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?
Earlier this summer I made my annual trip to Claremont, CA, to teach my Write Where You Are Workshop at Camp Scripps, a four-day summer camp run by and for alumnae of Scripps College. I handed out three pages of prompts, lines gleaned from Nancy Levin’s poetry collection, Writing For My Life. A volunteer read them aloud and people circled the prompts they felt a visceral response to. Some of the most popular were:
We scribbled, nonstop, for thirty minutes. When the timer went off, one woman clutched her notebook to her chest and said, “I am going to hide this—or better yet--destroy it!”
Knowing that sometimes the most reluctant participants share the brightest gems, I turned to her and said, “If I had to bet, I’d say you’ve written something very much worth sharing. Would you like to read it?”
She turned red. “I didn’t know we were going to have to read what we wrote.”
“You don’t have to,” I said, “but in my experience, the more we don’t want to share what we’ve written, the more liberating the process can be. Bearing witness to our life experiences is a profound, sacred, and healing act.”
The woman read what she’d written and it was great. She had no idea anyone would care about her marriage, health, and finances. But her writing was closely observed, loaded with details, and her voice was magnanimous and wise. The fact that she had no clue she’d written something wonderful, along with her reluctance to share and her desire to destroy what she’d written, provided valuable lessons.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines shame as “a painful feeling of having lost the respect of others because of the improper behavior, incompetence, etc. of oneself or another.” For writers, telling the truth can feel like improper behavior. Many of us were raised jumping through hoops trying to please others. As smart, sensitive children we knew what to say to satisfy those around us, even if that meant betraying ourselves. As mature women engaged in the act of truth-telling it can feel like we’re breaking rules. It goes against our “good-girl” conditioning, and this creates feelings of shame, which makes it hard to write the truth.
But people have a deep need to voice their truth, to see it, witness it, write and speak about it. Doing so affirms our existence. This is a major reason why we read: to see our lives mirrored back to us. It’s also the case that the personal is universal, especially when closely observed, without judgment. I remind students that just because they write something, it doesn’t mean they’re going to share it with the world. At least not right away. Years may stretch between the moment you write something and its publishing debut, especially if you’re writing a book. The point is, you get to choose what, how, and when to share with others. The main thing is to share first with yourself. Giving yourself permission to speak your truth in the privacy of your own room is a crucial first step toward creative self-expression and healing.
At a deeper level, resistance to sharing may reflect a lack of respect for yourself, or an inability to honor yourself. It’s often a clue that you’re judging yourself. We humans do all sorts of things we’re not proud of. But can we forgive ourselves? Can we accept and learn from our circumstances? Can we allow ourselves to be who, what, and where we are? Can we accept our darkness as well as our light? The ability to be honest about our less-than-glamorous selves, to expose our vulnerability and fear—and share it—is a virtue. My old writing teacher, Jack Grapes, used to say, “Your strengths are your weaknesses, and your weaknesses are your strengths.”
In order to write, and then share, your innermost truths, you have to make peace with them. This is a life-affirming process, which involves laying down your shame. If you can set it aside, if you can accept your life the way it is, with humility, curiosity, and wonder, you’ll experience deep radiance, which will warm you from the inside out. You will also become a beacon for others yearning to do the same.
We are imperfect creatures, perfect in our imperfection, but most important, we are here to learn. When you turn toward what you perceive as your weaknesses you exhibit great strength. This is where your creative power lies. This is your treasure, your gift, and your truth.
I’d love to hear about your relationship with shame and how it’s impacted your writing life. Also, please share how you unlock your truth. Or challenges you’ve faced (and perhaps overcome) while doing so!
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” says author Neal Donald Walsch in Conversations with God, Book 3. Easy to say. Hard to do—especially when fear kicks in, which it does as you near the edges of your comfort zone. Writers are particularly susceptible. What happens when the thought of speaking in front of an audience fills you with dread? Or what if you’re afraid to fly and you need to travel for a book tour? Or what if your own writing is taking you down some dark alley and you’re sure you’re going to get mugged—or worse?
