Setting boundaries around your creative space: Part two

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In Part One of this post, I wrote about how important it is to honor the transitions between our “creative space” and our time interacting with others. It’s recognizing those transitions (even if they happen very quickly) that allows us to set boundaries that support our creativity.

(And when I talk about creative space, I mean not only the period of time in which we are actually tangibly creating, but also our solitary reflecting/processing/being time — which is vital for so many of us.)

It can be difficult enough to honor our own commitment to show up for creating regularly, whether that’s journaling, painting, working on our business or writing a book. But what about when those around us don’t support us in our regular habit of creating?

This can be a truly frustrating place to be.

In Part One, I wrote about how when I was a child I had a deep need to go off by myself and write, draw, or simply daydream.

What I didn’t say in that post was that my family and friends were not always terribly thrilled with my doing this.

At a certain point, the people around me began encouraging me not to be so “introverted”, and before I knew it my life became a flurry of activity and achievement with hardly any solitary “being” time. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out of college that I actually — slowly — began to recognize my need for solitude and to — slowly — give it to myself.

And that took a certain amount of courage, in a culture that worships “busy” and “tangible goals.”

In fact, I remember frequenting a cafe when I was twenty-three and working at a bookstore. When I was done with work, I’d stop at the cafe, have a coffee, and do Natalie Goldberg‘s “writing practice” (I was a huge fan of Natalie’s books at the time and still am).

After I’d done this for a while, the owner of the cafe came up to me one day and said, “I see you here almost every day, writing. Are you writing a book?”

“No,” I said, “I’m doing something called ‘writing practice’.” I explained to him Natalie’s concept of writing as a daily practice, as a way of grounding and connecting with ourselves.

The cafe owner shook his head and let out a deep sigh. “This is no good,” he said. “You won’t get anywhere doing that.”

I could see the sincerity in his eyes and I honestly think he was trying to be helpful. But I never went back to that cafe. I felt stupid writing there after that.

And I didn’t even know the guy! When it’s our family or friends who don’t support our creative practice, that can really sting.

So what to do if those around us aren’t supportive, or even blatantly disrespect, our need for creative space?

This isn’t an easy one, but here are a few things that may help:

1) Reaffirm on a daily basis WHY it is important for you to have this time and space to yourself. When you’re regularly connected to why you’re doing it — at a deep level — it matters much less if others “get it” and support it.

2) In keeping with point #1, remember that others act as a mirror for our beliefs.

Part of the reason I was so bothered by the cafe owner’s statement all those years ago was because I had not yet owned the importance of my writing for ME. I wasn’t yet sure that I wasn’t doing something pointless by showing up to the cafe to write, so his words easily shook my not-yet-sound foundation.

Today, if someone were to say that to me, I’d probably be curious about his belief, but it wouldn’t throw me off balance (though I’d choose to be around more supportive energy). I’ve bitten down on the root of my need to write regularly so deeply that it doesn’t matter to me if a stranger questions what I’m doing.

3) Know that your commitment to your creative process may trigger those who want to do the same but just aren’t there yet. It may also shift your relationship with loved ones a little (or a lot). Remember you can always reassure them that this time is for you and that it will actually contribute to you having a better relationship with them. And let them know that it’s totally okay for them to establish their own creative practice, in their own way — you’ll support them in it, too.

4) Get clear on what kind of support you need. Sometimes our loved ones don’t know HOW to support us. It’s okay to tell them what feels supportive and what doesn’t.

5) Take note of the people in your life who DO support you in creating and seek out more of that support, whether that’s in person or online (preferably both as we can use true support in BOTH worlds!).

6) Be willing to let go of your need to be nice. I used to think I had to let go of certain relationships in order to feel more supported in my creative practice (and occasionally that’s been true). But I came to see that, more often, what I truly needed to let go of was my desire to be “nice” and constantly available for those relationships in ways that interfered with carving out my own creative space.

What do you have to add? How do you set boundaries around your creative practice when others aren’t supportive? I’d love to know.

Image is “Fence at Dusk” © Kurt | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Why I write (the My Writing Process blog tour!)

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My friend Mary Montanye, author of the recently-published memoir Above Tree Line, tagged me in the My Writing Process blog tour and I’m so grateful. I absolutely adore talking to other writers about why, and how, they write. It’s never exactly the same for any two people, and I love that.

