words of wisdom

Lessons on Optimism

You’ve probably heard that “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”—the sentiment of Charles R. Swindoll, an evangelical Christian pastor, presumably a man of faith and optimism.

In the second volume of Anaïs Nin’s diary, she cites two different people who proclaimed that her diary would never be published. Stuart Gilbert, a famous literary scholar said: “You have the makings of a Proust. This is too natural and will never be published.” Denise Clairouin, a French translator of novels, said: “The diary will never be published. People can’t bear such nakedness. You are so much in life.”

Of course, seven volumes of Anaïs Nin’s diaries were eventually published, making her a feminist icon of the 1960s, a woman studied and celebrated and often quoted.

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image via typewrittenword.tumblr.com

The thing is, she started seeking publication of her diaries as early as the 1930s. It took thirty years to see her diaries in print and yet she never stopped writing them. Some of the closest people in her life fought to break her dependence on her diary–her mother, her mentor, her lover, her therapist, her friend. But it was her diary who became her best friend and confidante (wikipedia). She wrote 15,000 pages, which today fill two four-drawer filing cabinets in a Brooklyn bank vault.

She didn’t need the permission of others, not even her loved ones, to fulfill this deep calling. She gave herself permission to do it. May we all be so bold.

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image via etsy.com

May we all stop thinking about what it is we are supposed to be doing, how we are supposed to be parenting or working or spending or living. Forget about what you’ve started and what you’ve promised, not for always but for now, and think about what you freaking want to do with your life.

Maybe you want to quit your corporate job and move to the country where your children can run free.

Maybe you want to move to a bustling metropolis and devour culture with every one of your senses.

Maybe you want to live like a monk and write poetry.

Maybe you want to tell your boss to fuck off (maybe in polite terms, maybe not) and then go start your own company.

Maybe you want to create pockets of passive income so you can travel the world and work 4 hour weeks à la Timothy Ferriss.

Maybe you want to break up or get together or have children or stop having children or read more or kiss more or sleep more or move more or write more.

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I think you should do what you’ve always wanted to do. Give yourself permission. Don’t seek it outside of yourself. Be inside your body. We feel trapped beneath the skin for a reason, right? There is a time and a place to transcend the skin, but right now, while pressed against this earth, it feels good to be grounded in our bodies. Who we are, what we want to do, what and where we feel called to live.

If we don’t follow these tugs, these whispered callings, we’re not playing with the universe. We deprive the greater good of our individual goodness, our gifts, our passions. No one else is me or you. Our DNA is 99% the same but it’s that wild card of a 1% that makes each of us irreplaceable.

I wonder what these comments about her diary being unpublishable did to Anaïs Nin, if anything. Obviously she didn’t believe them. She believed in herself instead. Do I believe in myself? It’s a question I keep asking.

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Anaïs Nin famously said: “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” An optimist sees opportunities, notices blessings. An optimist takes criticism as fuel rather than bullets. An optimist knows that she can do a whole lot with her reaction. If Piper Kerman had wallowed in her prison sentence rather than immersed herself in it and written about it, we wouldn’t have my new favorite television series, “Orange Is the New Black”

I’m talking to you as much as I’m talking to myself, perched upon a soapbox of beautiful intent: I hope you believe.

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To read more of my musings on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

Be the Light (+ 28 other pearls)

Today, I am 29 years-old!

I have never been this old before and I will never be this young again.

As I grow older I look forward to cultivating greater self-love, traveling to foreign lands, meeting like-minded people, making deep connections and friendships, reading more books, writing and publishing more words, watching my children grow up, acquiring more wisdom and experience.

It is a privilege to be 29. I am young but I am not so young.  I have lived, learned and loved well but I have more living, learning and loving to do.

I celebrate today by sharing 29 of my favorite pearls of wisdom, lessons and quotes.

If you feel moved to, please share one of your favorites in the comments section or on Facebook/Twitter.

