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

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

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

 

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

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

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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

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

The Front Page: August 2011 Newsletter

Thank You Nora

For the past nine years, Nora Livesay has been the technical expert behind my website and this newsletter. Our collaboration has meant the world to me: working together we created something that I love. Working together, we also became friends. Thank you Nora, and best wishes for the future you are well on your way to creating.

Sometimes It Seems

“Sometimes it seems that a plan is a useful illusion until life figures out where you really should be headed.”

—David J. Wolpe

“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

My life is blessed with people who call things to my attention—things like quotations, books, poems, articles, people, websites, blogs, and resources. Some of the things passed along to me are clearly related to my work, while other things are meant for me. All together, it ends up being an eclectic assortment of information and inspiration, a good mix of quirky, heartwarming, humorous, you-need-to-know-this stuff. Things often arrive with the message, “I thought of you when I saw this.” I genuinely appreciate these unexpected gifts which affirm my reach in the world; they are from people who know me and know what I’m about. It’s a delicious way to stay in touch.

The first quote above, by David J. Wolpe, came to me this way. Tom, my sweet friend and husband, brought it to my attention. He had just started reading the book Why Faith Matters and found this quote at the bottom of page one. It reminded him of something I would appreciate, and I do. I’ve been holding it in my awareness for the past few weeks, savoring it this way and that.

Not until I sat down, to begin writing The Front Page for this newsletter, did I realize that one of my favorite quotes, from the book A Walk Between Heaven And Earth by Burghild Nina Holzer, begins with the exact same words—Sometimes it seems. The second quote above is one I’ve effortlessly memorized through repeated use. Now it has a companion quote, and together they suggest an interesting listening-writing prompt: Sometimes it seems….

Without intending it, the prompt spontaneously opens for me. “Sometimes it seems that nothing is happening.” I hear the words clearly in my imagination and know: This is my current ongoing dilemma. But do I really want to go there now? I have work to do.

Truthfully, it’s what I’ve been feeling lately—nothing is happening—but I’m hesitant to admit it. On the surface, things are always happening and I’m always doing things. I make it a point to show up daily in my life. For me this is a given. But am I showing up for the things I’m here to do? And if I pay attention beneath the surface, what is this “nothing is happening”?

I’m aware of a pattern in my life: I make the best of things, and I’m good at it. This pattern shows itself in my natural optimism and my ability to see a situation from multiple perspectives. I can genuinely put a positive spin on anything that doesn’t split a heart in two. This is part of the gift of me, a clear-seeing soul who isn’t afraid to help others look—and see—what was, what is, and what could yet be. But when will I look into the “nothing is happening” within my own heart?

As I sit here in my office, writing these words, I feel the lump of truth rising in my throat and tears pooling. The “nothing is happening” is about the possible loss of my own dream, a dream I cherish and still love.

In the next several months, I’m facing a decision about the future of my own work. It might seem odd that in this economy, with so many unemployed people struggling to find work, a career counselor would be lacking clients. Those of you familiar with my work know that it’s not traditional career counseling.

My approach attracts those with deep longings, individuals who have time and an inclination to explore soulful questions about their life and work. From a spiritual perspective, they explore the essence of who they are, why they are here, and what makes them whole. It is also my passion: helping them to hear and trust their own knowing—to hear their heart speaking its own truth. I do this through clarifying conversations, Discovery Writing groups, and all of my work. I do this with joy and a heart spilling over. To me it’s like breathing, and there is no other work I would rather do. Sadly, from an economic perspective, the work I offer is not considered essential; it is seen by many as discretionary, more of a luxury.

It’s taken me months to admit—I’m at a place in my business where I’m not thriving. I need to stop pretending I have enough work. I’m here at the purple table writing, pursuing my vision, one I have faithfully loved. But I need to be asking myself: Is this still where I belong? Why is so little happening? Can I afford to do this? What will I do differently? And, my favorite question for clients, What would be truly helpful?

It would be helpful to feel your love and support as I grapple with my own uncertain future. A frightened, critical voice within scolds me for daring to reveal my dilemma and my vulnerability. But how can I be less truthful than you are when we work together?

In the spirit of my favorite quotation, I tried to write it down, not to figure it out.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

An Update

“The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose.”

— William Cowper

Sometimes It Seems was written in late July for the August newsletter, but posted months later than planned. I’d like to fill you in on what happened during those months.

My work flow in July and August was discouragingly slow—the slowest ever. In September and October things seemed to improve a bit.

Remember that I asked for your love and support? Well, I received it, even though my request was not online for you to read. I started to hear from clients and students who generously affirmed the work they have done with me. New clients and students began to contact me, acting on referrals they’d been given.

Over the summer, I experimented with offering Writing at The Purple Table. This allowed me to stay in touch and reconnect with more of you. It was a great experience, and I plan to continue these free monthly gatherings into 2012. See the Events Calendar page for details and join us if you’re interested.

I’m also asking for help. It’s not easy, but I’m doing it. If you see ways for me to work smarter or you have an idea for me to consider, I’d love to hear from you. Even if you don’t, I’d love to hear from you!

This fall I renewed my lease. I made the decision to continue the work I love, the work that is mine to do. I want love, not fear, to be the driving energy in my life. I’m clear about that, less clear about how it will all work out.

The Front Page: April 2011 Newsletter

 
The Season for Becoming

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

—Anna Quindlen

I found the title for this essay on a piece of paper, clipped to an old body + soul magazine I unearthed during a recent de-cluttering project. Written in my own handwriting, the words—The Season for Becoming—still resonate with me, even though I can’t pinpoint what originally prompted me to write them or when.

It might have been an idea for a workshop, a seasonal writing workshop, that would offer an opportunity to gather a small group to explore becoming, in each season and throughout a year. Or it might have been an idea for an occasional column I would write about becoming who we are. Those are my two best guesses. But now a third, new idea occurs to me: I could write to explore how the season for becoming relates to this issue of the newsletter, making it a listening-writing demonstration.

As I entertain this new idea, I listen for questions that might get me started. Isn’t it always the season for becoming? What difference does a season make to the process of our becoming? What part (or parts) of the process of becoming is unaffected by the particulars of a season? Is it possible to take a break from becoming, like a person might take a spring-break vacation? Or does the process move along, with or without our awareness, a silent backdrop to every breath and heartbeat?

There are more questions. Do we even realize who and what and how we are becoming? Or is that something more evident to the world around us than it is to us? What role does personal choice or intention play in the process? What are our responsibilities? Who and what are our inspirations?

I sense my focus shifting toward my ongoing attraction to quotations. This has me mentally sifting through fragments I sort of remember, searching for words that might inspire or illuminate something. This is what I dredge up: It takes courage to grow up and become who you already are. There is no name attached to the memory I’ve hooked. Was it Einstein? I get online and discover it was the poet e.e. cummings, and I was pretty close on the way I remembered the words.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” —e.e. cummings

I agree with cummings: it does take courage to grow up, and it takes courage to be who you really are. Or as I remembered it, who you already are. Is who you already are different from who you really are? And what does this have to do with the season for becoming?

My listening-writing has taken me on a ramble and, in this moment, I want to write my way home. I want to discover something that connects one thing to another. The words—“in this moment”—leap forward to become my clue: this moment is the time and place for becoming, the only opportunity for becoming.

Unlike a season with its sweeping vistas, cherished traditions, and visible transformation, for many of us one moment is impossible to grasp; it’s invisible, it’s here and gone, and it can’t be contained. Plus, even when we notice moments, there are so many of them in which not much seems to happen. It makes it easy to ignore what we do with them, or fail to do with them.

Yet, each moment is a tiny building block for an hour, a season, and a life. It is the space in which we become—however, whoever, and whatever we become. What we do again and again, makes us who we really are. In the accumulation of our thoughts, choices, and actions, we create and recreate ourselves. We don’t do it tomorrow, or next month, or two years from now. We did it yesterday, and this morning, and five minutes ago.

Spring arrives offering another season for becoming who you really are. It brings moments of sweet birdsong, greening landscapes, warm sunshine, puddles, sidewalk cafes, outdoor markets….

Will you inhabit the moment? Will you be who you really are, who you already are? Will you dare to be perfectly yourself—in the only season for becoming—in this moment?

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: December 2010 Newsletter

A Gift of Listening

I’m excited to announce an audio project, completed earlier this year, that is now available on my website for you. Ron Duffy, of Inner Journeys Radio, worked with me to record this conversation about my work. The five tracks include

Track 1 Introduction (2:04 mp3)

Track 2 Trusting the Process: Becoming Who We Are (24:12 mp3)

Track 3 Discovery Writing (33:11 mp3)

Track 4 Clarifying Conversations (18:14 mp3)

Track 5 Closing Comments (2:02 mp3)
 

I hope you enjoy them all.

 

A Year of Readings

“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, December 2004

In all the years that I have offered and facilitated Discovery Writing groups, I’ve collected an assortment of readings that have taken on powerful associations for me and many others. Each spring I anticipate reading an essay by Ellen Goodman, Lilacs, like lives, speed past us all too quickly, which I first read in 1996. Of all the readings I have used, this is probably the most loved. In June there is Jane Kenyon’s poem Peonies at Dusk, and in October Mary Oliver’s poem At Blackwater Pond.

At the beginning of each Discovery Writing group, regardless of the season, I read the beginning of an essay by Mary Oliver: Pen and Paper and a Breath of Air. It contains the perfect words to inspire one who is embarking on a journey to write in a notebook—”these are the pages upon which I begin.” Mary Oliver is referring to her notebook, but we know it can be true for ours, too.

Then there are all the quotations that capture the process of what we are doing, in words that flow like poetry, even if our lives bump along. Words from Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Burghild Nina Holzer, William Murray, Rachel Naomi Remen, Dawna Markova, Laurie Colwin, and many more. The truth of their words intersects the truth of our lives and inspires us to go deeper, in order to go beyond. We write in the moment, making our way toward clarification, understanding, acceptance, meaning, truth, and life-changing action.

I can’t forget the essays: The red dress never fit by Jacquelyn Mitchard and It’s time the carpet came out for good by Catherine Watson. And The Birthday Party, an excerpt from Linda Hogan’s book The Woman Who Watches Over The World. And the book review of Cheap Hotels by Daisann McLane which offered a great writing idea— Ten Places I Was Happy. Or the idea for writing Fake Book Reports encountered in Shadow Baby by Alison McGhee. Or the lyrics of the songs Holy Now by Peter Mayer, and Canned Goods by Greg Brown. The list goes on.

My favorite reading in early December? It’s an essay I wrote for this newsletter in 2004: The Necessity of Darkness. It might not fit the picture of midwestern modesty, but I love that essay and want to keep its spirit alive. Each year since, I make a point of searching it out once the days feel steeped in darkness. I read to myself and remember.

I invite you to use the link below to find the essay. Give yourself the gift of reading it. Share it with someone. Maybe write about it. Most importantly, savor the love and light of your being, and allow yourself to shine in a world that is desperately seeking light.

