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Mindful : June 2017
But that doesn’t come easy. It takes a lifetime to heal from the toxic self- consciousness we all develop in school. But the good news is that’s why we’re here. You can begin when you decide to do anything that makes you feel enlivened again. You do it imper- fectly, two steps forward and one back. The hardest part is extending mercy to ourselves. To use a merciful voice with yourself when the work doesn’t go well or you’ve acted like an a--hole. Several years ago, Maria Shriver asked me to come to Los Angeles to take part in a women’s conference. I just loathed her husband, then- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I wrote, “Thank you so much, but I need to be honest and say that my work as an activist is mostly directed at your husband.” She replied, “Of course, I would never want you to be part of a conference when your feelings about my husband are so strong.” I thought to myself, “ What an a--hole, Annie.” So I threw myself at her mercy. I wrote, “I will not be able to express in words how contrite and full of exhausted fury I am with myself for having said something like that about your dear husband. I don’t expect for you to be able to forgive me, but please know that I noticed what I did and I’m humiliated by my behavior. God bless you both.” And she took me back in and we started over. In your book, Bird by Bird, I was taken by author Geneen Roth’s insight that awareness is learning to keep yourself company. Can you say more? The idea, especially for women and girls, is that you’re supposed to become great company. In the 50s and 60s, when all the power was in the hands of men, you wanted men to find you brilliant and entertaining. But doing that you lose connection with your own crazy, beauti- ful, mixed-up, obtuse self. Becoming friends with that person and looking in the mirror and saying “Hi” is the beginning of new life. It’s not I WANTED OUT FROM MY TOXIC OBSESSION WITH SELF. I HAD TO GET BUSTED LITTLE BY LITTLE. being full of yourself in the pejorative sense. It’s like, “ Wow, I’m full of myself, my little self, my higher self, and all the selves I’ve ever been.” What do you do to quiet your mind? [Deep sigh.] I pray a lot, I do meditation not very well, and I have certain things I say, like the prayer, “Lord, have mercy on me. Give me a break.” Usually the break I need is to go very, very easy on myself. To drop down to a more maternal place, instead of that clipped high school coach in my head who’s unhappy with me because I dropped the ball. Being in recovery for 30 years helped me clear out a lot of that garbage and self-loathing. There’s a famous saying in recovery, “ You’re as sick as your secrets,” and I absolutely believe that. I don’t keep secrets because this jungle drum starts beating inside me. I always spill the beans. Before I got sober, I converted to Christianity. And that came, as so many things do, from my exhaustion with being the way I was. I wanted out from my toxic obsession with self. I had to get busted little by little. My mind is classically alcoholic. Half of it thinks everything’s going great, and the other half says the jig is up and they’re going to find out what a loser I am. Without dropping down out of my head, without meditation, without prayer, it’s like a Ping-Pong game in there. It’s partly about dropping down, but it’s also about stepping back and letting things get bigger and more spacious, so I’m not caught in this cramped, clenched fist of a mind. Just relaxing the thinking muscle and breathing down into my heart space. Once you start breathing, you can get your sense of humor back. Then you’re halfway home. How has working with your heart and mind affected your writing? With writing, I don’t talk about inspiration much. I talk about showing up and just doing it. I never feel like writing. Ever. So I have a lot of tricks. I give myself very short assign- ments and write godawful first drafts. And I use bribes. Once my butt is in the chair, if I write for 45 minutes, I get to take the dogs to the park or watch the news at the top of the hour. One thing I’ve learned about writing is that you have to stay with it. If you do that, it will let you know what it needs to be. The most important thing is to keep your butt in the chair. Then something will shift. Something will get back to you. That’s the secret of life: Be where your butt is. ● Lamott’s novels and non-fiction books speak to wonder and the human heart, and are “concerned with real lives.” Here’s a selection: June 2017 mindful 71