Belonging

This is the second post in a series of posts about my experience being diagnosed, and treated for, melanoma. Did you miss the first post?

Read it here.

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Baggage, History and Beliefs

A few years ago I took my daughter, Clara, on a month-long road trip across the western United States. When we got to Yellowstone, there were people lined up to rent bear spray.

Bear spray. Huh.

Here is what I thought, “I trust the bears more than I trust you. I know what to expect from wild animals. You humans? Not so much.”

I, like many of my fellow humans carry personal and societal trauma. Certainly I’ve grown exponentially from the challenges I’ve faced, and still, the trauma I’ve experienced informs how I move through the world.

Though I still carry what I’ve experienced, I no longer suffer as a result of the intended (and unintended) emotional and physical harm that I’ve experienced. Yet, my healing continues to be an evolution and one I’m committed to not only for myself, but for my daughter and for the future of peace and prosperity I envision for all.

So when I’m faced with something in my current realm that surfaces something old, I turn and I face it as honestly as I can.

To belong

Humans have a deep need to belong: to ourselves, to the earth, to our fellow humans. We are wired for connection. One of the biggest struggles I’ve had in relationship to the trauma I’ve experienced is a sense that I don’t belong.

Many years ago, I named my desire to belong — when I spoke that intention aloud to my coach at the time, I could feel it’s power. I knew it would be an intention that would be working in me, and on me, for a long time. That has proven to be true.

First, I tenderly learned to belong to myself. To live in my body, to feel at home in my own skin. To experience the grace of trusting myself and claiming my personal authority.

I then felt a deep desire to belong to the earth. I relearned my connection to the earth herself, rekindling a sweet relationship and a trust with the earth, and non-human nature.

From there, my gaze naturally turned to my fellow humans — the ultimate place to belong, right? To your own species. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to belong to the greater sea of humanity.

Then, earlier this year, I read a beautiful book by Toko-Pa Turner, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home. I decided I was ready. Ready to lean in and claim my place.

My first teacher entered stage left.

Stranger in a Strange Land.

Diagnosed with melanoma in the U.S., I came home to Zambia knowing I would be traveling to South Africa for treatment. For a variety of reasons, we decided that I would go by myself to Johannesburg. Preparations were made.

I reached out to many people I am acquainted with through coaching asking questions and seeking advice. Even though I had insisted on going by myself, secretly I was feeling tender, scared and alone.

As I got closer to the day of departure, there was an enormous outpouring of love, care and support — mostly from people I know only via my husband or through Facebook. There was the family that invited me to visit with them the weekend I would be alone in Johannesburg before treatment. There was the embassy community in Pretoria that offered phones, transportation, visits at the hospital, and other practical support. There were the coaches I know that offered their love, advice and connections with unfathomable generosity.

Feeling alone is not unusual for me. It fits with my story of not belonging. However the deluge of love, support, and care was upturning my comforting (but painful) mantle of aloneness.

So here’s how it went down:

Overwhelm. Delighted gratitude. Anxiety. Fear. Wonder. Tears. Peace.

Rinse and repeat.

One night, I confessed my fear to my husband: I was deeply afraid that if these people knew me, they would never be so kind. In the darkest recesses of my psyche, I was sure that when these people would meet me, they would be sorry that they reached out with such kindness.

Because people don’t like me. Because I don’t belong.

Such old conditioning. Such old fear. My dear husband held me and reminded me how much he loves me (and even likes me) and how many people absolutely love me and like me and even treasure me.

He’s a good one.

I choose authenticity.

In Toko-Pa’s book, there were two parts that burned themselves into my soul — one, she talked about walking away before other’s can reject you and how this hurts others (the people who want to belong to you) as well as you. I could see and feel viscerally not only how much I’ve done this, but how much I wanted to do this in the face of all the kindness that was coming my way. I didn’t want to open up or share my heart because I was so sure people would reject me.

