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Book club

Week 2, by Susan Schwartz

(A note from Tracey. Before we dive in, I want to reiterate that anyone who has the time should feel free to comment on comments left by other clubbers on each week’s post.

Also, I left this comment in regard to Tammi’s week 1 comment. I want to reiterate that most of us will likely need to pick and choose related to what we want, can, and do write about. Even Mark suggests taking it slow. For myself, I’m reading through each week’s material and then deciding what I want to write about it (usually only 1 of his invitations.) This may not be how Mark intended it, but we can only do what we can do! Most of Mark’s invitations are deep, so even in small chunks, there’s too much to do in a week. If you need to, during the week take a break. Breaks are OK! We can always return to material we want to explore further after the club or even years down the line!)

Here we go!

In this section, The Purpose of Will is what most spoke to me.

Nepo wrote “As the sun never stops shining no matter the weather, our heart is an inner sun that never stops emanating from within, no matter the psychic or circumstantial weather we encounter in the world.”

I found the comparison interesting, as well as how he writes about manipulating the blinds and windows to work through bad weather. I know that trying to bury feelings never served me well. Whenever I am brave enough to confront my feelings, a lightness opens up in my heart and mind.

As a child, not only was I not encouraged to talk about my feelings, it was also frowned upon. From Nepo’s perspective, my parents had too much control over the blinds and windows. Since I wasn’t guided on how to deal with my feelings, they just got pushed down into a boiling pit of unresolved issues. Living like that, I often felt choked up and I cried a lot. At times, I knew something was wrong but I didn’t fully understand why. My tool box was empty. My voice could be silenced but the tears could not be controlled.

Where once I felt uncomfortable expressing my feelings, I am now better able to understand and express myself. This took a lot of work. Let’s hear it for therapy and Brené Brown!

Every difficult situation I have confronted in a healthy way has shown me that expressing myself through words and art is a key part of my healing process. 

Nepo then writes about how, instead of trying to control events, “the deeper purpose of will is to move in concert with everything around us.” Intellectually, I understand this concept. But in the middle of a crisis, this is not easy to do. Sure, a bird rides the air currents to get from A to B. And if its course is not a straight line, the bird literally just goes with the flow. And probably, the bird isn’t stressed about the detour. Maybe it doesn’t even recognize that there was a detour. The journey was never expected to be a direct line.

But me in a crisis? I see where I or a family member is, and I want the situation to go directly from A to B. And quickly. But reality isn’t like that. It can be so hard to accept where I am, the reality of it, and just go with the flow. I remember this concept being introduced at a family support class conducted by NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill). The crux of it boiled down to being present, not letting your mind ruminate about the past or get overwhelmed with anxiety about the future. You have to train yourself to stop focusing on expectations, and just deal with the moment at hand. Easier said than done, of course. I think many of us are wired to think about all kinds of what if’s, how to’s and other scenarios that don’t actually have a bearing on reality. We need to unlearn old coping mechanisms that haven’t paid off. But this is so hard to do!

Fortunately, when we can reel in our brains to focus on the present, we can get some much needed stress relief. It’s a practice that needs vigilance and we can get better at this over time. 

Why do you think it’s so hard to get out of that “trying to control events” mode when in reality, we know we have so little control about events outside of our own body and mind?

What passages struck you in this section, and why?


Schedule to date:

  • Week #3 To See One Thing in Another through As a Tuning Fork, Maria Rodgers O’Rourke Sept. 16
  • Week #4 The Inner Experience of Truth through Feelings Are Paints, Tammi Scott, Sept. 23
  • Week #5 <<<Break>>> pause, breathe, and catch up, Sept. 30

I will make the next round of assignments by random selection and announce them soon. Please note that spearheaders will only be chosen from those who have left comments on weekly posts.

A link will remain here to week 1 in case anyone wants to review the spearheading guidance. Week 1.

If you’re doing the art prompts, please send me pictures to include!

25 Comments

  1. Hi everyone, boy there was a lot in these chapters to chew on.

    The Web of Metaphor
    I found this section of the book to be pretty deep – the idea that metaphors are all around us and just need to be discovered. I appreciated the example shared by Mark about the conversation with his friend Gail in which they discussed Hades “who surprises us all by pulling a loved one from our midst, dragging them into the Underworld.” One year ago this Sunday, a very dear friend of mine lost a young and beautiful niece who had grown up feeling like the black sheep of the family. She died suddenly and unexpectedly and her loss was felt deeply of course by her nuclear family, many friends and relatives. Of course, my heart broke for my lovely friend and I can’t imagine trying to make sense of such a loss 6 months into the very difficult era of the pandemic and our lives being so shut down and packed away from the ones we love. “I imagined him (Hades) pulling someone from us into the Underworld, the way he might fist a set of roots and pull the tangle of roots deeper into the earth… every time Hades takes someone from us he pulls the network of relationships connected to that person as well, and the roots of the living are tugged underground.” Reading this felt so timely for me as my friend is approaching this difficult weekend that marks a year since losing her niece. The metaphor of tree roots and the network of connected humans being pulled underground as well as the person who has died – that idea and metaphor really struck a chord with me.

    The Aperture of Intuition
    The following section was about “The Aperture of Intuition” and the ideas there really resonated with me – the opposite of rational is intuitive -to trust what the inner heart voice is saying more than what the mind devises. “Reason allows us to think like a ladder, while intuition allows us to think like a constellation.” I have learned a lot about this in the last few years as some mental health challenges have developed within my family. My mind would say, “it needs to be this and this, and let’s fix it using this way, and how can this be changed to improve what is going on?” and my heart would say “just love on it, this journey is not yours in a primary sense, it is theirs and the best I can do is just to be supportive and compassionate and kind.” The mind is still making calls about boundaries and sparsely offering interjections, but the heart has surrendered to understand that this life will unfold the way it is supposed to and the experiences to be had are not mine to control. In these very deep and sometimes very upsetting moments of realization the past few years, I can reflect that they were truly experiences of “indigenous perception” that Mark discusses – accepting bigger truths and seeing what is before me in a more holistic and Universal way. I can offer thoughts and advice, but ultimately this is up to the people in my life to make their own decisions which will propel their futures in one direction or another. Do I love them any less? No. I have needed to let go of what my mind would like to declare in its orchestrating fashion and instead just roll with the tides and let the heart and intuition be louder. I love the quote Sue posted about controlling events and the purpose of will: “the deeper purpose of will is to move in concert with everything around us.” Definitely.

    1. Julie, thank you for these beautiful comments. I’m so sorry to read about your friend’s niece. I haven’t gotten to this part of the book quite yet, but how powerful. Don’t you feel Mark’s words right in your gut? While the imagery floods your brain? I’m sending loving care to your friend and the entire root system effected by your niece’s death. And wow. Can I relate to what you wrote in the Intuition section. Frankly, I wish we didn’t need suffering and challenges to wake up..and certainly not bearing witness to the suffering of those we love. But.. I guess our own suffering isn’t usually enough to wake us up. I can only surmise that we don’t love ourselves enough. Working on that! But yes oh yes to what you wrote commenting on Mark’s points and the profound value of surrender, letting go, and compassion. And loving others enough and respecting them enough to honor their journey as it unfolds.

  2. Just to avoid any confusion, this week’s post is on the sections from The Origins through What It Means to Perceive. Julie left a comment that pertains to next week’s post, spearheaded by Maria. Julie, I love what you wrote here. What about your thoughts and feelings from what we read last week (which is what my spearheading post is about)?

    1. Hi everyone, I’m out of town right now and will dive into this when I get back. Julie, no problem that you’re a bit ahead of us! You’ll be caught up for next week. Everyone, you van see the vignettes to read for each week under the body of the main post. Let me know if you have any questions!

  3. Susan thanks for getting us off to a great start this week! I appreciate the themes of letting go of control and exploring a different view regarding this topic. I spend a few years of my life in the rooms of Al Anon and still have room to grow and learn new ways to let go of control and accept what is in front of me or “bear witness to what is”. Which leads to what struck me this week… at the end of the section “We Relate More Than we Author” the writing prompt “What Does Pain have to say?” is EXACTLY where I am in my life. I have been dealing with some chronic pain for over 3 months and I have been fighting, trying to control it, make it go away-all of which is understandable and I defintiely want it to go away but in the mean time I can explore what I have learned or gained. One thing for certain is a deep well of empathy for chronic pain sufferers as well as respect for those who can tolerate, put a smile on their face an go out into the world. I don’t know that this describes me. What comes to mind is accepting pain and beginning to trust I can handle this type of hard thing. But going deeper I have to reflect on the pain is in my shoulder and wow what metaphors that brings up…” carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders” and “no burden to great”.
    I certainly try to carry the weight and so with that in mind I am looking for what I can literally let go of today. Maybe lightening the load will ease the pain and give me a different perspective or way to handle it. As Nepo so eloquently says, ” perhaps God is an infinite secret hiding in the open waiting for each of us to slow enought to receive.”

    1. Kimberly, I am so sorry to hear you have chronic pain. I know a few people who deal with chronic pain. I don’t know how they keep as sane as they are. It certainly is worth exploring ways to lessen the load, mentally and physically. I’ve heard that music can help, that it somehow helps inhibit pain receptors. Also, feeling pain as a sensation, not judging it as a bad thing. I suppose one has to really do a number on his/her way of thinking to manage that. I do hope your pain goes away very soon. I hope you will share coping mechanisms with us as time goes on.

    2. Thank you, Kim, for this. I am endlessly surprised by the constant need to remind myself about letting go of control. I wonder why it’s so hard to remember? In my family, we are cut from the same cloth, which was so vivid as we moved my daughter. We all were invested in the same outcome…a move without trouble or incident, and we all had opinions about how to achieve that end, what needed to be done and how: a humorous example, but one that also carried pain. In the “heat of many moments” our words and actions, even over something like a move, can be misconstrued and hurtful. So yes to what you wrote about your chronic pain and learning from it. I’m so sorry. Is it a frozen shoulder? I had one of those..incredibly painful! This same prompt was the one that inspired me to take to the page. I have more I want to write about, but I think I would add the need to turn our human frailties into something meaningful and a fundamental human truth.

  4. Hi book club ladies,

    You are all so amazing and I feel blessed to be part of this experience.

    So I am responding to The Origins and the journal exercise that invites us to”look at the people around you, trying to see one aspect of their original nature beneath their costumes and roles”.

    About 5 months ago I began to do the lessons in A Course in Miracles. I originally tried to do The Course many years ago but dropped it because I had difficulty understanding it and thought it was too Christian for me. In returning to the material I see it completely differently now. It is an ingenious device for spiritual awakening and awareness. It’s goal is a change in perception which is the miracle. The lessons attempt to override the ego and help us get in touch with our oneness and connection with everyone and everything which seems to be the main theme running through this book
    To say this is often quite difficult in the crazy world we live in is an understatement.

    The exercise to look at people around me and to see their original nature under their costumes resonated with me because we are all just souls wearing flesh suits but so much harsh judgement both against ourselves and others for what we look like is the norm in our culture.

    For years as an eating disorder specialist I saw clearly the deadly effects this had on my
    patients. I have also harshly judged my own outer appearance throughout my life never feeling attractive or thin enough no matter what I looked like. Looking at pictures of myself in my twenties I am amazed at how slim I was yet still felt fat. Now as I am getting older I am trying to stop judging my aging face and body. The Course is helping me to change my perception of myself and others and to see each person I encounter as
    beautiful and unique. It is also helping me to reframe my chronic nerve pain from knee surgery I had in 2020 into something to help me grow spiritually as I am not just a body.
    I am finding that if I stop resisting the pain and labeling it as sensation rather then pain
    it becomes more bearable. Embracing our grief and pain rather then running from it and seeing it as part of the human condition is something that ties us all together. Everyone has experienced pain, trauma and disappointment and all of us are going to die. What we do with these realities is what matters.

    1. Yes, Diane, you were the one who told me that labeling your chronic pain as a sensation rather than as pain helps. You pointed out that changing our perceptions are key. Yes! When I get stressed out, I need to talk myself down to grasp the reality of what is vs. what I’m afraid of. I often realize that I am fine, and that it’s my perceptions of what the future may hold that is scary.

      And when it comes to changing our perceptions of how we look on the outside, I can relate. In my college days, I remember looking for myself in a photo with a lot of friends and didn’t see myself at first because I wasn’t looking for a slim person. Our society puts such a high value on slimness that it’s hard not to get caught up in judging our bodies. It’s a shame because we know that traits like kindness, honesty, trustworthiness, etc, are what matter.

      I am glad you are getting a lot out of this book, and the Miracles book.

    2. Thank you so much, Diane. Before we moved my daughter, we were watching episodes of the original Star Trek. There’s an episode were an alien life form calls humans “ugly sacks of water” or some such. We cracked up…there are, of course, only gorgeous women in very skimpy outfits in that show. I love thinking about and talking about changed perceptions. Fundamentally, that is something that changed for me during the healing journey with my daughter. It wasn’t something conscious..where I sat down and said I want to stop doing this and start doing that. It arose out of the work I was doing to heal my relationship with myself, which I knew would, by extension, heal it with others. I say that my penchant for judging fell away, but that’s an over-simplification. When I lost the will to judge myself, which was HARD work, I lost the will to judge others. I’m so glad there are books like Mark’s and programs like A Course in Miracles that identify this as profoundly life altering.

    3. Diane,
      Thank you for sharing your experience I am so sorry for your chronic nerve pain. I deal with some chronic health problems and pain myself. I like your process of labeling it differently. Reminds me of Dr. Sarno’s work and some other stuff I’ve come across. I think I will give it a try as my back pain is currently back again after doing really well for months and months.

      I am also a fan of ACIM. I have yet to get more than halfway through the workbook, but what I have done has made such an impact. I love the focus on love and forgiveness and the reinterpretation of Jesus’s message. I grew up evangelical, but walked away from the church in college. The Course has been healing for me. The definition of a miracle as a change in perspective is profound. I could use one right now. I am so glad that it is helping you too.

    1. Hmmm. I don’t think there’s a word limit. On way home. Will have to check…and this is a test to see if I can post!

  5. Susan I appreciated and related to a lot of what you wrote and related about ‘The Purpose of Will’! It was the 2nd most highlighted and marked part of this week’s reading for me. I wrote ‘Align’ next to this passage I highlighted “… the deeper purpose of will is to move in concert with everything around us,…”
    Now the part that struck me the most and where I made the most highlights/wrote in the margins was “We Relate More Than We Author”. From the opening quote about the behavior of art rather than the achievement of art all the way to the Invitation to Discover had me in his grip.
    When he demonstrates the limiting nature of the English language through the question “What does courage mean?” by showing how the Spanish version “Què quiere decir el valor?” “What does courage want to say?” demands we be in relationship with the meaning of courage!
    This was something I was taught at an Openhearted Writing Retreat 2 years ago… what is my relationship to a word rather my definition of it.

    How he speaks of the passive voice as having it’s own intrinsic value in language as the receptive voice. Because there’s nothing wrong at all with being receptive or being active. I often write in the passive and find myself self editing it to active, when I truly feel better expressing from the passive/receptive voice.
    I felt like the heart of this section was this: “For each of us must accept that the only things worth trying to say are unsayable, though what is sparked by our attempts is love and truth.”💣💥
    AND THIS: “All expression has two noble intentions: to try to say what is unsayable and to bear witness to what is.”🔥💓
    That last quote was written 3Xs and I stopped to breathe and sit with it each time.
    Finally his statement that God is an infinite secret hiding in the open is a confirmation of what my Coach calls secret messages all around us waiting to be discovered! Messages just for us.
    And his assertion about risk and courage… to give voice to what we experience.
    I know I will be returning to his book and those passages again and again.

    Holding you in Grace

    1. Tammi! So happy you were able to get your thoughts posted! Many things resonated with you in this section. That’s wonderful! When something Nepo writes resonates with me, I read it over and over again. I have to admit that at first I’m not sure if the passage resonates because I’m at the cusp of learning something amazing or if I’ve found a passage that aligns with what I already know about myself. lol

      I appreciate your comments about how differently “courage” is defined in English vs. Spanish. I remember reading that but then soon forgot about it. It does make a lot of sense when you wrote, “… what is my relationship to a word rather than my definition of it.” Certainly, now that I think about it, that would require 2 different answers. For someone who wanted to know me better, asking me about my relationship with courage would give them an earfull about me and a window into who I am deep inside. If someone asked me to define courage, they’d get a one sentence answer and find out nothing about me. That is thought provoking!

    2. I am SO with you, Tammi. The whole section of We Relate More Than We Author had me and my pen poised over the pages and my brain on overdrive. I think this is a fundamental place for me in my life right now–the dance of surrender. I came to experience surrender under a very specific set of circumstances. Since that time, as the weeks, months, and years go by, I am learning in so many different ways and from so many different avenues that this is a life-dance. As you so beautifully point out, related to what Mark wrote about the passive voice, “going with the flow” or “our creative efforts allowing us to meet and co-create” can seem (and dare I say, feel?) passive, meaning I judge that passivity based on our cultural mores of consumerism. As I get older it’s getting easier to let go of some of that, but man. No matter how old I get it is still HARD. Related to what I do and what I feel and especially how I look. Not easy work, but so worth it. Thank you!

  6. Sue, thank you for this thought provoking post! Damn! I just love and value SO MUCH what everyone is bringing to this discussion. I’m reading and processing the material through my goggles, so it’s awesome to have other views into what is striking everyone. I’ve commented on all the comments and already said most of what I wanted to related to the material.

    But The Purpose of Will struck me deeply. Just when we think we understand something. YANK goes the rug. I never considered will in this way, and certainly didn’t consider that there might be an inner and an outer purpose to will. To date, most of my thinking and writing around will was the EVER DANGEROUS will-power (having it, not having it, having it and then losing it blah blah blah)..and what that meant in my life and how I inadvertently (due to my lack of awareness around it) taught the same ideas to my daughter.

    What’s extra powerful to me here is the idea that we learn how to use our blinds (inside and out) from our parents. If they are unaware/unprepared then we will be too. This is less criticism that simple statement of fact. As kids, we can’t understand this kind of stuff unless there’s someone in life to show us the way. The idea of the INNER PURPOSE of will and blinds as it relates to safety is really hitting me. I didn’t originally underline this, because it’s so fundamental to the book as a whole, but Mark writes, “Our heart is the conduit between Spirit and life. It must never shut down.”

    Wouldn’t it be nice if that didn’t happen? Our heart and our conduit never shutting down? And/or that we didn’t learn at home or in the world that keeping ourselves hidden away is the safest course of action? Will expose us to the least amount of pain? Because..we’re learning here, just how untrue that is.

    HOWEVER, I guess my point is..we still need to regulate our blinds. Like the old expression of not casting our pearls to the swine. We need smart courage, otherwise we are unraveling years and maybe decades of pain and hurt. I know this journey is fundamentally human, but I guess I’m lost in thought as to how to help break the pattern.

    Thank you Sue.

    1. Tracey, I agree with your point on regulating the blinds. Since I am prone to worry, when I catch myself ruminating on something that is stressing me out, I can often talk myself into closing the blinds. And by that I mean I realize my anxious feelings are not serving a purpose that helps me grow emotionally and I’m wasting my time living at some level of fear that in no way affects the outcome of what I’m worried about. It’s a lesson that, while I’ve learned to cope much better in the last several years, this is still something I catch myself doing and I have to reel in my anxiety.

      And yes, we don’t want to throw our pearls to the swine!

  7. I’m a little behind in posting my comments – sorry!

    Nepo’s section “The Purpose of Will” is one that I have revisited several times. He says that “the inner purpose of will is to keep the inner light unblocked and shining.” What a glorious image! It brings to mind the sweet feeling of my hair warmed by the sun on a perfect summer day.

    When my will is on a firm foundation – or maybe even when it’s precariously balanced – in the right place, between Spirit and life itself, I am able to think, interact, move and create as I am intended to do. This is a fascinating construct: Expression moves my will to its sweet spot, and when my will is in that unique place, I am able to express myself even further. I view this as a spiral leading upward, ever expanding and strengthening the role of expression and will within me.

    Recently, I had to ask myself a question related to my own will. That question was simply, “What do I want to do with it? Where do I want my will to take me?” I saw two clear options.

    One, a path toward willingness.
    The other, a path toward willfulness.

    I had a choice – it’s a perpetual choice, really – to open my spirit and be guided by my will to that place of growth, creativity and becoming, or to use my will to build a force field around myself, to dig in my heels and resist. Both are strong applications of will. However, one moves me forward and allows others to enter my life space while the other….well, it doesn’t.

    1. No worries on being behind, Lynn. I love the visual you created here of the spiral upward, which inherently has the option to become the inverse. And how you talk about the paths of will. Like so many misconceptions I held for a long, long time I thought will was static. People have it or they don’t and I didn’t. It has taken decades for me to understand that almost everything I thought was static isn’t, and exactly how much choice I have in the matter(s).

  8. Wow. Wow. I am behind, but really loving, identifying with &/or learning so much through everyone’s sharing. Thank you so much.

    The section “What it means to see” actually made me uncomfortable. I don’t feel like I have much vision, yet at the same time I don’t necessarily want to develop more. I already feel like an alien in our culture as an INFP (personality type), a Highly Sensitive Person and likely someone with Inattentive ADHD.

    The later I am just discovering after my best friend’s daughter was diagnosed. It explains my entire life! This recent discovery is very fresh and has me emotional. So developing these “gifts” feels like another way to open myself up to being different from everyone else.

    Sometimes I do well loving and embracing my differences, but this week is not one of those times.

    Mark says that vision can help you feel not alone if you let it. That would be nice, but it’s not been my experience. How did I end up surrounded by people so unlike myself? By not valuing or trusting myself.

    So I would like to develop vision, but in this moment it does not feel doable. I hope that changes.

    It sounds like many were also moved by the section “We relate more than we author.” Reading his descriptions of the differences in the American interpretation of something and the Spanish interpretation and then later how Americans avoid the use of the passive voice. The opposite of rational is intuitive! Holy holy! This all really hit home.

    As evident in my above writing, I have been feeling like a fish out of water in our culture.

    Although this has always been the case, it has been particularly intense recently. I’ve been feeling very much alone in how I feel and experience the world compared to everyone else.

    This has been a life long struggle. I go through spurts where I pull up my proverbial boot straps and carry on, usually by finding some meaning somewhere, but it never lasts for long.

    Just this past week or two, I have been feeling it deeply. So much so that it has been overwhelming, painful and feeling quite lonely lately.

    I am actually identifying so much with Mark’s work that it is sometimes painful. It is a part of myself that I have a difficult time staying in touch with in my current life situation, although I have been gallantly trying for a long time.

    I feel like I am about to bust into a messy puddle of emotions and reactions. I wish I would or could. It would be better for me in the long run.

    I know that much of what I am feeling and expressing here is likely untrue, but it is feeling true this week. Luckily, I have learned over time that I shouldn’t believe everything that I think. What a relief!

    So I am really deeply feeling this book, but even without reading/doing the exercises at the end of each section I am feeling quite overwhelmed. I have had several intense emotional things going on at the moment, in different areas of my life, so I am more raw than normal. Overall, I feel like reading this book now is actually divine timing, even if it is at times overwhelming.

    I am flying to visit family for an extended trip next week, so I may be behind again posting, but should be caught up after that as I will also have more time to read.

    Thanks again Tracey, Sue and everyone.

    1. Thank you so much, Andrea, for sharing this. It’s so important and healing for us to be able to express and bear witness to other people’s expressions of difficulty and loneliness. I’ve learned this lesson over and over and over again. I’ve seen others learn it over and over too. And, it’s little comfort to know that others feel the same way we do when we are in the throes of those feelings. Someone very close to me is a highly sensitive person, and the ways in which those feelings can sometimes manifest can be scary. I can see why people would feel “other” and lonely and like no one else feels the same way. This is a huge reason why I do what I do and share what I share. I hope that knowing we see and hear you, and, though we ourselves might not have exact experience with what you’re feeling we know people who do, will help you to feel less alone. I think it’s also very important that you are so aware of where you are now and that you’re honoring that and not “forcing” yourself to go to places you’re not yet ready for. This is all such a PROCESS. I keep saying, because it’s true, there’s no right way to do this work and we can take the next steps whenever we’re ready. Have a safe trip!

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