Sometimes my students ask me whether it's okay to write from anger.
I tell them, of course it is. Anger can be a good motivator. Often we have good reason to be angry, and our anger can help us be social justice warriors. It can direct us towards making change.
So write from anger! Put it all on the page, and then after you have your first uncensored draft, revise it before publication so that you don't say anything you regret.
I want to share with you a piece I published recently that was written from anger.
A few weeks ago, I was having a nice quiet evening reading a book when I came across a passage that I found so disturbing I literally shouted outloud.
My kids looked at me like I was crazy. But I was furious.
In the middle of a well respected book, Mark Epstein’s Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself, about the connection between Buddhism and psychotherapy, was a description of sexual abuse by a therapist to a much younger woman patient given as an example of GOOD therapy and good dharma. I couldn’t believe it.
I was so upset that I stayed up until 2am writing a review of the book. Over the next days, I refined the piece, but it was my anger that fueled the piece.
Today still well-respected teachers in the buddhist and psychotherapy communities can praise sexual abuse of women--and it can go unremarked in major reviews of the book.
Writing the piece, I realized I was not just writing about one book, but about a whole society and mindset that doesn't have proper tools to see or name abuse or to listen to women--or, to really listen deeply, for that matter, to anyone.
I hope you'll read the piece. It talks about the blindspots in psychotherapy; psychotherapy's difficult history of not listening to women; the dangers of spiritual gurus; the #metoo movement; and the question of when to take seriously one's own authority.
Writing this piece reminded me of why our voices are so important, and why we need again and again to stand up for them.
I also want to invite you to use your voice and speak out against the things that you find upsetting and unjust. There are certainly many things like that today. And while we can't tackle all of them, we can address some of them.
It’s only because of the people who have spoken truth to power before us that we have the freedoms that we have today. Our voices matter, and we all support one another in this endeavor.
Again you can read my piece here:
What is one particular thing that seems unjust and that really upsets you? Whether it is big or small, write about it. Let yourself go. Say what you want to say to right/write the wrong. Don't hold back. Give yourself full permission to express yourself completely and imagine yourself being fully heard.
Look back over your work and make any revisions to it.
It may be powerful to read your piece aloud and to hear yourself speak your own truth. Try it.
Think of one way to share your voice around this topic with someone else--it could be in conversation, online, in a letter to an editor, in an essay, poem or another form.
Read more about writing, social justice and responding to the me too movement in these pieces below:
The past weeks, I’ve been hearing from many clients, students and friends about the impact of the #metoo stories that for a while took over our newsfeeds.
Now the news has largely moved on. But we may not have moved on. Many of us are still processing, slightly thrown off our center, responding. Whether you were affected by the #metoo stories or not, this raises a larger question:
How do stories still live with us? How do we give them space to change us?
I want to offer some guidelines for how we can continue to process these #metoo stories and how we can deal with any other difficult stories in the future.
After a while, reading so many #metoo stories, I felt thrown off my own center, as if other people’s stories had entered my own body, and I was living in more stories than I had the capacity to handle.
I needed to step back and become more mindful of my media consumption.
Here are four tools that I find useful for listening/reading hard stories:
1) Ground: stay connected to your own body and breath as you read.
2) Don’t push away emotional reactions. Feel them. Feel them fully. The short form and fast pace of so much media often seems to preclude emotional response, but that we need to respond emotionally to process.
3) Take breaks. Step away and let the material settle before you read more. This is like shavasana in yoga practice. It’s in this period of deep relaxation that our body and mind are able to process, digest and incorporate the information we have taken in.
4) Reach out to others. We connect through stories, but sometimes we need to connect to more than just the page. Talk to friends, to family members. Be physically present with one another. Give each other a physical hug.
Our media makes it seem “easy” to share our story. But I know from personal experience it’s not.
The first times I told people—my husband and my much trusted therapist—I had been sexually abused, I had a panic attack.
I didn’t write about my own abuse story publicly for many years. I needed to take time to process the information through the safety of the private page first.
When I started to think about publishing and sharing my story, I worried about the different reactions I would get: I worried people would judge me differently. I worried I would be less respected, more victimized, more at risk.
AND at the same time, I also thought that I should just stop making such a big deal of it and just jump right in and share the story.
I needed to take my time and work with all of my contradictory responses. Now I know that all of my feelings around sharing or not sharing were normal. Our feelings around writing and sharing difficult experiences are complicated, contradictory, intense and take time to process.
If we know that about the process, it makes the process much easier; we don’t need the process to be other than it is.
