The Phoenix Rising Collective

Inspiring Women. Empowering Change.


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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday: This Phoenix is Michelle

How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

Loving myself first means living a values-based life. When my Dad, Vietnam veteran and hardworking Appalachian man, was first diagnosed with lung cancer I had just started my PhD program in clinical psychology. I had also just lost my Godmother (my Dad’s sister) to lung cancer. I’ve been working toward the goal of becoming a clinical child psychologist since I have been 13 years old. I have had to overcome my fair share of adversity: a late-diagnosed hearing disability, growing up in Appalachia, and being a first-generation college student. This translates into me being a hard-working poor test taker with a purpose to help others from underserved communities.

As I traversed the world of grad school my Dad fought for his life. He was cancer free when I matched for internship 13 hours away from my family. It was the final step before earning my doctorate. Unfortunately, his remission was short-lived. I completed my internship clinical work, working with the population I believe I have been called to work with – providing evidence-based trauma treatments to children and adolescents. As my internship was winding down, I needed to decide where to go for postdoc (the next step needed to get licensed and to solidify my research career). I was at a fork. Do I continue to weave myself tightly within the field of childhood trauma? Or do I move as close to home as possible to be near my family? It is with courage that I chose my family – landing in the stars with my post doctoral career. I value my career, and I value my family and friends just a bit more. Clinical work is emotionally and spiritually draining, but the reward reaped when I am able to help a child, eases the toll to my well-being.

Sadly, my Dad passed away just weeks after moving home. Knowing that I needed these two years to breathe and rest my tired heart, I happily engage my research postdoc. This is why I cannot in good, self-loving conscience be a full-time clinician. Instead, I choose to overcome the funding obstacles of research in a climate that is ever so hostile to science. I will do it with courage and a firm understanding that I am Appalachian, and no one can quiet my voice.

Michelle dancing with her dad at her wedding

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body, and soul?

Self-care is a series of evolving lessons:

On nutrition: About 8 years ago I stopped eating fast food. I drink almost no soda and try to eat small portion sizes. About 3 years ago, I stopped eating all meats except fish. In the past six months, I started to eat minimal dairy and bread and mostly stick with vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans.

On exercise: In grad school I started running – an identity I have never really embraced despite completing two half-marathons and several 5Ks and 10Ks. More recently, I have been practicing yoga three to four days a week.

On balance: I try to minimize how much work I am doing at home. I do not check my work e-mail on the weekends. When I am eating dinner, I do not have my cellphone out. I go see my Mom every Sunday when I’m in town. I spend time with friends at least weekly and have coffee in bed with my husband and our two cats on weekends.

On adventure: I travel to see friends, family, and for conferences. When I travel I like to get off the beaten path, go hiking, and learn about the local culture. I also craft, plan and throw elaborately themed parties.

Is there an obstacle or challenge you’ve overcome that led to a deeper love for who you are?

Most days I suffer from imposter syndrome. There’s been a challenge at every step of the way in my career path. First I had to catch up with my peers in elementary school to get out of the “slow learners” track and into college prep. Then I had to figure out what being Appalachian and first generation in college meant for me. I then had to score well on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and have enough research experience to demonstrate my commitment to scholarly activity for my PhD program. There’s always been a “next up.” I’ve encountered plenty of people – mentors, elders, peers – who have led me to question myself, my worth and ability. Thankfully, for every one of those folks, I’ve had two others to remind me that I am enough and can do anything I put my mind to.

I want to make the world a better place. It’s always been about “How can I help?” How can I transform the lives of underserved youth by planting seeds of courage, compassion, and inner strength? I am my strongest when I am helping others. It is what drives me to keep going. So, when my Dad was dying, and I spent all those years away from home doing the “next step” I realized that I had neglected my value for spending time with and helping family and friends.

The obstacle of believing that I am enough and can fulfill my life’s purpose without choosing just that over other values has been like taming a wild bear, except I’m the bear and the trainer at the same time.

What have you learned from self-love?

I am learning to have courage. I haven’t always been able to help others; sometimes my path seems like I’ve all but given up on doing that. And while my inner strength does not always shine, I know that I can take breaks to let my mind, body, and spirit heal. Most importantly, my light glows even when it’s an ember.

