Unpacking Those Old Patterns

earlyspringI know I’ve written about this before, but March is my least favorite month. I’m very prone to the March blues. That’s a story I’ve been telling myself for a long, long time. This year has been no exception. It hasn’t been fun.

Knowing what I do about magick and the Law of Attraction, it seems obvious that telling the tale of how this time of year sucks only ensures that it comes true. Yet sometimes these old patterns are so deeply rooted that it feels like you can never dig them up.

Doing some inner work and journaling around it led me back to March of 1985. I was 15 years old, and my favorite grandparent (and the last one I had who was still living), my Mom’s mother, went into the hospital to have surgery on her hip. It was elective surgery. She’d already had the other hip replaced several years earlier, and this surgery promised to help her get around more easily.

Grammy was only 67 years old. There was a medical error that happened, related to a separate condition, and she never came home. She died in the hospital – and with the medical phobia that I had at that time, I never got to see her again.

The day she died so unexpectedly was March 15th, the infamous Ides of March.

No wonder March became such a time of sorrow, loss, and hopelessness for me.

There are other reasons that I struggle at this time of year, too, and I know I’m not alone. But it strikes me that carrying this major loss with me for so many years affects my experience of early Spring to this day.

I’m currently reading a fascinating book called Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One by Dr. Joe Dispenza. It’s about the brain science behind how we get into these old patterns, stuck in our stories about the way things are.

(A side note: if you haven’t yet tuned into how recent scientific research is validating ancient spiritual wisdom, this book is a great place to start.)

Anyway, the idea is that we have an emotional experience, but then we make it part of our story. Eventually, by repeatedly practicing those emotions, they become part of our personality. It feels like we’re stuck with them, permanently.

But we are the ones who created these patterns, and because we are able to be the observer, to be self-aware, we can also change them. We do so through practices like meditation, using our powers of creativity, and weaning ourselves from our dependence on addictive emotions. If you’ve ever made a big change in your life, one that involved re-creating yourself and your approach to the world, you probably have an inkling what I mean.

I’ve made these big changes in other areas of my life, such as self-love and creativity. But we’re all human, and even when we’re living a conscious life, we’ll be continually refining and learning.

My current work is to heal my relationship with Spring. I’m beginning with a lot of nurturing self-care, and with a practice of forgiveness. I’m letting myself off the hook, and making some new choices.

What changes are you making in your experience? How can you begin to unpack an old pattern that’s holding you back? Can you forgive yourself for circling back around to this story yet again? Are you ready to move forward in new ways?

Magick and the Law of Attraction: How Does It Actually Work?

cairnsforfunThere are so many misunderstandings about magick and the Law of Attraction and how they actually work in everyday life. I wrote about this in my most recent book, The Heart of the Goddess: A Handbook for Living Soulfully. Here’s an excerpt:

Let’s start with a couple of definitions. What do I mean by “magick,” and why is it spelled that way? Magick is the art of changing your consciousness using your will, which then changes your experience, what enters and leaves your life. Many modern-day Pagans and witches have chosen to add a “k” to the end of the word in order to differentiate it from the notion of magic as staged illusion.

Magick (with the “k”) is more than a mere trick, although it can look like one if you’re seeing it from the outside.

How does magick work?

All that you perceive around you is a reflection of your inner world. On one level, you observe what you do because of the way your mind filters things. This is due to your previous experiences, your beliefs, and the habitual way you have trained your brain to process events.

Science has demonstrated this in many experiments and studies. A well-known one is to have a group of people observe an event, then question them separately about it. Questions – and answers – about the color of the clothing worn by the key players, the order in which things happen, and other details show clearly that we aren’t all seeing things objectively.

On a deeper level, your thoughts and beliefs affect what you draw into your field of experience. Everything is made of energy, including you. Energy moves – it vibrates and emanates in waves. When you are on the same vibration as something, you can draw it to you much more easily than if your energy doesn’t match up.

When you learn to change your thoughts and the feelings that underlie them, you can shift your vibration, and as if by magic (which is really magick), you achieve the results you desire. This is a simplified description of how you work magick.

