Coming Full Circle

  Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose Medical degree burningI recently returned from a week-long stay in Keystone, Colorado. I was there with a small group of physicians gathered to restore their voice to the practice of medicine.

How I got there was through a series of events I can only call synchronicity.

What I felt was a profound feeling of "coming home".

I showed up as all of me, in full color. My role was to listen deeply and expansively, and I chose to record what I heard in visual form.

It was as if everything I practiced was serving me in my service to this gathering. Each morning I woke early and rode my rented bike along the many trails around Keystone. I listened to the Snake River winding its way through the trees. I inhaled with awe each time I arrived at the vista of Lake Dillon. I clawed my way up a steep hill only to be rewarded with the jackpot of a stunning view of Breckenridge and beyond.

I had learned from these past few years of practicing self-care that these morning steps were my fuel for being present and thinking creatively. I knew what to do - even in an environment away from my familiar surroundings at home - because I had practiced them into new habits. I had my biking clothes, I was comfortable riding, and all I had to do was explore new roads and read new maps.

I also had my daily sketching and art journaling practice in place, something I started only within the last two years. I have experimented with many different formats and media, and I am comfortable drawing outside. On this trip, I brought a small Moleskine Japanese album with accordion pages. It fit in my small travel purse or pocket, and I carried a pouch with pen, markers, and water brushes.

On my morning rides, I often sketched a scene quickly in ink, filling in color later in the day or in the evening. I noticed what I noticed. I took note of the stories I wanted to tell. And by the time I got home, there were three or four panels that needed coloring, which I completed within a few days.

New experiences, new people, new places -- all of these fuel my creativity and keep me inspired.

I am grateful for the daily practices I cultivate at home, so I am well-prepared to stay open when I'm on the road.

For a frame-by-frame caption story of my Keystone travel journal, see my post here.

For an in-depth reflection on the contents of the physician meeting and its impact on me personally, stay tuned!

What Doctors Can Learn From Artists and Entrepreneurs

Since leaving medicine, I’ve been an entrepreneur and an independent artist. They are similar pursuits, and both have taught me about the experience of living in creative rather than reactive mode. In the moment you can claim your role in creating the experience you are having right now - as reflected to you by the external circumstances you find yourself in - you begin to take a creative stance. You begin to see yourself differently within the grand puzzle of your world. No longer can you point your finger and your attention outward at “them”, but now you must see the source within you that holds your power to create, choose, and act.

Every artist and every entrepreneur has had to touch this inner place in order to bring a never-before-seen vision into material reality. Whether you name it “imagination” or “vision” or “desire”, every human being has an inner source of creativity. Some of us have placed this in a box in the basement of our consciousness. Maybe we have given up on ever being able to use it in this lifetime. But as long as you are alive, you have this source within you, waiting for you to open the space for it to breathe.

Here are four creative mindsets you have within you, waiting to be awakened and remembered.

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What makes you unique?

IMG_4058 In the weeks since returning from Boulder, I've been spending more time with the idea of the Unique Self teaching of Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom. For me it was deeply integrating to hear a story that finally enabled me to bring together both the parts of me I had discovered and cultivated during the last five years - namely, wordless presence, connection with the Oneness, and recognition of egoless identity - and the parts of myself I had "divorced" from - namely, the rules of classical training, the linear reductionist thinking of mechanical science, and the ignoring of subjective experience.

How refreshing to hear someone say, "You can't meditate your ego away. You can't meditate your story away." This was part of my experience as a meditation practitioner! I wanted to put certain chapters in the past, as "the way I used to be", believing that in order to become who I knew myself to be - both creative and spiritual - I needed to forget who I once was. No matter how many relationships I walked away from, no matter how many new practices I adopted, no matter how many new communities I joined, I could not completely ignore my prior experience and stories, and the curiosity I felt about bringing my new learning back to my old communities. I could not pretend they were not in me. Oh, I tried. But I never felt complete in my expression, or full in my generosity of sharing. It was as if there were problems I knew existed, in distant parts of the world, that I was deliberately ignoring for the sake of elevating myself beyond them, transcending them by trying not to pay attention to them anymore. I kept my eyes forward, visioning my ideal life over and over again. And still I felt there was a connection I was not making.

