Love is in the air

Having a day to focus on and celebrate love feels like a glorious gift in the middle of winter. And with the especially frigid temperatures (and snow and ice) we’ve had in New England these last months, I feel enormously grateful for the warmth of this powerful emotion in my life now.

But I have long observed that many of us have a narrow concept about love. We often think about it in a very limited way. 

We think about romance, and romance is great, but love is so much more than romance. (And, romance requires a partner — and not all of us are partnered.) We think about the external symbols that the commercial culture emphasizes, like flowers and chocolates. And while it can be lovely to receive a thoughtful gift at any time, bouquets and sweets have little to do with the true glory of love.

When I think of love I think about the magnificent and vast energy that love holds and how we can bring more of that into our lives and our world. Here’s what I mean.

Start with self-love

I always teach my clients that everything good we desire in our lives starts with loving ourselves — and that it’s much easier to create the life we want when we fully love ourselves. In fact, the ability to create in every and any way is bolstered when we practice self-love. 

Further, the sabotage of our self-critic can be mollified when we cultivate self-love. 

And, we must be filled with love for ourselves before we can truly love others in the fullest possible way.

When you appreciate yourself and your talents and gifts with a full heart, when you feel deserving of every kind of goodness in your life, and when you are able to forgive yourself for inevitable missteps, you are on the self-love path. You will naturally want to take good care of yourself — think good nutrition, ample sleep, exercising in ways that you enjoy, reducing what adds stress to your life, and more. You will feel great about pursuing things that enrich your spirit — think spending time in nature, attending concerts, taking singing lessons, reading great books, or embarking on adventures. This mindful way of living and caring for yourself lovingly will open your heart in magnificent ways and open your creative channels as never before. 

With strong self-love in place, the magic of love expands

Truly loving yourself allows you to love others more fully. A natural desire to share the joy in your heart will fill you. Of course it will flow most fully and abundantly to those who are special in your life, and they will likely notice that your ways of engaging lovingly are sweeter than ever. But you are also likely to be surprised at how much more inclined you  feel to smile and share kindness with strangers in the course of your day. You may even be able to forgive more easily, with the insight that those for whom you have held hurt feelings are sorely in need of more love in their lives. I predict that you will find yourself spreading love in many new and beautiful ways.

You’ll start to notice a ripple effect

With abundant love in your heart, your expressions of love will be felt by others, in both subtle and obvious ways. Picking up on the magic of loving energy will enhance the happiness of those with whom you interact, and they, too, will be likely to feel and express more love for those around them. It’s this loving energy that expands, and can change the world in amazing ways. I see it often, and I hope you will experience it as well.

So, in this season when love is the central topic of conversation and advertisements and celebrations of many kinds, I ask you: Even as you may be thinking about expressions of love for others, what can you do to love yourself now? What concrete thing can you do to shower yourself with love, and make yourself feel special? (Because, you ARE special!)

And, if you want to make a commitment to yourself to cultivate self-love, why not email me this week to tell me your ideas for self-love this week — be it taking a long soak in a bubble bath, or cooking up something special to enjoy with dear friends, or going to a matinee to see a film you've heard great things about, or anything else. 

And, next week, email me again to let me know what you did, how it went, and what you plan to do in the coming week to keep self-love in flow.

For those who email me twice, to share both their plan and how it went, I’ll draw a name and give the winner the gift of an IgNight Creative Experience or Creative Excursion session with me and a small group of remarkable women. Check out the details about this exciting new monthly series I have created. 

And, whether you win a session or not, consider sharing the joy of these evenings. It can be a perfect way to celebrate and add love to your life.

I’m sending you BIG love.

A big holiday calls for a big heart

It’s Thanksgiving week, and posts about the holiday — and gratitude — abound. And, why not? Slowing down to focus on all there is for which to be grateful is always important, and this holiday provides a great reminder about the value of gratitude for all of us. 

Thanksgiving affords many of us a special and distinctive time to be with family and friends. It enables many of us to be creative and cook new dishes, or set a table with a fresh twist, to increase delight. Some of us will spend the day with people we see only once or twice a year.

And, for some of us, Thanksgiving, and tuning in to gratitude, can bring up challenges.

This Thanksgiving I wish those of you who are missing someone special at your table an abundance of love to fill your heart alongside the sadness. I hope that you can think about and feel grateful for the beauty and goodness in your world, past and present.

I wish those who are struggling with health issues healing and relief from suffering. I know that living with pain can be terribly difficult. I also know that adopting a practice of noting gratitude on a daily basis can ease the journey. I hope that will help you.

I wish those with contentious relationships a willingness to seek common ground. Can you aim for heartfelt communication, instead of experiencing stress or conflict? If you are able to exchange thoughts related to love, goodness and shared interests, you can create shared gratitude. That gratitude can alleviate some of the interpersonal stress.

I wish those who are feeling despair about a host of troubling matters in the media a day to consider the opportunities to have a positive impact on the world. Consider what you can do to make the world a better place as a way of expressing gratitude for all that is good in your life. If each of us works to improve the world in our own way, the combined impact will be huge. 

