The River

Paperback of THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS coming in April to a bookstore near you!

As many of you may know from reading my book, I am keenly aware of my inner critic.  I didn’t used to be, but through years of feeling really bad about myself for not having career success and the subsequent pain and suffering from that way of relating with myself and the world…and then a few solid years in therapy and in other fields of self-work, I learned how to hear that inner critic, and I learned how to deal with her.

First, I named her.  I called her Sheila, and I don’t know why.  That’s just the name I chose.  And then I opened my ears and listened for her.  Shelia was LOUD.  And I realized that she was running my life, megaphone to my brain.  I heard her every time I looked into the mirror.  I heard her in most every one of my in-between times—driving to pick up the kids from school, lying in bed in the early morning, trying to get to sleep at night, working out, walking the dogs.  She was remarkably quiet, however, when I was in the act of creation.  When I was cooking, for instance, or gardening, or writing, or playing the guitar, or playing with my kids.  That was a place no one could touch, not even Sheila.  That was my sacred space.

I started to think about the power of the created moment, and I started to work with the idea that all our moments are created.  It’s not about just being occupied—lost in the pressures and obligations of the day.  It’s about being aware of the energy which drives us in the first place, deep within us, that must begin in self-love.  And it’s about powerfully choosing our thoughts and emotions rather than living into the lie that they control us.  We create them, after all.

For a while I wanted to exile Sheila.  Nail her into a pine box and send her off to Timbuktu never to be seen again.  If she died a violent death by shark, I didn’t care.  Good riddance.  But that didn’t work.  Not at all.  Because I had created her.  Sheila is me.  In wanting to exile her, I was declaring war against myself.  So I started to let her talk, the way you do a scared little girl.  And I realized she wasn’t even all that mean.  I had misunderstood her.  Kinda the way people misjudge a shy girl in high school for a mean girl.  I like to think that I was someone who knew the difference, then and now, and behaved accordingly.  So I gave Sheila that same gift of understanding.  I started to love her with maternal comfort.  And she got quiet.  I guess in a way, I loved her into submission.

Lately, she’s come back and she’s loud and she’s mean—doesn’t seem so shy, after all and she doesn’t seem to want a hug.  She wants blood this time.  It’s confusing and blind-siding.  She’s telling me all sorts of things that have to do with how wrong it is to have written a memoir and to be so vulnerable in public, and that I need to be on “my game” as if I’m playing a game in the first place.  Even now, she’s screaming at me to leave this to a journal entry, and not to post it on my blog.  Sheila is hollering:  chest your cardsYou need to be appropriateYou need to not embarrass yourself. Or anyone else for that matter. And maybe she’s right.  Who do I think I am?

A new friend sent me this today:

“Many of us feel uncomfortable revealing to others–and even to ourselves–what lies beneath the surface of our day-to-day consciousness. We get out of bed in the morning and begin again where we left off yesterday, attacking life as if we were waging a campaign of control and survival. All the while, deep within us, flows an endless river of pure energy. It sings a low and rich song that hints of joy and liberation and peace. Up on top, as we make our way through life, we may sense the presence of the river. We may feel a subtle longing to connect with it. But we are usually moving too fast, or we are distracted, or we fear disturbing the status quo of our surface thoughts and feelings. It can be unsettling to dip below the familiar and descend into the more mysterious realms of the soul.”

–Elizabeth Lesser from Broken Open

I was so thankful to read this, because it reminded me:  I have always known about that river.  I have created space for it in my life since I was a little girl and it especially fuels my writing.  I went to it and drank even when it looked strange to others.  Along the way, I learned that society does not want to consider the river.  It lies to us and tells us that the real river is experienced in occupying our minds with things we can control.  I have never had any tolerance for that, and I suppose it is no surprise that I have spent the last 17 years in Montana—a place which is all river.  Even when I try to deny the river, it pulls me to its side and asks me to drink.  To sit beside it.  To swim in it.  To swim in it on a horse and lift off its back, holding on to mane, riding it all.

I have been quiet for a long time in those waters.  Alone and yes, sometimes lonely.

