Session 2 of the Creation Co-op Starts Monday!

Session 2 of the Creation Co-op begins on this Monday, August 26! If you weren’t able to do Session 1, now’s your opportunity to join in the joy of creating just for the pleasure of it, surrounded by a supportive community of women.

New features of this session will include Creative Challenges and Zoom Playdates. The Creative Challenge will be simple and fun. Every two weeks, one of our contributors will invite us to participate in a creative activity of their choice using art or writing, with light structure and easily acquired materials. These challenges are designed to catapult us into the action of creating, without a lot of stress or time involved. The following week, the contributor will invite us to check-in and share our work with one another.

We're excited to create together in this way and look forward to these fun, easy opportunities to get our collective creative juices flowing. By the end of Session 2, we'll have a lovely little portfolio of work to look back on and admire! Participants will even have an opportunity to share their work in our digital magazine, “One Breath” issue 3 (optional, not mandatory).

Our other new feature, Zoom Playdates, will be just like kids’ playdates, except for us! They will be relaxed, unstructured playtime where we gather together virtually to create, share, and connect. There will be three—in September, October, and November—and each will last about 40 minutes (longer if we’re having too much fun to stop!).

This session begins on Monday, August 26 and ends Friday, November 15. Membership will close once we begin, but you may also purchase the session once it’s complete, in December. All content will be delivered via our private Facebook group, so you must have a Facebook profile to participate.

If you’re new to the blog, or didn’t see the post about the first session of the Creation Co-op, here’s what we’re all about:

The Creation Co-op is an online creative support and empowerment group for women. Our community creates together for the Love of Creation, focusing on the joy and 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.

As we make time to create, we see creative energies showing up in other areas of our lives. We grow more self-compassion. We receive clarity and insight. We remember who we are and how to trust ourselves. We heal.

Our contributors share their authentic experiences with Creation as well as lead our community in fun engagements like creative challenges, check-ins, and Zoom playdates. They share inspiration and inquiries that help us see the world differently and get to know ourselves better.

Our community of sisters is committed to discovering our truest selves while supporting each other along the way.

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.

Won’t you join us? You can get all the information and register here. Remember, Session 2 starts this Monday, August 26!

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Making Bad Art Really IS Good for You!

I recently read an article that made me extremely happy. It discussed a study that found that making art can reduce stress levels, whether or not you have any experience.  (You can read the full article here.) A group of 39 people of varying ages, races, genders, and experience making art spent 45 minutes either doing collages, modelling with clay, or drawing with markers. Of the people in the study, 75% of them had lower cortisol levels after the session (cortisol is a biological indicator of stress).

And get this—the levels didn’t differ based on prior experience with art-making! Isn’t that great news? It’s just as I said in my old post, “Making Bad Art Is Good for You”—and now there’s scientific proof that’s true! It really takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?

So, here’s your prescription from Dr. Ashley, lol: Create something! Today, or this week, I invite you to set aside some time to play. Get creative in whatever way makes you happiest, whether that’s doodling, coloring, drawing, painting, collage, sewing, knitting, crocheting, cooking, gardening, decorating your home, photography, clay modeling, making music, arranging shells on the beach—whatever feels the most fun. Let yourself just enjoy the process without judging the result (easier said than done, I know, but try it!

Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t, because you “don’t know how”? There are tons of instructional videos out there. Or you could even—gasp—just play around without any instructions at all! (This makes my inner perfectionist freak out, so I know it’s a good idea!) Go for it! You have nothing to lose and a happier, healthier self to gain!

You can also take classes, which I enjoy because then you’re interacting with other creative souls as well as learning something new. If that appeals to you, you may want to check out the women’s art camp I’ve talked about before (here, here, and here). I’m actually teaching there this year (on creating a restorative daily ritual) and I’m already counting the days! I can’t wait to immerse myself in that magical experience again, connecting with fascinating women and creating our hearts out just for the fun of it! This year’s camp is Wednesday, November 6 through Sunday, November 10 in Hunt, Texas. You can learn more at www.luckystarartcamp.com.

Meanwhile, go play! It’s good for you!

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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!