Start by focusing on the important work you do, and do it with a full heart. Value and appreciate that when all of us do our best work it has a great impact, no matter what else is happening near and far.  

You can also commit to helping people in need, either locally or in places across oceans — or both. You can make financial donations and you can make a commitment to volunteer. 

Your efforts can be focused on political causes that matter to you. You might volunteer or donate for the benefit of people in nearby communities, like helping a foodbank, or a program for needy children, or people in need of access to good healthcare. 

You might volunteer to use your special talents or professional skills, on a one-time basis or with a continued effort. There are, literally, countless ways that each of us can have a positive impact and make the world a better place.

Are you able to focus on gratitude — even if it feels complicated to do so — and use the energy and emotion in your heart to create and spread goodness? Can you even be a catalyst for others to commit to efforts that matter to them, and inspire them to do their good work alongside you?

This is the conversation I intend to bring to the Thanksgiving table this year. I want it to be an important part of the time I spend with my family, as we express gratitude and celebrate the holiday together.

I invite you to join me. 

I want to end by thanking you for being here as I explore and share my big ideas. I am truly grateful for your companionship and for the thoughts and ideas you share with me in return. I am enriched by our connection. 

I’m sending you love and heartfelt gratitude.

The gift of simplifying

Life is pretty cluttered for most of us.

We struggle to handle big work demands — which is taxing even if we are happy with the work we do, and certainly if we’re not.

Most of us cram personal time into evenings and weekends. But, we often have a lot of practical things to do at those times, too.

And, taking care or ourselves — getting enough sleep, eating well, getting ample exercise, and just having some quiet time for ourselves — is a “luxury” that many of us rarely indulge in.

We pay a steep price when our health, happiness, relationships and personal interests are short-changed.

What’s to be done? A good way to shift to having more balance, sanity and ease is to simplify your life. Here’s an important first step to doing that.

Start simplifying by making YOU a bigger priority.

If you have hired me to coach you, or have attended one of my workshops, or been a reader of mine for a while, you’ve certainly heard me speak about the importance of self-love. Yes, I mean that when you love yourself, feel deserving, and treat yourself lovingly it’s healthy (not selfish!).

Think about what makes you happiest and what you really want for yourself. It may be a quiet time to soak in a tub one night a week. You may crave more time to read, or play an instrument you haven’t picked up in memory. You may want to spend a Sunday each month having a wacky adventure with your family.

When you decide on ways that you want create more personal happiness, and commit to them, you will more easily find opportunities — and ease — to say “NO” to other things, so that you can build these priorities into your life and reduce overwhelm.

Devote a little time to pondering what would feed your soul, and how you can make YOU a priority in your life. When you begin to simplify to make your self-care a reality, you will certainly be happier. And, you will build awareness about the power you have to create in your life. The big bonus is that you’ll see how you can bring that new awareness to everything you do — you’ll find ways to simplify and prioritize in every part of your life.

My vision for a big new year

2017 is off and running! In just the first couple of weeks I’m experiencing a lot of positive energy and feeling that this will be a momentous year.

Yes, I, like many others, feel great uncertainty and deep concern about the direction our nation’s new administration is taking now, and where it will go. But, I feel determined to make my voice heard, to take constructive action, and to do my important work. I want to be a force to support and inspire people to stand strong, to think creatively, and to be effective leaders in their lives and work. The collective, bold, creative thinking and action that we bring to our lives and our society are crucial now. If we succumb to fear and anxiety we will fail to think, and fail to act.

Here’s how I am moving forward:

1. I chose an important word to guide my year. As many of my readers know, I am a big believer in choosing a guiding word for each year. Last year, I chose SAVOR. It guided me to slow down and appreciate everything — big and small — in my life, and it served me well. It helped me to create new awareness and habits, and enhanced my daily happiness. The gratitude I cultivated was a great balance to the stresses that came along.

My word for 2017 is VIBRANT — vibrant health, energy, creativity, thinking, service, and action. I am already feeling the power of this amazing word in my daily life!

2. I am already celebrating achievements. I am celebrating good self-care, and that I am feeling stronger and healthier than I have in a long time. I am celebrating that I have cleared my office of accumulated clutter, and have updated my systems so that I can keep my work space organized and functioning smoothly. I am celebrating that I have started to work with a terrific virtual assistant, and I look forward to how that help will free me to do more of the important projects I have planned.

And, I am celebrating the Vision Board workshop I lead on Saturday, and the remarkable group of women who did deep and beautiful work with me. I am still savoring every moment that we spent together, as they connected to clarity and determined how they want to be in their lives, what they want to do in the year ahead, and what they want to have. They made it all visual in amazing ways, creating vision boards that are both beautiful and packed with intention.

3. I am finding inspiration and creating in exciting ways. I visited the Museum of Fine Arts last week to see great work on exhibit before it leaves the museum. Standouts, in addition to William Merritt Chase, were The Clock, Terry Winter’s prints, and the Massed Media show. I will continue to visit museums and galleries regularly. And, in anticipation of the start of a painting course that I’m registered for at Tufts/School of the Museum of Fine Arts, I have been painting in my studio. I am also finding the vision board I made in late 2016 to be an inspiration for the things I most want to manifest in my life now. Seeing it every morning keeps me taking action toward what I want most. All of these are sparking my thinking and awakening my heart every day.

