Books Read in January + February.

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“Rapt-Attention and the Focused Life” by Winifred Gallagher

Far more than you may realize, your experience, your world, and even your self are the creations of what you focus on.

This was the perfect book to enter the new year with. It’s not a self-help book. It doesn’t offer a step-by-step process to harness your attention. What it does is explore the meaning of attention and focus on our lives. How it shapes us, our relationship, our health, our happiness. I love any information about how the brain works and there is definitely some of that. Our brains are fascinating. But what I came away with was that the quality of our lives is determined by what we do—and don’t—pay attention to.

The epigraph sums it up beautifully:

“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” ~ William James

I underlined so many things but here are a couple that stand out:

As the expression paying attention suggests, when you focus, you’re spending limited cognitive currency that should be invested wisely, because the stares are high.

By helping you to focus on some things and filter out others, attention distills the universe into your universe. 

“How to Not Always Be Working- a toolkit for creativity and radical self-care” by Marlee Grace

Here is a book, a workbook, a guide, an ode to not knowing.

If you are looking for some grace in your life, space to explore, play, be and create, then this delightful book is for you. It reads like a love letter or creative manifesto. She offers exercises but they are gentle nudges towards creating balance in our lives, guiding us into how to not always be working as the title says. As she writes, “this book is for anyone who is looking to show up to their life, this one true journey of being alive.”

A sentence I love:

 This book is not about self-care for the self, but  self-care for the collective and liberation from the obsession fo work.

“Insomnia” by Marina Benjamin

Sometimes the rattle of a clapper sounds over your bed.

Anyone who has struggled with insomnia will deeply understand this book. For those lucky enough to have never experienced it (are there such people) they will still deeply understand what it is like.

It’s a graceful meditation on being awake in the dark hours, on the mysterious world of sleep where we spend such a large part of our lives and on a long-time marriage.

While she explores her own relationship to sleep and insomnia she also weaves in so many other lovely pieces from philosophy to literature that it reads like a beautiful mosaic, each piece better informing the whole. 

A sentence I love:

At the velvet end of my insomniac life I am a heavy-foot ghost, moving from one room to another, weary, leaden—there, but also not there.

“The Dreamers” a novel by Karen Thompson Walker

At first, they blame the air.

I devoured this book in less than three days and I have to say, I think it is one of my most favorite books ever.

The story itself is so intriguing: a mysterious sleeping illness spreads across a campus then out into the small California town of Santa Lora. We see what happens when fear spreads just as fast as this unknown illness. The writing, the sentences are just beautiful. If I underlined every sentence I wish I had written, the whole book would be underlined.

I love how the novel explores time and memory, sleep and dreams, while being anchored in the lives of these characters. Reading it felt like I was entering a dream state with them. 

Simple beautiful and stunning.

A sentence I love:

While Rebecca sleeps, and while the nurses change in and out of their suits, and while, outside, the soldiers go on and off shift, and while the world watches the continuing coverage of the Santa Lora sickness, the small developments of one minute human being go on unfolding at a perfectly predictable rate, like the intricate ticking of the most delicate clock on earth. 

“You Are a Badass-How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” by Jen Sincero

I used to think quotes like this were a bunch of crap.

If you are looking for a supportive kick-in-the butt, check out Jen Sincero. 

If you’re feeling stuck in your any aspect of your life, read this book.

If you know you are not living up to your potential, read this book.

I was feeling all of those things and now I feel like I am a badass!

For once, I actually did the exercises and uncovered and rewrote some deeply held beliefs that were holding me back. As I wrote in another blog post, once I did that I felt aligned with the flow of the Universe and that has totally shifted how I show up to my life, how I view my writing and the publishing process.

I underlined a lot but here are couple of gems:

So often, we pretend we’ve made a decision, when what we’ve really done is signed up to try until it gets too uncomfortable.

You playing small simply withholds your gifts from the people who were meant to receive them, including you.

Your faith in The Universe must be stronger than your fear of not getting what you want.

“Lightworker-Understand your Sacred Role as Healer, Guide and Being of Light” by Sahvanna Arienta

In order to understand your lightworker soul, we have to begin with where you come from—Source. Source is an all-knowing, all-powerful entity that dwells in every crevasse of the universe.

