Natural Wisdom – in verse

These poems were written by a participant in one of my recent workshops, Natural Wisdom: Writing as Spiritual Voice. They are Alphapoems written in response to prompts while listening to sounds from nature. As you will read, not all are directly related to nature, but this is an example of the wonder and power of expressive writing: If you open yourself to the writing process, what wants/needs to be expressed will be. The author remarked that she was not expecting these words to come out, “they just kinda did!”

Thank you for your generosity for sharing them with us!

Poems by Gwendoline James

THE STORM

Dark skies releasing themselves of pent-up heat,

Inspired by Thor;  continual rumblings then stomach-churning crashes.

Straight rain falling to earth with relentless power,

Threatening all beneath its touch without regard,

Analogy for washing clean, washing away,

Never heeding any demands to stop.

Clean, so clean, until it hits earth, rivers, fields, then mud and torrents and flood and devastation.

Eternal rain……… or so it seems at this moment.

MOTHER LOST

Gone before I knew you, like the

Wind, blowing through and leaving

Emptiness, which I

Never recognized until the need to know you became

Dominant  in my later life.

Open my heart to the memories I do not have.  I want to hear you

Laugh, cry, talk ……why did

Illness take you away so that I

Never knew you, felt your warmth, heard your voice, fed off your

Energy, which was all spent by the time you gave me life.

SIDMOUTH

Soothing my fears, calming my thoughts, in this

Idyllic place.

Damp seaweed gently sweeping between my toes, the

Mouth of the river opening itself into the

Ocean.  What powerful secrets lie

Under your white crests;  your dark teal depths reflecting the

Turmoil of my mind before I came to stand in awe at your edge

Happy for the seagulls overhead and for your cleansing, incessant water to wash over my feet and

recede again into itself.

— Gwendoline James

Burning Rage

This is a very personal post. It is the result of trauma that occurred because my voice was muted. I see this “dream” and the writing of it is as the whisper of my returning voice (a loud stage whisper, perhaps?). 

