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  • [Body, Mind & Spirit] Gifts of Spirit: Knowing When to Write, When to Pause & When to Begin...
This blog was featured on 07/13/2016
[Body, Mind & Spirit] Gifts of Spirit: Knowing When to Write, When to Pause & When to Begin Again

My mother-in-law died this week. It wasn’t unexpected. She was under the care of hospice, and had been declining in health since her husband’s death in 2011. My mom died in 2012. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, for close to two years I’ve been embroiled in a family fight over money that has created stress, and, with it, debilitating anxiety. We finally reached a settlement agreement a couple of weeks ago, but 2014 has been the hardest year of my life. In 2013, I buried my grief and escaped into my work. But by this year, as family tensions escalated, my grief erupted and I had to stop working. My clients fell away like dominoes, I reduced my teaching schedule to one class, and I hit the pause button on my memoir, The Raw Years: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness.


I stopped working on my memoir for two reasons. First, I was sick—not physically (though I experienced physical discomfort, such as intense jitters and pressure in my chest), but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. I needed to focus my energy on getting better; I needed to slow down my life and take time to grieve, as well as to heal. When you’re struggling to get through the day, work feels relatively unimportant—all you want is to be well again. 


But there was more to my not working on my book than that. I was writing a memoir on my “midlife quest for health and happiness,” which I’d thought I’d attained. I was an “expert” on the subject, writing my “success story.” My life had been at an all-time high; I’d felt like a flower in full bloom. The word “flow” best describes the ways in which my life was unfolding—until everything came crashing down around me. I couldn’t help but wonder, How can I write a book about health and happiness when I’m such a wreck? I felt like the oncologist who gets cancer.


It turned out my “raw years” weren’t over. My book is divided into three sections—body, mind, and spirit—and the proverbial shit hit the fan when I was two chapters short of beginning the “spirit” section. It was as if the Universe said, “Now wait just a minute! You don’t know as much as you think you do; you have to live this before you can write about it. Buckle up, I’m taking you for a ride!” Well, let me tell you, it’s been a doozy. Never have I felt so out of control; never have I experienced such fear; never have I trembled, cried, and prayed so often or so hard.


The upside is, I’ve learned a few things. Every illness or malady contains within it an invitation and opportunity for healing and growth. The lessons of spirit have to do with surrender, faith, letting go of what others think of you, and, even more important, letting go of what you think of you. Anxiety shattered my self-image. I was supposed to be a helper, not someone who needed help. I was the kid who always had a “good head on her shoulders.” How had I gone from King of the Hill to hooligan?


The hardest lesson was learning to accept “what is” without judgment. Judgment creates tension in the mind. Tightness creates tension in the body. I experienced both. As humans, we all have pain, but that doesn’t mean we need to suffer. Suffering happens when we resist our pain. So I’ve learned to lean into my discomfort. I’ve also encountered a new word: kindfulness. Stephanie Nash, a mindfulness meditation coach, coined this term. She uses it to refer to bringing loving attention to the body. “We only have so much real estate in consciousness,” she says. “There’s only so much you can focus on at one time.” I’ve had to consider where and how to focus my awareness. I’ve had to learn how to be kinder and more patient with myself. I’ve had to consciously choose love over fear—over and over again. I’ve had to allow myself to be where I am, to befriend my fear. And I’ve learned that we are all much larger than we think.


Thankfully, these past few months, my internal storm has raged less and less, and I sense it has almost passed. I have borne what I naively deemed unbearable. We humans are stronger than we think. When I first heard the news about my mother-in-law, I feared her death might throw me back into the pit out of which I have worked so hard to climb, but I feel calm, and grateful, because she lived a full life and was ready to go. It’s a blessing. This is life. We live and we die. Her death inspires me to live. And for me, writing is a huge part of living. Although I haven’t been writing my book, I have been writing. My journal has been a close companion and a source of comfort during this time. I’ve also written many letters to my mother, and monthly blog posts. Though that’s not the same as working on my book, it has taken the lid off of my internal pressure cooker and enabled me to express myself. This kind of writing is a tremendous release. I let go of what I don’t need and receive universal wisdom, while keeping my writing juices flowing. I liken this process to daily barre exercises, which I did for years as a young dancer.


