2020 My Year In Review— Amazing, Terrible, Full

2020 My Year In Review— Amazing, Terrible, Full

At the end of every year I pause to harvest the blessings, learnings, challenges and losses of the outgoing year. I give myself space to honor and celebrate my life, to learn from the past, clean my slate, replenish, and prepare to set a new vision for the year to come.

Here are the highlights of my harvest.

Crisis leads to opportunity

2020 was a heck of a year, with the pandemic shutting down so much of our activities and economies and claiming so many lives. In the United States, the year was dominated by a volatile election coupled with horrifying racial injustice on the  streets and at our border with Mexico, and a subsequent remarkable uprising of the Black Lives Matter and anti-racism movements.

So many deep losses occurred and so much stress. We were cut off from so much of what and whom we love, so much of what gives our lives rich meaning and joy. The loss to the arts, especially performing artists, and our enjoyment of them was devastating.

wildfire
by Benjamin Lizardo on Unsplash

Continued ecological disasters and climate crisis rocked our world. 2020 tied with 2016 for the hottest year on record. Close to my home, the worst wildfires in history happened throughout the West Coast, blanketing us in choking smoke, destroying homes and businesses, charring acres of land.

I believe 2020 was a pivotal year, in which many things were being torn down or slowed to a halt, so that we can reckon with all that is unsustainable in our ways of living. Not just ecologically, but socially and politically, as well.

We are being given an invitation to change our ways fundamentally, in order for human life on planet Earth to continue. In order for more fairness, equity, justice, kindness and truth to prevail.

Huge milestones reached

For me personally, 2020 was both intensely challenging because of the global and national crises and a banner year for me. I was blessed with long-awaited and hard-won turning points in both my creative life and at Brilliant Playground.

Fierce Aria

My first book, Fierce Aria, was published! Ten years in the making, it is amazing to be able to hold my beautiful book in my hands. Even with the book coming out during a pandemic—or perhaps because people are reading more than ever (sales of print books were the highest in a decade) and poetry readings moved online—my book of poems brought a sea change to my creative life both internally and externally. 

Recognition for my writing grew, even though by most standards it is still so small. For me, it was huge, opening doors for me and bolstering my confidence. The inner work I had to do to promote my book brought about major positive internal shifts. And I finally launched a gorgeous author website.

My virtual book launch party was thrilling with over 85 people attending and wonderful guest artists joining me. I gave six more readings last year plus a podcast interview and met with a book club that read my book, and I have as many events already lined to start this year. These performances have introduced me to poets all over the world and brought a much greater sense of creative community to me. Because all literary events were virtual, I was also able to attend readings and workshops with so many great writers.

More writing and publishing!

In the midst of a demanding flurry of activity to promote my book, I wrote 50 new poems, 32 blog posts, and posted more than weekly on Patreon, sharing my work-in-progress, newly published work, updates on my creative life, creative ideas to try and other rewards.

I also sent poems and essays out to 97 literary journals or awards, got 6 pieces accepted so far and am still waiting to hear from about half of those places.

Even though I discovered that earning income from writing on Medium was not going to be viable for me after all, I still had over 3000 views (and growing) for my essays there!

Brilliant Playground thrives

The other extraordinary thing about 2020 for me was what happened at Brilliant Playground, the home of my teaching work. With the onset of the pandemic, like many people, I worried what would happen to my income. But my classes filled easefully and abundantly with wonderful students, and they provided a refuge of creativity and connection, week after week.

This was the first year in 17 years of teaching that I achieved true sustainability in my work financially and energetically. There was a feeling of ease, trust and flow, partnering with the soul of my business and my spirit guides in a deep way. So beautiful.

Disappointments and challenges

Yes, there were disappointments. The biggest being zero growth in my Patreon. With income from Medium also not working out, I am still woefully lacking in adequate support for my creativity. I had too many other irons in the fire to be able to work on this area.

Sales of Fierce Aria started out amazing but were disappointing after the pre-sale period. Not getting to dance most of the year was deeply painful and sad. Music didn’t happen either much at all either. I aimed to complete a rough draft of my book on creativity, but did not, though I made some good progress.

