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.

Questioning the Lie of Not Enough Time

Questioning the Lie of Not Enough Time

In my last post, I invited you to look at your relationship with time and begin to shift that relationship into a more loving, friendly one. Bringing awareness to anything we wish to transform is always the first step.

Now, let’s dive deeper.

How can you actively cultivate a healthy relationship with time?

Begin by questioning the lie that you don’t have enough time. 

That feeling of “not enoughness,” scarcity around time, is at the heart of your difficulties with time. And while that perception does have to do with how you spend your time, it has at least as much to do with how you think about, and relate to, time.

In contemporary society, we often harbor a chronic feeling that we don’t have enough time. When we are inside the feeling of not having enough time, we feel persistently busy, stressed, pressured, and overcommitted. We find ourselves frequently rushing and too rarely getting to what we long to do. 

You have a choice

I invite you to start by questioning this idea that you don’t have enough time. It is a habit, a belief, a way of being that you’ve practiced and that the culture promotes. To believe you don’t have enough time is a choice, not a reality. You can make a different choice and change the quality of your life enormously.

When we are living inside of this pattern of not enough time, we habitually try to do more. We overload our schedules, make poor choices and beat ourselves up. We complain that we never get enough done, and feel bad at the end of each day, week, month, and year. We don’t allow for downtime and self-renewal, and then we burn out and get depleted.

Does any of this sound familiar? There is a better way.

When you question the pattern of “not enough time” and bring it to the light of awareness, you can make a choice to begin living differently. Space opens to feel the essential enoughness, the innate sense of plenty at the heart of all things. Time begins to expand, almost magically. You can live in a more relaxed manner, make realistic plans, and know that you don’t have to do everything now. You can also choose to spend more time on what brings you joy or fulfills you.

And, you can reward yourself for what you’ve done with your day, and enjoy the moments of your life much more fully. 

Question the lie of “not enough” and celebrate what you get done

I invite you to begin questioning the feeling that you don’t have enough time and that you haven’t done enough in any day or week or month or year. Watch out for times that you are affirming this and make a conscious choice to choose a different thought or feeling. 

For instance, if at the end of the day, you feel like “I didn’t get this and this and this done, I didn’t get enough done,” take a moment right then to celebrate instead what you did do in that day. List everything you can. Notice how much happened and the value of what you did do, even if it was to take a day of rest, or it wasn’t what you planned. Celebrate yourself and your life.

This will also bring awareness to how you spend your time, and perhaps you’ll choose to make some changes. But most of all, I encourage you to practice the art of self-acknowledgment. I like to do this in my journal, celebrating what I did the day before. Then, once a week, I make a bulleted list in my day planner to appreciate all the good things that happened in my week, not only those that I accomplished but blessings that came to me and things I learned. 

In my next post, I’ll give you two more practices to help you shift your relationship with time, including my favorite and most magical practice around time. Stay tuned!

Transforming Your Relationship with Time, Part 1

Transforming Your Relationship with Time, Part 1

How is your relationship with time? Do you feel you have enough? Do you move through your day with ease and flow? Are you spending your time on what you love most, what nourishes your heart and soul?

Or are you frantic and rushed, or scattered, distracted, unable to use your time well? Are you frustrated at the end of the day with how little got done? Does time feel like it’s slipping away without you getting to what is most meaningful to you?

Does time feel like a friend or an enemy, or like some bewildering alien substance you can never quite get a hold of?

Welcome to Sacred Time Management

Sacred Time Management is such a vital subject that many of my Mentoring clients ask me to help them with it. We devote a whole segment of my Living Your Dreams course to it. Because, in order to live your heart’s dreams, you do so one day at a time. And how you feel about time colors so much of your life.

When you know how to live your time, in a soul-connected, loving, inspired way, life feels radiant and remarkable. When you know how to take a big dream and break it down into do-able steps, how to keep taking those steps in the midst of a full life, and how to make adjustments without losing your way, you get to see your heart’s great dreams come true.

When you know how to prioritize among your many interests and needs, you can create a rich, balanced life that doesn’t neglect any vital part of yourself.

