finding the soft

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” – Mary Oliver, ‘Wild Geese’

“Doing what you love isn’t a privilege; it’s an obligation. Find out what you love.
Do it because you love it. Stick with it. Start now.”   ― Barbara Sher

In the past week and before, there has been far more talk of hate and anger than of love. Even inside prison, the mood has been quashed lower than normal. It can seem as if there is nothing to look forward to, nothing to strive for.

This is one of the reasons we like to bring art materials in on a regular basis. Whatever else may be roiling in the minds or across the floors of the units, art always elevates the mood, centers the focus, grounds the chaos. Of course, we also write – and the words this week were no less powerful than usual. Haunting phrases hang still in the air even days later:

but everything she’s ever loved has all ways been all wrong …  In her world there is no place to love … she loves in darkness …’

Your interests and beauty marks have a long story to tell, all those scars and broken bones from all the times you fell’

‘Love is scary. My vulnerability, the unknown. Trust, something that’s been broken so many times.’

‘Let me soften your burden. Let softness rule, OK?’

If I could do one thing, I would scream so that I know you could hear me and tell you that I’m still here. You know, just in case you forgot.’

But the art! Using pages from various of Deborah Koff-Chapin’s new Soul Touch coloring books, each woman’s need to love, to connect with the soft or hard edges within, to express light and dark in stark and direct terms came pouring forth. To honor this experience, I have chosen to create a gallery of their work for you to witness, as we did. See what calls to you, where you find the soft.


“What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.” ~ Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello

This week at our inside writing group, we posed the question: “On whose shoulders do you stand?” As always, some women chose to respond directly to the prompt, while others chose to address whatever lay on their hearts that evening.

And as always, I am humbled by the intensity and variety of writing that emerges in that charged 20 minute silence, hands scribbling across the lined page oblivious to the chaos beyond the not-quite-closed door. One woman writes almost entirely in questions, a kind of extended lament one cannot read without feeling her sense of lostness within alongside her determination to define herself. Another celebrates the many shoulders on which she stands, clear that without them she is nobody; but with them, she has a chance. Read on and feel their words in your heart.

I search to be something better. I wander aimlessly, unsure sometimes of where I am truly meant to be. I struggle. I battle and I’ll never know when I might need that shoulder to lean on. Sometimes I find many excuses as to why not to do something. In other words, talk myself down on doing things I know will help me in the long run. My soul aches to be reassured as I continue on my journey to find Me.
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what the shadow knows

shadowShadow knows its purpose; it seeks to make the unconscious conscious, it tries to tell us its secrets. Our job is to learn how to listen and to discover our shadow’s purpose.” – Leigh Pobst

Following a sequence of topics suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, we started an investigation of our shadow selves in writing group last Thursday evening. It was a surprisingly lively discussion, given we had three new participants and a shadow from the previous week to address while reinforcing our circle agreements.

Yes, as always in these circles, routine and consistency prevailed. We moved on through the opening poem, which stirred a surprising amount of resonance with the seven writers present. It was ‘From Out of the Cave’ by Joyce Sutphen, opening and closing with the following lines:

When you have been/at war with yourself/for so many years that/
you have forgotten why… 

then you wake,/you stumble from your cave,/blinking in the sun,/
naming every shadow/as it slips.

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the battle within

Some evenings when we write inside, the energy is palpable around the circle. Hands punctuate animated conversation. Side chatter resists slowing to whispers. Bodies bounce and squirm. At other times, the group files in as if under directive of solemnity or worse. This week was like that. Depression fairly seeped from fingers and hair follicles. What little energy reserves were in the room before group were used up so quickly we needed to end early. But for one writer. MG was so energized by the writing prompts, she had to be stopped after 20 minutes of focused scribing, her letters firm, determined, clear. She had something on her mind and this was her chance to share it:

I see a person who appears at ease; yet there are tunnels that lead to spiritual beings who are in a discontent – maybe sad or angry. It could mean a couple of different things. For one, it could be a diagram of how outside forces are always there attempting to bring you down and drive you into mayhem.  Yet all the while I experience this and maintain my composure, let nothing that is negatively oriented gain a lead on my psyche, allowing myself to fall into a trap. Continue reading