I hadn’t really heard the term “Lightworker’ before, or if I had I didn’t give it much energy. But in my roles as writer and yoga teacher, I often write about my intention to be a light in the world, to bring light into the world through my words, through my classes and invite my students to shine their own light. The world just needs more light.

This book was a lovely exploration of what that means. She writes, “It is the Lightworkers’ mission to lend their light energy to a planet heavy with fear and negativity.” And they aren’t just gurus or well-known spiritual teachers. She writes, “They are musicians, shopkeepers, accountants, stay-at-home moms, and people you pass on the street. They share their gifts by speaking out for those who have no voice, and they create glorious works of art that beautify our planet, or write music that elevates our spirits.”

I got a glimpse into the different planes of the universe which will also help me as I write my YA Fantasy trilogy. I learned how important it is to protect and ground my my own energy. I’ve just become more aware of the energy I bring into a space.

A sentence that resonated:

It (Source Energy) is what connects every single thing in the entire universe with every single other thing in the entire universe—from huge things such as solar systems right down to the tiniest atom.

“Inheritance- A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love” by Dani Shapiro

When I was a girl I would sneak down the hall late at night once my parents were asleep.

This book has been on my radar since Shapiro announced its impending publication. She is one of those writers that I would read her grocery list. 

I could not put this book down. It took me maybe 2 days to finish. The story itself is fascinating. She and her husband, almost on a lark, send their saliva into a genealogy service as so many of us do these days, hoping to learn a bit more about their families’ origins. What starts out as a lark soon becomes a shattering discovery when it is revealed that her father is not actually her biological father.

If you’ve read any of her other books, you know that both of her parents died a long time ago so they are not available now to question, to find out exactly what the hell is going on. Shapiro is left to her own devices to unravel the mystery of her paternity and the agonizing question of how much her parents actually knew. Had they been lying to her her entire life or had they been lied to as well?

As always, Shapiro explores her life with an honest yet tender gaze and heart. We feel her pain, her confusion, experiencing the ups and downs as she experienced them as she searches for some semblance of the truth. 

If you look at an index of the books she’s written, it almost seems as if this story was thrumming beneath the surface of her life for years. They all tend to point toward secrecy, history, discovery, this yearning to know and tragedy:

Playing with Fire

Fugitive Blue

Picturing the Wreck

Slow Motion: A True Story

Family History: A Novel

Black & White

Devotion: A Memoir

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

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Can’t recommend this book enough.

A sentence I love:

I now understand it as shock: the sense of my own body as foreign, delicate, fractured, and the world at once hostile and implacable in its anonymity.

“The Crossroads of Should and Must- Find and Follow your Passion” by Elle Luna

It was a Tuesday, around 7 AM, when I clicked “publish” on an essay on medium.com titled “The Crossroads of Should & Must.”

The response to that essay was swift and wide-reaching. Clearly, she had hit a nerve.

That nerve led her to write a book based on that essay. It is a delightful book filled with hand-written texts and whimsical illustrations. She shares her own experiences and encourages the reader to explore what is holding them back from following their passion. 

It reminds me a bit of Sark and Mari Andrew but with her own point of view. She really leaves you wondering if you are living a life of should or must.

A question I love:

How long will you wait to honor who you are?

“The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” stories by Denis Johnson

After dinner, nobody went home right away.

Finished shortly before his death, this last collection is just as haunting and moving as his previous work. I remember reading “Jesus” Son” and just being mesmerized by his ability to draw us into the dark corners of life. He does the same here, but there seems to be a certain angle of light in these stories. They aren’t sweet and sappy by any means. No, they still have an edge, a darkness but with humor and the possibility, no matter how small, of hope that beats within the heart of being human.

A passage I love:

I’m writing letters to each one of you lucky winners who has a hook in my heart. Every time your heart beat I can feel a little jerk, just a little something. Whether you like it or not, that’s love.

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Five on Friday.

Each Friday I try to share five links that made me think, inspired me or I just found entertaining throughout the week.

