Tag Archives: solitude

Sacred Solitude: a holiday date with your vulnerability

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I write a lot about pain. I always have. Writing moves the pain through me and moves me through it. Some of that pain-processing stays in my journal, but a lot of it ends up in my newsletters, blogs, social media posts, essays, and books. Over the years people have asked me why I would be willing to be so vulnerable on the page. If you knew me when I was a child, you wouldn’t ask that question. You’d simply (but not necessarily conveniently) know that’s just how I roll. I get deep satisfaction from speaking my truth and seeing how it gives others permission to do the same. I long for that real and raw connection. I’m allergic to convenient niceties. In other words, if you run into me in the grocery store, don’t ask me how I am unless you really want to know.

When I was in high school, I used to say, “If you’re not willing to be vulnerable, I don’t want to be your friend.” Which either confused or repelled people. Now I get asked to give speeches on the power and necessity of vulnerability. I’m not sure how it happened, (Brene Brown likely had a lot to do with it), but vulnerability is du jour. And it’s good for us. Very very good for us. Here’s proof: the number one comment I get in regard to my writing is this: “Thank you for helping me know that I’m not alone.” When I read those words, and I am lucky enough to read them often, it gives me great calm and purpose too. Yes, it’s scary being vulnerable. It’s scary saying the thing that you’re thinking and feeling, especially when you know that it might leave you judged, misunderstood, disliked. But I have always valued human connection more than popularity. People in my industry have asked me, “What’s your brand? What are you an expert in?” And I always smile and say, “Vulnerability. And maybe perseverance.” I often get a blank stare. But the ones who get it…get it.

Admitting to your inconvenient truths/nasty bits can be a threat, a liability, a weak-link. For the most part, I’ve been lucky enough to be treated with kindness and gratitude for it, and whatever criticism might come my way is usually done behind my back, which is better for both of us. (I’m pretty sure I’m an ugly crier. And my skin is about as thick as a Communion wafer). I love feeling like I’m doing good in this world by being vulnerable. Modelling it for others. Showing that it doesn’t make you weak, but rather quite the opposite.

But lately I’ve felt the deep need to draw into myself and “chest my cards” as my grandmother used to say. I’m about to go into hard core book launch, and it will likely consume the next year of my life. I will be out there on the road from coast to coast and in-between in March, and while I’m not the main character in the book this time, promoting its messages will require deep vulnerability. The book stars four women who are engaging in deeply vulnerable conversation in a place far outside their comfort zone. Each is at a major crossroads in her life. None of these women is me. None of these women is anyone I know. All of them are us. And that means…people are going to love it. And hate it. And my little world of women that I’ve lived with for six years, is going to be out in the wide-world with people counting its fingers and toes and deciding if it looks like Yoda or Eisenhower or my great-aunt Eleanor. It’s going to take a lot of energy and courage and self-preservation and stamina and everything that is required of an author on book tour.

So in anticipation of it all…I decided to do a personal experiment for the last six weeks. I sequestered myself at home. Mission: to stare myself down, face-to-face, and see who that woman is these days. It’s one thing to do what I did last year at this time– go to Morocco solo for a month to re-introduce myself to my wonder and sense of adventure. But to do it at home? Alone? I haven’t really tried that. The adventures of an empty, quiet, house with just me, myself, and I, and two adorable loving dogs– (thank God for them)? That sounds much scarier than crossing the ocean and not being able to speak the language. What about the language of self? I wondered: Do I even know what that language is these days, outside of my daily roles?

That’s why I knew I needed to do it. For six weeks I’ve drawn in. I’ve muted myself. I’ve taken to my journal for me and me only. I’ve forced a sort of gag order on myself in public. Which means that I’ve been a social recluse. And it also means that I’ve hardly written a thing professionally… which means that I’ve had to learn how to breathe differently. Suffice it to say that I’ve stayed away from the grocery store. I’ve said no to most every invitation. I spent Thanksgiving in what I called “sacred solitude,” but believe me—there was a lot of Netflix. I hardly touched social media. I let the phone ring and voicemail pick up. I didn’t chat up the Culligan guy. Or the UPS driver. I didn’t really leave my house at all. I went fallow. In other words: I didn’t do no good for nobody. Except for myself. I guess you could say that I was entirely selfish.

