by Heather Plett | Jun 30, 2014 | Creativity, Uncategorized
I collected some thoughts and quotes for my writing students and thought I’d share them with you as well…
1. Practice playfulness
“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.” – Tom Robbins
2. Find time for idleness
“We owe most of our great inventions and most of the achievements of genius to idleness – either enforced or voluntary.” – Agatha Christie
3. Pay attention to the natural world
“Nature has been for me, for as long as I can remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure; a home, a teacher, a companion.” – Lorraine Anderson
4. Let go of “the way its always been”
“Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties.” – Gail Sheehy
5. Adopt creativity rituals
“For some of us, a ritual can be a simple routine that readies us for inspiration.” – Gail McMeekin
6. Follow your fascinations
“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.” – Linus Pauling
7. Risk failure
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” – Oprah Winfrey
8. Move past mistakes
“When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.” – Mary Pickford
9. Be uniquely yourself
“You can’t copy anybody and end up with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling.” – Billie Holiday
10. Keep going
“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton
11. Be patient
“Remember the farmer who was so eager to assist his crops that he went out at night and tugged on the new shoots. There is no way to push the river; equally you cannot hasten the harvest. Be mindful that patience is essential for the recognition of your own process which, in its season, leads to the harvest of the self.” – Ralph Blum
12. Be courageous
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin
13. Be persistent
“Diamonds are only chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs, you see.” – Minnie Richard
14. Be confident
“No one can give you authority. But if you act like you have it, others will believe you do.” – Karin Ireland
15. Look fear in the face
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
16. Find support and encouragement
“Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher.” – Oprah Winfrey
17. Find mentorship
“Successful people realize the importance of a mentor or an advocate.” – Donna Brooks & Lynn Brooks
18. Find partnerships
“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
19. Get over your fear of rejection
“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” – Marilyn Savant
20. Don’t take it personally
“When you want something, go back and go back and go back, and don’t take ‘No’ for an answer. And when rejection comes, don’t take it personally. It goes with the territory. Expose yourself to as much humiliation as you can bear, then go home and do it all again tomorrow.” – Betty Furness
21. Step out of your routine
“When I look at the same old things, I think the same old thoughts, but when the furniture is changed, my thinking changes… Routine is the enemy of creative thinking.” – Stanley Marcus
22. Be inspired by others
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” – Jim Jarmusch
23. Find creative practices that stimulate you
“Our discretionary time should be filled with choices of constructive activities that provide a contrast to what we do most of the time. The shifting of mental gears appears to kindle new thought patterns and thereby make our lives more fulfilling.” – Howard Hendricks
24. Believe in yourself
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” – Martha Graham
25. Love life
“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” – Osho
* * * * * *
Grow your creativity this summer with Summer Lovin’: A Mindfulness Journal. For only $10, you’ll get 60 journal prompts that will help you engage more creatively with the world around you.
by Heather Plett | Mar 27, 2014 | Uncategorized
Yesterday I got an email from a woman asking me if I ever offered scholarships for my programs. She’d visited the Lead with Your Wild Heart page and said “When I clicked on your course I felt immediately that this is exactly what I need to do.” The cost was a challenge for her, though, so she took a chance and asked.
As soon as I saw her email, I knew I wanted to help her get what she needed. “Tell me what you can pay,” I said, “and it’s yours. You can pay more in the future if it feels possible, or you can pay it forward in some way.”
She sent me a beautiful note of appreciation and a little more of her story and… suddenly something shifted in me. I felt the Spirit-nudge. “I need to do this for more women,” I thought. “I want to be a citizen of a world where more women step into their courage and leadership potential, and so I need to support them in getting there.”
Within about half an hour (that’s how quickly I can work when I trust the Spirit’s nudge) I’d changed the sales page for Lead with Your Wild Heart to “pay what you can” and sent an email to my list to let them know of the change. Within minutes, sales started coming in and almost all of them included a note with a variation of “This is EXACTLY the right thing at EXACTLY the right time. I feel like you are up in my head and know what I need even before I do!”
Did I make a lot of money? No. Did I follow Spirit’s leading and nurture leadership and courage in women? YES! That’s good enough for me.
