I didn’t learn writing down your soul. I didn’t read about it in a book or hear about it from a friend. I didn’t take a class or find it in a magazine article. I stumbled upon it–with a little help from Harley, my Great Dane puppy. Hey, as far as I can tell, heaven is always in on the act somewhere, guiding, supporting, and, OK, nudging when necessary. I just took a little more than the average nudging.
But I did finally respond. And just like everyone who makes a big “aha” discovery, I was where I needed to be, I followed my instincts, I took the plunge and tried something new, and then–this is important–I paid attention to the results. That’s how the process of deep soul writing was discovered.
But, so what? I mean, does that matter? Does that matter to anyone but me? I think so. I think it matters now more than ever. Because it seems that right now everyone has questions. Everyone is looking for answers. Everyone could use a little more wisdom, a little more direction, a little more love.
Could writing down your soul help you? See for yourself.
This morning, it came to me that I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of the full meaning of “the life around the corner.” I was in the shower, which my original Conari editor called, “the phone booth to God.” The first time I heard her say that I burst out laughing. Oh yes, it’s the phone booth to God, alright, but there’s a big problem with this phone booth: there’s no place to take notes. I’ve learned to repeat out loud what I’m hearing/learning/seeing so it sticks in my head long enough to make it to a towel and then to paper.
Well, this morning in the phone booth, I realized that I had missed many of the rich details that make this story meaningful and important.
For example. The phrase “the life around the corner” came through on the page while I was whining about the low turnout for my workshop. As the class wrote their creative blessings, I barked on the page, “What’s the deal? You bring me to New York and then everyone stays home? How does this help the book? How does this keep me going? I trust you to shine the light, but this sure doesn’t look like a bright light to me!” (You should know by now that my relationship with the Voice is real. I bring the whole Janet to the conversation–warts, fears, irrational thinking and all.) Somewhere in the midst of my whining, that magical phrase popped on to the page.
The aha in the phone booth today was this: the phrase came through because I had a lousy turnout. If the room had been full, I’d have been writing, “thank you, thank you, thank you.” And “the life around the corner” would never have appeared. So odd as it sounds, I’m grateful, oh so grateful, that the workshop was a dud. This is a perfect example of that profound but often undigestible truth: nothing is happening to you; everything is happening for you.
But there’s more.
In the shower, I again saw myself walking up Lenox and remembered that it is also Malcolm X Blvd. Now think about that. Lenox = Malcolm X. To me, it’s obvious. Lenox sounds like the beautiful dream–the success, the beauty, the joy, the bounty. Lenox. Shoot, it sounds like an estate in the English countryside. But Malcolm X is the same street. For a few blocks, exactly where I was walking, Lenox is Malcolm X Blvd. What does Malcolm X represent? How about struggle. How about the fight to be heard, seen, recognized, and respected. How about standing up for your self, your dignity, your place in the world. I don’t think it’s an accident that out of all the streets in New York city, I was hiking up Lenox/Malcolm X a few hours after receiving the phrase, “the life around the corner.”
But wait, there’s more.
Where was I headed? 125th street. I love how numbers appear in my life, carrying nudges and messages and blessings. Well, 1 + 2 + 5 = 8. If you know anything about numerology, you know that 8 represents prosperity, abundance, success, money, power. So my life around the corner was on Abundance Street, so to speak.
My birth number is an 8. You get your birth number by adding up your birth date. Mine is 6 16 1948. Add up all those digits and you get 35. Then add the 3 +5 = 8. This is not a coincidence. Not in my book.
I’m sure I’ll uncover more about my adventure with “the life around the corner” when I write down my soul tomorrow or dream about it tonight or step into that mysterious phone booth again. But here’s what I’m sure about so far:
- The life around the corner is right there. I just can’t see it.
- I have a choice: I can duck into a safe doorway or I can walk bravely up the avenue holding my dream and honoring my struggle to achieve it.
- If I do that–dream and struggle, struggle and dream–while moving forward the whole time, I will reach my intersection. I will finally turn and see it: my life around the corner. I will step into the vision heaven is keeping for me. I just have to see it, believe it, and keep going.
