Marie Kondo Teaches People To Listen To Their Bodies

Perhaps you listen to your body when it tells you that you’ve overdone it at the gym or that you shouldn’t have binge watched all of season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel the day it dropped. Maybe there were times you ignored the subtle messages of your body until they got louder, fighting hard to get your attention, and you found yourself with the flu or a pulled muscle in your back. Your body had to shout, take care of me!

But do you listen to your body when it’s not in distress? When it’s happy?

In reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and then watching the new Netflix’s series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I realized what it is that Marie Kondo does—she shows people what sparks joy for them by teaching them to listen to their bodies.

If you are unfamiliar with the KonMari Method, it is a systematic way of working through a home. Basically the participants are confronted by everything they own and must decide item by item what to keep. The sorting is done in five categories performed in order beginning with clothing, then books, followed by papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and finally sentimental items. Once you discard what you no longer need, you can begin organizing. But this isn’t just about getting rid stuff, in the process of teaching tidying Kondo also teaches people how to open communication with their bodies.

For the first lesson, clothing, they must go through their entire apartment or house and gather all their clothes—every last sock, t-shirt, set of gloves—into a pile on their bed. In one episode there’s a pretty impressive heap, covering a queen-size bed that nearly touches the ceiling. It’s a satisfying visual with great before-and-after potential. After everything is gathered, the owner must pick up each item in her hands and decide whether or not to keep it. No one else can help. While it’s a tremendous amount of work, sorting clothing proves an excellent training ground.

I was surprised by how much joy my socks bring me.

This is not a mental endeavor of rationalizing the worth of each item. The mind can’t help but be judgmental. After all it is its job to discriminate, and so it will justify keeping a never-worn jacket, because of the financial cost of buying it. Or it will hold on to a once-worn sweater, because it doesn’t want to offend the person who has probably forgotten their generosity of fifteen years ago.

Kondo instructs them to feel if the clothing sparks joy. This is key to the KonMari Method. There is no judgment. Only the body’s reaction to the item at that moment.

In the first episode, confusion crosses the woman’s face as she stands next to the mound of her belongings. Kondo shows her what it feels like to experience joy. She rises up on her toes, smiling and brimming with energy until a sound like “KEE” escapes her body. She says, “You feel all of yourself rising …you feel it when you hold a puppy or wear your favorite outfit. It’s a warm and positive feeling.”

It is a physical sensation. A feeling produced purely in the body. In another segment, Kondo explains: “Some of you may not know how that feels yet, but please do not worry. Your sensitivity to joy will be honed as you progress through the tidying process.”

In another episode, a man is having trouble sorting through his books. She instructs him to find a book he loves and hold it. He chooses To Kill a Mockingbird and you can see the joy on his face as he holds it. Memories of what it means to him wash over him. In that moment, he learns how his body experiences joy.

As people sort through their clothing, books, papers, komono, they pick up each item and listen to their bodies. If it doesn’t spark joy, they thank it and give it away. Now they can move on to other things that would be harder to tackle, because by this point they know how to listen to their bodies and understand the physical reaction to any article in their homes. They know what joy feels like to them. They trust their own intuition.

In essence, their bodies choose what to keep. By the time they move to the last and most difficult lesson – Sentimental Items, they have built a trust in their body’s ability to make a decision. With easily over a thousand touches, they have not only decluttered and organized their homes; they have been trained to listen to their bodies. The line of communication is firmly established. They act on that information with confidence.

This process of keeping only things that spark joy may sound silly, but by the end of the process people have learned this valuable skill. Often people’s lives are transformed after they have completed the KonMari Method. Their relationships improve. There’s less bickering about mess. They have more time, because everything has its place. They have more energy, because they are not weighed down by all the accumulated junk of their lives. This is all true.

But the biggest change is they now listen to their bodies. A skill they can use in every aspect of their lives. They know when something does not spark joy. They know how they experience joy and they like it. They realize that they have surrounded themselves with stuff they don’t need or even like sometimes out of fear or habit or sentiment. They no longer hang on to their former selves, bad relationships, or goals. They know what joy feels like and they won’t settle for less. This is the true life-changing magic.

Taking Time to Be Grateful

This past year I spent much of my time developing mindful writing curriculum and leading workshops and retreats. I love this work, not only because it brings me joy and purpose, but because of the people it has brought into my life. I looked back on how I came to develop this work and found that there were a lot of people to be grateful for.

I am grateful to have discovered mindfulness all those years ago by reading Dani Shapiro’s Devotion.

I am grateful to the Penn Program for Mindfulness. It was there when I needed it after my husband’s death, giving me a way to structure my grief and a new way to live my life moving forward. The MBSR foundational 8-week program really did change my life.

I am grateful that I created the mindful writing practice (daily meditation followed by writing) for myself. My formal meditation practice had helped create a stillness within me where my imagination could return. Meditating and writing each morning continues to give me the foundation to create on and off the page.

I am grateful to Lynn Rosen at Open Book Bookstore for inviting me to teach my first mindful writing class at her store. Our partnership continues, as I’ll be part of her Capturing the Muse: A One-Day Retreat for Writers on January 12th!