The Necessity of Darkness by Laurie Mattila from The Front Page of the December 2004 Newsletter

 

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: August 2010 Newsletter

A Longing for Quiet

“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”

—Marcus Aurelius

Thirty three years ago, when I was 24, I made a small decision that took root in my life. Unlike other decisions that I have attempted, some repeatedly, this particular decision was not difficult to make or maintain. One part of me hesitates to mention it. I don’t want to be judged, or have assumptions made about me and what I believe. But I also want to use it as an example of how easily life can shift.

What I decided was to live without television, not for the rest of my life, for awhile. My reason was simple: I had been living with a roommate who enjoyed having the television on for company. I felt overexposed to the constant background noise, not that it was so loud. It wasn’t. But it seemed to me it was always on and I had a longing for quiet.

When I moved into my own place that fall, I didn’t have a television and I didn’t want one. Years went by and I didn’t miss it and I never thought to want one. Eventually, I married a man with a portable, black and white t.v. that was soon stolen in a break-in. No loss. We didn’t replace it. Awhile later, we won a portable, color t.v. at a company picnic. After some discussion, we decided to keep it and store it in a closet, because we didn’t plan on watching it much. If we ever needed it, it would be there.

I don’t want to imply that I’ve never watched a single television program since that decision back in 1977; of course I have. I’m not against television; I just don’t want to live with it.

As a kid I adored television and remember vividly the first one our family owned. I had many favorite programs that I still enjoy thinking about. Who didn’t love I Love Lucy? But after those early years, I have a giant 33 year, and growing, gap where my firsthand knowledge of television is hit or miss. There are hugely famous shows that I never saw, not even one episode. Add to that, thousands of unseen commercials.

In spite of this, it’s pretty amazing how much a person who doesn’t watch t.v. knows about what’s on and what’s hot. Television is such a pervasive force in our culture. Even without watching t.v., we can be exposed to up-to-the-minute updates about the shows, the characters, the actors who play them, love interests, challenges, scandals, addictions, and on and on.

In all these years I’ve rarely mentioned this decision to anyone. Who honestly cares whether I watch t.v. or not? Well, there was one person who did: the cable guy who stopped by right after we moved into our newly purchased home. When I told him we didn’t watch t.v., he blurted out, “What are you, Communists?” I’d never thought of it quite that way myself.

Thinking about this recently, I was curious about how much viewing time I’d gained during these 33 years. Here’s my estimate: Suppose I had spent one hour a day watching television. That’s 365 hours in a year or 12,045 hours in 33 years. Converting that to 40-hour work weeks, I got 300 weeks, roughly 5.75 years of at-work time.

It strikes me that a person could accomplish a lot in the equivalent of almost 6 years of freed up time. Which brings me to a question I’ve never considered. What have I done with those 6 years?

Even though I don’t have a quick answer, it feels important to ask the question. Have I enjoyed them and used the time in ways that interest and matter to me? Do I have anything to show for it? Or it is just gone?

Years ago when I was an employee, I remember yearning for one thing: time off, but not a day or two, or even a couple of weeks. I wanted blocks of time where I could be my own person again. I wanted time to read the newspaper leisurely, muck around in the garden, help out a neighbor or a friend, volunteer, browse in a bookstore, get lost in a project, just be.

That is how I’ve spent my 6 reclaimed years; surrounded by a bit more time to live quietly, with minimal distraction, at my own pace. Since I am a person who wants to be in my life, not distracted from it, this has been truly helpful. I know that whenever I become too distracted, I feel myself losing focus and drifting out of my life. Thirty three years later, I still feel a longing for quiet and need it to hear the inner promptings that guide me home to who I am.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: April 2010 Newsletter

On My Heart and Mind

“Why should employers take steps to help make their employees happy? Two reasons. First, because it’s the right thing to do…. Second, employee happiness is GOOD FOR BUSINESS.”

—Gretchen Rubin

A recent newspaper article in the business section caught my attention. It concerned the results of a survey of 1000 U.S. working adults. I got distracted before I read to the end, but one thing stuck with me: employees are worn out, not wearing out, already worn out. Because I continued thinking about the article, I finally went in search of it, read it from beginning to end, and found that the actual word was “exhausted.” Employees are “exhausted.”

The survey reported on falling percentages in the following areas:

  • employees who take pride in their company
  • employees intending to stay with their company
  • employees willing to go “above and beyond” their duties
  • employees who would recommend their company to others

Ouch! Some of you don’t need a survey to tell you this; you are either experiencing this yourself or know others who are.

It seems this decline in worker loyalty is related to a workplace practice that has been going on for too long. Instead of adding more jobs to spread out workloads that have become unrealistic, employers are still making do with current employees who are expected to get it done. And mostly they do; it’s their job and it’s better than no job, so they do what needs to be done. But as you can easily imagine, people are spread dangerously thin, and have been for quite some time. Yes, you can ask—or tell—someone they need to do more, faster and they will. But it costs them personally: they pay with their life.

How can you honestly expect someone to be genuinely grateful for a job where the work has grown joyless, dehumanizing, and is likely killing them?

Human beings are both incredibly strong and shockingly fragile—at the same time. We can make it through a few stressful days, weeks, or months. But three, four, five years? Something’s got to give.

It seems employees are denying—and being denied—their human side. Because they have gone “above and beyond” time and time again, it has evolved into the new norm. They are now expected to perform at previously extraordinary levels, on an everyday basis. Who will say enough is enough? When will we focus on sustainable ways of being in the workforce? What will it take to cultivate the values of common sense, respect, and kindness? When can employees stop subsidizing employers?

Maybe you’ve heard it said that people don’t quit jobs, they quit bad managers. Bosses who are insecure, defensive, frightened, mean-spirited, and stingy. Supervisors who either can not or will not express genuine appreciation. Managers who tolerate work environments that actually prevent employees from doing and enjoying the work they show up to do.

Good work. What would that be? For employees? For a company or an organization? For customers or clients? For owners or stockholders? Let it be productive, and profitable within reason. Let it restore the planet to a better condition than we currently find it. Let it be a force of healing. Yes, healing.

Good work heals. It connects us to the needs of the world. It also connects us to an invisible force within and enables us to go beyond ourselves, where we experience joy, discovery, and healing.

Could we admit we need to change, and leave behind the attraction of greed? Could we move toward ways that are sustainable—inspired and guided by wisdom, respect, creativity, and integrity—working toward goals that hold a promise for everyone and for the planet?

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: December 2009 Newsletter

Genius at Work

“It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

Gertrude Stein
1874-1946

In late July, this Gertrude Stein quotation appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in one of my favorite features: you don’t say by l.k. hanson. In case you don’t get the Star Tribune, you don’t say appears every Monday in a box on the Opinion Exchange page. Hanson selects and illustrates a quotation, like the one above. Being a person who likes to ponder things, I find rich material in these weekly creations.

In my work I’m fascinated by the sparks of genius I encounter. I intentionally watch for them, so I see a whole lot more than anyone would ever believe. It might seem to some that I do not grasp what genius is—something quite extraordinary, spectacular, rare—a one-in-a-million sort of occurrence; it certainly isn’t something you expect to find in ordinary people the way I seem to do.

I believe we all have our moments of genius, even if genius isn’t our everyday method of operation, the way we are day in and day out. Returning to Gertrude Stein’s words, genius isn’t the way a genius appears day in and day out either: sitting around doing nothing.

Everywhere I look I see people doing, often multitask doing. Most of us are busy, busy, busy—way too busy. Even people without 40+ hours of paid work report how busy they are. So busy, they wonder how they ever had time to work that much. All this busyness appears productive, but what is it producing? And is it producing what is truly desired?

Sitting around doing nothing appears suspect: aimless, unmotivated, lazy, unproductive, something we should apologize for doing, or not doing. How could sitting around doing nothing be associated with genius? Who would dare to enter into this experiment to find out?

Isn’t taking time to be, rather than to do, what vacations are intended for? Even then, it’s difficult to stop and be; the momentum of life propels us forward long after we stop. Not only are our lives busy, our minds are even busier, making it truly difficult to come to rest. Our thoughts are often speeding along hours after we need to be asleep, restoring ourselves for a new day.

It’s startling to admit how much of our activity isn’t generating anything new, helpful, or particularly interesting. It’s a lot of repetition: thoughts, conversations, behavior, plans, ad nauseam. There is so much to do, and do again, that we don’t have much room in our lives to create what is new to us. Our best ideas might never see the light of day in our rush to get it all done.

So, when I sit with someone who is taking time to stop, even briefly during an appointment, I know there is probably a backlog of thoughts and emotions waiting to be heard. There are fragments and snippets likely glimpsed before, but never given full attention. They constitute a real mix, everything from old grudges and disappointments, to hopes and dreams, to sparks of genius, waiting—like the next audience in line—for the movie theater to empty and everyone to move forward.

One of my responsibilities when I work with someone is to listen for the inner genius that reveals itself, and when the moment feels right to return to it and give it full attention. Over the years I’ve become more trusting of being able to recognize genius in a person. Often it’s the unique example that grounds a telling story, or a particular choice of words I’ve never heard before, or an aliveness that suddenly animates a conversation, or a life, that seemed to be going nowhere. Sometimes I sense it before my client does; sometimes it’s a mutual knowing. However it happens, it feels like we struck gold, oil, water, and the divine, all at once.

Daring to stop, remaining still enough to hear your own breath, gazing into the unknown expanse—all look like doing nothing. Sitting, breathing, and staring into space are likely prerequisites for meeting your own genius. Only after you’ve accomplished that, does it make sense to be busy, busy, busy making real what thrills your heart and soul.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: August 2009 Newsletter

My Unlikely Role Model

“And that’s the way it is.”

Walter Cronkite
1916-2009

I’ve appreciated reading remembrances which appeared soon after the death of Walter Cronkite on July 17 at the age of 92. I’m one of the children who grew up listening to Mr. Cronkite almost every night on the CBS Evening News. Thinking back, it’s not images that I remember. It’s the familiar sound of his voice—calm, steady, knowing—the memorable voice of someone who could be counted on to be there, night after night.

I heard snippets of Cronkite’s voice played in the days following his death, and again during a special program observing the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. What surprised me, both times, was how precisely I remembered his voice, even before hearing the recordings. Somewhere in the recesses of my memory, that voice had etched its pattern.

Thinking back to the evening news of the ‘60s, I’ve realized what a powerful role model I witnessed in Walter Cronkite. For me, and many others, it wasn’t what Cronkite did as much as the way he did it. Each evening as he worked, Cronkite modeled integrity. No wonder that in 1972 a national poll referred to him as the “most trusted man [voice] in America.”

Even though my professional aspirations never included becoming a television news anchor or managing editor, Cronkite’s work powerfully affected me. Walter Cronkite showed up, focused intently on the task at hand, and did it splendidly. He relied on his respected presence, distinctive voice, and thoughtful manner to talk through the news of the day. Several of the pieces I’ve read about Cronkite’s life reminded me that, from today’s vantage point, it’s easy to overlook what a pioneer he was in the field of broadcast journalism.

