2 Simple Acts That Make a Big Impact

Every day, for the last few months, I’ve been doing these two simple, focused acts:

Winding country road at sunset

  • Each morning, I write my intention for the day
  • Each evening, I write one thing that I am grateful for

I call them my “bookend vistas”—two ways of looking at my day, with “everyday life” sandwiched in between.

Life throws curve balls every day, and it delivers surprises. It brings both challenges and delights.

Setting my intention centers the day in my true values. It helps me take responsibility for what I bring to it. Do my thoughts and actions make things better, or worse?

Practicing gratitude grounds the day in the deep meaning of life. It feels like less of a crazy blur, and more of a sacred space that I get to experience.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

These two, simple acts help me become more conscious of the choices I make, and of the meaningful experiences I have.

If you want to feel more centered and grounded, try wrapping these bookend vistas around your day, and see what happens!

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?

Your True Voice is Calling You

Woman on beach listening to shell

Ever have a day when you just feel off? When you can’t seem to muster much enthusiasm? And you can’t seem to write anything worthwhile?

Me, too.

Sometimes, when I try to write anyway, I push through the inertia, tap into a current, and the words flow.

But other times, nothing works. When that happens, I need to sit with my mood to give it a chance to tell me what I need to know. Moods are messengers, and when I’m feeling seriously blocked, something needs my attention.

I resist the temptation to pretend I’m not feeling lost. I don’t dust my mood with sugar sprinkles.

Don’t get me wrong—I value positive thinking—but not as a diversion to keep me swimming safely on the surface.

Woman underwater diving with snorkel

When life gives you platitudes, dive into the profound.

(Yeah, I just wrote a platitude.)

It’s uncomfortable. I fidget a lot. If I’m not careful, I’ll unconsciously try to drown my discomfort with a chai or a cookie. (Or TV, Facebook, the latest New Yorker.) Or outrun it with activity (clean, sweep, go to the store).

But when I shut down the computer, put away my phone, turn off the TV, put down the magazine, stay put in the chair and simply notice—I’ll find a lot there that I haven’t wanted to feel. Grief. Fear. Confusion. Anger. Doubt.

Mixed in is the overwhelming desire to know everything will be okay, that I won’t fail. And behind it all is the existential whisper, “What if it’s all for nothing?”

I know that everything won’t always “be okay.” And I know sometimes I will fail. And existential angst will grip me many more times in my life.

Rocky floor at bottom of sea

These are the times to be with my vulnerability. Instead of trying to rise back to the surface, I need to feel the pressure, my shallow breaths, the tightness in my back against an unseen future swimming up behind me.

Where I’m feeling most vulnerable is a passageway to honesty. I know at some point, I’ll notice something bright and intriguing, and follow it to the surface. If a subtle current brushes against my skin; if a thought, an intuition, a feeling brings me buoyancy, I’ll listen.

But until then, I sit in the deep. This is where the real words come from, if you stay curious and open. Before you can describe the light, you have to brave the darkness. This is the difficult and exciting part of being alive, and finding your true voice.

Sunlight sparkling on water

Listen to what you have to say, especially when it’s just a whisper.

When you push up from the bottom, you might find that your fear and uncertainty brought poignancy and meaning to your words, floating beside you, up to the sun-dappled surface.

Zeus is on the Loose

Sculpture of Zeus

The other morning I was lying in bed, the remnants of a migraine keeping me still. I waited while the faint light coming through the window shade slowly brightened the room.

I rose to a cool, gray, fall day. A light rain came and went, leaving wet dots among the yellow leaves on the back deck. The perfect day for a fire. When the flames were crackling in the fireplace, I ate a little breakfast and sat down to write.

Whenever I get a migraine, I’m reminded of how vulnerable I am—how vulnerable we all are. I’d been thinking about the difference between feeling vulnerable and being vulnerable since I woke.

The day before, I took my husband to the airport, so he could jam with his buddies in Austin. I was trying not to think about him hurtling through the air, in a metal tube with strangers at the controls. Somehow, he seemed more vulnerable without me being with him, as he stepped out of his everyday life.

When I looked over the back seat and watched him take his bass guitar and bag out of the car, I got a light, fluttery feeling in my stomach, like for a brief second, I was falling.

Kind of like the moment when a roller coaster crests the first hill, and you feel almost weightless, right before gravity snatches you.

After the feeling came and went, everything almost felt “normal” again: the floor of the car beneath my feet, my husband’s good-bye kiss, my hands on the steering wheel of my old Volvo. But as I slowly drove away, I felt disoriented, trying to focus.

Feeling vulnerable is just the awareness of our ultimate vulnerability. On some level, we carry this awareness all the time, but we push it down to live our daily lives. What would it be like to carry our awareness of our vulnerability all the time? Would it be terrifying? Exhausting? Distracting? Freeing?

While I was sitting in front of the fireplace and thinking about vulnerability, for a brief time, the space in front of my house became a stage. Predators and prey crossed the same path, missing each other by mere minutes, like some Shakespearean comedy of errors.

Fox standing on tree stump

First, a fox trotted across the yard. It went swiftly down the street, hunting something. Then it came bounding back, and off to safer spaces.

It always feels a little magical when I see a fox, because I see them so rarely. They still retain a bit of their metaphorical meaning for me. They are beautiful, smart, elusive tricksters.

Next came a woman riding a bike, holding a big dog on a leash. Luckily for the fox—and the woman holding the dog’s leash—they missed crossing paths by a couple minutes.

Tabby cat

Then, a tabby cat strolled by, very slowly, his head held high like he hadn’t a care in the world.

And finally, a neighborhood dog named Zeus came trotting by. Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, chief of the gods. Zeus the dog—like the fox—is also smart and a trickster, and a little wild. A thunderbolt, he darts through the neighborhood looking for mischief, and narrowly missing some.

If I look at that brief experience like a waking dream, what does it tell me about vulnerability?

The intersection of time and space determines which experiences and encounters we have, or do not have. We accumulate “ordinary” or routine moments. Then when something unexpected happens—like a fox crossing someone’s path—it can be dangerous (for the cat) or magical (for me).

The chance of things sometimes feels like a play, designed by an unseen playwright—tickling the tail of the fox, pushing the bike, touching the chin of the cat, and tossing in a thunderbolt. Through everything, there’s a wild, playful, dangerous life force that can change our lives in an instant.

When something unexpected breaks through our ordinary lives, it changes our perception of reality. We are reminded we are not in control. And yet, that’s where magic often happens.

It’s awareness of the temporal that communicates the meaning in our lives. It’s the sense of weightlessness, beneath the solidness, that makes us cherish the moments that crest, and then fall back into the well of existence.

We experience magic and meaning when we’re aware of our vulnerability. It transforms our consciousness from auto-pilot to awe.

The fox is always possible. And Zeus is on the loose. If we open ourselves—even just a little bit more—to the experience of being alive, how much magic and meaning will we see?

What magical, creative, unexpected part of you wants to dash through your life—and your art—at this moment?