Now is a good time to define the Law of Attraction (LOA) and address some common misconceptions about it.

This natural law is explained and popularized by the film The Secret, by the work of Abraham-Hicks, and in many books and teachings. There are a lot of misunderstandings about what it does. Many people have developed a negative view of the LOA, seeing it as wishful thinking, a justification of class privilege, or a blame-the-victim philosophy. These misunderstandings are not surprising, given that a quick explanation leaves out some essential points.

The LOA is basically the method behind the magick described above – you attract people, things, and experiences into your life based on your energy vibration, or in other words, your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

The idea of using the LOA to attract what you desire is that you “don’t have to work” to get what you want. That’s where many people get confused. “What? You mean that I don’t have to work three jobs and scrimp and save to build my dream house?” “No,” the answer might be, “you simply have to align your vibration with the dream home you’re looking for, and it will soon be yours.”

The problems with this reply lie in our understandings about two of the words – “simply” and “soon.”

Yes, at its root, the concept of the LOA is simple. However, for most of us human beings, the journey to learning to align our energies with our desires is not easy. It is actually a whole lot of hard work to learn to attract ideal experiences into your life – but not the common notion of “work.” Let go of trying to control your physical experience through force and physical exertion, like working hard at a job you resent and saving up, penny by precious penny, while trying to resist the mainstream advertising that urges you to spend, spend, spend.

Instead, your work is to train yourself to value your vibrational alignment over all other experience, to practice strengthening your connection to the Divine Source within you, and to uproot and transform old beliefs.

You’ll do all this while living in a culture that considers such inner work a waste of time, misguided, strange, or even harmful and wrong.

As for “soon,” as Abraham often says, you could indeed manifest your desires immediately if you could tap into the purest vibration of your longing. But most of us have a lot of blockages and old habits to dismantle before we get to that point.

Back to the idea of finding your unique magick. In order to attune your vibration to the point where you can draw to you the experiences that are perfect for your joy and growth, there’s plenty of inner work to do. You’ll be unlearning old beliefs and habits, while at the same time building a new toolkit to help you stay in the flow of connection, and return to it quickly when you stray from your path.

The tools and techniques that you use will be drawn from your innate preferences and talents. Remember, magick is an art. Like visual artists, who have a wide variety of materials to choose from – watercolors, oil paints, charcoal, fancy markers, crayons, colored pencils – you get to decide what you’ll use to create your own magick. You’ll build – and actually, you’ve already been assembling – a tool chest that holds your favorite magickal tools, the ones that are most fun and effective for you.

You’ll then employ these favored tools, and new ones that you’ll experiment with and adopt along the way, to focus your will and to create change. What do I mean by “will” in this usage of the word? I’m not talking about the surface desires of the conscious mind, although they are fun to play with sometimes.

When I speak of will, I mean the deeper yearnings of your soul.

You’ll become most clearly aware of what these are when you learn to listen to your intuition and align your mind and heart, which is part of the essential work of a priestess or conscious co-creator.

But even if you feel unclear about your callings right now, you probably have plenty of clues in your experience, ones that bubble up through the layers of your conscious mind and form a thread of meaning in your life.

Learning to work with your will means using your consciousness tools to bring you into a state where you align with the vibration of your desires.

This requires practice and focus. Happily, this kind of inner work isn’t boring or tedious.

If done with an attitude of curiosity and an open heart, it is intensely fun and rewarding. Not that there won’t be tears and struggles, especially as you discover and root out old patterns. But the discovery of and alignment with your personal brand of magick is like unearthing a cache of priceless treasure at your very core – one that you weren’t aware of for much of your life, yet it belongs to you, to enjoy and share as you desire.

The riches that you have deep inside you, waiting to be found, are beyond those of your wildest dreams!


Creativity As Portal

Now and then when I talk to people about daily spiritual practice, they immediately get resistant. And defensive. Sometimes even blustery! (What’s up with that?)