Michelle shares why she chose the photos in her self-love story:

Father/Daughter Dance – My Dad and I dancing to I Loved Her First. I believe he loved me enough to wait until I was home before passing away so that we could all be together.

My Life Partner – This guy and I are on this journey together. We’ll dance, walk, skip, crawl, and even carry each other on our path.

PhD Graduation Cap – Robert Frost has been narrating my life. I tend to take the road less traveled when I come to a fork. And, oh, has it made all the difference! I still got to where I was going, and I’ll get to where I am meant to be.

Vinyasart – I chose this because it captures my creative outlet – exercise and mindfulness – which all nourish my soul.

 

Inspired by Michelle’s courageously honest and heartfelt story? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.


Love Yourself First! Friday shares the unique stories of diverse women to inspire and empower others to also fiercely demonstrate self-love in action.  The questions are meant to shed light on various ways our featured Phoenixes are making self-care and intentional living a priority.

Do you want to share your self-love story? Send an email HERE.  Just put “My LYFF Story” in the subject line of your email, and you’ll be contacted by the Phoenix Team with details on how to participate. Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.

Join the Collective on Facebook and Instagram


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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday: This Phoenix is Yewande

How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

It was difficult for me to really love myself. I tried convincing myself that I did, but inside I always felt very insecure and not always comfortable in my skin. Now that I love everything about me, I never want to lose that feeling. I tell myself something I love about me at least once a day. Every day is not perfect. I still have rough days, but knowing what it’s like to truly love myself (imperfections and all) is a spiritual and healing experience.

I make an effort to connect with others, because in the past I struggled to do it. I missed out on many experiences because I was uncertain about myself, and as a result, I lived mostly inside my head. People thought I was mean or stand-offish but in reality I was uncomfortable with ME. Loving myself first means that I take care of my mind, my body, my soul, my heart, and my family and friends. I want to radiate positivity everywhere I go so that if there is anyone out there feeling the way I once did, she/he can find hope and inspiration in my story and in our interaction.

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body and soul? (Exercise, healthy eating, spiritual practice, etc)

I changed many of my negative habits. I make it a priority to remain active weekly – working out frequently and using FitBit to track my steps because it keeps me motivated (I love work-week challenges with my coworkers).  I’ve cut out a lot of foods that weighed me down internally (fried foods, bread and dairy), and I replaced them with healthier alternatives (baked foods, non-processed foods, coconut milk).

I love to read books of all genres to keep my mind fresh and alert. Lastly, but most importantly, I talk to God through prayer and daily affirmations.

Is there an obstacle or challenge you’ve overcome that led to a deeper love for who you are?

I used to be overweight and suffered some complications with my health. Becoming healthier has truly transformed me. I feel good inside and out, and I think healthy eating and activeness have contributed. I am more open to people and have been able to build stronger relationships.

What have you learned from self-love?

Self-love has to be defined by the individual and takes on many different forms.  You can show yourself love in your daily actions and interactions with others. For example, I know if I stop practicing my healthy habits I may need to re-evaluate self-love; there may be something deeper going on with me, because being healthy is how I show myself love.

I’ve learned that it is difficult to build relationships with others when there is no self-love.  I want to make sure I am always loving me so that I can fully love others.

I have also learned that people really love me! When I struggled with self-love, I felt that others did not truly love me. I mean, why would they if I could not love myself?  What I have come to find is that (1) people really do want to get to know me, and (2) I do have something to offer the world. I have been able to experience things I NEVER would have experienced, and I finally feel like I am living life. It feels good.

 

Inspired by Yewande’s self-love story? Share in the comments. We want to hear from you.


Love Yourself First! Friday share the unique stories of diverse women to inspire and empower others to also fiercely demonstrate self-love in action.  The questions are meant to shed light on various ways our featured Phoenixes are making self-care and intentional living a priority.

Do you want to share your self-love story? Send an email HERE.  Just put “My LYFF Story” in the subject line of your email, and you’ll be contacted by the Phoenix Team with details on how to participate. Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.

Join the Collective on Facebook and Instagram.


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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday: This Phoenix is Tracie

Photo Credit: Erika Kapin Photography

Love Yourself First! Friday is back with all new Phoenix features.  This week we’re sharing Tracie’s self-love story.