So thanks, Mary, for the tag (and I hope you’ll visit her beautiful site and read her post). At the end of this post, I’ll be tagging another writer and the tour will continue! (Do click through and check out the previous writers on this tour — I’ve been having such a great time reading about everyone’s process!)

Just for fun, here’s my first memory of myself writing: I wrote a tiny book (on index cards, with purple Magic Marker) about our dog, Rosie. I drew pictures, too. My dad bound it in a little leather cover. I imagine he still has it somewhere. I was about five, I think. I wrote the book because I could hardly contain the joy our dog created in me. It simply had to be expressed.

So let me launch into the questions for this blog tour and let’s see if I still write for the reasons I did at five!

Why do you write what you do? 

For me, journaling is the hub of all my writing. I am a compulsive journaler and have been since I was about thirteen (one of my earliest journals is pictured above, modeled by kitty. Yes, I still have it!).

I journal to understand, process, and integrate what I’m going through. And my journaling leaps off my notebook into other forms of writing — fiction, essays, blog posts, short stories. No matter what I’m writing, I’m always doing it for the same reason: I want to know and understand myself better.

Even when I write a fictional character, that character is often an aspect of me, perhaps a shadowy part of me that I don’t know very well, and maybe am afraid to know. In that sense, all of my writing is about moving myself toward wholeness.

And, there is always the hope that what I write will reach that person who truly needs to read it.

What are you working on?

In a nutshell, I’m revising a novel draft about a forty-year-old woman who realizes she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up (and her life is not exactly set up to allow her to find out). I’m also working on a short story about a sixteen-year-old girl who’s in that tender and sometimes treacherous transition place between child and adult (ouch!).

My characters are often “seekers” who are idealistic and struggle with the question of what it means to be a “happy adult” in this world. I feel I have a nonfiction book in me, too, but it’s not letting me know exactly what it is yet.

What is your writing process?

I am a “pantser” and an intuitive writer — I don’t do a lot of planning or outlining, I like to jump in and write. I’m a big believer in “spaghetti on the wall” first drafts. I want to get it all out there and see what sticks (which isn’t always easy for me as I have a pretty powerful inner perfectionist).

I almost always start the day with morning pages; I find I’m more grounded and centered throughout the day when I do, and very often an almost-complete blog post or idea for a short story or solution to the issue I’m having with my novel comes out of my morning pages. From morning pages, I jump off into my other writing.

I don’t write for hours at a time — at about 90 minutes max, I usually reach a point where I’ve had enough and it’s time to put away the writing and let my subconscious chew on it for a while before I return to it. Lately, I’m rediscovering how important it is to step away from the writing and come back to it with fresh eyes.

And it’s hard for me to talk about my writing process without mentioning the wonderful creative writing program at Columbia College Chicago. It was there that I learned to trust my writer’s voice and my innate sense of story, and I still picture the semi-circle of open, curious faces in those classes when I write. More recently, I’ve received tremendous daily support for my writing from The Writer’s Circle.

Oh, and coffee! I absolutely must have my coffee before I start writing. And — if there’s time — a good, long walk. And, if I’m writing at home, my cat on my lap.

And now I’d like to tag Michele Alishahi — a memoirist who writes beautiful blog posts. Her story is so compelling — I hope you’ll bookmark her site and visit it on June 23, as the My Writing Process blog tour continues!

I really want to hear about YOUR writing process, if you’re a writer. I’d love it if you’d share in the comments.

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.

When you feel like you’re not doing enough

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Last week I had an awful moment one day where I felt like I was sitting squarely in that valley-wide gap between where I am and where I want to be.

I felt despair.

In that moment, I could not see clearly how I was going to get from here to there. It just did not feel possible.

When I feel this way, my initial impulse is usually to push myself really hard to do more.

Which doesn’t work very well. Not when my “doing” is coming from a place of despair. I can do more from that place, and only see mounting evidence for how very much there is to be done.

The other thing that happens when I approach doing from a place of fear is that everything seems to have equal priority. There might be twenty things on my list and they all rise up at once, calling out to be done yesterday.

And this isn’t true. They do not all need to be done now, and some of them probably don’t need to be done at all.

