Creating a Vision Book

I recently took a fabulous online course called Magical Mornings by Meghan Genge, which I thought was just about creating a morning ritual but turned out to be so much more than that. (I highly recommend the course if you want some really lovely, deep practices to help you “find clarity on who you are, and a sustainable way of creating a life full of wonder”: check it out here.)

Anyway, one of the practices she suggested was a vision book, which is a twist on the vision boarding process. If you’re not familiar with vision boarding, it’s where you go through magazines and cut out pictures that appeal to you—perhaps places you want to visit, or ways you want your home to look, or specific items you’d like to own—and paste them on pieces of cardboard or foamcore. Generally, people create vision boards to represent things that they want in their lives.

Meghan’s idea was more about evoking feelings. She talked about a picture she had found of a tree house overlooking the sea in Scandinavia. The picture called to her not because it was a house she wanted to live in or a place she wanted to visit, but because it made her feel a certain way: “excited, delighted, and slightly squirmy with possibilities.”

In this practice, you choose images because of how they make you feel—whatever feeling feels good, and that you want more of in your life, whether it’s excited, full of potential, happy, intrigued, open, or something else—and cut those out. So instead of a specific car you want, you might choose an image of a woman driving down a coastal highway in a convertible, because you like how free and adventurous it makes you feel. Then you paste the pictures in a journal or sketchbook that you can flip through at any time.

Years ago Kate Spade ran a magazine ad that featured a woman dressed up and smiling—obviously having the time of her life at some sort of elegant party—and the caption was something like: “She had a glass of champagne in her hand and confetti in her hair.” I was completely captivated by that ad and that sentiment, so much so that I tore it out and taped it to the wall. I wanted to feel like that woman more often—carefree, on top of the world, beautiful, fun. That’s the sort of image I’m talking about.

Go through a variety of magazines and cut out any image that appeals to you on that gut level, even if it doesn’t make any logical sense at the moment. Once you have a nice pile, select the ones that really resonate—that make you feel “squirmy with possibilities” or just feel like a deep internal yes. Then put those aside for a day or two. Come back to them after that time, and sit with each one, seeing if it still feels wonderful. If so, paste it into your journal.

Then whenever you want a lift—when you want to connect to those wonderful feelings—pull that journal out and slowly flip through the pages, allowing the images to bring out those feelings in you. You can make this a daily ritual, to plug you into those emotions every day.

Add images as you come across them. And if at some point one or more of the images in your journal no longer feels right, tear it out or paste over it! This journal should be evolving, not static—just as you are. Sound like fun? Try it for a while, and let me know what you think!

journal pic.JPG

6 Short & Sweet Ideas for a Spring Routine Refresh

I wanted to share with you this article I recently wrote for Thrive Global about some easy ways to take care of yourself. Spring is a perfect time to refresh our daily routine and make sure it’s serving us, rather than running us ragged!

Starting your day mindfully improves the rest of the day. Morning rituals are wonderfully beneficial, but when you’re busy, the thought of trying to squeeze something else into your day can be overwhelming. The good news is that your ritual doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming to be effective. Here are some short and sweet practices that you can easily manage.

1.      Ease into the day.

Instead of jumping out of bed, take a moment to center yourself. After you wake up, lie still and take three deep breaths. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Breathe in slowly through your nose until you reach maximum capacity, feeling your belly rise. Then slowly release the breath through your mouth, feeling your belly fall. Imagine that you are inhaling peace and exhaling any tension you may have. Repeat two more times. Then stretch your arms and legs, lengthening your body as much as you can. As you get out of bed, pause to feel your feet on the floor. Then get up and on with your day, refreshed and ready!

2.      Replace phone time with something positive.

Instead of checking your phone first thing, which can negatively affect your focus and your mood, do something uplifting for five minutes. Write in a journal, sit in silence, read a few pages of an inspiring book—whatever makes you feel happier.

3.      Shower mindfully.

This practice doesn’t take any extra time at all, so it’s especially great for those super-busy days. Feel the water hitting your head and streaming downward. Imagine that it is washing all negative energy out of you and down the drain. Then imagine the fresh water replenishing you with positive energy for the day.

4.      Get outside.

Sip your morning coffee or tea outdoors for an instant reset, courtesy of nature. Getting sunlight first thing makes you more alert and spurs production of the mood-booster serotonin; it also helps regulate your sleep cycles. Bonus points if you can put your bare feet on the earth for some quick grounding.

