Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Writing With the Wolves - Singing Over My Bones

This is the first in a series of posts on how Clarissa Pinkola Estes's Women Who Run With the Wolves has influenced me as a writer, in addition to my Prologue post leading up to the series. You can find any post in the series by searching the tag "wolves"

Ref: "Introduction: Singing Over the Bones"

I  was amazed the first time I read Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes over a decade ago. My aunt, who I considered to be eccentric at the time (now I understand her eccentricity as her intrinsic wild nature; then I didn’t know enough about my own to recognize it), recommended it to me. I had never read anything like it.

When I circled back around to it as a resource for a graduate school paper I was writing on feminist tropes in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I thought to myself “was I sleeping my way through this book before?” There were so many wonderful lessons and explorations in it, and I realized that I hadn’t made good use of any of them.

In my zeal, I started a series of blog posts that I categorized as a book club. My heart was motivating me, but I wasn’t listening to it on a fundamental level as I created content around this wonderful book. I was still in academia without even knowing it.

Now I’m taking my own advice, and as a practice in open-heart writing, I'm starting the series anew, and sharing my reflections on what this book has meant to me as a woman writer. I'm doing so with no expectations, only love for my wild writer sisters, for Clarissa Pinkola Estes and her work, and for anyone who cares to join the discussion. Enjoy.

(As a side note, the wolf totem and archetype has come to me very strongly in recent years. I talk more about this in my Prologue to this blog series for those who are interested. Estes touches on the similarity of the wolf’s nature to that of a woman in her Introduction. It’s reflective of much of what I found on the wolf totem.)

In reading this book again, it dawned on me that this wild feminine nature that the book prompts me to excavate, or return to, is in fact my writer self. I discovered her in the third grade when I made my first books: I wrote out the story, and for t least one of them, my mom typed up the pages. I added some rustic illustrations, and we sewed the pages together. I then made covers for each of them out of cardboard pieces covered with colored contact paper.

I’ve referred to this writer child in several other posts, spoken about her to other women and other writers. But until recently it’s always been from the perspective of her as somehow Other, someone I had to find and connect with from a great distance or over a huge divide. Decades it’s taken me since the third grade to connect with her, sometimes running toward her, others desperately looking over my shoulder to get back to her, and sometimes so distracted by others’ dreams, and by life itself that I’ve barely remembered to think of her.

But she IS me. She has always been me, and has never left me. Writing has never left me. It has always been who I am and it always will be. It’s as simple and profound as that. There is no distance to travel. I don’t have to look for her---she’s right here---I am her and she is me.

Now, what WWRWTW has been teaching me is to *accept* her—accept and honor my authentic wild writer self, to honor her, and for god’s sake, let her out, let her roam free in the world and in life. I’m still at it. But the beautiful thing is, I’m in it for the long haul, and I’m finally starting to enjoy the journey. I’ll talk more about how I’ve survived the rigors of this work (see the chapter of the book, in which Bluebeard’s bride is helped in her escape from him by her older, wiser sisters).

As a writer, I very much connected to what Estes says about the space I have needed (or thought I needed) to do my art. I have had many iterations of the desk and the perfect chairs to go with them. Sometimes, I’ve even had my own room with a door. Now I just have a round writing table surrounded by bookshelves on two sides, and a framed signed print of Alex Ross’s Wonder Woman on the wall overlooking it. Whenever I’m stuck on a passage and I look up, I imagine her saying “you got this girl!” But these days, I'm getting most of my best work done sitting on the couch and typing into the Scrivener app on my iPad. And don't get me wrong, I still want a desk that looks out on the ocean like Diane Keaton's in Something's Gotta Give. But what I'm learning is that whether I'm sitting at a desk in my very own writing room, or whether I'm sitting on the couch in my living room, I need to stay connected to my wild writer child. 

The work to keep my wild writer’s soul alive truly does at times feel like she---my authentic writer self, my only self—does become lost. Her voice gets drowned out, or dismissed. This work does at times feel like I have to search for her and revive her again and again. But it’s really just a remembrance that I haven’t lost her. “Finding” her again is just turning within again giving her back the microphone. I do this by habitually and contiually turning within. Estes describes this inner compass, this forever-muse like this:

"When women reassert their relationship with the wildish nature, they are gifted with a permanent and internal watcher, a knower, a visionary, an oracle, an inspiratrice, an intuitive, a maker, a creator, an inventor, and a listener who guide, suggest, and urge vibrant life in the inner and outer worlds. When women are close to this nature, the fact of that relationship glows through them. This wild teacher, wild mother, wild mentor supports their inner and outer lives, no matter what." (6)

Estes goes on to further define the artist's relationship to her wild nature, and I love that this inner wild-woman muse is our greatest supporter:

"The archetype of the Wild Woman and all that stands behind her is patroness to all painters, writers, sculptors, dancers, thinkers, prayermakers, seekers, finders—for they are all busy with the work of invention, and that is the instinctive nature’s main occupation. As in all art, she resides in the guts, not in the head." (10)

Estes also tells us that this wild woman aritist is "fluent in the languages of dreams, passion, and poetry." (11) That just calls to my soul like nobody's business. My instinct is to shout "I want to be her!" until I remember that I am her and she is me.

This is what I am finally honoring in my work as a writer…and probably why I’m so drawn to magical realism in my work. My journey is new every day, and as Estes implores me:

"So, let us push on now, and remember ourselves back to the wild soul. Let us sing her flesh back onto our bones. Shed any false coats we have been given. Don the true coat of powerful instinct and knowing. Infiltrate the psychic lands that once belonged to us. Unfurl the bandages, ready the medicine. Let us return now, wild women howling, laughing, singing up The One who loves us so." (20)

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

Writing With the Wolves - Prologue

It’s impossible to talk about my life’s journey without talking about my writer’s journey, because they are one and the same thing. As I enter this new phase of my journey, come around this new bend on my path “toward the mountain” as author Neil Gaiman describes it, I want to put down a facet, a glimpse into where I’ve been and what’s brought me here, to this point of “writing with the wolves.”

My MFA thesis novel is titled “Sankofa.” Sankofa defined as "Go back and get it" (san - to return; ko - to go; fa - to fetch, to seek and take).  It’s the Asante Adinkra symbol represented either with a stylized heart shape or by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth. It’s associated with the proverb: "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." (Wikepedia)

While I’ve never forgotten that I am a writer, I have strayed from that purpose and calling many times and for many reasons. In this current spiral back to the authentic me as I’ve been working on in my women’s group, I’ve discovered that I’ll never reach part of what I’ve been chasing. Partly because, as my writing coach Lauren Sapala reminded me recently, there is no “there”---no destination of fame, or success, not in the way that I’ve been thinking. She reminds me that as soon as I get “there” the next “there” will present itself. Really there’s only Here and Now. (See one of my other favorite books, Richard Bach’s There’s No Such Place As Far Away.) As a matter of fact, I reach a new mountaintop each time I complete a writing project (whether it be a blog post, a joural entry, a poem, or a novel)--and then another one when I gift it to the world. Who knew?

The other reason I’ll never reach this destination I’ve been chasing is because I’m already there---I’m already a wild writer soul. In all these spiral turns what I’ve really been doing is uncovering her and setting her free—she’s been there all along, since I wrote my first little book in the third grade. She’s been with me through all the detours, waiting to step forward.

Is she—am I—stepping forward now? Hell yes. But I’ll still be shifting, changing, growing, dancing, and writing my way further out into the world, further into my authenticity.

I digress. It’s easy for us writers to do that, because we have so freaking much to say!

The past two years have been an important part of my path. This part started on a Saturday in June when I took a webinar with Kyle Cease…where I met my friend who brought me into her Wild Hearted Women’s Circle… where I began expanding, and preparing to release my wild writer self.

Working, digging, discovering… I missed some of the clues along the way. For instance, how the Wolf kept presenting itself to me. I’d be drawn to images, stories, etc.  Recently in that Circle, my friend presented us with an opportunity to connect more deeply with our purpose, or divine assignment, and our “original medicine” through various tools, including a shamanic drum meditation.

Well, like I said, my authentic writer self has always been with me—she *is* me—so I really already knew that writing was and is my original medicine.  Still, I wanted to meet my spirit guide and learn more. I tried twice to sit with the drum track, and both times were fraught with anxiety and distractions. I gave up, at least on that particular track.

Then Wolf presented in my thought again. So I looked up “wolf medicine.” One of the first links that came up was a blog, and when I clicked on it, I got goosebumps.  Not only did the blog heavily feature photos of white wolves, which I had been drawn to, but the first few lines went straight to my heartspace: “Wolf Medicine, The Healer, Pathfinder, Teacher & Leader!” I had just been working with my friend a few days earlier, and a reading she’d done with me included “healer.” Then a few days after that, one of the first things Lauren said to me in our session was that I was here to be a mentor—that she felt that energy more strongly from me than almost any of her other clients. Wow.

Reading on in the Wolf Medicine blog, my strong connection to celestial archetypes, including the moon, was reinforced: “The senses of Wolf are very keen, and the moon is its power ally. The moon a symbol for psychic energy and the unconscious knowing which  hold the secrets of knowledge and wisdom. Howling at the moon is an indication of Wolf’s desire to connect with new ideas, new ways and new paths which are just below the surface of our consciousness.” Wow again.

In Circle, we’d been given a spiral graphic on which to write whatever came to us in our discovery of our “divine assignment,” which I considered to be teaching/mentoring/healing. I had decided to overlay the spiral onto a white wolf image, and when I saw the one below, again, it went straight to my heart. I also found an incredible wolfdrum track which I’m sure I’ll revisit many times over. Over a powerful few days, I filled the spiral with wolf medicine wisdom and my own thoughts in silver ink.

What has all this meant? It means that I created this space you’re in right now with me, reading this. It means I’ve been able to support some fierce and beautiful women writers in their work. It means I’ve reached into new, frightening, and exhilarating places within myself, and out in the world.

And it means I’m returning again to a book I’ve loved for a few years now: Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s Women Who Run With the Wolves. I read it a few years back, and then last year again for a graduate class (like I said, Wolf has been knocking at my consciousness for awhile now). I’d shared my responses to this book before, and now I’d like to begin again, or circle back around, to share the book in the context of the wild writer’s soul. This is my Prologue to the series of posts I’ll be writing. Welcome.

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

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!