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Make Waiting Easier; 3 of My Favorite Techniques

Waiting is not my forté. Though I’ve gotten much better at it. I’ll show you how. I am waiting for scan test results (every 3 months I have routine scans to watch for tumor activity), Cole is waiting to hear back from colleges, Hazel is waiting for a package she ordered, Leo is waiting to go for a walk, and Kurt is waiting for all of us to be a little less anxious and cranky while we wait. 

Even if you are not waiting for something in particular, we are all waiting for COVID-19 to be a thing of the past. Aren’t we? Katharine Sweeny, PhD, researches how to make waiting easier and has come up with two surprising techniques. I’ve added a third that works for me and many of my clients. 

Sweeny’s research found that common strategies like distraction and bracing for the worst actually exacerbate the pain of waiting. What helps? 

  1. Focus on the present with 15 minutes of meditation a week

Regret keeps us stuck in the past and worry throws us into an unstable future, so continually recover your balance in the present. Think of three things that you are grateful for today and say them out loud. Feel all the feelings now rather than push them away. And even you restless folks might want to give meditation another chance when you hear about Kate Sweeny’s study. She focused on 150 California Law students who took the bar exam and were waiting for their exam results. During the four-month waiting period, the students were asked to participate in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week. “Meditation isn’t for everyone, but our study shows that you don’t have to be a master meditator…to benefit from mindfulness,” Sweeny said. “Even 15 minutes once a week, which was the average amount of meditation practiced by our participants, was enough to ease the stress of waiting.”

2. Cultivate a sense of wonder. Have a mini awe-inspiring moment

Sweeny and her team did a second study. This time over 700 students took a fake intelligence exam. While they waited for results, the researchers showed one group a powerful video of a sunrise set to instrumental music, a second group a happy-but-not-awe-inducing video of cute animal couples, and a third group a neutral video of how padlocks are made. “Our research shows that watching even a short video that makes you feel awe can make waiting easier, boosting positive emotions that can counteract stress in those moments,” Sweeny said. This study validated my wacky idea that cultivating wonder is a precursor to joy. But how do we define “awe”? Scientists agree that it involves a feeling of vastness. Some simple ways to induce awe include: watch a Planet Earth video, commit to going somewhere to catch the sunset or sunrise, look up at the stars on a dark night, listen to an audio clip of Carl Sagan’s A Pale Blue Dot while watching footage of the Earth as seen from space, consider how the trees have been dormant for months and yet come back to life each spring. How do you cultivate a state of wonder, especially now? Where do you find mini awe-inspiring moments?

3. Flip What If? To Why Not? 

My friend Kari inspired me to try this simple, effective technique. When we are waiting, it’s easy to worry and spiral down the negative “What if?” chain, “What if the medical test results are bad? What if I get rejected from every college? What if my package is lost? Often “What if?” questions feel like predictions and they catapult us out of the present into a scary future. They are not predictions, they are only the mind trying to respond to uncertainty. 

Try flipping the question from What if? to Why not? 

  • Why not picture everything working out for the best? 
  • Why not give yourself permission to rest or play while you wait? 
  • Why not trust that you are resilient and resourceful, no matter what the results?  

Waiting can be brutal. But it doesn’t have to take over our lives. These techniques might be worth trying. Why not? 😉



image credit: ignant.com


We have COVID. Or had COVID (we just ended our quarantine). Kurt tested positive first. We locked him in the basement; the kids left food and water outside his door, wearing two masks and gloves. I disinfected the entire house and sat outside in three pairs of long underwear, thinking. The virus we feared for ten months was suddenly in our home. As one friend put it, it was like being at the moment of impact in a slow-moving car crash. Now what?

The Settlers of Catan. That’s what. Upstairs, the kids and I played that board game for days. Below us, we could hear Kurt typing on his computer (he is a loud typer!), and practicing his electric guitar. Then suddenly we didn’t hear a thing. I texted him. “Are you ok?” 

