The Gifts (and Perils) of Focus

The Gifts (and Perils) of Focus

This is the beginning of a two-part series on Focus. We’ll look at how you can bless your creativity and your life with its gifts. And, avoid its pitfalls.

Focus is about getting out of overwhelm, over-doing, and the feeling of spinning your wheels. It’s about aligning your life with what matters most to you. It brings fulfillment, clarity, and ease.

What it’s not about is driving yourself with an inner taskmaster or eliminating other delights from your life. It isn’t about having a maniacal single purpose with nothing else going on.

Focus gives you purpose and momentum. Perhaps you feel your primary focus needs to be on your work, or school, or your family right now. Perhaps you decide to put it on finding a partner or learning a new skill.

Once you name your focus and give it your attention, you can fill in around it with other things that bring enjoyment and spice. You’ll also fill in with things that are necessary or important—like care of your finances and your health.

But you know your primary focus. And you understand why you may have to let some things go, some things be dormant or more quiet, why you might need to neglect some things for a period of time. Instead of trying to do it all.

Knowing your focus lets you off the hook of trying to do everything and all at the same level. So you don’t go crazy and exhaust yourself. Or get discouraged and never reach your dreams.

We need focus. In our art and in our lives. And it can feel harder and harder to choose and maintain focus in our “distraction economy.”

When You Have a Lot of Interests

Having focus means we choose where to give our life energy—to which art form, creative project, or aims. Within your creative life (and any area of life), choosing a primary focus can be enormously freeing, helpful, and satisfying.

Choosing a focus doesn’t mean you can’t work in more than one art form, or have more than one interest at a time. I am a writer, dancer, and musician. Each one gives me something different and vital. But I can’t do them all at the same level all the time.

Writing has been my primary focus for many years. Knowing this gives me clarity in how I use my studio time, nourish my muse, and grow as an artist. And I can choose to shift that focus for periods of time.

You can also work on multiple projects at a time. Some artists need this cross-pollination to do their best work. And you may have goals in different areas of your creative life, goals for creating art, learning, and sharing your work, for instance.

But I slow my progress and artistic development when I lack a strong focus, when my priorities aren’t clear, and when I don’t stick to those priorities. Then I feel frustrated and disappointed with how little progress I have made. I need to narrow my focus, know the order of priority of my projects and goals, and have a realistic plan for reaching them. Otherwise, I tend to flail, doing a little of this and a little of that.

The proof is always in the pudding. Are you completing things you are proud of? Creating your best work? Growing as an artist and in your life? Most of all, are you enjoying your life?

Choosing a Primary Focus

Start by choosing a primary focus. This might be a creative project or goal or a focus for your life as a whole right now. What is calling to you? What lights you up? What would feel the best or make the biggest positive difference in your life right now? What is your one thing if you had to choose one thing for a time?

Right now my artistic focus is the book I’m writing on how to live a passionate, inspired creative life. As long as I didn’t get crystal clear that my book was my primary focus, progress was painfully slow. I kept getting distracted and derailed. I had my hand in so many projects. And was also juggling too many small (and large) goals all over my life. I felt overwhelmed and like I was always falling behind. And it felt like nothing was getting done.

Perhaps you don’t yet have a focus or not enough. You go into your creative space and just dabble. You go about your life, answering to whatever is most urgent that day. Or you are overwhelmed with too many projects and directions.

Let Your Heart Be Your Guide

Focus, when chosen well—from your heart’s deepest desires and soul’s needs—gives you excitement, energy, and relief. And both the process and completion brings fulfillment, joy, and a sense of accomplishment.

I invite you to choose a primary focus in your creative life now, and perhaps one in your life as a whole. Here’s how.

Try this: Pour out all the projects, goals, desires, pursuits that you have going in your life now or have been thinking about. Dump them all onto a piece of paper.

Go through them one by one. Which ones spark joy? Which feel exciting or draw you? Which connect to a deep sense of purpose or meaning? Put a star or a heart next to those.

If something feels heavy or too hard, perhaps the time is not right for that now. If something feels like a should rather than a want to, cross it off or find a way to connect it to something you truly desire. Maybe you need to hire support with it. If something feels urgent, is that urgency connected to a goal or dream that’s truly important, or is it a false urgency, coming from unhealed trauma or anxiety?

Winnow down your goals and projects. Cross whatever you can off the list. Now, choose a primary focus in your creative life and/or in your life as a whole. If you cannot choose one, choose three and rank them in order of priority.

You can decide the time frame for this choice. Perhaps you start playing with this by just choosing a singular focus from now until the end of the year. That’s just two weeks away. So your focus might be to enjoy the holidays and let yourself rest. Or to finish a project that is near to completion. Or to spend time harvesting the outgoing year and visioning the new. Perhaps you are ready to choose a primary focus for 2022.

