Throwing up in Doha–and the Courage to Travel Alone

one of the enchanting pedestrian streets in Istanbul, on the European side in Cihangir. Just loved those umbrellas!

I left some audios for a close friend last night, and she wrote me back, “I love living vicariously through your travel adventures,” and “‘Throwing Up in Doha’ is a great title for a memoir.” This isn’t a full-blown memoir. It’s a humble blog post. But I will tell you the story of throwing up in Doha, anyway. (Doha is the capital of Qatar, in case you didn’t know–I don’t judge you. I didn’t know either. And it’s only in the last year that I learned to pronounce “Qatar.”)

I left that message with a friend to let her know that I have been going through a lot since leaving for this trip on February 14. My first stop was Istanbul for a week, then four days in Singapore, and soon I will be heading on to Bali for two months where I will continue to work with my clients remotely and focus on a creative project. My hope is that the availability of cheap healing massages and the energetic magic of Kundalini yoga will help me make headway on a writing project. I am very happy that I am finally living this dream, which took a ton of work to make possible.

But man, woman, nonbinary person, it’s been a rough two weeks. To recap, my father has been in and out of the hospital twice in the moment when I was about to leave the US and then a week later when I was due to fly from Turkey. It’s hard for me as an eldest child to step back and let my younger siblings, who are wonderful, and totally on it, take responsibility when I am away. There’s guilt to feel, and to release. Luckily, blessedly, after a ton of uncertainty, my father is doing much better, so we are all tremendously grateful.

There have been other things, like getting accidentally punched by a woman in a Turkish hamam, and living through a corneal abrasion for two days. Yes, the hamam experience was fantastic, and the inside of your eye can hurt badly when someone hits it. During these travels, there has been a relationship issue where I realize that I have been deluding myself in fantasy, longing for something that was never an option. and that has been humbling to face. My goddess it’s hard when I realize that I make the same mistakes over and over again. That comes up for a lot of us as we get older. There’s been a lot of looking in the mirror, and getting punched in the face. What can I say? It’s brave to look in the mirror. It’s the only way to evolve.

a snuggly street cat cozies up to the door of the place where I stayed with a friend in Kadikoy

But back to Turkey. Istanbul is spectacular, bursting with history, culture, street cats (watch the lovely documentary Kedi to learn about how Turkish people care for stray felines communally), food, warm people, and very flirtatious men. The cab driver from the airport told me I looked twenty-seven. That’s pushing it! Istanbul is a completely unique city that brings together the secular and the nonsecular, but also overwhelming. Fifteen million people live in Turkey’s capital, more than New York. Istanbul is the biggest city in Europe and straddles the Bosphorous, a natural waterway between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. It covers more land mass than New York City.

On one side is Europe, and on the other lies Asia. I stayed on the Asian side in Kadikoy, which is said to be calm compared to the European side, but this bohemian alcove of a million coffeeshops still thrums with energy and bars, restaurants, and bazaars (markets). I have never been in a place with more cafes! Almost every day I went over to the European side, which could be a journey that took three or four forms of public transport or a cab ride that could take an hour and a half because of hellish traffic. I stayed out late four nights during that week, mostly at milongas dancing tango. All of this added up to exhaustion by the time I was packing my bags.

By the time I left for Singapore, I was depleted, beyond needing a vacation from this vacation. The flight from Istanbul to Doha was the most cramped I have ever been on. I was seated between an unsmiling woman and an unsmiling man. There was a very strange moment when, after I asked the flight attendant for a drink, and she passed me a tiny can of Diet Coke, the woman turned to me and asked if it was possible for me to not drink a Coke near her. I said, “I don’t understand,” because I was frankly flummoxed. She darted up and out to the first class section, and stayed there until we landed.

To say I was rattled would be an understatement. I hadn’t slept more than three or four hours a night in several nights, and all the stress was catching up with me. I had the irrational thoughts that I had traumatized this woman, and she cursed me. By the time we landed in Qatar, where I would be catching the next flight to Singapore, the pressure in my head started to squeeze my brain. I’ve had about 10 or 15 migraines in my life of varying intensity. Sometimes I throw up. Something must connect the gut and brain in the migraine state. So that was the situation, probably borne out of lack of sleep and stress. I was shielding my eyes to block the light on the way through the massive Doha airport (the number one thing to do in this state is to seek darkness) and then I found the most luxuriously, blessedly pristine bathroom by the gate. I threw up in the bathroom a few times, telling myself, “This is miserable but I will get through this.” That was my mantra.

When I saw myself in the mirror I thought, I do not look well. Why remember the bad moments from traveling? Because they are all part of the mix. People say they want to live vicariously through my adventures. Well, traveling can be quite challenging at times, especially in a city like Istanbul that is so vast with so many hidden places and confusing directions. But I love it. I still love to travel, and often I travel alone. Traveling is worth throwing up in Doha: I guess that is what I am trying to say.

