“Your life is not a problem to be solved but a gift to be opened.” ― Wayne Muller
I am sitting at my desk, my legs folded up under me wondering, how to make the New Year easy. On my desk sits a cup filled with hot black french roast coffee, a pink pen, a spiral bound notebook I write my morning pages in, an assortment of candles in various jars and tins of which a cream-colored sandalwood candle is lit, the flame flickers when the furnace kicks on and gently blows warm air in my little study. Riggins my older black cat is perched behind me on top of my old ratty office chair, the one that is literally falling apart but I keep because it has a tall wide back that the cats like to sit on while I write.
All of this feels easy.
I sit and watch the sky unfold a tender pink that pushes away the dark slate blue of night. I hear a few birds begin to chirp at the bird feeder. Later when the sun warms the frozen ground finches, chickadees and cardinals will dance and sing around the feeder pecking and filling up on millet and sunflower seeds. The cats will sit at the window and watch, their tails flicking back and forth as they watch the birds for hours. This routine will unfold like most days. It is predictable like my habit of thinking my worth comes from what I accomplish or in how much I strive and do—keeping myself in an endless loop of busyness.
I sit and note that this morning is like any other Sunday morning only today is January 1st. A day of new beginnings. I feel a twinge, a need to make this morning wise, purposeful, with deep meaning. A need that is sitting on my shoulders, a heavy weight on my already sore muscles. My shoulders, a place where I carry so many of my unspoken expectations to be perfect, to do more, to prove I am enough.
However, this habitual need is becoming unfamiliar. This need to prove, do and achieve is not easy.
After a year of committing myself to less doing, less striving—letting go of the notion I need to make myself better, I able to feel the weight of the unspoken expectations sitting on my shoulders to make the new year special. This is progress. A year ago I couldn’t feel the tightness in my belly that said to make this ordinary Sunday morning exceptional because it was New Year’s Day.
This year I am able to feel the weight and tightness. I am able to witness it with compassion and be still. I don’t have to react. I know this is a habit. I know the impulse to set goals, start a diet, get productive, start a 100 day project, do anything that I think is going to make me better is only but an illusion, a drug, a false promise.
The new year is dangerous territory for someone who is recovering from chronic busyness. Everywhere I look is the seductive call to start again, plan my year, become a new me, a me I always wanted—become good enough finally. So much of the rhetoric that swirls around the New Year is my drug of choice. Set goals, plan, do better, all of it calls out to my inner sense of lack, it tells me I can be good enough if only I do everything right and perfect. Set the right goals, have the right metrics, be the most productive. On and on the list goes offering false promise.
What I have learned this past year is that all of this striving and doing is me trying to feel good enough and it is not easy. Yet the very things I think are going to help me feel good enough are what keep me feeling not good enough. The goals, the planning, the striving, it all continues to tell me I am not good enough.
It takes great effort and fortitude to not react to the marketing pressures to be a new you in the New Year. To not respond to the “act now because a New Year only comes once a year so order now” pressure.
All of which is rubbish. There is a way to make this easy.
Someone posted on social media the other day “None of this New Year New You malarky. Last year I was fabulous and this year I will be too.” This says it all. I am fine—no I am fabulous.
I ended 2016 hiking out in woods, having a homemade dinner with my honey and reading a book in bed. I rang in the new year sleeping, resting my body so I could wake and feel good to start 2017. This was all easy.
So how to make the New Year easy?
No new goals, no new beginnings, no proving, striving or planning. I am enough and each day is enough. I will wake, drink hot coffee, watch the cats watch the birds, write if I feel like it, mediate, move my body. I will be gentle. I will be kind. I will smile. All of this is easy.
P.S. You might also like Dreams of Good Enough, A Quiet Revolution, Real Self-Care is not an Anthropology Ad
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“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah
Sleep is Magical
It is dark. I wake and awareness trickles into the warm spaces in my mind. The white noise machine on the cluttered bedside table hums. I feel the warm weight of the cat sleeping on my right foot. Sleep is a magical thing and I want more of it. Yet the core of my body is heating up like the flare of hot blue heat when a bunsen burner is first fired up. A single click and we have a roaring sharp tipped blue flame. I roll over and disturb the cat, who settles back leaning on my ankles. A prick of familiar panic forms in my belly as I lay there hoping to fall back to sleep. Hoping my mind will not turn on like my body has and the heat from the blue flame at my core will not disturbed my mind so I can fall back asleep and dream of things that don’t make sense but then do while they are happening in my sleep.
