Make a start. See what happens.



Take a minute

Since last fall I’ve been learning Taichi with a group of fellow beginners in a nearby park. Our teacher is a wise and talented friend with whom I’ve been writing and practicing Aikido for years, and from whom I’ve learned the names of birds and trees. The invitation to learn this beautiful, mindful art from him was a no brainer.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until I was hobbled by surgery last summer, forced to slow down, that I finally said yes to the invitation. But having long ago regained full strength, I still protect the 8:30-9:30 hour every Thursday morning to soak up the richness of this gorgeous practice and community. To learn the 24-move yang style form, start to make some headway on the 48. White crane spreads wings. Repulse the monkey. Seek the needle at the bottom of the sea. Push through the mountain.

A full sixty seconds

My favorite part of each session comes at the end, during our “cool down” (which these days involves standing in a sliver of sun trying to warm numb hands). After a few movements to thank our bodies, our teacher holds up a finger and says, simply, “take a minute.”  

Heh? The first time I heard him say this I kept my eyes on him, watching for some instruction on what to, ya know, do with that minute. Because it’s a real minute we’re taking. An entire one. A full sixty seconds. I actually found myself mimicking the subtle movements he was making as he stood in his body, in the now.

Eventually I caught on to the fact that this was my minute. One in which I could stand still with eyes closed, or to move and stretch to the outer edges of my space, or to watch the dogs playing on the patch of grass nearby, to feel gratitude or peace or anxiety or longing or whatever is moving through me in the moment.

To let myself be. To let Life be in and around me.

I grew quickly to love the minute itself, and even more so the invitation that leads into it.

Take a minute.

Or not…

This past week has been a swirling dust devil of transition as I step more fully into the work of Soul Writing. Even though I knew it was coming, the disruption startled me. I got spooked, sped up, made stuttering grabs at all that was flying around me, trying to cram it in the neat row of jars I’d arranged, themselves getting perpetually knocked over by the gale.

It’s all so beautiful, what has been stirred up, like a swarm of butterflies. All very real. And just out of reach at the moment. Uncontainable, with plans of its own. There are exquisite arrangements that it will all settle into, eventually, if only I would leave it to its dance. If only I would trust the way Life only ever seeks its own balance, seeks harmony. I wouldn’t be where I am if that wasn’t true. None of us would.

But no. I started frantically chasing all that was suddenly airborne, trying in vain to pin it back down again.

I gave nothing a minute. I made a damn mess.

Practically, it’s looked like this …

There was going to be a Soul Writing series on April. On Fridays. No wait, on Wednesdays. No actually Fridays. Wait Wednesdays. Me, comparing schedules and weighing capacity and trying to determine which airtight container I could cram this thing I love into.

Meanwhile the squall of change continues to blow things up, knock things down.

Then came another Thursday, when the invitation I treasure came once again.

Take a minute.

I absorbed it like the wrung-out sponge I’d become in my concentrated burst of misguided efforting. The words vibrated through my entire being, became a mantra, a beacon, a writing prompt. I let them live in me, steer me—or more accurately, keep me still, compel me to stand and watch in awe as the pieces fly.

I saw that if I give it a minute it the pieces will indeed settle, the storm will abate (hard as that is to believe, living in California right now). Farther out there will be more space, more breathing room, more damp ground for us all to sink into, to write our souls out.

Giving it a minute revealed that April needs be a long minute of watching it all play out (with a li’l’ Mini-Retreat smack in the middle to keep us touched in to this sacred practice). May has already been earmarked for travel and rest.

In June we’ll have our series. That’s what Life seems to be inviting, anyway. I hold all plans lightly. Feathers in my hand, free to blow away if they have elsewhere to be.

In the meantime I stand and behold, with love and wonder, all that moves through and around and above and below us. What this extraordinary minute can reveal.

Magnificent garbage

“Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories…”

– Natalie Goldberg

It’s 10pm, my eyes are closed, and suddenly the elevator stops its descent just short of the ground floor of blissful oblivion. I’m suspended between levels, the doors open an inch, the lip of the floor visible at chest height. I punch the button – the familiar “G” with a star next to it (“this is where you belong; this is the way out”) – repeatedly. Nothing. I press the alarm bell, call for help, which only serves to jar me further, keep me wide awake, in it for the long haul.

