Holidays

Why We Should Care that Friends Day is February 4

For those of us who know the value of our friendships (and if you're on my list then I probably am preaching to the choir!) we know better than to let any moment pass when we can tell our friends that we appreciate having them in our lives. But did you know that a fun opportunity is upon us this Sunday? 

Every February 4 is Friends Day, a day when Facebook encourages us to show gratitude to those who matter most to us. So I'm looking forward to logging on that day to see what fun experiences they roll out to encourage us to celebrate our friendships, (plus, I'll be doing my very first Facebook LIVE to mark the day so come join me-- details below!) but whether you're on Facebook or not, I am always a fan of taking any excuse to share our love with our friends.

Why Expressing Gratitude for Our Friends Matters

For anyone who follows me, or has read my books (especially Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness), you remember just how significant positivity is to our friendships.

Feeling good feelings is the foundation of every healthy relationship! Positivity is what determines whether we will want to spend more time with each other, how we end up feeling about each other, and how safe we'll feel in sharing ourselves with each other! The less doubt we have that we are loved, accepted, and admired--the closer and more satisfying that friendship will feel. Basically, our friendships are the people we are choosing to be with and we'll make that intuitive choice, in part, based on how they make us feel about ourselves: we like people who like us.

So anytime we can compliment, express gratitude, give a gift, provoke laughter, communicate our pride in them, or enter into an experience together that feels special--> we are increasing the bond of that relationship! We are increasing the odds that it's healthy.  We are ensuring that our interactions together feel warmer, more supportive, and more satisfying. Those are no small outcomes!

In fact, research shows we need five acts of positivity for every negative feeling in our relationship in order to keep those connections feeling healthy and fulfilling.  In other words, there will undoubtedly always be some "withdrawals" we each make on that friendship with annoying habits, stressful events, and unmet expectations; but more telling to the health of the relationship than the fact that we will occasionally disappoint each other is whether we're making enough "deposits" to keep our relationships balanced!  The more joy coming in-- the less the negative will affect us.

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To that end, we have so much to gain by showing our friends that they are thought of, appreciated, and meaningful to us-- this Sunday, on Friends Day, and pretty much every other day throughout the year! ;)

Fun Ideas and Ways to Show Gratitude to Our Friends

  • Brag and Cheer Loudly for the Success of Our Friends!  Just like we cheer for our favorite teams, show the love to your friends on social media! Every day is a golden opportunity to post your wedding congratulations, brag about their podcasts and blogs, and cheer for their work accomplishments, and this Sunday, we can at least post on our friends' walls and tell them jsut how cool we think they are!

  • Post Photos of Friends on Friend Day!  Post a collage of photos of friends who made memories with you this year—we all love to feel seen and valued! Plus, we'll see those photos pop up every year ensuring the love will keep on giving!  This gift, while seemingly small communicates to our friends that we loved making those memories with them and research shows that seeing photos gives us a boost of joy, almost more powerful than the day we took the original photo!

  • Host a Gratitude Party.  If you're up for celebrating offline, one of my favorite ideas, shared in my book Friendships Don’t Just Happen!, is to throw a casual party for your friends who rallied around you after a hard year, a big event, or a painful crisis.  Invite them over, feed them food, introduce them to each other, and thank them to their face for being there for you in a way that mattered! Send out the invitations on Friends Day and let them look forward to a soon-to-come gathering!

  • Surprise Friends With Stamped Mail!  Getting an unexpected card in the mail is one of the simple joys in life that stands out and means so much.  Write a few lines today telling your friend how much your friendship means to you and what you specifically admire about them so they can find your love in the midst of the bills and junk mail! 


Join Me On My First Facebook Live!

I've been wanting to try out Facebook Live for a while now (since apparently I am one of the last people on the planet to do one?!? ha!) and I figured what better time to dive in than on Friends Day!!  So will you come join me so I'm not talking to crickets?? (It's like the fear of being the only one to show up at a party! Come save me!) I know you have the Super Bowl too... but you know... maybe you have 10-15 minutes on Sunday morning, at 10 am PST/11 am MST/12 pm CST/1 pmEST to come say hi? I'll be on my Facebook page sharing research on the power of being grateful for our friends and I'll be sharing your stories and ideas and tips, too!  Can't wait!!!!  (Join me here.)

The Act of Vulnerability That No One Talks About

When we think of vulnerability, we all too often think of sharing our insecurities, anxiety, and stories of shame. But that type of sharing is only one out of the 5 ways to be vulnerable with others. It's certainly important to deepening relationships to know we can reveal what we fear is our worst and be reminded we're still loved and accepted; but it is such a limited definition of vulnerability.

Relational vulnerability, in general, is anything that exposes more of who we are to others; and specifically, the actions we take to share life more widely and deeply with others.

Perhaps the Scariest Act of Vulnerability?

And while I teach 5 different pathways, or acts, of vulnerability in my book Frientimacy; there's one of the acts, in particular, that I think could drastically improve our friendships, our self-esteem, our contributions in the world, and our joy, if we practiced it more regularly.  But not only do we not engage in it often enough with our friends, the truth is that most of us don't even know we should be!

What is this secret act of vulnerability, if it's not bringing our skeletons out from our proverbial closets?

It's the act of Shining in Front of Each Other.

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One of the most undervalued acts of vulnerability is supporting each other’s success in this world. Being willing to shine in front of our friends by sharing what is going well, why we are proud of ourselves this week, and what we do like about ourselves. It takes courage to be willing to shine fully in front of our friends, and take in their affirmation, cheers, and love.

And it takes just as much vulnerability to encourage our friends to shine in front of us!  Why?  Because often their shining may trigger our own feelings of insecurity or envy. It can be hard to cheer for her pay raise if we're barely paying the bills, and painful to celebrate her new boyfriend in the midst of our break-up.

But we're called to feel that vulnerability--both of sharing and cheering--and rise the occasion of being women who can shine in front of each other.

When we talk about feeling safe and loved by others we often say, we want to be accepted for "the good, the bad, and the ugly," but most of us actually feel more practiced and comfortable whining about the bad and the ugly, and not being as forthcoming with the good.

5 Ideas to Practice Shining With Our Friends

  1. CHERISH YOUR LIFE: While we want to be honest about the fact that some areas of life aren’t ideal, we also want to actively identify the areas that are good—and be honest about them. Practice saying, “I’m really fortunate that I don’t struggle with X, but I’m sensitive to those who do. And while I certainly struggle in other life areas, in this one I want to appreciate what I do have.”
  2. AFFIRM HER LIFE: Whenever you think of it, affirm everything you can think of about your friend. The number one value of friendship is to boost positivity by communicating acceptance—so cheer for her parenting style, her work ambitions, her beauty, her big heart. Everything.
  3. INVITE HER BRAGGING: We need to practice owning our strengths and joys, but we’re all scared to do it, afraid people will think we’re arrogant. So help encourage it in her by asking her questions that invite her to share what she’s proud of. (“When do you feel most powerful at work?” “What makes you feel the most beautiful?”) Encourage her to really feel her successes!
  4. INVOKE HER GRATITUDE: Women are known for brushing off compliments or dismissing praise. So, when our friend deflects affirmation, we can gift our friendship with positivity by playfully making her say “thank you” or by saying, “Wait, that was a huge thing you just accomplished; are you taking it in and really feeling it? Because you deserve it!”
  5. REVEAL YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Our friends should be those with whom we feel the safest celebrating our successes, so we need to practice sharing those successes—without being asked. Text her, “Just wanted to share: X just happened!” Or tell her, “I’m feeling more scared than excited that I just bought a house. Any chance you’re free to help me step into celebration mode? Takeout at my place?”

Why We Have To Shine

The biggest reason of all is that this vulnerability leads to greater intimacy and feelings of love with people because we'll feel more expressed, more seen, and more celebrated.  Sharing our woes, bruises, and disappointing circumstances can only take us so far-- it's when we start whispering out loud our biggest dreams, the difference we want to make in the world, and the personal growth we see happening in our lives that we become more of our best selves.