Yet, I begin to feel it, the tightening. My thoughts are winding tighter and tighter. Looping around and around each other like a thin copper wire coiling around a small lead tube, small constricting no room to breath. So much swirls around my mind in the middle night keeping me awake. President-elect Donald Trump and what will happen, fears for my son, things I forgot to do at work, ideas for writing, thoughts of getting older, worry about the approaching winter, even parking and rush hour traffic. Everything I have no control over or can’t do anything about at 2 am. So how do I find peace from the looping intrusive thoughts that keep my mind and body awake in the middle of the night?
Many experts speak of the basics of good sleep hygiene such as keep regular bedtimes, don’t drink caffeine after 3 pm, keep a cool, dark room used only for sleep. But what if I already do all of those and I still wake up? These experts also say let things go, let thoughts go or don’t fight them. Yet how? What do you literally do to let things go so you can sleep in the middle of the night?
After years of struggle here is how I find more magical sleep.
- Limit Media Input- I soak up media deep into my bones and psyche. Not only do I think about it, I feel it too. I remember during the Kosovo war in the late 90s listening to a news report on NPR and crying hard for all those suffering. It hurt so much and yet there I was thousands of miles away on a freeway in Detroit. I thought I was being too sensitive. I know accept that is just the way I am, so I have to be super careful about what and how much input I take in. Too much news or really anything and it invades my mind to replay in the middle of the night. Limiting my media includes, news (radio, tv and written), social media, movies and tv shows. I must be careful.
- Journal Daily- Sitting at my writing desk pen in hand with my first cup of coffee of the day helps to clear the clutter in my brain. I have crates full of journals (over 25 years worth of daily words) and let me tell you for the most part they are boring. I ramble, search and allow myself to let loose on the page. I release the worry and anxiety that accumulates inside. It is a safe space to be 100% me. If I don’t journal regularly all that stuff stays in my mind and starts to invade my dreams. I get cranky and short fused. My brain does not turn off. Repetitive thoughts loop around and around, usually at 2 am.
- Meditate Daily- Like writing in my journal sitting on my black mediation cushion while my honey sleeps and the cats play with each other out in the living room while I follow my breath is magic for quieting my mind and sleep. It calms the mind and trains it for space and stillness, it gets me into my body. If I don’t sit and meditate for three days, I notice a marked difference in my moods and reactivity. I will be up at 2 am if I don’t take the half hour to follow my breath and note when I am thinking or I have a pain in my right knee.
- Move My Body- I need to get those feel good chemicals flowing through my body. I need to get outside and breathe the fresh air, no matter the season. I need to release the anxiety by getting into my body through movement. Again, if I go too long without movement I notice I am stuck in a loop of anxious repetitive thoughts in the middle of the night.
- Honor Segmented Sleep- What is segmented sleep? It when you naturally sleep in two distinct chunks of time and are awake in the middle of the night. So you have first sleep, wake sleep and second sleep. Before the advent of artificial light from the lightbulb, our ancestors slept this way. Now whether I truly experience segmented sleep, I don’t know. I do wake most nights between 2 am and 3 am. Some nights I am able to fall back to sleep with ease, others not so much. Since learning about segmented sleep I no longer fight being awake in the middle of the night. I honor my wake sleep time to develop more mindfulness in my body and mind. If my mind is out of control and my belly is clenched tight with anxiety, I practice self-compassion by treating myself as I would a fussy colicky baby in the middle of the night. I treat myself with gentle kindness by not yelling at myself for being awake, which only creates more tension in my body. I lay in the darkness, go back to my breath and focus on how the softness of the bed is cradling me, how warm and cozy the quilts are, how soft the pillow is under my head. I practice progressive body relaxation. I use my wake sleep time to deepen my mindfulness practice. Since I have started doing this I have notice how much deeper my mindfulness is during the day. How much more I notice the movement of my thoughts. It is interesting how a shift in how I utilize that time in the middle of the night can have such a huge impact on my life. I am calmer and feel more rested. I think I am nicer too.
