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fear and love

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I stood in front of a room full of undergraduate students hearing myself ramble through my introduction on the first day of our Personal Leadership in the University class at the University of Minnesota. I heard myself tell them about being a writer and an as-yet unpublished novelist. I heard myself talk about being a social entrepreneur, having created a career teaching the very thing that saved my life: writing. I heard myself talk about my teaching experiences over the past decade, and I may have even heard myself talk about being a mother of two children. But I’m not sure.

The truth is, I don’t know exactly what I talked about in my introduction because while I was standing in front of that room, I was experiencing an intense wave of nervous fear in front of 26 students, all eyes on me, on my and their first day of class.

What I didn’t tell them was that I have never taken a “leadership” class in my entire life, nor had I ever taught one. I didn’t say I was stepping on the pathway of this journey for the first time with them. And I certainly didn’t tell them that I really had no idea what I was doing, or where this path would take me.

Though this particular situation was new to me, this feeling of standing at the edge of myself, at the edge of my comfort zone, the winds of fear and uncertainty and the Unknown whipping around me, was not new. I’ve been there before, dozens of times, in dozens of rooms.

In fact, it has been on the shoulders of discomfort and fear that I have built my career and my life.

I grew up a blue-collar kid in a white-collar world. My house stunk of cigarette smoke and broken dreams. As I grew, I built wings with the strength I earned from the struggles I had experienced. With pen and paper, I lifted myself out of that situation and decided I would always follow my heart, no matter what.

The problem is, with love comes fear. They are the right and left hands of almost every decision we make:

We love to travel, but we fear if we will miss out on career opportunities.

We love our boyfriends or girlfriends, but fear they will not love us back.

We love racing, but we fear we will lose.

We love to create, but we fear we do not know how.

If we make the decision to follow what we love and step into the landscape of our dreams, we must know that we will meet fear along the way. And if we are to continue on this journey of the soul and spirit, we must make friends with fear. Because bravery does not exist without fear, and if we choose safety, to remain within the cocoon of what feels comfortable, we will never know the full extent of our truth and power. We will never know what it feels like to have reached beyond ourselves to see exactly what it is we are made of.

So the question to continually ask ourselves is, which voice are we following? Are we following love or fear? Are we leaning into life or away from it?

Though fear is uncomfortable, safety isn’t all its cracked up to be either. In fact, it is an illusion when considering the human journey and its true vulnerable nature. Anything can happen at any time. We could walk onto the street and be hit by a bus and become paralyzed from the neck down. Or we could lose someone we love in a moment. Or we could lose that job or that house or that lover or whatever.

And worst of all, if we side with safety and follow our fear, we risk extinguishing the very flame in our hearts that keeps us warm along this journey of life.

Though the path is always uncertain and I am still learning how to “teach” leadership, there is one thing I know for certain: inside each of us exists a still, small voice. It is the voice of our hearts, emanating from the deepest part of our souls. And if we listen to that voice, we will never have to look back on our lives and think, “I wish I would have…”

Instead, we will be able to stand firmly on the ground of ourselves and our lives and say, “I did.”

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never underestimate

thumb_IMG_9467_1024This morning I left the house without my shell. Maybe I was overtired, maybe it was the rain, maybe I am hormonal, or maybe it’s just raining inside for no other reason than I am human, so open and vulnerable, that on days like today, I feel like I am a breath away from releasing a torrent of tears.

Why does it rain some days and others are full of sun? Who knows.

All I know is I walked into the room, yoga mats already covering the floor, with mine still rolled up in my hand, feeling like an a-hole for disturbing the people around me who actually showed up on time.

I stood, hovering above a tiny space of floor, when I heard the man below me ask, “Do you need more space?” in such a kind voice, I could have wept with gratitude.

Instead, I held back until Savasana, until the instructor put her hands on my shoulders and forehead, and I felt her love radiate through her fingers and into my being.

“Thank you,” I said, tears joining the sweat as they flowed down my temples and onto the floor.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for all of those people in the world who use soft kind voices when talking to others; for the people who look you in the eyes, and then your soul, to say thank you; and for those people who reach down and offer to help you up when you are on the floor with your humanness.

Thank you.

This holiday season, forget the shopping malls and go to the streets–give compliments, give help, give your time, and give your attention.

Never, never, not for a moment, underestimate the power of giving kindness.

 

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deface the page (and save your brain)

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Here’s the problem with thinking: thoughts build upon each other and begin ricocheting against the walls of my brain, creating pure chaos and a cacophony that distracts me from the very life I’m living.  Often, too often, the thoughts I wake up begin with the words “I should…”  I should have woken up earlier.  I shouldn’t have stayed up so late.  I should be more organized.  I should relax more.  I should do more….

The sun comes up, the gloves come on, and I begin beating the crap out of myself for all of my failings and shortcomings.  Yippee!

Lucky for me, I have been gifted with a malfunctioning brain that tends more to negative, self-defeating thoughts than fresh, wind-blown inspirations. Even so, I’ve come to believe most of us humans are susceptible to these unkind thoughts about ourselves, and we all must find a way to live and thrive, in spite of the asshole within.