The image of my Unique Self "plugging in" to the infinite mesh of the One via a radically unique shape - not just a generic plug into a generic outlet, but a unique contour fitting in like a puzzle piece perfectly matching in every subtle turn of form - is supporting me to integrate all of my stories, all of my prior and current experiences, and to show up as me. I am now opening my vision to include all the parts of me I would rather hide and avoid, the parts I would rather not have you see, AND embracing my brilliance and light and infinite creativity at a level previously unrecognized....not as opposing sides of a coin, but as different and equally essential points on the same sphere of my wholeness.

So what makes YOU unique? What are the points that constitute the unique shape of your piece of the mighty jigsaw puzzle of all that is?

The invitation of our times is to hold this paradox: what you think you are is not who you really are, and exactly who you are is all you need to be.

When you show up as all of exactly who you are, you heal, transform, and create a world in the way that only you can.

Exercise Your Write To Be Free

Photo by Jeffrey James Pacres https://www.flickr.com/photos/jjpacres/ I rarely share client stories, but a recent experience is birthing a whole new way of working for me. I just finished a 30-day writing experiment with a physician client who is just starting out on a brand new path. Having already found the courage to leave his medical practice and head into the open space of the unknown, we worked on rekindling a secret dream he's held for a long time, maybe his whole life: writing.

He always wanted to try writing, but never did because he had a belief it was too impractical and was no way to make a living. Yet he knew he had stories to share, and ones that would help others if he did.

I wanted to hear these stories myself. I was curious what touched him so deeply about his experiences in medicine. I knew that in hearing these stories, we could both experience a healing journey.

So I came up with this idea, which I had never done with a client before: a writing experiment. The assignment was to write daily for ten minutes a day, thirty days in a row. Then send that writing to me, which I read every day. Mostly we let the process run itself, but we had two phone conversations during the month, once to check in and then again to review the entire process.

I knew that a small, daily commitment done over a sustained period of time would lead to something. A new habit at the very least. An awakened sense of hope and creativity I envisioned as possible.

What I didn't expect was the vast territory we would cover in those ten minutes of daily writing each day. Not only did I learn from my client's deep minings that occurred from this type of reflection, but I heard accounts of key moments, important feelings, and long-held beliefs that it might have taken months to get to with traditional weekly phone coaching calls. In timed writing, you get to the heart of the matter quickly. You can try to dance around, squirm a bit, but the hand keeps moving and the clock keeps ticking, and something gets said that has juice to it, even if at the very end.

And when you have a curious, compassionate witness, who wants to hear more, and will ask you questions and deliver you the next prompt to inspire more writing, it unfolds with surprising beauty.

It was so beautiful that we are continuing the process for another thirty days, this time including a few additional daily and weekly practices like meditation and art-making (yes! eek! art!). And now, I want to offer this powerful experience to you.

First, here is the practice, which you can do entirely for free on your own. Form a group of friends and do this together. It could, in my client's words, be a "life-altering experience".

The practice:

  1. Choose a start date. Why not tomorrow?
  2. Choose a time and place you will do your writing every day for the next thirty days. Yes, you need to think about this in advance, or it will not happen.
  3. Choose a pen and notebook that you LOVE, and that you will use only for this writing practice. You can use the computer too if you must, but I highly encourage the use of pen and paper for this. There are enough reasons we are called to the computer, and not enough good reasons to go manual these days. Here's one.
  4. Get a timer. Most phones have a timer app. Or use a good old-fashioned egg timer or stopwatch or alarm.
  5. Set the timer for 10 minutes. When you sit down to write, you start the timer. When the timer starts, your hand starts moving across the page. You don't stop. You don't pick the pen up off the paper. You are not thinking. You are letting your hand move, letting it lead the process. You don't edit grammatical or spelling errors. Don't cross anything out. Just keep writing. Lose control. See what happens. Don't have a plan.
  6. When the timer goes off, you stop. That's it. Pick your hand up off the paper. Close your notebook. Go do something else. This is important, too. Give yourself an endpoint that is defined.
  7. The next day, repeat.
  8. And repeat again and again for thirty days.