But honestly, another motivation for me is because our world desperately needs more people willing to shine!  And if we can't practice it with our friends, then what chance do we have of feeling more comfortable doing it in this world that desperately needs the best of all of us?  If I can't admit where I think I'm amazing, to the people who claim to love me, then chances are high that I won't be able to fully own that amazing-ness and shine it to a world of strangers and doubters.

This holiday season when you see twinkling lights and shiny stars-- I hope it'll remind you to think of something good in your life that you can share with someone!

xoxo

Shasta

P.s. I'm also teaching a 1-hr class called "Vulnerability: The 5 Pathways to Deeper Connection" (complete with a bundle of friend-u-vulnerabilityresources, such as a personal application worksheet and monthly challenge) for all members of GirlFriendCircles.com this month so feel free to join us (for only $20!) and access the class with your membership!  In a month where we can feel inundated with busy-ness and people, it's ever more important to practice adding Meaningful Moments to our interactions!

 

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Feeling the Edge of My Circle of Love

The month of Christmas, for all it's wonder and festivities, can also be a season where our "edge of love" can rear its little head. I call it the "edge of love" because even the most loving, non-judgmental, and kind people among us all have a perimeter, or boundary, of who and how we love.  I love easily the people and moments in the middle of my circle of love: girls nights in front of fireplaces, snuggling with my husband, talking on the phone to my sister, getting together with family I adore.

Shasta's Circle of Love

But... certain types of settings and certain types of people (or even very specific people) don't invoke in me the same pure love. I can feel myself show up with a lack-of-love as I reach the outer edges of who and how I love.

My goal, of course, is to make that circle of love so big that I can show up in nearly every setting with absolutely anyone and feel nothing but innocent love for the people in front of me.

But I am still far from that:

  • When I'm tired or have been around a lot of people lately.... I notice the circle closing in and getting smaller.
  • When I hear certain rhetoric or politics on the news... I notice myself feeling tempted to move an entire segment of the population outside of my circle because of my judgments.
  • When I feel forgotten or neglected or uninvited to something... I notice myself closing up a bit, which also shrinks the circle.
  • When I am so focused on my to-do list that I can't sit and be with people in meaningful ways... I know that my agenda is filling up too much of my heart.
  • When I am in certain settings that don't feel obviously meaningful (i.e. school programs, parties with people I don't know well) I am tempted to believe and expect little, therefore not showing up with an open heart.
  • When I am with a certain friend who has felt more draining than fulfilling, I can feel the edge with her where I want to love her but am not feeling expansive.

Maybe you know the feeling, too.  We know we are loving people; there's no question of that.  But if we're honest, every single one of us has an edge to our circle. I invite you to close your eyes and ask yourself where you're seeing the edge of your love show up recently.

It's more important than ever this year.  Practicing loving others is for our benefit as it leads to greater peace and joy in our lives as we watch ourselves judge, worry, or fear less. But this year, with all that is going on in the news, it's not just us that needs to feel more peace and safety, but our entire world is moaning with out it. Fear shrinks and closes us; love expands and opens us.  We need a world where humanity is still showing up with open hearts.

Loving Others Can Include Boundaries. To be clear: we're talking about a circle of feeling love for someone, which isn't the same as having boundaries for what we can give or do for others.  The circle of love doesn't mean I have to seek them out and hang out with them, spend time with them out of obligation, do whatever they ask of me, or give them all my time and energy.  It does mean that we see the value every person has-- that we see them as the innocent and loved people that they are even if we don't understand them, agree with them, or if they act out of brokenness and wounds, like we do, sometimes. It means I can think about people, or see them in person, and want to only send them love and light. It means showing up able to wish every person the very best and mean it.  Even with someone with whom I need to set boundaries with or limit my time with:  I want to be able to think of them and feel love. In fact, I set the boundaries because I love them.

Loving Others Is About My Need for Healing. And when I don't--or can't-- I know it's because there is something in me that is wounded and still needs healing. And I want to see that, own it, and pray for healing in me that I could then show up with greater love for the other.

It's not their fault I have a hard time loving them, it's my invitation to become a more loving person.  It's my responsibility to:

  • Invite in all the love I can from the people and places that fill my tank up.
  • Engage in the self-care and self-love that helps me hold all the love in my tank.
  • Choose self-awareness over blame so that I have more opportunities to ask myself "Why does this really bother me? What is it triggering in me? What's this about?"
  • Practice looking at those who annoy me and silently think "I love you anyway. You deserve love in this world," while simultaneously praying "Keep healing this in me so I don't feel provoked."

Loving Others Is the Work of a Lifetime! Oh I am far from this.  It's one thing to write-up my ideals and quite another to actually reach them.  But I will say that I have seen my circle of love grow bigger over the years, and that's encouraging!  I can think back to people and situations that would have bothered me years ago where now I can stay peaceful or better able to access my joy. I can see the growth in me! That excites me!  It reminds me that whatever "edge" feels impossible right now could feel easy this time next year!

This holiday season--whether you're with your in-laws who exhaust you or reacting to the news we see in this world--if there's anything we all wish we could put on our wish list, wouldn't it be more peace, love, and joy?

My prayer: Oh that we might see our love expanded this season. Replace our judgments with a willingness to see people differently, increase our ability to see people the way God does, and keep healing in us anything that limits our love.

Hitting Pause on Romance for Friendship

Last week, while watching Grey's Anatomy (am I the only one still watching?!?), I had a bit of a "hmmmm.... I don't know if I agree with that friendship rule" moment. Meredith and Alex, platonic friends on Grey's Anatomy, as they keep practicing what friendship is supposed to look like between them.

Meredith was explaining to Alex (who is supposed to be trying to be her new best friend since Christina moved away) that his job was to answer every text from her, even if he was in the middle of having sex. Which he had been.

She said that "The Pause" is one of the rules of friendship.  Real friends will stop whatever they are doing--and spouses and lovers just need to get used to it--to respond and be present. The text wasn't even an SOS text.. it had simply said something along the lines of "What are you up to?"

I wondered if, as an advocate for friendship, I was supposed to agree with her rule that gave such priority to friendship?

But I don't.  I definitely don't. Our marriages/family are a priority and bonding time should never be interrupted. But even if we don't interrupt "moments" that doesn't mean we shouldn't interrupt our lives for each other.

With that said, there are a few more times I do think women, in general, should be willing to hit pause on romance/family for the sake of our friendships.

The Rules for "Pausing" Romance for our Friendship

Our reputations precede us when it comes to how much more important we think romance is than friendship. We have left a wake of broken and missed friendships in our past because we haven't practiced pausing the love in our homes to keep up the love in our circle of friends.  Here are a few places I think we can afford to pause romance in order to maintain friendships:

  1. Hit pause on romance when you're on a girls weekend: I had someone write me last week and describe how thrilled she was to finally go on a weekend-away with a friend she hadn't seen in years, but then felt disappointed by her friend who called to talk with her husband throughout every day. It left her walking beside a friend who was on the phone a lot feeling like even when she had her friend, she wasn't really with her. I love my husband and could talk to him all day long and want to tell him everything... but GirlFriends, come on, we can go a day or two without having to catch him up on everything in real-time. On a girls weekend? Then tell your lover you'll see him when you get home or call only when it doesn't leave your friend out. On a romantic weekend? Same thing! Tell your friend/sister/mother you won't be calling for a few days and gift your lover with your undivided attention. In other words-- give your undivided attention to whomever you're with.
  2. Hit pause on romance when it's new to make sure your friends still feel their importance I've seen and heard A LOT about women ignoring their friends for new love. Even if what we think we want is 24/7 with some new romantic interest, we will tell him/her "As much as I'd love to spend the whole weekend with you, I have a standing date with my friend on Sunday mornings so I can't get together until after that." Communicating you have a life and good friends can only improve a healthy relationship!
  3. Hit pause on romance/family when you're busy and time is limited. Yes life is full, no one is minimizing that.  But if having friendships is important then the intimacy has to be maintained with ongoing love and connection.  We will not go MIA on consequential relationships just because we're distracted with a busy life.  We will fit in the important people, including our friends, even if it takes time we could give to family/romance. We will find creative ways to make sure that
  4. Hit pause on romance even if he doesn't go out with his friends.  Many a couple, myself included, feel like they get almost all their needs met in each other, being married to their best friend.  It can be hard to give up time with him-- I love being with him. But we have to carve out the time and perhaps say, "If left to my own tendencies, I'd probably just spend every moment with you, but it's important for me to make/keep my friendships so please don't take it personally that I need to go out at least once a week to maintain my friendships." We HAVE to peel ourselves away from family to give time to our friendships... the more we do it, the more meaningful those times with them will be. Our goal is to have a wide support circle made up of many different kinds of love and connection in our lives.
  5. Hit pause on romance even in the midst of engagement and wedding euphoria.  With many women getting engaged this month and lots of weddings being planned this spring, it makes sense that woman are rightfully caught up in their love stories.  No need to feel guilt about that!  But we do need to hit pause to not only still make time for our friends, but also to make time for their lives when we are together.  We don't need to only talk about the wedding. We can hit pause and ask them about their lives, being intentional to make sure we're thoughtful of what they are feeling and experiencing.

