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

Invisible progress

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My friend Julia Roberts, an awesome creativity coach, posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that she “made lots of invisible progress today.”

I loved her term “invisible progress,” and told her so. Julia elaborated: “I think of pregnancy. It buoys us to know that even on the most uneventful day, we baked the baby a bit that day. We’ve already had a hand in altering the universe. Most days have more progress than we know.”

To that I say, YES! And I wanted to muse a little on the concept of invisible progress today.

Years ago, when I was a chronic overachiever, perfectionist, and dieter, I read these words by Geneen Roth: “Sometimes doing it looks like not doing it.”

What? I thought. How can that be? We’re either doing something, making tangible progress on it that we can see, or we’re not doing it, not making progress, and, therefore, falling behind.

And yet, even as my logical, rational mind rejected this idea, when I read the words, something resonated for me, deep in my abdomen. It felt true.

I realized (I was about twenty-two at the time) that I could live the rest of my life only believing in what I saw, or I could live my life trusting that sometimes things were happening beneath the surface, even if I couldn’t see them in the physical world (yet).

Trusting in invisible progress means recognizing that we need to balance our doing with being. While “perfect balance” between doing and being is not possible, we can acknowledge that we do need both in our lives. Most of us are better at one than the other. And some of us have trouble transitioning between the two (me!).

For me, invisible progress often happens when I am in a “being” state. For example, when I’m out walking, I sometimes get ideas for my next blog post or the next scene in my novel, or a completely unexpected solution to some problem I’ve been struggling with pops into my head. I’m not consciously “trying” to come up with ideas; in fact, they come because I’m letting my subconscious chew on things while I’m focused on my walk.

Invisible progress can also happen when we’re being distracted from what we intend to do. This week, I had to take my cat to the vet, something that seriously freaks me out. Both the stress and the actual act of going to the vet took a big chunk out of the day and I had to let some things go.

While I was at the vet, though, the vulnerable feeling that came over me actually ended up being precisely the feeling I’d been trying to get in touch with as I wrote the short story I’m working on. Even though I wasn’t able to put in much actual work in on the short story that day, the vet visit — the act of living life! — gave me exactly what I needed. I was able to return to my story and give that vulnerability to my character, which was exactly what the story needed in order to move forward.

And sometimes, as Julia pointed out so eloquently above, invisible progress is like gestation. Something is growing in us, but it’s not yet ready to burst forth into the world.

We may not even have words to describe it yet (fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have told you I was going to become a life coach one day – I didn’t even know then what a life coach was). We can try to push it and hurry it up, but ultimately, whether we’re growing a baby or a book, it will be born when it’s ready to be born and not one second before.

There are also days where we don’t notice our progress because it has become second-nature to us. Maybe we did something and did it well but since we’re so used to doing it, we don’t “count” it as progress or even think of it that way. It’s worth taking time to notice our accomplishments, maybe particularly the ones we tend to discount.

And, Melody Beattie has written that on some days, we need to congratulate ourselves for what we didn’t do. This, too, is “invisible progress.” I remember when I was having a particularly crappy day a few years ago and at the end of it I realized that, well, despite everything, I didn’t call my ex-boyfriend back even though he was trying to get in touch with me again, and I didn’t eat a box of Twinkies even though hearing from him really made me want to. And that a few years earlier I totally would have called him back and I totally would have eaten the Twinkies afterwards. Invisible progress for the win!

What does the idea of “invisible progress” mean to you? I’d love it if you’d share.

Also: I’ll be raising my coaching rates slightly in one week. If you’ve been thinking of working with me but haven’t gotten around to it, now’s a good time to get in on my current rates!

Image is “Spiral Diagonal” © David Coleman | 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

Creating during the rough times

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A reader wrote me with this question recently (and gave me permission to share it here):

Lately I have a number of unexpected stresses in my life that have descended on me all at once. Almost every day I reach a point of overwhelm where I just have to do the minimum and then rest. My work on my novel has gone out the window. It feels like I spend every day just keeping up and managing my emotions, and have no energy left for anything creative. I keep trying harder to “do the work” and it’s just not happening. Any words of wisdom for me?

