I’m just back from Colombia, where Simone and I had a great time visiting friends. What a beautiful and complex country: sophisticated, unequal, stunningly beautiful and ecologically diverse, sometimes dangerous, friendly, and so much more.
Our time there reminded me that there is never, of course, one story of any place—or of any person. Sometimes the complexity can even feel overwhelming.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about looking inward, listening deeply to the more difficult parts of our own stories, and getting the kinds of support we need to do that work. How do we do that without getting overwhelmed? How do we make order of the complexity?
Do you ever feel like your body and your life is like a messy house? There are so many things everywhere, and you don't quite know where everything is or where it all belongs....so you just kind of make do with what you can find but sometimes you get tripped up on something left around on the floor?
That is how I lived in my body for much of my life: it worked, I could run and dance and feel okay, but when I really quieted, I could also see that it was messy inside and often that mess would get in my own way.
One tool that has helped me enormously is yoga: yoga helped me come to more order, more peace and more energy.
Though a lot of contemporary yoga focuses on the external qualities, yogic philosophy and practice gives us really powerful tools to look inside and create more peace and health on a deep internal level.
I’ve found the teachings around the chakra system especially helpful. The chakras are energy centers that run up the body from the base to the top of the spine and above, each correlating to a different physical and emotional quality.
Often when we experience challenges in life, the energy of that challenge gets blocked in the body, and specifically in the correlating chakra.
When the chakras are in balance, we have greater understanding of and freedom with our stories. Balancing our chakras also strengthens the immune system and gives us more energy and vitality—on both the physical and emotional levels.
The philosophy of the chakra system also teaches us that we need to establish security—in the lower chakras—before we can release the upper chakras and be more heart centered.
We’re like trees: we need to be well grounded in order to be open to the winds and flexible.
This profound lesson helps us with our writing—we can’t look into those difficult places in our own stories or be our most creative and playful unless we feel grounded and supported.
It also helps us have more compassion—for ourselves and for others; when people don’t feel that security they are less flexible, open and heart centered.
I'm really excited to help share the teachings and experiences of working with the chakras this coming Saturday at Simply Yoga in Belmont!
If you're local, please join me this Saturday and next for a powerful two part series:Journey through the Chakras.
The first week, we’ll focus on the lower three chakras, to develop strength and a sense of security; the second week, we’ll move to the upper chakras for heart opening and more aligned communication.
This class is appropriate for people with any level of yoga experience or for complete beginners.
And it’s great for writers or creatives of any type—learning how better to work with the energy systems not only gives us tools to tap into our stories but also to tap into deeper levels of creativity.
We'll practice together and I'll also give you practices to take home with you!
I’d love to see you!
And if you’re not local (or are local and can’t join), I invite you, nonetheless, to pay attention to your own energy system. Over time you can notice where you are out of alignment, what needs to be cleared in your body and get the energy flowing more freely so toxins don’t build up.
I invite you to start through focusing on the lower chakras—on what gives you strength and security. You can practice with my video here.
You can also get some results simply by bringing your mindful attention to that area of your body and paying attention to feeling grounded and supported.
As I said, if you’re local, I’d love to see you this Saturday to give you more tools to work with the chakras. And as always, I'd love to hear from you.
Let me know if you have any questions or observations. And please pass this on to any friends who might be interested!
Have you ever started doing something and then found yourself questioning why you are doing it?
Or have you started out doing something with one set of expectations and then found yourself doing something quite different?
In my last video, I told you a bit about how I came to the more integrated coaching and teaching of writing that I do. Today, in this new video, I want to share some thoughts on how to stick with writing even when you don't know where it's going or when you want to stop altogether.
I share some of the experiences of two of my clients and the ways in which their most uncomfortable moments led to real growth. I discuss how isolating that particular moment when you feel most uncertain about your writing, sitting with it, instead of running away, and really listening to the messages coming up in your body can lead to exciting creative breakthroughs.
And I offer four practical tips to help anyone deepen their writing practice—especially when it's getting uncomfortable.
Next week, I'll send out another video with more tips about how to write with greater ease, but today I want to honor MLK day—and offer my own small push back against the disheartening and upsetting things we’ve been seeing and hearing from the White House.
Over the past weeks I offered both a Communicating with Courage Yoga Workshop and a Writing with Courage Writing class. I knew that courage wasn't something that could be "taught" but that something that we can cultivate by listening to and strengthening ourselves. How is that done?
Martin Luther King, Jr and the many leaders and participants in the Civil Rights movement knew that to speak and act with courage, they needed to attend not only to the mind but also to body and to the heart--"courage" comes from the French word “coeur,” heart.
They also knew that courage is cultivated by learning from and surrounding oneself with courageous people (either in person or through books).
I've been asking myself how I can be more courageous. This is an ongoing question and pursuit, but one thing I can do is help share the courageous work of inspiring people. And in that spirit,I'd like to share a poem, "WHO UNDERSTANDS ME BUT ME," by Jimmy Santiago Baca.
Baca grew up in an orphanage in New Mexico and ran away at 13. At 21, living on the streets, he was incarcerated for drug possession and he spent the next six and a half years in prison, three of those in solitary confinement.
Those experiences may deaden, or break even the best people, but Baca tapped into something else. In prison, he learned to read and write, and, inspired by the books he read, began to write poetry and to access his own deep courage.
In the many years since then, then Baca has published more than twelve books , including poetry, memoir, novels and more. Today he helps bring writing and literature to disadvantaged youth.
This poem is about courage of the greatest sense: the courage to be oneself, not to give up on oneself, or on beauty and freedom even in the face of the greatest obstacles and injustice.
