Archive for October, 2009

right brain writing 11

Something has been coming up in my talks about alternate handwriting that I’m finding intriguing. Several times people have said that their writing reminds them of an old woman’s writing. This has come at the beginning of my presentations, when I suggest that everyone write their full names with their alternate hand and then a little about how that made them feel.

Recently a middle-aged man said that it looked like his Polish grandmother’s writing. She had been forced to drop out of school in the third grade, so writing didn’t come easily for her. He remembered seeing her handwriting on her Christmas cards when he was a child. I noticed that when he continued with the writing session, he wrote in a tight column, although he had an 8.5X11 sheet of paper, as if he were writing a card. I quietly pointed this out to him and he looked at the writing and me in surprise. He hadn’t noticed.

The point I think is that alternate handwriting always connects us to childhood memories. Sometimes they take a while, sometimes they pop right up, but sooner or later we tap into our younger selves. It’s not unusual for memories from as young as 18 months to surface. The first time that happened I was dumbfounded and I confess doubtful. But my client went on to speak very clearly about what she saw and then how it helped her see her parent’s marriage in a new light. Although the memory was not a happy one, she was able to use it to understand events from her childhood that had been a mystery to her.

For myself, Little Betty — or LB, as she’s been nicknamed — is about five and a pretty happy little kid. She likes playing with her dolls and riding her bike (a 2-wheeler: she’s very proud of that). But here’s something that’s been happening lately: AH will refer to Little Betty and sometimes ask how she feels. And it always brings me up short and then into focus. I don’t want anyone messing with Little Betty. She’s an innocent child and needs protecting. And noticing that has stopped my inner critic cold in her tracks. Which is a good thing.

An example: I was preparing to make a presentation to a prestigious group, and I did a practice speech. My small preview audience insisted I needed to change about 85% of it. Upset with their response, I turned to AH, who asked what my true feeling was. My dominant hand wrote, ‘I can’t tell if it’s self-doubt or self-confidence! Combative is I think the feeling.’ yes, AH responded. judgment involved: mixed feelings about each. LB feeling hurt. how can she feel better?

This lead me to think about some simple, supportive tools and people I could turn to for help. As always, I felt better. Especially when AH went on to write, interesting conundrum! not the end of the world: a puzzle to be solved… let go for now.

Let go for now. Surely one of the most soothing of concepts. Whether it looks like a grandmother’s or a child’s handwriting, AH is the wise and compassionate distillation of all that’s within us.

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right brain writing 10

I’ve had a series of client sessions lately, each so unique that I’ve been reminded of the infinite capacity and compassion of alternate handwriting. They all reinforce the No Rules Here strength of this practice.

Kate, a small powerhouse who’s facing daunting health issues, asked about changing the career course she’s set herself on. Her alternate hand responded in a simple and straightforward way. Kate chose to see it more nebulously. AH didn’t argue with her or repeat itself. We’re not always ready to trust our inner brilliance.

Ileana is an artist who’s resisting a new form of creativity. I watched as her alternate hand tried to soothe her by going along with whatever her dominant hand wrote. (I believe AH was gently getting her comfortable with this process.) She said she felt like cussing, and AH proceeded to cuss. It ended by drawing a smiley face. In between, though, it slipped in an idea for Ileana to consider: maybe I just don’t want to do this. She’s still not sure and AH will not insist. AH is our best friend, and it knows when we’re not ready to let go.

Lenore  has had a fascinating career writing best-selling books and working with disadvantaged kids. She was recently brought up short by a magazine article that asked the reader to remember a time when they had been truly happy. She began our meeting by saying that she has an “obsession with accomplishment” and that all of her happy memories were tied to work-related successes. When I suggested that she ask when she had been simply happy, perhaps in her childhood, a flood of memories opened.

At first they were harsh and cold. Lenore cried as she recounted these hardships, but she also was forgiving of the circumstances. Then AH reminded her of a blissful time, fishing with her brothers in a little stream.

