The Front Page: December 2016 Newsletter

 

After I reviewed A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough for the Good Books page in this issue of the newsletter, I remembered an affirmation I’d written on being enough. When I found it in the December 2002 Newsletter, I decided to reprint it here.

Those Deep-Swimming Longings

Like many of you, my thoughts in late November and December turn to the past year, while anticipating the one to come. I mentally click through the highlights noting what I’ve accomplished, what I haven’t, and what STILL needs to be done. Even while performing this brisk mental ritual, I’m aware of a less accessible process that also calls for my attention. But what is it? How do I go there? And do I dare? Other thoughts swimming within my being wait to be called up and recognized in a deserving, reverent, loving way. Will I notice? Will I take the time? Will I find a way?

There is a quality of sadness surrounding these other thoughts. They seem to come from deep within me, a place I know but easily forget. They seem so pure, so true, so powerful. And although they desire my attention, they do not demand. It’s my choice. I can stop and pay attention to this presence within, or I can busy myself in dozens of things that shout at me with dramatic urgency. Or I can choose to stop.

When I do stop, finally, there is nothing to say. There are no questions to ask or answer. No lists to generate or evaluate. No projects to envision, organize or review. Candles help; they create a soft, gentle darkness where I feel less exposed. I settle in awkwardly, like a friend who has been too long absent. But here I am, and what was this about? Oh yes; you just wanted to be with me, have me sit here and stop all else. I feel estranged, and yet I melt.

The thoughts and images swimming within grow calm, encircling me once they realize what has happened. I’ve heard their whispered calling and I’ve come. It dawns on me they don’t want to talk, scold, praise, or say anything. They just want to be with me again, be one with me. And so I sit alone, in the light of the candles, silent without and within. I stop resisting. I sit with my own true self, absorbing her divine presence and her infinite, caring knowing for who I am and who I am yet becoming. In this moment, I feel the love for me, and from me; it is enough. I am finally enough.

This is a busy time of year and there are things to do. Lots of things! But this is also the season of long nights and candles.

So when you hear the voice of your own inner longings whispering to you, wanting to be with you, give yourself their gift. Stop. Turn down the noise and the bright lights; find a candle. Sit and wait with yourself, for yourself. Then in the quiet that surrounds you, remember this—you are enough. It’s not about what you do or don’t do. It’s about you.

And when you, too soon, return to your everyday activities, let those deep-swimming longings of your own heart lead the way. Keep them close. Listen to their whispered prompting and their wisdom. Trust them like you would your finest, truest self.

I offer you this affirming thought for your New Year:

I am finally willing to believe I am enough.
In all my choices,
I honor the Amazing Creation I have always been.
I dare to live—
guided by my inner wisdom,
true to my own knowing.
I am enough and I always will be.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila
©2002

turn to Good Books page

 

Good Books: December 2016 Newsletter

 

a-life-ofenoughA Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough
by Wayne Muller
Three Rivers Press, 2011
paperback, $14.00

“But as we listen carefully for this next right thing, it is good for us to remember we are not necessarily seeking something we do not already have. The very practice of seeking can sometimes presume we are not where we need to be, and that whatever we have right now, or whomever we are this minute, cannot possibly be enough.”  – Wayne Muller

Years ago, I read two books written by Wayne Muller and both remain on my bookshelf: How Then, Shall We Live?: Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives (1996) and Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest (1999). His most recent book was published six years ago, but I just heard about it when it was recommended in one of my groups. The topic of enough is just as relevant as it’s ever been — maybe even more so.

Muller has been a minister, therapist, advocate, and spiritual director. He is also the founder of Bread for the Journey, an organization focussed on ordinary people becoming neighborhood philanthropists. Muller is intimately aware of the challenges people face as they try to balance the demands and expectations from without and within. He writes openly about his own attempts to navigate life’s complexities.

The book is exactly what the title suggests: a thoughtful collection of short chapters/essays on being, having, and doing enough. Although I read it from beginning to end, next time I might just go to the table of contents to see what grabs my attention. I think the essays will be just as meaningful and thought provoking read that way.

Muller begins the book with the words, “We have forgotten what enough feels like.” Everywhere he goes he meets people who are overwhelmed and exhausted by all the things they are doing, and all the other things they still need to do. For many, there no longer seems a way, or a time, to ever be done. The sense of enough for now—followed by time to breath, renew, rest—never kicks in. The burden of doing is never ending.

The book is a thoughtful consideration of this very real dilemma, both the damage it is doing and how difficult it can be to shift the pattern. Muller doesn’t tell readers how to resolve anything. Instead, he offers opportunities to listen to our own lives, as he shares his personal observations and understandings of what we are facing and what might make a difference.

If you are easily irritated by the use of religious quotations or references, you need to look at the book for yourself before you decide to purchase it.

For all of the curious readers, here are the four simple questions from How Then, Shall We Live?:  Who am I? What do I love? How shall I live, knowing I will die? What is my gift to the family of the earth?

 

upstreamUpstream: Selected Essays
by Mary Oliver
Penguin Press, 2016
hardcover, $26.00

“Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart—to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.”
– Mary Oliver

If you’ve read my newsletters for awhile or sat at the purple table in my office—writing, then you’ve encountered a few of Mary Oliver’s beloved poems. You might have even shared your own favorite(s) with the rest of us. And you might have heard me read from my favorite essay, Pen and Paper and a Breath of Air, from her book Blue Pastures.

“By no means do I write poems in these notebooks. And yet over the years the notebooks have been laced with phrases that eventually appear in poems. So, they are the pages upon which I begin.”

In addition to her many, many books of poetry, Oliver is the author of several works of prose. Upstream, her most recent book, is a collection of essays, many of which appeared first in Winter Hours (1999) and Blue Pastures (1995).

This is a slim volume—a great place in which to lose yourself. It might be a lovely gift this winter season.

turn to Practice page

 

Practice Page: December 2016 Newsletter

 

I wrote a longer version of The Necessity of Darkness for the Front Page of the December 2004 Newsletter. I’m reprinting it now because it comforts me. And it ends with an invitation to join me, which I hope you will.

The Necessity of Darkness

Each year as the calendar turns from November to December, I follow an impulse to consider what is yet possible and necessary, this year and this life. While many dread the impending darkness, I openly celebrate the time. Somehow the darkening days of November and December are perfectly suited to my introspective brooding process.

I have been thinking of the necessity of darkness. And of how darkness reveals the glow or flicker of even a dim light that would be washed away in brighter light. Some of the mysteries I love depend on the dark for their finest display: fireflies and stars, moonflowers and candles, sleep and dreams, lightning and eclipses, comets and shooting stars. As do many germinating seeds, fireworks, and neon signs. But so do some of the scariest unknowns I can imagine; and that, for me, is the problem with darkness. Do I dare venture into the unexplored, dimly lit regions of my own possibility in order to discover—Who knows what?

This December, I ponder the still smoldering embers of desire or destiny waiting to be found and tended. I know that I cannot detect them in the bright light of an already too busy day. It takes the long, dark nights at the end of each year for me to settle down and settle in—to search the far horizons of my life for the glow of something that still burns with untapped desire.

And so I sit in the darkness, warmed by candlelight and shawl, savoring the emptiness that heals. I wait like one by the fire for someone or something to show up. Some evenings it seems that I detect a faint something, perhaps a rustling movement in the shadows or an imagined light. But nothing is certain and nothing is clear. Yet I continue to return, growing more confident that what I wait for exists. I don’t understand this need or my willingness to wait in darkness, to trust in darkness. Somehow it seems unlike the me I know best: focused, creating, productive.

Perhaps it is more like the me I will always be getting to know, the me I most long for, the divine me. The one who tends the fires of my soul and companions me on my journey to discover the guiding signal fires of my own life. The fires that flicker just for me and will never go out. The ones I must see first in darkness to trust in the light of day.

And so I sit, as often as I can, on these dark pre-winter evenings. Waiting for the inspiration of the next guiding lights, marking a new path and a new year. Because I know that last year’s guidance is expiring and each new day or night requires a fresh infusion for action and boldness.

Join me late some afternoon or evening, wherever you are. Join me for ten minutes or for five. Savor the silence and the candle’s flame that marks your place on this globe of wonder. Breathe out the old and breathe in the new, and do it again. Scan the horizon for the light you’ve been ignoring, or the one you didn’t yet know was there. Then look for it again, and again and again. And on the days you trust it’s there for you, a guiding signal toward something, offer thanks. And when you’re ready, stop sitting and get up and give it all you have, whatever it is. And if it seems more than you can handle, ask for help. Then expect help to come. Whatever you do, don’t let the flame in your imagination go out. And in the full light of day, don’t for a moment believe it isn’t burning—for you, for me, for everyone and everything, everywhere.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila
©2004

 

The Front Page: August 2016 Newsletter

 

Electing Our Lives

I spend a considerable amount of my time thinking and talking about the choices we say we want or need to make, and the forces that support or compromise what we actually do. There are certain times in each calendar year that often trigger decision-making: back-to-school in the fall, the end of each year, the start of a new year, spring’s new beginnings, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries of significant events, and vacations and holidays. What about elections?

I’d never really thought about elections in this way before, but there is a connection between elections and choice. To “elect” means the process of choosing. So, could we ask ourselves, “What do I elect to do with my life?” Gulp!

As I consider this awkward-sounding question, I sense a seriousness that startles me. It’s actually a little frightening. And it does not feel one bit like that popular saying people toss out, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” If this is what we’re still saying, when are we going to grow up and be responsible for choosing what we want? When will we be ready to elect our own lives?

Based on my own observation and experience, there can be a huge gap between being ready and feeling ready. For many of us, we are already “ready enough”; we just aren’t convinced enough. Yes, we could prepare more and for longer. But wouldn’t you rather be doing what you’re still talking about? Wouldn’t you rather elect sooner than later?

In this election year, I challenge you—and myself—to think about when we are electing to live our lives.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

turn to Good Books page

 

Good Books: August 2016 Newsletter

 

Walking Home

Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed
by Sonia Choquette
Hay House, 2015
paperback, $16.99

“Gumby looked at me from the nightstand, as if to ask if he could ride up front on Pilgrim today. I looked at him and said, “No problem. You’re in.” He made me smile. He made others smile, too, when they saw him. He was definitely earning his passage. He was a good little totem, and I was glad I’d brought him along for company.” – Sonia Choquette

I’d heard about the Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage route across northern Spain, before I started to read Walking Home. Several people I know have expressed an interest in walking it. I have to admit the Camino has never had a pull on me, and it still doesn’t, but I found Sonia Choquette’s account of her pilgrimage fascinating and compelling.

It is the story of multiple journeys. On the surface, this is genuinely interesting travel writing: one woman traveling the Camino alone and writing about her encounters with everything from the daily weather and other travelers to ill-fitting hiking boots and rationed PowerBars. Choquette is a good story teller who expanded her cast of characters to include Pilgrim (the lighter daypack she carried with her along the way), Cheater (the too-heavy-to-carry overflow “cheater” pack that was transported for her), and Gumby (her Camino totem who accompanied and befriended her).

The first twelve chapters in Part I are pre-journey. They set the stage for how Choquette comes to embark on this 500+ mile trek across Spain. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say she is overwhelmed by loss in her life and desperately in need of something. The 34 chapters in Part II detail each day of the journey. In a way they are journal entries, taking on the daily rhythms of the trek. But this is a spiritual pilgrimage and the walking is more than an interesting hike.

“I sat for a long while and listened to the birds singing in full force, thinking about my intentions for this pilgrimage. My prayer said it all. I wanted to return to my spirit and no longer be lost in the pain of my past mistakes. I wanted to be present and let the past go. I took a breath and looked at the beauty around me as I ate my PowerBar. Maybe because I had been unplugged from any technological distraction for over ten days, I found listening to nature deeply soothing to my heart.”

Choquette openly documents her descent into deeply rooted pain, fear, anger, disappointment, and resentment. Day by day, the Camino unravels and reveals the past in the present and the present in the past. Choquette’s encounters, some remarkable and others quite ordinary, parallel the inner and outer journeys that are leading her toward forgiveness and healing.

If it seems to you that the book requires more interest in spiritual matters than you possess, you might be surprised. Walking Home didn’t make me want to walk across Spain, but it did inspire me to pay deeper attention to my life. I respect the openness, honesty, and tenacity of Choquette to seek what she needed. As I reached the end of the book, it was clear that her journey wasn’t really over — it was beginning again.

Note:  If you’re interested, think about joining the conversation about this book in November. Details are on the Events Calendar page.

turn to Practice page

 

Practice Page: August 2016 Newsletter

 

In The Comics

One of my simple pleasures is discovering intriguing ideas for writing experiments in my everyday meanderings. Recently, this has happened to me several times in the comics section of the newspaper, of all places.

• Sally Forth by Francesco Marciuliano & Jim Keefe

Bree: “Hil, the moment you create something you no longer have complete control over it… The book belongs to the reader. The painting to the viewer. The song to the listener.”

