Paying attention to and honoring the details of our life is a way of enhancing our everyday existence. In the modern world, we often value the quick and easy route. Breakfast on the go, throwing on the first thing we grab out of the closet, pita chips and hummus for lunch (again), chauffeuring kids to activities during the evening hours and then realizing you haven’t even thought about dinner, a quick run through the drive-thru, some screen time and so to bed. This can leave us feeling as if we are just floating from one lackluster, non-memorable experience to another. It’s no wonder we often feel empty, exhausted and unfulfilled.
But what if the way we choose to express ourselves in the everyday details of our lives mattered? What if it is our attention to those details that helps us feel connected and alive? What if they are an opportunity to express our authentic perspective of beauty and creativity?
Find your journal and a pen and write for 20 minutes or so using the following questions as prompts for your writing:
What areas of my life could use a little more love and attention?
How could I bring more creativity and beauty into my day?
What areas of my life could use a little more intention?
How can I express my authenticity through my daily activities?
What daily/ weekly routines need tweaking in order to better support me?
Once you are finished, go back through your writing. Identify one or two specific opportunities to bring a little more authentic detail to your day. Write about each one, clarifying what it looks like and how you are can make space for it in your life. In class, students wrote about everything from changing the details of their morning routine so that it was more supportive of their day to dressing with more care and attention; from packing a nourishing lunch for themselves to enjoy at work to rethinking how they want to spend their evening leisure time. This week, seize one of these opportunities to bring a little more YOU to your day. See how it feels.
The only map of your right life is written on your soul at its most peaceful, and the only sure compass is your heart at its most open.
Humans are tribal beings. Throughout our lives, each of us “belongs” to many different groups, each with its own set of values, beliefs and expectations. These tribes include society at large, the country you live in, a company that you work for, your place of worship, your family of origin, your chosen family and your friend group, just to name a few. There often comes a time, particularly when we are committed to following our own authentic path, that we must make choices that conflict with the values, beliefs and expectations of a particular tribe that we’ve been a part of, possibly for a very long time. For example, maybe your family is insisting that you go to college, but you know that’s not the right choice for you right now. Or maybe you work for an employer that pays well but expects 80 hour work weeks in exchange for that high salary, and you’ve decided that you value your time and well-being more than a large paycheck. Whatever the circumstance, sometimes we must set out on our own and go our own way if we want to remain true to ourselves.
The problem is that this means leaving our tribe behind. We no longer fit within the particular set of values, beliefs and expectations of this group and simply cannot be a part of it any longer. Sometimes we can maintain relationships with people as we choose to move on and they stay firmly rooted in the tribal culture. But sometimes we can’t. This may be our choice, or it may be that the members of our former tribe choose to sever ties with us as we no longer fit a mold that they consider acceptable. In any event, this loss of “membership” can leave us feeling directionless. We left this tribe because we don’t subscribe to certain values, beliefs and expectations anymore.
But what do we believe in?
This is the question we must answer for ourselves. For this week’s journaling exercise we will create our own unique list of values, beliefs and expectations to use as a guide to living and being in the world. This is the process or creating your own personal manifesto or mission statement. More of a compass than a map, a personal manifesto is a document that is designed to be a big picture declaration of what you value and believe in. For example, one of the statements included in my manifesto is:
I commit to uncovering and expressing my unique authenticity and to helping others do the same. I honor authenticity in others.
With this kind of overall view in place, it is easier to make day-to-day decisions that are in alignment with who we are on the inside. With that, take out your journal and a pen and start on a clean page. In the center, write “My True North” and draw a circle around it. I like using this term because it encompasses all of the following questions:
What do I believe in?
What am I committed to?
What do I know to be true?
What do I value?
What basic principles guide me?
What do I stand for?
What is important to me?
