logo design kirsten1

logo design

Why I Commit the First Hour of My Day to Writing My Book

why-I-commit-the-first-hour-of-my-day-to-writing-my-book1

I’ve never been a morning person.

That first moment I open my eyes is a yank out of the womb: transitioning from the cozy, soft dream world into the raw unpredictable reality of another day on planet earth. I used to hit snooze as many times as possible before flopping out of bed and grumpily finding my way to coffee and a hot shower. But in the past couple years, I’ve found a new relationship with my mornings that has changed everything.

Instead of rolling deeper into the warm covers, I now turn off my alarm and go right to my meditation cushion for 20–30 minutes. Then I make hot tea and sit at my desk to write for 60 minutes. There is focus and purpose and ease in the routine. Consistency wears a path from my intentions to my actions to my results and back again. My intention is to let more heart into my life. Right now, that means finishing my book.

So why do I do my creative work first?

Because if I don't do it first, I risk not doing it at all.

I’ve been freelancing almost six years and tried every combination of “performance optimizing” routines. My experiments have shown that the only way to do something every single day is to do it first. A thousand internal forces will inevitably try to say I’m too busy or tired or untalented to write, and this resistance gains momentum as the day wears on. Finding focus and resolve at 3pm is like trying to board a steam engine blowing past at 60mph. But in the wee hours of the morning, the train is still at station waiting for me to step up.

Because I'm close to the subconscious.

The subconscious is most accessible right before falling asleep and right after waking up. In the morning my creative center is close and the mind hasn’t started working yet. This is a magical time for creation. Throughout the day that energy will get drawn into work, relationships, worries and neurosis. But in those first moments of life each day, it’s all there. Like when the Death Star reaches its full charge with peak potential to destroy. Or build. It’s up to me.

Because I'm fresh.

Sometimes I get inspired to write at night, despite being exhausted from sitting at my computer all day. The energy difference is marked: at night my mind wanders, fingers miss keys and thoughts ramble on. Tired creativity is better than no creativity. But for me, it’s ten times the effort to put out the same volume of writing after dark. When I’m fresh, the words flow out with little prompting (especially after meditation). It feels more like fun than work. Like riding a tube downriver instead of trying to swim against it.

Because the world is still sleeping.

There’s something sovereign about the morning time when the collective consciousness is still fuzzy. It’s a sacred gap between the night world and the daytime frenzy — a quiet space where work can get done. My real work.

AND SOMEONE ELSE IS SLEEPING, TOO.

The world is sleeping — and you know who else is M.I.A? The gremlin (0r inner critic, resistance, self-doubt, whatever you want to call it). If I can outrun the gremlin, the reward is a glorious moment of silence to actually move toward my heart-dream. The gremlin inevitably starts to chime in as I’m buzzing happily with creative output. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve already launched and the boulder is barreling down the mountain. It’s unstoppable now.

Because it makes my day better.

My mood is better. My heart is warm. My creativity is awake. Ideas are more readily available and words flow more easily for client work. It’s like I enter the world with a full charge, ready to take on whatever comes. I’m less focused on results because the hardest part is done. I’ve pointed my compass in the direction of true north, and the rest of the day follows.

Because what I care about matters.

Somewhere along the way, I started believing the world outside was more important than the one inside. Once I was done giving to my family and friends and clients and community, then I could finally give to myself. My reward would be raw, unstructured time to MAKE THINGS.

But I’ve found the demands of the world to be unceasing. No one is going to present me a silver platter of create-just-for-the-sake-of-creating time. If I want to feed my inner life, I have to claim that space for myself. Why? Because my internal world matters. My voice matters. Only I can feel the contours of my own heart and carve sacred space to share that with the world.

I wanted to take back my life, so I changed my days. I wanted to change my days, so I took back my mornings. Now it’s my favorite time of day. Early morning is when I feel most at peace, in the flow, productive and happy. It’s the place I visit first so that I have a better chance of remembering my way back throughout the day. Wearing that path so each time I return, it’s easier to find. That place that only I know, and only I seek.

Looking for support on your own creative or entrepreneurial project? Check out my new one-on-one coaching service.

What My Meditation Practice Teaches Me About Creativity

what-my-meditation-practices-teaches-me-about-creativity

A holistic performance coach first taught me meditation techniques three years ago, when I was so blocked up I could hardly write. Soon I was doing three-minute breathing exercises as my morning tea brewed and two years later I tried a week long silent meditation retreat. In the meantime I’ve written my first book, launched a new service offering and reconnected with my creative voice. From finding more balance and flow to self trust and deeper truth, this is what my daily contemplative practice teaches me about creative process.

Big visionaries need big balance.

I’ve always had a gift for thinking big and seeing the highest potential of every person and situation. These imaginings can feel so detailed they draw me like a moth to the flame until I’m almost living in the vision itself. This is a powerful tool for creation, but needs to be balanced with something anchored to the present moment. When I start feeling stressed, flighty, impatient or overwhelmed, I know I’ve gone too far into dreamland and it’s time to come back. That’s where meditation is my go-to salve.

My mindfulness practice reminds me that yes, though my dreams are grand and enticing and impassioned, I don’t have to wait for their manifestation to be happy. The present moment is equally gorgeous and magical and rewarding. It’s all here right now.

Meditation puts me in the flow zone.

