Category: Reading Nook

Gathering, Reflection, Insight & Action – The Power of Working with Images

As a creative, I have always been drawn to images – art, photography, illustration, collage and now Pinterest and Instagram. When I am creating my Full Moon Dreamboards or my yearly Vision Cards or want to add some visual beauty to my Studio Yearbook, I delight in gathering from books and magazines, bringing together a collection of images that feels just right to me. It becomes an expression of who I am and what I love – and it is full of clues.

If we look a little deeper at what we love,
we will learn more about who we are
and can even discover ways to take action
inspired by our deepest spirit.

Sounds lofty, I know, but I’ve seen it work for years and years and years. In Planning Day, for example, as we start to envision the year we want to be living, we choose an image to guide the way. It may be something that’s a clear expression of our known goals and dreams or it may be a mystery. Either way, as we start to reflect more deeply on what we have chosen, we start to unravel new layers of meaning.

This year I choose a string of beads. They look handcrafted and each one is different, imprinted with its own symbol. The colours are natural but show some contrast and seem to move from light and neutral to a beautiful dark blue hue. I don’t know why I chose this picture. These beads aren’t really my ‘style’. Still, the image spoke to me and I knew there would be wisdom here, if I would only listen. I took time to reflect. The process starts so simply, just taking a moment to notice.

What do I notice about this image? What does this image have to tell me about my desires for the new year?

The details quickly give way to associations and insights.

  • A string of beads, all unique: that seems like a gathering of creative spirits to me, the beauty of each individual maintaining their uniqueness while still being in it together.
  • The fuzziness of the beads that are furthest away and the detail when they come closer makes me think about the progression of time. Perhaps it’s time to start leaving more of the past in the past and turn my attention to the foreground. There is plenty to pay attention to there.
  • There is a mix of light and dark. I could interpret that as good and bad but I love the blue so much that it doesn’t seem right. Maybe since the colours move from all light to more blue means it’s about depth, the depth of knowledge, experience and individuation that comes with being further along in my life. Maybe the more I let go of the past, the more I will move into that rich, deep blue.

All that from some beads on the page.

But reflection and insight are only the first steps. Now that I know that, what am I going to do? I think about the gathering of people I hope to create next fall, every creative heart a beautiful individual bead. I think about how I might actively release more of my past, particularly anything that’s weighing me down or holding me back. I think about owning my wisdom, the knowledge I have gained from showing up to my life and to my work. I consider that indigo is the colour of the third eye chakra and see this as a message to lean into my intuition even more. That has me recommitting to my meditation practice, which also feels right in the broad context of the image, which feels very spiritual to me.

Gathering. Reflection. Insight. Action.

We can do this with our Pinterest boards too. Considering our upcoming reno, I’ve been going through this process with my “Home” board and with my “Style” board too, looking for insight. A wonderful place to start reflecting on a collection of images is to imagine that you do not know the person who pulled them together. What would you imagine about them? What do their choices say to you about who they are? (You can practice with me, if you like. What does my Lifestyle board tell you about me?)

Try it. And once you discover some fresh insight into the truth of you, see what it inspires you to do. Maybe it’s time to gather your people. Maybe it’s time to put up your feet and read a book. Maybe you need to buy those train tickets. Maybe revamping your wardrobe is in order. The clues will be there.

For creative hearts, working with images can be a profound and powerful way to deepen our understanding of ourselves and point us in a direction that resonates with our hearts. Interpreting your gatherings is a learned skill, one you hone with practice. I guarantee you that it will offer up rich and varied rewards.

The magic is right there.

7 Top Tips for Getting the Tough Stuff Done


In Mindful Mondays we show up at the beginning of every week with the intention of actively creating the week ahead. We make plans and we choose a guiding principle to keep us grounded. We celebrate our joys and achievements and we wrestle with the stuff that gets in the way.

A couple of weeks ago someone asked how I handle that moment when you simply need to get something done, something tough, something you really don’t want to face or do. You know that thing – that thing you put on your list week after week after week but just never manage to tackle. We all have those things.

