Experiments in Truth: The Salon – On Asking, Reframing, and Imagining New Stories for Ourselves

stay-true-to-yourself-the-living-roomLast Sunday, 10 women gathered at TLR headquarters to talk about “Experiments in Truth.” It was TLR’s third Salon, and it felt like we were in a nest – a deep blue room filled with sparkling lights and libations and a fabulously cool and generous group!

The Salon was inspired by a quote from Gandhi, and it captures an idea I love of “living at curiosity” – to be willing to test drive new roads and try on new ways of thinking. And we did!

My hope with this Salon was to encourage all to:

  • Reframe what we hold to be truth
  • Have a different and better conversation with yourself
  • Read new signals – uncover new truths
  • Experiment more
  • Share great company

Here’s a brief recap, a few highlights and a couple of takeaways.

Prior to Sunday, I sent everyone a brief essay on mindsets. We looked at living “at cause” and living “at effect” and how (depending on the mindset you default to) mindsets can inform and impact your sense of adventure, control, and curiosity. (hint: you want to be “at cause.”)

We led off with a classic psych puzzle called the “9 Dots.” (Go on, give it a whirl).

Below is an arrangement of nine dots.
You are to connect up all the dots by making four straight lines without lifting your pencil and without retracing along any line.

9 dot puzzle

Did you get it?  Only one of us did! There is a solution, but likely not what you expected. The idea was to challenge assumptions and help us expand beyond our habitual ways of seeing and thinking.  (Message me if you want the solution!) It was a great way to shake up our brains and get on to Meanings: Experiments and Truth.

How do we decide what’s “true?” Do we open the doors to experimentation enough in life?

We used writing prompts and story editing exercises to shift how we tell ourselves “truths,” reflecting on the core stories we use to describe who we are and how we experience the world.

Then we conducted a mini “truth” audit, using a graphic  “Wheel of Life” containing 8 aspects of life such as career, relationships, money.  We scored each area then talked about what new “truths” or feelings and needs could be more fully expressed in any area.

We’ve all gotten so connected 24/7 that it seems most of us hardly stop at all to go deep and ask ourselves the most important and personal questions.  It’s like we’re all online, but lonelier than ever. Sending out signals, but only hearing noise.

card-deckFor all this, we turned to (and all fell in love with) a fantastic tool created by executive coach Maria DeCarvalho – two card decks of “feelings” and “needs” words.

What is calling you forward? What has your attention and intrigue? What is your heart and soul asking you to follow?

We looked at Desire lines: Curiosities, and Intrigue – a dive into the people, places, styles, and experiences we were being drawn toward; asking ‘how might we pay closer attention to those faint signals trying to grab our attention?’ Are these signals an indication of possible new experiments to undertake? As life coach Martha Beck says,

Any little desire, so long as you truly feel it, will get you started on the path toward your destiny.

Next, we examined Finding our Vein of Gold. What are the “typical” truths we default to when we refer to ourselves? Those “Yeah, I’m always doing (fill in the blank); and “I’m never (fill in the blank).

We tell a lot of stories about ourselves because that’s “just” what we’ve always done, not because it is good for us or empowers us.

wabi-sabi-bowl-with-goldenWe looked at finding gold (learning) in stories of difficulty. We talked a bit about the Japanese concept of wabi sabi – of beauty in imperfection. And in finding a vein of gold in the stories that felt broken.

And finally, we did a powerful story sharing exercise suggested by Maria in which we spent a moment in silence recalling a time from the past week that was somehow emblematic of what our lives felt like ‘right now.’ With card decks in hand, we split into groups of three; shared the stories, and reflected back to one another how that story might be interpreted and reframed. When we regrouped as one, people were blown away by what new words (new truths) had been given to them – and how powerfully their stories had shifted. As Maria teaches:

Your feelings are indicators of what’s working and what’s not working. Your needs tell you what is happening or not happening.

The evening wrapped up with a guided meditation to help everyone visualize “future you” who has already achieved any new truths or goals discovered during the Salon.

salon-popcornAnd then it was a wrap, and we were off into the snowy night – hearts and minds full of new ideas, new conversations, and new friends.

I’ll be announcing the next Salon series early next week!  Until then, happy weekend!

As always, love to hear from you in the comments.  

