I’ve got something a bit different for you today. I get a lot of emails. This one in particular stood out to me and I immediately knew I wanted to reply with more than just a few sentences pinged back. So this is for you, dear Sri (I’ll send you a private note after I’ve published this post), and for anyone else who was wondering the same. Here’s my take on how to access your own inner wisdom…
Hi Susannah, much love from India. I have been reading for blog for while now. I was part of the last Unravelling course you offered too. Your wisdom and sensitivity gives me the space to open up spaces within me.
I have a question. When you read so much (as I do- our reading lists are very similar:) ) and read online so much (as I do too), how do you eventually access your own wisdom? I have been meditating for a while now and am struggling with grief that has left a gaping hole in me. I feel inadequate quite often. I also feel that my grief is worn so close to the surface and yet no one sees it.
How do I access my wisdom?
Love and peace, Sri
I do believe that each of us has all the answers we need inside of us, but you’re right to wonder how we access that. We live in such a noisy world. There are a lot of other people telling us how to live and how not to live. There are rules to follow and responsibilities to fulfil. We’re blessed with these incredible brains full of memories and dreams, but the fears and doubts so often get in the way. As a textbook overthinker, I battle with this every day of my life.
If I was to sit down and try to access my ‘wisdom’ all I’d hear would be thoughts, so I have a few tricks that help me side step my overthinky brain and tap into the part of me that’s far wiser than the face I show the world. It starts with a piece of paper and a pen.
Without a doubt journalling is one of the fastest ways to get to know who you are on the inside. You can use paint and collage, write gratitude lists, use prompts and keep five-year diaries — and all of that is fantastic — but the method I return to again and again is the simple act of writing stuff down, stream-of-consciousness style, in a notebook. I write the date at the top of the page and then scribble down whatever is on my mind. It might end up being three pages of hormone-fuelled angst or a paragraph outlining an idea that came to me over breakfast. I don’t journal every day but I’ve made it my practice to check in with myself in my journal at least once a week, usually more. I don’t write anything particularly profound — most of my journalling reads like a messy brain dump.
Getting into the habit of journalling — however that looks for you — is the doorway to accessing your inner wisdom. In that way it’s a bit like meditation: for the first few minutes after I’ve closed my eyes I’m like a dog trying to get into a comfortable position. My neck suddenly itches, my hands feel cramped. My head immediately fills with everything I must do and my monkey mind jumps around wanting to be let out of the cage. But after a few minutes of letting myself settle, things quieten down and I can bring my focus to the mantra, if I have one, or I simply ‘sit back’ in my head and pay attention to the space inside me (best way I can describe it). If I’m lucky that’s the point when I start to feel more connected to the bigness of everything, but even if I don’t get there, I still feel calmer when I eventually open my eyes.
So if we translate that into journalling, first you get everything out of your head onto the page. Concerns, worries, half-baked ideas, preoccupations. He said this, she said that. The what ifs? The resolutions. Get it all out. And then keep writing. Start asking the questions and see what you come up with. Once I’ve dumped everything out of my brain I find it’s much easier to start looking at things from a different perspective. Sometimes I’ll keep my notebook by my side all day, adding more notes as they occur to me. What started as chaos in the morning might look very different by the evening.
Another really powerful journalling technique is dialoguing, where you write out a dialogue between you and another person/place/feeling/part of yourself, writing both sides of the ‘conversation’. For example, you could write a dialogue between you and the ache in your foot. Start with: Hello foot, why are you aching? What are you trying to tell me? And on the next line write out a response from your foot, going back and forth until you come to a natural pause. You could have a conversation with anything you want more clarity about — a colleague at work. Your house. Your fear about a certain situation. You could even bring out the big guns and have a conversation with God/the universe/your idea of a higher power that means something to you. Ask a direct question and then write out the response.
The other journalling technique I use a LOT is letter writing. Like the dialoguing, you can write letters to people, places, things, feelings — anything and everything, really — but it’s especially powerful when you write a letter to yourself as yourself. Try writing a letter as your future self, one year older than you are now. Or five years older. Or as your 80-year-old self. What does she have to say? What clarity can she share about your current situation? I like to imagine that my future self knows a heck of a lot more about the world than I do, so when she ‘writes’ me a letter I feel I’m accessing the part of me that’s wise and loving. Doesn’t matter that it’s the me of today who’s writing it — I’ll often read a letter back and wonder where did that come from?! Sometimes it’s magical, sometimes it feels a bit silly, but it’s always useful.
