Every now and then, when scanning your inbox, your eye catches an article so beautiful it requires 2 or 3 rereads. That’s how I felt stumbling upon Emily Rose Barr’s story about Emily’s Affirmations. I was immediately drawn to her words and knew this was someone I needed to connect with.
After a quick email exchange, we found time to talk one weekend morning where I was so under the weather the last thing I thought I could do was drag myself out of bed for a thoughtful conversation.
All of that angst faded instantly upon Emily answering the phone. I immediately felt like I was sitting with Emily sharing a cup of tea (despite being states apart) and I truly felt a part of myself coming back to life. Over the course of an hour we talked about everything from the pandemic to our projects to the power of words and the power of kindness.
This isn’t a traditional Service Spotlight post with clearly defined questions and answers, but rather an intimate look into an exchange between two strangers turned friends through the power of being open to authentic connections in our technology-heavy world.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Emily.
Last year, in July 2020, Emily Rose Barr “kind of broke.” “It was a combination of the overwhelm of the pandemic and everything that accompanied it. Being isolated, having restrictions, the unpredictability, it was really the unprecedented degree of uncertainty that we faced that caught up with me in a big way,” she told me.
She began writing messages to herself in her journal as a way to keep going. Much like when I started The Smile Project by writing “Happiness is” in a notebook, she didn’t have a clear vision for them. She was simply writing messages that were inspired by whatever came up that day—emotionally and tangibly.
Her “day 1” came on August 5 when she wrote the following affirmation: I am here, but maybe that’s not where I’ll always be.
“In a year so defined by the unknown, that affirmation was truly a balm for my tired soul.” From there, Emily began writing one (or more) affirmations each day as a way to heal, not just the present moment, but past experiences.
After sharing with several friends, she knew it was something she couldn’t keep to herself. “If they are something helpful and healing to me, I want them to be helpful and healing to someone else. This was a risk in vulnerability for me. I’m typically a very private person. But it was almost… fated,” Emily pauses, “because I reached a point where I just knew I had to share them. Not sharing them was no longer an option.”
And fate works in mysterious ways. One of the friends she’d shared her affirmations with had given her a challenge to take pictures each day of things that were bringing her joy—things like her outfit, her lunch, the view from her window. With a rich catalog of digital images and about a month’s worth of affirmations, her friend began pairing the picture to the words and Emily’s Affirmations was born.
Emily considers the affirmations to be a very spiritual practice, explaining that she doesn't sit down and brainstorm what she needs today, but rather they come to her organically and when she needs them most.
She says, “The words are coming to me from an external spiritual place and from a very deep internal space that I really only access through writing. Acknowledging that they’re coming from a deeper place feels really good in that case because they are taking on a life of their own— [a reflection of] what people are needing in that moment, in that day or week or that time in their lives.”
I asked her if she was still writing daily affirmations and she told me she writes them when they come to her—which is frequently—but never forces something that isn’t there. “They come to me more often now,” she reflects, “It’s a beautiful, self-feeding cycle where when these affirmations come to me, when I am embodying them, when I am implementing them; this gets me to a different place. And then affirmations emerge. And from that new place, new affirmations emerge. Blossoming. Its own little ecosystem.”
And Emily, in her gentle and soft spoken way, is dreaming of what that ecosystem can become as more people are welcomed into her world of Affirmations. She’s invited folks to submit their own Affirmations and has been designing digital visuals for people to share with others.
We talked about presenting a gift like Affirmations or Happiness is in a social media tech world, acknowledging the positives and negatives of this online age. We both shared our determination in making sure the authenticity of the offering is not lessened by the platform from which it is presented.
Still, all of Emily’s ideas for growth of her project are intentional in honoring the sacredness of the Affirmations. “I want it to be centered around how they are bringing meaning to people’s lives.”
As we reflected on all the things it takes for a project to be birthed into the world, we talked about how often deeply painful or harmful situations can give us space and perspective to create beauty. It isn’t an acceptance or explanation of these traumatic experiences, but rather, what Emily calls, “a bird’s eye view of this intricate web of experiences that had to be woven together in order to go down this creative path.”
“Some difficult experiences are just difficult. And sometimes we don’t get to see the positive outcome of them. But I think the chance of there being something larger that serves us and that serves others is there, and that requires us having the difficult experiences. I don’t want to live without difficult experiences.”
We discussed the isolation of the pandemic a bit more and Emily admits that the above insight is a big personal revolution for her—one she wouldn’t have had 9 months earlier. But in recent months, she has seen how the messages she recorded then were serving her and continue to guide her today.
“I’m a mental health therapist so I know that when we are in that place, it’s really hard to acknowledge hope as a possibility. It’s really hard to imagine the light when you’re so much in the darkness. I was there too. But these messages were my source of light.”