How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

This is, admittedly, a difficult question for me to answer, as I don’t always do a good job with self-love, let alone loving myself FIRST. That said, I’ve come to understand it as centering myself and my needs as first and foremost in the planning and execution of my life.

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body and soul? (Exercise, healthy eating, spiritual practice, etc)

Meal planning is something I’ve recently began practicing as a self-love/self-care habit, which may seem light work to some, but is HUGE for me. Making sure to drink adequate amounts of fresh water daily, allowing space for heightened “inappropriate” emotional moments (esp. sadness & anger) to flow unedited, and telling the truth (at least to myself) about how I feel in the moment are a few other things I do to let the inner me know that she is safe and valued.

Is there an obstacle or challenge that you’ve overcome that led to a deeper love for who you are?

The meal planning challenge is a HUGE one, because it really opened my eyes to the ways I leap to prioritize others before myself. From start to finish, meal-planning three meals for five days straight takes me about 3 hours – hours I balked at setting aside for myself, but wouldn’t blink an eye to devote to someone else if asked. The first time I realized this it was HUGE for me; it was my opportunity to take a different approach towards myself in the future. If I can show myself even HALF of the love I show others on a consistent basis, I know, overall, my life can only get better and better.

What have you learned from self-love?

I’ve learned that self-love is not habitual for many (if not most of us) and is something that must be learned. Even the idea of practicing acts of self-love takes work, just to sit and figure out what it should LOOK like some days, before you can even get into the work of it. That said, the joy of getting and staying in love with you FAR outweighs the effort. The beauty and peace of mind that have come from this journey are immeasurable, quite honestly. I’m grateful that the older I get, the clearer I get about how best to support myself, and that feels lovely.


Love Yourself First! Friday invites women to tell their LYFF stories to inspire and empower others to also fiercely demonstrate self-love in action.  The questions are meant to shed light on various ways our featured Phoenixes are making self-care and intentional living a priority.

Do you want to share your self-love story? Send an email HERE.  Just put “My LYFF Story” in the subject line of your email, and you’ll be contacted by the Phoenix Team with details on how to participate. Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.

Join the Collective on Facebook and Instagram.


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Conflict Resolution: 4 Things You Need to Know to Master It

Conflict. The word itself more than likely triggers you to think about a personal or professional challenge you’ve had or are currently going through with someone. Most of us do everything in our power to avoid it, particularly in work relationships, but I’m here to tell you, you can’t.

We’re human beings with differing beliefs, perspectives, and experiences, so when it comes to working together the goals are to find common ground and mutual purpose. However, more often than not – even with the best intentions – we don’t reach an understanding until there’s conflict.

It’s the great disruptor, helping us to be more conscious of our interactions and creating opportunities for open and honest dialogue. The key is to run (or if you’re really uncomfortable, maybe a slow walk) toward these opportunities rather than back away from them.

At an early age I realized trying to steer clear of “the great disruptor” was nearly impossible.

I tried avoidance, denial and benefit-of-the-doubt instead of communication, but all were detrimental to self-care. My frustration and dismay would make their way to the surface at some point, serving as a reminder to me that, as James Baldwin put it, “You cannot fix what you will not face.”

What really forced me to change was seeing how NOT dealing with conflict physically affected me: I was 28 at the time, excited about my new “grown up” job and putting up with a lot of mistreatment (constant criticism, meanness, and apathy) from my former supervisor. I developed horrible, blister-like breakouts. The stress literally showed on my face. When I noticed how badly I was breaking out I chalked it up to something in my diet, but my body was actually responding to what was happening at work.

How did I know it was work related? Two ways: 1) I’d not had acne since I was 13 years old. 2) Louise Hay. I’ll explain.

When I couldn’t get rid of the breakouts no matter what I did, I knew it was something deeper than eating too many greasy foods. I opened Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them, turned to the page on the cause of pimples, and the first sentence said, “Small outbursts of anger.” The second sentence was an affirmation: “I calm my thoughts and I am serene.” I knew at that point my physical distress was about not confronting my supervisor.

I was angry but acting as if everything was OK. The only way back to “calm thoughts and a serene” state was to confront her, so I did.

