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I’m going to be shifting things a little here at The Positive Slant.  Eventually, I hope to start a new Blog, in addition to this one.  For now, from time to time, I will side step slightly to talk about writing.

Writing, to me, is very spiritual.  A prayer I wrote for “The Artist’s Way” recently says how thankful I am  that writing can not only make a living for me, but it can also help me plumb the depths of my soul.

I believe that to be a writer you have to write.  Long and every day.  I had a teacher once who said you must write 100,000 words before you can consider yourself a real writer.  After having written an 800,00 word novel and edited it down to 100,000, plus 20 solid years of journalling, not to mention hundreds of writing projects, short stories, books and a handful of other novels, I believe I’ve earned the right to call myself a writer.

One of the things I love about writing is that most all of us can write.  We can use words to help plumb the depths of our soul.  Brenda Ueland said that everyone is original and talented, no matter your education or how many words you’ve written.  It may take  passion and dedication to be a ”writer,” but it takes very little to use words to find out more about who you are.

Whether you think you have a book in you or just want to understand yourself and life a little better, there is one key factor to writing: Showing up.  At the desk, the keyboard, the page.  You won’t get any writing done if you don’t.

It’s not something you can force.  But if you’re serious about writing, you have to find that discipline somewhere.  To show up day in and day out, no matter how you are feeling.

My concern is that many people truly do want to write. But they find all kinds of things to distract them.  Things that must be done, first, before any writing can happen.  Dusting or running errands, organizing or talking on the phone, any number of things can feel a lot easier to do than writing.

Writing is hard.  I happen to love everything about the process of it (and anticipate writing a lot about it in the future).  But the truth is, it’s work. It takes focus and brain power.  You may have to face some things you’d rather not. There are days, of course when it’s just not coming.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t find the words.  But I know one thing for sure.  If I don’t try, if I don’t put the pen to paper or fingers to keys, nothing will flow.

No matter how enticing the distractions may be, no matter how much easier they seem, no writing gets done until you show up to do it.

From the Workbook (and book) “Living In the Light” by Shakti Gawain.

Shakti explains, “To be a creative channel is to be fully and freely yourself and to know that the universe speaks through you and your creative actions.”

The more you trust in yourself, your intuition, the more open your channel will be.  There’s a piece here about being willing.  To allow this flow to happen.  You must be in that easy state.  Not churning up useless thoughts about the regretful past or the imagined future.

Shakti agrees with Brenda Ueland, that we are all geniuses.  How much of that genius shines through depends on the depth of our willingness to be what others think we should be.  The more we allow ourselves to be shaped by others, Shakti warns, the more  “ . . . we will fail to hear the voice of our higher power and our genius will remain an untapped potential within us.”

It is that surrender again.  There’s more on this in the book, describing how it feels to focus on this connection and ways to practice opening to it.  Shakti also talks about detachment.  In order to be an open channel, you have to let go of attachments to everything but your intuition.

For Exercise 7, we are reminded that it is a risk to be fully and freely yourself.  That person may well be foreign to you.  Not what you expected.  There is a short meditation to close your eyes and relax.  “Ask your intuition to show you an image of your essential self.”  Shakti says it could be anything, a person, an animal, a color or just a feeling.  So, she wants us to remain open to it.  If you don’t understand the message, ask for clarity.

I saw myself in a long, flowing dress.  I thought, at first, I was tip-toeing, but when I asked for clarity, I saw myself dancing. Not sure what it means, exactly, but it feels good.  It’s possible that I have harbored a long-held suspicion that there is a dancer hiding in me. Shakti says you can repeat this exercise and see what other aspects of yourself you can discover.

“To be a creative channel,” Shakti tells us, “you must risk doing what you really want.”  Exercise 8 gets us to look at what that might be.  I love these kinds of exercises!  It’s a 3-Column List.  First is to list 10 things that you currently do that you love to do.  I found that easy and quickly jotted down many things like writing, reading, and watching movies.  The next column is 10 things you do regularly that you don’t want to do.  I wrestled with this a bit.  I don’t really like paying bills or cleaning house.  And when it’s hot, I don’t care for outside work, either.  In the last column, we are asked to list 10 things we love to do that we don’t do very often.  It became clear to me that I want to be spending more time in nature, keep in better touch with far-away friends and take a class.

This, as you can see, becomes a basis for creating a good action plan.  To reduce or make more pleasant the things you don’t like to do and see how you can increase the things you do want to do.  I’ve made a pledge to send a letter to a friend at least once a week. And I’m looking for ways to get myself out into nature more often.

Next week is about Spirit and Form.

