A few months ago, soon after I’d finished writing my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, I had the opportunity to share five minutes of my work at a reading. While combing through my manuscript for excerpts, I found myself thinking, Hmm, maybe this writing isn’t as strong as I thought. The writing felt flabby and slow. I found myself tinkering with passages so they’d read better in a shorter timeframe, and wondered if that was okay. In past readings, I’ve mostly read my poems, complete works, each one featuring a beginning, middle, and end.
But my memoir is different. It took time to develop stories in that longer format—time I wouldn’t have in a five-minute reading. I wanted to give my audience the best bang for their buck, to make my reading worth their while. I wanted them with me from the first word to the last. I have been to too many readings where restless audience members pick cuticles, scrimmage inside purses, check iPhones, or stare out windows, all overt cues that they’re desperate for the reader to just finish already. This sucks for writers, but it also means it’s our responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Every time you stand up and read your work, you’re pitching it. If you don’t grab your audience, and keep them with you, they will not buy your book. I’ve given several readings from my memoir since that first one and here’s what I’ve learned: presenting an edited excerpt of your novel or memoir is a gift for your audience as well as your book! In order to most effectively share part of a long-form story in a short-form (time) venue, you will need to compress, collapse, or cut. You may also need to compose transitions, connections, or endings to create a satisfying, standalone experience.
The key is to view a time “constraint” as a container. Make it work for you in the same way specific poetry forms, such as the villanelle, shape a poem. If you honor the requirements of your reading venue and deliver a complete experience, if you craft your work with a particular reading in mind, you have a much better shot of connecting with and entertaining your audience. If you leave them laughing, crying, or nodding their head, they are with you.
I have a three-ring binder with ten edited excerpts from my memoir, along with a list of others I want to develop. At the top of each page I’ve jotted down how long the excerpt takes to read. Please note: read slower than you think you should. Take your time. Plant your feet on the floor. Let your voice rise from your belly.
Edited excerpts will serve you well even if you’re giving a featured reading and have thirty or forty minutes. Remember to consider your audience when choosing passages. Your excerpt filled with sex and “colorful” language, however well edited, might not go over so well at a conservative ladies’ luncheon. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen authors fall into this trap. You may want to share several edited excerpts that feature different flavors of your story, rather than one or two longer selections. Sadly, attention spans are shorter than they’ve ever been, and while a passage might be perfectly paced in your book, it might not hold a listener’s attention. Consider crafting ten or twenty excerpts of different lengths before it’s time to promote your book. You will be surprised what you can do with five minutes, or less. Being ready to go with as many great, edited clips as possible will make the reading part of your job successful and fun!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Have you grappled with the problem of reading a passage intended to unfold more slowly in your novel or memoir? Were you resistant, as I was in the beginning, to edit your excerpts? Did you do it anyway? If so, what was the result?
Let’s face it: the writing life can be difficult. We procrastinate, bargain with the universe, write hundreds of pages no one will read. We judge, discipline, chide, and berate ourselves, and others. We make unfair comparisons, inflate and deflate our work, our efforts. Our egos loom large like monsters, or cower in corners. We recoil from shadows, fight our own wisdom, attempt to flee our pain, but cannot escape ourselves, our lives—alas, our material. And this is the fun part! Add to this wondrous, yet at times daunting, creative process the business of writing and the slippery slope upon which conventional publishing resides. We attend conferences, make pitches, and reach out to agents and editors. Platform-building has become the buzzword every author feels they’re not doing well enough at. We perch ourselves upon social media towers from which we blog, tweet, chat, and update our “status.” It’s exhausting and overwhelming—and it’s also an honor, a privilege, a blessing, and a gift! You don’t get to do this work—play this game—if you’re sick or struggling with life’s basics.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know the past three years have been personally challenging. We’ve had five family deaths. I was executor of a contentious family estate. During this time I developed, and holistically healed, an anxiety disorder. I’ve radically downsized my professional efforts in order to deal with these personal challenges. John Lennon’s quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” has crossed my mind many times.
