Recognizing When You're at Your Threshold


In my last post I briefly mentioned operating at our thresholds, but today I want to get into this a little deeper, and also add the idea of operating with margins.

I first discovered Life with Margins as a new college student. In my family life back home, if it took 8 minutes to drive somewhere, we left (or aspired to leave) 8 minutes before we had to be there. I hated the feeling of cutting it close, of inevitable delays and arriving late to my part-time job, for example. But when you're at the mercy of other people driving you places and traveling as a unit, you often don't know any other way.

When I got to college, it didn't take me long at all to discover the amazing freedom to leave on my own schedule. I learned there that I could create a margin--I could leave 20 minutes early to get to a building only 10 minutes away. Then, when the gardens were blooming, I could stop and enjoy them. When I ran into friends, I could pause to chat.

Creating a Margin meant leaving room for the unforseen and unexpected. It meant having breathing space in between and around the edges.

Learning about margins simultaneously taught me about thresholds. I started to feel in my body when I'm operating out at the far edges of my capacities, whether it's my capacity to manage stress, to summon courage, to withstand vulnerability or more.

I think this is what people refer to when they talk about "feeling stressed": either the feeling of being at one's threshold or operating without margins. Or both.

The world beyond our door is not all soft edges and cozy corners, but I endeavor to keep life inside our walls as gentle and easy as possible--to compensate, perhaps. Our family rhythm is one with a lot of margins, in an ordinary times. We keep weekends unstructured and unplanned as much as possible. I work really intentionally to create a rhythm for my kids that leaves time for cartoon-watching and fort-building and open space to create, to rest and to be.

Since my husband's accident, many of our usual margins have disappeared. We're back to one parent getting kids out the door in the morning and wrangling them into bed at night. But more than that, this time has us out at our thresholds for so many reasons (and each of us have our own).

There are a few signs we're noticing that tell us we're out at our threshold. These may be different for you, but for us it sounds like:

  • "Just a few hours ago I was doing so great, now suddenly I'm cranky and mad."
  • "I am one push-up test in PE away from completely losing it."
  • "I feel like I'm about to have a meltdown, but for no good reason." 

Our rational minds keep scanning in search of The One Good Reason why our bodies feel sick without actually being sick or our emotions are like yo-yo's bouncing high and low.

What's maddening is that there IS no One Good Reason. It's not the essay or the push-up test or the hair accessory we can't find. The truth is, it's all of it--all that we are holding together at once, all that our hearts and bodies are trying to process.

We're at our threshold, and the only remedy I know is to create new margins. (More on this next week.)

Today, I'm curious to examine this idea collectively and see how being at the threshold manifests itself for different people. I'd love to hear from you:  

How do you recognize when you're at your threshold? How does it feel in your body? What kind of thought patterns creep up? And what kinds of things do you hear yourself saying? 

You can leave a comment by scrolling down (or clicking this link if you're reading in your email or RSS Reader). You can also share your tips for recognizing when you're at your threshold on the Facebook page.

The Sacred Quiet

My favorite windows to gaze out of are train windows.

My favorite windows to gaze out of are train windows.

It's not just the time between Christmas and New Year's Day--I'm noticing this rhythm at the end of most months in which I drift into a sea of quiet. I stop reading non-fiction and sit back gently into story on the page or story on the screen. I hold my children. I take naps. I bake, and spend a lot of time gazing out windows and sipping tea.

Sometimes I peruse Twitter and marvel at how much everyone has to say. When my own words go, it feels like watching other people fluent in a language I am struggling to remember.

blog_train 2.jpg

I think about all the people who counsel to write or blog every day and how every time I come across that idea I think, fuck that. I would rather only say something when there is something to say, and the honest truth is that many days are marked here by a sacred quiet. Those expectations are just a shame spiral waiting to happen in my world.

blog_train 3.jpg

Of course I have all those thoughts that you might have in such times, too.  Other people's lives and work can seem so remarkable and adventurous when we are laying down for the second nap of the day, when we have neither the impulse or desire to take a picture or to pick up a pen.

When these times come, there are a few postures I can take (I've tried them all).

blog_train 4.jpg

I can panic. Tell myself that the words are never coming back, that my magic fairy dust has somehow been squandered or used up. Or worse, thoughts like: Maybe it's cancer. (It's not cancer. At least not yet.)

I can try to power through. Force myself to keep being active, even if it's not really productive. That generally leads to laborious work that doesn't forward the ball, heaps of frustration, and then the kind of exhaustion that throws all my good coping mechanisms out the door.


I can surrender. Remember creative processes like incubation and gestation and the healing power of rest. Tell myself that the words will come back in their own time, probably with such velocity that I can't even catch them all as they blow through.

When I surrender to the sacred quiet, I let memories surface and collect them like quilt patches. I listen to what's really tugging at my heart and try to hold everything else at bay. I make my bed and create space in my environment for whatever weather comes. I hope that in this posture, direction and redirection will find me. I let the people with words have them, and know when mine return, I will be rested. Ready. And listening.

