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5 Year Anniversary & Lessons From Vagus

This month marks the 5 year anniversary of my major surgeries! Can you believe it?! I don’t take this life for granted.  But every year since then I’ve had some kind of recurrence or treatment. This summer is the first one since 2016 that I haven’t had to go back under the knife (knock on wood)! I celebrated by immersing myself fully in the natural world, foraging for mushrooms, visiting with family and friends. I haven’t written in months because I’ve been trying to squeeze the most out of summer and light!

Five years ago, I was focused on surviving. Multiple recurrences later, being a “three time survivor”, as they say, my focus is on health and wellness in the throws of uncertainty. It seems powerfully relevant for all of us right now. But where is the heart of my work?

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”–Wendell Berry

Should I focus my coaching work on young people or on school leaders? I asked a spiritual advisor/friend. We sat in a room full of crystals, candles, and white sheepskin rugs. She guided me on a meditation deep into my unconscious. I told her I saw a cave, and a green pool of water, and light coming from the water. I must have described what I saw for ten minutes, before she stopped me. 

“I don’t usually interrupt people, but I can’t take it anymore. It’s so obvious.” 

“Excuse me?”

“Work with young people!”

“Is that what the green pool of water is about?”

“Who knows?! Your experiences and your skills are with mentoring young people. They need you. Go to them.”

We both laughed out loud. Sometimes, the spiritual leader needs to state the facts, not interpret the cave. And often, we can’t see our own strengths. We need others to help us see the obvious.

  • I am focusing my coaching practice on 17-27 year olds. I mentor them through their college essays, and help them with every anxiety-provoking transition after that.
  • I am focusing my writing practice on what delights me and what makes us well. 

As for my work in wellness? Currently, I’m in an intensive workshop designed to regulate our nervous systems, so that we can boost our immune systems and better handle uncertainty. 

I am learning fascinating things about the vagus nerve and how to condition it. This nerve superhighway begins in our brain stem and wraps around our lungs, heart, and every major organ. Our vagus nerve communicates to the brain everything about our internal world. It helps us with calmness, relaxation, and digestion.

“I have a lot of faith and a lot of fear a lot of the time.” –Anne Lamott

Through specially-filtered music and restorative yoga with Patricia Gipple, we’re training our nervous system to unstick itself from being perpetually agitated into a place of being able to handle anything. 

It’s powerful work. I can already feel a shift in my mood from “I am exhausted and scared” to “I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I know it’s going to work out.” 

I’m excited to bring this work to the young people I coach, and to you, through my writing.

In August, the work we all need to do is pay attention to abundance; notice the peaches and ripening apples. Notice the roadsides full of milkweed and sunflowers. Notice each other.  Tonight, notice the light the rare “Blue” moon shines down on us. 

Love,

Susie

Dear Cole; a letter to my son on graduation

Dear Cole,

I’m writing you from our front porch, on the eve of your high school graduation. 

Life is not easy. You know that. You have lived that. It’s not about building a life that is easy–without pain or confusion–it’s about living life fully, completely, and compassionately. I know you can do that because you already have.

You have backbone in you now that will never leave you. You just have to talk to your courage, ask it for a clue as to what the next best step might be.

Talk to me, too, wherever I may be. As Anne Sexton, the poet, said to her daughter, “Talk to your heart. I am in it.”

I’ve lived a good life, a life full of adventure, and love. You can, too. Go for it! Risk discomfort for meaningful experience.

Do you remember how scary it was to disassemble your car and how fulfilling it was to put it back together, figuring it out as you went along? It’s not a bad analogy for how to make it through tough times. 

Or do you remember the story about the time I was learning to surf and was embarrassed by how terrible I was? And how I didn’t want to tell anyone I was surfing until I got really good? And how, at a party with interesting, cool people, I went to shake a fascinating woman’s hand and just as I did, sea water streamed out my nose? I apologized and tried to explain that I had just been surfing, but not very well, and that I was sorry, and excuse me while I went to get a tissue. Do you know what the fascinating woman replied? 

“When I see the surfers as I drive home from work at sunset, I think, what a beautiful painting! But you–you are not looking at the painting, you are in the painting. Don’t ever apologize for being in the painting!”

Aim for a life where you are in the painting–out in the world, trying things, throwing your whole, messy self into it, instead of waiting for mastery to begin. 