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On Community, Creating, and Pushing Past the Fear

This past weekend I was reminded—again—of the essential nature of community, and the vital importance of sharing our true selves. We are wired to seek out others with whom we feel like we “belong.” As Brené Brown says in Braving the Wilderness, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.”

Even those of us who are introverts want to feel that connection with others who get us and support us. Brown also says, “Never underestimate the power of being seen.” And yet, in order to truly feel like we belong, we have to show up as our authentic selves.

In a creative setting, where we’re putting out something we made, it can feel like we’re offering up a piece of our soul. I find that to be so risky emotionally. Brown agrees: “True belonging is not passive. It's not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It's not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it's safer. It's a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.”

But the rewards for that risk are great—when you’re accepted for who you are, or your work touches others, it’s deeply satisfying. I work at home and really miss the camaraderie of coworkers. Online groups fill part of the gap, but I also crave personal connection.

Last weekend I had the chance to go to the opening of an exhibit featuring a painting that includes one of my poems. And although it meant driving eight hours to Houston over on Friday and back again on Sunday—and I was nervous because I’d also have to read my poem aloud at the event (risk!)—I grabbed that chance. What made it even better was that I’d get to stay with one of my dearest friends, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. To be able to spend uninterrupted time catching up with her is a rare treat, and immensely nourishing. (More connection!)

The exhibit was called Color:Story 2019, by amazing artists Leslie Gaworecki and Marlo Saucedo. I met Leslie at Lucky Star Art Camp. Last year she put out a request for words to feature in a collaborative work with Marlo, so I submitted my poem “What If.” I was thrilled when they chose it, and even more so when I saw the finished piece (pic below, and more on my Facebook page).

It felt amazing to be part of a collaboration like that. Then they decided to create more pieces along those lines, and were approved to exhibit them in a show. I figured the opening would be fun, and I knew it would meet my desire for connection, but I didn’t anticipate how very much it would fill my soul.

Their space is a huge warehouse subdivided into studios, and before the opening we were able to wander around and see all the other artists. Being in a place dedicated solely to creativity, I felt a special kind of energy that was inspiring and rejuvenating. (It also made my hands itch with the desire to grab a brush and start painting!!)

It was incredible to see my piece in person, and all the other beautiful pieces in the show. The other writers’ work was amazing. And then hearing that work read aloud, and feeling the appreciation of the crowd, brought a whole new level of energy.

It wasn’t quite enough energy to keep me from being increasingly nervous about my turn. But since my poem actually talks about feeling the fear and doing it anyway, I couldn’t possibly back down! I managed to read it all without losing my place or misspeaking—or tripping on the way up—and afterward, several people told me how much they liked it. That meant the world to me. Writers so often send our word babies out into the universe and don’t hear anything back…to get affirmation that our words touched someone makes all the effort, uncertainty, and fear worthwhile.

Seeing such a large group gathered to support the writers and artists was fantastic. It was like getting an infusion of love and appreciation. And seeing all of the artists gathered in that studio space, inspiring and encouraging each other, really brought home to me how important it is for creatives to have a community. Whether it’s “in real life” or virtual, having others who understand the challenges you face and can cheer you on is invaluable.

Especially when we’re starting out, that inner critic can really be loud, and can stop us before we have a chance to get going. Sharing with others who have been there before, who struggle with their own inner critics, really helps us keep going.

And then having others appreciate your work when it’s out there in the world—wow. We create because we have to—because there’s something inside of us that wants to be born, and if we don’t let it out, part of us withers away. We also create to bring joy, or solace, or inspiration to others. Our own pain or happiness, while personal in detail, is universal in feeling. Sharing it heals both the creator and the viewer. Everyone is lifted up. It’s magic, and I’m grateful to have finally gotten to a place in my life where I can experience it for myself.

If you’re feeling that urge to put something out there, remember this. If even one person is touched, it’s worth the vulnerability and the risk. The world needs your voice. Each of us has something unique to share, and someone else needs to hear it because it will benefit them. Don’t let fear keep your voice bottled up inside. Something that can really help you push past fear and doubt is the book The Artist’s Way. Read that, and find your community, and as Rumi says, “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.” The risk is great, but the reward is enormous.

