Many professional people, especially women, are concerned about work-life balance, wondering how to give quality time to their children, family, job, fitness, recreation, and travel.
Hearing the phrase “work-life balance” makes me wonder if that mean that work is not a part of life? Isn’t our work an essential element in the journey of life?
Work can be defined as “exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something” or even more simply, “a task or undertaking.” With a clear purpose for the work that we do, the pursuit has intrinsic value. It seems fulfilling, no matter how much money we make. The women I know who want “work-life balance” often work for money but find that the activity leaves them feeling depleted. It doesn’t satisfy their longing for meaning. This makes for an energetic imbalance.
I have “worked” for nearly forty years as a more-than-fulltime volunteer teacher with a not for profit educational organization. I teach adults how to meditate, to interpret dreams, to concentrate, and develop their ideal and purpose in life. Why spend so much time without getting paid? Because the work itself fulfills me. I derive deep satisfaction from knowing that I have helped someone improve her life.
Recently I made a major shift in my life, incurring greater expenses than I had previously. So now I need to make money from the teaching, mentoring and coaching that I do. Has this upset the balance of my life? Not really. I still teach. I still aid people to interpret their dreams. I still guide people to develop a regular meditation practice.
When I first became a volunteer metaphysics teacher, I also worked in seemingly menial jobs to make money. These jobs were a part of my life just as the teaching was. I found that even as a file clerk or receptionist I could aid people to understand their dreams. I learned that my steady, calm presence (which came from my daily meditation practice) was in itself a way to teach by example. I often had coworkers ask me how I could be so calm and centered among the office politics. That gave me an open door to talk about meditation or concentration or dream interpretation.
I have found that the balance people seek is not so much between work and life. It is an urge to understand what makes life meaningful. A wise teacher counseled me years ago to ask myself, “What is life? Why do I approach it? What gives meaning to my life?” And then, based on that consideration, to choose the activities I wanted in my life.
Following that advice has aided me to live a truly fulfilling existence. I have accomplished many goals, like writing books, speaking to hundreds of groups and organizations, and serving on the Board of Directors of two different not-for-profit organizations.
I have friends, I read novels, make art, do yoga, tend my flower garden, and travel.
The balance comes from living a purposeful life.
To learn more about HOW to discern your core of your existence, the essential purpose that drives you and gives meaning to your life, I highly recommending Mind Mapping. Mind Mapping is fantastic for people who are creative, who have many ideas and who sometimes get scattered. By concentrating on the central image from which all the seemingly “different” ideas radiate, the creative person becomes much more centered, focused, and able to integrate all of the elements of his or her life. I teach workshops to individuals and groups how to do this! Contact me if you want to learn how.
Setting goals and accomplishing them brings satisfaction and fulfillment. Most people know how triumphant we feel when we complete something we intended to do.
But what happens when the motivation to accomplish wears out? When we find ourselves procrastinating by checking Facebook, drinking another cup of coffee, or finding frittering away our time?
How do we keep the motivation going?
It seems that the key is knowing what inspires us. Inspiration is different from motivation. Inspiration comes from purpose. Purpose comes from knowing who we are, what we have to offer, and how we can make the world a better place.
Inspiration is sustaining. It energizes us. Motivation can be energizing for awhile, but it also wears out.
As a more-than-fulltime volunteer for a 501(c)(3) not for profit educational organization, I spent nearly 40 years learning how inspiration provides sustenance. Now I am learning how to apply that to the business world, recognizing the monetary value as well.
Since 1979, I have invested my time and energy as a student and teacher with the School of Metaphysics, a 501(c)(3) educational and service organization. One unique feature of this organization is that 100% of the staff people are volunteers. This includes all of the teachers, the office staff, the administrators … everyone!
The school’s ideal is “to aid any individual, willing to put for the effort, to become a Whole, Functioning Self, not dependent on any other person, place or thing for peace, contentment and security.” The course of study is a structured series of lessons with daily mental disciplines. Students learn to bring forth their full potential through developing essential life skills, such as self respect, undivided attention, concentration, memory, listening, imagination, reasoning, intuition, and breath.
