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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.

It’s easy for me to go on about how I love journalling.

Journalling has become much like brushing my teeth.  Depending on the circumstances, I can go a day without it, but by the second day, I am well aware of its absence.   It is as much a part of my day as my wakening cup of green tea or my ever-present bottle of water.

Journalling gives me a place to figure things out.  My pen knife feeds me with nourishing words.  It carves out the ugly stuff leaving only the good.  It allows me to complain and attack and say all the nasty things I need to say until I can come back around to understanding.  It’s the canvas on which I spill my life so I can look at it.  It is like listening to music, watching movies or reading books, except that is My story.  I can marvel at the workings of my mind or shine a light on the places where things are stuck.

I credit both Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron with inspiring me to create the practice of it.  I always get confused on who came up with it first.

Cheryl Richardson, in her wonderful book ”Life Makeovers,” talks lovingly about journalling, too.  She tells us that keeping to her journal has changed her life in many ways, including eating better and making more “inner directed” choices.  It does give you a place to review your priorities and make sure they are heading you where you wish to go.  I, too, feel like there has never been a better listener in my life.  It’s like I’m talking directly to God.  It forces me, in a way, in order to get my fix of journalling, to take time alone, in quiet, to really do it right. Cheryl says that through journalling, “I feel deeply connected to my soul and what really matters.”

Seems such a small thing for such a huge result.  Cheryl’s book offers many such small changes that produce big returns.  None, for me, quite as powerful as writing in my journal.

Here are a few tips:

1) Make it a routine in your life.  Every day, the same time, write three pages. (I use cheap spiral notebooks.)

2) Don’t fuss about what you write.  It can be anything.  I often get caught in what I call “agendizing,” reviewing my day.  Telling about a dream can fill up almost half the 3 page requirement.  If you get stuck, Cheryl has one of the best list of journal starters I have ever seen:
                  This morning I feel . . .
                  I’m always daydreaming about . . .
(I made it more immediate by saying, “These days I’ve  been  daydreaming about . . . “)
                  My nagging inner voice keeps telling me to . . .
                  The thoughts that roll around in my heard are . . .
(Again, “The thoughts that are rolling around in my head . . . “)
                  My soul longs to . . .
                  What I’m most afraid of is . . .
                  My inner critic tells me . . .
                  What I’m most grateful for is. . . .

3) Trust that the journal will accept whatever you have to say and no one else ever has to see it.

4) If you think you’re just too busy to do it, think of it as relieving yourself of built-up thoughts so you can think more clearly during the day.  It will help you better deal with your busy life.

5) Have fun with it.  Natalie and I use fountain pens.  I like to vary the color of the ink.  I can use my journal to dream things up and figure out ways to play.  I can write funny stories or draw pictures.  It’s your journal, you can do with it whatever you choose.

I believe that the world would be a happier, saner place if everyone wrote three pages every morning.

From Traveling Hopefully by Libby Gill

Boy, have I been feeling in the flow lately! Lots of words flowing usually keeps everything else flowing. Libby says, “Creativity is the experience of letting the Divine flow through you.” I love that!

To get us to find a new perspective, Libby suggests some fun ideas for “Unlocking Your Creative Spirit.” Krista and I have done many similar exercises through our work with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I have long kept a “Dream Diary,” though I have to say I often forget about it. “Painting a Masterpiece” is a common activity on Julia Cameron’s “Artist’s Dates.” Any kind of artwork – outside of what you do for a living – works very well. I love walking, especially by myself in a beautiful place. There’s a park near my house where I often walk. As part of my work, I clean houses. So I regularly practice the “Zen of Window Washing.” What a great practice it is! I find that I need to stay focused on what I’m doing in the moment so I don’t over or under clean. There were one or two suggestions that just didn’t harmonize with me or Krista, but we chose the ones that felt good. I did the Dream Diary every day for a week. I saw some eye-opening patterns in them!

It feels like I’m just cruising along here ~

For “Cash In on Your Passion” I wrote a piece that was much fun. It wasn’t exactly a professional obituary, as Libby outlined, but more like a speech in honor of my retiring (or scaling back). In the speech I talked of my career history time line. It really got me excited!

Krista and I are going to get together to do a “Success Collage.” I’m a big fan of treasure maps, focus boards and the like, so I have tons of magazines. One day soon, Krista and I are going to get together at my house and make collages. I can’t wait!

I love dancing and though I’ve only done it on the dance floor with lots of other people or alone in my kitchen, I feel it flowing through me. Libby talked about what she learned in dance class about committing to the movement. It’s easier to keep your balance if you feel let it flow. What a great metaphor for living your life that way!

I look hopefully toward the next step.

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.

Krista was late.

I’d been there before, waiting for her. This was not the first time we’d worked together on such a project. Several years ago, we did Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Though it took us a good deal longer than the prescribed 12 weeks, we got through it all. It was so good, we tried it again last winter, this time with Julia’s “Finding Water:” We had a good system then and moved through it efficiently. But this time, Krista had been in Mexico for a month and though we’d finally made a date, she was late.

Krista and I don’t agree on some very large issues like religion and politics. But we’ve found common ground in our spirituality, our humanity and our shared journey as women.