I'm all for love.  Lots of it!  So no need to choose one or the other-- all love is important!

This Valentines weekend, even if we're caught up in romantic love, we can still pause in some way, to remind our friends that we love them and can't wait until our next get-together.  That's what friends do.

With love,

Shasta

p.s.  What rules so you wish you could set? What hurts you the most that your friends do when they're dating? Do you find it hard to go out with friends when your lover doesn't? Share with us!  :)

Do You Want More Meaningful Friendships this New Year?

At the beginning of December I was already looking forward to New Years.  There's something so beautiful about having an external invitation, like a holiday, to pause for reflection.  Most years, my husband and I spend an evening journaling-- using questions such as:

  • What was the hardest part of this last year?  How did I respond?
  • What do I want to celebrate from this last year?  What did I accomplish, where did I grow, and what am I proud of? How can I foster even more gratitude in my life?
  • What did I lose this last year?  Have I grieved those things fully?  Is there anything I want to do right now to honor those loses or let go?
  • Where do I hold angst, stress, guilt, or frustration?  What might I do now to go into the New Year with less of those feelings?

And then I inevitably pick a few words.  A theme.  An intention.

I don't do goals.  I do feelings.  What do I want more of in my life? And I name a word. Or two or three.  :)

Past words have included: gratitude, traction, abundance, courageous, and connected.

Then, from there, I can better make decisions about what would help me experience those feelings.  It ensures that I never set resolutions based on obligation or guilt, but based on pursuing the things I want to feel.

Entering my 2014

This year, in early December, as I was already scheduling a few weeks out to block off an afternoon for reflection, I pictured myself sitting in a group of women.

Just thinking about us all having a place to share our reflections and witness each others losses and celebrations thrilled me! I sent invitations out.

And yesterday afternoon I sat in that circle I created.  I don't think any of the 9 women who came knew more than 1 other person in that circle, and most of them didn't know anyone else.  But as always happens, because humans crave more meaningful conversation that we typically get, magic ensued.

What  a joy to be able to not just journal on my own, but then to also share some of my reflections with others.  And to hear their stories.  To resonate.  To be inspired. To process out loud.  To hear myself get clearer as I shared.  To celebrate each others wins.  To bear witness to their losses.  To collectively decide that we want to enter a new year with more clarity and less fear, doubt, and uncertainty.  We committed to live lives of love in 2014, instead of acting out of fear, and we chose it together.  That's powerful.

So this year when I chose my words, it wasn't just written on a page, but it was spoken out loud in a circle of supportive faces. I spoke mine and they spoke theirs.

My chosen words for 2014: "I want to feel generous, present, invigorated, and expanded."  I can't wait to see how I show up in my friendships with more presence and generosity!

What would you say if you were in that circle? What do you want more of in your life this year? (Here is a partial list of feelings words to see what jumps out at you!)

Choosing Connection

Is connection on your list?  Or, what about acceptance, belonging, appreciation, inclusion, mutuality, or affection?  Or maybe Frientimacy-- the intimacy of close friends?  Does one of your words include inviting more love into your life?

If one of the hungers of your heart involves being connected to others-- whether that be making new friends, repairing some old relationships, or developing some friendships into deeper and more intimate experiences--I invite you to join me this Friday night (1/3/14) on the free call I'm leading.

If one of your themes has to do with friendships, surrounding yourself with good friends, then I hope you'll carve out an hour at the end of this week to give yourself the pause to start thinking how to turn that word into reality.

Yesterday, as these women left my home... they just kept saying, "Thank you for organizing this... I needed it, but would have never done it on my own."  That's true for most of us.

So I extend the offer to you, to sit in a virtual circle with me this Friday!  Give yourself the inspiration and information you need to attract more meaningful connection in your life.

If you have a phone line, then you have a circle of women waiting to be with you.  :)

www.FriendshipsWanted.com

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Activity Idea:  A couple of years ago I came across Danielle LaPorte's Desire Map who does something similar but she adds some brilliant questions that I now answer after I pick my word/words:  What can I accomplish/experience this year to help generate these feelings?  What can I do this quarter....?  What can I do this week...?  What can I do today...?  Brilliant.  Reminds us that even drinking one green smoothie or sending a card to a friend might move us toward our word.

In the meantime, leave a comment sharing some of the words you're choosing for your 2014!

 

 

 

 

 

To Our Loneliness Around the Holidays

I want to speak to that loneliness in so many of us that's exacerbated during the holidays. You are not alone if you feel lonely this holiday season!

This is a time of year when I'd guess that loneliness skyrockets.  The feeling of being disconnected or dissatisfied with our relationships might be one we can ignore other timesof the year.  But come Christmas, when the expectations are elevated that everyone be jolly, merry, and surrounded by a big, loving, and healthy family, we are prone to feel the disappointment ever more obviously.

Holiday Loneliness

For some, the feeling of being alone is an annual experience.  You are used to the grief of not having a loving family, a present family, or a healthy family.  You know how to manage your expectations and you've undoubtedly created coping mechanisms and rituals to avoid sitting all alone in your apartment on Christmas Day.  But it's still noticeable.

For some, the feeling of being alone might be relatively new to you this holiday.  Perhaps you experienced a loss this last year-- a divorce, a death, or another ending-- that makes this holiday feel anything but festive.  You wonder what rituals to still do, how many times you can paint a smile over your ache, and whether you want to even try to be around others.  The pain still feels raw.  If one more grocery store clerk tries to make small talk by asking you if you've got big plans for the holidays, you might just break down and cry.

For many, you will not be alone, but you will still feel some disconnection.  It may be as you notice the absence of someone you wish were still in your life, but is noticeably gone.  It may be that you miss that your family isn't all able to get together this year.  Or, it can even happen when you're surrounded by people if you don't relate to them, don't feel close to them, or feel stress in their presence.  It's so common to look around at "family" and wish for a different experience.

Loneliness can be one of the most painful human experiences ever.

What is Loneliness?

One of my keynote talks is all about loneliness.  Because the honest truth is that we all know this feeling. It's far more universal than anyone thinks.  That's one of the ironies of loneliness is that we feel so alone in the feeling.

While we many not all face being completely alone during the holidays, we all know what it feels like to crave more connectedness.

And that's how I define loneliness-- it is your body's way of telling you that you want more meaningful connection in your life.

Much like hunger tells you that you need food, thirst tells you that you need water, and exhaustion tells you that you need sleep-- those pangs of loneliness is information to you that you wish for greater connection.

And there is no shame in that!  None at all!  I don't feel shame that my body needs to eat, drink, and sleep; and neither do I feel shame that my heart needs to connect.

Loneliness is information.  Information that shouldn't be ignored, stuffed down, fed with food, or drowned with alcohol.  Information that should be trusted, appreciated, accepted, and thanked.  Information that we shouldn't try to talk ourselves out of feeling, to buttress with cheerfulness, or to wallow in despair.  It's information.  Information that the healthiest among us will note, hold, and act upon.

My Prayer for You

If you're in this season wishing for more connection, I want you to know that you're not alone.  Not at all.  Don't let our happy Christmas card photos trick you into thinking that our lives are perfect.

