Three Rules for Self-Actualizing

the new SF MOMA

Life offers vast possibility. This is the compensation for our suffering. Expansion becomes our catharsis. Happiness has been described as the movement towards fulfilling our potential.

Abraham Maslow, the psychologist who taught us about the hierarchy of needs, called it self-actualizing. He made it the tip of his pyramid. He said, “what a man can be, he must be.” This is how we occupy heaven on earth. The practice, the discipline, the mastery of recognizing one’s potential and growing to fill it. We need not achieve perfection nor possess wealth nor earn fame to self-actualize, we need simply to try our best. We need to be in it for the process. We need not wait, we can have it today.

Wayne Dyer outlined Maslow’s rules for self-actualizing in this talk with Deepak Chopra. He said there are three things that separate self-actualizers from the rest of the population:

  1. They are independent from the good opinion of other people.
  2. They are detached from outcome.
  3. They have no investment in power or control over others.

Personally, the first principle poses the biggest challenge. When I feel that uncomfortable unease regarding the judgments of others, I repeat: I am independent of the good opinion of others.

The second is a necessary reminder. I can write without expecting a certain outcome. I can post without hoping for a certain number of page views. I can parent without expecting society (or my kids) to give me recognition for my hard and heartful work.

With humble gratitude, I believe I’ve mastered the third principle; evidence that I’m on my way somewhere good.

Do you feel challenged by any of these principles? Which one(s)?

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Summer’s Last Hurrah in Sonoma

A vintage cabin in the redwoods, straight out of a Ralph Lauren catalog, a delicacy of a vacation home. Rustic luxury. Time machine. Splintered feet. Mosquito bites. Record player. Nigerian funk. Dance parties. Game nights. Dolls and books. Barbecue. Popsicles. Bedtime battles.

Then, a small place in the hills of Sebastopol, surrounded by rolling vineyards, fecund apple orchards, fairytale houses. Rusted tractors turned to sculpture. Rich food and vivid wine. Abundance of everything. Unexpected art. Blackberry trails. Purple tongues and teeth. Gravensteins. Apple fair. Deep fried fritters.

Unlike our previous trips of the summer, we didn’t do much. We hardly got into the Russian River. I thought I would run every day. I ran once. We ate out in exceptional restaurants, but more often, we cooked. We passed the time reading and playing. And when it was time to come home, we were ready and rested for a new school year, for fast mornings and short weekends, for deadlines and extracurriculars and routine.

I’m already planning Spring Break.Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

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Saying Yes, A Parenting Experiment

At some point, I decided that saying “no” to my children could make me a good parent.

I said no to lollipops. No to television. No to going. No to staying longer.

No, you can’t have that toy. No, you can’t snack on that. No, we don’t have time for one more. No, we can’t make [something elaborate] right now.

Of course, I’ve spoiled them here and there, but I did say NO more than YES. I wanted to be strict, prudent, disciplined.

I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t want them to look at the world and see no. I want them to be unafraid of asking for help and taking risks and asking big questions and treating themselves. I want them to look at the world and see yes.

What else? The no’s don’t seem to be adding up. Yes, I clean their room more often than I should. Yes, they have cavities anyways. No, they’re not asleep most nights by their [my] ideal bedtime. And if they can figure out how to sidestep my no’s, they do.

I think I avoid yes because it brings guilt, as if a shot of processed sugar could make me a bad parent. It seems more likely that the no’s are undermining my authority. I am tired of power struggles and battles of the will. If I learn how to bend, will my children learn the value of flexibility?

As I’m making the conscious shift towards Yes, I’ve doled out more scoops of ice cream and boxes of juice than before. I’ve permitted slightly more iPad time. I’ve stayed in their room longer at night, because they want me to stay. I’ve bought more [educational] toys. I’ve taken them on more adventures and to more cafes. Best part? We’ve had more new experiences.