Rage, which is a socially unacceptable emotion, especially for women, is coming forward and yelling very loudly. By envisioning it (and other emotions) as tangibles, I am acknowledging it, and learning to accept it. I must integrate it so it no longer pins me down but lifts me into action – and voice. I also see it as my body starting to speak to me, and so become part of me, as I begin to notice its pains and tightness. My body and  my psyche (one in the same) are speaking up as they work towards healing and wholeness.

~~~~

I awoke with rage lying heavy on my chest like, what was it? A steel plate. Thick, heavy, reddish brown with rust, like what you see at construction sites, pinning me to my bed. Heavier, denser than anything I had experienced. Rage. Burning rage. It stretched from my neck to the bottom of my ribcage. I was shaking from the exertion of holding it there while trying to breathe. When I woke I was curled into the fetal position, and I could not move. Didn’t want to move. I knew I had to stay there, to acknowledge this plate of anger, this shield of rage. An impenetrable, metal protective shield over my heart.

“I feel you,” I told it. “What do you want me to know?”

As I focused on it I knew I must somehow destroy it. Release my heart and lungs from this burden I had carried for too long. But what can destroy an element as thick and strong as steel?

Fire. Only fire is capable of transforming steel to something malleable. In the half-world between sleep and waking, the image of a furnace slowly evolved. I tried to fit the metal plate into its ferocious red-orange mouth. But it would not go, it was too big. I forced the fire entrance larger and larger still until finally the metal began to disappear into its depth. As it did so the image began to shrink away, further and further into the blackness at the back of my mind. And then it was gone over the horizon of my conscious.

But the rage had not. As I watched, a small slit in the center of my chest peeled open, and as when a piece of wood slowly surfaces from the below the water or a rock begins to emerge from beneath the melting snow, another metal plate crested, pinning me still. This time I was able to summon up the furnace and feed the metal into it with more ease. The heavy rage was gone but lying in its place was a straw or hair mat thick and prickly with anxiety. A goat appeared and I offered it the mat. I cried with relief as I watched – and felt – it disappear.

My chest and my heart was visibly freed of weight. My more coherent mind yearned for my body to feel the difference. Still wrapped up into myself I pictured my heart lifting and opening with its new freedom, but I could not feel it. Then I noticed more pains around my body. First, it was my upper back. Rusty, red epaulettes fit over my shoulders like a piece of Roman armor. This metal was lighter than what had pinned my chest but I recognized it as the anger I hold there. In my trance state, I quickly removed them and flung them into the furnace.

Then immediately, my lower belly. This time it was a small, blue bowl. A Japanese soup bowl filled with spaghetti and meat. I knew this to be sadness. Despair. How to abolish this? I decided not to try to destroy it but to take it in. I would eat the meat and envision it filling my body with new energy. I pictured doing this once and then again. Then the bowl filled with popcorn. I flung the kernels out into the garden and allowed the animals – the rabbit, the woodchuck, the deer, the cats – to absorb my pain. My whole body sighed in release.

My lower back began to ping. I focused on it but nothing came to me. But I had to turn from it as a deeper, heavier pain dropped into my stomach. A rock. A boulder. A lump of sorrow and fear and worry and anger sitting directly under my ribs where the two sides of the cage join. I asked it what I must do but no answers appeared. No ideas arose as what can be done to destroy or absorb a thing as solid, as ancient, as grounded as a rock.

Still curled around the now even-denser obstruction in my belly, as if it was a growing child I needed to protect in my womb, I woke fully. In my mind’s eye it was so perfectly round and near the surface it seemed I could reach in and take it out. I would be able to hold it in my palm much like a grapefruit. The sensation of its presence was making me physically sick. I longed to pull it out and throw it far away.

I wanted to feel different when I left my bed. I wanted the sensation of weightlessness on my shoulders and light around my heart. I wanted to feel my breath fill the deepest corners of my body. I hoped joy had replaced the sadness in my belly. But instead I felt shaky. Like electric pulses were running through my veins. On edge. Tears. Like I had just experienced something physiologically disturbing; an operation, medication, an accident. Trauma.

As I write this the emotion is close to the surface. Typing the words and images brings the event, the sensations to life. It was not a dream. I really cried. Tears rolled down my face and into my pillow. I felt the shudder of physical release. I may not feel free right now – my shoulders are still tight, my chest heavy, my stomach jumpy – but I know I found, and will recognize soon, some healing in the images and symbols that my unconscious offered me. It was physical pain that I felt as I imagined my rage as a physical weight on my chest. My body hurts because my psyche is in pain. The symbol of the metal plate is the psyche’s way of communicating to me in terms I can understand. In my “dream” I burned my rage and it disappeared. I may still be feeling the trauma of lying so long under its weight, but I will heal.