Last year, while struggling with anxiety, I learned a lot about fear. I learned that fear cannot be trusted. If it doesn’t outright lie, fear distorts the truth. Fear prevents us from being who we are meant to be. It’s a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. A bully. And yet, fear is also an excellent teacher—if you’re willing to learn its lessons.
The first thing fear taught me was acceptance. It taught me the importance of letting myself feel what I feel, even if it’s uncomfortable, especially then. “You’re not here to be comfortable,” my therapist told me. “You’re here to live your life. Move forward. Do what you want and need to do. Comfort is not the goal. Living is.” And for writers, I’d add, comfort is not the goal, getting your book written and into the world is.
Acceptance also means not resisting, fighting, or obsessing about things over which you have no control. I recently saw a cartoon titled “Suffering,” which consisted of a leaf gently falling from a tree. A dialog bubble, expressing the leaf’s sentiments, said, “Why is this happening?”
We don’t suffer because we experience challenges, or have to do things we don’t want to do. We don’t suffer because we are ill or in pain or uncomfortable. We suffer because of the stories we tell ourselves about our circumstances or situation. We suffer when our minds become like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go of limiting, fearful thoughts or ideas. Obsessive thinking, resisting, fighting, and trying to figure everything out is less effective than going with the flow and riding a wave, especially when dealing with things over which we have no control.
Writers have vivid imaginations. The stories we make up reflect our fear and our love of drama. When our work isn’t accepted into a journal, when our books don’t sell, when agents don’t return our calls, when two people show up to a reading, when we have a crappy writing day, or don’t write at all, we may ask, Why am I wasting my time? Or berate ourselves with negative self-talk, like, I have nothing original to say, or, My writing sucks. If you hear messages like this in your head, beware! This is not the real you talking; this is the voice of fear. Tell it, “Thanks for sharing,” ignore its false message, and keep moving forward.
Another thing I’ve learned from fear is that if you embrace it, if you give it some love, it disappears. Years ago I dreamed a snake was coming at me from a crack in my living room wall. At first I was horrified. But then I realized I was dreaming, and as soon as that awareness kicked in, I thought, Oh, it’s a snake. I’m afraid of snakes. Let me try to love this object of my fear. I stared into the snake’s eyes, and repeated the words, “I love you,” feeling warmth in my heart. Within seconds the snake transformed into a radiant, smiling queen who handed me her scepter.
Authors often complain about the many hats they’re expected to wear in today’s publishing climate. If I could just be by myself and do what I love—write—I’d be happy, some think. Many dread, and even resent, the hours waiting to hear back from agents and publishers. Many complain that social media sucks their precious time. Some writers would rather do just about anything else than promote themselves, and their work. But what if all these things are great opportunities to grow as a person, as well as an author? What if all our snakes are longing to be turned into queens? What if we are the sovereign rulers of our work and of our lives? Why not tell ourselves this story? It’s not enough to tell a story or have a thought. What matters is what we believe. Why not believe positive, liberating thoughts such as this one?
In the video, The Energetics of Healing: A Visual Guide to Your Body’s Energy Anatomy, Caroline Myss relates positive and negative thinking to financial investing, urging people to “invest” in positive thoughts, likening the negative ones fear conjures to junk bonds. “What thoughts are you going to invest [believe] in?” she asks, “Are you going to finance that idea?”
Lately, when I remember to do so, I’ve been checking in with my thoughts and beliefs, and trying to consciously choose love over fear. Love is like the water Dorothy throws on the Wicked Witch of the West; fear simply cannot survive when drenched with love.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on fear. What has it taught you? How have you overcome it? What do you know in your heart to be true about fear?
I wrote this post for my July monthly She Writes column. Have you ever heard the term AFOG? If you’re interested in creative writing and personal growth read on!
Recently one of my students, an attorney who represents death row inmates, responded to a comment I’d made in class about his writing: “Oh, I see,” he said, biting his lip and scratching his head. “This is an AFOG!”
“A what?” I asked.
“An AFOG,” he repeated. “Another fucking opportunity for growth!”