The page serves as a mirror to our present state, in a beautifully unedited and raw form. We get to see inside ourselves in a way we probably don't look for on our own. Our minds are too busy arranging things. Or we're reacting or responding to something outside ourselves.

With this form of writing (which is influenced and inspired by several of my favorite creativity teachers), we come into contact with the reality of the present moment, and how raw and fresh and changing it is. With practice, we also begin to create a space for ourselves to witness what is. To be OK with whatever shows up on the page. To not always be meeting some idea of an expectation. To let go of an agenda and trust, even if only for ten minutes a day.

And all of this, again in my client's words, could lead to "a whole new world opening up".

You can totally do this effectively on your own as a practice. There are great books that speak to the depth of what this can uncover, and provide you with pages and pages of prompts to go far and wild.

But if you want to work one-on-one with me, receive weekly written responses to your writing (I am not an editor or a coach or a critic, but a supportive, curious listener who tells you when I want to hear more), and have two phone conversations during your thirty-day process (one brief check-in after week one, and another full-length conversation at the end), then I am offering the opportunity for a limited number of individual clients, starting October 15th.

I've learned this about myself during the past few years: I don't do online forums, and I don't do auto-responder emails. I thrive in one-on-one interactions. According to the online marketing experts, this breaks all the rules of becoming a rock-star millionaire business owner. But that doesn't faze me. I'm following the bliss of what I know to be an extremely potent process, which is in alignment with everything I know from experience to be valuable to the recovery of the soul.

Here's how to join me in October.

Surrender and Loving It 'Til You Know What It Is

137_3724 I am in a large group of women artists who have driven up to the ridge of a mountain range and then down a very windy road to a secluded artists retreat program in northern California. All I want to do is stare at the dreamy landscape, watching how the golden green hills go back and back and back, disappearing finally into a fog bank which hovers just above the sea in the distance. I want to watch as the wind blows, the fog clears, and the misty outlines of the hilltops begin to glisten in the midday sunlight. I want to sit and sketch it, and fill in the colors I am seeing, and try to capture the dreaminess, the haziness of it all, the lack of precise outlines which gives it that quality of mystery that makes me want to keep staring.

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But we have a schedule. There are ranchers and herders moving us along in this schedule, ensuring that we are on time. I help myself to a large lunch - two servings each of lentil soup and kale salad with some fruit on the side. My idea of a perfect meal. But my stomach feels slightly full after all that, and I am ready to rest and digest.

Having forgotten the schedule momentarily, I’m jarred when it is announced that we now need to move into another room for a “movement activity”.

I take my time walking there, hoping those extra few seconds will give my digestive system time to bring the food down a little more.

By the time I join, the circle has been formed and all the women are bouncing lightly on their bare or socked feet. This being one of only 14% of artist residency programs in the country who have a fully spring loaded dance floor, shoes are not allowed.

Ann Swanberg is the leader. I had experienced her work once before in a large church, where she presented her improvisational approach to life in a humorous show. We kept bouncing - this was Ann’s method for keeping us out of our thinking minds and in some other realm governed by the moving, breathing body - and we did a whole host of games designed to get us to drop our personalities by acting silly and free.

What I noticed is that my recent experiences with becoming present were done in the stillness and silent meditative movement of the Breema Center. Somehow in that setting, where I was truly not a personality and there was absolutely no imperative to show up as entertaining in any way, I could feel my own bodily presence. In this setting where everyone was asked to do something silly, there was slight pressure to be “silly enough”. As if stillness would not have been accepted there. But I don’t know because I just flowed with the energy of the room.

