How showing up too much can thwart your creativity

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The title of this post might sound a little backwards. After all, isn’t showing up regularly — through a daily or almost-daily habit or ritual — key to doing to our creative work?

Absolutely. And that’s not what I’m talking about here.

The showing up I’m referring to has to do with a kind of perfectionistic, I-can’t-afford-to-take-a-day-off mentality which causes us to neglect replenishing our reserves.

There are times when we need to work on showing up. This can be true when we’re building a habit, like exercising or writing or maybe expressing ourselves more to our significant other!

But for some of us (and I definitely include myself here), there’s an “unconscious” kind of showing up that can propel us into the zone of compulsion or addiction.

In other words, it’s not “I choose to show up,” but “I have to show up — in fact, I’m showing up on autopilot without even noticing that I have a choice in the matter.”

What this perfectionistic kind of showing up has looked like for me:

* Never taking a day off from work, not because I didn’t need to take a day off, but because it didn’t occur to me that I could, unless there was an emergency or I was deathly ill

* Always responding to calls, emails and other requests for time very quickly

* Talking to friends or family members who called when my intention was to have time to myself

* Checking social media sites “just in case” I missed something that I “should” be attending to (what a slippery slope that one is!)

* Never missing a class or a workshop or a group meeting even though I was feeling very tired or even ill

* Scheduling client sessions during the time I take my morning walk

* Continuing to move a project forward even though something felt “off”, just so I could feel “productive”

I remember, way back in college, showing up late to a class one day, feeling stressed and slightly mortified that I’d disrupted the group already-in-progress. My teacher graciously welcomed me into the semi-circle, telling the other students to make room for me.

A week or so later, another student showed up late and my teacher gave him a severe bawling out which shocked the whole class. My curiosity got the better of me, and during a conference with my teacher I asked him why he had yelled at this other student for being late, and yet when I was late, he was so kind to me.

He thought about it a moment, and then said, smiling, “It’s kind of like this: you need to learn to be late, and he needs to learn to be early.”

My teacher was perceiving — quite accurately — that my tendency was to drive myself hard and beat myself up when I didn’t “do enough.” Apparently he’d perceived the opposite tendency in this other student.

I felt the vulnerability — and relief — of having been seen.  My teacher helped me recognize that I could start to allow a little bit of spaciousness around my compulsion to show up, to never be late, to never miss a day, to never take planned time off.

I still notice this tendency in myself, many years later, along with a tendency to make myself overly available to others. And when I get into this “overdoing”, “over-responding” place, I find that anything I create has a forced, thin, surface feel to it. The richness has been stripped away; there’s little within me to draw out, or, at the very least, I have trouble accessing what is there.

When we can sit with a request from another without responding to it immediately; when we can say “no” in order to preserve space in our schedules for non-doing; when we can “show up” 90 percent of the time instead of 110, we are feeding our creativity.

We are feeding it by noticing our breath, by noticing our surroundings, by noticing how we are truly feeling. We are allowing ourselves to fill up, rather than running on empty, or on adrenaline. We remember that, sometimes, we can let the world come to us — and it will.

When we slow down enough to invest in the present moment, our words on the page, our paint on the canvas, our listening during a coaching session is more vibrant, more there, more true.

So how do we prevent ourselves from carrying this idea too far and using it as an excuse to not show up when we do need to be showing up?

There’s no easy answer to this.

But if there were an easy answer to it, I’d say it’s this: Know yourself.

Know your own tendencies and your own struggles like the back of your hand. And then trust. Trust yourself to show up as much as you choose to, but never as much as you “should.” Choose. Trust yourself to choose, and choose again.

Do you ever find yourself showing up compulsively? What do you notice about the effect this has on your creativity? I’d love to know!

Image is “Beautiful Flower” © Matthias33 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

On opportunities and trust

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This past week, I almost signed up for a course that sounded really good to me. In fact, it sounded awesome and perfect. I know the creator of the course is amazing, and I’ve been wanting support in the area of the course material, and the pricing was just right.

It seemed like a no-brainer, but when it came to signing up, I was on the fence.

The deadline loomed and I couldn’t make up my mind. A part of me was convinced that if I didn’t take this course I’d regret it. And yet I couldn’t get myself to press the sign-up button.

I became really curious about what was going on for me here. I noticed that my mind was telling me it sounded great and it might be just what I needed and it was so inexpensive how could I not take it?

But when I dropped down from my mind, into my body, the idea of participating in the course felt heavy, even exhausting. It felt unnecessary. You don’t need it, my body said.

