Dharma – It’s Complicated

I had one of those moments this past weekend where it was like: “This. This is an essential part of the work I’m meant to be doing in this world.” Have you ever experienced that? It’s such a powerful feeling.

I’ve felt it before, while writing (which can seem like such a solitary activity, though it’s really not) and when holding one of the books I wrote.

But this time it was at an in-person day-long workshop that I held at the home of a friend who lives near Boston (no, not the workshop shown here – why do I almost never remember to have someone take a picture?!).

I first noticed on the drive down that I wasn’t feeling nervous at all. I’d held this workshop before, but online rather than in person. Ordinarily, driving to a new location by myself and leading a group of new people would bring on at least a little bit of anxiety, but not this time.

The next time I tuned in to how I was feeling was about 90 minutes into the workshop. I noticed that it felt completely natural to be leading this group of aspiring authors through this material that I’d created. The word that popped into my mind was dharma.

What do I mean by dharma? It’s a complicated concept. Here’s a definition that I like, from the website Yogapedia.com (emphasis mine):

Dharma is a Hindu, Buddhist and yogic concept that refers to the idea of a law, or principle, governing the universe. For an individual to live out their dharma is for them to act in accordance with this law. In Buddhism, it is said that acting in this way is the path to enlightenment.

The implication of dharma is that there is a right way for each person to carry out their life. Dharma is closely related to the concepts of duty and service to others, or seva. It has no single-word Western translation, which sometimes makes it a difficult concept for Westerners to grasp. One close translation, however, is “right way of living.”

But is book midwifery my dharma, or is writing? Or is it leading retreats? Or priestessing?

Actually, dharma is complex. It’s not just one thing, or defined by a particular profession. It’s the best way of living, for you. It’s unique to each person.

It also, as I understand it, can change over time. Fifteen or twenty years ago, not only did I not have the experience to teach this stuff, it also would have thrown me into an anxious panic.

Here I am at 50, the author of 4 published books, with a 5th on the way soon, manuscripts for 2 in progress, and ideas for at least 3 more. My creativity is flowing like a fountain. I’m confident and empowered. I long to make a difference in the world, through writing and teaching.

And there are people who resonate with what I offer and how I share it. I’m able to be of service in a whole new way.

It feels amazing. I’m so thankful.

Starcat’s Favorites: The Turning of the Wheel

Suddenly it’s autumn! Well, it seems kind of sudden from where I’m standing. We had a whirlwind of a September, with my big 50th birthday celebration and a two-week visit from my daughter and her fiance. It was so much fun.

Now it’s almost October, and the leaves are turning. I’m craving soup and hot tea. Curling up with a good book and a fuzzy blanket is a favorite late-evening activity once again.

It’s time to start planning my NaNoWriMo novel writing project for this November.

Some people in my life are even talking about the winter holidays and beginning the preparations. Gulp! That seems a bit far away, still, but time passes quickly.

While summer is my favorite season, autumn is a close second. Once I got over my sadness about the end of summer, which coincided with the end of my daughter’s visit, I’m feeling like I’m on board for the blessings of the new season.

Here are some links I’ve collected, for you to savor as you cozy up this weekend, perhaps after a trip to the Fair or some apple picking. Enjoy!

Here’s a look at women’s time and how the constant interruptions can get in the way of our creativity. Perhaps what we need is more loitering. Here are some ways to protect your attention.

There’s a new scientific regard for how the moon affects us (it’s about time).

I love this thoughtful look at peri-menopause.

It’s road trip time, fellow geeks! These themed hotel rooms look like such fun.

A bit of music for your weekend. Sooo good.

I love taking notes by hand. Here’s why it works better than typing them on a device.

My big de-cluttering project has been going well. I was interested in this advice about organizing digital photos, as I have a lot of them. Also, this: what your stuff says about you.

As I noted above, I’m craving soup! Here’s a recipe I’m going to try soon – and another one that I want to make tonight. Yum!