While I was in Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, I made this little video about the courage to travel alone, and the angels that help us when we run into problems. I was inspired to make this video by a conversation that I had with a Turkish woman whom I met in a remarkably friendly cafe called Tribu (Italian for “tribe.”) (Watch this little spontaneous video I made with the owner to learn about the cafe–and maybe someday you will visit).

This woman who had worked for the Smithsonian in DC after doing a masters in art history in the US was telling me about a solo trip that she had taken to a Greek island, and a moment when her phone didn’t work and she couldn’t find the place where she was staying. Someone came along to help her find her hotel. That sounded familiar. That is my experience too. Countless times when I have been traveling alone in South America, Europe, and Asia people have helped me when I was lost, sick, or injured.

Angels do come to help. Many of my coaching clients want to travel alone but they get worried with reasonable concerns. I made this video below to encourage other women to travel alone. Because even though shitty things like “Throwing up in Doha” happen, I would still say that traveling alone is worth it. More than worth it. It makes our world bigger. It makes us feel alive, More things happen when we are alone. And we are never totally alone. Angels will come forward. It’s important to acknowledge that and be grateful for them. 

Here’s the video I made for you walking through the streets of Kadikoy in Istanbul about solo travel. I hope you enjoy.

Are you planning any travels, solo or not? Let me know in the comments.

Filling My Cup with Pleasure… in a Flower Bath in Bali

Relishing a flower bath at Karsa Spa, in Ubud, Bali

Receiving a traditional Balinese healing massage and then soaking in a flower bath in Bali at the extremely special Karsa Spa was one of the highlights of my (first) three weeks on this magical island.

If you are headed to Bali anytime soon, I definitely recommend you bookmark the Karsa link — and reserve in advance. Massage and flower bath places abound all over Bali (what a place after my own heart!) but Karsa is special and it can take time to get a reservation. (If you check out the other pictures on my Instagram feed you will see more.)

The flower bath was part of the 10-day retreat led by my business coach of the last two years, Megan Taylor Morrison. Meg had heard Karsa was amazing from a longtime Bali visitor and it is!

I was last to emerge from the flower bath in the group because I could not tear myself away from the lush flower petals surrounding my body. I truly felt like I had been dropped in a peaceful heaven. Let’s call it a peak sensual moment! Over the last fifteen years, I have developed quite the capacity to savor physical bliss in all my trainings and explorations of sensuality (you’ll read more about that in WET when it’s finally ready for you). I can safely say this Karsa flower bath in Bali was maybe one of the most blissed-out times in my life that did not involve sex, drugs, tango, or Paris. Ha! I could have stayed in another hour. I plan to go back.

Savoring pleasure – and prioritizing and discovering it – is a big theme in my yearlong group coaching program Turned-On Living. During the year, we have monthlong themes, involving experiential “playwork” and reading. One of the early months is “Prioritizing Pleasure.” Why? Isn’t pleasure trivial? Isn’t sensuality hedonistic? Not really.

What if I tell you that your ability to slow down and savor pleasure is critical for your ability to develop self-worth… and even boundaries? Having been working with women and sensuality and sexuality in life coaching for more than a decade now, I can tell you that many women clients suffer from a pleasure deficit, not exactly what is technically called anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure, but something close to it.

We are not working in the realm of diagnosis, we are working in the realm of real life. Most of the women I have coached feel some degree of resistance to feeling pleasure. They often feel like we have to be doing something to help others or improve themselves. Or what if we try to engage in pleasure or self-pleasure, and it doesn’t work? Performance anxiety creeps up around pleasure! The modern world has us avoiding rest and focusing on the next thing on the to-do list.  

Just think: how often are you without your phone, simply savoring being in the moment? Pleasure is a kind of breathing meditation. 

It can be hard to change your habits in isolation, which is why it’s so useful and helpful to be in a small group of women who have a shared goal of living a turned-on life.

This is a big reason I created Turned-On Living. There are ways we can learn together from each other in small groups that we can’t do alone.

Through Turned-On Living, I guide you in a yearlong adventure of exploring pleasure, boundaries, antipeople-pleasing, getting clear on what you really want for your life, pussywalking your way to your full empowerment, and more. This is a self-development program with a focus on embodiment. We talk, dance, and get into our bodies. We form a curated group of women to explore what it looks like and takes to live a #turnedonlife.

This is the time of year when I start talking with women to create the group for next year. 2024, we are looking at you.

If you are curious about being part of the group, what we do, and how Turned-On Living could change your life, take a look at this page, and enter your email address here to start the conversation.

I will send you the curriculum and costs so you have all the information, and if it feels like a potential fit, we will do an interview. I talk with each person in-depth to create a supportive, uplifting supergroup.

Another way to learn more about the vibe of Turned-On Living is to attend an Online Dance Party on October 25, at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT. In 2023, I am all about doing Online Dance Parties on Zoom to connect with readers and clients.

In between songs, I will be talk about Turned-On Living for Tough Times, and you will learn more about the program of Turned-On Living.

