Listen! Something is Stirring!

It wants your attention. It wants to be free. Have you heard it whisper?

You know what it is. It dances through your dreams. It causes you to be late because you’re mesmerized by a cloud formation that looks exactly like the city in a story you want to write. In a rare moment of silence, it says, Come, follow me, I have a story only you can tell. An image only you can paint.

It offers impractical ideas, suggesting you compose a poem or a symphony. A ludicrous idea. After all, you’re a busy person. Who has the time for frivolities? Ridiculous. But, is it?

The call of the Creative Self is real. It means that something inside you wants to be born into the world of time and the light of day.

The seeds of inspiration reside within us. Often just beneath the level of awareness. It takes a receptive attitude to invite those seeds into our lives so we can shape them by creative acts into a poem, a story, a drawing, a clay pot.

Children have unfettered access to the messages of their Creative Self. They draw on walls, paint on their toes, and sing at the top of their small lungs, simply for the joy of it.

As we grow, we learn what pleases our parents, teachers, and friends. We want to fit in, to be loved and praised, so we learn to follow the rules. We don’t fingerpaint when we’re supposed to be studying. We don’t eat dessert before the meal. We don’t spend nearly as much time watching clouds drift by.

Even though we learn to ignore its subversive messages, the Creative Self does not disappear. It is always waiting.

When it makes itself known, it can burst out like thunder, impossible to ignore. Or it may whisper, faintly, its voice only discernible in the vague moments between sleep and waking. Don’t be fooled by volume. The faint voice may have more to say.

Humans create biologically. We also create the conditions of our lives, with our choices, our willingness to learn, observe, and investigate what lies beyond our immediate surroundings.

  • Every explorer wonders what waits beyond the horizon.
  • Every athlete imagines the heights of skill she can achieve.
  • Every artist practices her art to faithfully reproduce the images of the imagination.

People who perform at the highest levels of their sport, art, craft, or profession have an inner drive urging them on. They might call it inspiration or ambition. The words don’t matter. The vision that urges us to keep us moving forward comes from the Creative Self.

You can do it, the Creative Self notes, because it knows you can.

No matter how loud or soft, how often it comes, or how clear its message, the voice of the Creative Self is what you are waiting for.

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”

                                                                                                                 Rumi

 

 

Winners and More Winners

My new book, When Spirit Whispers: a journey of awakening, is a winner in the 2022 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards! I am excited and gratified to be honored by this excellent organization.

The book was a labor of love, my small offering of aid and inspiration to those traveling the path of personal discovery. Writing and publishing it was a lot of work and the award got me thinking about what being a winner means.

Awards and recognition are great, of course, but not the whole story. I haven’t entered many contests, partly because the submission fees can be considerable and the wait times long. I decided to go straight for publication and focused on getting short stories published while I was finishing my first novel.

After struggling to learn how to write publishable work, my first published short story was a huge win! My work was in print! And accompanied by beautiful art! It encouraged me to learn more about the market and how to hone my stories so they would be interesting to editors and publishers.

In the last twelve years, I have published many short stories, personal essays, and three novels. I also self-published a collection of short stories, The Way Home, several short pieces of fiction, and now, two nonfiction books, When Spirit Whispers and the When Spirit Whispers Workbook.

I appreciate being recognized by industry professionals, but even with the fancy sticker I get to paste on my book, it’s the reaction of my readers that warms my heart. When readers tell me how they react to my book, some finding validation and inspiration in its pages, all the struggle to write and publish is worthwhile.

So what is a win?

Awards, yes, of course. And getting your words in print, yes, is fun and validating.

But, wins take many forms, like:

  • Finishing a book/story/screenplay/poem
  • Expressing yourself in writing, art, dance, song
  • Enjoying a career you love
  • Creating a loving family
  • Surviving difficult life events
  • Surviving loss in any form
  • Getting through and adjusting to any difficult medical diagnosis
  • Healing old trauma
  • Thriving anew from the lessons of trauma
  • Finding the friends, healers, and playmates who see us for who we are
  • Speaking our truth
  • Allowing love to guide us, even when the world is careening off its axis
  • Learning to forgive
  • Finding joy in work, play, nature, animals, and all the wonderful people who are standing in the light of love

How do you feel about winning? What gives you pleasure? What is joyful? What are you proud of?

If you can name even one thing, then you’re already a winner.

A Different Kind of Memoir

New Mexico author Jean Stouffer has written a moving memoir of healing from the effects of growing up with an alcoholic mother.

But Sometimes I Cry is not just another recounting of a child caring for an absent parent and the self-esteem and abandonment issues that ensue. This memoir uses personal history, myth, and poetry to convey her journey from a traditional wife and mother who could not express herself to a woman who speaks her truth and accepts how she feels.

