Artist’s Way: Paying Attention

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I started The Artist’s Way course again. I had such great success with it the last time, and spring just feels like a good time to begin again. So, last week I started with Week 1. Week 1 helps me identify the reasons why I don’t embrace my creativity. I had great success with my Morning Pages and even went on an Artist’s Date to get some stickers and fun things to decorate my journal.

Today, I started with Week 2. Right away, I was caught by the below sentence:

It is important to remember that at first flush going sane feels just like going crazy.

~~ Julia Cameron

This week’s lesson helped describe the crazymakers in our lives. They are the people who want to sabotage you in having your own life because they are either jealous or scared of living their own lives. Misery loves company, so they have all kinds of ways of distracting you from being your very best self and trying new things. I’ve had a few crazymakers in my life, and I’ve probably been a crazymaker at some point in someone else’s too. Life – and relationships – are just messy like that. But often we enjoy the sabotage that the crazymaking brings because it keeps us from getting out of our comfort zone and trying something new.

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Her antidote to the crazymaker is to “pay attention” to your life. It sort of reminded me of my Alanon journey. After all, an alcoholic is a King Crazymaker. Drama abounds to get your off course. She had an Aunt with an alcoholic crazymaker, but her aunt minimized his effects on her life because she paid attention to everything little thing in her life. She wrote letters that outlined everything that was going on in her life and included the minute details about the weather, what was blooming and what was going on in her mind. By paying attention, she lived a full life and focused on what was in front of her rather than what was trying to pull her away.

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So, I headed out tonight to “pay attention” down at the beach. I left my cell phone at home and used a camera so I wouldn’t be distracted by social media. I’ll just leave you with the photos. I took one photo tonight that was an accident, but I kind of like the way it looks. I was trying to make a video of the waves and the beach, but I didn’t bring my glasses. I kept pressing buttons and couldn’t see what was happening. I had about 20 pictures of my feet from different angles. So, if you decide to head out to “pay attention” in some way, you can leave your phone but don’t forget to bring your glasses.

What got my attention in St. Joseph….

Have a great week, y’all! It’ll be Friday before you know it.

Don’t Push the River: Everything Belongs

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On Sunday three different people in different places brought up Richard Rohr‘s new book “Everything Belongs”. It was an appropriate reference as we were all floundering a bit in understanding why there could be all the bad in this world. And Rohr’s premise is that part of our adventure here on earth is understanding that there will always be bad and good, and “everything belongs”. HP (Higher Power) and I have a deal that when I hear about something three times in quick succession, I know it’s a message from above. Just to be sure I got it, another friend called Monday morning and told me that he had this strong feeling that I need to stop reading whatever I was reading and read “Everything Belongs”. There’s nothing more clear than that. So, I downloaded Rohr’s book to my Kindle and started reading last night.

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Jesus often taught in parables. Rohr says he did that because he needed to get us out of our own logic. We need to have the minds of little children in order to grasp spirituality. He helped us learn it by relating to story. I don’t know about you, but when somebody directly confronts me on something, I often get defensive and start making up all kinds of rationalizations about why it isn’t so. When I was a young woman and struggling with my first marriage, a friend of mine gave me a copy of the book “Women Who Love Too Much“. I thought it was sweet that she gave it to me, but I didn’t really think I had an issue, so I gave it away. Fast-forward twenty-five years to when I’m working on my codependency issues. I read a story about a woman with similar issues as mine, and she quotes this same book. All of a sudden, I realized that I needed that book – now and then. In learning, it is much better to teach people by letting them “pull” the information when they need it rather than “push” it on them when they are not ready. When I am ready to hear it, the story’s meaning will appear – even though I may have heard it 100 times.

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Rohr talks about this parable and relates it to our tendency to want to “call” out those who are sinners or who are bad or who need to be “fixed”. It even relates to both the good and bad inside each one of us. When I think of myself and my own personal growth, it is definitely the “weeds” in me that are my greatest teachers. My addiction issues, my depression and anxiety and my codependency caused me such pain. And pain is a great motivator. But, with each of these conditions, there was no way to “fix” them. I had to accept them as they were and learn to live with them. And I’m truly better off for having done so.

You don’t need to push the river because you are in it.

~~ Richard Rohr, “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer”

My lifelong struggle is to accept what is and accept it gracefully. I wonder if that battle will ever end. When I was younger, I had no idea how to surrender and go with the flow. I fought tooth and nail for every inch of progress. It was in my 40s that I finally grasped the practice of surrender. I have yoga and a very unrelenting 12-step sponsor to thank for that. Now I long for that feeling of letting go when I’m feeling tense or scared or angry. I hang on and hang on and hang on until I finally realize what I’m doing.

Rohr says, “You don’t need to push the river because you are in it.” He says everything is inside us. It is not for us to work for progress or follow some rules or to learn more stuff. That is not the work of spirituality. The work of spirituality is to let the river take me and accept everything as it is. And I do know that when I stop relentlessly searching, it’s amazing how what I need just shows up – exactly when I need it.