• Pickles by Brian Crane

Opal: “What are you looking at, Earl?”
Earl: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

• Dilbert by Scott Adams

Dilbert: “Is that what you had in mind by making the world a better place?”
CEO: “I didn’t mean better for everyone.”

There is something in each of the above examples that leaped for my attention. Maybe you sense something, too. What excites me most is that I wasn’t actually looking for anything, yet something found me anyway.

Before this happened, I would not have expected writing ideas to pop up while I was enjoying the comics. More than a few ideas have appeared while reading other sections of the newspaper: travel essays, images with captions, event listings, quotations, and reviews of books, movies, restaurants or performances. So, why not the comics? Writing ideas are everywhere.

Writing experiment:

If one of the above examples intrigues you, consider using it as a place to begin listening and writing. Or better yet, grab a newspaper and check out the comics yourself.

When something captures your attention, even a few minutes of focused listening and writing can be an opening for your own discovery.

 

Laurie Mattila
© August 2016

 

The Front Page: April 2016 Newsletter

Creating a Future—Together

The news about what’s happening throughout the world has been especially troubling to me this spring. Even though I consider myself an optimist, I’ve had to make an effort to see and remember goodness in all the darkness. I’ve needed to balance news reports with all the good I observe and experience in my daily life.

I remind myself:

Every day people show unexpected kindness to each other.
Every day people contribute to the greater good.

They love and care for animals and pets.
They dream about planting gardens for food and beauty and bees.

Groups gather to support important causes and agendas.
Communities are intent on making improvements.

Friends communicate with each other.
Neighbors acknowledge each other as they go about their lives.

Volunteers assist with chores, meals and housing.

Crews pick up litter and collect recycling.

Teachers show up for one of the world’s most challenging professions.
They are joined by bus drivers, letter carriers, police and fire personnel.

Strangers offer help with directions on the bus or train.
They talk with each other waiting in line at the grocery store.

Parks are visited and enjoyed by all ages.
Spring clean-ups are scheduled.

And yes, some among us could be more helpful, agreeable, generous and kind. But even now, there is much that is immensely good and ordinary to celebrate. It is not perfect, but it does not need to be.

All the good we choose to do is creating a future — one caring, accepting, informed moment at a time.

Do you have any idea how many choices a person makes each day?

I was curious about this so I searched online, where I found an estimate: 35,000. I have no way of knowing whether this number is even remotely reasonable.

I do know that when I order coffee in a mug, rather than a to-go cup, that’s one choice. When I add half & half, rather than skim milk, that’s one more choice. When I get something to go with my coffee, that’s another choice. But 35,000 choices? I don’t know.

It makes me wonder, how many choices actually matter? Individually, I think many probably don’t. Cumulatively, I think they matter enormously. History demonstrates there is power for good and power for ill as the numbers add up.

That is why I choose to focus on the good and true each day. Doing so doesn’t erase or neutralize ugliness. What it does is remind me that I have choice; and my choice adds to the number that can make a difference in the future we are creating — together.

With gratitude,

Laurie

“There are no perfect circumstances.
But when we show up with love, focus, and patience,
we perfect the circumstances we have.”

Tama Kieves

turn to Good Books page

Good Books: April 2016 Newsletter

Wired to Create

Wired to Create:
Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind
by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire
Perigee / Penguin Random House, 2015
hardcover, $26.95

“Recognizing ourselves as creators and fostering creativity in our everyday lives brings us to life and connects us to who we are.
Creativity isn’t just about innovating or making art—
it’s about living creatively.” -from Wired to Create

I had the clear feeling I would like this book as I read about the authors on the back flap of the dust jacket.

Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD, is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the measurement and development of intelligence, imagination, and creativity.”

Carolyn Gregoire is a senior writer at the Huffington Post, where she reports on psychology, mental health, and neuroscience.”

Wired to Create is a distinctively different book about creativity. Before the book was published, Gregorie wrote an article that went viral when it appeared in the Huffington Post in March 2014: “18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently.” The article, like many books on the topic, only skims the surface with the sort of things you might expect; but it got people talking.

Wired to Create, the book that followed, will get you thinking. Kaufman and Gregorie achieved a wonderful balance between scientific research and fascinating stories. They “scoured current and past scientific research over the past hundred years… and extracted common themes from within the minds and lives of eminent creators throughout the course of human history.” And they made it all very engaging and readable.

Instead of recycling the 18 things mentioned in Gregorie’s article, Wired to Create is organized around ten theme chapters: Imaginative Play, Passion, Daydreaming, Solitude, Intuition, Openness to Experience, Mindfulness, Sensitivity, Turning Adversity into Advantage, and Thinking Differently. Each chapter delves into the paradoxes at the heart of creativity. “Those murky, ambiguous places… are quite often where the creative magic happens.”

Mindfulness and daydreaming… seriousness and play… solitude and collaboration. “[These] seeming contradictions capture some of the polarities that come together in the creative person and that are reconciled through the creative process.” Wired to Create was written to help readers embrace these contradictions in order to express their deepest creativity. This is the most interesting and informative book on creativity that I’ve read.

Vital Signs
In the last issue of the newsletter I reviewed Vital Signs by Gregg Levoy. I’m mentioning the book again because it’s a great companion book to read along with Wired to Create.

Check out the Vital Signs review if you’re intrigued.

 

 

turn to Practice Page

 

Practice Page: April 2016 Newsletter

Spring Break

I’m inviting you to take a short break from whatever you’re doing.

If possible, head outside into the fresh air for a few minutes.
If that’s not possible, sit by a window and see what you see.
If there’s not a window nearby, open one in your imagination and sit quietly gazing out of it for several minutes.

Notice the spring season in something: a sturdy green shoot, the sound of birdsong, a flag flapping in the breeze, raindrops on the windowpane, the scent of earth, someone running by wearing bright yellow….

The haiku form offers an opportunity to reflect on your seasonal moment and capture its essence in just three short lines and seventeen syllables ( 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line, 5 syllabus in the third line ).

Here’s a favorite of mine that I wrote in a writing workshop.

One sure sign of spring—
buds wait like bugs on branches
waiting to leap green.

Here’s another example I wrote this week, after walking around Como Lake.

I walk clockwise now
springing into the future
from the gray and cold.

Years ago, I wrote this final example for my office and even used it on my first website. It doesn’t really have a seasonal connection, but I still like it.

Bless the time spent here—
seeking listening dreaming.
Let the magic come.

Now it’s your turn to experience a moment of spring and find a few words to capture its essence.

Laurie Mattila
© April 2016

The Front Page: December 2015 Newsletter

A Place To Begin

A visitor sitting at the purple table in my office once commented that what she wanted was “a place to begin.” The more I consider her words, the more profound they become for me—and revealing.

Anyone who’s taken a writing class, had a writing practice, or needed to meet a writing deadline knows that a writing prompt is one place to begin. It really doesn’t matter what you use as the prompt. It could be any of the following: a simple question, an interesting quotation, a single word, a sentence stem, or something else entirely. The purpose is simple: start the flow of writing. If the writer allows, the writing itself seems to know what to do. It often abandons the prompt rather quickly, in service to a higher purpose or more compelling reason(s). But the prompt has served its purpose; it was a place to begin.

In this example, a place to begin happens to be an invitation to take action, to do something, to listen and respond to a prompt. But a place to begin can be many other things. As a curious person who loves learning, I have some favorite places to begin: looking up a word in the dictionary, searching on Google or Wikipedia, registering for a workshop/class, reading a book or two or three, meeting others who share my curiosity, experimenting on my own to see what happens. In some way, my places to begin are all related to exploring, which is another fabulous place to begin.

Exploring is about opening to possibility and discovery. It requires a willingness to not know combined with an eagerness to find out. On the surface, exploring seems to occur near the beginning of a process, compared to deciding which seems to happen nearer the end. But sometimes, deciding is actually the beginning of an unfolding process.

Finding or recognizing or choosing a place to begin doesn’t need to be as difficult as we often make it. In her wonderful book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp uses a project box as a place to begin. Into the box she puts the stuff she notices, stuff that might be project-related. It’s a place to gather an odd assortment without having to do anything with it, or about it, immediately. But, it allows a project to begin and evolve organically. The project box (or file, envelope, board) is a place to begin.

This fall I purchased a new blank notebook with the following words on the front cover: The best way to get something done is to begin. This sounds too linear and straight forward to me; sometimes our beginnings happen without our full awareness. In the book Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver, my favorite essay is Pen and Paper and a Breath of Air. Oliver is writing about her own notebooks and what she writes in them.

“By no means do I write poems in these notebooks. And yet over the years the notebooks have been laced with phrases that eventually appear in poems. So, they are the pages upon which I begin.”

If you think about these two examples, the project box and the notebook, both are containers for beginning. This is also true of my office, where I work one-on-one and with small groups, a place that supports the process of beginning. This is probably true for you, too, if you have a place—a container—where you go to interact with your best creative self. It could be a cafe, writing group, garden center, kitchen, bookstore, studio, garage, museum, library, corner of the basement, walking path… The possibilities are long, but the essentials are short: It’s a place where you are free to explore what calls to you.

“And it doesn’t matter what you pick as a first sentence, or what outside stimulation or inside memory you start with, you will eventually get around to writing [creating] what has been waiting inside you to be written [created].” –Burghild Nina Holzer

turn to Good Books page

 

Good Books: December 2015 Newsletter

Big Magic
Big Magic:
Creative Living Beyond Fear

by Elizabeth Gilbert
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House, 2015
hardcover, $24.95

“So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges:  Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures which are hidden within you? The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

In the last issue of the newsletter, I mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic, scheduled for release last September.  Within weeks, I was running into people who were reading the book and wanted to know if I’d read it yet, which I hadn’t. Without exception, their responses were wholeheartedly enthusiastic. When I inquired, some had also read and loved Gilbert’s 2006 hugely successful bestseller Eat Pray Love; not one person mentioned the two books which followed: Committed: A Love Story or The Signature of All Things.

Big Magic is an exciting book, a gift of encouragement and inspiration. Gilbert generously shares her perspective on a fascinating range of life experiences hoping to nudge/touch/spark/awaken what is true and waiting within readers. It really is about creative living every day—with and without creative inspiration—with and without success.

“I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone. Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times… The stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion… Curiosity doesn’t ask nearly so much of you.”

Big Magic is clustered around six themes: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity. Within each section, you’ll find an intriguing collection of essays that swirl around the theme, as they flow from one to another to another. It was difficult for me to pause in my reading and put the book down, but Gilbert’s ideas / language beg for attention and thoughtful reflection.

I loved the exquisitely magical story that unfolds when Elizabeth Gilbert meets novelist Ann Patchett. This story alone is reason enough to begin the book; decide later if you want to finish it.

The following are among my favorite essays: Why It’s Worth It, A Dazzled Heart, Your Permission Slip, Your Day Job, Devotion to Inquisitiveness, and In Conclusion (printed on the back of the dust jacket for the book). “Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all…”


Vital Signs:
The Nature and Nurture of Passion

by Gregg Levoy
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2014
hardcover, $28.95

“I know this reflects a substantial failure of some kind, but at the core of the human soul, I think, is not just a chewy nougat of kumbaya but also an emptiness. And yet, this thing we’ve devoted our lives to and cannot possibly do—lifting ourselves up from our fallen grace—is part of our pure sadness and whining that may draw us toward home.” -Gregg Levoy

Gregg Levoy’s book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life was published in 1997; it easily became a bestseller and has remained a favorite for many who have discovered it in the years since. When I learned that Levoy had written another book, I couldn’t wait to read it. “IT” turned out to be a huge volume: 466 pages covering continents.

This is a mammoth work, by a former reporter, “drawing from centuries of history, art, science, psychology, and philosophy, as well as in-depth interviews with people who rediscovered and reignited passion in their own lives.” Levoy’s stories are compelling, his insights powerful, and his prose lovely. He writes from a vibrant sense of living and a desire to awaken readers to their own wonder and aliveness. In a book this size, you’ll appreciate the extensive bibliography and index when you want to locate important half-remembered references.

At one point in my reading I was convinced Vital Signs should have been published as two or three books, rather than one. I wondered whether readers would stay with such a lengthy book or consider reading it in the first place. I’ve since changed my mind on this and now look at Vital Signs as Levoy’s incredible gift to his readers.

The book is organized into six sections; each one felt as though it was my favorite, until I read the next. 1) Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Wonder, 2) Questing: The Happiness of Pursuit, 3) Call Of The Wild, 4) A Spark Needs A Gap: Love and Passion, 5) The Freedoms Of Expression, and 6) The Passion Is In The Risk.

Two of my favorite Gregg Levoy quotes:

“The Declaration of Independence promises the pursuit of happiness, not the achievement of it or even the enjoyment of it.”

“You’re probably better off not even thinking in terms like failure and success. Rather, think like a scientist. Life is an experiment and there are only results.”

turn to Practice Page

 

Practice Page: December 2015 Newsletter

Shifting Gears

Years ago when I learned to drive, our family car had a manual transmission. At sixteen, I felt doomed because that was the car I would use to take my driver’s test, in a town with many steep hills, where I would be required to parallel park.