“Need more Tylenol.” He wrote back. He couldn’t get out of bed. His fever spiked. For two nights, I went bat sh*t with worry. 

Turns out, Kurt had a painful sinus infection on top of COVID. With a round of antibiotics, he recovered quickly. He was among the privileged few. But there was a mental and emotional toll to being isolated in a dark room for ten days. 

He told us later, “I prefer to be alone. But this was different. I could hear you guys but I couldn’t see you. It wasn’t being sick that was hard, it was being invisible. And having the world be invisible too. Mentally, I fell into a dark hole.”

Illness, in my experience, is always a separation. There is the pain of the sickness, and then there is the pain of disconnection from your body and from others. Everyone understands this now, during the pandemic.

The next time the kids and I went to get tested, we were positive. Now all of us had COVID. I was surprised that my first reaction was to hide and not to tell anyone. COVID shame is real. But I also didn’t want others to worry alongside me. How would my immune system, weakened from radiation and chemotherapy, handle this? 

If illness is a separation, then the process of healing is about reuniting with what makes you whole. I needed to connect with Nature and with Kurt again. I needed to reconnect with my body as a healthy system instead of the diseased betrayer of my trust that first got cancer and now COVID.

I finally ignored the urges to hide and reached out for help. Soup and juice and puzzles showed up at our doorstep, reconnecting us to the kind world beyond our disinfected doorway. (Thank you!! @phyllisrogers @rachelleclements @debbiemcgrath @teresachapman)

Here’s what else I did that you might want to try: I chose to reunite with the 99% of my body that was healthy rather than the 1% that was sick. I loved up my immune system. No, really. I lay on the floor and thanked every tiny, mighty, fighting T-cell. I told my body that I loved it. I told my lungs what a good job they were doing. I even pictured the beautiful order of the planets and stars. I thought about how everything fit together and how I was a part of that order. 

I also had my doctor on speed dial and took extreme amounts of Vitamin D, C and Zinc. 

Cancer has prepared our family to handle scary uncertainties. Some things we’ve learned: 

  • Stay firmly in the moment and feel all the feels
  • Do not indulge the anxious “what ifs”
  • Be extra kind and gentle with one another  
  • Love up what works, what is good, and what is funny

Ultimately, we had mild cases with very few symptoms. We slept and slept (have you seen @napministry? Naps as soul care!) COVID finally gave up and went away. We don’t take our privilege for granted. 

How we got COVID is unclear. The obvious reason is that we traveled when we should not have. But the timing and several negative tests long afterwards make it less obvious. The truth is, we don’t know. Like so much else about this disease, we may never fully understand. (And I still don’t understand how to play Catan.) 

Today I went for a x-country ski in the park. I skied and thanked my lungs and the cold blue air after weeks of clouds. I mentally thanked all the cute people skiing around in circles for their company. I feel worn out from endless stress and sanitizing, but I also feel elated. I can trust my body. It hasn’t betrayed me all these years; it’s been saving my life.



Revolutionary Love

I have a wall of hearts in our living room; hearts I’ve collected around the world. There are hearts that my family gave me for every week of chemo and radiation therapy. Hearts hammered out of metal, carved out of wood, painted with gold and silver leaf. There are hearts bent and broken and carefully put back together again. One heart’s golden wings spread wider than the wall itself. It is covered in “milagros,” small metal folk charms in the shape of arms for strength, legs for the journey, and hands for compassion. 

When someone needs a boost, I take down a heart, wrap it in soft tissue paper, and leave it on their doorstep.

I touch the hearts when I pass by them every day for protection, for luck, for courage. In the most difficult weeks, when it feels toughest to move forward, the hearts challenge me. I’m forced to ask, Can I love my life? Even now? 

We need to double down on love if we are going to get through this in one piece. Valarie Kaur calls it Revolutionary Love; the kind of love that dissolves distance and division and builds bridges of unity.

