I carry a couple field notebooks with me to collect ideas, jot down something I notice or to remind myself of a good line to place in a piece later. My notebooks fill up much slower these days, since the pandemic touched every part of our lives. There's only so much I can jot down about what I see from my window or yard.
I do get out for my daily walk through Stewart Park with my dogs, where I use my phone to take notes.
All I have to do is say, "Siri, take a note." She doesn't always get the message or word right, and sometimes the message is utterly lost in translation. I wonder what I meant by "the carrot spoke in rhymes." Later then, when I give myself an hour or so, I take out my field notebooks and notes to Siri and place them somewhere. Most of them have a place to go: my journal, a blog, into a poem, a manuscript, or a note to someone. Some are a start to an article or possible project.
As I walk a familiar but changing path through the park, ideas arrive as invitations into another conversation.
Here is what I found on Siri of late:
She wears her unhappiness like a tight skin.
Our abandonment anxiety plays out in the present in ways that it first showed up in the past.
We never know where the story might take us, that's why we allow it to take us where it will.
Fascination comes with a realization, but then we must release the fascination and live the realization, otherwise it becomes a fascination with a moment that has passed.
(idea for my novel): She feels her power through the connecting tissue in the earth and she needs to do that to rejuvenate, to reconnect she can't go without connecting like that, so she has to make sure she's in a nature a lot, like all of us. So, that's one way for the bad guys to weaken her is to get her in a room of concrete.
Those who can't lead, divide.
I don't know because I wonder.
Let the light break me open like a bud.
“The vision of the beautiful city was in her, the wide streets, the towers of marble, the tiled and bronze roofs, the white-sailed ships in harbor, the marvelous throne room where sunlight fell like swords, the wealth and dignity and harmony, the order that was kept there. From that bright center, she saw order going outward like the perfect waves on water, like the straightness of a paved street or a ship sailing before the wind: a going the way it should go, a bringing to peace.” - Ursula K. Le Guinn, Tehanu.
Back in my early thirties, my therapist recommended I read Tehanu. A book he felt was a quintessential read for me. A read that could help me claim the inner child that had been somehow wounded and consequently went into hiding. I read that book (in a night) and later, the accompanying Earth Sea Trilogy. (Tehanu is actually the 4th book, but can be read alone.)
The story mirrored my life. The book gave me inward and outward vision.
To have vision is a superpower. To be given this power of vision through a book is the gift that every writer gives to readers.
Most who come into therapy have lost their vision (or misplaced it somehow). They have lost, or never discovered, their inner callings, their dreams, their intentions. Anxiety, sleeplessness, physical illness, depression and a deep sense of grief, or disconnect, may guide us to seek help. At such times we are likely experiencing what Parker Palmer refers to as the divided life. We are somehow divided from ourselves.
As a writer you are driven by a calling and vision. The strength of your vision and connection to that inner calling the stronger your commitment is to the written word. Once you have awoken such a vision it is harder to deny it than it is to follow it. Listening in this way may be painful, it is certainly heroic and transformative.
In these shared dark times, and these times are dark and threatening, holding on to or moving toward our writerly (creative, spiritual) vision is an essential.
Writing our way into a better way of being is essential.
Writers are essential workers.
We offer up our words and stories as gifts to our readers through fictional and nonfictional material that they use to create their visions. This is radical. Sometimes sharing our stories is an act of defiance against those who want to silence us.
What book are you reading now, or poem, or blog that inspires you with vision? Hope? Ideas? Write about that.
What vision do you hold that wants to be shared through story? Write about that.
Who is trying to silence you? Write about that.
Can you see how essential your work as a writer is for yourself and your readers? As I have shared before, if this blog reaches just one heart and mind, that is worth my effort. You are worth my effort. I am worth my effort. To write this blog, or my books, first gives me this gift of visioning. That is the transformational magic of writing: as writer we first get the gift of our own words and visions.
Then we gift our readers.
Here are a few ways to encourage you to listen to and write from your visions:
Do not let circumstances define you. Know that we can ask the questions we need to ask that moves our life forward, in any circumstance.
Identify and ask the questions of this season or threshold of your life. What are you exploring now?
Practice ways that keep you connected to that inner calling and knowing. (Meditation, walks in nature, counseling, prayer, listening to songs or nature, contemplation, journaling, yoga . . .)
Live life from your side, (don’t drive in other’s lanes), live the zero point agreement, while meeting other’s half-way.
Remember you have nothing to prove and everything to explore and share.
And when you can, join up with other writers.
“Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying, life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky. . - Ursula K. Le Guinn, Tehanu
Free Yogi & the Writer first Wednesday Nights of the Month, from 6:30 till 8:00. Such a great combo!: Writing and yoga for an hour and a half. Email Molly Chanson to get on the mailing list.
RISE!: Transformational Writing and Yoga:
Restorative•Integrative•Soulful•Empowering. An upcoming WINTER retreat by Molly Chanson and Julie Tallard Johnson. Save the dates: February 19th, 20th & 21st . REGISTER HERE: RISE! Join Molly and I for a unique experience of writing, contemplation & yoga.
Daiju visited the master Baso in China. Baso asked: What do you seek?
“Enlightenment,” replied Daiju.
“You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?” Baso asked.
Daiju inquired: “Where is my treasure house?”
Baso answered: “What you are asking is your treasure house.”
Daiju was enlightened! Ever after he urged his friends: “Open your own treasure house and use those treasures.”
Paul reps and nyogen senzaki,
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
In this story, Daiju comes to understand that what he seeks is carried within. He understands that his innate curiosity is a treasure in itself. He comes home to himself but cannot contain himself; he must share his gift in service to others. He finds his treasure house. Daiju comes full circle, as each of us can—we begin by wondering where our treasures are. Where is yours? What, up until now, have you been searching for? Where have you been looking for meaning? It’s human nature to want to make our lives fulfilling personally, vocationally, and in our relationships. we all want to feel good about what we are doing with our lives. Most of us, however, are in one of two camps: those searching for meaning, or those who have given up the search. But there is a third option that is reemerging, a new myth as it were, which is to give up the search for meaning in order to make meaning within all the circumstances of our precious life.
There is an underlying science to living an inspired and meaningful life. My book, The Zero Point Agreement is a template for those ready to fully engage in making meaning from all of life’s situations. the zero point agreement and the techniques within this book are reliable methods for awakening yourself to the world around you and to your fullest potential (to your treasure house), no matter your circumstances. These methods offer an interior science of transformation that is established and proven, a spiritual technology for meaning makers. We can only discover the truth for ourselves by living life from our side (the zero point). In living life from your side you not only find lasting happiness and satisfaction but personal awakening. And through this personal awakening we directly benefit all life on this planet.
No one else can run the race, enjoy the fine meal, write the novel, or love your partner in your place. This life is yours to live. Too often, however, we rely on outside circumstances and resources to bring us happiness and fulfillment. Many wait on the sidelines of life for that opportune moment when circumstances will be just right for them. However, external conditions never bring us lasting happiness (focusing illusion). this search outside ourselves only strengthens our feelings of separation and dissatisfaction as we search for our happiness in this way. And our religious institutions and leaders, pop gurus, spiritual and economic con artists, big box chain stores, pharmaceutical companies, and many politicians depend on your search for meaning—for they will happily supply it to you.
One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive one.
ralph waldo emerson
No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
stanislaw Jerzy lec, poet and aphorist
There are core themes of exploration and meaning in my life. These themes influence every thing I do, say and write. These are my themes (that come up in my books and life): Being a Meaning Maker; trusting our experiences, Being the Cause not the effect of our lives, living the writer’s life, how everything is material for transformation and healing, the conversational reality of life (the power of language and words), trusting in a Higher Power, and living the zero point agreement (living life from our side/being 100% responsible for how you experience our life/living life from the inside out).
What are your life themes? Write about that.
What themes guide your explorations and experiences? Write about that.
How do your themes come up in your writing?
What theme is arriving at your doorstep today? Write about that.
Many clients and writers come to me expressing concern that they feel stuck.
In response I ask them, “What does this stuck look like, feel like?” (Write about that.)
Usually this stuck-ness is described in judgmental terms of what they feel they should be doing. The context of this stuck-ness usually is a busy, full life with movement and engagement. Just not movement in that one area. Their stuck-ness is particular to their writing or some unfulfilled wish. They have a creative commitment and are not acting on it. So, they feel stuck. And this stuck-ness acts like a poison – or ink in a glass of water. It touches everything and makes them feel as if their life is stuck.
Often confusion comes with this feeling of stuck-ness. Where do I go from here? What should I be doing? Why am I having trouble moving forward on this? Who do I think I am? What possibility should I pursue? Should I just stop writing altogether?
Along with this confusion comes a desperation to find some solution to their feelings of stuck-ness and confusion.
Every condition and situation holds a story, holds something for us that can and will move our lives and intentions forward.
Often when we are stuck or confused we simply are not ready to act. As long as you are waking up and holding some intention in your heart when you become fully ready, what you need to do to live or write forward will be there for you.
