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Stay On The Mat

stayonthematI had no business being up at 3:00 a.m. But I just couldn’t seem to stop myself.

I had picked up Glennon Doyle Melton’s new book Love Warrior, and now I couldn’t put it down. More than just being thoroughly engaged or committed to see it through, my experience was of being found. Truthfully, it was more like being found out. As in busted.

I was reading this woman’s story — a story that is vastly different from my own — and something she writes about suddenly flips a switch in me.

“As I fall asleep, I decide to stop writing for long while. I need to live this, not create it. I need to let it be what it is, let it become — without forcing my pain into my art. I need whatever happens…to be real, not shoved into a storyline. I will not try to control it by making sense of it. This is not material. This is my life. I’ll let go of control and live this instead of write it. I will not hide from this by hovering above or diving below. I’ll land inside it.”

Gasp. Sputter. Pft. Fuck.

I’m not sure I’m going to be able to articulate this well (in case you need me to elaborate beyond the above guttural noises), but I’ll try to sum it up:

I think I’ve been hiding from something by writing about it. 

And that something? It’s my feelings — ones that I’d rather not feel. Like confused, out of control, and lost. Instead, like Glennon so beautifully admits to herself, I’ve been observing my life as an outsider, rather than living it as an insider. She talks about her tendency to “hover above” or “dive below” as a way of using her mind to download wisdom instead of her body.

To be clear, what I’m talking about is trying to control the feeling of being out of control — playing whack-a-mole with the things that threaten me most: confusion and chaos. Because clearly feeling out of control is not an option. And it’s no wonder. I live in a society that has trained me well, and I have been a good solider. Glennon talks about the “easy buttons” marketers sell to us to help us not feel what we’re feeling (Brene Brown calls this “numbing” in her TED talk) This is apparently where the abandonment of self happens — when we reach for and desperately push those button that dull the pain of our very human experience.

Fix it with THIS is the story we accept as truth.

My button? Writing. I reach for writing to understand myself. I reach for writing when I’m in pain. I reach for writing when I’m feeling alone or crazy. Or both. I reach for writing when I’m lost and lonely. I reach for writing when I’m desperately on the run from something I don’t want to feel.

What do you reach for? What’s your easy button?

I didn’t see mine at first — it’s one of those slippery crutches that felt noble, productive and healthy, like learning can be for some people (don’t know what to do? better get another degree…take a course…read that book…do some research…but DO SOMETHING…do whatever you can to not feel what you’re feeling, right?)

“Our pain is not the poison; the lies about the pain are…you are not supposed to be happy all the time. Life hurts and it’s hard. Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody. Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.”

I read that passage from her book in the wee hours in the morning and I saw for the first time with crystal clarity that I had been denying myself my basic human right to feel my full pain. I had abandoned myself too often, opting instead to look like I was “landing inside it” when, in fact, I was really just hovering above it or diving below it.

Smoke and mirrors, baby. Smoke and mirrors.

Now this is not to say that I haven’t been honest — brutally honest — and open in the past. It’s also not to say that I’ve not allowed myself to feel vulnerable, I have. I know I haven’t just been mailing in this life to date. It’s just that I know there’s more for me to feel and be with here — like where I am right now, for instance —  instead of simply being content dig down a few layers, make sense of it all, organize it in my mind, put a ring on it and call it good.

I am an earnest journalist to these places in me — it’s my beat, not my full-time residence.

Now this is not an entirely bad thing, I realize — after all, you’re reading this because you’ve related to something I’ve said or written about at some point, so there’s that: the connection, the resonance, the community. But if left unchecked, my desire to be writing about living my life can actually getting in the way of truly living it.

Here’s how that looks for me, specifically: it’s like my eyes are cameras, my ears are recorders, and my brain is a ticker tape dutifully capturing everything for the record like a court stenographer. Wherever I go…whatever I’m experiencing… whatever I’m noticing…I’m generally writing about it in my head.

And in case you’re not getting it: HEAD is the operative word here.  My big, fat, tired head that often feels like a swollen tick.