May you enjoy the seasonal transition in ways that light you up.

The Big Five-Oh!

Quester playing with the band!

I did it – I turned 50! I’m so thrilled!

In the “you can’t make this stuff up” category, my 50th birthday fell on Friday the 13th and the Full Harvest Moon. So, of course we had a big party!

Maybe you’re wondering why in the world I’m so excited to be what mainstream culture calls “over the hill.” Like many things in my life, I’m doing this unconventionally. I’m aging backwards. Curious? You can read more about it here, there, and most recently, over on Kind Over Matter.

Anyway, my family and I put on a Half-Century Party and invited a bunch of my favorite people. We secured a hall, hired a band, and Quester & Elven-Tiger catered an amazing dinner. My Mom made the desserts. We had an open bar. There was a game room downstairs. Our beloved Ocean brought flowers and decorated the venue. It was epic!

The party was a lot of work – but so worth it. It felt mind-blowingly awesome to be surrounded by loved ones from all decades and aspects of my life, dancing and chatting and laughing together. My heart feels so full.

There were people from my childhood (mainly my family) and young adulthood (my high school BFF’s band!), fellow homeschooling Moms, biz sisters (including my beloved coach!), longtime friends, new friends, Wild Women, dear friends who made a 4-hour drive, some I hadn’t seen for a long time, and others who I get to see regularly. I’m blessed with some amazing people in my life!

We counted it up after the fact – there were 69 attendees, and I was born in 1969. Perfect!

Some favorite moments:

My Mom, who broke her hip in June, and a dear friend who has had ongoing problems with his feet, both dancing to my friend Emily’s fantastic 7-piece band, The Kennebunk River Band.

Live fowl was exchanged at my party – a local friend gave a duck to a homesteading family who live a couple of hours away.

Two of my friends who met that night came up to me in the game room to tell me that they had hit it off and were having a blast.

My daughter ElvenTiger, who is visiting from Colorado, gracefully dancing through the crowd holding big trays of food.

My Dad, who goes to bed at 7pm most nights, staying late because he loved the band – especially the fiddle player.

The after-party at our place, where about 10 of us stayed up all night with the full moon. Laughter and drumming around the fire, deep conversations, some fire-spinning, late-night walks to the back field, and swinging in the hammock. Bliss.

And so many more!

The hall we rented was less than a mile from the high school I attended, and it struck me how much happier I am now, at 50, than I was back then. I’m sending some love back through time to my younger self, telling her to hang in there, because life gets SO much more fun and fulfilling.

I always had a hunch that, as a late bloomer, my life would get better as I got older. How lovely to discover that it’s true!

What the…Faith?

I grew up in a household that I’d now describe as a combination of atheist and agnostic. We didn’t attend church – after a failed experiment of my Mom sending me to Sunday school at my Baptist paternal grandmother’s urging. Mom didn’t appreciate her little 4-year-old innocent child being sent home with pamphlets saying I was a sinner. Go figure.

We weren’t fans of Christianity, or at least the version we witnessed in the culture. Don’t get me wrong – if you’re following Christ and his tenets and it works for you, rock on. It’s the hypocrisy, judgement, and proselytizing that turn us off.

I remember my Mom ranting about the right-wing Christians who refused medical treatment for their dying children, assuring concerned health care workers that their faith would provide all the healing they needed.

We made fun of things like that. We thought that giving up control of your life to a deity was foolish.

The agnostic part? While we didn’t buy into the Judeo-Christian version of God, we did often speak reverently about the power of Mother Nature. We believed in the mysteries of life. We acknowledged that science, while valuable, doesn’t have all the answers.

In college, I discovered that while I’m still not religious, I am deeply spiritual. I’ve been living, practicing, and exploring that spirituality ever since. It has evolved a lot over the past three decades.

Fast-forward to today. I now describe myself as a practical mystic and a priestess of the Feminine Divine. My personal spirituality is an eclectic blend of Paganism and Buddhism with New Age philosophies. 

