In the past few days I have been getting gentle reminders from the universe that I am on the right track. I was watching an interview Oprah did with the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) on her lessons from her life in career leadership and personal development. I had two major takeaways the first was her admission that she got to where is today by listening to what she felt was true for her.  I felt absolute chills when I heard her say this because it was just last week when I sent the following sentences in a note to my mentor about deciding to pursue the nontraditional path of writing as a career after pursuing my PhD:

“But how”

It is a lingering question that namely attaches itself to provision. But how will you eat? But how will you live? But how will you afford to travel? But how will you repay your student loans?  [Many] of these questions are what drive me to continuously pursuing careers in academia.  Positions that I could do and sometimes feel I should do for the sake of all the logical answers.  However whenever I seriously consider it, I feel a sort of deep seeded unhappiness that I can only imagine feels like Azkeban.  I know it is not for me and yet I am so scared that I may choose this option for fear of a lack of courage to sustain me through the anxiety of answering all the “But how” questions.
It is perhaps the fear I have of regret that keeps me thriving towards my end goal of fully pursuing my artistry. I do not want to live in regret especially when I can see so clearly what my calling is, I can hear it, I can feel it.  Oprah articulated that her purpose was to raise people to a higher consciousness. Mine is…. well I wrote this of my purpose last summer,
Inside me resides the crux of a gift blessed upon me to open people up, not to me but to themselves. How did you know? People have asked. I didn’t. God did. I am a vessel of movement of communication. The spirit of the entire universe uses my words to speak to others. That is the purpose of my words…Of my being. I do not have to compose to be a writer. I am a writer walking down the hallway. I speak with smiles and the sway of my arms, the shift of my hips and the click of my heels. I make music in my motion and the entire composition is a song. A poem set to rhythm and the pulse is a life given to be lived courageously.
Just over a year ago I was having the same “artist’s plight” and I wrote very similar words to the first:
If I’m honest with myself I just want to write. I want to go places, photograph strangers, and write the stories they elicit for me. It’s what I do anyway. I’m inspired by people, places, words, things, and sometimes nothing I can put a finger on. And I want to talk about it, only verbally I’m no good. I want to create the art space of the thing I’m studying. How the things out there show me pieces of me, in here. And vice versa. How I’m both painter and subject in this world. It sounds romantic and Parisian, complete with a diet of baguettes dipped in Merlot…It’s an opportunity. To design the life that’s calling me, and to have enough stability for my ego but enough freedom for my soul. That’s the thing about listening, you can never unhear. The voice is clear, distinct, and unmistakeable; it rings and resounds like the bells of Notre Dame. And maybe one day when I hear them, I’ll laugh at the grossly exaggerated comparison. But maybe not.
Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 11.07.18 PMI know it. I capital “K” Know it. Art is my medium, it provides my stage. Written prose is my monologue, my talk show, my power ballad, my solo. I feel so blessed in this moment to get such joy and such peace from the thing that also allows me to connect with others. I am at home in words. The way Beyonce speaks of herself on stage, she said she comes alive there. Here is where I live, in these words and in these spaces. My purpose is intertwined very intricately and very deliberately with my voice.
Writing is the thing that soothes my soul. It is where I can suspend the judgment of the world. It is where everything makes sense even if the words don’t. It is where I can close my eyes and simply allow. Oprah said there is no doing without first being. Writing is how I Am. It is my neutral, it is my breath, it sets my Ohm. It saved my life at a time when I saw no point in living and it gives me the ability to talk to all the parts of myself. The part who loves, the part who cries, the part who hurts, the part who is feminine, the part who is masculine, the part that is a hermit, the part who loves a party. It showed me my madness, my mania, my shadow, my cruelty.  It shows me my light, my goodness, my hope and my love.  It is my complete salvation and if I couldn’t do this. As I do this, for me and not for anyone else. It would be like losing my breath.
That is purpose full.
**I finished this piece with my eyes closed and tears falling. It was perfect.

The best compliments, if you can hear them

I was watching this tribute to Brandy and at the end India.Aire was talking to her saying, “I don’t think you really get just how much people revere you or how you’ve inspired other singers.” I thought to myself, the best compliments have got to come from people who speak your language. Then India kept saying, “I just don’t think you understand…” and I amended my thought to include “…if you can hear it.”

When I hear music, not junk but true music…that is made for the heart not the ears my skin gets hot. My body tingles and I see it. Its like notes paint a picture for me and rather than a brush, a dancer smoothes the notes across an endless canvas; more like a horizon. I feel very connected to music, and I have always admired those that can close their eyes (figuratively and literally) and engage in a type of intercourse with rhythm. I’ve envied that, speaking honestly. I have because I want to. I wondered briefly if everyone has this reaction to music, if everyone says to themselves, “I know I could sing that!” I could perform that. I could breathe life into that. My guess was no.