Sunday Night Check-In: #RisingStrong

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I took to reading Brene Brown’s Book Rising Strong again this weekend. I just absolutely love that book. Her techniques for getting up from a “fall” and actually learning something from it are profound. I found myself in a “face down” moment last week, and I was able to read her insights with new eyes with some fodder that was personally meaningful. I literally couldn’t put the book down Friday night and woke up Saturday morning with a totally different outlook on transforming my mistake into an asset. If you can’t take a mistake and turn it into a learning opportunity, it’s a wasted jewel.

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My sourdough starter was ready this week. Wednesday it was bubbly and active, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I didn’t have time to read up on baking bread, so I chose to make some sourdough waffles from the King Arthur Flour online recipe book. I combined the starter with the flour and some of my kefir to replace the buttermilk and let it percolate overnight. When I got up Thursday morning, I replaced my morning routine with a waffle-making experiment.

Round 1 didn’t go so well…..

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Neither did Round 2…..

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I realized that my waffle iron was ticked off at me because I had ignored it for over 10 years, so I cut it some slack and let it win a couple of rounds. I tried something different each time, but I decided I should spray it again with some Pam, and, voila…. Round 3 was sour, fluffy and downright amazing. I doused it in homemade cane syrup, and it was divine. Then I remembered that I had real maple syrup, so I tried that, too. Honestly, I think the cane syrup was a better complement to the tangy flavor of the sourdough, and I think I’ll use that in the future. The maple was just a bit overpowered by the flavor of the waffles.

This weekend I took some time to make sourdough bread. I had to pull the starter out of the refrigerator and feed it 3 times (at 12 hour intervals) in order to get it “rising strong”. (Pun intended) I watched the below video to get the instructions on how to make it.

In a past life – or at least it seems like a different lifetime – I baked bread all the time. I had all of the tools, regular deliveries from King Arthur Flour in Vermont, and a knack for making awesome bread … all the time. But most of my tools have been donated, I haven’t used the dough hook on my KitchenAid mixer in over a decade, and I don’t remember the tricks I used to make my bread perfectly delicious. And I don’t think I was ever really successful with sourdough. Because it’s made from wild yeast, it’s unpredictable and … well … wild.

This morning I got up to knead the dough and then set it aside to “rise strong”. I had leftover starter so I made some more waffles. The recipe I used this morning used the sourdough and the regular salt and baking powder to make it rise. Ehhhh …. this one wasn’t nearly as good as the wild yeast leavened batch during the week. I ate it with some homemade blueberry sauce, but I won’t be making that recipe again. It was nothing special.

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The bread however is excellent! One loaf is still rising. I wanted to experiment with rising times and flavor. So, I let one rise for about 8 hours, and I may let the other rise until the morning. They say it makes a difference in the flavor. I cut off a chunk of the one already cooked, slathered it in butter and honey and enjoyed the first homemade bread I’ve had in ages. My house smells like fresh-baked bread again. Ashok was so entranced that I caught her just as she pulled half the loaf off the counter. She was ready to go at it.

Everything I’ve read about sourdough tells me that making it is an art AND a science. When I made my starter, I literally “caught” wild yeast out of the air. It grows and bubbles and makes my bread rise. So, the yeasts in my air are probably different than the yeasts in your air. They will always be unique. And humidity, the temperature of my home, the amount of time I let the bread proof, the quality of my water and flour and many other variables will affect the final product. It really does remind me of the journey with my curls. It’s a relationship that will develop over time, and I can’t control the outcome. I can only learn to work with it and be surprised at how it all turns out… hopefully pleasantly!

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In Brene’s book, she talks about that “face down” moment in the arena. We are in the midst of an emotional shit-storm. We want to get up and make it go away fast … blame somebody else, minimize it, numb ourselves, stuff it down… anything that will make it go away so we can get the hell out of there. But when we do that, we learn nothing. But when we fall and let ourselves look around down there – explore the uncomfortable feelings, understand what caused them and define the core triggers – we can enable a breakthrough that can literally change our lives. This process of looking inside and feeling our feelings – like the “rising strong” of sourdough – is not a simple process. It is time-consuming and can be quite painful. Most of us would rather just go for the shortcut – buy the bread somewhere else – rather than have to go through all of that work. But when we do that, we miss learning about what motivates us, what makes us “wild” and ultimately helps us to “rise strong”. In other words, that’s the good stuff. 🙂

Have a great week, y’all. Don’t take the easy road… the road less traveled makes all the difference. 

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The Rumble of Storytelling: #risingstrong

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I continue to percolate on Brene Brown’s wisdom and process in Rising Strong. Her premise is that the “story” we tell ourselves about ourselves needs to be written in order to create a different ending. And it is the stories of our lives – especially the stories of our falls – that make us who we are. By denying or hiding or minimizing our stories, we become less authentic.

I suppose that authenticity may not be a goal for everyone, but it is certainly a goal for me. I spent so much of my life trying to figure out who I was “supposed” to be as a wife, a daughter, a friend, an employee and even as a child of God. It was a horrible dilemma. I never could find the manual so I was constantly searching in people’s eyes and words for the answers. Instead of making authentic connections, I was trying to determine if I was acceptable, and if not, what I needed to do to be acceptable. It was exhausting and very, very lonely.

