How We Get Stronger.

Sarah Entrup says, “Getting stronger is a big deal. It takes effort. It takes work. You have to get stronger than your impulse to dive into a ditch.”

Sh*t! I had no idea how powerful my urge to swerve into ditches is. Not one ditch, because baby, I can pass up one, two, three, fourteen ditches in a row. Then, bam!

Like I haven’t done an ounce of work, I get a case of the f*ck-its so bad death invites. Why wouldn’t it? That’s where too many of my loved ones live. I want to go—into that ditch.

No, this isn’t a note about suicide. This is about the realization that yes, we’ve done a buttload of work, but when the call to death and darkness has haunted since childhood, in between seasons of success and joy, the demand for strength Sarah speaks of is as mighty as a Mt. Everest climb.

How strong is our impulse to dive verses how strong is it to climb?

I’m a Scorpio. I’ve gone through metamorphosis a multitude of times. Most of us have or we wouldn’t be here.

Today, I take to heart Sarah’s words about the requirement of strength. I let the idea settle in where the darkness hides in my history and subconscious.

We can’t control everything in our lives. But, I’m willing to take responsibility for the ditches I dove into—willingly, shamefully, secretly, fully. Ouch.

I reclaim my power to rise, not in the way I fantasize—Lalala, livin’ in the love and light!

In this moment, I acknowledge my ability to get stronger with daily practice.

We must make a commitment to ourselves. We start by refuting the claim: “I tried so hard and nothing works!”

We’re trying, and many things are working in our lives if we can just shift ever so slightly to see some beauty, some progress, some good amid the ridiculous chaos and bullsh*t. It’s there, but so are we—planted in this brutiful moment in history.

Sometimes falling apart, individually or as a society, is the path to getting stronger.

We’re aligning with truth and acknowledging lies—the ones we told ourselves and the ones we pretended to believe from others. We set our sights anew.

Now, we see the ditches like I learned to see and avoid the bastards and bad boys while the seduction still kisses me with temptation.

I make new choices, better choices. And, I bet you do, too.

The Third Thing, an Alternative to the Self-Help Madness.

“The gift of it is I’m here like I’ve never been here before.” ~ Sarah Entrup

One of the best pieces of advice my stepmother gave me is “It’s not always one or the other; sometimes it’s both.”

However, when it comes to navigating life from where I stand now, as a mid-50s female in the United States of America, trying to find my footing, I need something more.

Enter Sarah Entrup and Free the She. Like me, Sarah once danced in the self-help, self-improvement, you’re-not-good-enough-yet arena. It’s exhilarating and oh-so tiring.

She also experienced the “love and light” communities. Maybe you’ve tried those methods, too. Aren’t we all seeking ways to care for ourselves and make a difference in the world?

In my 20s and 30s, I loaded my toolbox with Tony Robbins-type techniques. They served me well—back then. I strove for positivity and shunned negativity with transformational vocabulary and state changing. I even walked across 40 feet of hot burning coals and leapt from atop a 50-foot telephone pole. But, the system focused on getting something over there, out in the beyond, like the way a man goes hunting.

As I matured, I craved peace in my heart and didn’t want to chase anymore. “Love and light” caught my attention like a butterfly passing, but I couldn’t capture it. It lacked substance.

With Sarah, I learned there’s a third thing, a middle path. What the hell is that? It’s a feminine, powerful way of entering authentic darkness for the sake of transmutation, grounding in rather than barreling out.

Transmutation is a word born for these times we’re in, in whatever bodies and situations we exist. No denial. No bullshit. And, best of all, not an outgrowth of the overgrown patriarchy.

Free the She meditations and practices open the door for non-airy-fairy enlightenment.

Of course, it still requires work. To become the women we were born to be demands showing up consistently. And when we don’t, we find an open invitation to come back. Come back to our bodies and return to our feminine knowing.

I remember my own solid foundation exists between my legs. What did I just say? Yeah, it’s like that. Divine.

Free the She combines Kundalini yoga, meditation, and energy work with the emphasis on fully empowering every woman who’s ready for something more, even if she doesn’t know what that is.