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer and his son. Maybe you know it. 

One day the farmer’s horse ran away.

“What bad luck!” His neighbors said.

“We’ll see,” replied the farmer.

The next day, the horse returned with three wild horses.

“How wonderful!” said the neighbors.

“We’ll see,” said the farmer.

Then the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. 

“How terrible!” said the neighbors as they brought food and flowers.

“We’ll see,” said the farmer. 

The next week, military officials came to the village to draft young men to the army. They saw that the son’s leg was broken, and passed him by. When his neighbors came around once again to say “What good luck!”

“We’ll see,” the farmer said.

Only time can tell the whole story. We never know whether something is good or bad luck when we are in a situation.

Trust that every time you’ve been challenged, you’ve learned something. When you broke your foot, you learned to beat Papa at chess. When I was diagnosed, you learned how to be a good friend to Joako. When Covid cancelled in-person classes, you learned to replace the clutch in your car. It doesn’t help to divide life into good and bad events, because we can’t see the future. 

Experience life as it is and don’t fight the moments. Being an adult doesn’t just happen because you turn 18 or graduate. Adulthood is a process of becoming. You have to earn it by facing difficult times with openness and curiosity, not just fear.

At dinner table arguments with your sister, I see how often you are right. I also see how important it is for you to be right. Remember, don’t take yourself, or the world, too seriously. Go lightly. Practice being kind rather than right. It feels good to “win” an argument, but it feels better to boost others up and see them discover what is right for them. 

Recently you spoke about your need to let go of trying to know everything. You said that you feel more comfortable in uncertainty now. The way you put it was, “it’s okay to wonder.” I love that. It reminds me of something the brilliant Toni Morrison said, “Meet the unfamiliar with unflinching friendliness.”

You are perfect now, you were perfect when you were born. It is okay to wonder. You don’t need to know everything, or to be right all the time, to earn love.

Papa and I love you unconditionally, Cole. Go into the world knowing that, and watch the way the world responds with love.

xox mama
more published letters:

 

Poetry for Peace (of Mind)

Are you up for a 21-Day Poetry for Peace (of Mind) Challenge? It’s one way to celebrate April as Poetry Month!

When I was in the hospital and could not speak, I recited poetry to myself. After a 36-hour surgery to remove a tumor on my brainstem, I couldn’t read or write. I couldn’t even watch TV because it was too much stimulus. The only thing I could do was recite lines of poetry. The words calmed me down. My racing heart slowed. My anxious thoughts faded away. There is brain science behind this. There is also the practical truth that reciting lines focused my mind just enough to quiet my fears and soothe my pain.

Nelson Mandela, when he was in prison, recited the poem “Invictus” to remind him of his inner strength. It begins, “Out of the night that covers me/Black as the Pit from pole to pole/I thank whatever gods may be/ for my unconquerable soul…” 

In the hospital, I counted on Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things” for solace. Berry published the poem in 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War, and after the assassinations of JFK and Dr. King. Berry finds peace in nature and creatures that remind him of our place in the world. His lines “And I feel, above me, the day blind stars waiting with their light” gave me hope that something bright was coming.

I also leaned on Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” for comfort when I was feeling useless, because it begins, “You do not have to be good.” Indigenous poet Joy Harjo’s poem “Remember” worked like a spell to put me to sleep. The repeated invitation to feel how we belong to the universe grounded me on the earth and soothed my safety instinct. “Remember the sun…Remember the moon…Remember your birth…” By the fifth or sixth “remember” I was nodding off.

Moments will come up in your life when you feel utterly alone. Poetry is a way to not feel alone. It was a way for me to connect to the world beyond my hospital bed. It was a way for Nelson Mandela to connect deeply to his inner strength. Right now, poetry gives us a way to connect to one another.

This is also the year I turn 50. I am so utterly astonished and happy to be here. More, I’m so glad you are here with me. Poetry can connect us.

When you share lines of your favorite poems with me, I feel you very near to me. I picture us on the same couch, having a cup of tea and stretching a cozy blanket to cover all of our feet. Or maybe we are in a grassy meadow, under those “day blind stars” with our journals open. We are paying attention, being students of the hum of bees and the shape of clouds.

I hope you’ll join me for a special 21-Day Poetry Challenge from April 5-26, 2021 during Poetry Month. You pick a poem. Or I give you one. You have 21 days to learn it by heart. I offer support and resources on 4 live calls on Monday nights. You gain freedom from mind tailspins during troubling times!