My heart will lift and my breath will flow freely.

Prompt: Envision or write to your painful emotions as a “thing” which you can discard or transform into something more positive.


Trust the Process (pt 10): Hiding

My natural inclination is to introversion. I usually choose to be alone rather than in a crowd. However, at my first two Goddard College’s residencies for the Individualized Master’s program I went against my own grain. I squeezed in around full lunch tables, joined in conversations in lounges, and laughed over movie showings late (for me) at night – and had a great time doing so. But at this last residency I regressed a little to my former self. While I still joined lunch-time and workshop discussions, I quickly ran back to the silence of my own room to retire early or to brainstorm over My Question. I fell (fitfully) asleep to the laughter and discussion of my building-mates whose joviality was evidenced by the growing number of wine bottles in the recycling bin each morning. At breakfast I would listen to further laughter over inside jokes from the night before and I’d feel a tiny touch of jealousy. But my need to be alone found me frequently in the garden, folded into an Adirondack chair, notebook on lap. Thinking.

Too hard.

I would have to say the theme of this residency for me was Thinking. And trying not to. I’d get myself alone in my room and I’d start thinking, “what is it I need to be thinking about?” Then I’d remember that I am trying to Feel More, Sense More, so I’d say to myself “stop thinking!” which has the annoying effect of creating the exact opposite reaction. I’d start thinking about NOT thinking.

I didn’t write in my journal too much this residency, whereas in the precious two I wrote copiously as I tried to assimilate all that I was learning and experiencing. And feeling. This time I made a conscious effort to just feel what I was feeling. This required much alone time with not necessarily satisfactory results. Now home, and very much not alone (almost five-year old boys seem to need Something on a excruciatingly frequent basis) I am trying to consider all that I felt and feel now about the residency and my graduate “career” in general.

I am questioning now if going into hiding this residency was actually what I needed. Most of my a-ha! moments actually came to me during conversation or listening to others talking. I live in my head too much and plain old social-ness might have pulled me into my body – and my emotions – through laughter, silliness, togetherness, connection, friendship, conversation and mutual respect. If laughter is medicine I sure didn’t take mine while seriously mulling away in my cavern of a single room. Sometimes our “natural” inclination is a defense mechanism – to protect us from feeling too much – rather than a healing one. And what we resist the most is most likely exactly what we need.

Prompt: What are you resisting? What behaviors do you automatically resort to which might actually be furthering your lack of self-awareness and healing?

Trust the Process, pt. 8: I Am Matter

“Are those really concepts? Aren’t they aspects of a woman’s life?” (Referring to the Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone)

“What it means to be a woman? Don’t you mean what it IS to be a woman?”

“Don’t YOU matter?” … “Yes, I do matter. I matter. I AM matter.”

And so go conversations at Goddard College where I am studying for an Individualized Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts. We do not sit, inert and unthinking, attempting to sift through the rocks, pebbles and sand of a professor’s lecture searching for any valuable nuggets. And valuable to whom? The professor or you? At Goddard we are asked to be involved in a conversation, to really think (concept vs. aspect? When was the last time you analyzed the difference between those two concepts?), to think critically, and to find our own earth through which to sift.

You cannot think critically if you have no opinion, stance, or angle from which to critique. When you are just regurgitating established knowledge of the “experts” (in academics, politics, religion, etc.) without the added insight of personal experience or intuition, you are producing nothing but dust. So, you must first dig and sift through your own layers. At first this is uncomfortable, looking into aspects of yourself you have ignored or maybe didn’t even know were there. In fact, acknowledging your ignorances, your arrogances, your prejudices, your anger, your pain never feels fabulous, but it does get easier. Once you’ve accepted this is what must be done in order to become a better, wiser, more enlightened, inspired, authentic, loving, compassionate, empowered, comfortable-in-your-own-skin person, just like taking your medicine, it will help you heal and head towards your potential.

And the deeper you go into the personal the more you can understand and feel empathy for the universal. That is how we hippie-tree-hugging-meditating-yoga-types with our loving, bleeding-hearts go into the world better equipped with information that can heal others.

Yes, I matter. My own thoughts, ideas and feelings DO matter. They are important to me and as Kim Chernin writes in Reinventing Eve: Modern Women in Search of Herself:

I have seen the process of descent into the self lead back out into the world, to a concern with the suffering of others [and]…. far from being a lengthy wallow in self-absorption, turns out to be the passage through which one goes back, with a new vision or bolder service...

