The Book I Feared to Write

When the pandemic of 2020 crashed down like a tidal wave, I retreated into my home to wait it out.

A writer and teacher who works at home, it wasn’t a stretch to teach classes online and restrict communications to telephone and Zoom sessions. Enforced isolation seemed the perfect time to w0rk on ideas I’d been gathering for a new book. No more excuses. Time to write that book.

For the first few weeks I believed my own story. Kept my commitments. Participated in online meetings and classes. On regular bike rides with my dog, Zena, I spoke to neighbors I had rarely seen. Everyone was eager to say hello, pass the time of day, and relay how they were coping. At the park, passersby were friendlier than usual. I sat under a ramada near a favorite tree while Zena rolled on the grass. Dogs trotted over to say hello. People waved. It was interesting how being forced to separate brought us closer together.

Weeks passed. I taught my classes, worked with students, completed editing jobs, and wrote. My writing practice is decades old, so I always write, but the new book’s focus eluded me. Anxiety kept me moving but also made it hard to sit and concentrate on an intensely private subject: my relationship to Spirit.

Fiction was easier to write, so I did that. Sent out short stories. Got a couple published. Still, I felt like a skittish animal running in ever-tightening circles around the one thing it wanted but feared to approach.

Facing my new book, which my mind had told me would be short and easy to write, I trembled.

An optimist at heart, I believe we have more freedom than we realize. We aren’t victims of our genetics, family upbringing, finances, politics, or experience. These things shape us, but at every moment, we have the choice to change. No matter our circumstances, we can embark on a fresh path.

Practice what you preach, I exhorted myself as I created a new spreadsheet and listed my chapters. I forged ahead with another draft—wrote, edited, researched, and organized. But something wasn’t right.

It was time to examine my own beliefs. One More Time.

After serious meditation and journaling, I uncovered the face of my resistance—my lifelong reticence to write about who I am. Not in the external sense. What was uncomfortable was writing about my inner world, which is far more real to me than what I do “out there.”

I am one of the lucky ones. From early childhood, I have wandered the inner world. I also knew that, if I spoke of it, the outcome would be ridicule and shaming. So I kept my counsel until I got older and found safe spaces to be myself.

The roots of my personal challenges were buried deep. Not “out there” in an unmarked grave but inside my psyche and body, what I call the “biofield.” Because of early trauma, I’ve berated and second-guessed myself, agonized, and rationalized when deciding about jobs, relationships, business, writing projects, and finances. I doubted my inner perceptions and the common wisdom. Anxiety was a constant companion. No matter what I did, I judged myself, taking on more responsibility than was mine to bear, experiencing the exquisite torture of teetering on the line between worlds.

Struggling with a book I couldn’t grasp, an epiphany burst forth. I realized that, at this moment, only what’s important counts—and what’s important is what I’ve learned from sojourning with my inner self. The lessons were not complicated, but I’ve been a slow study, so it’s taken time to re-member them

  • There is a path through life which we chose before birth.
  • We walk our own path, whether or not we know it.
  • Our inner self guides us, whether or not we notice.
  • Life is easier when we heed the messages from within.
  • When we listen to the messages of our inner self, it grows into a Wise Inner Guide.
  • Spirit possesses infinite patience.
  • It’s never too late to listen and learn. 

The book, When Spirit Whispers, a journey of awakening, will be published soon, along with an accompanying workbook. This article is an amended version of its preface. I plan to write two more volumes, Visions of Healing and Doorways to Healing.

Going forward, I will use this monthly blog to write about healing, trauma, and writing, the three subjects that intersect to form my path. I hope you will find it useful

If you would like to be an advance reader for When Spirit Whispers, contact me at carol@carolhollandmarch.com. I will send you an electronic copy of the book. If you enjoy it, I hope you will be kind enough to leave a review.

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing With the Creative Self

Many of my students sign up for a writing course because they have an urge to bring forth their experiences.

They want to write stories, poems, memoirs. Many have never written before. They don’t know where to start. What to write about. How to choose fiction or nonfiction. Many have confidence issues. Fearing judgement, they hesitate to share their work.

I understand the tenderness of the beginning writer, the courage it takes to put forth embryonic work and place it under the light of scrutiny.

Even though I had written professionally for years, when I was ready to put out my first fiction, I was terrified. The marketing and training books I wrote, the manuals, web text, and scripts, even the ghost-written articles—none were as personal as fiction. It took stern conversations with myself before I started sending my work to magazines, accepting the inevitable rejections, and sending it out again.