The good thing about despair is that there is not a lot of energy in it. So, in that space, instead of making to-do lists or scheming about all the steps I needed to take to get “there”, I sat down. (Notice if a feeling of despair sometimes follows an unmet need to ease up on yourself. It often does for me.)

From the blue chair in my living room, I began to focus on the blowing snow outside, the newly de-cluttered room, my cat’s snore. I picked up my journal and began to write not about what was bothering me, but about what I was noticing in my surroundings. (This is what Natalie Goldberg calls “writing practice”.)

And within a few minutes, I came solidly back to the present moment — in which, truth be told, I had everything I needed. Nothing was lacking.

I still had that feeling of wanting to grow, expand, move into newness and openness to change.

But it was coming, now, from a space of desire, of welcome, and not from that space of “I need to be there in order to be happy.”

It was coming from a space of “I am already enough — and wouldn’t that, too, be wonderful?”

Subtle shift; huge difference.

And from that space, my true priorities rose up before me. And there were only a couple, and they felt light. Not twenty equally heavy things.

So often, when I think I should be doing more, it’s because I believe doing more is going to get me something I don’t already have. In an external sense, this can certainly be true. And it’s important to honor that — I do need to take certain actions in order to get things done.

But what I sometimes forget is that nothing I accomplish “out there” can give me something that can only be generated internally. When I pursue something “out there” from a space of grasping, I only see evidence for how graspy I am and how much more I need.

The idea here is not to try “not” to be graspy; it’s not to stop pursuing what I want. The idea is to notice the back and forth between wanting and having, doing and being, between what it means to feel empty and what it means to feel satisfied. And to notice what “doing more” can help me achieve, and what it absolutely can’t.

Something to try:

For the next week, notice what happens when you have the thought “I’m not doing enough.”

How does it feel? Does it feel deeply true? Does it motivate clear action? If so, terrific! If it feels icky or stressful or — like me — you find yourself in despair when you have this thought, notice what happens if you slow down rather than speed up. See how you can return to the present moment. And when you’re there, notice the true priorities that make themselves known to you.

Hatched into the World …

This year, I want to start a ritual of pointing you to gifted writers, artists, and other creators — people who are putting healing, nourishing, and amazing things out into the world.

My friend Terri Fedonczak writes beautifully on parenting from a place of joy and abundance (rather than lack) in her new book  “Field Guide to Plugged-In Parenting … Even if You Were Raised by Wolves.” (I love that title.) I had the pleasure of looking in a bit on Terri’s daily process of writing this book as she participated with me in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle. And although I’m not a parent myself, this is a topic close to my heart, as I believe we’re all in the process of parenting ourselves, throughout our lives. Terri’s also the CEO of Girl Power for Good, LLC. You can check out Terri’s amazing work in the world at her website (which is beautiful, by the way), here.

Image is “Sleepy Dog”, © Mihai Dragomirescu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

A journaling experiment for the New Year

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I’m staring out my window taking in the snow-globe-soft snow that’s falling in the street light, thinking about what I’d like to share as this New Year begins.

And what I most want is to help you trigger some discoveries for yourself this year.

I’ve never been much on resolutions, but I do love open-ended intentions, or simply focusing on things that hold mysterious and positive questioning for me.

So here’s a little experiment I tried in my journal yesterday, and I thought I’d share it with you — if it feels good, see if it sparks anything for you as you move into 2014.

Step one:

Look around the room you’re in right now, or out your window if you’re near one. Choose three objects that light you up, that resonate for you in some way. Not necessarily the objects that you “like” the most, or are the most beautiful, but the ones that speak to you or call to you or trigger something in you that feels good.

Step two:

For each object, write down three adjectives that describe the object. (Hint: it helps if the adjectives work on two different levels — i.e., “solid” as opposed to “brown”.) Quick, off the top of your head — don’t think too hard about this! Do this for each object, one right after the other.

Step three:

Look through your list of adjectives — you should have nine words total. Pick the three from this list that resonate for you the most. Again, don’t think too long about this — pick the ones that jump out at you, quick!

Step four:

Take your list of three adjectives and look at it for a few moments. Now you can slow down a bit and get reflective. These words represent qualities that mean something to you, qualities you may want to bring into your life in 2014. 

Take out a fresh piece of paper and write each of these words across the top of the page. Now, draw an arrow from each word down the page and come up with at least one way you’d like to bring each of these qualities into your life this year.

