Tag Archives: intuition

poems can blossom truth inside our hearts

Stencil of a woman in a dress, dancing, head thrown back, hair hanging down, next to the words

(Poetry is an extreme sport – Miss Tic)

Good morning, good morning.

Outside, it’s traffic and crickets. I’m waiting to hear whether the owl will be back this morning – she was here on Friday, and instead of writing a post I got distracted by her.

Well, by her and some old morning writes. I went looking for what I was saying here–to myself, to you–five years ago, or seven. That’s one thing about regular journaling–getting to look back, see what you were saying before, what you felt like before, what you’re struggling with that’s the same  and what is new — you get to see how far you’ve come.

In my case, I got to look back on a relationship that felt unfixable at the time I was writing, that felt like kudzu or like I was in the ocean at a rising tide stuck in seaweed. I spent so many years trying to communicate with someone who literally could not understand the things I was saying — and, let’s be honest, in the converse, I also couldn’t, it seems, understand the things he was saying. I could never quite understand what he wanted. And  I kept trying, kept getting smaller, tightening myself up until I was knotted into a ball at the bottom of a bookbag, just a sticky thing with dust and hair and old gum wrappers stuck all over me.

And then I got the idea that maybe , that maybe, I didn’t have to stay there. Maybe my job wasn’t to stay in this relationship until the end of my (or his) life. Maybe I didn’t have to walk a hundred miles on my knees, repenting. I only had to let the soft animal of my body love what it loved. And then poetry started to sneak in to the sides and corners and crevices of my skin, my psyche, touched the parched places inside me, the places that told me I had to stay, I had to keep working, I had to keep trying to be the right thing for this person. 

(The chimes sing a little in the early breeze.)

Slowly, so so slowly, it came to me that I didn’t have to keep beating my head against a brick wall. Neither one of us deserved to be this unhappy all the time. He deserved someone who didn’t have to turn herself inside out in order to be right, feel right, be what he said he wanted. He deserved to be with someone who didn’t need to deny fundamental parts of herself in order to stay with him. He deserved to be with someone who didn’t need to swallow her tongue most days, or risk getting into yet another fight.  

There were poems that opened my eyes , the eyes inside my heart, or that turned my eyes back away from looking into a future that felt bleak. There was a Rilke poem that shifted things in me. John O’Donohue. And Mary Oliver, of course, Poems can do things that regular prose can’t. Poems sing in through the side door. They tell all the truth but tell it slant. They don’t hit us straight on, but blossom truth inside our hearts, our bellies, anyway. 

What I’m trying to get to is the fact that something that feels so entrenched, unchangeable, a situation you feel so utterly stuck in — that situation can change. And what’s true, at least for me, is that the first part of changing the situation was changing my mindset, my lenses. I had to allow myself to shift how I was seeing myself, and that relationship. Just very gently, I began to ask myself, What if I’m not wrong or bad or crazy or broken here? And what if he isn’t either? What if we’re just two very different people with very different needs and it’s ok to stop trying — after 8 years, to stop trying — to force ourselves to be something that didn’t fit?

(and then I feel myself wanting to say, hey, out here, if you’re having to tuck important and tender parts of yourself away in order to fit into a relationship, maybe that relationship isn’t the right one for you.)

I look back in those old journals, those old writes in the mornings from San Rafael or Tiburon, and I want to tell that woman, You’re ok. He’s ok. You’re just not ok together. Don’t worry about waking up tomorrow and picking up the threads of the same old fight you’ve been having since you first got together. Just set down those threads, pack your bag, and leave. I urge my hands in her direction, gesturing. Just go. But she won’t go. She’ll stay for another three years, another two. She’ll take small steps as she builds the muscles she needs to be able to leave. She — I — had to build the muscles I needed to be able to trust myself, to trust my own perceptions, my own vision, my own view of the world.

