meditation

The gods you pray to/by Eline van Wieren

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A few weeks ago I received an email from a friend of mine who I hadn’t spoken to in a while asking if I wanted to become her pen-friend. I find staying in contact with people who aren’t standing right in front of me incredibly difficult, but I love writing letters to whomever and whatever. So I said yes.

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Her first letter arrived in a grey envelope, sealed with a little red heart sticker. In it she wrote about the monastery she’d been to for a weekend to talk about the meaning of mercifulness and what it means to be a good person. How someone asked: If you had to describe God in one word, what would it be? And how she answered: calmness.

I felt so privileged to be reading these words so carefully written down on paper. I felt like I was let in on a secret, something very real, but contained in a different universe. And when she wrote that she realized that instead of praying to God Calmness, she often prayed to God Productivity, I felt it resonate in my entire body.

When I finished reading, I thought about how I’d started taking ballet lessons when I was three years old and fell in love with dancing immediately. I loved the music and how my body flowed along with it, how I got to be different characters from one of the 101 Dalmatians to a witch and even a seahorse. In dancing, I didn’t have to think, because my body would just know.

By the time I was fourteen, I danced twenty-five hours a week. And what I loved about it started to shift. At fourteen, I thought the greatest thing about doing ballet was the control it let me exercise over my body. I was forcing my feet into impossible shapes and it looked beautiful. I was the one who decided what emotion my face displayed and whatever was happening on the inside was nobody’s business.

In the second letter, again sealed with a little red heart sticker, the friend asked how many different versions of me exist. I wrote back: I am an abundance of Elines and that’s something I have mixed feelings about. Like with ballet movements, I’d like to have control over who I am in which situation. Most of my prayers are to God Certainty.

I also wrote her that my favorite Eline only seems to come out in cases of emergency. I only one hundred percent know what to say to someone, when they’re hysterically crying in my arms, weeping the shoulders of my sweater wet. When their emotions are happening so close to my own body that there is nothing else for me to do other than stop and acknowledge what is happening in front of me.

Following my gut, bones or other body parts that could offer any kind of guidance didn’t and most of the time still doesn’t come naturally for me. I like to blame the dancing. But like praying, dancing is just a vehicle. And it’s not the words and movements I carefully formulate but the ones that seem to arise out of nowhere that let the unimportant things crumble and make space for me to be.

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Purple and green/by Barbara Heffernan

By Suhail Kapoor on  Unsplash

By Suhail Kapoor on Unsplash

At a young age, I learned I was not creative.

Rain poured from the sky, shrinking the tiny upstate New York cabin by the minute. 

My younger sister and I finished coloring butterflies.  The enticement of the myriad crayon colors had waned, and we now needed a judge.  My mom, focused on the baby in her arms, shooed us away, not wanting to judge. But we bugged her and bugged her.

She picked my younger sister’s coloring.  She told me purple and green don’t go together.

But what I heard is, “You are not an artist.  That is not your role in our family.”

I went on to excel in the exciting, crazy-making world of Wall Street in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s.  The highs of Wall Street compensated for a truly miserable lifestyle until I could stand it no longer.  In desperation, I walked into a self-help career group that happened to be doing a Vision exercise: free-write, in the present tense, what you truly desire.

What sprung from my pen was a vision of myself sitting in a window seat in a country home studying Jung and Freud.  It seemed crazy. I was embarrassed to read it aloud, which we were then asked to do.  Yet this group of strangers did not think it bizarre that a successful Wall Street executive would have such a vision. 

Within a few years, I had quit Wall Street, moved to a cozy home in Connecticut and gone back to school to be a psychotherapist.  It was the first experience I had of consciously creating my own life.

We all create every day.  We create the life we are living. Yes, there are constraints, of course.  The same as an artist who works within the constraints of canvas and oil paints, we all have to deal with the realities of our environment.  But within that, we have enormous room to design and build our lives. And one constraint we do not have to honor is the role prescribed to us by others.

At mid-life, I learned I am very creative.

And I continue to evolve and change.

I am creating online meditation courses to complement my psychotherapy practice, hoping to help greater numbers of people while increasing my geographic flexibility. 

I am creating time to write, as the time will not fall from the sky if I do not actively envision it.

Knowing I can’t evolve in a vacuum, I have consciously accessed communities that will support my transitions.  Last year, this included online classes to bolster my craft and the wonderful WOW retreat in Morocco to bolster my soul.  I walked away from the retreat believing in my identity as a writer, feeling enriched in ways I could not have imagined. 

 I am adding writer, poet and mindfulness teacher to my conscious identity.  Some may say these can’t all go together, or be added to psychotherapist.  Yet, we have so many roles.  I am also a spouse, a mother, a daughter of aging parents, a sister, a friend.  Who gets to decide which roles, and in what proportions? 

At this stage of my life, I do.

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I invite you to pick up your pen, set your timer for 10 minutes, breathe deeply and manifest the world you truly desire. Write as if that vision is already true. Use “I am” rather than “I will be.”  Let go of inhibitions.  If there are details you are unsure of, leave them for the universe to fill in.  Include the feelings you would like to have at this future date:  “I wake feeling peaceful and grounded…I am living the life of my dreams.”

The more spontaneously you write this, the better.

Now, read it to someone. 

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Barbara Heffernan is a psychotherapist and writer. She is the founder of Mindful Psychotherapy, a private practice in Norwalk, CT, specializing in trauma and anxiety.  Barbara has been a feminist since the age of five, and a Buddhist since the age of 31.  She has studied meditation in Tibetan Buddhist, Zen Buddhist, Hindu, and Shamanic traditions. She offers mindfulness instruction and is developing a series of classes titled Awaken Joy. Barbara has a BA from Yale University, an MBA from Columbia University and an MSW from Southern Connecticut State University.  She has three children, four stepchildren, a husband, an English sheepdog and a rotund orange cat. Barbara’s website is www.mindfulpsychotherapyllc.com

By Andrew Ridley on  Unsplash

By Andrew Ridley on Unsplash