So none of these approaches are a quick easy fix. They all take time and dedication but I can tell you for me it worth it. Sleep is magical. It is a balm for my soul when I get enough. Plus every single one of these practices provides me with other benefits aside from a better night sleep. They enhance the quality of my life. I might even say they make my life possible. They allow me to function, be kind and present, not just in the middle of the night, but throughout the day too.
May you honor your needs and find rest and deep magical sleep.
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“Just because we are working hard does not mean we are making anything happen.” ― Wayne Muller
It is cold. Cold enough to turn the furnace on. The leaves on the maple in the backyard are turning yellow. My neighbors maple is blazing red. The oak and walnut trees have shown their brilliance and released their little yellow leafs to the wet pavement. I am wrapped in my thick fleece bathrobe with a black knitted cap pulled down over my ears. I sit in my little writing studio watching the sky unfold from the east. Golden light gently moves across the treetops and frost covered roofs.
A part of me is startled by this inevitable transition. I am not ready. Where did the long summer days go. Days when I could linger, not rush. Days that seemed endless, despite the nights that always came. Days I could ride my bike through the woods and down by the river after work and stay there until the moon rose. Days I could immerse myself in nature, the ultimate healing balm for my soul.
This has been a good summer. A calm summer. Peaceful and centering. This has been the kind of summer I dreamed of when my son was young. When I was unrelenting in my unconscious quest to prove my worth by the measure of my outer accomplishments. When I blindly flung myself forward to stay ahead of my fear of not being good enough. When the pace of getting it all done was soul crushing.
I remember that time as rushing, running, constant motion, even when I slept it seemed I was in motion. I would wake at 4 am to diligently write my morning pages, my only moment of reflection and stillness. I wrote of my longing for space and time to be still. To not be responsible, to not have appointments or a schedule I was chained to. To say a firm no and then go lay on the couch to read a good novel or simply stare out the window and watch clouds drift by. I dreamed of going for a bike ride or a hike to smell the damp earth and hear the woods whisper to me. I dreamed of breaking my leg, getting sick, something to give me a break. I didn’t know I could simply make the choice to stop, let go and be still.
I longed for less back then and had no idea that less would mean so much letting go. So much confronting my internal feelings of worth and the accompanying anxiety. I now know that I ran, rushed, and stayed in near constant motion in an attempt to stay ahead of looming anxiety that dwelled in my belly. I also know now that the running, the rushing and constant motion was feeding that anxiety in my belly. I was feeding the monster I was running away from. I was keeping myself in a constant loop in which I felt powerless to stop.
A revolution has been happening in my life over the last 6 months. As I wrote a few months ago, I was challenged by my therapist to take the summer off from everything but my day job (still have bills to pay). No projects, no teaching, no side hustle. Just me waking up and asking myself, “What does my heart need in this moment?”
When I think of revolutions I think of violent, loud chaotic scenes filled with bloody carnage—change that is messy. However, my revolution is quiet. It is what I dreamed about when I woke in the early morning hours and stole moments away from the rushing, running and doing that kept me at a distance from my heart. In the darkness at my kitchen table I sat and dreamed of a time when I could simply follow my delight, be still and watch the vibrancy of summer green transition to the brilliant gold of fall.
When confronted with the desire or request to do more my revolution is asking myself these simple questions from the book A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller (which I highly recommend), “Am I truly able to say I really love this? Or is it more honest to say that I can handle this?” These simple questions always point to what is important, what my heart needs for nourishment.
As the cold sets in and the days wane I am not willing to give up this new space in my life. I think I am going to stay the course for now and continue my quiet revolution.
“When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert
My first thought this morning was, depression sucks and can I get up out of bed? Or is my brain weighted down by fog and darkness?
Now a hot cup of coffee sits on my cluttered desk. My desk that no matter how much I try to put away the stacks of books, the random post it notes reminding me of thoughts I scribbled during a conference call, or pens (lots of those, for whatever reason I like to use a different type of pen for different journals and writing activities), is always a mess.
The door behind me is open to the back yard teeming with bird song and squirrels who run, no leap, through the wet grass in search of little morsels to nibble on. The air is thick and dampness from the thunderstorms last night permeates everything. It is warm, hot really. It seems that mild spring temperatures bypassed Detroit this year. Instead we literally went from snow one weekend in May to 85 degrees and sunny the next. And it has stayed in the 80’s for the last few weeks.