Then this morning something else happened. I hosted the first call for the brand new (free) Idea Incubator. Twenty-seven people came together to seed their tender ideas in the incubator, offer compost and soil for each others ideas, and marvel at the possibility of the global garden we can grow together. We started with a group circle where everyone introduced themselves and shared a brief check-in about where we’re feeling the trembling in our lives, and then we broke into small groups of 4 or 5 to help each other grow these ideas. It was a tender beginning, with a few technological challenges, but it was full of energy and potential. None of us quite know what we’re doing in this new space, but – in the words of Meg Wheatley – we’ve agreed to “start anywhere and follow it everywhere.”
After the call, I had to close my computer and leave the house. I felt a physical trembling all over my body, fueled partly from the stress of hosting something brand new on technology I’m not very familiar with, but mostly from the excitement and energy that was shared by these beautiful people spread across North America and reaching across the ocean to Europe. I took my journal to the green space at the Conservatory to process what had just happened. The workers at the conservatory were planting fresh plants and I knew I’d come to the right place for my personal de-briefing (hence the photo above).
Am I making any money from the Idea Incubator? No. Did I follow Spirit’s leading and create an environment where people feel nurtured and supported and where beautiful ideas can grow ? YES!
That’s good enough for me!
I am simply being faithful to the call and trusting that the rest will follow. The outcome is not my responsibility. The commitment is.
p.s. You can join Idea Incubator any time you want. And you can buy Lead with Your Wild Heart with whatever you feel you can pay.
by Heather Plett | Dec 17, 2013 | Creativity, mandala
You fail at something, your work is rejected, or you second-guess what once had value and suddenly you find yourself spiraling into a dark chasm of self-doubt.
It starts with a critique of one project (“this is no good”), and before you know it, you question everything you ever created (“nothing I create is any good”). From there it’s a slippery slope into a dark hole of self-loathing (“I am no good”).
It’s all about the stories we tell ourselves. When the self-doubt spiral takes hold, instead of reminding ourselves of the learning and successes that have emerged out of past failures, we dig up all of the stories that point to our overall lack of worth. Like carrying stones around in our backpack that weigh us down and keep us from completing our journey, we drag around a lot of old stories that no longer have any value.
It started happening to me just last night. I’ve been trying to put the finishing touches on my memoir. I finished it a year and a half ago, but every time I try to do a final edit, something big changes and I end up feeling like there are still far too many loose ends. It’s been a great source of frustration, and I’m now at the point where I’m considering abandoning it all together and chalking it up to a meaningful process for my own value rather than a product I need to share.
As I sat there staring at 185 pages of hard work that might never come to anything, stories of “I don’t know how to finish this” became stories of “I seriously doubt whether this has any value and is worth publishing” and “I don’t know how to write a book” and “I’m really not a great writer anyway, so why should I bother?”
We ALL suffer from self-doubt now and then. When we’re in the spiral, we convince ourselves that everyone else has it easier, but that’s simply not true.
The people you most admire all have self-doubt too. Their success is not because they never doubt themselves, but because they’ve learned to work through it rather than get stuck in it.
What can you do when the self-doubt spiral threatens you?
1. Get into your body. The self-doubt spiral is the function of an over-active brain – a brain that is far too often driven by the ego. The ego’s job is to protect you from harm and to make you look good at all costs. Failure doesn’t sit well with the ego, so it will do whatever it can to convince you not to try again. Getting into your body (dance, run, walk, swim, etc.) helps the brain shut down the ego so that you can take a more honest look at where you’re at and focus on the stories that serve you better than those the ego keeps dragging up.
2. Go outside. Stand in front of a tree, lie in a field of grass, play in the snow, or dig in your garden. There’s something about being outside in nature that helps shut down the spiraling ego trap. Leaning on a tree that has been through the seasonal cycles of growth, harvest, and dormancy and then keeps showing up the next time Spring nudges it into growth, reminds us of our place in creation and our own strength to keep showing up the next time growth is required of us.
3. Help someone. Step away from the project that’s failing and go help someone else with their project for awhile. Or bring soup to a friend who’s sick. Showing up for other people helps shift us out of the self-centeredness of our failure stories. When you have a sense that we are all in this together and the community benefits from everyone’s best efforts, you’ll have renewed courage to carry on with offering the gifts that can benefit the world. Your community needs you and letting your own failure get in the way of that doesn’t serve anyone.
