What Can You Do In Eight Weeks?

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My dear friend, Linda Baffa, reminded me this week that there are eight weeks left in 2014. She plans to explore one chakra per week in her yoga classes. I’m beyond excited, as chakras have become a passion of mine…But when she discussed what she wanted to do in the eight weeks left of the year, it dawned on me that I rarely, ever, really plan. I might set an intention, but that’s different. And so much can, and will, happen in an eight week period. What you consciously focus on, expands, right? Instead of just floating with the current, I might want to think about what specific areas and goals to magnify, instead of just trying to stay afloat with whatever life steers my way.

Think about it. In eight weeks, you can fall in love. Have your heart broken. Pick up the pieces. Finish writing a novel. Lose 10 pounds. Lose your way. Find your passion. Help a friend. Find stillness. DeClutter. Travel to another country. Forgive someone. Forgive yourself. Earn a lot of money. Donate to the poor. Learn how to say no to those who ask too much of  you. Detach with love when it’s necessary. Become a good listener. Discover how to listen to yourself, to your body, to the inner cues and intuitive voices. Learn something new. Do something that scares you. Start a project. Confront someone when it’s needed, and when it’s helpful. Eat more raw, organic food. Start flossing daily. Read a classic novel. Attend a concert. Go dancing. Stop drinking. Quit smoking. Run a marathon. Start playing with your children.

Where do you want to set your course? What areas of your life do you want to put more emphasis on? Or is it just too much pressure to even think about? Will the current just take you, let you drift into unchartered waters without a conscious effort to steer? Maybe you are stuck in a place where currents don’t even flow: living with the same-ole-same-ole without the slightest change of scenery. And that can be really comforting sometimes. Or, like me, maybe each day, each week, fluctuates so much that there seems to be quick sand underfoot?

Why am I meandering down this path? Well, I think it’s time to put some concerted focus and planning into my last eight weeks of the year. Sure, there’s still room for surprises, for serendipity, for coincidences, and hopefully for much-needed spontaneity. But at the same time, I need to steer a course, even if I don’t have an outlined, defined ending. It doesn’t have to be anything too rigid, or too unrealistic. It may just be as simple as the writer’s group I’m starting with trusted friends whom I can support, and who will support my writing in return. Yes, within eight weeks I will likely be finished with my novel (just one more chapter to go!). But at the same time, if I’m not, that will be okay. Life happens. If another child breaks an arm, or gets pneumonia, I’m thankful that I have the ability to take care of them. I love yoga and meditation for how it allows me to be become more flexible, to go with the flow more often, and to open up into trusting that I’ll still arrive at my destination—even if I don’t arrive as I had planned. Do I always go with the flow? No. (Especially not in love! But that’s for another venue!) But if I start a course, if I have a plan, it should help.

I love the picture above for so many reasons. My son William became obsessed with the sailboats in Luxembourg Gardens the last time we were in Paris. I was five months pregnant with his little brother. It would be the last family vacation in Europe that we ever took. I’m so proud of that vacation. I found my voice, even through the waves of ever-present nausea. I demanded that we slow down and let a little boy, be a little boy. Our constant walking and museum going was driving him crazy. There was magic and importance in just sitting in a garden, in people-watching, in sailing a boat. This is what William and I had always done. While daddy was in meetings in various cities in Europe, I would stop and let William dig for worms in botanical gardens in Madrid, Paris, Lisbon. It was our thing. It was how I compromised. We’d go to a piazza in Venice and play with other children, and then later sit still and behave in an adult restaurant. It was my way of honoring him and me. Well, it reminds me that even back then, before I did yoga and meditated every day, I still knew the value of slowing down, of watching, of being, of playing. I even convinced his father to go to the dreaded EuroDisney instead of yet more museums. And you know what? I’m convinced it became one of their best memories together. And so with slowing down in mind, I tiptoe toward my eight week goals with the intention of still being able to find space. Of finding time. Of finding ways to just ‘be’ instead of rushing, demanding, stressing and getting distracted from what really matters.

What matters to you? Focus on it. Magnify it. Write it down. Marinate in it. Imagine it coming true and give thanks for it. Work toward it, even if just for an hour every day. And have a wonderful journey to the New Year.

The Power of Eloquent Lines of Fiction

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There is no disputing the power of eloquent lines of fiction. Whether they plunge us into forgotten sorrow or lift us up into sweet contemplation—they move us. They resonate. They pull at the emotional strings that allow us to truly seek to see another human being in a light that could rarely happen in another medium. They inspire us to keep reading—to hear the whole story. To continue with a process that allows us to unfold into a slow melting of empathy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of a few phrases. Fiction has never been more important than today. Our world of instant communication via texting and social media, should, in theory, allow us to better heard, seen, acknowledged, understood. Yet, I find, more often than not, I get, or receive, fragmented, misunderstood and quickly judged or dismissed text messages. And social media has become a PR vehicle where pictures convey what we want others to see.  We are rarely understood. Rarely accepted. And often isolated. Today, more than ever, fiction is vital. Why? Because it allows us to dig deeper. To look closer. To care. To connect to a truth in someone, or in some circumstance, that is completely different, yet essentially the same on some level, to our own.

It allows us to truly see the essence of another’s soul. To see their true beauty. Even to see their lack there of. But to see someone’s raw essence and to try to learn more, understand more.

Take Liz Moore’s beautiful novel Heft. I dare anyone to read this book and not fall in love with the chronically obese, homebound Arthur Opp, with a soul as kind and large as his 550 pound body.

So, this post is dedicated to finding those lines of fiction that allow the magic to start. Those lines that truly hook us and gut us. You know what I mean. I might be 100 pages into a new novel, but am just not committed until THAT line.  So let’s go there and share our favorites. Take John Green‘s well-loved phrase from The Fault In Our Stars: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

Or what about this paragraph, that I instantly connected with:
“Okay, maybe I’m not such a shitty writer. But I can’t pull my ideas together, Van Houten. My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”

During a brief conversation with my neighbor, a screen writer, he shared his two favorite lines from Ernest Hemingway‘s The Old Man and The Sea, both metaphors for obsession, competition and the mentality of war:

“Looking at his damaged hand, he reflects that “pain does not matter to a man.”

