Moving from Religious Trauma into Soul Healing, Part III: Beauty

Never lose an opportunity of seeing something beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.     

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Photo by DAVID ILIFF

Beauty is the basis of my spiritual discovery process.

I found the Anglican church on a trip to England, back in ’07, a time of big transition. My then six-year-old and I visited St. Martin in the Field and read the names of long-ago ancestors on placards in the narthex. We toured medieval graveyards. We toured Ely Cathedral, with origins around AD 672, home to St. Catherine’s Chapel, a stained glass museum, and towers reaching some 215 feet. We stared up at the ceilings, decorated in ancient paintings of the ancestry of Jesus, and felt our simultaneous smallness and our connection to all that has ever been.

Back in the states, I wandered into a small Episcopal church and heard Bach and a homily delivered in Latin and German. The smell of incense wafted by as people knelt on prayer benches. Ministers, dressed in robes, gave communion at a carved altar while someone played Mendelssohn on a massive pipe organ.

For a girl coming out of the cult of fundamentalism, with its stripped-out, prefabricated buildings and its scorn for arches and sculptures, and organs, the beauty of this new place called to me.

I was that girl in the Church of Christ, but my parents were strings players. Nobody could fool me into thinking that marble statues or Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus were evil. I already knew that truth lived at the symphony – just as truth lives in the inherent beauty of the universe. I knew better.

Beauty saved my life. It gave me a reason to keep moving forward when I was surrounded by people who taught suppression and denial of the self. When I felt trapped in that cultural prison, believing I was worthless if not married by the age of 23, I could always plug into music as a meditation, and reconnect to universal love.

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Beauty = Truth = Innate Knowing

We all know beauty makes life worth living. The wonder we have watching the sun rise: this is truth. The goosebumps we get listening to a choir of children’s voices: this is truth. Sometimes I see intricate floral masterpieces rendered in tattoo ink and realize: this is truth. Not just formal works of art, but the arrangement of grasses in my neighbor’s xeriscape. We all seek this kind of truth, and we can trust it.

What causes me to experience beauty is an innate knowing of the right direction for me at a given moment . . . which may differ from the right direction of my friends or family. The beauty experience whispers the next right thing.  More like this . . . More of this . . . Keep reaching for this . . .

If I listen to the voice of beauty and follow it, I always find something I needed. I’m learning to trust this inner wisdom. When I do this, I reach for the divine.

Here are some things to consider in your own search for beauty.

  1. Your immediate environment: How pleasing is it to the eye?
  2. The sounds in your space: Do they bring you joy?
  3. How often do you let yourself absorb art of any kind?
  4. How lovely are the words you read or hear or write?
  5. How often do you absorb the natural environment (sights, sounds, smells, textures)?
  6. What do you do to create beauty?
Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

Visit Beyond Studio and Nurture Your Inner Crazy Aunt

Beyond Studio makes me appreciate my wild inner self. The one inspired by my favorite aunt.

You know that aunt of yours . . . the one your parents didn’t want you visiting because you came back from her house wanting to sleep outside in your hammock and you wore your plaids and dots together and your cowboy boots with your dresses and refused to eat red meat?

I think it’s time to be her.

Where did I Unlearn the Wildness?

When I was in the second grade, at Lipscomb Elementary in Nashville, Tennessee, I told my classmates I could write their names in Spanish. No, I didn’t speak Spanish. I took each of their names and scrambled the letters and gave them back with a little accent mark at the end. They loved it. They stood in line to have me write their Spanish names on little pieces of card stock and embellish with purple crayon swirls. Until after a few days, one of them figured out my secret and started writing everyone’s names in Japanese. The jig was up.

The memory mortified me at age seventeen and twenty, but now I love the pre-entrepreneurial spirit I showed in that enterprise, even if I was scamming my peers.

Later, this unconventional child got stomped out of me at Christian school. This excerpt from Wife Material shows a fourth-grade Elizabeth, the fictional girl based on my real self, learning to suppress everything natural about her personality as a new student at Waltham Academy.