It’s occurred to me that there are ways in which the work I’ve chosen is not that far removed from the work I saw Cronkite performing. My primary tools are a table and chairs. I show up expecting to enter into uncharted conversation, sometimes feeling like a pioneer. My own presence is key to creating a place of safety and acceptance where the important things of life can be witnessed. Integrity is a touchstone for listening to the heart of another. There might be more, but these are the discoveries I’ve made so far.

These few connecting threads offered up an unexpected and exciting insight: Here was someone whose work had positively influenced my own, even though I had no clue this was occurring, night after night on the CBS Evening News, all the way back in the 1960’s.

Thank you Mr. Cronkite for being a role model for me—for perfecting your gifts in the way you did—so that I could begin the process of discovering and offering my own gifts, and then go on to guide others in the discovery and expression of theirs.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: April 2009 Newsletter

All Things Possible

“Our life is not a problem to be solved, it is a gift to be opened.”

—Wayne Muller

Some of you know that I have an ongoing interest which I’ve affectionately referred to as my one and only hobby: reading used car ads. Not just any used car ads, Volvo station wagon ads. Except for one new car that came with a loan right after college, all of my car buys have been older used vehicles, cash cars I call them. Except for a 1974 light blue VW Super Beetle, all of my used cars have been Volvos, and all but one of those have been station wagons.

I didn’t plan this, it’s one of those things that happened. As I think about it though, it really fits who I am—practical, thrifty, adventuresome, helpful, and a dreamer. Even though I live in the city, I like a vehicle that can haul stuff at a moments notice without a fuss. Stuff like building supplies, compost, groceries, friends, furniture, pets, plants, and the unexpected find.

For as long as I’ve owned cars, going on 35 years, I’ve been fortunate to know and work with wonderful mechanics whom I’ve learned about by word-of-mouth. In all those years there have been a grand total of four mechanics in my life. Two in Duluth, one in northeast Minneapolis, and one in Dinkytown, where I’ve been a loyal customer for over 25 years.

Originally, the auto repair shop in Dinkytown, on the corner of 14th Avenue S.E. and Eighth Street S.E., was the Gorshe Brothers Garage. Greg worked there with Mr. Gorshe and his brother, who have since retired. I cried when I found out about the retirement, but the business still bears their name, Gorshe Auto Service, and, fortunately, Greg continues to work there.

Because I choose to buy and drive older used cars, it’s essential for me to have a mechanic I trust completely, as well as AAA extended towing. That way if something unexpected goes wrong I can be 100 miles from home and still be towed back to the “garage of my choice” in Dinkytown where Greg will take care of everything. Over the years that has happened on several occasions, but it’s nothing I worry about anymore. When a mechanic like Greg always does good work, is knowledgeable, honest, and fair there is nothing to worry about.

Even though I regularly scan the used Volvo ads, I’m rarely car shopping. I just like to have a pulse on what’s out there and what it’s going for, in case. Lately though, I find myself scanning with more focused intent. This past winter has been particularly hard on my 1992 station wagon. Mechanically it’s still sound at 221,000 miles, but the driver’s side doors are beginning to visibly rust along the bottom. I checked out the possibility of buying a used door from a recycler of Volvo parts and I’m actually thinking about that. I guess it depends on the door repair estimate and what shows up in the ads.

I recognize that my car hobby parallels what many employees have always done with jobs. Right now, so many people who are employed are especially grateful to be working, even if the work they do isn’t the work they really want. They show up and do their best, but they’re also keeping an eye and an ear open for what’s out there. They want and need to know, in case they happen to uncover something of interest or find themselves in a position of needing to make a quick change. In both of these examples, we’re now seeking and using information online rather than in the newspaper that’s delivered to our front door. And who hasn’t noticed, there seem to be more cars to be sold than jobs to be filled?

So much has changed, and is still changing, to the point that many of us feel disoriented in an increasingly unfamiliar world. Stable things we counted on to guide and ground us, to act as landmarks in our lives, suddenly vanish or seem in danger of toppling. It’s easy for worry and fear to overwhelm us and paralyze our best creative energies. But that is only one aspect of what is possible.

I’m reminded of a favorite line of mine from Wayne Muller’s book, Sabbath, “often it is when we do not know the outcome that all things become possible.” This, too, is an aspect of what is possible now, a time to awaken and channel our individual and collective creative energies. We do not know the outcome; it is still being created—by you, by me, by all of us.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: December 2008 Newsletter

Testing, One Two Three, Testing

“Life is what happens to you, while you’re busy making other plans.”

—John Lennon

This often repeated saying is what my life has been like for the past month. Except, it’s not what happened to me, it’s what happened to my eighty year old mother.

The week before Thanksgiving, I received a call from my sister-in-law that I needed to come home because my mother’s health had deteriorated and my parents needed help. My sister and I left town the next day and spent a week caring for my mother and father. Although my mother was the one with increasingly debilitating back pain, my father had become depleted trying to care for her over the course of several weeks.

Fast forward one week. We returned to the Twin Cities with my parents and a copy of my mother’s MRI. Miracle of miracles, my mother was able to be seen by a specialist at Twin Cities Spine Center the Monday after Thanksgiving, and was admitted to Abbott Northwestern Hospital the following Wednesday with an infection in her lower spine.

During these days, marked by my mother’s pain, my world changed. I became focused on now: what is needed now. The list seemed endless. While my sister cooked and cleaned, I cared for my mother. My usual, large world of possibilities shrunk to the confines of my parent’s home. I was away from my home, office, telephone, computer, husband, neighbor, cat, newspaper and routine. After I returned to my own home, I was still focused on the needs of my parents. Even after my mother was hospitalized, I was still focused on her evolving needs and the needs of my father who was staying with us.

Fast forward two weeks. My mother was admitted to Sister Kenny Institute where she will spend time in rehabilitation: learning to stand, walk, and climb stairs again, and do what she needs to do for an eventual return to her beloved home.

Through all of this, I kept thinking about this newsletter which was “supposed” to be posted online in early December. Even after I realized it wasn’t going to happen as planned, and didn’t need to happen as planned, I had to adjust to what was possible. I entertained the idea of an abbreviated version, but even that proved to be a huge challenge.

My life right now is not my normal life. I’m camping on the living room floor, making almost daily trips with my father to visit my mother, and focusing more on the work I love. I’m tired and probably look it. But I’m also excited about the change and growth I’ve realized. I did not know the extent to which I could live in the moment, how physically strong I have become, and how easy it is to let go when you know there is nothing you can do.

For quite some time I’ve been intentional about living in the moment, strengthening my core, and learning to trust the flow of life. But I haven’t had an opportunity to realize my true progress, until this unplanned test happened in real time. Testing, one two three, testing.

I’m happy to report that my mother is working hard in rehab and making progress every day. She will return to our home sometime in January, and begin the next phase of preparing to return to her own home.

Thank you for waiting a few extra weeks for this issue to be posted on my web site.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: August 2008 Newsletter

MINING VS UNDERMINING

Shouldn’t I be writing about surviving in a difficult economy and trying to calm widespread fears about job losses, echoing how awful everything seems right now? Wouldn’t that be the responsible thing to address, given the focus of my work?

Being who I am, I can’t go there. I need to focus on what I want to grow: trust in living true to our own selves, guided by our own wisdom, regardless.

Some have wisely said that it’s not what happens, it’s our response to what happens that matters most. This applies to the big things and maybe more to the everyday things: what we eat and drink, what we think and speak, what we buy and borrow, what we do or don’t do.

Sometimes I wonder if I watched too many “hero to the rescue” television shows when I was a child. I clearly remember the wonderful rush, feeling how it would be to arrive just in time to turn around another tragedy in the making. A smart, chubby young girl with long braids, I wanted to be a hero who rode or flew off to my next adventure as the theme music played in the background.

In comparison to my heroic, childhood imaginings, tidying up my office for a client, returning phone calls, and preparing for a group might seem like a letdown. But I know that most of life is lived in the in-between. I still love heroic rescues, but there are billions of ordinary moments to love and live, all with their own untapped potential. These are the overlooked, almost invisible moments when we are getting by, hanging out, or waiting for some other moment. It doesn’t take much to mine the treasure in these moments, if we remember. We can choose to focus our attention, gifts, and compassion on the situation surrounding us. Or we can ignore, whine, complain, undermine, and feed the popular frenzy about you name it.

On occasion, we all dismiss these in-between non moments, relating to them as though they were disposable packing material wrapped around the real highlights of our life. It’s important to acknowledge that the moments that make up life’s nonevents actually equal years of our lives. These moments hold the undeveloped potential for being more alive and awake to life. Instead of getting through them, wasting precious time counting down the hours and the days, we can choose to more fully inhabit all the moments of life. We can notice who or what is before us, right there in front of us, needing what we bring.

In the words of poet Marge Piercy, The Art of Blessing the Day, we can choose to “be glad for what does not hurt.”

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: April 2008 Newsletter

After the Leap

With the return of spring many of us experience an infusion of welcome energy and the recurring thought to begin something new. This also happens in the fall when “back to school” sales appear everywhere, and at the New Year when the slate is wiped clean. It can happen too around the anniversary of significant events: a 40th, 50th, 60th… birthday, the ending of a relationship, a life-changing decision, a health crisis, or retirement. But a spring beginning is special; all around us the natural world is reawakening with contagious energy. Daylight hours lengthen, temperatures climb, colors return to the landscape, and enchanting birdsongs and sweet blossoms fill the air. Here in the Midwest, the cold and dark, so suited to hibernating and brooding, release their hold on us. A powerful convergence of inner and outer energies moves us.

Beginning something new can be fun, some might say the most fun of all. Although we work long and hard, it doesn’t feel like work; it’s more like love. We are intensely focused, motivated, engaged, and energized by what we are doing. We become mindful to the point that time is no more. Our imagination and our will enter a collaborative, self-feeding loop. There is a rare quality of seamlessness to our being and doing, often sought by spiritual seekers. Like happiness and the illusive butterfly, this seamlessness arrives as a byproduct of connecting to all that is whole, within and without.

This wonderful phase, beginning, is one of life’s best medicines, reminding us that good work heals. All is potential, and so much more feels possible; we no longer dwell in doubt and fear. Our hearts connect with something that sends us scampering to the highest peak we can reach, where we adore the view, throw out our arms, and leap into the unknown, thinking or shouting “THIS IS IT!” Innocently, we imagine our leap to be a one-time occurrence—a grand finale after which we live happily ever after.

This leap is about as far into the creation process as many of us get. We soon regain full awareness that we’ve survived the leap and the landing, but circumstances haven’t changed all that much. There is still much work to do, and some of it now feels overwhelming, time consuming, and difficult. It’s not that the leap didn’t matter; it did. Leaping marks a critical event—beginning—in the process of creating, but projects always stretch beyond.

