Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Doing-ness and the void, or, How to get your mojo back after you leap off a gigantic cliff

I should have a bumper sticker that says, "I’m not panicking. I’m staring into the void." 
I think I'm starting to freak people out. Not everyone. But some people.

After all, the first and safest call and response pattern we define our identities by in this society is, “What do you do?” And in an insidiously creepy kind of way in this conversation, what we DO silently morphs into who we ARE, as illustrated by our answer: “Oh, I AM a [fill in the blank].”


Those of us who have been in transition, sometimes for years, have already rubbed up against this conundrum many times -- the cultural creatives, the chronically unemployed, the alternately employed, the full time mommas and daddies, the survivors of dis-ease, the multiple hat-wearers, the serial entrepreneurs, the corporate kids who also hold down dayjobs, and others -- we know this dance as intimately as we know our own skin. 

Just because we DO a thing, it doesn't make us that thing.

Yet, we're still uncomfortable at a 10 when trying to declare ourselves to strangers or shout our stories the universe and we don't have an answer to the DO question that we feel really solid about.

And that’s what’s secretly magical.  

I love to hate being uncomfortable. For me, it means I’m Alive with a capital “A”. It means I'm doing something right. Fortunately, there is something about me that is ever-so-slightly askew, as if I am always on the outside looking in, plus I'm empathic, highly sensitive, and not occasionally neurotic. So, I basically get to be uncomfortable pretty much all the time.

So, this week I was staring into the void, reflecting on life as a void-starer, and the tenuous dance I’ve been doing since I shared with my broader network the news that I quit The Job. I went through the process of grieving personally and then publicly sharing how I’m feeling after three weeks of having made the decision, but it hasn’t really lessened the wonderment or unease. 

I am not going to sit here and politely pretend I have the first fart of a clue what I’m doing right now.

Yes, I made a plan. Of course I made a plan! I’m a Virgo for gosh sake. I made a plan, and if I do say so myself, it is an Elaborate Technicolor Dreamcoat kind of a Plan.

I even drafted and illustrated the Elaborate Techincolor Plan on my white board using a rainbow of fine-tipped dry erase colors the day after I turned in my notice in a kind of elated-half-conscious-totally-panicking-feeling-all-is-well state of mind. 

In some ways the Elaborate Technicolor Plan seems exactly right. 
In others, it seems ridiculous and foreign. 
It was either written by my most brilliant me, or by someone who is no longer me and maybe never was nor will be. 

Its wild ambitions and sophisticated three prong strategy feel both like an archive, a remnant of a life I put great emphasis on for twenty years, where things like strategic plans on white boards and powerpoints were desired and demanded and extremely useful. Where they were truly magical tools to get you out of any jam. If things were not going well, or a manager had posed a challenge to me, or I just knew I was about to totally f* something up, I’d default to strategic planning. I’d draft a document full of purpose and poignancy, taglines and tactics, goals and measures, graphics and charts. I’d solicit input. I’d seek consensus and approval. I’d considerately position resource allocation needs and ramp-up timelines. All my energy would calm down once the plan was on paper, or whiteboard, or laptop screen. Feeling a little bit alone, but much more secure now that I could execute based on a plan, I would be able to move forward. YES!

Over the last two decades, and really over my entire life, I have longed to be part of a powerful, thriving community of strong, creative, nurturing people who surround and support one another. For all those years, I stared into the void, terrified and siloed by its pure feminine creative energies, trying to create this community and feeling my energy languish when it lapsed. I filled the hollowness of aloneness with masculine, straight-lined strategies and structures. With DO-ingness. With declarations about my DO-ingness. I lived in the valley of the echo, where I could speak and hear only my own voice returning to me for days on end. I came to both love and hate my strategic side. I have known for some time, if I was going to really thrive, it was time to make a change. To add on. To stare into the void and embrace my inner goddess wisdom, my shamanic path, my calling as a ceremonialist and designer of ritual spaces.

When you make a big change, most people will assume you have it all worked out.

They will ask you for your plans and they will ask you to spare no details. It is as if there is an unspoken understanding in our culture that somehow details, even if they are made up ones, have the power to magically make both the one who is changing and the one who’s yet to change in some related area behind feel better about the yawning void spanning suddenly before them. I would suggest I’m not the first to posit that this fear of the deep dark void is most likely due in part at least to our legacy of living for so many years in the bright light of a Western, paternalistic, hierarchical society where a clear map from A to Z and angular articulated boundaries defined not by water and air and earth and collaboration but by oil and money and aggression and competition is valued far more highly than the sacred feminine creative trajectory that takes the actor from A to Q to Z and back to a whole new version of A to birth something wildly different all over again. Oooooh, look at me getting all feminist. Yowza. That's a whole other post.

Here’s the point I’m making today:

In trying to to figure out a soundbyte to appease my inquisitors about what I am going to DO now that I have made this big declaration to not be DO-ing The Job, I've realized there are only a handful of things that even feel right in my gullet. And that the nature of their DO-ing feels totally different than ever before, and really, there is no use even pretending that the DO-ing matters as much to me as the BE-ing.

The white board strategy reads more and more like hieroglyphics as the days go on. In my mind’s eye, I see myself taking a picture of my white board like an archaeologist might do for the sake of posterity and then wiping all the words off with my empty palm. I write four words in the void that has emerged: “WRITE AND MAKE ART.” 

I am profoundly disturbed by the implications of this vision. Everyone with a monkey mind knows, “You can’t make any money writing.” Except that once upon a time, I did exactly that.

Haunted by the vision, I re-read the content of my whiteboard and realize that monkey mind or not, all of it underlines the message, "write and make art". I have documented the emotions I want to feel, the goals I want to achieve, the timelines I'd love to achieve by, and those also still feel right still. It’s just that the “DO-ing” is buried under a million words and pictures. It feels overdone, forced, corporate-y, and hey, I’m not ashamed to admit it, desperate and built out of scarcity consciousness.

So I decide to suck it up, take a deep breath and embrace the void. I pull out the Windex and a rag. I erase the board. I do not take a photo of the hieroglyphs. If I could write it down once, I can trust it'll still be hanging around somewhere inside me if I need it later. 

I grab the first pens I see, on orange one and a blue one that have fallen on the ground.

