I’m so pleased to welcome you to the Mill Valley Book Club! Thank you for coming!
Over the past 11 years as a mom in Marin County, California, I’ve noticed the many women I know working so hard to meet the needs of their children, partner, workplace, friends, family, children’s schools, and community, while balancing the need to care for themselves. Many of us feel depleted, guilty when we take time for ourselves, struggling to find a sense of wholeness and well-being.
We may now be searching for a different sense of meaning and purpose in our lives than we would have in the past. My 20-something self would have predicted that finding success in a career, getting married, having kids, and becoming a stay-at-home mother (SAHM) would have completed my own personal checklist for happiness; and in many ways it has. Your personal checklist for happiness may be something entirely different.
While I have so much to be grateful for – and I am – I must admit that I’ve found happiness to be fleeting and elusive, arriving suddenly in joyful moments but departing just as unexpectedly. I discovered that reaching those anticipated milestones didn’t bring me the more pervasive sense of contentment that I expected to find by the time I turned 40. At times, life has felt like an urban assault, leaving me wondering with a sense of emptiness if this is as good as it gets.
After we’ve established the basic rhythms of our lives, perhaps our kids are old enough not to need us quite so much or work has stabilized, something shifts within the hearts of many women. The things we once thought were important may seem less critical now. Perhaps we’re no longer looking just for work, but meaningful work: work that feels deeply impactful both for ourselves and for the benefit of others. How do we figure out what that is?
As women, we are also the caretakers of the many people in our lives, generations both older and younger. How do we manage to nurture them, while still taking good care of ourselves? For those of us raising children, how can we approach this very important job from a place of wholeness? What do we model for our children when we make our own sense of well-being a priority?
These are the questions I believe many women, including me, are now contemplating in their own minds. After reading many amazing books and some introspection, I’ve found some of the answers, at least for myself. I call it walking the path to wholeness, a way of life that brings me joy, peace, meaning, health, and balance.
About four years ago at the age of 41, I encountered a serious health issue and a crisis in several of my relationships. I was finally forced (or ready) to face the fact that I had been living in a state of chronic depression for years, lacked the emotional tools to navigate these problems, and needed professional help.
At the same time, a critical voice in my head told me that I wasn’t enough – as a partner, mother, sister, daughter, friend or volunteer. Even though my loved ones saw value in me, I had lost a sense of my identity and self-worth. Leaving a successful career to become a SAHM may have contributed to the problem, but it turned out to be much deeper than that. In hindsight I see that all of this, taken together, was a wake-up call to re-orient my entire life.
I spent several years in psychotherapy and learned to take better care of myself. Over time I discovered that once I cared for myself – physically, emotionally and spiritually – I could be much closer to the partner, mother, daughter, friend, etc. that I hoped to be. With the help of an excellent therapist, an inspiring life coach, and a lot of books written by brilliant people, I learned about (and continue to learn) what I truly need in order to feel a pervasive sense of well-being – I call this walking the path to wholeness. To read more about this, click on What Is Wholeness?
Sign up to receive my weekly blog, read more about how I found and at times struggle to maintain a sense of wholeness, and join a community of women who, together, are finding lives filled with more meaning and joy. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I truly believe that together in conversation and companionship, we can find them.
In March 2013, I celebrated my 45th birthday – I realized that roughly half my life was behind me, and half still lay ahead. As I contemplated the second half of my life, I decided that a meaningful life – for me – comes down to just two things: (1) loving as fully as I can and (2) contributing the full measure of my unique combination of passions, abilities, and gifts (which each one of us has) for the improvement of the world.
Of course like all of us, I still face my share of rough days and challenges; but having found my own path to wholeness, I am now so much better equipped to process difficulty or pain and shift my perspective back to a sense of well-being. I found that wholeness is not a destination that we reach and stay in for the rest of our lives, but rather a place we strive to inhabit moment-by-moment and as much of the time as possible, an endeavor which requires the willingness to examine and choose our mindset.
And what I’ve found on the path to wholeness is a wellspring of joy and peace, the simplicity of each present moment, and a feeling that it’s always been there, waiting patiently for me to discover it. From that place, I am best positioned to experience the many sources of joy in my life – a hug from my child, a knowing glance without words from my partner or a close friend, the happy woofs from my dogs upon my arrival home, a magnificent sunset. For me, the greatest sources of joy are entirely free and abundantly available; but I only notice them when I slow down enough to block out the noise of my never-ending to-do lists and the everyday stresses I sometimes allow to dominate my thoughts.
If this story resonates with you, you too may find that there is so much joy, meaning, and beauty in life when you re-orient your mindset and learn to care for all of your needs properly – this is walking the path to wholeness.
In the words of researcher Dr. Brené Brown, author of the inaugural selection of the Mill Valley Book Club:
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. – The Gifts of Imperfection, Introduction
With gratitude for having followed the trail of breadcrumbs through the many books I’ve read, I now offer a forum here at the Mill Valley Book Club for the many other women searching for a feeling of peacefulness inside and the ability to truly experience joy and meaning in their lives. We fall on a wide spectrum from “doing well most of the time” to “one step away from serious crisis.” This online community will explore the path to wholeness through some of the magnificent books that have helped me – how can we help one another to move from quiet discontent or even crisis to a state of consistent well-being?
The Mill Valley Book Club features a monthly book selection; if time is scarce, you can read a book summary provided on the website. I’ll start the conversation once a week by blogging about my reflections on each book and how it’s changed my life, and I invite you to comment on the blog and on one another’s comments, sharing whatever comes up for you. You will have the option to post anonymously (using a pseudonym) if that feels more comfortable.
Trust me when I tell you that you will find hope and deep meaning within the pages of these books and in our conversations about them. There is nothing special about my story – I am just one person trying to walk the path to wholeness. What will be special are the conversations and the community that we create together. No one wants to walk her path alone.
Enter your email address in the subscription box to join the community, automatically have my weekly blog delivered to your inbox, and give it a try! All it takes is your email address, and you can later unsubscribe if it’s not your thing. Commenting on the blog is entirely optional.
If you know of others who might be interested, please direct them to this website. Each of you knows a whole group of women whom I’ve never met, and with your help we can reach so many more! And you don’t need to live in Mill Valley, in California, or even in the U.S., to participate – everyone is welcome!
In my heart, I am a community builder – it’s one of the things that brings me joy and meaning. In my heart, I know that many women out there are struggling, and that we should be helping one another through our challenges, instead of remaining isolated like silos in a vast, empty field, afraid to share our truths authentically. In my heart, I believe there is a huge need for this community of women supporting women on the path to wholeness. If you think so too, join me!