One of the more silent and inward-turning exercises of the day did capture my attention. She called it “The Infinity Box” or “Loving It ‘Til You Know What It Is”. The instructions went something like this: Reaching into an imaginary box from which anything is possible, allowing the “Body First” to lead the improvisation, follow the shape your hands spontaneously take as you reach in. As they emerge from the imaginary box, just be with them. Don’t change them or manipulate them into what you think they might be. Just breathe with the shape, feel it.

"Love it ’til you know what it is."

It was fascinating to watch the different shapes my hands took on when I allowed them to. Fingers apart and curved, palms facing up. Fingers together, joined at the thumbs and index fingers. Palms cupped, joined together, facing up. And then waiting. Breathing. Feeling. An answer or image always emerged. But sometimes I had to stay with it longer than expected. The final one I ran out of time on. So I sketched it, and it is permanently imprinted in my bodily memory. I am still wondering what it is.

It reminded me of painting. How the creative practice for me is staying with something long enough to find out what it is. Not to give up. Not to decide in advance that something’s “never going to work”. So often when I have mustered the courage or audacity or love to stay with it, to keep going, to keep loving it, something else so beautiful and magical emerges right on top of it all.

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Chris Zydel sent out her newsletter yesterday too, and I happened to read all the way to the bottom. The article was about "Surrender". How surrender is not giving up or weakness or defeat. But rather a form of full presence. That in order to fully participate, there is surrender involved. As I write this, it occurs to me that the four “No…” principles from Breema touch on what kinds of surrender are involved - No Judgment, No Force, No Extra, No Hurry No Pause. Well that’s a lot to give up in order to get to presence! How often are we drowning in judgment, doing more than is needed, rushing around, or not acting because we feel stuck in hesitation.

Surrender is the sweetness of letting life lead. Of loving whatever life gives you until you know what it is. I am attempting to apply it to my body, my relationships, my work decisions, all of which I apply a certain amount of control, changing, and fixing to. I don’t really know the state of full surrender into acceptance. I am pointing towards it sometimes, but I haven’t sunk to the depths of that pool to say, “Huh. So this is it. I’d like to know how this feels. Really.”

Here’s what Chris had to say about surrender:

When a sunflower turns its face to follow the sun, that is surrender. When a seed planted in a rich soil breaks free of its encasement and pushes its way up to the light of day, that is surrender. When a wild mustang gallops wildly and joyfully across a meadow, that is surrender. When a baby tries to grasp a beam of light, laughing delightedly, that is surrender. When you look at a sunset and feel the peace of simply breathing in and out, that is surrender. When you enjoy a delicious meal, letting the flavors tickle your tongue, that is surrender. When you feel drowsy and begin to fall asleep, that is surrender.

In all these experiences you, or the horse or the sunflower are completely giving into what's right there in front of you. You are simply being in the present moment with what you feel drawn to do.

So in other words, surrender is something that happens daily, hourly, minute by minute in our lives. It's so very common and down-to-earth. It's in the most intimate fabric of our existence. And includes everything from the mundane to the ecstatic.

And tomorrow, with the start of the final Energy Gardeners' Club of the year, I am ready to apply the principle of Surrender. Making things happen is not about controlling in order to get what you want. Making is allowing.

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Learning to Ride

It’s freezing. All I know is it’s 11 miles out and back. The description on the website had said, “Participants must be in good cardiovascular condition. No single track/technical work. Climbing for sure.” I should have known when I saw the fat tires on everyone else’s bikes.

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Oh, how we wish that learning would take place in the comfort of our familiar homes! A cozy blanket, a warm cup of tea, our favorite music playing, and the knowing that everything as we have chosen and arranged it now surrounds us.

Learning for me always looked like showing up in a classroom, or privately in front of a teacher, and demonstrating what I knew. I would then get feedback in the form of a critique, the next challenge chosen by the teacher, or a score on a test that told me how much what I thought I learned matched what I was expected to have learned.