And, connecting everything for me, love will continue to be my driving force, alongside creativity — in this year and every year. As I wrote in my email at the end of 2016, I ask myself every day if I am I serving myself, my family, my clients, my community and the world with a full heart. I am determined to model love and tolerance as I move through 2017.

How is your year starting? Have you chosen a guiding word for yourself? Do you find yourself struggling or feeling stuck? Let me know how you are feeling and doing as you look ahead to this new year. I would love to hear your thoughts.

A different kind of top-10 list

With the holidays upon us and the last days of 2016 winding down, top-10 lists will soon start showing up. We have all seen the typical lists of the top-10 films of the year, the top-10 world events, and such. In thinking about top-10’s — which for me, would include things like a significant birthday celebrated, the marriage of my nephew, coaching remarkable and inspiring clients, and a memorable trip to Paris — I decided to be grateful for all of those things, but to take a little different approach to thinking about how I want to compile my top-10 this time around.

I am thinking about the top 10 things I have learned that I want to take into the new year.

1. To start, I’m focusing on what I want to leave behind from 2016. By reflecting on what went well and what things went awry this year, I will be able to leave behind habits and practices that I know do not serve me well. This will open the way for more of what I want to bring into my new year. What will I leave behind? For one, timidity. I have learned that when I take a step that feels big, and even a bit scary, it's always better than shrinking back. I will also no longer chase after every interesting idea I get, or every opportunity that comes my way. I’ve learned that these distract me from my big priorities. Do you get the idea?

2. After reflecting on my year in 2016, I will decide on the key things I want to create in 2017 and I will choose a word for my year. When I have clearly defined my top priorities, for my personal life and my work, selecting a word that will guide me will follow. (I wrote about choosing a word of the year last December, and many people wrote to tell me they carefully chose a word to guide their year, too.) I learned that having my word was meaningful and inspiring, and that it was great to post my word where I saw it daily. I know this year’s word will help me to be focused and on-target, both with my new priorities and with how I want to live.

3. I will celebrate my achievements in this year and commit to celebrating my coming achievements in 2017. We often lose sight of the things we have accomplished and achieved as we rush through our days — especially the small things that can have so much meaning. When we take the time to savor and celebrate ourselves for our successes, and celebrate things what we might overlook (such as trying out something new that is not a sure bet, or having a tough conversation rather than avoiding it), we encourage ourselves, and can appreciate that we are learning new skills and are growing in important ways.

4. I will make my visions visible. For me, this incudes making a vision board every 3 to 6 months. Creating a vision board is an incredible process, and the completed board provides a way for me to look at what I want to bring into my life on a daily basis, so I do not lose sight of what I want to manifest. Making things visible also includes writing down the top 3 things I will commit to each week and posting the list where I will see it often. The act of committing things to paper, and seeing them, is powerful.

5. I will get more help and support. Last year I began to work with a great bookkeeper and wondered why I had waited so long to do that. My coaches are a big part of my support system, and I look forward to continuing my work with them. This year, I will begin to work with a virtual assistant, to free me from daily tasks that take time away from doing the things that matter most to me, and things that only I can do. I will also do more work with a great professional organizer, to start the year with an updated filing system for my business, and to help me clear accumulated clutter in my office and home. And, I will think about other kinds of help and support I can enlist to make this a great year.

6. I will have weekly Accountability Calls with a colleague. This is a practice I started in 2016. In every call we each report on what we accomplished in the past week, where we struggled and what we learned, and we declare our top 3 priorities for the coming week. We close by picking a word to be our theme for the week. This has been a remarkable practice.

7. I will take excellent care of myself. Having experienced a series of health challenges this year that are now, happily, resolved, I am well aware of the importance of careful self-care. I will pay special attention to what I eat and to my exercise routine. I will create a new daily practice that includes quiet meditation each morning, so that I will be centered, calm and clear as I start each day. I will be tuned in to what causes me stress, and work to reduce those influences — and I’ll actively clear any stress that does come up.

8. I will show up, engage in constructive conversations, and take action related to civic causes about which I care deeply. Current political developments are calling me to think creatively and partner effectively to be a force for sustaining and improving civil rights, ensuring social justice, building tolerance, protecting the environment, and more.

9. I will create as never before. I know that when I write from my heart, and when I paint, and when I think creatively, and when I experiment freely, my life is enriched. Difficult emotions are transformed, I am fueled and inspired, I learn and grow, and I engage with others in amazing ways. I will also visit museums and galleries, attend live theater, music and dance performances, and read as many great books as I am able. Creativity that I engage in and that I experience connects me to big, new ideas and accelerates inspiration.