4. Develop simple rituals for halting the ego stories in their tracks. As the stories come up, write them on slips of paper and burn or bury them. Or write them on leaves and let them float down the river. Or create a shoebox home for your ego where the stories can be kept without getting in your way. You might even want to craft an ego creature out of clay and each time you sense your ego is trying to get in your way, have a conversation with it, or feed it your failure stories and then tuck it away while you go on with what needs to be done. Rituals help us find closure and they mark the passage into a new way of thinking.
5. Recycle your stories. When you have a beverage container that no longer serves a purpose, you recycle it so that it can be made into something else of value. Do the same with your stories. Turn them into something with value. Here’s a simple mandala exercise for that purpose:
1. Write down the stories that make up your spiral of self-doubt. Write them in a spiral freehand, or use this online tool to reconfigure text into a spiral.
2. Cut the spiral. Enjoy the fact that it’s already looking prettier than those stories in your head.
3. Cut the words apart. (It’s quite therapeutic to cut a sentence like “I am a failure” into separate words that no longer carry as much baggage.)
4. Prepare a colourful mandala in whatever way you choose. (I wanted to stick with the spiral shape, so I used that as my basis for colouring.)
5. Re-arrange the words into new stories – ones that uplift and delight you.
6-8. Keep going, arranging the words until you have a spiral of hope instead of a spiral of self-doubt.
9. Sit back and enjoy your new creation. And then carry on in your work, with hope and resilience instead of self-doubt and fear.
They’re just stories. The words can be re-arranged to make new stories.
Note: If you enjoyed this exercise, you can find 30 more like it at Mandala Discovery.
by Heather Plett | Oct 17, 2013 | Uncategorized
There’s a delight that fills you when you dream up a new idea – a piece of art, a script for a play, a dance routine, a poem, a delicious meal, a kid’s birthday party, a course… anything. The delight grows as you entertain the idea and begin to give it shape. You fashion it in your mind, you play with the details, you start gathering the pieces that you need to build it. You lie awake at night dreaming of what it will be when it grows up. You fantasize about how happy it will make you feel.
There’s a little skip in your step as you grow it from a seed of an idea to a real thing. You love it dearly and you know that it will be beautiful. It’s your baby, your work of art – you will love it no matter what.
You sweat over it, cry over it, pray over it, fill it with your longing, sadness, and deep love. You pour everything you have into this creation. It gives you life and joy, but it also asks a lot of you. In between the laughter and the delight, you sacrifice, you bleed, and you ache.
When it’s complete, you gaze on it with delight and so much love for just a moment… and then… the ego shows up uninvited, fear pokes its nose around the corner…and… you start to second guess what you have created.
“Is it good enough? I’m really not an artist. I can’t trust my own opinion.”
“Is it really worth anything? Maybe it’s useless and I’m fooling myself.”
“What if people hate it? What if nobody buys it? What if it just sits here on my shelf and gathers dust and I grow to hate it and I never create another thing as long as I live?”
“What if I am a fraud?”
You do this horrible dance – going back and forth about whether or not it’s actually worth sharing this creation of yours with the world. One moment, you’re determined to barrel through and ignore the voices of fear and ego, and the next moment you’re hugging your pillow in the corner, certain that the only course of action should be to destroy the thing you’ve created before you expose yourself to certain shame.
One day, though, you finally work up the courage to share it. You clench your teeth as you do so, holding the fear tightly at the back of your throat. Part of you wants to dance with delight at this moment of triumph, and part of you wants to weep with the agony of the release.
Lots of people ignore what you’ve put into the world. Some people turn their noses up at it. At first, that’s all you notice and you’re convinced that those are the only kinds of reactions you’ll get. You consider yanking it off the shelf and taking a hammer to it in your backyard. This agony isn’t worth it. You shouldn’t have taken the risk.
But then… in the corner, you see someone crying, and you recognize those tears. Those were the same tears that coursed down your eyes as you poured all of your love into the thing you created. Those are the tears of a person who’s letting her heart crack open just a little. They’re the tears of someone watching their own story unfold, and realizing – perhaps for the first time – that their story has found a safe place to exist.
The person approaches you. Her eyes tell the story even before she whispers “Thank you for this beautiful gift. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for creating something that makes me feel a little more whole. Thank you for cracking me open.”
