Readers of my newsletter and this blog know my next book. I introduced the concept of The Intersection between your craft and your spiritual practice this summer. I shared the beautiful graphic Sandy Cromp designed, and taught the first Intersection teleclasses. My editor at Conari asked for the proposal. The next stage in my writing life was clear. Or so I thought.
Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) spoke on Oct 8th at a Tampa event designed to coincide with the launch of her new book. In dozens of interviews in the past year, she talked about Matrimonium. But there were no books for sale in Tampa. Elizabeth explained why. She said she was halfway through the manuscript when she realized it wasn’t the book she wanted to write. So, she told her publisher she was starting over. But first, she went to the garden. For six months she planted, pruned, watered, and weeded. And somewhere in the midst of not writing, not thinking, not planning, her new book said hello.
My story is not so dramatic. I don’t have the weight of a mega-advance or millions of readers impatiently waiting. But like Elizabeth Gilbert, I knew my next book. I named it and started talking about it with my publisher and readers.
But then, something happened. On September 27th, I had my first low turnout for a workshop. Jennifer Hill Robenalt, my heaven-sent publicist and book sherpa, watched as I taught deep soul writing to four people. As a consolation prize she took me to Chuy’s, an Austin landmark.
Over enchiladas, she scolded me. “That turnout is proof that it’s time to let go of Writing Down Your Soul.” Jennifer could see the shock on my face and tears in my eyes. “Hey, listen,” she softened, “you’ve done a great job. You sold out the first run. You’ve done more to keep your book alive than anyone I know. But now it’s time to move on to your next book.”
I sighed. Jennifer was right. But it was so hard to hear. I love my book and I love teaching Writing Down Your Soul. But the turnout was undeniable.
“OK,” I sighed, “when I get home I’ll start working on The Intersection.”
“Oh, that’s not your next book,” Jennifer mumbled through her cheese enchilada.
“What!” I sputtered. Jennifer kept chewing.
“How many people have come to a Writing Down Your Soul workshop?” she asked.
“I dunno,” I said, “maybe a thousand.
“And thousands more have purchased your book? Right? And deep soul writing changes people’s lives? Right?” Jennifer pressed.
“Oh yes,” I smiled, “I get emails every day from people telling me what a difference Writing Down Your Soul is making.”
“So,” Jennifer stopped chewing, “that means there are thousands of great stories out there. Your next book is a collection of those stories.”
I liked that idea. I liked it a lot. I love telling people’s stories when I speak. I love sharing actual quotes of the Voice. “Hmm,” I thought out loud, “I wonder what the title would be?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Jennifer said, “Love Letters from the Voice.”
I dove into my purse for paper. By the time the waiter cleared the table, Jennifer and I had the title, the chapters, the structure of the individual stories, a list of people to ask to contribute, a how-to section to help readers receive their own Love Letters, and a list of product extensions including the matching journal and card set of Love Letters from the Voice. In the time it takes to consume a plate of enchiladas, I had my new book and I was madly, deeply, and totally in love with it.
When the check came, I grabbed it. “You really are a book sherpa! “I gushed. “The very least I can do is pay for this miraculous dinner.”
The next day I had an event at the Story Circle Network in Austin. As 7pm approached, I said a prayer of acceptance. It’s not about the numbers, I prayed. It’s not about the numbers. The door opened. In came a half-dozen women, then a dozen, then a dozen more. Someone got more chairs. By the time we began, there were 52 people in the audience. Things were back to normal for me and Writing Down Your Soul.
The next day, the Voice and I had chats about the low turnout on the 27th. Well, the Voice pointed out, if you’d had your normal house, Jennifer would not have pushed you to move on. Yeah, I agreed. We’d still have gone to Chuy’s, but we’d have celebrated instead of taking a download on my new book. So let’s see, you nicely arranged for a depressing turnout to get Jennifer to push me. Well it worked. I was so unhappy that day. Nothing was coming out the way I expected. But now, I’m grateful. That “bad” result created room for my new book to sprout. And I’m madly in love with Love Letters from the Voice. Thank you.
OK. Your turn. What isn’t working out the way you expected? What looks and feels like a rejection, a refusal, a problem, a wall?
Now, consider the possibility, if just for a moment, that nothing is actually wrong. Look at your “dirt” with different eyes and perhaps, like Elizabeth Gilbert, you’ll discover something good growing in your garden. Not what you expected perhaps, but something good.