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Brown calls the act of digging into our emotions and our story “the rumble”. The biggest rumble of my life so far – and I expect there will be more – took place after my second divorce. I had gone to counseling before and had worked on my addictions for many, many years. It helped a little, but I obviously was still not functioning well enough to run my own life in a way that was supportive to my spirit. My armor was so solid that it took the blinding emotional pain of divorce and a complete wreckage of my life to give me the motivation to really look inside. I never wanted a real rumble. Who wants to go through that?  I found myself in a place where my armor was hurting me more than protecting me. I literally could not move forward and could not budge backwards an inch. The rumble was all I had left.

I don’t know how to describe how I felt at that time. The grief was debilitating, but I’d had grief before. It was almost like my life force had dwindled to a mere drip. I literally could not move beyond what I had to do that minute. Some days all I could do was cry. Other days I functioned fine. But I had no desire to make plans. All I wanted to do was throw myself into the curiosity that had grabbed me about who I was and how I ended up in this place once again. All of the authors I was reading and my spiritual guides were saying that I needed to really be present and open to this process in order to stop these patterns that were crippling my enjoyment and effectiveness in life. It was a sacred time.

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The whole premise of Rising Strong is that we have to change the story. But, in order to change the ending, we have to rumble with story to understand the truth. I had to look at my tendency toward perfectionism. I’m not the typical perfectionist who wants my work to be perfect and who kills themselves for their “products” to be perfect. I was the kind that wanted you to think I didn’t have issues. I wanted to be “all together”. And, honestly, people always told me that I seemed like I had it all together. But, they usually told me that after I fell apart in front of them, and they were shocked that I was a mess inside. I always felt embarrassed about that, but what I now realize is they were probably very happy to see that I was just like them. I was just too afraid to get that close. My perfectionism kept me in relationship with people that couldn’t be real and prevented me from real, authentic connection.

I wish that perfectionism was my only rumble, but I realized so much about myself during that time. I rumbled about issues around intimacy, my lack of boundaries and my inability to set them, my belief that I was unlovable and a host of other things. I was so supported. What I found out was that most everybody dealt with these things, but only a small percent of courageous souls will actually take on the rumble. Most want to numb out or lead half-lives or double lives in quiet desperation. I just didn’t want to do that anymore.

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When I was in the midst of the rumble, I thought that would be my life. It was very hard. It was time-consuming. It was expensive with therapists and workshops. But after a time, the rumble stopped being my life. And my life got better. Brown hadn’t written Rising Strong, and I didn’t have a process. Re-writing my story happened in bits and pieces and with individuals, but my most powerful part of the process was when I started this blog. One of my main motivators was that I wanted to continue to rumble with my perfectionism. I wanted the people I knew to know the real me. I didn’t want to sugarcoat it, and I knew that it was hard for me to do that with the short times that we could spend together. I knew that telling my story in a blog for everyone to see would push on every button I had. And I was ready to strip away the facade and see what would happen

There are times when the rumble with my perfectionism has been painful, and I’ve truthfully felt shame after some blog posts. But I’ve never taken one down. I used blogging as a spiritual practice, and my blog is sacred space for my own work in being authentic. It has been powerful for me in that way. But I’ve been most surprised by the power of writing itself. I’ve always heard that writing will help bring closure. That first year of blogging I slammed doors shut all year long. I wrote my story. I re-wrote my story with the power of hindsight. It was profound, and it literally changed my life.

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Today, I blog more about my daily life than I do my past. I’m not rumbling so much with past anymore. My fear about rumbling being my life was unfounded. The rumble was and is worth it. I am at peace with who I am today. I know my boundaries, and I set them. My relationships are real and authentic. Surprisingly, I have many more friends than I ever had before. I thought I would have less, but boundaries help me be cleaner with the people in my life. And if we don’t mesh, the connection dissipates rather quickly. I still rumble on occasion, but the process is just how I “do life”.

Brown’s book is helping me define my process a little more. Rising Strong outlines a process for something that is inherently messy and hard. It gives me structure and a language that makes sense. And I just love the fact that her books are becoming mainstream. I dream of a world where we all rumble with ourselves instead of each other. If we could do that, we could all rise strong – as individuals, as a culture and as a world.

 

 

Embracing Badassery #RisingStrong

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When I was driving home from North Carolina, I decided to check out an audiobook from the library. I’d been wanting to read Brene’ Brown’s new book “Rising Strong”, and, to my surprise, it was available. I read – hungrily – her latest research and insight on how to rise strong after failure.

I’m usually not a fan of the “pull up your bootstraps” philosophy. I recoil a little when people don’t take time to feel the loss and pain that they suffer whenever life deals them a loss. I was afraid this would be another inspirational speaker lending to that philosophy. I should have known with her emphasis on vulnerability that she would cringe at the same lack of attention to the feelings incurred during loss. She calls our tendency to gloss over the bad part of failure “gold-plating grit”. She mentioned that when speakers tell their stories of failure, they have a tendency to take about 30 seconds to gloss over the hard part before sharing the glorious journey to success. She wrote “Rising Strong” in order to explore that moment in time when we are face down in the dirt “marred by dust and sweat and blood” (Theodore Roosevelt). She says if we miss that part, we miss the meatiest part of learning about ourselves.

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I had no idea that I’d be faced with my own need to “rise strong” when I came back from vacation. But I certainly knew there would be more opportunities in my life where I could use this information. What one of us has not had our face buried in the dirt of failure? Who has not lost a loved one or suffered a broken heart? Which one of you has never made a mistake where the wash of shame cloaks you in its dark, paralyzing shroud? We all need to know how to rise strong…. because we all fall.

I’ve often heard that if you haven’t make any mistakes lately, you haven’t been working hard enough. There is a movement to use failure as a way of learning in innovative workplaces. I remember when the worker who failed would be fired quietly and ushered away in a buried organizational announcement saying they were “seeking better opportunities.” Smart companies have figured out that when they don’t understand their failures, they lose very valuable information that helps them move forward in leaps and bounds. Innovation, it seems, has deep roots in failure. I would think that would apply to individuals as well.

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Brown says we have a Bad Assery Deficit. Our tendency to ignore that moment when we are face down in the dirt signifies emotional cowardice. We want to get up and gloss over that when we tell the story of our return to glory. Why should we spend any time looking at how we feel in that moment? That moment when shame and self-doubt are often hanging over us like a paralyzing cloak? Those messages of shame and self-doubt give us pointed clues about where we’ve been hurt and our inadequacies. It is in that space that our buttons have names, and our inner critic has a crystal clear voice. It is that precise information which will lead us to healing long-term and in changing our perspective in profound ways. In other words, that is the space in which we grow.

I’m an extrovert, and I process feelings by talking about them. So, when I’m face-down in the dirt, I will pick up the phone and call those on my short list that know how to help me process that painful moment. I learned a long time ago that ignoring those feelings of shame and self-doubt and embarrassment prolonged and interrupted the healing time. They don’t go away. They hang around and start to influence my behavior and relationships in an unwanted way. By having some safe friends who are not spooked by that face-down moment and those dark feelings, I can walk through them and learn much more about myself. I find it infinitely interesting. And I find it such an honor to hold space for others in that way. Intimacy … that’s intimacy in a nutshell.

I’m listening to “Rising Strong” again. I wasn’t able to take notes while I was driving. She outlines a process which includes writing your story and exploring your failures in that face-down moment and using the information to “rise strong”. I know the power of storytelling… and she applies her scientific research and insights to her own stories of failure and hurt. It’s a beautiful thing to read.

Blocking the Flow: Perfectionism

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Week 7 of the Artist’s Way – the first week of the second half of the workshop – was profound for me. I found myself the last two weeks feeling a little blah about my forward movement but trusting that the process was still working whether I realized it or not. My Artist’s Date last week was writing poetry in a notebook while I watched the barges go by on the Mississippi. I felt vaguely disconnected and mildly irritated at the structure that poetry requires, so I eventually ended up writing some free-form prose about the obstacles in a river flow, the frustration with traffic flow and the lack of flow in my life. It didn’t feel very inspirational at the time, but writing about it now feels inspirational. My prose rambled on about our innate desire to go with the flow even with all of the natural obstacles in our way. We do overcome if we are persistent enough. And, being persistent doesn’t mean fighting harder. It means trying again and again until something clicks.

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So, week seven’s reading was about Recovering a Sense of Connection. It was about connecting with the flow of creation. Of course, it was about connecting with God, the ultimate Creator. Julia Cameron makes the point that art is not about thinking things up. It’s about getting things down. I know that when I’m writing in the flow, the words come to me. I can’t keep up sometimes. After I wrote my first blog, I didn’t sleep well for at least 4 nights. I had so many thoughts and stories in my head that were fighting to get out. I wrote 3 times a day at times. It was as if ‘whatever it was’ wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t writing as much as I was transcribing.

Perfectionism is one enemy of stepping into the flow. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist. My house isn’t neat. I go to work with cat hair on my skirt, and I don’t care. I fly by the seat of my pants sometimes at work, and I’m fine with it. But, I was totally convicted by Cameron’s lesson on perfectionism.

“Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop – an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole.”

I realized that I have been waiting to figure out what book would sell or what people would like or to identify my expertise. The need to know ‘what it should be about’ was paralyzing me from getting started. I’m getting some rewards from that. By not starting, I can still entertain the fantasy that I am a great writer and capable of making a living from it. If I start, I may not be so great. I may not make any money from it. My fantasy might fall apart in a huge puff of failure. What I’m not recognizing is that it is already in a puff of failure because I won’t start. When I read that section on perfectionism, I felt the hammer of awareness beating on my heart. The clouds lifted, and the sun was shining on my very own private demon. Yes, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was her one and only book, but that’s not the usual path for writers or filmmakers or painters. The norm is practice, practice, practice, fail, fail, fail, and create, create, create. I was so strongly convicted by that section that I immediately committed to scheduling several hours a week for writing. I was convinced that it wasn’t about WHAT I was writing. It’s about the fact that I AM writing. WHAT will come to me naturally … or it won’t … but I will have stepped into the flow in persistence.

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I’ve lived in two cities on the Mississippi River. I became fascinated with barge traffic in Memphis. The Mississippi River has always been a powerful transportation and trade avenue for this country. Empty barges are pushed upriver against the powerful current by tugboats – little warhorses designed only to fight the flow. I would see ads in the paper for tugboat captains and barge workers, and I’d fantasize about being on that river and stepping into and against that flow day after day. When the barges are loaded down with cargo – approximately 180 freight trucks in volume – they slip more easily into the flow of the river and head downstream. They are efficiently harnessing nature’s power to fulfill their purpose. They don’t try to damn the river or slow the flow. They use it by accepting it for what it is and adapting.

