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Passionate musings on yoga, writing, creativity, and self-love 

Adventure - Discovering Self-Intimacy

leslie stjohn

IMG_8484.JPG

The oracle card, tiny as a raffle ticket, read, “Adventure.” It was the penultimate night of our Qoya retreat in Costa Rica, where my days were filled with Howler monkey alarm clocks at 5:30am, teacher training, Qoya class—let me rephrase: soul-ringing rituals and emotional caravan movement classes--, lunch, more teacher training, sunsets so saturated I almost forgot my preference for pastels until the sunrise pinking the sky reminded me, naked mermaid ocean dips, and more talks/labyrinths/ceremonies in the evening.  

Our week was rich, 89% dark chocolate rich. I was filled up. And I was exhausted. Physically and emotionally. But my friend wanted to go out, “see the local flavor.” The handsome front desk manager/surf instructor asked her to join a group in town for reggae night. It would be “fun!” And, while I’m usually the first to drag others onto the dance floor, I didn’t want to go. But I didn’t want to be that friend, the one who isn’t “fun!” So, I pulled a card: “adventure.” I was annoyed.

We reclined in Savasana as ethereal waves of singing bowls filled the room, washing over our bodies, I realized “adventure” meant something different for me that night. An adventure is a new venture, something out of your norm, a clear and open precipice for the unexpected. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Guatemala; I’d brought in the new year kicking cans of beer with locals in Nicaragua. I talked art and politics with the fringe set in Puerto Rico. I briefly had a Brazilian lover. I’d already had that adventure.

But it was my almost last night/morning in Costa Rica. I wanted to do something memorable, something that would make a soul imprint. Wake up and watch the sunrise on the beach. It came to me the way any thought would, unbidden, just another star across the sky, but I caught it. Oh, wake up early? Without the Howler monkeys, I never do that. Walk alone on the beach? But there are so many interesting people here, and I’m all about making meaningful connections. Early. Alone. Early and Alone? That’s when I got it. The real adventure would be to greet myself in the morning when the sky offers its pastel lightshow, and just see what happens. Meet my muse, I guess.

So, I did.

At 5:25, the monkeys stirring the trees outside our cabin, but not yet calling, I rose.

                                                                                                                  … … … … …
 

Invitations like this help us create self-intimacy. An inner-awareness. Not just an intellectual knowledge of personal habits, histories, or quirks—it’s a bodily knowing that may feel like a flowing river in your hips, a glowing sun of security in your solar plexus, a thousand butterfly wings opening and closing in your chest.

But that’s metaphor.

What Is self-intimacy?

It’s cohesion. It’s feeling connected to all the parts of yourself—your light and your shadow, which is a brave warrior heart journey. It’s not just “tolerating” but “allowing” your full range of emotions and experience.

 Beyond awareness of your feelings—which is no small feat—self-intimacy is actually “caring about those feelings, and sharing them” with your closest people, according to Psychology Today.

In his book, Intimacy: Trusting Oneself and the Other, mystic writer Osho teaches us that “The word ‘intimacy’ comes from a Latin root: ‘intimum’. ‘Intimum’ means your interiority, your innermost CORE. Unless you have something there you can’t be intimate with anybody.”

We hear a lot about having a strong “core” in our culture. Pictures of fit, flexed abs flash across our cellphone and mental screens. And, yes, having a strong physical core is integral to nearly every movement we make, but that’s just part of the picture. We hear less about our spiritual core.

What Osho means by “interiority.” What makes you, you. A kaleidoscope of sensory experience, memories, gifts, challenges, inclinations, and that original divine stamp—what poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called “Inscape.” Star-stuff.

Sounds compelling, right? Then why do we sometimes avoid ourselves?

Is it because we’re afraid if we look, we will find nothing there?  Or, if we take the time to go inward, we’ll miss out of what’s happening around us? If we go in, dive down, silence some of the noise, are we afraid we may never come back out?

All of these are possibilities. I get it.

And yet, the greater cost is in never taking the journey.

How many of us have heard, “We must know ourselves before we can know another”? I’ll say it again. Intimacy with another starts with intimacy with ourselves.

I’ve tried for many years, many relationships to find that love, acceptance, and connection with another—bypassing myself in the process. It never works.

That way lies poverty of soul and disappointment.

What has helped me is imagining my spiritual core as a treasure house of hard won jewels. Injury. New geographies. Love letters. Dancing bodies. Silences. Braveries. Mistakes. Revelries.  All the things I value in myself. All the people I have been. Deaths and rebirths. What I might be afraid of and yet want to share with someone special.  Self-intimacy leading to intimacy with another.

Maybe this is obvious to you.

Some people come into the world with a soul-imprint of self-knowing, an unshakable confidence. Some work on it day by day, thought by thought.

How to cultivate self-intimacy? I imagine the answer is as varied as we are—so many patches to make our coat of many colors.

Here are a few practices that have helped me:

§  Meditation / Prayer

§  Movement – Yoga, dance, Qoya, hiking, swimming, etc.

§  Journaling – “Morning Pages,” gratitudes, dailies, etc.

§  Oracles – Card decks, stars, nature, stones, etc.

§  Intentions & Affirmations – Grounded self-worth guides me to making wise choices.

§  Self-study – Reading, studying, reflecting, etc.

§  Self-care rituals – Hot baths, self-massage, nourishing meals, chocolate

Sometimes I take myself on “Artist Dates,” just to see what I see, making myself available to the muse (thank you, Julia Cameron). More than anything, getting quiet and being alone, for a time, is what opens the gates to the treasure house.

Choose the spiritual practices that help you connect intimately with yourself—finite consciousness—in the context of the larger whole—infinite consciousness. Peter’s practice may be Zen meditation; whereas, Sally’s is watercolors or nature hikes.

The divine speaks to us in a poetry we already know. It’s natural.

                                                                                                                   … … … … …


Walking down the jungle path to the water, I heard the silence singing. Within minutes, humidity moistened my skin. The sky warmed to a newborn pink, and sunrays sent cathedrals columns of light across the water. Pebbles and spindle shells washed over my feet. I walked the surf alone.

I sat near driftwood with a shell in my hand. I had spotted it the day before while my friend and I rode horses for the first time. Our guide scooped it up and presented it like an offering. Now, I studied it like the face of a lover. It fit perfectly in my palm. White as bleached bone, whisper of pink. The wide spiral narrowing to a secret I wanted to know.

I thought of all the paths I’d taken to get to this moment on the beach in Coast Rica. A childhood in Arkansas under tall pines, the salt of pine the salt on this shell. My teenage years as a competitive figure skater, spinning spinning spinning on ice until I couldn’t find my balance again. The eye injury that sent me reeling for self-worth in a religion of original sin—not goodness. My tattooed husband who carried me across an apartment threshold, to Indiana, and over divorce papers. My late-twenties and early-thirties teaching in California, hoping to catch a wave for the long ride back to love, back to myself.

And this morning adventure alone on the beach, sitting in meditation holding a shell I would place on a glass altar to remind myself: This is self-intimacy. 



If you enjoyed this blog--or know some deep-divers who might appreciate it--please share.

Love and Light, 
Leslie

Playa Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica. Morning adventures. 

Playa Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica. Morning adventures. 

Write Yourself Alive - Day 8

leslie stjohn

Writing Prompt: Do you ever feel like you have nothing new to say? Like it has all been said by others already, so-why-bother? If so--what makes you try to say it anyway?

Often. And oftener. I feel I've written about my father, my eye, my childhood, my heartbreaks, my loss so often, and people are getting tired of reading it. I fear I may be a one-sad-trick pony. 

