Tell Your Joyful Story

Our experiences shape us. Define who we are. Our experiences influence our perspective on life. And the stories we keep of these experiences are important to share. Sharing stories from our life with others builds deep connections that otherwise may have never been made.

That’s what drew me to Guided Autobiography (GAB) and that’s why I lead 6-week Guided Autobiography workshops four times a year.

But there’s a problem with Guided Autobiography. The themes we are presented with more often than not lead us to explore in 800 words or less moments that are sad or heartbreaking. And while sharing our heartbreak helps us to process the event that caused our heartbreak, for our September session of Guided Autobiography I’ve decided we’re going to take a different approach.

We’re going to process our moments of joy. Because those moments, too, shape our perspective on life. Our next GAB workshop will offer themes that encourage us to recall experiences that made us happy. That brought us joy. Experiences that surprised us with a positive outcome.

There are a few spaces left in our Guided Autobiography: Lean into Joy workshop. The workshop begins on Thursday, September 15th from 2-3:30 PM PT/5-6:30 PM ET. Registration is as simple as an email. Tuition is on a sliding scale between $60-$120. Once I receive payment via check or PayPal you’ll receive GAB’s Zoom link.

Our past is filled with profound experiences that shaped us into the people we are today. Isn’t it time to remember the joyful ones?

A short video we more details about Guided Autobiography plus one of my essays written for GAB.

Finding Awe

There’s a wooded area across the street from our kitchen door. I like to stand on the patio while the coffee brews in the morning, or in the evening after dinner, to see if the deer have arrived. They like to eat the grass and weeds that surround a small pond and I love to watch. I hope I never stop being delighted when I see them.

Annular Eclipse, Pyramid Lake, Nevada 2012

One evening last week when I stepped outside to look for the mother deer and her fawn, the sound of cicadas and croaking frogs was so loud I called Ben to listen with me. It sounded like a symphony of bugs and amphibians tuning their instruments before a concert. I hope I never grow accustomed to their music.

There are bats where we live. On our first week here we saw dozens over our house. They were dining on flying insects and then dancing through the sky to find their next juicy mortal. We haven’t seen that many at once since, but now and again I’ll see one or two grabbing a snack. It surprises me every time. I hope seeing a bat in the sky above my house never stops surprising me.

These experiences create a sense of wonderment and awe in me. And for that I’m grateful because sometimes it feels like we’ve lost our ability to be awed. Sometimes it feels like we’re too distracted by the noise of the world or too jaded by the onslaught of constant information to find time for quiet moments of awe.

But these moments of awe are beneficial to our well being. The sense of awe we feel when we’re gazing at a star filled sky, for instance, or witnessing an eclipse, creates in us a sense of ‘small self’ and deepens our sense of connection with others.

What experiences elicit awe in you?


Neurographic Drawing

At the start of the year I set the intention of building a writing practice that would allow me to post every two weeks. I created a spread sheet of topics around these obvious themes: yoga, coaching and craft. I hoped I would have the strength and energy (and the technical prowess) to have a brief video accompany the posts I wrote about aspects of our yoga practice. I managed one video, but my posts over the past six months have been consistent. Not what I intended, but consistent. Until now.

Writing, like yoga or art, is a practice that requires our presence. We have to show up. And I find it difficult to show up for writing practice when my brain is full. And right now my brain is full. My beloved and I are three weeks away from a major life transition – our move to the ‘other coast’. Our home has become a storage unit filled with boxes and I’m obsessed with worry about how Bruce – our amazing, elderly, deaf ginger cat – will manage the flight to Virginia and how he will adjust to a new home. There are so many details that need to be attended to that there is no room in my brain for putting words down on a page.

And don’t even mention my preoccupation with…well…everything else.

And so I’ve decided to draw. My art supplies are packed and so all I have to work with are a few sharpies and a mechanical pencil. But that’s all I need for neurographic drawing. The technique, a distant cousin to SoulCollage®, begins with just a thought. A quiet thought, a few shapes and a single line. So simple and yet it doesn’t take long before my energy settles. The jumbled words and racing thoughts become quiet, and I’m lost in the shapes I’ve drawn. I’m lost in the moment, which is a nice place to rest.


I’m a Coach. Don’t Roll Your Eyes.

When I began my training with International Coach Academy (ICA) at the beginning of the pandemic (and isn’t it odd how we now tell time according to COVID?) we were asked to find peer coaches with whom we would practice our developing skills. One of my peer coaches – who I’ll name Jane – was close to graduating from the sixteen-month program. I found Jane’s coaching prowess intimidating. She possessed limitless self-belief and her blinding confidence glowed like a pulsating aura. What Jane lacked was empathy. She didn’t notice that my habit of comedic self-deprecation is the tactic I use to disguise my fear of failure. It was both her loss and mine.