Here are five tools that are helpful when we come to write our stories:
1) Expect the process of writing and sharing to be messy, complex and emotional. Don’t be surprised or blame yourself for the messiness of it.
2) Stay connected to your body and breath as you write,
3) Take breaks and be patient. Allow the process to unfold on its own timetable.
4) Keep the writing process and the publishing/sharing process distinct. You get to decide what and how much you want to share with others—and how and when.
5) Check in with friends and people you trust to support throughout and don’t be afraid to ask for emotional support.
Our stories are precious. They are also very complex. We need to honor them with space, respect and patience. Only then can the transformation power of story telling really come into being.
OPENING FOR CHANGE
We are used to being passive consumers of much of our media. We get up in the morning with a cup of coffee and read the paper. We scroll through our facebook feed when we wait in line. There is little expectation that we become responsible participants in our media consumption.
But each new story affects us, and each new story, ideally, has some impact not only on how we see the world, but also how we act in the world.
What if we consciously work to assume some responsibility for what we read? What if, for each thing we read, we ask ourselves a series of questions.
I suggest we ask these three questions in response to what we read:
1) How did what I read/hear affect me?
2) How did what I read/hear change some part of my vision of the world or of myself
3) How will I act differently as a result? What is even one very small way that I might do something different? It might simply be to remember, next time I talk to someone, that her/his story very likely was complex and challenging. Or it may be the decision to take a particular action as a result of my reading/listening.
In my own case, listening to the #metoo stories has had a number of effects: I reacted with pain and also with some hope on reading the stories. I sat down and written out a new #metoo story that I hadn’t ever really formulated before. I made a point of having some good conversations with my thirteen year old daughter and seventeen year old son that I probably wouldn’t have had this week or in exactly the same way had it not been for the stories I read.
Writing this piece makes me wonder if there is more I can do, from having more conversations with individuals to resisting the reactionary policies of DeVos to advocating again for an equal rights amendment.
We are the stories that we tell—individually and socially. The more we can embrace their real power, the more we have the capacity to make real change.
As always, I love to hear from you. And please share this with anyone who might find it helpful.
Today is MLK Day. Our world is full of great injustice and suffering, and also great heroism, love and hope.
This is also inauguration week: we don't know what will come, but we do know that we will be called upon to be agents of peace and hope, that our voices will be more important than ever, and that we will need to stand up for what we believe in. We can do this work best if we clear out the pain that so many of us store in our bodies, if we can ground and come into our own stability.
A few days ago I wrote about the power of shifting our energy to joy through our bodies. Today, I want to share with you a piece I published recently in Spirituality and Health magazine about learning through my yoga practice to listen to the pain that was stored in my body, and the ways I unlocked and released that pain to clear my body so I could be more available to meet the present moment.
For much of my life, I felt as if the external toxins of the world were lodged directly into my body. But through bringing my mind and my body together in yoga and writing, I have been able to protect my physical body on a much greater basis from those external toxins.
Sometimes those toxins are chemical. Sometimes they come from direct physical contact. And sometimes, the toxins are emotional/psychological/political.
In this article I talk about the ways in which, listening to my body, I came to know my own story better, and how knowing this story better helped me live with both more ease and more agency in the world. I went through this process largely without a road map, and it's my honor now to help others with by providing more direction than I had.
This is a personal article. I’d love to hear any reactions or questions you might have, and please share it with others who might be interested or who might benefit from it.
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Finally, just a reminder. If you're interested in exploring how your story is stored in your body, please consider working with me. As always, I love to hear from you with questions or comments!
Align Your Story, my online class that brings together writing yoga and mediation begins this week. This is my signature class, and I'm excited to start it with a new group of students. I have a few more spaces. See more here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/alignyourstory.html
A four week In-person Narrative Healing class I’ll be leading in Cambridge, MA begins January 25th. This is a new opportunity to bring embodied creativity and healing together in a small, in person group community. I’d love to see you there. See more here: http://omnamocenter.com/narrative-healing/
And I’m available for one-on-one work, either in person or over skype. Please reach out for a first exploratory session.
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THE WRONG I NEEDED TO WRITE
(published in Spirituality and Health here: http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/articles/wrong-i-needed-write)
When I think back on the first years of my yoga practice, what comes to mind first is Pigeon Pose. Actually, when I think back on my experience with Pigeon Pose, it’s remarkable that I stuck with yoga. Because in Pigeon Pose I felt as if I was being tortured. No, this is not hyperbolic speech. Each time I went into Pigeon Pose, I’d have images flash through my mind of terrible situations: women piled onto the train to Auschwitz, unable to move; women crossing illegally into the U.S., jammed together in the back of trucks with no air to breathe; women being held down, against their will.