Focus Is More Than Just Choosing

Once you know what your focus is, you need a plan for how you will move toward it and keep it alive in daily life.

Focus can include detailing the steps and timeline. Right now, I’ve given myself the goal of editing one big chapter of my book every two weeks until this draft is done. Your focus might be a learning goal: To master watercolor technique or learn to play Bach’s solo cello suites. What’s your plan for how you will do this?

Whatever the focus, and whatever your steps, you also need a way to remember to take those steps, check how it’s going, and adjust as needed. You need encouragement, support, accountability. I have both an editor who is helping me with my book and a writer friend that I meet with regularly to share.

Remember, you don’t have to do it alone. We need mentors and companions on the path to our heart’s dreams.

Support for Your Passionate Life

If you would love radical clarity on your focus, I’d be honored to support you with one-on-one Creative Life Mentoring. This is a magical combo of life coaching, creativity mentoring, and soul whispering that is tailored to your specific needs, desires, dreams, challenges. It is a profound gift to give to yourself.

I invite you to take advantage of my year-end mentoring special. If you sign up by December 31, you get $100 off a series of six sessions with me. Please note: If you have not worked with me before, you will need to schedule a free Discovery Session by December 24 to make sure we are a good match to play together in this way.

Stay tuned for part II on Focus in which I share some recent pitfalls I fell into, how I got out, and more.

Clearing Space for More Joy and Ease

Clearing Space for More Joy and Ease

I recently had Covid. The experience brought some unpleasant sensations and challenges, but it also brought rich, unexpected blessings. I’ll share my experience with you here. Particularly, what I discovered about clearing space, within and without, to create more joy, ease, and a deeper alignment with Self.

This clearing, re-evaluating, and re-aligning is perfect for the season of winter and for the end of the year. It is also aligned with the astrology of this month (read here for more about that).

By sharing my experience, I hope to inspire and support you in your own process of making space for joy, so that you can live more artfully and soulfully, with flow and peace.

My Time of Illness

For me, the period of illness lasted about two weeks, a nasty flu. I had a low to moderate fever for ten days and was so tired I couldn’t do anything but sleep and rest all day and night. Somewhere in the middle I lost my sense of smell and some of my sense of taste. Taste returned quickly. Smell is returning in bits and pieces, oddly, but has mostly returned. At the end I got some irritation in my bronchia, which is still bothering me a bit. This is my experience. Each person who gets Covid has their own symptoms, process, time frame, and experience. My husband only had tiredness and body aches for five days. Nothing else, no lingering symptoms.

As I write this, it has been three and half weeks since I got sick. My energy and strength isn’t 100% back, but it’s probably 90%. I’m taking walks, raking leaves in the yard, decorating the house for the holidays, and able to work all day.

A Giant Reset

What happened internally was more interesting. It was as if someone pressed a giant reset button. I had a lot of time to consider my life, my activities, my relationships, my projects, my habits. It became clear what was causing stress and what was missing.

In the middle of being sick, my birthday happened. I reached out on Facebook and asked people close to me to call me. I have felt so isolated during the pandemic, and I hate that people barely seem to use the phone anymore. It’s all texting, messaging, emailing, posting. I miss deeper connections, hearing people’s voices, having a conversation. I got so many lovely phone calls from friends and family. It’s been a rich gift.

I also realized I needed to get out more, do more things, see people, live my life. I’m a actively seeking out what deeply nourishes me in body, mind, heart, and spirit.

Decluttering to Discover Joy

And I got inspired to do some decluttering. I used Marie Kondo’s process on my clothing, taking everything out of the dresser and closet and laying it on the bed. Then, picking up each piece to see if it sparks joy. I got rid of an entire big garbage bag full of clothes, and only kept what truly feels good. My dresser and closet feel so radiant and spacious now. I feel joy every time I open them to choose what to wear.

So, I took the same approach to my life. What sparks joy? Which activities, which habits, which thoughts, which projects? What are my priorities now and for the new year? What’s most important? What still feels alive to me in my heart and soul? What do I wish to keep and what am I ready to let go of?

When I first started to get well, I felt disoriented and depressed for a few days. Who am I? What matters? What is worth my energy and attention? I wasn’t sure. Even about my regular spiritual practices. Was I just doing them in a rote way? I had to find my way back to what was true and meaningful for me. I gave it time and was open to new feelings, needs, ideas. I waited for the spark of inspiration, joy, or feeling drawn to something.

A Huge Blessing

Since then, I find I am doing my work and living my life with so much more ease, relaxation, trust, and joy. I feel a quiet peace and centeredness, and allow myself to move more slowly, do less, care for my body, heart, and soul throughout my day. I am also more comfortable with the still-open questions, trusting the answers to come to me in time, resting in the gap. It’s a huge blessing.

