An Invitation

You can create a life you love… right here, right now.

You’re going to work with the raw material of your life… exactly as it is.

Start with a willingness to practice creating moments of
Peace, Joy, Empowerment, And love… in each day.

What would that look like?
What is peace? Joy? Empowerment? Love?
How does one live those qualities?

Peace is a deep inner quiet we each have within us, that can be accessed anywhere, any
time, by briefly pausing, breathing deeply and allowing one’s self to be still.

Joy is the exuberant feeling that comes from being aware and awake to the small miracles
and wonder of life in each moment.

Empowerment is recognizing one’s ability to take action, and taking action.

Love is making a choice in this moment to support one’s divine potential or that of
another with kindness and compassion. Love is not an adjective, it is a verb.

You can create a life you love by bringing these qualities to the circumstances of your life
as they are now. All you need is a sincere “yes” to yourself… and a daybook…

A daybook can be on your phone, I-pad, computer. It can be a big beautiful journal or a
little notepad that can be carried easily in a pocket or purse. It can be a graphic journal
where you draw instead of write.

Each day just take a moment to record:

When today did I create a moment of peace?
When today did I create a moment of joy?
When today did I create a moment of empowerment?
When today did I create a moment of love?

As you begin doing this right here, right now… your life will change and you will begin
creating a life you love.

Posts made in October, 2013

Embracing a Creative Practice


“I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.” – Joyce Carol Oates

What if we made an active choice to keep our creativity alive and vibrant? What if
 we supported that choice with a daily creative practice?

With our ‘to-do’ lists already weighing us down, one more item might mean an act of self-drowning!  Or, what if it became the life-saver (literally) that not only keeps us afloat, but also lends us more buoyancy in life?

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of over 50 books, has won the National Book Award and been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize three times.  And as her quote above reveals, it required work and discipline.

“Keeping busy is the remedy of all the ills in America,” Oates writes, “It is also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed.”

tired-writer1-e1371177928276I have been writing most of my life and I have been avoiding writing most of my life.  It is amazing what I can accomplish when I decide I need to sit down and write.  Closets and drawers have been reorganized numerous times, my desk cleaned off, and its top polished to a sheen with pledge.

In the past year I’ve been learning the only pledge I need to make is to myself.  It goes like this:  get up, wake up, pray, write!  It doesn’t matter if my desk is in a clutter—stuff can get pushed to the side.  Mostly it doesn’t matter if I feel like writing.  Creating is not a matter of mood; it is a matter of commitment.

It doesn’t matter if I am inspired or even have an idea of what to write (create.)

One simply sits down and begins.  Fingers to keys, paint to paper, hands on clay, foot on sewing machine pedal, eyes on recipe.  As a writer, I simply start writing whatever I am thinking about.  In a short time, the pump is primed and creativity flows. I may not be satisfied with the end product, but that is the point, I come back again and again editing, rewriting, watching the raw material take shape and come to life.

jennifer-miller-painting-swansTo flourish, creativity needs to be nurtured daily.  And so we start or end our day with what is most important to us creatively, even if only for five minutes.

That’s what A.R.T.S. Anonymous teaches us.  On their web site they promote “5 Alive! 5 minutes every day keeps my art alive, 5 minutes every day keeps my block away.”

What if our problem is not-knowing what art or creative expression we want to pursue?  Experiment! Notice what inspires you.  Pick up Julia Cameron’s phenomenal book The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  She teaches us that “the creative process is a process of surrender, not a process of control.”

Indeed perfectionism is the enemy of creativity and what can hold me hostage to organizing instead of writing.

Last week I wrote about some adventures I had on an airline flight.  I was going to a reunion for a beloved journalism professor I had in college, Nelson Wadsworth.  Before entering academics he had worked as a photographer and journalist for both Time and Life magazines and The National Observer. He had also been a Marine.  He was brash, blunt, and had a short fuse.  And he was brilliant. He was also willing to go the long distance with his students.

EditedPaperWhen he edited an article for me, it would be returned completely filled with bright red editing marks.  Then he would go over the work with me one painstaking word at a time teaching me what would make the article rise to its highest creative potential.  He launched the career of numerous successful photographers and journalists.

I was the first person to arrive at the reunion. Nelson was already there waiting. I hadn’t seen him for 35 years.  Now he had an eye patch due to a stroke and walked with a cane.  When he saw me and registered who I was he became emotional, he embraced me. It was our first hug ever. We held each other for several precious moments. I knew it meant something to him that I had come.  And it meant volumes to me that he had set me on the writer’s path professionally.

