Friendship can save the world

Help Me Blaze the Important Trails of Friendship!

Yesterday I received an email of congrats from an entrepreneurial friend of mine after she saw my name on a press release announcing that I was a finalist for a Trailblazer of the Year Award.  I quickly clicked on the link she had sent and was momentarily stunned... Trailblazing? Really?  I wrote her back and said, "Thank you!" And, "hmm... I wonder how I ended up in that category?"

Trailblazer? Really?

The title of "Trailblazing" is definitely a word I hadn't yet used to describe myself.

Her return email then landed in my inbox:

"Don’t underestimate yourself Shasta!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!    YOU are doing such IMPORTANT work ----- don't you realize you are-   Reinstating the Role of Friendship in Life? Giving friendship a Facelift? Uplifting the Spirit with New Friends? It’s because of these reasons that you are a Trailblazer!!!! Accept it  and write about how you think you are trailblazing for your next blog – this is important!!"

And then I just smiled.  Smiled with the appreciation of having friends in my life who believe in me and help me see myself in new ways. So this blog is my way of accepting the challenge of a friend.  This is for me to own what I want to do in this world, but it's also me inviting you to blaze the trail with me!  :)

Let's blaze this trail of friendship together! We need a world of women feeling connected, supported, known, and loved!

The funny thing is that I know I am definitely on a mission. I wouldn't deny that!  But sometimes we just don't use words like "Trailblazing!" to describe ourselves!  But when I started GirlFriendCircles.com nearly 4 years ago I'd get blank stares from people when I'd describe my business.  And magazines would respond with "Oh we did a story on friendship 8 months ago," as though that meant they didn't need to cover it again this year!  And women would say stupid things like, "Who would be so desperate as to pay for friends?" as though paying for coffee, water, and manicures were of more value to them.  Even now when I try to pitch friendship as the very real health story that it is, editors and producers would rather give you a story about a new technique for stomach crunches even though friendship is far more important to your health!

So when I remember what it was like back then and compare it to now.... while I wouldn't have used the word "trailblazing," that was very much what I have done for the last number of years.

And just to further laugh at myself... I do have a theory that friendship can save the world. (See my 3 min video here.) What kind of a silly girl goes making lofty claims about "saving the world" without thinking she wouldn't be blazing a trail along the way!? Ha! Shows just how much we can do without seeing it through the eyes of others!

What Our Trailblazing May Feel Like...

This experience reminds me of the recent Dove commercial that highlights how we  see our appearance differently than others.  I think the same can be true of our accomplishments, roles, identities, and goals.  Certainly it makes sense that we might focus more on our wrinkles, wide foreheads, and big noses than anyone ever looking at us sees.  But similarly, we see much more of the un-glamorous and non-wowing parts of our  lives than others see. (Which is a good thing because while I'm absolutely okay with you knowing how many days I go un-showered, it's still better that you don't have to see it!)

The truth is that when I think of my life, I just see a girl behind her computer, in yoga pants, with stringy hair, typing emails furiously, scheduling phone calls, and just checking things off my to-do list.  It's not really the same image that comes to mind when I think "TRAILBLAZER!" LOL!

But just because the vast majority of my life moments feel mundane doesn't mean I'm not creating partnerships, pitching stories, creating content, and slowly making the trail one foot longer.

To that end, I started www.GirlFriendCircles.com to help introduce women to each other, wrote a book to help inspire and teach women how to foster friendships into more meaningful relationships, and filled up calendars with speaking appointments, workshops, interviews, and events where I can engage with women on such important friendship-related subjects such as forgiveness, personal growth, physical health, self-esteem, and joy.

This idea is necessary because we are moving every 5 years, changing jobs every 4.4 years, living far from our family, going through our life stages at vastly different ages, and divorcing more frequently than previous generations-- every single one of those changes can uproot our support systems leaving people feeling incredibly vulnerable.  We need new ways of connecting with other human beings with more ease and less fear, while also having the permission and know-how to transform those friendships into deep, fulfilling, and meaningful relationships.

So as I'm expanding into a new word, here's hoping you'll blaze trails with me!  I don't expect any of you to run a media campaign in your community for new friendships, but you can RSVP for a ConnectingCircle or sign-up to be a local Ambassador!  You may not see that as anything hugely glamorous.  In fact, it may even feel awkward, discouraging, and scary!  But that doesn't mean it's not HUGELY important!

Why We Have to Blaze Friendship Trails

We have to remember why we are doing what we do.

Yes, most of being a mom feels more like being a chauffeur, ATM, and chef; but to actually stop and feel the awesomeness of the role-- a life-giver, educator-of-the-next-generation, and the person who will teach real love to another human.  Wow.

Similarly, starting a friendship doesn't always feel that amazing.  We often carry fear wondering if the other person will like us, frustration with how hard it is to get something scheduled, and then un-fulfilled when an evening talking to strangers doesn't feel like talking to our best friends, yet.  It doesn't always feel amazing.

