Over thirty years ago I worked as a sales manager at Jack LaLanne health clubs. My aim was to get to know, support, and enroll everyone who came into my office. I was trained to listen for and dissolve objections—obstacles people raised that kept them from doing what they said they wanted (to exercise and get into shape.)
Prompted by the recent protests, some of my students have been writing about race. Listening to their work has inspired me and also helped me realize that in the past few weeks I’ve gone AWOL on my own writing.
For the past eleven years I’ve been teaching transformational writing classes. I’ve offered four eight-week sessions annually and taken time off between sessions. During our time off I’ve hosted literary salons, where my students read work written in class to invited guests. We have enough chairs for sixty people and we often have a full house. These salons are always joyous events filled with deep sharing, laughter, yummy food, and beverages. They’re parties that celebrate my students and their writing.
Last week I was pleased and surprised to find peace and joy in simply breathing. I wasn’t doing special breath work, or trying anything new (although I experienced something I’d never felt before). I was just meditating and trying to settle down and get as quiet and still as possible. Let go. Soften. Allow. Relax, I told myself, repeating these words as a mantra. I also used, “Quiet mind, open heart.”
Last week I wrote (but had not yet posted) a piece called “An Alternative to Freaking Out,” in which I described a meditation process that calms anxiety, and which has helped me move into blissful states. But then, over the weekend, I freaked out!
Now, more than ever, I find myself asking this question. For the past few years, my inner guidance has been telling me to slow down, stop fighting, let go, and trust life. As I’ve practiced doing these things, I’ve been liberated from a debilitating anxiety disorder and I’ve experienced greater peace, gratitude, and joy.
In my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, I share how an anxiety disorder hijacked my life for a few onerous years. Anxiety showed up as an enemy but eventually became a valuable teacher. Anxiety still educates me, and in light of the Coronavirus, and for those kindred spirits whose personalities also lean toward worry and fear, I thought I’d share a few thoughts.
In my last blog and newsletter, “What Fuels Your Ambition?” I discussed challenges I’ve had in my life regarding striving. The day after I sent it, I received this thoughtful response from Hazel Breen, a writing student of mine, who has raised four children (now in college):
A couple years ago I met an old actor friend from Juilliard for lunch. I hadn’t seen him in decades. He greeted me outside the restaurant and said, “I could tell it was you from thirty yards away.”
Two weeks ago I hosted a Literary Salon. My students (present and former) read their work to an audience of family and friends. We also ate, drank, mingled, and—thanks to the brave and authentic work shared—connected in deep and meaningful ways. I mentioned at the salon that although writing is a solitary occupation, writing lives and careers require love, support, connection, and community.