It was brutally disorienting. But probably brutally necessary. I needed to get to know myself again. To be vulnerable for just me. Without my usual roles– in-between all things Haven and all things book and all things family…I was dazed and confused. My website is under re-construction. I’m not helping anyone find their voice, write a book, trust a community of kindreds. I’m not exposing myself for any sort of greater good. And frankly…the woman in my living room…was sort of disgusting. I ate what I wanted when I wanted. Mostly, I ate a lot of toast with butter. Lots of butter. I stayed up late and slept in late. There was wine involved. I felt sorry for myself. I felt proud of myself. I felt scared and small and even pathetic. And I felt brave and powerful. At times invisible. And at times too visible. It was like low tide, when you find the flip flop you lost last summer, the untethered lobster pot, the tiny bubbles that tell you that there’s a clam in the mud. And you dig in and scoop it all up. I found a lot of my forgotten self in these last weeks. I was deeply real with myself. I saw my most naked self for only me. I highly recommend it.

And then one night, I just said “Enough. I can’t take it anymore. I need human connection. I need my community! I’m going into town. And I’m going to PLAY!”

I felt like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. Everything was technicolor and new. I felt like dancing and singing in the streets and a few times, I did. Joy to the World! All the Christmas lights were up—the same ones that are in the movie, in fact! Every lamppost was festooned in wreaths and snowflakes. Town was bustling with people in restaurants, and the shops were open late. It all looked like an Advent calendar, with windows you want to open all at once because you know that there’s something special inside. I opened a lot of those windows that night. Ran into all sorts of friends—old and new. Belly-laughed. Asked and answered a lot of How are you’s. Entered the land of the living and was grateful for my community connection in a way I haven’t been for a long time.

Turns out, I had to radically refuel myself, against all my usual instincts, in order to find my way back to my place on earth. And at the end of this brilliant night on the town, when I came home to my home—my place of sacred solitude—and my sweet dogs…I felt a deep relief. A deep sense of inner quiet. A sense of deep inner knowing. A sense of deep self-acceptance. And a deep knowing that I can go back into my roles as a writer, an author, a teacher, and a mother with the roots of an inner home.

May this holiday bring you that rooting, wherever you are—with the connections that matter most, especially with yourself.

Here is one of the “windows” I opened that night. Going to use it as my holiday card. Trying to find the right caption. Taking suggestions.

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So far these come to mind:

My Hot Flash made me do it!

The Nutcracker

Elf on the shelf

#naughty

Chestnuts roasting over an open fire

Jingle balls?

Ho ho no!

 

Pre-order my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” from your local bookseller or here. It’s a great gift for the holidays and will arrive hot-off-the-press on March 3rd! This is a book for ANYONE asking the pressing question we all ask many times in our life: So Now What?

 

Willa's Grove

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

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Quiet


In the video I posted over the weekend, David Foster Wallace talks about how our society doesn’t value the art of being quiet. He says we don’t take an hour to look at a painting; we don’t sit all day with a book. We are uncomfortable with mind challenges in complex music and writing. I agree with him. For some reason, long ago, I smelled this rat and decided to devote a lot of my time to stepping into the discomfort. I sought musicians who were pushing the aesthetic like Stravinsky, Nico and the Velvet Underground, Micheal Nyman…and on the page, Kundera, Calvino, Brautigan. I’d stand in museums and watch installation art-– watched a woman suck her toe for longer than anyone wants to watch another person suck their toe. I loved that Duchamp put a urinal in a museum and called it art. I loved German Expressionism. I liked the grotesque. I sat through the eight hours of Warhol’s Chrysler building movie, Empire–- one continuous shot. I loved Ingmar Berman movies. People called my taste in art and music “weird,” my taste in movies “boring.” I took it as a compliment, denouncing the saccharin pastels of Monet’s water lilies and the living room art people chose to match the upholstery on their couches. I wanted to know what it felt like to step outside the cradle of mainstream society and be in a place of shock, wonder, ugliness, confusion, boredom and thusly, to be wide awake in those places. That’s what I wanted most: to be wide awake.

Along the way, I wrote books and got married and had children and that was extreme enough. I didn’t need to force the issue. Life became full. Self-propelled. And I stopped taking time to look into my awe. Never mind my discomfort. The washboards of life bumped me along and I got used to it. It wasn’t that I was in the cradle, as much as it was that I was going too fast, not pausing enough when wonder struck. I didn’t like that about myself. I wanted that to change.

