Nurturing Creativity

I am reacquainting myself with my recently estranged creative process. The past several months have been emotionally challenging for me. My capacity to read anything but fantasy novels or write anything except necessary emails disappeared. POOF! I didn’t have the energy to navigate this crisis and nurture artistic endeavors. Losing access to my spark was all the more painful as I also lost the fulfilment and pleasure that results when creativity flows.

Keep in mind that when I say “crisis”, I’m talking about first world, white lady problems. Never was my life in danger and I knew the miserable situation was only temporary. It’s too personal to go into detail, but some of my deepest wounds got triggered and I needed to invest all my efforts in maintaining inner harmony despite external circumstances. Certainly not comparable to the depth of crises others are facing around the globe; yet to me it was A Very Big Deal.

I’m not seeking pity or condolences here. It was a rough time, but now it’s over. In fact, the outcome was a huge lifestyle upgrade, and I was always able to see the silver lining. I’m happy to report that I didn’t pile on any needless suffering by judging and blaming myself or fearing that my creativity had been fatally wounded. I have Reiki to thank for this small mercy! I knew deep down that creativity is indestructible. It might go into hiding when the going gets rough, but it’s in there all along, waiting to feel safe enough to reemerge.

Clients and friends alike have told me repeatedly over the past year and a half that they’ve had difficulty accessing their creative, productive, focused selves. It’s been clear to me all along that this is a natural response to the culture of fear that has developed from the pandemic. We’re constantly inundated with messages that the very act of breathing could be deadly, and that mere proximity to other people is extremely hazardous.

Sympathetic nervous systems have been activated like crazy! And when the body is consistently in DANGER Mode, all its efforts are directed to survival. This is a useful mechanism for facing an angry mama bear, but terribly debilitating when the situation endures for months and months. When the alarm bells are constantly ringing, it’s nearly impossible to focus on writing poetry, painting, or reading literature. Obviously, these would be dangerous distractions while climbing a tree to avoid being mauled by a wild animal. The physiological response was only meant to be brief, however, and many people have been suspended in DANGER Mode indefinitely.

I suppose the reason I’m writing this is to let you know that you’re not alone if you’ve been struggling to tap into the well of creativity within yourself. It’s a perfectly natural and normal side-effect of being stuck in chronic fight/flight/freeze mode. There’s no reason to beat yourself up and add self-criticism to your troubles. I have an immense collection of tools, a deep understanding of the effects of trauma, and decades of experience helping people recover from challenges and reconnect with their passions. Despite all of that, I felt pretty helpless as the wonderful habits I’d built over the last decade shriveled up.

It’s incredibly difficult to overcome the hardwiring of the nervous system when plunged into survival mode. Sometimes you just need to ride out the storm and wait for a sunny day. Please trust me when I say, when that day comes, you will also be able to rekindle a friendship with your estranged creativity. It is waiting patiently for you. And it will rise up like a phoenix from the ashes when the time is right.  

Are You Thinking Too Much?

Answering for myself, yes! Lately I have been finding myself in frustrating and unproductive thought loops much more than I’d like. Today, a message from Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, turned up in my inbox. Just when I needed it!

If you could use a break from perpetual overthinking, you might enjoy his blog post, Rest Your Weary Head. It’s full of simple, yet powerful tips for breaking the cycle. And if you need the CliffsNotes, just extend your exhales. It’s the easiest way to calm the nervous system down. Long, slow, full exhales are fantastic hacks when you need to bring it down a few notches quickly.

If at all possible, though, I highly recommend checking out his blog. I find his work to be easily accessible (meaning you don’t need a PhD to follow it!) and immensely beneficial. I’ve you’re wanting a more thorough intervention, I very much enjoyed his book, Hardwiring Happiness. A daily meditation practice has contributed greatly to the sense of peace I experience most of the time. It also helps me notice when I’m thinking too much and motivates me to intervene so I can return to the peaceful place. For me, the rewards are definitely worth the investment!

Upcoming Online Mindful Self-Compassion Course

The other night I watched my 4 year old nephew open his birthday gifts with great gusto. “This is AMAZING!” he proclaimed regarding a new Lego set. Well, I feel the same way about Mindful Self-Compassion! I recently completed this 8 week program [click here], and it had a profound effect on me. You, too, can learn about ways to infuse your life with both formal (such as seated meditation) and informal (remedies for self-soothing out in the real world) practices that will create profound shifts. I found the facilitators, Annie and Anne, to both be welcoming and nurturing. They did a great job of creating a safe space for us students to explore the practices and share about our experiences.

