Pathways: A Journaling Exercise


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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.



Honoring Our Ancestors

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We are in extricably woven with our ancestors.  My belief is that if we tap into that fertile unseen world much healing wisdom will surface.

-Gigi Stafne

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.

In the modern western world, we don’t have many formalized rituals that help us honor our ancestors.  We might display photographs of them in our homes or own cherished heirlooms that they passed on to us.  Maybe we occasionally get into the kitchen and prepare old family recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.  Or maybe we share fond memories and stories about our grandparents and great-great grandparents around the dinner table.  You might have been fortunate enough to grow up in a family that placed some importance on reaching back through time to connect with those that came before you through food, stories, heirlooms or genealogy research.  But what if you didn’t?  Maybe that information was never made available to you, or maybe, through complicated family dynamics, the connection with your ancestors was deliberately severed at some point along the line.  It is not uncommon to not particularly like or agree with those that came before you.

And yet, we sense that there is something about our ancestral connection that matters, regardless of the complex human relationships that come with it.  I recently heard a podcast interview with John Lockley, author of Leopard Warrior:  A Journey into the African Teachings of Ancestry, Instinct, and Dreams.  Mr. Lockley is a South African healer and shaman who writes about the importance of our ancestral connections.  He writes:

“To forget one’s people represents a sadness beyond words.”

He goes on to explain that it’s not about liking or agreeing with your ancestors.  It’s simply about having an appreciation for the life that they have passed on to you.  I love this idea of stripping down the honoring of our ancestors to a very basic practice of gratitude for the gift of life that we received from them.  Maybe your grandfather was a real jerk and you would rather forget that you were related to him altogether.  But by simply honoring the life that he passed on to you, one can set aside his imperfect humanness for a moment and see that he is just one in a line of many that made you being here possible.  When we can find this basic gratitude for the life force that flows through our body, we can see that this ancestral connection runs deep.  Everyone descends from someone else.  This realization brings with it a sense of peace, humility and interconnectedness that runs through all of life, not just the direct line of people we came from.  Suddenly it’s easier to sense our connection to the ground beneath our feet and the humans, animals and plants with whom we share this Earth.

As this season of remembrance begins, honor your ancestors in any way that speaks to you.  Make your grandmother’s cookie recipe or tell your children the story of your great-great grandmother fighting to save her home from a raging grass fire on the desolate windswept plains of the upper midwest.  If you are sketchy on what your roots are, ask your living relatives for help or join and do a little research.  They offer a free two week trial which is plenty of time to get a basic idea of your family history.  If you really have no idea about your lineage, take an online DNA test (also available through  and find out where you come from.  Do some research on those cultures and see what resonates with you.  But most importantly, be willing to take a moment to offer gratitude for the roots of your being, regardless of what they look like.  See if that simple act of appreciation opens you up to a greater sense of connection with all of life.

The Details Matter: A Journaling Exercise

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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.

Finding Your True North: A Journaling Exercise

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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.

-Martha Beck

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 is YOUR.  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.

Creating a Sense of Sanctuary

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Simple Seasonal Pleasures for October

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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.

  1.  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!
  2. 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!
  3. Read a scary or witchy novel.  I love snuggling up with a good scary story this time of year.  Some of my past October reads have been DraculaSalem’s Lot, and the Dark Witch trilogy by Nora Roberts.  This year it is Beneath a Blood Red Moon by Shannon Drake.
  4. 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.
  5. Take walks in the crisp leaves.  I love the sound of fallen leaves crunching under my feet!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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.

Thresholds: A Journaling Exercise

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“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.