Reader question: making a “safe” place at home to create

Nona Makes asks: “How to deal with negativity or making a “safe” place at home to create when those around you are not as encouraging and nurturing as your workshops?”

I think this is a really important question.

If those who share your home don’t encourage you or at least accept you expressing yourself creatively it can be hard to find the courage to begin.

Creativity can’t flourish when every step feels criticised, or even worse shamed, or ridiculed.

It is really important that you make a mental/ physical space that feels safe when you sit down to write/ draw/ make music etc. If you don’t have that at home I would suggest seeing if you can find it somewhere else, or focus on creating that within yourself:

  • Find a way to create without scrutiny – do it when people aren’t home, do it in your bedroom, do it while watching tv and they aren’t paying attention to you, set up a painting corner in the laundry.
  • Create a beautiful box or folder and keep your works in there out of public view while you build your confidence
  • Head to a nice public library and do your thing there on a comfie couch with a view out the window.
  • Find a group of absolute beginners who do the thing you do and go meet with them, work together at a cafe or somewhere else that feels low stakes and fun (try Meetup as a great resource to find like minded groups).
  • Watch you tube videos of encouraging and enthusiastic people who love the thing you love, it will remind you that you are not the only one who loves this thing and remind you that you have a tribe out there somewhere
  • Find an online space where you can share what you make and have it kindly received (search Facebook for art groups and see what you find! If you are shy you might prefer a ‘closed’ group to a ‘public’ group, and a group with fewer members rather than more).
  • If you are constantly being told that what you make is worthless or a waste of time, you might need to spend time with people who are kinder and more encouraging! See if you can make some friends who share your interests – they aren’t likely to see it as a waste of time when you weave/ knit/ sing/ write etc. Going to a class/ fair/ expo / conference/ retreat on the thing you love might be one way to meet people who also love your creative pursuit.
  •  Practice some polite but assertive answers to the criticisms you hear (or maybe don’t hear but do fear).
  • Write a list of the common criticisms and then respond to each of them one by one in your journal. Imagine this is criticism a beloved friend of yours has just received, what would you say to make them feel better? How would you remind them that they are OK, or what they are doing is OK?

Remember that standing up for unique selves – doing what we love even if those around us don’t value it – is part of truly being authentic in this world. And if what you are doing is legal and not hurting anyone else it’s really no-one else’s business what you do for fun.


Attending the inner seasons

Coming into awareness of our physical selves is a great first step in working with the energy levels, inspiration and whims we have, rather than forcing ourselves to act like a robot that feels the same every day and is capable of the same activity/ concentration/ energy every day.

Back in a galaxy far far away, a few years ago, I found the rhythm of working in a busy office in consulting mode, exhausting. And part of that was because of the lack of cycles that made sense to my body. A large report deadline would be followed the next day by a presentation to a client group, followed by a public lecture, followed by an… etc. I work better in a seasonal way – work hard to a deadline and then need a few days to file, do busy work, recalibrate, adjust, wind down, rest and recharge. Multiple projects and multiple teams instead meant my workload felt discordant – perhaps a wild ride of impenetrable improv jazz a bit beyond my comprehension.

As an introvert (are you surprised??? Yes I am – a chatty, writes-a-lot introvert) I need time to reach equilibrium in my body after a huge download of sensory input. The emotional dimensions of work are felt just as keenly as the ‘cognitive’ ones and I need time to process, sift and sort my responses.

So what does to mean to attend to the inner seasons?

Knowing that not every period needs to be a summer, bursting with fruit.

Knowing that winter may look drab and sad but is essential for growth.

Knowing that there are times to suck in the goodness from something you’ve made and let the remainder drop to the ground.

Knowing that new growth comes forth when it is ready.


For me now work is still a complex rhythm (I thrive on diversity), but a more balanced feeling affair. I have days of intense productivity, and days of lots of ‘people time’ and other days when I don’t speak to anyone at all in office hours, and get to go inward and think and rest and play.

I try to notice when I need some empty space, to let my soil rest fallow. I try to trust that Spring will come. I try to remember that Summer isn’t meant to be all year ’round.


