A Simple Tool for Making Things Better

Last week I shared some thoughts on navigating big feelings and I heard back from so many that it was just what you needed. All of these emails inspired me to share a simple tool I use all the time, one that can be profoundly helpful when navigating rough terrain and new territory.

When I’m in a tough place, struggling to find my footing and re-align my life, I take some time in my journal to list three things that helped me that day. By “helped’ I just mean that it shifted something for the better, maybe my mood, my situation or my outlook. Any positive shift counts. Here are some examples of things I’ve listed in the past.

Things that Helped

  • Journaling
  • Talking to Justin
  • Getting outside
  • Getting more sleep
  • Getting “dressed and ready”
  • Finally making “that” phone call
  • Finally making a decision (and trusting it)
  • Facing my fear and going to the dentist
  • Cancelling a meeting
  • Getting to my art table
  • Tea and chocolate
  • Playing in my yearbook
  • “Chair and stare” time
  • Tidying
  • Telling a hard truth

In my journal, I’m more specific. I’d specify the decision I made and the hard truth I told. These reflections show me not only which strategies actually helped but they also remind me that things did, even incrementally, shift for the better. As I continue this practice, I am able to notice trends and can start to build a set of strategies to call on in the future. (That is not to say that something that worked once will work every time but at least it’s a starting point.) With each daily list, I learn more about myself and what supports me.

Along with the three things that helped, I also write down three things that didn’t. These could be things that simply weren’t effective or things that brought my energy down instead of up.

Things that Did Not Help and/or Hindered

  • Avoiding making “that” call (It just made me feel worse and kept it on my mind all day.)
  • Sleeping in (I hate feeling like I didn’t have a morning.)
  • Powering through
  • Keeping to myself
  • Chocolate
  • “Bad TV” (Sometimes it’s a welcome distraction but not today.)
  • Going to “x” (I wish I’d trusted myself and cancelled.)
  • Talking to “y” (Wow, that actually always makes me feel worse. I think I need to re-evaluate this relationship.)

With my “did not help” list, you can see I often write a little explanation. This helps me dig for discoveries. For example, if “more sleep” helps but “sleeping in” hinders, it might be smart to try going to bed earlier.

This practice shows me where to stop investing time and energy and where I can make practical and positive change. Without taking this time to reflect, I may stay unaware. I might have felt horrible all day without realizing it was because I was carrying the weight of that phone call with me. Now, I know I have to get that done. (By the way, you may have noticed “chocolate” is on both lists. When things show up in both places, I pay special attention to when and how I invite that particular thing into my day.)

The lists I’ve shared have several items each but generally I keep my daily list down to three things that helped and three things that didn’t. If I can’t come up with three, that’s fine but having that as my goal encourages me to stay with the exercise and look deeper.

This simple daily tool enhances self-awareness and helps with making supportive choices, especially when life is chaotic and you’re feeling unsettled. Each day, lean more and more into the things that help and away from the things that don’t. It’s like navigating a boat away from the rocks and towards the open sea.

Sending blessings for the journey,

When You Are Having Big Feelings

When I sat down to write last week’s newsletter, I thought it would be full of lightness and the fresh energy of this much-anticipated spring but that’s not what tumbled out of my heart.

I am beyond thankful for the return of the sun and the birds, for the tips of green on the trees and the snowdrops coming up from newly exposed ground. I am also thrilled to see so many of my students getting their vaccines, starting to feel a sense of hope and relief, even seeing friends and family.

And…

… and so many are still waiting.

… and so many lives have been lost.

… and in the midst of it all, we continue to face a racial crisis as Asian people are being targeted with violence (which is going starkly under-acknowledged), not to mention that anti-black racism hasn’t disappeared since it came into sharp relief last summer.

… and then there’s the complicated feelings we each might have about things returning to ‘normal’. Will we feel safe when we’re expected to return to work? Will there be work to return to? Will what we used to enjoy, like going to the movies or yoga class, ever be the same? Did the imposed restrictions surprise us with relief at the slower pace? Do we have to give that up?

It’s a lot.

And even as hope arrives in the form of spring, a vaccine and political change, we can find that our feelings don’t abate but intensify. In crisis situations we often push aside intense emotions in order to deal with the necessities. Then, when the pressure lessens, those feelings flow and need somewhere to go.

