Speaking our truth is important. And it's also hard.
Most writing schools focus on the craft of putting words on paper. But we all know that what is hard about writing is not just the technique of writing but also the emotion of putting our truth on the page, in language for others—and even for ourself—to see.
We can hide in silence. But language clarifies. It shows the holes in our thinking and the scars in our feelings. At least honest language does this.
But because we live in a world in which we prefer to be "polite," "professional" and in which we often value surface over depth, we usually don't admit the difficulties of understanding and telling our own stories.
Even in memoir workshops, especially in university settings, where professors need to give grades, people rarely talk about the emotional challenges, and also the emotional rewards, of telling their stories.
But Melanie Brooks, a brave writer at work on her own memoir, decided to ask writers those usually unspoken questions about how they deal with the emotional challenges of writing difficult stories.
These are important questions; if we can have honest conversations about the challenges of our stories, we're more likely to be able to work through those challenges and create real transformation on the page, in our lives, and in the world.
In her book Writing Hard Stories, Melanie interviews 18 memoirists about how they told their hard stories and "shaped art from trauma."
And this week, I'm sharing with you my interview with Melanie. She has lots of great things to say about writing—and living. I hope you'll watch and share it with others.
Nadia Colburn talks with Melanie Brooks about Writing Hard Stories
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about some ways in which writing can help us make sense of darkness. But it’s also important that we connect to our own and to the world’s light. Writing can help lead us to light, but for me the path to light was not primarily through the mind, but through the body.
I had been writing for many years, struggling to understand my own suffering, and I felt I was making some progress. It was when I started to practice kundalini yoga, however, that something in me began to shift.
I could go into yoga class feeling really dark, despondent even. And after even just a few minutes of breathwork and movement, I felt a connection to something greater.
It was as if a window had suddenly been opened on a hot day to a cool spring breeze. There were other ways of being, other perspectives--another story that I hadn’t even been aware of.
Marianne Williamson famously said that it is not our fear of darkness that keeps us back, but rather our fear of our own light:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
In those yoga classes, in opening up my own breath and body through pranayama and spinal flexes, through testing my core strength and my will, sometimes holding out my arms for eleven minutes at a time, something in me shifted.
Did I think that I was depressed because something had gone wrong in my life? I now wondered if that idea was too small. Perhaps what had been so hard was that I had simply not known how to harness my own power.
To be honest, even in yoga classes, these moments of insight were brief: star-like punctures of light coming through the dark chatter of my brain. But the insights kept me going.
And gradually over time, those pin pricks of light became more a part of my every day fabric. Of course I was still me, a human being with the full range of emotions. But there was more openness, more space, more light, more understanding of how powerful we all really are.
I could access that not from the mind, but from the connection of mind and body. And from that connection my writing also changed, became more open.
By joining yoga and writing and meditation, we can consciously redirect our attention, harness our own power, take our fears and turn them on their heads. We can re-unite mind and body, which perhaps became fragmented because we were overwhelmed by our own potential.
What if we more regularly gave ourselves the time and space and permission to trust or own light? What would we—and our world—look like?
If you’d like time to practice writing, yoga and meditation together, please join me for a full weekend retreat August 18-20thin Connecticut at the beautiful Copper Beech Institute. There will be great food, wonderful company and plenty of time for relaxation, too. Open to people with all levels of writing and yoga experience!
At the heart of my work is the belief that the stories we tell, about ourselves and about others, matter. They carry weight, and they have real world consequences.
As Trump pulls out of the Paris Agreement, what we see is one story competing, with enormous globe-changing consequences, with another story.
Trump tells a story about America First. He tells a story in which there are winners and losers, a story in which it is possible to roll back the clock to the past, a story in which “success” is measured by accumulating physical things and by economic gain.