So much old stuff got triggered in that relationship. Old stuff about trusting myself, really — isn’t that at the core of it. Letting my needs be even a fraction as important as the other person’s? At some point you have to set down the old ghosts, step out of the maelstrom of voices yelling selfish, mean, thoughtless — bend your head down, duck underneath, and step out to the other side. It’s like taking off a pair of sunglasses and noticing that the world looks really different than you’d come to be used to. It’s allowing yourself to step outside of somebody else’s narrative and notice, sometimes for the first time, that you don’t fit anymore, that the story they’re telling you about you doesn’t match who you know you are. And that small voice inside you, your instinct, your intuition — becomes something you can hear again, you can attend to, you give some weight to.

The shift for me was allowing myself to imagine a reality outside of my ex’s worldview, he worldview he wanted me to live within. There were poems that helped me look at the world, and myself, anew. And writing practice helped me imagine new ways of being.

(Some animal is rushing around in the woods. At first I thought it was the wind, but the chimes are silent.)

You should never have to make yourself small in order to keep your partner happy (or your boss, or your parents, or…) And though I went into the relationship knowing that was true, intellectually, I still had to learn it in my body.

I still had to learn to trust it, trust myself.

I still had to learn to face a very old fear, one I got from my home as a young person — that If I stand up for myself, I’m going to get in trouble, and then I’m going to get hurt. And I did get in trouble in that relationship, let’s be honest. But I wasn’t a teenager anymore. I could walk away. I could say no to his demand that I see the world in such a way that minimized me, or that left me feeling crazy and literally unable to communicate effectively much of the time. I could step out, take a deep breath, and take off the glasses he said I looked so good in, in order to see the world in a different way.

We get indoctrinated, as children in abusive homes — we get trained into particular ways of seeing and understanding ourselves. So it takes a lot of work, in our adult relationships, to not listen to the old voices, especially when/if our partners say things that echo what our abusers used to say, in some form or another. They may not be intending to do so, they may not be abusive at all, but still those old messages, and those old survival strategies, are triggered within us. and so we just continue the long work of trying to dislodge that old learning, that old way of thinking that said I have to let you define reality for me because if I don’t I’ll get hurt

It took the time it took for me to move through that learning in my second marriage. I’m working to be easier with that woman I was then. The other thing that happens, over time, is that I can read these old notebook entries and not beat myself up, I can feel more compassion for the self I was then, the things I was struggling with, the complaints I kept echoing.

(And I believe, too, there are some relationships we can’t settle into until we have done deep work to heal some of these old wounds. These are mature adult relationships, people we wouldn’t be able to stand up next to until we have done the work to know and trust and like who we are–otherwise how can we love someone else who knows and trusts and likes us? They’re not going to stick around if we just spend all the time telling them how stupid they are for loving us, for liking us, for finding us smart or funny or clever or creative or kind … )

So today I’m grateful — for time, for poems, for writing, for that small quiet voice within that never stops whispering You deserve joy in this lifetime, that small voice that keeps whispering, even through days, months, years, when I can’t hear it singing inside me.

And I am grateful for you, today, too, for all the ways you make room for those around you to grow and change, and the ways you are easy with yourself in your own growing, too. And for your words, of course — I’m always grateful for your words.

what is spiritual for me is what is deeply rooted in my erotic body

Yesterday, I got to have a conversation with my friend Emily about what we do at Writing Ourselves Whole. Emily is a seminary student, and wanted to talk some about the interweave of survival, desire, and spirituality. It was a very interesting hour and a half! What does spirituality have to do with writing about sex (or writing about anything), particularly for sexual trauma survivors?

My definition of the erotic is quite expansive, thanks to Audre Lorde. In her essay, “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” she writes, “The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling […] a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.” Over the years, I have come to describe the erotic, as Lorde does: embodied and “creative energy empowered.”

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, writes about this idea of “flow,” that state of being in which one is wholly absorbed in an activity or situation. Mindful creative engagement (such as a freewriting practice) connects us to our flow, to that place where we are fully engaged in what we’re doing, where we’re open to new ideas and we trust our instincts, all of which are markers of transformative practice.

Flow is an experience of embodied and creative energy empowered; when we are in flow, we are in touch with our erotic selves – by which I mean our wholly creative, embodied, and intuitive selves. What I encourage, particularly in sexual assault survivors writing groups, is that writers practice listening to the pull of their own writing, that they practice trusting their intuition and creative instincts, in order to rebuild the frayed relationship with the core of themselves, with the intuition that we both needed to listen to and needed to ignore if we wanted to survive.