February is a good time for inner journeys, and while I'm editing my new short documentary project, Indie Kindred, I'll also be here, creating a powerful conversation about soul excavation and integration with my long-time friend and collaborator, Phyllis Mathis

I hope you'll join us!


Temporary tattoo by Chickadee Road,

Temporary tattoo by Chickadee Road,

You tell yourself one hundred times a day

and you tell yourself still:

It's okay.

It's okay to try a new idea, even if it makes you squirm

like a too-tight sweater with too-short sleeves

trapping your shoulders.

It's okay to try another one.

The pillows supporting your back tell you it's okay

to spend two days a month on the sofa.

Its soft red curves remind you the world has this way

of moving itself along without your toil.

Your children can fend for themselves at dinnertime.

Their animated voices, enlivened by freedom,

remind you it's okay to let them find their own way


It's okay to let the sink fill with pots

and the kitchen trash stand guard one more day.

This is not impending disaster and doom,

there is no cartoon snowball growing ominous

and gaining velocity down some imaginary mountain.

This is rest. This is ease. Maybe even grace.

To let go, to close your eyelids, to wait until

your strength returns to make the trek out to Canarsie.

The calendar whispers that there are other days,

other times that will be happy homes for the tasks

on your list. And some of them are better left undone,

just so you remember you are not holding this great world

together, spinning it with your tenacity and will.

It's okay to let yourself be held, be carried a little more often

by divine winds and invisible help.

To be the recipient in equal measure as the source.


I'm taking the week off for a little holiday with the girls. We have some small adventures planned, and time with friends. But we'll mostly be celebrating spring and finding our easy rhythm again.

For now, there's just a couple days left to get Caren's yummy recipes FREE when you order Ritual & Rhythm before Wednesday (4.11.12). As one whom Caren has graciously fed so often over the years, I can say: Don't miss this.

And I'll see you back here soon.

Ritual & Rhythm by Caren McLellan Gazley

Many people probably dream of someday writing a book, or have some version of that aspiration on a list somewhere. Caren McLellan Gazley has dreamed of many (other) things, but she wrote this book for one simple reason.

I asked her.

It's been my delight and honor to introduce people to Caren in retreat and workshop settings, where her no-nonsense, candid manner endears her to all. I hope to gather again many more such times in the future, but in the meantime I wanted people--near and far--to be able to hold some portion of her story and her hard-won wisdom in their hands.

Caren at a Brooklyn Patisserie in December

From leading faith-based communities to their current humanitarian work in anti-human trafficking, Caren's partnership with her husband, Phil, and their journey together have taken them all over the world. She’s cultivated tried-and-true, practical-as-your-mama’s-good-advice wisdom about how to stay sane and even thrive in the midst of passionate work, parenting, community, and even devastating loss.

"Many years ago I had a decision to make: pack up and quit, or figure out a way to maintain my energy for the long haul." --Caren in Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care

In Ritual & Rhythm, Caren chronicles her self care journey, sharing her struggles, challenges, and all she's learned along the way. She reminds us that body care IS soul care, and that all we do for ourselves benefits everyone around us. Through the practical examples she shares, we learn how to craft our own daily or weekly rituals for taking care and find nourishment as our everyday living unfolds inside their rhythm.

at The Integrate Retreat in The Rockies

"When my self care journey began, what I most needed was some deliberate time apart for myself. Time that required nothing of me emotionally or mentally. Time without expectations from others. And so I created a safe place in my kitchen."--Caren in Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care

Caren playing with color after dinner in Berkeley

In a world of Do More and Go Faster, and in the face of human need that can stretch like a bottomless ocean before us, this book is the permission we've been waiting for and the guidance we need to find our way into a lifestyle that goes beyond surviving, into a realm where things like thriving, sustaining and flourishing carry the day.

Special Bonus: Everyone who orders Ritual & Rhythm before next Wednesday (4/11/12) will receive a full-color printable pdf featuring four of Caren's most-requested recipes, designed by Liz Kalloch and written in Caren's own handwriting.

We are thrilled to officially release:

Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care

by Caren McLellan Gazley

Photography by Andrea Corona Jenkins, Design by Liz Kalloch

Paperback, 48 pages

$28 USD, ships free worldwide

I Feel Like I Should Say Hello

Pike Place, Seattle

I feel like I should say hello. Like I should tell you about all the good things going on--how you can see me over here today, how I'm on the cleaning kick of a lifetime (though you would never guess it from the state of my desk), how I have this dear one's voice in my ears every day as I edit our new project and how much fun we had connecting yesterday in the first Open Studio video hangout. All these things are happening, and all these things are true.

And yet.

Today I don't feel as well as I'd hoped to--my body says, Slow Down. I could use a nap and a shower more than anything. The trail of clothes on the floor and a circus of objects litering every horizontal surface are on the loose, completely untamed and mocking all my attempts at order and beauty. Just 48 hours of feeling less than tops and it all seems to fall apart.

But I'm learning this, if nothing else right now: some days are for letting it all fall apart, just as surely as other days are for pulling it all back together. Some days are for surrendering to the wisdom of our bodies when they push back against our pulsing modern pace. For trusting that if we let go, something greater just might catch us.