The power of catching up with yourself

The other day I was trying to hang a picture in the bedroom. The back of the frame had a tricky hanging mechanism, and I kept trying to get the picture on the nails in the wall and it wasn’t hanging quite straight. And then it kept falling down. I tried again and again and I couldn’t get it to work.

I’d had this vision of having this picture on the wall because I’ve been journaling in my bedroom more lately. And this picture had been sitting in the closet for a while.

But I couldn’t get it to hang right. Even when I got it to hang relatively straight, it still seemed like it might fall down at any moment.

Finally, I gave up. But after sitting in my frustration for a few minutes, I knew a solution would present itself. It hasn’t yet, as of this writing. But it will.

I tell this story because it’s a very simple example of the way we often approach more complex situations in our lives. We have a vision of something we want. We try to achieve it in a certain way, using certain tools. It doesn’t work, and we try again, the same way. Sometimes again and again and again. Sometimes this goes on for years.

We’re sure we need to get it done like this. If we just try harder, and enough, surely we can make it happen?

This kind of experience can be particularly frustrating for people who are really good at getting things done and making them happen. My early experiences in life were often full of putting my mind to something and doing it! So as time went on and I, inevitably, ran into situations where just doing it didn’t work so well, no matter how hard I tried, I became extremely discouraged.

This discouragement was a huge blessing, however. When we “fail,” we are given a chance — if we take it — to catch up with ourselves.

When we pause to catch up with ourselves — to process and integrate what we’re experiencing rather than immediately moving ahead to try something else — we take the opportunity to be shown what’s not working for us. And what is.

Sometimes, for example, our actions are fine — the problem is that we’re expecting immediate results when the results might take some time to come to fruition. This doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong.

Sometimes, we do need to take different actions. But if we don’t pause to assess how things are going, we get into that cycle of doing the same thing (that isn’t working) and expecting different results (the definition of insanity, an idea sometimes attributed to Einstein).

Where this can get tricky for us is when something once worked really well, but no longer does. It can take a while to get that things have changed — either within us or outside of us or both — and something new is called for. This is where we need to have lots of patience with ourselves. It takes time to catch on and learn — this is part of being human. It doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong.

When we take the time to simply catch up with ourselves, we welcome the power of sadness. As Karla McLaren says in her books The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy, sadness does not always mean we are overtly sad about some particular event. McLaren says that sadness is “the watery emotion,” and it helps us let go of what’s not working for us.

Until I began to allow sadness into my life on a regular basis, I often clung to things that weren’t working, or I clung to ways of being that weren’t working for me.

One of those ways of being was treating myself harshly. In fact, one of the most frequent learnings for my life coaching clients is that they are much harder on themselves than they need to be. (The women who’ve taken my Stellar Self-Care Program often come away with the recognition that in many ways they are already practicing really good self-care — they just haven’t been giving themselves credit for it because their “default” way of being is to notice what they’re not doing right.)

Often this harshness toward the self is in a “blind spot” — that part of ourselves that is not visible to us unless we have some way of shining a light on it or adjusting our perspective.

When I think of myself getting more and more frustrated while trying to hang that picture, I can see how quickly my mind’s belief that “because I envision it this way, it should work this way” was challenged, and how automatically I became harsh with myself because it wasn’t working that way.

The problem wasn’t necessarily that the picture wouldn’t hang the way I wanted it to, but that I believed it should hang that way, and that my failure to get it to hang that way meant I had done something wrong. (I caught myself thinking, “I should never have put these holes in the wall! I should have known it wouldn’t work!” Really?)

I notice that writing this blog post has helped me “catch up with myself” in regard to the picture-hanging incident. A small thing, to be sure, but sometimes what is simple and “small” can shed light for us on how we deal with the bigger, more complex “roadblocks” in our lives.

What do you notice about how you deal with it when something doesn’t work? What happens when you take time to “catch up with yourself” before taking more action? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected?  For updates on my coaching offerings and other good stuff, you are welcome to sign up for my Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

And: If we’ve worked together previously, I have a summer special for returning clients that ends August 31. Feel free to contact me through my Ways We Can Work Together page if you’d like to learn more!

Above images of frames, © Vlntn | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and water droplets, © Iryna Sosnytska | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Seven years of The Artist’s Nest

Seven years ago this month, I wrote my very first blog post (you can read it here!).

