Category Archives: girls

open your arms and hurl your grenade

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About a year and a half ago I heard a poet say “if you’re not writing the things you need to write then it’s a waste.” Those words clung to my soul and I have consciously tried to live them each day since and yet last week when I sat down to write this post, the words stopped at my finger tips and refused to come out. I know why. I know why, I have fought myself on this many times– putting thoughts or feelings to paper makes them real, it gives them life, it creates proof either for or against you and the part I often forget- it liberates you.

Like Ash Beckham {in the TedX talk above}, I have lots of closets. There have been plenty I have come out of and I could tell you about any number of them- the big ones and the small ones; the queer one, the dyslexic one, the artist one, the chronic disease one, the autistic brother one, and so on and so forth. And yet, there is one closet that I have stepped out of only partially. I say partially because my immediate family and friends know and yet, it’s not a thing I talk about, mention, bring up, or advocate for blatantly. It’s a thing that still sits behind a clear sliding glass door.

Two weeks ago I celebrated my one year anniversary of living. I know what you’re probably thinking: “GARMIN, aren’t you twenty-one, how can you be living for only one year?” Just hang tight. Not long before the time of Halloween and Hurricane Sandy last year I found myself standing about ready to jump out of my fourth floor bedroom window out on to the busy East 29th Street in New York City. Fear, undealt with events, trauma, flashbacks, and masked depression had brought me there. As I stepped one foot up to the ledge, my phone rang. It was my friend. She said “Hey there buddy, what’s up?” Frantically not knowing what to do I said, “I’m standing on the ledge of my bedroom about ready to jump out. I’m done.” Slowly, calmly and gracefully she talked me down from the ledge, and back into my bed and then put me on hold while she called our mutual friend who could help me. The next day I managed to get myself out of bed and went to a support meeting. A week later I found myself home at the kitchen table sobbing and recounting what had happened to my parents who had no idea. And there it was: suicide. Attempted suicide. One more breath and I could have been dead.

Just like that I had another closet- a closet of a past suicide attempt. When people asked why I was late to studio or why I randomly went home on the weekends, I would make up something instead of saying “oh, I had to see my therapist or I was having a hard time getting out of bed because I was sad.” And then not long before my one year anniversary of living I decided I was done- this time done in a different way. I was done hiding. Hiding that I had once attempted suicide or that I am on anti-depressants or that I still go to therapy to help undo all that crap that led me to that ledge. I decided that the next time mental illness, depression, suicide, or any related topics came up I was going to say something. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wait long. In one of my classes this fall, upon talking about bullying and suicide in the art classroom, a girl said “well, it’s the person’s fault if they get to that point of committing suicide.” I interrupted her and I said, “IT WILL NEVER BE MY FAULT THAT I WAS STANDING ON THAT LEDGE.” I continued on to support my statement and the room fell silent. There I was. Stepping out of my closet and choosing to ‘throw my grenade’, as Ash describes it.

I wish I could tell you that I was met with “Can I have a pancake?” like Ash. Alas, unfortunately it’s not always like that.  And that’s ok. The point is the fact that you have the guts, grit, bravery, and courage to throw your grenade, to put it out into the universe, to go liberate your heart, and to live into your authenticity. It’s not easy. In fact anyone who tells you that coming out of any closet is easy is lying. There is a reason we have stayed in our closets for far too long- it’s a scary world out there. It took me three months to tell my best friend I am queer and nearly a year to tell my parents, and these are people who I knew without a doubt in my mind would continue to support and love me.

While I personally love, love, love this video for all its content and ideas, I think she glosses over the moment in which you do actually step out of the closet. It’s liberating. Seriously, liberating. The only way I can describe that feeling is like flying through the Mexican jungle on a zip line with your arms wide open, smiling, and giggling, combined with the anticipation of Christmas and your birthday, winning a million dollars, and crossing the finish line of a marathon.  Seriously. Open your arms, take that step, PowerGirl, and hurl that grenade as hard as you possibly can. I promise you won’t regret it.


Director’s note: If you, or someone you care about, are feeling empty or hopeless, please reach out. No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. In the U.S., call 1-800-TALK (8255) or go to . Internationally, go to and click on HELP. You matter, you really do. We are so glad you’re here. Check this out  and…thank you for living!

I first met GARMIN not too long after the event she describes. We were participants at a workshop on white privilege, power, and social change. I was captivated by how honest and open, curious and supportive, focused and determined she was, with her self and with others. We spent 2 1/2 days together, learning and discussing and holding each other accountable. On the last day of the workshop we all faced each other and told each other what we appreciated about the person across from us. When I got to GARMIN it was just so easy: I appreciated her integrity and grit that was so beautifully blended with a giant, warm, sensitive heart. It was clear that she  was going to reach out, help others, share of herself, and live authentically. When she asked if she could intern with thinkpeace I was delighted to look into her friendly, mischievous and highly alert eyes and say, YES. I am so glad that she is here, alive and ready to live a great big life as a thinkpeace powerGirl!