But contrary to how things appear, life is still sweet. I’m learning how to slow down at a very deep and nourishing level. I am discovering what it takes to make peace with what life brings, even when it’s not what I wanted or expected. I’m realizing the importance of honoring life, going with its flow, and cultivating an open, patient, and loving heart.
When I was a child my family used to visit Mitzi and Sherwood, an elderly couple who lived at the beach on New York’s Fire Island. Mitzi was a painter and Sherwood was a sculptor and jewelry-maker. Their house had high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and art crammed into every nook and cranny. They were an eccentric, white-haired couple who lived and breathed art.
In Sherwood’s studio, one piece of equipment captivated me: a stone tumbler. We’d collect stones on the beach and put them into his tumbler. After days, and sometimes weeks, of being tossed about, these rough stones would emerge from the tumbler as semi-precious, polished stones ready to be made into jewelry. The transformation was amazing.
Lately I’ve been feeling a lot like those stones. What if life is the tumbler creating the friction needed to transform me into a human version of those polished stones? Some might think it’s a cliché to say our challenges are opportunities in disguise, but I disagree. Although my writing career hasn’t been going like gangbusters these three years, the lessons I’m learning will illuminate my writing—and my life—for years to come. Nietzsche said it best: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
It’s always a matter of keeping things in perspective. When your writing life starts to lag, or feel difficult, discouraging, or frustrating, count your blessings. Appreciate your health, as well as the freedom you have to engage in this noble work.
I’d love to hear from those of you who have soldiered on in the face of personal challenges, and what you’ve learned along the way. Please share your wisdom and your light!
My mother-in-law died this week. It wasn’t unexpected. She was under the care of hospice, and had been declining in health since her husband’s death in 2011. My mom died in 2012. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, for close to two years I’ve been embroiled in a family fight over money that has created stress, and with it, debilitating anxiety. We finally reached a settlement agreement a couple of weeks ago, but 2014 has been the hardest year of my life. In 2013, I’d buried my grief and escaped into my work. But by 2014, as family tensions escalated, my grief erupted and I had to stop working. My clients fell away like dominoes, I reduced my teaching schedule to one class, and I hit the pause button on my memoir, The Raw Years: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness.
I stopped working on my memoir for two reasons. First, I was sick—not physically (though I experienced physical discomfort, such as intense jitters and pressure in my chest), but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. I needed to focus my energy on getting better; I needed to slow down my life and take time to grieve, as well as to heal. When you’re struggling to get through the day, work feels relatively unimportant—all you want is to be well again.
But there was more to my not working on my book than that. I was writing a memoir on my “midlife quest for health and happiness,” which I’d thought I’d attained. I was an “expert” on the subject, writing my “success story.” My life had been at an all-time high; I’d felt like a flower in full bloom. The word “flow” best describes the ways in which my life was unfolding—until everything came crashing down around me. I couldn’t help but wonder, How can I write a book about health and happiness when I’m such a wreck? I felt like the oncologist who gets cancer.
It turned out my “raw years” weren’t over. My book is divided into three sections: body, mind, and sprit, and the proverbial shit hit the fan two chapters short of beginning the “spirit” section. It was as if the Universe said, “Now wait just a minute! You don’t know as much as you think you do; you have to live this before you can write about it. Buckle up, I’m taking you for a ride!” Well, let me tell you, it’s been a doozy. Never have I felt so out of control; never have I experienced such fear; never have I trembled, cried, and prayed so often or so hard.
The upside is, I’ve learned a few things. Every illness or malady contains within it an invitation and opportunity for healing and growth. The lessons of spirit have to do with surrender, faith, letting go of what others think of you, and, even more important, letting go of what you think of you. Anxiety shattered my self-image. I was supposed to be a helper, not someone who needed help. I was the kid who always had a “good head on her shoulders.” How had I gone from King of the Hill to hooligan?
