Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Say yes chipmunk! Say yes!

Unlike other hibernating animals, chipmunks do not develop a layer of fat to provide them with energy during their dormant periods. Instead, they store large caches of food underground for use during winter. Those cute little cheeks of theirs have internal patches that let them carry food.

If you’re anything like me, you’re a chipmunk too. Really. I’ve recently started coaching people going through transitions and I’ve noticed that we all do, in fact, exhibit some chipmunk behavior. We go through life acquiring all sorts of experiences. We store them somewhere in the underground of our minds. But unlike the chipmunk, when winter comes we look in our empty cheeks and find nothing. We ask ourselves, how in the world can I start my own business, write a book or take on a new position when I’ve never done it before? If we look a little deeper, we’ll be amazed by the large caches of experience we’ve stored.

I distinctly remember that turning point for me. Earlier this year, before I completed my coach training, I decided to develop a website to begin promoting my creativity workshops and coaching services. I didn’t have a Masters in Fine Arts or coaching certification. But what did I have? I started digging. I slowly began finding the nuts. I started by remembering every single art, creativity and writing class and workshop I’d ever taken. I was surprised at how many there were and how much I’d learned. More nuts: the number of writers I’d managed, pieces I’d written and painted, people I’d coached, personal and business transitions I’d successfully mastered over the years. This is what made me qualified to do what I wanted to do. And this is what gave me the confidence to take the leap forward.

How many times have you said no to a job or project because you didn’t think you had enough experience? How many times have you seen someone with a fraction of your talent and knowledge say yes and fumble along? I can remember several times in my own career. The only difference between that person and us is that he or she had the confidence and audacity to say, “Yes I can do it!” If you don’t have that audacity built into your genes—and most of us don’t—find your inner chipmunk and start looking for those nuts. I promise they’re there. You may not have done the same exact project or job before, but you may have done something similar. Remember that all of our skills are transferable.

Moving towards our dreams means saying yes with confidence. It’s definitely scary at times. But the more you say yes, the easier it gets and the more confidence you amass. Start with the nuts, chipmunk, and before you know it, winter will be over and you’ll be running around in the sunny days of your new life.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It’s all in the blankets.

“Everything started changing for you when you started doing that yoga you do.” It was remarkable that my best friend of 30 years (we met in the crib) could pinpoint the moment when things started shifting for me—about a year and a half ago. When I was too afraid to fully pursue my passion for writing, hadn’t had a long-term relationship in 12 years and wasn’t even sure where I was going to live. My stuff was living in San Francisco; my body was lodging in Atlanta.

I stumbled upon “that yoga” my friend was referring to when another friend invited me to go with her to a class. “It’s really relaxing,” she said. And I thought, “Yeah I’ve done restorative yoga before. That’s cool.” My friend didn’t know that I had been living with unrelenting pain in my shoulder blade for over a year. I had come to think of it as an unpleasant, noisy squatter. Harmless enough, it created enough havoc to make it impossible for me to sleep through the night. I was just happy that the intensity of the noise had eased over time—even though it did refuse to stop. And I had tried everything: a sadistic chiropractor, acupuncture needles, homeopathic remedies, physical therapy sessions, all types of yoga and the very unknown Bowen technique. They all seemed to get rid of the pain for about a minute before it returned to its comfortable lodging place.

When I walked into class for the first time, I saw plaid blankets everywhere. No yoga mats, just blankets. Blankets to lay on, rolled up blankets, blankets folded into thirds, blankets folded into halves. Oh yeah, and a couple of blocks. I had been doing Iyengar, Vinyasa, Hatha and other types of yoga for years and I’d never seen anything like this. “Ok,” I thought, “why not?”

Jody, the instructor, helped me settle in on the floor, propping my legs up on several folded and rolled up blankets. We started with shevasana, a relaxation pose I was used to do doing at the end of class. So I knew right away that this was going to be different. And it was. Each pose was a gentler variation of the traditional yoga pose I was so familiar with. Each used a blanket or blocks so that I could actually relax into the pose without any effort at all. We didn’t even get to downward dog. I felt new spaces in my body I didn’t know existed, my muscles let tension slide away, my mind fell into a meditative stupor.

After class, I spoke with Jody. When I told her about my pain and how I had been giving up on yoga little by little, she smiled. “You’ve stumbled into the right place and you don’t even know it. Svaroopa yoga focuses on opening the spine,” she explained. Jody used to be a personal trainer. Then she developed herniated discs. “Going from weight training to Svaroopa was quite a switch for me. But you’ll see the change is remarkable. My discs healed.”

I was skeptical. I’d gotten my hopes up so many times before. But after a few classes and a couple of individual yoga therapy sessions, the change was miraculous. The squatter was not only evicted, but I felt better than I had ever felt before. I felt like I was experiencing my body for the first time. My shoulders, usually uneven due to scoliosis, now looked even in the mirror. I felt happier than ever, giddy. And the pain never returned.

