The family story goes that when I was born, my grandmother said to my mom, "This one's high-strung." That's not an easy way to live, so I've done lots of things in my 66 years on the planet to create more peace and possibility for myself and others.
Yet the last few years I've found myself absolutely wound up again by these transformational times (Globalization! Covid! Tech Explosion! Political Partisanship! )
Lately I've been able to lessen the tension and gain back breathing room with Shirzad Chamine's Positive Intelligence and Dr. Jud Brewer's Unwinding Anxiety. I highly recommend these two kindred approaches, and both offer lots of free resources and assessments. Here's the gist of these experts' work and why it matters:
in the past, bad things happened quickly and good things slowly. To survive, we learned to judge surprising things with a negative lens (there's an unusual snake – kill it!) Now, in the last 150 years, the opposite has become true. Great things happen quickly (here's a covid vaccine – take it!) but we're seeing them as threats because we're still thinking old-school.
It's time to flip your thinking, or in Shirzad's words, up your mental fitness, for your own health and for the well-being of the world. To meet the pace of positive change today (and challenge the negative) requires positive human responses such as creativity, empathy and love. This is in direct opposition to the danger messages we still habitually rely on, learned through surviving for eons before. If you don't believe it, this video from Human Progress may help convince you.
Another family story: When I was young my mom, who had a brilliant but critical mind, responded to many things by saying, "What were you thinking!?" That type of negative reinforcement dredges up guilt, shame and perfectionism. Now, I say that phrase to myself when I catch myself in "brain-spraining" thinking loops. Being awake to when I'm thinking "tight", then switching to looser, creative and mindful thought is key to my being alive and well.
On a global scale, awakened creative thought is key to tackling the big problems we face from world health to climate change. A mindful, expansive approach to uniting people of the world is also less horrible, costly and inhuman than the rigidity inherent in war and dominion.
Do all you can to positively charge your mind, using mindfulness tools like body scans to unite your whole being (go to insight timer and search body scans, you'll thank me). If you need help, ask for help: that also adds to the world's positivity equation because it's expansive thinking. The quickest way to see less our most heartbreaking issues like poverty, racism and war is through the addition of more positively mindful people.
Millions to manifest
Last night before bed I was reading E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality. It says a lot of things that I at once both believe and discredit, which is of course one of the challenges to energetically manifesting anything in life: If I'm pulling in two different belief directions, energy-sperm has trouble meeting energy-egg and growing the energy into something viable.
That makes me realize that at the very heart of my life, I have been willing to go around in circles while I try and figure out what is true with a capital T. As I balanced the book’s message with a life review I fell asleep thinking it’s high time I manifest the reality I really wanted all along: millions of dollars to change the world. Then this morning, before I could get dressed and buy lottery tickets, I woke up thinking what I really wanted to create was millions of words to change the world. Which is good, because while I have no current prospects for millions of dollars, I am realizing I may have been a words-and-deeds millionaire for some time now.
I’ve been musing about dedicating one’s life ever since hearing a commercial for UCSF Medical Center in which a doctor says she has dedicated her life to her patients. I realized I had dedicated my life when I wrote "One Woman's Song for Love." It was 1982. Nuclear war rhetoric was in the news and ramping up as President Reagan removed the US from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Talks in Geneva and began producing more neutron bombs for the US and NATO. I remember feeling so disheartened, discouraged, frightened and hopeless. I didn't know what I could do: Writing my congress folk - important yes, but not powerful enough to stop this. Speaking out yes - but not powerful enough to change anything. Then it came to me: all I could do was dedicate myself to the opposite. And "One Woman's Song for Love" flowed out.
As a song itself, I am proud of the way it is crafted, because very few words in the English language rhyme with love and fewer still rhyme in a conversational way (The dictionary says 9 words rhyme, I say 7 “olive?” “octave?”come on ) I think I largely pulled it off because the message still moves forward in a largely conversational way.
As a dedication, I have heard the energetic essence of the song playing in the background of my consciousness for almost 40 years now, the core message shaping so many of my daily interactions as a mother, wife, artist, writer, student, coach. It is the basis of my many imperatives. I realize it is where I have invested my energetic capital to the detriment of amassing a fortune of ego, money, or reputation (maybe to a fault, now that I missed the retirement fund boat, and fear I’m too worn out to build something else to float me in my old age — but that's another story about estrogen and wisdom).
So that brings me back to building a reframe around my picture of a how to live a valuable life: Contrary to all the material noise that tells me I never “made it,” I may have accomplished some of the difference I so hoped to make when I dreamed of becoming a famous songwriter in the 80’s. Even though I am unknown beyond my family and small circle of friends and clients my dedication to loving words and deeds has led me to be a force for truth, peace, and authenticity in their lives. They come to me to spark healing conversations and creative insights. Perhaps I have become the rich artist I have always dreamed of being.
