Stop striving. Start listening.

This is a follow-up to this post: On a mission (statement)
credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

I’ve written of Serendipity and Synchronicity before. There have been many examples of it in my life, such as the time two women showed up to one of my workshops out of the blue. It “just happened” that these two women were from the very organization I had been trying to connect with the previous week but from whom I had, frustratingly, received no response. Turned out they had never received my email, but had picked up one of my brochures and felt my work was perfect for their organization.

These occurrences always seem to happen right after I have had an emotional break-down of epic proportions. Crying. Blubbering about giving up. Despairing. Wondering how I will ever make things work.

You see, I forget. Every. Single. Time: I can’t make things work. I get caught up in trying too hard, striving, driving to do and be more. Without even realizing it I do this. It’s an unconscious thing.

Instead, I have to remember to allow things to happen organically. I have to be open to possibilities. And above all, I must be authentic and truthful with myself.

So, here is the latest series of synchronous events.

First, I have been trying to find work in a particular industry for a while. Reason being: it seemed the only possibility for any real money. However, even as I was pursuing it my gut was saying to my brain, “Hey, up there! I’m not so sure about this!” But I kept pushing anyway.

One meeting that made me feel a little ill, then another. But still I put together proposals and hoped for the best.

Then, one day, during a writing exercise (as described here), I realized I had it all wrong. This wasn’t what I wanted to do. Instead I created a new mission statement.

As soon as I did that, I felt clearer.

And things began to happen.

1. The director of an art center asked me if I’d like to teach a summer workshop for teen girls. As my graduate research was focused on the loss of voice experienced by girls at adolescence and how expressive writing can help reclaim it, this is a perfect fit for me. I put together a proposal (one that didn’t prompt my stomach to yell at my brain).

2. During a conversation around this same time, someone pondered if my work might be a good fit for enrichment classes in independent schools, for which this person had quite a few connections. I thought “That sounds exciting. Maybe so…” and filed the idea away. Until…

3. While putting together the art center’s summer class proposal I was asking for some wording input from parents of teen girls. This prompted one mother to suggest I put in a proposal for an enrichment class at her daughter’s independent school. Because I already had a proposal in the works, I was able to tweak it and send it off immediately.

4. Because I now had a proposal specific to an enrichment class I could now contact the person who had suggested enrichment classes to me the previous weekend and say, “Hey, hook me up with your connections!” That person asked if I had a flier she could give out. Well…

5. I had that very day been designing one. As soon as I created my new mission statement a couple of weeks ago, I had decided I needed to put together a new flier. With this additional, potential audience in mind I re-worked it slightly and soon it will go to print.

6. Meanwhile, I discovered a conference, for which I registered, is coming to a neighboring town focused on mentoring young women, and I was just asked, thanks to a recommendation from a wellness director at one college, to run my intro to journaling workshop for students at another college.

Trust. It is a difficult, difficult thing to do, especially when the bills are piling up and walls seem more numerous than open doors. But I believe it is these walls and road blocks that signal you’re not on quite the right path, often it’s close to the right one, but if it’s slightly off, you will get the message. The Universe likes focused aim with the target being your authentic passion.

Eve Ensler said in one video (I apologize I’m not sure which one), and I paraphrase: Happiness is action… and giving away what you want the most.

I felt silenced as a young girl (and not so young) woman/person. I want to be heard. I want a voice. This is what I want to give to other people. Once I articulated what it was I wanted and needed and really heard myself say it then things began to click into place.

I have no idea where, if anywhere, any of these recent events will lead, but it feels like a step forward through an open door, instead of trying to smash through a wall.

Prompt: I’m trying too hard to… What I really want to do is…

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A Path to Publication, part 2: When the time is right

“What do I really want to do?” I asked my journal.

“Finish your book!” it replied.

“Yes,” I exhaled in recognition of Truth. “I do want to do that.”

The Universe said, “OK, then!” And the Serendipities and Synchronicities began.