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  1. Do you know your writing purpose? Read this to see why you should.
  2. Deep breathing helps not only on your mat. It helps you as a writer, as a human.
  3. I love reading about projects of committing to something creative daily for a year.
  4. Why you should resolve to read more fiction this year
  5. 39 fiction books to add to your TBR list..

Simply Sunday.

In a mindful effort to find and share beauty in the world, I intend to post something each Sunday that moves me, that reminds me of the beauty, compassion, joy and love that exist in the world. 

 

Her talent, joy and passion are inspiring! That smile lights up her face and my heart. And I love how she teaches other children because she believes talent is meant to be shared.

The Practice of Curiosity.

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Image found via Pinterest.

I wonder…

Those two small yet powerful words help me to break through creative blocks, fear and stagnation.

I often forget them when I am in the midst any of those those three things or some combination of them.

But when I remember, they are the key that sets me free.

When faced with an impending empty nest I found myself thinking, ” I wonder if I should take Yoga Teacher Training.”

My class, “Poses, Pens + Inner Peace” came into being when I wondered how writing and yoga intersected and wondered how they could nourish each other.

When I hit a block in my work-in-progress, any “I wonder’ will get the pen moving. What is written may not stay in but that is not the point of curiosity. The point is to generate some movement.

Fear equals stagnation.

Stagnation begets stagnation.

Curiosity is light. It doesn’t come in hot demanding that I change and DO something, fix it, fix everything now.

No, curiosity invites me to sit down and play.

No pressure to fix something.

No pressure to fix everything with my next action.

It just asks me to wonder.

To ask what if.

And that gentle invitation is all I need to step out of fear, out of stagnation and back into the cycle of creative energy.

Curiosity only does one thing

Image found via Pinterest.

Writing in the Age of Distraction.

Distraction

Image found via Pinterest.

It used to be so easy to sink into my writing. Even though I had two small children, once I dropped my youngest off at pre-school, I’d slip into the nearest Starbucks, order my chai and a pumpkin scone and hunker down at a table for the next two hours.

The writing itself wasn’t easy, but the ability to focus and disappear into my writing was.

See, this was almost twenty years ago. Before cell phones and the internet and Twitter and Facebook. Back then the only thing standing between me and my writing was me, not the entire world in the palm of my hand.

Sure, I’d get distracted by looking out the window or watching people but those activities kept me in that dreamy receptive state necessary to write. Checking my phone rips a hole in that state, tearing it to shreds as I allow the noise of the world in, drowning out my voice, the voice of my story and characters.

The Freedom app helps. As soon as I set a session, turning off access to the internet on all of my devices, I immediately feel a little more present. My breath has some ease, my mind and heart unclench and I am able to turn my attention to the page for a certain amount of time. When I get to a scene where I don’t know what happens, instead of reaching for my phone, I gaze out the window and dream.

And dreaming is where the stories exist.

The Artist’s Way ~ Week 12

Week 12 ~ Recovering a Sense of Faith

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As we come to the end of this 12-week journey, it feels like just the beginning. While I have dipped in an out of this process many times over the years, this is the first time I feel like I fully committed to it and fully reaped the benefits.

Just a few of the changes I’ve noticed:

~ I am more compassionate with myself. Expecting less perfection and more just showing up in whatever way I am able at the moment.

~ I am having more fun. Laughing more, playing instead of producing.

~ I am taking more risks. Sending our stories that feel dangerous to me, diving into the darkness on the page, sitting there instead of running away from what I find.

~ I feel more in flow with life. Even when I feel off or stuck, I am confident it is just part of the process and don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that I need to force myself to do something rather than just be or that I am lazy.

~ I am more aware of the synchronicity in my life, all the ways, big and small, that the Universe supports me.

~ I feel like I am living my life like an Artist’s Date rather than just relegating it to one hour a week. Bringing more fun, spontaneity, beauty and play into my life.

~ I am able to ask for help.

~ I feel lighter.

~ I feel more vibrant.

~ I feel more connected.

So, yes, this 12 weeks is over but this whole process of living my life from a place of faith is just beginning. I commit to continuing to do Morning Pages because they connect me to myself and what I want, need, think on any given day, at any given moment. They clear my mind and my energy.