Here was my teacher. And it was sacred.

Soon other journalists, and photographers arrived.  The “Nelson” stories flowed along with the laughter.  We reminisced about past stories, looked at photographs members of the group had taken, learned what path each person’s practice had led him or her to.  Our spouses complained about our “news” addiction.  
Here was my tribe!

The same day as the reunion my computer completely crashed and has been down for two weeks to the day.  I can write longhand, but I find I am most productive with a computer; being without it was an interesting reality check of how much a daily creative practice brings to my life. My mood wasn’t quite as bright, I was less engaged with life, and definitely some passion and purpose was missing.

quick-writing-tips-500x331With gratitude, my fingers fly across the keys again. When I am committed to my creative practice, I feel alive!

Creativity is about trusting that which is unseen, but possible, the mystery of life’s synchronicities and miracles.  Creativity takes us deep into our soul, to the edge of The Divine. Creativity is a call to life as a process. To create is to surrender and trust which allows us to enter a deep flow. As we do we connect with that which is held most deeply in us – our own infinite intelligence, with its wisdom and creative power.

Creativity is part of every human soul.

IMG_0947As Julia Cameron so beautifully puts it, “. . . I have come to believe that creativity is our true nature, that blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem… In a sense your creativity is like your blood.  Just as blood is a fact of your physical body and nothing you invented, creativity is a fact of your spiritual body and nothing that you must invent.”  The Artist’s Way

 

 

 

 

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Paths of Possibility

I dwell in possibility.” – Emily Dickinson

Airport-securityI have made my way through the obstacle course called airport security. My identity has been verified. I have negotiated the maze of meandering lines, checkpoints, and x-ray scanners. The boarding area is crammed with passengers, hunkered down in black plastic chairs reading newspapers, novels, or engaging with their electronic devices. I find a vacant seat, and plop myself down with my carry-on roller bag in front of me.  It promptly tips over, hitting the women directly across from me smack on the shin with its hard handle.

I am mortified.  She is clearly in pain.  I apologize profusely.  She assures me she is alright and goes back to reading her book.  A few minutes later she looks up and says, “It feels much better already. You don’t have to worry.”

Encouraged by her kindness I ask her where she is going and where she is from.  We exchange the basic pleasantries and then she suddenly declares, “I have fallen in love!”

Her whole countenance is aglow.  “I never expected this at my age.”

old people are cute

Upon inquiry, I learn she is 70, a retired nurse and a country western singer.

“How did you meet?” I ask.

“I was singing at the American Legion Hall and he was there, he’ s a veteran you know. And he’s such a wonderful man, he’s so good to me, not like the other men I’ve had in my life . . . I just never dreamed.”

She tells me that the reason she moved to the new city where she has met her new love was because her daughter needed her help and asked her to come for an extended period of time.  She willingly had left a lovely home in a state she liked to come to her daughter’s assistance in another city.  And as she lived love, she had found love again.

Her phone rings, she blooms with anticipation and answers. A broad smile breaks open on her face, “I was wondering if that was you,” she says into the phone and wanders away in a joyous reverie talking to her new love.

I board the plane and take my seat.  Suddenly a man I know very well, an old friend, is standing above me. “Can I sit by you?,” he asks.

“Of course!” I reply, amazed by the coincidence.

I haven’t seen this friend in a while and yet earlier this very day, the thought of him crossed my mind.

After exchanging information on how we both happen to be flying to the same city he initiates an intriguing conversation.

“I recently had my wallet and my phone stolen,” he tells me, “but it is amazing what it led to.”

623159743_a802f25cae_zHe recounts how he had flown to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a reunion with two of his brothers.  They were going treasure diving off the coast where several old Spanish ships are lodged below the surface.  His brothers had arrived the night before and were already out on a boat near the sunken ruins.  After arriving on a red eye flight, my friend rented a car, drove to their destination, changed into his swim shorts in the car, gathered his diving gear and was ready to swim out to the boat.

“As I opened the car door,” he said, “I clearly heard a voice inside my head say, ‘what couldn’t you live without that is in this car?’” He paused and then added to the Zip-lock bag that held his keys, his driver’s license and one credit card.”’

Again that voice in his head spoke: “Take your phone too.”  He didn’t want to risk swimming through the ocean with his phone in a plastic bag. So he left the phone and swam out to his brothers on the boat.

