Trust the Process (part 11): Re-turning

The Silo Room (aka The Womb Room) at Goddard College. Credit: Robin Russell

On the eve of my fourth residency at Goddard College as a IMA-TLA student (Individualized Masters in Transformative Language Arts), I am sitting on the upper level of a gym as my son and two dozen other miniature humans are noisily jumping, swinging, rolling, and springing below me. Might as well be another planet from where I will be in 24 hours time. To pass the time, I was checking my blog stats and there I found an incoming link to my blog from worldsofchange.com where my very first “Trust the Process” post from August 2010 is published. Strange – that seems so long ago now. And me, so different. I can even read a subtle change in my writing.

I am particularly nervous to go back this time (or am I like this every time and I’ve just forgotten?) because I am returning after a semester off. It is time to commit again, get back to the discipline of 20-ish hours per week researching or writing (when I’d rather be doing anything but) and to face the reality that this degree is going to happen – and going to be a lot of work. But I am excited! I waited a long time for my life’s work to make itself known to me and it was worth every panicked journal entry,  every incorrectly colored parachute, and every “wrong” turn. I now know I am doing exactly what I was called to do, what I was born to do and – no matter how much work and discipline it will take – I will have a grand time doing it!

People always say you shouldn’t take a break from school because you’ll never go back, ya know. Well, I have done this twice now. When I left school after a disappointing freshman year, I did so because I knew I wasn’t doing the authentic thing. During high school I went through the motions of applying to college because that’s just what you did. When I suddenly found myself on campus the fall I turned 18, I thought, what just happened?! I struggled through that first year studying for a major I wasn’t suited for because I hadn’t known what else to do. When my grades reflected my confusion and discomfort, I took a break. And everyone said, you won’t go back, ya know. But six months later, I was back and raring to go. I now knew what I wanted and I flung myself at it and graduated with honors. I just needed that break to check in with myself.

And now, 22 years later, I have done it again. I had gotten off track with my grad work, lost in what I thought others thought I should be doing. My own authority, my authentic voice, had momentarily been drowned out. But not completely. It was there tugging at my  hem: Mama, are you listening? That’s not what I wanted! So I took a break to give my voice a chance to grow and tell me what she did want. I had turned away from myself, but now I have re-turned, back in the direction of my potential and purpose.

It’s OK to take a break to make sure you are doing the right thing, the authentic thing that will make YOU happy, not what others think will make you happy – or worse, what will make THEM happy. It’s OK to admit you might have made a mistake or gone off track. Listen. Listen hard. Take a break so you can really hear. And then re-turn back to your dreams and make them happen.

Prompt: If I listen to my own voice, it tells me…

Authentic Voice Project: C is for Contentment

The Authentic Voice Project: Week 3 (Full Moon)

C is for Contentment

Ahhh, contentment.

Society says: Contentment is swinging on a hammock while staring at the sky. It is walking along a beach, hand-in-hand with your love, golden retriever bounding by your side. At least that’s what the commercials would have us believe. But most media is playing on our desperate yearning for a life so opposite to our reality in order to sell us their drugs or stuff. And truthfully, how many of us, while lazing in that hammock are actually thinking of nothing? Isn’t it the perfect place to swing our fretting into full-blown panic because we’re not doing anything!? We are a society where doing = worth.

What society really believes of contentment is that it is not possible – but keep on battlin’ for it anyway! We are taught/brain-washed that we must always be striving for something more: More Money. More Sex. More Car. More House. More Youthful-Looking Skin. Ah, THEN you will be content.

I say: Contentment is a mind, heart and soul at rest. (Would it be that easy!)

Contentment is NOT worry. It is NOT self-judgement. It is NOT jealousy. It is NOT striving.

Contentment is the absence of fear. It is trust.

Contentment is trusting there will be enough money to pay the bills. Trusting in your own abilities. It is being grateful for what you have, not what you haven’t (but trusting that by envisioning your dreams, they can come true). It is living each day for this day, uncolored by the messages and beliefs of yesterday. Contentment is loving the discarded sock in the living room and the childish innocence and abandon that put it there. (OK, that one is a hard sell, I know.)