Before the meeting, I wrote down my main talking points, provided examples, and also shared what I needed for a better work environment. Was I afraid? Absolutely. But Maggie Kuhn said it best, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”

My supervisor was shocked but receptive. I was relieved and liberated.

Things improved, but more importantly, after that meeting I made a commitment to always respectfully speak my truth and never let any situation get that bad again – no matter how difficult I think confronting it might be.

It’s years later and I’ve kept that promise to myself.

And yes, the breakouts disappeared.

 


I was so serious about learning healthier strategies of communication that I also worked to become a conflict resolution mediator. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I now use the skills and techniques I learned to help others navigate difficult dialogue.

Here are four tips I’d like to share with you.

Be COURAGEOUS about resolving conflict. Don’t let the issue fester.

The decision to resolve conflict is most certainly an act of courage, because no one really wants to face it head on. We ignore it. We make excuses. We wait until we’re forced to deal with the issue. I’m saying don’t let it get to that point. Be proactive, especially if you think it’s a situation that could potentially damage your work relationship.

Write down your thoughts before meeting with the person so you have a clear head and an open heart for resolution. And remember, the more you put it off, the more challenging the situation will become. You owe it to yourself (and the other person) to resolve it as quickly and thoughtfully as possible.

Keep in mind, what you think will happen is far worse than what will actually happen, so refrain from visualizing drama and instead think about what will go right.

If you feel the issue warrants having a third party present (conflict resolution mediator, trusted mutual colleague, etc) then be sure you and the other person are in full agreement about someone else being a part of the meeting.

Be willing to have a difficult conversation in order to move forward with clarity and understanding.

Everything doesn’t always come up roses when working together, unfortunately. So, it’s important to have courageous conversations. Don’t ignore bumps in the road; they are opportunities for personal and professional growth, and of course, better communication. The harmony and happiness you want when working with others is on the other side of that difficult (but necessary) conversation. Meet with a common goal and mutual purpose in mind, agreeing to clear up miscommunication and to move forward with greater understanding of what each person needs to sustain the work relationship.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High reiterates this point:

Mutual Purpose means that others perceive that we are working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that we care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. We believe they care about ours. Consequently, Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal and you have both a good reason and healthy climate for talking.

 

Commit to directly discuss your concerns only with the person you have conflict.

This one seems simple, but it’s not. Why? Because the urge to vent your frustration and share the problem(s) you’re having with someone other than the person you’re in conflict with is almost second nature. It’s what we’ve all learned to do in order to avoid confrontation.

Venting is a quick and comfortable way to feel better and to validate your side of the story. But what does it really solve? You got it. Nothing. The problem still exists, and unfortunately, the person you’ve told is now indirectly involved, and that could potentially make things worse.

How many times have you consulted with friends and loved ones about an issue or challenge you’re having in a work relationship? Probably too many to count. It’s OK. We all need a listening ear sometimes, but sharing the same thing over and over again gets old quickly.

Work toward developing solutions not increasing complaining sessions, because eventually, your friends and loved ones will get tired of hearing about it.

Put another way in A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted:

Talking to someone other than the person who brings up your unhealed feelings is triangulation. If you’re unfamiliar with triangulation, it occurs when you have an uncomfortable situation with someone but discuss the problem with someone else rather than going to the person directly. Healthy communication is talking directly and only to the person you have an issue with. Talking to someone else is complaining; it’s triangulation and it perpetuates rather than solves the problem.

Really listen.

At some point or another you’ve heard this quote from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Listen to the other person without

  1. Interrupting
  2. Impatiently waiting for your chance to speak – fidgeting, lack of eye contact, etc. Body language speaks volumes.
  3. Focusing on who’s right or wrong. The purpose is to be open, to listen and understand, not to one-up each other.

So, first ask yourself (when you take time to write down your thoughts), “What is my intention for meeting?” If it’s just to give the person “a piece of your mind,” then you’re wasting your time. You may feel better for a while after doing it, but there’s no real resolution in that plan.

Remember, this is about your commitment to being a more thoughtful communicator and to developing a shared purpose that will strengthen your trust in and respect for each other.

Listening must be a two-way street.

