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About Being an Outlaw

Yes, about being an outlaw…but also archetypes and exhaustion and self-care and then some.

The dictionary defines an archetype as a recurrent motif in literature, art, or mythology; a typical example of a person or thing. You’ve heard of the maiden, the mother, and the crone. There’s the lover, the hero, the magician, the sage, and more. Then there’s the outlaw.

Here’s some description:

  • The Outlaw yearns for liberation from oppression. They’re risk-takers, progressive, and exude bravery in all circumstances.
  • They have a penchant for revolution to help change the world — and if anarchy is involved, so be it — to make the world a better place. They are rule-breakers, despise being regulated, and oppose conformity.
  • They denounce the normalized, what’s accepted, and status quo for something better. To do this, disruption is their tool. They run counter to the crowds. (The Brand Leader)

You can relate, yes? These things describe you — at least in part. Me too.

Here’s another definition that I find even more powerful:

“A woman who begins to take charge of her own life drawing not from patriarchal notions of individualistic success but from a desire to escape these norms is committing an act of social deviance and rebellion. She is the outlaw…” ~ Danielle Dulsky, The Holy Wild: A Heathen Bible for the Untamed Woman.

There’s much in me that aspires to this archetype, that wants to be the outlaw. I’m all about liberation and risk-taking, revolution and rule-breaking. It feels required, quite frankly. But to only be this, leaves me feeling tired, sometimes discouraged, and often overwhelmed by just how much remains to be “disrupted” in order to make the world a better place.

I want to be the outlaw AND I am more. I am the maiden, the mother, and the crone. I am the lover, the hero, the magician, the sage, and more. All of these at the same time. As the poet Walt Whitman said, “I am large. I contain multitudes.”

So, I wonder how to hold fast to the passion, intention, (and critical necessity) of the outlaw while holding on to all of myself — all at the same time.

And then I wonder, “What if I just let the sky fall? The falling sky is what Chicken Little was deathly afraid of — certain the world was coming to an end when, in truth, a single acorn had fallen out of a maple tree and landed on their head.

I am not comparing Chicken Little’s tiny acorn to the sky that we hold up.

I am NOT saying that our concerns are over-reactive or hysterical; they are real and significant; they matter. I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t worry about all that might happen were we to let go of the “fight,” even for a little while; vigilance and perseverance is needed — now more than ever. I am NOT saying that we should just kick up our heels (with or without “outlaw” boots) and forget about it all; ignore the issues, bury our head in the sand, live and let live.

I AM saying that sometimes, especially when our arms are tired and we’re worn out from fighting, that there are other aspects of who we are that deserve our time, attention, nurture, and care.

I AM saying that it is radical — and rebellious and rule-breaking — to be kind to yourself, to nurture yourself, to think of yourself first (!!!); to go within and pay attention to your emotions, to listen to your heart, to follow it; to stop holding up the sky at the expense of all else, at the expense of all of you.

I am saying that perhaps this IS the most outlaw-like choice of all.

To do any of this IS “a woman who begins to take charge of her own life, drawing not from patriarchal notions…but from a desire to escape these norms…She is the outlaw.”

Here’s what’s true: We can advocate for social justice and let the sky fall — both at the same time, at least for a time. We can think brilliantly and feel deeply. We can be (and are) more than enough and never too much. We can be honest and loving. We can tell the truth and be compassionate. We can be the maiden, the mother, the crone and the lover, the hero, the magician, the sage, and more. We can be the outlaw and nurture ourselves in the most generous and extravagant of ways. In fact, we must.

More and more, I am coming to believe that it is just as radical and revolutionary to be kind to ourselves, listen deep within, trust our wisdom, and yes, let the sky fall, as it is to decry patriarchal notions and norms and commit acts of social deviance and rebellion. Even more rule-breaking and defiant than either of these is believing and knowing that we have the capacity to do both at the very same time, to “contain multitudes.”

It’s when we acknowledge, allow, even celebrate all of this — all of who we are — that we become the most outlaw-esque of all.

From one outlaw (and maiden/mother/crone/lover/hero/magician/sage and more) to another, may it be so.

*****

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What Matters in a Broken World?

Name what’s true.

Go small anyway.

  • A job in which you are miserable.

Acknowledge default behavior.

