Themes for journals!

Some people get a bit stuck when deciding on a theme to explore in their mixed media journal pages, or picking a theme for a themed letter journal swap.

Here are some themes that I have seen work well in our group Letter Journal Love, or just generally in my own or others’ pages.

Try one out and see how it goes!

  • horoscopes
  • celebrating the new year
  • tea and coffee
  • tea cups
  • colour theme – choose either a single colour plus black & white or a palette of say three colours
  • Summer / Autumn/ Winter/ Spring
  • black and white
  • flowers and birds
  • illustrated quote journals
  • retro
  • fashion
  • cats or dogs
  • pattern
  • paisley
  • portraits
  • figures
  • stamps and snail mail
  • song lyrics or music
  • maps
  • love
  • water
  • health and wellbeing
  • dream home
  • hand lettering

Here are some I haven’t seen but would like to try myself:

  • shadows
  • knitting
  • self care
  • grief and loss
  • dream for the future
  • favourite childhood toys
  • family holiday
  • heroes from history
  • books I’ve loved
  • movies
  • dance
  • tv shows
  • shoes
  • space
  • accessories
  • my first crush
  • summer fruits
  • my grandmother
  • my grandfather
  • handbag
  • favourite flowers
  • view from my window
  • my favourite herb and what I use it for
  • what’s in flower now
  • lunch today
  • my inner critics and what they say
  • celebrating my strengths
  • how I feel today
  • what’s in my handbag
  • favourite art materials

Any others you’ve used and found fun? Let me know and I’ll add to the list!

Reader question: Getting started is hard – what do I do?

I am interested in lots of things but can’t seem to work on any of them long enough to make much progress. I think the reason I do so much thinking instead of doing is because I am a perfectionist and a planner, I hate starting ANYTHING until I have fully researched and planned down to the last detail, and got it all ready. I am like this with everything in life, like I can’t do anything until and unless all the things necessary are prepared.

Working on identifying and making sense of what fears lay beneath our drive to perfectionism can be useful. For a lot of us who dance with perfectionism it can be fear of criticism, often stemming from childhood, when we were small and vulnerable and being criticised by someone harsh felt life threatening. For others being ‘perfect’ (/ good/ high achieving/ ‘good)’ was our way to get approval/ love / attention that was otherwise missing.

I like to draw an image of the inner critic and give it speech bubbles and see what comes out of its mouth. Is it a scary monster? Is it an anxious bean counter and pendant? What does it tell me about myself and my work? What is it scared of?

Sometimes I also draw myself as a small child next to the voice of criticism, offering back some words from another perspective. I find this is a good way to see more clearly what the critic fears most, and to counter the messages of the critic, and find compassion for myself.

Another approach is to reduce the risk of the task at hand so the task feels less scary. How can we reduce the fear? How can we lower the ‘stakes’ – so that it is ‘practice’ or ‘an exercise’ rather than an ‘outcome’? Can we allow our inner child out to play making a big messy rough draft? Sometimes I start projects that I’m super scared of by scribbling notes on a daggy old scrap of paper, or I write hard things in notes on my phone while standing in queue for a coffee. For me, reducing the feeling of ‘significance’ frees me up to get started, because I know I’m not expecting some grand result.

Another way to reduce risk is to involve other (friendly) people. Can someone else  join in on the project so it doesn’t all sit on our shoulders to complete it? Can we enlist a support team, a cheer squad, a mentor, a coach or guide?

Can we support ourselves like we would support a friend? Pretending that we are just imagining hypothetically what we tell someone else in that situation can be helpful. ‘What advice would you give someone else who was just setting out to do (whatever you are trying to do)?’ Or try saying ‘if I WAS going to write a book/ change jobs/ learn an instrument/ go travelling, hypothetically, what would the steps be? What support or resources might I need?’ It’s easier to let the ideas flow when fear is not constricting the answers.

Can you create boundaries that help you focus intensely and get over the hurdle of getting started? A writing challenge, drawing a picture a day, setting the timer and working on it for an intense initial 5 minutes (‘pomodoro’ style), sometimes these kinds of challenges help us push through and get started, move despite the voices of fear.

Listening to the tired body

As you would know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I have been working hard to notice when I am exhausted after a busy period, and to adjust my expectations and outputs during this time.

It is so important to rest our brains and nervous systems after a busy time.

It lets our energy recharge ready for the next period, and helps prevent burnout that can happen when we ignore our physical selves for long periods of time and push through regardless of how we feel.

It might sound simple to you, and if so I am super happy, because it means you have the hang of this already. For me it is still a work in progress.

What has helped is very simple: noticing when I’m tired and putting words to that.

Putting language to the feelings helps bring to it conscious awareness. I continue to practice noticing and then saying things like:

“oh, it’s been a really busy month with lots of deadlines and now I’m tired”, or

“gee that was a really busy holiday seeing lots of people and travelling around a lot. I probably am a bit exhausted and need some quiet time now that I’m home”, or

“hmmm, I guess I stayed up pretty late this week and didn’t quite get enough sleep, maybe my body wants a lazy day and early night tonight.”, or

“well my brain wants me to go out every night this week and see frie3nds but my body is telling me something different.”

Saying it helps create a story where I can understand and appreciate the fact that I’m tired, and give myself ‘permission’ to slow things down and reduce my expectations for a few days/ weeks.

