Practice Page: December 2016 Newsletter


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

The Necessity of Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With gratitude,

Laurie Mattila


Practice Page: August 2016 Newsletter


In The Comics

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

• Sally Forth by Francesco Marciuliano & Jim Keefe

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

• Pickles by Brian Crane

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

• Dilbert by Scott Adams

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

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

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

Writing experiment:

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

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


Laurie Mattila
© August 2016


Practice Page: April 2016 Newsletter

Spring Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laurie Mattila
© April 2016

Practice Page: December 2015 Newsletter

Shifting Gears

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

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

Writing Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• When have you shifted patterns in the past?

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


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

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

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

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

Laurie Mattila
© December 2015

Practice Page: Late Summer 2015 Newsletter

Writing at The Purple Table

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

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

Centering / Quieting Poem:

by David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet

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

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

Until now.

Warm Up Quotation:

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

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

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

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

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

One Word:

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

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

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

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

Two Poems:

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

In our group we used the following two poems.

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

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

Last Night As I Was Sleeping**
by Antonio Machado

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

**this is only an excerpt from the poem

Laurie Mattila
© August 2015


Practice Page: December 2014 Newsletter

It’s That Time of Year, Again

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

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

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

A Future Writing Experiment

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

My Example List

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

My Example Writing

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

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

It’s Your Turn Now

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

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


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

Laurie Mattila
© December 2014


Practice Page: August 2014 Newsletter

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

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

One Word

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

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

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

Your Playlist 

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

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

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

Process Writing

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

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

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

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

Laurie Mattila
© August 2014

Practice Page: December 2013 Newsletter

Predictions for Your Future

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

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

How to Begin

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

Drafting Predictions

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

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

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

Adding Finishing Touches

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

Make a List

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

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

A few examples of predictions I wrote several years ago:

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

Laurie Mattila
© December 2013

Practice Page: August 2013 Newsletter

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

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

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

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

Quotation Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Write until the writing feels complete, then stop.


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

Laurie Mattila
© August 2013


Practice Page: April 2013 Newsletter

A Listening Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laurie Mattila
© April 2013

Practice Page: December 2012 Newsletter

“Yes…. No…. Yes…. No…. YES YES YES.”

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

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

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


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

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

Making A List

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

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

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

Quick Review

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

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

Exploring Connections Between Your Words And You

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

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

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

Going Forward

What are you discovering in the words you wrote about?

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

An Affirmation for 2013

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

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

Laurie Mattila
© December 2012

Practice Page: April 2012 Newsletter

What do I need to write about now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satisfaction & Home:

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

Asking for help & Belonging:

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

Expectations & Flowers blossoming:

“The expectation allows help to come.”

Mystery & Reading:

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

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

Laurie Mattila
© April 2012

Practice Page: December 2011 Newsletter

When I work with the listening-writing process, I sometimes use experiments that indirectly access inner knowing. Instead of posing a direct question—What do you want to do with the rest of your life?—and expecting the answer to show up on command, it’s important to keep the following in mind: none of us likes to feel backed into a corner by a question we might not be ready, or able, to answer. Fortunately, there are many ways to invite responses that richly inform our process, even if they do not directly answer a question.

The thing to remember is that your inner knowing wants to communicate with you, wants to reveal helpful things to you, wants to remind you who you are and what you know. Because of this unwavering commitment to you, your inner knowing will use whatever is available to communicate with you. This means you can work with an experiment that, on the surface, seems to have little to do with you. But, of course it does. Each experiment you are willing to try is an opportunity for your inner wisdom to speak through you, to you, and with you.

The Fake Book Report

I had the idea to try this fake book report experiment when planning for a Discovery Writing retreat. At the time, I was reading Allison McGhee’s prize winning book Shadow Baby. Clara Winter, the eleven-year-old main character, is a prolific writer of fake book reports. Reading Clara’s reports made me want to try writing my own fake book report, something I’d never done.

To get started

Make up a title for the book you’ll report on, and an author, and a publisher, and a date of publication. Include the total number of pages too. Then you’re off. Keep in mind this is a listening-writing experiment. That means you listen to what you hear and you write it all down, the way you hear it. Don’t even think about writing the perfect, fake book report. Write the book report that you begin to hear as you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

Read your book report

Once you’ve written your book report, you have the opportunity to read what you heard and recorded during the listening-writing experiment. Consider reading your book report out loud, in front of an imaginary class, as many of us did in elementary school. Pay attention to all parts of the story that are really parts of your own story. Some people find it helpful to use a highlighter to mark all the places where they notice their own story telling itself, too.

Listen to inner knowing

This is a way to allow your inner knowing to speak to you about your own life, indirectly, through someone else’s story. It can be a powerful and amazing experience to hear your own story hijacking someone else’s story.

Sometimes, what you hear feels more subtle. At those times, it might help to ask a few questions about your book report:

Who are the main characters?
How are they in each other’s lives?
Do they remind you of any people you know?
What are they doing and what do they really want?
What complicates things?
What do you think needs to happen?
Does this relate to your life? In what way(s)?

Yes, you could just ask yourself the question—What do I want to do with the rest of my life? But there is a way in which some of us tend to minimize, even distrust, what we write in response to a direct question, especially if our response feels like the same old stuff we always write. But when you hear your inner wisdom speaking to you from a fake book report, using someone else’s story to tell you about your own, you just might pay attention, really listen to, and trust what you hear.

Laurie Mattila
© December 2011

Practice Page: August 2011 Newsletter

Putting the finishing touches on this page, I drew a random card from Cheryl Richardson’s Grace Cards deck. It ended with these words: “A quiet mind has direct access to wisdom and insight.” Perfect! Invite this quiet thought to accompany you through this practice page as you discover more of the wisdom within.

Just so you know, I’m offering this listening-writing experiment from one of my year-long groups. It’s an excellent example of how to indirectly access inner wisdom, or what Ana Lora Garrad calls the message in the dream, “the wisdom living inside us we forgot we knew.” It’s also an example of how listening-writing experiments are everywhere, waiting to be discovered—this time in a dance review in the morning newspaper.

First, a bit of background.

