Why Retreat? Four Powerful Insights from a Cancer Survivor…

April 4th, 2015

Why attend a writing retreat, people ask me. Is it to finish writing pieces? For inspiration? To meet people?

I smile, and then try to find words. How do you explain that really my retreats are about deep creative and spiritual renewal? Anyone can sit down at home and write something. They have an idea, they sit, they write. If that’s all this retreat was… well, it would still be wonderful, but not transformative.

The best way that I can describe it comes not in MY words, but in the words of Candace Bixler, a woman who went on one of my retreats in 2013. She had no immediate writing goals in mind when she arrived, she just knew that she needed to be there. She knew it would be a place where she could do deep listening – the kind of listening that is hard to do in the midst of our busy daily lives. She knew she needed a 30,000 foot view of things, not the myopia that happens when we are too caught up in our lives to see our lives.

And so she came. Open, not knowing what to expect. She sat with us, laughing, sipping her tea. And as the day went on and we got below the surface, she went outside to sit and listen. The thing we didn’t know was that she was struggling with cancer. The listening she was doing was to see what she needed to hear for herself… and what she desired to share with others.

As she listened, she began to write. And what she wrote was, as she tells me today, a daily practice that has literally been lifesaving for her.

I can’t really capture it any better than this. When an environment is created — through powerful questions, poetry, nature, writing, and time to listen as well as to share – surprising things happen. Some find poems coming out of their pens, reconnecting to the creativity they haven’t fully experienced since they were a child. Others who have been tentative about writing find their confidence blooming as they fully express themselves, stepping into the identity of “writer.” And yet others, like Candace, hear things that are vital to their health and wellbeing — yet were invisible in the rush of day to day life.

When she shared with me the meditative walking process that she created on the retreat (and has been using almost every day since then) and how she is now not only surviving but thriving (she glows her life is so full), I felt her words deserved a wider audience. They are healing and powerful, and I’m honored to share them below…

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The Four Part Centering Meditative Walk

by Candace Bixler

Map out a route in a familiar setting, one that you can walk at a perky pace in about thirty minutes. Start with the intention that you will do this no matter what the weather brings — heat, cold, wind, rain — well maybe not those icy days. As you step out the door, give yourself time to adjust to the weather and your surroundings. Allow your joints to lubricate, your muscles to engage, and your breath to even out. You’ve done it! You are out the door and starting your day.

Part One. Give it to God/Spirit. Breathe in deeply and exhale fully. Let it go. Breathe out all of your worries.  Yep, it is OK to focus on the negative and all that is troubling you. Does your body hurt? Feel it. Notice it. Give that pain to God/Spirit. What are you holding on to? Are you worried about finances? Children? Relationships? World issues? Upcoming events? Don’t try to solve those problems. Don’t dwell on each issue. Just exhale and give it to God/Spirit. Hand over those worries. It is not your job to worry. When first starting this practice, you may find yourself spending quite a bit of your walk in part one. There is so much to notice. So much to give away. Let it go!

Part Two. Gratitude. Breathe in again deeply and exhale. Give thanks for what is good in your life. The weather? A relationship? Your home? Your health? As time goes on you may notice that what was once worry has now becomes a focus of gratitude. A health concern has been resolved, a crucial conversation has created better communication, etc. It is entertaining to watch this movie of life. How will these worries you give to God/Spirit be resolved?  Be careful. Gratitude has a tendency to grow. There will be days when you are so full of gratitude that you must nudge yourself to move into part three.

Part Three. Be with the world. Get out of your head. Let go of thinking. Just be with God/Spirit.  Look around you. Breathe deeply again. Exhale fully. What do you notice? What do you hear, see, smell and feel? Do you hear the rustling of the leaves? Do you see the sun’s rays breaking through the clouds? Do you see children waiting for the school bus? Say hello to the woman working in her yard. Pick up the acorn. While you’re at it, pick up that discarded water bottle carelessly tossed to the curb. Pet the dog. Laugh at the squirrel. Check in with the world.

Part Four. Set your intentions for the day. Now is the time to create your list. What are all those things rattling around in your head that you need to get done today? Make a mental list.  Want to get even more centered? As you make your list, ask yourself, “How do I want to be, do and have?” How do you intend to be this day? Joyful? Focused?  Curious? Compassionate? What do you want to do this day? Pay bills? Contact clients? Write a chapter of your book? Read? And finally what do you want to have at the end of this day? A sense of productivity? A healthy meal? A successful conversation? Rest?

Congratulations. You have reached your front door and you are ready for a great day!

