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Posts Tagged ‘Journal Exercises’

A.K.A. Pamela’s Meaningless Self-Reflection on Steroids

The Assignment: One of your Facebook “friends” sends you this note titled “25 Things About Me” which contains random stuff: personal trivia, goals, memories, beliefs. In turn, you are suppose to write 25 things about yourself, send it back, and forward it on to 24 other “friends.” This is one of those silly things that I have succumbed to. But it took me so dang long to come up with these that I’m not just leaving up on Facebook to fade away in a few days. Thank goodness there’s blogs to permanently archive such things. With that said, here’s what happens when I have a few cups of coffee, a whole morning and my keyboard …

1. I have 3 sisters and our middle names rhyme: Gayle Denise, Sandra Elise, Julia Rene & Pamela Faye.

2. I once lied about making baklava. Told someone I made it from scratch. “You used philo dough?” she asked. “Yes, of course,” I responded. I had no clue what philo dough was … or baklava, for that matter.

3. I can recite all 50 states in alphabetical order in approximately 20 seconds. I can also do it while walking on my hands with my ankles behind my head, though it takes a little longer to reach Wyoming.

4. The first PG-13 movie I ever saw was “The Way We Were” when I was in the 4th grade. I loved Robert Redford. And I thought my Daddy looked just like him.

5. When I was in college I embraced fundamental Christianity. I went door-to-door and shared the 4 spiritual laws with people I did not know. I listened to a lot of BJ Thomas at the time, and Amy Grant too (before she went pop & that whole Vince Gill thing.) (more…)

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So this week marked the end of my third month ~ 90+ days of practice. My six word memoir project has taken on a life of its own. I created a separate blog to chronicle just that exercise WHICH also includes an occasional picture. (Check out my proverbial “microblog” HERE!) I have enjoyed the momentum the project has gained, both for me personally and with other people. I have heard from several folks who have been inspired to use this exercise in their own lives ~ a couple of friends, as well as a English teacher who is using it as a writing assignment for her class. I think that’s pretty cool.

It’s becoming easier to write these snip-its, and I actually look forward to seeing “what I’m going to say,” 😀 ~ oh, so clever girl that I am! In addition to the daily exercise, at the end of each month I take a look back at see what trends and insights might be revealed. It’s almost as much fun as writing them, and today’s the day!

This Month’s Lessons

One of the things that I’ve become aware of is how “rules” can hold me up. I worry about such things as proper punctuation and word counts. (For instance, should phrases like “Farrah-Do’s” or “San Francisco” count as one word or two?) Wanting to do things “right” often keeps me from acting at all. This is true not only in a writing exercise, but in other areas of my life as well. Interestingly, this is even reflected in one of my entries: “Failure to act makes a decision.”

There were a couple of days in November that I added addendum, a second helping of 6 words for the day. I kind of see that as cheating, but have done it anyway, albeit with guilt. (Side note: Guilt is a chronic condition for me. It is funny how a small six word practice can reveal so much about your personality.)

The most important lesson this month? Just Do It! It doesn’t have to be perfect or grand, just consistent. And THAT can make all the difference. Recently, I read something about integrating a practice or habit into your life which said it’s more important to do something small regularly than to make a big effort sporadically. Certainly everyone will agree, but many (and especially those of us with “all or nothing” personalities) still fail to act. Some examples:

  • After not running for months, I start back with a 5 mile outing, and end up so sore that I don’t go out again.
  • A friend has a baby and I want to take food over, but instead of just taking something, I want to plan a big meal and end up doing nothing.
  • My disorganized office is so overwhelming that when new things come in, I don’t even try to put them away. I just add them to the piles contributing more to the chaos.

Ironically, I was thinking about yoga when I wrote: “Key to Sanity: Regular, Consistent Practice,” but REALLY it’s true for just about everything. This simple writing exercise has taught me that if you just do SOMETHING with regularity, it will start to take hold and make a difference. (It CAN keep you sane.) Whether it’s with writing, exercising, nurturing friendships, or cleaning house, just do it. In the words of Issac Newton, “A body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion.” Or something like that.

Today it’s writing 6 words … Tomorrow THE OFFICE!

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November 2008

Overview: Gratitude for Family, Thanksgiving Celebration, Frustration with Disorganization

  • SportsCenter more fun when we win. (11/1/08)
  • Self-discipline is really self-love. (11/2/08)
  • I married better than my husband. (11/3/08)
  • “Yes we can!” Hope he’s right. (11/4/08) (more…)

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In an earlier post, I wrote about hearing Oprah discuss Wayne Dyer’s views on ego (Edging God Out). It was a fascinating piece, and I had wanted to revisit some of the points. But as I mentioned, I was unable to find what I was looking for on the internet.

