Friday, April 16, 2010

Following Directions

When I perform my most popular keynote speech, "Finding Your Mojo: The ABCs of Living in Abundance, Balance and Creativity", one of the first mojo busters I describe is Ignoring the Signs. It's time for me to follow my own advice.

Over the last few years, I have been doing what I thought I needed to do to be a successful author and speaker. I have performed book readings at countless bookstores, conducted a monthly women's discussion group both in Florida and Minnesota, facilitated meditation circles and healing workshops, and took any other opportunity presented to me to get in front of people. Ever since Opening the Kimono was published, I have performed free speaking engagements whenever possible in exchange for the opportunity to sell books and audiobooks afterward. I had been in training and facilitation roles for several years, both in my corporate and alternative healing days, but I had not yet broken into the land of the "paid professional speaker".

Boy, have things changed.

Over the last nine months, I have worked my cajones off to get recognized as a bonafide speaker, worthy of commanding a decent fee for my services. It has been incredibly difficult to break into this industry, especially in the midst of the worst economic downturn in my lifetime. It turns out that being a professional speaker involves a helluva lot more than just being good on stage; you also need to be an expert at sales, marketing, customer service, and business administration. You need to have an appealing, professionally-designed web site, a killer four-minute demo video, the ability to write compelling marketing materials, the courage to pick up the phone to call (and call and call and call and call) strangers to pitch them about your work, and most importantly, possess a thick layer of skin that will help you survive when you get pierced by the word "no" time and time again. The sales cycle is long, the competition is fierce, and the budgets are tight. Simply put, speaking ain't for sissies.

During this challenging time of growth, I had been relying on local events to keep me connected with people, sell a few books, and get my name out into the community. When we first moved to Minneapolis, my small events were going well, but I was not finding success with the larger keynote programs I was trying to secure. Yet, over time, the tides have turned. Over the last few months, I have seen a dramatic drying up of my small events, e.g. no one showing up for my free women's discussion group, three people showing up for my guided meditations, and workshops getting canceled due to lack of participation. At the same time, I have seen an explosion of interest in my major keynote programs - events where I am speaking in front of several hundred participants. Just this week I did a keynote at the Sheraton Bloomington Grand Ballroom for over 400 people. In a few months, I'll be performing "Finding Your Mojo" for 600-800 people, and I am in the final selection round for a Fall event that would be give me the opportunity to present in front of THOUSANDS of women. Prospective clients are sending me emails telling me that they want me for their next big function, glowing testimonials are opening doors to new gigs, and several national speaking bureaus have chosen to represent me.

Here's the irony. Two weeks ago, I had to cancel my monthly local chakra meditation at a neighborhood apartment complex because the door to the party room was inadvertently locked. It wasn't a major catastrophe, as only a few people showed up anyway. I have also decided to permanently cancel my Club Kimono Discussion Groups due to lack of participation. Finally, I am scheduled to do a workshop this Saturday at a local yoga studio that looks like it will cancel too due to poor registration. Talk about reading the signs!

At first, all I could think about was the personal sting of rejection that the "failure" of my local events brought about. It hurts when you get all gussied up to host a meditation or discussion group, pack up your car with books and flyers, drive to the venue, and wait for people to arrive. And wait. And wait a little longer. With each passing moment where no one walks in the door, a little more of my self-esteem was chipped away. Why? Why didn't they like me anymore? What was wrong with me? How come no one was showing up? WTF?????

Then I reminded myself of my Mojo Buster #1: Ignoring the Signs. In my presentation, I talk about how we lose our mojo when we constantly ignore the signs from The Universe (aka Spirit) to do something different. When we ignore them, the physical indicators will get louder and more unpleasant until we recognize the underlying message and act upon it. Eight years ago, I received a crystal-clear sign from Spirit that I was no longer going to be a Corporate Climber. The unmistakable sign was that I got laid off. Twice. Afterward, I could not find a comparable position no matter how hard I tried. In hindsight, I realize that I was patently unsuccessful in finding another job was because I wasn't supposed to. The Universe wanted me to move in a whole new direction -- alternative healing -- and I needed to have it slapped across my face for me to pay attention. Fast forward eight years later, and I am grateful beyond belief that I received those unpleasant signs.