Within hours, two conferences popped up in my Facebook feed, one weekend-long one dedicated specifically to my genre, and another on writing pitches, queries, and book proposals — all those things that scared the bejeezus outta me — scheduled in my hometown. I sign up for both, thanks to the bigger-than-expected tax refund that came shortly thereafter.

I email some author and editor acquaintances of mine, asking for their advice. The responses are incredibly helpful.*

Then an opportunity for the summer suddenly presents itself which means I will only have myself to look after… no meals to prepare or piles of laundry to wade through. My editor OKs a sub for my columns for a few weeks. I have been given the precious gift of TIME.

At the first of the writing conferences I learn wonderful things* that give me new confidence in my ability to pursue publication. AND I learn there is a “Meet the Agents” event scheduled 90 minutes drive from me exactly at the end of the time-period I have scheduled to take off to work on the book.

One of my workshop participants said this yesterday:

Sometimes I feel like I’m just driving down a highway and I have no idea where I am or where I’m going. But then, suddenly, boom! there’s an exit and where I want to be is right there!

Well, I feel like I just found my exit. My journey is just started though but at least I know which way I’m going now. For that I am most grateful.

* In my next post I will share some of the gems I learned from authors and editors.

To read snippets of my memoir, click hereI will be adding more as this journey progresses.

Again with the Tension?! (Or, It’s OK not to know)

It’s happened again. An old theme has come circling around, adding another new level of understanding.

June 2009: I wrote this post on a different blog, which I then re-posted here in July 2011. This is the gist: During a Journal Therapy training I wrote (well, it kind of wrote itself while I held the pen) an Alphapoem which included the phrase, “Resume the Stability of Tension.” Not knowing what the hell that meant, I played with it for a while using other writing exercises. Then a few weeks later I was provided with the answer while reading Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest:

… you need to envision a lifeline between [where you are and where you want to go]. It needs to be tense, like a tightrope, something you can walk along. The necessity for tension requires we develop a different attitude about tension: this is creative tension. Creative tension is what creates the path. When we lose tension, we wander without focus (my bolding). We have to decide over and over again to stay close to the tension, to walk the wire.

In response I wrote:

I was wandering without focus. I was trying to split myself between a job that was sucking the life out of me and the longing to pursue a writing/teacher career… [but] I choose to put my Longing back in charge. Together we will walk the high wire of creativity – up where Potential and the Higher Self lives.

And so I went on my way. Two years later, I am writing, teaching and learning amazing, life-changing things.

Today: I pick up the copy of Marion Woodman’s Leaving My Father’s House: A Journey to Conscious Femininity, and casually flip to a page. I read this:

Knowing [the eternal feminine] has nothing to do with blindly stumbling toward a fate we think we cannot avoid. It has everything to do with developing consciousness until it is strong enough to hold tension as creative energy.”

Having read a lot about the Sacred Feminine or Feminine Divine (or in pure psychological terms, the feminine aspects in both men and women, or our more Right-Brain-associated functions), it is that part of us that can deal with mystery, with the not-knowing, ambiguity, paradox, contradiction, irrationality, possibility… i.e. what creates art  – or stresses us completely out!

Personally, I don’t deal well with Not Knowing. It makes me tense, as it does many people. We like answers, truth, predictability, logic. We are, after-all, a predominantly and proudly Left-Brained culture. Woodman’s use of the word “tense” in the above quote reminded me of that kind of tension, the stress kind. The kind we are told is not good, the kind not to sweat. But here she is telling us that Not Knowing, that being tense, is a way to produce creative energy.

And doesn’t that make sense? We can only come up with new ideas, create new possibilities, think outside that proverbial box, if we don’t have an answer already, if we are not concretely certain and convinced and determined that we already have The Truth. No great change, no great art, no great invention, no discovery, no shift towards better was ever made by those who already had The Answer.

And so, two and a half years after writing that strange phrase and then having been given The Answer, I am given Another Answer, on the surface contradictory but equally good, equally empowering. The one does not exclude the other, they can live side-by-side, providing me with new possibilities of thought.

“Resume the Stability of Tension” = Only a tense rope (a focused life) will carry you forward, and it is only when letting go of what you think you know that you can move forward. It is OK –  indeed good – not to know.

