At the beginning each year, I reflect on my most memorable moments – the brightest and darkest – of the last 12 months. For each one, I ask myself: What lesson have I taken from this experience?
The lessons we learn – the beliefs that carve-out neural pathways – get reinforced over time. Regardless of how self-aware we think we are, we all walk through life and intentionally or unintentionally look for “proof” that our beliefs are true, whether we’d say we want them to be true or not. If we “learn” that men can’t be trusted or that people only care about themselves, we’ll likely continue to find “proof” that those beliefs are true, even though they’re not absolute.
Searching for and dismantling faulty beliefs is important.
Just as clearing out the cobwebs regularly takes much less of a toll than trying to clear out years of built-up gunk, such is our mind. So each year, after reflecting honestly on what lesson I’ve already taken from each experience, the question I ask is: What empowering lesson can I take from this experience?
January 13th: I handed over the keys
At the end of 2014, I knew it was time to take my business to the next level and hire a team. Within weeks, over the holidays, we doubled in size, and on January 13th they all flew to San Francisco for a team retreat. It was the first time that I sat in a chair at a meeting for my own business, while someone else conducted the meeting. It was a lot to take in, and in a beautiful moment I realized that my business was no longer *mine*. It was ours.
LESSON #1 : It’ll grow more when you let go
This is a paradox. On one hand, letting go of something or someone entirely means that you’re no longer tending to it, and some things need tending (like children and projects). On the other hand, holding on too tightly means there’s no space for oxygen – no room to grow. Let go just enough to be there, while still trusting that you don’t have to do it all.
January 29th: Surprise!
When my grandmother died several years ago, I ached over all of the things I wished I’d said to her, and all the questions I wished I’d asked. The letters I meant to send. The calls I meant to make. I knew that she was with me still, and yet I couldn’t shake that I’d lost an opportunity to express my love more completely while she was here. I vowed to never do that again – to never wait for someone to die for me to express my love. For years, though, I’d been doing the same thing with my dad. Wanting a closer relationship, but being too busy/uncomfortable to extend myself more. When his birthday was coming around, I knew it was an opportunity to make a grand gesture that neither of us would ever forget, and I flew home to throw him a surprise party.
LESSON #2 : Waiting doesn’t make it better
This is morbid, but it’s true: I had to admit to myself that on some level, I was waiting for my dad to die to have the relationship I really wanted with him. I didn’t want him to die, of course, but I wasn’t taking actions consistent with creating a closer relationship with him now. I needed to realize that life is happening now, and it’s my honor and responsibility to live it.
February 27th: I lost my shit
I was just about to lead a Costa Rica retreat for my Freedom Mastermind (2016 will be my 6th year taking women there), and had arrived early to acclimate, set up, and wrap-up tasks related to the upcoming Global Sisterhood Day. We were supposed to have launched it already, but our tech was breaking and it was all hands on deck at all hours (literally) to pull this off. I was in a cafe in my favorite little town in Costa Rica, sipping out of a coconut, Bob Marley playing in the background, losing my shit. (Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.)
Everything I had worked so hard for and funnelled so much money into was just.not.working. I was chatting in Skype with my business manager, web developer, assistant, and tech assistant, and all of a sudden my chat didn’t go through. I tried turning off my computer’s wifi and turning it back on a few times. Then I realized that the music had stopped and the fans were off. We’d lost power. Still in a relatively frazzled state, I ran through different scenarios in my mind – Walk to another cafe, 10 minutes away. Sit here and stare at my computer, waiting it out – and realized that fighting this was futile. I needed to step away from my laptop and step out of my crazy. I stuffed my laptop into my bag, set my bag on the floor, slid my sandals on and headed to the beach.
While I walked, I fully felt the texture of my angst and recognized that I needed something to pull me out of this state. But what was it? I reached for my most trusty inner resource – I call her “Inner Mama”. Inner Mama says “There, there, my love. Everything is alright. Lean back into me and rest here. There’s nothing to do and nothing to prove. I love you.” Inner Mama is awesome, right?
But that wasn’t the quality I needed in that moment. I needed faith that I could do this. I needed encouragement to keep going. When I reached for that inner resource, I found two options: “Drill Sergeant” and “Soccer Dad”. Drill Sergeant is tense and terse, and I certainly didn’t need more of that. Soccer Dad was all “You’ve got this! Go get ‘em champ!” Nauseatingly cheery. I needed grounding. I needed “Loving Father”. Loving Father would say “My love…You’ve got this, and I’ve got you. You can do this. I believe in you. Now take my hand, and let’s go.” Recognizing the need to cultivate this inner quality sparked a still-unfolding journey to developing my inner masculine, which has sparked healing in my relationships with men.