10. I will live with love as a driver. I know that love is powerful and positive, and that is what I want to be. I know that love is an antidote to fear and anxiety. So, I will continue to make “love” my watchword, as I have been especially focused on doing recently. I will check in with myself and ask if I am I serving myself, my family, my clients, my community and the world with a full heart, and if I am modeling love and tolerance for those around me.

I am looking ahead to 2017 with the desire to live bigger than ever. That desire informed my top-10 list entries. What will you include on your forward-looking top-10 list? How will you create the best year ever in 2017?

Let me know if you are making a top-10 list, and what your list (or lists) include. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

All my best wishes for the upcoming holidays and a BIG and happy 2017. Let's all look ahead to a year filled with love, creativity, joy, abundance and peace.

The importance of warding off fear

I, like many others, am finding that the weeks since the election have brought up a lot of challenging emotions. I do not want to assume that we all share the same political point of view, but nearly everyone I have been in touch with is concerned about extreme statements that were made made during the election and many of the directions being taken to date by the incoming administration. I need to address the emotional responses to those developments, and hope that we can all be empathetic to one another in order to be calmer, hear each other and discuss our points of view with respect.

For context, I want to tell you about why I am feeling especially concerned now. I am Jewish. My father grew up in Paris. When the Nazi regime occupied France in WWII, he and his parents and brother made a perilous journey through the country and over the Pyrenees mountains to stay ahead of the Gestapo, who would have sent them to a concentration camp. They were imprisoned in Spain for several months, and after entering Portugal (also without papers), they found safety and finally got visas to come to the US. Many of my relatives were not so lucky. In addition, my mother-in-law, who grew up in Germany, was an 11-year-old child when her mother sent her out of the country on the Kindertransport to save her life. So, my first-hand knowledge of the ways that authoritarian leaders curtail freedoms and are dangerous is keen. And, while nothing of that extreme nature is happening now, I see very frightening similarities in the way our president-elect has spoken over the last year and since the election, has rallied support employing blatant lies, has tolerated and encouraged the hateful and dangerous behavior of extremists, manipulates the media, and is surrounding himself with people who have histories and agendas for curtailing liberties in many ways.

And, many other agendas trumpeted by the incoming administration are very worrisome. These include proposed changes to healthcare policy and education, building relationships with authoritarian leaders of other countries, and reducing protection of our environment, to name just a few. This does not feel like the America I have always know. And, as I hear from so many people, concerns about matters like these lead to feeling fearful.

And fear is a problem. Because when we live in a state of fear, we are actually inhibiting our ability to think. We suffer from high levels of stress. We can become paralyzed.

Now, more than ever, we must not let ourselves become victims of fear.

We must think clearly and remain able to discern. We must be informed and alert. We must think together about the actions we can take to have a positive impact in times of uncertainty or danger.

But how can we stay informed and yet resist the overwhelm of constantly reading and watching the news (and steering clear of so much false news)? How can we foster the kinds of clear conversations that will lead to the emergence of wise end positive ways to respond effectively? How can we take prudent actions without getting carried away? How can we protect against living in a state of anxiety?

A wise friend told me that at her church, they often say: Want what you have. Do what you can. Be who you are. These words struck me as helpful guides for these times.

Want what you have. This seemingly simple statement emphasizes the importance of being grateful for what you have. There is scientific validation for the benefits of gratitude, for thinking each day of at least three things for which you are grateful, and why you are grateful, too. Rather than longing, feeling gratitude for what you have keeps you grounded. It keeps you in the moment, it and ensures that you do not lose sight of the goodness in your life. For despite your concerns, there are so many reasons that it’s a wonderful time to be alive.

Do what you can. None of us has all the answers or can do it all. Accepting this is important, and keeps overwhelm at bay. But, the message also tells us that we are able to do many things. We can help others in need. We can foster important connections and facilitate meaningful conversations. We can contribute to organizations that are doing important work that will be needed now more than ever. We can teach tolerance and model living with love as a driving force. And, we can — and must — each be leaders as we do our important work in the world.

Be who you are. We are all unique and distinctive human beings. This is the time to authentically be who you are, and appreciate yourself. Be true to your values and beliefs. Honor the contributions you can make to your family, your community and the world.

As we strive to be vigilant without getting pulled into fear, we have opportunities — to be courageous and to be creative. We need to muster courage for the important work ahead, and we need to activate creative thinking now more than ever. We can come together for comfort and support, inspiration, and also a sense of power to be able to collectively effect change.

Courage and creativity are among my fundamental principles for living big. When we are courageous and creative together we can ward off fear and live through challenging times with more confidence and hope. And in addition, it’s important to know that love is a powerful antidote to fear. When we focus on the power of love we are stronger. (You may want to check out this article, that I found to be both insightful and inspiring).

I’d be happy to hear about how you are feeling now and what is helping you to ward off fear.

And, as we look ahead to the holidays and the conclusion of 2016, I send you my best wishes and a vision for a new year filled with love, tolerance, abundance and peace.

The beauty and power of a poem

Creativity has so much to offer us as a way to process emtions and express what we feel. Many of us are experiencing a lot of enmotion in the aftermath of the election, and I urge you to do something creative with the energy connected to your emotions.