 

1. Life is what you make it.

2. This, too, shall pass.

3. The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

4. Don’t take it personally.

5. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

6. Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

7. Love is all you need.

8. You can’t save people you can only love them. – Anais Nin

9. Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage – Anais Nin

10. Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. – Eleanor Roosevelt

11. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. – Eleanor Roosevelt

12. All good things are wild and free. – Henry David Thoreau

13. Stars can’t shine without darkness.

14. Be the light.

15. Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.

16. Count your blessings.

17. Fear does not stop death. It stops life.

18. Make time for yourself.

19. You are what you eat, so don’t be cheap, easy or fake.

20. “My suggestion is that you start with the love and then work very hard and try to let go of the results.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

21. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

22. Live simply, love deeply.

23. Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. – Albert Einstein

24. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett

25. Reality is merely an illusion. Albeit a persistent one. – Albert Einstein

26. The best things and the worst things in life are tangled together, making regret impossible.

27. Never give up. – The Dalai Lama

28. There is nothing more artistic than to love people. – Vincent Van Gogh

29. Dreams come a size too big so that we can grow into them.

EDIT:

When I picked up my phone this morning, I headed straight for Instagram for some reason. The first post I saw was a quote from Maya Angelou and the words RIP. I scrolled down to see my feed filled with tributes.

A great woman passed on the morning of my 29th birthday, a woman whose wisdom I have long admired. It only makes sense that I would add an extra quote (you know, one to grow on)–a quote that has been a part of my Facebook profile for years though now somewhat buried, the information too static to be considered interesting.

And I’ll resist recalling every other quote of hers that I love. (But google her name if you’re a quote junkie.)

30. “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

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To read more of my musings on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

Facing Impermanence

The sun came out in a profound way, the last day of April rivaling the best of summer. My mother-in-law arrived on a jetplane to meet her nine week-old granddaughter. James came home for lunch and early for dinner. Giovanna had her Grandma. None of us could keep our lips off of our squishy gorgeous baby.

Love was in the balmy breezy sweet clean air.

They were making dinner together; my husband and his mother and my daughter; while I cared for Skyla. For once I didn’t have to multitask. Two of my three major evening responsibilities (Giovanna and dinner) were out of my hands.

So what did I do?

I took a walk.

I slipped Skyla into my trusty front pack and I walked through the city in the heat I love so desperately, the heat I’d been craving since it sidled away eight months earlier. The sky shone robin egg’s blue and flowers popped out of the ground at every opportunity and the trees loomed like giants. Bicyclists whizzed by and people walked their dogs and children drew on the sidewalks. The lake brought certain peace while the volcanic mountain, so big it looked like a painting in the sky, humbled us mere mortals.

We are at the mercy of the earth.

And on this day, Mother Nature graced the Pacific Northwest with a lush and lustrous aura. The juicy green and glassy blue landscape like a highly addictive drug, the ether charged with something golden and Good.

I was getting exercise while connecting with nature, roaming my patch of the planet both paved and wild. My husband was at home. My daughter was happy. My baby was strapped to my heart, a smiling cooing suckling sleeping angel, the light of heaven pouring out of her in the form of pure unadulterated love.

I became rigid with contentment which isn’t as lovely as it sounds. While climbing a long set of stairs, I had to stop. My heart cramped.

I was afraid.

How could life get better than this? How long could I hold onto these riches? How could I possibly feel this happy when so many people are starving and sick and depressed? I was standing at the top and looking over the edge.

Anxiety wanted to ruin my moment. If everything Good is ruined by worries, what’s left? Why is it so hard to let ourselves feel mind-numbingly happy?

My theory? Because we grow attached to the current picture of our life. And we know deep down we can’t take it with us. Everything exists only in fleeting passages.

My baby will soon be grown.

The weather will soon turn.

Everyone dies.

We intuit these truths of impermanence and we fret that everything will change before we are ready. Before we have really gotten to know someone or told them how we feel or followed a dream or appreciated the perfume of prolific oxygen.

I stood there for a moment, deciding that I deserved to feel Good without guilt or anxiety. I’d hit some lows the week before and I’d learned some lessons. I’d waited long and patiently for this baby and for the spring.

