Making Self-Love the Real Deal on Valentine’s Day

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Hey There.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m wearing red. Maybe you are, too. Maybe you’re thinking about flowers and chocolate and other things to celebrate this day.

Whether you’re partnered or not, I thought I’d share with you what happened last night in my world. For 7 years my friend Pooja Karina and I have offered a pre-Valentine’s event for local women called “Adoring the Beloved of Yourself.”

It’s so easy to assume that Valentine’s day is for people who have partners. That’s the obvious conclusion. But what I know is that what’s most important thing about this day is LOVE. Celebrating this holiday that someone put on the calendar in February is really an opportunity to celebrate self-love.

So last night, with 20 women sitting in a circle we talked about what it is to enjoy and really live in the pleasures that are here in the moment… instead of denying ourselves, overworking, and then vegging-out into all sorts of things that are just not that reverent to ourselves.

Looking ahead, these women each made a commitment for the next 40 days. Just as Lent is a set period of time for letting go of pleasures, this is a time for prioritizing the pleasures that help us to enjoy every moment… not the pleasures that we have to buy, but those here, now.

Women decided to commit to enjoying the bird song every morning, now that the birds are returning. Others chose to promise to touch their bodies first thing in the morning before they get out of bed, appreciating how well it works and how beautiful it feels.

There are so many ways to prioritize the beauty and pleasure of life instead of suffering, instead of slogging through and then not really giving yourself what you need.

So I invite you to do this, too… to make a commitment to yourself for the next period of time. Would you devote yourself to one practice that honors in the beauty and reverence for your body and senses enjoying present moment pleasure.

You can write your commitment below and share it with us. My promise is to put on the calendar a 5-minute break to dance every day, just to enjoy music. I love to dance. And I get busy and just don’t do it.

Let me know below what pleasure you’ll promise yourself this Valentine’s Day.

Enjoy.

15 Seconds of Pleasure

I don’t remember an autumn like this one. Every week, some new assault. History-making hurricanes, fires, and political revelations feel like the new normal. I feel the trauma that so many have suffered…and yet, there’s no time to collect myself. Life has never felt more full. You, too?

This fall, even our beautiful New England maples never turned their usual red. What is going on?

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Seems like a sign… so like every other animal right now, I know I’d better prepare for what’s to come.

Squirrels lay up a cache of acorns so they don’t starve. But when I’m so busy handling the day-to-day craziness, it’s easy to put off my own inner preparation, and just hope for the best.

But this year, I can tell already that I can’t afford my usual naive optimism. So I’m feathering my winter nest with warmth in every way possible.

But more than the usual self-care, it’s soul-care I know I need.

When I allow myself reverent care for my real needs I feel resilient and alive… and then almost magically, I’m most able to handle whatever comes my way.

Because I’ve never needed them more, I’ve come up with 3 essential — and amazingly simple — soul-caring shifts to help me thrive this winter.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing these and more through email and as mini-reminder videos on FB. Here’s the first… and stay tuned for more to come.

1. Take a 15 second Beauty Break
When my day is extra full, it can feel like I can’t spare the time for even a shower, much less a hike up my favorite trail or a long hot bath. But I know I can spare 15 seconds!

So as often as I remember, I just stop and notice what’s around me. Simple!!

There may not be red on the hillsides this year, but the blaze of yellow out my window is the gift in this moment that can take me out of my too-long to-do list and help me gain perspective. It’s also a real kind of joy that seems to almost magically shift my day.

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This winter I’ll be making it a point to really enjoy what’s there! What my senses can taste, touch, smell, feel, and smell turns out to be the very best tool to ease my perpetually overworked mind and bring joy to an otherwise exhausting day.

And here’s a little trick. I even put stickers up on my kitchen cabinets and bathroom mirror. They simply say, “STOP AND ENJOY.” It’s the conscious shift from struggle to joy that I know will make the real difference this winter. So I’d better build in the habit now.

Give this a try, right now. Look around. Spend 15 seconds — 3 slow breaths — really taking in whatever pleases you in this moment. Then take a minute to let us know how you feel afterward in the comments below.  What 15 second slice of joy did you allow yourself to enjoy today — and how are you changed?