“Giant Empty” is the title of a dance choreographed by John Jasperse, and performed at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis quite a few years ago. Reading a review of the performance, I was delighted by the names of all the dances: Giant Empty, Excessories, Rickety Perch, and Eyes Half Closed. My imagination immediately saw the possibility of a writing experiment.

Try the experiment yourself.

Make up a name for one additional dance you think fits the program above. Don’t try to come up with the perfect name; there is none. A playful approach will be just as valuable as a concentrated approach. Write the name you come up with at the top of a blank sheet of paper.

Begin listening:

Beginning with Giant Empty, make a list of your random associations to the words Giant Empty. What does Giant Empty remind you of? The full moon? An empty house? Loneliness? Hunger? A vacant mall? The number zero? Listen to all that surfaces and write down whatever comes to you. You can’t have a wrong association. Your list might contain single words, short phrases, statements, questions, doodles, or something else.

On a separate sheet of paper, make a list of associations for Excessories. Make another list for Rickety Perch, and then another one for Eyes Half Closed. Finally, make a list of random associations for the dance title you named. It’s okay to work on one list at a time, or to jump from one list to another as things occur to you.

When you’re done listing associations, look through all five of your lists and highlight whatever stands out for you.

Take a few minutes to thoughtfully look over what you highlighted and proceed as follows.

Begin listening-writing:

Write for at least ten minutes, maybe even twenty. Begin by focusing on the highlighted fragments from your lists. Don’t try to analyze them or figure anything out. Instead, listen to your impressions and begin to write down what you hear: become the scribe making the accurate record. There is no need to feel concerned about or responsible for the quality of what you are writing. This isn’t even about “the writing”; it’s about a process of listening within.

Voicing inner knowing:

If possible, read what you wrote out loud to yourself. Then consider the questions listed here. What are you hearing? What are possible clues to deciphering the meaning? Do you detect any repetitions, patterns, or themes? How is the dance you named connected to all of this? Does anything here seem related to anything in your life? What are you really saying? If you had to say it in only one or two lines, what would they be? Be spontaneous as you write or speak your responses to these questions.

Note: This experiment can also be done using the titles of books, movies, songs, poems, or stories.

Optional: Draft a poem.

Return to your five lists of associations. As you review all that you highlighted, listen for the poetry waiting to begin forming itself in the words and phrases you’ve collected. Begin arranging, and rearranging, the highlighted bits and pieces in order to create a first draft. Also listen for a title.

Read the draft out loud to yourself and make any changes your ear suggests.

Laurie Mattila
© August 2011

Practice Page: April 2011 Newsletter

“Nothing happens next. This is it.”

Cartoon Published in The New Yorker
8/25/1980 by Gahan Wilson

The line above appears in a cartoon showing two monks seated side by side, meditating. The older monk is responding to the novice who has asked the question, “What happens next?”

The young monk’s question is similar to a question one of my students reported asking himself for most of his life. As he went from one accomplishment to the next, he rarely paused. There was alway the driving question, “What’s next?” Then one day he stopped long enough to consider an equally important question, “What’s now?” As he paused to think about his life, he realized the magnitude of his accomplishments and the many ways in which he was blessed. In order to truly enjoy the life he had, he decided to change his focus and ask a new question, “What’s now?”

Interview Yourself

Identify a few key questions and use them to conduct a written interview with yourself.

Begin by pausing. Listen to any and all questions that occur to you. Write them down the way you hear them. Don’t worry about finding better or more perfect questions. Instead, make a list of the questions you hear, knowing that you can refine them later.

The following are examples that might help you to start hearing your own questions:

What’s next?

What’s now?

Who inspires me to live true to myself?

What inspires me?

What is the most wonderful thing I can imagine happening in my life?

What do I like about the person I’ve become?

What is everyone else doing that I’m doing too? ….that I’m resisting?

What is my relationship with the present? ….with my future?

What are the most important things I’ve learned from living my life?

Select the questions you want to use for your interview with yourself. Respond to each question, rather than trying to answer it as though it had one correct answer. Allow yourself to be curious about what your response will be.

This is one listening-writing experiment that benefits from being typed and printed. Most of the interviews we encounter are in typed format, rather than handwritten. Seeing your own interview, looking like the others, gives you an opportunity to experience yourself in a new way.

I predict your interview will be as interesting to you as any you might read.

Laurie Mattila
© April 2011

Practice Page: December 2010 Newsletter

“Love is the willingness
to give up a part of yourself

you think you know,

to discover a part of yourself
you never knew existed.”

John Squadra
from This Ecstasy

These words grace the front of a greeting card, produced by Heron Dance, sent to me by a friend as a thank you note.

The card has been on my work table since it arrived a few weeks ago. I want it handy, so I don’t forget. On some level I realized—I need to do more than savor words. I need to go on an adventure and discover a part of myself I never knew existed.

This is something clients say to me, and now I’m saying it, too. Want to join us? I’m going to open my notebook so you’re able to observe what happens, as I listen and write what I hear.

Challenge: Discover a part of yourself you never knew existed.

I’ll start out slow and warm up, even though I don’t know where I’m going with this, even though I could easily charge forward saying, “Now is the time. Today is the day. I’m here to discover a part of myself I never knew existed.” I resist the urge to charge forward and choose a more deliberate path—writing on a laptop.

I want to be open to discovering any and all parts of myself I never knew existed. All parts?

I don’t think this is something I can orchestrate and bring about on my own. I can’t. Other forces need to be at work; they probably are and have been for a long time.

I just read this in Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser: “All the while, deep within us, flows an endless river of pure energy…. Up on top, as we make our way through life, we may sense the presence of the river. We may feel a subtle longing to connect with it. But we are usually moving too fast, or we are distracted, or we fear disturbing the status quo of our surface thoughts and feelings. It can be unsettling to dip below the familiar and descend into the more mysterious realms of the soul.”

This is not a project for an afternoon or a weekend.

Slow Warm-up: Think back over the past year and list a few discoveries you’ve made about yourself.

I discovered I’m interested in book groups, woodland snails, and Facebook. Is that it? For now.

More Warm-up: Are you aware of any clues pointing toward what you might discover in the future?