Joy of joys, I passed the test and earned my driver’s license. However, I waited until we got a better car, one that shifted itself, before I drove.

Writing Practice

The notion of shifting gears remains vivid in my imagination because it presented such a huge challenge for me. I can still remember the dread and fear of approaching this maneuver. Behind the wheel or in life, shifting gears can require courage and focused practice.

As you think about ending one year and entering a new year, I thought it might be interesting to explore the possibility of shifting something in your own life.

• Make a short list of any associations you have to the word “shifting”.

My examples:  anticipation, dread, fear, stalling, making a change, smoothly, learning, practice, listening, feeling it, paying attention, making adjustments, heading in a new direction, choosing

• If you were going to “shift” anything in your life in 2016, what might be on that list?

My examples:  eliminate unsatisfying time-wasters, be more hands-on with finances, create new gatherings, identify a project for the year

• How would you “gear up” to have the smoothest transition possible?

My examples:  get enough sleep, wear comfortable shoes, take smaller steps, be more gentle with myself, spend time with supportive people, get a good haircut, remind myself of personal successes, make a list of what I learned from attempted transitions

• When have you shifted patterns in the past?

My examples: changed careers two times, resigned from jobs multiple times, moved to a different state, traveled in Europe, vacationed by myself, adopted healthy habits

Affirmation

If I could offer one inspiring and comforting thought, to return to again and again, as you approach the possibility or inevitability of change, it would be this one:

“… without stillness, without being present, we will get it wrong. We will miss the simple quiet opportunities for shifting the pattern.” -Wayne Muller

The words are calming and centering. They guide you to that quiet place at the center of your being—a place not ruled by fear. Removed from noise and chaos, you can hear your own knowing again. And remember who you are and what matters. You can choose with clarity and confidence, even though the outcome is uncertain. You can live true to who you are and who you are becoming.

My wish for all of us in the coming year is that we are more fully present in our own lives, ready to shift the patterns that seek our attention.

Laurie Mattila
© December 2015

The Front Page: Late Summer 2015 Newsletter

Clarifying Conversations

When asked about the work I offer, I like to focus on the word conversation. I have clarifying conversations with people about their life and work.

This is true in both individual career counseling and in small group Discovery Writing. What I do is help people to go deeper into the heart of the conversation they have been having with themselves—conversations that have often been going on for months or even years, occasionally for decades. I help them to go beyond where they routinely get stuck; I do this by listening.

During one-on-one counseling, I am listening deeply to all that is being said and not said. I am trusting my experience and my intuition, listening for a way that gently unravels what longs to be revealed. The goal is to hear and trust the heart’s own knowing.

In Discovery Writing, the conversation usually happens on paper and takes place between the listener-writer and their own inner knowing. The writer is listening and recording what is heard, while their own inner knowing is using the stream of words to unravel what longs to be revealed. Once again, the goal is to hear and trust the heart’s own knowing.

One of my favorite quotations describes this process and applies equally to conversations in counseling and in writing:

“Sometimes it seems as if one thing has nothing to do with another thing, but it does.
The trick is to write it down. Not to figure it out. To write it down, one vision at a time.”
-Burghild Nina Holzer

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder whether conversation might become an endangered interaction, especially the face-to-face variety that I love. To be honest, these really do demand a lot: making arrangements to meet, arriving on time at the agreed upon place, sitting down and settling in. Cell phones are silenced and put aside—a sure sign that time has also been set aside. With our undivided attention, we create the sacred space for something to happen.

If we are having a conversation while also shopping online, texting others, or working on the side, we are just talking. We are skimming the surface of our mutual potential. And maybe that’s okay, most of the time. But what about when you need to hear the deep truths of your own life? A truth that might be whispered from the depths by a still small voice. Will you hear it and trust what you hear? Will I be able to help you hear and trust it? Or will we miss it, preoccupied by an awaited text arriving or a super funny video sent by a colleague?

At times we are all distracted. Life is distracting. We crave distraction.

Still, we are capable of and yearn for more than we can yet name or know. We are all in need of listening to ourselves and to each other, because we need to be who we came here to be. The world needs all the love and joy we can bring.

Laurie Mattila

 

Good Books: Late Summer 2015 Newsletter

 

Finding Your ElementFinding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents & Passions and Transform Your Life
by Ken Robinson
Viking, 2014
paperback, $16.00

“You live as we all do in two worlds. There is the world that came into being when you did, and that exists only because you exist… There is also the world that exists whether or not you exist… This outer world was there long before you were born, and it will continue long after you have left it. You only know the outer world through your inner world. To find your Element, you have to explore both of these worlds.” –Ken Robinson

When a friend mentioned she was reading The Element, I’d never heard of it. In the process of checking it out, I discovered there are actually two books: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (2009) and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life (2013), both written by Ken Robinson.

Following the publication of his 2009 inspirational bestseller, The Element, Robinson experienced an especially enthusiastic response from readers—some wrote to share their own Element stories, others to ask for more help and direction to find their Element. With so many readers wanting more, Robinson wrote the companion guidebook, Finding Your Element. 

The intended purpose of this follow-up book is to offer practical support to readers on their personal quest to find their Element. According to Robinson “being in your Element is more than doing things you are good at… To be in your Element you have to love it, too.” Each of the book’s ten chapters “sets out ideas and principles to clarify what being in your Element really means and how this may manifest in your own life.” There are lots of interesting stories which demonstrate the presence of the Element in people’s lives, including the author’s. There are fifteen exercises spread throughout the book, as well as questions at the end of every chapter—all intended to help you reflect more deeply on your quest to discover yourself. I enjoyed that eight of the book’s ten chapter titles are in the form of a question: What are you good at? How do you know? What do you love? What makes you happy? What’s your attitude? Where are you now? Where’s your tribe? and What’s next?

I love that the very heart of Robinson’s work is based on the following core principles: “First, your life is unique. You can learn from the experiences of other people, but you cannot and should not try to duplicate them. Second, you create your own life and you can re-create it. In doing that, your greatest resources are your own imagination and sense of possibility. Third, your life is organic, not linear. You can’t plan the whole of your life’s journey and you don’t need to. What you do need to plan are the next steps.”

I encourage you to check out Robinson’s 2006 TED talk on creativity and education. He is a passionate and humorous speaker and it’s no surprise that his talk How Schools Kill Creativity remains at the top of the list of the most-watched TED talks.

 

Rising StrongRising Strong:
The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.
By Brené Brown
Spiegel & Grau, August, 25, 2015
hardcover, $27.00

Brené Brown is the author of The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. She is also known for her 2010 TED talk The power of vulnerability, followed in 2012 by Listening to shame.

Brown’s new book will be out before the end of August.

 

Big MagicBig Magic:
Creative Living Beyond Fear

by Elizabeth Gilbert
Riverhead Books, September 22, 2015
hardcover, $24.95

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the best-selling memoir Eat Pray Love which was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts in 2010.

Watch for Gilbert’s new book in late September.

 

Practice Page: Late Summer 2015 Newsletter

Writing at The Purple Table

I recently offered Writing at The Purple Table on two consecutive Saturday mornings. Since the groups are free and limited to eight, this gave a few more people an opportunity to attend. If you’ve never participated but you’re curious about the Discovery Writing class and the listening-writing process, here are my notes outlining what we did.

I like to begin each group with a simple centering. Even though each person sitting at the table has arrived, it often feels as though our attention is still scattered here and there. By centering, we welcome back our energy, focus, and attention.

Centering / Quieting Poem:

Enough
by David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.

Warm Up Quotation:

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Read the above quotation silently to yourself several times, listen for other variations on “to find the beautiful”.

Here are two examples:
Though we travel the world over to find acceptance, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
Though I travel the world over to find acceptance, I must carry out with me or I find it not.

More possibilities:
to find adventure, to find compassion, to find forgiveness, to find passion, to find community…

Write to explore your new variation on Emerson’s quotation. Read your version silently to yourself several times, then listen and record what you hear, regardless of where it takes you.

One Word:

There are mysterious and fascinating connections between our outer journeys and our inner journeys, similar to the connections between our waking lives and our dream lives. These connections await us just beneath the surface of our awareness. A little writing is a wonderful thing to scratch the surface and begin to reveal them.

Select any traveler-related word, especially if it’s one you just happen to think of, even if it’s not listed below.

journeyer       tourist       pilgrim       seeker       wanderer       meanderer       explorer       adventurer       discoverer       rambler       sightseer       visitor       globetrotter       wayfarer

Use your word as a beginning point to explore the connections to an aspect of your life that has your attention.

Two Poems:

Select two poems and read them out loud to yourself, listening for a word, phrase, or line in each poem that captures your attention. Copy the two words/ phrases/ lines from the poems into your notebook and write to unravel their connections. Don’t worry if at first there is no clear connection; as you continue listening and writing you will unravel it for yourself.

In our group we used the following two poems.

The Old Poets of China
by Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Last Night As I Was Sleeping**
by Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

**this is only an excerpt from the poem

Laurie Mattila
© August 2015

 

The Front Page: December 2014 Newsletter

A Seasonal Experiment

I meet a lot of people who would like to take a few months off and try something new. Maybe they’d move somewhere else and live there to get a better feel for what it’s like really being there, not just while on vacation. Or they might arrange an apprenticeship for themselves to learn and work with someone whose work they admire. They might even stay right where they are but switch their primary focus from one thing to another. That’s what I did late this fall.

I hadn’t planned to make any changes in my life, but I was feeling open to a new project. I hadn’t gotten as far as articulating what it might be; I was just feeling it—beginning to wonder if I needed to give up this or that in order to make room for something else.

Then one Sunday morning, sitting in the front porch reading the newspaper, something caught my attention. L.L.Bean was opening a new retail location at the Mall of America and hiring seasonal temporary employees. I knew immediately I wanted to be part of this store’s opening.

I applied and was hired, and since the beginning of November I’ve been working part-time for my favorite catalog company. We officially opened the store the weekend of November 14-16 to an enthusiastic crowd of loyal catalog shoppers. By mid-November the holiday shopping season was already underway, so the store has been busy-busy-busy since day one.

For me, providing outstanding customer service is a given; it’s what I’ve always aspired to in my profession. I have loved this part of the work. On the flip side, mastering the complexities of the computerized cash register, and seemingly infinite permutations of transactions, has definitely challenged me.

Now, after two months of working at the registers, I’m much more comfortable. My analytical brain feels as though its humming along effortlessly, similar to when I took five back-to-back quarters of calculus in college. My physical stamina has also increased, probably from all the walking, standing, and stretching I’ve added to my routine. I feel great.

One of the sweetest perks for me is going to work and being part of an exceptional team. For years now, my focus has been a solo private practice where I work one-on-one with individuals and small groups, which is my natural preference. That said, sharing the work with a team of interesting co-workers definitely appeals to and energizes me. The entire experience has helped me to remember why I do—what I do—the way I do it.

By the time you read this, the end-of-the-year holiday season will have transformed into the New Year, a perfect time to consider your own little, or not-so-little, experiments. Whether or not you are in a position to act on an idea this year, I encourage you to give it some thought. You want to recognize a great opportunity when it makes an appearance for you.

Blessings to you at the closing of the year 2014 as you cross the threshold into 2015. May you leave behind what no longer serves you and enter with open arms to receive what awaits you.

Laurie Mattila

 

Good Books: December 2014 Newsletter

I was invited to write the Bookshelf essay for the January issue of the Minnesota Women’s Press. Click on the link above or find it on page 12 of the print edition.

 

Untethered SoulThe Untethered Soul:
The Journey Beyond Yourself

by Michael Singer
New Harbinger Publications with Noetic Books, 2007
paperback, $16.95

“Your inner growth is completely dependent upon the realization that the only way to find peace and contentment is to stop thinking about yourself. You’re ready to grow when you finally realize that the “I” who is always talking inside will never be content. It always has a problem with something…. Before you had your current problem, there was a different problem. And if you’re wise, you will realize that after this one’s gone, there will be another one.” -Michael Singer

This is the latest book I selected for the One Book Group, and the book that generated the most heated reactions, mainly related to the author’s style. I’m featuring The Untethered Soul here for its life-changing focus and potential. But first read a chapter or two for yourself; this is not a book to buy impulsively, even if the cover and the title are compelling.

The main complaint we had as readers is that Michael Singer can come across as a know-it-all; we found his dogmatic style off-putting. That said, he knows what he’s writing about — how to be free of the endless inner chatter that monopolizes and spoils life.

The ability to stop dwelling on something, especially when there is nothing that can be done about it in the moment, has always mystified me. Now, after reading The Untethered Soul, I have Singer’s clear and simple guidance and understand how to separate myself from my own relentless thoughts; I even have some success at doing it.

The book’s nineteen chapters are organized into five parts: Awakening Consciousness, Experiencing Energy, Freeing Yourself, Going Beyond, and Living Life. In the first two chapters, Singer introduces “the voice inside your head” and your “inner roommate.” He offers a simple demonstration to help readers objectively observe these interior characters. This is followed by exploring the question Who are you? If you read this far, you’ll probably value most of what follows.