When my big girl asked to go to Toys’R’Us the other day, I took her. A miracle transpired and she didn’t spend any of her hard-earned $28. She left the store disappointed, but dignified and determined to hold onto her cash to save for a doll that cost $50.

In the car, she started begging for half the money. I said no and I gave her the reasons, but I did (and continue to) offer her myriad opportunities to earn the money. I seek a balance between Yes and No, I always have. The difference now is that instead of leaning towards No, I’m rooting for Yes.

Thank you to Shonda Rhimes’ book “Year of Yes” for the inspiration.

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In Spite of Rejection

This morning I received another rejection from a literary magazine. I’m at the point where rejections dig deeper under my skin than they did in the beginning. They lead me to question my purpose and all the hours I’ve spent writing fiction, all the minutes I’ve chosen writing over my children, my husband, my loved ones. What was the point, you know?

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Lucky for me, I believe in the virtue of persistence. I consider myself a persistent person. Yet, in those moments after receiving a rejection, the persistence flickers. Why am I putting such effort into a calling that’s so far from guaranteed? Why am I taking precious time from my life (and life is, inevitably, short) and spending it on a gamble?

Sometimes, I wonder about putting my youngest in daycare and getting a job. I’ll have to start at the bottom again, but I’ll be both a career woman and a mom, and maybe I won’t feel the need to write. So I go to Craigslist and I browse the jobs, and I fall deeper into despair because every employer wants experience I don’t have. Since becoming a mother 6.5 years ago, I haven’t held a job and I’ve never worked harder. I’ve started and run a tea business, I’ve written many short stories and several novels (one of which I’m currently re-writing, one of which needs more work, one of which I’m chalking up to a learning experience, and one of which I’m still undecided about), I’ve blogged, I’ve written freelance, I’ve composed poetry, and I’ve taken care of my kids.

I. Am. Burnt. Out.

Aside from this slightly neglected blog, a poetry blog, a few links to published work, a few manuscripts, a few old tins of tea, and a long string of rejections; what do I have to show for all this work?

I don’t have passive income, years of post-college employment history, or a book on the shelves with my name on the cover (yet). But I have what I value most. I have my children. My beautiful family. If I scrapped all of my writing projects and “just” took care of my family, would it matter to anyone but me? Would anyone care that I wasn’t writing or making money? Would anyone miss the potential growth my words may or may not bring?

If I didn’t write in stolen moments, I would be a more present mother. I would play more with my kids, read more to my kids, teach more to my kids. And yet I’m holding onto the notion that writing, in its delayed-gratification way, makes me a better mother. Even if they don’t know it yet, someday they will understand that I did what I loved, against all odds, in spite of rejection, without anyone else’s help. I did it out of pure love for the art of literature. No matter what happens to my unpublished manuscripts, I listened to my heart. I followed it. This is the legacy I want to leave.


“But that is the book that I am writing. That we try and we fail and we try again. That we dust ourselves off and continue on. I am writing the book that I need to read. That despite my fear of failure, despite the fear that I am somehow a fraud, despite the suspicion that I am less than, I will keep trying. I will lean into what is good and hard and terrifying. I will turn to my better angels and sojourn on. Because the other option? The other option is only an approximation of life and not really life itself. And I want a really big life.” – Meg Fee

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The American Dream V2016

When I run, I feel free. When I fly in an airplane, I feel free. Yet my legs always tire and the earth always pulls me back to her. I am at her mercy, my wings powered by the energy drawn from her center. 

When I travel, I feel free. Yet I always return home, to the one country who will keep me. When I write, I feel free. Yet my expression is stunted by my inhibition and your interpretation.

A country can stand for freedom, but it will fail. It will fail by indoctrinating our minds and seeking control over our bodies and breaking our spirits with its own brokenness.

What is true freedom? I dare say it is not a place on a map, but freedom from judgment and expectation, from anxiety, depression and despair.

Because my country provides me peace, I am free to seek inner-peace. Because my country grants me freedom of speech, I am free to speak my voice. Because my country believes in dreams, I am free to dream. Because my country seeks progress, I am free to progress. Because my country allows me choices, I am free to choose non-attachment. I can choose freedom from attachment.

