Monthly Archives: June 2013

Self-Compassion Saturday: Laurie Wagner

Again I caught myself this morning thinking “you should have these posts written earlier, ready to go.” But first there was meditation, a half cup of coffee and the writing of morning pages, and then there were dogs to be walked and I wanted to get to the Farmer’s Market before all the strawberries were gone. I let go of the should, gently set it down on top of the pile of mail I still haven’t looked at, certain that my dear friend and teacher Laurie Wagner, of all people, knows the importance of going on a long walk, taking a pause, focusing on the moment as it is, as it arises, and would completely understand how a strawberry is so much more than a piece of fruit.

strawberries

Laurie Wagner is the creator of 27 Powers, “a writing teacher + coach, author of 7 books, mixed-media artist, fervent collage-maker, mother of two, and a one-time amateur racquetball champion.” I’ve written about Laurie before, saying in that post that “Laurie’s energy is radiant, vibrant and raw, lighting up and electrifying the space, however virtual it might be. She is at once your favorite grade school teacher, most popular camp counselor, beloved childhood friend (the one who climbed trees and loved books), best girlfriend, and precious mother.” She’s recently dubbed herself “Tender Truth Serum, In Human Form” and I couldn’t agree more.

I get to finally meet Laurie in person in September, get to hang out with her three different times over the course of three months. I’ve been having dreams about it, and in each one, I am talking to someone else in a crowded room, turn to see her for the first time and burst into tears. When I imagine meeting her, there is a sense of intense joy, but also an odd mix of relief and sadness, as if there’s a part of me saying “where have you been? I’ve been waiting, looking for so long.” It’s enough to almost make me believe in reincarnation, like she was my guru, my beloved, or my mother in a past life and I’ve been searching for her ever since.

As a teacher, Laurie has a particular kind of magic, power, love. It makes me think of what Thich Nhat Hanh said, that “you must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” Laurie’s teaching loves you in just this way. When I find myself in a moment of not knowing what to say, or being afraid to say what I know is true, all I have to do is imagine Laurie, touch in to her energy, and I am brave, free to write what is wild and raw and beautiful. I’m so happy to share her answers to my self-compassion questions with you today, so happy for you to meet her if you hadn’t already.

laurie_eyes_700

image by andrea scher

1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?

Because I am imperfect, because I am flawed, I allow myself to make mistakes. I will bumble things and the wrong words will come out of my mouth. I will hurt you and I will hurt myself. But because my heart is good, I’ll know that I never meant to. And it’s this “never meant to” that enables me to forgive myself and to forgive you too. I believe in the words, “ I’m sorry.” What else is there to say?

My husband and I had a therapist who told us that the only two words couples need to say to one another are, “I’m sorry.” So my husband and I made these little badges that said, “I’m sorry.” Whenever we failed each other – which was daily – we held these badges out to the other. We didn’t mean to hurt each other, but we knew we would. This is how we found compassion for each other and our marriage.

image from Laurie's website

image from laurie’s website

2. How did you learn self-compassion? Did you have a teacher, a guide, a path, a resource, a book, a moment of clarity or specific experience?

I’ve always been incredibly hard on myself. My Father was hard on himself. We looked so valiant, so full of humility – but it wasn’t for either of us. Sure we both had a desire to learn and to grow, but I think we were just as afraid that we needed to be perfect so we wouldn’t get creamed by people. My desire to be perfect has a lot of FUCK YOU in it – as in “FUCK YOU – now you can’t touch me.” Anyone with an alcoholic parent will understand this.

Someone once said of me that I was the most tender, tough person they knew. I think that’s true of me and age has helped me to become even a little more tender. There’s just so much each day that I can’t control and that I have to shake my head at. It’s getting easier to let go because holding on – trying to get a perfect dinner on, AND get to the gym, AND meet a friend, AND edit those papers, AND be a good mommy is more and more impossible. Self-compassion for me might be emailing every appointment I have over a week and canceling everything. It helps that I surround myself with wonderful people – people who are on the self forgiving path – people who love me – who don’t want to see me cream myself because they know that that doesn’t bring the best out of me, or you, or anyone.

image by andrea scher

image by andrea scher

3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?