And then I remember Mark Jarman’s poem,  "Ground Swell." The surfer boy who validated him out in the big waves, his name lost in those waters, his body returned in a bag from Vietnam. Did Jarman also feel the pressure to “make it new”? What artist doesn’t? He writes:

          Yes, I can write about a lot of things

          Besides the summer that I turned sixteen.

          But that’s my ground swell. I must start

          Where things began to happen and I knew it. 

He gave himself permission to write from that place where life started to matter, and he was alive inside himself, warm in a wetsuit he peed in, having been acknowledged. Having felt brave. Having understood.  That was his ground swell. 

I want that kind of bravery and honesty when I write—even if it’s another poem about seeing loss in the empty beach house, someone’s forgotten towels tattered on the line. Even if every essay is actually an apology or a love letter, at its pulse.

I’ve also heard that some subjects haunt you—my father returning from the hunt, something dead with fur covered under a tarp, a distance in his eyes that took days to return home.

Some subjects find you, inhabit you, and then leave. I wrote nothing of losing my eye for years, then it was in the shadow of every ending couplet, first date, and break up. It has not left. She lingers in the corner like a girl eager to hear what’s happening but badly burned and scarred, afraid of what others will see or say or want from her.  

These subjects linger because they are a source of wounding and, if we are brave enough, healing—for ourselves and others. That’s why I still write about my eye. It’s how I see everything.

Now over to you. How do you get over the hump of "nothing new to say"? What are your ground swell subjects? Who or what haunts you? 

Let me know how it goes. Tag me on social (@proseandposes) or email me at proseandposes@gmail.com

Creative Affirmation: Your voice, your words--not necessary but completely NEEDED. 

If you know someone in need of a some creative recovery or personal inquiry, please share this post. 

Write Yourself Alive - Day 7

leslie stjohn

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” - Steven Pressfield

Writing Prompt: Take some time to go deeper today and tend to the inner artist’s wound. What is the biggest doubt you have about yourself as a creator? 

My inner artist’s wound is simply this: I am too sentimental, too much reliant on emotions.

In graduate school, one of my poetry partners, Rebecca, was the self-proclaimed sentimentality police, always hovering over my words with her cropped hair, a sharp number 2 pencil, and a predictable sigh of boredom. Perhaps, we were just different writers. She, more voice driven, much more intellectual. I envied her that. It certainly seemed to be the preferable trend in academia. Where I wanted to feel, they wanted--or so it seemed to me at the time--to think or laugh or do mental gymnastics around an idea or insult, somehow making everyone else feel small for not getting the joke, the irony. Where I preferred the Romantics, they would smile with a hint of pity, so middle school of me, while they, of course, traded up to new schools, third waves, and post-structuralists. Of course, some poets were democratic equalizers: Both Emily’s could wave their banners on anyone’s island. Am I being fair?  It’s easy to generalize from memory.

If I am honest, Rebecca made me a better writer, pulling me back from that cliff-face of sentimentality for hard-earned sentiment. Sentimentality is false, overly dressed, trying too hard; sentiment is true. It’s that simple. I knew it when I saw it. Joan Didion’s heartbreaking sentences. Each one loaded with oar, terse, direct; all the complicated emotion of love and death, daughter and husband, fiction and science floating in the shadows under the boat in which she sat, silently, observing unobtrusively from her small frame of the world. I saw it. I couldn’t write it. But I wanted to.

And, if I’m really honest, I had a peer who wasn’t breaking her lines for sarcasm. She was a real poet.  The kind that writes because she must, who lives once in the field and again at her desk writing about tall grasses brushing her bruised shins as she walked her own labyrinth in the field.  She was maybe the best of us all, haunting us with those red barns, her father, her word gloaming whispering me to sleep at night. We loved Gretchen for her New England elegance, the quiet freckles across her fair face, how she could give an afternoon its crescendo with words.

So, perhaps I am sentimental. I did just have a conversation with my man about why I wanted to keep the leftover Canadian coins from our trip. He thought them clutter. I saw objects to hold, to remind us of where we’ve been and who we were. I like that part of me. She’s a preserver. She sees significance in what others might not. She likes things for their thingness. This is not sentimental; it’s sacred, a constant state of altar-making.

Now, over to you. What is your inner artist' wound? How does it show up--in life, art? How might it actually serve you? Write your way to healing today. Stretch by stretch, word by word. 

Let me know how it goes. You can tag me on social (@proseandposes) or send me an email (proseandposes@gmail.com). 

If you know anyone struggling with their doubt who might find courage from this post, please pass it along. 

Creative Affirmation: I’m writing myself alive. I’m learning my creativity myths that no longer serve me, letting them go.  My creativity is essential. Just as important as exercise or food.

 

 

 

 

 

Write Yourself Alive - Day 3

leslie stjohn

Writing Prompt: Think back to some of your earliest memories related to writing or creating, usually in your childhood.  How did the adults in your life nourish your repress your creativity? How did you first begin to consciously practice it?  

I used to decorate my father’s tall office door at the Game and Fish Commission. I wrote poems, drew pictures of witches, and probably the taxidermy animals I saw displayed in the basement: bears standing eight feet tall, claws grasping toward some unknown prey; deer clustered quietly in the corner, their white-tipped tails alert to my stirring; otters, ducks, even an alligator mostly hidden in the brush, its snout extended and silent as a rock. It sounds so scary now, especially given my sensitive animal nature. A suitcase. I remember being especially proud of my drawing of a suitcase. Where did I even see one? Dad traveled for work sometimes. National Wild Turkey Federation meetings, Boat and Safety Conventions, Montana and Colorado hunting trips. I guess his leaving, the black suitcase with ripping, red trim, made an impression.

I know I wrote poems, but I don’t remember what they were about. I loved the book Bridge to Terabithia for its magical fantasy; the ritual for words, story, clubhouse passwords. Even then, I knew the kids were playing make-believe; I wanted both the fantasy and the knowledge of the fantasy. I still do.

I wrote a story in which I created a Super-Duper-Shrinker-Dinker to reduce my body to the size of a cell that I might be injected into Garth Brooks’ bloodstream to blast the cancer killing him. I was nothing if not a dramatic, visionary, slightly morose child.

In high school, I fell in obsession with the love poems of Edna St. Vincent Milay. Her black and white portraits were elegant; her words, pretty pieces of jewelry that pin-pricked my heart—her love for a man, his love for her, her refusals, their absences. Poems of lust and loss. Nature and female independence. Small sonnets tidy on the page. Everything antiqued and otherworldly. I wanted to participate in that beauty.

So I tried. I wrote poems about romantic longing (still do), rain-streaked windows and sadness (still do), fear of and fascination with death (still do), the difficulty of embodiment—as a Christian, as a female, as an ice skater with an eating disorder… (still do, sort of).  

My affair with words continued in high school, college (I fell in love with the Romantics and my Romantics professor), and graduate school, where it got complicated because I entangled myself with a philosopher, who took all the words I knew and cut them into small ransom-letter letters, tossed them up into the air, and let the wind and snow catch them, scattering small a’s, capital L’s, and double oo’s, over churchyards, the Wabash river, the cobblestone street in front of the Knickerbocker, the long road from Lafayette to Chicago, and the longer roads all the way to California. That’s where I started to gather them back. That’s where I heard my voice on the page again. It spoke of the red-tailed hawk, an outdoor bathtub under grape leaves, and ocean piers where I made new vows to myself. This too is a creative act, to re-create oneself after one version of your life has ended and a new one is a vast ocean of opportunity and chance.   

