What Holds YOU Back? Request for questions

“If we become addicted to the external, our interiority will haunt us. We will become hungry with hunger no image, person, or deed can still. To be wholesome, we must remain truthful to our vulnerable complexity.” (John O’Donahue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom)

Maybe you’re feeling a little disconnected from your own self. Maybe your own complexity feels terribly overwhelming sometimes. 

It happens. No harm. No foul. 

But now that you’ve seen that about yourself…you can never un-see it. We all know how that is.

So, what’s a person to do? 

There are so many good Ways, so much wisdom to help us back to the whole self. 

And lots of ways to get side tracked or confused.  

I plan on writing a weekly blog that addresses questions and concerns that you all have in addition to my own musings and journey for cultivating ongoing wholeness and health, the fullest integration of my various aspects I can muster. 

So I really want to know, what do you feel gets in YOUR way? 

What holds you back? 

What would YOU like to change, want support in changing? 

What questions do you have about how to proceed on the path to remaining true to your own vulnerable complexity? 

What confuses or perplexes you? 

Do you try to establish good habits and then feel them fall away and wonder how to maintain them? 

Do you think that meditation is an act of DOING, just one more pesky thing to cross off your already very full to-do list? 

Do you feel a certain tyranny that your cell phone holds over you and sometimes wonder where all your time has gone? 

Have you read every self-improvement book on the shelf and still wonder why things feel kind of fucked up? 

There are no small or stupid questions. The only bad questions are the ones that go un-asked. 

Please send me your questions here in the comments or if you want a more private communication, send me an email or private message. 

Your questions will be the fuels that inspires new articles in my website and for a new weekly project on Medium

Make an amazing week folks! 

I can’t wait to see your questions and hear your thoughts. 

May you all find peace and fully become the artists of your lives you truly are.




Writing Advice: Ann Patchett

Here’s today’s writing inspiration from the delightful and brilliant novelist Ann Patchett:
  • Don’t be afraid to make money writing the kinds of things you’d never write for the fun of it. There’s no shame in earning a living, and whatever you write, even catalog copy or fluffy magazine articles, makes you a better writer.
  • Writing about my happy marriage is alot more difficult, a lot more intimate, than writing about the unhappy stuff. But it’s my story to tell, and if I think I can learn something important, or share something important, I’ll tell it.
  • Staying focused, sitting at your desk, is your number one job as a wr iter. There’s always something else to do. Don’t do it! Remember, time applied equals work completed.
Why do you write?
Happy Writing!



Mindful Metta Mondays @Heartwood

Mindful Metta Mondays

img_1145Start Your Week Alive, Empowered
and Connected


Mindful Metta Mondays
The Heartwood Center in Evanston

with Hillary Johnson

Registration is now open. Sign up to reserve your spot.

This summer the course will run each month for four weeks on Monday nights

June 6, 13, 20, 27, 2016, 7pm-8pm

July 11, 18, 25, August 1, 2016, 7pm-8pm

August 15, 22, 29, September 5, 2016, 7pm-8pm


1818 Dempster Street, Evanston, IL 60202

4-week course $72 ($18/class) or $20 Drop in


When we cultivate our natural capacity for opening the heart and allowing it to blossom, we get closer to the best versions of ourselves. Metta or loving kindness is a powerful transformative practice that deepens recognition of our profound interconnection with all living things, allowing us to experience this sense of connection, even with the difficult people in our lives. Insights are sharpened and equanimity is accessed when we integrated Mindfulness Meditation and Metta with Contemplative Writing, This course will help you develop and deepen your:

  • Concentration
  • Connection
  • Courage/Fearlessness
  • Authentic Happiness
  • Discernment


Metta helps us awaken our hearts into a sense of spacious freedom, allowing us to bring greater loving kindness into everyday life, work and love. As we gain greater clarity and insight into our own hearts and minds by bringing attention to how we think, speak and act, we can open to a whole new, more discerning and caring way for engaging with ourselves and others.

As you develop your practice, you’ll see the fruits of greater loving kindness everywhere. This ongoing/repeatable class will help you sustain your practice and nurture the qualities of loving kindness with direction instruction, guided meditation and contemplative writing. There will also be plenty of opportunities for conversation and communal support for your practice.


