writing

on being human

I spent yesterday afternoon sweating and writing my way through Jennifer Pastiloff’s Atlanta workshop titled On Being Human, and I was still humming a little on the inside this morning as I sat down with my coffee in a quiet house to flip through my journal and put all the pieces together.

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Jen at Form Yoga here in Atlanta, photo cred @nadenoughyoga on Instagram

This is the second time I’ve attended one of Jen’s workshops, and the last was two years ago when I was in the midst of such major and difficult transitions. It was enlightening to be there again in this next chapter of my life where I feel so different than I did in August of 2015, so much stronger.

I managed to recruit two friends to join me because I’ve bragged on Jen so much and explained the transformation that happens when you attend one of her workshops. But even so, I find it hard to really explain the alchemy that happens in the room. 76 women in attendance yesterday, yoga mats laid parallel and touching one another. Jen explains the rules when she walks in — only two things: tell the truth and listen. And somehow it works and people do just that.

Though she is a yoga teacher and it was held at a yoga studio, there is pretty minimal yoga involved. She uses the poses (and the warm room) to break through the shell of the body, so to speak, and come back to ourselves so that we can write the truth instead of the buttoned up version of the “truth” we carry when we are dressed in our finest and sitting comfortably in an air conditioned space. Before you know it, the magic comes along and it’s 76 of us laughing and crying and sharing and nodding in that way you do when real resonance happens and you can say yes, me too. The thing that astonishes me as I sit here putting the pieces together is that it is such a simple formula and yet so transformative because we never get this in our daily lives. You shed every last bit of your ego and look someone in the eye – a stranger no less – and tell the truth and listen. That is all. And it is somehow so terrifying at first, but unbelievably liberating when you drop into your body and out of your head and get out of your own way.

Some of her journaling prompts were the same as when I took the class in 2015 and some were different. I used the same little journal I’d carried to her 2015 workshop, so I can flip back a few pages today and compare my lists when she asked us to write what we were afraid of. Some things ring that bell both times, then and now. But I also see ways my life has expanded and some things that were overwhelmingly terrifying to me then have completely fallen away. I can see it so clearly in my scribbled handwriting.

What I fear (2015)

  • love
  • men
  • judgment
  • failing my kids

 

What I fear (2017)

  • messing up
  • not making the time to focus on the big things because I am always drowning in the little things
  • waiting too late
  • not finishing the work I know I am meant to do, the book I know I’m meant to write

 

What a shift that is, right? I think sometimes we change in huge, monumental ways, but they happen so incrementally that we don’t feel it in real time. It’s only when we look back that we see that staring back at us in undeniable ways. It’s one reason I love writing and one reason this blog has become one of the most cherished things I’ve created in my life. I can get caught up in my own bullshit stories, as Jen calls them, and I can neglect to see what is actually written in the beautiful details of my own life. You know the bullshit stories; we all have them. The ones that say You should already have this figured out. You are always failing. You’ll never get where you want to be. You’re just a ___ (fill in the blank – just a mom, just a teacher, just a woman.) But as I look at what I’ve written and recorded here and in scribbled notes from Jen’s workshops and other raw journaling I’ve done, I can see these stories for the lies they are.

I left feeling so full and inspired and curious about the faces I encounter everyday. Everyone in that room had a story, and everyone in that room echoed the fears or worries of someone else. Here we all are, slogging through the difficulties of our daily lives and feeling alone in our struggles, and as it turns out, so many of us have the same things tumbling in our hearts all day long – the same fears and bullshit stories on repeat. We all need friends who will tell us our stories are false, and I’m lucky enough to have a few people like that – one of whom came with me yesterday. Both of us left feeling full and happy and ready for whatever comes next. (Also ready to stuff our faces with Indian food at a local favorite spot.)

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One of Jen’s prompts yesterday asked us to write what we are saying yes to. Mine is a list I think I need to read every morning in this season of my life, a daily charge to do what I am here to do. Today I say yes to sweating, listening, feeling, dropping judgments, letting go of expectations (and of my bullshit stories), working harder than ever, new pages, better chapters, what I sometimes think I should have been doing all along, but it took there to get here. And here is good.

What is it about a pen and paper that offers something so magical? I don’t know. All I know is that when I lie to myself in my own head and offer these untrue assessments of my life or untrue evaluations of what is in my heart, I can sometimes take them to be the truth. But the second you write something that is not the truth of the matter, you can tell. It literally jumps off the page for me and feels stiff. When you write that truth inside, it feels soft and real and puts all the pieces together. It clarifies my intentions and my feelings every time. That’s the power of the pen in getting to the heart of the matter for all of us.