And I leap into the void.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Love Letter to My Day Job, Now Finished

I spent the last few weeks internet-free, breathing under water off the shores of a Caribbean island where they speak mostly Dutch. It was incredibly, spectacularly healing. The benefits of floating in salt water, of suddenly encountering large fishes in the shadow of a bright blue coral head, and of consuming snacks with fantastical names like Bitterballen and Frikendal simply not be overstated. 

Now that I’m back on dry land, I guess it’s only right to let you know the big news: yesterday was my last day at work. Yep. I turned in my notice a li’l bit ago, and now, c’est ca, c’est fini. This is The Job I worked at for nine years, ten if you count the time I spent on a 1099, so it’s kind of a big deal for me. I feel like this little life event warrants a blog post of its own. Up next: another great big exciting wowzapants life change and all that. But first, I think it’s appropriate to take a moment to look back and appreciate.

The Job was so much more than a job. It sent me around the country, and even, once, around the world, on some crazy adventures with some of the most incredible people I have ever encountered. I admit to having more than occasionally worked 20 hour days and 7 day weeks and yes, despite my best intentions, even during vacations. I loved the work I did. I absolutely loved it. It felt to me like life-changing work. World-changing work. With world-changing people. And that is what this little galactic citizen came to this watery blue planet to do, so, Huzzah!

Of course, along with the goodness, I also had more than a my share of moments of feeling totally stressed out, totally freaked out and totally exasperated. Like most creatives in a corporate culture, I often felt like a particularly squeaky cog in a particularly shiny wheel. I also had some real moments of feeling quite like a rock star on tour with a bunch of other really amazing rock stars, and of what it’s like when all the bunches of rock stars get on stage together and sing really loud and slightly off-key. Which is, basically, the most fabulous music you can make, because even though it’s not the version on the album, it turns out it’s the version that pretty much everyone has been waiting 20 years for someone to make so they can sing along.

I got to see the very best and the very worst of myself and others, which is pretty remarkable given that the nature of the work I did there did not actually involve life-saving compression techniques or fast-moving sharp-edged machinery. I got to push myself to be as uncomfortable as I possibly could be at least 90% of the time, and to spend the other 10% agonizing over the idea that if I only could have been willing to be even more uncomfortable, I might have produced even more outrageous results. This little perfectionist Virgo never gave it anything less than 153% and I would hope that if polled there are at least 5 people who would corroborate this and agree I was party to several not-half-as-bad-as-they-could-have-been outcomes, and even a handful of very nearly spectacular ones.

My time at The Job took me from the ebb of my 30s to the flow of my 40s. It saw me through divorce, remarriage, deaths and births in the family, cancer, and too many other huge life events to list. It powerfully shaped so much of who I am today, and who I hope I will be in the future. The people I met there taught me innumerable lessons about who I am, and who I want to be. They gave me so much hope, and so much courage, and so much fight. 

I wouldn’t have trained as a coach if it hadn’t been for the teams who inspired me to deeply understand what makes me tick, so that I could, in some small way, help others do the same so that all of us could eventually do something epic in scale with these lives we've been given. Or started a blog about surviving and thriving beyond cancer, to make visible the invisible so that others know they are not alone and that even the hell of the chemo chair and the disempowerment that comes with our established medical system can be gotten through. Or pursued my path as a ceremonialist, Reiki practitioner and shamanic energy worker, who even got to make puja in India in a cave temple once dedicated to the goddess and now reserved only for shirtless men. Or pursued so many more of the truly authentic, inspiring, meaningful things I have had the chance to over the last decade in hopes of making this world, and my little soulspot inside it, a more compassionate, loving, heartfilled place. The place, the people, the work -- all of these things helped me shine a light on the darkest parts of myself, push myself to my very limits, and create a kind of hand puppet shadow play for how I hope I’ll be remembered someday.

The last day at The Job was not so terribly different from any other day, though there were some nuances. I did work. I answered emails. I sent a farewell note. I failed to encourage the cat not to sleep on my laptop. I had phone calls with my boss, my HR rep, a couple of team mates. I cried fairly often, but managed not to cry during any of the calls. I gave myself an A for effort and ate half a Kit Kat to celebrate my continued slow but steady pace of achievement in The Overrated Art of Not Always Crying.

Possibly because I’ve just spent so much time in the sea, each time I would log onto one of these calls or read a kind farewell email, I’d imagine myself a very old sea turtle, floating in the waves, stretching my neck up out of the water. Each time I tried to talk around the knot in my turtle throat, I’d end up swallowing a gallon of imaginary seawater. Then I’d have to figure out how to talk around both the seawater and the knot in my throat, which is decidedly not easy because faced with such predicaments one tends to forget to breathe altogether and thus begins the rapid sinking into the sandy seafloor. I realized during each of these interactions that I was saying lots of words, and that each of the words was true, and possibly even important, but that there was a whole encyclopedia of words I was not saying, am not capable of saying even now in this moment, and that each of those unspoken words is probably truer and more important in some deep, dark cosmic sense than anything I actually did say. 

I also realize that I will not say any of these unspoken words, not now, not ever. I believe firmly that there is a place for achingly meaningful words that the sea has swallowed. It doesn’t appear on any map, and none of us will ever be able to visit it. All we can really do is acknowledge the whirling, swirling vortex as it pushes out through our sternum and leaves that horrible dull ache in our chests. To realize that what we feel so deeply transforms to become something lush and green and sparkling. To know that in these moments, we are creating a jeweled oasis of love, loss, hope, and gratitude for what once was and what someday might be. And to recognize that somewhere in time, somewhere else on our planet, some other human sea turtle architect is doing exactly the same thing as we are, suffering, loving, nurturing, wishing, grieving, expanding. 

I like to think of all these green islands attracting and coming together, a Pangaeaic production of our collective heart chakra, a supercontinent of compassionate possibility, born of the depth of our human experience. From this verdant and hope-filled place, a place of ultimate connection and responsibility, a place where none of us is truly separate and each of us holds the health of all humanity in our hands, we have the ability to right any perceived wrongs and acknowledge and to honor all that happens that is right and true and good. To take regrets and wishes, dreams and memories, accomplishments and hopes, and make a healing for the whole of us. And so, from this place, and in this spirit, as I reflect upon and complete this particular cycle in my own life, I call upon a Polynesian healing practice, Ho’oponopono, a practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, and share here a portion of healing prayer with you, as it was taught to me. I call up these words in ceremony, to give voice to the void, and worth to the work. For the ultimate words of wordlessness, it seems to me, are always the same: “I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”

And so it is.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stinkmouthery, Big Dreams and Gin Cocktails. Or, What Seems Really Important to Me to Talk About Right Now.