This year we’d elected to do Libby Gill’s beautiful book, “Traveling Hopefully. How to Lose Your Family Baggage and Jumpstart Your Life.” The book uses 5 steps to Jumpstart Your Life and 21 tools. The first step is to “Dissect Your Past So You Can Direct Your Future.” The first chapter, “Getting Past Your Past” gives us Tool #1, “Tagging Your Family Baggage.”

But, Krista hadn’t done her assignment. Luckily, the exercises in the first chapter were easy. The Family Baggage Questionnaire required only a yes or no, so she was able to answer the questions quickly. The instructions say that if you answer yes to five or more of the questions, you might want to “run your baggage through an X-ray machine to take a closer look at what’s inside.” We, who have worked so many programs like this before, each had 6 yes votes. In discussing it, we discovered a few more that might fit.

For the next exercise, to Tag your Baggage, I had made a chart to write in the Tag, a column to check Accept or Reject, and room to write an Emotional Response. Krista was able to use a blank chart and fill hers out as we talked about it. Sharing with her, led me to see maybe I had fantasized about a family I wish I had. I only have one brother, and we’ve always gotten along and loved each other, but there have been strained times and I do wish I had a better, maybe stronger relationship with him. I hadn’t realized that before. We found some of the tags, such as Stupid, Ugly, or Untalented, were implied, rather than said out loud.

I added a few tags of my own. My mother was from the Midwest and had a lot of colorful phrases, like namby-pamby. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I mustn’t be it. Instead of picky, she used the term persnickety. Seeing how I felt about these tags, showed me where I needed attention and affection. I found it interesting that the second time I did this exercise (having done it last Fall more casually) I had roughly the same list of tags, but a different emotional responses to them.

Tool #2, Unloading the Family Baggage and the exercise of “Applying Flip-side Logic to Your Family Baggage” started the process of healing. I’m thinking about taking my flipped bag tags and making a list of affirmations out of them, such as:

I’m discerning and I know what I like!

I love my bountiful imagination and enjoy it when I get excited about something!

My ability to talk has contributed to my skill as a writer!

Sometimes it’s a good thing to be selfish!

I don’t know when our next port of call will be. But I am not pushing the river (the next chapter), but taking my time. Good-bye for now. I’ve more postcards to send.

Over the next few weeks I will be posting these Travelogues of our journey on Wednesdays, so tune in for more.

Much has been written about the value of taking good care of yourself. Julia Cameron, in her legendary work, The Artist’s Way, tells us that “treating yourself like a precious object will make you strong.” It makes sense that if you are nurturing yourself, you are giving yourself what you need to be healthy and strong. Not only does it benefit your own well-ness, it makes you a better lover and care-giver. Spiritual teacher, Paulette Terrels, said, “”It is our own self love that enables us to truly love others.” It’s easy to do, you just need to think about it and eventually it will become a habit. Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks believed in it. “Every day, give yourself a present.”

You might start by noticing places you already nurture yourself or places where you could use some nurturing. Here are some ideas to get you going ~

1) Slow down and allow yourself to fully enjoy what you’re doing. Take a moment to look around and say, “Ah, yes, this is good.” Be aware that you’re drinking Agent Cooper’s beloved hot cup of joe (quiet cup of tea or beverage of your choice) and how good it tastes. At a red light, take a few long, slow breaths. You might try eating a meal slowly. You’ll be surprised at how refreshed and satisfied you feel afterwards.

2) Call or write to someone you’ve been thinking about and spend some time with them.

3) Plan a date with yourself. It may seem awkward at first, but if you let yourself, you’ll come up with all kinds of fun things. What about that guitar that’s collecting dust in the corner? Pull it out and play with it for an hour. Or go to a museum. The trick is to plan it with excitement and show up. Surely you can squeeze in an hour or 20 minutes for yourself once a week. (See more about these dates in The Artist’s Way.)

4) Book time to do something you really love doing. Give yourself a limited time if you need to, but make the time and stick to it. Life is so much richer when you do things that bring you joy. (Maybe just watch a funny movie. I recommend It’s a Gift with W.C. Fields or The Marx Brothers.)

5) By all means, if you hear yourself saying you need to get some rest, or slow down, or eat better, do something, even one little thing, to show yourself you’re listening.

6) Take the day, the morning or afternoon, an hour off from time to time – before you need it! It’s so much more fun to have time off when you’re not feeling sick or wiped out.

7) Get a massage. This stimulates the body and helps it to function better. You’ll definitely feel pampered. Women can get their hair done, a manicure or pedicure. Men can take a steam bath. A foot rub will please everyone! If I had my way, I’d have my feet rubbed every day. Find a reflexoligist to give you a foot rub and see how good you feel about life!

8)  Listen for when you say, “I’ve been meaning to ______” Book time and do it. You’ll feel better if you do.

9) Buy yourself a gift. Doesn’t have to be expensive. Just take yourself out and buy something that makes you smile.

If you find all this way too much for your busy schedule, try this:

First, keep a list with your schedule of things you’d like to do, that would be fun, bring you joy or make you feel loved.

Second, book time in your calendar.

Third, guard it.

The first couple times you say no to other plans during that time, you may feel guilty, but forge on and soon it will get easier. The trick is that if you absolutely positively have to give up the time, reschedule it. Keep rescheduling until you do it.

I promise, once you get into the habit of nurturing yourself, you’ll be looking for ways you can do it every day.

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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