Be patient with yourself when it comes to the process of conflict resolution. Take it one step at a time. Sure, it may be uncomfortable at first, but there’s definitely growth in the uncomfortable space, an opportunity to learn how healthy, productive communication works. So, take the leap. Do it afraid, because meaningful work relationships happen through courageous conversations.

 


Ayanna Jordan is founder of and leadership development coach & trainer for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She develops and facilitates women-centered workshops on how putting self-love into action can transform your life. Ayanna also creates coaching and training that supports women’s professional growth in leadership, entrepreneurship, and passion-filled work. As editor-in-chief of Phoenix Shine, she is happy to be working with contributing writers to provide resources and awareness on topics that cultivate self-love and acceptance. Right now, she is most inspired by the LYFF series and She Makes It Beautiful. You can learn more about Ayanna HERE.


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Mistakes are Inevitable. It’s Time to Forgive Yourself.

Please forgive yourself. It’s time.

Mistakes are inevitable, a part of life, yet we still beat ourselves up about them. The best thing – the most healthy and loving thing – you can do is forgive them. Don’t sabotage your success by holding the mistakes of the past over your head.

Repeat this affirmation daily, as a reminder.

forgiveness-affirmationthe-phoenix-rising-collective

I also recommend the The Forgiveness Diet, an exercise from the book A Course in Miracles. I wrote about it and shared my experience doing it on the blog a couple of years ago (a snippet of what I said is below).

It was important for me to start this exercise again because I did not want an inability to forgive myself (or others) hindering my success or sabotaging my commitment to live in the fullness of who I am. The Diet says to the ego, “I am well aware that the culmination of my past experiences has prepared me for what I am embarking on now. All is well.

You can even download the Diet instructions, too: I Forgive Myself: It’s More than Just An Affirmation

After completing the exercise, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the experience was for you. Share in the comments.

Continue being self-love in action.


Ayanna_Jordan[The Phoenix Rising Collective]1Ayanna Jordan is founder of and leadership development coach & trainer for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She develops and facilitates women-centered workshops on how putting self-love into action can transform your life. Ayanna also creates coaching and training that supports women’s professional growth in leadership, entrepreneurship, and passion-filled work. As editor-in-chief of Phoenix Shine, she is happy to be working with contributing writers to provide resources and awareness on topics that cultivate self-love and acceptance. Right now, she is most inspired by the LYFF series and She Makes It Beautiful. You can learn more about Ayanna HERE.


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We All Need Phoenixes in Our Lives

lashaun-phoenix-kotaranthephoenixrisingcollective

I have chosen to share wisdom from one of my dearest and most creative soul ties, La Shaun phoenix Kotaran. I met this artist a little over a decade ago in a Detroit poetry venue. Instantly after watching La Shaun’s performance on stage I was drawn to her magic. I am not too sure how we actually exchanged information but according to her, she heard me share a poem on stage and felt a connection as well.

I am not particularly interested in detailing her life and how this Detroit artist entered the creative realm. If you Google her or listen to her music, spoken word, or read her poetry book you will become more acquainted with her identity. Because of her experiences, she has been able to speak volumes of light into my life, especially during some of my lowest moments – to name a few:

  1. When I avoided my doctor’s request to set a follow-up appointment to find out the results of an operation that would indicate whether or not I had cancer, she lit a fire under my behind to set that appointment.
  2. When I organized a Women’s Symposium and people backed out at the last minute. Without my asking, she stepped in and took over areas where I needed help the most.
  3. For my birthday when I was living abroad and I sat in this small apartment thinking I had been forgotten, she sent me a cyberspace birthday gift reminding me how much I was loved — not just by her and others — but most importantly how much I loved myself.
  4. And then there are the endless love letters that solidified this blessed affair.

My intention is to share some of the wisdom that comes from the letters she has written. They offer friendship, authenticity, forgiveness, growth, fire, and more love.

The italicized phrases help explain the context of phoenix’s responses.

Your name?

