Don’t Be Tossed Away.

Don't Be Tossed Away

“Don’t be tossed away by your monkey mind. You say you want to do something—“I really want to be a writer”—then that little voice comes along, “but I might not make enough money as a writer.” “Oh, okay, then I won’t write.” That’s being tossed away. These little voices are constantly going to be nagging us. If you make a decision to do something, you do it. Don’t be tossed away. But part of not being tossed away is understanding your mind, not believing it so much when it comes up with all these objections and then loads you with all these insecurities and reasons not to do something.”               ~ Natalie Goldberg

 

This is one of the first lessons I learned from Natalie Goldberg when I read her books then studied with her. But it is only recently that I feel I have really absorbed that lesson. It is only recently that I feel that I live that lesson.

I rarely allow myself to be tossed away now that I have decided to show up daily to my writing, to my mind through meditation. She is right. We must become intimate with the way our minds work and see monkey mind for what it is.

Part of me deeply regrets that I resisted meditating for SO long. At the retreat with Goldberg, she basically said it is the one true secret to writing and that while she din’t make it mandatory, she highly encouraged us to show up to the early morning meditation before the activities began for the day.

I blew off the meditation. I slept instead.

And as I write that, I realize I mean it literally ( I slept in) and figuratively. I slept through much of my life, allowing monkey mind to be in charge. Believing the stories it churned out and boy, did it churn out some doozies.

Those stories tossed me away.

Tossed me away from the page.

From the stories I yearned to tell..

From my goals.

From my dreams.

Now, I am not staying that I no longer have that voice taunting me, trying to derail me. Nope. Not at all. But now that I write every damn day, now that I meditate every damn day, I no longer care so much what money mind has to say.

I no longer wait for the perfect circumstances or the perfect beam of inspiration or the perfect feeling that that will propel me effortlessly to my desk or meditation cushion. If I waited for that, I’d be waiting forever. There’s always a reason not to write, always a reason not to meditate.

Instead I show up no matter what.

Being tossed away is no longer a thing I need to constantly fight against.

I just show up.

 

 

 

The Heart of the World.

heart of the world

Image found via Pinterest.

I read to slip into other worlds. To escape the world I am living in. While writing is solitary and it isolates me, it doesn’t allow me to escape the world. I don’t escape my life. If anything, writing slams me smack into my life. It slips into the crevices ands corners, hiding in the shadows that I’ve overlooked, taking me deeper into what I think, feel, believe at any given moment. 

Meditation, yoga and writing all allow me to slip deeper into myself, rather than away from myself. In each practice, I meet myself exactly where I am. I sit on my meditation cushion, set a timer and just observe my thoughts, observe my breath. Some days it is easier than others but it is never easy. I step on my mat and meet my body where it is that day. Rather than just moving through the poses, I try to drop deeper, connecting with my breath and my mind. Writing brings all of these together. It’s a practice I’ve been showing up for for over 30 years when I first picked up “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. I began filling notebooks with timed writings, not expecting them to lead me to a destination such as a story or a published book, for once just being content on the journey.

Once my girls were in school and Pre-K, I used my precious alone time to go to the Starbucks around the corner from the school to write. I didn’t call myself a writer. I just wrote. Sitting there with my soy chai latte and pumpkin scone I picked up a pen, opened my notebook and let the words spill out of me. Being a stay-at-home mom, I had a lot of pent up words.

I began to use writing as a way of untangling the knot of thoughts in my head. Stories that were guiding my actions—and reactions—but that were rarely based in reality. Once I found yoga, I learned that those stories have a word: samskara. Things that happened in the past that we don’t process and they get stuck in the body as energy. 

No matter what I write—fiction, memoir, personal essays or a blog post—there is no hiding from the world, from myself. Everything I write reveals my obsessions, reveals a piece of me that I may have been avoiding or was completely unaware of. Natalie Goldberg says, “Wild Mind isn’t just your mind; it’s the whole world moving through you.”

