A steady mind before a steady hand (what I learned from a jewelry maker)


This past weekend, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. I’ve been going for 30 years and I’ll probably keep going for 30 more, because it fills me up, inspires me, and nourishes my creative spirit. Four days of great music, surrounded by tall trees, big prairie skies, and interesting people is a little like what I imagine heaven to be.

Inspired by all there is to see and hear, I always come home with a collection of jewels – little pieces of lyrics scribbled on my program, stories gathered from conversations with friends or strangers, colourful photos of the bubble man or the stilt-walkers, new cds of my latest favourite artist, and a trinket or two from the handmade village.

Everything inspires me, and when I return home, I feel like I need a week to digest it all.

Most of the quotes I pour over afterward come from the singer-songwriters. But this year’s gem comes from the artisan who made the beautiful necklace I brought home.

Ro Walton (of Windy Tree) makes one-of-a-kind jewelry from branches of the arbutus tree (which I saw plenty of when I was on Whidbey Island in May). Each one has a unique design, carved free-hand on a scroll saw.

Marveling at the intricate designs in his pieces, I remarked “you must have a steady hand.”

Ro’s response: “It’s more about having a steady mind.”

“If my mind’s not in the right place,” he continued, “I have to do other things like cutting and sanding. Only when my mind is steady can I approach the scroll saw for the intricate work.”

I’ve been thinking about that ever since. Only when we do the work of steadying our minds can we do our most intricate work.

That’s what I’m focusing on during the month of July – my own quest for a steady mind. Work-wise, Winter and Spring were a bit of a whirlwind, and then some things in my personal life got a little shaky, so I am doing my best to seek some stillness so that the really deep and intense art that wants to grow out of me can do so.

I’ll be going away next week for a few days of intense writing, trying to wrap up the book that I’ve come back to after putting it on a shelf for a couple of years. I have found that the only way I can really dive into that kind of writing is to go away and be silent, so I will do that for a few days. In between the writing, I’ll wander the beach, play with art supplies, and read good books. All of these things help me maintain the kind of steady mind that lets me write.

The necklace that I bought from Ro depicts a tree hanging from the edge of a cliff. (The tree is cut through the wood so that the design shows through on the back as well.) This is the one that appealed to me most because of the challenge and improbability of a strong and healthy tree rooting itself in such a precarious place. I imagine that far below it, the waves are crashing against the rock and above it, the storms are rolling in. In the middle of all of this chaos, the tree remains firmly rooted.

Somehow, the tiny seed that planted itself in the crack of a rock found enough stillness and sunlight and rainwater to grow into a strong tree. After all of the hard work it took to flourish there, that tree now offers a rare place to rest for the birds flying overhead.

This is the story I want to tell of my life – a story of rootedness and strength, despite the chaos all around me, despite the fact that sometimes I feel like I’m clinging to the edge of a cliff. This is what I want to be – a place of solace and support for those who’ve been tossed by the wind and the waves.

To live that story, I must make sure I put down strong roots and that I practice having a “steady mind” in the midst of chaos. That’s what next week is about.

I encourage you to do the same. Find a way to steady your mind, whether that means staying off social media for awhile, going on retreat to a friend’s cabin, taking long walks every morning, attending a music festival, doing yoga, or committing to some art playtime every week. And plant your roots deeply into the rock that is the God of your understanding.

Giving yourself that kind of time and nourishment is not selfish, it’s essential if you want to do your best work. Whether you are an artist, a teacher, a business owner, a hospice worker, or a stay-at-home parent, you need a steady mind, a steady heart, and a steady body. You’ll only get that when you give yourself what you need.

Then, and only then, will you be the kind of tree the birds can rest in after their long flight.

Be good to yourself this summer. Plant your roots, steady your mind, and give yourself the nourishment you need.

If you’re looking for something to nourish you, perhaps Mandala Discovery might help? It starts again in August.

Interested in more articles like this? Add your name to my email list and you’ll receive a free ebook, A Path to Connection. I send out weekly newsletters and updates on my work.

Just keep going deeper

“Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.” – Saint Augustine

deeper foundation
Since returning from my trip to Whidbey Island on Monday, I have been trying to come up with at least a few words to describe my time away. I haven’t been very successful, though. If you’re following me on social media, you might have noticed an uncharacteristic silence of late. It’s hard to say in 140 characters or less what I can’t even describe in a blog post or conversation. Some experiences are two deep for words.It was one of those life-changing, heart-opening, paradigm-shifting trips.

I was on Whidbey Island for two purposes – a.) to work with a small circle of people on a new website for The Circle Way, and b.) to replenish myself and dive into my writing at Self as Source of the Story, a retreat facilitated by my mentor, Christina Baldwin.

Both of those experiences were dreams come true. I am working and learning and building things with my mentors and friends, and finding my way on the very path I first started dreaming about fifteen years ago. It’s been an incredible journey, learning to trust the nudgings and whispers along the way, gaining resilience in the hard parts, and trying to be patient in the slow parts.

If you’re hanging onto a dream that just won’t let you go, take heart – it may be slow in showing up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not coming. Keep your heart focused in the right direction, and life may some day surprise you with its abundance and grace.

The entire trip felt like a divinely-offered gift, and there are many parts of it that feel tender and fragile and that I need to hold close to my chest right now rather than share. Some day they will become part of my storytelling, but not yet – not until they are full grown and well processed and strong enough to stand on their own. (In a few months, you have permission to ask about the frog that showed up on my 49th birthday and the gold key that came to me in the labyrinth.)

The biggest lesson of the trip was this…

Authentic living is like scuba diving. Just when you get comfortable diving to a certain level, you’ll become curious about what the sea looks like further down and you won’t be able to rest until you get there. Soon you’ll be developing the lung capacity and looking for the equipment to take you deeper.

During Monday’s closing circle at the writing retreat, I said “I’ve been a writer long enough to know that every few years I’ll be invited into an even deeper understanding of and connection with my own voice. I just didn’t know how deep this week was going to take me.” This statement doesn’t only apply to writers – it applies to anyone on a personal/spiritual journey. We are always invited to go deeper.

I’d started the retreat with one goal in mind – to gain some clarity about the book I finished nearly three years ago. Some of you who’ve followed me for awhile know that I was working on a book about how the three weeks leading up to and including the birth and death of my son Matthew changed my life. I thought I was finished that book three years ago. I was in the process of editing it when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Mom’s death changed the story. Not only did my grief make it difficult to re-enter the story of my short relationship with Matthew, it changed the very fabric of what I’d put on the page.

Several times since then, I’ve taken it off the virtual shelf and tried to revisit it, but there was always resistance. I didn’t know how to bring it to completion. I hadn’t found the right equipment or developed the lung capacity for the deeper dive.

By the time I got to the retreat, I was ready to simply put it away and allow it to be part of my own personal growth and never have it published. But I opened myself to the possibility that the story wasn’t finished yet. It wouldn’t leave me alone.

In the very first writing prompt at the retreat, I cracked the story open again. Instead of putting it onto the shelf, I was invited into a deeper understanding of it. A new voice showed up on the page. Or rather – an old voice showed up – an old voice that wanted to weave itself into mine. This old voice had always been there, but I hadn’t known how to tap into it before. It took the right container, the right intention, an open heart, and a few simple words from my mentor to crack it open.

That’s the lesson I want to leave with you today… Your personal work is never done. You will always be invited to go deeper.

I don’t know what your version of “deeper” will look like, but I know that if you create the right container, find the right circle of support, and let yourself be guided by the right mentor(s), you’ll be invited into deeper and deeper self-awareness and deeper and deeper trust in your own voice.

This deep diving doesn’t happen by accident, however, and it doesn’t happen at the fringes of our overly-busy lives. We have to be intentional about it, create space in our lives to invite it in, and seek out the people who will lovingly hold space for it. We have to seek out the equipment and do the practices that increase our spiritual lung capacity.

Throughout the week, I did the work to invite this deeper voice more fully into my life and work. I walked the labyrinth several times, I spent a day in silence, I had deep and personal conversations with like-minded people, I wandered the woods, I sat in circle and listened to other people’s stories, and I wrote pages and pages in my journal. I also shed a lot of tears and let some of my fears hold court until they felt adequately heard and were willing to let me move on.

Our deeper voices have to be tended well. They don’t show up by accident and they’ll go back into hiding if we don’t create space in our lives to foster them. They are easily swayed by fear and easily ignored by long to-do lists, unless we give them priority attention.

If you feel that you are being invited into the next layer of depth, be intentional about creating space for it.

  • Go on a retreat that’s long enough for the work you need to do
  • Spend an hour each day with your journal and your spiritual practices,
  • Find a coach or mentor who will ask the right questions,
  • Gather like-minded people into circle, and
  • Guard the parts of the story that feel tender and fragile. (Only share those parts with your most trusted confidantes – people who can be trusted to help you nurture them.)

If you need some support, consider joining The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself (starts June 1st). Or sign up for one of the remaining spots in the Openhearted Writing Circle (online on June 6th). Or learn to Lead with Your Wild Heart. (Note: At this time, I am not accepting new coaching clients, but will open the door again in September.)

Interested in more articles like this? Add your name to my email list and you’ll receive a free ebook, A Path to Connection. I send out weekly newsletters and updates on my work.

Pin It on Pinterest