THE BIGGER YES : WINTER, 2018


WEEK 1 : FAITH

WEEK 5 : DEVOTION

WEEK 2 : TRUTH

WEEK 6 : INTEGRATION

WEEK 3 : CLARITY

WEEK 4 : ALIGNMENT

 

Welcome Video

how to prepare for this course

1. Start a Process Journal

My favorite way to chronicle and process an experience is through journaling. Don't get hung up on writing! The journal can be a place you capture pictures, quotes, cutouts or anything else. Watch the video for ideas on how to use your journal and how I use mine. My favorite journal recommendation is over on the right side.

2. Join the Facebook Group.

This is optional, but can be a great way to connect with other people in the course, share our work, and get some feedback. Laura will be regularly active in the group and class information will be posted here, as well as delivered in email.

3. Do some reading.

I have book recommendations over there on the right side of the page. If you're only going to get one book for the course, make it "The Great Work of Your Life" by Stephen Cope.

4. Take it easy.

This is going to be big AND fun. Take a big breath, settle into the work, and enjoy. The first class will be the week of January 1st. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the holidays and soak it all in.

 

Playlist

I love this Moleskine because it's a little bigger than the average journal, it's unlined, and has a pocket in the back. 

PENS!

These are my very favorite.

COURSE SCHEDULE

 

WELCOME / ORIENTATION CALL

Wednesday 1/3 at 9 - 10 am PT / 12 - 1 ET

 

WEEK 1: FAITH 

Lecture Delivered: Thursday, 1/4

Live Class + Q&A: Wednesday 1/10 at 9 - 10 am PT / 12 - 1 ET

 

WEEK 2: TRUTH

Lecture Delivered: Thursday 1/11

Live Class + Q&A: Wednesday 1/17 at 9 - 10 am PT / 12 - 1 ET

 

WEEK 3: CLARITY

Lecture Delivered: Thursday 1/18

Live Class + Q&A: Wednesday 1/24 at 9 - 10 am PT / 12 - 1 ET

 

WEEK 4: alignment

Lecture Delivered: Thursday 1/25

Live Class + Q&A: Wednesday 1/31 at 9 - 10 am PT / 12 - 1 ET

 

WEEK 5: devotion

Lecture Delivered: Thursday 2/1

Live Class + Q&A: Wednesday 2/7 at 9 - 10 am PT / 12 - 1 ET

 

WEEK 6: INTEGRATION

Lecture Delivered: Thursday 2/8

Live Class + Q&A: Wednesday 2/14 at 9 - 10 am PT / 12 - 1 ET

Meeting Login

all CALLS will be hosted at:

Note:

  • All course lectures + essays will be delivered to you via email and posted here.
  • All live classes will be recorded and posted here immediately following the call.

What to Bring

  • Your course notebook.
  • Readings, if you wish.
  • Questions, if you wish.
  • Willingness.

Submitting Questions to Laura

You have the opportunity to send questions to Laura throughout the course (anonymously, if you choose). She will dedicate a portion of each live class to answering these + answer them on the Facebook forum when possible.

<< CLASS HOMEPAGE

Welcome Call

January 3, 2018

Video

Audio

Resources 

 

WEEK ONE : FAITH

faith_banner.jpg

Faith Lecture

Thoughts On Faith

This week is Week One, the beginning, the start of our journey together. I want you to know how much it means to me that you’re here. This program is the culmination of so much work—depending on how you look at it, it could be seen as a few years or a lifetime of lessons—and regardless of how much you take from it, your willingness to be here and invest in me and yourself is everything. I can’t wait to learn from you.

This week is about faith. In preparation, I’ve been ruminating about it a lot. I know for many, faith is a tricky, sticky word. I grew up going to Catholic church and I never felt much of anything sitting in the beautiful church in my little hometown in Colorado with the epic stained glass windows and dark chestnut wood pews. I was young and most often bored during mass, trying to find games to play with my brother to pass the time. The priest’s words didn’t make sense to me—he was really old and had a dry, monotone voice that seemed almost cartoonish. So, I wouldn't say that wasn’t my introduction to faith, but as I've thought back, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a sense of connection to…something.

I can first trace it back to words. Books made me feel found. They were a private space I could retreat to that felt safe, but they also helped me understand the world, they provided a transmission line into a deeper wisdom that went beyond the stories I was reading. Do you know what I mean? I also feel it when I listen to certain music. Or when I look at the ocean. Or when I see my daughter’s freckles that are just like mine, only hers, on her much paler skin. Certain poems can do that, too. David Whyte says poetry is the language against which we have no defense, and I think that’s a perfect description of the grounds for faith. It is a space where I have no fight, nor the desire to fight. To me, it is not just a comfort (although comfort is nice, for sure), but a rearrangement of my perception—if only for a moment—that allows me to see clearly beyond myself, and wholly enough to go on.

