Sunday, April 10, 2011

Need Healing From Grief? Tell Your Story

Have you ever noticed that not a single hour of news on TV goes by without at least one story of death blaring in HD across the screen within the first five minutes? The local news crisply delivers the drive-by shooting, suicide or kidnapping, and the national news shows no mercy slinging death's toll into our living rooms without welcome or question. We sit and watch, unmoved. Some eat their evening meal with these scenes for company.

There has been an inordinate amount of death in our face lately. We watch the horror of destruction in Japan and have hardly a moment to take in a fraction of death's magnitude before we are shown a bloody body being carried around in Libya's revolution.

It is not real in our minds. The story is not ours. When death is so removed from us, we become disassociated from it. Yet, when the moment finally comes that a loved one is taken, there is no preparation. Even though our culture bombards us with death, those in the Western world are largely unable to face, process or share in grieving loved ones, even though it is a natural part of life.

Losing a spouse is often listed among the most stressful events of life. Kristine Carlson, author of "Heart Broken Open,," lived through one of those stories we hear about on the news. She enjoyed an envied and idyllic life as wife to the mega-bestselling author Richard Carlson of "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff." One day, she kissed her beloved goodbye as he boarded a plane to New York City -- and he never came home. He died in his sleep on the plane from a random blood clot that traveled from his leg to his lung. Kristine was in her early 40s, mother to two teenage girls, and alone.

Her memoir chronicles her process from stricken grief to the path of acceptance, healing and growth in a down-to-earth, accessible manner for anyone who has faced death directly, or is worried about what to do when the day comes. She is now leading grief circles that are shown on her website, and she found that the simple process of telling their stories is a pathway to wholeness.

"When you are in grief, you feel like you are going crazy, like being in a washing machine. It is an emotional life we've never lived before, but it is transformational," she said. "Few things in life prepare you for loss, but when you look back, life prepares you in little ways you never noticed. Once you come out of the process, there is more joy, more light and a sense of security that you survived it."

Her grief circles are run sort of like a book club, featuring an author or expert and a small group of women telling their stories. Bits and pieces are edited together and posted on her website for a larger audience to view and comment on her blog. There is a simplicity to this resource, and it's a stark contrast to the disassociation or avoidance that is the norm. "This is my service work now," Carlson sighed. "I am not coming to this as an expert, but as an example."

We live in one of the only cultures that teaches us not to look at death, and we live in an illusion of control. Conversation is so important, and we have to teach our children that living life means approaching each day as if it were your last. The other day, my seven-year-old daughter awoke with a terrifying nightmare that her twin brother was playing with friends in the yard with nerf guns that were filled with real bullets, and her brother was shot and killed. As I crooned in her hair while she told the story, the nightmare ceased to have power over her, and eventually she could return to bed.

I have led women's circles for many years, and one exercise I like to offer is the process of telling your entire life story in 30 minutes. I have found that often this process of speaking your life's narrative inevitably moves away from the string of events originally planned, and cycles deep into the moments of our deepest pain and grief. It is an exercise that is so simple yet unforgettably profound. The witnessing of such potent sharing is also transformational for those who have the gift of listening, and it creates a fiercely deep and protective bond together.

Here is a video of one of Carlson's grief circles with John Welsons, author of "One Soul, One Love, One Heart, Awakening from Grief," discussing how our cultural stupor blocks us from feeling happiness, and why we feel we have to apologize for expressing emotion:

Are the tragedies of our modern day having an impact of you? Has someone close to you been taken away? Tell your story. Without stories, we rob ourselves of the ability to truly celebrate life.

As always, I love to listen and share your comments in our conversation that continues below. Tell me a story, click on "Fan" if you would like weekly updates of my blog, and feel free to follow me at Gather Central.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Seeds of Change Are You Planting This Spring?

The first day of spring is Monday. From my little corner of the world on the East Coast, it has been the longest winter on record. Just hearing the birds chirp again was startling, and the sight of grass was a shock to the eyes. Not only has the winter been unending, but the relentless pound of natural disasters, economic woes and endless bad news leaves a deep longing for the promise of spring at every level. The seeds of change are sprouting everywhere we look.