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The swamplands here depend on the silt and mud in the Mississippi River for their regeneration. Because people have tried to change the river by making levees, we are losing our wetlands in Louisiana. We tried to control it, and we are suffering for it. The loss of our wetlands is one of the reasons Katrina was so devastating to New Orleans. I cannot control the flow of creativity. I can’t direct it either. But I can ignore it. I am a tugboat operator. I need to leverage my power to step into the flow, load up with the tools I need and then let the flow take me. Cameron promises there are enough screenplays, books, paintings, dances and poems out there for everybody to create. She says they are all written and created in their entirety. It’s my job to write it down. I wonder which ones I’ll get to transcribe. My office is ready. I’m making the time. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Expanding the Boundaries of Dreams: The Artist’s Way

Follow your dreams and the universeThis week’s Artist’s Way exercises urged me to list 5 things I would do if I had all of the faith and money that I needed. When I got to five, I couldn’t stop, so I wrote ten. I’m sure I could’ve easily written 20. This was my list.

  1. Quit my job and be a coach for people trying to change their lives.
  2. Go on more retreats/Women’s Quests.
  3. Write a book.
  4. Go back to school.
  5. Buy a nice business location and start a business.
  6. Be a freelance writer.
  7. Get a lower paying job and move to the mountains.
  8. Get more animals.
  9. Buy a home in a really beautiful area.
  10. Buy beautiful clothes.

When I got to the workshop last night, we discussed our answers in our group. One woman wanted to live in a beautiful foreign land and open a retreat center for artists who were struggling. Another wanted to end poverty. Another wanted to own a house where she could play any instrument she wanted at any time of the day she wanted. As my comrades were discussing their dreams, I realized how much my dreams are influenced by money. If I review my list, I realize that I still dream small and within the context of being realistic. I don’t want to be too greedy. I don’t want to take too much. There are others who have needs too.

The purpose of this weeks’ lesson was to look at why we dream so small with attitudes of scarcity. If we really believe that anything is possible with God, why do we limit ourselves in our wildest dreams? When I think of the kind of workplace I want to be in, I think I’d love to be somewhere where I can show up as my colorful self and be appreciated for being wildly creative. What I’d really love to dream is that I work somewhere like Google where there’s no boundary between personality and work, and the sky is the limit on what I want to do and can achieve. What I’d really like is to work in a beautiful mountain home looking over the mountains and making so much money that I never have to worry about money again. Oh yeah, and I’d love to have great coworkers who have big dreams, and our work just keeps expanding and inspiring others to do the things that are in line with their God-given gifts. What I’d really like is for everyone to be paid what God thinks they are worth and to be able to unapologetically change the world. And while I’m at it, let’s have 3- or 4-day weekends. But, I can’t dream that. That would not be realistic, and it would definitely be greedy.

Why would I dumb down my dreams? It’s realistic to dumb down my expectations. We don’t necessarily get what we dream. But, a dream is just a path, right? It’s a goal that excites us and keeps us working in a certain direction. I know that I felt like my spirit was expanding just typing the above paragraph about work. Just knowing that there are no boundaries on dreaming – or even on work – made me feel really light and happy. And what if dreaming about the biggest dreams in the world all of a sudden made my small dreams – which seem hugely unattainable now – seem small in comparison. What if, all of a sudden, I would say to myself that I’m not being greedy to want to have a flexible work environment and really work to achieve it. What if by dreaming big, I made my dreams seem totally realistic and attainable? How would that make me feel?

Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, says we hurt ourselves when we discount the abundance available in the Universe. We stay in work situations that are abusive or not compatible with our natures because we believe that good work situations are scarce. She says, “God has lots of money. God has lots of movie ideas, novel ideas, poems, songs, paintings, acting jobs. God has a supply of loves, friends, houses that are all available to us.” But we often insist on relying on a human source of supply. We don’t ask God for things or let Him guide us. We focus on people to meet our needs, and they don’t have all of those things. A friend of mine realized she was making Uncle Sam her Higher Power when she was totally focused on solving her retirement dilemma by obsessing on social security. Once she let go of her relentless hold on realistic Plan A, God immediately showed up with amazing speed with a better Plan B.

I remember when I moved to a new job in Michigan back in 2000. I got myself in a financial bind because of a bad relationship, and I started doing the things I needed to do to cut back financially. I cut my budget way back. I started trying to find a new job and exploring schools to start a new career. I was killing myself to try to find a new way to support my life. Nothing worked. I finally gave up, and I started working on my spiritual life and accepting where I was. Once I got into the flow with God and became grateful for being where I was, I was asked to participate on a team that was exploring new business ideas for the company. I was asked to permanently lead a project, and I was told that, because of the responsibilities involved, they would have to pay me a lot more money. They usually couldn’t make those kinds of salary jumps, but they were going to have to in this case. My salary almost doubled without me having to lift a finger. I would have never even considered asking for something like that to happen. That would have been greedy.

