Getting clear on what’s true for you

Several years ago I was talking to a friend of mine (who also happens to be a very gifted life coach). During our conversation, I kept comparing myself to someone else I admired, saying “I just can’t do what she does.”

My friend pointed out my use of the word “can’t” and asked me: “You can’t — or you don’t want to?”

I stopped and pondered for a moment. Oh, my friend was wise. The truth was, I didn’t want to do what this woman was doing. It was wonderful — for her, but not for me.

This realization brought me to another question: Why was I choosing to believe I wasn’t capable of doing something, when the truth was that I didn’t want to do it at all?

It occurred to me that it was “easier” for me to believe I just couldn’t than to accept and sit with that fact that, as is often true for me, someone else’s path wasn’t my path. Allowing this truth to surface meant that I would need to find another way that did work for me, for who I was (and am).

It is challenging to look inward for guidance when it seems so much easier to look outward. Realizing we don’t want to do it the way “everyone else” is doing it may trigger stuff for us, too.  (“Why can’t I do it the way she does it — what’s wrong with me?”)

Guidance that doesn’t fit us, however, is not “easy” at all. Trying to follow it feels like wearing a pair of shoes that are too loose or too tight — it’s hard to get where you’re going that way!

Isn’t it fascinating that our minds will actually believe things that are not deeply true for us, rather than take in truths that may be hard to accept? And yet, this happens all the time. I see it often with my life coaching clients — which is why, sometimes, our work is about simply creating enough safety and comfort for them to be with whatever their truth may be.

Because here’s the thing: if we aren’t standing in our truth, we have no solid foundation to build on. Somebody else’s truth, somebody else’s guidance, won’t do it for us (unless it truly resonates for us).

So how do we get clear on what’s true for us?

• Be sure that you want to know the truth. Sometimes I’ve worked with a client who realizes “I don’t want to get clear right now. I have so much going on that is causing fear and chaos for me, and I’m just not ready yet.” This is totally valid. You know what’s best for you — and in fact, a feeling of safety is key in allowing the truth to surface. Allow yourself to get to that place of safety — that inner feeling of safety — first.

• Don’t force it. You don’t have to grasp or push to know what it true for you — the truth arises when you feel safe enough to be with it and when you are in a place of relative peace. (I often connect with what’s true for me when I take my morning walks, which bring me to a peaceful place of acceptance most days.)

• Notice the language you’re using, as my coach friend helped me do during our conversation. If you hear words like “can’t”, “should”, “never” or “always”, that’s your mind going to an all-or-nothing place — and chances are, those words are not true for you.

• Know that your truth is not deeply buried. When you feel safe to contact it, to express it, you’ll find that it’s right there waiting to be honored. If writing is your thing, a simple and helpful exercise is to go to your journal and write: “What I really want to say is … ” (Thanks to Natalie Goldberg for this idea, which I found years ago in her book Wild Mind.)

• Again, safety. And support. Who is a person you trust, who is good at reflecting to you who you are, as my friend did for me? She knew me well enough to intuit that my “can’t” wasn’t really a “can’t” at all, and she played that hunch.

It is so much easier to move forward — even with the really challenging stuff — when we are doing so from a foundation of what is true for us. That starts with letting yourself know what is true, and going from there.

A quick update: My one-on-one coaching program Light Up Your Creative Self will close after September 30. This program may be for you if you are feeling blocked, stuck or simply like you are flailing in the dark when it comes to a creative project or your creativity in general. I have typically done this program with writers, but it is open to anyone who feels called to it — we are all creative (even when it doesn’t feel like it!). Interested? Find out more on my Ways We Can Work Together page, here. (By the way, it’s $25 off the total price through the 30th.)

Above image is “Autumn Leaf” © Ronfromyork | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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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

Setting boundaries around your creative space: Part two

fence2

In Part One of this post, I wrote about how important it is to honor the transitions between our “creative space” and our time interacting with others. It’s recognizing those transitions (even if they happen very quickly) that allows us to set boundaries that support our creativity.

(And when I talk about creative space, I mean not only the period of time in which we are actually tangibly creating, but also our solitary reflecting/processing/being time — which is vital for so many of us.)

