Perception = Reality

Via Pinterest

Via Pinterest

Choose your thoughts wisely.

I recently read Timothy D. Wilson’s book, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By. In it, Wilson explores the importance of redirecting negative ‘stories’ we tell ourselves about our lives, in order to motivate us to change for the better, rather than simply becoming discouraged by setbacks in life. To illustrate how this works, he uses the example of first year college students failing an early exam. The students who interpret that feedback in a resilient way — such as ‘I should study harder or read the materials more carefully next time’ — are much more likely to go on to succeed in their college courses. Their attitude and resilience prepares them for more difficult and challenging work. In contrast, students who interpret their failure of that one exam as testimony that they ‘are not college material,’ often do not bounce back. They may even give up and quit college all together.

The stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what are capable of color the way we see ourselves. If we believe we’re destined to fail, it’s likely we will.

We all have personal stories about who we are and what the world is like. These stories aren’t necessarily conscious, but they are the narratives by which we live our lives. Many of us have healthy, optimistic stories that serve us well. But sometimes, people develop pessimistic stories and get caught in self-defeating thinking cycles, whereby they assume the worst and, as a result, cope poorly. The question then becomes how to help people revise their negative stories.” ― Timothy D. Wilson, Source

What’s Your Story?

“Just as we possess a potent physical immune system that protects us from threats to our physical well-being, so do we possess a potent psychological immune system that protects us from threats to our psychological well-being. When it comes to maintaining a sense of well-being, each of us is the ultimate spin doctor.”Timothy D. Wilson

If we are our own ‘spin doctors’ as Wilson postulates, how can we change the narrative?  How can we edit and rethink our stories?

Redirect focuses on helping people learn how to improve their lives through a process he calls, ‘story editing.’

Why Writing Can Help You Heal.

Each of us tends to have a certain ‘set point’ when it comes to reflecting about our capabilities. Unless we learn to redirect our thoughts to a more supportive, reflective stance, we can completely derail our ability to move forward. In fact, telling ourselves sad or negative stories encourages us to make choices that actively stop our growth.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker of the University of Texas in Austin has studied the effect of personal writing on overall well-being for the past twenty years. He encourages his students to write for just twenty minutes a day for four days to unpack a difficult emotional experience haunting them.

“Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives,” Pennebaker explains. “You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are—our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.”  Source

His writing assignment is simple.

  • Write for four consecutive days for fifteen or twenty minutes, reflecting on the experience you want to process.
  • Write without editing or worrying about grammar.
  • Write about the emotional upheaval without censoring yourself in order to let it go.
  • Tie that experience to other areas of your life (job, relationships, etc.) if you feel there is a connection.

His healing writing prompt is what I call a vomit draft.

The point is to get the residual feelings out.

To let it rip. To use your pen as a weapon of emotional emancipation.

To dump everything on paper.

PicsArt_1420791424815

It doesn’t matter if anyone other than you ever reads what you’ve written.

You can burn it afterward if you don’t want to leave a trace.

The point is, let it go.

“People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.” ―Dr. James W. Pennebaker, Writing to Heal.

The value of releasing our emotional baggage, and/or editing/spinning it into a story about how we rose from the ashes of loss and went on to do bigger and better things,  is one which resonates with me.

I’ve done it. Over and over.

I’ve seen how much my life changed as I got the guck out.

No matter how sad or lost or heartbroken I felt, writing about it made me feel better.

Framing my experience positively, framing it as spiritual growth, framing it as an opportunity to stretch myself and develop grit, made me see myself and my life in a new way.

I highly recommend it.

© 2015  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

Feel free to share this post with others, as long as you include the copyright information and keep the whole posting intact. If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey on my website  at www.shavawnmberry.com.

Don’t Give Up

Dont-give-up

Don’t Give Up via Pinterest

I sat with a friend last night whom I hadn’t seen in months, catching up on what has been ‘a tsunami of awful’ for her. Her husband’s got colon cancer that’s spread to his liver. She’s got several other relatives in deep trouble in terms of physical health (dementia, cancer, autoimmune disorders).

As a teacher, she has a very challenging job (with lots of students needing her care and attention) and she is clearly not taking care of herself. At. All.

She is full blown overwhelmed.

Who Can Blame Her?

