Deep rest creates deep renewal ( + meet our new feline friend!)

When I was in college, I worked at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago for a while, in a gift shop that was then known as the Koala Shop. The koalas lived there, in circular habitat at the center of the shop. Sometimes, when the shop was slow, I’d go up near the glass and just watch the koalas. They were almost always sleeping. Sometimes zoo patrons asked us if they were alive.

At the time, I pushed myself hard, always. I was anxious, and I didn’t believe it was okay to slow down, ever. (I didn’t yet realize that my inability to allow myself to slow down contributed to my anxiety, not the other way around — though it had become a vicious cycle.)

I found that I looked forward to being around the koala energy, though. When I stood at the register ringing up small plastic animals for a long line of shrill-voiced school kids, I liked to glance over at the furry gray bodies wedged in a thatch of eucalyptus, eyes slit. They reminded me to breathe.

***

As I write this, my cat has been sleeping for four hours under the dresser in the bedroom. When she wants to go into deep sleep, she retreats to one of several lairs around our home, and gives herself full-on permission to full-out sleep. (Actually, she doesn’t “give herself permission.” She doesn’t need it. She’s a cat, and she’s doing what a cat does. It’s we humans who need to give ourselves permission to rest deeply.)

I’ve been busy lately — overscheduled, actually — and I could tell I was reaching my threshold for busy-ness yesterday evening when my partner pointed out that he sensed I was going into “mini meltdown” territory (as opposed to what he calls a “category 5” meltdown, when I have pushed and overwhelmed myself to such an extent that I shut down after a lot of yelling and tears.)

“Mini meltdowns” are, for me, an indicator that it is time to allow myself to access a little bit of koala energy, a little bit (or maybe a lot) of that sumptuous rest my cat dives into each and every day. The sooner I recognize this, the less likely I am to reach category 5 territory.

So I gave myself the gift of deep rest today.

***

I remember a friend of mine from years ago who couldn’t stand waiting around for anyone. Whenever we waited, anywhere, for anyone, she crossed her arms and started tapping her foot. “I can’t be waiting around like this!” she’d snap. “I need to make use of my time!

I thought of her today because, during my intentional period of channeling koala and cat energy, I kept noticing how spacious the day felt — but my mind kept jumping in with “But you should be making use of this time!” (Minds will do this.)

What if we could allow time to support us, rather than believing we must “make use of it,” always? What if we could experience the sumptuous, luxurious hours my cat does when she retreats to her lair for deep, deep sleep? What if we could make deep rest not just an option, but a necessity?

The koalas in that gift shop, I see now, served as guides placed on my path. They possessed the precise energy and orientation to life that I needed to inform me at that time. (Look back over your life, and I guarantee you’ll spot several of these types of “messengers” on your own path.)

We humans are not cats or koalas, obviously — we have a different set of mental, psychological, and biological needs than they do. But they can remind us of our fundamental need for deep rest during some days, some weeks, and, sometimes, longer periods of our lives.

Rest is how we renew ourselves; it supports us in moving from one phase of life to the next, whether that’s into a new day, a new relationship, better health, or a new expression of our creativity.

Because I’d gotten caught up in the cycle of overscheduling, I hadn’t allowed myself this renewal until today. And here I am writing a blog post — not because it’s a “have to” on my list, but because it suddenly felt delicious to do so, in the spaciousness of this day.

***

And by the way, meet Genevieve! We welcomed her into our home quite a while ago now (huge thanks to The Animal Care League!), but I haven’t officially introduced her here.

While my dearly beloved Sullivan, who left us last year, was my CEO of Curiosity and Relaxation, Genevieve brings quite a different energy. We call her the Queen of Mayhem!

But she’s still a cat, a creature who transforms rest into high art. We love her more every day, and it’s fun to see her expanding her territory to the living room windows this spring (where she recently spotted a hawk on the neighbor’s fence!).

How do you allow deep rest into your life when you need it — whether it’s for a few hours, a day, or more? If you need deep rest right now, how can you find ways to give it to yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

***

Are you feeling stuck in overwhelm and longing to live differently? I’ll be continuing to enroll in my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program through May 13, 2019 (or until all spots are filled). I’d love to support you in this journey if it’s right for you. You can find out more, here.

