Time, action, and bagels.

I know a woman named Christina. She married a wonderful man, earned several university degrees, and built a satisfying career. The present was joyful and bright–and the future, even brighter.

Then one day, a blade fell and sliced her world into hideous ribbons. Her husband Bjarne. Cancer. Stage four. He died at age thirty-five, leaving Christina a widow with two young children at home.

After this horrific loss, Christina felt imprisoned inside “the waiting room of grief,” as she calls it. That limbo space where your old life is over but your new life hasn’t begun. You’re not dead. You’re not alive. You’re not here. You’re not there. You’re in between two worlds, feeling unable to move forward, up, down, anywhere. Paralyzed. Numb.

“Just give it time,” Christina’s well-intentioned friends and colleagues told her repeatedly. “Time heals everything. You’ll see.”

Years passed. Many birthdays and parent-teacher meetings and winter holidays. A great deal of time. But Christina didn’t feel like she was healing–at least, not fully. Yes, she was functioning. She had a consistent routine. Kids were being fed. Bills were being paid. But she didn’t feel alive. The house was still standing, miraculously, but the lights were shut off.

She waited and waited and waited. Waiting for time to work its healing magic. Then one day, while researching neuroplasticity–the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and adapt to new situations–Christina had an epiphany: You don’t build a new brain–or a new life–just by giving it time. Time is not enough. You also need action.

Action. Movement. Forward momentum. Even the smallest step–taking a breath, opening the window to let in some fresh air, trying on a new shirt, checking out a new book from the library–begins to reshape the architecture of your mind.

Action is the medicine that brings you back to life.

Surviving the biggest heartbreak of my life has required…a lot of action. For me, the action plan includes a weekly appointment with my therapist. And also, plunging into the ocean and screaming underwater like a battle-mermaid, and painting, and talking to my parents on the phone about everything and nothing, and yoga like never before, and writing things down and burning the paper, and praying and meditating and chanting, and ho’oponopono, and finding “that one song” that somehow encapsulates everything and blasting it at a spine-shuddering volume, and going to an empty studio at night and dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing, and glowing in the dark, and running until my legs are wobbling, and watching the eclipse, and selling the house that B and I bought together, and buying all new underwear and other things, and writing the phrase “You’re doing a great job” at the top of my checklist every single damn day just to remind myself…I am.

All of these actions, and thousands more, create little splinters in the ceiling of the waiting room. Cracks of gold. Light pours in. First, just the tiniest sliver. Almost imperceptible. Then it widens. Then more.

Six months ago, I called my older brother and–through choking, hysterical sobs–I told him I was going to be celibate for ten years, minimum, and that I could never love again, never trust again, never believe anyone’s promises ever again, and everything I used to believe is dead, etc. He told me, “You feel like that now but you won’t forever, I promise.”

I told him he was wrong. He said I owed him a dozen of his favorite bagels from a special bakery in Montreal, shipped to his home, once I realized he was right. I told him, “You’re never getting those bagels.” He said, “We’ll see.” I told him my heart will never be the same. He said, “You’re right. Things will never be the same. But that’s a good thing.”

Beyond the waiting room is a strange and beautiful new world. I feel myself moving closer to it. Today’s actions compounding upon yesterday’s actions–actions laying new pathways in my brain. New energy. New dreams. New hope. Maybe one day, even bagels.

You live inside the waiting room until one day, you don’t.

Everything feels impossible until one day, it’s not.


Get in the water.

Every time I stand near the ocean, there’s a debate between my hut (that’s what I call my heart + gut) and my brain.

“Get in the water,” says my hut. “You love being in the ocean more than anything. You will not regret it. You will feel so alive. Go! Dive in! Just get in for one minute! This is your one and only life! What are you waiting for?”

“But it’s a little cloudy today,” whines my brain. “Also, it might be cold. And besides, you’re not even wearing a bathing suit. You didn’t pack a towel. You just blow-dried your hair. It looks like it could rain. You have a lot of emails to answer. You have a meeting starting in an hour. And what about sharks?! Today isn’t an ideal day for swimming. Come back tomorrow. Not today.”