Childlike faith gets worn by life and needs to form into a new, more mature thing that can support us. In my 20’s I thought I knew so much about life, about God, about the way the world works. I’d read so many books, I knew all the right teachers. I had a lot of knowledge. 

And then, shit got real. Through marriage, becoming a mother, battling alcohol, and going through some incredibly deep losses, what I thought to be true was put to the fire. As Pema Chodron says, spirituality is kind of a game until the shit hits the fan. Well, my first real, adult shit-hitting-fan experience—or rather, the first time I was confronted with something that my usual coping mechanisms couldn’t quell—was my marriage. I loved him and yet, I had a deep, inexplicable urge to get the hell out of there. The pain of navigating that lasted years and years, and in that time we had a baby girl, bought a house, built careers, had major losses and wins, and experienced a lot of life. Ultimately, we would separate and divorce and soon thereafter, I would hit the wall with drinking.

I’m speeding through a whole bunch of years here, but trying to provide enough context to give color to the moment I want to talk about, which is this:

On a frozen Saturday in January of 2015, I decided to go for a run. A big Nor’easter storm had just passed through New England, which meant the sky was a deep grey and the air had a wild, dangerous quality. The path I run on lines the coast and even under normal weather conditions, the waves crash over the seawall at high tide. But after the storm, they surged over suddenly in spots, so you really had to pay attention. This—the crashing of the waves—and the moisture of the air from the storm, made it feel as though I was running through a thin spray of ice. At less than a mile out, icicles formed on my eyelashes. I had to continually wipe my face to see.

I had been trying to get sober for over a year and a half then. My husband and I were not yet divorced, but had been separated for over two years and lived apart. Alma, our daughter, was with him that weekend and I was feeling untethered and scared of myself and lonely—like the outstretch of time in front of me was a cruel, cruel thing, not a field of possibility. My grief was disorganized and splattered all over the place—from losing drinking, losing friendships, losing our marriage, losing who I thought I was—I didn’t know how to distinguish its parts, it just pushed on me constantly. 

And, I felt surges of promise and hope of what could be if I stayed sober. I had dipped my toe in for periods of time and I felt the raw promise of a clear-headed, full-hearted me. It was a slippery slope, though, a thing that always seemed just barely out of grasp. Definitely a thing that seemed impossible and un-wantable long-term.

On that morning before the run, I was filled with big, volatile energy: fear, anxiety, rage, a madness. I had so many questions and no answers. How would I do this? Who would love me? What if I stay sober? What if I don’t? What do I do to fill up this day? How, how, how do I do it?

I laced up my running shoes and threw on as many layers as I could and ran out the door and to the ocean before I could talk myself out of it. It was a ridiculous day to run, but I had always been able to push myself in this way. So I set out and the frigid air hitting my lungs and the sting of the spray from the water was awful and perfect.

About a mile out, the path makes a semicircle that juts out into the water. There was no one out there at all and I couldn’t see but ten feet in front of me. My legs seemed to be carrying me forward, despite the forcible wind. At one point it seemed like I was running still and I shook my head to all of it. No. I can't stop.

I felt myself crying, though I didn’t realize I had started. I could feel the contrast of the cold air meeting my hot, sweaty skin, right at the point where the two elements collided and transformed each other. Hot melting cold; cold cooling hot. A thought arrived:

I don’t know how to do this, but something inside of me does.

I stopped.

I took a deep, guttural breath and bent over, setting my hands on my thighs, turning my face down and out of the wind.

I don’t know how to do this, but something inside of me does.

I stood back up and slung myself into motion again. I ran an impossible five miles that day. Back home later, all the skin that was exposed swelled and stung for a couple hours after. 

+++

That experience is what I know of faith. It's the thought I go back to time and again when I can't figure out what's next, or how to move forward, or even how to think. It reminds me that this is a dance between me and God. The answers are in me, even when they're lost on me. I just have to be willing to keep asking the questions. I have to be willing to stay in the conversation.

+++

In closing, I want to share my favorite poem about prayer from Mary Oliver. What's funny is I wrote this down on a piece of paper over a decade ago and only recently found it when it fell out of an old journal. We know things long before we understand them. :)

Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

-Mary Oliver

Live Call Recording 

Audio

 

Faith Playlist

Homework

  1. Watch or listen to the lecture.
  2. Create and begin practicing your morning prayer.
  3. Complete the worksheet.
  4. Share any part of your process with us on the Facebook group.
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Truth Lectures (Two Parts)

Part 1 (watch before viewing Part 2)

 

Part 2 (watch part 1 first!)