Historically, March 21 is known as the vernal equinox -- an equal balance of light and dark. It is a nice time to get quiet, go out in nature, plant seeds and embrace the new changes to come. It is also a full moon- neither waxing or waning, but suspended brightness. Spring is a time of quickening, and our energy, plans and mood all elevate with the lengthening of the sunny days. Instead of just letting the equinox pass by, how about using it to conduct an internal once-over? What changes need to be made in your life? In order to make them happen, do you need a little inner spring cleaning?

Take advantage of this time to take stock of what is soggy, melting and slipping away in your life to make room for fresh shoots. What old beliefs or cumbersome habits are you ready to shed? What layers of consciousness need to be swept away to prepare for something new? While it may be tempting to leave the old behind and jump feet first, remember that the equinox is about balance. Simply chucking everything out the proverbial window is not what we are talking about here.

Spring is a time of transition and new growth, and the old wet leaves provide lovely protection while we are trying on a new pattern, or gaining confidence with a new project. Nothing in nature is instant, yet we are often so impatient with change, and want to run from one thing -- relationship, job, focus -- to another, without taking time for balance, rest and reflection.

"Whenever we are faced with a time of change in our life, we often forget how important it is to pause, be silent and alone for a while, or even to take a retreat to truly prepare ourselves for what is coming next," said Madeleine Marentette, founder of Grail Springs Spa and Retreat Center -- a place many go to spend a week doing just that. "Making space for an internal change in life is sacred time and deserves to be given undivided attention."
When a seed sprouts, there is enormous work done underground before it ever breaks through the hard, cold surface. Is change scary? Of course. That inner voice is ready to burst through, but has to open underground, and then with strength, fortitude and an unrelenting push upward eventually burst through with the triumphant colors of the first purple croucus. Often we negate the power of a transition in our life simply because we are afraid of that darkness, or of risk it takes to burst into the new.

People are hungry for change at a very deep level. Look at the transformation in the Middle East as a clear reflection of our collective consciousness. The old ways are going, and fast. Superficial change is not going to cut it anymore. We want to dig down to the "destiny" level of life and live from that place full time. We want to build bridges between the old and the new and spring forward into a new level of global community. Our society cannot afford to continue in the same mindset we have become so comfortable. The tragedy in Japan is a fresh reminder, after the floods in Pakistan and the oil spill in the Gulf that our world needs a fresh spring cleaning if we are to survive.

I have had the amazing privilege of interviewing 100 amazing women during the month of March for the 100 Women of Destiny TeleRetreat. These experts are from all walks of life, including business, fashion, entertainment, authors and activism. Guess what they all had in common? They took advantage of change or transition; they listened to the little voice inside and went for it. They had planted the seeds of their passions, and soon the garden took over.

Tzeborah Berman is an executive at Greenpeace International in Amsterdam. She told me her own story of taking risk and following the voice of change. As a young woman, she saw the deforestation of her native British Columbia and helped organize the largest protest ever- with 10,000 people. She was arrested for her efforts. After lawyers argued and won her case, she went to work for Greenpeace and after ten years, has helped to save over six million acres of trees worldwide. She is now an expert in climate change.

"The world is living the tipping point right now," she said. "The times require us to engage."

On this vernal equinox and full moon, let us all take a moment to pray for those suffering in Japan. For the fifty workers who are giving their lives at the nuclear power plants to protect us, who will not survive the radiation exposure. Let us contemplate what we can cultivate inside ourselves to rise to the precarious situation that lies ahead. If all of us listen to the voice of change and have courage to grow, who knows what can happen? We need strong advocates to feed hungry children, fight for sustainable energy and build bridges to neighboring nations bursting forth wtih the clarion call of freedom. What seeds of change are you planting this spring eve? Tell me your stories below.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Celebrate International Women's Day with the Oldest Woman You Know

Have you ever heard of International Women's Day? I hadn't, until last year, and I have been interested in women's studies all my life. The holiday is widely celebrated in Europe, Africa and Russia -- complete with parades, fanfare and gifts of acknowledgement for the women who make a difference in your life. Who knew? Why isn't it celebrated here? Recently, the whole month of March has been officially proclaimed Women's History Month by President Obama on Feb. 28, 2011.

This coming Tuesday, the world will celebrate with extensive global women's activities. Performer and social activist Annie Lennox will lead a mass march across London's Millennium Bridge for charity. In Washington, D.C. over a thousand people will descend on Capitol Hill demanding a better world for millions of marginalized women and girls around the globe. A major international businesswomen's conference will be hosted in Sydney, Australia. Schools and governments around the world are participating in the day. Trade Unions and charities are campaigning. Global corporations are hosting conferences and distributing extensive resource packs. The United Nations Secretary-General will deliver a formal message.

The first International Women's Day events were run in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland in 1911 and attended by over one million people. 100 years on, International Women's Day (IWD) has become a global mainstream phenomena celebrated across many countries and is an official holiday in approximately 25 countries, including Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam and Zambia.

International Women's Day is a global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women -- past, present and future. However, activity has not always been on the increase. Australian entrepreneur and women's campaigner Glenda Stone created the global hub of events and information. She said:

A decade ago International Women's Day was disappearing. Activity in Europe, where International Women's Day actually began, was very low. Providing a global online platform helped sustain and accelerate momentum for this important day. Holding only a handful of events 10 years ago, the United Kingdom has now become the global leader for International Women's Day activity, followed sharply by Canada, the United States and Australia. 2011 will see thousands of events globally for the first time.

More recently, social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have helped fuel International Women's Day activities. Generally the day has moved away from its socialist suffragette beginnings to become more mainstream in celebrating women's achievements. Women's rights campaigners, however, continue to remind that vigilance rather than complacency is essential in striving for women's equality.

This day has become close to my heart, as I have been asked to host over 50 interactive conference call events this month to celebrate International Women's Day and National Women's History Month in the "100 Women of Destiny Teleretreat." Amazing thought leaders like Marianne Williamson, Lindsay Wagner, Ricki Lake, Lynne McTaggert, Rickie Byars Beckwith and Marci Shimoff will get "up close and personal" with callers from around the world.

This week, I had a chance to talk to actress and activist Mimi Kennedy from "Dharma and Greg" about how International Women's Day helped to spurn the suffragist movement at the turn of the century and galvanized women to fight for the right to vote. Kennedy created a one-woman play called "Waking Matilda" about suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage with Dr. Sally Wagner, a veteran 40-year professor who received one of the first doctorates in women's studies, and helped established the first college women's studies program in the U.S.

"More than ever, we have to remember the voices of our great-great-grandmothers," said Kennedy. "The causes they were fighting for are still relevant today."

Take a moment to contemplate; just a couple generations ago, women could not work, vote, leave a marriage or even have a say in the fate of their children. "If you were an adult woman 100 years ago, you would have been corseting your body for so many years to achieve an 18 inch waist, that you would not be able to stand up straight without the corset, and all your internal organs would be pushed so far down the abdomen, that childbirth became life threatening," said Wagner.

Women gave away all of their rights when they married. Their husbands could beat them, take all their money, if they had any, and even will away their unborn children. Women had no say in the matter, and had nowhere to turn for help. Imagine this reality compared to today. Most of us saunter around in cozy sweats, and our fellow sisters are flying around in the space shuttle, running companies and wrangling with Gadhafi as Secretary of State. It is truly staggering to take in the strides that have been accomplished in such a short time.

"Matilda Joslyn Gage and the other Suffragists sat around a table and decided to take action," said Kennedy. "Imagine, no phones, no internet, no cars and yet they created a national movement with handwritten letters that took two weeks to receive a reply."

Today the world looks much different, but the need to create social change remains the same. I also spoke with Claire Diaz Ortiz this week, an executive of philanthropy at Twitter, about the modern methods of creating a movement. "As we have seen in the Middle East, change can happen very rapidly now," said Diaz Ortiz. "Non-profits and causes can effectively use social networking to make change like never before."

How can you honor International Women's Day? Check out the official website to learn more about the holiday, including a special "Join Me on the Bridge" campaign happening on major bridges across the world. I will be connecting live in the teleretreat with women in Mombasa, Kenya, who have created the "Listening to the Women of Africa Conference."

To honor the 100 years of International Women's Day, Leni Herscher created a tribute, carefully choosing 100 women who have all made significant contributions to the world from all demographics and walks of life; in a rapid cascade of faces from then to now -- including our own Arianna Huffington.