The more you practice, the greater the gifts. You will:

  1. Feel your stress and tension dissolve.
  2. Loosen the grip of tightening fear in the heart  and feel it turn into open and spacious caring.
  3. Experience a sense of ongoing renewal, peace, and confidence arising from your own loving kindness practices

It’s not surprising that many people consider calming the mind through meditation as first step to a more peaceful, less stress-filled life. Yet, compassion and loving kindness have the power of water, a gentle force for courage allied with wisdom. Enjoy the peace of offering the gift of your compassion for others as we hold them quietly in our hearts.


Through cultivating empathy and understanding we expand our capacities for resolving conflicts and strengthen and multiply our possibilities for creatively easing suffering in the world and in our own hearts.

This course is for both new and experienced meditators. Bring a notebook and your favorite writing implement. You may bring a meditation cushion or bench if you like, but we also provide everything you need to be comfortable.

4-week course $72 ($18/class) or $20 Drop in

Email Hillary with any questions


Register by calling Hillary at  312-714-4563 (Please leave a message if no answer)


Use this link to register now.

Thank you. I look forward to practicing with you soon.

With Metta, Hillary


Mindful Metta Mondays In Evanston

So excited, humbled, honored to announce that I’ll be teaching at this amazing place, The Heartwood Center, in Evanston.

Mindful Metta Mondays start Monday June 6th, 7-8pm at the Heartwood Center!
Four-week sessions in June, July and August. $72 for the month or $20 drop in. Registration will open in the next day or so. Each session will integrate meditation and writing to help us cultivate Metta or loving kindness for ourselves and each other.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The stories we tell ourselves are so interesting.

It really is true that our focus determines our reality. If we tell a negative story, we tend to see how things are sucking and that quality of suckiness proliferates.

If we can see the good that is there, for real, not in a false, pollyanna way, we tend to write very different life narratives.


The more we cultivate lovingkindness for ourselves – simple acceptance of who we are right here and now, given the complexities of the ten million things, the causes and conditions which have formed us, the more we can breathe greater space into our heads and hearts allowing for greater potential and possibility to arise and be present.

The way opens to us for love of self, of others, for our work.

I think that I try and work with these ideas in my writing too. Seeing in my fiction, my characters for who they are, warts and all, accepting them as they are and knowing that they too in their own way, wish for freedom, for awakening, for that freedom shift that allows them to see that they are not defined by their past lives no matter how much suffering was there.


Like I have this one character, Louis. He’s a funny one. He tells a terrible lie in a moment of social/moral weakness, arising from his craving for a sense of connecting to community or something…still digging into that one.

Anyway, by the end of the story he has a serious and subtle but profound epiphany. But he hasn’t quite earned it yet. I have to walk with him further into the dark night of his soul and survive getting called on the carpet for his lie. He must face himself to earn what he comes to at the end.

This is one of the stories I want to work on in my writing retreat. I hope it will prove a useful process of growth for me as a writer and I hope it might be of benefit to future readers too. A kind of mirror. Or a bridge.

If this is something you can get behind, I ask if you might consider donating to my crowdfunding campaign to get to writing retreat.

I wish you happy reading and writing you glorious human beings you. We are all in this together dear ones. Let’s enjoy the embrace of the community, of the air around us, the sun, moon and stars.



First Day Fundraising Success!

The campaign to get me to Haven is up to $345 in just one day!HAVEN logo

If we keep going at this pace, the campaign will end in just 11.5 days!!!


Remember that the thank you events, the meditation, writing and movement retreats, workshops etc. will be available both here in Chicago, in person, but also vis video conferencing, like Skype Google Hangout, and through self guided online exercises and audio. So everyone can participate. Please share this with like minded souls who might like to join in.

People are AMAZING! Thank you thank you.


GoFundMe for Haven Writing Retreat


My name is Hillary Johnson, and all I’ve ever wanted to do, since I was old enough to hold a crayon and scribble words on paper, is write. With the exception of a brief episode at age five, when I told any grownups who cared to inquire, that when I grew up I planned on being an astrophysicist; this has been my story. And I’m sticking with it.