 

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I’m opening registration in October for my online writing workshop designed for women who want more insight and clarity and offering some guidance patterned after my own journey as I’ve written through my life’s challenges. I’m so excited to get started with this new project! Details here, and get on the email list for upcoming news and free journaling prompts by signing up here.

 

 

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gratitude, Life and Randomness

affirmation

As an English teacher, I know that words have power. I know that for certain. I see it everyday as what I read speaks to me like nothing else can, and I see it when I teach students to grow in their use of language and then watch them acquire power and personal agency as a result.

But I wasn’t really one for meditative affirmations in my former life. Was I too busy to think about it? Or didn’t think I needed anything to change or improve tremendously? Or I didn’t think they’d likely work for me anyhow? Probably all of those things. But these days, I am really seeing the power of words and thoughts in my own life, and I’m making them part of my everyday routine.

I purchased this set of cards from Your Joyologist a while ago, and it contains 52 encouraging affirmations. It sits on my bathroom sink, and I pick up one before bed at night and repeat it in my mind as I fall asleep. I wake to choose another one and repeat it to myself as I shower and get ready for the day.  I grab them at random and assume that they each have a message for me that I’m intended to hear on that given day. So far, this has turned out to be the case more often than not.

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Maybe I am a nutcase and a total hippie-crunchy-kale-eating-yoga-doing-affirmation-reading weirdo, but these work. They really do. The mind is a powerful thing, and I am seeing more and more that I can change the world around me in the truest sense when the thoughts in my mind change. Some would argue that this is stupid and I’m just imagining positivity because of the way my mind assesses my world after reading these thoughts… and to you I say, maybe so. But it’s working for me, and the good in my life just keeps growing when I tell myself it is there for the taking.

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When I remind myself that I need to release what doesn’t serve me any longer (anger, resentment, self-doubt, judgment, fear) and make room for the good stuff, the good stuff appears.  When I remind myself that there is a greater plan at work, I begin to see it unfold.

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When I remind myself that I am enough as I am and I choose to love myself without the burden of demanding that I change to suit others’ desires and expectations, I feel more complete and stronger than before and others begin to see me as enough, too. (Or maybe I’m just empowered to shed anyone who doesn’t recognize my worth from my life. Either way, it begins with my assertion that I am worthy as I am.)

These cards get me started each day, but I also have a few mantras that I repeat when necessary and keep in my back pocket like a tool kit. I am safe. gets me through sticky situations with anxiety. I am enough. I am loved. gets me through moments of self-doubt. I am allowed. I am deserving. are reminders to me that good things can come my way, and it doesn’t mean the other shoe is about to drop. (Anyone else have that weird fear with joy and happiness? Like it’s too good to be true?) It’s hard to swallow the joy with simple gratitude and not look for the black cloud. I’m finally realizing that this way of thinking is rooted in a belief that I can’t possibly enjoy good things fully because I don’t deserve them. It’s like a big board game with a point system, and I haven’t done enough good things yet – haven’t acquired enough points in the game of life – to receive happiness without some kind of caveat. This has been a light bulb moment for me recently as I realize this. Joy is such a vulnerable feeling sometimes.

At the risk of losing any credibility I might have with any of you skeptical readers, energy is a real thing. We project certain messages out to the world, and we receive what we think we deserve. I’m seeing this without a doubt in my current life as I watch particular people and situations find their way to me.  The sense of community I’ve watched unfold for the kids and me (as I wrote about in my last post) is a result of my desire to build my own life, and more than that, my belief that I am loved and valued by others despite a year prior to this that left me with many moments screaming just the opposite.

It’s the power of intention. And it’s becoming clear to me that what you intend is what you become. I’m beginning to see the power of having true intention in my life, in all my choices – big and small. It’s so tempting to do what you have always done, be what you have always been. It’s so tempting to act impulsively and resist the urge to think or pause or reflect. But the pause is where it’s at. It’s where the change happens. And as terrible as it felt to “start over” earlier this year, I’m seeing it emerge as a gift. I can carry on with intention and purpose and be whoever I feel I need to be, go where I feel led to go. I’m not weighed down with another’s expectations or opinions or doubts of me. Right now, I’m not sure where that destination is, but I know it’s somewhere good, and I know that intention is the only way to get me there. Autopilot never works for big steps in the journey.