In fact, I completely empathize with her plight, having just been through terrible health trials myself over the past six months (heart trouble, sleep trouble, peripheral edema, high blood pressure). I’ve also stood by, wringing my hands, with nothing but prayers to offer as solace, as a number of my dearest friends have gone through breast and ovarian cancer treatment, job loss, and the death of a parent (or both parents).

“We awake at dawn.
To sink or swim.”
Kiera Woodhull, Chaos of the Mind

How do we bravely face such trials when a big part of us just wants to collapse in a heap on the floor?

“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life. That is the sort of bravery I must have now.” ― Veronica Roth, Allegiant

Words Offer Solace. Words are a Salve.

The only saving grace for me has been writing.

Writing letters to the universe. Writing letters to myself.

Writing and sending my writing out into the world to see what might echo back.

What will my inner voice tell me?

What message from the deep, intuitive, unconscious part of my soul does it carry back to me?

Put Yourself on Your ‘To Do’ List.

“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

My friend’s a writer; a depressed, frustrated writer, who is not writing what she feels called to write. She has long neglected including herself on the list of people she should care about.

Over dinner, I reminded her that she deserves a place on her list of priorities, too. I reminded her that what she’s doing — being a safe place to fall — for her husband, is profound spiritual work. I reminded her that ‘this too shall pass’ and there will come a time when she will see the purpose of all this suffering.

Courage via happyfitmama.com

Courage via happyfitmama.com

Are you drowning right now?

Ask for help. Don’t worry what others might think. Just do it.

Do you know someone else who is struggling not to swallow these huge waves?

If you do (and face it, we can easily see the terror or desperation in that person’s eyes), remind them that even in all this mess, all this loss, all this guck, something beautiful is emerging.

Something good.

A gift, an idea, or perhaps, the germ of a story. A seedling, a poem, a manifesto. A painting, a quilt, a tree.

So much rises up out of us, if we look with the intention of finding it.

One day soon, this chaos will ebb.

Will you find it allowed you to stretch and grow and re-envision yourself and life as you know it?

I hope so.

I believe in our ability to withstand whatever comes our way. I believe we can transform that suffering into joy.

© 2015  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

Feel free to share this post with others, as long as you include the copyright information and keep the whole posting intact. If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey on my website  at www.shavawnmberry.com.

Awaken Your Courage. Awaken, Dear Heart.

Artwork by Aimee Stewart

Artwork by Aimee Stewart

A Hurricane of Change is Afoot.

These past few days I’ve been thinking about the chapter of my life that is coming to a close under this final Uranus/Pluto Square. A nineteen year cycle is coming to an end. Think about where you were and what you set in motion all those years ago. For me, I went to graduate school to study creative writing and started my current career as a teacher.

I don’t know what is about to happen — what sort of changes are in store for me — I simply know that I feel a bit like Bette Davis right now, warning everyone to fasten their seatbelts because “it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

We are passing through the spiritual equivalent of a huge cosmic wash cycle. As we bump and bang up against everything in this swirling mess of water and stars and rocks and mud, we’re being baptised for renewal, for a shift in consciousness, for a completely different cosmic wavelength.

We’re entering the Age of Aquarius.

Now what matters is not how much money you have, or what sort of trophy woman (or man) you sport on your arm. It doesn’t matter how big your house is and how prolifically you work like a dog. What matters is intention. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What does it mean to you? Are you living an authentic life?

How can you tell?

If you’re living authentically, you’re content. You awaken jazzed to greet another day. You hatch plans and write your ‘to do’ list on the back of your hand. If you live from your wild heart, you look within for answers, for solace, for support. No stamp of approval from friends, family, or total strangers, is needed.

You set your course and you rely on inner knowing — your personal compass — to guide you.

However, if you live your life based on someone else’s vision for you, you feel tied to outside forces. You believe you will disappoint others if you don’t continue to lockstep it through life. If you don’t use an outside gauge to measure your very worth, you worry you’ve failed in some intangible way. You feel angry and stuck. You may even be seething with resentment.

And you feel powerless to change it.

That’s where courage comes in.

couragedearheart

What’s Your Story?

The slimy terrain of resentment and anger is a place I know quite well. In fact, I sat in a poopy diaper at that longitude and latitude for a long time. (Too long.) One day, however, I woke up. I realized I could take my sh*tty pants off, hose myself down, get dressed in something more age appropriate, and start living the life I’d imagined.

