12 Tips for Creating in 2013

For me, 2012 was a year of finding out how to stay focused and what to focus on as a self-employed writer/consultant. Here are my top tips from this year’s journey.

1. Everything counts; it helps not to freak out.

It’s true. You decide what’s important. You lay out the plan. You find the money and make the money. It can be paralyzing and make you flirt with the idea of applying for any sort of job. When anxiety and overwhelm threaten to take you off track it helps to have a list of small projects that you can do while you get your breathing back to normal. Build your contact list. Work on ideas from your story/article notebook. Find a mentor; decide what you have to offer and what you hope for from the relationship. Develop a list of places/people you can be of service to at no charge. Once you are back to a less paranoid version of yourself focus on the one thing you can do right away to help your business/help your writing.

2. Small steps realize the vision.

What’s the one thing you want to get done next year? What do you need to do each quarter to make this dream come true? What do you need to do now to meet your first quarter milestone? Planning small steps and blocking them into your diary each week can take you where you want to go. Write for 15 minutes every day? For an hour? For three?

3. Learn to say yes to what feeds your soul.

What’s the 20% of what you do that makes it all worth it? Build that into every day and every week. Whether it is a specific activity or interacting with clients or other writers, make sure it happens. It will keep you going through those less than perfect moments.

4. What you do every day counts most; pick the right stuff.

It took an astonishingly long time for me to realize that my life was what I did every day. Even though I might treasure memories of a special trip or high point, it’s really what happens every day that counts. When I finally got it, I felt empowered. By changing what I did each day I could change my life. And I did. So don’t wait. Today is the day. Do what you love now.

5. Value your contribution.

Showing up is most of the gig. Showing up with all of you makes the difference between sleep walking your way through the day and living it. Start by valuing the fact that you are here and ready to work and that you bring your whole incredible self to the party.

6. Learn to say no.

At the beginning of the journey there may be the sense that nobody is going to want you to do anything for them and you may want to fall on the first offer with cries of gratitude even if it has nothing to do with your vision, or maybe you don’t have your vision yet, so everything looks good as long as someone will pay you for it. As you go on you realize there is really no reason to do what someone else could do better and with more joy. Say no.

7. Work with those you want to support; it’s a shared fate

When you take on a client, customer or project it’s a shared fate. If all goes well and your client is happy, it’s a win for both of you. If your client isn’t happy, or you’re not happy, it is a loss for both of you. It’s got to work for both of you.

8. Have fun!

Sometimes it’s bound to be intense. Learn to have fun while you work. Know who makes you smile and what makes you feel like dancing. Never waste a chance to celebrate what’s going on. Find one thing a day to celebrate, even if some days it means you celebrate it being over.

9. Let your soul shine through.

What about what you do satisfies your deep longing? What’s meaningful? Where does your satisfaction come from? Share this. It turns colleagues into friends and clients into fans. It’s what makes life  and your work juicy.

10. Embrace your strengths.

Step one, get to know your strengths. There are lots of ways to go about this, but an easy one that just takes noticing comes from Danielle LaPorte. Notice what people thank you for. In fact, write down what people thank you for (we have a way of forgetting really fast).

11. Find sources of nourishment.

When you are the whole show you need a lot of creative fuel to keep you inspired and putting it out there. Identify the people, activities, blogs, books, films, music, workshops, associations and classes that feed you and keep reminding you of your vision and your strengths.

12. Eat, Workout, Sleep

Sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night works wonders. Forty minutes or more of daily exercise ditto. Eating for both health and pleasure provides balance. They are basics, and neglecting them can cause big problems, if not now, soon.

Join the discussion: What do you do to stay on track and keep creating?

The Dream Connection

Do you remember your dreams? Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Earlier this year I was going through a period when I knew that I had dreamt yet had no specific memories when I woke up.

I wanted to recall my dreams again so I signed up for a dreamwork group with Trevor Simpson. The last session in the series of four was last week. Sessions were both interesting and helpful. Before they started I only recalled three or four dreams a month, but over the three months of the group I recalled over 50 dreams, and was able to explore a number of them in depth.