Chapter 17, Contemplating Death, is quite amazing. Most of the brief selections the members of our book group brought to read out loud to each other were from this chapter. One reader observed: the chapter is an exceptional essay that deserves to be included in an anthology on living well.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, as long as you’re willing to take what is helpful and let go of the rest.

 

UnretirementUnretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way
We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life

by Chris Farrell
Bloomsbury Press, 2014
hardcover, $26.00

“Unretirement will reshape how we think about retirement planning. Over the past three decades the baby boom generation has been taught to equate preparing for retirement with investing in the markets…. Instead, focus on what kind of job and career you’d like to do as you get older. Invest in your human capital, maintain your skills, and add to your education.” -Chris Farrell

Many of you will recognize Chris Farrell as economics commentator from Minnesota Public Radio. He is also senior economics contributor at Marketplace, an award winning journalist, and the author of The New Frugality: How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better.

Unretirement has been described as a “hopeful” look past the fear and hype surrounding the idea that today’s aging workers will outlive their personal financial resources and become a national burden. I admit to occasionally being freaked out by the idea of running out of money before the end of my life. So, I’m grateful to Farrell for his balanced and thorough look at the research and the “facts” that inform this topic. He synthesizes relevant reports from economists, gerontologists, demographers, health care professionals, financial planners, employers… He looks at the obstacles and opportunities for employing elders who are interested in continued employment.

Farrell also points to growing evidence that retirement is already undergoing a transformation that will better meet the needs of older workers and create a more vibrant future for all of us. The heart of his reporting centers on the positive: stories of people who are reinventing themselves at a time when they might be expected to be withdrawing from the workforce. They are examples of how to extend working, continue earning income, create meaning and purpose, and delay filing for social security. They are creating new possibilities for those who follow.

I recommend the book if you are pre-retirement or recently retired. There is an Appendix: DIY Research on pages 223 to 227 which lists excellent resources for further exploration, as well as a detailed index.

Note: This is not a typical book for me to include in Good Books or for me to read on my own. Even after I was several chapters into it, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading about topics I often set aside. I assume they will be too boring or too in-depth to hold my interest, so I don’t even begin. Farrell has a gift for writing about money/finances/economics. I actually stayed up late reading, reluctant to put the book down. I only wish there was a more likable word than unretirement.

 

Practice Page: December 2014 Newsletter

It’s That Time of Year, Again

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate student we were on the quarter system: four quarters to each academic year and ten weeks of class to each quarter. I found ten weeks per class to be a truly workable number; it stretched out before me with an end in sight.

That’s still how I like to approach new things: a project, a learning experience, a commitment, and a new year. I like the feeling that it stretches out before me with an end in sight. And I like having a few ideas, possibilities, and plans in mind, even if I don’t know all that an experiment will encompass. Somehow, having an end in sight guides and grounds my process, as I make my way.

Months before the end of each calendar year, many of us have the beginning of the new year in sight, along with our desires, dreams, longings, and hopes for it. Our expectations tend to focus heavily on the beginning of the year, almost as though is was a magical moment that could miraculously transform us. In reality, the beginning of each year is only a small portion of the entire year, more the size of a postage stamp on a large mailing envelope. The stamp matters and so does every beginning, but it’s in the everyday, ongoing expanse that the magic and miracle are likely to be found.

A Future Writing Experiment

In your imagination, I invite you to see yourself a year from now, sometime in mid to late December 2015. You are sitting quietly and alone, but not lonely. You are looking back on the year 2015 and reflecting on the meaning it holds for you. You have with you a list of words you created a year ago; these were words that had a pull on you back then and you’ve been traveling with them all year long.

My Example List

List of Words that had a Pull on Me:  freedom, simplicity, service, friends

My Example Writing

“At the end of 2014 I decided to focus on minor adjustments to the way I live and work and be. This is what happened. I didn’t want to just value simplicity, I wanted to feel simplicity in my life, whatever that would mean. This motivated me to identify what felt complicated. One thing was obvious — clutter. I think I might be allergic to it, but at the same time I attract it. If I focused on creating clear, clean horizontal surfaces I would be removing visual clutter and add simplicity to my life. And so I started. Papers, books, and unused items got my attention.

Removing visual clutter helped me to feel more freedom and less distraction in my everyday life. What I saw as I looked around me was calming instead of irritating, mainly because I no longer saw undone tasks waiting — wanting to gobble up my precious time. I felt free to do more of what really mattered to me.”

It’s Your Turn Now

Why not start with your own list of words that have a pull on you?

After that, begin recording your imaginings from the viewpoint of the end of 2015. There is no right or wrong way to begin, and no right or wrong place to begin. So just begin.

Affirmation  

Consider these words from Wayne Muller:
“Life is not a problem to be solved, it is a gift to be opened.” 

Laurie Mattila
© December 2014

 

The Front Page: August 2014 Newsletter

The Summer of 1994

This summer marked the 20-year anniversary of the first Discovery Writing classes.

In the summer of 1994, I offered the class as an experiment after it began creating itself in the notebook I was keeping at the time. If you’ve taken a Discovery Writing class you’ve heard me talk about three threads that were inhabiting my notebook, without my full awareness. These threads were mysteriously discovering each other in my listening-writing and becoming something, creating something, I would never have imagined on my own.

  • I was writing in a notebook as a tool for better living, making it up as I went: listening, recording, sorting, resolving, clarifying, dreaming, releasing.
  • I was feeling the teacher in me returning from my forced exile of failure.
  • I was pulled to be in a group of open-hearted learners seeking discovery.

Looking back, I recognize these threads as whispers from my deeper self calling me to explore. I was creating the class that appealed to me, the one I wanted to take, and I was hopeful others would join me. There was no way I could have known how much I would love, enjoy, respect, and cherish those who showed up to participate in the classes, ongoing groups, and retreats.

From the beginning, I saw myself more as a host / facilitator than a teacher. Although there is very little content to teach, or to master, in the listening-writing process, there is endless opportunity for experiencing in-the-moment learning and discovery. Everyone present at the table has important things to teach and to learn.

I am deeply grateful for the amazing experiences I’ve had because of Discovery Writing. If you are in my life because we connected through the class, thank you for coming and creating it with me and everyone else.

Did you know that the famous purple table didn’t enter the picture until two years later, in 1996, when I leased my current office as a home for Discovery Writing? That table has faithfully welcomed us—writers, seekers, and dreamers—giving us a place to gather… to be, breathe, and believe.

This is a haiku I created for Discovery Writing when it was just beginning.

Bless the time spent here—
listening, writing, dreaming.
Let the magic come.

We couldn’t have done it without the table. And we couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for giving me a way to be who I am in the world.

Forever grateful,

Laurie Mattila

 

Click for info about the next Discovery Writing class that begins on Saturday, September 13

Good Books: August 2014 Newsletter

The Desire MapThe Desire Map:
A Guide To Creating Goals With Soul
by Danielle Laporte
Sounds True, 2014
paperback, $22.00

“Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have. Generating those feelings is the most powerfully creative thing you can do with your life.” – Danielle Laporte

Danielle Laporte is also the author of The Fire Starter Sessions (2012), which I reviewed in the December 2012 issue of this newsletter. The Fire Starter Sessions came out in paperback earlier this year, and the quote above is from chapter three on The Strategy of Desire. That chapter had a life of its own and evolved into Laporte’s latest book The Desire Map.

Laporte describes The Desire Map as two books in one: the first book is the theory and the second is the workbook. I’d suggest reading book one (pages 1-150) before diving into the workbook that begins on page 151.

Rather than figuring out what you want in life and then creating goals to get you there, The Desire Map begins with clearly identifying how you want to feel in life and what you can do, right now, to feel that way. “You’re not chasing the goal itself—you’re chasing the feelings that you hope attaining those goals will give you.”

The workbook guides readers to explore two essential questions: “How do I want to feel?” and “What do I need to do to feel the way I want to feel?” On the surface, this might seem like a no-brainer. Who doesn’t want to feel happy, healthy, successful, and fulfilled. But Laporte isn’t satisfied with too-quick, on-the-surface responses. She wants you to dig deep and find out what really lies behind every word that you might use to describe how you want to feel. She wants you to identify your core essential feelings, with the help of a dictionary, a thesaurus, and some soul-searching reflection.

To get you started, the workbook introduces five life areas: livelihood & lifestyle, body & wellness, creativity & learning, relationships & society, and essence & spirituality. Readers are encouraged to rename these areas to fit who they are, and also to be clear about what is and isn’t working in each area. This is a way to begin collecting and exploring your particular feeling words.

Laporte’s approach is definitely worth exploring. I think you’ll enjoy her engaging writing style and animated personality, especially if you listen to the audiobook.

TheARTofUncertaintyThe Art of Uncertainty:
How to Live in the Mystery of Life and Love It

by Dennis Merritt Jones
Tarcher/Penguin, 2011
paperback, $14.95

“Whether pushed by pain or pulled by the infinite possibilities of a life worth living, [we] are proof that living in the mystery of that which is yet to be is not something to be feared, but something to which we can look forward.” – Dennis Merritt Jones

I selected The Art of Uncertainty for review after also considering Dennis Merritt Jones’ newest book Your (Re)Defining Moments (2014). I no longer recall why I chose this one over the other; think about checking out both books.

Dennis Merritt Jones founded the Center for Spiritual Living in Simi Valley, CA and was its spiritual director for twenty-three years, until 2008. Since then his work has focussed on writing books, teaching workshops and classes, and giving keynotes and lectures. He is also a columnist for The Huffington Post.

There are times in everyone’s life marked by uncertainty; they range from discouraging / frustrating / maddening to stressful / painful / unbearable, with shades of everything else mixed in. Most of us don’t like it at all when we don’t know what will happen or when things feel out of our control.

The Art of Uncertainty is essentially a guidebook that offers readers an opportunity for their own thoughtful processing on living with uncertainty: “absorbing its deeper meaning and thinking about how it applies to you.” At the end of each chapter you’ll find Points to Ponder & Personalize which summarize the essence of the chapter, and Mindfulness Practices which are simple ways to experience connection with all that is.

While reading the book, I kept thinking none of this is all that new to me, and it probably won’t be new to you, either. At the same time, the presentation is fresh, compelling, and timely. And a significant part of learning is remembering what we know and applying it in ever new and deeper ways.

In the end I felt myself being spiritually re-calibrated by the book. Who hasn’t made an uncertain situation much more difficult than it needed to be? Why do we think we need certainty, even deserve it? Why does not knowing sometime feel so awful?  And why can’t we be uncertain and okay, at the same time? “The idea of certainty and uncertainty is a human invention. If humankind did not exist, certainty and uncertainty wouldn’t exist, either, because both are a human concern.”

Here is what the book does best: it details the hell of what it can be like to live with uncertainty and the heaven of what it can be like to love life’s mysterious adventures.

Practice Page: August 2014 Newsletter

“You get more of what you focus on.” – Marsha Sinetar

These eight words, copied from a book I read many years ago, continue to guide my life and work, at the same time they challenge me to pay attention to what I focus on. It amazes me how easy it is to become clueless about where we focus our attention. A few examples will help to demonstrate what I mean. If I focus on disappointment, I experience more disappointment. If I focus on health and happiness, I feel healthier and happier. If I focus on friendship, I cultivate more friends. Another way of saying this is “energy flows where attention goes.”

One Word

Maybe you know someone who uses one particular word so often that it’s guaranteed to jump out at you and irritate you. A few example words might be “hate” as in I hate it when people do that; or “tired” as in I’m so tired of hearing that ad; or “can’t” as in I can’t do that. Although you might notice someone else using one word repeatedly, it’s quite possible the person using it has little or no awareness. What about you—is there a word you speak repeatedly without fully realizing it?

In my examples above, you can probably already feel the power building in the repetition of one word. Hate does grow more hate, tired does drain your energy, and can’t does feed impossibility. But the same thing can happen with words like appreciate, compassion, and beauty. We do get more of what we focus on.

In an earlier newsletter (December 2003) I wrote about creating a Vocabulary for a new year: words to release, works to keep, and words to add. It’s an experiment that you could do at any time, not just at the beginning of a new year. Below, I’m offering a companion experiment that you might enjoy equally.

Your Playlist 

Words set to music are likely some of the most powerful and memorable words in the universe. Ever had what’s referred to as an earworm? It’s a snippet of a song or a tune that gets stuck in your head and replays itself, seemingly ad infinitum: “YMCA,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Let It Go,” “It’s a Small World After All.” You probably have your own nemesis.

Last year a friend gifted me with a CD of some of her favorite music. As I listened to it in the car while running errands one day, the idea popped into my head—Change my soundtrack, change my life. Hearing my friend’s music was a new listening experience and it was giving me a different perspective, a different focus. I realized I could change my experience by changing the music that played in my life.

What if you created a playlist or a soundtrack for the life you want to be living? What would you include if you limited your selections to ten or twelve? Consider songs that help you feel the way you want to feel. Think about music that surrounds you with the energy you want to cultivate. Try to go beyond simply collecting your favorites to actually selecting what you want to focus on and how you want to live your life.