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I commit to continuing the Artist’s Dates. I recently bought this book described as “the merit badge handbook for every grown-up girl who’s said, “I wish I could…” Jam-packed with practical advice, here is step-by-step instruction and kick-in-the-pants encouragement for achieving 60 exciting badge activities.”

I commit to staying active within the Facebook group I created that supported us through this journey.

I commit to revisit and complete the tasks I avoided or didn’t take/make time to do.

I commit to continue living a creative life and shining my light out into the world.

 

The Artist’s Way ~ Week 10

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Week10 ~ Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection

  1. I did my Morning Pages daily. Still have not taken the time to read (decipher) them. Resistance? Probably. I’m surprised at how much I still resist the process of writing them. Doubts and boredom and irritation crop up regularly and I have been writing them on and off for over 20 years. So the lesson? Show up anyway. Show up to the doubt. Show up to the boredom. Show up to the irritation. The energy almost always shifts after the mere act of writing them.616p9BDEPbL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_
  2. My Artist’s Date was going to be painting. I found this book hidden under my bed,”Life, Paint and Passion- Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression” by Michelle Cassou and Stewart Cubley. I’ve had it for years but never actually painted as part of my exploring and reading of it. So, this week I went to the store and stocked up on supplies; paints, brushes, paper, tape. I covered a door in our basement, taped up a piece of vellum and there it hung, all week, still white and pristine. Instead, I ended up getting a massage for my Artist’s Date. Not as creative as I wanted to be, but thoroughly nourishing since I hadn’t had one since before the holidays.
  3. Synchronicity: I found a podcast on my phone that had an interview with the writer of the book I chose for the Book Club I facilitate at the yoga studio where I teach. And it turns out, he is from our area, which I had no idea when I chose the book, “Big Love” by Scott Stabile.
  4. This week pretty much slipped past me. I didn’t even finish reading the entire chapter. I did some of the tasks. But my efforts all felt very half-hearted. I was so tired and then it was pointed out to me that we all have cycles of energy and that I was subbing a lot of classes which I honestly hadn’t even considered. I put a lot of myself into teaching yoga and one thing I have uncovered through this process is that I want to put just as much energy into my writing. Right now, it feels about 80/20. It needs to be at least 50/50.

The Artist’s Way ~ Week 7

Week 7 ~ Recovering a Sense of Connection

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  1. I did my Morning Pages every day this week. Some days felt like trying to get water from a stone, other times, the words just gushed onto the page resembling the draft of an essay or poem. What I’m trying to two with these pages is immerse myself in the process of them rather than the product and hopefully that ripples out to the rest of my life and creative pursuits.
  2. My Artist’s Date was going to see “Blank Panther.” I’ve been a fan of going to the movies alone for a long time. When my daughters were little, that was my mommy time-out. My husband would come home, take one look at me and gently suggest that I get dressed and go see a movie. It always worked. I’d come back refreshed. This movie not only left me refreshed but incredibly inspired and I will definitely be seeing it again. It was a visual feast and the story was profoundly moving.
  3. I am not usually aware of synchronicity but the more I notice them as I work through this process, the more they appear. Three things happened this week. First, I woke up one morning after a poor night’s sleep and my mind was immediately on and racing. I lay there, trying to just observe it and be amused other than frustrated. When  I open the book I am working with, “108 Days of Transformation,” the theme for that day was watching the mind. Second, I posted a photo of a book I was reading, “Buets” by Maggie Nelson and there was a particular student I wanted to make sure I recommended it to. When  I went back to tag her, I saw that she had already commented that she loved the book! Third, I became obsessed with a quote I saw online and was using it as a theme in my yoga classes. I was trying to find the source of the quote by Mary Oliver. I thought it was from her book “Devotions” (it wasn’t) and was browsing the shelf for it. No luck. There was a tiny volume tucked away and I almost didn’t crouch down to check it out but then I did. It wasn’t the book I was looking for but it was the book the Universe wanted me to have. It was called “Devotions” but by Patti Smith, not Mary Oliver. I gasped when i saw the title. Then I opened the first page and knew I had to buy it. It felt like the Universe had dropped a trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow to find that book.
  4. I completed some of the tasks. The one I enjoyed the most was the collage. I even inspired me to use the scraps to create a page in my art journal that I haven’t picked up in over a year. The women in my group posted their collages and it was a beautiful explosion of images revealing their hearts and souls. I swear that I would’ve been able to tell who created which collage because each seemed to beautifully reflect its creator.
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Collage task sitting in the alter in my yoga room.