The undisputed Queen of delightful growth exercises is Julia Cameron.  We are in Week 2 of the classic, “The Artist’s Way – a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.”  Anyone who does creative activities (or would like to) should read this book and follow the exercises at least once.  It is a 12-week recovery program.  Each week is jam-packed with interesting, thought-provoking and varied activities.  Going through the entire program is an amazing and eye-opening experience.  Ask anyone who’s done it.

Week Two is called “Recovering a Sense of Identity.”  Julia explains it, “This week addresses self-definition as a major component of creative recovery.”  She starts out talking about “Going Sane.”  As you start to change you might feel strange.  “At first flush,” Julia says, “going sane feels just like going crazy.”  Most reassuring to know!  The chapter goes on to talk about the people in your life who may be hurting your growth. Julia warns us, “Be particularly alert to any suggestion that you have become selfish or different.”  We need to keep reminding ourselves, even in the face of resistance from inside or out, that: “The Great Creator has gifted us with creativity.  Our gift back is our use of it.”  Along the way there are wonderful quotes from some very inspirational people like Brenda Ueland, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Shakti Gawain, Henry Miller and Eddie Cantor.

The next section talks about the “Crazymakers.”  People who can take over your life, Julia describes them, “They do things like break deals and destroy schedules, expect special treatment, spend your time and/or your money.”  We all know these kinds of people.  The kind that suck you up and very often spit you out.

Next we have to deal with Skepticism.  Those doubts that creep up inside of us.  About a Creator helping us or even about our own dear selves. Julia explains it so well, “. . .  our reluctance to take seriously the possibility that the universe just might be cooperating with our new and expanded plans. . . .   We still feel too much like frauds to handle some success. When it comes, we want to go.”  We need to just keep opening our minds to it.  Over and over again, as a practice.

Attention is such a beautiful and powerful thing. Where we put attention is where things grow.  “The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”  We pay attention to the things we care about, the things we choose to put our attention on.  When that comes from a clear place in us, it is truly delightful!  “The reward for attention,” Julia goes on to say is “is always healing.”

She ends the chapter with box of “Rules for the Road.”  In it she finishes the statement, “In order to be an artist, I must:” and adds 10 tactics, like “Set small and gentle goals and meet them.”  She ends with a suggestion to make a sign for yourself which reads, “Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity.  You take care of the quality.”  A freeing statement that allows you to let go of the outcome and focus your attention, give your care to what’s important, what you have the most control over.

As for the exercises, I can only offer a sampling. Many of the exercises are linked or built on previous ones. Or tied with the regular routine she asks of you.  Every day you are to write Morning Pages.  And once a week go on what she calls an Artist’s Date – where you make plans and take your artist somewhere fun.  A place where your artist can come out and play. Like a museum.  Or even something different like bowling.  Just for fun, for a different perspective.

Here are a few of the fun things she asks of you:

*  Where does your time go? List your five major activities this week.  How much time did you give to each one? Which were what you wanted to do and which were shoulds? How much of your time is spent helping others and ignoring your own desires?  Have any of your well-meaning friends triggered doubts in you?

I’ve been playing with this lately. I do a diary every day. Some days I can pull it right from my agenda for the day, but on others, everything gets changed.  It’s important for me to see the things I’ve accomplished.  I had this idea, working with The Coach By the Lake, to go over my diary and color code to find out where I’m spending most of my time. Noting what did I really want to do – my highest priority items and how much time I spent on lower priorities.  I think it’s most helpful to get a picture of how you’re spending your time.

*  Another exercise is to list 20 things you enjoy doing.  Barbara Sher has a similar exercise.  It’s so much fun to do!  The reality lies in the next step where you are to put down next to the item when the last time was you did it.  That can be sobering! But you end up with a good list for Artist’s Dates and an awareness of some enjoyable activities you can start to add back in your life.

*  Julia goes on to suggest that from this list you might find two things that you could put on your weekly schedule and do.  She reminds us that it can be done in a small time frames, instead of giving up because you don’t have a big enough space for it.

*  I like the Life Pie.  It’s almost like the Wheel of Life.  Check out where you can link to a Wheel of Life you can create.  The by hand version looks like this: Draw a circle.  Divide it into six pieces and label the pieces: Spiritual, Exercises, Play, Work, Friends, Romance, Adventure (or whatever you please).  Place a dot in each slice indicating what degree you feel fulfilled in this area.  Outer rim indicates great fulfilment, inner is not so great.  Connect the dots.  This will show you where you are lopsided.  Again we’re gaining insight into which areas need more attention.

*  Finally, we’re going to list 10 changes we’d like to make.  It’s called “Ten Tiny Changes,” but she says they can go from “the significant to the small.”  I like the idea of listing the tiny things you could do that would have an effect.  Like a Game Changer Goal that you could accomplish quickly and easily and see results.  Julia asks us to pick one of those items and get it done in a week.

From the book Wishcraft, by Barbara Sher.