But there was more. Something had shifted internally as well. I’d been on an emotional and spiritual growth path for a long time, but Svaroopa got me to new levels much faster. By helping me reach deep inside of myself and let go.

I now know that those crazy Svaroopa blankets provide external support so we can discover the internal strength that exists inside of each one of us—physically, mentally, and spiritually. And as we release the tensions in the muscles wrapped around our spine, we also release the stories that live in our bodies and color our perceptions. Those old stories from our past that make us react in a very certain way to brand new situations. Those pesky illusions that keep us stuck in the same behavior we’re so sick of even when we don’t realize we’re doing it and even when we don’t know we’re sick of doing it. By releasing all of that, Svaroopa yoga brings us closer to our true essence, to who we really are.

That’s what happened to me. In retrospect, I can now see how stuck I’d been. Just as stuck as that pain had been in my shoulder. I had reached a certain level of happiness and success. And my life had taken up residence on that mesa for so long, that I couldn’t find my way to the higher mesas around me. Internal release gave me the gentle boost I needed to move upward.

Soon after I started Svaroopa, I began working towards realizing my greatest desires. I applied to an MFA program in creative writing, I began visualizing the love of my life, and decided that I would pursue a creative career despite nearly immobilizing fears around money. And I finally moved my things to Atlanta. Those were just a few steps in a journey I never could have imagined at the time. One that’s brought me more joy and growth than I could have ever conceived. Now I’m a writer, artist and creativity coach with the love of my life by my side. And I continue to practice Svaroopa every day. To make sure no squatters ever return. But how could they? There’s too much power in a bunch of Svaroopa blankets.

If you live in the Atlanta area, you can try Svaroopa at Jody's studio.
To find a Svaroopa teacher near you, click here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

In the sane asylum, I learned I was an African queen.

I was moving on tip toes, lifting one bent leg, thrusting it to the right and squatting down. My arms came down to the floor and swooped up, springing my body back on tip toes. I twirled myself around and around, my arms outstretched to the sides. I began running like a ballerina would, legs turned out and feet landing lightly at an angle. My arms made outward swimming strokes to push the brush out of the way. I was deep in the jungles of Africa. And as I ran, I could see the others. One woman stomping her feet, waving arms in the air, head bent forward, thrusting from side to side. Her black hair covered her entire face.

It was a Saturday morning in the Candler Park neighborhood of Atlanta. We were in Joan Toder’s expressive movement class, which she calls Dance Meditation. Like all expressive arts, the concept is simple. You let the art form take over, letting it get deep inside of you and pull out some amazing bits from your deepest core. All of a sudden, you’re a dancer, a writer, a painter and you’re learning from those very bits that the art form has brought to light. In Joan’s class, you simply listen to music and move. However, wherever you want. As others in the class do the same.

For the first part of the class, I danced in a corner of the room, not wanting to stray too close to others, focusing on myself and whatever movement came out of me. I heard hooting, grunting and whooping come out of the other participants. Some rolled on the floor, others danced. I couldn’t help but take in some of the energy in the room. Liberation, freedom. It entered my body and made me giggle. It reminded me of Paulo Coelho’s book, Veronika Decides to Die, in which sane people decide to remain in a mental institution because it’s the only place that’s acceptable and easy to be non-conformists. Was this what Coelho’s sane asylum was like? Full of freedom and joy?

After 45 minutes of this, Joan asked us to move intentionally close to others while continuing our own dances. The group gathered in the center of the room and began to move. Now I had no choice. I had to get close to others. At first, I danced on the outskirts of the group, around those on the outer edges. Sometimes it was difficult to maneuver around a person, especially if arms were flailing about. But as I continued to focus on my own dance, I let it take me through the middle of the circle when it was time. The same fast-tempo salsa tune elicited some to move slowly, others to move quickly. So many ways to interpret one song.

And then my favorite and most challenging part of the class. While we danced our own dance, we touched others lightly as we moved by them. Remaining unaffected by their movement. Some people danced together for a bit while their hands touched, each moving in their own world. I saw them connect for a second and then move on.

Joan’s class was such a beautiful metaphor for living a creative life. How we each have our own very distinct dance. How we need to trust it to take us where we need to go. And remain focused on it even while other energies swirl around us. Hopefully, we can. Hopefully, in the bliss of our own dance, we can accept another’s touch. Hopefully, we can offer one to someone else. This is the meaning of true freedom.

Years ago, I would have been too shy to come into a class like this. But now, I look forward to seeing what different art forms can bring out of me and what I’ll learn about myself in the process. If I hadn’t tried the sane asylum of expressive movement, I never would have known that an African queen lived inside of me. Though I did suspect it.

