Daily Archives: May 26, 2012

An open love letter to “this i know: notes on unraveling the heart” and Susannah Conway

I first discovered Susannah Conway’s blog the way I’ve discovered all my favorite women on the internet: through a link on Andrea Scher’s Superhero Journal blog. For me, Andrea has been the sun at the center of a universe of female planets, the shiny middle that all the other bright and precious things orbit around. The next love letter I write will be to her.

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

~Hafiz

I started following Susannah’s blog and immediately adored her. She is consistently honest, open-hearted and funny, willing to share her “wobbly bits” along with the brilliant beauty of life. Her words and photography are gorgeous and authentic, and at times heartbreaking (in the very best kind of way, cracking you open to let in the light).

In March, I took her Blogging from the Heart course, which was absolutely brilliant. I am currently taking (and falling miserably behind) her Unravelling: Ways of Seeing Myself course, which I am also loving. Her lessons and prompts are full of opportunities to unravel, which she describes in this i know.

It’s not coming undone or losing control. It’s letting go in the best possible way, untangling the knots that hold you back, unwrapping the gifts you’ve hidden for too long, unearthing the potential that’s always been there, finally ditching the labels and should-haves, and letting yourself be what you were always meant to be.

For two back to back afternoons, I sat under a tree in a lawn chair in my backyard, reading this book, the sun making leaf shadows on the pages and birds singing in the background, taking the occasional break to throw a toy for one of the dogs or to stare at the sky.

At first, I didn’t want to mark the pages of this copy, sent to me and signed by Susannah, the most precious of gifts. I wanted to keep it pristine and protected. But as I turned the pages, read the words, I felt exactly the way I do about cake, not knowing if I should go slow and savor every bite, make it last, or gulp down huge handfuls, devouring every last crumb as fast as I could. I found myself wanting to tear out the pages and eat them, taste the colors in the photographs.

Then I remembered the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which is all about accepting transience, and about knowing what is beautiful is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Something is wabi-sabi if “an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing” and this view “nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect,” (Wikipedia entry on wabi-sabi). I got out my pencil and started underlining my favorite bits, making notes in the margins, loving this book in a real, messy, wabi-sabi way.

At the end of those two afternoons of reading, something had shifted in me. A calm determination had settled into my core, a deep knowing–this was absolutely possible and so certain it might as well have already happened. Confidence bloomed in my belly, the kind that Susan Piver describes as “the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.”

This confidence has to do with two things. First, I know I will stop smashing myself to bits, I will manifest my basic goodness, I will embody my inherent wisdom and kindness, I will save myself, I will be a beacon to others looking to do the same, I will live a wholehearted life. I will do as Susannah suggests in the book, “Living mindfully, appreciating what I have, learning to let go of what I no longer need, and practicing kindness as often as I can–especially toward myself.”

Second, more than two years ago, I had a vivid dream about a book. At that time, I was sure it was the book of a friend–must be, because I was not an artist, and in my dream, the book was a mix of art and text–so I told her about it, that she needed to write it. Two years later, she still hadn’t, and I realized it was my book I’d dreamed. I started to see books that reminded me of it, were physical manifestations of what I’d dreamed, showing me it was indeed possible. But it wasn’t until I held Susannah’s book in my hands, the weight and the color of it, that I knew for certain. My book hasn’t yet been written, nothing exactly like it done by anyone. It’s waiting inside of me to be born, will never exist if I don’t make it–messy, raw, small and simple, brutal and beautiful.

I held in my hand a love letter to my own possibility.

image by susannah conway, her beautiful hand, her brilliant ring, and her precious book

Any woman who has experienced grief and loss (that is, every woman alive) should read this book. For some of us this is the loss of a loved one, for others the loss of self, or for others still it might be the loss of both. This book is a map of one woman’s personal journey through bereavement and rediscovery of self, but it is also offered as a guidebook for those making their way along the same path, traveling through that same territory of loss. And yet, as Susannah says, this “is not a story about grief, although it informs everything I’ve learned about life. This is a book about unraveling the layers of our lives and exploring what we find in order to better understand ourselves, our relationships, and our path.”

This book embodies, through both word and image, the tender heart of that sadness, not shying away from the reality of it, the truth that life can kick your ass but that we can also lean into joy and be softened by beauty, can and will encounter grace, and know love. We may have tears streaming down our face or feel bad about our thighs, but with our eyes and heart open wide to both the brutality and beauty of life, we can heal, we can live a wholehearted life.

This book might first be about one woman’s individual journey towards wholeness, but in the end, it is an offering to the reader, an invitation to unravel our own hearts. Sometimes, simply knowing that others have walked a similar path is all the medicine and advice you need, but Susannah Conway takes it one step beyond, offering a reflection at the end of each chapter, small creative exercises that invite the reader to explore, to unravel. In this way, it is a book that one could come back to again and again.

In the end, this book is like a long, intimate conversation with the best girlfriend ever, one who has been where you are, can authentically sit in that dark place with you, but who also has a map that shows the way out, an invitation to the rest of your beautiful life.

I’ve already given away one copy of this book, and I plan to give out many more. The brilliance at the center, the wisdom at the heart of the book is this:

I believe that by being the best and most healed version of ourselves we can truly make a difference in the world.

Amen.