small tranformations

tree in a drop of water - nevena uzurov

credit – nevena uzurov

May you travel in an awakened way,/Gathered wisely into your inner ground;/That you may not waste the invitations/Which wait along the way to transform you. – John O’Donohue, ‘For The Traveler’

Early January always seems to bring a flurry of activity. Intentions to change behavior, or surroundings, or focus in some way(s). At writing inside VT we have a time-limited change ahead of us. Meg, one of our two director/facilitators, is taking a three-month leave to travel and work on her first book.

While this is exciting indeed for her – something out of the ordinary for her, as she wrote on Thursday when we sent her off with a card hand-made by one of the writers in our circle – it also helps us all focus on the opportunities of travel. Using John O-Donohue’s wonderful poem, ‘For the Traveler’ as a starting point, we explored places we have been, want to go and how traveling – even within the confines of our daily routine – provides opportunity for change.

One relatively-new-to-the-group writer shared the following detailed understanding of the power of the small to radiate outward, impacting multitudes:

Each and every day transforms you. Every encounter, every wave; someone stopping in traffic to let you go. These are all small transformations. Each and every step you take is along the way to transform you. You could be driving along, stop at a crosswalk, the woman who you’re letting cross could be having the worst day ever. She spilled her coffee on her white dress, then went to quickly get changed because she’s already running late, and as she pulls her stockings up, her tiny index nail puts a pinstripe tear up the side. Maybe she didn’t notice until it was too late – she’s already too far away from home to change again. She misses the bus, has no money for a cab, so she’s hurrying to get to work. Running later, having to wait for the man on the ‘walk light’ to go from orange to white.

You take 5 seconds to stop and wave her across and suddenly she smiles. Her smile passes into you and her colleagues, as well as yours. They smile at someone else and so on. That one 5-second motion in your life has now touched 16 other people. Hence the quote, “waste not the invitations which wait along the way to transform you.” I live my life by this. I try to , anyway. I try to remember each and every motion, word, starts a wave that could potentially change thousands of lives.



put down the weight of aloneness

all alone

credit: ashwini shrivastava

“We shape our self
to fit this world
and by the world
are shaped again”

We always open our writing sessions inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility with a well-known poet’s words to signal our appreciation for words, to help ground us in the writing circle, to offer inspiration for our own written words to follow.

Sometimes the poems are seasonal, offering opportunity to reflect on changes happening in the natural world that are often mirrored within each of us as if set by biological clock.

Other times, the poems are humorous, to lift the mood and encourage everyone to shake loose some seriousness.

At still other times, they are purely inspirational, drawing on the deep well of divinity and wisdom each of us carries within, often unbeknownst to us.

This past week, words of poet David Whyte opened the circle. His words are deep and piercing. He is both a highly spiritual man (it’s hard to think of him without recalling his close friendship with the late John O’Donohue) – as witnessed in his own poetry; and a pioneer in the world of work over the past 20 years, “building a critical mass of executives and leaders who have learned through his work, the language, metaphors and urgent necessities of conversational leadership.”

To witness the impact of his words on a circle of 14 incarcerated women gathered inside a dreary windowless room of an evening is nothing short of breathtaking. Continue reading

‘for a new beginning’

cliff jumpingIt is a new year. Inside Vermont’s women’s prison, the sense of change, of review and renewal, permeates the circle as we meet for the first time since the holidays. We open with John O’Donohue’s powerful poem, “For a New Beginning” (see Prompt of the Week for full text). The women nod vigorously, underline phrases that hold their attention, vie to be first to share their understanding of the poem. Clearly, they are eager to grab their pens and spend 20 minutes writing their hearts out. And they do. After which we read our writing around the circle.

Each face tells how spellbound its listening owner is as we take turns sharing our desires for our own new beginnings. One of the women observes how everyone has something they want to change; and yet how different the things are, how differently they are written about.

Waiting moment by moment to hear “today!,” JL continues to bide her time prior to release – a day she has been anticipating for a couple of weeks now. Meanwhile, she joyfully joins the circle which, in her words, ‘opened a lightness and ease of the anxiety I had been holding for the unknown.’ Below, her writing from the evening’s group:

            from ‘A New Beginning,’ by John O’Donohue

How is this possible? Doesn’t the word ‘risk’ itself evoke feelings of danger, insecurity, and fear? It’s risky to dive off a cliff into water below. How do I know I won’t be crushed by rocks unseen beneath the surface of blue?

Holding nothing back is still, however, my greatest desire for this year. I want to live in this skin, this beautifully tangled mess of eccentricity, imperfection, and emotion. I want to let my light shine. I can feel the glow growing, warmth, humor; a spectacular array of characteristics that have made me the person I am today.

I want to risk things larger than a cliff-dive into the ocean: living my dreams, allowing myself to accept that I am a writer, growth without a man to fall back on (or to have to hold up, which has generally been my life’s scenario). I want to be at ease with the fact that I love myself, and don’t need or care about the way others perceive me.

I want to be courageous and prove the doubters wrong. I have been burning for far too long; I have scars so deep they reach my soul. With all that burning, there must be a light of some kind and I see it . . . through my sober eyes, through my laughter, through the reflections of loved ones beginning to see possibility in me once again.

So, how is this possible? I may not have all the answers yet; but ask me again next year, because that is exactly what I intend to do . . .  release, unclench, believe that anything is possible. This is my new beginning.