Something to consider:
During times of transition, it’s important to try out lots of new things that push you outside of your comfort zone, like different art forms. Expressive arts not only bring creativity into your life in the least intimidating way, but they teach you about yourself. Things come out of you that you didn’t think you had in you, and those who didn’t think they were creative may be surprised to find they had a writer, painter or African dancer queen living right inside them all along.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mindless writing 101: permission to play, have fun and be an artist.

My mind got very pissed off the other day. It was finally settling into its favorite lavender-scented bubble bath when it heard an awful thing. So awful that it got out of the tub and started jumping up and down and yelling in outrage. Until I agreed to sit down and write this article.

I was at an art show where my boyfriend and I fell in love with a particular artist’s work. When I saw the way the artist had mastered the use of acrylics in the way I wanted to, I approached the guy standing in the booth and asked if I could take classes.

“No,” he said. “The artist is very busy and very shy. But she’ll tell you that, as an artist, you have to just give yourself permission to play, try different things out and see what works.”

“Yeah, I understand. I’m a writer and it’s the same thing in writing or any art form really,” I said.

“Well no. I come from a big family of writers and I know that when it comes to writing, it’s all about character development.”

That’s when my mind got out of the tub and when my boyfriend gave me a look that said, “I can just imagine what’s going on in your head right about now.”

After taking oodles of writing, art and creativity classes, workshops and trainings over the last 20 years, I’ve come to realize that somehow writing has been involved in a terrible PR campaign that has created a scary, unapproachable and painful image of this sweet art form. Talk to any writer and you’ll inevitably hear about the difficulties of writing. I used to be one of them. Now, I’m determined to put a stop to it.

The following myths around writing are a disservice to writers, potential writers and the art of writing. Hearing these things over and over again from respected authors, directors of MFA programs and emerging writers creates a reality where writing is difficult and people are scared of trying it. It’s time to deconstruct the old PR campaign, because everyone has something to say and it can actually be really fun to write.

Old myth: The writing process is difficult, full of struggle and painful.
New reality: The writing process can be easy, fun, joyful and blissful if we let it.

Whether you’re painting, writing or creating any type of art, the creative process has two distinct parts to it: a flow that comes from quieting the mind and letting the art travel through us, and the craft in which we apply particular techniques to create a polished, finished product. There are zillions of classes on the craft of writing, where we learn about character development and scene creation and narrative arc—all important things that tame the writing and make it go deeper. But if we apply too much focus on the craft, the real organic beauty of our words can easily get squashed. And the process can become difficult, even joyless. Reveling in the mindless, organic part of the process and honoring it as an important part of creativity makes writing joyful and fun.

Old myth: Writing is cerebral.
New reality: The best writing comes from the body and senses and our childlike ability to play.
In the writing workshop I developed, I use practical techniques that disengage the mind, and instead, engage the entire body and senses where our words live. We also practice playing, which is an important part of all creativity, including writing. I recently trialed the workshop with a group that included a couple of writers whose writing I’m familiar with. And some of the words that came out during the workshop were the best I’d ever seen from them. Fresh and different and passionate. By disengaging the mind, you let the writing take you to places you never even thought of going. The writing writes you.

Old myth: The writer often faces a blank page, which causes writer’s block.
New reality: There is no blank page.

I’m not sure if this is an American invention or not but when I visited Cuba this year, I spoke with various writers who insisted there is no such thing as a blank page. “The page is never blank. Even if it appears so. The writer is always full of experiences and ideas. They are already on the page of a different form—in our minds,” one writer told me. Applying organic methods throughout the writing process can create an easy flow from our minds right onto the page.

Old myth: Writers are introverts, and the art of writing is a solitary act.
New reality: Writers need a creative community they can be part of, draw support from and get creatively inspired.
The expectation that writers need to be alone with their thoughts makes the process of writing more difficult. Staying inside of one’s head for too long can be unhealthy, cause depression and put a halt to creativity for lots of writers. While there are many art centers where artists can rent studio spaces, there are very few places like this for writers. Yet, writers too need collaborative centers where they can share office space, have a community of support and get out of their heads. Because the creative process is never a solitary act, and ideas only get better around other creatives. [I’m in the process of developing a creativity incubator for artists and writers. Anyone interested in joining me in this project?]

Writing has been separated from other art forms for far too long by the myths that claim it to be a solitary, cerebral and painful experience. Everyday, I work towards creating this new reality for myself and other writers: a joyful, collaborative world that lets us tap into our deepest writing in the gentlest of ways. To create this new world, I believe that the organic, mindless part of the writing process needs more attention. It needs to be part of every writing program. So we can let our minds go on vacation and soak in the tub as long as they want. While we have some real fun—letting our best words flow onto the page.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I was a closet leader. How about you?

Everyone who knows me knows that I love to collaborate. I believe that the best ideas, efforts, come from multiples and creating is not a solitary act. But seeking collaboration can sometimes be a symptom of closet leadership, a common condition that may be outgrown.