Recently I fell into the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes. It had been a rough spell in my life and one thing I know about myself is that I tend to reach for immediate gratification when I’m stressed. Coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, shopping. Not in excess, but those are my go-to’s. Sure, I’ll take a bath, or sometimes lie down, but I know myself. The cigarette thing was ugly and I knew it had to come to an end. So I blogged about it. I outed myself instead of holding it inside like some cherished, slimy secret that I was going to feel lousy about. Outing it allowed me to come clean – not in a punishing way – but with compassion and understanding for myself. A lot of people wrote to me about their own tendencies to do something similar. We’re all in the same boat, just different details. I’m not a bad person for smoking, it’s just a bad habit.

Here’s another:

Last week in my writing class I inadvertently hurt a student’s feelings. She began crying, got up from the table, slammed a door and wrote an entire piece about how mad she was. As she read her piece my little tin heart was beating so loud. I was scared. I’d F’d Up – the part of me that wanted to be the best teacher in the world was very uncomfortable. It would be clear that I wasn’t perfect. After she read, I simply apologized in front of the whole class and hugged her. What else could I do? I’m not perfect. But my heart is good. I make mistakes. I learn. What more might I do?

laurie_grass_boots_700

image by andrea scher

4. What do you still need to learn, to know, to understand? What is missing from your practice of self-compassion, what do you still struggle with?

Self-compassion is something that I get to practice multiple times a day. Every morning when I wake up, I place my hand on my heart and I say, “help me.”

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I’m sure you can see, kind and gentle reader, why I am looking so forward to sitting in one of these chairs at 27 Powers. I’m not entirely sure I won’t burst into flames (immediately after bursting into tears), but I’m so willing to risk it. To find out more about Laurie, to connect with her:

Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Judy Clement Wall.

P.S. If you didn’t see the first post in this series, you might want to read Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning.

P.S.S. Special thanks to Andrea Scher for allowing me to share some of the amazing pictures she’s taken of Laurie.

Gratitude Friday

rosesfrommygarden

1. Flowers from my garden. As much as I am working on cultivating a garden I can eat, I also want a full season of blooms.

2. Easy and affordable access to healthcare. I am so grateful, especially after this weekend, to be able to get help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from wise and compassionate caregivers.

3. Free Yoga Journals. On one of our morning walks this week, we went by a house for sale that had a full box of about six years worth of Yoga Journal magazine sitting out front on the sidewalk. I passed it up at first, tried to convince myself I didn’t need them, was in the process of decluttering, but ended up going back for them. Truth is, I’m starting yoga teacher training in January, they are my favorite magazine, and after I read them I always use them to collage, so I kind of did need them.

4. HGTV House Hunters and House Hunters International. I’ve mentioned before that being a highly sensitive person, I have to be careful what I watch. I can’t really watch anything with conflict or meanness or horror anymore, which means most TV is out. But I love HGTV. If I could have just that channel, I might consider getting cable again, but for now, thankfully, there are episodes available online.

5. Summer break. I had a dream last night that I was on vacation in Hawaii, but I’d spent most of my time working, being inside, that I was spending the last day there doing laundry and was so sad that I hadn’t enjoyed the trip more. I think that was my subconscious telling me that it’s time to start acting like I’m on vacation, (I’m not really very good at it). I’m listening to Beach House Radio as I write this, and missing the beach so much it hurts a little. This time last year, we were packing, getting ready to leave the next day for a whole month there, with no idea that our sweet Dexter had cancer, no idea it would be his last trip there with us.

Dexter embraces his gray hair.

