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.

 

Hope is for Winners

How we feel about ourselves influences our immune system. Candace Pert (Molecules of Emotion) and many researchers since have uncovered physiological mechanisms in our bodies that influence how we feel and how effectively we can fight off and recover from illness.

Hopelessness, anger, frustration, regret, resentment, and any emotion that brings the spirit down depress the glucose available to our cells and contribute to the exhaustion, mental fog, lack of interest in life, and inability to make decisions that characterize depression.

When depressed people change how they speak about their situations, to themselves and the world, they take proactive steps to change, not just the feeing state, but how their bodies respond biologically.

Change your thoughts, change your life is a mantra for healers of all stripes.

We know this.  The critical question is, do we do it?

Do we seek within ourselves for the messages that got stuck in our brains and repeated the same negative programming over and over until we believed it? 

It’s hard to do, yes, until you do it enough to acquire a knack for how it works. Then, it becomes a game. Ferreting out negative, unhelpful ideas and changing them is a critical step on the way to health and wholeness.

Not until you know what negative messages you’re sending yourself can you begin to change them. 

Changing negative messages requires that you say things to yourself you may not believe are true.

Like:

  • I enjoy perfect health.
  • I have everything I need to be happy.
  • I am loved and love in return.
  • Every day, I am healing my ______________

These seemingly contradictory statements, spoken aloud or mentally, can change how the body functions.  Healers have always known this. Now physiological researchers are finding the mechanisms that explain why.

At first, it may feel silly to say things to yourself that are not “true,” but in fact the body does not know the difference between “true” and “false.” It responds to all messages, so why not give it something that will perk it up? This can be easier to understand if you think of messages like,

I am a person worthy of respect.

For someone told in childhood that they were not worthy, the shift can be lifechanging. And isn’t everyone worthy of respect?

Recently, I was reminded of how vehement some folks are about giving others what they call “false hope.”  They think it’s worse to try and fail than not to try at all.

Now, I’m not talking about telling people without a high school education they can obtain an executive position by taking an online course on management. Or, making inaccurate claims for expensive and bogus “cures” for diseases. Or products that promise easy weight loss with no change in diet or exercise. These are schemes offered by manipulative and reprehensible people who will do anything for money. Of course, we should beware their ilk.

I mean those who discourage family and friends from using complementary healing methods in addition to traditional medical ones.  Adding acupuncture, massage, herbs, therapy, energy healing and other modalities can help change a patient’s attitude and feelings of self-worth which allows their bodies to marshal the natural healing mechanisms we all have within us.

A less tense, less frightened patient will have a stronger immune response we well as more energy to make lifestyle changes to support her health.

  • Attitude counts.
  • Faith counts.
  • Hope counts.

For myself, I am working on pulling down some of the walls of my comfort zone. I want to have hope that I can change my life. Lose a little more weight. Publish more stories. Write that nonfiction book that terrifies me. Not that hope is enough. I also need time, energy, a plan, resources, support, and confidence, even if I have to prop it up with a two by four.

But first, I have to believe it’s possible. Not every minute. Not even every day. But enough to keep me plugging away.

 

 

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!

Celebrate Your Independence!

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make
you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

                                                   ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Last week we celebrated Independence Day, a time for family and friends, barbecues, swimming, fireworks, and whatever makes you feel good.

But what if you don’t feel free and independent?  What if finances, health issues, time, difficult family members or inappropriate living situations weigh on you?  How do you celebrate your independence then?

It might be just the time to stop seeking solutions in the outer world and consider a walk down the inner path. Instead of traditional group activities, you might get more out of a quiet day of hiking in a beautiful place.  Or reading an absorbing book, painting, playing with your pets, learning something new, calming your mind.

But what about that picnic everyone else is going to?  Won’t you miss out? Not if you’d rather do something else. Not if your inner self is pining from lack of attention.

It takes strength to say no to the crowd.  You risk being branded as strange, anti-social, a trouble-maker. The impulse that leads you to forego the picnic for a solitary walk may result in the happiest unforeseen events.  A new friend met by happenstance. A stray dog that longs to comfort you.  Perfect light on the river illuminating a fish swimming upstream.  The book that will change your life at a garage sale for only a dollar. You could miss a lot at that picnic with people you’ve known your whole life.

If you long to answer the question posed by the whispering Self/Soul/Spirit, you want more than the easy answers provided by popular culture. Instead of Superman flying in to save us from our enemies, we seek the true myth, personified by the age-old gods and goddesses that sing through our blood and inhabit the nether regions of our minds.

One of my heroes, late writer Ursula K. Le Guin, talks about the difference between true myth and sub-myth, between Zeus and Superman, in her book, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction

She quotes a story told by the poet Rilke who, when he gazed at a statue of Apollo, it spoke to him. “You must change your life,” Apollo said.

“The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it, and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero—really look—and he turns into a gerbil.  You look at Apollo and he looks back.”

Every writer, artist, mystic, and seeker knows that when the true myth rises into consciousness, that is its message: you must change your life. But that’s hard. Maybe you don’t want to. Maybe you’re happy the ways things are. If so, I salute you. But if you wonder what treasure lies buried behind that door you’ve never opened, then consider, what will make you free and independent?

Go ahead.  Open it.  Try.  All you have to lose are the chains binding you to the past.

Dancing for Joy

What happens when we don’t express our creative energy?  When something inside blocks us from writing, painting, designing, making music, dancing for joy?

Lots of things can happen, most of them not positive, although some do a good job of masquerading as useful and practical.

  • We can become so entangled in our jobs that we don’t take time for ourselves, our families, or friends.
  • We can go back to school, in hopes that more education will spark our ability to create.
  • We can become meticulous housekeepers, never a speck on the rug or a smudge on the mirror.
  • We can become the most helpful person in the neighborhood, the one everyone comes to for a ride, a loan, or a shoulder to cry on.

These patterns, if freely chosen and intrinsically rewarding, are fine. But if they mask the face of resistance whispering that serving others, being busy, having a spotless home, and doing our jobs better than anyone else ever has, it’s time to put on the brakes and take stock.

My students often say:

  • “I don’t have time.”
  • “My job is overwhelming.”
  • “My kids/parents/friends need me to be there all the time.”
  • “Maybe when things slow down, I’ll work on my dreams.”

Maybe you haven’t noticed but the world is not slowing down.  We’re expected to do more with less at work.  Social media takes up time we used to spend talking to real people. Our phones demand our attention, and only the bravest does not use a phone for socializing, game playing, and entertainment. Even those who write the apps admit they intend to make us addicts.

At worst, blocked creativity leads to depression, lack of fulfillment, bitterness, anxiety, boredom, and seething resentment. The terrm “Prozac Nation” was coined because we use drungs to mask how we feel.  It would be easier and safer to spend some ttime doing what we feel like doing.

Everyone has a need to create.  For some, the drive is pre-eminent, while for others, it resides in the background.  People who do crafts, garden, develop a personal clothing style, and make their homes restful havens are creative just as novelists, musicians, and playwrights are.  The energy comes from the same place.  The form it takes depends on your interests, abilities, values, and inclinations. Any form your creativity takes is valuable to you.

Unfortunately, creative work, unless it is popular and financially rewarding, is often not highly valuee by others. If your writing, painting, or music does not result in income, it may be considered, by your friends, as well as the IRS, as a hobby.  The problem with hobbies is that they are “extra,” not as important, easily pushed to the background.

If you have the urge to create, consider giving yourself permission to start.  What would it take to devote an hour two or three times a week to learning how to paint, compose a poem, design a website?  What could you let go of, so you can learn about the pleasure that awaits you?

What would it feel like to dance for joy?