Holy Crumbs! Where did the summer go? Has it really been two months since my last post?

Clearly, I’ve let a little too much time go by since my last blog post. I can always gauge this by the increasing volume of non-urgent-but-concerned emails my mother surreptitiously lets me know she’s receiving. 

Given that my mom really is a sweet person with a social life far better than I will ever hope to have, who should not have to bear the e-burden of having brought such an incommunicado child into this world, let me address the elephant first: indeed, the rumors are true. I am still alive, and doing quite well. Thank you, everyone for your love and concern. It really does mean the world to me. 

Despite my persistently rude silence, I really do get why it may cause you to worry. It’s sort of like why I tend to stick my face way too close to my 13-year old toy poodle while she sleeps to make sure she’s still breathing. And how then after like ten minutes of watching for any sign of movement, I still can’t really tell because she has these tiny little lungs and a ton of curly hair, so I end up poking at her ribs. Gently, of course. At which point, she wakes up all startled, trying to focus her cataract-y eyes on my big ol’ face, and yawns her tiny sleeping dragon breath at me, causing me to back away coughing and wondering why I woke her stinkmouth up in the first place. 

So also, this may have a slight stinkmouthery about it, just like the poodle. Sorry in advance if so.

It’s been a year and four days since I found the boob sidecar and started my travels in exotic can’t-sir land. It’s been just a little over three months since I wrapped up treating it to the beatdown it deserved. (OK, in all honestly, I didn’t feel nearly as tough as “beathdown” would imply, and I was mostly quietly introspective and/or in a complete chemo daze, but “beatdown” somehow sounds way cooler to me right now than, “self-aware, diligently compassionate, new agey if slightly doped up, co-creationist healing process”, so I’m going with it today.) 

Oh, and just a few weeks ago, I turned 40! Yeah, baby! I totally won another tour around the sun. E-ticket!!! Hoot hoot!

I thought about writing a clever but kind little piece about how almost every woman I know reacted when I told her I was turning the big 4-0. About the self-defeating spiral most of these brilliant women suddenly went down about their own relationship with their aging process. I thought about it in the spirit of trying to help all my sisters come to terms with the fact that age ain’t nothin’ but a number and that I totally can prove to them that being alive at all is a pretty frickin’ miraculous thing compared to the alternative. But really, if there’s one thing I have learned this last year, it’s that life is way to short for me to spend even a second of it trying to convince anyone else of anything at all. Our story about our age is definitely our own to deal with, and I just hope we all remember to love on ourselves and sing Amazing Grace in the shower while we’re counting the wrinkles on our knees. So, I’m leaving that out for now.

I also wrote this really long draft of a post chockfull of learnings I’ve had since returning to work post-can’t-sir, thinking, “Hey, this might be useful to other peeps doing the return to work thing someday.” Things like how I’ve learned the hard way that I turn into a foggy-brained limpet by 2pm when I travel for offsites, don’t eat enough protein, or listen to too much Pandora while doing email. How I end up walking around like a troll for a week when I get all Inspector Gadget and try to juggle a million things with my nonexistent robot arms. How my colleagues’ enthusiasm when I say, “I’m doing great,” creates this contagion inside me and I suddenly realize I’ve just said yes to another project that I may not be able to actually find the energy to work on because they thought -- and I so desperately still want to believe -- I meant “I’m doing great” as in, “My energy is comparable to that of Gerard Butler in that 300 movie where he and Faramir wore Spartan Speedos and were ridiculously fit,” and not, “My energy is beyond fantastic when compared to the rotting Borg-like carapace I hauled myself around in during chemo and radiation." But really, returning to work after can’t-sir is in itself basically a whole book, and all these comic book movie references are exhausting, so I decided to leave that one out for now, too.

I also thought about writing a really hilarious piece about how a brilliant colleague I know went down the grammarly rabbit hole with me and told me how I should stop starting my sentences with, “but”, “and”, or “so”. But, frankly, I made the call many years ago that I’d rather write stuff precisely the way I want to write it and have people tell me my grammar sucks, than write the next Strunk & White handbook. And, I still feel really fine about that. So, I decided to leave that one out also. Bam!

Here’s what I want to say today: Life after can’t-sir. It’s a funny bob of a thing. 

I’m sure it won’t surprise you. I’ve chosen to invest the remainder of my days attending the college of MSH (Making Sh*t Happen) instead of MSU (Making Sh*t Up). I think I had a pretty decent academic record at MSH before the sidecar, but, you know, some cliches are true. Can’t-sir really does have a wonderful way of helping you wake up and want to do something about the fact that every moment is truly, madly, deeply precious. 

It seems to me that a big part of “survivorship” is setting the baseline for what’s in and what’s out. If that’s so, then “thrivorship” is about something even greater. Yes, it’s about staying integrous with the baseline. With remembering to do the things that represent putting your own oxygen mask on first and then helping all the wonderful yay-hoo’s who decided to take this trip alongside you secure theirs. But beyond that, it’s about telling the truth, getting down to the heart of what matters most, and then doing what feels right to you to bring it into reality. Even when it means pivoting and pissing people off and disappointing them. Again, and again, and again. 

Shockingly, I think this maxim kind of applies, whether you’ve just exited the can’t-sir teacup ride, or not.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: it’s tempting to try to stay small. To just do the bare minimum we need to do to get by. To stay in the shadows and let the dust settle. Fortunately, or unfortunately if you’re having a dangnabbit of a day, that isn’t what we’re here to do.

Let me be clear: in the first months after big stuff like finishing up your can’t-sir treatment, letting the metaphorical dust settle is very likely the best you can do, and if that is the case, that is absolutely excellent. Yes, I am aware you will read stories of people doing PX195 or whatever the hell it’s called, all through their treatment and then suiting up to run a marathon in a tutu and Spanx the moment the last drop of Taxol has flowed through their port. To those who are about to ‘thon, I salute you and send you metaphorical gilded Spartan Speedos.

But if it’s not that way for you, there’s nothing useful about pretending it is. Be with what’s so. Be with what you’re up to mentally and physically. Ignore the pleas and cries and demands to be anything other than that. 