And then one day a year or so ago, I took what I created in that sacred space of writing, and went out into the world with it.  It has been disorienting.  And it has been beautiful.  I have been afraid of what the world of a different river would have to say about my honesty.  Family.  Friends.  Institutions I’ve left.  And what I’ve found is that the human heart is hungry for truth.  It wants to be fed.  It wants to swim in its true river.  It needs to be reminded, wants to be reminded about the river.  But being a messenger of that is confusing and scary and full of Sheila telling me that I have no business doing this.  At all.  That I’m an imposter.  Or in it for the wrong reasons.  Or that I will fail in all my trying.

This morning, I woke to a new early spring-spun light.  5:00.  I couldn’t go back to sleep.  My heart was racing.  I am about to go back out on the road for my paperback’s book tour, (readings will be posted soon) and speak to many people about what I have learned from a time of crisis, how I have become aware of Sheila, how I have committed to the river.  And this, from a woman who has been writing fiction for all these years, not memoir.  Not life according to me.  My characters have full rights to speak, and to speak wisely.  But not me as the main character (so sayeth Shelia).  I have been pooling my personal power for so long, learning what it feels like in quiet creation.  Now to share it…is fraught.

But this quote reminds me of the mysteries of soul.  I have always loved mystery.  I find it holy.  I love reading the work of mystics from different religions because they are in the river finding love, not fear.  Maybe my problem is in trying.  Maybe the answer that Sheila needs is simply this:  get out of the way and let the river flow.


Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, Little Hymns to Montana, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

19 Responses to The River

  1. Your post touched off many thoughts that I don’t have the time to follow or really even say here what I would like to, but I have to say something! For me, and I would bet many others, we don’t view our inner critic as something outside ourselves. Our Sheila is so integrated into our voice that we accept what she says, at least on some level, and think it is reality. In your book and in this post I love the way you treat her, it helps me to see mine in a similar way. Most importantly, to start to acknowledge that it is my inner critic speaking and I can accept or blow off what she is saying – with awareness and love for that insecure, fearful part of me.

    When I was in college, I had a friend that used the name Sheila Severe as her name at her part-time job as a bill collector. We had lots of laughs about it and used the name whenever we were trying to be tough or a hard-ass about something. When I read your book, I thought of my friend’s Sheila Severe – a perfect name for an inner loud-mouth critic. I just named mine SS.

    One last thing, you are the most honest writer I have come across in forever. What appeals most to me about your writing is your honesty and vulnerability. It is so rare these days.

    • lauramunson

      Sheila Severe! I LOVE THAT! Thanks for sharing, Susan. I’m glad you appreciate the honesty in my writing. What’s really fun for me is to climb into a made up character and strike that same chord. I learn so much. I’m sick of being the main character. My made up ones are far more interesting. yrs. Laura

  2. Deb

    This is more like it, be true to yourself. You started to get away from sharing you, and although you are a good writer for me it was uninteresting.
    I enjoyed your book and wanted more and didn’t get it. Shelia ‘s screaming either sent you in the right direction or you finally stopped listening.
    Time for another book my friend.

    • lauramunson

      Thanks, Deb. I’ve been so busy this winter writing for magazines and working on books, so it’s been nice to shine a light on other inspiring people during that time here on my blog and being more visual with my posts. I have three books in the making right now and I hope to be able to share them with people sooner than later! I appreciate you reading! yrs. Laura

  3. Joy

    There are so many of us out here who are encouraged by your willingness to be vulnerable in your writing! “Sheila” sounds scared that you are sharing and being real. Of course she is. She doesn’t know that in sharing, you are stronger, clearer and much less alone.
    You said it so beautifully, “the human heart is hungry for truth”. Please keep sharing your truth!!
    I read “Broken Open” this winter, just before reading your book. It is also a lovely source of truth. So glad to see you quoting from it!
    Be brave, be real, and know that I and many many others are cheering for you and are so grateful for your honesty!!

    • lauramunson

      Thanks, Joy. I’m speaking at a writing coference about memoir in a month or so, and this was a great warm up to planning my talk. Memoir is a curious bird. I’m working on two of them as I write this, as well as a novel. I don’t think I can write without being true. It’s just who I am. Regardless of what Sheila has to say about it. I really appreciate your kind words. Yrs. Laura

  4. Kathy

    What a soulful piece! Much like the river it flows along its path with a purpose and destination in mind. I love that you speak of the river, of the flowing water. The first time I read your book it was while sitting on the beach. After I would read a passage that struck me and truly spoke to me, I would gaze out onto the horizon and allow the words to soak into my soul. They continue to reside there and I call upon them when I am in need.