Survival, is, of course, a deeply creative act — particularly active survival, when we are just trying to stay alive and as whole as possible under the onslaught of someone’s violence. But when we are actively surviving trauma, we are not able to attend fully to our instincts or our embodied creative selves: we armor up, we put parts of ourselves away, we shut down internal access to our bodies, we work to forget rather than know, we try to make very little of ourselves available for hurting. We, metaphorically and sometimes literally, roll ourselves into a ball like the pillbug, trying to protect as much of our soft stuff as we can. The process of healing is the process of releasing ourselves wholly back into the world, unrolling, exposing our soft parts again, trusting that we can do so and will not die. This process can take years — for me, it’s taken twenty, and I’m certainly not done yet, I hope. Writing practice has been my steady companion while I’ve worked to unfurling; and as I type these words now, I see a matter-of-fact difference: when I was first beginning to write as a way to heal, I took my notebook to a cafe and hunched down over it, writing as messily as possible, so that I could hide myself and my words. Now I sit straight up in front of a computer, typing words that anyone could read if they looked over my shoulder. It’s no little miracle, this transformation, the possibility of this opening and openness, is what is true.

For me, what is spiritual is what is deeply rooted in my erotic body: my connected body, my complicated and desiring body, my whole body. I do not experience a sense of connection with other until I am able to have a sense of connection within myself.

When I am engaged in any work or task in which my creative energy is embodied and empowered, I am able to open out to the possibility of connectedness with others — with nature, with people, with the whole messy mystery of the world. For me, spirituality is interwoven with the erotic — with the sense of deep desire to undo the isolation that was necessary for my survival and know and connect with all of myself, as well as the world and community around me.

It took a long time for me to even conceive of being connected to such a thing as flow; the very fact that I can imagine allowing most of myself to concentrate my consciousness on a task at hand (rather than keeping psychic watch and hyper-vigilant for any possible coming attack)  is a mark of healing.

In that same essay, Audre Lorde also writes, “[O]nce we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of.” During our experience of trauma, and in the immediate aftermath, many of us who are survivors expended a lot of energy trying to keep ourselves from feeling. I don’t know about you, but for me, there was no safety in joy, no safety in expansiveness. What was safe was held in, armored, tightly bound up. Through practices like freewriting, walking, dancing, I began to trust it when joy would creep into my skin — I began to trust that the joy would not be immediately taken away, or used against me. Over years, thousands of hours writing, and maybe millions of words in notebooks, I found myself able to trust the voice of my erotic self — my empowered and embodied creative self. If I think of a spiritual self, that’s her. The words she has to offer me are hard won and pulled up straight for the psyche; I write them down and follow where she wants me to go. This is my spiritual practice. It’s the only one I really know.

talking to the triggers

Italian graffiti poem: "La verità è che non sanno cosa vogliono; piccolina, lasciali stare, non ne vale la pena. Ti vedi bella; sei bella!!"

"The truth is that they don't know what they want, sweetie. Ignore them, it isn't worth it. You see yourself beautiful, you're beautiful!!"

Good morning! Today has been morning pages on the floor of my office, candle-lit, at 5:05, then a dawn-break walk with the puppy, where we were serenaded by an owl. Now it’s nettle-mint-skullcap tea and settling down for some quiet time. We are learning the different ways to be with each other.

What next? The sun comes up. I wrote in my journal, “she wakes up like morning in a new town.” I’m afraid of becoming one of those pup-parents who only talks about her dog — and then I remember that it’s only been three days. Yes, it’s ok to still be obsessed.

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Quick reminder: Registration is still open for the 8 week summer workshops! Regular registration rates are in effect until June 5, so connect with me as soon as possible to sign up for either Write Whole: Survivors Write (open to all women who are survivors of sexual trauma or violence) or Declaring Our Erotic (open to queer/TBLG/SGL folks of all genders!) or both!

For any of you up in the Sacramento area, or who want to travel, there are still a couple of spaces in the Erotic Writing as Liberating Practice workshop this Saturday, 5/28!