Every project, every dream, every life is rich with things to do. Some of those things are wonderful (like the joy of packaging up the #first100 yearbooks) and some, well, some are tough. When facing those tough tasks I think of the season of Journal Club when Horse was our animal guide. We quickly discovered that Horse was often very direct. If you were facing something challenging, Horse was likely to nudge you in the back with a clear message: “Get to it.”

But how do you get to it?

Here are my 7 Top Tips for Getting the Tough Stuff Done

1. Do Every Little Thing

In almost any situation there are lots of little and easy things you can do before you tackle the big one. You can find the phone number. You can print the application. You can turn on the computer. Any little thing related to the main task counts.

Taking care of the relevant little things is not avoidance or procrastination. It is the on ramp. It gives you the opportunity to build momentum, gain confidence and it makes the tough thing itself a little lighter because before you know it so much of the task is already done.

2. Make It Easier

Everything you can possibly do to make the task easier, do it. Ask for help. Get a friend to drive. Book it first thing in the morning. Get extra sleep. Break it into baby steps. Do anything and everything you can to make this tough task easier.

3. Envision Yourself on the Other Side

You’ve done tough stuff before. You know from experience how much better you will feel when you’ve got this done. Imagine yourself there, sleeping better, feeling freer, crossing this helluva to-do off your list.

4. Get It Over With

You’ve done every little thing. You’ve made it as easy as it can be. There’s only one thing left to do and that’s to get it done. Make it fast. Get it over with. End the cycle of worry and avoidance. It undermines your confidence and keeps you suffering. Now is the time to listen to Horse. Do it.

5. Rest and Recover

You did some heavy lifting there. Maybe it wasn’t as hard as you expected. Maybe it was harder. One thing is for sure it took a lot of effort on your part. Breathe. Nap. Take some quiet time. Let your energy find equilibrium again.

6. Acknowledge/Celebrate

Give yourself some kudos. That was a big deal. And, by the way, it doesn’t have to look like a big deal to anyone else. Only you know what it took to get that thing done – and you did it. Gold star for you! Do a happy dance. Have a hot chocolate. Play a song you love and look at the stars. You did good. Celebrate!

7. Remember

Don’t just go on to the next thing on your list. Take a moment to notice how it feels to get the tough stuff done. Feel it in your body. Notice the energy that’s been freed. Remember this for next time, the way it feels on the other side of tough. And remember too (because you have given yourself direct proof of this fact) that you, Jamie are capable of hard things.

The Power of Discontent

I try to start each day with some writing. Sometimes I pour my heart into my journal pages. Sometimes, with the clickety-clack of the keyboard, I get my ideas flowing out of my head and onto the screen.

Sometimes these words are wonderings about life, art, the universe.

Sometimes they are gatherings of memories, inspirations and to-dos.

Sometimes they are celebrations of moments, achievements and joy.

Sometimes (more often than I care to admit) they are grumblings about worries, challenges and discontent.

This morning, it was discontent: “Look at all the things I want to be doing that I’m not doing! Look at all the things I need to do that aren’t getting done!! Why does time move so fast?!! What am I doing with my time??!”

GRRRAAARRRGGGGHHH!!!

It would be so easy to close the document and walk away, so easy to grab some chocolate and put on Netflix instead. Honestly? I’ve done that plenty of times. It’s only human to want distraction or soothing when we’re feeling grumbley. But this time I did something different: I made lists. I let my discontent spur me on.

Lists of Desires & Discontent*

  • Things I want to be doing more of – big and small
  • Things I’m not doing that I know would be good for me, even if they are uncomfortable or hard at the outset
  • Dreamy things (i.e. things that would be ​so awesome​ but seem ​out of reach)
  • Things I could be doing less of to make room for the above

Seeing my discontent, my desires and my choices laid out so clearly was both illuminating and energizing! I literally found myself sitting up taller and taller as I wrote. That GRRRAAARRRGGGHHH energy was channeled into information – information that I could use to make changes. Which led to another uncomfortable moment…

I ​have to make changes? What? 

GRRRAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!

