Note from Jen: Peter Tóth has been following me for a while on social media so it was a huge honor to have him schlep all the way to London to attend my workshop. He wrote this beautiful post after the workshop. The honor was all mine, I can assure you. I was simply blown away by this, and by him. I will be back in London at Lumi Power Yoga in Hammersmith for another workshop October 10th!
By Peter Tóth.
A re-view of a journey there and back
16-17. February 2015
Last three days (from 13th till 15th February) have been really interesting for me and I am unsure how to describe their magic in words. I feel like I can only miserably fail in attempting to do so, but I will try anyway. Although I’m not a fan of cheesy motivational quotes, I will use one now, it’s from Bob Proctor and it’s actually a good one (and not too cheesy either):
“If you know what to do to reach your goal, it’s not a big enough goal.”
So, here’s to attempting the impossible…
On Friday, the 13th, on the way home from work, I mind-travelled back to the moment I learned about Zina Nicole Lahr as it would have been her 25th birthday that day and after reading her essay Contrast And Catalyst (Click to download pdf. It’s beautiful, beautiful, beautiful and as far as I know it has disappeared from internet ) for about tenth time I felt the same connection to her as I felt back then (The only difference was, that this time I had a conscious knowledge of who she was and I was desperately trying to figure out why do I feel connected to her and why she occasionally comes to haunt my day dreams with her fragile, aetheric, otherworldly beauty.)
I wanted to celebrate her birthday, but I didn’t know how. (Not long ago I met a girl who told me to fucking forget about Zina and to concentrate on the real life instead. In a way it felt like an insult, like if she didn’t understand that every thought we think is real and that a person can be dead and still be a catalyst, an agent that provokes changes and actions and we should not be judged if we somehow found ourselves attracted to such being. Because what if each life silently continues after it disappears from this world, where we can witness and measure it? It might go unnoticed, unobserved, unsung, but so what? It might as well be, that it is simply us who don’t pay enough attention to what goes around us, after all who knows? … )
In a painful moment of realization that I will never meet her, I sort of promised myself to remember her through creativity. Through manifestation of myself via any act of creating, whether it’s writing, drawing, photography, or a paper modelling. And it was shortly after all this happened that I found another beautiful American, Jennifer Pastiloff. Once again, my moth like personality felt attracted to her flame immediately. It too happened through her writing. But this time it wasn’t as much about what she has written, or how (although its beauty and power is undisputed and I loved everything she has written). It was the courage with which she has written it. The rawness of her essays. The willingness to look the pain in the eye and the humility which shone through her after she came victorious from what must have been exhaustively tiring staring contest. I just love female warriors. I decided I must meet her. And talk to her, like one human being to another. I wanted to see her, not visually, I wanted to witness the poetry of her being.
And soon she pulled a workshop in London and although the yoga bit and the seemingly feminine character of it all scared me, I booked it immediately. That was in November 2014.
By Jen Pastiloff.
This was my status update on my Facebook just now but I thought I would share here since some of you crazy (read: smart) kids are not on Facebook:
Let me tell you about stepping out of your comfort zone and fear and being ballsy and what that looks like to me.
A few years back I started doing these workshops which have since morphed into something else entirely. I have no idea what to name this thing. What to call it. It’s not really a “yoga” thing but I do it at yoga studios and we sit on yoga mats.
It’s not really a writing thing because you don’t have to be a writer or even like writing, but we write.
And we share. And we laugh. And we cry.
And it’s heavy but also really really light.
And like, how do you describe that? How do you say, call up a studio in Chicago and say, “Hey, I want to come do this thing I do there at your place. I can’t really describe it. You’ll just have to see for yourself. People will come. Trust me.”
And I mean, there’s a deep knowing that I will sell it out (but there’s also the other part of me that’s like, “OMG, you have never been to Chicago or Vancouver or whatever city it is. Who do you think you are?”)
I do not listen to that voice for very long. I put on my big girl panties and shut that voice up and carry on with my cup of coffee and hush that little voice that says, “How dare you create something that is not definable and expect people will show up?”
Why do I hush that voice?
Because I did do that. I am doing that.
Is it scary as f*ck? Yes. Continue Reading…
by Jenniferlyn (JL) Chiemingo
“Yoga Sutra 11.36: Dedicated to truth and integrity (Satya), our thoughts words and actions gain the power to manifest.” – Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi
I came to yoga for the physical, but somehow the truth of the practice, the raw honesty it required, snuck up on me. I’ve been a teacher for over twelve years and so many times I watch students come for the body sculpting and walk away when the yoga started to penetrate them—when the yoga started to ask more of them than physical postures.
I would often watch students who were wavering in their practice, knowing they would either choose ‘the path’ or walk away. Once you begin this path of awakening, if you stay, you absolutely have to do the work.
Almost all the classes I teach are wrapped around a theme. So many times, my themes were about truth, about authenticity, about being who you really are and living freely and honestly.
I said all this, I knew all this, and still there was this one lie, a big lie that I hid about myself, about my past. I hid it from my students. I hid it from my yoga colleagues. I hid it from my best friends, from my family members. Only my husband knew and I only told him once.