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This is still a day of wrangling with fear, fear of good stuff, fear of following through on decisions. I would like to get back to writing about writing, about surviving, maybe even about desire, but this is where we are right now: Trusting my gut, the messages that rise up sharp from my intuition and I still so often question them. I was going back through a couple of previous posts that touched on this process, relearning to trust self, and being ok with our responses — trusting that, too. Trusting the self-doubt, the self-questioning.

What about that? What if I sat down with all the panic that’s been bubbling through me, all the worry, all the fear, offered it all some tea and said, “Ok, right on — tell me your stories.” What would those voices say? Would they talk about body memory of puppy time back in the house in Omaha, when I got my first dog ever in the place that would become a prison for both me and the pup? Would they talk about relationship worries, would they sing old songs of wanting freedom, what would their breath smell like? Would they say what it feels like to walk face first into a decision with 20-year consequences? (But don’t most of our decisions have long-lasting consequences? I just don’t pay attention to that all the time — here, though, is a body to show me that reality.)

This feels a little jumbled, not as clear as I would like to be — still, talking to the triggers, the sore spaces, the fear-voices, that’s not a clear process either. But it’s a worthwhile one: for me, everyone calms down inside a little bit when they’re listened to, the sore spots get a little soothed, swelling goes down. This is a trauma aftermath process: listening to the stuff that got us through, even when it’s not serving us anymore — and saying thank you. And so, right now, I’m saying thank you to the panic, to the fear and old memories that live beneath and breathe life into that panic, for the messages it wants to be sure that I remember: I might not be safe if I love too much; people might get frustrated if I have to change my routines, my habits, my life around for this new addition; I am going to make mistakes and sometimes they’re going to be big — and I’ve gotten in trouble for those before.

It’s important for me to listen to those voices, be present with what’s underneath and inside the triggered stuff, let it come to and through me, bubble up to the present with my intuitions, let us all pay attention to each other, and learn new ways together. This is something I’m learning through the somatic practices I’m participating in: expansion instead of foreclosure. I practice new ways of responding to and through old patterns and trigger-responses, and let the trigger-responses know, too, that I’m not abandoning them, that I have needed them in the past, that I may need them again — but we are also learning and practicing new ways.

It could be a prompt for today. What do you think?

Be easy with you today, ok? And I will practice the same. Thanks for that, and for your words.

those quiet questions that live underneath all the noise

graffiti of a cuppa coffee -- contains the spray-painted words: "props to soup + soil"

"props to soup + soil" -- love that!

There’s a mourning dove outside my window; I turn off my quiet morning music to listen. It’s mostly just that harmonious throb — whoo, whoo, whoo, in a breathy thrum.

I am thinking about boundaries, about elasticity, self care, and about perfection.

Last week I had my first cup of “real” coffee, fully caffeinated, that is, since around Nov 2009. There’s been a little voice/message/feeling: What would it be like to get coffee? I sipped at F!’s french roast one morning out at breakfast several weeks ago, I listened to the little question filling inside my arms, and finally I walked into the Peet’s and instead of asking for decaf, I asked just for coffee. There was a short hesitation, I caught myself, the words “decaf” and “coffee” got kind of tangled & trainwrecked in my mouth, and “coffee” was the one that got through. (None of this, I think, was visible to the barista. He’s just waiting to get through one more order — whatever, coffee, that’s easy.) I took the small cup over to the adulteration stand and added some sugar, took a sip, and thought I would burst with joy. One of the other customers took note of this big smile and sigh, said something grand like, “That first sip’s the best, isn’t it?” And I wanted to tell him something about the first sip after many months. I didn’t feel like I was falling off the wagon, and then, a little, I did.

I giggled at myself on the rest of my walk to work: naughty girl, what are you doing? I expected the big rush of euphoria that caffeine can deliver, thought maybe I would start talking like a chipmunk on speed (which I have been known to do when caffeinated), thought everyone would know.

I expected maybe a little downside, too.

