A Beautiful Practice to Grow Self-Esteem and Confidence

A Beautiful Practice to Grow Self-Esteem and Confidence

“Cultures of domination attack self-esteem, replacing it with a notion that we derive our sense of being from dominion over another.”

― Bell Hooks, Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics

I took a brisk walk this morning, down and up a steep hill, a loop walk through the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood. As I walked I engaged in a practice to invite more self-esteem into my body and being. And also more trust and support from the Universe, especially in my work as an artist and teacher. I will share that beautiful, simple practice with you here.

How’s your self-esteem and why does it matter?

I don’t think of myself as having low self-esteem. Yet, I chronically feel like what I do in my art and my teaching is never quite good enough. I push myself to over-achieve, over-effort, over-do. I judge myself and stress myself out. And, out of this pattern, I attract not-enoughness in my life, not enough support, not enough money, not enough recognition.

What is self-esteem and why does it even matter? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary online defines it as: “a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” Self-esteem is how you or I think of ourselves, how positively or negatively, how we measure our worth or value. Low self-esteem means we don’t think highly of ourselves, our capabilities, our worthiness. And that of course, deeply affects our lives, relationship, work, abundance.

Psychology Today writes: “Confidence in one’s value as a human being is a precious psychological resource and generally a highly positive factor in life; it is correlated with achievement, good relationships, and satisfaction.” VeryWellHealth.com says: “…higher levels of self-esteem translate into improved mental health…” Low self-esteem affects not just our mental health but also our physical health and our total well-being in our lives.

A surprising way to increase self-esteem

I learned these practices from the amazing work of Hiro Boga and then adapted them to what works for me because, by nature, my primary learning styles are auditory and kinesthetic, and Hiro’s practices tend to be more visual. So, here’s how I did it this time.

As I walk, I attune first to the nature spirits all around me and to my relationship of love with them, our mutual partnership. I attune to the support of Earth and the blessings of Sun and the trees and plants and animals and birds and wind and so on. I ask for their support in coming forward in my work in the world.

Next, I hold the shining roadmap I have made for my work for this year in my mind and see myself holding it in the great Flow of Life. I let the Flow of Life wash over and through it, to bring it to fullness in whatever way is in alignment with that Flow, to bless it with the powers of that Flow. You could do this with any heart-felt dream or desire for your life. Inviting the cooperation of Life and aligning with the Flow or Way of Life (also known as the Tao) are steps that make bringing our heartfelt dreams to reality less effortful and more magical.

The seat of self-esteem in the body

As I keep walking, I work with the pattern-holder of my third chakra. The third chakra is about Will, Personal Power, and Self-Esteem or Self-Worth. I have physically felt a painful hole in this chakra for as long as I can remember. So, I don’t expect this process to be a one-time thing. I’m patient and work in layers to release wounding, shame, false beliefs, and old agreements in this chakra into Earth who will compost them. I see these old wounds and agreements flow down into Earth. I keep clearing the third chakra with the help of its pattern-holder. Walking while I do this practice helps me embody the practice and feel the support of the nature spirits.

Next, I invite the soul quality of Self-Esteem to fill my third chakra. My back gets straighter, shoulders drop back, even though I feel my capacity to hold self-esteem is still small. I can feel where my edge is, and I just take in what I can for today.

Who do I need to be to attract more suppoort and attention for my writing and teaching? I need more Confidence, Safety, and strong Grounding. I invite these soul qualities into my body and energy field too. Confidence in the third chakra, and Safety and Grounding in the first.

I feel more aliveness and wholeness in my body as I play with these things. And I keep it light and playful.

The world responds to our self-esteem

As if in confirmation, I pass a man with his adorable little dog. The dog is very eager to meet me. I stop to pet him. I pass a landscaping crew. The young men smile brightly at me. The world feels warm, bright, full of love.

There is peace in the trees, the air, birds, streets, Earth. I move among all these, belonging here, and also feel the edge where old unloved, unwanted feelings still arise.

I let the self-esteem I am inviting flow up into the wounded parts of my heart. This is a process. It will take time to heal.

I let the energy, the soul quality of Self-esteem soften and spread in my body, becoming more integrated. Why is this so unfamiliar to me? When did I lose it? I don’t need to figure that out, but just bring presence to the process.

Practicing in this way, with consciousness, with soul tools that work, with the energy of invitation and love and gentleness and patience, I can change the old patterns, become more of who I truly am. I can free myself and grow into the self I need to be in order to fulfill my dreams.