Try some stuff you think you might like to do, and then give yourself a break when it all goes haywire and you realize you hate, or simply no longer have the energy to do, 90% of what you used to really enjoy. 

Sleep in once in awhile. Take off early from work for an afternoon. Drink a little more water than you think you actually need and let the sun beat down on your skin for a few minutes without sunscreen. Eat the foods your body is craving (even if those foods seem to be made primarily of swiss cheese, real butter and Cadbury Fruit and Nut Milk Chocolate). Drink some fancy pre-prohibition era cocktails instead of that green juice you drank for a year. 

Do what makes you happy. Do nothing at all. Whatever you choose, be amazingly gentle on yourself. Give yourself permission to ignore everything everyone else says. Give yourself the freedom to change your mind. 

Dream. Dream of the things that make you come alive. 
And then: Do them.

In this spirit, if you need me, I’ll be working my day job at create the change HQ alongside a couple of awesome chicks who really get this whole promise and possibility thing. On the weekends, I’ll be drumming in the spirits and growing herbs and heirlooms at our new off-the-grid cabin in the woods. In the fall, I’ll be scuba diving amongst the fishes and offering Reiki to rescued donkeys alongside my amazing hubs and my soul sister and her fantastic hubs in Bonaire. And, of course, when I’m not digging in the dirt or adventuring, I’ll be antiquing for the perfect coupe from which to drink exquisitely hand-crafted lavender-cucumber martinis. 

Until we speak again: Have fun, Lovelies. It promises to be an exciting autumn.  Did I mention it's less than two months 'til Nevada Day/Halloween? Woot!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Wrestling the map

I’ve been wrestling with something. Something that, for me, feels really big. It’s felt super big for at least the last ten months, but really, it has felt pretty-close-to-super-big for... well, if I’m honest, for the whole of my life. 

I’m talking about authenticity. 

Sharing your truth. Sharing your opinions. Sharing your experiences. Sharing your discoveries, your hopes, your dreams, your words, your work, your art, your expression. Sharing your love, your passion, your compassion, your kindness, your soft underbelly, your faith, your marrow, your gifts. 

Sharing whatever it is that feels like the Most Important Stuff of All Time, even if it’s just for that one moment, even if it’s just the Most Important Stuff of All Time to You.

The stuff that you’re secretly, or not-so-secretly, terrified to share. The stuff you’re afraid people will judge you for. Or unfriend you for. Or say mean things to you in public about. Or talk even louder and more cruelly behind your back about. Or whatever the heck it is that happens when the truth about who you are and what you’re thinking, feeling, doing or being in this exact moment in time is set loose for everyone to see. 

I’ve spent a lot of my life hiding parts of myself away. I’ve spent an equal amount of time creating an identity composed of what I viewed as the more desirable parts of myself. Or, if I’m to be precise, the more desirable parts and the ones I hadn’t fully accepted but just couldn’t seem to shake and the ones I just kind of made up in hopes it wouldn’t go so poorly for me on the playground if people didn’t get on well with the other two.

It was a lesson I learned early and often. It was a lesson which, each time I sought to reverse it, the “truth” of it seemed to come back even larger. There was even a peak moment when I felt that the Universe downright hated me: it seemed like every time I tried to share something openly from the good of my heart, I’d be punished. As a natural introvert, an empath, a compassionate being who sought not to cause even a moment of suffering to any other creature on the planet, it was viscerally painful to see my good intentions misunderstood, turned sideways, brought to bear like evidence against me at a trial, or exposed and left to rot like criminals in the town square.

When I was diagnosed with can’t-sir, I thought, surely, one good thing to come out of this must be my final liberation from fear of expressing my own authenticity. After all, the breath I was breathing could very well be my last. Surely with this awareness, I’d have no more need for fear, shame, guilt, jealousy. Hadn’t I always read about exactly that? How an awareness of one’s own mortality helps people sluff off the oogy stuff and get to the core?

I want to take a moment to just breathe. I want to acknowledge that doing our darndest to be authentic is Big, Huge, Life-Changing Stuff. Whether we do it for one fraction of one second, or take every chance we get to put it out there. Breathe with me. Because it’s true for us all. We’re doing our darndest, and it isn’t easy.

What I’ve learned through my life journey, and through my can’t-sir journey in particular, is that with time it can be done with ease. And still, there will be judgey-judges and mean-spirited people and simple misunderstandings and just a lot of general ridiculousness to follow any time we BE who we BE and say or do what we feel is true to us in the moment. There will also be magnificent moments of clarity and compassion and awareness and grace. Moments when we ride so high we just can’t help smiling and dancing and shouting, “YES!” while doing some awkward yet still socially acceptable gesture like a fist-bump or a high-five. So, that’s pretty cool, as far as double-edged swords go.

I share my truth here, and in the other forums I dally in, because while can’t-sir didn’t cure me of all my fears, it did help reaffirm and remind me of something vital: We Are All One. And it’s an awareness I just can’t shake.

Sharing our truth -- and I don’t mean sharing our wounds, I mean our truth, as in the truth of who we really are, and who we’re finding our way to being, not just what we’re suffering through -- sharing our truth is a kind of mapmaking. And with it, all roads lead back to our shared consciousness, our shared humanity, our shared dreamtime.

When I write, when I make work, when I reach out to connect, I don’t expect anyone to agree with me anymore, or to like me or the things I say or create. (Even though I admit that it’s really, really, heart-shatteringly lovely when they do.) 

I write, I make work, I share as much as I possibly can from the inside of my heart because I don’t know how to breathe underwater anymore. Because I don’t want anyone else to feel like they are in that dark, watery place of aloneness, staring up through a mirror at a sun they will never be able to savor and a sky they will never feel empowered to soar. I do these things because it is all I have, and all I am, and because I have this sneaky feeling that instead of being the horrible, punishment-inducing thing I once experienced my Stuff to be, it might just be my contribution to the map.

With all this in mind, I say thank you. To all that has been. To all that will be. To all the murky, nonsensical and even downright shitty experiences, I say thank you. And thank you, no matter how many words I might wrap around it to try to make myself understood, or to make myself feel better, is all I ever really am saying, and all I ever really need to say. In fact, maybe it's all any of us ever really need to say. But that feels like a topic for a whole other blog post. So I think I'll just leave it at that for now. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

And now... we dance!