Phoenix (small ‘p’) was a name given to me by the poets in the mid to late 90s. I’m not sure of the exact date, as I’ve had the name now for as long as I can remember. One thing I can say for certain is that you have to be careful when you name a thing. I’ve literally become every facet of the name PHOENIX. I was in an abusive relationship and I used poetry therapeutically to share my story, to escape from the trauma of the relationship and then to eventually escape my abuser. The lines I weaved in those smoked-filled cafés filled with incense, cigarettes and insecurity began to really resonate with people, until they gave me my “poet name”. It never wore off in that I have lived my life as a phoenix. This includes overcoming death multiple times, reinventing myself to be as youthful as the world around me and taking on this magical/mystical appeal. Moreover, as this mythical bird that can soar at some of the highest altitudes, I find it hard to hang around folks with a pigeon mentality. I can’t be on this earthly terrain accepting any random scrap people want to give me. I was born to fly. I was born to be a big deal. I was born to be this magical, mystical, drama-filled being.  I had difficulty accepting that, but [age] 40 will make you cluck your tongue against the roof of your mouth and say, “F*** it. This is me. I’m amazing. I’m scared. I take risks.  Some of this sh** is planned. Some of it isn’t. But, for everything I am and everything I’m not, I’m completely fine with being me. I’ll do what I want. I’ll say what I want. I’ll handle the consequences either way.”

Why the arts? 

Because it was easy to set my pain to a tempo. Poetry and music became this fluid thing – like water cleansing the spirit or like being baptized.  I think art, and we chose each other. I needed an outlet [and] art needed a vessel.

A specific phase in phoenix’s life.

I think this season has been transitional for so many folks, myself included.  I’m inspired, but I’ve been mentally and creatively drained so I think I’m going through a seasonal purge/emotional cleanse.  What has been my particular lifeline in the past few weeks is waking up in the mornings and for 5-10 minutes just declaring out loud all of the stuff I’m grateful for: From life to my warm blanket to incense to the breakfast smoothie to the sun to the birds to no leg cramps to great sex the night before to a great movie to the morning drive not feeling so rushed. Every little thing I can think of to be grateful for I say it. It changes me from cranky to positive in 5-10 minutes and it’s been helping this seasonal depression.

la1

This was for my Spirit Space Photographic Series on Instagram. phoenix is a feature.

My philosophy is really simple.  We are 100% human and 100% divine.  We are these amazing supernatural (above the norm) beings in that we have the power to access that divinity all the time by mastering our thoughts.  Truly, as a God/Goddess thinks is their reality and everything that’s going on (or not going on) in our lives is directly related to our conscious and subconscious thoughts.  Mike Dooley, an amazing author and master of the Law of Attraction says that thoughts become things and it’s our responsibility to choose the good thoughts.  While storms may come, how we consider the storm is how we’ll respond to the storm.  How we consider joy is how we’ll respond to joy.  Even in difficult moments I’ve been working hard to make sure that I’m grateful for something everyday.  Gratefulness adds.  It multiplies.  It brings in miracles where there are seemingly none to be had.  It is a true gateway.

Letting go of stuff.

I’ve been doing a lot of pruning. I’ve asked God to show me who is supposed to be here as I transition into the next phase of my life. I’ve been carrying a lot of dead weight in relationships and have had to address a lot of things that I’ve been passive about in previous years. It’s been a process – making myself and my needs a priority. I’ve had to confront some emotionally scary situations and say, “Peace. I love you. But, the way my life is set up right now, you’re toxic and the relationship in its current state doesn’t suit me.”

Do you ever have doubts about your abilities and dreams?

Yes.  I have doubts all the time.  Am I too old, too much in my own way to be what I want – a rich and FAMOUS entertainer?  Do you hear me?  I want to be a rich and FAMOUS entertainer in the United States and in the United Kingdom.  I want to be a Cinderella story for the young and seasoned.  And that sheer desire – the clarity and honesty of it – the desire to stop hiding behind that desire and to just embrace it is my driving force.  When I put my mind on the desire to be a rich and famous singer…when I keep repeating it – I’m motivated to just do one thing towards it.  Write a song, send an email, make a connection, and pray. I keep my goal at the forefront of my mind.

I was preparing for a trip and was concerned about my purpose. She said this to me.

