I’ve been thinking a long time about our sister Miley Cyrus, since she first wagged her tongue at me across my living room floor. That fateful VMA performanceunleashed a maelstrom of various commentary ranging from ‘leave the poor girl alone’ to finger wagging feminist disapproval, even rage. Why all that anger? Internally I watched my own opinions swing like a trapeze artist, curious to witness my mind’s fixation, as I have absolutely no interest in pop-artists and their antics per se. But I do have interest in how art affects public discourse, and what is says about us as a culture.

Finally it hit me, why my mind kept badgering the point, and why there was so much public anger around the topic. The context of the Miley Cyrus conversation — ‘she’s evil’, ‘she’s cool’, ‘she has a right to do what she does’ is completely off the mark. The conversation centers around her body and her sexuality and the push-pull arguments around a woman’s worth—completely assuming the words worth/body/sexuality belong in the same sentence. They don’t. And that points to where we as women remain imprisoned in cultural viewpoint and evaluation that is just plain wrong, and needs to stop. Frankly while men’s sexuality and body are seldom up for public discourse, women’s bodies and sexuality are public fare game. They are the public’s right. They are the public’s possession.

When the swing in my mind finally settled I realized that, for me, the Miley Cyrus display meant nothing about women’s rights, women’s free expression, sexuality, her body, fading childhood innocence, emerging womanhood, or the loss of American wholesome-ism. It meant hardly anything of any significance or meaning at all. I just found it ugly. It just didn’t appeal to my taste, and that was all it was.

There are plenty of female artists who move their bodies in ways that I find more pleasing. Beyoncéslayed 108 million Americans at last year’s Super Bowl. So strong and powerful was her show, that it seemed to many of us that the football game was a sideline act to support her—and not the other way around. Her moves were every bit as raunchy and provocative as Miley’s. They were just prettier.

Astonishingly what the Miley conversation reveals is that we still remain inside a tiny world defined by our sexuality and our right to be sexual or not, when to be sexual, how to be sexual, as if that were the important discussion. When instead, it should not be up for public discussion. What we do with our bodies is no-one’s business! We should stop the conversation. But we don’t. We pander to it, and live within it and call it freedom of speech. And worse, we prime our little girls to be ready for that same gladiator ring.

We walk them through the hot-pink aisles of the girl clothing section of our local department store and frock them in short miniskirts and lacey bras. We mock their developing breasts by parading skeletons down the Vogue runway, and then teach them the language of plastic surgery and breast implants. We teach them to flirt, manipulate and reward them for beauty. We teach them to be Beyoncé; we are horrified when they are Miley. And when Miley shows up, we want to wash our hands of her. But the two are the same.

Miley did not invent twerking, we did. Miley just followed the cultural modeling that we as women (and men) have perpetuated. And that is why we are angry when we talk about her. We don’t like what we’ve created and we don’t want to look at it because it means we must take responsibility for it.

Beautiful women and beautiful moves aside (please), Beyoncé the icon, while bold and inspiring, still only gives women a tragically limited palette from which to define true powerful intelligent womanhood. If she is lifted up by our culture as one of the finest our gender has to offer, then we are in big trouble. Big trouble.

What this means it is it’s still a man’s world, governed by men’s values, men’s media, and we are still living inside it. Our emancipation, our rights, our expression, our worth is still being forged within the walls of that world—and call it feminism. We should, instead, define the feminine through a completely different paradigm. We need to step out of those walls completely and define a whole new set of rules for ourselves. We don’t just need ‘equal pay’, we need ‘different pay’. It’s like we as women are running up the aisles of an airplane, thinking we are adding more momentum to the flight, when we are on the wrong plane in the first place.

No where are the consequences of our tight framing more evident than in the economic sphere. According to the most recently released The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, 1 in 3 Americans today live in poverty or hang on the brink. 70 million are women and the children who depend on them. Worldwide, women make up half the world’s population, yet represent 70% of the world’s poor. There is a disturbing global trend of increasing, not decreasing, gaps in income between the sexes. This is being called the feminization of poverty.

Media is of course where the confines of this masculine worldview is most celebrated. Row upon row of women’s magazines display the limited discourse that remains tightly corseted between weight, fashion and housekeeping. Television and movies keep the trance alive, save for the rare heroine who (literally) punches through the veil. But even she is sexy and beautiful…and, oh yeah, violent.