And Sue Monk Kidd in an interview said:

… seeking wholeness in oneself can serve the wholeness of others.

Yes, I matter. And I am matter: Earth. I am of this Earth, I am part of this Earth, as are you. All connected and we all matter. So a-sifting I will go, concepts and aspects, constructs and trans-disciplines and all, searching for the golden nuggets which will hopefully bring a little more understanding into the world.

P.S. I am also Mater: Mother. Mother Matter. Mother Earth…. don’t you just love playing with words?!

 

Prompt: Do YOU matter? Are you willing to dig to un-earth the potential of your authentic self.

 

____

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.


Steppingstones to a new life

Yesterday morning in my journal I wrote:

I am blessed with abundance. I am blessed with the answer. I am a magnet to all the resources I need. What is the answer? I need to know what path to go down today.

This morning I wrote:

Oh, lawd! I feel like a puzzle piece just snapped into place. Thank you! Yesterday I wrote that the answer would come. Yesterday I didn’t know… but today I have my next step in life.

Ira Progoff calls them Steppingstones. They are the moments, the decisions, the experiences that have carried you to the place you are today. Today, the dissonant notes of my life came crashing together and fell into perfect harmony.

I was raised in a fundamental church. As a child I felt loved and cherished surrounded by many “aunties” and “uncles” in a family which segregated itself from, while living and working in, The World. But by the time we moved to America in my early teenage years, the shiny veneer of this community had begun to tarnish.

The next fifteen years were ones of anger, grief, denial and pain. I do not exaggerate when I say I was experiencing the after effects of trauma – emotional trauma. By my early 30s after much reading and self-exploration through journaling, I had finally come to a place of peace and acceptance. I was still searching for meaning in a spiritual sense but at one with the knowledge in my heart that I believed in one thing – Love.

And then last week someone said something to me that ripped my wound open. It became very clear to me that I needed to purge this pain and grief once and for all. But how?

From age 5 I wanted to be a writer. From age 13 I kept a diary. From age 22 I kept a journal. At age 33 I began to call myself an Aspiring Writer and realized I wanted to teach others how to journal. And at 35 I told the world I was a Writer and a Certified Journal Writing Instructor. Two different things. Similar in their love of words but not the same. I started two blogs, one just my musings and the other for journal prompts. I’d write personal essays for various outlets and then I’d go out into the world to share my love and passion for the power of journal writing. I want to empower everyone I meet and I am passionate for them to believe in their dreams, their talents and their potential. Two different worlds: words for me, words for you.

From the moment I was handed the certificate that claimed I had a Bachelor of Arts degree and all the “rights and privileges pertaining thereto” I wanted to go onto grad school. Problem was I had no idea what to go for. 16 years, two states, 5 houses, 7 cats, 2 children later, and approximately 5012 journal entries later, I finally figured it out.

When I finished my certification as a journaling instructor I thought I wanted to go on to study journal/poetry therapy but the medical implications of that did not appeal to me. But I also wanted to write – creative writing. How could I tie my two writing worlds together? I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Then I discovered there is such thing as a self-designed degree in Transformative Language Arts. Very few colleges in the country offer this program and the one recommended in my field just happens to be in my home state, only two hours away from where I live! And because it is self-designed I can incorporate both creative writing and journal writing. But how exactly?

Yesterday while pondering in my journal the next step with my journal workshops I had written that there might be “a slight pull towards religious people.” Why on earth?! Because I want to understand the thinking and maybe help those who have experienced the similar “religious trauma” as me. I wrote, “I’ll look into [grad school] today and see if this is the direction I want to go. What new worlds could that open???”

Then today: Light Bulb! I could write a book as my Masters study – my religious trauma and the healing I get from writing about it and how I could then help others with similar issues.

Stopped in my pen tracks! Fear. Excitement. Doubt. Overwhelm. Combination of both worlds. One giant therapy session! Yesterday I didn’t know I’d be able to combine this curiosity about religion and a degree. And today I have an answer. THANK YOU!

Steppingstones. When you step from one to the other you may feel like they are islands, isolated and disconnected. Just a way to get from here to there. But then you reach a new shore and you turn around to see, that although they are all different – some big, some small, some wobbly and scary – they were all leading to the same place.

And when you bring your journal along to record each step, it can serve as travel agent, telescope, compass, map, and travel log. Today mine is a celebration of self-exploration. Where to next?

