On the Truth of Thanksgiving and the Practice of Gratitude

On the Truth of Thanksgiving and the Practice of Gratitude

Tomorrow in the United States is Thanksgiving Day, a holiday that brings mixed feelings.

For most of my life, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. I was born on Thanksgiving Day, so that’s part of it. But I loved this holiday because it was about gathering with loved ones and sharing food and being grateful. No other hoopla.

How beautiful.

But then I got older and Thanksgiving got more complicated.

Sometimes I wasn’t having such a great time with my loved ones. Then, I started sharing Thanksgiving with less-than-loved ones, people I didn’t feel at home with, people who would fight and say awful things on Thanksgiving. This wasn’t my idea of a holiday.

Some years I was scrambling to get myself invited to someone’s house for Thanksgiving, so I wouldn’t be alone.

And the crazed collective tension of the holidays seems to ramp up more intensely and earlier each year.

Then I started to learn how the Thanksgiving holiday actually came about. If you don’t know, this beautiful 10-minute video is a great place to start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vHVxr7txqU&t=633s

This year I’m sharing the day with friends and acquaintances at a big outdoor gathering, people who are choosing to come together out of friendship, not obligation. I’m really looking forward to it.

And I’m also aware that there is so much history in this country that needs to be aired and healed collectively if we are ever to move forward into a more loving, sustainable, just way of life for all of creation. I feel the grief of the genocide of the native peoples of this land and how our violent past continues to harm us all.

A few quick words about gratitude

A few weeks ago I got hit hard with seasonal depression (and also situational depression). I’ve moved out of it now, but while I was still in it, I returned actively to the practice of gratitude as an antidote.

Gratitude can be hard to feel sometimes, especially if you’re depressed. But it can also really help. One thing to know about it: If you can’t feel it, don’t force it.

In returning to gratitude, I’ve been both writing in my journal in the mornings and stopping at least once a day, often at the end of the day when I’m lying in bed, to appreciate and give thanks for one or more things.

The key is to find something you truly feel grateful for—not the usual list of things you are “supposed to” feel grateful for—and then to dive into why you feel grateful for it. Don’t just make a list. Write (or think) a few sentences about why you appreciate it. What in particular do you love or enjoy about this?

Here’s an example: I just started taking a new drumming class last night. What fun! It feels so good to sit in a circle with others, to play music again, to be learning something new. And the teacher is wonderful.

Doing this for a couple of weeks has made a noteworthy difference in uplifting my spirits and outlook. I am finding more and more things to appreciate naturally as I move through my day, pausing to enjoy things more, and feeling better in general. I hope this helps you too.

And however you choose to spend Thanksgiving Day, may it be a beautiful, peaceful, and blessed day.

How to Find Inner Peace and Freedom

How to Find Inner Peace and Freedom

A Simple Somatic Practice to Uncover Your Innate Wisdom

One of the things I love about the work I do is I get to hold space for others and listen deeply to them. And in that space, I witness, again and again, the miracle of people finding their inner peace and freedom.

I get to see the innate wisdom we all carry in our hearts and bodies. People uncover beautiful answers to their questions and dilemmas.

I watch pain, difficult patterns, and stuck places, sometimes held for decades, dissolve. And I see the blossoming that follows in their lives, relationships, work, creativity.

It’s so simple, yet so astonishing every time. It takes my breath away.

The Surprising Path to Peace and Freedom

It might surprise you to hear that the key to your inner peace and freedom is in your suffering.

I love this. Because it means our suffering has gifts in it. Rich gifts of growth, healing, transformation, and yes, layers of deeper peace and freedom.

It means that the path through my suffering leads to a beautiful place if I know how to walk that path in a fertile way. And that the Universe is not out to get me, but rather is on my side, leading me to greater inner peace and freedom, if I am willing to accept the invitation.

Your suffering also tends to lead you to your calling, the unique brilliance and gifts you have to share, the way you find your most profound fulfillment and joy.

This doesn’t mean you should go out and court suffering. In any human life, we get plenty of it. And I don’t mean that you should wallow in suffering. That would be your key to inner hell.

Whatever suffering is arising in us is an invitation to let go of a place within where we are not yet free or not aligned with the truth of who we are and the truth of what is.

Saying this does not mean that others are given carte blanche to oppress, harm, or behave terribly toward us or anyone. It doesn’t make harmful behaviors acceptable in any way or excuse them. Nor does it mean you should beat yourself up for feeling suffering. It’s normal and a part of human life.

However, we can heal our suffering, rather than live with the pain and limitation of it.

Discovering the Miracle Cure

I want to share with you a simple, but powerfully effective tool I use with myself and my students to deal with inner pain. I call it The Miracle Cure because the results and the speed with which it works seem miraculous.

The Miracle Cure leads to our innate inner peace and freedom by welcoming and bringing loving awareness to our suffering, which is what our suffering wants. It wants to be seen, heard, felt all the way through, and then, released. Suffering is clamoring for attention, but loving, wise attention.

The greatest discovery of my life has been that everything dissolves in the presence of loving awareness, except the truth. And all we need is loving awareness for any suffering or lies we are carrying within to dissolve. Amazing, right? Test it out for yourself.