In mid-November my husband Don broke his leg and couldn’t walk for six weeks. This presented a huge challenge and re-set. Good in some ways, hard in others. It decimated my creative life for that period. But it gave us time and energy for some longer-range visioning and other projects.

Now it’s your turn

I hope your year brought blessings amidst the challenges and that you take time to celebrate, release  and learn from what you can.

I wish you a wondrous year ahead. If you feel inspired to join me for any of my classes, performances, or on Patreon, I’d love that!

To your inspired year,

Maxima

Finding Your North Star to Guide Your Year

Finding Your North Star to Guide Your Year

Have you named dreams, intentions or desires for the year ahead? Have you sat down to connect with soul-inspired vision?

Or does that all feel hopeless in the light of the upheaval of our times? How can we possibly plan?

Why bother?

When you take the time to connect with, and clearly name, your heart-centered, soul-inspired dreams, desires, visions for the year, you have a north star to guide you through waters both stormy and calm.

You have a way to stay connected to what matters most to you, what fills your life with beauty, fulfillment, connection and joy, even in the hardest times. And when everything is swirling around you, you have a safe harbor to return to.

This process isn’t about trying to nail everything down. This is about being in sacred partnership with Life, co-creating with what wants to be born through you.

My Breakthrough Dream

Every year, among naming other dreams and goals, I choose a Breakthrough Dream as a central focus for the year. This brings tremendous clarity, inspiration and movement to my life. (For more on finding your own Breakthrough Dream, read this post.)

My Breakthrough Dream last year was: “I am lovingly supporting Fierce Aria [my book of poems, published in May, 2020] so that she may flourish in the world and reach all those who need her. I allow her to win awards and acclaim and sell her first thousand copies in 2020.”

Fierce Aria is my first published book. I spent more than ten years creating it and huge amounts of sweat and tears (also dollars!) to bring it life. I want it to reach and move people and open doors for me as well.

So, it was a perfect Breakthrough Dream. And it seemed just about impossible from the start.

How it actually turned out

My dream stretched and pushed me all year. I wrestled with it! But it also gave me a powerful focus that held me and helped me through a very tough year. And it brought incredible blessings to my life.

I am sure I didn’t come close to 1000 copies sold, though I’m still waiting to hear from my publisher. (If you want to get a copy, I’d love that! You can order it here or through your bookstore.)

I only managed to get two reviews—beautiful reviews—one on Hannah Rousselot’s blog and the other in a wonderful online literary journal called Sweet. And I only began submitting to awards contests at the end of the year, so I won’t know until later this year if the book wins any.

But whole new worlds opened up in my creative life. Big shifts both internally and externally. I’ll share more in my Year in Review post, coming soon.

Dreamtending is deep soul work that is life-giving to you and to our world. It isn’t even so much about the outer results—though those can be amazing—as it is about how it changes you within.

Committed but not attached

The key with any dream or goal, intention or desire is to stay committed to it but not attached to the specific outcomes. Easier said than done!

If you do your best to hold your dreams lightly with all the love in your heart, but be open to new information, new directions showing up, you will find yourself flowing toward not only the fulfillment of many beautiful things, but also toward greater freedom, peace and wholeness within.

Give yourself space

To do this, you need first to give yourself space to get quiet and go inward, to listen to what you long for, what life is calling you towards, how your soul needs to grow.

Now is a perfect time to do this. Last night was the new moon, a time for slowing down, going inward, setting intentions and beginning new things.

Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss,” because what lights you up or fascinates you or compels you within is the key to your soul’s path. Your deepest dreams will lead you to what you uniquely have to give to our world and also to your own inner growth.

Clarity is liberating and invigorating (and also scary!)

Once you’ve gone inward to hear your dreams, needs and desires, you then summon the courage to clearly name them—even if some of them seem impossible or scary. If it scares you and also excites you, that is a sign you are on the right path.

I always try to do six impossible things before breakfast.”

—from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

To bring your dreams to life, you will need to name some actionable steps you can take to support them and put those steps in time. Perhaps you only know the first few steps right now, or only one. That’s fine. Start there.

One of the Fundamental Principles of Creative Dreaming that I teach in my Living Your Dreams course is “You don’t need to know how to make your dreams come true. You only need to know clearly what the Dream is. The Dream will show you the how, one step at a time.”