We are going to do a clustering exercise with “My True North” as the starting point. A cluster is simply a mind map in which we choose a word or phrase for the center bubble and free associate out from there. Let your thoughts generate other thoughts in the form of a single words or short phrases. Circle each one and connect it with a line to the thought before it. If you think of something entirely new that doesn’t relate back to the previous thought, go back to the center bubble and connect the new idea up with where you originally started. Continue to build outward from there, using the above list of questions as a guide. Keep going for 10 minutes or so, exploring what your values, beliefs and expectations are. Keep in mind that the key word here isYOUR. Not society’s values, beliefs and expectations. Not your parents’. Not your employer’s. YOURS. Let this be an exercise in uncovering what truly matters to you.
Once you have completed your cluster, take a look at the words and phrases you wrote down. Begin putting them into categories and crafting a list of statements that reflect your unique set of values, beliefs and expectations. Often our journaling exercises are premised on writing quickly and not censoring or editing as we go. But because we did the information gathering piece through the cluster exercise, we are now going to write our personal manifesto in a way that is clear, thoughtful and empowering. Keep your phrases in the present tense and avoid words like “will” or “try”. A few other examples from my manifesto:
I value simplicity. Living a simple life gives me the freedom to make choices and follow my authentic path.
I am an artist and am committed to expressing myself creatively in all aspects of my life.
I commit to living in harmony with the earth and her seasons. I celebrate the turning of the year.
Once you have written your manifesto, maybe tuck it away for a couple of days before coming back to it to revise and edit as you deem necessary. Once you have your manifesto in its final form, write it out neatly and put a copy of it somewhere where you will see it on a daily basis….the front of the refrigerator, the inside cover of your journal, the inside door of your closet. Let it serve as a reminder of what matters to you. Let it guide your decisions, actions and way of being in the world. Keep in mind that as you grow and change, your manifesto may also need to change. Let this document be as alive and adaptable as you are.
There are no intrinsically sacred objects or experiences; they are made sacred by the special context that we give them.
-Louise Thomsen Brits, The Book of Hygge
Now more than ever we all need a sanctuary, a refuge from the world, a safe place to reflect and restore. But the word sanctuary implies more than just a safe space or refuge. It suggests reverence. Holiness. A sense of the sacred. When we think about our homes in the context of creating sanctuary, we see the value of a living space that is simple, comfortable and cared for, a space that is ready to calm and nurture those who enter. When we bring this sense of sanctuary to the seemingly mundane details of our daily lives, the ordinary has the potential to take on new meaning. A morning cup of coffee in our favorite mug suddenly becomes a quiet, restorative ritual to start the day. Our favorite corner of the sofa is transformed into a cozy writing nest to contemplate and dream. Preparing dinner becomes a sensory meditation. As we infuse our lives with a new awareness and appreciation for the everyday moments, we create sanctuary for ourselves and those we love by elevating the ordinary into the extraordinary.
The creation of sanctuary is an intentional practice, a willingness to make room for and find the sacred in the everyday. Here are a few ideas for how to begin creating a sense of sanctuary in your own life:
Make Space. It can be difficult to cultivate the sacred in the everyday when we are buried in clutter or an over-scheduled calendar. Clear out and simplify. Make room in your home and your planner for a more intentional, well-lived life, for what nourishes and sustains you.
Own a few small, well-chosen items that comfort and delight. A warm blanket, a favorite mug, a pen that flows effortlessly across the pages of your journal…sometimes it’s the small luxuries that become talismans of comfort, familiarity and meaning in our daily round.
Slow down. Our lives move at the speed of light. How many times have you thought to yourself on a Thursday evening, “I can’t believe it’s Friday already tomorrow! Where did the week go!?” We can live our whole lives this way if we aren’t paying attention, racing unconsciously through our days, just managing to get by. This kind of living is simply skimming the surface. We are not immersing ourselves in the richness that is right in front of us. As a way to counter this pace, practice doing things SLOWLY on purpose. Take a stroll through the neighborhood. Not a power walk, but an easy stroll. Prepare dinner at a leisurely pace. Linger over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Luxuriate in a hot bath rather than take a quick shower. Take up an activity in which success depends on time and patience, sourdough bread baking, for example.
Unplug. We don’t cultivate the depth and richness of life by staring at a screen. We need to be wholly available to participate with our environment and the people in it in order to notice and appreciate our everyday experience, at least for a little while each day. Be gentle with yourself on this one…unplugging from a virtual world and plugging into our real one with all of its messiness and the possibility of boredom isn’t easy. Start small if you need to by setting aside designated times where you don’t check your phone. Having a no device time before, during and after dinner is a great place to start.
Engage with your senses. We can come back to the wholeness of the moment, to the beauty of the here and now just by really seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and tasting what is right in front of us. This is why cooking is such an extraordinary activity for discovering the sacred in the seemingly mundane tasks of daily life. The smell of garlic sautéing in olive oil, the bright orange flesh of the squash we are cutting into cubes, the softness of a plush Colorado peach in late summer. Cooking offers so many wonderful opportunities to stop and take in a moment of sensory wonder and appreciation for the everyday gifts that are right in front of us.
Don’t just eat dinner…dine. Find a bit of ceremony in your day where you can. Light candles at the dinner table, lay down some placemats and cloth napkins and open a bottle of wine. Not only will you invite a sense of the sacred to your meal, research suggests that gathering around the table at the end of the day is a source of social connection and an important aspect of our physical health. In his book, How to Make Disease Disappear, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee talks about what life was like when humans existed in hunter-gatherer tribes. After the sun went down, these early humans shifted their activities and conversation from the work of finding food to telling one another stories around the campfire. “The researches call this ‘firelight talk.’ It’s a time of calmness, reflection and-perhaps most importantly-connection.” We are wired to reflect, connect and find meaning in our existence by sharing our stories, the happenings of our day, with those around us. “In the modern West, the table rather than the campfire is where our connection, or our ‘firelight talk,’ happens.” Elevate mealtime to a higher plane by realizing that this is where we strengthen our sacred connection to one other….especiallyon an ordinary Wednesday night over meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Bookend Your Day with Rituals for Reflection. For me this means meditation and journaling. But it could just be a simple quiet moment with your cup of coffee in the morning before your day begins. Taking even a few moments before the day gets away from you to quietly center yourself is invaluable. You will enter the morning in a more intentional, peaceful frame of mind. In Circle of Stones, author Judith Duerk tells the story of a woman who lights a candle when she first wakes up for a brief ritual of quiet presence:
“as long as I take time every morning to light a candle to my life, it remains my life. But if I hurry into work without that small moment of quiet, then I’ve already lost myself, and the day. The task, for me, is to care, daily, for myself and my life….to love and to nurture, within myself, moment by moment, the quality of quiet presence, quietly being present to my life, which sanctifies it…to live as if the candle is lighted.
Likewise, take time to assess the day and find gratitude for the moments that touched your soul in some way, especially the small ones. This is an excellent way to thoughtfully and intentionally shift into the evening hours.
Rest and restore in the sanctuary of everyday moments. Our lives are abundant in the ordinary, and it can be a profound gateway to something greater if we simply shift our perception a little. The depth and meaning we seek in life is often not found in the big things….the parties, weddings, promotions and extravagant vacations. Instead, we can find richness in our lives right where we are as we practice taking pleasure in the everyday stuff of life.
Welcome October! My favorite month of the year. It’s been cold and rainy here in Nebraska, and no one seems to be complaining. The sky hangs heavy with low gray clouds, and the leaves are just beginning to turn. I’ve put away the summer clothes and unpacked the sweaters and scarves. I just made the first batch of chili of the year. Finally, the time for coziness and inner warmth is here.
Visit an apple orchard. Here in Omaha we are fortunate to live near Nebraska City (it’s where Arbor Day originated, if you weren’t aware), which is home to several apple orchards. In addition to stocking up on apples, we will stuff ourselves with warm apple cider doughnuts and buy a gallon of cider to take home and make this apple cider cocktail. One of my favorites!
Pack a fall picnic. There is something about having a picnic on a crisp fall day that is utterly charming. A plaid blanket and a thermos full of a hearty, soul-warming soup are essential!
Bake pumpkin bread. Such a delicious quick breakfast or afternoon snack with a cup of coffee or tea. This recipe from Smitten Kitchen is my favorite.
Take walks in the crisp leaves. I love the sound of fallen leaves crunching under my feet!
The smell of woodsmoke. As the evenings get chillier and people begin using their fireplaces and wood stoves again, the woodsy scent of smoke rising from the chimneys around the neighborhood evokes such a sense of warmth and coziness.
Honor my ancestors. The timing of Halloween coincides with several ancient holidays and festivals which not only marked the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, but also served as an opportunity for people to remember ancestors and departed loved ones (The Day of the Dead in Mexico, All Souls’ Day in the Christian tradition, the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Norse festival of Winternights). It was believed that the veil between the world of the living and the ancestral realm was particularly thin at this point in the year. Whether or not you believe there are thin places in the year in which we are closer to the spiritual realm, it is lovely to have a time set aside for honoring and remembering our ancestors. A great place to do this is in the kitchen, of course! This month I will make my dad’s famous pasta dish (simply known as “The Dish” at our house…it was that good) and my great-grandmother’s Pepparkakor (Swedish ginger snaps). Cooking and baking are tangible, delicious ways to connect with our ancestors.
Let go of what no longer serves. I’m taking a cue from the falling leaves this month and letting go. Letting go of clutter, jewelry, clothes, shoes, books, ideas, beliefs, habits, relationships, commitments….ANYTHING that isn’t serving me. My very wise friend, Siobhan, who happens to be a very talented life coach, has proclaimed October the month of letting go. Why? In Siobhan’s words, “to create the space I need to be more ME.” YES. It’s amazing how both mental and physical clutter can stand in the way of our authenticity. And so I will clear out the closets and the garage. I will go through the kitchen cupboards and drawers. I will journal my way past beliefs and ideas that are no longer helpful. I feel lighter and more spacious just thinking about it!
Watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” Whether you have kids or not, you are never too old for this sweet little Halloween special.
A very happy October to you! I hope you find your own simple ways to make it special.
“He had the vague sense of standing on a threshold, the crossing of which would change everything.”
― Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden
If you’ve been journaling here with me or doing some kind of other inner work, you probably know that there is a threshold that it’s time for you to cross. Whether it’s a decision that needs to be made, changes to your lifestyle that need to be implemented or a complete shift in your way of being in the world….you know it’s time to take the next step and be all in. But change is scary. Maybe you’ve been creeping up to the doorway and peeking in and then stepping back into what’s safe and comfortable. Or maybe you feel like you have one foot in and one foot out of the doorway and it’s time to put both feet in. Maybe you are waiting for another door to open instead of the one that is right in front of you. For whatever reason, you are hesitant to take the bold step into the new and unfamiliar. In today’s journaling exercise we are going to explore that doorway and the hesitation we feel to cross through it.
Get comfortable and close your eyes. Imagine that you are walking along a long hallway. There are closed doors on either side of you as you slowly continue your journey down the hall. Up ahead at the very end of the hallway, you can see there is a door that has been left open just enough to let you get a glimpse of what’s inside. You instantly feel drawn toward the open doorway. There is so much abundance waiting for you in that room, you can just feel it. Something you long for deeply is behind that door. Walk towards the open doorway at the end of the hallway. As you step closer and peek in, what do you see? Take a moment to let a vision come to you. Once you are ready, take out your pen and journal and begin to describe what you see in exquisite detail.
Once you have finished describing what waits for you on the other side of the threshold, set your pen down and close your eyes again. Return to the space just outside the doorway. Feel your simultaneous longing to walk across the threshold and your hesitation to do so. Ask your inner voice:
What is keeping me from walking through this doorway?
How am I benefiting from staying on this side of the threshold?
How will things be different for me on the other side?
Explore on paper what is holding you back from stepping across firmly with both feet.
Finally, every crossing of a threshold means a new set of choices. Sometimes life pushes us across a threshold by throwing unexpected circumstances our way…the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, a divorce, an illness or accident. The choices we make are suddenly different than they were before simply because we are dealing with a new and different reality. But when you are consciously choosing to cross over a threshold, you are the one who must initiate new practices, activities and make choices that are aligned with what lies on the other side of the threshold. Explore what these new choices might entail for you. How will you commit in both small and big ways to what’s on the other side of the doorway? Explore this in your journal.
If you want to take this concept even further this week, here are a few ways to bring this idea of crossing a threshold into your consciousness:
View your front door as a sacred entrance to your home. Give it a good cleaning….the door itself on both sides, the door jamb, the threshold and the porch outside. Put out some mums or pumpkins to celebrate the season. Sage the doorway. Make a welcoming entrance to your home.
Use the crossing of any threshold as a reminder of the threshold you explored in your writing. It’s so easy to write about these things we want to do and then forget about them as we settle back into the routine of our daily lives. Let the act of walking through a doorway be an opportunity to remember.
Make a ritual out of it. Read through your view behind the open door in your journal and than consciously walk through a doorway in your home, symbolically marking your shift from one side of the threshold to the other. Maybe even say something out loud to yourself, “I’m in” or “I fully dedicate myself to this” or “I am committed to this.”
Give someone else the gift of your full attention as they walk through a threshold in your home. When your children or partner walks through the door at the end of the day or into your room while you are reading in bed at night, look upon them with fresh eyes. Give them your full attention and really see them as they enter the room. This is an extraordinary gift for both the giver and receiver and can change the way your interaction with one another goes from there.
Last weekend, I had the privilege of teaching eight lovely women how to bake sourdough bread. I absolutely adore teaching these workshops. The participants are always so enthusiastic and willing to get their hands right in the dough (which is exactly what we do….no mixers here!) We cover a lot of ground in a three hour span, basically a Sourdough 101, and everyone leaves with two loaves of bread ready to put in the refrigerator overnight and bake in the morning, along with a sourdough starter of their own to feed and nurture so that they can continue baking bread in their own kitchens. Sourdough bread instruction tends to be very technical and intimidating. My approach to teaching it is to make it fun and inviting. Baking sourdough bread should not be an activity reserved only for those who love hydration percentages and baker’s math. It’s for everyone who is willing to say “yes” to the sourdough life.
Those who show up at my workshops willing to say a hearty “yes” to this way of life bring with them so many reasons for wanting to do so:
I need something creative, just for me.
I love the idea of doing something real, with my hands.
I don’t even eat bread but I want to make this for my family.
I want to know what’s going in to the bread I eat.
Each one on their own path but wanting to enhance their lives by giving themselves over to this ancient, creative practice. It is a beautiful thing, this sharing of the sourdough life, and I am grateful to be able to do it.
What is the sourdough life? It is a commitment to nurturing a living ecosystem, the sourdough starter, that is your partner in the baking process. It is a willingness to be present for your sourdough starter when it needs your attention, which at first is as often as twice a day. It is an opportunity to dance with the ancient rhythms of life and nature that are inherent in the baking of sourdough bread. It is a intentional slowing down to an unhurried pace that runs counter to almost every aspect of the modern world. It is a surrendering of control and an opportunity to simply allow things to happen in their own good time. It is a creative ritual that brings a sense of simplicity, connection and well-being into our lives. Oh, and there’s the reward of the bread itself….fragrant, warm and rustic, unlike anything you would find in the grocery store. And you made it with your own two hands with a simple combination of flour, water and salt.
My introduction to this life came in culinary school, three years ago. I had just gone through a divorce and was faced with the prospect of what was next for me. I had been a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. What would I do to support myself? Before I had children, I had been a practicing attorney. A very unhappy one. I wasn’t too excited about returning to that career path, but I investigated my options, networked with my former colleagues and went on some interviews. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put myself back in that toxic environment. So I went to culinary school instead. It was something I had always wanted to do, cooking and baking had been long-standing passions in my life. Artisan Breads was known as a demanding class, but I absolutely loved it, particularly the sourdough aspect of it. I fed my starter religiously, even taking him with me on vacations. After the class ended, I continued to bake on my own and even considered the prospect of owning my own bakery for awhile. The more I baked the more bread I gave away to friends and family. They began asking if I could show them how to make it themselves, and so the workshop was born.