So many of us have loved ones in the hospital this holiday, people missing from our family tables, financial stress and work obligations that prevent us from being with everyone, and people we have to be with that aren't meaningful.  We know, in varying degrees, what it means to not be surrounded by all the love we want.

Take the information from that and own it.  There is much beyond our control... we can't place an order for the family and the finances that would reflect what we think makes a perfect holiday.  And that has to be grieved.  We ache for whom we have lost and for whom we don't have.  And I'm so sorry.

And then ask yourself what is in your control.  Is there anything you can do that will help invite more love into your life this week?  Anyone you can reach out to?  Anything you want to schedule? Any rituals that will bring you peace or contentedness?  Any conversations you can create opportunity to have?  Any love you can give to others?

We acknowledge that few will experience this holiday the way the commercials evoke. But we also acknowledge that love is not limited to those things.  We can let go of needing it to come in a specific package, in what we think is the ideal form; and instead open ourselves up to letting it come in surprising ways.

Be someone this month, if you can muster it, where you know that love is in your hands.  You are not a victim--reliant on anyone else, or anything, to help you experience love.  You are a creator of love.

I see your pain, and I'm so sorry for it.  I also see your hunger to be loved more, and I'm so grateful for it.  Feed your hunger this holiday, more than you feed your pain.  Reach out for connection in any form, and whisper over and over, "I am connected."  For you are.

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  To launch our new year together, a year of inviting more connection into our lives in 2014, I'll be speaking on a free, live phone call about the 4 different types of loneliness we all face at different times, the 5 Circles of Friends we need, and the two most important actions we can take to invite more connection in our lives.  Friday evenings are sacred time for me-- time for family, God, and rituals that end my week and step me into peace.  So I'm picturing a call on the first Friday night of 2014-- make yourself some tea or pour yourself a glass of wine-- and join me on Jan. 3.  Sign up for this free call here.

 

 

Who Do You Need to Forgive?

This week, in the midst of holiday shopping, travel plans, kids' programs, and parties I feel compelled to bring our attention to what could arguably be the most important action on your to-do list this season: forgiveness. Forgiveness.  images

Take a moment and observe your body as you say the word.  What happens?  Does something tighten? Does your breathing change? Does anything feel heavy?  Does life feel expansive and joyful when you say that word or do you feel dread and constriction?  It's definitely a loaded word for most people.

We shy away from it because we feel a little guilt about the grudges and judgment we hold.  We want to roll our eyes at people like me who are calling for us to let go of this thing that feels impossible to relinquish.  Living with the ideal in mind and choosing to stay where we are creates such an exhausting dissonance that to close the gap requires us to either forgive or decide it's not important. So if we can't picture letting go then our only other obvious choice is to convince ourselves we don't need to.

Why Forgive?

Why I'm choosing to write about this today is because I want you to make room for what 2014 can hold for you.  And it's hard to invite more love, connection, peace, creativity, intention, health, and joy into your life when judgement and anger are taking up space, consuming your energy, holding your subconscious hostage.  It's hard to sincerely say to God, or the Universe, "I want a more abundant life", when our very actions are showing that we want to sit here and hug this rock of anger a little longer.  It's hard to show up with love for the new people we meet when the story we play in our heads sings an unforgiving tune of "People disappoint me.  I should be wary.  I need more protection."

There are many motivations to forgive people, but the one I care about today, for you, is that I want you to have more amazing connection in your life in the year ahead.  I want for you more love, more laughter, more revealing, more play, more touch, more understanding, more empathy, more affirmation-- all the things that come with being truly connected to others.  I want that for you so very much.

But you can't move forward with both arms open wide for more connection if you're still looking back, trailing a bag of rocks behind you.

Who to Forgive?

  • Forgive yourself.  Forgive yourself for what you didn't do that you wish you had done; and for what you did do that you wish you hadn't done.  Forgive yourself for playing too small because you were afraid and for dreaming too big because now you're disappointed.  Forgive yourself for the actions you took that don't reflect the person you want to be.  Forgive yourself for acting out of insecurity and fear.
  • Forgive the obvious other.  This is the person(s) who we know off the top of our mind that we're mad at. We were hurt and deeply disappointed by their actions.  Just thinking about them makes us sick to our stomach.  We feel like we lost a piece of ourselves in that event.
  • Forgive the subtle other.  This one can be slightly more difficult to admit because, as I talk about at length in my book, we often feel guilty admitting we need to "forgive" the people we love because the things that cause us angst aren't "wrongs."  We might be mad at her for getting married, jealous that she gets to retire with plenty of financial security, hurt that she moved away, or frustrated because she whines about her marriage but doesn't do anything about it. But remember-- if you feel angst then forgiveness is the answer to peace.
  • Forgive life.  It sounds silly, perhaps, but we have to forgive God, too.  Again, we're not forgiving because wrong was done, we're forgiving to bring peace to us.  I've had to forgive God for letting things happen to me, for not creating a "fair" universe, and for not answering prayers.

How To Forgive

There are entire books on this process (and re-read chapter 9 in my book for more ideas and context) so far be it from me to summarize all that wisdom here, but here are three steps I go through this time of year to make sure I'm processing what is being felt and stored in my body.  By admitting all this we are only acknowledging what is already there in us, and bringing it to consciousness is the only way we can access the wisdom from those experiences and choose to eventually move away from the pain of them.

  1. Be Clear Where There is Angst.  Start with yourself.  List every area of your life where you feel any angst at all-- romance, finances, body, etc.  Now write down every thought that comes to mind when you answer the questions: What do I wish I had done differently? Why am I disappointed in myself? Where might I be blaming myself? This is an exercise of reflection so you don't need to filter yourself or talk yourself out of putting something down. To list something doesn't mean it was wrong, it just means you feel some angst and we want to listen to that.  For example, in the area of tight finances-- I might list things like "I have to forgive myself for not making more money," or for "Choosing to be self-employed." It doesn't mean I shouldn't be self-employed or that it was a mistake-- it simply means that I acknowledge my role in where I am, and that I still need to come to peace with something in that area.
  2. Glean Any Wisdom or Information that Could Be Helpful. Keeping with that example, once I see my thoughts on paper I can then ask myself-- are these things I wish I had done differently? Is there wisdom to learn here?  What information can I take with me that might help me in the future?  What could I do, if anything, to feel more peace in this area?  Is there an action I want to take right now? Is this a circumstance that needs to be/can be changed or is it more important that I change how I look at it?
  3. Lean Into Willingness.  Sometimes in journaling, I'll sit with the pain and it's just as clear as day that I am ready to let this go and feel peace.  It can be that quick.  It can be this ah-ha that has been waiting to happen and my body just knows that I have now harvested the best from that situation and that there is no more value in bringing it with me.  But sometimes I am so not there. The very idea of letting it go scares me and feels way too big.  Sometimes I feel like I'm letting myself or someone else off the hook and that something in me will die or be lost if I do it. In those moments, I lean into that very still and small voice that knows that forgiveness will ultimately bring me peace and all I ask myself to do is say "I am willing to come to forgiveness."  It may not be today.  But I'm willing.  I'm willing to get there.  And that's enough for now.

After you process your own angst... continue your list by doing the same steps for the others in your life that you feel some angst with.

Maybe schedule an evening or a weekend early-morning to just sit, sip a favorite drink, and journal.

The goal is to get to a place where we continue to whisper to life "We are willing to let this go so that something more abundant can enter my life."  For that is so very much what I want for you as you go into this new year of your life.

And it truly is the biggest contribution you can make to your life and to others this Christmas season.  Be the gift of one more person showing up with love.

 

Christmas Card Conundrums: Send Them? Why? How Many? To Whom?

Every so often I get a question in my inbox that triggers an idea for a blog that I would have never even thought up on my own; this week is one of those. (A sincere sorry to those who have written suggestions and I haven't yet gotten to them!  I might still!) This email landed in my inbox on the very day I was compiling my own Christmas card list:

"I begrudgingly addressed *320* Christmas Cards over the weekend and I couldn't help but think that you probably have some advice / decision criteria for thinning it out to a more manageable amount.  Clearly everyone has their own motivations and their "right" number --  all I know is that 320 is WAY TOO MUCH for us!  Perhaps this is a topic for a blog post!?"