She tells her story in short chapters organized into five sections as she works with a therapist to unblock her emotions and uncover her true self.

Most sections are told in the third person, from the point of view of many charming fictional creatures—mouse, cloud, stone, owl, baby bird, beaver—who stand in for the author. Only the sections about her beloved dog, Molly, are conveyed in the first person. They are among the most moving accounts in the book.

She also gives the reader short progress reports in the third person, which tie together the fictional and poetic chapters.

When I asked about that choice, Jean said that writing in the first person was too painful. Her fictional characters conveyed her meaning and gave her the distance she needed to write about her experiences and process.

Jean did not publish this book for thirty years. Jean said she wrote it for herself, to process what she was feeling, and, at the time, never considered publication. Years later, a friend read the manuscript and encouraged her to put her story into the world. Sometimes I Cry came out in 2021.

“Writing the book changed me,” Jean said recently during a phone conversation. “It improved my relationship with my husband and helped me realize I had value beyond my traditional roles. After that, I became a hypnotherapist and got a lot of satisfaction using my skills to help people through difficult times. Going through the healing process and writing about it helped me understand that it is okay to have emotions, to be an independent person with my own feelings and goals.”

I asked Jean what she hoped readers would get from her book.

“Hope,” she answered. “Maybe my story can encourage others. Facing the darkness isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I ended up a much happier person. A stronger person who could offer my gifts without losing myself.”

You can purchase Sometimes I Cry in paperback and e-book formats at Amazon.

You can reach Jean at www.JeanStouffer.com

 

Finding Your North Star


Have you ever felt stuck? At a stalemate? Not sure where to go next or what to do?

Trauma, illness, unexpected life transitions of all types can leave us at loose ends, not sure how to pick up the pieces. Maybe even wondering if we want to. Transition, especially the involuntary type, calls into question who we are, how we relate, what roles we want to resume or release.

After life changing events, we often need to change priorities, evaluate time and resources, develop or re-gain the crucial balance that promotes clear thinking and productive effort. On some level, we know that. The problem is, how to do it?

The uncomfortable emotional states of transition don’t help. Some people get depressed. Others feel anxiety about the future. Old habits thought long conquered may re-assert themselves. Unfinished creative work may look stale and not worth completing. New ideas fail to materialize.

Sometimes what is nearest our hearts is the most difficult to acknowledge. After all, what if it isn’t possible? What if we can’t find meaningful work, a loving relationship? What if we try and fail to write the novel or poem or song?

As a transition coach, I’ve met people who spent years denying what they most wanted to do, be, or have in the interest of security, loyalty, or the need to stay compliant with family or community values. Without exception, when they made the leap of faith and started singing their own song, miracles happened. Not everyone was “successful” in the financial sense, but all experienced an upsurge in energy, in personal well-being, and self-confidence. Taking the leap is hard, but so worthwhile.

I’m no exception, and am quite capable of staying stuck while terribly busy doing things that are not quite right. I rationalize, explain how I need income, security, something to do that’s not too hard because I’m sick, upset, or lacking in confidence. All the while, the voice in my heart reminds me to look inward, to walk the inner path where wisdom lies, often buried beneath heaps of excuses.

When I’m stuck on a project or need to get myself out of a difficult place, I remember the North Star, the brightest star in the sky that always points to the same place. The Center. The place within us that is most authentic.

The North Star is the meaning and direction of my life. Although I’ve always known I’m a writer, how to express it has evolved. No matter if I worked in corporate communications, free-lance editing, fiction or nonfiction, the needle always pointed true. The North Star gives life a focus.

When I’m stuck for an answer, I pick up my pen and start writing. Write long enough, regularly enough, and you’ll find what everyone who uses this practice discovers. The creative self within. The Muse waiting patiently to offer her gentle guidance. The wisdom of the heart. The well, the watcher, spirit, the inner guide.

Journaling for insight and self-discovery is a tool for everyone, not just writers. It stops the mental circling that is never productive. Putting thoughts into words helps us understand them and come up with new solutions. It helps us work out how we feel about things. Pursued regularly, it leads us unerringly toward our own center, whatever form that takes.

Try journaling for a week or two, at the same time every day, for about twenty minutes, and you’ll begin to see the benefits. Keep going and you won’t be able to shut out the light of your personal North Star.

 

What’s In Your Closet?

An irresistible urge to clean out a closet came up the other day. I attacked it with gusto and deposited in a cardboard box shoes I’ll never wear again, clothes that don’t fit, worn out bags, random books, and a lamp I hate.

After finishing, I realized I had been looking for something. Not that elusive black shoe to match the one in the box. Something more important. I was looking for my point of power. The place of stillness. The present moment.