Reading allows me to go into other worlds; writing takes me straight into the messy, pulsing heart of the world.

Onward!

happy Birthday to Me!

Image found via Pinterest.

I don’t know what this coming years holds and I am learning to get comfortable with that.

I don’t know if I will drink alcohol or not. I don’t know if I will make peace with drinking or not drinking or not.

I don’t know if I will finally say “Fuck it” to all the diets and food rules and truly mean it or if I will still be stuck on this crazy rollercoaster of restricting and judging and trying to find peace instead of actually finding it.

I don’t know if I will find an agent or be published or land that writing residency.

What I do know is that I will keep showing up to all of those areas and all the nooks and crannies of my life.

I do know that I will let myself down, feel ashamed and guilty when I do and then I will find the compassion to pick myself back up and continue onward.

I do know that writing every day has become so intricately woven into who I am that I will continue to write under all circumstances—a lesson from Natalie Goldberg that I have finally absorbed deep into my bones.

I do know that showing up is non-negotiable.

Showing up to my relationships.

Showing up to my writing.

Showing up to my creativity.

Showing up to my body.

Showing up to my yoga practice, and teaching practice and students.

Showing up up my meditation practice.

Showing up to my Self.

I do know that not knowing and continuing on is part of this human experience.

So, I may not know what this 55th cycle around the sun has in store but I do know that I plan to dive deep into the juicy, messy, perfectly imperfect, beautifully rich and complicated heart of this life I am so grateful to be living.

Onward!

Taking Care of Me: It’s not just a hashtag.

Sabbatical image

Image found via Pinterest.

I have chosen to take a yoga teaching sabbatical over the month of May. My youngest daughter graduates from college in the beginning of the month then we leave for our 16-day European adventure four days later then my niece graduates from high school at the end of the month.

I thought about just getting subs for the days I needed but then this idea of having a month off from teaching began to percolate.

At first, I brushed it away. All my usual fear-based thoughts clawed their way to the surface:

You can’t afford that.

Why should you get to take a whole month off?

Who do you think you are?

I am quite familiar with this chorus. It’s the Chorus of Unworthiness. All these voices that pop up to remind me that I am not worthy of money or time or attention or love or (fill in the blank). We all have these voices. They are often labeled the Inner Critic, Inner Judge, Inner Bitch, Inner Mean Girl.

Luckily, I am also quite familiar with recognizing these voices when they appear. Recognizing them as stories and seeing through them. See past them and into the fear behind them and into the truth that lies beyond the words. 

Twenty years ago. I studied with Natalie Goldberg for a week. She spoke about resistance. Resistance to writing, to meditating. She said that resistance is the Guardian at the Gate. Every time we stand up to it and get past it to write or meditate (or whatever it is that we are resisting) we gain power. We prove our mettle. We prove how much this matters to us. 

I see this Chorus of Unworthiness in the same way. Each time I stand up to them, each time I do the thing they don’t want me to do, say the thing they don’t want me to say, dream the dream they think is too audacious, I prove my mettle. I embrace my worthiness.

So, I am standing up to those voices yet again and claiming the month of May as my own. 

It will be a month of adventure and milestones. 

A month of being a student rather than teacher. 

It will be a month of exquisite self-care. The sabbatical itself is an act of exquisite self-care. I’ve given a workshop on self-care and often talk about it in my classes. Now, I am walking my walking.

I am taking care of me because I am worth it. Because I, as much as anyone, deserve my own love and affection. And taking care of me is not just a hashtag—it’s a way of life.

Writing into the Deep.

welcome 2019

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After a session with a psychic (something I’ve always wanted to do), I’ve changed the focus of my blog to, well, focus more on writing. I realized I was trying to cover everything that interests me: writing, reading, yoga, marriage, family, being vegan, politics. And by trying to cover everything, it all became a bit too diffuse. Nothing was getting the attention it deserved.

