Category Archives: Well-Fed Woman Mini Retreatshop

Let Go and Come Back

In meditation, when you get lost in thought or a daydream, or caught up in a strong emotion and forget to focus on to your breath, the instruction is to let go and come back to the practice. Let go and come back. The letting go isn’t harsh, there’s no rejection or pushing or running away or resisting, but rather a simple and gentle letting go. To notice, be with the thought, with the feeling, to acknowledge it, to watch and soften as it dissolves.

To feel what that feels like, clench your fist, hold it as tight as you can manage for a few seconds, and then let it go, relax your fingers and open your palm. Do you feel that release? How ease replaces tension? There is such relief in letting go.

As does so much of my meditation practice, this instruction finds it’s way into my life off the cushion all the time. I struggle with being a “better” person, with improving and becoming and doing. I get so focused on changing, on fighting with who I am now in this moment, on self-improvement, that I forget I’m enough already, and that who I am right now is the gift, that there is no destination, no goal, nothing to win and no finished or done. There will be no summit I’ll reach where I’ll finally and permanently be happy and safe and well. As Pema Chödrön suggests, we should just go ahead and “abandon hope.”

Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, not to run away, to return to the bare bones, no matter what’s going on. If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death. ~Pema Chödrön

One place this instruction keeps coming up for me is around my relationship with food. I’ve mentioned it briefly before: depending on when you ask me, I am either a highly functioning food addict or a recovering one. It’s gotten so much better in the last year, the obsession and the smashing myself to bits. The swing between rational and compulsive behavior is relaxing its grip, my wisdom in relation to food and eating is developing into something that can often look like health, and I go for long stretches of time where I could even say I’ve left it behind me.

Then something triggers me, and I’m right back in the thick of it. The stress of being an introvert and highly sensitive person at a party, or in the presence of people I admire and adore, or in a room full of 1000+ other people, or having to go in to my paid work when I’m supposed to still be on vacation.

The month we spent at the beach left me feeling relaxed and hopeful. I was getting enough sleep, spending enough time resting and playing, and was feeling so good about the opportunity I had to clean up how I eat and take better care of myself, so happy about how I’d “changed.”

Then I had to go in to work for half a day. I had been getting lots of emails about what needed to be done, what was coming up, pulling me back into that space, rushing me into fall. The night before, after eating so happily and healthy for days, I got out a bag of caramel corn and my ipod and ate and numbed out until I made myself sick, first my stomach aching and then my head hurting from sugar and tension. I thought when I went to bed that night how much better I’d feel if I could throw up, but I’ve never been good at that, ever since in grade school when a friend tried to teach me how by sticking the eraser end of a pencil down my throat. Back then, no one talked about Bulimia, so I had no idea and told no one.

I don’t talk much about my food addiction, even with how open I am about everything else. It’s because I’m ashamed and embarrassed by it, upset that I can’t control myself, shy about sharing the details of how low I sink, how gross it gets. And there’s the added bonus that in a thin obsessed culture, where your worth is measured literally in terms of your size, that I get to also feel guilty and ashamed of the extra weight I lug around as a result. I love to exercise and eat healthy food, but coupled with this compulsion, they can only keep me from becoming obese, not overweight. Add perimenopause to the equation, and I’m screwed.

This feeling bad about “failing” and what I look like robs me of joy. I get to go to this fabulous World Domination Summit prefunction party at Kelly Rae Roberts’ studio, with all of these women I adore and admire, and when I start to show up in pictures of the event on their websites, I can only feel happiness and gratitude for having been there for a split second before the disgust and despair kick in: “my stomach looks so fat.” I can’t even appreciate how amazing it is that I was at this event and there are pictures to prove it, on some of my favorite blogs even, can’t say “hey, look, there I am!” with any kind of excitement because all I can see is how fat I look, and am so sick in that moment that I actually think “maybe people will think I’m pregnant,” which is quickly followed up by a nasty voice that says “that doesn’t necessarily explain your arms or double chin.”

I can’t tell you–no actually I can tell you how much, how badly, how desperately I want released from this thing. Not the weight, but the obsession and confusion that is underneath, the self-loathing and despair that comes after. It’s not about the weight at all, it’s not even about food: it’s about hunger.

