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

The Most Important Letter You Will Write (and Hear)

leslie stjohn

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“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.