things meet every one of us at some point. For some of us, they come together, all at once, like a storm. But the beauty of this disaster of circumstances is that it calls our best selves forth and in so doing forces us to shed those aspects of our old selves that have stood in the way of our best possible life.
At a time when so much in our lives, in the world, causes stress, even suffering, it is easy to get fatigued and shut down, to duck and roll. But when we do this we are no longer present to life; we are no longer living. We take the greatest gift we have been given – our sentience – and toss it away.
So the practice is to become present with what is, whatever is, in our lives, to experience the often painful emotional terrain. To actually sit with it. To let the flood of emotions wash through us, for the emotions themselves point us toward the exact changes we need to make. The fear focuses us, the anger grounds us, the sadness helps us release. From there our physical and spiritual bodies are freed up; we can move forward.
The practice requires patience and trust that we have everything we need. Our innate power and wisdom are always available. All that is required to let it surface is to use our emotions as they are intended, as information, the tools to help us shift. Our emotions are an immense source of knowledge and power.

It is easy to confuse the story about our emotions or even the story about our circumstances with the wisdom of the emotions themselves. But they are not the same thing. The stories are what circumscribe our emotional bodies, bind them so that the emotion is difficult to release.

We are not our circumstances. We are so much more majestic, powerful and vibrant than this. By letting the emotions move through us, by not binding them up with the stories of what happened—who did what to whom, how much the past is writing our future—we can allow the suffering parts of ourselves to die and the creative, resourceful and boundless parts of ourselves to emerge.