Pens move and thoughts flow the fourth Saturday of every month at Congregation NefeshSoul in Chandler when Susan Price leads “Journaling for Spiritual Growth.”
The class gives participants a chance to explore the myriad benefits associated with writing from the heart, while seeking new heights in self-discovery. They also mine experiences, hopes, dreams and Jewish values, finding themselves immersed in a prolific world not easily accessible without the benefit of paper and pen. In her class, Price offers encouragement, techniques and inspiration.
“This journaling class is very important to me,” says member Renee Newman. “I have multiple medical challenges, and I use the journaling to express myself when I have to vent. We’re provided with various prompts and ideas to facilitate our journaling, and I find these really helpful. I am now on my second journal.”
The seeds for Price’s class were sown during NefeshSoul’s Mussar class, which encourages introspection and examination of soul traits. While Mussar concluded earlier this year, the journaling class dovetailed into a similar journey of personal exploration that “I came into the world wired for sharing,” says Price. “Conversations are deliciously energizing experiences that broaden my perspective and awaken my creative passions. It became clear in the Mussar class all these ideas about who we are, and how we feel about these traits, are connected to the importance of quieting yourself in prayer and writing.”
The book used in class is Kaballah Month by Month, by Melinda Ribner, and some writing practices are aligned with the traits ascribed to the Hebrew calendar. An example is the concept of “receiving,” which according to Kabbalists corresponds to the month of May. To ignite the creative process in this case, prompts are provided to explore the possibilities of receiving in relation to being creative. “They evolved from studying and learning Torah, or realizing our personal relationship with God,” says Price. “Sometimes, the rabbi (Susan Schanerman) will say something that will ignite our imagination through the d’var Torah or her teachings.”
In addition to spiritual self-discovery, Price also credits the process of journaling with problem solving. “When I face a particularly tough decision I flow-write from two opposing perspectives,” she explains. “The trick is to set a timer, write from the heart, keep the pen moving and not stopping to edit. When Price and her husband considered a family move from Arizona to Oregon due to his job offer, they each wrote beginning with these two prompts: ”We must stay in Arizona because…” and “We must move to Oregon because … .” Afterward, they shared their discoveries, processed their concerns and chose to move. Susan had since returned to the Valley.
Price discovered a life-changing passion for spiritual writing in l997, when she decided to leap off the high board of the corporate world after being a human resource executive since 1969. Intrigued with the idea of writing for spiritual growth, she traveled to Payson to attend a weeklong writer’s workshop based on Christina Baldwin’s book Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest. Price’s friend knew the author and thought the workshop would help ease her transition out of the corporate world.
“I wrote an emotionally charged essay about leaving that environment, and the process of crafting, drafting and editing wiped away corporate ladder doubt,” says Price. “It was scary to jump off. In the workforce, it’s hard to get your foot in the door once you take your foot out of the door.”
In the midst of her soulful endeavor, Price’s creative spirit cracked wide open. She befriended three other workshop attendees, and the small cadre of women became a close-knit writing group. Each member possessed distinct writing ambitions – essay, memoir, poetry and children’s stories. “We were dedicated to supporting each others’ efforts through critique, community connections and emotional support,” says Price. Four years later the group (The Storytellers) offered its own women’s workshop series, “Write for Life.”
“This class was one of the most profound projects I’ve ever undertaken,” she says. “Whether the women completed one piece or went on to make writing a lifelong journey, they all had the satisfaction of knowing their stories were precious gifts that they gave to themselves.”
This experience linked Price into another writing passion: “legacy weaving.” Three years ago she had another “aha moment” and created a grandmother’s writing circle. Having five grandchildren between the ages of 4 months and 12 years herself, she and the other grandmothers meet monthly to capture the stories of their lives: holidays, homes, friends, lifestyles and current events. Included are personal stories regarding lessons learned, things cherished and values held as they focus on capturing the extra-special grandparent/grandchild moments.
“Now we are writing about our experiences with them, such as explaining how it felt the first time we held them,” she says. “I do have some seeds of regret though. I wish that I had embarked on this legacy-weaving, story-capturing journey before the majority of my elders passed. I would have liked to know more about my grandparents’ lives. I know very little about the generation that came before me, and I want future generations to know whose shoulders they stand on.”
Submerging herself in the world of writing is just one creative outlet for Price. Her other artistic passion is creating distinctive glass pieces. “I was born with some artistic talent,” she says. “I had an eye for color and design and always enjoyed art and drawing.” In the early ’80s she took her first glass art class at Artistry Stained Glass in Tempe and wound up making glass recreationally for herself and friends.
“When I moved to Oregon in 2001, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands,” she says. “Soon I found my way to the Eugene Glass School, where they taught me how to fuse glass. I absolutely loved the medium; it was so different from leaded glass.” After six months, Price bought her own kiln and her fledgling hobby blossomed into the dimension of fine art. She had her first open-studio sale and started doing commissioned work.
Price recently created NefeshSoul’s Ner Tamid and is currently working on a large-scale installation (8’x6′) for the Allan Price Commons and Science Library at the University of Oregon, which is scheduled to open fall of 2016. The new building is being named after Price’s husband, who served as the university’s vice president for advancement for eight years. Allan tragically drowned in 2013 while the couple was vacationing in Mexico to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. She moved to Arizona soon after to heal her wounds by being near family: her sons, grandchildren, sister and longtime friends.
“The university project will be steeped in creative symbolism, drawing on sentimentality and the elements of Jewish tradition,” says Price. “I’ve faced many challenges in life, but nothing so poignant as the death of my beloved husband. This project is truly a heart and soul undertaking.”
Summing up her activities since abandoning the corporate ladder, Price says, “I have hit life’s grand trifecta. I am bolstered by the power of creativity. I am centered by the power of writing, and I am supported by a magnificent Jewish community. Lucky me!”
Price is also the author of a children’s book, It’s Me! As Good As I Can Be, a spirit-lifting story rooted in the power of positive thinking. The book is based on her real life storytelling experience – bedtime stories she told to her then young son after he developed a genetic kidney disorder. “The book is a legacy – leaving testimonial to love and healing,” she says.
NefeshSoul is located near Ray and Kyrene, inside the Valley Unitarian Universalist Church at 6400 W Del Rio in Chandler. More information on “Journaling for Spiritual Growth” can be found at nefeshsoul.com. Click on the link for programs. The class meets the fourth Saturday of the month from 10 to 11 am. NefeshSoul classes and activities are always open to the public. You can also contact Susan Price directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.