This is why I write. To change my mind. To move it from a negative to a positive state, so I can air out the stale thoughts and get on with things.  I neuroplasticize baby.  I move, I should have woken up this morning at 6:00 to I want to wake up at 6:00 each morning so I have time alone with my thoughts and steaming cup of coffee.  One contains punishment while the other contains positive intention and inspiration.

So I make time for this.  I make time to change my mind, to feed it positivity and power.  Because it really comes down to choosing the thoughts we want to think.  Therefore, I deface the page to save my brain.

 

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teaching kids the power of their stories

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There is a power that exists in every chair in every school across the world.  The power is within us all, but remains untapped.  While we are busy teaching kids about the world outside of them, we rarely, if ever, give them time to understand the vast and rich world within.  Though mental health is a major determinant of success in life and school, curricula for social/emotional development has been absent from schools.

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The truth is, our greatest power resides within the power of our story.  When we teach kids to grab a hold of theirs and own it–the good, the bad, the ugly, and the magic–we show them the way to their strength, resilience, talent, compassion, and creativity.  When we teach kids to ask themselves questions like, “Who am I?” and “What do I want?” and “What do I believe?” we point them to the power within.

It is not high math and reading scores, STEM curricula, or a heavy load of extracurricular achievements that we need to face this complex world where, through technology, we are globally connected. It is through deep understanding of ourselves and our shared humanity that will ultimately bridge the great divides.

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When students are given time and space to write about their thoughts, feelings, and lives on a regular, sustained basis, they not only become elegant writers, they discover the wide-open landscape of their own possibilities.  This is the place of their greatest power.  This is the place where internal motivation takes over.  When we give students space and time to listen to their hearts and discover who they are and what they want from life, we empower them.

Every human being is spiritually driven to grow toward their greatest hopes and deepest dreams.  Our job as educators is to help students find theirs.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” -Benjamin Disraeli

This is the philosophy and assumption I bring with me to each classroom in which I teach.

I am honored to be part of a panel discussion at St. Catherine University hosting Richard Gold of Pongo Teen Writing, moderated by Mary Tinucci on The Healing Power of Poetry: Empowering Disenfranchised Youth through Self-Expression Wednesday, April 8th from 5:00-6:30.  This event is free and open to the public.  We would love to see you there.

(photos by Wing Young Huie, taken of my class at Homewood Studios. More photos of this class are displayed at North Central Regional Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota).

 

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my writing pill

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The simple art of journaling saves lives. It saved mine. And it still does.

When the ground beneath me quakes with uncertainty and fear, I hold myself steady through my writing.

Lord Byron said, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”

I do too. Writing brings me back to myself when I’m spinning. Calms me down. Helps me clear my mind. If I don’t have a place to lay down errant thoughts, I cannot get my work done, and what I do get done is lifeless and limp.

Writing keeps me in my life while allowing me to hear the quiet voice of my soul. And when the waves of life get wild, writing is my surfboard.

If we choose to live with arms spread and hearts wide open, we also open ourselves up to the sucker-punches of fear and anger, sadness and loss. We open up to it all. Writing is a way we can get in touch with, heal, and empower ourselves through our vulnerability.

Research shows writing about our lives*:

  • Reduces incidences of depression and anxiety
  • Enhances our emotional, and in turn, physical health by giving us a forum to release stress and inhibitions
  • Strengthens our social connections by enabling us to open up to ourselves
  • Cultivates self-knowledge, which lies at the bedrock of personal and professional success.

Writing “is a matter of necessity and that you write to save your life is really true and so far it’s been a very sturdy ladder out of the pit.” -Alice Walker

Writing is my art and inspiration. It is my meditation and my source for creative visualization.

Writing is my anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication.

Writing is my pill.

 

*A few research articles supporting journaling as a mental/emotional health tool:

Pennebaker, J.W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic

process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166.

Smyth, J.M., Stone, A.A., Hurewitz, Al, & Kaell, A. (1999). Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom

reduction in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis: A randomized trial. JAMA, 281, 1304-1309.

Spiegel, D. (1999) Healing words: Emotional expression and disease outcome.

JAMA, 281, 1328-1329.

 

 

 

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this moment never again

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This is the moment never again.  Never again will the sun slant this way, painting our shadows on the trail as we walk.  Never again will this chorus of birds gather to serenade us entering the dream of summer.  Never again, seven years old, carrying ice cream buckets to the algae-covered pond, promising net-fulls of big, fat tadpoles.

Never again this conversation between two friends, sunhats and bug-bitten legs:

Have you ever got stung by a bee? 

No, but one landed on me once.

Well my brother got stung by a bee!

Oh no!

Never again.

This is the moment that will never be again.  The rejections, the let-downs, the dishes and the lawn that needs to get mowed–those moments will come and go too.  But let’s remember, always, to be in this moment, this golden moment right now, to let this wisdom of an ephemeral life guide us right back to here, now, to this moment never again.

 

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