I want to start this message by saying thank you. Thank you for being here and for reading this.
I am having a hard time finding the right tone. I don’t quite know what words to use for what is happening in this country, which is very real and very serious, and also, still, very new, so I’ll tell you, instead, a bit about my day yesterday:
I took a walk around Walden Pond with a friend who is a writer and studying Ayurvedic medicine. For the first half of the walk, we talked about our fear, our dismay, our anger at what is happening.
But after maybe twenty minutes, after we crossed the tracks and went into the woods, where there was still some snow on the ground, our conversation turned from the national level to sharing our individual stories, and from that space of more intimate story telling and sharing, we started to talk more about the power of healing, and the power that we all have to come into our own centers.
This left me feeling better. It reminded me that while we don’t have power over some stories, we do have power over others, and that while sometimes looking at the world, it appears to have a somewhat solid story, in fact, there are always countless stories interacting in all kinds of unpredictable ways.
In fact, remembering the multiplicity of our stories and all the different layers they exist on helps me both better protect myself from the news and better step into action.
When I see a solid story, I find myself lost in worry. But Thich Nhat Hanh, who was a peace activist through years of the brutality of war, reminds us that worry alone does not solve any problems. I’ve been trying to follow his advice to stay in the present moment, and when I really stay in the present, I notice so much that is happening around me: the moving clouds, my breath, sounds, other people. Attention seems to dissipate the solid fear. This is important because being able to enjoy the present moment and to de-activate our nervous systems will help us remain resilient and able to keep going for the long term.
Sometimes we think that being present, calming down, putting boundaries around our own worry, will prevent us from taking meaningful action; instead, having these tools makes us much stronger and more able to take meaningful action.
Similarly, it is easier to enjoy the present moment when we are clear in our commitment to take action. I’m slowly working on a system to take daily actions, weekly actions, monthly and yearly actions. I’m trying to make daily calls to people in government. My friend Liz just told me about Credo Action's tool to connect you to representatives who are most helpful to contact: https://credoaction.com/#fpcampaigns Scroll to the bottom of the page and it will help you make the calls that are needed. I tried it this morning and it's great. And I’ve signed up to do volunteer work with a few groups on a regular basis and have taken the initiative to do some community work.
When I feel worried, knowing that I am taking these extra steps helps me feel less worried. “Hope is not what we find in evidence; it's what we become in action,” Frances Moore Lappe has said. I love this quote.
There is a quote from another of my heroes that I’ve seen floating around this week and that I’ve also been thinking about. But in fact, I’ve been thinking about it because I take some issue with it. The quote is from Brene Brown, whose groundbreaking work on vulnerability and the power of owning our own stories has been so important and has given me personally such encouragement: “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort but you cannot choose both,” she says.
On the one hand, I know what Brene Brown is talking about: we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone to step into our vulnerability and be courageous; yes! AND at the same time, I think that the danger of this formulation is that it leaves courage out in the cold, without giving us—or others—the support we need to cultivate courage.
To be our most courageous, I think we also need to know how to give ourselves comfort. In fact, ONLY when we know how to give ourselves comfort can we be our most courageous and offer that comfort and that courage to others. And to tell you the truth, I think that Brene Brown would agree with this.
So I hope all of us can cultivate both comfort and courage, both self compassion and action, wherever we are. And I don’t see this as a sign only of privilege. Instead, I see this as a radical act of creating what we want to see in the world, everywhere.
It's still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that Trump is really going to be President and the Republican party has a majority in the house and the senate. Reading the news feels like being punched in the stomach. Big money, at every turn, seems to be voting out the collective good.
As the administration and “leadership” changes, the story that will be told about America and the world also seems to be changing.
But as much power as Washington has, we also have a lot of power, and we can’t forget that.
We get to tell our own story. And when we tell our own stories, we have an amazing capacity to come into our strength and our power, our inner peace and our health.
In this spirit I want to share an interview I had the honor of conducting with Lewis Mehl-Madrona .
I’ve written about Lewis at other times in this space; he is a medical doctor of Native American origin, trained in three different fields, and he brings indigenous wisdom to healing through narrative and the power of stories.
Throughout his life, Lewis has bravely told a different story about health, well being, power and history.
When we talked this summer, I asked him: So how do we change the collective story?
His answer was: One elder told me, if you want to change the world start talking and keep talking—keep on putting the stories you want to hear into the world—keep telling them.