It’s hard to believe that already/only ten months ago I stepped into the shower and my life changed forever. Hard to believe a tiny little lump could have such power. But, there you go. Dorothy, meet Tornado.
A study in hair healing... pre- to post- chemo selfies.

I’ve been back at my corporate job for two months. Rejoining my team was a huge mile marker for me. In my mind, it meant I’d healed sufficiently to get back into the world and put some effort into thinking about stuff that wasn’t just about my survival. I was all kinds of emotion taking that step while still finishing treatment -- excited, terrified, grateful, paranoid, confused, hopeful. I knew I’d have to BE in a whole new way. A way that honored the journey I’d been on, and was still in the midst of. A way that didn’t allow my health and well-being to become an afterthought. A way that was more compassionate and gentle with myself and others than I’d ever been. I knew it would be a challenge. I didn’t know how constant that challenge would be. 

I’d read that returning to work after can’t-sir isn’t easy, and it’s true. I firmly believed it could be done with ease, and I think that’s also true. I’m not the same person I was before I heard those two little words (“it’s cancer”), and I mean that literally. My post-chemo brain is still pretty darn brilliant, but words get lost and whole chunks of memories have vanished and sometimes mental models entirely elude me, which is beyond frustrating. My body doesn’t let me get away with depriving it of food or drink anymore, and sends me into a pit of stupidity and immobility if I ignore its two-minute warning, which can be super awkward in the midst of meetings if I don’t pre-plan. 

Then there’s the mental-emotional stuff. 

As great as my team is, as supportive and amazing as they’ve been, there are also moments of intense loneliness and isolation that spring up without warning that have nothing to do with anyone but me. There are awkward moments of choosing or needing to reveal to someone that I’ve been out for seven months on this journey and so have no idea what they’re talking about. There are surreal moments of trying to rationalize investing time in a trivial task when my monkey mind screams, “Seriously? This could very well be your last act on earth!” There are beyond-words amazing moments coaching and supporting colleagues to help them achieve their dreams and goals, and doing the creative work that fuels my soul, and shock-and-awe minutes spent just appreciating the sudden realization that I am still around to do the trivial or be “on mute” for the meeting or draft the strategy that wants so desperately to change the world.

There are highs, and there are lows. Just when I think I’ve got the work thing in the bag, the life thing rears its head.

Like the other day, when I stood frozen for twenty minutes with tears running down my face, just absorbing the realization that I really, really needed to make yet another doctor appointment, because I really, really needed to request a referral to an endocrinologist because really, really this chemo-induced menopause isn’t going to go away on its own. Which was then also super exciting, once I wiped all the gunk off my face, because it helped reaffirm my resolve about the contribution I’m here to make as an advocate for women’s healthcare rights, and as a communicator to help build more awareness about the total experience of triple negative, so that others going through their own journeys know they’re not alone. 

Or, the time a few days before that when I had a little panic attack because I couldn’t tell if that thing in my boob was scar tissue or a new lump starting to form, even though I literally had so many doctors grope me over a two week period and tell me I was doing great that my life was starting to feel like a superlatively positive porn flick. Which also turned out to be super exciting, once I started breathing again, because it led to a serious “please sir can I have another” moment, and reminded me how incredibly supportive and smart my husband is, and how I can just go get that sh!t looked at because I have already survived this thing and nothing as stupid as a little lump is going to take me off my game.

The trick for making it through this phase, and to so much of life, it seems to me, is to just keep it simple. To keep breathing. To say thank you for every single piece of it -- the crap and the cream -- and ask as loud as you can for another full serving. To hold it all lightly. To remember life’s for living, and what matters most is to love on yourself and everyone you meet. To take a moment in the midst of wishing the scars and the tattoos and the chemo curls and the new wrinkles would miraculously disappear and return you to the self you grew up knowing, to slow it down and just breathe in how incredibly blessed we all are to have these beautiful, beat-up, strangely sophisticated earthsuits to wander around in. 

Hubs and I agreed this year on a daily practice based on some old shamanic wisdom that I think pretty much sums up everything I've learned over the last 10 months that's even vaguely important: to sing, dance and laugh at least once a day, and to not call it a day until that’s done. I rate the day a success as soon as those three things have happened. Even if they’re the only thing that happens all day. And, sometimes, especially if they’re the only thing that happens all day. Because I know something for damn sure: when I do kick it, I’ll be proud and grateful I went out with a smile on my face, singing loud and off-key to some terrible Seattle-based rap music, while bustin’ out a Caddyshack-style gopher dance. Life is too short to let any day end without such a raucous and ridiculous celebration of living.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Goodbye Western Treatment... Hello Miracles!

Time for an update? Absolutely.

First off, I didn’t report real-time on how radiation therapy went, but I’ve gotten some questions about it, so I wanted to share a little bit about my experience. 

Let me say flat out: I don’t want to minimize radiation therapy. It’s not easy. It has serious side effects, some of them immediate, and unfortunately, some of them can emerge way down the road, just like with chemo. And also like chemo, the treatment varies by the person. How one person will tolerate and experience the therapy is extremely individualized. I encountered many folks who were really having a hard go of it. They were going through a much more intense protocol than I, and were suffering from serious burns and blisters, fatigue and nausea. Some of them were even doing chemo at the same time they were getting radiation. All of them were amazing can’t-sir gladiators, and made me remember why I am in awe -- just in total awe -- of the human spirit.

For me, I had the measuring stick of 4 months of heavy duty chemo to weigh my experience against, plus a relatively light and quick radiation protocol. 34 sessions of radiation, with the last 6 being electron boost therapy. It was not terrible for me. Yep, they tatooed me with some dopey looking dots, not the requested dragons. Yep, they zapped me daily in a rather uncomfortable machine and exposed me to a ton of crazy x-rays and EMF that made me feel like my brain was being turned inside out and upside down. Yep, at the end I got a pretty gnarly and ridiculous-looking sunburn that hurt like a son-of-a-gun. Final yep, I had some mild fatigue and some days where food just wasn’t super appealing to me. But, it was a walk in the park compared to my chemo days.

The thing that I find super-awesome at seven plus months into this journey, though, is that it isn’t just chemo that gave me a new yardstick. It’s everything. I sometimes feel like I got gifted with the most amazing pair of rose-colored glasses. I always thought I had a pretty great life, and felt grateful for everything and everyone in it. But, my life now? It’s all that, and with extra Magic Shell. 