I have been having so much fun decorating the house for the holidays and participating in holiday activities—going to our local Christmas street fair, getting a tree, also lighting the menorah and making latkes, and, of all things, listening to holiday music. I feel such pure delight in these simple pleasures.

We are in a time that supports and calls for taking a clear look at our lives, our beliefs, needs, and desires. To make changes to be in deeper alignment with our hearts and souls. Our world is in a much-needed transition away from the unsustainable and inharmonious ways we have been living. We are growing and changing in these changing times. All of this calls for a willingness to make positive change in our lives.

My Invitation to You

I encourage you to do some physical clearing—perhaps your clothing, perhaps a closet, or your art studio, your books, whatever calls to you. Use this process of picking up each item to see what sparks joy or is needed and useful, like a hammer. Keep only what meets that criteria. Then, donate, recycle, sell, or get rid of the rest, thanking it for its service to you.

This will strengthen the muscle of discernment around what brings joy in your life. Now, you can do some internal clearing and re-aligning. What is most meaningful to you? What brings you the most joy? Which habits, relationships, associations, activities are not serving you anymore? Let them go with grace and gratitude. Invite in more of what nourishes you deeply. Make space for it in your day, your week, your life.

When you clear out dead or heavy energy, things, activities from your life, you create a positive vacuum that can be filled with more of what you truly love. Especially if you open to new insight and clarity about what those things are for you now. And then you take action to bring them in.

Be willing to let go of the old self, to rest in the gap, in the unknown and fertile void a bit. It can be a little scary, but it will replenish, renew, and re-align your life for more blessings for you and for our world.

Harvesting 2021, Making Space for the New

Harvesting 2021, Making Space for the New

We have reached the final month of this ragged year. I had hoped this year would be far better than 2020, but 2021 proved rough, painful, and confusing in many ways. Nonetheless, beautiful things also happened.

December is a good time of year for taking stock, for reflection, and harvesting of the year that’s nearly past. There are bright pearls to be found amid the slimy innards of the clamshells, lessons to be gathered to help light the way forward, sorrows to be mourned and released to make space for the new. It is like putting the garden to bed, harvesting the final fruits, cutting down the dead plants, covering the bed with mulch, so that it becomes fertile again for new growth.

These times call for slowing down and turning inward. They call for emptying out to make space for new visions, new dreams, new stories, new life. We need to collectively dream the new, in order to bring it into being. It is up to us to make a more loving, beautiful, sustainable, joyful world for all. And we can do it.

I invite you to take some time with a journal to go inward and reflect on the outgoing year. You might wish to do this in several sessions—answering one question below in your journal each morning—or you may wish to do it all at once, or in conversation with a loved one or friend.

With the questions below I share a few of my own answers to give you some ideas.

Questions to Help You Harvest Your Year

  • What were the highlights of this past year? What are the moments and experiences you most treasure? When did you feel most engaged, lit up, or enjoying of life?

For me, some of the highlights were camping with my beloved—those precious days spent entirely outdoors, connecting deeply to the natural world, with a fire every morning and evening, and no cares or concerns.

And attending the Collective Trauma Summit online—the excitement and validation of learning about collective trauma and collective healing and how it dovetails with my work, both personally and professionally.

  • What do you need to mourn, honor, and release? What was difficult, painful, hard, disappointing? Give the experiences and feelings space on the page and then choose to let them go, so they don’t become stumbling blocks in the new year.

One of the biggest things I’m mourning is another year spent largely cut off from friends, dancing, playing music with others, going to concerts and festivals, having parties. And how this has negatively impacted my joy and inspiration.

  • What did you learn this year? What new skills or insights or discoveries occurred?

I am celebrating completing a course on book proposal writing. And doing individual healing work on my inherited trauma.

  • What were your accomplishments? What did you complete or do? What are you proud of?

I am most proud of having completed a proposal for a book on creativity that I am writing. I also did an enormous amount of work on the book itself. It’s really coming together, and I will be ready to send the proposal out in the new year!

  • What blessings came your way this past year? What was fortunate?

    Our garden continues to be a rich source of daily blessings. Also, the monthly fire circles I host were rich and deep, and a strong community gathered to help carry us through these times. I was blessed once again to have amazing students and connections in my classes.
  • Looking now perhaps particularly at your creative life, what did you get done? What activities, habits, classes, companions served you best? What inspired you most this year?

In addition to accomplishments already mentioned, I started assembling a new manuscript of poems and editing them. What helped me most was a book retreat intensive I participated in and the course I took. Also, partnering with a poetry buddy to give each other feedback once a month. And upleveling my creative studio with new bookshelves and a wonderful new chair.

  • What did you not get done that you would like to complete before the year end or make a priority for the new year?