I’m always interested in things of the North, the arctic region, cold and ice. Traveling and living north of the arctic circle for a time appeals to me.

Ideas for listening-writing experiments. Social networking.

Being an exchange student at my age would be an adventure. BINGO! That’s enough to begin.

I just realized a potentially helpful link to discovering a part of myself I never knew existed. Being in a new environment, with new people, experiencing new things, doing things in new ways. This is more than enough to bring about discovery, both inner and outer.

As is staying where I am and seeing anew, but my comfortable habits and patterns resist.

Would it help to remember a part of myself I forgot existed? Ana Lora Garrard says that’s what dreams are for.

….to be continued


Laurie Mattila

© December 2010


Practice Page: August 2010 Newsletter

“Some things have to be believed to be seen.”

—Ralph Hodgson

Here’s something to do: a perfect summer project using magazines, scissors, and glue. It’s also something to think about, write about, talk about, and wonder about.

Vision Board / Collage

This classic experiment has a number of names and is suggested for a variety of purposes. Most often, it is used to create an intentional, visual representation of what you desire. This includes material things like a red sports car, a laptop computer, a new puppy, a romantic partner, a remodeled kitchen. These are represented by images cut from magazines. Less tangible, desired things like confidence, adventure, freedom, success, creativity, spirituality might be represented by words alone or by a combination of images and words. When creating a collage in this way, you search for specific pictures and words to represent what you already know you desire in your future.

I like to suggest a variation on this experiment as a means of discovery. Instead of picturing what you already know, you create a collage that is guided by deeper inner knowing. This is not a better way to do the experiment, it is simply a way of bringing less accessible truths to the surface to be worked with.

supplies needed:

a stack of magazines
glue stick
foamcore board (20” by 30”) or poster board (22” by 28” or half a sheet) are appealing sizes

Guidelines: Collecting, Assembling, Processing

Give yourself enough time and space to enter into the project and enjoy it. If it works better for you, focus on collecting,
assembling, and processing on three different days.

Collecting means sitting with your stack of magazines and rather mindlessly flipping through the pages. You are paying attention to anything that captures your attention and ripping out those pages for later use. What you notice and rip out will likely be a mix of pictures and words. Remember, in this version of the experiment, you are not hunting for specific things to include in your collage. As a result, your collection might contain things you would not have expected.

Assembling means beginning to arrange the images and words you have collected on the blank vision board. I suggest trying out arrangements without glue first; then when things start to click into place visually, glue them to the board. You can use scissors to cut out just the parts you want, or tear them out if you prefer. You can also overlap things and completely cover the board, or place things on the board with the background visible in places. There is no standard of organization, creativity, or quality for you to achieve.

Processing means sitting for awhile with your finished collage and taking it all in. You might think of this as beginning to read your collage, or listening to the messages within your collage—messages eager to reveal themselves to you.

Consider the following:

Are any themes or repeated patterns visible?

Does the board seem to have distinct sections or moods?

Is there a feeling of movement of flow?

Do any things seem curiously missing or present?

Where is the most energy revealed?

Any surprises?

Take a tour:

Look at every single image and word you glued onto your collage.

Ask yourself what it means or what it reminds you of?

Trust your spontaneous responses. It’s okay not to know.

As you tour your collage, it’s possible you’ll spot a theme or pattern you didn’t notice before.

Maybe something else will leap out at you.

Take good notes:

Here’s where you stop the doing, in order to really begin listening.

Allow your collage to speak to you in your imagination. Listen closely and write down everything you hear. Some people tend to hear in the first person, I need….. Others, in the second person, You need….

Examples: I need to spend more time in nature. I love to be involved with children learning. I want more orange and yellow in my life. I have funny stories to tell. I want to laugh out loud with others.

Try not to censor anything, no matter how peculiar it might initially sound.

Working Title:

Look at your collage again as you review your notes. If you had to select one overarching theme or message, what would that be?

Examples: You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. You were born to travel. Inspiring people is what you always want to do. Nothing is holding you back now.

I suggest finding a place to display your collage where you can see and enjoy it often. If you feel shy about others seeing it, pick a private or less visible location.


In your collage, see what you know. Believe it. See it in your life.

Remember the saying, Seeing is believing. And it’s twist, Believing is seeing.


If you love resources, here are some you might enjoy looking at. Keep in mind, it’s more important to make and process your own collage than it is to read everything others have to say about them.

The Vision Board:
The Secret To An Extraordinary Life

by Joyce Schwarz
Collins Design, 2008
paperback, $18.99

The Complete Vision Board Kit:
Using the Power of Intention and Visualization to Achieve Your Dreams

by John Assaraf
Atria Books / Beyond Words, 2008
paperback, $24.99

Visioning: Ten Steps to Designing the Life of Your Dreams
by Lucia Capacchione
Tarcher / Putnam, 2000
paperback, $14.95

The Happiness Project Toolbox
Here you’ll find a variation called Inspiration Boards.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vision Boards
by Marcia Layton Turner
Alpha, 2009
paperback, $16.95

I’m mentioning this book, but not recommending it. The example vision boards feel uninspired compared to most I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find some useful ideas.

Laurie Mattila

© August 2010

Practice Page: April 2010 Newsletter

“Creating is about making it up.”

—Robert Fritz

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

—Alan Kay

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

The quotations on this page are among my all-time favorites. The first one is the simplest definition of creating that I’ve found. I love how it helps to demystify creating and offers permission to go ahead and get started: what you are doing is making it up. When creating, you often don’t—and can’t—know clearly, because you are in a moment-to-moment “making it up” process. You might experience frustration, terror, and exhilaration in quick succession, or you might plod along seemingly forever, still not knowing, hoping for something.

The second quotation reminds me that we can create the future. In the midst of day-to-day living, it’s easy to lose sight of this and live as though the future is something that happens to us. We forget that the future is an idea in our imagination; it’s always at least a few heart beats ahead of us, more often weeks, months, or even years. The future is seen as “someday” we’re moving toward. In truth, the future is in our ordinary moments.