Relax into the pose, the teacher would say, and I’d try to not to come out of the pose. I’d try to stay a little longer.
Most often, when people are in pain in a yoga pose, it’s because they are doing something their body shouldn’t do. But I was pretty sure that I wasn’t overly straining my physical body. In fact, even though I hold tension in my hips, I’m also pretty flexible in my hips and always have been. My Pigeon Pose looked pretty good from the outside. But inside, it sent me into turmoil—and that made me curious.
So I kept coming back to yoga classes, and my body became more flexible, and I became more able to focus my mind on the movements themselves—at least until we got to Pigeon Pose. And still I found I couldn’t stay with my body. The more I focused on what my body was feeling, the more I felt a kind of panic. So instead, I moved between the images in my head and some larger space, up above them, some distanced perspective from which I could come in and out of the scene.
In retrospect, it is no surprise that Pigeon Pose, which is a hip opener, triggered me. We often store our physical experiences directly in the body—and mine was childhood sexual abuse. Even when the conscious mind cannot remember, the body holds onto its own lived experiences in its cells. Yoga helped me practice coming in and out of this memory—even if I couldn’t put it into words. It taught me, if in a coded way, pieces of my own story that I had not, for a long time, been able to access.
We need to listen—and, at the same time, we need to have frameworks and stories to process what our bodies tell us. We need to be attentive and come out of the conscious mind. And then we need to make connections between the unconscious mind and the conscious mind and knit our experiences back together.
My yoga classes set the stage for me to listen to my body, but classes didn’t really prepare me or give me a real context or tools to understand the kind of triggers that might come up—or the ways really to listen to the stories as they were unfolding through my practice. Over time, I worked with many modalities. I started to practice Kundalini yoga and then, once my body was more comfortable and had cleared out a lot of the stuck energy, turned to sitting meditation and the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. What I discovered is that I needed attention both to my body and to language; I needed both movement and stillness; I needed, ultimately, mind, body, and spirit all to come together….
At first I was writing poetry. And then I started also to write prose. No doubt, part of my turn to prose was a growing desire to knit things together, to tell a coherent story. Like Hansel and Gretel, I was able to follow the moonlit pebbles that lead back to my own early experiences and that ultimately lead me back to myself.
And when I did this, I received a great gift: I was able truly to come home.
This does not mean that home is always a warm and easy place. It’s not as if, at the end of the practice, we can turn on the lights and all the witches will be revealed as simply a bad dream, a figment of our childhood imaginations. People were brought in cattle cars to Auschwitz, and illegal immigrants continue to face unbearable situations in their search for a better and freer way of life. And women and children and men continue to be sexually assaulted and abused.
The fruit of our yoga practice and our spiritual practice is not that we can simply relax in our comfortable, safe yoga studios and drop the outside world and simply enjoy the present moment. The fruit of our practice is that we can come to better see the world as it is; that we can find peace and equanimity even amid injustice and pain; that we can discover our stories and accept them; that we can experience joy and happiness and relaxation and not turn away from our own suffering or the suffering of others.
With a week to go before official election day, I've been doing what I can to remain active (I went to New Hampshire again this past weekend) and also trying to step back a bit and see the larger picture of what's happening.
I know many of us feel scared, angered and even overwhelmed by this election season. And very ready for it to be over.
It's really important to take breaks from the news and to do things we love, remembering all the very decent and very normal ways we can interact with one another.
And it's also important to continue to trust in and raise our voices for what we know is right.
So much of the work I do with clients and students, helping them trust and cultivate their voices, is work that I also try to do myself. My own journey has been one of integrating my own voice and vision, becoming clearer, more direct, more willing to put myself out there and more able, as a result (at least I hope), to be of service to others.
I want to share with you an article I wrote recently that ties together the abuse of women and the abuse of our earth. I argue that a mentality of ownership is a dangerous one and it's time that we put it behind us. Trump's run for presidency highlights the ways in which this dangerous mentality works. And while Clinton may (with any luck at all) be our first woman president, it's up to all of us to keep working for the future we want, by raising our voices for a future of respect instead of ownership, a future in which we'll stop building pipelines and keep fossil fuels in the ground.
I'd be honored if you read the article (I've pasted a link in below and also the article below that)
And please share my article and my course information with anyone you think may be interested.
with thanks, love and hope,
Read the original article here
FROM ABUSE TO RESPECT: RASING OUR VOICES THIS ELECTION
I work as a writing coach for women; whether my client is a beginner or a respected published writer, at a certain point she’ll come against a block.“What is this block,” I ask, and inevitably my client follows it back to a voice telling her that her ideas don’t really matter. “Where does that dismissive voice come from?” I ask, and the writer gets a far off look on her face. It comes from so many old sources that she stops writing, overwhelmed.