Rachel Cole did a reunion conference call for those of us who attended her Well-Fed Woman Retreatshops this past year, so I’ve been thinking a lot about hunger. Typically what is happening when I am obsessing about food or eating too much or making unhealthy choices, it’s not about food at all, certainly not about physical hunger. I am hungry for self-care, but I keep feeding myself food.

I was thinking about this in terms of taking a shower. It is important for me, unless I am planning to take the dogs on a walk or go to the gym, to shower in the morning as soon as possible. If I don’t, I won’t put on clean clothes, because I’m not “clean,” which means I’ll stay in my bathrobe or put on the kinds of clothes I wear to do messy chores, like painting or cleaning the bathroom, and this isn’t uplifting at all. These clothes, worn for that reason, make me feel depressed, dull and down, which leads to behaviors that are triggered by such feelings, like overeating or numbing out on the computer. I feel disorganized and discombobulated, stuck. Nothing sane or healthy happens and it’s hard to move on.

Taking a shower is one way to truly feed my hunger for self-care. Sometimes I am feeling unworthy, maybe my blog stats are low and I haven’t meditated for a few days and I’m comparing myself to others, beating myself up for not measuring up, comparing my blooper reel to their highlights. Sometimes it’s overwhelm, so much has to get done, so much I want to do. Sometimes it’s taking care of the should and have to work, the paid work, and the energy it takes, how much I’d rather be doing something else but can’t yet afford to leave that work, and that can lead to depression.

I have been feeding these real hungers with food, always with food. What are the real needs, what am I really hungry for? Physical tiredness needs rest and sleep, pure and simple. Unworthiness needs connection and a reminder of my basic goodness, of the real need for my voice, my light. Overwhelm needs to have permission to only do what can be done, and then to practice self-care, to rest and play, experience joy. Depression needs to exercise and reconnect with nature, be in the body and the world.

When you are in the grips of something so old and deep, sometimes you give up. You look back at the struggle and then ahead to your future, and you can’t imagine it will ever leave you, fear that you’ll be stuck in this cycle of obsession, swinging between control and crazy, gaining and losing the same 20 pounds forever, trying and eventually giving up on every new system, method, or plan, feeling the rise of hope and the sink of despair, like Sisyphus and his rock, never finding a way out. But you can’t divorce yourself, can’t leave or move out, get any kind of legal separation, split your assets 50/50 and wish each other well. You have to stick it out, are stuck, have to live with it, with yourself and your confusion.

When I really look at it, really think, trust myself, I’m pretty smart, pretty sure about what to do. I know the hunger, but still tend to feed it the wrong thing, still fall into the old habits, the discursive patterns, the way of being when I am tired, and I am tired a lot. But that’s okay, if only I can remember to let go and come back. This is what practice is, falling down and getting back up, falling apart and being whole, trying again, continuing to show up, again and again, time after time. This is what all of life is, isn’t it?

Let go and come back.

An open love letter to Andrea Scher

Photo by Mara

I’ll admit, kind and gentle reader, I am afraid to write this post. I have avoided it for months, while at the same time silently writing and rewriting it in my heart, longing to say it out loud, to tell her. But what do you say to someone who has given you so much, altered your experience so completely? How can you ever possibly thank them? See…I’m right to be afraid, because every time I think about it, about how much I adore her and how grateful I am, I start to cry (now, for example).

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.

self-portrait by andrea scher

Here is just a short list of what she’s given me, what she’s introduced me to: Boho Girl, Susannah Conway, Kelly Rae Roberts, Brene’ Brown (!!!), Jen Lemen, Flora Bowley and the wonder of painting, Laurie Wagner, Rachel Cole, Mondo Beyondo thinking, and the joy of photography.

I’ve taken two of Andrea’s classes, Mondo Beyondo (which she taught with Jen Lemen) and Superhero Photo, and on Monday, June 18th, I’ll be starting Mondo Beyondo Dream Lab.

Horse or Dog?

horse or dog? picture I took of sam during superhero photo

Superhero Photo altered how I saw the world. I got down on the ground, climbed on chairs and tables, went out in all colors and weights of light, looked close and far away, and went on treasure hunts. I took some of the most magical pictures I ever had, and I haven’t stopped taking them.

