End-of-year rituals and inquiries

Thanks to a severe cold that triggered a sinus infection, I was down for the count for the week before Christmas and am not quite fully operational as of this writing. So I didn’t get to “part two” of my last post — but I promise the topic of reconnecting with your “why” will be addressed at some point in the New Year.

Something I really savor doing toward the end of the year is engaging in some reverent curiosity about what went down during the past twelve months.

As I wrote a while back, I’ve been doing an evening ritual (as often as I can, not quite every night) which has two parts: 1) I ask the question, “what worked today?” and 2) I write an “it’s-done” list (as opposed to a “to-do” list).

When I do this evening ritual — and fall asleep having done it — I notice I wake up with a much more peaceful, hopeful, and confident perspective than I do when I have not done it. (First thing in the morning is not naturally my best time of day.)

My end-of-year ritual is a similar process — I’m just looking with a broader eye at the “big picture” of the whole year (using “eagle vision”, as Martha Beck puts it, as opposed to the “mouse vision” that sees the details of a particular day).

But I like to riff on the question “What worked this year?” and add in a few more, such as:

What worked really well?

What surprised and delighted me?

When did I surprise myself (and how)?

What felt easy that has previously felt hard?

Where did I challenge myself and realize I was more than up to the challenge?

What were a few of my favorite things this year — and why? (One of my personal faves: Seeing Tori Amos perform for a sold-out house at the Chicago Theater in October!)

What qualities would I like more of in the coming year? (examples: trust, fortitude, lightness, softness, clarity, calm, spontaneity … you get the idea!)

What am I noticing I am ready to let go of in 2018?

Then, I dive into — and really relish — my “it’s done” list for the year. Any accomplishment — big, small, internal, external — anything that comes up for me from January through December — goes on the list.

What’s great about this is that — as with the “it’s done” list in my evening ritual — there are so many more things that I’ve done than I’ve actually acknowledged.

And it’s so important to acknowledge what we feel good about. Some of these accomplishments can be rather subtle (“I paused and counted to ten before reacting”) and we may forget about them. These are the ones that — in my humble opinion — are especially important to get on the list.

Maybe we made fewer assumptions about the behavior of others than we have in the past — or maybe we noticed our assumptions and questioned them more. This is huge, and should not be overlooked.

These are simply some suggestions, but however you go about making end-of-year inquiries and acknowledging what you’ve done, how you’ve changed, I encourage you to savor your own ritual. Light some candles, sit next to your Christmas tree (if you celebrate Christmas), curl up with a blanket next to your cat or dog (our animal companions tend to connect us to our hearts, which helps us get in touch with what we most cherish).

With that, I will sign off and continue extreme self-care so I can enter 2018 feeling as close to “normal” (whatever that is) as possible!

I look forward to connecting with you, dear readers, in the New Year. Hope your New Year’s has all the sparkle, hope, and glistening snowflakes you desire (or, if you’re not a cold-weather person, sun rays on your skin).

By the way, you can sign up for my Artist’s Nest newsletter, to receive updates on my life coaching offerings and other good stuff, here. I’ll be creating some fun new things in 2018, so now’s a great time to sign up!

What are your end-of-year rituals, if you have them? I’d love to hear from you.

Above images: Candles, © Easyshutter | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and second photo, close-up on my own Christmas tree.

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Your creative work: When your family doesn’t get it

A reader named Rebecca wrote recently with a terrific question. Rebecca explained that she is the only artist in a “non-artistic” family, and she has finally gotten herself into a position to pursue her artwork full-time. She continues:

I feel like in general our culture views art (and many forms of self-care like meditation, getting enough sleep, setting boundaries on how much you commit to, etc) with disdain.  Being able to stay on top of housework, cook more (and not resent it for taking up what little free time I had after work), spend time with my cats and finally make my passion a priority has made me SO happy lately!!  …Yet I still feel super self-conscious talking about it with most people (especially family), because if you’re not “contributing to society” -dare I say: economy- it’s viewed as “selfish”, “lazy”, and “unfair” since most people don’t have the privilege or opportunity.  And what counts, of course, is those measurable, tangible achievements.  Job titles and accomplishments. 

