The magic of giving yourself more time

Something I’ve noticed again and again while working with clients who want to let go of overwhelm is just how often we expect ourselves to make big life changes very quickly and easily.

When — lo and behold! — making the changes feels like it’s taking a long time and is not all that easy, we conclude that something is wrong.

Where does this mindset come from? For some of us, it’s deeply rooted in childhood, where our feelings might have gotten lost in the shuffle or, in some cases, were flat out not allowed.

For lots of us, too, the culture that surrounds us is focused on “fast and easy,” and we can feel exposed to this message hundreds of times a day. No wonder when things feel slow and difficult, we question ourselves! (This is where self-compassion is especially important.)

When we allow our feelings to surface, we have access to our intuition, and our intuition gives us a solid sense of how fast — or slow — we need to go to best serve ourselves. (Sometimes intuition prompts us to move more slowly and see what emerges, and sometimes it prompts us to take swift action and a lot unfolds seemingly all at once, but when we’re acting from intuition, that unfolding feels right, no matter its pace.)

There are times, for example, when I get an idea about something I might want to do, but when I start taking actions toward it, I can feel a forcing/pushing energy behind it that creates an “ick” for me. (“Ick” is my way of describing something that feels like it’s actually the opposite of where my essential self wants to go.)

If I keep on pushing through the “ick,” I notice I just create more of it. My mind may tell me I need to do this thing (whatever it is), but if I don’t take a giant step back at this point and investigate what’s behind the “ick,” I only end up feeling awful about the thing I thought I wanted to do/create/have.

If we’re in a big hurry, it’s always worth stepping back and questioning what’s going on for us. What are we afraid of? What do we fear will happen if we don’t hurry? How do we want to feel?

***

A while back, a client I was working with felt pretty sure that she wanted to quit her job — the mere thought of quitting caused her essential self to light right up. But when she started getting things in order to actually quit, she felt her version of “the ick”. Flow stopped, fear took over, and she felt frozen. Did this mean, she wondered, that quitting her job was the wrong move?

After we did some calming of her nervous system and she was feeling more safe and peaceful, she was able to see that although she did indeed want to quit her job, she needed to give herself a longer time frame in which to make that big step. Instead of “right now!”, she realized that giving herself six months to plan her exit felt really good and didn’t trigger the “ick”.

When she stepped back in this way, her intuition was more clear to her — she wanted to leave, but she needed more time to do that in a way that felt solid and grounded to her essential self.

Your essential self is the essence of who you truly are (as opposed to your social self, which is much more concerned with how you’re viewed by those around you).

I have learned that the essential self is never in a hurry. Its voice is that of our intuition, which, as I mentioned above, has a “just-right” sense of our unfolding — it’s not about “fast” or “slow”, but about the right pace for where we want to go next, where we (essentially) need to be.

On a smaller, day-to-day scale, giving ourselves more time when things feel hard can help us meet ourselves where we are, too. Whenever I have to figure out some new technology, I get edgy because I am not a techy person. I’ve noticed, though, that if I can block out an hour to learn something new, rather than expecting myself to “just get it” in five minutes, I usually learn it fine and don’t feel like I’m waging a war against myself.

How is giving ourselves more time in this sense different from “procrastination”? It’s the difference between approaching and tending to our feelings, and avoiding them.

What we call “procrastinating” feels so awful because we’re really in avoidance — not necessarily of the thing we’re “supposed” to do — but of ourselves, our feelings, and understanding more deeply what’s going on. (I can’t tell you how many times a client who’s judged herself for “procrastinating” has come to the realization that the “thing” didn’t even need to be done, once she got clear on what was going on.)

When we take a giant step back and ask what’s really going on here, we are generous with ourselves. We’ve taken the pressure off, calmed our nervous systems, and now we can clearly feel into what’s right for us and what isn’t. (If you need support here, you might want to check out my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program.)

When you have that “up against a wall” feeling, what happens when you simply choose to give yourself a little more time? I’d love to hear from you.

My Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program is enrolling now. If you want to let go of overwhelm and embrace your creativity, I’d love to support you. Want to learn more? You can do that here

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here

Above images by Giv Meraj and Terry Richmond on Unsplash, respectively

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Tolerating the discomfort of setting limits

One of my teachers says that being able to tolerate discomfort is one of the most important capacities we can develop in this life.

I very much agree.

We humans will do a heck of a lot of maneuvering in order to avoid discomfort. In fact, we employ all sorts of sophisticated systems — many of them automatic and not entirely within our awareness — to keep ourselves from feeling discomfort.

And when we commit to taking better care of ourselves, to responding to our needs instead of squashing them or pretending they’re not there, one of the really uncomfortable things we inevitably realize we need to do more of is setting limits.

Many of us have a rather complicated relationship with the idea of limits. Part of this goes back to how we were raised by our parents or guardians. We may have had lots and lots of limits imposed on us.

Or maybe we had far too few (which can be particularly frightening for children, who need the safety of supportive limits that adults set for them). We may also have experienced an inconsistent and confusing mix of the two.

So setting limits in support of self-care can be truly challenging, particularly for those of us who are practiced in living in an “others-centered” way.

And yet, setting these limits is vital to taking care of ourselves and creating the space that is required to build the lives we desire, to create what we yearn to create.