Mondo Beyondo fundamentally shifted the way I approached my life, the way I saw myself. In this post, (which Andrea wrote when she first introduced the course in 2009), she describes the concept of a Mondo Beyondo list, what that approach looks like and means. She says,

I had been making these kinds of lists for years but had never had a name for it, or ever formalized my mental list by writing it down. My Mondo Beyondo. I liked the sound of it. I also loved the idea of stretching yourself into this world of the outrageous. If your imagination could reach a bit farther with this exercise, then you were giving yourself a powerful gift: expanding your idea of what is possible.

image by jen gray

Here’s the list of what I’ve done because of Andrea Scher, things I can cross off my Mondo Beyondo List:

  1. Started writing this blog
  2. Bought a ticket to World Domination Summit (WDS, just a few weeks away!)
  3. Took a few classes with Susannah Conway, got a signed copy of her book (sent by her!), am taking a writing workshop with her at WDS, and attending an event on her book tour at Kelly Rae Robert’s studio (!)
  4. Met Brene’ Brown (holy crap, I even talked to her!), took a two-day workshop with her
  5. Signed up to take a yoga class with Marianne Elliott at WDS
  6. Went to a Fearless Creativity writing and meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center with Susan Piver (oh how I adore that woman!)
  7. Hosted a Well-Fed Woman Mini Retreatshop led by Rachel Cole
  8. Started writing a book

Maybe for some people, this list wouldn’t seem that astonishing, but we are talking about me here: INFJ, introvert, highly sensitive person who suffered from depression, anxiety, and writer’s block for 25+ years, (maybe longer?). This list is huge, ginormous, crazy wild amazing.

andrea scher, taken by laurie wagner

I found Andrea Scher’s 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?).

Thank you, Andrea. I adore you and am so grateful for your work, your truth and your light, which have been of such great benefit to me as I stumble along.

Wishcasting Wednesday

Where do you wish to go?

The most literal answer to this would be to list the places I want to go: Amsterdam in the summer, Japan, Victoria BC, the Appalachian Trail, the Oregon Coast, New York (Broadway!), Germany, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand.

But I’m really not much for traveling. I’m not one of those people who has a wanderlust, a desire to travel to far away places, to see exotic things and eat strange food. I’m a homebody. I like to stay in one place, to sink into it deeply, to know it and love it. It’s why when we go to the Oregon Coast, we take our dogs, rent a house (this summer will be our third time in the exact same house), and stay for a month.

Most of my wishes about going somewhere have more to do with connecting to someone I couldn’t see otherwise. And a lot of those wishes are coming true: I hosted a Well-Fed Woman’s Retreatshop led by Rachel Cole, I went to a writing and meditation workshop facilitated by Susan Piver, in May I’ll be attending a two day workshop led by Brene’ Brown, three other amazing women I long to meet and thank and tell to their sweet faces how much I adore them will be at the World Domination Summit so there’s at least a chance of doing so, a sweet bird told me she’ll be teaching with another two in November, and another I will most likely get to see this summer (if she’s not famous and off on a whirlwind book tour already)–it’s all happening.

My remaining wish is to go deeper inside myself, to get to that core of sanity and vast space within, quiet and still, beyond ego and attachment.

I wish to go deeper in to love and compassion.

I wish to go deeper in to wisdom, awareness and knowing, confidence.

I wish to go the distance, all the way, for the long haul.

I wish to “go to there,” (and I love it if you get that reference, dear reader).

What I Learned About Myself Hosting a Well-Fed Woman Retreatshop

I mentioned in my review of Rachel Cole’s Fort Collins Well-Fed Woman Retreatshop that as a host, my experience of the Retreatshop itself was not typical because I was focused on that duty. When you host, you have a different experience than the other attendees–you set up the space, hold the space, maintain the integrity of that container. You adjust the heat, keep out anyone not part of the group, give directions, hand out tissues if people cry, and try not to monopolize things by talking too much.

However, through facilitating that event, I learned a few things about myself.

I am funny. Not in a mean, critical, unnatural or forced way, but in a way that cheers people up, softens them and makes them feel at ease. For example, when I got up to introduce the space and Rachel, I started with directions to the bathroom. I hadn’t planned to say it, but what came out was something like this, “When you go out the main studio door, take a left. You’ll find yourself in the main common area and on the other side is a hallway. Follow that to the end and on the left is…nirvana.” As everyone laughed, I said “No, it’s just the bathroom.” I hadn’t planned that joke (although, if I ever host an event there again, I am totally using it), it was just what came out while I was talking. I am willing to be a fool for a laugh, a smile, to put someone at ease and soften the energy of a room.