The spirit of this week’s workshops is to bring young women together who have been in their rooms, isolated. We need connection the way we need sunlight and fresh air. Without it, we wither. 

When I was young, I was fiercely independent. I thought I should be able to do everything on my own, without help from anyone. I didn’t know then that success on your own is a fantasy. Also, it’s boring. It’s lighter and more fun when we reach out, when we ask for help, when we boost one another up. 

One thing worth loving about Valentine’s Day are the hearts and the letters. I don’t need candy or flowers, but give me a heart and one delicious page of your chicken scratch and I am yours. 

Reach out. Nothing fancy. Write one short, imperfect letter on the back of a grocery list and drop it in the mail to someone whose existence lifts you up, even slightly. While you’re at it, write your mail carrier a note, and include a gift card, for being the messenger of connection.

Meanwhile, as I write this, someone on my street has been drawing hearts out of chalk on the road and on the sidewalk. Their sight makes me happy. One heart for me, one for you, one for the stranger who feels unheard, unseen, unloved. There are enough to go around. 




Becoming Your Light & Amanda Gorman’s Poetry

How about Amanda Gorman in her bright yellow coat reciting “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s Inauguration? She made me rise to my feet in hope and ovation. Wasn’t she fantastic?

I’m biased, of course. I’ve been following her for a while now because my brilliant friend Katherine told me to, and because poetry is my love language. Plus, on Inauguration Day, Gorman used the words brave AND fierce and breathed joy into a moment where we held our breath in anticipation of something terrible to come.

Thank goodness so little happened during the Inauguration that the most exciting thing people talked about afterwards was the fashion: Ella’s wool coat and Bernie’s mittens!

But can we talk a bit more about Amanda’s poem?

Her poem didn’t just talk about unity, it made us feel united. Was I the only one who wanted to turn to the people next to me and give them a kiss? Good poems do that; they kindle a feeling of intimacy between us.

We are used to poems during big moments like weddings and funerals (why do we save poetry for the dead? Why not include poetry daily, while we are alive?), but rarely does the poetry become the moment.

Amanda Gorman’s spoken-word performance upstaged the swearing-in ceremonies. It was only upstaged by Bernie’s mittens. Just look at this: the most popular photo that came out of the inauguration is of Bernie sitting with his legs crossed, showing off his wool mittens. But can we talk a bit more about Amanda’s poem? Hers was a poem we could enjoy not just for the words on a page, but for the experience. It felt more like a shared song and less like a text we toil over at our high school desks. She delivered her poem to us like a gift, a much-needed balm of healing and hope.

“We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.”

Gorman filled her poem with delightful sounds that rise and rhyme. She didn’t shy away from the tension, either. When rioters stormed the Capitol building on January 6th, Gorman had not yet finished her poem. She included the pain in the middle, so the event that nearly broke us becomes a hinge for hope.

“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it…But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”

It was a hymn that reclaimed bravery and hope and made them contemporary, not old-fashioned virtues.

“If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made…if only we dare.”

Gorman reminds us that leadership comes in all sizes, colors, and ages. It especially comes from someone who steps into her identity and takes her place in her lineage, “where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president…” Yes! Finally!

When she was interviewed after the ceremony by Anderson Cooper, he referred to a tweet from Hillary Clinton who gushed about Gorman running for President in 2036. Cooper said, “President Gorman; it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”

Gorman responded with a smile, “Yes, it does. Madame President Gorman. I like the sound of that.” Most of us would have dismissed the praise and the possibility. Instead, it was refreshing to see Gorman confidently stand in her power.

We are socialized to diminish praise and accolades. Won’t we become too arrogant, too mainstream, too full of ourselves, and therefore unlikeable?But Gorman is less full of herself than she is full of those who came before her. She honors the slaves and the black writers whose voices fought to be heard. She steps into her power without shrinking from it. She recited for Cooper the mantra that she says to herself before she performs:

“I am the daughter of black writers. We are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.”