Was creativity encouraged as a child? It was neither encouraged or discouraged. My parents supported my dancing, soft ball, and, later, figure skating. I was a performer who sometimes locked herself in her room to read Vampire trilogies and—they didn’t know—horror fiction. I was fascinated with vulnerable women and the dark men that “loved” and hurt them. Why, I wonder?  If they had taken my books, or talked to me about them, would I have made different choices. “What if’s” are as useful as swallowing pages of a book you’ve already read.

I’d say art was an escape (still is). My parents raised three daughters before me. They were under a great, black monsoon of debt. I went to Bible study. They didn’t have to worry about me—not pregnant, not a academically challenged, not dating the twenty-year old next door--, so I was often left to do my own thing. In this sense, my childhood allowed for my imagination to flourish—not because it was fostered so much as neglected. Art, stories, fantasy were a way of entertaining myself and making a place where I fit in. I didn’t have a treehouse, but I build one in my mind. Tescelena. I baked a sun-god from cookie dough, painted it gold. I had passwords that included the word emancipation and the color purple. I buried many keys, stones, cursive-scrawled letters in wooden boxes whose location only I knew.

A friend recently told me, “You are never not doing anything.” We are always creating. As children, as adults. How consciously we do this varies according to where we place our attention.

I started putting my attention on writing in high school, more so in college. I practiced writing in graduate school—many small offices, always facing a window, in Lafayette, IN. Even then, as I broke my lines and cured my clichés, I always felt like a fraud. If I am honest, this has been the one consistent feeling associated with art-making, writing in my adulthood. As a child, I didn’t care. I. Did. Not. Care. I just let my imagination go where it wanted to go. I got excited about words (still do).

If there’s one thing I’d like to give my child-self—the very thing I’d like to receive from her--, it’s the freedom to create without fear of being found a fraud. She knows she’s a creator, mostly a writer. Period. And now the falling leaves on paint-faded Victorian porches in Indiana. Now, the scar on his chin she could memorize like a hieroglyph. 

Write Yourself Alive - Day 2

leslie stjohn

Writing Prompt: Today, break up with "your" perfectionism in a dialogue.  

Two friends sit on a small while loveseat, holding glasses of Zinfandel. A pink candle flickers.

“We need to talk,” the shorter one with curly hair and a hint of a southern accent says with less assertion than she had hoped.

“Oh yea? What about?” replies the taller one with long legs, bright green eyes, and no hint of insecurity at hearing these words.

“You see…I’ve been thinking. I really appreciate your drive. I love how you get shit done and the way you make a room look when all the towels are folded just so, the corners of the sheets tucked into neat triangles, candles lit. I admire how your waist is always narrow, your arms always toned, and how I’ve never seen you with lipstick on your teeth. When you speak, people listen because you’re articulate, smart, and, at times, damn funny. You’re standards…they’re high—“

--“and that’s a good thing, right? I mean if it were not for my standards, you’d still be with that guy who talked down to you. You’d probably have an ugly apartment. You might have never written or published anything. Hey, without me, you’d be fat.”

At this, the first friend puts down her glass of wine and folds her arms across her chest. Maybe she’s write. He did always make me feel bad about my past. And when I pushed her away, I gained a few pounds. My guys says he likes it, that I’m beautiful. But she’s right. My hips are fuller.

“Fair enough…but not exactly! You’ve never helped me write.”

“I always keep you from writing sentimental, embarrassing shit,” she says, now too putting down her wine and pointing her finger in a gesture between giving emphasis and giving the bird.

“Okay, you do. But you also keep me from writing anything. Essays, poems, sentences. Once I feel you leaning over my shoulder, checking the words on the screen, I stop writing. And the thing is, maybe I need to write ‘sentimental, embarrassing shit’ to get to words with beauty and sentiment. Maybe that’s how I write. I build a colossal mountain of sappy, over-indulgent, hallmarky, small “r” romantic shit, and then I revise and tear it down to the stuff that matters, the story that moves people. The part that’s true, and has some beauty. But I’ll never know that if you keep pulling my hands off the keyboard with your eye-rolls and judgy sighs.”

The tall one sips her wine—even its raisin purple not staining her teeth—and does a little eye roll, suddenly noticing the layer of dust along the window sill, where crystals clutter what could be a clear, clean space.

“I’m not going to dignify that with a response,” she says, tight-lipped and cool.

“And I’m not going to keep doing this.”

“This? What?”

“This!” She says, throwing her arms out as if flinging confetti. “I’m not going to keep trying to be like you. I’ve tried for years, but I’ll never be everyone’s friend, every guy’s fantasy, every student’s favorite teacher, every teacher’s favorite student, every publisher’s best discovery, every father’s “special” daughter. I’ll never have long legs or symmetrical eyes or kink-free hair or a reasonable appetite. I’ll never be able to spell recieve. I’m just not as put together as you.”

She rolls her neck, as if she’s really going somewhere now.

“I’ll never be like you because you do not exist.  You’re a simulacrum of perfection that changes every day, according to what I feel is the best in that moment, which is often what is most elusive. You’re a mirage. Even now, I can see you shapeshifting before me, tans and nudes blending into some magazine model’s airbrushed form. Your hands, they can’t even hold anything—not a pen, not a man, not a child. You’re not who I even want to be because you’re not curious. You think you know how everything should be, how every story unfolds, but you don’t. I don’t, and I think that’s a good thing.”

“I never knew you felt this way,” she says, placing her hands in her lap, listening patiently for her turn to give a scripted reply.

“So, I’m going to ask we go our separate ways.”

“But I want to say…”

--“I’m no longer going to listen to what you want because for the first time in a long time, I care about what I want more than you.”

“You’re making a mistake,” she stands up now, so tall and lean, elegant even as she’s angry. “What will you do without me?”

“I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.”

“I’ll tell you. When I walk out that door, you will devolve into a lump of lard on the couch. You’ll never write anything that amounts to anything. You’ll disappoint people. You’ll never get out of this apartment. You’ll be sick on a feast of regrets. You know what, if you ask me to leave…You will be alone.”

At this, the short one braced herself a bit, as if expecting a bullet in her stomach. But there was no bullet. Now black hole opened beneath the couch and swallowed her whole. Alone.

“Alone,” she said it out loud as if saying it for the first time, as if saying it like any other normal word. “Alone,” like “plate” or “cloud” or “maybe,” and it did not scare her like it had all thirty-six years of her life. It was just a word, not a sentence. She said it over and over, alonealonealone until it was just babble, baby sounds that meant nothing.

Or a mantra that meant everything.

As she looked around she realized she was in fact alone. The tall one gone now. She alone sat on the white loveseat, holding a glass of red wine, the pink candle flickering.  And it was fine because she knew she could cuddle with Lucy, her soft puppy ears like a child’s blankie. She would see her guy tomorrow, and he would kiss her neck, the right side that makes her giggle because it’s so ticklish. She could call friends for coffee. She could open books. She would see her students in the classroom, the yoga studio. She could sit at her desk and write words that keep her company. Words that just want their time on the page, in the air, on someone’s lips, and later, in their memories.

She finished her wine. Left the empty glass on the coffee table and went to take a bath. Alone with alone, having never felt so good after a break-up.  


Write Yourself Alive - Day 1

leslie stjohn

Writing Prompt: Write your current self an email from your future self, 6 months from now, as you embark on this journey of creative self- recovery.

