Your resources and the seasons of your life

I’ve written here before about how important it is to recognize that our lives have their seasons, and that it’s vital for us to honor those seasons.

Something I see when I work with my life coaching clients is that we often have the expectation that our lives should constantly be exploding with growth — and if they aren’t, something is wrong! It’s not surprising that so many of us have this idea, particularly in Western culture — we live in an extremely growth-oriented world, where we’re fed the ideal of “bigger, faster, more.”

Many heart-centered folks I know are becoming mindful of the ways this “constant growth” ideal has harmed our selves and our world, and they are dedicated to living differently, to treating the world differently.

But, still, some of them (and I include myself here!) have a really hard time stepping back and checking in to notice what season of their lives it is, and what is required of them in that season.

And being aware of what season you’re in is important, because heart-centered people want to give a lot of themselves to the world (and thank goodness they do!). But in some seasons of our lives, we simply have more resources with which to give than we do in others.

For example: sometimes I work with someone who has recently experienced a big loss. Maybe a spouse or a parent has died, maybe a job has been lost (or quit), maybe an important project has failed or a large amount of money has been spent on something that didn’t work out. Maybe an illness has changed the scope and shape of their lives.

During these times (which in my training as a Martha Beck life coach we call “Square One” periods, or “liminal” periods), we simply have fewer inner resources — and often fewer external ones, too.

I’ve often seen clients lamenting — or really angry! — that their attempts at growth, at flourishing creativity, at building something, usually just won’t take hold during these times.

What’s going on here?

They’re in “winter”. And if we look at winter and take a cue from our animal friends, winter is a time in which we’re not growing new stuff, we’re not building new stuff, we’re not exploring new horizons. We might be underground, relying on our body fat to keep us warm and nourished until spring. We’re counting on what we gathered during spring, summer, and fall to get us through our winter.

But here’s the rub: We humans are not always that well-resourced when our “personal winters” hit.

Maybe money is tight. Maybe those we’ve always counted on for support make themselves scarce. Because these “winters” are also times of deep transformation, we may emerge from them feeling quite different from who we were when we entered them. (If you’ve been a one-on-one coaching client of mine, you know I am talking about what we Martha Beck coaches refer to as The Change Cycle here!)

So: If you are deep into a personal winter — if you’ve experienced a big loss, a huge change (and this can sometimes include what we think of as “positive” change as well!), or some sort of internal or external shift that’s really rocking your world — know that your resources are important right now.

And: They are probably limited. They are probably feeling much more limited than they were when you were in your “personal spring” — that time of lovely growth where beautiful, sparkly things seem to be sprouting all over the place.

Don’t try to make your life feel like a “personal spring” when, in fact, you’re in an inner winter. Be where you are. If your resources — inner and outer — are feeling limited right now, how can you preserve them? How might you bring in more without further depleting yourself?

I’ve found that one of the best ways to help myself through a (perhaps under-resourced) personal winter is to be as kind to myself as possible. I have some very clear ideas about what that means for me, and I encourage you to check in with yourself on this: What does being kind to yourself really mean to you? What does it feel like, look like?

I have little reminders around my home that guide me back to my personal definition of treating myself kindly: A sign with cats on it that my dad got for me in a Quaker-run shop that says “Be ye kind to one another.” A mug with the word Kindness on it that I use all the time.

(If you’re hitting a wall when it comes to treating yourself with kindness, I encourage you to check out the work of Kristin Neff, who has researched the importance of self-compassion.)

When I can remember to treat myself warmly and gently and with a huge amount of faith and trust in who I am and in my process, my “personal winters” are so much less hard.

Because much of the problem for so many of us is that our “default” is to be really hard on ourselves. We don’t ever need to be that hard on ourselves, but it’s especially damaging and unhelpful to be hard when we’re already in the hard that an “inner winter” brings.

It’s also important, in a world that is in so much need, that we balance our giving to the world with giving to ourselves (and yes, this giving does overlap!).

We’ll likely have more to give when we’re in our “personal spring” or summer than we do when we’re in our personal winter. This is okay. You don’t have to do it all, all the time. Others who are experiencing more of that “spring” energy will step up while you’re in your winter.

What do you think? What have you noticed about the seasons of your life and your resources (inner and outer)? I’d love to hear from you!