Before my peer coaching relationship with Jane began, I believed coaching was easy. I had no doubt that I was going to sail through ICA’s intensive program without breaking a sweat. But the opposite was proving true. Coaching is a skill that takes practice and dedication to master and I was struggling. Jane was blind to my struggle. When she told me that 80% of the individuals who graduate from a coaching program never become professional coaches, she didn’t see the movie reel of my life as a coach burst into flames. She couldn’t know that the committee in my head, my little saboteurs that run around with needles to poke holes in my hopes and dreams, never once thought to tell me I could be in the 20% who succeed. And so, when I graduated from ICA I didn’t shout my achievement from the rooftops. It was more of a whisper. And these days, despite my excellent training, I use my coaching skills on the sly. No one even notices. What a shame.

Newly minted coaches are encouraged to practice with peer coaches. I have two that I see on a regular basis. We use our time together to refine our skills and to share experiences. Most recently we’ve been trying to determine why, as bright and well trained individuals, we find it so difficult to ‘sell’ our services.

Part of our struggle is found in the knowledge that, like yoga, life coaching is an unregulated industry. And although coaches have a strong governing body – the International Coaching Federation – for there is no incentive to jump over the many rigorous hoops required to earn accreditation through the ICF when the truth is that anyone who attends a weekend long ‘coach training’ workshop can then hang out a shingle. For that reason, if you are interested in finding a coach, it’s important to review their qualifications in the same way that you might want to know how long your yoga instructor has been practicing and where she did her teacher training.

Another industry problem is the myth that working with a life coach is a luxury only the self-indulgent can afford. While it’s true that some coaches bill at a rate per hour that is so high as to be offensive, others offer their services on a sliding scale or are willing to negotiate payment options. 

Some parts of the health and wellness industry view the coaching industry as nothing more than an interloper riding the coattails of licensed mental health professionals. But coaching is not therapy. Coaching does not examine the past. It begins in the present moment and builds a scaffolding of accountability and action to support the client’s journey forward. It is a grounding, effective technique with which we can navigate and overcome the obstacles that prevent us from achieving our goals and living by values that, for us, carry heart and meaning. Coaching shifts perspective. It helps us to become ‘unstuck’. 

As a coach, I facilitate your journey toward the clarity required to find all the possible paths that will lead you to the future you envision. I create space for you to uncover and to shift the long held limiting beliefs that prevent you from bringing your best self fully into focus.

Coaching is client led. The relationship can be thought of like this: 

Imagine you and I are on a road trip together. I’m your coach, sitting in the passenger seat. You are behind the wheel. You are choosing the destination and the road we’ll take to get there. Along the way you might discover a different road and maybe even a different destination. My job is to help you find your way around roadblocks and to navigate detours. I help you determine for yourself if the choices you are making and the journey you are creating are coming from a place of authenticity aligned with who you are and who you hope to be.

There was a time when I reacted to the words ‘life coach’ with a Pavlovian eye roll – even when becoming a coach was tickling my intuitive heart. Now I understand how coaching works. I understand the skill and the techniques involved. I’ve experienced coaching’s magic. The way it can bring lost ambitions, goals and values back into focus.

Have you lost focus? Do you feel stuck? If you have an important decision to make or a habit you would either like to break or create – let a coach climb into the passenger seat. You’ll be happy you did.

International Coaching Week is happening soon. What better time to try coaching?


New Guided Autobiography Series

I never know where to begin when it’s time to write about Guided Autobiography. I always want to let you know that it’s not a writing class – even though each week you’ll be writing. And I always want to describe the impact Guided Autobiography has on those who join – but it’s difficult to find the words. 

Guided Autobiography, I guess, is about processing. It’s about looking at the events of our lives. It’s about finding again those lost experiences that may have been the catalyst for profound change in our lives. 

And it’s about sharing those moments. Which is the best thing about Guided Autobiography – the friendships that are deepened and made all the more rich as we learn from one another’s stories.

Our Guided Autobiography meetings follow the same format each week: 

  • We begin with a check-in – a casual chat about the successes and the struggles we endured or celebrated during our writing week. This typically involves howls of laughter.
  • As our check-in winds down I introduce the writing theme for the following week. James Birrin developed his Guided Autobiography program around twelve life themes and the questions that accompany each theme as a means to stimulate our memory. When I was a fledgling GAB facilitator I followed those themes and questions to the letter. But as I gained confidence I did what most GAB facilitators do and developed my own themes and questions. Themes can run the gamut from how we developed trust in ourself or others, moments in our lives that became turning points, or the experiences we’ve had around failure or loss.
  • After the theme is introduced I offer a five minute break but no one ever wants to take a break so we jump right into reading.
  • The essays we write are about 800 words – two pages. And it’s important that we try our best to keep to this limit. Once read, as a group we don’t offer a critique of the writing. What we offer instead is encouragement and support. We might ask questions to know more details in the story. On more than one occasion tears have been shed by all of us.
  • When we have finished our readings we close the class with a final discussion about the following week’s theme.

And that, for the curious, is Guided Autobiography in a nutshell.

Our next 6-week Guided Autobiography session begins Thursday, March 31st at 2:00 PM.

Tuition is on a sliding scale from $60-$120, payable through PayPal.

To register, a simple email will do.

Once I receive payment you’ll receive our Zoom invite.

Class size is small – no fewer than four, no more than eight.