The second element of her book that shook me and turned me upside down was her assertion that if you want to belong somewhere, you belong there. End of story.

Over the years of tending my own healing and learning to show up as myself (or feeling like I can’t and suffering through being fake) is that there is no real sense of belonging if I can’t be who I really am. It’s simply not worth it to pretend to be anything other that myself. I have learned to do just that confidently in my work and with my beloveds and my closest friends, but my visceral fear of doing this in the wider world with people who may or may not be “my people” has kept me isolated in many instances.

In this way, not only have I guaranteed I feel a lack of belonging but I’ve also potentially cut myself, and others, off from connection and relationship by presuming I wouldn’t belong. I realized there were ways this was impacting not only me personally, but the ways I reach out to share my work and serve the world. It split me open to see it.

So with a deep breath and a tender heart, I chose something different. I flew to South Africa with the intention of staying open. I committed to being fully myself. I decided to affirm my belonging in each instance, until it became clear that was not the case.

The Miracle of Belonging.

I am not sure I’ve ever felt so safe, so loved, and so held as I did when in South Africa. I didn’t have a single moment where I felt compelled to be anything other than who I am. I paid close attention to what was happening when I was with others: I genuinely enjoyed the people I was with and I dare say, they enjoyed me.

I belong. I want to belong. This feels like a miracle. And in my belonging, through connection to people who were once strangers, I feel a sense of kinship with my fellow humans I’m not sure I’ve ever felt. And not just a kinship, but a deeper call to see an end to the causes and conditions of all kinds of violence that lead to suffering. And let’s be clear: being told, or feeling like, we don’t belong is an act of violence against our very nature as humans.

Belonging is your birthright.

I share this with you because too many women (like me) didn’t fit with their families, peers or communities when growing up. Too many women I know have suffered emotional and/or physical violence that disconnected them from their place in the world. Too many women I know dare not speak the truth for fear of being rejected, or worse.

I get it. Deeply and personally.

I’m here to tell you that belonging is your birthright. Your family, your community, your workplace and the world need you to claim your place.

Without a sense of belonging, it’s too easy to hide. To walk away. To tell yourself that your voice doesn’t matter. To see the places where you are still told you don’t belong, to shrug, and give up. To focus only on the people to whom you really don’t WANT to belong and walk away.

There are always going to be people and places where we don’t belong. I’m not insisting that we subject ourselves to rejection and violence intentionally. But now, when the dysfunction and the divisions in our country and the world feels so vast, it’s that much more important to claim our place and rise up to share a vision of healing, grace, peace and prosperity for all.

I matter. You matter. Your experience, shared, matters. Your rage, your pain, your light — all of you matters deeply. We matter more than we could ever imagine. We belong.

On every level, from the personal to the societal, when you choose to belong, you change. The people around you change. To belong is to be at home in your own skin, in the world at large, and among your fellow humans. To belong is to know that the world needs the authentic fullness of who you are.

Your place at the table of belonging.

It is in your decision to claim your place that you become part of the conversations that shape our individual and collective futures. It is in your belonging that you feel compelled to offer your Truth, your gifts and your talents in bold service to the world you wish to inhabit. It is in your belonging that you meet and mix and mingle with the hearts and minds of other humans who are also learning to belong to the world in richer, sweeter ways.

This is how we craft a new world that celebrates truth, kindness, dignity and personal authority.

May you feel the sweet truth of your belonging resonate deep in your bones.

May you experience the impact that cultivating belonging will have in your life, in your work and in the world.

May you know the healing power of being received and celebrated for all that you are at the table of belonging, my sister.

Meet me there - I’m saving you a seat.

xo.nona

Image credit; Tim Marshall on Unspash


Belong first to Yourself

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You are invited to craft a sacred practice that deeply nourishes you, and your sense of belonging to yourself. Get the guide to creating a unique-to-you, daily practice of devotion that supports you in being the woman you are, the woman you are becoming. 