So there I am, at 3:00 a.m. reading about Glennon’s decision to not write for a while so she can “land inside it” and “live this instead of write this“, and something in my whole body sighs at that idea. The permission. The clarity. The decisiveness. I admire her. I am inspired by her.

And then the panic sets in. What would I do if I couldn’t write for a while? How would I figure myself out? Wouldn’t I get a backlog of shit I need to figure out that I’d just need to deal with (read: write about) later? Oh wait, I already have that backlog. Well, wouldn’t I miss the Marco! Polo! game I’d been playing with readers for years — the one that gives me a lush and fecund sensation of validation — and even service— with every new sharing, with each new “like” or heart emoji?

What did Glennon do (WDGD)? Ah! Of course. The fucking mat.

I got out of my bed at that ungodly hour of the night/morning and found my phone. I pulled up the website of the yoga studio I hadn’t been to in over two years (three?) and decided I would go to a class the next morning. And — bonus! — I already had my damn intention (am I the only one that frets about having a perfect intention?) because I was borrowing Glennon’s (at this point in the night/morning I was considering us the best of friends.)

“My intention is just to stay on this mat and make it through whatever is about to happen without running out of here”

Glennon gets it — she knows and has lived the AA practice of focussing on the next right thing. And then the next. And while we don’t share that same thread of story, somewhere in my tired mind I join her and weave our stories together in dark of my night. Somewhere in that joining, I make some promises to myself for my birthday which  falls right between the Day of The Dead (Halloween) and All Souls Day.  It feels like magic, this swirling of commitment and sacred soul intentions. I make a list:

Take a break from writing the entire month of November.
And don’t jot notes about what you want to write about in your journal (that’s writing, too)
Go to yoga and stay on the mat.
Let your body teach your mind — let it take the wheel
Inhabit your body — unpack, make an alter, hang some art — make it your own

I got up the next morning and drove my ass to yoga. I could feel the tears starting even as I was rolling out my mat. I could feel my spirit inhaling with anticipation, even as I panicked that the instructor didn’t put on any music. I could feel the wave of questions crash over me in that noisy silence, and I nodded my consent with a pinched face.

So it’s official: Yesterday was Day One of me living inside it for the entire month of November. And if this feels overly rigid, extreme or a bit intense, let me assure you that is entirely by design. I do my best work in concentrated spurts, so throwing down self-imposed gauntlets works for me (case in point: I wrote my entire book in 20 days…rewrote the entire thing in 10 more). It’s how I roll. So in addition to seeing clients, starting my women’s circle and working with the women of SheSpeaks over the next month as they prepare for my December 8th evening of storytelling, this is where I will be. On my mat — literally and figuratively — doing my best to land inside each experience as it visits me.

So Glennon? Thank you.

Want to stay in touch in the meantime?

I’m having a November Birthday Sale of Unscripted, my book
For the entire month of November, I’m celebrating my birthday and the art of creation by selling Unscripted for $19.68 (the year I was born, get it?) rather than it’s usual cost of $34.69.

Make a plan, rally your friends, and reserve your ticket to SheSpeaks for December 8th
I’ll be working with the eight speakers over the next five weeks as they sit with and unearth the stories they will be telling on stage that evening, but don’t delay — tickets are on sale now at One Longfellow Square and they are going fast!

Listen to and/or follow my podcast An Unscripted Woman
If you haven’t checked this out already, this is basically my creative response to requests for an audio version of my book. Each week, I read aloud a chapter of my book in an episode and do a riff at the end about what I’ve learned, noticed, and am aware of since writing it.

Check out the new events I’ve got coming up this late fall/winter on my homepage
My women’s circle is full and will be starting up in November, but it’s never to early to look at it for next year (seats fill up way in advance!), and I’ve got some new experiences lined up for those of you who are not local to Maine, but might be hankering to connect. Also, the video of my story I told at October’s SoundBites just became available, if you missed that event but want to check it out.

Be on the look out for some of my favorite blog posts to be reposted
In January, I will be celebrating the 11th anniversary of SheChanges (that’s amazing to even write…), and anticipation of that event, I will be digging some of my favorite and most popular pieces out of the archives for an encore performance.