How can we keep from being shaken by the world around us that says, “Shame on you!  You ought to be doing _____ instead”, and really embrace the value of things like Art and self-care?  Naturally, I feel happier when I make art a priority, but inevitably there’s that voice deep down that sneers at me that I’m some kind of leech on society, just fooling around while everyone else works hard.  So that’s been a struggle in fully embracing this new life, despite finally “pulling it off”….

So … it strikes me that there are two parts to this question.

The first has to do with how (in many cases) it’s extra challenging to be an artist when we grew up in a situation where our creativity wasn’t supported, or maybe just not understood.

That’s because so much is going on with the development of our brains when we are young and tender.  (I can still remember putting on a play when I was about five and being laughed at. I thought I was doing something cool and important, and I was hit with derision. My brain started — at that very young age — to formulate a belief: expressing yourself creatively brings pain. Ouch!)

The second part of this question is about valuing our own creative work (or play, as I prefer to call it!). How do we do that when doing it flies in the face of a culture that values things like being constantly busy and bringing in X amount of dollars? I’ll touch on that part of the question here, but get into it more in depth in my next post.

I’m not going to pretend that I absolutely know the answers here. These inquiries are big, and complex, and important. Those of us who care about creativity and make it a focus in our lives will be working with these issues probably forever.

But I’ll start here.

It’s a universal human need to be seen and validated for being who we are. If we didn’t experience this as we were growing up, we have a sort of “extra hurdle” there, whether we deeply value creativity or not.

Add to that the fact that, yes, our “mainstream world” has typically made it challenging to be a creator (though I believe this is shifting in many ways right now), and salt is definitely sprinkled liberally on the wound that is already there.

Radical self-care is vital to robust creativity

I’m not surprised Rebecca mentioned the de-valuing of self-care in our Western culture as well. It’s fascinating to me that creativity (and the valuing of it) is not-so-loosely connected to self-care (and the valuing of it).  (I’ve written tons here on the topic of self-care as it relates to creativity, because the two are so deeply intertwined.)

I’ve noticed over the years, first when I was in grad school pursuing a degree in creative writing, and then, as I started working with life coaching clients back in 2011, that so many of us start out with this very natural creative curiosity and purpose — and then, we start to apply these ideas about “what it takes to make it in the world” to our creativity.

And we can end up very burned out, and, sometimes, very bitter and what I call “creatively confused.” This is where we’re like, “What the heck happened? I used to love [writing, acting, painting] and now I am sick of it. I just want to crawl into a hole.”

The thing is, this is almost always a lie. We’re not sick of whatever our creative thing is — we’re sick of the beliefs and the process that extends from those beliefs that we’ve created around our creative thing.

In other words, we have this tendency to recreate the family members that don’t get it, and the “world out there” which dictates that there isn’t real value or money in our creative work so why do it?, inside ourselves.

It’s kind of like how you might have had a lot of bad bosses when you were an employee, but when you shift to self-employment, if you don’t watch how you’re treating yourself, you can end up being the worst boss you ever had.

So to circle back to Rebecca’s excellent question: we need to commit to giving ourselves the permission, the kindness, the self-care, the encouragement, that we never got (and in many cases are not currently getting) from our families of origin and “the world”.

At a certain point, it is no longer about them — it is about us and the fact that we’ve recreated their lack of understanding and validation inside ourselves. And when we’re not giving it to ourselves, we want it from them (and the world) that much more.

We will feel shaken — and that’s okay

Okay — so, waaayyyy easier said than done, right? Because we are human — we’re vulnerable and fragile, and, as one of my friends says, “I keep getting stronger, but then some days I break all over again.” Yes. We do. We all do, some days.

So, we will be shaken by the world around us that does not seem to value our creative work, our need for self-care, and who we essentially are — on some days. It will happen.

Recognizing that it’s going to happen is important. Because then when it happens, we don’t have to be all appalled and frightened. In other words, we don’t have to be shaken about being shaken. We can just be like, “Oh — I’m noticing it’s happening again.”

Exquisite support: share deeply only with those who really get it

So that’s when we turn to our support systems — inner and outer. This is how we create for ourselves the world we want to live in.

This is when we turn to radical self-care, and to exquisite support — the people who really do get it. 