The power of her mantra left Anderson Cooper speechless. (Watch the interview.) The moment reminded me of the words of another poet, @nayyirah.waheed, who writes:

“knowing your power
is what creates
Not knowing your power
is what creates

In seeing ourselves belonging to something larger than us, we offer our small part with bold conviction, rather than shy away from offering anything at all.

“It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

My mantra before a big talk is borrowed from Barbara Streisand who revealed to James Corden that she says simply, “Let go, Let God.” Now, I’m inspired by Amanda Gorman to add words to my mantra that honor the line of strong women who came before me. I’m not alone.

My voice comes from all those who broke barriers to give me the freedom to speak and all those who lift me now and keep me from breaking apart. Isn’t it humble to use my voice, rather than silence it?

Bravery and humility are sisters. Together they help us to step into our power. We are a small piece of a great whole and therefore we need to demand courage from ourselves to contribute our part boldly, imperfectly, and often. It’s not self-centered; it’s us-centered. We just need to find light and be a part of making it.

When we do contribute, it’s easier in these times to join the chorus of critics and trash others. It’s harder to demand hope from ourselves and to seek the light in the shade. Amanda Gorman takes it one step further and challenges us not just to look for the light, but to become it.
“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”




P.S. More poet-light-makers worth discovering are Jenny ZhangAnne Boyer, and M. Nourbese Philip. Thanks to my niece Celia for introducing them to me! And in 2020, Brandon Leake became the first spoken word poet to be on America’s Got Talent. He also went on to win it. Yay! Poetry!

Do Thoughts of “I’m not doing enough” Wake You At Night?

These times demand Next-Level Resilience.

“I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for months,” a client tells me. She is exhausted, but wakes in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. She works all day and makes progress. “But then I lose sleep because I’m not doing enough.”

I know those thoughts too well. Why am I not doing more to end racism or just get through my to-do list? My children confess that often the first thought they have when they lie down is, “I should have done more today.”

Where do the “never enough” thoughts come from?

Our culture tells us that it is about more, more, more. But where has that story gotten us?

We feel worthless unless we are doing more. We feel despair when we aren’t fixing more. We feel angry when we didn’t stop the hurting more. We feel anxious when we have not checked off more.

When we can’t do it all, Fear disguised as our own voice says harshly, “You’re letting everyone down.” My inner critic only points out what I haven’t done; it never notices the good progress I’ve made.

My inner critic also loves to “stare and compare.” One glance at Instagram and I hear, “Look at all these smart people doing great work and making real change. What have you done lately?”

It’s a trap. “I’m not doing enough” or “I should do more” are thinking traps. We feel bad at night because our worth is tied up with doing and fixing. The thought doesn’t cause us to do more. It causes us to lose sleep. Then we burn out. Burnout extinguishes good progress. The world needs us to make progress, not collapse.

These times demand Next-Level Resilience. You can’t let your inner critic bully you, because we need your brilliance. You are smart, brave, and funny. You are creative, nimble, and resourceful. You can even handle one more thing. I know this because you told me you couldn’t handle one more thing last week, and then more happened! Now you are handling more better than you think. And those dark circles you’ve gained? They only highlight your beautiful eyes.

Let’s get you back to sleep so you can wake up fresh, happy to be alive, and ready to respond creatively to whatever happens.

What to do about “Never-Enough” thoughts?

Spot the trap. There’s no place called “Enough” where you put your feet up and say, “I’ve done it. I am totally doing enough. Racism is over. Climate change is in check. I haven’t made a mistake at work or in my relationships in years.” To recognize the trap, ask yourself: What would be enough? Does it seem possible to reach enough? Am I causing myself extra suffering by shouldering all the responsibility? How can I focus on contributions, not accomplishments?