Maybe next week, next year, tomorrow, I’ll be offered another equally truthful meaning of the poem that was given to me…

Prompt: “It is a contradiction, but equally true, that…

P.S. Just hours after publishing this post I picked up where I had left off in the other book I am reading, The Chalice and the Blade and read this:

tension between pairs as well as opposite is a frequent theme. The dynamism of nature and its periodic rejuvenation through the seeming opposites of death and birth… unity and the duality of life and death… motherhood and virginity… femininity and masculinity… juxtaposition and essential unity of the creative and destructive powers… this [is the] all-encompassing transformative character of the … ‘goddess of opposites.'”

Tolerating Fear

This is a recycled post from a couple of years ago. With summer in full , hot swing, the kids are home most days of the week leaving me very little chance to write (the beach and my laptop aren’t great friends). I am yearning to write but when I do have a moment I find myself wading through the ever-deeper seas of social media promoting upcoming workshops instead. 

I have chosen this post because of some particular events this week. One: I truly wrote through some fear in my journal – and came out not only unscathed on the other side but feeling much better; and Two, Three and Four: Some amazing things have landed in my lap this week that I wasn’t even looking for after I stopped worrying about, well,  EVERYTHING! Fear is a crazy, life-blocking thing and it’s time to stomp it on the head. I have written many posts about Fear and over the next little while I will re-post them (Recycling is Good!).

Oh, and P.S. Two years later my daughter is a fabulous belly-dancer (I can boast about my own child, right?) and the only one in her class who can balance a sword on her head while standing on one foot! Fear conquered!

“First recognize that you’re afraid and slowly build your tolerance for fear…

… You may still feel it, but you become willing to bear it as you write. You keep your hand moving, you stay there, you move closer and closer to the edge of what scares you.” – Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

I have been working on an article for the past couple of months. It’s a biggie for me – the first one for one of the “Glossys” – and I am petrified. First I had to write the query and that scared the bejeezus outta me. But I wrote it and it was accepted. Toe in water. But now I have to swim, and swim damn well. The fear of writing something mediocre and having it rejected has me swearing never to call myself a writer again. I admit I am afraid that I’m not really a writer.

My daughter starts a belly dancing class tonight but she’s scared. What if they don’t like me? What if they laugh at me? It hurts my belly when I hula-hoop – won’t this hurt too? What if I can’t do it right? I try to convince her that everyone has to start somewhere (and sometimes hurt somewhere, like those en pointe ballet dancers who suffer through bloody toes for the love of their craft). I ask her, do you really want to not try this just in case you will have a bad experience? Why are you scared about something you don’t even know about yet?

Um, Mom? Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth? Maybe you need to be having this pep talk with yourself!

Natalie Goldberg was of course referring to writing in the above quote, but isn’t there a message for us all, for our life?  Get close to fear and experience it, feel it. Splash around in it. Like the ocean, its chill eventually becomes tolerable, even enjoyable. Run into a cold sea enough times and you get to know it will get better. Fear turns to “Frust” (faith + trust). And once you have faith there can be no fear.

Recently I experienced some Serendipity that slapped Fear right out the door and allowed Faith back in.

Anxiety and exhaustion over self-promotion, high-achievement, perfectionism, and self-doubt found me standing at the sink blubbering what-ifs over the dirty dishes. The lack of response from one particular cold contact and my insatiable need to save the world ten workshops at a time had triggered the melt-down. I was overwhelmed by all the possibilities and by my own potential to make a difference. What if I was missing opportunities to help people by not following up on every collaboration suggestion? Was I failing at my work by not contacting all the non-profits in town? It was suddenly all too much.

The networking and marketing was taking too much time and producing far too much stress. My name and work was getting known. So, I decided to let it go. To let people come to me.

And they did.

Four days later two lovely ladies walked in to the coffee shop where I was running an informal writing circle. They were from the very non-profit that had unintentionally instigated my fears. And the most amazing thing is that they weren’t there because they had received my email but just because they had seen my brochure somewhere and thought my work would be a good fit for one of their projects.