I’ve often been stymied by resistance, which is a great catch-all for negative ideas and beliefs—the programming that lives in what some call the subconscious mind. It’s taken years to understand that what stops me from 1) starting and  2) finishing projects is hiding inside me.

Every spiritual teacher I’ve encountered, in person or books, emphasized the importance of the Now. In the sixties and seventies, as meditation and eastern philosophies integrated into western culture, it became an often-spoofed catch word. Be Here Now! Allen Watts exhorted us.

The truth is, he was right.

The only way to create anything new is from the present. If we try to create from old patterns and memories, we end up re-creating old situations, even if dressed up in new clothes.

If you prefer dwelling on the past, you may identify yourself with childhood experiences, past wounds, slights, or resentments. Hold beliefs about how limited you are, how it’s too late (or too early) for what you want. Think you need more security, money, or free time before you create. You tell stories of what happened.

If you’re oriented to the future, you’re always planning. You have goals, vision, motivational tools, a to-do list. You’re so focused on what you will do that you don’t notice what is happening now. You tell stories of how great things will be.

If we don’t question where our ideas come from and if they are still true, we risk repeating patterns we don’t understand. A stuck pattern is a lens of perception.

If you feel at the mercy of time, other people, or your responsibilities, and can’t seem to start that novel, exercise program, or job hunt, maybe it’s time to look inside. The inner way is not often valued by the outer world, but it’s essential if you want to know yourself.

Here are some simple ways to start:

State a clear intention.

  • Decide what you want.
  • Write it down.
  • Don’t share what you’re doing with anyone. Make this a private space, just you and the contents of your mind.

Spend fifteen minutes a day alone.

  • Sit quietly with yourself. In nature. In your favorite chair.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Breathe, and notice what thoughts come up.
  • Listen to the voice within, even if it sounds like your dad.

Get a notebook

  • Commit to three sessions a week, twenty minutes each.
  • Write what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it.

A practical way of clearing the mental residue is to look around at your living space to decide what you don’t need. Cleaning out closets, bookcases, attics, and garages is a physical correlate to cleaning out old ideas. It’s satisfying to cart away physical objects. Plus, it gives your resistance a heads-up that you mean business!

And who knows, you may find your point of power hiding behind that old tennis racket!

The Power of Words

Language shapes our concepts about who we are and what we can do. Even idle words tossed off without thinking can be taken to heart and turned into beliefs. Hiding beneath the notice of the analytical mind,these beliefs govern behavior even when the person has opposing conscious beliefs.

I was once told by a healer that I was acting on ideas about having the “right job”, the “right clothes”, and the “right car.” Indignantly, I protested. Not true, I said. More interested in leading an authentic life, material possessions approved by the common culture had seldom interested me.

“Yes,” the healer said with a smile. “But your mother held those beliefs, and she gave them to you.”

My mother had passed on several years before, so I could not question her about it, but lo and behold, when I examined my own beliefs, using a simple muscle testing system, sure enough, I was holding onto unconscious ideas that conflicted with my value system.

Beliefs can be tricky, since those that most affect us most are often buried under layers of experience. They must be coaxed out, with meditation, journaling, or whatever healing method works for you.

A simple way to start examining our beliefs is to notice how we talk to ourselves and others. Do we use a lot of judgmental words? You should. I ought. That’s hopeless.

If you use judging words every time you make a minor mistake, is there a way you can substitute kinder words?

  • I forgot again! Could be changed to I am working on remembering
  • I’m so stupid! Could become I made a mistake, but that’s okay because I’m human.
  • How could I have done that! Could transform to I am learning from my experiences

If you try this exercise, it may feel awkward at first, but with some practice, you’ll soon learn to catch those automatic judgments and start speaking to yourself like a friend.

James W. Pennebaker, the pioneer in research on expressive writing for healing, discovered patterns of language typical of those who get the most benefit from expressive writing. He used a software program to analyze both written and spoken communication and found that pronouns (I, he, she, we, it) are a key to change.

When people who have experienced trauma write about the event, they can create a more coherent story which leads them to new understandings of what happened to them. The use of causal (because, why) and insight (realize, understand) words predicted how well the writers recovered from the trauma.

The most interesting and unexpected result came when he found that people who changed the pronouns they used (from first person to third person, for example) improved most in mood, health, and sociability.

By counting pronouns, Dr. Pennebaker found that people whose health was improving tended to decrease the use of first person pronouns. They gained perspective and the ability to see the situation from more than one point of view.

If you’d like to learn more about his research, he has written a popular book on the subject.


His original research, which inspired my own investigations into the benefits of writing for healing, is discusssed in his first book.

Wbat about you? Have you noticed how you talk to yourself? Have you tried journaling to uncover beliefs and stuck patterns you want to change?