The good news, I have found, is that many people are absolutely happy to respect our limits, once we communicate them. The not-so-good news: We will also experience “pushback” when we change the behavior people are used to from us. (Martha Beck refers to this pushback as “change-back attacks”.)

This pushback can come from others, and it can also show up as extreme discomfort that arises within us. In fact, sometimes the biggest challenge I have is in setting limits with myself.

There is a deeply-rooted adaptive behavior I can default to of pushing myself relentlessly. (I say “adaptive” because I learned when I was young that if I pushed myself very hard, I could potentially get a lot of praise from the adults around me.)

And when I let in a little discomfort, if I’m not mindful, I can sometimes default to even more pushing myself to avoid feeling it.

Of course, there is an unpleasant hangover effect from all this pushing myself: I feel depleted, disconnected from myself, angry, sad, and confused as to why I feel so awful after all my very hard work.

Most of the clients who work on self-care issues with me are all too familiar with the icky hangover effect of defaulting to self-neglect. And we do quite a bit of working with the significant amount of discomfort that can arise when we start to let go of this pattern and turn it around.

This is where the power of noticing comes in. Sometimes, particularly when a coping behavior is very deeply ingrained in us, we need at first to just notice it — more and more particularly — and give ourselves a good chunk of time to let it really sink in just how this pattern is affecting us.

I sometimes work with clients on one area of a particular relationship that causes them stress. They know the relationship is challenging for them, but until they slow down enough to truly notice what’s happening within the relationship that is triggering the stress — the various pieces that make up the chain of events that lead to the result of STRESS — the pattern continues.

Slowing down and noticing our thoughts, our feelings, and the actions we take (or don’t take) in these situations is key — and it can be truly uncomfortable to do that.

A lot of times the ways we neglect to take care of ourselves — sometimes particularly where other people are involved — can get shoved into a giant blind spot for us because our discomfort causes us to speed right over what’s actually happening.

One of my clients, for example, felt that she had to answer the phone every time her mom called. And her mom sometimes called as many as five or six times a day.

Until we took a slowed-down, close-up look at her belief system around her relationship with her mom and the feelings and actions that belief system created for her, my client was dropping everything multiple times per day to be there for her mom. She wanted to be there for her mom, but she needed, she came to realize, to be there for herself first.

And there was some untangling to do there that was uncomfortable to accept — and to act on.

The paradox here is that when we’re willing to let in the discomfort of slowing, stopping and really seeing what’s going on, we actually feel less discomfort over time. We learn to live more comfortably within our true selves.

Instead of moving away from discomfort, we move toward the kind of relationship we want to have with first ourselves, and then our loved ones.

Facing our discomfort around setting limits — whether with ourselves or others — is easier with support. This is the kind of work we do together in my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program. Interested in learning more? You can do that here.

Want to stay connected and learn more about my coaching offerings? You’re welcome to sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter. You can do that here.

Thanks to these photographers for helping me illustrate today’s post with monkeys! Top photo by Tobias Mrzyk on Unsplash ; middle photo by Andre Mouton on Unsplash ; bottom photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

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Supporting your deep-diving self from the outside in

If you’ve read my blog posts, you probably know that I believe true personal change happens most of the time in our inner world (no matter how much we scramble to change the outer).

Many of us — and I certainly include myself here — have pushed and pushed to try to control our outer worlds to the point that we bottom out on that way of life.

When we’ve gone too far in the outer direction, and we start to sense the limitations of that, it makes tons of sense to start looking within.

That said, as an introvert who often works with introverts, I’ve noticed that we “deep divers” sometimes take our moving inward just a little too far.

This might look like trying to “accept” the unacceptable — for example, working on ourselves more and more to make a relationship better, when in fact we’re better off letting go of the relationship altogether.

It might look like using spiritual practice for the purpose of avoiding the “real world” (sometimes called “spiritual bypass.”).

It can also look like making things that are simple very complicated. I remember trying so hard to “like” taking care of the yard at my old home, but in fact, I just hated yardwork. It took me ages to recognize that I didn’t have to like it, didn’t even have to do it, and it was perfectly okay to hire help.

If trying to solve the problem on the inside seems to be creating more struggle, we might need to move ever so slightly outward.

In my last post, I wrote about how getting rid of energetic drains in our surroundings can clear space for creativity. That can be a hugely important part of an outside-in approach to self-care.

Another part of an outside-in approach can be making sure we connect with people whose energy feels supportive to us on a regular basis.

If you are an introvert, your natural tendency is to move inward. And this is a good thing! It’s why introverts who try to be extroverts end up feeling exhausted — and why not enough diving inward can be detrimental to us, as I learned early in life.

Sometimes, though, introverts may find themselves a little bit “too in.” (This may be particularly true if you have high sensitivity in the mix. Elaine Aron talks about the “too in/too out” dilemma many HSPs face in her work.)

The trick for introverts is that we may have quite a bit of ambivalence about keeping up with our connections — that time to ourselves, that delving inward, can be so enticing. So I like to make sure I have regular, “calendared” ways of doing this connecting. It makes it easier for me when I know I need to show up because people are counting on me to do so.

A few other ways that can be helpful in supporting ourselves from the outside-in:

Caring for animals. On my walks, I often run into my neighbor from the condo-across-the-way as he’s walking his dog. He’s told me how meeting his dog’s needs gives him a much-needed break from his tendency to “ruminate”. I was like, preach! I haven’t had cats for thirty years only because I love cats. They allow me to have my inner world while also bringing me out of it.