To your heart’s dreams,

Maxima

Take it further

Read this post on Dreaming Your Year for more on how to do that.

If you are interested in my one-of-a-kind Living Your Dreams course, The Artist’s Way is the prerequisite. Because it gives you the tools, transformation and introspective processes to be ready for Living Your Dreams. If you have questions, I’m right here.

How to Harvest Your Year

How to Harvest Your Year

We have come to the end of this crazy year 2020. At last. It’s time to take stock, to gather the harvest of the year.

It’s time to acknowledge, celebrate, mourn, forgive, release. The hard and awful, the joyful and blessed, the crazy, stressful, beautiful, boring, all of it. In that way, you clean the slate, let go any baggage that would weigh you down, and make space for new vision, new inspiration. By making a good ending, you pave the way for a good beginning and for a soulful, heart-aligned new year, no matter what happens.

What you do with this time of the gap matters. This is a time of going within and slowing down in the Northern Hemisphere, a time for replenishing, recharging, renewing and taking stock. This time of the turning of the seasons and the start of a new year is an important time.

I invite you to nourish yourself deeply and take time to deeply reflect on 2020 before you start making plans, inviting visions, setting intentions or goals for 2021.

Every month I give my patrons on Patreon a theme and creative suggestions to play with for the month, a way to keep their creativity nourished, inspired and expanding in new directions. (If you’d like to get those, come join me on Patreon here!) Today, I’m sharing with you here the December Creativity Theme and Suggestions—Taking Stock.

Goodbye 2020!

2020 feels, to me, like some awful haunted house ride with spooks and horrors leaping out at you as you reel along around twists and turns and over huge bumps and down slippery inclines, getting splashed and shocked and never able to get your bearings. 

But there were blessings and gifts in it too. There were good things that happened and good things we did. And there were tremendous losses.

It is time to take stock honestly, to honor and celebrate and give thanks for what you did and the blessings that came your way, to release what was awful, disappointing, hard, and to clean the slate to make way for the new.

Gather Your Tools

I invite you this month—and it’s fine if it spills over into the start of next month too—to take stock of your creative life this past year. I invite you take stock of your whole life, but to particularly grant some generous time to your creative life, or to whatever matters most to you, brings you the deepest fulfillment, joy, meaning, grace. Things grow and blossom when we give them loving attention, so even if you think 2020 was an abysmal year creatively and you feel foggy, tired and uninspired right now (as I do!), I invite you to do this.

If you keep a journal, get that out. If you write things in a calendar or log book, get that out. Whatever records your keep, whatever helps you remember, gather those.

Make a quiet time when you have an hour or two to stretch out. Turn off your cell phone and computer. Fix a cup of tea. Get some colored pens and paper. Make a fire in the fireplace or woodstove, if you can, or light a candle. Get cozy.

Reflect, Celebrate, Release

Reflect on this past year in your life.

Make a list—or even better, some kind of beautiful, fanciful, creative chart or drawing or collage—of what you did, what you accomplished, what blessings, steps forward, gains came in your creative life.

Did you get a new guitar? Start out the year writing a lot, even if it fell away at some point? Declutter a space in which you can be creative? Did you take a class online? How did you support, nourish, further your creativity? What did you learn? What blessings came your way?

Celebrate and acknowledge anything and everything you can. Every little step. Every photo-taking walk, every poem written, every ten minutes spent noodling on the piano, every spontaneous dance in the woods. Do something to give thanks for and celebrate all of this—a little happy dance, a prayer, a love letter to yourself and/or the Universe, whatever feels right to you.

Now, on another piece of paper, write down everything you need to release about this year in terms of your creative life. (Again, this is great to do for your life as a whole, as well.)

What was a bummer? What didn’t go as planned? Were there goals, projects, dreams that went off the rails? What was difficult? Perhaps someone criticized something you made. Or you planned to write your memoir but only got to chapter one. Perhaps you were half-way through planning a wonderful concert tour when Covid hit. Get it out of you and on the page.

