Gratitude is the Attitude

Woman in gratitude

There are days when life feels like more of a struggle. When I’m tired and stressed, or sick, or an event has shaken me, my path seems more difficult.

At those times, it’s very tempting to compare my circumstances with other people’s. When I do that, my inner dragon—that negative inner voice—looks for a way that I (or someone close to me) have fallen short.

Woman standing on large map

I should be there by now!

The theme of my inner dragon is that I “should be” further along—in my writing, in my business, in my painting, in my life.

It’s a painful distraction from what I’m afraid might be even more painful: deeper inner assessment, and facing the action I need to take next.

Thankfully, sometimes my inner guide—that wise inner voice—injects compassion. Ironically, it’s empathy that allows me to look dispassionately at the harder stuff, and it’s usually not as bad as I was afraid it would be.

Self-compassion allows me to see that the “shoulds”—real or imagined—are in the past. Now, they’re simply knowledge that helps me take the next step. If I need to do something differently, I re-prioritize and get back to my creative practice.

When outer circumstances hinder my progress, self-compassion allows me to acknowledge that I don’t have control, so I can let go of the struggle. I know I will get back to my practice when I’m able.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

But what do you do when it’s not easy?

What do you do when your inner guide is on vacation?

Woman writing on pad of paper

I should have done…

When my inner guide is under a beach umbrella reading a good book, my inner dragon goes through a list of things that I “should” have done differently. To make it worse, I usually mingle that list with things that I think other people “should” have done differently.

Ugh! It’s kind of like an obsessive tape (record, DVD, MP3) playing in my mind.

When my fire-breathing inner dragon is scorching my soul, I try to remember to stop, drop, and roll.

Stop Obsessing

Stop the negative tape! If you keep going over the same thoughts again and again, you won’t get anywhere.

Needless struggle—focusing on the negative and worrying about the future—is a waste of your spirit. It ties up your energy in what you don’t want to happen. And it keeps you from discovering deeper insight into the situation.

Life is not about being “better” (or “worse”) than someone else; it’s about being who you are. It’s about accepting that life is a journey, that spiritual growth involves trying and failing, over and over, until you succeed.

And then you start the process all over again with something else.

Drop the Drama

Drama—unnecessary guilt or blame—does nothing to help the situation. You may have no outward control, but you are always free to choose your inner response.

Energy is the currency of the spirit. It allows us to create in this world. You are creating all the time, whether you realize it or not. Whatever result you want in the outer world needs to happen inwardly first.

If you focus your energy on struggle, or worry, or how things are not going your way, what are you creating? What do you want  to create?

Just as the energy of the sun helps bring forth a tree from an acorn, your energy helps you create an outcome, through the focus of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Your values and beliefs are the energy behind your efforts. Listen to your deeper values.

Roll with It

Let go of your attachment to the immediate outcome. Of course, you care, but worrying about it keeps you stuck. It ties up your energy and focus.

Stay open and curious. Consider that there are bigger forces at work.

When you step back to look at the larger picture, it helps you see the context. Sometimes, there’s a difference between what you want  to happen, and what needs  to happen for your growth.

You are on a journey, with lots of twists and turns. Some events seem like setbacks at first, but in retrospect, you realize they were essential.

Practice Gratitude

When all else fails, call your inner guide—and your compassion—home by practicing gratitude.

You have real blessings in your life. When you take the time to notice and appreciate them, your heart softens. And when your heart is less constricted, your mind is free to see what’s possible.

Woman grateful

When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, gratitude is the attitude to set you free.

What are you grateful for?

What Matters to You?

Little girl offering red fuzzy heart

Last weekend, I attended Rick Tamlyn’s “Play Your Bigger Game” retreat.

“Bigger” is all about finding and doing your good work in the world.

“Game” refers to the tool.

You’re always on the “playing board,” and you can choose which step to take next—without beating yourself up about where you happen to be at the moment. Once you learn it, you never have to be “stuck” again.

I can’t wait to use this tool with my clients!

My husband came to the retreat with me. This morning, as we were discussing the retreat—and the grounded soul of someone he feels called to work with—things about my own work clicked into place for me.

Compassion is a way of deeply seeing

I’ve always tried to reflect back their beauty and worth to others, and encourage them to live the lives that are most meaningful to them.

I try to look at others through the lens of what I imagine God looks through. When I choose that perspective—often unconsciously—I see  the person I’m engaging with. Judgment may not completely fall away, but compassion reveals their inner light.