Oh god. That thing I did. Didn’t do. The time I said too much, or not enough. Was complicit in cruelty. Committed cruelty.

Sixth grade, I’d just learned the term “no offense” and tried to compliment my classmate’s haircut by saying, “Nice hair, no offense.”

Age 38, when really I should have known better, having a DIY wedding reception and skimping on everything but the booze. Why was I so stingy? Why couldn’t I have invited more people, put a little more thought into making it a better time for everyone?

It was almost 30 years ago, but I’ll never stop regretting making my little sister embarrassingly late for her first day of high school because I was too busy being cool. For not sticking up for her — or myself. For giving up too often throughout my life. Asking for mercy from people who should have been asking me for forgiveness.

Yesterday. Sure I gave the man a buck as I headed into the store, but why couldn’t I have handed him a few more on my way out? Why did I think I had paid whatever it cost to allow me to ignore him from then on?

None of these events have done deep or lasting harm in the world. Still, despair cuts coldly through the darkness, shreds my warm duvet, freezes my eyelids open. What have I done, what have I done? Why didn’t I, why didn’t I …?

What are the memories, the fears, the flashes that steal your breath and your sleep and your peace of mind? Mine (clearly) tend to be regrets; my insidious critic telling me that everything that goes wrong in this world is my fault. Trauma does this too, of course—the things that happened to us over which we had no control. Or maybe it’s apprehension about the future: of a misstep, an unlived life, a losing control, of losing our loves, or our lives.

It all lives coiled in our bodies, reappearing in the most vulnerable moments, especially when we’re alone, still, quiet. The light of day aids us in keeping this stuff just below the tide line of consciousness. That’s when our armor, our survival strategies are strongest, most tidily assembled. At night, for many, that all comes apart.

Writing can be a way to grab one (or more) of these shadowy figures by the tail before it retreats back into its creaky coffin to sleep the day away, recharging so it can haunt us again that night.

What if you try spinning one of these demons into a tale? By “spinning a tale” I don’t mean fictionalize, necessarily. I just mean tell the story. Write the memory the way it happened. Let it play all the way out. Then, sure, maybe write it the way it would have happened. Should have. Write what you would have done differently. Write what you imagine happened after—happy ending, sad ending, bizarre ending. Write it and shake it up, shake it loose. Take away it of some of its energy. Ease its hold on your psyche.

Once you write it, however you do, it’s not in you anymore—at least not in the same way it was. It’s on the page. My teacher Nancy talks about getting these stories out of our livers. Indeed. This is where it all bunches. The liver. The pancreas. The lungs. The heart. Oh, the heart.

Write this junk out of your organs before it begins to rot them. Toss the magnificent garbage outside to rot on its own. You know what they say about one person’s trash. The most gorgeous, life-changing stories we read are often precisely this: ones the author simply can’t or won’t carry around anymore and have finally spilled out onto the page like so much compost.

The beautiful thing about compost, of course, is that it grows things. It nourishes the earth, sprouts new life. On the page, this crap is doing far less harm than it is subsisting in your body, draining your life force, robbing you of rest. It might even be doing some good. Clearing the memory could indeed reveal another one sitting right behind it. Great, dump that too. Clear acres of new space in yourself. Why not?

All that you remove becomes a benign offering to the world: at worst, compost simply becomes dirt (as will the very paper you wrote the thing on). At best, gardens grow.

We’ll explore all of this – gently! – in the next Soul Writing series – registration opens soon.


A friend told me recently that what we do in Soul Writing has been serving them more deeply these days than coaching, therapy, meditation. They’ve been writing their way to insights that have been hard pressed to come through any other way.

Of course this isn’t true for everyone all the time; however, depending where we are in our lives, what we’re working through, and the way(s) we orient to the world, it can be quite the tool for transformation.

This moved me deeply, of course, and I suppose was in the background for me during my own writing the other morning, when I uncovered something big about a tendency of mine, unlocking a flood of compassion for both myself and my dead father. It was a day where I wrote my requisite two pages but didn’t feel finished, so I turned the page and kept going for another two. Here’s what came through.

I ran out of page but wasn’t done.

I ran out of life but wasn’t finished.