My girlfriend Colleen is in the process of creating her website. Colleen is a journal workshop facilitator and spiritual counselor out in the Las Vegas area. We have been friends going on 30 years now and have this amazing connection that transcends distance. After I posted my blurb on Wayne Dyer, she followed up on her site with some details from a talk she attended where he was the speaker. COINCIDENTALLY ~ and are there any really? ~ she posted exactly what I had been searching for:

Dyer described the ego as: a false self, an illusion, a belief system, the cause of all problems, an idea about who we are. Following is a summary of the three main components of the ego:

I. I am what I accumulate. I define myself by that which I own. Consequently, the more I own, the better I feel about myself. And, the less I own, the worse I feel about myself. This results in the never-ending pursuit of more and better matter. It also contributes to how I judge others and their worth. The problem with this belief is that if I ever lose what I have… who am I?

II. I am what I do. I identify myself with the work that I do in the world. “I am a teacher.” “I am a student.” “I am a mother.” I also judge others’ worth by what they do. What happens when I can no longer do what I do? I may have an identity crisis, feel worthless… who am I?

III. I am what other people think of me. This puts my identity in the hands of others. It results in people pleasing. I am constantly motivated and affected by the reactions and opinions of others. I look outside myself for validation. What if they don’t like me… who am I?

Interesting Question: As you consider these ideas, which one of these three beliefs do you find yourself most often misled by? How would your life be different if you were able to let go of that?

***You can read Colleen’s post in its entirety from her site. ***

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Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~ William Wordsworth

My girlfriend Sally has been one of my dearest friends for over 20 years. We share a passion for self reflection and personal growth, though admittedly it has occasionally slipped into navel gazing as our husbands can attest. In the late 1980’s, we discovered Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled and formed a study group back in Boston. For both of us, writing is an important tool in the process. Where I ramble, Sal captures her thoughts in the succinct lines of poetry.

A few years ago, she went back to school to get her teaching certification. No surprise, she chose to specialize in English. Now a “new teacher” in her late forties, Sally works with high school honor students in Chicago. She loves the challenge, she loves getting them to write. Not long ago, we had a discussion about the importance of the writing process.

Sally said that she tells her students to write because the act of writing something down forces you to make a decision, to clarify your thoughts and beliefs, to take a stand. This really struck a chord with me. Whether you’re talking about your political beliefs, the theme of story, or the reasons you’re dissatisfied with your job, the process of writing makes you commit to an idea. And this is what writing, journaling, blogging, does for me. It gives me clarity.

Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.  ~ Graycie Harmon

Sometimes I end up writing, “I don’t know WHY I feel this way.” Then, I draw on my “inner-Colleen” (my other self-reflective best-est, longest term friend.)  Years ago, Colleen taught me a great trick for dealing with those waves of ambiguity. When you get stuck in the “I don’t know” cycle, FORCE yourself to choose an answer anyway. It goes like this … “I don’t know why I’m so unhappy … but if I DID know, the answer would be __________________,” and FILL IN THE BLANK ANYWAY!

Truly, you probably DO know, but fear often keeps you from answering. Fear? Yes, fear! Because when we KNOW the answer, then there is a call to action. We have to change something, and that often takes us out of our comfort zone. Failure to answer the question keeps us from developing our potential within. The process of writing gives us clarity, but only if we’re fearless.

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Other Favorite Quotes on Writing …

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.  ~ James Michener

A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. ~ John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.  ~ Sharon O’Brien

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Special Note: My girlfriend, Colleen Tanaka (mentioned above) is in the process of setting up her own website. Colleen presents workshops on journaling and is a spiritual counselor in the Las Vegas area. Check out her new site.

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Editor’s Note: The following is from an email newsletter I receive from The School of Practical Philosophy. I’ve heard this before in different versions ~ I think Stephen Covey uses it ~ but I really like the coffee twist. It is attributed to Laura Bankston.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous, “Yes.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – God, family, children, health, friends, and favorite passions – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”

“So, pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical check-ups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the garbage disposal. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.”

“It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

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Interesting Questions to Journal … What are YOUR golf balls? Do you have too much sand in your jar? What might you do differently?

A chance to reflect, and learn about your True Essence. Brought to you by The School of Practical Philosophy. If you are not currently a subscriber to the “Story of the Week” and would like to be, please visit The School of Practical Philosophy.

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Personal Discoveries

Month #2 of my year-long project is complete. My goal? To record my daily life in exactly 6 words. No less, no more. While the day-to-day entries are somewhat interesting, I find the review of a whole month to be more revealing. (Think: Snapshot versus photo album; both are good, but one’s a bigger picture!)

I’ve enjoyed the comments and emails that I’ve received about this project. Some have even joined me on the ride. My “Anu-newbie” friend Leanne Kitteridge posted her own 6-word thoughts during her recent training with John Friend. (Leanne is an Anusara Inspired teacher near Vancouver, also a student of Christina’s, and my first OFFICIAL electronic kula-mate.) She describes the teaching benefits of practicing 6-word summaries.

I’ve also noticed some other “energetic effects” of this simple writing exercise. Remember what Socrates said, albeit in 7 words: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” (Note: we could tighten that up just a bit ~ maybe insert the contraction “isn’t” ~ and VOILA! Same profundity in six words!) But Socrates aside, here are three benefits that I’ve discovered from my 6-word diary practice.