It’s not that a man’s world is inherently bad. It’s just that it is only half the equation. Therefore the lack of a real feminine culture—that stands outside of, and alongside of the masculine—is problematic for both sides. Oppressing the feminine not only results in unspeakable horror, violence and tragedy for women and young girls around the world, but suppressed feminine power can come out sideways, twisted into passive aggressive subversions that damage both genders. At its best, the world flounders along with only half a wing.

Therefore, this is not a women’s issue. It is not a gender issue. It is a civilizational issue, an ethical issue, and one that costs everyone. It cannot be solved exclusively within the context of women supporting women. We are beyond the realm of Annie Lennox’s sistas doin’ it for themselves. If an entire system is broken, then we need our brothers along side us to make things different and help tear down the masculine walls that define and strangle us all.

Outspoken lioness Jada Pinkett-Smith wrote:

How is man to recognize his full self, his full power through the eye’s of an incomplete woman? The woman who has been stripped of Goddess recognition and diminished to a big ass and full breast for physical comfort only.
The woman who has been silenced so she may forget her spiritual essence because her words stir too much thought outside of the pleasure space.
I am sure the men, who restructured our societies from cultures that honored woman, had no idea of the outcome. They had no idea that eventually, even men would render themselves empty and longing for meaning, depth and connection.
When woman is lost, so is man.

Like a fish in water, it is hard for us to see what we live inside. It is too close, too familiar and feels too natural. So we have to begin by educating one another. In my work, I find that men are very surprised and open when I point out certain ways that feminine oppression, sexism and double standards are apparent. They literally do not see it, and are grateful to know about it. Sometimes we can point that oppression out in a third person exchange with another man; sometimes we can point it out when it is another woman doing the dirty work on her sister (this usually surprises my male cohorts the most). Sometimes we can point out when the feminine inside—men or women—is being silenced. We can point it out during movies, books, or lectures. The important thing is to start seeing it, naming it and calling it out to others.

We can, both genders, befriend each other and help teach one another to see that toxic water we swim in. We can do it right now, in our workplace, in our schools, in our families. And then we can start to make real changes that are not about putting the masculine down, or fitting the feminine inside him, but lifting the feminine up to her rightful sovereign place next to him. Free, emancipated, powerful in her own way.

This will be a world filled with possibility we’ve only barely begun to imagine.

It had been a challenging two weeks at best. A series of disappointments and challenges had collided with my plans, work was heating up, the holiday ‘frenzy’, and my teen’s college application process that continued to grab every one of my spare moments, all rose over me like a Harry Potter Dementor and sucked my life force away. By new years day, I was so thin on the ground, that everything was becoming a ‘problem’.

So I did what any New Mexico gal would do, and took off into the icy mountain trails with my faithful dog Pablo. Somewhere into the second frost-laden breathless hour, between the first and second creek crossing, I found myself again. By the time I came off the mountain, I was not only found, but surrounded with enough reserves of resilience that I could meet my life with clarity. And as familiar as this scenario is, I am always startlingly astonished how different I am and how different my world looks when I take good care of myself. So, being new years day and all, I made a few 2014 pacts with myself to support me to have more days like these.

It’s one thing to make new year’s resolutions, and many tout that making them is a useless waste of time. But its quite another to use the birth of a new year to prompt oneself into imagining the kind of life you want, and crafting steps—baby steps—towards that end (admittedly, any time of the year is the right time). So, I thought to share with you some of the great strategies I have learned to help create a deliberately lived year:

Find the ‘Why’ of your life – We spend our days on all the ‘hows’ – the to do’s, the endless errands. But take some time pondering the real meaning of your life – what gives it spirit, passion and lift? What informs your desires and dreams? It is your meta-reason behind many things. For me, lifting up and showing people their wholeness, is my ‘why’. What is yours?

Dream, baby, dream – Schedule some you-time, an hour or so, to dream. Let your ‘Why’ navigate what you might imagine for yourself. Grab a cup of coffee and nestle into your favorite chair, or take a walk in your favorite location. Set no limits for yourself on this one. Don’t edit yourself in terms of what you imagine ‘is possible’ or what ‘is not possible’. What kind of life do you imagine you want? What would you do? And just as importantly, what would you not do? Who would you spend time with? What risks might you take? What dream might you go for? Then free-write everything down.