Tonight at 9PM on 9-9-09 I was in the midst of a teleclass teaching people how to write their personal Covenant with Spirit. I knew it was a precious moment and wanted to honor it in some way. So ten minutes before class, I opened The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the great Sufi Master, and asked, “Show me the perfect poem for 9-9-09.” I read Hafiz every day, but tonight I opened to a poem I’d never read before:
Where does the real poetry
From the amorous sighs
In this moist dark when making love
With form or
Where does poetry live?
In the eye that says, “Wow wee,”
In the overpowering felt splendor
Every sane mind knows
When it relizes–our life dance
Is only for a few magical
From the heart saying,
“I am so damn
There could not have been a more perfect prayer for a perfect moment when 29 unique souls reached around the globe to affirm that indeed each one of us has a divine purpose that will be expressed perfectly and fully in our Covenant with our Selves and with Spirit–our Covenant that says, “Here I am, this is me, I am alive!”
And so we shouted from California to Australia in one exquisite chorus: “I am so damn alive!”
And we will always remember that at 9PM on Sept 9th, 2009 we were so damn alive!
Hope you had a memorable moment tonight. What was it?
Oh yes it could. Not that the holiday is going away anytime soon; I don’t mean that. Just the word. Wouldn’t it be lovely to put the word labor to bed? Labor. How does that make you feel? It rings in my gut as heavy, sweaty, and hard. Do I want more labor? No. No, I do not.
It isn’t that I don’t want to work. I love to work. I disappear when I write. My fingers start floating over the keyboard and the next thing I know it’s seven o’clock at night. I love teaching. If you’ve been to a Writing Down Your Soul event, you know how much I love teaching deep soul writing. And I love speaking, too.
I love my work. That’s my point. Work that is loved is a holy thing. A divine thing. A blessed thing. It’s the way we become the hands of Spirit soothing, lifting, and healing one another.
Or at least, that’s what work could be. Or should be. But for so many of us, it’s labor. And hard labor at that. I know. I labored my way through my first three careers. Yes, there were good moments, but those moments always got buried in the next tidal wave of activity and pressure.
When I was a headhunter, I used to give a cute little talk called “Sunday Night Disease.” The audience always laughed in recognition. I laughed along, but the truth is, I had a bad case of it. Around three on Sunday afternoon, my stomach would start roiling. I couldn’t enjoy dinner. Then, I couldn’t fall asleep. I’d wake in the night desparate for antacids. Come morning, the alarm would kick me out of bed unrested and unready.
So did I do anything to change this pattern? No. Because I thought my job was something I had to do sixty hours a week. This is an awful thing to admit, but I went to work the morning after my wedding. Insane I know, but I thought I had to work that hard to make the money to support my home, my family, and my precious son. By Friday, I was numb. All I could do was sit on the sofa, stare at the TV, and stuff pizza in my mouth. Go out? Play? See friends? Are you crazy! I needed the whole weekend just to recover enough to crawl out of bed again on Monday.
That job was labor. Pure unadulturated labor. It wasn’t healthy physically. That was obvious. But guess what, it wasn’t healthy spiritually either. And I knew it. I told friends, “I leave my soul on the side of the freeway at the exit to downtown Tampa and pick it up again on the way home.”
So, how do you know when you’ve stopped laboring and started working? There’s a clue, a big clue. I got it from Marsha Sinetar, author of Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow. I was driving home from my labors late one evening listening to her on NPR. The reporter asked how you know you’re doing your right work. Marsha’s answer hit me in the chest. I pulled over and wrote down exactly what she said:
“You know you are doing your perfect work when you feel joyous as a result of your efforts.”
I sat there staring into the night as my fellow commuters flew past. Joyous? Joyous? Oh my God, I so want to feel joyous as a result of my efforts.
Looking at my life that day, that week, even that next year, you would not say that anything happened. I kept driving to my job. I kept laboring. I kept collapsing on weekends. But something profound had happened. I had been cracked. The idea that work could be joyous — should be joyous — had snuck into my head and, like a good little virus, begun to spread.
- Do you want to stop laboring and start working in sync with your soul’s purpose?
- Do you want to feel joyous as a result of your efforts?
- Do you want work that is physically and spiritually healthy?
- Do you want work that expresses your whole, authentic, holy self — your soul?
You can. And you don’t have to find a new job to do it. All you have to do is start working in The Intersection.
And the first step in The Intersection is developing and declaring your Covenant with your Self and with Spirit.