    However much I and all of my countless fellow readers so loved your book, it was your life, your family, your emotions and your inner most thoughts. It is understandable that just before your are getting ready to go back on the road that Sheila is preaching to you once again. If it wasn’t a memoir Sheila would be silent. She does not have a vested interest in the characters you create in your books where you can determine the course of their “lives”. But she sure does have a vested interest in you because you nor any of us cant control the outcome of our existence! As much as happiness has been in each of us all along, so has fear, doubt and insecurity. It is this vulnerability that Sheila is bringing to the surface. Go out on this next book tour in confidence. Keep in mind that your book is true to your authors statement and it now resides on countless bedside tables for whenever it is needed.

    I think this quote sums up the reason why we each have our own “Sheila”:

    “As children we are afraid of the dark. Now, as adults we are afraid of the light. We are afraid to step out. We are afraid to become more.”………Andy Andrews “The Travelers Gift”

    • lauramunson

      Did you recognize the quote, “New friend?” yrs. Laura

      • Kathy

        I sure did!! What is amazing is that was not the original quote that I intended to send. But when I opened the book and read that paragraph my “inner voice” told me to share it with you. Obviously, I had no idea what you were thinking or writing. I guess our inner voices don’t always have to be critics!

  5. Laura-I know this is going to sound weird (or maybe that’s just my inner Sheila), but I feel like you are carrying a torch for me and showing me where I am also going. My memoir comes out March 2012 and I’m FREAKED out about how it will be received by the public as I also dove into that river and am now coming up for air with a book. But your journey has made it a bit easier for me and for this I THANK YOU. I am so very grateful to have met you on this path, even if it was ever so briefly. Your honesty is so very humbling and beautiful! All the best to you!

  6. My inner critic (bitch) was named Wicked Wanda. Now she is Wanda the magnificent, ootching me along and teaching me to find the balance of constructive criticism and being tender about it. There is a favorite folksinger of mine, Christine Lavin. She has a song called “Getting In Touch with my Inner Bitch.” It’s a wonderful way to remember to smile.

    • lauramunson

      I LOVE Christine Lavin. Thanks for the reminder. Am going to listen to her now. I’m going to start training Sheila to have some gull dern fun for a change and use her megaphone for cheering. I know she’s got it in her. Thanks, Mary!

  7. This is my kind of writing….
    I love this post.

    I trust Sheila has returned because something is ready to surface and shift- “break open” for you. I recently wrote a post about my inner guru, naming her Sergeant Williamson, a cross between Marianne Williamson and a drill sergeant. The real MW took offense to this, but it wasn’t about her. It was about my inner perfectionist who I thought was cleared when I left the cul-de-sac life, but instead she changed, like a chameleon, and began demanding my enlightenment. Once I outed her, she has loosened her grip. I learned I thrive in space, not control. I am a true rebel- and although I would like to conform, I don’t. I can’t, and therefore there is no need for Sergeant Williamson. And in the space she left, I am free to be me.

    Happy, joyful beautiful flow to you- may you continue to expand and deepen into who you really are. Your work and our connection has been a transforming step for me in my walk toward freedom.

  8. Wow, I can’t believe I just found you now. Our stories are very similar and I just started a blog (about two weeks ago) about mine. Seems we’re on similar paths. I look forward to reading your blog and your book!

    • lauramunson

      Thanks for finding me! I will look at your site this afternoon. There is great power in the collective We, and more than ever, I feel like we find the people who are supposed to be in our lives. It’s a real gift. Stay in touch! yrs. Laura

  9. Laura, your words always seem to find a place deep in my heart. Thank you, once again, for your authenticity and the courage to share.
    So many times I feel like “the joker”, fooling everyone around me. I have to look deeper inside to see if Sheila is right or not. Old voices trying to be heard. Finally, I say, “Thanks for sharing”, but I think I am doing just fine. Note to self – be gentle and loving for who I am. I am enough.

    • lauramunson

      You are enough. You are enough. I have a hard time with that too. But surrounding ourselves with loving kindness and then sending it out to others is a sort of protection, on top of being a beautiful way to live our lives. I find that when I am thinking loving thoughts even in the midst of turmoil, it drastically influences the situation. I’ve been practicing this as much as I can lately, and boy, does it ever work! Thanks for sharing, Steph. yrs. Laura

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