As of this week I will have taught 21 Well-Fed Woman Retreatshops.
I will have traveled, roughly, 38,445 miles over two years.
When I set out to circle with women, sharing what I know, I never ever thought I would travel so far, meet so many amazing people, or learn so much.
At the end of a journey like this I suppose it custom to check in and see what you learned.
Here are 21 lessons, one for each Retreatshop. Some are good to know for everyone, some are good if you want to travel and/or teach for work, and others are just for me to remember if I ever do it again.
1. The first time is never your best.
Poor Austin, Texas. I delivered a good experience. But there was simply no way to know how to do this until I did it. Austin was my very first stop and thanks to those Texas guinea pigs, I learned a lot. Things only got better – a lot better – from there. The lesson? You have to rip the band-aid at some point. All the preparation in the world can’t prepare you for the real thing.
2. Tears are a sign of impact.
I joke that I judge my success of a Retreatshop based on how many people cry. My track record is pretty impressive. Except for New York City. Those women wouldn’t crack even if we watched Beaches together while cutting onions. Nevertheless, have tissues ready. The truth is, you can’t really judge weather someone is having a positive experience of your event, but if they are crying, chances are you’re having an impact and impact is what I go for every time.
3. We need to hear each others stories.
The personal stories I shared, on most days, took the air right out of the room. Each person listening finding their own common thread in the weaving of my life and then invited out to share the things we too often keep in the back of the closet. It’s the kindred hearts, communicated through stories shared, that have stuck with me more than anything.
4. People are kind.
There are countless people who graciously opened their homes to me, fed me, picked me up from airports and dropped me off, and spent their precious hours helping to bring it all together. Most of these people I had never met before the day I descended on their city. I suppose I knew that people were kind before I did this, but the knowledge feels solid today, like a newly laid floor beneath me.
5. We are all the same.
It’s true. You + Me? Same cloth, cut up.
6. Sometimes the magic just isn’t there.
I didn’t hit it out of the park in all 21 cities. Why? Because sometimes the magic isn’t there. I can feel awesome. Be prepared and loose. Have enthusiastic attendees. Great weather and amazing food. And for whatever reason the vibration never elevated to a hum. Thankfully this was the rare exception, but it’s good to remember.
7. If you invite your mother, don’t sit opposite her.
Love my mom. Seriously. She is the very best. BUT…putting her in a chair opposite me doing my big thing. Not a great idea. I found myself analyzing her face the whole time (Was she liking it? Did she agree with my version of events?) and finally interrupting my talk to say “What is that face?!” only to be told “This is my face.” We all had a good laugh, but lesson learned.
8. Conference room lighting is the worst.
Avoid it at all cost.
9. Support independent caterers where possible.
In most of the cities this year I sought out small, independent caterers for our lunch. Every time they were reliable, enthusiastic about accommodating special dietary needs, prompt, affordable, and delicious. Special shout outs to Soulshine Kitchen in Andover, Mass.
10. Have an ice breaker with heart.
It might seem cheesy to start with an ice breaker, but it also works. When women come to gather for the kind of deep work that I facilitate they come with nerves. They fear the unknown of the day and are aware we’re likely going to dig into some pretty sticky topics. So, I start each Retreatshop asking everyone to share their favorite kind of pie. Immediately everyone goes to a happy place and common bonds start to form over shared favorites and sweet memories. For the record, my favorite is raspberry pie, double all-butter crust, with ice cream. Pie is holy.
11. Newsflash: Not everyone likes pie.
Every city had one person who didn’t like pie. I can’t explain this.
12. If you can have a dog in attendance, do.
Nothing makes vulnerability go down easier than a warm, soft pup curled up on your lap.
13. Invest in a suitcase you love.
The best money I spent, hands down. Thank you REI for making the 22″ Tech Beast. As I said, I traveled nearly 40,000 miles. Today, this suitcase looks good as new. I rarely checked it because it fit in the overhead compartment. I could lift it easily thanks to the many handles. It looks professional and fit everything I needed. So grateful.
While I couldn’t prepare for everything that was to cross my path on this journey, I did my best. I invested in the Transformation Speaking Immersion with Gail Larsen in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Cost a lot more than the suitcase. Also worth every penny.
15. Get credit cards that earn you miles.
Fact: most of my airfare was paid for simply because I had the right credit card.
16. Be selfish.
If I wasn’t out on the road teaching for myself, at least a little bit, I would have burnt out fast. If I had traveled that far and worked that hard out of pure altruism I would be a flat pancake right now. But I’m not. I feel pretty great. I did this to feed myself. I did this because I want to live as a Well-Fed Woman and I was hungry to sit with other women. I was hungry, so I set off to feed myself. Because each Retreatshop fed me (not just the attendees) I had fuel to keep going and arrived at the end so very satiated.
17. In person relationships trump internet relationships every time.
18. Don’t lie to the Canadian Border Police.
If you’re there for work, tell them. Trust me.
Canadians are nice people, unless they are border police and you lie to them.
19. Soul work takes time.
The first year I ran Retreatshops they were three hours in length. This is because a) I didn’t know what would work and b) I didn’t want to coordinate lunch.
The second year they were full day experiences. This worked MUCH better. Soul work takes time.
20. Presence. Curiosity. Love.
This is the invocation I did before each gathering. The three things I called into me. The three friends who supported me every time. They made all the difference.
21. The work I do is amazing.
It feels amazing for me and amazing for the women I work with.
It’s impactful. It’s imperfect. It’s authentic. It’s clear. It’s creative. It’s important. It’s totally unique.
I can say all of this wholeheartedly because unlike the day before I taught in Austin, Texas, today…I know. I’ve tested myself. I’ve seen the impact first hand.