From Wife Material . . .

Mrs. Crandall sat at her desk in the beige polyester, one of three outfits she rotated
through each week, watching the flow of children for several long seconds while my jaw locked
and my abdomen tightened. She cleared her throat as the last child exited to the hallway. Then
she swiveled her eyes to me.

“Lizzie,” she began, “I understand you’ve been making nasty noises.” Her voice thickened
with breath. “On the playground.” She clucked her tongue like she’d just eaten peanut butter. “Is
this true?”

Heat-rash at the backs of my knees. I memorized her beef necklace while blood beat
against the inside of my face. I sputtered stupidly. There was no air. My brain reviewed the
scenes of hysteria with Abbie, the loud, forced-air sounds, giggly confessions of Saturday
morning-fabric-store flatulence, following our moms at a safe distance, hiding behind bolts of
crushed velvet and muslin, the crotch-grabbing and the laughter and Mr. McHail. Crandall
cleared her throat and spared me.

“You shouldn’t be laughing about nasty things,” she said. “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I replied, thinking of Bible story sinners who covered themselves in sackcloth and
ashes. My limbs wilted and wobbled as I fell off the moral high road. All those seventeen
classmates were no doubt disappointed in the new girl who drew horses and laughed at farts. I
wanted so much to be like them: muscled, perky, and pain-free. They had such exquisite control
of themselves.

What was good about me and my friend making rude noises on the playground? We were bonding in our hilarity and our humanness. Just like today. Therapists need to shake loose from the clinic, get a little crazy, bond over lemon curd, draw naughty pictures, hold meetings in the sauna, bring their dogs to work, and paint the floor.

Beyond Studio Team

 

Beyond Studio and My Inner Crazy Aunt

Bonding over the zany makes me appreciate Sesame Street and Tim Kreider cartoons. It makes me appreciate my wacky yet oh-so-smart therapist friends at Beyond Studio, where I get inspired to make finger puppets and decorate chandeliers with dangling Barbies and race cars. Beyond Studio is a place for combining the serious and profane. I love catching people in delighted confusion, especially when they think they’re supposed to be in a solemn office. And who cares about being correct? Skill can Kill. Rightness is overrated in its ability to produce joy. We lose so much when we try to be good. We (therapists) have more fun, find more love, and experience more exuberant life when we cut loose and open our silly, rude ideas to the world.

Thank you Auntie!

 

Calm Receptive Mode: Get calm and find the good stuff inside you.

Idea Garden II, Deborah Cox, Flowers Reborn

Your higher self knows how to calm you.

We all want to find calm receptive mode. But not everybody wants to get a massage (although we should – there are people who can make us feel safer and less awkward). Some of us need action. We need to be out in a kayak or running a trail. Some of us meditate and we know it works. We may need some yoga or tai chi. Some of us tap. Or we turn on some Fauré and close our eyes. And I know at least a couple of people who get barefoot and put their feet in the grass and feel the earth beneath them and take big breaths of outside air.

Maybe you’ve tried to get away or go out in nature or just sit still and you got scared. I’ve been there. You started to feel lonely and edgy, even though you knew you needed solitude and quiet.

What am I doing, anyway? Shouldn’t I be doing laundry? I’m wasting time. I can’t do this. I’m full of crap.

So you gave up, started cleaning, turned on the TV . . .

But your higher self knows what YOU need in order to get into Calm Receptive Mode . . . and it may be different from what your spouse or best friend needs.

Calm Receptive Mode = calming our minds enough to know what’s inside us, struggling to get out.

. . . The good stuff we’re waiting for. The part of us plugged in to divine energy understands us completely and wants us to get access to this good stuff: our creativity, our ideas, our epiphanies about how to live more joyously.