Stylesearch is a long one. 6 exercises in all. So I’m going to break it in two.

Barbara starts us out slowly with the “Pick a Color” game. The exercise is to write about being the color. I am Lavender. I’m a little girl’s bedroom. I’m lacy and pretty. Soft and gentle. I like to surround others in a cool embrace. Draped in Lavender, I am sensitive and caring. I’m a writer, so I make stuff up and am never satisfied. So, I did another, deciding that I had initially been drawn to Orange. I am Orange. I am sunny and bright, warm and charming. I sparkle and glow. I am healthy and strong. Not quite as fun, I grant you. Her take on all this is that we choose from our style. And that it’s difficult to talk about ourselves in a positive way. This is supposed to be a description of ourselves. Otherwise, we’re labeled subjective. Or worse yet, self centered. Why is that? You’re only being objective about yourself if you criticize. Weird.

The next exercise, as we find out more about ourselves, is the “Private Eye” Game. In this, we are to take a look around our environment – our home, our office, our car – with a fresher eye. A writer in my critique group wrote a piece recently about how when you first move in somewhere, you are constantly moving things around, changing, rearranging. But eventually, you settle into a comfortable rut. In that rut it’s hard to see what is all around you. So, it’s a fun exercise to sharpen your eye and look at your surroundings in a new light.

I learned a few things about myself. There is a lot more color in my life than I realized. I tend to be loyal to a musical artist, rather than an eclectic mix of various bands. Also, I use a whole lot of paper! It’s clear I’m into spirituality with spiritual books, sacred texts and objects abounding. I see a lot of creativity in how things are arranged. There’s a deep love of family I hadn’t realized, with all the pictures. I’m also more organized than I give myself credit for. There is a fair amount of clutter, but it is well ordered. It’s a fun game that is good to do every once in a while. It also helps you to keep a cleaner house. Like how all of a sudden you notice the smudges and dust bunnies when company is coming.

Exercise 6 is “Seeing Yourself as Others See You.” I’ve had the opportunity, recently, to collect some testimonials for my new web site. So I’ve read some really nice things about me and my writing. I also have a great support team who frequently tell me what’s good about me. I can’t say, though, that I sit and listen to it, taking dictation and not discounting as Barbara suggests. I think I can arrange that, though I haven’t yet. I see this as an important piece of life that we, as a culture, discount. We should all endeavor to tell everyone what we think is so wonderful about them, all the time. Maybe we could start with one day a year – Praise Day!

Barbara offers a second version for those that are not as blessed with a team as I am, or perhaps shy about asking for such things. Instead she says, create your own cheering section. The family that you didn’t have. You may choose from anyone, living or dead, fictional or real, in your life or distant. I had a whole lot of fun with this.

I used her grid for the perfect family to create my own ~ My mother is Brenda Ueland, a marvelous writer and writing teacher who believed that there is genius in everyone. She would see the unique genius, surely, in me, her daughter and would love and respect me for it. She would encourage the writer in me and help nurture that in any way she could. She would be endlessly delighted by me and whatever I came up with next. Following me, day by day through my dreams, interests and excitements.

My father, Ian McShane, with his beautiful British accent would explain things to me. Help me explore and find out about everything from antiques, to British Parliament, to the American Goldrush, architecture or archery. He would protect me, too. And always stand up for me. A formidable man to have on your team. A King.

My brother would be Johnny Depp. He would tell me I could do anything I wanted and that I would still be loved and admired no matter what it was. A man of many talents and interests himself. Johnny always does what he’s passionate about and never lets anyone tell him he’s no good. He would teach me endless belief in myself and remind me never to listen to critics, but keep following my passion.

My sister would be Marianne Williamson, spiritual teacher extraordinaire! A beautiful woman, with a past. She knows all the heavy-hitters in this spiritual growth business and would let her little sister (I’m pretty sure I’m older than she is in real life) sit in on her meetings with these people. As long as I stay quiet and listen. As her sister, I would certainly be invited to join their circle when I was old enough. She would be there to listen to me complain, sympathize, because she’s been there, too, but never let me give up.

I needed someone to bail me out and never reproach me. That was a tricky one. I felt there needed to be an element of magic in this person, too. For he must know, intuitively, when I need him. I guess I can do whatever I want, so I chose Captain Jack Sparrow. (I am a big fan of Johnny Depp in all his forms!) Captain Jack, being rather a rogue himself, couldn’t reproach me for the innocent scrapes I get myself into. His cleverness and speed, swooping in and saving the day is just what I need.

Enjoying this so much, I got into thinking about a Nanny or babysitters. Mother Brenda is a strong, confident woman with a life of her own, so she sometimes must leave me in the care of others. Wanting to nurture my talents, I think she’d like to leave me with someone like SARK who has the biggest sense of fun I’ve ever known. What a great person to hang with as a child! There might be others, carefully chosen to provide me with fun and the proper kind of education and creative soil.