As I write my article for the “Glossy” I am thoroughly submerging myself in the Fear of it not being good enough. As I slowly let go and just write for the pure joy of writing and spreading my message, the Fear becomes more tolerable and starts to feel a little more like “Frust.” I have to trust that I do have talent and something important to say, and the faith to know that even if the article is rejected it is not a personal failure – rather a lesson for the next time.

Prompt: What are you afraid of? What are you willing to tolerate in order to move to a place of acceptance and growth?

 


Resume the Stability of Tension

This is a post from a couple of years ago. I am re-posting it because this phrase – Resume the Stability of Tension – keeps popping back into my mind lately. Although I am in a completely different life situation now (I left my job very soon after this post and started grad school a year later), I am paying attention to it. The “naggings” of our unconscious are important to listen to, they hold messages.

~~~

[June 18, 2009] A couple of weeks ago I attended a seminar by my journal-writing/therapy mentor, Kathleen Adams. At the time I was at the height of my distress over my job. The idea of a whole day writing and learning more about journal techniques from ‘the master’ had momentarily calmed and uplifted me. Then Kay asked us to finish the following statement, “Right now in my life..”

I wrote frantically for five minutes. It poured out of me. After the writing sprint we were asked to write a sentence or two of feedback to ourselves: “As I read this I notice…” This personal feedback was what we shared with the group (if we chose). I told them that although I was calm before the write I was now a nervous wreck! I had traded a relaxed attitude for hunched shoulders and a stomach of jumping beans. Kay told me I might want to explore this in an exercise we would be doing in the afternoon.

At lunch Kay and I shared a table, and the conversation – which was intended to be about my upcoming journal workshops – became a mini therapy session. I was still shaky and Kay, being the experienced therapist that she is, asked me all the right questions. The word “loyalty” came up.

That afternoon, Kay told the group about Alpha Poems. I was already familiar with them as they were a fun portion of my workshop training. I chose to do a poem based on the word Loyalty. Here’s what came out:

Limits myself, always
Open, always
Yes, never no
Attitude
Limits the way I go
Take the road to
YOU

Wanting to play some more I chose to do a poem using the entire alphabet.

Always
Bending to others
Cutting out the
Day to
Everyone but me
Favoring
Goodness
Hating
Irresponsibility
Judging myself
Knowing how
Loyalty is my
Mantra
No one is happy
Open the door
Pursue the
Quest
Resume the
Stability of
Tension
Undo the
Values
(e)Xplore
Yourself

I didn’t think about what word or phrase would come next, it just happened. I didn’t even know what word I was going to write until I began writing it. It is a magical thing!

Anyway, the phrase that immediately jumped out at me was the strange, “Resume the Stability of Tension.” Now, I am a tense person and in my experience, that is not a good thing. I have even taken drugs for it. Hubby frequently asks me in utter frustration as he runs out of door 15 minutes before he needs to, why it has to be “so tense around here in the mornings?” I couldn’t put my finger on what it meant, exactly, but I loved the sound of that phrase and had a feeling it had something important to tell me. I played with the idea in my journal, even wrote more alpha poems around it. Still not knowing how to decipher its meaning, I decided it would be my new mantra.

Then a couple of days ago, I read this in Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion:

… you need to envision a lifeline between [where you are and where you want to go]. It needs to be tense, like a tightrope, something you can walk along. The necessity for tension requires we develop a different attitude about tension: this is creative tension. Creative tension is what creates the path. When we lose tension, we wander without focus (my bolding). We have to decide over and over again to stay close to the tension, to walk the wire.

I was wandering without focus. I was trying to split myself between a job that was sucking the life out of me and the longing to pursue a writing/teacher career that was “dragging me about” (again, I quote Christina Baldwin; she *is* me). I needed to Resume the Tension (Focus) to gain Stability.

I put loyalty to my boss and my job aside and I chose to put my longing back in charge. Together we will walk the high wire of creativity – up where Potential and the Higher Self lives.

When opportunity knocks… and hands you a gift

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