All those years while I sat at the corner of you-did-me wrong-and-why-is-this happening-to-me, I gave my power away.

Flagrantly. Constantly. Stupidly.

My inner dialogue was a total shame spiral:

Loser! What’s wrong with me?

Other people get all the breaks, I get nothing.

Why? What have I done to deserve such a sh*t shack life?

I could blather on like that for days, a resentful toddler, wandering the world in search of mommy and daddy’s approval.

As you can probably imagine, no one really likes dealing with an adult who behaves like she’s still sitting in a high chair, banging her spoon on the tray, demanding the forces of life focus on her and only her.

Here’s what I now know is true:

You cannot be powerful while hanging onto to your stories of victimization.

You cannot shimmy and shake and tango with the life you want, and remain in the metaphorical outhouse, complaining about the stench.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

 It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.  ~ e. e. cummings

So, circle back to this whole notion of change that’s erupting this week. The final Uranus/Pluto Square is exact on March 16. Depending on where it lands in our charts, we will feel these changes differently, but we will feel them. Personally and collectively.

How can we begin to live more authentic, less voracious, all-consuming, too-much-is-never-enough lives?

How can we become assets — gifts — to this living being called earth?

How can we shift our habits away from those centered on outside approval, to ones that are more reflective, cooperative, and community based?

We cannot continue to eat up the world at a pace that will kill every living thing on it, including us. Part of our hunger for things, for food, for more-more-more, has to do with not feeling at home in our own skins. While we repeatedly try to feel sated by money, exotic food, alcohol, drugs, sex, or another McMansion by the sea, we spiritually starve. At the end of our days ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ we cannot shake the pervasive feeling of total emptiness that hounds us.

The reason?

There are no answers to what ails us, out there.

We must develop reverence for our own lives to have any hope of living softly in this beautiful but brutalized world.

We must grow up.

Otherwise, future generations (if there is anyone left to look back on our follies) will wonder what the hell we were thinking.

We aren’t powerless. We aren’t victims.

We can change.

It will take deep work, but we can do it.

We wouldn’t be here now — at this crucial time in human history — if that wasn’t true.

© 2015  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

Feel free to share this post with others, as long as you include the copyright information and keep the whole posting intact. If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey on my website  at www.shavawnmberry.com.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Svetlana Belyaeva via Pinterest

Photo by Svetlana Belyaeva via Pinterest

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

Everybody Plays the Fool, Sometimes.

Trickster. Fool. Court Jester.

Sometimes life has a dark sense of humor.

Sometimes it sends us into valleys that, although lush, seem pointless in the end. We sense that we are going nowhere. Fast. Why are we wandering the countryside, feet aching, feeling like the butt end of a joke? What is it that is trying to bop us upside the head to get our attention?

Sometimes the only way to find the wise way, is to embrace our foolishness. To swallow our pride and play the fool. To be taken to task. To get shot through the heart.

“We’re all fools,” said Clemens, “all the time. It’s just we’re a different kind each day. We think, I’m not a fool today. I’ve learned my lesson. I was a fool yesterday but not this morning. Then tomorrow we find out that, yes, we were a fool today too. I think the only way we can grow and get on in this world is to accept the fact we’re not perfect and live accordingly.”― Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

In the tarot, the fool is a card indicating possibility, openness, a new beginning unfettered by whatever has just passed. The key word associated with it is ‘trust’. It is the card of the beggar, the vagabond, the person whose childlike wonder charms all who meet him.

The fool is the part of us that is filled with utter, bumbling hope. We fritter about, sometimes tripping over our own feet, ever convinced that it is the world that doesn’t understand or see us accurately. The fool is the unsung hero of a story that’s only partially revealed. The fool reminds us we must take risks in order to forge an unbreakable spirit.

If we are anchored in our foolish hearts, we search endlessly for clues, for every crumb left behind, for every trail of stones or broken sticks that might lead us through the dark wood and out the other side.

We recognize the value in keeping things simple.

We see we’re just a small piece of a much bigger story.

Never Get Too Big For Your Britches.

Never forget what it’s like to lose everything, to be ripped from what you know and love. Never lose sight of the possibility that you might at any moment find yourself planted someplace else — a stranger in a strange land — unable to even recognize the terrain, let alone walk back to the life you once knew.