5.      Set an intention/visualize/schedule some self-care.

Take a few minutes to sit quietly and think about the day ahead. Check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling. What does your day hold? Is there something important you want to accomplish? Set the intention that you will handle it easily. Visualize it going well. Are you facing a busy day? Set the intention to navigate it with serenity and grace. Visualize a smooth path ahead of you. Feel free to ask for help from whatever higher power you believe in, or simply your own inner self.

You can also use this time to brainstorm ways make your day easier or to treat yourself (having a reward to look forward to can brighten up even the toughest days). For example, is there something you can take off your list or ask someone else to do? Is there a break in the day where you can relax and enjoy a cup of tea or a quiet moment outside? Ask yourself what would make you happy, and see if you can make it happen.

6.      Focus on gratitude.

While you’re getting ready, eating breakfast, or commuting to work, think about what you’re thankful for. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been shown to have enormous benefits: it enhances physical health, psychological health, mental strength, and self-esteem. Paying attention to what’s good in your life is a wonderful way to start each day with a positive mindset. And the more you appreciate what’s around you, the more you notice things to appreciate.

Beginning your day with one of these simple morning rituals will help center and calm you, empowering you to be your best self. You can also practice them at other times—during lunchtime, for an afternoon break, or in the evening to transition between work and home.

And you can always come back to your breathing to for a mini-break. Close your eyes if possible and just focus on feeling the breath as it enters and exits your nose. Breathe as deeply and slowly as possible. If you’re feeling anxious, try kaki pranayama, or “bird’s beak,” breath: inhale through your nose. Then purse your lips into an O, as if you were drinking from a straw, and exhale slowly. This helps bring about the relaxation response. Repeat until you feel calmer.

A morning ritual refreshes and restores you every day. Even tiny actions can have an enormous positive impact. Try one of the practices above for a week and see how much better you feel!

beach dawn 11.jpg

 

Join Our Creative Community!

I am so excited to announce the launch of the Creation Co-op: an online creative community for women. Over the past year I’ve been part of a wonderful group of women who have been dreaming and scheming together, and now we’re ready to share our vision with you!

The Creation Co-op is a community of women who are committed to reclaiming our full creative power. We believe that creation is our birthright, and that every act of creativity supports us in becoming exactly who we were created to be. As we create, we remember who we are and how to trust ourselves.

Important note: this is not about being an “artist.” Anyone can participate, regardless of what you consider to be your “skill level.” This is about enjoying the creative process, whatever that means for you. It could be “art” but it could also be cooking, gardening, homecare—whatever brings you joy and helps you feel more connected to your authentic self.

We create together “for the Love of Creation”—meaning that we focus on the delight of our creative experiences, not just on the end result. This is something that is so important, but as I’ve discussed here before, often very difficult to do. I’m thrilled to be part of a group that will help me keep remembering how to find joy in the process and stop judging the product.

Our contributors share their authentic experiences with creation through artistic self-expression as well as the practice of consciously creating a meaningful life through healing and self-care. We view life as a beautiful, heartbreaking, non-linear journey of healing that is meant to be traveled in the company of like-minded sisters.

In the first session, “Befriending Ourselves,” we’ve each created videos about our own struggles to do this and the practices/ideas/tools we’ve found that help. Session 1 will be released on May 20. If you register before then, you’ll receive 25% off! Here are all the details.

Purchasing a session enables you to become a member of our Creation Co-op Private Community on Facebook. This is where the magic happens: each week we will share our creations, connect, and have fun together (and we plan to do in-person gatherings in the future!). Information about joining our private community is included in the full PDF package that you will receive on the session’s release date.

If you’re interested in joining this adventure, I’ve got a coupon code for a free pass to Session 1! Just email me and let me know that you want in!

Follow the Creation Co-op on Instagram and Facebook for details, fun videos (including bloopers!), and more opportunities to win! Please feel free to share this info with anyone you think might benefit from it—the more the merrier!

Creation Co-op Logo.jpg

Appreciation vs. Gratitude

This week I’ve been reading Kate Northrup’s new book Do Less (and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a chronic do-er like me!). I want to share something that really jumped out at me, that may be helpful to you. She recommends focusing on appreciation, as opposed to gratitude. She says “appreciation has an even more attractive vibration than gratitude because it’s purely about noticing what we like about what’s in front of us instead of gratitude, which is often about liking what’s in front of us as compared to what could be in front of us or what used to be in front of us.”