Oh! Creating during the rough times. What a challenge it is to get hit with a lot of “life stuff” and try to keep on keepin’ on as we have been.

In answering this question, I want to look at it from two different angles.

The first has to do with embracing reality.

When life throws a lot at us — whether that change is external or internal, or both — things are not as they were before. Pretty obvious, right? But let me repeat: life has changed.

I really want to underline this, because what I see again and again (and I see it in myself for sure) is that when our lives change radically — or sometimes even when we are afraid that they could change radically in the near future — we have a tendency to go into denial for a while.

Sometimes this looks like freezing and not doing anything. Often, though, it looks like trying to keep on exactly as we have been — even though things are not as they have been.

Which is perfectly normal. But — after a point — not totally helpful.

What embracing reality means from the standpoint of doing our creative work is that when things change, it’s pretty much a given that we won’t be able to approach it exactly as we have been.

If we are suddenly taking care of a sick child (or parent), that is taking up time. If we have to take on a full-time job when previously we worked part-time, that is taking up time. We literally don’t have as many hours in the day available for our creative work: it’s a fact.

Another aspect of embracing reality is who we are.

How do you tend to handle a lot of sudden change, especially certain types of change? How emotional and sensitive do you tend to be? Some of these things are innate in us: we’re not going to change them — even if we want to — beyond a certain point.

I value the fact that I have a very emotional nature (I’m a Myers-Briggs “feeling type,” for sure) and I’m also highly sensitive.

But this means that, for example, when I lost two loved ones in the same week several years ago, it rocked me to my core and I could not “just keep on.” I remember people suggested to me at the time that my grief could be good for my creative work, and that I could “write through the pain.”

That felt wrong in every fiber of my being. I didn’t want to create at that time. I wanted to grieve. Things had changed, and I needed to ask myself if there was value in forcing myself to continue writing during that time.

For me, there wasn’t. For someone else, there certainly may have been. But we need to take ALL of us into account during the difficult times — not just the part that wants to create and keep momentum with creative work. If it feels right to scale back, we need to give ourselves permission to do that.

The other angle I want to take here has to do with our emotions themselves and the way we approach them.

If, like my reader (and me!), you tend to be “emotionally intense,” the way you approach your emotions in and of itself can create more stress for you during the hard times — or not.

When a lot was going “wrong,” I used to say things like, “This sucks! I am so overwhelmed!”

Venting is a good thing sometimes. But it’s also important to look at what we say when we vent.

Here’s why: When I say “I’m overwhelmed,” I’m fusing my identity with the emotion. And, even if I value how deeply and intensely emotional I can be, my emotions are not me. They are simply energies moving through me.

Probably one of the things I say most frequently to a client when they share how they’re feeling about something is “Good to notice.” That’s because noticing is pure gold. We can’t change a thing if we don’t first have awareness of it.

And, at the bottom of it all, “who we are” is simply that awareness — not what we’re doing, what’s happening to us, the emotions we’re having or how we’re reacting.

So, now, when I catch myself saying “I’m overwhelmed,” I say instead, “I’m noticing that I’m overwhelmed” or “I’m noticing a feeling of overwhelm within me.”

Do you see how this immediately creates a space between you and the feeling?

From this space, you are both the person experiencing the emotion and the observer of that emotion, how it feels in your body, the way you are reacting to it, the thoughts you are thinking around it. And from that space, you are not rocked and thrown by your emotions; you are not fused with them; you are simply experiencing them.

So, during the difficult times, here are two places to start. I’d love to know if anything here resonates for you, or if you have other suggestions, in the comments.

And: If you’re in a rough patch right now and you need a shift, my awesome friend Dawn Herring, founder of Refresh with Dawn Herring and #JournalChat Live on Twitter, will be offering a Refresh Intensive e-course, starting April 3 (the deadline to sign up is April 1). And it’s only $21! Want to learn more? Find out, here.