When we hold so many ideas or options or possibilities in our minds (this can cause us to be stuck and confused), this can mean the time is not right to act on these possibilities. We can create more difficulty in our lives when we hold on to all these options and try to force ourselves to choose and to act.
It may not be time yet for you to take that next big step. This confusion is the next step. Listen to that. . . write about that. !
Let yourself be with the confusion and feeling stuck.
Notice what comes up when you are conscious and compassionate with yourself. As long as you are showing up in your life – what wants to manifest in your life will also show up. The time to act or move forward on a project or story will become known to you. Simply stay in the conversation. Let your ideas and possibilities cook for the time they need and then be aware of when it is time to act. To write. To leave. To begin. To finish. To continue.
To push the send button.
"Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever I may be in, therein to be content." –Helen Keller
"You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant." John Lewis, A 2012 speech in Charlotte, North Carolina
Both the writing experience, as a writer, and the written word can be the good trouble we and the world need. Right now.
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just … do something. Do some good trouble.” John Lewis
He spoke about “living it,” living our compassion, living our “spirit of love,” living our beliefs for justice. For us writers this may mean getting our experiences, thoughts and vulnerabilities down on paper. Writing it down so that we can face ourselves first. Then we can take what we know out into the world as stories, protest signs, letters to politicians. We can post blogs that may stir things up in our readers. We can have our words be a call to action.
Every good read, in all genres, provides a call to action. What is your call to action? What is your good trouble? Write about that.
Through our writing we can challenge our sleepiness, our resistance and in the sharing of our stories we can trouble our readers in a good way.
This is the time for action.
This is the time to write.
This is the time to speak up.
This is the time for your version of good trouble. Necessary trouble.
What does your protest sign say? Write about that.
What is your version of good trouble today? Write about that.
"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble." John Lewis, tweet in 2020
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"I am the way
And the truth
And the life.” John 14:6
“The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
"I have the answer for you." (Some false guru somewhere)
The. The is the most powerful word.
The way instead of a way.
The truth instead of a truth.
The path instead of a path.
This word is also a word, the word, that can take away from other words. Most of us use The way too much in our written word. (The) Use of the can make us lazy writers --- instead of describing something like sun on a lake, we may write: the sun sparkled on the lake. (Sun bounced off water like secrets).
In my spiritual and contemplative practices I am challenging the use of The (the way, the path, the truth). I see it more as a tool to manipulate spiritual seekers. I am diving into some historical context around use of the word the, as in The Way, The Truth, The Toa and as in, Jesus is The Way . . . . Plenty of psychological scams claim to be the way as well. And too many teachers and gurus consider themselves expression of the one and only way.
I am certain that something went amiss here in recording Jesus’s words. I imagine that either the recorders were convinced that this was the way (for them at least), and some were further convinced that claiming their truth as the truth would make for a more powerful and likely conversion experience. And, in the case of using this word to convince others that other ways are wrong, makes the use of this word a simple fear tactic.
So, I go about my writing and my living challenging the application of the. We shall see what I discover.
I will be off-grid starting tomorrow. I head into a meditation retreat at Kevala Retreat Center till Monday, taught by a most wonderful teacher, Santikaro. I will practice leaving my “the’s” behind.
And find a way for now.
In many ways we are in an extended winter with this COVID. That being true, how and what do we listen to in this extended winter? What as writers is coming up for us to follow in our listening? . . .
The Winter of Listening by David Whyte
No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.
All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
round every living thing.
What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
What we strive for
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
and then nourishes
What we hate
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.
Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.
All those years
listening to those
nothing to say.
All those years
has its own voice
All those years
you can belong
simply by listening.
And the slow
is born from
Silence and winter
has led me to that
So let this winter
for the new life
I must call my own.
Here are some writing prompts taken from the Wednesday Night with the Yogi & the Writer:
Listening – Everything and everyone wants to be known through a listening, through attention. Listening is always conversational. And uses the whole body. Not just the ears. Listening takes place from the physical and energy body.
We feel our belonging through our listening, through our conversations with all and anything that arises or comes into our circle of life ---
Being present is conversational – is listening.
Every sense is a listening sense. Consider listening to your food as you eat it, taste it. Using all your senses and intuition, listen.
Learning how to listen to ourselves (thoughts, feelings/emotions, wants,) and the other --- tree, dogs, people, moments, histories, our pain, other's pain stories, strangers and loved ones, brings us our lives. . . Is the path of belonging. Is the writer's and yogi's path.
Try this: Ask yourself (and if you choose take notes in your writer's field note book):
1.What am I thinking? Listen . . .
2. What am I feeling/emotions/physical sensation/energy? Listen . . .
3. What do we want? Listen . . .
Listen with the whole body. Don't go on a hunt for responses. Just listen and notice.