So here you go, important links…

GO HERE to sign up for the Wednesday, October 25, Zoom Dance Party on Turned-On Living for Tough Times, and to learn more about TOL 2024. Feeling tense? Stiff? Curious? Excited? Sad? Nervous? Let’s dance it all out!

GO HERE to learn about Turned-On Living and what we will do over a year together in a small, curated group. Enter your email and you will get the full curriculum with all the monthly themes and cost information. If it feels like a potential fit, we will do a personal interview.

See ya there!

 

 

Are you “too nice”?

Are you “too nice”?

This month in my yearlong small group coaching program Turned-On Living we are looking at patterns of being “nice” and perhaps “too nice.” We are looking at whether ”nice” is honest.

May is the Anti-People Pleasing month in Turned-On Living. Every month has a theme in service of creating a turned-on life.

For sure learning how to say no is necessary to say yes to life and what you really want. And speaking up is required to live a healthy life.

And yet it is not easy to change these patterns. I have struggled with elements of people-pleasing my whole life. I’m getting better every year at being real and am so enjoying being with a group of women on this yearlong journey.

How about you? Are you sometimes “too nice”? And does becoming less nice mean “toughening up” or just loving yourself more?

If you want to look at your own people-pleasing patterns, and what it takes to change them, I highly recommend these resources:

  • The book Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty… and Start Speaking Up, Staying No, Asking Boldly, and Unapologetically Being Yourself by Aziz Gazipura. You can find Not Nice and all the other great books we are using during our yearlong journey on the Turned-On Living 2023 Bookshop.org list. (Shout out to Bookshop.org, a socially conscious way to buy books online and support indie bookstores!)
  • This piece on Chief.com, which has hit home for a few of my coaching clients: Respect Me, Maybe? How ‘Soft’ Language Could Be Hurting Your Career. I work as a Guide for Chief, so I get a lot of their great content in my email inbox, and like to pass along the best wisdom.
  • From Kara Loewentheil of Unfuck Your Brain, this podcast episode on people-pleasing.

All of these resources will provoke you. Books and podcasts are great, and…

If you want one-on-one support to work through your people-pleasing patterns in service of your turned-on life, you can reach out to see if I have space for a new client in my coaching practice.

If you would like to do this work with a group of awesome women dedicated to their own personal growth, you can put yourself on the waiting list for the next cohort of Turned-On Living. I will start talking with folks in September to form another special group to kick off in 2024.

Thoughts? Leave them in the comments!

Dear Dr. Phil: Why you should have me on your show about self-marriage

As I’m preparing to write my behind-the-scenes blog post about being on Dr. Phil (not using Chat GPT, which I am still resisting!), I uploaded this video to YouTube.

After our initial phone call, the producers asked me to make a video telling Dr. Phil why they should have me on the show as a guest expert. This four-minute chat into the camera is what I sent.

I got to say many more substantial things in my “audition” video than on the actual show! 

The story of how the producers found me and what it was like to be flown out to LA to be on Dr. Phil will be coming soon.

I’ve been busy with my move into a new home, but now there are only three more boxes to unpack.

I am excited to get back into my writerly creative flow and share the backstory with you. Stay tuned. It’s my intention for my own Turned-On Life to do a lot more authentic, personal essayish writing this year.

P.S. This month in Turned-On Living, my group coaching program based on everything I have learned for coaching women for the last twelve years, we are moving into the topic of ANTI-PEOPLE-PLEASING.

It’s time to learn how to live from desire rather than obligation.

If you too are one of those “too nice” women who is ready to learn how to be kind to others while also being true to yourself, and you are curious to be considered for the next cohort of Turned-On Living, leave your email here to begin the conversation.

 

A podcast about listening to the body to make big life decisions, overcoming New England Puritanism, and more

It was a massive pleasure to talk with fellow Rhode Islander Dave Ursillo for his podcast the New Story.

In Dave’s former life, he was, according to his LinkedIn profile, “a political insider, policy nerd and aspiring Presidential speechwriter at governmental offices on state and Federal levels, including the White House Council on Environmental Quality in 2008 and for a gubernatorial candidate in 2009.”

Now, like me, he has channeled his energy and concern for a better world into helping others tap into their truest callings. Dave is s a storytelling coach with a thoughtful podcast The New Story about the narratives that shape our time, and a therapist-in-training.

In this provocative conversation (Dave provoked me!), we dug deep into personal stories I haven’t shared in other interviews.

Dave titled the episode “What stigmas and stereotypes cost women” and it’s about that and much more.

We talked about:

–The kind of clients I find myself working with in my coaching practice: I’ve always attracted thoughtful women who don’t want to settle in life or relationships. More generally, I attract women who are asking the question, “What do I really want?” and want to get out of their heads and into their bodies to move beyond the social conditioning that often cuts us short from answering that big question.