It can be difficult enough to honor our own commitment to show up for creating regularly, whether that’s journaling, painting, working on our business or writing a book. But what about when those around us don’t support us in our regular habit of creating?

This can be a truly frustrating place to be.

In Part One, I wrote about how when I was a child I had a deep need to go off by myself and write, draw, or simply daydream.

What I didn’t say in that post was that my family and friends were not always terribly thrilled with my doing this.

At a certain point, the people around me began encouraging me not to be so “introverted”, and before I knew it my life became a flurry of activity and achievement with hardly any solitary “being” time. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out of college that I actually — slowly — began to recognize my need for solitude and to — slowly — give it to myself.

And that took a certain amount of courage, in a culture that worships “busy” and “tangible goals.”

In fact, I remember frequenting a cafe when I was twenty-three and working at a bookstore. When I was done with work, I’d stop at the cafe, have a coffee, and do Natalie Goldberg‘s “writing practice” (I was a huge fan of Natalie’s books at the time and still am).

After I’d done this for a while, the owner of the cafe came up to me one day and said, “I see you here almost every day, writing. Are you writing a book?”

“No,” I said, “I’m doing something called ‘writing practice’.” I explained to him Natalie’s concept of writing as a daily practice, as a way of grounding and connecting with ourselves.

The cafe owner shook his head and let out a deep sigh. “This is no good,” he said. “You won’t get anywhere doing that.”

I could see the sincerity in his eyes and I honestly think he was trying to be helpful. But I never went back to that cafe. I felt stupid writing there after that.

And I didn’t even know the guy! When it’s our family or friends who don’t support our creative practice, that can really sting.

So what to do if those around us aren’t supportive, or even blatantly disrespect, our need for creative space?

This isn’t an easy one, but here are a few things that may help:

1) Reaffirm on a daily basis WHY it is important for you to have this time and space to yourself. When you’re regularly connected to why you’re doing it — at a deep level — it matters much less if others “get it” and support it.

2) In keeping with point #1, remember that others act as a mirror for our beliefs.

Part of the reason I was so bothered by the cafe owner’s statement all those years ago was because I had not yet owned the importance of my writing for ME. I wasn’t yet sure that I wasn’t doing something pointless by showing up to the cafe to write, so his words easily shook my not-yet-sound foundation.

Today, if someone were to say that to me, I’d probably be curious about his belief, but it wouldn’t throw me off balance (though I’d choose to be around more supportive energy). I’ve bitten down on the root of my need to write regularly so deeply that it doesn’t matter to me if a stranger questions what I’m doing.

3) Know that your commitment to your creative process may trigger those who want to do the same but just aren’t there yet. It may also shift your relationship with loved ones a little (or a lot). Remember you can always reassure them that this time is for you and that it will actually contribute to you having a better relationship with them. And let them know that it’s totally okay for them to establish their own creative practice, in their own way — you’ll support them in it, too.

4) Get clear on what kind of support you need. Sometimes our loved ones don’t know HOW to support us. It’s okay to tell them what feels supportive and what doesn’t.

5) Take note of the people in your life who DO support you in creating and seek out more of that support, whether that’s in person or online (preferably both as we can use true support in BOTH worlds!).

6) Be willing to let go of your need to be nice. I used to think I had to let go of certain relationships in order to feel more supported in my creative practice (and occasionally that’s been true). But I came to see that, more often, what I truly needed to let go of was my desire to be “nice” and constantly available for those relationships in ways that interfered with carving out my own creative space.

What do you have to add? How do you set boundaries around your creative practice when others aren’t supportive? I’d love to know.

Image is “Fence at Dusk” © Kurt | 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

Ways to shift your energy when you’re stuck or overwhelmed

frozen berries

That feeling that you’re up against a wall and there’s nowhere to go: it’s the worst. It’s enough to keep you up nights, and then you’re sleep deprived, which makes everything look about a hundred times bleaker than it is.

Feelings of overwhelm and “stuckness” do not come from our circumstances; they come from our thoughts. That’s not to say that our circumstances do not trigger feelings of overwhelm and stuckness — they definitely can. The holidays, for example, trigger overwhelm for many of us. That’s because they add that much more to our to-do list.

But it’s the thoughts we’re having about everything on the to-do list that create the feeling of overwhelm, not the to-do list itself.

Now, you can try crossing things off the to-do list to lessen the overwhelm. And it can work, sometimes very well.

But I suggest doing something else first: shifting your energy.

The quality of the energy we bring to our circumstances interacts with those circumstances and transforms them. Sometimes, we try to change circumstances, only to end up in the same energetic space: stagnant, heavy.

So before we go about manipulating our circumstances by crossing things off the to-do list or diving in headfirst to “get it all done,” let’s look at ways to shift our energy.

1) Trim tabs!

Martha Beck wrote this article for O Magazine where she talked about how Buckminster Fuller invented something called the trim tab for large ships. The trim tab is this teeny-tiny rudder placed on the ship’s large rudder that allows the ship to turn with a very slight amount of pressure.

I like to remind myself of trim tabs when everything feels like too much. I don’t have to move the earth in order to create change; I only need to make one tiny change that creates new direction.

Every time I remember trim tabs, I realize that there is NO WAY I can make all the changes I think I need to make right now. And I don’t need to. I just need to focus on one small change that tilts my course in the right direction. And go from there. (As a bonus, thinking TRIM TABS! reminds me that it’s not all up to me. When I make one small choice, other forces are set into motion, and I’m not in control of all of them. This is good news! )

2) Think marathon, not sprint.

Back when I was in life coach training, Pam Slim was teaching us a class on marketing our businesses, and she said, “It’s a lot more helpful to think of marketing as a marathon, not a sprint.”

This knocked me upside the head. At the time, it was quite the revelation for me. I’d always been a sprinter. If I had an idea, I wanted to make it happen, fast. My sprinting ways made me extremely impatient, particularly in my twenties, when I gave up routinely when something I wanted to happen seemed to be “taking too long.”

The fact is, large-scale changes take time. Even small changes often do not occur within a day or a week. Humans are resistant to change (it’s part of our built-in survival mechanism), and change very often takes longer than we predict. (I usually find that if I want it to happen in six months, it will actually happen in a year. But it will happen.)

Remembering “marathon, not sprint” — taking the long view — reminds us that progress is not always immediately apparent, and allows us to take the pressure off.

I bet if I challenged you to write down all the progress you’ve made in your life in the past five years, you could easily fill an entire page without having to think too hard. But you probably wouldn’t have been able to recognize all of it while it was “progress in process.”

3) Move your body.

This is one of the simplest ways to shift energy — the trick is, you can’t let your mind talk you out of doing it! Taking a ten-minute walk and focusing on your stride, your breath visible in the cold air, the dog in the sweater who just trotted by, is an amazing way to get out of your mind and press the reset button. But your mind will tell you it won’t make a difference, there’s no time, yadda yadda. Don’t listen to it!

4) Water.

Taking a shower is one of my favorite ways to shift my energy. Even washing my hands can do it. And doing dishes! Yes, I actually enjoy doing dishes because it allows me to be in proximity to water. Standing near a body of water, or sitting near an aquarium, can do it, too. Or just drinking a glass of water. Again, give it a chance — don’t let your mind talk you out of it! It works.

5) Write it down.

There’s power to seeing something in words, on paper. (The act of moving your hand across paper also ties into point #3 — it moves your body. It’s a much more physical act than typing.) When you can get whatever’s keeping you up at night out of your head and allow it to be held by the paper, you’re reminded that it is not bigger than you are.

Another way to approach this is to do what Natalie Goldberg calls “writing practice.” Just write what you see, what’s in front of you right now. “My Christmas-tree-scented candle is flickering; my cat is staring out the window even though it’s dark outside; there’s a Jackie Chan marathon on TV and I have the sound down; I can hear the downstairs neighbor coughing.”

Just keep your hand moving and keep on writing whatever engages your five senses. This creates an anchor for your mind, putting you solidly in the present moment, the only place where you actually DO have any power.

Once you’ve shifted your energy — even if just a bit — you can take a look at that to-do list.

What are some ways you’ve noticed that help you shift your energy when you’re overwhelmed or in a stagnant place? I’d love to learn more.

Work With Me: I’ll have some openings for new one-on-one clients starting in mid January, 2014. Interested in working together? Find out more, here.

Image is Frozen Berries © Rod Chronister | Dreamstime Stock Photos