Track Your Time. There are 168 hours in a week. How are you really spending them? Once I started tracking my time, I realized I was spending most of it on things that didn’t matter much. For a week, I wrote down in my planner, hour by hour, what I did, not just what I hoped to do. It helped me to find time for the things I really cared about doing. It also helped me to notice that I was doing enough. Maybe I was even doing too much. Christine Carter has this free amazing ebook to help you find more time! Laura Vanderkam has a time-tracking log to help you pay attention to where your time is going.

Choose Compassion over Criticism. If your friend or your favorite pet was struggling, you wouldn’t yell at them, “Do more!” You would act with compassion. So. Practice self-compassion. Notice how far you’ve come. Notice what is working. Thank your mind for managing so much. Thank your immune system for working so hard. Thank your opposable thumbs for picking up tiny objects. Then say “I am enough” as you exhale slowly.

When I mention this last piece to my client, she says, “I don’t know about your hippie stuff.” I laugh. OK. Say “I am enough” not because my hippie soul wants you to, but because it tells your autonomic nervous system, Enough. It’s time to sleep. Say it because tomorrow you want to move through your day with “I am enough” energy. And you want to spread this good energy. You want to say to your loved ones, You are enough. You can do hard things. Don’t give up. Keep going. 

This is an ultramarathon, not a sprint. We need strength, sleep, and longevity to achieve the kind of profound change these times are calling on us to make. In 2021, let’s shift from endless productivity to meaningful progress. Next time, I’ll share my favorite visualizations to get to sleep, and the real reason I keep a notebook on my nightstand. But right now, I’m going to brush my teeth and go to bed. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.



From 2020 Annus Horribilis to 2021 Annus Stupendous; Here’s Your Map to Joy

We declare 2020 Annus Horribilis. And we invite 2021 to be Annus Stupendous! The year 2020 dared us to be human: vulnerable, mortal, and adaptable. We realized how important laughter is to our wellbeing. And we learned that rage and grief are not one-off emotions. They are rough landscapes to travel through again and again, until we spot joy.

How has this year given you a map to find joy, even contentment, within a terrible storm? 

I learned that I am more of a wild beast than a domestic creature. I thrive on spontaneity and variety, connection and travel. I used to feel bad that I needed variety, that I wasn’t focusing on only one thing in my business. But I learned in 2020 to own my need for variety and to embrace it, because it makes me happy. So I will bring that forward with me in 2021 and make it a part of my business plan. My friend discovered that she has zero tolerance for B.S. and for high heels. She wants to carry into 2021 her desire to do more things that are meaningful to her and to wear fuzzy socks in flip flops more. What will you bring forward with you? 

Here’s a fun activity: Draw a map of the year as if it were a landscape, complete with what you learned about yourself. 

  • What were your personal peaks? What were your valleys? 
  • Where is the quick sand, the place you get stuck in the role of victim?
  • Put an oasis on your map and label it with the things that fill you up.
  • Draw a couple of rivers of curiosity. Where might they lead in 3 years?
  • Don’t forget to include your home . Let it stand for relationships, too. What do you want to keep? What do you want to let go?
  • What else could you put on there? The forest of uncertainty? Your 3-2-1 plan? 

(I’ll send you a t-shirt if you send me a picture of your map drawn with enthusiasm and honesty to [email protected]

Life is the rarest of gifts. Time is our most precious resource. We have to honor those truths daily by living the most courageous, fulfilling lives we can imagine. To navigate what lies ahead, it helps to have a map to your true self.

If there is no way of knowing what life will hand us, why not do what you love? Why wouldn’t you ask for what you need? Or write that book, study Spanish, learn to play the flute? What stops you? Can you talk back to the voice, to that inner critic, that says you can’t?

We are much more powerful than we think. 2020 showed us that we can pivot and that we are deeply creative and capable. Choose to lean into what you love.




…to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward

What’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.

We’ve come this far, survived this much. 