 

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I’ve had a few people comment here and there – either blog readers or friends in my usual life offline – who have complimented me for staying afloat with optimism and believing that better days are ahead. I do realize that so many people spend the first few years after a divorce flailing and confused and sometimes making some self-destructive and impulsive choices. And really the only thing responsible for my refusal to fall in that pattern is intention and a relentless determination to, as it says in the quote above, bring my blessings on myself and find them in the world around me. It’s my stubbornness really. When I attended the workshop with Jen Pastiloff in August, we talked a bit about the less “fluffy” definition of manifestation. And that is to “make shit happen” in Pastiloff’s words.

Sometimes the world throws a lot of sad and scary stuff your way, and you have to change the landscape. It’s not easy though. Nothing in your life will change unless you change your daily habits and empty yourself of everything you were before and then fill it back up in the way you want. When you go looking for happiness outside of yourself, or even worse in the exact place you lost it before, you will never find the real deal. Joan Didion says, “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.” And I’m starting to get that feeling, too. With intention and purpose, everything about your world can change. I’m finally feeling incredibly lucky that my world exploded and gave me this beautiful season of in-between where I have no framework constricting me.

You have to work really hard to find the happy. But when you say it enough, you begin to believe it. And when you truly believe it, life begins to hand you some pretty amazing gifts.

gratitude, Life and Randomness

Manifestation

The kids are away this weekend, and I’m mostly using the time to be certain everything is ready for the first full week of the school year. Clothes washed, lunches packed, house clean.  Come November, I’ll be drowning in term papers and laundry and ready for a break, but I love the clean-slate feeling of August. For a few shining weeks, everything is new and organization is apparent.

I registered long ago for a Jen Pastiloff workshop that took place yesterday, and the timing couldn’t have been better.  Her workshops are so hard to describe – a combination of journaling and yoga and sharing and dancing.  It was a bit outside of my comfort zone as I knew it would be, but I’m convinced that all the very best things lie just beyond our comfort level.  I persuaded my friend Tally to join me, and it was the most amazing afternoon. An incredible experience.

UntitledI would describe myself as an inconsistent yogi.  I’ve dabbled in yoga at various times of my life – some Svaroopa yoga before kids, prenatal yoga regularly during my first pregnancy, a month-long Bikram yoga challenge a couple years ago, meditation here and there to help with specific anxieties and challenges.  But I am certainly not an advanced yogi by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s something I’d love to make time for, but it can be a challenge to find the time among the rest of my life tasks and events.  Jen doesn’t really demand a lot of challenging yoga in her workshops though. She simply uses the poses to get you out of your own head and into the body to strip away the ego.  You are also much more likely to share with strangers if the room is sweaty and you are moving or chanting in unison.

This idea was echoed in something I was reading recently on Melanie Tonia Evans‘s blog which has been a healing balm for me in many ways.  She discusses ways that we disconnect from our bodies and the reason that “coming home” to your body is necessary to self-fulfillment, especially when healing from past hurts.  Our culture always encourages us to reach outside for fulfillment, and she explains, “No-one taught the value of coming home to ourselves in our bodies. Rather than our [culture] guiding us with, ‘Sit with your bad feelings, take your attention lovingly with full self-devotion inside your body, ask yourself what is this really about and heal yourself,’ they would have been more likely to tell you, ‘Don’t dwell on it – get up and do something else.’ … Because of being unplugged from our connection to ourselves we have been easily trained into a model of ‘getting’ and ‘doing.’ The trying to secure something from outside of self in order to feel at peace within oneself…. The reason why any of us wanted ANYTHING was to try to feel content and at peace – not realizing it had nothing to do with getting or doing – it is always to do with coming home to self-partnering and addressing our own state of consciousness….We also need to understand this: emotional peace has NOTHING to do what Life and others have delivered you – it is to do with your own state of consciousness.” 

This resonated with me so much.  It’s only been a few months since my divorce happened, and I’ve already been torn between a desire to sit with my own grief and use that to heal myself and the loud voices of some people who say that reflecting on your pain is simply bitterness and that you should “move on” and busy yourself with something else. The glory of Jen’s workshop is that you have to be in your body and commit fully to the self-exploration she is asking of you.  Her journaling prompts cut through all of the false ego and get straight to what’s real: What would you be if nobody told you what you had to be? What do you fear?  To be where I want to be, I have to be rid of… It is nothing short of a spiritual experience to be in a room with strangers, move your body in a way that mirrors everyone else in the room, and then answer these questions and share your reflections with others.  