Gentle time limits. Journaling is fundamental for me — I do it most days through morning pages, but it takes many other forms for me as well and is key in making shifts in my life. I do, however, set a gentle time limit on my journaling each morning. Otherwise I can sometimes get lost in it.  We might also find it helpful to set time limits on certain phone conversations, watching Netflix, or any area where we tend to be a little bit “time-boundary-challenged.”

Soft deadlines. I used to think I hated deadlines, but I’ve learned they can support me as long as I’m not imposing hard, strict deadlines on myself.  (Many thanks to my friend and coach Theresa Trosky, who years ago pointed out to me in our work together that “soft deadlines” are actually my friend!)

Bookending the day. On most days, I try to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time. This regularity bookends the day and becomes something I can count on, particularly on days when my emotions have been swirling. There are other ways I “bookend” my day, such as morning and evening pages, and we can create these kinds of “containers” for ourselves throughout the day, too.

Limiting news consumption. This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s abundantly clear that exposing ourselves to anything and everything is anti-self-care, particularly if we are energy-sensitive. I have to trust my intuition here on how much news is actually helpful for me. (Notice how many of these outer supports are a form of limit?)

I’m sure you can think of hundreds of other outside-in supports (and I’d love to hear from you!).

What I notice is that these outer supports, rather than constraining the “deep diver” in me, actually support my inward focus while keeping me connected to the outer world. They remind me that I am a human being in a physical body in a physical world, even though I do a lot of delving into my inner world.

Turning inward, doing that inner work, is fundamental for those who want truly know and understand themselves. But the outer world sometimes holds the answers for us, too (and if not “answers,” certainly support!). How do you use “outside-in” support in your life?

I’ll be enrolling in this year’s version of my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program soon. Want to learn more, or just stay connected? Feel free to sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter, here.

Hearts photo by Rachel Walker on Unsplash ; woman with dogs photo by Frederik Trovatten.com on Unsplash

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Finding a creative routine that works for you

Many years ago, I had a full-time job that drained my energy and I really wanted to write a novel. But it wasn’t happening. Every time I got home from work, I felt brain-dead, turned on the TV, watched two episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (which happened to be on right when I got home), and kept the TV on for the entire evening.

I finally resolved to get up an hour early each morning and work on my novel before I went to work. I did that for exactly one day. I felt so sleep-deprived at work due to cutting off my last hour of sleep that the entire day was a slog.

The next thing I tried was writing during my lunch hour. Typically, I didn’t take lunch, because if I skipped lunch and ate at my desk while I worked, I could leave earlier.

Writing during lunch proved challenging. I felt distracted (my mind on the afternoon work I had to get back to), and extending my work day by an hour drained my energy (too overstimulating for this introvert).

The next thing I tried was writing after I got home. I resolved to not turn on Sabrina the Teenage Witch (no Salem for me!), go right to my desk, and work for an hour.

This failed miserably. Once I walked through my door, my system set itself to “relaxation mode” and the hour of writing felt like a climb up a mountainside with a boulder strapped to my back.

Now, you may be thinking at this point, Well, yeah! It’s hard. You have to force yourself to do it!

Except I didn’t want my writing to be constantly tied up with the feeling of forcing myself. The whole reason I wanted to write a novel in the first place was because writing brought me joy and purpose, and because reading novels had felt so joyful and purposeful to me. Forcing myself to write was not going to work for me for the long haul.

So I started looking at the elements that seemed important here.

• It was important to me that I was able to sleep as late as possible in the morning — that worked best for my body.

• It was important to me that I could leave work as early as possible — that created the most hopeful and positive feeling for me in my work day.

• Writing at home at the end of the day didn’t work because it was too tempting for me to succumb to TV at that time — I had to rely far too much on willpower at that time of day in that setting.

But then I thought — hmm. What about a different setting? What about writing after work, but not at home?

So the next thing I tried was heading to the coffee place that was next door to my workplace, right after work. I brought a spiral notebook with me, ordered coffee, and started writing. About forty-five minutes in, it felt right to call it a day.

I went home, turned on the TV, and did my usual nighttime routine — except my writing was done. I hadn’t had to cut off my sleep in the morning to do it, and I hadn’t had to take a lunch hour. And I could go ahead and relax when I entered my apartment.

Eventually, I decided on writing at the coffee place at least four days a week, right after work, for no more than forty-five minutes a day. (I discovered that if I tried to push beyond forty-five minutes, I got too much into the “forcing myself” zone and I started to rebel. If I kept it at forty-five minutes, it usually felt just right.)

Creating takes energy — there’s no way around it. And while it’s true that creating gives us energy (as Maya Angelou famously said), it’s also true that our bodies have needs, very real ones.

Since several years prior to this period of my life I had completely ignored my physical needs and ended up terribly ill, I knew I had to take my body’s needs seriously. I knew I couldn’t afford to let perfectionism take the reins again. I needed a “reasonable, realistic” creative routine.

Ugggh! Reasonable and realistic had to be two of my least favorite words. (Still true for me — I’m an INFP, after all!)

So I had to do a couple of things in order to allow myself to carry on with this “workable but not necessarily exciting” creative routine:

• I had to let myself be a regular, boring human who couldn’t crank out a novel draft in a weekend on a great wave of inspiration.

• I had to accept that my creative identity was changing — it was no longer about great highs and lows — I was no longer flying above the treetops or clutching a towel sobbing on the bathroom floor. My creativity was now going to be built into my daily life, in a quieter, more subtle, more sustainable way.

And this needed to be okay if I was going to have a healthy relationship between my physical body, my emotional self, and my creativity.

It took me about a year and a half to get to a complete novel draft, and another year to rewrite it. I didn’t “crank it out in a weekend,” but I did finish it. (And although this novel makes me cringe now, I used excerpts from it to get into a graduate writing program, where I became a better writer. No creating is ever wasted!)

It’s a fact: as much as we may not like to believe it (I know I didn’t), we have a finite amount of energy available to us each day. (When we’re going through big things, we’ll have less than usual.)

We don’t move forward by arguing with reality. We move forward by embracing it. When we tend to see lots of possibilities, it can be easy to get disconnected from the realities of our physical and emotional selves.

But we’re in physical bodies for a reason (if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here, having this human experience!). We need to honor our creativity and our physical and emotional needs.

Finding the right creative routine takes testing and trying. I tweaked this routine in small ways many times, and my life is different now and I don’t have this routine anymore. We need to be open to what works for us now, and willing to let it change and evolve.

It’s possible to find a creative routine that works for you — even when it seems like it isn’t. What have you discovered about this for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

I am currently enrolling new coaching clients. Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? I’d love to help.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

Above images by Carli Jeen, Ella Jardim, and Kyle Glenn, respectively, on Unsplash

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Reconnecting with what you want (when you feel a little lost)

With only a couple of days left in 2018, I took a look back at my year and asked myself some key questions. (You can check out some of these questions in my 2017 year-end post.)

I also thought about the clients I’ve worked with, and what had come up for them. And it seems that the most common issue I’ve seen this year is along the lines of this: I feel like I’ve gotten off-track, somehow. I’ve lost the path. Or: I feel so busy and overwhelmed, I’ve forgotten why I’m doing this in the first place.

In the process of creating our lives, we will feel off-track, like we’ve lost sight of the path, and even if we feel “on-path”, we will feel so busy and overwhelmed at times that we’ll wonder whether what we’ve created is actually what we want.

This is not a matter of “if I were doing it right, I wouldn’t feel this way.” I hear this so often. We’re so quick to jump from “this doesn’t feel good” to “I must be doing it wrong!”

Repeat after me: Feeling uncomfortable, off-track, or overwhelmed is not a sign that you are “doing it wrong.”

It’s simply a sign that something is calling out for your attention. Something wants to be looked at more closely. 

The more we “push through” and/or ignore this inner nudge to look more closely at what’s going on within us, the more out of control and “off-track” we tend to feel.

(Ironically, we usually bulldoze over our feelings because we’re afraid feeling them will cause us to lose control. It’s true that we do “lose control” in the moment when we allow feelings to emerge. But overall, we gain more control of our lives when we are clear on what our feelings are trying to tell us. I highly recommend Karla McLaren’s books The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy on this topic.)

Being able to sit with uncomfortable feelings as they arise is key to connecting (or reconnecting) with what you really want. 

Why? Because until we are coming from a “clean” emotional space, we will keep taking the same actions that lead us to results that aren’t really what we want. I have written here before about making decisions from a place of peace, and I have quoted Lao-Tzu, who asked if we can find the patience to allow “muddy water” to become clear. At that point, said Lao-Tzu, the “right action” will arise by itself.

I have found this to be true in my own life time and again. But most of us are really resistant to believing this, because it requires a certain degree of trust to let go enough to allow our “inner muddy water” to become clear.

If we haven’t had a lot of practice in exercising our trust muscles — trust in ourselves to make solid decisions, and trust in the process of life — it can feel downright scary to not rush to action.

But, as I’ve often written here, when we rush to actions that feel “muddied” because we are so afraid of being still, we often make messes that we have to undo, or we perpetuate the same feeling we are trying to get away from by taking rushed action!

I am a prime example of this. As young as age ten or so, I developed a coping mechanism of getting through life by avoiding my emotions, rather than moving toward what I wanted. This coping mechanism became so automatic that by my mid-twenties my body literally broke down. Pushing down emotions only works for so long, my friends.

Our emotions are messengers for us. When we can sit with them, let them move up and out, without taking action on them right away, we clear the way for our intuition to emerge. It is our intuition — the voice of our essential self — that will point us to (or back to) what is deeply true for us.

So when we feel like we’ve “lost our way,” what’s usually going on is that we have been avoiding emotion.

It’s extremely common for me to hear from a client, “I feel like I don’t have time to deal with my emotions!” (This is coming from people who know the value of emotional work — that’s why they’ve signed up for life coaching! Our culture really drills into us the idea that we don’t have time to feel. We must challenge this idea.)

Now, once we have allowed emotion to come up and out, and have cleared the way for the voice of our essential self to make itself known (this voice can be quite subtle, which is why “muddy” emotions can seem to blot it out), we’ll often find that what emerges is one simple step to bring us closer to ourselves.

That’s it. Intuition does not come to us in a series of complicated steps that extend into the distant future — it is usually just one step, one “best” next step.

I was reminded of this while doing my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions this fall — the whole purpose of these sessions is to connect folks with their “best next step.” It never fails to delight us when, once we’ve let the muddy water clear a bit, that best next step pops right up with intensity. It may be a seemingly “tiny” thing, but it’s always strong and clear.

What’s fascinating is that once we’ve allowed our feelings to emerge, rather than pushing them down, we often find that we’re not as “off-track” as we think, or that our overwhelm is directly connected to the pushing down of our feelings, not to what we’re doing or not doing.

The good news here is that allowing our feelings to come up and out does not have to be some laborious, time-intensive process where we remove ourselves from our “regular lives” for weeks or months. In fact, it’s vital that we weave connection with our feelings into our daily lives.

When we connect this way, just checking in with how we’re feeling on a daily basis, we feel “off-track” far less, because in tending to our feelings and the message they have for us, we are clearing the way for intuition — the voice of the essential self. (You don’t have to actually “sit” with your feelings, by the way. I find walking, moving my body, most helpful for connecting with my emotions.)

How will you connect with what you’re feeling on a daily basis in 2019? What have you noticed about this process for you? I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I wish you a beautiful start to the New Year. 

(For more related to this topic, you might also find this post from last year helpful, or this one from years ago.)

Want to stay connected? You can get updates on my coaching offerings and other good stuff by subscribing to my monthly-ish newsletter, here.

I’ll be working with new coaching clients starting January 10, 2019. Wondering if I might be able to help? Feel free to check out my Is This You? page.

Above photo of candle by freestocks.org on Unsplash; snow globe by Aaron Burden on Unsplash; lamppost by Hide Obara on Unsplash

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A fond farewell to a feline friend

As we near the end of 2018, it feels right to share that earlier this year we said goodbye to our beloved Sullivan, feline extraordinaire.

I have tended to be quite hesitant to share publicly when my animal companions pass away, because they are so very dear to me and their passing feels, in some ways, exquisitely private.

But Sullivan was known to many of my coaching clients, and also to folks from the various communities of which I am a part.

Chances are, if we worked together on the phone, Sullivan was curled in my lap while we talked, or maybe you heard him purring wildly (which he did when he was in “lovey-dovey” mode —  it was so loud people would tell me they could practically feel the vibration of his purr as we talked). Or, if we did a Skype or Zoom session, you may have seen Sullivan pop up on your screen, or climbing the shelves or chairs in the background.

***

I adopted Sullivan back in 2005, as a companion for Slinky (who died of lymphoma in 2010). Sullivan was by far the skinniest cat in the shelter, but his spirit radiated joy. Even into his very last weeks, he maintained his “puppy-like” personality — he’s the only cat I’ve ever had who would trot happily over to me when I called his name. (When he felt like it, of course! He was, after all, a cat.)

Sharing a box with Slinky, around 2008 (Sullivan is on the right)

Sullivan was, in fact, so skinny when I adopted him that he looked rather like Dobby the House Elf — all ears. In those early days, people who met him were shocked at his thinness. Fast-forward to 2012, and he tipped the scales at nearly 13 pounds. (“He probably shouldn’t gain any more weight,” our wonderful vet, Dr. Brancel of Prairie State Animal Hospital, said with a laugh. I took this as a win!)

When Slinky left us in 2010, I was concerned Sullivan would be in deep grief, but he simply accepted her death and went on with life. I’d sensed as Slinky worsened that Sullivan “got it” — while he’d once demanded daily attention from her, and loved to ambush her on the couch or in a box where she was sleeping, he started to leave her alone, stopping when he passed to gently groom her now and then.

Ever the shelf sitter, in 2016

As far as we know, Sullivan was probably eighteen, or close to it, when he left us. Even into his last month or so of life, he remained a climber — he loved the top of the refrigerator, the highest shelf in the living room. We noticed, though, that he didn’t look out the windows as much in his last several months, and his favorite toy — a yellow “tiger tail” filled with catnip, was going untouched more and more.

It’s hard to imagine a sweeter soul than Sullivan, and as he aged, I reassured myself (or maybe chose the path of denial) by reminding myself that I’ve had cats for thirty-plus years, and that I was by now a seasoned veteran of cat loss, and I’d be able to “accept it” when Sullivan’s time came.

But you know what? I wasn’t even remotely ready. The loss has been extremely difficult for me, and for my partner, who first met Sullivan in 2011 and loved him almost as much as I did (though Sullivan remained, for the most part, a mama’s boy).

Sporting his Day of the Dead collar in 2015

Pets come into our lives for a relatively short time. When I adopted Sullivan in 2005, I was in a different place in my life, and I was a “youngish” person, while now, there’s no way around the fact that I am — a-hem — “middle-aged.” Sullivan made that passage with me, and it’s a period of my life that I’ll always cherish.

When the time came (and you never truly know when it’s “time”), we used this service for in-home euthanasia. A truly sensitive and compassionate vet, Megan Carolyn of Chicago, came to our home and we let Sullivan go.

When I started my life coaching practice in early 2011, Sullivan became my CEO of Curiosity and Relaxation. His presence was a constant reminder to me that I didn’t have to push so hard all the time, and that just being curious about the goings-on within me would take me a very long way.

We miss and will continue to miss you, beloved friend.

***

By the way, if you’re dealing with the loss of a pet, I was helped immensely after Sullivan died by the blog of Joy Davy (who also has a book on pet loss).

And please know, this is tough stuff and there is nothing wrong or weird about feeling intense grief over the loss of an animal companion. Pets, probably more than people for many of us, are so integrated into our homes, our daily lives, that they can leave a truly massive void.

Pets also provide us with the benefits of oxytocin — the “love hormone” that is released when we touch them. This hormone is in part related to mother-infant bonding, and it is said to have anti-inflammatory benefits. When that’s taken away, it hurts. (Research also shows that the frequency of a cat’s purr has healing properties.) No wonder so many of us feel better with animal in our lives.

(And yes, we do have a new feline companion named Genevieve, a.k.a. Little G, a.k.a. The QUOTH — Queen of the House. I’ll introduce Genevieve in a future post.)

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On gratitude, appreciation, and right timing

As we near the time of Thanksgiving here in the U.S., I want to circle back to something I’ve been doing for quite a while now. (I wrote about it in this post.)

As a complement to writing morning pages, I have been doing “evening pages” since early last year. I don’t do them absolutely every evening — usually it’s more like once or twice a week at this point. In my evening pages, I simply answer this question: “What worked today?”

It feels fitting to mention this at Thanksgiving time, as I notice it’s become a kind of unintentional gratitude practice for me as well. In answering this question in my journal, I never fail to notice so much that worked during the day that I would not have noticed if I weren’t choosing to focus on it.

For example, yesterday a woman held the door for me for a long time when I was struggling with my bags. (This on a day when I had also complained to my partner about the rudeness of another person I’d encountered.)

Until I sat down to my evening pages, I’d already forgotten about the kindness of this person who held the door — but when I set an intention to think back on what worked, she popped right into my mind.

It’s easy to get swept up into dark territory these days (I think you know what I mean!). And I’m not saying we should “be positive!” and ignore important issues that must be dealt with. But we must also choose to notice how much goodness is present. How much kindness, how much generosity.

***

My evening pages have also pointed me to something else: the rightness of timing.

One of my “default” fears is that I am moving too slowly, that I take way too long to get where I need to go. While I have accumulated all kinds of evidence that this is not true, it still tends to be a go-to fear for me, particularly when I am feeling thwarted in some way.

I noticed this happened for me on Sunday, when I ran into technology issues while trying to get my monthly newsletter out. The more frustrated I got, the longer it took, the more I noticed myself going to that default fear: Why are you so slow? Why does everything take you so freaking long? You’ll never get anything important accomplished. You’re always behind where you need to be.

Although the technology issues had nothing to do with me personally, my poor mind tried to make sense of them by blaming myself and deciding the problem was that I was just too slow. (This is a “child-me” thing — children blame themselves for all kinds of things that have nothing to do with them. With their limited power and perspective, it helps them to make sense of things. How often do we do this as adults, even though we have far more power and perspective than we did as children?).

Finally, I stepped away and decided I’d deal with the newsletter on Monday. As I did my evening pages Sunday night, I found myself writing about all kinds of things during the weekend that had been good timing for me. Things that might not have happened if I’d forced myself to do other things.

Like: I regretted missing a volunteer opportunity Saturday morning — but during that time, I met up with this adorable little dog I know (and his people!) in my neighborhood. We watched this lovely creature bound through the fall leaves, losing his little lime-green “dog booties” — three of them popped right off as he ran — which caused all of us to laugh, and didn’t phase the dog at all, who just kept right on frolicking.

I was so grateful for witnessing that — it felt so nourishing to me — that I went right to it in my evening pages. But if I’d forced myself to do the volunteer thing I’d thought I “should” do that morning, I’d have missed it.

So, my evening pages have given to me this helpful question: What if my timing is perfect? Most humans tend to have a deeply-ingrained habit of asking ourselves unhelpful questions. Focusing on what works, what we cherish and appreciate, can point us to far better questions. 

***

I’ll be taking the end of next week off for the holiday, but you can still sign up for one of my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions through tomorrow, Friday, November 16. If you’re struggling with a tricky life transition this fall and need some support, I’d love to help. You can find out more about these sessions, here.

In the meantime, I wish you much to cherish and appreciate (whether you observe Thanksgiving next week or not!).

What do you notice when you shift to focusing on what worked today, or simply what you appreciated? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here

Above images, respectively, by Evie Shaffer and Alvan Nee on Unsplash

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Permission to be done (and Happy Halloween!)

Periods of transition are often (but not always) synonymous with letting go. It might be letting go of a job, a relationship, a home — but, in a deeper and broader sense, this letting go is often a letting go of who we used to be.

One of the issues that can arise here is one of permission. My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are underway (you can find out more about these here), and something that has come up more than once so far is “permission to be done.”

Recently, I ran into someone I worked with years ago. Running into her, recognizing each other and catching up a bit, reminded me of the many pleasant and kind people I worked with in that job, and as we parted ways I found myself thinking, just for a moment or two,  “Why did I ever quit that job? That was a good situation for me.”

And it was … until it wasn’t. I can remember Fridays back then, done with work for the week, when I’d walk home in the dwindling sunlight (I had an insanely short commute, one of the great perks of that job), feeling so satisfied with my life and grateful for what I had.