But nothing more clearly shows the limit of that story than the global, environmental facts that now face us. These facts tell a different story:
They tell the story of a global reality in which we are all in this together, in which we are inter-dependent and one community’s or one nation’s wellbeing cannot be isolated. They tell a story in which the future is already upon us, in which the icecaps are already melting and in which our own human consciousness is already waking up to the global realities. Similarly, these facts tell a story in which success can no longer be tied to extractive practices of more and more physical things, because we live in a world with finite physical resources.
This second story offers us a new way to measure success: not in hoarding more things for a few, but in recognizing the inherent value of all life and the ways in which we all depend on one another, the very large and the very small, down to the bees and plankton, without which we could not survive.
This moment is a challenge to us all: to take charge of the narrative.
After all, we live by narrative. Narrative arranges how we make sense of our lives and how we organize our days and our societies.
In some indigenous communities in the amazon, for example, it was and still is considered heroic to give everything away and to share with others. Some communities structure their lives around a story of God. Some around stories of seasonal change.
In all our actions and in all our lives, we are living within narratives that have as their center certain assumptions about what matters and how we shape our lives.
I have seen in my work with clients and in the field of narrative medicine that if we don’t listen to and tell aligned stories about ourselves, we may get sick and not be able to heal.
The same is true of the stories we tell about the earth: if we don’t tell the correct story about it, we will all be in trouble.
We each have the power to tell the story that we believe in, the story that rings true for us. And we each have the power to find the places—on the state level, the city level, the local level, in our homes and in our hearts—where that story resonates and can find traction.
After all, stories are amazingly dynamic and democratic; though an authority figure may try to control them, stories can’t be controlled from the top down. We each have power over our own story.
And each of our own stories involves our relationship to the earth and to one another. So when we do this work of coming into our own truth, we do it not only for ourselves, but also for our collective narrative, for our values, and for the earth.
In these weeks and months and years ahead, it is all the more important that we come into our power to speak our truth and bring about real narrative shifts. Because action follows narrative.
As always, please reach out to me with your thoughts, questions, observations!
And check out my upcoming programs. On Friday June 16th, I’ll be leading a three hour workshop at Grub Street “Writing With Courage” where we’ll look at strategies authors use to speak their truth, often despite pressures to do otherwise, and where you’ll have the opportunity to strengthen your own courage and voice as a writer.
And if you’d like a deeply nourishing weekend of yoga, writing and meditation, please consider joining me at the Copper Beech Institute for a full weekend retreat August 18-20.
Many of us have a love-hate relationship with writing: we value writing; we want to do it more, but it also brings out our fears, frustrations, disappointments.
Over the next months, I’ll be writing a series of posts about how to approach your writing and your creativity with more openness, joy and freedom.
Today, I’m opening the series by addressing two common fears I’ve been hearing again and again from students and clients. Maybe you can relate to them:
These fears both have to do with not having control over your work.
It is true that you can’t control the reaction readers have to your work. But you can control when readers read your work and when readers don’t read your work. And that makes all the difference.
Get very clear on this: no one is going to read your work until you are ready for them to read it!
Many people’s private writing was read by a parent, friend, sibling or teacher as a child, casting a shadow over their writing life. But now you are an adult.
If you don’t want anyone to read your writing. make sure you keep it in a safe, secure and private place. This may seem obvious, but sometimes our unspoken fears limit us, and so instead of finding a safe and secure place for our writing, we don’t write. This is unfortunate!
If you like to write by hand and don’t want anyone to read your writing, put your writing in a locked drawer. If you don’t have a locked drawer, get one.
If you write on the computer, create a separate user account with a code that no one can access but you.
Take the time today to be sure that you feel that you have a secure place for your writing and that no one else will read it without your permission.
Once you have addressed the first fear, let’s turn to the second: your writing might hurt someone you love.
I get it. Generations of writers (usually male) have not seemed to give much thought to this question, and their writing often was deeply hurtful to family, friends, community members.
I applaud writers for thinking about the impact of their words.