I did not get my new website done despite countless hours spent researching and planning it. Frustrating! I’d love to have it done by year-end but realistically it will likely take a bit longer than that.

Support in Creating Your New Year Aligned with Heart

I hope you find these reflection questions helpful and inspiring. When we take time to harvest the outgoing year, we clear space within so that we can plant new seeds for the coming times. It is a kind of inner decluttering.

If you would like support in going deeper in harvesting the outgoing year and visioning the new year, I would be honored to work and play with you in my one-on-one Mentoring program.

Together we will take stock of the year that’s ending and create an inspired roadmap to guide your coming year. A good roadmap aligns with your heart, soul, and spirit, so that your life shines from within. A good roadmap also has a balance of clarity and flexibility. In that way, you know the steps to take to reach your most cherished dreams. You’ll have a guide to stay on track. And you also can adjust to the unexpected, while not losing your essential heart path.

If you are longing for a more inspired, fruitful, joyful year ahead, I invite you to sign up for a series of mentoring sessions with me now. If you have dreams or goals and need some help, this kind of focused support can be priceless.

The first step is to sign up for a free Discovery Session here. We will explore what you desire, what’s been getting in your way, and whether we are a good match to play together in this way.

Dealing with Disappointment in Art and Life

Dealing with Disappointment in Art and Life

Recently, I suffered a big disappointment. It felt like a physical blow to the chest. I was reeling with pain and shock.

In a moment I will share what happened and the six steps I took to recover from it. It is important to deal with disappointments in a good way, so they don’t block you from what your heart desires. So you are free to create your best art and your best life.

All artists and dreamers face disappointment in our lives. It is the nature of the game. If we dare to dream big, if we have big hopes and aspirations, if we pour our hearts and souls into our beloved creations and have the courage to share them with others, we can also fall hard, fail spectacularly, and be deeply disappointed.

This truth is a main reason why many people stop themselves from dreaming at all or daring to follow their heart’s dreams and their soul’s callings. Why so many people feel a hole in the center of their lives, something vital that is missing.

If no one dared to dream big, if no one dared to create art from their heart’s rich store and share it with others, our world would be a very bland, cold, and brutal place. That’s why it is so important to learn how to deal with disappointment, why we need to learn how to “fail better,” as the saying goes.

A Story of Disappointment and a Metaphor for Art and Life

When I was twelve years old, I took horseback riding lessons. One day, while learning how to ride over a series of jumps, the horse threw me off her back. I went sailing through the air and landed in the mud. I was startled and shaken, but unhurt. The instructor told me to get right back on the horse and try again. She said it was very important that I do this, for two reasons: First, so I would not be afraid to ride again. Second, so the horse would know she couldn’t throw me and get out of going over those big jumps. So the horse knew I would not give up so easily.

That horse is your art or your dream for your life.

When Things Don’t Go As You Hope

Earlier this year, I applied for an Individual Artist Grant from the California Arts Council. I worked so long and hard on the application, refining every bit of it, getting feedback from others. Somehow I thought for sure I would get this grant.

And I felt that I needed it both financially, and, even more importantly, as a leg up in my creative career. Getting this grant would be a validation that I hoped would open doors to other grants, awards, and opportunities. I have been working so intensely on writing for decades without much recognition or support. So this grant opportunity had a lot riding on it for me.

By now you have figured out that I did not get the grant. I felt stunned when I read the email and so disappointed.

I have dealt with a great deal of disappointment in my creative life. I have applied for many things that I have not received, and opened hundreds of rejection letters from literary journals to which I submitted my writing. Of course, I have also received wonderful acceptances and opportunities, had many publications, been invited to give readings more times than I can count.

This was not one of those moments. This was a bitter, painful disappointment.

How I Recovered Myself and My Art

Here is what I did to deal with it and get back on the horse.

1) I let myself feel the feelings all the way through.

This is so important. I didn’t stuff them, minimize them, or try to make myself wrong for having them. I cried. I swore. I banged my fist. I paced around to move the energy. And I met the feelings with love and compassion.

2) I shared the experience with trusted others.

I texted my husband at work immediately. His beautiful, quick reply was perfect. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. Your time will come.”

I also shared about it with my patrons on Patreon the next day, when the feelings were still raw. One of the things I love so much about Patreon is that, because it is a private group, I can share intimately about my creative life, projects, and works-in-process.

Sharing the feelings helps air them out and not let them fester. And I want my patrons to know the truth about the ups of downs of a creative life. I received lovely messages from several patrons in response.

3) I paid attention to what I was making it mean.

Yes, I was disappointed not to get the grant, but what was causing the real suffering was what I was telling myself about it. “I will always be passed over. I will never be recognized for my art. Other people always get the awards, and I don’t.”