Hey you,

I see you there in a café, a bit jittery from the coffee but happy to be in poetry head—that place of amethyst light, collections of coins from Spain/Nicaragua/Canada, words with wings like gloaming or gossamer, and no sense of time. Time is a ribbon dancer’s cursive flick of the wrist. Time is the surface of a pond before morning breaks across its reflection. God, you love that space, don’t you? If lifts you from the mundane, helps you see what’s holy there. You feel most like yourself when writing…and moving your body, yes; and connecting with people in meaningful ways; and loving your man; and walking in a place called Victoria, another city of lights; yes, but writing, that’s the fountain head. You always knew this, but it was confirmed when you agreed to write yourself alive. More alive.

You were nervous then, committing to thirty, then sixty days of writing. You always say, Yes! Your heart is open, but then life crowds in, and you slink away. To be fair, not always.

You’ve finished many projects: You earned a BA and an MFA, completing an honors project on Gerard Manley Hopkins and a creative thesis, of which many poems went into your poetry chapbook, Beauty Like a Rope (another finished project); you completed certification for two yoga teacher trainings with exceptional teachers (500hrs); it took years and lots of “starts,” but you guided your students through the process of publishing their memoirs in the book, Unveiling Self. What a night! The audience crowded into Bello Mundo, listening to you, the students, their own hearts. You’ve successfully thrown memorable birthday celebrations, bridal showers, baby showers, and social gatherings. You even followed through on that spark of an idea for his birthday gift—he will never forget 44. You have moved across country. You have completed countless quarters as a teacher. Even this summer, you (mostly) finished a writing gig for an online Yoga and Ayurveda course. And if this doesn’t convince you that you can and WILL finished these 30 days, just remember every book you read. Last sentence…pause. Close the book. Done. The point is, I see you there writing. I see you finishing these 30 days and doing more and more because underneath fear of failure, fear of fraud, you LOVE writing.

From where I sit, across the café, six months down the line, I’m happy to share how your words are inspiring people. Not in that cheesy self-help, social-media-meme kind of way, but in that real talk, honest stories, beautiful sentences way. People are reading your blog. You’re publishing poems in reputable journals. You’re squirrelling away poems and essays and fragments that might just collage together as a poetic memoir. You tell your story slant. And it slips right into the cracks in people’s hearts, where they need it most. Love. Relatability. Beauty. Hope. You keep writing. You hit walls. You bring in the wrecking balls, or change rooms. You learn about your process—build the monolith, chip away until the form emerges—, and you learn about yourself. You love yourself more.

Believe it or not, you start to figure out a workflow—not a system or a ridged schedule—but a way of putting your soul on the calendar (Thanks, Danielle!) that prioritizes writing, self-care, relationship AND being a University professor. It’s a fucking miracle. And it doesn’t work every day, but it does some days—many days. How? I want you to discover it. I will say this, less social media, late-night Netflix, and comparison; more journaling, earlier mornings, and artist dates (Remember how you felt at the Albion Inn, surrounded by paintings, fine china, whimsical furniture? Delighted! Like you were inside a jewelry box of beautiful objects. You couldn’t wait to see what you’d discover in the next room, the next time you looked…. More like that.).  Stay flexible. Just keep writing.

One last thing. Remember that card you put in your wallet in 2013? I am in a loving, supportive relationship that allows me to branch out in my career. I AM comingling my passions—yoga, writing, teaching—to help others, especially young women, experience radical self-acceptance, self-worth, and love (they read my memoir)! You are. And the sankalpa you wrote in 2015. I offer my unique gifts to the public to inspire creative expression, physical health, and more self-love. You’re doing it. It’s happening.

This is your mantra: Write! Write! Write! (Thanks, Marina).

Your advocate,

Looking Rejection in the Mirror

leslie stjohn

After my divorce, I moved west. It seemed like a literary thing to do, my life an open field of freshly cleared California wheat. After leaving Arkansas for Indiana, finishing graduate school, ending my marriage, and falling in love with someone who eventually rejected me—in some semblance of that order—, I moved to Santa Margarita, California, an ellipsis of a town between Los Angeles and San Francisco, flanked by vineyards and horses.

Literary or not, I cried regularly for nine months.

I knew only one person in California, and had just left my best friend/ex-husband of ten years in the cornfields of Lafayette. I started a new job teaching English at Cal Poly, which I was proud about, but I felt lost in the seasonless sunshine of long days connected only by dandelion seeds of a schedule and smiles of potential new friends. I was suddenly aware of how having a shared history acts as a grounding force, without which I felt unmoored.  I walked my dog, Clair. I watched stars undiluted by city lights. I journaled and cried and worried I’d made a mistake…many mistakes. But some days those country roads were rocky paths leading myself back to me.

Soaking in the ramshackle outdoor tub dressed up with grapevines, I steeped in rejection. He was a philosopher with dark eyes that lead somewhere I’d never been. He showed me Rothko’s deep blues and Truffaut’s Parisian scenes. We swapped used books like baseball cards and read each other’s annotations. Even before we had our first coffee, he sat in the dark theater and watched me dance. I replayed that dance many times in my mind just to feel what it was like to be in his gaze. He didn’t know me—the southern Christian girl with the badge of injury, but he knew a part of me; that part that needed beauty as much as breath. We listened to Debussy in the snow.

Rejection feels like black tar suffocating the heart.

That summer of 2007 wasn’t the first time I experienced rejection, nor the last. I’ve had friendships dissolve. Two years after landing a good job at Cal Poly, I along with hundreds of other instructors, was laid off. Pastors have lied to me. I have an entire file of “rejection slips” from literary magazines where I’ve submitted poetry. Some spiritual mentors have reminded me not everyone is a good fit. I’ve been on the receiving and giving end of rejection, which at its root is someone simply saying, “No, thank you.” It’s life. But, oh, how rejection stings. 

Understandably so. The pain we feel is not metaphorical—it’s real. “fMRI studies show that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain,” according to Guy Winch, PhD, in his article “10 Surprising Facts about Rejection,” published in Psychology Today. Winch also suggests taking Tylenol may mitigate the emotional pain associated with rejection. While this may sound farcical, we resort to all manner of coping mechanisms when faced with rejection: abuse of alcohol and drugs, over/under eating, shopping sprees, self-harm, self-help/inspiration binging, and my particular favorite, searching for a quick relationship substitute to fill in the void. I wanted to be in someone’s gaze, his arms, so I wouldn’t feel the cold isolation of an empty stage and a vacant heart. But just as a pill doesn’t remedy our deeper, emotional pain completely, nor will any of these methods. Real healing takes time…and whatever personal practices cultivate resilience. I talked with a therapist. I danced. I practiced yoga. I listened to my friends and started believing what they had to say about my value. Just for being me. Though I wouldn’t have called it this at the time, I explored the “R’s” of rejection: Review, Reassess, Rearrange, Revise, and, eventually, Rally for and Recommit to myself. Be Real.

Review
We review anyway, so why not do it consciously and purposefully. Recall what worked in the relationship. What parts did you like? Was it how she affectionately curled into you catlike while watching movies? Maybe you appreciated how your boss offered monthly kudos acknowledging publications. That’s good. Say it. Write it. Magnify it. Know you will have this, or some better variant, again in the future. Now, what didn’t work? Be specific. Get clear. Don’t get caught up in a negativity tailspin, but create some awareness.

Reassess
Transitions give us an opportunity to reassess what we’re doing and why. You’ve created habits and an identity in this relationship, and those are shifting, so ask yourself these important questions: What am I doing now? Why am I doing it? Who am I now? Of course, your essence is the same, but your habits, inclinations, and goals may be different. Rejection often feels like someone took your choice away, but my teacher Constance Hart reminded me everyone has choice--others and you. We have infinite choices.  