This is a really fascinating distinction to me. I’ve talked before about the importance of gratitude (here) and I still think it’s vital to feel and express it, but she makes a very interesting point. Appreciation may be an even more powerful tool. Appreciation feels easier and lighter to me than gratitude. I think this is because often when I’m grateful for something, there’s a tiny bit of fear mixed in. Like, I’m grateful that we’re all healthy (because that might change in the future).

Gratitude can also involve judgment—I’m grateful for something because it benefits me in some way—but appreciation just is. It’s the difference between being grateful for sunshine on your beach vacation (because rain would keep you inside and that would suck) and appreciating how the sunlight sparkles on the water as you sit by the ocean.

Northrup says, “I can simultaneously feel an energy of gratitude that my daughter is taking an awesome nap that I know will last another 40 minutes at least. But this is more in contrast to how it used to be when her naps were unpredictable and often lasted only 20 minutes. Do you see the difference? … How I feel about my daughter napping right now has to do with the moment but more in terms of how this moment relates to a moment in the past and feels better than it used to. … Both of these feelings have a place, for sure, but what we want to be shooting for as often as possible is pure appreciation for what’s in front of us, as opposed to gratitude for what’s in front of us in contrast to how bad it could be or how bad it used to be. Make sense? It’s a quarter turn that will make a world of difference.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear your take on this! Hit reply to this email and let me know, or comment below!

water 2.jpg

The Season of Joy

It is the first mild day of March.
Each minute sweeter than before …
There is a blessing in the air …
— William Wordsworth

Spring is springing here, and I’m especially happy about it this year. This winter wasn’t severely cold, but it did seem very gray and wet. I have really missed the sunshine. I find myself lingering outside in the morning as I drink my coffee, watching the squirrels scamper about and listening to what sounds like hundreds of birds chattering away. On Saturday I spent hours in the backyard, and even made a little picnic lunch of bread, apples, and cheese. It was delightful. And the scents—all sorts of glorious plants are blooming, like sweet olive and wisteria, and it smells delicious! The breeze seems like it’s been perfumed.

Spring is my favorite season for several reasons. First, it’s wonderful to be able to feel comfortable outdoors—neither too cold nor too hot. (Yesterday I was able to go for a morning walk without a jacket, and yet I didn’t sweat, either. Bliss!)

Second, to watch everything come alive after being dormant in the winter makes me feel more alive. I feel like a flower blooming—unfurling slowly under the warmth of the sun, stretching out, expansive, opening. I’m free and easy (or at least, free-er and easier!) and my mind feels lighter. I’m inspired and energized.

And third, it just seems to me to be the most joyful of seasons. Sunshine quite literally makes me happy (it does this to everyone—sunlight increases our levels of serotonin). And each new flower I spot, each delicious scent I smell, each warm breeze I feel gives me a quick burst of joy.

In the spring I feel like anything is possible. It’s the very essence of hope and faith: simply pay attention to the bare branches of the trees. They literally transform overnight. One day they appear barren, and the next they’re covered in tiny green leaves. It’s incredible, and it always makes me feel awed and grateful.

And the spring cleaning! I must admit, I love a good spring cleaning. A few weekends ago I woke up raring to go, and finally tackled our garage. I went through boxes of memorabilia that had been moved from house to house, and consolidated about twelve boxes down to two. (And that was just one wall!) I made so much space, and threw away so many things that should never have been kept, and donated so many things that could be useful to others. It felt fantastic!

Is spring happening where you live? Here are some ways to truly immerse yourself in the season and its joys, courtesy of Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.

 ·         If you don’t have them growing in your garden, bring home a bouquet of daffodils (or any other spring flower you love) to brighten your space.

·         Plant a living Easter basket. Find a pretty basket, line it with pebbles or a plastic liner, and add two inches of potting soil. Sprinkle fast-growing rye grass seed on top of the soil and then cover with another quarter inch of soil. Water well and cover with a brown paper sack for a few days until the seeds germinate. When the grass sprouts, place the basket in a warm sunny window and continue to water. In a couple of weeks you’ll have a basket of living grass!