It’s the third thing, the middle path that no man, no child, no job, and no money can give us. Haven’t we tried those?

The third thing calls us to rise from within, rather than chasing something outside.

It’s saying me too if that’s true, but not stopping in the despair. Not lashing out but aligning and embodying ourselves as strength and possibility in the face of individual and collective imperfection.  

My words can’t tell you what freeing the she within you feels like. But, if you ever tasted the rush of meeting goals and going for it or the hope of affirmation, this is to that like a blazing sky of stars is to the flashlight on your cell phone.

The third thing unties us from old societal norms, which were never created by or for women. I love the way Sarah unites women as a catalyst for change within ourselves and our communities.

For me, it’s not one or the other, or even both. It’s all of it and none of it. I set aside my old tools and rules created by others.

I find the middle path, my path.  Sarah shows me the third thing and it’s me. I’m not awakening a giant. I’m coming into my own—as a queen.

A Dad, a Daughter, & a Bike.

I was around 11, hanging out in downtown Los Alamos, NM. On my way to Pizza Hut, I spotted a bike in the front window of Strings & Spokes. That bike spoke to me. It sung to me and wooed me. This wasn’t just any bike. It was my bike. I decided I had to have it, in the way a young girl does with fierce determination.

That night, I told my dad about it. “It’s a mini ten-speed! It fits me! It’s blue, but not just any blue!”

As if not understanding the importance of color, my dad asked me what brand this bike was. I didn’t know how to pronounce it, but I knew how to spell it: G-i-t-a-n-e.

Really, in my mind it was: A-L-I-C-E.

“Well, we can go take a look on Saturday,” he said. 

I assumed he was just trying to appease me. I knew he had no intention of buying the bike, but he had to! I longed for that bike like a new best friend. I’d never been blessed with a brand-new, out-of-this-world bike that was my size. I felt destined to be on that blue baby.

While waiting for Saturday to arrive, I took three trips downtown (probably hitch-hiked because that was the town and the times we lived in). I said I was going to Pizza Hut but found myself window gazing and daydreaming in front of Strings & Spokes like it was my elementary happy hour.

On the Saturday that stands out, my dad said, “Let’s go see this bike.” He asked the salesman a barrage of engineer, Consumer-Reports, guarantee-type questions while I feigned patience.

My dad said, “Alice, that’s a lot of money.” I knew it! Here we go!

Then, to my surprise, he said, “Tell you what. I’ll pay for half, but you’ll have to earn the other half.”

What a perfect moment. His parental direction aligned with my determination. We cut a deal. With money from my paper routes, I matched my dad, and the blue baby came home with me. I rode her to freedom (my mom’s house, East Park swimming pool, downtown, friends’ houses, and T, G, & Y.).

I haven’t thought about that for decades. How could I forget such a sweet memory? And how did it arise anew in me?

Well, that’s another chapter. I’m now in my mid-50s and my dad’s in his 80s, although still an avid biker. By avid, I mean he and my stepmom road their bikes from Virginia to Portland, spinning those wheels and sitting on those seats every day for three months.

Granted, that’s been many years. Still, his 80th birthday bash included several group rides in Santa Fe and Taos. My parents dedicated an area in their home for bicycles. As they upgraded to the latest technology, they kept their old bikes for visitors. My dad maintained a small workshop for the bikes, where he spent many late nights working on them for family and friends to ride safely.

Recently, my parents made the move from their sprawling home to an apartment. They gave possessions away to people who could use them. Uh, I could use a bike.

They agreed. They’d give me one of my stepmom’s old bikes. Two challenges arose. First, my dad (who I may take after) is a professional procrastinator and perfectionist in areas such as this. He asked which tires I wanted on it—the road or mountain? Did I have a helmet? Did I think my new male friend still wanted to go bike riding with me?

Like when I was a girl, I practiced patience and pressed down my giddiness. My stepmom suggested I keep asking and give my dad a deadline. She feared he’d never get the bicycle to me in Ohio from New Mexico. Ah, shipping, challenge number two.

