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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.

I’m doing The Artist’s Way, again.  It’s been a long time in between and my circumstances and creativity are at very different places.  So, too, for my dear friend who did it with me last time. I have to say, it’s a wonderful and fun program.  If you work it well, it produces amazing results!

It does take time to do, that’s for sure. With weekly readings and activities, you need to give it a fair amount of attention. As I learned in NaNoWriMo, it’s about the commitment to give it even a little time as many days as you can.  But the real key to this time management thing may be in the daily choices we make for where to put our focus.

Most of us lead busy lives . . . everyone from the 40-50 hour a week salaried workers to those rested and retired in Paradise.  There’s so much to do, to see, to take care of, to make happen, to find out, to listen to, to watch, to follow, to follow through, to follow up.

Can we drill it down to simple “Energy Math”?  I have so many hours to fill that aren’t about sleeping, eating, using the bathroom, etc.  So what am I going to do with them?  What are the things I really want to include?  Where do I choose to put my focus?

This takes observation.  Something we can all do, no matter how busy the schedule.
Needing only a few moments of your time now and again, (maybe when you’re waiting) and perhaps a small notebook or phone – to keep track of those findings.

So, you see what is and you do what works.  What is working for you and what isn’t?  Note those things which drain your energy or time. What activities are getting you where you want to go and what keeps you stuck?  Usually you can tell that what you’re doing just doesn’t feel right.  Or something else is calling you.

What are the things you want in your life?  Whether that’s spending more time with your children, nurturing your creativity or improving your game.  You need to decide what you choose to have in your life.

If those things aren’t fitting, something has to go. You need to make choices: what can you adjust, get rid of or replace?  It might take some time to patch up the leaks, but that’s okay.  Every little bit helps, frees up a little more space for something you’d rather have in your life.  And, knowing you’re taking the steps helps even if it’s just easing your state mind.

Everyone’s choices are different. But each day, sometimes in each moment, you need to think about where you’re going to put your focus. What are the cards you choose to pick to focus on and hold in your hand?

In my files, I have several lists of things I can do to protect myself.  There are no words with them to explain what exactly I was trying to protect myself from.  But I’m guessing it’s about protection from negative thoughts and feelings which could drag me down. I have gathered them together here, eliminating the duplicates and fleshing out each one.  I hope the ways help to protect you, too.

1)  Remember to Not Take Things Personally
This is an important piece of advice.  Especially if when I’m after something and frequently come up against rejection and/or frustration.  People are so busy these days and so immersed in their own dramas.  Most of the slights I feel personally have nothing to do with me. Even if they do sometimes, I can’t know for sure.  That person is unlikely to say, “I didn’t choose you because I don’t like the beady look in your eyes,” for instance.  So, I might as well just let it go.  That’s just are how my eyes are, after all.  Most of the time people act according to their own needs and agendas, which have little to do with me.  Let it go.
2)  Relinquish Being Right or Having to Prove Anything
Wow!  This takes a huge weight off me.  It will keep many an argument from ever happening (and save on the bad feelings, too!)  So often I try to convince someone of something when they are certain they know something else.  Sometimes I’ve been able to change a person’s mind, but if it doesn’t happen after my best points, I might as well give it up.  It won’t change what I know to be right.  It’s important to remember that truth is in the eye of the beholder.  If all I’m after is for the other person to say, “Okay, you’re right,” I’d better think of something more constructive to do with my efforts.

3)  Be Impeccable with My Words
This is from “The Four Agreements” by Don Miquel Ruiz. This seems so very important to me, as a person who loves words.  Part of this is in not promising what I can’t deliver, and, of course, in telling the truth as I see it.  But it’s also about gossiping about others. Or using negative words to describe something or someone when more neutral words would suffice.  If I don’t want negative waves coming at me or sinking in, I have to be careful not generate them myself. 

4)  Say What I Need to Say
Boy, can I feel it when I don’t do this!  Sometimes, for me anyway, just getting it out on the pages of my journal can help.  There are a few things that will eat away at you more than things left unsaid.  I try to find some way to do it. Like, it might be easier to write it rather than doing it face to face.  Whatever it takes to it get out. One precaution:  be sure to have emotions under control before expressing.  They will surely muddy the waters.  And I don’t want to pollute the world any more.  (See 3 above.)

5) Treat Myself Like a Precious Object
This is a quote from Julia Cameron, in her amazing book “The Artist’s Way.”  She went on to say that doing this will make you strong. (Sounds like a good protection to me!) One way to do this is to listen to my body and heed its calling.  If I’m hungry, eat.  If I’m tired, find time to rest. It also means making good choices for my health. Remembering that when I’m healthy and strong there’s nothing I can’t do.  An important aspect of this is to protect myself from others’ negativity.  That can be harmful; like second hand smoke.  I’ve heard tell of people who put up an imaginary shield.  I sometimes repeat positive mantras or just get far away from them.  Also, I want to do the things that refuel me. That’s a good way to protect my health and build my immunity.  When I think of myself as a precious object, it’s easier to remember to do these things.

6)  Go Easy on Myself
Certainly we can call this a part of treating myself like a precious object.  But I think it’s so important it should be on its own.  Sometimes the biggest threat is from the inside. I can be so incredibly hard on myself (and I suspect I’m not the only one).  This entails appreciating what I do and giving myself rewards.  It’s also about accepting myself when I don’t.  I need to offer myself the allowance that I can only do what I can do.  And respect that if I could, I would. To avoid that situation, I might be careful not to over plan or over promise.  It’s important for me to pay attention to what I’m saying to myself.  Going easy certainly means not kicking myself for anything.  Would I do that to a child?

7) Keep to My Own Counsel
Now I’m all for listening to what others have to say. There is much wisdom to be gained from that.  But I need to temper it.  I must pass everything through my own filter.  I cannot change my mind simply because someone else said I should.  Unless the new information feels right to me, I will not integrate it.  I’ve gotten myself twisted into knots by taking someone else’s word as law.  God said, in “Conversations with God,” that if there’s anything called “sin” it would be taking someone else’s word for something.  Strong words.

8)  Do What I Say I’m Going to Do
This may seem to be part of being impeccable with my words, but it pertains to what I say to myself.  It’s about following through on my plans, doing what I planned to do.  When I do, I always feel empowered, stronger somehow.  This means keeping my promises to myself.  “I promise I will do this tomorrow.”  Or “I promise to reward myself after I do this.”  It’s that satisfied, whole feeling that comes from exercising your integrity.

9)  Know What’s Important to Me
When I know this, it protects me from making the wrong decisions.  I keep a regular list of the Things That are Important to Me, like my writing and being of service to others with it.  This gives me a framework for all I do. It’s a set of priorities to work from.  And it reminds me what my dreams are.

10) Keep Coming Back
This simple phrase from Alcoholics Anonymous reminds me not to give up.  To stay close to whatever it is I’m trying to do.  Keep my nose pressed to the glass. Never stop just because I’ve run into a snag.  It is persistence which affords success.  It protects me from failure. Because the only way to fail is to give up.

What other ways do you use to protect yourself?

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 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.

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