That’s when I started paying attention to things like breathing, mental pollution, emotional choice, horses, birds. I had these practices ripe and alive in my life for a nice long time.

But in the last few years since the moment I signed a book contract, my life went full throttle. The deliberate act of taking pause seemed like extravagance. Saved for a future rainy day. It felt ornamental. Decadent. Even juvenile. I had a BIG JOB to do. I had planes to catch. I had people to see. I’d leave breathing and birds for later when things calmed down. But that was just a story I was telling myself, because the truth of it is when you kick into high gear like that, there’s a strong possibility that you are afraid of low gear. You’re afraid of that frequency. Who would you be in it? What would the map of your mind look like? Sound like? And dear God, what would you do without any buttons to push? Without your email and messages to check? Without those planes to catch. Uh-oh. You have it bad. How on earth did this happen to you? Two seconds ago, you were happily and hornily watching an eight hour shot of the Chrysler building.

Something had to be done. So, I decided to dare the discomfort again. It looked a lot different than it did in my twenties, however. Here’s what it looked like:

I found a place where my cell phone wouldn’t work, where there was no place to plug in a computer, where there were as few people as possible. I didn’t need it to be gritty or edgy for it to be uncomfortable at this stage of life. In fact, I needed it to be beautiful– as beautiful as yes, Monet’s Giverny. I needed it to play out in the fields of embarrassing riches, in fact. You see, I was so full throttle, that I’d stopped seeing beauty. Worse, I’d stopped stopping for it. It’s one thing to recognize the discomfort in ugliness, but quite another to recognize it in beauty. And to sit quietly with it.

I’ll present this as a question: When was the last time you spent the better part of a day just sitting on a bench? Not in a city, but in a garden? An empty garden? Not talking. Not messing with your cell phone or laptop? Not taking photographs. Not writing in a journal or reading a book or a newspaper. Nothing blaring in your ears. Just sitting there? Watching. Breathing. It’s hard damn work is what it is. Whatever has become of our society that it’s hard damn work? I want to do that work.

Selfish, you say? Glut. No Pilgrim’s Progress there. Must produce. Must succeed. Must conquer. Must push buttons. That’s the cradle of society really needing you to go back to sleep. Get back on the conveyor belt. Sit on a bench in an empty garden all day? That’s for cats in windowsills. Old people in rocking chairs. But…if you think about it…we do sit in one place for long amounts of time. Watching. Just not flowers blowing in the wind. Not dragonflies. Not a robin with a worm. That story is…well, boring. Isn’t it? We’d rather someone had a gun in their hand or a hand on an ass or an ass in a fast car. And I won’t even get into our current obsession with reality TV. I mean…watching people living? Can we not even bear to watch ourselves live? We’d rather be able to turn the channel. It’s so uncomfortable to not be able to turn the channel–- or get up and walk to a different bench and see how the flowers blow there and if there are different bugs and birds. I’m talking about the art of staying.

Well I did it. I sat on a bench in an empty garden for hours. And I’m telling you: it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in years. I went back the next day and took this photo. I am both proud and haunted by it. Only because I know that there is no bench in my garden. And I’m not sure I’m brave enough to put one there.

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Silence


I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent.
I go into the one body
that two make in making marriage
that for all our trying, all
our deaf-and-dumb of speech,
has no tongue. Or I give myself
to gravity, light, and air
and am carried back
to solitary work in fields
and woods, where my hands
rest upon a world unnamed,
complete, unanswerable, and final
as our daily bread and meat.
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.

“VII” from the poem “1994″ by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. © Counterpoint, 1998.

May you find this silence in 2011.
yrs.
Laura

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A Mind of Winter

Every year that we get an early snow, this happens: I get low. I feel robbed. Fall is not finished. The Tamarack are still flaxen. The mornings are still bearable without a down parka and boots. I can still take brisk walks on terra firma. The lakes are still fluid and I am too.

And then Mother Nature decides to go as Snow for Halloween. My kids jump with glee and beg me to take them up the ski mountain for their first snowball fight. And I do. But the smile on my face is more the smile of someone looking at a good friend who has to leave town for better work. You know they have to go, but you love them. You will miss them. You are better for having them around. Today was my 18th time feeling this way. Wallace Stevens got it better than I ever could in his poem, “The Snowman.” Every year I re-read his poem, and every year he reminds me that there is much to receive in the “nothingness” of winter. The empty is full.

The Snowman

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

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