For years I’d been told by various bosses that I was a natural leader because CEOs, vice-presidents and everyone below them tended to listen to me even when I didn’t have a big title. (I never cared about titles, which was definitely one of the things companies liked about me.) The closet leadership quality proved to be a benefit as well as a huge thorn in the organization’s side depending on the boss I had at the time. Try to control me, and I became unproductive and unhappy. Give me some resources, a team and complete freedom and I’d create miracles that saved the company money and made my bosses look great. As long as I wasn’t in the spotlight, I enjoyed taking charge. Maybe it was the shyness left over from childhood. Maybe it was because Myers Briggs labeled me an introvert. Maybe it was just fear.

But this year. This year was different. In my new creative life, I was still hoping to stay behind the scenes. Wishing to collaborate, I approached a national organization to run some meetings for them. They weren’t interested. I had tried to volunteer for a women’s organization for years and they still weren’t interested. I was supposed to develop a workshop series with a colleague and realized that our visions weren’t matching.

At first I felt a little rejected, a little lost and deflated. I felt all alone. Then I heard a message in my head. It turns out the universe was yelling pretty loudly because sometimes I can’t hear it when it whispers. “It’s your time to step up. Do your own thing.” It took a little while for it to sink in. Mainly because I didn’t want it to be true. But I knew it was. It was time.

So I mustered up some courage and decided to heed the call. Now I’m deep in the process of coming out of the closet to take full ownership of the things I’ve loved and believed in for years. I’ve launched my own writing workshops, am starting a creative group that meets every couple of weeks and beginning to research the creation of a non-profit creativity incubator. Am I scared? Yes. Sometimes. But then it feels great. I’ve reached new levels of confidence and feel more myself than I ever have before.

Sometimes you just have to have a little courage to come out of that seemingly safe closet space. I realize now that it’s really not that safe or comfortable in there. At some point, it starts feeling claustrophobic and frustrating because our visions demand to be let out, paraded in public and grown.

I still believe in collaboration, but now I know that if something I want doesn’t exist, it’s up to me to take the lead in creating it. Even if it means being in the public eye. It’s ok to let everyone know that you are committed to a project you believe in and have others join you in your quest. If you can’t find that job, club or product you’re looking for, ask yourself if it’s time for you to step up and out. Are you a closet leader? Come on out! The rewards are well worth it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Getting lost can lead us home.

When I was working on a story about the Gulf War last year, I suddenly realized that I was really writing about my marriage. When I paint, I put down a bunch of colors on paper and then see what images start to emerge for me. This is my creative process. I never know where I’m going to end up, but I do know that the process itself will always be surprising and exhilarating.

Life is much the same way. And even more so during times of transition. You may have an idea of where you want to end up, but if you let yourself open up to any possibility that comes up and stay tuned to how you feel during the process, there’s no telling what unexpected joy will come into your life.

I’ll give you just a few examples that surprised me during the first six and a half months of this year.

  • I had been waiting for a year to start my MFA program but when I went to Boston in January for my residency, I realized pretty immediately that it added little value to my development as a writer. But the program offered a trip to Cuba to visit artists. Going to Cuba and interviewing Cuban artists had been a life-long dream of mine, so of course I went.

    That trip helped bring me closer to my parents than I could have ever imagined—gave me a fuller understanding of their lives as exiles. And as a result, I was able to interview them on camera telling their stories—another life-long dream that I had given up due to my deteriorating relationship with them over the years. My parents and I went from talking on the phone for a few minutes every couple of months to having weekly calls that I now look forward to.

  • I had been working on a collection of non-fiction stories for nearly three years when the inspiration for a new book came so strongly that I decided to create a blog around it. You’re now reading pieces of my new book.

  • Dropping out of the MFA program made me rethink what I was going to do next. I decided to finally launch a writing workshop series and complete a coaching program—both had been on my mind for years. And as I pursue these dreams, I keep meeting people with similar visions and backgrounds who encourage and guide me along the way.

To let your plans go without knowing what will come next can definitely feel a little disorienting, and you may even feel a little (or even a lot) lost as I did. But stick with it. Engaging in a creative life leads to more fulfillment, growth and love than you or I can often imagine. As long as we let go, follow our truest loves and inspirations. And let the process work on us. I’ve learned more about myself and life than I ever could have imagined had I stayed the course: writing about the Gulf War or painting those pretty abstract colors. Taking notice of what came up for me on the way to getting an MFA made me stop and change directions. Honoring the process led me home.

  • Adopt flexibility as a way of life
  • Stay tuned to your body and intuition – especially during transition times
  • Be willing to change directions mid-way – any discomfort you feel will eventually go away
  • Practice patience and trust the process
  • Express gratitude for the unexpected surprises that take you places you never thought you’d be able to go

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Oh kidney beans! My little kidney beans.