The Miracle Cure works by engaging the extraordinary wisdom of the body and letting go of your story about your suffering. The story about why you are suffering is what keeps you stuck. As long as you replay the story in your head, you will be stuck with the feelings and the unhelpful patterns. This is the first key to know about getting free inside.

I first learned a version of The Miracle Cure from a coach called Christian Mickelsen on a free webinar he led. I deepened my understanding of it through my study and practice of The Sedona Method. And I made it my own by practicing it over and over and blending my experience and study of somatic healing with it.

So, when I lead the process with a student, it may take different forms, as I let myself be led by my intuition, by what is arising and needed in the moment, and by the many modalities I have learned.

You can learn the simplest form right now and it will serve you beautifully. It’s a potent tool for helping yourself and others.

How to Practice the Miracle Cure

Think of an issue that has been troubling you in some way. Connect with that issue until you feel it. This usually doesn’t take long.

Now, look inside your body. Where do you feel those feelings most strongly in your body?

Focus on that part of the body and bring your attention to the very epicenter where the sensation is strongest.

Let go of all your thoughts about the issue and focus solely on the sensations. What do they feel like? Describe them.

Keep your awareness on the epicenter of the sensation. Breathe into it. Give it space. Let it know that you feel it, see it, hear it. Send it love and compassion.

Be patient. This pain is wanting to be acknowledged. Images and thoughts may arise. You can note these, but return to the sensations and keep breathing into them and bringing loving awareness to them.

Allow the sensations to be as they are and to shift and change as they do. They may get stronger, move to another part of the body, soften or dissolve, or change in some other way. Attend to them patiently without judgment and with compassion. Keep your focus on wherever the sensation is strongest and keep breathing into that point and sending it love.

Almost always, if you do this patiently without trying to make anything happen, the sensations will soften or dissolve. Usually, they will dissolve partially at first. Keep going, stay with what remains until it has completely dissolved, if possible.

Then, notice what remains. The space, peace, openness that remains. Welcome this with your awareness. Allow yourself to rest as that inner freedom, peace, or spaciousness which is your true nature. It may feel empty, quiet, calm, or neutral.

That’s it. You have done the Miracle Cure. You have released suffering.

After Finding Peace and Freedom

Notice there can sometimes be a tendency to go looking for the suffering and recreate it now that it’s gone, to feel uneasy without your familiar pain. Let yourself instead rest in the peace and freedom that you are.

If the Miracle Cure isn’t working for you in the moment, just let it go. Don’t stress. Don’t force it. Often, when we are dealing with a very painful issue, we need someone else to hold space for us and guide the process because it is hard to generate enough courage to bring awareness to our suffering without our defenses and distractions arising. And it can be hard for us to generate enough love and compassion for ourselves. Sometimes we need to talk about our suffering first, for it to be heard and for us to sort out things about it. Sometimes we need to take some action around it before it is ready to be released. Remember, suffering is a messenger and an invitation.

Or we may just need to return to the practice at another time. Or try another tool or practice.

Even if you just let go of a little bit of the suffering in one session, celebrate that. Often, if you begin the unraveling process within, it will continue on its own as you go about your day. And if there’s more to attend to, you can do so again another day.

To your inner peace and freedom,

Maxima

How to Regain Your Balance in Challenging Times

How to Regain Your Balance in Challenging Times

I’ve been thinking about balance and imbalance. We just passed the equinox when the day and night are of almost equal length all over the planet. And we entered the sign of Libra, symbolized by the scales.

At the same time, the world is so topsy-turvy right now, so out of balance in many ways. War. The environment. Wealth distribution. What we value in the dominant cultures. To name just a few. There is much change, stress, loss, and uncertainty. It’s not easy on the body, mind, or heart.

So, I’m thinking about how to create and maintain balance in my life. And how to regain it when I get thrown for a loop. And how to help you do the same.

We all need practices that we are familiar enough with that we remember to use them when the going gets tough. It can make all the difference in the world to your health and well-being, your outlook, and your resilience.

Below I share three key tools that will help you have more balance, ease, and flow in your life. No matter what is happening. But first. . .

What’s Threatened My Balance This Year

I’ve had huge losses piled one on top of the other this year. I made the wrenching decision to leave my spiritual community of the past 22 years, a community through which I have had many of the most important and transformative experiences of my life.

Very shortly after that, my spiritual mentor and dear friend died, leaving me bereft of a deep source of guidance and healing I have relied on for 22 years as well.

And at the same time, we learned we had to leave the house we’d been renting for the past five years, a place we poured our heart and soul into, especially into the gardens. And we had to find a new place in a terrible rental market.

We were blessed to find a lovely home, but it’s been a big jump in rent, which is not easy amidst the insane inflation of everything.

And then my friend Curt died.

Suffice it to say, I’ve had my share of challenges this year. And I imagine you’ve had yours.

How I Maintain and Regain Balance

Most of the time, I’ve done astonishingly well. Sometimes, I feel just awful, completely down in the dumps, triggered, or stressed beyond belief.

So, how do I maintain my balance in tough times? And how do I regain it when I get knocked off? I’ll share three powerful practices with you.