You can do this too

Start by practicing inviting in those soul qualities you most need now, one by one, with patience, gentleness and faith. Ask yourself which qualities you need to fulfill your dreams for yourself, your life, your world at this time. You might wish to focus on a particular dream, project, or area of your life.

Do you need more Support, Self-Esteem, Confidence, Courage, Abundance? Do you need Clarity, Faith, Vulnerability? Each is a soul quality that you can invite into your body. You don’t need to know about the chakras to do this, though if you do, you may wish to invite these qualities into the chakra that is most associated with that quality. Or, you can simply invite that quality, that essence, into your whole body, your dream, your work, your life.

Each soul quality is like an energetic being. That is why I capitalize their names. Hiro Boga calls them devas, a Sanskrit word meaning “shining ones.” Each one has its own life in the world. Its job is to hold the pattern of that quality. It likes to be invited in, to be welcomed into your body and your life. In that way, it can do its job in the world.

Feel yourself expand to hold more of that quality. Let it move in you, become embodied, a little at a time, as much as you can hold that day. Get familiar with how it feels to hold this quality. You are gently growing your capacity. Come back to it again another day.

Notice how your life shifts as you do this. May miracles unfold for you this day.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others. For more on this topic (and related topics), you might enjoy Validate Yourself: Why Every Artist Needs to Learn This and The Challenge of Self-Worth for the Artist

Finding the Good: Radical Hope in Hard Times

Finding the Good: Radical Hope in Hard Times

These last weeks I find myself suffering mightily over all the pain in our world, the scary and heart-rending situation in the Ukraine and so much else that is alarming and upsetting. So, I want to share with you something that might offer an antidote, respite and well-being in these stormy times: the radical notion of basic goodness and how we can cultivate it in our lives and world.

In Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s classic book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, he offers an inspiring vision and a practical, non-sectarian path of how to uplift yourself, live a good life, and help create an enlightened society. I’ve lost count of how many times I have read this book. I read it slowly, savoring a page or two at a time, right before meditation.

At the start of the book, the author introduces the idea of basic goodness. Basic goodness, he explains, is the ground of our being, the ground of all being. It is the understanding that we are inherently good, whole, and valuable, and that life is inherently good.

These days, that can feel like a stretch. So much isolation and hardship. So much corruption and greed and violence. But, he’s right, isn’t he? Because the hard stuff has always been around. Yet, underneath it, isn’t there something fundamentally good about life?

“Every saint who has penetrated to the core of Reality has testified that a divine universal plan exits and that it is beautiful and full of joy.”

Paramahansa Yogananda

I want to remember this. And not just remember it, but touch it every day. As often as I can.

Appreciating Basic Goodness in the Little Things

Trungpa Rinpoche encourages his readers to appreciate the basic goodness in a flower or in the freshness of the air or in a beautiful sound, in our own bodies and hearts, to notice and appreciate the goodness all around and within us, no matter our circumstances. That feels like a good place to start. With the little things.

Today I gave thanks for the fluffiness of the new bath towels we got. And for the sunlight streaming in the window. For running water and how it feels on my skin. He says that through this simple practice we can begin to see that the ground of being is essentially good, non-harming, beautiful.

This is such a helpful balm in dire times in our world and in hard times in one’s own life. So often the media would have us believe there is only violence, hatred, and impending crisis. Or we get tunnel vision around our own problems, seeing only what is wrong, difficult, or lacking in our lives.

Be the Change

In 1974 an inner city high school teacher, named Arleen Lorrance had a kind of awakening. She saw that she had spent the past seven years at the school in a trance of negativity. “I complained, cried, accepted hopelessness, put down the rest of the faculty for all the things they didn’t do, and devoted all my energies to trying to change others and the system.” She realized that she needed to change herself, her approach, and in doing so, it radically changed her life and the school environment. Lorrance was the originator of the now well-known quote, “Be the change you want to see happen.”

I decided at the start of this year that one of the habits I want to work on in myself is the habit of being critical or complaining. I want to be more positive. To notice the good and be appreciative and encouraging. To praise. In my teaching this comes easily to me. I love to watch how others blossom in the environment of praise. So now I want to bring it into more of my day.

Like everything, it’s a practice. And it takes practice and awareness.

At the same time, I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, ignoring what is wrong or not working. Or being saccharine about how great everything is. As a poet, I cultivate discernment about how I can make my poems better, cutting this line, making a more striking metaphor. As world-changers, we need to acknowledge the systems that are broken. Anger and grief, when expressed well, can be powerful fuel for change.

But I want to start with what’s good and amplify that. We have to hold onto and amplify this goodness, if we wish to help create a world that is founded on goodness, on peace and kindness, on justice and abundance for all.