To which I say thank goodness. The warmer weather, the longer days, the sunshine has been a balm for my soul and mental health that I needed. The last 5 months have been a long, slogging drudge for me. Heavy depression snuck in around the holidays and settle in for a visit. I know depression well, and for the most part I am able to work through it, or more like with it. I know I don’t have to listen to it’s siren call to lay on the couch all day watching tv to numb out. I know I will be feel better if I stay in a routine— get up and write in my journal, sit on my meditation cushion, work out, go to work. I know I need to try to stay involved as much as I can with life. This is not always easy.
I know writing in my journal, meditating and working out are my most important and power medicine. For the past 20 years these have worked most of the time. I stay functioning. The darkness stays in the background. Expect this time (well okay also after D died, I fell into the dark vat of depression too but that was different, I could attribute it to the extreme grief that swallowed my life whole).
The last 5 months have been difficult. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the heaviness. I forced myself to rise each morning and write in my journal and sit on my meditation cushion. I often felt these were the only moments of reprieve, but when I had to leave the cocoon of my little office, the darkness still loomed. The loss of interest in anything creative took away my motivation and joy. It was like all my systems powered down and I only had energy for a few essentials and barley those.
I felt panic as I tried to figure out what to do, or how to feel like something matter, or how to feel vitality about something again. It was all I could do to get work (where I was barely productive and my mind a mushy soggy mess) and home to the couch so I could zone out. As I sat in the darkness each morning writing in my journal, I tried to figure out why I was so uninterested, unmotivated, and what I could do to change things. It took me a while to figure out it was depression. I of course blamed myself. In my mind, I was depressed because I didn’t do something right, or I wasn’t thinking something positive. In my mind, no matter what, I was to blame and I had to figure out how to fix it. Unfortunately, I am inclined to blame myself, as if there is something wrong with me, rather than I simply am dealing brain chemistry that is off and inclines me to feel darkness and hopelessness.
Despite my attempts to blame myself, I know that sometimes we are just powerless over this stuff—there is no one to blame. I just happen to have the perfect conditions for depression to rise up and take hold. I come from a seemingly endless line stretching back generations who grappled with depression. My mother, her mother, her father, my great-grandmother and father and I am sure there are more back there. So there’s that. Also, according research, my chaotic childhood created neural pathways (I have an ACE score of 9) which predisposes me to depression and other fun stuff (hello anxiety and panic).
And finally, hormones. Can I say holy shit? My hormones are powerful little devils if you ask me. I am 45 years old and struggling as my hormones shift and wane towards menopause. For whatever reason I am abnormally sensitive to hormone fluctuations. Every micro movement feels more like a 8.9 earthquake in my moods and body. I have learned how to deal with the monthly fluxes of PMS but now things are different—way different. I feel like I am rag doll being tossed around harder and farther than ever before.
If I look back at other pivotal moments when my hormones were in extreme flux—puberty, pregnancy, and postpartum—I can see that I fell into deep depressions also. Only back then I didn’t have tools, wisdom or compassion I now have to deal with it. After these last 5 months I realize I am going to have to be extra mindful as I traverse the journey towards menopause and give myself extra support.
On top of all everything it was the anniversary of D’s death and I had to put my 18-year-old cat Lupe down (that was super hard) last March.
I am beginning to feel better (I am actually writing a blog post). The weather is finally nice and sunny so I am getting out and riding my bike in the woods. Fresh air and nature always help. I am still writing in my journal, mediating and working out most days. I am seeing my therapist to sort out false irrational beliefs and to untangle how I have my self-worth wrapped tight around my doing and busyness. I am going to acupuncture to balance my hormones and taking new herbs to help with the depression. All of this is helping.
I think more important, I am also painting in my studio again, which is really helping. When D died I stopped painting and drawing. Sure I had a few fits and starts over the last 4 years but nothing that stuck. I would start a painting and be stuck, anxiety and negative self-talk overpowering me. As I have been grappling with heavy darkness the last 5 months, I have also been evaluating how I am spending my time, what is it that I really want to be doing, how I am supporting my creative self.
My therapist challenged me to take the summer off. To not teach, to not have goals, to not have projects but rather rest and do nothing. To follow my inner desires. I ask myself, do I want to read a book? Take a nap? Ride my bike? Than go do what I want.
As uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I doing it. I am not teaching writing workshops this summer. I haven’t blogged in over 2 months. I am evaluating my side hustle. I am reading a lot of books, riding my bike and painting. I am learning how to untangle my creative work from proving I am good enough. I have a lot more to say about this but for now, I am adjusting to this slower pace. To not having everything single thing I do be about being helpful to others (another huge insight for me).
Depression does indeed suck and I am not to blame. I need not feel shame about something that I am utterly powerless over. I am doing what I can and there is a lot of support and love out there to help. One awesome thing about this bout of depression is that it is realigning my life. It is slowing me down and getting me back to what I really enjoy, to what my real zone of genius is, painting and drawing. Things are looking up for me and I am grateful.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” ― Desmond Tutu
Spring is beginning to open up here in Detroit despite relentless snow each day. I am feeling the pull for something new, to lean into the good, instead of craving for my life to be different. Only I am not sure I know how to lean into the good.
Each morning sitting on my black meditation cushion I now hear song birds and mourning doves cooing softly as the sun begins to rise. This morning I listened to a single crow calling out while I sat at my desk which is littered with half empty tea cups, a teaspoon I took from D’s house the day he died to eat the pint of ice cream (I felt I deserved it after sitting watching him die for four days), pens and highlighters, a stack of thank you letters I need to take to the post office and stacks of books, many of which I have read, many still waiting for my attention.
Finally, there is a single sheet of white paper with a short paragraph I printed in black ink from a blog post I read two weeks ago by Jonathan Fields. Each morning for the last few weeks I have sat with my green tea in the cold darkness and read these words:
If you knew, with 100% certainty, that the thing you were doing today, the people you were with, the partner whom you’re dancing would have to be the thing, the people, the partner you stayed with for the rest of your productive life, but you had the ability to craft the way you experienced each precisely the way you wanted, what would you do differently? How would you create the most purposeful and rewarding reality within those constraints?
The blog post, Before You Blow Up Your Life, Do This has rearranged everything inside of me. It is redirecting my choices and changing how I act and behave each day. I admit to clinging on to the belief that I need blow up my life in order to be living a truly purposeful life. I have felt that I am so how less than or not good enough because I have not blown up my life. I feel like a loser because I still have my day job working at a non-profit building affordable housing and I have not abandoned my responsibilities to those who depend on me.
Ever since D died almost four years ago, I have felt that I am not doing what I need to be doing in my life. That I need to be doing more. I need to pursue my passions. I felt that I gave up my calling to live a life of creative expression for taking care of others and security. His death made acute the reality that life is indeed short and I had better make some changes.
I did make changes, lots of them. I began prioritizing my writing and creative work. I started blogging and connecting with other like minded women around the world. Taking care of myself became nurturing and joyful not just another should or something I had to do to keep my head above water. I woke up a part of myself that I had buried under the pressures of being an adult and taking care of my son (and way too many others). I slowed down. I stopped worrying about cleaning the house. I became softer.
Yet, I felt this wasn’t enough. It wanted to be more. I wanted to earn my living from my passions. I felt I was falling short. I wrote business plans. I incorporated. I poured all of my free time and energy into learning about building a business. I created opportunities to gather women and reflect on good enough. I got certified to lead creative writing workshops and started teaching.
And I am somewhat successful for doing a part-time gig. I tell myself I know I can make this happen if only I can do it full time. I dream of winning the lotto or some other windfall of cash that will allow me to finally pursue my passion job full-time. As a result my day job has become enemy number one.
I am bound up in striving and ignoring when my heart whispers to go to my studio and play with paint. I tell myself I can revise those poems and prose pieces later, after I finish my latest newsletter. Instead of submitting new work I have to set up the launch of my next workshop. Despite my efforts and hustle, I am still not living a life of creative expression I so desperately want.
I cause so much suffering by thinking I need my life to be different, as if what I have right here and now is not enough. This is classic craving.
So here’s the deal, I have a good life, a really good life. It is me that creates so much unrest, and dissatisfaction by constantly craving more or different. I choose to not lean into the good that is present here and now.
I am not going to lie, I am torn about my day job, it is demanding. Some days it feels so much bigger than me and I want to run and hide. I often come home and collapse on couch unable to think. Sometimes I cry because the needs in my community seems so impossible to meet. Yet it is also fulfilling. My efforts literally builds homes for people in need. Trust me it is not as glamorous as it sounds. It is not me hammering the nails and raising a roof but rather writing grants, talking and bargaining with people in suits likes bankers, lawyers and city officials. It is solving problems and mitigating risks.
It is good work, it is meaningful work. I am good at it—and I want, no need, to do other creative work too. I need to express my creative impulses. Just like a good night’s sleep, clean healthy food and time to sit in meditation each day, I need creative expression in my life. Creative expression for no purpose, goal or end game but then to create. And I think I have gotten off track.
I have to also acknowledge the benefits my day job provides me. It gives me stability and security, something if I am honest with myself, I need to keep anxiety and panic at bay. It affords me the resources to do creative work. Not only art supplies, my Macbook, or super fast internet, but also I can afford to go on retreats, and take classes. My day job has taught me how to work with and manage a team of talented people. I have learned how to manage big complex projects. It has taught me how to believe in myself and do things I never I thought I could.
So how would I create the most purposeful and rewarding reality within the constraints of my current life? How can I rise up and not blow up my life?
I don’t know. I want to say some smart witty things but the truth is, I am not sure yet. I do know just by asking the questions, I feel a shift inside. In the simple act of asking I am creating a space for me to pause and look at what I am doing in my life. It is in this space I can let go of the striving and self-judgement, to really see what I have and what I want.
I also know that I need to make more space in my life my own creative expression that is for no other purpose than to play and have fun with my art. Even if that means I have to pull back on my side hustle a bit. I love teaching and gathering women together. I love the work of building a business too and at the age of 45 I now know that I can’t do it all. Life is not only short but time is limited (as well as energy). Unless I win the lotto or some other large windfall of cash enters my life, I need to do work that provides my basic necessities and provides me with stability.
When I stop and really consider blowing up my life, I know I don’t want to. I would have blown it up already. But I still feel the tug that I am missing out, being a wimp or not good enough and if only something were different, than it all would be better.
So as spring opens, I find myself opening too, to a new direction, or rather a realignment, to what I knew so fiercely in my bones after D died. Life is short and I have to make wise choices about how I am living and using my time. I need to have space for creative expression without the pressure to blow up my life to make it great. I need to lean in my good and let go of the false notions that there is always something more and better.
I am doing good, meaningful and important work—both in my day job and with my creative expression. I am rising up and that is good enough.
Here is this week’s Inspiration To Open Your Heart
Never Apologize by Veronica Funk- So as I realign my life, this post reminds me to not apologize for getting off track but rather see how I am always making choices about how I spend my time.
Equanimity by Louise DeSalvo- Ms. DeSalvo is one of the wisest teachers I know and I love this post about how to cultivate equanimity with our writing (or any creative work).
90:10- The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Stress by Dr. Mike Evans- I simply love Dr. Evans videos. His kind and matter of fact messages about how to take care of ourselves are wonderful. Here I am reminded how it is my thinking that causes most stress and I can do something about that. I need to remember the 90:10 rule, so true.
The Remembrance of Places and Lives Past by Liana Aghajanian- Liana is the writer in residence at Write a House here in Detroit. She captures one of the things I simply adore about Detroit—how friendly most people are. We talk to strangers here and whenever I visit other cities I feel so strange because that is not the norm. Liana doesn’t sugar coat Detroit but rather shares a pretty balanced view.
Crochet Food Hats via Visual News- This is for joy. I simply love these so much. I am in awe of the talent.
I invite you to sign up for my mailing list to get monthly Open Hearted letters (plus many extras like secret videos!) + access to my Open Hearted Writing mini ecourse. Sign up HERE!
Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have.” ― Danielle LaPorte
Winter has set in. It is finally cold, dreary and gray in Detroit after one of the warmest Decembers on record. A bayberry candle is lit on my desk flicking light onto stacks of notebooks, pens and sticky notes piled around my keyboard. Today is the last day of what I call my winter break. I try to take a full week, or longer, off twice a year to do nothing—sleep, wander, putter, indulge in my curiosities as they arise. These weeks are spaces of unscheduled time where I try to let go of goals, doing, pushing and pursuing. I know from experience that this wandering time will rejuvenate and replenish me for the coming winter months when sunlight is in short supply, freezing weather makes even the most mundane tasks difficult and all I want to do is crawl under the covers and hide.
This nothing time is important, vital to my mental health and do I dare say my physical health. I will be honest, I struggle mightily with this space. Over the last week I still woke each day with a list of things I wanted to accomplish that day. It is hard to let go of planning, doing, accomplishing.
There is nothing wrong with accomplishing but I have a habit of hooking my worth on to it and therefore, I strive to the point of burnout. When accomplishing is hooked to my self-worth, it feels like it is a matter of life or death if I don’t succeed. And that is not a belief, conscious or unconscious, that is based in reality or is healthy for me. I know this and I still get hooked because it feels safe and known.
All of which brings to the New Year and the notions of resolutions and what we want to accomplish this year. (This is where I start to hear the robot from Lost in Space in my head panicking and saying, “Danger Will Robinson, danger” while flapping his arms all over the place). As I have written about before goals and me don’t mix well. They are the first sip of a poisonous elixir sanctioned by our culture that hooks me into the race to accomplish.
Instead of goals or resolutions, I set my Core Desire Feelings based on Danielle Laporte work. These are a set of intentions of how I want to feel over the next year. As I move throughout the year, I check in to see if what I am doing is helping to cultivate my Core Desire Feelings or not. This practice is safe and nourishing for me. It does not trigger my unhealthy relationship to doing and accomplishing. It doesn’t hook me.
This year my Core Desire Feelings are Creative, Peaceful, Authentic, Enough and Joy.
Also, I selected a word for 2016— Joy. I hate to admit it but I stumble with joy. It is uncomfortable and I don’t trust it. Yet, it is joy that opens my heart and makes it sing ( I am speaking here of a deep abiding joy, not a fleeting, oh I got a new pair of silver earrings kind of joy). When I feel joy, my other Core Desire Feelings seem to float effortlessly into my life. Joy unhooks the race for accomplishment.
So the last 12 days of doing nothing, resting and wandering have filled my heart with joy. Letting go of accomplishing or doing as a measure of my worth is a foundation to cultivating joy. I am sure I will uncover other ways to cultivate joy this year but for now let me rest on this last day of my winter break.
Here is this Week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart
Another New Year by Natalie Goldberg- This is a beautiful meditative essay about death, living and beauty. I love her writing so much. Of the many lines that went straight to my heart, this one stands out “In the past my most reliable elixir had been to continue under all circumstances. But now the biting thought: someday no circumstances will exist.”
The Ultimate New Year’s Resolution by Janice Macleod- I am not one for resolutions but rather intentions and I love the intention to write in your journal every day. I love this fresh, let go of the rules, approach to journal writing. I am a fan of morning pages as I have been writing them for over 20 years and I was a single mother for much of that time, which meant my only alone time was if I woke up before Max, so that was 5 am writing time. That is my time still, I think it is etched in my brain. Remember this writing thing can be easy. We do enough.
Tips for Taking In The Good– a video interview of Rick Hanson- I am a fan of Rick Hanson’s work. He is a gentle teacher and lord knows I need to rewire my brain. The idea of leaning into the good resonates deeply with me.
2016 Reading Challenge by Anne at Modern Mr. Darcy- Here is a doable reading challenge for 2016. 12 books, in 12 different categories, in 12 months. Totally doable—and I am all about doable.
Speaking of reading and books, Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books by Rachel Grate- Read those books people, real actual books you hold in your hands. It is good and healthy for you. As someone who has way too many books (but really can you have too many???), this post makes me feel good.
Speaking of feeling good, Mike the Hamster Eating a Carrot– Watching this is leaning into the good. Holy crap this so damn cute and warms my heart. Every time I watch it, (and I have watched and shared it often) I smile and feel all of my muscles relax. This year, I am going to watch more cat, animal and other joyful videos simply because they make me feel good.
Finally, Early Bird Pricing for Writing to Open Your Heart ends Wednesday January 6th at 12 am PST (leaving it open for all you West coast folks). I would love to write with you and share the magic of Amherst Writers and Artist method with you. You can find more information HERE. We start January 13th. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask here.
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