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Off the Beaten Path

I started holding my breath in late February.

Breathing, this thing I’d done daily and mostly unconsciously since I came screaming into the world, was suddenly dangerous. Not only was it dangerous to myself, but it could be perilous for others. So, as I passed people in the newly widened aisles of the grocery store, I found myself quite literally holding my breath.

My metaphoric breath followed suit, and soon I was holding everything close: my emotions, my money, even my dreams. By spring I was in a state of almost spasmodic contraction. This wasn’t the 2020 I had imagined when I sat down in January to write my intentions for this trip around the sun. 

Sometime in May, after months of being painfully clamped down and drawn in, the exhale came in a torrent. Andrew and I decided to move ahead with the solar install we had been planning pre-Covid, I began re-envisioning what our retail shops would look like in this strange new world, and most importantly, my literary agent and I decided to shop a book deal for my fifth manuscript.

This seemingly simple act, something I had now done successfully four times, was suddenly a scary decision, not because of the usual adrenaline rush of facing possible rejection, but because the world felt like a shaky place for dreams. Being an author and writing books has always been my dream. But was writing a worthwhile venture when the structures of society were torqueing violently? How could I know that a book I wrote now, that wouldn’t wend its way through the publishing process for two years, would still be relevant? Is 2020 really the year for exhaling a dream into the world? I wasn’t sure. It felt potentially perilous.

But perhaps the world has always been perilous. That was my thought as I watched a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Her challenges were both personal and systemic. It probably would have been easier to put on an apron, bake brownies, and kiss the kids when they came home from school. And she could have done that, but it probably would have broken her heart.

What does your heart want from you?

Do you have a dream you’re holding so close it can’t breathe, expand, and come into the world?

What are you scared of? Is it 2020 and the uncertainties this year has brought or is it something else?

I don’t ask this question lightly. In the midst of a pandemic, a cultural re-imagining, and the most divisive political situation I’ve seen in my lifetime, I’m well aware that it feels like a fragile time for dreams.

But I would argue that now, more than ever, we need our dreams. Passionately following a true heart’s calling allows you to step into the most powerful and vibrant versions of yourself, helping you to grow the kind of personal power that’s going to propel you to the other side of the pandemic, the cultural shiftings, and the political divide. This is not something someone else can do for you, this is a gift only you can give to yourself.

The evening Ruth died, there was a telling divide on Instagram: some people where eulogizing, not only RBG, but democracy itself, as though one woman held all of our futures in her hands. Others, meanwhile, were finding inner-fortitude, writing things like “today we mourn, tomorrow we rise” or “Ruth has passed the baton. Let’s not drop it!”

What would it take for all of us to rise and reach for the baton? 

At a moment like this, feeling the void left in our hearts with the passing of a cultural icon, it easy to think grabbing the baton means following in her exact footsteps and becoming a lawyer or a judge and fighting tirelessly to shift cultural norms (it’s also easy to think you are taking a step in the right direction by wading into the Instagram culture wars or turning to Facebook to find someone to browbeat).

But pause for a moment.

What if the grabbing the baton means and, like Ruth did, following your heart’s passion?

Remember Ruth Bader Ginsberg was not always the inimitable (and notorious) RBG. There was a time that she was Ruth. Maybe there was even a moment when she was Ruthie.

The lesson here is not to jump to the end of her story and try to become RBG, the lesson instead is to learn from her journey.

Ruthie had a dream. And Ruth didn’t let hard things– like being one of the few women in her class at Harvard or raising kids while going to law school– stop her from pursuing it. Step by step she charted a course that led her from the imagined Ruthie, to Ruth, to RBG. She couldn’t have known the entirety of her journey, but she still walked her dream– her heart’s purpose– to life, step by difficult step.

You don’t have to walk Ruthie’s dream to life: she already did that. Picking up the baton does not mean becoming RBG; it instead means hearing the beat of your own heart and dancing to its rhythm. Opening yourself up to your heart’s purpose builds trust in yourself, courage, and resiliency. It helps hone your “follow through” muscles.

Ultimately, if you stick with it and work through the hard parts, this journey will help you to know yourself, deeply and truly. This knowledge will become solid ground on which you can stand through pandemics, cultural shifts, and political divides…. and it becomes how you can support others in standing strong as well.

Maybe you think someone else is better suited, that you aren’t smart enough/ rich enough/ magical enough to pull it off. Maybe you gave up dreaming a long time ago and think you have forgotten how. Maybe you think your dream isn’t worthy of the dreaming because it can’t change anything in this crazy, confusing world.

That last story is mine. This story made me put off writing my first book, The Illustrated Herbiary, for years. Somehow a whimsical picture book didn’t suit the needs of my ego to be a serious intellectual, to do something that mattered. I couldn’t begin to see how writing this book could possibly help create a better world. But, somehow, I started writing… and I finished… and then the emails began: the emails that explained how the book I wrote got someone through the death of a parent or losing a job, or how a ritual or reflection guided someone to the other side of a particularly bleak situation. As we prepped to launch my latest book proposal into the world, these emails helped me understand that it’s impossible to know how your dream will alchemize. A heart’s calling is a catalyst. You will become someone new, just like Ruthie, by living her dream, slowly and steadily became RBG.

So… what are you waiting for?

Take a deep breath and let yourself exhale. Dig deep. Question logic. Look twice, or even three times. It’s easy to fool yourself, and to sound oh-so-reasonable as you tell yourself not now or I’m too busy or this is a bad time.

And then imagine where we would all be if Ruth had said those same things.

Big hugs—

Maia Signature

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