It begins with fundamentally changing your relationship to time, so that it feels spacious, supportive, and magical. So that you and time are allies working and playing together toward the most beautiful life you can create. As one of my students said, “[I] have discovered a more magical way to work with and bend time.”

How I Discovered Sacred Time Management

I used to have an abysmal relationship with time. I put too much on my plate every day and had utterly unrealistic expectations for each week and month. I would end the day exhausted and disappointed about what didn’t get done. Then, start all over again the next day.

Finally, I’d had enough. I decided to transform my relationship with time. I wanted time to feel abundant, and the way I lived to feel beautiful and meaningful. I wanted to feel peace at the end of the day. And at the same time, to accomplish the things that mattered most to me. I wanted to enjoy my down time and not feel guilty that I should be doing something else.

Enter Sacred Time Management. I began to study time management tools, but also a wholly different way of relating to time. Making time an ally, the precious gift and blessing that it is. Disconnecting from toxic ideas about busyness and productivity that are rife in contemporary culture.

Connecting instead to my heart’s deepest desires and dreams, my soul’s longings and needs, my body’s wisdom, and the cycles of nature. Letting these guide how I spend my days, my weeks, my years. So that I’m moving with the flow of life and my own deep Self.

The result has been extraordinary. I’m not completely healed from the dominant paradigm that has most of us wear ourselves out, take on too much at once, ignore and deplete our hearts and bodies. But I do have a much healthier, satisfying experience of time.

I celebrate what I am able to do, but also how I am being, and how I am taking care of myself. I align my days and weeks with what is most important to me, what feeds me. And I make my choices from there. I’m open to the mystery and the way life shows up unexpectedly.

Why Sacred Time Management?

Sacred Time Management is a big subject. And it’s an important one because, as the writer Annie Dillard wisely observed, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” None of us wants to get to the end of our lives, whenever that comes (which could be today), and feel we have wasted our life or missed our calling or not done what we most longed to do.

There’s far more to Sacred Time Management than I can cover in a single blog post. But I will share some of the perspectives and tools I teach over a series of posts. If you wish to go deeper, check out my Creative Life Coaching & Mentoring or join me for Living Your Dreams.

Healing Your Relationship with Time

For today, I invite you to begin to think of Time as a living thing, a being, a friend with whom you wish to be in right relationship. Rather than thinking of it as a commodity or limited resource or frustrating enemy.

I invite you to pay attention to how you relate to time. Notice how you feel about time as you move through your day, when you feel rushed, impatient, relaxed, stressed, or spacious about time. See where healing needs to happen in your relationship with time. Pay attention to when you are trying to do three things at once. Or over-loading your to do list. Or frittering time away on unfulfilling activities. See if you end the day feeling unfulfilled or angry with yourself for not doing more. Simply notice. Bring your compassionate awareness to your relationship with Time. This is the first step.

I encourage you to write in your journal about what you notice. What is your current relationship with time? And what would you love it to feel like, be like? Dream into how you wish it to be. This is powerful.

Please share your questions about time and Sacred Time Management with me here or by email. I’ll do my best to address your questions in my upcoming posts on this subject. Also, please share your revelations and discoveries, so that we can all learn together. Stay tuned for more!

The Magical Child, the Wounded Child, and Your Creative Self

The Magical Child, the Wounded Child, and Your Creative Self

We each have a magical child living in us that is intimately connected to our true self and gifts, what we are uniquely good at, and what fascinates and delights us. The magical child holds the key to your wonder, joy, imagination, curiosity, enthusiasm, and playfulness. You need to cultivate a healthy relationship with this child self in order to have access to these talents and qualities that are so essential to your creativity and to your flourishing as all that you are.

We each also have a wounded child in us, or several, who needs our love, attention, and care, in order for us to grow up out of the sabotaging behaviors and limiting beliefs to which the wounded child is in thrall. The wounded child took on limiting beliefs as a way to make sense of painful experiences early on. She has also practiced limiting behaviors as a way to protect herself from further wounding. But now those same beliefs and behaviors are holding us back from being the fully alive, creatively expressed and fulfilled people we long to be.