Let your intuitive self take over here — allow yourself to make unexpected connections.

For example, one of my objects was the ceramic deer pictured above. It sits on my desk beneath my computer screen. The words I got from it were wide-eyed, healed (it has a broken ear that I’ve glued back on) and plump.

I like all of those words, but “plump” jumped out at me as the important one, so it went on my final list.

My logical mind thought, plump? Really? But intuitively, I know that plump, for me, represents robustness, stability, exuberance. How can I bring more of this “plumpness” into my life this year?

The first thing that popped into my head was “play around with more physical exercise.” So I wrote that down. (Ah, a clue! Any new form of exercise I try out needs to feel like play. And isn’t it funny how the idea of bringing MORE “plumpness” into my life — not less — led to me to exercise?)

Actually, I love “wide-eyed”, too. I want to face this year with even more curiosity, beginner’s mind, and freshness. How can I bring this wide-eyed quality into my life this year? The first thing that comes to mind is “Slow down and listen even more closely when people share with you.” Yes. That feels right.

If you give this a try, I’d love to hear how it went for you, in the comments.

Wishing you a beautiful start to your 2014! Whether we connected here on my blog or we worked together or we’re only “meeting” now for the first time, I’m truly grateful you’re a part of my experience as the New Year begins.

A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

“My writer self is braver than the rest of me.” — Natalie Goldberg

On one of our recent group calls, a fellow participant in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle asked me how I use journaling when I’m feeling stuck on my fiction writing. I thought I’d share my process, in case others might benefit from it.

My journal is one of the safest spaces I know.

And I’m someone who’s struggled a lot with safety. (I remember when I was an undergraduate, a teacher had us do an exercise that started with the sentence “Imagine you’re in a safe space.” At that time, I literally could not think of a safe space, so I couldn’t go on with the exercise.)

Safety is important. We’re often told to “take creative risks” and “really put ourselves out there,” but we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we pretend that isn’t scary, if we pretend that we feel safe, when in fact we do not. Nothing creates a feeling of stuckness like pretending we feel differently than we actually do.

So, a lot of the time, when I’m feeling stuck or scared as I’m trying to write, it’s because I’m not feeling safe.

Safe to what?

Safe to explore. Safe to write the worst crap imaginable. Safe to share only what I’m ready to share. Safe to be with the discomfort of whatever’s coming up for me. Safe to write that thing that brings up the pain of the past.

So getting away from my document on the computer (which can feel so oddly “formal”) and going to my journaling notebook is STEP ONE of creating safety. I think of the journal as a room, a room where there’s only me (and anyone else with whom I feel completely safe).

From this point on (STEP TWO), I ask myself questions on the page.

Any of the following questions are good jumping-off points.

* What do I really want to say that I’m not allowing myself to say?

* What’s the worst thing that can happen if I write the thing I’m afraid to write?

* Why don’t I want to write this thing?

* What’s the worst thing that can happen if I make a wrong turn?

* Do I actually need to step away from the story right now? (If the answer is yes, follow this one up with “How can I make that feel okay?”)

* Where is the tension (fear, stress, sadness) located in my body right now? If that tension had a voice, what would it say?

* What does this particular feeling of stuckness remind me of?

* If I had a guarantee that no one but me would ever read this writing, what would I write now? (This one can really point us to where we are censoring ourselves.)

* Am I truly ready to write this story? Why or why not?

* If I honestly don’t know where to go with the story right now, how might I open myself up to all the possibilities?

Take one of these questions, and run with it. Don’t deliberate too much over which question to choose — they’re all designed to create movement, which is what we need when we’re feeling stuck. Go with one of the questions and keep writing until you feel ready to stop. Often, new questions arise for me while I’m writing, and I ponder those, too, on the page.

A page from my journal: answering the questions, + doodling

A page from my journal: answering the questions, + doodling

This process does not have to take a lot of time — I often do it in ten minutes or so. The idea here is not to find the perfect answer to the question (there isn’t one). The idea is to dig beneath your surface “stuckness” and generate a new perspective. “Feeling stuck” is nothing more than believing something about your writing or yourself that is not helpful.

You can probably come up with other, better questions. Make a master list of them and have it on hand for times when you’re sitting in front of the computer and the sweat on your forehead feels like blood. We don’t have to make the act of writing so dramatic (put that drama on the page!).