Now, create a simple ceremony to release it. Really let all this go—just intend to do so fully—so you can start clear in the new year. You don’t want to carry the baggage of disappointments, hurts, frustrations, grief, or self-judgment into the new year.

Maybe, you’ll want to write a song or a rant or make a collage of photographs or other images or create a short dance piece about 2020. But it’s also fine to just empty yourself right now of these things.

Rest in the Gap

And finally, let yourself rest in the gap for a while. Be empty and open. Give yourself down time. Take baths, take walks. Read inspiring literature, listen to great music. Replenish by getting away from screens and doing things that nourish your inner artist and recharge your body, mind, heart and spirit.

Invite the New

Then, start to invite yourself to dream what you would like to create in the new year.

How would you like your creative life to look, feel, be in 2021? What dreams or goals would you love to set in motion or see realized in the coming year?

But do this gently. Allow vision in without reaching or forcing it. Make notes when you get inspired by something and keep those notes where you can find them. This is not carved in stone. You’re playing, welcoming the new, opening to new expression, allowing.

If you really want to jumpstart and nourish your creativity in 2021, consider taking the Artist’s Way with me—an amazing gift to yourself and your life!

I Invite You To Share

If you are willing to share one or more things that you are celebrating in your creative life or your life in general from 2020 in the comments, please do! You can also share one or two things that were hard that you are releasing now. I’d love to hear about your year.

For example, I am celebrating that my book, Fierce Aria, was published this year!!! Whoo! That’s so huge. And I’m releasing that I did not finish a draft, nor a book proposal, for my creativity book (though I did make substantial progress on it)

There’s tons more I can celebrate and plenty more to release. I’ll probably do a year-end post about all that.

For now, tell me about your year.

Growing Through Your Art and the Art of Others

Growing Through Your Art and the Art of Others

Making art is an evolutionary process. As we create, we grow as artists and as people. We continually evolve, learning new skills, testing new ideas, adventuring into new territory. And we are tried by our materials, by our limits, by our dreams for what we wish to create.

When we look at the work of other artists–in any medium, not just our own–we can also use that encounter to develop as artists.

Develop Your Eye and Ear

Recently I read some poems in a new book I bought, and I found myself editing them in my mind, to make them even better poems. This often happens when I read the work of others. I see the mistakes—too many adjectives and adverbs, unnecessary words, too much explanation, not enough compression, the language not alive enough, the use of clichés. Sometimes the form is wrong or the line breaks could be better. Or the last lines are unnecessary and the poem is better without them.

Instead of judging these poems or simply reading them as they are, I work on them, play with them, see how they could be made better in my estimation, where they reach and fall a little short and what might fix that. In this way I engage more deeply with the poem.

By editing the poems in my mind, seeing how I would revise them to make them even stronger, I learn and grow as a poet. It is easier to spot the flaws in someone else’s work, and by practicing on these, I can then turn a more dispassionate editorial eye to my own creations. I also learn more about my own aesthetic, my own personal voice and what I’m longing for in art at this time.

Discover Your Own Aesthetic

I invite you to do this when you look at, listen to, partake in art. Not as a critic but as a maker. Look at how you would make this piece even stronger on its own terms, helping it be more of what it seems to want to be.

Or consider what you would do differently as an artist—how the piece does or does not satisfy your own aesthetic and how you would alter it to meet that. In this way, you get to know your own artistic desires more clearly, and you learn to challenge yourself too.

What’s the most exciting part of the piece? Where is it strongest? Where does it lose energy, if it does? What would you change to make it even more powerful, beautiful, effective?

Each piece we encounter is an invitation to encounter our own inner artist as well as the artist who made the piece.

Art Is a Path of Growth

In looking at the work of other artists, I see how we create ourselves into being, how we heal ourselves through art-making, even when the final product isn’t fully polished, isn’t magnificent. That’s OK too. This is our growth, our path. And it is wonderful.

The same is true for me and my poems. We do what we can at the stage we are. And the making helps us in so many ways. We can embrace this journey we are on. And embrace ourselves on the journey.

Poetry, art, is a path of growth, a winnowing. We walk this road even when the results aren’t keen. And in the walking, we learn to hone them, sculpting ourselves through the art of doing what we love.

