Trust the process, pt 5 (Everything is connected, 1)

credit: Yoly Mancilla

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Back in May I wrote in this post, Steppingstones to a new life, about how different paths of my life had suddenly come together at juncture, namely, grad school. I was shocked and gob-smacked how the Universe, Serendipity and Synchronicity got together presented me with this and amazing and timely opportunity.

But these three tricksters had more up their sleeves, much more! When I was least expecting it, they walloped me with my past, present and future in connections I could never have imagined. (I say “walloped” because the impact of all these connections left me reeling for a few days.)

Here are just a few of the “coincidences” that have occurred over the last couple of months:

Wow! #1. When I was first questioning my next step after getting my certification through The Center for Journal Therapy I wrote to my fellow instructors asking for advice. I was in a quandary about how I might combine my two distinct writing lives: therapeutic writing for others and my own creative pursuits. One woman in particular went out of her way to write back with her own situation and told me she had attended Goddard College in Vermont. Vermont! I don’t know if she knew I was here in these Green Mountains but that was strange surprise number one. Knock-me-over-with-a-feather-surprise number two was that the program they offered there was EXACTLY what I wanted: a self-designed degree, low-residency and offered a concentration in… ta-da! Transformative Language Arts – a combination of writing for health and change and creative writing.

So, a few months later I find myself sitting across from a faculty member at Goddard discussing my focus. He suggests to me that I browse some of the final projects in my line of study done by former students, one in particular. He proceeds to tell me, out of the hundreds of former students, the name of the very woman who had referred me to Goddard in the first place! She and I had never discussed what I was hoping to research and now here I was photocopying her bibliography and checking out some of the same books as she had done four years earlier.

Wow! #2: In high school I wrote a paper called “All Dressed Up and No Where to Go” about Victorian women’s whalebone “cages” and other restrictive vestments of the era. As an undergrad I wrote a thesis on the fashions of 14th century Europe and now they were symbolic of female oppression. I was just interested in historic costume, the women’s issues were just an interesting side-note to me at the time.

A few months ago I had what the experts call a “big” dream. An Intuitive and Jungian dream analysis-expert friend of mine interpreted it as my own battle with feelings of Female Oppression. I had never associated any of my own domestic frustrations with such a concept, but when she said it, it resonated. It rang through me like the Liberty Bell. I had grown up in a patriarchal world, in general, and a religious community, specifically, where women are undermined and ruled over, with first their father and then the husband as their “head” and salvation. Our bodies, minds, even prayers, were not our own. As Sue Monk Kidd says in Dance of the Dissident Daughter, I had “touched the wound of my feminine life.”

As I began delving into the writings that began my journey towards my own religious recovery I quickly realized that the Feminine would play a major role. My own Feminine Source had been denied me (and all other women of the last 5,000 years) when she was disowned by patriarchal society and religion. I long to set her free from her cage – as I had at age 16 without realizing it. And now one of my references for my studies is the very one I read back in a women’s history course almost 16 years ago. Even a chance conversation and a book recommendation while at Goddard, which I had dismissed as not really relating to my studies, suddenly became very relevant.

Wow! #3: I live in a blue-collar town. As a self-employed workshop facilitator and coach it is very difficult to make a living here. It is not an artistic town (although there are artists and writers burrowed away by the lakes and mountain-sides surrounding the town) and it is poor and, by Vermont’s extremely high standards, can be dangerous. I have lived and visited vibrant cities where there is a sense of community and respect for the town and the people in it. City-wide events are well-attended and fun. I desperately want this for my town but I’ve never really articulated what it is that makes a town different.

While noodling along in my journal at the Goddard residency I wrote, “Live-able communities are spiritually-based communities. Lots of nature, healthy options, community events, caring for self and each other.”  Without exactly knowing what I meant by the definition, I realized the difference is spiritual. Connection. A One-ness. There is personal empowerment within a Whole.

A few days after returning home from Goddard, one of my advising group sent me a link to a Public Radio International show, “To the Best of Our Knowledge” called, “Losing Religion.” One guest spoke of his discovery that the least religious societies have the lowest crime rates and vice versa. His visits to Denmark and Sweden, where the people wouldn’t even consider voting in a religious leader, presented him with beautiful, clean, safe, back-to-nature cities.