The hardest lesson was learning to accept “what is” without judgment. Judgment creates tension in the mind. Tightness creates tension in the body. I experienced both. As humans, we all have pain, but that doesn’t mean we need to suffer. Suffering happens when we resist our pain. So I’ve learned to lean into my discomfort. I’ve also encountered a new word: kindfulness. Stephanie Nash, a mindfulness meditation coach, coined this term. She uses it to refer to bringing loving attention to the body. “We only have so much real estate in consciousness,” she says. “There’s only so much you can focus on at one time.” I’ve had to consider where and how to focus my awareness. I’ve had to learn how to be kinder and more patient with myself. I’ve had to consciously choose love over fear—over and over again. I’ve had to allow myself to be where I am, to befriend my fear. And I’ve learned that we are all much larger than we think.
Thankfully, these past few months, my internal storm has raged less and less, and I sense it has almost passed. I have borne what I naively deemed unbearable. We humans are stronger than we think. When I first heard the news about my mother-in-law, I feared her death might throw me back into the pit out of which I have worked so hard to climb, but I feel calm, and grateful, because she lived a full life and was ready to go. It’s a blessing. This is life. We live and we die. Her death inspires me to live. And for me, writing is a huge part of living. Although I haven’t been writing my book, I have been writing. My journal has been a close companion and a source of comfort during this time. I’ve also written many letters to my mother, and monthly blog posts. Though that’s not the same as working on my book, it has taken the lid off of my internal pressure cooker and enabled me to express myself. This kind of writing is a tremendous release. I let go of what I don’t need and receive universal wisdom, while keeping my writing juices flowing. I liken this process to daily barre exercises, which I did for years as a young dancer.
Sometimes it’s hard to know when to work on a project and when to pause—and for how long. I knew I needed to stop working on my book, and I trusted that I’d be called back to it when the time was right. My mother-in-law’s passing has made me think the time is now.
I don’t have everything figured out, which I know isn’t necessary, but my hand and heart are steady enough to return to my memoir, old friend, who I suspect will deliver me to my next level of healing. No need for perfection. No shame in falling apart, when in coming back together I bring with me new gifts of insight, deeper compassion, and expanded consciousness. Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel some trepidation. So I’m asking you, my kind readers, for your support, love, and prayers as I begin again.
This post appeared earlier this month in my She Writes Column.
Have you gotten up on the “wrong” side of the bed lately? If so, you know that howyou wake up in the morning can set the tone for your entire day. Do you awaken to an alarm clock, jump out of bed, and feel rushed all day long? Do you feel like the day’s to-do list will take a week to complete? Does your life feel like a succession of endless striving and doing? If so, slowing down your morning wake-up process can make a difference in your day. Waking up slowly and deliberately—bringing awareness to this time of day—can help you maintain your equilibrium, which will make you calmer, and also more productive. Here are a few suggestions for bringing awareness into your mornings and starting your day with consciousness attention, clarity, and joy:
Stay still: When you first become aware that you’re awake, don’t move your body. If you’ve opened your eyes, close them.
Dreams: See if you can recall your dreams. Maybe all you’ve got is a lingering sequence, phrase, or feeling. Write it down. Keep a pad and pen or a dream journal near your bed. Even one word or image can ignite and inspire wisdom and creativity in your day’s writing.
Tension scan: Even though you’ve just awakened, you may still be holding tension in your body. Scan it for any gripping, clenching, or tightness. Release it. Wait a few seconds and see if the tension creeps back in. You might notice tension in your hip, shoulder, jaw, or hand. Let it go. Several times, if necessary.
Give thanks: Count your blessings. Give thanks for your life, your writing, your friends and family, and all your other blessings. Gratitude is a balm. And the more you focus on what you’ve got and love, the more it grows. Gratitude adds altitude to your attitude.
Intention: Set an intention for the day. If you’re struggling with a difficult writing project, state what you’d like to receive that day in terms of information and inspiration. Be definite with the infinite. Specificity is an effective tool in creating positive life outcomes, as well as writing strong poetry or prose.
Ask for Assistance: What do you need? Where are you struggling? Who can be of service to you? Ask fellow writers for assistance. Maybe you’re stuck in the middle of your project and wondering if you’ll ever finish. Maybe you’re two weeks from your publication date and are feeling weak in the knees. Or sick to your stomach. Maybe you’re about to begin a new project. Whatever your situation, there are other writers who have been there and done that. You might actually be doing somebody a favor. Being of service to a fellow writer feels good. Most people like to help where and if they can.