And suddenly all of those other people – those who turned up their noses or paid no attention – don’t really matter, because you know you didn’t create it for them. You created this thing for the woman standing in front of you, and you created it for yourself. Because both of you needed this little bit of healing that the creation offered. Both of you needed a place where your story feels safe.
You know, in that moment, that you will continue to create. You’ll take all of that pain again and again, you’ll fight with your ego, you’ll risk the failure – you’ll do it all as often as it is required, because you KNOW that you were put on this earth to create and to give and to love.
This isn’t just YOUR story. It’s my story, and to be specific, it’s the story of Mandala Discovery. I have been in love with this program since it began to grow as the seed of an idea a couple of years ago. I knew that I held something magic in my hands, and so I kept pouring my love into it, even when that felt hard to do. I put it out into the world in one form last year, and then – when not very many people paid attention – I let it sit on a shelf for awhile, not sure that it was worthy.
But something kept telling me that the magic I’d seen in it – back when it was only the seed of an idea – was true and good and that I shouldn’t abandon it. Something told me that people needed this little gift that would give them a safe place for their stories to unfold. And so I took it down off the shelf and started polishing again.
When it was ready, I put it out into the world again, and people showed up. Not only did they show up, but they honoured the gift in the most beautiful ways imaginable. They honoured it by creating their own mandalas and sharing them and then telling the stories of how their mandala journals are changing them. They let their hearts crack open and then they stood in front of each other and said “Here. Look deeply into my heart. It may be wounded, but there is a lot of love here.”
The stories that were shared floored me and made me realize that this gift was not mine – instead I was simply serving as a catalyst, a vessel, the pot in the hands of the Potter, creating what had been breathed through me and then offering it to those who most needed it.
One woman shared how the mandalas have become part of her own recovery and how she will use them in a drug and alcohol recovery program on a First Nations Reserve. Another woman told the story of how she’d used one of the prompts with a group of second grade students who hardly knew any English, but were able to articulate something through the mandalas where words had failed them. Others shared how they had found themselves opening up to new truths about themselves. One woman plastered her walls with her mandalas – a road map back to herself.
I was reminded once again that when we let our egos get in our way, when we keep ourselves from doing that which is closest to our hearts, when we cower in fear of failure and rejection, we not only cheat ourselves, we cheat the world out of what it needs for healing. We cheat people out of what makes them feel less alone. We isolate ourselves and we isolate others.
I would like to get Mandala Discovery into the hands of more people who need it, not because my ego says “it must be big to mean something”, but because I know that it has transformative value. I would be honoured and pleased if you would help me do that.
Please share a link to Mandala Discovery (and/or this post) with your friends, followers, fans, family, and either use the hashtag #mandaladiscovery on social media so that I know that you have done so, or leave a note at the end of this post letting me know that you have.
Two people will be selected from those who’ve shared to win one of the following:
1. A free one-on-one coaching session with me.
2. Free registration for the November offering of Mandala Discovery.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for honouring this gift.
by Heather Plett | Aug 15, 2013 | art, Beauty, circle, Community, grace, Spirituality
I am home after nearly two weeks of journeying across the prairies. It was amazing. I am replenished, encouraged, and feeling full of the goodness of this earth and the people on it.
I am still on a bit of a high and not entirely sure that I have the right words to articulate what this journey meant for me, but I’m going to try anyway, before it slips too far into the past and is lost in a sea of other stories that want to be told.
Part 1: Journey to myself
“In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.” – Richard Rohr
Though I could have easily gotten to Calgary with one long day of driving (and have done it many times), I chose to make the trip in two days so that I could savour the trip and enjoy a night of camping by myself. As Richard Rohr writes in Falling Upward, the older I get and the more I learn to love and understand myself, the more I enjoy my own company.
From the moment I left the city limits, I knew there was going to be something special about this journey. It was a stunningly beautiful day, with the kind of fluffy, storybook clouds artists and photographers pine for. It was also the perfect season, when there are still rich summer greens mixed with subtle autumn golds, browns and reds. The canola and flax are in full bloom, the wheat and barley fields are readying themselves for harvest, the round bales are beginning to be laid out across golden hay fields, and the calves born in early summer are strong, virile, and rambunctious.
Everywhere I looked, the prairies seemed to be laying out their finery for me. I couldn’t resist stopping for photos of bright red barns set against bold blue skies, fields where flax flowers flowed like the waves on a peaceful sea, and ditches where butterflies and dragonflies danced from wildflower to wildflower.
When I pulled into Regina, I stopped for a bottle of wine and a cheap plastic wine glass (to enhance the picnic I’d brought from home) and headed to my campsite by a lake. The first thing I spotted at the campsite was a shiny loonie (dollar) on the ground – like someone had left it as a good luck charm.
Pushing through a broad strip of clover that stood higher than my head and smelled of heaven, I came to the lake. There in front of me, for no reason I could ascertain, was a picnic table half submerged in water. I waded out to the table and sat on it for awhile, snapping photos of fishermen, seagulls and rocks. The sun was about two hours from sunset, as far as I could tell, but I didn’t want to miss a moment of its setting. So I brought my picnic lunch and journal to the table and spent the next two hours on my little wooden island in the lake, hidden from view from most people by the huge stand of clover along the shore.
Those two hours were magical. My senses were heightened after a day full of prairie beauty, and every angle, every bit of light, every shadow, every rock, every bird, every line, and every reflection was drenched in beauty. For two hours I sat in awe, watching the light change on the lake and the clouds glow in the sky. God’s presence was palpable. It was one of those thin places that the Celts talk about, where heaven and earth collide.
After the sun set, and night began to drift across the lake, I lit a fire at my campsite and had another magical hour of capturing light of a different kind – orange, glowing, flickering, pushing against the darkness. From the largeness of the sunset sky to the smallness of my cast iron fire pit – I was mesmerized by light.
The next day was much like the one before, with equally piercing blue skies and impossibly white clouds. I wandered on the beach, took pictures of more birds, feathers, and rocks, and then started the drive to Calgary. At one point, a storm rolled in, and the clouds changed to dark and dramatic. After two days of beauty, I wasn’t surprised to see a rainbow show up.
By the end of the day, I felt like I had just been courted by a devoted lover who was doing everything s/he could to make me feel special. In the words of Richard Rohr in the quote above, I was very much in “the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself.” I found God on the prairies and God laid out the finest that the prairies had to offer to make sure I felt loved.
For more photos of my prairie journey, here’s a little video I put together.
Part 2: Journey to my family
“Always remember, there was nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name.” – The Avett Brothers
The purpose for my trip to Calgary was to visit my oldest brother, Brad, who’d been diagnosed with cancer a few weeks earlier and had had a three foot section of his colon removed the week before. When I’d heard about his cancer, I’d felt an intense need to spend time with him, and so I took advantage of the opportunity. It’s been a hard year for our family, after losing Mom to cancer in November, so the bond between us feels especially important.
If you met my big brother, you might marvel at the many ways that our world views are different, and – on the surface level – you might even question how we find common ground. His politics lean further right than mine do, he’d rather spend the afternoon in a hockey rink while I’d choose an art studio, and he doesn’t see the point in much of the self-discovery or community-building reading and writing I do while I’d be bored to tears with the kind of detail-oriented computer coding he does. (It almost seems like a cliche that he has a degree in math and I have a degree in literature.)
And yet… if you looked at only those things, you’d be missing a lot. For one thing, there’s something about 47 years of shared history, stories, jokes, faith, questions, and grief that creates a common language that few people in the world can understand. There is great safety and comfort in that common language, especially after you’ve lost a few of the only people on earth who know it. When you are in a place where you can speak that language and ask those questions without fear of judgement, it is worth more than gold.
And there’s another thing… unleash us in the mountains, on the prairies, or by the seashore with our cameras, and both of us can wander happily for hours. (Or – in the case this week – lament the fact that we can’t wander for hours due to a recently broken foot and major surgery.) And then we can sit together on the couch for another couple of hours going through the pictures to find the few in which we’ve captured the light just right.
In those things, there is plenty of common ground to make a trip across two provinces after a cancer scare an indescribably worthwhile thing to do.
I didn’t know how this visit would go, and frankly, I was a little worried to see what cancer was doing to my normally energetic and adventurous brother. On top of that, my sister-in-law (whom I also love dearly, and would easily cross two provinces for as well), has been dealing with some pretty heavy things this year, and my teenage niece has had an interesting recent time of learning more about her identity as well.
I expected their home to be full of turmoil and sadness… and yet… it wasn’t. There was a surprising amount of peace and grace in their home, not to mention a whole lot of love. My brother has a remarkable capacity for accepting life as it is and enjoying every moment that he can, and my sister-in-love has a remarkable capacity for making meaning of what is and articulating it in a way that shines new light into it. Plus they both have a deep faith that sustains them and gives them hope.
One of the most poignant moments of the visit was when I stood next to my brother in church (yes, he’s stubborn enough to go to church two days after being released from the hospital) and sang “Come Thou Fount”, a song that has a rich history in our family and was sung at both of our parents’ funerals. “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” The Bible verse that those lines are inspired by was made into a wall hanging for Mom and Dad’s 25th anniversary, and hung in their home for twenty-three years after that until Dad died and the farm was sold.
Another poignant moment was standing at the shores of Lake Louise on a drive into the mountains. My recently broken foot and his surgery wounds meant that we couldn’t walk far, but it felt like a moment of grace to be able to stand there with him and Sue, enjoying the beauty around us. We are all broken people, heading inevitably to our deaths, and yet there are moments of beauty, grace, and light, and for that we carry on in this journey.
Part 3: The journey to others
“In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.” ~ Flora Edwards
The final destination on this journey was a small prairie town, perched on the border between Saskatchewan and North Dakota, that looked a lot like the prairie town I grew up in. In North Portal, people trust each other enough to not only leave their doors unlocked but to leave the border unlocked. When you go golfing, you start out in one country and end in another, and they trust you to leave the parking lot through the same entrance (Canadian or American) that you entered through – no passport required. There used to be churches on either side of the border, but when their numbers dwindled, they joined and now meet in the new Canadian church in winter and in the older American church in summer.
In that town, there is an old school building that looks a lot like the place I spent the first nine years of my school life. There are not enough kids in town to fill it anymore, so they started bussing the kids to another town and sold the building to one of the townsfolk who put a friendly neighbourhood bar in one classroom and rents the other classrooms out to artists, healers, and others who need space.
In that building, Visions Art Guild holds their annual retreat. It’s a blissful week of summer camp for artists, with the local church ladies catering their meals, and everyone pitching in to do the dishes and keep the place clean. During the day, they make lots of art, have occasional inspirational sessions, and encourage each others’ creativity. In the evenings, they drink wine, make a little more art if they feel like it, and have a few good belly laughs (especially on the night of Frida Fest, when everyone dresses as their favourite Frida Kahlo painting or photo).
Every second year, they bring in a facilitator to inspire them in some area of growth. This year I was that lucky facilitator. On the theme of journey, I was invited to do three full sessions (a couple of hours each), three mini-sessions (about 45 minutes each), and one-on-one coaching sessions for anyone who wanted them (nine sessions). In between I got to make my own art and wander from station to station being inspired by the different styles and different mediums. Some worked in acrylics, watercolour, and oil, one added tiny twirly stitches to art prints, one did beautiful beadwork, one made fanciful beings out of found objects, one played with adding fabric prints of her prairie photos to her loomed rugs, one incorporated hand-dyed paper with natural objects, and one worked on a complex mixed media collage backdrop for her fanciful raven drawings. I dabbled with acrylics, watercolours, and mandalas, and took a lot of photos.
At the beginning of our week together, one of the retreatants helped me make a labyrinth in the grass, and that became the foundation of our exploration into the theme of journey. On the second day, I read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go”, made road signs for the twelve places in the journey from the book (the prickly perch, the waiting place, etc.), and added those to the labyrinth. In addition, I’d collaged the words they’d sent me in response to some advance journal prompts onto a long piece of paper that represented the journey we were on for the week, and that piece of paper became a group art project that we added to throughout the week. We also made prayer flags to represent the things we most want to invite into our lives, our art, and our relationships.