As a volunteer teacher and administrator I discovered that when the only motivation for teaching is love for one’s fellow human beings, s/he develops valuable qualities such as patience, compassion, unconditional love, respect, and acceptance.
What keeps someone involved with an organization when he or she is not getting paid? The payment comes in another form: personal fulfillment while aiding others. We can find a clue in research done by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who researched people who were dying. Universally, at the end of a lifetime, people ask themselves three questions: “Did I give and receive love? Did I become all that I could be? Did I leave the world a little bit better?”
Contributing our talents and energies to a good cause gives us a way to answer these questions in the affirmative, every day, rather than waiting to look back at the end of life when it may be too late.
My motivation for teaching what I had learned was gratitude. I was so grateful that my teachers were willing to give selflessly, and I received such profound benefits from the course of study, that I wanted everyone in the world to have it. Even when I had little experience, that passion and desire to share with others what I had learned, and the appreciation for what I had been given, made me a very good teacher.
Now that I have been teaching for over 30 years, I am still moved by gratitude and desire for everyone to have what I have! The innocence and joy that moved me in the beginning have matured into wisdom, still inspired by joy and love for the teachings.
I am also discovering that receiving monetary compensation for sharing what I know enables me to reach more people in more ways. The inspiration is just as strong. The motivation for turning a passion into a business is to have even more to give to the world.
For people to stay motivated, it requires having a strong ideal and purpose. Each individual needs to have a personal ideal and purpose that is strong, and all of us need to be aligned with the school’s overall ideal and purpose.
An ideal is more than a goal. Ideals are transcendent, images of the highest one can imagine becoming. A goal is physical. So, for example, one of my ideals is to be a clear voice for truth. I use this as a kind of internal compass when faced with decisions, when I need to be a mediator in a meeting, when I am called to speak at a conference, when I am asked for counsel, advice, or direction from a client.
A goal is something with a physical manifestation, such as buying a new or signing up 100 people for a seminar, or writing a book. When people have physical goals but are unclear about the transcendent ideals, they can become unmotivated once they have accomplished the goal. Waiting to decide, “what’s next?” can be depleting.
Motivation wears out when we have goals without purpose. Purpose is “who am I becoming in the process of living my ideal and accomplishing my goal.” So, my purpose for being a mediator is to bring light, awareness, into the communication. My purpose for writing my next book is to understand more deeply how to communicate in ways that anyone can comprehend.
When people know why they are doing what they are doing, not just a physical reason, but because they want to improve themselves, give their talents and gifts, develop new skills or understanding, then the motivation to complete a task deepens into the inspiration to reach higher and farther, and to give more completely.
When you give, you receive, so those who give more completely also receive more deeply. The reward is more permanent than money, because it is one of character development that lasts forever.
When people create together with a common ideal, the relationships people form are very deep, fulfilling, and enriching. People love to be invested in a worthy endeavor that produces self-growth while aiding other people.
“To thine own self be true,” said William Shakespeare.
This sounds great, but how do we even know what it means to be true to oneself? Young children seem very free to express their true nature. A child’s laughter is one of the most beautiful sounds: full, joyous, and resonant. Unfortunately, many of us learn to squelch that natural laughter, to subdue our energy, or to be “seen and not heard,” so that by the time we are adults we have difficulty knowing who we are.
Society encourages us to look a certain way, speak so that other people will approve of us, follow the trends that are popular. Today’s pre-teenagers already wear makeup and speak in voices they imitate from TV or video. I recently spoke with a 60-something woman who told me she was going to let her hair go natural. She has been straightening it since she was in her 20’s and covering the gray since the age of 40. “I think it’s time for me to find out what I really look like,” she said. “I don’t even know what my natural look is!”
How can we truly express ourselves if we don’t even know who we are? We need to learn to re-connect with the Real Self, the inner self. Exploring our true nature can be an exciting prospect. We can begin by learning to quiet the outer mind. All of that brain chatter that says we should think, talk, or act in ways that are “appropriate” must cease so that we can become still and listen to our own inner voice.
Concentration exercises are especially helpful for calming the mind. A simple breathing exercise can do wonders. Inhale deeply through the nose, hold the breath for a moment, and then exhale through the mouth. Do this a few times, rhythmically and easily. Then breathe naturally, and simply observe the breath. You will find your mind becoming quieter.
