24 hours with Oprah
If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes with me, you probably already know what I’m about to tell you: I am an unabashed fan of Oprah Winfrey. And I don’t mean the Favorite Things or YOU WIN A NEW CAR! Oprah. I mean the trippy New Age side of her— that deep resonant voice gently asking “Who did you come here to be? What is your purpose? What will you do with your energy?” That’s the woman I love.
Several friends have asked me what it was like, what I learned, etc, and the questions made me want to run away and write everything down once and for all.
So here goes, before all of my Oprah glitter fades:
The Vibe. It’s like a religious revival. People are so friendly, you feel like you are somehow related. Because you are. You are those dorks that pay lots of money to see Oprah and her crew in a giant 13,000 person stadium. There was something in the air, and it might have been joy, it was definitely unity … who can say, but that shit was palpable, and the soundtrack didn’t hurt either. My co-hort Jen Reidy and I danced like it was our job as we waited for the program to begin. Here’s evidence from our brief moments of glory on the Jumbotron (special thanks to Marielle for capturing this moment of pure flow— that’s Jen on the left, me on the right).
On the first night, Mama O told us her story, which of course begins in Mississippi— the least likely point of origin for the world’s wealthiest woman who also happens to be black. Because I’m a super fan, I knew 80% of these stories, but it was glorious hearing them from 12 rows off the floor, just to her right. Here are the two stories I hadn’t heard that resonated like CRAZY for me at this stage in my life:
The Disease to Please. Turns out Oprah had a very strong need to be liked, or as she put it “I needed people to think I was nice.” One day Stedman says, “You’re NOT nice. Gail is nice. Why are you pretending?” Which made her get clear about what things she wanted to do, vs. didn’t want to do, but did with resentment. As fate would have it, after she had gotten clear about this, Stevie Wonder (!!!) called her up and wanted her to support a children’s charity. Oprah had to find the courage to say “no” to Stevie WONDER (she’s got her own children’s charity). Which she did, and he simply said, “OK.” And that was that. Lesson? If she can say NO to Stevie Wonder, I can say no to the next volunteer opportunity that isn’t in alignment with my commitment to spending more quality time with my husband and kids. And so can you.
Energy Boomerang. I have heard Oprah talk about the whole “what you put out comes back to you” thing, but for some reason it hit me HARD this time. When I sign up to do things that I’m not really interested in doing, it projects a nasty energy that not only affects other people, it comes looking for me. I am SO DONE with resenting anything or anyone, if for no other reason that I don’t want that energy coming back to me, full throttle. Think about someone you know who has a lot of resentment and bitterness… seems like life keeps serving up reasons for them to be bitter, doesn’t it?
Pay Attention. I’ve heard this before, but in case you haven’t, it’s a doozy:
“Pay attention to your life, it is always speaking to you. “ First, life will tell you something is wrong in a whisper. Then the whisper becomes a pebble thrown at your proverbial window. If you miss that, then it becomes a brick that smashes through to get your attention in the form of a full blown crisis. If you miss that, you can pretty much kiss the walls and foundation of your house goodbye. This is one of my most favorite Oprah lessons of all time and space. I have saved myself so much heartache by listening for the whispers and waking up with the pebbles. What’s whispering at you right now? There were more than a few whispers I was politely ignoring prior to this weekend, I can tell you.
Then she closed for the night, and Jen and I took a rickshaw back to our hotel, and this pretty much sums up Day One of Oprah’s Best Life Tour:
We were out the door by 7:30am and ready to have our hearts explode and our minds stretched, and were served coffee by a barista so attractive, I’m pretty sure he was a vampire. Caffe Frascati, in case you are wondering. And what’s more: he’s a kind, sweet soul on top of being attractive. And old enough to be my son. Just so we’re clear.
From there we headed to…
O Town… Yes, there was a mini pavilion of sorts that was so lame, I can’t even tell you. How this one slipped past quality control, I’ll never know. But whatevs, you can’t be perfect all the time.
Back in our seats, the lights went down after more dance party runtimes, and our electronic bracelets lit up the crows like 13,000 stars… and out came Mama O, this time super casual compared to her fabulous gown from the night before. She said some other awesome stuff, and then handed the mic over to Deepak Chopra.
Meditating with Deepak
I won’t recap a lot about what he said, because The Diva Inc captured all of my favorite’s, but I have to say, I will NEVER forget the sound of 13,000 people sitting in silence, working on inhabiting the moment. In those collective breaths, anything seemed possible: world peace, gender equality, healing the environment… I can’t even explain why. Maybe this quote from Rumi that Deepak mentioned explains it:
“Silence is God’s language. All else is a poor translation.”
How funny that during a two day conference, I felt God most acutely in the near perfect silence of Deepak’s meditation. In a venue that usually hosts hockey games. Classic.