Thoughts On Truth

 

What You Are

How many hearts
have you called
your home;

how many lives
have you pretended
to want;

how many ways
have you denounced
your self

in the name of
duty
and good
and inherited ideas about love?

Now you arrive,
no more lost than found
and you could see, could rest
in the news

that you can only
ever be
what you are.

What you didn’t know,
what slipped away
from you

maybe,
what you never dared
to believe

is the magnificence;
the perfect fingerprint
of design
written inside your heart.

You can only
ever be
what you are

And what you are
is the truth you must give away.

-Laura McKowen

Live Call Recording

Audio

 

Truth Playlist

Homework

  1. Watch or listen to the Lecture 1.
  2. Complete Worksheet 1.
  3. Give yourself at least one day in between Part 1 and Part 2!
  4. Watch or listen to Lecture 2.
  5. Complete Worksheet 2.
  6. Continue your morning prayer practice from Week 1.
  7. Share any part of your process with us on the Facebook group!
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Clarity Lecture


Thoughts On Clarity

By the time you’ve arrived at this week, if you’ve done the work from weeks one and two, my guess is you’re feeling some combination of curious, scared, energized, or lost in the weeds. All things are perfect, all valid. What we’re going through here is a process that could span many weeks, months, or even years, so let yourself off the hook if you’re feeling like whatever you’re going through is somehow the “wrong” thing, and commit to continuing. 

This is the week where we start to look forward instead of back. Which sounds lovely, but you should expect that your resistance will start to kick in big time. Resistance can show up as: getting sick, feeling too busy, procrastination, avoidance, and even broken down cars, technology issues, and boredom. It’s one thing to look back on our lives and drag ourselves through the dirt (we’re pretty good at beating ourselves up, if you haven’t noticed), but quite another to turn forward and start playing with the light. For most, if not all of us, it will feel scarier/more silly/ridiculous/embarrassing. Know that and go forth :).

That said, here are my thoughts on clarity. I love you all.

+++

This month I will be three years and four months sober. I’ve thought a lot about what made the difference for me on my last Day One, versus the hundreds of prior Day Ones, and part of the answer is a piece of clarity that was delivered to me by my brother.

For a long time—maybe since I was sixteen—I knew that my drinking wasn’t “normal.” It wasn’t necessarily about the way I drank, which often appeared to be fine, and didn’t necessarily interfere with my life until much later, but the way it made me feel. I had this sense that I liked it a little too much, that my intent when I drank was a little too…something. 

Fast forward twenty years, to the night of my mom’s 60th birthday party. My brother had flown into town from Colorado and we all had thrown my mom a surprise party. I had drunk the day and night before, again. And the following is an excerpt from my book recounting a conversation with my brother outside the party.

+++

The party was a big success, and although she’d suspected something was up, she hadn’t guessed the magnitude of what we pulled off. She was thrilled to see so many friends and have her babies and Alma near. Derek, Joe, Jenny and I were relieved to have (mostly) pulled it off. The food was excellent and the drinks were flowing, as usual. My family did know how to throw a classy party, that’s for sure. I, on the other hand, was miserable—though I put my best face on, for as long as I could. Aside from being physically hungover with a trembling lump of anxiety lodged in my throat and a rock of shame in my gut, I was embarrassed, demoralized and just…so…fucking…tired.

Around 9 pm, I hit the wall and my edges started to fray. I stepped outside for a minute and walked to my car to breathe. I turned on My Morning Jacket’s “The Bear” and sat there and let the tears roll down my cheeks as the sound filled up the space.

It's a bad idea, 

To go down to the pier

By your self after dark

The time is near,

To come forward with

Whatever killed your spark

I looked up and toward the restaurant to see my brother had walked out and was looking around. I got out and started toward him, and could see he was visibly annoyed after he spotted me. 

We were looking for you, Laura,” he said. His tone was more terse than I expected—I realized he was worried I was off drinking. Ugh.

“I’m here, I said. “I had to breathe for a minute.” 

“Yeah, well, your daughter is inside looking for you. There’s a party going on.” I noticed then that he was pretty buzzed, close to drunk, and I read in his posture, his expression, his eyes, all the things he wasn’t saying that only a sibling could know: Tough shit; Get over yourself and get back into mom’s party; This isn’t about you; I’m worried; I hate that I worry about you; Please be okay; I am scared; I am angry; I love you.