The one constant in life is change. And change is constant now.

Building a Resolute Heart.

I sometimes wonder what the purpose of all this chaos is. I wonder if I am riding the rapids for a reason, or I am simply learning how to spiritually waterski.

I realize that the most fool moments of my life have been the richest ones. Had I not been a fool, I never would have let myself love M. Had I been able to buy a clue, I would have kicked my high school sweetheart to the curb when I was 20. Had I not had a soft spot for wounded pups, I would have dumped several other exes at the roadside long before I did. However, the fact of the matter is, my foolish heart took risks. It took me to Europe to meet Elton John (which I did), to New York to write songs, to LA to write stories, and to Phoenix to find my calling as a writer and teacher. My capacity to be a fool led to most of the important discoveries I made about myself and my inner life. Had I played it safe, languishing in my hometown in some dead end office job, most of the person I am would fall in the ‘might have been’ column.

And that would have been a shame.

But I didn’t do that.

I took a fool leap into the world. I didn’t wait. I leapt straight off the roof of a hundred stories’ worth of aspirations and dreams. I was fool enough to believe I had wings.

And as I fell, I found out I did.

© 2015  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

Feel free to share this post with others, as long as you include the copyright information and keep the whole posting intact. If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey on my website  at www.shavawnmberry.com.

Fly Your Freak Flag, Proudly

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via Scott Stabile

Be a freak. Be a big weirdo. 

Proudly wear your unique and unrepeatable and luminous light out into the world.

Don’t let anyone tell you you cannot do what you’ve set out to do. Others are already doing ‘it,’ so why not you? (‘It’ might be writing a marvelous book, or starting a yoga studio, or studying ancient history, or hiking the Pacific trail.)

Don’t listen to the naysayers, the negativos, and the party of ‘No.’ Don’t drink their Kool-aid.

Don’t swallow the fear, the drear, or the catastrophizing of those who are terrified you’ll change. Terrified you’ll prove them wrong for sitting still, doing nothing in particular.

Don’t worry what others think at all.

Simply fall into the authentic life you want to live; bring your own posse of beautiful freaks along for company, but don’t hang back waiting for others to change, become willing, or move forward. Anyone who doesn’t want to join up can happily languish in the land of beige.

That doesn’t mean you have to.

what is normal“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” ~ Rob Siltalen with the participation of Lee Clow (for the Apple Think Different Campaign)

Don’t wait for permission.

Don’t wait for approval.

When you look back at your life at the moment of your death, do you really want to be thinking, “At least I had more stuff than the Joneses?” At least I fit in and didn’t make waves? At least I took up as little space as possible and left no mark?

Scuff up the world. Run your body hard and fast.

Experience the world, don’t just visit it.

Share your particular and breathtaking gifts. Color outside the lines.

Fill yourself; gorge yourself on life.

Be completely you.

That’s what we (collectively) most need. We need for each one of us to step up and see this world — this mirror and this window — as though we’ve never been here before.

Fresh eyes. Open hearts.

We need to be willing to be abnormal, wrong outsiders who will change everything because everything needs to change.

© 2015  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

Feel free to share this post with others, as long as you include the copyright information and keep the whole posting intact. If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey on my website  at www.shavawnmberry.com.

 

Let the Water Take You

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Let the Water Take You

The theme this week seems to be loss and letting go, which have been the overarching themes of the past several years, if you’ve been paying attention. At. All.

We’re back in our hip boots, standing in a fast moving current, nearing the point where the water will sweep us off our feet. There’s no point in trying to stagger upstream any more. The currents whirling around us have their own plans. It’s time to float, leaf-like and still, and see where we land. (Even if it is someplace bewilderingly unexpected.)

***

In the midst of all this chaos and loss, I’ve been re-evaluating my planned trip to Spain and London this summer. I’ve realized that next summer is a better choice. In order to walk the El Camino de Santiago (550 miles of often rugged terrain), I need to lose a minimum of 50 – 75 pounds and be much more physically active and fit than I am. Having just started to recover from years of sleep deprivation, I realize now I can actually do physical exercise without collapsing in exhaustion, but it will take time. With school keeping me insanely busy, I don’t know how I can devote four or five hours a day to exercising.

Once the semester’s over, I’ll have down time for about 8 weeks. That’s when I originally planned to take my trip. Now, I will start my serious exercise then, in preparation for the summer of 2016.

