Now, let’s continue with more lessons about how to Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams.
SLW: I’m definitely practicing. And that goes along with having compassion for yourself and realizing that the negative conditions that were put on us with society, we inherited, for most of us it’s been years, decades, of that kind of negative thinking.
NS: Oh, generations! And the news is so full of all the negativity all the time.
SLW: Yeah, it definitely takes a lot of effort to steer away from it.
NS: Let me say too, Sarah, though, that I’ve observed that more and more people are waking up to the spiritual truths of what we’re talking about. They’re waking up to the inner self. They’re waking up to the fact that there’s more than all the material stuff. It doesn’t satisfy. There’s more to life than all the acquisitions. That to me is very hopeful. And more and more books are appearing, and just the fact that you are interested in my book, the fact that I wrote it, the fact that I had the desire to write it, the fact that somebody published it. And we’re not the only ones. In the interviews and websites of literary agents, many, many times the subjects they specify include self-help and New Age. They actually say “New Age.” Sometimes they say “Mind-Body-Spirit,” You never used to see that. That to me also is extremely hopeful.
SLW: Speaking of the agents and people publishing, as a writer and a blogger who someday hopes to have a book, I’m curious about the writing process. Would you say that writing this specific book, or writing in general, takes courage? Does it take courage to be a writer?
NS: I would say that the description of writing as a courageous act sometimes depends on the writer, maybe on the content. I think of an attorney who writes a book about briefs that all attorneys must write.,The writing may not be very courageous. Let’s say she knows the topic well, she has outlines already designed, her firm endorses the book, even gives her time off to write it, and she already has a legal publisher lined up.
In contrast, think about an aspiring fiction writer who’s a school teacher and writes about her abusive childhood. This writing may be extremely courageous. Why? She dreads reliving the horrific memories, for one thing. She’s afraid that those who were involved who are still alive may hate her and vilify her, and she feels the book may not have much chance of getting published, maybe in an overcrowded field. Yet her insides tell her she must write it. To me, every time she works on it, she’s performing a courageous act.
Maybe I should correct even the attorney example, because whatever the subject, writing a book is generally living in a state of creative limbo. You have to make a thousand decisions every moment. If you don’t make them the first moment, you make them the second, third, fourth draft. Even formulaic book writing, such as mystery, adventure, espionage, romance, takes that same kind of courage. Some writers, we know, do extensive outlines and character sketches. Mary Higgins Clark, the romance mystery writer, writes full biographies of all her characters before she even starts a book. Well, with outlines or not, the courage of the writer is really to jump off into the unknown. Maybe Higgins Clark writes those biographies to give her a sense of the known.
There’s a poem I love by the American poet Richard Wilbur. I’ve often quoted two lines from it, and to me they’re a writer’s mantra. Listen to this: “Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind. Something will come to you” (from the poem “Walking to Sleep”). That takes courage.
SLW: That does! It sounds frightening.
NS: Maybe, though, we get used to that unknown a little bit, to that feeling of “jumping off.”
SLW: It’s almost like skydiving. I imagine that the first time for anyone is terrifying. But the more you do it, you probably still feel a thrill, but it’s less scary each time.
NS: Right. Also the more we do it, the more we have faith in the process. There’s a Unity saying, ”Trust the process.” Part of the process may be that you start out like this: “Oh, my god, I’m so afraid of the blank page, the cursor blinking at me, mocking me.” But you put down two things. You know it’s terrible. Then make yourself put down two things more, and you gradually get into the flow.
SLW: So did this specific book require courage from you? Would you say Trust Your Life required courage?
NS: Of course. What do you think? Is that a rhetorical question?
SLW: It is, but I want to hear it in your own words instead of imagining what you would say.
NS: In many ways it required courage to write. From the standpoint of what I just described, I knew I had to write it. Yet, I still spent days under the covers, figuratively and literally, trying to avoid it and knowing I couldn’t. I finally snuck up on it, and developed several different tables of contents and chapter outlines. Then I changed them several times. As I kept looking and thinking, they didn’t really connect what I wanted to say. Sometimes they went off into flights of irrelevancies, or everything became too protracted. As you can see, I’m wordy. And even after the book was accepted, at a late editing stage, I divided a chapter that was ridiculously long into two and deleted another. That’s part of that whole process of creative limbo.
Another thing that took courage was that I thought I had to explain or justify every spiritual principle I referred to. (I couldn’t escape my academic upbringing.) That’s why the book has so many endnotes. It required much research and web combing. And I must say the publisher and the editors were wonderful about even catching me in some of the citations and lack of them and wanted more, which is interesting because this publisher is not an academic publisher. But they accepted what I needed to do and even prompted me to do more and to do better.