My mind started chattering, but … but … it has all these things you’ve been saying you need! It’s a chance for more learning, more connection, more growth! And it’s affordable! What’s wrong with you that you’re not signing up? The deadline, the deadline …

I dropped down into my body again, and got this message: We have enough learning, enough connection, enough growth for now. For right now, we have enough. Nothing more is needed.

I sat with this and I began to feel how supported I already am — even though my mind often tells me that I need “more support.”

As the deadline came and went, my mind did a wild, frantic dance. How can you pass up this opportunity? You must be mad. Mad, I tell you! You are going to regret this, bigtime!

The saner, quieter part of me sat and mused about all the noise my mind was making.

I saw my mind’s belief that the “right” opportunity only comes once, and that if I don’t grab it, I will be filled with regret. Forever.

I saw my mind’s belief that the “right” opportunity could totally transform my life. Forever.

I saw my mind’s belief that I need more of what I already have. Learning, connection, growth. Even if, at the moment, I feel “full.”

Then I thought about how the “true right” opportunities for me have usually had an organic feel to them. Like there was no decision to be made; the decision was making me, as Byron Katie might say.

When I am heavily on the fence, when there’s a forcing quality to a decision, usually the timing is not right — or perhaps I do not yet have enough information about the opportunity. Or, maybe, I just don’t need or want it.

Sometimes, it is difficult for me to say “I don’t want that.” And maybe even more difficult to say, “I don’t need it.”

But … what if I want it later? What if I need it later, and I don’t have it?

This comes up for me a lot when I decide to donate clothing or other things (which I’ve been doing a lot of this year). I’m convinced if I let something go, I’ll later regret that choice, or I’ll suddenly really need it and be without it.

What if that were to happen? What if I decide to let go of something and later realize I want it or need it? What then?

Can I tolerate the feeling of wanting? Of needing? Can I find alternative ways to meet that particular want or need?

(What more typically happens, at least with letting go of material things, is that I let go and never think of them again. This is not always so for other, more complex types of letting go.)

As for the course I decided not to take, my body is still fine with my decision, whereas from time to time over the past several days my mind has had a little fit — you should have signed up! What might you be missing out on?

The truth is, right now I don’t know exactly why my intuition (body wisdom) guided me away from this particular course. I may discover why later (maybe another opportunity that feels like a true YES will present itself). But, as I’ve written about before, intuition doesn’t always give us a reason. It simply knows. It’s trusting it that’s the tricky part.

And there’s something here, for me, about trusting that my needs will be met — sometimes, often, not in the exact way I think they will be, but they will be met. How many times do I consume more than I need because I am afraid that at some future point I will be deprived of what I need?

I think about the squirrels I see out and about all the time now, burying sustenance in the ground for the cold winter months. I’ve read that squirrels often forget where they bury things. I am like this, too, stocking up on things just in case and then forgetting.

What do you notice about trusting in your intuitive sense of what is enough for you? Is it difficult for you, too? I’d love it if you’d share, in the comments.

Image is “Squirrel with Peanut” © Kathy Davis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Welcome, fall + the pure pleasure of making cake

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Last week, I did something I’ve wanted to do for twenty-five years: I made Truvy’s Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa cake.

Truvy is the character played by Dolly Parton in the movie “Steel Magnolias”, and there’s a point in the movie where she lists the ingredients for a cake she calls “Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa” — a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, and a cup of fruit cocktail with the juice. (“I serve it over ice cream to cut the sweetness,” says Truvy.)

Ever since I saw this movie in the theater in 1989, I’ve wanted to make Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa cake. I don’t know why. It just sounded fun. And I love baking, but I hardly ever do it.

A little bit after I saw the movie, I was a theater major in college and in my acting classes we did scenes from “Steel Magnolias” (which was a play before it was a movie). And again I was reminded of Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa, and again I didn’t make it.

And then one summer a little later I auditioned for a community theater production of “Steel Magnolias” (I really wanted to play kooky Adele, the part Daryl Hannah plays in the movie), but I was not cast. The woman sitting next to me was auditioning for Truvy, and to calm our nerves we kept giggling and reciting the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa recipe. And I thought, after this, whether I am cast in this play or not, I’m going to go home and make Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa. But I didn’t.

And then, over many years, I’d see the movie here and there on TV and I’d think, I really want to make that cake! But I didn’t.

Well, last week, I came across the recipe on Pinterest. I got all excited and said to my boyfriend, “Oh my God, it’s Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa! I’ve always wanted to make this!”

“Well, you should make it,” my boyfriend said.

“Maybe I will,” I said. But I really had no intention of making it; I just collected it on my Pinterest Cake-O-Rama board, along with many other cakes I will never make.

Then a day or so later we were at the grocery store and I saw the fruit cocktail. I threw it in the cart.