Awaken Fully in this Lifetime

Awaken Fully in this Lifetime

Something shifted for me recently around the concept of awakening. I don’t mean getting up in the morning, but awakened consciousness.  

I used to think awakening was unattainable for me. Or else, it was such a distant possibility, something a few other lucky people could have. I thought awakening required an insane commitment to spiritual practice. Or you needed a magical lightning bolt to strike you. Then you would suddenly see through all illusions and be completely free inside.

Still, I try to awaken, as much as possible. I meditate and pray and do other spiritual and inner growth practices and retreats. I do these things because they help me enjoy my life more and be a better person.

But the hope for some deep awakening—some people call it enlightenment, but that feels grand, even silly—did not seem possible for me.

I know awakening is a process, gradual, for most people. I have awakened or grown happier, freer, more at peace markedly over the years. So much so I hardly recognize myself or my life from how it was and I was twenty years ago. I’ve deepened in wisdom, presence and inner skills that are profound. This change has happened in sometimes magical ways, but also through an incredible amount of deep work and painful challenges.

I also know I am lost in dull habits of mind and body much of the time, moving through my day in a kind of semi-stupor, falling into negativity, fear, doubt, false beliefs, old patterns, judging self and others, triggered and reactive, longing for what I don’t have. What passes for meditation for me is often a whole lot of busy mind chatter. Frustrating.

Then, a few weeks ago we were driving in the car, listening to a CD by Inlakesh. A voice on the recording said, “Awaken fully in this lifetime for the benefit of all sentient beings.” “Yes,” I said aloud to my sweetheart, “I try to.” But still I was feeling like it was pretty much hopeless.

A little while later, the voice repeated the line, and it went through me like a shot. Maybe it was because we had been camping for five nights by the ocean, spending time in the redwoods, and by the fire every night and morning. But those words struck me as being vitally important, urgent, and also possible in some way.

Since then, I keep hearing those words in my head. Instead of feeling bad about them or myself or hopeless, I feel inspired and also calm. I take them as an invitation to awaken moment by moment, to keep waking up in each moment that I remember, to simply be more present to my thoughts, my words, my actions, my being. To be less numb, more alive. Less reactive and habitual, more spontaneous and at choice.

And I feel that this moment to moment practice, this choosing of presence over habit, when I remember, as I remember, is awakening. It doesn’t look or feel dramatic. I don’t need to change my outer circumstances or my personality. I do need to shift some habits, gradually, one choice at a time.

It isn’t huge and grand. But it is wonderful and feels good.

I’ll probably start forgetting to do this again tomorrow. I tend to get excited about new things and many of them fall by the wayside. Likely, it will fade until the next reminder comes from somewhere. Because one thing I do know is that life keeps handing us opportunities to wake up and be free.

And for now, there’s something beautiful and freeing in this discovery. Something inspiring and exhilarating. Awakening is possible. It’s vital. It’s the just about the most important thing I can do with my life. And I can do it, one moment at a time.

Awaken fully in this lifetime for the benefit of all sentient beings, I tell myself. When I remember, I actually practice it, here and now, which is the only moment that matters.

Creating the World We Wish to Inhabit

Creating the World We Wish to Inhabit

I wrote this post during my free Write Together! event in June. It’s a taste of what can happen when we co-create together and an invitation to keep creating the world we wish to inhabit.

Right now I am sitting in a Zoom room with twenty-one other souls, whispering to ourselves and this beautiful, wrecked world, pouring what’s inside into our notebooks, delving and diving to find whatever pearls are here.

We are here to use writing to uncover our grief, fear and anger and our hope for a better world, to find our way together. We are here to envision and co-create the world we wish to inhabit.

It’s a bewildering adventure, this business of living and of creating, but Rumi insists, in the poem of his I read this morning, that the soul started singing when it took on a body. Singing not weeping.

Celebration may be our greatest capacity as humans, and our best means to create the world we wish to inhabit. Singing up the land is what the Australian aborigines call it, their part in the ongoing work of creation. Our part. Celebration and creativity, exceptional human abilities and gifts.

And so here we are, twenty-two beautiful souls aboard this temporary ark, this craft we hope to sail to where? To greener shores, a land where love rules, where all life is cared for and honored. Am I a dreamer? You bet.