–The personal story of how I got sucked into Silicon Valley during my thirties when I cofounded a street fashion startup and then got disillusioned and left the U.S. for Brazil, where I hoped that a more sensual culture would help me reconnect with my authentic self. We also talk about why my time in Silicon Valley was so alienating. I could see the writing on the wall about how social media was going to f#$@ all of us, in particular our ability to connect with ourselves.

–How feeling the drum of samba music in the streets and reconnecting with wildness in culture and nature helped me to cleanse my mind for a minute and feel present and alive

–Going with my body’s instincts vs. ticking off the box of what a professional woman in her thirties was supposed to do next (buy a condo, find a husband, etc., etc.)

–The treasured experience of quirkyalone solitude, and developing a mindful way of being in connection with yourself and others

–Making sense of the word “embodiment”

–How growing up in the Puritanical environment of Rhode Island shaped me and how I have been liberating myself from those influences ever since (and helping others to do the same).

–Coming back to New England as an adult and discovering the pockets of subcultural communities of resistance and aliveness formed in reaction to the dominant repressive culture. Whatever is violence-inducing will produce pockets of safety and community.

–The Scarlet Lettering that persists in our society when a woman seeks to embrace her sexuality and sensuality, and what this kind of rebellion and resistance feels like. I talk about how I help my clients to do that in a safe environment. Safety is a prerequisite to feel pleasure.

–Linguistic interventions of reclamation: How saying the word “pussy” out loud is a big deal for most women and can be a transformative path in and of itself. We talk about my new Turned-On Living group coaching program and how speaking that word has been a challenge for everyone in the group. We also talk about the joy and liberation that awaits us on the other side!

–Pussywalking, of course! And the difficult challenge of inserting the word “pussywalking” when I appeared on the Dr. Phil show on self-marriage in February (what a lost opportunity!). LOL. LOL. LOL.

–The need for a new word to connote strength in women. Don’t say we have balls when we are brave! What’s so strong about “balls” anyway? Ovaries is not going to work either, so what is it?

–Learning how to ask for what you want is about learning how to generate magic in the world

–Learning how to be your own best friend, and how this is a universal journey for all of us: men, women, and non-binary folks.

This was such a fun and lively conversation.

We both enjoyed it, and we hope you do too.

Let us know what you think in the comments!

And if you have a new word to suggest to connote female strength that comes from our sexual anatomy, we are all ears! 

Conversations about Turned-On Living with Newsletter Subscribers

Talking about Turned-On Living… okay, not on Zoom, but you get the point…

Over the last two weeks, my calendar has been busy with Zoom calls talking with women about being part of Turned-On Living 2023, the new yearlong group coaching adventure that I will be leading starting in January.

It’s been a journey that I have enjoyed!

I’ve realized and newly appreciated that being both a writer and a life coach means I get to talk with people who have read my books. This is a gift.

For me, writing is about creating connection, and I love to further the connection by getting to know readers in coaching experiences.

I want to share with you some of the reasons that women have told me they want to be part of the Turned-On Living cohort. First I will tell you about who they are.

Most of the women I’ve been talking with have been following my work for years and many are longtime Quirkyalone readers. Others have been attracted by pussywalking, Wet, my work with tango, exploring intimacy and connection, and joy pleasure as a path of personal empowerment. They are mostly in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. I’ve had one chat with a very mature thirty-year-old woman.

There are all women who want to be part of an intentional group of women who want to make the most of life.

With their permission, I am sharing with you what they told me.

Maggie said, “Ever since meeting you and watching your journey through newsletters, I have wanted to engage in coaching or something else.

I want to center myself in pleasure and intention. I hope that this journey can help me live and act on the things I have been learning from books, mentors, and therapy.

By doing this with a group of other women in similar positions and different world views, I want my desires to evolve.”

Melissa told me, “I’m drawn to the idea of meeting and sharing with other women who are on the same wavelength.”

Another woman said, “I’m solid on my ability to do hard things, deal with challenges, get shit done. I am much more unsure how to feel embodied, sensual, easeful, and joyful.

I am freaked out about being single for the first time in five years. I vaguely want to start dating again but I am feeling disconnected from that part of myself. I would like to feel like the fun, sexy version of myself more often. She exists but has made relatively few appearances in the hard slog of the last few years.

I really appreciate the emphasis on pleasure and adventure, since those are two things I am hoping to create for myself.”

Kimberly said, “I live in my head. I want to live in my body and heart. The ‘kids’ at work call me badass, yet I lack perspective on my accomplishments and belittle them. (I should have an MFA and a couple novels under my belt by now, bangs the monkey in my brain.) Then I judge that, too. The pandemic made alienation and distance feel that much further.

In the whirl of my days, selfing (deserves to be a verb) is the first thing to go. Yet it is also the cushion that centers me and makes me feel alive. I’d like to upend this equation, then slice it up and see what’s inside.

I need accountability/camaraderie/new conversations. I feel like so often I’m catching up with friends and we are scratching the surface, telling family/work/health stories by rote. I want real connection, inner peace and outer freedom.