Try this tapping exercise:

  1. Tap the sides of your knees, lightly, left-right-left-right, etc., on the spots that feel most sensitive.
  2. Repeat these phrases:

It’s okay for me to be calm.

My higher self knows what I need to quiet my mind.

There is good inside me.

  1. Take some deep breaths. Repeat as often as you can tolerate it.

. . . Let me know how it goes for you.

Contact Deborah

 

 

The Air We Breathe: Panic, Mental Health, & Misogyny

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Woman-Hate=Mostly Unconscious Fear of Women’s Empowerment.

One day, in 1992, I had a panic attack. It came out of nowhere. I got up early and dressed for work, made breakfast and started a load of laundry, turned on the morning news while I finished my hair and my (ex) partner snored peacefully. I stood in front of the TV as a string of commercials hypnotized me.

In one commercial, an attractive young woman mopped her kitchen floor, wearing an outfit cute enough for a dinner party or church. She looked so satisfied. Next thing, I was on the floor, my heart hammering. The apartment spun and the oxygen disappeared. I tried to yell for help, but nothing came out. I thought I would vomit or die and I grabbed desperately for cold table legs to stop the flames in my face and neck.

Ten minutes later, nothing. I got in my car and left for the day, wondering what the hell had just happened. Years later, I connected the dots.

A Woman’s Distress and The Fear of Women

Misogyny (woman-hate) comes from fear: fear of change, fear of disruption to the existing social order. Misogyny fills our cultural consciousness right now, because people fear the change that comes with women’s power.

How do I know?

Here’s how: These signs show up in my office and social life every day. A woman’s panic attacks, her sense of being flawed, her belief she is ugly . . . all point to a bigger problem. She is surrounded by other women just like her, with those same panic attacks, that same guilt.

Symptoms of Woman-Hate Culture

Misogyny is a mental health issue. Notice how many of these symptoms apply to you. Now, more than ever, I see the problem of gender inequality and panic in the presenting problems of my clients. Cultural woman-hate creates individual distress.

  1. Child sexual abuse in our family history.
  2. Hating our bodies.
  3. Not being perfect enough.
  4. “Family Values.”
  5. Depression that comes and goes throughout the lifespan.
  6. Post-partum depression.
  7. Guilt about not being nice enough.
  8. Fear of our sexual desire.
  9. Not having any sexual desire
  10. Resenting other women for looking better or accomplishing more.
  11. Panic attacks or anxiety that’s sort of always there.
  12. Fear of telling him how we really feel; fear he’ll leave if he knows how strong our feelings are.
  13. Being called crazy and believing it.
  14. Thinking we’re too sensitive, too easily triggered, too selfish.
  15. Focusing so much on fashion that we don’t have time to write.
  16. Taking care of everyone else, but not getting enough rest.
  17. Fear that we’ll be one of those bitter women.
  18. Fear of aging.
  19. Being bullied by other women. Not trusting them anymore.
  20. Thinking, “I expect too much.”
  21. Thinking anger makes me ugly.
  22. Believing a good leader acts like a man, looks like a man.
  23. Feeling that my very nature is broken, fallen, sinful, and unlovable.
  24. Forcing ourselves to wear clothes and shoes that feel bad, because to refuse them would mean we’re not feminine.
  25. Believing our gut feelings are silly, our emotional responses irrational, our intuition untrustworthy.

Evolution & Health

My list barely scrapes the surface. But you know what I’m getting at. Those perfect images make us feel sick, but pressured too. We panic because we breathe the fear and loathing of women in the air; not because we’re weak or paranoid or mistaken about the world. We didn’t make this up.

But. On the Upside. We Evolve. Whether we intend to change or not. A pendulum drags us through the whipping wind. We feel afraid. And we change. In spite of ourselves. This change is the heart of my novel, Wife Material: one girl’s evolution and empowerment.

Every empowered woman helps us all evolve. She makes the world a healthier place for all of us.