“Are you doing it?” said my boyfriend, grinning.

“I’m doing it,” I said. (This is something I’ve noticed about me and decisions: I often only know I’ve actually made a decision because, suddenly, I’m doing it.)

And I did make it, and I have to tell you, it was an amazing success. It was more delicious than I could have imagined — moist, golden, sugary, and it smelled so much like something my Grandmas would have made (or maybe the smell of fruit cocktail just reminds me of my Grandmas).

But, in truth, I wouldn’t have cared if the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa didn’t turn out well or was even on the disgusting side. The thing is that making it was fun. That was all it was and that was my only reason for doing it.

How often in my life have I put something off, or never really intended to do it at all, because although I loved the idea of it, it didn’t seem “serious” or important enough? Because it didn’t seem like it would yield “long-term results”?

Making the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa produced its own, immediate results. It gave me an experience — stirring the batter as that just-about-fall crisp air came in through the kitchen window, licking the spoon like I did when I was a kid, the fruit-and-sugar scent of the cake filling the house as it baked. Marveling with my boyfriend over how something with only three ingredients could taste so amazing (especially given that I’m really not a fan of fruit cocktail).

And here’s the interesting thing: the fact that I actually went ahead and DID this thing that I wanted to do, this thing purely for fun, gave me the most curious sense of accomplishment. I felt deeply satisfied, just in the doing.

I want to do more things that are just “for fun”. I want to stop saying I’ll do them “some day.” I want to notice when I’m squashing the part of me that wants these simple joys because another part of me thinks I “should” be doing something else.

I’ve also been saying since 1987 that I want to make the eggs-in-bread fried up by Olympia Dukakis in “Moonstruck” (a.k.a. “Moonstruck Eggs”). I’ll report back.

(Here’s the recipe for Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa Cake that I found on Pinterest.)

Where do you notice yourself saying “maybe” or “someday” to things that strike you as pure joy, pure fun? What if you were to say “yes” and “today” instead?

Also: To welcome fall, my very favorite season, and all the endings and beginnings that fall always brings, I am offering my Mini Unsticky Sessions at half price through Halloween, October 31. That’s because, as all good things must come to an end, I’ll be retiring my Mini Unsticky Sessions after Halloween, so something juicy and new can take their place.

I’ve now done nearly one hundred of these sessions and I daresay I have gotten pretty good at them. If you’re feeling stuck on a creative project or around your creativity in general, you might want to give one a shot. Because speaking of fun, these sessions really are! Find out more, here.

Image is “Autumn in the Forest” © Uschi Hering | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #10

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a Saturday Gratitude post and it’s really time for another. The past few weeks have been kind of insane around here, in mostly good ways. But my HSP introvert self has been desperate for a little solid downtime, which, thankfully, I am able to have this weekend.

So here are some things I’ve been grateful for since my last Saturday Gratitude post:

1) My “senior” cat (the vet says he’s a senior, but Sullivan doesn’t agree with this at all) came through his dental surgery just fine, minus three teeth. The couple of days after were no fun for any of us around here, but on the third day he was back to his shelf-climbing, window-gazing, chattering-at-birdies self. Pheewwww. I’m grateful to the folks at Prairie State Animal Hospital for giving him extra love.

(Quite inexplicably, he’s still hanging out in the cat carrier, apparently no longer relating to it as an instrument of doom.)

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2) I participated in Kristin Noelle’s I Choose Authentic Joy Healing Wave, and we had a number of wonderful conversations in the Facebook group, including one about gratitude. I’ve signed up for a number of Kristin’s Healing Waves and they truly inspire me; if you’re not familiar with her terrific artwork, do check her out!

3) Last Sunday, I gave a presentation to Chicago IONS on “Time and Conscious Doing.” We talked a lot about how our thoughts can give us this (false) idea that there isn’t enough time, and how we can choose to create and take action from a feeling of “enough”. I was so grateful for the deep participation in the exercises and insightful questions from the audience, and to those who came up afterward to continue the conversation.

4) Squirrel monkeys! My boyfriend and I rewarded ourselves for work completed by taking a trip to Brookfield Zoo, and there are now squirrel monkeys in Tropic World, swinging like they own the place and have always been there (though what happened to my beloved capuchins?). Monkeys continue to be a kind of power animal for me, reminding me that I am always inspired when I focus on play, curiosity, and hanging out upside down (if only metaphorically).

What about you? What are you grateful for today? I’d love it if you’d share, in the comments.

Top image © Dr_harry | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #9

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For today’s Saturday Gratitude post, I want to focus on small things, even tiny things, that made a big difference this week.