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Note: To find your own wise words – yes, they are there — and get more information about my next retreat on April 25, 2015, go here – http://backyardpearls.com/WritingRetreat.html

How I (unwillingly) Curbed my Computer Addiction

November 25th, 2014

I am addicted. I’ll be the first to admit it. My computer is like my “precious” (see me lovingly stroking it). I use it to run my business, stay in touch with everyone, or to journal online. It’s my comfort zone. Walking in the door, in the old days it used to be a click of the answering machine button to hear who called; now it’s a click of send/receive to see who emailed.

It’s one thing to use a computer as a necessary and pleasurable tool. It’s another when it begins sucking time from your day. One minute I’m doing something important, the next I’m googling where mosquitoes go in winter…

Of course, I was so immersed I didn’t notice how far I was getting drawn in… until suddenly it was gone.

Well, not exactly suddenly. The right third of my screen started getting fuzzy. I tried to ignore it (like the cold coming on you deny because you don’t want to deal with it.) But I finally, reluctantly, sent it off to Toshiba to get fixed.

I quickly retrieved my husband’s 10-year-old, 15 pound clunker of a laptop from storage. For the next couple of weeks, I desperately tried to remain in my computer comfort zone, checking emails almost as often (although on two different websites and without my address book), and writing. The thing was so old that it kept overheating and I had to turn it off every 30 minutes to cool down. But like the heroin addict willing to go into the bad neighborhood to get the fix, I was willing to do what it took to get my computer fix.

Finally, I got the call. My computer was ready! I picked it up, greedily snapping open the cover. It worked… for five minutes. Then the screen went blank.

I think this is where my angels had showed up, having a good chuckle. I imagine one asking the other “Do you think she’s over her addiction yet?” The other, watching me desperately shaking the computer trying to get the screen to work again, saying with a sigh “Nah… let’s send it back until she’s ready.”

That’s when I finally learned my lesson. After much cursing, I finally had to sit back and surrender. The computer went away for another two weeks, but this time I did it differently.

Instead of journaling in my online document, I pulled out my old spiral and started curling up in a chair and writing. Or sitting under the trees. Instead of checking email ten times a day, I checked online twice a day. Instead of feeling overly responsible to answer every email in depth and on time, I actually skipped some that were not high priority and made my responses shorter. Rather than barreling through a new website that needed more time to percolate, I paused. And instead of getting sidetracked with Facebook, I got sidetracked with… life.

Sometimes what we want least is what we need most. It was an uncomfortable but necessary wake up call for me. I still am quite fond of my little metal gadget. But I’m more mindful of when it’s adding to my life and when it’s time to close the lid… and open the door.

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Pearls for reflection: With loving compassion, notice what form of technology is most alluring to you? Spend a day or a week noticing how you interact with it. What would be a small change you could make that would add energy to your life rather than drain it? What concrete step can you take today?

Please share your thoughts below in the Reply box …

You may reprint the featured article, in its entirety, by including a byline and a link to Carolyn’s website. www.backyardpearls.com

Carolyn Scarborough is a professionally trained creativity and writing coach. As founder of Backyard Pearls, LLC, she helps coaches and heart-based entrepreneurs to unblock their creativity so they can connect with and express what’s deeply meaningful to them. She leads retreats, telecourses and does private coaching with new writers, experienced writers, and those who simply need a creativity boost to launch business and writing projects. She is the author of “Backyard Pearls: Cultivating Wisdom and Joy in Everyday Life,” and is an award-winning magazine writer who has published more than 500 articles in publications around the world.

Request your complimentary “Tapping into your Inner Wisdom” session here.

How to do a Creative STOP (and how not to)

October 2nd, 2014

We all get to the point where we just need to STOP. That could look like anything from a 10-minute meditation to a year’s sabbatical. Often we are feeling a little out of alignment, weary, stagnant.

This summer has been my personal Stop. For me, that meant putting aside the new website I’d been working on, letting my blog do online savasana and rest, and not innovating new programs. Yes, I’ve continued with my private clients. I still tied my shoelaces and did enough to keep money flowing. But all in all, it was my summer of stop.

What I learned this summer surprised me. I was visualizing that I’d sort of “clear out” over the summer so I could be a clean slate come fall. And I do feel more clear. However, what I really learned was how to do (and not do!) a stop. I realized it’s a lifelong practice. One way clears a path to your clarity, while the other obscures it. Here are a few things I discovered…

A good Stop has to have some amount of complete aimlessness. When I kept controlling what my day/hour/minute looked like, my ego was in charge and there was no room for something new to appear. So sometimes I had to let go and simply see what happened.