Once again, I am grateful for the Penn Program for Mindfulness for inviting me to teach in their program. Robin Hall and Mara Wai have been wonderful to work with—enthusiastic, supportive, and insightful.

This year I also paired with two yoga studios for The Body Tells the Story workshop. Lauren Giordano at OHMGrown Yoga is a beautiful soul. Her studio has yoga and an array of eclectic classes. At Wake Up Yoga, I co-led the workshop with Corina Benner, who brought Yin Yoga into the practice. I’ve been going to her Wednesday morning class for two and a half years. Each week she brings us into the present with appreciation for ourselves and our bodies.

Mindful writing has been powerful for my students as well. Following a workshop, one man said, “this is the beginning of something big for me.” Writers couldn’t believe how well the practice opened them up and helped them set aside the inner critic and “create a space” for their creativity.  At each workshop, course and retreat, students come with an openness and willingness to reconnect with themselves and often find that they are truly fascinating. They make connections through which their lives make more sense, they build gratitude for the life they are living, and they unleash creativity they’d forgotten they had.

And I get to be there to see it all happen.

Their stories and wisdom have enriched my practice and my life. Their feedback has informed my future workshops and retreats. For instance, with their encouragement I extended the 4-week Building a Mindful Writing Practice to six weeks, and I created The Body Tells the Story workshop.

I’m looking forward to 2019. Let me know in the comments or via email me what you’d like to see in Mindful Writing this year.

Facebook Is Stalking Me

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. Too much time. Usually I justify it by saying it’s my main mode of communication. It’s where I post my book reviews, readings, essays, blog posts, and where I advertise my upcoming workshops and retreats.

I justify it by saying this is how I stay engaged with my community. I follow other writers and learn about their upcoming publications. I read their essays and articles and blog posts.

I justify it by saying this is where I get my news. I follow reliable new sources. My friends follow other reliable new sources and share articles. So I am informed about the latest news and the state of our nation.

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First, Listen

This week in my Building a Mindful Writing Practice class, we focused on listening in many different ways. Listening to ourselves, to our bodies, to those around us, to the world around us, to the words of writers (both living and dead) and to our own writing, spoken aloud.

As writers, our job is to pay attention. As writers, our job is to be in conversation with the world around us. The first part of that job is to listen. In doing so, connections are made, ideas come forth, and words come to the surface.

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Stop Saying You Can’t Meditate

I keep hearing people say things like “I suck at meditation,” “My mind is all over the place.” “I can’t do it.”

If this is you, you may have the idea that meditation is easy, peaceful, instant nirvana. Well, it’s not, at least not for most people.

For most of us, we sit down to meditate and we don’t like what our mind is doing. We don’t want to spend any time with it. It is not relaxing. Damn it!

The problem isn’t meditation. It’s your belief about meditation and who gets to do it. The thing turning you off to meditation is you. You didn’t like what you found. You realize how little control you have over your thoughts. That can be frightening at first. This may be what stops you from meditating.

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What my character had to tell me

As promised I’m reporting back on last months’ meditation of selecting a word that represents what the story I’m working on is about, in the hope that it would help me move forward in writing my novel. I selected the word anger, because I got the sense my narrator still held a lot of anger about the events that happened during the summer she is recounting. I expected that underneath that anger was sadness, disappointment, confusion and blame. I sat in meditation saying the word anger with my narrator in mind. What came up was truly unexpected.

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Finding truth in fiction

Thoughts are real, but not true

Thoughts are real, but not true

I’m taking the Power of Awareness online course with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield – two of my favorite mindfulness teachers. In her talk “Thoughts are real, but not true,” Brach explains that thoughts are real in the sense that we are  having them and in that our bodies and minds are reacting as if they are happening. For instance, if you are thinking of an argument you had in the past, a messy break up, or a scary walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood, your body will tense up and emotions will arise in you as if you are in that place and time.

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Farewell 2017

Remembering Who We Are

This week I finally got around to watching Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, a Netflix documentary directed by Didion’s nephew Griffen Dunne. I highly recommend it whether you are already a fan of Joan Didion or about to become one. In it, she talks about starting out writing for magazines in New York, returning to California, writing her novels and essays, her marriage, adopting her daughter Quintana and  the death of her husband. It takes you up to her latest book, Blue Nights, which is about her daughter’s death. You feel as if you seen her whole story, but I’m certain she still has things to offer.

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Writing and Competition

As writers we can feel we are in competition with other writers. At times, it feels like everyone we know fancies themselves a writer. Then there are the writers we do know, who are getting published annually, monthly, weekly. There are great writers we read who make us want to throw up our hands and say, “Forget about it. I’ll never write anything that good.” And then, there are those writers we see and think, “What the hell? That piece of crap got published? That piece of crap is selling millions?! I give up.”

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How to Be a Writer


If only it was that simple. If only we would let it be that simple.

There are those beautiful, yet elusive, times when both the ideas and the words to convey them come pouring forth. But then there are those times our creativity is balled up in a fist, holding its treasures tightly. As much as we struggle to pry it open one finger at a time, it won’t budge.

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