·         Search out a new “sacred space” in the world. A shady grove of trees, a beautiful public garden that’s new to you, a museum gallery, the stacks of an old library, even an outdoor café where you can sit basking in the sunshine can help you realize the boundless treasure and spiritual replenishment of a perfect solitary hour.

And a few of my favorites:

·         Go for a slow walk outside, looking for evidence of spring. Delight in the blue sky, warm sunshine, beautiful blooms, and the scents and sounds of nature coming to life. Keep an eye out for butterflies!

·         Once the danger of freezing is past, start gardening! I love to put in plants that are already blooming, so I can enjoy the color instantly.

·         Enjoy a picnic—even if it’s just in your backyard, eating al fresco elevates an ordinary meal and feels fun and festive.

·         Wash your windows and be amazed at how much light pours in!

·         Dive into some spring cleaning. It may not sound fun, but the satisfied feeling afterward (and the space you’ll create!) is worth it!

I’ll leave you with a poem that perfectly captures how I feel about spring.

Today

--Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,

so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

 

that it made you want to throw

open all the windows in the house

 

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,

indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

 

a day when the cool brick paths

and the garden bursting with peonies

 

seemed so etched in sunlight

that you felt like taking

 

a hammer to the glass paperweight

on the living room end table,

 

releasing the inhabitants

from their snow-covered cottage

 

so they could walk out,

holding hands and squinting

 

into this larger dome of blue and white,

well, today is just that kind of day.

103.JPG

Being Kind to Yourself

I’ve been thinking about self-compassion lately, and was reminded of this post I wrote in 2017 about this topic. As I re-read it, I realized that (once again!) I have failed to follow my own advice. I’m still beating myself up for mistakes and being critical of most of my efforts. So I’m sharing this post again to help me remember (and help you too, if you need it) to treat myself more kindly.

I recently took Session 1 of Write into Light, an amazing teleclass by Martha Beck (a new session starts in May 2019; check it out here). In the second call, she was outlining a writing exercise where we visualize our home and pick our least favorite spot, then see what it has to tell us. She did the exercise herself as she was describing it; she picked her master bedroom closet because it was filled with stuff she didn’t know what to do with. She described it as cluttered and disorganized, then asked what its message was for her. In the pause before she conveyed the message, I was anticipating something like “you have too much useless junk in your life and you need to clear it out”—something that would point out a problem and how she should fix it. But what she actually said flabbergasted me. She said, in the softest, kindest voice: “Oh, go easy on yourself, please. Let the clutter be today … Everybody’s got clutter, sweetheart. Let it go.”

I sat there with my mouth open, astonished. A message of pure compassion? It was the exact opposite of what I expected. We’re always told clutter is bad and we should clear it, and yet here was this world-famous life coach saying it was OK—because she was speaking from love. And love never criticizes. Real love is unconditional; you are loved no matter what. No. Matter. What.

How often do we truly experience that? How often are we able to truly give that? It’s extraordinarily hard to practice—but it’s essential that we learn how. We can’t possibly experience any kind of lasting happiness or joy if we don’t give ourselves a break. And we can’t offer others unconditional love if we don’t give it to ourselves first.

At the root of unconditional love is compassion. Understand, and forgive, like Martha Beck’s closet. “It’s OK, sweetheart. Everyone has clutter.” Not, “You are so lazy, why haven’t you cleaned me up already? What a loser. You can’t even keep this tiny space straight; how will you ever be a success?” No. Acceptance and love. Try alternating those statements to yourself—first the kind one, then the negative one. Isn’t it incredible how different they make you feel? An imaginary statement from a room can make you feel loved or ashamed. If you are gentle and compassionate with yourself, it completely changes everything. It feels like sinking into a bubble bath of peace. Imagine being as kind to yourself as you’d be to your dearest friend. When our best friend screws up, we’re always quick to tell her it’s OK. But when we screw up, oh boy! Bring on the banshees!

Most of us have that voice in our head that criticizes almost everything we do and constantly judges situations. Often, it’s not even our own voice, but one we absorbed from a parent or teacher. We don’t even notice most of the time, but it’s always carping at us. Never satisfied, always complaining. Start listening; it goes on and on. How can we expect to feel good with that constant barrage of criticism?

