It’s spontaneous, baby!: Writing that changes you

When someone asks me what I do I often have a hard time saying what that is. Well, that’s not exactly true — I can tell you aaaall about it if you’re ready to settle in for a chat. My work, the type of writing workshops I facilitate, as I’ve written about before, cannot be easily squeezed into a neatly labeled box.

I just returned from the Transformative Language Arts Network‘s Power of Words Conference held at Unity Village, MO, near Kansas City. There I gathered with my people, my tribe, brother and sister artists who sculpt emotions into words and words into images — poets, playwrights, singers, storytellers, essayists, novelists, journal writers, facilitators — anyone who uses words as agents of change — social, political, or personal change.

Although we all have different stories to tell and different ways to tell them, we have one thing in common: we know — because we’ve experienced it — the power of words.

Which brings me back to labeling my work. Now, thanks to a beautiful soul named Miss Annola, I have this powerfully descriptive word to more accurately explain what I do.

On the second morning of the conference, the 90 or so attendees huddled up into “talking circles” where we discussed whatever popped up. Annola told us about her writing group back home, which she called it a “Spontaneous Writing Group,” meaning they wrote together in the group from a prompt. I thought, that’s it! I facilitate spontaneous writing groups! 

In the light of all the powerful ways words can be beneficial — evoking emotional resonance to form personal connections between people, creating new stories to live by, transforming painful memories to heal old wounds, teaching and learning and understanding new information, tapping into innate wisdom and creativity, finding your own voice —  getting excited about the power of new label for what I do may seem more about branding. But I do believe spontaneity is the key to any transformative writing.

Julia Cameron calls it out-running the censor, Anne LaMott calls it writing the shitty first draft, and Natalie Goldberg calls it writing down the bones. It’s writing without stopping, without concerning yourself with what you’re writing or how you’re writing it (perfectionism does not belong here!). You’re just writing. Connecting head to heart to hand (to use another Natalie phrase) to get to the core of it, the kernels of truth, the gems of universal wisdom.

On the last day of the TLA conference, in a wonderful workshop called “Change Your Story, Transform Your Life,” led by Jenifer Strauss, we were asked to write down words or memories or items that immediately came to us when looking at a certain question. Then we had to pick just one of those, the one that most “spoke” to us in that moment. Using our choices we built the foundation of a story.

It was in the spontaneity that we discovered what we most needed to write about in that moment. 

And this is what I do in my own workshops. I ask you to trust the pen and trust yourself. Trust that in that moment you will write what needs to be written, what wants to be expressed. While it may not be your best writing — that comes later after you’ve sifted through and found the gems (yet another Natalie-ism), and are ready to start the revision process — writing spontaneously, getting out of your own way, before your censor tells you you’re doing it wrong, is how you’ll discover your voice and the story it’s longing and needing to tell.

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The Path to Publication, part 7: Brewing questions

What is it ABOUT?

It’s been almost exactly a year since my graduate thesis and creative project was approved by my advisors. It has had time to mellow. Or ferment?

Was I afraid it had fermented so much that it would explode when I took it from its box buried in the closet? What on earth had me so afraid that I would rather do anything — I mean, anything; I even went out and scooped up the dog’s piles of do-do — than sit down and start on this project? You know, the one I am so ready to do? “That’s what I want to do!” I said.

Well, I know, really: FEAR OF FAILURE (perfectionism) and/or SUCCESS (imposter syndrome or “What if that’s all I had in me? What then?”) But that’s a topic for another day… (although I have written a lot about fear before as well as little about the fear of success.)

But finally after a lot of procrastination in the form of house-cleaning, binge Orange is the New Black watching, and justified-as-research memoir reading, and yes, dog-poop-clearing, I finally picked up my manuscript. (And then I wrote this blog post as an additional justifiable procrastination method.)

So far I have only read the memoir section. I have to admit I’m pretty happy with what I read. That is, in Part I. It’s more complete than I remembered and I don’t think it will need a whole lot of editing. Part II, however, is a different story. Literally.