“The old man thinks that the fish is killing him, and admires him for it, saying, “I do not care who kills who.”

Here are some of my favorites, although I have so many more:

“I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them.” – Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist.

“Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house. Courage tastes of blood. Stand up straight. Admire the world. Relish the love of a gentle woman. Trust in the Lord.” – John Cheever, The Wapshot Chronicle.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

“These are the quicksilver moments of my childhood I cannot remember entirely. Irresistible and emblematic, I can recall them only in fragments and shivers of the heart.” ― Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides.

“Rape is a crime against sleep and memory; it’s afterimage imprints itself like an irreversible negative from the camera obscura of dreams.” — Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides.

“You see if you tell yourself the same tale over and over again enough times then the tellings become separate stories and you will generally fool yourself into forgetting you started with one solitary season out of your life.” — Kaye Gibbons, Ellen Foster.

“Again, I feel misplaced, dropped into a life not my own.” — Patti Callahan Henry, The Stories We Tell.

I have TOO many favorite lines…I’m dying to know yours. PLEASE chime in!!! L. xo

Want to be a Great Writer? How You Live Matters.

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Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

I was recently reminded that what I do when I’m not writing, may be as important to the creative process as writing itself. Well, almost. Clearly, I still need to put in the work. But if you, like me, get stuck often or procrastinate, take a look at your daily habits to see if they are helping or hurting. I attended a seminar a few weeks ago that suggested specific lifestyle changes in order to better tap into the subconscious mind, energize the non-dominate side of the brain, find an authentic voice and banish crippling fear.

The main tidbit of advice? Put down that martini, tumbler of scotch, wine glass and/or cigarette and take a long, cool drink of water. Yup. We all can’t be Hunter S. Thompson and go down in a flame of booze, cigarettes and drugs. Writers and bad habits often go hand-in-hand. Partly, it’s cultural. When I was a newspaper journalist, I remember more than one editor drinking on the job. In graduate school in New York, most writers I knew met up at bars and pubs to ‘talk’ into the wee hours. I was working too many jobs to do this often, but when I did, I remember how many of my creative writer friends seemed to idolize Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever and Truman Capote. All iconic writers. All alcoholics. I know this much: good writing comes from the depths of our souls. It can come from an inner whisper of trauma. It can be a vulnerable place to live. Yes, you may be writing fiction, but the truth that may emerge can painfully mirror fears, demons, love, longing, insecurities, loss, heartbreak…It’s all raw. And strangers will read it. And being raw, in and of itself, takes a toll. I know. Last Christmas I wrote the most painful chapter of my novel Uriel’s Mask. My boys were with their dad. I was alone for nearly two weeks. I started to slip into a depression as I wrote about abuse seen from a six-year-old’s eyes. I was having night mares. I slept with the light on. I wanted to drink. My relationships suffered. What I was experiencing must be close to what actors feel when they are in character. Some days I walked on the beach and cried after writing for hours. It wasn’t explainable to friends, so I didn’t bother. But I was raw and I was needy without knowing what I needed. But there it is. That vulnerable place of truth leaves us feeling exposed, uncertain, adrift. The feelings can be overwhelming—even if cathartic or beautiful. It’s understandable to have the urge to swallow them. But here’s the rub: in order to keep writing and finish that powerful novel, screen play or short stories that will resonate with readers…FEEL those damn feelings and push through without relying on stimulants or depressants. This is what I’m currently trying to do. It’s hard. And that’s why it’s so easy to push the writing aside. Don’t.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Exercise! Dean Nelson, Ph.D., founder and director of Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium, Behind The Scenes, shared recently at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference that many of the best-selling authors he has interviewed over the years link their career longevity to exercise. Running is Nelson’s choice. When he’s stuck, he says he’ll step away, go for a run in San Diego where he can find a great vista, and just let his mind drift.
  • Meditate. Giving my brain a pause lets me detach and float up into my subconscious mind. It also gives me a break from my fear of failure—or success—and gives me a mini-vacation from my life. Not only is meditation great for creativity, it has amazing health benefits that can’t be disputed. From keeping Alzheimer’s at bay, to reducing blood pressure and anxiety, meditation is life changing.
  • Yoga. I place yoga in a different category from exercise or meditation, although outsiders may wonder why. Yes, it is a form of exercise, and yes, there is meditation at the end. But yoga, in and of itself, is like mindful movement that improves my focus and goal setting. Deep hip opening poses have surprisingly released memories, grief and grudges. While heart-opening poses force me not to close down with my alignment—which then influences my actual being. And, finally, yoga helps me embrace my authentic, timeless self. And, it just feels damn good. I smile. I’m surrounded by heart-felt people. I leave energized and suddenly ready to tackle the next project, the next chapter, the next assignment. It’s amazing.
  • Reduce caffeine. This is SO tough for me! But I know that 3 to 4 cups of joe just makes my heart and thoughts race. Plus, I don’t sleep as well. It doesn’t help me craft eloquent lines.
  • Write a few pages long hand. Step away from the computer, go outside (if possible) and put pen to paper. Something magical happens. Maybe it’s tactile, but somehow, if I’m blocked, the words start flowing again. Try it.
  • Write a few paragraphs with your opposite hand. It’s supposed to jog that non-dominant side of the brain. When I do it, I’m amazed at what I actually say.
  • Paint or draw. Painting just takes me away from my fears, anxieties and my daily grind. I become razor focused on the present moment. I come back refreshed and grateful.
  • Cut off the cell phone and internet for a few hours a day.
  • Read other books! Seriously, it just gets me so excited to read my favorite authors, even if only for just 30 minutes at bedtime.

If you liked this article, try Finding the Sweet Space of Between.

First Creative Writer’s Conference…with Kids in Tow!

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I’m writing this post from my hotel room in San Diego at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference. What an amazing two days so far! At first I almost cancelled coming, as I didn’t have a sitter Friday and Sunday I’m throwing a birthday party for my youngest munchkin..So, not only would I need to bring my children along Friday and part of Saturday, I wouldn’t have the extra time and attention needed to throw a perfect birthday party back in LA on Sunday. You dads out there might not get this…but man, don’t you moms know that need to throw a perfect party? :-) I could spend hours arranging flowers, cleaning house, making cupcakes etc. even for 6-year-olds. It must be a southern thing…I’m trying to recover from this.