I find it impossible these days (always?) to end a piece. I have trouble saying goodbye. Ending a conversation. I’m learning boundaries but the hard stop still eludes me. Eyes always flicking to the clock to tell me when something is over because my body never would. My body gets absorbed into the moment, the person, the task. It’s either the time or what’s in front of me. Never both.

I’ve always been one of those people who is obnoxiously [to some; approvingly to others] prompt, and usually early. Pre-pandemic, when I used to go places, I would spend piles of minutes killing time waiting in the car, walking around, doing not much of anything but trying to fill the moments until the thing began, the door opened, the person was ready.

I grew up with a dad who’d have the car running in the driveway while I was still brushing my teeth; who was always itchy to depart, to get there, to depart again. We stayed on the move like grifters on the lam and yet somehow this was tied – in my mind and surely in his – to being responsible, dependable.

No, not in his! In his we were just moving, moving, getting through the day, on to the next. He woke early and slept early and through it al, like a shark, stayed in perpetual motion. In my mind doing the same meant I was doing it right. Only now do I wonder – what was pursuing him? Why did he need to keep moving? He was moved by danger; I inherited the shape but not the threat.  

Still, there is no “taking my time.” Never has been. In some pocket of my mind there is forever a beige Ford Explorer out in the driveway, exhaust emitting from the tailpipe, threatening to drive away without me at any moment. Whatever I am up to must be cut short. Whatever I need needs modification. Life moves fast and it’s on me to keep up. If not, I fail. If not, I’m left behind.

My pieces never have natural conclusions because the end comes too soon, always, and I’m never ready for it. Or I’m rushing the piece unnaturally. Get through it, get to the end, move on to the next thing. Wrap this up, even if you aren’t finished.

When have I fully occupied a piece of writing – or, for that matter, a room, a moment, a relationship, my own body?

The bottom of the page is near – another forced ending, coupled with the clock a few minutes away from my invented 7am deadline. I have no tidy conclusion, nor should I. At least I let myself go on a little longer this morning.

What is a writer?

“Wow, these people are writers. I am not, but it’s such an honor to be in a group with them.”

I hear some flavor of this remark from at least one person after most Soul Writing workshops. I quickly shake off my disbelief and commence my “tish tosh” lecture: “Tish tosh, my good human! You’re out of your brilliant mind! Of course you’re a writer. Look what you did.” I quote their astounding written words back to them. I remind them of the group’s collective amazement at what came through them. I acknowledge how hard that is to believe. I assure them that it is nevertheless true.

I wonder how much of this gets through—mainly because I don’t know that my own writerliness has gotten through to me yet. I confess, I still sometimes sit in my own workshops going, “whoa. These people are writers. What the hell am I doing here?”


I didn’t start calling myself a writer until very recently. I know, why not? If I have been writing my whole life and none of it qualifies me, what on earth does? What about the galaxies of words I’ve amassed, published and otherwise, has me not be a writer?

What the hell is a writer, anyway? They’re not just the novelists, the journalists, the poets. Nor is it limited to the Very Important Job Titles with “writer” in them: screenwriter, copywriter, underwriter. Some of these don’t even involve much actual writing. I’m thinking, for instance, about late-night comedy writers sitting around a table tossing ideas to each other. Someone’s probably taking notes, but I doubt their word count, at least in that role, comes close to mine on a given day. But does being a writer have anything to do with the quantity of words?

See? It’s so damn arbitrary.

Ultimately, I took on the moniker in service to others—when I finally, fully committed myself to holding safe space for folks to do the scary, electrifying work of connecting with their writer selves. If I was going to insist that you are a writer, I supposed it would be easier for you to take in if an Actual Writer was saying it to you.

I understood, too, that nobody else was going to dub me an Actual Writer. I mean, maybe if I had spent years in an MFA program, or had a regular magazine column, or religiously took the stage at poetry slams, there would have been some official christening at some point. Maybe I would have gotten a patch to sew onto my jacket or a digital badge for my website (the writing you see on this blog was produced by an Official WriterTM).

As it was, for the sake of those I long to support, I had to claim it.


Turns out that the rogue decision to acknowledge this aspect of my identity as central changed everything. It’s what aided the pouring through of the manuscript I recently wrote (my first ever). It locked my sights on the memoir I need to write. Each day I watch in wonder and glorious frustration as my life organizes itself around this inevitable center point.  