Why I’m celebrating menopause this Independence Day

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Some mornings are hard.
No… some mornings are just plain terrible!
There’s no other way to put it.
And since my hormones started to change 10 years ago, it’s gotten a lot worse.

But there are saving graces to the rollercoaster that is menopause.
And discoveries that have made this time of my life
the most powerful and free.
These are what I want every menopausal woman to celebrate this Independence Day.
Here’s my story —

Too many mornings, before I even open my eyes
I’m assaulted by the what-I-didn’t-dos,
The should-have-saids,
Or the oh, SH*T, I-forgots.
Yesterday’s slip-ups are bad enough,
But by now, I have years of could-have-beens.

Add to that the might-bes, the what-ifs
and — starting a new business in my 50’s –
the I-CAN’T-figure-this-outs!, and the I-just-don’t-know-hows!

The worst part is that every one of these thoughts sounds like the Truth,
subtle murmurings of some oracle from Delphi.

It’s easy to get lost in it all,
Pull the sheets up over my head and try to ignore the crazies.
Or get lost in my phone to silence the ranting.

These morning terrors, as I call them, don’t make the list of the usual shifts during menopause.
But anxiety and depression are common to many women as their hormones change.

Without the heavy doses of estrogen to mitigate our minds’ obsessive tendencies, those first thoughts in the morning, or any other time, can easily turn toward fear and regret.

But miraculously,
most mornings my terrors let up if I just put my feet on the floor.
Then I can make sense of the diatribe
and get on with my day.

It’s taken me years of struggle to recognize what the mind does, unchecked.
And how to sort the helpful from just plain fiction.

But that can be tough when I’m sleep deprived and alarmed by frequent memory lapses.
Then it’s easy to fall victim to the fear…
“I just can’t keep it all together like I used to!”

And, Dear Women, there’s some truth to that.

But here’s why I think the insights gained in menopause have the potential to make this time the most powerful of my life, and perhaps yours, too:

  • Because I can’t abuse my body anymore and expect to shake it off, I’ve learned to listen inside and attend to myself in a way I never had before. Now that’s self-care.
  • Since I can’t count on my mind to pull up the name of someone I met at a party two years ago I have to be honest and say so. That’s something I wouldn’t dare have done at 30.
  • With anxiety greeting me many mornings, I’ve developed a series of first-thing-in-the-morning grounding practices in Nature, bringing me back to myself and truth every time.
  • Because I’d never manage to keep my busy life straight without it, I give up trying to do it all myself and have perfected a few systems to keep me straight. I could have used these tricks years ago.
  • Because my imperfections are getting pretty clear to me (and everyone else) I’ve had lots of opportunities to practice being more honest than ever with the world instead of hiding behind my shiny veneer of perfection. The pressure is off — and I can relax and have fun.
  • And, with less estrogen pulling for connection with everybody else, I don’t care as much about what people think of me. I’m content being me! Saying what I think! And getting out there to bring my gifts to the world, even if I mess up along the way. Now that’s a biggie!

​So, it’s your turn… What did I miss? How have you turned a menopause challenge into deep self-care? What wisdom have you gleaned from these changes? PLEASE share, Dear Sisters.

I believe menopause is meant to be a joyous maturing into ourselves. And in a culture that idolizes youth, we need all the reminders we can get – and give to one another. So share your hacks and let’s SING OUR PRAISES! ​

Do you need a Day of Grace?

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Monday holidays feel like gifts. Sometimes I’ve celebrated with friends or family, but last week I was obligation-free on Memorial Day, so I created a Day of Grace.

I still kept my first-thing-every-Monday appointment with Jane, my book editor/coach, but only because our regular time together is always more play than work. I’d have hated to miss it. And I’d scheduled one private, late morning counseling client because I simply adore her. There wasn’t anything else I’d rather be doing. Other than that, I used this “free day” for whatever showed up, whatever whim caught my fancy. Playing in the garden. An impromptu visit with a friend. Every moment designed for my absolute pleasure.

Turns out that my day was so spacious and restorative, I plan to do this again. I intend to make every Monday holiday a Day of Grace.

Grace because these days come as gifts from the calendar gods, without any planning to make room for them in my schedule.
Grace because I surrender to trusting my intuition to guide my choices.
Grace because I release planning and let timing flow as it will.
Grace because I grace myself with my moment-to-moment presence. No forcing. No over-trying. And definitely no rushing.

