You know how some days just come and go and we cannot really pinpoint anything major that happened between the time we woke up and the time we went to bed?
And then there are other days.
Days upon which we can look back and say: Yup, that's when things shifted. Sometimes, we can even identify the exact second the shift happened, the moment that will forever define Before ... and After.
Eight years ago today, May 22, 2011, contained one of these Defining Moments.
It had started the night before. A burgeoning sense of unease, a slight but sickening sense of "non-belonging."
My kids were getting older, and I could feel their need for me melt a little more each day; my then partner had recently moved two hours away, and there was a "thing" growing inside of me: a shapeless yet firm "thing" that made me ache for a sense of belonging, while pointing to the places where it was lacking.
And yet, that morning was to be a rich one as I would drive to the airport to hold my daughter as she returned from a year in Brazil and then make my way to another terminal and greet a close friend who was also coming back from a special trip. I would drive him to his home in Seattle, and my daughter would spend a few hours with her dad while I made my way back home to the island. All good stuff.
Except for "the thing."
The Thing was kind enough to be quiet as I met my daughter at the gate and gave her a long, long hug. It managed to be polite enough as I found the other gate and met my friend. Once in the car and before we reached the parking lot, it began to stir. By the time we got to the highway, there was no pretending. I needed... something. And I needed it quick. I explained what was happening to my friend, and he listened. Community, he said. I was craving Community.
Having a name for it, I was now ready to fix it, to add what I saw as a painfully missing piece. "How about we get a big house in Seattle, and you move into it, and we invite a few other people, and I live there every other week when my kids are with their dad?"
He looked at me. I took it as encouragement: "Let's go look for a house right now. Today!" Hearing the desperation in my voice was enough to clue me into the fact that I was moving too fast. As I dropped him off at his house, he told me that "we should think about it," and hugged me goodbye a little longer than usual.
I drove on, The Thing now fully awake - and empowered.
What happened next fed me a dose of Compassion that is lasting me to this day and I hope will for life.
A bridge. I was to drive over a tall bridge in order to get to the other side of a lake. I entered the bridge, and then BAM... some sort of awareness took me over. A strong, all-powerful knowing that unless I talked to myself constantly until I reached the other side, unless I stayed focused on my driving in an almost trance-like way... I may try to drive my car off the shoulder of the bridge and possibly tumble down to the water.
I did. I talked to myself the whole way, one yard at a time, one hundred percent present, and holding the steering wheel as though my life depended on it. Which it perhaps did.
Then I slowly parked my car, took the key out of the ignition, and allowed myself a big, long sob.
Once emptied of all crackly and unexamined bits of angst, I made a call and told a close friend that I was going to go home and open a Center of some sort. What sort? I did not know yet. But a Center for sure. A container for the Community I so desperately needed.
And so I did. Within weeks, the doors to The Center for Happiness opened.
The first few months were a little hiccupy as The Center and I "courted" each other, trying to figure out what it was we wanted our relationship to be. By December it was starting to gel nicely, I could see a few pebbles marking the way, and the Essence of Community was oozing from all the pores of the Ballroom 100-year-old floor.
Almost eight years later, I look back at that time and marvel at the richness of all the friendships, local and global projects, laughter, tears, goodness and yes, COMMUNITY that continue to be created from its buttery yellow walls.
In the rearview mirror, it makes sense.
Even my once in a lifetime bridge moment makes sense. Just as I hope to never feel this way again (and had never before), I believe that I needed this level of intensity in order to take action, an action that seemed quite "unreasonable" at the time, and continue to feel unreasonable for several years.
Today, as I sit in the Ballroom writing this to you, as I get ready to celebrate seven years of the now international Happiness Sprinkling Project and the beautiful online Gratitude Community, as I put out yet one more bowl of dark chocolate for tonight's yoga class - I know that this is just the way it is supposed to be.
And I invite YOU to join me in listening to our deep yearnings, to the voices that tell us that we are summoned, that we have a job to do - even though it may not even have a name yet and may not make any sense on paper. I invite you to hold on to that steering wheel when you cross that bridge and to follow the pebbles. I invite you to honor your very own Defining Moments.
For those of you who have loved the Center and let it love you for all these years, thank you for creating it, and continuing to create it with me. For those of you who are far away or maybe have just never climbed up the 55 stairs up to the Ballroom, I very much hope that our paths will cross someday.
Some of you may have heard me talk about Pop Quizzes.
What I mean by that is these little "tests" that show up regarding whatever Life Curriculum we might currently be working on. They stick their heads out and check in with us to see how we are doing. They are usually not crazy loud or super dramatic but for sure, we notice them. They give us a chance to do things differently than we might have in the past (thus showing us where some growth has happened), they give us a chance to deepen the practice of a particular tool and in doing so gain more confidence is our ability to use it, they give us a chance to navigate Life in a more authentic and quietly powerful way.
Such a Quiz arrived at my doorstep yesterday, minutes before I was about to teach my monthly Happiness School class.
Let me start by saying that it was not one bit comfortable. They usually aren't.