Let me share this, Goddess: You have seen other countries with determination and penny pinching.  You have quickened and inspired the minds of so many emerging artists while discovering who you are in the process.  You understand Universal Law, the Law of Attraction, the Law of Love.  Nothing…No THING…will be withheld from you.  Continue to dream a world.  Continue to take risks.  Put good positive energy and thoughts into the results you want and let Source Energy worry about the how’s. Make YOU a priority right now.  Your wants.  Your needs. You don’t have to stay in your lane as much as you need to make yourself a chief priority. I think that you should embrace the unknown.  It’s priming you for blessings.  You can look for cool jobs and gigs while you’re there.  The answers will come to you in the midst of the circumstance.  You’ll get to see how you survive when all of the decisions have to be made in the moment. Sometimes, we plan the sh** out of stuff, and maybe we need to get lost in the experience. Overplanning was taking the fun out of stuff for me – you know?  So, I challenge you to just embrace that you’ll be in Italy and that every decision about your next move will come.  Your spirit and body have been telling you to rest and fall in love with art again. Your first trip to Italy afforded you that.  This trip, be intentional to discover your purpose and then let God pull things into the forefront for you.

So, you can see why I love this woman so much. She is a reminder that we are advocates for each other because we believe in the extraordinary and the impossible-made-possible. We believe in growth and glory. We walk in faith with our families cheering us on. At the bottom of her email there is a quote by Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act.  It is a habit.”

How true indeed. She is excellence in motion, always working on herself and encouraging others. She is an artist’s artist and a life coach comrade. What better way to start the year than with a phoenix on either side of me, whispering, “Rise Phoenix! Rise and declare yourself ALIVE!”

 

Share your thoughts in the comments. phoenix shared that she takes at least 5- 10 minutes out of her day to express gratitude. What is your daily ritual OR what daily ritual will you begin to practice to keep you centered in and inspired about life?

Learn more about La Shaun phoenix Kotaran and also listen to her music.


About the Contributor

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help women reach their highest potential.  “The Phoenix Rising Collective is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts.

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ARTIST FEATURE: Giving of Oneself: An Interview with Gretchen E. Henderson

 

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There are some people in this world who force you to ponder your existence. Their mere presence requires you to think about purpose and the intimate details of your life. I met one of those people during summer 2015, when I attended a Kenyon Review workshop in Gambier, Ohio. One of the co-instructors, Gretchen E. Henderson, lit up the room with her attentive heart, her vigorous spirit, and her compassion for the women artists in that particular “Art of Text” workshop. This had been her third co-instructed summer workshop with Ellen Sheffield. And what an inspiring summer it was with these two amazing instructors and a room full of Women Artisans!

I should begin with Gretchen’s occupational identity. Her words delighted me: “I am weary of classifications in general. I tend to call myself a writer who works in the medium of language.”  She is a writer, scholar, and artist who plays with the structure of language both on and off paper. She and Ellen encouraged me to rethink how stories are told, especially in the publishing world.

Dr. Gretchen Henderson tells her students to call her by her first name. She does not focus her energy on titles, but when you speak to her you know the genuine spirit from which she comes. What she calls “rambling babble,” I call “passionate brilliance.” In our conversation she described her “detouring path,” her early experience teaching high school, starting an interdisciplinary program, enacting experiential education, and then realizing the necessity to change. She took night classes in creative writing, then pursued graduate degrees, and now has been teaching at various universities for over a decade. I myself entered the graduate world for familial reasons steeped in a different sort of exploration that focused on worth, but Gretchen responded to a burning curiosity that explores a variety of intersecting disciplines – writing, history, art, music – to name a few.

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This Northern Californian comes from a family who thinks practically. “Art seemed to be something you did on the side,” she said, explaining her upbringing. She trained seriously in music at a conservatory but thought she would go into human rights work or some kind of social work. But the artistry was always there – now unmistakable when you are in Gretchen’s presence. She exudes unconfined energy fluidly spreading across spectrums, genres, and disciplines. She makes you feel like art is central to life, because it seems to be a way of sensing and engaging the world. “Art challenges us to reconsider forms and encounter contents that may be unfamiliar, inviting or challenging us to question and even cross our own borders.”

She posed the question, “What knowledge is valued and not valued in this world?” Then she explained, “Societies often teach us to see things in a singular sort of way – as if certain things and ways are better than others. But when we live through adaptation, we start to understand that there are many ways of doing things, that we’ve inherited preferred knowledges, but that there are equally viable alternatives for living in the world. Exposures to these possibilities often prove more engaging and generous than our inherited versions. People live wholly different but equally valuable lives every day, and we live in a changing world. As we grow, we almost have to unlearn things to understand how we acquired much of the knowledge that we live by and practice.”