Now, after publishing many short stories, three novels, and a few personal experience narratives, I tell my students that I learned the most about writing from the effort to produce publishable work.

My writing teachers taught me much. So did the students in the classes and workshops I attended. Every editor I hired to advise me before I sent out a piece taught me something new.

Some magazine editors were kind enough to say why they rejected my piece. Some even suggested changes. Every time I looked anew at a rejected story, I found ways to improve it. And of course there was the exquisite pleasure when  an editor said they liked my story.

The whole process was a learning experience. It toughened me and eventually became fun. Not to say I enjoy rejections, but they no longer stop me. It’s not personal. It’s the work. Which can be improved.

What’s important for new writers, especially those who start later in life, is to honor the urge to create. To bring forth and shape the nascent idea nagging at you. The images you know are part of a story. The characters who spring to life in your mind. The feeling that your experiences matter. Which they do.

We live our lives according to the story we tell ourselves. We change our lives by changing our stories. Whether we fictionalize our experiences or write searingly honest memoir, the benefits of getting them out of our heads and into the world are enormous. It helps us, and it helps others.

The drive to create is in everyone. It’s part of being human. Honored, it makes us more human.  Our Creative Self urges us onward. It wants to be expressed. It wants to dance, with joy and abandon. Honor it.

So, write! Sing! Dance! Paint! Make a poem! Outline your novel! Decide you’re going to tell about all that you’ve learned!  I promise, you won’t be sorry.

Now Is The Time

Well, here we are. It’s been a month since I’ve attended a meeting outside my home. A month since I’ve taught in a classroom. Since I’ve had lunch with a friend, gone to a movie or stood in line at the grocery store. Even for an introverted writer who loves solitude, staying home this much gets weird.

Every day I bike through my neighborhood with my dog. She’s well over a hundred in people years, so we don’t go far. Lots of stopping and sniffing. I want her to keep her muscle strength as long as possible, so I persuade her even when she’s reluctant. She gains enthusiasm as we progress and on our way home, she trots along beside me, wagging and smiling. I put her inside and go out for a longer, harder ride. Sometimes I walk a Bosque trail. Most days I visit the local park to sit under a Ramada and watch people playing with their dogs and kids.

Everywhere I go, people greet me. They wave from cars and porches. We exchange anecdotes about our dogs, our shopping challenges, the weather. I know twice as many of my neighbors as before the pandemic. Maybe because more people are home. Maybe because community is our only bulwark against the waves of tragedy and fear sweeping our land.

It’s so odd that now we express our love for each other by keeping our distance.

I’m one of the lucky ones who can work at home and order what I need. And suddenly there was plenty of time. The perennial excuse evaporated overnight. Without appointments, errands, and classes, I could be wildly productive.

But it’s a month in and I’m just beginning to settle down. I have written. I always do. But my productivity did not escalate with the additional time. I found myself dithering, staring into space, watching shows on Netflix I didn’t even like.

My old responses to stress—procrastination, obsessing on unimportant details—re-appeared. My thoughts and fears about the pain and suffering hovering over the world like a black cloud was the culprit.

I meditated and prayed about it. Took the practical steps feasible for me. Reminded myself that I am safe. I am healthy. At this moment, I have a place to live, food to eat, beautiful animals to keep me company, friends to call and zoom with. And now, I’ve started offering writing workshops via zoom. Why not? Virtual training may be the new normal.

Finally, it occurred. This is the time. To stop making excuses. To look at my reactions to the changes in our world without flinching. To walk the talk. Be honest. The reason I’m not working on my new book for six hours a day is because I’m nervous!

When I’m nervous, I procrastinate. I read every email, news reports, the latest statistics. Being informed is fine, but knowing all the details doesn’t help.

So what does? What helps us live with uncertainty? This is what I came up with

  • Acknowledge feelings. It’s okay to feel anxious, stressed, impatient, depressed. Feelings denied only pop up later. Now is the time to admit that I’m human. I’m upset. I don’t like this. I want it to end.
  • Make self-care a priority. A walk, a bike ride, a yoga tape, an online exercise class. Deep breathing, meditation, stretching, dancing around the living room. Now is the time to move—bodies and emotions so those negative thoughts don’t dig in
  • Keep in touch. Call, skype, email, zoom, wave from the porch. Make a new friend while out walking the neighborhood.
  • Help someone. What can I do? Who needs help?
  • Tolerate uncertainty. There’s no telling how any creative project will turn out, so that’s nothing new for a writer. It’s a good skill to master. Now is the time to let go of trying to control things. It was mostly an illusion anyway.
  • Take small steps. Now is the time to say, I don’t know, and move forward. The best cure for paralysis is action. One foot in front of the other.
  • And most important, notice negative thoughts. The what if’s. The it might’s. None of them are real. They’re just thoughts. And thoughts can be changed. Dissolved. Replaced.