At some level, I still am that person, except instead of applying high-tech gear, the laws of physics, or string theory to unravel the nature of the universe, I use my heart, mind and pen to plumb those same mysteries. I write short stories,, novels and memoir. I believe as Dani Shapiro does, “…that everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.”


Writing is my attempt to speak to the living and the dead, to make sense of the gorgeous chaotic mess that is what Zorba the Greek called, “the full catastrophe.” I f I don’t write, I don’t know who I am. It’s not for nothing that a number of writers have realized this deep truth: writing is a form of profound personal discovery, a doorway to revelations. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.” Joan Didion wrote that she didn’t know what she thought until she wrote about it.

Following in their footsteps, I write to make sense, to interpret the land, to find the patterns, to discover compassion and wisdom amidst the pain and seeming randomness, to find the universal thread connecting me and you and all the rest of everything. To say that reading and writing has saved me, more than once, is hardly an understatement.


In writing, I claim as Stephen Cope describes it , both my wound and my gift. Writing is my dharma, my purpose. I’m doing everything I can to make the best possible version of my work and my self. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. Letting go of the results and giving it up to the universe, or God or the ground of being or whatever you want to call it. When I’m done with a piece, I share the results of that hard earned fruit with the world. I publish, teach.


All of us needs help at some time. For me, now is one of those times. While asking for help generally produces in many of us, (me included) a heart-pounding, sweat-dripping fit of angst, Amanda Palmer with her TED talk and book, “The Art of Asking, ” leads us to a new way. She establishes that asking for help is actually a form of strength, not weakness. Further, what she advocates, and what I’m proposing here, is not a form of virtual pan-handling but rather a meaningful exchange.

I’m raising funds to attend Haven, a writing retreat (June 8th) led by Laura Munson, the author of the New York Times and international bestselling memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness (Amy Einhorn/Putnam 2010). Haven, (in the Glacier National Park area of Montana) has been featured on CNN, and named one of the top writing retreats in the United States. Haven has been intentionally designed to help writers do the hard work of digging while being held in community.


My purpose in traveling to Haven is to make final edits on my short story collection, titled, The Reason Vincent is Alone . You can read the title story here. To step away from the bustle of everyday demands, friends and beloved family, to consciously choose to be in a place of support and silence, space and permission. I go to dig into each story with Annie Dillard’s, “miner’s pick…surgeon’s probe…” To listen deeply, with the ears of the heart, to each character, each story. Palpating as the physician does to find the active reflex, the beating heart, the resonance, the shimmer of the real.

The stories in the collection are bound together by a common thread; that is, all the characters are struggling with the power that their past life choices have over their present moment experiences. They’re on the battlefield of their lives, some raging against the machine, some experiencing quiet epiphany. But each attempting to forge life anew, seeking liberation from the tyranny of the past. Once revisions are complete, I’ll begin the process of submitting them for publication in magazines and literary journals.

HAVEN logo

All funds raised will be used to cover costs of traveling to Haven and being a resident there. The total costs are about $5,000. My intention is to do my best to earn about $1,000 of what’s needed through teaching and other work (while taking care of other necessary bills – little things like electricity, groceries etc.)


I work with writers and other people, teaching them how to use writing as narrative medicine, for personal discovery and creativity, by integrating meditation, writing and gentle movement. I offer both group work and individual sessions. If you’re interested in any of that, please let me know. The work can be done face-to-face or long distance using phone or video conference call. I also work in a restaurant three nights a week.

Payment for the retreat needs to be made by May 8th, though there is a little wiggle room there because Laura and the Haven folks are very nice and eager to help make things work. You can click here to donate now through gofundme.