I believe in the inherent beauty of the world, in art, love, the goodness inside of humans, the possibility of each one shining forth. So I am here, guiding this little ark. In spite of all the obstacles.

I am often full of doubt, afraid, lost, and overwhelmed by the horror and meanness of which we humans are so frequently capable, the utter disregard for other lives. I am often embarrassed by myself, falling short of my own impossible expectations, but I carry on because my embarrassment isn’t helping anyone, isn’t helping us get to those greener shores. So I keep returning to love.

Love is the way. I know this. Simplistic as that may sound. But how do we implement love and love’s awesome power? How do we use it to create the world we wish to inhabit? One loving act at a time, and then another.

We create the world through small daily acts of Love in all its forms. We grow and heal, make art and sing, touch and cook and talk. We listen and cry and make mistakes and clean our messes. And laugh and dance and build things up and tear things down that need tearing down. We call to the wind and pay attention when it calls back to us.

So I sit in the here and now, pen and notebook in hand, with these lovely courageous souls, doing my part to create the world I wish to inhabit.

How the story will end (if it ends), or what the next chapter will be, no one knows. But no matter what happens, we can do this gathering together, this work of the heart and of art, and our time will not have been wasted.

Let’s gather together to create a beautiful, loving world for all of life. When we come together in loving, creative, playful ways, extraordinary things happen. We magnify our gifts and co-creative power.

Will you create with me? Will you create today?

If you would love to explore and express on the page, free and hone your unique voice, create and discover and write with others, check out Freedom to Write.

Structure vs. Spontaneity

Structure vs. Spontaneity

What constitutes a good day?

One in which everything on the to do list is checked off as planned? Or one in which I went with the flow and did whatever I most desire?

Which one leads to a day in which I fully lived, tasted, loved?

The answer might seem obvious, but let’s look deeper at the question.

Which is better—a day in which I listened to the tides moving in me and in the world and let those tides be more essential than my goals and dreams? Or one in which I stayed true to my nurturing routines and carefully shaped plans?

Are they mutually exclusive? Or aren’t my cherished dreams carried on those self-same tides?

I know “going with the flow” can be a slippery slope and a cop-out in which we avoid what challenges and beckons us for a life of numbed complacency and comfort. I know how easy it is to avoid what we most long to do, especially creativity, which demands so much of us.

But I also know being an automaton, following all the plans and routines to the letter with no flexibility or space for life to show up with surprises, is not fully living. That can easily become dull habit or obsession with control.

To live the balance is not so easy, or rather to go off balance one way then the other and keep swinging, keep moving.

I wrestle within, wanting to get it right, wanting to be free and wanting to achieve things of which I’m proud. To have joy, to dance and sing and make beauty every day. Yet some days I find no time or energy once the daily tasks and the business of making a living are over.

I want to be fully alive and to have made a real contribution to our world. To make those contributions requires focus and structure and a certain doggedness. To be fully alive requires fluidity and grace and attentiveness.

These kinds of questions aren’t easy to answer. And I don’t want to resolve them with easy answers. I want to live the questions, as the poet Rilke said.

But then the world comes in with its crushing demands, its hard work and harder news. And I falter, lose my way, make stabs at things, fritter time away, neglect my heart and soul.

Most of the time I’m trying too hard, doing too much, expecting far too much of myself. But I don’t want to have nothing to show for this life. Nor am I happy and fulfilled when just drifting. Almost everything I do with my time is something I love. That’s pretty remarkable.

Joy, beauty, peace, love and freedom. I desire these. But also a deep bedrock fulfillment. Wholeness.

What brings these? Or, are they there all along, if we just look for them?

I know there are gifts in us that won’t rest until we live and share them. They will destroy us, if unused. People fall ill, become depressed, or self-destruct because they refuse the dreams of their heart and the calling of their soul, because they don’t find adequate outlet for their gifts. And our world suffers for it too.

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

—from The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels

The ambitious part of me wants books published, great art made, and yes, recognition. The animal part worries about having enough to eat, a roof overhead, to pay my bills. Another part wants only to commune with the Divine in nature and ritual.