Process Writing

After working on your playlist for awhile, even if it’s not in final form, take a few minutes to review it and jot down your impressions, even fragments of impressions. Are any themes showing up? What about repetitions? Anything else you’re noticing? One of my students pointed out that many of the songs on my playlist were from quite a few years ago. She was right, but I hadn’t seen that myself. What does that suggest?

If it appeals, you could also create a playlist or soundtrack for your life-to-date, which is what we did in one of my yearlong groups. This would be the music playing in the background of the movie or documentary about your life.

If you create both playlists, are there similarities between them? What about distinct differences?

It might be interesting to do this with a group or to ask a few supportive people to suggest songs for either of your lists. Their creative input might spark new possibilities for what you want to focus on and create. 

Laurie Mattila
© August 2014

The Front Page: December 2013 Newsletter

Discovery

One of my favorite things to think about is discovery and one of my favorite films about discovery is Schultze Gets The Blues (2003 by Michael Schorr). It’s a story that begins in a small town in Germany when Schultze and several of his friends are “retired” from their jobs at the salt mine. With too much time and too little to do, Schultze begins to spiral into a funk.

There’s one more thing I need to mention about Schultze: he’s an accomplished musician who plays the accordion—a master of traditional polkas. Listening to the radio one evening, he hears zydeco music and discovers a passion. His quest eventually takes him to America and the Louisiana bayou. Speaking only a handful of English words, Schultze’s trusting nature allows him to explore far beyond the former boundaries of his small life. He pursues his discovery with passion, and experiences a new way to live.

Following along this discovery theme, in our book group we recently read The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 (2010 by Molly Peacock). In the span of ten years, Mary Delaney (1700-1788) created 985 botanically correct flower mosaics. Working with paper and scissors, she essentially developed a new art form. Delaney’s work, the Flora Delanica, now housed in the British Museum, was “discovered” by writer and poet Molly Peacock when 110 of the flowers were exhibited in New York.

In researching and writing about Mary Delaney’s life and her mosaics, Peacock discovered incredible detail, symbolism, and meaning in each of Delaney’s flowers. It’s as though each mosaic was telling Molly Peacock the secrets of Mary Delaney’s life. Peacock also discovered amazing similarities between her own life and creative process and that of Mary Delaney.

I mention these two fascinating examples of discovery for several reasons. First, both Schultze and Mary Delaney experience life-changing discovery later in life. Neither of them has any way of knowing what was to come. Second, for both Schultze and Delaney discovery comes without their conscious planning. You might even say that discovery spontaneously visits them. Third, they both say Yes to discovery. Schultze picks up his accordion and experiments with playing what he knows in a way that mimics what he has heard. Delaney spots a geranium petal that has dropped onto a matching colored paper and experiments with using scissors to cut out one paper petal—and then another and another.

For Schultze and Mary Delaney, saying yes to discovery made all the difference. They did not stop themselves from doing what came naturally; this—more than anything—allowed them to shift the pattern of their lives. 

The arrival of several months of winter might be the best time to reflect on discovery in your own life: what it means to you and what else it could mean.

Here are a few prompts to get you started, but your own questions are more often the best. What have I discovered in the past year? …. about myself? …. about anything? Has anything discovered me during the past year? How welcoming am I to things unplanned or unexpected? Do I allow myself to experiment with what comes naturally?

May you find what you are seeking. May you be found by what is seeking you. May you live your discovery with gratitude and love.

I invite you to share with me an excerpt from an essay written for another December:

Join me late some afternoon or evening, wherever you are. Join me for ten minutes or for five. Savor the silence and the candle’s flame that marks your place on this globe of wonder. Breathe out the old and breathe in the new, and do it again. Scan the horizon for the light you’ve been ignoring, or the one you didn’t yet know was there. Then look for it again, and again and again. And on the days you trust it’s there for you, a guiding signal toward something, offer thanks. And when you’re ready, stop sitting and get up and give it all you have, whatever it is. And if it seems more than you can handle, ask for help. Then expect help to come. Whatever you do, don’t let the flame in your imagination go out. And in the full light of day, don’t for a moment believe it isn’t burning—for you, for me, for everyone and everything, everywhere. – Laurie Mattila

Click to read more of this essay from December 2004, The Necessity of Darkness.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

Good Books: December 2013 Newsletter

HowTheLightGetsInHow The Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice
by Pat Schneider
Oxford University Press, 2013
paperback, $18.95

“Writing about deep memory can bring up from the unconscious seemingly random images and phrases that we have known all our lives… They float in and out of conscious memory like flotsam and jetsam on the surface of the ocean that is our unconscious life. Writing them—slowing down and allowing the images to write themselves, without trying to analyze them—can bring about an amazing experience of personal revelation.” – Pat Schneider

Almost twenty years ago, I read another of Pat Schneider’s books, The Writer As An Artist: A New Approach to Writing Alone and With Others. Back then, she had already founded Amherst Writers and Artists and was teaching writing in a variety of settings using the workshop method she developed.

How The Light Gets In is a book for writers at all levels who are open to being amazed by process writing. The book reads like good memoir, the kind you can’t put down. It also takes you into the heart and soul of a writing workshop, where you’ll witness the writing process and the spiritual journey seamlessly revealing themselves. At times, you’ll be inspired to pick up your pen and try an exercise yourself, or at least note it so you can return to it later. What you won’t find is quick directives with easy steps to better writing. This book goes deep, like a poem goes deep, because that’s the way the author-poet lives and writes and teaches and breathes.

The themes of creative writing and spiritual practice are Schneider’s story, the background of every page in the book. Everything can be viewed through one lens, or the other, often both; which is what Schneider does so exquisitely. For the reader who naturally resonates with her themes, the book will be compelling. But what about readers who are attracted to writing more than spiritual practice, or the other way around? Schneider’s “in-the-moment” transparency in both living and writing demonstrates the presence of something other; call it what you will—creativity, spirit, mystery, presence…

“That strangeness, the way the delicate touch of an image can evoke something in metaphor that is central to your work, something you never would have found by left-brain analytical planning, is for me a kind of holy process. It requires waiting and listening and trusting  whatever image the unconscious gives. It requires attention to what is given, no matter how common and unremarkable it may seem. That attention, that trusting, cracks open something inside, and lets in the light.”

The book includes thirty-three of Schneider’s poems, some previously unpublished. Glancing at the table of contents, you will feel the poetry of language drawing you in: what has no name—there is a spirit—instructions for the journey—this is a river—doing good—strangeness—joy. Thankfully the book includes an index, making it easier to locate references to many other cherished writers and poets.

Finally, the book’s oh so perfect epigraph:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Practice Page: December 2013 Newsletter

Predictions for Your Future

Many people participate in the custom of writing new year’s resolutions as one year transitions into the next. Resolutions tend to have the flavor of what we should do: eliminate debt, lose weight, floss daily, eat vegetables, reduce stress…

Writing predictions for your future is an alternative you might find more engaging and therefore more transforming, because predictions capture the essence of what we want: financial freedom, health, confidence, adventure, rest…

How to Begin

During these final days of December, pay attention to where you naturally focus your attention. What are you thinking about most of the time? Also notice any unexpected, intriguing, and inspired ideas that come to you. Maybe they seem to occur out of the blue or maybe you stumble upon them. Make a few simple notes about any appealing ideas so they don’t slip away. Your notes might look like this: vacations — travel — volunteer tourism — airbnb.com — travel books — travel writing — photography — adventure.

Drafting Predictions

Experiment with shaping your ideas into predictions. If possible, include a time frame to ground each one.

Using the idea “volunteer tourism” from above, I draft the following prediction:

By 2015, I sign-up to join a group of volunteers traveling to *** to promote literacy. 

Adding Finishing Touches

Sometimes the draft needs a bit of refining before it feels like a YES! You’ll know when something shifts from a so-so prediction to one that really excites you. In my example above, I don’t yet know what the destination might be, so I type *** and trust it will come to me. Otherwise, I like it.

Make a List

I think it’s beneficial to create a list of 6-10 predictions you’d welcome into your life. How will you recognize a winning idea if you have nothing else with which to compare it? And how will you recognize—and trust—the themes that run through your life if you only write one prediction? Looking at your list allows you to see that some predictions could be improved by being combined with another prediction. It’s always okay to delete any predictions that fail to inspire you.

As always, pay attention to your reactions and to what happens. This is an experiment in predicting the life you are creating AND creating the life you are predicting.

A few examples of predictions I wrote several years ago:

I predict an extended stay north of the Arctic Circle within three years. (still appeals)
Within five years I predict respectable national health care coverage. (it’s happening right now)
Within 10 years I predict I’ll live in an innovative housing development. (still appeals)
I predict that I will acquire a great used Volvo wagon by next spring. (it happened a year ago)
By the time I retire, I predict my SEP IRA will be robust — not bust. (it’s looking better)

Laurie Mattila
© December 2013

The Front Page: August 2013 Newsletter

We Were Writers—Writing

On a recent Saturday morning eight writers gathered around the purple table in my office. We began by centering ourselves with a “Quieting Your Day” meditation I discovered in the lovely book Moments In Between: The Art of the Quiet Mind by David Kundtz. As suggested, we repeated the meditation twice.

“Be still…. Breathe…. Relax…. Breathe again…. And again…. Let a little time pass, doing nothing….”
“Be still…. Breathe…. Relax…. Breathe again…. And again…. Let a little time pass, doing nothing….”

When you only have two hours to be together, it’s important to show up on time. After everyone is seated around the table, we know it still takes awhile for most of us to fully arrive. Parts of our attention trickle in, to find and reunite us with ourselves. Eventually, we are able to focus more clearly. We are mostly here. We are mostly now. And by then we are writing: listening within and recording what we hear—whatever we hear—making the accurate record, without judgment.

On this same Saturday, we worked with the Rumi poem Two Kinds of Intelligence translated by Coleman Barks. Everyone selected a line or phrase that called to them, and used it as a place to begin. I wrote from the line, “A freshness in the center of the chest.” I ended with a meditation-like prayer. “Breathe in—keep the freshness—it’s already there. Let go—savor the freshness—it can’t be lost. Allow it—allow the natural native freshness to have its way with you, Laurie. Please.”

That last word—Please—was delayed making its way onto the page. It came as a sort of afterthought, popping into my awareness. Writing “Please” allowed me to feel the flow of love in this message from my inner knowing to me. It wasn’t a command; it was a plea.

Following this, we used a set of “8 good morning questions that create happiness” from the blog Marc and Angel Hack Life. Everyone selected one of the eight questions to explore in writing; two of the questions were chosen twice and two questions not at all. I selected, “What do I appreciate about my life right now?”

I ended up writing a lot because I was feeling genuinely appreciative, including: “I appreciate that my wants are simple and my needs are met.” But what I appreciate most from doing this experiment in a group of writers are the words that Laura Kosowski wrote and read to us. With her permission I share them with you: “In craving and yearning, wait, because once something comes, it has come.” We asked Laura to repeat her words for us several times, so we could copy them into our notebooks, along with her name.

We ended the morning with an experiment in knowing, working with a basket of Lake Superior stones. With eyes closed, each person selected a stone from the basket, studied it by the touch of fingers and hands, before returning the stone to the basket, without ever looking at it. Then with eyes open, everyone searched for their stone in the basket, knowing it by feeling it, and seeing it for the first time.

We explored in writing how our stone reflected our life. We discovered interesting marks and imperfections, smoothly worn edges, differently textured surfaces, unexpected colors, beauty revealed in water, resonant energy, magical memories and more. My stone was smooth to my touch, rather cresent-shaped, and gray-green. For me it elicited a rare lunar-like quality: it was beautiful but not in the way most people think of beauty. I recognized it as a companion stone, perfectly sized for my hand, one I could carry with me.

Two hours wasn’t quite long enough for all we processed, so we “went over.” When all was said and done, we showed up, we listened, and we wrote. We were writers—writing. We paid attention to ourselves and to each other, so that when it was time to go our separate ways, we weren’t separated anymore.

 

Good Books: August 2013 Newsletter

Contagious:
Why Things Catch On
by Jonah Berger
Simon & Schuster, 2013
hardcover, $26.00

“This book explains what makes content contagious. By “content,” I mean stories, news, and information. Products and ideas, messages and videos…. By “contagious,” I mean likely to spread…. from person to person via word of mouth and social influence. To be talked about, shared, or imitated by consumers, coworkers, and constituents.” – Jonah Berger

On the surface, Contagious might seem an unlikely book for me to mention in this newsletter. If you’re not working in marketing, what does it have to do with you? Why would understanding how something gets shared, talked about, forwarded, or purchased matter to you? According to Berger, whoever you are, “you need to understand how to make your product or ideas catch on.”

Maybe you dream of going viral with…. well something: your own business or your own creative genius. Maybe there are causes you value and support, things you cherish, or places you’re passionate about. Who hasn’t shared—or commented on—inspirational photos or messages, an entertaining or laugh-out-loud YouTube video, an important news development or a remarkable story?

Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In this position, he is frequently contacted and asked to recommend something ordinary people could read in order to understand what causes things to catch on. Contagious was the book people were asking for, so Berger wrote it: “A book that provided them with research-based principles for understanding what makes things catch on.”