Everybody laughed. We all understood the agony and the ecstasy of this truth—for the characters in our stories, and also for ourselves in our own lives. Most of us would like our lives to flow smoothly. We’d like not to experience pain, or discomfort. We’d like to glide through life with as little heartbreak or drama as possible. We’d like to encounter few obstacles, and get what we want when we want it. But life, as you know, doesn’t quite work that way—and neither do stories.
What differentiates a story from a sketch is that something happens in a story. There’s movement of one kind or another, a shift. It can be subtle. It can be quiet. But something or someone has to change or be transformed by the events in your tale in order for you to have a story. If you don’t put your characters into risky or dangerous situations, or if they don’t experience challenges, then they won’t get the opportunityto grow or change. And that’s what readers want to see. This shift is the reason your story exists. Without it the reader ends up thinking, What’s the point?
We look for ourselves in the stories we read—perhaps not consciously. The people we read about don’t need to face the same struggles we do, but they need to be challenged, as we are. Fiction writers understand this, but the same principle applies to memoir, poetry, playwriting, and screenwriting. No trouble means no drama, and no drama means that you, the writer, have a problem—which of course is an opportunity! The Chinese character for “challenge” is the same as the one for “opportunity.” What our characters do with their problems, how they respond to their challenges, is where the power of your story lies.
Likewise, how we respond to the challenges in our lives, as writers and as human beings, determines the direction and quality of our experiences. We are always creating, with our thoughts, actions, and emotions, as well as with our computers and our felt-tip pens.
We cannot know all the ways we are capable of growing until things happen—until we’ve been plunged into our own boiling water, until we’ve navigated though our own hell. It’s only once we’ve made it safely to the other side of our obstacles that we often have the wherewithal to see the opportunity for growth within the tough experience we’ve just weathered. We are not taught in this culture to welcome hardship, but it would be wise to cultivate this attitude, to develop patience and compassion, and take an honest look at our habits and thoughts, in order to make ourselves more available for growth.
This perspective is valuable for anyone to keep in mind, but it’s especially important for writers. With the number of roadblocks, potholes, and red flags in a writer’s life, it’s essential for writers not only to accept, but also to embrace challenges. The way to do this is to welcome them. Consider the outrageous possibility that nothing “bad” is happening—even if it looks and feels that way. Resist the temptation to judge your experience. Try looking for the blessings in your situation. You will be strengthened to the extent that you are able to suspend your judgment and sit with what is. This can be difficult to do, but it’s a worthy and beneficial practice. The more you resist challenges, the larger they loom. Have faith. Nothing stands still. Time marches on. You—and your characters—will get through your “opportunities for growth.” Neither of you will have to live in “a fog” forever. One way or another, stories get resolved. Be patient. Be kind. Be grateful. Love yourself—more than you think you can—and your AFOG will turn into an AMOG—another miraculous opportunity for growth!
Two months ago, I touched upon journal writing in my post, “What To Do When You Feel Like You Can’t Write?” I alluded to the fact that basically, when life throws you a curve ball, one of the best things you can do is write in your journal. I spoke about how journal writing provides self-comfort and self-knowledge. I said it was your writer’s training ground, your therapist, and your best friend rolled into one. But journal writing is such an essential part of my writing life that I wanted to say more.
When you’re stuck on a project or need space away from it, writing in your journal can help move you forward. When you’re pissed off, sad, afraid, confused, and feeling like an unfit conversationalist, you can speak your mind in your journal. You never have to worry about how you look or sound. You are safe from the thoughts, opinions, and judgments of others. You have nothing to prove, and you don’t have to be concerned about writing anything “good.” The fact that you’re writing is all that matters. Showing up. That’s it.
A few weeks ago on Facebook, I wrote that the difference between doing a little writing and a lot of writing is small. The difference between doing NO writing and a little writing is great. Even when you’re doing a little writing, you’ve got your finger on the pulse. You never know when you’ll experience a quickening from within. And when you do, you’ll be ready to follow its lead. You won’t have to strive and struggle to achieve your writing goals. It’ll just happen—because of your quiet, faithful commitment to simply and unselfconsciously scribble just a little bit each day! Your journal is the perfect place to do this.