Trust Yourself: Don’t be afraid to reach inside as well as out. Everything you need to resolve your stress exists within you. But you must be quiet and listen. You must slow down. Sometimes it’s easier to go outside yourself, to consult others, than to listen to your own wisdom. But your own wisdom is your Holy Grail. Seek counsel. Put together a dynamic team. Consult experts. But don’t forget your most precious resource is you!
Taking the time to start your day with calm, centered awareness is like calibrating a delicate instrument. The instrument will not perform accurately if it’s not properly calibrated. Give yourself this same care and respect and the quality of your days will blossom. Spaciousness will creep into your life and shine all over your pages! Happy writing. Happy awakening! May your mornings inspire bright and beautiful days!
Holidays can be great, but they can also be challenging. Each person in every family has his or her own energy, plus the collective energy of the family itself. This is true for both nuclear families as well as extended families.
It’s easy to get drawn into old or stagnant family energies and stories that may not serve or uplift you. These stories may, in fact, create inner disturbances you can’t quite pinpoint. As a result, you might find yourself anticipating stress at holiday gatherings, if not dreading them altogether. This might be because old, negative, and unconscious patterns are playing out on the stage of your life, even though these patterns are not in alignment with your current values, intentions, or goals.
Here’s an exercise for not getting sucked into powerful, negative family dynamics. This is helpful to do any time of year and with any person who’s taking up too much space in you head, but it can be especially helpful during the holiday season.
Fill in the blank below with the name of a family member of your choosing, and recite or write the words that follow:
“_______, I respectfully return to you any and all energies of yours that I’ve been carrying. I accept and love you as you are. And I accept and love myself as I am. I honor you and I honor myself. I release you, bless you, and set you free. In so doing, I liberate myself and give thanks for my many blessings.”
If you’re feeling less than joyous at the prospect of seeing your family during the holidays, try to identify any judgments you may have placed against yourself or others and forgive yourself for them.
Here are a few examples of things you might be holding onto but needing to release:
Both of these exercises can help you maintain your equilibrium before, during, or after feasting with your family!
And let’s not lose sight of what the holidays are about: gratitude, connection, and generosity of spirit. Celebrate in whatever ways make sense. Don’t go on autopilot and engage in rituals that aren’t meaningful for you. Create your own meaning. Write your own stories. If you’re not happy during the holidays, ask why not. Write the part of you that’s unhappy a letter. Let it respond. Give your unhappiness a voice. Ask what it wants. Be generous and compassionate with yourself. Create a holiday season that is uniquely yours. Look for the blessings. They are right in front of you. Slow down. Savor love. Celebrate your gifts. You do not have to shop for the perfect gift. You are the perfect gift. Be the perfect gift you are!
A few days ago I wrote this Facebook status update: “It was a rich weekend in my Consciousness, Health & Healing program. One of the things I took away from the experience was this: Don’t wait until you are faced with a life-threatening illness to live the life you want! Carve out the time and space in your life to do what you love. Live the life you want to live NOW!”
The post received over forty likes and several comments, two of which stopped me in my tracks and made me think. The first was from Theresa, who lives in Missouri. “What if you don’t have money?” she asked, and then added, “That’s needed for life.”
I felt a pang of guilt. I’d never been poor. My mom, a single mother for a while, made huge sacrifices for us kids. I remember a brief period when she’d skip dinner because there wasn’t enough food, though she lied and said she wasn’t hungry. But those days were short-lived. Mom had a college education, teaching credentials, and a fierce will to succeed. I wasn’t sure how to handle Theresa’s comment. My first thought was to delete it. But that was coming from a cowardly place. I knew I needed to respond. I wanted to say something. I sat in silence for a while and considered what I might offer.
“Reach for your inner treasures,” I wrote, “which shimmer and shine more than those beautiful polished stones on your FB cover photo! Riches such as love, compassion, and forgiveness cost nothing and greatly enhance the quality of our lives.”