I think I’ll start by getting back in the shower.
(Thank you to Jennifer at 2serenity on flickr for this fabulous photo.)
Holidays drive a lot of us nuts.
The fantasy of the happy family around the table at Thanksgiving, the joyful family at Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you celebrate), the loving couple on Valentine’s day. Gaaak! For many of us–maybe most of us–these lovey-dovey holidays just make us feel less loved and less lovable.
Especially Mothers Day. For those of us who were not exactly the apple of our mothers’ eyes, the greeting card image of the devoted mother and child makes us wince. Yesterday I watched the adorable video of Kelly Corrigan’s mom rearranging Kelly’s books in her local Borders so no one can miss them. Kelly said, “That’s what mothers do.” I thought, “Oh yeah? Not my mother!”
I had a prize-winning mother. She scared the bejesus out of all my friends, especially boys. They would cower in the doorway feeling her frosty judgement from twenty feet away. They couldn’t get “Good night, Mrs Conner,” out fast enough.
But here I am approaching another Mothers Day feeling love–and nothing but love. Mind you, not because of anything my mother said. Not because of a deathbed declaration of devotion. (Never got that.) Not because of anything my mother did. I stand in a pool of love because of something I did.
When my mother began her death march through dementia, I picked up a pen and had the first of many long, intense, soulful conversations with the Voice about Laurene and about our feet-on-broken-glass relationship. I laid our story out on the page, episode after episode, wound after wound, slight after slight, asking hard questions as I went. One of the richest was “What gifts did I receive from my mother?”
Well, ask and ye shall receive, right? The page filled with an array of precious gifts from relentless focus (I can sit at the computer till midnight), to reliance on prayer (don’t get me started, I love prayer in all its forms), to the image of a woman as a writer. Although, I didn’t agree with a single word my mother wrote. (Her obsession was saving the Catholic Church from the evils of all that wasn’t orthodox. She even reviewed papal encyclicals for how well they toed the line.) But at seven, I watched her chain smoke and pound the typewriter, and that image of “woman as writer” (without the cigarettes, thank god!) cemented itself into a possibility–and eventually a reality–for me. And for this, I am eternally grateful.
So, if this Sunday, Mothers Day, is not your idea of a delightful holiday, if you shake your head when you think of your mother, if you dread the thought of another brunch of cold food and artificial smiles, tell the Voice. Tell the Voice in full-throated cry and three-dimensional color, but then, ask. Ask the hard questions. Ask the painful questions. And at some point, ask: “What gifts did I receive from my mother?”
Then, write fast. So fast that you can’t read what’s coming out. Let the words flow on their own. The gifts will cascade onto the page, even–or especially–the “bad” ones. From this rich soil, you grew. Perhaps, you had to grow yourself, but you grew.
And that, is your soul’s true story. You simply could not be who you are, where you are, and headed in the direction you’re headed without that wacky, cold, judgemental (pick an adjective!) woman. So, say Thank You!
For me, I say, Happy Mothers Day, Laurene! And thank you for your many, many gifts.
Want more? Here are two of the UPI columns I wrote about the gifts from my mother. If you want the whole series, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Obediently I crawled around on the floor, following directions. I pulled the PC off its shelf, identified wires, unplugged the old, and plugged in the new. As we worked, I described how everything looked–and sounded. The new UPS emitted a soft “beep beep beep.” “It’s fine,” he said.
Well, two days later the computer flipped off while I was typing. A few days later, I walked in to a blue screen. A week later it happened again. “There’s something wrong!” I screamed at my poor computer guy. “Bad UPS,” he said.
I called the manufacturer. A very nice, very calm, very patient guy said, “I can help you.” I didn’t want help. I wanted a new UPS, but I crawled on the floor, followed directions, pulled out the PC, identified wires and plugs. “Hear that beep beep beep?” he said. That means the battery is not connected.
Turns out there’s an enormous battery inside the UPS. You have to connect one red wire inside the UPS to that battery. One red wire. But without that connection, you’ve got no juice.
THAT, I thought, is the perfect description of prayer. No connection. No juice. And the whole time your soul is sighing: beep beep beep, help help help.