If you are in a “personal winter” and need some support on your journey, you can find out more about my one-on-one coaching work, here. I’d love to help!

And: My newsletter offers updates on my coaching programs and other good stuff. You can also find out through my newsletter about how to get in on my monthly Artist’s Nest community calls — the first one is coming up soon, on Feb. 28! You can sign up for my newsletter, here.

Above images are “Winter Landscape”, © Adina Nani | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and “Winter Branches”, © Peter Zaharov | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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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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The question that cuts through your overwhelm

sadgirl

A week ago I returned from a coaching intensive (which I’ll no doubt share more about in the future), feeling one part energized, two parts exhausted. I had that good feeling of having stretched myself a lot, but a quieter part of me recognized that I couldn’t keep going at that pace for much longer without losing touch with what I truly needed.

Hmm. What I truly needed. How interesting that it took me almost a week to get there.

As the week wore on, and my after-stretching-myself buzz began to wear off, I noticed I felt scattered, pressured, pressed. By Thursday, I realized I had arrived at that most dreaded of states: full on overwhelm.

Friday morning, “to-do’s” spinning in my brain, I recognized I didn’t want to continue feeling the way I was feeling. And, regarding my rather pinched expression in the bathroom mirror, I asked myself this question: “What do you need right now?”

It seems like a pretty obvious question — doesn’t it?

The thing is, when I get into the spin cycle of “I want to rest — but there’s so much to do — but I want to rest — but there’s too much to do”, I do not see this question.

It was only pausing and noticing how I was feeling, and seeing that feeling conveyed on my face in the mirror, that brought me to this truth. I had a need, and it wasn’t being met. And I didn’t even know what the need was.

Asking yourself “What do I need right now?” grounds you in the present moment, in what is true for you.

Often, when we are in that “too much to do” place, we get caught up trying to plan for and control a future that is not here yet. If I don’t get it done now, X, Y, and Z might happen, our minds tell us.

And our activity becomes more and more frantic. We may get something done, maybe a lot of things done — but we don’t feel productive. “To-do-list” brain just keeps churning out more to-do’s.

When I asked myself, “What do you need right now?”, I received a few answers.

• I need to permission to do it all wrong.

• I need permission to not do it all.

• I need to be kinder to myself.

• I need to recognize where my true responsibility lies.

• I need to take a long walk.

I stopped there, lest “what I need” started to sound to me like another “to-do” list.

And I decided to meet two needs — the need to be kinder to myself, and the need for a long walk. My walk turned into what Julia Cameron calls an “Artist’s Date”, where I found myself meandering in my neighborhood, noticing the squirrels leaping around in the unusually warm weather, and I bought myself a new lipstick at Ulta Beauty.

On the way home from the walk, I realized just how much I’d needed that “settling down” time — that bridge between the high, intense activity of stretching myself, and moving back into my regular routine. It just took me a week to give it to myself.

As I write this, I do not feel overwhelmed. I feel present. In fact, after my walk I found myself — quite naturally — doing several things I needed to do, from a settled-down place of peace, of groundedness.

Now, here’s an interesting thing: This whole week, upon my return from my travels, I’ve been taking a morning walk each day, because that’s what I do. That’s part of my morning ritual. But my morning ritual didn’t seem to be “taking hold” as it usually does. I still felt keyed up, worried, anxious.

I see now that it’s because I didn’t ask myself what I needed. I kept taking the actions I usually took, without checking in first to see what was up for me.

The experience I’d had away had shifted my needs. I was needing a different flavor of self-care post-trip that I’d had before I’d left.

But I didn’t know it for almost a week, because I forgot to ask myself what I needed.

Live and learn, my friends. I offer a coaching program on practicing excellent self-care, and yet it took me a week to see how I needed to care for myself. We are always beginners in the ever-changing landscapes of our inner lives.

Are you overwhelmed right now? How does the question “What do I need right now?” sit with you? Is there another question that helps you cut through overwhelm? I’d love to hear from you.

And: I will begin enrolling clients in my one-on-one coaching program, Stellar Self-Care, on March 6, 2017. If your life feels overwhelming and you’re needing support, I encourage you to check it out! I will also be offering a small group version of the program this time around — please contact me for more info if you’re interested in that format. You can also learn about other ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Jose Antonio Sánchez Reyes | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Avoiding the intimacy of creating

pensandpencils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few things I’m up to …

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

Image © Scarf_andrei | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How kindness helps you create

ducks

So often when I’m feeling unhappy and stuck (whether in my life or in my creative work), I find myself frantically trying to control circumstances.