I had an idea. (I’m getting a bike!)I asked my dad if when they flew to Michigan to visit their first great grandbaby, could they check the bike?

It sounded like a stretch. He wasn’t sure he’d have time to get it ready and then he had to get the right box and he didn’t know the airline regulations…

Who knows how many nights he stayed up beforehand making sure the bike would be in working order for the adoption. I can safely assume he gave up plenty of sleep for me, as is his tendency when it comes to fixing ski bindings or car engines or computers.

He called me on his way to the airport to say he’d gotten the bike apart and in the box. He headed to the airport early, assuming the airline would force him to return it to the car, but he’d try. I faithfully told him it would be fine, like when I told him I’d earn my half of the money.

My bike is on its way! So, on the Michigan family visit, my dad spent much of two days in my nephew’s garage putting the bike together, riding, retesting, and perfecting the gears and safety.

All this—not just giving me the bike but staying up all night to pack it in that box, going to buy a tool he has at home but forgot, putting the parts together, making sure it’s just right, asking me to hang out and talk with him in the garage even though he needed to concentrate—hit me hard.

Gratitude engulfed me. This is one of the best ways my dad shows love. I let that settle into my heart like a favorite meal in my belly. I felt full and nourished.

On Sunday, I got to ride my bike and practice shifting. I need practice.

This is a special bike. My dad researched, bought the Tomac 98 Special Black frame and other high-end parts, and built it with love for my stepmom. It’s the bike she let me ride when I visited. I rode their generosity. And not just me. Dozens of people have ridden the bike which now belongs to me. It carries a legacy of hospitality and shared memories.

Yet, once I got it home, I resisted riding, like joy I refused to unpack. My dog recently died and what I really wanted was to go for a walk in the forest with her. Plus, it rained so often. And, I wanted to ride with my sister, but her bike is at her boyfriend’s.

As Father’s Day neared, I knew I’d call my dad and he’d ask if I enjoyed riding. Someone suggested I lie. Uh, no.

Yesterday, before the rain came, I strapped on the helmet, filled up my water bottle, and wheeled away in search of a trail my neighbor told me about. I couldn’t find it.

I found something better: exhilaration, the thrill of riding a bike down a random road, tires spinning, wind blowing against my body housed in a florescent-yellow shirt with pockets on the back. I rode in circles and down neighborhood streets I never noticed, all with a smile on my face that almost felt foreign. But, it was mine. I recognized it from when I was a girl.   

It’s not the same transportation freedom I tasted as a kid, but instead a freeing of something inside that through life got tied a little too tight. I loosened up. I laughed.

My dad (and stepmom) gave me a bike and I rode it home to myself.

Conversation with my Younger Self.

I’m calling on my 28-year-old self, the one who rose at 5 am, trained, and ran the Chicago Marathon.

The one who travelled solo, wore power suits, and slept with married men.

I’m not calling on her morals. I’m calling on her fearlessness, her fire, and maybe even a bit of her recklessness.

Here’s what I really want from that girl (and she was just a girl): her life force energy.

The kind that had been whittled hot every time someone belittled her. The life force energy that allowed her to practice CANI (constant and never-ending improvement) while denying bad in the world and in her wake.

It was the 80s and I was all in. I knew how to do my hair and carry my briefcase. I walked into meetings with old white men and warned them not to call me honey or baby, “unless you’re saying that to Bob or Nick or Michael.”

I was my mother’s daughter and she stood proud.

I want to be the woman I was before my mother died and I opened my eyes to the suffering of so many. Before then, I didn’t know 1:4 people at the mall, on highways, at my favorite restaurants, face cancer.

I felt my loss compounded by the collective. The knowingness of cancer’s prevalence and pain pushed on my heart, but I bounced.

Over the years, lessons and decades weigh me down like a 50-pound backpack I don’t want to carry anymore. It’s not just cancer, but the underbelly of everything.

We’ve been washed in vulnerability and femininity, but also burned in the fires of a heartbreaking society while singed by individual and collective grief.

Unbreakable I once called myself. And I believed it. Where is she?