As you read these, please remember that balance is not a static, idealized state of perfection. It is a dynamic movement, swaying between poles, dipping first one way and then another. We make myriad little adjustments in order to stand upright. The goal is not to never lose our balance. We learn instead to cultivate a fluid, ever-shifting dance and to regain our balance when we lose it.

1. Breathing

The number one tool to rely on for creating and regaining balance is breathing. Deep slow breaths.

This can be as simple as taking three big deep cleansing breaths and letting them out with a big ahhh or sigh. Breathing in light and space and ease on the in-breath. And then letting go completely on the out-breath. Try it now.

When you take a deep breath, the vagus nerve stimulates your body’s relaxation response. Blood pressure lowers and so does your heart rate and your brain calms.

Here are a couple of breathing techniques that can be helpful.

Gradually increase the length of your breath until you are breathing in for a count of six or seven, and out for the same amount.

Or try the “box breath,” also called “rhythmic breathing,” which is breathing in for four counts, holding the breath in for four, breathing out for four counts, and holding the breath out for four. Repeat either of these for several minutes.

You can also do “circle breath,” where you breathe in and out in long, slow, deep, and steady breaths with no breaks, hitches, or catches. I like to visualize the in-breath coming up the back of my spine and over the top of my head, and then on the out-breath, flowing down the front of my body.

2. Earthing and Being in Nature

By now most of you have probably heard about the positive effects of what the Japanese call “forest bathing.” Any kind of time spent outdoors in nature (it doesn’t have to be a forest) can help restore our sense of balance, peace, well-being, and wonder. It lowers our stress levels, can ease depression and promotes health. (A few studies are listed here: https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/wellnessevidence/forest-bathing/)

I start my day by being outside in my garden for 20- 30 minutes. I also do some gentle movements with my bare feet on the earth. This is called Earthing, and it also works on concrete, bricks, or stone, but not asphalt.

Earthing releases the excess buildup of free radicals in the body, reducing inflammation in the body and increasing your energy levels. It is also said to improve blood flow and sleep and even slow down the aging process. You can read more benefits of earthing here: https://www.gethealthyandgrounded.com/blogs/articles/20-benefits-to-earthing

During my work day, I will take 5-minute breaks to walk outside and reset myself.

3. Spiritual Practice and Connection

Whatever your beliefs or traditions are, cultivating spiritual connection and regular spiritual practices are unbelievably helpful in challenging times. My daily prayer and meditation practice is the anchor of my day. I also sit by the fire outside on or near the new moon and full moon, the solstices and equinoxes, and have other practices to foster connection.

Find the practices that resonate with you and work for you. Whether chanting or prayer or meditation or some other form of regular practice. The key is to make it a habit. That’s when you reap the biggest benefits.

I hope these three core tools help you find more balance through these topsy-turvy times. I’d love to hear from you about what else helps you create and maintain balance in your life.

To your fluid balance,

Maxima

P.S. The monthly Creativity Igniter I shared with my patrons just this week was around Balance. If you’d like to read that and all the other great things I share with my patrons, please join me here. It helps me keep doing the work I do in the world.

Making the Most of Your Life

Making the Most of Your Life

My friend Curt died a couple of weeks ago. I learned about it on Facebook and was stunned.

Curt was a heart-centered, caring soul and helped me in many ways over the years. He was a person I could trust to be honest, authentic, and to listen deeply. He could also be quite funny.

A few weeks before that an important person in our local music community died quite unexpectedly, a real shock. He wasn’t old. Then, my friend Amy’s mother died, also suddenly.

All of this death and loss is having me consider mortality and how I want to live, how I want to spend whatever time I have left, which may be very little or perhaps many years. There’s no way to know.

What if I only have a few years left? What if I have ten? Or just one? What do I most wish to do with that time? How can I live my best life now?

Death is so clarifying.

“Dying requires that we take the step without proof. We walk through the door. We cannot turn around and go back, so we walk through. The end. No guarantees, no certainty, no assurance. We walk, taking each step not from fear but from love, because a great mystery is blessing each footfall. Our hearts understand that mystery and feel the joy. It is the mystery returning to itself.”

Rodney Smith, Lessons from the Dying as quoted in Daily Wisdom: 365 Buddhist Inspirations

What rises up for me is the desire to do even more of what I love, to make even more time for creativity in my life, to make it even more of a priority. I want to study it more deeply, be in creative community with peers and mentors, sharing with others and dialoguing about art and making.

And I want to enjoy my daily life, the small moments, each act of doing, each interaction with another. And continue to heal or release what hurts or haunts me, so I can be most joyful, alive, expressed.

All this uncertainty and upheaval in the world brings losses, endings, and letting go of various kinds. We can contract in fear or we can open in love to the mystery and wonder.

I’m choosing to make the most of my life now, to shape the most beautiful, rich, meaningful life that I can.

I choose to spend my resources of time, money, energy as much as possible on the things that are closest to my heart, bring me the most joy, and help me live well.

And that’s scary because my fear says I should spend all my time, energy, resources on preparing for a changing world—I’m doing that too—and on making more money. But I might not be around to enjoy that money. Whereas, if I make more time for making art now, I know I’ll be loving my life.