I recently began re-reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron (an excellent book which I highly recommend), and one of the first activities is to write a positive statement about yourself several times (like “I am genuinely talented”) and then note all the criticisms and objections that surface in your head. She calls those blurts, and she recommends writing them down, then reframing them as positive affirmations. This was so difficult for me. I felt silly saying nice things about myself, but I had felt totally normal saying mean things! That is messed up. But I think that’s how most of us are. Cameron points out that this inner critic is precisely why so many people don’t pursue their dreams. They self-sabotage before they even start. It is essential to quiet that inner judge if we want to accomplish anything, and I think it’s necessary in order to find true joy.

It’s important to realize that the critic inside you is not you. It is a separate voice that you can politely—or not so politely—tell to shut up. You can even give it a name, like Mr. Judgypants or Bossy Bee, to help you take it a little less seriously. When Bossy Bee starts bitching, say, “Hey, Bossy Bee. I know you want to help, but I’ve got this. Goodbye now.” (Or “Buzz off,” lol.)

When you screw up, instead of letting Bossy Bee berate you, consider what love would say. I don’t know, maybe give love a name too. Lucy Lovebug? Love understands, love accepts, love encourages. Lucy Lovebug would say, “It’s OK sweetheart; I’m here for you no matter what.” Treat yourself like you would a wounded child. Because that’s what we all are inside, really. Even those with “good” childhoods picked up some scars along the way. We need comfort and cuddling, not criticism and cruelty. We need forgiveness and kisses and treats.

A simple way to get into that mindset is lovingkindess meditation. Close your eyes and silently say, “May I be well. May I be loved.  May I be free from all suffering. (Or, May I be filled with peace.)” Repeat three times (or as much as you need). That’s it! If you’re like me, even doing this will make you uncomfortable at first; but try doing it every day, maybe first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Over time, it will help you be more gentle and loving with yourself—and others.

We are not perfect. No one is. I repeat—no one is perfect, no matter how they seem from the outside. Everybody messes up. That’s part of being human. And when we mess up, compassion feels a lot better than anger, and helps us recover better too.

The next time you make a mistake, laugh. Feel solidarity with the billions of other people who are probably making a mistake at that exact same moment. No judgment, no self-flagellation. Look for the positive:  Well, I wrecked the car, but no one got hurt. If I hadn’t gotten lost, I would never have met my new best friend. Sometimes what looks like a disaster turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Give yourself a break. I will be right there with you, trying to remember to choose kindness.

040.JPG

Approaching Your Life as a Work of Art

Each one of us is an artist. An artist is merely someone with good listening skills who accesses the creative energy of the Universe to bring forth something on the material plane that wasn’t here before. … So it is with creating an authentic life. With every choice, every day, you are creating a unique work of art.
— Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

I’m continuing to read Simple Abundance—at 700+ pages, I’ll be at it for a while!—and I’m continuing to find all sorts of interesting insights. (See first post here.) Something that has really struck me is this concept of creating our daily lives as works of art.  Breathnach recommends to “start thinking of your life as a work-in-progress. Works-in-progress are never perfect. But changes can be made to the rough draft during rewrites. Another color can be added to the canvas. The film can be tightened during editing. Art evolves. So does life. Art is never stagnant. Neither is life. The beautiful, authentic life you are creating for yourself and those you love is your art. It’s the highest art.”

Wow. Thinking of my life as a work-in-progress is a simple concept, but it feels radically freeing to me. It essentially takes the pressure off.  And approaching each day as if it is art I am creating—rather than just a to-do list I have to get through—really elevates everything.

Breathnach also talks about how to make our lives more nourishing by scattering moments of joy throughout. She says, “What is missing from many of our days is a true sense that we are enjoying the lives we are living. It is difficult to experience moments of happiness if we are not aware of what it is we genuinely love. We must learn to savor small, authentic moments that bring us contentment.”

Of course, as a “joy detective,” I love this idea. Something you can do, which I have done before, is to make a Bliss List: a list of simple pleasures that bring you joy. Then do at least one thing from it every day. Here are some of the items on my list:

·         Reading

·         Sitting in the sun

·         Savoring a cup of tea

·         Watching classic movies

·         Fresh flowers

·         Listening to jazz

·         Hugging

·         Toast with butter

·         Chocolate

·         Sitting and doing nothing (especially on a rainy day)

Breathnach also suggests trying to do daily tasks mindfully to “restore serenity to your daily endeavors.” She says, “Serene women do not get sidetracked. Sidetracked women, who scatter their energies to the four winds, never achieve serenity. … Concentrate slowly on completing one task at a time, each hour of the day, until the day is over.”