 

  How to Cope with Woman-Hate Right Now

  1. Know that change is happening for the better.
  2. Try to relax, breathe deeply from the belly.
  3. Look for good in the women you know. Even the ones you don’t trust.
  4. Repeat this mantra: I embody goodness and love.
  5. Make eye contact with as many people as you can, regardless of their gender. Send them love.
  6. Meditate on all the art and music being made in the world.
  7. Focus on something beautiful.
  8. Do physical anger work. Whack a punching bag and hurl obscenities. Let it out of your body.
  9. Get as much rest as possible.
  10. Know that it’s all going to be okay.

 

Contact Deborah

 

Read Wife Material

 

Abusive Religion or Political Party? Toxic Faith: Part II

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Toxic Faith & Political Abuse

Spiritual practice should calm and ground you – so you feel hopeful, refreshed, more generous, and more compassionate. Religion and philosophy should promote ever-increasing access to your wise mind or Higher Self. But some movements block connection with your inner wisdom by hammering a terrified, guilty, censoring, or rejecting message. This is spiritual abuse.

As I watched this year’s presidential conventions, I saw how toxic faith gets used by political groups. I realized that any movement, ideology, political campaign, or faith tradition that makes you afraid of the world, afraid of what lies ahead, afraid of change – of losing things as they are, is manipulating your good heart. This is political abuse.

Think about the ideas you’re being asked to support. Watch closely the interpersonal behavior of those at the helm. Allow yourself to notice: Who benefits most from this notion? If you were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused as a child, you become more vulnerable to being lured into abusive political or religious doctrines as an adult.

Here’s another short list of signs you’re in an abusive church or religion or campaign.

  1. You (or someone else) are physically hurt or threatened by a person in a power position.
  2. You (or someone else) are sexually approached by a person in a power position.
  3. Your intimate relationships are not respected by those in authority.
  4. You’re encouraged to only socialize or converse with those whose beliefs are the same as the group.
  5. You’re discouraged from consulting other sources (e.g., news venues, literature, holy scriptures) not endorsed by the group.
  6. You feel you can’t trust your own reason to help you discern truth.
  7. You feel you can’t make art – or you’re discouraged from trying art forms (e.g., dance, writing, sculpture).
  8. Meditation is not encouraged. Neither is solitude or quiet reflection.
  9. Your inner exploration stays invisible or unheard.
  10. You notice in-groups and out-groups that are not discussed openly.
  11. You’re afraid of what the elders say about you (or would, if they really knew you).
  12. You feel alienated from your higher power.

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The main reason I wrote Wife Material was to resist the tyranny of a church that tried to lay claim to my mind. I wanted it back. I desperately needed to mute the dogma in my head, so I could listen to my higher self.

Exercise for Re-establishing Contact with your Higher Self

Get out your notebook and a pen. Get comfortable. Write for five minutes on the following.

What makes me slightly uncomfortable about my church (or faith group or political party) is . . .

Set down your journal and do something else for a while. Later today, tell someone else what you wrote – anyone who will listen and not shame you.

I believe you can trust your deepest inner wisdom to guide your thoughts and choices.

Read Wife Material Contact Deborah

What Does Freedom Look Like to You?

 

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Revolution 16, Luca Barberini, http://lucabarberini.com/en/works/view/56/revolution-16

We hear a lot about freedom from politicians and life coaches. But freedom seems a bit vapory to me. Freedom to, what, exactly? Last week, I started asking people, What does freedom look like to you?

Here are some of the answers people gave me.

  1. Having the ability and right to make decisions for myself.
  2. The ability to help myself and help others.
  3. Being without addictions.
  4. Being able to set boundaries with others.
  5. Listening to good music.
  6. Artistic expression.
  7. Being able to explore and change my views of the universe.