I notice how, often, when I’m convinced something is lacking in my life, I get fixated on the idea that I need a big change in order to feel better. But most of the time, it’s not a big change I need but a small shift in perspective, energy, or mood. Or maybe just a tiny reminder that I’m doing okay, I’m on a good path.

So here are three tiny things that helped in a big way this week:

1) The hand-written, snail-mailed thank you card from a friend that arrived at the perfect moment.

2) My cat jumping up on the couch and touching my forearm with his paw while I was having a moment of solitude. The coolness of his paw pads as he purred next to me. Somehow, cats never take away from solitude, only add to it.

3) That one line in my novel draft that I know I got right, and the laugh of recognition in my friend’s voice as I read it to her over the phone.

What tiny things helped you in a big way this week? What do you notice when you look back over your week that you really appreciated? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Saturday Gratitude #8

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Time for another Saturday Gratitude post! I haven’t even gotten into my list yet and I’m already thinking about how grateful I am for these posts themselves. They always help me get present and notice what’s already here, when it is so easy for me to get lost in wanting.

So here’s what I’m grateful for today:

1) On Sunday, I celebrated Easter with my boyfriend’s family.

My own family is spread out across the country and we haven’t celebrated Easter together in ages. And … well, getting me to socialize, especially around a holiday, is not always the easiest task. But I had this sense that I needed to get away for a while, and my boyfriend’s grandma had a vintage-looking tablecloth printed with rabbits, and rabbit napkins, and there were Easter eggs with our names on them! (All of this reminded me so much of my own grandmas, whom I miss dearly.)

And it was just fun. And sometimes, when I get into a really driven, must-get-things-done sort of place, the last thing that occurs to me is to stop and have some fun. (And the introvert in me sometimes forgets that being with others can be, um, fun, and exactly what I need to get out of my own tunnel vision.)

2) I remembered to ask for help.

And when I asked, I got what I needed. Which was wonderful. And it reminded me that, even if I ask and I do not get what I’m asking for (which certainly happens, sometimes more often than not), the act of asking in and of itself reconnects me with possibility, as well as my own power.

When I forget to ask for help (which I often do — I’m amazed at the number of times a friend has said to me, you needed help with that? Why didn’t you ask me?), I also forget that there is lots of support out there. And that, much of the time, people like to be asked. (The person I asked for help told me that it made her feel good to respond to my request.)

3) A quiet moment yesterday where I sat at my dining room table with my cat on my lap and just listened to the bird songs coming in through the slightly-open window. (Watching my cat chatter at birds that come dangerously close to the screens has been fun, too. I swear the birds, especially the sparrows, know they are teasing my cat.)

What about you — what are you grateful for this week? I’d love to hear from you.

Image is “Tramp Sparrow” © Olgalis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #7

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Here we are at Saturday Gratitude post number seven already. These posts really help me slow down and connect to myself, and I hope they trigger good stuff for you, too. (Please share in the comments if you’d like!)

So, here are three things I’m grateful for this week:

1) The robins have arrived, signaling that it really and truly IS spring.

And they are everywhere. There is something moving to me about the way they are completely absent from the landscape during the winter, but they always return when the weather warms up and claim their territory as if they never left. Seeing them again reminds me of the mama robin who built a nest on our front porch a few years ago. She protected this nest so fiercely that I had to tell the mailman to leave the mail in the back, because the robin would fly at the head of anyone who ventured up on the porch. We left the porch to her until her babies grew up enough to leave the nest. I was tempted to call her mean, but what looked like meanness was actually excellent parenting.

2) Anger. And recognizing I needed to act on it.

Anger and I have not always had a very, shall we say, friendly relationship. My tendency has been to press it down or pretend it’s not there. But actually, anger is a friend — and a good one, if I listen to its message and make a conscious choice about whether or not to act on that message. Karla McLaren calls our healthy anger “the honorable sentry.” She says it helps us protect what needs to be protected, and restore what needs to be restored. Yes. I’m grateful I was able to honor my honorable sentry this week.

3) Four fluffy little dogs moved in across the street.

They move as a chaotic little group, each wearing a different colored harness, pulling their owner all over the sidewalk. It’s a delight to watch and I look forward to seeing it frequently.

What are you grateful for this week? I’d love to hear, and I wish you plenty of moments to be grateful for in the week ahead.

Image is “First Flower” © Tomas Stasiulaitis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #6

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Time for another Saturday Gratitude post.

So much to choose from this week — and I feel blessed to be able to say that.

1) So it was my birthday this past week.

And I’m not a big celebrator of my birthday. I never have expectations for it or anything. But something about this birthday felt extra-special, extra-celebratory. The day unfolded in such a lovely way — I spent it with some of my favorite people (and cats!) — and I felt so loved and appreciated.