(By the way, you can transfer this process to any art form, or anything at all that you’re feeling stuck on.)

What do you do when you’re feeling stuck on your writing, artwork, or any other creative project? Please share in the comments!

On that note, Aug. 15 is the last day I’ll be offering my Free Mini Unsticky Sessions! (I’ll be offering them for a low cost, in a slightly different format, after Aug. 15.) Want to grab one? Check them out, here.

And: This Thursday, Aug. 8, is the last day to register for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle. I’ve been a member of this group for going on two years now (I’m also one of the coaches) and it’s been an amazing source of support for me. Interested? Read more, here.

Don’t forget to check inside

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As part of my practice of observing my thoughts and feelings and the patterns they create, I’ve noticed an interesting thing lately: I feel more upbeat, hopeful, and just plain happier, in the early part of the day.

Part of this is just my own personal rhythm — my most energetic time of day tends to be between about 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. But it’s something else, too.

I start off almost every day with a walk (only in the most extreme weather do I forgo my daily walk). Depending on what I have to do that day, the walk (which I combine with getting my morning coffee) is anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes long.

My walk is all about noticing — the morning sounds of traffic and squirrels and birds, the feel of the sidewalk beneath my sandals, the super-slow beetle who somehow avoids being crushed by pedestrians as he makes his journey from one side of a cement square to the other. I also notice what’s going on within me — am I sad, joyful, serene? Are my thoughts fixated on that interaction I had yesterday that felt kind of icky? Am I grinding my teeth again? Did I get great sleep, or not quite enough?

When I return from my walk, I do a few minutes of journaling (or morning pages, as Julia Cameron calls them) and record anything I noticed on the walk, anything really taking my interest and “up” for me.

Then, I’m ready to start my day, and most of the time, not always, but frequently, I feel really good.

At 7 p.m., not so much. That 6 p.m.  to bedtime window tends to be the toughest time of day for me. Why?

It’s taken me a while to get this, but I understand now.

Evening time is iPad time for me. I “reward” myself for doing my priority stuff during the day by sporadically checking my iPad throughout the evening. Some of this is fun and feels good; much of it involves checking Facebook, Twitter, and various blog articles; getting caught up in trails of links from one blog to the next; absorbing lots of “expert advice” that may or may not apply to me; listening to recordings from classes and coaches and writers and others I’ve been meaning to get to.

All of this is good, to a point. Information can be profoundly helpful at the right times. And I think we all understand the dangers of information overload and the overwhelm it can wreak.

But the problem is not the information itself.

The problem is forgetting to check inside ourselves to gauge whether or not this information a) is worth our time, b) actually supports our own values, and c) actually applies to us at all.

The crappy mood I tend to get into in the evenings — so much to the extreme of my “morning self” — has much to do with the fact that, in the mornings, I make a conscious choice to connect with myself, to check inside. My morning walk, the steady repetitive rhythm of my steps, creates a great space in which to observe myself, while also connecting me to my surroundings, and particularly, the natural world.

In the evenings, I’m letting go of that conscious choice to check inside myself, and as a result, I turn into a kind of ping-pong ball bounced around by the information I absorb online. I find myself getting agitated, confused — this “expert” says to do this, and this one over here says the opposite; this friend on Facebook is annoyed that people are posting X, while this other friend wishes people would post more of X; this writer seems to know a lot about X and has tons of followers but in fact I feel depressed every time I read one of her posts.

It’s a lot to take in — and a lot of it doesn’t matter.

In the morning, I reconnect with me. I remember to check inside. I realize what I really value and what I don’t. I’m able to make a distinction between what information is helpful and what isn’t, and how much information is too much. I remember what’s true for me.

Can I carry that morning connection I establish with myself into the evening? Can I unsubscribe from lists that don’t add to my life, even if some panicky part of me believes this information is “practical” and I “just might need it someday”? (No matter how “practical” information is, if it doesn’t feel good and right to me, it’s not practical for me.)

Tonight, I’m going to begin an evening ritual of reconnecting to myself. This doesn’t mean I won’t pick up my iPad — I have a lot of fun there. It just means my evening intention will be to notice how I’m feeling when I absorb information, and to recognize I can choose to reconnect with myself at any moment. Information can be helpful, even crucial, but only when I’ve established a solid connection with my own inner compass first.