Contentment is “Flow” – those moments where you lose time doing something challenging that you love. Experience more of these moments and experience more overall happiness. (Visit this post for more information on the concept of “Flow.”)

Contentment is accepting each day, each event, each experience, and each person who crosses your way, not as a test sent to punish or sabotage your joy, but as part of your journey towards your best – and healthiest, happiest – self.

Prompts: In what moments are you happiest? What fears are holding you back from contentment?

Authentic Voice Project: B is for Belly

Venus of Willendorf

The Authentic Voice Project: Week 2 (New Moon)

B is for Belly

I considered many “trigger” words for this post: Behavior, Body, Beauty, Blame, but I settled on Belly because… well, I have one.

Society says:

A woman’s belly should be flat; nay, concave. Low-rise and skinny jeans (practically the only type you can find if you don’t go in for the proverbial “mommy jean”) only work on such a non-belly. Otherwise you are in danger of committing the fashion no-no known as “muffin-top.” The popularity of Spanx and other forms of shape-wear (modern version of whale-bone corsets, and I contend, surely just as uncomfortable) tell the self-conscious woman that her natural curves should be tamed and restrained. Even the word belly makes us a little uncomfortable, we tend to think of bowls of jelly. The curvacious beauties of previous centuries are considered fat by today’s standards. A woman’s belly should be flat (lifeless?) – and called a stomach.

I say: Bellissimo! Lovely, beautiful, splendid, gorgeous, magnificent.

I never used to have a belly, but, of course, I thought I did. At 23 I had a boyfriend who used to make fun of my pot-belly, a feature I hadn’t considered I possessed until he said it. In fact, until after I left college I berated myself for being “too skinny.” I was one of those annoying people who could eat everything in sight and not gain a pound. Much to my embarrassment as a teenager, my hips bones stuck out when I lay down to sunbathe at the beach. And once, while riding in the front seat on a college friend’s lap (any cops reading this can ignore that part), he complained that I had the boniest ass ever! As a senior in college, a concerned classmate pulled me aside and asked me if I was anorexic. I was horrified!

But suddenly at the tender age of 23 I was faced with the realization that I was getting fat. Bear in mind, I was still wearing a size 5, and looking back at the photos from a Florida vacation that year, I was still about as curvy as a pencil. But because I was told I had a pot-belly, I believed it. An outside “authority” created my reality for me.

Almost two decades and two children later, I legitimately have a Belly. A nicely padded, well-earned “mommy belly.” And I claim this belly! I see it. I know it is there because I see with my own eyes and my own voice says it is there. I am my own authority on this personal matter. It is where my children lay curled in blissful warmth pulsing in rhythm to the dance of my blood. It is the “cauldron” where my womb lays hidden and protected, now empty, but churning with creative energy. It is one of the distinct features that makes a woman a woman, whether she has mothered children or not (because we are ALL creators!). Recall the rotund Venus of Willendorf (above) – now there’s a muffin-top to be proud of!

A couple of years ago I attended a belly-dancing festival. What impressed me the most (other than the young woman who could make every muscle in her flat stomach dance independently) was the utter lack of self-consciousness of the other moderately and well-bellied, naturally full-bodied women. Confidence in their own magnificence as real women. The radiating beauty of women who were completely at home in their bodies. Fully embodied. And they glowed with energy and pure joy as they reveled in the sensuality of themselves and the music. Bellissimio!

Belly: The “heart,” the soul, the foundation of a woman; the fount of her energy and love. A true pot -belly is one that is rounded, full, abundant with (potential) life and creativity.

Prompt:  I know this about myself because I know it to be the truth…


Authentic Voice Project: A is for Anger

The Authentic Voice Project: Week 1 (Full Moon)

AUTHENTIC VOICE

As we are beginning with A, I will take a moment to define Authentic Voice as I understand it.