Remembering and exploring my dreams helped me clarify ideas, and provided new perspective on decisions. It also helped me remember that the parts of ourselves we don’t have conscious access to can be amazing, creative and funny.

Your dreams are gifts that you may not know how to open.

In the past I kept a dream journal for several years, using Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal Method, and the genesis of my novel-in-progress came from a vivid dream I had during a nap one afternoon in 1974, so dreams have been a powerful source of creativity and self-development for me already.

Carl Jung’s work on dreams has also shaped my personal work. Dream Moods has a good overview of Jung’s theories about dreams. Active Imagination is Carl Jung’s tool for expanding dream work and creative work. This article by Lawrence Staples of the Jung Society of Washington, D. C., gives a good explanation and an example of the connection between dreams, active imagination, and creative work.

The list of articles on the International Association for the Study of Dreams website shows the extent of worldwide interest in dreams and some of the research currently being done. The list includes articles on a broad list of topics from the usefulness of problem-solving dreams to dreams of the blind.

Want to know more? Wikipedia has a good overview of Dreams.

Here’s the first description I wrote of the dream that is the seed for my novel:

A young girl wakes from an afternoon nap in the dormitory above the great hall of a dancing school. She is wearing a dancer’s top and practice skirt wrinkled from sleeping. She jumps up and begins to move immediately in response to a call from the hall below. She moves from the dormitory to the balcony above the hall and is dazzled by the light flooding the hall rotunda as the sun sets. The light gives everything warmth: the floor tiles, the fountain, the lush foliage in pots round the interior of the hall, and the small group of dancers waiting to perform the traditional grace dance before the meal.

The girl is suddenly filled with joyousness, with a tingling awareness of life, feeling, and the need to communicate the inexplicable. She runs down the stairs to the rotunda space where a fountain is at the centre of the circle the dancers are forming for the evening thanks dance. She doesn’t wait for the dance leader, simply steps into the circle and gives the signal for all to join hands.

 As the dancers join hands, she feels the circle form and the joy she feels begin to move through everyone in the circle. She has a vision of thanks for the day, gratitude that acknowledges each moment that brought the evening’s meal to them: earth, plowed, then planted, moistened by rain, warmed by sun, fronds of wheat waving gracefully, harvested and ground by the mill, brought in sacks loaded on a patient donkey to the school kitchens where it was mixed, baked, and set by the side of the fountain waiting to be blessed.

The energy she felt and her connection with the dancers let the scenes she saw be seen by others, covered the dancers bodies with a vision of the journey from seed to bread, but she didn’t have either the strength or skill to maintain the vision. She was suddenly returned to the hall, and and sound of water from fountain, as dancers broke from the circle.

She falls, crying, to the tile floor. The other students whisper, waiting to see what would happen to her. She broke the first rule for a student, that a student never leads a dance; only dance masters may lead.

 She overhears two kitchen servants called to the hall by the disturbance, “Ah, she’ll have to leave. She’s forgotten she creates the dance. The illusion took her and she broke down.”

The dance master approaches her, lifts her gently to her feet, and tells her to pack her clothes and prepare to leave immediately. She must wait by the gate for further instructions.

I am still working on unfolding the story and continue to be astonished by the amount of information packed into the dream, and the freshness of it so many years later. The novel is now 30,000 words and still growing.

Join the discussion: Have dreams ever played a part in your writing? Have you tried using active imagination?


Astonishment and Joy

When I think of Thanksgiving I think of Mary Oliver’s phrase,

your one wild and precious life

and how life itself is grace, and how being present to your life and the wild and unpredictable colors and feelings it offers you moment by moment is a great adventure far beyond what we have or what we do.

When I first began reflecting on what I was grateful for I made a list; this list was often full of people and things I loved or experiences I loved having. Over the years I became aware of the joy in simply being; being there to make the list, being there with the possibilities of the moment, being there and thus being connected to so many people and so much else.

I am astonished by how much a moment can deliver if I am only present, and astonished that it’s there whenever I manage to show up regardless of what is happening in that moment.

If you are gathering for a Thanksgiving Celebration tomorrow, here is another Mary Oliver poem:

Instructions for Living a Life

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.