Ancient Taoist qi gong masters have observed for thousands of years that three behaviors are harmful to the heart. Impatience and apathy made sense to me. But the third was a surprise. Hastiness, they believed, blocks love, joy and compassion.

But sometimes I like the rush of rushing! When I run to the car, at risk of being barely on time for an appointment, I feel on top of my game. I’m proud of myself. I’ve banged out some of my list, been productive and efficient! And I’m off…

Or, just as often, I’m super stressed, panicked to be late again, as I rush out the door, desperately hoping that light at the corner won’t be red.

Did you know that rushing is now considered by many health experts to be the new smoking? It may be just as damaging. It elevates cortisol levels and stresses out our adrenals. Cortisol and adrenalin are at the ready for the rare moment when a tiger is ready to pounce. They’re not meant to be pumping into us all day long.

Rushing puts us in fight/flight/freeze response many times a day. But those stress chemicals released into our bodies actually reduce the effectiveness of every one of the body’s systems. In other words, constant stress is bad for your health. Bet you’re not surprised.

But perhaps most important, rushing is really a red flag for something more insidious and soul-damaging – it’s a sign of our disregard for ourselves, for our own deeper needs.

Sure, lives these days are more stressful than ever. Multiple demands push us on every front. But rushing to do it all is the most obvious sign that something other than our own well-being is in charge.

When I succumb to habitual “hastiness” – to being perpetually slightly breathless from using every moment so fully that I don’t leave enough spaciousness on either end of an activity – it’s a sign.

It shows that I’m getting my sense of worth from my productivity.
…from cramming too much into my day,
…from martyring myself by trying to do more than is physically possible,
…from making someone else’s needs – or my own expectations – more of a priority than what’s good for me.

If that weren’t enough, the din of my over-drive drowns out a natural capacity to attune to my own intuition, my always available and most effective guide to real success and pleasure.

It feels great to get things done, but when I’m speeding ahead, there’s no way I can feel those more subtle inner signals about what I know would serve me.

And funny enough, I’ve noticed that when I respect myself enough to create ease when I can, the world strangely cooperates!

Maybe best of all, when I slow down, I have access to the simple elegance of my own feminine essence. That’s one definition of grace… simple elegance.

That ancient Taoist wisdom seems dead on. When I’m in a rush, I’m just not tuned into others or myself. I’m not likely to hear what’s really going on in my heart.

But the habit hasn’t been easy to break. I try to leave the house an extra ten minutes early… well, sometimes. And allowing open space between appointments in my calendar is a great idea, in theory, when I can pull it off.

What’s helped most of all hasn’t been trying to break the habit of rushing. Attacking it like an enemy to be conquered or a problem to be fixed hasn’t worked at all. I’ve just ended up feeling like a total failure. Not someplace I like to live!

Instead I’ve begun to shift my attention to how good I feel when I DON’T rush. When I begin to revere my desire for calm and spaciousness more than my zippy need to get everything done, as fast as possible, life feels manageable and, well, almost easy! When I can remember that I’m in charge of time, it feels amazing to carry myself with the purposeful grace and dignity that’s appropriate as I move through my day. And it’s really my choice.

Maybe every day can actually be a Day of Grace.  What a thought!

You may want to try giving a Day of Grace to someone you love – on their birthday or just when you want to dose them with a little extra affection. Try to make it a surprise… and see how soon they notice. Or let them know ahead of time and completely cater to their fancy, gracing them with your beautiful presence – and anything else you know they’ll adore. You will make their day magical. And you’ll feel as happy in the giving as they do receiving. You never know what your example may inspire!

Is all this talk of gracefulness making sense to you? How do you manage the societal insistence to rush? Does anything change for you when you imagine how great it feels to be moving in your life with ease? How does it feel to live your life honoring your own pacing and pleasure?

There’s a spot down below to leave your comments. Please do! I love to read them every time!

Choosing what exactly fits

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It’s time to guard your preciousness, Dears…It’s just too easy to be swept away by the excitement of the season. To say yes to every delicious invitation and delightful morsel. Each year I notice the pull to indulge in all the sensual delights of the holidays. But when I do, the hangover I endure by New Years makes me regret it all. On autopilot, having taste every last cookie and drop of champagne, I wake up grumpy and exhausted. Too often I’ve come crashing down into January, mad at myself for overdoing it and annoyed with everyone else, just wanting a little peace and quiet!