We are enormously blessed in this day and age that technology allows us to connect with people who get it, who get us. (I was curious about a line in a song on Tori Amos’s gorgeous new album recently and I asked the members of a Tori Facebook group what they thought it meant, and I received some beautifully detailed responses from people who’d also been pondering this same line in this same song literally within minutes.)

For many of us, this support must come from outside of our family of origin.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t work to heal from the past — we can and often must — but when we try to receive the exquisite support we require from the source of the original wounding (or simply lack of understanding), we are actually recreating our pain. (Or just banging our head against the wall. You may have heard the phrase “Don’t go to the hardware store for milk.” It applies here.)

I am very careful about what I share with family members about my creative work. Because I value emotional connection so much, it’s easy for me to “overshare”, so I am mindful here.

Giving ourselves permission to be selective about who we share with is fundamental to self-care in this way. Notice who deeply sees and supports you, and who seems to stir up negative stuff for you. You can love people and still limit your discussions on certain topics with them.

(Note that your capacity to share with certain people may change from month to month, year to year, depending on where you are and what you’re going through — and vice versa.)

***

The other thing, which is foundational, is to remind yourself regularly of your why? Why is what you’re creating important to you? When you are deeply in touch with your “why”, your creative purpose has strong roots and you are not as easily shaken.

Surround yourself with the conditions — as much as you can — that remind you of your why and validate it, that help you remember it is important, it is worthwhile.

(In a future post, we’ll get into what to do when you’ve lost touch with your “why.” Edit: Find that post here.)

There is so much more here. For now, I’ll let you take the wheel. What do you think? How do you reaffirm your belief in your creativity and support yourself in making it a focus? I’d love to hear from you. And huge thanks to Rebecca for this excellent inquiry.

Above images © Grafvision | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Refat Mamuto | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Allow yourself comfort — and see what happens

Toward the end of the year, I always find myself thinking back on the dear one-on-one coaching clients I’ve worked with, and what comes back to me about the work we’ve done together.

This year, I notice I’m thinking about comfort.

It seems there was a theme this year of my clients realizing that it was okay to allow themselves comfort.

That comfort did not have to be used as a reward, for when they were done with “the hard work” — it did not have to be dangled as a carrot to be consumed at the end of a lot of toil.

Comfort — amazingly! — could actually be part of the process.

I think I’ve written here before that “break out of your comfort zone” is not one of my favorite phrases. I’ve just never found it inspiring (though I totally get the meaning behind it).

There are a couple of reasons I dislike this saying. One of them is that I’ve seen many people — including myself — push themselves way too far out of their so-called “comfort zones”, to the point of having panic attacks, meltdowns, even breaking bones or pushing themselves through illness to try to compete in some way.

The other is that it indicates that being “comfortable” is somehow bad or wrong or self-indulgent. But for those of us who, perhaps, grew up without an adequate feeling of comfort and/or safety in our lives, this is inaccurate.

As I’ve written before, if you have a tendency to push yourself really hard (as most of my clients do), you probably need more comfort, not more withholding comfort from yourself.

And is it true that adding comfort to your “hard work” will keep you from getting it done?

Here’s what some of my clients found this year:

• The client who rewarded himself for completing his work on his writing project by taking his dog for a walk discovered that when he took his dog for a walk before he started writing, it actually helped him write better. He felt more centered and more creative. His body felt better because he’d moved it before sitting down (and his dog slept through the writing period rather than reminding him that it was time to go out!).

• The client who rewarded herself with a hot cup of tea after getting through a challenging weekly meeting found that allowing herself the tea during the meeting actually reminded her it was okay to show up as herself and be gentler with herself (and that warmth was an important thing to focus on when the “tough stuff” in these meetings arose!).

• The client who had recently left a long-term relationship found that allowing herself to stay home on the weekends wrapped in a blanket on the couch and watching Netflix was helping her grief process a lot more than “being productive” on the weekends (which was her usual approach!).

When we allow ourselves comfort, we are also choosing to trust ourselves, and to trust the process of life.

When I work with people who are in the midst of major transitions in their lives, 99.9 percent of the time they say that they just want to be out of the transition and that they are “moving too slowly” and that they need me to help them hurry up.

And I always say exactly what they think they don’t want to hear (but that brings some part of them deep relief): When we’re in a stressful transition, it’s helpful to allow ourselves to go slow. It’s not the time to make big moves and it’s definitely not the time to “break out of our comfort zone”.