I. Focus

As a life-long (though somewhat erratic) journal writer, I have blathered my way uncensored through more than a few spiral notebooks. I have also gone extensively without recording a word, simply because I didn’t have “time” to write. The 6-word summary forces you to BE CONCISE. It is your daily thesis. You must … (more…)

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So at the top of my blog is a static post called Today’s Pam-oir which is my daily reflection in exactly six words. (A shout out to my friend Diane Henry for the name!)  I have challenged myself to write one a day for a year, and I recently completed MONTH ONE!  (You can read all about the process and watch my year unfold ~ like you wouldn’t want to miss THAT ~ on my 6 word diary page.)

Looking back on this first month of entries, I find it very interesting to review. Some of my reflections immediately bring to mind what happened that day, what prompted my words: the night the dog went missing, the morning Hurricane Ike struck land, the weekend I arrived at the Yoga Journal conference.  Others are more cryptic (and I wrote them) and yet universal.  I can’t remember the specifics behind my September 2nd entry “Pain in Yoga” but the truth remains for me: it still equals self-doubt.

Try this exercise yourself ~ just for a week.  It’s really an interesting challenge to make an attempt to sum up your daily experience or lesson in EXACTLY six words. You’ll find yourself thinking, “What’s the overriding message today?” Then you’re constantly counting the number of words in your phrases: can I take out a “the,” make a contraction, or eliminate an “and” with the use of a colon.  (Aside: Probably not a very good exercise for those with obsessive-compulsive leanings.) That said, here is …

My SEPTEMBER 2008 in 180 words

  • Forty-six: Seeking Dad’s Approval … still. (9/1/08)
  • Pain in yoga equals self doubt. (9/2/08)
  • Would rather be writing for money! (9/3/08)
  • Counting words ALL day long … exhausted. (9/4/08)
  • Evening of six word liners with friends. (9/5/08)
  • Procrastination: The Illegitimate Child of Perfectionism. (9/6/08)
  • His wind-blown curls, my sunlit heart. (9/7/08)
  • Hope to be on Oprah someday! (9/8/08)
  • Hope kids aren’t ever on Oprah! (9/9/08)
  • Bottom of the pile doesn’t exist. (9/10/08)
  • Hate running.  Love the feeling afterward. (9/11/08)
  • Nike is right. Just do it. (9/12/08)
  • Yoga Practice: More Fun with Friends! (9/13/08)
  • Disasters, CNN, the internet & me. (9/14/08)
  • Friend or Foe?  Fixation with food. (9/15/08)
  • His blue eyes light up mine. (9/16/08)
  • Lack of Acknowledgment Opens Deep Wounds. (9/17/08)
  • Dog’s gone missing, so’s my sleep. (9/18/08)
  • Celebrating: dog located! Sleep? Still missing. (9/19/08)
  • Packing for trips completely overwhelms me. (9/20/08)
  • It’s a Colorado Rocky Mountain High. (9/21/08)
  • 800 practicing Anusara at one time! (9/22/08)
  • Kula: An ever-expanding group of beings. (9/23/08)
  • Happy birthday, dear Jeannie, my friend. (9/24/08)
  • Inhale rise up. Exhale and fold. (9/25/08)
  • Ah, the life of a journalist. (9/26/08)
  • Rest gives the body new beginnings. (9/27/08)
  • Seven days of yoga, homeward bound (9/28/08)
  • Off the mat, on with life. (9/29/08)
  • Om’s where I hang my mat. (9/30/08)

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The traffic was heavy as Brian and I headed to the recent back-to-school night at the high school.  As we pulled into the parking lot, I suggested that we park across the street at the nearby church.  It would have meant a further walk, but I had been stuck in that lot before after large events, so I knew we’d fare better if we parked elsewhere.  He ignored me, and we pulled into a convenient spot near the front doors.

When the evening concluded, we returned to our car where we sat for quite some time before we were able to exit the school property.  Exasperated, I commented, “Guess we should have parked at the church.” Brian responded with well-earned frustration, “Righteousness does NOT become you, Pam.”

Unfortunately, we were both correct.

As I silently stared out the car window, I recalled something I had recently read.  Gretchen Rubin wrote on her blog about the best marital advice she had received. Her words really struck a chord with me at the time, and I had vowed to put them into practice.

When I got engaged, a friend passed along a piece of advice that she’d heard from her boss: “In a good marriage, both spouses leave three things unsaid each day.”

I was surprised. I thought her advice would be something like, “Remember to say ‘I love you,’” or “Be sure to say ‘Thanks.’” I couldn’t imagine why I would have to leave things unsaid.

Well, now I know. And I realize that this advice was tremendously useful.

I only manage to follow the advice part of the time, but just in the last few days, I’ve left unsaid the following statements:

  • I’ve told you that three times already.
  • You said you’d try to come, but are you really going to try?
  • Can’t you do it this time?
  • Don’t stay up late tonight and then, tomorrow afternoon, tell me that you need a nap.
  • Can’t we talk about this now?