In that section I am telling a very different story than I was in the first part, which is the telling of certain childhood memories. Part II is an existential exploration into the ineffable. It has no structure as it was a recording of what I was experiencing while I was writing my memoir and doing research into the worlds of myth, women’s development and spirituality, and psychology. It is as fragmented as I felt at that time as I was attempting to connect of the dots of ME.

So, in order to gain some focus for my next steps I have challenged myself to answer some questions about my book.

1. What is my story about? What is the question I am asking?

2. In my story, what do I (the author, main character) want/need?

3. What is the obstacle to what I want/need?

4. How do I get over this obstacle?

5. How do I change in the process? What do I learn?

6. What am I teaching others through my story? What information do I hope to relay? What personal learning speaks to the universal? WHY am I telling this story?

I am hoping that as I answer these questions, I will gain insight into the true reason for my story; what it needs to say, not what I think I want it to say.

 

To read snippets of my memoir, “Leaving Fundamentalism in Search of  Voice,” click here.

 

 

 

 

 

W.O.R.D.S: God, Goddess, Godde (or Cleaning up Pee)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): An alphabetical search for questions.*

Granted, it’s easy to live connected to the Source when the sky is

Open and the sun is shining, and the flowers bright. But when life

Dumps reality on your head a hundred times a day…

Damn it!

Every day is a lesson in remembering what we so easily forget.

I’m a mother. I’m more familiar with bodily fluids, especially little boy pee, than I ever could have imagined. This past week as I was down on my knees once again wiping up my son’s attempt at aim, I thought:

I’m more than this!

There’s a question that has been nagging at me for a while: How can one be spiritually-minded — in the moment, at one with The All … however you personally choose to define it — when there is all this life?

Oh, I’ve heard it before: Make folding laundry a meditation, pick up those little stinky socks like its a service of love for the greater good, pay the bills with non-existent money as an invitation for more “wealth” to come your way.

When you’ve bent down for the 9th time in 5 minutes to pick up another red, plastic foot-lancet, when the bug hits when the deadline is looming, when the officer is at the meter at precisely the moment the time expires, you’re not exactly ready to come over all Rumi.

In Christian circles, such as the one in which I was raised, any sadness, overwhelm, despair, frustration, anger… any “negative” emotion, was a clear indication of one’s lack of faith. “Pray harder,” “Take it to God,” “Ye of little faith…” In non-Christian, new(old)-age circles, this attitude tends to manifest in language such as not living in the moment enough, not mindful enough. “Just pray!” becomes “Just meditate!”

I rebel against this attitude. I don’t find it helpful because it feels like just another reason to feel bad about one’s “imperfect” self; that I’m not trying hard enough, that I’m not enough. But I am human after all, and I am going to get frustrated at life’s little annoyances.

And to those who will say, meditation/praying does work: I know this. Journaling, creating mandalas, walking are my forms of meditation and they do calm me. But I do not want to feel I am not doing it enough or right, or that if I was doing it better I wouldn’t feel the way I do. That demeans my feelings, my emotions. I refuse to judge my emotions.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to feel calmer, less anxious, less angry, and less grossed out by yellow-stained bathroom floors. And that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer to live knowing I’m part of a bigger purpose; part of a bigger Something, a pulse in an energy with which we are all vibrating.

If I could know, really know, in my deepest depths that I am connected to everyone and everything on and around this planet, both living and beyond, would that late payment charge bother me? I really can’t say.

Source, spirit, god, goddess, godde, nirvana, transcendence, love… these, in my opinion, are all one-in-the same: something one can experience. That opening of the heart when one realizes we are all connected. It can happen, it does happen, to some more than others. It is what makes us part of the divine.

But what makes us human is the constant forgetfulness that keeps us asking questions, keeps us on our toes… and in the end makes even cleaning up pee an opportunity to laugh at our human inability to aim correctly all the time.