A Thanksgiving Wish

May the day bring you a quiet moment, may you dive below the list of things you are grateful for and go deeper; feel the warmth of your heart and the quiet light it shines on your life; receive the abundance and possibility that rises from the centre of your being. May you experience the grace of your life, and  may sharing moments of astonishment and joy be a part of your Thanksgiving.

 Join the conversation: What astonishes you and brings you joy? What are you thankful for?


Three Tools to Explore Resistance

I missed posting last week. Have you ever experienced a time when everything that was simple seems complicated? When finishing regular tasks takes three times as long? When every thought seems to veer off the straight path and into some other very fuzzy train of thought? That was my week last week. Despite many hours at my desk nothing worth writing about emerged and all my draft posts seemed totally unworthy. I was deep in a huge feeling of resistance.

The first thing that began to create some movement was Trevor Simpson’s SoulClarity Newsletter where he shared an auto-responder message:

Resistance Autoreply: From the desk of ….. “Thank you for your e-mail. I will be in resistance until Monday February 23, but will return your message once I am back from the state of denial.”

Trevor’s correspondent was feeling some resistance too. Funny how comforting it was, finding out that someone shared my state.

Then there were some helpful posts from folks I follow. Lissa Rankin wrote about being more “eggy”, more receptive and less inclined to push your way through on her blog and Marie Forleo interviewed Steven Pressfield about his new book, Turning Pro. Steven wrote the The War of Art and Do the Work about resistance, and had been helpful in the past. The interview sowed some useful seeds.

And then I worked with these guidance tools. Before using the tools I reflected on the question I wanted to ask for guidance in getting through my resistance and came to “What do I need to do to redeem my shadow and clear the way forward for my creative and spiritual work?”

The Tools

1. Susan Seddon Boulet and Michael Babcock’s Goddesses Knowledge Cards

I first used these cards in Atum O’Kane’s Spiritual Guidance course. The art by Boulet is inspiring and the text by Babcock straightforward. Locally they are available from Banyen Books. I received the card for Hathor, an Egyptian Goddess. The card notes, in part, Hathor reminds us that we too must acknowledge all parts of ourselves, that what we call destructive is sometimes necessary to allow creativity and compassion to flourish.

2. The I Ching

It had been years since I consulted the oracle, but I thought it would be interesting to discover how I felt about it now. I received hexagram 31 Influence changing to hexagram 13 Fellowship with Men. The direction that perseverance furthers, encouraging approach by being willing to receive, and waiting until being impelled to action by real influence seemed remarkably apt, particularly with the direction from the second hexagram about both the power of peaceful union with others and the injunction to remember that joining with others is an ideal and the actuality may involve more down to earth considerations bringing people together. Clarity of intention is critical.

3. Consulting a book as an oracle

The practice of using a book as an oracle or guide is one I have found useful before. Sometimes I’ve used the library, walking around until I felt called to a book. This time Roger Housden’s Ten Poems to Set You Free was the one that presented itself. The book fell open to David Whyte’s poem, Self-Portrait. The poem asks a series of questions. One,

“I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living falling toward the center of your longing”,

seems to be the exact question for my issue this time. Housden’s essay on his experience of the poem was helpful too.

Readers in the United States — I wish you a happy, delicious, heartful holiday.

Join the conversation: What tools have you found helpful when working with your resistance to work or moving forward?


10 Questions to Explore Self-Support

When we work with others we get used to the incidental support that comes from having colleagues down the hall and a network of expectations from those we work with that pull us through the day. When I switched to being self-employed and working on my own it took some time to understand what behavior supported me. Here are some questions to help you explore your self-support habits. Each one of us needs something slightly different for support so it helps to do a review of your current habits first.

1. What do you need to start your day off right?

Even though we’re different some things are simply true. Breakfast is one of them; eat something, preferably more than just a muffin. Get enough sleep.  Have a means of capturing your daily commitments and tasks.

Establishing a routine that prepares you for more engaged work, a warm-up, is useful too. My writing warm-up consists of Morning Pages, and a 10-Minute writing session with a short story prompt. Once I am warmed-up, I am ready to dig into work for clients, work on stories, polishing a blog post, or more work on my novel.