Based on what you write above, determine your year’s goals / desires – A life is made of years, which is made of months, weeks, days and hours. This year is the start of the rest of your life. To change your life, you can start by changing your year, your months, your days. What are some of the things you want to do this year that will lead you towards your destination? For example, do you want to start a blog? Do you want to travel to a particular place with your children? Do you want to invite a student studying abroad to live with you? What about more time with your spouse or partner? List them all.

Based on what you write above, determine five to seven broad focus areas of your year that will serve those goals – for me it is writing, family / marriage / friends, adventuring, building my business, health and wellbeing, and learning / education.

Make it effectively practical – Here is where the year is broken into the baby steps of your each and every day. After all, great things are accomplished through a series of small actions. Like this, each day becomes your building block.

Create a Word document (one page) that has between five and seven same-sized boxes (or if you are not technologically inclined, just draw the boxes). Take up all the space on your page for the boxes. At the top of each box write each focus area, leaving the rest of the box empty. When you are done, you should have five to seven boxes on one page, with one focus area per box. Print or photocopy dozens of copies of this, because it will be your blank ‘template’. Each day you will grab one of these templates, and fill it out with your various ‘to do’s’ for the day, putting a ‘to do’ item in each of your boxes. This is your daily ‘to do’ list. But instead of a random list of ‘to do’s’ based on whatever is screaming at you the loudest, the box format supports you to do things that support your focus areas, that serve your goals. You give yourself dominion, and literally steer your life towards your dreams.

For example, in my ‘Build my business’ box, I might have ‘Return Ed’s call’, and ‘Draft client proposal’. In my ‘Learning / education’ box, I might have ‘Set up appointment for training session’. But each of these seemingly small actions, is taking me towards a greater dream of, say, publishing my book, or running a successful visionary company.

Be realistic for each day, don’t over schedule yourself, and try as best you can to do something each day, or at least every two or three days, in each and every box. Use your long list of goals and desires to help you navigate towards particular outcomes. If you notice one box remains consistently empty week after week, do something to change that, or decide you aren’t really up for that focus area after all and erase it from your template. At the end of each day, evaluate how you did, and fill out a new sheet for your next day. For more information on how to work this incredibly effective system, see the website of Peter Bregman and his book 18 Minutes: Find your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.

Create allies – Have friends around you who know about your aims and believe in you. Illicit their active support in keeping you on track. One friend makes sure that we get out and hike every week. Another calls me every other week to see how I’m moving along on my client building. Also, keep in good company – be with people who are congruent with your aspirations, who help you keep reaching outside of your box. Inspiring entrepreneur, Jim Rohn said, ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ Who are the people you spend the most time with? Who would you like them to be?

Never email first thing in the morning – Email is a technological Dementor. It sucks your life energy, robs you of your dominion, and determines what you are going to do for the day. Plan a regular one hour ‘email time’ each day and stick to it. If you are like me, a lot of work happens through email, but guess what, a lot of ‘non work’ or ‘non essential work’ or ‘non immediate work’ happens there too. To cope with those who ‘expect’ you’ll be on email all the time, I let them know my email habit. I also designate five minutes (and five minutes only) at the first of the day to see if anyone has something really urgent (as in sliced jugular kind of emergency), or to see if there is a cancelled meeting. Otherwise, everything MUST wait until my designated email time. When you cut down, then only the essential rises to the surface. I promise. For more on how to do this effectively, see The Four Hour Work Week.

Create a morning sanctuary – Make it first thing. Make it sacrosanct. This is time for you to journal, meditate, and set your day on the right course. At first journaling can seem awkward and silly, but once you get in the habit of it, you’ll establish an intimate relationship with yourself that liberates wisdom and intuition throughout your days.

Schedule regular sabbaticals for yourself – You don’t need a grant or some long term plan of writing the great American novel to do this. Establish something that works for your lifestyle. Two weekends three times a year to be in solitude and away from technology is all you need to change your life. Our very own Wayne Muller wrote a best-selling book on this topic – Sabbath. And check out my blog on how to give yourself a ‘pocket sabbatical’, short, easy, manageable.