So I have the soul of an artist. She keeps talking to me, she wants certain freedoms that I, on the surface, feel are out of reach. She keeps telling me they’re not but I don’t believe her. What keeps me from reading monologues with the voice that’s in my head? The voice of the character. I’d rather write them. I am comfortable in my strength there, but its become too comfortable. Lol, its funny I feel like Audrey II from Little shop of horrors when she outgrows her pot.

What keeps me from singing? I can. I have before but in choirs where I add to sound rather than be The sole producer of it. What keeps me from dancing. God I want to so badly. When I hear some things I do close my eyes but I limit the movement to the me that exists in my head. Why am I holding her captive when she just wants to express herself?

Birth of an artist

I had a dream that I was a dancer. When I wanted to express myself, when I wanted to be heard, I found an empty space and danced my heart song. Music evoked movement, more than that it made my emotions bubble to the surface of my skin and rather than spill through my fingertips it coursed through my entire body.  My legs were strong and steady, moving me through pros and cons. My arms sifted through confusion and began to sweep over judgments. Eyes closed and facing inward, my head followed my body never trying to make sense or plot the course but keeping me safe once I was there. No words were spoken but all was said with a dance.


What would it be like not to speak or write? To give in to this deep want to be silent but not unheard? The way I see dance, that surrender and that abandon and really that freedom, is the way that I write. It is the same process, I even close my eyes and face inward. But I cannot seem to leave the ground. Wait…there are a few posts that felt like flying. My letter to Oprah, my second petition to the universe, broken; those were leaps.

So, maybe in my dream I was seeing myself not as I could be but as I am. There is still a part of me that longs for the movement, the beautiful art of dance itself. But I need not think of it as a thing to be obtained, rather a thing I have and wish to utilize. It may serve me well to consider all things in this way.

When I woke up I thought to myself, I felt beautiful…I want to fly. Every now and again I get to, I feel the weightlessness of being carried. Its a moment of purity and of grace. Live from there, I just thought. Live from there and when you wish to feel it more absolutely, return. As you do to love, as you do to any home.

I just had a thought, rather matter-of-factly I heard my Self say, “you transcend the word writer.” That process that I described…not every writer writes in this way, this is something else. And quite honestly, I can say the same words through paint. Or piano…or photography…but I made words mine. I claimed them. Truthfully, I am an artist. I can make art anywhere via any medium. There is this quote, where the spirit does not work in the hand, there is no art. I have long since loved that quote but today I got it. I heard it. I knew it as if the words were my own. And perhaps one day I will transcend “artist”, so long as I am moving…I do not mind.

What surrender looks like

I happened to see Iyanla Vanzant on Super Soul Sunday today…she said:

It isn’t me, it is my gift, for this reason I was born. I get that its not me.  I am so afraid, and I’ll say afraid, of the power and the drug of celebrity, fame and fortune. I’m afraid because I know the ruthlessness of the ego–he wants to get me and if he gets me, it’ll look like God didn’t win and God saved me.

I heard it and I started crying. I cried because I iterated this time after time after time.  How can I step into my greatness and not be consumed by ego?

I feel as though Iyanla is a significant part of me. She validates so many things that I think and feel and even express. She says, “Everything is a lesson god would have you learn.” I have said, “God speaks in the way that we listen.”  Same same.

Some part of me will often ask no one in particular, “How will I get there?” Where is there? There is somewhere that is the picture of success, love, peace, happiness, but most of all in the position to do what I know for sure I was meant to do. I reassure myself that it does not matter how, it only matters that I know my place. Because I know it I cannot help but to act from it.  I already am everything that I will be.  Some people may find that disappointing, I find it incredibly reassuring.

I’ve asked that same no one why people “of means” often find their way into my life. I find it frustrating because I see them as my opposite and I see them as a taunt…spending carelessly in the ways that I wished I could.  I read Louis Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life  and she said to give thanks to your bills that creditors trust you enough to give you a service and be grateful that you have the ability to pay them. I scoffed at it back in April when I read it but this week, I did it. I said out loud to god, THANK YOU because I my bills are paid and I am at peace.  I have not given significant energy to worrying about all the things that need to be done financially, I have not devoted my time to anxiety and here I find myself at peace.

Iyanla said that she is clairaudiant; that god allows her to hear beneath the words.  Ironically I told Mara the other day that I would try to explain to my (Counseling) students how to do this and they found it extremely difficult to do and couldn’t even understand what I wanted them to do.  I would ask them to listen to the tone, listen to the unsaid…how do you teach a gift? How did I not recognize it as a gift?