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10 Years Beyond Leukemia: Betsy Fenik On Gratitude and Amazement

Last April, photographer Betsy Fenik graced our stage at Living Room Stories v4: Wisdom To My Younger Self. On Monday of last week (Groundhog Day, no less!), Betsy marked the 10 year anniversary of her bone marrow transplant, and shared this reflection with me:

Ten years  beyond leukemia and a bone marrow transplant I look back at the past decade with amazement and gratitude. The act of surviving seemed to be a huge accomplishment and the attainment of a goal, but now I see that it was only the beginning of the journey. Last year I spoke about “things I would tell my younger self” and those things have never seemed truer. Recognizing and claiming my power and strength has led me to a life that I am really LIVING. I am thankful and excited to see what the future holds.

Watch Betsy’s incredible and inspiring story below, and be sure to leave a word or two in the comments below. I am so very grateful that Betsy came into my life as a dear friend, trusted walking companion, and chronicler of life and laughter. XO

Crossing The Threshold to 2015: Five Questions From Parker Palmer

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Photo by Narayan Mahon

I adore Parker Palmer - part sage, part teacher, part poet, all wisdom. Palmer is a  world-renowned writer, speaker and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. Parker holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, as well as eleven honorary doctorates, two Distinguished Achievement Awards from the National Educational Press Association, and an Award of Excellence from the Associated Church Press. In 2010, Palmer was given the William Rainey Harper Award whose previous recipients include Margaret Mead, Elie Wiesel, and Paolo Freire. In 2011, he was named an Utne Reader Visionary, one of “25 people who are changing your world.”

The founder of The Center for Courage and Renewal in Seattle, Palmer’s books have long graced my bookshelves and provided deep guidance for me and many thousands of other devoted fans and followers.

In hindsight, I think I can honestly say that Palmer’s work and wisdom inspired at least a piece of The Living Room’s founding mission – that is – to bring people together in analog time, in close community, to support and learn from one another through stories, conversation, and deep listening. Throughout his teachings, Parker draws from the Quaker tradition of “Circles of Trust,” a practice encompassing deep listening, open-ended asking, and reverence for silence as individuals embark on their unique journeys toward personal meaning.  Of these circles – which remind me so much of TLR’s intimate Salons and Living Room Stories – he reflects,

“The only guidance we can get on the inner journey comes through relationships in which others can help us discern our leadings.”

What’s not to love there?  So when I recently came upon an interview between Palmer and Krista Tippett, host of the Peabody award-winning public radio conversation “On Being,” I dropped everything to listen in on their chat. First, Palmer cites a poem by Ann Hillman:

We look with uncertainty

by Anne Hillman

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.

And from that reading, (and eschewing traditional “resolutions”) Palmer offers us 5 questions to ask ourselves as we consider how we want to grow “crossing the threshold” to 2015:

• How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness?
• What is my next challenge in daring to be human?
• How can I open myself to the beauty of nature and human nature?
• Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
• What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?

How would you answer these?   I asked my own New Year’s questions here, in “14 Days to Grateful” and I love Palmer’s similar pursuit of emotional transformation – vs. simply devising goals around material gain.  I’m particularly intrigued by #4 – who or what do I need to learn or love next, so I’ll be writing away on these in tomorrow’s journal pages, and until next time, would love to hear what you think in the comments.

To dive deeper, read Palmer’s work here.  Explore “On Being” here. And learn more about Daring Greatly here.

Throw the Radio Down the Basement Stairs: On Fear, Toddlers, and Starting That Big Project

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Way back in 2004 when I was just starting to play music again, I had to face the considerable learning curve of buying equipment and learning to record. I was struggling to find time to play with 3 kids, but in reality, the fear of playing at all, seemed like a gigantic time suck of craziness. My friend Sandra, an amazing artist, also feared her project was “just too big.” There is this mechanism that kicks in and says, “who are you kidding? or “it’s all just too grandiose – too big.” And we get gripped with that paralyzing fear that comes along with taking a big leap – or a big project idea – seriously.

Being a mother’s a rather serious endeavor, but I never had those “get your foot on the brakes” moments with them like I used to do so often with myself.  But you don’t give birth to a fully developed happy adult do you?   You conceive an idea. On blind faith you go forward with support from those you love and trust. You have this baby – a beautiful bundle of potential with no direction, no logic, and no linear path to the finish line. And you launch yourself and her out into the river – and you dedicate yourself day and endless nights to this concept. You try, you fail. You teach, you learn. You evolve together as you try to imprint this person with qualities and experiences that will help them develop. You never see the finish line. You mark the baby steps. You hug the newborn. You hug the toddler. You adore the sick child. You cry when she is hurt. You rejoice in watching her make the tiny steps forward that you know mark the path of development and growth.