What I learned on my first mountain bike ride this weekend is that learning – the fresh, raw experience of aha!wow! that’s new! – can be extremely uncomfortable. It can happen when we are placed (or we find ourselves) in a situation we did not know we chose (but we did) and that every fiber of our being is wanting to fix, alter, escape, or resist. But there we are. In my case, “there” was a guided 11-mile ride on a closed access trail. Turning back was not an option without taking the entire group with me.

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There are questions, but none worth asking, because any answer provided verbally in advance would not actually provide helpful information. I could only get answers in the act of experiencing it. How steep are the hills? How will my bike hold up? Am I dressed warmly enough? What gears should I use? Am I in good enough shape for this?

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I find out the answers to each of them as I encounter the first climb, and then the first big downhill. The first of many. Each one a little longer, a little steeper. They keep coming. My lungs are burning. My ears are burning from the freezing cold air. I am miserable, I am cursing my bike for not being a “mountain” bike, only a hybrid. I excuse myself from having to keep up with the group because of this. I don’t want anyone to talk to me. I just want to breathe without the burning in my lungs.

At one point I am hurtling down a steep hill. My tires slip a little, causing me to bounce and weave, and instead of trying to take control, I decide to just let the bike do its job. I had no ability – defined as knowledge through experience – to control the bike or determine whether I would even stay on it. Slamming on (or squeezing) the brakes was not going to guarantee any safe outcome. I briefly flash back to skiing, where I’d always tried to slow myself down at the steepest parts, and it wasn’t always the best way – it was resisting the flow down the mountain, and it took a lot of effort to go against gravity.

I see now that I was lucky not to have fallen. But in that moment I had no concept of “luck” or “no luck”. It just wasn’t my day to fall. I let go, and it was my day to witness that miracle.

I keep going only because no one really asks me if I want to stop. I cycle through struggle, resistance, surrender, and then surviving.

The top is finally in sight.

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I take a rest, at the turnaround point, and just breathe. It feels good to cover my entire face and breathe normally. Now I really have no choice other than to go back along the trail the same way we came.

Covering every surface of my face feels best.

I become curious, and begin to play. That’s when the true experience of learning begins to happen.

What could I try to do differently to see if it will make my experience any different?

I stop telling myself I have the “wrong” bike and start playing with adjustments. I raise the seat up. That one small move helps a lot.

My mind so wants a binary “how to” on the gears. A set of instructions like, “When going downhill, do this….When going uphill, do that.” But it isn’t that linear. Every hill is slightly different. My ingoing speed determines which gear would match it best when coming out of the hill. I have to play. Constantly engage with what is happening in this very moment, and be open to discovering.

Riding back.

I discover an elaborate, moment-to-moment dance of body, bike, and terrain. Tweaking. Feeling. Being ever present and also facing forward, constantly moving. Listening. Discovering. Adjusting by taking small actions.

During the second half of the ride I am much more friendly with my bike, my body, and the terrain. I am much more involved as a full participant, doing my part of the three-way equation, not trying to resist or control the other elements. I am having (slightly) more fun along the way.

At the end, I feel tired but glad. My body is very grateful for the opportunity to play and be worked. Discovering new possibilities and dancing within the situation, I realized there was only the choice of the moment – to ride it or to stew in a story of misery. I chose to ride.

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E-Squared Book Club: Week 5

This week we discussed Experiments #6 (The Superhero Principle) and #7 (The Jenny Craig Principle). Both principles relate to the ability of our thoughts to impact physical matter in the material world. First we discussed the results of the seed experiment. As you may recall, Tammy gifted us with sunflower seeds from her studio garden, along with a little bag of soil. It was such a beautiful gift! I went home and planted my seeds that night.

As I tossed them into the soil playfully, I said, "Isn't it AMAZING that this one row of seeds is already growing faster than the other row?? I'm AMAZED!". At that point, of course, they were "just" dry seeds going into soil, sitting on my kitchen table. Nothing had happened yet. Except my thought and feeling of ALREADY being amazed at their growth.