I journalled everyday for the first few years of my bereavement and alongside my weekly trip to see my therapist and my eventual artist dates with my camera, these helped me heal and move forward in my life. I’ve been journalling for 30 years, but it wasn’t until I was plunged into grief that my journalling started to go deeper. I had more questions and desperately wanted to find some answers. I didn’t find the answers I wanted, but I did start to unravel the answers I needed. I didn’t meditate during those years — I sat with my mind in a very different way — but I can tell you that these days I find the journalling I do after meditation is often quite profound, so keep a notebook by your side when you meditate and jot down anything that comes to you, no matter how small.
It would be lovely to think that we could read a book or attend a seminar and be gifted with all the wisdom we’ll ever need. There are some extraordinary teachers out there we can learn from, and I am always looking for new breadcrumb trails to explore, but what I know to be absolutely true is when it comes to me and how I live my life, no one knows more than I do. I’m the expert of me just as you are the expert of you. So pick up a pen and start writing a letter… see where it takes you. xo
Friends, it would be silly of me not to mention my journalling course. Journal Your Life is currently in session but will be running again in September. In the meantime, The Sacred Alone starts next Monday and is an invitation to spend 20 minutes a day tuning in to that quiet knowing space inside you that offers wisdom, refuge and calm. If you’d like to practice some meditation-and-journalling magic, this is the place.
While I’m exploring The Sacred Alone with 322 other people (that sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it) I thought I’d share an old post from 2009. I don’t know why I even thought to read this post today, but perhaps there’s somebody out there who needs to read these words. I offer this as yet more evidence that we CAN create the life we dream of. That is IS worth trying, it IS worth reaching high. In a year’s time, or five years’ time, or even in six months’ time, life could look very different. Let’s work towards making that happen…
Sometimes we don’t believe we are worthy of receiving what we dream of; sometimes we don’t believe it could ever happen. Sometimes we are so convinced of our apparent unworthiness we do everything we can to prevent the good stuff entering our lives. We don’t do this consciously, of course. I’m slowly learning that all I need to do to help the good stuff manifest is to step out the way, to stop littering the path with my worries and insecurities, and all the endless head-chatter that scares the dream whisps away. In some ways it’s easier to sabotage our dreams than help them become reality — that way, when they don’t happen we can shrug our shoulders and say, ‘see? I knew it. I’m not worth it.’ But lately I’ve been trying this idea on for size: what if I AM worthy? What if it is okay for good things to come into my life?
There was a part of me that assumed life would be easier once I survived the grief — that I’d embrace a new life-is-short credo and let go of all my fears, gliding through life feeling the power of survival under my wings. But that didn’t happen. Life still felt as difficult as ever, if not more so. But today I realised that I’ve reached a place where I’ve let go of some expectations — of what my life should be looking like by now, of what I am capable of doing, of who I could be. I’m starting to embrace what is, and that includes giving my dreams more space to breathe.
I always thought I’d be married with kids by now, that I’d be more successful by now, and more established blah blah blah. What I’m starting to grasp is that this is it — this is my life — so why not have some fun with it? View it as a malleable batch of bread dough and see what shapes I can create. Because no one else is going to do it for me, and, heck, maybe some good stuff will happen. This weekend I made a good start on my book proposal, and in doing so I drop-kicked the whiny but-who-do-i-think-i-am-to-write-a-book out of my third-floor window.
My part of the deal is to work hard, be committed and have a little faith. And to make room in my life for the good stuff to flow. We are allowed to have our dreams, big and small and everything in between. Think of them like your children, to be protected and nurtured, believed in and encouraged — and when the time is right, you need only get out of their way so they can stretch their wings and fly.
First posted November 1st, 2009
Feeling inspired by Jen’s recent book post I wanted to share some of the books that are dear to me. I own a lot of books and all of them have impacted me in some way, but these are a few of the non-fiction ones that changed me for the better…
The Book of Love and Creation by Paul Selig
Okay, this is where I finally step out of the woo woo closet. As I mentioned in my own book, I’m not a religious person but I’m definitely bit of a spiritual magpie. I bought my first deck of tarot cards in my teens and have been interested in all thing new age ever since. Out of all the metaphysical books I’ve read over the years, this is the book that’s had the most profound effect on me. There is so much love and wisdom, such gentle humour, such deep understanding, so many a-has… If you’re at all interested in personal growth and consciousness, read this book.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
When I grow up I want to be Anne Lamott. Out of all the writers-writing-about-writing books I have, Bird by Bird has the most dog-earred pages. Her suggestion to “write a shitty first draft” helps me to get over myself every time I sit down to write something. It really is a wonderful book about writing… and life.
Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Conner
Out of all my journalling books (are you sensing a theme here?) this one speaks to the way I use my journal to connect to my own innate wisdom — and that which is outside of me. Also check out Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin.
Selected Poems by Sharon Olds
When I started blogging back in 2006 I reconnected to my love of words in a way I hadn’t felt in all my years as a journalist. Finding my way back to poetry opened new doors in my brain, and it was Sharon Olds’ work that moved me the most. She writes about the guts of life. She just knows.
The Dance by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
I loved The Invitation, but it was The Dance that pierced my heart. If you’ve read my book it won’t be a surprise to discover I love Oriah’s words — the way she weaves personal stories and realisations together was my guiding light as I did my best to create my own tapestry. We all have to start somewhere and she was a huge inspiration for me.
Companion Through the Darkness by Stephanie Ericsson
This is the book that kept me afloat in my first year of bereavement. Never has a book been more important to me than this one. These days I find I can’t pick it up as it connects me to my past loss so fast I have to sit down. Powerful and healing for those who need it.
Creating Money by Sanaya Roman & Duane Packer
Another one to file in the woo woo category (my my, I’m really showing you all my knickers today!) but this book was another life-changer for me. When I moved to Bath in 2008 and was trying to rebuild my life, this was the book that helped me the most. It wasn’t even the ‘money’ part that drew me to it — it helped me figure out where I was going. It helped me get closer to my purpose. A few months later I created Unravelling and taught it as an evening class… and now I’m here. Magical book.
So there you have it. A few of my most treasured books.
What books have changed you for the better? Please do share!
There are lots more over on my Pinterest Book friends board.
We’re coming up to the nine year anniversary of the death of my love. While I still mention my bereavement occasionally here, rather than define me it has become the marker of when my real life — my truly conscious life — began. His death shattered everything I knew and everything I was, and created a hole so vast I didn’t know if it would ever be filled again. But as the years passed, and I healed myself inwardly and outwardly, I have learned so much about life I don’t know if I’d want to change anything that happened.
Through the unravelling and rebuilding there’s been one constant — I have been alone all this time. During the first years I was too messed up to even consider being with another soul. In the middle years I was earnestly rebuilding my life. And now, while I’m ready to venture into a relationship again, I’m trusting it will come when the time is right. For now I am still alone — and I’m content here.
Yet I still remember the discomfort of Saturday nights spent alone. The endless hours with only myself for company, and that wasn’t much company at all. I remember being deeply scared of the alone in my 20s. Even an afternoon on my own could send me into a whirlwind of fears. I didn’t want to be alone — alone meant I didn’t exist. That I didn’t matter to anyone. That I was nothing. So I did everything I could to make sure I was never alone.
One of the many gifts that came out of my bereavement was the opportunity to befriend the alone, once and for all. What started as excruciating has become something I deeply treasure. I actually crave being alone when I’m with others for too long. And yes I’m an introvert so this is how I recharge, but it goes so much deeper than that. Time alone is sacred to me, and something I’ll need to cultivate even when I find myself in the arms of another relationship. My alone time keeps me sane and healthy, and when I’m sane and healthy I have so much more light to share with the world.
So many times I’ve heard course peeps and friends mention how being alone is hard for them. That they feel lost when their significant other is out for the night. That they’re single again for the first time in years and a weekend on their own feels terrifying. That they fill their time so they don’t feel lonely. They’re not sure how to BE alone.
Then there’s the other side: my loved ones who rarely get a second to themselves. Who are demanded of and pulled in so many directions each day they fall into bed depleted to their core.
So whether you’re fearful of the alone, hungry for some pockets of time just for you, or are simply ready to cultivate a deeper connection to your internal world, I’d like to invite you to join me as we explore the Sacred Alone together.
In March I’ll be leading a gentle 14-day journey into the quiet knowing space in your heart that offers refuge, wisdom and calm. Each day you’ll receive an email from me containing a short essay on the day’s theme, a downloadable MP3 audio (alternating meditations, visualisations and mindfulness exercises) and a series of powerful journal prompts to work on. Each day will build on the last, so that by the end of our 14 days together you’ll have created your own Sacred Alone practice you can build on — and extend! — going forward.
You can read all the details and sign up over on this page. I really can’t wait to share this new journey with you guys!