Whether it is as a result of the current context, something deeply personal or both, if you are having big feelings right now, I want to share some strategies with you.

Things to Do When You Have Big Feelings

  1. Move Your Body. Yes, this old chestnut. Choose an activity that supports the energetic expression of your emotion. Maybe you want to run. Maybe you want to dance. Maybe you want to lift weights or roll around and stretch on the floor. Maybe you want to move those big boxes in the garage or rearrange your furniture. Maybe you want to clean your bathtub. Moving your body helps emotional energy move along.
  2. Write. Letting it all out into your journal can be a powerful way of getting that emotional energy out of your system and onto the page. Your journal can hold it all with infinite patience and zero judgment. If you don’t want to keep a record or if you worry about someone finding all you’ve released, write on scrap paper and shred it, safely burn it or find another way to let it go.
  3. Make Marks. As creatives, we know there are many ways to pour ourselves onto the page. Making marks can be a great release of energy and can be less fraught with rumination than writing. What would feel right for your current state? Scribbling with crayons? Pushing hard on a pencil across the page? The smooth glide of markers? The smush of colourful pastels? Try a few things and see what brings a sense of satisfaction or relief. (By the way, both writing and mark-making are also ways of moving your body.)
  4. Water. Water is the element of the emotions. Let it be your ally in working with your big feelings. Have a shower and imagine all that excess energy washing away and slipping down the drain. Make sure you’re staying hydrated. Drinking enough water ensures that your physical system can flush away toxins, including those brought on by tension and stress.
  5. Breathe. Each time we breathe, we bring brand new air into our system and release what we no longer require. Actively imagine all the fresh and good coming into your system and all the strain and pressure leaving. Our breath is also a natural and physical rhythm and rhythm provides a sense of predictability and relief.
  6. Savour. Slow down and allow yourself to receive the beauty and blessings of the world. Sit in the sun and feel the gift of its warmth. Put on headphones, close your eyes and be awash in music. Plump up your pillow and cozy up in bed for a nap. If you have fur babies, give yourself over to cuddles and purrs. Let it be simple and be present to enjoy it.
  7. Talk. Reach out and share your heart with a trusted friend (and when you’re able, be that trusted friend for others.) Everyone needs to share and be witnessed. Some of us, extroverts in particular, only really understand ourselves when we talk out our feelings. Find a therapist who can support you, particularly if you are having trouble coping*.
  8. Take Action. Overwhelm often shows up when we are faced with things beyond our control. Taking action on the things that we do have some agency over, no matter how small, can help. This can be as simple as getting the dishes done or as significant as taking the first step in resolving an issue. I often think of a saying I first heard from Carrie Anne Moss, “When the pressure is on, act, and the pressure is off.”

In Journal Club last week, there were a lot of big feelings. It was a gift to have a place where we could be exactly where we were, a place where the full spectrum of our human experience was welcome. You are allowed to be exactly where you are and feel exactly what you feel. It doesn’t matter if it’s out of step with others or if it’s different than you expected. What matters is that you find your way to support yourself deeply and find a way through. Spring, in all its forms, will be here again.

Creative Resilience

One thing we artistic souls benefit greatly from is developing and strengthening our creative resilience.

The world may draw a portrait of play dates and frivolity, which are a delight, but the creative path is also rife with challenges. Here are just a few that I know you will recognize: self-doubt, comparison, criticism, rejection, perfectionism, procrastination, too many ideas, no ideas, indecision, disappointment, discouragement, discomfort, despair, the imposter complex and a cruel inner critic. Plus there’s always the pain of recognizing the distance between what you envision and what you create and the existential doubt of whether it’s worth it at all. This is just a smattering of internal barriers and doesn’t even begin to address the systemic pressures, expectations and limitations that are placed on creatives based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation or living with a disability.

It’s a lot.

So how do we show up again and again? How do we answer the artistic call in spite of it all and stick with it?

Tend to Your Self

In The Tempest, Prospero says, “We are such things as dreams are made on.” As artists, we create out of our very being and that means we simply must nourish and care for ourselves in order to show up for the work and its demands. When we make sure we tend to our health – physical, mental, emotional – we are also tending to our art. The more resourced we are, the better able we are to contribute to our work and to weather the inevitable challenges and storms .