Berger identifies six principles of contagiousness. These principles will interest curious types who wonder about—and want to understand—why things spread, go viral, get shared and talked about. The same principles will also be of interest to those “who want their ideas, products and behaviors to spread.”

Berger’s six key STEPPS framework:
Social Currency—Does talking about a product or idea make people look good or feel good?
Triggers—What else cues people to think about a product or idea?
Emotion—Does talking about a product or idea make people feel something they want to share?
Public—Does a product or idea advertise itself? Is it obvious to others when people are using it?
Practical Value—Does talking about a product or idea help people help others?
Stories—Is a product or idea embedded in a story people want to tell?

Contagious is an especially readable book filled with interesting stories that demonstrate how Berger’s principles, and word of mouth, work.

Daring GreatlyDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms
the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
by Brené Brown
Gotham Books, 2012
hardcover, $26.00

“We must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly…. as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.” – Brené Brown

I know some of you are already familiar with Brené Brown, having viewed her now famous 2010 TED talk The Power of Vulnerability and her 2012 TED talk Listening to Shame. Maybe you read one of her earlier books: The Gifts of Imperfection, reviewed in the December 2010 Newsletter, or I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power.

Brown is known for her research into fear, shame, and vulnerability. In writing and speaking about her work, she focuses on what is essential to living a wholehearted life, and that includes identifying what gets in the way: moving from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.” Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”—not weakness.

In her quest for personal and professional understanding, Brown also studied courage, self-worth, guilt, connection, change, control, authenticity, perfection, compassion, joy, gratitude…. It’s an impressive and interconnected list, encompassing much of what it means to be human. This is where Brown really stands out: her book is based on twelve years of research interviewing women and men, making observations, describing patterns, discovering connections, defining terms, explaining relationships, clarifying discoveries…. What she offers to readers is her professional expertise along with her own floundering stories of trying to live wholeheartedly.

 

Practice Page: August 2013 Newsletter

On The Front Page of this issue of the newsletter, I describe a session of Writing at The Purple Table, an event which I host. I mention three writing experiments you might want to try yourself.

• Two Kinds of Intelligence – a poem by Rumi
8 Good Morning Questions that Create Happiness – from the blog Marc and Angel Hack Life
• An Experiment in Knowing – exploring a stone using the sense of touch

Each of these is a listening-writing experiment that invites you to tap into your own inner wisdom and discover more of what you know. The first two experiments make use of writing prompts: in one you select a compelling line from a poem, in the other you select an intriguing question. The third experiment seems quite different. It allows you to see your life reflected in a stone, of all things. Although you can adapt the stone experiment to use other objects, many of us are naturally attracted by the silent language of touch and of stones.

Now, here’s one more experiment for you to think about, write about, talk about, wonder about, and try out.

Quotation Experiment

One of my favorite listening-writing experiments uses a quotation, something many of us seem to naturally collect. Anytime you encounter a quotation and make a point of saving it, consider it has something for you to discover or rediscover, something worth knowing or remembering. If you have your own collection of quotations, look through them and find one to work with now. Or, feel free to work one of the quotations below.

“There are two kinds of adventurers: those who go truly hoping to find adventure and those who go secretly hoping they won’t.” – William Least Heat Moon

“If you don’t have a dream, you’re doing time here.” – Tama Kieves

“In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it: They must not do too much of it: and they must have a sense of success in it.” – John Ruskin

“There can be no joy in living without joy in work.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

“Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.” – Albert Einstein

Listening-Writing

Once you have a quotation, write it in your notebook in your own handwriting, reading it silently and deliberately to yourself as you do so. Then read it several more times, as though you are absorbing it into your being. Notice if there’s a word or phrase that seems to stand out from the others; begin there, focusing on that word or phrase. Really listen, until you hear your response surfacing within; begin to write it down. Continue listening, and write whatever you hear. Allow yourself to follow the trail that begins to unwind; don’t worry if it is going anywhere, or if it is worth anything, or if it makes sense, or if it is the right way to be doing this.

Write until the writing feels complete, then stop.

Processing

When you have time, silently read to yourself all that you recorded. If anything leaps for your attention, note it. If nothing does, why not note that too. Notice whether you have been addressing a dilemma in your life, responding to a persistent question/ concern, or voicing your own extraordinary wisdom. What is the clearest thing you have written? Or the most curious? What, if anything, will you take from the experiment?

Laurie Mattila
© August 2013

 

The Front Page: April 2013 Newsletter

 

“Approaching your work as a job versus approaching it as a calling makes all the difference in whether or not you dwell in the miraculous universe…. While a job is separate from the rest of our lives, a calling is the fulfillment of the rest of our lives.”  – Marianne Williamson

Fantasy: The Job Walk

When I was growing up in a small town, my favorite community fundraising event was the cake walk. The event featured a long table weighed down with prize cakes baked by the women of the community. Back then it cost ten cents to join the participants who walked around a circle of chairs while the music was playing. Once the music stopped, everyone sat in a chair and waited for a number to be drawn. If the number called out matched the number on your chair—you won a cake. In some cake walks you were allowed to choose your winning cake, while in others, the cake was selected first; if you liked the cake you could play that round. The walks continued until, one by one, all the cakes were won.

There was a similar game known as musical chairs which I wasn’t fond of. It also involved walking around a circle while music was playing, but in this version, there was always one chair less than the number of players. In this game when the music stopped, there was a mad dash to sit in a chair and not be the last person standing, and therefore eliminated. Musical chairs didn’t involve beautiful cakes or any other enticing prizes, but that’s not why I disliked it: I disliked seeing people left standing without a chair and eliminated. The circle grew smaller and smaller, until only one person remained—the winner.

Over time, I’ve thought about these two experiences and imagined another version that could be played in the world of work. I’d call it the “job walk”. There would be a chair for each participant, and no one would be left standing without a chair. Instead of walking for cakes, people would walk for the opportunity to select a job they liked. That would make the job they had (and didn’t want) available to someone else who did want it. That’s my favorite part: people would be trading what they didn’t like, for what they did like. At the end of the fantasy, everyone walks away happier because the jobs have played musical chairs, and everyone is a winner.

I know it’s a fantasy, but it might be closer to becoming a reality than ever before. One of the main things that has kept people tied to work they dislike—health insurance—is about to change. No one knows yet how all this is going to work out, or play out; but it’s an opportunity that hasn’t been this available in the past.

For over twenty years I’ve talked with people whose work lives have been tied to their health insurance benefits. Many have stayed in joyless, ill-fitting jobs, grateful for work with health insurance. This slow depletion of the soul at work is not a cost often calculated or quoted, but it results in a cumulative diminishment felt throughout the work force. I believe it’s a major cause of despair among employees.

Even though change now appears possible, it will still require a willingness to change. Established patterns are resistant to change, even when we don’t like them and want them to change. With opportunity comes risk. We need to be willing to risk and willing to change.

I want to encourage everyone who is enduring an unhappy or unhealthy work situation—only because you need health insurance—to explore your options this year. Maybe you will discover an opportuntiy that allows you to be and do more of what you desire. Remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect in order to improve your life dramatically.

If there is anything I can do to encourage you, please let me know.

 

Good Books: April 2013 Newsletter

 

Seven Thousand Ways To Listen:
Staying Close To What Is Sacred

by Mark Nepo
Free Press, 2012
hardcover, $26.00

“When being authentic, we often come close to what matters, even hold it in our hand, and just as often put it down. This is not because we are dense, though sometimes we are, but because it is hard to sustain our presence. Often, we don’t listen or give our attention long enough to know the secret is in our hands. Sometimes we revert so quickly to the habit of our seeing that we miss the resources coming our way.” – Mark Nepo

In 2005, I reviewed Mark Nepo’s book The Exquisite Risk: Daring to Live an Authentic Life. The words—exquisite risk—still come to mind efforlessly, reminding me to live true; these two words are a testament to the power of Nepo’s poetic voice. Last December, when my friend Carol mentioned his new book, I was eager to read it.

The tiltle of Seven Thousand Ways To Listen was the result of Nepo’s conversation with a linguist who mentioned there are seven thousand known living languages. As Nepo tells it, that night in bed, “in the silence that’s never quite silent, I realized that, if there are at least seven thousand ways to speak, there are at least seven thousand ways to listen. And just how few we know.”

As a poet, philosopher, teacher, and writer Mark Nepo is a master listener, someone who practices and makes a living listening. He is willing to stop, or be stopped, and to pay attention, to notice the details. He naturally poses questions, delves deeper, and ponders the meaning of even small events. Yet, as he writes in the introduction, listening is a “personal pilgrimage.” There is no easy list of instructions for how to listen. Fortunately, every day brings opportunities to learn more about living, through listening.

Seven Thousand Ways To Listen contains three sections: The Work of Being, The Work of Being Human, and The Work of Love. Each section contains a dozen chapters filled with Nepo’s stories that illuminate the process of listening to life. Here are a few: Being Lost, Deep Listening, Restoring Confidence, The Call of the Soul, Not Getting What We Want, Wandering Authentically…. Although I read the book from beginning to end, it could be read one chapter at a time, in any order. At the end of each chapter, occasionally within a chapter, Nepo includes what he calls A Reflective Pause—some combination of A Meditation, Journal Questions for written exploration, or Table Questions for discussion with one or more trusted others. The meditations were definitely my favorite: calming, centering, restorative, dreamlike, beautiful. AND, poems written by the author are sprinkled throughout the book, waiting to be discovered.

As you immerse yourself in Nepo’s other-worldly writing, you will naturally begin to detect things. Little things, but nonetheless meaningful to you. Your attention will float from one thing toward another toward the whole. You will begin to feel more connected, to something. And in a rather curious way—you’ll be listening to your own wisdom surfacing.

“But why listen at all? Because listening stitches the world together. Because listening is the doorway to everything that matters…. Listening is being present enough to hear the One in the many and the many in the One. Listening is an animating process by which we feel and understand the moment we are in: repeatedly connecting the inner world with the world around us, letting one inform the other.”

Learn more about Mark Nepo.

 

The Law Of Divine Compensation:
On Work, Money, and Miracles

by Marianne Williamson
HarperOne, 2012
hardcover, $23.99

“With every thought we think, we either summon or block a miracle. It is not our circumstances, then, but rather our thoughts about our circumstances, that determine our power to transform them.”  – Marianne Williamson

The subtitle of the book—On Work, Money, and Miracles—actually intrigued me more than the title, The Law of Divine Compensation. As a career counselor, I regularly have conversations with clients about work and money; I even have conversations with myself about work and money. Respectfully summarized, here is one of the most commonly expressed work-money dilemmas: I don’t want my job anymore, but I need the money.

Marianne Williamson is the author of an impressive list of spiritual books including several New York Times #1 best sellers. Her first book was published in 1992, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. Since then she is known for her teachings on universal spiritual truths about love, fear, and transformation. The Law Of Divine Compensation is no exception.

The book is compact, 5 inches by 7.5 inches and 185 pages, perfect for reading in small, reflective portions. Williamson guides readers in exploring their relationship with work and money, focusing on the energies of love and fear. These are emotionally charged topics for many, especially when things do not go as we had planned or hoped. In a very calm and reassuring manner, Williamson explains how to apply simple, loving universal truths to work-money situations. She has an amazing gift for clearly demonstrating the difference that love makes. According to Williamson, the real miracle is not that an outside force magically changes your external circumstances; the real miracle is that the “nature of your thoughts” can change.

“There is a difference between having to work and having to struggle. Work is creative effort, a righteous extension of positive energy that attracts abundance; struggle is a perversion of creative energy based on a misunderstanding of one’s basic relationship to the universe…. If you think you have to struggle, you’re forgetting your relationship to the universe.

Learn more about Marianne Williamson.

 

Practice Page: April 2013 Newsletter

A Listening Experiment

Since one of the books I reviewed in this issue, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen, is about listening to life, I decided to create a simple listening experiment for you to try right now.

You’ll need something to write with so you can record your responses.

Simple Directions: Read each of the seven prompts below, one at a time. Listen for your brief response to each and write it down just the way you hear it. When you finish this step, scroll ahead for the step that follows.

• The color that day…
• Sometime in the afternoon…
• I’m reminded that…
• It seems as if…
• I keep wondering…
• I always liked…
• I’d love to find…

Next Step: Read through the list of prompts with your responses, as though they were a sort of paragraph. It’s okay if your “paragraph” feels rather nonsensical; don’t worry about that. Here’s my example.

The color that day was sparkling. Sometime in the afternoon I felt like napping. I’m reminded that I really am tired. It seems as if quiet space opened up. I keep wondering what I’m forgetting. I always liked the sound of waves. I’d love to find a real clue.

Next Step: Return to your paragraph and read it again, but this time pretend it’s an entry from someone’s dream journal, maybe yours or that of a stranger. Take a few minutes to explore in writing what the dream might be revealing. Here’s my example:

The sparkling day feels like a present, something very special. The soon-to-be-dreamer is paying attention to how she feels; she realizes she is tired and wants to nap. As she allows herself to rest she’s aware of a vague feeling that something is forgotten. The next thing she hears is the soothing sound of waves, matching the rhythm of her own breath—rising and falling, rising and falling. She is here in a place she loves, searching for a clue to something she wants to find.