Again, the connections: I had been questioning What Makes a Community and thinking about it in my own tiny life when the subject suddenly presents itself to me on a much larger, societal scale. This is obviously just a tiny peek at a much larger question with many, many variables (which I could go into more here but you’ll have to wait for the book! These topics will be making up the bulk of my research while at grad school). But I questioned and the answers started to come. Given to me…

It’s those rascally rascals, Serendipity and Synchronicity!

Prompt: I experienced Serendipity and Synchronicity in my life when…

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Please visit my Examiner.com page for articles on Journaling for Kids, Organization and almost everything in between.

Private coaching – Customized to help you re-INK your own life – available in person or via email.

Trust the process, part 4 (The Crash)

credit: Yoly Mancilla

Tweet This Blog Post!In the middle of the week of my MA residency at Goddard College I attended a workshop named “Wild Research” with Ellie Epp. The description sounded fascinating:

“Move only along the line of your love.” Stan Brakhage

Transdisciplinary work is thrilling, like travel without a map. Working across disciplinary lines also is nerve-wracking: we parachute into specialized areas sometimes without knowing the basics in those fields. This workshop describes the art of bold, creative, personal transdisciplinary research.

Ms. Epp told us how to allow our intuition to find resources for us and to trust that we know without knowing what we need to answer our questions. I could barely contain myself! If I was 7 and not 37 I probably would have been literally bouncing in my seat. She was saying the exact same thing about researching as Ira Progoff and Kay Adams and all other journaling-gurus have said about expressive writing: if you get out of your own way you will write things you didn’t know you knew.

(Wo)Man does indeed know more than (s)he rationally understands… (journaling) is a way to connect with the KNOWLEDGE BEYOND UNDERSTANDING…
Dr. Ira Progoff, founder, Intensive Journal method (At a Journal Workshop)

The idea of researching INTUITIVELY made me want to run to the library immediately and start dowsing.

But then, this Goddess of Embodiment (not going to even go into that subject right now) told us how our bodies can react under the stress of graduate school (or life). She explained how to sit with our emotions, feel where they are in the body (stomach? chest? throat?) and acknowledge them. Not to try to push them away but rather to put your hand on the site of the feeling (my fear and anxiety often manifests in my chest and stomach as physical pain) and to talk to it: “I feel you. It’s OK. You’re going to be fine.” It will pass after a while.

Wow! Acknowledge our emotions? Actually touch them and talk to them?! Aren’t we Western Academic Types supposed to be all Head, no Heart?

And then Ellie told us we were going to crash. It was not a matter of if, but when. The balloon high of residency and intellectual stimulation would pop and we would burst into a shredded mess leaving us gasping and limp on the ground. Yes, we would cry out, “I can’t do this!” “What was I thinking?!” “I’m too stupid…” She told us those messages were old; stuck on our internal recording from previous times. They were irrelevant to the here and now. And most importantly, this crash was a natural process through we must go in order to move to the other side towards success.

There is so much more I could discuss just on that piece of information. The Psychology of Positive DisIntegration (Dabrowski) alone could be a Doctoral Thesis. But the important thing to remember is, most people stop at The Crash – the “I can’t go on!” part. I have written about this before on this blog (links coming later) in terms of writing through the anxiety and my personal crashes just before something amazing happened. I now look forward to my own crashes – melt downs, I’ve always called them – because I now know that it is the storm before the calm of clarity.

And yes, I crashed about a week after returning from Goddard. I cried for two days. I was so overwhelmed by everything I was trying to take in and the realization that I had to analyze it all and make it into something cohesive and of use to others. I was afraid of the personal emotional turmoil my studies and memoir-writing would put me through.

But I held my fears, I rocked them while they cried and eventually they fell asleep. I know they will wake again at some point but I will be here to hold them and tell them everything’s going to be OK.

Prompt: I am afraid… The reality is…

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Please visit my Examiner.com page for articles on Journaling for Kids, Organization and almost everything in between.

Private coaching – Customized to help you re-INK your own life – available in person or via email.