Five little examples of what the miraculous looks like to me these days:

My hair’s coming back. When people say stuff like, “I love it, but how do you feel about it? Does it bother you that it’s so short? What if it’s not as red as it once was?” I get the biggest grin on my face. How does it feel? It feels frickin’ awesome. It’s not that being bald was terrible. I got used to it and I honored my Patrick Stewart-ness, because everyone knows Patrick is The Man, so why not seize the moment? But, it’s incredibly empowering to know my body has recovered enough from Toxic Avenger status to grow some hair! I still can’t grow a proper fingernail, and at least half the other bits and pieces in my body that treatment affected will never be the same again, but at last strangers have started to look at me like I’ve just made some really unfortunate decisions around my hairstyle instead of like I’m a carrier monkey. That’s some transformational mojo right there!

I can think. Ok, right now, I can’t think as fast as I once could. I make a lot more mistakes than I remember making B.C. and I absolutely cannot multi-task. I have a terrible time processing complex information, and simple stuff isn’t much better. I need to write everything down, and I mean everything, if I want to understand and remember any of it. Like, I need to write down verbatim, “Hello, how are you? I wanted to talk to you about going to the zoo.” Because if I don’t, I forget they said, “zoo” and will literally respond two seconds later all about the solar flares above Iceland and the average arm length of an orangoutang. Both of which are topics I will be making up, because I don’t actually know anything about them, but another fun thing about chemo-brain is that I will literally get ten minutes into my story about icelandic orangoutangs before I even realize that I have been making shit up for ten minutes and then I’ll suddenly forget what I was just saying and that’s just... awkward. Anyhow, the cool thing is, my brain is still functioning, and I expect it to keep healing and getting sharper. To have the gift of rational thought, even at a lower-functioning level than I once did, is beyond amazing.

Stuff’s not such a big deal. I’m not trying to pull some weird card here. I know this sense of laissez-faire is at least partly due to a combination of deadened neural networks, sense memory loss, and a whole mess of other physiological stuff that happens when you dump gallons of poison and radioactive material into your body. Even if some of it’s temporary, it’s also true that I just don’t sweat stuff the way I once did. Better yet, stuff that is really important is also remarkably clear: the people and critters I love and am inspired by; the way I want to be known in this world today and after I’ve left it; the contributions I’m here to make and the ones I’m not; the mental-emotional goldmine that’s mine to work and the one that belongs entirely to somebody else. Significant improvement on everyone’s part.

I'm working again. I feel incredibly grateful and fortunate to work for a company that allowed me to take seven months off to focus on my healing. Honestly, it made such a difference to not have to try to figure out how to balance wanting to be an amazing innovative creative philanthropist rockstar business chick with needing to be an amazing innovative creative philanthropist rockstar healing chick.    Being able to return to work, being recovered enough to be able to create space both physically and mentally to think about stuff besides blood draws and pills and getting enough protein, is so powerful. It's symbolic for me of achieving a level of healing that was at my lowest points aspirational at best. Yes, there are a ton of changes to process through, and I'm keenly aware that my brain and body need a new level of love and attention if I want to achieve any of the goals that matter to me in my corporate career, or in my private coaching and healing practice. But when I look at the difference I can make, working alongside the most incredible people alive on the planet today, it fills my heart with such joy. Go, go Gadget heart chakra!

And finally:

I’m alive. If you haven’t yet been forced to come face to face with your own mortal coil, that might sound either flippant or resigned. It’s neither. For me, it’s simply a fact. A powerful fact, and a transient one, just like all of the above mini-miracles. When people ask me how I’m doing, they often follow up with some words about how everything’s going to be okay now, modern treatment is so good, they caught it so early, I have such a strong spirit or a good attitude. What’s different for me is that I understand something now I couldn’t really grasp before: that everything, really, truly, no matter what, is okay, and that has absolutely nothing to do with whether there's can't-sir in this body or not. Whether we understand our reality as a process of living or dying, all is truly well. Today, I’m above ground. I’ve been gifted one more moment, and I intend to live it, and every one that follows, to the max -- with joy, integrity and authenticity. Someday, I won’t be around to publish my own status updates. That’s a fact as well, but also, in my beliefs at least, a transient one. But I've got miles to go before I sleep. And they're promising to be some pretty amazing miles. So, let's do this thing, amigos!

Love and light to you all. I sure do appreciate you sticking around with me for this round of dance dance revolution!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why I threw out my "agenda" and what happens next

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. It’s not that things haven’t been happening. It’s that I’ve been in an in-between space about what and how to share here. 

The world revolves and big things happen. Some of them intensely personal. Some of them so much bigger, so much more insane feeling, than the events of my own life feel to me. 

What do we talk about in those moments? The big ones, where all of life is suddenly under the microscope? How do we use the miracle of technology to connect and honor and support one another in an authentic way? How do we give voice to the depths of our shared experience, our shared suffering? How do we come from our hearts, not our heads?

I see that there is this thing I do, a thing I think many of us do, when the events of the world feel big and incomprehensible and painful. I make myself small and insignificant and cut off from the rest. Which makes me feel helpless. Which in turn makes me either shut down, or communicate in broad generic terms, in the worst case, falling back on aphorisms, corporate-speak, and platitudes to try to find and share some hint of wholeness. But, there is little comfort to be found in these strategies.

Recognizing this got me thinking about unpredictability.

Over the last month and a half, after completing chemo, I had a short window of rest and recovery, followed up by a surgery and several check-in appointments. 

I wasn’t really expecting this to happen, but there it was.

I entered radiation, the final phase of my Western treatment, with a fresh, healing incision, three black dots tattooed around my torso to guide the technicians on where to zap me, and a soft coating of baby birdlike hair on my head. I’m both obscenely proud and occasionally horrified by all these new markings. They remind me that something huge happened in my life, something after which I will be forever changed. They are also tiny reminders to me of all life’s suffering, from which I would see all of us freed. They matter not at all, and somehow they contain everything that matters, all at once. 

I wasn’t expecting to feel any of this, but there it is.

Things are looking good. The old tumors are gone. The “suspicious lesions” the surgeon thought might be new tumors turned out to be benign radial scars. My body is accepting the radiation without too many complaints. 