Final Step: Read what you just wrote in the above step. Listen for the truth, wisdom, or knowing being revealed to you by you. Try to summarize it in one sentence. Here’s my example:

First things first: by allowing myself what I need and want, a space opens up for me to find the clue I want.

Laurie Mattila
© April 2013

The Front Page: December 2012 Newsletter

“You can’t plan an inspired life.” —Tama Kieves

The Year of The Inspired Day

December 15, 2011 was a high-energy, blue-sky day with extraordinarily strong winds. It was also a Thursday, the day recycling is picked up in our neighborhood. Driving home from my Pilates class, I noticed empty soda cans and plastic milk bottles being blown down every street I crossed. They had escaped from recycling bins and bags and were racing east, toward Wisconsin.

A few moments after arriving home, standing on the top back step about to unlock our porch door, a gust of wind caught and flung wide the storm door. Without thinking, I grabbed the handle to keep the door from being ripped off its hinges. Still holding onto the door with one hand, I reached toward the lock with the other, as a second and stronger gust of wind caught the door causing me to lose my balance. I tumbled off the steps, landing on one knee and the other foot which twisted oddly underneath me.

Long story short: The next day I learned that I had broken both leg bones at my left ankle. I wore a hot pink cast for two weeks, and, for the first time ever, learned to walk on crutches. At the three-week mark, I had surgery to repair my ankle with the addition of several screws.

This was one of those accidents that happened in an elongated moment. Just a second or two, earlier or later, and I might have walked straight into the house as I intended—as I’ve done thousands of times before—and many times since.

There is a popular saying that I’ve always liked: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” In one moment, tumbling off my back porch, I became the student, again.

From personal experience, I know that not all of my teachers are people; quite a few have been unexpected events that even seem to follow a pattern. The unexpected happens, my plans go on hold, and my time is freed up. I can name several other instances where this is what happened: a broken foot, a car accident, and two unexpected surgeries.

Under normal circumstances, unexpected free time thrills me. It’s one of my highest values, right up there with freedom; in combination the two are magical. However, the repeating pattern, call it the visiting teacher in my life, combines free time with restricted freedom.

For awhile last winter my teacher moved into the suddenly small radius of my life, where we had all the time in the world. At my best, I ate breakfast in bed, read the newspaper, devised ways to do things myself, listened to tele-seminars, worked on my website, sorted and tossed piles of paper. I also read books, talked with friends, researched future travel, enjoyed email, socialized with our cats, listened to the quiet, and spent time alone. I temporarily gave up driving, going to my office, volunteering, running errands, and generally being out and about — allowing my ankle time to heal. I also gave up accounting for the hours and days of my life. My productivity plummeted. Have you ever heard anyone proudly say? “I spent twelve hours elevating my foot today.”

With an excess of free time and very little I needed to do, I was shocked that my life didn’t feel a whole lot easier. Eventually I realized, I was the ready student. I spent entire days—day after day—just me and my new live-in teacher who “appeared” to help me master life. Well, refine it anyway.

Ordinarily, when I had a long mental list of things to do, I longed for more time. Last winter, when I had seemingly endless time and almost nothing I needed to do, I longed for a return to what I had before—less time. It made no sense to me. Now, one year later, I get it: there is no “less time” and no “more time”. There is only this moment in time.

This moment to savor the first taste of morning coffee, another moment to notice delicate snow falling outside the window, another moment to enjoy the sound of a friend’s voice over the phone, another moment to absorb the last rosy rays of sunlight late on a winter afternoon….

Many of us, myself included, try to cram our best thoughts into uninspired plans: in three years, in eight months, in ten years…. blah blah blah. Truthfully, we might not have ten years or it might only take ten months. Anything can happen to stop us or bless us. Then what?

I’m calling 2013 The Year of The Inspired Day, where every day is a fresh opportunity to be inspired by ordinary moments. I want to see what happens in my life and my work.

Good Books: December 2012 Newsletter

 

The Great Work Of Your Life:
A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling

by Stephen Cope
Bantam, 2012
hardcover, $26.00

“Most of the ordinary people whom I have studied, when first confronted with the notion of dharma, imagined that for them to claim their dharma probably meant inventing an entirely new life…. Not so. As it turns out, most people are already living very close to their dharma. Really. Within spitting range…. Their own sacred calling is hiding in plain sight. They keep just missing it.” -Stephen Cope

This fall I got an email from Shelley who was reading The Great Work Of Your Life. She was excited about it and thought I might like it, too. I ordered it immediately; but honestly, if I had seen this book on my own in a bookstore or online, I suspect I would have judged it by its cover and moved on to something more appealing. Fortunately, that isn’t what happened.

Stephen Cope, author of The Great Work Of Your Life, has an amazing job title: he is the director of the Institute for Extraordinary Living at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. If the words “extraordinary living” grab your attention, then so will his book.

Make sure you read the front matter, A Note To The Reader as well as the Introduction; and if like me you’re not familiar with the Bhagavad Gita, a two-thousand-year-old text, don’t let yourself be intimidated. Cope explains “this is a book about dharma — about vocations and callings” which includes stories of both illustrious lives (Jane Goodall, Beethoven, Marion Woodman, Mohandas Gandhi….)  and ordinary lives (you, me, the author, his college roommate….). All are examined in the light of the Bhagavad Gita, a dialogue between the very overwhelmed warrior Arjuna and his charioteer mentor Krishna, revealing “a path to the authentic self through action in the world.”  Story by story, Cope highlights important principles for true and fulfilled living in the midst of longing, confusion, fear, and doubt. Interestingly, Cope’s study has brought him to a place where “there is no longer really any distinction at all between great lives and ordinary lives.” I found each story fascinating and compelling.

Cope structures the book around the four pillars of Dharma: Discern your dharma (your calling), Do it full out, Let go of outcomes, and Turn it over to God. His selection of stories within each section nears perfection, as does his compassion and understanding in telling them. In his position of privilege and confidence he could easily abuse his role, instead he lovingly witnesses and honors the process of each person’s dilemma.

NOTE: I asked Shelley to join me in February or March for a sort of “one-book” book group. We’ll invite others who have read the book to meet with us to talk about it and it’s effect on our lives. The events calendar page on this website will have details once we select a date and time.

 

Inspired & Unstoppable:
Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work!

by Tama Kieves
Tarcher/Putnam, 2012
hardcover, $24.95

“[Some of us] won’t succeed through traditional means because force, fear, and standard projections do not motivate us. We are moved by bold ideas, big love, and intuitive, flawless direction…. We did not come here to do what’s been done before. We came here to expand—inspire, heal, express, create, and realize the exhilaration of being everything we are meant to be.” -Tama Kieves

Ten years ago Tama Kieves self-published her first book This Time I Dance: Trusting the Journey of Creating the Work You Love: How One Harvard Lawyer Left It All To Have It All. Within a year, her book was picked up and released nationally by Tarcher/Penguin. If you’re interested, you can find a review of This Time I Dance in an earlier newsletter.

Inspired & Unstoppable, her long-awaited second book, brings readers and fans up to date on her story of having a dream and making it happen. Kieves is as passionate and as honest as ever, but now in addition to being a successful writer she is also an international motivational speaker, spiritual teacher, and success coach.

Expect a bit of overlap between the two books; the focus of This Time I Dance was on Kieves own “journey of transition” while the focus of Inspired & Unstoppable is on the reader’s journey. “This book is about wildly succeeding in your life’s work: taking what you came here to do to the next level.”

Kieves believes in a path of inspired success, rather than one of linear success. She doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all plan with clear and easy steps. Instead, she tells stories that illuminate the brilliant inner guidance, resources, and power of those she coaches, with the expectation that readers will be inspired and guided into their own unique genius. “You deserve to succeed in your own way, unlike anyone before you, and beyond everyone’s wildest imagination, including your own.”

Learn more about Tama Kieves.

 

The Fire Starter Sessions:
A Soulful & Practical Guide To
Creating Success On Your Own Terms

by Danielle Laporte
Crown, 2012
hardcover, $24.00

“If you try to keep your most sacred ambitions off of your weekly calendar and your most genuine traits off of your resume, then you’re missing out on the power of real integrity.” -Danielle Laporte

If it’s super important for you to be real, to live and work on your own terms, then Danielle Laporte’s new book will interest you. Laporte is smart, accomplished, irreverent, and soulful — and so is her book. Open it anywhere, flip through a few pages, and you’ll discover a book with visual attitude. It’s got spunk!

The text is lively and fun to read. Laporte includes lots of great quotations, to-the-heart questions, and appealing worksheet-style exercises in every chapter. Here are a few example worksheets: The Burning Questions, Dream Analysis, and The Stop-Doing List which is one of my favorites. Her advice is spot on. In session 3, The Strategy of Desire, the focus is on How do you want to feel? “Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have. Generating those feelings is the most creative thing you can do with your life.”

How many writers do you know who include the playlist they “listened to obsessively” while creating the book? See page 329. Learn more about Danielle Laporte.

Practice Page: December 2012 Newsletter

“Yes…. No…. Yes…. No…. YES YES YES.”

The words above were a gift from one of the members of the 2012 yearlong writing group. Ron offered them to me early last year as a way to say YES more, while still being true to both my reluctant self and my reaching self.

Here’s something for you to think about, write about, talk about, wonder about, and try out.

A few good words, sometimes even one, allow us to leap more determinedly and confidently out of our relationship with what has been into a new relationship with what will yet be. A bit of dissatisfaction can be a great motivator; we know we are capable of and meant to experience more of what we long for. It’s not that we’re throwing out the past with a “good riddance” attitude. We’re recognizing it for what it is — a path to the present — and always a place to begin.

EXPERIMENT:

Find something interesting that is constructed with words: a newspaper, web page, magazine, book, catalog, blog, post, email…. Next, select a page, paragraph, or portion of text to play with in your experiment.

Laurie: I reached across the table and picked up the 2013 Chinook Book of sustainable local coupons, which happened to be sitting there. I opened it to the inside cover, an ad for heating and air conditioning, and decided to start with that. 

Making A List

Read through your selection, highlighting as you go, listening for six to ten words that feel connected to you. If you find yourself searching or wishing for certain words, go ahead and add them to the list you are making, even if you aren’t finding them. This is not cheating; you’re making your list.

Laurie: These are my highlighted words taken directly from the ad:

efficiency, best, energy, choices, money, free, discover, help.

Quick Review

Review your list of highlighted words without any judging or critiquing. It’s okay to toss out words that you don’t feel connected to after all, and replace them with words you do, even if they aren’t contained in the text you selected.

Laurie: I quickly review my highlighted words to check that I do feel some sort of connection, but I don’t bother analyzing anything. Yes, I feel a connection to these eight words. I decide not to add any more words to my list; I want to see what happens.

Exploring Connections Between Your Words And You

One by one, begin listening—paying attention—to each word on your list. Write whatever you hear as you explore your connections.

Laurie: This is what I wrote as I listened to the eight words on my list and explored their connections to me. Notice that my eight words are in bold; I wanted to be certain I included each word in my exploratory writing.

I like the word best, but I think of the saying, “Best is good, but better is best.” I know that Good is usually more efficient, too. In the past I have spent hours of my life trying to go from good to better to best. Finally, I’m becoming convinced that even best is not perfect. Why do I sometimes still feel a need to be perfect? I don’t want to waste my energy becoming frustrated, blocked, and stuck by an unattainable standard of perfection that I don’t even need to achieve. Trying to be perfect gobbles up my time, and limits my choices and my freedom. Plus, I don’t make more money, I don’t help more people, and I don’t end up happier. So, what am I discovering? I will live and work a lot happier if I allow myself to be who I really am — someone who loves process and gladly accepts the unplanned perfection of it. I choose to live true to the moment. I want to give up my imperfect attempts to control what will not be controlled.

Going Forward

What are you discovering in the words you wrote about?

Laurie: As I read all that I heard and recorded in the above writing experiment, I immediately notice that none of my eight words qualify as My Word of the Year for 2013 or even the month of January. However, they were guide words pointing me to something that really matters to me right now. I am still working on “control” and “perfection,” and might be all the days of my life. That said, I long for grace and ease and flow in life and work. This is what I take away from the experiment — grace, ease, flow. I want to affirm: Letting go of perfection and control, I live with grace, ease, and flow.

An Affirmation for 2013

If you are interested, I encourage you to put into your own words what you were affirming in your listening-writing experiment.

Laurie: Here’s my example: I live in grace, ease, and flow.

Laurie Mattila
© December 2012

The Front Page: April 2012 Newsletter

Thank you Margaret

Last November, I began working with Margaret Rode of Web Sites For Good on a project to update my website and convert it to a WordPress format. Margaret brought grace and ease to the project — as well as her professional expertise, great design instincts, and genuine caring. She was immensely supportive as I started to learn my way around WordPress; and she continues to support me on my new site, which I love.

