Make a start. See what happens.



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.

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. 

Into the fire

Funny, at first blush I’m tempted to throw all the people into the fire. No, of course not the people themselves. Just their pulling on me. Their expectation. Their burden and insistence. Their interference and interruption. The way they throw themselves onto the path that a moment ago was clear, infinite, wending toward some unknowable possibility.

Instead what I am finding is feeding the flames are indeed people, but not because I’ve dashed their need of me against hot burning logs. Rather, what’s going up in smoke is the notion that I can do anything, anything at all, without them. Without you. That in fact these insistent souls aren’t roadblocks, or prison wardens, or corsets, or trip wires, or anything else my overwhelmed, over-efforting ego has named them over the years.

On the contrary, they are the way. Their insistence is the insistence of god. They are me being shown to me. They are the wisdom my own mind can’t touch, the love that fills the deep holes in my heart. They are guideposts when my singular GPS goes on the fritz. They are the fuel for my fire, for my car, for my own two legs.

I am sorry, so sorry to all you who have tried, and whom I’ve pushed aside, annoyed and asserting that I can do it my own damn self, if only I had a moment’s peace.

There you all are, standing in a line, holding candles, offering quiet fire, offering the peace I have always, always sought.

Prompt inspired by this song …

If you look closely …

By Michelle Hynes

If you look closely… You might see all the dust that gathers on every surface in this old house. Or you might notice that we haven’t washed the windows in a pretty long time. (I notice that myself, in the rainy season, especially after we put the storm windows on.) You might spy the piles of paper waiting for our attention, or the haphazard stacks of books that don’t quite fit on the shelves.

I hope you won’t look too closely, though, at the imperfections that catch my attention. I hope that when you walk in the front door of this old house, you see a wide open and welcoming space. I hope you see that there’s a tray of treats set out just for you. The water in the kettle is hot, and we have lots of choices for tea. I’ll give you the seat on the couch that faces the well-curated bookshelf, and not the mess on the dining-room table.

I hope you’ll come and stay a while, and you won’t look too closely at anything except my smile. You’ll know I’m glad to see you, and you won’t mind a bit of dust on the floors. If you look closely, you’ll see what matters and what doesn’t. If you look closely.

It doesn’t look like much

By Rosslyn Chay

It doesn’t look like much but I will take what I can get. No haggle, no fight, a beggar can’t choose. I will live with whatever seems possible — not strike out an inch beyond my limits. Don’t worry, it’s not too much to ask of me. I will stay in line without you instructing; be quiet till you ask me to speak; exhale only when you are pleased.

It doesn’t look like much — it’s the Asian female way — diligent, efficient, subservient. Seems so natural and automatic how this body moves. This arm stretches out for the teapot before you notice your cup is empty. It’s easy. It doesn’t look like much, really. Doesn’t take much to lift the china and top up your tea; doesn’t take much to put you before me; doesn’t take much to watch, and learn, and watch for what you might need.

It doesn’t look like much until I begin the work to undo it — to untangle and unlearn how my body stands and walks; stepping aside or shrinking itself in thrall to yours. What an elegant waltz we are in; I, your willing partner following and attuning to your shifts even when you never invited me to dance.

Dinner at our house was …

By Michelle Hynes

Dinner at our house was… not delicious. Perhaps this is why I’m so intent on every meal I serve at home being pleasing to the eye and to the palate. If I try something new, and it falls flat — I’m crushed. I might even cry. It’s ridiculous, I know, to invest so much in whether the salt, the sweet, the texture is perfect. And if you know me—you know I didn’t use a recipe. I might have run my eyes across a cookbook, sure… but follow a script? That’s just not me.

I am a planner, though. I know what we’re going to eat next and how many meals I can cook before the next grocery trip. You will never go hungry at my house. Not for food. Not for love. Not for all the deliciousness your heart and your hands and your mouth can hold.

Dinner at our house was not delicious. It didn’t feed the soul. It had rules, and a certain predictability. Sometimes there was tension, or tears. Dinner at my house is different. I’m rewriting that old story every day, for myself and for you.

Dinner at my house is delicious. It is welcome. I invite you to be nourished, to feast at my table, to taste the bounty of this land and of this life. 