One morning, I found myself at this familiar crossroads. Get in? Or not? Hut and brain, battling it out. I stood at the edge of the water, a blur of blue, gray, and green. Waves rippling up and down, a never-ending electrocardiogram, a liquid pulse.

I wanted to dive in. But my feet weren’t moving forward. I began mutter-chanting to myself, “Don’t think, just get in. Don’t think, just get in. Don’t think, just…”

“Imagine you are the main character in a movie,” a friend once said to me. “The movie is your life. Everything’s rolling along. And then, there’s this moment when you’re faced with a choice. Right or left. This or that. Seize the moment…or not. Imagine the audience in the theater is watching you wrestle with that choice. They’re biting their nails and hoping you do the right thing. All those people sitting in the audience…what are they hoping you will do? Whatever it is…do that.”

I think about this invisible audience a lot. I imagine them groaning, slapping their palms to their foreheads, and rolling their eyes with disbelief when I do something cowardly, lazy, or apathetic. I imagine them cheering, leaping out of their seats, popcorn flying all around, when I do something brave.

The best choice isn’t always comfortable, at first. I know this. There’s a shock of cold water before the reward. Sometimes you have to mute your brain and crank up the volume on your hut. Sometimes a split second decision—one tiny burst of courage, one phone call, one email, one application, a knock on someone’s door, ten seconds in the water—can change the whole story.

I tore off my shirt and ran into the waves.

Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think.

Get in. Get in. Get in.

Today. Today. Today.


Now, there is more than before.

“When the eruption began,” Kanani told us, gesturing towards the distant volcano. “It was old lava, not fresh. Very old. Heavy, thick, viscous. Lava that was trapped underground, we believe, left over from previous flows.”

As we sat cross-legged on Honoli’i Beach, Kanani told us to close our eyes and listen for the voice of the land. The river meeting the sea. The waves hitting the smooth gray pebbles. The distinctive soundscape that’s unique to this beach, and this beach alone.

Then she told us her theory about last year’s eruption on the Big Island of Hawaii.

“Everything old, everything that needed to be purged and released,” she told us, “It was time for everything to come to the surface.”

That’s definitely how 2018 felt for me. It was a year of upheaval, disruption, and unexpected transformation. I’m not alone in feeling this way. Almost every single person I know—friends, family, clients, colleagues—seemed to have their own personal “eruption” last year. An illness. A harrowing phone call. A major change of heart. The lava came and it covered the earth and it could not be stopped.

“It swallowed the road,” Kanani continued. “Many homes were lost. And our favorite swimming hole,” she added, pointing south, “The lava took it from us. Gone forever.”

I remember that exact swimming hole. I’d been there just a month before the eruption began. A natural thermal pool, gently heated from beneath the earth. Sweet and serene. It was there for generations. Now it doesn’t exist. Erased.

“We lost so much,” Kanani added, speaking slowly, unhurriedly, not sprinting to make her point. She told us to watch the sky. When the clouds were burnished with a hint of gold, that’s when we’d begin our sunrise chant to greet the day. Then, and not a moment sooner.

“We lost our favorite swimming hole, but…we also received a gift,” she told us. “Because of the volcano, we gained four new swimming holes. Four. And a beautiful black sand beach. Now, there is more than before.”

Now, there is more than before.

These words have been echoing in my mind.

I can’t think of an elegant way to transition into the next paragraph, so I will just say it.

Last year, my relationship with Brandon ended.

This is the first time I have typed that sentence. Seven very difficult words.

We spent five years together. We built an empire of love. We started a restaurant business that grew from two employees (just us) to a thriving team of ten. We bought a house. We got a dog. We planted a garden. I wrote three new books and dedicated all of them to him. For Brandon.

We wandered through fish markets in Tokyo. We swam naked through biting, icy rivers. We held each other’s hands through broken bones and surgeries and recoveries. We made one million memories. Our dream was to somehow live to be 130 years old and then die at the exact same moment, transitioning into the next world together. We’d be cremated, we decided. Our ashes would be scattered in a sun-drenched vineyard so we could turn into vines. Forever and ever, we’d grow together, separate but entwined, side by side.

“I love you foreverly,” I would tell him.

“Do-si-do,” he would reply, our secret code for “snuggling close with our arms and elbows secured together.”