You will receive a playbook with everything you need to get started, plus you will receive my monthly missives when you sign up below.

I would love to have you. xo

True Beauty Series: #1 "Burned"

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This is a love story.

More than ever, I know that my story has never been anything but a love story.

Talking about illness and past hurts is tricky territory — the human inclination is to look away or create distance, “Oh poor her, that is tragic.” Please save that kind of pity for something else. Because this story, my story, is every woman’s story to some degree.

I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t suffer at least a little bit in the present moment from upbringing, culture, ingrained patriarchy and misogyny, violence and/or trauma.

I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t secretly walk around with demons that haunt.

I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t in some way diminish her story or her incredible power in some way.

Not to say those women aren’t out there, because I’m sure they are. I understand that the women I circle with tend to be like the mythical Phoenix bird — rising from the ashes over and over again in a brilliant burst of light and transformation.

So, please remember, this is a love story. An ongoing story of repeatedly rising from the ashes of outdated, painful and downright violent ideas and behavior so I can freely do the work that I’m here to do and be the person I’m meant to be. My hope - always — is that you, too, will see your own strength in my words and rise from the ashes, blazing, for all the world to see.

Burned

I spent my childhood summers seeking an elusive state of "tan" and instead found myself burned, repeatedly and often. Recently I did the 23 and me DNA testing and literally, I'm 99% Northern European -- I was the poor kid that burnt (sometimes blistering) and then went from bright red, to an even paler shade of white with a few new freckles thrown in for effort. 

Why would I be so intent on being tan? Tan women were beautiful. Beloved. (Think: Farrah Faucet) It was also widely circulated among the women of my family that to be tan was to "look thinner": which was the ultimate desire of the women in my life. 

Never mind the intelligence, strength and love these women embodied -- they wanted to be thin. Never mind the incredible work they did in their communities — they wanted to be beautiful. To be cherished and loved. But when I was a kid, that definitely required thinness and a “hot bod”. And tan was part of the equation. 

I know. I know. It's heartbreaking. The ridiculous cages that women were put in, and continue to live in, make me weep for the world.

We are so much more than the cages of societal expectation. 

True Commitment

Tanning beds came to town when I was 15 and then, it was game on. I committed to my tan (often burning in the tanning beds as well) and stayed tan year-round for 3 or 4 years. I have pictures of me at 16-ish and I'm that weird orange-brown color that screams, "TANNING BED". 

Even at the very tannest my skin could ever be, I did not feel thinner or more lovable or even remotely good enough. I had been date raped around this time and, added to the developmental trauma of alcoholic (recently recovering) parents, the cruelty of "friends", and the raging misogynistic air that I lived and breathed in -- being tan could not cover, fix, or mend the confusion, anger, rage and grief that was burning inside of me. 

I felt ugly, broken and unlovable. I took up drinking. It was the most reasonable response. I have nothing but compassion for myself at that age and every age since. 

"You have melanoma"

When I was back in the U.S. this summer, I had a suspect spot on my chest biopsied, and thank goodness I did. I wasn't expecting it to be anything but maybe a dysplastic spot - a bullet dodged. However, it ended up being mildly invasive lentigo maligna melanoma, which, not surprising at all, is most likely to be found in people who experience frequent burns. 

Being burned is a thread that wove itself through much of my young life -- both literally and metaphorically. I spent a good deal of my 20's and 30's burning myself and letting myself get burned. Again, both literally and metaphorically (though no more tanning beds -- I was over that look.) hoping beyond hope to feel good enough for love, for appreciation, for worthiness.

The fact that I ended up with melanoma — wow. The scorched earth of my past concentrated in a burning spot on my chest, right over my heart. For me, it was an invitation to lean in, to take stock, to reflect on how being burned has shaped me, and my life,

Making Meaning in the Best Way

I believe in the power of making meaning in ways that empower. Making meaning in ways that call the Truth out into the open. Making meaning in ways that affirm the beauty that is in me, and you, and in the world, despite the challenges and really, maybe because of the tension between where we are and what we know is possible. 