I now find myself in another major transition. My life as a local healer is over, at least for now. Spirit is slamming doors shut left and right while opening others for me to walk through. I believe that Spirit has put an end to my local events so I don't need to let people down when I'd inevitably need to do it down the road. My calendar is already getting full with major keynotes, and my Club Kimonos and Chakra Meditations simply wouldn't be able to fit around them. There is a part of me that is saddened by this loss, but I also know that it is the natural next step for me.

One of the toughest challenges I face as I traverse this exciting new path is the acknowledgment of Bigness. It's a little uncomfortable to accept the fact that I am now being handsomely paid to get up in front of hundreds of people There is a part of me that feels like I don't deserve this kind of success. A little annoying voice whispers in my ear, "Who do you think you are, Miss Fancy Pants? Do you really think that you are good enough to do this job?" It feels like trying on a luxurious, beautiful outfit at your favorite store and feeling enormous guilt for even bringing it into the dressing room. Yet, here I stand, wearing the outfit.

When I was freaking out before going on stage at the Sheraton this week, Michael took me in his arms and reminded me that I was BORN to do this. He's absolutely right. I've prepped for this moment ever since I was a child when I stood in front of my mirrored closet holding a microphone/hairbrush in my hand and performed for my enraptured stuffed animals. My current profession is a glorious combination of teacher, preacher, actor, and cheerleader -- all of which I have joyfully performed -- and I am finally accepting that I have gotten what I have been asking for. I am ready to accept my role as Bringer of the Mojo, even if it occasionally tweaks me (and a few others around me).

Thanks, Spirit, for being my Cosmic GPS. I understand that I have finally arrived at my destination: Joy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Whales vs. Mermaids

I received an email from a friend recently who passed this story along. I thought it was brilliant, and believe it was blog-worthy. Kudos to the anonymous author!


Recently, in a large city in France, a poster featuring a young, thin and tan woman appeared in the window of a gym. It said, "This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?"

A middle-aged woman, whose physical characteristics did not match those of the woman on the poster, responded publicly to the question posed by the gym:

To Whom It May Concern,
Whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, sea lions, curious humans.) They have an active sex life, get pregnant and have adorable baby whales. They have a wonderful time with dolphins stuffing themselves with shrimp. They play and swim in the seas, seeing wonderful places like Patagonia ,the Bering Sea and the coral reefs of Polynesia. Whales are wonderful singers and have even recorded CDs. They are incredible creatures and virtually have no predators other than humans. They are loved, protected and admired by almost everyone in the world.

Mermaids don't exist. If they did exist, they would be lining up outside the offices of Argentinean psychoanalysts due to identity crisis. Fish or human? They don't have a sex life because they kill men who get close to them, not to mention how could they have sex? Just look at them ... where is IT? Therefore, they don't have kids either. Not to mention, who wants to get close to a girl who smells like a fish store?

The choice is perfectly clear to me:
I want to be a whale.

P..S. We are in an age when media puts into our heads the idea that only skinny people are beautiful, but I prefer to enjoy an ice cream with my kids, a good dinner with a man who makes me shiver, and a piece of chocolate with my friends...
With time, we gain weight because we accumulate so much information and wisdom in our heads that when there is no more room, it distributes out to the rest of our bodies. So we aren't heavy, we are enormously cultured, educated and happy.
Beginning today, when I look at my butt in the mirror I will think, 'Good grief, look how smart I am!'

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Opening My Kimono in 2010

I no longer want to write, I NEED to. My life depends on it.

The last eight months have been one of the most difficult periods in my life. My husband Michael and I have found ourselves in the unenviable position of struggling to find gainful employment, shortselling our home in Florida, having to move out of our rented home in Minnesota and into a small, two bedroom apartment, and fighting off creditors that are starting to bang on our door. Long story short, we are running out of money.