(Intern’s note: We are starting a new series here on the blog this week, ‘Possibilities’. It is just as important to share our own stories as it is to hear about other powerful women who are living into their own greatness. They show us that no matter our age, financial situation, location, abilities, or stage of life, you can create possibility for your life. This week we kick it off with my dear friend, Joyce Mitchelson. Joyce is a fantastic PowerGirl who goes to my yoga studio here in DC. I am going to let Joyce speak for herself and yet, I have to say that Joyce is on my list of top 5 people who give the best hugs 🙂 )


PowerGIrl Joyce

Meet PowerGirl Joyce Mitchelson

The Interview:


Nickname in Middle School or High School?
“J. Gray”  My fraternity (co-ed fraternity) name is way exciting and spot-on in terms of who I have always been, but I can’t reveal it 🙂

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I never really had a clear, fixed idea of what, exactly, I wanted to be when I grew up. I just knew that I wanted to be just like my mom: powerful, resilient, generous and loving.

What do you want to be now/what are you doing?
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up (!oops!)
I do a few things right now:
1) Work full-time at Georgetown University in the Graduate School office.
2) Serve on the board of directors for my family’s non-profit organization, Family & Leadership Empowerment Network. (It’s awesome.)
3) Yoga Teacher Assistant
4) Basic yoga studio maintenance (Karma Krew)
5) Sometimes I pet-sit.

Flavor of Ice Cream that most describes you (not your favorite… the one that describes you)?
I haven’t had ice cream in a long time, so I can’t remember the flavors well. But the dessert that best describes me right now is raw chocolate mousse: dark, rich, alive and potent. 🙂

How would you describe yourself in one word?

If you could flashback to your high school self would you tell her anything? If so, what?
“Change is not linear, and it’s OK for change to take time.”

What do you love most about yourself?
My insatiable hunger for learning and exploring.

Which one person has changed the course of your life? And why?
My life has never been about one fixed time where one single person alone made a huge shift in my life. Even in terms of “home,” I lived with different people, so that creates many opportunities for significant impact from a large number of people. Over the course of my life, I’ve had so many family members, teachers, mentors, colleagues, friends and even strangers drop profound, life-changing nuggets in my world, whether over many years or in a single moment. I’ve had “good” or “happy” experiences that have shifted me and I have had difficult experiences that have catapulted me forward in life.

How do you motivate yourself?
By surrounding myself with people who are going for more in life. That includes following people or groups on Facebook (or Twitter or Instagram, etc.) that always have something healthy and positive to say.

On the blog and in staff meetings we have been talking about being a “YES!” to our lives… what does this mean to you?
Not holding back and doubting myself. Trusting my instincts and acting on them.

Current song that puts you into a ‘state of possibilities’ or pumps you up?
“Brave” by Sara Bareilles

What do you think is the biggest issue facing girls in the world? How can we change the course of this?
One major issue is just BEING ENOUGH, simply put. Whatever the circumstance, that seems to be a recurring issue. We’re not physically enough (too big, too small, too light, too dark, too modest, too flashy), not enough intellectually, not enough in the workforce (still getting paid less than men for the same exact work), too rich or too poor, not enough in family (whatever the role). “OMG you’re a virgin.” “OMG you’re NOT a virgin???” “Your sexual identity is WHAT???” …. never being enough.
Two thoughts I have on how to change the course of this:
1) Personally/Small scale: Telling each other that we are enough. Showing each other that we are enough. We need to constantly plant those seeds in each other and actually act on them.
2) Large scale: Equal rights, access and treatment (whatever that means in a given situation)
Both of these solutions require the participation of all gender identities, all people, because we do not live in isolation.

What’s your next bold move?
Going to New York, a part of the state I’ve never been, staying with a woman I don’t know and engaging whole-heartedly in Baron Baptiste’s The Art of Assisting training even though my body is in some weird pain right now. I call this bold, because it took me forever to save up the money for this, I’m going alone, I don’t know anyone, and my body is in pain right now. I’m scared and nervous, but I’m going anyway, because I love assisting and I believe that following my passion leads me to my own truth AND to more opportunities to serve others.

say ‘YES’ to the gunk


I am more than enough!

Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes it hits you with a ton of bricks, or a constant tree-blowing-in-a-hurricane-smack. Sometimes it’s yucky, complicated, intense, fall-into-a-vat-of-molasses-not-good. Sometimes it pushes us to our edge and then lets us fall down the cliff.
And then we have to move through. It doesn’t matter the content of the gunk, it could be anything from your dog died to your best friend’s girlfriend cheated on her to you got bad results back from the doctor. Regardless of the content, we are the ones that give meaning to them. They either change us and propel us forward, or they break us. Both are valid responses. And yet, we have to keep going and trudging through the gunk to get to the green grass. It’s in the gunk that we find what we are truly capable. It’s where we find our inner PowerGirl putting on her mud boots, rain jacket, and stuffing her pockets with snacks for the journey. It’s where we find ourselves. It’s where we learn to stay with the discomfort.
Learning to ‘stay’ is not a skill I excel at. I haven’t lived in the same place for more than 18 months since I was 13. Why? I freak myself out. Things get hard and I freak. I book a plane ticket somewhere and peace out. I run because I haven’t figured out how to stay with the not-so-fun feelings. And yet, wherever I go, I find myself there again. All the things I ran from end up following me– just taking a different shape. You would think that after thousands of frequent flyer miles I would have figured this out. I would have figured out that the person I’m running from is there in the whole journey.
And so, with that, I’m clearly not the one to take advice from in the area of ‘learning to stay.’ However, I do get the gunk and the yuckiness and the trudging through. I get that.
The answer of learning how to ‘stay,’ leaning into the discomfort, and trusting that tomorrow is going to be better than today is not a straight forward one. There are no easy answers. As much as I wish I could say, “Hey, take this pill, eat this thing, say this, and do this and you’ll be cured” I’m glad that I can’t. Looking back on the crap that I’ve been through in the past is what often what encourages me to move forward. It’s where I find a tiny spark of mojo, and grit.
In addition to looking back in order to look forward, I look to my people: my middle-of-the-night-know-my-darkest-fears-and-still-love-me-people. I say “Hey, I don’t know. This is hard. Can you help me? Will you encourage me to be the best me and go through the gunk?” I have yet to be met with a “no.” In fact, quite the contrary, the response is usually, “YES. I’ll stand with you. Let’s brainstorm how to ‘stay’ and own the feelings.” My people often remind me to go back to my core, to fall into the things that make me and make my heart happy. They tell me to go to yoga, to go paint in the studio, to go drink a second cup of coffee, to listen to new music, and to watch re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy.
It’s all a process. It’s a one-step-at-a-time-one-breath-at-a-time-moving-through kind of process. It’s a knowing that things will get better, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but they will get better. It’s about trusting in the process and that the universe is conspiring for your good. It’s a steadfast will for pushing for more. And in the end there will be more sunshine, more laughing, more joy, and more dance parties.
And so my dear PowerGirl, lean into the discomfort, lean in. Say “YES” to the gunk.

living into “YES!”

(Hi friends I have yet to meet. My name is GARMIN and I am thinkpeace’s newest intern. My bio can be found on the “about us” page. I’d love to hear from you– email me at

“All your life you are told the things you cannot do. All your life they will say you’re not good enough or strong enough or talented enough; they will say you’re the wrong height or the wrong weight or the wrong type to play this or be this or achieve this. THEY WILL TELL YOU NO, a thousand times no, until all the no’s become meaningless. All your life they will tell you no, quite firmly and very quickly. AND YOU WILL TELL THEM YES.”

Last week, in one of my grad education classes, the teacher asked the class to journal about the following question: “How do you motivate yourself?” A seemingly daunting question with the potential to add a lot of educational jargon, I dove right in. If there is one thing I’m really good at, it’s motivating- both myself and others.

I wish I had a fun, silly, engaging story to tell you about how I learned to motivate myself and others… alas, I don’t. I have a series of small events where people consistently told me “No”. And I told them, “YES! Just watch me!”

The first doctor I visited after I received my diagnosis of a herniated disk in my back told me I would never be able to walk again if I had surgery. 6 months after surgery (from a different doctor) I ran my first ½ marathon. 1 year after that I ran my first marathon. Guess what I said when the first doctor told me I would never walk again? “Just watch me.” During my time at Emma Willard School many people doubted I would ever graduate from high school or go to a good college. “Just watch me,” I said. Now graduated and in one of the best art schools in the country, I think I won that battle. My gym teacher in high school said I would never be fit. “Just watch me” followed that conversation; here I am 100 pounds lighter. Two falls ago, the head of the “academic” department in my school told me that I couldn’t possibly handle a 4000 level class as a second year. Again, “just watch me.” I got my advisor to sign off on an alternate path for my degree, and here I am, the only person in the entire class who received an A. After my car accident last January the police officer that arrived on the scene told me I should be dead. I’m here, happily alive.

You see, we wake up every morning and we have a choice: to live in possibility and say “yes, bring it on” or to let it defeat us. We must take care of ourselves first in order to be the best global change maker girls we can possibly be. We need to show up to ourselves and our lives with enthusiasm and zest. And personally, I think living in possibility and the YES! is way more fun.

And so I present GARMIN’S tips to motivating yourself and living in possibility.

1. Make your bed each morning.
I know. I know. Who wants to make their bed??? Nobody. Let me tell you, coming home to a freshly made bed to climb into at night makes all your hard work during the day so much more rewarding because you don’t have to fight with covers.

2. Find ritual and sacred space.
For me it is my morning routine. God help you if you interrupt me while I’m drinking my first cup of coffee. And it is my Sunday night paint-your-toes-and-watch-a-chick-flick mojo builder. Find your sacred spaces– those places that help ground you and keep you moving in an upward unrelenting forward motion. It could be a physical place, or an emotional space. Maybe it’s your morning run or your yoga practice or journaling or even reading a good book.

3. Sing.
No. Really go sing. Sing in the shower. Sing when you’re making your breakfast, running, walking to class, lying in bed, driving in the car or on the bus, and when you are adventuring. Just sing. My therapist friend says that singing actually stimulates our memory and it releases the good chemicals that make you happy. Below is one of my PowerGirl playlists. Consider making your own!

live into the “YES!” PowerGirl from sarah.gettman on 8tracks Radio.