This moment, right now is when we create—whatever we create—with or without awareness. Although a moment is a short period of time, they have a way of adding up. You could say they trend. Repeated moments of something tend to create that something. One or two moments don’t create it, but hundreds and thousands of moments do. You might wake up one day and wonder where did all this hesitation come from? It takes courage to look and see the pattern you’ve been creating, moment by moment.

What if you shifted your focus to create more moments of magic, inspiration, curiosity, or adventure? Imagine how different the creation of your future will be.


Notice a moment. Without judging, see it as it is.

Now see it as the building material for your future—your life.

What might you be creating with this moment or ten thousand similar moments?

An Affirmation:

You’ve probably heard the advice to begin with the end in mind. Affirmations are an excellent way of doing that. When you write an affirmation for yourself, you focus on what you want to experience in the future and you bring it into the present moment.

Pretend for a minute that the following is true for you: I want to get up in the morning excited about the day ahead of me, because I’ll be doing what I love to do—making a difference in the world.

Creating that Moment: Making it Up

An affirmation is a positive statement about what you want, expressed in the present tense.

In this moment, my life is good. I wake up every morning to a brand new day.
I’m excited to be who I am, eager to do what I love, confident I make a difference.

Do-It-Yourself Affirmation

Give yourself some quiet, alone time to focus your attention on something you want to happen in your future. As more details occur to you, write them down. Once you’ve gathered your thoughts on paper, you might already be feeling and picturing what you want more clearly.

Adjust your focus back to the present moment, as though you are already experiencing what you want. Select one detail you jotted down and describe it in the present tense. Examples: I am content. I wake up rested. I choose wonderful friends. I eat fresh foods.

Add another detail, and then another. Play around with the order of what you’ve written. Read it out loud to hear how true it sounds to you. Do the words flow? Do you like the feel of the words when you repeat them to yourself?

Finally, check that your affirmation is positive, in the present tense, and what you want.

Notice how your affirmation is both future and present focused: that is its power. An affirmation becomes your future, only when you make it your present moment.

“The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created—created first in the mind and will , created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them, changes both the maker and the destination.”

—John Schaar

Laurie Mattila

© April 2010

Practice Page: December 2009 Newsletter

“Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.”

—Chinese proverb

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

Once we enter December, the race to the end of the year picks up the pace. Who hasn’t experienced genuine relief knowing a particularly difficult year is ending? For however long it lasts, we feel the pull toward a new year: a fresh start, a blank page, a brand new beginning. Maybe it’s the clarity and crispness of the unspoiled that calls to us. We get to begin again.


Notice any themes that call for your attention as you head into 2010.

Before you begin to automatically fill up your days, what do you want your focus to be this year?

Is it your desire or intention to have 2010 be The Year of Dancing Marvelously and Often? What about The Year of Feasting on Fresh Food? Or maybe The Year of Living True? Making A Difference?

Can you see how easily this is becoming a listening-writing experiment?

Listening-Writing Experiment: The Year of….

Even people who dislike lists find themselves drawn into the wordplay of listening and listing. It’s a simple writing experiment that can lead to valuable insights, quickly and playfully.

Consider the year 2010 and your hopes and dreams for yourself and the world. Try playing with the following format for this experiment: The Year of…..

Begin to list possibilities as they occur to you, one after the other. You don’t need to critique anything. Just keep the flow of ideas open and write everything down.

Examples of Themes:

The Year of Inspired Generosity
The Year of Going Social
The Year of Earning My Worth
The Year of Working for Pets
The Year of Fearless Travel
The Year of Befriending My Soul
The Year of Living The Moment
The Year of Cultivating Community

After you’ve listed everything that comes to you, set your list aside. You can always add to it later if you want.

On a fresh page, begin to focus on any guidelines or truths you want to live by in 2010.

Examples of Guidelines:

I will not rush.
I say what I mean and I mean what I say.
I’ll let you know if I’m interested.
Let go and be the flow.
Because I like it.
Does this matter?
Is it worthy?
Who will benefit?
How do I feel?

Now scan your themes list for the theme of the year that most clearly resonates with you.
Try adding it to the guidelines you just created. How do they seem to fit together?

At this point, you might want to pair your list of guidelines with another theme or two to see how you react. Or, you might decide to customize your list of guidelines to fit one particular theme.

Whatever you do, this is a beginning. It’s a way to begin consciously approaching 2010.

Maybe you’ll be energized by considering possible themes for the year. Maybe writing clear and simple guidelines will feel inspiring. Maybe something unexpectedly wonderful will occur to you, if not right now, perhaps later.

Remember: Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.

Maybe listening is a green tree; maybe you are the singing bird.

Wishing you only the best in 2010!

Laurie Mattila
© December 2009

Practice Page: August 2009 Newsletter

“Sometimes it seems as if one thing has nothing to do with another thing, but it does.”

—Burghild Nina Holzer

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

It’s fascinating for me to discover just how connected we really are, even to the point that someone else’s story, fictional or biographical, contains bits and pieces of our own story. And those bits and pieces hold a gift for us, if we can only find a way to access it. Listening-writing is a way for opening to inner wisdom; it is also a helpful device for revealing mysterious inner codes.

Listen to how Burghild Nina Holzer describes this process, “But you trust, by writing down the daily fragments of awareness, that a larger network will gradually emerge, that images will come forth, a theme or direction may appear, all of which you could never have outlined, but which emerge out of deep necessities within us.”


Pay attention to the “daily fragments of awareness.” You could also think of these as clues seeking you.

Listening-Writing Experiment:

Here’s an excerpt for you to read, found on pages 54-55 of EAT, PRAY, LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had a difficult time choosing just one selection from this book because there are so many remarkable passages. If you haven’t read it yet, treat yourself before the summer ends.

“Tonight, this strange interior gesture of friendship—the lending of a hand from me to myself when nobody else is around to offer solace—reminds me of something that happened to me once in New York City. I walked into an office building one afternoon in a hurry, dashed into the waiting elevator. As I rushed in, I caught an unexpected glimpse of myself in a security mirror’s reflection. In that moment my brain did an odd thing—it fired off this split-second message: “Hey! You know her! That’s a friend of yours!” And I actually ran forward toward my own reflection with a smile, ready to welcome that girl whose name I had lost but whose face was so familiar. In a flash instant, of course, I realized my mistake and laughed in embarrassment at my almost doglike confusion over how a mirror works. But for some reason that incident comes to mind again tonight during my sadness in Rome, and I find myself writing this comforting reminder at the bottom of the page:

Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.”

