Monday, July 8, 2019

Review: Heal Yourself with Journaling Power

I know from personal experience with more than one of Mari McCarthy’s courses and books that she’s onto something—Mari’s journaling methods opened up my journaling practice and transformed it from a “Dear Diary” record of life events to a meaningful practice in which I found inspiration and answers by looking within. And it’s no surprise that her previous work Journaling Power strikes a chord with her personal account of transformation through journaling.

But what I didn’t expect when I delved into Heal Yourself with Journaling Power was for such overwhelming evidence that the journaling community, specifically Mari’s has expanded, and what’s more, that it has included experts in science and medicine as well as writing. For those who missed Journaling Power, the book opens with a recap of Mari’s own story of the transformation of her health. What emerges in the following chapters is a collection of testimonial essays that pick up where Mari leaves off, expanding on and deepening the concept that a consistent journaling practice can be transformative. Each essay includes an introduction by Mari, a personal story, a lesson learned, and a journaling prompt that helps readers to begin a path to similar results.

What was even more impressive was to read that science and medical communities are now endorsing journaling as a viable component of healing. It’s something that Mari and members of her “CreateWriteNow tribe” have experienced for years and is now being validated by a wide array of professionals. Turns out that the fine shimmering thread that runs through any successful writing practice, whether it be journaling or any other creative writing, is also found in our search for health and happiness: a “healthy internal dialogue” according to screenwriter turned psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo in his Foreword to the book.

The chapters on rewriting your life story and manifesting your dream life are particularly inspiring. Reading the essays is uplifting. The lessons learned resonate with all of us. Follow any of the prompts, and you’re a member of the burgeoning global journaling tribe. All you need are a pen and some paper. And this book. Get yours here (signed copies here).

Print Length: 143 Pages
Genre: Non-Fiction/Self-Help
Publisher: Mari L. McCarthy
ISBN-13: 9780463807361

Find the writer within you. I'll be launching a new workshop to help women writers establish and maintain a meaningful writing practice soon. Learn more

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Writing as Meditation

"Meditation and writing practice are coincident." - Natalie Goldberg

Lately, when I ask someone about their writing practice, they get nervous. The whole conversation seems like it’s on a slip-n-slide. Responses range from the vague (“I don’t really know what that is” or “I don’t really follow one”) to the emphatic (“I don’t need one” or “Writing regularly hinders my creativity”). Most people also think that a writing practice refers to writers of fiction, poetry, memoirs, or anything they consider to be literary.

While I am a writer of fiction (and sometimes the accidental poem), I had a serious epiphany about my own writing practice recently. I was revisiting Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Unbeknownst to her, Natalie has been my mentor, via her book, for a long time. When I read it again for a class, I wondered how I had missed all the gems in it, and why I had been so remiss in making use of the wisdom she imparts therein.

Throughout the book, she quotes and refers to her Buddhist Zen Master. Early in the book she writes: "In 1974 I began to do sitting meditation. From 1978 to 1984 I studied Zen formally with Dainin Katagiri Roshi (Roshi is a title for a Zen master) at the Minnesota Zen Center in Minneapolis. Whenever I went to see him and asked him a question about Buddhism, I had trouble understanding the answer until he said, “You know, like in writing when you . . .” When he referred to writing, I understood. About three years ago he said to me, “Why do you come to sit meditation? Why don’t you make writing your practice? If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”

Suddenly my writing practice took on a completely different (and deeper) meaning. Beyond word counts and deadlines, this was a framework to better understand the way the craft of writing had taken hold of me in the third grade and hasn't let go since. By coming to my practice of this craft with mindfulness, as a meditation, I am honoring the best part of myself. On the best days, it does take me everywhere, and gloriously so. 

