And Now for Something Completely Different

I don’t very often blog about my personal writing project(s), but the terrific nature writer Katherine Hauswirth nominated me for a “blog hop” (writers sharing about their work). So, bear with me as I answer a few questions…

What is the working title of your book (or story)?
Thrivalists: Reimagining the World in an Age of Crisis is the working title of the nonfiction book I’m currently “shopping.” It’s in research/pitching phase, and in the meantime I’ve started work on another project, as yet untitled. Also, some of my articles and essays are linked here.

Where did the idea come from for these books?
Thrivalists came about when I realized how little media attention goes to the people who are pulling together to make a major shift on our planet. I’m so inspired by the community resilience movement and all its permutations. My goal with the book is to shine a light on folks working toward greater ecological/economic/social balance. (Secondary goal and total bonus: to get to rub elbows with fun people and learn all kinds of mad skillz.)

A sister volunteer/learner at an Olympia Mycelial Network project in Washington State

A sister volunteer/learner at an Olympia Mycelial Network project in Washington State

The second project is a work of creative nonfiction exploring my 15-year recovery from fibromyalgia, culminating in emergence of my own healing abilities. Part of my inspiration came from Seven Steeples Farm, where I’m helping to grow produce right where an 1880s-era women’s mental institution once stood.

What genre do your books fall under?
Creative nonfiction, tending toward memoir on the new project. Thrivalists is closer to immersion journalism, still with an element of memoir, and the book would be shelved under Green Living/Activism.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m thinking Julianne Moore could play this Mudgirl, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten on that question!

Rose (inside wall) facilitates a Mudgirls workshop.

Rose (inside wall) facilitates a Mudgirls workshop.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Oof. Can I buy a sentence?

During a season of tending crops at Seven Steeples Farm, where the tomatoes and peas grow from ground that once held a 19th century mental institution for women, Shawndra Miller explores the turn in her own life from a 15-year bout with a debilitating mind/body ailment. While working the land she reflects on a wider societal transformation embodied by Seven Steeples, where something new is growing on the shell of the old.

Will your book(s) be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m open at this point. My book proposal for Thrivalists has been making the rounds of agents and small presses. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the process of discovery on the new project, while continuing to explore and highlight the community resilience movement.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The original Thrivalists book proposal, with a couple sample chapters, took about six months, but I keep adding to it as I travel and research, so it’s a moving target. The new one is still very young.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Thrivalists is a bit like Omnivore’s Dilemma in the way that the author’s process of research and discovery pulls the reader along. In subject matter, it’s close to Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze.

It’s hard to say on the new project since it needs more time to bake, but it might be compared to When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’m inspired by Charles Eisenstein’s work, in particular The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. Without a massive consciousness shift, no amount of environmental activism or social change work will alter the bottom line of a culture built on dominance, control, and fear. That’s part of what I want to explore in the new project.

Thanks to Katherine Hauswirth for tagging me with this assignment! I nominate Julie Stewart, writer-and-farmer-in-residence at Urban Plot, to do the next blog hop.

A Hollow Reed

Years ago when I was untangling the emotional roots and antecedents of fibromyalgia, I saw a counselor, a lovely 60ish-year-old man with round spectacles. I kept hoping he would hook me up to his biofeedback machine and fix me. I would sit in a chair in front of him and look over at the biofeedback station significantly. Kind of like my dog points his nose at the treat bag, with great hope and impatience.

On our initial phone call I had told him that biofeedback was what I needed. I figured I would force my beleaguered body to relax, and boom, all would be well.

Instead, he asked me to close my eyes and breathe. How did my body feel, sitting in the chair? Where was the pain, where was the tiredness? What did it want to say? He’d ask me to play witness to the tumult inside me. “We are present to this discomfort,” he would say.