Here’s the problem as I see it. Instead of living every day as sensually alive women, too often we starve ourselves of the most satisfying pleasures — genuine self-care, reverence for our deepest desires — and then overindulge, thinking we’re making up for all our betrayal. But that empty feeling inside still lingers.

This is NOT how we are meant to live. 

Not if we want to be embodying full-out and powerful lives of joy and happiness… to be in integrity with our deepest needs and energized for what the world most needs of us. Living the sort of pleasure that deepens into joy and contentment isn’t about having more or less, but instead is about being present enough to choose only what exactly fits in this moment. It means slowing down enough to notice in the first place, to really hear your desires. It means valuing yourself fully enough to notice when a no will actually mean more pleasure… and when your yes is an emphatic, no-holds-barred “​YES!”

The ancients used this dark time each year to go deep into quiet and reflection. They understood our intrinsic connectedness to all of life. So, instead of flying in the face of the cycles Nature gives me — and then diving back into the new year exhausted and drained   — I want to use this turning of the calendar to listen to my own still small voice, reset my physiology, and claim my purposeful intentions for 2016.

How would a re-treat bring you back to yourself?

Concert CurtainsI’m just back from leading a retreat.
Just women. In nature. Over the summer solstice.
Reconnecting to our selves and our senses — and the pleasures they invite.
Becoming intimate with real life again.

I don’t know a woman who couldn’t use a break to come back to herself.
Unfortunately our daily preoccupation with thinking, fixing, and planning deadens our pleasure.
It takes us out of the present moment.

As we dwell in the past’s what-ifs and strategize outcomes for the future,
we lose touch with what is real and alive, in the here and now.
Of course we have to make life work, but our senses – and pleasure — atrophy in the perpetual imbalance.
We miss the connection to ourselves.

That’s why we retreat…
we re-treat ourselves to the joys of living connected to a wider, wilder slice of life than our over-active minds continuously provide.
And after retreating we can advance into life – re-inspired, with enthusiasm and creativity —
rewired and reconnected to your original instructions.
We come back changed and more ourselves.
The women returning from my recent retreat report their friends’ wows on how obviously radiant and changed they looked.

So why don’t we make this happen?
Why does taking the space for a retreat for ourselves end up at the bottom of our list?

This is all I’ve wanted to write about since returning from the solstice retreat last week.
Why do we avoid what we need so much? 
Is it that we’d rather take the abuse of incessant over-work than risk being perceived as self-indulgent?
Is it just easier to do the next thing on the list than to really listen to what’s necessary?
And why can’t the rewards we give ourselves to compensate begin to balance the scales?
Are these your questions, too? I really want to know…
There’s a place to let me know down below.

What does self-care really look like beyond pampering the body after constant neglect?

I have some ideas…
Find out why we too often choose pleasures that deny real feeling
instead of those that cultivate our capacity for a deeper connection, those real joys that move our souls.

So, why don’t we choose to stop? Why do we find it so hard to break away?
Why is planning ahead for personal time just about impossible?
Is it because everything else seems so much more important?
We feel the pressure of looming deadlines, pending obligations, stretched finances.
It’s just easier to make due… Do without… Play the martyr… Get by… Get drunk!

Our inner life is easy to dis-regard.
And frankly, so is pleasure, the real self-care.
Maybe it’s because we live in a culture that’s more comfortable abusing ourselves through over-working than risking being perceived as lazy or self-indulgent.
Is it just me… or do we all live with that dull, unconscious shame.
Worse than the old grip of religion’s fear of sin
is the modern continual plague of thinking we should somehow always be working just a bit harder,
always trying to prove our worth.

Our overwork then demands a reciprocal reward — our own go-to indulgence.
Often we disregard the eventual cost, so deep is our need for relief.
Are we somehow trying to make it up to ourselves?
We over-do the denied pleasures with the same vengeance we over-worked.
We indulge in over-the-top vacations to exotic locales, then need to recover once we’re home.

And as women, we call this self-care… pampering the body after perpetual neglect.
Mani-pedis, massages, or a few too many drinks after a hard day.
Chasing the pleasure we somehow feel intrinsically should be the baseline of life,
but feeling empty and dissatisfied when the paltry reward can’t begin to balance the scales.