I went to a Celebration of Life memorial service for the Rev. Geri Glinski at Unity Church of Palm Harbor today. Geri was a light. And I don’t mean metaphorically. Geri glowed.
At the service, her daughter read Geri’s favorite poem, “The Road Less Travelled” by Robert Frost. Immediately I wondered, what would they be reading if this were my memorial? What poem would my family and friends instinctively know is my all-time favorite. Hafiz, of course. I’m forever reading and quoting the great Sufi mystic, Hafiz. But if they had to read just one poem, I think it would be David Whyte’s, “All the True Vows.”
When I read this poem in 1997, my marriage had disintegrated and I was desperately seeking a core, an essence, an answer that could make the chaos make sense. Reading this poem, I knew that my answer lay in writing my own “true vows.” I call it my Covenant with Spirit. And from the moment I wrote my seven vows, they began to magnetically rearrange my life. I still repeat my seven-line Covenant every day. It’s still true, and it would still kill me to break them.
All the True Vows
(from The House of Belonging)
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
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.
Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,
it wants to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.
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
for the first time
after all these years
in my own voice,
before it was too late
to turn my face again.
I, too, spoke in my own voice before it was too late. And that call, that voice, that new, personal, sacred promise created the life I now live. So, although I so want lots of mystical poetry at my celebration, lots of Rumi and Hafiz and Meister Eckhart, first and forever, there must be David Whyte.
How about you? What words have grabbed your attention, turned your head, and will not let you go? Whatever that poem or statement is, find it, print it, say it. Say it. Say it today.
And share it with us. What one poem do you want them to read at your memorial?
I love email. I love the daily surprises and messages it delivers both from friends and deep soul writers who want to talk about Writing Down Your Soul, and from newsletters I signed up to receive. Most of the latter go away after a bit, however. Only a few continue to be welcome, day in and day out, in my little blue mailbox. (Ok, so it’s not blue and it’s not a mailbox, but I like to pretend it is.) Neale Donald Walsch’s “I believe God wants you to know” is a keeper. TUT, Messages from the Universe is a keeper. The Daily Om is a keeper. Love them all. But the one I’ve read the longest and the one I will continue to read until Garrison Keiller no longer has a voice, is Writer’s Almanac.
Every day, we Writer’s Almanac recipients are blessed with a poem and then, a bit of the literary news of the day. On this day in history, Garrison tells us, so ‘n so died, or was born, or published his or her book. It is amazing to me, but there are no days bereft of great and important writing news. Somehow that makes starting my day a little sweeter. We writers, sitting alone in our back bedrooms, need a little reminder that we are a part of a great history, a great river of words, and our little skiff, floating along gathering and contributing what it can, matters.
Well, today, Garrison told me, is Raymond Carver’s birthday. Say the name, Raymond Carver, and the exquisite book with the simply perfect title, “What We
Talk about When We Talk about Love,” comes instantly to mind. And I love it. But my favorite is, “A New Path to the Waterfall,” because the last poem, on the last page; the last words he managed to push onto his typewriter are so beautiful they hurt:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
May we all be so blessed, as we step out of our skin, to wave back and say: “Thank you for giving me the experience to call myself beloved on this earth.” But the big aha for me and for many is that the state of feeling “beloved” isn’t dependent on the perfect soulmate-type romantic relationship. Raymond Carver had that with his beloved Tess Gallagher, but many of us have not had, or have not been able to hold onto, that ideal. So will we exit “unbeloved?” No, a thousand times no. Because every time we pick up a pen and speak with our Beloved, we get a wee taste of that deep loving connection. We are all Beloved by The Beloved.
Raymond Carver gave us the perfect sentence, the perfect expression for this day, which Americans call Memorial Day. It began as a day to remember those who served our country in the armed forces, but isn’t it true that in some way we all serve? We are here to serve one another.
In memoriam then, I bless you, Raymond Carver, and thank you for your last, late, glorious fragment. It is a blessing and a beacon to all of us.
Do you have a poem or saying that is your beacon? I’d love to hear it.
Ellen DeGeneres woke us all up. My last post, the one about her commencement address at Tulane, attracted a huge spike of readers. I think I know why. Ellen laid out a way — an incredibly simple way — to SEE your Life Around the Corner, by “seeing” it on the page in conversation with God. Ellen saw herself sitting next to Johnny Carson on the tonight show. Given Ellen’s situation at the time, that could have been labelled totally absurd, possibly delusional. But, guess what? It happened.
