Trusting in where your energy takes you


One day last week I sat down to write and felt distracted. This is not uncommon. I often experience resistance, confusion, tedium, and occasionally even dread, when it comes to working on my novel.

In fact, I don’t usually call it (in my own head at least) “working on my novel” anymore. I call it “playing with my novel.” This feels much lighter and opens up possibility, curiosity, excitement. When I make it less grave and serious, I’m more in touch with why I actually want to do it in the first place.

That said, sometimes I feel stuck and it feels hard. And I hang in there with it anyway, because it is a commitment. And because sometimes I reach that lovely place of getting lost in my story. And the more I practice hanging in there with it, the more I reach that place.

But on that day last week, something else was going on. I sat and I sat and I sat, and I wrote and revised and tinkered. But my energy was not with the writing. I had the odd sense of pushing something away.

I glanced over at my open notebook, to some morning pages I’d done the day before. Jotted in the margin at the top of the page was a reminder to call a friend of mine, a dear friend whom I’d been meaning to call for a while. But I’d been putting it off because, although I knew that talking to my friend would be nourishing and fun, I’d told myself that she was probably busy and wouldn’t have much time to talk, anyway. I kept telling myself I’d wait and call “when we were both less busy.”

Now, the reminder note jumped off the page at me. And I realized that there was a ton of energy in calling my friend right then, right in that moment.

So, I stepped away from my computer and dialed my friend’s number. She was home and said she’d been thinking about calling me, too — that very morning. But she figured I was probably busy with coaching or writing and she’d wait to call me until the weekend.

We talked for an hour and it felt soooo good. It filled my creative well to — at least — a 10 (read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way to find out more about the creative well). You know those friends who accept and love you so deeply that it doesn’t matter what’s happening for you, or not happening for you, because the connection is about your very essence? That is this friend, for me.

And something important came out of this call. I realized that I often make an assumption that the people I care about are busy and they need to “fit me in.” And this assumption is not reality. In fact, my friend was making the same assumption about me, but in truth I would have welcomed a call from her.

After we talked,  I returned to my novel with a sense of lightness and new possibility, and I no longer had that nagging sensation that there was something important I wasn’t attending to. I could give the writing my full attention.

If I hadn’t followed my energetic pull toward calling my friend, I would have missed out on that connection and that insight.

And yet, my rational mind wondered if I wanted to step away from the novel simply because it was hard and it was my way of “procrastinating.” It can be tempting to “power through” at these times, no matter what. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing to do when we’re developing a habit, whether it’s writing or something else.

But we get to the good stuff in life by acting on what feels juiciest for us in the moment. I don’t mean by acting on our every impulse, but by following our intuitive urges. Often, it’s as simple as asking, “What would light me up right now?”  On that day last week, contacting my friend was that thing. It was “up” for me, calling out for attention. And I needed to listen.

Sometimes, our “creative work” can serve as a means of avoiding doing our inner work. Just as we can avoid our creative work, we can also use our creative work to avoid — or push down the list — other things that are vital to our well-being. Like our relationships. Most particularly, our relationship to ourselves.

So notice the quality of your energy as you create. Is the creating connecting you with yourself, with the world, with that beautiful mysterious space we go to when we create — even if it’s a huge challenge at the moment?

Or, do you have the sense that you are using your writing, artwork, business brainstorming, or whatever it may be, to push something else away, as I did last week? Just notice. You don’t have to stop what you’re doing. Just tell yourself the truth, whatever it is for you.

Because, ultimately, creativity is being connected to what’s true for you in the moment. Because that is when you are most you. And that is what I wish for you — that you be most you as often as possible. That, more than anything else, is your gift to the world.

Image is “Leaf on Steel” © Chris Mccooey | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Understanding our Limits: Self-care and Creativity

The foundation of a healthy relationship with our creativity is self-care.

And yet, creators know that the act of creativity is also part of our self-care. So how do we negotiate the needs of our physical and emotional selves, and the needs of our spirits?

When I was in my twenties, I thought that all the good feelings I got from creativity meant I could override and ignore pesky things like getting enough sleep, eating well, and having relationships that felt reciprocal and nurturing. I thought I could be this wildly creative being and forget the fact that I am a physical being with physical needs that are not going to go away just because I ignore them.

