“I just wanted to write and let you know how much I’ve enjoyed this class. I’ve taken all of your courses and this one feels qualitatively different – deeper – an evolution. I liked the lightness and gentleness of the structure, the space for carving-out deep alone time. It perfectly suited and reflected the purpose of the course.” – from Melinda, via email
After five years of teaching online I’ve come to trust that the teacher often ends up teaching what she most needs to learn. All my courses draw on my own experiences, and The Sacred Alone is without a doubt the most soul-excavating work I’ve done since writing the book. The class is illuminating and rich and I really didn’t want those 14 days to end (always a good sign!).
I like to challenge myself to find new ways to present my ideas and I knew meditation would be a key part of this class. I was a little nervous about recording the audios as I hadn’t done it before, but, as always, I trusted my instincts and opened up to the possibility of doing it imperfectly, knowing that would be enough. Because the truth is, I’ve had a patchy relationship with meditation over the years. My reluctance to settle into stillness has dogged me forever, despite spending a lot of time being still, if that even makes sense. I have a shedload of guided meditations, and have tried all sorts of techniques, but nothing really stuck as a daily practice. I live mindfully, yes, and have often said that photography is like meditation for me, but it’s only been this year that something has changed.
As I unravelled my understanding of the Sacred Alone, I opened myself wide to meditation. After a lifetime of inconsistency my body/mind/soul finally let go. It’s like when you’re learning to drive and after months of struggle it suddenly clicks into place and you’re driving without thinking. I’ve had my click and it feels like a miracle.
It’s no coincidence that this has coincided with my decision to be more transparent about my spiritual side. Some of my online peers write very unselfconsciously about this stuff, but I’ve always shied away from revealing this side of myself. Even after 25 years of figuring out what rings true for me, it felt too personal, somehow, too revealing. But when I wrote the “Spirit” week for Journal Your Life, I knew it was time to own this part of me more publicly. I’m not a traditionally religious person, but I am and always have been a spiritual person whose hotchpotch of beliefs informs how she lives.
“I LOVED the meditations! I’ve been trying to find a way to incorporate meditation into my daily life and I had tried several different techniques, etc. but nothing had clicked for me until this course. Between the morning meditations and listening to the mixtape on my morning walks (that mixtape is gold!), I’ve felt so centered and peaceful.” — Kate, via email
As I wrote and recorded each meditation it seemed to be coming from someplace outside of myself. The audios are short — just 5-6 minutes — and simple, and even the act of recording them was incredibly transporting. I was thrilled (and surprised) to discover I have a knack for this. I want to explore this way of connecting with participants further and definitely see a sound studio in my future, so expect longer guided meditations at some point this year.
As Melinda noted in her email to me, my work is evolving. I feel the strands of the last five years coming together into a pattern, and I’m hungry to see where this next stage takes me. I feel more confident in my role as teacher, while still honouring the fact that I’m always learning. As with everything I share, I like to work through the lessons first so I can authoritatively report back from the trenches. Because, you see, I don’t have the answers — no one does, we find them for ourselves — but I’m very happy to share the results of my experiments.
After ‘retiring’ Unravelling last year I’m now looking into how I can develop this core work. Whether it’s Unraveling 2.0 or a multi-media ebook remains to be seen, but I DO know that I’m feeling called to go much deeper in my teaching. Between me and you, now I’ve taken a break from dating I have so much more energy available for creating. No surprises there, I guess!
I’ve also started working on something that makes my heart race every time I think about it: a deck of oracle cards. Think: inner wisdom, journalling and beautiful imagery, all wrapped up in a deck that feels amazing in your hands. As many of you know, I’m a big fan of oracle cards, so creating my own deck feels like the most natural thing in the world. It’s got to the stage where I can’t *not* make them — my overflowing notebook is proof of this. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!
The truth is, I had no idea how the retreat would go. Meg, Sas and I had created a program we felt was juicy and inspiring, but there was no way of knowing whether the participants would get anything out of it. I swung between worrying it was all too simple to fretting that maybe it was too much. There were so many unknowns running alongside the reassurances that the food would be good (it so was!) and the venue was lovely.
As an introvert, albeit a confident non-shy one, I was also worried I’d find the retreat exhausting. I’m so used to being on my own I didn’t know if I could handle the energy of 19 women basically living together for five days. Sharing my world from behind a screen, book page or photograph is extremely comfortable for me — doing that out in public is something else altogether.
But as it turned out, it was one of the most illuminating, connected, nourishing and humbling experiences of my life.
From the moment we welcomed the first arrivals to the final farewell on the last day, we were carried along by something much greater than us. The pace of the days was perfectly in line with what everyone needed. The workshops and exercises stretched us all in ways we couldn’t have imagined (we were working right alongside our vixens). We stayed open to the witchiness that circles of women tend to bring, and we honoured our energy levels by retreating when we needed to. When I fell into bed each night I was tired, yes, but not depleted. Personally this was one of the greatest gifts of the week, discovering I can do this work and not be destroyed by it.
Every evening Meg, Sas and I would gather to prep for the next day, lying on each other’s beds, marvelling at how well it was going. It was such a joy to witness my two friends truly blossom into their roles as retreat leaders — you would have thought they’d been doing it for years (SO PROUD OF YOU GUYS!)