Two years ago, in the midst of starting up a new business, I ended up in the hospital with a kidney stone. Two weeks ago, in a different city 2500 miles away, a new doctor tells me he suspects I have another one. A barely-noticeable microscopic dot that appears to be lodged in my bladder. I will spare my readers the details.

It’s no coincidence. I realize this is a pattern. My body reacts to transitions it perceives as scary in this very particular way. (Interestingly enough, not all transitions are scary for me—just the ones where financial income is not completely obvious.) So during these transitions, I tend to put pressure on myself to achieve quick results, produce, create. Because the faster I do, the faster I can start generating money again. It becomes a vicious cycle. Worries about time, money and results become intertwined with my health. My poor body responds my producing a small stone. “Here it is. Did we do good?” I hear my kidneys ask.

This year, I became certified in Reiki so I decided to take a look in one of my chakra books. My second chakra—the one that represents change, emotions, water—appears blocked. Well, that makes sense doesn’t it? My body knows what it’s doing. There’s nothing like a little kidney stone to make you stop and reconsider the turmoil in your mind.

When you’re transitioning, don’t be surprised if your body reacts. If you experience some health issues. Your body is responding to your mental state. Maybe you’re purging old beliefs. Maybe your body wants you to slow down. What is your body trying to tell you? What do your illnesses represent? Pay attention. The messages are important. Our subconscious beliefs, our perceptions of life experiences, are stored in our cells and manifest in the body when we don’t pay attention to them. When they’re not released.

I’m reading a great book called Fruitflesh which is all about writing from the senses. It recommends writing a love letter to your various body parts, maybe ones you’ve neglected in the past or that require extra attention now. And so I write one. Dear Kidney Beans…In the letter I apologize for letting my mind take over. I thank my kidneys for keeping me healthy and sane and for reminding me to take care of them and me.

I also write to my kidney stone and ask it to return to earth. It’s served its purpose. I’ve spent nearly three weeks paying attention to my kidneys. Working slowly. Taking breaks when I need to. Doing energy healing. Drinking water and more water.

I like to think that the fact I didn’t end up in the hospital this time is proof that I’ve made some progress over the last two years. That I’m somewhat more adept at handling this type of transition. But whether I think I am or not doesn’t really matter. My body will always tell the truth. And I am truly humbled. By the great wisdom in a simple stone.

During times of transition, remind yourself to…

  • Budget for good healthcare, including preventative alternate practices
  • Take extra-good care of yourself, taking frequent breaks, eating well, drinking enough water and exercising
  • Believe that the universe is here to provide you with all that you need when you need it
  • Set up a support system of people you can discuss your transition with
  • Release worries and fears through body work, art, meditation, talk—anything that works for you
  • Spend some time acknowledging and appreciating your body parts and organs
  • Be gentle and loving with yourself—make sure you tell yourself at least one thing you like about you every day

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Are you ready for a Christmas tree in your life?

A subject that comes up a lot lately among my single friends is love. “Why haven’t I found it?” They ask over and over again. Then, “I’m a great catch. I’m ready for a committed relationship. I don’t understand why I haven’t met that person yet.” There’s a huge level of frustration that I completely understand. I was there just a little over a year ago. And everyone who knows me marvels at what happened to me. I met the love of my life. Yes me. I hadn’t had a long-term relationship in the 12 years since my divorce. I’m the one who insisted that I couldn’t see myself with a non-Jewish partner. Being the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I just couldn’t imagine having a Christmas tree in my living room. I don’t know how many times I must have said that over the years when friends tried to set me up.

So what changed? After ending yet another short-term relationship with a very nice man who was so ill-suited for me it’s hard to believe we were ever together, I decided I’d had enough. It wasn’t premeditated in any way but here’s what evolved for me.

  • The first thing I did was to revisit my love life. I identified the types of relationships I was attracting and the underlying reasons as to why I was attracting them.
  • I mentally and verbally decided and stated that this was no longer acceptable. I began to feel and believe deeply that I deserved a wonderful, giving, loving man.
  • I let go of the need to find a Jewish man.
  • I began to surround myself with small things that represented lovebooks and DVDs, etc.
  • I began to pray for love in my life.
  • And here’s the thing that made it all come together. I wrote a love letter to the person that I knew was out there. In it, I reminisced about how we met, how it felt, and how we behaved around each other. I asked him to come home to me.
    To read a copy of the letter, click here.

Looking back, I now have a greater understanding of what blocked me from receiving love. And I hear the same assumptions I once made from my frustrated single friends. Here’s why I don’t believe they’re true anymore.