If you prefer to work with another selection, go ahead and do that.

With pen in hand, read the selection again; this time, highlight the words that are part of your story, too. Keep in mind, there is no right and no wrong, no too-many and no not-enough.

Here’s an example of what this step might produce:

gesture of friendship
when nobody else is around
reminds me of something
New York City
I walked into an office building one afternoon in a hurry
waiting elevator
I rushed
glimpse of myself
my own reflection
with a smile
to welcome
name I had lost
face was so familiar
realized my mistake
incident comes to mind
my sadness
myself writing
comforting reminder
the page
once upon a time
you recognized yourself
a friend

The next step is to read all the words you selected, as though you were reading a sort of list poem. Whether you do this alone, with a partner, or in a group, I think it’s helpful to read out loud. In a group it’s interesting to hear which word combinations are repeated.

Working with your own list, choose one or more of these “fragments of awareness” to explore further in writing. Here are three possibilities created from the above list:

• gesture of friendship – reminds me of something – embarrassment
• waiting elevator
• incident comes to mind – myself writing

As you begin to pay attention, your fragment of awareness acts as a listening-writing prompt. It gets you started, but it won’t define or restrict what you hear and what you write. Listening, without judgment, and writing what you hear, also without judgment, swings open the door that leads to discovery.

Discovery of what, you ask? There is only one way to know, and that is to pick up your pen, listen, and write what your hear.

Laurie Mattila
© August 2009

Practice Page: April 2009 Newsletter

“Each of us leaps instinctively at what is needed for understanding and completion.”

—T. Alan Broughton

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

Before this newsletter became available online, I reviewed two books written by Wayne Muller. How Then Shall We Live? came out in 1996, followed by Sabbath in 1999. These are books I still turn to for inspiration, and books that others continue to recommend to each other in some of my groups. The themes are timeless: revealing meaning and beauty in our lives, and restoring sacred rest to our lives. Both of my copies are marked with handwritten notes and underlined passages that leap at me when I read them.

To give you a feel for what I’m describing, here are three portions I highlighted in How Then Shall We Live?

“What is our song? How do we name ourselves? Which word, when we speak it, reveals what is most deeply true about this inner voice, our deepest heart, our fundamental nature?”

“What if the answers to our questions about life and path and practice are already speaking to us, and in our rush to find them elsewhere we miss the easy, gentle wisdom that would teach us all we need to know if we simply center ourselves and be still for just a moment?”

“What are the elements of our craft? What few simple tools are necessary to live a full and happy life? Which few things, if we choose them, would be able to sustain our creativity, enthusiasm, and passion?”


Pay attention to what leaps for you as a way to know, or know again, what matters.

Notice The Leap:

When something leaps for you, it’s as though it’s printed in bold-neon-orange and jumps out from what comes before and after. On the page, it might be a phrase, a couple of lines, or a question. Or it might be something you hear in a song, conversation, or interview. Maybe it’s something triggered by a collage of silky textures and dreamy colors, an unforgettable blending of scents and flavors, or a YouTube video someone sends to you.

Many people make use of the rule of three: the third time something comes up, again, they make a mental note to pay attention. That’s a beginning too: notice what repeats for you.

Follow The Leap:

If you’re open to writing for discovery, this makes a great exercise. You begin by noticing something, anything, that leaps for you. Record the details of what happened. Listen for any associations that are floating around. Don’t evaluate anything. The idea is to document the leap in the way you might record a dream you remember in the morning.

Next, allow yourself to wander freely on the page, considering a few questions. Capture fragments. Note impressions. Make associations. Follow along.

Who or what might be showing up, wanting my attention?
Has anything similar happened recently?
What else am I reminded of?
Do I detect any patterns?
Is there meaning or connection to decipher?
How am I responding to all of this?
What’s my best guess?

A Short Cut:

This doesn’t need to be time consuming. So, if you aren’t interested in introspective writing, just keep a list of what leaps for you. Make it something small you can carry around and review every so often.

However you try it, you will soon notice that your leaps are not random. There are patterns to what wants your attention, patterns deep within you that the world is simply reflecting back to you. As you spend time in a state of curiosity and openness, you’ll be rewarded with glimmers of insight or knowing, confident that the next guiding leaps will be there for you when you need them.

Laurie Mattila
© April 2009

Practice Page: December 2008 Newsletter

“If people knew the story of their lives, how many would elect to live them?”

—Cormac McCarthy

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

—Annie Dillard

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

In my work with small groups and individuals, I use several experiments that allow a kind of  stepping back from everyday life to view the story we are living and creating. While it’s true that some of the story is already history, whether or not it’s been recorded, I want people to see the unfolding story of this moment, and the still to be lived story of the near and distant future.

Working with this idea, some people find it more appealing to think in terms of a film or movie rather than a story. Others like the idea of a screenplay, documentary, novel, soap opera, comic book, tv series. Use whatever form inspires, energizes and resonates with you.

Challenge: Step back from the everyday perspective of your life and see anew.

Use the following questions as a guide to learn more about the life you are currently living.


Where does your story take place? Consider all of the places you spend your life. You might want to include your home, work place(s), school, fitness center, favorite hangout, library, where you volunteer….

The Main Character (You):

Who is the main character? What distinguishes this individual? Be specific. Think about physical appearance, personality, beliefs, habits, occupation, friends, family, beliefs, special stuff….

Supporting Roles:

Who else is in your story? What are their roles? What is your relationship with each of them? What are your feelings for each of them?


What is your story about? What makes it interesting or fascinating?

Conflict / Tension:

What does the main character (you) want or need to do? What is the dilemma? What complicates things?

Working Title:

It’s time to give your story a working title. Make it one that captures the predominant theme of the life you are currently living.

Next Challenge:

Reflect on what you’ve discovered or remembered about your life as you worked through the above sections: setting, main character, supporting roles, plot, conflict / tension and working title.