In fact, we’re in transition because either we’ve chosen to leave the known and familiar behind — or because it’s been ripped away from us (and we had no choice in the matter).

What I have continually found in my own life is that when I’m in the midst of something really hard and I finally surrender to the fact that it is hard, and I can’t go as fast as I’d like because there is so much internal and external stuff to work through — when I accept that this is where I am and actually allow myself some comfort, that is exactly when things begin to transform. It’s exactly when I begin to relax into the new “me” I’m becoming.

But as long as I’m fighting things and trying to “tough my way through” what’s already hard, I am not allowing the space (or the comfort) to relax enough to welcome the new.

I’ve also noticed (as I wrote about here) that when I allow more softness into a task or a journey that feels hard, I do not become an overindulged mess. I actually feel far more capable, confident, and I enjoy what I’m doing a heck of a lot more.

I invite you to test this out for yourself. Where can you allow yourself a little more comfort? What happens when you do? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of transitions, the deadline to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions is Wednesday, November 22. If you’re in an “in-between” place (with your creative work, a relationship, or some other aspect of your life) this fall and needing some support, I’d love to help. You can learn more about my Autumn Transition Sessions here.

Above images of tea cup © Jill Battaglia  | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and candles © Diana Constantin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Spaciousness and presence: are you giving yourself these gifts?

Happy Halloween!

If you’ve been a reader of The Artist’s Nest for a while, you know what a proponent I am of morning rituals and particularly my morning walk for its seemingly magical “problem-solving properties.”

On a particular day last week, though, my walk wasn’t helping. Not at all. I kept passing gorgeous ombré leaf colors and feeling nothing but overwhelm and stress.

I’d been realizing for a while that I was attempting to take on too much — too many projects, too many groups — and my energy felt scattered, my focus thin. I’d temporarily forgotten about “less is more” — the intention I set quite a while back.

I was feeling especially pained about this ongoing question (which has actually become a kind of meditation for me): How can I show up and be of service in this world and also take good and loving care of myself? How can it be both/and? (Because I truly believe it can be — a topic for another post!)

And then, in the distance, a new direction caught my eye. I mean, a new direction I could walk in, an area of my neighborhood I don’t usually traverse because it’s “out of my way.”

I felt a little intuitive nudge: Walk that way. Go over there.

Nah, I said back to this subtle prompting. If I walk over there, it will take me twenty minutes longer to get home, and my day will get started twenty minutes later.

The nudge repeated: Walk that way.

So I did. (I’ve found it’s more fruitful in the long-term to follow these intuitive nudges without a lot of questioning.)

Walking in that less familiar direction, I passed an enormous maple tree next to a vet’s office. The leaves were these unbelievable fire-red and pumpkin-orange colors. I honestly had never noticed this tree before.

Rounding a corner further on, I came across a side street I was not familiar with, even though I’ve lived in this general area for many years. I strained to find a street sign but couldn’t. I walked down it, and something caught my eye on the other side of the street — a calico cat, crouched on an outdoor window will, soaking in sun.

I looked down at the sidewalk and realized my feet were surrounded by red-yellow leaves the color of honeycrisp apples.

Crossing the street, I passed a woman wheeling a baby in a stroller. She parked it in front of a giant inflatable spider crowded into someone’s tiny front yard. The baby let out squeals of delight and pointed. As I walked by, the baby turned and pointed at me, and let out another squeal of pure joy! (Me? Prompting joy in a baby? Or was this baby just so full-to-bursting of pure joy so that it bubbled over onto me?)

Around the next corner, I saw a long-haired black cat crossing the cobblestone street, rustling leaves under its swift feet. The cat disappeared into a bush. When I caught up to it, I saw it sitting in a concrete path along the side of a house, and a few yards beyond it, further back into the yard, another black cat, like its distant reflection.

I felt like these cats were a Halloween gift to me.

***

As I made my way home, my energy had shifted significantly.

My life still contained all the same circumstances, but my mind was no longer perceiving them as “problems.” There was a spaciousness around them — and around me.

I felt at once smaller and larger: connected to something greater than my own self and my own problems, and at the same time, way more capable of handling the issues in my life than I had been giving myself credit for.