I see now that it was never going to happen that other way: by waiting for some nameless future accomplishment to qualify me, or for someone who knows more to officially acknowledge my status. Nor was it about believing I could be a real writer, or working harder, or buckling down and finally proving my worth. It was simply about surveying the throughline of my life—the way it all wound around my writer self—and accepting that it was so.

And … check this out … people believe it! They have no reason not to. It’s what they’d been assuming all along anyway.

So I guess what I’m inviting is this: If Being A Writer is important to you, next time you find yourself in a place where two or more have gathered to write—and where everyone in that group is a Writer but you (because you said so)—try extending that assumption to yourself. I am writing. I have written. I am a writer.

Say it. See what happens.

I promise you, whoever put it in your head in the first place that you aren’t a writer—the 6th grade teacher who was ‘disappointed in your use of punctuation,’ the college professor who told you your essays were ‘all over the place,’ the ‘helpful’ peer who tore your burgeoning novel to shreds—isn’t going to going to suddenly materialize beside you and laugh in your face, though it might feel like they will.

Your voice, not theirs

What these people said to you feels real because they were trying to anchor you (and themselves) into the Real WorldTM: an airtight box into which the wiggly wonder of your imagination was never going to fit. They were never looking for your voice, your essence, the unique creation that is yours to bring into the world. They were looking to rules and precedents and standards: the structures that we assume are holding us together, but in cases like this are suffocating us.

And here’s a little more air for you to breathe: you’re never going to write like so-and-so in the group (ya know, the really brilliant, actually legitimate one, says you). Nor are you going to write exactly like your favorite poet or author or lyricist. Of course you’re not going to. You’re you. Can you rest into the freedom of that?

This is the most miraculous thing about Soul Writing—what I am willing to fly my own “I’m a writer” flag in service to. The writing, yes, but also the collective acknowledgment of each writer’s unique voice, creation, soul. A writer pulls a piece through, and the rest of us welcome it, bow to it, stand in awe. Yes, yes your voice is real, we say. Your words are valid. Your life, your creation, you are affecting me. You are changing things. You are a writer.

Yes. This. Yes.

Maybe you’d like to get [re]acquainted with your writer self… join us to do just that at an upcoming Mini-Retreat.

Set your writing free

The best gift I received this season was Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. There’s lots about it that is, well, delightful (you did it, Ross!), but the element that’s inspiring me most this first time through is the simple fact that he wrote a short essay by hand in “smallish notebooks” every day for a year.

Ross admits up front that he let go of “daily” pretty early on, skipping a day here and there. He doesn’t [need to] go into detail or justification as to why he didn’t get to the page every single day. I suppose one reason is that he’s human. Also it’s my impression (this book leaves lots of space for impression, which is marvelous) is that the structure may have been a bit too forced and stringent and, since this is writing on what delights, he had to be freer to find his joy in it. And structure is often the surest way to find freedom. Maybe he found a gorgeous middle way. Who knows. This is all conjecture. All impression.

(Also, since we’re admitting things, I will confess that as of this writing I am less than halfway through the book, so it’s possible that what I say about it at this point might be addressed or refuted in later pages. I just couldn’t wait to say what I loved about it, and to share it with you.)

The spirit of the essays—a pared-down selection from among the hundreds he did write—is one of flow. The man didn’t have to rack his mind to come up with the day’s subject of delight; it was always right in front of (or in) him. Which of course is one purpose the book: pointing out that there is something delightful in every day, even if—especially if—the subject matter is intense. Often a noticing leads to a heavy truth (cancer, guns, accidents, alienation) that he writes with, if not always lightness, at least a movement and flexibility that transforms the notion, the memory, the reader.

There’s palpable healing in these pieces, though rarely a resolution, which I find wonderful. For one thing, if something is resolved, what’s left to write about? Plus generations of heartbreak and injustice aren’t going to be resolved any time soon, but breathtaking art keeps getting made—addressing, rewriting, reclaiming, turning horror into a kind of beauty. Quieting, maybe forever, a few pieces of a few hearts, a few hundred words at a time.