Everything was beautiful.

And then, with the explosive force of a volcanic eruption, everything changed.

I am not ready to write about “what happened with me and Brandon” in any specific detail. Maybe later, I will. Right now, it’s still too fresh.

I will say that after our relationship ended, I was wracked with a level of grief, rage, rejection, bewilderment, disappointment, and agony that I’ve never experienced before. I would get into my car, drive to an empty lot, roll up the windows for privacy, and howl like a wounded animal. I cried until every drop of salt water had been wrung from my body. I was tormented by my own mind. I tore through thousands of memories, trying to discover “what I had missed” or “what I could have done differently”…even though this mental-spiraling brought me no answers and no peace. This didn’t feel like a “break up” or a “divorce.” It felt like a death. The one thing, more precious to me than anything, anything, anything…gone.

Now, there is more than before.

When Kanani spoke to all of us, I felt like she was speaking directly to me.

As I write these words, I am looking at the ocean. Today, the water is silky, calm and still. Tomorrow, who knows? I’m sitting just a few miles away from the world’s youngest black sand beach. The beautiful newborn beach, forged from last year’s disaster.

Hawaii has five hundred acres of new land that didn’t exist before. Loss brings new life. Grief brings the opportunity to rise and begin again.

Even though my heart is still very tender and bruised, even though my optimism has been shaken and tested, I am choosing to believe that the best years of my life are not in the past. The best is still yet to come.

Many things have ended. Many things will be born.

Now, there is more than before.


There’s always a simpler way.

Have you ever tried to stuff twelve yoga mats into the backseat of a Volkswagen beetle? It is very difficult. A feat that requires a combination of brute strength and mathematical precision. One week, I did this…21 times. Why on earth would I do such a thing? Hahaha! Ha! Ha. Ho. Oh, pull up a chair, settle in, and allow me to tell you the tale…

Several years ago, I was leading a retreat in Portland, Oregon. I promised my guests a week of serenity and inspiration. Time to exhale, write, and work on interesting projects. No interruptions. No distractions. Space to get beautiful things done.

We’d have amazing food. Hiking in the forest. Trips to the beach. Big stretches of time to curl up with your laptop. Plus, yoga classes twice a day—every morning and evening. I wanted to create a five-star experience for my clients—handling every detail so they could completely relax.

Which brings me to…the twelve yoga mats.

My guests were staying at a hotel with a cheery, bright, wood-floored studio that we could use for our twice-daily yoga classes. There was just one small issue. We were not allowed to store the mats inside the studio during the middle of the day. We needed to clear them out. The hotel staff was very adamant about this point. Non-negotiable.

This left me with a logistical dilemma. Where would I store all those mats during the day? Anxiously, I scoured my brain for a solution. My heart thrummed as I tried to sort out a plan. Hastily, I decided I’d do…this.

* I would keep the twelve yoga mats at my apartment at night.

* In the morning, I would stuff the mats into my car and drive to the hotel.

* I would carry the mats into the hotel, down the long hallway, into the studio, and lay them out for our morning class.

* After class, I would roll them up, lug them back down the hall, and stuff them back into my car in the hotel parking lot, where they could remain for the day.

* In the evening, I’d take the mats out of my car, back into the studio, and lay them out for evening class.

* At the end of the night, I’d stuff them back into my car, drive home, and carry them up the flight of stairs and into my apartment.

* I would repeat this for seven days in a row.

* And of course, all this yoga-mat-lugging would occur secretly, stealthily, so that none of my guests would be aware it was happening. They could just breeze into the yoga studio without any stress whatsoever. Mats would be magically awaiting their arrival.

This definitely seemed like a very tiring plan. But, as far as I could tell, there was no other option. There was nowhere else to store the mats. This was what must be done.

And so, this is what I did…for a whole week. Every single day, I carried that massive pile of yoga mats from my apartment > car > studio > car > studio > car > apartment. Over and over and over.

It was tedious. It was physically exhausting. By day two of the retreat, I never wanted to look at a godforsaken yoga mat ever again. But I kept reminding myself, “This is what I have to do. I’m being a good host for my clients.”