What would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

–from “Dead Stars” by Ada Limón


image credit: Helen Cann from her book, How to Make Hand-Drawn Maps

What you should give your dearest ones this season

If wonder is the precursor to joy, how can we help each other kindle moments of wonder? Can we give our dearest ones gifts or moments that foster curiosity, creativity, and astonishment?

When we practice pursuing wonder, we can find joy. The goal is to get out of our heads and grown-up thinking, and into our child bodies. Wonder requires zero talent or skill.

Have you ever been in a hot tub or sauna and hopped out of it to roll in the snow? With naked legs and bare feet, you run across the freezing ground, screaming? Then when you finally roll in the snow, your skin tingles all over? That feeling is wonder. Hazel and I tried this at the rec center recently. It cost $5.

Pick someone and become their “Wonder Buddy.” Ask them, When have you felt wonder? Or What are you curious about trying? Next, make it your job to foster their sense of wonder all next year. (You can call yourselves the Wonder Twins. No one in the Justice League cartoon will mind.) For example) Ever since watching My Octopus Teacher, I want to learn to hold my breath under water longer, so that one day I could free dive. My Wonder Buddy would remind me to reserve a lane at the rec center to practice. (Did you know you can’t get Covid-19 in the water?)

Wonder is smaller than joy. Like the word “jot” is to writing a novel. (Thank you, Seth Godin) Like “whim” is to running a marathon. Like sketch is to building a cabin or painting a landscape.

The top three ways to kindle wonder are: 1) learn something new 2) create with your hands 3) spend time outside with nowhere to be.

Think of something you could do with your Wonder Buddy (ies) this holiday season. Here are seven silly ideas to get you started:

  • Fill the birdfeeder and watch what comes.
  • Invest in a wildlife camera; see what passes by in the night.
  • Get up early enough to watch the sunrise.
  • Make a point of being outside and IN the sunset.
  • Learn to identify trees by their twigs.
  • Listen to Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and embody the freedom of snow falling. (Thank you Ms. Seham and Siobhan Burke in the NYT)
  • There’s always dinner with a squirrel. I found this guy on our local “Craigslist” (Kijiji in Canada) who makes tiny picnic benches for squirrels to sit and enjoy their nuts (and leave your birdfeeder alone!) I bought one yesterday for a friend and plan on mounting it to her tree this week.

I am looking for a Wonder buddy. I’ll nudge you to do whatever lights up your curiosity if you will nudge me to learn to free dive and hold my breath longer under water. And remind me how to knit hats. And make snow angels with me in the park.

I’m fairly certain that pursuing wonder is like dropping bread crumbs to joy. Like paying attention is to prayer. I’ll leave you with this gem by Mary Oliver.

It doesn’t have to be the
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Mary Oliver. Thirst.

Lessons from Swedish Death Cleaning

It began with the fires. Then it continued because Covid-19 continues. Then anxiety around my scans added a level of intensity to the exercise. I am talking about “Döstädning” or Swedish Death Cleaning. Have you heard of it? 

I’ve purged my stuff before, following Marie Kondo’s advice to keep only objects that “spark joy.” But it often seems more complicated. What if the object sparks nostalgia? Or gratitude? Or is part of my identity? Maybe it is time for a new cleaning idea. Hence, “Swedish Death Cleaning.” 

The Swedes are so practical. Margareta Magnussen, the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning says, “I am between 80 and 100 years old…Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” She finds joy in giving things away and is committed to not leave a mess for her children to have to clean up after she passes.

What if I tame my closets as a way to prepare for death? And also update our wills and get our finances in order? It’s not as dark or as sad as it sounds. It’s completely liberating. 

Let me be clear: I am not planning on dying soon. Quite the opposite. I am treasuring my life more than ever. It’s just that every three months, I spend four hours inside MRI machines, getting scanned from head to toe to see how the tumors in my skull and on my spine are doing. Then I wait about two weeks for my doctors to find a coordinated time when they can discuss the results with me. While I wait, I am forced to face my mortality. 