Prompt: “I always forget…”

~~~
*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)

W.O.R.D.S.: Enough (or Be a snake!)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): A weekly alphabetical search for questions.*

Expectations hurt us most

Never reaching that standard

Of perfection, which is smoke on the horizon.

Under every self-bashing thought

Glides a snake of venomous fear. Instead,

Hold it tight until it can molt into the newness of Enough.

~

I once heard someone say, if a snake tried to shrug its skin before its time, it would die. Wherever you are along your journey, whatever you are doing right now – as long as it is authentic to your true nature – it is right. Eventually you will be able to shrug off the “skin” which is keeping you alive right now allowing transformation to your next stage in life.

Almost three years ago, I assisted the author of Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore and his wife, Hari Kirin Khalsa at their weekend workshop at Kripalu Yoga and Education Center in Lenox, MA, From Religion to Spirituality.

At one point during an arduous meditation where my outstretched and circling arms were screaming, Khalsa said something that I needed to hear.

Do what you can, whatever it is, it is perfect. Even if you just imagine yourself doing it, it is exactly right.

Release Expectation!

Whatever you have is enough to give.

Whatever happens is enough.

For a perfectionist like me, trained as Marlene Winell in Leaving the Fold said fundamentalist Christians often are, these were true words of potential healing that I continue to struggle with every day.

Prompt: In this moment, I am enough.

~~~
*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project: Calling (Or, how do I know my bliss?)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): A weekly alphabetical search for questions.*

Can you hear the calling of your soul?

And are you really listening?

Listen, listen with your heart,

Listen with your breathing

In, and your breathing out.

Notice how your body feels when

Guiding words vibrate within.

“It was his calling to be a doctor.” “Midwifery is my calling.” “I was called to be a writer.”

Our calling. What does this really mean? And who’s calling?

Some would say it is God who is calling us to our destined path. Well, maybe so – if you believe God is happy to let you do whatever it is that sets your soul free and your spirit soaring. Unfortunately, some believe that those things that make a person happy and fulfilled are contrary to God’s will and so they stunt their own potential in pursuit of unclear message of what it is to be acceptable to God.

That’s not my idea of a divine, higher source of wisdom. For me, divinity IS the journey towards, the search for,  as well as that itself which brings us FLOW (when we lose time doing something we love and have a talent for – our gift). It is the quest for, and the experiences of, transcending the monkey-mind of ego; that place where we are challenged, yet loving it (even during the difficult spots).

We know what these experiences are, what activities can bring us to that place, but we don’t always know it. Contradiction? Not really. Deep, deep inside, in that place that resonates when we hear and recognize some innate truth — when we catch our breath, or our eyes suddenly smart with tears — that is the place of true, gnosis: Knowing

But, as humans in a head-mind “body,” we’re not very good at accessing that spot on a regular basis. It’s deep down there in the body. In our cells, not our thinking mind. We have to listen very carefully to connect to that place. And many times we’re doing everything except that which resonates, that which causes us to flow  beyond, below, and above our critical, fearful, rational ego that tells us we SHOULD be doing this, that, and anything else that will make us respectful, scripted members of society – perfectly.

But that place is calling. That place which knows what your Purpose — our Bliss — here on earth is calling out. And if you listen carefully, very carefully — and it might take some practice, a lot of “walking” around down there — you will hear your Higher Wisdom speaking to you, reminding you what you probably knew intuitively as a child: Your Calling.

So, who’s calling? You. Divine You.