This turned into a vicious cycle which went something like this: let me create more because it helps me feel bigger and better and then I’ll have more energy to pour into my relationships and I won’t need as much sleep or to slow down and pay attention to what I’m eating and whether or not I really have enough money to support myself. Okay, now I’m really wired and tired and my relationships aren’t very healthy and I don’t have enough money; but let me create more because it makes me feel good and then I don’t have to think about these other annoying things that are part-and-parcel to living.

This was a form of grandiosity, though it took me a while to understand it. I didn’t want to believe that I had limits, that I was a physical being with a body that got tired and emotions with messages like, “I’m burning out here.”

I did burn out on this way of life at about age twenty-five. I ended up in the hospital, dehydrated, with an unbearably sore throat and an enlarged liver and spleen. (“You don’t actually need your spleen,” the doctor told me. “But it’s nice to have it.”)

It took me a couple of years to transition into a different, slower, deeper way of living. At first I thought this way of life would be boring; I kept trying to go back to my old way of burning the candle at both ends and ignoring my physical and emotional needs. But my body wouldn’t let me.

This was the beginning of transforming my definition of creativity and what it means to be “a creative person.” I still created, regularly, but over time I saw that I did it because I wanted to, because it felt good — I stopped using it as a means to avoid the aspects of life that I had previously considered too “mundane” to deal with.

I also realized that I had a deeply held belief that if I wasn’t actively creating something — something tangible in the form of words on paper or paint on canvas or what have you — I had no value as a person. I was so wrapped up in this “doing” mentality that it took me a while to realize that, for me, “creating” had become completely entangled with proving my own worth as a human being.

What I now know is that creativity is a natural extension of my human experience. Though it’s vital to have a regular habit or routine of creating, it’s also important to recognize that I don’t make creativity “happen.” It’s a natural part of being; a regular habit of creating is simply a way of building a container to give our creativity a form and a shape. (If you want to test me on this, try not creating anything for a day and see how impossible it is.)

That’s why, now, when I work with creators, I’m committed to helping them accept not just the natural ebbs and flows of the creative process, but their own personal, internal and external ebbs and flows. When I work with someone and hear something like “I need to be writing eight hours a day,” I ask, why? Because you really love writing all the time and it brings you joy and purpose, or because you believe it’s giving you worth and value to be constantly doing?

It’s so important to examine what we believe and how it drives our actions. What I know for sure is that if I drive myself too hard — even in the name of creating — I will wear out my body, and it’s this body that, ultimately, carries out my purpose on this earth.

The fascinating paradox of all this is that when I build into my life the care for my body that it truly needs, I accomplish more of what I deeply want to accomplish — not less — and I feel better about what I do.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you balance self-care and your creative projects?

If you need a reminder to listen to your body, hang out with animals. When they’re tired, they rest.

Image is LOUNGING CAT © April Turner |

What’s the Essence of What You Want?

Lately, I’m feeling really excited about things. There’s a lot I want to do, a lot I want to create. The thing is, the more I’m in “doing mode,” the more I see that needs to be done. It’s kinda like when you tell yourself to look for all the red things in a room, you suddenly see a ton of red.

So on Tuesday, I was feeling frustrated because I hadn’t done a lot of what I’d planned to get done. I sat at my desk at the end of the day wondering where the day had gone. My cat jumped up into my lap, and I began breathe more slowly. I began to relax. (Ever noticed how cats tend to have that effect?)

I asked myself, why am I so upset that I haven’t accomplished what I wanted to accomplish today? The answer was, because I’m really excited about my writing, my coaching, and all my projects. And I want to get them out there, I want to share them with people.

I asked myself, why do you want to share them? The answer was, because I want to connect with my peeps. I want the feeling state of sharing myself with, and giving to, my right people. And I don’t feel like I did that today.

I asked myself, Really? What did you do today?

And then I started laughing. I’d spent the morning with one of my very favorite people, talking and laughing and feeling very connected. Then I’d spent the afternoon with another of my very favorite people, talking and laughing and feeling very connected. Then I’d rushed home for a coaching call with another of my very favorite people. We talked and laughed and I felt very connected. Then I got an email from another of my very favorite people who asked for some coaching.

At that very appropriate moment, my cat dug his claws into my thigh. You’ve already got it, silly, he said. You’re already very connected to your right peeps. And you forgot about me! You’re so worried about not being connected you forgot that your most favorite, er, person, is sitting right here in your lap! He looked up at me, as he so often does, as if I were the most astonishing, frustrating alien creature.

The more I’m able to get a little distance from myself, the more I’m able to be the observer of me, the more I see how much I fret about not having what I already have. This realization doesn’t mean that I’m not open to more good stuff, to more connection with my right people. It just means that it’s not “out there” somewhere, something I need to try to grasp. It’s in here. I already have the essence of it in my life, in spades.

What’s the essence of what you want? Is it possible you already have it in your life? Try noticing.

What Moves You? Part One

Lately I’ve been working with a couple of people who say they are stuck. I empathize, deeply. “Stuck” is one of my personal themes. I’m fascinated by this idea of “stuck.” In truth, I don’t think we are ever actually stuck. I think what happens is we stop moving, and we get scared. Because we have a lot of “shoulds” around the idea that we are supposed to look like we are in motion, all the time.

This reminds me of a boyfriend I had in my twenties. He liked to beat himself up for “procrastinating,” and he used to say to me, “Jill, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest.” “I am not an object!” I would yell at him. “And neither are you!” (Could it be more obvious I was actually yelling at myself?)

The fact is, our lives — our creativity, our relationships, our work — have ebbs and flows. We like it when things are flowing, but when they stop flowing for a while, we label this “bad” and “wrong.” What if they never start flowing again? I think this is the point at which we begin to think we are stuck. But this is just a thought. Like any thought, it can be questioned.

Sometimes it helps to look at areas in our lives where we do not feel stuck. I’d be willing to bet that it’s impossible to feel “stuck” in every single area of our lives at once. Even if everything “big” feels like it’s in a state of endless stall, I bet you can find one thing that feels like it’s flowing. 2008 was a big year of “stuck” for me. I’d finished graduate school and for the first time I had a summer where I wasn’t working on my thesis or taking a class and it felt like everything had stopped. And to top it all off, I felt horribly uncreative. And I was supposed to be this writer.

Looking back, I realize Iwas burned out. I needed rest. But I fought against the feeling that things weren’t moving for a long time. I am not supposed to be feeling this way, I thought. Guess what fighting against it did? It made me feel more stuck, and it extended the process of feeling stuck. Even so, I was able to, at some point, finally look around and notice that there was an area of my life where I didn’t feel stuck. There was an area of my life where it felt like things were flowing: my friendships. I had good ones, and they were alive and vibrating. I can’t tell you how focusing on this aspect of my life, this aspect that felt like it was working, helped me move through the stuck.

So there are a couple of steps that emerge here:

1) When things aren’t moving, let them be still. Embrace the non-movement, the ebb. If you find yourself labeling this “stuck,” accept the feeling of stuck.

2) Look for an area where things are moving. Notice the flow in that area. Ask yourself if you are making things flow in that area.

The next step is noticing what creates movement for you. Is it true that you really must force yourself to move? For me, “Just do it” has never been a particularly helpful mantra. It adds pressure to my already-pressured and battered soul that has its reasons for wanting to be still. Try doing nothing for thirty minutes and you will see how difficult it really is to actually not do. So I question the idea that we must force ourselves into movement. What can be helpful, however, is to notice what inspires us to movement.

For me, movement starts with giving myself full permission to not move. To be exactly where I am and fully embrace that. This can require a lot of trust. In myself, in the process of life. In movement itself. Natalie Goldberg wrote in Wild Mind that in order to write some word, there must first be no word. It’s the same concept.

A small physical movement — one that feels manageable and doable — can really help. That might be a walk down the block. Or, if you are a walk-a-holic like me, that might mean an hour-long daydreamy walk. The key is that whatever the movement is, it must feel manageable and doable to you. It must inspire you to say “Yes!” If that means the movement is a cat-like arch of your back with your hands and feet planted on the floor, and that’s all, great. That is enough, for now.

In Part Two, we’ll delve more into movement — when to create it, and when to accept that maybe you do not want to move right now.

I’d love to hear what inspires you to movement. What steps do you take, and how do you treat yourself in a way that inspires movement?