When I was in college, I learned about a psychologist named Abraham Maslow and his theory that human behavior is dictated by a hierarchy of needs. On the bottom level of the pyramid, one strives to have basic, physiological needs met, those of breathing, water, sex, food, and shelter. Once those needs are met, one has the freedom to move up the pyramid to the second level in an attempt to meet safety and security needs. Once those are met, we move upward to focus on love and affection. If those are satisfied, we elevate to having our needs for esteem, confidence, and respect of others met. Finally, if all of these areas are provided for, we transcend to the highest level to that of self-actualization.

In other times in my life, I have been blessed to reside on the top of the pyramid. I have spent hours contemplating my own existence (and navel) and worked on core issues that kept me from being the most enlightened, non-judgmental, expressive person I could be. Those were good times indeed! I got the healing work I needed, experienced the creature comforts that a full bank account (or a large credit line) afforded, and had ample time to pursue happiness around every corner. My relationships were rich and rewarding, my body was in excellent condition, I had a spring in my step, and I went to bed every night with a smile on my face.

However, I have also resided at the bottom of the pyramid. I painfully recall the years in my early twenties when I avoided answering my phone -- when I had a phone -- because I knew that a bill collector would be on the other line. (These were the olden days before the invention of the omniscient Caller ID.) Dinner consisted of ramen noodles or easy cheese spread over my fingers. I lived in a God-awful, rodent-infested apartment right next to the El train tracks in Chicago and lived paycheck to paycheck. If my friends and I went out and had a few drinks at the local bar, I would have to find a way to survive over several days without food until I got paid again. Sometimes dinner would be saltine cracker packets surreptitiously acquired from the local Wendy's. Eventually I worked my way out of the shithole I was in and slowly, ever slowly, climbed up Maslow's ladder.

Now, at forty years of age and a husband and daughter later, I find myself back on the bottom. Many nights I have laid awake, asking God why he won't send me the big book deal or the next lucrative speaking contract. My stomach has started to respond with that same, burning sensation I used to feel when I had ulcers. Everything around me is getting tighter -- my throat, my bank account, and my pants. This difficult situation has become even more disquieting given the fact that I am supposed to be the award-winning author of inspirational personal essays and a dynamic motivational speaker!!! I tell myself in the quietest, darkest times that I am a failure because I am so woefully mishandling my life. Instead of being the Bringer of the Mojo, I have become the Bringer of the Slo-Mo. This challenging period has caused me to fill myself with guilt, shame, and anger, both at myself and at God. Why won't you hear my prayers?? What have I done to deserve this?? What did I do wrong?? Am I being punished for some bad behavior I have previously done?? Why, why, why???

In the cold light of day, I realize that my struggles aren't unique or personal. The economic downturn has caused many of us to dramatically alter our lives, and we are forced to re-examine our priorities. Not only are we doing without, but many of us are thrown into the deep end of the survival pool. However, it's important to remember that just because you can't pay your bills, that doesn't make you less of a person. Just because my calendar contains less speaking engagements then I would like it to doesn't mean that I am a bad speaker. Just because my books aren't selling as well as I would like them to doesn't mean that I am a rotten writer. It's not personal; it just IS.

This experience, like every obstacle, has provided a wealth of gifts and lessons to me. I am releasing attachments that have kept me from being truly at peace: attachments to material objects, to ego, and to the approval of others. Through the process of downsizing, I am letting go of anything that no longer serves me. Our basement is filled with boxes of stuff that I thought was important to me, but no longer is -- pictures, paintings, furniture, candleholders, books, and anything else that won't squeeze into our new, tiny abode. In the next two weeks, we will be selling or giving away items that have kept us mired at the bottom level of Maslow's pyramid. In this act of release, I am already feeling myself getting lighter, become less afraid, and, dare I say, becoming hopeful for the future. One of the greatest realizations I have had during this maelstrom is this: I am not my stuff. I am not my calendar, my business card, my house square footage, my piano, my family vacation, or my display of knickknacks.

This morning I realized that there was one final step for me to take to begin the journey upward: I needed to publicly share my story, warts and all. Embarrassment and ego have kept me from telling the gory details of my latest imbroglio. I was afraid of people judging me for not being the powerful woman I present myself to be. I was afraid that I would be seen as a failure, a victim, and a loser. One of the risks associated with full disclosure is the chance for those who may want to hire me or buy my book to say, "She's a nutcase! She's a nobody! Why in the hell would we want to hear anything she has to say?" However, the risk is well worth it. I need to authentically express my truth if I am to step away from the fear and back into power. It is time for me to open my kimono. Again.