Wow. This is a hard one and easy all at the same time. There’s a few reasons. I’ll try to briefly yet fully articulate the main ones for you.
1. Indurability- Since this writing thing is a life long dream, ther’s a lot of energy there. I can literally trace my entire life span so far in terms of reading anad writing. The first story I read to my mom. Writing in my journal as I lay on the floor of my bedroom when five, seven, ten, eleven, and so on. Miserable teen confessions, drunken ramblings as a young adult, alone in my first apartment, traveling to Paris alone, also Germany, England, Africa, Spain etc.
2. My High Schhol Teacher – Frank Weiner was my high school AP English teacher who became a second father to me. He was the first one who told me I’d be a writer. (also a teacher) On a paper I turned in to him way back in 1979; he wrote,”Despite the fact that you can’t spell or punctuate, you will, one day be a writer.” I still have that paper. I loved Frank more than I can say and pray that if he were alive, that he’d be proud of me. I am who I am largely because of his love and support.
3. Spiritual Crisis – I’ve always been a spiritual person. As a kid, I was thought to be kind of a weirdo that way. I felt as if I had this backback strapped across my body containing a huge clock, tick tick ticking so loud, always reminding me that life was passing quickly and had best be addressed with reverence and purpose. I was the kid recuing earth worms after a hard rain, weeping if they drowned before I could save them.

In college, after having what psychologists might call a unitive experience, I tried to share and describe that experience in a class presentation. To say it didn’t go well is the understatement of the century.

Jump ahead to the early 2000s. In my quest for a truth, I gave up writing completely. I had a teacher at that time; a kind, wise, compassionate, and generous person who none-the-less thought that reading and writing fiction of any kind was at the least, a complete waste of time, and at worst, a severe hindrance to spiritual practice. Fiction and works of imagination were seen to make suffering worse and impede progress along the path of purification with its focus on the narrative of suffering caused by individual egoic craving, desire and so forth.
Take David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife, what a character wants, how far the character is willing to go to get it, what is in their way and so forth, and what you have is a whole lot of story centered on dukkha. I was craving direction and clarity and had a tendency to extremes. So I gave up the one thing which had given my life meaning and purpose.

Needless to say, the more I stayed away from writing, the worse I felt. It took a few years and study with other teachers, exploring other less austere paths, but I was finally able to reclaim my purpose, my identity as a writer and feel the joy in being alive return. Those years without writing were painful and dry indeed. Reclaiming my writing self and learning to live that fully along with my spiritual practice has been akin to being reborn.

The grace of God or whatever you want to call it, has brought me to this: I can have my cake and eat it too. I’m joyfully able to inhabit reading and writing practice as sacred, central, essential to my own spiritual practice. Stories, whether fiction or non-fiction allow us chances to connect and understand each other in ways otherwise impossible. They free us from the bondage of isolation. We can read something and feel less alone, more connected, can realize the relief of WOW, You too!

And so, this is why I write.

This is why going to Haven feels so huge to me. It’s not just about story or any particular book. It’s not incidental. It’s about being alive, fully alive, knowing it, claiming it with its wounds and gifts and expressing it as fully and joyfully as I can. It’s about going on a quest or hero’s journey and then returning to the world to share what treasures I’ve found along the way.


I ask for your support in all humility. I’ve been fortunate throughout life to have been on the receiving end of various kinds of generosity and make it a practice to always pay it forward myself whether that means giving money, time, a listening ear. Whatever resources I might have, I freely offer.

The exchange which I mentioned before is this. In return for your help you’ll be invited to unlock the stories you have in yours hearts, minds, muscles and bones. Some of you may be able to attend in person day long retreats to help you engage in your own writing or self discovery processes. For others who may live far away, you’ll have other options. You can participate via virtual conferencing using things like Google Hangouts or Skype. You’ll also have access to online materials with guided meditations and exercises designed for you to do on your own.

You’ll have my deepest gratitude always. I thank you now, in advance for helping me reclaim the power of intention, of story and to light the way for cultivating my soul’s purpose and intention. I dedicate myself not only to writing but to helping others reclaim their highest, best selves, to offering compassion and generosity at every turn.

I’m using gofundme to support this fundraising project. You may also participate via Square. If you scroll down, you can also make a donation in any amount you feel comfortable with.

Breaking down the math. If 400 people donate $10, we will reach my goal. If 160 people donate $25, we reach that goal even faster! Thank you so much for considering participating. I hope you will join us now and for the retreats and online materials later.

The light in me salutes and bows to the light in you.

May all beings be safe.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be strong.
May all beings live with ease.

Write on and thank you,


HAVEN logo