And these are just the statements I can think of off the top of my head.

Research backs up my friend’s advice to “leave things unsaid.” Studies show that one fact of human nature is that people have a “negativity bias”: we react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good.

For example, within a marriage, it takes at least five good acts to repair the damage of one critical or destructive act.

So, by refraining from making an obnoxious comment, I’m actually doing a lot more to preserve the happiness of my marriage than by making a nice comment. The negative drags us down farther than the positive lifts us up.

by Gretchen Rubin

As we turned onto Slaughter Lane and headed towards home, I regretted my “told you so” comment.  I know this is one of my habits that is particularly unattractive and yet, I poison my conversations with these caustic remarks with disregard to their effects.  What point had it served to highlight the obvious?  What result did I achieve?  The satisfaction of  “winning” perhaps?

The quiet ride home proved that wasn’t the case.

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The Happiness Project (link on my sidebar) is the work of writer Gretchen Rubin. Her popular site is an account of the year she spent test-driving “every conceivable principle about how to be happy, from Aristotle to Ben Franklin to Oprah to Martin Seligman.”

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Interesting Question:  What’s the best marriage advice you have ever received or would offer?  Given my recent predilection, can you phrase it in only SIX WORDS?

  • “Leave three things unsaid each day.”
  • “Create a ‘Win-Win’ for both.”

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The passage below is written by Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love, although it has often been attributed to Nelson Mandela.  I pulled it from my folder of keepers during the Anusara Yoga teacher training this summer. We were working with class theme development and the use of poems and quotes for inspiration. I chose to share a different passage that day, but I promised to share this one too.  It gives great pause …

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

by Marianne Williamson
from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

I would LOVE for those of you who study and/or teach Anusara Yoga to share:  For you, how does this passage relate to Chit Ananada? I see so many different angles open to interpretation and would enjoy your perspectives.  So much to work with, so please chime in.  My favorite line: “Your playing small does not serve the world.”

To read more about theme development for an Anusara Yoga class, check out my post from July: Develop a Heart-Oriented Theme.

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The Challenge

The challenge was posed by SmithMag.net ~ Write your life story in six words or less! The result was more than 15,000 submissions and a book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser. NPR featured the phenomenon in its piece: Six Word Memoirs: Life Stories Distilled. The LA Times published a commentary Short on Words, Deep in Meaning, and Publishers Weekly wrote:

Can you describe your life in six words? That’s what the editors of storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers in 2006; the results, though decidedly uneven, make for compulsive reading and prove arguably as insightful as any 300+ page biography. Taken as a whole, this cascade of quotes from contributors famous and unknown creates a dizzying snowball effect of perspectives and feelings.

The Daily Journal: The Beginnings of my 6-Word Diary

In this blog-happy world of blathering writers ~ of which I am shamelessly one ~ words flow all too freely. As writers, we tend to focus our energies on ways to produce MORE words, not less. The idea of compressing a life into a succinct 6 word message intrigues me. Like the fiercest of editors, this exercise calls you to drill down to WHAT IS truly most relevant, important and real.

With that it mind, I’ve decided to add this daily journal exercise to my writing life. While I’m not prepared to write my LIFE story ~ I’ll call that “the final” ~ I am ready to practice. My so-deemed homework will be a summary of my life (or at least my day) in exactly six words. If you’re interested in following along, I’ve created another page on this blog: My 6-Word Diary (a permanent link in the heading). It will be updated daily with my six word musings, and of course, you are invited to add your own whenever you feel inspired.

Can you summarize your life in 6 words? Now that’s an interesting question.

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SmithMag is now taking submissions for 6 word “Mom-oirs” on being a mother, as well as those on love and heartache. Here are some recent contributions:

  • Should have listened to my mother. ~ Shelby Mulhare
  • He didn’t even fight for me ~ Sissy Jones
  • Connoisseur of coffee, wine, experience, mistakes. ~ Annie Heintz
  • Crash and burn, rose from ashes ~ Heather McGill
  • She kissed me and said ‘yes’
  • They didn’t tell me about teens.
  • Puppies would have been much easier. ~ Herminia B

SmithMag.net is a storytelling community: a place to read, write, and share stories. Their tagline: Everyone has a story. Cool website, check it out.

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Watch a short photo slideshow featured on NPR of selected illustrated memoirs from the book.

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“There are two kinds of secrets: those we keep from others, and the ones we hide from ourselves.”

~ Postsecret creator, Frank Warren

There’s a link on my sidebar to Postsecret. If you’ve never heard of Postsecret, you’ve probably never visited it. Once you do, it’s difficult to stay away. Postsecret is the creation of Frank Warren. It began as a social experiment in 2004. Warren took handfuls of blank postcards (addressed to his post office box) and left them in various public areas ~ from subway stations to art galleries. The instructions ~ included with the postcard ~ were simple:

Share a Secret ~ You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything ~ as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.

