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Nicole Arnold's Adventures

My impressions as I boldly go where I have not gone before.

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Finding the Most Magic

I am in search of the magical combination of factors that will lead to me writing the most. Not the most of all people — a different kind of most. The most that I can, given the various priorities and obligations in my life. Of course, it is not a simple solution. That’s why it’s a magical COMBINATION of factors. Writing is hard. I have so many things in my head that I want to put on paper (or screen). But, often enough, there is a blockage between my head and my fingertips leading me to do just about everything else except write. I worry about what people will think when they read my writing (fiction or nonfiction). I worry about the other things that I need to get done. These worries aren’t always conscious, I just surmise them from my behaviour of scheduling writing time and then looking up ex boyfriends on the Internet instead. Or searching MLS. Or petting the dog. Wiping the counters. Making tea. Many, many, many other things.

Happily, I think I’ve found the magical combination of factors. For me. Right now. (That’s my disclaimer. It might not work for you – but really, it probably will. That’s why Julia Cameron has sold tons of books. Thank you, Julia Cameron!)

Here it is:

  • Write 3 pages longhand every day.
  • Read the corresponding chapter for each week of the Artist’s Way Program
  • Set aside at least 2 (consecutive) hours each week to do anything that feels like artist development. I’ve interpreted it really widely.  During this Artist’s Date, I have almost no contact with anyone one else (that’s not an interpretation, it’s part of the criteria of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Date).
  • Commit, in social media, to write about my experience each week.

The challenge, of course, is that the same forces that move me away from writing the rest of the time will act when I’m about to write my Morning Pages or set aside time for the Artist’s Date or write this blog. I think about all the other things I have to do. I think about how this isn’t income generating. I remember the dishwasher needs to be emptied.  You know the drill. But, somehow, I still sit down and do my Morning Pages. I’ve done them every day for 4 weeks now. I make time each week for my Artist’s Date. I faithfully turn off my phone and then enjoy my time people watching or poetry writing or window shopping on the Danforth.

What’s the magical combination that’s so effective? Commitment? Daily practice? A framework to guide me? Public accountability? I think all those factors work well together. The super ingredient in all of it is writing. All of these practices keep taking me to writing. Every day. The more days that pass, the more evidence I build that once I get on the other side of delay, I feel good writing. I’m remembering that more and more mid-write as well, so when I get stuck, I stay committed to writing, don’t get distracted and then take a few breaths and ask myself questions until I know the next word to write.

Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t written a novel in the past month. But, I have written a ton. I’ve worked on a novel. I’ve written several articles and I’ve journaled my heart out. I feel like I’m building the muscle to stick to my writing and that feels amazing.

I know that it’s not really magic – that I do the work of planning, committing and what sometimes feels like forcing myself into a chair. At the same time, having this structure is making it feel easier – to get from procrastination to action and to worry less about outcome/product and more about practicing. In other words, the magic lies in practicing a growth mindset. It’s possible that the hard work of practice makes way for the magic of creation.

I love those magical moments.

 

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Unleashing my dog, my children and myself

I’m not so much about leashes. Literally and figuratively. Does everyone else have behaviours that you’re proud of but also worry they might be signs you don’t fit in with the rest of humanity and that they know something that you don’t? I have a few of them (okay, I have a mountain of them – but I only plan to address a few areas in this particular post). These behaviours include: letting my dog run off leash when we’re not walking on a street; letting my teenagers decide whether or not to attend their high school classes and regularly putting my needs in front of my kids’ needs. You can see how these are all both controversial and liberating.

Don’t worry – this post will get to Week #4 of the Artist’s Way program, in fact, this IS about the Artist’s Way program, because the crux of my pride and doubt conflict is the tension between choosing security and choosing openness. Following the Artist’s Way keeps teaching me that focusing on openness will lead to creativity AND security, but that focusing on security, most of the time, doesn’t lead to either creativity OR security. When I prioritize security issues, I usually feel scared and weak.

Back to leashes.