So, it’s clear that I need to let go of that perfect parenting bug I’ve been bitten by. AND, I’ve realized that it was a wise decision to go to my first creative writer’s conference and let my kiddos tag along. Why? Because how often does my life revolve around them?  From soccer games and practices, to violin lessons, homework, concerts, doctor visits, etc.—I’m at their beckon call. And it struck me, as a single mom writing a novel, that it’s okay to ask my boys to come along and sacrifice some of their agenda in order to support me and my work. So that’s what we did. It was no problem.  My 12-year-old babysat my just-turned 6-year-old while I attended two lectures Friday. They watched a movie and I garnered amazing advice. It was a win-win. Instead of going to the networking event Friday evening, the three of us hit the pool, had a yummy dinner, rented a good movie and snuggled. Saturday morning started at 6 a.m. for me and I raced from lecture to events all day with a lunch break at the pool with my boys. My nanny picked them up this afternoon and took them back to LA for me, so luckily, I was able to participate in all the afternoon lectures and even my own terrifying pitch session, where I described my novel to two agents and a filmmaker and screenwriter—talk about frightening! I’m still speechless at their responses, encouragement and requests to read my work. I’m so filled with gratitude and excitement for next steps. :-)

So, I have a few things to say about this experience:

First, my years interviewing experts as a parenting editor suggested this —but I now know without a doubt—that it’s good for children to see and support their parents working toward goals. This is especially true of single parents. If all children see are moms sacrificing their identities, dreams and goals for their children, these children may grow up with a sense of self importance, a false sense of entitlement and little patience for cooperation or compromise—not to mention out-dated views on spousal roles.

Secondly: WOW the writers, film makers, poets, agents, publicists, attorneys at this conference have been amazing!  Their willingness to give their time, insights and support have been invaluable to me. I haven’t been to one lecture that didn’t provide incredible information and inspiration. I have a lot of advice to digest from the business of publishing and negotiating contracts, to writing the perfect query and synopsis, to marketing strategies.

It’s a lot to cover. And that’s not even touching on the part that I love most: creating and how to keep those negative voices at bay that can stall the writing process. I’ve gotten a lot of support at this conference. I love the writers that I’ve met. I’m inspired by their honesty and their bravery. Each one is an artist who is baring his/her soul to some degree. In order to write well, a person must “find those tender places,” as Patti Callahan Henry,  a New York Times best-selling author, eloquently explained today. It requires cutting off the fear of being good enough and being able to close the door on that negative critic inside that worries about what others will think. And in doing so, we can keep working and getting better at our craft, while finding our unique voice as writers. I loved what Callahan Henry said today: “Our voice is buried in that compost pile from our youth.” The best writers bravely go there. And clearly, Henry does this. I picked up many books by this southern writer, and am excited to read all of them. I’m half-way through her latest: The Stories We Tell, and know I won’t go to bed until I’m done. I’m immersed in this Savannah-based tale and want to learn the truth lingering between the couple who seem to have it all…Her characters are compelling and believable, who live in a world that invites me in to sit a while and marinate in their truth—which may just resonate with my own. And that’s all a writer can hope for isn’t it?

If you’re a creative writer or artist, please chime in. What helps you find your voice? What helps you stay on track? How do you keep negative voices at bay and continue creating when the world—or your world—might be telling you to do “better” things with your time? I look forward to hearing from you. x

Finding Courage to Stay on Course

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I recently read an inspiring quote from a friend, (I’ll paraphrase): “All the shit, drama and pain you’ve dealt with in life has prepared you for this present moment, this present action, this present course.”

It’s so true, right? Well, sometimes. It’s only true if each painful experience propels growth. As long as I can see that each time someone has hurt me, hasn’t seen, or heard me, or said something cruel, or treated me without respect—it was exactly what I needed in order to find my boundaries, my self-respect, my strength, my confidence, my kindness, my direction. And even when I hurt others, or typically myself, if I can learn to forgive, have more compassion and ‘own’ my issues, I’ll become stronger and closer to the person I want to be.

All of this sounds groovy now, but when I’m in the thick of it with someone, it’s hard to keep in mind. But I’m learning that that’s ok too—maybe I’m letting myself feel more now, and not dismiss things so quickly in order to avoid confrontation. I don’t know. Here’s an example:

Someone recently hurt me by saying I needed to give up writing—that it would never work out and that I needed to move out of California or I’d be destitute within 3 years. Ow.

Ok, that was really negative. My eyes welled up with tears and my stomach felt like it had been kicked as I listened. (It didn’t help that this conversation came a week after I had been heart broken. But that’s not for this venue.) This judgmental tirade came after I said, happily, that I had finished polishing 150 pages of my novel…I was in shock as I listened to the negative rant. The old me, the me before daily yoga and meditation, would have likely not said anything, took more abuse, felt horrible, internalized this, doubted myself, and then finally complained to a few friends in order to try to garner some sort of support. The new me just looked at this person, felt the pain that was welling inside my stomach and said quietly that the conversation wasn’t kind. The conversation didn’t end, sadly, with more justifications as to why I would never get published and was living beyond my means…but in my mind, I knew I responded authentically and calmly—in the moment–(a big deal for me) and was able to mentally button up the judgement as unsupportive, fearful, negative.

I’ve been a journalist and writer for 15 + years and this person hadn’t read anything of mine or even a chapter of my current book or my first novel. And, of course, I won’t be destitute within 3 years!

Honestly.

But for some reason, over the past two weeks, I’ve come back to this conversation in my mind to see what I can learn from it. I’ve decided to dismiss the negativity of it. What you think is what you can manifest right?

But it struck a chord. I have half my novel finished and the rest outlined. I’m very excited and a few friends have read a bit of it to give me feedback. But since this summer, I have found so many distractions. I am to blame for allowing each and every one them. Between soccer games, homework, sickness, volunteer demands, friend demands, work, trainings, it can get hairy. But, at the end of the day, I am in control of my schedule. I am in control of my time. I am in control of my thoughts, my actions and who I choose to let into my life.