But when you realize it's our relationships that serve as gymnasiums for our souls, giving us the place to practice the skills this world desperately needs: forgiveness when hurt, compassion when tired, cheering when jealous, and supporting even when not understanding-- then we sit with just a bit of the sacredness of this relationship.  For, if we can't practice these skills with people around us who we, at one point, chose to care about, then we have little chance of being able to show up with these skills when we're talking about people who live on the other side of the world, who worship a different version of God, or who vote for a different president.

I'd say there are few things more important than having safe relationships where we can practice being the powerful, big, loving people who this world needs us to be.

Furthermore, we live in a world where increased loneliness is literally poisoning our bodies. Stress is the number one cause of most disease and death and a sense of disconnection is heightening our sense of being "separate."  The less we feel supported by a tribe of people, the more at risk we are of sickness, acting out of insecurity, and behaving in less compassionate ways.

A plethora of research shows that when we have friends we feel like the obstacles in our lives are smaller, that we heal from surgery faster, that we recover from breast cancer at higher rates, that our immune systems are stronger, and that we have more energy to do our life missions. Wow.

I sincerely believe that the more connected everyone is to a group of friends-- the better off this entire world will be.

So to all the trails we have already blazed, and to the many, many more that we will keep making... Thanks to Rock the World for the honor of the nomination, thanks to my friend Shamini for pushing me to sit with the label, and thanks to all of you women who are on the trail with me! xoxo

Vagina Monologues, Violence & Friendship

I just returned from participating in a One Billion Rising Pop-Up Video Shoot sharing why I rise against violence for women.

You watch this 3-minute video and tell me how we could do anything but choose to rise.

Let's rise together.  One billion of us between now and February 14, 2013, which is the 15th Anniversary of V-Day.

We are collectively going on strike against violence done to women. We are participating in a revolution.

The One Billion Rising campaign  is "inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders."

Below I am re-posting a blog that articulates why I will keep rising.

I hope you'll rise with us.  Be a part of the one billion of us who will rise up together, for our sake, for theirs, and for the world.

----------------------

This blog was written February 18, 2010. Still feels ever current.

Vagina Monologues, Violence & Friendship

Last night I attended an interview with Eve Ensler*, made famous as the playwright of the Vagina Monologues. She has released a new book called "I Am An Emotional Creature" which chronicles the struggle of girls to overcome the obstacles, threats and pressures that can rob them of their originality and power.

When asked what she felt was the biggest problem facing the world today, her response was "violence against women."

Women as Victims I doubt I would have answered the same question in the same way, and yet her case was nevertheless compelling and thought-provoking. Her point was that as long as we have a patriarchal system, we will have power taken from women that could be put toward different causes. That violence is damaging the very lives that could hold the solution to so many other needs. Imagine what you would do with all the energy in your life if you didn't have to focus it on overcoming something that wounded you.

It's obvious to see it play out in the Congo and Pakistan where sex-trafficking, rape and genital mutilation aren't punished. But even in our own country, our statistics still suggest that one in every three women face rape, abuse or molestation before they turn 18.

And to bring it even closer to home, she would expand the word "violence" to include any oppression that women face which includes spending much of our lives trying to become "more" girl in being skinnier, prettier and sweeter; and yet also trying so hard to be "less" girl where we're told to not run like a girl, throw like a girl, cry like a girl or be emotional like a girl. It is hard to know how to show up at our best.

Women as Offenders While we are certainly still a patriarchal world, it struck me that often the worst judgment of what it means to be a woman, comes from our own gender. I don't want to understate the trauma done by men around the world to women in any way whatsoever, but I simply want to point out that we ourselves are not always known for being the most uplifting of one another. Much of my greatest criticism in life has come from other women as they placed judgments on me for not living up to their expectations or values. The famous battles are between the stay-at-home moms and the career women or those who are domestic versus those who shun domesticity for a different role, but even when it comes to beauty, fashion and what shoes one wears, I have witnessed women dis-empower each other.

Furthermore, I've seen us not always give the same gift to men that we demand for ourselves. We want the right to choose to be home or work, but we still expect them to be "providers." We want the right to not have to cook all the meals, but we still think a "real man" should know how to fix the car. We know the long-term effects of being hit, but we have been known to downplay the damage we inflict on them with emotional control and manipulation. It's complicated isn't it?

Women as Friends I cannot listen to anything without filtering it through my lens of how much I believe in the power of friendships, community and belonging. And in that vein it struck me what a powerful tool our friendships can be. Certainly, they are a support place for us as we process our own wounds and they are also a source of empowerment as they remind us of our value and worth.

But importantly, they also provide us a container with which we can practice encouraging women who make different decisions than we do. We can engage in cheering for people whose authentic voices sound different from ours. I can love my friend who is on strike against cosmetics because of what she thinks it represents and I can love my friend who spends her every paycheck on getting her nails manicured. I can love them both and in a small way I am helping two women become more of themselves. I don't have to judge, devalue or in any way belittle them.