4. Sort out your priorities.
Is it really that important that you wear matching clothes? I don’t know what the things you struggle with in your life are, but try bringing ease to them. Ask yourself if they are that important… let the things that you dream about come to the top of your priorities list.

5. Finally, if all else fails, watch youtube videos of other people living into their own possibility.

It’s really that simple. Change is choice. Your choices lead to possibility and could make your every step more monumental. So go forth PowerGirl– live in possibility!!!

on women and poverty

live below the line


Can you live on less that $1.50 a day?

1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day for all their needs. Women make up half the population of the world and 70% of the world’s poor. They are discriminated against in terms of education, opportunity and health care. They work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half the world’s food, but earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property.  It’s vitally important that we work together and address women’s poverty and inequality.

What can we do?

Educate girls.

50 million of the 72 million children currently not enrolled in school are girls. Two thirds of the nearly 800 million adults who lack basic literacy skills are women. The impact of educating girls is tremendous. It enables women to have a greater effect on reducing poverty in their communities as, within most communities, women are responsible for providing food, health care and education of their families.

The economic benefits of educating girls are:

•    educated girls have fewer children
•    educated girls are better able to care for their children
•    educated girls have better access to health care and information
•    educated girls practice safer sex
•    educated girls have better access to jobs
•    educated girls are more likely to send their children to school.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated:

“there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health – including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful  in increasing the chances of education for the next generation. And I would also venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.”

When women are supported with resources and political commitment, real change will happen. We believe it all starts with a girl!

Raising awareness of the need for universal education is a step we can take simply by using our voices. Let yours be heard! Another way is by publicly making a commitment to understand what it feels like to ‘live below the line’. The World Bank has defined the poverty line as living on less than $1.50 a day. What better way to understand extreme poverty than by spending just a few days living below the line.  From April 29-May 3 join us as we take the challenge to live below the line, feeding ourselves on less than $1.50 a day.

1.4 billion people on this planet have to make that $1.50 cover a lot more than food, but the Global Poverty Project and it’s partners are asking you to take this challenge as a means of really understanding the difficulties that too many people around the world face on a daily basis.

HOW DOES IT WORK? The Global Poverty Project’s Live Below the Line Challenge:

So you want to Live Below the Line, but you’re not sure what you’re getting yourself into. Ok, here are the basics:

From April 29th to May 3rd, you can spend no more than $1.50 a day on food and drink.

This means you have a total of $7.50 with which to buy all ingredients for your meals.

The full cost of all the items you consume must be included in your budget. This means budgeting for whole packages of food such as rice, pasta, noodles and eggs etc.

For items such as salt, pepper, herbs and spices, simply work out the cost of each item per ounce and budget your shopping proportionally. Separate your items before the challenge so there’s no need to be digging around in your pantry.

One of the easiest ways to partake in the challenge is to share the cost of ingredients amongst a team, as long as no participant spends more than $1.50 a day or their total $7.50 budget. Working as a team will allow you to pool together funds and do more with your cooking.

You can’t grab a snack from the pantry unless you include the cost of buying the item new in your budget.

You can use food sourced from your garden as long as you can account for the price of production.

No combination of meals on any given day can exceed the $1.50 spending limit.

Remember this is a challenge to eat creatively – don’t at any point deprive yourself of three meals a day.

You cannot accept ‘donated’ food from family or friends!

You are allowed to drink tap water – remember you should try and drink at least 6-8 glasses of water each day.

Are you up for the challenge?  Between now and Monday check our facebook page ( for recipes and support! We’re along for the ride with you. Bono said, “I can’t change the world. But I can change the world in me.” All it takes is some awareness and compassion. Imagine.

awareness + voice + action = change


on being wholehearted 2: imperfection

“What do you mean, you cry more than you laugh?  What’s WRONG with you???”  After admitting this personal “flaw” in last week’s post about wholeheartedness, being vulnerable and self-acceptance and compassion, I have been defending my revelations about myself daily.  I find this totally ironic.  It’s an interesting thing, this idea that there is a “right” or “healthy” way to be, implying that the flipside of that is “wrong” or “unhealthy”.  Just how much do we judge other people’s emotional responses and, if we are the ones being judged, does this effect how much we let people in, to know us as we really are… is it just easier to put on our facebook image of ourselves living the “perfect” life?  The truth is that in order to live truly wholeheartedly, we need to let go of perfection and embrace imperfection, in ourselves and each other.

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen

We live in a world where we are being bombarded by messages of what perfect looks like.  Perfect is skinny, but not too skinny.  Perfect is being a star athlete.  Perfect is being popular.  Perfect is straightened hair.  Perfect is straight As.  Perfect is having money and the best/latest of everything.  Perfect is having a boyfriend.  Perfect is a constant smile and laughter.  Perfection has us pushing ourselves harder and harder to achieve/not disappoint/fit in/like ourselves.  When we can’t quite get there we tend to either blame others or believe that we simply are not good enough.  What if we could fly higher and be more if we let go of perfection?