So I gathered presence around me and I breathed it in and I knew it: the best is yet to come. I could learn how to move comfortably within my natural state of joy. Instead of aching along with society, I could take my birth right and use it to weave light into the dark places.

My joints loosened and I noticed the moss on the edges of the stairs like a decorative trim. I took the next step and emerged out of the shade. Sun flooded my eyeballs as if to say, yes.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

- Marianne Williamson

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We Are All Babies

We think we’re so grown up, don’t we?

We understand so very little about the vastness of the universe, about the force that makes the sun shine and the flowers grow and the rain fall and our hearts beat. It’s not our fault. We are only human. We can only see ahead of us so far as the earth curves. Just like our babies can only focus on objects 8-15 inches in front of their eyes.

And yet we think we know what’s best for us. We think we know what makes us happy. We think we know what’s important. We think we know how to live.

Because how else could we function if we didn’t pretend to know what we’re doing and where we’re headed?

(Fake it ’til you make it.)

Like my 7 year-old stepson, Emile, says: “I know all the facts about life.” If we listen to children and consider deeply their feelings and motivations and opinions, we can learn quite a lot from them. How often do we think we know “all the facts” about something, only to find out (seconds or days or years later) that we were missing vital pieces of information? How often do we think to ourselves, if only I knew then what I know now?

(Hindsight is 20/20.)

We have ideas about death but really we have no idea what happens to us after the life-force that lives behind our eyes goes away forever. Does forever exist or is time cyclical like the days and the seasons and the years? Whose to say we know any more about living than we do about dying?

And whose to say adults know any more about life than seven year-olds? In the grand scheme of creation, aren’t we all babies?

I look at my baby and I can see that she is perfect.

According to certain spiritual teachings, this is how God sees us. We are perfect in all of perfection’s shades of gray. Imperfectly perfect. Perfectly imperfect. Sinners with full redemption.

My baby scratched herself on the nose recently. I was sad that she accidentally hurt herself with those flailing little arms. She didn’t mean to. But she’s okay. Wounds heal.

Isn’t it the same with us? God, the Universe, All That Is watches as we hurt ourselves. We undervalue, we doubt, we over promise ourselves. We flail about and we fall. God knows we don’t mean to do it, but we are confused, we are disorganized, we don’t always see what’s right in front of us.

My baby gets very upset in the car. We never go anywhere until she has nursed. If she’s fed and asleep, she usually wakes up when I strap her in. If she’s fed and awake, she will last for an average of 15-20 minutes before losing her cool. And if she’s fed and truly tired, she does not fall asleep peacefully in the carseat. Rather, she cries. If we’re going longer than 5 minutes, I pull over and nurse her, but this doesn’t usually help unless I can knock her out with milk while still strapped in her carseat, a feat of contortion and a test of patience and an investment of time, all of which are more often than not in short supply. She wails and she screams at the top of her lungs (have you ever heard the top of a newborn’s lungs?) and she grows sweaty and those arms wave in the air like she’s calling out to Jesus.

I hate it. Those cries scratch my heart like the keenest fingernails on the squeakiest chalkboard, like the anguish of the person you love most in the world. I want to save her. I want to wipe away her sadness. I don’t want to go anywhere in the car, and when Giovanna was a baby (who did the same thing) I often didn’t. But my life is a different life now. Mainly I have a 4 year-old who goes to preschool and likes to do things and if we stayed home all the time she and I might both go crazy. So I try to pretend it’s not happening. Sometimes I cry along with her. And when she cries for so long that her cries slow to intermittent wails and the sweat on her head leaves wet shadows on the carseat, I think I must be the worst mother ever to let my tiny child feel such desperation.

Alas I also know she’s okay. She may feel lonely or tired or bored, but she’s being cared for, even strapped inside that loathed seat. It will be over soon and I will take her in my arms and make everything better. I can do that for her.

