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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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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There is no "fix"

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Let me read this post for you {7 min, 14 sec}

You do not require "fixing"

You are not a machine. You are not a toaster with a faulty heating element. There is no final, steady state of perfection, transcendence or even plain old goodness to keep reaching for. You are brilliant, wise, and you shine so bright when I see you -- I wish you believed what you really, deep down, know is true: this brilliance, your brilliance, is the real deal. 

No matter how much I say this, no matter how much I repeat this, I know that it's hard to hear in the swirl and roar of airbrushed images, affirmations that attempt to elevate you above your flaws, and the subsequent hangover cures peddled to everyone who is trying to distance themselves from their lack of perfection. 

I think I'm lucky. I have always been stubborn as a mule. When people who had my "best interests at heart" steered me toward the path of least resistance, I could only stomach that crap for about 14 years. It nearly killed me to drink my way through the darkness of trying to do what was expected of me (which is actually code for "continuous striving for perfection that will always fail"). 

Humanity is the light and the beauty

And, I know firsthand how much work it takes to live into this truth, which can seem like you are trying to fix something in you that is fundamentally flawed. That's not it -- it's more like chipping away at old paint that was put on beautiful hardwood in a misguided attempt to beautify something that is incomparable in it's natural, stunning beauty. 

It's not a fix that you are seeking, it's restoration of your innate wholeness to your conscious awareness. A revealing of (and reveling in) your natural light and beauty, one sweet layer at a time. Your true nature, your soul, your Essence of beauty, truth, light, love and joy is intact. The luminous core of you is undamaged and on some level, you know it. You can feel it because no matter how much paint you might layer on, somehow the natural grain of the wood is still there, still visible. 

One layer at a time

With every fiber of my being I believe that we are, at our core, divine. That we are, in fact, embodied, divine soul. That our human experience is exactly what we are here for, not some hyped up idea of "transcendence" that is just another face of the impossible search for perfection. 

What our souls really long for is the messy, real and true experience of being human -- engagement with terrible and difficult challenges, experiencing the incredible joy of creativity, feeling our hearts break open again and again as we move through the world with countless other beings (some we love, some we like, some, well... great teachers), the awe and wonder of living in a world that is so alive, so beautiful and terrible in equal measure that it inspires us. The tears and pain, the laughter and joy, the triumph and yes, even the defeat. The list goes on. Our lives on earth are precious, our capacity and desire for aliveness, immense.

Please.

Drop any ideas of perfection. Stop looking for a "fix" (god, looking for a fix is like looking for a "fix" as an addict, isn't it?) Let go of the idea of attainment. Or being some kind of goddess. Strip away anything anything other that who you are: a unique expression of the divine living deep and wide in the human experience. Perfectly imperfect. Held and nourished by our great Mother Earth, celebrated by the angels and devas throughout the Universe, infinitely loved and supported by the Divine. 

Peel off the paint, reveal the luminous beauty at the core of your being; at the core of your humanity. Show me your quirks, your fears, your mistakes and your triumphs. Let me see the stains from the tears and the scars born from love, from play and yes, the incredibly strong scars from the wounds inflicted by others. 

This is how we belong to ourselves. This is how we belong to the world. One tender layer of Truth revealed at a time.

Show me the very Truth of your being

My sister, this is so much larger than you, than me. This is what you need. This is what I need. This is what we need, collectively, to reconnect with our Truest Nature as individuals and as a collective. We crave Truth. We long for radiance to be revealed. This is how we know ourselves, and each other. This is how we remember who we truly are.

When you reveal your True self you restore something precious to your own life, yes, but the ripples are infinite. Don't doubt the power your own healing and restoration has on the world at large, my sister -- don't doubt the power of knowing and celebrating your own wholeness. 

Hear me now.

You are brilliant, wise, and you shine so bright in your messy and oh so human experience -- embrace what you really, deep down, know is true: this brilliance, your brilliance, is the real deal. Stop. Trying. To. Fix. Yourself. You are not broken, you are beautifully and brilliantly and divinely human. 

And truly, I love that about you. 

xo.nona

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A guide to craft your Sacred Practice

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Embody your Truth in the way that you practice. Get the guide to creating a unique-to-you, supportive Sacred Practice.

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

I would love to have you. xo

Photo credit: Natalya Letunova on Unsplash