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Walking in the Pain: Confessions of a Reluctant Creativity Coach

So here I am getting ready for a meeting with a client. It's cold, it's rainy, it's pretty miserable--but I am eager to embark on our "walk 'n talk" because the forest seems to bring about the most creative of ideas; the cool weather doesn't seem to cool down our passion. Already today I experimented in the kitchen with making hawthorn tea from berries and leaves that were harvested by our lovely Naturalist, Rebecca Marquardt, (the tea will be plant medicine in next month's "Heart Healing" breathwork). Later I will be reviewing my editing notes of a sexual shaman's 700-page book about sacred sexuality (that's A LOT about sex!!!).  And tonight I will be packing up magazines and scissors for a private intuitive collaging gathering.  How is it that these are my workdays now?  What happened to old boring Michele?

You see, I used to teach college writing and edit and write a little on the side. It was pretty comfortable; I actually worked in an office, taught in a computer lab, took home a regular paycheck, and came home in the evenings--you know, normal stuff like that. How did I go from reading college portfolios to leading transformative creativity workshops, facilitating breathwork meditation, and co-creating with the most fascinating people on earth?  I can tell you that I was kicking and screaming the whole way.

When I left academia and started Shamama, I thought I would just be running little writing workshops, helping clients write books, editing and writing on a freelance basis, and maybe doing those online writing seminars (oh, Google it: they're ubiquitous). I was going to call it "Writing with Purpose" or something dull like that. But I physically couldn't do it. Yes, physically. I was in the middle of ghostwriting a book for someone and thinking that I'd like to do this full time, so I was tossing around names for my little business. I was driving my car to pick up my son from school when the word "Shamama" came to me. I thought, "Oh, I'll look that word up later", but my hands steered me in the nearest parking lot so that I could look it up on my phone. It means the female embodiment of Buddha. Why would I name my little writing business that? I'm not even Buddhist! But, when I filed the LLC form, my hands typed "Shamama". And it just went on from there.

When I would try to create a workshop or offering that was out of alignment with my purpose, my hands would tremble and I would feel a hollowness in my stomach. My body would tell me, "Nope, try again!", and I would look inward for what I was supposed to truly create--and I would follow that wisdom instead. Have you ever had that happen? You think you want to go somewhere, but your feet feel so heavy you can't put your shoes on? Or maybe you are driving to work, but your hands want to steer you in the other direction? Or when you get light and tingly when you are researching something interesting? Or how about his one: you meet a person and feel as if you have known them forever and maybe even feel like you're floating or get goose bumps? What's all this about? It's about somatic awareness. When you are listening to your body, you are listening to your inner wisdom, and the more you do it, the louder the voice of your ancestral self, unconscious self, and higher self becomes so loud that you can't ignore it. Oh, my goodness, it is SO hard to follow that voice!

Call it Shamama! No!

Buy that old book by CJ Jung and study him! No!

Contact this person and ask her to facilitate! No!

Have your clients make mandalas! You mean those sacred designs? Why would I do that? Um, no!

Set up your client dates in the forest! They are going to think I'm unprofessional! No way!

Create a workshop where people play in the sand! Wait, I have to buy a bag of sand and have people play around with it while I drum and then they freewrite? What the heck? This is getting nuts!

But, I would buy the book, contact the person, traipse around the forest, and lug a five-pound bag of playground sand into a writing workshop, and it would be mind-blowing. What I realized is that I wasn't just a creativity coach for writers, I was moving people into unleashing their pure creative force--in every part of their lives: relationships, livelihoods, hobbies, living space, bodies, connection with nature, and even tapping into source energy. My clients experience the most profound insights, synchronicities and transformation with my methods (many of which I've never heard of anyone else in the world doing!).

Many of my clients, however, are taken aback by how powerful the work was and do not want to go further. They call it quits after one session. They say that a synchronicity is just a "coincidence". They resist the transformation. Believe me, I was scared once, too. Once you open up to embodied creativity, you realize you have to shed your patterns, your stories, your ego, and all that you believe about yourself to move into a whole new world of creative awareness thus creating a new you in possession of an open heart, a calm mind, and a peaceful soul. When we breathe into our bodies, listen to the wisdom, and proceed with faith that all will be well, the world is at our fingertips. It is no wonder that our private writing group is called "Writers at the Leading Edge".