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Let's Get Creative

I’ve talked before about how vital creativity is, no matter what form it takes for you. Today I wanted to share two poems that speak to that, by my friend Mary Walker. She is an amazing writer and inspiring person; I met her during the Write into Light class I took, and now she is leading her own online course, “Meet Your Creative Self,” which I am eagerly looking forward to! (It starts in February.) I thought I’d also share that info here, in case it interests you. You’ll find her description of it below the poems. Here’s to a beautifully creative 2019!

 THRIVE

by Mary Walker

Pasture covered slopes
will slip;
shallow rooted grass
cannot hold the hill
on its own.

A life stripped of riches,
a self swept aside
for sameness,
for blending in,
barely holds itself together.

You are a forest.
Recolonise your life.
Let new ideas take seed,
colours bloom,
let the strange and exotic
spring up.
Trust your wild diversity.
Thrive.

***

PERMISSION

by Mary Walker

I see you at the fence
watching everybody play,
waiting to be invited, or discovered,
or allowed.
There is no benevolent guide to open the gate;
no old hand will usher you in.
No encouragement is hearty enough
to fill that hollow doubt. If there was,
you’d be in there already.
No one will announce your arrival,
but no one will bar your way.
Take a ball or a hoop,
find a slide or a swing,
laugh, kick, cry, dig,
burrow, build, or sing.
Life is a playground,
and you,
one of its children.

***

“Meet Your Creative Self” online course led by Mary Walker:

This is for any creative, not just writers. It's even for people who think they aren't creative (but secretly suspect they might be), for the start-stop creators; for those who create but are too scared to share; for those who create but think there's really no point in doing anything with it.

This is for you if you wonder what you might be capable of if you finally let it flow out...

It's all about learning that our creative self is always speaking to us, offering us creative urges and ideas. It's about learning to trust the creative process and being willing to create without seeing what might lay ahead - knowing that the next step will ALWAYS present itself to us.

Working with your creative self is a joy. Our creativity is alive, vibrant and life-giving when we know how to work with it.

Working WITH your creative self feels like the opposite of effort. Instead, it is about allowing.

Less thinking, more quiet.
Less trying, more doing what you love.
Less strategizing, more trusting.
Less about the things ‘out there’, more about what’s ‘in here’.
Less ‘building ourselves up’, more ‘knowing we already are’.
Less ‘getting there’, more ‘already here’.

In February, I'm leading a 10 week immersion called 'Meet Your Creative Self'.

We are focusing on our relationship with our creative self, trusting our creative urges (including the urge to share our creative work in the world), and tuning in to our unique creative needs and practices.

What are you being asked to create? What are you being asked to share in the world? And where and how do you do that?

If you can sense YOU already have the answers, and are ready to tap into your innate creative wisdom, this might be for you.
• Private Facebook group
• 10 live sessions (February 3 – April 10)
• Group Messenger chat
• Three 1:1 private calls (20 mins each)
• Cost: 3 x monthly payments of $140
• No payments until 1 February

REGISTER: https://gum.co/meetyourcreativeself

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Take It Easy and Make It Easy (on Yourself)

Happy New Year! Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I have in the past, and I’ve rarely been able to keep them. I always tend to try to make a huge change or set a lofty goal, and it usually just leads to tears, cursing, and self-recrimination. This year, I’m going to apply a suggestion from several of the women I interviewed for my book on morning rituals. I’m going to START SMALL.

To quote from chapter 22:  “Keep it simple and achievable. To help with consistency, attach it to an existing habit. … Take it easy and make it easy. Start with tiny changes (i.e., I will take ten slow breaths in bed each morning this week), then add on as those become routine.”

In 2019, two of the main areas I want to focus on are physical fitness and creativity. So I've committed to doing one plank and writing one page a day, every day. (And from past experience, even this may not be a small enough start for me!) But it's achievable with just a bit of discipline--and infinitely easier than my previous goals have been, especially where exercise is concerned.

So if you are making any resolutions for this year, I encourage you to go gentle on yourself. Take teeny tiny baby steps. Make it virtually impossible to fail rather than virtually impossible to succeed. You can always ramp it up later. But don't underestimate the power of small. A single drop of water repeated constantly can wear away stone.

I wish you the best of luck and a healthy, abundant, joy-filled 2019!