Trump’s campaign showcases some of these sources and the ways women have been treated for centuries. And it showcases not just a mentality about women, but also a mentality about money, power, our human relationships and our fundamental place on this Earth.
Trump’s campaign slogan, Make American Great Again, clearly looks back to the past. This was a past in which the dominant narrative was one of men, power and money—that is, men with power and money got to have a voice and tell the story. And if that is still sometimes (too often) the case today, there is also a new narrative that has been emerging that questions, resists and re-writes the old narrative and instead gives everyone a voice and gives everyone respect.
Trump is the candidate of the old narrative: we should vote for him because he’s a white man who is “really rich.” He’s built luxury buildings, top end hotels, golf clubs and resorts. It’s a campaign about power. And he makes it clear, too, that he thinks he can do whatever he wants with that power.
We’ve all heard him brag to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women: “When you’re a star they let you do it….Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Trump felt entitled to go into the dressing rooms when women were changing because he was the “owner of the pageant.”
Karena Virginia, the 13th woman to come forward accusing Trump of sexual assault put it simply: he treated me, she said, “as if I were an object.”
What Trump is doing in this election is putting on display a dangerous and outdated idea about ownership, and it’s worth paying even more attention to this because it affects not just women, but all of us. Indeed, this idea of ownership might just end our civilization if we don’t come together and do something about it. Simply put, we can no longer afford to treat other people like objects. And we can no longer afford to treat the earth as an object to be owned and endlessly to be extracted for our own enrichment.
Indeed, if Trump showcases the way of the past, climate change more than any other issue showcases what the future demands: that we treat the earth with respect; that we come together and not build walls; and that we collectively combat the urgent crisis of climate change and environmental devastation.
Once again, however, Trump is in the past: he professes not to believe in climate change; he wants more fracking, more coal production. And he wants to appoint a major climate change denier, Myron Ebell, who is in the pay of big oil companies, to head the EPA.
Asked about the environment, Trump said: “We’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”But business won’t survive without an ecosystem that supports life. We can’t just leave a little bit of the environment. We’ve already done that. A new study shows that the world is set to lose two-thirds of its wild animals by 2020.
20 years ago in China, Hillary Clinton bravely said, Women’s Rights are Human Rights. I think it’s time for us all now to say that Women’s Rights are Human Rights, and Human Rights are Earth Rights.
So how do we as women find our voices? First we must break down the centuries of ownership and the internalization of that history. That’s not easy, but more and more people are doing it. After my clients get over that far away look, they get a different look: they’re ready to dissolve internal and external walls of disrespect, and have their voices heard and work to approach the world differently.
And when that happens, we unleash an amazing other kind of power: not the power of money but the power of respect and belonging and truth and determination to speak up for what we know is right. As more and more women share their stories, we are also sharing a larger story about what it means to be human, and what it means to be member of this planet, the only planet that can support life.
This next week, I’m using my voice to talk with voters in swing states to make sure that we put candidates into office who act with respect for humans and for the Earth, who don’t think that money is an entitlement to to do whatever one wants.
I’m raising my voice to support the Sioux and their allies at Standing Rock who are doing the brave and necessary work for all of our future, trying to stop yet more degradation of our water, our land and our home.
I’m committing to continuing to work with urgency after the election to reduce our abuse of the planet and to stop our addiction to fossil fuel power.
And I’m continuing to help women find their voices. Because as more and more women, and more and more men, find their authentic voices, rooted in claiming our individual stories, and questioning much of what we’ve inherited from the past, more and more of us will come to a place not of ownership with respect for one another and for the Earth itself.
Here are a few things we can all do:
1) Consider trusting your voice as a form of activism.
2) Use your voices for what you believe in.
3) Get engaged in the political system.
4) Help save our environment and address climate change in every way you can—with your actions and with your voice, so that we as a society can take collective action.
5) Advocate for working together so that we can come into the future that we need and move away from a divisive, disrespectful past.
6) Take small steps. No one is going to make radical change alone. Everything we do, even if it’s a small gesture, matters.
7) Occasionally challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone, wherever that is, and do something on a bigger scale.
8) Share your story and your beliefs and encourage others to do the same.
It's another beautiful day; as always, I am struck by the amazing contrasts and multiplicity of our human experience. There is so much of wonder and so much goodness in our world, and at the same time, so much divisiveness and danger.