My thoughts go something like this: “If I could just get rid of [X circumstance] and find [X circumstance], and get [X amount of money], and if [X person] wasn’t so hard to deal with, I could stop feeling so bad.”

Or sometimes it goes like this: “If I could just figure out if what I really want is [X] or [Z], then I could move forward. But I’m so confused; I can’t figure it out. So I’m unhappy and I’ll be unhappy until I figure it out.”

There’s a kind of paralysis that sets in when I believe that circumstances are causing my unhappiness. It’s often a breed of analysis paralysis, closely tied to perfectionism, where I’m sure that if I choose the “wrong” thing, I’ll increase my current unhappiness in spades. So I don’t choose.

It usually takes me a while in this spin cycle before I remember: Ohhh. Waiiittt.

It’s not about circumstances. It’s not about making the “right” decision.

It’s about kindness. The kindness I’m forgetting to give to myself.

I don’t know about you, but when I remember to treat myself with kindness, there’s a palpable shift within myself. I feel it in my abdomen first, then my jaw — my entire body softens. I literally feel the rigidity seeping out of me, almost like it forms a puddle around my feet. And then I feel a surprising thing: hope.

From this place, there is fluidity — there is movement. How can that be? I haven’t changed my external circumstances, and yet, there’s movement?

Yes. Martha Beck, with whom I trained to become a life coach, likes to remind her coaches that our circumstances do not create our feeling states; it’s the opposite. Our feeling states create our circumstances.

When our focus is outside ourselves, on what we’re sure the “right” circumstances will bring us, we are disconnected from what’s inside us. We forget where our power actually lies — in our ability to choose how we relate to ourselves, and how relate to the world around us.

And here’s how this relates to our creativity: As I’ve often written on this blog, creativity, as I define it, is nothing more or less than the life force within us.

That life force needs to move. It needs to flow, and to ebb.

When I try to control circumstances, or second-guess my decisions, or try to make the “perfect” choice, that life force gets frozen in time. I’m teetering on the edge of the belief that the “reward” lies on the other side of “right” or “wrong” — when, in fact, the “reward” is right here, within me, if I can remember to treat myself with kindness.

Some of my clients say at first that they simply don’t know how to treat themselves with kindness — or that it seems self-indulgent, or a waste of time.

But my clients are often the kindest people I know — they are truly skilled at directing kindness outside of themselves, toward others. They just haven’t practiced directing it toward themselves.

And there’s a distinct difference between kindness toward ourselves and self-indulgence: Kindness creates movement that comes from the heart; it radiates outward. It’s intimately linked to “inspired action.” Self-indulgence, like a clenched fist, closes us off from ourselves, from the world. Rather than engaging the heart, self-indulgence feels like avoidance of something we fear. Kindness feels like an openness to what we love, to what inspires us.

Sometimes, when I think about doing something like, say, write a blog post about the importance of remembering to treat ourselves with kindness, there’s a hard, embittered piece of me that says things like, “Kindness? How cliche and cheesy and abstract is that?”

And then I have to laugh, because that’s exactly the voice that makes treating myself with kindness my last resort so much of the time. I often come to kindness — or it comes to me — because I’m at the end of my rope with treating myself harshly.

I come to kindness because I realize I’ve literally exhausted all my options if I’m viewing myself, and life, with harshness. Most importantly, I’ve forgotten to acknowledge that I am suffering. Of course it seems like I need to manipulate circumstances and choose perfectly if I’m coming from a harsh, rigid place. Wherever I go, there I am.

So, if I feel backed into a corner, if I believe I’m trapped and there are no good options — whether in my real life or in my creative work — it may be that I’ve forgotten this oh-so-basic step: Treat myself kindly. Exquisitely kindly. Time and again, I learn that from that space of kindness, unseen options emerge.

(To learn more about the amazing benefits of treating ourselves with kindness, check out Kristin Neff’s work at http://selfcompassion.org.)

Do you remember to treat yourself with kindness? Do you think it’s worth doing? Do you apply it in your creative process? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “Hand Feeding” © David Coleman | Dreamstime Stock Photos