Love,

Susie

The Most Radical Response to Despair

What is the most radical response to despair?

Last night, I didn’t sleep much. I was cycling through feelings of sadness and anger at the stupidity of another mass shooting, this time in my hometown of Boulder, CO. Ten people died, including a police officer. As I write this, I still don’t know the victims’ names. What if we lost a teacher or a friend who was just trying to buy her groceries? (Take Action Here)

Luckily, we are not at home. On spring vacation, we’re staying at a YMCA in the mountains, here to x-country ski and rest. We are safe, but rest is hard to come by. Hazel, in tears, keeps asking, “Why would someone do that?” and “How can we play when others are hurting?”

I stumbled through an answer when we went for a walk, “We may never know why. And it’s okay to feel deep sadness for the victims’ families and to play in the sunshine, at the same time. Play just might bring balance back to this world.”

We discovered a small chapel on the property. We walked in and knelt awkwardly before an empty altar, beneath a simple, stained-glass window. I remembered that in a few days, it would be the anniversary of my friend Lisa’s death. 

Hazel and I cobbled together a prayer for all the families of the victims, for Lisa, for the living who are sad and scared. It all felt too much. My friend Katherine texted me this poem,  

“I am in need of music that would flow

Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips

Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,

With melody, deep, clear, and liquid slow…-Elizabeth Bishop, “Sonnet” (1928)

Then, outside, Hazel spotted a fox running toward us. The fox was so light on the fresh snow, it looked as if it were floating. When the fox saw our little dog, it stopped. It sat down. It looked like it was trying to decide if we were bad or good. 

“Yes, we’re capable of the most awful atrocities…

we (also) have a fantastic capacity for goodness.”–Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Before the fox could decide, a car drove by. It turned and floated away, its thick red tail waving like a flag. 

We went looking for solace and found it in wildness. 

I also found it in the back of the car: Easter candy and plastic eggs that I bought last week.

While my family slept last night, I hid plastic eggs filled with candy everywhere in our motel room. On lamp-tops, under folded towels, in the mini fridge, between the covers of a book, in boots and socks, and tucked gently into pockets. 

Cole woke up when he rolled over and broke a plastic egg in his bed. 

Half-asleep, he asked, “What’s going on?”

“Easter came two weeks early. At least the egg hunt part,” I said.

“Why?” 

“Because we need to be on the hunt for goodness today.” 

The kids, now giant teenagers, crawled all over the room, and all over us, looking for eggs. They let out satisfied sighs when they found them. The best music was hearing them laugh.  

Sometimes, I get too caught up in the statistics and the dark truths of living and dying. But today I am a little jacked up on too little sleep and too much candy. I feel more determined than ever to celebrate what we have and to be on the hunt for goodness.

Our kids need our help to see the good in the world. Too many of them are struggling to see it. 

That doesn’t mean we have to turn our backs on the atrocities. It means we double down on action. We discipline ourselves to uncover the beauty and the compassion around us. We make it visible. We say it aloud: “See the way young people were helping older people get to safety in the grocery store? People who did not know each other at all?”  

“Listen. Did you hear that our neighbors are sitting with victims, holding space for them to grieve? And Colorado moms are taking action to end gun violence forever?”

“Look! Over here, see the fox and the snow falling on the steady pines?”

We have to work to find the beauty. To make beauty, too. It might be the most radical response to despair.

How am I right now? Awake, safe, sad, angry, and grateful. The kids are wired on sugar. In a minute we’ll head out into the woods on a hunt for goodness. We’ll look for moose sign, fox tracks, and acrobatic starlings, while holding you all in our hearts. 

Once restored, we’ll go back to Boulder and take the baton from our exhausted neighbors. We’ll show up, pitch in, and do our best to make sure lives were not lost for nothing. #BoulderStrong

Love,

Susie

Take Action:

#BoulderStrong

act.everytown.org

#Morethanthoughtsandprayers

 

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? 😉

Love,

Susie

image credit: ignant.com

We Have COVID

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.

Love,

Susie

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. 

Love,

Susie

 

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
humility.
Not knowing your power
is what creates
insecurity.”

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.”

Love,

Susie

***

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.

Love,

Susie

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.

Xo

susie 

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…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

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