Learn the art of saying ‘no’ – Genuine kindness means having the courage to say what you can and cannot do.

Dreams don’t happen just by dreaming them; they require focus, attention, and small baby steps, done hour by hour, day by day. But with hard work and commitment, they help us to shape our life from one of ordinariness, governed by random external forces, to one of magnificence and wonder.

In that spirit, allow me to share a poem:

For a New Beginning
By John O’Donohue(1956 – 2008)
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
_____

I hope your year is brilliant.

Other helpful resources:

Zen Habits
Live Your Legend – get the Free Passionate Work Toolkit and lots of other goodies http://liveyourlegend.net/email-updates/
The Awakened Heart by Gerald May

Like many little girls, I was bitten by the horse bug at a very young age. It was my neighbor’s fault. One Saturday morning, she decided to unload her horse off of her horse trailer and walk him down the sidewalk of our manicured suburban neighborhood, to our front lawn and ring our doorbell. Still in my Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas, hair tangled wildly in a nest behind my head, I ran bare footed to where he stood, towering several stories above me.

I placed my foot in my neighbor’s laced hands and hoisted myself on to the warm soft back of this immense and mysterious creature. My tiny fingers clasped at the final tuft of mane, at the end of his long neck. I wrapped my short legs as tightly as possible around his broad frame, pointing my toes for added length. He continued grazing on clumps of green grass, each mouthful precipitated by a strong tug that I felt through his whole body. His giant ribcage expanded and contracted between my bare calves. His fur shone rainbows of golden browns and reds. And his smell, oh, his smell—a perfume of sweet sun-kissed hay and meadow flowers. I was intoxicated. I was love-crazed. I was rapturous.

Within weeks, my bedroom transformed into an equine shrine—posters of herds racing over my bed, Brayer models of all breeds, ages and colors on my shelves and cavorting on my carpet, a dog-eared copy of Billy and Blaze under my desk, books on-end creating makeshift stables and paddocks, and used copies of tack catalogs strewn under my bed. Even my poor dog Kim, a medium-ish poodle, was designated my steed, begrudgingly wearing a towel for a saddle pad and a belt for her bridle.

I remember the surge of endorphins that would pulse through my body as I galloped and pranced with my horse-cohort, Kay-Anne Williams, across the front yards of our block. I was the black stallion, and she was always the painted mare. We were, in those moments, all things—we were horse, we were rider, we were wind, and speed and freedom, and we were wildness itself. Sometimes we could coerce her younger brothers to chase us with whoops and hollers on their bikes—cowboys and Indians chasing ever-elusive mustangs through the canyons of the neatly contiguous houses.

You could call it love. But I would call it more than that; I was taken. And as much as I tried to escape it during various chapters of my adult life, I have discovered that equus has as much taken me, as I have taken them. What is this irrepressible passion? And why does it refuse to leave me alone? Only in recent years have I begun to understand the nature of its workings in my life, and the lives of others who have been taken too, be it by art, music, or the immensely creative pursuit of leading a business.

Debra Roberts is a master beekeeper, wise-woman, and a dear friend. As she remarks, she is ‘kept by her bees.’ These gregarious creatures were quietly but persistently in her life since a young age, but came rushing in all at once after a sudden illness forced her into Sabbatical. During this time, she made contact with the family of a deceased Hopi Elder who had made a strong impact on her years earlier, and felt compelled to make a several-days’ sojourn into the empty desert to deliver honey to their household. Upon opening the door, the Elder’s daughter-in-law exclaimed that they had just run out of honey and had been wanting more. From this moment on, bee-influenced meetings and circumstances continued to pollinate Debra’s life, until finally arriving at beekeeping school in Ashland.

An advocator of bee rights and natural bee colony regeneration, educator of beekeepers, and visionary behind what she calls ‘the women’s movement as expressed through women’s ways in the apiary’, Debra has become an unusual and dynamic voice in dialog about women’s spirituality, as well as the saving of our bee populations.