By streamlining my focus here, I am finding my focus more streamlined in real life as well. I am currently reading “Rapt” by Winifred Gallagher and she writes about how the quality of our lives depends on where we put our attention. And, just as importantly, where we don’t. (Yeah, social media I’m looking at you.)

In 2019, I am pouring my attention and devotion into writing. Into writing daily. Into submitting my work to magazines. Into finally finding an agent. Into publishing the novel-in-stories that is already done. Into finishing a draft of my current novel. Into finishing a draft of book one in my YA fantasy trilogy. 

Writing into the Deep means writing with deep focus, deep passion. It means writing and stepping into the unknown. It means staying afloat when I don’t know what happens next in a scene or in the submission process. It means writing far past first thoughts into what Natalie Goldberg calls “wild mind” where all the juiciness lives and thrives. 

So, here’s to 2019 and all that it may bring and all that I will bring to it!

What are your 2019 writing intentions/focus/plans/goals? I’d love to hear. 

Coming Home to Writing Practice.

writing practice

I entered this writing path through the writing practice Natalie Goldberg teaches. Practicing writing the same way an athlete practices her sport, the same way a pianist practices scales. Showing up to the page, grabbing a prompt and just writing for ten minutes without stopping, without crossing anything out.

The end product didn’t matter. The process of showing up and writing and connecting with the wilderness of my own heart and mind is what mattered.

Then I decided I needed to be more disciplined. I needed to produce more. More stories, blog posts, novels. And I let writing practice slip away, not counting it as “real” writing.

This summer I joined an on-line writing class hosted by the luminous Bryonie Wise called “Human is What We Are.” Honestly, I was hesitant. I have committed time and money to so many on-line classes over the years and I rarely finish them. My enthusiasm wanes then my connection to the group fades and I’m off on my own again.

This time has been different. First, I am intimately familiar with writing practice. Slipping back into it has been soothing and inspiring. It has been reconnecting with an old friend who really knows me, who sees all of me.

Second, Bryonie makes is all so accessible: writing, creativity, life. She gives us permission to meet ourselves where we are. She assures us that there is no wrong way to do this. That there is no such thing as being behind. We are where we are.

Third, summer has been the perfect time for this kind of loose but supportive structure. Ten minutes a day for ten days then we have a break to let everything germinate, let it settle and find its way into our bones.

My own notebook is more than half-filled. I have three separate pages filled with prompts that will draw me back to the page long after our third and final session ends. Coming back to writing practice has illuminated my creative process, allowing me to find inspiration everywhere.

It has reminded me of why I write at all: to come back home to myself which allows me to connect more deeply with the world around me.

Books Read in May + June.

May + June Books

“This Messy Magnificent Life” by Geneen Roth

From the beginning, I was always more anxious than the average bear.

Once again, Roth dives deep into the brilliant muck of her own life and struggles to offer us a blueprint on how to do the same for ourselves. 

Yes, she talks explores women and body image but it goes so much deeper than that. She shares stories from her own life and those fo her students, guiding us out of the gotta-get-more mentality and into the peace of being enough in our messy, magnificent lives.

A sentence I underlined (and starred):

I’ve tried versions of not fixing myself before, but always with the secret hope that not fixing myself would fix me.

“You Think It, I’ll Say It” stories by Curtis Sittenfeld

Nell andHenry always said that they would wait until marriage was legal for everyone in America, and now this is the case—it’s August 2015—but earlier in the week Henry eloped with his graduate student Bridget.

That’s a hell of a first sentence! So much packed into it and it drops us right into the heart of who this couple tried to be and who they actually are now.

Each story seems to explore that edge between the image projected versus what is really going on inside whether it’s a woman fanatazising the downfall of an old friend who had become a lifestyle guru to a woman on her honeymoon who runs into a nemesis from high school.

Sittendfeld weaves in the poetics of the times but as background, also like white noise that adds texture to the stories, to the characters who will stay with you long after you put the book down.

A sentence I love:

Being in touch with her offered a cushioning to my days, an antidote to the tedium and indignity of being a person, the lack of accountability of my adulthood; it gave me stamina with Bonnie and willpower with Therese.

“The Rules of Inheritance” a memoir by Claire Bidwell Smith

My father’s voice is tinny through the phone line. I am in the booth at the bottom of the stairs in Howland dorm. It is my freshman year of college.

A student loaned me her copy before class one day. I started reading it as the rest of my students gathered and before class even started I already had tears in my eyes. 

This memoir is one of the most honest explorations of grief that I have ever read.

At fourteen, both of her parents are diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. By the time she is in her twenties, both of them have died.

The book is structured within the framework of the five stages of grief. She also moves through time in a very fluid way that I imagine mimics grief itself.

She made the deliberate decision not to use quotation marks throughout and it works. It is a constant reminder that these are memories. The lack of punctuated conversations reminds us over and over that they are gone.

Her sentences are stunning.

The story is powerful.

It wasn’t my book but if it was, I probably would’ve underlined something on every single page.

Some sentences I loved: 

“We kiss for the first time, there in the kitchen, and Ill always remember it for many reasons. One of them is because, for the first time in a long time nothing about the kiss serves to fill a void.”

“We agreed that I would move my things out this week. We parted ways at the door and there was a wildness between us, something frightening and alive, fluttering like a bird.”

“She turns her head to me now and runs a hand down my cheek. I’ve adored being your mother, Claire. Sometimes I think it’s the only thing I did right with my life.

She is crying now. I can tell by the way her voice has gone tighter. I still can’t bring myself to look at her.

We’ll get through. Okay, sweetie? I promise.

I finally look up at her and nod the tiniest nod. She turns on her side, pulling me into her like a comma, and we lie like that for a long time.”

“If We Had Known” a novel by Elise Juska

It was an unseasonably hot late summer day in Maine when Maggie’s daughter read about the shooting.

A mass shooting at a local mall rocks a small college town. It reads like a common national headline. Juska takes us behind the headlines, into the stories of the people left behind. Those that survived, those that knew the shooter, those that wonder if they could’ve—or should’ve—done something to prevent the tragedy. 

Maggie is a professor and divorced mom getting ready to send her only child off to college when the shooting happens. Through the internet and social media speculations run rampant , linking the shooter to an essay he wrote for Maggie in a class she had him in years earlier. Did she miss something in his writing, something dark that hinted at the crime he would later commit?

The novel explores these questions as well as the territory of this mother-daughter relationship in such gripping prose that it was hard to put down and hard to forget once I finally did put it down.

A sentence I love:

Her head hurt on contact, a small flowering of pain in her temple.

“Her” a memoir by Christa Parravani

I used be an identical twin. I was Cara Parravani’s twin.

Those first two sentences are at the heart of this exquisite memoir. After an act of brutality sends her twin down a dark path of depression and drugs, leading to her early death, Christa is left behind to try and remember who she is without her twin. To try and remember how she even is able to exist without her counterpart to balance out her existence in the world.

It is a haunting story that moves beyond  loss and grief, diving deep into the complicated heart of being an identical twin and how they can both lose and find themselves in each other. 

A passage I love:

All of our stories and hurts were now mine alone. I’d grown so used to stories being shared that without Cara it was as if neither of our lives had ever happened. With her death, my history had been erased.

“Silence in the Age of Noise” by Erling Kagge

Whenever I am unable to walk, climb or sail away from the world, I have learned to shut it out.

I finished this beautiful book in less than twelve hours. I started it before I went to bed then finished it upon waking. It opened me up to the possibility of cultivating silence within my life, not letting all the constant noise of the world in. Each page has plenty of white space for my eyes to rest and photos throughout that float in the center of the page, providing yet another resting space for my mind.

Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has completed the Three Poles Challenge on foot—the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. Using those experiences he then travels inward to explore the realm of silence in our lives. The book is filled with grace and wisdom and after closing the final page I found myself seeking out more moments of silence, becoming more aware of the noise I invite in on a daily basis.

A sentence I love:

Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.

“Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home” a memoir by Natalie Goldberg

I travel all the way to Kitada, Japan, to Taizoin Temple, near the Sea of Japan, to find the ashes of my Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi.

Those of you who have been following my blog will no doubt know of my special connection to Natalie Goldberg. I’ve often written about how her book, “Writing Down the Bones” first set me on this writing path. How the first time I gave myself persuasion to be a writer was when I attended her week-long retreat in Taos, New Mexico.

I have read every single book she has written at least once, often more than once. When I saw that she had a new memoir out I immediate checked my local bookstore, saw that they had it in stock, got in my car and bought it. Once again, I finished it in less than twelve hours. 

Since I have read all of her books, i noticed that this particular one seemed to emerge from a deeper, richer place. It comes from her years of writing practice, of Zen practice, of painting practice and this time, from her practice of being with her illness. Being in a body that has cancer. Being within a medical system that she fights against. Being in a relationship where they are both fighting cancer.

It’s a memoir that explores the practice of living. Of being present to all of it not just the shiny pieces we share on social media. It reminded me of the beauty and necessity of writing practice. The practice of relating to my world, to my self, my body, my mind word by word, moment by moment.

After reading the final sentence, I lay the book on my heart, resting my hand on the cover and I could feel my heartbeat reverberate up through the pages, through the words, tears filled my eyes and I silently thanked Natalie over and over, for setting me on this writing path, for giving me the tools to connect with my wild mind, heart + life, for always showing us the way through her own writing straight into the white hot messy center of our living and dying.

A sentence I love:

But I came in direct contact with the groundless disaster—I could not hold on to my old life; I could not manage or form a new life. 

 

The Practice of Practice.

practice

Image found via Pinterest.

Practice. It’s a word I used to hate. I didn’t want to have to practice an instrument or a sport. I just wanted to do things when I wanted to do them. And do them well.

Then I came across “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg where she introduced me to the concept of writing practice. Practice? I never considered needing to practice writing. You either wrote or you didn’t. It wasn’t like needing to practice the piano by doing scales everyday.

Except that it is exactly like that. Writers need to practice their craft just like a musician or athlete does. It keeps our fingers, heart and mind limber. Practice keeps the words flowing because there is no pressure to produce the perfect sentence or paragraph or scene. Writer’s block occurs when we think the writing needs to come out perfect. But practice implies, even relies on the concept of imperfection. Because we are practicing we are already admitting that we don’t know how to do something as well as we’d like to. Thus, we practice.

Once I committed to a yoga and meditation practice, the word took on another layer of meaning. In this context, practice implies a certain sacred intention. There is still the freedom to show up without needing to be perfect, but there is also this sense of a ritual that nourishes my soul. It carries an intention to stay present.

These days, my writing practice combines both. I show up to the page each day, free to write the worst crap in the world because it’s just practice, but I also come to the page with a deep reverence for this practice that connects me to my light and dark, my body and mind, my heart and soul. It connects me to this moment.

These days, my art is my practice and my practice is my art.

When I First Heard about Columbine.

never again

Image found via facebook.

There are certain events that I will always remember where I was when I heard about them.

I was on the school bus when I heard about the death of John Lennon.

I was standing in the kitchen when a friend called to tell me about the (first) plane flying into the World Trade Center on 9/11.

I was in my bedroom, packing to fly out to my sister, when a nurse called to tell me that my brother-in-law had died from his injuries sustained in the car accident.

On April 20, 1999, I was on a pay phone at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico, attending my first ever writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg.

It had taken a lot of convincing on my husband’s part to get me to go. I objected that we couldn’t afford it, that even we could afford it there were better things to spend that money on, that I couldn’t leave him with girls for a whole week, that my oldest had to go to Kindergarten Round-up. My husband  assured me that none of those excuses were actually based in reality, so I went.

Obviously, this was before cell phones, texting and FaceTime. I tried to call once a day from the pay phone. The work was intense. Because I was so secluded from the world, I dove deep into the process of writing, filling three entire notebooks in seven days.

On April 20, after I spoke with both of my daughters, my husband got back on the phone. I heard something in his voice. When I asked what was wrong, he didn’t want to tell me. He didn’t want to burden me with it, knowing that I was pretty much off the media grid and hadn’t yet heard. After some prodding he told me about the shooting at Columbine.

Even just hearing about it, without seeing the constant barrage of images on a TV, was chilling. As the news began to spread throughout the rest of the participants, a palpable heaviness descended on the repeat. That night the wind was intense at the base of the mountain. Natalie shared that Native Americans believe that wind like that is carrying spirits into the afterlife.

When I got to the airport a couple days later, the images were splashed over all the televisions. I remember watching the line of kids, hands on their heads walking out of the school and thinking it didn’t seem real. There was a subdued quality to the crowds of passengers huddle around the images.

My youngest remembers being on lockdown in kindergarten. A real lockdown, not a drill. She remembers hiding behind a desk and seeing the silhouette of a man slide past the window and she didn’t know if it was a police office or the bad guy.

Last month she ended up on lockdown again, this time up at Central Michigan University when a shooter was at -large. It turned out that he didn’t have a gun with him while on the run after shooting and killing his parents in his dorm.

But nobody knew that.

Nobody knew how bad the carnage would be.

We didn’t know because we’ve seen how bad it has been.

Over and over again.

I pray that the next life-changing event I remember will soon be the passage of sensible, national gun control.

Because we know how bad the carnage has been.

Shame on us for ever letting it happen again.

The Company of other Writers.

Write Smart, Write Happy

Today, I find myself sitting at the bookstore cafe with a grande soy chai, notebook and laptop open. Not an unusual scenario.

What is unusual, these days, is for me to be drawn to a book on writing. A book that promises to help me “become a more productive, resilient, and successful writer.”

Now, I used to devour these books daily when I first knew I wanted to write. It was how I taught myself to write. I read books on writing fiction, writing essays, writing from prompts, writing practice, the writing life, writing goals. You name it, I bought it and read it. What I didn’t do was write very much.

Oh, I’d write Morning Pages and I filled notebooks with writing practice gleaned from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” I loved how she made writing so much more accessible by declaring that just as an athlete practiced drills or a pianist practiced scales, a writer also needed to practice. It bought writing back from that lofty pedestal I had placed it on. It took the fear out of it by calling it practice.

I hunkered down into my writing practice for years, filling notebook upon notebook. The problem was, I got stuck in practicing. Don’t get me wrong. It served me well. I learned to put pen to page and write under pretty much any circumstance. I learned how to make space and time for writing in the life I was currently living ( a stay-at-home mom with young children) instead of waiting for the perfect time. I learned to write past my censor.

But I didn’t use what I had learned to actually get in the game of writing. When I finally began writing stories, taking classes and workshops, that’s where the bulk of my learning took place. Writing and finishing stories taught me how to write.

I’ve written dozens of short stories, some published, some not. I have a completed novel-in-stories (looking for an agent). I am well into my second novel, about 6o,000 words into the first book of a YA fantasy trilogy and am beginning to gather notes for a memoir on writing and yoga.

So, with all that writing under my belt, why  do I find myself drawn to this particular book today?

Because it’s a process.

Because I am always a student.

Because I am not afraid to be a beginner.

Because of course I want to be a more productive, resilient and successful writer.

Because now I know that I can read a book like this but, more importantly, I know I have to follow through with action: writing, querying, submitting, reading, setting goals and meeting those goals.

I know there are no quick fixes or shortcuts to being a writer.

I know that merely reading about becoming a successful writer is not enough but I am humble enough to be open to advice from others along the path.

I know that I am willing to put in the hard work necessary. And these kinds of books feel like my own personal cheerleading squad, telling me I can do it. Telling me that I am not alone.

Telling me that it’s okay, that we can walk this path together.

I am grateful for their company.