My recent essay on bodhichitta describes what I mean by this, and it was the first time in my life when I sat in a room and could feel that human compassion tangibly with people I didn’t know at all.  As one person stood up to share, she commented that so many people in the room looked familiar to her and she couldn’t explain why, just some comfortable familiarity that she felt and saw in our faces.  I think the answer for why she felt that way lies in bodhichitta.  For a few hours we were stripped of the ego or judgment that normally guides each of us and we saw others with a lens of common compassion.  You could hear in the conversation and what was shared that each of us is fighting our own battle, all so different yet exactly the same.

So many yoga or meditation instructors speak in these lofty terms and metaphors that are not always accessible to many of us. But Jen’s approach is different.  She speaks in terms that we understand and she is “real” in every way.  Her workshops are coined Manifestation Yoga, and you begin the workshop by writing down on a post-it a short list of things that you want to see unfold in your life. Meditating on, praying for, and visualizing those things each day can bring you closer to them, yes.  But she also acknowledges that if that’s all we had to do, life would be pretty easy and predictable.  Obviously it’s not that simple.  Manifestation in her words is to “Make shit happen.” You have to identify what it is you want, give some intent and clarity to that goal, and then identify what stands between you and the life you want.

I found when I sat down to write what stands between myself and my goals, I heard so many others share what I’d written: fear, uncertainty, feelings of inadequacy, and allowing others judgments or opinions to restrict me. These answers were the same for so many of us. She spoke a bit about the “1 in 100” scenario – meaning if you are in a room with 100 people, and 99 of them love you and 1 doesn’t, whom do you focus on? The one that doesn’t.  I know for certain that my recent months have allowed me to come so far in refusing to let others’ judgment affect me.  I at least don’t let it sink in as deeply or for along as I did before. But I’m only human, and I can’t help but be somewhat affected by it.  

And to be honest, when I reflect on the things said to me and about me in the past nine months or so, it’s enough to break anyone’s spirit.  You don’t measure up. You were a bad wife. Your own actions are what led to pain and disappointment. You need to stop writing and you should be ashamed of showing your pain and sharing it with others. Everyone perceives you as bitter and angry. People tell me your writing is terrible and nobody believes any of it. You are a terrible mother. You are selfish. On my best days, I can rest in the love and acceptance of people I value, but on the worst days, these comments sink in and cast a shadow where I don’t want them to dwell. Jen’s workshop yesterday was a safe place to work through these things and cast them out of my consciousness.

It’s hard though, right?  The mind is a powerful thing.  On the one hand, thoughts can enlighten us and guide us, and there is tons of research to support the power of positive thinking. On the other hand, if I believed everything that my mind tells me in regard to my own self-worth, I’d be in trouble.  It’s human nature. Fear and uncertainty is natural. Not only that, but I’m realizing that the only people who feel no fear at all and don’t care about others’ opinions of their actions in the least are defined as sociopaths and narcissists.  (Jen Pastiloff touched on that briefly yesterday as well.)  But to use her metaphor, when 99 people in the room see love and authenticity in you and recognize your gifts, to focus on the one who doesn’t see your worth serves you in no way at all.  And I’m realizing that is precisely what is standing in the way of myself and my big goals: the criticism I still hear far too loudly. I ran across this recently online somewhere, and it made me smile.  I need to tape it on my mirror.  

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It’s not as simple as placing glasses on my face. (I wish it were!) But I can drown out the influences that leave me feeling doubtful and unsettled if I’m very careful about what I let sink in and if I devote time everyday to focus on aspects of myself that are worthy of appreciation and value. I left the workshop feeling energized and ready to start a new academic year with a clearer purpose and more mindfulness to combat the outside voices that feed feelings of inadequacy.  When we unrolled our mats and were preparing for the workshop, we were given temporary tattoos from Conscious Ink as a little favor.  It will be gone in a couple days, but it’s on my forearm as a reminder to me as I begin the school year.

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It’s impossible to recognize the sacred value of the present moment when you have a constant soundtrack in your mind of the million things wrong with you or the million reasons some people dislike you. I’m vowing this week to push those voices away as much as I can and listen to my own compass instead. And right now, my own compass says I am strong and capable and loving and exactly where I should be.