If the person I like would only…see what a great catch I am, be a better communicator, understand me better, be a better lover… When you meet the right person, he or she will appreciate you for who you really are. You won’t have to struggle with trying to prove yourself or trying to change major aspects of his or her personality. True love is about letting go of expectations. At the same time, if you end a relationship with someone who wasn’t a good fit for you, be grateful for the experience. You just had the opportunity to find out what you don’t want so you can clear the way for the right person to walk into your life.

I’m ready for a relationship. If you’re struggling to find someone, presume that you’re not ready. Ask yourself what’s holding you back. Do you feel you truly deserve love in your life? Really delve into your history and clear old issues through energy, body and/or talk therapy.

It’s a numbers game and there’s such a small pool of good single people out there. Finding the right person is like winning the lottery. Ok, if this were really true, very few people would ever find love. This mindset sets you up to expect failure. "How will I find love with these odds?" Ask the people you know who are truly in love how they met and you may find that it had nothing to do with how many people they dated. Many times, it’s a completely unexpected singular occurrence that brings people togethersome may have even been taking a break from dating and met at a party or coffee shop. And at the risk of sounding like someone’s grandmother…even if there’s a small pool, even if the odds are great, it only takes one.

This is the one area of my life I have no control over. This is the most frustrating concept for successful people. I now dispute this. I believe we do have control, but it’s on a spiritual level. Love is a spiritual journey. And by spiritual I mean learning to love and honor yourself first, believing you are able and deserving to realize your desires, being honest and able to communicate your truth to others. If you ready yourself on a spiritual level, the love of your life will come.

Why do I attract all of the crazies? By stating this, you’re making this your reality. The reality is that there are a lot of people with issues in the worldpeople who have not reached the levels of growth you may have reached. So there’s a good chance that you may meet a lot of them when you date frequently. It’s important NOT to make it about you.

I made a list of everything I want in the person. Give up the list! It’s important to know what you really want but not the detailed characteristics of the person. If you want true passionate love, state it. But please don’t ask for the guy with black hair, blue eyes, a great sense of humor and a big wallet. Ask for the cake, not the icing.

Last year, a month after I wrote the love letter, the world shifted for me. More love and happiness beyond my wildest imagination came strolling into my life with a man named Jim. On Christmas, I sent my friends a photo of me sitting in front of a Christmas tree. I had the hugest smile on my face. The seasons change but the smile is still there. And I’ve learned that a Christmas tree is just a Christmas tree. The deepest truest love is what really matters. And my friends, who are still laughing about the picture, will attest that if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. You just have to be ready for it.

View picture of me and the tree
View picture of me, love of my life and the tree

Monday, June 23, 2008

It’s taken 41 years and a little hyperventilating to hear the angels sing.

Ah money. The one little word that can make me hyperventilate. If only I could get a handle on this one fear once and for all…I see the angels showing up to perform a concert in my honor. “She’s finally gotten it!” they’d sing.

I’m one of those people who truly believes that if you follow your passion, then the money will follow. It’s always been the case for me. But as I watch my financial debt increase these days, waves of anxiety and doubt creep into my head. The fear of running out of money, the fear of becoming a burden, the fear of becoming destitute. The fears throw a big party all over my brain. Until my saner, sweeter self comes in and kicks them out, drinks and all.

Then I remember. This isn’t my first transition. Over the last few years, I’ve moved away from my reliable revenue-generating career to try new ventures. And I’ve learned that transition has little to do with money. But it does have everything to do with our own perceptions on living.

Sometimes we prevent ourselves from doing the things we want to try, think we’ll love, or have dreamt of our entire lives, because we think we don’t have the money. Or at least we tell ourselves that’s the reason. “I can’t afford to do that.” I’ve heard that from so many people including myself. Can you afford not to do it? What’s the cost of living an unfulfilled life?

There’s definitely a financial cost to changing our lives but it helps to keep it in perspective. “Your life is like a business and you have to expect to operate at a loss for a certain period of time until your transition is complete,” my friend and business colleague told me at the beginning of the year. When we start a business, we expect to invest money and then give the venture time to generate a profit. Our transitions are the most important business ventures we’re going to invest in and yet we worry about putting in the time and money. The worrying really doesn’t help.

Here are some things I've learned along the way that do help me:

  • Life requires living, whether you have the money or not. It also requires a plan. If you have a plan for your new life, then you can start really living by doing what you love.

  • You have more money than you think you have. Even with a budget in place, it’s hard to know how much money you actually have until you have to spend it without bringing in any income. I had no idea until I started a business a couple of years ago and lived off of my savings. That savings lasted a lot longer than I ever thought it would. And I found pockets of money that I had forgotten about, lasting me nearly two years.

  • You can easily learn to live on less. Having less money taught me how to do more for myself and become more resourceful. I used to shop retail. Now I don’t.

  • Not having money helps you overcome your fear of not having money. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? For me, the worst that can happen is going back to a career that I once loved and still enjoy.

