I am writing from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve come here with my family of origin – my three siblings, their spouses, and all of our children. I’m currently sitting on the patio of the large house we rented, just feet away from the pool. I can hear the waves crashing on the shore on the other side of the fence.
Three years ago, Christmas, for our family, was a painful time. We’d lost Mom only a month before and we were all raw and wounded and the festivities all around us were like slaps in the face every time we left the house.
We’re less raw this year, but the grief is never fully gone.
After Mom died, we decided to use the small inheritance that was left, after all of the expenses were paid, for a family vacation. We started dreaming of a week in the sun together… and then we got walloped all over again when my oldest brother was diagnosed with cancer only six months after it took Mom.
The next sixteen months were again mixed with the same highs and lows we’d been through with Mom’s cancer. Sometimes we dared to hope Brad would survive, and sometimes we were almost certain he wouldn’t. In August of last year, when the cancer showed itself to have survived two surgeries and mutliple chemo treatments, the doctors said there was no longer any point in prolonging treatment. We tried to prepare ourselves for another loss. Expecting we would have him with us for no more than 3 months, the four siblings considered going on a smaller version of the family trip we’d imagined – just the four of us making one last attempt to have fun in an interesting location before our numbers shrunk.
But then, the pendulum swung back in the other direction. The doctors decided it was worth making one more attempt at saving his life, so they cut him open again, extracted more cancer, and hoped for the best. That was shortly before last Christmas. We spent that season in subdued hope that he would stay with us and that we’d have more holiday seasons together. His energy was low, and he couldn’t travel, so the rest of us drove across the prairies to be with him instead of the other way around.
Over the course of the year, things continued to improve, and his remission continues. For now. Today is what we have, so today is what we will celebrate.
This week, we took that celebration to the shores of the Gulf. Three years after she died, we finally unwrapped Mom’s final gift.
On Christmas Day, the four of us spent all afternoon playing like children in the giant waves. Spouses and children joined us for awhile, but the four of us stayed in the water by far the longest. We relished every wave and held every burst of laughter like a sacred jewel. Some waves tossed us to the ground, some buried us and left us gasping for air, and some let us simply roll gently over the top. Long after we were so weary we could barely stand, we played and laughed, hanging onto every moment as though it were our last.
At one point, in a short lull between waves, one of us remarked that this moment represented all that was left of the tiny pittance of money mom and dad had left after all of their years of toiling on the farm. Farming was hard on all of us, and in the end it killed our dad, but it also gave us many incredible gifts, including this moment.
This trip has been both grace and gift in the middle of all of our shared grief.
And that is the way of life. We walk through grief and then we step into grace, over and over again. There are moments of profound loss, and moments of ache and betrayal, and then there are moments when we play for hours in the waves with three of our favourite people in the world.
Earlier this week, on a long solitary walk on the beach, I was contemplating what my word for 2016 would be. Unlike a resolution, I consider my word for the year like an invitation or intention – something that helps me stay open for my own longings and the gifts that come my way.
The word that came to me was OPEN.
I want to live 2016 with an open heart. I want to be open to the gifts, the grace, and the grief. I want to open myself to new relationships, new experiences, and new learning opportunities.
I want to stay open the way I felt out there on the waves – surrendering to whatever gift each one brought – riding those that were gentle, rising up again after those that were not, and always laughing and hanging onto to those people who matter.
Soon we will begin to return to our various homes. We may have another chance to play together like this, or we may not. Only God knows our future. But in the meantime, we have this moment, and in this moment I make a conscious choice to remain open.
Note: If you want to choose a word for 2016, or if you want to reflect on the gifts, grace, and grief that 2015 has brought your way, there are mandala exercises for that purpose in A Soulful Year: A mandala planner for ending one year and welcoming the next.
Also: Mandala Discovery starts on January 1st.
Last Friday was a bad day – one of the worst I’ve had in a long time. I spent a lot of time worrying and stressing and trying to control the outcome of things that were outside of my control. I also spent a lot of time beating myself up for doing these things (because I know better), and then getting really down on myself for not being further evolved than I am.
I won’t go into all of the details of what was going on, but one of the things was my disappointment over low sales of Lead with Your Wild Heart. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on this program and many emails of interest, and I am completely convinced that it is a beautiful and meaningful program, so I let myself believe that those things would translate into significant sales. I was wrong. For whatever reasons (a saturated market, wrong time of year, marketing to the wrong people – your guess is as good as mine), sales were low, and that means that once my current contracts end at the end of June, I’ll have to work harder at finding more sources of income over the summer. Sigh.
