TRUTH: A Year-Long Exploration of Personal Values

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The Back Story

I recently announced a new offering. It was going to be a year-long group based on a small but mighty book, “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words,” by the Scottish poet David Whyte. But I ran into an unexpected snafu: His publishing company contacted me, kindly telling me that my offering stood in violation of their “no commercial use” policy. I apologized and removed the web page.

(Cue agonizing over what to do.)

I didn’t want to just slap something together, but I was also reluctant to let it go. I slept on it, then slept on it some more, trying to strike the balance between playing with ideas while knowing you cannot just coax the muse on demand.

Then a coaching session with a client who had signed up for that original group brought some clarity. When Nukhet asked me if I had decided whether to offer an alternative. I told her I was wrestling with — and probably overthinking — it.

“Everyone’s lives are so full,” I said.

Her response was so perfect.

“I disagree. I think people’s lives are often so full… of stuff. But not necessarily fulfilling.”

And that’s when I told her the phrase that had come to me as I was drifting off to sleep last night: One True Thing.

But that is the name of an Anna Quindlen novel! And I didn’t want to run into anymore unexpected copyright issues, thank you very much.

Which is how I landed on this: Truth. Simple as that.

Because that is what we do in my groups: We show up and explore what’s true. We do not need the work of a brilliant poet and philosopher to guide this practice. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

And while I would have loved to use Consolations with its 52 everyday words as an anchor for this year-long group, what I realized this morning is that the essence of the group can remain: Exploring what’s true and meaningful, week after week, in our everyday lives. Exploring our values: What they are, what they’re not, and how they show up (or not).

This is work I’ve been doing with folks for 15 years. This is work I can claim as my own — and that I would love to share with you. In fact, I’ve considered offering a values-based group in the past, but never quite found the right structure.

One door closes, another opens.

What’s true for you may not be true for me. The beauty of this practice is that we can explore what’s true for us in any given moment, week after week, without self-judgment. The intention of the group will be one of witness, not debate, thus creating a truly spacious container for showing up and seeing what it’s like to be more fully awake to our true selves.

The true things in our days are often small, unremarkable. Not only that, but so often we say we want a regular writing practice, but then don’t follow through because it becomes yet another thing to keep up with.

What if it could be so simple?

What if once a week, for a year, you could notice when you were being really… yourself. Really… present. Really… true?

One word per week.

There are many splashy January offerings out there.

Instead of making resolutions and bending under the soul-killing pressure to strive harder, be better, do more, to grow, to change, join me for a slower, more spacious practice, of rooting more deeply into what’s already true.

HOW IT WILL WORK

A Weekly Invitation

For 52 weeks, we will explore what’s really true for us in our days, with each week centering on a particular “values” word.

  • Each Monday morning, you will receive an email from me with that week’s word, along with an image and gentle invitation to explore your relationship to it and one true way it shows up for you during the week. “Tell me the truth about…” is how we will begin each new week.
  • In addition, I will  post each week’s word in a secret Facebook group, sometimes along with a related poem or piece of writing.
  • The invitation will be to explore each week’s word in whatever way feels easy and right to you that week. You might choose to do a 10-minute timed, unedited freewrite, write a haiku each day, or make a collage inspired by what the word evokes. You might have a strong response to one week’s word while not feeling any particular connection to another’s. You might use the practice to really challenge your assumptions. You might write your own definition. You might tell a story, unearth a memory, or simply notice how and where that word shows up in your everyday interactions. The idea is to let the word be a guide inward, a gateway, to one true thing each week.
  • You may share your reflections, writings, photos, poems, and responses in any form throughout the week. Sharing in the group is entirely optional. It’s also fine to simply participate quietly; the choice is yours and may shift throughout the year.

A Year-Long Practice: January 1-December 31, 2019

  • Because we will be moving through 52 specific words together, participants are asked to commit to a year of participation.
  • A year sounds like a LONG TIME. In some ways, it is. Every single day is a life, after all. I am also intensely curious about what happens when we start something and stay with it, watching our own ebbs and flows and peaks and valleys — and each other’s — with more compassion and curiosity and less self-judgment, fear, and doubt.
  • Some weeks we will be all in, some weeks we will check out. What we will discover is community, connection, and more space to show up in the context of our real lives as conditions in and around us change and unfold.
  • Participation in the Facebook group is OPTIONAL.
  • There will be no attendance taking or critique, nor an expectation of reading and commenting on everyone’s posts. This practice is intended to be expansive and permission-giving. How you engage with it will likely evolve over the course of the year. The idea is to stay with something — especially ourselves — over time, and see what happens without attachment to outcome.

