Navigating the Dark Places

One afternoon, you’re “walking along,” having an average day. Whether you’re content or not, you’re at least somewhat comfortable, because you’re following a routine. The structure of predictability feels safe.

Woman's feet hiking on a trail

Then, something profound happens.

Someone you love dies. You lose your job, or begin a new one. You get divorced, or you marry. You have a child. Or you develop a health issue.

Regardless of whether what happens is positive or negative, you experience an inner shift.

You become conscious of something new—or see something old in a new way—and it doesn’t fit neatly into your view of the world.

Or your role in the world changes, and you no longer quite fit in the life you’ve been living.

The old routines don’t keep you steady anymore. The signposts on your map disappear, and you stumble off the path. Then, a hand reaches up through the earth and pulls you into the underworld.

You wander around in the dark, overwhelmed and feeling lost. You fear you will never find your way home.

Mythical Phoenix bird of fire

This is exactly where you need to be.

This is where magic lives. A part of your consciousness is going through a real death and rebirth. You’re preparing to rise like the Phoenix, and this is sacred work.

Metaphors—like the myth of the Phoenix—are a kind of magic. They communicate through story, a process so deep that it can be difficult to describe and express directly.

The underworld, like the soil, is a dark, rich place of decay, death, and growth. It needs water (tears) and light (consciousness) to bring forth something new: an insight, a new perspective, a piece of art.

Soil cross-section with plant roots

Creativity is an essential part of life. It’s a core way we learn to navigate the dark places, and grow as a result. Sometimes, writing a poem is the only way to make sense of an experience. Combining images in a collage can create an aesthetic whole, out of fragmented pieces of life.

This is how we express the depth of being human. And we need this from one another.

When we bring our experiences and insights back to the community, we are like creative shamans, bringing healing to others through art.

If you have something to say—and you do—we need to hear it. We are your community. Experiencing your journey gives us hope. It helps us see we are all on our own journeys, and we are not alone.

Becoming an Artist

It’s easy for me to feel frustrated at the gap between my vision of what I want to express, and a finished piece of writing. With painting, too, I have an idea, and then realize half-way through what I needed to do differently.

But on the other hand, the surprise of how a short story or painting ends up is interesting to me, and it’s how I learn.

And often, my “mistakes” teach me something I wasn’t looking for, but needed to know. They can even make the story or painting better than I originally imagined!

To me, making art is focused play, between the person and the media she’s using.

I like Willa Cather’s quote below, because creating is a process of becoming. I’d say that is true of any part of a person’s life, where he is growing. But just because it’s a kind of play doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult work.

Every artist makes himself born. It is very much harder than the other time, and longer. - Willa Cather

So if you’re feeling frustrated that it’s taking too long to get where you want to be—be gentle with yourself. Just as you’re bringing something new and unique into the world, you are doing the same with your creative life.

It’s almost a brand-new year.

You’re here for a reason.

What do you want to bring into this world in 2016?

The Day I Knew I Could Lose Everything

English Setter dog

I’m not sure of the typical age of a child, when he or she first understands the concept of loss. I remember being very, very young when our English Setter died.

No one told me anything, either because they thought I was too young to understand, or they weren’t sure how to tell me. Probably a little of both.

I remember thinking about her, and looking for her. But when I couldn’t find her, I assumed she must be in another room. I thought I kept missing her, somehow, even though I knew something wasn’t right.

I was so young that I would wonder about her, then get distracted by whatever was in front of me, and forget to ask. That went on for a couple days. When I finally remembered to ask my mom about her, she said, “She died.”

I understood, sort of, what death was, and I went to my room, laid on my bed, and cried. Then I think I got up and played. I was so young that I was only semi-conscious about what happened.

It was a few years later, when I was around kindergarten age, that I was first struck by the consciousness of loss—and having no control.

Whenever I’ve had strong insights, or made decisions that were important to me, I have clear memories of where I was at the time. As a small child, most of those moments—the ones I’ve held onto, anyway—happened when I was in the back yard, by myself.

Maple leaves

While my brothers were at school, I had mornings and early afternoons to play. One day, I remember walking out back, the sky blue, the maple tree full of green leaves.

I’ve always felt strongly connected to something bigger than myself, and when I’m aware of it, I feel “plugged in.” That’s exactly how I felt that moment, looking at the tree and the sky, in love with the world.

My mind went from thinking about how much I loved the world, to the people I loved: my parents, my brothers, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

And that’s when it hit me: I would lose them someday.

Then my thoughts went to everything I could lose, and everything anyone could lose: people they loved, their jobs, their money, their homes, their possessions, their health, their lives.

And that’s when I became fully conscious that things would happen in life—things that I didn’t want to happen—that I had no control of.

It scared me.

I remember standing still, trying to think of one thing—any thing—that I had control of. And what came to me was my character. How I treated other people. My honesty. Being true to my word. Trying my best to be a good person. Being true to myself.

White stone among black stones

I knew that everything else would fall away, eventually, even this shell I inhabit.

Looking at behavior and decisions, from the perspective of how they affect my character, became my guiding philosophy. It hasn’t changed to this day, although it’s expanded and deepened some.

What we take with us is who we have chosen to become.

We affect the world, profoundly, by who we are.

Each of us has something to give, and by being conscious, authentic, and taking responsibility for our lives, we can help others do the same. We can inspire them, give them courage, make them laugh, help them forgive themselves.

Creativity, whether profound or irreverent, is such a gift.

Every day on Facebook, I share posts of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, because of how they make me feel. He saw the movement behind things, in colors that almost make me swoon. What if he had never painted?

Recently, I re-read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. That book changed my life, because it was the first work of fiction that described life the way I experienced it. Woolf was highly sensitive and intuitive, and to read something created by a mind that I had such an affinity with, was an amazing gift to me. What if she had never written?

Be true to your creative gifts. Who you become—what you learn and how you grow when you create something—matters as much as the piece of art, or writing, or music you leave behind.

Are Your “Shoulds” Sabotaging You?

Creative people are gifted rebels. We see things differently and we do things in our own way. This gets us into trouble, thank goodness! What’s life, if it’s just living the status quo? It’s not enough for us!

Woman holding a guitar

Some of you may be quiet rebels, living your truth without making a lot of waves. Others are shouting who you are from the rooftops.

Rebellious little girl

So sometimes, when you make your own to-do lists and tell yourself you “should” do something, guess what? Your inner kindergartener says, “you’re not the boss of me.”

Why? Because it feels more like a chore than your deep, inspired passion.

So you procrastinate. Or distract yourself. Or mope. You feed your inner critic bonbons. And you don’t finish what you actually want to complete.

Don’t get me wrong. I know you’re not a slacker. In fact, you are probably super responsible to other people. Just, perhaps, not always to yourself.

It hurts when you let yourself down. It can undermine your confidence, sap your enthusiasm, and seduce you into giving up.

So I need to ask you something. Why do you value what you want to do?

Stop. Don’t read any more of this blog post until you answer that.

Chances are, something came to mind pretty quickly, like “because I love to paint,” or “I want to make a difference in the world.” You might be sitting up a little taller, your backbone straight and strong when you say this.

Now, take that answer and go a little deeper. Ask yourself why that is important to you.

It could be that you feel more alive when you brush paint across a canvas. It could be that you want to make a difference because you care deeply about people. Do you feel a softening in your chest? Are you feeling a little more vulnerable? If so, you’re getting closer.

Watercolor painting of colorful tree

That beautiful combination of strength and vulnerability is telling you something. The value and importance of why you want to create are your energetic roots—and your wisdom. Tap into them. Let them ground you and nourish your enthusiasm.

What can you do with all that strength and enthusiasm? You can commit to anything that moves you in the direction of your goal. And mean it.

You can commit to painting or writing an hour a day, no matter what. Or playing the piano. Or knitting. Or designing your next piece of jewelry.

Yes, you can.

