The theme of my life this winter can be summed up in a word: practice. Two-thirds of the way through a memoir, with another four chapters to go and a deadline less than two months away, I have made a commitment to writing practice.

But I am a slow writer, never certain of the way forward, and so I have no choice but to practice patience.

Waiting for words to come, trusting that if I stay here long enough, the next sentence will find its way home to me, requires a certain kind of faith. Faith in mystery and faith in the process — and so I practice faith, too. Faith, it turns out, takes quite a lot of practice.

Yoga practice makes my writing practice possible; in order to sit for hours on end, I must first get up and really move.

Breathing practice fuels the yoga practice; without the union of breath and movement, yoga is just exercise, and I need a little more sustenance from my practice these days than a few leg lifts would provide.

Meditation practice guides me back into my writing, for before I can write so much as a line, I must listen. And in order to listen, I must practice stillness.

Stillness is a challenge, possible only when I practice discipline, for stillness is so not my nature. Discipline practice returns me to my yoga mat day after day, and then it hustles me right back upstairs, to my spot against the bedpillows and my laptop balanced on my knees, and the words on the page, and the view out the window.

I look at the dark curve of mountains against the winter sky, hear the whoosh of wind curling around the corner of the house, the ticking clock, the soft, steady breath of my dog asleep on the rug, and I practice gratitude, for really, what could be better than this – this life, this moment, this practice of pausing and noticing and saying “thank you”?

I used to think of my life in terms of the various roles and responsibilities that made me me: there was motherhood, house work and editing work and writing work, marriage, exercise, spirituality, friendship. Lots of expectations to juggle and jobs to tackle and experiences to either embrace or endure or reject. And never, ever, enough time to fit it all in or get it all done.

Writing was always the first thing to go. How could I sit alone in a room typing words on a screen when there were so many more “important” things I should be doing instead?

But with only a slight shift in imagination, everything has changed. I’ve come to see my life for what it is — not some elaborate story I’ve told myself a thousand times, but simply this: an opportunity to practice.

And suddenly, there is plenty of room and all the time in the world for me to do the only thing I need to do — keep practicing.

A little background: I wrote this post quickly, at the invitation of memoirist and writing teacher extraordinare Marion Roach, who is guest-editing this week over at SheWrites, a terrific site that empowers and informs women writers. (You can read her brilliant “Memoir Manifesto,” in which this little piece is included, here.) When I read Marion’s email, asking if I wanted to contribute something, my first impulse was to say, “Thanks, but no, I’ve got way too much on my plate already.” I was actually about to type just that into my “reply” box, when this started to come out instead. I think it is the first time I’ve ever written anything without thinking about it first. The first time words have ever “just come” to me. (I hear this happens quite often for OTHER writers, but not to me, not ever.) And yet, surprise, there it was. An answer. An affirmative answer rather than the “thanks but no thanks” I was intending to write. And this, I guess, is the benefit of practice. Do anything long enough, regularly enough, and eventually it starts to do you. Even writing practice.

A word about “Unimaginable,” last week’s post: Your comments made me cry. They made my heart overflow with gratitude. They reaffirmed everything I already believe in and cherish about the connections between women, between writers and readers, between friends who have never met. I wanted to answer every single one personally — but I also realized that I couldn’t; all I can do, for now, anyway, is keep writing and hope that you understand. I read every one, though, and I particularly loved the way conversations even sprung up between you, readers reaching out and finding one another right here, in this space. That is nothing less than a dream come true. Thank you.

And finally, in answer to some questions I got about about the Wholeheartedness Playlist widget: If you receive this blog as an email, you won’t see the widget. It’s on the website. Just click on the title in your email, and it’ll take you to my website, where the playlist can be found on the bottom left sidebar. (It’s also a bit easier on the eyes to read the post on the website!) Many thanks, and a Happy Wholehearted Valentines Day to all!

Wholeheartedness practice — and a book for you

Last week, I wrote about wholeheartedness, a word that truly seemed to pick me, rather than the other way around, for 2012. On New Year’s Day, my last morning at Kripalu, having accepted my word, I decided that I would simply allow myself to live into it.