I’ve gone into the arena, as Brene would say.
Here’s to the next 40,000 miles wherever they take me, even if it’s just a lot of trips to my kitchen table to sit, in my pajamas with a cup of tea, and write to you.
Imagine there’s a knock at your door right now.
You go and answer it.
It’s your mother.
How do you react? Not how should you react, but how would you really react?
Now imagine that happening all over except instead of your mother it’s your ex-lover.
How do you react? Feel it. What is your knee-jerk reaction?
Now imagine it again, instead of your ex-lover, it’s a policewoman.
How do you react? Really. What would your first reaction be?
Now do it again.
You walk over and it’s a singing telegram with balloons, flowers, and a box of chocolates.
How do you react?
The point of contact with anything is the most important moment.
Two objects collide and whether they shatter, ricochet, or merge all depends on the moment of contact and what happens there.
I’m utterly fascinated with the moments of contact with our hungers.
There is so much to learn about what happens when one of our hungers knocks on the door and we answer it. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe we peer through the keyhole and decide to remain silent and still. Hoping it thinks we’re not home and goes away.
Maybe we answer and with tears of joy pick up the hunger and spin it around in our arms as though Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes has just bestowed a windfall upon us.
Or we might open the door but as soon as our hunger speaks we plug our ears and say “Lalalalalalalala” in attempt not hear what it has to say.
It could be as simple as opening and shutting the door, with a quick ‘no thank you’ in between.
I offer you this meditative inquiry:
What is happening at the point of contact with your hunger or hungers?
If it played in slow motion, could you see and feel the moment of contact? Could you feel what happens next?
I offer you this thought: the air between you and your hungers has so much wisdom. almost as much as your hunger itself.
I feel a little bit like those stores that deck their halls in red and green before Halloween (and Thanksgiving).
While it’s only mid October, I had the itch to share a few ideas for gifts you might give this holiday season. I hope you can forgive my eagerness.
Coming up with last year’s guide was so much fun and that list remains chock full of some of my favorites.
And the sentiment I shared last year remains true:
There are infinite ways to show our love and gratitude, with spending money on (or making something for) another as just one possibility. Giving and receiving gifts can be magical. It can be a way to express that we truly see someone or it can show our support for a business or artist we love. The right gift, for the right person, at the right time is wonderful.
This year I’m going to be sharing three lists, one for each month remaining in the year.
Here, to kick it off, are 14 treats that might bring a little joy to one of your someones…
Zen Under Fire by Marianne Elliot
A Measure of Earth: The Cole-Ware American Basket Collection by Nicholas Bell
Permission to Curve by Anna Guest-Jelley
Grocery Delivery from Good Eggs (SF, LA, NYC, & New Orleans only)
50 Ways to Say You’re Awesome by Alexandra Franzen
Music from Valerie June
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
This is a pali word that means empathetic joy. It is the happiness that comes from another’s happiness.
I think of mudita as the opposite of jealousy.
My meditation teacher, James Baraz, introduced the concept to me many years ago and it’s stayed with me as a powerful spiritual beacon.
In 2009 my sister got married and I spoke of mudita in my toast to the couple.
When it came to my sister’s marriage, mudita was an easy quality to cultivate. I was so genuinely joyful in response to her joy that it felt like breathing.
In Buddhism there are four “sublime attitudes” that, through spiritual practice, we cultivate: loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy (or mudita), and equanimity. It’s said that mudita is the most challenging of these “attitudes” to call forth.
I can attest to this. When it comes to situations outside of my sister’s marriage, this is where the rubber of the spiritual practice hits the road. Perhaps you can relate?
The other night I was scrolling through my Instagram feed. I like to do this before bed – catching up on the joys of people I care about and enjoying the day’s beauty from my favorite iphoneographers.
I ended up stumbling into a place I call ‘triggeredville.” Have you been?
There I was. Scrolling through the photos from a colleague of mine and her life seemed so perfect.
She sported gorgeous designer clothing. Her business appeared abundantly successful. Her marriage loving and harmonious. Her being: radiant and glowing.
I felt jealous. Not happy for her. Jealous and with a pit in my stomach. Taking a quick measurement–my life came up short.
The pit in my stomach was still there when I woke up the next day.
I named it. It was clear. I was triggered and jealous.
And it was an opportunity to practice cultivating mudita.
I chose to practice not because it’s easy. It’s not.
I chose to practice because my jealousy was based in illusions. The illusion that she has something I don’t or can’t. The illusion that there isn’t enough to go around. The illusion that she and I are separate…other from each other. The illusion that I am not enough. The illusion that my own hungers can’t be satiated. The illusion that her life was charmed and pain-free.
I chose to practice because I seek to live a life as awake from these illusion as possible.
I know these illusions create a separateness between myself and life and that separateness is a source of great suffering.
So I practiced.
I sat in witness of my thoughts. Noticing the spinning and the burning fire of comparison.
I sat in witness of my body’s reactivity.
I sat in witness of the stories that “she has it all (and therefore I don’t)” and “I’m not enough, because I don’t have…”
I invited in empathy, the ability to feel the experience of another. In this case: joy.
and even pain, as she, like of all of us, is not immune.
I empathized with her. Knowing her joy is my joy. Her pain is my pain. She is part of me. I am part of her.
I found pockets of life to practice. I stayed attuned to the physical sensations of jealousy.
I practiced not judging the jealousy, as it’s as human as a skin rash, but instead I chose to call forth a different state of being.
Mudita. Empathetic joy. Seeing clearly that your joy is my joy, your pain is my pain, and Instagram has a less than natural rosy hue.