No one I asked mentioned weapons or money. They all described internal states and liberties. Freedom feels internal to me too. Truth. Beauty. Love. Things I have with me no matter where I am or who is in power. Things that cut across religious and cultural divides. I’m able to think fluidly, use my reason and intuition, my senses and hunches and emotions, to guide my behavior and beliefs. I can create loveliness with words or gum-wrappers. I can love others and feel their love coming back to me, even if we’re hundreds of miles apart. I have access to what’s inside. I’m not a slave to substances.

Writing to Get Freedom

For me, writing leads to freedom . . . especially writing about relationships, religious and spiritual oppression, bullying, domination, or abuse. As I dare to write my emotional truth, I explore the dark side of my human experience. I go through the slimy tunnel and out the other side. That’s where I find truth, beauty, and love as I experience them. One leads to the other. Writing the horror and the struggle clarifies the real questions to be answered, Who Am I? Why has this been my path? What have I learned from it? What’s my life’s curriculum?

Going through this process, I get more mentally free.

In the spirit of these questions, here’s an exercise. This might get you started on your own life-writing or social commentary. Get out your journal and pen and start writing. Give yourself five minutes on each question. Set a timer and be sure to stop when it dings.

  1. What do you absolutely have to have in your life, in order to be okay?
  2. Why do you think those are what’s necessary for you?
  3. What is your number one core belief about the universe?
  4. How did you develop that core belief?
  5. When do you feel most free?

Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

 

 

Writing as Healthy Rebellion

Rebellion is good for you.

Rebellion is good for you.

Julia Cameron says we all have the right to write, even if someone has told us we’re no good at it. Writing is a birthright that cannot be denied. It brings what’s inside to the outside, a very basic human need.

I’m working on a sequel to Wife Material, the novel I published last fall. If you’ve not read it, it’s a story about escaping religious abuse – and it’s based on my earlier life. Ten years in the making, Wife Material deals with dangerous dogma. Dogma that separates people. Dogma that makes them scared to reveal their inner selves. Dogma that keeps them afraid of hell and each other’s judgment.

The sequel (yet unnamed) has a handful of lifelong Church of Christ women emerging from deep and isolating emotional stupor and coming together to produce change. They discover the power of confession and truth-telling. They uncover secrets that have fostered the abuse of women and children for generations. They transform their relationships into more mutual, sustaining connections and they demand change. The women disobey. And as they disobey, they shine light on the path to healing for a whole community.

This is the change I want to see in the world.

Life Story Re-Write

Changing the story changes the brain. A new idea literally causes different neuronal firing, which leads to new cooperation between neurons and groups of neurons. When you get fresh information or use your imagination to see a different outcome, you create new connections in your nervous system.

People often say: I’m not a good writer. I don’t even know where to start. I have nothing important to say. My story would bore people to death…

To which, I say: That’s okay. You know things. Write what you know. Nobody has to see it but you.

And that’s where it starts. Here’s a set of exercises to help you get things onto the page that can change the world. For each exercise, observe the time limit.

  1. Set a timer for three minutes. Make a list of five issues you care deeply about (e.g., child abuse, poverty, mental health treatment, nutrition).
  2. Set a timer for three minutes. Write a few short sentences about one of the items on your list above. What should we be doing to address it in the world?
  3. Set a timer for ten minutes. Write a short scene from your life. Absolutely any scene. Add description. Add dialogue.
  4. Set a timer for ten minutes. Make a list: ten events from your life that stand out in memory (positive or negative).
  5. Set a timer for ten minutes. Write a scene from one of the events above. Add description. Add dialogue.
  6. Get a cup of coffee. Stretch. Set a timer for twenty minutes. Make up a short scene about a person living one of the issues from list number one.

Notice that when you’ve done these exercises, you have the beginnings of a book or a blog. You have a collection of your deepest observations. You even have a piece of fiction. You have the words of your higher self, recorded on the page, staring you in the face. You have been documented.

Check out my book and get inspired to make up your own story.

Read Wife Material

EMDR can help you Achieve: Be a better athlete, singer, or cowgirl.

Be better at what you do.

EMDR can help you do whatever you do better.