Enjoy and click here for a full list of who they are:

Who is the oldest living woman you know? Make a point to get in touch with her this week -- give her a call or pay her a visit. Maybe show up with some flowers, or a card, and ask her to tell you what her life was like as a woman when she was young. For it is upon the shoulders of these foremothers we all stand today, and they cannot be recognized enough.

Tell me about her in the comments below, and happy International Women's Day to all.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How to Start a Movement in Three Minutes

There is something powerful about collective energy. It is the reason we love to go to live concerts in the summer. The beer is awful, the sound system sucks, but the sensation of being swept away with thousands of other people to the tune of a favorite song is magical. While concerts are lovely for the soul, the raw power of revolution and collective energy is all over the news right now -- and changing the world as we know it in a matter of days instead of years.

The little spark of political uprising in Tunisia spurned the "Revolution 2.0" of Egypt, and is now raging with the current surge to bring down Gaddafi. Union workers are standing up, rallies on state capitol steps are supporting the causes from other states. Is there a call in you to join a rising tide?

What is the magic behind creating a movement? Michelle Price, a colleague of mine, shared a gem of a video that offers a graduate level course in leadership by simply observing a mundane scene from a summer day in a park. One guy starts dancing, and it becomes a lesson in how to create a movement in three minutes from start to finish -- starting with one lone nut doing a jig, and evolving into a full-fledged Woodstock style jam session.

Check out this short YouTube video below:

Essentially, a movement rerquires four distinct profiles. Let's check them out, and see if you recognize yourself in any of the categories.

The Leader has the original idea, the driving passion and the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. In this case, the leader would never have dreamed the entire park would shortly be joining him -- he just felt like dancing! If a calling is within you, dance! Not answering the call is a much greater tragedy. The world needs more "lone nuts" who dare to stand up and try something new. Of course, lone nuts have to realize that most people have no idea what they are talking about, and are not going to follow them directly -- not yet, that is.

The Lone Follower, after watching the crazy dude at the park flapping around like a chicken, is the second guy who comes along and starts dancing, too. He hears the call, gets the vision and is compelled to bring it to the world. With joy, the leader welcomes him in, and opens up space as an equal. The Lone Follower is truly the most under-appreciated role in leadership. He validates the leader's vision, and offers a bridge for the world to follow. If the leader is willing to work in partnership, magic is right around the corner.

The Second Follower is the Pied Piper of the masses, the "connector" or the "sales guy" who knows how to get the message out and make it a party! As soon as the third guy starts shaking his booty and flapping his arms, we have a "happening." The second follower officially begins the movement and is the honey for the bees. The masses want to follow a trend, not start one, and the second follower is the every day Joe. He is the one the masses trust is "just like them" and makes it safe to jump in.

Even though the lone nut leader has been flapping his arms all along, it was too risky for the masses to jump in. New followers will more readily emulate every day folk who show that there is no reason to stay on the fence any longer -- dancing is fun! Most people do not want to stand out and risk being ridiculed, and any good movement must remember this.

The Snooze-or-Lose Follower is a person who still doesn't have a cell phone, and is always the last one to climb on board a new movement or trend. Eventually, the last people at the park sitting around and watching look like wall flower dorks if they don't join the party. The snooze-or-lose followers will step in, just at the point when there is a greater risk not to participate. I am a total snooze-or-lose follower when it comes to Twitter. As I wrote in a previous post, the blogging community is a movement that rocks -- but you better have your social networking manners!

So, dear HuffPost readers, are you a lone nut, a lone follower, a second follower/connector or a snooze-or-lose follower? Each has a most important role to play. How does it feel when you are asked to play a different role than you are accustomed to? How is the collective energy of the moment affecting you? I would love to hear in the comment box below.


This coming March, a movement is happening to honor the past one hundred years of women's growth for International Women's Day on March 8th. Madeleine Marentette, founder of Grail Springs Spa and Retreat Center, decided to dance her own jig in a park and host a conference call-style event that is free to the public, called "100 Women of Destiny: From Suffragette to Social Networker." She is offering a platform to have intimate conversations with thought leaders from Marianne Williamson to London's Secret Millionaire, and a live feed with women leaders in Mombasa, Kenya.

Check it out, and I will be reflecting on the past 100 years of milestones in the next few blogs. For weekly updates of this post, click on 'Become a Fan' at the top, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to Make Valentine's Day More Authentic

One of the most obligatory holidays is upon us. Love it or hate it, St. Valentine is back in the picture.

How often does Valentine's Day truly live up to the romantic expectations? Most agree that it is the worst night to go out to dinner, with rush pre-set menus, tightly packed tables and noise. Those chocolate-covered cherries in the heart-shaped box taste more like wax than food, and Hallmark cards can set you back five bucks for something basic.

How did the holday of love become something so fake and detached, filled with societal expectations of happy couples and miserable singles? Even kids get stressed out agonizing over what card to send to the opposite sex that won't convey the wrong message.

More importantly, how can we make Valentine's Day more authentic? I spoke to Maryanne Comaroto, Beverly Hills relationship expert, author and radio host, for a little advice on getting more out of Cupid's day. Having a "heart to heart" with ourselves is a good place to start, followed by responsible communication with our loved ones.

When it comes to Valentine's Day, are you a cynic, a romantic, an overwhelmed parent, a sad single or a resentful drag? Let's check them out in detail:

The Cynics

"Often one partner is the cynic in a relationship. Men often think of Valentine's Day as obligatory, more so than women," Comaroto said. "The trick to make the day more authentic is thinking about how to turn it from a 'have to' into a 'want to.'" Comaroto suggests checking out St. Valentine, himself for a little inspiration. "If you research St. Valentine himself, it is pretty sexy stuff! Resurrect the fun around the holiday, get off the commercial aspect of it, find what's good, and celebrate that."

The Romantics

If one partner is a cynic, count on the other being a romantic! "The romantics are the ones with these gigantic expectations!" laughed Comaroto. Cupid's commercial arrow strikes, and all reason is thrown to the wind, replaced with dreamy Hollywood fantasies of the latest chocolate diamonds from Zales, armfuls of roses strewn over the bed, and a partner who is present, madly in love and ready for the best sex on earth. Then reality strikes: Valentine's Day is on a Monday, spouse is working late, and who can afford a lobster dinner in this economy?

"To get what you really want, give it to yourself," said Comaroto. "That way, anything that someone chooses to give you is a bonus, as it is nobody else's job to make us happy." Go ahead! Get some scented candles, send yourself to the spa for a massage, or throw a party -- have fun!

The Overwhelmed Parents

Those with young children may see them as SRUs -- sexual reduction units. The time for romance is out the window during these years, and couples who may once have actually enjoyed Valentine's Day are not the least bit interested in sex or romance, as they are just tapped out.

The remedy? "Take control of the day," said Comaroto. "Define what the day means to you as a couple. In two minutes of discussion, create your own rules for Valentine's and take charge of crafting it to get what you want, even if it is agreeing to simply exchange kisses and go to bed early!"

The Sad Singles

Let's face it: there is a stigma surrounding being single on Valentine's Day. But do singles have to be sad? Instead of running away or ignoring the day, why not take advantage of acknowledging what is true for you? If you are happy in your independence, send yourself a love letter! Congratulate yourself for creating a life of self-fulfillment, and do the things that make you feel restored.

If you are not happy being single and the day is an excuse to beat yourself up, what is that? "If you feel blue, know it is perfectly fine to be lonely, and to own those feelings, said Comaroto. "Perhaps it is a chance to have a little chat with yourself, and explore if you are afraid to be alone." If you loathe the holiday, instead of carrying it around as baggage for your next relationship, Comaroto suggests doing a fun ritual. "Have an 'I hate Valentine's Day' ritual in your backyard!" she laughs. It could be fun. Burn a bunch of heart shaped doilies and shoot cupid's arrows at the stars.

The Resentful Drags

"If you can't get over yourself," Comaroto says wryly, "go to a shelter or a retirement home, pass out bags of Hershey's kisses, and ask them to tell you a love story from a time gone by. Open your heart -- who knows what can happen if you do!"

So, my favorite HuffPost readers, will you be my Valentine? Come on cynics, romantics, parents, singles -- tell me a love story from a time gone by, or tell me how you have made Valentine's Day more authentic. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below.