When I met with Dr. Green this week I told him the word I felt after his class was broken. I grappled with the words to explain my sentiments fully, I wanted for him to know that I was not broken in the sense that I was destroyed, I was broken in a way that I could now produce. Broken as dawn does the night sky. I am broken open and can give in a way that I couldn’t before because I did not even have the language to speak nor the voice to shout. I am broken and give light.  I am free in this. And it was not just his class…but I find that the place I was in, the place I am in touched me in such a ripe place. Iyanla was on a plane. I was in a chair in my classroom.  It is that moment when you are so intimately intertwined with the divine that you cannot help but to give in to the power of the present moment.

I have never experienced another moment as such.

Where would you have me go? What you have me do? What you have me say? To whom?

In the wake of my own surrender, I find those words…I find those words to be the prayer that I spoke through the words, “Thy will be done.”

I went to a dinner party this weekend and a friend of mine was explaining his understanding of his Muslim faith. He said something that resonated with me, “I am always in the process of becoming…” We are processes…we are always moving towards some end and away from another and the way that we should go (in my belief) is always towards one of immersion with the divine.

See, people think surrender looks like this

…but it really looks like this

Everything I’d been feeling, everything I thought, theorized, wondered about, questioned…it was validated.  And so I stand here open and in surrender asking those questions. Where would you have me go? What would you have me do?…and I will not hesitate. I will walk. I will trust. I feel so strongly my alignment with my purpose that a step in either direction not meant for me would be immediate samsara and right now I am choosing nirvana.  I am choosing nothing, everything, and god. I am choosing surrender.


Make your Life your Art

I was walking home having a conversation with myself, something that is not completely uncommon.  I was mulling over a conversation my advisor and I had about research and my desire to do more of it this year.  She suggested that I enroll in a class this fall centered around conducting research and preparing for an international leadership conference. Immediately I thought, “I can’t afford to take another class” because my scholarship pays for two per semester. I literally shook my head and said “NO! Jess you have to stop making money a barrier as to why you can’t do what you want to do.” My next thought was pretty brillz

What you give power, has power

Simple, yet right.on.the.money.  And why did it take until today for me to really really get that?  To understand that debt has power because I have given it power.  That inactivity has power because I give it power.  Or that my academic preparedness has power because I give it power.  It really clicked today that things have power because I willingly assign it.  I decided that I would add the class and I felt good about the decision, the money? It will come. I have truly grown tired of worrying about money.

Before I spoke with my advisor, I sat outside of the conference room waiting for her to prepare for a meeting. As I waited, I started reading a book called The Nature of Leadership.  Reading a story by a CEO about learning to listening another thought occured to me:

People don’t want to be lead.  People want to be understood.  Understand them, and they will come with you.

It was unedited and that thought is just what arose as I digested the CEO’s revelations about the necessity of listening to people.  Its just what I heard the other night…old familiar words but powerful none the less, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

  • The authors spoke of art and life…how throughout school the two were separate. There was time for learning, tools for success and then there was the extracurricular: art.  It was supplementary, not rudimentary.  Until he came across an artist who wove his passion for art in his home, his career, his volunteerism, his relationships.  It was an epiphany for him; life and art do not have to be separate.
  • I was watching a CBS special about this author who wrote a book about decision making entitled, “Wait”.  He spoke of waiting until the last possible minute to make a decision and it kind of speaks to Wheatley’s idea of clarity arising from chaos.  He used sports as an example, “sitting in the pocket” for football or tennis players waiting for the ball to come to you…its patience. Its waiting until the muddy water settles and things become clear, answers come organically and readily and our actions are not forced and we act with certainty. It is not always procrastination…it is acting from our Self who has not left room for doubt.

Cycling back to the second thought…I contemplated its truth. Is this true of my experience?  Well…isn’t that the entire premise around counseling? I reflect, I mirror, I show my clients that “I get them” and then together we head to a place that we have both agreed on. I am seen as the therapist, the facilitator but in fact I am not leading and clients are not following.

So if I can understand I can have a movement.  This is not to say that I cannot lead or I should not lead…but I believe it to be key in the execution of my leadership.  I have to understand people.  In the universe’s beautiful way…this happens to connect back to the book because it was partially authored by Steven Covey who listed “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” as one of the 7 habits of highly effective people.  Because when I can show people that I get them. I hear them. I see them. I know what is important to them. It is then that share vision, purpose and they will likely come. Why? Because they believe that because I get THEM I get IT.  At least that is my belief, and honestly my experience.

This came from reframing the way I understood my role…as a friend, as a daughter, as a student, teacher, counselor, etc.  This came from seeing the things that I did differently and as a result, they were different.  The process was different. It stopped being how can I make people better or how can I help people, to how can I understand them and what is there to learn?  That small shift makes such a big difference.  THAT is what allows me to, in those moments, sit in the pocket…to wait for the ball…to be patient because the clarity comes. People just need time.

See how great conversations with yourself can be?