And just like different parts of the world have a different expression of seasons, a different ratio of hot to cold, length of seasons, need for rest between productivity, so too maybe do people. Figuring out our own inner climate and appreciating it, working within it, feels like a helpful step towards self care and understanding.

If you would like to join my next Women’s Creative Wellbeing Group, starting July 2016, and explore the metaphor of seasons in your own life (along with other tools and processes for self knowledge and acceptance), you can register now on the special Early Bird price. I also have 2 ‘pay as you can’ spots for women on a low income. Register HERE.

Making: letters to strangers

Have I told you about how I write letters to strangers?

No not in a weird stalkery way, but as part of a US based project called ‘More Love Letters‘.

Not romantic love letters, but letters written from a place of loving kindness, a human-to-human-full-of-care way. Each month they post a few fresh letter requests for people who are having a hard time and could do with some encouragement.

A friend or relative or coworker has usually has made the request and the More Love Letters team chooses 3 or 4 to publish each month.

I like it.

No scrap that, I love it.

A few years ago when I was really struggling with work and feeling disheartened about ‘what next?’, I found them and started writing letters almost weekly for this project. It was that kind of beatifully selfish altruism that made me feel great. Every time I popped a nicely written, colourful card into the letterbox I think I got a hit of some kind of home-made happy drugs and walked away with more bounce in my step.

Now I’ve worried about this (of course I have! I get anxious, worry is my special superpower), and wondered things like:

– what if the person getting them hates it and is really embarassed that somone shared their misfortune with the world?

– what if I write the wrong thing? Maybe I will make them feel worse or they’ll think it’s mawkish or boring?

– what if I’m actually being really selfish because shouldn’t I be writing to my actual friends and family* who need my support, not random strangers?

– isn’t this the kind of stoopid tokenistic gesture that just assuages the guilt of the middle class and does nothing to address entrenched structural disadvantage? **

So if you think those things too I won’t blame you. But meanwhile I’m happy that I’ve got on with doing it despite the doubts, because it’s a small gesture of kindness that I can easily weave into my day and do while sitting and waiting for someone or while I drink my morning coffee. Is cheap – a $2.95 stamp will wing it across the world for me, and plays to my strengths – oh hello I love writing and snail mail.

So there you have it. An easy fun way to get a feel good buzz in less than half and hour and change from a $5 note.

Give it a go! See if you want to add it to your basket of self-care activities! Let me know below if you are a fan of snail mail too, or if you have ever sent a letter to someone you don’t know as part of your own creative adventures. 

* which is funny, because I write to friends and family too.

** probably. Somewhat. But I’ve also done my fair change of trying to change policy and stuff I promise. (I’m reminding my self this).

A servant to your to do list?

Are you a slave to your To Do list? Do you feel like you’re only allowed to relax once everything is done and your list is empty?

Do you feel guilty if you do something just for yourself? Do you worry that self care is selfish or horribly indulgent?

Where did these feelings come from? Did you grow up in an environment where only your achievements were valued? Did you grow up in an environment where the adults were tired, unwell or unavailable, leaving you with a strong sense of responsibility to help get things done? Maybe the people around you also struggled with self-care and you feel guilty any time you were found to be loafing around while they were working hard.

You may know all of that but what are you going to do about it?

Creating new attitudes towards self care is not easy. But it’s important work.

Self-care can be about the basics like making sure we are clothed and fed, kept warm and safe. For some people even the basics are something they have to learn themselves as adults.

Self-care can also be about allowing play. Time spent doing what we feel like without a deadline, without an output, without a gold star at the end.

Self-care can be about tending to our bodies, noticing when they are tired, allowing them to rest and allowing them to move joyfully.

Self-care can be about what we don’t do as well as what we do. About setting boundaries. About saying no about not having to be all things to all people. It can be about learning to tolerate the discomfort that comes when we can’t alleviate the pain of others. Self-care can be about gently reappraising our role of rescuer, doer, saver, get things done-er.

Self-care can be about stepping into the role of kindness giver to our bodies, of noticing and being in physical form.