Never do you curse your little one or his potential or dreams by saying “just too big” or “why the hell bother?”  You never sow the seeds of doubt because you know how cruel and crippling it would be for that tiny hopeful, yearning-to-become of a person.

Everyday we treat our kids as our beloved creations, which of course they are. We search for the endless possibilities. We hopefully nurture their unlimited power to evolve, to change direction, try and fail and try again. We must treat our adult selves the very same way. With the same patience and compassion, and ideally, a gigantic heaping dose of humor thrown in to lighten up the whole enterprise.  We must show our parents and our children that we are still evolving, even in these grown-up bodies and baggage-laden brains. We’re still learning. Still flowing with ideas and creativity looking for an outlet. That’s the life force that will keep us forever present and forever curious and creating and adventuring forth even on the days you realize your hips are kind of sore and oh, your eyes can’t read as well.  But you say screw it and you go for it.  You chase it like you have no tomorrow.

And your kids watch, and I think they are cheering you on too, just like you did for them when they were little.  You’ve built this little eco-system of creative support.  You’ve slain the beast called giving lip service to your creativity, and you are actually showing up  to do the hard work of the daily grind. The writing, the music, the art.  And when the left half of your brain starts broadcasting  “too big” you just change the station. Or better yet, throw the radio down the basement stairs.  You learn to talk to yourself like you would talk to that toddler. And hey, that gives you courage and you take a few more baby steps.  And in the end, maybe you’ll have that song or you’ve made that piece of furniture or you’ve directed that film no one said was possible.  You learn to trust that whatever your madass mind can imagine – it can create.  And you shake hands with fear and get out the sketchbook, and start all over.

Backstories: Lisa Tener on Bringing Your Book To Life


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The Living Room (TLR): Is it important to be able to tell a story in a how-to or self-help book? Why or why not? 

LT: There are always exceptions to the rule, but you’ll find that more than 95% of the bestselling self-help books tell stories, maybe more. You can certainly tell your own story – and your book can be a self-help book with a strong memoir element. For example, Anne Burnett’s award-winning self-help book, Step Ahead of Autism contains even more memoir than how-to. It’s a powerful book about what parents can do in terms of the parent’s own personal growth to be the best parent they can be for their autistic child. She wasn’t an expert in the sense of being a therapist or nutritionist or doctor. So, by relying on her extremely compelling and inspiring story of how she parented her son, Joey, (who went from being severely autistic to becoming valedictorian of his class and graduated from Brown University), she made the material come alive, and also added credibility to the tools and lessons she provided for readers.

If you’re an expert in your field, people want to read about the people you’ve helped, not just your story. This can be difficult if you want to preserve your clients’ privacy, especially if you are a doctor or therapist. I recommend disguising or even combining stories and then including a disclaimer that the anecdotes in the book are inspired by true stories of your clients but are composite of many clients and none is an actual client. Then change some of the details for each client in each story.


My clients imagine traveling a path through a meadow and into the woods where their inner muse, or creative source, is waiting for them”


TLR: How do you help writers and aspiring authors get in touch with their stories?

One way we get into touch with creative elements in general is that I do a guided visualization with writers that I call “meet your muse.” During it, they imagine traveling a path through a meadow and into the woods where their inner muse, or creative source, is waiting for them. Then we ask questions of the muse. We’ll be doing that exercise on January 18 at the free workshop.

An exercise we use for self-help books is to use index cards to list the points they want to make that can be illustrated by a story and then add the stories when they are ready. I also encourage people to go through scrapbooks or photos to remember the past in more detail.

TLR: What lessons did you learn about bringing a story to life when writing anecdotes for your first book?

LT: I learned that the quirky details make a story come alive – the quirkier the better. And to use all 5 (or 6) senses when writing. Not for every anecdote, but to mix it up, so that it’s not all about the visual.  I think – I hope –  that I write better anecdotes than I did ten years ago. I think I’ve become a better writer. SO, it’s always a little hard to look objectively at a book you wrote some time ago.