(And by the way, some of what I connect with online definitely helps me reconnect to myself — and certainly helps me connect to others. I love many of the ways I connect online. The important thing is to notice, to check in.)

What about you? How do you remember to check in with yourself in a world where it’s increasingly easy to look outside ourselves for advice, for “the truth”? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “A Walk in the Park” © Janet Best | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What triggers your resistance?

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One of the benefits of being a rabid journaler is that I have ample evidence of my patterns and habits and defaults. All that stuff I “tend to do” when I’m scared, overwhelmed, panicked, what have you. It’s there in ink on actual, physical pages. Hard evidence.

A client who also journals told me recently that he picked up a notebook from ten years ago and was depressed to see that he was struggling with exactly the same stuff as he is today. He thought it meant that he hadn’t changed at all, had been stagnating for ten whole years.

Which is so not the case.

Of course you were struggling with the same stuff back then, I said. Those are your core issues.

We all have core issues, those deep, resonant conflicts within us that we’re on this earth to be with, work with, and, over time, learn from. These issues are our teachers. It’s not about overcoming them or even letting go of them. The work is to become more and more intimate with our core issues as we cycle through them again and again in our lives. We peel our layers like an onion, each time getting closer and closer to our center.

I still struggle with much of the same stuff I did at twenty — it just doesn’t throw me as much, because I understand it better. I know how to work with it, play with it, in ways I didn’t then. In fact, some of the areas where I’m strongest now are the areas I had most difficulty with at twenty, even if those areas still cause me trouble.

For me, this is the work of my life. This is my real work, above, beyond, and beneath any other “work” I do in the world.

It’s these core issues, though, that trigger our resistance. Of course they do. They’re painful. Nobody wants to delve into pain. When I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and I just don’t see a way out, I can be pretty sure that some core issue has risen to the forefront and I’m in resistance to it.

What’s tricky is that we can often be blind to our core issues when they’re “up” for us. This is why I keep lists of my “resistance triggers” in my journals.

When I’m feeling stuck, I go to one of my lists. Resistance triggers basically boil down to painful thoughts that reflect our core issues. Here are some sample triggers from one of my lists:

You have to write something special, original and amazing or there’s no point. People have to be totally wowed by your writing or why are you doing it?

If you take too much time to yourself, people you love won’t understand and they’ll leave you. You have to be available to others when they need you or you’ll end up alone.

Even when you work really hard, it isn’t enough – what’s the point?

It doesn’t matter if you’re tired. Just keep going.

These are some of the biggies for me. You get the idea. The reason I write this stuff down is because I often don’t recognize that these issues are “up” for me. All I know is I’m feeling sad, empty, or pissed off and like I can’t move forward. Often, when I consult one of my lists I immediately see the thought causing the resistance jump off the page at me. Ahhh. Now I have something to work with.

So let me show you how this resistance thing plays out: If I’m in the grip of a thought like, “If you take too much time to yourself, people you love won’t understand and they’ll leave you,” but I don’t know it, I’m often over-responding to others, overscheduling myself, saying yes more than feels good to me.

Pretty soon I’m fed up, angry, withdrawing from and resisting interaction — even interaction that could be helpful and nourishing to me (such as taking time to truly connect with myself or with a friend who deeply wants to hear me).

If I’m in the grip of a belief like, “You have to write something special, original and amazing or there’s no point,” I become extra-hard on my writing. I become unwilling to experiment. I belabor every sentence. Everything feels squeezed and distorted, like I’m trying to fit my words through a teeny, tiny keyhole and hope they can make it through to the other side as magical, life-altering prose.

Pretty soon I don’t want to sit down at my desk at all. Writing has become painful, not life-enhancing. And certainly not fun. So now I’m resisting writing at all; I’ve become disconnected from why I ever wanted to do it in the first place.

Writing these triggers down as we become aware of them is a huge act of self-care. It’s about knowing ourselves. Seeing your thoughts on paper is a good way to cut them down to size – sometimes, thoughts that feel horrifying when they’re stuck in our heads can look absolutely ridiculous when you see them written down.

Just the act of noticing that I’m being triggered by one of these thoughts can create a huge shift for me. I’m no longer merged with the thought — I’m now outside of it, observing it, so it’s over there where I can question it, and not a driving force within me. The next step is to question these thoughts, look for evidence of where they are not true. (The Work of Byron Katie is an excellent way to question your painful thoughts.)