Each of us is unique. Yet each of us has more in common with everyone else than we realize. That’s why sharing our gifts is so powerful. It’s both distinctive—adding perspective—and connecting—creating a bridge between your perspective and mine.

We all want and need connection

Elephants with trunks intertwined

Creativity is an important way to connect with others. It opens a window between the worlds of the creator and the appreciator.

When I look at the sunflowers carved into my favorite mug, I see the movement of the potter’s hands baked into clay. There’s a little bit of soul in that mug.

When I read an essay by a writer who struggled through her own doubts and trials, who distilled her wisdom into clear, strong words, I see new possibilities.

In both experiences—looking at my mug and reading an essay—I am enriched.

Listen! I can’t say this enough.

You have a purpose and meaning in this world. Share it. Connect. Be real. We need you!

There are many ways to love the world. What is yours?

Check out the Bigger Game
and Rick’s book, Play Your Bigger Game.

When Hope Evaporates

Man sitting on end of pier at dusk

I’m working on a novel. I’m also building my business. (And learning how to teach yoga.) I’m pretty busy. Each week, I post my progress on the novel in my Facebook group. Making that commitment to post what I’ve done is a key part of what keeps me going.

A couple days this past week, something else demanded my attention. It grabbed me by the ankles and pulled me under.

Sad woman

It told me everything was hopeless.

There are different names for that voice—inner critic, saboteur, depression.

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke called it “cloud shadows.”

Sometimes, I can easily refute that voice, and it goes away. Other times, I distract myself and the voice recedes.

But this time, neither strategy worked. It was like having the flu—I felt helpless to do anything but suffer, and wait for it to pass.

When hope evaporates, I know I have to listen more closely to what’s beneath that voice. The purpose of this particular pain is to wake me up to deeper meaning. Something important needs my attention, something that I need to feel, act on, or express.

But first, I have to face it. Facing what I don’t want to acknowledge gives me something to push against. It helps me build up the necessary psychic muscle to be with what is waking me up.

Happy woman

I see it as a necessary part of the journey to living deliberately, consciously, and authentically.

Thankfully, compassion for myself always (eventually!) brings me back to a more balanced place.

From there, I can stand on my tiptoes, peek around the corner, and face what has been calling to me. To know it more deeply. To understand what it wants me to do.

If you struggle with self-doubt, if you worry that it’s too late to make a difference with your life or your art, I offer this quote from Rilke. You are not alone, and there is a purpose to all you do and experience—even in suffering:

How should we be able to forget those ancient myths
that are at the beginning of all peoples,
the myths about dragons that
at the last moment turn into princesses;
perhaps all the dragons of our lives
are princesses who are only waiting to
see us once, beautiful and brave.
Perhaps everything terrible is in
its deepest being something
that needs our love.

So you must not be frightened
if a sadness rises up before you
larger than any you have ever seen;
if a restiveness, like light and cloud shadows,
passes over your hands and over all you do.
You must think that something is happening with you,
that life has not forgotten you,
that it holds you in its hand;
it will not let you fall.
Why do you want to shut out of your life
any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions?
For after all, you do not know
what work these conditions are doing inside you.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

What do you see when you turn the corner from despair to understanding?

What, deep inside yourself, wants your love and attention?

What wants to live and be expressed?

How does it show up in your art or in your writing?

Make a Compassionate Commitment to Your Art

Woman writing on desk with flowers

In September of last year, I began a class to train as a yoga teacher. My goals are to get stronger and healthier, and to lose weight. And I want to be able to offer morning yoga classes at my creativity retreats.

My intention was to attend yoga class five times a week. But, as happens, life has intervened the last few months (the holidays, a deadline, an injury).

Each time something keeps me from my yoga practice, and I take that next yoga class after a couple weeks without practicing, there’s a little voice that tempts me to give up.

I’m very familiar with that voice from my creative life. It’s my impatient saboteur. What does it care about? “Being there” already!

Woman jumping


Sometimes, my saboteur whines about all the time, space, and effort between the excitement of starting something new, and reaching the goal—“Nirvana!”

Buddha statue with flowers



Because doing the work involves routine. (You know, that regular focused action that moves you forward, but can also suck the life out of inspiration.)

Creative people have a love-hate relationship with routine. Too much, and it’s stifling. Too little, and we drift.