On the final day of the retreat—after all the goodbyes and hugs and airport trips were complete—I walked back to my car. The retreat had definitely been a success. It had been a magical week. My clients were thrilled. My heart felt very full. The experience had flowed beautifully—with one big, clunking exception. Those &#%@ing yoga mats. 

I unlocked my car. I stared, one last time, at those twelve mats smushed into the back of my beetle.

And then, like a lightning bolt of clarity—clouds parting, angels singing, harps strumming, bluebirds soaring, God/Spirit/Oprah gently whispering honeyed words in my ears—I was struck with a realization.

Oh.

My.

God.

On the first day of the retreat, I COULD HAVE JUST GIVEN ONE YOGA MAT TO EACH GUEST AND THEY COULD HAVE KEPT THEIR MATS INSIDE THEIR HOTEL ROOMS DURING THE DAY!!! THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN 10,000 TIMES SIMPLER!!!

This idea literally had not occurred to me before. I could not believe what a thick-headed dumb-dumb I’d been. I had made things incredibly difficult for myself—and it had all been completely unnecessary.

I’m sure you have your own version of “the yoga mat situation.” Most people do.

Maybe you chain yourself to your computer—writing thirty Instagram captions and blog posts and newsletters every month—because you think you “must do it” to promote your business. But is that actually true? Do you really have to produce such a huge volume of content every month?

Maybe you clog your calendar with a myriad commitments that you’ve “got to do.” Is all of it crucial? Necessary? Really? Are you sure about that?

Maybe your daily commute to the office takes three hours, round-trip, and leaves you feeling drained every single day of your life, but unfortunately there’s no other option. It simply has to be done and that’s that. Or, is that true?

Could there be a simpler way? A better way? A kinder and gentler way? A more efficient way? There probably is. Maybe you’ve just been too hustle-bustle-crazy-busy-frenzied to see it clearly.

Stop rushing. Stop stuffing yoga mats into your car and just…stop everything. Pause. Breathe. Give yourself space to think.

When I stop forcing and cramming and sprinting from one task to the next, that’s when a life-changing epiphany tends to arrive. A new idea that changes my whole day.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

There’s always a simpler way.


This is it.

My mom knows how to live.

Maybe it’s because she lost her dad when she was only 15 years old. As shockwaves of grief rocked her body, she developed a new attitude — an attitude that she has carried throughout her whole life: “All of this is temporary, and nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, so we’re not going to waste a single moment today.”

And so, my mom is a vivacious firecracker who loves to swim in the ocean and play the ukulele and laugh until she cries. When she eats barbecued ribs, she sucks every rib clean until it’s a white, gleaming bone. And when she gets a wild idea — like buying a super last minute ticket for a cruise ship in French Polynesia — she doesn’t think about it. She actually does it.

She invited me to go on the cruise, too. My first reaction was, “That sounds so fun, but…” {insert various excuses about why it’s too expensive and why I’m too busy and also I’ve got lots of clients and projects right now, and…} and then she cut me off and told me, “Stop it. I am your mother. I will be dead one day. Come on this cruise with me.”

You can’t really argue with that. And so, I packed my suitcase.

We had the most incredible week of our lives.

We screamed when we checked into our bedroom because we were so excited. We drank tea and talked about marriage, divorce, God, and whether vitamins actually work or not. We swam with fish that looked like pastel rainbows and drank fresh coconut water right out of the shell. Mom took secret photos of my butt while I was wearing a bikini (“You’ll want these photos later, one day, trust me,” she insisted). I wrote down a list of every hilarious thing that mom said during that trip. I will treasure this list of mom-isms forever.

A million memories, so precious, worth more than gold.

And I almost didn’t go on this trip.

I am writing down this story for two reasons:

One, to say happy birthday to Dale Franzen, the world’s greatest mom. Thank you for constantly teaching me to fret less and live more. I love you.

And two, to gently remind you (whoever is reading this) that… this is it. This is your life. Probably the only life you get.

If somebody invites you to take a walk… meet for brunch… see a movie… play hooky from work… head to the beach… get a last minute ticket for a cruise ship… or just sit and talk… don’t pull away from the invitation. Don’t build a wall of excuses around yourself. Close your laptop. For the love of God, put away your phone. The emails can wait. Say yes to your life.

Because… this is it.