Over time I hope this will become more rhythmic and automatic, and I will hear the voice of my body even when it speaks softly.

More than happy

There’s a lot of talk about happy.

Discussions about positive psychology are often connected with this word, Gillian Rubenstein discusses it in her book (well as she might, given the book is called ‘The Happiness Project’). And there’s a lot of hearty debate amongst researchers about how to define it.

I don’t like it.

It feels like a lazy word for me, a word that bundles up lots of states and tries to put them under one big marquee with its own banner at the entrance.

I rarely feel like ‘happy’ is a useful descriptor when I’m navigating my own life.

I notice that times I feel ebullient and optimistic, light like a balloon, and full of possibility.

Soemtimes I feel excited about an event or a yearning or looking forward to.

Sometimes I feel particularly rested and well nourished and I notice how grounded, gracious and settled I feel in this state.

Sometimes I feel poetic sweetness around me, and notice tiny flecks of beauty scattered about.

In relationships I sometimes feel aware of how warm, appreciative, connected and content I feel.

Sormtimes I feel playful and creative impulse, humour and movement all flow through me, and I laugh more readily, ape around and make jokes.

Sometimes I feel relieved, when something hard is done with, or stress waters subside after a big downpour of challenges.

Sometimes I feel tender, like sad and moved and sweet all at once.

Sometimes I feel held and seen and safe, so that even feeling ‘bad’ feelings feels OK.

Sometimes I get satisfaction from having done something, I get a thrill of adventure, sometimes a sense of satisfaction or a glow of a value being enacted.

So, it’s not that I don’t like being happy, feeling happy, or using the word happy but just that there is so much more nuance to feeling good, feeling well.

In art therapy we use metaphor and imagery to explore and express how we feel. It’s not always black and white – we see mirrored back in our images that we can be experiencing a mix of feelings at any given time. We might also look to our bodies for tension or sensations, and use this to help us sense into how we feel emotionally about an issue.

What does happy and its many friends feel like to you?

Just keep saying yes

When I started my business, I did all the regular planning and strategising but at the start, feeling a wee bit terrified and overwhelmed, I developed a basic motto and benchmark for myself: ‘say yes to my business everyday’.

What that meant was no matter how daunted I was feeling, no matter how low in energy, or busy finishing up a task from yesterday, I would try to do something that demonstrated that I believed in my business, and was moving it forward.

Write a blog post. 

Email a potential new client. 

Get brochures made. 

Start a twitter account.

Write 5 ideas for that thing.

The very idea seemed like a far-out big dream. It seemed kind of unreal. The magnitude of everything that needed doing was overwhelming. There was the very real danger that I would freeze in fright, or run screaming to something easier. Resistance and disbelief were present and very busy having their say about the whole situation.

The intangible barriers – disbelief that I could really do it, shock at the freedom to choose the shape my work took, fear of the responsibilities that would come as I stepped out into the unknown, feeling a changing sense of who I was in the world of work as I established myself in a new field – these are what made doing things hard. Not the tasks themselves.

Taking something that doesn’t exist yet and bringing it into life is a very different prospect than working on something that is already there. It takes courage, it is a giant leap of faith.

So although I had a business plan and a big list of tasks, at the end of the day I considered myself successful if I had just shown up and said yes in a tangible way sometime during that day. I realised that taking any action at all was a huge act of faith and courage. And I didn’t even care which action I took – I let go of the sense that there was one defined way the tasks should unroll.

So when I hear people saying that they have a lingering dream that they can’t yet bring themselves to work on I suggest also that they just try saying yes everyday. No task has to be huge. People are often working and parenting and doing a million other things, and busy like we all are. No one task has to be huge, but if you are doing even a teensy small thing every  day you are subtly shaping your view of who you are. The dream feels more real, closer. You are shaping the view of you that people around you have. You are bringing the new identity close and into sharper definition.

Say yes with the little things, say yes with the opportunities that jump in front of you.

Want to start a new business? Want to publish a book? Want to be an exhibiting artist? Want to write a song and have it played by an orchestra?  Want to sell your hand made things at a market? Want to start a not for profit? Want to go live on an island? Want to try running your first workshop? 

If you have a dream that’s been hanging around making your heart heavy because you’ve started to wonder if it’s even remotely possible or whether you’ll ever take the first step, just find a way to do something that leads you closer to the dream, every single day.

Make a vision board.

Tell someone at your next BBQ or lunch date about your dream.

Find a book written by someone who has already done it.

Find a community group, MeetUp group our networking group that supports people who do this thing, and go to their next meeting.

Sign up for a short course.

Write in your journal about it.

Send that email.

Ask to help someone out.

Fill your house with the equipment you need, the visual reminders of your dream.

Find a mentor.

No single task has to ‘succeed’ or deliver your dream to you on a plate. The main goal is movement and repeated conviction: that you keep showing up and saying (through your words and actions) that you care about this thing, that you want it. And that you are willing to do things to get it.

Anything that helps show the world what you are passionate about, helps connect you with people who work in that field, anything that builds your skills, anything that builds your confidence that you can do one or more of the required tasks, anything that fills you with fun and energy and reconnecting with the dream. Just say yes to the dream, anyway you can, even though it’s terrifying, even though it feels so far away.

Know that if you turn up and keep saying yes soon you will win your own trust back, the small actions will begin to create ripples, and your dream will start saying yes to you.

 

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.