What are those things for you that bring you joy, fulfillment, love, peace?

I invite you to explore this in your heart, your thoughts, and in your journal. Answer, as best you can, from your heart, not your head.

If you only have three years left to live, how do you wish to spend them? What rises as a priority? What would make for the best life?

  • And then, how can you honor those priorities through your choices now?
  • What actions can you take this week, this month, this year?
  • What might you need to let go of or stop doing to make more time, space, and resources for what you most love?
  • What might you need to invest in?
  • What supports do you need to put in place to make more space and time for what matters most?

So much is changing in the world in radical ways. We don’t know what the world will look like tomorrow or next year. This makes it hard to plan. Even crazy-making.

For this reason, I feel there is no better time to focus on what your heart feels most drawn towards, what fills you with delight, or meaning, or love, or joy, even if you are full of doubt and fear about taking those next steps. Whenever something is on our heart path, there tends to be doubt and fear.

There are no assurances, no guarantees, but the path of heart is the best path I know. And it’s the one you are called to for a reason. If you long to dance, then dance. If you long to make music, make music. If you long to paint, please paint. And if you long to study marine biology, do that.

Perhaps you want to play music and study marine biology. Trust that. There may be a beautiful interweaving of the two that wants to come uniquely through you.

The dreams of your heart and soul were given to you for a reason. We need you to follow your dreams.

And if you are longing for support with finding and following your heart’s dreams and desires, check out my Creative Life Coaching & Mentoring.

To your heart-centered life with love,
Maxima

Need Creative Inspiration? Go for a Walk

Need Creative Inspiration? Go for a Walk

One of the times I am most creative is when I have spent an hour or so working on a creative project, and then I go for a walk.

On the walk, ideas tend to start pouring in.

I think this is because I have already engaged deeply with the project. I have connected with it, maybe wrestled with it, maybe made some progress.

And then I let it go. I put my body in motion and relax my mind.

I walk with no agenda. I’m not aiming to think about my creative project. I am not trying for revelations. I just walk and enjoy the scenery and the motion of my body. I let my mind roam.

Often, things begin to click. Stuck places in the work start to open. New ideas come. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the piece I was working on. I hear lines for a new poem. Or have a wild inspiration for a dance piece. Or for a new class I’d like to offer.

There’s a rhythm to walking that is soothing and regulating. It brings body and mind into a union. I am in motion, moving forward in my life. I am going somewhere, doing something, but with nowhere to get to and nothing I have to do.  

I am breathing and feeling the wind on my face and witnessing the world around me. A bird singing in a tree. A squirrel running across my path. Flowers blooming perhaps or leaves falling or snow on the ground. Or maybe a city street or neighborhood.

Sometimes our most creative times are not when we are in the studio, grappling with making art. Sometimes they happen when we let go and set our body in a gentle motion, when we step outside of the house, office, or studio, and outside of our to-do lists and plans. When we look around, feel the air, smell and see things, and let our minds wander. When the rhythm of our footfalls tunes us to our heart, soul, and spirit, and to the spirit of the world.

If you are stuck creatively or in your life, this can be especially helpful. Or when you’re seeking new inspiration. But it’s wonderful after any time spent working on, or playing with, a creative project. Even after a very fruitful time.

Beethoven was famous for going for long walks every day after composing—and for shorter ones during the day—and he would bring pen and music paper with him to jot down ideas.

For poet William Wordsworth walking was indispensable to writing poetry. Both employed meter and rhythm, and his walks gave him imagery as well as ideas to use in his poems.

Much more recently, in 2016, Clare Qualmann and  Amy Sharrocks curated a series of walks, talks, and events called Walking Women, which brought together over fifty women artists to share their artistic walking practices.

A Stanford study has shown that walking increases creative inspiration and truly original ideas. The researchers discovered that “A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.”

Here’s my invitation and encouragement to you. Spend some time actively engaging with your project, idea, or problem. Then, let it go and go for a walk.

Don’t go looking for ideas. But, in case they come, you might wish to bring a small notepad and pen or your phone to take pictures with or record on. (Just make sure it’s in airplane mode.)

Sometimes you’ll just have a nice walk. Sometimes you may be led to turn down a new path, enter a shop, or you’ll synchronistically run into someone (or something) you need to meet.

Sometimes new ideas will show up in your dreams that night or as you move through your day the next day. Or a few days later. Be patient. Things are percolating.

You might wish to make walking a regular part of your creative practice as so many artists have done throughout the centuries. The imagination thrives on idleness and rhythm, permission and openness, curiosity and wonder. These are all qualities that are abundant when we go for a stroll.

6 Uplifting, Inspiring, and Informative Podcasts

6 Uplifting, Inspiring, and Informative Podcasts

I am late to the party when it comes to podcasts. For years, people would recommend them, and I would think, “I don’t have time for that.”

But lately I’ve discovered good ways to fit them into my week and the benefits of listening. I’ve discovered the joy of podcasts.

Why Listen to Podcasts?

I keep finding myself getting pretty morose and overwhelmed between news of the world and my own challenges. I needed a way to uplift my energy and shift my perspective regularly in a short amount of time. Podcasts turned out to be perfect.