After a day of high adventure under the sea, diving, exploring, discovering a few minor pieces of metal, they headed back to shore.  You already know the ending to this story, don’t you?  His wallet and phone were gone, stolen.

The brothers had planned to come back to their treasure hunt adventure the next morning, but with stolen credit card charges looming, they revamped their plans.  They would take a drive down to The Florida Keys for some sightseeing.  My friend could make all the necessary calls on the way with one of his brother’s phones.

boat-rentals-florida-keysWhen they got to The Keys they were overwhelmed by the beauty of the clear blue water and decided this was an opportunity for swimming that they just couldn’t pass up.  They went and bought new swimming suits (they hadn’t brought theirs) and were soon in the water.  After some vigorous swimming, they decided to swim out to a tall pole that marked the waters for incoming ships.  When they made it to the pole, they all climbed on it together, like three monkeys clinging to a tree.

Instead of exploring the depths of the ocean, they found themselves exploring the depths of their souls.  Brother to brother they shared their struggles, their glad moments of life, and the longings of their hearts.

They decided together that they would each set a few goals and share them with each other.  They hung on the pole in silence, reflecting on what they wanted to create in life.  Then they shared their goals with each other. One would start a master’s degree.  Another wanted to be a better husband. A career change was calling strongly to the third brother.

They named them the “Tough Pole Goals” and committed to have a conference call every two months to report to each other. They closed the deal with a pact to meet again for another “brother’s reunion” in two years to report on their progress.

My friend went on to tell me that he had recently reread A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller.  It is a memoir of adventure and one man’s quest to come to peace with his relationship with his father and his God. In the process he creates a second chance at the life he always wanted to have.

“Miller tells us,” my friend said, “that an ‘inciting incident’ can occur in our lives that begins a chain reaction that takes you deeper into your story.  You can’t turn back.”

“If my wallet and phone hadn’t gotten stolen I don’t think we would have had that experience together as treasurebrothers,” he tells me.  “We didn’t find any gold, but we found the treasure!”

I feel like the “Accidental Tourist,” I haven’t even reached my destination city, but already I have traveled surprising terrain, — the terrain of possibility. Here were travelers in life who had expanded their stories with a willingness to change plans when that is what life asked of them!

Here we pause to ponder the power of “inciting events” in our lives which may show up as inconveniences,  disappointments, accidents, annoyances, even great difficulties.  Each has the potential to be a call to change — all  hold the power to draw us deeper into the creation of the story of our lives. We become empowered when our question changes from “why?” to “what now?”

An attitude of acceptance versus resistance to the troublesome moments of life is foundational.  Add to that a willingness to experience discomfort, even pain.  And then we open our mind to curiosity, believing that even the small inciting events may lead to new paths. Anything can be viewed as an opportunity if we are willing to be open to possibility.

 

 

 

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Coming Home To Our Self

Coming Home To Our Self
“May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, may the clear light within you, guide you, on your way home . . .”  Traditional Irish Blessing

 

At its purest essence, life is about relationship – how we relate to others, how we relate to our experience in life, but most importantly how we relate to ourselves. 

What is relationship?

Simply put, relationship is our connection and response to self and other.  It can be a connection and response rooted in strife and struggle or compassion and trust.

IMG_6925Creating a life we love is not about setting our sights on our dream home, our ideal weight, or winning the lottery.  It is about changing how we relate. It starts with changing how we relate to our self, coming home to ourselves.

It may be a difficult journey as we traverse an inner terrain pocked by the sharp pebbles of self- loathing, the harsh bark of an inner critic, or the relentless chiding of the cultural “shoulds” we have absorbed.

Take the story of a woman we will call Susan.  She was raised by an image- conscious mother, who’s subtle, sugar-coated, but mean spirited- criticism made Susan feel she wasn’t enough. Her father was indifferent, detached, and uncomfortable with women. “It was not okay to be me,” she told me.  Any inner connection she might have experienced with herself was replaced with a constant quest for approval from parents who were incapable of giving her what she so desperately needed.

When I first met her she was depressed, anxiety-ridden, and went through life feeling “wrong” and disconnected from herself and others.  Her inner narrative was, “I’m never enough. I’m not acceptable.”

This was not her true identity, it was an ego story, the result of her response and interpretation of her life so far, and based on false information she had been given.  As a child her parents emotionally abandoned her. As an adult she was abandoning herself.

657647We began the work of creating inner-intimacy – the golden path that leads us home to our self.  This includes five simple practices that add nothing to our “to do” list because they are a new way of “being.”

The first practice is attention.  We take some brief moments throughout our day to turn our attention or focus inward.  This is especially helpful when we experience difficult emotions.  Basically we begin to pay attention to ourselves.

Once we have our own attention we begin to notice what it is we are experiencing internally.  We become aware of our internal world.  What kind of self-talk is going on in our head? How is that affecting us now? What are we feeling?  Where are we holding that feeling in our body? What are the sensations?

IMG_6750This powerful practice of simply observing shines a light on the “true self,” the observer.  If part of us can observe, the question can be asked, “Who is thinking these thoughts?”  In other words, there is another part of us beyond our thoughts with a deeper knowing and a peaceful presence.

Once we are aware, we practice acknowledgement.  This is simply stating what is.  “Oh, I’m feeling really anxious right now and I have this tension knotting up the muscles in the back of my neck.  And I’m telling myself I shouldn’t be feeling anxious!”

Acknowledgement helps us identify what our real experience is. It gives us our material to work with in life. And it can help us detach.  If we have a tendency toward over-thinking, or self-criticism, we can acknowledge it by saying “Oh, there’s that again.” Or, “Oh there’s that thing I do.”  It takes some of the power out of those thoughts.

IMG_6910

Next we practice acceptance of what is happening right now.  Acceptance is neutral.  It doesn’t judge. It faces reality. It can easily become a default to pay heed  to the inner critic in our heads. It has an opinion on everything we do and spends a lot of time being negative and judgmental. The escape hatch from this danger is simple – replace the judgment with curiosity as in “Hmm, I wonder what part of me is having a problem with the fact I’m anxious.”

Our emotions are not a problem to be solved, but an opportunity to give ourselves the gift of our own presence. This is exactly what Susan and many of us were lacking as children, a witness to our experience. This is one of the most potent practices we can bring to all relationships – with self, others, time, and life – because it offers transformation.

IMG_6818As we become more present to our inner experience, we will find that the body and spirit know what to do and will help us pass through the storms of difficult emotion, washing us up on the infinite shore of insight.  A feeling arises, we ride it through its cycle, we catch our breath and perhaps in that moment or perhaps later, an insight reveals itself.  We have touched the well of self-knowledge.

The next practice of assistance, offers us the opportunity to help ourselves in healthy ways.  Often we cope with a difficult inner landscape by turning to compulsions, or addictions.  As we come aware of and present to whatever experience we are having at any moment of life, we can offer ourselves the balm of our own compassion.  We can think of ourselves as a small child needing mothering and nurturing.   Soothing phrases, self-encouragement, and rocking ourselves, are some of the ways we might do this. ( A summary of these practices is below this chapter.)

As Susan practiced new ways of relating to herself, her confidence increased, her anxiety slowly began to relax, and her depression became much more manageable.  Then she had what she called a “pivotal moment.”  She said she had felt so alone all of her life and then one day she realized she wasn’t alone because she had herself.  “I felt connected,” she said, “I felt attached to someone and it was me, and it was my body, and I felt like I had something that was finally grounding me. It had always been with me and I just didn’t realize it.  But now I was really here, I had finally caught up with myself.” In other words, she had finally come home to her true self!

IMG_7008

None of us had perfect mothers and none of us are perfect mothers.  And this is the way of this world. The wounds we bear and the wounds we bequeath are both our burden and our blessing.  This is the way in which each daughter receives her work.  As we embark on the “The Path of Inner Intimacy Practices, “ we learn to nurture ourselves back to life. We learn to be our own mothers, and in so doing find our way home.

Copyright 2012 Tamera Smith Allred. All rights reserved.

 

The Path to Inner Intimacy Practices

By Tamera Smith Allred

Creatingalifeyoulove.net

Attention – Note Where Your Attention Is and Turn Inward

Awareness – Notice Your  Inner Experience

Acknowledgement – Name Your  Inner Experience

Acceptance – Nod to Your Inner Experience

Assistance – Nurture Your Inner Needs

Photos by Maria Allred

Copyright 2012 Tamera Smith Allred.  All rights reserved.

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Care for the Soul

“When soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning . . . by caring for the soul we can find relief from our distress and discover deep satisfaction and pleasure.”  —Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

                                                                                                                                                                                   Our second daughter, Maria, had a turbulent adolescence. The waves of her angst and searching had a searing effect on her and our family. But as she neared adulthood she followed her heart into deep soul work.  She lived alone for a time in a rustic cabin in the forest of Orcas Island off the coast of Washington. She went to India where she studied yoga in an ashram in the jungles of the Western Ghats.

siva

She returned with a new wisdom and the official yogic greeting—hands held together in prayer form as she nodded and said, “Namaste” which translates to, “The Divine in me greets the Divine in you.”