What I took away from this particular walk:

• Intuitive nudges are there for a reason. But we often don’t know the reason until we follow them. They need to be trusted.

• Breaking out of my “regular walking routine” helped me view my life — and the world — with fresh eyes. And yes, this happened right in my own neighborhood. I didn’t need to travel far away to do it.

• There were unknown pleasures (Joy Division, anyone?) on this less-traveled path to which my intuition pointed.

• My intuition pointed me not toward a “solution”, but toward the present moment — which provided spaciousness, which pointed me to the solution. As soon as I got home, I realized I was clear on the two projects I want to focus on (the others can go “below deck” for now).

My intuition also connected me to two words, in regard to my challenges with balancing self-care and showing up in the world as it is right now: kindness and openness. Kindness toward my stumbling along imperfectly, and openness to how all this might look, for me and for others.

How might you bring the gifts of spaciousness and presence to your day today? How might we, together, bring these gifts into the world, and notice how powerfully they already exist in our world? I’d love to hear from you. (And, of course, Happy Halloween!)

A couple of announcements: 

•  My specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are available through November 22, 2017. You can find out more about these sessions here. You can sign up for my newsletter, to receive updates and reminders about my offerings, here.

• Writers: If you need support in starting or finishing your writing project (or if you’re somewhere in-between) my friend Jenna Avery is offering a free trial for her Called to Write Coaching Circle. I’ve been both a participant and a coach in this Circle, and have found it to be so supportive! You can find out more about the free trial, which starts November 6, here.

Above images © Jill Winski, 2016-2017

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Tapping into tortoise wisdom ( + my fall coaching special!)

There is a part of me that is always in an enormous hurry. It’s a small but mighty voice within me that has been piping up since I was very young. The voice says things like: “You are soooo behind where you should be. You have to move faster. You need to make up for lost time! If you don’t get busy, you’re going to regret it!”

I used to listen to this voice, most of the time. I believed the things it said to me, the way it spoke to me, were truth.

However, over time I came to see that when I listened to this voice, merged with it as though it were actually “me” rather than just a point-of-view within me, I actually felt more behind, felt like I had to move even faster, and experienced more regret.

Hmm … curious, right? How could this be?

Well, here’s what I realized was happening (and it took me many years to see this clearly): This voice, while it meant to help, created a very heavy and desperate feeling state within me. And when I took action from that heavy and desperate feeling state, the results I created were — wait for it — heavy and desperate.

(For example: working incredibly hard to prove to my boss that I could take on a lot of work — and getting more work dumped on me by the day. Or, writing for hours after my work day so that I could feel like a “real writer” and ending up so burned out I felt increasingly like a fraud and like it didn’t matter how much I wrote, I still sucked.)

***

My partner and I make a yearly fall trip to the Brookfield Zoo here in the Chicago area. There is something about being there (especially during fall, my favorite season), that taps into childlike, playful energy for me. I connect with spaciousness there, with the energies of the animals, and my mind (particularly, perhaps, that desperate voice that tells me I’m never doing enough), calms down.

This year, we saw that there are tortoises near the duck and pelican pond at one end of the zoo. We stood and stared down at the six different types of tortoises for a long time. A trio of Galapagos tortoises hung out at one corner of their area, and one of them eventually started making its way toward us.

We were surprised that the tortoise moved faster than we’d thought it would, but what we noticed most was how relaxed and methodical it was, how it seemed to feel its way across the soft ground beneath it. It was actually neither “slow” nor “fast” — it simply moved the way it moved, at the pace that felt right to it.

When it had gone a little ways, it turned back, in that same relaxed way, feeling with its feet, head swiveling from side to side. It had apparently changed its mind and it was no big deal. Now it was going that way.

When you watch tortoises closely, you can’t help thinking they are time travelers. These are prehistoric-looking creatures, and they have — you must imagine — a unique relationship with time.

So, back to that ever-present voice in my head, which has been my frightened companion for so very long. Its relationship with time is quite like a race. It thinks it can, at some point, beat time if it just tries hard enough.

It only knows two speeds: “fast” or “slow” (too slow). This makes sense, if you’re in a race. But if you don’t want to — choose to — live your entire life as a race, this voice will quickly propel you to that desperate, heavy place it has caused me to know so well.