My UPS is now connected to its battery. And I had a nice reminder to get back to my foundational practice. A practice that even I, a teacher of such things, can easily misplace. Too busy, too upset, too scared, too…whatever.
But I’d received an incredibly simple lesson: No connection. No juice.
I love the way Spirit talks to me. Even through my UPS. I connected that red wire, thanked the technician, hung up, and sat right down in my writing chair.
“Hello,” I wrote, “I need some juice.”
We all try so hard to do the right thing, to find the right way, to be a success. We’re all working so hard–so very hard–but we don’t feel satisfied, fulfilled, happy. Why? Because we are putting in all that effort to meet some external measure of success, some model on the outside of what a good life, a successful life should look like.
I sure did. For years and years and years, I tried to be “successful” as a teacher, as a headhunter, as a consultant. And the more I tried to squeeze myself into someone else’s version of “successful” or at least “good enough,” the more miserable I became. Because I didn’t fit that model. The clothes just didn’t fit. And on some level, I knew it. (But that didn’t stop me from trying even harder. Slow learner over here.)
I started blathering about this on the page and realized there is no external model. There never was. It’s a mirage. A compilation of other people’s ideas of “success.”
In the end, there’s only my soul’s version of myself, my own picture of “success.”
What is that? Well, I think it’s nothing more or less than my purpose, my heart’s desire. That’s why the question is “What do you want?” Doesn’t that sound simple? Ricidulously simple? But it’s not. Oh lord, it’s so not simple. It’s THE question and we rarely if ever ask ourselves.
And, sorry, but the answer ain’t Fettucini Alfredo (although lord that does sound good), or a million bucks in the bank (although that sounds even better), or a new car (Lexus, if anyone wants to know), or any other thing. That’s just our materialist society pasting those images of what’s desirable in front of our eyes everywhere we look. We’ve been taught to look outside for validation, credentials, income…all of it. Even relationships somehow have to fit into the “happy family fantasy” mold.
The great gift in our global pain is that everyone, and it does seem everyone, is looking at all the “stuff” and saying, “This isn’t making me happy. In fact, it never did.” And that, I think, is a very good thing.
So what will make you happy? I don’t know. That’s the point, no one outside of you has your answer. But you do. And it’s right in front of you–or rather right inside of you. Just ask. Let your little scared self ask your wise knowing self, “Hey, what do I want, what do I really really want?”
Ask on paper, then write fast. Really really fast. Your wise self has a few surprises for you.
I wasn’t going to do this 25 things thing, until I saw Denis Gaston’s and then I thought, if Denis can do it and do it so well, well, I can, too. So here goes.
1. I adore opera. It snuck into my life in Atlanta in the ’80s and I’ve been smitten since the first note. Life without opera is a dry barren thing. Just remember that it has to be live or loud. (Renee Fleming, if you’re asking.)
2. I completely and totally forgave my ex-husband and I have proof that the moment of forgiveness changed us both. I may not be able to explain it but forgiveness is THE miracle–and I know it.
3. I had the greatest mother-in-law who ever lived. In her eighties, she got on the plane for the first time in her life to see her fifth and last grandchild. She would pick up his toys after I begged her not to. But you couldn’t stop her. Emily Koch embodied unconditional love. We should all have such a perfect grandmother.
4. I can’t balance my checking account. Yet I adore numerology. I notice numbers. I love numbers. Just not in columns that have to be balanced. God really needs to send me a bookkeeper.
5. I have to take a hot bubble bath every night. Non negotiable. Can’t go to sleep.
6. I do a crossword puzzle every day. Slightly crazy, but what can I say, it makes me feel better. Don’t even ask me about Sudoko. I came up with a system and it became too easy.
7. My favorite person on the planet is my son and I tell him, even in front of his college roommates. He cringes, but he smiles. (Hey, it would be a perfect world if we were all someone’s favorite person on the planet, right?)
8. I don’t care how cheap it is, I won’t walk in a Wal Mart. It’s against my religion.
9. I know I am divinely guided. I guess that means you are, too!
10. I have real art on my walls (yes, two by Denis)–no posters, no copies. Somehow this really matters to me and I’m appalled when I walk in people’s homes and there’s no art. Huh?