TLR: What do you know now, as a blogger and author that you wish you knew then?

I know how to tighten my writing, to get rid of unnecessary words. I know to read aloud. I’m not sure I did that with my first book. I co-authored that book and one thing we did was to mix up addressing the reader as “you” and “we.” I now know that it’s best to stay in the expert voice, in general and address readers as “you,” even though it’s a female tendency to want to empathize and find connection, even as a writer.

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TLR: What are some of the things you typically tell your students to do in order to make their stories more compelling?

I often keep asking for more details in their stories. Dialogue can help make something come alive, but most people need to learn to write dialogue. Good dialogue is short. You need to read it aloud so it sounds conversational. Many writers forget that almost everyone uses contractions when they speak. Most new writers don’t use contractions in their dialogue, which makes it stilted.

TLR: Are there tricks to help writers remember details of a story from the past?

Definitely going through scrapbooks and photos to spur your memory. Journals help too, if you’ve kept them – which I of course recommend. Or simply close your eyes and pretend you’re there again. One of my Bring Your Book to Life  Program participants went back to the house he grew up in and asked the current owners for permission to videotape from room to room, which they let him  do. He also interviewed relatives.

TLR: What is the biggest thing holding people back from sharing their stories?

Fear. For one, we fear the events of the past impacting us again the way they impacted us the first time. The thing to tell yourself is that what happened in the past is over. It can’t hurt you now. I recommend that if you are writing about something painful, have a plan for what you will do before and after to take care of yourself. Make sure you have uplifting activities and accountability. Don’t go back there alone – take your wisest, strongest self with you when you visit.


Telling our stories often brings insight. With insight, we can change our habits of thought and our behaviors and create a more happy and fulfilling life.”


Another fear is fear of how people will respond to you. There may be shame around the past or shame around being seen and heard. You may have been told as a child to be quiet and not express yourself. So you’re going against all you learned when you were little.  And there’s even fear of success. It’s all about fear. And you show up anyway.

If you’re afraid that some people will be angry about what you write, you can place a disclaimer in your book or blog that this is your recollection and that others may remember it differently. And you may want to show a passage to a person you  mention in your book before they read it in the book, before it’s ever published. But you have to be ready to hear them tell you not to mention them. You have to know ahead of time how you plan to respond.

TLR: How does telling your story change you for the better?

LT: Telling our stories often brings insight. With insight, we can change our habits of thought and our behaviors and create a more happy and fulfilling life. There’s also something healing in telling our stories, as the research of James Pennebaker and others has proven. Sharing our stories helps us connect with people–whether it’s one-on-one or with readers. And, lastly, our stories can help others. And helping others makes life more fulfilling.

TLR: Any final words of advice? 

LT: People often want to write a book but keep putting it off and then it never happens. Just take the first step. Write  a little every day or every week. Set aside specific time for writing. I often write with a friend because that ties me in more than just committing to myself. In fact, I’ll be writing with you and Laura soon. I can’t wait! So take the first step and find ways to be accountable. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you write something – it never is. That’s what editors are for!

TLR: Thanks so much, Lisa!  I’m really looking forward to writing with you in 2015!

LT:  Thank you, Deb!

Lisa Tener has two free writing events coming up and you are invited. To join Lisa’s upcoming free webinar “Bring Your Book to Life in 2015″ this Thursday, January 15,  click the image below.  
E-mail Lisa  for information and directions for “Get Writing in 2015″ – a free writing workshop on 
January 18 in Narragansett, RI.
Sponsored by The Living Room

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Complement this reading with “Why I Journal;” Ann Lamott’s gorgeous tome on writing, Bird by Bird; and this inspiring live story by photographer Betsy Fenick on what cancer taught her about owning her own power.

Will You Experiment With the Truths you Tell Yourself? New Salon, Feb. 8

It’s back!  The next TLR Salon, and the theme is “Experiments in Truth.”  What that really means is, asking yourself if the “truths” you are ascribing to and living by are really pulling you in the direction of your most empowered, actualized self. We’ll break open our minds and see how we can look at things differently, leading you to new ways of acting, leading, and creating the life story you really want to star in.

Read on, and either email me to let me know you’re interested or go to the Contact page to reserve a seat!  Here’s to going bigger, better and happier in 2015.  For a deeper dive on the origins of Salons and why they were held with such fascination and loyalty, jump over here.

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