Spend some time alone in this quiet state. You can write, take a walk, enjoy a creative activity, or simply sit. Once you become accustomed to enjoying your own company you will find it much easier to express your true nature.
Meditation is another way to discover more of the Real You. Meditation is a form of inner listening. With a still, calm mind, this practice feels nourishing. Deep meditation can be more relaxing than a nap. Daily meditation can aid anyone to know the self that exists beyond the physical body and the five senses. This higher self can provide answers and give us guidance when we learn to listen.
Remembering night-time dreams and learning to interpret them is another wonderful way to know the self. Dreams come from the inner self or subconscious mind and give guidance to the outer self or conscious mind. The key to understanding dreams is to learn the language in which they communicate.
Keep a dream journal by the bed to capture the dream upon awakening. Dreams can clue us into our life purpose, our own attitudes and state of awareness, and can even connect us with other people and resources. There are famous tales of inventors, scientists, artists, writers, musicians, and entrepreneurs who received inspiration from dreams.
To start using dream-inspiration for creative expression, write down in your dream journal, “I want to remember my dreams.” Then, ask your subconscious mind a question. In the morning, make sure to write down the first thing you remember, before you hop out of bed or start talking or thinking about your day.
A couple of years ago I was writing a book on visualization. It was a revision and update of a book I’d written thirteen years earlier. The first book had gone out of print, and I had been told that the title was not catchy. I couldn’t seem to come up with a good title for the new book. I had lists of possible titles, some recommended by other people, some that I had considered. None was exactly right. So one night I asked for a dream to give me the book title. In the morning, as I awoke, I heard in my mind the words, “The Law of Attraction and Other Secrets of Visualization.” I immediately wrote it down in my dream journal. I decided to use that title for the book, and it has turned out to be highly successful! The book sold out in the first year and went into a second printing before the year was over.
Listen to your inner self. It will guide you, so that your creative expression comes from your heart. That is the road to fulfillment and to aiding others with your unique gifts.
I don’t remember when it started, but for awhile now, I hear people saying, “I’m going to do what I want, not what I should.” I’ve seen bumper stickers that say, “Don’t should on me.”
I wonder when “should” became a dirty word?
My mother used to recite a poem she learned in her childhood. Sometimes I can still hear her sing-song voice in my mind,
“Straight is the line of Duty
Curved in the line of Beauty
Follow the straight line and you will see
The curved line will always follow thee.”
I love this. It makes life simple. Doing your Duty brings out your inner Beauty because God is love. When we serve God, either directly or through serving other people, we radiate love. And what can be more beautiful?
I think the problem with “should” arises when people lack purpose. Doing something just because you’re supposed to, or “because I said so” can be frustrating. Knowing why you do something, what purpose is serves or how it will benefit another person, makes the activity worthwhile.
As a counselor, I aid people to discover, or uncover, their values. Some people seem to know what makes life meaningful and have strong ideals. Most people have a little difficulty identifying their ideals. They may have goals and things they want to accomplish, but knowing how those accomplishments bring out or develop virtue seems elusive.
How do you establish ideals?
One way is to look for people you admire, either people you actually know (or have known) or public figures. Learning how those people think can aid you to develop some ideas of how you want to think.
Another way for those inclined to do so is to read holy scriptures. Most scriptures delineate virtues, ways of thinking and behaving that bring us closer to God. “Draw close to God and he will draw close to you,” it says in the Bible. (James 4:8)
When we think and act in virtuous ways, “doing what we should” seems simple. We can be ethical, moral, and spiritual, living for the greater good, not just our own selfish desires.
A simple way to practice this is living according to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This gives us a sense of what we should or shouldn’t do. It seems that the idea of “should” becomes a challenge when people fear that they will lose something and won’t get what they want.
In the Bible, near the end of Jesus’ life, he surrenders to God, saying, “Not my will but Thy will.” This philosophy of surrendering the individual will to Divine Will is, in my opinion, the essence of ethics. Living an ethical life is living with integrity.
Integrity comes from the same root as the word “integer.” Perhaps you remember from mathematics classes that an integer is a whole number. Integrity means whole. To integrate means bringing together that which becomes part of the whole.