Name what’s true again.

Go within and look closer.

  • The miserable job: I can pay attention to where am compromising myself, complying, people-pleasing, and not telling my truth. And I can choose to do things differently.

Now, widen the lens.

Name what’s true. Again.

Do the math.

About angels in black tights…and signs…

This post is about signs. Looking for them. Spotting them. Trusting them.

‘Seems right to start things off with a sign that showed up for me recently.

Just over my computer monitor — smack in front of me — is a print by Brian Andrea of StoryPeople. Here’s what it says:

I used to wait for a sign, she said, before I did anything. Then one night I had a dream & an angel in black tights came to me & said, You can start any time now. & then I said is this a sign? & the angel started laughing & I woke up. Now, I think the whole world is filled with signs, but if there’s no laughter, I know they’re not for me.

When I sit down to write — whether my weekly newsletter, a Medium article, or a blog post, I have spent days in advance. I decide on the topic. In this case, “signs.” I gather things: quotes, definitions, thoughts that flit through my mind, a story that comes to me. Then, at a set time on my calendar each week, I begin developing form, structure, and hopefully something meaningful and relevant for you! This post was no different: five days of “collecting” on my chosen topic before I sat down to compose.

And then, then, I saw the print. The one I quoted. The one that sits smack in front of me — just over my computer monitor — every day and all the time.

That felt like a sign in and of itself!

Signs are everywhere. But that doesn’t mean I always see them. Even — and maybe especially — when they are right in front of me.

How many times do we miss the signs that are ours to see, listen to, and learn from?

I don’t want to miss them. I want to walk through my days certain that signs are everywhere, mine to discover and cherish:

  • 12:34 on the clock
  • The flower growing in the crack on the sidewalk
  • The clouds
  • The sun
  • The book that came in the mail
  • The podcast episode I can’t get out of my head
  • The limp houseplants asking to be watered
  • The dust on the TV
  • An empty water glass
  • Cold coffee
  • Unread emails
  • The bill that came in the mail
  • The lump in my throat
  • The tears in my eyes
  • The catch in my voice
  • The dream I just recalled
  • The chocolate I crave
  • The shoes I still haven’t put back in the closet
  • The text from a friend
  • The to-do I keep procrastinating over
  • The print on my wall — smack in front of me

I could go on. Clearly.

What’s on your list? Your whole world is filled with signs. You deserve to keep track!! I’m sure of it. It’s said that signs often appear as confirmation of the things we are interested in, what we’re pondering, what we’re questioning or wondering about. Sort of like when you decide you want a red Mini Cooper and then you start seeing them everywhere.

Yes, we can read meaning into pretty much anything (a la my long list above). And I suppose it’s possible we can take it too far. But I’d rather lean in that direction than worry about it. Here’s why:

When we trust that “the whole world is filled with signs” that long to be seen and are speaking to us, we walk through our days with heightened curiosity, a profound sense of openness, and a general spirit of receptivity. Doesn’t that sound far more lovely than the alternative?

We have opportunity and invitation to walk through our days as though we are in the middle of a cosmic game of hide-and-seek. What might be possible with that level of anticipation and joy?

It feels important to name that signs can be hard things — not always surprising and pleasant; sometimes difficult and painful. Maybe more often than not.

An example:

Fear is one of the most significant (and consistent) signs of all; an invitation to profound and powerful discernment!

Fear is a sign that says our worry or anxiety or obsessing matters and deserves to be paid attention to. Fear is a sign that helps us know we’re on track and moving in the right direction (or it wouldn’t have shown up in the first place). Fear is a sign that calls us to courage and levels of self-trust we would otherwise not know, make manifest, or rely upon!

Other significant (and hard) signs include: resistance, procrastination, frustration, rage, sarcasm, despair, consumption and, and, and . . . It’s not about getting rid of these things, purging them somehow from your life. No! It’s about coming to see them as signs in and of themselves, as invitations to meaning and understanding, as opportunities to discern what is calling you deeper into your own life.

Whatever you feel, whatever your emotions, whatever is showing up in your life is a sign that invites you to step more and more fully into the wisdom that is already and always yours — into discernment. I’m sure of it.