On the body

By Jan Martinez

I’m curious to know where the voice starts. Today I began my morning with a 5 Rhythms Dance meditation, followed by Theta music with binaural beats, so it feels as if my whole body is one harmonic instrument with resonance across time and space.

The balance of sensitivity and the awareness of boundaries has always been so important for me. I’m not clairvoyant, but perhaps I’m clair-sentient. Often odd sensations course through my body, some fleeting, some chronic. Today I’m reminded to ask if they’re mine.I recall times across the country or the globe, unwittingly I took on the pain or illnesses of my family members, frustrating doctors. Then only to find that they weren’t my ailments, my diagnoses, to begin with.

Lately I’ve had such pain in my upper back and arms. I attributed it to overwork or tension while typing, but now I wonder. Since my father’s death, my mother’s had similar pain, and after dancing today, I recognized I was literally carrying her pain. And in the dance, I put it down. So how to stay in compassion and not take it on…

It is said that the arms speak the truth of our hearts. I feel this as I write, or when I paint, or dance. Creativity flowing from my heart through my arms to my hands. The flow of warmth when I embrace a beloved friend or family member, in the warmer—or very much warmer—embrace of my husband. In this way, I find myself settling into the truth my mother won’t speak: how very, very much her own heart is hurting.

My neck speaks (1 min)

Sometimes it’s so hard to bear the weight of all these thoughts, the onslaught of ideas and songs and stories and pictures that go off like fireworks filling the sky, too many to appreciate any one, or like flower petals and rice thrown at a wedding.

Sometimes I want them to drip down like droplets of rainwater into my heart and then slide one by one down the thick rope-like vines and tendrils into the cenote of my belly.

There, in that cold clear water they can permeate and infuse my whole being like blood, that life force that courses through the pathways and underground tunnels of my veins.

Fanning the flames of anxiety

A few weeks ago I composed a funny email to students in the Aikido class I teach. Amid the latest wildfires, terrible air, power outages and all manner of apocalyptic phenomena that have sadly become symptoms of late fall here in northern California, I had some inkling that folks would be reluctant to show up for our Monday night practice. The message went something like, “don’t let the smoke stop you from coming to class. We’ll move extra slow and have some meditative practice.”

Not a terrible message in and of itself; however, it did assume the recipients needed reassurance.  My fellow Aikidoka are awesome, smart, attuned warriors who know how to take care of themselves. Why would I assume they were hesitating? Further, why would I presume to introduce the idea that they should be?

Thankfully some grace intervened before I hit send. A busy workday ensued, and when the hour drew too late to send the message, I settled into the trust that every class is fine and perfect no matter who shows up.

To my delight, LOTS of people showed up—more than have been at this particular class in a long time. (Yes, every class is fine and perfect, but more is always merrier!) The air stayed clear. We had a great time.

No doubt my ‘reassurance’ would have only served to dwindle the ranks by putting folks’ attention on a nonexistent problem. So why did I feel the need to tell people not to worry? What was going on with me here?

Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together (it’s a sequence that may sound familiar to Aikidoka: trigger > automatic response > intervention of grace > do something else > better situation for everyone).


I was ‘inspired’ to write my students after I came out of the weekly staff meeting at my small, close-knit company. Over half of us were experiencing some direct effects of the fires—hosting evacuees, navigating transportation issues, dealing with power outages and plugging gaps in emergency preparedness—and all this of course was a microcosm of what was going on with thousands of people in the area. So I suppose I was picking up on just a bit of ambient anxiety. As much as I’ve worked on it through Aikido and in other ways, if I’m not paying attention I will always absorb other people’s feelings.

And I was in a vulnerable state, so more apt to be blindsided. The day before had been the 14th anniversary of my father’s sudden and unexpected death, the trauma of which is stored deep in my cells and gets activated annually on the day and throughout the week, resulting in actions that are little bit more fear and panic driven than they usually are. Though I’m conscious of the date, every single year I forget its effects. (It’s so hard to be aware of this stuff when we’re in the middle of it, isn’t it?)

Plus I was still integrating my recent belt test, followed by a development workshop where some really deep stuff had been brought to the surface. And I’m prone to seasonal depression.

So. I was a bit more scrambled than usual.