Bonus Joy: Another week with Dexter. I almost hate to say it outloud, afraid I might jinx it, but he’s gone five days without a bloody nose. A few nights ago, he slept in bed with us the whole night, and his routine for getting in was exactly like the “good old days,” — go out to go potty, come back in and check that everyone is in bed, go find his Little D, hop into bed with us, play with his baby for a little bit, get petted, and finally breathe a deep sigh and fall asleep against my leg. It’d be easier to let him go if he weren’t so dang sweet.

Wishcasting Wednesday

Nurture-the-Creative-Within

On this Wishcasting Wednesday, Jamie asks, “How do you wish to nurture the creative within?”

I wish to provide her space, the time and room to slow down and stretch out, look closely and contemplate, expand and play, twirl around or sit still in a deep, quiet, safe place all her own.

I wish to give her love, an unconditional sense of herself, brilliant and beautiful, wise and compassionate and powerful, seen and valued, precious and protected.

I wish to balance her effort with ease.

I wish to offer her gentleness, to quiet the critical, mean voices, to stop the pushing and smashing, to silence any “should” or “have to” or “can’t” or “not enough.”

I wish to provide her mindfulness, to allow her attention to be fully in the present moment, hands and heart on the same task.

I wish to practice with her, to show up regularly, to maintain a routine, a way of letting her fully touch the work, to repeat and retrace and revise and remember.

I wish to pause with her, because sometimes doing nothing is the exact thing to do, sometimes staying still to stare at your toes or the sky, to feel a soft furry body against the palm of your hand, to notice your breath going in and out is everything.

I wish to soften to allowing, letting go of resistance or rejection or grasping or pushing or hiding, and simply surrender to what is.

I wish to give her courage, the willingness to be vulnerable and weird, accepting the possibility of being wounded, practicing being brave, showing up and being seen.

I wish her to know and attend to her hunger, to not fear or deny her desire and longing, even when it has teeth, even when it rages, even when it wants what is impossible, even when it wants to love the whole world.

I wish to open her to joy, pure feeling, heart wide open, full of light and love.

I wish to surround her with all the tools and resources she needs to do her heart’s work.

I wish for her connection and community, a tribe of understanding and love and support, a collection of artists and healers and teachers, those with big hearts and amazing ideas and the ability to make her laugh until it hurts.

Three Truths and One Wish

1. Truth: My body carries a deep wisdom, if only I would listen. And, if I refuse to listen, it will get louder and louder until I can’t ignore it anymore. This became very clear to me this weekend. I spent Sunday morning first in Urgent Care and then the ER. I’d been having chest pains and my jaw hurt for a few days (my body’s gentle nudging that got louder) and I knew that something about it wasn’t right, that I hadn’t just pulled a muscle or something.

It turns out that the sack of fluid around my heart was inflamed — Pericarditis triggered by an infection I’ve been struggling with, (which I was also trying to ignore instead of attend to). It’s completely treatable (steroids and rest), workable, okay, and yet it’s taught me that I really have to trust myself (specifically my body), that I need to listen, to show up, be present, to honor the wisdom available to me. I knew something wasn’t right, my body was telling me in the gentlest but most insistent way, and even though it seemed at first like I might be overreacting, I needed to get help.

My body knows. It knows how much to sleep, how to move, what to eat. If something I eat or do doesn’t work, isn’t agreeable, my body gives me the exact information I need to consider a different choice next time. It is directly connected to reality, this moment, through five powerful senses. It is constantly collecting information and making adjustments — heart pumping and lungs breathing with no need of my intervention, my control, my opinion.

A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us. ~Pema Chödrön

2. Truth: I can trust myself, my physical body, my intuition, my hunger, my longing, my desire, my suffering, my dreams, my fundamental sanity, my innate wisdom and compassion and power, even my emotions and thoughts are allowable and of value. I don’t have to reject, run away, deny, or hide.

