Like spokes in a wheel with your present day self in the center, there are many paths that you could potentially follow with this very moment being your starting point. This could be with respect to your general life direction, or it could be related to a specific topic…your choice of career, what to have for dinner, where you choose live or what creative project you want to pursue, just to name a few. The possibilities are endless. Possibilities are a beautiful thing, but they can also overwhelm us, leaving us feeling paralyzed by the prospect of choosing which direction to go in next.
The next time you are evaluating the options that fan from this present moment, try this: Take out your journal and a pen and write ME in the center of a clean page and draw a circle around it. This represents your present self. From there, draw lines like spokes on a wheel outward. At the end of each line, write a few sentences that describe a potential pathway that you can imagine leading forward from this present moment. Continue until you have touched on all of the pathways you can envision for yourself. As I said, this can be with respect to a general life direction or it can relate to a specific topic.
Once you have finished, have a dialogue with the self that chose each path. Ask him or her to describe the experience of taking that path for you. What does he or she enjoy about having chosen this path? What has been challenging about it? Let each “future self” have a chance to offer you a glimpse of their experience along their particular pathway.
You may find, as some of my students did, that as soon as you start writing about a particular pathway it becomes a dead end. Others will feel alive, juicy and full of promise. Choose the one that feels the most appealing to you. Go back to the self that chose that pathway and ask him or her for some words of advice or wisdom. What kind of message does he or she have for you as you are just beginning the journey in that direction? Let his or her voice flow through your pen onto the paper.
Now, guided by the wisdom offered to you by your inner voice, choose your pathway. Start moving in that direction. Let the other pathways fall away for now. You can move as slowly as you need to, and you can always reevaluate as you move forward. Come back to this exercise anytime you need help sorting through the possibilities that lead outward from here.
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.
“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.
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!
What do you want to be when you grow up? I don’t know about you, but I’m still trying to figure this out. Even if you are lucky enough to have already found your way to your true calling, it’s fun to imagine what our lives might be like if we were doing something different than we are right now. On a deeper level, our imagined lives can help us discover what it is that we long for, how we might infuse our lives with fun, creativity and meaning, and what’s possible if we allow ourselves to think outside the box.
Take out your journal and a pen. Quickly, without overthinking it, jot down 10 imaginary careers that sound intriguing to you. They can be absolutely anything….painter, pilot, nun, photographer, lawyer, doctor, deep sea fisherman….you name it. Once you have a list of 10, pick three to five of these imaginary careers and describe what your life would be like in each one. Focus on the aspects of each career that seem appealing to you, the parts that sound like fun. Maybe you adore solitude and contemplative time (me!), and that’s one of the reasons being a nun sounds really compelling to you. Or maybe you’ve always enjoyed doodling and drawing and playing with color, and the life of a painter calls to you. As always, flush out your imaginary career in exquisite detail. What is your average day like? Who are you with? What are you wearing? What is your overall state of busyness? How do you carry yourself? Have fun with it and really see yourself in this new role. It might be helpful to write in a first-person present format, for example, “I am a painter…..” and describe your imaginary life from there.
Once you have described three to five lives, go back and read what you wrote. Notice and underline any patterns and themes that carry through your imaginary careers. Do the same for details that really matter to you, the ones that light you up and excite you. Write these patterns/themes/details in a list format on a new page in your journal. Here are a few of the entries that showed up on my list:
Meditation and mindfulness
An appreciation for solitude/alone time
Becoming an author
Aligning meditation, mindfulness and journaling with the grounding practices of presence available to us in our everyday lives
My love of the Nordic aesthetic
Once you have your list, consider how you can work some of the details of your imaginary life into your life as it is right now. For example, I’m not going to open up a vegetarian café today, but I can let myself play around with vegetarian cuisine in my own kitchen and make myself something fabulous for lunch or dinner in the process. Brainstorm ideas for infusing your current life with fun, creativity and meaningful activities based on what is on your list. Choose one or two to try out this week.
You might also consider using your list to describe another imaginary life…..one the contains everything on the list you just made. This is a fun way of designing a career that is outside the box and uniquely your own. For example, mine might be:
“I am a meditation and journaling teacher and a writer. I write books that align meditation, mindfulness and journaling with the grounding practices of presence available to us in our everyday lives. My books have a very Nordic/hygge/cozy vibe to them. They include writings about celebrating the seasons, bread baking and cooking as a spiritual practice.”
Use this description as an inspiring vision for what is possible, as a way to see how all these different aspects of what you long for in a career can come together in an unexpected and delightful way.
“It seems to me that January resolutions are about will; September resolutions are about authentic wants. What do you want more or less of in your life, so that you can love the life you’re leading?” –Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy
September 1 is my New Year’s Day. Rather than feeling depleted and weary as I often do when January 1 rolls around, I feel more alive than ever as summer shifts into fall. It’s a day for new beginnings, authentic resolutions, and tapping into the energy of harvest and change that flows into our lives in September.
Where does this surge of creative energy come from? Maybe it’s because September coincides with the start of a new school year or because the earth’s energy is shifting from the outward (spring and summer) to the inward (fall and winter). Maybe it’s because this has traditionally been a month of harvest and so it feels natural to assess and be grateful for what we have and to look forward to what’s ahead. Whatever the reason, September is an excellent time to contemplate creative new beginnings. Take some time today or tomorrow and snuggle into a cozy writing space with your journal and a pen. Acknowledge and celebrate the seeds you have planted and what you have harvested over the past year. Consider what’s working in your life right now and what’s not. Explore the desires and longings of your authentic self and set your resolutions for the coming year.
As Sarah Ban Breathnach points out in her book, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, “the beauty of autumnal resolutions is that no one else knows that we are making them.” There is no pressure to share your resolutions with anyone, and they can be absolutely anything that speaks to your soul and feels right for you in this moment. Think of September 1 as a quiet opportunity to reassess and return to your true nature, to whatever “simply true north” is for you. Happy New Year!