Self-care starts with self-connection (+ deadline to enroll in Stellar Self-Care)

heartglobe

Nearly two years ago, I created my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program when I noticed a particular pattern in my life coaching clients: they needed permission to take exquisite care of themselves.

I realized that many of my clients — and this had certainly been true of myself as well — confused self-care with self-indulgence. (See “The difference between self-care and self-indulgence” for more on this.)

I also worked with people who had not established what I call a “self-care bottom line” for themselves — in other words, they weren’t sure about the basics that they needed to function at their best. And these basics will not necessarily be the same from one person to the next.  (See “Your self-care bottom line” for more on this.)

And some of my clients had been really excellent with their self-care practices — but life changes had shifted their daily lives to an extent that what worked before no longer worked quite as well. (See “Radical self-care: when your normal has changed” for more on this.)

Another common theme with my clients (most of whom identify as highly sensitive and introverted) was the huge lack of permission to allow themselves the amount of downtime they actually needed to feel balanced and recharged. (See “When your downtime doesn’t happen” for more on this.)

Our world is full of constant lures to disconnect from ourselves. And escapism can be just what we need at times — but if our disconnection from our essential selves is ongoing, we’ll notice, as a client I worked with the other day pointed out, a lack of presence in our lives.

We won’t feel connected to our true selves. And that self-connection is where self-care begins. If we don’t make a commitment to connecting with ourselves regularly, we simply won’t know what we need.

What this means is that we must make the choice to be in relationship to ourselves. This is fundamental. If you notice that you frequently choose to disconnect — to not nurture a relationship with yourself — consider these two things:

Your brain is wired to seek out pleasure and comfort. This is part of the skill set of your “old brain” — your “reptilian brain” that is only concerned with whether you survive (not whether you thrive). So don’t beat yourself up when you grab your cell phone or iPad and find yourself sucked into Youtube or Facebook. Just notice, with curiosity. How does it feel? I notice that I enjoy the online world a lot more when I am already feeling filled up within myself rather than when I use it to fill me up. If it feels more like I’m distracting myself from something uncomfortable within me, it’s time to step away and reconnect with myself.

• Connecting with yourself may feel uncomfortable, especially if it is unfamiliar, or if you are in a challenging place in your life. Being able to sit in that discomfort is key if you long to feel more connected. As one of my mentors often says, the ability to sit with our own discomfort is one of the most valuable life skills we can cultivate. But if we are committed to avoiding our own discomfort, we’ll only get more of what we’re avoiding.

It is so much more powerful to move toward connection with ourselves than to move away from discomfort.

Do you need support in putting connection with YOU at the center of your life? Enrollment for my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program ends on April 30. (This is for the one-on-one program — please note that the group version, which starts this week, is full.) Find out more, here.

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

How self-acceptance can help you move forward (when it all feels like too much)

xmastreekitten

I’m writing this blog post on my iPad, sitting cross-legged in a chair in my living room, wearing snowflake-printed pajama bottoms, a pajama top with horses on it that I’ve had for a million years, and a ratty gray hoodie.

It’s nighttime, Mike & Molly is on TV, and I don’t even have the sound turned down. Across the room, my sixteen-year-old cat sprawls on the chair in front of the Christmas tree, his furry stomach rising and falling in rhythm to the alternating tree lights.

Why am I telling you this? Because I don’t normally write like this. I’m usually at my desk, and it’s much earlier in the day, and the room is quiet, and I’m definitely not in my pajamas.

I don’t normally write in my pajamas, at night, while watching Mike & Molly because, on a regular basis, that would feel kinda sloppy and chaotic and it would be hard for me to concentrate and go deep with so much background noise.

But you know what? This evening, it’s exactly right. (I almost wrote “write” there.)

It’s exactly right because I got hit with an internal wall of “resistance to starting” here after the holidays. And I know I’m not alone.

Starting a new year brings with it big plans, desired new beginnings, and maybe even endings, for many of us. And if we tend to do what I call “piling on the change”, it can all start to feel like way too much.

And that’s when we can find ourselves stalling out and not getting started.

When I say “piling on the change”, what I mean is starting with one thing we want to begin work on — say, a first draft of a book — and then adding other “big” projects just because we can: “And while I’m at it, why don’t I also start running every day, clean out the spare bedroom so I can turn it into an office, completely overhaul my eating habits, and develop a new webinar to offer next week?”

It’s funny how we feel we need to capitalize on that “new year energy” and start getting stuff done! Like, a lot of stuff! Before the energy leaves us and we lose our momentum and we realize we can’t do it all!

But hey … what if … we start with the realization that we can’t do it all (right now) — and go from there?

Rather than holding our breath and jumping into all these goals and hoping we can handle it?

The thing about holding our breath is … we’re not breathing. We’re not present. We’re not paying attention to our bodies.

If we start from a place of acceptance — of the fact that we are human, that we are who we are and therefore have certain limitations — whatever that may mean for us — how might we be guided?