I noticed the old false beliefs and painful wounds connected to these stories. I have a wound around feeling invisible, unseen, unheard, under-appreciated that goes back to my childhood. Unfortunately, I also have a deep-seated fear of being too visible that connects to my family heritage. It creates a bad double-bind.

Out of this old pattern, I have tended to re-create invisibility, or lack of recognition, for myself in painful ways. Having that old pattern and false belief triggered by not getting the grant was what was causing the most suffering. I could see that.

Recognizing the old patterns and where they come from, I could question the old stories and see that they are coming up in order to be healed.

4) I gathered helpful information.

Thanks to sharing on Patreon, my dear friend Molly texted me to express her condolence, and she shared an essential piece of information that made all the difference.

She told me how I could access a list of all the applicants and who got the grant. (The Arts Council was sharing this list.) I was stunned to discover that many writers and artists who are way more famous than me, and who have done wonderful things, also did not get the grant. These artists, I felt, had considerably more reason than me to be disappointed. This really helped explode the stories I was telling myself.

5) I soothed the feelings and fears.

Not receiving the grant provoked fears about money, as well as about never getting the recognition I long for and need in order to have a more thriving creative career. I had to meet those fears and soothe them, let them know what’s really true, or more true, both about my current situation and my future prospects.

When we are inside of old stories, limiting patterns, beliefs, and fears, we filter outer evidence so that we tend to only see, or see more of, what supports our limiting beliefs. And we ignore evidence to the contrary of our limiting beliefs.

So, I needed to have compassion for my hurt, and show myself what was actually true, contrary to my fears. I have enough funds right now to cover my needs. I have received other forms of recognition. I am growing in my art and life, working on healing these patterns. The future is unknown. All I can do is work and play towards what I love and dream.

6) I got back on the horse.

The very next morning I was in my studio at my regular creative time, writing, working on my next book. I keep doing what I love, what matters most to me.

Whether you have experienced a recent disappointment or one in the distant past that you still carry, these same steps can help you to feel, heal, and move forward. Learning how to deal with disappointment is essential to a healthy, thriving creative life and to living your heart’s big dreams. For the benefit of all beings.

I invite you to share a take-away from this post below. What spoke to you most? What can you use in your own life?

Dreaming New Creations In My Work

Dreaming New Creations In My Work

A profound process of dreaming and creation is going on.

I am deep in an incubation period on so many levels. Often I sit down to share some of it with you, and I fall silent.

When you are in the cocoon, and your old body has dissolved into formless goo, and your new wings have not yet formed, it is hard to give language to the experience. A profound metamorphosis is taking place.

Birthing the Book Project

First of all, I’ve been writing a book on creativity that grows out of my 18 years of teaching. I’ve been working on the book off and on for three years, but the last several months have been a super intensive push.

I am simultaneously writing a proposal, so I can attract a publisher for the book. Book proposals are creations in themselves, typically ranging 40-100 pages, including sample chapters. Writing the proposal has caused a major re-ordering of the book, deepening into how it wants to flow. To get to that has involved a lot of thinking, some hair-pulling, and a crazy amount of time. And then there’s editing the sample chapters.

Many days I dive in and look up three hours later, glazed.

But there’s more.

Dreaming New Structures to Hold Expansion

For months I’ve been dreaming new structures for my work to hold the growth that is calling me.

I’m feeling tugged at by the soul of my work to grow in all kinds of ways. And to prepare for that growth with a strong foundation and new containers to welcome expansion on many fronts.

I’m dreaming up a membership community—a sort of gym membership for your creative life—that will provide ongoing monthly guidance, inspiration, workshops, gatherings, conversation, and camaraderie to profoundly support you in your creativity and in living your heart’s dreams.

I’m also listening deeply for the ways I feel called to expand my work to support greater collective healing and co-creating a more loving, just, sustainable world for all.

And I am trying to bring my three online platforms—Brilliant Playground, my author website, and my Patreon into one home. This is a bewildering challenge. Yet I feel stretched too thin by having three sites. And too many of you are missing out on valuable content that I share in one place but not the others.

I need to entwine my life as a poet and artist, and my work as a firekeeper and Goddess-devotee, more closely into my work as a teacher, to let them inform and bless each other and you.

So, this is part of the very slow birthing of a new website and new offerings, new ways of working and playing in the world.

Patience and Faith Are Needed

As I go through all this inner and outer change—navigating as we all are the shifting sands of our world in its death and birth throes—it is hard for me to keep generating as much content or as many offerings for all of you.

I hope you will be patient with me. I am so eager to share the next beautiful evolution of my work with you. To invite you into deeper creativity and connection.

Stay tuned! It’s going to be quite an adventure.

Meanwhile, if you had one thing you would love to receive from a creative membership community, what would that be? What would nourish and support you best? What support do you need in your creative life?