We’re going to be bombarded with a lot of stories that we don’t want to be hearing. Of course we need to pay attention to what’s happening on the big scale. But we can’t let it take up our whole mental space. We also need to remain open to other stories, other avenues of thought, other ways of relating to one another and to ourselves. And we need to also tell the stories of love, peace, and healing, stories of the values and mysteries that we also share.
Because our stories—the ones we tell about ourselves and our values— matter. Vitally.
I invite you to read the interview with Lewis Mehl-Madrona and to share it. The stories we tell have the power to make us sick and also to make us healthier.
Over the next few days, I will share some things that I love with you. Thank you for reading. As almost everything that we love is going to come under attack, from the environment to the arts, from equality to freedom, let’s all share what we love and let’s strengthen our health and well-being every way we can.
And, on the eve of this awful inauguration, I want to invite you to step into your story and into your voice from your aligned center.
For the next three days only, I’m offering a 25 percent discount on Align Your Story, my online class that brings together writing yoga and mediation for more aligned expression and being. We begin this week. This is probably the cheapest you’ll ever get the class. Normally the class costs $397, but in response to the inauguration, to encourage you to build your voice and your resilience, I’m offering the course for $297 just for this weekend, and once you sign up you have access for life. If you’ve been on the fence, this is the time to sign up: 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 narrative 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, as well as group work in organizations, either in person or over skype. Please reach out and we can discuss possibilities.
You can read the interview with Lewis Mehl-Madrona about the healing power of narrative here. It will inspire you. I promise.
with love and in peace,
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.
HOW THE MIND AND BODY WORK TOGETHER
On Saturday, in the middle of a snowstorm, I led a two and a half hour yoga and writing workshop. I wanted to lead something joyful because I’ve been feeling some real heaviness in the air—especially in response to the political climate in America. And I personally was feeling like I needed a pick me up.
I think of these pick me ups as healing boosts not just for individuals but also for our whole society, because who wants to let certain unnamed people have too much control over our inner lives? Claiming our joy is also an act of resistance. And we absolutely don’t need to be in denial to experience joy. We can let our joy and our sorrow, our joy and our rage stand right next to one another.
Anyway, after a yoga set and some writing and meditation, I asked the class if they were up for some dancing, and I was really happy when they said yes. So there we were, dancing to fun music on a snowy day. And the more we moved to the music, which I turned up loud, the more we shook out those toxins that were stored in us, the more I felt like we were, paradoxically, in real harmony with the snowy stillness and quiet of the day.
This is one of the things I love about bringing writing and yoga together; the practice allows us to open the door just a bit wider to the full range of our experiences and emotions. It allows our bodies, which hold so much, to open up a bit more, and to enter into a different kind of dialogue with us.
Even though we weren’t writing while we were dancing, I think we were more aware of the shifts in our energy and consciousness because we had brought our awareness into our practice and we had brought together our mind and body, our left and right brains. Indeed, most of the time when I talk about “writing” I’m not only thinking of writing on the page, but also, and perhaps more importantly, about our conscious awareness. When we direct attention to our body and energy, we can have greater access to awareness, well-being and creativity.
If you’d like to try some yoga and meditation together, I invite you to join my online course Align Your Story; we start next week. Although the course doesn’t include dancing, it invites you to enter into a more integrated relationship between the mind and body and to integrate mind and body to bring your writing—and your life—to the next level. See more here.
Here is what one past participant said about the healing she experienced through the course:
I have one functional vocal chord and one paralyzed vocal chord. There are moments in my life when energy flows freely through me, and in those moments I am able to speak without strain or pain. These moments are rare. Most of the time I have great difficulty moving my voice from my belly up to my vocal chords and through my mouth. I'm so grateful for Align Your Story. I've tried many forms of healing, and have been so stuck for a long time, but things in me are moving now. I've been working my way through the course at my own pace and have experienced a freeing up of my energy and a lot of relief in my symptoms. My voice is getting stronger. I'm finding ways to connect it to my body differently. I'm coming back to life. In the time of this course alone, I've started two new projects, two blogs that I wanted to create for a long time. –Cathy K.
I’m also hosting an in-person four week Narrative Healing Session at Om Namo Yoga Studio in Cambridge starting Wednesday January 26th. This will be a very powerful, healing class that helps us break through blocks, uplift our energy and listen to our bodies in new ways. The course will give you some tools to do that both in the studio and at home. Class size is limited to six, so there will be community and plenty of individualized attention. See more here.
And finally, I’ll be offering another yoga writing workshop at Om Namo on March 11th.
Reach out to me, as always, with any questions. I love to hear from you!
And please share this newsletter and resources with anyone who might be interested. Thank you! I’m so glad you are part of this community.