So I see ethics as a way of thinking that harmonizes with each one of us being a part of a greater whole. Another way to view this is thinking about being a force for good, doing that which promotes and facilitates growth.
Some people seem to reject the idea of ethics, viewing it at restrictive or “boxy.” I see this occurs when people view ethics as limiting their behavior.
Any codes of ethical conduct, external law, or rules of behavior exist to guide us while in this human form to make choices that align with our Divine Nature. The Universal Laws are perhaps the ultimate guidelines, set into motion at the beginning of creation so we can become compatible with our Creator.
The practice of meditation enables us to still the mind (through concentration) and listen to our Creator, eventually to merge with the Creator. When we can listen and hear the voice of Creation we can have a kind of internal compass to guide our choices. This internal compass can be called conscience or being pure-hearted.
Throughout the ages mystery schools and religions have set forth guidelines for people to develop conscience. Reading and following rules because someone else “says so” can feel restrictive. When one practices meditation and devotes oneself to living in alignment with the Universal Laws, then conscience centers us. The internal click of knowing that one has done the right thing (even when it may not seem “fun” or “easy”) feels fulfilling.
Sometimes when I am faced with a choice of something I “should” do even though I may not want to, I think about how I will feel later when I reflect on it. Using visualization and clairvoyance it becomes easy to see that the right choice in the long run will “feel” right. It will be fulfilling. The choice that might temporarily feel good but which does not benefit the whole will, in the long run, “feel” bad. Some people might describe it as “leaving a bad taste in their mouth.”
Developing that kind of clairvoyance and conscience starts with believing that there is right and wrong. I have heard people say that there is no such thing as right and wrong, it is all for learning. That does not fit with any scripture or wisdom teaching I have ever read. It is true that life is a process of learning, and it is also true that we become responsible for what we know.
So for example, if the sales clerk gives me too much change without realizing it, even though I could get away with walking out with the extra money, it will deteriorate my sense of self worth. I will feel bad or guilty or ashamed because I know that I have stolen. Whether I get caught by someone else is not the issue. Because I know better, I am responsible for giving it back.
This kind of purity in thought enables one to go to bed with a clear mind and pure heart. When we make choices based on understanding we grow in virtue. Growing in virtue enables us to “feel good” in a permanent sense.
I love the idea of being devoted to something greater than myself. Thinking consciously about how I might serve God and aid other people is a good way to do so.
Looking out the window, I see a duck stroll into the water, joining his friends. Ten of them. A couple of days ago there were four. A month ago there were none.
How strange it seems to think that I missed the ducks! They became friends last winter. I got in the habit of counting them to make sure they were all there. The most I ever counted was 22.
Melancholy. It feels like fall. Leaves dropping, even the brilliant crimson red and amber colored leaves seem to ache. “Soon it will be gone,” they glow. The leaves, the warmth, the sun, will soon be hidden under the cold.
Wonder if I will ever in this lifetime know the joy of fully being in the present, filled to the brim with the Creator’s splendor, without feeling in the back of my mind, in that achy place beneath my heart, the pain of loss in the future.
Is it even possible?
Where do the tears come from? They arise, seemingly unbidden, when I allow myself to fully, really, completely feel love. The depth of the place where my love resides seems to equal the depth of sorrow I can feel.
It isn’t fair.
Sometimes I look at people who seem truly to be happy, to easily move from one thing to another, to love and love again and to be pretty much over it when one door closes. Always looking ahead.
Even when I look ahead the shadow of previous loss haunts me. I think I understand Halloween. Worshiping the spirits of the departed precedes all Saints Day. Maybe the Divine shows Him or Her or Itself through the cosmic joke of making the depth of love feel so true and beautiful and lasting … so that when it is gone it forces us to love Him or Her or It even more.
When all else fails, create. I’ve heard people say, “If you had it once, you can create it again. That’s not exactly true. One can never “recreate” or “reproduce” a relationship or friendship or marriage. There are always more pairings or groupings but with different people it is different.
Maybe that’s why we have so many opportunities to love. So that we can understand the fullness of love, in all of its expressions?
Sometimes I wonder if I have what it takes. It seems like it would be easier to not feel so deeply. But I don’t really have that choice, so that’s a moot point.