I write this as a reminder to myself because my “calling” has become a little hoarse lately. I thought I knew — and I know I’m on the right path — but the exact destination (or journey, because life is a journey, not a destination) seems to have shifted. But that’s how this thing works: Listen, take a step, listen again, take another, sometimes in the opposite direction than you thought. And that is exactly perfect. Whatever step you take it is enough and right for today for tomorrow you can take another.

~~~

*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)

Authentic Voice Project: P, Q, R is for Perfection reQuires Release

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

The Authentic Voice Project: Week 18 (New Moon)

P, Q, R is for Perfection reQuires Release

(Six weeks behind… I’m playing catch up on this one!)

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

― Albert Einstein

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

― Thomas A. Edison

IN THIS MOMENT, I AM ENOUGH

There is no such thing as Perfection. Planning on perfection means failure. Guaranteed. You’ll never get there. Perfectionism stunts growth. If nothing is ever tried, nothing, truly, is never gained. But our society is not a big fan of failure. Despite all the quotes by the “Successful,” like those above, telling us otherwise, we still seem to believe that making a mistake is the epitome of failure, from which there is no return. And so the carrot of perfection doesn’t prompt us forward, it stops us in our tracks, destined to sit in the dust of those who braved the unknown path ahead.

Ours is a culture built on the (religious/patriarchal) concept of dualism. Black or white thinking: With us or against us; Us or Them; Good girl or Bad girl; Right or Wrong; Good or Evil; Heaven or Hell; God or Satan; Fail or Succeed. Perfection is a goal in this type of thinking, with Perfection being the Truth. There is no room for in-betweens, for questions, for learning by mistake.

Yes, we can strive for the best – YOUR best. That is your perfection, not someone else’s definition of it. Working towards – practicing – your Potential and the instant gratification of societal “Success” are two very different things. And in order to journey towards, to go on a quest for, your own idea of perfect, you must RELEASE. Let go. Question.

Release all expectations. Release certainty. Release fear. Release discomfort. Release those voices in your head which are not your own. Release debilitating perfectionism. Ask yourself what is your truth. Change “Perfect” to “Enough.”

Whether you are suffering writers’ block, fear of failure, or even fear of success, as you step out of what has been the status quo, know that you are learning and in this moment, you are enough.

Prompt: I am learning to…

Photo credit: blondieb38 from morguefile.com

The Value of Doing Nothing

I have sat down to write multiple times this week to no avail. I’m just spinning my wheels. Maybe I’m just distracted by the gifts in the closet that are one game of hide-and-seek away from being discovered. Maybe it’s the sudden smack of brutal cold temperatures. The drafts snaking under the 100 year old front door and window casings make sitting long enough to type anything a test of endurance. Or maybe it’s the stare of that deformed limbed thing in the corner which is masquerading as a Christmas tree – this year’s answer to the justification question of buying a cut-off-at-the-knees tree for the price of a cart of groceries.

Yup, that’s my excuse and I’m stickin’ to it.

As of 3:30PM today the Christmas break begins and unless I shove the kids off to Grandma’s there will be no work happening here until January. I keep saying to myself, no one is MAKING you write your blog or Examiner.com articles. Give yourself a break! But here’s the thing: I’m here at home not earning a penny, a penny that might have gone towards a tree that doesn’t look like something out of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I feel a certain responsibility to do what I am here to do – write, even if there are no pennies rolling my way for doing it… yet.

It’s hard for me to sit still. I don’t mean physically sit still because that I’m great at! What I mean is, I always feel compelled to be doing something constructive. I put these expectations on myself. Hardly anyone reads this blog but if I go a few days without posting something I start hearing my inner boss-lady clearing her throat. My Examiner articles are earning me literally pennies a day and I wonder on a daily basis if it is worth my time. But then my ambitious student-self who insisted on pursuing an Honors degree instead of just a plain ol’ BA reminds me I should not give up on something that could be helpful in the future, and more importantly, helpful to others. An essay written for a contest was almost abandoned also as I weighed the chances of actually winning. But finish and submit it I did because I am a writer and that is what writers do, win or not!

What I have a hard time remembering is that sometimes it is the spaces in between work that prompt true inspiration. It will be in those moments when I am sitting still (or with journal in hand), when the brain is turned off that the magic will happen.

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

Alan Alexander Milne (1882 – 1956)
Source: Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A. A. Milne

All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.

I have to to give myself to permission to stop.

Calm your brain. Meditate. Doodle in your journal. Pet the cat. Take a shower. Mindless tasks can have the same effect. Even folding laundry or mopping the floor, if done without the pressure of a time limit or while thinking of all the other things you have to do, can de-stress and re-inspire you.

So, if you don’t hear from me for a while just know I am getting re-inspired by doing absolutely nothing! Ahhhh!