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves—the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds—never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake. ~Pema Chödrön

3. Truth: I am so grateful there are people to help, to keep me company as I stumble my way through, poets and artists and healers and friends and family and soft animal bodies, all of us messy but brilliant, clinging to each other on a boat that is guaranteed to sink, making each other laugh and offering comfort even as we crash and burn. Every single person I encountered in my time in various medical units this weekend was so kind and wise, wanting to help me, to help, and in the aftermath, I’ve been offered so much love from the people I am lucky enough to know. I mean it, dear people, this life is fucking brilliant, we are, (I’ve had to stop typing this paragraph twice to cry — is this what “Roid Rage” feels like?).

One wish: That we can continue to ask ourselves, in each moment, the question shared by my dear friend, poet and teacher, the amazing Julia Fehrenbacher, in her ecourse Getting Naked: “what would love do?” (this question has the power to change everything — you, your life, the world), and the additional wish that we have the courage to live the answer.

Something Good

summereddyhall

1. This wisdom from Kristen Noelle’s Trust Notes,

And I sit here with these many things, getting quiet. Leaning into silence. I’m listening for what wants to be said, and the only thing that arises is this sense that we need holding space.

Holding space where more mental processing isn’t required.
Holding space for the feelings that arise – often in combinations that surprise and confound us.
Holding space where more lists of what to do, or what not to do, or how to get more healthy feel moot somehow. Not stupid – just not needed right now.
Holding space for stillness.
Holding space for not-striving.
Holding space for noticing our breath.

It’s not a checking out of life, a numbing to it. But rather a pause to simply be.

2. This wisdom from Tama J. Kieves,

Going after your dreams isn’t about “getting things done.” It’s about being “undone,” letting go of limiting assumptions, forgiving yourself deeply, falling in love with yourself, your life, your consciousness and your gifts. It’s a process, not a race.

And this,

Have things gotten harder lately? You are walking through fire. These times will burn away the false. Only the real and true remains. You cannot be diffuse and potent at the same time. The fire times burn off everything that does not match your soul.

3. Good Life Project “Living Creed.”

glplivingcreed

4. My Creative Joy : Fabric from Rachel Cole, (hey look, Rachel, you’re in the top ten again!). I am afraid to go near a fabric store. As the daughter of a seamstress and the niece of a quilter and many other crafty women, I know that it’s only a matter of time before I am similarly obsessed — I want to make stuff!

5. Old Spock battles New Spock in the greatest car commercial ever

6. 59 Awesome FREE things to do to Feel Amazingly Alive, from The Freedom Experiment.

7. 10 Ways to Stop Overeating Today from Anne-Sophie.

8. Two heartbreaking, sweet videos from the Black Forest Fire, Baby Deer Rescued By Firefighter and Touching reunion between fire evacuee & his horse.

9. Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything from Zen Habits.

10. This wisdom from Brave Girls Club

You are doing so many good things. You are going so many wonderful directions. You are spreading so much goodness and kindness and wild-happy energy.

You are making goals and dreaming dreams and trying to do even better than you did yesterday.

You are thinking about people you love and how you can serve them, you are a loyal friend and family member. You are making an enormous difference in the lives of all who know you, and in so many lives you don’t even know about too.

It’s time to give yourself a break. time to stop and thank your body and your soul for everything it does to keep you going. This would be a great weekend to do just that . . . give yourself a break. Pat yourself on the back and take a nap and a hot bath. Even eat some chocolate! 🙂

Sure, there are still lots of things for you to work on, and you will get to that. You are doing great, and sometimes you just have to stop and let yourself breathe, evaluate, rest, recharge, restore.

Take good care of yourself, fabulous friend. We need all of the fabulousness of you!

11. This cuteness from Reddit. An elephant, a dog, and the ocean in the background, it really doesn’t get much better — unless of course there are two dogs, and a pie.

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12. Baby Sea Lion Climbs Onto Boat For Some Snuggle Time.