But many writers today, especially women, let this fear of hurting others stop the writing process even before it begins. We don’t speak our own truth, we don’t even come to know our own truth, because we worry it might hurt others. Often we internalize others’ censorship of our truth. We can become mindful of this pattern and claim our truth first before we worry about its impact on others.
It’s important to remember that the writing process is not the same as the publishing process. Professional writers, as well as newbies, need to remember to keep the creative process and the publishing process separate. Our first, second and even third draft won’t be read by others unless you invite them to read it.
Before you are ready to publish, you can revise, a lot.
If you don’t want to hurt people in your life, you can also show a draft to the people you love and invite them to a discussion about it before you publish. These can be powerful conversations that develop greater trust and understanding.
Or, once you have come to write and realize your own truth, you might decide that the truth can speak for itself, and it is not your job to protect others from it.
But unless you are getting close to publication, this is something for the future and separate from the process of claiming your own truth and power and creativity for yourself and on the page.
Indeed, one of the great beauty of the page is that no one else is watching you. You get to use language to process thoughts, experiences, emotions, fears, rages, lusts. You get to explore, make mistakes, start over, without anyone judging you.
The page’s feelings can’t get hurt. The page can’t yell at you, judge your or decide no longer to be your friend.
So today, I invite you to look carefully at your own fears around writing.
If you can make the page your safe place, it can become your best friend; you get to establish deep trust with yourself.
This trust gives you enormous freedom: your writing process can go from being tortured to being joyful; old blocks might fall away.
You might even find that the things you were so worried about keeping private don’t need to be guarded so closely.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, strategies, fears and questions about this post and/or the writing life in general.
Below I also have some upcoming events, including a yoga/writing workshop on the North Shore, a workshop on writing with courage at Grub Street, a full weekend workshop in August at a beautiful retreat center in CT, and I just opened registration for my online class Align Your Story's fall semester. We start in September, and if you signup now, you get early bird pricing.
Much is at stake at the moment and much is uncertain. Amidst this uncertainty, how do we stay connected and grounded?
This week I’ve been thinking about care and about the value of caring for others.
Remember the old Mr Rogers advice: look for the helpers in times of crisis?
This is not only advice for children, it's also a central message for all of us. At the moment, along with the crisis around Comey, it seems that as a country the value (or nonvalue) of caring for others is being put on the table:
Is it our role to attend to others? Is it government’s role to care for citizens—and noncitizens? Or is every man on his own, and the winner take all?
This is a deep philosophical divide.
When I was a junior in high school I took a philosophy class at a local college. We studied Hobbes, Kant, Descartes.
Hobbes taught that we act in our own self interest; Kant that morality is a matter of duty; Descartes that we could understand ourselves only through our minds. Something seemed missing in all of these worldviews.
I didn’t pursue the study of philosophy. Instead I studied literature, in part because it showed a world in which people care for one another, a world in which the fact that people care for one another is the central tenet.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, when I was already a mother, that I heard about feminist theory and the work of thinkers like Carol Gilligan, work showing that the desire and need to take care of one another is also inherent in the human species. Of course! We care for one another because we want to, because it makes us feel better, because we all benefit from it.
This weekend is mother’s day—there is nothing in my life that I have valued more or can imagine valuing more than being a mother. When I support my children, it is not something that I do primarily for gain or duty, for ego or self interest.
I care for my children because in caring for them, I am expressing my own deep humanity. Our bodies prepare us to love one another.
I really believe that if we can be in touch with ourselves more deeply, we can be in touch more deeply with our love—not only for our own children, but also for other people’s children, for the inherent life and value in all people.
Part of this country seems to have lost touch with this basic humanity, with not only what it means to care for others, but also, it seems to me, with what it means to care for oneself. We are all poorer if we live in a society that does not attend to the sick, the poor, the young—poorer materially and also spiritually.
Robert Hayden’s moving poem about his father, “Sunday Morning,” is one of the most beautiful poems of deep caring I know. Here it is:
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
If you’re free this Saturday, please join me for a rejuvenating afternoon of meditation and writing in Beverly, MA at the North Shore Zen Center: give yourself this gift the day before mother’s day to nourish your own compassion.