What if we all intentionally faced our mortality? Could it make us live better now?

Swedish death cleaning is one way to start. Here’s what happened yesterday. I was getting rid of things I had accumulated and making piles. Piles of things to donate, some to sell, and some to add to the landfill. Then I came across running medals that I earned winning races. I took them down from the wall in the laundry room, and put them in the “landfill” pile. Then I pulled them out of the pile and put them back on the wall. I took them off the wall again, and wondered if they should be donated. Who could use old medals? I decided that only I could, and put them back on the wall again. 

What the heck was going on? Why was it so hard to let them go? They were dusty and covered in cobwebs. I rarely looked at the medals and no one else saw them next to the washing machine. My choice was to move them somewhere more visible, leave them where they were, or get rid of them. I didn’t think I cared about the medals, and I knew I didn’t want to display them more prominently, so it seemed obvious that I needed to let them go. But I couldn’t do it.  

What was I afraid of? Did I think I would forget that I won those races? Or that my children, after I’m gone, might not remember what I had accomplished? The medals were triggering an array of emotions that caught me by surprise. This simple exercise was forcing me to reckon with my death and the death of my identity as an athlete and a champion. There is a difference between intellectually understanding that no one or nothing lasts forever and actually processing the feelings around that fact. When it comes down to it, letting go is really hard. 

The only thing we can count on is that we are going to die. Why don’t we have a ritual to teach us about how to die with grace? Or how to face the loss of someone we love? Or how to let go of parts of our identity, so that we can move on? 

Western traditions are about adding or acquiring things on our birthdays and holidays. Where is the holiday that is about letting go? 

The Buddhists say. “The more you let go, the more you can receive.” Being forced to face death is difficult, but it also roots me strongly to what really matters: relationships and experiences. With fewer things to have to put away, I find I have more time and less stress. Last night, instead of tidying up after dinner, the kids and I made chocolate fondue and played cards.

I confess. I kept a few medals. I thanked the others and let them go. But having to make the choice helped me to see something important. I may no longer be competing in races, but running has given me discipline, endurance, and life-long friendships. I don’t need to fear letting that part go. I’ve integrated running into who I am. 

Let me know what time of year you think we should have a holiday about letting go. What would we do and what food would we eat? What would we call it? “Swedish Death Cleaning Holiday” doesn’t have the best ring to it. I am open to ideas. These days I’m open to everything that allows us to go deep into life. 




What’s Underneath Fear?

Four years ago, I was diagnosed with a terminal disease and we elected a leader who ruled with fear. I was sick and the country was sick. I was afraid and the country was afraid. It was exhausting. And it didn’t feel like me to be scared, angry, and sick all the time. I learned to meditate and I listened. I listened deeply to find out What was underneath all this fear? It was not comfortable. I prefer movement to sitting still. In the quiet, all I heard was the loud, fast-paced, and mean voice of Fear. But eventually I felt the steady presence of joy. It wasn’t even joy at first. It was more like a calm current of possibility. And that felt more like me. When I tapped into what was underneath the fear, the real healing began. What I want for this country is what I want for myself: to feel more like who we truly are. Beautiful, powerful, and connected to place and to one another.    

Disease and division don’t have to be our identity unless we want them to be. It’s time for healing. It’s time to shine the light on places of division and disease and watch fear shrink from the light. Our tired bodies will slowly heal and learn that it’s okay to exhale. We can listen and find out that we are not what the headlines say we are. 

Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.””

We are hard-wired to help one another. Everywhere I look, I see helpers; people who are trying to make the country, and the world, better. And statistically-speaking, each of us is related to someone who has a very different idea of which direction this country should go in. The kind of brave we need right now is to listen, to seek to understand, and not to convince. That’s how healing happens. Listen for the fear, and then listen underneath the fear. From that place of common humanity, we can be the helpers that our children are looking for each day.




image credit: theatlantic.com

The Value of Getting Lost

I wake in the middle of the night, feeling lost and anxious, and ask Kurt, “Do we know the election results?”