Things began to shift over the weekend, though. I took a couple of long walks in the woods, visited the museum with my family, and walked the labyrinth where crocuses are beginning to bloom. The coming of Spring helped to shift my perspective. Life can’t be all bad when crocuses are blooming.
A few things kept going through my mind on the weekend. First of all, I reminded myself of an ongoing mantra of mine… “The outcome is not my responsibility.” In other words, I am not responsible for how many people show up to receive my teaching, I am only responsible for whether or not I offer my gifts and whether I do my best to make them available to people. I’m doing that. I’ve poured my heart and soul into Lead with Your Wild Heart and I KNOW that it is the best possible expression of my gifts. I also know that it is a deeply meaningful journey for people who choose to take it. I offer, people receive, and that is all that I am responsible for. The numbers have no relevance to the value of the offering.
The other thing that kept going through my mind was what we’re taught in Art of Hosting… “whoever shows up are the right people.” This is what I tell myself every time I teach a course, host a retreat, or throw a party. Even if only two people show up, they are the right people. Even if I show up alone, I am the right people. There is value in large gatherings, and there is value in small. If the offering is made, the right people will show up whether it’s two or twenty or two hundred.
And so I spent my weekend surrendering, trusting, and letting go. I walked, I prayed, I released, and I trusted.
Now, there are some simplistic versions of this story that we all want to believe in, and one of those versions would be this: “After letting it all go, I attracted abundance, hundreds of people showed up and I was rich.” That’s the version you might seek after focusing on things like the Law of Attraction or The Secret. I hear that version ALL THE TIME on the internet and I cringe every time I do.
That version has a limited view of what “abundance” means. That version sees abundance as monetary gain, or all of those things that make life easy and smooth.
The real version of the story is still about abundance, but it has nothing about money or fame, or even ease.
Only a couple of more people registered. No crowds were knocking down my door. Abundance showed up in different ways.
On Monday, it suddenly occurred to me that there was absolutely nothing on my calendar on Tuesday. AND I didn’t have any projects due or papers that needed to be marked right away. WHAT?! How could that be? My calendar has been over-crowded for months now, and there is almost always a to-do list a mile long.
Not only was the day wide open, but the weather was stunningly beautiful after many long months of snow and cold.
A free day AND beautiful weather? That sounded like abundance to me!
I dedicated the day entirely to self-care. After dropping the girls off at school, I packed my journal and camera, bought a chai latte, and headed out to a provincial park not far from the city. I found a hiking trail and I wandered for hours in the woods. Then I stopped at the beach, and dipped my toes in the water, feeling like I’d been sprung from the prison of a long, hard winter. When I got hungry, I drove into the city, picked up some picnic food, and ate lunch at a special place called Oodena, a celebration circle near the forks of the two rivers that run through our city.
It was an exquisite day and I relished every moment of it.
But it got even better…
In the evening, I came home to find a package had been delivered by someone my daughter didn’t know. Inside was one of the most beautiful hand-knit shawls I’ve ever seen. I was dumbfounded. This was for ME?! I opened the letter in the package and discovered that it was a gift from a very special woman who’s been a student in my Creative Discovery class. She’d poured love and prayers into every stitch of it – specially for me. “Heather, I prayed that you and your family would be blessed with all that God knows is right for you and that He would guide you and give you the wisdom you need as you travel your path. His beautiful shawls seem to have a wonderful ability to heal, to encourage and comfort and to give solace and protection, especially in difficult times, and they give the most warm Divine hugs too.”
The shawl is burgundy and magenta, and this is what she learned about the meaning of the colour magenta: “Magenta represents universal love at its highest level. It promotes compassion, kindness, and cooperation and encourages a sense of self-respect and contentment. Magenta is the colour of the non-conformist, the free spirit. It pushes you to take responsibility for creating your own path in life. Magenta inspires change, transformation, growth and personal development.” And then she added: “Do you recognize yourself in all this?”
Wow. TALK ABOUT ABUNDANCE!
It was especially meaningful to receive this gift from someone I met through one of my courses. She has been touched by my work to offer her own gifts. (Her first book is coming out in publication next week!) What more could I ask for than to be an inspiration for other people so that gifts continue to flow in the world? I don’t need hundreds of people to show up – I just need the RIGHT people to show up!
And… I don’t need a lot of money, when I have abundance of another kind. I have the abundance of being part of a gift economy that can never be measured by monetary transactions.
Just one more story of abundance and the gift economy… this morning I went to yoga class at my favourite studio and I didn’t have to pay for it. Why? Because I have exchanged coaching sessions for yoga sessions with my coaching teacher! We are both sharing abundance and money has nothing to do with it.
Yes, abundance shows up, but it may not look the way we expect it to look, and it may only show up when we’ve walked through the fire of surrender and trust.