These essays are gorgeously imperfect, grammar be damned—or at least set aside in the name of delight, of play, of joy. One essay celebrates the very delight of writing by hand: the way, for instance, run-on sentences are allowed to exist without the temptation to edit, or liberation from the perennial condemnation of spell check.

The pieces vary in length, too. If Gay gets his incisors in something he may go on for four or more pages, but more often than not they cover no more than a single spread. A mercy—a delight!—for the reader, who may just want to dip in for a minute or two of richness and contemplation before turning to their own day’s delights. It reminds me that we don’t have to labor over a piece all day for it to have impact.

In these and so many other ways worthy of celebration, Ross Gay has compiled—readily, honestly, quirkily, and yes, delightfully—a book. A body of work. I was not in his mind during the publication process but get the sense that he released this thing into the wild in the same spirit: unattached, merrily, as an offering. Giving freely from his abundant garden (gardening a theme that crops [heh] up regularly throughout). There’s no possibility of, and certainly no point in, keeping it all for himself.

Just in this moment (I swear I did not plan for this, I simply wrote my way here this morning) I realize that I am committing to show up daily at the page and write my delight, or some other topic that wants my attention. Isn’t that handy, given that a fresh new January is mere days away now. I haven’t done this for a long time and a year is a lot to commit to, but heck, I write every day anyway, why not select some sacred prompt and devote myself to it?

Whether or not it becomes something I wish to offer the world, I hope to at least write it in that spirit: offering. Not showcasing, not entering into a contest, not presenting for viewing. Not writing with an audience in mind, but rather to see what the writing itself wants to become. And most importantly being in practice—for the sake of keeping my writing loose and joyful, staying unattached to outcome, and remaining connected to this art that I adore.

If it feels at all juicy to you, I invite you to join me. Pick a topic or a prompt—find one in the #prompts channel on the Soul Writing Slack workspace, or in a book, or anywhere in the world, really. Sit down at the page every day. Set a timer for ten minutes (or less, or more, whatever feels in balance), and write something. Share it here if you’d like, or email it to me at Regardless, know that you are creating a body of work that, even if it’s not out in the world, it’s out of you, on the page, and now you know you can do this.

What’s more delightful than that?

Letting it through

Being a conduit

My favorite word in English is conduit. There’s the beauty of the word itself (roll it over in your mouth a few times to get the picture… stretch it out, pronouncing each vowel on its own, or quick, like a whip, the “t” sound sharp at the end), as well as its meaning—one that for me has always been aspirational. 

In terms of being human, I’ve always thought of a conduit as a bridge between the unseen and the seen. Bringing into form what waits, unformed, in the mystery. Being a channel for the divine. For me it feels like the point of being alive.

It is, of course, what artists do, what trees do, what parents do. It’s what happens when you follow through on an inspired idea – or even a regular idea. It is creation: potential that every being has. It’s happening in, around, and indeed through us all the time. 

It is effortless—a surrender, a blending, an allowing. It can be blocked or distorted by will, by ego, by our inevitable snatching the reins away from life’s natural unfolding. Efforting does not help us be better conduits. On the contrary, it’s about freeing ourselves from what’s impeding the flow. 

Making the shape

Part of the intention and indeed the magic of Soul Writing is to practice being these simple channels for what needs to be created through us. At the beginning of each session the group goes through a short meditation that puts us more consciously into contact with our conduit selves. 

Here are some aspects of that shape. I invite you to try them on and notice if and how they support your bringing forth what wants to come through you. (I also encourage you to breathe lots through this … the air flowing through us keeps things moving and clears space in magnificent and necessary ways.) 

1. Grounded (connected to the earth)

This is very important. Think of a lightning rod, or electrical wiring. Without ground we’re staticky at best, dangerous at worst. Grounding is not the easiest thing for many of us… living fully on this earth is scary! It took me years to buy into the concept, let alone embody it. But it’s essential for being human and especially for being a creator. 

A gentle practice for this is to picture roots extending out of the bottoms of your feet, your tailbone, any part of you that is in contact with the earth. Let the roots grow; don’t force them. Allow gravity to do its thing, aided by your breath. The roots may go all the way to the center of the earth, or they might stay wide and shallow (plenty of plants and trees thrive this way). See what sort of system your body needs in this moment to feel connected here on this earth. 