And, nevertheless, I am keenly aware that life is unpredictable.

On the one hand, I feel confident the can’t-sir is gone. I’m buoyed by a deep internal knowing that all is well. I feel optimistic, and as my energy begins to return, even excited to get on with my life beyond triple negative. I talk with colleagues, friends, family and I am filled with love, compassion and hope for the future, inspired and engaged by their optimism. I am intensely grateful for all the support I’ve received and continue to receive. In fact, most every moment of every day, I find myself in a state of complete, mind-boggling awe for all that has transpired these last 6+ months. 

On the other hand, cancer doctors give few definitive answers and make no promises. Cancer is a game of comparisons. Of percentages and odds and generalities. When my husband asked the chemo oncologist about how we should think about the last four months of systemic treatment I’d received -- while acknowledging we weren’t looking for him to say, “She’s cured” -- the doctor smiled gently and shrugged. His answer was that he felt confident the chemo had worked on me because, “We know it works.” 

Which reminded me that if you can’t deal with ambiguity, can’t-sir is probably not your best dance partner for this snazzy little rumba called life.

To make any kind of sense of the land of can’t-sir, and to have any hope of explaining what’s happening with me to other people, I pretty much have to default to describing it in a linear fashion. To breaking it up into discreet phases of the healing journey. There’s a kind of rough structure that offers handholds: Diagnosis, Treatment (Surgery, Chemo, Radiation, Holistic Therapies), Recovery, Remission, and hopefully, Vibrant Health. 

But, the truth is it isn’t a linear journey. Just like all of life. It’s not linear at all. It’s completely unpredictable. 

People don’t say much about the no man’s land between Treatment and Vibrant Health. The literature, the blogs, the coaching conversations. They’re filled with stories of this surgery, that drug reaction, this unexpected side effect. They’ve got tales of courage, stories of loss, and even the all-too-occasional happy ending. You can pull a billion and one of those stories off of Google. 

But, the stories I’m interested in, the stories of what happens after treatment, but before you figure out exactly who you are and what exactly to do next, those are much harder to find. In fact, I can’t tell that they exist at all.

Just like life. There’s no guidebook.

No one could have told me how can’t-sir would reshape me -- body, mind and spirit -- just as no one can tell me how or what to do with the whole of my life.

No one can tell me what the useful thing to say in any given moment is, to myself, my loved ones, my extended networks. Not about can’t-sir. Not about anything big at all.

No one can give me hope or love or happiness. It’s up to me to recognize the spark that exists in my soul already and allow it to flame.

At the root, it seems to me, success comes when we just go with our guts. When we go with what is right before us, letting go of our agendas, being present to all that is joyous and miserable and wondrous and strange. And, from that place, shine our light as bright as we possibly can, not minimizing ourselves, or what is true for us, or the contribution we are here to make, but rather, recognizing that our experience and our voice and what we are seeing in that moment has meaning and value. We each have something unique and irreplaceable to offer into this moment. 

Because, in fact, we are not separate at all -- no matter that it may feel that way. We are part of all that is. Our deeply personal experiences are soul-filled fragments of the collective experience we are all having. In sharing from our hearts, we create cohesion. We begin to glue the bits that have fallen apart back together. We show our love and our vulnerability. We hone our ability to be willing to allow our suffering to shape us but not to destroy us. We honor the moment and stay present to each moment and its teachings. 

I can’t tell you exactly what the next chapter of my life will look like. And that, actually, is precisely what fills me with hope. Because it means that the one thing I can say about the future is that it will be an extraordinary adventure, filled with opportunities to do good work, to help others, to create change, to do something innovative and creative -- in short, to make the contribution I came here to make. 

It means I've been gifted with one more precious minute above ground to do something useful with. And let me tell you, that alone feels fantastic in a way no blog post could ever express.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

On completing chemo, and thoughts on healing journeys

We leap from the lion’s head on trembling legs. We breathe deep of belief, and crest into the clouds with wings we are only barely beginning to grow. We step off the cliff with no idea what’s below, if anything at all. We dive in at the deep end with absolutely no guarantees that this thing we’ve chosen will work. We embrace what will be hard, maybe even impossible, and grow it in our hearts, knowing that this is the thing that stands between us and death. 

In the process, we can become faithful, faith-filled creatures. We can begin to carry a bag of this essence with us everywhere we go, and hold it gentle as a baby bird, not wishing to crush it or see it flutter away. We can hold it and hold it and hold it, never grasping. We can see that we get the opportunity to hold it for the rest of our lives, so that it is always available to draw upon or to give a bit away to others who may need something similar themselves.

We can still have moments when we get depressed, furious, crazed, confused, frightened, stressed out, worried, doubtful. We all have our moments. This is how it should be. The good news is, we have easier access now to the antidote than we did before. Reach back into the bag of your essence. Breathe. All is well. Honor the dark. Embrace it all. It exists so that we can remember the glory of the light.

This is what healing can be like. This is why it can change you -- if you honor it, if you love it, if you are vulnerable to it -- forever. And, I don’t just mean physical healing. I mean any kind of healing journey that you may find yourself on. There is always the opportunity to love yourself a little more, to care just a bit more for some piece of your beautiful, unique soul, to take the next step in creating something magical that is just waiting to emerge from your heart.

No matter how much faith you had before, no matter how much belief played a role in your life, in an instant, it can shift to become even greater. You can shift. You may find you are no longer solely faithful in an unseen force who you hope can do FOR you, but rather, you may discover you are now awake to that force and your ability to co-create alongside it in a new way, immersed in it, at one with it. You may find you create your reality day by day, in love and in faith, knowing that truly, all is well, no matter how it may look or feel. You may find it looks exactly the opposite for you. Or, that it has an entirely different flavor all together. 

For me, 5 months after “the diagnosis”, my life looks like an ever-expanding rainbow of co-creation, and it feels like a deep ocean of gratitude to still be here putting my bare feet on the floor every morning, and to know, I’ll get the chance to do that at least a little bit longer.

Yesterday, I finished the final 8th of 8 chemo treatments. In a short while, there will most likely be a little more surgery, and then, around 7 weeks of radiation therapy will begin. 

This journey of healing beyond triple negative breast cancer is not a short one, and at the same time, in the grand scheme of the universe, it happens in the blink of an eye. As one of my doctor’s teased, “We cut you, then we poison you, and finally we irradiate you!” 