Have Your Squad

Not everyone will get that art is demanding. You may have experienced some version of this: you mention working on something creative and hear, “Well, must be nice for some” or “I’m glad somebody’s having some fun!” This belief that art-making is simply a leisure activity is common. So common, in fact, that you may have internalized that your creativity is a luxury, something you should do only when all the ‘real work’ is done. This is one reason that it is so helpful to have a community of creatives who get it, who know that your creative work is deep and meaningful and sometimes a struggle, creative colleagues who can offer encouragement and cheer you on when days are tough.

Turn to Your Art

We’re so used to thinking of art as ‘fun’ that we forget something profoundly important: we can bring all that we are, all that we feel, all that we revel in and struggle with to our art. We can paint out our fear. We can tell the story of our tears. We can dance our truth in all its colours. One of the many gifts of art – both in its creation and also in its consumption – is that it houses the complexity of the human experience. Think about the songs that have moved you, the plays that have stayed with you, the art that has jolted your awareness. Art itself can help us process and progress. It can help us find our resilience.

Create Sanctuary

If you’ve seen the symbol for Jamie Ridler Studios, you’ll know it is a form of circle within a circle, reflective of the moon but most importantly it expresses my concept of a studio. A studio is an energetic space you create for yourself and your work. It is a circle that can be formed anywhere and at anytime. The key is that it be energetically sound. You must know that within the confines of your studio, you are free to be your whole creative self, free to tell your stories, to take risks, to be honest and awkward, to be dazzling and delighted, to scream, to roar, to cry, to laugh, to dance. It is a place designed by you for you. It is a place where you learn to be free.

And when you are feeling resilient…

The free and creative studio space we build for ourselves can serve as a model for the life we want to live and even the world we want to be a part of. Let us be devoted not only to finding our own way but also to making the path easier for others. Be an encourager. Be a model of possibility, Take a stand against systemic barriers. Where you have learned, share the learning. Where you have squeaked open a door, hold it open for others. Creative resilience matters for each of us and for all of us. Let us nourish our creative resilience as a community by reminding one another, we are not alone.

Your creativity matters. Your resilience matters. You matter.

Love What You Love

Years ago, my dear friend Christine Mason Miller sent me this box full of treasures: a dried hydrangea bloom, a metallic skull, a plastic goat, a seed pod, a tin whistle, a tiny notebook, a brocade pouch filled with lavender, a smattering of seashells and more. I cherish this box of odds and sods. Every now and again I open it up and, one by one, I take each item out and admire it closely. Then, with gentle reverence, I put each piece back and close the lid.

It reminds me of the ‘memory box’ I’ve been keeping for years. The blue box itself is from a gift I received when directing a show for a Turkish youth drama group. Inside is a translucent bow that crowned a gift from my mom, knitted bells made just for me by my childhood babysitter, a pink plastic squirt ring, a Mr Dressup button, a Latvian ribbon from my grandma. Every now and again I open it up, take each treasure out to admire it and then, with gentle reverence, I put each one back in.

This week was the first time I became aware that I do this, that I love this.

In a doll-making assignment in Carla Sonheim’s yearlong art class, Carla pulled out bits of ribbon and fabric and buttons and lace, I got teary. What was that about? During our recent renovation, I had let go of supplies like this. I decided to simplify, to focus on the arts that speak to me most: drawing, painting, photography and collage. I let go of fabric and buttons and wire and yarn and any number of some such things.

It was good to let them go but in that moment I missed them, not because I wanted to use them but because I enjoyed them for their own sake. I love opening up a box of buttons and seeing the array of shapes and colours, hearing them click against one another as I run my hand through the pile. I love the extravagance of ribbons, how they feel as they pass through your fingers. I love old pins with coloured pearls on their tips arranged around a plastic circle or stuck in a satin cushion. Treasures all.

In that moment, I recognized this love and all the ways it shows up in my life.

The top drawer of my writing desk is full of miscellany: a “My 2 Cents” change purse full of coins from travel destinations, a cat toy Shibumi loves but is too noisy to bear, the key we accidentally brought home from our hotel in Nice, an address stamp that stamps my mom’s address, a kaleidoscope and, believe it or not, a piece of wood from the famous Bluenote schooner from Nova Scotia.