2. Contained

Approximately an arm’s length all around you is an invisible [to most] egg-shaped field containing energy that extends from our body and makes contact with the world—just as much as our physical bodies do. Surrounding that egg there is (or should be) a sort of shell or membrane. This is an important boundary that lets us know where we end and others begin. 

Turns out containment is quite necessary for freedom, creative and otherwise. Without a boundary it’s far more likely we’ll lose contact with ourselves and/or take on other people’s stuff. It’s impossible to feel autonomous or create anything if we’re blurred into the scenery or dissolved into others. 

You can visualize or simply feel the edges around your space, noticing what helps you feel both safe and free. Perhaps it’s a matter of shoring up the edges, or, if you feel crowded, allowing them to become more porous. Maybe they move an inch in or out. Again, you are simply watching this happen – letting your body tell you what is needed here. Breathe and watch as your field brings itself into balance. 

3. Clean

I mean, sure, shower if you want. Most workshops are on Zoom so that doesn’t matter all that much. This is more about having a body and space that is free of energetic debris. It makes it much easier for creation to flow through and be realized when it doesn’t have to trip over the accumulated crap we don’t need, and that often isn’t even ours. 

Sometimes the junk is recognizable—memories, trauma, expectations, burdens. Other times it’s not; it’s just something that feels off, like it doesn’t match our vibration. We don’t have to know what it is, but we are well served to let it go. 

You can use your roots for this – flush the nonsense down into the ground. Or let it float away, dissolve, or simply disappear. No need to micromanage the process. If you get rid of something by accident it will come back (karma is great that way). As you breathe, you might notice your own energy moving into the spaces previously occupied by old or foreign matter.

4. Connected upward

Once we are a little more grounded, contained, and clear (all of these are ongoing processes – feel the movement in them, and trust that they’ll keep going without your conscious involvement), we bring our attention to the crown of our head and notice there’s a little cup or funnel there. (For those who speak chakra—and don’t worry about it if you don’t—this is the 7th). It’s where the words, the art, the inspiration, the love, the divine directive flow in. 

What we’re not doing is going out into the void, traveling to the realm of possibility. It’s delightful, this place of dreams and inspiration, but nothing actually happens unless we bring what’s there into our grounded, anchored selves to be made manifest in 3D. To begin this process, you might send a little signal flare out into the ethers – “I am here, grounded, clear, fortified and ready for you to start making your way to and through me.” 

5. A continual stream

Through is a key word here. The most powerful part of all of this is letting it flow. Words and ideas are not coming to us. They are not ours to keep forever—nothing is. They are entering our conduit selves, living here for a time, and then flowing on out. Some of the words, images, memories, notions make their way through our hands, our pens, our vocal cords, and are realized in the world. The rest, like electricity, like water, flows out into the ground, nourishing the earth with its beautiful potential. Perhaps it is eventually re-evaporated back into the void, becoming newly available to be formed into some 3-dimensional shape in the future. 


Again (and again!) we must allow all this. It doesn’t happen otherwise. Our only job is to keep our spaces safe and clear for when divinity passes through. Allow it a place to rest, be nourished, indeed transform, before sending it on its way. This perhaps is one reason (if not the reason) for the invitation from wise folk to treat our bodies as temples: we are making space for holiness. We are stewards, we are monks, we are humble servants to the mystery. We are conduits for the divine.

With all this in place, you can imagine what comes through folks’ pens at Soul Writing gatherings. I hope you’ll join us sometime and find out what wants to be brought to life through you. 

Dismantle Grammar

Right now, much of the world is taking scythes to the hedges and corn stalks that have, for generations, trapped us all in a maze of excruciating conformity, very much including the arbitrary rules of English grammar. The way I’m seeing this necessary demolition show up in Soul Writing workshops is pretty cool. 


Having spent my adult life in a torrid love affair with the English language—specifically the written word—I’ve remained blind to its flaws: namely, the way it, like so many tools of white dominant culture, serves to control and oppress. It has constricted many a brilliant voice before—or worse, shut it down before it’s had a chance to say anything at all.

At the tip of this awful iceberg are the otherwise privileged native English speakers who, for whatever reason, couldn’t onboard the rules drilled into us in school, and therefore don’t know when to use ‘your’ versus ‘you’re.’ Who the fuck cares? Is any of this not a reason not to write? 