Love, create, live.
Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky. — Hafiz
“Let it go,” sings Queen Elsa in Disney’s movie Frozen. Winner of both the Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy, the song’s popularity shows how powerful it can be to let go!
Easier said than done.
How many times have I wrestled with unresolved thoughts and feelings about a situation, usually involving a relationship with another person. Things eat away at me until I can come to understanding. When another person is involved, I feel compelled to talk it over but sometimes they don’t.
What to do in those situations? You can’t just “let it go.”
Ruminating makes it worse. Rehearsing conversations in your mind seems to make the uneasiness increase. Sometimes writing about it helps, but often I want to write to the other person and if they don’t respond, then I feel even more unsettled.
I have discovered some ways to approach these tangled up, unresolved thoughts and feelings. Sometimes holding on until I find resolve works much better than trying to let go of something sticky.
1. Walk away for a little while.
Sometimes it helps to breathe, to allow some time to pass. This doesn’t mean permanently avoiding or running from the situation, but allowing some time for the intensity of the distress to lessen. It is impossible to reason when emotions are stirred up, so deep breathing exercises and walking in fresh air can allow some calm to enter.
2. Turn the other cheek.
Once I gave a sermon on this passage from the Bible: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:39). As I was preparing, I saw something I had never seen before. If you focus on your opinion or position, you are looking in one direction. When you turn the other cheek, it requires turning your head. So now you are seeing in a new direction.
The insight came to me that “turning the other cheek” doesn’t mean passively letting someone mistreat or hurt you. It means looking at things from a different perspective, seeing the situation from their point of view.
For example, I was trying to help a friend with chronic shoulder pain. He kept asking me for advice. I favor energetic types of healing like chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga, or EFT (tapping.) He has found relief through more mechanical means like surgery or medication.
I offered to give him a type of intuitive reading for a gift. He was skeptical but sounded interested. I had previously suggested a chiropractor/acupuncturist who had helped me. When he did not find immediate relief from that practitioner, he called him a quack.
I asked what he wanted to get out of the reading and what might happen if he went into it doubting its value. When he said he didn’t know, I got irritated, saying that I didn’t want to repeat what happened with the chiropractor. He said, “okay, let’s forget it then.”
In that moment I realized how selfish it was of me to offer a gift (the reading) with a condition that he use it for a particular purpose. A gift should be given freely without strings. He did not know what to expect and was open to receiving something, but for me to dictate how helpful it would be meant I was trying to control him.
We have different experiences and different perceptions of what causes healing. My lesson in this is to accept him and his way of healing rather than trying to force my perspective on him.
How illuminating! When we view a situation from another person’s perspective, we can understand that person. This resonates with the St. Francis prayer, “Seek to understand, not to be understood.” While this may seem challenging, it goes a long way in changing our perspective and diffusing any kind of anger, self-righteousness or desire for revenge.
3. Identify your cause in the situation
When we blame another person or external circumstances, we fail to recognize that we always have some part in causing situations to be as they are. Sometimes this can be hard to admit. We like to be right, to win, to be the smart or wise one.
Admitting how we have had some part in causing a situation requires being humble. It also brings freedom, enabling us to learn and to let go of old patterns of thinking that keep us stuck. In the situation with my friend, I was attached to relieving his pain. That is my cause, something I need to heal in myself. I was trying to make it his problem by forcing him to believe in something he didn’t know anything about.
So I needed to let go of my attachment to being a savior, being able to relieve his pain. If I really want to help, I can give something (in this case, the reading) and release it, letting him choose how to use the gift. This enables me to let go of the compulsion to control everything and everyone, respecting their choices even when they may be different from mine.
4. Practice methods of clearing the mind and emotions
If you are the kind of person who thinks all the time (like me!), unresolved thoughts are like food that stays in the stomach and never digests. Thus the saying, “it’s eating away at me.” To begin the assimilation process, it helps to spend some time clearing the mind.
Writing about the issue in a stream of consciousness is a great way to begin the process. Get a journal or sheets of paper and a pen (do this long hand for the best results rather than using a computer.) Set a timer for 20 minutes. Then, write the subject at the top of the page, like “Conflict with XYZ.” Start writing, whatever comes to mind. Don’t stop to think too much, to punctuate or even to write what seems true. Just write.
If you feel stuck or paralyzed, write, “I don’t know what to write” and keep writing. If you think that your writing is stupid or doesn’t make sense, write that. Just keep writing until the 20 minutes is up.
Then go back and look at what you’ve written. There will be some junk, but among the seeming nonsense you will also find some nuggets of truth. Highlight these. It will give you a place to begin understanding.
Once you have done this brain clearing, find a quiet place. Sit or lie down and focus on your breath. Just watch it. Don’t try to force it or make it do anything. Just watch the breath as it comes in and goes out. Then, notice the exhale. Watch the breath as it goes out, and allow yourself to let go of any thoughts or concerns along with the outgoing breath.
You can say this mantra to yourself (from Henry Reed’s Intuitive Heart training): “I am aware of my breath and letting it be. I am learning to let go and let spirit breathe me.” Keep silently chanting that and watch your outgoing breath.
Allow yourself to stay in this relaxed state as long as you wish. You will emerge feeling much more centered and perhaps ready now to really let go of what has troubled you.
If you try these methods, please leave a comment below to share what you discover. If you know other ways to let go that seem effective, share those too!
People who long to write sometimes stop themselves with a self-critical editor who says, “You’re not a writer.”
A writer is someone who writes. So if you want to write a poem, write one.
Write every day. Even if you find your writing tedious or boring or uninspired, by writing every day, you will become a writer. It’s that simple.
Where can you find inspiration? So many sources! I first kept a dream journal in college when a friend in a creative writing class told me that the inspiration for her poetry came from her dreams.
Keep a journal by your bed and tell yourself before sleep, “I want to remember my dreams.” Then be faithful, upon awakening write down the impressions in your mind. It may be an entire dream, a feeling, a fleeting image, some words. It doesn’t matter. Don’t judge it, just record it. Even if you don’t remember a thing, you can write what you think or how you feel upon awakening.
From your dreams, circle the nouns and the verbs and put them together into sentences. Or take each line that you’ve written, preface it with the words, “In my dream,” and string them together. You have a poem!
Another way to compose poetry is to ask friends to give you words. Seven to nine words seems to be a good number, maybe up to ten. Or you can look around the room or listen for the first words that pop into your mind. Use some form of those seven to ten words to make a poem.
Play with words. Play with the sound, the rhythm, the images they evoke. Poetry, unlike prose, does not have to be made of full sentences. Experiment with the images.
Don’t be concerned about meaning. Think of a poem like music or abstract painting and let the sounds or images carry you into a new realm.
Here are some poems I made from the random word exercise:
Beckon, forthright, cultivate, ginger, fresh, sallow, wonder, bleak, harvest, genuine
The bleak landscape beckons me
Quietly, gingerly, I step out
Wondering what fresh places to cultivate
Is there something genuine
Beneath that sallow earth
That a forthright laborer
fathom, silk, peace, love, white, gentle, far, touch, blessed, trust
How gentle your loving touch
Deeper by far than the ocean
How can I fathom the blessed peace you bring me?
I trust this unfolding,
The white silk veil falls away
All I want is peace
Peace, love, green, flower, sanctuary, black, comb, fashion, trial
All I want is peace.
In the deep longing for love
something green reaches for light
What is this flowering?
Where is the quiet sanctuary
in which all is known?
Does it exist?
Black has its purpose.
Still, waiting, resonant
with the soul fashioning
its next movement.
Some trials are worth continuing.
If I comb through the past
will it reveal the source of this unknowing?
Another way to write a poem is to pick particular qualities or states of being that resonate with you and turn them into people. An excellent book for stimulating your imagination this way is The Book of Qualities by Ruth Gendler. I highly recommend it.
The following poem, “Solitude,” came to me in feeling images as I pondered solitude and its seeming opposite, intimacy. As I focused on my own experience of aloneness, I felt within me the similarity of solitude and intimacy. It came forth in this way:
I have grown used to Solitude
She befriended me when I needed her.
A constant companion
She is comfortable and familiar
and even peaceful.
A little while ago
I told her we needed to change
our live-in arrangement.
She can visit
but it is time for us to take a break
There is space now
for her sister Intimacy to move in.
Few people realize
how closely related they are …
The touch the same places.
The difference is who they allow
to share them
Writing poetry can be a way to free the creative mind to express. Allow yourself to play with words. You can choose a particular form like haiku or limericks or classic sonnets, or write in free verse. Think of words as the raw materials you use to create, just as a sculptor would use clay or a painter acrylic or oil paint. A chef uses food and spices and a musician creates with sound. When you approach writing as play, you’ll find joy in the process.
Sometimes that seems more valuable than the finished product.
Please share your poems in the comments below along with the process you used to create them!
“I am not an artist, I make things.”
A dear friend of mine who paints and writes, teaches and leads workshops to teach teachers how to be creative, told me one time that she does not think of herself as an artist. “I am not an artist, I make things,” she said.
This simple statement changed my life. It gave me freedom and permission to enjoy the creative process without so much self-critical judgment about whether it was good or not.
The creative impulse is inherently ours. I believe that our essence is creative and we are most happy when we express ourselves.
When we think of ourselves as “creative,” we may make art or write or decorate a house or garden or cook. If we think, “I am not creative,” we feel restless or may think we have Attention Deficit Disorder. We have lots of ideas, sometimes so many we don’t know where to start. We might try to stifle the creative urge by eating, sleeping, drinking or procrastinating.
Why would anyone want to stifle the creative urge? It seems unnatural to suppress creativity. I think we learn to do that. Children may be taught to “get rid of” excess energy or be told that they can’t draw or paint or sing. As adults we often operate from beliefs we adopted long ago. One experience of feeling ashamed for singing off key or being too loud or not following instructions can spark a lifelong belief in not being creative.
What if, for a month, you decided “I am creative”? What if every day you did something creative without any judgement about whether it was good enough? Try listing all of the things you like to make. Maybe you use your hands or your pen or your voice or your body. Do one of these things every day. See how you feel!
At different times in my life I have allowed myself to be free to be create. At other times, I have killed my creativity with harsh judgments. Recently I decided to do one creative thing (at least) each day without regard to whether it was good enough. I discovered that many of the ways I like to create are useful. Somewhere I had come to believe that being creative and being useful were incompatible.
So I was judging myself as being uncreative when, in fact, in one week I expressed my creativity in these ways:
• cooking three soups and some interesting breakfast dishes
• covering an empty box with adhesive paper to make a trash can that matched the receptacles I made to hold markers and pens from covering empty coffee cans with the same paper
• making an altar by covering a plastic tub with fabric
• making a dream journal from a notebook that I covered with an image cut from a magazine
• framing a drawing of an angel cut from a magazine for the altar
• decorating a work area with plants
• writing two poems
I was reminded of a class I took in college when I was studying Women’s Studies. Called Women’s Imagination, the question posed in the class was “Why are there no great women artists?” This was in 1978, when most of the artists who were known in the world of fine art were men.
I learned in the class that there were painters and writers who used male pseudonyms so that their work would be accepted in society, but there was also a condition in which women expressed their creativity through objects that were consumed rather than hanging in art galleries. So in many periods of history, women’s art took the form of embroidered tablecloths or handmade clothes or delicious meals. Because these were used and often used up, their creators were not recognized or acknowledged.
The Mayans describe time by saying that Time is Art. In Western society we have mutated the idea of time to be Time is Money. When we value time in dollars, we may come to devalue creative activity for the sake of creating, for the pure joy of putting things together in a new way.
About a year ago, I noticed a series of nighttime dreams in which time was an issue. In most of these dreams I was late for something, or I noticed a clock and became aware that the time had passed for something I was supposed to do. I wondered why the clock or issue of time was so prominent. In all of these dreams, I recognized the feeling of having missed out on something.
Reflecting upon my waking life, I discovered that these dreams always accompanied a feeling when awake that I was “missing the boat,” that there was something I was supposed to be accomplishing or doing that I was not doing. It was always unpleasant, with a kind of gnawing feeling in the area of my solar plexus.