I believe we all have an Authentic Voice. It is the one that comes to us from various sources:

  • intuitive insights
  • dreams
  • emotion-body reactions (such as butterflies in the stomach, the tight chest of anxiety or anger, the sore throat of suppressed tears, etc.)
  • expressive writing (“I didn’t know I was going to write that!” or “where did that come from?!”), and other artistic expressions
  • gut reactions and “Freudian slips”

It is the voice that many of us suppress in the name of “reason” or convention. It is a voice many of us don’t even know – on a conscious level – that we process. It is that voice that, as Carol Gilligan records in her book, In a Different Voice, caused a female student to stop short when she heard herself say, “If I were to speak for myself…” Deep down we do know we have this voice and the suppression of it causes pain. It triggers emotional reactions in us we may not completely understand. It is the wisdom of our body, of our unconscious, of the collective unconscious. And if we are to pursue our full potential as human beings we must access it because it holds the balance of the truth of who we are.

And now onto the first word of our project…

ANGER

Society says: Anger is dangerous. Anger is violent. Anger should be suppressed. Anger is particularly unseemly for women. Anger is an unhealthy emotion. A “nice” person doesn’t get angry. Anger is not productive.

I say: Anger is a flag on the field, a check engine light, a high temperature indicating an infection. Anger is an emotion, which like all emotions, is a message. And like all emotions, we must heed it. Notice it. Acknowledge it. Listen to it. When and why did it get triggered? Where in the body is it manifesting? And how? Is it a pressure, a pain, a tingling?

Many times anger is the only emotion we can notice or it is the go-to one when the grief, hurt, pain, disappointment, rejection, sadness, frustration, loneliness, powerlessness, anxiety or fear is too uncomfortable. But then the guilt kicks in because we are not supposed to be angry. It’s not socially acceptable. Well, it hurts and pushes other people away. In fact, sometimes we use to push them away. Use it as our barrier… and then wonder why we are so lonely and sad.

BUT, anger can be useful if we take as an invitation to dig deeper into our unconscious to find our true, unexpressed feelings. All our feelings are legitimate. It is how we choose to use them that makes the difference. Anger expressed in rage, manipulation, violence, suppression, or physical or emotional attacks on others is merely a way of pushing our discomfort onto others, hoping it will relieve us. But by taking  our anger and working with it – using it as an positive energy – we can use it to take action in our lives. As Sue Monk Kidd did, take your rage and turn it to outrage, as which it can help usher in change.

Anger: Just a message.

The Authentic Voice Project

For redefinition, I was thrown back to myself, to my inner knowing… Marilyn Sewell, Cries of the Spirit

Words.

Manifestations of our thoughts. Creators of our internal messages. Words have and continue to shape history and people – not always positively and sometimes with devastating consequences. Words have an affect on us, more powerful than we can rationally understand. The words we have heard all our life, depending on the context in which they were originally and/or continue to be delivered, shape our emotional response to them.

If a word has a negative effect on you, it is time to change it. Change its personal meaning – change your (unconscious) emotional reaction. Make it have authentic meaning for you.

So, with the dawn of a new year I am announcing a new writing project: The Authentic Voice Project.

Every two weeks, on the dates of the new and full moons, I will write a post based on a word, starting with A and proceeding through the alphabet until I reach Z on December 28, 2012 (that’s actually only 25 postings/moons so I’ll double up somewhere or just skip X). The words will be “trigger” or “loaded” words (or phrases in some cases), either according to society, women, or to me personally. I will attempt to sum up the general or accepted “meaning” of the word and then re-work it to be more personal, more positive, more helpful, more meaningful and authentic – in my own voice.* (And if you have suggestions for any of these words, please leave a comment.)

Obviously, my personal take on a word or phrase will not speak to everyone. But my hope is that it will get you thinking about your own definitions of words you may not even realize have an unconscious affect on you. Please feel free to comment with you own reactions and redefinitions (or possibly guest blog here or in response on your own blog)- every person’s experience is different and equally important, and may resonate with someone else on a level I may not have reached.

Please join me on this quest for Authentic Voice!

* This idea is loosely based on Kathleen Norris’ book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.