And for a full weekend retreat, join me this August for a weekend of yoga, meditation and writing to re-integrate, and come back to our center, our values and our aliveness at Copper Beech Institute.
See more below, and as always reach out to me with questions and share with friends.
Writing Towards Freedom: An Afternoon of Meditation and Writing
Saturday, May 13, 1-4:30pm
North Shore Zen Center, Beverly MA.
Writing and Kundalini Yoga Workshop
Friday, June 2nd: 7:30-9:30 pm
Riverside Yoga, Newburyport, MA
Writing with Courage
Friday, June 16 10:30-1:30
Grub Street, Boston
Living From Your Center: Integrating Mind, Body and Spirit
August 18-20 Full Weekend Retreat
Copper Beech Institute, West Hartford CT
As always reach out with any questions or just to say hi. And please share with any friends who might be interested.
This week, I’ve been thinking again about transitions: how do we deal with change? How do we know when we’re ready for it? and how do we deal with it and incorporate it into our lives even if we’re not fully ready?
It’s April vacation for my family, and we’re touring some colleges with Gabriel. The first stop was Columbia, where I was doing my graduate work when Gabriel was born, so coming back and doing a tour was like going full circle.
At twenty-seven I was really excited to be a mom, but also not fully prepared for it. Motherhood made me rethink and re-orient myself to myself and to the world—it was a big and wonderful summersault. It was only after becoming a mother that I felt sure that I not only wanted to but needed to write: I needed to make sense of my own story, to put words to my own experiences. I moved to Cambridge the next year to work with Jorie Graham, a poet (and mother), whose work I loved.
Now 17 years later, I’m feeling similarly grateful to writing as a place to make sense of my story and of the shifts in identity that happen just by living in time. While Simone is still only in sixth grade (she turns 13 this summer—a teenager!), I’m very aware that I’m entering another chapter of my life—that we’re all moving towards new chapters.
The name of my online course is Align Your story, but in some ways that is misleading. We don’t have just one story. We have countless stories, and those stories continue to change. Aligning our story is work that we need to continue to do throughout our lives.
Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? The answers to these questions continue to morph.
Sometimes we think that we don’t have time for writing. But we are always living inside of stories. Sometimes those stories write us. We swim in them. We can’t always make sense of them.
But if we can get comfortable in them, we can have a different orientation to our own lives—and to the lives of others. And I believe that this process of getting comfortable is not just something that we do in writing—but something that we do with our whole mind, body and spirit.
We are always living in change—personal change, physical change, political change, global and environmental change. We are always living with forces bigger than ourselves.
When we try to makes sense of these changes only with our mind—and with our left brain, which wants to control—we may become more lost. But when we can allow ourselves to enter into the space of creativity, where change is always happening, when we can drop into our bodies and quiet our mind, we can access a greater freedom and vivacity.
I’ll be starting Align Your Story again on April 24th. I’d love for you to join me. It’s a ten week online course with reading, writing, lessons, yoga and meditation. There are weekly live optional conference calls and a private facebook group. You get plenty of support from me, but you can also go through at your own pace because once you enroll you have access to the course and community for life.
See more here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/please-join-me.html
Here's what one person said about Align Your Story:
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that taking my first workshop with Nadia was a life- changing event. I had been struggling to get back into my writing, and stuck in some old challenging patterns that I couldn’t break out of. The yoga and writing workshop was the first way of breaking that pattern, and then Align Your Story was like going from making a drawing with colored pencils to oil painting.
Align Your Story was a much richer and more fulfilling experience, simply because there’s so many more resources and much more time. But taking the course didn’t just help me come back to my writing; it also restored a faith or belief that I hadn’t realized I’d lost—and that’s the belief in the possibility of transformation. I had had a lot of hard experiences in a really short period of time in my life. And I hadn’t recognized how those experiences had hardened me and even made me cynical about my own future. I felt like I was stuck and just spinning my wheels. I know that working with Nadia through Align Your Story has been instrumental in moving beyond that phase in my life. (Read more at http://www.nadiacolburn.com/praise.html) —Tyler P.
