A few months ago, Don and I decided to try to do an ‘at home retreat’ together, and set aside the weekend and half-week before Thanksgiving as the designated time. As the date drew near it became clear that there were a few things happening here in town that we wanted to be present for, so we whittled the retreat time down to two partial days and two full days. And, I decided to use some of the time for writing.
I’ve recently committed to spending more time writing, and have started rearranging my schedule to make that possible. I’ve also been listening to some audiobooks about writing and creativity (currently loving Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). And, as I make room in my life and psyche for writing, I am a bit overwhelmed by the vast array of choices about how to write and what to write about. Here’s my list:
Kinds/modes of writing:
- “Morning Pages” / writing practice – whatever comes to mind, first thing in the morning (hand-written).
- “Field notes” / reflective journaling about my own transformational/healing process – my meditation practice, somatics, anti-racism, healing whiteness, awareness of privilege, pilates, etc. (this is what my blog has been mostly focused on)
- Interviews/articles about transformational practices and spaces and people – for CORE’s new blog we are planning
- Reading and writing to fill out /reflect on /edit blog entries from cancer treatment period, towards publishing it as a memoir.
- Poetry – as it comes
- Writing about ceramics pieces
- Sci Fi/dys/utopian fiction
- Mining my unpublished dissertation and / or masters’ thesis (and possibly even stuff I wrote in college) for anything that feels worthy of carrying forward publicly in some way.
- Thank-you note writing
Originally on the list, but really a separate category, are additional activities to support writing:
- Work with a writing group and/or coach and/or editor
- Reading books about writing
- Organize my writing using new technology (e.g. learn Evernote)
Of course, even within a single “mode” above, there are infinite choices about what to focus on in the writing. For instance, this blog post is turning out to be about writing itself. I sat down thinking I’d write reflections on the healing whiteness process, and I will. But I’m realizing that I need to begin with what flows, and go from there. Because I think of my blog as a conversation with my regular readers, I feel some urge to “catch you up” on where I’m at in this arena of writing as a practice. Also, it turns out, writing as a practice is, for me, related to healing.
So, I want to back up and talk about how the decision to allocate more time to writing came about. I’d already declared to all of you that I was going to blog about my journey of healing whiteness. And, it’s been hard to find time to do as much of that reflective writing as I’d like. Then an interesting series of things happened.
A colleague of mine contacted me to encourage me to apply to a somatics teacher training that she’s in. It was one I’d previously decided was not a good fit for me, but after talking to her my view changed, and I was very tempted to do it. But, it would be a very deep and long-term commitment, not something to embark upon lightly. The deadline was coming up, so I began some discernment processes, including listing a number of other choices for trainings I might want to do. I was returning to the perennial question, “What is my path?,” and the associated “Who is my teacher?” and “Where is my community of practice?” Not coincidentally, these are the “Three Refuges” in Buddhism – Buddha (teacher/guide), Dharma (path), and Sangha (community of practice).
One of the other trainings I’ve been considering doing is a Polarity training taught by one of my somatics coaches, Suzanne Roberts, in Columbus OH. I’ve wanted for some time to do a deeper dive into sensing energy, which somatics uses some but doesn’t teach much about directly, and my friend and somatics colleague from Madison, Liz, was considering doing Suzanne’s training in January. I hadn’t talked to Suzanne in a few months, since I’ve been working with Wendy on the somatic healing shame process. I felt ambivalent about talking to Suzanne about the polarity training, because I was afraid of getting talked into doing it. But I went online to look at her schedule, and she had ONE opening left this fall, that happened to be at a time coming up soon that I could do it, so I signed up for a coaching session with her.
After catching up for a few minutes, I expressed my concern that it might be a conflict of interest for her to coach me about my decision about whether to do her training. She assured me that she had no investment one way or the other in whether I did the training, and that she’d let me know if she did. So, we proceeded with a coaching session. I listed a number of different trainings I was thinking I’d choose between. She said, let’s back up, can you tell me, 3 to 5 years from now, who do you want to be, what do you want to be doing? I talked about wanting to have deep competency in doing transformational work with individuals and groups. After I talked about this for a few minutes, she asked, so how does that sound to you when you say those things?