While I definitely seek the aid of Western medicine when it’s needed, I’m now one of the people who lives with a deep faith in the Divine. My living faith guides my life every single day.

Recently I was guided to read the book The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer. It was mentioned in a discussion at a women’s networking breakfast I attended, and the very next day was recommended by one of my favorite online mentors, Jeannette Maw of Good Vibe University. So I went right out and got a copy (that guidance and me heeding it thing).

This book is fantastic. It’s a very clear illustration of the miracles that can happen when you surrender to faith in the Universe (or Goddess, God, Nature – insert your favorite name for the mysteries here).

I resonate with this tale because it’s happening in my own life. Not that I haven’t worked hard to get where I am now – but I’ve blended that work with the power of faith and letting the Universe be wiser than I am (which She is).

It occurred to me this morning that the late-1980s version of me might not even recognize the go-with-the-flow, living-in-faith version that I am now.

At the same time, the younger me was a seeker, and her explorations led me here. It’s less than three weeks until my 50th birthday, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m doing things I love, with people I love, in places I love…all the freaking time.

Is it ironic that I ended up here, living by faith? Maybe. A blessing? That’s for sure.

If you’re struggling – find your faith. Not the one you’ve been taught by others, but your personal flavor of allowing yourself to be moved by something greater than yourself. It’ll rock your world, in the best possible way.

(I’d love to hear your faith story – drop me a line or leave a comment!)

Ease, Revisited

EASE is my Word of the Year for 2019. I’ve been practicing it for quite a while now, and writing about it here, too. This summer I’ve uncovered a whole new level of ease – and also my hidden resistance to it.

Here are some notes from the field:

There are layers of resistance to ease. These can be buried quite deeply. I’ve worked on my core beliefs a lot over the past 10 years, and yet I was recently able to pinpoint a whole new level of resistance to my work being both easy and profitable.

Keep diving deep into the shadowy parts of your subconscious mind and hauling your discoveries up into the light. EFT (aka tapping) and journaling have been invaluable in helping me to fully release my resistance and the old beliefs that provoke it.

Ease is experienced in the body. You can intellectually believe that ease is best for you, but until you ground it in your physical body, it’s just an abstract concept. Until you tune in fully, your body can be holding tension without your conscious awareness.

Make regular times throughout the day when you check in with your body’s sense of ease. Get up and do some stretches. Lie on the floor and breathe deeply. Go to yoga class, or get a massage. Swim or float in the water. Touch the earth with your bare skin.

Not many people are walking the ease-filled path. In our culture, being busy is a badge of honor. We take pride in how hard we’re working, trying, and striving. By building a life centered on ease, you’re pretty far outside the mainstream. This in itself can cause guilt and doubt to arise. Stop focusing on what others might think of your ease, and turn your attention instead to how it feels and the results you’re seeing. Your struggling doesn’t serve you or anyone else.

Also, this doesn’t mean that no one else is walking with (or toward) ease. Find your easeful tribe. Having trouble locating them? Send me an email; I’m happy to chat about my own experiences with ease.

Ease and ambition aren’t mutually exclusive. A life of ease might bring visions of retirees, the very wealthy, and nomadic hippie wanderers with no fixed address. You don’t have to be those things, or even have a slacker mentality.

For example, I’m actually a very ambitious person. My goals include being a best-selling author, leading transformational writing retreats around the globe, and becoming a philanthropist who helps fund ocean cleanup – among other things. But I’m discovering that when I approach my work with ease and joy, I get closer to those big goals. It’s when I tense up and Take Things Seriously that I get blocked and accomplish very little of meaning. Paradoxical, but true.

Keep learning new methods that help you cultivate ease. This summer I’ve learned several new tools. One of these is the “Easy World” game, which was invented by author Julia Rogers Hamrick. I learned it from my friend and mentor Jeannette Maw of Good Vibe University.

To play, just say “I choose to live in Easy World, where everything is easy, including __(fill in the blank)___.” You can use it when you notice you’re struggling with or dreading something, to reach for a seemingly impossible desire, or to uplevel your daily experience. It’s fun to play with others who are open-minded, too. BlackLion, his Mom, and I had a blast playing the Easy World game during a trip to the lake for his birthday.

All of this might make it sound like working with EASE is anything but easy. However, we’re all on a path of spiritual growth – so why not be intentional about it? You can even approach your learning about ease with ease (how meta!). Or you can treat it like a new game – how much ease can you infuse into your life over the next few weeks? Let’s play!

Starcat’s Favorites: Getting Results

It’s no secret to longtime readers that I LOVE summer. But it’s not just the warmer days and more time off to enjoy this gorgeous season. It’s also that it’s the season of abundance. Flowers, strawberries, vegetable stands, the trees, sunshine – it feels like everything is in bloom. Abundance surrounds us. For me, it’s a time when my creativity is especially expansive, and I can see the results of the inspired actions I take.

From the results my clients got in my summer retreat – one attendee wrote 22,000 words in five days! – to the amazing EFT session I had with a mentor, to my own writing process, I’ve been getting results.

It feels amazing. Like a flourishing garden, life is in full bloom.

I’m loving it. How’s your summer going? Here are some fun links from the web to peruse this weekend.

Why it’s better to not make manifesting your desires such a big deal. Try this manifesting method – it’s simple but powerful. Another favorite: acting as if!

Maybe you’re meant to have your “head in the clouds.” (Raising my hand. Yep.)

Ritual is good for your health. Why Pagan religions publicize rather than proselytize.

“You can learn to identify and work with your shadow self so that you can reach your goals and live your best life.”

How do you know if you should write a book? Here are some clues.

Enjoy your day, sweet one!

There Will Be Ebb

If you’ve done any kind of sustained creative work at all, you know that feeling when inspiration strikes and you ride the wave of powerful creative flow. It’s so thrilling!

You also know that eventually that wave crashes on the shore, and the water ebbs away. You find yourself sitting in the sand, wondering what just happened. That’s when you know that it’s time to put aside your project for a while and rest.

I’m convinced that what we call writer’s block is sometimes just the ebb tide of creativity (at other times it can manifest from our inner resistance, but that’s a topic for another day). Whether your creativity is part of your daily life or is something you dip into once in a while, that ebb can feel like abandonment.

Where’s the muse who kept you company in the wee hours? How are you supposed to forward this project when you have no idea where it’s going next? WTF, blank page?!

Dealing with the ebb tide of creativity – and there will be ebb – is hard. What can you do to get past it?

The key thing is to relax. Know that this is a normal part of the creative process. The muses haven’t abandoned you – they’re just off taking a walk.

Which is another good idea, actually – get out in nature and take a walk. Have a conversation with a friend that’s completely unrelated to your project. Watch Star Trek or Stranger Things or your favorite movie. Read a novel. Knit. Cook yourself a delicious meal.

Use your intuition to know when it’s time to return to your desk. Don’t force it. Perhaps the biggest secret of all is that the creative process is supposed to be fun. Yes, fun!

If the ebb tide seems to go on way too long, get some help. Think outside the box. Even professional writers (or artists, musicians, actors, you get the idea) need support from time to time, or with a particular project.

At the summer writing retreat I just led, one of the attendees was working on a Tarot book for a deck she’d created several years ago. She offered to do readings for the other participants on their books, to help her get back into the groove of using the cards. I’d been writing alongside the others, working on the intro to a self-help book I’m writing with BlackLion, and it was going smoothly.

But when she offered me a reading, I knew just what I wanted to use it for.

I hadn’t done any work on my second contemporary fantasy novel for about 3 months. Right at the very end, I’d gotten stuck – and the problem was my antagonist. All I knew was that this mysterious woman had been causing a lot of trouble for my troupe of heroes.

My client did a reading for this character, and it blew my mind! The ebb tide reversed, and now wave upon wave of ideas crashed onto the shores of my imagination. Seriously – I now not only know this character’s motivation, but there’s an entire back story, a new plot twist for this book, and fodder for books to come.

Thinking outside the box when you’re in the ebb tide shifts your perspective.

If you’re just entering the ebb, give yourself permission to take a break, recharge, and just BE. Yeah, I know, that can be hard for those of use raised with a Puritan work ethic. Do it anyway. You can even schedule in your relaxation on your calendar or to-do list, which helps the brain cope, because you get to check it off.

If the ebb tide seems to be dragging on, find a friend to bounce around ideas with. Try a different medium – sometimes when I’m stuck on a piece of writing, playing my drums or doodling in my art journal helps me shift. If you’re dying for one of those Tarot readings for writers, message me – my client and I are working on a collaboration to make them available at upcoming retreats!

The key thing to remember is that this too shall pass. The ocean of creativity, like the Earth’s seas, is always in motion. Trust that your inspiration will return.

A Hot Date With Yourself

 

I’m notoriously bad at selfies, but I took this one on an artist date a few years ago. Obviously I was having fun!

As a creative being, which I know you are, it’s essential to keep the wellspring of your creativity clear and flowing. The best way I know of to do that is to take yourself on a hot artist date. Not once a year, but regularly.

I first heard of this idea in Julia Cameron’s wonderful book The Artist’s Way. She says to take yourself on an artist date every week for a couple of hours, but personally I’m more drawn to take a half or full day once a month or so. The frequency is totally up to you.

The idea is to go on a solo adventure of some kind, one that will open you to new sights and sounds, and refresh your imagination in the process. 

Summertime is ideal for this. I’m blessed to live in Maine, a place with an abundance of natural beauty. I like to go somewhere and walk around, exploring a beach or cute little seaside town. Then I’ll take myself out for lunch, ideally at a little cafe where I can sit for a while undisturbed. Art museums are also wonderful for artist dates. So are little funky coffee shops or independent bookstores.

On an artist date, the idea isn’t to immerse yourself in a book (as much as I love reading) or a movie, but rather to open yourself to inspiration via the world around you. Watch people or birds. Gaze at the clouds. Check out some music in the park. Daydream, and let your thoughts be free and easy.

If you really feel the need to do something during your solo date, bring along a sketchbook, art journal, or notebook. Let yourself playfully express what you’re seeing and experiencing. Don’t put pressure on your creativity. Your artist date isn’t the time to write that chapter or sketch a new design. It’s just for fun, to refresh your creative spirit.

Artists dates are productive, but not in the usual sense. They look and feel like playing around, just because. The productive part comes later, when your mind has had a chance to simmer all of that input together into a new creative idea, or a new way to approach a current project. Don’t worry about that part. Your mission is to go out into the world and have fun.

It might make you uncomfortable, the whole notion of spending time without an overt purpose. Or you might not be used to eating in a restaurant by yourself, or even spending quality time with you and you alone. If that’s the case, you can ease into it. Start with just an hour; a nature walk is a good beginning. Or find a creative friend and agree to try your first artist date together.

You don’t have to spend money to have an artist date. You can simply walk out your own front door and go exploring, on foot, opening yourself to whatever is there to be seen.

Routines can be helpful, and I’m an advocate of having a regular creative practice. However, getting into a rut where you’re going to the same places and doing the same things is draining to your creative mojo. Having a regular time set aside for an artist date brings new inspiration, like a breath of fresh air.

When I get really busy and forget to schedule in my artist dates, I notice the absence. For me, these outings have become an essential part of my Life of the Imagination.

Do you set aside regular time for artist dates? Would you like to? What are some of your favorite things to do when you get out to play?

I’d love to hear about your process. Leave a comment below or come join the conversation in the Book Birthing Center on Facebook. See you there!

Starcat’s Favorites: Summer Road Trips

I love road trips. Especially ones that involve concerts. Last weekend, we went on a really fun road trip, to Massachusetts and New York City to see Dead & Company. “We,” pictured here, being me, my husband, my boyfriend, and my husband’s girlfriend – yeah, I know, unusual (take a look at the About section if you’re curious about our alternative family). We had such a blast!

All of us except BlackLion have been longtime Deadheads. This wasn’t our first time seeing Dead & Company, either, but I have to say that these shows were exceptionally good! Especially the New York City one, where John Mayer got to play Wolf, one of Jerry Garcia’s guitars.

What road trips do you have planned for this summer? Anything fun and exciting?

Or are you more of a staycation type of person? I love those, too – in fact, my daughter and her fiancee arrive next week for a visit, and we’ll be enjoying the attractions of our lovely home state while they’re here. Ah, blessed Summer!

Here are some links for you to peruse by the water, in your hammock, or while riding along on the road trip of  your choice. Enjoy!

BlackLion and I are joining our friend and colleague Jeannette Maw’s 30-Day Manifesting Challenge, running throughout the month of July. She’s amazing – it’s going to be wildly fun and transformational! Learn more here.

Some skin-care tips to help you stay healthy this summer.

Just…yes, to this one.

The midlife unraveling. “You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through your veins. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”

Wow. Elizabeth Gilbert on The Moth talking about the death of her partner. Damn. You’ll need tissues – oh, and there’s plenty of swearing.

This creativity quiz is super fun and insightful. I’m a Dreamer – which didn’t surprise me a bit.

Interesting perspective on why social media isn’t as good for business as it once was.

Enjoy your summer adventures!

Summer Solstice Check-In

As we approach the Summer Solstice and the halfway point of the calendar year, it’s a good time to take a look at how things are going in our lives. What did you hope to feel, experience, and accomplish this year? How’s it going?

Let’s shine the light on things! It’s time for an assessment.

You might tend to focus on the goals that haven’t yet become part of your life. As an achievement-oriented Virgo, I’m guilty of that, for sure. After I recently shared my disappointment about not being closer to some of my big goals for this year, one of my wise biz sisters asked me about what IS going well for me. In our biz group, we post our celebrations as part of our weekly check-in, and she’d noticed that I’ve been making progress.

Taking an inventory of your celebrations is key to staying on track toward your goals. Whether you do this weekly or less often, make some time to see what’s been going right for you this year. Start by making a list of your celebrations. Don’t just include things that you’ve done. Feelings, experiences, and aha moments are reasons to celebrate, too.

Summer Solstice is also an auspicious time to adjust your goals and expectations. You might have already achieved a goal or three. Maybe you discovered that something you thought you wanted is no longer a priority. You could have uncovered an exciting new passion that you want to explore, learn about, or dive into.

Which of your goals are you still committed to? What do you want to accomplish the rest of this calendar year? What feelings and experiences are most important for you to encourage? How can you make space for them?

Take the time to write out your goals, even if you didn’t do this at the beginning of the year.

Getting support can make a huge difference in staying on track toward your goals. If I didn’t have that feedback from my biz sister that I mentioned above, I might have been seeing my progress through smoky lenses (the opposite of those rose-colored glasses).

What kind of help do you need to move forward as you ease into the second half of the year? (If you’d like some help with writing, creativity, or spiritual practice, you know I’ve got your back – just drop me a line).

Taking a snapshot of where you are and where you’re going is essential to your forward momentum. Ideally we’d each do this quarterly; I like the idea of doing it on the solstices and equinoxes, as these seasonal changes are already times of transition.

I hope you’ll plan some fun and relaxation into your summer! I have a road trip to see Dead & Company, a visit from my daughter and her fiancee, and leading my first seaside writing retreat on the docket. What’s up for you?