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

Koala photo credits: top photo by Enrico Carcasci; middle photo by David Clode; bottom koala Photo by Mélody P, all on Unsplash

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Who do you want to be today?

Saturday is normally a work day for me. I often have coaching clients on Saturday mornings, and if I don’t, I use that time for writing or other business-related things.

But when I got up this past Saturday, I realized I just wasn’t feeling “right”. After a couple of hours of inexplicably aching muscles, my mind went to all the things that could possibly be wrong; I imagined myself in the ER, or with a prolonged hospital stay; it would feel so invasive, it would be so expensive, and how would my elderly cat survive without me if I were in the hospital for a long time?

Meanwhile I kept telling myself I should make use of my day. It was important to keep on schedule! What would happen if I didn’t get it all done?

Saturday passed in a flurry of anxiety, during which I told no less than three people close to me over the phone that I was surely dying and things were crumbling and life always pulled the rug out from under me when I was feeling productive! Life didn’t want me to accomplish anything!

Fast forward to Sunday, when I felt markedly better and realized that I probably just had a mild bug which was causing weird muscle aches. Though I was tempted to play catch-up on Sunday, my body sent me a strong message that it was time to rest, and rest I did (with a little help from Netflix).

Monday morning, though, the tyranny of the un-done loomed heavily as I woke up, grateful to be feeling well but now back in “get-it-done” mode.

(So many years after the chronic illness that changed the way I related to myself back in my twenties, I still tend to make a very quick leap from “Feeling good” to “Now how much can I get done?” It still sometimes takes “feeling physically unwell” for me to truly slow down — and this is something I continue to notice and work with in myself.)

I went out for my morning walk (making it a brief one, since there was now so much to do!).  As I headed home, intuition guided me a little bit out of my way to walk past what I think of as “the cat house” — a house whose side windows are situated along a brick-paved street. In these windows, I almost always catch glimpses of cats. At any given time there seem to be about seven or eight cats living in this house.

The cats in the cat house are often asleep on various pieces of window-oriented cat furniture, but on Monday, I encountered two awake ones. In the first window sat a gray tabby, an adolescent, not quite full-cat size. It watched me as though I were the most curious thing it had ever seen.

In the next window, a full-grown, robust gray-and-white cat, sat hen-like. Its eyes followed me as I passed, and I couldn’t help smiling. It was like these cats posed a silent question to me: What’s your hurry, human?

I turned the corner and headed down the adjacent street, my mind quickly crowding out the happy images of the cats with my towering to-do list. But I felt a little shift in myself — a little bit of breathing room.

And then, as I passed the barber shop on the corner, noticing the barber inside chatting with a regular, scissors glinting, it occurred to me: Whether I approach “all I need to do today” from this place of frantic intensity, or borrow the laidback alertness of those little faces in the cat house and move through the day from a place of peace and curiosity, I will probably get about the same amount done.

And I asked myself, Who do you want to be today? The frantic person who tries to do it all because if you don’t, you’ll be really hard on yourself? Or the person who moves from a place of self-acceptance and recognizes that she is choosing to do what she does, and if it doesn’t all get done, she’ll be totally okay?

I chose the second person. And, interestingly, I got a heck of a lot done yesterday from that peaceful, self-accepting place, borrowing some of that laidback-yet-curious cat energy.

But whether I’d accomplished everything I wanted to or not, the experience of doing it, the journey of my day, felt so much more pleasurable (and powerful) than it would have had I chosen to be the frantic person who operates from urgency.

In her beautiful memoir Autobiography of a Face, author Lucy Grealy wrote that we don’t learn something big just once in our lives and then, that’s it; we tend to learn the same truths over and over again. This lesson is not new to me. In fact, this choice of who I want to be is one I make over and over again. Because I often forget that I have this choice.

The key, with so much in our lives, is remembering.

And when I choose self-acceptance and peace over frantic urgency, I do not contribute to the frantic urgency that is so prevalent in our world. 

Who do you want to be today? Who do you choose to be? How do you interact with yourself and others, based on this choice? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. Way back when, I wrote about how our “not enough time” issues are really issues of self-acceptance. You can read that post, here.

P. P. S. My one-on-one coaching program Light Up Your Creative Self goes away at the end of September as I make room for new things I’m creating. Interested in this program? Find out more about it, here — and get $25 off until it goes away.

Above image © Olena Chyrko | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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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.

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 moving is bringing up my stuff (literally)

sullivanshelfsitter

Sullivan claims his “right size” at the top of the hierarchy of our new home.

It’s been a month since my last post here, and for good reason: I moved to a new home two and a half weeks ago.

Well, sort of moved. I’m still somewhat in transition between the old place and the new — living in the new place, but going back regularly to the old to sort, organize, and get rid of before the place is officially sold. In other words: There’s a lot of letting go going on right now.

I lived in the house for ten years. When I first saw the second floor apartment (it was a two-flat), I had this inexplicable feeling of being home, and I knew I wanted to live there.

There are a number of complex reasons for my leaving the house, but let me just say that, over time, I have become the sort of “default” property manager.

And, as a friend of mine once wisely said, “houses are very greedy.” Especially old houses (this one was built in the 1880s). Although the house is in good shape for its age, its care, ultimately, has felt like too much for me to manage.

Still, I hung on until May, when some offers were made on the house and it became real to me that I really could not stay.

I am in a place in my life where I want to travel a bit more lightly in the physical world — and that means, less house and less stuff. But, as it’s becoming painfully clear, oh, do I have stuff!

***

When I moved into the house, I had been living in a teeny-tiny apartment, and I wanted to expand. I wanted to have people over for dinner.  I wanted to have get-togethers in the backyard. I wanted to have more room for beautiful things.

So when I moved my two-small-rooms-full of furniture and belongings over to the house (which had seven rooms), I could not begin to fill it up. And I kind of went hog-wild doing so. I had space! I was going to fill it with exactly what I wanted. I bought artwork — tons and tons of artwork — to cover my walls. I bought mirrors, and lamps, and ceramic cat statues, and, over time, lots of books and clothing as I became this new me who lived in this new space.

I was so in love with that house that I was determined, ten years ago, to live there for at least ten years. (Which, as it turns out, is what I did.)

But. It seems I have changed. Starting around five years ago or so, the house no longer fit me like a glove. It was almost imperceptible at first, the change — something just felt slightly off. It began to feel to me that there were too many rooms, rooms whose purpose was simply to house my stuff.

And those people who were supposed to come over for dinner and have barbecues in the backyard? Those things never really happened. The real me, it turns out, does not like having more than one or two people over at a time.

How could the house feel too big? After all, I was only living on the second floor of it, not even in the whole house! How could that be too big? I’d moved there in the first place because I wanted my life to expand. And plenty of my friends, and my parents, lived in much bigger spaces than this.

***

In the past few days I’ve been involved in two conversations about showing up in the world at our “right size.” Visionary types (and I do consider myself one) often encourage us “not to play small” and to “live a big life”. But is it really about being big, or about claiming our right size in the world?

And shouldn’t our living space support us in being our right size, having our “right effect”, in the world? Can our living spaces elegantly support us in living the lives we want to lead, the way we want to live them, rather than taking over our lives or defining us?

I guess what I am coming to is that the house, for all its aged charm and familiarity, grew over time to feel more like the house I thought I “should have” than the living space I actually wanted.

I know that I do not want to work hard to being able to pay for a living space that feels oddly “too big” and “too greedy” in the care it requires. I want to enjoy my work, and have a right-size-feeling living space that gives me the comfort and efficiency to do that. And somehow the word “cozy” applies here. It is important to me that my living space is cozy.

***

What this all means is that I have a lot of letting go to do. I’ve donated quite a lot of clothing, shoes, and household things over the past couple of months. And some of my beloved artwork will likely be given away, sold, or put into storage. (Only some: I’m hardly a minimalist and I can’t imagine my living space without artwork I adore surrounding me.)

This is hard. I had not realized how much I was identified with my stuff. How much I keep for sentimental reasons, how much I keep “just in case I need it some day”, how much I keep because it reminds me of a certain time in my life (even if I no longer particularly want or need to be reminded of that time).

And it’s not just about what I keep, but how hard I cling to what I keep.  There’s a part of me that says, I’m not going down without a fight! I will hold onto this Anthropologie sweater purchased in 2004 until my fingernails bleed! (And believe me, clothing is the easiest stuff for me to let go of.)

Even more than the stuff, I have been attached to the house itself. Its friendly oldness, its lovely crown mouldings, its creaky wood floors, its semi-treacherous winding staircases, its clutch of small rooms in unexpected places, its red back door with the cut-glass window.  Its retro 50s-diner-look kitchen, its bathroom with the green marbled tile from the 60s. Its arched walkways. The overhanging trees in the backyard, the across-the-street-neighbors’ dog we saw being walked several times a day, always with a white bandage on its hind leg. The house and its small swatch of neighborhood had character, and personality, and they met me where I was when I moved there.

***

It seems like every third person I know these days is reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo — I saw it referenced in two blog posts just today! Since I haven’t read it, I don’t know exactly what she talks about, but I have a sense that I am going through my own version of it right now.

I’ll write more on my (sometimes excruciating) letting go process in a future post. But for now, let me just say that, although it does not yet feel like home,  I am liking the new place (which I share with my dear boyfriend and Sullivan the Supercat — don’t tell him the vet says he’s a “senior”).

I'm a little grumpy that you've made me move ... but really, it already feels like home.

“I’m a little grumpy that you’ve made me move … but really, it already feels like home.”

One of the joys of moving in here has been the relative ease with which Sullivan has adjusted. He yowled his displeasure as we sat his carrier on the floor on the first day in the new place — but by day four, he was doing his usual intense shelf-climbing. (Sullivan is what cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy calls a “tree dweller” — he’s most himself in high places.)

What about you? What have you noticed about how your living space and your “stuff” reflect who you are and what matters to you? I’d love to hear from you.

There’s no “right way” to be social during the holidays

pinecone

Sometimes when I look back, I cringe at all the pressure I used to put on myself to be “differently social” than I actually am, especially during holiday times. I am an introvert (and no, by that I do not mean that I am “shy”, but that I need plenty of alone time to recharge).

I am an introvert who loves people, deeply. But I also cannot be around people for more than a few hours without needing to withdraw and spend time alone.

Like many introverts, I really struggled with this in childhood, when my natural introversion was viewed as shyness that needed to be “cured”, or a “fear of people” that needed to be conquered.

Thankfully, I am now an adult (in some senses, anyway!) and I have a lot more control over my life and the ways I choose to socialize than I did when I was nine.

The holidays, nevertheless, can prove to be a challenge for my introvert self.

But I’ve learned to give myself lots of permission over the years.

Back when it was harder to give myself permission, I needed to get it from other people.

Sometimes people give us permission by their example and they don’t even know it. This is a beautiful thing. Like:

* The Christmas party I was at one year where, after three hours, I felt completely depleted but was sure if I left before the gifts were opened, my host would be offended. So I suffered through, feeling overstimulated and disconnected. At hour number four of the party, a couple breezed in, said hello to the host, and then added, “We’ll only be able to stay for fifteen minutes. We’re dropping by another party tonight.”

Doh! From that point on, I realized it was perfectly fine for me to stay at a party for the amount of time it felt comfortable for me to stay. I don’t really give parties (unless three people coming over is a party), but I know for sure that I would not want anyone I cared about hanging around my party if they were really ready to leave. So now I apply that logic to myself.

* The friend, way back in college, who said “no” to the spur of the moment concert invite I’d given her. After a thoughtful moment, she said, “It sounds great, but I really want to have some time to myself tonight and enjoy my own company.”

Not only was I not hurt by her honest “no”, but she’d unwittingly given me permission to freely tell others that I wanted to spend time by myself — not the easiest thing to do at any age, but especially not back when I was twenty or twenty-one and staying home on a Friday night was not exactly the “socially condoned” thing. Thanks to this friend for being who she was and owning it.

* My grandpa, who took his after-lunch nap no matter what, no matter who was around, whether it was Christmas Day or a regular old Monday. His naps were a part of his daily routine and I don’t think it ever occurred to him to not take them just because guests were staying over for the holidays. They were something he needed; part of his self-care regimen. When he was done with his nap, he woke up and started talking. But during his nap, he was “unavailable.”