My contemplations today are about how to greet the Divine in ourselves, how to move beyond self-care, to soul-care.

I’ve been struggling with a problem lately, one that I actually unknowingly created (as is often the case.) And of imagescourse my human tendency is to deal with it by obsessing about it—my mind set on fixing and solving. Early one morning last week, I was sick and tired of the merry-go-round in my own head which was getting me nowhere but crazy.  In an effort to silence the mad melody I picked up a favorite old book of mine, Care of the Soul – A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore.

Moore’s words fell on my harried mind—a gentle whisper reminding me wisdom was available within.  It was not to be found in my brain, but within my soul.  The access road to my soul is a street called ‘silence.’ I had experienced a profound awakening in the past with the scriptural wisdom, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  (See “The Story of the Stillness” in the archives, Dec. 2012)

I moved into contemplation, truly soul work leading to the Divine within.  I took Moore along for the journey and moved back and forth between the quiet within to my quest without, accessing both my inner wisdom and the wisdom of one life’s great teachers.

Moore teaches that care of the soul is not about fixing and solving.  It is about learning to live through the problems of life by attending to the soul.  This can be a challenge when we live in a world of quick fixes, instant messages, and absorption with the technological world.

images-2“Problems and obstacles offer a chance for reflection that otherwise would be precluded by the swift routine of life,” Moore writes.  “As we stop to consider what is happening to us and what we’re made of . . . changes takes place, but not according to plan or as the result of intentional intervention.  If you attend to soul closely enough…changes take place without your being aware of them until they are all over and well in place.”

As a mental health counselor and a former patient, I understand the importance of therapy.  And one of the problems of my industry is to try to take human suffering and turn it into a disease, rather than understanding it as a natural part of life which calls for our care versus a “cure.”  Care of the soul is not so much about problem solving as it is about slowing down to appreciate and enlarge the wonder of ordinary life, giving it depth and value even as we accept our current struggles.

545871_4681607323328_2053266126_nCare of the soul can be a humble prayer over an egg on toast for breakfast that acknowledges God’s goodness, but also the efforts of countless workers along the road to our table – farmers, bakers, truckers, warehouse workers, grocery store stockers and clerks.

Soul care happens when we trust and follow our inspiration.

Care of the soul is found in compassion for, and curiosity about, ourselves.  In my own case, when I got out of my head and into my heart I realized I needed to grieve some old losses in life that had been triggered by recent events. As I did, my head cleared into a more honest vision of what I needed to see about my ‘self’ and its limitations, and my ‘soul’ and its depth and authority.

I haven’t met very many people that easily embrace self-compassion.  Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychology has helped me with that task with his profound insight on self-love, wisdom that was hard wrought by his own weaknesses and challenges in life:

That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ –                      all these are undoubtedly great virtues.  What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.  But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness – that I myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then?”

Caring for the soul is very much about accessing both our imagination and our intuition.  The soul knows things the self does not. Have you ever had a moment in your life where you knew you wouldn’t be where you are in the present if some part of you had not decided to take debate versus algebra in high school; or to push “send” on an email; or to accept the ring, or to suddenly tell yourself the truth? The soul knows things the self does not.

Returning to Maria’s journey, this time in her own words:

I was ripped away from my friends and the life I knew during 8th grade when my family moved to a new city, an event that at the time seemed to be the worst fate imaginable (but laughably adolescent in retrospect). The move thrust me into an existential crisis and a subsequent depression.  My life became filled with inky darkness.

This challenge revealed itself as a potent plot twist in my life path, and essential for the discovery of my authentic self.  My soul delivered glimmers of meaning in dreams, my prolific poetry writing, and teachers that came into my life one by one.

I had night dreams of rebirth, but first I had to experience death. As I shed my old self I experienced a metamorphosis into something altogether new.  Through my attending to my soul, unprecedented wisdom and joy were discovered.

Now having lived through that formative experience of death and rebirth I can recognize the unexpected, and unwanted plot twists in the story of life to be initiations into something new, something greater.  Through this deep work of the soul we are chiseling our beings into exquisite works of art manifesting the Divine presence that watches from within.

2dk8ItY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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