What You Appreciate Appreciates

We can do this, despite how hopeless things may seem. But we have to choose consciously to see, hear, feel and live from that basic goodness. To pause throughout the day to acknowledge the goodness. And to uphold the goodness in our lives and our visions for our world.

We do this for our own sake and for the sake of all beings, for the sake of our world. We can do this through our art, while still giving voice to the pain as well. We do this as an act of love and kindness and as a healthy way to live. We do this as an act of creativity, our part in bringing forth the values we cherish and creating the world in which we wish to live.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Will you do this with me? Appreciate and amplify your basic goodness and the goodness and beauty all around you. Remember it, acknowledge it, and water it with your love. Call it forth in our world. Show it in your art. Be the change you wish to see.

Stunning Books of 2021: My Top Ten Favorites

Stunning Books of 2021: My Top Ten Favorites

Last year wasn’t all bad. I read a lot of books, some of them quite wonderful, all of them good. 42 books to be exact, including a mix of poetry, books on the craft of writing, novels, memoir, and other non-fiction. And that doesn’t even count the spiritual books and books of poetry that my husband and I read out loud to each other. I also indulged in a rare pleasure—re-reading a few old favorites.

Here, then, are my ten favorite books that I read last year. These books, by and large, were not published in 2021, though quite a few are recent. In some cases, I’m coming late to the party.

These are the ones that brought me the most delight, pleasure in the power of language, grace of new knowledge, and/or enlarged me in some potent way. I hope you might find some gems for yourself among these.

Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

What an astonishing gift of a book! Kimmerer braids indigenous wisdom with botanical science with the teachings of plants themselves to create a magical book of stories. Captivating and gorgeous, this book takes a clear look at our current ecological predicament but offers so much hope, if we would just listen and follow the wisdom all around us.

These next three books of poetry each enlarged my understanding of the experiences of others in powerful, compelling language.

Citizen, Claudia Rankine

Not poetry in a familiar sense, though it’s subtitle is “An American Lyric” and Rankine in a formidable poet, this book won so many prestigious awards, and deservedly so. Hard to categorize, this is a collage of prose poems, short anecdotes, essay-like commentary, art by visual artists, and documentary that paints a vivid, alarming portrait of what it is like on a daily basis to be in a Black body in America. Necessary reading for many of us and a deeply affecting ride.

Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith

Smith is Black, gay, and HIV positive. He takes us intimately into his world with stunning originality and vulnerability, painting an amazing portrait of his experience, contracting and living with HIV, among other things. Full of pain and love, this is a beautiful collection by a poet that has been garnering a lot of attention in recent years.

Wound from the Mouth of a Wound, torrin a. greathouse

I loved this extraordinary collection of poems. Another book I wish were required reading. greathouse is a master of language whose poems arrive like shock waves. A trans-gender person, who also lives with disabilities and physical pain, greathouse writes deeply moving poems in astonishing language that opened wells of understanding in me. 

Nothing To See Here, Kevin Wilson

What a fun, crazy ride this novel is! Extremely weird, but delightful, Wilson tells a preposterous but somehow utterly believable story with great characters who are dealing with very relatable (as well as some highly unusual) problems. Spontaneous combustion anyone? If you’re looking for a good read, look no further.

A Slow Green Sleep, Jonathan Weinert

Full confession: This book is written by a friend of mine, but that is not why it made the cut. As I read this book of poems, I thought “Yes, Yes, Yes, he’s done it!” This is the kind of book I wish I could write. The language is precise, exciting, honest, and imaginative as Weinert takes on the exceedingly troubling ecologicial crisis we are living with, and reckons with his own feelings and culpability.

Story, Robert McKee

This tome is a classic on the art of writing screenplays but is about story form in general—applicable to novels, short fiction, memoir, plays. McKee, who is revered in Hollywood for his gift as a teacher, spells out a clear, compelling, step-by-step process for crafting powerful stories, and a way to understand why a story isn’t working. And it’s not formulaic. He gives many variations, using examples from well-known films. It took me all year to get through this, but it was worth it.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

This was definitely the most amazing novel I read in 2021. Tartt’s characters and story are so vividly and grippingly portrayed, you feel like you are absolutely there. Heart-rending and also full of resilience and love. I didn’t love where it went near the end. But this was a remarkable tour-de-force of a novel.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong

This novel is really a memoir in disguise, and it’s a beauty. Written by a Vietnamese-American poet, this is a searing, stunning, moving story of his youth, his early love, and his challenges growing up poor and gay in an immigrant family. It’s an arresting read.