After the leap, what needs to happen next depends on the person and the project, but it usually involves a series of deliberate choices: the choice to take a welcome break, to clarify what has happened so far, to consider what hasn’t worked as expected, to ask for and receive helpful advice, to tweak things a bit, to return to the idea board, to try something else entirely, and always the choice of whether or not to continue. What often happens next is an unconscious choice to play it safe and cut our losses, to walk away from the mess and hope to get it right next time. We don’t often consciously choose to stop or head off in another direction, which are completely valid options; it’s more like we fail to show up anymore and hope no one notices. We go invisible as another beginning fades away.

The progression from a pregnant beginning to a non ending can happen in a few days or weeks, or it can take years. Regardless, it can be a completely disabling experience in which every disappointment, self doubt, and fear appears magnified. The loss strikes directly at the heart that wants to love what it does. After even one such experience, it’s easy to understand why some people won’t allow themselves to get too excited about anything and back away from beginning something new. Who wants to risk ending up feeling incompetent and looking like a fool, again?

But the human dilemma is that we are always beginning, always making the choices that create our lives, with or without awareness.

Every time we go conscious, rather than invisible, we recognize the ordinary moments of choice making, and create our lives with intention rather than by accident.

Happy beginnings … happy spring … happy, happy everything.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: December 2007 Newsletter

Shifting the Pattern

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

—Wayne Muller

Of all the completed projects I’m celebrating this year, my front porch project leaps to the top of every list I imagine myself making. This project spent years on every to-do list and in my nagging awareness, needing attention, begging for attention. The ugly water-stained ceiling tiles bothered me the most, lurking overhead every time I entered the space or even thought about it. The 3-season porch was a do-it-yourself project that really needed to be worked on sometime between April and October, since it has no heat, but not on stifling hot summer days, since it has no air conditioning. In all honesty, it was the last thing I ever felt like tackling on a lovely day in April through October.

I think the primary reason this project took so long to begin is that we were focusing on the wrong energy — the energy of ugly; so for years we got more ugly. We were also focusing on, and dreading, the chaos, mess and unimagined difficulties that many past projects have produced. We were acting as though the pattern of the past would also be our future, which turned out not to be the case.

Right now, I can’t honestly remember what nudged us out of our resistance and inertia; it may simply have been that the boards we looked at for the new ceiling went on sale at Menards. Then, by the time we had hand selected all 42 of them, hauled them home, and unloaded them, the project was started.

I also used this project as an experiment to work on and talked about it with one of my groups last spring. My public declaration of desire for a pleasant front porch getaway unexpectedly morphed with the idea of a north woods cabin escape. A conversation about old houses, and an upstairs sleeping porch dubbed The Cabin, opened my imagination to the possibility that our porch could be the place we want to escape to for coffee in the early morning, to relax after work, or to spend lazy hours on the weekend—all without having to leave home.

As soon as we had cut and nailed up the first few pine-scented boards our view of the porch shifted from ugly to lovely. Our new perspective energized and motivated us. We wanted to get the next few boards installed, and then the next and the next and finally the last one. At this point we took a break and went on vacation. Once we returned we primed and painted the ceiling and celebrated the completion of what we now called phase 1.

As many of you might expect this is when the project expanded. I realized that we had accumulated enough short pieces of board to cover the walls beneath all the windows, which proved to be a great idea. However, there were a couple of problems to be figured out due to the slope of the original porch floor. But solve them we did. From there we moved to repairing, priming, and painting the wall that was the original exterior front of the house, back in the days before the porch was enclosed. The last big push was priming and painting the floor, first one half and then the other.

Fortunately for me, we continued to use the porch each step of the way. We frequently marveled at how wonderful it was feeling and becoming, not how wonderful it would be when it was finished, but how wonderful it was right now. One day I realized that some new homes are built and moved into in the time we had been working on our porch, and we still had more to do.

The thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the unexpected joy we experienced in doing this project. I reconnected with my carpentry skills which hadn’t been used since I took shop in seventh grade. As a couple married for over 20 years, we enjoyed our process of arriving at mutual solutions to the dilemmas we encountered working on an old house.

This became an exciting lesson for me in how focus and expectations shape life experience. As long as we focused attention on the ugliness of the porch and expected the project to be as bad or worse than previous projects, our porch languished. The turning point came when we realized that our front porch could be the getaway we were seeking elsewhere. This insight allowed us to use our imaginations to focus on the feelings we wanted to experience sitting in our porch, enjoying life. After that, all that we did was motivated by this enjoyment: enjoying the progress as we inched along, enjoying the fact that we were finally doing it ourselves, enjoying the way we were solving problems we’d never solved before, enjoying that what we were doing was good enough and didn’t need to be perfect, enjoying that we were creating the place we wanted to escape to.

On the surface, my front porch example might seem far removed from my career counseling practice and the lives of my clients, but it’s really the same underlying process at work. It’s one of life’s many opportunities for “shifting the pattern.”

Here are two essential questions:

What am I focussing on?

Am I preoccupied with what I don’t like, what doesn’t work, what won’t happen, and what feels awful? Or am I allowing myself to anticipate feeling how I want to feel in a new opportunity, and feeling it right now? Am I allowing the pattern to shift within me?

What am I expecting?

Am I imagining, and thus creating, a series of disappointments that bring more of what I don’t want into my life? Or am I opening myself to change, considering new possibilities, discovering interesting things, and creating what I want? Am I allowing the pattern to shift my experience?

The most amazing thing to me is that we don’t have to start out knowing what we want in order to experience what will fulfill us; what is necessary is that we allow ourselves to feel our yearnings and also feel worthy of them. As soon as we are able to give them our loving, focused attention—whether or not they are logical, practical, possible, affordable—the pattern is already shifting.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

I wish you a gentle, healing end to this year and all that it has been for you. As the new year begins, I hope you will be blessed with a vital desire to live your intentions and the courage to be perfectly you.

I’m including links that take you back to three Front Page articles I’ve written for December issues of this newsletter in earlier years. If you enjoy them, think about sharing them with other readers you know.

Spilling Over With Joy from December 2005
The Necessity of Darkness from December 2004
Those Deep-Swimming Longings from December 2002

The Front Page: August 2007 Newsletter

The Possibility of Emptiness

On midsummer days in the Midwest, when the temperature shoots into the 90s and the humidity hangs on and won’t let go, it’s easy to forget all about making our dreams real. Simply doing what needs to be done requires so much attention and energy. When a day like this stretches into another and then another, a person can feel like she’s running on empty: not much appeals and any activity seems like too much effort.

Then one day the wind shifts and a cool front moves in: suddenly the temperature drops twenty degrees and the dew point returns to normal. That’s all it takes. We venture outside, bodies relax, skin feels dry to the touch, and breathing is easy. Whatever felt wrong is so suddenly right. How can this be?

We marvel at the surge of energy and enthusiasm that returns to us. We actually want to do things again and we enjoy the doing. Just moving or being is such a pleasure. Now that our bodies are no longer preoccupied with the heat, we have our lives back and can focus our attention on our own thoughts and return to what we’re creating—moment by moment.

Any number of things, not just heat and humidity, can cause us to feel depleted and on hold with our lives: disappointment, frustration, loss, grief, pain, exhaustion, rejection, illness, loneliness, resentment, depression, fear, stress….

We often know clearly that something isn’t working, but feel powerless to do anything about it. Not knowing what to do, we try to wait it out and hope for a cool front to blow in and bring us back to where we were. Sometimes waiting works and before we know it we’re back to normal.

But when days of waiting-it-out turn into weeks or even months, something else is probably needed. Somehow, we need to reconnect with what we’re creating, moment by moment, or perhaps non-moment by non-moment. It’s too easy to fool ourselves into believing that a moment, or a day, is really an insignificant amount of time, not worth much and not capable of amounting to anything. Yet, it’s all we ever have: this moment, right now, and then the one that follows it to become—right now. It’s these moments that join together in a mysterious, cumulative way to become our lives and the future we create.

Once we remember that each moment matters, the long-awaited cool front is on the horizon blowing our way. The emptiness of despair becomes the possibility of emptiness. Where we saw nothing we now see room for potential. Nothing has changed yet, except our perspective, but once that changes so does everything else.

Every moment is creating us by how we choose to be in it. Will we be agitated, bored, honest, allowing, resentful, appreciative, encouraging? Will our choice bring us closer to who we are and what we long for? Or will our choice alienate us from what really matters to us? And most important of all, will we even be aware that a choice was made and it was our own?

I wish for you one sweet moment filled with the truth and beauty of who you already are, followed by a lifetime of sharing the wonder of you.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: April 2007 Newsletter

Let The Magic Come

At the bottom of each page on my web site you’ll find the line “Bless the time spent here… seeking, listening, dreaming. Let the magic come.” I offer these words as an invitation to my web site and my work. The words articulate a powerful, collaborative process that takes place between my clients / students, myself and a magic for which there is no name: it happens in the time set aside to focus on an emerging inner knowing that is ready to be made real.

I’m using the words “made real” in the way a morning glory flower is the seed made real. It’s not that the seed itself isn’t already a real thing, it is; but the seed’s potential is made real in the climbing twisting vine with heavenly blue flowers. Beyond that, the potential within each morning glory blossom is made real as the flower withers and returns to seed. The cycle has come full circle. For us, this work, this making real, is an ongoing circle, a process of possibility, remembering, longing, risk, ending, beginning, transformation and manifestation. In one word, it is magic.

We are a seeking people, always in search of something: safety, freedom, respect, belonging, love, romance, confidence, change, satisfaction, security, peace, meaning, recognition, comfort, challenge, health; the list is long. At first it may seem to us that the things we lack or desire, and therefore seek, need to be found outside of ourselves. Yet the heart of magic lies in discovering the potential and power already within us to make real what we seek.

Until we uncover within ourselves the very seed of what we desire, we are powerless to make it real and authentic in our lives. I cannot, for example, duplicate the joy I imagine in your life and transplant it into my own life to satisfy my longing for joy. However, in noticing and resonating with the joy in your life, I can awaken to my own potential for joy; and ultimately discover for myself how I can cultivate my own variety of joy with my very own life.

This process of inviting and welcoming the “magic of you” more fully into your own life requires you to practice conscious allowing, as in allowing the process to transform you as much as, or more than, it transforms your outer circumstances. Fortunately or not, depending upon how you look at it, you will not be in complete control of deciding precisely how to bring about change in your life. That doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for making decisions and acting on them. It simply means that there is more to the process than you or anyone can fathom. You need to do what you know to do and allow the results, even when they are not what you hoped for or expected, especially then.

In allowing, you are opening your life to magic. Your decision to enter this process is an act of faith because you can never truly know in advance all that you are allowing. You know your longing is true and there seems to be no other way to make it real, so you choose to trust the “magic of you.”

The WHAT may or may not be clear; the HOW probably remains a mystery. Still, you commit with “yes.” In that moment and the hours and days that follow, you might feel anything from elation to terror and cycle through them repeatedly like a predictable sine wave. In these moments all you need to do is allow: allow the moment to be what it is, allow the process to unfold as it will, allow yourself to breathe in and out.