Now I write, teach yoga and journaling classes, and host bread baking workshops. A far cry from my lawyering days and not nearly as lucrative, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t know where this journey will take me next, but I do know that settling into this ancient practice of sourdough bread baking has changed me. Yes, it can be a bit of an ordeal to create a starter, to continue to nurture and feed it, to plan ahead so that your bread has enough time to ferment in the refrigerator before baking. It’s so much easier to just buy bread from the store! But the results of your efforts are well worth it, both in terms of the rewards of the creative process and the delicious bread itself.
Consider saying “yes” to the sourdough life, to dedicating yourself to a practice that grounds, delights and nourishes on so many levels. Come to a workshop or read a book on the topic (I recommend Sourdough by Sarah Owens). Simply begin by creating your own starter and see where that takes you. I will follow up this post with instructions for beginning your own starter, but if you can’t wait, there are plenty of resources on the internet for getting started. The good people at www.kingarthurflour.com are always a good and reliable source.
When I told my journaling class last night that we were going to explore our unique artistry, I was met with blank stares. And then the inevitable protest, “but I’m not an artist.” “Me either,” someone else chimed in. But I was ready for this pushback, for this denial of any association with the word “artist”. I quickly pulled out my copy of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance: A Day Book of Comfort and Joy, and began reading from the entry for February 8 entitled, “You Are an Artist”:
“Each of us is an artist. An artist is merely someone with good listening skills who accesses the creative energy of the Universe to bring forth something on the material plane that wasn’t here before….So it is with a creating an authentic life. With every choice, every day, you are creating a unique work of art. Something that only you can do. Something beautiful and ephemeral. The reason you were born was to leave your own indelible mark on your personal world. This is your authenticity.”
So we start with the premise that we are all artists. You may not be a painter or a poet, but you are most certainly an artist of your own authentic existence. There is something you are here to do as only you can do it. What is that thing? What kind of artist are you? What is unique about you? What artistry are you being called to bring forth in the world? How will you stepping into your authentic existence serve others?
Take out your journal and a pen and start on a clean page. In the center, write “I am an artist of…” and draw a circle around it. We are going to do a clustering exercise with this phrase as a starting point. A cluster is simply a mind map in which we choose a word or phrase for the center bubble and free associate out from there. Let your thoughts generate other thoughts in the form of a single words or short phrases. Circle each one and connect it with a line to the thought before it. If you think of something entirely new that doesn’t relate back to the previous thought, go back to the center bubble and connect the new idea up with where you originally started. Continue to build outward from there. Keep going for 5-7 minutes exploring what kind of artist you believe yourself to be. Don’t hold back! Just let your mind free associate and explore at this stage. Clustering is a fantastic way to gather information quickly and to engage both hemispheres of the brain with it’s non-linear style. You may be surprised by where your thoughts take you!
Once you have completed your cluster, see if you can narrow down what kind of artist you are into one word or a short phrase. The more clear you can get on your unique brand of artistry, the better you will be able to direct your energy towards what really matters. “I am an artist of….” How do you fill in that blank with a word or phrase that captures your authentic desires, interests and abilities? Let your unique artistry be BIG, let it be a container large enough to hold all of what it is you believe you are here to do.
Once you have an idea of where your unique artistry lies, have a dialogue with your artist self on the page and ask he/she what it is that you are here to bring forth into the world. What innovation or new understanding will your unique point of view bring to your art? Refer back to this exercise for a general discussion of how journaling dialogues work before you begin if you need a review. Continue your conversation with your artist self for 20-25 minutes or until you feel like the dialogue has come to a natural conclusion. Thank your artist self for the information he/she has given you.
Review your conversation. Where can you take inspired action now in order to begin bringing YOUR art into the world? Look for the small, baby steps. That’s always a good place to begin. Remember, we are talking about you being an artist of your authentic existence. Any step you take towards a fuller expression of your authentic self is a move in the right direction and a display of your unique artistry.
Everyone in class found this exercise to be surprisingly empowering and an excellent way to tap into our authentic creative longings. There is something about having a conversation with your artist self that gives you permission to pursue something outside of the box, something new, innovative and uniquely yours. Because that’s what artists do, right? Now go make YOUR art!