Moment by moment, I would try to do the loving thing, whatever that might be. Instead of second guessing myself, worrying about what might happen next, or trying to come off a certain way, I would set my foot down firmly on the side of love over fear. And so, at the risk of being the one who loves more, I sat down and wrote a note to a friend, just to say, “you are important to me.” At the risk of being silly, I emailed my husband to tell him I love him, as much when we’re apart as when we’re together. At the risk of seeming mushy, I let my son Henry know how much it meant to me that he was willing to spend the New Year’s weekend eating brown rice and doing yoga with his mom, instead of hanging out with his friends.

Back at home, I made dinner for the family, lit the candles, held my kids’ hands as we said grace together, and, at the risk of appearing vulnerable, allowed my full heart to overflow. The next morning, Henry and Steve left early for the airport and Henry’s flight back to Minnesota, and I went hiking, arriving at the top of Pack Monadnock in time to watch the sun come up. Standing there alone on the top of a wind-whipped mountain at dawn, overcome by a sense of awe at the vastness and beauty of this world, I also realized that I felt more connected to myself than I have in a long while, a little more at ease in my skin and a little more accepting of the raw intensity of my own emotions.

“Wholehearted,” it seemed, wasn’t really a resolution I had to keep. In fact, it felt more like a choice, one I could make moment to moment, a way of inhabiting my life that feels akin to faith. Faith that life is already good, faith that I already have what I need, faith that I’m enough as I am, faith that things are just fine as they are, and faith that, no matter what the circumstance and even when I don’t have a clue what to do, the loving thing is always my best bet. What a relief. And what a revelation. I kind of thought I’d just invented a whole new concept: Wholeheartedness!

I went home and had breakfast with my son Jack, and then I sat down to write a blog about Wholeheartedness. Within a few hours of posting it, as I read through the thoughtful, generous comments on this site and on Facebook, I learned, of course, that there is already an entire Wholehearted Living movement afoot — and that I’m just one more latecomer to the wholehearted conversation.

No matter. I am happy to be here, thrilled to jump in and learn more, to share what I discover, and to encourage you, too, in the words of Wholeheartedness pioneer Brene Brown, to “let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.”

I have just finished reading Brene’s wonderful book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” and can’t recommend it highly enough. My own copy is full of folded pages and underlined passages.

A passage about courage particularly resonates with me. The root of “courage” is cor, Latin for “heart.” And in one of its earliest forms the word “courage” meant something very different than it does today. Courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling one’s whole heart.” This, I realize, is what is required of all writers. It’s how I want to live. It’s how I want to be in relationship with the people I love. And, well, speaking and writing honestly about who we really are and what we’re really feeling is scary stuff. “Ordinary courage,” Brene suggests, “is about putting our vulnerability on the line.”

Brene’s TED talk on vulnerability and worthiness was one of the top ten TED talks of 2011. Pour yourself a cup of tea, treat yourself to a twenty-minute break, and give it your wholehearted attention. And make sure to visit her terrific blog, Ordinary Courage, where, as it turns out, she writes this week about the word that found her for 2012.

Elisabeth Lesser’s book “Broken Open” is a wholehearted manual for living through difficult times. Given to me by a dear friend two years ago, when I was going through a difficult time of my own, it has remained my go-to book when I need to be reminded that every challenge I face makes me stronger, that suffering enlarges my heart, that a “whole” life includes both light and dark, joy and sorrow, emptiness and fullness. “So often,” Lesser writes, we “tune out the call of the soul. Perhaps we fear what the soul would have to say about choices we have made, habits we have formed, and decisions we are avoiding. Perhaps if we quieted down and asked the soul for direction, we would be moved to make a big change. Maybe that wild river of energy, with its longing for joy and freedom, would capsize our more prudent plans, our ambitions, our very survival. Why should we trust something as indeterminate as a soul? And so we shut down.”

As I struggle to write a book I feel uncertain about, agree to speaking engagements that make my knees shake despite being months away, and wonder what, exactly, my nearly grown children still need from me and how to give it to them, I remind myself that nothing really needs to be as complicated as I make it. I don’t have to change who I am, I simply have to be who I am. I can tune in to the call of my soul. I can live wholeheartedly. I can embrace the gift of imperfection. I can do the loving thing and trust that love really is enough.

I am seriously thinking about creating a Wholehearted Playlist; when I do, I’ll share it. Meanwhile, here’s the song I’ve played a couple of times every single day since January 1, just to remind me of who I really am – and of how a really great song can set the tone for an entire day. Have a listen to Girish’s “Diamonds in the Sun,” definitely my song for 2012.