From the class description: “With self-compassion, we can motivate ourselves with encouragement, forgive ourselves when needed, face and befriend our shortcomings, care for others while caring for ourselves, and live more authentically. Research shows that self-compassion is strongly associated with emotional well-being, lower levels of anxiety and depression, healthier habits of caring for our bodies, and more satisfying personal relationships.”

Who doesn’t want all that? We can enjoy these rewards just by changing the way we think. The material is simple and accessible and quite effective. Being a part of a group helped motivate me to practice by fostering a sense of accountability that is often missing when I learn a new skill on my own. Having a community of like-minded people sharing the journey was both comforting and inspiring.

Or you could check out the workbook [click here], which I found to be incredibly helpful, without taking the class. From there, you can access wonderful guided meditations, both recorded and offered live online for free. Sadly we don’t learn about being compassionate to ourselves and others in kindergarten along with other important life skills like sharing and reading. I wish we did! But it’s never too late and this is a powerful technique that’s simple and easy to learn. Two thumbs up!

Leave the Red Zone, by Dr. Rick Hanson

My inbox is quite the mixed bag today! There’s an astrology report announcing super-intense cosmic energies and a weather forecast predicting a major winter storm in my area. All this on top of so many people already struggling with cabin fever. Massive snow seems to bring out either the very best or the very worst in Philadelphians. Some people gladly shovel their neighbors’ sidewalks and others get aggressively proprietorial about parking spots. All in all, I’m expecting a very interesting next few days!

If you find yourself stressed out, overwhelmed, frazzled or irritable, you might enjoy this blog by Dr. Rick Hanson. He outlines some simple techniques for cultivating inner calm despite outer chaos. Stress has major physiological affects which can negatively affect one’s health over time. I can personally attest to the beneficial results of these methods. The more consistently I apply them, the happier I am.

Whatever the world is throwing at you, there’s help to be had for minimal investment of time and effort. Safe, easy, and free plus the side effects of improving focus, relationships, and overall wellness? It’s a no-brainer for sure!

Efforts Rewarded!

I’m accustomed to strangers telling me their life stories. Dr. Judith Orloff’s book, The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, is helping me to understand that my compassionate presence attracts people needing compassion. As you might imagine, listening to the problems of people, lots of people, some of whom I’ve never met before can be somewhat draining, if not downright exhausting. So I’ve been working with energetic techniques to protect myself (thank you Dr. Orloff!) and to shift this pattern. Guess what? It’s working!

This morning there was a man sitting in front of my home, apparently supervising work on the house across the street. Conversation went from “Hello” to “Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” to “This is great weather, my allergies are practically gone.” At this point, I’m poised to bolt as historically this type of statement was followed by a lengthy description of symptoms and suffering. Really. It happens to me. All. The. Time!

Or, it used to. 😉

But this gentleman, with a sparkling smile, went on to tell me about a plant remedy. A holistic concoction that has helped with his asthma, allergies, arthritis, and various other aches and pains. Something I had never heard of, and sounded completely bizarre. (Normally I’m the one saying such things!) How refreshing!

I suspect he was sent to support my transition by acting as an indicator that I’m on the right track, and that assistance comes in all sorts of unexpected packages. Fascinating! Because of the grounding and shielding practices I’ve been using to protect my energy field, I was able to enjoy a random interaction with a stranger rather than heading for the hills.

I’m sharing this here in case anyone else tends to attract emotional dumpers or drainers and has yet to learn that there is hope beyond moving to a deserted island. I doubt that I’m forever free of hearing about people’s problems and ailments, but it is encouraging to have a different experience after making an effort to attract different experiences! I really can’t say enough about how useful this book is. If it can help me be less vulnerable out in the world, I’m guessing it can help you too.

No Need to Apologize

Over the past 18 years of practicing Reiki and massage, I’ve noted the things that clients, particularly women, apologize for that don’t require an apology. Once somebody head-butted me while turning over and sometimes people don’t show up for appointments. These are apology- worthy events. The way you look or feel is not. It saddens me that we’ve been indoctrinated to be embarrassed or ashamed of our bodies and emotions. 

I’m sorry that my hair is wet or not freshly washed, that my toes are unpainted or just-now-painted, that my legs are unshaven, that I did or didn’t put on makeup. These are all expressions that I used to hear frequently when I worked in a spa. In my private practice, my regular clients have all been informed that none of these things matter to me. They are accepted exactly as they are and have learned to forgo the amends.

My all-time favorite is, “Sorry I fell asleep.” Feeling safe and relaxed enough to drift off during a treatment is the ultimate compliment to me! Likewise, snoring isn’t offensive. It’s amusing and endearing when it gets loud enough to wake the snorer up. 

Having difficulty settling in or getting comfortable is quite common in a treatment room and it’s the therapist’s job to help you do so. There is absolutely no call to apologize for being too hot or too cold or having a leg cramp. Seriously, we want you to be ideally cozy and without sudden, searing pain and will go to great lengths to accommodate your needs. It’s no trouble at all to get an extra blanket or adjust the face cradle. 

It’s not uncommon for tears to come up before, during, or after a session. Sometimes people arrive in vulnerable state and other times old pain is released from its storage place. Either way, there’s nothing to be ashamed about. While clients may not be accustomed to crying in front of another person, any bodyworker or energyworker worth their salt is solidly rooted in compassion and able to stay present without feeling the need to fix or solve anything. You might feel uncomfortable shedding tears, which is perfectly natural, but please know that there is absolutely no reason to apologize for them. 

I’d like to suggest that we save our apologies for when they are truly necessary; when we hurt someone either accidentally or deliberately and condolences. Let’s stop apologizing for things that are beyond our control or that violate ridiculous societal norms, especially for feeling upset and for the shape and condition of our bodies. 

Here’s a trick that might help you. When wondering if I need to say “I’m sorry”, I imagine my adorable six year old niece and whether or not I would expect or demand an apology from her in similar circumstances. Why would I apply higher standards to myself than this sweet, sassy, and innocent being? Choose a cutie you know or even one from a darling YouTube video and give it a try. I think you’ll find it incredibly liberating! I sure did.

Help for Empaths

I’ve been revisiting the tools and techniques in The Emphath’s Survival Guide; Life Strategies for Sensitive People over the last few months. As the fear and anger in the collective realm continue to escalate, I’ve been finding a need to step up my protective mechanisms.

Judith Orloff, MD says, “Empaths have an extremely reactive neurological system. We don’t have the same filters that other people do to block out stimulation. As a consequence, we absorb into our own bodies both the positive and stressful energies around us.”

If you’ve ever been scolded for being “too sensitive” or commanded to “toughen up”, you might be an empath.

If you’ve ever wished you had armor like Ultraman, you might be an empath.

If strangers tell you their problems and people dump their emotional garbage on you and it feels like being slimed by ectoplasm, similar to what happened in Ghostbusters, you might be an empath.

If you’ve ever wanted to move to a remote forest with no neighbors, well that’s probably a human thing, but if you’ve actually looked up properties in Alaska and learned how to make your own candles, then you might be an empath!

The good news is that once you understand that there’s nothing wrong with you, that sensitivity can be a blessing, that there are ways to protect yourself that don’t come in a bottle or loaded with sugar, you can take action to cultivate your wellness. In these pages, you’ll find great wisdom to help you navigate. I sure have!

Wishing You Peace

Here we are at the beginning of another holiday season. These can be rough times for some of us. All the faux merriment imposed from the media can feel like a lot of pressure and make isolation or loneliness seem even darker. The competition to post the shiniest selfies on social media can weigh down even the most cheerful folk.

I’m here to remind us all that however we’re feeling is ok. Judging ourselves harshly for the way we feel just increases our suffering needlessly. Please be kind to yourself especially today! If you’re able to find one small thing to feel grateful for, no matter how simple or mundane, it could really help shift your mood.

If that’s just not happening, I offer this video of laughing quadruplet babies. It’s just darling. Cracks me up every time.

Wherever you are and however you’re doing, I wish you the peace that comes from within and allows us to accept ourselves exactly as we are. Laughter and gratitude are simply two of the many portals to get there. May you find your own way when the time is right.

Change Me Prayers

“Change me, Divine Beloved, into One who honors my emotions. Let me have my feelings without judgment, and then release them. May I feel deserving to say no when needed. Show me how to be kind and loving to the child inside who needs care.”

This little gem comes from Tosha Silver’s book Change Me Prayers. It resonated with me deeply this morning and intuition tells me that others can benefit from these wise words as well, so I’m sharing them here.

My emotions are all over the place these days, and I hear the same from people of all walks of life. I’ve observed that the simple practice of noticing and accepting whatever comes up without attachment, denial, or aversion contributes tremendously to my ability to return to peace with greater ease.

Witnessing all the parts of myself is essential for reclaiming wholeness. I cannot be whole if I’m rejecting any aspect of myself, including inconvenient or uncomfortable emotions. I’ve spent decades and loads of money and energy avoiding grief and anger only to discover it controlling my behavior from the shadows. Now I’m choosing to face it head on and allowing it to flow through me.

It is my hope for all of us to cultivate and enjoy inner calm despite the turmoil of the outer world. Tosha’s book, and this prayer in particular, are simple tools for spending maximum time feeling as serene as possible. Why not give it whirl and see what happens?