Automatic Response

All of this unconscious disturb in my nervous system triggered my particular automatic response, which is To Do Everything In My Power To Calm Down the World. Since there was nothing in any of the circumstances I had actual power to fix, my mind invented something. It projected the anxiety onto another group of people about whom I care deeply, and it manufactured a way to solve their nonexistent problem.

Honestly, at moments like this I just have to stand back and marvel at the power of the mind to invent and carry out the complex shit that it does. And not just randomly! It’s always in the interest of protecting us—in twisted, distorted ways, but still, that’s its motivation. It really is an exquisitely honed piece of machinery, designed with only good intentions. It’s something to be celebrated, even if we can’t always trust it. Kind of like… I don’t know, a nuclear power plant. An absolute marvel of engineering, spectacularly useful, but surrounded by concrete and razor wire for very good reasons.

Anyway, like the fires around us, the spark of an idea—‘reassure’ my students—grew very large very quickly. Large enough to drive me to compose an email. But also (thank goodness) obvious enough to show me that something was out of alignment, and ultimately render me receptive to the guidance that came.


I like to think that what stayed my hand when I was about to send the email was some subtle understanding that the action was rooted in anxiety. Even I couldn’t parse in the moment whose it was or where it came from, I knew that was the motivator. And that is a dance that never ends well. Acting from or responding to anxiety, no matter how loving our intentions—is always going to fuel the fire.

Action doesn’t calm anxiety, you see. Of course we believe it does, and many of us spend much of our time doing things to quell our uncomfortable feelings. Anxiety is a response to feeling out of control. It’s a natural fear reaction to the unknown. Inconveniently, most if not all of life is an uncontrollable mystery. And our good, sweet, stalwart, well-meaning, well-trained, well-oiled minds can’t abide that anything close to that idea. They will go straight to the fix. Our bodies will follow suit. It’s all automatic; wired into us ages ago, again, for many good reasons.

Do something else / do nothing

And here we are in the dojo, hard at work rewiring this very device. We spend years in early practice responding to attacks with our learned ways of coping with anxiety: fix, control, muscle, leap three feet off the ground, contract, wither, quit. It keeps not working and we keep doing it.

Then a few months or years or decades in, something happens. We start to glimpse a new way of responding—one that’s rooted, weirdly, in non-action. It’s a way we’ve never before employed so it’s hard to trust it at first. “I didn’t ‘do’ anything; why did uke fall so easily?”

We begin to learn, very slowly and over the rest of our lives, that reacting in kind to anxiety breaks the flow, and is far less effective than holding a huge, grounded, calm space in which it can simply exist. Settling into the unknown, unattached to what’s going to happen next. Maintaining that space for others to bring whatever they’ve got. Quietly aligning to the highest versions of others and of the situation, waiting patiently for that to emerge.

Perhaps then we start to awaken to moments of self-forgetting, noticing the conditions and triggers that render us more vulnerable to anxiety, more apt to engage with it. We make a bunch of mistakes, but every now and again our training kicks in and we catch ourselves, re-orient, and just for a moment we open to grace. In doing this (and failing to do it, for how else do we learn?) we are cultivating the ability to re-center ourselves in the moment, no matter how wobbly we are.

A better situation for everyone

This is mindfulness training in service to the world, my friends. The wildfires here represent an infinitesimal fraction of what’s happening on and to our planet. This moment in history is supplying us with no shortage of anxiety to dance with. Learning to respond differently doesn’t just make our lives better. It helps the world. In the inevitable moments of doubt that trip us up on any spiritual path worth its salt, maybe this truth can serve as a beacon for all of us to get up and keep going.

Let’s stop trying to fix the world by managing all its anxiety (whatever our strategy is), and hence fanning its flames. Instead, let’s work to transform our own discomfort into something else—something steadier, more eternal. Endeavor to blend with the void rather than control it. Even in just giving this our best shot (which we do by simply showing up at the dojo), the ripples that flow out from us will be ones of greater ease, trust, compassion, love and healing.

This doesn’t mean we won’t feel anxiety. Of course we will. We’re human. But part of our job as warriors is not to let it spread. And we do that not by trying to stop it, but by attuning to the highest good in any situation, the greater flow of it all.

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