Yesterday I received a card through the mail. Inside was a magnet that read: “When opportunity knocks don’t be the one who says, ‘Can somebody get that?'”

This gift was from Kay Adams, founder and director of the Center for Journal Therapy, and it represents a bigger gift which she gave me when she called out of the blue two weeks ago. And, ultimately, it turned out to be a far greater gift than I could have imagined.

Gift #1: Honor and Validation

Three days before the workshop was scheduled to begin, Kay called me to ask if I could substitute for her and teach “Writing Inner Wisdom: Spiritual Growth through Journal Writing” at Kripalu Yoga Center in Stockbridge, MA. Due to a family emergency she could not attend and wondered if I could take her place. What an honor! To be asked to teach in place of this brilliant woman, an inspirational and informative teacher, successful author, and compassionate counselor and facilitator was beyond any dream I had for myself. (However, I had dreamed of teaching at Kripalu, but as a possibility many years down the road…).  What validation of my own path!

Gift #2: A visit to Kripalu

I won’t go into the wonders of Kripalu here, that deserves a post all of its own (stay tuned). But suffice it to say: What a place! If the showers were hotter I might just go live there.

Gift #3: Connection

My weekend spent with 12 beautiful women, sitting in a circle, writing, listening, sharing, crying, laughing… connecting, was the gift I did not anticipate, but by far the most precious.  The serendipities and synchronicities that bought the 13 of us together in themselves were amazing (again, you’ll have to wait for that post) and I have no doubt that this weekend was given to me as part of my own journey of healing.

Gift #4: Belief

When Kay first called me, I couldn’t breathe as I choked on the deluge of inner critics screaming, “YOU CAN’T DO THAT! YOU’RE NOT CAPABLE!” But my Authentic Self knew I could. And Intuition knew this was the opportunity I had been (unknowingly) waiting for. I do believe that the passion and underlying self-belief in the work I do and the powerful benefits of this field has opened doors I didn’t know where there. So I answered the knock. Yes, I was afraid! Afraid of so many possible unknowns. But I didn’t say, “Can somebody get that?” And that was the gift I gave to myself.

Thank you, Kay, thank you, All. For a greater gift.

Prompt: It was a gift within a gift when…

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


It is connections that heal

Since I began grad school last August I have been particularly awe-struck by the twins, Synchronicity and Serendipity. Connections everywhere! Seemingly unrelated events, conversations, books, memories, people have suddenly fallen together like perfectly synchronized cogs. My life paths and how they have led to where I am and what I am doing today is the most amazing and surprising of all.

This past week I have been thinking about some pretty deep things regarding God, Godde (thanks to Margaret Starbird), Goddess, Spirit. I was trying to wrap my head around my what I am learning from my independent study and pinning it down to nice clean thesis statement. Not an easy task when I have so many more questions than statements (other than “wow! I never thought of that!”). I won’t attempt to explain some of my thought processes (have to leave something for the book) but while mind-mapping I stumbled upon this idea:

It is CONNECTIONS that heal.

Think about it: Connection with those you love, the touch of a mother connecting to a newborn, the new connections made in the brain each time we learn something new (and that researchers tell us help keep us mentally alert as we age), that intangible inner glow we feel when connecting with nature, a relationship with a higher power, connecting with ourselves during some precious alone time, or the resonance we feel when we read/hear/write something that we connect with on a deeper level.

And then there’s the research of emotions and language. It has been shown by scientists and psychologists such as Eugene Gendlin and Dr. James Pennebaker, that it is (only?) when we connect language, either written or spoken, to our feelings (emotions and sensations) that we get a feeling of resolution and so can begin to heal from traumas or emotional upheavals.

It is said we are not islands. No, we are more like the icebergs or delicate coral reefs: connected and part of a far-reaching eco-system, most of it hidden but supporting much life. And it is only when we acknowledge our connections that we can become personally Whole and part of the universal Whole. Maybe this is what it means to be Holy?

Prompt: What connections in your life have healed/helped you?

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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.