Yes, it’s hard to embrace imperfection.  Those voices can sometimes take over in your head saying, “What if nobody likes me?  What if people think I’m not enough?” Girls, in particular, seem to have a hard time with this. In our effort to be sure we’re enough, sometimes we ask for criticism.  The “truth is” and “spill it” requests we make on facebook say: please, tell me you like me, know me, see me.  These love fests and hate attacks are two sides of the same coin: looking for approval from others.  Meanness always hurts and superficial niceness can’t take away our own feelings of inadequacy.  The problem is, if we don’t care what other people think and shield ourselves from hurt, we’re also not really communicating.  It takes courage to be ourselves, to face criticism and stay vulnerable if we really want to be connected.  Being who we are is the greatest gift we can share with another being.  By owning our imperfections we say to someone else, “See? I get it– we’re all imperfect.  We all struggle.  We all are enough!”

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”  -Leonard Cohen

a thinkpeace girl embracing her imperfections!

Truth is, I’m really okay with being an emotional creature!  I do laugh.  I just cry a lot too… not just from sadness or exhaustion, but from beauty and kindnesses, puppy kisses and proud moments.  My emotional being is one of my cracks. There is nothing wrong with me. Instead of trying to plaster over our cracks and make everything look right, see the beauty that comes from the light that shines from us when we are lit from within.  It’s the light that seeps out of us and draws us to one another.  It’s warm, comforting, true, and even electrifying!  Shine on, sisters!  You are beautiful.  Who you are is so totally enough, imperfections and all.


on being wholehearted

I sat down last weekend to write this post on being wholehearted.  As I started writing, more and more things came up for me that sent me an an emotional roller coaster.  Ups, downs, twists and turns, and those always fun corkscrews had a hold of me and I had to stop writing and just be.  As a result of spending time riding what I refer to as The Gut Crusher (aka The HeartBreaker or The Doom Bringer), I’ve decided to write about wholeheartedness in three sections:  Compassion, Imperfection, and Joyfulness. It’s all about peace…

“Be yourself.”  Teenage girls, in particular, seem to be given these words of advice daily.  There are probably temporary tattoos that say these words, as well as t-shirts and jewelry.  Teen magazines toss it out like it’s the sagest wisdom and the answer to all your problems.  There’s just one thing.  Do you know yourself?  How do you learn who you are when your days are filled with classes and homework, sports, theatre and dance and your image on facebook is about as much as most people really know about you.  If you’re like most teenage girls, you’re struggling sometimes with your mom, worried about your body, and thinking that today matters more than tomorrow.  No one has taught you how to know yourself.  Your family, and perhaps your religion, have taught you values.  But who YOU are is your own creation, based on your experiences, fears, hopes, actions, reactions and so much more.  Who you are and who you are trying to become is a journey, a road taken with no destination in sight, because as human beings, we are constantly changing.  And so, I think, that more important than being yourself is loving yourself.

Do you have insecurities and worries?  When you walk into a room full of people that you don’t know, does it feel like everyone is looking at you, judging you?  Do you have those moments when you just don’t feel good enough?  Guess what?  You are not alone.  You are gloriously imperfect.  So am I.  I worry about what people think of me.  I really need to lose 20 lbs.  I’m not sleeping well and it shows.  My house is drowning in clutter.  I’m frequently late.  I forget things all the time and can never find my glasses or my car keys.  I don’t work hard enough and I also work too hard.  I cry probably more than I laugh.  I worry about everything from the election and women’s rights to what the ER doctor would say if I were wheeled in with all the holes in my socks showing.  All these things make me imperfect.  What will people say if they see my imperfection?  Will I be unworthy of their love, their friendship, their respect?  What if… I Am Unworthy?

The more that we believe that we are unworthy, the less capable we are of fully connecting with ourselves and others.  That makes loving ourselves pretty darn hard.  This is where I hit when my roller coaster ride went from that fabulous place of the sweet, slow uphill climb to the sudden plummet into the darkness.  I started reading a lot about the importance of self-compassion.  I even took an online quiz.  Omg, I have issues. (unworthy)  Before writing this post I believed in this definition of compassion:

Noun: Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others

Others…  what about the self?  What does it mean to practice (verb) self-compassion?  How do you care for yourself when you feel like running instead?  When you shut down or think about hurting yourself are you thinking about your suffering or about numbing it or wishing it away?  There are so many ways we continue to beat ourselves up:  overeating, undereating, drugs, alcohol, cutting, sex, shopping, overworking, zoning out online…  As we all know, none of these “fixes” make things really right.  We can’t ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. When we practice self-compassion, we have to acknowledge the darkness.  The Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron writes:  “Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”  In other words, all that stuff that’s telling you that you aren’t good enough is being experienced by others too.  We are ALL in this together and if we can connect and share our darkness, we will be able to also feel and celebrate the lightness.

When you feel compassion for someone else, it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of our shared human experience.  Self-compassion means being able to say to yourself, “I’m having a really hard time right now, how can I care for myself in this moment?” It means that you are kind and understanding to yourself.  You may try to change in ways that let you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are unworthy or unacceptable. Having compassion for yourself means that you accept yourself as is, a work in progress. Things won’t always go the way you want them to. You’ll screw up, say or do the “wrong” thing, and fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us.