So with that in mind, I’ve decided that the reason why I keep floating back to this conversation is that I realize that I’m out of balance. It can seem almost insurmountable with kid demands, but there really is at least 2 hours a day to work on my book. And I can fit in yoga and mediation for my sanity. (All you single parents know just what I mean!) So, if that means that dishes pile up in the sink or that my kiddos don’t have rooms made or the perfectly-kept house, who cares?

I’m taking the steps I need to get published. I spent more money today (Egads! One more step toward destitution! ha ha) and signed up for the La Jolla Writers Conference next weekend. Yup, there are soccer games, a bar mitzvah, and my son’s birthday party to prep for. But I’ve decided that I have to put my writing goal on my to-do list each week. If it means missing a soccer game, or having a birthday party that isn’t perfect. So be it.

I’m so excited (and nervous) to go as many agents and authors attend this conference where they give feedback on work, have writer jam sessions, as well as listen to “7 minute pitches”.  So now I have to hone my 7 minute pitch for Uriel’s Mask—as well as polish my one page synopsis. But it’s what I need to do. If I expect an agent, who likely works 50+ hour weeks in this field to take me seriously, I have to push aside distractions and take my writing just as seriously. I even ordered new business cards.

So, I’m officially taking the plunge. And you know what? I’m actually thankful for the hard knocks this month…they are helping me to focus on my path, my journey and GET IN CONTROL OF MY LIFE.

I’d really love to hear from any of you out there who have had similar experiences where either fear or distractions kept you from finishing a project or keeping you from your art. How do you stay on course? Any single parents out there trying to carve out a regular schedule for an artistic project? PLEASE reach out. I’d love to share motivational strategies. Some days, I feel like I’ve run a marathon before 10 a.m. Lets share strategies to keep a daily schedule or to stay on track.  Thanks so much for reading! XO

Finding the Sweet Space of Between

Photo by Chloe Moore Photography

Photo by Chloe Moore Photography

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to take a pregnant pause. That, and the reality of the gap between our thoughts and our actions. As a yogi, I’ve been told time and time again to detach and become a nonjudgemental observer of my life, especially as I meditate. Worded like that, it seems like something that must be done, or achieved—like a goal to work toward. But what if there is a literal space in our lives that just can’t be lived, pushed or achieved? What if there is a space that is just felt by sitting still and sensing what is—without doing anything? In this neutral space, one shuts down, surrenders, accepts, during a mini time-out from life.

As a little girl, every summer, (before Interstate 40 was completed) my family would drive through podunk, one stop-light towns in North Carolina, heading East to the beach. These tiny communities fascinated me. I’d hold my breath the whole ride through towns like Spivey’s Corner, the “hollerin’ capital of the universe,” and, of course, the town of ‘Between.’ As a shy little girl, no one in my large family even noticed me in the back seat holding my breath—my cheeks red, my neck strained. I liked the idea of time standing still—of holding my breath and emptying all my thoughts as I entered a space that began with a welcome sign, followed by a stop light and ended with a sign that usually said, “Ya’ll Come Back Now, Ya Hear?”. It was a kick to think that within one breath, one blink, one pregnant pause, I could then exhale and arrive at a new destination, a new town.

I was quite literally in a state of between. No other thoughts entered my mind. I didn’t worry about my big brother and one of my big sisters fighting. I didn’t think about my dad yelling at one of us, or my mom crying out in a nervous voice, “Please…Stop!” Nope. I just sank into a void of silence until I arrived into a new town where I exhaled and entered back into the chaos that was four kids in the back of a station wagon on a road trip.

John Green wrote about this space of between more eloquently in his book “An Abundance of Katherine’s.” The best-selling author of “The Fault in Our Stars” caught my attention in his lesser known book, as it ends with his neurotic protagonist, a prodigy teenager who keeps re-examining past relationships in order to predict future relationships, on an eye-opening road trip. His genius level IQ, married with expectations of grandeur and “mattering,” have Colin obsessed with playing God: predicting the future. He rarely, hangs out. He doesn’t stop working. He is possessed with creating a theorem that will prove he is important. At the end of the novel, Colin finally concedes the future is an unknown destination…one to be explored like a long road trip filled with surprises:

“As the staggered lines rushed past him, he thought about the space between what we remember and what happened, the space between what we predict and what will happen. And in that space, Colin thought, there was room enough to reinvent himself—room enough to make himself—room enough to make himself into something other than a prodigy, to remake his story better and different—room enough to be reborn again and again.”

I believe that to be reborn again and again, it requires more than just an awareness of a state of between. It requires marinating briefly in that space of acceptance to allow a much-needed pause from our lives. The space between, for me, is a mental time out into complete surrender of life as it is now—and of acceptance for me, just as I am, now. It’s a break within the mind between expectations and longings. It mandates that nothing is done, nothing is feared, nothing is forced, nothing is judged.

Who am I today? Who were you yesterday? Can you sit in the here and now and not try to edit the past or force a future outcome? Can you find an exquisite sort of beauty in lingering in a space where there are no answers, but rather a space of just being?

Take a mini vacation from all the chatter and when you arrive back at home in your body, see what comes to you. Who is drawn to you? What do you dream? What do you feel? We all rush around so much with minds struggling to catch up and thoughts that race. I’m guilty of that too…But just think: in one breath, one pause, we might just arrive into a new town, into a new vista, into new insights, into clarity, into knowing who we are and what we want.

I’m starting to feel that we are part of a cosmos that is intricate, yet delicate— powerful, yet tender…but only if we slow down enough to sense it, or sense ourselves within it.

And while I’m new at this, I think the end result is filled with sweet surprises. Surprises like: meeting new friends who feel instantly like family. Coincidences. Serendipitous encounters. Creative insights. Laughter. Lightness. And ultimately, hopefully, a life that flows.

 

As David Ji, my favorite meditation expert, would say: “See you in the Gap.”