For some, exercise fits into getting the day started. For me this comes later on, as a break. Finding the right spot for exercise can help you establish it as part of your day.

2. How often do you need a break?

Some research suggests every hour; workshop leaders and trainers know that learners need a break at least every 90 minutes.

Writing, and other work on the computer is sedentary. Making sure you get up and move will increase your productivity and is better for your health.

If you know you’re not going to get to the gym, try developing some ten minute workouts that you can do throughout the day.

In addition to work breaks during the day, think about a weekly break. If you can give yourself a longer break once or twice a week, say lunch plus a walk, it can help renew your efforts.

Be aware of work tasks, projects, or social events that take recovery time and build that time into your schedule.

3. What do you need to fuel your work?

This is about eating to work (and enjoying it). Basically you use more energy thinking than plowing fields and the sharpness and clarity start to fade between three and four hours after you’ve eaten. Pay attention to see what refueling interval works best for you. Small meals work well, or a meal-healthy snack-meal pattern can work.

Remembering to drink enough water during the day is a challenge, but makes a big difference. Dehydration affects both thinking and energy.

If you are doing creative work it’s good to stay aware of what boosts your creativity (music, play with colours, seeing/hearing other’s work, meditation, movement). Build in time to replenish the inner resources that feed your creative output.

4. When do you need an outside opinion?

Once you’ve pulled things together and you feel you’re ready to share it with the world or your best client, you may want someone to provide some feedback. Identifying safe, confidential resources for this can provide help for your blind spots (we all have them) and give you a sense of whether or not you stayed on track and kept the work on target.

Develop some criteria for whom to ask and think about how you can develop reciprocity. You’re still out there on your own, but you will have ideas from outside your own patterns of thinking, and some folks who are already interested in the final result.

5. Where in your work will finding a mentor help?

Look for the area where you feel most challenged; where you know you need to grow; where you lack confidence; where you aren’t making the best use of your strengths and then look at the people you admire and whose work exemplifies where you want to go. Then ask. Suggest a framework for the mentoring work, and think about how you could make a contribution to what they’re doing. Take the time to build the relationship before you ask.

6. How do you network most effectively?

As an introvert my idea of a good time is time alone with a book. That said I love sharing information that will be helpful (my friends tell me I have the instincts of a librarian). My best networking happens when I have information to share with the group I am going to have an opportunity to meet. I am a flop when I don’t feel I have anything to give. I’ve found I need to do the research to make it worth my while. Even for an extrovert, it super-charges networking results if you do the research and prepare ahead of time.

A solid network is a huge asset when working on your own.

7. What administrative work keeps you in touch and what should be delegated?

When you start out you tend to do everything yourself. While you’re in the start-up phase it’s a good idea to log your reaction to tasks and note how you feel about them.

For some, doing the invoices helps keep you touch with what you’ve accomplished, for others it’s always on the bottom of the list and the accounting piece just makes you antsy. After a short while you’ll have a good idea of what you want to keep doing to stay in touch with key aspects of your business, and what to outsource once you have the cash.

8. What’s on your YES and NO Lists?

Your YES list has opportunities that connect with your goals, your joy, and your learning. Your NO list has the things you do that drag you down or suck time from what you really want to do.

As you become more successful you need to stay aware of both lists to give yourself support for saying NO to things that aren’t the best use of your energy and time.

9. Who is in your cheering section?

These folks can be real people you know (family, friends, mentors) or public figures you admire and want to emulate; even characters from books or movies (Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web).

10. What’s your celebration plan?

When you reach your goals, hit your targets, land the work of your dreams, you need to celebrate and share the good news. Have a plan, develop a ritual and enjoy your success.

You can also plan to share success by thinking about the group or organization you want to donate to when you reach your financial goals.

Once you know about what supports you, you’ll find even when you work alone you are connected.

Join the discussion: What activities support your work? How do you stay connected?