Here’s a hard thing for me.  “Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings aren’t suppressed or exaggerated.”  By observing our thoughts and emotions with openness and a non-judgmental perspective, we can see them as they really are.  Personally I have a tendency to go downhill hard and fast where I suddenly find myself convinced that my problems are the biggest, baddest ever!  That’s the roller coaster effect.  Life in the extreme.  But what if… I shared my story?  What if by telling someone else about my suffering, I gave them the opportunity to tell me I’m really not alone on the ride, with the biggest, baddest issues!

Here’s my suggestion to you (and to me) the next time you feel that stomach-churning drop from the tippy-top of your roller coaster:  find a safe place to land and tell your story.  Find someone who will truly embrace you for your strengths and your struggles.  Now, the hard part.  It has to be the right person.  Facebook and twitter just aren’t the places to seek compassion.  If we’re truly looking for connection, the kind that will go to that vulnerable place with us, with no need to fix it or judge it, we have to find that person who will make sure we feel seen, heard, and valued.  Trust me when I tell you:  YOU WILL NOT FIND THAT ONLINE.  Reach out.  Practice compassion, for yourself as well as others.  Give and receive with an open heart.  A whole heart.


what life is showing you

There’s this sappy song that’s been playing in my head all week that goes like this, “Do you know where you’re going to… do you like the things that life is showing you?”  Most of the time I feel fortunate to have an idea where I’m going to and I feel pretty privileged when I see what life is showing me.  “Do you get what you’re hoping for, when you look behind you there’s no open doors… what are you hoping for, do you know?”  I hope for a world where all girls have a right to an education, choice, safety, health, and opportunity.   I envision a world where women come together as peacemakers and create cohesive communities where all people are valued, counted, and heard.  I hope that fear and ignorance will be replaced by tolerance and acceptance.

Sometimes, though, when I look out into the world, I don’t like what it’s showing me after all.  When I read about the ongoing atrocities around the world, especially against women and children, it’s hard for me to hold onto where I thought I was going to… this work with girls, raising awareness and global sensitivity feels like a mere drop in the bucket at times.  Girls are still being forced into child marriages, poisoned, mutilated, or raped when they try to go to school or stand up for themselves.  Women are still not being valued in many parts of the world.  It’s easy to wonder:  am I making a difference?   When I do not get what I’m hoping for, I look to the kids around me for strength.  I am never disappointed.

A girl refocused me today.  Her name is Hadia.  She’s a 14 year old from Afghanistan.  A year ago she knew where she was going:  to New York to study, learn and become.  The arrangements were made; her bags were packed.  Her visa was denied.  Her dreams were shaken.  And when she looked around her all she saw were closed doors.  Unwilling to stop hoping and stop pursuing her future, Hadia determined to study harder, learn deeper, and become more.  We chatted online today and I found myself completely uplifted and inspired by this young woman and her true grit.

Grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”  Hadia has this in spades!  Despite living every day with the uncertainty of the future of her country, she carries on.  She walks to school wondering whether or not today might be the last day she will freely do so.  She worries about girls in her country who are being poisoned at their schools by those who believe that girls have no right to an education.  She thinks about the possible return of the Taliban and what that means for girls and women in Afghanistan.  Life is showing her that each day is a golden opportunity that must be seized.  Life is showing her that she must remain strong, focused, and passionate about her goals.

Hadia showed me where I am going.  I am going back to work.  I hear her voice, value her goals, and support her commitment.  She is studying today,  learning about the world, and becoming a global girl.   Thinkpeace Workshop advocates for girls around the world so that all girls have the right to be counted, safe, educated, valued, and healthy.  I’m watching my daughter study for exams, thinking about Hadia, and realizing once again that we are all connected, all in this together, and oh so capable of being the change we wish to see.  Do I know where I’m going to, do I like the things that life is showing me, do I get what I’m hoping for…?  Only if I stay as full of grit as my dear Hadia.

What is life showing you?

it’s, you know… that time

Okay, this one may make some girls roll their eyes and not want to read past this sentence:  let’s talk about “that time of the month.”  Are you still with me?  I know, no one really wants to talk about it but it’s something all girls have in common and really should feel more comfortable talking about with one another.  All too often American girls seem to shy away from this topic and not realize that their girlfriends are the best source of support and understanding when it’s that dreaded time of month.  Most of us find this an uncomfortable subject here– one better addressed by commercials and hopefully with no brothers or fathers in the room.  In countries around the world, however, this is a subject that brings women and girls together, unfortunately usually outside of the classroom, back at home, where girls are stuck being just because it’s “that time of the month.”

thinkpeace workshop for girls recently handed over 3500 pairs of panties which are now on their way to Haiti.  Our goal with our Drop off Your Drawers campaign is 5000 so we’re still working at it but this was a fantastic donation that will ensure that girls in rural areas of Haiti can attend school and live comfortably, covered in a way that makes them feel safer and more protected.  In too many parts of the world, clean underwear and/or feminine hygiene products are simple  luxuries that most people cannot afford nor do they have access to them.  It’s something that we just take for granted.  We know our underwear drawers are full and we know that we have products to protect us.  Millions of women and girls will never know that kind of freedom.  We want to share a story with you written by a wonderful friend, Denise Stasik, who has done amazing work with women and girls in Zimbabwe and Uganda:

about underwear 

We are all the same. Women are all the same. So just like women in industrial countries, women in Africa also have monthly cycles and are in need of feminine hygiene products.