13. From Patti Digh’s Thinking Thursday list: Stocking Your Refrigerator for Everyday Healthy Meals.

14. This is what your supermarket would look like if all the bees died off, heartbreaking pictures from Grist.

15. Gaiman’s New ‘Ocean’ Is No Kiddie Pool, an interview with the author, one of my favorites, on NPR. I want this book.

16. Christina Hendricks Should Lose a Few Pounds.* on Elephant Journal.

17. Brody Dalle on The Conversation.

18. Angry is a habit from Seth Godin.

19. 11 Tips & Tricks for Mindful Writers on Elephant Journal.

20. your daily rock : open up

21. From Susannah Conway’s Something for the Weekend list, how I want my daughter to look.

22. From Positively Present Picks: 10 Small Ways to Make This The Happiest Summer of Your Life, and Can A Number Determine Your Fate? What Numerology Can Tell You About Your Life Purpose (which led me to this, because apparently I’m a 7), and Yay! Magnets, love them.

yaylovemagnet23. This wisdom from Umair Haque, “Your life will never feel true unless you fuck it up whenever it feels like a lie.”

24. Do you realise how extraordinary your story is? from Marianne Elliott.

25. This cool post on Reddit, Photographer James Mollison took photos of fans from a bunch of different concerts to show how people will emulate their idols. The photos are amazing. We are all so gloriously weird.

26. C. Jane Kendrick: Weight loss never promised peace: Why I exercise without expectations.

27. Bob Dylan´s HAND LETTERING EXPERIENCE from Senna. I really want to try something like this.

28. When It’s Time for Coziness and Comfort, a really great list on the Mojo Lab.

29. The internet IS real life, from Nextness. All I can say is “amen.”

Day of Rest

Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving toward any goal . . . The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life . . . We may pause in the midst of meditation to let go of thoughts and reawaken our attention to the breath. We may pause by stepping out of daily life to go on a retreat or to spend time in nature or to take a sabbatical . . . You might try it now: Stop reading and sit there, doing “no thing,” and simply notice what you are experiencing. ~Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the magic of pausing, about what is worth pausing for. On our morning walks along the Poudre River, the mosquitoes are now out in full force. They are murderous with hunger and they also carry West Nile Virus, so we make every effort to not get bitten. This means we have to keep moving, go fast, and yet, there are many things worth pausing for. I offer the following as my list from the past few days of what was worth pausing for.

The rose bush next to my front door, which has gone mad with blooms this season.

This row of peonies, only half of what was planted along the front edge of this property and has made me revise my wish for three or four more plants in my front yard to THIS.

Mama turtle laying eggs next to the river.

Robin sitting on a fence in a sea of green.

Horses grazing.

Baby goose in the river.

Deer crossing the river, (there were two, but we spooked the other one back to the bank).

Twin baby deer. These were magic, because the place we saw them is an arboretum on campus at Colorado State University. Not in some far off wooded natural area, but smack in the middle of town.

Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience. We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises. ~Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

Self-Compassion Saturday: Andrea Scher

If you are like me, kind and gentle reader, there are certain moments or events, certain people and experiences that have changed you, transformed you in the best possible ways. And if you are like me you carry the memory, the love and gratitude for those times and people tucked inside your heart forever, the most precious of things held close.

One of the people I treasure in this way is Andrea Scher. I wrote her an open love letter exactly one year ago, posted Saturday the 16th of June in 2012. That post even included the above picture! I didn’t know either of these things until I started writing this post today. This is the exact kind of magic that Andrea attracts, generates, inspires.

self-portrait by andrea scher

self-portrait by andrea scher

I’ve lost tract of the number of classes I’ve taken with Andrea, but each one of them has been that particular kind of magic. The first Mondo Beyondo session I did, my first class with her, happened at the same time I started this blog, inspired me to finally start. That experience came full circle when Andrea invited me to be her teaching assistant for the most recent session of Mondo Beyondo. She has always been so incredibly generous, and her wise and compassionate coaching is helping me to create some of my own future ecourses, and beyond that to create a life that I am utterly in love with living. I am who I am right now in large part because of her support and encouragement. In the open love letter I wrote to her, I said,

Andrea Scher has been the sun at the center of a universe of amazement and goodness, the shiny middle that all the other bright and precious things orbit around.