She says that we will wonder how we’ll manage to get everything done this way, but “I assure you that you will accomplish all you set out to do and need to do with much more ease, efficiency, pleasure, and satisfaction.” In fact, studies are now proving that multitasking actually makes us less efficient. Plus, this approach just feels better to me.

What do you think about these concepts? Do you also find them comforting and supportive? I’d love to hear. You can let me know by replying to this email, or in the comments below.

IMG_9415.jpg

 

Will You Be Your Valentine?

It’s Valentine’s Day, which encourages us to show our love for our romantic partner. Where is the holiday that encourages us to show our love for ourselves?

Truly, this is so important that we should be reminded every day, not just one day a year. We can’t fully love others if we don’t fully love ourselves. And yet we often treat ourselves terribly. Our needs are always last on the list. “Oh, I don’t have time to _______, I have to work/take care of my children/clean the house/go to the store/cook dinner/do laundry, etc. etc.”

However, as many of us have found out, if we focus solely on taking care of others and neglect ourselves for too long, it will eventually have a negative impact. We get sick, or are constantly tired or irritable (or are sick, tired, AND irritable). Often when this happens, our instinct is to push through, because we are needed. We’re not making it up—we do have tons of obligations and people who depend on us—bosses, coworkers, children, spouses, parents, friends. But our first obligation should be to ourselves. I know it sounds radical. But it’s true.

It’s important to note that we’re worthy of love, just as we are. We don’t have to be constantly productive to prove our worth. We are each born a magnificent soul, deserving of unconditional love. When we give ourselves that love—not demanding anything in return, not trying to “be better,” just appreciating ourselves as is—it makes a huge difference in our lives.

I’ll admit, showing myself unconditional love is something I struggle with daily. I’m a perfectionist and highly self-critical, and as I’ve discussed before, I have the urge to always be doing something to “earn my keep.” But running around like a hamster on a wheel all the time doesn’t feel good. No matter how hard I work, I never cross everything off the list (gah, how I hate that fact!). I never reach that mark of “enough.”

I always feel like I come up short when I tie my value to what I’m accomplishing. If I can wrap my head around the idea that I’m inherently worthy—that I was born enough, and don’t have anything to prove—that feels SO much better. I feel open rather than constricted. Relaxed instead of clenched. Happy instead of apprehensive.

There’s a common saying: When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. The converse is absolutely true: when I’m happy, I can spread that happiness. I’m more likely to be kind and patient with those I love—and even with strangers. So when you tend to your own happiness, you’re really doing others a service.

What if we all devoted time every day just to showing ourselves some love? Paying attention to our needs and our wants; taking a moment to sit and listen to our inner voice, which often gets drowned out in the cacophony of modern life. I’m not talking about hours each day—just as much time as you can comfortably fit into your schedule. Maybe five minutes, sitting outside while you watch the clouds float by, or fifteen minutes of meditation or yoga or reading—whatever lights you up and makes you feel whole.

Today, take a moment to show yourself some love. Do something you enjoy, or give yourself a treat that that makes you feel amazing. Book that massage! Steal away and read that book! Savor the chocolate! Do it just because—because you are a miraculous, incredible, gorgeous soul who deserves all the love in the world. XXXOOO! 

IMG_6836.JPG

Weaving a "Tapestry of Contentment"

I finally got a book I’d been hearing about for a while, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and it’s lovely! I’m finding it enormously comforting, like a cup of cocoa on a cold winter's day. It’s beautifully written and immensely inspiring.

I've been feeling frazzled, and so was Breathnach when she began writing the book.  She says in the preface, "I shared the revelations that came while trying to reconcile my deepest spiritual and creative longings with often overwhelming commitments to family and work."

I'm underlining all over the place as I read, and I wanted to share some of the insights that have particularly resonated with me so far.

She talks about six threads that, woven together, create a “tapestry of contentment.” Isn’t that a beautiful image? The full quote reads: “There are six threads of abundant living which, when woven together, produce a tapestry of contentment that wraps us in inner peace, well-being, happiness, and a sense of security.” Who wouldn’t want that? I’m in!

The threads are gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty, and joy.  The book is organized by date, with one entry per day; she focuses on each thread for two months, so I’m currently reading about gratitude. Breathnach recommends counting your blessings, and says, “See if you can’t get to one hundred. So much good happens to us but in the rush of daily life we fail even to notice or acknowledge it.”

This really struck me. It’s so true, and it’s something I’ve talked about here before. But I continue to find it difficult to be grateful consistently. One of the tools she suggests is a daily gratitude journal, to help us maintain that focus. I’ve started one, and am trying to be more aware of all the little things there are to appreciate—even on off days. My life is so rich and full of goodness. It's a shame to pay more attention to the minor irritations or parts that are not going well and miss the greater good.

Something else that really struck me was this: “much of my struggle to be content … has arisen when I stubbornly resisted what was actually happening in my life at the present moment.” Oh, that is so me. I resist reality all the time—how about you? I’m always thinking about how to improve things, remove things, or attract new things, so I often go about in a haze of vague dissatisfaction.

Breathnach talks about the importance of accepting what is. She explains that when you surrender to reality, a softening occurs. “Suddenly I am able to open up to receive all the goodness and abundance available to me because acceptance brings with it so much relief and release. It’s as if the steam of struggle has been allowed to escape from life’s pressure cooker.” That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And it makes complete sense to me.

Further, she adds, "blessing whatever vexes us is the spiritual surrender that can change even troublesome situations for the better. … If you're sick and tired of learning life's lessons through pain and struggle, blessing your difficulties will show you there's a better way."

I was thrilled to see that another tool she recommends is a morning ritual! She says, "give yourself the gift of one hour a day to journey within. You need enough breathing space to allow your heart to ponder what is precious. Or perhaps you can let your imagination soar to the twilight where dreams first dwell. … This much I know: if you go deep enough, often enough, something good is bound to come back to you." And this: “Stressed souls need the reassuring rhythm of self-nurturing rituals.” Yes!

I’m going to enjoy savoring this book each day for the rest of the year. I’m sure there will be plenty more insights and ideas to share with y’all! Meanwhile, I’ve got some creative projects brewing, including a big one that launches in April, so for the next few months I’ll be posting here every other week instead of weekly. Talk to you in mid-February!

IMG_8124.JPG

“A Bride Married to Amazement”

Recently the extraordinary poet Mary Oliver passed away. Her poetry spoke to me so deeply, as it did to millions. Her words were a beacon of light, shining the way forward to a richer existence. My friend Carla Robertson is a life coach and the name of her business, Living Wild and Precious, was inspired by the famous line from Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”  

That question just grabs you by the throat, doesn’t it? That’s what I love about her work—the images are breathtakingly beautiful, which is wonderful in itself … but then comes an observation or question that stops you in your tracks and makes you think, long and hard. Like this, from “Moments,” which gave me courage when I needed it:

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?

You’re not in chains, are you?


There is nothing more pathetic than caution

when headlong might save a life,

even, possibly, your own.

 

And this, from “Wild Geese”:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.


When I first encountered these lines, I cried. I felt such enormous relief. I should re-read them every morning to remind myself of this vital truth. And the way she expresses the idea is so much more powerful than saying, hey, don’t be hard on yourself. She puts it so brilliantly; she was a virtuoso of phrasing.

Here is another of my favorites, which I discovered last year:

“Magellan”

Like Magellan, let us find our islands
To die in, far from home, from anywhere
Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,
Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.

For years we have labored over common roads,
Dreaming of ships that sail into the night.
Let us be heroes, or, if that's not in us,
Let us find men to follow, honor-bright.

For what is life but reaching for an answer?
And what is death but a refusal to grow?
Magellan had a dream he had to follow.
The sea was big, his ships were awkward, slow.

And when the fever would not set him free,
To his thin crew, “Sail on, sail on!” he cried.
And so they did, carried the frail dream homeward.
And thus Magellan lives, although he died.

Wow. It’s amazing, her ability to move, to encourage, to inspire. I’d love to know how many lives have been changed by her work. And that won’t stop with her passing. She may be gone, but her words will touch people for generations to come. She lived the vivid, all-in life that she wanted to—the life she wrote about below—and what more could any of us want? It’s certainly what I want. I’m enormously grateful that she shared her gifts with us.

From “When Death Comes”:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

 

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

340.JPG