Special thanks also go to my friend Lisa Finander, author of Disneystrology, who introduced me to Margaret.

My new officemate — Kate Kroska

I invited Kate, my new officemate, to introduce herself:

“I am so delighted to share office space with Laurie, for its energy resonates with creativity — and that is where I’m tuned in these days. I first met Laurie in a Discovery Writing class in the 90’s, and this became one of the vehicles that led me to my own creative unfolding. Deepening into and listening and trusting my inner wisdom has resulted in expanding into a path I call my life as art, or art as living.

My background as a licensed psychologist focused on the body-mind-spirit connection, supporting a holistic healing that includes contemporary energy approaches along with ancient spiritual healing practices. Teaching qigong as a certified instructor has resulted in offering a powerful tool in a person’s well-being. My own practice has generated such, as well as images that find their way in my watercolor works of art. Developing as a watercolor artist is one example of the creative unfolding that has occurred from my own inner well-spring of creativity.

Practicing as a life coach is another example; my experience with holistic wellness and creative expression has naturally evolved into a work that helps people both heal and grow — deepen into their spirit and expand into an even greater expression of who they are. My life coaching approach helps people access and cultivate their innate creativity to navigate life’s changes — consciously creating a life they love.  And yet another vehicle of transformation for me has been our sailboat. We sailed from the Duluth lift bridge to the Caribbean 14 years ago, and I am not the same – believe me! And now I’m in MN once again. We didn’t move “back” to MN; we moved “forward” to MN. But that is a story for another time. Bottom line: I have come to believe that I can do anything I have a desire to do. AND SO CAN YOU!”

Kate
www.kroskalifecoaching.com

The Front Page: Calling all introverts

Silence. Be still. These were the words on the card I drew at the end of a meeting of a new mastermind group I’m participating in. All six of us in the group are intent on manifesting our purpose in life and work. Meeting together in a small group, we ask for and receive encouragement and support. As so often happens, each of us drew a card with words perfectly suited to what we needed to remember.

Earlier in the evening, I had shared my intensely personal reaction to reading the book Quiet, which I review on the Good Books page of this issue. For most of my life I’ve known that I have strong introverted preferences, even before I had the language to articulate the word introvert. I love working alone, quietly, without interruption…. thinking deeply about the things that matter to me…. exploring, imagining possibilities, and experimenting with how to create them…. learning all I want to about whatever intrigues me…. working diligently at my own pace and to my own high standards. I like this way of being me, at work and in the world.

As a person in private practice, what I haven’t as fully acknowledged is how allergic I feel to putting myself out there: attending gatherings, making small talk, marketing myself and my services, networking with friends (gulp) and strangers (double-gulp), “out of the blue” telling people what I do and how it makes a difference in people’s lives. If I had a few more extroverted tendencies, I might really enjoy this aspect of business. The challenge of seeking new clients and students might feel exhilerating, sort of like winning. But I don’t enjoy it; I’d rather be off on my own creating or reading a book.

In my heart of hearts, I want to skip over all-of-the-above and do the work I love: have life-changing conversations with clients and facilitate discovery writing in small groups. Even though I can talk to anyone about anything, and often receive feedback about what a natural conversationalist I am, the truth is I’m an introvert and I talk best by listening.

The members of the mastermind group listened to my dilemma: I need to connect with a larger circle of new clients and students who are ready and eager to work with me. They asked pertinent questions:  How do I stay in touch with former clients and students? Do I actually state that I’m accepting new clients? Do I ask for referrals or testimonials? They also offered suggestions and made a few comments, including one that made me laugh, the one I remember: “calling all introverts.”

I promised myself that before the next mastermind group I would explore my dilemma in writing on The Front Page of the newsletter, which is what I’ve been doing. I started by writing the words from the card I’d drawn: Silence. Be Still. For a moment I wondered whether, or how, they were connected to my dilemma. A part of me already knew they were, especially when it comes to heartfelt word-of-mouth referrals. No one can promote my work better than a client who is living true to who she is, and talking about it.

Continuing to write, I uncovered a question behind my dilemma: How does one introvert call to another introvert? I know the question sounds like the setup for a joke, but it’s what I heard as I listened and wrote.

If you are an introvert reading this, you need to know: I get it because I live it. I don’t think there is something fundamentally wrong with you. I would love to work with you to help you explore your full potential and your life dreams. I want you to be able to live more of who you really are — in your own beautiful and introverted way.

What I offer is the gift of my undivided attention to help you clarify your life and your work.

with gratitude,

Laurie

Good Books: April 2012 Newsletter

Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain
Crown Publishers, 2012
hardcover, $26.00

I’m reviewing this book as an introvert, one who leaped with joy upon seeing a book with the title Quiet. My expectations were high; like Susan Cain, I wanted her book to promote understanding and appreciation of introverts. Beyond that, I wanted introverts to better understand and appreciate themselves.

Cain combines a readable mix of stories about famous and not so famous introverts, alongside results of research studies to which she offers fresh interpretations and insights. But the highlight of the book is in the opening chapters. Cain introduces the work of cultural historian, Warren Susman, who traced the 20th century shift in the dominant culture from one of character to one of personality; extroversion became the new ideal and leadership became synonymous with a charismatic personality. It wasn’t enough anymore to let character speak for itself, now a person needed to sell themselves, and it helped to have an attractive, energetic, dominant personality — quite like a movie star — quite unlike an introvert.

This shift in culture also happens to coincide with the birth of the self-help movement. Is there an introvert who hasn’t pondered the question, “What’s wrong with me?”

To investigate the myth of charismatic leadership, Cain attends an entry-level Tony Robbins’ seminar. She also visits Harvard Business School and the campus of one of the largest evangelical churches in the United States. Her intention is to focus on leadership models in these three hyper-extroverted settings. I particularly enjoyed the field trip nature of this chapter, with its behind-the-scenes report on whether extroversion is a prerequisite for leadership.

Following a great beginning, the book goes on to examine how —

• forced collaboration squishes creativity for those who prefer to work alone
• introversion is confused with shyness and/or sensitivity
• biology and free will play a role in temperament
• Asian-American students react to the extrovert ideal

I found Part Four: How to Love, How to Work a bit of a letdown. This final section reads more like a collection of case studies in communication and parenting, each one followed by Cain’s advice. However, for a parent wanting to raise a confident introverted child, the book’s last chapter might be the most important chapter in the book.

Cain’s book is worthy of all the attention it receives. Between one third and one half of the population has introverted preferences; that’s one third to one half of employees. Every workplace concerned about the present, or the future, would be wise to consider how it unknowingly diminishes results by failing to understand the way of half of its employees.

You might be interested in this TED talk given by Susan Cain on The Power of Introverts.

If you want to think more about the connections between character, personality, and happiness, check out this post on the blog Marc and Angel Hack Life: 5 Character Traits That Make You Happy

 

The $100 Startup:  Reinvent the Way You Make a Living,
Do What You Love, and Create a New Future
by Chris Guillebeau
Crown Business, 2012
hardcover, $23.00

In the April 2011 issue of the newsletter, I reviewed another book by Chris Guillebeau, The Art of Non-Conformity. You might remember him as the author and social entrepreneur with the goal to visit every country in the world, do work he loves, and live life on his own terms.

I just noticed his latest book is out and I want to mention it here, even before I read it. If the title, The $100 Startup, doesn’t grab you, check out the subtitle: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do what You Love, and Create a New Future. 

On Amazon.com’s main page for the book, scroll down to the Editorial Reviews to find a Q&A with Gretchen Rubin and Chris Gillebeau.

Practice Page: April 2012 Newsletter

What do I need to write about now?

In one writing group, we recently did an experiment that I want to share with you here. It works especially well in a small group, but it also works for one person writing alone.

The heart of the experiment is the question: What do I need to write about now?

In the group version, each person has one piece of paper with enough room to write a brief response to the question. Let your response be simple, a word or two, maybe a short phrase. Be spontaneous; there is no benefit to over-thinking. If you’re doing the experiment on your own, try working with four or six pieces of paper. Ask the question repeatedly, and each time you ask the question jot down another spontaneous response.

Gather the pieces of paper into a basket and mix them.

In our group version, two people volunteered to each draw one piece of paper from the basket. They read out loud what was on the paper. The result of the first draw was Satisfaction & Home. Each of us wrote to explore our own connections to the combination of satisfaction and home. After the writing, we each selected a portion of what we wrote and read it out loud in the group.

The second draw: Asking for help & Belonging. More writing and reading.

The third draw: Expectations & Flowers blossoming. More writing and reading.

The fourth and final draw emptied the basket: Mystery & Reading. More writing and reading.

I’d like to share the portions from my own writing that I selected to read in the group.

Satisfaction & Home:

“I know that I deserve to see my own happy self smiling back at me from under the bed.”

Asking for help & Belonging:

I’m thinking of the man I read about who wears a size 26 shoe and needed custom shoes that cost $18,000 a pair. He asked for help on Facebook and was generously heard…. I want to expect help will come.”

Expectations & Flowers blossoming:

“The expectation allows help to come.”

Mystery & Reading:

“Reading the unknown, deciphering the mystery of my own situation, is constantly in my awareness. What is this saying, not saying, pointing to? — almost like dream interpretation. What is the heart of the message from life to me as I pay attention to right now?”

As I review my selections right now, there’s an overlapping thread of something emerging. If this happens for you, and it probably will, write until the thing unravels and reveals itself.

Laurie Mattila
© April 2012

The Front Page: December 2011 Newsletter

The Magic Within

“though sometimes it is necessary 
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
. . . and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;”

poem Saint Francis and the Sow
by Galway Kinnell

If you happened to notice the magic wand on top of the short file cabinet in my office, you’d likely think it’s a toy. It’s a clear plastic tube filled with a pink gel that slowly glides from end to end, if you tilt the wand this way and that. Suspended in the glittering gel are shiny, brightly colored shapes: tiny stars, crescent moons, and hearts. I bought it at The Bibelot Shop on Grand Avenue in St. Paul many years ago.

As a former Girl Scout, I still like to be prepared for what might happen. Who knows when I’ll be working with someone who wistfully exclaims, “What I’d really like is a magic wand that could just make this all happen.” I’d get to pop out of my chair and reply, “No problem, I have one right here!” Or maybe I’ll be the one to say, “Maybe you’d like a magic wand to help make this happen.”

Truthfully, there have only been a few occasions when I’ve actually reached for the wand. Responses have varied: Surprise. Laughter. Disbelief.

I’m clear that my magic wand is a toy. At the same time, it’s a powerful symbol of a desire to be transformed by the touch of magic. This is an ancient and enduring desire, a theme observed in many of the oldest stories passed along through the ages. Feeling somehow “less than”, we look outside of ourselves for that magical thing which seems to elude us: power, wisdom, courage, strength, health, wealth, beauty, success, talent ….

Thinking back through the years, and all of the people I’ve met and worked with, I’m unable to remember even one person who showed up with no magic within. That doesn’t mean it was immediately obvious to me, or them, what their magic was. It can take time to discern and manifest magic when it’s buried like forgotten treasure. The point I want to make is—no one needs magic to give them the magic they already possess.

But when we’ve forgotten who we are, we might need a touch of something to remind us—we are here to bring our own magic into the world. To me, this is what the lines from the poem Saint Francis and the Sow are reminding us. Sometimes we need to relearn our loveliness, not some perfected idea of loveliness, not some trendy idea of loveliness; but our own very real loveliness. Not only do we need to remember our loveliness, we need to bless it and ourselves. In the words of writer Ray Bradbury, you need to “Love what you love.”

Let’s return to the symbol of the magic wand for a moment. What is its magic? It’s not a transformation bestowed upon us by mysterious, external forces; it’s a transformation we ourselves set in motion by our choice. We declare a desire or we ask for help. Somehow, we finally say—Yes. We are ready to bring into the world what has been waiting within us for a long time. Saying Yes doesn’t mean we know how to do it, only that we are willing.

I’m abruptly switching the subject to the movie, The Muppets, released late in 2011. After a client gave it a glowing review, I went to see it with a friend. Much to my surprise, I spent a good part of the movie choked up and sniffling, tears running down my cheeks. I laughed too, but I felt a deep and powerful resonance with a painful, long-ago quest I’d experienced. When you don’t know who you are and haven’t claimed your own magic, life is painful.

In The Muppets movie, Walter (a man born as a Muppet) and his older brother Gary are lifelong Muppets fans. Along with Gary’s girlfriend Mary, they set off to visit Muppet Studios and soon find themselves involved in a plot to save it. In one particularly poignant duet Walter and Gary sing, “Am I a man or a muppet? Am I a muppet or a man?” It’s touching to watch as Walter realizes he is meant to be a Muppet. Encouraged by his hero Kermit to find his talent, Walter agonizes about performing during the telethon to save The Muppet Theater. In the end Walter claims his magic: being who he is—a Muppet who can whistle. His performance of The Whistling Caruso during the telethon is divine.

Walter’s life is transformed, not by external magic, but by his own magic. Walter’s daring choice—to trust himself and be himself—is the transformation we are all seeking.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila