Stretching Lessons: The Daring that Starts from Within

Stretching Lessons: The Daring that Starts from Within

by Sue Bender

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Written with all the clarity, honesty, and insight that made Plain and Simple a phenomenal New York Times bestseller, this final volume of the Plain and Simple trilogy is about taking risks to grow spiritually and how to "stretch" to grow beyond our self-imposed limitations.With her graceful storytelling and charming illustrations, Sue Bender looks inward to discover the spirit within each of us that whispers to be heard.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061968112
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/03/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 714,998
File size: 522 KB

About the Author

Sue Bender is the author of Plain and Simple: A Woman's Journey to the Amish (HarperSanFrancisco). The book was a New York Times bestseller. A fascination with Amish quilts led Sue to live with the Amish in their seemingly timeless world, a landscape of immense inner quiet. This privilege, rarely bestowed upon outsiders, taught her about simplicity and commitment and the contentment that comes from accepting who you are. In this inspiring book, Bender shares the lessons she learned while in the presence of the Amish people.

In Everyday Sacred: A Woman's Journey Home (HarperSanFrancisco: now in its sixth printing), Bender speaks to our longing to make each day truly count. She chronicles her struggle to bring the joyful wisdom and simplicity she experienced in her sojourn with the Amish back to her hectic, too-much-to-do days at home. Bender discovers for herself, and in the process shows us, that small miracles can be found everywhere'in our homes, in our daily activities and, hardest to see, in ourselves.

Profiles and interviews with Ms. Bender, as well as book excerpts have been published in countless national publications including Reader's Digest, The Washington Post, Ladies' Home Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The Utne Reader, and W Magazine. She has also appeared as a guest on dozens of radio and television shows.

Born in New York City, Sue Bender received her BA from Simmons College and her MA from the Harvard University School of Education. She taught high school in New York and English at the Berlitz School in Switzerland. She later earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of California at Berkeley. During her active years as a family therapist, Bender was founder and Director of CHOICE: The Institute of the Middle Years. In addition to being an author and former therapist, Sue Bender is a ceramic artist and much sought after lecturer nationwide. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband Richard, and is the mother of two grown sons.

Read an Excerpt



Spending too much time hunched over the computer, trying to write, I decided to sign up for a stretching class. "Just Stretch" it was called. It would be healthy, I thought, and I was prepared to be a good and earnest student and work hard, as I usually do. Instead, I heard a miraculously flexible instructor, Nancy, say:


The suggestion was startling, revolutionary, and sweet: "Pain doesn't have to be your teacher."

"Unlearn the habit of trying," she said after we began to stretch. "It's not about trying -- it's about allowing."

But trying is my middle name, I wanted to shout. How do I learn allowing?

Back at my desk after class, I wrote Nancy's words in large bold letters with lots of * * * * * next to each one. Though there was nothing to show on the outside, even the possibility of doing what she suggested made me feel calm inside. All I could think was, "I hope this class never ends!"

I felt like a person who'd been too long in the desert, hungry and thirsty, suddenly offered delicious, unfamiliar nectar. Nancy's last instruction rings in my ears:

"Listen to the whispers."


Could I quiet down my own noise to hear the soft whispers from within? What happened next was a shriek, not a whisper.

"Talent is doing what comes naturally," a friend announced.

"What do you think comes naturally to you?" she asked me. The answer came quickly and with great certainty:

"STRUGGLE! I'm an expert at STRUGGLING."

The swiftness and clarity of my response made me laugh. But it wasn't funny. My old, familiar voice of judgment chimed in: "Haven't you learned anything? Aren't you wiser?"

I am wiser. And I am still struggling.

Have good things grown out of my exhausting habit of struggling? Absolutely. I've written two books using struggle as my method. But after seventeen years of this single-minded obsession with writing, I still didn't think of myself as a writer.

Working this way only confirmed an old belief of mine: good things will come to me, but I will have to work hard and work all the time to make them happen. I wondered if I also believed I had to struggle in order to earn the right be happy.

There's a difference between hard work and unnecessary suffering.

If I were composing an ad for a relationship magazine and deciding to really tell the truth about myself, I would say:

Expert at struggle, longing for ease. Signed: EAGER.

I'm sixty-six years old and I want to learn about ease. Even writing the word ease or saying it out loud has a magical effect on me. The expression on my face softens, my shoulders drop two inches, and I'm able to take a full and deep breath.

"I want to learn about ease," I announced to my wise friend Mitzi, with a determined ring in my voice. "I'm going to use my natural talent for struggle to learn how not to struggle." Sometimes, too earnest in my search for answers, I forget to laugh at myself: My struggle toward ease.

Mitzi told me about a time, many years ago, when she was taking a dance class in college. The teacher asked the students to imagine themselves holding a heavy ball and then lifting it over their heads. Mitzi was very busy trying to lift the heavy ball, never succeeding at getting it more than three inches above the ground, only stopping her labors for a moment when she heard the group laughing.

She looked up and saw all the students with their balls over their heads, watching her tugging at her invisible ball. She had succeeded at creating the heaviest ball.

"I don't think you always have to suffer in order to do good work," Mitzi said. "After all, I was the one who made my ball too heavy. The task hadn't been difficult. I created my own struggle."

She turned to me and asked: "Could you begin to imagine a release from the struggle? A gentler way to change?" Could I find a release that feels good and doesn't require so much hard work?

Looking at release on the page, I see ease tucked in.

Today, Valentine's Day, a card arrived with a handmade heart and, in a friend's beautiful handwriting, a reminder from Rilke:

Be patient
toward all that is unsolved in your heart.

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