Why do I state the obvious? Because I have met many people who don’t understand that women, wherever we live, have the same basic health care needs. And this subject of feminine hygiene makes many people uncomfortable, as if to discuss it is taboo for some reason. Yet here it is – an ongoing monthly problem for many women worldwide.

This need was brought to my attention in an odd way when I was working in Zimbabwe.  During our feast day, a sudden wind sent our paper and plastic bags swirling across the sand. Quickly, young children jumped up and ran to retrieve them.  Rather than returning to our table, the children ran towards their homes, carrying the bags with them, big smiles on their faces.  I asked an elder woman what was happening. She explained that young women often cannot leave their homes for one week each month while they have their period, as they have no hygienic products. They use whatever they or their children can find – mixtures of dirt and grass, newspaper, plastic bags. They must wash and save these things to reuse month to month.  Not only are these materials irritating to the skin, they are unsanitary and can lead to dangerous infections.  In addition, I learned that no one could afford the equivalent of $1 US per pad when the daily wage earning, if any, was between $.50 to $1.00 US per day. If the cost alone is not prohibitive, the disposal of these products is. There is no weekly garbage pick-up. There are no garbage cans for disposal of waste.

I discussed this issue further with the school teachers and was made aware of the impact lack of feminine hygiene supplies has on most girls’ education.  By the time a girl reaches adolescence she is likely to drop out of school because missing a week of school each month is just too difficult for her to handle academically.  In addition, the anxiety of not knowing when Day 1 will start each month causes some girls to just stop trying to make the long walk to school.  Uneducated girls become socially and economically vulnerable young women with few options to safely and adequately provide for themselves and their families.

We were fortunate to learn about a wonderful disposable, reusable, durable feminine hygiene pad product. Made of unbleached Killington Flannel, this pad can be used with or without underwear (yes, many women have not even one pair of underwear).  With sewing patterns, thread and needles in hand, we laid out the cloth and prepared for our first class, which had been estimated by the elder women to be approximately 40 in attendance. Soon the women streamed in from their huts, and the total attendance was near 300 by day’s end. After the lesson on women’s health and hygiene, we distributed the bright orange and blue patterns. The women smiled, picked up the scissors and began to cut. No need for a pattern – these women could sew!

Such great joy of women working beside women filled the air. The excitement of this new product that would help make their lives a little less cumbersome was almost palpable. The female bonding was warm and wonderful as we embraced one another.  We are all the same.

At the end of this trip, we distributed underwear to all of the women who had participated in this project. I held the large bowl filled with the many colored panties, and offered the first pair to the oldest woman who participated in this project. She gleefully chose a bright yellow pair.  With a bright smile, she asked, “Now, how many women do I share this with and who are they?” It took a few seconds for me to understand that she thought this pair of underwear was hers for only one week each month and then would rotate through three other women before returning to her the following month.

I replied, “This is for you and only you.” She looked stunned as she clasped her undergarment to her chest.  Through tears, she slowly and sincerely said, “Never before have I been given such a precious gift.”  I was speechless.  No words could express the many mixed emotions that I was feeling.  This was a pair of women’s underwear, nothing more. But to her, it was a precious gift.  The remaining women were just as excited to choose their pair. The yellows and pinks quickly disappeared, followed by blue and white. Strangely to me, all of the purple ones were the last to be chosen. I asked why. The women replied that purple was a “royal” color, which they related to “rich and powerful.” They did not feel worthy of royal.

We repeated this project in other African villages. After completing this project in one such area and returning 10 months later, one young woman approached me outside of our first aid clinic. She asked to speak with me in private, behind the building. I followed her outside. I wondered what was on her mind as she slowly pulled up her skirt. She wanted to discreetly show me that she was wearing one of these reusable pads. This woman had walked 4 miles to tell me how much this had changed her life. She was now able to leave her hut every day, any day of the month. She was able to cook and care for her children without the worry of dealing with her body’s needs in more cumbersome ways. Like many of the women in the first project site, this woman had also formerly used a mixture of grass and mud, which caused great irritation to her skin. She smiled and said, “Now I am like you because I can be a moving woman all days.” We embraced, and I held on a little longer as I again thought, “Yes, we are all the same.”

In this same African district, we had presented the pad project to the young girls still in school. The headmaster was thrilled, as she too noted the unsettling drop in female retention rates in school as adolescence approached. But when we returned the following year, the headmaster excitedly described a 39% increase in female retention rate at the school.  She attributed this increase to the pad project and predicted that number would continue to grow. These young girls now have a realistic means to meet the needs of their changing bodies. The headmaster made several pads and stocked them in the first aid kit in her office. She communicated to her students that if a need arose during school hours, the girls should come to her office and she would assist them.