There was no real rush of caffeine high, though I did get wired — I felt happier for awhile, lifted, more brave. I accomplished a couple of tasks I’d been putting off, confessed to a couple of friends about the caffeine. My neck and shoulders got sharply tense, the way they’d been when I was drinking caffeinated coffee regularly. And then I barely slept that night — my body was sleepy by 10, but my head was still running the rapids, and my heart pounded loud and heavy right alongside it. I woke up maybe five times that night, every other hour, and was still wired the next morning, did some good, somewhat-frantic writing in my notebook, pen racing, almost unable to keep up with my thoughts — this happens much less frequently now since I stopped taking in so much caffeine, and it was great to feel this writing again. (Also good, though, was recognizing the effects of caffeine. I’d though maybe I was just less passionate about my subjects these days, no longer pouring the words out almost like they were on fire inside me — here, last Wednesday morning, I got some evidence that that writing style is a caffeinated one, and not a measure of my interest, passion, desire to write.)

I went through Wednesday feeling like I was in a caffeine-hangover, all crunchy just beneath my skin, cramped, like I had cramp-ons underneath there, tensing everything. I remembered: Oh, this was why. This was why I stopped.

A quick digression: It appears that maybe I haven’t written here about the transition I made away from drinking caffeinated coffee back at the end of 2009, also in response to a quiet little question that kept repeating itself to me: What if you didn’t have coffee today? We were in Miami on a working-vacation, and I was recuperating after a several-month (year?) stretch of driving myself into the ground. I crashed at the end of October, and that’s about when I went to the Trauma Stewardship workshop, and started thinking differently about self care. The first day I heard the little question, I got a cafe con leche (we were in Miami after all, and I wanted one more good coffee if I was going to quit). I heard the question again the next day, and understood that it wasn’t trying to push me into feeling bad about anything — it was just offering a possibility. I didn’t have coffee that day; I probably took some prophylactic Advil, to ward off the headaches. Over the next several weeks, I sort of weaned myself off caffeinated coffee — I’d get a half-decaf in my cup, or go a day or two between cups, and eventually I wasn’t having any caffeinated coffee. I drank black tea for a little bit, but then it was just green tea sometimes, and more often than not, there were days when I didn’t have any caffeine at all. I learned that Chris Knight wasn’t wrong when he said, “There are a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing” and I ate a lot of crow, given how much fun I’d made of the decaf-drinkers in my life over the years. My body felt better, more relaxed. I learned that I could function without coffee, the drug I’d started using in jr high (even on tour!). I learned I could shift my identity as a heavy coffee drinker, and it would be ok.

Back to now.  I didn’t have a headache the morning after re-trying coffee, and, after experiencing the effects, I didn’t have any longing to start drinking caffeine again — except, maybe a little bit, my writing self missed that frenetic energy, the driving urge to get the words out, that barely-satisfiable ache that is writing under the influence of caffeine. Here’s the interesting thing, though: just for right now, I’m choosing the ability to sleep well, body-comfort and function in the rest of my life  over the momentary writing buzz. That feels like a mental health step. (That actually feels massive.)

There’s something enormous about learning to trust one’s intuition — about listening to those quiet questions that live underneath all the noise, that persist. Every time I listen to and take action on my intuition, I am not disappointed — and that quiet place of light in me knows that I am listening.

There’s also something about checking in with our boundaries/decisions, when it feels safe enough to do so: Ok, I made this decision several years ago to start or stop some behavior because it was good for me at the time — is it still working for me? Do I have to stay with this decision into perpetuity? Sometimes the answer is, Yes, let’s stick with this for now — and other times, the answer is, Oh, you know what? Maybe we don’t have to do this anymore. Let’s try it out and see how that feels. No rushing — no blame, shame or guilt. Just trying it out, and noticing how we feel after. No perfection, just practice.

Want to write about that some? Is there a change you’re thinking about making for your own self care, that would be a big shift in your life, that would entail some loss as well as gain? Want to write about both those sides for a while, 10 minutes or so (5 min for each)? Or what about writing about a decision you made to take care of yourself once upon a time that you’re now rethinking — what does that look like?

Thanks for your ongoing elasticity with your stretching, growing, brilliant self. Thanks for your words, your words, your words.