I have a valley behind my house that I take walks in daily. I currently take them with my dog Lily, but before I had Lily, I took them on my own. It was my first experience seeing dogs running around off leash. At first, the sight of dogs running freely, not always beside their adult companion, was a little unsettling. There were times I got nervous during a run, when approaching a dog running freely, scared that the dog would chase me or snap at me. That never happened, so over time I became more comfortable. When Lily joined our family almost two years ago, I did some research on training a dog to be off-leash. I wanted her to have opportunities to run freely. I didn’t want to hold her back. Accepted dog training wisdom directed me to wait until she was about 10 months before letting her run freely without fences. In the meantime, I took her to a large cemetery, minutes from my house. It’s fenced and gated. I loved releasing her from her leash and watching her take off, running after squirrels, birds or sometimes appearing to run for the sheer joy of stretching her legs and moving quickly.  When she was around 10 months, I started letting her off her leash down in the valley. It felt really risky at first. It’s a huge place – if she ran from me and didn’t turn around it’s possible, I would never be able to retrieve her. In the same way that when my children started going to daycare, I quickly learned that they would emerge from the day, whole beings, and in fact, fuller than they were at the beginning of the day, because they had learned and experienced so much, Lily would explore the offerings of our ravine – checking out the bushes, trees and hills and always returned, albeit sometimes with burrs or flowers knotted in her fur.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I wanted Lily to have these incredible experiences every day. It was also selfish. Watching Lily move in and out of the brush, running after squirrels and taking dips into the river to grab some water or go for a quick swim filled me with joy. It’s amazing to watch how much she learns. She’s learned how to approach people (mostly) with caution, watching their signals and also how to approach dogs. She’s learned when to go into the river and when it’s running too high and too fast. I’ve participated in some of this education by providing direction and encouragement, but Lily has done the lion’s share. Even though she’s a dog : ) I think these daily walks are so positive for Lily’s health and my own. I also worry I’m weird for prioritizing my dog’s freedom and opportunity to learn and grow over other people’s comfort and the rules of the ravine.

My kids would not be surprised to learn that Lily just got the majority of focus in my blog and they’re going to get three paragraphs. Favourite child issues are at least as old as the Bible : ) The thing that I’m proud of and worry about is that I’m not so inclined to leash my kids either – and less and less as they get older. I identify so much this way that I was surprised last week to hear my 17-year-old nephew say that he remembers our house as having more rules than he had ever experienced before. Those were my rules. I don’t even remember what they were, except for pretty strict bedtimes. I was so tired then – three children 5 years of age and younger. Bedtimes were really crucial. For me.

My parenting style has changed quite a bit. I believe that some of the changes can be attributed to the fact that my youngest child is now practically 13. The change also stems from the growing desire to not have my kids on a leash. Some of this motivation is borne out of a similar sentiment to walking Lily which is simply: I don’t want to ruin my walk by playing tug of war with Lily the whole time. I like walking. Equally, I don’t want so much of my life (or at least the child rearing part of it) to be characterized by playing tug of war with my children about what they can do or not do. When, as the Silician in The Princess Bridge would say, “Death is (not) on the line”, I’m not inclined to employ a leash. I’m happy to leave my kids to explore and learn and grow without a whole lot of interference on my part.

That’s why I don’t get very involved  with my kids’ school attendance. I used to more – I would want to make sure if they were REALLY sick or had a REALLY legitimate reason to miss class. Now, I’m happy to let them choose. Missing classes has natural consequences. I think practicing staying home to feel better is something that many people in Western society would benefit from practicing more since stress levels are hitting new high levels all the time. Most of all, I’m happy for my kids to figure it out. They have the capacity. It’s not that there aren’t risks – it’s more that the benefits are tremendous. The kids own their experience at school. They’re not there to please me or even to make me proud. They’re there to learn and develop. I think that I’m largely here to provide some direction and a lot of encouragement.