Image is “Out of the Darkness” © Emi Pascuzzo | 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

Three ways you can feel more creative — right now

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When people tell me they’re “not creative,” I know they are lying. The truth is, we are profoundly creative — it’s our natural state. We don’t need to “work” at being creative. And I think most of us know that when we’re in a truly creative space, it feels like play, not work.

What we do need to work at is sustaining solid habits that support our creativity (which often isn’t easy). We need to commit to making regular time and space for our creativity to take center stage.

Believing we need to work at being creative is a good way to get stuck. We can’t “lose” our creativity. We can only lose touch with its flow.

But sure, we don’t always feel creative. And that’s okay. While I don’t believe we should force the flow, I do believe there are things we can do to welcome its return, to summon it back to us.

1) Get rid of things that feel unsupportive to you.

These can be small things — I’m not necessarily talking about ending a relationship or quitting a job here (though you may make those choices at some point!). I’m talking about things that consistently drag you down, in small, nagging ways.

For me, recently, that meant unsubscribing to a couple of popular blogs, one for writers and one for entrepreneurs. I’d been telling myself that the authors “knew what they were talking about,” and I needed their information — but I felt slightly depressed every time I read one of their posts. I finally realized that their messages of “This is what you must do to be successful” didn’t apply to me, because I don’t define success the way they do.

We’re all hit with so much information in a given day, it’s vital to get rid of any that doesn’t feel supportive to us.

2) Make your workspace appealing to you.

Whether you write, paint, or bake amazing things, having an uncluttered workspace that you love can make a huge difference.

I am hardly a minimalist when it comes to decorating – I actually feel good having a certain amount of “friendly clutter” in my home; it’s part of how I relate to my environment. But yesterday I took some time to clear piles off the table I work on, to dust its surface, to put away some coats and scarves that were thrown over a chair. And it’s like I’ve been given a fresh slate when I sit down to write. My mind feels clearer — I can even see the characters I’m writing about more clearly.

Decluttering also shifts energy and signals that we are willing to let go. This willingness is crucial to creating, which is a process of birth and death, building up and eventually letting go of — or even destroying — what we’ve built.

3) Briefly revisit what you love.

You can do this immediately. I have a framed Jaws poster in my office, and I only have to glance over at it to be reminded of why it’s one of my favorite movies of all time (characters! editing! Quint’s Indianapolis speech!).

Or, a couple of nights ago I made a Pinterest board dedicated to Beatrix Potter. That woman was an amazing artist and writer, and when I look at one of her pictures — and her accompanying words — I am instantly reconnected with some of my deepest loves: animals, stories, and dark humor. (Yes, Beatrix Potter’s books are full of dark humor. Only in “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers” can you find two mice trying to make a kitten into a pudding).

None of this has to take very long. And for days when you’re feeling overworked and profoundly uncreative, a few minutes of presence can be priceless.

What helps you reconnect with your creativity on a moment’s notice? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Writers: Tomorrow, Feb. 27, is the last day to register for the next session of The Writer’s Circle. This group offers terrific support for writers who are struggling to finish a project or build a daily writing habit. Find out more, here!

Image is “Colorful Bubbles” © Judy Ben Joud | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #3

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It’s already time for another Saturday Gratitude post! How can that be?

Here is my list of what I’m grateful for as this week draws to a close. I’d love it if you’d join me if you’re so inclined!

1) Being reminded that support shows up in many ways, and that true support is not necessarily about having lots of it (quantity support), but the right kind of support — the kind that feels, well, deeply supportive! (Quality support!)

And when I began to focus on the fact that I already have quality support in my life, it actually began to feel like massive quantities of support. (If support is an issue for you right now, you might want to check out my previous posts on support, here and here.)

2) Old things that feel like new things. Like my Oscar the Grouch slippers, which I rediscovered while cleaning out my closet. As soon as I saw them there, I thought, how could I have forgotten about these? And they went on my feet immediately. Not only do they make me happy, but: permission to be grouchy! Which, sometimes, I truly need.