More writing prompts to encourage listening:
Make a list of pivotal moments that are part of a project or something you want to explore or write about. Name the subject or topic first. I am exploring the subject of past relationships and endings. So I will do a list of pivotal moments related to that subject and theme.
First just write the moment down. Listen to it by describing it in detail – use the sensations and scenery.
Then, write about what you might have or did miss in it. What is missing in this pivotal moment? Write about that!
Finally, create a fictional piece where you bring in the missing piece/element. Let the prompts take you where it does, no rules.
Next First Wednesday in September of the Yogi & the Writer will be on: Following our listening. Join us! Sign up by sending me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org (PS: It's free).
Tonight, August 5th is our second night of Wednesday Evening with the Yogi & the Writer. We offer up some contemplative and meditative practices along with a writing prompt for the month (that's me, the Writing Sherpa), and Molly Chanson gives us an hour of yoga. 6:30 till 8:00 pm. Every first Wednesday.
Tonight's theme is the Power of Listening (to our life, body, emotions and personal experiences) .
Write about that!
Join us and sign up here: theYogi&theWriter.
Hey! Coming up this fall: Hosting the Edge through UW, Madison Continuing Studies. Live on-line retreat for therapists, healers, social workers, physicians. Fri-Sun, Oct 16-18.
And!!, if you are one of my writing clients or in one of my writing circles: I will be offering a 2 WEEK Writing Retreat: Writing and Retreating within the context of our daily lives. Last 2 weeks in September. Free, but donations welcome. (Likely a little yoga to be offered too by Molly).
I have a choice to make. One that will take my path in another possible direction. At the very least, I will have to rearrange a few things.
Isn’t that interesting that we say we are “making” a choice. Like making a pie or a bed?
Being that we are meaning makers, this idea of making choices resonates with how we are the writers of our stories; we are the meaning makers of our life.
Because, of course we make meaning through our choices.
What makes an absorbing read is what choices our heroine or protagonist is confronted with on her adventure. If she goes right . . . well, she may apparently lose everything. If she decides to go left, well, she risks . . .
In my present consideration I could let the choice be made for me. (I guess like letting someone else make my bed, and then lying in it). What happens when we don’t make a choice? Where a choice is made for us; where not making a choice is making a choice? In our written stories these choices are great places of conflict and tension. Just as in life.
If I wait long enough, the choice will be made for me. I don’t have to really do anything. Wait on the Universe to point the way. However, if I make this choice now, ahead of someone making that choice for me, (like in rejecting a job or an invitation), I do so by following my inner nudging’s. Just so happens that my inner nudging’s are saying, I don’t think so.
However (and here is a plot twist): I consulted the Tarot cards as a contemplative practice and basically got a “yes.” Yes, take the opportunity if it is offered to you.
But I hesitate. I don’t think I want to move forward with this possibility. But why not wait and see if I am actually offered the opportunity first? Why jump in and decline the opportunity before it fully presents itself to me? How can I ignore the advice of the cards? Or turn down an offer?
Because my body sinks and shrinks a bit when I think of taking this possible offer.
Because I don’t want to sacrifice some other choices I’ve made and intentions I’ve begun on the altar of this possibility.
Because I know there is no right or wrong here, only right and left.
Because I like the risks in the no thank you. I will pass.
Because I want to strengthen this internal muscle of trusting what I know and want. I choose to lean into this rather than that.
This then moves me into, having made a choice.
Making conscious choices is taking the heroes’ path. So, in our life and written stories, the hero makes conscious choices, where the victims or even protagonist at times will let choices be made for them or risk making a choice by not making one. That’s okay too. We don’t have to be heroic 24-7. Even superwoman takes off her cape and lives in the mundane world.
Then there is the contextual reality of the choices presented to us.
A neighbor mentioned to me that she felt that people are responsible if they get COVID because of where they choose to live. (They made their bed). “You have chosen a home on a corner lot, in a small village but others have chosen to live in New York City,” she said to me as she nods at my yard. Being that we were social distancing I decided to let the conversation go, for now. However, -- the reality is that our choices are limited by opportunity. Not everyone has access to the same opportunities.
So, within our limits and opportunities, what choices can we make consciously to move our writing and our life forward?
Where is the heroes path from here?
We have not even to risk the adventure alone
for the heroes of all time have gone before us.
The labyrinth is thoroughly known ...
we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination
we shall find a God.
And where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world.”
― Joseph Campbell
Where is your heroes path? Write about that.
What choices are being made for you? Or have been made for you?
What limits are you encountering?
What choices are up front in your writing and life?
What is your body telling you?
Are you on the heroes path? Write about that.