In order to heal the wounded child and cultivate healthy relationship with the magical child, you need to be loving, wise, and supportive of the child within, to listen to her feelings and needs, her dreams and desires, to attend to her passions and talents. You also need create good boundaries for her, and a sense of safety and provision for her needs. You need to let her know that there is an adult self within that is taking care of her.

The child self holds a special relationship to your creativity and your life, both in its magical and wounded aspects. If you have suppressed the child self, believing you need to “grow up,” and that being child-like is unseemly, you have probably squashed an essential element of your creative fire, joy, and ability to pursue your dreams.

Your Many Selves

Each of us has many “selves” within that contribute to the unique constellation of us. You may have parts of yourself that are courageous and others that are fearful, parts that are confident and others full of doubt, parts that are skilled at math or sports or painting, a part that is organized, one that is rebellious, and so on.

Each aspect of self brings specific gifts and challenges. By befriending them all, you can call forth their unique gifts and learn to help them through their challenges. You can transform their destructive patterns into helpful ones. In this way, you gain their cooperation and reduce resistance to expressing yourself creatively and following your dreams. You need each of these selves on board in order to live your fullest life. Each one has profound abilities to share, many of which are vital to your creativity.

Re-parenting Your Inner Artist

We need to learn to re-parent our child selves, no matter what kind of parents we actually had or have. When we become adults, it becomes our job to be the loving, nurturing, responsible parent to our inner children, to help them shine in their gifts and grow up out of their limiting beliefs and behaviors or learn to navigate them better. Part of becoming a true adult is letting our parents off the hook of needing to parent us any longer and instead parenting ourselves.

All of this begins with building a relationship with the child self (or selves) within. Through dialogue, awareness, presence, and love. Start by getting to know your inner selves and inviting dialogue. Listen to what the child self within is feeling and needing. When we are angry, hurt, fearful, or resistant toward our creativity, it is usually the child self that is the one who is triggered and often, without our realizing it, is the one who is now in charge of our behavior and beliefs. So, you need to do a little investigative work to uncover the fearful, harmful, limiting stories you are telling yourself about yourself, your creativity, gifts, dreams, the world, and other people.

When you connect with the feelings, fears, and false stories inside, and meet them with compassion, care, wisdom, and love, you can transform them. You can connect with your wise, all-knowing Self, and from that wise Self teach the wounded self the real truth about who they are, their gifts and dreams. This truth comes from the Ground of Awareness or Beingness, which is also the Heart of Love. By speaking to the child from this wise and loving place, we free the extraordinary gifts of the magical child within and gain access to our full radiant aliveness.

Practice: Re-parenting the Child Within

The next time you feel hurt, angry, fearful, doubtful, or resistant toward your creativity (or toward anything in your life), take some time to tune into your child self. Ask what she is feeling and why. Reflect back to her in the same words she used what you heard. Then ask what she is needing and reflect that back, again using the exact words you heard. Show that you truly hear and understand her feelings and needs.

Now, notice the stories she is telling herself, the meaning she is making about “reality.” What is she fearing is true? For example, “My art is terrible.” “Nobody will ever want my art.” “I’ll never make it as an artist.” “The world doesn’t support people like me.” “I’m not good enough.” “People will laugh at me.”

What age is this child self that is triggered? Just take an intuitive guess.

Now from your loving, adult self, speak to that child as a loving, supportive, encouraging parent. What would you say to encourage this child’s unique gifts and passions and help her with her challenges? Tell the child within what’s true and supportive. Encourage their creativity and dreams. But without lying to them. Children know when we are lying. So tell them the truth, but the deep truth. Note: You have to step fully out of the wounded self and into your wise, adult, loving self to do this.

You  might say, “Your art has wonderful, exciting, original things in it, and you are still developing your skills. Be patient. It keeps getting better.” Or you might say, “I don’t know if you will make a living as an artist, but I know you can keep making art and sharing it, and that is a very good life to live.” Or “I know you have something of deep value to share through your art.”

This takes practice and repetition. It’s not something we do once and are done with. But, the time and attention you give to this practice can change your life dramatically.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Turn Your Self-Doubt Into Generative Questions and The Challenge of Self-Worth for the Artist

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.

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

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