3) Coffee, tea, candles, and sweaters. So many small (and inexpensive) ways to add warmth to a winter that feels terribly long. Oh, and let’s not forget the best one: cats on laps!

What are you grateful for this week? Feel free to share if it feels good to you.

Saturday Gratitude #2

After I wrote my first Saturday Gratitude post last week, I noticed how my attention shifted ever so slightly over the following days from what I was lacking to what is here already. And it’s funny how much more clear my choices and focus become when I am not in that panicky, lack-filled place.

It’s also so interesting to notice that, often, I don’t need nearly as much as I think I do. My needs only seem enormous when I am in that place of lack, and assuming that it is reality.

Then yesterday I happened to run across a Martha Beck piece on Oprah’s website where Martha mentioned that research shows that it is impossible to experience appreciation and fear at the same time. Yes! I noticed that so often this week.

So here is my Saturday Gratitude list for today — three things I am grateful for as this week draws to a close. We’ll see how today’s focus on gratitude shapes the coming week! And I’d love it if you’d join me in my experiment, if that feels good to you!

1) Writing in warmth. After last week’s computer crash, I finally have a new computer up and running, and because it’s a laptop, I can write anywhere in the house instead of sitting in my rather-cold office, which, truth be told, I had been feeling less and less inclined to do. This is kind of perfect, I realize, because I have been needing to approach my writing with warmer energy — more safety, more permission, more “it’s okay to be exactly where you are with this writing. It’s okay to let it be what it is, nothing more, nothing less.”

2) Recognizing when it was time for me to get offline, particularly off Facebook, and following up on that awareness by — getting offline! And how incredibly grounding and replenishing that turned out to be. As wonderful as the online world can be, as I stayed unplugged for a good while yesterday, I felt the remembrance that there is so much here, in the physical world, and in my own inner world. And it is good, and rich, and nourishing. With nothing else added.

3) Noticing old patterns coming up for me, and then noticing the thought that I shouldn’t be still doing this! Not after all these years. And then (here’s the part I’m truly grateful for), recognizing that, yes, the patterns are still here, but the way I interact with them, the way I deal with them, is much, much different than it was ten years ago. Or even five. And that, to me, is some kind of miracle.

Want to share yours? What are you grateful for this week?

Saturday Gratitude

In keeping with my intention to create new, supportive rituals this year — both in my life and here on this blog — this is my first Saturday Gratitude post.

I’ve been noticing the connection in my life between gratitude and creativity, and here’s what I’m discovering: creativity does not flow from a place of lack. And when I have a “not-enough” mentality, I end up putting a ton of pressure on my creativity to make me feel better, make me money!, make me feel successful.

But (as I’ll talk about in my next post), we are in relationship to our creativity. Imagine putting pressure on a person to make you feel better, make you money, make you feel successful. My hunch is that person (if they had a decent amount of self-respect) would run from you pretty quickly.

The same goes for creativity. It loves us when we express gratitude for it, but tends to hide from us when we pressure it.

So every Saturday, I’ll be winding down my week with a focus on three things I’m grateful for. And I’d love it if you’d join in, if that feels good to you!

Here’s this week’s list:

* My computer died this week, and I managed not to completely freak out. (And I’d backed up my work — something I haven’t always done in the past.) AND, money flowed in from an unexpected source to partly cover the cost of a new computer.

* My 13-year-old cat is in wonderful health. In fact, my boyfriend and I refer to him as “the kitten” due to his youthful acrobatic abilities.

* Here in Chicago, we have beautiful, gentle, snow-globe-quality snow in the air this morning. I didn’t think I could stomach more snow, let alone be grateful for it, but I have to say, it’s just so pretty. So I’m grateful not just for beauty in the world, but for my capacity to see it and appreciate it. That capacity is a renewable resource, for all of us.

What’s on your Saturday Gratitude list this week? I’d love it if you’d share. And most importantly, notice how you feel after you make your list.

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