Repeat the experiment, making whatever changes are needed to create a new version of your story that feels like a life you want to be living, a life you are willing to create. By taking this step, you are clarifying what you need to focus on and bring into your life. You are probably also identifying some of what needs to go. Let your own words and images guide and inspire you—pull you—into a story and a life of your own choosing.

“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.”

—Sonia Choquette

“…for to adopt a poetic attitude toward one’s own life means not only discovering a different way of telling one’s story but a different way of living it.”

—Christine Downing

Sending you infinite blessings.

Laurie Mattila
© December 2008

Practice Page: August 2008 Newsletter

“It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.”

—from The Cat In The Hat
by Doctor Seuss

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

When finances are tight at work and at home, one of the first things to be eliminated is the fun stuff. It’s considered nonessential and an unwise use of limited funds. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the fun that makes life and work and us more enjoyable. It allows us to tap important aspects of ourselves including our imagination, creativity, and personality. Fun grows self-esteem, confidence, well-being, loyalty, and community. It reduces the negative effects of stress, worry, fear, loneliness, and over working. We improve our world and ourselves when we know how to have fun.

There is one plus side to tighter finances: it motivates people to evaluate what is truly fun. Some of the costly events/ activities we sponsor and participate in might have outlived their fun. Maybe they were fun at one time, but they no longer feel that way. Others never were. It’s important to ask, What’s fun now?

Challenge: Change what you do to make it even more fun and more affordable too!

What is the essence of fun anyway? How do you know when something is fun for you? Using these clues, what else would allow you to have fun?

Making a list might be a place to begin.

My example

• begin with one fun thing

Mine is travel.

• get specific, identify what makes it fun

Before I automatically add the word travel to my list, I consider that not all of travel is fun (retrieving luggage, delayed or canceled flights, feeling sick away from home, getting lost). So, I try to identify all that makes travel fun for me: going and being somewhere else — taking a plane or train — being on a ferry, boat, ship — researching destinations — all of the possibilities — eating good food and drinking good coffee in different places — seeing new things — finalizing reservations — talking with others who enjoy travel — visiting travel web sites — meeting interesting people — people watching — waking up in a different place

• branch out with more specifics related to any fun

As the list begins to develop, I let go of where the list started and focus on the specifics of any fun: laughing — wanting to do something again — doing what I don’t normally do — being outside — sitting at an outdoor cafe — listening to music — relaxing near water — drinking coffee — having dessert — wearing a hat — walking on a boardwalk — going to a museum — walking — watching trains, ships and planes — appreciating art

• make plans or be spontaneous, but create what’s clearly fun

spend an hour sitting at an outdoor cafe enjoying a cup of coffee and people watching

Many of the things I listed are doable today and cost very little or nothing. Travel might still be the ultimate fun, but by identifying and doing more of the things that are fun to do when traveling—like spending an hour sitting at an outdoor cafe enjoying a cup of coffee and people watching—I get to have fun now, closer to home, and in a truly affordable way.

Now It’s Your Turn

• begin with one fun thing

• get specific, identify what makes it fun

• branch out with more specifics related to any fun

• make plans or be spontaneous, but create what’s clearly fun

Begin with something you know is fun for you. Instead of writing this at the top of your list, try to identify the specifics of what makes this fun. Make a list of these specific details and then branch out by adding to your list any other specifics you associate with having fun, e.g. staying up late, sleeping in, remembering and telling funny stories, anticipation, enjoying good chocolate, watching favorite movies….

Just because something costs a lot, or costs more, doesn’t guarantee it will be fun for you. If you feel you have less money to play with this summer, it doesn’t mean you need to cancel or postpone having fun. Why not use your list of clues to create more of what’s fun for you? You might need to change how and where you do things and be more creative than you’ve been lately, but creativity and change can add to the fun.

Wishing you good times in August.

Practice Page: April 2008 Newsletter

“This is a mystical path. You walk on it daily without knowing what will come tomorrow. But you trust, by writing down the daily fragments of awareness, that a larger network will gradually emerge, that images will come forth, a theme or direction may appear, all of which you could never have outlined, but which emerge out of deep necessities within us.”

—from A Walk Between Heaven and Earth
by Burghild Nina Holzer

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

If you’ve read the Front Page article, After the Leap, you might be thinking, “It’s time for me to try something new.” If you’re already playing with a few intriguing ideas in your imagination, why not try one out? Or while you’re waiting for the right idea to show up and grab you, why not play with the process and see what happens.

Pay Attention to Fragments

It’s helpful to remember that not every idea comes to us fully formed. Many appear first as fragments of a larger thing that we’re unable to recognize. It’s like an archeological dig where a small piece of something interesting surfaces. It takes time and attention to search for additional pieces of the original artifact. Following that comes research to understand how an object was made and used. When the equivalent happens in a person’s life, it might begin with the discovery that some fragment matters. It could also begin by sensing an immediate attraction, a natural fit, a burst of enthusiasm, a timing coincidence, a sudden brightness to life. This doesn’t mean that you know what to make of it, or that it even makes sense.

An idea doesn’t need to make sense, as much as it needs a place to begin: call it an experiment. It needs you to notice, pay attention, move it along, and observe what happens—in the experiment and within yourself.

Beginning Matters

If you don’t already have a container in your life where you can collect your fragments, this might be the time to start one. If you’ve already done this and have too many containers, this might be the time to sort through them to see what you’ve collected. In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp explains how she creates a project box to help her focus on each new project. The box is a dedicated container for all the things she runs across that relate to her project. Whenever she finds something, it goes in the box.

A box is one way to begin.

Imagine Desirable Outcomes

As an example, I’ll use two of my own fragments of awareness—travel and sabbatical. Next, I imagine desirable outcomes that weave in several other appealing fragments: new places, interesting people, and learning experiences. You can see it doesn’t take long before something begins to take shape.

I search for opportunities where I can give and receive.
I travel to places I’m interested in visiting.
I live there longer than I could as a tourist.
I enjoy getting to know people who share my interests.
We work side-by-side on a project that matters to us.
I experience community and cultural events.
I enjoy discovering foods and crafts that are new to me.
Exploring and experimenting revitalizes me and my work.
I practice to develop basic skills in another language.
I encounter more opportunities to combine travel and work.

