When Your Body’s Your Teacher

A bout with neck and back pain recently sent me to a few different body-workers (physical therapy, Feldenkrais) who promptly identified the source of my problems as sitting. Too much time on my rear end, hunched over the keyboard. Contemporary work demands things of our bodies that they’re not evolved to do, and I was suffering the consequences.

I’m working around the pain with exercises, a standing desk, stretches, a commitment to not stay in one position for too long, and by sitting the way I was designed to sit. I have these sitz bones that support me like concrete footers for my spine. I just need to sit on them.

Which is ridiculously obvious except that the vast majority of chairs in our culture don’t allow us to do use this foundation and instead force us to lean back. I was shocked the first time I paid close attention to a healthy seated position and then got into my car; the seat dictated that I curve my spine and hunch my shoulders. It prevented me from sitting properly.

After that I started paying attention, to the folding chairs at meetings, the pews at church, the easy chairs in friends’ houses, the seats in the classrooms where I teach, and slowly came to see what I suspect most body workers know: Our culture molds our bodies. Forces much larger than me subtly shape me. This includes the design of our chairs but also the necessity of working at a computer for hours at a time and cultural assumptions about comfort and social expectations about posture. My Feldenkrais teacher told me about working with a tall female metal-worker; when she started standing straight on the job, her male co-workers began harassing her for being “uppity.” Women swim in a sea of expectations that contort our bodies. Cultural influences are insidious, subtle, powerful.

Just when I think I’m aware and making conscious choices, something—Richard Rohr would say either great love or great suffering—spurs me to open my eyes even further and another layer of illusion falls away. For almost fifty years I’ve been sitting, and only now do I deliberately choose how I sit. Strangely I’m grateful to my back pain (which I suspect will be with me for my remaining years) because it calls attention to my body as I work. As I release automatic patterns in favor of free choice, even sitting has become a contemplative practice.   –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew



In case you haven’t yet see it, The Other Journal published this essay of mine on writing and authority, “How the Light Gets In.”  Here’s an excerpt:

“Write for the love of it. Let go of others’ expectations and your self-serving ambitions and your well-meaning desire to do good or create art or make a difference. Show up at the desk. You have to love to be moved by love and to move others with love. So you consent to love.”


Programming at Wisdom Ways is in full swing!  If you’ve always wondered what I’m blathering on about when I mention spiritual memoir, join me for this intro morning.  Or if you’d like support for your spiritual memoir practice, drop in at one of the second Friday sessions.  Lonely writers of all genres, consider coming to the Writers Unite! mixer in November and we’ll do our best to hook you up.

Saturday, September 28, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: Writing the Sacred Journey: Introductory Workshop in Spiritual Memoir

Spiritual memoir is the practice of listening deeply to our life experiences through the creation of artful, true stories.  We come more alive when we accept how our experiences have formed us and when we form something of what we’ve experienced.  By writing memories with intention, we can find holiness in the details, patterns that unify our sense of self, and deep personal healing.  By crafting our stories to engage the inner life of readers, we can participate in transforming our world.

Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.:  Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions.

October 11:  Writing as Contemplation
In the city fields
Contemplating cherry trees…
Strangers are like friends

Contemplation, as the Buddhist priest and poet Issa illustrates, is a field of intimacy, and writing is one entrance.  Guest writer Kyoko Katayama will share observations about writing as a mindfulness practice and lead us in writing exercises that encourage deep listening, responsive creating, and open-hearted becoming.

November 8: Embodying Holiness
Our bodies are trustworthy sources of memory and wisdom.  Together we’ll write from our bodies, about our bodies, to our bodies, and with our bodies as a practice of welcoming the Spirit.  We’ll also delve into sensory description as a literary technique that invites the reader deep into our experiences.

December 13: Becoming the Stranger
We use the metaphor of a journey to describe the soul’s path because the risks, challenges, and surprises of spiritual growth are so similar to travel.  We’ll write memories of leaving home, visiting new landscapes, and becoming the stranger.  We’ll also explore how and why writing becomes a spiritual journey.

Friday, November 19, 7:00-9:00 p.m.:  Writers Unite!  Building a Writing Community

In this evening for creative writers, Lisa Brimmer, Michael Kiesow Moore, and I  will share the wide range of possibilities for forming writing community and offer advice on what makes groups or partnerships sustainable.  Participants will get to know one another in a series of small-group conversations, connecting around shared genres, levels of experience, interests, and location. We’ll end with social time so participants can exchange contact information and formalize plans.

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