Inspired By Feedback

Learning how to ask for feedback is a skill that improves with practice. I’ve gotten better at it by asking more frequently and by asking different kinds of questions. By making feedback a regular event, I began to minimize the charge that feedback, whether positive or negative, had often carried.

Asking for feedback allows me to confront fears about what others think head on and get it over with; this frees more energy for the actual work. Knowing how others react to what I am writing has helped me improve the writing and provided validation, especially when I am working on my edge. Feedback has been a source of inspiration and encouragement.

When to ask?

This is can be bit tricky. When I am learning something new I ask for feedback early and frequently until I feel confident I am on track. Once I am working in a familiar area, I don’t ask too early in the creative process, unless I need to clarify direction. I want to get enough done that I have a strong feeling about where it’s going and what I’ve done so far before I ask.

If I am asking for feedback on my writing this may mean waiting till I’ve finished a complete first or second draft. Sometimes it means asking for one kind of feedback early on and another kind later.

What to ask?

Different writers have different answers, because in each case what you ask will depend on who you are asking, your relationship, and the type of feedback you seek. Using the example of a piece of writing, here are some feedback request ideas for different kinds of readers.

Readers who are writers

  • Ask about the element of the writing that you’ve been working to improve
  • Ask about the element of the writing you think is good
  • Ask what they respond to
  • Ask where they think more work could improve the piece

Readers who are fans of the type of writing you’re asking about

  • Ask what they responded to
  • Ask if they think others will respond to it too, and if so who
  • Ask if it seems to offer something new, and if so what
  • Ask them for their favourite part and why
  • Ask them for their least favourite part and why

Readers who are expert in a field discussed in your writing

  • Ask them if the details are consistent with what they know
  • Ask them for sources of additional information
  • Ask them if they could suggest anything to deepen credibility

Readers who are potential clients

  • Ask them what they appreciated
  • Ask them if this type of writing fits their needs, and if it doesn’t what seems to be out of sync
  • Ask them if anything in the writing suggested something to watch for on this job
  • Ask them what tone and voice they want to see in the work you do for them

Don’t forget

  • Always ask if there is anything else they’d like to tell you. This open-ended question can yield valuable information that just didn’t come up through a specific question.
  • Ask if you can approach them for feedback again (if you found their feedback helpful and constructive) .
  • Thank them for their feedback and their time, regardless of whether or not you will ask them for feedback again.

Join the discussion: What type of feedback is most helpful to you? Any tips on asking for feedback? Share a story about a time when feedback inspired you.


De-clutter Your Online Information

Do you live in an information jungle?

Do you have virtual (or real) piles of files and emails?

Is your favourites list hundreds of websites long?

Do you organize emails, documents and website favourites differently?

There’s hope, but it requires resolve and a system.

Before you start, review current work, objectives and your mission/purpose and values.

The overarching question for sorting:

Why do I need this?

How does this email, document, or website relate to your work/purpose/values/life?

If you aren’t going to use it in the next 6 months, toss it. By the time you get around to using it everything will be different.

Discard as much as you can. Your discard muscles will grow stronger with practice.

Step 1: Look at your current folders

Keep main folders/headings to about 20 (one screen length).

Some folders may become sub-folders with the right heading.

Example: Use Colleagues, Family, Friends, as sub-folders under the main folder People. Add folders for individuals in the appropriate sub-folder.

Once you’ve whittled your folders down, look again to make sure everything is current. Discard old material.

Ideally, your 20 folders can be main folders for emails, favourites, and documents; use the same file scheme in each area.

Once your folders are ready for action you can move on to

Step 2: Sort emails, websites, documents into your 20 major folders and sub-folders

When something doesn’t fit in a major folder, or an existing sub-folder, create a 2nd sort folder and put it there for now.

As you sort, watch for new themes or ideas.

Once you’ve gone through your folders you should have everything either in an existing folder, sub-folder, or in the 2nd sort folder.

Review themes. Could some themes be sub-folders for existing main folders?

Hint: Once you have more than 20 items in a folder, you may need a sub-folder to keep filing and access easy.