Rearrange
Every time my father went away for a hunting trip, my mom would rearrange the furniture. I never understood why. Maybe because reordering allows us to see our lives differently. Some of us need to work from outside in. Perhaps my mom needed to see her home differently in order to see new possibilities within herself. I pull out my planner. If I can rearrange my schedule--here a yoga class, there coffee with a friend, here returning to the project I’ve loved and neglected because we went to Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings--, I can reorient myself to my life.

Revise
I’m a writer, and so are you. We write stories in our minds all the time; some serve us better than others. “S/he rejected me because…” is only a story. There are so many possible arcs--some of which you are aware, and some you’ll never know. So, why not chose the one that is most honest and empowering? How? Own your part of the story. Doing so declares you are not a victim, powerless to the desire and will of others, but a participant in the story. “Rejection refocuses me on my own path,” explains Maia Kiley, friend and MFT trainee. “I move away from feeling a victim and back into my own power with more clarity and purpose.”  You can write your next chapter.

Rally
Your friends will rally for you, but will you rally for yourself? Your future? Here’s where you rouse yourself from depression or apathy and take action. Maybe you start dancing again, seek the support of a therapist,  paint your bedroom purple because why not?! Maybe you finally, after three months, take all those wine bottles you’ve been so sentimental about--the ones with handwritten dates from special events you shared--and lovingly chuck them from the pier far into the sea, knowing they’ll come back as beach glass, transformed and beautiful.

Recommit
What is the most important relationship in your life? The one you have with yourself. Take a vow of self love. Recommit to yourself, your desired feelings and goals, your path. After my last heart-scrambling break-up, I drove my cousin who was visiting from Arkansas up the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. We stopped in Cambria to get coffee. In an abalone shell near the cash register, I saw a small silver ring with a simple moonstone. Without thinking, I put it on my ring finger and made a silent promise, “I won’t leave you, again. I marry you.” That was four years ago. I’ve since given the ring to my sister, but the commitment to myself remains.  

Be REAL
I’ve presented these R’s as if they occur in an orderly fashion, chronologically. They don’t. They more likely will S.W.I.R.L., depending on your own process, the context of the relationship, and what the hell Mercury is doing in the sky. Allow yourself to cry, stay with the ache, practice self-care, watch Netflix, take long walks, seek support (therapists, shamans, rabbis, life coaches, etc), stare out windows, travel, return to all your loves you’ve neglected, cry in the shower, scream into a pillow, write, pray, sage your entire house… Just be real. Make your choices. Transpose the NO to ON: turn on to what is most light-full and meaningful in your life.

Rejection sucks. Period. Yet, each time I’ve heard that “No,” I eventually gained a deeper, truer sense of myself. When I realized my pastor was lying and stealing, I quickly learned not to put others on an spiritual pedestal. When Cal Poly laid me off, I made a list of other possible ways to support myself and gained more confidence in my ability to do so. I now teach yoga classes and retreats in addition to writing and literature classes at Cal Poly (yes, they hired me back the next quarter). When the man I thought I was moving to Idaho with made a different choice, I cried. A lot. Then I rallied for myself.

I began to court myself with old-fashioned flair. I bought myself flowers. I wrote and listened to myself as if my next word might unlock the key to my heart. I floated under waterfalls, traveled alone to Puerto Rico, and fantasized about my future. I did things that scared me (teaching yoga and writing retreats) and inspired me (teaching yoga and writing retreats).  I experienced creative surges in my writing. I spent more time with those loving, supportive relationships that sometimes get neglected in the emotional spins and dips of troubled water. I exercised more. Cooked more. Gained greater clarity about what I want from a romantic partner, my friendships, career, even spiritual life (it’s all spiritual). Rejection offers us innumerable gifts.

Rejection may feel like death, but if we persist—if we really let go of the person or situation and assimilate what we’ve learned—, it can lift a curtain to an even more fulfilling life.



If you have a friend who might appreciate the Gifts of Rejection or needs some R&R (and those other R's), please share this post. 

 

The Most Important Letter You Will Write (and Hear)

leslie stjohn

Source 

“Now that you’ve written a self-love letter, I encourage you to pair off and have your partner read your letter to you,” I said to the Sagrada retreat participants sitting cross-legged on cushions, journals tucked tightly across their chests like shields against my request. “May you receive your own words and the gift of healing they bring,” I chimed in my most compassionately enthusiastic, yoga-teacher voice. No one moved. Silence. The wild turkeys who’d been strutting outside the studio windows all class long now stood at attention, their feathers fanned, as if curious what would happen next.

“I’m not yet ready to share my letter with anyone,” a woman with a voice of lace offered. “Me either,” echoed another woman who seemed used to setting the record straight with her son. “I understand,” I said, trying to tie the knot of disappointment in my throat. “No way,” another woman said, and she tucked her letter into her journal and closed it with the finality of a court reporter’s period. “Okay, I see,” I scrambled for the words of acquiescence because this was the point of the weekend, the culminating moment of all the yoga, reflection, and writing we’d done thus far. I had planned it!  

I shifted in my seat. Stalled for the right words. I knew plans didn’t always go accordingly. Be like water...be like water...be like...I shouted in my head. “We don’t have to do it,” I said, probably in my most apathetic whatever, that’s cool, we can do what you want voice. But then Heather spoke up, “But that’s why! I don’t want to do it, so you have to make us!” “Yea, I’m scared, but make me,” laughed Bridget and she slapped both hands on the hardwood floor.  And Anna, “Yea, me too.”  “Well, I guess I will too, “ agreed my friend who initially hesitated.

So, much to my delight--and their bravery--, we read the letters.

In late afternoon light, when the costal sun slips off her gown behind the Santa Margarita mountains, we shared local olives, white wine, and love letters, each couple privated away to their corner of the pool patio, cozy blankets in tow. 

This exercise came on the fletchling end of Cupid’s arrow, just days after Valentine’s. I had recently posted a blog on “How to Write a (Great) Love Letter” and wanted to offer a self-love practice that was both artistic and spiritual. Earlier that week, my therapist encouraged me to do the exercise, to tread the waters before leading others through.

At first writing to myself was strange, but then I let the hammock swing me, felt the sun on my shoulders, and trusted this inner voice that seemed so eager to speak, like she’d been sitting with her hand held up in class, waiting just waiting, for me to finally call upon her. And what she said...I was surprised, but even more so at how good I felt receiving the words.

Rare beauty. Inspiration. Svelte. I see you...

At Sagrada when my partner began speaking my letter, I sat back in the adirondack chair, let my eyes soften to a thin veil over the last light etched across the ridge line, and listened.

Dear Leslie,
It was after an ice skating session. The coaches had all gone home, but you stayed to practice longer. You didn’t know I was watching from the top bleachers, but I saw how you powered through your legs, opened your arms, and flung wide your passionate, purple heart--jumping and spinning, gracefully weaving in and out of the other skaters. That’s your own beauty--it’s physical, powerful, elegant, and has this inside-out quality that makes others feel blessed to be in your presence, sharing your energy….
 (Read the entire letter here).

While I failed one of my  “How to Write a (Great) Love Letter” tips--Be Concise--, this letter means something to me, both as an affirmation of self-love and as an artistic artifact. I have it sealed in an envelope between a pastel statue of Ganesha and an old journal whose spine reminds me to “Dwell in Possibilities.”