It’s easy to forget the power, effectiveness, and cumulative results you reap writing a little bit each day. We think we have to spend hours at our desk to get any real work done. This can lead to avoiding writing altogether. We divert ourselves with busywork, kids, reading, exercise, or (gasp!) shopping. There are plenty of distractions. Even a trip to the grocery store can seem exciting if we’re trying to avoid writing. I don’t know about you, but I feel crappy when I’m not writing. But if I can find my way back to my journal, I feel like I’ve come home. It grounds me, and at the same time provides an entryway into my higher self. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of journal writing to heal and transform.
After my mom died, I plunged into work, didn’t take time to grieve, ignored the voice inside that told me to slow down, and then, last November, my life as I knew it screeched to a halt. For several months I suffered from debilitating anxiety, fear, and grief. I am feeling better now, thanks in part to my journal. I’ve poured out my heart and cried over its pages. I’ve written letters to my mother, and I’ve let myself be comforted by the wise, steady voice within.
I sometimes question, How this is possible? What’s going on here? And when I’ve found solace in my writing, I’ve also wondered: Why is journal-writing such a balm? I once read that when we write, we actually create new neural pathways in our brains. We literally change our brain, breaking old neural habits and creating new ones.
In his book, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, psychologist James W. Pennebaker shares the results of his clinical research. “Self-disclosure,” he writes, “is good for our emotional, as well as physical health. Confessional writing brings about brain-wave congruence. As you write, the two sides of your brain converge. As you get deeper into your writing, you may reach a meditative state, which produces theta brain waves, which are slower than our daily, waking-state brain waves. The theta brain wave state is where we experience heightened creativity, breakthroughs, and effortless solutions to problems.”
Jack Canfield, coauthor of the Chicken Soup series, agrees. In his book The Success Principles he writes, “Many people have their greatest success accessing intuitive information through journal writing. Take any question that you need an answer to and just start writing about it. Write down the answers to your question(s) as quickly as they come to you. You will be amazed at the clarity that can emerge from this process.”
Janet Conner, in her book Writing Down Your Soul: How to Activate and Listen to the Extraordinary…, takes this a step further: “If you write with a clear intention to communicate with your inner wisdom, you create a doorway between conscious mind and cosmic mind, self energy and source energy, old neural pathways and new ones, life as it is and life as it could be.”
This is an extraordinary claim. But I believe it. My journal has definitely provided access to Universal Intelligence. Much of the time I’m not sure where half of what I write comes from, but I trust and deeply respect the process.
How about you? I’d love to hear about your relationship with your journal and its influence and impact on your life.
Note: This post appeared earlier this month in my monthly SHE WRITES column.
Recently, in my writing class, one of my students apologized because she’d spent her thirty minutes of writing time scribbling what she described as “nothing worth reading.” This woman is a wonderful poet, fiction writer, and English Department Chair at one of the most prestigious private schools in Los Angeles. Everyone in our class knew that although she felt “off” that night, chances were better than decent she’d written something worth listening to—despite her disclaimer that it was “just a bunch of selfish navel-gazing.”
Of course, her writing was nothing of the sort. Though her writing was a bit gloomy and dark, it was also introspective, insightful, and deeply moving. When she finished reading, the room was silent. No one wanted to break the spell woven by her words.
“What’s great about this,” I said, “is how much we can all relate to it.”
“Really?” she asked, slouching and peering out from behind a curtain of straight brown hair. “Isn’t it just so self-absorbed? So much doom and gloom!”
“It’s closely observed. It’s honest. It’s the truth. Your piece gives me the chance to reflect not on your life, but on my own. That’s why we read. We hope to see ourselves reflected in other people’s stories.” I paused and then added, “We don’t care about you—I’ve got my own God-damned doom and gloom! Your piece helps me recognize and appreciate it.”
“That’s great,” she said, nodding her head and grinning. “I’m writing that down. ‘We don’t care about you!’”