Seven years is a long time! (Five, I could believe — but seven? I often feel like I’m about two years “behind” and I need to catch up with myself somehow. Like life has gone by so quickly I haven’t been able to process it all. Can I just have an extra two years to process, please?)

Seven years ago, March 2011, I was fresh out of my training to become a Martha Beck life coach, and blogging was a way of letting people know about my new “thing” and sorting out the issues I saw coming up for my (gulp!) new clients and also issues I’d been working with myself.

But blogging here has become something much more than that for me. It’s a writing practice. It’s a practice of showing up. It’s a practice of pressing publish.

In many ways, it’s a spiritual practice for me, because it causes my “stuff” to come up. (Do I really want to write this? Do I really want to publish this? Do I really want to reach out and connect, with all that entails? It’s great to revisit these questions, and to ultimately see, again and again, that the answer is “yes.”)

There is something about sticking with a practice for the long haul. It’s a relationship. You don’t get the benefits of the relationship if you’re not willing to keep showing up, even when you’re not sure, even on the days you wonder “why the heck are we doing this again?”

So I’m glad I’ve hung in here for this blogging relationship. And I’m so grateful — and honored — to have connected with readers and clients I’d never have “met” had I not started blogging. These posts have been a starting point for some of my most treasured connections.

By the way, here are the ten most viewed posts on The Artist’s Nest from these past seven years:

When your downtime doesn’t happen

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

Saving the worms

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

Getting out of analysis paralysis (or: what to do when you don’t know what to do)

A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

The power of evening pages and “it’s done” lists

Two ways to deal with “idea paralysis”

Where self-acceptance and creativity meet

Knowing yourself: What words inspire you?

As any writer knows, it’s funny to look back at things you wrote a long time ago. With some of these earlier posts, I barely even remember them — I’m like, did I write that? (This kind of distance can be a great thing, as it helps you look at your writing — and yourself! — with more detachment. Which always makes me laugh, eventually.)

Just for good measure, here are three of my favorite posts:

Daily saving graces for hard times

Squirrel wisdom (or, the power of a good question)

Creating rituals around the tough stuff

Thank you, dear, dear readers, for your presence. Whether you’ve left a comment, shared a post, sent me an email (and some of you have done these things many times!), or simply “lurked” here (lurkers are most welcome!) — I am truly grateful. I’ve felt your presence, and it’s meant, and continues to mean, so very much to me.

Want to stay connected? My Artist’s Nest Newsletter contains brief updates on my coaching offerings, and other good stuff — like how to get in on our monthly Artist’s Nest Community Calls. I’d love to have you there! You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Above images © Yanik Chauvin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and  © Lejla Alic | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Why it’s okay to be “boring” in your journal (+ community call date change!)

A few weeks ago I received this email (and the writer gave me permission to share it here):

I have been subscribed to your blog for a while now and I notice you talk a lot about journaling and morning pages and how valuable they are to you. While I want to believe this is true, I have so much trouble actually writing in a journal. It seems like everything I write is so mundane I can’t stand seeing what’s in my own mind! So I quit. But then I’ll want to try again, and I do it for a few days and I can’t stand what I’m writing so I quit again. What is my problem? Should I be journaling or not? I feel like it would help me connect with myself, but I don’t actually seem to like it. Any suggestions?

I wanted to share this email here because this is so, so common. I hear similar reports from my life coaching clients and have heard them from so many others when I share that I’ve been journaling regularly for more than thirty years.

First of all, whenever something becomes a “should”, we naturally develop resistance to it. So, no, you “shouldn’t” be journaling. You shouldn’t be doing anything.

There are plenty of ways to connect with yourself besides journaling and/or morning pages. Just because you hear lots of people saying how great they are doesn’t mean you have to do them. Find another way of connecting with yourself on a regular basis if journaling doesn’t speak to you. Find some way of being in your own company and noticing what you’re thinking and feeling. It doesn’t have to be journaling.

But I want to point something out here: When journaling/morning pages feel “boring” or frustrating because everything spilling out of you onto the page seems “mundane”, it may just be that you are uncomfortable with connecting with yourself.