So what’s a creative soul to do?

In the past, when faced with setbacks and roadblocks in my creative pursuits, I might have given up, telling myself I was putting it off until a “better” time. But my experience being coached—and coaching others—has taught me a lot about that sneaky saboteur:

She’s wrong. There is no better time. Now is the time.

Although I can’t eliminate my inner saboteur’s voice, I can out-smart her. And so can you—by making a compassionate commitment  to your art.

Practicing both compassion and commitment is a balance between soft and hard, yin and yang, being and doing. Too much of one and too little of the other, and either you don’t accomplish much, or you force yourself to meet a goal, losing a little soul along the way.

It’s normal  to get in slumps, or fail to follow through, now and then. Stop judging yourself for being like the rest of the human race. Instead, choose to treat yourself with compassion.

Many sensitive people struggle with being kind to themselves. If you are one of those dear souls, ask yourself this:

Would you treat a friend the way you treat yourself when you make a mistake, or don’t follow through?

If the answer is “no,” then why is it okay to treat yourself that way? It isn’t. (And all it does is make things worse.)

The beauty of practicing compassion is that, over time, practice can lead to proficiency. Like my yoga classes, it builds up muscle. It gets easier to brush that saboteur out of the way and be kind to yourself.

However, if you’re not getting anywhere, you also need to be honest with yourself about whether you are committed to your goal. That means seeing clearly without being judgmental  (remember the compassion part?).

Making a real commitment to your project, and to yourself, is key. It’s much harder to maneuver out of something when you make a commitment.

So say it out loud to someone—your accountability partner, perhaps.

Tell your supportive friends.

Small hands holding paper heart

Your commitment to yourself
is sacred.

Be true to yourself. Don’t hedge, downplay, or apologize. Use the word “commitment.” Because that’s what it is, and your commitment to yourself is just as sacred as your commitment to someone else.

Let me repeat that. Your commitment to yourself is just as sacred as your commitment to someone else.

Remember my yoga practice? Each time I go to a yoga class, I’m a little stronger. I’ve made a compassionate commitment to my health, and I’m getting there, two steps forward and one step back at a time.

Where Are You Now?

You have dreams and goals. You want to open a little gift shop near the beach. Or you want to travel around the world. Or write a novel, or retire early, or lose weight. So how do you get from here to there? It may seem obvious, but you need to start with being clear about where you are now.

Signpost pointing in multiple directions

After all, how do you know how to get to Timbuktu, or even to the new restaurant downtown, if you haven’t first oriented yourself?

It’s the same for other goals, too. But if it’s that simple, why can it be so difficult? Why do we put it off, or make half-hearted attempts at change only to fall back into a stuck place? Why don’t we want to take stock of where we are to help ourselves move forward effectively?

There are many reasons we come up with, and some of them are valid. But the anxiety underneath is often the fear of facing real grief over our lost opportunities and personal failures.

It’s as if we have an inner ogre that tallies up every single mistake we’ve ever made, and taunts us as we move toward our authentic lives.

Stone gargoyle sculpture

Scary stone gargoyle looking way too pleased with himself

If you get on the scale to gauge how much weight you want to lose, the inner ogre taunts you about being heavier than you were the last time you dieted. So you avoid it.

When you start to write a novel, your inner critic bombards you with “what’s wrong” with your writing. (And, “who cares what you have to say, anyway?”) So you end up revising the first chapter until it looks nothing like what you originally intended, and you lose the mojo you had for writing it in the first place. Another “failed” novel goes in the file drawer.

Anyone who’s struggled to fulfill a creative dream—and all dreams are in some way creative—or set personal goals that are never quite met, knows what it’s like to hear those voices.

But here’s the thing: your fear and grief are not going away, even if you avoid them. And staying stuck will only add to the psychic weight of regret.

The mistakes you’ve made, the failures you’ve experienced, and the losses that grip your heart whenever you think of them, have a real impact on your life and others, to be sure. But they’re not who you are.

You are a creative spirit who can interact with your environment, make grounded choices, and live your life in alignment with your deepest values.

You can navigate your life from the core of who you are—where your wisdom resides. And it’s always there. You just have to remember to listen to it, despite the voice of the ogre.

Hands holding a heart

Wherever you are in your journey, remember to be compassionate with yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat a dear friend.

When you take stock of where you are now compared to an (as yet) unfulfilled dream or goal, what do you realize about the path you need to take to reach it?