If you still have items with no home in the 2nd sort folder, rename it 3rd sort folder and move to

Step 3: The 3rd sort folder (this one requires the most thought)

Take another look at your main folders and sub-folders. If there is no home for the item, ask yourself again why you need it. If despite everything you just feel like you want to hold onto it consider a “Likes” or “Investigate” folder or sub-folder and file it there so you can review it again later.

Try really hard to keep it to 20 main folders, with no more than 20 sub-folders under each. It will be much faster and easier to remember and use. Once you blow past 20 it’s just harder and takes more time to use.

You might need a break if you have been working through the first steps in one time block. Give perspective a chance to return.

Once you’ve finished disposing of your 3rd sort folder you are ready for

Step 4: Scheduling your next de-cluttering session

Keeping the flood of information moving smoothly is a challenge. We accumulate much more information and it decays much faster than it used to just a few years ago. Regular information de-cluttering can help you stay current, be more productive, feel less overwhelmed, and become more sensitive to trends.

Want more? Here’s a favourite post from Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog with 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life to take the whole process further.

Join the discussion: What do you do to keep the information flood in check? How do you organize it? When do you discard? What kinds of information or sources seem “evergreen” What’s your biggest de-cluttering/simplifying issue?


Discover Your Themes

April 1968, that’s when I mailed out over one hundred photocopied pamphlets of my poetry, Ensemble: The Gratuitous Act . I mailed it to a list of people that included pop stars, poets, philosophers, actors, writers and friends. In October 2012, more than forty-four years later, I can’t recall why I included some of the names on the list. And there’s a bit of a cringe factor; I am profoundly grateful the internet wasn’t available for decades. Still, it was a first poetic effort, and as much as I shake my head at some of them, I feel enormous affection for that romantic, blithe spirit on the verge of womanhood.

Here’s a poem for now made from some lines from then.

Reading early poems

After more than forty years,

Still writing for those concerned with life, with love;

Still offering poems freely, as a gift;

Still wanting to taste, savour and enjoy each moment to the full;

Still subject to the restless, gusty winds of mind’s night;

Still listening for my own song rising from deep within;

Still know love, dying, can find resurrection in another’s face;

Still know feeling has power beyond the passing day’s ability to define;

Still marvel at that love holds the key to unlock treasure in each moment;

Still see love doesn’t shield us from life’s woes, only makes them more bearable;

Still spellbound by the glory of each soul’s light.

Reviewing early work; finding life themes

I’ve kept journals and written scraps of poetry, story and memoir for a long time. A friend recently asked me to share some early poetry as we worked through more current work.

It was a great request. Something interesting happens when you reread writing put away for longer periods. You are sometimes able to rediscover the one who wrote then and gain the brilliance of hindsight.

Send some loving kindness

Before you begin to read, remember what was going on in your life. Look at old photos. Remember family, friends, your view of the past and hopes for the future. Surround that early writer with wishes for happiness and well being. From here and now, appreciate the contribution of the past. Forgive, if forgiveness is needed. Now reading with a kind eye, look for:

  • What was alive in you then that still sustains you?
  • What has disappeared that you want to mourn?
  • What do you want to celebrate and name as a theme? Why?
  • What was a challenge then that still challenges you now?
  • How has your understanding of the challenge changed?
  • What were you learning then?
  • What advice or encouragement do you have for yourself then?
  • What are you learning now?
  • Does your earlier self have any advice for you now?

Join the conversation: How do you discover the themes or questions that you carry through your life? What do you discover when you review earlier work?

Dreaming of Community

I’ve discovered I read some favourite authors (Maeve Binchey, Marcia Willet, Katie Fforde ) because of the dream of community that’s often a part of the story. Learning how a character moves from outsider, dispossessed of her old identity through circumstance or choice, and forms a new community, is a tale that never grows old. The community is the context for all the action. I feel silly even mentioning it in a way. Goodness it’s always there, that tension between the individual and the community, the dilemma of being in or out, the challenge of being accepted or winning membership.

How could I have missed this theme?

North American culture emphasizes the individual and individual relationships. The novels often have an element of romance. Family stories are sagas, or comedies, or tragedies with an individual at the centre. Shifting my focus to the community, I see the stories differently; learn new things.