Her tears became joyful as she remembered these and other times of being truly and simply happy when she was near water, just being.  She recently received a royalty check, and she decided to use it to get away by herself to a lakeside cabin. There she can be happy in the way that’s most meaningful and restorative for her.

I tell my clients that it’s a privilege to participate in these sessions, and I mean it sincerely. I also remind them to always, always, trust the process.

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right brain writing 9

Not long ago I heard a wonderful presentation by Janet Conner, author of Writing Down Your Soul. Janet’s method produces results similar to alternate handwriting, and she believes that the work should be practiced daily.

I usually wait until I’m in a situation that I don’t know how to deal with before I write with (or to) my alternate hand. But Janet got me thinking, so I wrote, ‘I wonder if I could get in the habit of writing several times a week. Really, I guess I wonder why I don’t.’ AH replied that it takes time and effort and energy, and reminded me of the concept of spending time — time as a commodity.

Still mulling, I wrote, ‘This does take energy, but I always feel better — even when I have to take a nap! Do you think I’m somehow punishing myself by not writing more often?’

As usual, AH was gentle: write when feel need. ok either way — lots of Judge Betty [my inner critic] in last question! no rules here. do what feels best. might be useful to write more often. always here. afraid we’ll run out of ideas/revelations. that will never happen.

So true: I’ve since been battling with an issue that makes it abundantly clear that I’ll always need this guidance. As for the lack of rules: also true.

I’m often asked about the correct way to do this writing. Does it have to be at a certain time of day? Does it matter whether I use a pen or pencil? Lined or blank paper? How much time should I give it? What if I already hear a response as I’m writing the question? What if nothing happens after I write a question?

I respect this sincerity and always hope it’ll be a comfort when I say that the only thing I know for sure is that having expectations of what will happen will stop this writing cold. Trust the process. Write when you feel the need or curiosity, on whatever and with whatever feels comfortable. Write down whatever comes to you, however it comes to you. If nothing happens, rephrase the question. If that doesn’t work, try another question, or try writing your full name with your alternate hand a couple of times.

These aren’t rules: they’re ideas that have helped me and others. Welcome your own ideas. And give your inner critic a little holiday as you welcome your own results.

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Don’t Tell Mom

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As I’ve mentioned, my alternate hand often suggests that I make a list. Here’s a story from my List of Favorite Stories:

I was 8 and father, who was in the Army, was stationed in Korea. This was several years after the Korean War but they still didn’t send families there. So we lived in a house outside of Clarksville, TN. Our side of the road had widely-space houses; the other was farmland.

My older brother was 15 and one of his jobs was to mow the grass. The back yard had an abandoned henhouse and chicken coop. My father, born a farmer, had put in some vegetables before he left. Despite the coop and the garden, there was still a sizeable amount of lawn. Like most teenagers, my brother had much more interesting things to do than mow. So he came up with the idea of what could charitably be called a controlled burn. He didn’t run this past my mother.

Not long before, he’d gotten mad at me and called me a tattle tale. So when I saw him nervously watching the advancing fire, I decided I shouldn’t say anything. No tattling from me! My mother, meanwhile, was pulling a perfect, made-from-scratch lemon meringue pie out of the oven. I remember she’d just commented that for once the meringue wasn’t singed when my sister came into the kitchen and told her she might want to look out at the back yard. (My brother, flames encroaching, had told her not to tell Mom.)

My mother saw her son surrounded by flames and the pie went face down onto the kitchen floor. She dashed out the back door, grabbed the hose and sent my sister and me to fill buckets. Meanwhile, our next-door neighbors were standing at their fence watching with interest. They were an old farm couple — I remember she had a dowager’s hump. I don’t think they much liked my mother, since she was a Yankee. From New York City, no less. They probably thought she’d set my brother to this task. No endeavor was too crazy for a Yankee.