Everybody laughed. But what followed was a meaningful discussion about why we read. The main point that emerged was this: readers are selfish. They want to see their own lives reflected in what they read. They want to resonate with a writer’s story, to feel that it represents some truth or experience they themselves have either had or glimpsed, and perhaps never articulated or fully understood. They want light bulbs to flash in their minds as their eyes scan the page, they want their hearts pried opened, they hope to understand something new, to be taken to some pinnacle of awareness or insight that will give them what they need to navigate their own sublime or treacherous journeys.
They don’t care about you, the writer, per se. But since we’re all made of the same stuff, if you tell your story well, if you’re transparent, unflinching, if you’ve learned to give good detail, if you’ve unpacked great imagery, understand takeaways, character, story, and theme, readers will see themselves in your tale as clearly as if they were looking into a mirror.
The only thing “off” about my student that night was her judgments of herself, and of her writing. I see this a lot. I’ve threatened to put a jar on the coffee table in my living room into which my students must toss a quarter for every apology, excuse, or self-deprecating remark made prior to reading what they’ve written.
Writers, resist the temptation to judge yourself and your work. Think of your writing as sandbox time. Dig. Play. Get dirty. Make friends. Explore the shapes of things. See what you can build. But don’t take yourself too seriously. The more important your writing feels, the better it serves you to think of it as a game. A diversion. Something you do for yourself first. Enjoy it.
And by all means, feel free to do your fair share of navel-gazing. Peer into the center of your world. Examine your spirals. Move into your interior sections. Pluck and plant your seeds. If you can see your life and the lives of those around you clearly, and if you can describe it honestly, you will learn and grow—and others, who come later and read what you’ve written, will find their own lives flickering before their eyes. They will see themselves in your writing. As I’ve said, this is why we read. And it is also why we write—to connect! There’s nothing selfish about that. Writing is an act of generosity. The more you look inward, and the more you share what you see and know, the greater the gift you give.
This post was featured earlier this month on She Writes, an online organization serving over 20,000 writers.
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 couple weeks ago, using the voice memo function on my iPhone, I recorded pages of affirmations I’ve written over several years. I ended up with an hour and twenty minutes of recorded affirmations. I’ve been listening to them through headphones while falling asleep at night, and again early in the morning, during receptive theta brain wave states.
A few days into this practice, I dreamed I was trying to have a conversation with myself, but my Self wasn’t listening; instead it was spewing affirmations at me! I awakened wondering if my new practice was smart or stupid. Was I drowning out essential thoughts or ignoring some vital aspect of my Self? Was I interfering with deep nocturnal conversations? I kept these questions in mind while continuing to experiment.
I found myself looking forward to my bedtime ritual, plugging my phone into its charger and earpods, carefully arranging wires over my shoulder, to keep them out of the way, setting my phone on my night table, lying on my back, placing one hand on my heart and the other on my belly, letting go, listening and surrendering to the sound of my own voice.
I was surprised how gentle and soothing it was. I’d recorded the affirmations after meditating, so my voice was calm and steady. I spoke slowly and clearly, and I repeated each affirmation twice. That way I could hear the present affirmation, silently focus on it, and then repeat it. I was surprised, too, by the authoritative quality my voice carried—not in a bossy way, but in a deep-knowing way, as if my voice were saying to me, “Listen up. I know what I’m talking about. Trust me.”
Most nights the affirmations seemed to be speaking the truth, but one night, after I’d had a rough day, during which insecurities had been triggered, they seemed sprinkled with lies, and I wondered if I was selling myself a bill of goods. “Yeah, right,” a venomous voice hissed in response to the affirmation that said and then repeated, “I have all the time and money I need.”
This showed me I needed a recalibration; unbeknownst to me, my inner Gremlins had surfaced and taken over. I acknowledged and released my Gremlins, and then leaned into the “potential” truth those statements held by asking myself, “How might this be true in my life? In what way(s) can I stretch into this statement or make it true for me?”