Just because we give ourselves time, doesn’t mean we’ll use it wisely. I discovered that I could have a whole open day and spend it in ways that deepened the gift of the Stop, or not. The former looked like meditating, reading inspiring books, journaling, resting and being present. Even working, but in a mindful way. The latter looked like too much – email, Facebook, unnecessary errands, Godiva chocolate, or business details on overdrive.

Sometimes all we need is that mindless TV show. The difference is making the conscious decision to watch it, versus unconsciously escaping (wait, when did the TV go on, and how did this Kind bar get in my hand?)

Road trips can be great mind-expanders for a Stop (even though you’re really “going,” I know). This summer I drove through New Mexico with my daughter Chloe, and my vision enlarged to meet the mountains, the palette of sky, the stretch of desert… everything opened.

A Stop is not all bliss. In fact, it can be incredibly hard. Our society is so busy because many of us are running from what catches up with us when we are not moving. There were days when I was clawing the walls, and all I wanted was to get busy and distracted. But it passes, and when it does, often a nugget of wisdom awaits…

You can get lost on a Stop, or you can get found. The easiest way to get lost is to completely forget why you are doing it and disconnect. The easiest way to get found is to have a daily ritual that reminds you of your intention. For me, that was a frequent morning meditation and holding big questions (Where does my greatest joy meet the world’s greatest need? How do I create a business that is both sustainable and enjoyable?), and listening for answers throughout the day or week.

So now, my creative Summer Stop is over. I feel refreshed and ready to dive back into life with new insights and energy. I also realized that my Stops will never end. With a creative business, I find that I’m regularly called to do a mini-stop – to slow down, pay attention, and see what needs to stop (even just in my head) so that something New can start.

Pearls for reflection or comments: How do you know when it’s time for a Stop? What are some elements in your most successful Stops?

Please share your thoughts below in the Reply box …

 You may reprint the featured article, in its entirety, by including a byline and a link to Carolyn’s website. www.backyardpearls.com

Carolyn Scarborough is a professionally trained creativity and writing coach. As founder of Backyard Pearls, LLC, she helps coaches and heart-based entrepreneurs to unblock their creativity so they can connect with and express what’s deeply meaningful to them. She leads retreats, telecourses and does private coaching with new writers, experienced writers, and those who simply need a creativity boost to launch business and writing projects. She is the author of “Backyard Pearls: Cultivating Wisdom and Joy in Everyday Life,” and is an award-winning magazine writer who has published more than 500 articles in publications around the world.

Request your complimentary “Tapping into your Inner Wisdom” session here.

 

Creating with Fresh Eyes

May 14th, 2014

I remember showing up rushed, dropping my camera bag on the table a little too loudly as I slunk into the last remaining chair. The class’s title “Mindful Photography” had attracted me. I had done some magazine photography long ago, and my more recent stints had been as the unofficial family photographer, but I hadn’t taken a photography class since college.

As we sat in the dimly lit room, watching beautiful photographs pop up on the screen, the teacher explained the process. She said that traditional photography uses masculine terminology, such as “shooting” or “capturing” an image. What if, she urged us, we instead saw it as “receiving” an image? And what if, instead of focusing on the end product of the photograph, we focused on the process of receiving it and didn’t worry about the rest? With that, she instructed us to go outside, mindfully see what called to us, and then stand there until we were in relationship with it. Then we were to receive the image and move on.

I pushed open the heavy metal door into the spring sunshine, and with curiosity I walked out and simply focused on being present. I crunched on brown leaves mixed with flower petals in the parking lot. I opened to the smell of fresh cut grass. The further I walked, the more expansive I felt. Then my eyes landed on a clump of fern-like plants, soft and fuzzy and slightly shivering in the breeze. I stopped. I recognized myself in them – green, new, slightly shivering with my layers peeled off and the vulnerable insides revealed.

As Christine Valters Painter says in “Eyes of the Heart,” “For me, both art and spirituality are truly about tending to the moments of life: listening deeply, holding space, encountering the sacred and touching eternity. For a few seconds, I touch time beyond time, and in that spacious presence my heart grows wider, my imagination frees, my breath catches, and I am held in awe and wonder. These are the moments that help to make life full of meaning.”

Ifern don’t know how long I stood there with this plant — a plant I would have otherwise walked right by – and reveled in deep joy and open-hearted connection. Finally, I “received” the image with my camera, offered a moment of thanks, and walked back to the classroom.