At the junction between obstacles and possibilities, there is an evolutionary tension carrying tremendous creative power. Every challenge we navigate through creates us.
— Chameli Ardagh

When I spent time compassionately bringing presence to my body, and the spot where the melanoma was found, I surfaced a lot of anger. Anger at a culture that constantly picks at women's flaws. I felt bubbling rage at a culture that values women (STILL) more often by looks (including thinness) instead of by strength, intellect, heart, and our capacity to make powerful contributions to create a better, more vibrant, and beautiful world for everyone. Anger at the ways that I, and other women I know, still play small and hide because at a cellular level, there is a fear that we are too much or not enough. Still. 

I now carry a scar and it means many, many things to me. It means I had melanoma, yes, but at a deeper level my scar is a visible reminder of the years I spent in tanning beds, trying meet other people's standard of beauty, a reminder of how much I wanted to be loved. It is a visible reminder of the violent ways women are told or taught to go against our own true nature.

This scar, this melanoma, is the years I felt unworthy being myself in my own skin. It is the self-destructive behavior, the violence I perpetuated on my female body because it’s what I learned was expected from society and our culture. The ways I bent and molded myself to others' expectations and desires. 

What is truly infuriating is that these storylines are still so pervasive and that women are still in the grip of these stories at all. It makes me want to scream. And let's face it: we are the lucky ones. We are the women who have the luxury of doing the hard inner work and mustering the courage to question the powers that be with relative safety. We have the option of walking out of our self-imposed cages and standing up to the people who would put us in our place as women.  

#TRUEBEAUTY

I’m lovingly naming this scar #truebeauty because it reminds me of the beauty - the true beauty of stubborn strength, emotional intelligence, grit, unfailing truth and resilience that I dismissed as part of my problem into my early 30's (too much/not enough/definitely unlovable). At 47, I thankfully see and appreciate the truth, the beauty, the power of what I’ve lived through and chosen and learned -- all of this has shaped and molded the #truebeauty that is who I am, who I've always been. 

What makes women truly beautiful, what makes us know we belong and we matter is being who we are, with all of our heart, on purpose — showing the world exactly who we are with no apology. It is breathtaking to see women be completely and utterly themselves — and I’ve found personally that to aim for anything less that full authenticity is not only exhausting but bound for failure. Knowing this, living this, is everything.

To burn on purpose

I burn with the passion of my strength and conviction that women have so much to offer the world. I burn on purpose with a vision for a world where women are focused on, and appreciated for, their powerful contribution to the greater good. And my scar will remind me to keep that fire lit, it will help me remember the Truth. 

All of the trauma, all of the times I was burned by others, or I burned myself in the name of being loved -- it strengthened me, tempered me. I believe with all of my heart, as the quote says, that our challenges create us. We have the capacity to take what happens to and to let ourselves be transformed by the fire, to let it teach us who we are and what we are made of. To rise from the ashes more ourselves — that alone changes the landscape of the world we inhabit.

We don't always have a choice in the circumstances of our lives. Many times we don't. It's true. But we always have a choice to respond with strength, with dignity and to meet the fire with the best of what we've got in the moment. To let ourselves heal and feel the pain all the way through and then... we rise. This experience with melanoma has reminded me that women hold a power that we don't wield far often enough -- women carry tremendous strength, wisdom and truth in our experiences, in our very cells. 

My deepest wish is that you read this and recognize a small (or big) way that you might be holding yourself in check. Perhaps you are quieting your voice to be more soft, more acceptable. Hiding your light.

Please stop.

Never has the world needed women to stand up, to speak the truth, to show their strength, to burn with purpose and passion for the good of all. I know amazing women -- look, I know you, don't I? Today is not my day to die (thank goodness) nor is it yours. Burn on purpose. Burn with your passion.