I met Aimee as she was about to take off for a run along the Quiet Oaks trail before downshifting into our ‘relaxation and rejuvenation’ retreat. A strong woman with a reserved, decisive nature, she was initially skeptical about a love letter. “Remember, I’m not hearts and flowers.” However, in the process of writing one, she found its potency:

I initially wrote it as if it were written by my husband -- like a letter that I would love to receive from him. What struck me while Anne was reading it, is that it turned out to be a letter that I needed to write to myself.  I didn't need him to tell me those things (although it would be nice), I needed to say them to myself.

When we turn that craving for external approval back on ourselves, we begin to heal our lives. We become our best advocates. We're more authentic, and, therefore, more able to be ourselves with others and show up for them.

Aimee reveals how writing a self-love letter can help us move from the “shoulds” to compassion and acceptance:

I have high expectations of myself and continually fall short of all my "shoulds."  I should be exercising more, I should be spending more time with my family, I should be striving for partnership at work.  I am in a constant state of "I'm not doing enough," which of course translates into "I am not enough."  The love letter forced me to acknowledge my Self and allow for some much needed self compassion and self acceptance.  Thank you.

Though initially hesitant, my friend with cropped dark hair, elegant wrists, and the quiet intensity of an enneagram four had this to say about her experience:

I was plagued with so much self doubt in the assignment.  After the love letter was written, I could see it was just what I needed to experience how much the Universe loves and supports me. It was a powerful tool, and I feel so grateful Leslie encouraged us to read them with our partner.

Heather, a young professional from Boston with a penchant for numbers and a smile that will elicit your own, says, “I am so happy I put pen to paper at the retreat. Although uncomfortable at the time and difficult to articulate, I found the process to be therapeutic and inspiring.”

She signed her letter with a kiss:

Wins, losses, dreams, nightmares, I'll be there by your side. Know that you are not alone. Let's French kiss life together! Xoxo, Me

Before we assume this exercise is only for wandering souls who write poetry on the new moon around a ritual campfire, let me tell you about another friend.

In his mid-fifties with a clean haircut and healthy tan, his organized body language suggested someone who facilitates meetings and makes decisions. Whenever he spoke at the dinner table, I listened as if receiving directions to my travel destination. He was wise. With an analytical business mind and an open-heart, he explained how, “the love letter process forced me to think in terms I am not accustomed to and in the course of doing that brought about new realizations. I enjoyed the experience immensely.”

If you’re warming to the idea of writing a self-love letter, I encourage to write! But before you pull out your pen and paper, get in touch with your body.

Prose and Poses is based on my personal experience of finding the flow state (that zone when you’re so completely present with whatever it is you’re doing, you lose track of time) with an embodied practice of creativity. So, before you write your letter, breathe. Stretch. Move your body--clearing the physical and mental clutter--to more easily access your intuitive, imaginative, and associative mind for creative expression.

Before Aimee wrote her love letter, we practiced heart-opening vinyasa yoga and later did a restorative yoga class. She was primed to give herself, and now us, the gift of her words.

I look at you from across our table – coffee rings, dried toddler food, a burn scar from your baking.  And I want you to know that I see you.

The door opens; you trod in – heavy with bags and baggage from your day.  You drop it at the door and our girls run to meet you, to hug and give you love that has been missed while you were away.  You are smiling and laughing but I see you.  Behind your eyes I see clouds of silver and gray - from days, months, years of solitude; solitude in a sea of people.  I see your soft spots, your open wounds – bound by layers of muslin, so tightly wound that the passage of days cannot dry or heal.

I see your light.  I see your creativity, your love, your beautiful brilliant passion.  On the cusp.  Like a platinum grenade teetering on the edge of a cliff.  Await the breeze, the hand, the launch that will release your light – explosions, a firework.  The fruition of your work, your purpose.  Let me unbind.  Thread by thread.  Trust in me that I will be here, unwavering.  We are eternally connected by child, by our crazy love, and by choice.  Everything is as it should be.

Everything. Every thing is as it should be. Writing a self-love letter helps us see just how much we can trust the gifts and challenges of our lives.

Writing the letter is a powerful first step, but hearing your letter is an even more potent gift. Find a friend you trust to read your letter to you. Someone who has your best interests in mind, accepts you flaws and all, and who wants to encourage your self-growth.

When I heard my partner read my letter, I was struck by how often I used the term “inspiration.” Sometimes I write it on my chalk coffee cup: I am inspired and inspiring. I intend it before I hit post on Instagram. Inspire. So no wonder it showed up in my letter. That night, I promised myself I would continue to cultivate my sankalpa, which, at its heart root, is all about inspiration.

Writing (and hearing) a self-love letter is creative expression and spiritual accountability. 
                                                                 
On a sunny afternoon in San Luis Obispo, CA, I met a former poetry student for acai bowls and a walk downtown. A biology major headed to medical school in the fall and a former volleyball player whose long legs carried her triumphantly to the net, Julia does not shy away from hard work, whether it’s to strengthen her mind, body, or heart.

After I posted the Self-love letter blog, she messaged me to say, “I did it. I wrote one!” Today, we sat in a pocket of shade near the creek, and I was honored to hold her sketch book and read her letter out loud, giving words as jewels back to her.

You are anything but bland. You are valued, you are a jewel. I am so lucky to get through each day with you because when it comes down to it, there is nobody I would rather have on my team to walk, crawl, dance through this life with. Let’s take on today, tomorrow, and every day together. I see that you are cautious, I see you are hurting, and I still want you. All of you. I promise to always show up. Welcome to the team, darling.

Welcome to your heart.




If you know someone who loves creative expression, brave vulnerability, and spiritual empowerment, pass this post along.

 

 

 

 

 

“Love Yourself” - The Elephant in the Room

leslie stjohn

 

In my last post “How to Write a (Great) Love Letter,” I gave you nine tips for a juicy, thoughtful, persuasive letter that would leave your lover wanting more of you. And then tip 10: A New Opportunity: Write a love letter to yourself. This one requires you to also do the first tip: “Take the Risk. Be Brave.” So I’m going to do just that. In this post, you’ll find my self-love letter, but before you read it, let’s make friends with the purple elephant in the room.  

“Love yourself” has become one of those buzz phrases so frequently hashtagged, pinned, and spoken over cocktails that it’s lost its potency. I love coffee. I love sunsets. I love you and you and you. I love those shoes! We fling “love” like pennies. It’s easy. But does the word mean anything anymore? I hope so. “Love yourself” implies self care; it’s an act of love to care for oneself. In that sense, sure, I love myself. I bathe regularly. I eat nourishing food, I exercise 5-7 times a week, I even floss often (after eating popcorn); basically, I parent myself. That’s being an adult. But is that self-love?

I spent my upbringing in a middle class southern Christian household trying to earn the favor of my family, especially my father. It’s not that my parents weren’t loving--they were--, but they were mostly tired, having already raised three girls, and often stressed about money. I could get lost in the shuffle. I learned to achieve my way to the attention and love I craved.

Good grades? Check. Straight A’s (minus that AP Calculus class). Good morals? Check. I was president of the Christian Club at my high school and danced with my gay friends at pep rallies. Good looks? Maybe. I sure worked hard to be thin, even earned an eating disorder from it. Good work ethic? You bet. With my learner’s permit and “hardship” license, I drove myself to ice skating sessions six days a week, competing regularly until I was seventeen. One lesson I internalized from all these efforts is that I must perform in order to receive love. This messaging didn’t do much for my own self love. In fact, the more I performed, seeking love and approval from outside of myself, the more I felt a deep hollowing within me.