Lesson #3: We are who we’ve been waiting for
There is, within all of us, the ability to cultivate the qualities we need to navigate life’s challenges. It’s called growth, and life is constantly giving us opportunities for it. As adults, expecting someone else to bring the qualities we need for our own sense of inner security is not only childish, but it prevents us from actually growing and giving in the way we’re here to. Life loves us enough to grow us up, and the only way to receive that love is to see the incredible blessing in life’s challenges.
March 21st: Global Sisterhood Day
It happened! With the help of a small and devoted team, we created the first annual Global Sisterhood Day. Thousands of women from 75 countries participated, joining in hundreds of Sister Circles around the world. My team and I spent the day sharing stories that were rolling in, with tears of joy (and relief) rolling down our cheeks. It was one of the best days of my life.
Lesson #4: Sisterhood is here to stay
In working with women over the years, beginning with the first women’s circle I led in 2008, I’ve watched sisterhood go from something that was generally thought of as confusing (even scary), to something that’s now talked about in the mainstream and embraced more and more. Thank goodness. Because as women gather, beyond perceived barriers of age, race or “class”, to really listen to one another, we create a force of love that is exactly what the world needs. Today. Forever.
April 23rd: Serenaded by Michael Franti
On our mastermind retreat in Bali, we were staying at a gorgeous retreat center owned by the musician, Michael Franti. Knowing his music, I trusted that the hotel staff would be pouring love in every detail of our retreat experience, and that trust turned out to be well-founded. What I didn’t plan on was that on one of our evening excursions to a local family’s home for a traditional Balinese meal, Michael would show up and give our little group a private performance. We danced. We cried. It was epic.
Lesson #5: When you’re in alignment, life conspires
Let me be clear: Just because we’re in alignment, doesn’t mean everything will be “perfect” and easy. But life will send us cosmic winks, if we’re open to seeing them. I love to perceive these moments of pure unorchestrated magic (like, he just happened to be in Bali that day, and was leaving the next), as life’s pom-pom’d cheerleaders saying “Yes! Keep going!” Notice where life seems to be conspiring to bring you gifts, and keep going…
May 15th: Alone (kind of)
I flew across the country and hopped on a bus at New York’s Penn Station, bound for Stockbridge, MA. I was headed to Kripalu retreat center for a retreat with the wise and wonderful Tara Brach. From the bus, there was a shuttle. On the shuttle, I opened my phone to do one last check on the business before going offline for 5 days. Right there, at the top of my inbox, was this: “We regret to inform you that Tara Brach is unable to teach at Kripalu this weekend…” Bummed, but still excited for unexpected adventure, I decided to spend the weekend at Kripalu with no agenda. Just me, nature, and desire.
Lesson #6: I enjoy my own company
Over the past few years, I’ve been enjoying being alone more and more, but this trip sealed the deal. I realized that I not only like my own company, I love my own company. Loving and caring for myself, and feeling loved and cared for by myself, feels good. When we’ve established ourselves in the flow of giving and receiving, we are truly the lover and the beloved.
May 31st: Australia for my birthday
“Babe, I just realized I’m booked for a speaking engagement in Australia over your birthday. So…want to go to Australia?” Yes. We took a whirlwind 3-day trip to the Gold Coast and flew first class, which honestly could be its own lesson (Qantas first class is amazing), but I digress… When I woke up in Australia on the morning of my birthday, I wrote a list of all of the energy leaks in my life…necessary conversations, apologies and agreements. Sitting poolside at our hotel, I set out to repair each and every one of those leaks, taking the critical first steps in communication. The whole exercise took me about an hour, and in the end, I had so much energy and felt so much relief that my whole day felt more beautiful. It was the greatest birthday gift I could’ve given myself.
Lesson #7: Don’t let leaks go unchecked
Our hearts and lives are much more intricate than a set of steel pipes, and yet if we had a leaky pipe in our house, we’d get it fixed right away. Why? Because we know if we didn’t, we’d eventually have a much bigger problem than a little water on the floor. Such is life. Don’t fix those little energy now, and you’re setting yourself up for a bigger mess later – relationship ruptures, chronic health conditions, financial crisis. Do damage repair now, as an act of gratitude for the opportunity to do it.
August 2nd: Dying
Lying on the floor with my eyes closed, she pulled the death shroud over my body. As I allowed my breaths to become more and more shallow, more inward, I allowed my awareness to move into the tiniest speck of light behind my heart, then imagined that light dimming. This morbid sounding ritual was simply an experience of allowing myself to simulate the moment of death, so that I would no longer fear it. I don’t want to die anytime soon, but one day my body will die. I don’t want to waste my energy fighting against or fearing that moment. I want to give my energy to living fully into each moment.
Lesson #8: Death is.