I paused. Then said, Well, it all sounds true. But there are other parts of me too that aren’t included in that. Like what? she asked. Like writing, I replied – I love to write. And funding – I’m probably going to continue to be a funder. She said, tell me about writing. I said, well, I’ve always loved to write, and I’m good at it, and it’s the ONLY thing I do where I completely lose track of time (even ceramics). She said that of the things I’d spoken about – coaching, groups, writing, and funding, writing and funding sounded clearest to her.
Then she asked, Are you writing? I hemmed and hawed. Well, yes, a little. But not a lot. Why NOT?! she asked. How could you not write, if you love it so much? You might want to ask yourself, What might I be avoiding? and What will it take for me to do it? You love it, why would you not do it? she asked. Besides, she said, I read your blog, it would be a phenomenal book, if you chose to write it. It was you going through cancer treatment in a meaningful, deep, soul-wrestling way, people need to see people ahead of them on the path. But, she said, don’t do it because I’m telling you to, read these two books, and it will be clear to you whether to do it or not: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Then she asked me, How does what I’m saying feel to you? Well. I had started to tear up when she said “You love it. Why would you not?” It feels, I told her, like you’re giving me permission to do something that feels selfish. We both paused, the implications of that obvious to both of us.
I still had lots of questions about my path, about gaining deep competency in a transformational modality, and having a community to practice it with. But, she said, it doesn’t mean you can’t do those other things, it’s just that you have to also write. Yeah, I said, I think the other things I do go better when I take the time to write about them. She said, THAT’S something worth writing about!!
We talked more about the polarity training, and about how polarity has been a unifying path for her, like the one I long for. I realized, though, that when I listen to myself talk about my search for a clear path, I can tell that the yearning comes partly from a place of woundedness, from not finding that path in Judaism early on, and looking elsewhere for it. She suggested I write about the unifying principle – what would it be for me?
Suzanne also told me she was working on writing a book, and some about her process with it. This was helpful, but after I got off the phone with her I did wonder, am I just being talked into something else, writing rather than polarity, because of her own deep engagement with that? Fortunately, later that same evening I had a peer-counseling session with my long-time co-counselor, Amy. (Normally I wouldn’t schedule two such sessions in one day, but like I said, it was the one time Suzanne was available all Fall!) With Amy, I never worry I’ve been talked into something. Her listening is exquisite, and we are peers, so there isn’t the same kind of power dynamic as with a “professional” coaching relationship.
In the session with Amy, I continued to work on the emotions from the session with Suzanne, sorting and feeling more deeply into them. I also worked on my feelings about Don’s feelings about my decision – he’d been really supportive of the idea of me doing the somatics teacher training, and not particularly supportive of polarity – and I was working on how to find my own truth in the midst of these strong voices, including Suzanne’s. I realized that my seeking more training at this point was partly coming from a habit of feeling like I am not enough, and seeking outside myself for guidance on the focus of my life. This is some of the same shaping I’m working on in the healing shame and healing whiteness work; looking outside myself for my sense of worth and belonging is precisely the pattern that my teachers in generative somatics named, that was leading me to behave in ways that felt oppressive or triggering to people of color and people from lower class backgrounds.
In the session with Amy I settled into a very deep place, where, with fingertips of my left hand touching my sternum (the center of my breastless chest, over my heart), I could feel a delicate but persistent sense of having an “inner guru.” My own guidance to discern my own path, like a calibration system to sense where the next step is. And, I realized, all I ever really needed was to know the next step.
A few days later was the end of Daylight Savings Time, so I had a little extra time in the morning. I used it to do a somatic decision-making process that Suzanne has coached me through in the past, and that she suggested I do again now. I put 7 different trainings or areas for possible deeper commitment on 7 post-it notes. I arrayed them in a large circle on the floor in the spacious bedroom/sitting room/office at the house we’re renting from my friend Kathleen while our bathroom remodeling project is happening.
The decision-making process is to do some centering and “two-stepping” (a sort of aikido warmup movement where you turn 180 degrees in 3 steps), in the center of the circle or crossroads of the divergent paths. Then you turn towards one of the choices and walk towards it, imagining you’ve chosen that path, and feel what it feels like to be on that path. Then return to the center, do some more centering and two-stepping, and then walk towards another choice. In addition to the somatics teacher training and polarity, I had a post-it for writing, and one for each of 4 other activities or trainings: Institute for Zen Leadership (a Wisconsin/Hawaii-based school led by Ginny Whitelaw); continuing in generative somatics’ Transformational Fundraising Program; doing singing/voice coaching (with Barbara McAfee); and Process Work (a kind of facilitation methodology that I’ve read about and had recently been talking to a colleague about).