I’ve done a lot of work to flip that script. I am not that seventeen year old girl anymore, but she’s still present with me. More than mere self-care, learning to love myself is openly
liking myself. Initially, that felt foreign to me. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I spent episodes of my life hating myself, years  mildly tolerating myself, so why not now deeply invest in liking and truly loving myself? Well, that’s what I did. I started small. My arms are alright. I guess my nose is cute. Then I looked closer. It’s cool how I strive to see and cultivate beauty…, and I really do like my ability to connect with people. My words. My yoga practice. My faded tattoos. My story, especially the parts where I loved people, made things, and didn’t give up after painful losses... Then it started to become easier to listen to that self-loving voice more so than the critic’s familiar script; although, they both have residence in me.  Self-love is accepting all of who you are, appreciating your unique iteration in the world, and choosing active compassion.  

Like learning to do a handstand or play the cello, loving yourself does not come easily or quickly--it’s a practice. “Great,” you might say, “eat the entire bunch of celery, jog three miles, then go to bed by ten...boring.”  Yea, I agree. That’s why the self-love letter is so great. Not only are you doing the work of accepting, appreciating, and choosing, but you’re creating an artistic artifact of a time and place in your life. Imagine reading it years from now.

You’re packing to move, going through storage deciding what to keep and what to donate. Under the antiquated box of CDs, you find a pile of journals. Tucked inside the red one is a letter on thick, cream-colored paper. You open it...



Dear Leslie,


It was after an ice skating session. The coaches had all gone home, but you stayed to practice longer. You didn’t know I was watching from the top bleachers, but I saw how you powered through your legs, opened your arms, and flung wide your passionate, purple heart--jumping and spinning, gracefully weaving in and out of the other skaters. That’s your own beauty--it’s physical, powerful, elegant, and has this inside-out quality that makes others feel blessed to be in your presence, sharing your energy.

You were young then; maybe sixteen, still full of doubts and insecurities, but when you thought no one was looking, you trusted yourself and expressed so freely with your body and your words.  

Once, I read your journal. I’m sorry. I know, bad etiquette, but I’m not sorry because I felt moved by your poems. More than once, you brought tears to my eyes and made me want to show more love to the ones I love.

The story about your eye; the break-ups with Jason, Jesus, the one with the moon-blue eyes you loved who couldn’t love you; even how you restructured your life from your home on Nipomo St. with its vintage arches, tall windows, beautifully beat-up hardwood floors to the new small studio--a pretty jewelry box--and most of your furniture in storage, still living in SLO with a fine job, a good man who shows his love every morning he brings you coffee in bed, a creative life, and many areas where you’re still growing...it all moves me. It helps. I don’t know how exactly, but your words help. Please, for the love of all that is holy, real, and beautiful, keep writing. Keep using your words--your embodiment--to inspire others.

And if someone isn’t interested in what you’re offering, that’s okay. Shrug it off. Stay true to your sankalpa because others--like me, your family, some friends, people online, those you’ve yet to meet--they will receive what you’re offering. And it will help. You will inspire.

I wasn’t sure if I’d share this, but I must. You are a rare beauty.

I mean it. Let’s be honest: you have a prosthetic eye. According to traditional beauty or contemporary media-driven standards, you fail. But since when have you been in any way conventional? Cheerleaders, Cosmo, Hollywood--these have never been your metrics.

Someone original who dresses in her own style, speaks her own language, carries herself with confidence and warmth, whose idiosyncrasies tell her story--that chicken pox scar above her eye; that single dimple; her unruly, romantic hair; a body lean and agile, soft and sensual; a heart always risking sentimentality to get at true sentiment--this is your kind of beauty. Leslie, you are this rare beauty.

Your body is svelte and always in motion. Your face, inviting. Your smile, uplifting. Your nose, adorable as your sister’s. Your eyes...unique pieces of art. You embody shakti. You swirl in the energy of Parvati and Aphrodite. Your body is a dance of desire. How you accept it, live in it, create with it inspires others. It gives them permission--the courage, really--to win back their bodies. Leslie, for what it’s worth, you’re hot. Own it; then, let it go.

What I’m trying to say is, you’re marvelous. And I love you.

I love you they way you love white Christmas lights, dark chocolate, movies where the two old guys talk about the afterlife at the pyramids in Egypt. I love you more than you love coffee, more than you love antique books with thoughtful inscriptions, more than two dancers improvising a love story with bare bodies. I love you more than I thought I was capable. I need you to know, I’m committed to you.

Sign me up. Pin me down. Keep drawing me in. I’m yours, and I want you to be mine from this letter forward. I choose you as you are now and as the woman you are becoming. I align myself with you.

Darling, you made me see the moon with new eyes. One night in new Mexico, the sky was a swath of stars, and I couldn’t pick one to wish upon, so I covered one eye (right), and wished upon the moon to meet the woman of my waking dreams...the woman I’d always be proud to walk into a room with; who I could learn from, travel and explore, laugh and play, deepen and grow with. I wished to meet the woman I would always want to be with--not just on weekends when she’s all sparkle and fifty-dollar words, but also on lazy Sundays and brush-our-teeth, pack-a-lunch, quick-kiss-as-we’re-leaving-the-house Tuesdays. All my days. I saw the moon and wished for yoga--to yoke myself and still feel this freedom in my heart. That night in the desert, the moon never looked so full; its divots and shadow pronounced yet beautiful. Like you. Perfectly imperfect. So when I met you and got to know the real you--your words, history, body, heart--, I felt you’d flown me to the moon. And I knew.

Leslie, you are the love of my life.

I couple my heart to yours. Will you let me love and support you, cherish and celebrate you, hold you up and accountable, catch you when you fall and carry you until you can stand on your own and dance again? Will you let me be your lover, advocate, friend?  You help me see beauty. You bring depth to my experience; may I bring buoyancy to yours. I want nothing more than to fall asleep and wake with you--in love with me--for the rest of our numbered heartbeats.

May I be born each day into the soft curves and opening of your body.

I am ardently, deeply, completely yours,


Me

 

Interested in writing your own self-love letter, but not sure how to get started? Or, maybe you just feel slightly embarrassed because,, after all, you’re not hearts and flowers. Next week, I will share PART 2 of the “Self-Love Letter” blog; I’ll tell you about how others responded to this opportunity at a recent Prose and Poses retreat at Sagrada. I’ll include their reflections, excerpts from letters, and the most important step in writing a self-love letter. Don’t miss it.

Until then, start small. Do a few proverbial (or actual) push-ups by writing a few specific aspects of yourself you like. Start with something accessible, say your hair or that badass tattoo under your rib; then focus more on qualities--gifts, talents, parts of your personality. See how strengthening this self-loving voice changes the way you carry yourself.

Let me know how it’s going by leaving a comment or sharing something on social. @proseandposes

If you have a self-love warrior friend who might enjoy this post, share it!

Thanks for reading my letter.

Love and Light,

Leslie

 

 

 

 

How to Write a (Great) Love Letter

leslie stjohn

letter and flowers

I must confess something to you.

In an age of intellectual elitism and pop-culture supremacy, where sarcasm is the
modus operandi of the day, I am a Romantic. A capital “R” romantic. I love love! Valentine’s trumps the Super Bowl, birthdays, maybe even some family holidays. I watch Pride and Prejudice every Christmas (the A&E five-hour classic). I’m teaching Romanticism to Modernism at Cal Poly in the spring. I’ve even placed chocolate hearts on my own pillow (Once. Only, once.). I read and write poetry. I fantasize about discovering trunkloads of love letters, opening them one by one as sacred documents of the human heart.