Creating as a Contemplative Practice

As a young girl I spent weekends at my grandmother’s narrow red brick row home, the one at the end of Poplar Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania, while my mom and step-dad went on the road with their country and western band. To cure my boredom, on Saturday afternoons my grandma would take a small bottle of Elmer’s Glue, some colored construction paper and a pair of child’s safety scissors from the metal cabinet tucked in a corner near the back door and put them down in front of me while I watched at the kitchen table.

Sometimes she poured all the dots left in the bottom of my grandpa’s hole punch into a bowl. Even better was when she gave me the hole punch so that I could make my own dots from the pages of a well read McCall’s magazine. Sometimes my grandma crushed the egg shells she’d saved from breakfasts that week, separated them into three or four Dixie cups and adding a few drops of McCormack’s food coloring to each one.

And then she left me to my own devices. I was free to create textured mosaics with the egg shells or to follow the outline of a pencil drawing with my pile of dots in all shades of color and tone. I sat at that table for hours while my grandma worked around me, grilling sliced onions, mixing horseradish with catsup and frying my beloved Minute Steaks while rolls toasted in the oven for my favorite Saturday dinner. 

The act of creating – whether it’s an egg shell mosaic or an egg filled soufflé, a loom knitted beanie or a black bean burrito – can be a balm that shifts our focus from ruminating on the past or worrying about the future to the moment in which we are living. This moment. The present. There is, however, one caveat. While our intent when we’re creating may be to produce something that we’ll gift to others, the act of creating must be something we gift ourselves. Because creating is a mind-freeing act of self-care.

It took me half a century and a global pandemic to figure that out. 

I think what catches us up when we consider creating something out of nothing is our predilection for wanting to make something perfect. Wanting to create precisely what we see in our mind’s eye. The perfect portrait. The perfect flower arrangement. The perfect layered cake. The perfect dance. When we abandon those ideas of perfection and decide instead to lean into the question ‘I wonder what would happen if…’ creating becomes contemplative play. As the chaos we’re living through continues to storm around us, creating as contemplative play becomes a gift of self-care that reduces anxiety, changes perspective and sparks joy.

Right now I’m spending my ‘creativity time’ playing with needle and thread, fabric and photographs. I’m learning new skills like felting and sashiko and boro and remembering old skills that I loved as a child like embroidery. 

When was the last time you dug out that set of colored pencils you keep stashed at the back of your desk? Or finished the blanket you began knitting two years ago? Or made your grandmother’s lemon bar recipe? Or dusted off that guitar? Or done any activity that lights up a different part of your brain and moves you from the routine to the sublime?

It’s time.


Your Creative Heart

When I was a child I loved September. I loved school shopping. I loved the smell of a new lunchbox, fresh new clothes, breaking in new shoes and the sharp graphite tip of a bright yellow number two pencil whose perfect pink eraser was still intact and whose pristine finish had yet to be marred by my biting incisors.

But that was then. This is now. And as we enter the second September of the pandemic, it’s a struggle sometimes to hold on to my optimism, my hope and my motivation. I know I’m not alone. Let’s face it. The past year and a half has been one heck of an endless slog.

What do you do when you know you’re reaching critical mass? When you know the stress of all we’ve been through and all we’re bearing witness to weighs too heavily on the heart?

Inspired by a friend whose journey as an artist has been so much fun to watch, I pulled out my own art supplies. The creative process, whether it’s at an easel with a fresh gessoed canvas, in your kitchen whisking a roux or with pen in hand and a story to tell, is the distraction we need. It offers us room to breathe. The creative process slows down time and provides space for honest reflection. It provides the clarity we need to be honest with ourselves about how we are experiencing life in this New Normal.

Where is your creative heart? Music? Visual arts? Cooking? Writing? Is it time to get your creative heart beating again?

Lately I’ve been seduced by the practice of ‘slow stitching’. Letting time pass one slow stitch at a time. My Aunt Mimmie taught me how to embroider when I was young and slow stitching has nudged awake a joy I’d forgotten. I’ve also been working on a series of mixed media pieces called ‘Family Album’. This collage is from that series. The man on the left is my great uncle William Harrison Barber, known as ‘Henry’ to his friends and family. The text on the right is from the last postcard he sent to his brother Robert. From the moment I found his postcard in my mother’s collection of family ephemera I felt a connection  to this man. I can’t explain it. I just did.

Henry wrote the postcard in 1903 from the Oakes Home for the Consumptive in Denver, Colorado. He tells his brother, “I don’t look like a sick man but appearances are very deceptive with lung trouble.” His doctors tell him he is not improving and advise that he head to Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. Henry knows that if his health doesn’t improve when he is in New York, he will never see Colorado again. He’s only twenty-three. And he never makes it to Saranac Lake.

His story has given me pause to reflect on what we do to survive and the connection between good health and creativity. 

Throughout the pandemic it’s been my adventures with basket making and needle felting and wet felting and eco-dying and collage that have brought me comfort. They’ve kept me sane and quite possibly alive.

William Harrison Barber was a musician. He left his studies in Boulder to pursue a career in music and found some success with his ditty ‘Dainty Flo from Idaho’. I’m sad that music didn’t save his life but I bet it brought him comfort. 

Can exploring your creative nature be a comfort to you?