I call this self-acceptance. It is actually a place of great strength, because it centers us in our truth. Not someone else’s truth, but our truth.

If we were willing to embrace what is true for us, right now, what might we discover? What inner wisdom might bubble to the surface for us?

For me, self-acceptance today brought me to the inner wisdom to give myself permission to write in my living room chair in my pajamas with the TV on.

It’s not the way I’ll choose to write all the time from here on, I’m pretty sure. But today its message was this: Just because it’s a new year, and there’s so much change you’d like to see in yourself and the world (oh, the world!) does not mean you are not allowed comfort. It does not mean you need to push yourself extra-hard. It does not mean you can’t spend a little more time appreciating the Christmas tree. It does not mean you are running out of time and you’d better hurry before you do.

As soon as I gave myself permission to shift into lightness, softness, comfort and peace, I found myself writing. I didn’t have to force it, I didn’t have to push myself. I didn’t have to “defeat my resistance”. Once I connected with what I was needing, and gave myself permission to give it to myself, I allowed the writing to come forth.

(By the way, as I finish this post, my cat raises his head, stares at me, yawns, shifts position and goes back to sleep. Cats have a way of reminding you that your issues are not all that monumental.)

If you’re struggling to “get started on it all” here in the New Year, what’s underneath that? What might you need to give to yourself? Where do you need permission? I’d love to hear from you.

“From here on out, there’s just reality. I think that’s what maturity is: a stoic response to endless reality. But then, what do I know?” — Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge. RIP to a woman whose writing inspired me toward self-acceptance when I was young and lost.

Embracing structure when you’re a go-with-the-flow type

stonesAs someone who tends to rebel against any kind of perceived constraint, I frequently need to remind myself that structure can be supportive and nourishing.

I also notice that the quality of my energy is innately flowing. Anything too rigid doesn’t quite feel like “home” to me.

If we’re not naturally drawn to a lot of structure — or, if we were “over-structured” in our childhoods, with nary a free moment to ourselves — we may rebel against structure as adults.

Emerson is often misquoted as having said “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” The true quotation is actually this: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Consistency in and of itself — and for the purposes of this post I am defining consistency as showing up regularly for particular routines and rituals — can be extremely supportive to us, especially for those of us who have very active inner lives.

If your inner life takes you on frequent rollercoaster rides, it only makes sense that your outer life might need a certain amount of grounding, centering structure — even if that structure looks mundane to the part of you that values creativity and adventure and discovery.

So how do we know the difference between structure that is supportive to us and, as Emerson called it, “foolish consistency”? We know by the way it feels.

I can always tell I am trying to “convince myself” something is working for me that really isn’t when I go up into my mind, away from my body. I’m tipped off to the fact that I’m doing this when I hear myself say, “Realistically, I should probably keep on doing such-and-such.” Or, “Logically, there’s no reason I can’t take up running.” (Um — except that I hate it.)

Our minds are very good at convincing us that we are “just being practical and realistic” when the truth might be that we are afraid of doing what feels better and more truly supportive.  Or maybe we just can’t give ourselves permission to do what feels truly supportive to us.

Which leads me to this point: Structure that is supportive to us may not look like someone else’s structure. And it may not look like what we think it will look like.

It could be that the job we swore we’d never take actually ends up providing us with a type of routine that both grounds us and creates steady income that feels delicious (yes, regular income can be a kind of supportive structure!).

We may also find that just a little structure goes a long way for us. The key is to allow the structure in.

For example, one of my clients recently started meeting with a support group for young moms once a month and she’s finding that this simple monthly get-together is paying off in spades. She looks forward to it, it creates community and connection for her, and she leaves it feeling less overwhelmed.

As a “naturally flowing type”, she’d been thinking a regular meeting like this might feel like a chore on top of everything else she’s doing — but it’s actually supporting her in doing everything else she wants to do.

That’s something that those of us who like a lot of flow in our lives often fear — that structure will feel like a chore, that it will hem us in and we’ll feel disconnected from our spirits. But I’ve found the opposite to be true — structure can provide a container that supports and channels the flow of our energy.

It’s key here to discover what kind of structure we need, and how much structure feels good to us.

When I get over-structured, I start to feel like I’m on a deadening treadmill. But the amount of structure that feels “too much” for me is actually too little for a good friend of mine. (And we’re both Myers-Briggs INFP’s — “P” types tend to prefer less structure, but even among them there is a spectrum of how much is too much!)

And sometimes, it’s worth noting, we need to allow in a little more of the energy that we tend to reject or resist. People who get caught up in a lot of “doing” often need to ease up a little and allow more being into their lives. And people who have difficulty moving into “doing” energy sometimes need support in taking more frequent action (which may involve adding more structure!).

Obviously, we all embody both of these energies at times during each day, but the cultural preference for “doing” in the western world can create struggle for us whether we naturally prefer more structure or less.

(I wrote about how I’m learning to make friends with structure and systems several years ago in this post.)

What do you notice about your own need for structure? Do you tend to need a lot of structure in your daily life to feel grounded and supported, or not that much? What helps you get things done, more structure or less? I’d love to hear from you.

Also: I have openings for new coaching clients in December and January. If you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care, I encourage you to check out the ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Anatoly Zavodskov | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Happy Halloween + last chance for an Autumn Transition Session

jillpumpkins2

(Because I can’t resist a Halloween post.)

Ah, how I love the “great in-between” of the fall season, and of course, Halloween, my favorite holiday (that’s me above at Brookfield Zoo, one of my favorite places to visit this time of year).

So much is shifting right now: colors changing, leaves crisply coating the sidewalks, and darkness creeping in earlier than before.

I have two favorite things about Halloween:

It’s about play. We can get so very serious about our creative work, about our lives in general. The thing about all that seriousness is that, while commendable, it can actually be stultifying to our creativity, to the flow we need to access to allow things to change.

The solution to that impossible thing you’ve been struggling with, forever? I’m willing to bet it will come to you when you let go of some of that seriousness, if only for an hour or two, while you focus on the cobweb-and-pumpkin-and-haystack on the neighbor’s creaky porch, the sunlight dappling the squirrel digging in the peach-gold leaves, as I did today.

It celebrates what is “beneath” (by the way, What Lies Beneath is a totally fun homage to Hitchcock to watch during the Halloween season). And for those of us who are the strivers (me!), the perfectionists (me!), the can’t-help-but-try-a-little-harder’s (me!) — the ones who are always pursuing what looks good and right and light — that trail of Halloween deep darkness can be oh-so-welcome. Like, oh yeah! I forgot. I am all these other things, too: lazy, bad, angry, mischievous, bouncing off the walls, hiding under the table — I am all these things.

And, at the same time, that “great in-between”, more-dark-than-light place in our lives can be tough to take. Gracefully and steadfastly handling the “in-betweens” is something to which I still aspire, but I’ve learned a few things about it over the years. If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and feeling stuck, scared, or simply needing some perspective, I’d love to help.

The deadline to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions is tomorrow, November 1, 2016. There are still a couple of slots open, and I encourage you to check out the description here if you think one might be for you!

Until next time ~ here’s to ghouls, ghosts, goblins, and things that go purr in the night.

pumpkincat2

Daily saving graces for hard times

whiskers

Whether you’re in transition and not sure which end is up,  just beginning something that requires a completely new skill set, or letting go of something (or someone) very dear to you, sometimes the hard just doesn’t seem to stop.

“I keep thinking this is going to get easier,” one of my clients who had moved to a new city and started a new job said a while back. “But every day is a challenge I’m not sure I want!”

Something I’ve been noticing over the past several years is that fewer and fewer of us seem to be experiencing those extended periods of time where we just kind of “coast”. I think there are a number of reasons for this, a big one being that our world and our planet are reaching very critical points where change must happen. We can’t “coast”, globally, in certain ways any longer.

And we, as individuals, are never disconnected from the whole of the world we live in. Many of us may have worked hard to cultivate independence, but the fact is that we are undeniably interdependent. What happens to the whole affects us, and vice versa.

***

Today I walked over to Petco to buy some pill pockets for my cat, who’s on medication for inflammatory bowel disease (yes, it’s as lovely as it sounds). My cat is old, but still active, and I want to keep him as comfortable as possible for as long as I can, for as long as he’s around.

In Petco, there were cats up for adoption. Four cats, in cages. Well-kept cages, with comfy beds and food and perches, but cages nonetheless.

One of the cats, a tortoiseshell whose sign informed me that her name was Trooper and that she’d been given up for adoption because “my owner’s girlfriend didn’t like me”, sat up straight and met my gaze with her green eyes. She gave me a commanding meow. She was extremely curious and open to me and everyone in the store. Her adoption fee was only $42.50.

Let me tell you, sometimes I hate going into Petco. I would have loved to take Trooper and another of those cats and offer them a stable and loving home. My gut tells me, though, that it would be too much stress for my existing fur child, whose immune system is not what it once was.

But Trooper served as my “saving grace” today.

Locking eyes with her in Petco circled me back to this truth: I want to be able to take care of me the best I can, so that I can be of greatest service to the people and animals who can best benefit from whatever it is I have to offer.

We can never separate “self-care” from “other-care”. It’s all the same thing when it comes down to it. 

***

And that brings me back to “the hard”.

It’s often when things feel the hardest that we throw self-care out the window. Because “self-care” can feel like just one more thing on an ever-growing, ever-changing to-do list.

But so often self-care is not about doing but about undoing. About letting go of what is not necessary and coming back, every single day, to what is most fundamental for us.

And when we get away from it, life is there to point us back toward it, often in the most unexpected places, as Trooper in Petco did for me this morning.

Here are some ways to weave those everyday “saving graces” into your life, especially when things are hard:

If you are physically able, get out and walk. Your feet on the ground and noticing trees, bird, squirrels, is fundamentally nourishing. You can also combine this with “sit spotting” — finding a good bench and planting yourself there and just noticing for a while. During my last sit spot, I watched the bees interact with a plot of heather, their gold bodies moving in and out of the thick purple, and I saw how the sparrows were keen on the heather too, and how they weren’t bothered by the bees.

Take responsibility for what enters your ears and eyes. When I walk, I often listen to recordings of gifted coaches, teachers, and writers who remind me of the importance of what I do.  In keeping with this, limit social media time to only the aspects of it that feel truly supportive to you. When I’m “in the hard” I don’t spend much time in the Facebook newsfeed, for example, and mostly hang out in Facebook groups that feel the most supportive and connecting to me.

Have a morning ritual. Morning rituals allow us to take responsibility for our state of mind as soon as we wake up — this is extra-important when we’re in tough times. Don’t wait until later when, as writer Edna O’Brien has put it, “the shackles of the day are around you.” Mine is walking, coffee, and morning pages. What about you?

Take time — if only a moment or two — to be truly present with at least one other living being. Your partner, your child, your pet, the person ringing up your purchase at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Presence with another person is rejuvenating and reminds us of that continuum of “self” and “other”.  When things are hard, it’s so easy to slip into isolation, but something as “small” as a smile from a stranger can break us out of it.

And finally: Be open to the grace. Sometimes, in our yearning and longing and weariness for things to change, we adopt a “been there, done that” attitude and don’t notice the exact things that can support us.

What are your daily saving graces when it feels like things are hard? What helps you reconnect with what really matters to you when you’re not at your best? I’d love to hear from you.

By the way, if you’re in the U.S. in the Chicago area and interested in giving a home to a cat like Trooper, I hope you’ll check out Catnap from the Heart. These giant-hearted folks have done so much for homeless animals over the years and will be expanding their facility soon so they can help even more.

Please note my Stellar Self-Care Program is now closed until early 2017, but you can still sign up to work with me one-on-one in other ways. Interested? Find out more, here.

Above image is “Whiskers” © Marilyn Barbone | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How distracting yourself can get you unstuck

colourtube

Sometimes we can find ourselves in a cycle that looks like this: We’re pushing and pushing to get something done, but it’s not working, no matter how hard we push.

Then we ask ourselves, “Why isn’t it working? What’s going wrong?”

Our minds start looking for what’s wrong and find that it’s all wrong. (If we look hard enough for something, we will definitely find it.) The project is wrong, the way we’re going about it is wrong, we are wrong. Our lives are wrong. Wrong! Where did it all go wrong?

We get discouraged with how wrong it all seems, and we think, “Well, maybe it’s my attitude. I just need to try harder.” So we push ourselves, and the whole cycle continues.

Western culture is in many ways a “push” culture, which values moving forward at all costs.

One thing that can result from too much pushing is a feeling of stuckness.

Ideally — when I’m really “on track” — I’ve noticed that I feel pulled toward what I want, not like I am pushing myself toward it.

This is not to undervalue “push” energy, as it’s certainly necessary sometimes (it’s just not a great way to live all the time).

A lot of what’s going on with pushing ourselves is that we’re pushing so hard we’re losing sight of why we’re doing something in the first place.

And that’s why — in addition to pulling back and gaining a broader perspective, which I wrote about in my last post — an important element to moving out of a feeling of stuckness can be shifting focus. Or, to put it another way, distracting yourself.

Yes — that means stepping away from what you’re trying (unsuccessfully) to do, and doing something else. Anything else. Resist the urge — for the moment — to try to “figure out” why things aren’t working, and just do something else.

This can work on the smaller scale or the larger scale.

On the small scale, it might look like calling it quits for the day with that chapter you’re wrestling with and attending to the email you’re feeling called to write to a friend.

On the large scale, it might look like putting the major project that’s feeling incredibly draining on hold for a month and immersing yourself in a “fun” project.

This happened for me years ago during grad school when I felt a lot of heaviness around my thesis material. At the end of a summer, when I had a brief break from course work, I found myself super-inspired by these little cat paintings I saw artists doing on a certain auction site at the time. And it occurred to me that — for fun — I could try to do a little cat painting of my own.

I did one late on a Friday night, painting into the wee hours, and it was so much fun I did another one, then listed them both on the site for very low prices. Just for the hell of it.

My sister called the next day — she was always checking on my listings back then, as we sold used clothing a lot — and said, “What are these paintings you have up? One has a bid on it!”

Yep, my little painting I’d done “just for fun” had a bid on it. Someone wanted to pay actual money for my little experiment.

This was the beginning of a period of a year or so where I made lots of little cat paintings and sold them. One ended up in a coffeehouse in Seattle. One ended up in the home of an octogenarian with six cats who lived in England. It was so much fun selling my little paintings and learning about my customers.

And what I discovered during this time was that part of the reason I’d gotten so stalled on my thesis material was that I’d lost touch with what had mattered to me about writing in the first place: it felt fun! I liked it!

I’d gotten locked into “serious grad student” mode and felt like my writing had to be big and important. I still struggled with those feelings (and sometimes do now), but doing my little paintings reminded me that there was much joy to be had from the small, the simple, the cute and the fun.

That thing I was truly seeking — connection with dear, kindred souls — was available to me by doing ordinary things with extraordinary care. (I wrapped my cat paintings in pretty tissue paper and tied them with ribbon and wrote personal notes to each of my customers. I loved responding to messages from my customers and hearing their stories about their cats.)

***

Anne Lamott tells a story in her book Traveling Mercies about her car breaking down when she and her son were on the way to visit a dying friend. When all was said and done, it turned out she wasn’t able to visit her friend until a few days later than she’d planned.

Somehow,  thanks to the “distraction” of the car situation and what it brought up for her, she was able to show up for her friend with more true presence. “I still did not know what was trying to distract me so it could get itself born,” she wrote, “but I felt happier than I had in a long time.”

Sometimes we need to distract ourselves so that we can get out of our own way.

I think this is what happened for me when I was drawn to making small, simple paintings of cats. I needed to get out of my own way.

Getting out of our own way in this sense is not the same thing as procrastination (though our culture — oh, our culture! — will try to convince us that it is, that there is nothing of value in ceasing to push.)

Challenge the culture. Allow your life to be a grand experiment that always leads you back to your core.

Need some support on your grand adventure? Through Feb. 29, my one-on-one coaching sessions and packages are at special prices, in honor of The Year of the Monkey. (Monkeys are a spirit animal for me — they are the guardians of fun and play, which my serious, driven side badly needs to stay connected with.) Find out more here

Above image is “Colour Tube” © Esra Paola Crugnale | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Are you pulling back enough to gain perspective? + special February coaching prices

eagle on beach

Scroll down to learn about my special coaching prices this month, in celebration of the Lunar New Year!

One thing about my many, many years of journal-keeping is that certain patterns — truths about the way I live my life, the behaviors I resort to when I’m under stress — show up with (sometimes frightening) regularity on my quickly-scrawled pages.

One of these truths about myself, which I don’t necessarily like but am coming to terms with, is that I have a tendency to keep moving things ahead even when they’re not working.

It makes me feel virtuous to check off my daily to-do list, to be there for others, to get things done that feel hard. And, I also truly love these things — when they feel deeply right.

But sometimes, I have a creeping sensation that something isn’t quite right, and, in the interest of getting my work done for the day, I don’t actually step back and ask: Is this work, you know, working? Is doing this stuff contributing to what I desire in the long run?

I had a conversation with a friend recently where I told her about this tendency of mine to keep hanging in there, to keep moving something ahead, even though it’s not necessarily working for me, even though I badly need to press the pause button.

And she said, “Wow, you know, I think of you in exactly the opposite way. You always remind me of how important it is to focus on what really matters and to take time out to be present.”

Ack. Apparently it’s true that we teach what we (desperately) need to learn.

The truth is, I’m a lot better at stepping back and focusing on the big picture than I used to be. In my younger years, I felt like I was constantly on fast-forward. I have no idea what I looked like to others, but I had a huge fear of stopping and looking around.

I became monumentally out of touch with my own feelings, and it was only an illness at twenty-five that really slapped me into the reality of what was true for me: I needed to stop pushing, to stop trying so hard to be there for others, and to allow myself to simply be. Not just once in a while, but as a regular practice.

But, it is always a process, and many years later I still get caught up in pushing myself forward when, in fact, what is required is a giant step back.

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

Obviously, moving things forward is vital, but the best way to do that is through what we coaches call inspired actionaction connected to what is in the best interests of our essential self — not simply action for the sake of it.

And this can be truly challenging when we live in a society that rewards us for taking lots of actions, for “just doing it.”

***

Last year, I made the painstaking decision to move into a smaller home. It’s a lot smaller. (I wrote about this journey here.)

It was a complicated situation, but a defining aspect of it was that I was expending a lot of physical, mental, and emotional energy trying to keep up a house that, in the long run, I just didn’t actually want to live in. In the final analysis, I had to admit I just didn’t care about the things that came with maintaining a house.

I would look around at friends and think, well, they do it. It’s worth it to them. And I’d wonder if there was something wrong with me that I wanted to go back to small apartment living, at my age.

But when I thought about moving into a small apartment, where upkeep would be minimal, where maintenance would be taken care of by someone else, where I could feel like each room and each object was well-used and appreciated, I felt all lit up inside. It was my truth, even if it wasn’t somebody else’s.

It took me a long time, though, to actually pull back from my daily existence enough to see this truth.

And it was care of the house, in part, that distracted me from the truth. Whenever I got everything else done, there was always snow to be shoveled, or leaves to be raked, or a flooded basement, or an attic fan that needed repairing. But isn’t this what you’re supposed to do? I’d think. Grow up and take care of a house?

***

Martha Beck, in her book Finding Your Own North Star, talks about the difference between “mouse vision” and “eagle vision”. Mouse vision takes care of the small details that help us get things done each day. Mouse vision is very important, because it is only through tiny, individual steps that we make our way to completing our “big things.”

Eagle vision, on the other hand, is about the big picture — it’s soaring above the landscape so we can get a sense of the whole scheme and notice what needs attending to, what needs to be let go of, and when we need to fly in a slightly (or dramatically) different direction.

It’s easy to get stuck in mouse vision. If you find yourself saying things like, “I can’t believe how the years are getting away from me,” it’s likely that mouse vision is a little too much at play in your life.

Something I’ve noticed while working on novel drafts (which I will get into more in a future post) is that it is really important to be able to flexibly switch between mouse vision and eagle vision in the creative process. Just like in my life, I’ve had a tendency to push my writing forward even when something nags at me, raising its little hand and saying, “Hey! Something’s not working here!”

It feels so virtuous to keep plugging along, to write more words, to check that off my to-do list! Who wants to pull back and look at the work as a whole? Do I get a gold star for doing that?

But it’s so necessary, in our lives as well as our creative work.

How do you know it’s time to pull back and embrace the big picture?

• You feel like you are drowning in the day to day. It feels like you’re just going from one thing to another, putting in the time.

• You feel disconnected from yourself, or your creative work.

• You find yourself getting really angry when you have to perform certain tasks. (When I was living in the house, there came a point where any time something broke — the dryer, the lock on the front door — I felt like I was ready to kill somebody. This kind of anger is a sure sign that something needs to change.)

• You start to get sick of hearing yourself complain about the same things, over and over.

The next step — as always! — is acceptance. This is where you are — and change is totally possible. What does a shift to a broader perspective reveal to you?

If you’re a little too entrenched in “mouse vision” and you’d like some support, I’m offering a package of three thirty-minute coaching sessions through Feb. 12 (this Friday). I don’t regularly offer thirty-minute sessions, so if this way of working with me appeals to you, I encourage you to check it out!

Also, through the end of this month, my 60-minute sessions and packages are at special prices in celebration of The Year of the Yang Fire Monkey! Find out more about this and my other coaching offerings here.

Eagle image © Cecilia Lim | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Avoiding the intimacy of creating

pensandpencils

Publishing this post today, my heart is heavy with the news of the horrible events in Paris. A prayer for love and kindness in the world, and for each of us to remember that it starts with the way we treat ourselves and those closest to us, and radiates outward.

As I’ve often noted here, I am a compulsive journaler and have been since my teen years. I don’t ever have to drag myself to my journal; in fact, I usually relish the expanse of the blank page there (this is not always, or even often, so for other forms of writing!).

Lately, though, I notice that while I go readily to my journal to write, I’m restless after a few minutes and it’s hard to stay there.

I’ve gone through these periods before, and they usually happen when I’m about to approach what I call “hardcore” journaling — meaning, there’s a lot that’s ready to come up, and I know it’s vital that I allow it to come up onto the page, but it’s not going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be intense, and even draining. But it’s so worth it.

In this way, I compare journaling — or any kind of writing we do — to an athletic activity. We are building all kinds of muscles when we write regularly.

And this is true for any form of creative work (or play, as I prefer to call it!) that we do steadily. Doing it makes us stronger, more flexible, vaster — it widens our scope as human beings, as spiritual beings.

But sometimes, the process is especially tough and tender, as it has been for me lately in my journal.

Yesterday I was drawn to pull out Natalie Goldberg’s Thunder and Lightning, one of quite a few wonderful books she’s written on her writing life and process. In one chapter she describes leading a class in which she read to her students from Richard Nelson’s The Island Within. The writing was sinewy, alive, present, tender. And yet, she saw her students’ attention wandering; she saw them yawning and getting bored. How could this be happening when the writing was so alive?

The students, Goldberg realized, were resistant to the intimacy on the page. The writing was so there, it brought them so unflinchingly close to the subject, that they were afraid of that intimacy. They wanted to avoid it.

As someone who’s taken many writing classes and viewed them from the standpoint of both student and teacher, I’ve experienced this as well. There is something in us that is afraid of beauty, of aliveness, of what’s true — and, in our resistance to it, we feel tedium. We pull away.

When I was about twenty, I had a conversation with a guy in a coffeehouse that has always stuck with me. He talked about the book he was reading — it was a novel by Gabriel García Márquez, but I don’t remember which one — and he said, “You know, it’s a boring book. It tries my patience. I want to put it down a lot. But some of the most boring books I’ve ever read have been some of the best books I’ve ever read.”

This was a totally new idea to me at the time. I pondered what he meant for a while and I got it. He didn’t really mean that the whole of him thought the book was boring. He meant that the part of him that was afraid of being present, the part of him set on instant gratification, that part that just wanted to be distracted from itself, found the book tedious.

The whole of him felt compelled to finish the book — it knew something important was there for him — and, guided by his essential self and not his impatient instant-gratification-seeking self, he kept reading.

(A writing teacher of mine once said, “A ‘boring’ book is often a failing of the reader, not the writer.” Martha Beck talks about “the cultural pressure to seek excitement” here.)

There are so many challenges in this world to our staying with something. Anything. When I got an iPad several years ago, as much as I loved it, its built-in ease of use presented a huge test to my powers of concentration. Now, when I write, when I read, or even when I want to fully focus on a movie, I keep the iPad away from me. (Unless, of course, I’m reading or watching the movie on the iPad. A-hem.)

So how does this circle back to me and my journaling? I’ve been avoiding the intimacy of being with my own aliveness on the page. How crazy is that? Well, not crazy at all — actually, very human.

But I know I will stay with the journaling because I have been initiated into its magic. And the magic only comes when I stay with it.

Is this true for you and your creativity, whatever form it may take? Do you find yourself avoiding the intimacy that comes with staying present to yourself, to the world around you? I’d love to hear how you experience this, in the comments.

A few things I’m up to …

  • Reading Dog Medicine by Julie Barton, a beautifully-written memoir about a woman’s struggle with depression and how her bond with her dog helped her through it. It’s not an easy read by any means (I’ve cried through quite a bit of it), but having experienced first-hand the healing power of animals in my own journey, it’s helping me embrace my own story. Which, to me, is the most amazing thing writing can do.
  • Preparing to teach a class locally on supporting ourselves through the vulnerability and other rough stuff that comes with writing autobiographical material, a topic close to my heart.
  • Continuing my low-cost Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions (you can still grab one through Wednesday, Nov. 25). If you’re a sensitive creator who’s deep in transition and feeling stuck or scared, I’d love to help. Find out more here.

Image © Scarf_andrei | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Do you have a “most creative” time of day?

colorfulshoelaces

I got an email from a client the other day (and she gave me permission to share parts of it here). It was a joyful update — she’d finally hit on a workable process for doing the beautiful paintings she creates.

We’d talked a lot during one session about her desire to work on her paintings during the early morning hours, and how this never seemed to quite work out. Usually, she didn’t get started as early as she wanted to and then felt she’d failed. And because her artwork requires a lot of “set-up”, it wasn’t so simple for her to grab fifteen minutes here or there, as, for example, a writer can.

She wrote that after a lot of testing and trying, she’s discovered she feels most creative between about 8 p.m. and midnight. And when she makes that segment of time her “working hours”, she falls into bed worn out, but satisfied — and she can sleep until she feels rested.

She’d had a sneaky suspicion that the night-time hours might be the best time for her to focus on her artwork, but a part of her (which I’d be willing to bet is her “social self”) believed that only “slackers” waited until that late in the day to do their work.

This is so fascinating to me, and it got me thinking about the demands we put on ourselves and our creativity. And I think there’s another component to this that has to do with the direction our energy flows throughout the day.

When I was in graduate school, taking writing classes, I discovered that I had an awful time connecting with my voice and generating writing in classes that started at 6 p.m. (I also had more trouble communicating and socializing with other students at this hour).

But during the classes that began in the early afternoon, I did some of my best, most connected writing. In the one 8 a.m. class I took, I felt like I was just fully waking up and getting energized as the class was ending.

This was great information for me. Now, I don’t necessarily think this means that I am most creative during the late morning/afternoon hours. What I actually think is that during these hours, I, an innate introvert, experience the biggest outward flow of my energy. That is why I like to schedule coaching clients and lead group coaching calls during these hours as well — I have the most “other-focused” energy available to me during this time.

By about 6 p.m. (as I discovered in my evening writing classes), my energy is moving inward again in order to rebalance me and replenish itself.

This doesn’t mean I am not creative during this time (after all, there is both an active and a receptive component to creative energy). But it does mean that my creativity takes on a more still, absorbent quality, rather than an exuberant, expansive quality, at night.

During the evening hours I tend to be taking things in, chewing on them, puttering and reflecting. I might enjoy talking quietly with one or two people in the evenings, but I generally don’t want to be a part of large groups that require a lot of “extroverting” from me at night.

(It’s worth noting that, for me, fiction writing and blogging feel more like “extroverting” in the sense that I am aware I’m communicating with an audience — whereas journaling feels more like “introverting”, in that I’m processing my own thoughts and feelings, or doing things like mind-mapping that are mostly for my eyes only. This is probably why it’s a lot more challenging for me to write a blog post or work on fiction at night, but I have no problem doing leisurely journaling in the evening.)

My client said that when she does her paintings, it feels like she is “deep diving”, and she can best do this when the “mundane tasks” of her day are finished and no one is clamoring for her attention. That’s why the late night hours work well for her — she has a harder time accessing her “deep diving” space earlier in the day.

And I love her awareness that a part of her hadn’t even considered doing her paintings at night because it didn’t seem “industrious” or “productive” to do “serious work” at that time!

I suspect that her essential self doesn’t care a whit about being industrious, productive or serious — though I could be wrong. But her discovery was a reminder for me about how deeply our assumptions can color our choices.

My sense is that it’s not so much that we’re “more creative” during certain times of day, but that our creative energy is in different phases throughout the day. And some phases are more conducive to certain aspects of creating than others.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

(And by the way, there are quizzes you can take online to discover your “most creative time of day”, and also your “most productive time of day” — they are not always the same. I found my results did not necessarily reflect what is true for me, but they’re still fun to check out.)

Also: I won’t be taking on any new coaching clients until the last week of August, as I’ll be moving into my new home in just over a week! I’m looking forward to sharing more about that with you here, once I am post-move and a little more grounded and clear-eyed. 🙂 In the meantime, happy creating!

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

Bringing the joy back to your creative work

paintedheartRecently, a writer friend and I had a great conversation about what to do during those periods when you feel like the joy has simply evaporated from your creative work (or your life!). The talk got me pondering.

I love a broad definition of creativity: I believe it is, simply, the life force moving through us. So when we’re not feeling joy, something is going on with the flow of that life force.

Consider the following three things if you’re wondering where your “creative joy” went:

* Structure: do you need more or less?

As with everything, as we change and our lives change, so does our need for structure. Back when I worked at a job that required me to be in an office from 9 to 5, I felt that my life was too heavily structured. I didn’t have the amount of “meandering, puttering time” that fed my creativity. However: when I quit that job and had more free time, I quickly found that I needed to create more structure in my life or I felt sluggish and unfocused.

Both feeling overly structured and “understructured” can squeeze the joy from our creative work. (As I was reminded last weekend while watching the movie Next Stop Wonderland, that quote from Emerson is NOT “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” but “a FOOLISH consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”)

Consistency in and of itself can provide the daily structure we need to show up for our creative work — but we need to be tapped in to what kind of structure and how much we truly need (or we can get into that foolish consistency territory!). There is no question that our souls crave those periods of open, meandering, wandering time. If you haven’t had one of these for a while, see how you can go about scheduling one and notice whether you see your joy resurfacing.

(I went into more depth on the topic of structure here.)

* Support: do you need more, or different?

Support for our creative work is so important — and/but it must be the kind of support that works for us, not for somebody else. If you feel like the joy is leaking out of your creative process, take a look at the support you’ve built around it. Is there too little? Is there any at all?

Or, are you surrounded by voices that encourage you in ways that don’t quite feel like the kind of encouragement you actually crave? Are you calling something “support” that actually isn’t? (For example, does the writing group you joined offer feedback in a way that doesn’t work for you? Can you ask them for what you need and move on if you’re not able to get it?)

Or, are you suffocating in information masquerading as support? I’ve become very picky about what I read online. So often, less is more, and in the end, it’s myself I need to consult, not “the experts.”

(I delved more deeply into the topic of support here and here.)

* Sovereignty: do you have enough? Do your boundaries need strengthening?

Sovereignty means that you are the ruler of your own kingdom.  In other words, you decide what comes into your life and what stays out, through creating boundaries around your creating.

Many times when I’ve felt I’ve “lost my joy”, when I’ve looked a little deeper (or perhaps had a friend, coach, or other compassionate witness point out the obvious to me), what’s really happened is I’ve lost my boundaries. I’ve allowed the desires and needs of others to encroach on my own to the point that I’ve felt angry and resentful — which is pretty much the opposite of joy!

Or, I may be eroding my own boundaries by being mean to myself (here it can be vital to look at my thoughts and how they’re influencing the way I feel) or getting out of whack in the realms of Structure and Support. (See how it’s all connected?)

Karla McLaren says in her wonderful books that when we feel anger, the questions we need to ask are “What needs to be protected?” and “What needs to be restored?” Very often, the answer is boundaries. We need to reclaim our crowns as rulers of our creative kingdoms (or use whatever metaphor works for you there!).

(I wrote more on the topic of setting boundaries around your creativity here and here.)

Reclaiming joy is a huge topic, but just taking a look at one (or all three) of these areas of your life can be a great jumping-off place.

How do you bring the joy back into your creating when it’s slipped through the cracks? I’d love to hear.

And by the way, if you’re needing more structure and support for your writing, you might want to check out The Writer’s Circle (where I am both a coach and a longtime participant!). Registration for our next session ends July 16.

Above image © Egidijus Mika | Dreamstime Stock Photos