Now, I call on my 28-year-old fierce, tenacious, that won’t take me down, badass self.

At 28, being true to myself was all I had to do.

That’s all you need to do now, I hear her say.

I see you. Don’t claim the collective shattering as your excuse for not living full.

You called on me. Here I am. Now, get the f*ck up! You think I didn’t want to die?

Don’t forget the chapters I skipped by playing small.

The key is never stay down too long. Yes, cry. Heal the wounds I ignored.

But know this: being true to yourself—even at your age—is the most important rule.

It’s just that now you know being true to yourself involves being of benefit to others. Even when that benefit is simply your presence, just being there. I didn’t know that at 28.

Sometimes you just need to sit with yourself. Other times, you need to get over yourself!

There’s work to be done. You’re doing what I always wanted and never had the courage to do, even at fierce 28.

I always wanted to be a writer. You’re doing that, even when you’re procrastinating or believe you’re doing it poorly.

Now, you’re surprised that might not be enough? Sh*t! Nothing’s ever enough for us!

Hello, Scorpio! Transformation is our game.

Get back in there. You’re making me proud with all this expansion and compassion.

You just need to infuse passion into your actions. It’s in you. It never left.

I can’t return to you something I never took, something you’ve always had.

The life force energy you yearn for asks only that you stoke it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 28 or 55. Be f*cking alive!

Dedicated to the Darkness in all Women. And the Light.

“If you look at the turbulent waters of a brook, the frantic gyrations of storm clouds, or the jagged zigzag of a bolt of lightning, nature seems full of chaos. Yet chaos theorists find within the complexities of the natural world a hidden order, unseen patterns that reveal orderliness and symmetry underlying what seems like random confusion.” ~ Tara Bennet-Goleman, Emotional Alchemy

Dear Darkness, Resistance, and Suicidal Tendencies,

You don’t own me. We’re not a team. We’re not a we. You’re a force of duality, nature, humanity, even my fears and insecurities, but not my identity.

Sure, I let you in. Hey, I let handymen into my home, but they’re not so naïve as to believe they live there.

Similarly, you’re visitors. Like plumbers, you help me face some crap.

Don’t try settling in or seducing me into believing we were born to be together. I’m tethered to something greater. I’m one with the Creator. I’m the creatrix (woman).

I create change. It’s a new day, like the old days. Women call up earth energy and bring down the cosmic. Our colors dazzle you, Darkness.

Resistance, you’re mud under the lotus. We are the lotuses.

All of you help us grow into our highest, fullest, most radiant selves.

You challenge but can’t defeat us any more than childhood or adolescence could.

We wrestle with you to perfect our moves. No, we don’t deny you or pretend you lack power.

However, have you witnessed the power of a woman when she screams and pushes life through her? What a glorious mess!

It’s not just babies being born anymore. It’s movements, communities, political careers, and voices unheard for too many years.

I’m with them. I’m a woman, born to create. I give birth to words.

I’m a Scorpio, given to transformation. I’ll walk with you a thousand times, Darkness. I’ll fly into the fire and forge a new reality, eat poison, and rise full in my feminine energy.

I see you guys laughing in the corner as you watch me cry, fight against, and then succumb to surrender.

You think you’re in control. Until the light turns on. Bye-bye, Darkness.

Resistance ignites persistence. Suicidal tendencies, you know we’re NEVER going your way. Your stalking me doesn’t make me inclined to marry you. I’ve made vows with life.

We all have. Women made vows with life. So, we dance in circles under full moons.

We were made for this world, these times, these forces.

We are here. Watch us glow.

Grief Day 1: Phoenix.

I had to have my pal Phoenix put down. I’m still in shock. The house feels empty. I’m the only one here. It’s been Phoenix and me for so long.

Anyone can own a dog, but sometimes a bond beyond explanation is born between person and dog. It’s obvious good fortune, a gift, a blessing. God’s knowing.

Of all the impossible and unforeseeable twists and turns that had to occur—me coming upon a desire for a puppy at the time Phoenix arrived in the world, locating her through my neighbor whose cousin bred Labs, and having her brought home when I told my then-husband to get the other pup—sings of synchronicity.