In addition to the conventional Western healing methods, there will be more Reiki, more yoga, more cardio, more shamanic healing, more meditation, more green juice and raw food, more soul work. Beyond that will be years of living in faith and hope: knowing that all is well, believing that I am can’t-sir free, honoring my body wisdom when others around me have way less certainty and a bucketful of doubt. There will be moments of the exact opposite of all this, and there will be moments of reaching into that faith-filled bag to return to center. And through it all, all is well.

Ahead of me, I see another cliff, and there is no bridge and no viable means of crossing, but when I reach to touch my shoulder blades, I can feel those nubbins of wings, and I know it’s all good. 

I have accepted that there will not be a point any time soon when someone supporting my physical healing declares, “That’s it! You’re there. You’re can’t-sir free!” They just don’t tell you stuff like that in the early days. And it’s all early days until it isn’t.

I’m learning to be really, really good with this. First of all, it reminds me that the time of allowing anyone else to declare anything about me that could affect my awareness of my self, of my identity, of my healing, of my own body, is something that lives in the past. We learn to live our lives waiting for a stamp of approval from someone else on just about everything we do, even the smallest things like proper eyebrow shaping, but really, is any of that what gives us the sense of calm peace that we so crave? Or is it just one way we’ve learned first to disempower ourselves, and then, to shortcut doing our work? Second, I understand that I have the power to describe my health and my wholeness, and anything else about myself, using any words I choose, and unfold a life fueled by that awareness. So I choose to do that. I choose to do the work, or as the actor and Zen student Jeff Bridges suggests, I choose to blend play and work and do the “plork”. I see I’m lucky I get to be here at all to make a choice at all. What a magical, unimaginable gift is the power of choice.

There is truly no destination in this game, only a journey that spirals on. Yesterday was a milestone on one piece of my journey, and I chose to celebrate it. Today, I choose to keep celebrating, for just as yesterday contained its milestone, so today will have its own, and so tomorrow will have its own again. It’s important to take that time to savor, to enjoy, to relish the fabric and texture of our lives. For I know that so very soon, I will indeed stand on the edge of the next cliff, take a deep, full breath, and leap once again into the unknown, winging away into that great space that holds so much possibility and potential.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Reiki for Transforming Pain and a Practice for Being Love

As part of my journey as a Reiki practitioner, I do a daily self-healing practice, which I believe contributes enormously to my overall health and well-being. Every day my practice is a little different, and every day I learn something new about myself and the contribution I am here to make. These are just two of the things I just love about Reiki and tuning into a regular self-Reiki practice.

During this morning’s self-Reiki healing session, as I now do each morning, I focused on reinforcing my body experience as one of being in perfect health. Keep in mind that I believe an important piece of “perfect health” -- particularly when we're experiencing something that feels less than perfect -- is recognizing that we may not yet even understand what “perfect” even looks like. We might already actually be experiencing it, even if it doesn't feel like it! Just like so much of life’s journey, belief that such a state exists and is accessible to us is all that is really required. 

This morning, in addition to traditional hand placements and use of Reiki symbols as I felt called, I visualized Reiki energy rebalancing each of my chakras and deliberately creating an environment inside my body that transcends and transforms my understanding and experience of pain.

As you know from this blog, my journey of late has included some pretty intense joint pain thanks to Taxol chemotherapy, so I also focused on creating a specific visualization in which I imagined Reiki energy clearing away old, crusty energies inside each of my joints. As each joint cleared, I visualized it filling with a violet-blue cushion -- lovely little velvet pillows made of light that can live and provide relief inside my hips, under my kneecaps, inside my ankles, wrists, fingers and toes. I then imagined wrapping each one of my large joints in rainbow-light colored “tapes” that can be loosened or tightened at any time as my body needs different kinds of support as I move throughout my day. For me, this combination felt like a very practical activation of Reiki energy into the physical areas I have been experiencing pain, and it was immediately soothing. I experienced a real reduction in the amount of pain in my joints.

On the intuitive side of things, as I went through my practice, I also asked for guidance about what I could do for others in pain. I believe that any pain or illness I’m experiencing -- particularly when there is increased intensity to it -- is a signpost of the work I am here to do as a healer, and represents an opportunity to explore new ways to contribute to our shared healing as a planet. So I see that all of the work I am doing for myself on this can't-sir journey is really something I extend into the world as one contribution I can make to our overall growth and healing.

The intuitive guidance I received in response was: “Your only job is being more love into this world.” It's not the first time I've gotten this message. And I admit, it confounds me every time. I found myself asking, “being?” or “”bringing?” I was really longing to DO something physical and active about this! Like, give me a pick and shovel, baby, because I am READY to dig some holes and move some mountains! And, since I've been talking a little about this power of love thing lately here on the blog, I felt like perhaps I was being called to DO something more, something bigger. And somehow, for a moment at least, “bringing” seemed like the only way to get where I thought the universe wanted me to go. (Don't we always love to make it hard on ourselves?!) But, the word “being” would not shift, so I decided to go with it and drop my apparent hang-up around "bringing."

I asked what “being” might look like. And oh, lucky me, I got an answer with a kind of a doing component after all! The message that came through in my subconscious was clear: begin every interaction -- and particularly any I’m fearful of, worried about, doubtful about, feel may be difficult, or suspect may contain elements of conflict or aggression -- with the silent or spoken words, “I love you.” And, keep saying it silently as the interaction proceeds, no matter what may transpire. 

The hit I got tells me this goes for every interaction with others, and also with self. Dreaming a big dream? Start with, "I love you." Conceiving a new project? Start with, "I love you." Worried about how you're going to make enough money this year? Start with, "I love you." Scared to talk to someone? Start with, "I love you." Feeling guilty and upset for being angry with that lady at the bank? Start with, "I love you." And don't stop. Keep up with the love as each worry, doubt, fear or guilt comes rolling over you. 

I found this to be a really simple message, but a powerful one, and wanted to share it here. It was my strong impression that this approach will help my own healing, as well as that of those I interact with, and is needed more now than ever. 

What does it bring up for you? Have you received intuitive hits of your own that you’re exploring as you go about self- or other- healing practices you’re engaged in and want to share? Have you ever started an interaction from a place of love, and if so, have you noticed a difference in the energy or results?