In one of my favorite Alanis Morissette songs she sings,
The only way out is through
The only way we’ll feel better
The only way out is through, ultimately.
That song was released in 2004, and by then I had already been blessed with the knowledge of the zen concept that “the obstacle is the path,” both in my relationship with my partner and through Mare Chapman’s mindfulness meditation for women class that my then-partner and I took together.
We looked at how we had been conditioned to “other” (more about this later) and to take everything personally, carrying the weight of all that society and our upbringing had told us as females we should carry and be and do. The class was life changing, and I have retaken it once every five years or so to refresh and remind myself to breathe and give everything inside more spaciousness and kindness. When I do, everything feels easier.
Mare’s 2017 book Unshakeable Confidence is almost as good as the classes themselves, with one major difference: her in-person classes got me to meditate regularly in a way that I wasn’t able/willing to do when receiving her teachings through the book.
What I love about Mare’s book is that it has all the great content of her mindfulness for women classes in a voice and pace that mirrors her in-person teachings. The chapters, like her classes, are enriched with anecdotes from Mare’s life and meditation practice as well as those of her students.
Something I find helpful about Mare’s approach is her humility and willingness to share her own fallibility and humanity. She isn’t making the suggestions from an empirical or authoritative perspective, but as someone who has learned through the practice herself.
Like in her classes, Mare offers meditation practice, “ownwork” (practice to do on your own), and check-ins to reflect on how things are going and possibly changing as a result of practicing mindfulness meditation.
The concept that has most profoundly impacted my understanding of myself and my relationships is that of “othering,” which Mare describes as “a conditioned imbalance of our attention in which we focus almost exclusively on another persona while ignoring our own experience. We are so intent on trying to meet the needs and ensure the happiness of others, we don’t notice ourself. Because we overlook information about what is authentically true for us, we lose our sense of self.”
Women are conditioned to “other” as nurturers and caregivers, putting others first. Mindfulness helps us rewire our brains to bring our awareness back to ourselves in a way that is both freeing and empowering, allowing us to live in the moment with authenticity and clarity.
This may all sound amazing and positive, but many of you reading this may also know that it can be exquisitely painful and exposing to clear away the clutter and look deeply into ourselves. When we are no longer looking to others for our sense of self and value, it can leave us feeling vulnerable and even lost. Mare reminds readers at every turn to be incredibly gentle and forgiving with whatever comes up for us during practice or as a result of a more mindful way of being.
The other really powerful takeaway from Mare’s classes and this book is the practice of Metta, or Loving Kindness. When we practice Loving Kindness, we bring “unconditional and unrestrained friendliness toward ourselves and others.” We start with ourselves, offering this “spiritual balm to heal the wounded self” internally, then out to others into ever-widening circles of intention. I once encouraged a gathering of like-minded women to offer Loving Kindness to ourselves, others, and even Scott Walker during the Act 10 protests at the Capitol. My suggestion was met with some amount of shock and resistance, but proved powerful and somewhat healing.
First and foremost, in-person classes are always best for the way I need to practice (this goes for writing, yoga, meditation—basically any healthy habit). But in the absence of the class, Mare’s book is a close second to reminding me to breathe and offer myself and the world gentle curiosity and spaciousness.