Don’t you think it’s the same for God? God watches us as we go through things. We become strapped to our burdens and burdened by our minds. We have bad days and depressive periods and new lows. We call for help and when no one answers we call louder. We think that maybe no one’s listening, but really God is listening, waiting for the right moment. Waiting for us to arrive so we can be delivered from our pain. Because everything is temporary. And if we get out early, we won’t ever get to where we’re supposed to be going.

Have I told you that my baby is beautiful? I have never seen a human being more beautiful. She is beautiful because she is pure light. She shines with divinity. Her physical appearance does me in. The pocket of flesh beneath her chin and the rolls on her limbs and the rotundity of her belly. The dark brown in her eyes and the cradle cap in her eyebrows and the fuzzy hair on her ears that remind just how very new she is. The length and elegance of her fingers and the softness of her feet and the itsy bitsy milia on her face.

What if God see us the same way? Sweet and gentle creatures with cute noses and funny pimples and jiggly thighs and hair in weird places, every speck of us adorable and perfect. Could it be possible that there is nothing inherently wrong with any of us after all? Did God give us the gift of babies so we could know how much we are loved by source?

After all, we all come from God. Source. We are all God’s babies.

I like to think of us this way. Smart, sophisticated and savvy humans doing complex and important things to help this planet evolve, but underneath it all we’re just sweet little babes, looking for some love, wondering about this world and what’s going to happen next.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

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Skyla & Cruz, soul-cousins born 9 days apart

The Story Behind Skyla

“Become the sky. Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”

- Rumi

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I already had the name Skyla on my list. I knew I loved it. And obviously I have a thing for the sky (hence my blog name). But the task of naming a child does not produce immediate answers, at least not for me.

When I saw this quote on Instagram from heathercooperloves, which was a re-gram from adonnrowley, I took a screenshot. Every time I came back to it, I got tingly.

We don’t have to conform to standards or fit into boxes or worry about the outcome. We are here to do things that make us feel  good. We are here to enjoy the rainbows, bask in the sunshine, bathe in the ocean, gaze at the stars. We are here to cry in the rain and listen to the clouds and cling to one another in the storm.

We don’t have to take this life so seriously. Failure is a myth, the prison walls are made of fear. We can fall and get up as many times as we want. We can fly without crashing. We need not hold back or be afraid or stifle our truest, wildest, happiest dreams.

I hope I can teach my beautiful biracial daughters to live like this.

I want them to push against the boundaries built by modern society. I want them to break through the glass ceilings and make their own joy. I want them to create anything and everything they want. I want them to follow their hearts and believe in themselves, because we are all as big as the sky.

Just as we chose Giovanna because “God is gracious,” we chose Skyla to remember that we are limitless potential, bound by limitless love.

Free Your Words

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She told us.

free your words. every. day.

I wrote it on a note and taped it to the window above my desk.

I sit here as often as I can, stealing away from the rest of my life to write words. Words that become stories that become novels, sometimes essays, sometimes articles. Variety is the spice, but for me, fiction is the sugar. Writing fiction brightens my interior self like fresh snow coating the earth. A prism of luminosity. Writing fiction fills an otherwise unreachable crevice of my mind. Writing fiction is, at once, the hardest and most doable thing in the world.

Writing is hard because I must do it alone. Artists need solitude. Quiet to hear the echo of emotion. Privacy to create something out of nothing. The words won’t come unless they are called. Like shy girls waiting for the boys to ask. When I write fiction, I am at once the asker and the asked. The seeker and the sought. I can handle humanity, turning it over and over and over again, memorizing all sides like an archaeologist examines a relic. And still, the rock gives only hints of its history. Little by little by little.

Writing is the most doable thing in the world because I have to do it. How else can I explain this? I started my first journal when I was six years-old. Writing is a natural and necessary form of expression for me, for many of us. If I don’t write, I am missing out on myself, on the potential of my unique human experience. The words sound like noise when they’re crowded in my mind, elbowing one another to the finish line.

But there is no finish line for my words. There is only freedom. Sometimes I forget.