The wisdom that the tortoises sparked in me this week was this: It’s not that it’s all about slowing down (though slowing down is, for many of us, an excellent idea) — that Galapagos tortoise traveled more quickly than we’d imagined he would. It’s about being open to your own relationship with time, with pace — how do you want that relationship to be? What pace feels good and supportive and nourishing to you?

Since I can trace that “we’re in a desperate hurry” voice back to my ten-year-old self, who always scrambled in school to get “extra credit” even though she was already doing plenty, I know it is not purely a response to “today’s” culture. But I do think today’s culture contains plenty of triggers for this voice to go into overdrive.

So my ongoing commitment is to keep on noticing when I am “merging” with that voice, believing that it is “me.” I call it “a voice within me” because it is not me. It’s a habitual, practiced reaction, but it doesn’t have to drive my behavior if I notice it, detach from it a little, assure it that it’s being heard but it doesn’t call the shots.

And then I can ask the wiser part of myself how I want the pace of my life to feel, and recognize that I have more choices than that scared, desperate voice thinks I do.

How do you want the pace of your life to feel? How can you create more of that feeling? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back — through November 22. These sessions are meant to support you in determining your “best next step” if you are feeling the uncertainty that big (or small!) life transitions bring. I’m finding that one-on-one support is vital for me right now, with all that is going on in our world, and I’d love to provide that support for you if it feels right for you. Learn more about Autumn Transition Sessions, here.

You can also now sign up for my newsletter, for periodic updates about my offerings and other good stuff, here.

Tortoise images © Jill Winski, 2017

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Are you allowing the seasons of your life?

As summer winds down, I’m reminded of the summers when I was a kid, the easy, lazy feel of them. I can remember skipping down the street in my bare feet to watch the local music video station at my friend’s house. We particularly loved to catch Cyndi Lauper videos. (On one thrilling afternoon, my friend did my makeup like Cyndi’s in her “Time after Time” video.)

I don’t know what it’s like for kids today, but those summers of the 1980s feel, in memory, like such a contrast to the start-up of fall.

The summer was meant to be a season of fun, play, and intentional winding down. Fall had a tangibly different feel. I happen to love fall (it’s my favorite season), and part of why I love it is because it is, for me, about ushering in the new, while also feeling nostalgic for the falls of yesteryear. For the me who swore each school year that “this year I will show up at school as a completely different person!” (Which never really happened, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I love that the “me” of today doesn’t want to be a completely different person (thank God!), but there was something promising and exciting about that desire as a kid. The desire for the new, the sense that something amazing was just around the corner. Fall carries that energy for me, and mingled with it is a cozy feeling. New and cozy? Sounds good to me.

When I moved into “adult life” in my twenties, and even in college when I often worked through the summer and took classes, that “summer feeling” got lost somewhere.

There was also a period in my life when I lived in Hawaii for a time. While Hawaii was undeniably beautiful, I missed the seasons.  There is something about the seasons in the external world that mirrors our inner shifting, and vice versa.

***

When I work with my life coaching clients, particularly the ones who feel they are pushing themselves way too hard but aren’t quite sure how to stop, I sometimes ask this question: “Are you allowing your life to have its seasons?”

Just as summer has a different flavor and texture than fall, our lives shift and change as one “life season” moves into the next.

Here’s the tricky part: If we don’t ease up on ourselves, if we don’t tune into ourselves, we can’t see the change in seasons in our lives. In fact, our pushing and tuning out are sometimes exquisite protections against allowing our lives to shift seasons.

This is why I focus a lot on self-care in my coaching practice: Self-care is, ultimately, self-connection, and when our connection to ourselves is blocked, we’re not able to get a clear sense of where we are.

If we are connected to ourselves, we’re attuned to the subtleties that alert us that a new season of our lives may be on the horizon. We prepare to open to it. If it brings up fear for us, we can investigate it and get support.

When we’re pushing ourselves (to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, or to do more even if it doesn’t feel good), or tuning out, we’re far less aware of those subtle nudges that tell us a new season is approaching and change is near. That, in fact, our lives are changing (because nothing stays the same!).

So how do we stop pushing? How do we tune in to ourselves?

We take time to feel our feelings. It sounds simple, and it is, but it isn’t necessarily easy. So often our “pushing” is really avoiding. And when we’re avoiding, there’s only one thing we’re ever truly avoiding: feeling our feelings.