***

This also will allow me a chance to devote myself to my writing projects because I will not be teaching at all this summer (something I haven’t done since 2010). I can launch several writing workshops (and their online components) and do some local writing workshops to beta-test some of the materials I want to use for workshops in London next year. I am setting up plans on my calendar and building time into my schedule for both writing and self-care.

At last, I am doing what is important first, rather than what is urgent. (Everything can seem urgent to a teacher.)

***

What are you letting go? What’s changing in your life? How are you navigating these losses?

Every Sunday I listen to New York astrologist, Anne Ortelee, broadcast her “Weekly Weather.” This is a big week. Today is a significant full moon. Tomorrow is Chinese New Year. Today is Lent…and the list goes on. If you have noticed that the losses are piling on and you feel isolated and alone with your grief, be sure to listen to Anne’s podcasts. They help. Tremendously. I feel much less alone when I hear her caution that the week is jammed packed with difficult aspects. I take her advice to heart. I build down time into my schedule. I nestle in bed and snuggle with the cats. I read and drink scalding hot Earl Grey tea. I sit with the song sparrows and hummingbirds and grackles; I listen to their contentment and joy as they chatter incessantly: Spring! Spring is coming!

They celebrate change. They revel in letting go.

***

via damien-crisp

via damien-crisp

I am having dreams again, after years of just slivers, fragments.

Full blown nonsensical narratives pour through my head each night.

This is a sign I am deep into the creative juice of my subconscious while I sleep. I awaken feeling rested! I haven’t felt rested in years.

For a long time, I lamented my lack of energy since it blocked my forward motion.

Now, I understand what a pleasure it is to see the world clearly and to be able to make plans. I am daydreaming again. I spy on my most secret self, greet her, ready to unpack the suitcase she’s been sitting on since I was 35.

There’s so much joy in being present, in being here.

I’ve come home to myself.

I can finally get started.

© 2015  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

Feel free to share this post with others, as long as you include the copyright information and keep the whole posting intact. If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey on my website  at www.shavawnmberry.com.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

10858487_10204575821828191_2380620331922281524_nAnd so it begins.

Seeing Light. Everywhere. Seeing doors everywhere. Seeing my way through.

At last.

While I’ve been recovering from the various and sundry ailments of the past few months, I’ve started to brew up some big plans, which I will be acting on during the next four or five months. One of those plans — the plan to walk the El Camino de Santiago this summer — will require a large commitment of time to prepare for. I am also starting a new book on writing as well as compiling a manuscript and writing a book proposal for another book — both of which will also require a significant time commitment. I have professional commitments to attend to besides teaching, so this spring is going to be quite busy. 

Sharing the process journey…

As a result, I will be writing fewer traditional posts here and instead, giving status reports on my progress, as I move forward with these plans.

I am a bit superstitious about ‘talking about’ my writing while I am up to my elbows in the process, so I won’t be gabbing about the contents of these projects, so much as providing a window to anyone who is interested, into my writing and creative process.

Why I do what I do.

I’ve written from time to time about my love for language, my fascination with words, and my genuine belief in their power to heal. To me, that is what the next few months of my life are about. I’ve been quite ill (mostly due to terrible sleep apnea) for the past fifteen to twenty years. Apparently, I’ve stopped breathing more than 15 times each hour as I tried to sleep. I didn’t know that was the problem. I often thought it was depression or ennui or iron poor blood.

Now, I am ten days into a period of actual rest due to treatment for the disorder, and I can tell you, sleep (real, deep, restorative sleep) will cure what ails you.

I feel a bit like Gulliver, waking to find his whole world changed.

Gulliver's Travels via Deviant Art

Gulliver’s Travels via Deviant Art

And I am listening to the heartbeat of my life, and heeding its call for, perhaps, the first time in my life.

What’s it telling me?

It’s insisting on a spiritual journey this summer, a health journey this spring, and a writing journey through both.

As the opening bell peals, I am excited. Terrified. Filled with joy. Hopeful.

I will let you know what I find out.

© 2015  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

Feel free to share this post with others, as long as you include the copyright information and keep the whole posting intact. If you like this piece please share it with others. You can like me on Facebook  or Twitter to see more of my writing and my spiritual journey on my website  at www.shavawnmberry.com.