I want to feel like the days aren’t just rolling by one after the other without depth.”

Kate told me, “I feel like I’ve lived most of my life from a place of turned-on living. I’ve tried to live a passionate authentic life. I’m missing a community to share that with.

I’m single with no kids so I recognize that it may be easier for me to live this way. But I have hope that there are other people in the world who have chosen to live their life this way and want to share that and experience that with others.

So I guess I’m looking for community. And also for support in continuing to live this way and maybe inspiration and guidance to help me to expand.”

It’s been a beautiful experience to talk about the power of being part of such an intentional group. I’m excited about the adventure we will be co-creating.

Turned-On Living will be an opportunity to practice being open and vulnerable, to be known by others, and to learn how to both give and ask for support.

If you want to read more about what we will be doing, read this curriculum that lays out the topics we will be focusing on month-by-month.

A year is a long enough time to really get to know each other and form bonds. Who knows what lifelong friendships will be formed? What adventures will be had?

There is a possible retreat that will happen in the last quarter of the year. I am leaning toward doing an optional “Dancing in the Woods in Rhode Island” weekend during the foliage season.

There are a few more spots open.

I am taking these conversations seriously by talking in depth with each person.

Creating a group is an art… we are going to be together for a year! So I want this to be an amazing group.

I am wrapping up the final interview/application calls by the end of November.

These interviews need to be booked by the end of the month.

If being part of this cohort for 2023 is intriguing to you…

Go ahead and fill out this form to tell me about you.

We can begin the getting-to-know-each-other process to see if it’s a fit for Turned-On Living 2023.

May we connect in one way or another!

Sasha

Creating Space for Your Next Steps… A December Workshop

Are you burned out, or feeling stagnant at work?

Do you long for something different for your work life? Do you want to have a more heartfelt engagement with your work?

As I talk with my clients over the last two years, I notice that more and more of us are re-examining our choices after a multi-year pandemic.

But when you don’t know what you want to do next, and every day is a fire drill, it’s easy to get stuck … for months, or even years. 

If this sounds like you, I would like to invite you to our 4-Hour Soulful Work Reboot workshop this December.

My friend and fellow coach Jade Strattner and I are bringing together a group of women with the shared goal of imagining next steps and new possibilities for 2023.

This workshop is for women who have traditionally been high-achievers, conscientious types who work hard to do and be their best–and are longing for fulfillment and balance in their work lives.

This will be an intimate space to get real, be open, share, and envision together.

We don’t imagine you will figure EVERYTHING out in four hours but you will get unstuck and invigorated on a path to follow in the coming year.

The Four-Hour Soulful Work Reboot will take place over two Saturdays, December 3 and 10, 12-2 pm.

We have separated the workshop into two (2) two-hour chunks because we have so much to share with you, and four hours on zoom is deadening!

The pause in between our sessions will give you time to reflect and ideate.

Expect to come away invigorated and inspired with concrete next steps you can follow up on in 2023.

What will we talk about?

  • Our current experience with work
  • How and why are we each redefining ambition
  • What a heartfelt connection with work feels like for each of us

What will the experience be like?

  • Embodied–Getting out of our heads and into our bodies
  • Joyful–Express, learn, dance, and laugh
  • Intimate and Supportive–Each workshop will be limited to 20 women, integrated with a pre- or post-Lab thirty-minute one-on-one mini coaching session to help you get the most value out of the group session.

Spaces are limited (20 women max) so don’t delay to sign up.

If you are interested, and unsure if this is right for you, send me an email about your personal situation.

I’ll read it over and let you know if this is a match for you.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Some Reflections on “Selling”

I had an interesting experience last week when talking with a woman about joining Turned-On Living, my group coaching program for 2023. This is something very new and exciting to bring together a cohort to explore a year of “turned-on living” together.

She asked me to “sell her” on it and I noticed that I froze up when she made that request. I never want to feel like I am “selling” anyone on anything I am offering, whether it’s coaching, an online course, the Tango Adventure (not offering it now, but I spent years “selling” that), or anything I am doing. I want people to want to do whatever I am offering. It’s a little bit like romance: if we are dating, I want you to want me. I don’t want to sell you on the value of dating me!

After our call, however, I reflected. I joined a yearlong business coaching program for 2022, which is in part what has inspired me to offer a yearlong program myself. Meg, the woman who runs the program, in my view, “sold” me on joining by painting a picture that showed me I could learn how to work on my book and grow my business at the same time (for years I thought I couldn’t do both and focused exclusively on the memoir while maintaining the same offerings).

I am now grateful that Meg “sold” me on that vision because, in fact, I have been able to do both in 2022, and that was a breakthrough. Many other wonderful things have happened as a result of my participation in that group business coaching container, and the decision to join has changed me and my life for the better–really for the rest of my life. Now I look back and see her as taking a stand for me and my growth.