They may still face judgment, violence and discrimination in this world, but not from me. And that's no small gift. As I practice empowering the people I love (which sounds easy but can be difficult) then I become more adept in the occasions of life where I am called upon to empower even those I don't know, don't agree with or don't admire. My friendships are the places where I practice being the kind of person I want to offer to this world.

Indeed I agree with Ensler that the more we protect each other against violence, the more positive and vibrant energy we will have to participate in the creating of good. And the more we empower women, the more our world is capable of creating that good together. And that gives me hope.

* I attended this interview because I saw that one of our GirlFriendCircles.com members, France K., had posted it on the GirlFriendCircles calendar! Thank you for putting it out there!

Update 10/01/2012: This was my belief then... now you can see it on my homepage in my "I Have a Theory that Friendship Can Save The World" video.

 

A Moment of Honesty about Forgiveness

As anyone in the spiritual work field will tell you-- whatever sermon we're about to preach will show up in our own personal battles.  Whatever lessons we're going to be called to teach will have to also continue being learned.  Whatever healing we're going to extend will have to first be received. And maturity is never zapped into us.  Praying for patience means that I'll be slowed down more today so I can build up that muscle; and asking for peace means knowing how to find our calm in the midst of the storm even if we thought we meant making the storm go away. Yes, I know all too well that to be a teacher means to first always be a student.

And last week was as blatant as it gets: "Shasta, you have more to keep learning and practicing!"

A Lesson in Forgiveness Presents Itself

All summer I planned for the launch of my author and book website: ShastaNelson.com. So it was with excitement last Tuesday that I woke up ready to show it to the world.

Except when I clicked on it, my videos weren't showing up the way I wanted them to.  And so I called the man who had been slaving for weeks on getting every design element coded, double-checking all my links, fixing typos I had missed, and sometimes changing one detail that the designer had requested only then to have me want to change it back.

With a stressful deadline, high hopes, and lots of exhaustion on both sides-- that Tuesday morning conversation ended with mutual frustration. Both sides feelings justified in their version of the story. But he interrupted what he was doing to make the change I requested and then we went live.

But instead of feeling happy, I felt kinda sick to my stomach at the misunderstanding. And while we like to think of ourselves as rationale human beings, research bears out that most of us make a decision based on a feeling and then go seek out the rational, logical, facts, and data that supports our feeling. So we both stewed over how the other person could have handled that scenario better.

I reached out once.  He didn't respond.  He reached out later.  I didn't respond. I had my feelings hurt.  And I also felt mad for how I had been treated.

The Irony Isn't Lost on Me

All the while-- my video on ShastaNelson.com is being shown to the world for the first time.  That video, "I Have a Theory That Friendship Can Change The World" is the core of my teaching-- basically that our relationships are the gymnasiums where we practice being the kind of people this world needs.  Building up muscles of compassion, encouragement, and yes, forgiveness.

Through out the day, whenever I felt frustrated, I'd shake my head in irony as I heard my own voice say, "Because if we can't forgive the people we've committed to loving... then what chance do we have of being able to extend that much-needed gift to people we don't yet know, people whose religious or political views are different from mine, or people who live on the other side of the world from us?"

I kept preaching to myself.  And I kept shaking it off.  I wasn't ready yet to forgive.

It is far too easy in those moments of hurt and anger to fall for the lie that to forgive the other person means to let them off the hook.  I've written on this subject (an entire chapter in my book), taught about it, coached people through it, done it countless times myself... but there I sulked.  Momentarily forgetting that I am the prisoner of my own frustration, my own unwillingness to forgive.

Now with it entirely behind me I look back and think it was the most ridiculous thing to have spent all that energy hurting, being frustrated, and feeling defensive about.  We've reconciled, both said sorry, and used the opportunity to share honest feelings and set up healthy expectations for the future.  We're fine.

But it hit me hard how little the things can be sometimes that end up holding so much more meaning for us.  The misunderstandings that turn into battles.  The hurt feelings that lead to separations.  The wounded egos that refuse to reconcile.  The meaning we attach to their words, letting them speak louder than was ever intended.

Fortunately most of our misunderstandings are with family, friends, and colleagues-- people we're committed to trying again with.  So we force ourselves up to the plate of saying sorry and offering forgiveness.

And every time I go there, I get a little more practiced at it.

I don't think it's a realistic goal that I can ever live without needing to forgive myself and others, but I do hope that I keep having the opportunities placed before me so that my suffering diminishes a little more each time as I learn to say sorry faster, offer forgiveness more thoroughly, and to extend reconciliation with more love.

Just know that every situation that calls you to forgive is a gift.  A place to practice growing up.  A place to step into the person we want to become.  A place where we practice the skills that the world needs.

I hope for you, today, the gift of someone to forgive. It's a gift.  Trust me.  :)