Sometimes it’s hard to know when to work on a project and when to pause—and for how long. I knew I needed to stop working on my book, and I trusted that I’d be called back to it when the time was right. My mother-in-law’s passing has made me think the time is now.


I don’t have everything figured out, which I know isn’t necessary, but my hand and heart are steady enough to return to my memoir, my old friend, who I suspect will deliver me to my next level of healing. No need for perfection. No shame in falling apart, when in coming back together I bring with me new gifts of insight, deeper compassion, and expanded consciousness. Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel some trepidation. So I’m asking you, my She Writes sisters, for your support, love, and prayers as I begin again.

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  • Michele J. Rolle Writing

    Thank you so much for the information . I will let you know how it turns out.

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Michele J. Rolle: I had my logo designed via http://www.48hourslogo.com. You write a description of what you want and various designers come up with ideas. It's a contest. The designer whose idea I picked is Satabdi Banerjee. She lives in India. Her English isn't perfect, but it's good enough, and she's a talented and dedicated designer. Her email is: [email protected] If you contact her, tell her I sent you. Also, check out www.48hourslogo.com. It's a great way to have a logo designed—and very inexpensive compared to what you'd pay to have a logo designed with an established US graphic designer. Good luck.

  • Michele J. Rolle Writing

    I sensed the connection from the first few lines of your blog:).

    Yes, as far as I know. Did you create yours?. I would love to use that style with my symbol. Would you let me know how it was created?. 

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Thanks, Dana Alexander. Have a nice day.

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Michele J. Rolle: Of course your symbol expresses praise and surrender to God; that's what I love about it. I almost wrote, “praise God” at the end of my message to you. Did you make that symbol up? How clever! I think you'd like my logo, which expresses my deep love of writing, dancing—and the Divine! 

  • Michele J. Rolle Writing

    Bella, Thank you for taking the time to reply. You may absolutely use my symbol. Its expresses my praise and surrender to God \o/. A kindred spirit-Michele :)

  • Dana Alexander Writing

    Bella, You are so kind.  Thank you for the time you took to provide a personal reply to each response of support!  It wasn't expected of course, but your thoughtfulness is just lovely. Take care/be well.

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Michele J. RolleLinda Kovic-Skow,Dana Alexander,Pamela Olson,Jill JepsonMarlene Cullen,Rita Gardner:

    Oh my goodness, thank you for your wonderful support, ladies. I am moved to tears. I thought I was following the thread and would receive emails when people commented, but I’d inadvertently turned that function off and didn’t know anyone had responded to my post. Your words are such a comfort! Thank you for taking the time to write.

    On Tuesday I read the first hundred pages of my memoir, which triggered anxiety, but my therapist says, “your job isn’t to be comfortable; your job is to live your life.” And getting back to this project is an important part of my life. Still, I know I have to move slowly and maybe even put time limits around my work, since I tend to lose myself when I write. This can be a good thing, but it has a downside in terms of life-work balance.

    Rita: Your story is so moving and inspiring. Thank you for telling me about your 5-year pause; it's very affirmning.I feel your wisdom and strength.

    Marlene: I love the words from the Nike ad: “Just do it.” Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't. We have to trust ourselves and know we'll get through our challenges. Blessings to you.

    Jill: I love you, and hope we meet one day.

    Pamela: Your novel sounds wonderful. I get what you're saying about self-sabotage, and love what you wrote about surging and stumbling, which are both part of the human experience. I'm reading Sonia Choquette's new book, WALKING HOME: from Humbled to Healed, which really drives this point home.

    Dana: Thank you for your heartfelt support.  A wise woman once told me, “fear is a big, fat liar.” As long as I discern the voice of fear from my voice of wisdom, I'm okay. But when I let fear take over, I'm in trouble. Carolyn Myss asks the question, which thoughts are you going to invest in/believe? Good luck with your series; I'm sure you'll be guided to do what's best for you and your work.

    Linda: My condolences on your mom. I'm sure you miss her. I like what you said about tucking her safely into your heart next to your dad. I will do try that.

    Michele: I love your words about plant, water, and God. And this icon is wonderful: \o/ I've never seen it before, but will use it often! 