Some of you reading this might still be feeling uncomfortable with the subject of women’s menstruation and feminine hygiene.  But if you are a woman living in the United States, you have easy access to products that allow you to navigate freely at home, school, work and in the world (and if you are a man, you are realizing “I had no idea….”).  Let’s make what is a natural part of growing up more comfortable for girls in Uganda and make it possible for them to stay in school and build a better future.  And let’s give Ugandan women the freedom to “be a moving woman all days.”


We are excited that our friends at the Giving Circle will be teaching thinkpeace girls how to make pads this summer at camp.  These will go with our outreach packages for girls and women in Uganda.  If you would like to donate some Killington flannel to this project, please contact us!

on girls, gloria, and a global equal rights amendment

When my daughter was in 3rd grade she did her biography report on Gloria Steinem.  She stood up on a soap box in front of her class with her long, blonde hair and 70s style aviator glasses demanding equal rights for all.  As she practiced her speech in front of me, I remember wondering: who is the Gloria Steinem of this generation and where is the feminist cry for equality that was such a big part of my childhood?

In 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, “In the new code of laws, remember the ladies and do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.”  Ah, a feminist voice from the beginning of our country’s development.  Still, nearly 75 years later, women were still not being heard, valued, or counted by the U.S. Constitution.  In general they could not vote, own property, keep their own wages, or even have custody of their children. Public demand for equality first became known in 1848, at the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott  held a meeting of 300 women and men to call for justice for women in a society where they were across the board barred from the rights and privileges of citizens. A “Declaration of Sentiments” and eleven other resolutions were adopted, but the right to vote was still too hot of an issue for most Americans.

To Susan B. Anthony, this was unacceptable. In 1872, she went to the polls in Rochester, NY, and cast a ballot in the presidential election, citing her citizenship under the 14th Amendment. She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $100, which she refused to pay. In 1875, the Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett said that while women may be citizens, all citizens were not necessarily voters, and states were not required to allow women to vote.  Until the end of their lives, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony campaigned for a constitutional amendment affirming that women had the right to vote.  Feminists of their generation who fought a good fight but left so much work to be done.

The 1900s saw more women take on the issue of equal rights as women joined the workforce and led the movement for progressive social reform.  Finally there was enough support nationally to win the vote. Carrie Chapman Catt and the National American Woman Suffrage Association were the new voices being heard throughout the country. Together with progressive voters, they finally won the first specific written guarantee of women’s equal rights in the Constitution, the 19th Amendment, which declared, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It had been 150 years from Abigail Adams’ advice to President Adams to this victory for American women.

In the 1960s, over a century after the fight to end slavery fostered the first wave of the women’s rights movement, the civil rights battles of the time provided an impetus for the second wave. Women organized to demand their birthright as citizens with the call for an Equal Rights Amendment.  The Equal Rights Amendment passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on March 22, 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification.  Arguments by ERA opponents played on the same fears that had generated opposition to woman suffrage. Anti-ERA organizers claimed that the ERA would deny a woman’s right to be supported by her husband, the overturning of privacy rights would be overturned, women would be sent into combat, and abortion rights and homosexual marriages would be upheld.

Although we’ve made strides and have won several battles, women still face many challenges.  Our work isn’t done.  When I was in 3rd grade I marched with my mom and the National Organization for Women.  When my daughter was in 3rd grade she seemed poised to be the next Gloria Steinem!  5 years later she’s just really coming into her own voice and realizing that it needs to be heard.  Louder.  Louder,  Louder.  And her voice needs to join with mine and yours and hers and theirs.  The voices of the women before us, from Abigail Adams to the National American Woman  Suffrage Association to Susan B. Anthony to Gloria Steinem to Hillary Clinton are calling us to use OUR voices to continue to demand change.

A recent New York Times article reflecting on Gloria Steinem’s pivotal role in the women’s rights movement, quoted the author Susan Faludi, “We’ve not seen another Gloria Steinem because there is only one Gloria, and someone with her combination of conviction, wit, smarts and grace under fire doesn’t come along every day.”  I beg to differ.  I see it every day.  I see it in girls.  They’ve got grit.  They have great voices.  I agree with Sarah Hepola, “Ms. Steinem’s DNA has been scattered into a million cells — in the blogs, as well as in the work of women whose labors do not land them on cable shows: Ai-jen Poo, the organizer of Domestic Workers United, or Navi Pillay, head of the Commission on Human Rights at the United Nations.”  They’re in Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Tawakkol Karman.  They’re in Lady Gaga, Emily-Anne Rigal and thinkpeace girls!   It’s not about one specific thing anymore, one specific issue, and one specific leader.  It’s about teaching girls to collectively use their voices for humanity and join ours as women.  “We often have a cultural fantasy about individuals,” said Emily Nussbaum, the television critic for The New Yorker and a longtime feminist reporter. “But collaboration is just as frequently the source of great things, and it’s less rarely recognized. Change doesn’t always happen because of one person.” Together we are the fourth wave of feminism.  Feminisms.  Plural.  Our isms embrace humanity:  tolerance, justice, equality.   It’s time for a Global Equal Rights Amendment.  As Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “Human rights are women’s rights… And women’s rights are human rights.” Let’s get these great girl voices going!  The next Gloria Steinem is in us all.