I am safe.

I am healthy.

I have what I need.

I can adapt.

I can create.

I can do my work.

I can love.

Believe in Miracles

Do you believe in miracles? 

Sure, you might say. I’ve seen miracles. And I expect to see them again

Or, There are no such things. Science has explanations for everything.

Actually, both perspectives are right. Miracles are prayers answered, hope fulfilled, stories of the seemingly impossible, inspirations that change lives, the melting of hardened hearts, personal transformation. But how do these things happen?

Contrary to what our senses tell us, science informs us that everything is energy. The observer affects the observed. Our thoughts influence what we perceive, how we feel, and whether we are joyful or depressed.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man is a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”

Traditionally, a miracle is an event we don’t expect and didn’t foresee. It comes out of the blue, full of meaning, an object of wonder so marvelous it points to a reality beyond our reach. In a religious context, we can see this as God, the ground of being, or as manifestations of supernatural powers.

What is miraculous in one culture may be ordinary in another.

In the west, people interpret spontaneous recovery from serious illness as a miracle, and persons with unusual healing powers as miraculous beings. In some earth-based cultures, thunder and lightning are considered messengers of the divine, while recovery from serious afflictions is the result of energetic interventions by a shaman or spiritual healer. And perfectly ordinary

Saint Augustine said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, only to what we know about nature.”

Another view is that the miraculous shows itself in the everyday world—in nature, in the love between people, in a child’s smile.

The miraculous may simply be something we do not yet understand. When we use the power of intention, affirmation, gratitude, or prayer, we are harnessing energy in the living field that connects us all. We do it to change our lives, which means we acknowledge our connectedness in the field of life. Nothing is really separate. If I love you, I love myself. If I hurt you, I hurt myself.

When we understand this, we notice that our thoughts and words change our perception of reality. If we persevere with those new thoughts, our actual reality changes too.

If I pray for healing for my friend, and my friend recovers from his illness, is that a miracle? Or the effect of intention on the web of consciousness that binds us together

You decide, according to what you believe.

For 101 stories of everyday miracles, check out the new anthology, Believe in Miracles, by Chicken Soup for the Soul, available now for pre-order. My essay, Please Pass the Holy Water, is one of the stories. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Easy Methods to Reduce Holiday Stress

Yes, we love the holidays. Family, food, out of town guests, parties, long lunches, shopping, and evergreen trees in the living room. Of course we do. But it can be overwhelming. Too much family, food, guests, parties, lunches, and shopping. What happened to the tree? Is it still tied to the roof of the car?

When November arrives, we go on alert. The pumpkin is still sagging on the porch when it’s time to plan the Thanksgiving guest list and find the perfect tree. We have to do it all on top of our regular jobs, family responsibilities, and creative work. And guess what? Sometimes we can’t.

The best response to overwhelm is to back off. Let something go. Scratch a few items off that to-do list. Decline an invitation or two.

Failing that, here are some simple methods to relieve holiday tension. They don’t require long periods of time, gym memberships, or complicated shoes. When you feel overwhelmed, out of sorts, pressed for time, or frustrated, try one of these exercises.

Remember to breathe. Nice and deep. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. Bring the air all the way into your body. Imagine it as golden light filling your organs, spreading through every muscle, nerve, and tendon. Release your breath as golden energy out your hands and feet. Do this for five minutes.

Go outside. Stand or sit and observe what you see. A tree. A patch of grass. A squirrel. Your neighbor’s dog chasing the squirrel.The FedEx truck parked down the block. Stars shining through the bare branches of a cottonwood tree. Do nothing but observe your world for five minutes. (Can be combined with deep breathing.)

Remember who and what you love.  People, animals, places. Ideas, books, that action movie you saw last week. Bring your attention to your chest at the level of your heart as you remember how good it feels to care about someone or something besides yourself.

Mentally step back.  If you’re judging yourself or another, stop. Notice that everyone is doing their best with the resources they have. Forgive yourself. Forgive them. Notice that you may not have the whole story about why people act the way they do. You may never have it. Forgive them anyway.

Laugh at yourself. It’s the holidays and you’re the only one who can make them great.

 

What are your tips for decompressing?  What can you add to my list?