This is the heart of my creative process, whether it is writing or photography or cooking. It is about slowing down enough to become present to the miracle before me. And when I look and listen, it is always there. And then I translate it – with words, with images, with a grateful heart.

As Marcel Proust says, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” My wish, for me and for you, are new eyes to re-create the world, over and over…

Please share your thoughts  below in the Reply box …

 

You may reprint the featured article, in its entirety, by including a byline and a link to Carolyn’s website. www.backyardpearls.com

Carolyn Scarborough is a professionally trained creativity and writing coach. As founder of Backyard Pearls, LLC, she helps coaches and heart-based entrepreneurs to unblock their creativity so they can connect with and express what’s deeply meaningful to them. She leads retreats, telecourses and does private coaching with new writers, experienced writers, and those who simply need a creativity boost to launch business and writing projects.  She is the author of “Backyard Pearls: Cultivating Wisdom and Joy in Everyday Life,” and is an award-winning magazine writer who has published more than 500 articles in publications around the world.

Request your complimentary “Tapping into your Inner Wisdom” session here.

What Does Your Productivity Boss Look Like?

March 4th, 2014

Have you ever had one of those moments where everyone is singing or talking loudly, and then they stop but you keep going until that mortifying moment when you realize you are the only one making noise, and everyone is staring?

Of course, I just mean this theoretically, that’s never happened to ME.

But anyway, another version of the story is all the different voices we have in our head – the critic, the perfectionist, the cheerleader, etc. And when they all quiet down except one… well, it’s pretty easy to spot.

Yesterday, while I was pouring a cup of spicy chai tea, I noticed a tightness in my stomach and an uneasy feeling. Things were quiet… quiet enough that I actually heard a voice that often gets lost in the din. While I was hoping to sit and relax with a cup of tea, there was a voice that was actively opposing my plan. “You’re not doing enough,” he rasped. “In fact, YOU are not enough.”

Ouch.

When I looked closer, the signs were unmistakable. It was my Productivity Boss.

He has a certain set of preferences. I should be doing things that make money, that look good, that were written in my planner for that day or that are done at a gallop. Or, as Stephen Covey would say, those in the category of “urgent, but not necessarily important.”

So when I slowed down, he filled me with a sort of aching anxiety as he fretted in the background with these doom and gloom prophesies and visions of living in the streets just around the corner (no one can accuse him of being apathetic in his proclamations – perhaps Shakespearean theater would be a better outlet for him).

I paused, I breathed, and then I did one of the things my Productivity Boss hates most. I did a reality check.

The past week I have been doing a healthy eating cleanse. What this meant was a lot more time around food – hours spent shopping, chopping vegetables, sautéing, cleaning, spicing, etc.

This is a strong value for me – I want to bring even cleaner eating into my life so I can increase energy and focus for the things that matter. Problem is, that means little to my inner Productivity Boss.

I looked back on my day. True, I had not spent as much time in the office and had not written like I’d meant to. Five points to Productivity Boss. On the other hand, I had spent that time grocery shopping and prepping a healthy lunch. I had spent 10 minutes stretching. I had taken a walk and gotten some interesting business ideas. And so far as I could see, my life was NOT going to hell in a hand basket, despite his sputtering.

What I realized is that he’s just there to keep the status quo, and when I’m running around unconsciously following his direction, I feel overwhelmed as if I’m never doing enough.

But when I can breathe, see him for the misguided little man he is, maybe even give him a virtual margarita and send him to a beach chair, then I can move forward with MY version of productive and creative living. It feels so much saner. He may pout, but I am the one who is gleeful.

I’d love to hear the signals that your Productivity Boss is wreaking havoc in the background. How do you know he’s there (words, a body sensation?), and how do you diffuse him? Please share your thoughts  below in the Reply box …

 

You may reprint the featured article, in its entirety, by including a byline and a link to Carolyn’s website. www.backyardpearls.com

Carolyn Scarborough is a professionally trained creativity and writing coach. As founder of Backyard Pearls, LLC, she helps coaches and heart-based entrepreneurs to unblock their creativity so they can connect with and express what’s deeply meaningful to them. She leads retreats, telecourses and does private coaching with new writers, experienced writers, and those who simply need a creativity boost to launch business and writing projects.  She is the author of “Backyard Pearls: Cultivating Wisdom and Joy in Everyday Life,” and is an award-winning magazine writer who has published more than 500 articles in publications around the world.

Request your complimentary “Tapping into your Inner Wisdom” session here.