  • Rita Gardner

    Bella - You absolutely have my support, love and prayers. I went through something similar when writing my memoir. My mother died.  My sister died. Which on one hand, gave me the "permission" I needed to write truth (since I knew telling truths would have made me lose at least my sister - and I didn't want that. So actually, I was quite productive for about 4 years.

    And then I got the most stressful job I've ever had (although, looking back on it now from the fog of time...I expect that it was ME stressing ME - no one else expected me to rise up to where I thought I needed to be (in control and handling everything so that things wouldn't fall apart.) Hmm, that impulse ain't new...it's ancient in my my DNA practically.  Part of being a child of an alcoholic, I presume. Anyway - my point is, that I PAUSED BIG TIME. 5 years worth.  And then...like you are now, I took it up again. The pause was necessary.  So - go forth - and we're all rooting for you!

  • Marlene Cullen

    Wonderful post, Bella. Although my details are different, 2014 has also been a difficult year. I've been stuck with moving forward with what I have to do. Thanks for your inspiration to just do what has to be done. Perhaps I can be like a robot. Get up, move, go forth. Prepare what needs to be done and just do it. Sigh.

  • Jill Jepson

    My heart went out to you as I read this post, Bella, but I saw such hope at the end. Your words, as ever, are loving and wise. 

  • Pamela Olson

    Sending lots of love and support. I'm writing a novel (my first) about finding wisdom -- and I know I'm really writing the novel to myself, as a ladder to help me dig out of some of the pits I know I'm prone to falling into. The terror of letting go of the illusion of control, the (often self-fulfilling) fear of failure, the sneaky ways ego sabotages happiness. It has cheered me up a lot just to write it.

    Watching my protagonist go through these trials can be very humbling, as sometimes she makes ridiculous mistakes I know I make, too, and it's easier to see them as silly when someone else does it. Other times she steps up and gets past things much better than I could, which is an inspiration. The book has a lot of exotic travel, humor, some romance, and a paranormal element to add some spice. But as in most books, the truly interesting journey is the internal one.

    Of course, one way to sabotage myself is to see myself falling into a pit on a given day and further bullying myself by saying, "How can you be qualified to write this book? You're no better than the protagonist on page one!" But that's life -- it's not a linear progression. Sometimes you surge ahead, sometimes you tumble down the mountain a ways. Hopefully a book can help you next time you take a tumble.

    Writing is such a gift. Both the ability to write yourself and the privilege of reading what others write.

    Hugs and luck to you.

  • Dana Alexander Writing

    What a beautiful post, Bella, of insight and development, trust and faith. I went down a similar road in 2004/2005 with a pregnancy that almost ended my life and that of my unborn son, after suffering a loss.  I can relate. That struggle forced me to set aside everything I knew, release my perceived control to the powers that be and listen to the 'universal wisdom'. I too received expanded consciousness and an appreciation for life I don't think I would have at the level I do without having gone through that experience.

    Thank you for sharing. Just today, I was thinking about setting aside my book 3 in a 4 book series, The Three Keys, because I've been blocked and the writing almost seems forced.  It's not me.  Of course, there is fear in when I will pick it up again because books 1 and 2 are published and I'd like to keep the series produced in a decent time frame for my readers. I'm happy you have worked through your struggle and can get back to your 'old friend'.  Very good to hear.  You have my support and sympathy as you progress on another road in life.  Be well.

  • Linda Kovic-Skow

    I get what you're saying Bella, really I do. My ninety-one-year-old mother passed on August 15, 2014. She was very ill for quite some time and my writing came to a standstill on my sequel memoir, French Illusions. I'm finally moving forward now that I've tucked my mom safely in my heart next to my dad. I send you my deep sympathies and support.  

  • Michele J. Rolle Writing


    Thank you for sharing your heart. How I needed to read your words. I published my memoir recently, "Invisible Warrior". Its was both exhausting and exhilarating :). I have been setting deadlines ever since  for myself to complete this second book but find it hard to finish. I often feel , lets say less than successful in not being able to finish, but after reading your blog I am encouraged in knowing there is a purpose and a plan for our lives. I will now understand the value of pause and when to begin again.

    I will be praying for you as you continue your journey through the healing process and the celebration of what life is offering you. 

    Thank you again for sharing. Some plant, some water but its God that gives the increase.\o/