Relationships end. Businesses transition. Illusions die. People and pets die. Death simply is. And sometimes these deaths bring sadness, sometimes pain, sometimes anger, sometimes relief. Sometimes they bring all of those emotions in one hour. When we allow “deaths” to be what they are, without trying to feel differently and without contracting stories of right or wrong around them, we create space between breaths. Let it be. Death is. Let go…
September 1st: Necker Island
One of my few yearly pilgrimages for the last few years is to Burning Man – the one place on earth where everything is free, even love. The first time I went, I vowed I’d never miss a year. But this year, I wasn’t feeling the pull. There was no specific reason not to go, but I also wasn’t feeling especially compelled to go. So when my man invited me to Necker Island on the same week, it was an easy yes.
Lesson #9: Trust the tug
Because it’ll take you exactly where you’re meant to be.
Like anyone who’s been in love, I have a love story, and in ways it’s beautiful and in others it’s tragic. Exactly how love stories go. In late October, ours took a turn, and made a transition. It’s fair to say that I was devastated. The day after we broke up, on my way back to the city from spending the night with a girlfriend, I was staring at the ceiling of the taxi. I felt such grief. Such despair. In the darkness of my experience, I could find no light – nothing to lean towards, nothing to hold on to. Wanting to find a glimmer of light, I asked myself, “What do I know to be true?” My answer: “I know I am a woman who will eventually find the gold at the heart of this experience. I will survive it, and I will grow from it.”
Lesson #10: “What do I know to be true?”
Asked sincerely, with a focus on mining for a truth that bears depth and wisdom, this question brings the kind of salvation that weary hearts yearn for. It’s not in the circumstances, it’s in the perspectives, that life becomes truly beautiful…even in the pit of heartbreak.
November 13th: Choosing cruising
Just before I was scheduled to go on an incredible weekend cruise with a few thousand global game-changers (pinch me!), I realized that I’d lost my Green Card, which I can’t leave the US without, if I actually want to be let back in. Since we were traveling into international waters, there was no way for me to travel without it. I started the process to get a new one, but the timeline seemed dicey. I considered cancelling my trip…but I realized how much I wanted to go. I kept calling, researching, and finally figured out how to speed up the process. The cruise was an absolute highlight of the year, and was totally worth the effort to get there.
Lesson #11: Loss (or threat of loss) really shows us what we want
Really, that goes without saying. But what if we actually lived with a presence to the possibility that it could all go away at any moment? Not so that we’d be fear of loss, but in gratitude for what we have. Like recognizing that death simply IS opens the doors to living fully, recognizing that everything is impermanent can help us appreciate it while it’s here.
November 21st: Daisy May
Right before we separated, my ex adopted a dog and we started raising her, together. When we separated, it was clear that our travel schedules and healing meant that it was better for everyone if I started the process of letting go of her being in my life. Oof. Anyone who’s ever loved an animal knows how intense this was. After getting past the initial impact of the separation, then beginning the mourning process, it became clear to me that I had a doggie-shaped space in my life. I wanted to find my forever pup.
Lesson #12: Loving an animal is a true gift
I grew up with cats who were much more like reluctant roommates than fuzzy best friends. No cuddling, just clawing. No playing, just preying. Not exactly the Norman Rockwell pet experience. Falling in love with my partner’s pup, then Daisy May, has been one of the greatest joys of my life. The biggest surprise has been the joy that comes with the unselfishness of prioritizing their well-being into my life.
December 21st: Asking for help
When we launched Global Sisterhood Day in 2015, I paid for it entirely out-of-pocket. It was worth every penny, but as we were beginning to plan for 2016, I knew it was time to let go (see lesson #1) and ask for help. It took me quite a bit of internal coaxing to pull the trigger. “What if people don’t think it’s a worthy cause?” “What if we don’t raise enough money?” But tearing a page out of Amanda Palmer’s book, I decided to take the leap and just.ask. And so far, it’s working…
Lesson #13: People want to help
We don’t own causes. Global Sisterhood Day is not mine, it’s ours. Not everyone is going to care and not everyone is going to be able to contribute, and that’s okay. I’m still going to ask. Invite. Receive. And through that, I become a clearer channel for serving the cause. When people care, they want to help. We just have to give them a chance.
LESSON OF THE YEAR
Beyond the “good” and the “bad” of life – even beyond our perception of it – true devotion arises in the willingness and ability to truly be okay, regardless of what comes our way. It’s not to say that we won’t feel it all, sometimes unbridled pleasure, and sometimes contracted despair. But to be devoted to experiencing the truth of love in each moment…it’s everything. And within that devotion, there’s inherently a willingness to feel it all, because we know that nothing will truly take us down. At least, not for long. And to know that is to know ourselves. And to know ourselves is to know love.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” – C.S. Lewis
DO THIS NOW:
Take 45 minutes and curl up with some tea or wine. Go through your calendar and write down your most memorable moments of last year and what empowering lessons you can take with you into the new year.
—> In the comments, I’d love for you to share some of your best lessons from your brightest and darkest moments of last year.