Self-care can be about allowing the frivolous. Tapping into our senses. Doing things purely for delight, that is, our delight, our own delight, not delighting others. Self-care is an inward orientation, and listening to the quiet voice of need as well as whim and whimsy.

Self care is unlearning hardness, deafness to our bodies, unlearning critical appraisal of our leisure, unlearning callousness, unlearning the need to be permanently productive, unlearning a commitment to constant movement and striving.

A learning of gentleness. A learning of kind trusting and well wishing. A learning of allowing in the soft small and beautiful. A learning of unclenching.

Ultimately self-care is a learning of the self. Beginning to see ourselves in the centre of our lives beginning to chart the topographical contours of what we love what we like what we need and what keeps us well.

Forgiving ourselves

I think forgiving ourselves is at the core of moving on, moving forward and getting unstuck! The quote below speaks to me so beautifully of that.

“How do I actually learn best? How do I change? How do I grow? Is it through that kind of belittling myself and berating myself and humiliating myself? Or is it through something else, some other quality like self-compassion and recognizing the pain or unskillfulness of something I’ve done or said and having the energy to actually move on?
So where does that energy come from? It comes from not being stuck. And how do we get unstuck? In fact, it’s from forgiving ourselves and realizing, yeah, it happened. It was wrong. I’m gonna go on now in a different way ‘cause I’m capable of that. I am capable of change.” – Sharon Salzberg

This week I am practicing forgiving myself for all the times I feel tired or just ‘meh’ rather than 110% fabulous.
I’m forgiving myself for the paperwork that isn’t done, all the work ‘leads’ or possibilities I let linger and didn’t bring into fruition, and all the ways I don’t live up to some shiny imaginary super-entrepreneur vision I sometimes yearn to be. I also forgive myself for indulging in buying into the idea that there IS some shiny entrepreneur cookie cutter role I need to step into.
I am forgiving myself for not having it all figured out or having the ‘perfect’ clockwork business that somehow runs itself while I sip almond lattes and have international holidays.

I accept myself as learner, beginner, as well as expert, as bumbler and fumbler, as making-it-up-as-I-go-along. I accept myself as sometimes slob, sometimes stressed and overworked, sometimes exhausted, sometimes hermit, sometimes attention seeker, as sometimes succumbing to fears.

I forgive myself for all these shades of vivid human.

My shadow, my depth, my multifaceted shining me-ness.

I forgive myself.

I try to make room for these aspects of me that I am less proud of, try to shimmy over to make room for them. I try not to judge them, or deny them, or point an angry finger at them.

How about you?

Are there shadow aspects of your personality that you struggle to see and feel OK about? 

Are you working on forgiving yourself for anything at the moment? 

Have you had a self-forgiveness win? 





Why are people scared of making art?

They may have been told they were ‘no good at art’ by an art teacher or they may have secretly dreamed of becoming an artist, but then received very strong cultural messages that told them there was no point trying unless they were a creative genius, unless they were Picasso, that there was no point.

Perhaps they were assigned a different role in the family, told that their sibling was ‘the creative one’ and instead they were the ‘smart’ or ‘sensible’ or ‘practical’ one. So being ‘creative’ then felt off-limits, like it belonged to someone else.

Perhaps they think that they must be an ‘expert’ and the experience of not knowing, being a learner, being a beginner is terrifying. Perhaps staring at the blank page they suddenly feel exposed to criticism, vulnerable to ridicule and shaming if they create something ‘childish’ or ‘bad’.

Perhaps they fear being our of control, or not in control, and the strange images and shapes that emerge unsettle them and threaten their sense of autonomy or self-hood.

Perhaps they have strong values of ‘being useful’ and ‘not wasting materials’, so the very thought of play seems indulgent and wasteful and like they may be punished for it.

All of these are powerful reasons to not make art, and to fear the blank page (/keyboard/ stage/ singing lesson.. etc).

These messages become internalised, until people believe it as a ‘fact’: that they ‘can’t draw’, ‘don’t have a creative bone in my body’, or similar.