You may feel like pulling out paints or digging in your garden. You may feel like dancing to loud music or playing a musical instrument. I wrote a poem today.

I encourage you to try creating poetry. It's so basic and simple. All you need is a paper and pen, or a keyboard, and you can get started. A great approach is to write a 3-minute poem. Just set a timer and start expressing what you are feeling. Your poem needn't rhyme — just let your thoughts flow and see what happens.

If you like that, you can play with other forms and lengths of poetry writing. It is an enormously satisfying way to express yourself and to feel relief if you are struggling with challenging emotions.

I would love for us to share poems, so please add yours in the comments below. Let's start a bit of a creative movement to heal ourselves and heal the world.

Here is the poem I wrote today:

Our challenges can be our greatest teachers

I recently wrote about how you can deal with set-backs, which are inevitable in life. As a nation, at this moment, many of us are feeling like we are experiencing an emotional set-back, feeling significantly challenged. I’ve been grappling with and thinking a lot about how we respond to challenges that are big, small, or huge.

Our typical challenges can be related to something like working on an important project and finding things going well, but then suddenly getting paralyzed and feeling unsure about how to get going again. Or, maybe you’ve had a great idea, done your thinking, research and planning to implement it, and then have found it daunting to get started. Or, you’ve been offered a great opportunity and feel thrilled, but then a deep-freeze overtakes you just when you need to take action.

You may be reflecting on a day-to day challenge, or you may be contending with a more emotional and existential challenge — like the fear and anxiety that have come up for so many people after an election result that feels frightening and overwhelming.

It is easy to find yourself in such situations, and to respond in ways that do not serve you. Sometimes we beat ourselves up, letting our self-critic go wild. Responding like that digs us into a deeper hole, and what follows is despair. Sometimes we simply curl up into a ball and “go fetal”, or numb ourselves with binge eating, getting lost in distraction for hours on end, or turning to alcohol. Sometimes we lash out at others.

So, what can be done when challenges grip you? And, what can we learn at these times?

1. First, get quiet. Start by sitting with yourself and breathing. Just breath deeply and get calm. You might want to place your hands on your heart and feel the rhythm of your blood pumping. Don't try to “fix” anything and don’t judge yourself. Instead, simply let the anxiety you are feeling settle down and soften. Let yourself connect to the feeling of love, and love whatever comes up for you. Witnessing your fears lets your emotions and thoughts become clear. You can be present with them, name the emotions you recognize, and trust that doing that will make it easier to begin to move ahead.

2. Remind yourself of what you have lived through before, that felt impossibly challenging at the time. When you recall times that you suffered grief, or feared external threats, or were able to find your way to taking action after being totally stuck, you give yourself a gift. Maybe you will recall how you were comforted, or that you felt better when you comforted someone else, and how that freed you to take action. Maybe you will recall that a trusted friend was able to help you see a way forward when you felt you were in a dark place with no path forward. Consider the fact that the situation you are facing now may be calling on you to show up in a bigger way, to move beyond your fear, to do something important.

3. Steer clear of drama, commit to taking a small step toward what you want, and find the lessons in these moments. When you are quiet and focused, you can keep drama at bay — your own drama, or that of others around you — so that you can stay clear and centered. You can notice when your self-critic has intruded, or irrational thoughts are getting in your way, and know that they are just thoughts and do not have to be given power. You can appreciate that you are able to impact the world in beautiful and meaningful ways when you commit to taking a small step forward, then another. And, you can commit to continuing to take those steps until you approach, or reach, the outcome you desire. It may mean persevering in the face of discomfort, but taking those small steps (even taking imperfect action!) will create positive momentum. You can appreciate that you have learned new ways of responding to a challenge, so that when this kind of stress hits again (which it inevitably will), you will have new ways of coping, rather than feeling defeated as you may have been in the past.

These challenging experiences offer you a way to practice being kind to yourself, to be open and willing to accept the way you tend to react, and to celebrate that you are changing old patterns. I urge you to recognize and celebrate each step you take, and celebrate all of your progress — even if you backslide from time to time (as we all do). The key is to gently get back on the right track, and celebrate that you have learned to keep moving forward with small, positive steps.

The wonderful thing about living consciously is that you learn and grow from every situation you experience. Let me know what you think about these ideas, and if they help you.

What the world needs now

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To put it simply, I believe the world needs more love, and needs it urgently.

Love within families and close relationships, love in the workplace, love in our schools, love in our communities, love between nations and cultures.

Love even when we have different viewpoints. Love even when fear or resentment or bitterness are the instinctive impulses. Love when we do not know or understand one another. Love even when someone is unkind, inconsiderate, or worse. (Love is probably needed the most in those situations!)

Love and kindness, smiles and warmth, need to be shared with strangers as well as with friends and acquaintances. They create a bridge, even if a momentary bridge, between people.

Even small moments of expressions of kindness and love can have a profound impact. Love opens and fuels the heart, it builds trust, it creates happiness and satisfaction (in you and the recipient of your love). It inspires cooperation, it invites empathy, and it attracts more love and kindness to the giver. So, if for no other reason, spread love to get more love.

How can you bring more love into your world? Smiles are a great way to begin. Invite people to do things with you. Cultivate an awareness of all there is to be grateful for, and opnely express gratitude. And don't be shy about using the word "love" — even in your workplace. The more this becomes a "normal" word in our vocabularies, the easier it will be for more people to spread more love.

If we all practice sharing more love, the collective power of that energy will grow, and grow and grow. What a beautiful image that is. Let's make it a reality.

How gratitude super-powers life

We can cultivate states of mind that open us to creativity and enhance our happiness and well-being. That open our heart in beautiful ways. That plug us in to the glories of the world around us.

Focusing on love is one such state of mind. Being at peace, and consciously spreading peace is magnificent. Focusing on the moment we're in — without dwelling on the past or fast-forwarding to the future — calms and centers us. Being joyous keeps us from suffering anxiety and worry when there's no real danger in our midst.

These are all important and powerful forces that we can be mindful of, and that we can make a reality in our day-to-day lives if we focus on them. They let our spirit soar. They set the stage for goodness of all kinds.

 I created a little pad of Gratitude sheets that I keep on my desk. It's a great prompt for me to make a list every day.

I created a little pad of Gratitude sheets that I keep on my desk. It's a great prompt for me to make a list every day.

And, there's something else we can add, that not only amplifies all of that wonderfulness, it accelerates the benefits of those states of being. Gratitude is the extra ingredient that can make life enormously rich and rewarding.

Gratitude tunes us in to small moments of wonder and loveliness — the things that typically go unnoticed as we go through our days. When we take a few minutes each day to jot down 5 things, 10 things, even 12 things for which we're grateful, we are alert to our lives in a new way. And we can rejoice in all there is to feel grateful for. 

When we practice gratitude we are slowing down — slowing down to notice things we can appreciate, and slowing down to note them. We can write that we're grateful for the restored health of someone we love, for the momentary kindness of a stranger, for having a safe place to live, for the inspiration found in a newspaper article, for an insight we gleaned in a conversation, for the taste of something delicious, for the fun of laughing with a friend, for a discovery made on an outing, for the budding of trees and blooming of flowers, for courageously trying something new, for the sweetness of watching a young child at play.

There are endless things for which we can feel gratitude. When we observe those things, and note them as we start our day, before switching off the light at night, or any time and place in between, we are enriching our hearts and connecting to all the sweetness in life. 

In addition to better emotional wellbeing, we have greater vitality when we are grateful. Gratitude enhances our relationships — we are in a kinder state of mind and more empathetic. Science shows that grateful people feel better physically, having fewer aches and pains and sleeping better, and there's even evidence that they have stronger immune systems. We feel better about ourselves and experience less doubt. And, we are more emotionally resilient when the inevitable challenges come up in our lives. 

All of these benefits make life so much sweeter. We can feel so much more open and ready to make the most of our lives. We can be courageous and live creatively in every moment. We can put fear aside and be bold. Gratitude helps us to truly live big.


More than flowers and candy

Prompted by all the talk of Valentine's Day, I sent out an email this afternoon with some of my thoughts about the power of love.

And then I considered my plans for the holiday, and how I wanted to express my love for the man who has been the warmest, brightest light in my life for so many years. Early on, we went with flowers, a nice dinner out, and cards to celebrate. And while it wasn't "original," it was always lovely. For the last decade we have taken a little trip to Vermont around this time each year. It's a precious gift we give ourselves. The time away is wonderful to anticipate, to enjoy while we're there, and to reflect on long after we return. 

Today I wrote poem to tuck into the card I'll bring along for my husband. And, I wanted to write a poem for you, too. I hope you enjoy this small personal creation. Perhaps you'll be inspired to write a poem — or make your own card, or create in some other special way — for those you love dearly. Sharing a special creation that comes from your heart is sure to make this year's celebration extra-special and memorable.

Wishing you a wonderful Valentine's Day!


the greatest gift

the gift most precious 
is the love in my heart

for those dearest to me
for all goodness 
for expressers of kindness
for the planet we inhabit
for all who cherish peace
for the generous
the creators
the healers
the teachers

this love has no limit

Truly thankful, every day

Thanksgiving is a few short days away, and my inbox is already full of messages related to the holiday. I love that this moment on the calendar prompts so many people to say how much they appreciate their clients and friends, and to share good wishes.

Thanksgiving is a lovely time to focus on gratitude, as well as the power of gratitude in our lives. I have learned that when I am mindful of gratitude every day of the year my life is enriched.

Beyond my awareness of how fortunate I am to have a wonderful family, that all of my physical needs met, that I am in good health, have so many dear friends and do work that I love, I have come to appreciate much that I used to miss.

Most of us move at warp speed through our days, rarely slowing down to notice the small wonders around us. We miss so many things that we can savor in our routine lives. When I keep a list of 12 things for which I am grateful on a daily basis, I recall many sweet and special moments that would otherwise go unnoticed. My gratitude list often includes things like someone holding open a door when I am carrying packages, or smiling with warmth while standing in a line, or making a helpful suggestion that enhanced my day. It includes the delight I felt watching a flock of birds soar against the sky, or the taste of an especially delicious cup of tea, or the sound of a little child giggling. When I am aware of and reflect on all of the small things that brighten my day I can hold the memories of those moments. And, the positive emotions help me cope with any challenges I may be facing. No matter what, I treasure the beauty and abundance in my life.

Whatever you have planned for Thanksgiving Day I hope you will have many happy moments to savor. I hope, too, that you will consider developing a gratitude practice of your own, to keep the holiday spirit alive every day. It requires slowing down just a little, but I predict that you’ll get a lot back in return.

Time for renewal in the desert

How wonderful it was to be able to spend a few glorious days in the mountains outside of Tucson. Having visited Miraval 11 years ago, I was inspired to be there again. In our few days we spent time in quiet contemplation, we walked and we wrote. We learned from great teachers, did yoga, meditated and treated our bodies to massage. We met lovely people and ate food that was healthy, fresh and delectable. We found a haven from the usual pace of our busy life at home, and appreciated the wonderful respite. 

I am still reflecting on much that I learned and I’ve shared new insights and knowledge with people at my Creative Drop-in this week and with my coaching clients. I’m happy to post some photos I shot as I walked. I hope you find them to be a visual "holiday" and an inspiration to savor precious moments that you experience in your day.

Mother’s Day and Creativity

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, it’s easy to get caught up in the commercial dimensions of the holiday. Flowers, gifts and meals in a restaurant are what it seems to be all about for many people.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that my children and husband make it a special day for me. It’s wonderful to be appreciated by the people closest to me and have them express their love for me. And, it makes me happy to let my mother know that she’s such a special person in my life.

But I’m also thinking about what it is to be a mother — in fact a parent, as my thoughts are not gender-related — and all that entails. (Whether you have biologic children, adopted children, or dote on beloved nieces and nephews, the things I’m thinking about are either actually the same, or metaphorically the same.) And, as someone focused on all aspects of creativity, and helping people to access their creative core and bring creative flow into their lives, I’m thinking about how the stages in the parenting process relate to creativity.

First there’s pregnancy, when a new life is being nurtured. This time includes self-care for the mother, for her well being and so that her nutrition supports the development of a healthy baby. Then there’s labor and giving birth, followed by the love and care of the baby — and guiding that baby through childhood all the way to adulthood. It’s a long road and rarely does anyone travel it without some rough patches along the way.

The birth and nurturing of creativity

With creativity, the conditions need to be right for fertilization — for the germ of an idea to start to develop. The “egg” holds all the possibilities for new a creative expression and those possibilities start in the right brain. That‘s where ideation and intuition operate — and when you allow yourself to be reflective and relaxed those inspiring ideas will come easily.

When inspiration appears it needs to be sparked and connected to a force that fertilizes it. That’s the big moment where you not only become aware of the idea, but actually decide to take steps to put it into action. Otherwise, the creative impulse will fade away and all of its promise will be lost.

You need to nurture creativity, much like in pregnancy. It needs to be given time, good nutrition and attention. Your idea needs continued focus. Maybe you decided to keep a journal. You’ll need to get the journal, think about when you’ll write in it, and if it’s something you’ll keep with you or will leave on your bedside table. Or, maybe you have an idea for a new initiative at work. It will need to be fleshed out and you may realize you’ll need other people’s efforts, too.

Next there’s birth. Labor and delivery can be intense, but that’s the time that this new creative “baby“ will have matured enough to enter the world and need “pushing“ to get out. There’s no turning back now, as you get the idea into action.

And then continued care, feeding and guidance are needed — to get real traction and realization of the possibilities you birthed. Sometimes things will go smoothly, and at other times there will be struggles. Much as we get through toddler tantrums and adolescent challenges, we need to persevere when things are challenging.

But, unlike when we rear a child, not only do we want to see our creative impulses develop and flourish, we want to continually repeat the cycle and continue to create abundantly. We want to create in many ways, to have creativity touch every aspect of our lives. It may well take some time. It often begins by focusing on nurturing one particular way of creating and doing it on a regular basis. Eventually, when creativity is flowing smoothly, it becomes second nature and it’s quite marvelous.

Grown children, mature creativity

I am blessed to have two truly wonderful children, and to now have the joy of seeing the fruits of my parental labor (shared with my fantastic husband). My sons are 19 and 29 and I am extraordinarily proud of the good-hearted, generous, special people they are. I love seeing them share their gifts and hearts in so many amazing ways.

I am similarly delighted to reflect on the ways that sustained creativity — my own, and that of many people with whom I have been privileged to work — can mature in magnificent ways.

I wish you a lovely Mother’s Day, and hope you will be inspired to “mother” your creativity every day.

An inspired reunion

When I reflected on having done a year of workshops for individuals, I had an urge to invite people back for a reunion. I was eager to reconnect with workshop participants, and to have people who attended different workshops meet one another.