Trust the Process, pt 3 (The Question)

credit: Yoly Mancilla

Tweet This Blog Post!The mantra at Goddard College is “Trust the process.” Every day one or more faculty advisors included in their discussion, “… and, well, trust the process. It works.” With no syllabus or course curriculum most of us newbies, those who had been educated in a strictly outlined, non-critically-thinking fashion (oh, that would be all of us who went through the American education system), were beginning to feel like we’d been thrown in a whirlpool. Nothing to grab onto, just whirling round and round, trying not to drown in our own possibilities. We were overwhelmed by the very freedom of intellect for which we had come to Goddard in the first place.

Over and over again I heard my fellow students express the fear or concern that they were doing “it” wrong. What is the right way to do…? How are we supposed to be do…? How do they want us to do…? But there was no right way. Our way was the the right way and we would find it if we just let go of all the perfectionism and societal expectations, and to tell those critics in our head telling us we were obviously doing something wrong to shut the hell up! And the faculty kept telling us, Trust the process! But what did that mean?

Some of my cohorts became obsessed very concerned with their study plan. They stayed up until all hours of the morning early in the week just to get it “right.” I was so caught up in the fact that I didn’t yet have My Question (a point on the map towards which I could point my nose and begin my journey, but would not necessarily be the final destination) that constructing a plan seemed as impossible as plotting a travel itinerary before knowing to which continent I was headed.  The pages of my journal began to look like the brain-storming session of a mission-less board of directors: mind-maps here, lists there, circles, arrows, question marks – lots of question marks… and plenty of self-doubt.

Monday, the fourth day, marked the height of my anxiety. All around me I heard fellow students ask, Have you found your Question yet? The reality that I did in fact need to have a succinct question in mind and a study plan submitted in less than three days, one with a full bibliography and a schedule of what I would read and critique over the course of the next six months when I could no longer even tell you what I initially planned to study, had me seeing stars.

But at the same time I was in heaven. Surrounded by intellectual, insightful, free-thinking, accepting, gentle, fun and talented writers, musicians and artists I felt at home. Completely and utterly HOME. And, inspired by them, I wrote:

I’m so anxious to begin. But terrified to begin at the same time. This little bubble of intellectual energy, it’s enticing, bewildering, intoxicating.

I did finally find My Question and I was able to put my plan together – what a relief! I got out of my own way and just let the thoughts and ideas come. My journal let me thrash around, never judging what I came up with, never laughing or doubting my ideas. The one thing I wanted to know came to me because I let it come. I trusted myself.

And that’s what trusting the process meant: trusting yourself to find the answers. To find your own way.

Although the water was still deep and the whirlpool circling faster with all the new questions that sprang from The Question, I felt like I had found a foot-hold. Something to hang onto as I made my way through to An Answer. It had happened. I had trusted myself and the process, I had found my question and I was on my way.

Prompt: Worry can be debilitating. What do I need to let go of – to trust the process – so I can move forward to something positive and exciting?

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Please visit my Examiner.com page for articles on Journaling for Kids, Organization and almost everything in between.

Private coaching – Customized to help you re-INK your own life – available in person or via email.

Trust the Process, pt 2 (The Womb)

credit: Robin Russell

Tweet This Blog Post!The morning of day two at Goddard College my stomach was still a bag of jelly fish. I had slept fitfully through slamming doors, footsteps, ill-fitting sheets and my roomie’s arrival at 2AM. And I woke up at 5AM. I managed to doze until 6:30AM but I was out the door and looking for a place to meet with my journal by 7AM. I questioned how I would be surviving this experience without its sturdy spine to hold me up?

As memories of the high school cafeteria sprung to mind, I worried about who’d I’d sit with at breakfast, and despite a crushing need for caffeine I didn’t want to get there too early for fear of seeming too anxious. My Teen was full on.  That issue resolved itself very shortly as I found my roommate awake and headed to breakfast. From then on meal times were only a tiny source of anxiety as I met and became friendly with and – by the end of the week positively close – with my fellow IMA-ers (Individualized Masters).