A perfect question to ask during times of allowing is: “Will I allow more magic to flow into my life?” Not, How will I? But, Will I? You don’t have to know how; you only need to say yes. The question has many forms and all may be worth asking. Listen for one that leaps for your attention.

“Will I allow more possibility to flow into my life?”

“Will I allow more energy to flow into my life?”

“Will I allow more passion (or compassion) to flow into my life?”

“Will I allow more money to flow into my life?”

“Will I allow more knowing to flow into my life?”

“Will I allow more help to flow into my life?”

“Will I allow more (you fill in the blank) to flow into my life?”

Regardless of your question, this flowing in and out and through process is vital. It is not a stagnant process, nor an emptying process, nor an overfilling process. What you need will be there at the needed time, as if by magic.

As you allow more of your own magic to flourish in your life, change happens. It happens within you and in your outer circumstances. What you are seeking is being found and it’s been with you all along. The magic of the seed—is the magic of you—is the magic of the universe.

“It is said that all that you are seeking is also seeking you, that if you be still, sit still, it will find you. It has been waiting for you a long time.”

—Clarissa Pinkola Estes

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: December 2006 Newsletter

Showing Up

About a year ago I decided to explore a volunteer opportunity at a nearby humane society for companion animals located near my home. Following the death of our one remaining beloved elderly cat, we agreed to live without pet responsibilities for at least a year. Eighteen years of devoted service to the pleasures and needs of three opinionated cats, caused me to think this “time-out” was a really good idea. However, I didn’t want it to mean there would be no cats in my life in the meantime.

On a spontaneous Saturday visit to the humane society, just to see and be around cats, I talked with a volunteer who was brushing cats and he encouraged me to think about volunteering. Before I left, I signed up to attend the next general orientation session to learn more about volunteer opportunities. I applied for and interviewed to become a volunteer cat groomer: someone who shows up for at least eight hours each month to socialize and groom cats, something I delight in and might even excel at. I love to talk with each cat I groom, massage their favorite spots-under the chin and behind the ears-and pet, brush or comb their fur in a way that they enjoy.

Our three cats were all considered DSHs, domestic short hairs, who essentially groomed themselves as needed. They lived the life of cat luxury with all of their needs and most of their desires met. They had the run of the house and a minimum of stress. It wasn’t until their health declined considerably that they required assistance with grooming. And even then, they assisted each other. I cherish the memory of watching one cat groom another who no longer had the energy or flexibility to care for himself.

This is when I discovered the joy of offering full-body cat massage with a warm, damp flannel cloth, followed by gentle rubbing with a dry fluffy washcloth. I stumbled upon this healing ritual, healing for both cat and me, and one to which I gave my complete, unhurried attention. It allowed me to be present, moment by sweet moment.

I’m experiencing something similar now as a volunteer cat groomer. I’m learning to show up for each cat I interact with, some I recognize from previous visits and some I’m meeting for the first time. During the five to ten minutes I spend with each cat, I want them to have my undivided love and attention. I want them not to forget how great it is to be a cat that is adored and smothered with love. The scratches behind the ears, the tummy rub and the sweet conversations are often soaked up by every waiting cell. Although they are well cared for and safe while waiting to be adopted, they are nevertheless waiting-in an unfamiliar place with strange people, sounds and scents-minus their routines. It is an in-between, stressful time; and it is not home.

I know from my own life and work that waiting can be extremely difficult. Showing up each day and living in the moment is supposed to help; I’ve heard that is what cats do naturally. But for those of us who tend to leap ahead of a situation and who want to know, right now, “How much longer?”, waiting can feel unbearable.

I remember as a child that sometimes waiting for five minutes seemed impossible to me, almost painful. I felt that I would self-destruct from all the effort it took to do nothing, but wait. I was frustrated that I couldn’t make time go any faster. Over the years, I’ve learned more about waiting simply by needing to do it. Who of us hasn’t had to wait months or even years for some things to reach completion?

In the meantime we have this opportunity that is with us every day: to notice what is here, now, often right in front of us. We can ignore what is or we can show up and give it our full attention, until we begin to notice the details that alter what we see and experience.

Remember the familiar saying, I’ll believe it when I see it. And it’s alternate form, You’ll see it when you believe it.

As this year slips away to meet its end and a fresh new year comes forth to greet you, I wish you the courage to throw open your arms in a welcome embrace, seeing what is right in front of you with a heart that is ready to choose.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: August 2006 Newsletter

Expanding Possibilities

When I think about the word “expanding” the first word that comes to my mind is the word “waistlines,” not the word “possibilities.” Maybe some of you associate the words “universe” or “consciousness” with the word expanding. Or “sprawl,” “spandex,” “responsibilities,” “mortgages,”….

It turned out for me that waistlines and possibilities aren’t as unrelated as they might at first seem. In early March my friend Karla discovered a city recreation and community center not far from our homes. It’s a lovely newer facility with a suspended walking track above the gym and an exercise room with various machines and weights. After she told me all about it, I tagged along on her next visit. We were oriented to the machines and started visiting twice a week. I won’t say we started working out because that sort of implies we knew what we were doing. It took us several visits, a few good laughs and some experimenting before we started to get the hang of it. As I eased into a new exercise routine, I grew to like it: the cushioned walking track, the elliptical, the recumbent bike, the weight machines and eventually even the treadmill. I really enjoyed the immediate numerical feedback: heart rate, distance, time, calories; these enabled me to create a few goals for myself.

By the end of May I reached a goal of 30 minutes each on the elliptical and the treadmill, plus I was enjoying it! Although I’ve been a regular walker for decades, I’d never allowed myself to work up a sweat and experience the pleasure of being in my body, ever stronger, grounded and more confident.

I have a lot of confidence in my life, some of it comes naturally and some I’ve really had to work to develop. But feeling confidence in my body is new to me. Because the life of the mind, heart and soul is so absorbing for me, I hadn’t realized that this dimension of my life was so underdeveloped.

Growing up when I did, before the days of women’s athletic programs, and being a fat kid, I channeled my interests and attention away from the body. I didn’t know what I was missing until I became a regular at the rec center. I’m now showing up three days a week instead of two.

It turns out that my waistline and my possibilities are intimately connected, at least inversely proportional: as my waistline decreases, my sense of possibilities increases. I feel better: healthier, stronger, clearer. I have more energy and I sleep more sweetly. I’m committed to my health in a new way and I like all that I’m learning. But it doesn’t stop there.

I’m noticing a thread of new ideas and possibilities that I’ve never really considered before. And I’m noticing these things in other people’s lives too. I’ve experienced this “spill over” phenomenon before and probably could have expected it, but I’m delightfully surprised. At 53 years old, my body is opening my life to possibilities that I would have ignored or rejected less than a year ago. That is the real treasure I’ve found. Losing a few pounds is great and I’d like to continue that trend, but I want to grab hold of this new energy of YES and see where it takes me. I suspect there are more old patterns ready to be let go of, so that my resources of time, space and energy are available for new possibilities. Rather than same-old same-old—which I often love and choose, which feels so comfortable, safe and familiar—my body and soul want to live more of the adventure I dreamed of as an adolescent when I read Jack London’s books and I loved dogs.

We can never know in advance where even our smallest explorations will lead us. If they go anywhere, they always take us on at least two journeys: the outer one we think we are taking and the inner one that eventually reveals itself to us. And joy of joys, both expand our world of possibilities. Both teach us how to say YES.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

NOTE: The Profile Page in this issue offers you an opportunity to explore your Expanding Possibilities. You’ll find it immediately following the Good Books section.

The Front Page: April 2006 Newsletter

To Begin—Experiment

If you’ve taken one of my classes or worked with me individually, we’ve probably talked about small experiments you could try. Maybe you’ve conducted a few on your own, just to see what might happen. To me, experiments are terrific opportunities to discover something about what you want or need to know. Who hasn’t had a fabulous idea that, once it was made real, never achieved its imaginary appeal? It might still remain a fabulous idea, but now that you have more information and experience, it’s not one you’ll be choosing anytime soon. Not every great idea makes your life great, but you often can’t tell the difference until you conduct an experiment or two.

Some people are so focused on getting it right or getting started right away, that the prospect of an experiment is viewed as an unnecessary delay and deliberately bypassed. Who wants to discover weak links, missing information or things that need more time, work and attention? Who wants to delay a dream coming true? But on the other hand, who wants to create a dream-come-true nightmare?

Experiments promote flexibility and allow for a change of plan, mind and heart. Ineffectual methods can be modified or dropped, while better approaches can be developed and incorporated. This is often an unscientific, rather organic process of moving along to make something real happen. By focusing on a dream and how the world responds to it, you, the experimenter, need to be present to what is or is not happening in the moment. And creatively interacting to influence the best outcome. As information, impressions and experience accumulate, so does your own inner knowing and confidence.

Whether or not the outcomes are as originally envisioned, something wonderful occurs. Action is taken and stuff happens. Dedicated, focused observation returns rewards. An experiment can be totally convincing—I am going to do this. This is what I want. I love it. Or it can convince in the opposite direction—I will not be choosing this. I’m so glad I found this out before I committed myself further. Or a mixture—I sure am smarter now. I want to rethink this and talk to a few more people. Maybe I need to narrow my focus even more. Regardless, a more informed process emerges from the experiment.

There are things we just can’t know for certain in advance. How can we know whether we will love, thrive, prosper and succeed at something we’ve never done before, without a little “trial and error” experimenting?

Your experiments are like warming up prior to vigorous exercise, stretching and easing into a thing with a mind toward your own well-being. You’re not stalling, avoiding or delaying; it’s just the opposite. Experiments are proof that you’ve begun the process. You’re doing it.

The experiments you set up for yourself are ways to test the waters before you fling yourself into a sink or swim, do or die, scenario. Sure, experiments are often smaller and less dramatic than the real thing, but they allow you to obtain what you need: experience, information, self knowledge, confidence, support, results. They also enable you to minimize what you don’t need: failure, loss, the premature death of your dream and all sorts of financial, legal and emotional reverberations.

Soooo… what ideas are you entertaining these days? How could you set up a little experiment or two to see what happens? Depending on your confidence and experience, it’s fine to start small and go slow.

Enjoy a field trip. Volunteer. Attend a conference. Take a noncredit class. Build a cardboard prototype. Share samples. Get feedback. Take lessons. Draft an article. Talk to people. Contact someone who shares your interest. Find a friendly mentor. Take photos. Doodle a business card. Plan a trip. Google your idea. Buy the tools you need. Say yes.

However you do it, begin to try new things and immerse yourself in what you love, in order to find out whether you really love it or whether you love the idea of it—since these are two quite different things. You also need to find out if what you love is attracted to you.

What follows are a few of my own favorite experiments: Painted a table purple. Created a course proposal. Asked for help to envision a retreat. Took a class on creating newsletters. Leased an office for one year, now going on eleven. Sketched a web page.

