Saw a great video on Keri Smith's blog and just had to share.  This gem was a Kickstarter campaign for the film project, Lost in Living, about 4 artists/mothers who are trying to make both work.  At 7:32 one of the main characters laments, "I can unexpectedly find myself in a little hole of despair.  Why can't I keep my house clean? Why are there grease stains on my sofa?  This is not who I was supposed to be."  She goes on, "Music and art fixes that.  It puts the sheen back on everything."

This story is about creative mommies but change the players and the message still fits.  It could be employees stretched to the max or full-time care-givers.  Change the outlet and the message is the same.  Swap out creative pursuits for physical or spiritual outlets.  Put the the sheen back on your life.

You may see many messages in this video.  I see women wrestling with being themselves.  I see people battling with their Super Egos. The struggle between what they want to do and what they feel they should do is torturous.   One of the artist's young daughters is asked, "Is your mommy an artist?"  She thinks for a while, then answers, "She used to be."

The video is well worth the ten minutes it will take you to watch.  The imagery of the final scene at 9:40 is spot on.  The message is clear. It is not easy to make the time for yourself.  But everyone needs the time to be themselves.

Earlier in the week we talked through strategies for letting go of emotional and physical holding.  If you find it’s difficult to get started don’t be surprised.  Take a moment and think about the heavy load you may be carrying.  It can be nearly impossible to act when you are weighed down by sorrow, pain and piles of memories.  This process takes time; it’s important to acknowledge that the timeline is different for everyone.  

Once you are able to let go of some of the uncomfortable thoughts and unfocused memorabilia you can begin to think about clearing your space.  Remember there will still be an emptiness that yearns to be filled.  In order to clear it’s helpful to inject positive energy into the empty place by creating a sacred space--a shrine.

“To make a shrine, no matter how simple, is to make art--not for profit, but as a gift.”  ~Jean McMann  from her book “Altars and Icons, Sacred Spaces in Everyday Life. ” She goes on to say, “...many individuals are turning for comfort and stability to the ancient powers of objects:  not the glossy consumer items we are encouraged to buy, but the priceless, tarnished relics of personal and family histories.  These things represent our triumphs, our epiphanies, our tragic losses; we cherish them, display them, and endow them with magic.”  

What are your priceless relics and personal reminders?  Photos, valentines, trophies--whatever touches your heart.  Look for a place to display your most cherished mementos.  Is there a place you’ll see and honor them every day?  It may be a space on the mantle or a new sacred spot designated just for this comforting purpose.  You may want more than one shrine in your home.  It could be a permanent or mutable display.  Think of it--you are the curator of these rich memories.  Your physical involvement with making the shrine is important--selecting objects, tenderly arranging them and caring for them will help keep your creative energy flowing.
The shelf at the top of my staircase contains a selection of objects that remain constant and lend stability to other cherished mementos that change as life changes.  In the past dozen years I have filled it with treasures from my children’s younger days, honored my mother with reminders of my own childhood and even looked fondly back on my pets’ full yet short lives. Calming and bittersweet--it serves as a three-dimensional collage of the times we spent together.  This shrine is part of my life--just like they were.

Maybe you already have made an arrangement that brings you comfort.  If not, would you consider collecting precious items and making a shrine?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.  If you’d like to share your shrine post your photos on our Facebook Page.

Last week’s post on Empty Nest reminded me of feeling stuck.  Focusing on an event such as watching my children move on brings back all those memories.  One would think that tears could just woosh away the pain and sadness.  Unfortunately that’s not the case.  When major life changes occur (and truthfully any changes, good or bad, are processed as loss) our intention is to hold tight.  But it’s hard to hold something that isn’t there.  We grasp yet all we can find is a hole.  That emptiness breeds fear, anxiety and tension in the body--in other words physical holding.  That’s why loss is so painful.  

Once our discomfort is magnified by sadness and physical pain we shift our direction and begin to hold onto things.  It’s a very clever way to hide our distress.  Toys, clothes, locks of hair, elementary school papers--anything that might fill up the hole.  Now we have complexified our situation.  Our bodies are in pain because of emotional holding and our homes are cluttered with stuff.  We’re stuck.  

Can you imagine the downward spiral if this continued?  It’s a wretched cycle.  And the worst thing about it is our lives are constantly changing.  We are experiencing some kind of loss on a regular basis.  Which makes the threat of getting stuck all the more real.  Loss of loved ones, loss of job, changes of job definition and serious injury are devastating.  Interruption to routine, illness and disappointment are frequent changes.  What can we do about it?  I wish there were an simple way to ease the pain.  If you want to get unstuck the only way is to learn to adapt.  Try taking these steps towards letting go:

  1. Turn and face the pain instead of running away.  This is the most difficult choice.  I get it.  But it’s also the most direct path towards letting go.  A wise woman once told me that a feeling only lasts about 30 seconds.  You may face excruciatingly painful feelings--but you can make it for 30 seconds.  Practice with the little daily occurrences and you’ll be better prepared for the big ones.  This is so challenging and contrary to our nature that you may spend a lifetime practicing.  It is worth your time.
  2. Start your day with 20 minutes of uncensored, stream of consciousness writing.  Giving yourself the time and a private place to note your darkest thoughts or celebrate your victories will help you let go.  Don’t overthink this.  Go buy a spiral notebook, put pen to paper and keep it moving.  That’s the important part.  The motion of the pen will connect with the flow of your subconscious and you will let go.  No words?  Write blah, blah, blah until the words come.  You may have to write a half page of nonsense before words begin to flow--and that’s ok.  I first read about this method in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.”  
  3. Evaluate your mementos.  Identify the things you’re holding.  My mother kept both her children’s bedrooms preserved--as if we’d never left.  I did the same when my older son left for college.  It wasn’t until my younger son moved out--six years later--that I realized I was doing exactly the same thing.  Is there a space in your home that you tend to avoid?  For example, my son’s preserved bedroom--I kept the door shut and I felt anxious about going inside.  That’s a hint you need to handle it.  Take an afternoon and make piles--toss, donate, keep, and cherish.  Yes, absolutely keep the items that have meaningful sentimental value.  Don’t hold onto every scrap.  You won’t lose your children or your memories; you will gain yourself.  Give yourself time and have a box of tissues handy.  It will be emotionally exhausting work but letting go will make you free.
  4. Fill the space in a positive way.  Look for the possibility instead of the loss.  I’ll talk more about this later in the week.
  5. Review my coping strategies.  Try my strategies for coping with loss.  Making a plan for handling life’s inevitable losses will empower you and that will help you let go.  Edit my list with the strategies that work for you.  
  6. What works for you?  Add your steps for letting go and getting unstuck in the comments section below.

My mother always said, “Only two things in life are certain--death and taxes.”  I’d like to add one more item to the list--change.  Change is certain.  

When you’ve spent the last 18 years of your life raising a child it doesn’t feel like anything will ever change.  Each moment is a part of you.  Their laughter is your favorite song.  Their cuddles are molded to your form.  Their scent gives life to your breath.

And just like that, high school is over.  It’s time for them to go.  You want to cling yet they can’t wait to take the next step.  And what a big step it is.  It's a leap that creates a chasm of space.

Change.  As painful as this may feel, take heart in knowing that now it’s time for you.  Take all that time and love and energy you sent out to your children and turn it inward.  Do you feel lost?  Try finding yourself.  Are you grieving?  Give yourself a hug.  Do you feel lonely?  Invest in the closest friend you’ll ever have.  

This may seem impossible right now.  But think of it this way:  you’ve had 18 years to practice loving someone.  Your nest was a labor of love.  Why not re-feather--for yourself?
It begins with a dream. That's the easy part.

"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." ~ Walt Disney

Courage indeed.  Getting starting is often the hardest part. Why is that?  If our dreams inspire us to do more and be more why do we leave them untouched?  Because we’re afraid.  

This week Kickstarter featured a guest blogger who wrote a terrific article about her struggle to get started with her video.  Already possessing a dream and a terrific idea all that stood in her way was getting started--with her funding pitch.  Lori Leaumont describes three stumbling blocks that held her back.  First, her inner critic attacked her dream.  “What if it’s not good enough?”  Next, she succumbed to a preconceived idea of what she “should” be doing.  Lori tried to make her funding video fit into someone else’s storyboard.  Finally, she was afraid to ask for help.   There were just too many steps to take alone; she was overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear.   

Do these stumbling blocks sound familiar?  These three blocks are common to forgotten dreams. It’s no surprise that they’re all based on fear.  Do you have a dream or an idea that is waiting for you?  What’s holding you back from getting started?  Your inner critic? Not fitting into someone’s mold?  Fear of reaching out?  You may find that the very thing that scares you actually could be your strength.  Go ahead and be an original; be a maverick.  You are uniquely qualified to share your strengths!

Lori’s defining moment:  "I was doing a project about girl’s empowerment; when it came down to it, I was really doing it to empower myself. Once I realized that, and I knew what I wanted to say to the world, I found my determination to get it done. Finishing that video was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done!"

In the end, she stayed true to herself and her dream.  With more than half a month left her project is already funded.  Read Lori’s blog here.

I noticed a lot of Memorial Day posts on Facebook last week.  Gentle reminders to honor our fallen.  Remember, they urged, it’s not National Barbeque Day.  Yet these two events have been linked in my mind for as long as I can remember.  Traditions.  Mine are so ingrained that I can’t imagine holidays any other way.  Reading the posts Monday morning I closed my eyes for a moment...and went back.

     They always planned ahead.  Even though common gardening wisdom says to pinch back the mums until the 4th of July, my folks wanted to make sure there were plenty of flowers.  So they let them bloom.  Memorial Day preparations began the night before with Mom in the kitchen.  She stirred vanilla custard on the double boiler, covered the thickened pudding with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to thoroughly chill.

Memories are delightful, dreamy places.  It’s a blessing that I selectively remember the most savory morsels.  The sweet moments mixed with a few tangy ones.  

     Early in the morning my parents worked together--Mom with coffee cans full of water and Dad perched over the flower bed.  When the cans were filled with mums we loaded up and and drove to the other side of town to fetch my grandmother.

     Once Grandmother joined us we drove to the cemetery where she set to work.  Kneeling at the gravestones in a flowered dress and enormous sun hat she tenderly clipped the overgrown grass.  She worked in silence caring for two--my grandfather’s stone and the tiny marker for her firstborn son.  We set the cans of blooms in place...and left.  

Memorial Day was always the same.  And it will be.... forever in my mind.  There’s a comfort in that.  Cans of chrysanthemums, Grandmother’s hat, an expanse of lawn dotted with solemn markers.  That’s what Memorial Day means to me.  

     Then there was the food.  Back at home Dad filled a stainless steel cylinder with the pre-chilled custard and hunkered at the curb cranking the ice cream maker.  It felt like an eternity before we were allowed to sample the first spoonfuls of sweet soft-serve.  How could we wait half a day to dive into heaping bowls?  

     In the golden late afternoon Dad started the grill.  Grilling at our house was a ritual of fire enhanced with intoxicating aromas of charcoal, hickory, gasoline.  My brother and I watched with amazement.  Every time.  From this pillar of fire came juicy burgers that were seared to perfection.  We had a feast--burgers with homegrown tomatoes, hot german potato salad, ice cream smothered with fresh picked strawberries.  

What delicious memories!  Yes, that too is what Memorial Day means to me--a day to remember.  Family memories and traditions so vivid I go the mere mention of the day.  Even though my childhood home is far away my memories remain close.
A clip from the past.  My dad gives my then 6-year-old son a grilling lesson.
Share the tough stuff.  At least a third of this blog is devoted to it.  Courageously dive in--and your art will flow.  So here goes.  

Yesterday I lost a dear friend.  My greyhound, Nevada.  We had a fine long run together--10 years.  I'm sorry it's over yet I treasure every moment we shared.

He was a being who did more to open my heart than any other.  So I spent the day cleaning his crate and blankets and transforming his space into a journaling desk.  I know he'll send inspiration.
Remembering the big dude in happier, healthier days.
“What do you want for Mother’s Day?” we’d ask.  “Peace and quiet!” was always her reply.  “Mo-om. Really.”  “You heard me.”  One year I planned ahead.  On the back of the TV Guide in a Virginia Slims ad, was the most elegant gift.  A golden dress--made of paper. It took my 10-year-old breath away.  Mom would be so beautiful.  When the day came I was rather astonished that she wasn’t interested.  I badgered her all day.  “Try it on.  I want to see!”  “When are you going to try it on?”  She never did.  

I’m not sure we ever agreed on gifts.  I wanted to give her things; she didn’t want things.  She gave me so much and I wanted to give back.  This week, when I heard the news about Maurice Sendak I knew in a flash.  She really did want peace and quiet.  She wanted those tender moments at the end of the day.  A quiet time when she could hold her child in her lap and just be together, lost in imagination.  A simple gift for mom and me.  Storytime.  

Maurice Sendak.  Hearing his name sent me back in time.  I didn’t realize how much I missed reading stories.  Thinking about Max’s wild rumpus and batter-coated Mickey brought me back to nights of freshly bathed little boys and baby shampoo-scented snuggles.  It's startling to notice how connected we were, and still are, through story time.  “Read it again!”  Do I still know every word by heart?  Yes.  My sons do too.    

I went back even further.  A distant memory of sitting in my mother’s lap smelling her lotion and cherishing her warmth.  As if it were yesterday I heard her cooing voice reading my favorites--also Maurice Sendak. The Nutshell Library.  We knew every word by heart.  My ragged set of tiny books is waiting on my bookshelf.  Read me a story....just one more time.
Stressed?  My friends and I have been talking about our stress lately.   So today I’m revisiting a previous post on coping.  

It is our nature to comfort ourselves in times of stress.  Anxiety takes over and so does our "fight or flight" response.  Our comforts are a way of escaping or running away.  Babies soothe themselves with a binkie or a blankie.  Adults have it tougher.  With a fully-stocked, virtual medicine chest full of treatments it’s so easy to reach for temporary albeit, destructive help.  Soothing in the moment, regretful in the morning.  These kinds of comforts seem to work until we succumb to illness or injury.  

How do you cope with life's ups and downs? It can be a tremendous challenge to stay on track when you feel overworked. Through several years of trial and error I've developed my own toolkit of strategies. Coping strategies come into play for me when an entire month is over-scheduled or when I'm hurting from loss.  Even with tools in place it's not easy, particularly when I'm stressed.  But I keep trying.  Yes, these strategies can work for us, wouldn't it also be great if we could teach our kids how to deal with the tough times they'll face as adults?

Here is my basic set of tools:
Be Gentle
Take Care of Yourself
Get Outside
Ask for Help
Be Creative

Be Gentle. This is number one on my list because it's the toughest for me to remember. When you live by the calendar and the schedule and the clock it's easy to push yourself too hard. And that's precisely why we need extra special self-care.  Being gentle means forgiving--the true essence of love.  It’s reserving a bit of the love you send to family and friends and turning back towards yourself.  Would you forgive your over scheduled child’s messy room and your grieving friend’s forgetfulness?  Grant yourself the same gentle care.  

Take Care Yourself.  Do you live by your “to do” list?   Can you turn a list of chores upside down and just once a week put fun at the top?  Scheduling play offers respite from your stress.  With something to look forward to you lighten your internal load.  Also, plan ahead to assure your life is running smoothly in spite of any outside chaos.  Stock up on healthy foods so there are good choices at home, at work and in the car.  Do you have the time to make one big meal?  Make it a good one that will see you through a few days.   And allow yourself a few moments of introspection.  Stress fills all the empty space with noise.  Like static, it’s a constant grit in the background.  Taking some time to journal or to close your eyes and slow your breathing in mini-meditation will turn down the volume of the chaos.

Get Outside.  There's nothing like taking a walk to keep you quite literally grounded.  There may not be enough time to work out--you may not even feel like exercising--but find a little time to take a stroll or just sit outside.  Being outside demonstrates where you fit in the world. While walking look down at the tiniest ant; then up at the expansive sky.  Breathe in the fragrant morning and see the vibrant colors.  Take a moment to experience all the sensations and know that you play a unique role in this incredible place.  Stop and savor "....the tastes and smells in the air, the feel of the wind as it caresses the skin, the feel of the ground under our feet as we walk upon it. And how much easier it is to feel that ground if you allow yourself to sense that the ground itself is feeling your steps as you walk upon it." quoted from-David Abram, fr. The Spell of the Sensuous via Keri Smith's blog.

Ask for Help.  Stress turns us inward.  It can be a lonely place.  And physically painful.  Picture the pain of heartache.  Do you find yourself withdrawing, even clutching your chest?  Reaching out feels counter-intuitive.  In spite of the discomfort it is important to keep reaching out.  Remember:  if you ask, you will receive an answer.  If this is as challenging for you as it is for me, then start small.  Ask for help in your journal....or in your heart.  It is enough to ask, “may I have help managing my stress?”  After loads of practice asking God for help you may find the courage to reach out to people too.  When you receive help--give thanks.

Be Creative.  Stress and loss and pain feel destructive. Direct that negative energy towards creating and it becomes a positive outlet.  Play like a child.  Scribble with crayons.  Find a soup recipe that will help you take care of yourself.  Make up a silly song while you drive to work.  Collect a leaf, a feather, a stone from your walk and make a place for them inside.  Write your stresses in a journal. Play.

How do you manage your stress?  Will you try these strategies the next time?  Their common thread is attention to the present moment.  Stress takes us away, to either the past or the future.  Next time you feel like running away--stay.  Fear not each disquieting moment.   
Focus on the present.   Each time you try, it gets easier. 

This advice is meant to address stress; not depression.  Are you so stressed that your feelings interfere with everyday life?  Learn more about the warning signs of depression.
By shifting your focus from a goal to the process you may find your work goes more smoothly.

Last Friday was Girlfriend Day.  A long time in the planning this date had it all--lunch, boutique shopping and a museum outing. My friend,  a healer and a spreader-of-positive energy, called two months ago to set up our schedule.  An amazing exhibit was coming to our museum and she wanted to go with me.  A real coup for Denver, the Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective landed at the Denver Art Museum on March 25th--its only stop in the U.S.  We talked with calendars in hand at the end of February and set the date.

I just knew this would be a fabulous day.  My entire focus was on having a wonderful time with my dear friend.  Weather, crowds, traffic--none of that mattered.   I had set an intention, without even really thinking about it, that I would have an amazing time.  Intention is empowering. 

Intention and expectation have a positive or negative affect on your creative flow.  Just as potent as intention,  expectation is a set-up that leads to disappointment and resentment.  There’s a holiday I tend to associate with expectation--Valentine’s Day.  It never ceases to amaze me that a day set aside for celebrating love is so loaded with expectations--assuming, pretending, complaining, whining, wishing and, in the last chamber, comparing.  

I could have had a very different day.  What if I had spent two months thinking about crowds and traffic and worrying that I wouldn’t have the perfect day?  All too often I anticipate a dismal outcome.  Afraid of what might happen.  And because expectations are so powerful, it's challenging to view my behavior without criticism.  It's hard to remember to take a deep breath, let it go and simply try again next time.  

The funny thing is the day wasn't technically perfect.  I was late and out of gas.  She overslept.  The restaurant we picked was closed.  None of that mattered.  With no expectations and no goal of perfection we bobbed along the river, weaving around rocks, pulled by the current.  Very much in the flow.

“What if you just knew everything was working out perfectly?”  This sweet sentiment by artist Rachelle Donahoe has been stuck to my girlfriend’s fridge for years.  It gives me a little boost every time I see it.  Lucky her!  She gets a nudge every day. Can I keep my eye on the process instead the goal?    With this memorable day in mind  I might.  At least I can try.  And you?