  • There are resources for living with no money. As long as you have good credit, you can take out loans or lines of credit. You can also research grants and other available money.

  • Having no money is a choice and is temporary. It’s a time of investing in your future to rebuild. Transitioning to a life you love at every level brings abundance. Whenever I’ve needed money, it’s come—through opportunities that land on my doorstep.

  • You always have something to fall back on. We have so many skills. If you’re transitioning out of a career, you can always go back if really necessary. Or you can turn that knitting hobby into a money-making endeavor.

  • Listen to yourself and commit to your passion. Friends, family and strangers may tell you you’re crazy when you decide to make a change. “You can’t make any money doing that,” they may say. Just remember that they’re expressing their own fears, and you can in fact make money from anything you love and commit to do.

It’s taken me 41 years to muster the courage to pursue a career that everyone insists will leave me homeless. So I know it’s normal to have days of doubt, even panic. I’m training my practical, business mind to quiet. And learning to listen to my gentler spirit—the one that tells me it’s ok to pursue the things I love, with or without money on hand. Deep in my soul, I know the money will come. I can almost hear those angels singing in the distance.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I admit it. I’ve been napping to the sounds of…

Have you ever spent time around a pregnant lady? My family once had a housekeeper named Tiki. She was young and fun and I loved her. When she got pregnant, she confessed to me that as she made our beds in the morning, all she wanted to do was crawl in there and sleep the rest of the day away. And with seven nephews and a niece, I heard this exhaustion complaint many times over the years as each one of my siblings went through pregnancy. Gestation, I learned early on, is an exhausting process.

So I don’t know why I’m surprised. As I recreate my life from scratch, I literally want to crawl into the cushions of my couch, curl around the various pillows, become the couch itself. And I do. Around 5 pm every day, I turn on the tv, lay down and fall asleep. This is my new routine.

I’m in the middle of developing some really cool creativity workshops and a new website and various other projects. I guess that explains it. My yoga teacher says I’m pregnant. And I feel that way too. Strangely irritable and anxious at times, exhausted at others. Just writing about it makes me want to go home and take a long nap.

I’ve realized that I need to give my body what it needs. If it’s rest or sleep, or a whole day off, then that’s what I need to give it. We’re not creative machines, just gentle creative spirits. So I admit it. I’ve been napping. I fall asleep to the opening music of Beverly Hills 90210 on TV and wake up a couple of hours later to the sounds of the gang resolving some major life issue like what new boy to kiss. There’s a reason why this is so soothing for me. But you’ll have to read one of my books one day to find out why that is.

  • Become aware of your body and what it needs
  • Rest, sleep or take a whole day off when your body tells you to
  • Give yourself permission to do things that aren’t routine for the rest of society
  • Release any guilt around doing what your body tells you to

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fluttering and flying

Today, someone asked me to talk about the picture on my blog. I feel that it symbolizes my transition so perfectly. The original picture was taken at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens by Jim Sichinolfi, who created this beautiful montage.

I took a step into the air and fluttered.
I landed on the ledge.
One floor below.
My wings were so small then.
But day after day, I tried.
Taking a step, fluttering,
finding my footing on the concrete behind me.
Then one day, I stepped off as usual.
I didn’t flutter. I didn’t fall.
New wings had grown,
So big they swallowed the sky.
I saw their shadow on that familiar ledge
And laughed.
I looked below
And saw
that I was

Monday, June 2, 2008

With a cookie by its side, the ego dies a hard death.

Lately, I find myself searching for compliments. I baked cookies for my boyfriend this weekend and I knew they weren’t that great. And he agreed. Yet I felt a little disappointed. I wanted to give him something he really loved of course. But I also wanted my baking talent to be admired, raved about.

This is unlike me. I laugh about these things in general. I’ve actually only baked cookies three times in my life and all three times occurred during this year. For my boyfriend who loves cookies. And if you knew me, you’d know how unusual it is for me to be baking cookies for a man. Goes to show how madly in love I am. But that’s beside the point.

During my transition, I have lost the validation I used to get periodically when I turned in projects for pay. Not only is no one paying me for my creative projects—which are still in development—but no one’s telling me what a phenomenally great job I’ve done on anything. In fact, in the course of this year, I’ve received pages of beautifully crafted critique from my writing coaches and some nice verbal critique from other writers. Which are all very necessary and much appreciated. But they only highlight how much I’ve needed to look inward during this time.

Transition requires us to let go of the ego and connect with the higher part of ourselves, the part that’s always full of love—for ourselves, our creative projects and everything around us. It’s remarkable how we become accustomed to external validation to give us a sense of our own self-worth. And when we don’t get it anymore, our egos look for it in bad cookies and bad arguments. Recently, I’ve caught myself arguing harder to prove a point during discussions—the point I’m trying to make is that I can still be right, that I still have something to contribute.