What does it mean to let myself off a leash?  More than anything, that means to put my needs before anyone else’s. I don’t want to feel controlled by my kids’ wants/needs (or anyone else’s, for that matter). This might be my greatest area of pride and worry. The Mother’s/Women’s Anthem is frequently one of sacrifice and selflessness. This is such a hard proposition for me. I need to rest. I need to read books. I need to write. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – my need/want list, is pretty extensive. I like how I feel when I’m rested and learning and writing. It feels hard sometimes to have the kids know that I’ve chosen something different than their needs. I worry that they’ll feel less loved than other kids. Then, I usually remember that my capacity to offer love to my kids is usually rooted in how much rested and happy I feel.

Which brings me back to the Artist’s Way. One of the weekly components of the program is an Artist’s Date. This is time when the phone goes off. No one but the artist is invited on the date. Those are the only criteria. The activity is whatever might nurture/develop that artist. On Artist’s Dates, I have coloured, wandered markets, read fiction, read non-fiction, written stories, eaten very yummy cheesecake and drunk a few cocktails. During this weekly time (a two-hour block), I practice putting myself first. Like going to a yoga class or going to (my new obsession) Orange Theory Fitness classes, I find setting the time aside hard and then actually DOING IT, just as hard, but the payoff is huge. The experience is tremendous – I get fully engaged in whatever I’m doing with deliberately reduced distractions. The feeling after is just as tremendous – I carry it into my next activities – often for days.  Putting myself first and doing what is best for me helps me feel connected and purposeful. It’s like motivation rocket fuel. Julia Cameron might characterize Artist Date’s as creativity rocket fuel. I think she would also encourage me to keep letting the kids, Lily and myself run off leash as much as I can bear.

 

 

 

 

A Love Letter to Firefly

Hug your artist. Listen to your artist. LOOOVE your artist. That’s the voice of Week Two of the Artist’s Way in my head. “What would your artist want?” the voice keeps asking me. I think my artist has enjoyed being consulted, because I had one of the most amazing weeks on record. I’ve been singing, dancing and regularly walking around smiling to myself.

*******COMPLETE DIGRESSION*******

Have you ever noticed that indicators of joy and indicators of having lost one’s mind are the same?  Spontaneous singing and/or dancing, hearing voices. Who ever decided those were signs of insanity? Doesn’t everyone have a bunch of voices in their head on a regular basis and sing/dance when they feel happy? Why does joy get undermined with fears of seeming crazy? Just wondering.

****END OF DIGRESSION********

As I blissfully made my way through the week, paying attention to details more often than usual and writing A TON, I realized I’ve felt this way before. The desire to sing and dance. The reassuring voices in my head. The smiling. The high volume of writing.

I’ve felt it on Firefly retreats. Firefly clearly knew how to take care of the artist inside of me before I did. In gratitude for Firefly’s sweet love, I decided to dedicate the rest of my Week Two post as a love letter to them.

Dear Firefly,

This is nothing short of a love letter. Learning of your existence was one of the most romantic things that has ever happened to me. I wished for a community of writers and then my fairy godmother must have waved her magic fountain pen and took me through the Facebook labyrinth that landed me on your webpage. It is no exaggeration to say that I cried as I read through it. (Okay, I cry a lot – but still.)

You were just shy of playing hard to get. Workshops and retreats seemed to fill up just before I registered. This didn’t really discourage me. It meant that there were a whole bunch of people like me out there looking for similar experiences and support.

(A few full classes and retreats weren’t going to deter me – I’m a three time veteran of child camp and swim registration.)

You sent me letters that touched my heart by being genuine, earnest and loving writing as a craft.

On my way to my first retreat, last May, I felt butterflies in my stomach. A whole weekend of writing. A whole weekend with writers. It was like a first date with someone that I was already in love with. That night, the warm glow of the sun setting behind us and the lovely sweetness of the women around the table gave me the freedom to be creative and passionate. It’s such a nurturing experience: beautiful surroundings; delicious, nourishing food; opportunities to write that are low barrier and reassuring.