02 Diamonds In the Sun

What piece of music says “wholehearted” to you? Leave a comment here – or, better yet, a suggestion for the Wholehearted Playlist — and you may win a copy of Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection.” I would love to share her work with all of you, but since I can’t do that, I’ll choose two names at random after midnight on January 16 to receive the books.

Here’s to singing our song in this new year, wholeheartedly!


,“Wholeheartedness.” It’s a mouthful. It’s also the word that has been ricocheting around in my thoughts for a week. The word I keep coming back to when I imagine who I want to be and how I want to live. The word that is surely the antidote for the devouring self-doubt that’s lately been haunting my days and keeping me awake at night. What I suffer with in the darkness is this: My best efforts aren’t enough. I don’t have what it takes to be the mother my two sons need, the wife my husband desires, the friend my own friends deserve, the writer I want to be, the woman I still hope to become.

And in moments of light, when I can quiet the voice in my head long enough to listen to what my soul is trying to tell me, I hear this: It is okay to stumble. You are allowed to fail. Doubt your doubts. (Because in fact you are okay just as you are.) Know that you are worthy of your joy and strong enough to survive your pain. Wholeheartedness is what you’re here for.

I know that’s all true. It’s just that lately, I feel depleted, half-hearted, out of ideas and out of confidence. Not even quite up to the job of being me.

I packed quickly to go to Kripalu for the weekend; there wouldn’t be time for much besides the yoga workshop Henry and I were doing together, but I stopped by my bookshelf on the way out the door and threw a couple of books into my bag anyway, almost at random. And then I kissed Steve and Jack good-bye, climbed into the car with Henry and, for the first time ever, our family split up for New Year’s Eve.

Kripalu turned out to be a good place to usher in 2012. Many hours of yoga with my beloved, first-ever yoga teacher, Rolf Gates. A walk by the lake, particularly tasty kale for dinner, a long silent meditation at midnight, time to reflect on the year past and the one to come, deep sleep, early rising.

I loved the sense of belonging that washes over me as soon as I set foot through the door of Kripalu. I loved being in the very room this weekend that my month-long teacher training was held in last winter; the memories were fresh in my mind, the faces of my classmates easy to conjure. I loved not having to think about what to wear, or what to cook, or what to do at midnight, or how many glasses of champagne I should have. I loved having time in solitude and I loved meeting, at long last, my dear on-line friend Pamela, whose gorgeously written blog Walking on My Hands is one of the few I read religiously. And I especially loved it that my twenty-two year old son was so open and willing to sign on for the ride, to give yoga and meditation a try, to experience firsthand this place that’s come to mean so much to me, and even to spend a weekend as my room mate. I know he did it for me, and his presence at my side was a gift. Henry may be a beginner on the mat, but he is a yogi in spirit.

(My husband Steve was happy to be home alone on New Year’s eve, which is what he prefers anyway, and I’m sure Jack was quite relieved I wasn’t around to tell him to “make good choices” or offer up some other motherly platitudes as he headed out the door to spend the night with his friends.)

Very early yesterday morning, I sat down with one of the books I’d brought along, an odd little volume that’s been sitting, unread, on my shelf for a long time. A brief, unlikely meditation on unencumbered living, “Journeys of Simplicity” is essentially a collection of lists about traveling light: what Thoreau took to Walden Pond, what an 85 year old hermit needed to survive, what an anonymous Celtic woman prayed for a hundred years ago.

My book fell open to page 39, “Raymond Carver’s errand list.” According to Carver’s partner and companion, poet Tess Gallagher, he always lived according to what she calls Carver’s law. It was his practice, she says, “not to save up things for some longed-for future, but to use up the best that was in him each day and to trust that more would come.”

Even as he was dying of cancer at age fifty, Carver continued to write and plan and hope. Just after his death, she found this to-do list in his pocket:

peanut butter
hot choc



Hope. Wholeheartedness. Ordinariness. How beautifully these three qualities intertwine in our best, most essential expressions of our humanity. To live is to hope. To live wholeheartedly is to trust that there is always more to come, to believe in the rightness of things as they are, to drink hot chocolate and dream of far-off continents even as you confront the loss of everything you love. It was not lost on me that someone else’s final, heartfelt errand list was the very first thing I laid eyes on as the first day of this new year dawned. The message from the universe seemed pretty clear: live fully, live here, live now. Wholeheartedly.