Two days later, I was truly amazed to see sprouts beginning to show. I literally thought nothing about these seeds other than the feeling of amazement that they were already growing faster.

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I added a few drops of water to the carton every couple of days, and regardless of what I saw with my eyes, I commented, "Isn't it AMAZING that this row of seeds is growing so much faster than the other row! I am AMAZED!". I didn't say, "I can't believe it!", or "I can't explain it!". I just held the amazement.

Nov 5 seeds Nov 6 seeds Nov 7 seeds

 

And they continue to grow and amaze me, every single day!

A couple of notes on this experiment for me: I have absolutely NO expectation about me and growing things. I'm not exactly a "green thumb" and haven't had a major draw to grow plants before. I think because of this, I was able to be truly open and playful. I had nothing to prove and everything would be a surprise for me coming from these seeds.

Tammy planted her seeds one day after mine and they had not sprouted at the time of our meeting yesterday. She had placed them with loving care in a special spot at her studio, and every day as she watered them, she waved her hand over them to transmit loving and encouraging energy to the seeds. She talked to them, using the energy of her words to support their growth.

Why were our results different?

We talked about the difference in energy between "wanting" something to happen and "believing" it is already happening. When you send an energy of "want", the result remains in the future. You receive what you asked for, which is continuous wanting. When you believe that something IS, and carry that energy regardless of the "results" you can see with your eyes right now, you support the essence of life that wants to thrive, grow, and come into being.

We demonstrated this with the Push Together-Pull Apart experiment, which I learned from my life coaching mentor, Martha Beck. It goes like this (and is discussed in Martha's latest book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World):

1. Have a partner stand with their arms bent, hands in front of their body, with palms facing in (as if they are about to clap).

2. Tell them not to let you push their hands together, as you press on the tops of their hands as hard as you can. Fill your thoughts with effort, pushing, and domination as you do this.

3. Now, do the same thing, except this time hold in your mind thoughts of joy and love, or a time in your life when you felt utterly at peace. Don't think about the other person, just hold these thoughts and allow them to spread throughout your entire being. Now just put your palms on the backs of your partner's hands and move your own hands together.

Shirley and I play with the energy of struggle versus oneness.

Experiment #7 was about our food being the carrier of our thoughts' energy into our bodies. Since I don't own a scale, I did this experiment by measuring how I feel in my body when I take the time to taste my food completely. If I'm talking while I eat, this is more difficult to practice. This is when I often lose track of what I'm feeling, and just keep putting food in my mouth until the plate is clean.

For those of you who would like to lose a few pounds, I'm curious what your results are after trying Pam's advice. Notice any negative thoughts you have toward your own body. Let them go and replace them with thoughts that praise your body for the way it already is. Take a moment to bring your thoughts into a state of peace, love, and joy, before you eat your food. And see what happens!

At Quarry Park, the sun continued to shine on us, and it was an unseasonably warm day.

We are open to possibilities!

Shirley in the sun Tammy open arms

Later in the afternoon, we all attended a monthly gathering of Art and Inspiration hosted by Amy Sullivan. Tammy painted a "butterfly brain" image inspired by the E-Squared Book Club.

Tammy painting

Shirley made a collage of cats and flowers and castles and circles.

Shirley collage

And I played with my new acrylic gel mediums. FUN! Art and Inspiration paintingI drew the "Joy" card from the Soul Coaching deck. Its message was to remember that my soul's purpose is simple - to experience joy. And to share this and its healing qualities with the world.

It has been my joy to create this book club and to experience the discoveries together in a circle.

Next week, we discuss the last two chapters, Experiments #8 and #9. In our final week, we will design our own experiments for the holiday season and end of year.

To listen to a brief (17-minute) recording from the phone meeting, click here.

As always, please feel free to share your stories in the comments!