Steps:

  • Take a postcard, or two.
  • Tell your secret anonymously.
  • Stamp and mail the postcard.

Tips:

  • Be brief ~ the fewer words used the better.
  • Be legible ~ use big, clear and bold lettering.
  • Be creative ~ let the postcard be your canvas.

The postcards began to trickle in. Then they poured in. They came from all over the world, they came in all languages (even Braille). They came on the preprinted cards, they came on homemade materials. The secrets were funny and light-hearted, the secrets were deep and painful. The artwork, creativity and messages are amazing.

* * * View the powerful story behind Postsecret * * *


To date, Frank Warren has received over 150,000 secrets. On average he gets about 150 a day. Since he first started receiving these cards, Warren has published four books. The postsecret website ~ showcasing 20 or so messages ~ changes every Sunday. Additionally, Warren updates a blog with more stories and cards. He invites people who have written their secrets to share a follow-up. A traveling exhibit is displayed at museums throughout the US and Canada.

Marriage Proposal: A Secret No More

Writing on his blog last week, Frank Warren reported that he and his wife were recently invited to a wedding to be held at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Even though they don’t know the couple, they were invited because of the groom’s creative marriage proposal at the PostSecret exhibit. Here is the story as told to Frank by the American Visionary Art Museum director, Rebecca Hoffberger:

For people who don’t know, most of the secrets are displayed along the side of a circular staircase that gradually rises to the third floor of the museum. As the couple slowly ascended the stairs she read every PostSecret postcard. He knew she would because it had been her idea to attend the exhibit.

What she did not know was that earlier he had made a special arrangement with me to replace the last post card with a special one he had created just for her see.

When they reached the top of the stairs she read the final card, “I don’t know if I believe in God, but I believe something Great brought you into my life. If you turn around I’ll ask you to marry me. . . “

Rebecca went on to say that when the young woman turned around her future husband was on bended knee with an illuminated ring box holding a 6-carat (!) diamond. She said “yes” with tears and to spontaneous applause from the other visitors who were hoping to witness a happy ending.

Other PostSecret Videos on YouTube

The following links are video compilations of postsecrets set to music. There are more available on YouTube. You’ll see some redundancy, but each one stands as a powerful tribute to the human experience.

Related Links

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Journal Questions for Personal Insight

The Postsecret concept offers us a great journal writing prompt: What are YOUR secrets? Are your secrets those of pain or of humor? If you were to create a postsecret card, which one would you choose to share? How would you illustrate your secret? What ~ if anything ~ is harmed by you holding onto your “secret”? And more than that, what keeps you from revealing it now?

Explore these questions whether you choose to mail YOUR postsecret or not.

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Dear Diary: The Background

Journals and diaries have been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember. I have old-fashioned key & lock diaries going back to my childhood and spiral notebooks, date books, and ‘blank’ books now chalked full of my musings, reflections, inner struggles, and dream work. I have made notes on everything from what I wore to high school each day to the boyfriends that broke my heart to the yoga teachers whose classes I attended. But more than a daily chronicle of my life, the pen and page offered me an important refuge, the place I go to sort through my thoughts and develop an action plan.

In the early 1990’s, I began to study the process of reflective writing with more of an academic orientation. Specifically, I was interested in the therapeutic and creative benefits of journal writing, and how it could be used as a tool for personal growth. For a general overview, read Uses and Benefits of Journal Writing.

Through my own experience, I knew its power and I wanted to learn more. I devoured books and articles investigating the therapeutic efficacy of journal writing. I completed the Ira Progoff Intensive Journal Program. I participated in one of the first national conferences on journaling in San Diego in 1993, attended panel discussions, and engaged in in-depth writing retreats. I was a voracious consumer of any materials I could find on the subject of reflective writing.

Based on my studies, I created a journaling program to share my passion. I began to teach adult continuing education courses at our local community center, as well as at the continuing ed department for the joint campuses of Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI). I conducted therapeutic trainings for alcohol and drug addiction counselors, gave lectures for the Jungian Society, taught reflective writing for seniors, and spoke at writers’ conferences. I had experienced the transformative effects of journaling in my own life, and I began to witness it in others. It is a magical process.

Get Started Writing

(… and yes, Lisa, I mean YOU too!)

Staring at a blank page can be daunting and just getting started can be a challenge for many people. As with many therapeutic modalities, there are definite techniques you can employ to initiate the writing process and to guide your exploration of an issue. The specific technique you choose to work with often depends on your particular goals, but first, you just have to get started.

One way to establish a regular writing practice is to simply respond to preset reflective questions. In this way, you use the questions as a prompt and you don’t have to think about “what to write.” Further, you can use the repetition of the journaling exercise to analyze patterns and trends in your life. This periodic check-in can then serve as a foundation for deeper exploration.