How Yoga Helps You Create

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  • Builds Courage:
    Are you, like me, periodically thwarted by perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis—better known as the “3 Ps”? So many writers and artists lose their momentum when they allow the 3 Ps to take over. A regular yoga practice has the amazing ability to help people let go of fear and perfectionism. Showing up regularly to an environment filled with love, acceptance and a child-like sense of play…literally tears down barriers. Every time I close my eyes during asana flow, or attempt a balancing pose, fall down, and laugh at myself or with friends—I realize that the fun is in the journey and the playful risks taken. I am no longer afraid of what others will think. I don’t fear failure. I thrive in the moment and the attempt. This thinking is critical when attempting to finish a novel.
  • Fosters Dedication/Routine:
    Writing, painting, performing, composing…rarely become good without regular practice. Yoga, too, requires dedication—and luckily, is highly addictive. And the more I go, the more I receive. The deep breathing, friendship, acceptance, meditation, flow, sweat, all re-boot my mindset and let me leave lighter, happier, more accepting, more forgiving and inspired. Writing (and I imagine all other forms of art) helps place an artist in the sweet-spot of life. I know that when I sit down and write or edit a few chapters of my novel, hours go by. When I stop, I feel like the Universe makes sense and that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. The more I give to my art, the more it gives to my soul. The more content I am, the better mother, friend, lover I become. It’s a ripple effect. Yoga is very similar as it opens me up, allowing me to dare to follow my dreams… But first, it requires dedication.
  • Heightens Trust of Your Inner Voice/Vision:
    When I still my mind, I’m able to hear that quiet inner voice of intuition and that’s when I begin to trust myself, my vision and my voice. Yoga helps tremendously as the sweat-filled flow puts me in the moment, tires my body and lets go of any chatter within my mind.  After an hour of intense Vinyasa / Hatha practice, I’m able to let go, detach and truly meditate. For me, I have to work out my wiggles, sweat and release negative influences or issues of the day before I can really just be. And in those moments of detached being—from this life, from these earthly issues—I’m able to come back anew, as if from a vacation, with a clearer perspective, a renewed sense of wonder, more gratitude and, yes, determination to follow my art, my path, without apology.
  • Sparks Inspiration:
    This may be a bit repetitive from what I’ve already written, but at certain moments within some yoga classes, usually within the flow, an awesome idea pops into my mind. Sometimes it’s about an article I’m writing. Other times it’s about my book. A few times, one of the characters of my book will become crystal clear in my mind’s eye and I suddenly feel like I can better describe her or him. Maybe it’s the inward focus of yoga. When I bike, I have tunes blasting. When I power walk or run, I usually have a friend chatting alongside me. Pilates or dance class is distracting (and fun) by all the other women and mirrors. Only in yoga do I let all others slip away and I flow, sweat and mentally go within. These are inspiring moments.  I love going back to my home office and writing for a few hours after a class. Whether I’m writing for a client, or writing on my novel, I’m always more productive, more creative, more focused.

Who’s In Charge Around Here, Anyway?

kayaker

Don’t you just love that line? I used to hear it from customers when I was a hostess at a 4 star restaurant in Manhattan. While in grad school, I worked four nights a week at a famous restaurant in New York—where some customers would become absolutely irate if they didn’t get their regular table by the window, or if they had to wait a few minutes, or God forbid their favorite dish was no longer on the menu. I remember that time in my life like it was yesterday— as I’m fairly shy and love to people watch. I was soaking up my city experience as I wrote my first novel. The bartender, a Russian actor and co-people watcher, and I would compare notes at the end of the evening over a glass of Sambuca. We swore we’d write a screen play someday—especially after members of the Russian mafia started meeting in the back room to gamble. (But that’s for another post.) Day in and day out there were so many compelling stories. Like the Eastern European couple who came in every night. They never spoke to one other, but the husband would periodically bang the table, to which his wife would respond by cutting her husband’s food or pouring his wine. Every week we’d get a Wall Street businessman on a hot date who would show up and yell and scream and insist he had a reservation—which, of course, he didn’t. (But his ranting and raving always garnered two free drinks at the bar.) Then there was the man who brought his mistress every week on a Wed and would give me an extra $100, so I wouldn’t mention it when he brought his wife every Saturday. (I split his tip with the wait staff.)  You get the idea. Manhattan restaurants are the perfect fishbowl, or cesspool, to watch human nature in action. Most of what I witnessed each week was a huge dose of ego mixed with the illusion of control.

 

And it is an illusion. In Manhattan especially, money—or the image of wealth—can buy you a table by the window, or a kiss on the cheek by the owner of a restaurant. It may even “buy” you a hot date with someone wrapped up in creating, or having that image. But it is hardly authentic power. Even the most powerful, (and by that, I mean the commonly accepted definition of accumulating wealth or being a decision maker in business or government) can be brought to their knees. Think about it. So much of our lives is completely and utterly out of our control. We are humbled again and again by the sheer force of nature—by earth quakes, hurricanes and floods. Every day disease, accidents and addictions tear apart lives and families. There is no control over when or if these types of events will strike us.

 

This is widely accepted. What is not typically accepted, however, is our lack of control over one another. I see it everyday—even in laid back Southern California. This I know for sure: we are all powerless over what people may do or say. Yet, why is it that so many of us still strive to ‘help’ our loved ones, or change them, or expect them to be or do things differently? Why can’t we accept each other for who we are—no more and no less? Why is acceptance so hard?

 

My best guess is that it’s hard to accept that someone you love, say a child or a sibling or a lover, is making toxic choices or doing things to harm themselves or others. Or, maybe it’s just hard to see someone change or grow in ways that make it hard for you two to still be close. Maybe once acceptance settles in and there’s no attempt to change, there’s nothing left but to drift away or detach with love. I think that’s the fear. It’s hard to let go.

 

So instead of letting go, so many of us cling on and hold tighter and just get dragged away from our center, or let others control us. In relationships, especially when I was much younger, I allowed others to try to change me or wield control over me. I have no idea why. Have you experienced that too? The family member or boyfriend or girlfriend who constantly criticizes  or nags or belittles in order to get you to change something about yourself. Maybe it’s about a career choice, or what is eaten (or not eaten), or about spiritual beliefs, or liberal views, or what is worn, (or how little is worn) or any other habits someone disapproves of, etc. It all comes from a need to control. It comes from one person thinking they know best. Or it comes from someone else’s jealously and a need to keep another reigned in. Maybe it comes from insecurity? Fear? Or selfishness? Or perhaps it comes from a person who expects to get what they want, even if it’s at another soul’s expense. I don’t know.