I believe that creativity emerges when people feel safe and inspired. That is how I feel in Firefly spaces – safe and inspired.

Thank you for teaching me some of my best conditions for writing: pastoral settings, delicious food, beginnings, openness and lots of encouragement.

You are everything I could have dreamed of and more.

Love,

Nicole

 

The Journey from “I can’t!” to “I haven’t…yet”

Taking time to write every day about ANYTHING AT ALL is nothing short of magical for me. By magical, I mean transformative and by transformative, I mean that my thinking transforms. As a mindset coach, thinking transformation is my bread and butter, so I get really excited when it happens. The thing about doing Artist’s Way activities is that they are done alone, by design, to protect my ‘fragile’ artist against outside noise and influence. This means that when I get excited about how my thinking is changing, I’m left to cheer very quietly (since when I write my Morning Pages everyone in the house, including our dog is sleeping). Or not EVEN quiet cheering, since some of the transformative work happened on public transit. I wonder what would happen if I started some celebratory dancing and singing at the bus stop or on the subway. Stay tuned – who knows what will happen in the coming weeks, particularly since I am FULLY embracing the mindset of “I haven’t…yet.”.

I believe the whole structure of The Artist’s Way program is to encourage and develop this very thinking – a sense of my own potential and possibility. The very act of writing three pages about ANYTHING AT ALL each morning, is the foundation of this orientation. Each morning when I sit down to write, I have no idea what I will write. Then I just write whatever is on my mind. (For those who have engaged in conversations with me, you know that there’s plenty.) Writing in this way, just for myself, for no one else to read EVER, is incredibly liberating. I’m liberated from the worries of what others might think about me. Or whether my ideas are ‘good enough’ or if what I’m writing is interesting to anyone else.  All those concerns are off the table, because this writing is just for me. I have practiced this every day for the past week. It takes about thirty minutes each day to write three pages – so that makes 210 minutes (3.5 hours) and 21 pages of writing and not worrying about what anyone else is thinking about my writing (except what I’m thinking about my writing). Reading the numbers gives me an amazing feeling of pride. Morning pages are definitely the gift that keeps on giving.

In addition to my Morning Pages, I picked several of the activities that are listed for Week One. I listed some “old enemies” of my creative self-worth. The activity encourages three – I came up with two. I’ve had trouble with this activity the last two times I’ve done the Artist’s Way program. I couldn’t remember anyone, besides myself, as hindering my creative self-worth. This time, I thought of two. They didn’t have anything to do with writing, they both had impacted my creative self-worth when I was singing. When I started thinking about both experiences, I realized how much I think about singing as a fixed talent. This was interesting for me to discover, because I’m not aware of many areas I think about as fixed. I orient towards believing that everything is matter of practice and learning. But, not singing. Not for me. Until now. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out and get singing lessons. It DOES mean that I now believe that if (when??) I do take singing lessons that my singing will become better. I cannot express how transformational this is for me. It shifts over three decades worth of belief. I’m so excited about it that I’m taking a short break from writing to do a celebratory dance.

Alright, I’m back from dancing. Even though I know that writing regularly has this tremendous impact on how I feel – about myself AND the world, I am always amazed at the actual feelings when they come up.  This is very motivating for making time in this very busy upcoming week for more Artist’s Way activities. Tune in next week for what Week 3 brings.

Writers Write

Writing is one of the hardest and one of the most joyous activities for me. If you relate, this blog is for you.

Sometimes, the words just flow out of me – fiction, website content, sales and marketing materials, journal entries and all the writing that I do that I can’t even think of right now. Other times, each word that comes to my mind feels ‘wrong’. Really, what it feels is unworthy, not good enough for the page or the prospective reader. I’m not sure what all the factors are that contribute to the joyful flow writing – although I know they include rest, playfulness, and a clear sense of purpose. I’m also not sure what all the factors are that activate my mean, critical voice – although I know they include fatigue and loneliness.