I am generous. This makes people feel cared for and loved and comfortable. It is one of my most fundamental qualities, (even though I take it to an unhealthy extreme sometimes). A friend said of me recently, “A Jill that isn’t ‘giving’ isn’t Jill. ‘Giving’ seems like a natural part of who you are.”

I am enthusiastic. This was something Rachel pointed out at the event. One of my students last semester put it this way “when Jill gets to talking, she sometimes repeats herself, but I think it’s just because she’s excited.” If I care about something, I get a rush of energy and can be quite animated.

I’m curious. No matter what’s happening, I want to learn what I can from it. I want to understand, to know.

I am loved by some amazing women. Rachel said so, that it was a great group and she could tell they really loved me. I don’t often let that in, let myself notice, because I am so busy giving and loving and performing, but I noticed that day, and I’ve carried it with me ever since.

I am brave, even when I’m afraid. Even though it seemed so unlike me, the highly sensitive introvert, I asked Rachel to come, I emailed people to tell them they should come too, and I spent a lot of time with Rachel by myself and only got really nervous twice, and only right at the beginning. Most of the weekend, I was present and my heart was open, in public, with people. There was so much at stake–Rachel’s comfort and respect, the quality of the event, friendships, my sense of myself and my value–but I didn’t let that freeze me up, I didn’t run from it or try to numb out.

After so many years of self-hate, I am hungry for self-care and self-love. I am ready. So many years of denial and restriction, perfectionism, feeling unworthy, being bullied, and smashing myself to bits, I’m really ready to work with these patterns, these habits that no longer serve me (if they ever did).

I can’t pull off peacock shoes, but I can celebrate and love a woman who rocks them.

Well-Fed Woman Retreatshop Review

Disclaimer: I am utterly smitten with Rachel Cole. She is inspiring and supportive, fierce and compassionate. She glows with energy and love. Having finally met her in person only confirmed my early opinion of her: she is magic. If you get the chance to work with her, through a Retreatshop or consulting or coaching or even just reading her blog, you will be encouraged and enriched.

Also, my experience of the Retreatshop itself is not typical. As a host, during the event I was finding it hard to focus because I was trying to make sure everyone else was comfortable, having a good time, and getting what they needed–be it a tissue or directions to the bathroom or a comfortable chair or time to ask questions or a drink of water. What more than made up for that is I was able to spend one-on-one time with Rachel before and after. But, it did make my experience a bit different than someone who simply attends the Retreatshop.

Well-Fed Woman Retreatshop Review

Rachel has those who register respond to a set of questions ahead of time. They served to focus us all on the central intention for our time together.

What are you most hoping to take away from the mini-retreatshop?
What are you truly hungry for?
What gets in the way of you feeding your truest hungers?

As women arrived at the Retreatshop, Rachel introduced herself to every one. It was interesting for me, who knew all of the women in attendance, to watch each of them relax and smile when Rachel approached. She put them at ease, giving them a gentle invitation to join her in that space and moment.

We started the workshop identifying hungers, writing them down on post-it notes and sticking them to the walls. Even though I had recently read Rachel’s post on “Primary Hungers,” about how we often confuse them with secondary ones, I still struggled in those beginning moments to see the difference. Luckily for me, Rachel is a “hunger whisperer.”

I wrote down a whole row of hungers related to time: time to rest, time to work, time to play, time to think, time to create, time. Rachel challenged that hunger for time, saying it actually was a secondary hunger. With her help, I was able to identify that I am truly hungry to trust my ability to care for myself, to be able to identify what I need and then provide it. I’m hungry for self-care. Once I identified my primary hunger, Rachel gave me suggestions for how I might begin to work with it.

What you have to understand is that throughout the three hours, she did this for every woman there. Some have since told me this was the most powerful element of the whole experience for them. Rachel listens and with a few questions, suddenly everything is clear, a new way revealed.

“It doesn’t matter how long we may have been stuck in a sense of our limitations. If we go into a darkened room and turn on the light, it doesn’t matter if the room has been dark for a day, a week, or ten thousand years — we turn on the light and it is illuminated. Once we control our capacity for love and happiness, the light has been turned on.” ~Sharon Salzberg

Rachel shares her own story, her own journey, during the Retreatshop, giving those in attendance a specific example that illustrates this important process–identifying what you are truly hungry for and learning how to feed it. Rachel has a map that shows the way, one that she wrote herself as she traveled through this same territory, and she is a kind and gentle guide. The Retreatshop was a mix of full group conversation and questions, smaller groups, visualizations, and journaling, with Rachel wholeheartedly present throughout.