But maybe it isn’t always so cruel. I’m not completely innocent, but my attempts to ‘help’ others likely stems from a bit of naivete, or the hopeless romantic in me. I know I’ve tried to help others who are hurting from addictions or who say they are desperately trying to change and ask for help—even when doing so hurts myself. Slipping into co-dependency is easy to do, especially when love is involved. And it can become a type of control, even if misguided and well-intentioned.

 

Even so, I feel sympathy for those in relationships with subtle, or not so subtle, attempts to control one another. You know, the ones who constantly nag, cajole, manipulate, guilt, demean, belittle, demand, shame, blame, complain, etc. in order to get what they want. Some even resort to yelling or threatening—all to get someone to do something—stop doing something—or be someone else.

Sigh.

 

I thought of all these type of relationships as I struggled to think of something meaningful to say last week when I taught the first yoga class in a 12 step yoga workshop I’m participating in. If you’re a member of one of the 12 step groups, than I don’t need to tell you that the first step is admitting to being powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable. Well, that’s a bitter pill for some to swallow and for others, especially those who are not alcoholic, it may feel just wrong. I get that. I’m not an alcoholic, but have family members and loved ones who are. I  know how powerless it can be to live with those who are out of control. But when you think about it, we are all powerless over so many things. If you just take out the word alcohol, and input the words “over others” the first step is for everyone. Your life will become unmanageable if you’re still trying to control others.

 

And for those who have grown up with alcoholics, married one, or dated one, or ‘helped’ friends or siblings with the addiction, I don’t need to tell you how hard it is ‘to let go’. When life is always unpredictable, one strives to find stability, to help, and to control—often at the expense of personal goals, the ability to be spontaneous, to feel joy, to trust, to let go, and especially to ‘go with the flow.’  

 

That last line, which I hear often in yoga classes—”to go with the flow”—is a goal of mine. With that in mind, I decided to talk about my Outward Bound experience in last week’s yoga workshop on powerlessness. By 21 years of age, I had experienced WAY too much violence in my life—against me, against friends. I  had lost some very special people in my life. I was also a crime reporter in college covering murders and rapes and began to feel overwhelmed by fear and a sense of powerlessness. At the same time, I struggled to help take care of my mother who was slipping into depression after my father left.

 

It was a hard time for me, to say the least. With that in mind, I dropped out of school, worked full time for six months to pay for and go on a hard core Outward Bound. I wanted to wrestle my fears and gain confidence. Boy did I ever. And it happened while navigating class 4 rapids on the Chattooga River in Georgia. For three days all of us had to navigate this river in order to get to our next destination. For many in our group, comprised of many male athletes, this was the most challenging part of our experience. I guess because my life had been so insanely out of control for so long, learning how to navigate rapids came naturally. And, it seemed easier. There was a method to this madness. I learned my C and J strokes to control exactly where I wanted to go. I learned how to read the river: shallow areas were to be avoided.  Dark areas were the currents that would carry my canoe through the sweet spot of the rapid. I came to enjoy it. It was invigorating to struggle, navigate, and then to ride the current of the rapid. This was one challenge that my 100 pound self could do! It felt great.

 

Others didn’t have the same experience. The basketball player from New England, for instance, kept freaking out, standing in his canoe and tipping it over. And, to add insult to injury, he kept standing up in the river. You can NEVER stand up in a class 4 rapid river. I kept screaming to him to float, lift his feet. He wouldn’t listen. By the time I, or someone else steered toward him, his legs were bloody. He never listened and let his fear overcome him. By the third day, his legs were so mangled that medical assistance had to be called and he wasn’t able to play any games for the first two weeks back. Likely, he was used to calling the shots, making them, and being in control. His need to stand and stop the river was real.

I, on the other hand, was used to living in a completely out of control world where nothing I did mattered. I couldn’t stop a crazed shooter. I couldn’t stop a boyfriend who tried to kill me or himself. I couldn’t stop a rapist from almost killing a friend. I couldn’t stop a family member from drinking and making bad decisions. I couldn’t change the fact that a semi hit two friends head on. Nope. None of it could be changed by one single thing that I did, or didn’t do. Navigating the River, on the other hand, was like being given directions, or a map. That, I could handle.

 

Funnily, on the last day, my canoe partner, a large football player, jumped up when a big spider fell into our boat. He literally catapulted me out of the canoe. It was like a cartoon character of Olive Oil flying into the air, then crashing into a rock. I had a shiner for 3 weeks that turned from black to purple to this really groovy color of yellow and green all around my left eye. Again, so much is out of our control, isn’t it? But, hey, for three days, I had navigated that river and steered us through insane rapids and smiled crazy-ass smiles as wind blew through my hair and the current carried us down stream. I loved every minute.

After four more days of navigating mountains with only a topo map, I returned home, went back to school, took an internship in London, and began working at a newspaper with a renewed sense of just what I could accomplish. Basically, I was learning the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the courage to accept the things I can not change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

We can all learn our J and C strokes and the signs of the river in order to navigate our own canoes to take us where we want to go. It’s my metaphor for living out of fear and paying attention to what we can control: ourselves. We can control what we think, what we say, how we treat others, how peacefully we live, what we eat, how we take care of our bodies, etc. And we can take baby steps to follow our dreams. These things are in our control. They pave the path to authentic power.

 

There will always be things that we are powerless over. Maybe there will be those in our river flow who are careless—who fall out of their canoes and stand up in rapids, or who just don’t pay attention to the rapids they are being pulled in to. We can warn them and try  to help—but if we pay too much attention to saving them, we may neglect our own currents, our own destinies, and drift way off course. If we become obsessed with someone else’s welfare, we’re likely to get stuck in the mud bank, or dragged into rapids, or worse, crash. Conversely, there may be those who suddenly catapult us out of our canoes. But you know what? We have the choice and the ability to learn to float, to lift our feet, and to trust that the river will carry us safely until we can get back up and back into our canoes to begin to navigate again.

 

I know I write the way I talk—I meander and tell a long yarn, as many southerners do. If you read to the end, you should earn an award for patience! My final thought is this: here’s to navigating to the sweet spots of all of our rapids—to the ones that propel us through the chaos and to the soft currents that allow us to float, breathe deeply and enjoy the wind in our hair.

xoxo

Blindsided by Wanderlust: Tips to Get By

ThelmandLouise

I’ve got that twitchy foot again. And this time it’s bad. I mean REAL BAD. I feel boxed in and just want to get on a plane or get in my car and GO. Of course, I can’t do that. But lately, the feeling is becoming overwhelming. It’s been building for months. I periodically go through this every year since becoming a full-time single mommy of two boys. It usually starts in February. (Here’s a photo montage on how I tried to cure my wanderlust through local trips last year: A Single Mom’s Wanderlust: A State of Mind.)

The aching wanderlust hit full tilt earlier this week when I had an ichat with my ex. He was in a taxi with this amazing light flashing in an out of the window and wind blowing lightly in his hair. He was driving through Brussels at sunset and smiling at me and James, our five-year-old who was sitting in my lap waving. My ex looked so happy. He looked so free. And suddenly, all I could think was “I’ve got to get out of here.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that my ex is living his dream and that he seems so happy. Truly I am. (I know some of you don’t believe me!) We’ve been through a lot over the past five years since he’s moved back to Europe. We are now friends again. But even if we weren’t, I’d still be happy for him. It’s just the way I choose to be. My wanderlust isn’t about him. I’ve always had it. And now that I’m boxed in, I start going crazy after two months without a weekend off. Waiting until August is going to be tough…although it can’t be helped. So, it’s only natural that I start to miss some aspects of my old life. There, I said it. Six years ago, when living in London, I was able take advantage of a lastminute.com sales promotion or a craigslist house swap and with a few clicks I’d purchase rail tickets and we’d be off to Paris for the weekend.

My life is clearly, completely different now. I love this small beach town. I do. Really. I love watching dolphins every day. I love biking and watching surfers. I’m obsessed with sunsets and sunrises over my stretch of the Pacific Ocean. I love looking for treasures on the beach with my little guy. But…I appreciate this small town and my two boys SO much more when I get a chance to refuel, get away and come back. So, while I LOVE these boys more than anything, I’m starting to go LOCO. Here’s a list of what I’m calling survival tips for wanderlust. If you are someone who is also afflicted with a periodic need to see new vistas, meander in new distant cities, sit in cafes and people watch, sans children, or crave the freedom of getting in your car with the windows down and driving AWAY, to ANYWHERE…sigh…these survival tips are for you:

  • Detach. Detach. Detach.
    One of the biggest perks to traveling is that it lets you leave your little world, your little community and any worries within it, behind. My first taste of freedom happened when I was 16 and went to Russia and Europe for the summer with the People to People Student Ambassador Program. This was before cell phones and Facebook. Two months were spent in Russia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, England, Ireland—I was off the grid. I didn’t speak to my parents, my boyfriend or any friends (all good for me to distance myself from at the time!) the entire summer. I was out of all the gossip and petty concerns. I didn’t have to worry about that boyfriend who was doing drugs and cheating on me. Yup. I didn’t have to worry about my parent’s marriage that was falling apart. I didn’t have to worry about trying to be a good dancer even though I have flat feet. … I got away from all the concerns in my North Carolina town and immersed myself in drastically different worlds and lives. I saw poverty, beauty and kindness in Russia. I met the most charming and entertaining people in Ireland. I could see the contrast from the proper and inhibited English and all the nakedness in Denmark—two nude beaches and nude hikers, go figure! It was a great experience and later fueled my desire to keep traveling. Which I did, to abandon. When wanderlust hits, I try to remember how it feels to be away. I meditate. I remember what I did in certain locales, or people I met and how little they may have had materially, but how much richer their lives seemed to be. I meditate and imagine exotic sounds or smells, like when I was shopping in Jaipur, India. I imagine the marketplace, the incense, the spices, the colors, the dirt, the broken teeth, the hooka tents, the cows, the tattered Bangladeshi children, etc. I put myself there. I drop into that place. If that doesn’t work, I meditate with a guided CD (my favorite being David Ji) which usually forces my thoughts to still. And finally, after 15 minutes, I’ve detached from this place and am able to garner a better perspective.
  • Unplug.
    My new habit during the week is to cut off the TV, turn off my phone and shut down the computer every night after the kids go to bed. If there are dishes to do, I leave them for the morning. I then go downstairs into my room where I have photos that I shot in Sweden, Denmark and Italy, and I turn on my little clock radio. Yup. The one that crackles. I play the public station and listen to opera, or classical or jazz. I open the window slightly, so I can hear the ocean. Then, I either start writing or editing my novel, or I read one of my favorite authors. I instantly feel like I’m away. I feel like I did when visiting Eastern European cities like Prague or Budapest or small coastal towns in Spain or Portugal. For some reason, there was never good wifi and few modern conveniences. So crackling music, sometimes in another language, feels just right. This is my time to feel like I’m completely away.
  • Find creative, inexpensive ways to get away!
    I am a BIG fan of Airbnb.com, VRBO and SabbaticalHomes.org. Here’s an article where I outline affordable ways to get away. Single Mom’s Budget Travel Tips. Just planning the next adventure can be a bit of cure for what ails ya. This May, for my birthday, I’m either taking the boys to New York, or to Yosemite. I’m trying to figure it out. In August, I plan to go to Paris or Barcelona for two weeks while the boys are with their dad. I want to put the finishing touches on my novel in a far-a-way venue. I’m listing my home and reaching out to friends for home swaps. It may not happen, but I’m trying and putting it out there!
  • Find a partner-in-crime.
    Thelma had Louise. Find your Louise. Find another single mom to swap babysitting with. Whether you get an overnite or a night out once as month, just make sure that it’s an equitable swap. So mom’s of three, don’t swap with a mom of one. It may take some time to find the perfect partner-in-crime, but SO worth the effort!
  • Be Grateful.
    Every night I make my boys say their “gratefuls”. James says 5 things he is grateful for, since he is 5. William says 12, since he is 12. (They both always go over!) We’ve done this since they were old enough to understand how. I used to do this as a child and find that now, more than ever, I need to do it. I tend to write down my grateful lists and I’m amazed at how long they’ve become! On especially challenging days, I’ll even stop what I’m doing mid-day, and start one. Thinking of what you are thankful for is the best pick-me-up on the planet. I can never find fear when I’m living in gratitude. Try it.
  • STOP comparing yourself to others.
    The minute I notice that my thoughts are veering down this path, I imagine the sound of an old fashioned record getting ripped by a needle: RRIIPPP!! And I stop. My path and my journey is just that. And I’m on a very unique one. I’m embracing my writing and my yoga teaching—both very creative and low-paying venues. But I decided a few years back that when I stopped doing these things and focussed solely on work that paid well with little flexibility, I wasn’t happy. So, I have to stop comparing myself to those who have more, do more, and maybe do what I want to do better than me. There will always be someone out there smarter, more flexible, more creative, etc. ENOUGH.
    Since I’ve shut down my computer every evening, I’m clearly not on Facebook as much as I was. (This is really helpful.) Do I really need to know what my crush is doing, or not doing? Honestly. It’s not with me, so time to move on! I also don’t need to know how many ‘friends’ are traveling to far away places or going out on weekends that I can’t. I used to get so jealous of all my ‘single parent’ friends who could still get away or go out on weekends because their exes or parents took the kiddos. My life is very different from theirs and I just need to not think about it. This life of mine must have been chosen for a reason. I’m much stronger now than I’ve ever been. I have a novel that’s pretty awesome and nearly finished. I have totally wonderful boys. I live my life on my terms. I need to focus on the positive.
  • STOP pining for the past or an unattainable future.
    Enough said. Being present is a gift. There’s a reason why it’s called present. If I live in the past I can’t move forward. Ironically, if I focus on what’s ahead, I miss what’s right here; right now. Try to focus on what your children say. Try not to check email or text when with your children. Just try to be. As much as possible.
  • Find ways to make your life work, just as it is.
    A good friend and intuitive life coach, Louise Hauck, wrote in her book Streaming Consciousness, that one has to strive to make the present work, even if it isn’t exactly what you want, to open up space for something better. I’m paraphrasing, but Louise wrote about one situation in her book where she coached a woman who was miserable in her job. Louise suggested that she work hard at making things better in her current position before quitting. So, that meant, communicating better with co-workers who annoyed her. Trying to be more patient with those who offended her, etc. When she felt much better in her job, ironically, her dream job offer appeared. Making the here and now livable, workable, enjoyable, helps you to be grateful and then opens up space for something better. For me, that means, getting rid of junk in my garage. Organizing this small condo so it’s more functional for my boys. Clearing out closets, old toys and inboxes on my desk to Fung shui. Planning for fun excursions with the boys. All of this makes the here and now better. It helps me to be more appreciative and opens up space for whatever it is that I’m trying to manifest. As Louise taught me to say and/or think, “Lord, thank you for this wonderful life. This— OR—better, please!”