With love,

Maxima

Photo of robin’s eggs by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

How to Stick to Your Goals and Have Fun in the Process

How to Stick to Your Goals and Have Fun in the Process

Would you love to write or paint or play guitar every day? Would you like to kindle a meditation practice? Or a gratitude practice? Or a new eating habit?

Do you keep procrastinating on a project you want to complete? Writing that book, cleaning out your closet, putting together a portfolio of your art.

Stickers might just be your new best friend.

I got these beautiful stickers from Ben Franklin (arts and crafts store) two weeks ago. Already, eleven of them are gone! I’m so proud of myself. In a minute, I’ll tell you why.

Using stickers to motivate yourself towards your goals, especially daily goals, is a tool I often recommend to my students. They work beautifully to help you cultivate new daily habits, and they are also fabulous for taking small steps toward big projects or dreams.

Don’t worry: If you don’t like stickers, I’ll give you another option below.

Why I’m using stickers right now

I needed to revitalize my commitment to moving my body every day.

With the pandemic dragging on, and me working from home, glued to my computer at my desk, I have not been getting enough movement at all.

Add to that three months of relentless, off-the-charts, unbearable heat wave here in Northern California, and at least a month of choking smoke from gargantuan wildfires. Getting outside at all has become difficult. Which means taking walks—one of my favorite forms of exercise—has not been palatable or possible often. And dancing with others, which I used to do twice a week, has been gone completely for a year and half.

And then the gloominess of a world in chaos, and the ongoing isolation, make it hard for me to want to put on music and dance by myself or do yoga.

What’s a girl to do to keep her body healthy?

Stickers! For every day in which I do at least 20 minutes of movement—bouncing on the mini trampoline, yoga, dance, walking, lifting my miniscule weights—I put a sticker on the wall calendar. I now have eleven in a row, and I do not want to break the chain!

Plus, these stickers are so beautiful, and it’s fun to choose the one I get to have that day. A little like an advent calendar in reverse.

The stickers and the unbroken rows provide such strong motivation that I insisted Don and I take a walk before dinner a couple nights ago, even though we had already had a full day of cleaning out the garage and had things to do that evening.

In the past, I would have just decided to wait for tomorrow. But not now.

How to use stickers to reach your goals

Choose any goal which you would like to have become a daily habit or activity for a period of time (or forever). It’s helpful, when starting out, to choose a period of time to focus on. Thirty days is good. Long enough to really dive in. Not so long that you feel you can’t keep it going.

Decide on a do-able daily chunk. I encourage people to start small and build on their success, rather than set ridiculous, ambitious goals and fall apart by day three. Ten minutes is good. But you decide what works for you and your goal or project.

calendar

Get a wall calendar or print out a calendar for the month and put it up on the wall or somewhere highly visible.

For every day that you do your new daily practice, give yourself a sticker. And do your darnedest not to break the chain. (If you do break the chain—life happens—just hop right back on that horse the next day.)

For those who don’t like stickers

Men often balk at the idea of stickers as being childish, girlish, silly, or unnecessary. Which is really a shame because you are missing out on some serious fun and motivation.

But all is not lost! For you guys (and any of you who have suppressed your inner child or have a phobia of stickers), you can use a check mark or an X.  

Studies have shown—for those who like studies or need proof—that doing this really does increase motivation for the goal. You get a little burst of positive hormones every time you get that sticker (or check mark), and seeing the unbroken chain is also a motivator.

Make your success even more likely

Get an accountability buddy. Tell a friend your goal for the next thirty days and report in each week—you can do that by text or email or phone. It helps greatly if the friend also has a goal—it doesn’t have to be the same goal—but it’s not strictly necessary. The key is to pick a friend who is encouraging and kind, but not too lax in letting you off the hook.

Celebrate and acknowledge yourself every single day that you do your daily goal. Really cheer yourself on. This is important.

And then, choose a reward to give yourself at the end of the thirty days. Something you would truly enjoy. Something you want. A dinner out somewhere nice or a trip to the beach. A new pair of shoes. A whole afternoon off to read trashy novels. And be sure to give yourself the reward if you make it to thirty days of stickers in a row.

Share your goals here, if you like. And I will cheer you on.

Inspire Your Muse With Creative Foreplay

Inspire Your Muse With Creative Foreplay

The process of creating is as much about the time spent not creating—and how you use that time in service to creativity—as it is about the time spent actively engaging with making art.

I am a huge walker and daydreamer. I might say that I’m a professional daydreamer. And that’s always been the case: the desire and ability to send my mind elsewhere and make new worlds. So a lot of my process still has to do with giving myself the space and time to just open to making a world in my mind long before it ends up on the page.

– poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi

But artists often forget this: Creativity needs good preparation, internal space, having idle time to dream and imagine. Setting an inviting stage for our creativity to feel welcome to come out and play. And also taking in new sources of inspiration.