So I realized that I could “sell” this person on the experience. I wrote her a longish email spelling out what I saw for her, based on my own experience of being part of such a group. Because I actually do believe that being part of my program will change her life for the better. She has told me what she wants out of it, and I believe she will get those things, and more. Also I really do believe that being part of such a group is in and of itself a transformative experience, and that we need to feel solidarity in all these tender, vulnerable places where we are often shamed and feel alone. And there will simply be so much upward spiral with a group of women supporting each other to live a turned-on life!

Entrepreneurship–or being a freelancer, or doing anything creative in the world–is such a journey that requires everything. No paycheck is dropped into the bank account regularly. You/I have to stand up for your own value and create what you want to offer for the world, and then, yes, SELL people on it. Now I feel really glad that this woman asked me to sell her, and that I found my way to feeling good about doing that. “Selling” can have a connotation of lying. It can evoke desperation. I certainly felt that way when I worked in more traditional business roles for a tech company. But in the end, I was telling the truth as I see it. It’s liberating to stand in that space and fully own the value of what I am offering.

I hope these reflections can help you stand in the value of what you are offering to the world too!

The Pleasure and Pain of Plunging into Cold Water, Inch by Inch

 

My fascination began in March 2020, one of those weeks when the pandemic started to get all too real. Quarantine had just begun.

One evening when I wasn’t freaking out reading an Atlantic article predicting how long this pandemic might last (three to four years, I distinctly remember reading), I watched Goop Lab on Netflix, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness show. Many people enjoy hating Gwyneth, but I like her program’s mission. I enjoy trying out wellness trends too. Heck, I would love to have my own show Sasha Lab. In the first season, Gwyneth and her staff tested out everything from using psychedelics for healing trauma to exploring female masturbation with the queen of self-pleasure Betty Dodson.

The episode featuring the Dutch extreme athlete and health expert Wim Hof (also known as the “IceMan”) sucked me right in. The bearded, ruddy-faced iconoclast talked about how going way outside of our comfort zones by immersing ourselves in cold water can make us stronger. Hof explained that he had worked with researchers at universities for years to demonstrate that cold-water therapy worked to boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, alleviate inflammation, cope with depression and anxiety, and control pain. His message, in essence: If you can stand the cold water, you can take control of your health.

Gwyneth’s staff jumped into an unimaginably freezing, snowy Lake Tahoe under his tutelage. I watched, riveted, on the couch, and thought, I could try a cold shower. That night I turned the dial in the shower to the right, but I couldn’t handle the blast. The cold felt water like bullets. I jumped backward and strained to turn the dial back. Wimp, I thought to myself, resigned.

The lure of the cold stayed with me though, even if I didn’t believe I would ever meet its challenge. When I first watched that show, I was sitting on the couch in Buenos Aires, where I had been living for five years. Weeks later I found myself back in Rhode Island, crashing at my mother’s house. It was the beginning of the pandemic when going to Walgreen’s was exciting. Nature was all we had.

I told Elizabeth, my only friend in Rhode Island, that I wanted to try cold plunges. Elizabeth knew a woman who ran a group. She sent me her contact. I got added to a list.

Soon I was getting emails with the subjects “Plunge tomorrow noon” and “4 pm swim—anyone interested?”

cold water plunge rhode island

Mackerel Cove, Jamestown, Rhode Island, March 2021

One April 2020 day I took off on a forty-five-minute drive south to find the plungers. The calm beach at Mackerel Cove in Jamestown is a crescent-shaped cove with soft white sand and calm blue-green waters. The beach was starkly beautiful in early spring. I was glad for the beauty and to get out of the house. Six people emerged from their cars: one man, and five women, donning bathrobes and pink felt ponchos over their bathing suits, swim caps in hand.

I waved hello and introduced myself.

They yelled, “It’s tropical! It’s balmy! It’s so warm!” The temperature hovered around forty Fahrenheit. I didn’t agree, but I found the group charming. In their excitement, these forty-, fifty-, and sixty-somethings looked and sounded like boisterous schoolkids who got together to play. One of them did a jig on the way into the water. I dipped my feet in that day as they plunged but that was enough. I still didn’t see myself becoming one of those people. And that was that.

A year later the pandemic was still raging. The emails about cold plunges started to fill my inbox again.

In early February 2021, I answered one, “I’m coming!” By the next winter of isolation, I had grown desperate. I wanted to do something outside of my comfort zone again after so many evenings spent watching Netflix in isolation. I took up running in the morning, but I remembered seeing something else in those middle-aged eyes: true joy. True joy had been lacking in my life that pandemic winter. I didn’t know what, but I still suspected something was on the other side of the cold water. I wanted to experience it, whatever it was.

The wind whipped across the beach that gray day in late February. In New England, the winter sun descends before 5 pm. I came wearing a bikini, but I kept my pants on and rolled them up to my knees. I walked in up to about three inches, and then darted out of the icy water. In and out, in and out, six times. I didn’t get far. Submerging my ankles pushed me to my limit. Meanwhile, the group stayed in fortyish-degree water for fifteen minutes even when the air temperature dipped to the thirties. Some of them even swam. Their heads capped, they walked out radiant, glowing. Mostly women. I had never seen anything more badass.