This is a love story — it was never anything but a love story. A story of seeking and finding the unfailing love that burns in our hearts for our own liberation, for the healing of humanity, for the freedom of women who don't have a voice, and for the earth and the children. This is a love story fueled by fire — not through compliance and silence and demure femininity, but by letting ourself burn with the Truth and the beauty and the power that is at the very center of our being.

Blessings to you, my sister.

Now go, burn bright. 

xo.nona


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What do you need to say?

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You can listen to me read this post right here (holy moly, it's 14 minutes. Prepare yourself.)

Dear beautiful you.

This is dedicated to my daughter. To your daughter. To all the daughters. To all the women who are in the lives of younger women. To all of us who are raising our voices for a deeper, wider and truer conversation that opens up a different world. I dedicate this to you.

I've been grappling. Grappling with the imperative to "be what you speak and speak what you be", as my wise friend KJ said to me. As the kid who was scorned as the town crier, I've always been a person for whom truth is an imperative, but now I'm in a whole new place -- no holds barred, truth spoken with courage, love and an open heart.

It's been amazing. And terrifying. And so incredibly healing. 

I didn't even know there were so many ways I was still silencing myself, but I've recently been initiating conversations where I've said things that I've never dared to say. Not particularly brave things, but vulnerable things which for me makes these conversations Brave with a capital B. 

It's vital to honor the hurt.

When I first began practicing yoga back in the stone ages when mats only came in one color - a light-ish blue -- our teacher began with the yamas and niyamas. The first yama -- non-violence --pierced me deeply. I knew it was mine to work with. I had no idea how that one ideal, taken into my heart, would change my life. I also had no idea what I was getting into -- I didn't really understand the damage I was dealing with: the harm our culture does to women's Truth, the very real impact of the violence that I had experienced, and oh my lord let's not even get into the violence that I inflicted on myself for many years, in so many ways.  

I have a whole lot of history with my voice, as so many women do -- maybe all women. My particular story includes my truth not being welcome with the people I love. Having my heart and soul shut-down by people I cared for and by society at large. And truly, too many counts of being shamed, blamed and rejected because of saying what is true for me. I've never met a woman who has not experienced this to some degree. We share this legacy, sisters. 

Over the last six years, I have been actively tending the work of restoring (what I believe to be) a natural state of non-harming in how I speak to, and about, myself and consequently, to others. This has been a scary, heart-wrenching and deeply transformative process of tending and remembering mySelf by owning my truth and stepping into conversations that are tender, necessary and honest. 

All of this has brought me to a heartbreaking truth: time and time again, I witness women effectively perpetuating violence against themselves by diminishing, dismissing, devaluing and doubting themselves in one way or another. For some of you it may be how you devalue yourSelf and the vital nature of your work. For others, it may be denying your needs and being in a perpetual state of giving in relationships. For some it could be dismissing your needs and silencing yourself when you are hurt in relationships. 

No matter what it is, if you are anything like me or the women I regularly speak with, this pattern is part of how you operate to some degree or another. 

Let's bring some light to this subject.

I want to begin with this acknowledgement: it takes a tremendous amount of courage and presence to look at and change the way we speak to ourselves, advocate for ourselves, or speak about ourselves. In other words, even for the most talkative among us, it can be extremely daunting to step into vulnerability, to courageously decide to speak the whole truth. 

I will tell you, as excited as I've been about offering Say It! as part of The School of Sacred Practice, I've also been grappling with doubt and apathy, which I sat with long enough (uncomfortably, I might add) to surface that this was rooted in a diminishment of what I offer to the women I'm calling in, which goes back to the ways I was shamed for using my voice as a young person. I say this because it's important to me that you know I'm right here with you. I know how hard it is to say the challenging things out loud. I also know how transformative it is to brave those stormy seas of fear to Say It! even when your voice shakes.  

