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writing monday: follow what you love

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Happy Monday People! I want to meet you here, at the beginning of your week, to offer journaling ideas and inspiration to lift your spirit. My hope is to inspire reflection, power, and soul in your work and life through the art of longhand writing. 

I teach Personal Leadership at the University of Minnesota, and every semester, I get to spend time with a room full of students at the edge of their lives, along their rite of passage from dependence to independence. They are eager and they are anxious, each on an individual quest to figure out what they are going to do with their lives.

It is an exciting and profound time, full of possibilities, and I absolutely love to be a part of my students’ transformation.

However, instead of being a time during which young adults are free to explore and discover the world and what they want from life, they are instead sent into a four-year pressure-cooker to prepare themselves for what feels like their entire lives. In this light, epidemic anxiety and depression make complete sense to me–the weight of that expectation is too much for anyone to bear.

Standing in that room, I am mindful of the mythology that is perpetuated at universities and in our society in general, telling us that if we study hard, do our best, play on our strengths, and never let up, we will find that magic key that will open the door to lifetime happiness and success.

Meanwhile, the heart and soul within are devalued in the academic environment, cast aside for the illusion of certainty.

So I stand as buffer, gathering students around me to whisper the truth of life: Follow your heart. Follow what you love like your life depends on it.

Because it does.

This week, spend five minutes a day flash-writing (writing ahead of your self-consciousness, continually moving the hand across the page and your mind across your heart), beginning with the words, “I love…” 

Canvass your mind for everything you love.  For example: I love the first coffee in the morning, I love reading Flow in an epsom salt bath, I love the life Paul and I created for our family, I love Oliver and Lucy’s framed art all over our walls, I love writing, I love reading the “about the author” excerpt in books, I love walking in the woods with Dharma and Fergus…

That which we give attention to grows, whether negative or positive.  Therefore, shine the spotlight on the things in life you love, amplifying them in your mind, on and off the page.  When we dwell on the things that inspire our hearts, they grow resonance in our moments and days.

Don’t worry about what you are going to do with your life.  Rather, let your life resonate with the song of your heart. .

 

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writing monday: creating a personal zen space

how to journal

how to journal

Happy Monday People! I want to meet you here, at the beginning of your week, to offer journaling ideas and inspiration to lift your spirit. My hope is to inspire reflection, power, and soul in your work and life through the art of longhand writing. 

 

Sometimes I feel like I live in a pinball machine of incessant demands. I can barely finish a thought let alone listen to myself and my life. This is why I use a blank page and markers–it gives me space to harness my thoughts, ideas, and heart.  After I write, I can better see, think, and act powerfully in my life.

With a journal and markers, you can create a personal zen space, wherever you are.

We cannot stop or slow life.  There will not be a space in the future to catch our breath and finally reflect on things.  The time is now. We humans need a space, a bubble, a hole in the bottom of a huge tree to think about life as it moves through us.  A space to listen to the heart of matters.  To ourselves.

This week, I encourage you to spend ten minutes each day–whenever– phone out of site, with pen, markers, or pencil and journal.  Just you and the space.  Begin each entry with the date at the top of the page and the words, Right now…  At the end of the week, look back to see how life is flowing through you and you are flowing through life. You will be rewarded with self-insight.

Enjoy the art and soul of it!

 

 

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beginner’s mind

When I first came to writing in 1992, I was falling through the universe, trying to grab anything I could hold onto, flailing, failing, spinning.  I had left a chaotic home and came to chaos in my mind as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to make of this life.

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my very first journal

One day–maybe in a coffee shop or browsing the bookstore–I found Natalie Goldberg’s seminal book, Writing Down the Bones, and it inspired me to buy my first official journal. Dressed tight in its hideous fabric, this journal was the first to introduce me to the power of reflection and intention.  It also taught me the immense power of my own words in lifting me out of my darkness.

Sometimes things and people come to us when we need a lifeline.  Ever since, writing has been mine.

first words

first words

Twenty-six years later, I am still writing.  I have a bookshelf crammed with journals housing a lifetime of big and small moments.  It has become a massive unedited memoir.  The thing is, I rarely reread what I have written.  It is the practice of writing–of pausing Time for a moment to take a good look at the life I am living and the person I want to be–that inspires me to write.

a creative life in writing

a creative life in writing

A common theme I hear from people who want to write is that they do not know how to begin.  There is so much they want to write about, so many thoughts and so much to say, they are overwhelmed by the gravity of placing those first words.

I think the most profound things are also the simplest.  And this belief has inspired these instructions for beginning:

1. Buy a journal you love. I like blank pages so I can be as free as possible as I create the page.  My daughter Lucy prefers lines.  Go with one that resonates with your soul.

2. Write the date and where you are at the beginning of every entry. 

3. Enter the page with the words, “Right now…” Begin with this moment, where you are now.  What is going on around you? What do you see/feel/hear? How old are you? What are you thinking/worrying/dreaming about? Begin with everything about your life right now–your age, your job, your relationships, your obligations and your frustrations–everything that is going on in your life and mind.

As you write, you will hit a vein, and you will find yourself writing about the things you need to write about.  Eventually, you will uncover the song beneath the words, the heart of your dilemmas and the spaces of your growth. Your attention to your present circumstances will empower you by giving you a solid ground on which to stand and look deeply at your life.

Life is an art.  Writing is the dance of mindful engagement.

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november project, day 4: changing my mind

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Sometimes I use my writing to get my mind right.  Coming from a champion lineage of depression and addiction, this is something I have to do on a regular basis, when my thoughts tend toward the negative and I am not being kind to myself.  When negativity arises, I neuroplasticize.  In other words, I change my mind.  To do this, I simply write at the top of my page “thank you.” And then I begin filling the page with words and images and thoughts and things that I am grateful for in my life, from coffee to Oliver and Lucy to the warmth of sunlight through the windows in a cozy coffee shop.  And it works.  From the time I begin writing until the page is stuffed with words and color, I am able to alter my own emotional and mental state.

I often tell my students that life is not easy, being human is not easy.  It wasn’t meant to be.  But it’s how we navigate our humanness–bringing ourselves back when we fall out of grace–that heals our souls and makes us powerful.

As the sun slants away from summer and the days shrink and the darkness grows, we must to tend the light and warmth within.  Next time you notice your thoughts leaning toward the negative, give yourself the gift of ten minutes, a blank page, and colorful markers, and pull out the grace within so you can see it and feel it.  Again and again.  This is the work of life.

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november project: filling the creative well

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A few days ago, I wrote myself a prescription for November.  I wrote it because I need some creative medicine.

For the past few months, I have been running along the edge of an empty tank. My time is spliced between too many things, things that feed my soul and enrich my life, but that require a lot of physical, mental, emotional, and social energy.  At the end of the day, I am left with little for myself.  My kids get the last fumes, and that’s a wrap.  Paul and I hang out, but since we are in the same boat, we are bogged down together.

By nature (and identity), I am a writer and a creator.  But life has been so immersive, I have not been able to try new things with my writing. The last extensive project I engaged in was a full revision of my second novel. I finished that project in May, and haven’t written a word of fiction or posted a blog since.

And in the meantime, I grew comfortable.  And fearful about sharing my writing.

I still write daily, filling blank pages with thoughts using thin-tipped markers.  But I haven’t written anything for anyone outside of myself to see. And the longer I’ve been away, the more apprehensive I feel.

What am I going to write about? I wonder in a low-level writer’s despair.  I have a million ideas, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t sit down and risk bringing them to light.

My creative energy is flat, and I’ve been banging my head, feeling a like a fraud teaching leadership when I’m out of balance in my own life.

A week or so ago, I figured it out: I’m hiding in my comfort zone, in the pages of my journal, where my thoughts are safe from judgement or scrutiny. But in the comfort zone, there is no risk, no growth, no innovation, and after a while, stagnation.

I’m a writer, after all.  And part of being a writer is letting people read what you write.

So I wrote myself a prescription to push me out of my comfort zone to practice what I preach in class–to bravely and creatively express what is within.

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For the month of November, I am going to nurture myself creatively, in some way, every day.  You are welcome to join me, or sit back and take it in.  Whichever, I hope my quest to fill my creative well inspires you to do the same.

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being 45

being 45

Last week my physical therapist asked me how old I am. I told her I was turning 45 on Thursday and she responded, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Her reaction stunned me. It shouldn’t have considering the general view of aging, especially for women, in this country. But it did. And I’ve thought about it since: What does it mean to be 45?

Into my 30’s, I subconsciously cast 45 off as old, when dreams have been long realized and everything from there was on a downslope. But as pages of the calendar seem to be flipping off in a windstorm of years, I’ve gained a new perspective.

Let’s not sugarcoat–aging sucks. I’ve never met anyone who wants wrinkles, aches, pains, inevitable loss, new knees, gray hair, or saggy skin. Not once. And yet, that’s where we are all headed. Until our spirits rise, we are destined to live inside an aging body.

But if we are willing to say yes to life, we must be willing to say yes to it all.  And when I step into the light of grace, of what it means to be given 45 years of life on Earth, I realize I have needed every one of those years to get to where I am now, and there is not one year I would give back.

Forty-five to me means going to college and discovering how humungous the world is, breaking rules, boarding airplanes to lands unknown, walking barefoot on beaches and riding bikes through cities, wildflower meadows, and over canyons. It means being in classrooms and lecture halls, both as student and teacher, always learning and discovering. It means taking my time and following my curiosities, and it means getting lost, wandering, and finding my way back. It means breaking my heart and falling in love and making mistakes and saying I’m sorry and practicing bravery and working really hard and being really grateful. It means marrying my best friend and realizing it was worth the wait. It means growing children in my belly and watching them become who they are, spirits and journeys all their own. It means being the “fortune teller” at the school carnival and reading The Giving Tree before bed. It means letting Lucy destroy the kitchen to make “slime,” and watching Oliver disappear down the sidewalk on his bike, praying he arrives at Spencer’s house safely.

It means all of the experiences I’ve had and all of the people who’ve crossed my path and taught me about love and life.

I am 45 and there is no apology necessary. Instead, I want to tilt my head back and sing to the sky, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, God, for all of it.

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