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writing monday: words as gifts

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A few weeks ago, in the heat of an argument, Paul said, “I see you write all the time. And you never write to me anymore!”

He was right. I used to write to him a lot more. But I fell out of the habit.  And since we are always together–cleaning, cooking, working, playing–living our daily lives right next to each other, I grew complacent and assumed he knows how I feel about him.

But when he (yelled) that at me, I realized that, like me, he just needed the words in front of him, needed to hold onto them.

So I spent some time honoring him, us, and the thousand moments we’ve shared since our journal started gathering dust, and wrote him a letter, letting him know how grateful I am for him and the life we’ve created together.

Then I wrote Oliver a letter because he has been feeling like Lucy gets all of the attention lately.

And last, I wrote a letter to a boy on our team who lost a friend two months ago.

Now I am a little behind on my work goals. But my heart feels bigger from simply taking time to give people words to let them know they are loved and valued.  The time was worth the giving.

Today, write a letter to someone to whom you want to express gratitude.  Address, stamp, and and send it, and know that your words and time are an act of giving light to this world.

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writing monday: who we were

I was the girl who...

I was the girl with the bad Dorothy Hamil haircut, who wore hand-me-down clothes and liked to play “explorer” along the side of the creek. I was the goofball girl who talked too much in class. I was the girl who rolled up the right leg of her pants so it didn’t get snagged in the chain, the girl who had to be outside, riding her bike, no brakes, down the 57th street hill and through the stop sign below. I was the girl whose parents smoked and swore, the skinny girl who walked up to Don’s Superette each week and spent all of her allowance on candy….

When we were small, before the opinions of friends, family, and society crept into our heads about who and what we were supposed to be, we were fully ourselves. Fully and authentically ourselves.

Who were you?

If you observe a room of kindergarteners long enough, a spectrum of personalities begins to emerge: the outgoing boy, first to raise his hand, grunting at the teacher to call on him, and the introspective boy, reading a book quietly an a blue square because it’s his favorite color.  The creative girl, tangles in her hair and mismatched clothes, intensely drawing pictures for her friends during “choice time;” and the animal lover, poking her toy stethoscope into the teddy bear’s chest. 

If you observe a room full of kindergarteners, you see a glimpse of the essence and spirit of each child.

Who were you?

Writing Exercise: Beginning with the words, “I was the girl/boy who…” tell the story of who you were as a little girl/boy.

Our stories are powerful reminders of our own essence, spirit, and strength. When we remember who we were and what we dreamed and hoped for, we are better able to ground ourselves in who we are now. Use this prompt when you feel lost or are seeking direction in your life that will resonate with your truth and soul.

 

 

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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…” 

Canvas 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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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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