About the Words

Since 2003, when I hung my first coaching shingle and began working with private clients, I’ve been using the same list of “values” words as a starting point for our work. With some thoughtful tweaking, I’ve reshaped this list into one that will guide us through the year. From “accomplishment” to “trust,” these are all words that show up in all of our lives in some form or another. Each presents an opportunity to explore what’s true for us, how we have changed, and who we’re becoming. Each presents an opportunity to be more awake and alive.

Cost + Registration

Cost: $9/week

Think of it as us meeting for lattes each week to talk about words and life and everything from ambition to destiny to heartbreak to procrastination to self-knowledge.

Get Your Seat

To register: Pay in 12 monthly installments of $36.


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Be An Angel

We live in a culture where people who cannot afford to allocate $36 each month towards a creative practice such as “Truth” live in the margins and shadows. Since of my own core values is justice, it’s important to me not only to name this, but to create and offer concrete opportunities wherever and whenever possible to address and dismantle this disparity.

Those with higher degrees of economic security are much more likely to be able to participate in groups such as this one. If you are living check to check or working three jobs or single parenting or have medical bills or are helping to support other family members, this might be out of reach.

My Big Audacious Goal is to offer 50 scholarships for this group. If you have the financially ability to spare between $36 and $360/month for a year, please consider sponsoring between one and ten participants for this year-long exploration. One-hundred percent of your contribution will go to scholarships.

Community is where change happens. Thank you for being part of it.

Payment Options
Sponsor one spot : $36.00 USD – monthly
2 spots : $72.00 USD – monthly
3 spots : $108.00 USD – monthly
4 spots : $144.00 USD – monthly
5 spots : $180.00 USD – monthly
6 spots : $216.00 USD – monthly
7 spots : $252.00 USD – monthly
8 spots : $288.00 USD – monthly
8 spots : $324.00 USD – monthly
10 spots : $360.00 USD – monthly

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Special Add-On: Your Personal Values Inventory Session

An in-depth private session, where we discuss in detail your personal values, how you know when they’re being honored, and what changes you can and want to make in your everyday life to feel more like your true self in the world.

The session lasts 60-90 minutes and will leave you not only more connected to what’s most important to you, but with an actionable plan for putting that knowledge into motion.

The regular cost of this is $360, but members of this group pay just $200.

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Abandoning the Quest for Balance

Your career goals and your home life compete for your attention.

Just this morning, before reading my Chani Nicholas horoscope, I said to Mani: “I feel like I’m a stay-at-home mom and running a business.”

This is true. Both are true. And I wouldn’t have it any other way — I am grateful every day that I can shape my work life around my family’s needs, without having to negotiate every small thing with a boss. I am grateful that my work has grown roots.

At various moments in my life, people have basically warned me about making things hard, or at least harder. Coming out, getting divorced, stepping into a brave new world beyond the closet and perceived security of nuclear family — a harder life. Self-employment (also beyond perceived security of traditional employment) — a harder life.

What I have found is so very different than “harder.” What I have found is that ease is part myth, part privilege, and part luck of the draw. There is no “easy” life. There is no “easier” path. No choice is without consequences, and yet so often we focus only on the (feared) consequences, not even getting a chance to find out what else could lie on the other side of a risk taken.

The chasm we leap into is usually not as deep as the one we might be settling for when we stay stuck in situations — relationships, careers — that require us to contort our psyches and bodies in painful, often invisible ways.

My career goals and my home life are so utterly intertwined. To experience these as competing would be detrimental to both. I’ve all but abandoned the popular quest for balance and accepted that some days, I feel like a rock star, and other days, all I want to do is nap and play with the puppy. I do not think twice about eating leftovers, ordering pizza, or having spaghetti for dinner three nights in a row. As long as we all have clean underwear and the bills are paid and we are spending time together, I’m good.

I do not adhere to a strict routine. I write on the fly (like now). I read all of the writing in my groups and offer feedback as quickly and thoughtfully as possible. I don’t exercise as much as I would like, but I’m also not at war with my body. Yay.

How much is enough?

Last night, Pearl needed help with his math homework. I needed help helping him. Thankfully, Aviva came to the rescue and explained how to simplify equations to the both of us. We watched some cute little kid videos. Everyone said “I love you” to everyone else before bed.

How much is enough?

I have ideas but know I need to carve out time — intentional, protected time — to play with and flesh these out, so that they can become new offerings to people who might wish to explore writing as a creative practice and a means of greater self-knowledge. I see this as utterly connected to the wellbeing of our world and the dismantling of oppression. Once again, the “parts” cannot be separated from the whole, nor can we do and be everything at once.

Two or three years ago, my wife could barely stand long enough to stroll the aisles of Target. As I write, she’s getting ready to go do some work. There is a rhythm to our lives once again, one I missed desperately and feared would not return. There is something to not taking normalcy for granted.