Ask yourself then, “What would be your true pleasure?”
What is it that you really need, deep inside?
In all the cacophony of your stressed-out, over-scheduled daily life,
it’s no surprise if you have absolutely no idea.

Perhaps you just need to stop, to give yourself a retreat,
to re-discover who you are and what it is that you really need.

A month away would be amazing, I know, but you can start with a few minutes.
Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. First, you’ll need to plan ahead or it will never happen, I promise. Even a few minutes or hours is a good start. A full day will surprise you. A weekend could feel like heaven. And longer, well, it just might change your life. It has mine.
  2. You’ll need to treat your re-treat like an important appointment in your calendar. Guard it for the pleasure it will provide, like you would of a vacation to Paris.
  3. Then find someplace that’s quiet and without your usual distractions. Turn off your phone and lock the bedroom door. You may need to leave the house. Nature provides amazing possibilites.
  4. Decide on a focus to quiet your mind. I’ve used classical meditation practices like mantras or mudras, but sometimes I choose to make my focus my senses while sitting outside or on a simple walk in the natural world. Similar to when I’m sitting on my meditation cushion, my intention is to keep centered on what I’m seeing and hearing – the bird call off the to right of the path or the green moss on the shady side of the hemlock — and not what happened last night.

My senses have become a fabulous tool for bringing my thoughts back to the present moment. 
It’s so simple.
There’s no interpretation.
What I hear, I hear, now.

Sometimes I close my eyes and just take in sound.
First I hear the loudest ones, the truck passing or the crow or jay squawking,
but soon the less obvious ones enter my awareness.
Droplets falling from branches after a rain.
Breezes ruffling the leaves.
A mosquito buzzing near my ear!

I often notice that after a brief few minutes of stillness my adorable mind wants to jump in,
trying to solve all the world’s problems.
It wants to understand and fix everything.
That’s it’s job.
It’s just not used to the rest.

So, when I finally realize her antics, I give her a little pat on the back, tuck her in for a nap,
and come back to right now.
It’s the coming back that counts, not how many times she calls out for my attention.

You might use mealtimes for a mini-retreat to take you deeper into your pleasure.
There’s a level of nourishment your body needs that’s maximized when you fill more than just your tummy. When you receive the joy of color, taste, scent as you consciously eat,
then even 15-minutes can revive body and soul.

If you go on a silent retreat with yourself in the woods for even an hour,
you inevitably connect more deeply with this new surrounding
as well as how that connection feels in your body.

As you are more present to the stillness or lack of it
– the sounds of the moment —
your senses cannot help but open.
You feel more, palpably.

And feeling more feels GOOD.
You won’t want the magic of this moment broken
​… so need I remind you to leave your phone turned off or, if you dare, in the car?

So plan a retreat. Invest in real self-care.

 

A Mother’s Job

Mother kissing baby while sitting on meadow in parkMy youngest son is about to graduate from high school.
I’ve had 26 Mays being a mother, 26 Mother’s Days, and I have loved every one.
But my active mothering is pretty much over.

This strapping 18-year-old young man doesn’t really need me for much of anything these day.
Nor does he want to hang out with me like he did when he was 4.

His snuggling is saved for his girlfriend now.
I still get an occasional hug and even a parting “Love ya, Mom,” once in a while.
And I feel lucky.

These days the kind of mothering I used to dole out to my children
– making sure they were eating and sleeping well,
getting outside to play,
rubbing skinned knees and tucking them in at night with a cuddle and a really good bedtime story –
I’m needing to learn to give myself.

I’m finding it much harder to do a good job mothering myself 
than it was to give round-the-clock care and attention to my three children.
And I thought they were tough to manage!
All those years of devoting myself to children or, more recently, my work out in the world
— moving fast and ignoring even my body’s most basic needs —
dug deep and habitual grooves in my psyche!
I’d become so driven to bring my best to everything that I’d lost the capacity to care for myself…
To listen to my deepest needs…
To honor and cultivate the precious inner being of myself.

What does it look like to mother myself well?
To truly tend to my nourishment?