When I hit a wall while writing and I start searching for distractions, I see that note and I remember.

free your words

I don’t have time to waste. My time at this desk is limited indeed. This is my chance.

What lives inside of you that needs to be freed? 

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A Celebration of Life

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“This much I know. I do not allow myself to be overcome by hopelessness. No matter how tough the situation. I believe that if you just do your little bit without thinking of the bigness of what you stand against, if you turn to the enlargement of your own capacities, that itself creates new potential. I’ve learned from the Bhagavad-Gita and other teachings of our culture to detach myself from the results of what I do. Because those are not in my hands. The context is not in your control. But your commitment is yours to make. And you can make the deepest commitment with a total detachment from where it will take you. You want it to lead to a better world, and you shape your actions and take full responsibility for them but then you have detachment. That combination of deep passion and deep detachment allows me to take on the next challenge. Because I don’t cripple myself. I don’t get myself in knots. I function like a free being. I think getting that freedom is a social duty. Because I think we owe it to each [other] not to burden one another with prescription and demands. I think what we owe each other is a celebration of life and to replace fear and hopelessness with fearlessness and joy.” – Vandana Shiva

A good friend posted this soliloquy on Instagram. I read it despite the fine and copious print because I knew she shared it for a reason. I re-grammed immediately and continue to re-read it. I even transcribed above in hopes of the wisdom sinking in a little deeper.

I don’t get myself in knots, he says.

I do. Especially when it comes to my family. Giovanna has thrown some tricky curve balls at me lately. Begging for “presents” when we run errands, for sweets when we have them, for a ride in my arms, sitting above the bump for just a little while longer.

I can’t walk, she says. Pick me up, mama. Carry me.

In one month exactly, she turns four. In two months, her little sister is due to make her grand entrance into this dimension. I know Gigi understands more than she lets on. I know everything will change about our family dynamic. She knows it, too.

I dig deep for compassion and empathy and most of all patience. Usually I deal with transgressions and move on. But sometimes, I get myself in knots. Like yesterday after too many spontaneous tantrums and a long afternoon at the Nutcracker followed by hideous traffic.

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I suppose I expected too much. The picture says it all. My forced smile, her pouty face. I’m holding her because it’s the only way.

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This picture, however, seems to tell a different story. A mother and daughter spending the afternoon at the ballet (courtesy of Trophy Cupcakes, no less). What privilege. What luck.

Things aren’t always as they seem.

Our photo-bombers, the mother and daughter behind us, were having a similar day. Sweetness sprinkled atop something hard to swallow.

As mothers we have a hard time separating our children from ourselves. We were once physically attached, our hearts inextricably overlapped. But we can overlap without being tangled. We don’t need knots. Knots cut off the circulation.

The context is not in your control. But your commitment is yours to make.

I can’t control my daughter’s moods and emotions. I control nothing but myself.

Either I can write, or I can wish I was writing.

Either I can actively grow my business, or I can remain comfortable and stagnant.

That combination of deep passion and deep detachment allows me to take on the next challenge.

I sit down, day after day, to write. Unveiling stories inch by inch. No matter the length or the quality or the numerous distractions to which I succumb, I feel better when I’ve written that day. As if every thought composed helps to make more sense of this existence that I don’t understand. I am hungry to learn about it and from it and for it.

There are things I feel compelled to write about. Truths, both perverse and pure, that I love to share and explore and discuss using the vehicle of fiction.

As for the tea. Why do I run a small business while writing and mothering and living? Because I must. Because these teas create a flow of micronutrients and antioxidants and healing properties into the body. Herbs are magical little plants. I am honored to act as their conduit.

You want it to lead to a better world, and you shape your actions and take full responsibility for them but then you have detachment.

I cannot know which novels will publish or how many tins of tea will sell. I cannot know how any of my dreams are going to turn out. And it’s scary sometimes and sometimes I get stuck.

I think what we owe each other is a celebration of life and to replace fear and hopelessness with fearlessness and joy.

This is what we’re here for. Not acclaim. Not wealth. Not perfection. But a celebration of life.