Photo by Mara

Photo by Mara

I found Andrea Scher’s original blog, Superhero Journal, at a time when I was so brokenhearted, such a mess, so stuck, so tired. I didn’t know how to keep going, where to even start. I was searching, my view clouded by grief, knew that I had abandoned myself and my dreams, but didn’t know how to find my way back.

The person I am today: writer, artist, warrior, brave, open-hearted, funny, strong, joyful, sane, is possible in part because of Andrea Scher. She invited me to expand my idea of what was possible. She encouraged me, was kind and honest. She was constantly admitting the things that are hard and messy, while still pointing out what’s beautiful and precious. She reminds me of this quote from Muriel Rukeyser, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Split open, and through the cracks, the light would get in (or maybe get out?).

I’m so happy to be sharing Andrea’s answers to my four questions today.

andrea scher, taken by laurie wagner

andrea scher, taken by laurie wagner

1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?

I’ve heard that compassion means “to suffer with.” What a gift, right? To not have to suffer alone, to allow somebody’s suffering but sit right down next to them and maybe even hold their hand.

Self-compassion is learning to suffer with ourselves. It’s extending the same kind of kindness we would to a dear friend. It’s learning to sit with ourselves and allow our suffering, to hold our own hand.

Practically, this means that we can acknowledge when we are suffering and not push it away, or tell ourselves it’s not that bad, or you don’t deserve to complain… These are some of the things I used to tell myself, echoes of what some important grownups in my life affirmed. For me, self-compassion is allowing myself to feel my feelings (even if they make others uncomfortable) and letting them move through me. (They always do)

Then it’s about using a kind voice to ask good questions: What would help right now? What do you need most? or What feels hardest?

image by jen gray

image by jen gray

2. How did you learn self-compassion? Did you have a teacher, a guide, a path, a resource, a book, a moment of clarity or specific experience?

Mostly, I learned from going through hard things and NOT being particularly compassionate with myself. This kept me stuck so much longer than necessary.

I cultivated a kind inner voice when I became a parent. Once I became a mother I noticed what my own self-talk sounded like – You idiot! You’re always messing things up! This was not a voice I wanted to pass on to my kids! So I practiced speaking really gently to my son. Over time it became a habit and I started addressing myself this way too. What a beautiful side effect of practicing non-harm and gentleness.

3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?

Recently, I learned a beautiful exercise from Kristin Neff. When you are having a rough moment, try this: Put your hand on your heart, close your eyes and say, “This is suffering.” Then take a breath and say it again.

It’s such a simple practice, but really profound.

eyes_closed_self_700

self portrait by andrea, eyes closed

4. What do you still need to learn, to know, to understand? What is missing from your practice of self-compassion, what do you still struggle with?

This is going to sound very unscientific, but I must have carved a deep neuro-pathway in my brain that goes like this: Someone gets annoyed or angry with me. I completely FREAK OUT and do whatever I can to make it better (including betraying myself and my truth in the process) and if I don’t get a response from them or they are still angry, I believe that I must be a horrible, broken and unlovable person who doesn’t deserve to be alive.

I know. Totally dramatic, right?

I suppose I am making progress because I have a consciousness around this string of thoughts. It’s still very painful though… Next time, I’m going to put my hand on my heart and simply say: This is suffering.

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You can see why I adore her so much, right? Since she sent me her answers, many times I have closed my eyes and put my hand over my heart. In that moment, imagining Andrea’s kindness, her smile, contemplating my love and gratitude for her is a path towards loving myself, her light leads the way. To find out more about Andrea, to connect with her:

Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Laurie Wagner.

P.S. If you didn’t see the first post in this series, you might want to read Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning.