When the “small” isn’t small, at all

I won’t even go into what a bad week it’s been. You know what’s been going on. And maybe, like me, you’ve been feeling sad and overwhelmed.

“Overwhelmed” is not a great place from which to take action. Sadness, though, can be  powerful. Sadness points us to what matters to us.

***

Today my partner and I were at Target, and I was scouring the back-to-school section for the inexpensive notebooks I use as journals. A woman came up to us and said to him, “Hey, are you the guy who taught creative writing to my daughter last summer? My daughter loved your class!”

Now, my partner has been feeling sad this summer because the writing class he has taught to high school students for the past few summers was canceled this year. But here, here was in-person feedback from the universe that that class mattered. His teaching matters.

This woman could have passed us by. She had only met my partner once, at the reading the kids did as the culmination of the class, and she wasn’t even totally sure she recognized him. But she took a chance and walked up to us and reached out.

It mattered.

***

A few months ago, when it was still winter, I saw a sign for a lost black cat up in Starbucks. I jotted down the phone number on a piece of napkin, just in case. I do this. I can’t stand the idea that an animal and its person are suffering.

During the next several days, I did indeed see a black cat in one of the parking lots near us. It looked kind of like the cat on the poster. I fished the piece of napkin out of my bag and called the number.

A woman answered. She sounded anxious. I told her I had seen this cat and wondered if it could be hers. It turned out she lived in a suburb about an hour’s drive from me. She had no idea how the poster had even been hung in a Starbucks near me.

After some discussion, we realized the cat I was seeing could not have been hers. It was a little too fluffy and a little too standoffish and a little too large, and it had a little bit of white on it, whereas her cat did not. With disappointment, we both knew it wasn’t her cat.

But we talked for about twenty minutes, anyway. We talked about our cats, past and present. We talked about how hard it is to love and to let go, and how the not knowing is the most terrible part of having a missing pet.

Getting off the phone, I told her I was so sorry the cat I was seeing was not her cat. “That’s okay,” she said. “It’s good knowing someone is out there watching out for her.”

It wasn’t her cat, but my reaching out mattered.

Almost every time I do something like that, like calling a number on a poster about a lost cat, I catch myself thinking, should I even do this? Will this make a difference?

***

When I was twenty-one, I worked at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago in one of the gift shops. It was, at that time, called the Koala Shop. (The koala habitat was actually in the center of the shop, so all day I watched the koalas. They slept about 99.99 percent of the time.)

One day, a customer yelled at me for ringing up her merchandise incorrectly. She called me stupid and said she was surprised I could hold down a job. It was not a good time in my life, and later that day, during a lull, I stood out on the sales floor with a co-worker, openly crying. Not easy for me. I’ve always been a pretty private person, and was even more so back then.

My co-worker asked me quiet questions about what happened and just let me cry. He acted like my crying was the most natural thing in the world. He stood there, a few feet away from me, gently nodding and talking to me here and there, but also being quiet at just the right times, until I was all cried out.

I never had contact with that guy after I stopped working at the zoo, but oh, what he did for me that day mattered. He gave me permission to have my emotions, at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure it was okay to feel what I felt.

***

I am always telling my coaching clients that the more we look for something, the more evidence we find that it exists. That day, in the zoo shop, I started building evidence for the fact that I could feel what I felt and express it and I would experience kindness in response.

And when I think back to my time working in that shop, my mind instantly goes to my fellow employee’s kindness that day. I wonder if he even remembers. And I’m sure he has no idea how profound his gentle acceptance of me was — I never told him.

It is so easy to discount these things, these things we tend to call “small”. We forget that the world is made of up relationships. That we are always in relationship — to other people, to ourselves, to the animals and trees and oceans.

But this is how we do it — one interaction at a time. This is how we add love to the world. And we need to believe it matters.

If you want to see more evidence of love, where can you add love?

I guarantee you, it matters.

Where have you experienced “small” acts of love that made a big difference for you? I’d love to hear from you. (Because the “small” isn’t small, at all.)

P. S. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed because you care so much (but you need to take care of you, too), you might love this post from Jennifer Louden. I did.

Above image © Yoyo1972 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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There’s no right way to process change

squigglyhearts

Many of us here in the U.S. are struggling to cope with our feelings about the results of our election this week.

One of the themes I’ve noticed over the past several days, for myself as well as clients, colleagues, and community I’ve connected with is something like this: I’m not sure how, or when, or where, to express what I’m feeling. 

I’ve heard several people say — as soon as a few hours after the election results came in — “It’s time to move on and stop talking about it.”

Whoa! This is big, for all of us (including those who are happy with the results of the election). How about allowing ourselves a little time to process this change, if that’s what we need?

I’ve also noticed myself feeling compelled to respond to others’ pain when I had nothing left in me to give. I’ve felt both comforted and exhausted by social media posts. I’ve wanted to grieve and process alone, and then very quickly wanted to grieve and process with others.

I’ve noticed that there’s a difference in feel between those who seem to want to hurry on to avoid what they’re feeling, and those who want to move on to create positive change without dwelling on what’s done. And probably many of us are experiencing all of the above.

I have so much compassion for all of this. When we’re hit with big change, each of us will respond based on our past experiences, who we are today, our unique temperaments, and the way we’re wired.

The bottom line for me: I want to feel safe, and I want others to feel safe. I want to be kind, and I want to honestly express what I’m experiencing when and where that feels safe and necessary to me. I don’t want to trample on anyone’s beliefs, and I need to honor my own.

I can care about you and disagree with you. I can love you, and need to process what I’m feeling in a way that is quite different from your way.

What if, as long as we are not intentionally hurting anyone else, it’s okay to process big change in whatever way we need to process it? As quickly or as slowly, as outwardly or inwardly, publicly or privately? With lots of talking it out, lots of contemplation, or a combination of both?

What if whatever we need is just okay? And what if, by open-handedly giving ourselves what we need, it helps us feel okay with others taking care of themselves in whatever way they need to as well?

I write a lot about self-care here, and how we really can’t totally separate self-care from other-care. What if the ultimate act of self-care is gentleness toward ourselves when we’re just not quite sure what we need? And that, in cultivating this gentleness toward ourselves, we’ll be better able to extend it to others as well?

How do you know how to best take care of yourself — and respond to the needs of others — during challenging times? Do you tend to move through big changes quickly, or do you need to process more slowly? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image © Madartists | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The difference between “ready” and “comfortable”

gorgeous fall

Scroll down to find out about limited-time Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. 

As I am settling into my new living space, I notice how satisfied I feel with this change. Being in this new place during the gorgeousness of fall, my favorite season, is lending a brisk beauty to this season of my life.

The other morning I was up with my cat at 4 a.m.  — he is a night prowler and shelf-climber, unfortunately (at least it’s unfortunate at that time of day). Even though it’s a drag to get up and monitor him at an insanely early hour, I often have insights at that time of day/night. (Isn’t 4 a.m. known as the witching hour? Hmm.)

The insight that came to me that morning was that, as with all the changes in my life that have felt most “right”, this move to a new home happened when I was ready for it, and not a moment before.

Now, what do I mean by “ready”?

There’s an idea out there in the world right now about “starting before you’re ready.” That if we wait to be “ready,” we’ll never begin.

I understand this concept, but my experience tells me something different. And I think it has to do with what is meant by “ready”.

I would say, “Start before you’re comfortable, but don’t start before you’re ready.”

For me, deep, true “readiness” has a feeling of acceptance attached to it.

With moving to this new home, for example, I wasn’t entirely happy about the change. For a long time after I began to perceive that it was going to be necessary for me to let go of my old home, I felt a lot of resistance to that idea.

About a year and a half before I made the move, I looked at apartments in the very building where I now live, and I had a feeling of wondering. Hmm, I wonder what it would be like to live here. I really like this street. I have a sense that I’d like to live here.

But: I was nowhere near ready to make a move at that point. My attachment to my old home was still so great that even thinking about a “real move” filled me with grief, exhaustion and overwhelm.

At that point, all I was ready for was wondering about where I might want to live next. The idea that I should be “more ready” to make a change than I actually was created lots of stress for me. (Funny how it’s always easier to see these things in retrospect.)

The shift for me came this past March or so, when I realized that even though things were still very much up in the air with my living situation and I was enduring frequent house showings, it felt right to simply be where I was. I stopped scrambling. I decided that despite the uncertainty of my situation, I was going to fully enjoy my home for as long as I had it.

And, from that place of full acceptance, I began to become truly, deeply ready to make a change. By June, my boyfriend and I had found our new home and we knew we would be moving in August.

But moving — despite feeling more truly ready for it — was not comfortable.

As I wrote previously, I had a ton of downsizing and letting go to do, on a number of levels. Aspects of that felt excruciating, not just from an emotional standpoint but from a logistical one.

And sometimes, in my new “streamlined” existence, I am still uncomfortable with the fact that I go looking for something that was part of my life for a long time and realize I donated it back in August. Or, now that my boyfriend and I do not have separate office rooms to go to, we sometimes feel on top of each other when we are trying to work. This change is not comfortable, even though I wanted it, I chose it.

pumpkintrio

Happy Halloween!

Another example: Back when I finished life coach training in 2011, a number of my fellow “cadets” began to go through the coaching certification process. My mind started in on a familiar loop: “Look at them! You’re falling behind. Hurry up and get certified!”

Luckily, my training had taught me to question my thoughts, and in doing that I realized that, deep in my bones, I was not ready to apply for certification. I wanted to do more coaching first. I wanted to “get” coaching at a deeper level before I went through the certification process so it would actually have meaning for me, rather than just feeling like a “should”.

This feeling came from a different place than the “never-quite-good-enough” thrust of perfectionism. It simply felt right to me to wait to get certified.

When I did go through the certification process, in November of 2011, I felt ready, but it was not comfortable. I still had all kinds of doubts and fears, but the way I knew I was ready was that I was not attached to the outcome. The process of certification was so “real” to me by this point that, even if I didn’t get certified, I knew what coaching meant to me, and I knew that I was a good coach. I’d walked coaching into my bones, and certification felt like a natural evolution of that process.

And, as it happened, certification went beautifully for me. But it wasn’t comfortable. I had all kinds of anxiety around it, but it was a different kind of anxiety than I would have had if I’d forced myself to go through the process six months earlier than I did, just as I would have had a different kind of discomfort around moving if I’d made myself do it a year earlier, just to end my discomfort!

(One of the most poignant things I’ve learned about humans since I became a coach is that, so often, in our hurry to end our discomfort, we create even more discomfort for ourselves. Then we look back and wonder what in the world we were thinking.)

What do you notice about the difference between the times you’ve felt “deeply ready” to make a change and the times you started too soon? Has being “ready” felt comfortable for you? I’d love to hear your experience.

Plus: In celebration of Halloween and the beauty of fall, I’ll be offering 30-minute Autumn Transition coaching sessions for just $39, now through November 25. If you find yourself in deep transition and not quite sure how to navigate your next step, I’d love to help. Find out more about Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions, here.

Above images © Jill Winski, 2015

Allowing yourself to dream fully

hotairballoons

Sometimes, when we realize we want to make changes in our lives — to show up more fully, to get our creative work out into the world — we hit a kind of wall.

The wall is at once universal (we all experience it in some form) and ultra-personal (the wall we run into will be unique to us and our particular experiences, struggles and strengths).

If we were to give our voice to the wall, it might sound something like this:

“Wait — I notice that I need this in order to do what I want to do and be who I need to be — but am I allowed to have this? I’m not sure if my family will approve. People at work will think I’m weird if I do this.”

Or: “I’m afraid to even pause to think about what I really need in order to make this dream happen. Because I don’t really believe I can have it/get it/do what it takes to do it. It’s too painful to think about what I really want because what if I just can’t have it?”

Usually, though, the wall doesn’t talk. It just kind of hangs out there and we keep slamming into it (unless we take steps to look at it more deeply).

So what can happen for many of us is we don’t really allow ourselves to go there. We don’t dream fully — we don’t let ourselves imagine what we really want.

That’s why I want to wave a little flag here in support of giving yourself a safe space to fully dream — on a regular basis.

Now, here’s the thing (and it may seem like a paradox): In order to allow yourself to fully dream, to really give consideration to what you truly want, you also need to make it totally okay NOT to pursue those dreams. 

Here’s why: Too often, we come up with an amazing idea about where we want to go or what we want to do, and then we jump immediately to how we are going to make that idea happen.

Any idea that is truly amazing and really lights us up in the deepest part of our being is going to require lots of change in us if we want to bring it to fruition. And not just in us, but in those around us and the way we lives our lives in general.

To a part of us, this is really, really scary. And that part is going to shrink back in fear — and sometimes total paralysis — if we hit it over the head with too much change, too quickly. In fact, that part of us will actually prevent change — sometimes for many years — if we force change on it.

But: that part of us is not opposed to change. Change is absolutely natural and necessary and all parts of our being know this.

It’s just that that fearful part of us wants to ensure our survival in the physical world, and it seeks a status quo in which it knows what’s what. So if we don’t take it into account at all, it will pull out all the stops to halt change for us.

That’s why, or order to let ourselves fully dream, we need to create a space where we tell this fearful part of us: “We’re just dreaming here. We’re not going to do any of this today, or even tomorrow. And if we do decide to do any of this, we’re going to keep you fully informed about the process and you’re going to be taken care of, we promise. But for today, we are just playing.”

Sometimes, we don’t have to make any enormous changes in our physical, day-to-day world in order to bring our dreams into reality. But sometimes, we do. And we always need to change internally when we bring a dream into the real world.

If this feels so scary to you that you feel a huge wall go up as soon as you entertain the idea, you are especially in need of a safe space for dreaming fully. You can call this space a “no action, no decision zone.”

Here is what happens when you allow yourself to hang out with your dreams in the “no action, no decision zone” fully for a while: You start to see how it is actually safe to bring those dreams into reality (the ones you truly want, anyway).

You start to prepare yourself for the “how” it will all happen. That terrified part of you that only cares about you surviving as you are right now begins to feel just a little bit less resistant to the idea of newness. And it loosens its grip on staying the same. And it even offers you its wisdom (because it does have some) about the road ahead.

Do you notice resistance to allowing yourself to dream fully? If you do, what helps you open up to your true possibilities? I’d love to hear from you.

And, if you’re running into a wall of your own right now, I’d love to help! I have a couple of spaces open for new clients in my one-on-one programs. During the month of August, I will not be taking on new clients due to the fact that I am finally moving to a new home! So now is a good time to sign up if you’re so inclined. You can learn more about working together here.

Above image is “Hot Air Balloons Inflating” © Alptraum | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Understanding the message of fear + new coaching programs!

shimmeryweb

When we try something new, or sense that change is on the horizon, or when we’re in a murky transition period that seems to have no end, it’s not unusual to feel varying amounts of fear.

Sometimes, though, the amount of fear we experience, well, scares us. (I’m reminded of the title of a song by Bauhaus: “In Fear of Fear.” That’s how it is sometimes!)

So I like to look at fear in two different ways (there are probably infinite flavors of fear, but this is a general distinction that is often helpful when fear’s got us confused or shrinking).

One kind of fear is what is sometimes referred to as “rollercoaster” fear.

You’ve got butterflies in your stomach, and your body is braced for an intense experience — but there’s a definite thread of excitement there. You want to go where the rollercoaster is taking you, even though sometimes it causes your stomach to drop to your feet or your heart to spring to your throat.

The other kind of fear feels different. You’re expecting an intense experience, but instead of butterflies in your stomach, you feel cement.

This fear weighs you down; it feels impossibly heavy; you don’t anticipate the rollercoaster, but even if you did you wouldn’t have the lightness of step to get on. This fear is entangled with a palpable sense of dread, and sometimes a feeling of “ick” or revulsion. You don’t want to go where it’s taking you.

We can become confused when we don’t take time to make a distinction between these types of fear.

How many movies have you seen where a character is about to get married, and confides to her best friend that “something doesn’t feel right,” and the ever-helpful friend says, “Oh, you just have cold feet. It’s normal to feel that way before taking such a big step.” And either the bride turns and runs back up the aisle and out of the church in the middle of the ceremony, or she goes ahead with the marriage and it’s a disaster.

This is a good example of that second type of fear, which can be an indication that something isn’t right for you on the road you’re about to take.

Now, here’s the tricky thing: It can also be an indication that something isn’t right in the way you’re thinking about the road you’re about to take.

So, it’s not necessarily as clear-cut as, “Oh, you’re experiencing a side of dread with your fear? That means you definitely shouldn’t get married!”

What fear combined with dread actually warrants is further inquiry into what is going on for you.

It could be that you don’t want to marry this person — ever. He’s wrong for you and that’s the awful truth.

But it could also be that you love this person deeply — but you don’t want to marry him.

Or, it could be that you love this person AND you want to get married — but not until you’ve gotten in contact with your estranged dad, because your heart sinks at the thought of ever being married without your dad in attendance.

We always have a good reason for feeling the way we feel (even if the reason doesn’t seem valid to our “logical mind” or our inner critic). When we hit on that good reason, we usually feel true relief, sometimes accompanied sadness. If your fear feels heavy or “icky”, this is a sign to stop and investigate before moving forward.

If your fear feels like you’re about to get on a rollercoaster (and rollercoasters thrill you rather than making you want to throw up), this is a good sign that you’re in for a wild ride and your essential self is up for it.

(It’s worth noting, though, that if, like me, you are highly sensitive, “good fear” can feel overstimulating, so make sure you have solid support and self-care as you embark on your journey.)

Speaking of support, I have a two new one-on-one coaching programs I’m excited to share with you (and yes, I do feel some of that “rollercoaster fear” in putting these programs out into the world!). There will be more to come on these programs soon, but for now, you can hop on over and learn about Light Up Your Creative Self and Stellar Self-Care Foundations, here.

What do you notice about the different “flavors” of fear, for you? How do you deal with them? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image is “Necklace” © Mihail Orlov | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #9

kittyfeet

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 during the rough times

twinflowers

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

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

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

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

The first has to do with embracing reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another aspect of embracing reality is who we are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you feel like you’re not doing enough

sleepydog

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

I felt despair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subtle shift; huge difference.

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

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

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

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

Something to try:

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

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

Hatched into the World …

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

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

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

How do we know we’re ready to let go?

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In my first few coaching sessions of the New Year, I noticed this interesting theme of loss, fear of loss, and ambivalence about loss surfacing.

Some of it had to do with completing a piece of creative work and feeling the emptiness that can come with finishing. This thing that has taken up so much of our heart space and head space and waking hours is now up and walking on its own and it doesn’t need us the way it did. There’s sadness — and one heck of a void — in that.

Some of it had to do with letting go of a job or a relationship. And the big thing coming up around that was, is it truly time? How do I know?

And some of it was about giving ourselves permission to let a creative project, job, or relationship go — even though it did not feel “complete.” It was about deciding not to continue. (And that’s rough on perfectionists, which most of my clients tend to be. You mean I’m allowed to give up on it? I’m allowed to not see it to completion?)

My “big word” for this year is permission. I need to focus on permission because I’ve noticed that I can go for hours, sometimes days, forgetting that, yes, I actually do have permission to do things the way I need to do them. To feel things the way I feel them.

So I can’t help seeing these issues with letting go through the lens of permission.

And that leads me to this: Often, when we’re afraid of letting go, it’s because we haven’t given ourselves permission to NOT let go.

Some militaristic part of us jumps up and says, “Okay! Time to move on! Let’s get moving here!”

And those parts of us which are not ready to let go, sometimes not even NEARLY ready, get trampled in the stampede.

But, as I’ve written here before, we can’t truly arrive anywhere until ALL of us shows up. This concept came to me from the writings of Robyn Posin, whose beautiful website you can find here. She uses a stoplight analogy: We can race to the light, but if it’s red, we won’t actually move forward until it turns green.

There may be a part of us that is holding a green light, but many other parts of us are still cradling the red, tightly.

So, permission. To be right there.

That part of us that the light has already turned green for will probably be very impatient with the parts of us that need to go slower.

And working with the impatient part of us might mean saying to it, “Yes, I see that you’re really ready to go, and I get that. AND, the whole of us is not ready yet. You’re not allowed to let your impatience run the show. But you’re totally allowed to be impatient.”

As long as there is conflict between the parts of us that want to let go and the parts of us that don’t, we are not at peace.

And when we’re not at peace, when we’re locked in struggle, we’re in a poor place to make decisions about anything big. When we’re struggling, it’s painful, and any decision we make tends to be more about getting away from the pain than moving toward what actually feels right to us.

The questions to ask the impatient part of ourselves are: What’s scary about slowing down? What’s hard about being in the present moment?

The questions to ask the parts of us who aren’t ready to let go are: What’s scary about moving forward? What’s hard about stretching ourselves into the future?

Allow these parts to talk to each other. Write down what they have to say; you might try using a different color of pen for each part. When you can hear them all out (and notice that each of them has wisdom and truth), you can begin to integrate their needs.

And when you have integrity, you have peace. And from peace you can truly let go in wholeness.

What are your challenges around letting go? Do you tend to let go quickly, or do you really hang on? I’d love to know how it works for you, in the comments.

Image is Feathers Against the Sun © Kmitu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Two kinds of urgency

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Have you ever gone through an extended period where nothing felt clear to you, where everything seemed muddled and off and you wondered if it was ever going to end?

I’ve been there — many times (and if you’re going through this right now, I send you so much compassion. Yes, it’s hard.)

Way back when, I thought going through these periods meant there was something wrong with me, or that I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Uggh.

I now know that these periods of sluggishness, lack of clarity, and downright suckiness are simply part of the process of change. They’re what happens when we’re letting go of a version of ourselves that no longer fits, but we haven’t yet stepped into whoever it is we’re becoming.

These are liminal periods, and I’ve written about them quite a bit on this blog (click on the Categories list to the right, particularly Transitions and Letting Go, to read more on liminal periods).

Another term for these transitional periods, which I learned while I trained to become a life coach with Martha Beck, is “Square One.”

During Square One, a kind of urgency can rise up in us. It feels like we’d better do something, now! We’d better get out of this crappy place! We’d better make some kind of decision, now! (Even though usually we have no idea what it is we’re deciding, because one of the hallmarks of Square One is a lack of clarity on what we really want. We know what we don’t want, and the rest of it feels like one giant slog through toffee.)

A frequent reminder that I, and the folks I work with, need while in Square One is this: The faster we try to get out of Square One, the longer we stay in it. It’s the ultimate paradox. Square One needs to be fully processed, fully felt. Yes, it sucks, but it’s the only way to get truly clear.

When we rush forward because our period of transition is so uncomfortable, we inevitably end up in more discomfort.

That’s because instead of moving toward what we want (because we’ve gotten clear on it), we’re moving away from discomfort and confusion because they scare us. And where do we end up? Right back in the discomfort and confusion, scared out of our minds. Wherever we go, there we are.

So, if you’re going through a transition, or approaching one, right now, and it feels scary and like you’ve completely lost your footing, the best path to peace is not to hurry out of the scary place.

It’s to slow down, remind your panicked brain that there is no true urgency here, and realize that (in the ultimate irony), you’ll actually move through this icky transition place much more quickly by embracing an easy, one-day-at-a-time (or, on the worst days, one-hour-at-a-time) pace.

Now, there’s another kind of urgency, too. That kind of urgency is a bit different. It’s what I’d call a “transmission from your soul.”

This kind of urgency has a kind of ache to it. It contains a yearning you can’t stave off or press down, no matter how many months or years you try to do just that.

This is the urgency that recognizes that life is relatively short and there are things your heart longs to be or do, and you’re not being or doing them yet. And you’re tired of putting them off.

Or, it’s the kind of urgency that tells you a certain situation isn’t good for you and it has to stop. And that if you don’t stop it, you’re going to keep on feeling this particular ache.

This kind of urgency is the urgency that signals you’re ready for change. Not ten years from now, but as soon as is humanly possible.

Yes, I know: I just contradicted myself. I suggested that if you’re feeling urgency, you need to slow way down, not speed up. And then I said that if you’re feeling urgency, you need to act, now!

Both are true. Can you allow your mind to wrap itself around that? It’s hard for me, too.

But notice my descriptions of the two kinds of urgency. One kind is about moving away from discomfort. And the other is about moving toward what you want. (An ache or longing points us toward something in us that wants to be born.)

We can feel both these kinds of urgency on the very same day! In the very same hour! And we can accept, and work with, both of them.

The tricky part is that, when we’re feeling a lot of the first type of urgency, we need to come to a place of peace before we take any action.

Otherwise, our actions are likely to be fueled by panic and a need to escape discomfort. (Have you ever quit a job, or left a relationship, and found yourself, almost magically, back in what seemed like the exact same job or relationship six months or a year later? That’s because your actions were fueled by a need to escape discomfort, rather than movement toward what enlivens you.)

So how do you know which urgency is driving you? You might want to share what’s going on with someone you trust, or jot down the thoughts you’re having in a journal. Then ask yourself (or let someone reflect back to you): Does what I just said (or wrote) come from the part of my brain that is strictly concerned with my physical and/or social survival? Or does it feel like a mandate from my soul?

Whichever answer you get, the next step is acceptance. And remembering that fully processing what’s going on for you is, in the long run, the fastest way to actually create what you truly desire.

What do you think? What have you noticed when urgency comes up for you? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “Time’s Up!” © Nspimages | Dreamstime Stock Photos