A working title makes it real

“leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again”

Naming things makes them real, even if the name is a working title that eventually changes. Authors do this with books, artists do this with paintings, cooks do this with recipes, inventors do this with inventions, homeowners do this with improvement projects. Even proposed public projects have official names and popular nicknames. A memorable working title brings its own energy to a project and keeps it alive in your awareness.

Stay Open to What Shows Up

Expect things to show up. Also, expect what you need to show up, sometimes before you know you need it. Many of us begin to pay attention, especially when something is mentioned to us three or more times: a book, a movie, a person’s name, a web site, a place, an organization…. Notice the information, offers, or opportunities that catch your attention or come to you. Be curious and investigate; know what’s showing up now.

Question Perfection

Consider the possibility that perfection is overrated. It spoils more good things by sucking the joy right out of life. Perfection often surfaces as fear, overworking, procrastination, indecision, and paralysis. You will probably never have all the information to make a perfect decision, so it’s important to realize when you have enough information to make a good decision.

Choose to Explore and Trust the Process

Make a good choice and do what you can to explore it. Remember, committing to it comes later. Let go of the things that are out of your control. Focus your energy on moving forward, with the flow, instead of second guessing and doubting yourself. Every process has a life of its own that unfolds according to its own timeline. Fortunately, this allows you the opportunity to discover whether what you desire, desires you.

Now it’s your turn to experiment. I’ve demonstrated and outlined a process to begin, even without a clear idea.

Fragments are enough.
Pay attention to the fragments.
Beginning matters.
Imagine desirable outcomes.
A working title makes it real.
Stay open to what shows up.
Question perfection.
Choose to explore and trust the process.

Laurie Mattila
© April 2008

Practice Page: December 2007 Newsletter

Here are a few more ideas for you to think about, write about, talk about, wonder about—on your own or with a friendly companion.

A List Experiment

In my classes, many people discover that they really enjoy naming and making lists, as long as the lists don’t involve work they will need to do. You might be wondering, what other kinds of lists are there beside the to-do variety? Here’s where it gets interesting.

How about a list of Anticipation? This list might contain things you love to think about and anticipate. If you take a few minutes to begin jotting down whatever occurs to you, who knows what will happen or what you’ll discover?

You might have so many thoughts rushing forward that it will be difficult to get them all written down. If this happens, your list might end up quite long. Maybe, you’ll be surprised that your list contains just a few items and you can’t think of anything else, even though you return to it several times.

It’s not that a long list is right or better than a short list. What matters is your reaction to what’s on, or not on, your list. You could be thrilled to know that there are four or five, or several dozen things in your life that you love to anticipate. Or, you could notice that it’s been a long time since you’ve actually done any of the things that you wrote on your list, regardless of its length. Some of you might reconnect with the fact that for you anticipation is actually your favorite part of many of the things you’ve listed. Maybe by now your thoughts are stuck in a loop, trying to remember the lyrics to the song Anticipation by Carly Simon. Anything can, and does, happen in these list experiments.

There’s an easy way for you to personalize this experiment by making up your own appealing, possible names for a list about anticipation. Here are a few examples:

101 Things to Anticipate

Things I Will be Anticipating and Doing in December

What I Want to Anticipate and Do in My Life

My Wonderful List of Anticipation for 2008

Places I Anticipate Visiting Before I Turn 35 (or 50 or 75)

What I Anticipate Learning

What I’m Presently Anti-cipating (whatever that means)

What I Anticipate Cultivating

What I Like to Anticipate, More Than I Like to Do

How I Prefer To Anticipate My Future

When you run out of ideas, select a list name that captures your attention and begin to write down your responses to it. Simply jot down whatever occurs to you, without worrying if it even belongs on the list. No judgment is needed. This is an experiment and a warm-up.

Now, switch gears and take some time to consider one new list that you want to create and pay attention to during the upcoming year. Don’t focus on something you feel you should do. Allow this to be something that calls you or pulls you forward. It’s probably not about anticipation, because you just read about that idea and it was my example. It might be about people you want to spend less time with, obligations that are wearing you out, lifestyle adjustments you’re excited to be considering, what you want to add to (or remove from) your life…. The options are unending.

Whatever you decide to focus on, check first to see whether your current focus is more positive or more negative. If you’re thinking of the list, People I Want to Drop (from next year’s calendar), you might notice a distinctly negative feeling around that list. Try instead to focus on the positive side of that same idea, which might be, People I Want to See (on next year’s calendar). That twist will naturally increase time energy for the people you want to see, thereby reducing time energy for those you prefer not to see or to see less of, without it being a big deal. Here is something you can easily experiment with: how does my list shift my life?

So, give it a try. Have fun with it. Be creative. Keep it a secret, or get someone else involved. Do a list-of-the-month in 2008, or a list-of-the-week. Inspire yourself.

Whatever you do, let this experiment introduce a new energy and momentum into your life and your process. Think of this as a gift you give to yourself. Who knows where it will lead or what you’ll discover?

Laurie Mattila
© December 2007

Practice Page: August 2007 Newsletter

Here are a few more ideas for you to think about, write about, talk about, wonder about—on your own or with a friendly companion.

The One Word

Sometimes when I’m meeting with a client I’ll ask for the one word that comes closest to revealing what they are meant to do with their life. If it seems helpful, I offer a few different examples: invent, guide, stone, color, improvement, fabric. My purpose is not to identify a next occupation or career, but rather to consider a particular way of being in the world and to brainstorm options that, at least on the surface, appear to be related to the chosen word.

Once we have a word to work with, my next question might be: So then, who gets to invent? …Who gets to be a guide? …Who gets to work with stone? …Who gets to focus on color? …Who gets to do improvement? …Who gets to be with fabric?

As you can imagine, questions like the above quickly and easily reveal a web of possibility, all connected to one word.

A Word for You

Can you come up with a word from your life that captures the essence of what you love and are meant to be/ do? If so, write it down. If not, listen for several minutes to whatever words occur to you and write each one on a piece of paper, without critique or evaluation. Then look over your list and select the word that feels best to you right now.


Let’s say you select the word “home.”