Your questions can come from all sorts of inspiration ~ from self-help books to scriptural texts ~ but here’s a great place to start. Last spring, I stumbled onto Alex Shalman’s blog, Practical Personal Development. (A link to his blog can be found in my “Worth Noting” sidebar.) This site contains all sorts of gems and wisdom for self-improvement, and I find wonderful inspiration on everything from relationships to time management to health and fitness. Alex Shalman is a great advocate for reflective writing, and one of his suggestions is to conduct a weekly self assessment:

“Self reflection should be more than a minor consideration if you’re serious about personal growth … How else am I supposed to make improvements, if I don’t know where I’ve gone wrong in the past? Many people try to ignore past errors, but then history repeats itself, as we all know.”

Weekly Assessment Questions

1. What will I try to improve on next week?
2. What was I most proud of this week?
3. What was my biggest accomplishment this week?
4. What have I done to get closer to my life goals this week?
5. What was hard for me this week, and why?
6. What was my biggest waste of time this week?
7. What did I do this week that made me ashamed?

To read the full text Alex Shalman’s article, go to Seven Questions That Will Change Your Life. With the regular consideration of these questions ~ Shalman suggests every Sunday night ~ he purports that we will become more conscious to move forward and create the life that we want. If a journal can help you do that, why not pull out a pen and paper and try it?!

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Journal This: Use the seven questions above to begin a self-assessment record. Commit to revisiting the questions again next week and through the month of September. TODAY is Sunday so get going!

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Stay Tuned … I will continue to look at journaling techniques in upcoming posts. Additionally, this fall I plan to offer a journaling workshop in the south Austin area. Please contact me for more information.

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One of the required characteristics of an Anusara yoga class is that it be centered around a heart-oriented theme. During our teacher trainings earlier this summer with Christina Sell, we were offered several ways to find and develop this essential component. Until this training, the whole idea seemed kind of random and a bit magical to me, something that required Divine inspiration.

However, Christina systemically broke down the process for us and provided the proverbial ingredients behind the recipe. We examined three approaches that a yoga teacher can base a class around: the use of a personal trial or situation, messages from poems and stories, and an attribute or heart-based word analysis.

Regardless of your starting point, in each approach you must ultimately answer the same three questions. When you can answer them clearly, you will have a solid foundation for your Anusara yoga class: They are:

  1. How does this relate to Anusara Yoga (and Tantric) philosophy?
  2. How does this relate to chit ananda?
  3. How does this tie in to today’s practice/lesson?

Inspired Software

As a technology specialist in the local school district, I have the opportunity to experiment with a variety of software applications. There is a fabulous program which I highly recommend for just about anybody involved in creating presentations, whether they be verbal or written in nature. Though it was initially designed for as a tool for students, I find it helpful for anyone who likes to brainstorm project ideas.

The software, Inspiration, creates an infinite variety of graphic organizers. It is a great tool, especially for anyone, but especially visual learners. You can diagram connections, and then with a click of a button, it turns your diagram into a well-organized text outline where you can add notes and hyperlinks for references as desired.

You can create presentations, class plans, research papers and even plan a vacation with a few simple clicks. All of this and it’s fun too! The program comes with a variety of graphics built in to jazz up your diagrams, and you can add in your own custom images as well with simple drag and drop. (Think: yoga pose images in a sequencing plan!) You can export your outline directly to PowerPoint ~ it automatically creates your slides ~ or you can post your outline and chart directly to a webpage.

The software is relatively simple to use, available for both Mac and PC platforms, and comes with a load of useful templates, particularly if you have a student in your home whether they’re in 4th grade or college. Purchase a single copy for $69. You can also download a free 30 day trial from their website, and here is a quick start tutorial. (Can you tell I like this program?)

Inspiration Software meets Anusara Yoga

During my family road trip last week, I used the travel time to review my class notes from our two teacher trainings. Then, I developed a graphic chart using Inspiration to help me visualize and streamline the process. (Hurray for laptops!) The chart reflects the ideas of Christina Sell and those of John Friend from the Anusara Yoga Teacher Manual. I just organized it into a form that worked for my particular brain processing.

Note: Due to the file conversion necessary to post it, the hyperlinks in the chart do not work, but I have provided working links as text directly below the diagram for your reference.

Anusara Yoga Class Theme Development

Class Theme Development as taught by Christina Sell; (outline by Pamela Walsh)

Hyperlinks to Sources

Though certainly not all encompassing, I think the format is very workable, and would love your ideas, links and suggestions for improving it. If this appeals to you, you can download the chart and links I compiled as a Word document here: Anusara Yoga Class ~ Theme Development Template. To borrow from Christina’s teaching metaphor, it will give you a basic recipe to start cooking.

Just season it with a little Divine inspiration and you can’t lose!

Pamela Walsh ~ Your Yogi Tech Chick

*** Another Theme Approach ~ UPDATE ***

I attended Mandy’s class yesterday where she based her theme on the niyama saucha. She did a beautiful job weaving the idea of orderliness, tidiness, purity, and cleanliness through everything from where we placed our mats and props to the careful placement of our shoulder blades on our backs. She reminded us that we are worthy of taking great care in establishing our foundation.