I felt good about what I’d written, which I hoped would be helpful.
But then, on the heels of that action, I received a similar comment from Veronica. The gist of what she said was that without money, living your dreams is impossible. Again, I considered deleting the comment, but I couldn’t. She deserved an answer.
Here’s what I wrote: “I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’ve never lived in poverty, but I know people who have, and I know it’s possible to rise above your circumstances and this can be done without money. Do you have a library nearby? You could borrow books about personal growth and happiness. I know quite a few rich people who aren’t happy, so money in and of itself, though it’s nice to have, isn’t what makes people happy. Love makes people happy. Compassion makes people happy. So does forgiveness. And laughter. Sunsets make people happy. Walks around the block, hugging someone you love, playing with a child or pet—these things don’t cost money. Serving others makes people happy. There are riches all around us that we sometimes fail to see. When you open yourself to them, your world grows and becomes happier. When you look for happiness and see it in the small things in your life, you experience happiness. If you think happiness is impossible because you’re broke, you will be right. Your thoughts are powerful. Doesn’t it make more sense to imagine a happy life, to reach for it, to see how that might be possible even without money, than to argue for your limitations? If you cling to the idea of your “brokeness” [a term she used to describe her life] as a reason why you can’t be happy, you will win that argument every time. But I believe you can be, do, and have more! God bless you!”
After writing that, I thought about celebrity rags-to-riches stories, how women like Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Demi Moore, Maya Angelou, and countless others transcended impoverished lives. I also thought about how sensitive I am to my environment, how much beauty means to me, and how much harder my life would be living in poverty. Still, I know that steeped within our challenging circumstances are opportunities. I’m not saying it’s easy—I’m saying that no matter what your material circumstances are, look for the possibilities, stretch beyond your comfort zone, pay attention to your thoughts, and don’t put your energy into ideas that keep you down. When you embrace the notion that you have more potential than you think, and you’re open to receiving great things from the Universe, miracles happen!
A few weeks ago, while shopping at JoAnn’s fabric and crafts store, a sewing box at the check out counter caught my eye. I can use that, I thought, but had no idea why. Except for the basics, I don’t sew. My mom, an excellent seamstress, taught me how, but I don’t enjoy it, so I take my mending to the cleaners instead. I had no clue why this sewing box called my name; I bought it having no idea what purpose it might serve.
Driving home, I realized the box would be a great place to keep my spiritual healing tools—the objects I use during meditations, journal writing, affirmations, and other soul-centered healing practices.
These past weeks, I’ve enjoyed having all these items in one place, and since the box is portable, it’s become a traveling altar.
Here’s what’s inside my box:
Writing Instruments: For scribbling notes on a pad, or writing and doodling in my journal. I get some of my best ideas during this time.
Kitchen Timer: For timed writing exercises or meditation, so I can relax and forget about the time. An iPhone timer works, too, but I like to disconnect from electronics while meditating and doing other spiritual/healing work.
Gratitude Beads: Modeled after Greek worry beads, I use them to count my blessings. With each bead I say what I’m grateful for. If you’d like to read more about this practice, check out last year’s post, “Practicing Gratitude: To a Grateful Heart Much Is Given,” posted May 30, 2012.
Earplugs: Silence helps me turn inward and listen deeply.
Eye Pillow: For lying-down meditations, such as the chakra meditation I describe in, “Relief From My To-Do List,” posted April 8th of this year.
Stones: For the above chakra meditation, as well as for inspiration and grounding.
Oracle Cards: I use Doreen Virtue’s Ascended Masters Cards, listening to my intuition whether I’m looking at the cards to try to decide which quality I need to focus on or blindly picking one from the deck. I also enjoy learning about spiritual masters throughout the ages, from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.
Hand Mirror: When it comes to reciting affirmations in front of a mirror, some folks can’t get past Stuart Smalley’s SNL spoof, in which his nerdy persona turns to the mirror and says, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and dog-gone-it people like me.” But I find affirmations extremely helpful and healing. I’m always writing and rewriting them to clarify and honor what I want and who I am. Here are a few recent favorites:
Pendulum: Helps me answer yes/no questions. When I have a yes/no question I hold the pendulum still and ask my question. Back and forth movement reminds me of a nod, which means, “yes.” Side-to-side movement resembles the shaking of the head, which means “no.” The energy of my own desire/will/thought moves the pendulum. I also receive clarification by paying attention to how I feel when the pendulum swings in one direction or another. I ask myself how I feel about any given answer, which helps me understand more clearly what I want.
Rose Quartz Wand: Everybody should have a “magic” wand. I love how mine feels in my hand. It helps me focus on what I want, and connects me to a place of inner magic.
Tibetan Bells: To begin and end my meditation.
Here’s what my toolbox looks like inside—nothing like a sewing basket, though I use its contents to stitch together pieces of myself that stray from the holy garment that is my life.
My intention in sharing the contents of my box with you is to inspire you to create a box of your own—if the idea appeals to you. Please note that the items in my box serve me. They are personal and particular to my growth and healing. Yours may be completely different. Creating your toolbox—and deciding what goes inside—is totally up to you, but I’ll tell you this: it’s clarifying, nourishing, and fun!
What would you put into your box? I’d love to hear about it.
Every year, around Thanksgiving, I wish I could hit a fast forward button, skip the month of December, and resume my life on New Year’s Day. It’s not that I don’t like the holidays, but it sometimes makes me feel like a headless chicken—a headless shopping chicken, running amok at the mall. I lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas. I know it’s supposed to be about giving, but searching for gifts in stores or online leaves me cold. It all seems so pointless.
This year my mother had a heart attack on Thanksgiving. When I heard she needed heart surgery, I got on a plane to be by her side. On December 5th she had a quadruple bypass. After the surgery, she spent two weeks in the hospital. My sisters and I stayed with her day and night. It was a stressful, difficult, and challenging time.
And yet, it was also beautiful, filled with unexpected gifts, such as compassion, nurturing, and faith. But the greatest gift was—and is—love. Our love expressed itself in many ways. It infused everything we said and did. We lived those weeks in a state of reverence for life and for each other. It was the most sacred, meaningful holiday season of my life. I never could have imagined the gifts one might find in a hospital room. There was the gift of holding my mother’s hand, stroking her brow, feeding her, singing to her, and reading her stories. There was the gift of her smile, and the gift of recognition in her eyes when, soon after the surgery, I asked, “Mom, do you know who I am?”
“Of course, I do,” she said.
“What’s my name?” I asked. “I want to hear you say it.”
“Bella,” she said.
During her days in intensive care, I prayed, meditated, and chanted in her room. In order to hit the high notes I had to release the tension constricting my chest. I sang an improvised chorus of “Alleluias” and “Amazing Grace.” Soothing my mother soothed me. I understood viscerally how giving really is receiving. Those weren’t just words or an abstract idea—it was a real-life experience.
My sisters and I celebrated when Mom got out of intensive care. But it was nearly impossible for her to walk. While she struggled to put one foot in front of the other, the therapist said, “Inch-by-inch is a cinch; yard-by-yard is really hard.” Words to live by. But it was all too difficult. At 83, her major organs began shutting down.
Later, when she took a turn for the worse and was on a respirator and on dialysis, I told her there were as many people who loved her on the other side as there were here so there was nothing to fear. “Either way,” I said, “whether you chose to live or die, you are surrounded by love. There is nothing but love. It’s everywhere.” These words helped us let go. Surrender is also a gift.
My mother died peacefully, fifteen days after her surgery. The holiday season came and went. There was no family Christmas photo, no holiday parties, no tree-trimming, and precious little shopping, but I exchanged the most valuable gifts of my life this holiday season. My sisters and I had the incredible honor of stepping away from our day-to-day lives to spend holy holiday weeks helping our mother pass from this life into the next. What a journey! What a gift!
I’ve just returned home from my “celebration” trip. It was the trip I promised myself I’d take after completing part one of my memoir. It served as both a carrot leading me toward my goal, and also as a reward for accomplishing it. And, best of all, it was within my control; I didn’t have to depend on anything or anybody outside myself to legitimize or acknowledge my accomplishment.