Keep Going, Austin Kleon

I love all of Austin Kleon’s delightful, wise, little books on creativity, and this one is no exception. The book’s subtitle is “10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad” and hence it’s really timely. Kleon is so good at getting to the essence of things with punchy aphorisms, fascinating quotes and examples from the lives of many artists, and his wonderful signature drawings. He gives you abundant permission to make art and many great suggestions about how.

And, as a bonus, one more:

Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa

I have read this book more times than I can count. I like to read a couple of pages in the morning before meditation. Although he was a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa describes, in this book, a clear, secular path to living a more awakened life and helping to create an enlightened society. Loaded with highly-accessible wisdom and practical tools.

If any of these books call to you, I encourage you to order them through your local independent bookstore or your library. If you order online, please consider using either Bookshop.org, which benefits independent bookstores, Powell’s Books, which has a vast collection of new and used books and is a great independent bookstore, or Better World Books, which fosters literacy.

How Do You Know If Your Art Is Good?

How Do You Know If Your Art Is Good?

“Do I have a future as a poet?,” my student asked me during our coaching session the other day. “You have a present as a poet,” I replied. “You are writing poems and enjoying it. It is bringing blessings to your life.”

Over the years I have been asked this question in one form or another by aspiring artists. And I have wondered about my own creations. Essentially it boils down to “How do I know if I am any good?”

The short answer is you don’t. And you never will. Unless you decide that you are good or that your art is good.

But even deciding that you are a good artist, or that some creation of yours is good, can be a tricky business.

The Dance of Self-Worth

In order to thrive as an artist and keep making art, you need to encourage and support yourself. It is up to you to cultivate belief in yourself, your voice, your worth, the value of what you make, and your right to make it. This is vital. And can be challenging.

Most good artists I know have doubts or questions about their work. They are always reaching higher, seeing their flaws or where they could grow, the next mountain they can climb in their artistry and skills. And wondering if a particular piece is working well or not. One day, your new creation seems like pure genius. The next, it seems utterly worthless.

A modicum of doubt is healthy and can keep you stretching as an artist. It can also keep you from being a deluded ego-maniac. More than a modicum can stifle your imagination and your best work.

It is good not to rest on your laurels, be self-satisfied in your art, think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Humility is helpful when dealing with the extraordinary power of art. A willingness to be a beginner again and again, to keep learning and growing in your art is excellent.

So, we aim to dance with humility and faith in ourselves. Loving and supporting our work and being willing to see how we can grow. We aim to cultivate a healthy sense of our gifts, our strengths, our beautiful uniqueness, and also our weaknesses and limitations.

Seeking Validation from Others

It’s normal to seek validation from others, even to need it—we are hard-wired to want to belong—but it’s a slippery slope. Giving the power to determine your worth as an artist to a teacher, critic, committee, gallery owner, or audience is dangerous indeed. That’s why one of the core skills of an artist is being able to self-validate.

But, let me return to the original question. Can anyone confer on you the title of “good artist”? No. No judging committee, no prize, no teacher, no amount of audience or sales guarantees that for you.

There are no ultimate metrics to measure “goodness” in an artist or in a work of art. There is imagination and craft and technique, but in the end, whether what you make is good is a deeply subjective matter.

It’s Subjective

I have heard wildly famous musicians whose work leaves me cold or bores me. It’s technically virtuosic but it lacks heart and vulnerability. It feels like empty show. To me. Remember, I said this is all subjective.

The work of every good artist, and great artist, is hated by some people, often many people. Not everyone likes Michael Jackson, not everyone likes Beethoven. All good artists, if they put their work out to a wide enough audience, will find detractors, both among critics and audience.

Mary Oliver, one of the best-selling contemporary poets in America, was lambasted by some critics. And pooh-poohed by some of her peers. Does this mean she is a bad poet? No.

There are hugely popular novelists whose work I think is just awful. Both unskilled and unsatisfying. Does that mean they are bad artists? Who am I to say?

But What About Technique?

Yes, there are recognized parameters of technique, craft, skill, but often what is deemed “good” or “bad” art has much to do with current trends and the dominant cultural paradigm at the time.

Is dissonance appreciated in music or considered noise? Is painting allowed to be non-representational? Are we open to the fresh rhythms, images, and expressions of Native American poets, or do we judge them by the standards of a White, largely-male, and often-academic canon?

So many now-famous artists were ignored in their day. Emily Dickinson couldn’t get her poems published. Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t sell his paintings. The list goes on.