The book also required courage in relation to the points you talk about in one of your blogs. The excellent, Sarah, one called “21 Fears That Will Kill Your Dreams if You Let Them” (2013). You remember that one, don’t you? You quote Marianne Williamson, who incidentally is a very big proponent and explainer of the Course in Miracles, about the fear of our own greatness. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us” (A Return to Love, p. 190). As we let our own light shine and overcome our fears, she says, we give permission for others to do similarly. So this idea comes back to my initial impetus for the book—to break through my own fears and help others do the same.
Another fear that took courage for me with Trust Your Life, as you also point out in your “21 Fears,” was that of being seen. I’m introspective like so many of us, and I’ve always had the oxymoronic twin emotions of desire for fame and fear of being seen. So coming out, so to speak, in a literary and publicity sense, took courage.
Another related fear was of self-disclosure, telling my story. It certainly wasn’t as dramatic as someone in an abusive or incestuous relationship, but did I really want everyone to know I was a typist? That I hardly used my overeducation for a long time? People may not know that I have a doctorate from Columbia University, and I’ve also for many years been an editor and consultant to doctoral candidates completing their dissertations. Now, I didn’t get to that for quite a while. I started typing. Today and for a long time, I have been using my overeducation, but I didn’t for quite a few years. Also, did I want readers to know I struggled with writing and not publishing for so long? That I didn’t make a literary splash at twenty like some peers of mine? All of those were considerations. I’m sure you know we have to have the courage to put ourselves out there on the page. Unless we’re writing fantasy, but that’s another discussion.
And finally, writing the book and taking all those steps to publishing meant I had to overcome another rather large fear that I wrote about in a guest blog on Pen and Prosper. That essay is called “Deserving our Writing Dreams” (March 29, 2013). Maybe it’s paradoxical, but how can we stand deserving what we really say we want and maybe have lived and worked for our whole lives? How could I stand the joy of writing what I wanted to, not knowing it would get published anywhere, or reach any hearts, or make any money? It’s that delicious, chocolate-covered -cherry joy of doing it. Could I stand that kind of happiness? Did I deserve it? The answer continues to be Yes, but know I’m working on a more resounding YES. That takes the ultimate courage.
SLW: Those are things that people don’t normally think about, but when you point them out, they’re true. The courage to enjoy something when so much of the world is telling us that life is supposed to be hard. You’re supposed to be miserable, and how dare you take a vacation? So what you’re saying is absolutely true.
NS: Right. Especially when you’ve had the desire to do what you love all your life, and you’ve gone in other directions. Then you finally say, I’ve had enough. I want to come back, I must come back. You said that, did you not, when you changed careers?
SLW: Yes, I did. Especially with writing, people tell you you’re not supposed to set your own schedule. You’re supposed to go to work unhappy everyday like everybody else does.
So now we’re going to tackle a pretty big question. A lot of people think this is one of those questions that can’t ever really be answered. But if you would like to try, how would you define courage, and along with that, how would you define courageous content?
NS: Wow. You’re merciless. Well, I see your own blogs on courage, and they really are profound, Sarah. As you and others have proved, I think courage is sometimes not doing, as you with letting go of teaching. Or, as in relationships, it’s not harping at or correcting a partner. Sometimes courage is letting oneself feel emotions, horrible or joyful, instead of shutting them out with surface activities or concerns. I know that we touched on it earlier, but I would say more universally, courage is doing what we clearly fear doing, especially when our first reaction is this: “I couldn’t possibly do that.”
For example, I used to be afraid to speak to a store manager about an unsatisfactory product. I would lie awake nights rehearsing what I’d say and work up to it by degrees. As I kept doing it, it got easier. Now I complain without a second thought.
Courage, I think, is doing what you must for your own self-assertion, you sense of self, your sense of deserving, your soul, your life purpose, the complete use of your talents, and your happiness.
Again, the examples can be displayed in different ways: apologizing after you’ve given an elaborate dissertation on why you were right, talking back about your real feelings, returning a library book after two years and facing up to the fines, putting back the pen from the office you stashed into your pocket, and, of course, taking even a first step toward your dream.
We haven’t talked much about that subtitle of the book, but almost everything about the book or in it is focused on helping people reach and achieve what they really, really, really want to do, whether they know it at this moment or not. And if they don’t know it, the book is full of exercises and tools to help them get there. All of that takes courage, maybe even to read such a book and do a few of the exercises.
When your Inner Voice harangues and prods you, you know you must do it, despite all the rational reasons, the economic bottom lines, the relatives’ headshaking, and maybe the friends imploring you even to grow up. Again, I admire you, Sarah, for taking that step.
I would recommend a career coach who’s well known now. She’s highly inspirational, and she’s a spiritual life coach as well—Tama Kieves. She had the ultimate courage and describes it in her first book. Consider this title: This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love So here she was, having graduated from Harvard with honors, having become a big-time corporate lawyer with a big-time income in a big-time firm, and she was miserable. She quit and became gradually the life and career coach that she is now. She’s been at it for many years, and her writing and seminars are just terrific. She has a second book out now too, and I encourage people to explore her material (www.tamakieves.com).
So, to define courageous content, as you asked: Again as you observe in your own work, it’s writing about or saying what your first impulse or reaction is to hide, ignore, or deny.
SLW: Those are extremely profound answers. I think we have gotten so much value just in this short time that we’ve been able to talk. So I want to end with a more personal question, and ask you this: Would you say that all your dreams have come true at this point? If not, what are you still dreaming about? And considering that you talk in the book about living as though we already are where we want to be, is that even a valid question?
NS: My dreams have not all come true. I believe with another New Age teaching that happens to be an energy and entity called Abraham (www.abraham-hicks.com), as well as anthropologists and sociologists and psychologists, is that built into the human is the constant desire and striving for improvement, creativity, development, and accomplishment. So, when one of my dreams is fulfilled, and even before, such as publishing a non-fiction book like this, or publishing articles, I’m creating another dream. And my next dream, and this takes courage, I have to tell you, because I’ve been avoiding it, is writing and publishing novels. Fiction was always my first love. So, as the dream of writing more has manifested and balanced more with my client work, the dream of writing even more is worked on.
Your question about living as though we already are where we want to be is certainly valid, and maybe produces a paradox. That is, having goals and living in the present don’t have to be contradictory. I like what the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says in The Power of Now. We seem to be living in internal and external worlds of internal and external realities. So living in the Now means not ruminating about the past or fearfully or excitedly anticipating the external future. That doesn’t rule out goals, though.
Living in the now means, as Tolle says, “You will not have illusory expectations that anything or anybody in the future will save you or make you happy” (The Power of Now, p. 69). That’s the trouble so often with goal orientation and acting “as if.” You know, the “when-then” habit: When I get famous, rich, married, lose ten pounds, then I’ll feel good, deserving, important, and on and on.
Tolle also points out, as many spiritual teachers have, that when we live in the Now and as if we are complete and whole and do what we love with complete emotional and spiritual investment, the so- called future takes care of itself. So in the present, as we feel internally famous, rich, loved, deserving now, that’s what we become externally, again in the Now.
One of the big lessons for all of us is that the internal governs the external. Our minds, our thoughts, our emotions govern and, I’ll even go as far as saying, create our external experiences. This may be difficult for a lot of people to take. Oh it’s just luck! Life happens! I totally reject those declarations and beliefs because we are creators of our experiences. And as Louise Hay says, “It’s only a thought.” We can change our experience with thoughts. As we fulfill our internal desiresand leanings by doing what we love and being fully conscious, even when there might be a time lag, we cannot help but experience the fruition.
That’s how we reach, enjoy, and savor our dreams.
SLW: Excellent. So, that is all for the interview. Dr. Noelle. I love the book and enjoyed the interview just as much. It was great to actually get to talk to you and have a conversation. I’m sure that whoever hears this interview or reads the transcribed version is going to find a lot of value from that. Hopefully they’ll go a step further and get the book for themselves and check out the other books and authors that you’ve mentioned. If you have any closing remarks that you’d like to say, please do, and then we’ll say goodbye for now.
NS: I thank you, Sarah, for your appreciation, your understanding, and your thrust and your desire to know and know and know. Your questions are penetrating and important. I know you’ll reach whatever you want to and fulfill your potential. So, it’s been a true pleasure to be with you today.
I’m happy to answer any questions through your site, that people may have about today’s interview or the book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams. And I invite visits to my website www.trustyourlifenow.com
Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne writes fiction and nonfiction, publishing over 300 pieces published in print and online venues, including Funds for Writers, Pen and Prosper, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, ReadLearnWrite, Women on Writing, Transformation Magazine, 11.11, and Unity booklets.Her monthly column, “Bloom Where You’re Writing,” appears in Coffeehouse for Writers. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally), with a psychological-spiritual handbook in progress. In her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books; one of ten best 2011 ebooks), she draws examples from her practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. See Noelle’s website: www.trustyourlifenow.com. With Trust Your Life, Noelle appears in the Unity Books 2013 “Summer of Self-Discovery” on Goodreads with two other authors of positive messages for discussions and free webcasts here. Starting in May 2013, Noelle will be one of five featured authors on Author Magazine’s ongoing blog, exploring writing, creativity, and spirituality.