Body-Mind-Spirit - Inspiration for Writers, Dreamers, and Seekers of Health & Happiness
Freeing My Turtle Shell Heart
Ten years ago, one of my favorite yoga teachers told me it was time to “pop that turtle shell off your back.” She wanted me to straighten my hunched shoulders, unfurl my sunken chest, and open my heart.
I followed her instructions and saw improvement, but over the past couple of years, in part due to the pandemic, my yoga practice (and with it my posture) has taken a hit. It's not super noticeable, but I feel it. Lately, the issue has come up in physical therapy, during massages, and in my intuitive, creative movement practice.
I drape my thoracic spine over yoga blocks, bolters, and even the backs of chairs. At the end of my meditation practice, I raise my arms over my head, bend my elbows, and arch my upper body. I'm in a position of surrender. My body is "arresting" me. It's calling me out, insisting I pay attention.
Pay attention to what? I wonder.
And then it hits me: My thoracic spine is part of my heart, the back of it. My rounded posture shelters my pain. I can let that go.
I must be willing to open my heart to pop this turtle shell off my back.
But how do I open my heart? I wonder.
The answer comes quickly: Let go.
Let go of fears, judgments, pride—and your need to know.
This last directive—let go of your need to know—intrigues me. It boils down to making peace with uncertainty, which I wrote about in my most recent book, Where Do You Hang Your Hammock: Finding Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book. But I’d like to add that making peace with uncertainty—especially when it comes to writing—requires patience and faith. It’s a practice that takes time, and you must believe in yourself and your vision.
Last week, while mining an old, unpublished memoir (I call it my “kitchen sink” memoir) for 100-word story ideas, I found a dream I’d recorded from the third month of my pregnancy. I’d been queasy, had writer’s block, and worried that motherhood was already derailing my literary ambitions. I doubted that I'd ever become a published author. However, I received a clear message from the dream that assured me I was on my path and living my purpose. I needed to have patience and faith. I was thirty-five years old then, and I vastly underestimated how much I'd need both.
Two and half decades later, I’m wiser, but I still struggle. I move too fast. I doubt myself. I try to cram a week's worth of work into a day. I get discouraged. I think I'm not good enough.
I love Tara Brach's expression, "the trance of unworthiness." I see how prevalent this is among my (accomplished and impressive) students and in myself. For me the trance of unworthiness comes out in feeling like a fraud.
And at times, I glimpse my entitlement. I expected things to be easier than they’ve been. I expected success to come sooner and to be more prominent. I felt entitled to it even while another part of me felt inadequate.
Success—which I like to think about in terms of growth—takes effort. You must show up. You must have skin in the game. You must be willing to get knocked down, take risks, and go after what you want.
Acting on your dreams takes courage. It requires an open heart.
It’s easy to make excuses for not doing the things you want to do. Rumi wrote, "Fear is the cheapest room in the house." An open heart greets fear and other obstacles with compassion and wisdom. Ironically, a closed (or "protected") heart is vulnerable to attack.
Therefore, I keep trying to pop this turtle shell off my back. And I encourage you to do the same. Your tension and fear may not live on your back; maybe they reside in the pit of your stomach, neck, shoulders, or elsewhere. The important thing is to listen to your body, move with it, and show up for yourself and your dreams.
Here's a fun fact: Turtle shells are made of bone and are part of a turtle’s spine. It’s as much a part of its body as our skeleton is to ours. Contrary to popular belief, turtles cannot leave their shells. Fortunately, my “turtle shell” is neither part of my body nor home.
My yoga teacher was right: it’s time to pop it off.
An open heart is freedom worth cultivating! This is a foundational practice in my Write Where You Are Community Writing Circles, which begin September 26. Enrollment will take place September 12 – 16. If you’re a current or former writing circle participant, or if we’ve spoken and you’d like a seat in the next session, please let me know and I’ll save your spot. It’s first-come-first-served. I expect these spots to sell out quickly! Please let me know a.s.a.p. if you’d like to join us, or if you have any questions. I'd be happy to chat.
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