Prompt: What are the steppingstones in your life that have gotten you to where you are today?

Tweet This Blog Post!

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

Quoting Natalie: Shake loose your mind

I try to shake loose my mind, so something fresh can fall out… This process acts like a sifter – sand falls through and bright nuggets come to light.

–Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

Writing for creativity

While Natalie talks about “writing practice” in her book Thunder and Lightning (as she did in Writing Down the Bones) to clear the mind and stimulate creativity for the serious writer, the exercises are no different than what we do in our journals. We write without fear, without self-judgment to brush away the cobwebs of the mind and to stimulate the (re)creation or ourselves. Through free-writing — taking out the garbage, as Julia Cameron calls it — we make room for the good stuff. We are able to get past our everyday thoughts and right into the heart of the matter.

When you shake something you have control over it. It, whatever that “it” is, no longer functions under its own power. Shaking your mind through unrestricted writing allows the creative side of your brain to supersede the analytical, critical side. The gems have the opportunity to form and fall onto the page.

Writing through pain

This is important for professional writers, of course, in order for them to hone their craft – or any creative soul, for that matter – but it is also vital to us in everyday life. We can use the shaking up to remember, to uncover deep beliefs, and hidden dreams, and to heal.

Writing about our personal traumas has been proven to aid in the healing process. Seeing the images and feelings associated with our painful experiences actually changes the way the brain processes and understands the memory. This allows us to get past it. By writing about whatever slips from the tip of your pen you will eventually uncover the “nuggets” of your pain.

Look around you right now. What do you see? A book on the table. A toy on the floor. A banana. Coffee cup. Whatever it is, write about it. You may start with the snow-covered car outside the window and end up in your aunt’s living room or in the library at college. Wherever you go, go with it. Go there. Enjoy the ride. Shake it all loose and discover those nuggets.

Connecting hand with mind and heart

Writing… digested our sorrow, dissolved and integrated our inner rigidity, and let us move on. I don’t even remember what we wrote about. It didn’t matter. The effort of forming words, physically connecting hand with mind and heart, and then having the freedom to read aloud transformed us.— Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

I read this quote last night just before falling asleep. Dreams began almost immediately – so immediately I wondered if I was hallucinating instead of sleeping. I can only describe the vision as an elliptic flash of lights, racing back and forth between my head and my hand. Its meaning was obvious: There is electricity when one engages the hand in tune with the head and heart, just as Natalie said.

There is also healing.

Prompt:

My mind is saying…

My heart wants to say…

You can set yourself a time limit (say 10 minutes) or write for as long as you need to.

Jour du Journal: Let me hear your body talk!

Dialoguing with your body aches and pains to heal the past.

Yesterday I had my very first massage. It was only a short one, a chair massage at a wellness fair. But in that 5 minutes the masseuse was able to tell me that I “ran cold” and that I’m “tightly strung.” Yup (brrr!) and YUP (just ask my kids if I’m tightly strung!).

Today I have been trying to keep my shoulders down and back, but I have been holding myself in a protective stance for so many years that my body has adopted this position as the norm. I’m not even aware that I am tensed up until I unclench my shoulders and find they are able to go down at least an inch. It’s like in so many novels I read where the character doesn’t even realize he is holding his breath until he lets it out.

Like a tree, our history is etched in our centers. Our bodies hold our traumas, our illness, our emotions. At some point in my past I felt the need to protect myself and so my shoulders came up and forward in a pathetic attempt at keeping vulnerability at bay. And so now, although I may not longer feel so vulnerable as I did as that scared child, my body is in the habit of trying to protect me. Massage therapists, energy healers, and other body-spirit specialists understand this and help us undo the messages of the past by loosening and expelling the hurts of the body.

How can writing also help unwrite the messages of the past? First the past has to be acknowledged. Find the pain and talk to it.

For today’s journal exercise, I want to you to think about where in your body you feel pain. Or, like in my case where I currently have no physical pain, relax each part of your body area by area to see where you are most tense. If you have to work to relax it, it was too tense!

Now, take that part (or those parts) of your body and have a chat with it. So, for example, I would write something like:

Me: Hey Shoulders! Why you so het up? Always hanging out near my ears…

Now let your body “answer.”

Shoulders: To keep you safe. Protect you…

This may feel silly at first but just keep writing and your inner knowledge will come out if you give it time. Ask why. Explore all the reasons you might be “sore” in body and spirit. Work on your body, work on your mind, together they will help each other heal.