I was afraid of what others would think of me if they knew the truth. I didn’t want anyone to know, least of all my students. For years it was easy to stuff it away, compartmentalize it, and believe it wasn’t necessary for me to share. I was certain it would hurt my reputation, damage my career. Yoga teachers are held to high standards—and I had to live up to them. I had to maintain my integrity, but was it real without sharing my whole story? Continue Reading…
By Jen Pastiloff.
“It’s the things that we know FOR SURE, that just ain’t so, that get us into trouble.” ~ Wayne Dyer.
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer is one of my greatest teachers.
Back when I was still waitressing and utterly miserable- I would get off my shift, and I would go, stinking of food and self-loathing, on these walks by the Pacific Ocean here in Santa Monica. I had Wayne Dyer on my iPod (after years of my mom’s insistence, and my adamant refusal, to read his books) and I’d walk and walk and walk and listen to the same recordings over and over again as I did my goofy speed walk with my dorky arm swing. I’d go faster and faster, as if I could end up eventually leaving myself behind.
Wayne was my company.
I memorized his lectures on those sunset walks. I knew when I walked by a certain palm tree, Wayne would be saying, “Don’t Die With Your Music Still in You,” and when I got to the incline that led down to the beach, he’d be talking about squeezing an orange.
He said when you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out. So, we are squeezed, by life, by traffic, stress, whatever it is, if vitriol comes out, if anger and meanness and ugliness come out, then that is what was inside of us. No matter who does the squeezing. Like orange juice. Doesn’t matter who squeezes it, it will still be orange juice. I thought a lot about what was inside of me and how I blamed a lot of other people/things for what was being squeezed out.
I had to walk the same route, listen to the same lectures. These were the things I could count on. Palm tree, sky, clouds, sun setting, orange, squeezing, don’t die with your music still in you, park bench. Continue Reading…
One of the women from my last retreat wrote this, and, with permission, I am sharing.
* * *
Okay, I am not a writer or a poet but I am compelled to put in writing the changes already taking place in my life not 48 hours after closing circle of Jen’s retreat. Going into the retreat this past week, I was stuck. Really, really stuck. Scared of connecting with anyone because I already felt completely depleted.
Isolation was the only thing that felt safe.
I found this retreat because I was looking for space to find my true authentic self again. Throughout the retreat thoughts, images, and a feeling of who I was “before”, started to emerge.
Jen’s words “begin again”. Jen asking “How will you serve?” Her words “what do you need to let go of?” These stuck in my mind and I found myself unable to sleep thinking about them.
Then Jen said something life changing thing for me, “You have to let go of things you don’t want to make space for what you do.” It clicked.
I was full of things I needed to let go of leaving no room for the things I wanted. I am kind of amazed her words stuck like they did considering at the time I was trying to keep up with the whole Vinyasa’ing thing. But I heard her and I watched others let go of their fear and then I felt myself begin to let go of my own.
I could then begin to hear what my heart had been saying all along, “I want connection”, “I want my purpose to be revealed to me”, “I want to use all of my gifts.” I hit Fawntice’s gong on the New Year’s Eve and sent it that sound, that vibration out -knowing opportunities for connection were all ready on their way.
Which brings me to yesterday morning….
Scouring Facebook for more photos from the retreat, missing my new friends already, I noticed a post on a local mom’s board from a 17 year old girl who is due to have a baby girl in 3 months.
She posted, asking for help. Clearly scared, with no job and only a few baby clothes. She was asking for any used baby items to help her prepare for the baby admitting she didn’t really even know what she needed. I smile a deep soul smile. Jen’s voice “how will you serve?” echoed. Not even 48 hours after the Manifestation Retreat and in front of me on the computer screen was an opportunity for connection.
Of course I could just donate baby things since I have a 6 month old baby girl. But I also have gifts. I am a trained birth and postpartum doula but I have never used the training.
I wrote her and offered all the baby essentials I have to give but I also offered support. I offered love and connection. She was thrilled and was willing to meet today. There are so many excuses I could have and would have given myself for not reaching out in this way, I am a recent single mother to 3 kids under 5, I don’t have business cards and should go to school and get more training first. More schooling and a complete website with business cards, tend to be my favorite excuses.
But reaching out is beginning again, it’s letting go of fear and it is one way I can serve someone else. So I did it.
Jen reaching out to me, and a room full of beautiful others inspired me to reach out.
I was going to end this here but what happened today at the meeting with the girl was so moving I have to share.
I spent an hour with her at a coffee shop just talking. It took an hour of letting her talk to get to her real problem. She doesn’t have a safe place to live and she doesn’t have enough food eat. It was midday and she had not had food since lunchtime the day before. I could tell she didn’t want me to know this. She went from being in AP classes, playing 3 sports, performing spoken word poetry and running girls empowerment workshops to doing independent study because she didn’t have enough money to take the bus to school and eat.
I started with getting her lunch and a bag of groceries. Next up: cooking classes and diaper changing 101 at my house. This girl was meant to be in my life. She’d realized we crossed paths at a bus stop 3 months ago and had a short conversation.
I didn’t need a website to connect with her and make a difference. I just had to let go of my shit and say yes.
Thank you Jen and each one of you for putting me in a place where I could open my heart to this girl. It is just a small thing, but it’s the beginning.
This is going to be a great year.
To learn more about retreats with Jen or to book one, click here. https://jenniferpastiloff.com/Yoga_Retreats_With_Jen_Pastiloff.html.
2014: a year of growth, art, beauty and manifesting your dreams. It’s NEVER too late!
The last year or two have been filled with challenges and changes for many. It was as if a crazy wind blew through our collective lives.
With challenges also come opportunities and growth. Change can be toward something better.
As long as we are alive we will encounter change and as long as that’s happening we can choose how to use the cards life has dealt us.
The only constant in life is change
If babies never stumbed and fell, humans would be a non-walking species. A 101 year old Indian man didn’t start running marathons until he was 89!
Happy New Year 2014 !
This means a new chance, a symbolic anchor to shift your perspectives, to make choices, to step into your held back dreams and desires.
Right now is a potent time when we head toward the spring season; when life around us reawakens from winter and gives birth to new life and potential. The birds and bees are getting ready to joyfully buzz and flutter. Let’s be part of the joy!
Jennifer talks a lot about boxes, about not putting oneself in a box. From different angles we appear to fit in different boxes. To some people I am a chef, to others I am a therapist, some have called me philosopher and to others still I am an actor/musician. To one person I am papa.
To me I am all of those and more. Food, therapy, conversation, art, they are all languages to express oneself and one’s gift/divinity through. We all have a talent that is our language.
When we meet people we quickly ask:
“So what do you do ?” with which we really are asking: “what is your job ?”
Does the way we pay our rent or mortgage define who we are as a person?
I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. Bas Meeuws is a childhood friend of mine and his job description for many years was a psysio-therapist but what “he does” is something else. His passion, his art, his contribution to the world and himself is as an artist.
His soul is one of an artist and it was NEVER too late !
Bas surprised us all two years ago when he told us he had built up a portfolio of photographic flower- still lives and had found a gallery to represent him.
Since then his works have been in expositions at the PAN, the Miljonair Fair, The Westfries Museum (one work in their permanent collection) and his book is for sale in places like The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam alongside Rembrandt.
I have already sold two pieces to a collector in Beverly Hills and a gallery devoted to his art is in development in Taiwan. His dream is taking flight and there’s no stopping him.
This is for good reason; he is in harmony with his dream/inner self and the world and zeitgeist around him.
He brings together the Old Masters style of luxiourious wealth and beauty of the Dutch Golden Century and expresses it in a 21st presentation. Each individual flower, vase, table, insect etc. is digitally photographed. They are then arranged into bouquets on the computer after which they are printed on photopaper and mounted behind plexiglass on DiBond.
They bring distinguished, old world romance to a modern home and a refreshingly modern accent to a classic interior.
Did you know the Old Master painters from 16th-17th century Holland used the positioning of a flower in a still life as a storytelling metaphor ? That the level of wilting, the insects present, the placing of the vase etc. all told a little bit of a story?
As we go into this new year of possibilities to manifest the life we truly desire, think about the words you choose to describe yourself and your life; are these possitive or negative affirmations?
Are you your job or are you your soul’s expression?
Be aware of the people you choose to spend time with; are they wind in your sails or choppy waves to navigate ? And do the objects you surround yourself with and their placement in your life subconsciously suggest the ideas and inspiration you need and want?
May 2014 bring you inspiration, belief in your desires,
respect for yourself to live your one life on your own terms and beauty, lots of beauty.
Until We Break Bread Together,
I’m Jennifer Pastiloff and this series is designed to introduce the world to someone I find incredible. Someone who is manifesting their dreams on a daily basis. Someone like best-selling author Dani Shapiro.
When I read Dani’s book Devotion, my life changed. Just like that, I was on a plane to Bali to lead a retreat there, and if you told me that the plane had changed courses, I would have believed you. Dani’s latest book Still Writing, which releases on Tuesday, October 1st, is no different. I had the distinct honor to read an advanced copy, which I carried around like a dog-eared Bible of sorts.
Dani Shapiro crystallizes more than 20 years’ worth of lessons learned from teaching and writing into the instructive and inspiring Still Writing ~ Vanity Fair
You know when you find a writer and you think “They are talking to me. They wrote this book for me. They are, in fact, a little piece of me.” That’s Dani.
Perhaps my favorite quote by Dani, “Everything I know about life, I learned from the daily practice of sitting down to write.” I remind myself of that quote every time the resistance comes up to sit down or to be present. It’s the daily practice. It’e the putting one foot in front of the other, or, one letter after the other. It’s the sitting down to do it.
Writers need hope. Writers need help. Thank you, Dani Shapiro. ~Michael Cunningham
It’s a huge honor to have her featured on this series. I have taken a break from it and what better way to make a re-entry than with Dani Shapiro? Please, whatever you do, pick up a book by her and hold it close to your heart. Read it. You won’t ever put it down. It will stay inscribed there on your heart forever. Isn’t that what good writing does?
Lastly, and this just makes me giddy to write, Dani will be on SuperSoul Sunday with Oprah on Sunday October 20th. Talk about manifesting! Without further ado, here is my beloved friend, Dani Shapiro…
Jennifer Pastiloff: I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from this series but I’d like to start with the question I always start with. What are you most proud to have manifested in your life?
Dani Shapiro: I have two immediate and powerful responses to that question. The first is that I’ve manifested a happy family. I’ve been genuinely, deeply, happily married for sixteen years. I have a fourteen-year-old son who I’m very close to. Both of these could so easily––as the poet Jane Kenyon once wrote so beautifully––could have been otherwise. I was married twice before. Once when I was still a teenager (!) and once in my twenties. I made epically lousy choices in my romantic life until I met my husband. And I was terrified to become a mother. I had a very difficult relationship with my own mother, and I didn’t see the attraction. Some women spend their whole lives wanting to become mothers. This wasn’t me. I experienced a single, stark moment of absolute grace when I thought I could become a mother––and I did.
The second response is my life as a writer. I was such a fuck-up. You never would have looked at me, when I was in my early twenties, and thought: oh, yeah, that girl – she’s going to become a bestselling novelist and memoirist and is going to teach in universities. Oh yeah, that girl is going to sit down with Oprah. No… I don’t think so. But I climbed my way out of the dark place I had burrowed myself into, and in a beautiful piece of symmetry, becoming a writer saved my life, a word, a sentence at a time.
Jennifer Pastiloff: How did Devotion come to be? I read the book on a flight to Bali and it was one of those life-changing moments for me, where I bolted up out of my seat and started writing. My copy is now dog-eared and I assign it often to my students at workshops and retreats. Tell us, if you would, how that book was born?
Dani Shapiro: God, I love hearing that so much! Thank you. I was in the middle of my yoga practice when Devotion came to me. I had been in a trough between novels, waiting for the next work of fiction to materialize, and on this particular day I was in tree pose, and suddenly the word “devotion” flashed before my eyes. Nothing like this had ever happened to me. I’ve never had a title before I’ve had a book. I’ve written whole books before I’ve come upon the right title. But as soon as I saw that word –– devotion –– I knew that it was a book, a memoir, an exploration of the spiritual and existential crisis I had found myself in. I had been grappling with questions that I finally wanted to address directly, deeply, and as a writer the only way I know how to address anything is on the page. I discover what I believe through the writing. But this wasn’t particularly welcome news, I must say. I hadn’t planned to write another memoir. Certainly not a spiritual memoir. But when a feeling of rightness accompanies an idea for a writer, you turn away from it at your own peril.
Jennifer Pastiloff: As you know, one of my great dreams has been to be on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah. You, my friend, have had this dream become a reality. We’ve had a couple conversations where you have shared some gorgeous insight about this experience. I know you are planning on writing about it but would you tell my readers just a little about what that was like for you? The process of non-attachment, the letting go and having it return?
Dani Shapiro: I’ve learned so many things about myself, and about life, since I got the call inviting me to be a guest on “Super Soul Sunday” with Oprah. The first revelation is about the nature of shock. I had known for a long time that bad news could be shocking. I’ve been on the receiving end of shocking bad news. But what I hadn’t known is that good news can be shocking. I had no idea that I was being considered for Super Soul. I didn’t have a new book out when I got the call. In fact, when Devotion came out in 2010, of course I had some faint hope that maybe the Oprah folks would come knocking, but who ever really thinks that will happen? I don’t know why this is, but I really believe that things don’t happen when we’re trying to will them into being. They don’t happen when we’re waiting for the phone to ring, or the email to pop up in our in box. They don’t happen when we’re gripping too tightly. They happen –– if they happen at all –– when we’ve fully let go of the results. And, perhaps, when we’re ready. I was much more ready for that phone call than I would have been in 2010. I’d spent three years deepening my practice, thinking about spiritual matters, and living them. I was more grounded and centered. And that was my goal –– when I sat down with Oprah. My goal was to be centered and present. Not to miss the experience. Not to be all self-absorbed and self-conscious and up in my head. I didn’t want to miss the moment. I wanted to truly rise to the occasion.
Jennifer Pastiloff: When will your Super Soul Sunday episode air?
Dani Shapiro: The air date is Sunday, October 20.
Jennifer Pastiloff: Expect to be delighted. I found this in a book years ago and I use it as one of the steps to manifesting in my workshops. Thoughts on this one?
Dani Shapiro: Well, I love that. Too often we expect the worst. I spent a lot of my life being one of those “waiting for the other shoe to drop” people. It doesn’t protect against the other shoe dropping, and all it really does is cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety. But to anticipate delight is, perhaps, to cultivate delight! What a wonderful way to live. And why not? I mean, we’re not in control. We don’t know what will happen next. Why not assume the very, very best?
Jennifer Pastiloff: What is the greatest lesson (or one of them) you have learned from being a mom?
Dani Shapiro: Being a mom has forced me to be more present, because I became aware, when my son was very small, that I didn’t want to look back on what really is a brief window in the span of a lifetime –– of early childhood, of his growing up, of his adolescence –– and feel like I had been elsewhere and missed it. It’s easy to wish the time away. Some of motherhood is boring, though most of us won’t admit it. For instance, I do not like to play games. I’m not a game-playing mom. Not board games, not outdoor games. And so I would find myself wishing those hours away, but I made myself stop living in the past or the future, and come to the awareness, instead, that this time of young motherhood would eventually become something I would feel nostalgia for. I would miss it some day. And so I wanted to be present for the very thing that I would some day miss.
Jennifer Pastiloff: I know your husband is a filmmaker. Can you tell us a bit about what a day in the life of the Shapiro/Maren household is like?
Dani Shapiro: Every day is different! When I’m working on a book, I’m home in my office in my yoga clothes, in a silent house, with just my dogs for company. My husband has an office in a town near our house, and he heads there early in the morning, and that’s where he gets his work done. But we both do a lot of traveling –– he directed his first feature film this year, “A Short History of Decay” and was in North Carolina for two months shooting. That’s by far the longest we’ve been apart. When I have a book out –– as I’m about to –– I’ll be on and off airplanes nearly every week for months at a time. We live in rural Connecticut, which is very good for both of us, I think. It’s a wonderful place to be based, and for our son to be growing up.
Jennifer Pastiloff: Still Writing? I absolutely loved your blog piece about this and how people often ask that question. Still writing? In fact, your latest book is titled Still Writing. Can you tell us a little about the new book? When can we read it?
Dani Shapiro: Still Writing will be in bookstores October 1. I began a blog a number of years ago about writing –– not so much about craft, but rather, what it takes to sit down day after day in solitude and with some sort of blind faith. I was interested in exploring all the things that come up: resistance, fortitude, patience, frustration, the ability to withstand rejection –– all the struggles and challenges, as well as the incredible gifts and privileges, of spending life as a writer. And the blog really caught on. It took me by surprise. I began receiving notes from all sorts of people telling me that they were reading it and getting something they needed out of it. I never even considered writing a book based on the blog, but everyone kept asking –– and eventually it just seemed like something I should do. I never once looked back at the blog, though, as I was writing Still Writing. I wanted it to be a real book – part memoir, part meditation on the creative process. I think of it as my love letter to creative people everywhere. Writing saved my life –– in the book, I say that everything I know about how to live I have learned from the daily practice of struggling with the page. And so I think the book is about those lessons, too.
Jennifer Pastiloff: Yoga. Tell us about how yoga has affected your life, as well as your writing? So many of my readers are a hybrid of yogis and writers and I find the crossover fascinating. One of the reasons I have them all read Devotion.
Dani Shapiro: I love that you have your yoga students read Devotion. That means so much to me! My yoga practice is so woven into my life as a writer that I can’t imagine one without the other. In fact, the reason I work at home, rather than have an office outside of the house (which is sometimes very appealing!) is because I like the freedom of being able to unroll my mat in the middle of the day. When I’m starting to feel stuck, or when my head gets too noisy, the one and only thing I have found that helps me come home to myself, and quiet my mind, is my yoga practice. And while I love nothing more than a great yoga class (and am jealous of my friends who live near great studios all over the country) when I moved to Connecticut there weren’t any studios near my home, and so I built my own home practice, which I now love. I unroll my mat in my bedroom, light a fire in my fireplace unless it’s the middle of summer, and I have these seven chakra sprays that Aveda makes lined up on my fireplace mantle, and a few crystals a healer once gave me –– this is my sanctuary.
Jennifer Pastiloff: On being a Jew. Although you were raised with more structure around religion than I was, I felt I had found my soulmate when I read Devotion. You helped me arrive at the place of accepting that I absolutely did NOT have to put myself in a box or label myself as one thing or the other.
How does being “complicated with Jewishness” fit into your life now? It seems to be that a lot of the great spiritual leaders are Jews and that there is something inherent in Judaism that lends itself to spirituality as a whole. Tell us about being a writer, a yogi, a Jew and a spiritual seeker and a mom. I love this idea of I do not have to be just one thing. Watch me.
Dani Shapiro: Just yesterday, a writer friend who had just read an early copy of Still Writing paid me the ultimate compliment. He told me that Still Writing felt to him like a prayer book. That it felt Rabbinical in some way. He felt the influence, he said, of all those Saturday mornings I spent sitting in synagogue with my father. I tried not to deflect the compliment and really take it in. These last years, since embarking on the journey that led to writing Devotion, have been a continuation of a path that I hope to wander for the rest of my life. I am indeed complicated by my Judaism, in the way I think so many of us are “complicated” by our experiences of childhood religion. Being Jewish is incredibly important to me, but I’m not observant. At the same time, I cared deeply that my son know himself as Jewish –– not just culturally, but be steeped in the traditions and rituals. His Bar Mitzvah last year –– which was completely homegrown, eclectic, held in a church, led by a female Rabbi with whom we’ve become close, with readings from Coleridge and Hannah Senesh, as well as the whole congregation singing Leonard Cohen’s “Broken Hallelujah” –– with my son playing his ukulele and me on the piano –– was one of the highlights of my life. I looked around that church at all of our family and friends gathered and there was such love in that room, such a feeling of being part of something meaningful and real –– and I had built it –– we even made our own prayer books –– by necessity, and by choice, and out of a tremendous amount of focus on finding a way to do something that would truly resonate.
It has been one of the biggest shifts in my life over these past few years, this feeling that I can be this and that. Be Jewish and a great reader of eastern philosophy. A messed up girl who grew up into a thoughtful and (hopefully not too messed up) woman. A yogi who likes a good steak along with a bottle of Barolo. An urbanite living in rural Connecticut. All these things. So what? Why not? I’ve been shrugging off definitions that have limited me. The only person who can place these limiting definitions on us is ourselves.
Jennifer Pastiloff: What would you say to yourself at 25 years old in terms of your career?
Dani Shapiro: Oh, dear girl, be patient. Know that there is no well-lit path. Know that your dreams for yourself at this moment are small and that you have no idea what life has in store for you. Some of your disappointments and setbacks will turn out to be your greatest lessons. More than anything, be in competition only with yourself. You have the opportunity to spend your whole life getting better and better at what you do.
What would you say to yourself 5 years ago?
I would say that worry is a waste of time. That anxiety doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t protect us from anything. All it does is sap us of our creative energy and impede our flow. The things I’ve tended to worry about do not come to pass. The difficulties I’ve had in my life are not ones I’ve anticipated. So why not at least try to let go?
JP: When was the last time you laughed at yourself?
DS: Yesterday. A photographer was at my house, photographing me for a piece for The New York Times. I was all dolled up, makeup, good hair, the whole deal – and they decided they wanted to take a picture of me on my yoga mat. So I changed into my yoga clothes and sat in lotus position “meditating” while he took my picture. Imagine the noise in my head! Absurdity always makes me laugh. All I could think was: “it’s come to this!”
JP: Victor Frankl was able to mentally survive living in a concentration camp by finding beauty in a fish head floating in his soup. In a fish head. Learning this is what inspired me to start the 5mostbeautifulthings Project. What if we walked around looking for beauty instead of looking for things to be stressed about or offended by? What if we trained our eyes and our hearts to tune into that which makes us cock our head to one side and close our eyes gently in an effort to memorize what we were looking at. What if it is all we got? What if all we have is our 5 beautiful things? What’s your fish head? What are your 5 most beautiful things right now, Dani?
DS: Literally right at this moment:
My son’s face.
My two dogs lying curled up in a patch of sunlight.
The changing leaves outside my window. Autumn in New England.
My husband across the kitchen table me, both on our laptops. A team.
The quiet and beauty of our lives. Hard won. Ephemeral. Taking it in.
JP: Tell us about Sirenland. I just visited Positano after my Tuscany retreat and per your recommendation I went to Le Sireneuse, hugged the owners and had pink champagne with them. Le Sireneuse is where you hold Sirenland each March. I can safely say that it took my breath away. It’s a dream come true that you do this. What is Sirenland? How did it come to be? Who is teaching with you this year? Why Positano?
DS: Sirenland was born at a dinner party in Connecticut. I had absolutely no dream of starting a writing conference. My husband and I were at dinner at our friend Nancy Novogrod’s home –– she is the editor in chief of Travel+Leisure –– and she had invited, as she told me, her favorite hotel owners in the world. These would be Antonio and Carla Sersale, owners of Le Sirenuse. We had an incredibly fun evening together, and then a week later, I received an email from Antonio asking if I’d like to bring some writers to Italy. This was eight years ago. Sirenland has grown into one of the best writing conferences in the world. We have thirty students come to Italy for a life-altering week. (By the way, applications are now open at www.sirenland.net) My son has gotten to grow up going each year to this miraculous place. And we’ve made so many incredible friends. I always teach one of the three workshops, and the other faculty rotates. We’ve had Jim Shepard teach for a number of years. Last year, Karen Russell (who just became the youngest person ever to win a MacArthur “genius” Award), this year the wonderful writers Meg Wolitzer and Andre Dubus III will be joining us.
JP: I often ask “what are your rules to live by?” because I think it’s a fun way to hold ourselves accountable. Some of mine are: Don’t take yourself too seriously, sing out loud, write poems (even if only in your head), don’t worry, everyone on Facebook seems like they have happier lives (they don’t.) I ask people of all ages to do this, including children, and to see what people write is a joy. What are some of your rules to live by?
DS: Always tell the truth.
To have a friend you have to be a friend.
Use the Internet –– don’t allow the Internet to use you.
Try to live in the moment.
Love, love, love. Spend it all. Every little bit.
Hold nothing back.
JP: Kripalu. I love that you lead workshops there, as I do. It is one of my favorite places to teach. The beloved Berkshires. Tell us about Kripalu. When will you be there next?
DS: I love Kripalu, and love teaching there too. I’ll be there to teach my first workshop based on Still Writing from November 1-3. And as a special treat, my dear friend, the great yogi, scholar and writer Stephen Cope will be joining me on that Saturday night for an honest, open, deep conversation about writing, creativity, doing and living the work. I’m so excited to be doing an event with Stephen. And next June –– the 6th through the 8th – Stephen and I will co-teach a weekend writing and yoga retreat.
JP: I know you talk about it in Devotion but can you share with us how you met Stephen and how that relationship came to be? Sylvia Boorstein?
DS: That story is such a life-lesson in putting one foot in front of the other. In saying yes, instead of no. I first met Stephen on the page. I was reading his gorgeous book, That story is such a life-lesson in putting one foot in front of the other. In saying yes, instead of no. I first met Stephen on the page. I was reading his gorgeous book, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. It was, for me, one of those life-changing books. I carried it around with me, underlining, doodling exclamation points in the margins. And one summer afternoon I found myself at a library fundraiser –– I had promised ages before to attend –– and I was grumbling to myself the whole way there. Didn’t want to go. It was hot, humid, a bad hair day, and I was annoyed at myself for having agreed. It was one of those events where authors sit behind piles of their books, in a sweltering tent, and people in linen jackets and madras shorts walk by carrying plastic cups of white wine. Sound fun? Anyway, I was shown to my table and sat grumpily down. Then the author next to me leaned over to introduce himself. “Hi,” he said. “Steve Cope.”