Yes, for many, it is. It’s precisely what freezes us up. It’s where the self- or other-imposed label of “I’m Not a Writer” gets slapped on our little sweater, and the world is instantly deprived of a powerful voice, probably forever.

More tragically, awfully, evilly, there are folks who did not grow up speaking, let alone writing, ‘proper’ English. They either struggle and strain to learn and use it, or are dismissed and rejected if they can’t.

In her Huff Post article, Are You Asking Me to Talk the ‘Right’ Way or the ‘White’ Way?, Jolie A Dogget says, “Proper English elevates whiteness while reinforcing the inferiority of everyone else. Anything that deviates from that is wrong and needs to be corrected. This reinforces for privileged white students that they’re the default and that everyone else has to conform.”

By the way, I’m learning that whiteness doesn’t refer just to skin color. It is a vast societal structure designed to elevate some and oppress others. It has its own set of rules to which we conform or not, and therefore determine how successful we are. (One of those rules is actually termed “Worship of the written word.” Yiiiiikes.) This is the water we swim in, so distinctions like these can be jarring when we first encounter them, especially to folks like me who have benefitted from this system their whole lives. If you are feeling the quite natural discomfort that comes with wandering into this territory, I invite you to join me in getting curious and reading up about it.


Anyway, in part, Soul Writing is an attempt to dismantle this and repair the damage this has done to all of us, and the courageous folks who show up are doing just that, it in amazing ways. When we bypass the mind, the critic, and the rules hanging out in our psyche, the most unexpected and moving combinations of phrases come through. There is so much beauty in the sentence fragments and the made-up words, or when a writer’s inner eight-year-old suddenly grabs the pen. If we’re lucky, occasionally someone will gift the group a piece written in a language other than English. While maybe we can’t track the meaning of the words with our brains, there’s plenty that moves and impresses. Our hearts and guts follow exactly what is going on and have plenty to say by way of celebration.

This is ‘good’ writing. This is healing writing. This is the writing that frees us.

It’s an imperfect attempt at dismantlement, of course—I myself am very much in recovery. I made it through the merciless obstacle course that is the mastery of written English because I started from a place of privilege and, through a ‘fortunate’ combination of brain chemistry and desperation to conform, absorbed all those random rules right into my marrow. My mental and emotional bandwidth has been known to get clogged with trivialities like misused apostrophes and hanging prepositions. It used to be a point of pride—as though my knowing how to ‘properly’ punctuate a sentence was something that made me desirable, superior. (Shudder.) It gave me a leg up. Still does. But I see it now, at least. I see how ugly it is, how unhelpful, and how truly harmful.

A quiet reclaiming

As welcoming as the Soul Writing process is, I know there are lots of people who stay away from it because, for all the ways the world has effed with our natural flow, their “I’m Not a Writer” identity is so deeply embedded they wouldn’t go near anything writing related in the first place. 

Makes perfect sense. Still, I’m guessing there are things that want to be said through you. If you’re not ready to write or share in a group, maybe you can sidle up to the page on your own today. See what comes out when you’re letting the words fall through you. What language are they in, what order? How did you write (or draw, or dance, or think) before you found out there were rules to conform to? Before you understood that there was only one way through the cruel maze of our broken society?

Take up your own scythe, your pen, your sharpie, your spray paint can, and write just one sentence in your own voice. Dismantle grammar. Say what you need to say.

You are always welcome to join us to practice more.

Today’s the day

By Jan Martinez

I noticed something new this week. (What a boring way to begin—okay, let’s be boring.)  All experiences are one.

Let me start again. This week both my parents would have had birthdays if they’d lived. They’d have been 81 and 87, Mom and Dad, respectively. So I intentionally gave myself space, after a 40–hour work weekend, to allow life to show up as it would. And it did. Here’s what I mean, the whirlwind tour.

Wednesday—no Tuesday!—afternoon, I was sitting in the sunshine reading when I received a text showing my husband’s car crunched together with another on a major highway. He had taken the photo and sent it, so I let him call me. And he soon did.

Lots of back-and-forth, and I readied myself to pick him up as his vehicle wasn’t drivable. This became convoluted because he didn’t know exactly where he was and had started walking, declining to go with the tow truck. I eventually found him at the Detroit Zoo, which was nowhere near where he thought he’d been. Yes, that was Tuesday.