It’s true: the whole world IS filled with signs. Sometimes hanging on the wall right in front of you. Sometimes hidden and waiting to be found. Always taking you deeper, and then deeper still. And what you’ll find there is far more glorious than an angel in black tights. I’m sure of it.

*****

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3 Ways to Step into Gratitude

There’s a very old Hebrew Psalm that’s been circling in my mind lately. It’s an ancient prayer that is definitely not filled with praise or thanksgiving, instead, lament:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 
(from Psalm 137)

In other words: How are we to be grateful or express thanksgiving when it is demanded of us? Or, maybe even more true, when we demand it of ourselves?

The list is long of things that can make gratitude feel arduous and disingenuous:

  • Racism, sexism, ableism, capitalism, colonialism, consumerism — an endless list of “isms.”
  • Family dynamics so tense that silence feels like your wisest choice — but also the most frustrating one.
  • Fears about money.
  • Fears about global warming.
  • A growing awareness about the ways in which the subconscious belief that you are “too much” is impacting, well, pretty much everything.
  • A resurfaced, painful memory from your childhood that keeps playing itself like a tape in your head, endlessly looping.
  • Hard parenting moments (if not full-on seasons, even years).
  • Political strife.
  • Uh, a pandemic!
  • Too many unspoken thoughts and feelings in your most important relationship(s).
  • A general feeling of anxiety and lostness; an internal swirling/churning that doesn’t seem to let up no matter what you try and frankly, doesn’t make a bit of sense to you.
  • Feeling like your life is in parts and pieces — disjointed, disparate, unhooked.
  • No matter how big, even loving, the group of people is, you still feel alone.

I could go on.

Asking the Hebrew people to sing songs when in captivity? You trying to feel grateful with this list? Impossible. Ridiculous. Unreasonable. Beyond capacity.

You feel the pressure to express, even feel gratitude when really, somedays, the best you can do is get out of bed.

To pretend like all of these things (and so many more) don’t actually exist — or to sweep them into some dusty corner for the day — so that you can smile and say the right things and feign gratitude is exhausting.

Feigned gratitude is also nearly-always demanded of us. Especially as women.

  • Just keep smiling (like Dori in Finding Nemo — “just keep swimming…”)
  • Make sure things are OK for everyone else.
  • Don’t upset the apple cart.
  • Keep your feelings to yourself.
  • Don’t complain.
  • And be grateful, will you? After all, things could be worse!

This last bullet point is a very slippery slope. I hear it often from clients (and even within myself at times). “Who am I to complain, compared to the problems that other people have?” “I hate to even talk about this; it feels so insignificant in the scheme of things.” “Really, I’m lucky; I’ve no right to not be grateful.”

Here’s the thing: all of those things can be true, may be true, but so are your struggles, your fears, your anxieties,  your family dynamics, your challenges, and your exhaustion!

You are not all good or all bad, all happy or all sad, all grateful or completely ungrateful. You are a complex and amazing woman who holds a multitude of realities and emotions and experiences and roles and responsibilities and heartbreaks and hopes — all at the same time!

This, my friend, is where gratitude can at least begin: acknowledge just how vast and deep all of you actually is — not only the “acceptable” parts but also (and maybe even more) those parts that you have the tendency to sweep into those dusty corners.

Gratitude has to be, gets to be, inclusive: the hard stuff as well as the beautiful, the ache as well as the celebration, the failure as well as the success, the loneliness as well as the love, the reality as well as the hope.

I hate to be too reductionist, but here’s what I believe:

Acknowledging what is true is gratitude.

Honestly name the reality of who you are,
and what you feel,
and all that you experience,
and all that makes you crazy,
and all that you wish you could change,
and every single thing you wish for, hope for, desire, and deserve.

That list? Those things? All of them? They are you!

When I consider youAll of you? Well, all I feel is grateful. Yes — you are conflicted and confused and complicated. Yes — you are generous and genuine and gracious. Yes — you get angry and frustrated and irritable. Yes — you feel afraid and worried and anxious. Yes — you are trusting and optimistic and willing to try yet again. Amazing!

The ability to take in, see, hold, and honor all of you is what generates gratitude. Acknowledging what is true. Not forced. Not demanded. And maybe even somewhat unexpected. It’s grace, really.

*****

So, 3 ways to step more deeply into gratitude?