And then as a result they don’t ever try – or when they do try they are stilted with fear and horrified at the marks they make, and swear never to do it again – thus creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Helping people become friends again with their creativity is a powerful part of art therapy. We do this by creating a safe space for making, by developing a different story about what art ‘is’ and what it is for, and encouraging a deeply personal and therapuetic relationship with art making.

We show each other our selves

Some days it feels like it all comes together, like the professional ‘mask’ is aligning quite beautifully with my souls work. I LOVE how my coaching clients keep appearing and teaching more about who I want to work with. They teach me what it is I have to offer, and what it is I want to express. Sometimes I still feel like I’m ‘too much’ and that all my interests and experiences don’t fit together or make any sense…. but even just today I see a new way my experiences dovetail to offer unique support for a certain type of client.

My experiences that saw me facing the world feeling alone and anxious, my perfectionist tendencies that saw me push through challenging ‘head’ work for 15 years and suffer wave after wave of burnout, my transformation and reinvention as an art therapist and coach embracing ‘heart’ work, and now my learning as I go of running a business. I see that ALL the darkness, all the suffering contributes to the empathy I have for my clients who have experienced trauma or burnout. I see that ALL my drive and runs on the board in my old world of work means I can meet my driven, high achieving clients with insight and compassion. I see that ALL my zany hobbies and wild passions for learning and making things mean I can meet people with multiple interests with lived experience of how to give our passions time, how to celebrate our wins, and how to celebrate our multiple facets.

I see that my art therapy work helps me hold the space without fear when things go ‘deep’, and that my coaching work helps us keep looking forward and making sure dreams for the future sit at the centre of our work together.

So despite the pressure to find a niche and specialise in just one kind of client that abounds in this field, I feel more like I am a constellation of knowledge and skills and gifts that can meet clients who also have a constellation of life experience, knowledge and skills and gifts, and maybe we meet somewhere in the middle, or some of our parts mirror each others’ enough to have a useful exchange.

What can we learn from how children play?

I’ve been musing lately on ‘play’. What does play feel like? How is it different to work?

In child’s play we often create fanciful notions which we operate within – imagine we are astronauts, mummies, horses, fashion designers, or imagine I can only bark, or am a fish swimming, or that I can only repeat what you say and not conjure words of my own. Imagine that, pretend it is real, but we know it is not, and then lets see how things feel in this new reality. We also mimic and express things which we know and our co-players know are not ‘true’, or at least are just one version of reality. We might speak in an extra gruff voice, or make claims that we know are absurd. There is humour in play, a trying on in play.

In play we often lose track of time. We complain when play time stops and people ask us to rejoin the world. To ‘go home now’. To ‘leave the park’. Some play is the feeling of bodies, the swinging, sliding, climbing of bodies, the fun of chasing and being chased.

Play is often emergent, the ‘rules’ if there are any, are unspoken, co-created and changing. Apart from the adult world of board games and ball games, child’s play is often without a category, without rules. They don’t say ‘let’s play dollies, let’s do that for fifteen minutes, and we’ll enact being their parents, and your character will be… and mine will be…’. It’s improvisational, but beyond improvisation – the game could change mid way to another, the stairs of the stage could become the location, the aisle, or one of us could get tired and wander off alone.

The binding rules of self determined play are few, except to do what you feel, follow what interests you, be ‘playful’ (not tied to reality nor your fixed image of self, see humour in situations, share humour with me at the fanciful nature of this thing which is positioning ourselves in the world, be willing to change direction, be willing to follow what we both find enjoyable), and to only do what interests or pleases you. If you get tired, wander away and curl up on a step and have a sleep. If you want to throw the dollies now, throw the dollies. To be tied neither by convention, nor what we were doing five minutes ago seems part and parcel of play. Play also seems to require complete engagement, to bbe in it. And when it’s over to let it go. It does not, in children, become the fodder of analysis. It does not become raw material to be picked through, counted, reflected on, systematised, idolised, problematised.

It is.

It happens, you like it, you would like to do more, you stop, you maintain the yearning to do it again, and at a later stage, with just a moment’s window of opportunity, you will do it again.