While totally wanting to honor the truth in that question that everyone will have different reasons and list sizes, I can at least offer up some principles and questions that might help us each make those decisions for ourselves.

How I Decide How Many Holiday Cards To Send?

I'll start with my short answer, and then give a longer answer that shows how it plays out for me.

In short, my rule is this: "Send the maximum number that still feels loving and expansive to my heart and body, stopping 10 short of the number that starts feeling heavy, guilt-ladden, or resource-depleting."

What that looks like is a bit like planning a wedding invitation list.  You don't have to invite everyone-- a meaningful wedding can have 2 witnesses or 1000.  We make the choice based primarily on 2 things: "What time/money/energy do I have this season?" and "Who do I want to give those limited gifts to?"

  1. What are my resources this season?  In wedding language we would talk about a budget, how much time you have to make homemade centerpieces, and how much energy you want to put toward organizing this event in the midst of whatever else you have going on that year.  In holiday card language we must ask the same questions.  If your budget is tight this season, then you'll start reaching your limit sooner.  If your time is plentiful, then you may get excited about a few weeks of crafting homemade cards in front of a fireplace.  If your energy is waning then it may be that a short note of love being emailed out feels more do-able than coordinating that perfect holiday photo.  What resources are you coming into this season with?
  2. Who are my priorities with the resources I have?  In wedding language that would be like saying, "Okay, I have tons of money, now, would I rather pour that into a destination wedding for a few or an open-bar for everyone my parents have ever met?" Or, on the contrary, "I don't want to go into debt for this wedding, so I might need to either invite fewer people or decide to do snacks instead of a sit-down dinner." You know the process. In holiday card land, we need to do the same thing.

So finding that number between those two answers--where you stop short of feeling stress and angst-- is the goal.

And to state the obvious, every year is different for me.  So it doesn't matter what I did last year; it matters what we can and want to do this year.

What Is the Purpose of Sending Holiday Cards?

In a day and age of Facebook, when it feels like everyone knows what's going on with your life, do we still really need to even send holiday cards?

I lean toward yes. I believe holiday cards are a gift of thoughtfulness to people; not just updating. I'd like to invite you to send them out not from a place focused on your life, but but from a place focused on someone feeling remembered and loved. And to do that, we don't need "amazing" lives or worrying about how to wow others.

I remember the year after my divorce feeling like I couldn't send out cards because all the photos you see are of smiling families or couples.  But that misses the point.  I wanted to say thank you to my friends for supporting me that year and communicate that I was still alive after a tough year.  I remember one year not having much news to report and feeling lame, but again, that misses the point; I could still say "I'm wishing you the best new year" while I'm hoping the same for myself.

A challenge I hope some of you take on is that if you are typically the person who thinks they need to have this amazing card sent to a massive list as one of those things that makes you feel better about yourself-- this year consider just writing cards of love to 25 people instead.  And, on the flip-side, if you're someone who never sends out cards because you mistakenly think you need to have this"perfect" family photo or some big news--this year consider doing the same-- just pick 25 people (or whatever number feels do-able and good!) to say "Happy holidays!"

Let go of feeling like you have to reveal the perfect photo, share the most amazing updates, or have a glamorous and seemingly great life-- and instead, see it as a chance to send love to others who undoubtedly feel the same way you do 90% of the time.  Give love.

Who Makes the Cut and Stays on My List?

I actually think the 5 Circles of Friendship can serve as a useful resource as you make your decisions about who to send cards to.

One year, I decided to only send cards to my Confirmed Friends-- the women with whom I always want to feel close with even if we only talk once or twice a year, but opted to skip the friends I'm in constant touch with since I knew I'd be celebrating with them in other ways.  One year, I included my Committed and Community Friends in that list and decided that what felt best to me was hand writing cards to all 20 of them to tell them what I loved about them.  I obviously couldn't take on such an expression of love if my list that year included every friend in my life.

5 types of friends image

 

 

 

 

And every few years I think, "It's been a while since I've touched base with everyone-- I'm going to take it on!" and I look forward to a few evening of fires, hot drinks, and a big project. But even then, I go through my address book and ask myself:

  1. Who am I actually still in touch with?  (There's no point in sending cards to people from my past unless they're also still part of my present! And no guilt in not staying in touch with the whole world--that's what Facebook can help with!)
  2. Who fits this years criteria? (Nah, she's more business, and this year I'm sending to personal friends.  Or, no she's my daughter's friend, but not really mine.)

Going back to the wedding metaphor,  if you only have x hours and x dollars then you can't invite everyone and you need to pick your top 20 or your top 50 or your top 100.  And start on the Right-Side and work your way Left until the x number of cards you ordered are gone.

No wrong answer here. I don't for a second believe holiday cards have to be mutual.  I send them to the people I love with no strings attached.  They don't owe me one!  And I assume the same for those who send me one.  If they want to remove my name from next years list because I didn't send them one this year then so be it- my worth doesn't go up or down one iota based on how many cards I get.

Holiday love from me and my hubby, Greg Nelson, to you.  May you stand under your metaphoric "kissing ball" this season with courage and hope. xoxo

This year, I encourage you to give as much love as you can in whatever ways it feels do-able.  A card sent in stress is no gift at all.  Send what you can with love.  If it's only 6 cards-- then 6 it is. Our goal is let the people who matter to us know that they are loved-- however you do that is fine.  Breathe deeply and let go of any obligation to love in any way that causes you more stress than joy.

And because I cannot, and will not, send holiday cards to you all-- "I wish you each a very meaningful holiday-- that you will receive what you most deeply need." xoxo

Celebrating All Love, Not Just the Romantic Kind!

I am a big fan of romantic love.  A very big fan. And I'm all for having a day where we can celebrate those loving feelings. But... every Valentines I find myself worrying more about all the women who are so obsessed about being chosen by some dream man (or woman, as the case may be) that they forget that love comes from so many other places!  Today isn't just about whether we are "in love," but rather about whether we are living loving lives.  What a huge difference!

Anne Lamott (a popular author who writes spiritual memoirs such as her latest, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers) wrote this on her Facebook page this last week:

"I would estimate that approximately 17% of people enjoy Valentine's day. Mostly, women will be given boxes of chocolates that they don't want and can't resist, and will be really mad at themselves for inhaling. Many people will be filled with resentment, anxiety, and guilt at having forgotten, or having shown up late, or having accidentally been having affairs with other people. Many people will feel a sheet-metal sense of loneliness and rejection. They will be comparing their insides with other people's outsides, especially those happy valentines actors in advertisements and commercials. Most of the day, except for the lucky few, will be a nightmare."

That's a pretty depressing view.  And I so hope the number is higher than 17% of people who step into today with joy, contentment, and gratitude.  But it illustrates my point that for many, today has the potential to be depressing or disappointing.

Lamott is calling for an Occupy Valentines Day where women focus today on radical self-care instead of looking for external validation.  That is certainly in alignment with my friend Christine Arylo, the Queen of Self-Love and author of Madly in Love with ME: The Daring Adventure of Becoming Your Own Best Friend who has declared every Feb. 13 as the International Day of Self-Love.  The message that I am so glad is entering our consciousness is the reminder that love has to start with us.

Let's Choose All Love Today!

I invite all of us to decide today that we are going to choose to remember that we are loved. That means recognizing that whether we are in a romantic relationship or not, that we are valuable, worthy, loveable, and amazing.  We are no less so, no matter what our relationship status.  That means that we're going to pry our little fingers open and let go of any set expectation of what someone has to do for us today to make us feel good.  We can choose to feel loved all by ourselves.  Yes, we can.

Choosing to celebrate our own worthiness can take on many different forms. Whether it's planning this evening to be filled with the things that bring us personal joy, scheduling some 30 minutes of self-care that we give ourselves, or setting aside time to journal and ground ourselves in what we know is lovingly true about us, we can decide if we want to choose love or fear today.

Choosing love is an inside job.

