But are you happy?

The other day I saw a picture of someone I know moving their child into college. I haven’t seen them for some time. Our kids used to play together when they were little, but kids grow up and life changes. Seeing the image took me back to a conversation we had several years earlier.

I had stopped by their house to pick up my daughter, and we chatted as I waited on the front steps. Just about everyday stuff – kids, life, etc. Out of the blue, he made a comment about wanting to leave his job. He was miserable, though he didn’t say it outright. It was written all over his face. I asked if he had discussed it with his wife. He had and she had basically told him to buck up, he had x number of years to retirement. This family had a very nice home, the newest cars and their kids heavily involved in extracurriculars. Any parent knows that costs money. I remember the look of conflict on his face, his desire to find happiness at war with the weight of his obligations.

The whole of our exchange only lasted a few minutes, but the memory stayed with me.

I recently ran across the term dharma in a random read. I’ve seen it before, but didn’t fully understand its meaning so I searched further.  Dharma is defined as one’s duty in life, the end goal, finding highest happiness. Karma, on the flip side, is how you get there. What you choose to do, your karma, is energy you send out into the world and what you send out comes back to you.

Money, affluence, the obtaining of things – this has become central to our culture. People are climbing ladders, making deals, buying the bigger house or the newer car. But does it bring true happiness?

Anytime I’ve let money drive my choices, it never worked out well – at least not how I originally envisioned. I do the work and get the pay, but usually at a price higher than anything I gain. Profit is lost due to physical, mental or emotional stress. I end up drained and depleted, my well run dry.

Don’t get me wrong – I love getting paid. Money is necessary to live in this world. But I believe it’s possible to do work I love and get paid well for it. I often say I was called to serve, but I was never meant to be a martyr, though I lived as one for many years. I am letting go of the belief of being undeserving. I am releasing the guilt and opening my arms wide for abundance to enter my life. I want to love my work, to live each day helping others create their best life, for vacations to be gravy on an already fulfilling life instead of an escape. I want to look forward to Mondays, not dread them. And I believe it’s possible.

Often attributed to fortune cookies, an anonymous quote states, “If you continually give, you will continually have.” I believe this. If you release good into the world, it will come back to you. But you must first believe you deserve good and receive it with gratitude. Like a drop in water creates a ripple that flows outward, your actions affect more than just you. You can expand or contract. Choose love or fear. Joy or hate.

Each moment is a choice. No matter what has happened in your life up to this point, you can choose to make whatever you want of this moment. You can choose to keep walking the path you’re on, but…are you happy?

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Embracing my mess

For most of my life, I was a perfectionist. My OCD was legendary. I was born into a people-pleasing existence and learned early on to keep everything in its place, both inside and out. My earliest memory of creating art was met with, “You’ve made such a mess!” My inner artist went underground and didn’t risk stepping out again until I bought my first sketchbook at age 24. Everything from that time until entering college at 36 was self-taught. I created art here and there between carpool, laundry and nap time. It was some time before I shared my art with anyone, even those closest to me. Creating was hard. I was so worried about making a mess.

Fast forward to age 42…I entered my last semester of college. While earning my degree in graphic design, illustration had not available. During a chance conversation with a new professor, I discovered he had taught illustration previously and was willing to do an independent study. Upon approval from the department head, I payed the tuition and waited for the semester to begin. Not three weeks later I received an email from the department head stating someone called her looking for someone interested in illustration. Ask and you shall receive…

I met with my new client and a deal was struck. I dropped the independent study and agreed to illustrate the first book for free having no prior experience illustrating and designing a children’s book. Fear was a constant companion, but accountability kept me moving forward. I had to produce 30+ illustrations and create a cohesive story line. No pressure.

During this time, I discovered a pattern. I would get into the flow of creation, fully absorbed in what I was doing. I would finish an illustration and clear the space for a new one, usually stopping for the day. My art supplies would be in perfect order and my drawing board clean – no mess here. Inevitably I would face the struggle of the blank page the following day, no matter how many illustrations I produced. Finally the lightbulb went off…leave something unfinished on the board. From that point on, after completing an illustration I would start another rather than clean my space. Just enough to easily pick it back up. I learned to be okay with the mess. This process continued over the course of five books.

But old habits die hard. I haven’t been creating much by hand lately with other design work keeping me busy. During the rare moments I began to create for my own pleasure, those familiar messages from my childhood would creep in. I face them in my writing as well. During the time I’ve spent writing this post, I started my grocery order, ate breakfast, did yoga and played with my dog. Avoidance at its finest. But I’ve kept returning to the page, so I consider it a win.

I realized I needed to create space, not only on my calendar but also in my studio, for myself. So I did. Even if I only have fifteen minutes to play in a day, I can begin and leave it in progress, easy to step back into. I can leave the mess.

This is true about people too. You know those who have a seemingly perfect life – the house is pristine and decorated just right, the kids are flawless and life seems wonderful for them in every way. But when you talk to them, something feels a bit off, like it’s all a little too perfect. That was me for years. For a long time, I carried my pain carefully hidden from view beneath various masks. On the outside, it all looked good, but my inside was a mess. I had to learn that in order to live with authenticity, I had to be willing to be vulnerable, to embrace my mess.

If you’re struggling with keeping it all together, stop. Be kind to yourself. Reach out to a friend. Go see a counselor. Share your pain. Open up. Sometimes in sharing we ease the burden just enough to find peace and strength to carry on. We are all walking this life together. Our paths may be different, but we all face struggles and experience pain. If you know someone who appears to have it all together, look a little closer. You may find they need a friend, a safe place to reach out.

I encourage you to embrace your mess. It’s part of what makes you beautiful. Be YOU. You’re the only one qualified for the job.

For more on my design work, go here.

The Need for Connection

It is easy to feel small, to think we are just one person, to believe we lack the power to produce positive change. It can be disheartening, what is happening in our world. But in truth, we have more power than we give ourselves credit for. One change – just one – can make a difference in the life of someone else. One simple act of kindness can make a difference and it doesn’t have to be costly or elaborate.

A perfect example is the store clerk many people walk past every day without acknowledging their existence, without noticing them or saying a word. I am amazed when I see a customer at a checkout who remains silent. Notice them! A simple “hello” or “how are you?” is enough. When I’ve done this, the clerk usually responds with a smile that actually meets their eyes. Some of them even look surprised to be addressed at all. Then they connect – they smile in return and then I feel good. My giving of a few seconds of my day gives back! The greatest part of this action is that it ripples out. One positive change will feed another. You can’t stop it from happening.

Granted, you will occasionally meet someone who isn’t quite ready to receive your light, but that’s okay. Smile anyway and wish them well. Who know? They may be in the middle of a bad day. Regardless, don’t let negativity from others stop you from reaching out again. Open your heart and remain open – that’s the key. Yes, the world has hurt us at times. It happens. Some have been hurt worse than others, but all of us must remain open to ultimately find healing.

A little story…

When I was about twelve years old, my family and I went to the beach. I loved playing in the ocean and had absolutely no fear of it. I would search for shells and sand dollars and try to catch the waves that flowed by. One day, I walked into the ocean and caught my big toe on the edge of a sand dollar, tearing a small gash. When I was a kid, you only went to the doctor if something was broken or bleeding profusely, so I carefully bandaged it every day and eventually it healed, leaving a small scar.

A later time at the beach, I carefully waded into the ocean, stepping gingerly to avoid attacking sand dollars. As with most beaches, there were jellyfish too. Many of us know someone who has stepped on one and gotten burned (or at least watched the Friends episode with the jellyfish). Naturally I was a bit more cautious after my run-in with the sand dollar…not quite so fearless anymore. Anyway, I wade out to water that’s about thigh-high and pause for a moment to look around. Kids are playing, people are laughing, the sun is shining – all in all, a perfect day at the beach. A second later, I felt something brush against my leg. I looked down and saw the biggest jellyfish I had ever laid eyes on. Well, I didn’t simply back up and move away. Oh, no. I turned and ran – well, as fast as one can run in thigh-high water. Once I reached shore, I ran to the safety of my towel, a screaming mimi all the way. You would have thought I had seen a shark.

Needless to say, I didn’t get back into the water during that trip. On any trip after that, I limited myself to wading ankle-deep. I stuck to the safety of sand castle building and shell seeking – and robbed myself of joy. I kept the ocean at arm’s length, making sure I had an easy escape. I was given the opportunity to jump in and experience something beautiful, yet ran away because of fear. How often has that happened for you? Have you bypassed opportunities and avoided connection due to fear, irrational or otherwise. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out anymore due to fear. I want to remain open to people, experiences and opportunities that could ultimately enrich my life and offer me the chance to enrich others. In any matter that involves the heart, there is risk. I choose to take the risk. I want to connect.

When my journey here is complete, I want to have lived my life fully. What happened in the past is irrelevant. I lived years blind to the power of fear or how it affected my life. Now I know, and I refuse to give in again. My burning desire is to push against my comfort zone and stretch the boundaries. I have always known I was put on this planet to serve. When I’ve spent days holed up, struggling against a deadline, doing soulless work with no face-to-face interaction, I began to shrink. I withered a little each time. This is what led me to pursue becoming a life coach and grow more as a writer. My ultimate goal is to connect with others – primarily to help them find their power and purpose.

Sometimes we need to be among those who are like-minded, those who get us. But sometimes we need to be with others who think differently, who challenge our thinking. This enables us to stretch and grow and become more aware. We are energy and everything around us is energy. Energy is not stale or static. It constantly moves, evolves and changes. We must remain open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Many of our younger generation has an amazing power. They are wide open, willing to engage in new thought and new ideas. And they are willing to act. They are the ones that will ultimately bring positive change to this world. I want to join them.

The need for human connection is real. Those who think they are connecting through social media or other electronic means are lying to themselves. We need to be among other humans. No one can live in permanent solitude and be genuinely happy. It’s why solitary confinement is a punishment. It disconnects us from what makes us human. It is true that some have made peace with being alone. Some have even found enlightenment. But eventually most people reconnect and find fellowship with others.

We are not meant to walk this path alone, but rather meant to help and encourage one another. We are all one, connected on an unseen level. It’s time to re-engage. It’s time to connect.

More Than a Cosmic Burp

“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”  Rumi

One morning during my regular reading and writing time, I came across this message, “Old and negative habits, patterns and beliefs are being replaced with new, more positive ones.” I was struck by this message because it wasn’t telling me to replace the negative, but rather that it was being replaced. Then I thought maybe, just maybe, I simply need to let go and allow the Universe to bring positive change into my life, rather than my usual mode of doing, struggling, achieving, failing, guilting and shaming. In other words, controlling. Maybe I needed to let go of control and let the Universe shoulder the load, to become a co-creator of my life rather than trying to do everything on my own.

Our lives have flow, just like nature. Much like a tree that sheds its leaves in the fall and rests throughout the winter, spring arrives and new growth happens, bigger and better than the previous year. The tree doesn’t try to do this. It doesn’t look at its neighboring tree and compare its growth with theirs. It doesn’t chart goals to achieve or take pride at checking items off its list. It just is. This cycle of growth repeats year after year until the tree dies – shedding the old, resting, allowing new growth. The tree never reaches a point of complete or finished. It simply continues the process. There are some things that are in our power, but for others, maybe we need to release control and trust in something bigger than ourselves. To simply allow growth to happen.

One particularly clingy, negative belief of mine is that I don’t deserve good in my life. Whether it’s been happiness, love or achievement, I have sometimes had difficulty receiving it due to this belief. But why wouldn’t I be deserving? I was created just like the tree outside my window or the little wren that stops by to visit. In fact, the very truth that I was an “accident” points to the awesome magic of the Universe – the miracle of creation. Nature reminds us often that it doesn’t need our help, though it welcomes our participation in co-creating our lives with open arms.

You are meant to be here.

Any control we perceive is illusion. Just let it go. Let go of the idea that you need to try harder or do better. Allow yourself to simply be and know you are enough just as you are – right here, right now. Allow yourself to grow and become the wonderful creation you are meant to become. Observe yourself with curiosity rather than judgement. See yourself with eyes of love, not hate. Because no matter what circumstances brought you into this world, you are no accident. You are meant to be here.

There are some who are born into this world under the weight of enormous expectations. Born into positions of power and pressure, they are “destined for greatness.” I was born into the opposite circumstances. No one expected anything from me. I was a cosmic burp, nature’s uh-oh…at least to the family I was born into. But the vast wisdom of the Universe had other plans for me. My story isn’t finished. In fact, it’s just getting to the good part.

I have enjoyed much good in my life. My heart has been touched by three beautiful children, all of whom are miracles stories in their own right. I have known true love. The message I received that morning is clear – trust the process, release control, allow change and growth, allow the Universe to rearrange my life if need be. It has a bigger perspective of the picture of my life than I could ever hope to.

So breathe through your growing pains. Let go of expectations. Release the “shoulds.” Erase the image of what the world told you to be. Just be you and know that is enough. Each of us is a creation and because of that, we also are meant to create. It could be a work of art, a loving home for your family or a more economical way to create clean drinking water for those who don’t have it…what you create does not matter. Oh, and don’t worry about the how. Just start taking little steps each day toward what you know you must do and the Universe will meet you there. I promise.

Resistance

“Rule of thumb; The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Being our real, authentic selves is easier in front of strangers than those close to us. Strangers don’t have reference points of our past. They haven’t seen us fall down over and over again. They haven’t seen where we struggle. Those intimate to us, such as family and friends, have witnessed the foibles, fumbles and meltdowns. When they don’t see the path of light we are called to follow as we do, well…

They can reinforce our own doubts and fears without trying. All it takes is a questioning look to send the message of who do you think you are? swirling around the brain of a budding creative. One innocent asked question can send many running for cover.

I want so much to believe in my abilities, my talents, my inner voice. I want to believe work can be both fulfilling and make enough money to support me. I’ve done so much work at the expense of health and sanity, all in the name of money and the scales don’t balance. I don’t want to be one of those stories where I ignore the path I know I’m meant to follow until a doctor hands me a death sentence. I am a writer and an artist. Period. I am choosing to trust the process wherever it leads.

We are hard-wired for hope.

In truth, I think those intimate to our walk want us to triumph, to win in our struggle. They want to see us overcome resistance, even if they are unaware of it. Heck, they may struggle with the same thing. Their own fears may come to the fore as sabotage, but I believe there is a part of them that wants us to win. It’s that part within us that roots for the underdog. The one that cheered for David even though it looked like Goliath had him beat. We are hard-wired for hope.

Ignoring our path costs us more than the joy of doing the work we’re called to do. When we give in to resistance and ignore our calling to keep others happy (read: comfortable), we sacrifice not only our personal happiness and peace, but we also rob the world of our light. Even those close to us will ultimately suffer. Maybe if we allow them and ourselves to be uncomfortable for a little while, they will move past resistance and embrace their own path. When people become aware of their prison and the fear of making positive change no longer outweighs the pain of staying stuck, they will move.

We cannot continue to enable just to keep those around us comfortable. This doesn’t mean we need to get all “tough love” on them. It means loving ourselves. It means respecting ourselves and our boundaries. It means having compassion for ourselves and others. It means stopping the cycle of self-sabotage and taking responsibility for our choices and decisions. We own our experiences and open up to the possibilities of our life.

What is curious about self-sabotage, whether in the form of food, alcohol or other medium of choice, is once we start waking up to the life we are called to live, the numbing no longer works – not even in the short term. We cannot undo growth or positive change we’ve made, nor can we tolerate discontent with staying stuck. After a while, you reach a point of being so over the shame and guilt that follows self-sabotage. Like a rerun of a bad show you’ve seen too many times, you know the words forward and backward. You’re done with it.

We have to deal with the discomfort that comes with making positive change in our lives and doing work we’re called to do. We have to face the “shoulds” head-on and say NO. We have to be willing to let others be uncomfortable.

I’ve determined comfort is overrated. Comfort equals safe. Cozy. Predictable. Stagnant. As I create positive change in my life, I aim directly at the barrier of my comfort zone. I am uncomfortable. But given the choice, I would rather be uncomfortable. I’m breaking down the barrier.

What about you? How has resistance shown up in your creative work? How have you dealt with it? Let’s start a conversation…

Time for a change

Hello all! I wanted to let you know that I’m putting on my big girl pants and launching my official writer blog. I would love to have you follow me here.

Thank you so much for reading and following!

Love and light,
Karen

An update…for whatever reason, WordPress isn’t functioning right today and my link to the new blog is not showing up. Please find my new blog at www.kebaltimore.com. Please forgive the technical difficulties…
KB

My storytelling superpower

(This post is in response to the prompt “What’s your Storytelling Superpower” for the DIY MFA Book Club. To learn more about the club, click here. To take the quiz yourself, click here.)

It comes as no surprise that my “superpower” came back as Survivor. The stories I’ve enjoyed most from childhood on have had a main character(s) facing a formidable enemy, oftentimes while simultaneously fighting their own inner demons. My own survivor story got its start during my childhood years. Ever since that time, I have been drawn to books involving teens and pre-teens facing impossible situations and finding a way to overcome them. Even as a woman in my 40s, I still enjoy reading about Harry Potter or Lucy Pevensie or Meg Murray facing their struggles both in and outside of themselves and winning against all odds. I find hope in their pages.

In hindsight, I can see this is why the novel I wrote is centered around a preteen girl, facing insurmountable odds on the outside while fighting her perceived inadequacies on the inside. I was working on a memoir of my years as an adult college student at the time of its inception. One doesn’t generally go to school as an adult without some backstory. In breaking through the walls of my comfort zone, I had to peel away layers of scar tissue as I faced my fears. Writing about that time brought everything rushing back and I believe that through writing I will ultimately find healing.