Certainly I feel surrounded by winners! These will be my cheering section to tell me what I need to hear, to go to when I’m feeling defeated or scared. I got frustrated today because I couldn’t find the e-mail address of someone I want to contact. Marianne sympathized with me that it was a drag. Who does this person think she is? A rock star? But, Marianne reminded me, even rock stars have Business Managers. Surely, I can find out how to get in touch with this person. Don’t give up! Use who you know. How cool is that?

The investigation of Stylesearch continues. Until next week.


Some of my favorite spiritual teachers also happen to be writers who write about writing.

Brenda Ueland, who wrote, “If You Want to Write” in 1938, taught me that we are all creative and that it is not only acceptable to express your creativity, it is an act of faith and gratitude for God’s gift to all of us. Brenda, I believe, lived a dashing life. In her 30’s being a wild- haired, bold girl and remaining so well into her 80’s. She lived a good life, I believe, like Dan Fogelberg said of Georgia O’Keefe’s life – “a life lived so well.” Brenda was a teacher of young people in Minnesota who came from various social economic cultures. She had a way of seeing, acknowledging and drawing out their creativity.

Natalie Goldberg (in many books, but especially) in “Writing Down the Bones,” showed me that writing is a sacred act and needs to be practiced regularly, as one would do a spiritual practice, or training for a sport. Natalie taught me to put in the hours, get the words on paper and see how good it feels. She inspired me to create the daily habit of journalling. If I miss a day, I can feel it. If I miss two, I become out of sorts. By the third day, it behooves me to take the time I need to put pen to paper. (I’m too far gone at that point to just type.) With her loving use of Buddhist concepts to explain the art of writing, her teaching has become ingrained in me and infused with my spiritual growth.

Julia Cameron (in her works “The Artist’s Way” and “Finding Water”) has been in cahoots with Natalie Goldberg. I cannot say for sure who first came up with the “Morning Pages” as Julia calls them. I thank them both for helping me establish that essential in my life. Julia has done much to help me see that my writer is sensitive and needs lots of care and coaxing. The more of her I can acknowledge, the broader and finer my art will be.

Anne Lamott taught me what it means to be a writer, with all my wants and warts. That it’s not an easy road, but one well worth traveling, step by step. Her incredible book, “Bird By Bird,” brings writing down to its essence.

From all of them, I’ve found that the more I learn about myself, the deeper I quest into my own spiritual growth, the more connection I feel to the Divine, the better my life and my writing will be.

I have been thinking about writing about writing. I’ve acquired a rather full compendium of information on writing including the hits of How to Do it Better and How to Sell it More.

One of my favorite aspects of writing is its spiritual qualities. Amazing teachers like Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott and Brenda Ueland might agree with me.

I have kept a faithful, long-handed, long-winded journal for over ten years. As I release things in my journal things I would never say aloud, a picture spreads in front of me of who I am and the stories I’m telling myself. Many times that clarity has helped to diffuse anger, heal sadness and turn me around to the truth. Allowing me to treat others with more kindness and understanding. The journal has been a true friend to me, open and willing to listen quietly, accepting whatever I have to say. Taking me at face value – without question or comment. What a comfort that is.

Being able to say what you feel needs saying is a true blessing of writing. Not many people have the opportunity to do that.

The act of writing, as any act of art, is in and of itself, an act of faith. To commit to paper (or whatever your medium) how you see the world and have it appear in some kind of tangible form, subject to assent or dissent, requires a strong level of belief. To be willing to strip yourself bare and say, hey, this is me.

How truly generous the world feels when another’s words stir my soul, uplift my spirit, inspire me. Books and films and songs have changed me, profoundly, in more ways than I can ever count. Others’ words have illuminated my mind and opened my heart as well as anything could. That’s powerful juju!

Writing has made me feel continually supported. It is my connection to God. When I’m in the midst of writing something, the words, eager to be given voice, flowing so fast I have no idea where they are coming from. If that isn’t Grace, I don’t know what is.

Speaking of connection, words are my connection to the world, to my work, and to all those I love. How wonderful it is to tell someone how you love and appreciate their being just who they are! Writing is a vehicle for me to draw out my dreams and visions. I can’t always render what I see in pictures, but I can usually do a decent job of painting with words. All this softens my heart, allowing more love.

Words are limiting, that is true. Some things can only be felt. But it takes words to describe and come to grips with what we’re feeling. I believe in Guidance. More often than not, it comes to me in words. Words keep me well, centered and calm.

Finally, I believe my Mission is to have a positive impact on others through my words. It is my way of doing Good Works and being of service. Amen.

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