Your next step will be to pose a question using this word, similar to the questions I offered above: Perhaps “Who gets to work with home?” or “Who gets to focus on home?”

Repeat the question several times to make certain you like the sound and feel of it. Then record any ideas you have in response to the question, again without judgment. Our example might include the following ideas, and more:

Who gets to work with home?

interior decorator
bed & breakfast owner
real estate agent
kitchen designer
menu planner
home improvement writer
feng shui consultant
dog walker / pet sitter
insurance agent
home cleaning service
estate sale service
home appraiser
home inspector
garden designer
antiques seller
home magazine editor
home builder
home remodeler
furniture designer
home-based business owner
home goods buyer
and many, many more….

The point of making a list is to expand your perspective about who gets to focus on what you love. Don’t worry if you are listing some things that hold no appeal for you. Each item on your list is simply a possible connection to even more things that you might love doing.

Your list is a lot like the path from the parking lot to the trailhead: a starting point for an exploration that leads you to discover more about what really matters to you.

Laurie Mattila
© August 2007

Practice Page: April 2007 Newsletter

Here are some ideas for you to think about, write about, talk about, wonder about—on your own or with a friendly companion.


I’m weaving together two themes from this newsletter: magic and money. You’ll need paper and a pen to get started.

Comfortable Allowing Out

To begin, decide on an actual amount of money you are totally comfortable allowing out of your life. Write this amount on a piece of paper under the heading “Comfortable Allowing Out.” For example, you might decide the amount is $3.00 or $15.00 or $250.00. There are no right or wrong amounts; only an amount you are comfortable letting go.

Comfortable Allowing In

Next, decide on an amount of money you are totally comfortable allowing into your life. Write this amount on another piece of paper under the new heading “Comfortable Allowing In.” Once again there are no right or wrong amounts, only an amount you find comfortable.

Comparing Amounts

Now compare the two amounts with curiosity but without judgment.

What do notice about the net direction of flow?

Is there more flowing out or in?

What might this reveal about your comfort level with money?

… about the flow of money into and out of your life?

List of Possibilities

Return to the first amount of money, the amount you are comfortable allowing out of your life. Begin to list possibilities for how you might like to allow this money to flow out of your life. Write down as many ideas as you can think of including possibilities that focus on someone else, only yourself, or on sharing the amount. Try to list at least several dozen ideas that fall within the amount you specified. Here are a few examples to get you started. The things on your list will depend upon you and the amount you are comfortable letting go.


schedule a massage for myself

make a donation to a fundraising walk

treat a friend and myself to a movie

buy personal care items to donate to a shelter

pay for a tree to be planted in a park

Pick a time to review your list and from it select how you will use the money you are letting go. Then do it.

What was it like for you to allow this money to flow out of your life?

Did you actually do it?

What did you discover about yourself? … about money?

What was the best part of the experiment?

Would you now be comfortable increasing the amount?

What could you do with a larger amount?


Return to the second amount of money, the amount you are comfortable allowing into your life.

What is your honest reaction to the likelihood of this happening?

Do you believe it is possible?

Could you be comfortable if you doubled, tripled or quadrupled the amount?

Why? Or why not?

What if it was multiplied by 10 or 100?

Would you need to change any beliefs in order for this to happen?

Are you more comfortable believing it won’t happen?

If any of the above questions prompt you to further explore your relationship with money, I encourage you to read the books reviewed in the Good Books section of this newsletter:

The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

Women and Money by Suze Orman


I am in the flow of life.

I receive the money that flows into my life, with gratitude.

I release the money that flows out of my life, with joy.

In receiving and in giving, I become magic flowing through the world.

Laurie Mattila
© April 2007

Practice Page: December 2006 Newsletter

In my ongoing quest to keep my work (including this newsletter) vital and true, I’ve decided to turn the Profile page into a Practice page with experiments for you to use. I love crafting ideas that prompt the gentle discovery of what already dwells within us, valuable resources and energies that we need — if we are going to be who we came here to be and give to the world what we long to contribute.

As I did in the August issue, I’ll offer a few ideas for you to think about, write about, talk about, wonder about-on your own or with a friendly companion who is not threatened by you becoming a happier, healthier, wealthier person.

If you feel that you simply don’t have time right now, take it anyway, even five minutes. Read through the questions quickly, noticing if there’s one that leaps out for you. Allow this question to process in the background of your imagination, while you move on to other things. You’ll be using the power of imagination, to pay attention, without actual “efforting.”

If you do have time to immerse yourself in this experiment, you might want to get a notebook for making lists and jotting down things that occur to you. Try not to expect yourself to figure it all out; instead, give yourself permission to record any and all impressions, including fragments.

Releasing the Energy of Expectations

Now that we’ve entered the end-of-year season, many of us feel the crunch of accumulating responsibilities along with an accelerating pace. Even if your own life is quite simple and relatively free of end-of-year stressors, the energy of heightened expectations is in the air. It’s like a widespread virus that will affect you, either directly or indirectly. No one is immune. For some of us the stressors are primarily work related, for others they involve family, finances, health, school, the larger community, the shopping mall, or all of the above. Expectations multiply and the pace of doing speeds up, often unreasonably, as long as we allow it.

Our awareness of what is happening to us is critical. However, paying attention to your own responses and listening to what you need and want, before you agree to anything, all takes time.

Just because one calendar year is soon coming to an end and holidays are being planned and celebrated, doesn’t mean you can’t let go of worn out, defeating patterns. You don’t have to wait until the new year begins. You can free up energy and your life, right now. You really don’t have to complete everything on this year’s to-do list, before you can choose to take care of yourself.

Here are four questions intended to uncover expectations and free up creative energies:

What do others ask of you?

What do you ask of yourself?

What is your soul whispering?

How have you been responding?


I feel the desire for change stirring within my soul.
My imagination wants to explode with new possibilities.
Yet, I sometimes hold myself back,
returning to the comfortable patterns I’ve outgrown.
This is part of my letting go and I accept it.

Each day I breathe in courage, and
focus on why I am and what I long for.
I say Yes to my own life, and a new way emerges.
I feel my soul singing its own song.

Laurie Mattila
© December 2006