WHO UNDERSTANDS ME BUT ME
BY JIMMY SANTIAGO BACA
They turn the water off, so I live without water,
they build walls higher, so I live without treetops,
they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine,
they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere,
they take each last tear I have, I live without tears,
they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart,
they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future,
they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends,
they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell,
they give me pain, so I live with pain,
they give me hate, so I live with my hate,
they have changed me, and I am not the same man,
they give me no shower, so I live with my smell,
they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?
I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand,
I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble,
I can live with myself, and I am amazed at myself, my love,
I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,
I am stubborn and childish,
in the midst of this wreckage of life they incurred,
I practice being myself,
and I have found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,
they were goaded out from under rocks in my heart
when the walls were built higher,
when the water was turned off and the windows painted black.
I followed these signs
like an old tracker and followed the tracks deep into myself,
followed the blood-spotted path,
deeper into dangerous regions, and found so many parts of myself,
who taught me water is not everything,
and gave me new eyes to see through walls,
and when they spoke, sunlight came out of their mouths,
and I was laughing at me with them,
we laughed like children and made pacts to always be loyal,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
The repetitions of the first stanza enact the shutting down that “they” enforce upon the speaker, turning the water off, building the walls higher, locking the cage around him.
But in the second stanza, the speaker finds what he calls “other freedoms” that are beautiful, and the poem is an invitation to the reader, too, to imagine the freedoms that come from being able to fully accept the self and “live with [the] self.”
Within ourselves is a wisdom and freedom and beauty that is transcendent. When we attend to our writing, can we also attend to that deeper wisdom and beauty?
Sometimes we can feel that taking time for our writing is “self indulgent,” but as Audre Lorde says, “poetry is not a luxury.” Writing—others’ and our own—is a gateway to freedom.
I invite you to join me this Friday at 12:30 (eastern) for a FREE meditation and writing session.
Please sign up for the access code, which I will email you.
I'll also send a recording to the people who sign up
I’ll start each fifteen minute session with a short meditation and optional prompt.
The session will guide you to tap into your heart and your courage.
Most of us write in some way against external boundaries, Are there cages that you want to bring down? Perhaps you want to take the time to write a political letter.
Or perhaps you just want to play with the courage and freedom of being yourself.
Feel free to come on all or only part of the call. And please share with any friends who might be interested.
Every day, I hear from people who wish their writing were going more smoothly, or who wish they were writing and aren’t.
I want to give you some tools to make the creative process unfold with more ease.
Many of the tools and techniques that I’m going to be talking about can be helpful in all areas of life!
So many of us have areas of our life that aren’t going as smoothly as we want, or we can’t even find the time to do what we want to be doing. Something’s blocking us.
Sometimes those blocks are external. But very often those external blocks have become internalized.
So the first thing that I invite you to do is ask yourself:
What external blocks are keeping you from writing the way you want to write? Or is the challenge internal?
In this series of videos I give you tips for this process.
I talk about how I came to the unique method that I have--it wasn't always easy for me!—and why I'm so passionate about it.
Here is the first video (the text is below and you can also get a audio link when you click on the video)
(You can click on video or this link here to watch)
The holidays are upon us. In my house, Simone is particularly excited; we’re going to do a lot of baking together, and next weekend, we’ll string up our lights in our living room.
But the holidays are also a time that bring many of us into stress—to top all the stress that so many of us are feeling in the larger world.
As an early holiday gift and a sign of my thanks for you all for being in my life and for being part of my community, I want to share a short video to help you come back to your center and get through the season—or any time that is challenging for you.
I’ve found that one of the biggest stressors in our lives is the disconnection between mind and body.
This disconnection helps explain our nation’s current health problems, our sexual abuse epidemic, and our environmental crises, to name just a few things, and it affects us both as a society and as individuals.
We live in such a segregated, siloed way that there are very few practices that help us bring mind and body back together.
But when we bring meditation, yoga and writing together, we can begin to make connections again between the different parts of ourselves.
Click above or watch here: https://youtu.be/hL0liGYAGeQ
In this video, I offer a balancing meditation, some gentle yoga to awaken the spine, and a writing prompt. Done together, the practice invites you to listen to yourself, reconnect with your integrated self, and tap into your inner knowledge and creativity.
This is a nice, gentle practice that you can do every day.
I hope that you’ll enjoy the video and the practice. As you practice more, you’ll find the experience deepens.
The poem I read in the video, Guest House, by Rumi, translated by Colman Barks, is one I often use because it’s a good reminder to be present with whatever arises and to cultivate gratefulness. And every time I read it, it brings something else up for me.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I’d love to hear any experiences you have with the practice. And of course, please share with any friends who may be interested.
We all have stories, but how do we listen to them mindfully so that they lead us to our true purpose and we don't get overly attached to the thorny pieces?
In our complicated world, how can we calm our nervous system so that we are more available to ourselves and others?
I'm so excited to share with you my conversation with Jillian Pransky, a yoga teacher of over 20 years and the author of the newly published book Deep Listening, in which we discuss these questions.
In our conversation, we talk about:
Jillian's also a great storyteller, and she tells some memorable stories that I think you'll enjoy!
(Click above or watch here: https://youtu.be/BywY5dFjCqc)
If you want to listen to the conversation you can listen here:
You can see more about Jillian and her new book Deep Listening at her website www.jillianpransky.com.
As always, I love to hear from you. Let me know your reactions to the conversation and your own experiences with deep listening. And please share with any friends who might be interested.
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.
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.
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.
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society