One of them told me on the beach, “Just keep coming back and go in as much as you can.”

And so it went. I came through February and March and didn’t make it any deeper than my knees. I developed a reputation as a shrieker. I would yell and throw my arms in the air, the 45-degree water an assault on my toes, ankles. and calves, and throw my arms around like a windmill to release the pain. The women taught me how to warm up my feet after plunging (bring bottles of hot water and a basin for a spa bath post-plunge).

post-plunging spa

post-plunging spa

My envy grew every trip. This was a higher level of joy these people got out of cold-water plunging than anything I have ever seen from my fellow Americans. The group called themselves “What’s Wrong with These People People?” One day someone shouted to them from a car, “What’s wrong with you people?” The name was born. These were definitely among the more interesting characters I’d met since returning to Rhode Island.

Plungers are not your average people.

One day walking on the beach toward me, the tall, bald Michael the leader of the pack, 68, a retired scientist and high school swim coach, shouted into the air with his arms raised to the sky, “What’s wrong with us? We feel like this! I turn into a love machine. I love everything, the sand, the sky, people! It’s like that! Something about what the cold does to your body unleashes that.”

I made about fifteen attempts between February and April.

One afternoon I drove to the 4 pm meeting spot with the conviction, today will be my breakthrough. I don’t know if I am going to turn into a love machine but I am going to get into the water.

That weekend I happened to read an essay in The New York Times about a woman who turned to cold-water therapy after an unimaginable tragedy. Her husband killed their two children and then himself. She had come to stay with her aunt on Long Island and found her way to a small group of her own. I understood the attraction. There had been one day after a writing class when I felt a heavy load of shame in my body after presenting work; intuitively I knew the thing to do to shake off those feelings in my body would be to join the group. Even when I only got into my knees or hips, the cold zapped me like a kind of shock therapy. The sensation was so strong that it wiped away negative emotions and took me right into the present moment.

The obliterating quality of the cold water renewed me, even when I didn’t get all the way in.

Inside that gorgeous essay about grief, I found a simple tip.

The writer said, get into shoulder level and breathe thirty seconds to get to the other side. OK, I thought, I will try.

That April afternoon in Jamestown seven of us met. It was a windy, sunny day, on the brink of spring. The water registered at forty-five degrees, bath-like compared to the thirty-nine when I started coming in February.

I walked in with the group further than ever before past my knees, past my hips, and let the water shock my belly. My hands presented the biggest challenge. They hurt the most. I didn’t want to put them in. But I did. I submerged my hands and then my shoulders, breathing to a count of thirty. Around twenty-nine, the pain gave way to vibrating numbness on my skin. A minute or two after counting, the strangest thing happened. My inner fire lit. Somewhere deep inside of my guts a heat built, a contrast to the cold water surrounding me, and the dark water turning into a strangely silky viscous thing. I started to float with happiness, this bizarre combination of cold water surrounding me, a furnace within.

One of the other plungers wore a waterproof watch. “How long has it been? How long has it been?” I asked obsessively. I wanted to quantify my breakthrough.

I stayed in for fourteen minutes that first time, so insanely gleeful.

You never forget the first time.

cold water plunging wim hof rhode island

My breakthrough day in Jamestown, April 2021.

 

The air felt surprisingly warm that day when we got out. It was 50 or so on the beach. My legs and arms and chest blotted red, dotted with blood vessels. We looked like lobsters coming out of the water. My hands hurt. My hands felt stiff.

“Don’t worry about that,” Mike said, as he saw me regarding my hands. “Cold-water swimmers call it claw-hand. It’s the first sign of hypothermia but it’s not serious, it’s just the beginning.”

The dull ache in my hands faded enough for me to use my hands, pouring my bottles of steaming hot water into my foot basin. I stepped in. My blocky feet thawed as I stood there on the sandy beach in Jamestown by a bridge and behind a hotel, sailboats moored, dormant until warmer days. The high came on gradually. I started to finally feel it, the thing I had been after all along, the bodily joy I had lusted after for months started to take root.

It’s hard to describe the feeling but when the physical reaction came on it was like a flood of warm lights turning on inside, lit up from within. Since then it’s become clear to me that the colder the water is, the more endorphins are produced in the reaction. In this way, swimming in the winter can become even more pleasurable than in the summer. The French call orgasm petit mort, or little death. You die from the intensity of the sensation, then you are reborn. The cold water is a petit mort.

When I was leaving on that breakthrough day, one of the women in the group came over to her car next to mine.

“So you have been coming all this time and this was the first time you felt it?”

“Yup.”

“You must really like to torture yourself!”

“Maybe. I guess I had faith that I would eventually get there.” 

Of course, she was raising that age-old question: do we dive in quickly into the waves or cautiously enter inch by inch? Everyone finds their own way, if we are persistent enough. Maybe what I loved most of all in that moment was my persistence. When it comes to accomplishing big things, there is nothing more important than persistence.