For some, meditation can seem boring, prayer outmoded, and the idea of a daily practice feels restrictive.

Yet for many of the same people, talk to them about their favorite mode of creativity, and they light up. So, I offer, why not use that as your chosen spiritual practice?

I’ve found that creativity is an easy portal to deeper spiritual connection. When you’re creating, especially in a media that appeals to you, whether it’s oil painting, guitar playing, or bread baking, you become very present. Your attention is fully on what you’re doing, and time can seem to expand or contract. When you’re “in the zone,” or the flow, you’re fully connected to your higher self, and thus to your Divine source.

You don’t even have to be especially “good at” whatever art form you choose to practice. It just needs to be something that brings you joy – perhaps not in every moment, but certainly more joy than frustration. So maybe you need to have a smidge more experience than a beginner. But that’s up to you.

Here’s an excerpt from my book Centered In Spirit: Crafting Your Daily Practice about using intentional art as a daily spiritual practice. I hope you find it inspiring!

Intentional Art

As with sacred words, a daily devotion to creating art that connects you with your inner self can be a highly rewarding spiritual practice. You don’t have to consider yourself an artist in order to benefit from an intentional art practice. The options for using art as a spiritual practice are endless, but here are some examples.

A good friend introduced me to the practice of zentangling. It’s basically a sacred form of doodling, where you use a variety of patterns to create a richly textured drawing (check out this zentangling link to see what it looks like). The resulting drawings are gorgeous, but the point, of course, is not the outcome. The process of creating the patterns, with lots of repeating lines and shapes, is very meditative. Once you’ve learned some basic patterns, you’ll soon find yourself in a relaxed yet focused state while zentangling. My friend uses this as her spiritual practice each morning, putting on some nature sounds background music and getting all Zen while she sips her coffee.

Mandalas are another type of sacred drawing that can bring you to a meditative mind space. These are patterns or pictures that you make within a circle. Mandalas originated in Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions, and are used as an aid to meditation. There are traditional mandala patterns, but you can also create your own designs, either free-form or using a ruler and compass. You can purchase books of black-and-white mandalas, and color them in with crayons or colored pencils. Psychologist Carl Jung used to provide his clients with mandalas to color, as a way to focus the rational mind and allow the subconscious to relax.

Which brings us to the popularity, as of this writing, of adult coloring books. There are now many gorgeous coloring books available, often with spiritual or nature themes, which make delightful tools for a spiritual practice. Coloring is very meditative, and can satisfy those of us who might worry about perfection in our art. Unlike drawing your own patterns or mandalas, the simple act of coloring in a design that someone else has already made can free your inner critic from the pressure to “do things right.” Coloring to relaxing music creates a lovely spiritual practice that can take you to a deeper level of relaxation and mental focus.

artjournalCreating an art journal or art diary is another practice that brings art into a sacred space. The concept originated with the sketchbooks and notebooks kept by well-known artists like Frida Kahlo and Leonardo da Vinci. These days, many people keep art journals that serve as a therapeutic way to express deep emotions.

An art journal can be made up of simple sketches, or can be more complex, including mixed-media pieces and collages. Some people make them out of old books, painting over each page and then designing pages based on various themes or quotes. You could create a spiritual practice of art journaling in which you used particular prompts or quotes to explore spiritual themes. You could also make pages that illustrate a scene from your dreams, or create representations of a particular deity or myth.

If you are already a visual artist, incorporating your art into your daily practice can enhance the work you do. As a writer, I find that my daily journal writing primes the pump for the writing projects I work on that day. You might find the same is true for you. Sketching the images that come to mind at the beginning of your day can inspire your larger works. Dedicating the art you create or begin during your spiritual practice to a particular muse or intention can enhance your creative connection.

Starcat’s Favorites: Seeking Ideas

snugglingbeastiesWow, how can it be February already? This has been a very wintry week here in frosty Maine. After a lull, we’ve been having snowstorms left and right. But hey, even though the days are growing longer, it’s still winter for a few more weeks. Especially here. It’s so chilly, cats have been seen snuggling with dogs!

