Category: Reading Nook

The Power of Devotion (or Changing Your Life One Choice at a Time)

As 2019 starts to find its rhythm, I’m finding mine as well. I’m working with a new schedule and it is rigorous. This past week I’ve done my best to work within it, noticing where I’ve designed something too structured and too demanding, making adjustments as I go. I haven’t made this schedule to push or punish myself. I haven’t made it so I will “rock my productivity” this year. I’ve created it to support me, to hold in loving care the things that matter deeply. My studio work is on the schedule. My practices are on the schedule. Tending to my home and my life is on the schedule. Time with loved ones is on the schedule. My writing is on the schedule. (In fact, I’m writing to you during that allotted time in the dark morning cold, watching the sunrise. Beautiful!) Art days are on the schedule. I am on the schedule.

With such a rigorous schedule it might come as a surprise that I love freedom. A wild heart beats inside this chest. I don’t like restrictions or enforced limits. I will change my schedule without hesitation or guilt when it is good and healthy for me to do so – but I won’t break from it lightly. I won’t abandon my priorities on a whim. Why not? Because this schedule isn’t a yoke on my shoulders; it is my root. The deeper my roots, the more wildly I can dance with the wind without getting lost or broken. I am tall and strong and graceful when I have ensured the strength and safety of my roots. I do this through devotion.

We can express our devotion to our true priorities in every choice we make.

This week I met with my sister Shannon, who is an integral part of this studio, and we chatted through the season ahead. Grounded in the studio vision, we worked on this season’s projects, getting into the details of scheduling, policies, procedures etc. As we spoke, it became clear the kind of rigour required to support the dream, not simply in terms of what we like to call “work-work” but also in support of the creative process. Showing up to create, to love, to shine requires a special kind of energy, one that needs to be nourished, cultivated and protected.

So this week, I practiced devotion. I said no to things, even things I love and look forward to, in order to tend to my root. I chose nourishing food over convenience. I chose water over caffeine. I chose yoga over Netflix. I chose sleep over choir.

It wasn’t easy but it also wasn’t hard. I simply chose, gently and repeatedly, in small ways, again and again, what mattered deeply.* Little choices made with devotion can change our life.

What are you devoted to?

Choose that this week. Again and again, choose that.

Five Around the Table

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Jim Rohn

Have you heard the saying “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”? It’s often brought up in the context of encouraging you to choose your companions with intention, to make sure that they are people whose presence uplifts you and brings out the the you that you aspire to be.

Do you have these people in your life?

When I was starting out as an entrepreneur, the greatest blessings were the women I knew who were striking out on their own too, solopreneurs who were bringing their work to the world with courage, integrity and passion. I treasured (and still treasure) our conversations and companionship. Just by being present and pursuing their dreams, they inspired and encouraged me to do the same.

I have also had times when I was surrounded by people who were uncomfortable with my dreams. Though we simply had different goals and priorities, judgement seeped into the cells of our relationship. I felt stifled and held back. Perhaps I made them feel the same.

It can take a while to find your people and perhaps when you look around your community, you don’t see creative folk that stir your heart. Where are the artists? The writers? The adventurers? Where are the wild ones? The rebels? The dreamers? The dancers? The iconoclasts?

Where are the people who uplift you?

While you look for them in your life and your community*, let me offer up a playful and positive way to create your own “party of five.” You do not have limit yourself to people you know, people who are nearby or even people who are alive! You can actively choose to spend time with 5 uplifting people by focusing on and engaging with their work and what they share. Think of creating a round table of people that move you – artists, writers, vloggers, singers, chefs, designers, poets, photographers, philosophers… anyone! Think of people you are drawn to, who fascinate you, who inspire you, who challenge you.

Think of 5 people who you would love to be the average of and spend this season with them!

It will help to choose people that have a lot of content on offer. Someone who has written plenty of books, creates YouTube videos regularly, has a podcast, etc. It’s most helpful when the content involves them sharing their thoughts, their philosophy, their personality. This makes it a bit of an approximation of having a conversation, of being let into their life. For example, reading May Sarton’s journals gives a sense of her life, her voice, her take on the world around her. As I’ve read them, I could almost imagine sitting in her home, sharing a cup of tea and looking out into the garden as I listened to her share her thoughts.

You don’t have to choose people who are edifying or educational. Simply choose people that, for whatever reason, lift you up, people that call out something aspirational in you. And yes, it’s okay to choose someone who gives you a little catch in your throat, who triggers a hint of envy, but only if hanging out with them doesn’t shut you down. If you feel smaller around someone, they are not one of your five. If they challenge you to step out of the shadows and claim what you desire, they are.

Consider how the five come together as a whole. Will spending a season with this particular group of five bring the energy you are hoping for? Are you feeling really focused and so want to pick, say, five photographers? Are you feeling like you want a balanced approach – maybe two writers, a spiritual leader, a yoga teacher and a chef. You get to decide.

Once you’ve chosen, spend some time with them each week. You don’t have to make a study of them (though you might). This isn’t about working or pushing or emulating. It’s trusting what my mom would call the power of osmosis. Simply let the beauty and truth that’s in their spirit awaken the beauty and truth that’s in yours.

Who will you invite to your table? Who is your party of five?

* PS Please know that these people might be right under your nose but in hiding. Often we keep the most compelling parts of ourselves quite private because we’re unsure where it is safe to share.  Open up your intuitive radar. Have deeper conversations. Invite people to coffee. Little by little you will find out who your people are.

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??!”


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? 


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.