Her experience has really stuck with me. So, this morning, as I was saying my prayers, repeating my Covenant and my Writing Blessing, I closed my eyes and had a little chat with Spirit, or as Reverend Lauren McLaughlin, calls it, the Eternal Life Force — ELF. I was just saying something to the Elf, when I saw in my mind a bright white glowing light about the size of a basketball in my hands. Instinctively, I looked down into the white ball.
OH, I realized, this is how Ellen did it. She looked into the future, into her crystal ball, so to speak, or using my new favorite metaphor, into her spy binoculars and saw the Life Around the Corner. Clearly. She saw herself sitting next to Johnny Carson. Not wishing or hoping or “wouldn’t it be great if…” but saw it. Probably felt the chair beneath her. Felt the lights, saw his face close up. She simply was “there” inside her future experience. Did it happen because she experienced it a decade in advance or was it always going to happen and in that moment she simply got a peak? Interesting philosophical, metaphysical question there. And I don’t have the answer. Not an intellectual answer. And guess what? I don’t care how it works; I just want to have the experience.
So, looking into my white ball of light, I said, OK, I get it. I’ll sit down with my pen and have my own conversation with Spirit and SEE my future.
I asked on the page, “What is in my life around the corner?” Out gushed a bunch of things: Being on Ellen and talking about her experience, being on the Oprah Soul Series and on her TV show talking about deep soul writing, being interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America, shaking Neale Donald Walsch’s hand and hearing him say that deep soul writing is how he had his Conversations with God, and signing a half million dollar advance. All delightful. All powerful. All big.
But when I looked at the list, I said, “OK, I love them all and I DO see them all happening, but what ONE event, what ONE experience would be proof that all of this has transpired and more? What one experience sums up my Life Around the Corner?”
I knew immediately. I drew a bold dark blue ink square around the words: Walk into the New York city library and touch a shelf full of my books.
Even as I type that sentence, I feel tears. Tears are proof that this is THE apex experience I will have. I don’t know when. (When is not my job.) I don’t know how. (How is not my job.) Just know that it will happen. I am standing there right now, in my mind, in my white ball of light, smiling and reaching out and running my fingers slowly along the ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen books that I have written. I turn to my son and with tears in my eyes, say, “Here I am, permanently, in the New York city library. Guarded by the lions.”
Close your eyes, hold the white ball of divine light or the spy binoculars or become a hawk who flies ahead to see your Life Around the Corner. The image doesn’t matter. Just choose one that feels right to you and ask, “How will I know that I have achieved my Life Around the Corner?” Pick up a pen and start writing. See what images come through. No matter how wacky or amazing or unlikely or impossible — write them down.
Why? Because Ellen sat next to Johnny Carson. Because I will run my hands over my books in the main library in New York. (Oh, and be on Oprah and Ellen, and GMA!)
How about you? What are you doing in your Life Around the Corner?
So there I was yesterday, teaching small groups of school-weary teenagers what the theta brain wave state is and how to get into it through writing. After teaching the same thing for the third time, I was weary and wondered, “What am I doing here?” I could have gotten some sleep — and lord knows after teaching all weekend, I could use some sleep. I could have written a blog. I could have started my next newsletter… but here I am, talking to kids, most of whom don’t appear to want to do this anyway.
But there was one young woman who cried when she wrote. She didn’t say anything, just smiled sadly. She came back three hours later as I was leaving. I thrust my copy of Writing Down Your Soul in her hands. Last night, she emailed. She said she couldn’t put the book down. She was devouring it and underlining every other sentence. She said that that ten minute experience of deep soul writing awakened something. Now, she said, I want to “embrace a pen and never let it go.” When I read her email, I thought, oh, now I know why I said yes to Diana.
But it turns out I didn’t really know. Not fully. Jennifer Hill Robenalt, my heaven-sent media guru, sent me a video this morning with strict orders, “You have to watch this.” I watched.
I laughed for the first four minutes. Then, my eyes shot open and I burst into tears. Ellen found herself the same way the young woman at Blake is finding herself. The same way I found myself. The same way you are — or can — find yourself.
Your self is right there inside of you. Your vision, your purpose, your story — as it could be — no, as it will be. Ellen had a little chat with God on the page and found Ellen. And just look at what happened.
I needed a reminder today that Writing Down Your Soul matters. Here it is.
How did you (or are you) finding your self? I’d love to know. We’d all love to know.