All of this is part of our creative lives. It needs to be valued and included if we expect ourselves to be able to be inspired and keep creating.

If we just show up to make art stressed and distracted, having given no time or space to feed our muse, we are far less likely to be happy with the results.

Foreplay and Afterplay Are Essential to the Muse

Just as with lovemaking, foreplay and afterplay are important to a flourishing creative life. With lovemaking, foreplay and afterplay include not just what you do in bed, but how you relate to your lover throughout the whole day.

Foreplay includes how loving, playful, appreciative, romantic, sexy and sensual you are throughout your lives, as well as how thoughtful and attentive you are to the needs and feelings of your beloved. Connecting deeply with your beloved.

Afterplay includes lying in the arms of your beloved, relaxing together, staying connected, appreciating one another, and being kind and loving after you rise from bed.

Treat Your Muse Like Your Beloved

I recommend you think of your muse, your unique creative spark, as your beloved.

Ask yourself:  How do you romance your creativity throughout your day? How do you nourish and inspire and excite your muse with things that light her up, feed her, regenerate her? How do you entice her and court her?

And how do you appreciate her after you finish creating for the day? Do you revel in her gifts and express your love for what you’ve been given? Do you let yourself enjoy the afterglow of having created?

If you immediately fall into judging what you have made, that is not loving afterplay. How likely will she be to give you more creative gifts?

Romance Your Muse

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova

Find ways to romance your muse. Give her some open time and space to dream, an inviting environment in which to create, and inspiration to draw upon.

This does not have to be huge or expensive. A fifteen minute walk before going into the studio may work wonders. Or reading a few inspiring poems before you begin creating. Or taking a few minutes to meditate or listen to the wind. Bringing some colorful, playful or beautiful items into your creative space—even if that space is your kitchen table. Checking some art books out of the library.

And, encourage and appreciate your muse after you have created. Enjoy the process of creating and enjoy the after-glow of having made time for what you love. Give yourself appreciation for making the time to create at all.

To your loving, sexy relationship with your muse,

Maxima

The Joy of Completion: What Are You Waiting For?

The Joy of Completion: What Are You Waiting For?

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

― Henry David Thoreau

Every Monday I draw a card from the Zen Tarot deck as a guide and meditation for the week. Last week I drew Postponement, a card I’m not sure I’ve ever received before.

The card pictures a woman, living in a gray world and peering through a window at a landscape full of colors, longing to be there. But she hesitates, full of “what ifs.”

The card talks about the way we put off what we desire out of fear and doubt. And reminds us we won’t be younger or braver next year.

First I thought: That’s not me. I’m not a procrastinator. I go for what I want. After all, I teach Living Your Dreams and coach others to live theirs.

But as I sat with this card throughout the week, I felt shocked at how often I postpone big decisions and put off doing things for myself, especially if it involves spending significant amounts of money and/or time. Especially if it’s about my art. Ouch.

I also saw how many incomplete creative projects are lying around my studio, from the small to the large, and how many books are half-read, stacked in piles.

What’s Behind Procrastination?

When we want to do something but we don’t do it, resistance is at work. Resistance is fear in various disguises. Procrastination, distraction, doubt, excuses.

We don’t want the discomfort it will take to do it. Or we don’t want to give up what we’d have to sacrifice to go for it. We’re afraid to make mistakes. Or we’re afraid of being judged. We’re afraid to fail.

For me, making the wrong decision terrifies me. I’m afraid of getting hurt, of losing what is precious to me. I am afraid of expending energy, money, and time only to wind up disappointed or broke. I’ve experienced it before. We all have. And these experiences leave scars that cause us to be cautious, often too cautious.

The Costs of Postponement and Incompletion

But, postponing what we love and long to do, delaying finishing what we start, sucks energy from our lives and feeds our fear and bad habits, giving them more power. Putting off decisions and dreams drains vitality and joy.

Half-completed projects or those never even begun that we carry around in our hearts and minds create a feeling of stuckness, frustration, and confusion. They rob us of living fully now, expressing our gifts and purpose here. They cost us deeper enjoyment of life.

That endless list of should do, want to do, must do, maybe I’ll do that’s in our minds creates an energetic bog that makes it difficult for creativity, vitality and abundance to flow freely in our lives. And for us to feel free, playful, joyful and fully expressed.

Benefits of Deciding and Completions

We all know the relief and surge of energy that happens when we finish a big project, make a big decision, or take decisive action toward a longed-for dream or goal.

As we clear up projects, decisions and goals, we open the doors to new blessings and ideas. We summon the support of the universe. We gather momentum for bigger dreams. And, we feel satisfaction, freedom and fulfillment.

When the Time Is Not Right

Sometimes we aren’t ready yet or the time is not right. Perhaps there is preparation we need to do.