When I am creating, I never have this feeling of time running out. There is a feeling of joy and fulfillment. For me, I especially enjoy creativity when I am making a gift. Something about sharing my self-expression that brings me fulfillment. Not too long ago, someone posted a challenge on Facebook to offer a creative surprise to the first five people who responded. I decided to participate in it and found myself grateful for the “excuse” to make something for other people.
I made different creative surprises for the five people who responded: a personalized bookmark for one, a mandala for another, a poem for another, a door hanger for a mother who meditates with an image of a meditator (so her kids would know when she wanted to be left alone for her spiritual practice) and my favorite, a doll.
For some reason, the idea of the doll came to me immediately when the fifth woman responded. I visualized what I wanted the doll to look like and how I would make her. I had an empty shampoo bottle that was somewhat hourglass shaped. I thought it would make a perfect body. I wanted to make the doll from “found objects” so I had my eye out for yarn for the hair, fabric for the dress, a children’s hair tie for the collar of the dress, and pipe cleaner arms. The only thing I bought was a wooden ball for the head and glue to put her together.
Thinking about the doll and looking for the objects to make it brought me great delight. I was not sure whether my friend would appreciate her as much as I did but the joy of making it infused the doll and she received my love and creativity along with the thing itself.
Making that doll also reminded me of the final project that was part of the Women’s Imagination class. Our final assignment was open-ended: to do a creative project. I had no idea what to do. As I was pondering this, I browsed in a bookstore with my older sister. I was looking through an illustrated book of dollhouses, poring over the details of the tiny furniture.
“Why don’t you make a dollhouse for your creative project?” she suggested, “You’ve always loved them.”
What a great idea! This is why I love people; they can stimulate you to think in ways you might not otherwise think. She was right, as a child, I had loved dollhouses. Some of the first dreams I remember are those of very intricate and detailed dollhouses. Although I had one, it had molded plastic furniture. I longed for furniture that actually worked, with drawers that opened and closed, lights that turned on, stairs that a doll could climb.
I decided to do it. I found three sturdy cardboard boxes for the three rooms. I figured I could make a living room, dining room, and bedroom. As soon as I thought about it, I immediately started to “see” in things in my environment a new use for them. I bought some balsa wood at a craft store and used it to cover wooden boxes. Three matchboxes stacked on top of one another, covered in balsa wood with tiny beads glued to the front made a three-drawer dresser with drawers that opened and closed.
I had a microscope when I was in junior high school and still had a box of microscope slides I had never used. I saw those slides, and immediately could see in them two tiny glass-topped coffee tables. So I took some square beads, painted them black, and glued them to the bottom of the slides. Voila! Two glass-topped coffee tables. That set the tone of the living room, which had to be a contemporary design.
How could I make couches to go with the coffee tables? I took a couple of oblong wooden blocks, covered them in a fake leopard-skin fabric, and glued them together. A perfect little couch. I made another one, so that the living room now had two couches to go with the two tables.
More discoveries produced little objects. An empty top to a shampoo bottle made the perfect base for a leather button, which made a footstool. I even sprouted a live plant from a carrot placed in water and planted it in another bottle top, then used string to make it into a hanging planter.
I became so enthused with the creative process I could hardly sleep. Everywhere I looked I saw something that could be made into a little piece of furniture: the lid of an orange juice can became a serving tray, covered with a plastic coated playing card. I cut other cards to make matching placemats to go with the serving tray.
My friends were astounded that I spent my entire spring break, at my mother’s home in New York, staying up most of the night making the dollhouse furniture. “Why are you spending so much time on it?” they wondered. It was a pass-fail class so I didn’t need a grade.
I was making it not for the grade but for the joy of creating. The class assignment gave me a purpose for doing the project. For years afterwards I carried it with me throughout many moves until unfortunately it was ruined in a flood.
Even though I no longer have the things, I have with me the memory of the creative process, the joy of discovery, and the recognition that what I brought out in me through doing this was an ability to see potential. I could see the potential in the microscope slide, the bottle tops, the blocks and beads and fabric. The need to find a way to make a couch or table or bed or bookcase stimulated me to find resources I could use.
Part of the fun of this project was making things that would otherwise be thrown away into something useful. Today there is a word for that: “repurposing.” Little did I know that as a college student I was doing something that would become popular nearly 40 years later!
Please share your creative ideas in the comments below!
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