How do we stay engaged as we also practice peace? How do we take very seriously the very real threats that Trump poses to all of us, and not get sucked into a vortex of negativity? How do we act in the outer world— and I encourage everyone to please pick up the phone and make calls for Hillary and knock on doors in swing states—and still stay whole and nourish our inner world?
How do we look at this rape culture that we live in and not become traumatized or re-traumatized?
These are a lot of questions. I have to say that I felt spun around by questions much of my life. And then I found the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and something very deep inside of me began to quiet down. I had found my teacher. He helped me find both inner peace and even more commitment to outward activism.
And today Thich Nhat Hanh turns 90!!
I am so grateful for his teachings and his life example.
I want to share with you an article I wrote about him, published in the most recent issue of Spirituality and Health Magazine.
Wishing you all peace and love,
Why Thich Nhat Hanh is my Spiritual Teacher“
All religions and spiritual traditions,” William James famously wrote, “begin with the cry ‘Help!’” Like so many, I began my spiritual quest in earnest when I began to heal consciously from an instance of violence in my early childhood and the pain and confusion around it. Why, I wanted—I needed—to know, did bad things happen, not only on the personal level, but all around us in the world? The world is full of injustice and destruction: how are we to understand our present moment and transform it? I needed a larger frame.
I had read the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s work before, and I knew to go back to his writing and teachings. When Thay teaches that the present moment is a wonderful moment, he is not speaking from a position of naïve privilege.
Thay lived through the Vietnam War and saw immense pain, violence, suffering, and tragedy firsthand. He broke with the established Buddhist leaders and urged greater engagement; together with other young activists, Thay went into the countryside, where the fighting was worst, and provided support—rebuilding towns, schools, villages. He risked his own life many times, and many of his close friends and colleagues were killed.
Exiled from Vietnam in 1968 because of his peace work, Thay settled in France and continued to work steadfastly for peace and to help those displaced and suffering from the war and its aftermath. I find his early journals especially moving: we see him, confronted with the violence of the war, time and again overcome his own despair. We see him, in his early exile, far from the country and people he loves, feeling homesick, unable to sleep, and learning to make a new home in his new surroundings, keeping his spirits up.
At the heart of his teachings is the insight that peace starts from within. In the face of the self-righteous conviction of each side in the civil war, in the face of people so sure they are right they are willing to kill or be killed for their ideals, Thay realizes that the only true path to peace is to find and grow peace within each of us, to cultivate compassion and understanding, and to understand how we all are interconnected.
Many of Thay’s most moving teachings come in the form of poems. In his poem “Call Me by My True Name,” written in 1978, he remembers with sorrow the many Vietnamese who died trying to escape their country on boats—in a situation not dissimilar from that of many Syrian refugees today. In this poem, Thay explores entering into the experiences of many different beings: I am, he writes, “a bud on a spring branch,” a “frog swimming happily,” a “child in Uganda all skin and bones.” In perhaps the most powerful stanza he assumes the roles of both victim and perpetrator:
I am the twelve year old girl
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
Thay tries to see every side, every being, with understanding and compassion. He continues:
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
At the heart of Buddhist teaching is the idea of non-self. And Thay emphasizes this: we inter-are. We are the cloud whose rain falls into the earth and helps grow the food that we eat. We are our joys and our pains, our mothers and fathers, our teachers and everything that we ever come into contact with.
I had originally been asking the question “Why?” But Thay taught me to come out of my head and into my heart. How do I show compassion, first to myself for my own suffering, and then to all others? Through his own example of coming to a place of peace and joy from suffering, I trusted his directions.
How do you cultivate peace and happiness? His answer is to meditate: practice; breathe; pay attention to your breath; pay attention to the present moment; pay attention to the miracle of being alive; wake up; and again come back to your breath. This practice calms the mind and body and develops concentration. And from this concentration, one has the insight to see into suffering and cultivate wise compassion and understanding and appreciation.
In Thay’s engaged Buddhism, meditation is not only what we do in silence on our cushion, but what we attempt to do all day long, with every step and every breath: we come back into awareness, and from this awareness we come to be the peace:
Breathing in, I calm my body,
Breathing out, I smile,
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.In a time of such violence on a global scale, such insecurity and such devastation to the environment, I think it’s important that we all learn to practice peace. We practice not only to eliminate suffering, but to transform on the personal and the social levels, and to wake up so that we are capable of really celebrating the great miracle of life.
First published here: https://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/why-im-student-thich-nhat-hanh
Emotional Healing & Mindful Writing Blog | Nadia Colburn
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society.