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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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the power of our light

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give love, light, & hope

Last Friday, an eighth grade boy took his life. It was the second suicide in a month at the same school.

My son was having his 13th birthday party when a mom called and told me the news. She wanted to get to me before the information flew through social media channels to her son, who was in my basement and who was friends with the boy who died.

Within a minute of hanging up, I heard footsteps coming up the stairs.  My son walked into the room, stunned face and searching voice, “Mom–another kid committed suicide.”

He was in shock.  As were all eight boys at the party, ages 12-14, including two who went to the same school as the two boys who lost their lives within a month of each other.

In that moment, I didn’t know what to do. I was stuck to my chair, my mind whirring, processing, wanting to weep thinking of that boy’s pain, thinking of those parents who lost their son.

Knowing I needed to do something, I walked downstairs and into a room of bewildered eyes, pacing, hugging, and shock.  I turned off the TV, sat down, and asked what they needed.

“He was my friend.”

“I slept over at his house.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“He’s in my advisory!”

“I want to call my mom.”

As each kid in my basement experienced and processed this information in different ways, I stood there, trying to hold a space as they dealt with the gravity of it.

I’ve thought a lot about it since, about that boy, about how there are people–kids and adults–who are suffering among us, people we see every day and have no idea what they are experiencing inside their hearts.

We have all been there–inside moments of darkness, of depression. It is horrible and lonely. But we live in a culture where we do not wear our emotions on our sleeves, we do not post our moments of suffering.

So no one knows.

It makes me wonder–why do we hide our suffering from one another? What if we opened up and talked about times we feel depressed? Then when another person feels the intense loneliness of that emotion, they know they are not alone or abnormal.

We are powerful in our capacity to give light. We can give it every day, toward every single person we encounter.  We can do this by genuinely smiling at people, by demonstrating kindness and teaching our kids to treat all beings with kindness and respect, and by knowing and teaching the difference between standing by and standing up.

We can reach out and say, “Are you ok?” or “Can I help?” or “I love your hair.”

We can notice the people around us. We can care.

We have an immense amount of power within. And our power is simple. We can lift someone with our words.  As well, we can crush spirits with our words. Are we mindful of how we use our power?

When we give our light, love and hope to everyone we encounter, we grow our hearts and the heart of the world.

That is power.

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writing monday: creating a personal zen space

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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

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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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learning how to unicycle

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I signed my daughter Lucy up for a unicycle class on Thursdays through November.  When we got to the gym on the first day, I found out that the class was open to adults, so I joined.  I am so excited! This photo is from last night, our second class.  Lucy and I both started going short distances with no hands.  I cannot wait to go down our street, which just got newly blacktopped last summer, and roll around the neighborhood with Lucy on our unicycles.

I love learning new things, filling my creative well with little adventures along my way. It keeps my brain fresh, my body awake. Unicycling makes me sweat with the effort of moving my body a new way. I love it.

Life has taught me that I can’t dwell in a routine too long or I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel and I get depressed.  I guess this speaks to the dance of balance–knowing when the dance is stale and needs new breath.

 

 

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