He and I became immediate, fast friends. I had his book with me in my bag! I just couldn’t believe it. Shortly thereafter, I signed up for a retreat he was teaching at Kripalu –– which was a place I had wanted to visit, but had always felt intimidated and resistant. But now I had a pal there, so I pushed myself to go. That weekend, he was teaching with a Buddhist named Sylvia Boorstein, who I hadn’t known, not being of that world. Attending that retreat at Kripalu changed my life. I made two of my dearest friends, teachers, fellow travelers, guides. And now –– only four or five years later –– I am a part of the Kripalu family as well, and love leading my retreats there. I’m going to be on the West Coast for my Still Writing book tour, and Sylvia and I are doing an event together at Book Passage in Marin County. It will be one of the highlights of my book tour. All because I showed up at a library event in Connecticut. We never know what life has in store for us.
JP: Who have been your greatest teachers?
DS: I had a great high school English teacher, Peter Cowen, who is still in my life. Ditto for my 19th Century Literary Professor at Sarah Lawrence, Ilja Wachs, who taught me the art of close reading. Grace Paley and Jerome Badanes were my teachers when I was in graduate school and I owe a tremendous debt to them both. In recent years, Sylvia Boorstein and Stephen Cope. My friend the great Rabbi Burton Visotzky, who gave me a new lens with which to read the Torah. Then there are the teachers I’ve never met: Virginia Woolf. Thomas Merton.
JP: Advice to new writers reading this?
DS: Read my book! Seriously –– I wrote it for you! And if you don’t read my book, the one piece of advice I have is to read something worthwhile every day –– the poet Jane Kenyon describes this as “keeping good sentences in your ears.” Reading is your best teacher. Also, get used to rejection. Get used to discomfort. Who said it should be easy? Writing well is hard, hard work. Develop the ability to endure. To stay in the chair.
JP: I couldn’t be more excited that you are now writing for Positively Positive, along with Emily Rapp and myself. Writing for this site has definitely changed my life. I am humbled to be in your company there. What is up next for Dani Shapiro?
DS: I love writing for Positively Positive as well! As for what’s next, I will be traveling to teach and give readings from Still Writing for the next bunch of months. I can’t write and travel at the same time –– I need to sink in deeply –– so I will wait for the shimmer. I will try to be patient and keep good sentences in my ears. I will try to take care of myself and my loved ones, body and soul, and endure, so that I can sit down come spring and be…still writing!
JP: G-d willing. We should live and be well. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
DS: Thanks, Jen! You’re a beautiful force for good in the world. I’m proud to know you.
The following post is by my soul sister Elise Ballard. I met Elise in NYC where we attended Oprah’s LifeClass together. Elise and I both write for Positively Positive and she happens to be the author of one of my favorite books, Epiphany! We met in NYC and have been connected ever since. It was meant to be, there is no doubt about that. This morning, during a phone chat, Elise shared with me that she had created vision boards and put exactly what she had wanted on them. And you know what? She got those very things. Look at the photo of the book above, folks. That book is a result of a seed in her imagination first, and then yes, a load of hard work.
The theme in class this week is imagination and the mantra is ” I am already there” so our phone call felt so timely. As does our friendship. (Also, stay tuned because Elise and I are hosting a Twitter contest where you can win a spot at my October Manifestation retreat and a copy of her signed book!)
She shared with me the following post she wrote 2 years ago and I knew I had to share. You all know my love of the vision board. We even do them at my retreats and workshops. I hope you are as inspired by her post and her success as I am. And yes, she will be featured soon in The Manifestation Q&A Series.
For All Those Vision Board Doubting Thomas’s by Elise Ballard.
I never put much credence in Vision Boards (this is a link to a great article about them) but I kept hearing how amazing things were happening for friends of mine and reading about them so I thought, “What the hey – I need all the help I can get at this point.” It was September 2009 and I had been working for almost an entire year developing this project, writing the book proposal and creating and launching my site. We were about to submit to publishers and I had no idea what would become of me. (I suppose I still don’t but at least I have the book release to look forward to and it will definitely live in the world now – back then, it was completely unknown what would happen.) So I did a Vision Board and put images of things on a piece of poster board that I desired or wanted to happen, just as my friends and Martha Beck instructed me to do . WITHIN DAYS, things started materializing…it was wild! And within a month, I had a book deal for Epiphany with a major publisher (Random House) who wanted the book to be exactly the way I’d always envisioned it and for the exact advance I knew I had to get to make it happen.
Check this out: (Note: These are not great photos ahead, but I think they’re decent enough that you’ll be able to see what I’m saying. And I don’t know why my mock up Epiphany Book Cover is torn, but again, you’ll get the gist.)
This is what I typed/mocked up put up on my Vision Board last Sept.
And this is what the cover of the galley of my book looks like that is going out to press and to my contributors:
IT’S THE SAME FONT AND PRETTY MUCH THE EXACT SAME BLUE AND ORIGINAL TITLE.