Here’s a friendly nudge for you to consider, if you want. What experiments are waiting for you to act? What do you hope to discover? What do you need to get started? Is 2006 the year to say yes?

To begin—experiment. Since there is value and guidance in whatever you discover, encourage yourself to play. It’s one sure way of allowing room for the mystery of what you can’t yet imagine.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: December 2005 Newsletter

Spilling Over With Joy

As we enter the span of days between Thanksgiving and the new year, we enter the season known for its love, joy and goodwill. Toward all? Toward ourselves? If we are willing, there is always more to contemplate and discover. But contemplation takes time, and we all know that many of us now live time deprived lives year round.

This past year our world witnessed massive suffering that has touched almost everyone. Even those not directly affected are still affected from a distance, although in ways less life-threatening and less painful. More and more of us are truly beginning to grasp the intimacy of connections here on planet Earth. What does or doesn’t happen to you, affects us all. So whenever you choose to live true to your heart and soul, you aren’t the only one affected. Your whole world is.

“I’m gonna let the Laughing River, flow right into my soul.” —Greg Brown

The first time I heard Greg Brown’s recording of the song “Laughing River”—the lyrics and the music went right to my soul and I wanted to hear that laughing river myself and feel it inside me. Back then, I didn’t know exactly what that meant or how it would come about, but I wanted it. In this way the laughing river became a guiding energy for me. It wasn’t just about making a point to laugh more, although I still want to do that. It called to me about living in a way that allowed a beautiful energy to flow freely through me and into the world: letting go, holding nothing back, without fear, with joy and trusting it all. It felt like a life spilling over with wonderful energy: at home, at the grocery store, at the post office, in my office, everywhere. I wanted to manifest a laughing river in my life and in my soul.

Taking time to focus on the laughing river in your own life might seem like a selfish waste of time, especially in a world where so much needs doing. But I’ve noticed the transformational power in individuals who clearly hear the laughing river of their own deep joy and allow it to guide their choices in life and work. I’ve felt it in their presence, a loving attention to who and what is in front of them; I’ve seen the way they show up and hold nothing back. I’ve experienced it myself—being fully present to the task at hand and entering into the joy of it, not just because the task is so inherently enjoyable, although sometimes it is. Entering the joy of the laughing river is the way I want to be in the task, and in life, regardless. This continues to be the challenge in my own growth and also the heart of my work: allowing the joy to flow.

I was recently surprised when I turned the page on my office calendar, “The Poetry of Rumi,” from November to December to check on an upcoming appointment. The selection for December 2005 reads:

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” —Rumi

There it was again. I also noticed the theme appearing in a series of questions in Lynn Robinson’s book, Compass Of The Soul, which I reviewed in this newsletter. “Does this decision make me happy?” “Do I feel energized by this decision?” “What would be the most perfect outcome to this situation?” “What do I want?” In other words, What does my soul want?

This is a fine time of the year to pose soulful questions. Cold, dark nights are the perfect backdrop for their contemplation. And so is the end of year review many of us naturally perform, looking back over the past twelve months of our lives noting the high and low points, the upward and downward trends and the stuck places, promising ourselves that next year will be different. But how many of us ask our souls what they still yearn for, or if we already know, how many of us dare to risk letting go of our own fading, dispirited agendas and throw open our lives to leap into the river of joy—trusting our own soul’s guidance?

The truth is we often feel ill-prepared for such high adventure, as domesticated as we’ve become. But, if we’re lucky, something happens somewhere in our world and we are called to go beyond our present selves and there is no turning back or pretending not to hear. Maybe we grasp that our days are finite and we have spent months, even years, being miserable or bored. Maybe we admit our pain and the emotional cost of continuing to pursue what we do not love, or even care about. Maybe we are forced to leap when the structures that once supported us topple. However it happens, our soulful instincts are always there for us and we can begin to know our joy and ourselves again. Like an accomplished dancer we’ll begin to move from our center, not our head, and everything else will follow. The music, the song and the dance are in us; they always were. We become the laughing river, spilling over with joy that will not be contained.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: August 2005 Newsletter

Lessons in Allowing

Standing at my kitchen window, looking out over the back yard garden that is still creating itself, I return to the word—allowing. And I wonder, is that what I’m doing with this garden now? Allowing it to find itself, create itself?

In the beginning I envisioned a back yard garden, but it was vague. Mainly it involved expanding the area for growing flowers and reducing the amount of grass to be mowed. There was no plan on paper, no picture in my head and no list of plants to be included. But there was a clear beginning, a day when I acted and the transformation started—with destruction.

My neighbor Dianne coached me from across the fence on how to kill the grass using twenty layers of newspaper weighted down with wood chip mulch and a few old bricks. Dianne explained that in a few weeks I could begin planting by cutting through the newspaper and the dying grass into the soil beneath, which I did. I put in a few plants and a few more, then more and more, although I no longer remember what came first and what all I planted. There still was no real plan.

At some point into the project I got excited about creating a butterfly garden and began selecting plants known for their butterfly attracting powers. It took a season or two, but the butterflies found the garden just like they were supposed to. Now, from midsummer on, I enjoy the sight of these lovely, gentle creatures circling the back yard in elegant loops in the warm afternoon sun. In all the years before this, I remember only an occasional butterfly in my yard, nothing like the regular visitors they’ve become. My attempt to provide a damp sandy area for them to drink was less successful, so this spring I finally dumped out the sand and turned the puddle into one more bird bath.

The garden, and my life, continues to evolve. Plants grow and multiply until they threaten to overwhelm and take over neighboring plants. Some plants disappear and are never seen again, even with repeated attempts to reintroduce them; pincushion flower and clematis are two that come to mind. Occasionally plants appear, brought in on the wind or by squirrel, bird or me. Some are welcome, some I eventually weed out.

I can see now that I’m moving toward allowing: giving up trying to control what is happening because a part of me really prefers it that way, needs it that way. I like the mystery and the surprise, and the relaxed, easy feeling. I look out the kitchen window now and I see a garden, which is what I wanted to see. But it’s not the one I vaguely envisioned and it’s not the one that was there last summer, last month or a few days ago. Even today the light is ever changing the garden, first highlighting one thing then another. The bloom cycles are moving through their year the way they do, maybe a little ahead of schedule this year. A few days ago I looked out back and was genuinely disappointed that nothing was blooming spectacularly. Nothing. And now, just a few days later, the bee balm is bursting out all over. It has invasive tendencies and I have allowed it to flourish, encouraged it to spread. I have allowed it even though it wasn’t in my original vision. But I didn’t know then how lovely and airy it is on a breezy day, how much it likes my backyard and how well it grows and spreads, compared to a lot of things that never survived to reappear and re-delight.

Sometimes, sitting in the back yard or on the back steps, I take in the whole of it in one giant sweep. My reactions can vary from “This is a miracle,” (which I love) to “This is so out-of-control. What have I done? Where do I start?” Then, instead of taking it all in and continuing to grow more overwhelmed and frightened, I make myself see just one thing in the garden. Something like one lily bud, growing pregnant with sweetness that will soon open to reveal excessive beauty. Or one drop of sunlit water, magnifying the lovely leaf veins of some green, growing thing. Or one animated chickadee, darting around spilling sunflower seed for the young squirrel eating beneath the bird feeder.

In allowing my garden to become itself, I’m also learning to allow myself what I need, what I desire and what I deserve.

“Give Thanks For Unknown Blessings Already On Their Way”

Earlier this year, I had multiple encounters with the above saying attributed to a Native American elder. I’ve been contemplating and appreciating the wisdom of these words and slowly discovering a thread of connection that circles back to this idea of allowing. I’ve been paying attention to how open and how willing I am to be blessed. Do I allow myself to be blessed? Do I allow myself to receive the blessings I am consciously cultivating? Do I allow myself to welcome blessings when they appear, in the ways they appear?

In June I had outpatient surgery to remove a benign cyst in my jaw. For a few days after the surgery, I felt like a wounded animal. I just wanted to be left alone in my safe, quiet nest of a home. I allowed myself that comfort and quickly realized that I also needed to allow my wise and knowing animal body to heal itself. Allowing was my finest option because I do not know how to grow bone, even with the help of a bone graft. Fortunately, my own body instinctively knows what is needed and is doing the healing for me. I did what I could: rested, chose soft nutritious food, took my medications / supplements, drank lots of water, and imagined healing. But mostly I allowed the miracle of healing. Actually, I welcomed, affirmed, imagined and allowed it.

This is the meditation I wrote for myself and memorized to prepare for surgery. I read it to a few people afterward and they encouraged me to share it here, so I will.

I choose to have this surgery to restore my heath.

I am safe and divinely protected each and every moment.

I am grateful for each person who guides and encourages me.

I allow myself to fully trust the wisdom and expertise of my surgeon and everyone who assists.

I attract safe, respectful, kind and loving care.

I thank my body for cooperating with the surgery and healing itself.

I take time to rest and nurture myself before returning to the work I love.

Life is good and all is well.

I live with daily awareness of my extremely good fortune.

I crafted each line to directly and positively address my real concerns about the upcoming surgery. When I felt “complete” with the wording, I tested it out to see whether I had created a statement that expressed what I most wanted in this situation. I memorized all the lines and then repeated the affirmation to myself during the days before my surgery, while waiting on the day of surgery, and even afterward.

This writing exercise was another valuable lesson in practicing allowing and in making it real. I’m pleased to report that not only did I choose and affirm the lines I wrote, I also allowed them to be my experience. The blessings, that were on their way, did arrive and I opened my life to receive them—the healing ones I envisioned and affirmed, and many more—including the sun and the rain, and the butterflies that visit my garden.

With ever more gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: April 2005 Newsletter

Enough Already

In my kitchen, on the green bookshelf, sits an old copy of the More-with-Less Cookbook. I’ve owned it since I lived in Duluth, MN and bought it from the Co-Op on the hill sometime in the 1970’s. I use it for one recipe, Basic Baked Beans, and I like to make them the slow cook way, although I’ve used the quick soak method in a rush.

I would never think of parting with this book that I think of more as a mantra than a cookbook. It’s the title I love and need to keep in the heart of my home and in the heart of my life—more with less.

Right now, sitting in my room at home working on the computer, looking out three south facing windows at undisturbed newly fallen late March snow, I look past the accumulation of stuff that I have collected or created, plus the stuff I am working on, will be working on, or need to be working on. There is stuff to find a home for, stuff to be decided, stuff everywhere. It’s so much messier than my dream: a clear expansive work space with my friendly iMac waiting for me, a fresh legal pad and pen available off to the side if I need it, my little black phone that won’t call out but still conveniently allows me to answer upstairs, the funky green lamp that lights my table at night and on gray days. Even that’s a lot. But then there’s all the other stuff.

There’s the bird-shaped stone that looks like speckled snakeskin, the tightly curled scrap of birch bark found on a Lake Superior shore years ago, the mysterious pink fish greeting card that I like to ponder, the bright yellow Colman’s Mustard tin containing paper clips, one of the lovely cases for my reading glasses that my sister made for me. I feel like a BEFORE picture in an organizing magazine makeover. I can even hear the clarifying questions I need to ask myself: Do I love this stuff on my worktable and in my life? Do I need it to be here in my work area now? What of all this helps me? What hinders me? And my favorite question—If I was beginning over would I bring this into my life and my room today?

