For my half-birthday this year I sent out a letter to people I greatly respected, people who have known me through very diverse stages of my life, some dear old friends and some passing acquaintances. I asked them to bravely, honestly, share with me what they saw as my challenges. And I asked them to answer this question: if you could wave a wand and ‘fix’ me without ever having to worry about my knowing or being offended, what would you change?
I did this because I was in one of those troughs of experience in which I had finished up one phase and not yet discerned what was next, and I wanted to choose wisely. I wanted to step bravely into my strengths and shine a light on some of my weaknesses, to carve out new ways rather than following old comfortable paths.
Receiving the answers was terribly scary and difficult. Part of me desperately hoped for responses of “I wouldn’t fix a thing! Nope, you’re absolutely perfect as you are!” (even though I’d expressly forbidden anyone to answer that way.) But the curious, contemplative side of me wanted to know. It wanted those shadows aired. And I am so glad that my brave, wonderful friends responded to that side of me. Their bravery started this blog, because one response I heard over and over again was that I needed to share my writing.
But here is the most profound thing I learned: all of those shadows that I thought I had tucked so thoroughly and carefully away, all of those darknesses that I’ve developed elaborate song-and-dances to keep from exposing, are right out there in plain view. They are glaringly obvious, not only to lifelong friends but to onetime co-workers. Because whenever anyone starts to touch on one of them, I shy away, or change the subject, or withdraw, or start acting stiff and scripted…or, most obvious of all, I simply refuse to participate in that area of life. It’s like one of those rural church signs with lit-up dancing lights in a circle all around it, only instead of describing the suffering of Jesus it says DO NOT DISTURB. Ha. We all have them.
And the more DO NOT DISTURB signs we put up–over places that we were shamed, or wounded, places we failed or were failed by others—the more we deprive ourselves of intimate connection with friends or strangers, of fluid participation in life, of expansion. These are places that hurt when probed, so we simply ignore them. When others touch them, we turn off and cannot respond, or we jump down their throats, or we laugh it off. And we lose those moments, because we weren’t present for them.
We worked tonight in joy circle to take those DO NOT DISTURB signs down. Because joy is an inside job. It is an experience of expansion. Any place that is shuttered down or closed off cannot experience joy, because it cannot experience expansion. Well! That will never do.
We started, as always, with yoga. We tend to equate talking about change with actual change, because we are such a mental society. (British joke! Did you get it?) But seriously, we forget we have bodies, we forget that experience is an ACTION, that ideas and visualizations are not enough to effect actual change. Change happens here in the world, in our bodies. We effect change by putting our thoughts into action. This is why I love to open with yoga, drawing the identity center down and down and down from the brain into the body. We did lots of twists and balancing postures, ending with one of my favorite meditations.
In this meditation, sit comfortably with your hands palms upward on your knees, forefingers touching the thumbs. Breathe in deeply, saying to yourself I AM. Exhale in an audible sigh. Continue to do this, breathing in I AM, exhaling on a sigh, following your breath, for several minutes. Once you are deeply open and centered, begin to build a field of gratitude around you. Think of one thing you are exceptionally grateful for, and amplify it until you are surrounded by the sensation of deep gratitude. Into this feeling, you can ask for guidance. If I have some obviously painful area I am working on, I will ask a question like “please tell me more about why I’m struggling” or “what is my right next step?” Then listen. Take note of any images or colors or ideas that pop up, faces or impressions or clear actions. If any of them feel exciting or inspiring, breathe them in and amplify them on the I AM. If any of them feel like drudgery or scare or bore you, exhale them out. If you find an action or a guidance that lights you up, hold on to it and spread the sensation of yes through and around you. When you have come out of the meditation, write this down and follow through on it. If nothing comes, stay in the field of gratitude and come out of the meditation when you’re ready. You may get an answer later in a conversation or a book or a dream or an idea.
After this meditation we had tea and coconut bars and gathered in the sun porch to feel the soft breezes of the evening and watch the dramatic sunset. We laughed and talked more about how difficult DO NOT DISTURB signs can be, how you may not know you are brushing up against one in someone else until it is too late—how entire relationships can be one big welter of DO NOT DISTURB. How we stay there because it is known, and safe, and we don’t notice how small our world has become.
We finished with a co-counseling/RC session. For those of you who are unfamiliar with RC, it is a wonderful way to begin to release the stress and tension and emotional build up of old wounds. We broke into partners and each person took turns being the listener and the speaker. The listener listens wholeheartedly, without responding, and with an attitude of complete confidence and approval. The speaker speaks for ten minutes in self-appreciation (this is like an extended brag, but it has to be personal and specific. “I have a really supportive family” is not self-appreciation. “I kicked walnut ass this afternoon by sawing up and carting away two tons of huge walnut branches that fell on our fence in the storm” is allowable. Also, I did. I am super duper strong. And my hands will be stained brown forever and ever amen.) If she falters or is clearly avoiding an area such as love or career or health or appearance, the listener prompts her to speak about how wonderful she is in that area. (Tell me about your gorgeous stomach/brilliant incisive mind/skillful long-range planning/loving and strict parenting/careful self-dentistry.) If the speaker begins to laugh, or cry, or yawn, or shake, the listener regards her with complete approval and confidence until the sensation has passed, or asks her to repeat the words that brought on the reaction in the first place. This laughter or crying or shaking is an emotional release, a liberation of energy, and as such it is GOOD! The session finishes with a few minutes of calm, easy conversation to help the transition from speaker to listener.
I like to use these co-counseling sessions to suss out where my DO NOT DISTURB areas are (usually they’re the ones where I’m laughing uncontrollably for five minutes), and then I take those questions into meditation to gain insight on what actions to take. Here is the way I ensure that my mental-change-loving self actually takes action: I write my question or desire (how can I be more sovereign with my finances, I desire to write a book) on a notecard and put it in my pocket. All day long, I write any ideas or insights I have about that question or desire on the card. I also write down any things or people I feel particularly drawn or attracted to, or enthusiasms that pop up. At the end of the day there are usually one or two clear actions apparent from what’s written on the card, and I take those actions the very next day.
I would like to share my gratitude here for the amazing group of women that gather each monday. What warm, accepting, loving, brilliant people you are. I’m blessed by your openness and bravery and insight. It is wonderful not to make this journey alone. Thank you.