By day three I was raring to go. I wanted to get started, have work to do, a direction, a task, a plan. I wrote in my journal, “I finally have some homework!” I was like a clock-work toy, all wound up but with its wheels held still. I wasn’t sure where I was going once let go but I sure was ready to make a dash for somewhere.

My advising group met in the brilliantly bright Silo room. It was round – naturally – with a round table and round rug. It was a like a hug. Eight women spanning the age-spectrum from late 20s to mid-60s sat around this table every morning to share our thoughts on our process, our fears, our questions, our personal hang-ups and life outside the walls of this womb (was there such a thing?). While inking mandalas, singing or sharing our insta-poetry, we women made a connection. Diverse backgrounds, stages of life, communities and talents blended and sparked inspiration and respect. I felt held up. Supported. Supporting. As a community should.

In the small isolated family-unit islands that our society has developed over the centuries, we rarely have the chance to talk with others outside our borders: those who are younger (who wants to try to engage a teenager?), those who are older and wiser (what do they know about my modern, hectic life?), or those from completely different living environments or cultures. But the lesson is, these people not only teach you something about life but they teach you something about you and us. We are not so different. We are one. Slightly different glasses, same view.

And my biggest lesson? In a room of eight women who share the same number of chromosomes and similar feelings and experiences, I learned I am not alone.

Prompt: I feel supported when…

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Please visit my Examiner.com page for articles on Journaling for Kids, Organization and almost everything in between.

Private coaching – Customized to help you re-INK your own life – available in person or via email.

Trust the process, pt 1 (The Arrival)

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credit: Tiffany Beard

How do even begin to write about my week? It was intense, exhausting, relaxing, exhilarating, freeing, validating, educational, empowering.

On Thursday evening I drove into Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. I felt ill with nerves. Even a walk around the stunningly beautiful campus couldn’t settle the raging butterflies. (This is a campus like no other – an English garden-type maze, a water garden with fountains, garden house complete with carved animal heads, trellised walkways, a clock house… and a barn converted into the community center and Haybarn theater. This also included the silo room – or as my advising group came to call it – the Womb Room.)

I was about to embark on a life-changing adventure as a graduate student. I was facing a week, semester, two years of unknowns. And I’d have a room mate. This was a major challenge to me. Having never gone away to college as an undergrad, I had not experienced the right of passage that is sharing a room the size of a bath tub with a complete stranger. Walking into the room for the first time I was taken aback by the close proximity of the two miniature beds. What if she talked too much, snored, farted… what if I did?

Although I was beyond excited and anxious to start something I had been wanting to do for 15 years, the Unknown was eating away my insides. But once my husband left I became calmer. Stronger. Empowered. I unpacked my clothes and my confidence and went off to meet my fellow graduates.

Now, I don’t mingle well. My shy teenage-self is who usually shows up when the my role (i.e. mother, teacher, bank teller) is undefined and “just me” is standing there, exposed. When I walked into this first “check -in” I quickly realized this was one of those times. I felt my shoulders itching to concave, my eyes to cast down and my acne to pop. But before I had a chance to find a dark corner in which to dissolve, a tall, blond man from Wisconsin asked if I was a newbie. I said I was (could he tell by my deer-in-the-headlights stare?). He welcomed me and asked me what I was going to study. I began to relax and by the end of the evening, thanks to the incredibly welcoming returning students and faculty, I had pulled it off (I think). Joanna: Graduate Student.

That evening sitting on my crunchy bed (sans roomie still) feeling slightly forlorn, I wrote in my journal:

I have this song running through my head: “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here…” But I do belong here [Our minds love to tell us crazy untruths.]…. A first step on a strange new journey – fearful, excited and a little overwhelmed by the hugeness of it all.

I let those voices of  fear rob me of an opportunity by convincing me not to go away to school at 18 because of The Unknown, of looking foolish in front of strangers and distrust of my own abilities. No more. I ignored the voices and faced my fears. Instead I listened to my passion and believed the path would become visible once I took that step forward.

It did.

Prompt: If I could not fail, I would….

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Please visit my Examiner.com page for articles on Journaling for Kids, Organization and almost everything in between.

Private coaching – Customized to help you re-INK your own life – available in person or via email.