I went to Two Bunch Palms Resort and Spa in Desert Hot Springs and called it a retreat, rather than a vacation, because I wanted to give thanks, nourish myself, slow down, get really still and quiet—and listen deeply. I wanted to go offline and stayoffline, not for hours, but for days. I stared at the sky and at swaying palm trees, watched rabbits and roadrunners, and reconnected with my husband (whom I invited to join me). We held hands, lingered in bed, and soaked in warm mineral springs.
We also hiked Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park. We hadn’t done that in years, and I’d forgotten how challenging the first two-thirds of the trail was. It was a steep climb, but each of us put one foot in front of the other—and as we hiked I thought, This is a lot like writing, which involves putting one thought down and then another. Step-by-step. They both involve wandering, exploring, and they both require patience, courage, and faith.
Patience. I couldn’t hurry up that mountain any more than I can hurry through my memoir. I had to find my own pace. Not my husband’s pace, not the pace of the long-legged, male thirty-something who sprinted ahead of us on the trail. Not the pace I’d taken years ago, but my where-I-am-now pace—the one I could sustain, explore, and enjoy. The same holds true for my writing. I’m the only one who can tell what’s right for me in terms of pacing.
Courage. I need courage to keep moving forward in life—especially when things get difficult. At times my writing, like hiking that mountain, has felt impossible. Though this manuscript seems to be flowing through me. I seem, at long last, to be moving out of my own way so that what needs to come through me is free to do so. This is a relief and a blessing for which I continue to be grateful.
Faith. While hiking, I prayed I wouldn’t lose my footing and fall off the side of the mountain. And I pray I won’t fall off the point of my project or wander into literary quicksand. This is where gratitude for my coach and editor comes in. It’s wonderful having someone read my work, somebody who guides my steps and keeps me from sinking. Faith. I have it in her and in myself—and last week I counted on it to know I’d reach the peak if I simply kept moving toward it.
The view at the top of Ryan Mountain was spectacular—a 360-degree view of desert hills, expansive and golden in the late autumn afternoon. But it was cold and windy so we didn’t stay there as long as I would have liked. Having to head back down so quickly reminded me it’s not the destination—in my projects and in my life—that matters as much as the journey. The hike’s the thing. The adventure, what happens while heading toward my destination (or goal). It’s nice to have goals, and to reach them, but the real treat is what happens along the way. What matters are the values cultivated in pursuit of goals—patience, courage, and faith are stellar travel companions.
So as I head, with a grateful heart and a rested soul, into part two of my memoir, I plan to rely on these three friends—patience, courage, and faith—to accompany the next leg of my journey.
A week after back-to-school night at my daughter’s school, our Indian summer ended abruptly. Clouds filled the sky. No raindrops fell, but it turned cool enough to convince me that, yes, summer is over. I’ll admit I didn’t want it to end. I love the long days of sunlight, the warmth, and fresh produce. I’m going to miss my hammock and lounging by the pool reading. I’m also going to miss meditating, practicing yoga, and journal writing in the back yard. I’m going to miss lying on my back and staring up at our eucalyptus tree. I’m going to miss hummingbirds and blue jays, and the smell of honeysuckle and damp earth after my husband has watered the yard.
Yesterday I moved all my spiritual practice paraphernalia indoors: my yoga mat, blankets, bolster, and blocks; my journal, pens, timer, earplugs, sacred stones, and gratitude beads; my lap desk and my moonstone egg. At first I felt sad; I didn’t want to move my practice indoors, didn’t want to leave nature.
But as I rearranged furniture, cleaned house, recreated altars, lit candles and incense, and set my butt down on my meditation cushion, I not only felt better, but joyous! I set up three places for spiritual practice: in my bedroom, living room, and office. The office space is small, but rather than cramped, it felt cozy. Indoors has advantages, which started me thinking about things I enjoy about this time of year, the greatest of which is that delicious back-to-school feeling of hunkering down even deeper into my work—which I love!
Here are some tips for transitioning into fall. Enjoy!