A big part of this is creating the right space. When people hear "meditation" they thing of quietude and closed eyes, which it certainly can be. But meditation is also mindfulness, and creating the right mental and physical space for your writing means whatever will allow you to do it mindfully. For me, this is writing in my favorite cafe on sometimes, or writing in bed in the last moments before turn the light out to go to sleep other times. It might mean an entire afternoon spent cranking out a huge swath of my novel, jotting down notes in stolen moments on a busy day, or a short block of time at the same time each day. Those in the know about meditation and mindfulness suggest starting small. Your writing practice might develop in the same way, and will change and evolve over time.

illustration by Ben Thomson
Another important factor is the intent with which you begin and engage in your writing practice. I have learned to approach many things in life, especially important goals and activities, with a sense of how I want to feel in doing them and accomplishing them. Writing is my bliss---when I approach it as a meditation of what I love to do most in the world, rather than something I need to cross off of my list just to say that I've done it or because I'm supposed to do it. In a women's group I belong to, we recently worked with "gift" goals, vs "should" goals. Even when my writing practice must include a homework assignment for grad school, I approach it as a meditation, and a gift goal. 

But deadlines and word counts and homework assignments are inevitable. So are writer's block, physical and mental exhaustion, distractions, and any number of other ways life challenges a solid writing practice and your commitment to it. So what can be done in the face of all of this?  In addition to getting yourself into the setting that best supports your own writing mojo, breathe. Set your intention for your practice when you begin. Realize that you're safe with the page, and with yourself. Be kind to yourself. A recent homework included an article by Lauren Sapala, which led me to her book, The INFJ Writer. In it she suggests beginning each writing session with a short gratitude list. This has been a wonderful implementation to my writing practice, and has done a lot to thwart any anxiety, fear, self-doubt or self-sabotage that might plague me at the outset.

Writing is meditation, if you'll allow it to be, whether you're writing a poem or a blog post, a mystery or a memoir, a journal or a literary jewel. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Anne Eston is a storyteller, author and mentor. She gets by with a little (really a LOT) of help from her husband, and her two Imp Muses (cats) Stanley and Sofia.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Voices We Must Not Listen To

We need to honor, love, give voice to, and protect our wild, creative self--the writer within. In doing so, we cannot be controlled by the critic within, or the critics who seem to surround us.

Here is a  repost from The Writing Life...

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Mindfulness: Next

Where were we?  Oh yes. In my previous post, I gave some background on what led me to this "mindfulness" idea. I had reached out to a friend, taken a webinar, met some really wonderful women and made connections on a couple of stellar Facebook groups, but was still feeling quite stuck. One thing that kept popping up was meditation. Yeah, I knew I needed to get with the program, but I already felt overwhelmed enough so trying to push a whole hour of anything out of myself, much less meditation as the webinar had suggested, was proving to be too much. But I hung in there, because "meditation" was also the first thing out of my friend's mouth when I reached out to her for help. And one day, it popped up again (third time's a charm, right?), this time in a post in one of the FB groups I'm in. It was a video post by one of the members offering to help anyone who was having trouble with their meditation practice. Just as generous and beautiful as that. What did I have to lose? So I made arrangements to connect with her via Skype.

Wow, what a gift it was. Because it unlocked two very important things for me. The first was to give myself permission to be where I was with all of this meditation stuff. If I'm not able to do an hour a day, THAT'S OKAY. It was like a huge weight was lifted off of my consciousness. I wasn't failing Kyle Cease (it was his webinar), hell, I wasn't even failing myself, as long as I forgave myself and gave myself permission to still be "in process" with all of this. And isn't that how life is anyway? Have we ever really "arrived?" Aren't we always growing, changing, evolving?

The second thing I learned was to view meditation as mindfulness. Sure, there are times when I just need to shut the world out, and put on meditation sounds for a long while to recharge and recover from whatever life has thrown at me. But in addition to giving myself permission to do whatever I was able to on a given day---sometimes that means five minutes, sometimes I get the luxury of 30 minutes or more---it's about taking mindful moments---being mindful with every activity and being present in moments.