Destiny delivered a special soul in a Black Lab body to partner with me on my journey.

Love was Phoenix’s mission; I was her assignment.

She loved life, chasing balls, hanging out on the deck, walking in the woods, greeting neighbors, and spreading joy.

One neighbor often hollered, “Here comes Phoenix, happiest dog in the world!”

Phoenix was partial to her own kind when it came to dogs. Labs had an automatic in.

She loved most people but picked her favorites: like Carol, who connected with Phoenix on a trip to the beach in NC and her husband Pete, who Phoenix took to like a long-lost father, and Wayne, who Phoenix walked beside—no leash required.

Phoenix chose me as her favorite person. If dogs got tattoos, Phoenix’s would’ve said, “I’m with her.” Her gentle, undivided loyalty poured forth pure and untainted by the world for 11 beautiful years.

I never celebrated her birthday before, but this year felt like a major milestone.

She seemed to know. She made it a good one, with a long walk three doors down to the neighbor’s coveted healthy, lush, green grass. She made herself at home as if the world belonged to her. I sat down and pretended too, practicing Reiki, prayers, and presence on someone else’s lawn.

It didn’t matter. We were grabbing the good, our final togetherness.

Before we had to let go.

Somehow, Phoenix’s body broke down. Maybe for the simple reason life doesn’t last forever and there are many paths to getting out. We all go out. Ugh! The fact I don’t like.

I don’t like saying goodbye; I’ll never see you again. The worst!

However, if I’m going to keep living, I ought to find a better way to go through grief. These are the things we think of on Grief, Day 1… Maybe we can logic our way around. HAHAHA!

My heart hurts. My baby’s gone. I miss her presence, energy, persistence, her black shadow everywhere. I miss her marble-brown eyes looking into my soul. I miss laughing when she ignores me and walks away to sh*t in the neighbor’s yard at 3 am.

Missing my companion makes me miss my dead boyfriend even more. Isn’t that crazy?

Maybe it’s because Phoenix was “just a dog” in the way that Kevin was “just a boyfriend.”

Selected by God—specifically for me—to know, experience, give, receive, sit in, and cherish divine love. Divine. Sacred. Special. Undeniable. Unforgettable. Irreplaceable.

Soul connection.

Now, Grief walks in. No handcuffs. No threats. No tricks.

She reaches out her hand in invitation: “Come, walk with me a while again. We’ll journey deep but rise like dolphins out of water. We’ll return with radiance polished like diamonds.”

Grief looks different.

“Yep,” she says. “That happens when you’ve been looking at me for a while.” Then, she asks, “Are you ready?”

It feels like I imagine when I was a soul and I said yes, I’m ready for a body, and when I was I was a baby, but before I’d been birthed or touched the earth, I said, yes, I’m ready to join the world.

We don’t know what we’re ready for! Can we prepare for Grief? No, preparation isn’t necessary, but it helps.

It helps to be grounded.

If you’re not grounded, Grief can f*ck you up as bad as your worst bad, bad girlfriend.

Grief can make you love her and let her move in, not just to your home, but your heart.

Grief can take over your emotions the way a spoiled girl takes over closets.

Ah, but Grief carries crazy-cool wisdom woven in her womb. She’ll crack you into something new. She’ll sprinkle enlightenment around you and teach you how to feel the music in your blood. Grief will caress you and honor your secrets. She’ll comfort you in memory and heighten your senses.

She’ll make you think you’re high or crazy, but you won’t care. Once you have the courage to climb in bed with Grief, you may resist the world the way a teenage girl falling for her first boyfriend resists her parents.

Because that’s where the juice of life lives—where the heart and soul dance with unbridled emotions and the mind is merely a witness, all previous lessons dismissed.

While some people run from Grief, knowing she’s a too-large wrestling partner for their likes, the brave lean in. But, the wise don’t get lost or stuck.

I intend to be wise this time. Grief smiles as she takes me for a little spin.

How I Make Peace with the Day my Mother Died.