I’m currently seeking ideas for posts to share with you here.

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting as often, and part of it is that I’ve been busy with life in general and with my business, Feline Dreamers. But I’m also wondering what topics you’d most love to hear about. Please leave a comment below and let me know.

Some of my own ideas for upcoming posts include another in the series on the Tarot (got a particular card you’re wondering about?), a report on how my bullet journaling adventure is going (spoiler: I love it!!!), and maybe an excerpt from my most recent book, The Heart of the Goddess. What do you think?

Okay, on with the best of the links I’ve discovered over the past month or so! Enjoy your weekend.

Last month ElvenTiger turned 18! I know, big milestone! She’s my youngest, so it’s also a milestone for me as a Mom – we’re in a whole new phase of parenting now. I freaking love my adult kids and their partners! Anyway, since she’s an awesome Capricorn (and I have some wonderful Capricorn friends, too), here’s a post on why this sign is so essential to keep around.

Great article on manifesting abundance, from one of my heroes, Mike Dooley.

BlackLion and I just started a daily dance challenge, to get us moving even in the icy weather. Here are some useful tips for starting a 21-day challenge of your own.

A fascinating article on healing yourself by talking with your cells. Wow.

Here are some nourishing yoga poses for winter.

Freaked out by the state of the world, and politics? Yeah, many of us are. Here are some tips for change-making, and my recent post on avoiding media overwhelm. Also, a unique perspective on dealing with environmental devastation.

You (or your kids) don’t legally have to go to school. You may know that already, but this video is a great summary. And he’s hilarious! Thanks ElvenTiger for sharing it with me.

Remember, please let me know what you’d love to read about here in the weeks to come. Thank you!

Magick and the Art of Non-Attachment

fd140716purplesunset1Magick is all about creating change. The impulse to do magick comes from some desire that you have for things in your life to be different in some way. Therefore, when you do magick you’re coming from a place of having a strong desire, which is connected to your will to craft that desired change.

The paradox is, though, that when you’re doing magick, there is a point at which you need to let go. You wrap your will energy around that desire you’re so passionate about, and drop it into the ocean of consciousness. Then you let go, and you wait.

It’s not always easy, the waiting.

Your strong desire pushes you to hurry, to manifest, to cling to that wanted thing or situation or person with all your might. You need it. You must have it! Where the hell is it?!

Instead, it’s essential to cultivate the art of non-attachment. Non-attachment, in the Buddhist faith, is a state of letting emotions come and go without clinging to them. It allows you to free yourself from negativity and expand your compassion. Non-attachment can be applied to the magick you’re doing, as well.

When you are creating your magick spell, you are most likely envisioning the outcome you wish to manifest. You picture your dream house, you list out the ideal qualities of the lover you want to attract, you imagine your bank account with five or six figures. However, once you’ve set things in motion, it’s key to let go of the very outcomes you’ve been visualizing.

The Universe might have something even better in store for you – or at least something very different, which will nonetheless fulfill your desire.

I’ve found that it helps me to cultivate my non-attachment to the outcome when I return to the reason behind the desire. WHY do you want the new home, the lover, the money? What are you seeking, truly? Is it space to spread out and be creative, a companion for the long winter nights, the security of knowing your bills will be paid at the end of each month? When you look for the WHY behind your original desire, you’ll see the broader picture. You’ll be able to see that there are a myriad of ways your desire could come true.

This gives your magick a chance to work. It gives the Universe the opportunity to bring you just the very gift that will uplift your experience and help you grow.

Practice non-attachment, while still actively doing the work to manifest your desires, and you’ll see how beautifully your dreams can come true.

Starcat’s Ten Best Books of 2016

rp_amazingbook-300x169.jpgHey fellow book lovers! It’s time to share my ten favorite reads from last year. As always, please note that these aren’t necessarily books that came out in 2016. They’re just my top favorites of the 54 books I read during the year.

Without further ado, here’s the list!

City of Refuge by Starhawk. Oh, so very, very good… This is a sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, which is on my list of all-time favorite stories. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t live up to the original, but I needn’t have been. I most highly recommend the whole series (there’s a prequel, too, called Walking to Mercury). Simply outstanding.

The Top Ten Things Dead People Want to Tell YOU by Mike Dooley. This author has a talent for making spirituality whimsical and simple, while still deep enough to be captivating. His latest book is excellent.

Dream Alchemy: Shaping Our Dreams to Transform Our Lives by Ted Andrews. Using myths and tales from around the world and universal archetypes, Andrews teaches you how to deftly use your personal dreams to shed light on your life and your purpose. I’m really into dreams, and I find this to be one of the best and most useful books on dreaming I’ve read yet (another dream author I highly recommend is Robert Moss).

Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix. Having read the original Abhorsen trilogy as a family back when the kids were little, this prequel intrigued me. It was excellent. My favorite thing about this book is how the author takes a known evil character from the trilogy, and tells her story in a way that makes her a sympathetic main character. That really takes some skill! Even if you don’t know the Abhorsen trilogy, it’s a terrific story.

The Book of Ho’oponopono: The Hawaiian Practice of Forgiveness and Healing by Luc Bodin, Nathalie Bodin Lamboy, and Jean Graciet. This book has both science and spirituality, mingled together in a readable way. Ho’oponopono is a spiritual practice connected with shamanism, prayer, and quantum metaphysics. The authors weave many disparate topics together seamlessly, and ultimately describe Ho’oponopono as “an art of living, not a therapy.” I tried the Ho’oponopono technique for myself, and found it to be very effective. It is simple and portable, yet the effects can be seen almost immediately, both within my own psyche and in the changes in my outer-world experience. Read this book, and then try it for yourself!

Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I took my time with this book, savoring a short chapter or two at a time. Dr. Dyer’s translation of the Tao Te Ching is lyrical and clear. His short essays about each precept are thought-provoking. I learned a lot from this book.

The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life (Volumes 1 and 2) by Drunvalo Melchizedek. This is another set of books from which I learned a ton. If you are at all interested in sacred geometry and how the Universe works (in a mystical sense), Melchizedek is essential reading.

Thank & Grow Rich: A 30-Day Experiment in Shameless Gratitude and Unabashed Joy by Pam Grout. BlackLion and I read this at the same time, and started our 30-day gratitude experiment in mid-September. I’m still doing it as part of my daily practice. Pam Grout has a talent for creating compelling practices and games that coax you to uplevel your vibration. Quick to implement, easy, and joyful.

The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul by Danielle LaPorte. This book actually took me longer than a year to read and work through, off and on. Not because it’s not good – it’s just a deep process. I emerged with my power words (which LaPorte calls core desired feelings), including LUMINOUS, which is my 2017 word of the year. This book is powerful spiritual tool.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I can’t believe I hadn’t read this sooner (it was published in 2011, and is the first book of a trilogy). I loved it. It has witches, vampires, and demons, an epic love story, and scholarly research. What’s not to love? Seriously though, the writing is good and the story is captivating. I look forward to book two.

I also want to mention my own new book that I wrote and published in 2016. The Heart of the Goddess: A Handbook for Living Soulfully is my favorite of the four books I’ve written so far. I think that’s because it encompasses my mission so fully. You can find out more about it here.

Happy reading!

On Becoming Luminous

visionboardjan17Each year, I share my Word of the Year and some words about how it came about, in order to hopefully inspire you in your own journey (and because it’s fun to share). This year, my word is LUMINOUS.

Last May, I received a copy of The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte for Mother’s Day. I worked through it over the next several months, and chose a handful of words that resonated most with me. If you’re not familiar with her work, Danielle LaPorte teaches that rather than pick goals, we can look behind the goals to see why we want to achieve them. Or in other words, we can focus on how we want to feel in our lives.

LUMINOUS was one of the words I chose as part of that process. As a word of the year for 2017, it makes sense on several levels. Last year I began working on visibility as an author and entrepreneur, with a business coach to help me focus on which steps to take. Becoming a beacon for those who want to read my books and attend our Feline Dreamers workshops and classes is part of that process. It will help shine the light of the Feminine Divine even more widely, which is part of my soul’s calling. Thus, LUMINOUS!

I’ve also been going deeper and deeper into my meditation practice and working with my energy system over the past couple of years. LUMINOUS reminds me that I’m connected with the Divine light of which all things in the cosmos are made. As I continue to meditate and clear my energy system daily, and return to that connection in moments of doubt, I’m becoming more sparkly and bright.

Finally, one of the things I want to focus on this year is improving my physical wellness. I’m pretty healthy overall, but I’m carrying some extra weight and it’s affecting my life in ways I’m not enjoying. So, thinking of the description of people as “glowing with health and vitality,” the world LUMINOUS makes sense on that level as well.

Last year’s word was AUTHENTIC, and it certainly helped me get to the point where I am now. 2016 wasn’t an easy year (understatement much ?) but it did have its awesome moments, and I’ve certainly grown as a person. I’m hoping that 2017 will run more smoothly, and allow me to achieve the LUMINOUS results I’m seeking. I want to continue to live my mission to help bring the qualities of the Feminine Divine into wider usage. Our world certainly needs them!

What’s your word of the year? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear what intentions you’re setting for the year to come.

Starcat’s Favorites: Quiet Time

Ah, Winter… I like you more than I used to, dear Winter. I like the quiet lull after the Winter Solstice, when the wind and snow comes and all is swathed in drifts. I enjoy the opportunity to dive deep into visioning what I want the New Year to be, for me. I like the change of calendar and the hope and promise it brings. Thank you, Winter, for your cold and dark, that encourages me to hibernate just a bit and to take some time in the creative cave. Blessings!

I hope you’re able to take some quiet time this weekend to dream up your ideal 2017. Here are some links that can help inspire you in the process.

Here’s an excellent post from Denmark about ways to stay happy in winter. I love this so much.

Thursday was the New Moon in Capricorn, which promises to bring some interesting energies, especially in the realm of love.

Seeking some closure to 2016? Here are some releasing rituals and an end-of-year celebration ritual.

How to get better at receiving.

Looking for good books to read this winter? You know I’ve got you covered on that front. I’ll be sharing my top 10 favorite books in a post next week. In the meantime, check out these lists: Good reading suggestions from one of the author-entrepreneurs I follow. An interesting take on books about money (think fiction and memoirs rather than how-tos).  Also, this essay about how keeping lists of books helped save the author’s life.

Too busy? It’s not just you. The disease of being busy.

I was interviewed in PaganPages about my book Starcat’s Corner: Essays on Pagan Living.

Have a beautiful weekend and I’ll talk to you next year!

It’s Change-Making Time

swtu17Many of us are still processing the U.S. election results and what they mean. It seems unthinkable to me that we’d regress, as a society, just when we’re finally beginning to understand that all beings have innate worth. Open bigotry and misogyny in the 21st century? Really?!

Still, perhaps it’s better out in the open. At least we’ll know who the racist, sexist, homophobic jerks are, so we can avoid them and boycott their businesses. Right?

It seems to me that, in the big picture, this is a temporary regression. It’s based in fear of the unknown.

For those of us who value compassion, diversity, and connection, it’s an opportunity to devote ourselves even more fully to creating positive change. You would think at this point that I’m going to advocate volunteering, protesting, and creating new alliances, and those things are all excellent courses of action.

However, I believe that the most lasting change begins within. When we can reprogram ourselves to be kind and compassionate to ourselves, within the privacy of our own minds, that’s when real progress will be seen. Growing up in the patriarchy, in a society that is fearful of difference, isn’t easy – especially for those of us unable or unwilling to conform. We often come out wounded, timid, and unsure of our self-worth. Yet we are the creative, spiritual beings that our society desperately needs.

Over the past several years, I’ve taken my own journey to reclaim my sense of self-love and worthiness. I’ve shared stories of it here on the blog. Now I want to share with you some of the most effective tools and techniques I’ve discovered along the way.

BlackLion and I are offering a free online workshop, A Self-Worth Tune-Up: Gear Up for an Epic 2017!, in order to help you dig up and transform old beliefs about your own innate worth. This is the perfect time of year to dive into the inner work that will help support you as  you create powerful change in 2017. Join us (and a tribe of like-minded seekers) on Wednesday, January 4th, at 7pm EST. Click here to sign up.

The world needs you to be strong, awakened, and living your soul’s purpose. Support yourself in your sacred work by tapping into your self-worth. Happy New Year!

We Are Not Misfit Toys

cuteshelfpicI’ve been seeing a lot of social media posts by friends and acquaintances who are feeling especially down and worthless lately. Some of them suffer from anxiety and depression, which I understand is caused by brain chemistry – but in my opinion, I think these conditions are often exacerbated by the false expectations our society has of us. And these expectations affect most of us, to one degree or another, making us feel like failures at life.

We’re “supposed to” have the perfect home, of course always pristinely clean and decorated like a magazine photo. The ideal career, providing us plenty of money (if not time) and prestige. Well-behaved compliant children who happily spend most of their waking hours in school or doing homework. A young and slim but curvy body, dressed fashionably and with tidy Barbie hair. And a long list of other “must-do” and “must-have” things that make us a paragon of etiquette, conformity, and consumerism.

What a load of crap!

Many of us see beyond the shallow surface of these expectations and revel in our creativity, wildness, and spirituality. We embrace our loving natures and see through pop culture into what really matters most to us – on our good days, anyway.

Yet living day in, day out in a culture that (almost) never talks about our real passions and struggles wears on us. Many of us begin to feel like the toys in the old Christmas special, the ones relegated to an island, perpetually lonely and misfit. The long-term effects of this can have an adverse impact on our mental and emotional health, whether or not we suffer from a chronic illness.

How can we avoid feeling like misfit toys? How can we stay authentic and strong in our own deepest values, which might have nothing to do with those of our society?

Here are a few tips:

Gather in like-minded community. No matter how niche your passions, there are likely others who share them. Find them online. Seek them out in person. One by one, create a tribe whose values and interests line up with yours. Cherish them. Support one another and spend time laughing and crying and dancing – or whatever floats your collective boat.

Ignore the mainstream media. The thing is, none of us really “has it all together.” We’re here on Earth to learn and grow. The images of the perfect family or career or home or whatever? They’re mostly ways of advertising products. Let go of the images you see and revel in your unique life.

Practice gratitude. Instead of looking at your flaws or what’s not working in your life, examine your blessings. Express thanks for your joys, both the biggies (like being loved) and the small daily ones (like that first steaming cup of coffee or tea). We’re taught to seek what’s wrong and fix it, so training your mind to look for blessings will take time, but it’s absolutely possible. And it will help.

Help someone else. The more real you can be with those you interact with, the better. Authenticity ripples outward. Reach past the normal boundaries and share a smile or a joke with a frazzled checkout clerk. Tip well. Admit when you’re struggling. Give little gifts or compliments to people who seem unhappy or stressed. Helping another will give you warm fuzzies, which uplifts your own feelings of worthiness.

Let something go. You know that thing that you think you “should” do but never quite achieve? Like all the laundry being done and folded, or a home-cooked meal every night, or cleaning out your car? Let it go. Release it and feel how that little piece of stress lightens your load as it floats away. Next week, find another one and let that sucker go, too. Bye-bye, unrealistic expectations!

It can be especially hard to conform to expectations around the holidays. Forget it. Celebrate your way. Enjoy your family and friends – the ones who love you and want to spend time with you. Minimize your time with the judgmental ones.

Do what feels good to you, and let go of the rest. Truly. You’re not a misfit toy. You’re a complex, creative, fantastic human being. There’s no need to try and comply with expectations that leave you feeling worthless. You can stop, and the world won’t end. Try it.