But that’s the light side, the reaching-for-sun side. Beneath the surface, these roots run deep, dark and gnarly.

I was helping in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom two days before summer vacation. The teacher gave a lesson about the origins of our country. He explained that people left their homes and took boats to “the new world” because they no longer wanted to be “owned” by a European king and America was “the land of the free.” I nearly cried for the bittersweet hope of it, the dream of it, the epic failures and successes of this country built for dreams, by dreamers. For the promise of the future, held in the hands of those 22 young Americans, a true melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, on the cutting edge of Now.

But I cringed as the teacher had to repeat the assignment to a little black boy who wasn’t following instructions. The children were to draw themselves on the boat, coming to America, the land of the free.

We know people came to this land to be free. We also know they came in chains. They came to steal and kill and make fortunes and live the dream. They wove the fabric of our nation with discrimination, racism, and hope. This country has never not broken hearts. But, a country is essentially made of humans, and so, like the human body, we can heal. But we have to want and work to heal, we have to cast our votes accordingly.

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The Restoration of the World

“We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.” – Rachel Naomi Remen on the podcast, “On Being: Kabbalah and the Inner Life of God.”

If all of human purpose could be summed up in one statement, I believe it is this.

We are born with the capacity to find the hidden light. We don’t have to do anything to make it so, we must only notice it. By bringing our awareness to the good, we shed light upon it, and it therefore expands.

Every faith and spiritual practice asks us to train our attention on the present moment. Inherently, the present moment offers us the beauty we seek, in its entirety. There’s nothing to worry about in the moment when we don’t feel regret for the past or anxiety for the future. Children, of course, do this naturally.

As we come of age, our minds continually trip over the complex miracles of the universe. We try to decipher what’s happening, as it happens. We sense energy in and around us, unseen worlds, and we hope that with enough thought, we will decode it, we will understand it. We get in the habit of thinking in continuous streams. We are rarely taught to quiet our minds and just Be. Many of us are addicted to thinking, and most of that thinking accomplishes nothing.

Even the people who study meditation and consciousness, the mystical spiritual seekers, do not always remember to Be Here Now. This is a lifelong practice. Our technology, our lifestyles, our habits, they pull us back into our minds.

We are here not to live in our heads, but in this magical universe, where the light comes and goes in a predictable pattern. Even when immersed in (what we perceive as) darkness, the light is still shining, somewhere. We’ve simply turned away from it. It’s always there. If not for infinity, then some number that approaches it.

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Becoming 31

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Tomorrow, I am thirty-one, the shift into thirty-something subtle but very present.

I keep forgetting it’s my birthday week. My former favorite-day-of-the-year overshadowed by kindergarten graduation and four days of intensive solo parenting.

The past year has shown up for me, generously teaching what I need more of, and it is neither ambitious nor lightweight.

It is inner-peace.

Sure, I often feel at peace in my comfortable middle-class lifestyle in my safe first-world country. It’s easy to feel peaceful when I’m in the gym, exercising to enthralling podcasts and beautiful music. But I must carry that peace with me, after I’ve left the steam room, and I am crossing a busy street with two children who are hungry and uncooperative. I may feel peaceful when the stars align and I get to sleep in until 7, but can I find peace at 5:30 am with a toddler climbing all over me?

True peace is not the absence of conflict, but strength in the face of overwhelm. It’s easy to sit in, and write about, and meditate on inner-peace, but how do we find peace when stress comes?

Likewise, it’s easier to set goals than to find peace with where we are right now. And that’s the answer, the paradoxical truth: in order for peace, we must have acceptance and love of what is, compassion for our humanness, for the meandering path we forge, the detours that seduce and distract and unnerve us.

Which is great, because it means I don’t have to wait until I’m officially done with losing my patience and saying things I don’t mean. I can fail as many times as I need to, and somehow, I can still find peace in that.

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