A journaling experiment for the New Year


I’m staring out my window taking in the snow-globe-soft snow that’s falling in the street light, thinking about what I’d like to share as this New Year begins.

And what I most want is to help you trigger some discoveries for yourself this year.

I’ve never been much on resolutions, but I do love open-ended intentions, or simply focusing on things that hold mysterious and positive questioning for me.

So here’s a little experiment I tried in my journal yesterday, and I thought I’d share it with you — if it feels good, see if it sparks anything for you as you move into 2014.

Step one:

Look around the room you’re in right now, or out your window if you’re near one. Choose three objects that light you up, that resonate for you in some way. Not necessarily the objects that you “like” the most, or are the most beautiful, but the ones that speak to you or call to you or trigger something in you that feels good.

Step two:

For each object, write down three adjectives that describe the object. (Hint: it helps if the adjectives work on two different levels — i.e., “solid” as opposed to “brown”.) Quick, off the top of your head — don’t think too hard about this! Do this for each object, one right after the other.

Step three:

Look through your list of adjectives — you should have nine words total. Pick the three from this list that resonate for you the most. Again, don’t think too long about this — pick the ones that jump out at you, quick!

Step four:

Take your list of three adjectives and look at it for a few moments. Now you can slow down a bit and get reflective. These words represent qualities that mean something to you, qualities you may want to bring into your life in 2014. 

Take out a fresh piece of paper and write each of these words across the top of the page. Now, draw an arrow from each word down the page and come up with at least one way you’d like to bring each of these qualities into your life this year.

Let your intuitive self take over here — allow yourself to make unexpected connections.

For example, one of my objects was the ceramic deer pictured above. It sits on my desk beneath my computer screen. The words I got from it were wide-eyed, healed (it has a broken ear that I’ve glued back on) and plump.

I like all of those words, but “plump” jumped out at me as the important one, so it went on my final list.

My logical mind thought, plump? Really? But intuitively, I know that plump, for me, represents robustness, stability, exuberance. How can I bring more of this “plumpness” into my life this year?

The first thing that popped into my head was “play around with more physical exercise.” So I wrote that down. (Ah, a clue! Any new form of exercise I try out needs to feel like play. And isn’t it funny how the idea of bringing MORE “plumpness” into my life — not less — led to me to exercise?)

Actually, I love “wide-eyed”, too. I want to face this year with even more curiosity, beginner’s mind, and freshness. How can I bring this wide-eyed quality into my life this year? The first thing that comes to mind is “Slow down and listen even more closely when people share with you.” Yes. That feels right.

If you give this a try, I’d love to hear how it went for you, in the comments.

Wishing you a beautiful start to your 2014! Whether we connected here on my blog or we worked together or we’re only “meeting” now for the first time, I’m truly grateful you’re a part of my experience as the New Year begins.

How to Take a Pretend Vacation

I realized this afternoon that, kind of without being totally aware of it, I’ve slid into one of my oh-so-rare “pretend vacations.”

A Pretend Vacation is something I give myself when I’m a little overwhelmed, a little run-down, or maybe just feeling more reflective and inward than usual. It might last a day; it might last three. It’s never a planned thing. It’s like a need that asserts itself in a small voice; if I don’t listen, it speaks up more sharply.

I suspect the need for a Pretend Vacation has been coming on for several weeks. Maybe it’s kicked in because of the events of this past weekend: Saturday morning, while eating a Larabar, my crown popped off and I almost swallowed it. Did you know when a crown comes completely off, it has a little pointy screw thing sticking out of it? Be warned.

Then, Saturday night, there was a party. I have an interesting relationship with parties. If I can get myself to them, I like them. For about twenty minutes. I stayed at this one for three hours. (But it was a Halloween party! Costumes! Gummy worms soaked in vodka! And “Poltergeist” and “The Exorcist” on TV all night! My inner scary-movie-lover was happy; my inner HSP-introvert was overstimulated.)

I spent Wednesday morning in my lovely dentist’s office as she dealt with the gaping hole in my gum. Throw in a couple other unexpected and stress-inducing issues over the past few days and, on cue, need for Pretend Vacation makes itself known.

A real vacation is planned in advance. It involves taking time away from work, maybe more time with family or friends, or not, maybe traveling to another place, or not, but there is an interruption of one’s normal routine.

In my Pretend Vacations, my normal routine goes on. I just scale it back as much as possible. I do everything that’s a priority — keep my appointments with clients, do my writing, feed my cat. But I cut out anything I might normally do but don’t really need to. Today, for example, laundry and the dishes fell right off the list so I could sit quietly and drink Midnight Velvet tea. I haven’t been on social media much. I let a couple of phone calls go to voice mail.

The intention behind a Pretend Vacation is to create a container for the part of me that is vulnerable, tired, and wants to move inward to reflect or rest, while not completely removing myself from my life. I’ve noticed on a Pretend Vacation, choices I might usually waver over become really, really clear. I also notice I’m gentler with myself than I usually am, and I’m less likely to respond to things that don’t really require a response from me.

There’s something to be learned here, methinks. Can I invoke this Pretend Vacation mindset for the parts of me that are vulnerable, overwhelmed, or scared, while still attending to the parts of me that don’t want to leave the party because “The Exorcist” hasn’t gotten to the really good parts yet?

I can’t necessarily care for all these parts of myself — all these selves — on the same day, in the same moment, but I can let them all know that they will get their say, they will be heard by me, and none of them will be left out.

I can also let the sensation-seeking parts of me — my inner adventurer, my inner scary movie buff — and the driven, perfectionistic parts — know that, in the long run, a Pretend Vacation is good for all of us.

And a Real Vacation is even better.

For a related article, click here.

Image is TOY ON THE BEACH © Cristina | Dreamstime.com

Make Your Journaling Legit

For years and years and years, I’ve been a journaler. I can remember little diaries with locks and keys that my parents gave me when I was a child, with the words My Diary written in gold on their covers. At six or so, I filled the pages with sentences like “Today was good.” “I am sad.” “I love Rosie.” “Rosie loves me.” (Rosie was our dog and the subject of many of my — thankfully brief — early diary entries.)

When I was thirteen, though, I really started to journal. That is, I wasn’t just recording what happened that day — I was delving inward, trying to understand myself.

I have never, ever, had to force myself to journal. It comes to me as naturally as breathing. Anything goes in my journal, so I’m never concerned with whether or not what I write there is “good” or “right.” I have a compulsion to record, to notice, to reflect, to make connections. It’s a practice that grounds me and reveals me to myself.

It is different than, say, working on my novel. When I write fiction, I’m not delving into myself. When I write fiction, “I” disappear. Sure, all my experiences are there for me to draw upon, and they feed the fiction. But my novel is not concerned with my own self. It’s a story coming through me, filtered through my self, but really, I’m not creating it. I’m just the channel.

With journaling, I sometimes get to the place where I feel like a channel too. These are the sessions I call hardcore. As I wrote previously, I can get to a place where I know that if I allow myself to sit down with the journal, the floodgates will open. All the other days of showing up to the journal — maybe a lot of the time I’m just writing something like “I’m not sure what’s going on with me today, but I feel like crap” and going from there — allow for these glorious hardcore journaling sessions, where something I really need to know is moving through me, but I’m not controlling it. It’s usually the culmination of a lot of struggle, a lot of wondering, and a lot of surrendering — having to admit, hey, I don’t know. And then it comes through on the page and I do know.

When I was in grad school, in the awesome writing program at Columbia College Chicago, we used our journals to write about what we noticed in the published work we read, and what we noticed as we worked on our own stuff. There, too, I can remember connections being forged in a particular way on a particular day, and suddenly something I really needed to know about what I was writing would be apparent to me.

But in order to get to this place of connection, of that really cool thing opening up and coming through onto the page, I had to show up for all the days when nothing much seemed to be coming through. “I’m sad.” “I love Rosie and she loves me.” A lot of days, I don’t feel so different from that six-year-old. But it’s still important to show up, to fill the pages.

Sometimes I hear writers (including me) say, “Well, I didn’t do any real writing today. I mean, I only wrote in my journal.” Guess what? That means you did some real writing today. Recognize your journaling for what it is: It’s legit. It’s real writing, and connected to all the other writing you do. Make room for it, learn from it, be totally in love with it. It’s you.

Image is DESERT © Loredana Marchesin | Dreamstime.com

Defining Creativity

Yesterday I was chatting with my coaching buddy and awesome fellow coach Marte Gehlken and she mentioned how often she hears people say this: “I’m not creative.”

I hear this a lot too. Or, “I used to be creative, back when I did a lot of artwork.” Or, “I would be creative if I had more time.”

We need to expand what we typically define as creative. Marte said during our conversation, oh so wisely, “Creating your own reality is creative.” Yeah, it is! But we tend not to see creativity this way. We think it is something outside of us, something we “should” be doing, but (frequently) aren’t.

I remember the summer of 2008, which was a very low, “dark night of the soul” place for me. Now I realize it was what we coaches who went through Martha Beck Life Coach Training call a “liminal period”, or Square One. You’ve shifted out of a place that felt really good for quite a while, because it no longer fits. But you don’t know where you’re going yet, nothing new and solid has emerged in you to guide you on your way, and it kind of sucks.

So one day in 2008 I was feeling crappy and uncreative and I was on one of my very early morning walks and pretty soon, lo and behold, I got into The Zone. I became unattached to my thoughts and was just kind of watching them and my body moved me along and I felt my breath coming in and out. And I looked down and saw this little house sparrow hop into a puddle, in which he dipped the ends of his wings and the underside of his tiny body and then shook himself off.

I felt actively engaged in my observation of this sparrow. I could feel what it was like to be the sparrow, the warmth of the water that had been sitting out in the sun on my feathers, and what it must feel like to know you’re going to take off and — fly! — in a moment.

And a message bubbled up in my chest and translated itself this way: This is creativity! Actively observing this sparrow, I had the exact same sensation I do when I write, when I paint, when I do all the things we typically label “creative.”

Creativity is a way of being in the world. It’s a way of interacting with our surroundings. We’re soaking it up. We’re actively engaged. We’re feeling it.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write, paint, act, dance, or do whatever it is we typically label “creative.” Absolutely you should, and you must, if it calls to you. But don’t say, “I’m not creative” just because you are not doing these things. Notice where you ARE creative — which, my friend,  can be everywhere — and then do whatever you’re inspired to do.

On that note, on my walk this morning I came upon some birdseed the neighbors one street over regularly scatter on a square of sidewalk. Except today, mixed in with the birdseed, were some large cheese curls. You know, the big fat puffy Cheetos. That, I thought, is creativity.


Let Your Wisdom Come Through

I’ve noticed that when I’m getting close to some kind of major insight — some piece of wisdom about myself or my life that I very much need in order to move forward — I usually become resistant to receiving it. That is, I have a hard time allowing myself to be in “receptive” mode, where I can access the insight, and I crank up my activities.

My latest way of distracting myself is by playing Galaga. If you were also a kid in the ’80s, you might remember this was an Atari arcade game that came out around 1981. I’ve been playing it on my TV, for old timesake, remembering how much fun it was to shoot rows of insect-like creatures who rain fire on me.

It’s fine, and joyful, to play Galaga when I’m not using it to distract myself from something else. But lately I’ve noticed I’ve been intending to write in my journal around 9 p.m. or so, when I suddenly think to myself, I’ll just play Galaga for a few minutes and then I’ll write.

Only I end up playing Galaga for two hours, and then I’m very sleepy and the journaling doesn’t get done.

And the reason my journal has been calling to me — in that subtle, quiet voice it has — is because it’s time for some wisdom to come through. And the way that often happens for me is through journaling.

But I’m not letting it come through. I’m distracting myself, and not just with Galaga. And I’ve been feeling distanced from myself, agitated, even kinda hostile and angry with myself.

If history is any indicator, there’s a very good chance that when I actually sit down with my journal for a good amount of time and let whatever wants to come up come up, come out, move through me, I will feel a hell of a lot better. What I’ve learned is that the bigger the insight that’s ready to come up, the more I avoid being open to receiving it.

Why? Because it isn’t necessarily easy to sit still, to write, to be, and get in touch with whatever it is. There’s usually some scary stuff hanging around the insight, protecting it, and I need to chip away at that — or, even better, be very gentle with the scary stuff and let it know it’s okay to unclench itself from my newborn insight and deliver the insight into my arms.

Eventually, I know I will step away from the Galaga game and be with whatever it is that wants me to know it. And I also know, if history is any indicator, that it is better if I can do this sooner rather than later. Though I am aware, too, with deep certainty, that the wisdom that wants to come through always arrives at the perfect moment: when I am ready for it.

Do you find yourself avoiding opening up to your insights, getting quiet enough to hear them? What allows you to listen? I’d love to hear how this process works for you.