Need help being heroic on your writerly path? Consider this: Sherpa-mentoring & coaching.
I have been teaching a series of classes through the Oregon Public Library. Last night’s teachings was on Writing Memoirs. Here is a link to the Utube: Writing Memoirs. A central thread in the class is the requirement of vulnerability if you want to write anything worth reading.
In writing anything autobiographical it gets down to our willingness to be honest with ourselves and our readers. To be vulnerable in ways that translate our meaningful experiences into something meaningful to others.
Everything in nature points to this doorway. A way of Being that is honest, exposed, natural, connected, nurturing, destructive, creative and vulnerable.
To be vulnerable means to be honest, open, intimate, first with ourselves, and then, we invite this vulnerability into all our encounters. To cross this threshold of vulnerability in our writing we want to get our first draft of our memoir written, and you don’t want to leave anything out of this first draft. Don’t worry about offending others or exposing yourself. We have computers now, we can cut and paste or take out anything we want in a later version. If you are not vulnerable in this way, where you hold back some encounter or name, you close off to other narratives that are attached to that scene or story. So, you are not only controlling the flow of words, ideas and meaning, you are shutting off from more that is waiting to be revealed.
In our first drafts, write it all down. Bleed and sweat and cry on the page. Share the most embarrassing moments and thoughts, and expose the abuse or the abuser. Reveal how you got into and out of that predicament. Give us the story of your most courageous hour. Ignore nothing. Witness that when you are open in this way with yourself, more will be revealed to you, through you. Write all that down too.
Your vulnerability is a doorway to more story.
Vulnerability is what we are naturally prone toward. Everything that gets in our way to be so, causes suffering. Vulnerability brings peace, joy, connection and prosperity. Look at those who are powerful but not vulnerable (yes I know who comes to mind) . . . does he look happy, satisfied, at peace? You can be the leader of the free world and still feel left out, complaining about what you don’t have --- all because you don’t have the capacity or willingness to be vulnerable.
Our vulnerability opens us up to ours and other’s grief, stories, questions, and our deepest desire to simply belong.
When we bring this vulnerability to our writing (and life), we feel our belonging.
Outside circumstances become less influential on our experiences, where we come to live from this inner strength and courage of being and belonging.
All because we are willing (and able) to be vulnerable.
This is a risk.
In our writing, our vulnerabilities are a mirror first to us, we write for ourselves, where we hurt, what questions we hold secret, our desires and our fears. We write about our beauty and courage, which also takes a vulnerability. We share our darkest and brightest moments. Then, when we are willing, we share our stories, our vulnerabilities with the world through the written word. And once our vulnerabilities, our truth are in writing, it’s there for everyone to read. Once we have taken our truth and put it out there, we are transforming the world one word at a time.
What are you afraid of? Write about that.
What have you ignored or avoided? Write about that.
What is the name of your abuser? Write his/her name down.
Who or what rescued you? Write about that.
What are your secret shames? Write about that.
What do you want to believe? Write about that.
What do you hope for (that might surprise others)? Write about that.
What do you regret? Write about that.
What and who have you left behind? Write about that.
How has your Higher Power shown up in your life? Write about that.
What or who has shut you up? Write about that.
Who hurt you? Write about that.
How are you courageous? Write about that.
Who or what do you miss? Write about that.
What do you have to brag about? Own it. And write about that.
THE WELL OF GRIEF
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water,
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.
By David Whyte, https://www.davidwhyte.com/essentials
Join other yogis and writers on an exploration of our vulnerability: Rise! Yoga & Writing for Transformation. facilitated by myself and yoga instructor, Molly Chanson (the Yogi & the Writer). Friday afternoon through Sunday morning next week! Live, distant experience. Still room for you.
All Write Wednesdays: World into Word
All Write Wednesdays is a blog about living the writer's life. Everything in our lives is material to explore & write about. Here, the spiritual path meets up with the writer's path. Read the All Write Wednesdays posts.
Zero Point Blog
The Zero Point blog shares teachings about living your life from the zero point. "I live life from my side." Like driving in your own lane. Read the Zero Point posts.
Support this blog
A CUPPA JAVA for JULIE Your support helps keep this Sherpa writing and helping others. Please consider a donation.
I live in Mount Horeb WI where I walk my 2 dogs through Stewart Park, garden my corner lot, wear a mask in public (and a cape at night), where I wait for spring 9 months of the year. My recent book The Zero Point Agreement is my latest of ten. I do love to write! My up coming book: Clue of the Red Thread: Discovering Fearlessness & Compassion in difficult times comes out this fall, 2020 through Shanti Arts, Nine Rivers Imprint.