Though still searching for that actual trunk, I count it one of the great gifts of my life that I have given and received love letters. They differ in form: scribbled notes on a cocktail napkin passed back and forth for hours, a shared moleskine journal shipped from Michigan to California, a traditional letter on cream cotton paper handwritten in black ink. They differ in content. From far-flung declarations of can’t eat, can’t sleep infatuation to shared throwaway thoughts on books, friendships, the amount of snow or sun filling the picture window. They’re from different people at different periods of my life. What’s the same, however, is an effort toward true sentiment—not Hallmark echoes of prefabricated love songs but something risk-taking.

When we write a love letter, we’re earnest, vulnerable. We try to use the best words in the best order to say what we feel. To compliment. To commit. To admit that words sometimes fail. Yet, they leave a mark on the page, and, if well received, the person reading. “Use black ink,” says John Biguenet in his article, “A Modern Guide to the Love letter, “because it’s serious, elegant, and stains more deeply and permanently than anything else. So should your words.”

A letter is rare in our fast-paced, email/text/snapchat communication culture. Our words on a tangible page—one that can be held, folded, read, and reread—are gifts of attention. They show time devoted, thoughtfulness, as well as mark a moment in history.

Letters help create a record of your relationship that you can always revisit. Feeling lackluster? Read how you once described him, how he so earnestly complimented and celebrated you. They also give your story cohesion, which brings you closer, knowing you can always change the plot because you’re creating it together.

Alright, you say, I’m on board. Let’s write a letter. But how? What makes a great love letter?

After browsing David Lowenherz’s The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time, C.H. Charles’ Love Letters of Great Men & Women, and more contemporary perspectives from writers for The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and The Art of Manliness (yea, seriously), I’ve culled together my favorite and most useful tips. I hope to inspire and empower you to do a brave thing—write a love letter.

1. Take the risk. Be Brave.

A good love letter is earnest, intimate, and vulnerable. Full of whispered anecdotes and tender expressions. That’s why we like receiving them. Writer and philosopher Alain de Boton says, "A good love letter should be embarrassing if it were discovered by an enemy.” But no fear! In all likelihood your audience will appreciate this courageous display of heart, so write about real things that matter to you. Be yourself.

2. Utilize your own language.

I’ve been reading the famous love letters of passionate Abelard and Heloise, tortured Jack London and Anna Strunsky, devoted Civil War soldier Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah, Keats, Goethe, Woolf, and others. Seriously

eautiful letters. While I revel in their expression and could model my letter after their fine examples, what I see again and again are insider details shared only with this community of two. Each couple has their own story, made of their own memories—their own words. That time when… they way you… my favorite place on your body, where…. You don’t have to be a poet. Use couple-speak. Your unique, idiosyncratic words. Again, be yourself.

Notice the honesty in Johnny Cash’s letter to his wife June on her 65th birthday:

We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each others minds. We  know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.

But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.

Happy Birthday Princess.
John


3. Embrace the body.

It is a privilege to know your lover in all ways possible—through your mind, your heart, your body. Write about how you worship his body as a shelter and a playground. How you worship her body as a temple, a home. Lean more toward erotic than pornographic, paying attention to words and their connotation (It’s her “scent” not her “odor” that you love lingering on the sheets.). The more you celebrate your lover’s body, the more she may feel seen, comfortable, and open to connecting with you—the way only lovers can.

4. Be complimentary.

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet asks Mr. Collins if he compliments by prepared form or spontaneous impulse: “Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?” To which he replies, “...though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.” Basically, many of his compliments are readymade and shuffled out at the next (in)appropriate social opportunity. Mr. Collins speaks by rule. Don’t be Mr. Collins. (Remember, Elizabeth called him “odious” for a reason). Don’t’ just give a compliment; give the right compliment. Say the quality that makes her stand out from others; write something unique to him and only him.

5. Concision is best. Leave your lover wanting more (of you!).

A few of us diehard Romantics want long love letters. The longer the better. Feeling is great. More feeling is even better! But many (most?) people prefer shorter letters. We live in the age of tweetables and fortune-cookie aphorisms. Maybe we don’t have the attention spans we once had. Or, maybe we want to seduce knowing less is more. Make your letter more of a truffle than a king-sized Hershey bar. Potent and sweet. Your goal is to “intoxicate," not inebriate (Bigurenet). Also, in keeping with tip number one (be brave, which means earnest and vulnerable):  sometimes, despite our best efforts, there are no words. Sometimes, saying nothing is exactly the right thing to say.  

6. Some notes on Style.

Okay, you’re probably not Austen or Hemingway, but you do wield a pen, and your words matter. So, comb your hair, check your spelling, and dab a little scent along your neck before signing and sending your letter.

~
Grammar matters. Period. It just does. Check your spelling. Make subjects agree with verbs. No piddling passive voice—ASSIGN agency! You want your love to pay attention to your expression, not wonder about your confusing pronoun reference (stick with “I,” “You,” “We”).

~Use Metaphor not Innuendo. A metaphor is a comparison of two unlike things to gain a new perspective (ex. “You are a city of lights.”); innuendo is off-handed insinuation, often slightly slimy (ex. “Can I butter your muffin?”). Sure, sexual innuendo can be playful, but more so, it veers toward cheesy or, worse, creepy. Recap: innuendo is slimy, creepy; metaphor is creative, insightful, meaning making.

~
Practice the art of ellipses…because pauses can be beautiful. In conversation, we pause to hear one another or to better listen to ourselves.  When making love, we pause to read the other, to sink into a shared energy, to feel. It’s the same in letter writing. Pause. Let her breathe. Pause...let him feel. Remember, sometimes words are just not enough. And the ellipses say so.

8. Conclude extravagantly, not politely.

You’re not writing a business proposal, an email to your kid’s guidance counselor, or your last will and testament. You’re writing a love letter! So close with an emotional ring—be it a beautiful sparkler or a lit-up Fourth of July sky. Consider “Cordially Yours” versus “I am, as always, incessantly and completely yours, G” (Goethe).  Which would you prefer read?

9. Sign. Seal (kiss, perfume, incense, personal stamp) and deliver. Post it. Leave your letter in her purse. Put it in the visor of his car. Place it somewhere s/he’ll see it before leaving for work. Let the discovery be a part of the gift.

10.  A New Opportunity.

I must make another confession.

In the nine years since my divorce, I have been single on Valentine’s day more often than not. (Or, my date refuses to participate in what can only be referred to as “the capitalization of romantic love.” Yea, I get it.  Whatever. Audible eye-roll.).  

I know this “Hallmark Holiday” can be polarizing, putting a spotlight on one’s relationship status. I know it can bring up icky feelings. I also know this Heart Holiday can be a great opportunity to practice self love. (Remember, the chocolates on my pillow?). What is sweeter than showing up for yourself?


This Valentine’s write a letter to your love, yourself, or both!

Listen to your own voice, your own soul.

Write a love letter you would most want to receive. Use the words you want to hear. Authentic. Svelte. Integrity. Elegant. Sexy. Rare beauty. Share the stories that make you feel most desired, valued, seen. Take risks. Be specific. Use metaphor. Worship your blessed body. Use thick, cotton paper with black ink. Be yourself. Conclude extravagantly. Say the thing you’ve never heard but always wanted to…Write it.

Then keep the love letter. It’s yours.

Or, if you’re feeling brave, ask a friend—someone who knows you, with whom you feel safe—to read it aloud to you.
Repeat: Have a friend read it aloud to you. And listen. Practice receiving love. Take in your letter, word by word. This may be the greatest Valentine you’ll open. Feel yourself open to more acceptance, grace, beauty, romance, and love.

(Bonus: Listen to your letter while eating chocolate.)


May you know your heart; may your heart be known.

Love, ardently and always,
(“R”omantic) Leslie

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