I want to invite you to join me over the next three weeks for three live meditation and writing sessions.
I know that life has a way of creeping in and preventing us from doing what we want to do.
I talk to so many people who tell me that if only they could find the time for their writing, they would LOVE to write. And yet they don't. Even professional writers often tell me that they don't have enough time for their own writing. And that their writing time becomes yet another thing on their to do list—something that no longer feels creative and peaceful.
We live in a time of anxiety. When we don't do what we want to do, when we don't give space for our own voice and growth, that anxiety grows.
So I want to help you make time: What if you take from 15 minutes to 45 minutes once a week for the next three weeks and join me in live meditation/writing sessions? Come all three times. Come once. Come only for fifteen minutes.
Sign up and I'll send you an access code.
We'll write together at the following times:
Friday, April 7th from 12:00-12:50 ET
Wednesday, April 12th from 12:00-12:50 ET
Friday, April 21st from 12:00-12:50 ET
I'll start each fifteen minutes (on the fifteen minute) with a meditation and writing prompt and then give you time to write in community.
There will also be time for questions and conversation.
By the end of each session, you'll have taken time to meditate and to create some powerful writing; you'll be more in touch with your center, with your creativity, and with your voice.
Why does this matter?
It matters because we live in a time in which the arts and truth are under assault, a time in which individual voices are being silenced, a time in which many of us feel off our own center.
How do we address this situation? By being the change, ourselves, that we want to see in the world.
You'll be amazed at how you can shift your energy in just a few minutes and what you can write in just a short time. And when we come together this shift is even more powerful.
Together, we can create powerful, peaceful, creative energy.
So sign up today and please invite friends and family! Either email me directly by responding to this email or sign up with the link below.
Sign Up To Join
Poetry and Mindful Writing Workshop
Eight Session Semester
April 10th, 10am-12pm
Creative Nonfiction and Memoir Class
Eight Session Semester
April 10th 12:30-2:30pm
Align Your Story: Online class that includes yoga, meditation, reading, writing and community
April 24th-June 10
Self paced online ten week class with lifetime access
Why Your Writing Matters: Half Day Workshop
April 28th 10:30-1:00
Grub Street, Boston
Breathing Out Fear: Day Long Retreat
April 29th, 10:00-5:00
Copper Beach Institue, West Hartford
see more at http://www.nadiacolburn.com/events.html
As always, please share with any friends or family who might be interested.
And reach out with any questions or just to say hi. I love to hear from you.
Last week I wrote about the ways in which books can help us come into our aligned story and self, and I wrote about some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books.
This week, I’ve been thinking about the therapist and writer Alice Miller, whose work helped me—as it has helped so many—see the world, and myself, differently.
At the heart of Miller’s work is the belief that we should question authority, and that as children raised in our “civilized” tradition, we have been brought up to obey things that are not really for anyone’s good.
Miller encourages us to remember, or perhaps feel for the first time, what our childhood experiences really were like—not from our adult perspective, but instead from the childhood perspective itself.
Miller believes that we are conditioned, from the time we are very young, to discount our own experiences, feelings and interpretations in favor of the experiences/feelings/interpretations expected of us. Our parents, our schools, society as a whole discount children’s experiences, and eventually Miller came to believe that traditional Freudian therapy perpetuated that pattern.
To grow up in a world in which we are, from early childhood, cut off from our own intrinsic experiences, has profound consequences not only for us as individuals, but also for the whole society.
Central to Miller’s work is the question: what leads us, as humans, to feeling disconnected from ourselves and from one another? What leads to tyranny and violence?
Alice Miller believed that a culture that raises children to trust in external authority while discounting their own authority leads both to personal unhappiness and collective violence.