I can sample them in bite-sized doses and follow my inclinations at any given moment. The range of what is available is like a huge buffet.

If you find yourself getting down in the dumps with all the fear-mongering, divisive, infuriating, heartbreaking news that bombards us, check out these podcasts and notice how they shift your mood, stimulate your mind, inspire your creativity, and bring you back to your heart.

But first…

When to Listen to Podcasts

Some folks listen to podcasts while making dinner. My husband and I almost always make dinner together. We decompress and talk about our day then, so that doesn’t work for me.

Others listen in the car during a commute. But I work from home. I do listen while doing errands sometimes. And I love to tune in on long car rides.

Some people like to listen in the evenings. This seems like a great way to unwind before bed and more nourishing than most of what’s streaming on TV. I just haven’t gotten myself to do it yet.

Others listen while walking. I like to commune with nature and unravel my tangled thoughts on walks. But, because I have fallen in love with podcasts, I do listen on some walks or for part of the walk.

My best time: I listen while I ride the exercise bike. I’m much more inclined to ride the bike when I have something interesting to listen to, and I get to listen to twenty minutes of a podcast at a time. The hard part is stopping when it’s really engaging!

Six Podcasts to Brighten Your Day and Spark Your Mind

This is just the beginning. Part of the fun of podcasts is following the recommendations that pop up or searching for a topic or a speaker or writer I love.

None of these are going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Each of these podcasts has a distinctive flavor, and, in the case of the ones where the host interviews different subjects, they vary greatly from episode to episode.

Find the ones that appeal to you. Sip and sample them. One great thing about podcasts: you can turn them off at any point and switch to a new one. Click on the show name below to go to the podcast.

Scene On Radio

This is the podcast that got me hooked on podcasts. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I started with the series called “Seeing White,” which is about the construction of “Whiteness” and race in America (and beyond) and its present-day repercussions. It’s so good!

Scene On Radio is hosted by a White man, John Biewen, but his regular guest for the “Seeing White” series is Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, who also joined him for series 4 on democracy. Biewen also brings in myriad other riveting specialists.

There’s a season on patriarchy and sexism with co-host Celeste Headlee, which I haven’t listened to yet. The latest season is “The Repair” with co-host Amy Westervelt, which focuses on real solutions to the climate crisis. The little bit I’ve heard I loved.

On Being

On Being describes itself as “Immersive conversations and explorations into the art of living.”

This widely syndicated show is hosted by Krista Tippett, who facilitates deeply engaging, soulful conversations. She interviews a vast array of writers, teachers, and fascinating humans, who are each carrying a piece of wisdom about how to live well in these times.

The show has been going on for years, so there are tons of episodes to choose from on subjects that range far and wide.

The Slow Down

This podcast was launched by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, who handed it off to Ada Limón, now our new U.S. Poet Laureate.

Electric Literature called it “a literary once-a-day multivitamin show.” Every single day, the host reads and discusses one poem that she loves. The episodes are about five minutes long and marvelous.

Whether you read poetry or don’t, this is a great moment to slow down in your day and nourish your soul.

Infinite Intelligence

This podcast is made up of short segments from live retreats by Abraham-Hicks, great for listening to on my exercise bike or while driving around doing errands.

If you don’t know about the phenomenon of Abraham-Hicks, I don’t know if this will make sense to you or not. For me, it’s a good shot in the arm of positivity and reconnection to how we can co-create our dreams.

I started listening to Abraham nearly two decades ago, stopped for a long while, and am now diving into these little segments. The message has improved and these snippets can be helpful as a reset for my mood and focus.

Beautiful Writers

This podcast is all about the ups and downs and insider secrets of writing and publishing books.

Linda Sivertsen interviews an amazing cast of writers of all kinds on this show, including the likes of Brené Brown, Steven Pressfield, Ann Patchett, Terry McMillan, Joy Harjo, and even Tom Hanks. The interviews are warm and fun and full of fascinating tidbits. Great for writers and anyone interested in creativity and words.

Creative Pep Talk

“Creative Pep Talk helps creatives reach their potential” says the show description. I just discovered this one and have only listened to three episodes, but I’m really enjoying it.

Andy J. Pizza is an illustrator and storyteller with plenty of heart and experience with the ins and out of creativity. What I’ve heard him say so far is right on, helpful, smart, and encouraging. This podcast is a combination of his monologues with some interviews with other creators on what it takes to create and keep on ticking.

Over to You

What are your favorite podcasts?

Send me a sentence or two about what it is and why you love it. I’ll share some in a future post.

How to Follow Your Heart to a Life of Meaning and Joy

How to Follow Your Heart to a Life of Meaning and Joy

Follow your heart. We hear it said over and over. But how do you even know what your heart is saying?

How do you know it’s your heart you are listening to and not some other aspect of yourself misguiding you? What if your heart is closed and you can’t hear it?

A new subscriber sent me this subtle and interesting question this week. It was so good I decided to devote this week’s post to answering it. Here’s his question:

“How can we follow the heart if it appears closed? Are we subtly prompted through the mind until we fully reconnect with it and choose to open it and follow it again?”

Some keys to the answer are embedded in the question itself.