What you will find if you attend a Retreatshop is that three hours isn’t enough time. You feel as if you’ve just gotten started, but the good news is: you have started! And, Rachel is available for further coaching and consulting, her good work will continue, and she’s created a Facebook group where those of us who have attended can continue our conversation about these issues, offer support and share ideas. She also emailed my group with suggestions for following up, continuing the work we’d started. The Retreatshop is just a taste of what’s possible, an appetizer, but if you go, you will be on your way to being a well-fed woman.

If you have questions about the Retreatshop, I’d be happy to answer them, as would Rachel. If you have been to a Retreatshop, please add a comment about your experience.

Joy Jam

What were the 3-5 things that gave you joy this week?

1. Well-Fed Woman Retreatshop afterglow: I’ve been basking in this all week. Remembering and daydreaming about it, running into and hanging out with women who were there, hearing their good feedback and receiving their generous appreciation, seeing the glow in them, and thinking about how loved and lucky I am. Hopefully this weekend I’ll finally find time to tell you more about last weekend, because I have so much I want to share.

2. Sitting in the backyard in the sun with the dogs: Yes, it’s muddy back there today because all the snow melted, and Sam and Dexter were putting their dirty, slimy toys on me (neither one really wanted me to actively play or even touch them or the toy, just wanted to be partly in my lap while they played), begging for attention, and not letting me write or relax much, and it was only 45 degrees, but it felt good and made me long for the seasons when we can sit out there for hours at a time. In the same way I choose to go barefoot whenever I can, I’d prefer to be outside.

This is how Sam feels about having to come back inside so I could write this post:

You've got to be kidding me, Mom.

3. Cleaning my house: Okay, I know that probably sounds strange, maybe even a little crazy to some of you, but it happens so rarely anymore that it was a joyful thing. The only year since Eric and I’ve been married when I didn’t work and/or wasn’t in school, the first year we were back in Colorado (he got the job here after I’d already been accepted into two graduate programs in Oregon, and it was too late to apply at CSU, so I took a year off), I would clean the bathroom, dust, and water the plants once a week, every week. I cooked and worked out every day. My house was clean, and I was well rested and fit. Sometimes, I really miss that.

4. Preparing a WILD writing session: My writing group is coming over today. I’m hosting, which means opening my home, providing food and drink, and planning the writing we’ll do for the three hours we spend together. I’ve had bad experiences with writing groups in the past (too much building up and tearing down of egos), but I love, love, love this group of women.

5. My home: As I cleaned it this morning, I was reminded how much I love this place. It’s small and needs lots of work still, but that only makes me love it even more.

Three Truths and One Wish

I’m not ready to do a full write up, a whole review of Sunday’s Well-Fed Woman Retreatshop, as I feel like I am still digesting, processing so much of it–but I would like to share some of what I learned, some truths that Rachel shared with us.

1. Truth: “Your hungers are patient.” No matter how long you’ve ignored them, no matter how good you are at denying and disconnecting and distracting yourself, if they are true, primary hungers, they will wait.

2. Truth: We often confuse our secondary and primary hungers. “In fact, this is why so many women are hungry. They go to feed the secondary hunger without addressing the core primary hunger and are often left unsatiated because the secondary hunger isn’t what they want after all,” (read more about this in Rachel’s “Primary Hungers” post). For example, in the Retreatshop on Sunday, I identified being hungry for time, (more time to do lots of things–think, work, play, rest), but Rachel helped me to see that wasn’t the real, fundamental, primary hunger. What I really wanted was to trust myself to make the right decisions about how to spend my time. My primary hunger was for self-care.

3. Truth: We can trust ourselves. “When we are judgmental, we create a very unsafe internal environment.” Enough denial of our hungers leads to distrust. If you feel you can’t trust yourself, you become the enemy, and view each hunger as an attack. And yet, we can change this. We can move from being our own enemy to deep communication and connection. We can provide acceptance and safety and care and love for ourselves. When it comes to our hungers, we can trust them and trust that we know how to feed them. We have all the kindness and wisdom we need to do so.

One wish: that you are well-fed, in all ways, always. That you are full and satisfied, free from suffering.