Proof of that is that we have all been in relationship before and still not felt like we were "enough."  A relationship doesn't mean we're in anymore loved or able to receive love any easier.  So let's not fall for the delusion that we need someone else before we can feel it.

And then, after accepting our own personal love, let's also commit to reach out to others we love.  So for some of us it may include a romantic partner, but for all of us it also includes family members, co-workers, and friends.  It means showing up in ways that remind others that they are loved.  Let's make sure our very presence invites others to feel good about themselves.

This can include such things as:

  • Leaving a voice mail for a girlfriend telling her 5 things we love about her.
  • Taking 2 minutes to write an email (or send an e-card) to any of our friends who have recently gone through a break-up or divorce and reminding them,"Just in case you are tempted to doubt your amazing-ness today-- I just wanted to jump in your inbox and tell you how absolutely love-able, wonderful, and beautiful you are. You are so loved and thought of on this Valentines Day!"
  • Calling your parents and thanking them for showing you so much love over the years.
  • Scheduling an impromptu Valentines happy hour at your apartment after work and inviting anyone you think of or see throughout the day!
  • Give hugs everywhere you go.  Few of us get too much healthy and loving touch in our lives.
  • And commit to just really listen and see people tomorrow.  Everyone you encounter in meetings, during sales calls, and in the break room is fighting their own battles-- be sure they know you saw them and valued them.

There is a very real spiritual truth and it is that love goes every direction; meaning that it's impossible for you to give love and have any less of it yourself.  As we give, we receive.  As we hug, we get hugged. As we smile at others, we feel happier.  As we remind others of their inherent worth, we remember our own.

Today, let's be a community of women that loves.  May we exude the love we crave.  May we be the love this world needs.

With love and hope,

Shasta

p.s.  Want to buy a gift for a girlfriend, sister, or mother? Send a note telling them you just purchased "Friendships Don't Just Happen!" and are having it sent to them as a thank you for how much love they have shown you over the years!

p.s.s.  Just went through a recent break-up or feeling bad about being alone this year? My friend, Ellen Smoak of Break-ups are a Bitch has begun a free 1-month Cupid's Roast filled with interviews with all kinds of sex, dating, relationship, and love coaches to help inspire and heal you.  (I'll be featured toward the end!)

 

How I Will Be Making My New Year Resolutions of Love

If both Hanukkah and Christmas commemorate moments where we remember that God intervened in our lives-- be it by keeping a single-day of oil burning for eight days as the Jews rededicated their temple or impregnating a young woman to give birth to a baby who was to show the world what love looked like in action--then the approach of New Years should naturally stem from the awareness that God is among us.  December reminds us that our lives are more than just ours.  We go into January knowing that there is something bigger at play.

I want my New Year to be birthed from a really divine place.  I want my hopes to feel magical.  I want my dreams to feel in alignment with my work in this world.  I want my resolutions to change more in this world than a few pounds off my body. I want my goals to not just feel like an obligatory to-do list or a re-hash of last years failed attempts.

Whatever belief system you have in place and whatever word you use for that which is bigger than us-- I hope you'll take the time to bring the true spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas into your New Year.

Who We Want to Be In 2013

Jim Wallis, the president and CEO of Sojourners and author of forthcoming book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, sent out a newsletter this morning that speaks to this point.  He spent the first part of 2012 researching and writing this book about the common good and how we seem to have lost this concept in our politics and our society.

He says, "What I learned in the course of writing was how ancient the concept of the common good really is. This quote dates back to the fourth century:

This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good … for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for neighbors."

—John Chrysostom (ca. 347–407)

My roots are in Christianity, but yours doesn't need to be in order for that quote to still matter. In fact, some of the most beautiful "imitators of Christ" are the atheists, agnostics, other-religious, and non-religious people I know.

For no matter the religion we do or don't subscribe to, what most of us still quote would be what we call the Golden Rule:

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

In other words: work toward the common good.  Care about those around you. Love.

Setting Our New Year Intentions

So as I sit with that this morning, I want the seeds of my New Years resolutions to come from that place of the common good.  Therefore the question I need to be asking myself isn't only "How can I improve my life this year?" but also, "How can improving my life this year serve more people?"

Some of the questions I'm asking myself:

  • Am I as loving as I want to be?
  • Am I acting with as much courage as I am meant to have?
  • Am I becoming a more generous person each year?
  • Am I growing in my own self-awareness so that I am taking more responsibility for my triggers, my responses, and my defensiveness?
  • Am I living more often from a place of  joy?
  • Am I growing in my compassion and empathy for those around me?
  • Am I seeing emotional growth in my life that excites me?

For many of those questions, I find myself pausing, unsure if I can unequivocally say yes.  When I notice that pause, I am then asking, "What could I do in 2013 to become this more loving, courageous, and centered person that I want to be?"

Doesn't that feel so much more significant than beating ourselves up about our body weight, our spending habits, or any other number of actions that produce our immediate guilt?  And don't we think that by focusing truly on who we want to become--people with more joy, peace, patience, and courage--that we'll find our other habits changing to align with what is now more true for ourselves? I think so.

So rather than encouraging you to add "Make 3 new friends this year" or "Call one long-distance friend each week" to your New Year's list; I'm instead inviting you to start from a deep and quiet place to ask yourself: "What quality can I grow that will help me love others better?" Who do you want to be? How do you want to expand?

Then whisper a prayer that expands that in you: "I'm willing to become a more loving, forgiving, generous, kind, centered, hopeful, and patient person."

Choose to be one more person in this world who cares about the common good, who doesn't vote only on self-interest, and who chooses to live from love instead of fear.  And from that place of wanting to grow into a more loving person, trust that your love will pull more people in to give it back to you.

Your love will not produce an empty vacuum, but rather will create a circle of love surrounding you with more meaningful relationships, life purpose, and consequential joy. For love begets love. Love drives out fear.  Love invites greater love.  Love changes us.  Love changes the world.

And that is what I call the greater good. Happy New Year!

 

 

Earth Day, God, and Relationships

On this blog I talk about relationships. Almost every week (not quite as regular this month since I immersed myself in writing the final chapters of my book manuscript!) I write about how our relationships impact us, or how we can impact them. Today, with Earth Day coming up this weekend, I challenge us to see the planet as one more relationship we are called to care for. And, while I have yet to write a piece on our environment, I find that the subject is actually very much in alignment with our friendships.

Allow me this moment to explain...

A Story of Our Beginnings

One of the stories of our beginnings comes from the book of Genesis in the Jewish scriptures.  In that version, Adam & Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, introducing sin into our world.

Sin is often described as disobedience, conjuring up images of preachers pounding podiums and warning of hell. But I find that definition to be too narrow for most of us.  Indeed sin can be wrong-doing that needs forgiveness, but there are many other metaphors used throughout sacred scriptures that sometimes speaks to us better at different times including: exile and return, slavery and liberation, fear and peace, missing the mark and staying the course, rejection and acceptance, and the one I want to focus on today: disconnection and reconciliation.

What Adam and Eve experienced that day was, among other things, a profound sense of disconnection. In so many ways, the wedge of what we call sin in this world, impacts all four of our relationships:

  1. Our Relationship to God: This is often the one that gets the most attention-- the message often being that we have to re-prove ourselves to God or find ways to please God. But really I think it's the next relationship, the one we have with our selves, that actually can mess up the one with we have with God. It becomes increasingly difficult to believe in a Love that is bigger than anything we can imagine or see.
  2. Our Relationship to Self: How we see ourselves, the ego that starts to motivate us, the defensiveness and fear we live from, our deep sense of never being quite-good-enough. We rarely feel the alignment we seek, often feeling at war with ourselves, distracted, torn, and pulled toward different values.
  3. Our Relationship to Others: As soon as fear entered our world, it became impossible to not look at each other with suspicion and distrust. In our need to feel good enough personally, it's impossible to give the gift of acceptance and love to each other. The Other becomes a threat to our personal survival.  Even with those close to us, who we commit to love, we struggle our entire lives to live it out in ways that don't hurt each other.
  4. Our Relationship to the Earth: Perhaps one of the saddest, and least talked about relationships that experienced deep wounding because of our fear is that with our planet. In the story of the Garden of Eden, a perfectly created earth began to grow thorns and experience it's own form of death and decay. God commissioned the first humans with the responsibility to be stewards of the earth, working with God to reverse this decay rather than contribute to it. We have lost the very real sense of connection and responsibility for this home of ours-- often seeing it as something to use, not seeing it as something to protect.