Mandy demonstrated that the yamas and niyamas are great building blocks for theme development. Working with the chart above, the yama or niyama would be plugged in as the “attribute or heart-quality to cultivate,” and you simply work from there. You could also do the same with any of the six attributes of the Absolute. Perhaps this is obvious to you ~ or as we use to say in Boston, “Dawn over Marblehead!” ~ but I always need a few concrete examples to get me rolling.

*** Theme Resource ~ UPDATE 8/22/08

This morning while I was writing a new post for my blog, I was reminded of an essay I heard on the NPR series, This I Believe. (For those of you who regularly read my blog, that’s where I first heard the Martha Graham piece, “I am an Athlete of God”.) If you don’t know about the series, here’s a brief description:

This I Believe is an international project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values that guide their daily lives. These short statements of belief, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here and featured on public radio in the United States and Canada, as well as in regular broadcasts on NPR. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.”

From their website, you can search a very large database of literally thousands of essays on hundreds of topics. The essays are 350-500 words and include themes of courage, love, determination, strength, and self-knowledge. (Anusara yoga teachers, are you seeing a pattern here?) Under the “Browse Essays” link you can see many of the topic headings. Anyway, I thought that this might be a good resource for AY teachers to look at for theme development ~ perhaps a place to find an opening story or anecdote to build on.

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The Reverend Browning Ware wrote a newspaper column for almost 50 years that was carried in various newspapers, including the Austin American-Statesman. While I never heard him preach, I looked forward to his weekly messages in our paper and gained inspiration from many of his columns. This was one of my favorites, which ran Saturday, May 21, 1994.

Wound may not be Fatal but Reaction to it can Be
Reverend Browning Ware

Scratch anyone deep enough, and you will discover great hurt. I was reminded of the walking wounded recently when a list of church members came to my desk. Essentially healthy and energetic, these persons do not advertise their problems, yet I know that each of them has walked in the valley of the shadow.

A critical issue on life is not whether we will be wounded, but how we respond to our disappointments. Some of us waste energy in attempting to fix blame for our injuries. Such score-keeping provides bitter satisfaction; it does not nurture our future.

Several years ago, Gerald Mann and I were driving to a favorite fishing lake, south of Uvalde. We saw a deer that had not leaped high enough to escape entanglement in the top strands of a barbed-wire fence. The wound on one front let was not deadly, but the doe’s thrashing desperation had been.

Silent miles later, Gerald and I reflected on the experience: Most of life’s wounds are not mortal; although some certainly seem to be. The response that we make to an injury may be more damaging than the wound itself.

What shall we do with a deep hurt that doesn’t fade away? First, acknowledge the problem. Denial of the issue embeds it more deeply and delays healing. Second, accept the problem as a painful school in which you have enrolled. Finally, use the injury, not parade it, to become compassionate. In helping others toward healing, we help ourselves.

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Reverend Ware knew all too well of life’s wounds. In Remembering Browning Ware his cousin, Hal Haralson writes:

“Browning’s compassion for people grew out of the pain he had experienced in his own life. His mother died when he was a Baylor student. Their youngest daughter Camille suffered from cancer when she was ten. Their son Brooks died when he was in his thirties. His closest friend took his own life the day after hunting season was over. His first marriage ended in divorce. Alzheimer’s took his wife Juanell from him and robbed him of companionship in his final years. Connie, his youngest brother, died of cancer a year before Browning.”

The Reverend Ware passed away from cancer in October 2002 at the age of 73: Even in dying, Browning Ware listened and learned. A collection of his columns was published in 2003 by Augustine Press: Diary of a Modern Pilgrim: Life Notes From One Man’s Journey.

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Reflection: Write about an example from your own experience that illustrates Reverend Ware’s message: “Wound May Not Be Fatal But Reaction to it Can Be.” Have you ever experienced “the doe thrashing” reaction? What was the outcome? What was the lesson?

You’re invited to share your response here OR simply explore this as a Journal Exercise.

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Part II

In my earlier post on reigniting and finding your passion, I shared an overview of the criteria for identifying personal strengths as outlined by career counselor Marcus Buckingham. To reiterate: Your strengths are those things that give you energy and thereby, strengthen you. By his definition, a strength must meet these conditions:

  1. When thinking about the task, you are excited; you anticipate the activity;
  2. When doing the task you tend to lose track of time;
  3. Once the task is completed, you have more energy than before.

Buckingham helps clients identify their strengths with the following activity. For a period of one week, they are instructed to label each task they do as an energy boost (strength) or an energy drain. They are to make a list that answers the question, “I feel strength when …”

*** Important caveat: the activity must be something they actually “do” and not something that is done to them. “I feel strength when my supervisor praises me,” would not count as a strength. It may give you energy, but it’s not something you “do”.