I just watched a short clip on an Instagram account I follow. The woman has lung cancer and has been sharing her experience. A few months ago, her message was simple: “Love yourself. No matter what.” She said the one thing she was feeling regretful of, as she hovered in the uncertainty of illness, was being hard on herself for all kinds of stuff.

I’m not sure how I got here. I could go back and reread, retrace the bread crumbs, and try to wrap it all up with a pretty ribbon. But you know me — that’s not happening. I will do what I always do: Hit “post” and call it practice. Share and call it showing up. No big lesson or message to impart, just me, and real life, and words and being and a brand new day.

The Shapes of Clouds

This morning, Aviva and I walked to town. We stopped in Hastings, the stationary store I’ve been going to for decades. (If it ever closes, I will have to light a candle or something.) I bought a ream of printer paper, though the printer now won’t work. And a notebook for her, to keep her papers in for community college, where she’s enrolling next year as a high school sophomore.

The sky was blue and spring is early still, so the sun and birds and newly green tips of trees are nothing shy of thrilling. By the time we left Hastings, I tied my sweatshirt around my waist and felt comfortable wearing just a t-shirt. We bumped into an old friend of my mom’s with her very excited chocolate lab, whose name we learned was Bella.

After Bella calmed down, we chatted with my mom’s friend for a minute. V smiled and nodded the way you do in a foreign culture or country where you have no idea what’s going on and don’t speak the language.

After we parted, Aviva sighed and said she’d rather just not even tell people, meaning what she’s doing school-wise. I get it, the not wanting to explain or navigate other people’s questions. I know I’ve felt that way in the past any time I went off the beaten path, which was frequent enough that I learned how much to share and what not to bother with. When people say, “How are you?” they aren’t usually really asking.

We reached the corner and stood there for a few minutes waiting for a walk signal, with her leaning up against the lamppost. I squeezed the back of her neck, the spot where I know she desperately wants a hamsa tattoo and is waiting for my answer about whether I’ll allow this when she’s 16.

She looked up at the sky. “Whoa, look at that plane. It looks like a ghost,” she said. I saw what she meant; its white against the flat blue sky looked like a paper cut-out or an fading mirage. I scanned the clouds for shapes, but what I noticed instead was my daughter’s eye makeup, so expertly applied, and her big silver hoops earrings, and how completely her own person she has become and really always has been.

“I love being your mama,” I told her, eliciting a “whyyyy?” in the slightly exasperated tone that tells you this is not an unusual exchange for us. “It’s just trippy,” answered. “You are this whole other amazing person.”

We lingered there another minute before the light changed. “Bye, Mama,” she said. “Bye, love you, have a good afternoon.” And that was that.

I watched her cross the street, something that once a long time ago would’ve been a big deal, then walked home down the hill carring my printer paper the way I once carried her, looking up at the ever-changing shapes of clouds.

* * *

COME PRACTICE WITH ME:

This blog post began as an unedited 10-minute freewrite in my current 2-week group!

Join me for the next round, Inside Out, May 14-25. Sign up now and receive an 18% discount off the usual cost.

I, Spy: A Four-Week Writing Group


Writing requires that we take in our surroundings and examine our internal landscape in an attempt to understand, if not solve, the many puzzles and mysteries of being human in a particular moment in time.

This new group was inspired by the teachings of my late teacher, poet and memoirist Deborah Digges. She believed that as someone who wrote, it was her duty to listen hard — in the words of Anne Sexton — and to look closely. She taught me to be a spy in this world: To take notes without being noticed, to observe without disrupting, and to use details from everyday life to infuse our writing with vivid imagery and felt experience.

For a full month, we will practice this together, with gentle guidance and a shared space for our daily discoveries. We will see what it’s like to be invisible — not because the world is telling us we are insignificant, but because this cloak enables us to observe and perceive more keenly. Building on what catches our eye, we will play with writing short scenes. Finally, we will have the opportunity to reflect on our learning and plot out our next steps.

YES, I’LL SPY!

* Choose a payment option from the drop-down box — according to your financial ability.
Contact me with any questions

Payment Option
Spying is a Luxury $99.00 USD
Middle of the Road $149.00 USD
Pay It Forward $199.00 USD

Want a little more detail before you commit? Here’s a breakdown of how the group will flow:

WEEK 1: The Notebook

Each day this week, from Monday to Friday, we will forage moments. You assignment during this time will be to to keep a small notebook and pen with you at all times, and to jot down whatever catches your eye.