I write tons of mundane stuff in the pages of my journals. I write about how I couldn’t decide which pair of jeans to buy, because one fit better but I liked the topstitching on the other one better. I write about how I can tell I am getting a zit and how I would have died if you told me when I was sixteen that I would still sometimes have zits in my forties. I write about how we rearranged the living room furniture and how pleased I am with how it looks.

And you know what? I enjoy writing this mundane stuff in the pages of my journal. I enjoy it because I am not trying to be “extraordinary” on the pages of my journal — my purpose there, often, is simply to keep myself company, to know the contents of my mind.

We are all capable of focusing on lots and lots of mundane stuff. And if we like who we are, if we enjoy our own company, that’s not a bad thing.

And here’s the paradox: My purpose with journaling is to keep myself company on the page, to know my own thoughts and feelings. And a lot of times, yeah, that’s pretty “mundane”. But my purpose with journaling is also to break through all that stuff, to cut a layer deeper, to get underneath it all.

If I’m really freaking out because I have a zit, if that’s really bothering me on a particular day, what’s underneath that? What am I making it mean? That underneath it all I’m still an insecure sixteen-year-old? That my body is out of control? That just when I’m feeling good, I have to be reminded of how imperfect I am?

You see what I mean? We can use the mundane in our journaling as a jumping-off point to understanding ourselves better. And that self-connection and self-understanding connects us to others — because we’re not so different from anyone else. In keeping ourselves company on the page, we realize we are in lots of good company.

When people tell me “I hate journaling because I can’t stand how mundane I am and how I wallow in my own shitty inner stuff” I want to say: Welcome to the human race. We are all mundane and we all wallow, at times, in our own shitty inner stuff. And, we are all capable of going a layer deeper, or many layers deeper, and letting that very human stuff take us to the core of who we are.

I would say to the writer of this email: There’s a reason that even though you always seem to quit journaling after a few days, you keep on wanting to try it again. You want to know yourself. 

This is a very good thing. Because no one is ever going to know you as deeply as you can know yourself. Not a significant other, not a child, not a parent, not a friend. One of the huge gifts of being here on this earth is that you have the opportunity to know yourself.

People who have the desire to write, to create in any way, usually have a deep desire to know themselves. But sometimes we have a tendency to think this desire is “selfish,” because we are so mundane so much of the time. What if it turns out we’re not that extraordinary? 

Give yourself a break. Let yourself be mundane. When you make room for your “ordinariness”, you will find it so much easier to allow the parts of you that are extraordinary to surface. Because we all have so much of both. We all have so much of everything within us.

A dear teacher of mine once said, “Great writing is nothing more than the truth, plainly told.” You will never see this more clearly than on the pages of your journal. But you need to stick with it for more than a few days. You need to be so loving toward the mundane contents of your mind that you see that you are not so mundane, after all.

And: Due to a scheduling conflict, I’ve pushed out the start date of the Artist’s Nest community calls one month, to Wed. Feb. 28. Want to join me on these monthly calls? You can get the call-in info (which I’ll send out approximately 24 hours before the call) by signing up for my newsletter, here!

Above images: Top,  © Kasia Biel | Dreamstime Stock Photos; bottom, one of my earliest journals, with kitty.

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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 the next post, we’ll get into what to do when you’ve lost touch with your “why.”)

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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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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When the “small” isn’t small, at all

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

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

***

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

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

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

It mattered.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

I guarantee you, it matters.

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

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

Above image © Yoyo1972 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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There’s no right way to process change

squigglyhearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above image © Madartists | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Daily saving graces for hard times

whiskers

Whether you’re in transition and not sure which end is up,  just beginning something that requires a completely new skill set, or letting go of something (or someone) very dear to you, sometimes the hard just doesn’t seem to stop.

“I keep thinking this is going to get easier,” one of my clients who had moved to a new city and started a new job said a while back. “But every day is a challenge I’m not sure I want!”

Something I’ve been noticing over the past several years is that fewer and fewer of us seem to be experiencing those extended periods of time where we just kind of “coast”. I think there are a number of reasons for this, a big one being that our world and our planet are reaching very critical points where change must happen. We can’t “coast”, globally, in certain ways any longer.

And we, as individuals, are never disconnected from the whole of the world we live in. Many of us may have worked hard to cultivate independence, but the fact is that we are undeniably interdependent. What happens to the whole affects us, and vice versa.

***

Today I walked over to Petco to buy some pill pockets for my cat, who’s on medication for inflammatory bowel disease (yes, it’s as lovely as it sounds). My cat is old, but still active, and I want to keep him as comfortable as possible for as long as I can, for as long as he’s around.

In Petco, there were cats up for adoption. Four cats, in cages. Well-kept cages, with comfy beds and food and perches, but cages nonetheless.

One of the cats, a tortoiseshell whose sign informed me that her name was Trooper and that she’d been given up for adoption because “my owner’s girlfriend didn’t like me”, sat up straight and met my gaze with her green eyes. She gave me a commanding meow. She was extremely curious and open to me and everyone in the store. Her adoption fee was only $42.50.

Let me tell you, sometimes I hate going into Petco. I would have loved to take Trooper and another of those cats and offer them a stable and loving home. My gut tells me, though, that it would be too much stress for my existing fur child, whose immune system is not what it once was.

But Trooper served as my “saving grace” today.

Locking eyes with her in Petco circled me back to this truth: I want to be able to take care of me the best I can, so that I can be of greatest service to the people and animals who can best benefit from whatever it is I have to offer.

We can never separate “self-care” from “other-care”. It’s all the same thing when it comes down to it. 

***

And that brings me back to “the hard”.

It’s often when things feel the hardest that we throw self-care out the window. Because “self-care” can feel like just one more thing on an ever-growing, ever-changing to-do list.

But so often self-care is not about doing but about undoing. About letting go of what is not necessary and coming back, every single day, to what is most fundamental for us.

And when we get away from it, life is there to point us back toward it, often in the most unexpected places, as Trooper in Petco did for me this morning.

Here are some ways to weave those everyday “saving graces” into your life, especially when things are hard:

If you are physically able, get out and walk. Your feet on the ground and noticing trees, bird, squirrels, is fundamentally nourishing. You can also combine this with “sit spotting” — finding a good bench and planting yourself there and just noticing for a while. During my last sit spot, I watched the bees interact with a plot of heather, their gold bodies moving in and out of the thick purple, and I saw how the sparrows were keen on the heather too, and how they weren’t bothered by the bees.

Take responsibility for what enters your ears and eyes. When I walk, I often listen to recordings of gifted coaches, teachers, and writers who remind me of the importance of what I do.  In keeping with this, limit social media time to only the aspects of it that feel truly supportive to you. When I’m “in the hard” I don’t spend much time in the Facebook newsfeed, for example, and mostly hang out in Facebook groups that feel the most supportive and connecting to me.

Have a morning ritual. Morning rituals allow us to take responsibility for our state of mind as soon as we wake up — this is extra-important when we’re in tough times. Don’t wait until later when, as writer Edna O’Brien has put it, “the shackles of the day are around you.” Mine is walking, coffee, and morning pages. What about you?

Take time — if only a moment or two — to be truly present with at least one other living being. Your partner, your child, your pet, the person ringing up your purchase at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Presence with another person is rejuvenating and reminds us of that continuum of “self” and “other”.  When things are hard, it’s so easy to slip into isolation, but something as “small” as a smile from a stranger can break us out of it.

And finally: Be open to the grace. Sometimes, in our yearning and longing and weariness for things to change, we adopt a “been there, done that” attitude and don’t notice the exact things that can support us.

What are your daily saving graces when it feels like things are hard? What helps you reconnect with what really matters to you when you’re not at your best? I’d love to hear from you.

By the way, if you’re in the U.S. in the Chicago area and interested in giving a home to a cat like Trooper, I hope you’ll check out Catnap from the Heart. These giant-hearted folks have done so much for homeless animals over the years and will be expanding their facility soon so they can help even more.

Please note my Stellar Self-Care Program is now closed until early 2017, but you can still sign up to work with me one-on-one in other ways. Interested? Find out more, here.

Above image is “Whiskers” © Marilyn Barbone | Dreamstime Stock Photos

On discomfort, sadness, and creativity

reflections

I recently reconnected with a teacher of mine, and, as I shared a frustrating experience with him, he reminded me of the importance of being able to tolerate discomfort.

Even thinking about “tolerating discomfort” makes me … uncomfortable. But I was so grateful for his reminder.

I wrote about allowing discomfort quite a while ago, and it’s a theme I revisit periodically. Because I forget: my mind gets busy trying to make things the way I think they should be SO THAT I am not experiencing discomfort.

But: what if the very discomfort I’m experiencing is exactly what I need to experience in order to grow into the place, the self, the life, I desire?

I am not saying that we should tolerate negativity or abuse or situations we can readily change by willingly acting on our desire to change them.

But sometimes there are situations we cannot readily change — they are not so clear-cut, and there may actually be nothing for us to “do” at this very moment. This is an uncomfortable place to be. It is the space of ambiguity, the (sometimes vast) gray area of uncertainty. Most of us will go to great lengths to not be here.

When I am feeling particularly crabby or “off” or I catch myself slamming into a wall again and again trying to make something happen, there’s a good chance that my mind is actively avoiding discomfort by trying to “move the furniture.”

(“Moving the furniture” is my metaphor for those times in life when there is really no clear action to take, but because fear has a hold on me, I try to do something — anything — in order to feel more control. In other words, the room may be perfectly fine and functional, for now, but I am moving the furniture here and there anyway, trying to predict how I’ll want it next month or next year.)

Something I’ve learned in these past few years of working with some very dear clients is that, frequently, when someone says “I’m stuck”, what’s really going on is an unwillingness to tolerate discomfort.

In an emotional sense, the feeling of stuckness is very real, because the unwillingness to allow the discomfort to be there creates a contraction in the body. It’s like rigidly setting your jaw or tensing your abdomen. There’s no flow.

What happens when we give space to discomfort? What happens when we are not frantically searching for the “right option” or course of action so we can get rid of it, but we simply allow it to be there? Just breathe into it, even for ten seconds or so?

I notice that, often, what is underlying my own discomfort is sadness. Just pure sadness.

This does not make me a “sad person”. Sadness, as Karla McLaren says in her book The Language of Emotions, is “the watery emotion.” It is about letting go and moving on.

We may feel a hint of sadness even about small “letting-go’s”, like finishing a book we’ve dearly loved reading, or donating some clothing we no longer want. And let’s face it, there’s not a lot of space for sadness in Western culture.

But these small sadnesses are part and parcel to letting go, moving on, sorting through what needs to be processed and integrated so we can allow movement and flow into our bodies and our lives.

Speaking of flow, I am experimenting with allowing tears more in my daily life. Obviously, not all situations are appropriate or safe for the expression of tears, but sometimes, tears are a totally good thing when I might normally stifle them, and I’m finding the expression allows people to feel closer to me and creates more real connection.

(I don’t mean I’m going around bawling. I’m just allowing the tears to come forth rather than forcing them back. Like, after I saw Hello, My Name is Doris last week, I let myself be all teary and emotional coming out of the theater, because I loved the character of Doris. In the bathroom, I looked over at the woman at the sinks next to me and saw that she, too, was wiping her eyes, and we shared this lovely, appreciative smile.)

***

Creativity is, at its most essential, the life force moving through us. If we are not allowing discomfort, if we are pushing it down and analyzing or strategizing in order to avoid it, there will be a deadness to anything we attempt to create.

You’ve probably felt it when something you’ve created is a little too “sterile” or “perfect”, with not enough feeling, not enough oomph!, not enough flow. Any chance you were trying to avoid discomfort in some way there? I know I’ve done this in my writing many times.

What do you notice about allowing space for discomfort in your life? What happens if you try it for ten seconds? I’d love to hear your experience.

Do you need support in making your creative work a priority in your life, in a way that works for YOU (not the way you think you should do it!)? I’d love to help. Find out more, here.

Above image © Gjs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Slowing down to speed up: embracing gentle on Valentine’s Day

Slowing down to speed up

I gave myself a Valentine’s gift today: the gift of sleeping in. I slept until 9:30 (though not without the usual 4 a.m. wake-up call from kitty!).

This was a conscious choice — I decided yesterday evening that I would allow myself to sleep in this morning, since I had nothing on my schedule early.

And there’s something about consciously choosing that makes a real difference. It was a much different feeling than, “Damn, I slept late! Now I’m already behind!” You can feel the difference, right?

I woke up having already honored myself (with extra sleep) the way I’d planned to. And I feel really happy that I actually put “allow myself to sleep in” on my schedule for the day. I made it that important.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I entered 2015 with a feeling of burnout. And little by little over the weeks, I’ve been feeling myself move out of it, in teeny, tiny increments.

Small glimmers of new energy have arrived; I’ve been working with a wonderful mentor (Yollana Shore of Heart of Business) to expand into new directions with my coaching work.

Sometimes almost imperceptibly, I can feel myself moving forward in small but important ways.

But here’s the thing: When I start putting pressure on myself to move more quickly, I can feel myself shrinking back.

This has been a longstanding pattern with me — wanting myself to move more quickly than the whole of me can actually capably move.

I’ve learned something over the years that has been reinforced by my work with my coaching clients. Many of us have a “visionary” part of our selves that moves very quickly and can often manifest things in the physical world with a lot of speed.

But this visionary aspect of us is only one aspect. There are other parts of us, too, which may need to move at a different pace.

I learned this bigtime when I was in my mid twenties. I bottomed out on my inner visionary’s need for speed.

It wanted to move so quickly that it didn’t take the “slower” parts of me into account: the child in me who feels vulnerable and needs a safe space (and, as Julia Cameron points out in The Artist’s Way, the “inner child” is very much connected to the part of us that creates); and my (highly sensitive) physical body which can become overstimulated by too much activity and movement and needs slowness and quiet to recharge itself.

When I bottomed out, I developed a chronic illness which eventually put a halt to my ability to hold a job and to create at all. For much of my twenty-fifth year, I was too ill to function “normally”. My “new normal” was lying in bed or dragging myself down the hall to use the bathroom. I eventually ended up in the hospital, dehydrated and being fed through a tube.

When I came out of the hospital, the realization crept in over time that I had to learn to take care of the part of me that needed to move slowly.

I had to learn to accept — in fact, to love — the part of me that needed to move at its own pace (which to the visionary part of myself sometimes seems excruciatingly glacial).

The fact is, we are all touched by a constellation of components — heart, soul, physical body, genetics, our family history and any trauma from “back then” that may still get triggered from time to time, our changing needs and selves, our current and past relationships and the ways they affect us and we affect them, and the culture and environment we live in. Although we in Western culture are often encouraged to be “independent”, we are, without exception, interdependent.

And this means that, sometimes, in acknowledging the needs of all parts of us, we move more slowly than we’d like.

A while back I gave a presentation and after it a man in the audience came up and remarked on how gentle I was in answering questions from the audience. Yes, I am gentle when I sense struggle. But I’ve had to learn to be gentle. I learned it because it was necessary for me to be gentle with myself in order to grow.

I found during my illness all those years ago that the harder I was on myself, the more I demanded of myself that I get well quickly, the sicker I felt. I finally had to accept that I might stay sick forever, and I had to learn to be okay with that. Only gentleness — treating myself with kindness and softness, even though it felt foreign to me — allowed me to rest fully enough to get well.

I think, many years later, this learning is circling back around to me as I’m navigating the current transition in my life. And I’ve seen it in various forms with my coaching clients, too. The more I notice myself putting pressure on myself to move quickly, the more imperative it is that I allow myself to slow down.

This is especially true when we are going through difficult transition periods. We want to be out of them quickly because they are so uncomfortable, but the irony is that the more we try to rush them along, the longer they last!

So: I look around at my life right now and I notice that I am not sick. I notice all the ways I am better at taking care of myself than I was at twenty-five. I notice that I no longer hold my breath and leap in order to ignore the fear that comes with transitions. I notice I am more able to be present with what is coming up for me.

I notice that it is Valentine’s Day and I am in a loving relationship — and while I do have a significant other I love very much, that is not the relationship I’m referring to here. I am talking about me. My loving relationship with me. It’s been a long road and I look forward to where it leads next.

Wishing you a Valentine’s Day filled with love, whether you are spending it with yourself or with someone else. (And I love Robyn Posin’s article here, on “going only as fast as the slowest part of you feels safe to go”. Her site is wonderful.)

What do you notice about navigating transitions? What helps you move at the speed that feels right to all of you?

And: In the coming weeks, I will be making some changes to my coaching offerings. If you’d like to work with me in the current way, you can take a look at my offerings here.

Above image is “Valentine Ribbon” © Radu Razvan Gheorghe | Dreamstime Stock Photos