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Page from my art journal.

The Artist’s Way ~ Week 6

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Week 6 ~ Recovering a Sense of Abundance

Abundance…the one subject I am always eager to explore and the one I dread. Like many of us (especially artists) I have a complicated relationship with money. One that I am working on.

  1. The counting reminded me of how I’ve been counting calories. It’s how I’ve lost 31 pounds since the end of September. And it makes sense. Money and food are both energy. When I lose track of either one (calories in or money spent) that’s when I get into trouble. I think I will keep counting what I spend. I keep track online and categorize each expenditure but writing it down in a little notebook as I spend it makes me feel more accountable.
  2. I’ve written my Morning Pages every day, just not every morning. I’ve noticed there’s a perfect window to write them and it is definitely in the morning. Wen I wait until the mid-afternoon my brain is foggy, my attention diffuse. When I wait until late at night I’m just too tired to focus.
  3. For my Artist’s Date I went to Earth Lore and treated myself to a few little luxuries that really nurture my creative and spiritual self: some teas,  a beautiful deck of cards, a book on creativity and yoga (two of my favorite things!) and some incense. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but found exactly what  needed. 27972595_10212577978179185_7783535907238460880_n
  4. Noticed a couple of instances of synchronicity this week: my sister posted the poem, “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver and I had been reading it at the end of my yoga classes all week. A student brought in a stone with the word “trust” painted on it and I had already planned on using trust as one of our writing prompts for the class that night. While giving Reiki to a friend the title of my memoir came to me along with the structure. What a gift!

Onward!

The Artist’s Way • Week 5

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Check-in

  1. I did my Morning Pages every day, not always in the morning but every day. Often I’d hit this wall of “what is the point of this?” It feels like a waste of time, a waste of paper, a waste of trees as I struggled to fill three pages. Today, as I was whining about that very thing again, it hit me that this is a process not a product. It matters less what I write but that I write. That I show up. That I honor the commitment I’ve made to myself, that I just fill the pages without expectations of having a breakthrough or insight or even as Julia Cameron calls it a “truth point.”
  2. Even though I took my BFF as my date I’m going to go ahead and count this as my Artist’ s Date and here’s why. I was tempted to turn down this Artist’s Date that was literally gifted to me for free. A student had tickets to Yamato-The Drummers of Japan and offered them to me when she was too sick to use them. My initial response was no. No, I don’t even know who they are. No, I don’t want to go out after having to teach two classes early in the morning. No, I don’t want to drive up there and back late at night. Then I remembered this process of honoring my artist, of playing, of saying yes whenever possible. So, I googled who they were and they looked amazing and I said yes. And it was amazing. The show was engaging on so many levels: visually stunning, I not only heard the music but literally felt it thrumming through my body. It’s made me wonder why my initial reaction to something new is usually no. I am trying to catch myself and saying yes more and more.
  3. Synchronicity: Looking back the one thing I noticed is how I got the tickets. When she realized she couldn’t use them the went on Facebook to find somebody to give them to and I was the first person she saw. I haven’t actually been keeping an eye out for synchronicity so that is something I need to start consciously holding as an intention.
  4. Other issues: This week it felt like I kept this whole process on the back burner. Even though I did my Morning Pages daily, and went on my AD, I feel like I dropped the thread of the theme, of the process this week. I did a couple of the in-chapter exercises early in the week then nothing. Today I did all of the tasks. So it felt like I bookended my week with this work rather than letting it flow through me and around me throughout the week. The good news is I don’t feel bad about it or about me. It’s just something I noticed and thought, “Huh, this isn’t working for me. Let’s change it.”