A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Reading with a Pen: Releasing the Story

I do my best reading with a pen in hand. When I stumble across beautiful sentences, or wise quotes, or unforgettable scenes, I feel like I need to put down a flag of discovery so that one day (hopefully) I can return. Sometimes I underlines phrases, sentences, or entire paragraphs. Sometimes I draw smiley faces or exclamation marks in the margin. Sometimes I initiate my own conversation with the text by writing in questions or comments. (I am so thankful that Amazon built these capabilities into their Kindle!) Sometimes I move the entire conversation – quotes and all – into my journal so I will have room to explore. Too often, however, my marks just sit on the page – forgotten until or unless I pick the book back up again at some point in the future. I thought it might be fun to go searching for the flags I’ve planted around words in some of my favorite books.

This first quote comes from Devotion, by Dani Shapiro. I ran across the book by chance at Goodwill. A few months earlier I read the sample selection on my Kindle and put the book on my “books to buy when I have the disposable dollars or when Kindle puts them on a great sale” list. Needless to say, I was thrilled by my bargain find.

My copy of Devotion is marked up everywhere. While the specifics of Shapiro’s journey and mine are significantly different at some points, other points had me saying, “Yes! I know exactly what you’re talking about!” Here is one (of a gazillion) marked passages.

Yogis use a beautiful Sanskrit word, samskara, to describe the knots of energy that are locked in the hips, the heart, the jaw, the lungs. Each knot tells a story – a narrative rich with emotional detail. Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world. (pp. 16-17)

As for yogis, I know nothing of them. As for yoga, I know only a handful of poses. As for knots of energy in the body, I am an expert. I carry the heavy energy of responsibility (at home and at work) in my neck and across my shoulders, almost as though I am carrying a yoke. I carry the energy of writing in my lower back. Maybe that’s really because I sit too long in unfriendly chairs. Or maybe it’s because words can be heavy sometimes. I carry restless energy in my legs. Anxiety, when it attacks, steals energy from my lungs. The energy of grief and regret sits heavy in my core. The energy that is created when I fail to speak when I know I should takes up residence in my jaw, and I will awake in the morning painfully sore from clenching it through the night. I carry protective energy – whether it is self-protective or a need to protect my family – in my hands, either in a clenched fist or by holding my thumb.


I know. Weird, right?

Once upon a time, I was fortunate enough to live near an amazing friend who is an equally amazing massage therapist. For several years, I kept myself on a regular schedule of massage. Some days I had no idea going into a massage how tight my body was until she began working to loosen the knots. Some days, about halfway through the massage, I found myself feeling emotional – like I was going to cry. I learned to pay attention to these things and to become more mindful of their origins. What stressors, what fears, what hurts was I guilty of shoving inside my body so that they wouldn’t be seen by me or anyone else? All of these things – the bad and the good – create an energy. That energy must reside somewhere, whether I choose to acknowledge it or not.

Each knot tells a story – a narrative rich with emotional detail.

I love stories. I get great joy from telling stories, especially The Story, in my work every week. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t record some part of my day’s story somewhere – in a journal, on my blog, through Twitter or Facebook, or in a file on my computer. On those days when I have a hard time thinking of any story worth 140 characters on Twitter, when I think that nothing has happened worth telling, maybe I should pay more attention to those knots of energy in my body. They are trying hard to tell my story – if I will just let go, if I will just risk being vulnerable, if I will just trust my circle of loved ones to love me no matter what. If I can just let go, risk, and trust, then I’m bound to become unstuck as the stories of life begin to flow freely around me.

Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world.


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3 thoughts on “Reading with a Pen: Releasing the Story

  1. Love this, Jan! A bookaphile myself, who is always underlining and making notes in kindle particularly, and a massage therapist in a former career path.. It speaks to me on many levels. Thanks.

  2. I remember when you found that book. I used to highlight things all the time but then I would read a second or third time and in time most of the book would be highlighted. Lot of us love you..and your stories…no matter what.

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