THE LESSON LEARNED: Don’t be so impatient and such a worry-wart, silly grasshopper, things eventually come around. (And VISION BOARDS work!)
I’ve probably done about 3-4 Vision Boards throughout the past year and things always happen from them. I always recommend at least trying VISION BOARDS – even if it’s just to see what happens…Why not? Encourage the magical aspects of life – it makes it all that much more exciting and fun.
Here is Elise’s TED talk. Talk about inspiration!
About Elise Ballard
Elise Ballard is the author of Epiphany! a book of inspirational stories, aha moments and exclusive interviews from Random House Publishing.
What Are You Manifesting?
Manifesting, according to Jen Pastiloff means: Making Sh*t Happen!
If you want to have something show up in your life you must first be able to imagine it. For a long time, this wasn’t an option for me. I simply could not un-see myself as: stuck, unworthy, lost, a non-working actress, “just” a waitress, a failure, among other non-fabulous things.
It’s like when you feel happy. It seems that you’ve always been happy and that you will always be happy. We also feel this way when we are sad, lonely, depressed, scared, heartbroken. I felt like I would always feel lonely, scared, depressed, lost and like a really bad waitress who spilled things on people. (How I lasted 13 years is truly beyond me.)
And then one day I didn’t feel that way anymore.
After 13 years of working in the same Los Angeles restaurant I decided to take a yoga teacher training with Annie Carpenter after coming to terms with the fact that yoga was keeping me from being hospitalized for depression daily. To make a long story short, I found my calling. I taught my first yoga class and can safely say, I knew I had a gift.
Was teaching yoga my gift? Not necessarily. It was what I always knew was my gift, even as a child: I could connect with people. I could provide a space for people to heal with my touch or my words or my humor or my music or my eyes. It didn’t matter to me, per se. What mattered is that I found something I wanted to do and I found an avenue to do it. After years of walking down the wrong street, I found a different avenue and I started to sprint.
Shortly after I taught my first class I was able to quit my waitressing job. I can only attribute my success to finally connecting to my purpose and finding what I was meant to be doing with my life. Finally allowing myself to imagine what was possible.
I started to believe in myself. I started to take risks. I smiled more. I got into a healthy relationship (now my husband), I healed from an eating disorder. I accepted my hearing loss. I admitted I actually had no desire to be an actress. Gasp! I changed my thoughts. I finally was able to say I love what I do and I do what I love.
I decided to call my company Manifestation Yoga after listening to my teacher Wayne Dyer talk about manifesting at length. After years of having negative tapes run the show in my brain, I made room for new thoughts. Those new thoughts allowed me to take action, where before I felt stuck and incapable of moving. I realized that I had manifested the life I always wanted but had never allowed myself to imagine before.
Manifesting is not about sitting in a corner and wishing for something and then having it appear like some kind of fairy tale. Although that would be nice. It is a lot of work indeed. But before the work, there must be the thought. There must be imagination.
Even Einstein says that imagination is more important than knowledge. I started to use my imagination. I changed what my old tape, or mantra, was, as I call it in my classes nowadays. It used to be: I am nothing. I changed it to: I am powerful. I am on purpose. I am a successful yoga teacher and writer. I am a healer. I am an inspirer ( I think I made that last word up.)
In my workshops I have people do an exercise called “ I am-ness.” (Pretty sure I made that word up, as well.) They get a partner and tell that person their own I am-ness. I ask them to finish the sentence I am ______. It cannot be I am hungry or I am broke or I am tired etc. (I knew from experience that these I Am’s didn’t get you very far.) I ask them: Who would you be if nobody told you who you were?
They then answer that powerful question and fill in the blank after I am, sharing it with their partner. This, of course, is according to their own imagination. After each has declared who they are, they stare into each other’s eyes for three solid minutes with no talking. They simply sit and witness the “I am” within themselves and in turn, in the other person. It takes not only imagination to declare the new “ I am”but a willingness. To sit and let someone look into your eyes for that long, especially after you have declared this I am, takes courage.
Some laugh and some cry and some squirm. Most have a profound revelation about what is possible when they decide to imagine who they are and declare it as their own truth. They then watch someone witness them in that very truth.
I will leave you with this: One of my dearest friends and students, Steve Bridges, died suddenly on Saturday in his sleep. He was with me in Mexico in February for my last and most profound retreat. After his death, the other retreat attendees started writing him posthumous letters. One said this:
You have profoundly affected my life. Especially when I stared into your eyes for three amazing minutes during yoga, and what I wrote down afterwards was: Steve= powerful, being, creator of love, confidence, kindness, strong. Power… I felt my power in his. The next day I said to you “ Steve, All I saw was power. It was amazing. I saw no fear.” And you looked at me with those brilliant blues and kindly said “Thank you”.
This is what manifesting is. Looking into someone’s eyes, especially your own, and declaring who you are. It is being with that truth. It is acting from that truth, and no matter what, and no matter who tells you different, absolutely living from thatassumption of who you are.
I use Steve Bridges as an example, not to make you sad about his passing, but to see what he was able to accomplish. He not only conveyed that he was powerful and a creator of love, but he allowed someone else to be in their own power. That is what a manifester does. And notice what he said in response. He said Thank you.
Imagination, action and gratitude. That’s it.
So I ask you: What are you manifesting?