I make well-intentioned promises to myself.
Eat more greens.
Get to bed early.
Get out there and at least take a walk!!!
But it’s the consistency that eludes me.
In trying so hard to balance so many shoulds I can eventually lose the thread of life’s pleasure.
I end up throwing my own tantrum and noshing down a bag of Fritos in 5 minutes flat.

So what do I really need?
Like an impetuous child I need a mama…
or maybe the mama inside who would sit her overwrought daughter on her knee,
stroke the sticky hair off her brow, and say,
“Come here, Sweetie. Let’s calm down.” 
As my snotty nose rubbed against the collar of her shirtdress,
she’d bring me back home to right now.
“Listen, do you hear that bird?” she’d ask.
“Let’s see what she says.”

That’s what a mother does.
She helps us remember what’s real. 

So perhaps there’s a partnership waiting for us here.
One between the archetypical mother we all carry inside and Mother Nature out there.
We can count on that support!
But can we begin to really listen to her wisdom?
Can we allow ourselves to source her nurturing,
to bring the care we give to others back home?

Our Earth Mother is right here, ready to nourish us,
to nurture us through the overwrought, exhausted distraction that is our everyday life.
She’s here to hold us, anytime we need her.

“Come here, Sweetie. Let’s calm down.”
Go outside.
Sit down in the grass.
Listen to the birds or the breeze.
Take a few long slow breaths.
And let yourself be mothered.

Good mothering is what’s called for right now.
​For ourselves and for our Earth.

Venus Reflected in the Ocean

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I’m just back from a week teaching at a gorgeous retreat in Mexico, where perhaps you’ll join me in November. After a week of living out of cell range and with the rhythms of Nature and exquisite healthy food, something woke up in me.
I’ve come home asking myself a few probing questions…

Do I really need to rush,
   to do so much,
   to be so tied to my phone,
   to stay up so late?
Is that the kind of life I want?

And how can I stay connected to what truly feeds me?

Without electricity in my casita, the brilliant night sky became my evening entertainment.
I saw Venus reflected in the ocean!
Candlelight and the sound of ocean waves gently transitioned me from busy days to peaceful nights.
My usual bedtime texts and reading fell away.
And I slept better than I can remember, waking with the dawn, rested and content.

Now that I’m home, I realize that I want to be more in alignment with what’s real and important.

I’d hardly noticed that I’d been leaving behind basic self-care, like healthy sleeping rhythms,
for the lure of virtual connection and productivity.
Little by little I’d abandoned the deep pleasure of real connection 
with myself

for the gratification of external stimulation in my virtual life.
It’s fun, like candy, but not a great staple in a luscious daily diet.

So, with spring, there’s no escaping the call for change.
I’m determined, once again, to let the old die away and new habits be born…
Like floating into bedtime near candlelight and far from my smartphone.
Like keeping my fridge stocked with the veggies I adore
and scheduling time twice a week for cooking something delicious and healthy…
like this beet mayonnaise from Haramara I made the day after I got home.

So, tell me..
What basic self-care — and deep pleasure — are you ready to reclaim?
What wish of yours might you grant yourself?
What pleasure can you let bloom with the blissful springtime?

Is it more time outside,
more regular yoga,
feeding yourself with food that really feeds you,
​time to be quiet or create something of beauty?

Share below and let me know. You’ll inspire us all

Do You Ever Have a Real Day Off?

mary time off

Everyone used to take a whole day off.
Most cultures had a Sabbath day built in – and “it was good.”

These days we’ve deleted most of religion’s restrictions,
— and thrown away any healthy guidance as well.

We’re being “productive” nearly all the time.
Or at least it feels that way.

But meeting our own high expectations is just plain exhausting.
And the never-ending to-do list?
It’s a scientifically proven anti-aphrodisiac.

We need real spaciousness, relaxation, and tending once in a while
— and I don’t mean just a bath (although that can surely help).

Otherwise our well-being is sacrificed on the altar of productivity.

What does real tending look like for you? Here’s my list, but go ahead and add to it down below in the comment section.

I need beauty and comfort.
A chance to move my body.
Being in nature.
A little adventure.
Some stimulation.
Some deepening.
Inspiration and connection to my primal energy.

That’s what I want. And there are days when I get it.

But there are days when I don’t.
And if I’m not careful, even weeks.

It’s why I need to take a real break
…to tend the fertile ground of my own aliveness.

And why I’m hoping you’ll join me.