Another thing that I got out of my discussion with this lovely soul was that if I started small, I would find that I COULD do more. That is exactly what happened, and it has been amazing! I learned to be more consistent, and also more mindful in moments. It doesn't mean that suddenly I have more than the same 24 hours in a day than I've always had. But so much began to shift. I'm sure if I looked closely I can also see other things that I'm doing less of, like hanging out on social media (although when I do, it's with so much more mindful intent, and so much more enjoyable), but with this small shift came more peace, more rest, more energy, more kindness to myself.

Around the same time, I received an email from a place I didn't recognize, but something told me it wasn't spam. When I opened it and looked into it, I ended up enrolling for this amazing women's day at a new community center nearby. I also saw that they had yoga classes, so I signed up to take some of those. It turns out I was on their mailing list because I had belonged to the studio that closed before and they had become part of this new community center.  The place is stunning. It used to be a private home, so you'd never know what was inside from the street. It's an oasis that I am so grateful for, and my new yoga teacher is fantastic. I also started two Daily OM classes that I could do on my own during the week between yoga classes.

Then something else happened. I had always wanted to be like those beautiful women my age that I see in vitamin and make-up commercials who look so energetic and ALIVE. But I have felt the opposite of that most of the time: tired, fat, angry and drained.

But about my second week of Yoga, I felt a significant shift at the end of class one night. I felt STRONG.  I felt BEAUTIFUL. And when I went to a spa with my friend the day before my 20th wedding anniversary vow renewal ceremony, she took a picture of me and I felt stunning. I felt like Audrey Hepburn, one of my cinema idols. I realized that this otherworldly woman that I've been in pursuit of (or envious of) has been inside of me all along.

I did have a setback when I saw the video from the vow renewal. Ugh. And the ebb and flow of stress would pull me away from all that I've built up. But I just stayed the course and kept listening. I continue to climb out of my old story. Another big process, aside from the physical, is taking place in our home. We are going through YEARS of detritus (20 to be exact). I wanted to be Wonder Woman and get it all done in one weekend.

I also wanted to take my newfound consciousness and act on it all NOW. One of the videos Kyle sends to his subscribers talks about what to do when we reach a new level that doesn't match our circumstances: "The root cause of almost all of our suffering is wanting to be somewhere other than where we are right now. As you make your connection to yourself bigger than your circumstances and accept where you are right now, you'll find peace in the present moment and a new clarity that will allow you to create a new set of circumstances."  This is one of the ideas that reminds me that I'm in process and it's okay. I don't have all the answers, and it's okay. I'm still moving forward, and that's the most important thing.

So what's next? you ask. I hesitate to claim a specific plan, because those hardly ever turn out exactly as we expect. Life is more fluid than that. I am taking specific steps that reflect the life I want to lead on a daily basis. I'll see where they lead me. Beyond that, my intent is focused, but open. I'm learning all over to trust the Universe. She's got my back.  I take the steps, she takes care of the rest. I have a bit more to share, but I've rambled on enough for today. You're probably on your fifth cup of tea by now and need to pee. Stay tuned for "Mindfulness: Now." Love and light to all!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Mindfulness: Beginnings

Wow. And WHOOSH! And Everything (yes, with a capital "e") in between. It would be much too long of an introduction to this post to log and explain everything that's happened in the last four odd years since my last post. Suffice it to say, I've been on a journey, and it isn't over yet. It's been difficult at times to say the least, and I've felt like giving up soooo many times. But I'm glad I didn't because, it finally feels like I'm coming into to who I want to be (shhh, don't tell anyone, but this is the "me" I've been all along, just haven't let the poor thing out to live and breathe), who I AM--and it's just the beginning.

I don't pretend to know the direction of my life, my writing career, or this blog. For for the here and now, I feel compelled to share what's been going on with me. Sure there have been some exciting writing news which I'm all to happy to catch up on soon. But the things I have to share over the next few consecutive posts are really the foundation of my growth in every direction. I don't have all the answers, but these posts are really an expression of gratitude, which really reverberates with the Universe, and also might inspire someone else out there in some small way.

Now then...this "mindfulness" thing... I was tempted to think that this all began when a member of the WWC (Wildhearted Women's Circle) posted a video offering to help anyone who was interested with their meditation practice. Well, I was pretty frustrated with my meditation practice at the time, and so I set up a time to connect with her. It was great, and positive aftermath of the talk we had really inspired me to want to tell others about the clarity and light I was receiving and the progress I was making.

But something held me back. When I thought about it, I realized that this burst of light and movement and progress was really the culmination of the work I'd started during the summer. Not only that, this was going to be bigger than just one post on a group page, even a long one. I wanted to give my readers the chance to keep scrolling or come back to these posts with a cup of tea when and if they had time, rather than take up a huge amount of space on the group page.

SO. Back in mid-June, I looked around and most of the steps I had taken to move forward, feel better mentally and physically, and make progress in several areas of my life had borne little or no fruit. I had this great journal that was supposed to help me start living my daily greatness. I was supposed to start exercising more and eating better. And it just wasn't working. No matter what I did, I still felt scattered, overwhelmed, and unfulfilled. I kept asking and asking, sometimes out loud, "what do I do?"

A little voice kept telling me to contact my friend Mari McCarthy. She and her books and classes are amazing. If you're wanting to do more with your journaling practice--heck, with your life, check her out. Anyway, the voice kept telling me to contact her. I wasn't sure why, because I felt that even my journaling practice, which I'd had phenomenal results with before, wasn't yielding answer-driven inspiration as it had in the past. So I reached out to her and we made a skype appointment. When I told her what was going on, and more specifically, that I had recently done a new vision board (not the one, by the way, that I recently posted on WWC), she said without hesitation "what about meditation?" Well. That was unexpected. A different direction. So I told her I would look into it/think about it.

A short time after that, she emailed me a link to an online webinar by Kyle Cease. His name might come up in some of my posts. To be clear, this is not about Kyle. Check him out, he's great. But just like Tony Robbins wasn't really my brand, Kyle and his message may not be for everyone. That really isn't the point. This is all about listening and following, and coming into my own--my own intuition, my sense of my own greatness, if you will. And believing in myself. Everyone's path of how they reach this for themselves is different. For better or worse, I'm just sharing mine.

Now, I had already watched an incredible video of Kyle's earlier in the month and had taken a meditation challenge from that experience. It wasn't working. But one of the reasons Mari and I had had such a great skype session was because she had been learning some stuff from Kyle too. So she sent me the link to the free webinar.

So even though I wasn't sure I would find what I needed to take the next steps, I was filled with gratitude to Mari, and excited about the webinar.  Part of what I needed to see, which I do now, is that none of this is really outside of me, but within---when I'm listening for the steps, whether it's classes, what to read, who to talk to, or when to sit down with my journal---it's all there.

Anyway, that webinar seemed magical. I have my notes somewhere, but it was the connections I made there that ended up being part of the next thing, and the next thing, and the next...just supporting me and pointing me to all the light and brilliance that is already there waiting me to express it and live it.

I met some truly wonderful kindred souls, like the woman who runs the Watershed Farm, as well as the incredible Facebook group I'm so privileged to be a part of. That alone was the start of something beautiful. I've experienced so many moments of synchronicity since being connected with these women, too many to recount here.

Slowly, slowly I began to share, write, and reach. The questions were still there, but I felt so much encouragement from this space I'd found to connect with. And then, one woman in the group posted the invitation to talk to her about my meditation practice.  When I did the next wave of wonderfulness opened up to me. And that's what I'll post about next. Literally, "Mindfulness: Next". I hope you'll stop by again for my next installment. It's coming soon!