And what about jewellery! I open a box and find my pink plastic triangle earrings circa 1984, my mother’s green and gold necklace (which I will never wear but will also never part with), my grandmother’s old watch, a pair of linen gloves, a unicorn necklace from my high school boyfriend, a broken sodalite ring, a moonstone a friend gave me for our wedding.

How did I not know I do this?

This gathering, this love of objects and artifacts is me through and through. I see it right back to the days when I was little and loved to pull things out of my mom’s purse – her wallet, her lipstick, her keys – and then put them all back in again.

Did you do that too?

I think we creatives are gatherers by nature. This is perhaps why we consistently long for order and simplicity while also delighting in abundance and ‘stuff’. We are sensitive to the beauty of things, the simple sensory joy of loving what we love – a shot of colour, a coolness to the touch, a bit of sparkle or softness, a bit of mystery or memory. We read or add in layers of meaning. We see the connections in collections. We understand the autobiography in things.

But no matter the reason, no matter the why, the simple truth is this: we are allowed to love what we love.

This week I discovered my love for little collections. What love is calling you?

PS My sister Shannon hooked me up with a supplies for the class – a box full of love and treasures!

The Magic of Journal Club

Keeping a Journal Will Change Your Life

The first thing I do every morning is… well… honestly, the first thing I do is feed the cats. 

The very next thing I do is write in my journal. This practice is central to my well-being, core to my work and essential to my creativity. Time in my journal always leaves me feeling clear, grounded and ready to go. It’s amazing what the practice of putting pen to page can do.

It’s a simple creative practice. Pen. Paper. Words.

With a powerful result. Awareness. Awakening. Magic.

Starting tomorrow we’ll gather together, light our candles, pull out our pens and connect with our hearts and one another. For one hour a week, you will find inspiration and insight in a cozy sanctuary of encouragement. For one hour a week, you’ll establish a powerful creative practice.

I have always dreamed of being a journaler, and purchased hundreds of lovely journals and never filled their pages. I didn’t really know what to say or how to use the journal. And along came Jamie Ridler Studio’s Journal Club. As I write this, I realize that I feel this experience has been like opening the best gift I have ever been given. Lorna

Can’t be there live? You’ll have the recording in hand by the weekend so you can take your hour whenever it suits you. Every season people who participate via the recording tell me they feel connected and a part of the community.

Even when I haven’t been able to attend live, I can always feel the energy and it allows me to step into tender places. Thank you for creating and holding this space, Jamie. You bring an intimacy to the online experience that makes me feel like I’m literally in the studio with you and these amazing group of women. It’s magic! Kim

And this community is something special. No doubt about it. Every season people remark on the kind, encouraging souls that show up to this circle.

Journal Club is the most supportive and creative community of women that you never knew how much you needed and soon realize you cannot live fully without. Brittany

One of the unique things about Journal Club is that we take a traditionally solitary activity and do it as a group. One of the practical benefits of this is it helps establish your practice. Having a particular place, time and reason to show up makes it far more likely you will journal. One of the magical benefits is that you have the opportunity to share discoveries, to name and claim insights, plans and dreams that come up as you write. With each articulation, every new thought becomes more real. Your inner wisdom seeps into your bones.

It’s a safe space for me to show up to the page and in life and explore my dreams, desires, and dragons. My journaling (and writing) practice has cracked wide open and I’ve explored mediums I never thought I would with a sense of wonder and empowerment. Laura

So, today I want to invite you into this magical circle. I want to encourage you to take up your pen and get ready for discovery. I want to welcome you to Journal Club.


There’s a space with your name on it.

Will you join me?

We start tomorrow.

Register here.


When I first read about Journal Club I couldn’t imagine what that would be like, sitting in front of a computer with a journal by my side… and with journaling being something quite private, why would I do that together with others? Little did I know that I would be forever grateful I spontaneously decided to give it a try! Not only did I find a routine for journaling, but I also found a wonderful group of like-minded women, I can’t wait to meet for that one hour a week! Journal Club is where we write and share thoughts, ideas, laughter and sometimes tears, all under the inspiring guidance of Jamie and the wonderful support of her sister Shannon. And yes, it’s as private as everyone wants it to be and as open and welcoming, too. Thank you so much for this wonderful offering, Jamie! I wouldn’t want to miss one session of it! Rosie 

Journal with Jamie: Create a Circle of Love

Last season in Journal Club we did an exercise that shifted everyone’s energy in the midst of a truly turbulent time.  As we continue to face so much at the start of 2021, I wanted to bring it to you.