I ask that you hold me in possibility, and I will do the same for you. Let's see each other climbing ever higher into that blissful place of self-realization where all of our needs are met and we can be the best of who we are. I am so very grateful for the gift of writing so I can purge the toxic thoughts that have kept me unhappy, unhealthy, and unrealized. The truth is a magical elixir that helps wipe clean all of the dirty little secrets we keep hidden away, and I am jumping back into it with gusto. My physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are at stake. I must acknowledge, own, and even celebrate my life, even at its gunkiest. Because even at its ugliest, we are all still blessed with untold gifts. Sometimes the most painful times remind us of how friggin' awesome we truly are.

If you, like me, are living at or near the bottom of Abe's pyramid, please know that you are not alone. You are still a beautiful, magnificent, worthy, and divine being, no matter what the numbers on your check register or the credit report say. I honor you and your journey.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In Defense of Sweat Lodges

Today is a sad day for spiritual seekers. James Arthur Ray, the incredibly popular New Age guru who was featured on The Secret, was arrested this morning on three counts of manslaughter. He is charged with causing the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman during a grueling sweat lodge he led in Sedona last October.

The reason I am sad doesn't have anything to do with the legal challenges Mr. Ray now faces. Instead, my heart reaches out to those family members who needlessly lost their loved ones, seemingly because of one man's stupidity, selfishness, and greed. Moreover, my knickers are in a twist because I fear that the sanctity of the sweat lodge and other indigenous ways of prayer will be unfairly paired with the thoughtless, self-centered behavior of one unqualified man.

Being in a sweat isn't about who has the biggest balls (as in the case of Mr. Ray's "Gut it out!" mentality); rather, it is a profound indigenous practice of cleansing the body and deeply connecting to the Creator. If you haven't ever done one before, you can't fully appreciate it's magnificence. I have had the privilege of participating in several sweat lodges and found each experience to be incredibly healing and transformational. When properly facilitated, each element of the lodge -- the way in which the ribbing is constructed, the types of blankets used, the number of rocks placed in the pit, the songs sung, the prayers said, the seating arrangement, the herbs used, and the duration -- are all carefully managed by a skilled elder who is in tune with the energy of every participant. But, believe me, being in a sweat lodge isn't a walk in the park. I have sat in ungodly hot sweats where I slithered to the ground just to press my face against the cool, moist Earth. I have plaintively wailed to Spirit to help me through the intense discomfort of the heat. My clothes have been dripping wet after sweating my sins away on a mountain in California for hours. Yes, sweat lodges are one of the most physically demanding things one can do, but I have NEVER once felt unsafe. Not once. It is all due to the trust I have in my spiritual elders and their acute ability to "hold space" for each of us. Never in a million years would my sweat lodge leaders allow people to vomit and pass out in one of their lodges, as what happened in Sedona on Ray's watch.

James Ray's careless behavior has sullied the reputation of the sweat lodge. It is akin to what a handful of Catholic priest pedophiles did to the reputation of the entire Church. Not every priest is a pedophile, and not every sweat lodge is dangerous. In the end, it is the person we need to scrutinize, not the practice. If you are ever given the blessed opportunity to participate in a sweat lodge -- or any other spiritual ritual for that matter -- ask yourself some tough questions first: Where did this person learn his/her skills? How long has he/she been doing it? Does he/she have the support and blessing from tribal elders? Does it look and feel like the practice is based on sacredness or selfishness? Do I feel honored?

Mr. Ray, this is a great life lesson for you. It looks like you'll be staying in your jail cell longer than you feel comfortable doing, just as dozens of people stayed in your sweat lodge for longer than they should have. The difference is that your high-priced lawyers may, just may, get you out in time. As for Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, they weren't so lucky.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sex Ed 101

I am always shocked at what I'll write to elicit a good laugh. It's time once again for my monthly "Sex and the Suburbs" column in Creative Loafing. Let the embarrassment commence! Enjoy.