  1. Acknowledge the complexity and beauty and conflictedness of all of you. Then you can better allow the same in others.
  2. Allow the pain of the world and its beauty. Then you can feel into just how deep and vast and infinite your emotions truly are. (One of them might just be gratitude.) YOU are that deep and vast and infinite!
  3. Begin to name the parts of you that you’ve worked so hard to overcome or at least keep hidden. Yes, it can feel overwhelming and scary; but it is the very thing that invites you to step into a story (and life) that is honest and expansive and true and real and raw and vulnerable and tender and fierce. And that? Mmmm. Definitely gratitude!

It is true: there is MUCH that gives us cause to be ungrateful — as it should! Endless internal and external messages that deny our value and worth. Patriarchy. Objectification. Sexual trafficking. Domestic violence. Pay and leadership inequity. Misogyny. The list is l o n g.

But this is also true: in the midst of all this, still, YOU are you!

Mysteriously, amazingly, serendipitously, incomprehensibly — you survive, your story endures, your wisdom persists, your heart loves.

I don’t know how else to respond, but to say thank you.

I’m hopeful that you can say the same — to yourself and for yourself, in grateful response to all of who you are — even now, even still, in the midst.

May it be so.

*****

Every week I write a letter to my subscribers. There’s no skimming the surface; instead, it’s filled with truth-telling and diving deep. I’d love for you to have it. And I’d be super-grateful. Every Monday morning — your inbox — from my heart to yours. SUBSCRIBE.

What if your spirituality was easy?

About my recent book-proposal rejection

A month or so ago I got a rejection letter from the publishing company to whom I sent my book proposal. To be fair, “rejection” is too harsh. It was more of a “suggestion” letter: recommended next steps, etc. But to say I was not disappointed would be too “light” and dismissive.

In the throes of all my emotions, I remembered a year-plus ago when I was still in my corporate position. I taught a program on confrontation. As part of the in-classroom experience, participants wrote out a statement using a particular framework and then read it (in simulation) to the person they were confronting. One part of that “script” was naming their feelings about the situation, the offense, the issue at hand. For example, “When you lied to me, I felt angry (or betrayed or sad or frustrated, etc.)” As I walked around the room and listened in, I’d inevitably hear someone say, “When you ______, I felt disappointed.” That was my cue to interrupt the process for a few minutes, head back to the front of the room, and offer the following:

“I forgot to mention: ‘disappointed’ is not an emotion. It’s your (unmet) expectations; not what you’re actually feeling. When we tell someone we are disappointed in them it evokes their shame, which isn’t going to get us any closer to resolution. What do you really feel?”

And that memory? Right. Got it.

Disappointment is real, but it’s not a feeling — not like grief, joy, anger, or fear. It’s a circumstance or state-of-things. It only shows up when my expectations are not met — which feels important to name. And it is only ever present because of me: my thoughts, my hopes, my beliefs (even if misguided).

So what do I really feel? Sad. A tiny bit angry. Frustrated. And clear…there is more work to be done.

Yes, of course: I am disappointed, too. It would have been lovely to receive an enthusiastic “yes.” But underneath that, further up and further in, when I was willing to look closely, I was able to return to some things that feel more important and more true:

  • When disappointment arrives (which, of course it does and will again), we would be well served to ask how its presence might serve us. How it might remind and reinforce exactly what we care about, why we’re doing what we’re doing, that it matters? For me, the rejection, though a sting, actually compels me to be even more committed to what I’m writing, to stay the course, to remember why it matters and just how much.
  • Look closely at what is actually happening, actually being said, actually true. This took me a hot minute, believe me. I had to read through the email a couple more times before I could find the suggestion instead of the rejection; the affirmation of the overall concept, my writing, and its importance; the encouragement to finish the manuscript and circle back. Right, that.
  • Acknowledge that disappointment has to do with our own unmet expectations, no one else, nothing else. Maybe those need to be looked at more closely and recalibrated. And maybe, just maybe, that means I need to look most closely at me not “them.” I still have agency and choice, even (and maybe especially) when it feels like it’s been taken away.

Even in writing this piece, in openly admitting that I didn’t get an effusive and immediate “yes,” I can feel the disappointment resurface. Natural. Normal. And not where I want to stay…

There’s more writing to be done!