One key is in the word “appears.” The heart appears closed but is never really closed. Openness is its true condition, its natural state, and it never forgets how to do this.

Because of trauma, events that happen to us, and our conditioning, we may learn to close down our hearts. We may feel afraid of being hurt or disappointed, rejected or shamed.

We may have been taught to distrust the heart and favor the mind. That is the dominant paradigm of the Western world. So, the heart feels atrophied.

We may feel we are not fluent in the language of the heart, due to a lack of encouragement and practice. So, we find it hard to hear the voice of the heart or recognize it.

The Signature of the Heart

The heart voice has a distinctive signature. It speaks with authority, wisdom, quiet subtlety, and sometimes humor. It can be no-nonsense direct and sometimes utterly mysterious from the perspective of the mind.

Other elements of the heart signature are: The heart doesn’t offer reasons. It simply says, “Go there. Do this.” The heart doesn’t know fear. And it is not concerned with outcomes, with gain or loss. It is concerned with Truth, Growth, your rightful path, Fulfillment, Deep Joy, and Connection.

It will take in complex situations and lead you toward a good life, a life that benefits all.

Your heart voice will have its own unique signature. If you get to know its signature, you can learn to recognize it. You’ll learn to know how your heart speaks, which is often not in words.

The heart we are talking about here is not the wounded heart, not your wounded self with its false beliefs and limiting behaviors and ego-desires. Rather, it is your internal guidance system, meant to lead you to your best life.

When the heart is speaking, you feel it in the body. There is a resonance. You feel moved. You might feel tingling or a slight pressure in the chest. Maybe the hairs on your body stand up or tears come to your eyes. Or you feel very still and peaceful. You feel compelled from within. There’s a knowing of rightness and an absence of doubt or questions.

Can the Mind Lead You to the Heart?

Let’s look at the second part of the question above: “Are we subtly prompted through the mind until we fully reconnect with [the heart]?”

The answer is no. The mind will not direct you to the heart.

The mind deals in fear. Its job is to protect us from perceived and real harm. It tries to hold onto gains and shield us from loss. It is excellent at making distinctions, language like I am using now, making plans and following through, figuring out details. But it is meant to be the servant of the heart, not the boss. Most of us have this backward to our great detriment and the detriment of our world.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

This quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, is a paraphrase of something written by Bob Samples about Einsteins’ teachings. Nonetheless, it’s apt.

Instead of expecting your mind to prompt you to hear your heart, I recommend that you look, listen, feel for the heart’s unique signature, and follow those promptings. This takes practice, patience, and a willingness to make mistakes. Like any art form.

An Ancient Tool for Hearing the Voice of Your Heart

Fire is one of the primary tools given to human beings to help us connect to our hearts and live our lives in a good way.

Human beings are the only creatures who have a relationship with fire like we do. We are the only ones who for thousands of years have gathered around fires to warm our bodies, cook our food, light our way, share stories, songs, and poems, and work through conflicts. In fact, the earliest evidence of humans cooking with fire dates back to at least one million years ago. Archeologist Michael Chazan admits, “Socializing around a campfire might actually be an essential aspect of what makes us human.” I would agree.

It is said that in the time before time, this special relationship with fire was given to humans as an antidote for the mind. To bring us back into connection with the heart. There’s a reason that we are, to this day, dependent on fire in so many ways. Human beings are meant to connect with fire daily as an aid to counterbalance the negative tendencies of the mind.

In cultures around the globe, fire is associated with heart and spirit. You see candles burning in temples and synagogues and churches. You see fire used in ceremonies throughout the world. And you hear some of the many profound gifts of fire spoken of in the metaphors we use: the fire of passion, the fire of truth, the light of inspiration, the burning away in transformation.

Fire also helps us feel our emotions so that they don’t stay stuck inside and fester. When we do this, we can hear and feel our heart’s movement guiding us in our lives.

A Profound Practice to Reconnect with Your Heart

A very simple and profound practice for reconnecting with your heart is to sit with a candle for a few minutes (or longer) each day. Gaze into the flame and pour out your heart to the fire— whatever is weighing on you, concerning you, delighting you, perplexing you, frustrating you. You can do this silently or out loud. Then, sit for a few minutes (or longer) and listen for a response.

The response may come in words you hear inside, in a felt sense, in a shift of awareness, in a movement of emotion, or in quiet and stillness (so that you may think nothing is happening, but it is!). Often, the answers will come in your life, as you get up from your candle and move through your day. Opportunities, synchronicities, and messages will appear if you pay attention. This is the movement of heart, guiding you back into balance and wholeness in your life.

If you can gather with others, or alone, around a campfire, that is even more potent. Most potent of all is a sacred fire, consecrated for ritual, connection, and transformation.

Choose to Follow Your Heart

The last part of the question I received contains wisdom: “Are we subtly prompted… until we fully reconnect with [the heart] and choose to open it and follow it again?”

It is a choice to open our hearts and follow their guidance. We are free to make this beautiful choice in every moment of our lives. We get to choose again and again.

Will I follow my heart? Will I risk looking like a fool or a beginner, making a mistake, doing something that feels challenging or new, to follow the promptings of my heart? In the movie Tick, Tick, Boom! one character asks another: Are you letting yourself be led by fear or by love?