After two days of meditation and challenging yoga practice I was tired, a little sore, and more than a little raw when our last session began. As we moved through our final series of poses, I could feel the tears gathering behind my eyes, ready to spill. “You know,” Rolf suggested, as we eased down into child pose, resting foreheads to mats, coming into stillness, “it is okay to be vulnerable. In fact a willingness to feel our feelings completely, to show our vulnerability, to acknowledge our own tenderness and confusion, is really what living wholeheartedly is all about. To be wholehearted is to be vulnerable.”

And then, at that moment, a pair of knowing hands pressed down upon my back, smoothed along my spine, and rested there for a long, full minute. An assist in child pose, yes. But also, I’m pretty sure, some cosmic, loving gesture made on my behalf, just to make sure that the mail really was getting delivered: “wholeheartedness.”

The tears I’d been fighting off all weekend came then, tears of surrender and grace and relief. I didn’t have to make a new year’s resolution I couldn’t keep, or choose a word to try to live up to. The word I needed found me, hovered for a while, and landed. What better time than right now, the dawn of this new year, to give up my own unnecessary suffering, suffering that is all about believing I need to be someone other than who I am?

And so, gently and with great love, I say to myself – and to you, too – as we step into 2012: “Live wholeheartedly. Know that your vulnerability means that you’re alive. Remember who you really are. Use up the best that’s in you each day, and trust that it’s enough.”

Yesterday, on a gray, colorless January 1, this rose was a singular spot of color. Someone had placed it on an altar in the woods, and there it lay – exposed, vulnerable to the elements, yet, bravely, pinkly, wholeheartedly being itself, a rose in winter. May we, too, bloom with wholeheartedness in this new year.

Do you have a word that is your touchstone? Does the idea of “wholeheartedness” resonate with you? I would love to know!

The treasure of an ordinary day

It was the softest of mornings, the quietest of sunrises, the loveliest day to step out into. I cherish these September days — the silky air, the damp, sweet scent of summer succumbing to fall. I walked across the wet grass, sat on a rock, and watched the mists drift across the valley, the sky brighten, a single bird soaring high, silhouetted against the sky. Never do I appreciate the beauty of home more than on a day when I have to leave it.

I type these words in an airport terminal, waiting for my delayed flight to Atlanta, where I’m giving a talk tomorrow on “the treasure of an ordinary day.” These invitations still catch me off guard; the idea that someone would think of me as a public speaker, as a person with enough wisdom to impart that my appearance is worth organizing an event around. But I’m learning to trust the people who ask, to gather some thoughts, and to go where I’m wanted.

Of course, I have nothing to offer those who come to hear me speak that every one of us doesn’t know already. The themes are plain and simple: That life is precious. That we already have everything we need. That we can choose to be grateful. To see what’s right in front of us. To be in the present moment. To slow down, rather than racing so fast through our own lives that we miss them.

I also know how hard it is to remember what we already know. If you’re like me, you probably have to remind yourself, over and over again: to notice where you are, to accept what is, to love that. Sitting still helps. Coming to a stop and allowing my busy, wild mind to be at rest is the only way I’ve found to be truly mindful. It’s why, after years of not meditating, I finally do. Walking helps, too. It’s why, although I love to run, I also spend hours each week walking alone on the empty roads near my house, allowing my thoughts to drift and noticing everything there is to notice.

Last week, I spent a few days alone at a friend’s tiny, secluded cabin. There was no internet, no opportunity to toggle back and forth, as I tend to do at home, from e-mail to a friend’s latest blog post to my own stop-and-go writing to the most popular stories in the New York Times. With nothing to do but sit and write, I sat and wrote. With no company to keep but my own, I got back in touch with a deeper, quieter part of myself. With no to-do list to whittle away at or schedule to keep, I felt the expansiveness of an hour, an afternoon, a day. Time became generous.

I tried to carry some of that spaciousness home with me. To remember my own capacity for quiet, focused attention, whether I’m alone in a cabin or standing at a podium in front of a room full of strangers. I can react to events, get carried away by stress, allow myself to be distracted and distractible. Or I can simply do the next thing that needs to be done, with care and commitment and faith in the rightness of things as they are. Without making a fuss. This is the way I want to live. And yes, I do need to keep reminding myself.