With no money, compliments or projects yet completed, I’ve actually asked myself from time to time, what am I really contributing? My higher self knows the answer. You contribute by just being. Times of transition give us this gift: the time to stop and learn how to love ourselves for just being.

I’m ready to let my ego die. So every morning, I do yoga and meditate to connect to that part of me that’s eternally happy, loving, confident and full of patience. And every day, my ego breathes a little less. I have visions of it marching off into the sunset with a bag of bad cookies in its hand. To find its final resting place. So I can bake carefree once again.

Here are some suggestions that help us quiet the ego and love ourselves more:

  • Meditate – Sanaya Roman’s meditations in Spiritual Growth are particularly helpful
  • Try Svaroopa yoga which is designed to release mental patterns stored in the body
  • Write down three things you’re grateful for each day
  • Pay attention to what your body needs and do it – even if it means taking a nap in the middle of the day
  • Splurge on yourself at least once a week – even if it’s buying one flower or a piece of expensive chocolate

Thursday, May 22, 2008

We’re not fish, after all.

For anyone venturing out into an independent career—starting a home business or becoming an artist—solitude can be a surprising challenge. But as I transition from an independent business career to becoming a full-time writer, the change has been even more surprising.

Even though I wasn’t really getting too much social interaction in the last few years as an independent marketing consultant and writer, at least I had scheduled calls and meetings with live humans every so often. This year, even those are gone and I am alone in my head. On the one hand, I can go deep, deep inside a world of my own creation. A place so quiet and fully-absorbing that I don’t want to answer phone calls or emails any more. This in itself is surprising. When I’m working on a marketing project, I usually check email every two seconds. Working on my creative projects feels like going underwater. I don’t want to be disturbed. But then it gets to be too much.

“Don’t writers need solitude?” my best friend asks me when I complain about how hard it is for me to spend the entire day every day completely alone in my own head.

“Isn’t that a good thing?” It’s a valid question and the answer is a loud NOOOOOOO!

“I don’t know about other writers but I’m losing my mind over here,” I tell her.

The underwater feeling is great, but we’re not fish. If we stay under for too long, we can’t breathe. We become weird. We start to look and act like the stereotypical unwashed, unshaven, unkept writers who are great on paper but no one can stand to be around.

Personally, I need social interaction in my day. Beyond someone to say hello to. I already work out of coffee shops on most days and it’s not enough for me to say hi to Everett at Joe’s Coffee—even though I love Everett and Joe’s. Going to my writing group once a week isn’t enough. I like to have at least one person to discuss what I’m working on, exchange ideas, collaborate when the occasion arises. Being around other creative people on an ongoing basis inspires and motivates me. So I’ve opted to share an office space with someone from my writing group and will be starting a creative group in the coming weeks.

Finding the right balance between solitude and social interaction is important for creative people. And the right balance varies for each person. Here are some ways to incorporate some social interaction into your days.

  • Share an office with other creatives. Think SF Grotto. Even though these guys didn’t have any money when they started, they are all super successful today.
  • Join or start a creative group that includes innovative people from different fields to exchange ideas and hold you accountable to completing your projects.
  • Work with a coach on a regular basis.
  • Set up a standing weekly meeting with a friend who you can talk to about your work.
  • Attend writing group and association meetings on a regular basis.
  • Volunteer a few hours a week or get a mindless part-time job.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This is the year.

This is the year, I told myself. I was finally taking a year to finish my book—a collection of stories I’d been working on in my free time for the last three years. I enrolled in an MFA program in creative writing, where I could receive the feedback I needed to complete the manuscript. I cut back my marketing freelance writing projects to nearly nothing. I was all set to go. And then the year began to unfold.

Nothing was like I expected. It felt like I was spinning in space after being launched from a giant slingshot. I realized pretty immediately that the MFA program wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t learning any more than I had been on my own, and too much feedback was stunting my creative process. So I dropped the program.

I woke up one day without deadlines, financial income or daily social interaction. This creative transition was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. Even the things that worked for me as an entrepreneur no longer worked. Self-imposed deadlines, for instance, weren’t working. How can you rush a creative story? Some days, I felt great. Other days, I felt like a big fat loser. Should I get a job? Should I volunteer? How was I going to put some structure into my days? How could I stay self-motivated? These were never problems for me before. Why was this transition so different for me?

I began to realize that I had to build a brand new life from scratch—which meant letting go of patterns and routines that actually made me successful in the past. Sound counter-intuitive? Actually, it’s not. It means listening to your intuition more than you ever have before. Without guilt and with renewed joy and motivation.

Transitioning to a creative career requires courage, faith and a whole new way of approaching life. This journey has made me take a look at everything in my life—from relationships to spirituality to my own creative process—in a new light. I’m learning every single day. And I’d like to share that experience with you. Join me on my journey. I’d love to hear what you have to say.