As hard as it is to open up our hearts and share the depths of our self-perpetuated suffering, it can be even harder to open up and share the luminous qualities and gifts that we have to share. Under the surface waves of the self-diminishment that I can so easily slip into is a larger truth  -- I am really grounded in a compassionate way of being that gives me a gift for holding welcoming, transformative space. I'm not going to qualify that statement at all -- it's true (but oh my god I want to).

Outside of the act of getting sober and committing to stop the legacy of addiction I inherited, this devotion to non-violent truth in all the ways, including how I speak to and about myself, is the most important work I've done. It's the most important foundational work I've done to help me speak true in sharing my work so it reaches the women who need it. It's the most important work I've done to foster more joyful intimacy with my husband. It's the most important work I've done to ensure that I'm the parent Clara needs. It's the most important work I've done as the basis of cultivating relationships with other women, and the world at large, that feels nourishing and honest. 

The journey of a lifetime.

I want to see women all over the world speak the truth to, and about, themselves -- because this is the basis for changing the world we live in, one open-hearted conversation at a time. Say It! may not change your life in three weeks, but it could change the trajectory of how you live your life. True story. 

So whether you want to join me and the amazing women who have already said yes to Say It!, these are the three explorations and practices of devotion that you can work with to move a little deeper into a non-harming, truth-rich relationship with your beautiful Self and consequently, the world. 

Say It! Invitation One: Do Unto YourSelf as You Would Have Others Do Unto You

One of the most profound (and tedious) practices that creates true magic over time is a devotion to being on your own side. For those of us that speak the language of self-doubt to ourselves, struggle to receive, or are inclined to think everyone is better than we are, this is an invitation to simply consider how you truly wish to be spoken to and treated (as in, write it down.) Do you speak to yourself the way you would speak to others? Begin there, with yourSelf. No exceptions, no excuses -- own it and act on it. Devote yourself to this. Be fiercely on your own side. Simple. Tedious. Effective. Do it.

Say It! Invitation Two: Trust the Strength of Vulnerability

Once you deepen in your capacity to be on your own side, it's easier to dig into the Truth - your deepest Truth. As you surface what is truly happening for you, your invitation is to consider (to just consider, mind you) letting others experience your fullness. What do you need to say? Because let me tell you sister -- really, this practice is all about noticing, and letting yourself have, all the feels about what has stood between you and yourSelf and speaking your truth. Expect tears and lots of clearing away when you choose vulnerability with yourself. This is uncomfortable, life-changing work. Be gentle with you and let yourself feel it all the way through. 

Say It! Invitation Three: Take it to the Streets

This is the beginning of something beautiful -- when we are so grounded in who we are and our truth that we can Say It! to those around us. In other words, the true measure of the intimacy we create with ourselves is the impact that it has on our relationship to life. To Say It! is to be in an ongoing unfolding of knowing your Truth and being fully in it for yourself, on your own behalf and also for the world around you. The invitation is to choose to speak True -- maybe that's how you market your work. Maybe it's in boundaries you set. Maybe it's how you ask for what you need or say what's true for you -- no matter what, this is the very stuff of living your Truth in ways that change you and the world. 

I believe in your Truth.

I believe every single voice is needed and necessary at this time. I believe knowing your wisdom and discerning your own heart's Truth is the only way to lead a life of joy and purpose. I in no way believe this means being nice and "not making waves" or conversely, vomiting anger, rage and shame onto others. I do believe this means unequivocally stopping the damn violence and practicing the kind of true sovereignty and compassion that spreads like wildfire through our collective consciousness and conversations. 

So tell me, sister, what do you need to say to, and about, yourSelf? Today, your invitation is to share one challenging and tender thing with another human (which can absolutely be me - I would be honored to witness you. Just click here - just between you and me!) and to claim and share one radiant gift that you've tucked away and hidden or diminished. Note how it feels, breathe with yourself, it's okay for it to feel scary and edgy. This is how we expand our capacity to Say It!, sister -- one step at a time.

I hope you'll take the journey with me.

xo.nona