We all want to achieve something. When I was eight, I wanted to be a cowgirl. This never happened, but if it had, I imagine EMDR would help me achieve my team roping goals and stay fit for the arena.

EMDR therapy helps people recover from trauma, relationship stress, and all kinds of anxiety. But EMDR also improves performance in practically every area. Although everyone’s results are unique, something positive always emerges from the process. EMDR promotes better outcomes in areas where you want to achieve: artistic, athletic, professional, and personal.

Here’s a story about EMDR Performance Enhancement Therapy.

Jeff swam competitively, an Olympic hopeful who wanted to improve his time in the 200 Meter Fly. He came in for EMDR and we talked about how he felt when he was swimming – and when he was about to swim.

“How do you feel in the water?”

“I love it when I’m in it. But before I get there, I have to force myself into focus or I’m pulled away by thoughts.”

“What kinds of thoughts?”

“Remembering the last time and being disappointed with myself.”

“So, before you hit the water, you have to fight to keep those thoughts of disappointment away?”

“Yes, and knowing my dad and coach are thinking the same thing and worrying.”

“What does it feel like now as you think about that?”

“It feels tight, in my arms and shoulders – and heavy.”

“And when you notice that, what does it mean to you?”

“That I’m going to disappoint them again.”

If you listen between the lines, Jeff already feels like a disappointment even before he dives into the pool. His body takes on the feeling of a disappointing event and he’s distracted about what his dad and coach are (presumably) feeling. This sets Jeff up for failure.

As we look for details about this setup, Jeff admits he feels like a failure. His father had missed his own chance at the Olympic team, back in the 70s, by a few tenths of a second, so Jeff was his hope for redemption. Jeff’s dad most likely saw himself as a failure

The feeling of, “I’m a failure,” gets transmitted from parent to child, even if a parent tries to hide it.

So we EMDR the whole thing: the disappointing events where Jeff’s time didn’t improve, the thoughts about his dad and coach……and a curious insight popped out.

“My Dad probably feels empathy for me – like he wouldn’t want me to stress over this like I’ve been doing. He just wants me to get what I want, so it’s about how much he loves me.”

“Go with that,” I say, and we do some slow, calming eye-movements. Jeff relaxes – I see his shoulders drop.

“I’m still his son, even if I don’t make the team.”

“Go with that.”

“It’s all gonna be okay.” Jeff yawns, a sign that his parasympathetic nervous system is engaged and working to calm him down.

One week later, Jeff shaves six tenths of a second from his time in the 200 Fly.

We do more EMDR. He calms down even more. We do some reparative EMDR with Jeff and his dad.

“I’m a whole person,” he says.

“Go with that.”

“I have many layers to me – not just one. I’ll do my best and that’s enough.” Jeff yawns.

In two more weeks, he drops another second from his 200 Fly.

It’s not a magic bullet, but EMDR pushes people toward their goals. Whether it’s public speaking, barrel racing, exercise and weight management, or breaking through writer’s block, EMDR therapy can get things moving, so you achieve more. Contact me if you’d like to talk about getting better at what you do.

I Heart Texas

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Texas is my Spiritual Home

I love Texas because it loves itself. I love it for it’s ego, its comical arrogance. I love that everyone there loves where they are.

I love Texas  because it’s chock full of contrast, from Mount Pleasant to Valentine. In skin color, language, customs, barbecue, and club memberships. NRA and NOW and NEH and the Eagle Forum all in the same neighborhood.

I love Texas because of Big Tex himself. He is a real person in my inner support circle. He gives good advice and serves as a landmark if you’re ever lost at the fair.

I love Texas for its largesse: big sky, big hair, big smiles, and big hearts.

I love Texas for its culture of expectations: the kind that say, Go! Learn! Create! Be as lovely and rich and intimidating and shockingly vast as you can be!