Truthfully, I don’t know. So I repeat the phrase, “Be here now.” With all my stuff? Yes, even with all my stuff.

The truth I do know is that I have all the essential stuff I need for what I want and need to do, but on top of that I have all this other stuff I’ve been describing, and then there’s all the unseen and “unseeable” stuff I haven’t even mentioned. It’s the unseen corollary of my truth that prompts me to remember and admit: a part of me still feels afraid I won’t have enough or won’t have what is truly needed. In my counseling work and in my groups, just as in life, anything is possible. And aren’t we supposed to always be prepared?

I’m no longer thinking about the tangible objects I just listed and described, my thoughts have moved on and zeroed in on the qualities of wisdom, compassion, acceptance, discernment, knowing. For me the holy fear is about both my willingness and my ability to show up, to be and remain fully present and true, regardless of what arises.

In order to do what I do as a career counselor, and what I do in small listen-writing groups, here’s what I need: one table (mine is plum-purple), one chair for each person who shows up (mine are bright pink), and the commitment to be present as fully as I am able throughout the process. It’s not possible to bring all the answers for all the questions that might be asked, and it’s certainly not possible to know all the remedies for each fear, longing, disappointment, confusion or frustration that might be voiced. Nor is it possible to reveal all the steps that will lead to a life lived more fully or more happily. Admitting that, showing up and being present might seem like a rather pathetic offering, given the magnitude and importance of what brings people to the table. And yet, it is what I am called to be and do: to listen and to trust what I hear.

So I choose to show up offering my complete and undivided attention, so that others can show up and give themselves their complete wholehearted attention, and in doing that remember what their lives want and need to be about, now. Together we witness the voicing and the hearing, and honor the string of self-revealing experimental steps that have already begun, steps that continue to unravel themselves so that something new can be created from the priceless materials of their lives. It’s not unlike the transforming work of undoing an abandoned knitting project to make a pair of socks or a scarf or a child’s sweater, something useful, now. And loving the new doing and the new result, while valuing the original yarn.

It’s taken me years to have the courage and the wisdom to know when to let go of the truly good and helpful stuff, the professional tools and techniques that can also be a protective barrier between my real listening work and another’s real heart of pain and passion. Exercises, inventories, handouts, resources, books and questions all have their rightful place and perfect use. But for me, learning to release my fearful hold on all this stuff is to dare to show up empty, willing to enter and fully occupy the sacred space of the table and the chairs, and hear the human heart that is longing to voice itself and find its true way home.

Always remembering that the heart knows its own truth, but it needs a listening, trusting place to be believed. It longs for the next step to be a true step, not a perfect step. The heart asks for very little, but like some basic recipes, it also asks for no substitutions.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: December 2004 Newsletter

The Necessity of Darkness

Each year as the calendar turns to November, 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 to do what needs to be done. Somehow the darkening days of November and December are perfectly suited to my introspective brooding process.

Maybe the darkness reveals some tiny flicker I am hoping to detect.

I have lived in my current city home since 1987, one block off a well-lighted commercial street. It is easy to drive at night here forgetting to turn on the car’s headlights because the night is too well lit. So what happened this November amazes me.

On a recent Sunday evening, shortly after 6:00 p.m., I left the house with my husband to pick up a pizza we had ordered. Standing in our city driveway we witnessed a display of the northern lights, the Aurora Borealis, as did many others in our community and neighboring areas. The display led to excited phone calls, news alerts and a photo in the morning paper. What I witnessed standing in my driveway may not have been as colorful or spectacular as the show in more rural areas, but for me the miracle was not diminished. A longing I had penciled in my notebook had just come true: SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS. When I wrote this several years ago, I imagined the need to travel somewhere else, maybe Churchill, Manitoba, a place where the northern lights are famously visible. Instead, they revealed themselves to me right where I was on the most ordinary of days. And had the darkness been greater, the lights would have been more intense.

Since then, 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 November 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.

That’s why I love November and December and January too.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: August 2004 Newsletter

Being Both Finder and Found

“Believing there is an exquisite pattern that I am part of, that keeps finding me, that I keep glimpsing….
Opening to being both finder and found, and not worrying which is which.”

—Laurie Mattila, March 2004
(from my notebook)

The lines above surfaced in one of my own writing experiments earlier this year, but then disappeared among the pages accumulating in my notebooks. On a recent long weekend I had time to go on a hunt, searching for the place I had used the phrase “finder and found” that was now circling in my thoughts. I felt pulled to see for myself and read again my own earlier knowing.

In some areas of life I have the delicious experience of easily being both the finder and the found; books are one example. I can go on a vague or specific quest for just the right good book feeling confident that I’ll find one, probably more. I am just as easily found by books that appear in my life, usually mentioned by at least three people in a short period of time. Books also find me when they call to me from the shelves in bookstores or at home. It seems that when I am ready, the book appears. It’s like the familiar saying, “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” For books and for teachers, I believe; and for clients and students, engaging ideas and office space, used station wagons and vacation rentals.

But in other areas I am a struggling seeker who sometimes worries about never being found. Right now, I’m holding my vision of a small, pristine piece of land in some northern place that is trying to find me just as I try to find it. I’ve written an affirmation that captures my heart’s intent. “Our land longs for us, calls for us, just as we long and call for it. We find each other magically.” I currently tend the financial details that can make it possible. I share my vision with others who offer encouragement. I placed an ad looking for “Land Wanted to Buy” and will run it again. I check internet real estate listings and print ads. Now I need to talk more with people who know land and can help.

I tell myself I’ve begun the search, and I truly have; but because it’s early in the process and I don’t know how and when, and because I can’t yet believe some of the details, I grapple with unknowns and with myself. I too easily lean toward worry. Will we ever find it? Will it ever find us?

In my work I am called to honor mysterious forces of attraction, powerful shapers of the soul’s imagination and our lives. I feel privileged to glimpse this work in process, playing itself out like some uncharted and unchartable dance of attraction between a person and their longing. At first it resembles hesitant, self-conscious here-then-there movements, later a more deliberate rehearsal of actual patterns repeating and evolving, eventually a leaping-spinning balanced outpouring of life’s purest energies. This is joy, a miracle finally coming into focus, where the finder that was seeking is now found. And no one worries which is which.

As often happens, the very help I need finds me through my helping others. As I listen to stories of longing and searching for good work, companionship, opportunity, place, meaning, purpose, acceptance—I begin to hear the next chapters in my own story more clearly. As I work with individuals and groups who dare to voice their dreams, I dare to voice new dreams of my own. In affirming the worthiness of possibilities begging to be explored, I grow more skilled at voicing, pursuing and believing my own. In my role as witness and guide, I too am guided. This is always a lifelong process, mastered only by beginners willing to begin and to begin again.

With gratitude,

Laurie

The Front Page: April 2004 Newsletter

Celebrating 10 years of Creating DISCOVERY WRITING

This tenth anniversary in my work life came and went within the last year, without a big celebration. I had been anticipating this passage several years earlier, but then got involved with all it takes to create ten years of something like Discovery Writing, and it slipped by. Fortunately, I was reminded (several times) by junk-mail from a company promoting “10 Years-Your Name Here” gold stickers which I could purchase to promote my success. I wore one sample sticker for a day to amuse myself, but I passed on the offer to purchase more. I’d rather buy flowers!

Ten years makes me pause: it represents one-fifth of my life, a whole 20% of it, GONE. But gone into the love of imagining, creating and working steadily, one task at a time, until a decade of work accumulated. Hundreds of students, dozens of classes, hours of preparation, and enough material to clutter up my computer’s hard drive and fill uncounted notebooks. Add to that an office, fall retreats, year-long groups, a web site, a newsletter, new classes and retreats, and a book proposal (now dormant). It amazes me that ten years could happen in such an ordinary day-by-day way. I was already several months into the second decade, before the junk-mail arrived to remind me what had occurred.

I’m curious about the fact that ten years ago, even five years ago, I did not and could not clearly envision the everyday way I work and live today. Had I seen a sneak preview of the effort my choices would require, I might have pulled back and wisely hesitated. But when you see your projects before you, the ones you’ve chosen to care about, you tend them and watch them evolve, bit by bit; you learn to trust the unexpected permutations they take on. And you witness the unfailing wisdom of your own heart as it dares to guide you.

Sifting back further than ten years, looking for glimmers of what was to come, I recover two images that I carry with me effortlessly. The first is the sight of the morning sun streaming in through my dining room windows lighting up the room and my soul. Every cell in my body aches to remain in that space and be in that light. But I have a job to go to and a bus to catch, and I leave home with a saddened heart-day after day after day. The second image appeared to me in a guided imagery I did probably 15 years ago. In this image, I wake in the early morning to bird song, fresh air and the most beautiful light, filtered through filmy curtains on my bedroom windows. AND I AM FREE to take it all in without needing to rush off somewhere else. A few months ago I created a spontaneous mantra for myself when I wrote fondly about this second image: “Remember the curtains going nowhere.”

I love the quality of the morning light in both of these images, and it thrills me that this light is in my life. The way that I live and work now allows me to begin my day savoring the light without rushing off. It also means that I sometimes work in the evening. But for the best part of the day, the first part of the morning, I am in the light I love at home.

It took more than ten years to get here, and I wasn’t even consciously focused on making this part real. But as is said, be careful what you wish, it might come true. I see now that it has.

I thank you for being in my life as a student and teacher, client, reader, colleague, friend…. I wish you ten years, and more, of loving what you’re creating and creating what you love.

With gratitude,

Laurie

The Front Page: December 2003 Newsletter

Vocabulary for a New Year

The ending of one calendar year and the beginning of another is a perfect time to examine your “personal vocabulary” and make choices about what you will keep, what you will let go, and what you will add.  It’s an opportunity to consider the words you use and those you don’t, and how both spoken and unspoken words are shaping your life—with or without your awareness.

To begin, take a few moments to think about words that you clearly want to KEEP in your vocabulary and your life.  These words are links to the things on which you choose to focus your precious time, energy, love and attention.  They sustain you, and it’s important to recognize their presence in your life.

Also, think about other words that you’re ready and willing to let go, to RELEASE.  These words diminish you, and others, each time you focus more of your attention on them.  Instead of sustaining you, they magnify disappointment and frustration, often leaving you feeling stuck, alone, cheated or somehow less than.  It’s time for you to give yourself the gift of releasing them.  If you don’t know how, or you can’t do this on your own, find a trustworthy guide through the process.

Finally, think about words that you want to ADD to your vocabulary in the coming year.  These words might represent secret longings or significant choices of a tangible or spiritual nature.   Some might be words you’re reluctant to speak out loud, so you’ll need to give yourself permission to experiment with them.  That means you’ll DARE to focus your attention in a variety of ways: imagining, writing, posting, pondering and speaking them.  And you’ll DARE to watch what happens.