So how can we replicate this approach and bring it to what we do in work and life? How can we subtly adjust our days so that we allow for time to play and the fanciful, ever-changing, in the mount-ness of play?

By play I don’t mean something frivolous or without meaning – but something self directed, emergent, with whimsy and pleasure, where we explore our selves, our world and let loose and expand our notion of who we are, without fear of judgement and without wanting to gain approval. And we gain access to the powerful imaginal world, and the world of metaphor and story.

What does this feel like for you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts below. How do YOU do it? How do you bring play into your day?

Creative Project – Talking with Aija about The Happiness Jar App

Welcome to the Creative Project! This is the fourth interview in a series I’m doing with people who are working on a creative passion project in their lives. By ‘creative project’ I don’t mean just things related to the arts – but anything that is about bringing something fresh into the world, creating something that wasn’t there before and drawing on your own creative energy to make it happen.

What is the difference between people who get behind their ideas and make them happen and those who are swimming in ideas but never get moving on them? How are people making time for their creative projects and weaving them into their lives?

What can we learn from others who have backed their ideas with action?

I want you dear reader to be able to glean any gems from their experience that might help you with your own creative projects. I’ll even share stories about a couple of my own creative projects, and some of the learning I’ve done myself along the way. So let’s get started!

In 2016 Aija Bruvere created a free mobile App The Happiness Jar based on the principles of Positive Psychology. I stumbled across the app late 2016 when it was just launched and being shared by a colleague of hers in a business group that I’m in on Facebook. I thought it was a great tool and wondered more about how and why she thought to make it. Here Aija describes the creative process, the importance of trusting your instincts, and the next steps and vision for her project.

What is the happiness jar app? Can you explain it for someone who’s maybe not familiar with the concept of a happiness jar or how apps work? 

The Happiness Jar is a very simple tool (an app) on the mobile phone to allow anyone to notice, capture, sort and store happy moments. Instead of having a physical container, box or jar where you could put notes about your happy memories (which is also a great idea!) The Happiness Jar mobile app would always be within easy reach, right there on your phone. Keeping track of happiness becomes really easy, you can take new happiness snapshots or go through existing memories adding the special ones to your happiness collection. It is like visual gratitude journal (plus you can add written descriptions of happy moments too). The Happiness Jar is for your eyes only it is your personal treasure chest that does not get shared on social media or anywhere else.

You get to store all the happy photos or notes and you are also sorting them and creating your personal happiness timeline and profile. So after a while it becomes clear if more often happiness for you is about for example Positive emotion or maybe Enjoyable activities Relationships or perhaps Achievement or sense of meaning and Purpose.

What inspired you to start this project? What was your vision for how it might help people or bring benefit to the world?

I remember really clearly when the inspiration came – it was after reading Elizabeths Gilbert’s extremely popular post January last year about keeping a physical Happiness Jar where you would have to put a note in with at least one happy memory every day. At the end of the year you have 365 colorful and beautiful memories to look back at. And then I thought ‘but what about people who travel a lot or don’t have space or time for a physical jar – there surely must be a digital happiness jar?’ But it did not exist! So I decided I needed to create it.

This idea of happiness pathways is taken from a famous theory in Positive Psychology by Martin Seligman, but with this app it is your actual memories and experiences make your classification and the jar very personal.

I believe it is very important to appreciate little daily moments of happiness because that is how happiness and wellbeing is created long term. My vision still is that The Happiness Jar makes the world a happier place one memory at a time, it lets us store and recall small happy moments and ensures that happiness is something of here and now not something forever in the future.

How did this project fit in or relate to the work you already do?

It is very much in line with the work I do. I am a Positive Psychology coach, a Happiness coach. I work one on one to improve wellbeing and happiness as well as give workshops and seminars on Science of Happiness for companies, I teach a Happiness project course at a Business school and I also lecture on Happiness on cruise ships. So The Happiness Jar app is another more practical application of ideas I love to spread and promote.

Do you have a technical background? Had you worked on any app development projects before? Did you feel daunted by the technology aspect?