“I’m sorry, Joe. I’m right here,” I said, and looked into the window at the party. The lights from the street lamp bounced off the pools of tears in my eyes, blurring my vision. I wiped them and looked at back at him.

“I’m sorry this is so hard, sister.” He meant it, I knew.

I shook my head. I could not handle this tenderness.

“I know. It is hard,” I started. “I’m sorry I ruined everything again.” I paused, toeing some rocks into a crack in the sidewalk. A few tears fell straight to the ground. “But it’s mine,” I said, feeling the weight of the grief and the anger and the sadness and the responsibility of those words at once. I looked back up at him. “I know it’s mine.”

He nodded. “That’s right, Laura. It’s yours. This is your thing.”

I waited, wondering if he would say more. He didn't. We locked eyes for a moment; he nodded again.

“Yeah.” Inside the window people were milling around, lost in the party. I heard Joanne’s big roar of a laugh. My mom spotted us and waved for us to come back in. “This is my thing.”

+++

In that conversation, my brother pointed out what I had known for so long, but did everything I could to avoid. I had become, like my friend Elena Brower says, addicted to ignoring what I knew.

Acknowledging that drinking was my thing was a necessary piece of clarity, but what became so much more interesting after that, were all the other things I had tried so hard not to know. What would be revealed over the coming months and years was the true essence of who I was—who I had been all along—and had just been blotting out with alcohol, among many other things.

Like, I love creating.

Like, I am actually good at it!

Like, I was in the wrong job.

Like, I don’t actually like so many things I pretended to like.

Like, I have an unlimited capacity to love.

Like, I require a tremendous amount of quiet time.

Like, I need to write.

Like, I love to teach.

Like, I am here to serve.

So this exercise in clarity is not about mining for something new about yourself, it is really about remembering what you already know and having the courage to claim it. It is about seeing the ordinary in your as extraordinary, about claiming your second nature as your superpower.

I love you. Please, please, please, keep going.

Live Call Recording

Audio

Resources

The House of Belonging by David Whyte

Lost by David Wagoner

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. 

Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza 

 

Clarity Playlist

Notes & Homework

homework

  1. Watch or listen to the lecture.
  2. Watch He Who Dances on Wood.
  3. Watch Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk.
  4. Complete the worksheet.
  5. Create one piece of art that communicates your "name" (as described in the lecture, and also the last question in the worksheet) and share with the group.

Optional homework

  1. Continue your morning prayer practice from Week 1.
  2. Continue your Morning Pages practice (free writing for 10-15 minutes each morning), if desired.
Alignment_banner.jpg

Alignment Lecture


Thoughts On Alignment

Ahhhhh. Here we are, week four. Wherever you are in this process, please give yourself a huge thanks for being willing to show up at all. Even if you've only peeked at emails and checked the Facebook group once, every little bit matters, I promise. 

This week is about alignment, and by that I mean, alignment to your Bigger Yes, alignment to your dharma, alignment to God as you see it. If you are still muddled about your Bigger Yes, I suggest you go through the worksheet and attempt the exercises. Sometimes we only uncover these things by doing them.

Process. Is. Messy. Know that and breathe into the next step.

+++

Alignment can sound like a rather clinical word. Like something we strive toward, and once we achieve it, we are locked into place and everything clicks. But that's never how it is, of course, and not how I intend you to look at it in this process. 

Think of alignment as a forever attunement to your truest self. It's a game of warmer/cooler and of course correction once we know something isn't working, which also implies that we go off course often, and sometimes for a very long time. Throughout this course, I have been reminding you and urging you to listen to your own intuition. To tune into the frequency of your heart, of your desires, of possibilities that exist in you that have perhaps never been awakened. The process of alignment is simply taking action toward that frequency (otherwise known as your dharma). It includes all aspects of your inner and outer life.

I believe the biggest mistake we can make, and the thing that can cause us the most despair and frustration, is believing that we are somehow irreversibly off course. That we are so far out of alignment with ourselves we simply cannot find our way back home. The thing is, the blocks and obstacles are the path. We only learn by living. As Cheryl Strayed says in Tiny Beautiful Things, “We often become our kindest, most ethical selves only by seeing what it feels like to be a selfish jackass first.” I would not seek to be closer to myself if I hadn't felt the pain of being so far away. None of us would. So the beginning step in this alignment process is to trust that where you are is exactly where you're supposed to be, and everything that's happened is part of your long, winding path back home, if you choose to take it.

The second thing I want you to know is sometimes, most times, we can only see a few feet in front of us. E.L. Doctorow said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” That's been my experience of just about everything, not only writing. It is wonderful to have a vision in mind, but the work of alignment is done step by step, breath by breath. By asking yourself: Does this feel right? Is this what I really want? Is this moving me closer to life, or further away? Is this what it means to be alive?