There are natural rhythms to life that need honoring. Just like there is a natural cycle to the seasons. You cannot plant a garden in winter and have it thrive.

Also, we cannot do everything at once. Biting off more than we can chew leaves us with another incompletion or disappointment. That is why clear choices and priorities are vital on the path of dreams.

Sometimes we don’t have enough information to make a big decision yet.

Sometimes there is inner work to do. If our inner selves feel conflicted about our dreams, if our wounds are too unhealed, or our beliefs too unsupportive, we will create enormous wear and tear trying to move toward our dreams. And, it’s not likely to go well. We have to first create space within ourselves.

Sometimes we don’t have the resources yet and need to gather them, though often if we choose boldly and move in the direction of our dreams, resources of many kinds show up.

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initative or creation, there is one elementary truth…that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in ones’s favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have believed would have come his way.

Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it.”

― W.H. Murray The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

Summer Solstice: Completions and New Beginnings

We just passed the summer solstice, one of the four sacred turning points and portals of the year, a powerful time for letting go of the old—including habits and beliefs—and calling in the new.

For this solstice, I am calling in a deeper commitment to fostering my own greatness as an artist and receiving the support, recognition and audience I need and desire.

And I’ve decided to focus on completions for a while. Taking my cherished projects, dreams, and goals and moving in a concerted way toward finishing them, one at a time.

I’m also looking at my big life dreams and what decisions I’ve been postponing. It’s time to move forward. If I need more information, I’m gathering it. If I just need to leap, I’m doing my best to leap.

Decluttering Is a Form of Completion

Piles of old stuff we no longer love or use weigh us down energetically. Decluttering frees up energy and space in our lives and welcomes the new. If you’re not sure where to start with completions, decluttering can help move energy and bring a feeling of lightness.

Decluttering my writing studio is one of my incompletions. It is hard, involving sorting through endless pieces of paper (the writer’s curse). But even when I do a little bit of it, I feel relieved. I breathe easier and have more space inside for new inspiration.

Decluttering can be hard on your own. Get a friend to come over and help you. Then, do the same for your friend. Or hire some help. My friend Megan Montero helps people declutter, no matter where you live.

How To Start Completing Things and Moving Forward Now

Make a list of incompletions in your life. What projects, goals, plans, ideas are partially done or floating around in your brain? Look around your home, office, studio, your life. What have you started or wanted to start?

Make a list of indecisions. What big dreams, longings, questions have you been harboring? For me, that’s whether to get an MFA in creative writing. I’ve been thinking about this for only about 20 years. But I am terrified because my experience in graduate school for music was so awful, and because it costs so much.

What about emotional incompletions? Are there people you are not complete with? Someone you need to say something to, or even to write a letter that you don’t mail? Someone you need to forgive or ask forgiveness from? Some grief that you are not complete with? The Grief Recovery Handbook and method is excellent for this.

Now, choose one thing at a time from your list. Small or large. Make a plan to finish it. Take steps each week until it’s done. You may wish to start small to gain momentum.

You Don’t Have to Do It All, Just What Matters Most

Not everything on your long to-do list needs to happen. Sometimes you just need to decide not to do something and cross it off your list for good, give away that pile of stuff you aren’t going to use, let go of an old idea or project you no longer desire.

Letting go of perfectionism will go a long way toward supporting you. Be willing to let things be “good enough”.

And, don’t try to do everything at once. You’ll just spin out, get distracted and quit again. Stay focused on one or two things. Get those done, then move on.

Also, let go of the idea that you will ever cross off everything on your to-do list. That’s not the goal. The idea is to free up energy and joy by taking on the things that matter most to you and/or are weighing you down.

Let Death Be Your Guide

Ask yourself what would matter if you knew you would die a year from now, what would you most want to get done? How would you most wish to live? Then, how about if you were going to die five years from now?

Creating art, sharing it with the world, being with people I love and enjoy, and living joyfully are what I most wish to spend time on. I have some specifics–finishing two books I’m working on, enrolling in that MFA program, healing my relationship with music. And I would still choose to declutter my studio because, even though it wouldn’t matter much after I was dead, it matters to my living easefully, freely and happily now.

Let death be your guide to living a rich, joyful, fulfilling life.

There is no time like the present for making our heart’s dreams a priority and doing the things we long to do. What will you complete first?


If you’d like support with completions and decisions, reach out to me for one-on-one life coaching here.

Letting in the Wondrous: How to Cultivate the Optimum State for Creativity

Letting in the Wondrous: How to Cultivate the Optimum State for Creativity

For me, the essential “trick” to creating my best work is to cultivate that inner state in which I release conscious control and open to influence. I enter the wildness and wilderness, that state in which I can let the wind of inspiration blow through me, allow the strange to happen, the wondrous to seep through the cracks. It’s all about availability and surprise.
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