Eventually the witnessing came around to breathing in openness and ease. I was never long in his presence before I felt it: the touch of the Divine. I breathed in and invited it. The ache in my chest might grow more pronounced, but with each inhalation, I felt a lightness flood every cell, until the ache transformed into something softer, like a blossom opening to the sun.

Sunlight

I don’t remember specifics from our time together, except the way my breath would flow the length of my body. I drew it in from my feet and exhaled it out my crown, an old yogic practice.

“You see how this is right there for you, as soon as you invite it?” I remember him saying. “This is your gift.”

It didn’t seem like much of a gift at the time, even though those meditations brought the rare sensation of settling me fully in my body. The grounded feeling never lasted; one step out of the haven of his office—that luscious sweetgum tree outside the window!—and I would leave my body again.

One thing stuck with me: He said once, “I am not the doer here,” with his long fingertips pressed to his white canvas shirt. “I am not in charge.”

He spoke of being a hollow reed, the Divine playing its music through us. “We just need to step aside, get our egos and personalities out of the way,” he said.

埙

I wasn’t sure that was possible, for me.

These days I find myself opening to that possibility, as I check in with guidance every step of the way. For the first time, I don’t plant myself so firmly in the driver’s seat.

I wrote about my tendency to push 18 months ago; rereading the post now, I see how I was playing with the idea of surrender, which had been enforced (again) by illness.

Only now is this starting to filter into daily practice. If life moves in a natural ebb and flow, as Charles Eisenstein suggests, then aligning my own activities with that natural movement brings a delicious serenity. Not only that, but cosmic forces line up to push me farther than I could ever push myself, and with much greater ease.

So I pause and ask: Is it actually time to do what the ego/driver in me wants to do? Or is it time to do something else? I’m finding more ease and joy as I move through life open to the possibility that it’s not all up to me.

Step Up to the Fire

One of my favorite year-end practices comes at Solstice time, when we gather with friends to mark the longest night. While we welcome the return of the light, we let go of what no longer serves us.

My spouse and I have been doing this with various groupings of women friends for a couple decades now. We build a fire and each burn something to symbolize what we’re ready to release.

IMG_4453Over the years I’ve noticed a shift in the types of things people throw on the fire. If I remember right, in our 20s and 30s we often burned things like business cards, to symbolize an important job transition. I recall burning “toxic” letters, wanting to shift a problematic relationship.

Looking back, the focus felt external to some degree: We needed to declare that something was over and done, and move on.

(I do recall that one creative soul burned a photocopy of a sponge, to indicate she no longer needed to absorb everyone else’s “stuff.”)

In general, nowadays, it feels like we all are more apt to turn our focus inward. What is it within me that is ready to slough off? Is it my need to be right? my habit of pushing? my fears? my dismissive self-talk?

One by one, we step up to the fire and burn the pattern that’s holding us back.

At our 2013 Solstice celebration, this is what I committed to the fire: my need to distract myself. What would happen, I wondered, if every time I thoughtlessly drifted to Facebook, email, or some other addiction, I first checked in on my inner world?

The result, over the course of the year, was a deepening of quiet, and an opening of possibility. I began to turn toward whatever plagued me instead of overriding it. I began to listen more carefully to guidance, to seek it, to act on it.

I had been moving in this direction since my dear friend, energy healer Merry Henn, introduced me to energy work several years back. In a 15-year quest to heal from fibromyalgia, the “invisible arts” (as I sometimes call them) proved indispensable. In combination with other healthy practices, energy healing and emotional clearing have brought me back to resilience. I no longer get sick at the drop of a hat, and I no longer need the maintenance regimen that sustained me for so long.

Now I find myself offering intuitive sessions and hands-on healing work to others, integrating everything I’ve learned. I never imagined myself in this role. But it turns out to be one of the most meaningful contributions I could ever make to a new Story of Reunion.

It was the Solstice ritual that helped me receive this unexpected gift.

I won’t say yet what I burned at the 2014 Solstice gathering, but who knows what magic is afoot after that releasing?