Have I kept up cold-water therapy? Am I still plunging? Yes. A year later, I am still at it, feeling more like an official group member. I got all the way into the water up to my shoulders on January 1, something I am proud of, but I’ve taken a break recently as the air temperatures dip to the teens. I have my limits. But you know what? I also take cold showers now. Transformation is indeed possible.

I sometimes ask myself, Why? Why do you drive forty-five minutes each way to do something that most people regard as insane? Isn’t there an easier way to feel good? Why not play a joyful playlist and throw your own private dance party at home?

We need many strategies to feel good in our bodies, at least I do. Cold-water plunging is a special pleasure. Sometimes I think it’s the people—the opportunity to share this incredible, outside-the-comfort zone enthusiasm with the other plungers gives me energy for life. The group plunge is a communal kind of orgasm. Sometimes I think it’s the intensity—the pleasure matches the pain. That intensity feels like a confirmation of what it feels like to be a human being, a sensitive one anyway. And of course, there is the possibility of a lovely after-effect. The coldwatergasm can last for hours.

As it turns out, doing this one hard thing has helped me to do other hard things. I often think, if I can do the cold water, I can do this too. Get through this break-up. Publish that book.

I recently re-watched the Goop Lab episode that originally inspired me. I was struck by how much didn’t even register the first time. The idea of getting into the cold water so bowled me over. In the episode, Hof talks about how he turned to cold water immersion to get over the suicide of his wife, the mother of his four children. I didn’t remember that. One doesn’t have to be recovering from tragedy to turn to cold-water therapy—people plunge for many reasons—but that deeply therapeutic, wiped-clean effect does seem to be part of the draw for many. Wim said his children helped him survive, but the cold water healed him.

“You can go into the cold water and adapt, and with that, you become the alchemist of life itself,” he said. I smiled at this thought as I watched on the couch the second time, two years later. I knew exactly what he meant this time. Amen.

Michael, the swim coach, and I celebrate my breakthrough plunge a week later 🙂

our group plunging new year's day jamestown ri

New Year’s Plunge, 2022

Rhode Island PBS recently came to film a segment with a few different groups of Rhode Islanders who dare to swim in frigid waters during the winter, and my group is the first to be profiled. You can meet Mike the swim coach here for yourself. Look for my butt around 4:48 as we enter Third Beach in Middletown, Rhode Island. 😉

Are you 50+ and demoralized about dating? Join me for this free online event to launch Fifty First Dates After Fifty

When I talk to my women coaching clients who are 50+, I hear a lot of frustrations about dating. What’s the best dating site to use? Are all the good ones taken? And what about internalized ageism? Is it really too late to find love or is that a story you have been telling yourself based on negative experiences? Does anyone really want to get involved with someone who doesn’t want to shack up together? SPOILER ALERT: Yes! There are plenty of quirkytogethers (or aspiring living-alone-togethers) out there, people who want a committed relationship but not to cohabitate.

This topic of finding love at every life stage (and keeping your sexual spark alive too) is near and dear to my heart because I know it’s not easy but it is possible to find a new mate and feel sexy at every age–I see those stories play out around me in my personal life and with my clients. I also have noticed many women who came to Buenos Aires to study tango with me convinced that no one would find them attractive. I’ve seen those same women get checked out by the men in the milongas with my own two eyes.

The story we tell ourselves about what is possible makes all the difference.

All of this is why I am really excited to invite you to this free online event.

On Thursday, November 4, at 5 pm PT/8 pm ET (NYC time), come hang out with us as I interview my dear friend Carolyn Arnold about her new memoir Fifty First Dates after Fifty.

Carolyn, an inveterate social scientist, and definitely a quirky, independent woman, devised an unusual, and highly structured, dating plan to go on 50 first dates to find the right partner for her in her late fifties. Not everyone would want to go on 50 dates–personally that marathon of first dates sounds hellish to ambiverted me!

But I admire Carolyn’s pluck–and the example of resilience she is providing by sharing her story. I’ll be asking her about how she stitched her heart back together after disappointments and rejections.

You can read this interview I did with Carolyn way back in 2012 to get a taste for Carolyn’s story and the themes of support, sex-while-single and self-love we will be talking about.

This event will be a chance to hear about Carolyn’s book, get inspired, and learn about how other women 50+ are faring in the dating scene.

If you have been considering working with me as your life coach this free event is a nice low-pressure chance to get to know me a little better and see me in action interviewing Carolyn.

If you are over 40, 50, 60, or 70 and battle voices in your head that tell you it’s too late, you should definitely come. Yes, it’s great to come to peace with being single, we all need to walk that path to find contentment and joy exactly where we are right now in life. But if love is something you really want, then why give up and deny that? You can register here.

P.S. In reality, everything we are going to talk about will be relevant to people of all ages – so if you are any age and dating or contemplating dating again, you should join us.