“No, not yet.”

I can’t sleep anymore. I get up and put on the kettle for tea. Our teenage daughter, Hazel, can’t sleep either. At dawn, she wraps herself in a blanket and comes to the kitchen. She pours a bowl of cereal and makes me one too. I sit next to her and hand her a cup of tea. The two of us eat our Cheerios and drink our tea in silence. 

“What do we do now?” She asks.

“We feel all the feels.”

“I read that we only have seven years before climate change is irreversible.”

“In my experience, change rarely comes from the top office.”

“Then where does it come from?”

“From the ground up. They say that women are going to decide this election. I think women are going to lead us through the challenges ahead. The old ways aren’t working anymore. Women will create a new way.” 

“With a really old, white guy as President.”

“This time.”

I sound strong, but my heart is beating fast. My breath is shallow, and my chest is tight. I can’t get enough air. I know this feeling. It is grief. 

Fear wins. 

Science and truth and dignity lose. 

It isn’t for sure. Nothing is. 

I need to get away from the red and blue map. I can see it inside my closed eyelids. 

Luckily, my friend Tania knows a place in the forest where we can surround ourselves in geologic time, the resiliency of lichen, and the natural cycles of change.

I leave Hazel and Kurt watching Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” and take the dog out to meet Tania at a trailhead.

We scramble up a scree field to the western side of one of the Flatirons, the slab-like peaks rising above Boulder. We lean our backs against nothing but sky and a 290-million-year-old sloping mountain. We stay there for a long time in silence.

The rocks and their lichen necklaces say to me, “All will be well. All will be well.” 

When it’s time to go, we aren’t ready to return home. 

“What if we bushwack up to that ridge?” Tania suggests.

It’s exactly what I feel like doing. 

We bushwhack through dense pine forests and up steep, slippery rock faces. At one point, I have only one good hand hold on the rock. I’m perched precariously. It’s unclear where to put my foot next, or where the next hand hold might be.

“How are you?” Tania calls up to me from the ground. 

“I’m okay right now. Just not sure what’s next.”

Then we laugh at the obvious analogy to the whole nation waiting in the unknown about the election. Maybe that’s how we get through this uncertainty: one hand-hold at a time. And when someone asks, How are you? We can take it moment by moment and answer, We’re okay right now

We climb like this for several hours. When the rock is too steep for Leo the dog, Tania goes first, and I pass Leo to her. We scale the rock this way, passing Leo between us, making slow but steady progress. Leo clings to me with a look that says, You have gone totally insane.  Then a raven flies over us, his wingtips only an arm’s length away.

The jagged ridge is in sight. I wonder, Will there be another ridge to climb or have we made it to the top? We crest the ridge and look. It’s a jaw-dropping view. Snow-capped peaks touching bluebird skies for miles. The Continental Divide runs north to south before us. 

The only problem is we don’t know how to get down. Then I hear Tania shout with joy. She has found a trail. We can’t believe our luck. Hidden behind a boulder is a well-worn path. There’s even a sign tacked to a tree pointing us home. 

We intentionally got lost and found our way home. 

On the first switchback down, there’s a Limber Pine.

A rare species whose scientific name is Pinus flexilis. Limber Pines can live up to 3000 years because their branches are remarkably flexible, even in the driest of climates. Their branches twist, bend, and bounce back from the heaviest snowstorms and the strongest gales. 

I hug the tree, hoping some of its wisdom sticks to my clothes.

Tania laughs, “That’s right. We all need to be more flexilis to get through this year.” 

Soon, we are back at the trailhead. I feel stronger, lighter from our adventure. I was unsteady before and now I feel brave again. 

One way through all this painful waiting is to physically feel our way through the unknown, in order not to fear it. Courage loves action.

How are you? 

I’m okay right now.