The best affirmations are those that feel at least 50% believable. You make positive “I am” statements in the present tense about what you’d like to invite into your life. By stretching into these thoughts, you begin to attract and create what you are affirming. I’ve worked with affirmations for years. One of my favorite practices has been to recite them while holding a hand mirror, looking into my own eyes, where my bullshit detector is fully present and activated. If something doesn’t ring true, I feel it—and that tells me where I need to focus healing energy and attention.
But there’s something about the sound of my own voice at night that is deeply satisfying in a whole new way. It’s as if I’m my own mother telling myself a happy and hopeful bedtime story. I am simultaneously mother and child, providing and receiving comfort. And it’s effortless. I collapse into bed and lie there. There’s nothing for me to do but listen to the wise, loving, encouraging voice telling me a brand-new story.
Another plus about my practice is that my mind, which can only focus well on one thing at a time, cannot wander or stew over problems while I listen. This cuts down on worry time. I’m not thinking about things that, in the past, may have kept me up at night; I’m thinking about all the positive things I’m calling forth into my life!
And positive things are showing up! I’m resonating deeply with my affirmations and experiencing positive outer changes, which are reflecting the inner ones. My writing feels effortless, I’ve got more people contacting me for coaching than I can take on, my relationships feel more loving, and I’m feeling more grounded and peaceful. Overall, since beginning this practice two weeks ago, I am experiencing flow in every area of my life!
I’d love to hear about your experiences with affirmations. Especially if you try recording them and listening to them as you fall asleep. For me, this has been a very powerful, supportive, and healing process! Try it and let me know what you think!
What’s the first thing you do when you get a headache? Or a stomachache? Or a kink in your neck? Do you head for the medicine cabinet? Pain remedies offer relief, but they don’t heal. Chronic conditions, as well as other health challenges, are your body’s way of trying to get your attention. A creative, holistic healing strategy is to give your pain, condition, or dis-ease a voice.
Retreat to a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes. You may want to use an eyeshade and earplugs to help you turn your attention inward. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Place your hands on the part of your body that hurts. Send your breath into that area and ask the following questions:
What are you trying to tell me?
What do you need from me right now?
What can I do for you today?
Sit quietly and listen. You might want to keep a pad and pen close by and jot down ideas that pop into your head. Before you finish, ask, Is there anything else you’d like me to know? Write down anything that comes forward. Give thanks and lovingly commit to following through on whatever surfaced.
You may also want to have a conversation with your pain or physical discomfort in a journal or notebook. To give you an idea of what this might look like, here’s a conversation I had recently with my clenched solar plexus:
Me: What are you trying to say to me?
Clenched Solar Plexus (CSP): It’s not what you’re doing, but how you do it that needs tweaking. Replace hectic energy with calm.
CSP: Believe in yourself, know that you are enough, and stop racing around. You have plenty of time.
Me: But there’s so much I want to do. How will I get everything done?
CSP: By taking more time for yourself, which will center, ground, and relax you.
Me: Yeah, I need to relax. I worry too much. How can I quit doing that?
CSP: Exercise; stay in the moment (beware: this is easier said than done—it takes vigilance, commitment, and lots of practice!); continue to cultivate a conscious relationship with your breath; and most of all, have faith!
Me: Why is faith most important?
CSP: Your worries come from your mind and thoughts, which you can control. The mind is like a computer. It gets programmed and can be reprogrammed. It’s an excellent tool, but your mind cannot grasp the spiritual truth that you are safe. Your soul knows this. Your soul is eternal. Your soul is pure love. When you live from your soul, worry is not part of the equation.
Me: So I should live from my soul?
Me: How do I do that?
CSP: You start by placing your faith in your soul, by committing to a soulful way of life. Then you show up, listen, and do what the voice inside tells you to do—as long as what it says doesn’t hurt anybody. Acting on your soul’s suggestions takes courage. Drop down into your heart, connect, and respond from there. Then all you do is repeat the cycle: Believe. Commit. Show up. Listen. Trust your inner voice.
Me: You make it sound so simple.
CSP: It is. But first you must believe!
What is your pain telling you today? I’d love to hear from the wisdom of your body!