What triggers resistance for you? How do you know you’re “in it”? Let me know in the comments!

Image is “Stone and Brick Wall” © Peter Szucs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Feed yourself images — it’s good for you

parkbenches

“Filling the well involves the active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs. Art is born in attention. Its midwife is detail.” — Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Yesterday I slept in because I had woken up in the middle of the night, scared by a dream. (When I came to consciousness, I was lying flat on my back shouting “death angel!” My boyfriend tells me he thinks Death Angel was an ’80s metal band — can anyone confirm this? — but that is not what my dream was about.)

I was so afraid I’d see a death angel in my bedroom mirror that I got up and went into the living room and watched TV until my bedroom didn’t seem so scary anymore.

Anyway, because I let myself sleep late to compensate for being up in the middle of the night, I walked out of the house at 10:30 to get my morning coffee with my mind full of all I had to do, feeling irritated and stressed. I hate starting the day late. It screws up my to-do list, makes me feel I’m already behind just by virtue of not beginning when I thought I would.

I got my coffee and then walked over to the hardware store to buy some lightbulbs. The person working at the front desk was tied up with a return, so I walked to the back of the store to the other register.

And I noticed the store had an old-fashioned red-and-gold popcorn cart set up back there, complete with little bags of popcorn and a hand-written sign that said “Take one!” I didn’t take one — I was working on my coffee — but I loved this. It brought back another memory of free popcorn, when I was a kid, maybe in a similar setting, and my mom grabbing two little bags of popcorn just like this, and handing one to me.

And then I began to think about how I really like my hardware store. The employees are always friendly, and customers are allowed to bring their dogs in, and when I go in there I feel like I’ve stepped back into the 1980s, in a very good way.

The popcorn cart made me feel happy and I left the store with my lightbulbs feeling a little less stressed. And I thought, you know, it’s Saturday. There was a time when Saturday was my day of relaxation. Now I too often make it my day to “get a lot done that I didn’t get done earlier in the week.”

So I decided I would reclaim some of that old Saturday relaxed energy and take a little walk.

When I returned from it, I scribbled down bits of what I remembered from the walk in my journal:

A snowman dressed like he was on a tropical vacation — Hawaiian shirt, grass skirt, sunglasses perched above his carrot nose – with a tube of SPF 50 lying in the snow next to him.

A sleek black dog in a red collar, digging in the snow and retrieving a tennis ball. The dog pranced around its fenced-in yard with the ball in its mouth, peppy and proud. It was an adult dog, but it bounded and flopped like a puppy. It saw me, dropped the ball to its feet, and froze, staring at me brightly with its ears perked and a dusting of snow on its chin that looked like cake frosting.

The dog and I exchanged a long, contemplative look, and then I rounded the corner and saw the sheets of snow coating yard after yard. The snow appeared perfectly smooth, but when I looked closely, I saw that hundreds of tiny rabbit tracks peppered each blanket. Now, I haven’t actually seen a rabbit in months — unlike squirrels, who are the chatty, ever-visible extroverts of the neighborhood animal kingdom, rabbits keep their distance and when you do see them, they freeze until you move on. But I love that rabbits leave traces of themselves, so we know they’re around.

The popcorn cart in the hardware store drew me into the present moment, and I moved on through my day more alert to the sights around me. Filling up on these images and then writing them down felt so nourishing. It connected me with the wonder that is the world around me, and I forgot about the to-do list that had been hanging over me when I’d left the house. When I returned to it, I felt more grounded and saw that not everything on the to-do list needed to be done. The peace I thought I would have when I had completed everything on the list was already within me.

My walk turned into what Julia Cameron calls an Artist’s Date. The purpose of an Artist’s Date is to fill your “creative well” with nourishment, in whatever form that takes for you. For me it is often the beauty of the everyday. How could so much amazingness be just outside my door? Well, it’s always there, but most of the time I don’t see it. I had to consciously open myself to it — which I did by choosing to slow down and have a leisurely walk — in order for it to find me.

This kind of nourishment is always available, and it’s totally free.

Try this: Make a practice of writing down images that inspire you, in as much detail as you can. See how you feel while you do it, and afterward.

Image is “Benches in Snow”, © David Coleman | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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