Now, my friend Kathleen used to own an art gallery, and her space is decorated with all kinds of amazing art, antiques, and the like. I was only vaguely conscious as I was laying out the 7 post-its which ones were going where; I was just trying to get them spaced out in a way that would work for the exercise. While I did tune in to how I felt internally as I walked and stood on each “path,” I also realized as I did it that the things in the room around me were speaking volumes to me.
Walking on the path towards the somatics training post-it, what was immediately in front of me felt good (Shabbat candlesticks, which related to my conversation with the colleague who’d been encouraging me to apply), but there wasn’t much excitement. Moreover, the part of the room I was facing had a jumble of clothing on a drying rack and unsorted clothing on a couch, and a mirror ahead that I couldn’t see myself in. It reminded me, too, that when I’d sat down to begin writing my letter of application to the training, it hadn’t flowed, but felt forced, which was an important indicator.
The “writing” direction turned out to be towards some richly-colored stained-glass windows, a bunch of photos of Kathleen’s loved ones (including her dog), a large antique “treasure chest” she uses to store linens, a framed print of a woman with butterfly wings and the word “Life” in large letters (a reproduction of the Feb. 2, 1922 cover of Life Magazine, about “The Flapper”), and the stairs down to the rest of the house. Beauty, love, life, hidden treasure, transformation, movement towards the outside world. And an inner sense of my own solidity, heart, and height.
The other ones all yielded information also, one a clear “yes” (singing), one a clear “no” (Process Work – I forgot to even walk down that one, which made sense, since it wasn’t something I’d even explored as a real possibility for the near future), and a couple of “maybes” – IZL and gsTFP, both ones I didn’t actually need to decide about for a few months.
Then, because I’d just decided not to do the application that was due in a few days, I felt more relaxed about time, and decided to go to my Jewish congregation’s adult education session on diversity and inclusion that morning. The speaker was Yishai Barth, a young man speaking about disability. Initially, I thought I was going mostly to accompany and support Sam and Don. But, from the first few sentences out of Yishai’s mouth and for the remainder of the morning, I felt like I was sitting at the feet of a great teacher. Judith Heilizer, a very wise and learned woman in her 8th decade who organized the event later told me that Yishai is the most brilliant person she’s ever met, and she’s met quite a few. I felt the same way. There were several times I felt he was speaking directly to me, to the yearning and questions I have. How ironic! I just gave up on looking for a teacher, and found one?! And, he’s 21 years old!
What Yishai said, though, affirmed the notion of a self-guided path. He talked about how we each have unidentified “superpowers” and also unidentified weaknesses – ways we are all “twice exceptional.” Yet most of the gifts are not sought out and cultivated like those of a musical child prodigy. He asked us to close our eyes and look internally for an as-yet-unidentified superpower, as well as a weakness. What I came up with on the spot was my ability to hear when two people are miscommunicating, and to help them bridge the gap. And the weakness I came up with was related – being so focused externally like this, on the perceptions of others, that I can’t hear my own voice.
Afterwards I wrote in my journal:
So, maybe writing is the way I bridge that gap between my inner voice and my “outer ear”?!! I have felt periodically like I don’t need to journal as much when I have good listeners. But writing is when I listen to myself with that kind of non-judgmental, loving interest!! Of course, when I turn it into a blog, I am listening with an eye (ear) towards others also. But it starts in private, with no-one else listening, so I can be my own first audience. Maybe the reason (or one of the reasons) writing is so important for me is that I can use my visual sense to perceive my inner voice. Since I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner, this helps me process – it’s maybe inevitable that it would be hard for me to hear my inner voice if I don’t bring it into vision and/or movement!
So, YES, to a commitment to writing.
Now, as I write this up into a blog post, and think about what to title it, the idea of “writing as path” comes to me. Perhaps, through writing, I will find the unity of the many other threads, and understand more deeply the wisdom of the many teachers I’ve been privileged to have. And you, my dear readers, are a part of my rich and varied community of practice.