Let this question be your guide. And keep your questions coming. I love answering them when I can.

To your heart-centered life,

Maxima

P.S. For further reading, you might enjoy my post on cultivating intuition here: https://brilliantplayground.com/cultivating-intuition/

And, there’s an excellent post by psychologist Amy Johnson on learning to distinguish between what I’m calling the mind voice and the heart voice, which she calls personal mind vs. wisdom. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/is-your-mind-the-servant-_b_7822304

Making Spells: The Magic Power of Writing

Making Spells: The Magic Power of Writing

I have been keeping a journal since I was nine years old. And I’ve been writing poems and stories at least as long. I memorized my first poem—“Little Tree” by e.e. cummings—when I was 11 because I wanted to be able to partake of the magic of reciting a poem.

Writing helps me make sense of the world, and keeps me in touch with my feelings, thoughts, desires, and needs. So that I can better flow with my feelings and meet my needs in healthy ways.

Writing helps me uncover my dreams and the path to living them. Next steps and solutions come to me. But, as much as I rely on my daily journal practice as one key to my well-being, writing for me is about far more than just journaling.

Through writing, we can engage in the joyful, challenging, astonishing act of art-making, shaping words on the page to create magic. That act is profoundly healing, life-giving, and life-affirming. And, it can create worlds, not just on the page, but in our lives.

Powerful language can call us to make changes, develop compassion and understanding, inspire us to new visions.

There’s a reason that the word “spell” means both to spell the letters in a word and to cast a spell or create enchantment.

There is magic power in language used artfully and crafted with care.

Writing in this way connects me to my Deep Self and to all of Life. Inner wisdom and guidance flows through me. Wild imagination flows through me. Playful silliness flows through me. Buried emotions flow through me. Brilliant ideas come to me. Healing and mysterious language appears seemingly out of nowhere. I discover realms both within and without that I didn’t know were there.

That’s why I return to writing again and again as a place of solace and healing and connection. And as a place of wonder and astonishment.

Writing and sharing my writing gives me a voice to connect with others. It creates a bridge out of the separation and loneliness and despair that can overtake me in these hard times. It helps me sort through the overwhelm.

And when I hear the words of others, I am reminded of our shared humanity.

For all these reasons and more, I love to write and share my words and hear the imaginative words of others. It is a powerful balm in these times and also a powerful act of rebellion against the life-negating powers that seem to have too much sway in our world.

We aren’t helpless at all. We are powerful beings. One of our greatest powers is the act of creation. We need to call on this power in these changing times, so that we help shape a world we wish to live in. We do this one gentle word at a time.

If you would like to engage in creative play with me and others, I invite you to join me for Freedom to Write. Whether you are an established writer or a beginner, I believe you will find the process deep, rich, surprising, inspiring, and nourishing. A weekly haven for your creative spirit.

A Guided Journey to Your Heart’s Dreams

A Guided Journey to Your Heart’s Dreams

To create the life of your dreams, you first have to know what your heart’s dreams are. You have to grant yourself permission to dream.

In this post I offer you a gentle, guided journey to uncover your heart’s dreams and get connected to a sense of possibility.

You can do this in the comfort of your home (or wherever you are) right now.

To Begin

Take a moment to set aside any distractions. Have a journal or notebook handy.

Get quiet and centered. Connect to your breathing and feel your feet on the ground. Open the top of your head to the sky and the cosmos. Feel the light of your soul pouring more fully into you through the top of your head.

Open to what comes through this process and agree not to judge or question it for now, whether you receive images, sensations, emotions, colors, words, a deep knowing, or a subtle sense. Just open and allow.

Put one hand on your heart and breathe into your heart. Put one hand on your lower belly and breathe into your belly and your whole pelvic bowl. Feel this very alive, grounded, rooted, centered part of your core.

Feel the field of life all around you, supporting you, and streaming through you. Life is already dreaming through you, calling you to your next steps on your path of heart. All the time.

You Are the Artist of Your Life

You are the artist of your life. Your life is your masterpiece. You have mastered what you’ve created so far, for good or bad. And you have the power to create a new masterpiece or to enhance the current one.

What would bring you the greatest joy and fulfillment to create with your life now? What would be absolutely wonderful? Let yourself dream.

Be patient. See what comes. If you think you don’t know, see what you do know. It might just come as whispers, an intimation. A crazy idea. A longing. A felt sense.

Now, in your journal or speaking out loud to yourself or another person, allow yourself to freely describe your ideal life 3-5 years from now. Just play with this. You might wish to dance or sway as you do this to call on your full body wisdom. Go wild, dream big, no holds barred. Set aside any concerns about what’s possible or what you might have to do to have that dream.

Make It Vivid and Embodied

Now, close your eyes. (You can keep cracking them open to read the directions and then closing them again to listen for answers.) Feel, see, hear, and touch that vision that you described. Call in all of your senses. Where are you? What are you doing? Who or what else is there in the picture?

Notice: How does this dream feel in your body and heart? What qualities are you embodying? How are you showing up?

What do these dreams give to your life? How do they benefit you? How are your dreams connected to what you most cherish?