The payoff for dreaming small is that I get to keep my free time. I get to avoid the work of changing. I get to sit back and think of all the things I could do if I was given the opportunity. But, I don’t have to step into fear and see if I actually CAN do them. What if I step out to try and I fail? It would no longer be in the realm of possibility. Our facilitator last night talked to us about the human tendency to favor loss aversion to gain. A book she is reading says there is scientific proof that loss is registered much more intently in our brains and in our psyche than gain. If I think about my own experience, it is true for me. My divorces are much more powerful motivators than the fact that I had two relationships that actually provided love and companionship for a period of time. My actions and desires are more motivated by avoiding failure in a relationship than motivated by the fact that one might work out. I’ve known so many people who were grateful that their spouse finally left them or they got laid off because it forced change on them. What if I tried and failed? It’s better to stay with what we’ve got.

I don’t have a resolution with this week’s lesson. I’m still exploring it. But, I think I’m going to write about some more expansive dreams in my Morning Pages tomorrow. I’ll ask myself what I would dream about if I really had all of the money and faith in the world. I’ll tell that little girl that is afraid to be greedy to be quiet while I dream. And the interesting thing is that if I had all of the money in the world, I don’t think I would be greedy. I think I would give a lot of it away. So, it would benefit lots of people. It’s only when I’m dreaming small that I continue to lack resources to make a big difference. We all win when we dream big.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Sunday Night Check-In: A New Rhythm

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The new East Baton Rouge Parish Library

My weekends are taking on new rhythms in the last month or so, and I quite like it. Friday evening and Saturday I was dealing with moving the bed out of my guest bedroom. I brought it to my parents’  house in Pierre Part, and, early Saturday morning, Momma and I made the drive over to my sister’s house in Cottonport to bring Momma’s bunk beds to her. We ended up spending the day shopping, fighting traffic and eating lunch in Lafayette. It was a fun, impromptu excursion that netted me a thrift store shirt and a great long visit with Momma. I was beat when I got home, but I was energized enough to create my writing space and cook myself a nice dinner of sweet potatoes, sugar snap peas and roasted beets.

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My haul from Luckett Farms

Last week I got my first week’s haul from Luckett Farms’ CSA subscription. I netted oranges and grapefruit, spinach, cabbage, sweet potatoes, green onions, broccoli and sugar snap peas. I decided I was going to have a weekend full of fresh veggies to help fight off the infection from my tooth issues and just because … well … I deserve it. I made a short trip to Trader Joe’s for some fish, ground beef and dairy, but the rest of the week’s fare will be primarily fresh vegetables. If the veggies are always like this, I’ll have eight weeks of yummy, good-for-me plant food. At $25 per week, it’s a steal to get this locally grown, in-season and mostly organic produce. My inner vegetarian is going to be a happy herbivore.

The New Library

This morning I woke up and got a 40-minute run out of the way early. The forecast called for heavy rain all day, so I figured I’d best get it while the gettin’s good. It ended up not raining all day, but I was glad I got the run in early. I got productive and did some spring cleaning right after I did my Morning Pages. Normally, my Sundays are pretty lazy, but I’m trying to start writing for money, and I’ve got a new little business venture percolating with an out-of-town business partner. So, my Sundays for the last couple of weeks have been part work and part trying to get things done that need to be done around my house. No more procrastinating for me on weekends anymore. I have to move it or lose it.

I quit working about 4 PM, and I wanted to get my Artist’s Date in today. My children’s book about Ashok’s adventures is still on my mind, but, since I didn’t have children I’m not a children’s book expert. So, I took off to the East Baton Rouge Parish Library to check out their children’s book section. I read about a little African-American boy who learned how to see the positive in his neighborhood amid the ‘bad news’ as he named it. It made me sad that some children have to play in areas that are unsafe and not very sparkly and clean. I thought the book was precious, and it opened my eyes to some experiences that I’d never had as a white child growing up in the country. I also read about a kitten who was chasing the moon and Clifford the giant dog. It was an entertaining afternoon, and I think I have some ideas for my book … or maybe a series. We’ll see what happens. 🙂

The Children's Area

The Children’s Area at the Library

If you are in Baton Rouge and have not visited the new East Baton Rouge Parish Library on Goodwood, you should definitely go. Most nights it’s open until 10 PM. They have a Career Center with Career Services, job boards and all kinds of books. Of course they have computers, digital media and plenty of books and magazines. The children’s section is colorful and bright  and a special teen section features books for young adults. BREC is building a coffeehouse right outside the library, and I can’t wait to check out some books and head over to the coffeehouse for the afternoon. Today, people were sitting outside in the courtyard area, and there was lots of activity going on inside. The library’s Career Counselor is hosting the Artist’s Way workshop that I’m taking, and the library’s calendar is jam-packed with great workshops. I registered for one that teaches you how to get involved in the film industry down here in Louisiana. I can’t wait to see what they say. After all, I can edit video!

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Tonight’s dinner was edamame and spinach sauteed in olive oil with whole garlic cloves and buttered sweet potatoes. It was delicious, and I’ve got plenty left over for lunch tomorrow. The animals are all resting while I finish up my blog. They seem to love this new office as much as I do. Bella has a perch in the bookcase amid the yoga blankets. Ashok has a bed right beside me, and Buster always chooses my lap whenever he can. I got a phenomenal amount of work done this weekend. I feel really satisfied. I was worried I might not feel rested, but doing work that I really enjoy doesn’t seem to tire me. It seems to give me energy. So, even though I was much busier than usual, I love the new rhythm.