Miller’s work also underscores the ways in which our bodies themselves carry our stories. The very ways our education (both institutional and at home) cuts children off from their bodies enables this kind of split from one’s own value system.
But when we bring mind and body back together, and listen to our bodies, we recover our own truths and can heal both individually and as a society.
I recommend in particular Miller’s first three books:
The Drama of The Gifted Child. This is Miller’s first book and looks more specifically at the individual child’s experiences.
Thou Shalt Not Be Aware. This brilliant book explores key cultural stories that fragment us from our own moral guidance system, as well as the life and work of such writers as Virginia Woolf and Flaubert.
For Your Own Good. The third of Miller’s books, this book explores the roots of violence in our society and looks at Hitler and other very violent individuals.
These books are timely to read in America today. They allow us to look seriously at the dangers of violence while still trusting in the inherent potential for good in all children and in ourselves.
Reading Miller’s work changed my life and who I am: it allowed me to access parts of my own story that had been cut off, and it guides me in the work I do now, helping individuals reclaim their wholeness and authority, and helping us collectively shift our communal story so that can live in a less violent, fragmented world.
And as always, here are some of my upcoming events, including my yoga/writing workshop happening tomorrow. I'd love to see you!
And if you like my work, please share it with friends and family! Thank you.
March 11: Om Namo Center, 1:30-4. Embrace and Let Go: Writing and Yoga Workshop. Whatever is happening around us, we have the capacity to bring our own lives into alignment. In this yoga and writing workshop, you will be given tools to reconnect with yourself and your truth by bringing mind and body together. Studies have shown the positive health benefits of writing through emotional blocks; these benefits are amplified when we allow the mind and body to enter into dialogue and learn from one another. Designed for writers and non-writers alike and for yogis of all levels, the workshop will offer practices that you can use in your life after the workshop See more here
March 25. Inner Evolution for Women: 1:00-4:00pm with Jessica Ronalds, LMHC, Acton, MA
I'm very excited to be offering this afternoon session with therapist Jessica Ronalds to deep healing and clearing work for women to start spring with our full vitality.
Is part of you looking for something more? Do you get inklings that haven't been able to pay attention to?
The world is pulling you in a hundred different directions,and you often feel spent, but you are ready to live with more authenticity, agency and power. In this workshop, we'll use meditation, some easy writing exercises, conversation and simple movements to come back into our centers, re-align our bodies, minds and spirits, and remember who we really are. Contact me for more information.
Mid-April: New sessions of my online class, Align Your Story, a unique deeply integrative approach to writing with close readings, yoga and meditation.
This is my signature ten week class, and once you enroll you have access for life. I now also have a premium option for more in depth support and feedback. See more at www.alignyourstory.com
Mid April: New sessions of my in-person poetry and creative prose classes will open.
Contact me for more information and to be put on a list. These are great communities of writers and appropriate for writers at all levels. See more at www.nadiacolburn.com
April 2, 2017 4pm
Friday April 28th: Grub Street, A Larger Purpose: Why Your Writing Voice Matters. Boston. 6-9pm. see more here https://grubstreet.org/findaclass/class/a-larger-purpose-why-your-writing-voice-matters/
Saturday, April 29th Copper Beach, West Hartford CT: Breathing Out Fear. A Day long retreat to address living in difficult times with more equanimity and engagement
see more here: www.copperbeechinstitute.org/breathing
Saturday, May 13, Writing Towards Freedom: an Afternoon of Meditation and Writing 1-4:30pm.
North Shore Zen Center, Beverly MA. See more here
August 18-20 Weekend workshop/retreat Copper Beach Institute, West Hartford CT. Take a full weekend to integrate mind, body and spirit and come into your aligned center. I’m really looking forward to this weekend, when we’ll have more extended time to practice together in community.
In my last post, I wrote about getting our story straight, and I said that I’d talk about supports that help us in this process so that we can and live with more health, vivacity, creativity and agency.
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society