And, when I hold space for others' transformation, I am transformed, and I am grateful for that. But, wow. These past three years have been a painful walk into the fire of burning up everything that isn't serving me.

Here I am on the left (sitting on the dais) facilitating breathwork with Marnie, Leah, and Nicolette for about 60 people at the Somatic Symposium at Frederick Meijer Gardens in April 2019. On the right is a photo of me taken in April 2013 (when I was teaching at Grand Valley State University) delivering a speech to 500 people in the exact same room on the same dais. What a long, strange, trip it's been!

Honesty, about once a month I tell my husband Andrew that I'm going to quit doing this work and go back to teaching because this work stretches me in directions that are painful. Every day I am co-creating with writers, co-healing with clients, attending trainings, reading books, and working on myself independently or with practitioners. And all of these experiences bring to the surface my demons, my faults, my failures. Every person, modality, or concept that comes into my life pulls a thread in the fabric of my life for me to examine and carefully weave back in. Nothing is off-limits in this work: sexuality, money, marriage, religion, politics, parenting, status, body image, nutrition, alignment with institutions, personality, ideology, values, purpose, past, future--everything! I never knew there were so many frayed threads; I never knew how to caress them back into their rightful place.

The hardest part was weaving myself, my story, my weaknesses, into the Shamama tapestry. That was physically PAINFUL. I mean, if you know me, you know I'm not exactly shy, but like most people, I don't exactly want you to know my shortcomings, painful past, and shadows either. I felt compelled to disclose the stories of losing my parents, going through trauma treatment, and revealing all of the sludge I had to wade through in my creative processes over the years. I would sweat and my heart would race thinking about writing or talking about it, but when I did, I would feel lighter in my body--my heart would leap out of my chest with joy that I am connecting in a real way. And when I was working with clients, my egoic mind told me to: "Be strong! Don't let them know that you don't know the answers! Don't let on that this work is opening some wounds or revelations!" But my inner wisdom would speak up in my body, and I would realign myself with an authentic presence. Once you get past the pain, there is beauty! Co-creating in honest space is far more powerful than having a "professional" relationship in which the coach is challenging the client to open to creativity and vulnerability, while staying closed herself.

The second hardest part was embracing my role as breathwork facilitator. It was such a leap for me. In no way did I want to embark on this journey. In fact, when our former facilitator, Dawn, was sick once, she asked me to fill in for her seeing as though I had been doing it for nearly a year. I declined, and canceled the session instead. And when she was headed back to Los Angeles, I didn't know of anyone trained in the area to replace her, so my conclusion was to end that programming. There was no way I was going to become a facilitator. For one thing: I am a spaz. I am not a calm, gentle person who speaks in a "mindful yogi" voice. I am a wild child with a dramatic bent. For another thing: I am broken and need the healing myself. How can I hold space for others, when I am healing from PTSD myself? And other thing: It's a bit woo-woo. Sure, breathwork opens people creatively, but it's also a new-age-y technique that requires essential oils, stones, shaman drumming, reiki energy work, sound healing, and even rattling people! Totally out of my comfort zone. And lastly: my body shows my brokenness for the world to see. I am not some skinny-mini yoga instructor. If you look at some of the facilitators in the area, they look like models in perfect athletic wear. Being overweight doesn't hinder a facilitator at all; it was just the embarrassment of sitting on a yoga mat in front of dozens of people, that was causing me sheer terror.

It was breathwork itself that guided me to this role. It was in the throes of active breathing that I had the epiphany: I must take it on! No worries about being imperfect: we are all human and my healing is their healing and their healing is my healing. My only job is to be myself and hold space for everyone else--and all good will come. And it has. Again and again, people report an opening to the possibilities of life, an embracing of their authentic self, a settling into a peaceful self, a creative impulse unlike anything else, and a connecting to a deep inner wisdom they never knew they had! And, in the end, I have become more peaceful, mindful, and compassionate with myself. I am no longer such a flibbertigibbet (I'll always be a little bit of a flibbertigibbet!)

My work isn't done. I'm still walking into the unknown, listening to my inner wisdom, and befriending my demons. (And, when you've experienced a lot of trauma, you've got a fair share of those.) But, the pay-off? Greater than anything I could have imagined that day I let my body take over and lead me into a parking lot to look up the word "Shamama". Greater than anything at all.

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