How many times in the course of your life have you felt like you lost your groove? The ups and downs of the pandemic have many of us yearning to feel like our old selves. It’s a common thread among humans on life’s journey (they even made a whole movie about it starring Angela Bassett).
Darnell Walker has been thinking about groove reclamation (can we call it that?) quite a bit. In fact, he’s been teaching how to get your groove back — through writing — as the current teacher in residence. A former writer for Blues Clues on Nickelodeon, Walker discovered, in part during his time at Esalen, that his life calling is to create content that allows all children to see themselves. He’s expressed that as a writer, a filmmaker, and an artist.
We asked him to give us a peek at what’s been happening in his campus writing sessions. It turns out, that groove reclamation and good stories come in threes.
By Darnell Lamont Walker
Without lowering our heads, looking away, fiddling with pen caps, or grinding our teeth, let’s all admit together that we can’t find some of our groove – for some, a smidgen. For others, the whole enchilada. Perhaps, we think, it’s somewhere in the back of that comfy couch, mixing with the loose change, or perhaps we left it in that bathroom stall at work in which we find ourselves hiding for a breather. We look for that missing groove like batteries or tools or bulbs we know we’ve just seen; and, like those sunglasses we eventually find sitting on the top of our heads, or the cell phone that’s been in our hands throughout the entire search, we realize it wasn’t lost. We’ve simply forgotten how to look.
Leading the Rituals Writing Workshop as a teacher in residence, I’m reminding guests how to look, which often begins with reaffirming ourselves as creatives, as artists, as writers, and as good people. So often, we remember the lights that used to shine so brightly – before the rat race, before the high demands of the world, before someone told us our lofty and mercurial dreams seemed silly – and we wonder how long it’s been since they blew out. We wonder how long we’ve been listening to that voice that pops in our heads when we think about our old groove to say “yeah, but you’re not that good,” or “how dare you think positively of your talents?”
I’ve challenged those who’ve come into the workshop to have the audacity to call themselves a writer. Magic begins there, and we find that the lights haven’t blown out, they’ve merely been dimmed a little. It’s now time to pull out the journal. Next, I challenge them to reaffirm themselves by writing what it is they need to hear to get that flame even higher. Here is where we see smiles begin, returning to so many of the faces who had no idea what to expect out of an hour-long workshop. And hey! We’re only 10 minutes in at this point, swaying a little, but not fully in the groove just yet.
“Tell me your story in three sentences,” I say. Think about your past and who you are today. Think about how you arrived at this point. Maybe there’s been a theme, maybe a relationship brought you here. Maybe it was a beautiful journey, but maybe it was painful. What was it?
“My kids have grown and flown the coop. My dog’s spending more time at the neighbor’s. My bed is empty.”
“I’ve found sobriety, but now I’m extremely exhausted. These regrets are finding me hard to live with. And I hate them equally.”
In the next five minutes, in those three sentences, and no more, write your life story. Those smiles fade a little as the pens hit the paper, but the flame is growing. There’s something in those heads that’s been wanting to get out and now the opportunity’s come. So many need more time, and that’s fine, because it often means they’ve gotten into that zone… that groove.
“Those three sentences are where we will begin,” I say. Knowing where to start is the hardest part of getting back into that groove and maintaining it. This exercise forces us to start with self, the thing we, perhaps, know most about. Or maybe we know the least, and that's why we're on this journey.
In those journals, we carry on:
With that three-sentence life story in mind, choose one of the following to begin this 20-30 minute journaling exercise.
For some, this exercise comes years after their last piece or writing, for others, just a few hours, but for all, it’s an exercise that shows them the importance of writing our own story – the past and the present which absolutely inform our futures. We’re even able to use this journaling and this writing to change the narrative if we feel. We’ve found a groove.
The feedback with this has been tearful, but incredibly beautiful. I’ve been stopped by guests who want to share their works after class and others who want to tell me how I’ve helped them turn up the brightness. Some have even uncovered a path toward healing. That’s what journaling can do. It helps us heal. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes at the top of the morning. It unblocks us and moves us forward.
If you’ve done the life story prompt, I encourage you to try these next:
Write a letter to your imagination. Write!
“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.”
“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.
What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?
Join Darnell in his next self-guided program and write your story: Rituals of Esalen, August 23-27, 2021.