“Everyone takes time to adjust to death, and being able to express your sadness is a sign of an emotionally balanced person.” ~ Alexandra Stoddard, The Art of the Possible

I prayed for peace. She snuck in at 8:02 am on Sunday, April 28, 2019.

Just as I realize her “random” presence, I remember: this is the day my mother died, in 1995. I think it happened at 10 am but have no idea if I’m right.

Here’s what I know for sure about the day my mother died:

Not long before the final event, my sister and I were leaving the hospital when a nurse stopped us and said: “If that was my mom, I wouldn’t leave now.” Her eyes implored us as much as her words.

We turned around.

We told our stepfather what the nurse said.

My stepfather and my sister stood on one side of my mother’s bed. I sat on a stool on the other side.

My brother awaited my mother on the other other side.

Somebody had to decide. It almost seemed a dream that my stepdad and sister deemed me worthy of, if nothing else, announcing what we’d all concluded.

In that moment, I wanted to be as brave as my mother believed me to be.

I clung to my faith. God, please help me. Is this the right thing?

A sweet ether of peace, like the kind that sweeps your heart when you see a rainbow or falling stars, tingled from my toes up through my body and back down, pouring peace into me like warm water, loosening my knotted brain and soothing my vulnerable heart.

I told the too-many people in white coats we were a go on the goodbye.

“You can turn it off now.” With the words barely spoken, panic hit.

Oh, God! Oh, God! I’m so scared! If I’m doing the right thing, show me again!

Fear settled. The soft tingles and warm wash spread through my body like butter melting on toast.

The machine to defy death was turned off. My mom stopped breathing.

The medical students and staff tried to smoothly step out, so they could go study and save living patients.

One nurse said, “You can stay in here as long as you like.” She said it as kindly as if she was saying, “It’s okay, honey. Your momma’s going to be alright.”

Her words landed absurd. My mom was gone. Just a body lay there.

My sister said she didn’t need to stay either.

As we walked down the hall, I noticed the staff who’d greeted us by name before now rendered speechless.

Except for one nurse who arrived from another floor, where my mom previously stayed.

I don’t remember this nurse’s name, but Nancy seems nice. Nancy said she felt it the moment my mother passed. She wanted to be sure to share my mother’s words, spoken in late night hours when we’d left her side.

Nancy told me my mom said she was proud of me for living life on my own terms and not letting society dictate my decisions, for being true to myself.

Nancy conveyed directly to my sister my mom’s calling her out as an extraordinary mother and woman. At least that’s what I remember.

I floated in a cloud of angel energy and having my mom’s love passed on to me through nurse Nancy. The medicine of her words entered me like the blood platelets injected into my mother’s veins.

The medicine gave me energy to move my feet, ride the elevator, and walk out of the hospital to be blasted with sweet New Mexican sunshine—bolder than death.

We walked the dirt path back to Casa Esperanza (House of Hope), where families of those fighting cancer stay. We’d be checking out.

A young couple walked in front of us, swinging their clasped hands. I thought they might start skipping. I thought about the rocks under my feet.

The lovers stopped and turned into each other for a kiss. Their voices sounded like a love song, although I couldn’t hear the words.

Their happiness hit me like a cold California ocean wave. My brain troubled with conflicting new files.

We sped past the couple, got back to the casa, and packed our bags. We cleaned the space where I learned to love Jay Leno and late nights laughing with my sister while our schedules overlapped on the roller coaster ride of my mom’s cancer.

Her cancer grew from grief that grabbed her five years prior, when her only son (our brother) died on a cool desert night in December on an Arizona highway that stretched to a place my mother would thereafter yearn to be—with her son.

She couldn’t find peace after my brother passed.

Today, 24 years after my mother’s death, she reminds me of what she didn’t know then.

It’s possible to let the peace sneak in.

I welcome it with the rustling of lime-green leaves on trees before me as I read The Granta Book of the Family and an essay called “The Business of Mourning.”

I sip coffee and think of mornings before my high school classes started and I stopped by my mom’s office for coffee.

Her eyes lit up at the sight of me

Peace. I can feel it still today.