Then, explore in your journal or out loud: What does it cost you not to realize your dreams or reach for them? Get as clear as you can on the actual costs to your emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental well-being, your total prosperity, your relationships, your creativity, your work and play. Getting clear on the costs gives you the necessary fuel to reach for big dreams.

Bow to the dreams, to your heart and soul, in gratitude for the gift of these visions. Take a deep breath. Go back to your day with the knowledge of the dreams in your heart.

Bring Your Dreams to Life

If you’d like to know how to bring these dreams to life through an extraordinary, magical step-by-step process, check out Living Your Dreams.

Busyness Kills Creativity—Slow Down and Care for Your Muse

Busyness Kills Creativity—Slow Down and Care for Your Muse

Busyness wreaks havoc on your creativity (and your health and well-being). When you fill all the crevices with work, running around, and noise, you don’t let inspiration come to you or notice things that might spark your imagination. You don’t give your muse what she needs to thrive.

In my last two posts, we’ve been talking about how to transform your relationship with time. If you’re wondering why this matters, here are some key reasons. Plus, a couple of wonderful practices to put a stop to the painful habit of busyness.

Creativity Thrives in Idleness

“How are you? Keeping busy?” It’s incredible to me that people will start a conversation with these words. As if keeping busy were an ideal or a sign that you are a good person.

We celebrate busyness in contemporary society, and often feel anxious when we don’t have something to do. So much so that if we have a few idle minutes, many of us will check our phones. Instead of looking around and taking in our environment. Or letting ourselves enjoy a few deep breaths.

But, when we’re tired, overwhelmed, multi-tasking, or rushing, we are not sparking creativity, which needs idleness to thrive. Long walks, naps, daydreaming, and puttering around are music to the muse’s ears. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way writes about the kinds of simple, repetitive activities that stimulate the artist’s brain, things like knitting, gardening, cooking, driving, and showering.

I am a go-getter myself, and I have trouble sitting still for long without doing something. I will often fill my time with reading a book, watching a movie, or taking care of items on my to-do list. It’s not that any of those things are bad or wrong, but creativity needs open space to thrive. 

The Biggest Obstacle to Creativity Is Busyness

Emma Seppala has studied what provokes our best creativity. As Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, she found that the biggest obstacle to creativity is busyness. She writes, “creativity happens when your mind is unfocused, daydreaming or idle.” And she goes on to say, “We need to find ways to give our brains a break. If our minds are constantly processing information, we never get a chance to let our thoughts roam and our imagination drift.”

Andrew Smart, author of Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing, looked at neuroscience and discovered that your brain is healthier, happier, and more creative when it’s idle. Smart writes, “busyness destroys creativity, self-knowledge, emotional well-being, your ability to be social— and it can damage your cardiovascular health.”

So, how do we stop the habit of busyness and let our brains and our muses recharge?

Here are two simple, but powerful practices.

Stop Telling People How Busy You Are

When you notice yourself telling others how busy you are, stop yourself and change your language. Start affirming a more positive relationship with time. You might say, “My life is very full right now.” You might even say, “I’ve been doing too much, and now I’m going to commit to slowing down more.”

Stop affirming how busy you are and that you don’t have enough time. Stop trying to get approval or sympathy for being busy.

Work with the time you have and give thanks for the abundance of time you’ve been given on Earth. You might use a favorite affirmation of mine whenever I start getting anxious about all I have to do:

“I always have enough time to do what I love and need to do.”

When you are feeling panicked about how you will get everything done, stop and remind yourself that you always get everything done that has to get done. Look at the past. Isn’t this true?

Then, let the rest go. If there is too much to do, it’s time to make another plan. Make new agreements with others if you had deadlines you were supposed to make that are impossible or you took on too many commitments. Delegate tasks to others where you can. Eliminate things from your list or postpone them. Be reasonable about what you can and cannot do.

Practice Being Inside of Time

This is my favorite practice as it is quite magical how it opens up time in your life. I call it Being Inside of Time.

Do only one thing at a time and don’t think of the future while you do it.

Stop multi-tasking. Stop letting yourself get interrupted and distracted by emails, social media, your phone, or other people. Close the open tabs on your browser. Turn off all the beeps and notifications that you can on your phone and computer permanently. They wreak havoc on your nervous system and your ability to concentrate. Put your phone in another room whenever you can, and/or use my favorite setting: Do Not Disturb. Ask others to honor when you need to focus on what you are doing.

I find that the most essential aspect of this is to not run a list in my mind of what I have to do next or that day or on that project while doing something else. Running the list of what else needs doing takes me out of the moment, out of the task at hand, and tends to leave me feeling harried.

So, practice giving yourself entirely to what you are doing in each moment. And then, when the time is up for that activity, go on to the next. Do one thing fully, whether you are brushing your teeth or composing a sonnet. Be inside of time.

This will open time and slow it down in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the experience of things that I thought would take hours getting done in strangely little time when I do this. And it helps my mood and nervous system, and my whole feeling about my life, enormously.

In upcoming posts, we’ll get into some practical tools for sorting through all the many things you feel you have to do, want to do, and should do, and making space in your life for what matters most. In the meantime, I encourage you to try these two practices and let me know what you discover.

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