Except, in truth, there were only a handful of those happy Fridays, max. (Memory is funny like that. ) That period of satisfaction didn’t last all that long. Things changed, I changed — my essential self wanted a different experience — and it started to become time for me to be done.

And yet, being “done” with that job was a process for me, in and of itself.

Looking back, I can see that there were various “parts” to being done. There was the part where I wanted to be done — but really, truly wasn’t. And that part went on for a pretty long time. Because the “me” who wanted to be done with the job was in conflict with the “me” who wasn’t ready to be done, a struggle ensued, and until both “me’s” were on the same side, it wasn’t truly time for change.

And then, after what seemed like ages, I was ready. Except I had a hard time giving myself permission to be done. Because once I was no longer in inner conflict, I recognized the plain old fact that my job was just pretty pleasant, and I worked with nice people, and I had good benefits. (And there was that insanely short commute!)

When we’re making changes or decisions from a pretty peaceful place like that, we’re actually on much more solid ground than when we try to change from a place of dissatisfaction and unrest (this is usually a sign that we’re, actually, not quite done).

But it can also feel challenging, sometimes, to simply give ourselves that permission to be done.

We might have some fear or confusion around giving ourselves that permission — particularly if we think we might be letting others down in being done, or if we harbor the belief that “quitting is bad” or that being responsible means hanging in there for the long haul.

If we’re heavily identified with being “the person who sticks around”, it may be harder for us to give ourselves permission to be “the one who leaves” or “the one who lets go.” (Being done does not always look like leaving, but it usually feels like it to some extent! Even if the change we’re making is strictly an internal one, there is still an “inner leaving” process to go through, a letting go of the person we were.)

On the smaller scale, the day to day one, I notice that this time of fall, of Halloween, where the days are noticeably shorter, helps me give myself permission to be done with the day. When darkness creeps in more quickly, it’s like there’s a clearer line of distinction between day and night.

It also reminds me that, in many ways, I am not in control of beginnings and endings, of day and night, of the seasons of my life and of life in general.

While this can be unsettling, it’s also a relief. Recognizing where I do and don’t have control can be a big help in giving myself that permission to be done when I need it.

Where do you need permission to be done? What helps you give yourself this permission? I’d love to hear from you. And Happy Halloween! 

P. S. My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are underway and will be available through November 16, 2018. If you need some support in navigating a difficult transition this fall, I’d love to help. You can find out more about these sessions, here.

Want to stay connected? You can subscribe to my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

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Taking small steps to align with your values

When I downsized and streamlined my life back in 2015, it was in part because I had identified one of my main values to be simplicity.

Now, simplicity can look like many things, but for me, it turned out that it did not involve maintaining an old house inside and out with tenants living in the downstairs unit.

Fast-forward three years to the present, and I am living the “simplicity” value more fully. To me, simplicity means that the commitments I’ve made are elevating me and not dragging me down, enhancing my life rather than causing me to feel scattered and dampened. There’s a feeling of lightness and focus to simplicity for me.

Still, living in alignment with my deepest values is a process and ever-changing.

While I have so much more lightness and focus in my life than I did before I moved, there are still times where something feels “off”, and I need to tweak what I’m doing, how I’m living. (Earlier this week I donated some clothing and shoes that I just didn’t need. I’d been hanging onto them “just in case,” but I realized there was no just in case, in this case, and it was time to let go.)

While moving homes is a big change, there are often small, subtle things we can do to live more in alignment with our values. When I work with clients, a fear that often comes up is that if they admit they truly desire change, they will have to completely overhaul (or totally blow up!) their lives.

So this is where I take a stand in support of the small, the subtle, the gradual. The truth is, even when we do overhaul our lives, it’s rarely a one-and-done sort of thing. It’s usually a series of disorienting changes that, in retrospect, feels like everything changed suddenly.

Obviously, sometimes we experience catalytic external events that do cause our lives to change rapidly: a fire, a diagnosis, a sudden death.

But when we’re talking about inner change, and the desire to align more fully with our deepest values, our essential selves, we can take small steps — even tiny ones, and notice the effect they have.

I especially recommend this if you are of a creative visionary ilk, as I am. I used to absolutely loathe the idea of “small.” I loved the idea of vast, expansive leaps — or, at least, I thought I did, until my leaping and lack of taking care of the vulnerable and sensitive parts of me landed me in the hospital at twenty-five.

The truth was, my visionary leaping and the reality of the needs of my physical body and emotional self did not always mesh. (As Byron Katie says, “When you argue with reality, you lose — but only 100% of the time.”)

And I find in working with my coaching clients, most of whom identify as highly sensitive or at least relate to that concept, that there’s often a disconnect between our “ideal” and what is actually true for us.

Sometimes the fear that if we align ourselves more deeply with our true values we will have to completely overhaul our lives can keep us from connecting with what is true for us.

What I have learned (often the hard way) is that there is power in small changes. Although I didn’t move to a new home until 2015, in late 2013 I took the step of just checking out various living spaces. That was all. I just looked. That small step of just looking allowed me to get curious about what kind of living space might help me align with that lighter, simpler feeling I desired.

Taking small steps also helps us test out our assumptions. If in looking at smaller living spaces I’d gotten a cramped, closed-down feeling, it would have been a clue to me that “smaller” was not actually the key to alignment with my value of simplicity. As it turned out, when I looked at smaller spaces I felt more freedom and a lovely coziness. That was my tip-off that I was on the right track. (“Cozy” seems to be a deeply-held value for me as well!)

Here’s a quick exercise to help you start taking small steps toward more alignment with your deepest values.

• Get a piece of paper and write three things you want on it. For example: more free time, more creative expression, more rest.

• For each of those things you want, write two qualities you believe having that thing would give you. For example: more free time –> a sense of spaciousness, a feeling of relaxation. Or: more creative expression –> a feeling of being more true to myself, connection to others who really get me. 

• Now, take one of those qualities and do one small thing to bring more of it into your life. For example, let’s say you choose “a sense of spaciousness.” What one small thing could you do to bring more spaciousness into your life? (For me, it was donating that stuff the other day. I love looking in my closet now because I see more space there!)

The most interesting thing, I’ve noticed, about taking small steps is that, over time, I actually move more quickly than I do when I overwhelm myself by believing I must make all the changes, right now!

(P. S. I wrote about the “power of tiny new things” here.)

What helps you live more in alignment with your deepest values? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are available now through November 16. Do you need support in navigating a life transition this fall? Find out more, here.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

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Soft energy and true downtime

One of the most frequently viewed posts on this site is called “When your downtime doesn’t happen.”

I was reminded of it a while back when a client mentioned to me that she had blocked off a day just for herself, and when the day was done, she realized she needed more than a day.

I asked her to say more about this, and she told me she had spent the majority of the day worrying about all she had to do, and feeling guilty for taking the time for herself when the world is in such an urgent state.

It turned out, the day to herself didn’t feel restful or replenishing at all.

I nodded in recognition as she spoke, staring at some squirrels out the window who busied themselves with burying acorns in the lawn next to the neighboring condo building’s concrete patio.

How often have I experienced what my client did — blocking out some time to “just be”, and spending that time feeling crappy about what I’m not doing? A lot.

It’s even more challenging with the recognition that our world is in an urgent state. It needs us, and sometimes it’s hard to reconcile that with taking a day (or an hour) to replenish ourselves.

What’s going on here?

I’m reminded of a story Martha Beck told in one of her books (I can’t remember which one right now!). She was recovering from a medical procedure and told to go on bed rest. The bed rest was supposed to keep her from feeling stress and aid in her healing.

Except the longer she stayed in bed, the more stressed she felt. She called a nurse and explained the situation and the nurse said, “Get out of bed!” Martha did, and getting up and moving around felt much less stressful to her than lying still.

Sometimes, we have an idea of what “downtime” or “resting” is supposed to look like. But the truth for us will always be in how it feels to us.

***

This past Sunday, I took the Green Line into downtown Chicago to meet my friend for lunch. I wanted to meet my friend, but on the train ride I picked up some disturbing energies, and by the time I got off at State and Lake, my mood was foul.

Sitting across from my friend, though, my energy gradually shifted. We had a leisurely lunch and afterward I felt like meandering in shops and spontaneously bought a gift for another friend’s birthday. I hadn’t planned to do that — it just felt right.

I was doing, but it didn’t feel like doing. It felt like being.

Because I had shifted into being mode, the train ride back home was considerably less stressful than the ride there — even though the train stalled for a while at one point. When I got home, I felt replenished and energized.

Now, I generally don’t consider navigating the Green Line and downtown Chicago to be “me time”. But somehow this turned into spontaneous me time and felt like lovely downtime. How?

Because my energy had shifted. My friend’s relaxed company, the warm smile of our waitress, our leisurely coffee and omelettes, and our talk about our cats and rabbits had transformed my default tense, pushing energy into softer, allowing energy.

Which is exactly why my client’s planned downtime felt anything but restful. She’d blocked out the time on her calendar, but her inner state hadn’t changed.

True downtime is less about “not doing,” and more about accessing your feel-good energy. From that softer, non-pushy, feel-good energy place, you are better equipped to assess whether you actually want to “do” or “not do.”

(When I left my friend after our lunch, I could have just as easily gotten on the train and headed straight home — which, in fact, was what I’d planned to do. But my softer energy state led me to meander into a shop in which I not only found a lovely gift but had a lovely interaction with the woman who beautifully wrapped it for me.)

Now, yesterday I had a day where, although I had quite a bit I needed to do, I was able to do it all from home and it felt absolutely delicious to stay home with the fall air coming through the windows (the air conditioning is off, finally!). I was in the “soft energy place” and it let me know that puttering around my apartment, quietly getting things done, was exactly what I needed that day.

The next time you sense you’re in need of downtime, see how you might first access more relaxed, gentle energy toward yourself. It’s this softer, kinder energy we’re so often in need of, not necessarily “doing nothing” (though time to do nothing is absolutely crucial on some days!)

And we won’t change the world by neglecting ourselves. If you’re so frazzled you can’t think straight, you won’t bring your kinder, softer, gentler energy into a world that badly needs it. (One thing that is helping me take action toward the change I want to see AND stay focused on self-care is The Americans of Conscience Checklist.)

I’m curious about how you bring yourself to a place of softer, more relaxed energy when you need it. How does downtime play into that for you? How do you define downtime for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and need some support, check out these specially-priced sessions here

Want to stay connected? You can subscribe to my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

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