The thing is, when we feel discontent, we are usually very clear that we want/need ​something ​to change but that’s very different from wanting to make changes ourselves. In fact, there are inevitably things on our list that seem or are unchangeable. There are things we have little or no control over. For those things, I recommend having a conversation with the Universe, “Hey, U, do you see all this? Can you give me a hand here? I would so appreciate it.” (You can talk more reverently to the Universe. This is the just the way we are chatting these days.)

Once you’ve done that, start doing what you ​can ​do. ​Pick something, anything. Pick the first thing, the easiest thing, the hardest thing, the smallest thing, a random thing. Pick any thing and make a start. Don’t fret about what you can’t do until you’ve done all you can. Remember, you’ve already enlisted the Universe’s help for that stuff and she doesn’t like it when you micro-manage, especially when you’ve already admitted you don’t know how to do the job! Focus on your own work. Make a change. You will be surprised how much becomes clearer along the way.

Find Inspiration: Beyond the Ceiling

This week I had the great good fortune to be sitting in an exquisite concert hall listening to the unparalleled voice of opera goddess Kathleen Battle performing for the opening night gala at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

Before the performance, several people gave speeches to mark Koerner Hall’s 10 th anniversary, including Dr. Peter Simon, who initiated the major build that created this magnificent space. He began with a vision of bringing diverse musicians and audience members together to share in the beauty of music and, Dr. Simon explained, he had imagined that maybe, every now and again, together we might experience a piece of heaven.

Imagine that.

His vision was to create something that maybe, just maybe, would offer a piece of heaven.

How bold. How sublime.

I turned to Justin right away and whispered, “I need to dream bigger!”

What I meant by “bigger” was “free of limitations”. I meant that it’s time to scrub away the dirt on any self-imposed glass ceilings and realize that they are not there. I meant that it’s time to remember that I have the freedom to dream whatever I choose to dream.

If Peter Simon can dream of offering a piece of heaven, what can I dream? What can you?

What if we were all that bold?

Imagine the dazzling world this would be.

PS. I must say that Peter achieved his dream when Kathleen Battle sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and we all held our breath.

The Power of Your Choices

You Full Choices

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices I’ve made over the past several years and how they’ve impacted my life, (created my life, really.) I think about the things that have been within my control and the things that have been beyond it and I do this in an attempt to integrate all of that hard-won wisdom. I celebrate the choices that have brought me closer to myself and to the life I want to be living and I do my best to be honest and compassionate about the choices I have made that have moved me further away.

I am not one of those people who believe that our entire lives are our own creation, that we manifest everything by our inner thoughts, our words, our deeds. Instead I believe that each of us has a set of given circumstances, a palette that life gives us to work with, and that as creative beings, we can make wonders with what we’ve been given. The art form that has helped me understand this the most is theater, which I studied in university.

An actor starts creating a character by looking at the given circumstances provided by the play. What does the text tell us about who we are? Does our character description give our age, our circumstance, clues to our personality? Do the facts of the play show us where we live, who we have relationships with, what we do for a living? Do other characters talk to or about us and give clues about our identity? Are they a reliable source of information or are they misinformed or have their own agenda? An actor scrutinizes the text for these given circumstances and, generally, doesn’t argue with them. The circumstances form the skeleton on which everything else is built.

Once the given circumstances are discovered, it’s imagination’s turn. Choices bring the character and the play to life.

Yes, we enter the room on our cue, “Lizzie, dear, can you bring in the coffee?” but how do we enter? Are we rushed, calm, resistant? Are we leaning forward or dragging our heels? If we brought the coffee, are we sure-handed or is the carafe precariously balanced on our tray? Do we look at the other people as we enter? Do we smile? Do we frown?

An actor makes a million choices to bring a character to life within the given circumstances of a play.

We do the same within the given circumstances of our life, though generally less consciously. When we walk into the office, the kitchen, the bedroom, the party, the dry cleaners, the apartment, how do enter? Do we hurry? Do we hesitate? Are we lackadaisical? Suspicious? Friendly? Do we stand tall? Slouch? Lean back? As we
engage with our activities and others are we terse, effusive, loving, resentful, sarcastic, funny, aggressive, timid? How do our interactions with our given circumstances impact the story of our life?

The wonderful thing is that we have far more freedom than a character in a play.

Inevitably, Romeo and Juliet’s love will end in tragedy and Didi and Gogo will keep waiting for Godot. But our magic is greater; we have more creative license. We can change not only our reactions and responses to the given circumstances but even the story itself.

When we hear, “(Insert your name here), dear, can you bring in the coffee?” unlike Lizzie, we may bring in the coffee or not. We may substitute wine, coconut water or
raspberry soda. We might bring the coffee on a tray along with carrot cake and one exquisite fall dahlia in a vase. We can suggest going out for coffee or for dinner instead. We can even enter the room with a cartwheel and say “Get your own damn coffee” and walk out the door.

Maybe we are sick and tired of being asked to bring the coffee. We want something different for our lives. Maybe we want deeper conversations, more challenge and responsibility. Maybe we want coffee in Paris. Maybe we want brilliant conversations about books and life and politics. Maybe we want to quit coffee because the caffeine keeps us up at night. Maybe we want someone to bring us the damn coffee!

We can change things when we stop believing our entire story is a given.

Yes, we have given circumstances. We all do.

And, we have millions of choices available to us every day.

Choices that are ours, no one else’s.

Choices that can change our story – even if they don’t change all the details.

Make a list of the given circumstances of your life. Then think about the story you want to be living, the person you truly want to be and start making choices, one by one, day by day, to bring that story and that you to life.

You can do it.

The Time It Takes To Unfold

Little Acorn
photo by Suzie Ridler

Often in interviews people ask me what I wish I’d known when I started out, what I’d like to be sure that people on the same path know. My answer is always the same: “It’s going to take longer than you think and longer than you would like.”

I’m guessing you don’t like that answer any more than I did.

When I wasn’t sure of my career path, I wanted to figure it out pronto. When I wanted my coaching practice to replace my day job, I wanted it to happen now. When I was ready to heal my art wounds, I wanted to make one brave gesture and be done with it. When I became a creative entrepreneur, I wanted to launch one product and BAM be a wild success.

Not one of those things worked like that. Not one.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I worked hard!! I thought that if I could do more, put in more effort, go faster, try harder, then I could get the momentum going. By sheer force of will I could make it happen. Now.

That didn’t work either. In fact, that only resulted in exhaustion and even more discouragement. 

Why wasn’t it happening?

With so much talk of ‘life purpose” and “flow” and “following the energy,” if things weren’t moving forward, maybe I was on the wrong path. Maybe I would never find my career, be a coach, heal my art wounds or become a successful entrepreneur. Maybe I was on the wrong path. Maybe I needed to start over, think harder, dig deeper, get advice, sign up for a programme. Whatever it would take to figure it out, I would do it.

But this wasn’t about me working harder. This wasn’t about me getting it right or getting it wrong. This wasn’t about me what was ‘meant to be’. This was about life.

Life takes time.

Power, beauty, wisdom, strength, confidence, skill, knowledge, experience – all of these things take time to develop and to unfold. We cannot hurry the stages of our growth anymore than an acorn can will itself into becoming a tree by next weekend. Even if it could, it would be a tree that hadn’t had the time to grow strong or deep or wise. It wouldn’t have dug its roots firmly into the earth so it could hold its own weight and stand tall and proud no matter the weather. It wouldn’t have layers and layers and layers earned through season after season after season. It simply wouldn’t have all that it needed to be a magnificent tree.

It seems so unfair. We’re not rushing for the sake of rushing. We’ve been waiting all of our lives. We’re not 16 or 26 or 36 any more. If we haven’t succeeded by now, will we? We’re in pain, we’re suffering and we need something to hold onto. We need to know that eventually we’ll get there.

We have no way of knowing where we’ll get to.

There are no maps that guarantee you’ll reach the destination you’ve set your sights on but that doesn’t mean the journey’s not worth taking – and it certainly doesn’t mean you should stay still. It also doesn’t mean that you should tear your hair out while deciphering map after map after map in an attempt  to plan the perfect route to guaranteed success. There’s no such thing.

Life is an adventure.

Sometimes we’re whooshing downhill on our bicycles, hands in the air, wind in our hair, amazed and maybe frightened by the speed! Sometimes we’re meandering a delicate meadow path, heavy with the day’s heat, pausing every now and again to watch butterflies. Sometimes we have our shoulder to the wheel, our feet are dug in deep, our thighs rippling as we push, push, push to move forward. Sometimes we’re knocking at the door, our gentle rapping becoming increasingly insistent as we tire of waiting for an answer.

Be where you are.

You are a great adventurer, {{ subscriber.first_name }}. You have come far and done well. Yes, there are more journeys – many, in fact. So, yes, get out your map. Yes, plot the journey, as best you can. Take one step and then another and another. Build your strength. Hone your skills. Taste the blessings of this landscape. And every day, celebrate how far you’ve come.

Studio Diaries: The Drop

Studio Diary: August 21, 2018

After 10 straight days of work, including production week for the Studio Yearbook,  I decided to take a couple of days to myself. I was looking forward to some reading, writing and art-making. I’d been wanting to get to a class I’d signed up for and thought, now is the time.

After laying down some lines and collage pieces, I quite liked the watery face that was emerging. I took a picture and thought I was off to a good start. But then, quite quickly, it turned into a familiar experience, one that I have seen clients go through again and again, one that stops us cold.

Let’s call it “The Drop.”

There you are, all excited to finally be painting, thrilled to have some creative time. You start working on something, full of excitement and anticipation. This is going to be fun! And suddenly, DROP, it turns hard. You hate what you’re making. In fact, it embarrasses you. You can’t figure out what’s wrong with it or how to make it better. You just know it sucks. Pretty soon you’re telling yourself that YOU suck. Why even bother? Clearly your 6th grade teacher was right – art is not your thing!

I was so disappointed when the drop hit me. I was frustrated and even kind of angry. Why didn’t I know what to do next? Was there an instruction that I had missed? Was there a missing instruction?  I honestly just wanted to throw my painting out and walk away.

But how would that help? What would I learn from that?

Just that I am a person who gives up on my art.

Not me. Instead I’m going to look for any little thing that I do like about my painting, no matter how small…

like this character’s right eye. Okay, that’s something.

Wait.. What about her left eye? I kind of like it too, the way it looks like a reflection of the moon, just like the symbol on her forehead.

Okay, what about what I don’t like? Anything in that category is fair game and can be painted over, eradicated, transformed or erased. No sense being precious about things that don’t work! Instead I’d just try something else and if it didn’t work either, well, at least I was experimenting and learning.

I didn’t end up getting the piece to a point where I liked it but I did make sure to actively gain insight from the painting and the experience of creating it.

I continued to ask myself, “What elements of the painting please me?” I looked for clues about who I am as a painter.  I liked any part that glowed.  I loved the way the orange looked against the purpley blue. I liked purple and blue and red. I loved the sense of the moon and mystery. I enjoyed the look of layered collage. I liked the scribble in the hair and in the shadows but not on the face.

Yes, I looked at what I didn’t like too. I didn’t just go for a big dismissive “I hate this” moan!! Okay, I started there. You know I did. But after some time, I got analytical. What was it that wasn’t working? I might not know how to fix it but being able to identify it would be a step in the right direction. I didn’t like the proportions. The head seemed too big. Could I make it smaller? What if I looked at it from far away? Did I feel differently?

Most of all, there was something about it that just didn’t feel like “me.” It wasn’t my style. Of course this makes perfect sense. I’m working with another teacher’s approach and I am just learning. It will take many paintings before my hand starts to shine through.

I learned and then I left it.

Later that day, simply to capture the moment, I decided to draw the simple outline of the face I had painted in my yearbook.

The unexpected thing was that I loved it! Suddenly this ‘character’ was more my own. She felt like she came out of my imaginative world (probably because I have done way more drawing than painting) and that felt good. And the truth is that if I hadn’t found my way through the drop, if I hadn’t stuck with it, I wouldn’t have landed here.

On top of that, I am confident that in sticking with a painting that I didn’t love I am that much closer to being able to create one that I do.

In fact, I’m well on my way!