How do You Define Love?

vibratingheart

This I know for sure: Love isn’t defined by what someone can do for me or give to me. And it certainly isn’t a prize for being pretty, or smart or playful or wealthy. Love can’t be measured by how selfless I become either. Giving till it hurts, or putting someone else’s needs always above my own, isn’t necessarily a good marker of true love. (Maybe we have no choice with our children, though :-)!) But in romantic love, we have to remember to love and respect ourselves too, right?

Initially love may just spring from a feeling. A spark. Maybe even just from a look, a touch, a kiss. But to sustain love, there has to be more than attraction and chemistry, don’t you think?

Lately my mind has been wandering into existential waters. As I prepare to teach my first Valentine’s heart-opening Hatha yoga class, I find myself grappling with what love is and what love isn’t. I’ve come to believe that sustained love lies in the subtlety of how we speak to one another—much more than what we actually say. It’s about speaking kindly and respectfully, at all times, even when voicing concerns. I’ve always loved the James Taylor lyric: “It isn’t what she’s got to say, or how she thinks or where she’s been. To me the words are nice the way they sound.”

I also believe that love is tied to how gently and compassionately we live—more than by any grand gestures we make. Therefore, I’m leaning toward the definition of love as a type of vibration—a frequency—that effects how we sound and move and treat each other. It also controls how and who we attract into our lives.

So as I focus on what to address in my first Valentine’s yoga class—I realize that I don’t want to just talk about and teach poses to keep our hearts open. Yes, it’s important to trust and be open to new experiences—but without a good dose of self respect and inner core strength, we may just keep staying open to all the wrong people and opportunities. Maybe it stems back to our programming as a child, or by us feeding off of the energy of people who are the closest to us.

Maybe a lot of us may have fallen into lower vibrations due to negative childhood programming—which, if not released, feed and spiral into critical thoughts. These critical thoughts about ourselves and others just end up attracting toxic friends or partners who keep us in this status quo of a negative environment. If it sounds a bit heavy, bear with me and just think about it. How many of us as children have heard conversations from adults like: “For once, can you just listen to me?!” “Why do you always do this?” “Honestly, you look ridiculous.” “If you make it on time, it will be a miracle.” “NOT NOW! Jesus. You always nag me right when I’m on deadline.”

You get the idea. Comments such as these hurt. They place us on a lower frequency of thoughts filled with shame, low self esteem, insecurity, fear, anger, lack of respect—and these ripple into adulthood. Think about the couple who bicker constantly over such trivial things as too much hair in the sink … (Yeah, we’ve probably all been there at some point.)

So my ever-evolving definition of love starts within. How we treat each other—or allow others to treat us—triggers negative frequencies where love can’t live or last. What we mirror, or think, we attract.

I’ll leave you with these thoughts as I wrestle with my definition of love this Valentine’s day:

Love expands. Love elevates. Love enlightens. Love embraces growth. Love accepts. None of this can happen in a sea of critical or belittling comments or thoughts.

Clearly, I haven’t figured it all out. (Who has?!) But I do know that attracting someone kind, healthy and gentle requires that I be kind, healthy and gentle in my words and my thoughts—which includes how I treat and think about myself! This actually requires strength and a trust in my inner voice—as much as an open heart.

So, this Valentine’s week, I am defining love as a vibration—a frequency—that I have to tune into. Just like a violinist tunes his instrument in order to play heavenly music, I have to tune my inner strings—my inner awareness—to hear the right chords that allow me to play in a key that allows for a loving and conscious life. Do I speak lovingly and kindly to my loved ones? Do I speak lovingly and kindly to myself? Am I accepting of others? Am I accepting of myself? Am I truly forgiving? These are questions that will help me get in tune—so that I can live in a frequency of love.

What do you think? Does this resonate with you? If not, how do you define love?