As ‘taken’ women, she and I often find ourselves in conversation about our beloveds—winged and four-legged—and share our insights and curiosities about a life, as she calls it, ‘in service to the sacred other’. Here lies the difference between something we love (a passion or hobby), and something we serve, which becomes an altogether different relationship.

Though I was mad-crazy about horses as a young girl, and throughout early adulthood, it was only in my late forties that my passions truly transformed and matured into what philosopher Martin Buber calls the ‘I-Thou’ relationship. Buber proposed that we address existence in two ways: The attitude of the “I” towards an “It” (I-It), towards an object that is separate from us, which we either use or experience. Or, the attitude of the “I” towards “Thou” (I-Thou), in a relationship in which the other is not separate from us.  I-Thou is a relationship of mutuality, service, generosity and reciprocity. While I-It is a relationship of separateness, use, and detachment.

Even though I did indeed ‘love’ horses, in all honesty, my love for them was all about what they could do for me. Sure, I would brush and feed them. I would pet them, whisper sweetly, and give them carrots. I wasn’t cruel or unkind in the conventional sense. But all of this was in service ultimately to what I wanted with them. Kindness is not the same as service.

But my daughter Sahaja began riding at age four, and this heralded a new chapter. When she turned eight, I ended up purchasing her a plump round bay Welsh pony named Pippa, who lived in a small field down the road from our house in rural Australia. Pippa decidedly took very good care of Sahaja most of the time, and when she didn’t, it was always a good lesson towards Sahaja’s blossoming character.

One day, Sahaja turned to me and announced that ‘she did not want to learn horsemanship in the traditional way’, and she ‘wanted to do it differently’. I was game. Years of training as a professional dressage rider in the US in my twenties had jaded my love of riding. In response, without any other options available to me, I just retreated to quiet trail rides in the fields and on the beaches. Though I missed the engagement with the horse that dressage offered me, I was not willing to force such ambition onto the backs of my horses any longer.

Enter, Louise, our first natural horsemanship instructor who skilfully taught Sahaja and I together how to work with horses in an authentically collaborative manner, without bribery, punishment, fear, force or manipulation. Like Debra’s fated honey delivery, my encounter with Louise and her methodology heralded a series of meetings and circumstances that delivered me to the alter of the sacred life through horses.

My husband, Wayne Muller, co-founder of the Institute of the Southwest, says, ‘If God is love, then what you love is the way in to God.’ In his usual way of keeping the sacred close and easily available, he is affirming what Debra and I—and many others who have been taken by art, music, a vision, a purpose—have come to know. Love is the way in, and service to that love, or that which is loved, is the way through.

So ancient is this pratice, the Aboriginal people of Australia, a 60,000 year-old culture, have a word for this particular kind of love—KanyiniKanyini means ‘unconditional love with responsibility’. A dear friend and mentor, listed custodial Elder of Uluru (the great red rock in Central Australia), Uncle Bob Randall says this:

If only people could just see this and show it by living right and living a life of service, not only to other people but to other living things. It is our responsibility—not just Aboriginals’, but everyone’s—to live by what my people call the Kanyini principle. There’s such a huge family you’re responsible for, and who you belong to, because they see you as belonging to them as well. And when I say family, I mean all beings, not just human beings.

If we were to step into our lives with such undeniable sacred regard for the ‘other’, how might we be different? How might we treat our children? Our colleagues? Our employees or employer? Our clients? How might our businesses operate, and what outcomes might they have? How might it change the legacy of our families? And perhaps more importantly, how might it shape the sense of meaning in our own lives?

I watched recently as a client excitedly shared a story about a shift that occurred in one of her routine staff meetings. After months of working hard to change her own approach towards work and her employees, she was beginning to witness a transformation at her firm. Radiant, she recounted. ‘People are beginning to listen to one another,’ she said. ‘They’ve begun creating a way that every person’s voice is heard!’ So significant was the change, that entrenched dynamics were melting before her eyes, liberating each staff member’s strengths and gifts. Now her firm was beginning to reflect her sense of meaning, rather than her fears or simply her dry ambitions.

Where to start? Simply look for where you are taken. Ask yourself what pursuits, people, places or things capture your passion or curiosity. And then serve it, or them, as a sacred other. Do it with a generous heart of reciprocity. Meaning will begin to pour into your days, and will transform how you work, learn and live.