To participate in this journaling exercise, all you need is something to write with, something to write on and 20 minutes. A cup of tea and a candle are always nice addition to journal practice too.

May creating a circle of love bring you focus and solace in the midst of turbulent times.

with love,

Jamie

PS If this feels like just what you needed, join me for Journal Club for a weekly creative sanctuary.

Studio Diaries: Making the Most of these Odd Holidays

I’m back in the studio again and feeling rejuvenated after a quiet and gentle holiday. Though it was painful not to hug my loved ones or to spend in conversation over shared meals, I am so thankful to be healthy and home.  Justin and I spent the season fully respecting lockdown guidelines, only going out for walks and for necessities, donning masks anywhere we might encounter others.  (My sister-in-law, Sylvia, has made some beauties!) Even so, we managed to make the most of the holidays.

Some highlights of the season…

Baking cookies with my honey on a snowy winter’s afternoon was a delight. I am loving our new double oven that lets us do two batches at once (dangerous!) I have always loved making cookies and these white chocolate cranberry cookies by Trisha Yearwood for the Food Network will become a new staple. (Note: we replaced the macadamia nuts with walnuts and wow!)

Speaking of cookies, we were also treated to my sister Shannon‘s traditional favourites. She’s been making and sharing these sugar cookies since she was just a kid. In my mind’s eye I can still see her at our kitchen table, making the batter. This year we were lucky that according to the guidelines at the time, Shannon was able to come over. There was one family member who received enthusiastic hugs!

It was our first Christmas in our newly renovated home so it felt especially wonderful to have that ‘our first tree’ feeling all over again. The kittens quite liked it too. Unfortunately there was a lot of needle nibbling but the better moments saw the cats curled up underneath the tree or enjoying their new ‘hiding spot’ in the corner.

For Christmas gifts this year, we gave ourselves warm winter coats so that we could keeping going out for walks no matter the weather. Justin and I went out on the quiet of Christmas night to take in the lights of our neighbourhood. So many people put in an extra effort in the hopes that more lights and decorations would lift everyone’s spirits.  They certainly lifted mine.

After Christmas, I enjoyed time thoughtfully preparing for the transition from 2020 and 2021. It is so powerful to close one year with awareness and step into the next with clarity. There’s a whole section for crossing this threshold in the Studio Yearbook. A cup of tea, a pen and candlelight and I was all set!

This year I also made a comprehensive list of major moments and achievements of the year and again, my yearbook was an awesome resource. I could go back and witness the major social aspects of the year like the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others and the resulting powerful civil rights response, followed by an intense US election.  I could also see the achievements of the studio. This year I produced 4 Studio Yearbooks, 3 seasons of Mindful Mondays, 2 seasons of Journal Club,  50-ish newsletters, dozens of Behind the Scenes videos, two quiet videos (journaling and collage), the Journal Showdown, 5 new Creative Practice videos that became our welcoming series plus a brand new program which starts this year, Devotion. The studio also offered multiple Journal Club scholarships and contributed hundreds of dollars to the Black Solidarity Fund.

Between Christmas and New Years, I also engaged in one of my favourite activities: creating Vision Cards. A vision card is a like a mini dreamboard for priorities (what I call focus areas) that you actively choose for the year ahead. These cards serve as touchstones that keep you focused on what truly matters to you . Allowing your true priorities to guide your way is a powerful step in creating a life that is in alignment with your heart.

My Focus Areas for 2021: The Studio, Self, Home, Writing, Art, Spirit, Vitality, Prosperity, Life, Learning, Beauty and People.

I am also thrilled to say that I spent quite a lot of time filling my creative well with both dancing and collage. It was particularly magical to dance with both of my sisters on the eve of the winter solstice. On New Year’s Eve, I watched the moon rise above the clouds as I danced. It felt like an auspicious sign for the year ahead. There is magic in dancing.

Here’s a song for you to dance in some magic for the New Year too!