And then waiting until you hear and answer. And then trusting that answer. And then, acting on that answer by adjusting your speech, your thoughts, your actions. 

The most beautiful words I know of when it comes to alignment are from Mary Oliver's poem, The Journey. So I'll leave you with those. I love you. This process is working on you, even if you can't yet feel it.

 

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice--

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

"Mend my life!"

each voice cried.

But you didn't stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do--

determined to save

the only life you could save.

-Mary Oliver

 

Alignment
 Playlist

Notes & Homework

homework

  1. Watch or listen to the lecture.
  2. Complete the worksheet.
  3. Create a vision board (part of the worksheet).
  4. Write a letter to yourself (part of the worksheet).

Optional homework

  1. Continue your morning prayer practice from Week 1.
  2. Continue your Morning Pages practice (free writing for 10-15 minutes each morning), if desired.

Live Call Recording

Audio

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Devotion Lecture


Thoughts On Devotion

This week, we come full circle back to a foundation of faith with devotion. If faith is the trust that you are held, guided, and that there is a larger purpose for you, devotion is your active participation toward that purpose. Like faith, devotion is both practical and mystical. It includes your daily practices and your grandest, inner-most desires and beliefs.

When I consider devotion, I am brought back to a memory of my earliest days of sobriety. Back when I still couldn't string together more than a couple weeks of sober days, when stumbling felt as inevitable as anything else. I had just moved into my new apartment—a place I swore would be the marker of my sobriety. I would not drink in this new place, I promised, like I had promised so many other things. A few days into getting settled, Alma went back to stay with her dad, and the weekend came. It was a Saturday night and I don't even remember the circumstances, but I drank. The next morning, Sunday morning, it was bright and hot outside—a late August day—and I hated myself for clouding it with another stupid hangover. I forced myself to go to the beach, to push through the physical and mental unease, to let myself swim in the cold water and feel the sun on my skin and to try to peel back another layer of compassion, which was getting harder and harder to muster. 

When I got back to my house after the beach, I set my sandy bag on the floor and stood in the kitchen, unsure what to do with myself. The space was so quiet. So bare. Had I ruined it here, too?

I looked down at my feet and was struck by how pretty they were. My toenails were painted an electric, shimmering blue. Light tan lines had formed around my flip flops and the skin underneath was pale and new. Sand dusted the tops of my toes. I had really beautiful feet—the feet of someone who took care of themselves, who stood in the sand, bathed in the sun, and lived by the sea. I had lovely, elegant feet, even as I felt so wretched. The sight of them made me cry. I cried so hard I fell to the floor.

I laid there for a while, curled up in a C shape, my cheek resting on the cool tile. When I was done, I closed my eyes and made a promise to myself. I said: I will never leave you. Even if you do this again, even if you do it 1,000 times more, even if you never stop doing it, I won't leave you.

I stood up, took a picture of my feet, and carried on with the day.

That was a few months before I got sober for good.

In hindsight, I can see this as the most basic act of devotion. It was simple, pure, and tender. I promised myself a thing I'd never promised before, a thing it had never even occurred to me to promise: that I would stay. I didn't say, I will stay if I behave. Or, I will stay if I only fuck up two more times. I said, I will stay no matter what. It was unconditional.

This is what we do when we are devoted. We show up as we are. It is practical and it is profound. We simply stay course, we do the best we can in each changing moment, and most importantly, we come back when we lose our way. The real act of love is the return. And love alone is what lifts us higher. I had tried to hate myself into acting better for far too long; I had worshipped at the altars of Shame and Guilt and Self-Loathing and Other People's Ideas. Those were diminishing, false Gods. Love was the only way up; it was the only thing I had to learn. It would be hard and beautiful work to do this; it would be necessary.

+++

As you move through this journey, please know that what you started here—no matter how small or seemingly insignificant—matters. Each little step matters. There are forces working in the background even when you cannot feel or see it.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love you! I am so honored you chose to spend your precious time with me. 

Love,

Laura

Live Call Recording

 

Devotion
 Playlist

Homework

homework

  1. Watch or listen to the lecture.
  2. Complete the worksheet.
  3. Share the work with us on Facebook! :)

 

Audio

Resources

The Breath of God by Swami Chetanananda

A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

Living Beautifully by Pema Chodran

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Integration Lecture


Thoughts On Integration

One word: breathe.

Live Call Recording

 

Devotion
 Playlist

Homework

homework

  1. Watch or listen to the lecture.
  2. Complete the homework (explained in the lecture.)

 

Audio