Here’s the thing: No feeling will destroy you.

As the poet Rilke wrote, “No feeling is final.” Feelings move. They shift (like the seasons). If you can take five minutes to let a feeling come up and be with it, you will notice it start to shift on its own. It may return, but it will not flatten you.

It’s when we avoid our feelings that we get overwhelmed — because we are using our energy to push away rather than be present to what is true for us.

So, when I pose the question, “Are you allowing your life to have its seasons?” what I am really asking is: Are you feeling your feelings? Are you allowing them?

If your life seems to want to be lazy summer right now, can you allow that? If it’s leaning toward a brisker, crisper fall feeling, can you allow that?

If you’re fighting a season of your life as it approaches, can you simply drop the fight, a little at a time? Can you simply notice the desire to fight the change?

Do you allow the seasons of your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Also: My Light Up Your Creative Self one-on-one coaching program will no longer be offered after September 30, 2017 (part of my practice of letting go of the old and welcoming the new!). If you’re feeling creatively blocked, stuck, or stagnant, you might want to check it out (and everyone who signs up prior to the end of the month will save $25). Find out more on my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Above images © Moonbloom, Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Olga Drozdova, Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively.

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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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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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Coffee with your future self

deuxcafesOften when we’re at a crossroads in life or feeling stuck, it helps to ask ourselves “what worked before?”

Our “past self” — far from being naive — has lots of wisdom for us. Sometimes I forget that I “solved” a particular problem in the past and that way of dealing with it will work just fine today — I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

But there’s a reason our “past self” is in the past — we’re not who we were then! And we all reach those “liminal” periods in our lives — times when we have let go of an old identity but not yet embraced a new one. (In fact, it is during these periods of “identity limbo” that clients most often seek out coaching with me. It can be a really unsettling place to be.)

This is why, when I’m feeling really unsure about my next step or overall direction, I like to consult my “future self”.

Consulting your future self does not have to be anything elaborate. It can be as simple as imagining you meet “future you” and have a chat over coffee (or tea, or coconut water, or whatever you and future you like. One client reported that her “future self” did not want to drink the same beverage that her “current self” did — a detail we found extremely interesting!).

It can be fun to do this exercise with a group — I was led through a longer version of it by a gifted coach at an intensive a few months ago and what came out of it for me was powerful (there’s just something about group energy!).

But I’ve found it to be equally powerful sitting by myself on a bench in a nearby park. You can also do this with a friend or a coach. The key is to create a safe space for yourself where you can freely imagine.

First, set a time frame — how far in the future is this version of you? (I find that five years is often helpful for bigger-picture guidance, but depending on what I’m experiencing, it could be six months, a year, or ten years, too.)

Then, in your mind’s eye, simply ask your future self to show up, in whatever way she’d like.

When you meet your future self, take note of the totality of her. See everything there is to see. (Small details often represent big clues to your future life.)

What is she wearing exactly? What’s the expression on her face? Is she animated? Serene? Does she have anything with her? (This could be animal, vegetable, or mineral — it might not come as a surprise to you that when I did this exercise with the group a while back, my future self stood on a cabin porch, flanked by three cats.) How does she sit (or stand)?

What qualities about her really strike you?

Then: ask your future self what message she has for you, or if there’s anything she’d like to show you. (Sometimes clients report simply feeling a certain energy emanating from their future selves, nothing verbal. This is good, too!)

I notice that, almost always when I do this exercise, my future self gives me a message about something I need to let go of in order to transform into this “future me”.

About four years ago or so she showed me a vision of where she lived — in a smallish apartment with tree branches gently brushing the window next to her desk, where she sat writing. This message gave me a feeling of deep peace — but it also scared me. At the time I lived in a house that I really didn’t want to let go of, and my life felt so complicated that I couldn’t see how this vision could become a reality — in fact, I didn’t want it to become a reality — yet. (I wrote in this post about my process of parting ways with this beloved house.)

Although I didn’t know how I’d make what she showed me a reality at the time she showed it to me, the vision my future self revealed to me became a guidepost. It felt right.

And, step by step, my life unfolded so that I could let go of what needed to go. I saw that my future self had a focus and a purpose I felt out of touch with at that time, and I wanted to move toward it.