Here are four kinds of “breaks” I employ nowadays to rebalance and recharge when I’m around people during the holidays.

* Walk breaks. I tell people I need to stretch my legs for a bit and I’m going out for a walk. This works especially well if it’s really cold, because if it’s cold enough, no one will offer to join me.

* Journaling breaks. I shut myself into a bedroom or even the bathroom and write a couple of paragraphs in my journal. Sometimes just writing what I see around me is helpful because it reconnects me to the present moment. Sometimes I write more of a vent or a rant or whatever it is I’m feeling.

* Pet breaks. If there’s a dog, cat, or other animal in the household, I go and hang out with it for a while. Animals always somehow reconnect me with myself and have that nonjudgmental energy that can be truly helpful during certain, er, moments of the holidays. And if there’s a cat around, you have the plus of the purr. It’s soothing and research says a cat’s purr can even heal broken bones.

* Go-and-get-something breaks. If something is needed — more 7-Up, more paper napkins — I offer to go to the store and get it.

These are just a few things I do — I’m always inventing others. Because here’s the truth of it: the better I can take care of myself during the holidays, or any time, the more present I am to connect with the people I love. Just a ten-minute walk outside can work wonders for my ability to remain present.

And, here’s an article I wrote last year at holiday time on what to do when don’t get your downtime.

How do you take care of yourself AND connect with those you love during the holidays? I’d love to hear, in the comments. And to readers in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving!

Image is “Cone Alone” © Bx3t | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top image © Dr_harry | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Curiosity … and decluttering!

cat in grass

I’ve been focused on two concepts for the past several weeks and today as I did my morning pages, I found myself writing about what a difference this focus has made.

The first:

Curiosity, not judgment.

I’ve had a longstanding, automatic habit of feeling discomfort or dissatisfaction about some area of my life and immediately jumping to judging myself for feeling that way. Then my mind dives into the past and starts finding evidence for all the ways I’ve made poor choices to get me to where I am today. So not helpful.

Over the past several years (particularly since going through coach training with Martha Beck), I’ve learned more and more how just getting really curious about what’s going on for me is WAY more effective than judging it.

When I judge myself (or some part of my life), I create a war. The judging voice says, “How could you have created this situation? What were you thinking?” And another part of me shouts back, “Hey! Stop judging me! I hate you!

Curiosity shifts that. Curiosity is neutral. Actually — curiosity is playful.

I love the curiosity my cat exhibits on a daily basis. It’s so much a part of him. He’s curious about his surroundings, checking them out literally every day as though they are completely new to him, even though he never leaves the same 900 or so square feet. Hey, what’s in this corner over here? Holy field mouse, it’s a dust bunny! How did this get here? How fun is this? I’m playing with it, now!

I like to take that kind of playful curiosity and apply it to the places I’m feeling stuck. Hmm … what’s going on here? What’s really going on here? Is this situation really like that one ten years ago? Or am I actually a different person than I was then, who has a larger range of choices? Hmm …

And so on. Curiosity takes the charge out of judgment and allows me to breathe, reframe, and see all my options.

The second thing I’m focused on lately is decluttering.

I have a deep, deep fear of loss of any kind. And I tend to get attached to objects, very attached. So for the past few weeks, I’ve committed to putting a bag of stuff together to donate every Sunday. I drop it into a donation box on my way to the grocery on Sunday mornings.

This has felt so good. I started small with this — one or two items — and it felt so amazing to let go of things that I’ve worked my way up to lots and lots of stuff.

My only rule has been that if I’m really hesitant to let go of something, I’m not yet ready to let go of it.

Frequently, what I’m not ready to let go of one week, I’m ready to let go of the next week. Fascinating, right? I can let go more quickly by not forcing myself to let go. Good to know!

And that’s it for today. Hope you’re having a beautiful weekend full of curiosity and play.

Speaking of which, I have a guest blog post on Jenna Avery’s wonderful site this week, about how I’m learning to finish my novel drafts, after years of getting stuck, and how awareness and curiosity figured into that process.  If you struggle to finish any project, I hope you’ll head over and take a look!

Image is “Cat in Grass” © Genarosilva | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating rituals around the tough stuff

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For almost everything we call “hard,” it’s hard in part because our tendency is to force ourselves to jump in and “just do it.” We live in a culture that loves the idea of “just do it”.

And sometimes just doing it is totally helpful and appropriate.

And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it makes the hard stuff harder.

When we think of something we want to do that scares us as a big, solid mass, like some monolithic thing rising up out of the sea, and we tell ourselves to “just jump over that!”, of course it’s going to feel really hard.

Everything that we think is hard has many, many increments and layers to it. And we can approach it this way, too.

Once, I was asked to create a piece of writing around a photograph in a museum exhibit, then read the piece to an audience as part of a writing festival. I had only about a week to get to the museum, look at the photograph, write the piece, and practice the reading.

A week goes fast, and I had lots of other stuff going on that week, too, so in reality, I knew I’d only have a few hours to do this. But it felt fun and challenging, so I decided to take it on.

Except when I looked at it all as a whole, it felt really hard. And when I say hard, I mean it actually felt hard, like a glinting black bowling ball. I could feel my abdomen contract just thinking about having to write this thing.

And this is what we often do when we’re confronted with something difficult that needs to be done: we get really hard and rigid ourselves around that thing. We set up walls around it and then we talk about “breaking through them.”

What if we set up softness around the tough stuff? What if we created a relationship with it that we enter and exit?

If I go back to my example of that piece of writing, I notice that there was a lot of entering and exiting the hard parts, within the whole process of getting it written.

There was going to the museum to look at the photograph. I made that softer by wandering around the exhibit for a while, letting the work of these photographers sink in and appreciating it. I made it softer by doodling stars and cat faces in my notebook before I started taking notes. I made it softer by treating myself to coffee on the way home.

Then I made the process softer by giving myself some time after I got home to sit with my notes and the feeling I got from the photograph. I let my notebook simmer next to my computer before I sat down to write. I let myself take a little time to get a good sense of what the picture conjured up in me.

And when I sat down to write, I made that process softer by reminding myself that right now, I was just writing, not sharing. I wasn’t thinking about the sharing until I was good and done with the writing. And I was writing one sentence at a time.

And within that writing, I took little breaks from time to time where I exited the process.

On the day of the actual reading, there was a lot of entering and exiting, too.

I didn’t turn it into, “Just do the reading! Just Do It!!!” Instead, it was more like: Get up. Have coffee while taking ten minutes to do a run-through of the reading. Keep enjoying that coffee while choosing an outfit. Ride train to reading, and while on train, start getting into reading mode — start entering reading mode and preparing for the reading.

Ahhh. Being allowed to enter and prepare, and making that a completely separate thing of its own, made the impending reading feel so much more soft.

There was a little period before the reading, where I congregated with the other readers, who were also freaked out, and acknowledging each other’s freaked-out-ness made it all feel much softer.

And then there was the reading itself, and meeting the warm eyes of certain appreciative audience members. And that made the reading itself so much softer, so much less like a glinty, flinty bowling ball and much more like a marshmallow or some Silly Putty.

Fast-forward to the present. When I sit down to work on my novel, it often feels hard, until I remember about creating rituals of softness.

There’s getting coffee and feeling the warm cup in my hand. There’s turning on my computer and watching my wallpaper come up (it’s a picture of my cat stretched out on the couch, sleeping). There’s opening my document and noticing all the other documents alongside this one, documents full of things I’ve written in the past, and that makes me happy and gives me courage: Oh, yeah, I’ve done this before, this writing.

And then there’s the first sentence of the day. I make that softer by allowing it to be a totally crappy sentence. And I make that softer by reminding myself that I can go back and change it later. And then, nine times out of ten, I’m off and writing. If I get stuck (which I often do), I make the stuckness softer by allowing myself another crappy sentence which I can change later. A lot of days, my cat jumps into my lap while I sit at my computer.

Ahhhh. So soft.

How do you create tiny rituals of softness around the tough stuff? I’d love to know.

Image is “Necessities” © Liz Van Steenburgh | Dreamstime.com