Ways to Get Inspired

Springtime is here, and in the Washington, DC area, it is much warmer than usual in these waning winter days.  The flowers are bursting out, and trees are popping out their fresh young leaves.  I can see things growing by the day, coming to life right in front of me.  To me, this is the most inspiring time of year!  Everything pulling from the deep winter stores of energy, ready to offer up everything to growing, trusting, becoming.  What a beautiful, wonderful unfolding.

And I find myself wanting to grow and express and unfold right alongside the beautiful colors of world around me right now.  There are so many possibilities available for getting inspired to express ourselves!  Today, I will share with you a few of my favorites, and hope that they will bring some juice and joy to you, and encourage the spark within you to ignite your heart and set your life ablaze with springtime creativity!

Don’t do something, just SIT there!
Find some time every day near your home or work, or some other place where you regularly find yourself.  Give yourself a break, even if it is just for five or ten minutes.  Go outside, no matter what the weather!!  Find a place to sit comfortably – bring your own chair or blanket if that will make it better for you.  And then (this is the hardest part for many of us), turn off your phone’s ringer, put away any distracting devices, and just sit there!  Look at the sky, the trees, the plants, the insects, the birds.  Wherever you are, there is some element of the natural world that you can connect with.  And for your promised time, don’t let yourself get caught up in thinking about what you have to do for work, or at home, or chores, or anything.  Just breathe.  Notice the light in the trees.  Feel the wind on your face.  Notice the bee buzzing near your ear.  If you can, sit in the sunlight, and feel the warmth on your body.  Being outside will surely bring you back to the present moment!  If it’s raining, no worries!  Take an umbrella and enjoy the sounds of raindrops, or the sweet fragrance of the wet air.  The longer you do this, particularly if you return to the same place day after day, the more you will notice.  And each day, you will feel rejuvenated by this little break!

Grab some colors                                                                                                     When was the last time you let yourself color or draw?  If you’re like most people, it hasn’t happened too frequently since you left elementary school.  So, if you don’t have any, go out to your nearest art store and find some exciting and inspiring colors.  They could be colored pencils, markers, crayons, pastels, or paints of any kind.  While you’re there, pick up some kind of simple notebook or sketchbook, too.  Many times, this is enough on its own for me to feel revved up for doing something creative!  Next, find some time in your week – carve this out for yourself, like a date – and just allow yourself the freedom to play.  The only rule?  Don’t allow yourself to be a critic.  Just let the colors play with you, feeling inside yourself what is appealing, what is curious, what is fun.  Notice as you are drawing (or painting, etc) if there are certain feelings in your body as you use certain colors.  Different colors tend to bring out different feelings within us, and if you listen closely, you may connect with certain colors that you are needing in your life more often.  Love swirling yellow around the page?  Maybe it’s time to find a scarf or paint your room in that color.  Soothed to a serene place by light blue?  Find some blue linens for your bedroom.  Love that fiery red?  Get red underwear or shoes.  What you learn about yourself and your inner longings may surprise you.  And giving the space to listen for this is really worthwhile.

Music soothes the soul                                                                                                 We live in a world that is polluted with so many sounds.  As I sit here and write, I hear the clicking of my keyboard, the ticking of the clock, and a chainsaw buzzing away in the distance.  All in all, it seems like a quiet afternoon.  But most days, we are bombarded with an assortment of voices, noise from highways, the sounds of various kinds of machines working away, televisions and radios, phones ringing and beeping, and more… and often to combat these sounds, we are confronted with an extra layer of noises, meant to counteract the dominance of the noises we don’t consciously choose.  Stores play music, sometimes interspersed with advertisements, and our minds are filled.  The noise of horns blaring and crews working during rush hour make us crazy, so we turn up the radio.  Or we turn on the stereo or mp3 player and tune out the world, finding some choice in the midst of all the chaos.  I personally find all these sounds layered upon each other to be overwhelming, and long for escape.

As a musician, I have spent my life exploring sound, and growing in my understanding of what creates a beautiful balance between sound and silence.  This is certainly the path of many musicians, especially a classical musician.  Often, in a world filled with noise, it is challenging to find enough space and silence to listen inside and connect with our inner worlds where inspiration can flourish.  But in my experience, there is nothing like music to bring us into a space of inspiration, soul connection, and deep peace.  So, spend some time exploring what you enjoy.  iTunes is such a wonderful resource for this, as is Pandora Radio!  Maybe you’d enjoy some salsa music to get your feet whirling and twirling around the room.  Maybe some gentle, relaxing music would allow you the space to rest and would leave you feeling rejuvenated.  Have you ever tried chanting?  Mantras from the yoga tradition can create an incredible sense of connection to your inner world, and to Spirit.  Classical music offers such a vast array of styles and sounds.  Try listening to some of the J.S. Bach acapella choral music for sublime peace, or to Gregorian chants.  Or, if you can find an event near you, enjoy a music meditation or sound healing journey.  This has become the newest part of my own musical path, and it is amazing to see the ways that music can open the body, mind, and spirit to experience tremendous peace and joy.

Fire and drum                                                                                                                    There are few things that bring together people in a space of play and inspiration like fire.  Call together a few friends, get out the drums, rattles, and other small percussion instruments, and allow the flow of the fire to create magic!  Fire has been used in rituals and ceremonies for thousands of years to create sacred space, and offers such a powerful connection to the imagination.  Drumming and rattling, too, have been powerful tools in meditative connection to the self, and to altered states of consciousness and other realms.  By coming together to create this kind of space, we are offered a chance to ask ourselves deep questions, and the rhythmic flow keeps our own inner flow moving.  Prepare your intention or questions before the fire and drum circle, and as you are with your community and beginning to drum, open yourself to listen to all the abundant guidance and inspiration that comes your way.

The Artist’s Way                                                                                                               If you are longing for a focused time of creative inner exploration and want to take getting inspired to the next level, I offer my highest recommendation to the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  This book offers a well-planned process of inner work, questions, creative play, meditation, and inspirational guidance, all structured over a twelve week program.  It takes deep commitment to your own “creative recovery” but the process is totally worth it!  If you allow yourself the space to really take advantage of what Cameron guides you to do, you will have tremendous revelations about your own past, you will discover blocks in your thinking and creativity, you will work to uncover your true self, and you will emerge in a state of incredible renewal after the twelve weeks are finished.  The first time I did this program, I uncovered my own deep desire to write, and by the end of the book, had applied to graduate school to pursue writing!

There are thousands of ways to find inspiration.  The key, as I see it, is giving yourself the space to self-connect, listen, and explore.   And many times, trusting that desire to self-connect and claiming some time for yourself is the obstacle that must be confronted.   Each of these above suggestions have brought wonderful inspiration and creativity to my life.  I hope that they will inspire you, too!

Top 10 Spiritual Books (just in case you’re stranded on a remote island)

There are so many wonderful books available in the realm of spirituality and personal growth.  I sure have gathered a large collection of them over the years!  But as I ponder the silly question, “which 10 spiritual books would you wish for if you were stranded on a remote island?” a few are coming to mind right away.  These are the books that have been at my bedside, in the backpack, and away from the bookshelf the most often. They have inspired me, over and over again, always continuing to teach me in profound ways.

1)  The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz – this small and simple book teaches us to live in ever more happiness by disengaging from some of the parasitic mind patterns that bring so much suffering.  Don’t take anything personally.  Always do your best.  Be impeccable with your word.  Don’t make assumptions.  With these simple ideas, I have found my life transformed over and over again.  If you haven’t read this book, make it a priority.

2)  The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Stephen Mitchell – this wonderful translation is clear, beautifully expressive, and very connected to the heart of the teachings of this perennial classic from India.  In the Gita, we meet Arjuna, a warrior, and Krishna, his guru and great master.  Through the story of Arjuna’s collapse in the face of battle, Krishna guides all of us to embrace the challenges, to be strong and willing to face what is difficult in life, to do the right thing as inspired by the heart, and to release attachment to any results.

3)  Love, Freedom, Aloneness, by Osho – this book is a wonderful guide that inspires each of us to fully embrace love that is free of attachment and expectations, and to fully accept life as it is, whether bringing us into togetherness or solitude.  It has been a wonderful re-centering guide for me as I have found myself leaving romantic relationship, and wanting to reconnect with my own center.

4) Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews – this is a wonderful resource for connecting with the intuitive and instinctual teachings of animal totems.  If you find yourself crossing paths with crows, foxes, deer, or even insects of any particular kind, this book offers guidance in interpreting what these creatures may be trying to teach you.  While I am not clear exactly what his source is for this information, and I don’t know if it comes from any particular indigenous tradition, I have found it helpful and usually right on track.

5) A Thousand Names for Joy (or any other book), by Byron Katie – with love and compassion and no-nonsense clarity, Byron Katie brings people to question the very ground of the stories we tell ourselves that cause so much suffering.  She encourages people to question these stories and thoughts with “is it true?”  As I have come to her work (often reluctantly and with lots of resistance), I find myself unravelling my own thoughts instead of solving the problems that I have created as a result of those thoughts.  This is always a welcome process!

6) Practicing Peace in Times of War, by Pema Chodron – a tiny book compared to her others, but a wonderful gift.  This book brings the reader to practice presence, to reflect on the wars that we enact from within ourselves, and inspires us to embrace acceptance, compassion, and peace from within.  I love to underline meaningful passages in books, and I must say, most of this book is underlined!  Truly an inspiring book that encourages us to practice freeing ourselves from war in our daily lives.

7) Earth Prayers, by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon – this is a wonderful collection of prayers, poems, invocations, chants, and writings from a wide variety of spiritual traditions.  Each one expresses a deep connection to the natural world, abiding love in nature, and deep mourning for humanity’s loss of connection with our Earth Mother home.  I sometimes like to keep this by my bed and read one short inspiring piece each day.

8) Blue Truth, by David Deida – this book is a collection of short writings by Deida, each intended to be a powerful reminder of the ephemeral nature of living, and to inspire us to open to ever greater capacities of loving.  Sometimes sensual, sometimes shocking, this book always returns me to presence in my body, and connects me to the deepest longing of my heart.

9) The Lost Language of Plants, by Stephen Harrod Buhner – Buhner is part poet, part biologist, and part philosopher.  His words have inspired me over and over again, reminding me of the deep and visceral connection that we humans have to the Earth, and especially to the green growing world of plants.  His vision and language are clear and filled with both incredible knowledge and heartfelt love.  His words come to me as a reminder of what I have always known, what is buried in our collective human consciousness and DNA.

10) Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach – I truly love Tara Brach’s kindness, compassion, wisdom, and willingness to be very vulnerable and open about her own life and practice.  Her humor and stories are lighthearted and filled with wonderful teachings about this human existence, and the practices from the tradition of vipassana meditation she shares are always a gift.  Through her work, I have learned that it is possible to return to the moment, open my heart and mind to what is arising, and accept what is with gratitude and awareness.

I think it would be easy to go on and list another ten, too!  But for now, I will leave you with these.  I’d love to hear about your favorite books, and if you have read any of the above, how they impacted your life, too!

Ritual

“A ceremony with a good ritual eases the relationship between God and man.”
Julieta Casimiro, Mazatec, Huautla de Jimenez, Mexico

I recently gathered with a small group of women around a fire, and after offering a series of fragrant herbs and incenses to the fire, placed a despacho bundle to burn.  In the creation of the despacho, a friend and I had used a variety of natural materials, as well as some human made items.  As we placed each item into the bundle, we charged them with our silent and spoken prayers, hopes, intentions, and gratitudes.  Each leaf, each grain, each flower petal became significant, a carrier of some heart-inspired longing and joy.  As this bundle was burning, I felt the power of the fragrant smoke and crackling embers – the sincere and heartfelt prayers were being transformed and carried up to the sky with the tendrils of smoke from the fire.  In the ritual, we sang, we shared meaningful words, and we enjoyed silence.  When the ritual was finished, I felt lighter.

I didn’t grow up with ritual and ceremony in my life.  Even the rituals and ceremonies that were built into my culture didn’t feel very significant.  Costumes at Halloween.  Decorations and baking at Christmas.  Cake and presents at birthdays.  I enjoyed these times, but as I grew older, I would always notice a hollow feeling inside of myself, a longing for something that I couldn’t name.  I first began to encounter spiritual rituals while in college as I came in contact with the Wiccan tradition.  I read about these rituals, and participated in a few, but the feeling of hollowness persisted.  It felt like play-acting to me, and I was yearning for something that felt real.  It would be years before I experienced true, authentic ritual that swept me away in its grounded power.

My journeys to Peru have taught me so much about how to acknowledge the sacred in the ordinary world, and about how to consecrate life in my heart.  Every rock, every bone, every seed, every shell, all are precious gifts from God.  As I have grown in my relationship with the sacred, I have found many ways of offering my prayers and praise.  It has become increasingly clear to me that anything offered to Spirit with humble gratitude and sincerity is a precious offering – it is the very essence of reuniting with Spirit.  As my love and gratitude have grown, so has my desire to create beautiful offerings and rituals to honor the Divine – I truly want to offer the best of myself, of my heart, of my creativity to the very Source of Life, in gratitude for the incredible blessing of being alive.

When I connect in prayer, I long to ground it in my body and in the world, to offer something that feels real to my body and senses.  Whether through lighting a candle, arranging flowers, creating a mandala, placing my body into a particular yoga pose, turning to face the sun or moon, or creating music, I am drawn to create sanctuary.  Ritual brings that sanctuary into the present moment, alive and aware, an offering of my divine self back to the Divine.  And in this act of devotion, I feel the truth of the quote above.  I feel my place in the world, and in the Divine. 

Learning to Fly

When you have come to the edge of all the light you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: there will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.    ~ Patrick Overter

As I read these words today, I realized that this has become the most powerful teaching of the last few months of my life.  Powerful change swept through my life like a tornado, and left a wide path of rubble where my old life once stood.  As I found myself having to face what the next steps would be, I kept trying to dig deep into my own resources, find a way through, and be strong.  Then I fell and broke my leg.  When all was feeling lost already, my own body had decided to take a retreat from action.  What a powerful and challenging position to be in!

In these weeks following the fall that broke my leg, I have found myself face to face with the independent, fierce part of myself that wants to push onward and make things okay.  This voice has told me that it is trying to protect me, to keep many options in front of me, and to help me to survive what feels crushing in life.  But the more this voice tried to envelop me in its protective armoring, the more I wanted to collapse.  I felt that I was truly not strong enough, that my resources were spent, and that my answers had run out.  Washed up on the shore of tremendous change, I was left with noplace to go, nothing to do, and the powerful question:  what does it mean to have faith in difficult times?

The word faith, I soon discovered, brought up some unconscious cringe factor in me.  Did I really want to engage in dancing with a concept that brought to mind the leagues of people in middle America that didn’t believe in climate change and green energy, that would prefer to just pray that Jesus would come and make it all better?  Or did I want to defer to the more New-Age version of the same thing, claiming that the ETs would soon appear and give us all the technologies we need to make things right?  That faith, based in ungrounded fantasy and absolute unwillingness to wake up to any personal responsibility, made my skin crawl.  But I began to see that I had thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.  Faith didn’t have to mean believing in some fairy tale where a magic wand makes everything okay.

And so, I am learning to allow myself to fall into the abyss, to step off the cliff with full trust and willingness.  To surrender my anxiety’s desire to find all the answers to every potential problem that could ever occur.  To remember that the next step will reveal itself in perfect timing.  To trust that life will bring to me everything that I need and want if my heart is pure.  To accept responsibility for clearing my mind so that I can listen deeply for the guidance to take that next step.  To breathe into whatever bodily or emotional discomfort arises without having to do anything about it.  To surrender my attachment to any particular outcome, and to find a way to move into acceptance of whatever arises.  And I am learning that *this* is the essence of faith.

Sometimes the miracle of flight comes.  More often, the solid ground is right there beneath us already.  Are we awake enough to notice?  That is the essence of the path, to wake up in small ways, to pry open the doorway in our consciousness that leads us beyond the mind and its layers upon layers of conditioning, and to see freely what is already there.  To feel the ground, and to notice the miracles of flight when they appear.