A quick phone call to a friend who knows me well helped me get grounded as I was able to hear myself clarify my values while she held a safe space for me. That's always so delicious and reassuring.
At 6 am today, my Morning Pages held more of my words and thoughts and I could start to feel the fog lifting, the stories losing importance, and my ME-ness starting to emerge. A sense of urgency melted too, and I was left with gratitude for what was to come, some curiosity about how it would play out, and a strong feeling that I could do this, and would, using just the right tools from my toolbox and following the perfect pebbles which I could already see were sprinkled on the path.
Almost 24 hours later, I find myself peacefully sitting at my little Life Desk, glad that I am being pulled in for this Pop Quiz (actually, I have had a nice bouquet of them lately) and looking forward to navigating what looks like a list of multiple choice questions.
I think I may pass this one.
Today, I invite you to recognize these Pop Quizzes and to open the door to them, maybe even offer them a cup of tea. I invite you to trust that in your infinite wisdom, you actually scheduled these in order to remind you of how much you have grown - and give you an opportunity to get to the other side, the next level. To heal, too.
Make that call to a friend who really knows you.
Empty the stories onto the paper.
Look for the pebbles that will guide you just where you need to go.
Then let in the joy of having made it to the other side, authentically YOU.
Until the next one comes along.
We've got this.
At a cardiology appointment last week.
I am there for support. To soothe nerves, take notes, hold a hand and ask cool headed questions.
As we enter the waiting room, I can feel my own heart shrink around the edges. Nice room, art on the walls, many chairs, tall check-in counters. The kind that separates elegantly the well from the not-so-well..
We find our spot with one empty seat on each side of us and we get settled for what could be a long-ish wait.
I watch people enter the room, make their way to the tall counters then look for their own waiting spot.
An older woman walks in pushing a walker. She looks around the room, seeming a little lost, and decides on a chair a few feet from us. She makes her way there, sits down with a sigh and I find myself unable to stop staring.
She looks scared out of her wits. Her right hand is shaking. Her eyes are darting from left to right to left.
Pretty soon an older gentleman arrives, picks up some paperwork at the desk, and delivers them to her. She shakes her head and pleads with him: "I don't want to fill out any more forms." "I know you don't sweetheart. But we have to." Looking exhausted, he sits on the walker and starts to shuffle the papers, maybe considering filling them out himself.
My mind is having a talk with my heart. My heart says "Get your butt off your chair and walk to her." My mind feigns outrage and retorts: "and then what? Do you think you can do something about this? Who do you think you are?"
My heart wins and my feet make their way right next to her. To her left.
Of course, I don't have a plan and my mind is having a good time with it all, rolling its little eyes.
So my heart takes over and makes me bend down and ask the woman if it would be okay for me to touch her. Will she think I am deranged? Touch her how? I don't even know the answer to that.
She nods and whispers "Yes please."
I place one hand on her back and one on her left arm. I don't move either hand, but instead, just settle right there. Within less than five seconds, I feel her relax from the inside out as though something rigid had suddenly melted. Her right hand is steadily on the arm of the chair. No more shaking.
Feeling the same softening inside of me (my mind seems to have gone out on an errand), I whisper to her that it's going to be okay. I say it once more.
I see her husband watching us and looking relieved.
When the nurse calls out her name, all three of us look up and they begin their trek to the examination room where someone, something, awaits them. As they walk away, she thanks me quietly, he thanks me quietly. I walk back to my chair.
So little happened. And so much happened.
No money was spent, no special skills were used. We were together for less than 4 minutes.
And yet. Yet, I truly believe that they walked into the exam room much calmer, much more available to receive whatever was going to be needed of them.
Which of course, planted an idea in my head: Waiting Room Hosts and Hostesses. Someone whose job would be solely to welcome and nurture patients and their families before big appointments. I see them in cardiology offices, cancer wings, surgery departments, children hospitals (oh yes, in children's hospitals).
Offer a cup of tea, a few seconds of eye contact, possibly a hand on the back if welcome, a genuine, non-medical question... some human connection.
Medical waiting rooms are scary, sometimes lonely places. We might be at our most vulnerable, whether we are the patient or the support person - the one who feels as though their heart walks out of their own body.
Chances are, we will all spend a few minutes in these environments. Or someone we love will. All of us.
Wouldn't it be nice to receive some personal kindness, during these moments? Some reassurance?
So yes, that's my big idea today. I am not sure what happens next, but I would love to read what you think about it.
Today, I invite you to dare to send your mind on a little walk when your heart asks to be the boss for a bit. I invite you to risk being turned down or worse, ridiculed when you know that doing nothing would be cutting off a part of you.
I invite you to write back to me and let me know your thoughts about this idea that has been turning round and round in my head.
Wishing you a lovely day,
"Every time I read your blog I am so profoundly happy I did. The truth you speak is just mindboggling. The real, real voice you have. It makes me almost crazy how much I love your words and your way of telling stories that cut to the quick- and I never have the words to really say how much this all means to me.
Thank you for digging in there and finding the gems of wisdom and then just sharing them out as if there's an endless supply ... which with you, there is."
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