  • The way a child inches into the crosswalk, two steps ahead of her grown-up
  • The couple at your morning cafe who always sit at the same corner table, not talking
  • The cashier at CVS with a thick accent, who smiles at every customer
  • An elderly man who walks at a glacial pace past your house each day at the same time
  • A hawk circling its prey above the frozen fields
  • A fleeting interaction, tender or terse

No matter what details you notice, you’ll put them into your daily files for later without comment or judgment or extrapolation of any kind. Each day, we will share lists of our collected moments in our secret spies Facebook group. We will practice witnessing, and witness each other witnessing — with nothing more to do.

WEEK 2: The Magnifying Glass

This week is an invitation to comb through last week’s spy notes and observations. Each day, you will bring a magnifying glass to one of the moments that caught your eye during Week 1. Looking even more closely now and using your mind’s eye, what else becomes evident or visible? Working with imaginative details or drawing on lived experience, we’ll share ~ 300 words per day that illuminate more of the moment — not to make a scene as much as to look more closely at what we may have missed at first pass.

WEEK 3: Zooming Out

At the opening of this week, you will choose ONE of your writings from Week 2 and add to it each day, you’ll add to it. By carving out just 10 minutes a day to stay close to your selected moment, you’ll start developing some expertise and encountering more questions about its environs and chapters. We’ll begin to zoom out, but not too much. Jena will offer guiding questions throughout the week.

WEEK 4: The Meta-View

During Week 4, we’ll get meta by observing the observer. Each day we’ll get curious about a particular question that bears significance on how we move through time and space — and what this has to do with our writing + life. We’ll share our discoveries, thoughts, questions and intentions, and give and receive reflective commentary for how to work with these to our creative benefit going forward.

WHO IS THIS GROUP FOR?

This group is open to writers of all genres, as well as those who don’t consider themselves writers but wish to engage in a creative process. An open mind, a spirit of inquiry, and a willingness to be honest and kind with yourself and others are the only requirements. Anyone who loves writing and life and wants to invest in exploring more ways to encounter the world and the page will find themselves right at home in this space.

RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES

  • Notebook
  • Writing utensil
  • Curiosity
  • Invisible cloak and magnifying glass (optional!)

DATES

Monday, February 4 to Friday, March 2, 2018

COST (SLIDING SCALE)

$99/$149/$199*

YES, I’LL SPY!

* Choose a payment option from the drop-down box
Contact me with any questions

Payment Option
Spying is a Luxury $99.00 USD
Middle of the Road $149.00 USD
Pay It Forward $199.00 USD

* Some scholarship funds are available upon request. Please contact Jena to discuss; nobody will be turned away.

When the Going Gets Tough

DNA Tree of Life by MimiPrints

I am a crier. Or is it cry-er? If I am a rager, it’s usually inward. I am a driver and  a walker. When the going gets tough, I used to be a smoker and a runner. These days, I’m making friends again with my yoga mat and the breath.

I keep going. I remind myself that nothing is permanent. I crave being cared for and taken care of. I can get awfully martyrish but usually catch myself before I get lost in there completely.

I did an online personality test the other day, one of those Facebook quiz things that you know is an utter waste of time but you click on anyway. My results ranked these four things highest: Anxiety, sensitivity, friendliness, and complexity. Really? There were other things, too. But those were my top results. I felt a rush of shame, a kind of “shouldn’t” especially around the anxiety. I want to be better than that, isn’t that ridiculous? I want to be cool as a cucumber. I want to be calm as a buddha. I want to be easy like Sunday morning.

Instead, I seem to carry the “worrier” gene that has surely been passed down the mother line for generations. We recently learned that there is an actual gene for “worriers” and “warriors.”

The thing with genes is that we can turn then on and off. We could talk nature/nurture all day, and it’s endlessly fascinating stuff to me. Genes determine so much about our propensities and dispositions, but so does context and environment in every sense. From the water we drink and the soil our food grows in to the rain that falls and the chemicals carried on wind even over the organic crops we may choose, there is no unchlorinated end of the swimming pool.

But back to genes, and things getting tough, and worry. Who decides what “tough” means? Do I wring my hands? I desperately want to say no. I don’t sit around fretting. It’s no wonder I chose to marry someone who is so unstoppable in the face of adversity.

But my people are also tough. We’ve survived and survived and survived. And I am giving myself to this lifetime of practice. Practice staying with myself and the people closest to me when things get stressful, rather than running, rather than folding up, rather than imploding, rather than wishing and fantasizing for something other or better. Even when the going gets tough, I want to remember that I am here. I get to be here for it. Sometimes I can lose sight of that, and those are dark moments.

Tomorrow the light returns. The sun begins to come back, one minute longer at a time. The sun enters Capricorn, season of my birth. I am surrendering to these next days, making room for quiet and letting things be as they are. Plenty of things have been really tough these past few years, but the hardest parts are inseparable, too, from everything that feeds and fuels me now, both literally and figuratively.

At the end of the day, that’s the double helix I’ll hang my hat on.