I’ll write again later this week with another story of the mind-body connection that helped me unlock some deep healing.
Happy 2017! May the year be full of good surprises!
In numerology (which I don’t usually pay much attention to, but this speaks to me), 2017 is a year of 10, or new beginning, and I’m feeling that.
I wrote a whole blog post about how important it is in this time of transition, when we’re moving into a very uncertain future with dangerous leaders coming into Washington, to step up into our stories and why I think that is a form of activism, and then at the end of the post I listed my upcoming workshops and classes.
But I realized I wasn’t really owning my own message; what I was really doing in that first post was trying to explain why I think the work that I’m doing is important and why I’m excited about it, but I wasn’t being up front about it. So let me try to say it straight out:
I love and believe in the work I’m doing helping people own their own stories and creativity. I keep telling people that the work I do, and the work I’m encouraging them to do is an act of love and also a form of activism.
But I’m coming to think that might be redundant because increasingly I see love itself as the greatest form of activism. By love I mean true love that allows us to honor the integrity of all life, starting with our own, which can sometimes be the hardest to really embrace in its integrity.
Time and again, I see that when people are able to embrace their whole stories, their whole selves, with all the good and the bad and the ugly, the ups and the downs, the vulnerability and the strengths, they have more love for themselves and more love to go around.
And the work that people need to do to embrace their whole stories is both relatively simple and strangely difficult to find in our world. Because in order to embrace our whole stories, we need to embrace our whole selves: we need to bring together our mind and our body; we need to make space for spirit; we need to connect the head and the heart. This is essential work, but in our largely fragmented world, it’s not always easy to find.
A year ago, I created an online course, Align Your Story, to do this integrative work. I brought together my “head” work as a writer and scholar with my heart and with my body. I brought together writing, yoga and meditation, three practices that have been deeply important to me, but that, for years, felt fragmented.
I poured decades of my studies and experience into the course: the literature that I love, teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh and Christianne Northrup, meditation and yoga teachings I recorded on video and audio.
I’ve run the course three times now and am running it again starting in mid-January.
Each time I offer the course it’s an act of faith: who will find out about it? Will anyone sign up? And each time I offer the course, I’m so pleasantly delighted by the amazing people who sign up, by their openness, wisdom, insights. And by the growth that I see them doing in and through Align Your Story.
The course is open to professional writers and yoga teachers and also people who have no experience with writing or yoga. It helps you get through blocks and write the work you want to write. It helps you set up home writing, yoga and meditation practices, and it meets you where you are so that you can step into your bigger voice and into your own next chapter.
I’d love it if you join me for our next session. And if you have friends who might be interested, please pass the information on to them.
I’ve recently redesigned the course page and I'm excited to share it with you here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/alignyourstory.html
We will start the week of the inauguration. The course can help you find strength for the long term and will connect you with an amazing community of other people also committed to their growth, wholeness and voice.
This is what one student had to say about it:
From day one, Align Your Story is a thoughtful, engaging and inspiring series of modules that takes the writer on a deeply spiritual, soul-filling journey that has the potential to shift your life dramatically. The yoga and meditation exercises were an unexpected bonus and gave consciousness and clarity to each of the writing practices. I had never before written with so much freedom and personal insight as I did during Nadia’s course. –Karen Biscoe
These next four years are going to call upon us to be our strongest—and that is just on the national front. Who knows what other life journeys we will be confronted with, what twists and turns? To prepare ourselves and to meet the present moment, with whatever we find ourselves in the midst of, we need to get comfortable with ourselves, with our bodies, our spirits, our voices.
We all need to continue to call our representatives, to donate time and money, and to try to address deep structural change, environmental stewardship and to reach out across populations and communities. But nothing is more radical or more revolutionary than really listening to ourselves, really tuning into our bodies, our creativity, our wholeness and our connectedness.
I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.—Gus Speth
I invite you to join me on a journey to commit to your own voice and alignment in 2017 and to invite your friends to join, too!
If you’re free this Saturday, I’d also love to see you at 1:30 for a live Align Your Story yoga and writing workshop at Om Namo center in Cambridge. We’ll reconnect with ourselves and see if we can shift into some joyful energy together: http://omnamocenter.com/align-your-story/
I have a few spaces left, as well, for my in person writing classes, which meet at my house on Mondays.
And, of course, Align Your Story, the online course, begins again on January 16th, and this time I’m offering both a classic and a premium plan, to give you more personalized guidance and support as you move through the course. See more here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/alignyourstory.html
Contact me with any questions and I’m happy to answer them.