Let me demonstrate.  So far, I’ve come up with three example words from my own life, one for each category.

  • I know I want to keep – FREEDOM
  • I know I want to release – EXPECTATIONS
  • I know I want to add – MAGIC

Now what?  Start by talking to yourself on paper in an affirming and supportive way that uses your vocabulary words.  Play around with writing down possibilities that energize and inspire you.  Listen for phrases that call forth choices you’re longing to make.  I’ll demonstrate again using my own words.

After some awkward attempts and a few false starts, I wrote the following statements that feel and sound right for me.

  • I thrive in the FREEDOM of being self employed.
  • I refuse to measure my accomplishments by unrealistic EXPECTATIONS.
  • I invite MAGICal moments into my life.

Did you notice the defensive tone in the middle statement above?  I clearly don’t want to be focusing on what I don’t want, so I’ll remedy that by affirming / declaring the essence of what I do want.  What I really want to release is unrealistic expectations so that I can measure my accomplishments realistically.  Here’s a new version, without the defensive tone.

  • I measure my accomplishments by my own realistic EXPECTATIONS.

I now have at least three words that I want to focus on during the next year:   FREEDOM, realistic EXPECTATIONS and MAGIC.  And three threads to follow and pay attention to as the months go by.  Who knows where this will lead or what I’ll discover?  What I do know from past experience, both my own and that of others, is that by choosing my focus, even if it’s only three vocabulary words, I am choosing to alter the direction my new year and my life will take.  On any given day it might not make a noticeable difference, but there is a cumulative change, a shift in direction that occurs as the weeks and months go by. It’s that minute adjustment along the path, amplified by each mile of the journey.  You think to yourself:  Why bother?  But when you experience the shift miles (or months) later, it earns your attention.

Consider for a moment that I didn’t do this simple experiment and instead ended up focusing on three other words, either by default or habit: Disappointment, Stress, Obligations.  These are real life words I have been thinking about.  Also consider that I didn’t take a few minutes to shift my focus from what I don’t want to what I really do want.  Twelve months from now I can probably expect to be / feel even more disappointed, stressed and obligated—given that I’ve been focusing on these words for twelve months, even if unintentionally.

Years ago I read several of Marsha Sinetar’s many helpful books.  One line from one of them leaped off the page and planted itself in my life: “You get more of what you focus on.”  That is the heart of this simple vocabulary experiment.  Whether you’re aware of it or not, you do choose words and you do focus on them.  AND the words on which you focus your attention, shape your life.

A quote from Sonia Choquette, which I once copied into my notebook, says it eloquently.  “Your own words are the bricks and mortar of the dreams you want to realize.  Your words are the greatest power you have.  The words you choose and use establish the life you experience.”

Let the coming year be one of your own choosing, a year in which you go beyond what holds you back.  Three chosen words, over twelve months, will shift your focus and alter your direction.  One to keep…  one to release… one to add.  Let the experiment begin.  Let the process unfold.

With gratitude,

Laurie

The Front Page: August 2003 Newsletter

Connections: One Thing to Another

I always seem to carry with me an idea or two that I am pondering, exploring and testing.

The way it happens is that I read or encounter something that sticks to me effortlessly and begins to connect itself to a tangle of other stuff in my life, in a way that I take notice. A favorite quote of mine from Burghild Nina Holzer’s book “A Walk Between Heaven and Earth” perfectly captures this process: “Sometimes it seems as if one thing has nothing to do with another thing, but it does.”  When I first read these words years ago they leaped off the page at me in a way I could not ignore. So I needed to test this idea until my own experience demonstrated that everything probably is connected to everything else, eventually.

This idea of connectedness matters; it makes a BIG difference, especially during times that leave a person feeling stuck, lost, hopeless, overwhelmed, forgotten. I know many people who have amazing stories to tell about difficult times. I have my own to tell and you probably do too. It seems to be part of our very human condition—to doubt that everything is connected and to forget that we are too.

If this is true, and I believe it is, or if we believe this is true, whether or not it is, things shift. What was separate, isolated, invisible now becomes visible, whole, complete. In a sense, help comes.

And that is, oddly enough, related to another idea I felt compelled to examine years ago. Somewhere that I don’t remember, I read a powerful story about choice. Maybe you know the story, and maybe you even know where it came from. Basically, the story goes: “You can choose to believe help will come; or you can choose to believe it won’t. What matters most is your choice. What matters less is whether help comes. If you live believing help will come, you’ll live one life. If you live believing it won’t, you’ll live a different life. Whether or not help comes matters far less than what you believe.”

Where does that place you? Are you currently waiting for help to come? Have you given up hope? Are you sensing connections to the things you care and dream about? Have you asked for the help you need? Are you feeling worthy of that help? Do you see how you are part of any solution? Are you experiencing how one thing leads to another and another, sometime in exquisitely illogical and beautiful order that makes perfect sense, yet cannot be figured out? I’ll illustrate.

Mindlessly glancing through a magazine, a picture sparks something in you. A few weeks later you’re on your way somewhere and have a bit of time all to yourself. For some unknown reason you remember the picture in the magazine, and you also remember an experience from childhood you haven’t thought about for years. You recall
how much you liked to create your own imaginary worlds, or maybe how you loved the secret names you gave to things. And the next thing you know, you catch the glimmer of a thread of a solution to a frustrating problem that had seemed to be keeping you from an important dream. Only now the dream has shifted, sort of sidestepped. It isn’t exactly the way you thought it would be. But it might be better, or at least more attainable. Why didn’t you think of this before?

Well, you didn’t. But you have now. And you’re off again, feeling new energy, experiencing renewed enthusiasm. It seems that you have entered a favorable stream of fresh possibilities. You talk to people, you read, you search the Internet, you daydream, you scout about – – you end up gathering information about related and seemingly unrelated ideas and opportunities.

You might not have noticed it yet, but you are no longer stuck. You still might not know all about who or what or where you are, but you’re beginning to choose and to trust again. You return to your workplace / studio / garage / basement / kitchen / garden without the fear of making horrible mistakes. You dare to consider, explore, experiment and try things. You give yourself more permission to listen to your own inspired longings and you discover things—important things, interesting things. You feel the shift and sense the connections even before they reveal themselves fully. Something is happening, something is opening. Help has come.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: April 2003 Newsletter

The Word is IRRITATION

For me the year 2003 began with a string of especially irritating personal events. None of the beads on this string was particularly outstanding (no debilitating accident, major sickness, big failure or huge catastrophe), but strung together they created a noticeably downward spiral and a discouraging trend. Given all that is happening in our world, and given the seriousness of current global interactions, I feel awkward even mentioning my little irritations. But here goes: a notice from the city announcing our home’s sanitary sewer needed repair, two frigid days in January without heat in my third floor office, a box of reprinted checks that was supposedly lost but actually never printed, a new retreat that needed to be rescheduled not once but twice, an obnoxious call from a collections attorney who had located the wrong person. As you can see, none of this was that bad. But for some reason each of these events dropped into my life in a way that produced a direct hit followed by lingering disruption. It was January in Minnesota, with no snow, and I was not a happy camper. No, make that: It was January in Minnesota and war was in the air.

As each event fell into the once peaceful pool of my life, the charged ripples amplified the tension I already felt. I actually began watching and waiting for the next dreaded thing. And there were more, but I won’t bother to name them. Then I began to feel that maybe I was somehow creating them, and that alarmed me!

I coped as best I could. I talked to friends and hoped to laugh. I made phone calls and gathered information. I ranted some and despaired a little. I met a neighbor who received the same “sewer letter” and together we met Steve, a helpful city employee. I walked along the river like I always do, and made gingerbread and ate it with real whipped cream. So there!

My new dismal existence was quickly getting to me because historically I am an Optimist. But I wasn’t feeling optimistic anymore, and wondered if maybe this was a new unannounced life phase I had entered. A friend offered reassurance and humor when she suggested I could blame the planet Mercury. That honestly helped.

After awhile I began to notice something else. I was settling, inside. Some of the things that had bothered me still weren’t resolved, but they bothered me a whole lot less. I actually went for days without remembering to think about them. And then, when I did think about them, I didn’t always react in my old upset way. I suspected I was either becoming detached or growing numb; either way it felt much better than being reactive.

Then it opened for me! The events were not the irritation. The events themselves were completely neutral. The frustration I felt was of my own making. I was the one who turned circumstances into emotionally charged events. When I allowed them to be just what they were, neutral events, everything shifted.

Maybe you’ve known this for years and are amused that it took me so long to discover, or rediscover, this. But maybe you’re learning it along with me. Or maybe you’re in a refresher course and learning it again, too.

Maybe you were fired or laid off, or you lost the appeal. Or your car’s engine has a “major-major” problem. Your retirement plan is shrinking. You weren’t accepted into the program. Your special order was never shipped because it vanished. The bus route you rely on is in danger of being eliminated. The special plans you made months ago fell through. The list is infinite and holds the possibility of being infinitely upsetting. As well as irritating, frustrating, discouraging, disappointing – – you name it. Like me, you could spend too many miserable moments focused on something you only wish would resolve itself – – RIGHT NOW AND IN THIS WAY!

But it probably won’t. It’ll hang there in your life for awhile, maybe even for a long time. But as soon as you remember it’s a neutral event, it becomes a neutral event. And you do what you need to do and you move along, and you no longer feel intense personal discomfort. When all the imaginary arguing subsides, and all the scheming goes by the way, what’s left is so amazing. You notice the quiet that so generously fills up the empty places. It doesn’t have to be “right” for you to feel whole again “right now”.

Maybe this time you can’t control circumstances and you know it. Maybe this time you’re not only changing, you’re being transformed.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila

The Front Page: December 2002 Newsletter

Those Deep-Swimming Longings

Like many of you my thoughts in late November 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 find a way? Will I take the time?

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, hundreds 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

The Front Page: August 2002 Newsletter

Welcome to my Newsletter Online

It’s another Experiment and a new Beginning

I’ve created a newsletter for my clients and students, and other interested readers, since 1994. I wrote the first eleven issues while working with Colleen Convey & Associates in Minneapolis, MN. The next six issues were written after I moved my career counseling practice to my present office in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, MN in 1998. This 18th issue is the first to be available online at my website. It’s an experiment and a new beginning, so I’m calling it Issue # 1 again.

If you’ve been receiving the paper version of my newsletter in the mail, I hope you’ll make the switch to the online version and enjoy it just as much, or even more. It’s always been a free newsletter and I’ve enjoyed that immensely. By switching to an online format I can continue to send it to you free. The costs of printing and mailing a paper newsletter were becoming prohibitive for a small business owner; but the thought of discontinuing the newsletter altogether didn’t appeal to me. So, I’ll give this a try and I hope you will too!

Again, thank you for your support! You have always been, and you still are, the best way for me to meet new clients and students who value the simplicity and the spirit of the life-affirming work I love to offer.

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila