All the True Vows, David Whyte

I am writing the LearnBook for the Plug In! course. (I’ve decided not to use the term workbook anymore because learning isn’t work, it’s joy. So from here on all my support materials are going to be called LearnBooks. Don’t you think that sounds much more fun than the heavy workbook?)

Plug In! is about how to step into The Intersection to access the kind of creativity, guidance and support that will take your writing or other creative endeavor to a whole new level.

One of the steps in The Intersection is to write your creative blessing and then speak it aloud every day. To support that idea, I am reading David Whyte’s “True Vows” to the class. Re-reading it today, I fell in love again with the profound ideas, and the elegant way David expresses them. Like a tumble of water, the words flow into your mind and heart and you cannot help but feel them in your bones. Speak this poem aloud slowly and ideally standing. Let these words flow through you. You will be changed.

All the True Vows

All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,

it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

Remember,
in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,

that way you’ll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

David Whyte
The House of Belonging

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Brownies, St Michael, and the scholarship

On Saturday I announced through my newsletter that I was giving one scholarship for my telecourse, Plug In! The Intersection for Writers. Today, I made the selection. As usual with me, giving away a scholarship was a more profound experience than I expected. Here is the email I sent to the three dozen applicants. I am sharing it on my blog because it’s such a sweet story and because it illustrates the power of working in The Intersection.
Friends,
I cannot tell you what the last three days have meant to me. When I sent the email offering a scholarship for Plug In, I don’t know what I expected, but I was not prepared for what I got: email and after email after email with your soul-stirring, life-affirming, and often eye-popping stories.

I met many of you in person this past year, but other names were new to me. I heard from people who live ten minutes away to people who live across the country and even across the pond. I heard from every kind of writer from published authors, to writers with a manuscript, to writers with no words on the page but who feel their book pushing to be born. I heard from people who write poetry, children’s literature, memoirs, self help, spiritual discovery, and novels. I heard from visual artists too. The visual artists spoke eloquently about their personal relationship with both the brush and the word.

I thought you’d like to know my process because it’s a fun illustration of how things work in The Intersection. I read every email. I wrote each name on a slip of paper. I blessed each name. I emptied out my blessing bowl (which holds an ongoing collection of evidence of Spirit in my life) and filled it with your names. Then, I drove to St Michael’s with water, my journal, and the bowl of names.

It always smells delicious at St Michael’s. I don’t know why, but it always does. But today was something else altogether. Today the air was infused with chocolate. I took huge sniffs. Brownies, I thought. Brownies freshly out of the oven. Was someone baking in the neighborhood? Maybe, but when I left an hour later, the scent of brownies was as strong as when I arrived.

I was alone in St Michael’s the entire time. Not even the caretaker was there. I sat down and picked up my journal. As always, I wrote the date first. 1-25-2010. Go ahead, add it up. It’s an 11. If you’ve followed me at all, or read my book, you know today was destined to be an 11! Next, I had chats with Michael on the page about this whole scholarship thing being his idea. I was reminded that last year in an angel reading, he said in answer to all my questions: “You don’t understand how important this book is.” You’re so right, I wrote today, I had no idea what an impact this book would have on people’s lives. Thank you for letting me read all these glorious emails reminding me that my work changes people’s lives. Michael’s recent quote showed up, too. Three weeks ago in a post-Christmas angel reading, when I asked about what will happen to Writing Down Your Soul when I put all my energy into writing new books, Michael said, “It’s in my hands now.” Well, Michael, I wrote, the winner of the scholarship is in your hands, too.

And with that, I chose a name.

Lori Schaffert

Lori is a visual artist in Clearwater, FL. She heard me for the first time years ago when I spoke at Unity Church of Clearwater about Spiritual Geography. I think it was 2001. That evening she gave me a pencil drawing of myself and I tucked it in my bible where it has stayed for years. A few months ago, Lori came to a writing down your soul workshop at Unity Church of Palm Harbor. When she introduced herself I blurted out, I remember you, you drew my picture!

I’d like you to meet Lori through her own words in her scholarship application:

“I am an artist and it is my greatest desire to bring God’s creative energy into manifestation through my hands and heart. The difficulty lies in staying out of the way and un-learning the self-imposed limitations and crippling doubts that have become my deeply ingrained pattern of thought. I have named 2010 ‘The Year I Find My Voice’ and know this course would direct me on that path.”

Please join me in congratulating Lori on her scholarship to Plug In. And on her year. How divine. The year she finds her voice. What a perfect name for all our years. We are all plugging into the divine to find our voices and speak with those voices in clear joyful tones. And when we all do that, when we all do the work we are here to do, the world truly is a better place.

Thank you for taking the time to let me know what Writing Down Your Soul has done, and continues to do, for you. I am so blessed in you.

Janet

Do you want to subscribe to the Writing Down Your Soul newsletter? Click on the tab at the top of this blog. You can also review the course outline for Plug In! The Intersection for Writers. Early registration with a hundred dollar discount continues through Tuesday Jan 26.


What Teach for America can teach writers

Following my usual Sunday ritual, I spent a couple hours this morning curled up in my favorite reading chair devouring french press coffee and the Sunday paper. I always find something that makes me think. Really think. The stimulus today was an article titled “What makes a great teacher” in the St Pete Times.

I felt drawn to read it for several reasons.

A. I was a teacher. Maybe not always a great one, but I did strive to make a difference. The year my profoundly gifted and profoundly deaf 9 year olds tested out reading at the high school level…,well, that was a proud moment indeed.

B. I’ve been frustrated to the n’th degree by the range of quality of teaching my son experienced in his education from pre-school to college from superb to god-awful.

C. I have a gut feeling my son will be a teacher of some kind some day.

And D. I still teach. I just teach deep soul writing and working in The Intersection instead of third grade.

So I read the article. As I read, I stumbled upon a paragraph that popped off the page. It spoke directly to me and to all writers, that is, all writers who are commited to being great. The paragraph distills Teach for America’s findings on what made teachers great. See what you think:

“…great teachers tended to set big goals…. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve…. Great teachers constantly re-evalaute what they are doing.

Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: They avidely recruited students and their families into the process, they maintained focus…, they planned exhaustively and purposefully–for the next day or the year ahead–by working backward from the desired outcome; and they refused to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, beaurocracy and budgetary shortfalls.”

What does that have to do with writers trying to write well and get published? Everything. When we work in The Intersection we are accessing the creative power of the universe, but that doesn’t mean that it flows to us without some effort and action on our part. The upcoming telecourse Plug In! The Intersection for Writers is about what actions to take to ensure endless access to that glorious creative flow.

In the last few blogs I talked about my real job for 2010. My job is to create the conditions that allow that flow to happen. And creating those conditions does take focus–relentless repeated focus. Every day we writers rise and renew our commitment to write and write well.

We do the same things Teach America, we
set big goals (getting published in todays world is a HUGE goal)
perpetually look for ways to improve
constantly reevaluate what we’re doing
recruit our friends and families into supporting our writing life
maintain focus (this shuold be number one)
plan how to get to what we want by working backward from it (to get a contract, I need an agent, to get an agent, I need a proposal, to write a proposal, I need….)
refuse to surrender to all the menaces around us

Are you a writer? Is this the year you create your writing life? Find your voice? Get published?

If you’d like to know more about working in The Intersection, visit Writing Down Your Soul and view the course outline for Plug In! We begin on February 2nd.

Whether you join Plug In! or not, take whatever wisdom you can from the Teach for America research. Are there any parts of it that resonate for you?


Derek Walcott “Love after Love”

Poetry really can save your life. That’s what Kim Rosen says in Saved by a Poem. And she’s right. I know. I am saved almost daily by the Sufi mystical poet, Hafiz, or David Whyte or, Derek Walcott. Today, I learned from my good friend, The Writer’s Almanac, is Derek Walcott’s birthday. A celebration is in order, don’t you think?

Here’s a Derek Walcott poem that saved my life. I love it so much I painted it in white chalk paint on an indigo wall in my bathroom. These words bless me every day.

Love After Love

The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in yoru own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome.

And say, sit here, eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread,. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you

All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

The photographs, the desperate notes, Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Aaaah, I feel saved just reading that as I type. What poem saved or continues to save your life?


Our one and only job

My last blog post ended with a description of the mystical mandala I created on January 1 to call in my magical new year. The real magic, I discovered, was in centering my focus not on what I want, but on creating the conditions in my heart, my mind, my body, my soul, and my environment that will magnetically attract what I want.

After all we’ve heard and read about the law of attraction, I was rather stunned to realize I’d missed something so big and, once it was right in front of me, so obvious. This isn’t anti-law of attraction. Rather, I think it’s a deeper, more profound understanding of the true law behind the law of attraction.

I realized the magnetic power isn’t in wanting, or rather it isn’t just in wanting. Mind you, wanting is good. Wanting is important. Wanting sends a vibrational message into the universe. I’m not voting that we stop wanting. But I’ve had, and I know you’ve had, the experience of wanting and wanting and wanting but experiencing nothing in response. So the power isn’t generated just by the feeling or expression of wanting. It’s deeper than that.

That’s how I interpret Thich Nhat Hahn’s stunning sentence, “When conditions are sufficient, there is a manifestion.” You are Here.

When I read those words, I felt Thich Nhat Hahn was whispering in my ear: Don’t focus on the manifestation, Janet, focus on creating the conditions; the manifestations will take care of themselves.

That’s why the center of my mandala suddenly had to be a lily. As in, “Consider the lilies, they do not toil nor spin, but I tell you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of them.” (Matthew 6: 28-29) As the Voice and I had chats on the page on how to create the perfect conditions, I found myself drawing a lily with six petals. Each petal states one essential daily activity. As I repeat all six every day, I create the conditions that cannot help but generate my desires.

Petal 1 – Hold my intention to be of service
Petal 2 – Say my prayers aloud
Petal 3 – Create and cherish my sacred work space
Petal 4 – Do my holy work
Petal 5 – Keep my focus on the good (not the fear)
Petal 6 – Have a grateful heart

Of course you don’t have to draw a lily or follow my six conditions. Choose a symbol and the condition-creating activities that speak to you. Perhaps you see yourself and your perfect conditions as a star or ripples of water or something else. The specific image doesn’t matter. Thoughtfully choosing one, does.

But even if you’re not using a flower, please stick with me for a moment on this flower image because I think it holds a simple but profound truth.

What does a flower, or any other plant, do to grow? It doesn’t generate it’s food, the sun does that. It just has to turn to the sun and absorb the light. Nature takes it from there. Well, what if that’s true for us, too. What if our job, really our only job, is to turn toward our Sun — Spirit — and absorb the light. If we keep our eyes on God, we can’t help but blossom and grow.

Kahlil Gibran said it simply and clearly: “Be like the flowers, turn your face to the sun.”

The great Sufi mystic Hafiz expressed this idea in perfect poetry in “The Lute Will Beg” from The Gift. When Daniel Ladinsky gave me permission to quote his translations of the mystical poets, he said I had to include this poem in my next book.

The Lute Will Beg

You need to become a pen
In the Sun’s hand.

We need for the earth to sing
Through out pores and eyes.

The body will again become restless
Until your soul paints all its beauty
Upon the sky.

Don’t tell me, dear ones,
That what Hafiz says is not true,

For when the heart tastes its glorious destiny
And you awake to our constant need for your love

God’s lute will beg
For your
Hands.

We are all pens. And God is begging for our hands. God’s presence in this world comes through our pens, our computers, our eyes, our art, our words, our work, our beauty. And to feed our souls, to find the energy to do our holy work and create the life we are here to live, we have only one job: to turn our faces to the Light.

This morning when I woke, I imagined divine Light on my face. In my mind, I turned my face to that sweet warm nourishing Light and whispered, “God, God, God.”

Try it. It’s a delicious way to welcome a new day. A new day in which your soul once again paints all its beauty upon the sky.


Jumpstart 2010 with a “Conditions” Mandala

Heaven communicates with us so many ways. Synchronicity. Animal messengers. Signs and symbols. Dreams. Nudging. Knowing. Intuition. And deep soul writing, of course.

But have you noticed that when you are ready to hear something really important, something that may well be the next step in your soul’s great human adventure, it falls into your hands through a human voice? It might be something someone says, but often it comes through the pages of a book.

That’s what happened to me. As you know, I wrote about how to create a magical new year throughout December. I thought about it every day and shared my experiences with you in this newsletter and in my blog. I thought I had the process pretty well figured out.

Until New Year’s morning.

I spent the morning in deep dialogue with my divine Voice putting 2009 to bed and calling in a magical 2010. It’s a process I’ve followed for a decade and I know it works. But this year, I did something different. Before I said my prayers, before I picked up a pen, before I did anything, I picked up a library book. As I sipped my coffee, I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s slender new book, you are here.

Midway through I had to stop and catch my breath. Because everything in my understanding suddenly shifted 180 degrees.

Let me explain.

A week ago, I decided that the perfect name for 2010 is “My Breakthrough Year.” It’s perfect because it captures where I am. I’m in the fifth year of my writing career: In 2006, I called in my publisher. In 2007, I wrote Writing Down Your Soul. In 2008, I learned what happens after you turn in your manuscript: editing, book layout, cover design… In 2009, I learned what happens when your book comes out: how to speak, teach, travel, communicate through social media, work with a publicist, interview and be interviewed… Whew.

And so, in year five, I’m ready for the big breakthroughs. You know: the income, agent, multi-book contract, well-paid speaking invitations. I’m ready for my ships to come in.

And reading Thich Nhat Hanh, I discovered how to do that. Which is a really good thing, because I had something wrong, and I’m willing to bet you do, too.

Until I read You Are Here, I visualized my year as me breaking through barriers to reach what I want. But listen to what the Buddha has to say about creating: “This is, because that is.”

Not clear? Don’t worry. That’s why God gave us Thich Nhat Hanh, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Vietnamese Buddhist monk. To explain this profound teaching Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “This refers to the manifestation of phenomena on the basis of the law of interdependent origination. When conditions are sufficient, there is manifestation.” (p. 87) To illustrate, he points out that in winter you don’t see sunflowers, but that doesn’t mean sunflowers don’t exist. They are just waiting for the condition of sunshine to call them forth.

My eyes couldn’t leave the sentence, “When conditions are sufficient, there is manifestation.” I wrote it several times in my journal. I wrote it on my white board. I sat staring in space letting it seep into my cells.

“When conditions are sufficient, there is manifestation.”

I am still calling 2010 “My Breakthrough Year,” but I see now that my way to get that to happen is not to focus on me breaking through to what I want; it is to focus on creating the conditions that allow everything I want to break through to me.

Do you hear the difference? It’s huge. And it’s the miracle-maker that will create the year I want — and the year you want.

So how do you create those conditions? Well, my Voice and I had long, rich talks about how I can create the fertile field for my “sunflowers” to break through the soil and grow, grow, grow. Well, actually we talked about lilies. Ever since Michael said, “You are a lily,” in an angel reading with Margo Mastromarchi in 2007, I’ve had lilies on my altar. I love seeing myself as one of Spirit’s cared-for lilies.

Once I was clear on the conditions to allow all I want to manifest, I made a prayer mandala to imprint that image in my sub-conscious. I traced a dinner plate on a large sheet of paper. I drew a lily at the center of the circle. On each of her six petals I wrote something I do to create the perfect conditions for my year. Around the lily, I drew twelve small circles, each with a symbol of something I want to break through to me in 2010.

I finished with an angel reading, using Doreen Virtue’s Archangel Oracle deck and pasted copies of the four cards to the corners. Delighted with the results, I pinned my 2010 mandala to the wall next to my desk where it will bless me for the next 365 days.