What about me is about you?
This may have been my story, but as these things go, it’s everybody’s story, it’s your story too. What have you dedicated yourself to, consciously or unconsciously? What do you do no matter what? Is it what you intend? I hope so, because it will keep showing up in your life — the good and the bad — over and over until you reprogram your dedicated server.
There are many reasons and warnings of why January 2021 might be an astoundingly hard month across the United States if not the world. As I sit looking out my window while the darkness falls I know I feel low and afraid of it. While I am used to that feeling, and accept and understand it, I search for resolve and strength, as I know the value of facing down relentless fear of the snake brain with higher executive functioning, or as Shirzad Chamine calls it, “the Sage brain.”
It’s been ages since I turned to the traditional prayers of my Christian youth, but touching higher ground is what spiritual words help humans do. The corporate prayers I started with held familiar comforting words, but within sentences confronted me with authoritarian patriarchal language that no longer elevates me. Then I remembered Bobby McFerrin’s stunning remake of one of my favorite psalms, the 23rd.
just what I needed and wanted. I hope it lightens any darkness for you too.
I wrote a song many years ago to illuminate the best gift I could find in the darkness of depression that so often overwhelmed me. Like most of my songs, Those Who Have Walked In Darkness Have Seen A Great Light came fully formed from someplace inside. That's one of the things that I think is so amazing about creativity: it just happens if you respect it enough to let go of what you already know and get curious about what's trying to be born. Anyway... I hadn't considered before this song blew in how even a pinhole of light can inform the darkness... and how often that small bit can be like the first spark of a hard-earned fire that grows as you feed it fuel.
In 2020 Those Who Have Walked In Darkness just might actually be a year-end holiday song, even though it wasn't written as one. This year has brought unforeseen and unwelcome darkness of some degree for everyone on the planet. For those of us, like me, who count ourselves as relatively lucky through it all, it still has been a year that took our breath, and therefore our words to address it, away.
But I can stand by these words in this song, I can say them out loud, as my prayer for the whole world in this time where so many of us celebrate the idea that light is always there, even when it is the darkest time:
Those who have walked in darkness shall see a great light
I promise if you haven't seen it, can't believe it, it's still there
As you find your way through your nights and through your days may it guide you
And when there's only darkness and shadow in sight
Remember, there are angels hovering round to cover you with prayer
Praying without ceasing for love and joy increasing in your heart, and the world.
So I hope you enjoy this song, that it makes your day a little more merry and bright. And here are some other songs that may be comforting or inspiring for you as we create a 2020 holiday filled with meaning.
Those Who Have Walked In Darkness
Lullaby (Child of Winter)
A Little Poem of Hope
2020 took our breath away
In so many sad moments beyond words but deeply ingrained in our souls
As my heart softens with this truth
I say to those of us still here, still moving
I celebrate the light you’re still bringing.
Inevitably, cellularly changed by the demands of transformative times,
Let’s go forth and shine and greet the next day.
Personal Update 2020
In the face of coronavirus, there’s not much that seems worth a seasonal update… Yet two things stand out as personal bookends for this remarkable year:
Let's start the year with Covid
Late March/early April my brother Phil and his group home household sickened with covid. Elderly plus mentally and physically handicapped, these six men along with their caregivers were all sick and on the front lines of the worldwide fight for available supplies - from thermometers to masks to food to nursing support. And the world was stuck in lockdown against an enemy we had never fought before.
There was too much to do, too quickly, for too many. Yet angels appeared. Sick himself, Darnell Williams, my brother’s house manager, kept the house running. My daughter Andra sourced toilet paper and takeout for them from God knows where. My son Lucas sent money, our friends did too. People I will never know to thank dropped off sanitizer and masks once Andra's social media campaigns started rolling. I wrote my brother’s final directives (as his power of attorney). And then - he got well! Everyone but one of the residents - who all had it - got well!
This miracle is, as all 2020 miracles are, offset by the shadow of one of the men who not only died, but suffered alone, unable to state his case, lost in bureaucratic shuffle no matter how hard the staff tried to find him. 2020 always leaves a film, a stain, even when we’re talking about miracles.
The rest of the year for me and my family - right up until December - is a medley of grit, grace and falling short of what the year demanded. We were just glad to get through the pandemic, fires, heatwaves, and all without losing every last nerve ending. When we knew we couldn’t stand it any more, there’d be a momentary lull where we could laugh and regain what footing we could before the next bang threw us back off center.
Let's end it with a bang
And then, it’s December, before the next horrendous corona curve, where people think we might be climbing out of the hole without digging one at the same time…. And on December 4th, a clear sunny day, I bike ride my way into an accident where I wake up in the back of an ambulance on my way to Stanford Trauma Center. After 65 years of living I now know what it personally feels like to have my clothes cut off in the back of an ambulance. The amazement that comes from being covered with kindness by strangers who know nothing about me except I’m human and broken, while tears leak out of my eyes because this might be my last ride anywhere.
And yet here comes another bunch of miracles. Despite a cracked helmet that causes police and doctors to be amazed I’m still alive, I have no fractures, and a husband who comes and sits by my side then drives me home. And while the miracles continue, so does the shadow of inequity: The knowledge that you can afford to have this happen to you, get the necessary MRI’s and followup, take the time off work. How rich I am! How poor it is that this is not a usual experience for everyone.
Tim and I are action-oriented people, but we're waiting graciously these days for a signal that it really is time to move forward. Until then, we wish, whatever 2020 was, that it's over by tomorrow… but if it is not, we’ll do our best with what comes. And that is our anemic but honest wish for you all too. May you find and cling to the path of ease and flow as much as possible. When the going gets less tough, I trust we'll all get going again!
Often I start my response to someone seeking my opinion in a crisis like this: “As a professional anxious person...” Immediately they understand that I’ve been there, and I remember that I have a lifetime of experience being confronted with at least the imagining of the very worst case scenario possible. I further understand that anyone in crisis is confronted with two energies: a wave of creative possibility and an undertow of despair. These energies are bigger than us, and we can only navigate our way through it. Cleaving to the wave as much as possible brings the best outcome and the most happiness.
In these COVID days, every person on the planet has a crisis or two. For me, it’s helping my eldest brother Phil, who has COVID now.. Phil has lifelong cognitive, physical and now elder challenges. He lives in a group home in the Midwest where every resident and some staff have tested positive in the last week. Some are already claimed by the undertow. As of yesterday, Phil’s still surfing the wave, thanks to his light symptoms and attitude, but mostly because there are angels around him creating as much wave as they can.
This disease is so capricious. Yes, many people live through it, but the outcome feels so random. Just like the waves in the ocean, I'm sure there's a larger pattern, but so big that we are still at the mercy of the wave. It has it's own mind and we can't always best it, regardless of our skill. For me, at my level, the only valid response is a prayer that my brother navigates this latest challenge and comes soon to a safe shore.
I am a woman small enough
Beneath the half-thousand moons I've seen
To think on if I've ever been
To what I was meant to be.
Yet, I'm large enough in years from youth
To stand strong in a larger truth
This is what I have. This is what I see:
I am a woman with promises kept
When once I wondered if I could
(And lately if I even should)...
I am a mother to my own, and as I crone
My daughter's own hourglass is full.
I see her beautify as a call
To give her every possibility
But then – she must know for herself – not for me.
Life is a gift that should be given free.
Yet sometimes, it comes at such a cost.
And many times beneath these many moons I have felt such loss.
So now, with witness all around
I call this moment forth for me
I live now on as I am meant to be.
And the fear-beast that eats my birthright away
I now carve out from my life any wasted breath
I'm here for life and not for death.
So I feed myself first on the Love my Creator intended me.
Big and fat and full with it, I will share all that I have
And all what that will be.
– written November 8, 2003 for Teresa's Lunar Party, this seemed appropriate today, as I am reminded again of what culture would take and keep from us women if we are not vigilant.
Since we’re constantly hearing the message, “be innovative,” you may wonder how to get to that place. In reality, the key is in the word “be.” There’s no place to go, except inside yourself.
Innovation is synonymous with creativity, and creativity is everybody’s birthright, although as with other human attributes, some people stand out. You’re an innovation machine, actually. All you have to do is turn on to that truth, and explore your innovative capabilities.
(If you doubt this perspective, take this blind spot test and realize that just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.)
Here’s some practical advice on how to flex your creative muscles: Relax. Explore. Play. This is the “be” of “be innovative.” It’s also the advice of the most celebrated innovators of all time. Physicist Richard Feynman draws a direct line from play to the contribution that won him and his colleagues the Nobel Prize for “fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles.” He tells how he was in the Cornell cafeteria when someone threw a plate up in the air like a frisbee. He watched it wobble round and round - and noticed the red Cornell logo was spinning faster than the plate it was on. It intrigued him, so he started playing with the idea. Feynman recalled:
“It was like uncorking a bottle: Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost tried to resist it! There was no importance to what I was doing, but ultimately there was. The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with the wobbling plate.”
However inspirational Feynman’s quote is, it reveals his blind spot. He calls his accomplishment effortless, but if he had not taken initiative to follow his muse, nothing would have happened.
Sometimes at work, innovation stalls because of dueling blind spots: We all see the need to create something new. But employees don’t see a path to add to a bigger picture and leaders don’t see the lack of a path. Nothing changes if we don’t. That’s where initiative comes in.
True initiative means “to take charge before others do” and creativity is, as expert Theresa Amabile says, the “formation of novel, appropriate, and useful ideas." We are the ones we are waiting for. What steps can you take give yourself and others permission and time to play with ideas just to see where they may lead?