Every Relationship is Connected

My personal belief is that all the four relationships above are inter-connected. I actually don't think we can segment ourselves, compartmentalizing some relationships as separate than others, and live full, abundant, healthy and love-filled lives.

In other words, you hear me often say that I don't think we can decide to have healthy relationships with others, without having a healthy relationship with ourselves. Conversely, I don't think we can fully be at peace with ourselves if we have angst in our relationships.

I know the God-piece throws off many of us-- perhaps we're uncomfortable with that particular title/label or how we've seen others use it for their purposes.  But whether we call it Bigness--the Universe, Spirit, Mother Nature, Karma, the Sacred, or God--the truth remains that whatever worldview we end up adopting, whatever belief we hold about what runs our world, or what we can expect from this life, this relationship with that which is outside of us cannot not impact our relationships with others and ourselves.

And in honor of Earth Day, I sound a clarion call that one more relationship we are called to attend to is that of our planet. Like any relationship, we have to figure out how we can enter into a healthy give-and-take-- growing ever conscious of what we use versus what we replenish, restore, reuse, and grow. This call extends to how we treat and protect animals, how we view our forests and our farmland, how we share resources with others, and how we protect the eco-systems, water supplies, and every other gift our planet has offered.

Our Calling

I shared the story of the Garden of Eden because it beautifully ties all four relationships together. Our own distrust of God and our desire to grab whatever we want brings pain and consequence to all four relationships. What we do in one affects the others.  We are not separate.

The story of our beginnings that says that we will toil and hurt in all four of those relationships is picked up again, at the end of the same Bible, in the story of another New Beginning.  This one, in the book of Revelation, says that God wants to bring reconciliation to all that is disconnected. And every story in between those pages, for Jews, Muslims, and Christians is about our call to be, what one of the New Testament writers Paul describes as, "Ambassadors of Reconciliation."

We are invited to carefully evaluate all four relationships and then do all we can to bring love, healing, safety, joy, and peace, wherever we can.

That means that if we say we want healthy friendships with other women, then part of that is getting healthy and pro-active about our relationship to how we give, protect, and love this planet that we call home.

Happy Earth Day!

 

 

The Role of Female Friendships on March 8: International Women's Day

Tomorrow is March 8, International Women's Day.

Started in the early 1900's, now dozens of countries from Afghanistan to Zambia celebrate this international holiday to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. I've written before about my awakening to the ongoing needs to be powerful women so today I'm going to take a slightly different angle and talk about the role of friendship in that journey.

Relationships at the Center of Women's Development & Identity

Women's development is largely understood by psychologists and sociologists as being more dependent upon our connections with others, as compared to the development of men where they seemingly place higher value on their independence, self-reliance, and destiny fulfillment.

When I hear all those "masculine" words I actually feel very drawn to them so it reminds us that it's not an easy, either/or, black-and-white, male vs. female comparison.  Nonetheless, on the spectrum of where we form our identity, women tend to lean into feeling their worth based on our relationships: being chosen (married, dating), being a mother, on being admired by the other women in our lives, by being the glue in our extended families.

Historically, in fact, we were only defined and valued by our relationships to men-- who our fathers, husbands, and sons were.  Legally, morally, and socially, we had to be connected to men to have a secure status.   We've come a long way since the days where our characters were either "good" or "bad" due to our behavior with men and our place in society was dependent upon having a man to provide property, food, and reputation.  We are still expanding our definition of our own unique identity as women.

In the book "girlfriends" written in 1995 by Carmen Renee Berry and Tamara Traeder they make a compelling case for female friendship by saying,

"When we look to men as reference points, however, we lose sight of who we are as women. It is like trying to define an apple by comparing it to an orange.  The apple, described in terms of the orange, will never have it's own identity, appeal, and value; it will simply be "not an orange."

We are more than the value of our relationships to and with men, just as we are more than being "not men."

An Ode to My Female Friendships

We are women, and perhaps it's with other women that we can best define and name ourselves as we tell our stories, practice our power, and model our experiences. Not to negate one iota from the value I have found in connecting with men, but rather, to focus on the distinct value of connecting with women, it is in those relationships that I have found so much of myself.

So tomorrow, on International Women's Day*, this post is to the women who have taught me to not just try to imitate men or be different than men, but to simply become a woman.

Thank you for the stories you've shared, whether it was during the slumber parties of our childhood, in the bath rooms of high school, in the college classrooms after class, over happy hour drinks or coffee or tea, in parks watching the kids, or in the adjacent offices of our careers.

Thank you for modeling for me and letting me ask the awkward questions as we all bumped through life wearing training bras before we needed them, wishing for our periods only to then wonder why we had ever thought that sounded like fun, and watching each other survive broken hearts to remind ourselves that when the time came, and it always did, that we, too, would survive.

Thank you for asking for the promotion and giving me courage to do the same, and thank you for whispering your fears as you weighed the cost of ambition as it helped me gauge my own price tags.

Thank you for being just as excited about finding that perfect rug on sale that pulls in all the colors of your living room for a mere discounted price worthy of your hunt, as you were about splurging that day at the spa.

Thank you for simultaneously assuring me that I don't need to lose weight while also validating my desire to "get back into shape," for telling me you like my hair long or short, but always concluding that how it is now is your current favorite, and for nodding understanding about how fast time flies while also telling me how young I still am.

Thank you for being the kind of women I could call in tears should I ever need to tell you that they found a lump in my breast. And conversely, that I could call with indistinguishable words should I ever have a book go on the best-seller list.  But more often than not, simply calling you with a nonchalant, "What are you making for dinner tonight?"

We alone know that even when men are doing 50% of the household chores that there are still countless things we do that make our lists a bit longer; and we alone know the feeling of pride and exhaustion of believing that we are the only ones that could do those things.  We can brag and commiserate that we are multi-taskers, seek balance as though it's attainable, and feel guilty saying no even when it's precisely the right answer.  Thank you for being a woman with me.

It is an honor to be a woman with you.  It is my privilege to learn from you and your stories.  It is a gift that you hear my own.  Thank you.

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* For more information about this international holiday or to participate in one of the hundreds of events across the country visit the official web site of International Women's Day.

** On a side note, I'd be honored to have your vote of appreciation for my blog in the About.com Readers Awards for Favorite Friendship Blog. Two seconds of your time can help me narrow the gap from 2nd to 1st place! Thank you!

September is Women's Friendship Month

September is Women's Friendship Month. She says with as much gusto as possible. I go back-and-forth between championing friendship holidays and feeling slightly squeamish over them.  Much like one of Santa's helpers admitting some ambivalence about Christmas,  it feels slightly wrong to be a spokesperson for women's friendship and not promote every one of the holidays.

Notice that word was plural.  In all honesty, that is my issue.  Look at this mess:

Friendship Holidays throughout the Year

  • All over the web, February is touted as the International Month of Friendship.  If you know why, I'd love to know, but indeed there are over 32 million results claiming it is so.
  • In my circle of women's friendship experts, we all seem to have

    gotten behind September as the National Women's Friendship Month. In 1999, Kappa Delta Sorority created the National Women's Friendship Day that became so popular that it was expanded in 2009 to a month-long celebration. Now women celebrate International Women’s Friendship Month (IWFM) the entire month. There are a good 52 million good results on this one, but who's to say if that is what determines the winner?

  • But with a ton of August friendship holidays cropping up, you'd have good reason for thinking everyone movedthe celebrations to this summer month. Apparently, August 1 is called National Girlfriends Day.  Not to be confused with the Women's Friendship Day that has multiple records online for being the third Sunday in August.  Which is still different from the more general official Friendship Day recognized by Wikipedia with Hallmark roots as being the first Sunday of every August since its inception in 1919.
  •  But even that official Friendship Date in August gets a little blurry since this last April 2011, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared July 30 as official International Friendship Day.
  • And then you can't do much research and not come across Best Friends Day on  June 8 or Old Friends, New Friends Week as the third week of May.