It was an inspired idea! The group that gathered at the reunion included people from five of the workshops. Everyone connected easily and spirits were high. The pot-luck dinner was special, as everyone contributed a dish made with love. As if by magic, the meal was perfectly balanced and every taste complemented the others. It was as if a master menu-planner had created the meal.

As we ate we each shared something we created, something that has inspired us, or both. The range of offerings was fascinating. One person brought a magnificent glass bowl she recently made (a new technique for that person, and one she’d dreamed up and sketched shortly after taking the workshop). One person came with gardening gloves of various sizes — hers, her kids’ and her husband’s. Following the workshop she attended last summer, she discovered that being in fresh air and tending a garden was the creative outlet she craved. And, for the first time, her family happily centered some of their weekend activities around her passion. One person brought back her sketchbook from the workshop. It was nearly filled with vivid drawings and poems she’s been creating. Someone else brought a dramatic drawing, also done in her sketchbook, that she made on a vacation soon after her workshop experience. She said that drawing held more vivid memories for her than all of the photos from her trip. 

After eating and enjoying all of the creative sharing, we moved on to start creating anew as a group. I had been inspired by two visits I recently made to the ICA, to see the work of Nick Cave. He uses "mundane" materials like buttons, pipe cleaners, yarn, beads, and more to create his sound suits and fabulous “paintings”. With that in mind, I hit art supply and craft stores, as well rifling through my own cabinets and drawers, to source a host of fun materials. With Edith Piaf as our sound track and glue guns in hand, we dove in and started playing and forming the materials into fantastic creations.  

As the evening came to a close, someone suggested that the reunion had been more fun than a book club meeting and that we should continue to meet and create together. Plans are underway already for our next creative adventure!

Nick Cave sound suits at the ICA Boston; creations made at the reunion from similar materials.

Marathon Day 2014

For the first time in years I went to cheer on the Boston Marathon runners today. It’s a glorious day, and standing at the 23 mile mark I was amazed by the energy of the runners and delighted by the spirit of the crowd cheering them on.

The sounds alone were fantastic. A tuba and bongo drumming combined with the clangs of countless cow bells and loud whoops and encouragement from the crowd — who stood 3 and 4 deep along route. As I walked along in the direction of the finish line, the crowds got bigger and louder. Many people offered water bottles to the passing runners and a cute little boy held out a bag of orange wedges.

It felt wonderful to share the joy of the event. The resilient people of this city, and visitors from far and wide, needed this great day and made it a great day.

People everywhere wore shirts with statements of strength and support. But one shirt I saw said it all for me — Nothing is Stronger than Love. 

Remembering, one year later

It is one year to the day since the Boston Marathon bombings occurred. After enjoying several lovely spring days, much like that day was last year, today it is stormy and bleak. It feels like nature is responding to our collective grief and pain.

The radio has been filling the airwaves with stories about the terrible events on this day last year and the amazing bravery and heroism of countless people. We’re hearing stories about the victims and about those who did so much to help, in small and enormous ways.

I sit here with a sad heart but am grateful for the tenderness of this day, too. The people of this city have supported each other and loved each other. To me, love is what has made the difference. It has been stronger than fear or anger. It has brought us together and made us better.

Last year I wrote in the aftermath of Marathon bombings. I said that President Obama’s message to choose love had become a sort of mantra for me, and a way to focus my thoughts for positive energy. 

I continue to believe in the power of love. Let’s all spread wishes for love and peace to prevail, here in Boston and everywhere.

 

Thoughts about love on Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love is the focus of the day and I want to share some thoughts on the ways that love and creativity are closely related.

The power of love is legendary. Thinking about love in terms of the people who love us and those we love comes naturally. But few of us think about self-love, which is crucial for our happiness, our relationships, and as a foundation for creativity of all kinds.

A common misconception is that it’s selfish to think about loving yourself, but self-love is neither narcissistic nor selfish. It’s healthy and wonderful to make yourself a priority and love yourself, in much the way that you feel warm, excited, adoring feelings when you think of a person you dearly love. These are feelings of delight that you can cultivate for yourself.

Fall in love with yourself! Just as you want to give gifts to people you love, give yourself gifts. You deserve them. Give yourself time to do things you love. Give yourself the treat of popping in to a shop that delights you. Take a trip to someplace you've longed to visit. If you are busily doing only for others, you're neglecting yourself. And, when you put yourself last, you cannot give as much to others.

Self-love is also about forgiving yourself and accepting yourself. Most of us are much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else. That's the sign of a harsh self-critic, and for some, a self-critic that's out of control. Healthy, robust self-love is the antidote.

Cultivating self-love fuels a happy life. And, self-love is a key foundation of creativity. When self-love is missing the self-critic has free reign and creativity is stifled. Nobody can feel free to experiment, play, create, make mistakes and move on from from them, try out new ways to express themselves or find novel ways to solve problems when that self-critical voice is putting you down (and often making you afraid to even try). Do you see how this works? How self-love is the antidote to the negativity that hampers us and limits our potential?

I hope that this Valentine’s Day will be a celebration of vibrant love — for those dearest to you and for yourself.