What I know for sure is that I want to write. I want to write A LOT. Novels, articles, non-fiction books about motivation, Jewish practice, parenting and who knows what else. I know that sometimes the joy from writing stands alone – the joy is the pure result from putting pen to paper or tapping away on my keyboard and watching my thoughts appear in front of me. I also know that sometimes the joy follows the struggle, that, in fact, persevering through struggle is one of the birthplaces of joy.

I am a writer

I have been writing for the past year more than I ever have in my whole life. I have written for work, for pleasure, for therapy, for friendship and relationship building. The more I write, the more I want to write. There is something truly delicious to me about the pairing of the words ‘writers write’. I write because I am writer. I write because I want to grow as a writer. More and more, I write because I feel compelled to put words around my ideas and then share them with the world.

I am writing a ton to build my mindset coaching business – articles, website content, marketing materials, workshop curriculum, and more. This kind of writing has me putting on a philosopher hat and then exchanging it for a teaching hat, then a student’s hat, then a mother’s hat and then an advocate’s hat. It’s like being Bartholomew Cubbins in one of my favourite stories by Dr. Seuss.

None of this writing is fictional (at least not intentionally…). The fictional works that I’ve started in the past year feel like books that I’ve begun to read and put down, but whose stories haunt me. I want to know what happens. I want to know the characters better. I want to feel what they feel, taste what they taste.

So. Despite the fact that I’m in the process of building my business. And despite the fact that I’m in the process of ending my marriage, which also means selling my house and moving. Despite the fact that I have three children who I want to pay attention to and spend time together. Despite the fact that I have A LOT GOING ON, I have decided to also focus on writing fiction. Writers write.

Writers write and planners plan.  I am a dedicated planner, goal setter, motivation generator. Here’s my plan: I’m going to follow Julia Cameron’s Artist Way’s program for the next 12 weeks. I started this morning. Want to join me? Want to cheer me on? I would love either! I’m going to check in, through my blog, weekly and let you know how it’s going, what I’ve been doing and how following the Artist’s Way program is impacting my writing. I have followed this program twice before, both times to the 6 week point, and both times have been astonished with how much writing three pages every morning, making time for a 2 hour “Artist Date” each week as well as following the various weekly assignments have impacted how I think about myself – both as a writer and as a person.

Artist's Way

The Artist’s Dates set the stage for turning off my phone for Shabbat (if I can do it for 2 hours, why not 25?)

The Morning Pages helped me find my writing voice and got me in the habit of writing daily.

The Affirmations demolished the pervasive thought “I have nothing to write about”.

I’m so excited about what is to come in the next twelve weeks. The beauty of growth and change for me is that I don’t always know what’s coming, but I know that it will be wonderful. Literally – full of wonder – of what I can offer to the world and what the world is offering to me.

Tune in next week for the second instalment.

Jerusalem. Kensington Market. High Holy Days. Do you feel the connection too?

Kensington Market. Jerusalem. High Holy Days. They all evoke similar feelings in me. Is that the weirdest thing? It actually seemed like the most natural thing as I walked through Kensington last Sunday.

The Sesame Street song, “One of these things just doesn’t belong here” just began playing in my head – reminding me that the High Holy Days are NOT a place – so they don’t belong in a grouping with Jerusalem and Kensington Market. But the thing is that all three are a magnet and a conductor for me. Regardless of their physical (and non-physical) properties.

It’s pretty bold, I know, for someone who hasn’t taken physics since Grade 10 Science (which I don’t remember doing so very well in) to throw around terms like ‘magnet’ and ‘conductor’. I mean that when I walk through Kensington, Jerusalem and the High Holy Days I feel like a magnet for excited feelings of belonging and that they feel so electric that I radiate them out like sparks.