And the funny thing was, I had decided to give myself the gift of a day away from the internet. And that felt so peaceful, so replenishing, so grounding. I needed it. But then, when I did return to the internet, there were all these lovely birthday wishes on Facebook, and some emails from good friends.

And I was reminded that so much love flows through the internet, too. I just need to balance my internet time with my “in the physical world” time, or I start feeling like a strange, cramped, distorted version of myself.

2) While writing and revising a short story this week, I made some discoveries about why fiction writing has felt extra-hard for me lately.

Interestingly, I had to step away from my main project (a novel) in order to make these discoveries. The short story actually served as a metaphor for the struggle of the novel — but it was easier to see and grasp because a short story is a less vast and unwieldy thing than a novel (for me, anyway. I certainly don’t mean to say that writing a short story is not hard or confusing.). Metaphor! It can make things so much more clear. (More on this is a future post.)

3) Finally taking action on something I’d been on the fence about for a long time.

And then the noticing that what unfolded after I took action was not nearly as scary or overwhelming as I’d feared. And that I can create safety for myself along the way, with each step of the continued unfolding. In other words, I have more control than I think I do. Good to know!

I’d love it if you’d play along with me, if that feels good to you. What are you grateful for this week? What comes up for you? Feel free to do this silently, on your own, too, if you don’t want to share. But either way, do notice how focusing on the good stuff creates more of it. It’s true!

Image is “Rainbow Sprinkles” © Cyrus Cornell | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #5

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This week’s Saturday Gratitude reminds me of the fact that, sometimes, we need other living beings to act as anchors for us. We can’t do it all alone.

Sometimes, I am spinning off into space, and I need someone to help me tether myself to the Earth.

If, like me, you tend to live “up in your head” a lot, you may need some support in grounding yourself, in coming back to your body, to the “real world” (which actually can be a lovely and nourishing place to be, even if the world in your head often seems more appealing).

Here are the grounding, tethering beings I was grateful for this week:

1) A dear friend who called unexpectedly at a perfect time to talk.

2) My amazing coach who reminded me of who I am.

3) My cat, who stretched out on my thighs while I was giving myself permission to just relax on the couch for a while yesterday afternoon. Oh, so grounding.

What are you grateful for this week? I’d love it if you’d share.

Note: My Saturday Gratitude posts will continue from here on every other Saturday.

Image is “View From a Plane,” © Alexander Briel Perez | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #4

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Last week’s Saturday Gratitude didn’t happen due to the fact that I had finally surrendered to sickness (see #2, below). But today, we’re back! Here are three things I’m truly grateful for this week. Play along with me if you’re so inclined.

1) Clarity.

I’ve been struggling for a long time with some issues that just wouldn’t seem to budge, no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried to push through them. Once again, I had to come to the realization that pushing through does not always work. In fact, when I’m dealing with a complex tangle of stuff, it almost never does. I had to reach a place of acceptance — at a deep level — and now that I have, clarity is starting to peek through the clouds. Yay for clarity!

2) Health (and self-acceptance!).

Well, relative health — I’m almost feeling like me again. For eight days, I struggled with a bad cold and really could not function in a normal way. Of course — as tends to be my way — I fought the fact that I was sick for about four days and tried to function normally anyway. As above, I defaulted to trying to push through when, in the long run, it would have made things easier and simpler to accept that I was sick and give myself the rest I needed. But it took me four days to get to that place. Letting go does not come easily or automatically for me, even after twenty years of practicing. So, here’s where self-acceptance sweeps in to save the day.

3) Weather and walking!

Today, it feels like winter in Chicago again, but yesterday — oh! For the first time in ages, I was able to take a long walk in the sunshine and enough treacherous ice had melted off that I wasn’t slipping all over the place. I could even feel the onset of spring, and the birds and squirrels chattered wildly everywhere I went.

And I reconnected with how incredibly valuable — vital, even — it is to get out and be in nature. Walking outside solves my problems. Really, it does. Or maybe the more accurate way to put it is, it shows me that what I thought was a problem is actually not a problem. I just get so stuck in looking at it a certain way that I believe it’s a problem.

Walking, connection with the earth beneath my feet, shakes up the stuck. So, gratitude, too, for being healthy enough to walk, to move; for being able to hear the sounds of the birds and squirrels; for the ability to see the sun glinting on the melting snow, the dog trotting by, the smile on the face of the woman walking it.

What are you grateful for this week? I’d love it if you’d share.

Image is “Frozen Sun,” © Sebastian Corneanu | Dreamstime Stock Photos