I had a thought today that having some ‘inside’ work that invigorates me might help me get through the summer here. I have to say that as the calendar flies by, I’m getting increasingly anxious about the summer months ahead. How will I handle the heat this year? I can’t take another year like last year. My plan is taking shape, though. I’m keeping my running to shorter distances, I’ve signed up for the Live Streaming Fitness workouts which I can do inside, and now I might have some interesting work to do inside in the AC. I plan to take a summer vacation to somewhere cooler around July or August. Things are definitely looking up. I hope y’all have a good week. I’ve got another busy one ahead of me, but it’s a good busy!

Living in Every Room of My House

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One of the things on my ‘to do’ list for a very long time is to set up a writing space where I can actually write on my desktop computer. I know that if I ever want to write a book or do freelance writing, I need a space that is conducive to real work. Although it might seem I could pound out a few hours squeezed between my dog and two cats on my chaise lounge, it’s not really realistic. So …. drum roll, please .. I set up my writing space today. Yes!!! Yes!!! Yessssssssss!!!

For many, many years I had a recurring dream that haunted me even when I was awake. It was one of those dreams that was so vivid and real that I often woke up and wondered what part of it was real and what part was just fantasy. There was something in it – and in its effect on me – that sparked an inner knowing that it had a message for my soul. It’s been many years since I’ve had the dream, but I thought about it today, and I thought about in reference to creating a new space in my bungalow here in Baton Rouge.

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This particular dream was always the same. I owned a that had one story with a basement. The first floor was the floor where I lived. Sometimes I was married, and my husband lived there with me. I had it decorated, and I felt very comfortable among my things. But there was always an entrance to the basement that was rather dark and dirty. It was often unfinished and sometimes covered in mud and very thin boards that looked unnavigable. In the dream, I’d go down the dark stairway with some trepidation and was stunned and amazed at what I found.

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It was like a movie set from the Titanic or something. Cobwebs hung on fabulous chandeliers. It was massive. Room after room stretched at least 3 times the size of the upper floor. There was always a ballroom furnished with beautiful and opulent furnishings and fabulous floors. Oriental rugs, beautiful artwork and functional and comfortable furnishings were completely untouched except for the dust of neglect. I always felt that the basement was the more beautiful space, but I felt so overwhelmed by all of the work that would need to be done to revive it.

As I walked through the basement, I felt was guilt and a huge sense of loss. My heart hung heavy because I could not imagine using all of that space, and it sat there in all its grandeur, dead to my world. And I owned it!!! It was mine.  As I progressed through my personal work after my second marriage ended, I realized that this basement symbolized the part of me that I had neglected. It was the part of my soul that felt too big and too overwhelming to touch. And, maybe, in some sense I didn’t think I deserved anything that beautiful. So, I buried it in the basement of my soul. My procrastination and fear at looking at that historical stuff was signified by that decaying and filthy pathway that led to those riches. It was unattractive and literally quite scary. But once I started to explore my own interior design, I could see that it could be beautiful with a lot of work. I haven’t had that dream in many years. I like to think that I began to live in all of the rooms of my house.

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After I completed my project today, I was reflecting on the journey to living in all of the rooms of my house today. I’ve wanted to do this, but I think in some way, I didn’t want to make the commitment. Maybe I was afraid if I really made the space, I’d have to ‘be a writer’, and I would fail. Or maybe it wouldn’t make me happy. It was somehow easier to make excuses and leave this front room of my house as a guest room for guests that rarely ever came. Almost as soon as I started the Artist’s Way, I committed to moving that bed out of the guest room and creating my space. And, last week, my massage therapist sent out an email that she had a desk for sale. I knew it was mine, and I knew it was time.

My brother Sammy and his wife helped me move the bed to my parents’ house. Momma has wanted a nice grown-up bed in their guest bedroom since my nieces and nephews have started to outgrow the bunk beds. She and I took the bunk beds to my sister Susan’s house in Cottonport for her grandkids. The bed my parents now have originally belonged to my Aunt Willie who gave it to my paternal Grandfather. It’s been making the rounds in our family for at least 3 generations. I hated to let it go, but I knew I needed to make the space and create some movement. And, let’s face it, it created a domino effect that helped fill a need for all of us.

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So, this is my first blog in my new space. My cats aren’t frustrating me by laying on my laptop. Buster is in my lap, and Bella is purring contentedly in the bookcase on top of the yoga blankets. Ashok is still in the living room although I have a bed here for her. The energy feels different in here. I feel more focused. I hear different noises, and it’s definitely easier to write on a large screen. I need a lamp with softer lighting, and I need to get a futon or some solution for guests. I’m in the market for something used and in good condition. I feel sure it will show up just when I need it.