Kensington

When I walk through Kensington I feel a sense of electricity. Not the shocking kind. The kind where I feel particularly alert and awake. I love how everything looks – stores, streets and people. It feels old world and one of the best versions of our current world that I know. I sat at the front of Jimmy’s Coffee on Baldwin, enjoying very yummy coffee and closed my eyes and imagined (with little effort) what it might have looked like out that window a hundred years ago. I imagined Jews who looked like a picture of that I have of my great grandparents and our cousins that was taken when my great grandmother was pregnant with my grandmother Bernie. My Jewish family was in New Jersey and New York in the 1920s, not in Kensington Market – but in my imagination it all bonds together. As I sat and imagined, I felt the emotions wash over me – I missed my grandmother and wanted to be there with her. I wondered if others feel the same in Kensington. I felt like a citizen of the world and a citizen of time. I felt like a Jew. I felt like I belonged.

Jerusalem is the same for me. When I walked the streets of Jerusalem – old and new – I felt many moments in time converging in one as I looked around and felt a sense of wonder, awe and being grounded – all at the same time. Even as I sit typing this in my living room, I only need to close my eyes to feel the cool Jerusalem stone pressing against my forehead as I leaned into the Wall and felt connected to all the people who were around me and came before me. They felt related to me – in body and also in some other way that I don’t yet have words for. When I walked the streets of Jerusalem, I loved the sound of Hebrew, Arabic, English and languages I didn’t recognize. I felt like a citizen of the world and a citizen of time. I felt like a Jew. I felt like I belonged.

img_0077

When I was growing up, I don’t remember thinking about myself as Jewish every day. But, I do remember thinking about myself as Jewish when the Holidays would arrive each fall. For starters, I needed to be Jewish to miss school. Then, there was the shared Jewish experience that my few Jewish friends and I would compare notes on when we returned to school. Mostly about fasting. (Sorry to my rabbi friends – we weren’t talking about the sermons.) That was the beginning of linking feeling Jewish to this time of year.

Rosh Hashanah

In August, when I heard the words and melody of Achat Shaalti (Psalm 27:4), I felt something stir inside of me. Like my sensations in Kensington and Jerusalem, it is a feeling of standing in time and having a torrent of what has come before and what lies in front of me awaken within me. It is a feeling that I also associate with Avinu Malkeinu and many moments of standing together through the Holidays. I think about my family who have come before me and said the same words. I think about the people all over the world swaying in unison. I feel like a citizen of the world and a citizen of the world. I feel like a Jew. I feel like I belong.

Magnets. Conductors. Sparks. I know it couldn’t be ‘punnier’, but these words all send feelings of electricity up and down my body. I think that’s what belonging does. Makes me feel awake and excited. The more I seek and become aware of feeling like this, the more I want it. It’s returning and looking forward at the same time.  Mental and physical pilgrimages.

I look forward to seeing you all: in Kensington. In Jerusalem. At Kol Ami for High Holy Days – or wherever we meet next on our pilgrimages : )

 

 

Returning to the Places That Feel Good (This is not a Sex Guide)

I understand that the title implies a sexual satisfaction guide (or maybe that I think it does says more about me…).  Whatever the case – if that’s what you’re looking for, I highly recommend Come as You Are or approaching someone who regularly glows and looks pretty satisfied and ask them their secret.

This is not a sex guide. It’s a High Holy Day activity guide.

Different, right?

It’s a little early for this post.  Shabbat Shuvah – the Shabbat for return, is the Shabbat that falls in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the truth is that I have come to think of the entire high holy day time of a time of return, beginning with Selichot – which begins this coming Saturday. (I would be a poor member of Kol Ami, if I didn’t take this moment to promote our Selichot program next Saturday: we will have a discussion with Dr. Les Greenberg and Rabbi Streiffer about the Psychology of Forgiveness – everyone and anyone is welcome).

The idea (that I have taken) is that this is a time of year when I think about ‘returning’ to my best self. The self that shines when I shed fear and guilt and uncover the part of me that I want to bring to the people around me and the world at large. The mental work that I have embraced in previous years at this time is to begin reflecting on my actions, aspirations and what might be getting in the way for me of forgiveness (for myself and others). I’ll do this work again this year. It’s like Fall cleaning for the mind and soul – and who am I kidding – also my body, since I feel ALL of these things in my stomach and head.

This year, I’m also going to take on a new practice.  I’m going to think about the places where I feel good.  Not just good, actually – REALLY good.  These are places where I feel engaged and loved. These are places when time passes quickly and deliciously. Places where my heart sings or my mind quickens. These are places where I feel warm and alive from my head to toe. These are the places I want to keep returning to, every day, when possible. Thus, I’m going to start making sure that I do.

Can you imagine what the world could be like this year if we all, deliberately and regularly returned to these places? I can, and it’s the world I want to help build and live in.

Here’s my list:

Writing – any time, any place

Talking to my kids about what they’re learning and/or what they’re thinking about

Walking my dog Lily in Pomona Mills

Hot Yoga classes at Thornhill Moksha

Yin classes at Thornhill Moksha

Torah Study at Kol Ami

Shabbat and Holiday services at Kol Ami

Reading books that make me sigh with delight and awe

Looking at the sky and imagining what shapes the clouds are making (preferably with my youngest daughter)

Reading psychology research literature (that’s right, I’m pretty weird)

Walking through the old cemetery near my house

Walking downtown

Making amazing food

Eating amazing food

Wishing strangers Shabbat Shalom when we pass on the street or meet at stores on Friday afternoon (this always makes me cry. Always)

Asking, “How can I help?”

This is my ‘return destination’ list. I’m going to deliberately and regularly put these activities into my days each week. I want to keep returning to the places I feel good – for me and for you.

If you’re inspired, please share your list below. This time of year is a reminder that we’re more likely to do what we need for ourselves and others if we do them together.

Looking forward to returning to these places with all of you xoxo

Writing through my Tears

It is no secret (even to many strangers) that I cry easily and often. I cry on subways and buses – sometimes in reaction to what I’m reading, other times because someone does something nice or I do something nice, sometimes I’m simply thinking crying kinda thoughts.  That’s why the following exchange will be no surprise to anyone.

Last week, I was telling my yoga instructor about my upcoming (and now past) writer’s retreat and she asked, “Are you a writer?”.  I responded haltingly, “Well, I write…” and then with strength, “I AM a writer.” The last words came out with a sob and a bunch of tears.

I am frequently a teary writer, that’s for sure. Which, makes sense, since I am frequently a teary person.

The Firefly writing retreat I attended this past weekend, was no exception. I wrote a ton. I cried a ton.  Frequently at the same time. I did some of the most satisfying writing of my life, including giving birth to a story about biblical Miriam. I wrote poetry. I journaled A LOT. In between, I ate really yummy food and had warm and fascinating conversations with the other retreat attendees.

Firefly Retreat

I feel full of thoughts and emotions from the experience – almost like a closet packed with so many items that if you pry one piece loose, the whole thing is likely to come tumbling down. I’m not sure what to pry loose first, I just knew that I felt compelled to post a little bit about the experience.

For anyone who read my post after the last retreat, you might be interested to know that I returned to the labyrinth that had been so fruitful for my thoughts and self during the retreat in May. It felt like an old, sweet friend. I knew it in a way I hadn’t before.

Labyrinth2

The turns were familiar. I had a clearer sense of where I was going and where I had been. Once again, it yielded nourishing, life changing thinking.

Here is the poem that it inspired:

The Labyrinth is Wholeness

I stand at the entrance

Tall

Ready to move, advance

Compelled to pause

And search

For the sacred

In my body

In the trees

In the centre of the labyrinth

 

The centre beckons to me

Its small pile of stones

Including my own.

The promise of feeling intensely

 

Before I slip forward

The words of the Sh’ma enter my mind

My psyche

The melody and the ancient words

Emerge unbidden

But not unwelcome

 

The labyrinth is wholeness

It is beginning, centre and end.

It is the metaphor for all experiences

And thoughts.

 

I feel my wholeness waiting for me

As I stand poised
Ready to enter

Ready.

Thanks for reading!  I love that people read my blog.