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Lighthouses: Books That Have Lit the Way for Me (Part 2)

Here is Part 2 of the list of books I’ve read during my search for joy that have guided me along my path. (See Part 1 here.)

The Artist’s Way and The Vein of Gold, Julia Cameron: incredible resources for anyone who wants more creativity and authenticity in their lives, whether you’re an “artist” or not. Her tone is calming and supportive, and her tools and exercises really work.

In The Artist’s Way she introduces morning pages, where you write longhand, stream of consciousness, for three pages first thing each morning. This clears the “sludge” out of the mind and can also help you identify fears and issues that are holding you back. Another tool is the artist date, where you take yourself somewhere creatively inspiring each week.

In addition, she outlines a 12-week program designed to help you break through any creative blocks and rediscover your true self and what you want to do. It’s amazing. Many of the women I interviewed for my book on morning rituals mentioned this book and how transformative it had been for them.  

The Vein of Gold takes you further along the” journey to the heart of creativity” and provides new exercises that are designed to “engage the reader in inner play.”

How We Choose to Be Happy, Rick Foster and Greg Hicks: they interviewed extremely happy people and found that often they were happy not because of their circumstances, but in spite of them. They CHOSE to be happy and accomplished this by setting that intention and looking for the positive in whatever happened to them. This shows that it’s not the external things that make us happy, but how we feel inside and how we perceive our lives. That’s why being a millionaire doesn’t automatically make someone happy. The authors were able to identify nine choices that all of the people had made that accounted for their happiness, and they discuss those. It’s a fascinating read.

 A Short Guide to a Happy Life and Being Perfect, Anna Quindlen: these deceptively small books pack a punch! Her writing is elegant and straightforward, and a pure joy to read. A Short Guide is an eloquent reminder to cherish each moment and appreciate the richness of our everyday lives.

Being Perfect rocked my world when I first read it. It’s full of brilliant insights about “the perfection trap,” which I often find myself caught in. She encourages us to be ourselves rather than constantly strive to live up to others’ expectations. These quotes really hit home for me: “Eventually, being perfect became like carrying a backpack filled with bricks every single day” and “What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Yes!

How to Live a Good Life, Jonathan Fields: this is a very practical and easy-to-follow book that gives concrete recommendations on how to create a more fulfilling, engaged, happier life. He breaks life up into three “Good Life Buckets”: vitality (the state of your mind and body), connection (relationships), and contribution (how you contribute to the world). He says, “The fuller your buckets, the better your life. When all simultaneously bubble over, life soars. That’s what we’re aiming for. But the flip side is also true. If any single bucket runs dry, you feel pain. If two go empty, a world of hurt awaits. If all three bottom out, you don’t have a life. Figuratively and, in short order, literally.”

He gives a “60-second snapshot” to determine the levels in each of your buckets, and then the following chapters describe 10 ways to fill each bucket. Fields also runs The Good Life Project, which offers courses, podcasts, and even a summer camp for adults every year in upstate New York.

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin: this was probably the first book I read that was specifically on looking for ways to be happier. It is also a very practical and easy-to-follow book, about how the author spent a year “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier” after realizing that she was wasting her life in a sort of malaise. She had reasons to be happy, but often didn’t feel happy, so she decided to dedicate a year to trying out different ways to boost her happiness. Rubin is an excellent, engaging writer and it’s a fun read with lots of interesting ideas to try.

The Miracle of Mindfulness and Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh: simply reading his books makes me feel peaceful. His style is so restful—it’s like meditating while reading. And his concepts are simple yet incredibly powerful. If you find meditating or mindfulness difficult, like I do, these books will be very helpful.

I hope that one or more of these books makes a difference for you, as they have for me. Stay tuned for Part 3!

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Zoom in on the Good

I’ve been participating in The 100 Day Project, where you choose an activity and do it for 100 days, posting on Instagram as you go. Many of the projects are art-related; I decided that mine would be to create something new every day, either with art or words.

The first few days I was pleasantly surprised by what I produced. Then on Day 8, I hit a wall. I’d been busy and wasn’t able to do anything until late in the day. I had an idea of what I wanted, but what ended up on the paper did not match the vision in my head at all. I really didn’t like and didn't want to share this piece. However, there wasn’t time to start over, and I wasn’t about to miss a day so early in the project.