Liz Gilbert is a National Treasure
And then Liz Gilbert got up and gave the best speech I have ever heard in my entire life. And I am a speech coach. All I think about is good speech giving. Her talk focused on the stories we tell about our lives. And anything I do to try and recap will be a pathetic x-ray version of what she said, so I’m just going to say, I learned 2 big things from Liz Gilbert:
1) Never ask “What should I do?” ask “What am I here to do?” The first one is based on society/culture’s expectations of me and the second one is based on what I know to be MY quest in this lifetime. And there is a direct relationship between the length of time it takes me to ask the second question, and my level of misery. She summed it up in this beautiful quote:
“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.” – Bhagavad Gita
2) Do Mini Quests. Sometimes before you can set out on THE quest of your life, you might need mini-quests, “snack sized quests” to bring a bit of fun and meaning to our daily grind. On a particularly soul-crushing day after divorce court (pre-Eat, Pray, Love fame) she gave herself the following quest: Liz: you cannot go home and cry until you have found something that is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Within about 2 minutes, marching down 8th avenue in New York was a troop of elephants, with glittering signs that said “I LOVE NY!!!” The circus was in town, it was sheer luck (as if!) that they were passing at that moment, but it was exactly what she needed to remember how miraculous even the worst day of living really is. (If you’re not already following Liz Gilbert on Facebook, drop everything and do it now.) So what is your mini quest for this week?
Rob Bell. Brother from another mother.
Pastors of mega-churches always make me a little skeptical. But then I have to smack myself upside the head and remember that there is a REASON for thousands of people gathering to hear them each Sunday. They. Can. PREACH. And that was the deal with Pastor Rob Bell. The two big things I took from the preacher man were:
- Don’t Rush Suffering. The skills and realizations we acquire during the darkest hours actually become the rocket fuel of our lives if we have the intestinal fortitude to face suffering, accept it and grow from it. I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of rushing through suffering. And I’m going to do my best to stay present instead of pouring that glass of wine or stealing that 500th piece of Halloween candy from my sleeping children. I intend to “enter the mystery” of my own anxieties, fears, and moments of excruciating resentments, and figure out what all the fuss is about.
- Having the life you want, means loving the life you have. This was a big one for me. Really big. When I came through the doors of my house post-Oprah high, instead of seeing chaos and to-do lists, I saw three of the most glorious little people and a damn fine looking husband. And a big yellow dog who thinks I am BETTER than Oprah! I mean Jesus H Christ, how do I forget this!?
Iyanla. Oh my GAWD Iyanla.
First and foremost, I learned a new word:
Definition: rage in a mink coat.
Amazing right? Fancy, dressed-up rage is called “pissocity,” and I laughed long and hard at that one.
My other favorite take-away from her talk, without a doubt, is the concept of …
There she was… in all of her glory, dressed in diamonds and the most KILLER dress of all time, and she was gyrating like your dog when it’s hot for teacher.
She says, “What does your puppy do when you have some nice guests at your house? He starts humping their leg.”
Humping puppies are what Iyanla calls the thoughts that sound like:
“You’re not enough.”
“You can’t do this”
“Who do you think you are??”
“When your puppy starts humping someone, you get a magazine, you roll it up and you bump their behinds to make ‘em stop!”
Apparently, half the secret of living a big life is recognizing the Humping Puppy in the act, and putting a stop to it. No more believing the thought that I’m not enough. I’ll just see it for what it is: a humping puppy.
And then she said, “And another thing! Don’t take counsel from people whose brains are filled with humping puppies! They don’t have anything good for you!”
That is one to grow on, my brothers and sisters. Never treat a “humping puppy” thought like it’s the truth. And I can think of a few people in my world who are walking humping puppy factories, and I am constantly letting them get into my head. NO MAS!
The Close. Oprah brought it all together with a beautiful exercise about changing the way we speak to ourselves, and replacing our current language with the language of possibility, and I could go on for pages about what it was like to watch the speakers thank Oprah (it was their last night on stage together after a long tour), but really how could I describe it?
So instead I’ll tell you this:
it’s now Monday, and so far I have reworked my personal/business mission and vision statements, talked with a dear friend, I’ve written for probably 4 hours so far (half work, half fun) and I’ve danced around my office to a 1984 club remix of Sheila E’s Glamorous Life, immediately followed by Off the Wall by MJ himself.
That, my peeps, is called living my best life. May you find your bliss, and trust me when I say, when the Oprah Circus comes back to town.. do yourself a favor: BUY A TICKET.
**Bonus track: That picture you see at the masthead of my blog? That is me in my happy place— on stage singing or speaking. And after this weekend, I’ve never been clearer about my goals for how I want to spend my time. This is my prayer: that someday I’ll be crossing stages as big as Oprah’s, making people feel as alive and joyful as she made us feel this weekend. What’s it going to be for you? What are you here to do?