11. There are twelve or more books on my nightstand. Does anyone ever catch up with their reading list? I think I never will. And if more people keep writing like Paul Auster, I NEVER will.
12. I start my day with a poem from the Writer’s Almanac and end it with a poem from Hafiz, the mystical Sufi poet. Life without poetry….dry, dead, lonely.
13. I love prayer. The idea of prayer. The concept of prayer. The reality of prayer. I walked into Inkwood, a bookstore in Tampa in 1995, and said, “show me your books on prayer,” and walked out with a grocery bag full. Still have them all.
14. I love my book. The cover, the color, the content. I love everything about it. I love it like it was a person. I am blessed to be the messenger for this sweet sweet book. When I’m sad or frightened, I look at my book and feel instantly better.
15. Michael showed up at my first booksigning at Wings Bookstore. Oh yes, he did.
16. A pair of cardinals live in my bushes and speak to me every twilight. I answer them.
17. When I teach writing down your soul, I get “high” and can’t fall asleep till 1 or 2 am. People who know me don’t even think about calling before ten am.
18. I love food. Cooking, shopping, setting the table, serving, pouring the wine…everything about food. Food is proof that we are alive.
19. White or beige walls should be against the law. (My living room is orange and yellow, my kitchen chartreuse, my bedroom parrot green, my office copper, my bathroom periwinkle)
20. Ospreys love me. They live in my tree, call to me all day, fly overhead…they are my companions and protectors.
21. I did not set out to have this life. It meandered. I meandered. I continue to meander. My daily prayer has been and continues to be “You shine the light and I will follow.” Do not write that down. It’s a dangerous prayer.
22. A red convertible came within ten feet of hitting me in downtown Tampa in 1992. I was “lifted” out of its path and onto the curb. No one seemed the least bit surprised that I had just flown through the air. This should have been a clue that my life was not going to continue to be the nice dull boring successful life of a headhunter. Perhaps I should have paid more attention. All I did was go back to my office and eat the lunch I was carrying.
23. I can’t date a republican. Shit, I’m not sure I can even talk to one. Except my brother, Jay. He’s forgiven.
24. One of my favorite possessions is a Harley Davidson Willie G jacket with four-inch fringe. After we broke up, I didn’t miss my husband, but lord, I missed the Harley. (Softail Classic and Road King, if you have to know)
25. I am a lily. You have to figure that one out for yourself.
Well, now do you think you know me a bit better? I didn’t fit in Bobby Darin or David Whyte. Rats. And I forgot to say that after 29 years, I still smile when I see the CNN logo. Or the necessity of french press coffee, but I think you get the gist.
Went to Dances of Universal Peace at the Sufi center, Rising Tide International in Sarasota FL last night. The Dances of Universal Peace are simple moves in unison, usually in a circle. As the group moves, you sing or chant beautiful prayers. One of the chants last night was “I am you and you are me,” as we moved our hands back and forth together. After awhile, it began to sink in. “Oh my gosh, I really AM this other person and he/she really is me.”
Well, this morning I was writing down my soul about this experience and realizing that this is another way of saying that psych 101 premise: whatever drives you crazy about the other guy is actually what drives you crazy about yourself. (Oh, we all hate that truism!)
So I asked, what do I do when my buttons get pushed by someone. The answer came quickly: 1. SEE the other person’s fear and recognize that it’s also your own, 2. CLOSE your eyes. With your eyes closed, stop looking at that scary thing and allow your inner eyes to see the truth that is right there in your peripheral vision, running beside the fear. 3. BREATHE (When in doubt, breathe, right? When my son calls upset in NY, the first thing I say is breathe!) 4. SAY something that is the opposite of the fear.
What’s the opposite of fear? I asked. Trust, the Voice answered. (Duh, I thought.) So for me I would say outloud, “I am safe and loved.”
Man oh man, that feels good and right. Now, all I have to do is remember to DO it. Feel the fear, close my eyes, see the truth, breathe the truth, and say it–out loud. I feel better already.