Once a strength is identified the next step is to get specific — “drill down” as Buckingham says — and specify the associated conditions as clearly as possible. For example, if I were to say, “I feel strength when I teach,” he would delve deeper. “Do you like teaching anything to anybody? Hmm … well, no. I like teaching yoga to adults. And then go deeper still … what kind of yoga, what kind of adults, when, and where? I like teaching Anusara yoga to athletes, to middle-aged women, to … You get the drift. You must be specific.

As I digested the material from this particular lesson, I found myself moving much more consciously through my day – not just my workday, but at home – tuning into what things give me energy and what things are my drains:

  • Sorting & washing laundry (energy)
  • Folding laundry & putting it away (drain)
  • Grocery shopping (drain)
  • Writing on my blog (energy)
  • Conversing with someone about “deep” stuff (energy)
  • Being out in the sun (energy)
  • Loading the dishwasher (energy)
  • Unloading the dishwasher (drain, no pun intended)
  • Listening to my music (energy)
  • Listening to my teenage boys’ music (drain)

Try it! Simply, tune in and become a student of the energetic effects of your daily activities. Pull out your journal at the end of the day and make a list or a T-chart like the one below. It’s a great exercise that requires keen observation and awareness.

The workshop offers much more insight with Buckingham suggesting ways to redirect your focus to your strengths, along with strategies for handling your “energy drains.” He encourages teaming up with others for your mutual benefit as you play off each other’s strengths, from coworkers to family members (and of course, “kula mates”). So while I find loading the dishwasher to be an energy boost and the unloading to be a drain, perhaps my husband really likes the unloading part. Teaming up together to complete this task is a win-win! Everyone gets the energy, no one gets the drain!

Coming Up Next … Using the Strengths Concept to Enhance your Yoga Teaching! (Really! I swear.)

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PART I

Earlier this year, Oprah featured a workshop conducted by career counselor and motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham. Working with 30 women over a period of several weeks, Buckingham led the group through a series of simple exercises to reignite passion in their careers and their lives. He outlined several key components to the process, but it was his segment on personal strengths that I found most intriguing. A quick overview and then, how we can employ this in our teaching of yoga.

The process of reigniting passion in life begins with determining your individual strengths. Who hasn’t heard that advice, right? It is an essential part of the philosophy in career path manuals like “What Color is Your Parachute” or “Do What You Love the Money will Follow”. Take note, my friends, Buckingham’s definition of strengths may be a little different than first pass.

Many of us would define a strength as “something you are good at doing.” But a strength, by Buckingham’s definition, must energize you and make you stronger. Simply being “good” at something doesn’t necessarily make it strength. In this workshop, strengths meet a different set of criteria that must include the following three benchmarks:

  1. When thinking about the task, you are excited; you anticipate the activity;
  2. When doing the task you tend to lose track of time;
  3. Once the task is completed, you have more energy than before.

Certainly some of the things which you’d classically define as “something you’re good at” would also meet the three criteria listed above, but that’s not always the case. As an example, meet Sharon. As part of her job, Sharon retypes manuscripts. Sharon is a great typist. Her fingers fly like the wind across the keyboard and she makes few (if any) errors. This would make typing a strength by our first basic definition.

Now let’s explore this deeper. We learn that Sharon looks forward to large typing assignments (meeting criteria #1). When she types, she zones out, moving effortlessly through the pages of her project (criteria #2). Finally, as she types that final punctuation completing the project; she feels exhilarated. A sense of satisfaction and pride fill her as she notes the quick turn-around time she achieved (#3). Typing is certainly one of Sharon’s strengths.

But suppose, instead we had discovered the following about our girl. Sharon doesn’t really like typing, but it’s part of her job and after all, she’s “good” at it, so her boss frequently asks her to take on these large projects. (She got to be a fast typist in school because she saw it as a necessary job skill to acquire.) Sharon would much rather answer the phones or work on filing. The manuscript arrives on her desk, and she looks at it with dread. How long will it take to get through THAT? She pushes it aside. She procrastinates. When she eventually gets going she’s watching the clock, impatiently waiting for her upcoming coffee break. Finally finishing the project, Sharon looks up and thinks, “I’m ready for a drink. It must be 5 o’clock somewhere.” Typing — in this case — is definitely not one of Sharon’s strengths. She may be good at it, but it is not a strength.

Notice the difference in the two scenarios? Take a moment to make the distinction, and then see if you can identify examples from your own life. First, can you think of something that you’re “good” at — people may have even told you it’s one of your strengths — but on examination it fails to meet the listed criteria? Then take note of one your strengths, something which meets the outlined standards. Buckingham says, “Your strengths strengthen you!”

There is much to write on this topic, but this has been in draft mode for almost two weeks. So, I will post this introduction to the topic now and write more in a follow-up.

INSIGHTS: If you are willing, I invite you to post your two responses to the question at hand:

  1. What is something that you are “good at” which does not strengthen you, and
  2. What is something that does?

Until next time, may we all help to strengthen one another,

Pamela

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The workshop materials are available on Oprah.com, and the audio (8 segments, about 3 hours long) can be downloaded in its entirety from iTunes, all free of charge!

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