How Brene Brown Fuels my Shabbat Observance

Brene Brown and Shabbat are not an obvious pairing at first glance. She’s not Jewish and while I have gleaned from her writing that she is part of a church community, I have not read much religious content in her writing.  For those who aren’t familiar: a lot of Brene Brown’s writing and research focuses on shame, vulnerability and courage.  What on earth does that have to do with observing Shabbat?  A reasonable question.

The answer is everything.  At least for me.

I’ll explain, but first we’re going to time travel briefly.  We’re going back four years.  Almost exactly, four years this week as it turns out. This is a complete coincidence, but I love it all the same. Four years ago, I was taking the Coach the Coach course with Kim Ades at Frame of Mind Coaching.  Part of the structure of the course was that the participants alternated coaching each other. It was my good fortune to be coached by Amy Scupham, who said two of the most important things in my life to me. She observed that I am hard on myself (who knew? I thought I was being constructively critical) and she asked me if I knew Brene Brown. I didn’t. Amy referred me to Brene Brown’s Power of Vulnerability audio series. And forever changed me.

Here is the most important message that Brene Brown sent me:

“You are enough”

I still cry when I write it.  I cry half the time when I even think it.  Saying it aloud is likely to come with a little bit of a sob. Turns out this is core stuff.  Who knew? Not me.

But, it makes sense. Thinking “I am enough” is counter to many, many other thoughts. I am often thinking that I need to work harder, try harder, be more present for my kids, go out for more runs, go to more yoga classes, meditate more, write more, earn more money, volunteer more, give more money, be a better friend, a more caring daughter, sister…I could go on, but you get the idea.

“You are enough” gets at all these thoughts.  It doesn’t dissolve them or even counter them. It provides an alternative.

I am enough.

The more I say it and write it, the more likely I am to think it when those other shame inducing, anxiety provoking thoughts arise. It beckons me to an alternative thinking path. This path is one where I contemplate what I bring to the world. I contemplate my flaws and see them as ways to connect me to other people. I feel gentler, kinder and actually, much more motivated towards action than I feel when I’m hammering myself for not being more.

So, what does this have to do with Shabbat?

Everything.

When I light the candles on Friday night, I acknowledge that the week is done. I begin a period of time when I am committed to ceasing work. For me this means choosing solely to do what I want to do versus what I ‘should’ do. I don’t build my business. I don’t run errands. I don’t look at the time very much. I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. I often have a beautiful dinner with my family. I often go to services and spend time with my Kol Ami community. I regularly attend Torah study on Saturday morning followed by services. I write. I walk the dog. I spend time with family and friends. I explore. It is nourishing, sweet time.

It is predicated on the notion that I am enough.

Because I am enough, I can think about what I want to do. I can add rather than feel like I am behind and can’t spare the time.

Because I am enough, I can cease all building and bolstering activities for a day and practice simply enjoying and appreciating.

I love it. It feels amazing and gets richer all the time. I turn off my phone. I walk even more than I do the rest of the week. I slow my pace and focus on the world around me. Fueled all the time by the thought that, “I am enough”.

I’m not sure if people who were observing Shabbat thousands of years ago were driven by similar thoughts – but they might have been. Giving ourselves rest is grounded in the belief that we can ‘afford’ the rest. That we have done enough work for the week.  It’s not grounded in the belief that all the work is done for all time and that all the goals have been met. It is the idea that whatever was done, that it was enough for this week. It’s enough.

If you haven’t already, check out the Power of Vulnerability. I challenge you not to cry. Don’t worry – it’s human. That’s one of the things that I have learned from Brene Brown AND from my Shabbat observance. These are human things that I’m feeling: vulnerability, a sense of inadequacy, the fear of not accomplishing all that I ‘should’ have. At the same time, it seems to be human to benefit so hugely from resting. It seems human to benefit from practicing thinking that I am enough.  I’m pretty sure that Jews have understood that for thousands of years. I’m so grateful that Brene Brown understood it in my lifetime and combined courage and curiosity to deliver the message to me so ably.

I am enough.

 

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