See what I mean?  What's a friendship girl to do?

There are simply too many groups of people naming different dates and too large a plethora of variations on the theme. If I don't throw up pom-pom's on each of the said dates then I feel like a friendship Scrooge or slacker; if I try to give honorable mention to all of them, they all seem to start losing some meaning.  I suppose I should just be thrilled to have more opportunities to promote friendship, but wouldn't any holiday start to lose some joy if we all celebrated it at different times and at half a dozen unique dates throughout the year?

So until you all figure out the best holiday schedule, I'm going to stick to celebrating September as Friendship Month.  I may throw another date in here-and-there just so I don't feel like a total friendship Grinch refusing to play with everyone else, but between you-and-me, just know it comes more from wanting to protect a holiday than not wanting there to be one.

This Friendship Month at Shasta's Friendship Blog

So there are 4 ways we are celebrating Friendship Month in the GirlFriendCircles community this September.  And, you're invited to all of them!

  1. 21 Days of Friendship Coaching Journey: In my last scheduled 21-Days of Friendship Journey curriculum of 2011, I invite you to step into an awesome month of reading, journaling, evaluating, and leaning into more meaningful friendships for your life. Most of us only learn about friendship from our own experiences and limited modeling from our moms and other friends so I have found that many women don't know the types of friends, the stages of friendship, and the best ways for you to evaluate your own sense of connectedness.  Sign up to receive a personal workbook and 5 tele-coaching calls in September. Use discount code GFC to save $15.
  2. Guest Blog Posts: I've received some great guest posts about what some women have learned about friendship that I'll be sharing with you every Thursday in September.  So you'll see a few more blog posts going up, but I'll still only send out one email each week with the links.   
    • Note: I'll still accept a few more posts to consider if you want to write from the perspective of what you've learned after "losing" a friend to a new boyfriend, from the perspective of someone who is housebound or health-challenged about what you wish we all knew and understood, or from the perspective of how its different to make friends in your retirement years. Send to me at Shasta@GirlFriendCircles.com by Monday.
  3. YouTube Video Series & Raffle Drawing: After some of you encouraging me to try it, I want to start teaching a bit on friendship through video. So what better time to jump in than the month of September? So here's my deal-- I am going to start posting (weekly?) vlogs under 3 minutes on my YouTube channel. But it would be so much more compelling to me if I actually had more than my husband as a subscriber!  :)
    • So you subscribe (log-in or sign-up for free account, then hit the yellow subscribe button on the top of my channel ShasGFC) so you'll be notified when I post a new video.
    • Besides promising you good quality vlogs on relationships-- I will also select a weekly winner from all who subscribe all month (the earlier you subscribe, the more chances to win )and we'll send

      5 winners some free product from Flying Wish Paper. These are super fun wishing activity kits:  write your wish on the special paper, light it and watch your wishes fly into the heavens.  My friends and I played with these the other night...and it's a fun activity to do for family Thanksgiving, weddings or other special group activities.

  4. Speed-Friending & Other Fun Events:
    • We're hosting two speed-friending events for all the women in the Bay Area. One is for those in their 20's and 30's, the other for women in their 40's, 50's and 60's.  Be one of the first five to sign up and it's only $10 for a night that ALWAYS ends up surprising people with how fun, easy, comfortable and effective our strategy is for connecting you to other women who also value new friends.
    • For all of you who don't live in the Bay Area, we hope you'll pass along the word for us.  But even more, I'm hoping that some of you movers-and-shakers will go post an event on the GirlFriendCircles.com calendar for those women in your city.  Go ahead and title it something like "Friendship Month _______" and fill in the blank with brunch, movie night, tea party, barbecue or anything else that sounds fun.
    • And by all means, everyone should be aiming to RSVP to some event this month where you remind yourself to keep making new friends.  So get involved!

Because pick your holiday, name your month, vote for your favorite version, or start yet another one-- what it really comes down to is love your friends well.

And should I not celebrate in February, please, please, please someone tell me it's okay.  :)

 

Gratitude, Not Jealousy

Expressing gratitude, which all of November is always that for me, is a powerful practice when it comes to fostering new friendships. When we're not grateful, we tend to be much more susceptible to jealousy, envy and competition. It doesn't take an expert to see how those characteristics might not contribute to healthy friendships! I notice that when I'm grateful and have a sense of my own well-being, I show up in relationship better. It has something to do with self-esteem, but also simply holding a peace about my own life, that invites me to not feel threatened by theirs. I watch over-and-over in others, and myself, how easy it is to project my own insecurities on them.

And wow are holidays a breeding ground for jealousy and discontent! None of our families are perfect. Most of us will experience some form of loneliness. Our expectations go up. Our stress goes up. Our desire to project the perfect, happy, festive smile increase. Our finances won't be enough. Nor will our time feel adequate. Our energy will feel threatened many times over. We will feel losses acutely at this time of year. And regret the gap between where we thought we'd be this year and where we really are. And it will be easy to think that everyone else has the perfect life and that you are the only one lacking.

The Effects of Jealousy If I'm not happy with being single then it's harder to want to be at holidays parties with couples. If I struggle with my weight then it will annoy me to have my skinny friends complain about not fitting into their little black dress this season. If I'm exhausted by being up every night with a teething toddler then it's easier for me to judge others who seemingly have an easier life. If my husband and I are going through a rough patch then I tend to feel more frustrated with other couples expressing public displays of affection. If I don't have kids, I get more annoyed by others who aren't willing to get a baby-sitter to come to a party I am throwing. If I am working overtime this season, I'll feel anger at the women who seem to have all the time in the world to be baking and crafting all month. You get the idea.

Jealousy. It's one of those tricky and counter-intuitive feelings. For it's easy to mistake the feeling as something that someone else is doing wrong and be frustrated with them. But really, it's reminding us that we have an issue that matters to us. It's not about them. It's our own stuff. How we react says more about our story than it does about theirs.

Certainly their action might trigger the feeling. But we'd be wrong to assume that they did something wrong, when in fact, the moment serves as an opportunity to me that I need to look at my own life and ask "What is it that I want?" And just as important, "can I be around people who have that without holding it against them?"

The Opportunity to Respond to Jealousy The real question comes down to whether someone else's happiness threatens my own. In other words, can I figure out a way to not only show up with gratitude for what I have and hope to have, but can I also show up with with gratitude for what they have?

This season, I invite you to step into awareness in two areas:

  1. First, increase your gratitude. Keep a daily journal if you can, where you write five things down every day. Or, make one long list today where you force yourself to list up to 50 things. Look back over the year and identify milestones you're glad you reached, moments that mattered, growth in your life that you witnessed. You may not have what you want yet, but what little glimpses gave you hope that you might reach your goal? For example, with friends, you may not yet have that circle of local friends that nurture your life, but you can celebrate that you joined GirlFriendCircles to do something about it!
  2. Second, increase your awareness around your jealousy. When you feel jealous, use the moment to ask yourself why you feel so judgmental. What do you feel is missing in your life? As you take more responsibility for your feelings, you'll gain awareness about who you are and have more opportunity to respond to that desire in positive ways. Don't beat yourself up! Just gently hold those moments as touchstones that remind you of who you want to become and what you want to invite into your life this upcoming year. And own it for yourself. No need to punish others. Their joy will not diminish or steal from mine. There is enough joy in this world for all of us.

May I invite you to expand your gratitude this season where you hold your life with hope and contentment? May I invite to pay attention to your stuff and not risk it bleeding onto potential friends? May I invite you to not rule out spending time with people because you feel threatened around them from your jealousy? May I invite you to be generous to the mistakes that others will undoubtedly make this time of year out of their own insecurities? May I invite you to forgive quickly when others say things unknowingly that trigger your own fears and insecurities? May I invite you to show up with the best of you this holiday season-- celebrating the best in others and yourself?

Above all, trusting that the promise of Thanksgiving, if nothing else, is one of abundance. There is enough. Enough joy for all of us. May we want the happiness of others as much as we want it for ourselves. That's my wish for us all this month!