Should I give up all this struggle and strain, all this effort and involvement, all my dreams and ambitions? Are they just creating suffering, unhealthy striving, attachment? These questions nag at me.

But, would my soul be satisfied if I gave them all up? I couldn’t even do it if I tried. I know this. And, as a teacher, coach and mentor for others, I hear every week the longing in the people I work with for more structure, focus, forward momentum in their lives, and the thrill when they begin to have direction and make time for what most nourishes them.

So, maybe “going with the flow” is surrendering to who I am, how I’m wired, what I love and need, even my restless striving and ambition. Listening to and answering the call of my soul, but staying open all the while to new information and signs, to the livingness and unpredictability of life, to the gifts each day brings.

I make my plans and schedules. I have my stabilizing, supportive routines that help me create what I long for in my life. But I have to not hold to them too rigidly or life becomes frozen. And yet not be too lax either or there are no strong riverbanks to hold my flow.

For each person, the balance will be different, and at different times in our lives we must adapt to differing needs and demands.

I long to relax and just be far more often than I let myself. But more, I long to shine, to create, to live. If I had to choose, I’d choose the latter. Knowing this, I can be more at peace with my structured life. But also not turn away from the one in me who just wants to play lightheartedly, to have adventures, to lie in the grass and gaze at the sky, who needs this sometimes.

How is it for you? How do you navigate the balance of being and doing, of reaching for your dreams or going with the flow, of structure vs. spontaneity? Share in the comments below.

To your flowing creativity, lovingly held in the strong banks of helpful structures,

Maxima

Turn Your Self-Doubt Into Generative Questions

Turn Your Self-Doubt Into Generative Questions

I have wrestled with self-doubt most of my life. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. Of course, there are plenty of moments when it’s not there. But so often, there is that nagging feeling that I am not enough.

Self-doubt is a painful companion. It slows us down and holds us back. Self-doubt makes life unnecessarily hard. And it is the number one killer of creativity I see in people.

Yes, it helps me strive for greatness, not be too easily satisfied with my creative work or my teaching. But it also stops me from being a strong, clear advocate for myself, getting the recognition or support I deserve.

Most of all, it’s exhausting, causing me to expend tremendous effort and still not be satisfied. And it leaves me feeling unloved by myself, and therefore vulnerable to criticism and seeking approval from others. Sound familiar?

But how can we change something that has been with us for so long?

Rhiannon’s teaching

Each month on the new moon I draw a card from the Goddess Oracle deck and read about the gifts of that goddess. This past month I drew Rhiannon. Her teaching in this deck is about self-doubt.

The invitation has been to turn my doubts into helpful questions. It seemed nearly impossible, at first. My doubts run so deep, are so persistent.

How can I turn the doubts into questions? That was the first question. And not just into any questions but into generative questions, questions that lead to positive places, that generate new growth.

Generating change

Generative questions generate new positive perspectives, shifts, transformation, new possibilities. You don’t need to be able to answer them right away. But in the asking of them, things begin to open up.

Let’s say you are at an impasse in a relationship. Instead of giving up on the relationship or one person being resigned to something they don’t like, you can ask a generative question: “How can we resolve this in a way that meets both of our needs?” “What new solutions have we not thought of yet?” or “What would have this be a truly wonderful relationship for both of us?”

If you are in a work situation you don’t enjoy, but feel you cannot quit your job at this time, you can ask, “How can I make this job as enjoyable as possible for now?” Sometimes all that is needed is a shift in attitude or perspective.

Generative questions open up the stuck places and create flow. So, how do we turn our self-doubt into generative questions?

Dealing with artistic self-doubt

The doubt that wracks me most is the feeling I am not good enough as an artist. How do I turn such a doubt into a generative question? That was my first generative question. And it wasn’t easy to answer.

I had to just wade in and try.

Here are some generative questions I tried on:

  • How can I let myself be enough as I am now and encourage myself to grow as an artist?
  • How can I reassure and support myself better in my creative work? How can I appreciate my gifts and nurture them?
  • What is missing that I truly need in my creative life now?
  • What would it look like to be my own best friend? (This question has really stayed with me.)
  • How can I not just be trying to “pump myself up” by telling myself encouraging things that I don’t believe, which I know doesn’t work, but actually believe in and tend myself as artist and person? What would that look like?