Ultimately, you have to make that choice. No one else can make you commit. There’s no magic potion, spell, or list of steps that will do it. It’s up to you.

We don’t always know why we finally choose to commit, or when it’s going to happen. It can be an accumulation of imperceptible inner changes, like an underground stream that travels a long time before it emerges into the light. Or it can be a swift response to an idea or situation, like someone flipping a switch.

All that matters is that you make that choice and then do it.

You can do this! I know you can.

If you’re hedging, here’s a tip: commit to doing something that is a stretch, but not too much. You want it to be doable, but not too easy. Why?

You need to make your goal realistic, so you can experience success, obviously. But you also need to make sure your goal stretches you, at least a little. Pushing yourself just beyond your comfort zone does three things:

  • It makes it more exciting!
  • It moves you further along.
  • It teaches you that you can do more than you realized.

Once you experience success, you’re more ready to take the next step, and make it meaningful. (And your inner kindergartner loves to get those gold stars!)

Woman's hands writing at desk with flowers

Honor your commitment to yourself by taking action.

A commitment you make to yourself is just as sacred as a commitment you make to your spouse, or child, or friend.

You’ll see how much you can do, and how far you can go, one commitment at a time!

IGB Post date: 2015-09-29

How to Slow Down and Move Forward

With the light fading away earlier in the evenings, leaves beginning to change color, and the cooler nights, summer is ending and autumn is just beginning.

Before summer ends, it’s easy to feel a sense of urgency to complete the things you wanted to do, but didn’t.

In fact, that’s exactly how I felt earlier today. My inner critics were starting to stir things up and I was well on my way to letting them make me miserable.

But then I looked at this photograph. Its stillness, its peaceful beauty, had a message for me.

Reflection of trees on lake

This is the time to reflect. To slow down and appreciate all I’ve accomplished.

Looking back over a busy summer, my memories waver in and out of focus, like images reflecting off a lake:

  • Writing weekly blog posts, even when I didn’t think I had anything to say.
  • Playing with my sweet, ornery dog.
  • Coaching some gifted, creative people.
  • Creating a travel watercolor set for myself.
  • Sorting through my house, and giving away, throwing out, or selling quite a bit of stuff.
  • Starting a regular yoga practice.
  • Completing a rigorous business course.
  • Having breakfasts with my amazing husband on our back porch.
  • Facilitating an inspiring 30-day creativity challenge.
  • Meeting with wonderful friends.
  • Hosting a transformative vision board workshop.
  • Making trips out-of-state to see my dear family.
  • Organizing my office and creative space.
  • Painting a dozen watercolors.

It’s a lot, actually!

Focusing on what you’ve accomplished silences your inner critics by putting things into perspective.

I still have my to-do list, but I’ve decided to try something different. Like most creative people, doing things the linear, “type A” way drains my energy and blocks my intuitive wisdom. When I operate too much out of my left brain, my stomach tightens, my back and neck stiffen, and—worst of all—it’s harder to see the magic in this world.

Sometimes I have to make things into a game to stay interested and motivated. So I took my to-do list and tore it into strips of paper, with one item written on each piece.

Goals written on strips of paper

Then, I put the papers in a pretty red crocheted bowl, and stirred them with my fingers.

Strips of paper in bowl

That felt good!

Now, instead of running around in my head, taunting me, my to-do items are written on paper.

They’re “under control” in one spot, but not in a list.

What I didn’t accomplish (yet) is fresh in my mind. Now it’s time to take a deep breath, wait, and see what rises into my awareness. That’s what I’ll do next.

By taking the “should” out of my linear list, and making it more of a game, tomorrow doesn’t feel like an endless list of tasks, it feels like a morning of discovery. What will I do? I’m excited to find out!

Being in a balanced perspective helps you think of new ways to solve a problem, or re-energize routines.

If you’re feeling stressed by all you have to do, take the time to appreciate what you’ve already accomplished, instead of rushing ahead to the next task. Then try making a game out of what you need to do, or changing your usual routine, to freshen up the experience.

Remember, you are in control of your own experience. Make it meaningful to you!