I love Texas for its problems: the water shortages and crowded cities, the searing heat and cracked earth, the endless shopping centers and overspending, the crazy politics, and the in-your-face refusal to slow its development. (And yes, these things will soon bite it in the ass).

The human will is a gift from The Great Creator. So the human ego, like the cowboy spirit, cannot be all bad. Wisdom lies in finding a balance between humility and the drive to create.

The human will is a gift from The Great Creator. So the human ego, like the cowboy spirit, cannot be all bad. Wisdom lies in finding a balance between humility and the drive to create.

I am like Texas in my arrogance, my need to do more and be more, my inner diversity, and my generous heart that sometimes gets me into trouble.

I am not like Texas in that I’ve taken refuge . . . in stillness, in small spaces, in a smaller state that still has trees. Of this, I am sometimes ashamed.

But Texas is in my blood. I renew my commitment to live like a transplanted Texan. I commit to thinking big and coaching others to do the same. I commit to loving with exuberance and extravagance and a wide-open heart.

 

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Leap of Faith, II: Trust your Gut & Try Something New

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You wake to your alarm, grab the phone to shut it off, and groan. You feel sort of depressed, sort of sick. You’d pay someone a thousand dollars if you could just stay in bed without facing consequences later. You force your body upright and swing your feet to the floor. You trudge to the bathroom. You shuffle to the kitchen, switch on the coffee pot, stand there in gloom as it starts to rattle and drip. You feel as if you’re in a straightjacket. You ache to do something opposite what you “have to do.” The obligations on your list feel like torture: meetings, paperwork, bills, deadlines, concentration, endurance . . .

When this happens, I believe it’s a signal from our higher selves (call this the subconscious, the conscience, God, your higher power, etc.) that we NEED something different. Those stirrings of discontent mean we’re trying to grow into our true selves.

Do you recall the last time you enjoyed yourself so much you forgot to eat? When you lost yourself in a project that made you ignore the phone and the email? When you woke up excited, bounded out of bed, and jumped right back in without even brushing your teeth? This is all about spirituality.

Remember art class in the second grade? When you could do anything you wanted with construction paper and glue and scissors? Some kids cut animal shapes, others made flowers, and still others made snowflakes by folding and cutting patterns. You looked at their crafts and thought to yourself, “That’s okay, but . . .” Maybe you chopped your paper into tiny bits and created a mosaic. Or perhaps you folded your paper, cut it, and glued it in just the right way to create a three-dimensional structure: a house, a barn, a skyscraper. While you worked on your project, you got a rush of adrenaline. The rest of the world faded into the background. You were at one with your art.

That part of you – the voice inside that says, “I can do better than that,” or “I have a crazy idea!” – is a sacred part. It’s a part that deserves your attention and protection. It has your best interest in mind. This sacred part of yourself calls you to listen and begs you to break out of your routine and find joy.

Here’s an exercise to help you listen to your wise inner voice and discover something that makes you giddy with excitement.

1. Find a time when you have solitude and privacy. Get out your notebook and pen. Get comfortable at a desk or in a chair. Prop your feet up if you can. Get a cup of tea or coffee.

2. At the top of an empty page, write this line: Things I Would Do Today (or This Week) if I Didn’t Have to Be Responsible.

3. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Notice the images that begin to flicker across your mental movie screen.

4. Now fill the page as fast as you can, without lifting your pen. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, logic, or neatness. No one will see this but you. Keep writing . . .

5. When the page is full, read it silently. Then read it aloud.

What do you notice? What does your higher self-seem to be telling you about what you need? (Yes, NEED). To play the guitar? Learn to swing dance? Develop a web-based business? Run a marathon? Volunteer at your child’s school? Get out your paints and brushes and see what forms on the canvas? Get in your car and drive? Plant something in the backyard? Write a haiku?

Remember, these don’t have to make sense in the traditional way. These are beginning stages of alchemy. You are moving toward something good. Breaking out and finding joy . . . which sometimes leads to whole life change. Trust the process.