Then I discovered that if I zoomed in tight on one corner, I liked what I saw—a lot. So I took that picture. And it struck me that this could be a sort of metaphor for life. No matter what the big picture looks like, we can always zoom in on at least one detail and find something we like. We can focus on that area and feel appreciation for it, which shifts us into a positive mindset of gratitude rather than a negative one. And even if nothing about the big picture changes, if we stay focused on that feeling of gratitude for what we do like, we will feel better.

Appreciation and gratitude are so powerful. Studies have shown that feeling grateful actually improves our physical and psychological health. That’s pretty amazing. And in my experience, when I consciously seek things to appreciate, I seem to encounter them more and more.

So my reminder to myself, for the rest of this project and beyond, is to zoom in on the good whenever possible.  As this quote from William Arthur Ward puts it, “Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Happy Thanksgiving! ;-)

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Taking Time for Creativity

Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about. … Say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known it from before the beginning of the universe.
— Jalal ud-Din Rumi

I had a rare opportunity yesterday morning to meet a friend for an “art date.” We set up at a coffee shop with markers and paper (and a chocolate croissant for me—very necessary for creativity!) and I showed her what I had learned in the “whimsical lettering” class at Lucky Star Art Camp taught by Roxanne Glaser (aka Super Doodle Girl).

We had so much fun! It felt frivolous, and I had rescheduled a couple of times because I was “too busy, ”but it was really energizing. Doing something creative—and completely different from my usual routine—on a weekday morning was soul-reviving. Self care, baby!

I made myself a lovely little reminder sign (pictured below), so no, nasty voice in my head, it wasn’t a complete waste of time!

But honestly, even if I hadn’t made anything, it still wouldn’t have been a waste of time.

I have been so focused on finishing and launching my book, plus doing client work and managing the usual life stuff, that I have neglected my creativity. This week I was feeling spring feverish—not in the mood to sit at the computer and work, antsy, bored, grumpy. Taking this time was just what I needed. My inner grownup thinks that creativity for creativity’s sake is useless, but as I seem to have to rediscover over and over again, that simply isn’t true.

As Julia Cameron says in her groundbreaking book The Artist’s Way, “Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy. … We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.”  

This weekend—or, gasp, one day next week!—play around with something creative, just for the heck of it. Doodle, or paint, or collage, or sew, or color, or garden, or cook … whatever form of creativity calls you. Because you can feel it, can’t you? You can feel that tug, that inner child who wants to go play with all those colors and make a mess—but is afraid of getting in trouble. Give your inner grownup some time off and let that child go wild! I promise, you won’t regret it!

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Look What I Made!

I’m thrilled to announce that my book is out! A Beautiful Morning: How a Morning Ritual Can Feed Your Soul and Transform Your Life is now available on Amazon and my book website, www.abeautifulmorningbook.com! There’s also a Facebook page.

 I'm excited about this book's potential to help people, especially women, take better care of themselves and create more fulfilling lives. A morning ritual can be a powerful transformative tool, and everyone I talked to conveyed such wonderful wisdom and advice. Here’s a brief overview of the book:

Discover the power of a morning ritual to transform your day—and your life. Inspired by her experience, Ashley Ellington Brown interviewed more than twenty women who are living their dreams, such as best-selling author and life coach Martha Beck; author of the blog FHB and Me and great-great-granddaughter of Frances Hodgson Burnett Keri Wilt; horse whisperer and Equus Coach Koelle Simpson; and painter, author, and creativity coach Tracy Verdugo. They share how a ritual can provide space for clarity and inspiration, refresh and restore you, enhance your relationships, empower you to be your best self, and enable you to steer your life with purpose toward a clear vision of what you want.

A Beautiful Morning is about increasing your ability to be, not your ability to do. Productivity is marvelous, but to be calm and centered while you’re productive—that is the essence of a happy life. A Beautiful Morning is filled with an abundance of insights, ideas, and resources you can use right away. It will encourage and support you in creating a daily practice that easily fits your current life and guides you toward increased happiness and fulfillment. You deserve a life you love. A Beautiful Morning can help you create it.

If you’re curious about creating a daily practice, or know someone who might be, check it out!

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