Just asking these questions is already a big shift from listening to the self-doubt, especially if I keep asking and looking where the questions lead me. Already a new way of relating to myself opens up, a softening happens and curiosity replaces criticism.

Playing with answers

I played with answers to some of my questions and doubts in my journal, trying things on in a spirit of exploration.

1. Doubt: How can I believe in my poems when I keep reading better poems by others?

Response & Generative Question: Everyone starts somewhere. There will always be those ahead of you and those behind you on the path. I am learning new skills right now, so it’s awkward. Can I honor my place on the journey and enjoy the journey?

2. Doubt: I am afraid I am not embodied enough in my writing and therefore my writing isn’t compelling.

Generative Questions: What practices can help me be more embodied while still honoring my unique gifts as a writer? What support, teaching do I need to grow as a writer now?

3. Generative Question: What do I need now in my creative life, and how do I honor those needs better?

Response: I need more play, adventure, wildness, creative input and community, more spaciousness and listening, more renewal, encouragement, mentorship, more patrons, more support. (This was illuminating. I saw what was missing that was making it hard for me to create things I am proud of.)

Healing the deepest doubt

Delving into my doubts, I felt broken-hearted. I felt the small, scared, confused and deeply hurt child self within. She feels badgered and wounded by my own lack of self-love and approval, by never feeling like she’s enough.

I so often feel inadequate in just about everything I do. I feel I am not enough, not good enough. How can I possibly heal and transform that?

I turn back to a tool I teach—finding the deeper truth.

But first, I remember that you have to feel it to heal it. It’s important to not just bypass the feelings, but honor them, feel them and let them soften.

So, I sat with the little girl inside myself, feeling her pain and loneliness, holding her in love and spaciousness, just being with her, hearing her, not trying to change her feelings or persuade her of anything.

As I did, I could feel her sadness, but also a space opening up.  A softening. And I could see her as she truly is.

The ultimate question

Then, I began to ask the ultimate generative question I know. I asked it about the self-doubt that says I am not enough as I am:

How is that a lie? What is the deeper truth about this lie I keep telling myself?

To access the deeper truth, you have to step outside of the wounded self. This can be hard for some people. It helps to physically shake this off and change your body position or move to a new spot. Then, breathe into your lower belly and tune into your deeper knowing, your wise, eternal Self that is unharmed and can never be harmed.

If you can’t access that in the moment, tune into your capable, loving, adult self within or a loving, wise space of pure consciousness, a witnessing self.

rose

From my wise and loving Self, I saw the little child within as a wild rose—beautiful and good and perfect as she is.

My soul also showed me an image of myself as a seed that needs tending and protection from harm if it is to grow into a strong, healthy plant. Just like the plants in my garden.

The deeper truth was:  You are that rose. You are that seed that needs care and tending, love and protection. You are that child who needs love and care.

Take it on as a practice

Sometimes a deeper truth is so startling, clear and strong, it will completely dissolve the old lie in one sitting. I’ve had this happen and seen it in my students.

More often, we need to practice touching that deeper knowing again and again and living from that truth, because we have spent so many years practicing the lies about ourselves, the limiting beliefs and behaviors.

Some ways to practice your deeper truth are:

  • Write it down in clear, concise, powerful language on a card and post it where you will see it. Read it and repeat it to yourself, connecting as best you can to the original feeling you had when you realized it. It is the feeling, not the words, that have real power.
  • If an image came to you as part of the deeper truth, such as the image I saw of the wild rose and the seed, you can draw or find a picture and place it on you altar or in some other special place as a reminder.
  • Play with embodying the feeling of the truth. Dance or move around your house from the place of this deeper knowing. What does it feel like? How do you stand and move when you know this to be true? How does it change how you relate to others, your work, your creativity?
  • Keep touching the deeper truth, connecting with it. If the wounded self and the false stories come up again, hold the wounded self in love but don’t believe her stories. Comfort her from your wise, loving, adult self. And inquire again. See if a new deeper truth comes that has new resonance for you.

To your whole Self,

Maxima

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