The Yankee in question yelled at them to turn on their hose and fortunately they complied. Between the water from the hoses and what my sister and I could lug from the house, we managed to douse the fire. My brother escaped unharmed, although once my mother got over her terror she pitched a major lecturing fit. It went up several notches when my sister and I told her why we hadn’t tattled. Which of course was major tattling.

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The Karma Process

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For years I’ve had insanely good luck finding parking spaces. My friends and family are wowed: I can drive anywhere and know that I’ll find a great spot to park. A high point was downtown Chicago on a Monday morning, a block from where we wanted to go. (I can transfer this to whomever I’m with.) I call it my parking karma.

I was having an alternate handwriting session on the topic of money, among other things, and AH asked me to describe how parking karma makes me feel. My dominant hand wrote, ‘Fun & expectant, like: ooh, what’s going to happen this time, how great will it be?’ And AH pointed out, you can transfer that knowledge & feeling to anything you want. what if transferred it to blog, book, whatever you’re avoiding? fun, instead of guilt & dread, leaning in instead of combating.

Since then I’ve experimented a few times, with gratifying results. The ones that come to mind have been on the phone, so maybe now I have phone karma, but I think it’s deeper than that. This is not about expectations. AH consistently warns me against those. It’s about awareness. When I approach a situation or person, even one that I’ve put off dealing with, with the idea that the outcome will be good, the outcome is often good. When I have the same attitude as I do when I’m finding the perfect parking space, when I trust the process, the process proves trustworthy.

I don’t always get what I want, but even when I get what I don’t want, I can sort of understand why. Which is so much better than being angry or disappointed. So I invite you to consider some aspect of your life that’s lucky. Something that’s so fundamental you might take it for granted or not even realize it’s there. Maybe you have a great sense of direction. Or you never forget a punch line. Or you can do math calculations in your head.

I invite you to try to experience what that effortless, lucky thing really feels like. And then find something else you want to feel the exact same way about and see if you can let that happen.

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Now I Understand

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I decided to go for solutions to those two puzzles I wrote about last time: why my alternate hand often suggests that I make lists, and why I didn’t answer its question about using anger and frustration to my advantage. I know I sound like a broken record, but again I was soothed and uplifted by AH’s responses.

I’ll start with the question. My dominant hand wrote that I was ‘curious about not responding to your point about using anger/frustration about the home equity loan to my advantage. How would I do that?’ AH wrote, feel the emotions of anger & frustration. knot in stomach, neck tight. one way to use them is to decide you don’t like feeling literal pain of them so you switch to less painful thoughts.

OK, my logical left brain thought as I saw this. That makes sense. But AH had more to share:

another or maybe extension is to move feelings into curiosity: how to deal w/ situation or make it better. deal by acceptance (for example). make better by trying again w/ phone reps & stop dealing with bankers who know nothing about home equity. (JB thinks they should but they obviously don’t).

I laughed because it was so true. JB is Judge Betty, my inner critic. For months I’d gone to the bank, expecting them to fix this situation. They even told me repeatedly that they didn’t know anything about home equity loans and I kept going back, anyway. They were supposed to know, dammit! The last time I left close to tears.

I’d spent so much time on the phone with the mortgage company getting nowhere, but at least I didn’t have to drive to get there. So I called again and got the sweetest woman who listened with infinite patience. She couldn’t fix the stupid loan, either. I’m stuck with it for the time being. But I have her name and number, and she calms me down. I made anger and frustration ‘better’ by trying again and accepting the situation.

As for the lists, I mentioned that I’d heard back from someone I’ve been wanting to interview for months. AH wrote, another kind person. want to make a list?

I swear somehow I could feel AH smiling as these words appeared. I had a vision of eyes twinkling. My dominant hand wrote, ‘You & your (our) lists! They’re always so potent. What’s their power?’

Oh, and the response was wonderful: acknowledgement & gratitude. opposite of lists of grudges, wounds, slights, grievances you’ve kept inside for so long. these lists are so much better for you & what you deserve: happiness instead of pain.

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