Each of us had a role to play – every woman in our circle brought something of herself to the group. We were a yurt full of equals, and that was exactly how I’d hoped it would be. There is something so powerful about being a witness to each other’s transformation. I’d seen it happen in my classes and have read about it in testimonials and emails, but to be there in person, looking into a person’s eyes as they tell me their story… I don’t really have words for it, actually.
Each woman went home with a map to her future and a tribe of women walking beside her. I returned home exhausted to my bones, yet also oddly filled up. I have a better idea of what I need to do going forward with my own goals and am ready to take that first step into the next chapter of my future. And part of that includes another Redfox retreat next year. This is just the beginning, in so many ways…
Thank you Amy, Amy Gretchen, Anne, Elizabeth, Esme, Fiona, Gerri, Jenny, Katherine, Kelly, Nicola, Rachel, Sarah, Susanne, Wendy and Yvonne for trusting us to be your guides for the week and letting yourselves be seen so beautifully. I’ll never forget it xo
If you’d like to learn more about next year’s Unravel Your Story retreat you can sign up for the mailing list over here. We’ll be updating the page over the next few weeks, but I can already tell you the dates: November 4th – 10th, 2014
I’ve been deep in the creation cave for the last six weeks and as my journalling course draws to an end this week I’m finally peeking outside and reflecting on all that’s gone down. It’s been intense, people. INTENSE. I’ve chalked up about 25,000 words for this course which is half the length of my book, so it’s no wonder my RSI has flared up and I’m feeling rather drained. But oh, it’s been glorious too! Periods of such intense creative work may take me away from this blog (and I’ve missed you so much, I’ve been counting down the days till I could write here again) but it also opens up my brain to new ideas and connections. While I’ve been birthing Journal Your Life I’ve had so many ideas for new courses, new possibilities, new directions I want to take. I’ve had a new book idea. I’ve dreamt up a line of products I want to create — actual physical things to send out into the world. I’ve had new ideas for my magazine column (hello Simple Things, I’m looking at you). And I’ve been plotting some deliciousness to celebrate my book’s one year anniversary in June (you’re going to love it :) So while being in the creation cave is full-on, it’s also incredibly fertile.
It’s important to me to create a new course in real time. I have the structure and content plotted out beforehand and get the first two weeks written before the class starts. But I like to create the rest of the course as we go along so I can listen to feedback and do the exercises right alongside everyone else. This is what makes the course come alive. Once or twice I’ll hit a day when I’m not sure I have anything to say, so that’s when I go out for a walk with my notebook to get some new perspective. And sure enough the lesson gets downloaded into my brain and I know what I’m going to write. Every time I run a course it gets tweaked and perfected as there are always new insights to add and better ways to share information. That’s why i love to run these classes — they change and evolve just like we do.
I am so proud of Journal Your Life, and as I said to my peeps in a video last week, I could so easily keep writing this baby. It’s made me realise that at some point in the not-too-distant future I’d like to create a much longer course or program. Six or eight weeks is great for an intense journey into a topic, but I can see how beneficial a three or six-month program would be, taking you so much deeper into the material with breathing space woven throughout. I’m working on it…
When I entered the cave it was winter outside my doorstep, but now I see that spring has finally — miraculously — arrived in Londontown. I have ideas blossoming and stories I want to share here. It feels so good to be back xo
I honestly didn’t know I had it in me to be a teacher. Teaching is standing in front of a classroom, surely? It’s exams and text books and grading. It’s what people with The Knowledge do and for the longest time I felt I had no knowledge. I had nothing to share. Yet I’m sitting here putting the finishing touches to my newest course — I am so proud of this one, I think it might be my best — and preparing the space for two more of my babies, and it just hit me that I am, in fact, a teacher.
I’ve been doing this running-of-courses thing for four years now (four!) and with every year that passes I get better at doing it. I know how to make an ecourse awesome. I know how to share information in a way that’s inspiring and encouraging. I know how to build online community. I know how to decant my passions into a course format and share them with others in a way that makes sense. And I really love doing it. I love writing and creating and sharing.
I still have wobbly moments when I wonder who am I to be teaching. But then I remind myself that I’m not teaching quantum physics or cake decorating, two subjects that are equally baffling to me :) No, I’m teaching the stuff that I know inside out. I’m also sharing the contents of my heart, I realised, as I wrote deeper into the journalling course.
When I was studying photography at college 20 years ago I had no idea that something called the internet would be invented, and digital cameras, and phones with cameras (how Buck Rogers is that?). When I was working as a journalist I didn’t know my writing skillz would eventually be shared on the internet for all to see (and without an editor, no less!) When I was healing my way through loss I didn’t know that the lessons I was learning, the unravelling I was doing, would be worth sharing with other women years later. On the internet.
It’s funny how things work out.
I honestly don’t take any of this for granted. I sometimes wonder what I’d be doing now if I hadn’t started a blog in 2006. That blog was the beginning of so much — it’s probably just as well I didn’t know that at the time. The other day someone asked me what I did for a living, and I ummed and ahhed as I usually do, because I never know how to explain what I do. But then I smiled and simply said: I write, I take photographs and I teach.
I think it’s time for me to claim the teaching thing. Which I guess makes this my coming out post ;-)
The spring sessions of Unravelling and Photo Meditations both start on Monday — I’ll leave registration open till Saturday in case you’d like to join us. Journal Your Life will run again in the summer xo