Wednesday was my mother’s birthday—peaceful and ease full. Thursday was my father’s birthday, a meeting with my teaching partners of The Wisdom WAY Master Class, and the beginning of my fast and purge for Friday’s colonoscopy. So it also invited me to contemplate my own death—by anesthesia, perforation, or a dreaded diagnosis. Of course I’m fine. A little “musical” as they say, which is typical.

So much story to say that there truly was one taste, one experience. A kind of structure underpinning all those varied, rich, purgative experiences of life and the inevitability of death. A steadfastness, a flow of something indescribable. And today was the day I got to see it.

Can you be a gentle reader?

I’m finishing up something I’m hoping to publish and, as part of the process, will soon send it out to a few folks to read. Thinking about how I’m going to frame it, a few requests come to mind. I’ll ask that they only point out anything that is glaring in its ignorance or obtuseness or confusion. That they don’t compare it to the great literature they’ve read (after all, I have no training, no degrees, no academic grounding whatsoever in what ‘good writing’ is—and anyway, this isn’t written in that spirit). Mostly I want to know how it impacts them, or if it does.

Above all, I’ll ask that they be gentle, please. This is a vulnerable new creation that needs to be handled with care. Naturally I will pick people who are likely to do this regardless of my requests. It is so essential to have safe people around our creations, at least to begin with.

This puts me in mind of those old-timey pieces addressed “Dear gentle reader.” Surely it was a nod of respect, referring to the reader as a gentleperson/woman/man. In this moment I’m moved to reclaim it as something more literal. I want to invite us all to be gentle readers.

Cultivating a posture of receptivity

There is room in all writing, all art, all the world, for scrutiny. It’s the posture most of us walk around in all the time, with which we approach everything: price tags, newspapers, social media posts. Attention spans are short these days. Not to mention how poised we all are to be offended. The metrics are “is it worth my time?” “Is it entertaining me?” “Am I pissed enough to respond?” If something doesn’t prove to be one or all of those things within the first few words, generally we move on. So in a way it’s natural that we’d approach others’ work the same way, regardless of context.

Part of what we’re doing in Soul Writing workshops is dismantling this automatic way of moving through life. We first encounter each other’s work by listening to the writer read it. We do this gently: energetically we’re standing back a few paces back from the piece and its creator, letting the words wash over us, and noticing what sticks in our mind, arises in our heart. What soaks into our skin and imperceptibly enters our bloodstream. What changes us.  

This wouldn’t be possible if we were hunched forward in our chairs, foreheads close to the zoom screen, eyes squinting, brows furrowed, pen clutched in hand, poised to capture the first inconsistency we hear and spit it back venomously at the writer as soon as we can.

To make sure there’s no trace of this, we shape ourselves differently to start with, beginning each session by connecting with ourselves, with our feet, our spines. Sitting straight in our chairs, shoulders dropped, attending to the space in and around us, observing how it shifts with our intentions for it. We do nothing, will nothing. We simply notice. And this carries through to how we write—often watching with wonder as words fill the page as though through us—and of course how we listen and respond to each other’s work. Through this practice we become trustworthy stewards of our friends’ vulnerable new creations.


I started learning taichi recently and what struck me immediately is that the empty space surrounding me is not empty at all. It is palpable. There is a definite something I am moving through. There are molecules to visit with every millimeter of motion. It has me—even after just a handful of lessons—moving around with a new attention on the space immediately around me. Noticing how it responds, welcomes, even pushes back if I go too fast, try to breeze past it.

Can you shift your attention to this way of noticing? Can you assume a posture that allows you to simply behold the air you breathe, the writing you read, the people you talk to?

Granted, it would be naïve and even harmful to be this way with everything. There are things written and said that are wildly misleading, hateful, and ill intended. This isn’t an encouragement to look at everything through a lens of blind acceptance.

Still, I wonder what is possible when slow down and take a broad, soft focus of all that is coming in, all that we’re moving through. Maybe if we take a beat to notice how it affects us, we might even get better at discerning what is and isn’t ‘good’ – not objectively (there is no such thing), but for us. Regardless we become more generous in our lives, meeting with kindness what is offered to us, freeing the other to give more, express more, become more alive.

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