In the end, it is you and your art. And your audience. Do you love what you do? Are you learning and growing, studying your craft and the work of other artists? Do you strive to make the best art that you can? Do you share it with generosity and a sense of service to others? Are there people who enjoy it?

Wonderful. You are a good artist. Now, go make some art.

2021 My Year in Review

2021 My Year in Review

Here’s my review of 2021 in my life in the hopes it may help, encourage, inspire you. This was a super-tough year in many ways. For me, the worst of it was continued social isolation and being cut off from so much of what I love to do. On top of that, being infuriated and deeply pained by the ongoing corruption, greed, lies, and desecration of our planet from the powers-that-be.

But what I want to focus on here is the other stuff. The (mostly) good stuff. What I did, what I learned, what I loved.

Upleveling my Environment

We got a hot tub in March. Wow, was that a good purchase.

I also got a comfy, ergonomic recliner for my studio. No more sitting on the floor on a foam pad, doing my writing. And Don, my hubby, found two huge bookcases for $40 at a yard sale for me.

This has utterly transformed my studio. Since I pretty much live in my studio during the weekdays during the pandemic, this was a particularly great and needed upgrade. As you can see, my cat Obi-Wan has taken over the recliner.

My Artistic Life

I finished the first draft of 50-page book proposal for the book I am writing on how to live a flourishing creative life. And polished 100 pages of sample chapters from the book to include with the proposal.

I continued to write, hone, and shape the book all year. I’m so proud of myself for this. I took an amazingly helpful book proposal course and an intensive online book retreat, and took the month of August mostly off from teaching, to do this. I couldn’t have done it without all that support of the course and retreat.

I attended a virtual poetry workshop and met my awesome poetry buddy, Sandra. We have been meeting monthly ever since to help each other polish our poems and to discuss our writing lives. So wonderful and helpful.

I read 40 books last year, and parts of some others, including 17 books of poetry and 4 books on the craft of writing. I’m hoping to do a separate post on my favorite books of the year. Stay tuned.

The Sierra Poetry Festival was a huge highlight. Two days of incredible poets reading their work and leading workshops and having thrilling conversations. I felt so inspired by it.

Investing in Self, Investing in Help

That’s one of the big things I learned in 2021. Investing in myself in terms of taking courses, hiring healers, and working with coaches pays off in spades. (If you choose well.) It’s necessary and makes a huge difference. And it’s a dance to do that on my income.

I learned the hard way that I should have probably hired help sooner with a redesign of my website. I spent all year researching, thinking about it, mapping it, trying to find a designer I could afford. Then, trying to do it myself and getting lost in an endless rabbit hole that was not a good use of my time. In the end I had to hire someone anyway to help me with the difficult technical aspects. And the new site is just barely under construction now. Sheesh!

My Teaching Biz

My classes and coaching and the amazing people in them continue to be a highlight a salvation in these hard times. I feel very blessed and honored to do the work I do.

It was not a good year for my business in terms of income or growth of subscribers. It was also not a good year for me getting poems published in literary journals—I only had two. I just couldn’t keep everything going. But I did give 12 readings and/or radio interviews in 2021, all online, meeting wonderful poets and poetry lovers. You can watch a favorite one here.

I was overwhelmed with so many irons in the fire. Teaching and running my business, trying to keep up with my blog and Patreon. Writing my book (as well as poems) and writing a book proposal for the first time. Helping put on Sierra Poetry Festival. And doing a lot of deep inner work.

Inner Play

The inner work (or play) was a highlight too. With Taya Shere I began a process of Jewish Ancestral Healing, meeting some of my ancestors. I also binge-watched as much of Thomas Hubl’s Collective Trauma Summit as I could. I feel deeply inspired by this work. To my surprise, I already use some of the tools in my teaching! I feel this is a vital piece of where the next evolution of my work is taking me—using the arts and play (and ritual and depth work) to help humanity heal from collective trauma.

So, that’s it in a bit more than a nutshell. I hope this inspires you to look back on your year and harvest what was good, what you learned, what you loved. And to dream what’s possible for you in the year ahead. I’m wishing you an inspiring, fulfilling year.

Love, Maxima

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.

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?

123420

Welcome.

Brilliant Playground is a space of inclusion and honoring for people of all colors, races, paths, genders and sexual preferences. You are welcome here!

https://www.brilliantplayground.com/subscribe/

Creative Sparks provides tools, guidance and soul inspiration about once a week to:

  • Ignite and sustain your creativity
  • Identify and realize your heart’s true dreams
  • Live a life of passion, purpose and deep play

We are soul-crafting here. Join us!

 Subscribe here

Join me on Patreon for insider access to my best stuff!

Blog Archives