Your future self might seem ruthless, because she doesn’t necessarily need the things that “present you” needs. But don’t worry — when it’s time to sync up with your future self, you’ll find that letting go is a relief (even if there is some sadness there — I still miss the house from time to time, but I’ve never regretted my move).

These days, the message I get from “future me” is that I need to let go of certain deep-seated habits and ways of relating that are no longer serving me. “You can’t get here from there,” she smiles (and yes, like “present me”, she’s very much enjoying her iced coffee as we talk — thank God!).

Do you ever connect with your future self when you need intuitive guidance? How does this process work for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Work With Me: Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? Find out more, here.

Above image © Monika Wisniewska | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Are you distracting yourself — from yourself?

beachumbrella

One of the most life-changing books I had the great fortune to discover back in my twenties was Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child. When we hear the term “gifted”, we often think of school — academically gifted, or perhaps musically or artistically. In her book, Miller’s “gifted” refers to children whose sensitivity enables them to intuit and absorb the energy and emotions of those around them as a survival skill. 

One of the things that stuck with me most from the book over the years was when Miller described a psychotherapy client she’d worked with who learned, painstakingly, to connect with herself after many years of disconnection. Miller noticed that as soon as her client would connect with herself, and start to experience the satisfaction inherent in that connection, she would distract herself in some way — usually by attending to others.

Miller noted in her client this “compulsion to repeat” — in the client’s childhood, every time she had connected to herself, she had been distracted by family members who demanded her attention. As an adult, the client distracted herself in this same way, whenever she felt self-connection. 

Sound familiar? Just the other day, I happened onto the (wonderful) movie Revolutionary Road on TV, and found myself totally absorbed in it, and at the same time completely enjoying my own company. Then a thought occurred to me: I should call my mom and ask her if she’s seen this movie. I need to call her today, anyway. 

I was just about to pick up the phone and call my mother when I recognized (again!) my unrewarding tendency to distract myself in the name of some sort of “service to others” at exactly the moment when I am feeling most absorbed in some act of creativity and/or my own company.

Underlying this tendency is a belief: that it is somehow self-indulgent to truly savor time to myself or to fill my creative well. It’s also familiar, since (not unlike Alice Miller’s client) it was usually when I was enjoying my own company as a kid that I got interrupted to attend to something — or someone — more “worthwhile”. It wasn’t long before I learned to interrupt myself.

***

There’s a connection here to what some call “upper limits syndrome”. Upper limits syndrome has to do with our capacity to hold good feelings — the good stuff of life — within ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but in a certain way it is easier for me to “hold” feelings of failure, disappointment, and frustration than it is for me to truly embrace feelings of success, joy, and, yes, contentment. Learning to be with them — to be comfortable with the good and the great — is a work in progress for me.

When life feels “too good” — in other words, more good flows in than I’ve learned to embrace — I “default” to habitual behaviors that temper all this good stuff by bringing in more “bad”. This can look like eating junk food rather letting myself feel the wonderful feedback I got that day, or suddenly worrying that a cold (or some other physical issue) is coming on when I’ve challenged myself in a new way and therefore expanded my sense of what is possible for me.

This is what is known as “upper limiting.” Sometimes it plays itself out as a belief that it’s okay to do really well in one or two areas of our lives, but not in a third (even if it’s important to us). For example, if we have a great relationship, we’re not allowed to also make good money or have creative success — isn’t that just a little too much goodness? 

***

On a call with some fellow coaches a couple of years ago, we noted that each of us had the tendency to practice solid self-care only to the extent that it served our work, our relationships with others, or our creativity. We realized we were effectively sending ourselves the message that self-care was only truly okay as long as it was in service of something else.

For me, this sounded something like, “I need to take good care of myself so that I can show up fully for my clients and for my writing.” But — insidiously — I was leaving me out. When we do work that we love, it does give back to us, and we are not totally separate from the work. And yet, we are not the work.

What I’ve found is that I need to make sure I check in with myself and notice where I am fueling myself only so I can give that fuel to others, or to my creative work. Because it is when I can allow myself to just be for the sake of being in my own company, my own presence, that I truly fill up enough for there to be genuine overflow to the people and projects I care about.

What do you notice about this for you? Do you find yourself distracting yourself just when you feel most connected? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image © Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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