I do not have a technical background and I have never worked on an app development project before. However this project actually flowed with ease and grace. I feel the key is to create a team of likeminded people who also just love the idea and then create clarity of what is the minimum we have to do for this to be a success.

Who (if anyone) did you team up with to make your project come to life?

We had a very small team of 3 people: Me Aija Bruvere as the creator, author of idea, leader and then the team leader-programmer for technical execution and development Edgards Zvirgzds as well as a designer Liva Asmane for creating the visual aspect of it.

I think the right people attract when the idea is clear and the world is ready for the idea, I had never worked with that programmer or designer before but it was clear the connection and team vision was formed around The Happiness Jar idea specifically.

What did you learn about your own creative process along the way?

That at first there is this one very clear idea and the conviction I have to do this, then there is the expansive stage of more ideas associated with it and how to make it even more impressive and great. So there is this huge influx of related and unrelated ideas at one point. And then I had to ground it, to narrow it down to the minimum simple clear idea again to make it happen within the short timeframe. Team work and discussions are helpful in the creative process.

What stage are you up to now and what will come next?

We have just released the app and done initial push for promoting it mainly through our own networks and on Facebook. So we are still at the launch stage. The focus right now really is the promotion (getting people to know about it but with no budget for promotion) and also on building the version for Android phones which proved more difficult and time consuming than we though. From idea to reality, getting to this stage, took about one year.

My vision for the project is that the The Happiness Jar app will have a second stage that requires building a platform. Luckily we were able to create the app on a shoestring budget, investing a lot of personal time and enthusiasm but to go forward we would need an actual investor who believes in the project to take it to the next stage. So I guess the next stage is not so much about the creativity it is about creating a new business model.

What has been the response so far? How do you feel about the app?

The response from the right target market is very positive – people really say they love the idea and that they love how simple it is. It feels good to have created it in just one year from inception of the idea and in just 4 month from really getting the team together and creating a plan of how we are going to do this. While we have the vision for further expansion and that would require investment, the response from potential investors however has been much more reserved. But I guess our task now is to build up number of users to the point that investors are convinced people love this and it is worthwhile.

How do you feel about yourself as a creative person after making the app?

Manifestation of a creative idea does have a certain sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. There is for sure an aspect of Happiness in it that is associated with Meaning and achievement. I guess the creation of The Happiness Jar can go into The Happiness Jar as something very positive that has happened for me in 2016! (laughs).

What tips or suggestions do you have for someone else with an idea who wants to make it happen?

Ideas that take you out of your comfort zone have a huge creative potential.

It is paramount to find the right people who can help make the idea into reality.

Trust that inspiration and idea that comes to us also comes with certain responsibility and we have to be grateful that it has come and can also make the world a better place by helping it manifest.


About the interviewee:

aija-profile-picAija Bruvere is a coaching psychologist and business consultant currently living and working in Sydney, Australia. Besides having a degree in Economics and Business Adminstration as well as Masters degree in Social sciences Aija has obtained her Graduate Diploma in Coaching Psychology from University of Sydney, with particular focus on applied Positive Psychology. Aija Bruvere is passionate about sharing scientific research and making it applicable. Aija is the owner and founder of ABM Consulting, a firm specializing in executive coaching, workshops and seminars. Since 2008 Aija Bruvere has prepared and facilitated series of personal development seminars and workshops that focus on leadership, goal attainment, transformation, success and happiness. In 2015 and 2016 Aija has run seminars and retreats in Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore and Latvia.

More about Aija Bruvere:

More about the free mobile app The Happiness Jar:

About the interviewer:

JadephotoJade Herriman is a Sydney-based transpersonal art therapist, Barbara Sher coach and facilitator. She works with clients to help bring more creativity into their lives, plan for their professional development, manage big life change and go after their dreams. She works with groups, individuals and online to deliver workshops and help support people work towards their dreams. She brings a playful, flexible and creative approach to serious issues, and draws on many years of experience working in organisations in project management, policy and research roles to bring practical solutions to her clients. To work together one on one or find out more about future workshops contact her HERE.