This, I believe is one of the reasons why storytelling and voice are so important to Gretchen. With her background as a musician, she explained that narrative and voice intertwine “like sound and silence, positive and negative space, where each comes into focus through relief and being present to each other.” She describes the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, for instance, a term indicating beauty but whose connotations span the withered, weathered, crooked, aged, and ephemeral – qualities that might be deemed ugly or unwanted. Gretchen spent the past few years writing a book on Ugliness, exploring cultural histories and values, where art and aesthetics entangle with social preferences and practices.

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When I think of Gretchen I think of an endless amount of compassion. We talked about this characteristic, in relation to water and its elemental impact in our lives. Gretchen loves to swim. She learned to swim in childhood but really started swimming in earnest as an adult. Swimming catalyzes mobility, keeps everything fluid and in motion. “Water is a miracle place,” she said. “I feel like things that aren’t possible on land are possible in water. There’s a synergy between water and air,” she adds. “Both have resistance – you start to feel the air’s resistance through Tai Chi and related practices – but water magnifies that sense of dynamic engagement, more tangibly.” She explained that the resistance of water is a positive support that helps the body move past its limitations, get stronger, and engage with a larger environment. She called water a forgiving medium and repeated more profoundly, “Water is a forgiving place.”

This transitioned into the idea of what it means to forgive. “Over time, our bodies accumulate lived experiences: injury, aging, everything that we do. Our bodies can become static, but water and breathing keep things lubricated and moving. The same might be said of our ecosystems. Our bodies are heavily composed of water – after all, we evolved from fish – and much of the planet is water. Water embodies a kind of interdependence.” She explained that the two words “For + Giving” speak to a gift economy. The notion that water is a gift and gives us life speaks to our internal and external development. Wherever Gretchen has lived, she takes regular walks to be near water – whether a river, a creek, a bay, an ocean. She said, “There are all of these incredible qualities that water takes on, absorbing and reflecting light, shifting colors and movements, sometimes calm or windswept. There’s this fundamental property of motion. Water is so much bigger than we are, so at times it can be healing but other times volatile, for instance in storms or tides.” Water reminds her that humans are a small and humble part of this planet. So when looking at the word “forgiving” – or, as she pointed out, the two words “For Giving” – water speaks of being flexible and compassionate, aware of and present to the world that we collectively inhabit.

My own bodily experiences helped me relate to her final comments – an “out of box” philosophy and approach to teaching that allows people to move past their personal limitations – whatever those limitations may be. She connected this to the nature of “productive failure.” We can all agree that failure happens, right? But failure does not have to be terrible. I have learned that the greatest successes sometimes come from catastrophic failures. Gretchen thoughtfully shared, “I think people learn most from their failures. There’s something about learning these limits – how to be flexible around circumstances. When we fail, or when our institutions or our bodies or something else seems to fail us, we learn that we are capable of a lot more than we think we are.” We learn standards to understand how and why they came to be, but when they don’t work, we can learn how to re-imagine our limits or even how to effectively break the rules. This process of engagement produces, what she calls, critical makers. This critical making can extend to anything that we do.

I believe that is the phase I am walking in – to embrace productive failure so I can wake into a new possibility for myself as a person and artist. Gretchen shared that one of her favorite expressions in Spanish is ¿Cómo amaneciste?, which essentially means, “How did you dawn?” This focus on wakefulness turns upside down the English expression, “How did you sleep?” How can I wake to be the artist and person I am called to be? To be fluid as water? To stretch my limitations and learn what it truly means to give as an artist? To give of oneself for giving’s sake? To Gretchen E. Henderson, I am grateful for her giving heart.

 

Inspired by Gretchen’s story? In what area of your life do you need to surrender? Embrace and accept productive failure? Become a critical maker? Forgive? Share in the comments.

 


About the Contributor

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help women reach their highest potential.  “The Phoenix Rising Collective is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read more Artists Features.

Join the Collective on Facebook and Instagram.