The photo my husband took at dawn this morning captures the fleeting beauty of the moment. It says “peace” to me. It’s easy for me to be grateful when I’m sitting in my own backyard, feeling blessed to have these gentle mountains as my neighbors.

Now, held captive in an over-air-conditioned terminal, with CNN blasting away, boarding announcements crackling over the loudspeaker, and the smell of pizza in the air, gratitude is a little more challenging to practice. But it occurs to me that living mindfully isn’t just about sitting and meditating, or about appreciating a beautiful sunrise. The real practice comes when we are called to keep going even when things aren’t exactly going our way. It’s using what’s at hand, and being ok with that. And so time is generous here, too. I have hours and hours to myself, with no place to go and nothing to do but wait for my delayed plane to arrive at the gate. Annoyance, or grace. The choice, of course, is mine. Perhaps the treasure of an ordinary day is always right in front of my nose; all I have to do is decide to see it.


I am always a bit melancholic as summer gives way to fall, and this year has been no exception. The change of season reminds me that the first anniversary of a dear friend’s death is looming. The boys have gone back to school, I have a birthday around the corner, a deadline to meet, a season’s worth of commitments made long ago that are now upon me.

A week ago, I could feel my own personal dark cloud settling over me like a cloak. And then, almost on a whim, I enrolled in a two-day course on Reiki healing. Last fall, hanging out with my friend Diane, sipping tea on the couch and chatting through the early autumn afternoons, I often found myself wanting to put my hands on her – as if the simple power of touch might somehow bring some small solace to us both. Sometimes, I gave in to the urge and rubbed her feet, or held her ankles in my hands as we talked.

But we are a hands-off culture, and to reach out in this way, human to human, hands to body, almost always means crossing some kind of barrier. We may feel free to talk about anything, but to lay our hands on another person is not something most of us do regularly or casually. For me, the impulse to heal through touch has always been there; what I lacked was any belief that my touch might actually be helpful or welcomed.

Two days of hands-on Reiki and I still don’t know if my hands are of much use to anyone but me. But I have learned this: simply settling into a quiet space with another person and allowing our hands to speak for us, to say to a friend or loved one, “You matter to me,” invites a sense of well-being. There is nothing quite like the gift of time and a loving touch to communicate caring and compassion – that became clear as I took my turn upon the table on Sunday, while my fellow students laid their hands upon my body and invited their Reiki energy to serve the highest healing good. It was so simple. So quiet. So practical. So wonderful.

And you know what? That elegiac case of “the blues” that visits me like clockwork every September has pretty much vanished into thin air. I’m not certain I’m cured, but it certainly seems as if some sort of healing has been going on here. Out for a run, I inhale the soft scents of the late-summer woods and give thanks for the fleeting beauty of the season. Each time I pause and put a hand upon my own heart, I’m almost absurdly pleased to feel it in there, beating steadily away. Laying Gracie out on the bed and laying my hands on her old arthritic haunches, I am filled with gratitude for all the years of walks we’ve shared, for all the mornings she got me up out of bed and out the door. She thumps her tail upon the mattress: could it be that she’s grateful, too? Sliding my palms against my husband’s sore back and breathing with him, I think how lucky we are, to have known and loved and shared one another’s bodies for a quarter century now. “That was nice,” he says, “thank you.” His back may not be better, but we are, reconnected by touch. Out in the garden, my hands at rest on my neighbor Debbie’s shoulders, I watch a hummingbird hovering over the petunias and am struck by the way this tiny, vibrating being embodies words we heard in class: “An invisible but palpable life force energy infuses and permeates all living forms. This energy is infinite, limitless, and pure.” Visiting a sick friend, I can tell she has no energy for conversation. But we can still spend time together in companionable silence as she reclines on her porch, my hands gently cradling her aching head.

I am a beginner, with four days of Reiki experience under my belt. Sitting with my hands cupped in my lap, drawing Japanese symbols in the air in my imagination, whispering strange words to myself, envisioning the highest healing good, I’m not quite sure whether I’m praying or meditating, or just opening myself up to forces already at work in the universe. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe what’s important is simply to live in a state of awareness, and to give ourselves and others the opportunity to take a few moments each day to move back into balance and harmony with our souls, our bodies, our environment, one another.