In Vancouver, where I live, recent research revealed that many people in the city feel lonely and disconnected, and yearn for a greater sense of community. We have many immigrants who are far from family, are from across the world or across the country, drawn to the city from another way of life; sometimes people are disconnected from their family for other reasons.

On Monday and Tuesday night this week PBS broadcast Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The stories from the film are different from the tales told in women’s fiction or Vancouver newspaper articles on urban angst, yet they are about dreams shared by the characters in the books and Vancouverites: a woman’s desire for a better life for herself and her children, freedom from emotional and physical abuse, access to education, and a way to earn a living with dignity that will allow her to build a better life and a safe place to belong. The stories of these women are also about the dream of community. The women who take action in the film are able to build community.

Our idea of community, and how to build and maintain a community comes from our dream of it, our yearning for it, as much as it comes from experience.

In 2008 Peter Block wrote Community: The Structure of Belonging.

“Community offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to this place and are affirmed for that choice.”

He emphasizes the need for us all to take up this work, to move from longing to acting, and offers information on building local context and operating guidelines. One of the powerful questions he asks is

“What declaration of possibility can you make that has the power to transform the community and inspire you?

Join the conversation: Do you dream of community? How would you answer Peter Block’s question? What are the characteristics of the community you long for? Share a description of community that inspires you.



Who do you thank?

Thanksgiving is Monday October 8th here in Canada. Have you ever sat down for Thanksgiving Dinner and felt disconnected? There’s the traditional litany of those to thank and what to thank them for: food, peace, freedom, family and friends, health, success, all worthy of appreciation and our gratitude should we be fortunate enough to have them, particularly in a world where so many lack them. I’ve sometimes felt ashamed and ill at ease at the Thanksgiving table when I just couldn’t connect to a feeling of gratitude. If existence itself is grace, then the bounty piled before me shouldn’t result in me wishing I was alone with a pizza and a good movie.

Discover what you are grateful for

Elsewhere war, famine, pestilence, and disaster thrive. Somehow the more aware I am of how badly off much of the world is, the harder I find it to open to receiving, to acknowledge what I already have. I find myself asking what I can do to reconnect with the spirit of thanksgiving.

“I made cranberry sauce, and when it was done put it into a dark blue bowl for the beautiful contrast. I was thinking, doing this, about the old ways of gratitude: Indians thanking the deer they’d slain, grace before supper, kneeling before bed. I was thinking that gratitude is too much absent in our lives now, and we need it back, even if it only takes the form of acknowledging the blue of a bowl against the red of cranberries.”

― Elizabeth Berg, Open House

The dream that is the inspiration for the novel I am working on was a dream of thanksgiving. In the dream a young woman, is intoxicated by the sense of interdependence and abundance she found in meditating deeply on the bread and corn, squash and fruit that were part of her harvest festival. This gives her a sense of the connection between the people who planted the seed for the grain that became the bread, the baker who fashioned the loaf, and the dairyman whose cows provided the milk to make the butter for the bread and her life. The joy that came from her recognition of interdependence is a memory that brings me back to thankfulness, to connection, when I’ve forgotten who to thank and what I am grateful for.

Starting with my current feeling of restlessness and discomfort, because that’s where I am, I settle into my breath, into the present moment, and reflect on thanksgiving, and on the dream’s gift.

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh

Reconnecting to your bounty

Good news! Gratitude is a practice that starts with simple actions.

  • Say “Thank You”

Whether you are saying it to your body, to the rose that offers its bloom, to your family, to the author of your favourite book, or the cook who prepared the thanksgiving feast, expressing your thanks changes what’s going on.

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

― Meister Eckhart

  • Open to what you have and concentrate on what is positive and present in your life

By acknowledging and appreciating what we have we cultivate a sense of abundance and grow closer to realizing that existence itself is grace. Don’t forget to include your strengths and your experiences in what you have.

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

― Epicurus

  •  Remember the people in your life

Kindness, compassion and support can come from family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances or strangers.

 At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

― Albert Schweitzer

Join the conversation: What awakens thanksgiving in you? What traditions and rituals help you keep that holiday alive?