What can I say about that week? For starters, it was SO MUCH FUN! Hanging out with artists and being inspired by their creative techniques and their capacity to see beauty made my own artist heart soar. For another thing, it was SO RELAXING! Yes, I was facilitating and coaching, but there was just so little pressure and the women in the group were delightful to work with and host in circle. They were receptive and responsive to my questions, they jumped into my activities with their whole hearts, and they embraced me as one of their own. And for another thing, it was very, very FULFILLING. In the coaching conversations, when I saw their faces soften with some new wisdom that was growing in them, and in the circle when I saw them opening themselves to new stories that will help them walk in the world with new courage, I knew that God was working through me to create safe space for their authenticity to show up.
This is my absolute favourite kind of work – gathering women in circle and fostering their growth, creativity, and leadership. This is the kind of work that feels so much like play I almost feel guilty when they pay me at the end of the week.
I left that little prairie border town feeling like I was floating on a cloud. That beautiful circle of women gifted me with more than I could have possibly gifted them. They gave me tangible gifts (shoes, jewelry, a hand-woven rug, artist trading cards, and more), but the intangible gifts were far greater. They gave me love, acceptance, inspiration, and trust.
Part 4: The scary part of the journey that reminds me of the value of all the rest
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I would never have to live without you.” ~Winnie the Pooh
This part of the journey was so brief it hardly bears mentioning, and yet it was so impactful it belongs on this page.
About an hour before I got home, driving along a single lane highway, a half-ton truck coming toward me swerved into my lane when it was only about 100 metres away and came at me full speed. I swerved onto the gravel shoulder on my right, and then the truck swerved there too, looking like the driver was determined to kill me. I swerved left (thankfully there was no other traffic), missed the speeding truck by mere inches, and then started spinning out of control, convinced I would end up rolling in the ditch. I finally came to a stop in the middle of the road, and turned back into my lane.
In the rearview mirror, I could see that the truck had turned around and was coming toward me again. I took off as quickly as I could, not interested in sticking around to see if they were coming to check if I was okay and apologize or try to kill me again.
The rest of the way home, my heart was racing, and I kept bursting into spontaneous tears. Just the day before, while still at the retreat, I’d gotten an email from Brad saying that the prognosis on his cancer is not good, that it has spread to his liver and possibly his lungs, and that – even with chemo and surgery – there is an 80% chance the cancer will kill him within 5 years. Between my near-death moment and the knowledge that I might soon lose my brother, life started feeling exceedingly fragile.
When I got home, hugs from my kids and a hot bath helped calm me down. I had to host a call for Lead with Your Wild Heart, so I did what I could to centre myself and be present for whoever showed up. Fortunately, the call morphed into a delightful hour-long conversation about the value of hosting meaningful conversations in circle, and I became energized talking about the work that most inspires me. That call also inspired me to write the following on Facebook:
Life is short. I know it sounds cliched, but believe me – it is. One day you find out there is an 80% chance your brother’s cancer may kill him in less than 5 years, and the next day a crazy driver tries to kill you, and then you find out a dear friend is having eye and kidney complications far away in South Africa and you can’t hug her, and everything just feels so fragile that you want to gather everyone around you and hug them and tell them to BE REAL, BE PRESENT, and BE GOOD TO EACH OTHER. There is just NO DAMN POINT in wasting your time doing things that are not authentic and full of love and true to the purpose God put you on this earth for.
Please… do me a favour, and stop wasting your time with lies and masks and artificial lives. Stop trying to please the people who don’t have your best interests at heart. Stop trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal that has nothing to do with who you are. Stop trying to find your happiness in money and possessions and fake happiness. Find people who believe in the beauty that is in you, hang onto them, and don’t stop holding each other until you all emerge with more courage to do the things the world is longing for you to do. And then hold onto each other some more, until you have spread every last bit of love God has put in you to spread and your work on this earth is done.
I nearly died on the highway today, and that moment shook me to the core, but at least I can say one thing… I would have spent my last week on earth doing EXACTLY the kind of work that I was put on this earth for – hosting REAL people in circle, giving them a safe space to be authentic, encouraging their creativity, and inviting them to live to their most beautiful potential.
I will keep doing this work and spreading this love until my time is done. Are you with me?
And with that, I end this part of my journey but continue on with the ongoing journey of my life, loving the people around me, living in the beauty that God is making of me, and serving the world with the gifts that have been entrusted to me with whatever time is left for me on this earth.
If you’re on a similar journey to a deeper place, and could use a guide to help you, consider signing up for one of my “Back to School” coaching sessions.