I wonder what will happen in this room. I wonder if doors will open, and air will move. Even though it’s dark now, I know the sunlight will be warm and cozy. I need some Kleenex for the inevitable tears. I hope to fill this room with things that I love, and I most definitely want it to love me. For the last year and a half, the door to this room has been closed, and I’ve used it as a storage room. It’s been dead in the sense that I didn’t enter here except when I had to. Just like in my dream, I want to live in all of the rooms of my house. And I hope that this room … this new space that I’ve opened up … will be the grandest part of my house. I hope it is the place where I expand and grow beyond my wildest dreams. My heart is filled with gratitude for the Artist’s Way, my family, my massage therapist’s timely gift and all of the tiny gifts that made this happen. Throw back the curtains, Dahlin’…. I’m home.

Synchronicities and Unexpected Gifts: The Artist’s Way

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When I started The Artist’s Way program at the library about a month ago, I expected I would be in for an adventure. I needed an adventure. I needed something that would dilute the anxiety-filled rut I’d dug myself into with some positive energy and challenge. The Artist’s Way is a program that is designed to be a spiritual path in creativity. The philosophy, and one which I wholeheartedly believe from personal experience, is that we are all creative, and creativity is born through God. We are merely a channel that opens into the creative flow of the Universe. I have felt it when I’ve written my best stuff. Some days I just write. I’m more of a ditch than a channel. Other days, I’m not writing. There is something bigger and more expansive than me that takes control of the keyboard and literally blows me away. I’m left breathless when it is over.

One of the key tools of the journey is The Morning Pages. The Pages are three hand-written pages of composition book-sized paper each and every morning. There have been a few times I’ve done Afternoon or Evening Pages, but, for the most part, I’ve done Morning Pages. Our facilitator says it doesn’t matter when you do them, just do them. The theory is that the free-form writing will clean out your head of the garbage rolling around in there so you can clear the channel. I know how powerful journaling is. I’ve experienced it before. But, I love the fact that I have to do 3 pages every day. Many times I find myself writing “I don’t have anything else to write. This is frustrating.” Other times, I can hardly believe I’ve filled up 3 pages so quickly. Mostly I write about what’s happening in my life until I’ve exhausted the external stimuli. It is only then that I get to how I really feel. I imagine this is a small micro-cosm of my reality. I let the events of my life overshadow what I bring to the table. The exercise has been empowering.

Everything that I’ve been procrastinating for the last year has been marked off the list in the last month. I finish my pages, and I’m energized. My house is cleaner than it’s been in a long time, and my bathroom literally sparkles. In my writing, I realized that I WANTED my bathroom to be clean. It wasn’t something that I should do; it was something that I wanted to do for myself. And, I got up one day and did it. I met a guy I like, and I’m dating. I took my vacuum cleaner apart and cleaned out the whole thing. I planned a trip to Tulsa to see Jessica. I signed up for a workshop at The Red Shoes. I’ve been meditating every day. My running program is on track. I’m sleeping like a dead person. I’m dreaming. And I’ve begun to tolerate the negative events in my life with a lot more acceptance. I’m even finding a few writing topics that interest me again.

Synchronicities increase when I’m getting seated as the channel. What others may say are coincidence I see as confirmations that the Universe is blessing my path. When I met a new guy for lunch the first time, there was a lot of laughter. I drove up, and the restaurant was on fire. He was standing in front of the fire truck talking to me on his cell phone. He jumped in my car which, of course, was a mess. I normally would have been horrified, but we were laughing, and it was fun. We went to a Mexican restaurant where the waiter promptly tripped and threw chips all over us. I felt like God was kidding around with me getting me to lighten up and pay attention. I have no idea if this will ever turn into anything serious, but it was fun, and it gave me hope that God does care about those little things that matter to me. And He’s willing to show up with His uncanny sense of humor and play.

I’ve been percolating a business idea for a long time but have been stalled because I just couldn’t see how to make the time or get the energy to launch it. I contacted an old friend to say hi, and he’s been percolating the same idea and was needing a partner in crime as well. We are already moving ahead with some ideas to tip our toes in the water to see if this might be a fit. I was stunned when I realized that this was falling into my lap. In this morning’s reading in The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron described my feelings exactly, “It’s my experience that we’re much more afraid that there might be a God than we are that there might not be.” My first reaction was one of fear that this might actually be supported and happening. Be careful what you ask for … you just might get it.

This program is asking me questions about what I enjoy, what sounds interesting and what things might interest me but I know I will never do. A picture is emerging of an adventurous gal with a thirst for learning new things. At the same time, I’m watching my nephews hit growth spurts where they are rapidly becoming young men. Tall and lanky physiques are replacing little boy builds. Every time I see them I am stunned by how much they have grown. I feel like I’m growing like that inside. I’m changing internally rapidly. I feel like I’m holding on for dear life with an emotional helmet secured on my head. I keep looking down to make sure my seat-belt is fastened and listening intently for engine trouble. I can’t see where I’m going, but I know I’m getting there. Thankfully, I’m in a place of trusting the operator to guide me where I’m supposed to be if I just keep my legs in the car and my arms up over my head. “Enjoy the ride,” He seems to be saying. “I’ve got this.” Cameron gives the analogy of seeing your blocked self as a car wreck. I am up walking away looking at the crashed vehicle I’ve been riding in for awhile. Right now, there is no new ‘ride’, and I may be without one for awhile. But I’m alive. That alone signifies potential for growth.