One of the greatest gifts of meditation has been learning continuity of attention. In a culture where our minds jump constantly from screen to screen and task to task, combined with a creative bent for free association, it’s easy to get lost in the rabbit hole of obsessive thoughts. Meditation trains the mind to stay steady on one point of focus until your whole being is united in a single activity. “Being lost in the moment,” as people say. Losing track of time.

It’s harmony. Unity. Flow. With training, I’ve found a way to keep my body and mind in one place, working together and not divided against myself. As Kanye puts it: “Don’t let me get in my zone,” because he knows once he gets there, he’s in his power. We all are. Not to mention the feeling of warm contentment is unmistakable.

I build trust in myself.

In yoga, my teachers always challenge us: “Where can you soften in the pose? What can you let go?” They know that when the minimum amount of effort is exerted, a kind of grace follows. It means dropping from your head into your body and letting intuition take over. It’s tapping into the muse. The creative voice. I resisted this mysterious force for a long time because somehow in the process of growing up I lost trust in myself.

When I can let go of control during meditation, even for a moment, I build tolerance for the free fall. In short lapses I see it’s okay to hand over the reigns and let my subconscious drive for a bit. The more frequently I visit this place, the more comfortable I become, and the longer I can stay. In creativity, it means listening to my song more than I’m singing it. Channeling more than manipulating. This is the place where true art is born.

I find where the story ends and truth begins.

I’m a storyteller. Such a good storyteller, in fact, that I can convince myself of entire realities existing only in my mind (don’t believe me? ask my husband). Fantasy is a fun place to play as long as I can find my way back. When I’m confused or uncertain or doubtful, meditation is the anchor that always reveals the truth. It helps me feel underneath the tangled narratives to find something solid. The calmness of an untouched lake. The steadiness of the sea’s horizon.

Stories are the fabric of my life and one of the greatest gifts of mankind, and meditation helps me see them for what they are: words and concepts. This balance helps me enjoy the realm of imagination while connecting with the awareness, wisdom and inner guide that’s always beneath.

Mindfulness practice and creative process take me to the same place.

When I stopped letting the core of my being shine through in creative expression, I missed out on my greatest strength. Creative work combines craft and hard work and outside feedback but it starts with raw expression. Anything less isn’t art; it’s just a thing of the mind. This is why children are so free: they trust themselves, they’re always in flow and wholly present for what they’re doing. This is our true nature. Well-being is our birthright. Meditation helps me get back to that.

Ultimately the reason I meditate is the same reason I create: to tap into that ever-rewarding flow state and discover who I am. Whichever way I get there, it’s my favorite place to be.

Are you a creative person who doesn’t create? Let’s see if I can help.

4 Myths of My Silent Meditation Retreat

4-Myths-of-My-Silent-Meditation-Retreat1

When my husband dropped me off at Spirit Rock for my first silent retreat, I begged him not to leave.

“I don’t want to do this,” I whined.

“How much did you pay for it?”

“It doesn’t matter how much I paid. I can’t back out now.”

“You’ll be fine. Just follow your heart. Okay, bye sweetie!”

And then he was gone. I was left in a cloud of dust with a suitcase, sleeping bag, and meditation pillow. There was nothing else to do but walk through the gate marked “Retreat Area. Silence Please” and check in for a week of solitude. I felt like Cheryl Strayed in Wild: completely unprepared for a challenge I knew I had to face. Alone.

I’ve been home for awhile now, and still the experience feels too big to put into words. But after some time to digest and many conversations with friends and family, it’s time to write something. So here you go: my biggest fears about going on retreat and how each one turned out to be a total myth.

MYTH #1: I’ll go crazy without talking for a week.

Everyone asks if I started talking to myself after seven days of silence. Surprisingly my experience was the opposite. Being quiet is an incredible gift to yourself. It brings so much energy back to you — in fact, it was one of the most refreshing parts of the retreat week.

When you stop talking to others, you stop talking to yourself as much, too. I was amazed at how quiet my mind got after a few days. Instead of constantly thinking about what I would say next or how I would explain something, my thoughts just took a little rest. I haven’t felt that calm in a long time.

It’s also incredible how much you can get to know people without conversation. I felt connected to the 90 people around me without sharing words. We were sharing space and we were sharing an experience and that was enough.

MYTH #2: I’ll die of boredom.

“So what did you do the whole time with no technology or talking or music or reading?” my friends ask.

“Meditate.”

“Didn’t you get bored?”

“Nope.”

I was anxious to give up all my normal forms of entertainment and expression, especially reading and writing. And by the end of the week, I was surprised how turning myself over to such a simple life made my experiences so much more rich. The retreat’s primary teaching was to be in the moment, with the understanding that “just being” is the source of true well-being. It’s hard to imagine until you’ve seen it for yourself, but it’s true.

There were very few moments that I felt bored. In fact, with my whole energy in one place I felt more connected than ever. Drinking a cup of tea became an immersive experience on its own, filled with beautiful details. The smooth ceramic against my skin. The funny sound of slurping. The heightened sense of smell. The pleasure of warmth filling my body.

Without so much external stimuli, I got really curious about simple things. And in the simple things there is so much to be discovered.

MYTH #3: Doing this alone might alienate me from people I love.

I didn’t even tell my best friend I was going on this retreat. I was worried people would think it was some weird hippy shit or robe-wearing cult. How could anyone understand why I needed to do this? Would going into the wilderness make it difficult to connect with people when I came back?

Turns out the opposite was true. My first week back was one of the most romantic times I’ve had with my husband since our honeymoon. There was such a sweetness and tenderness to the way he took care of me and responded to my state of openness and vulnerability. My defenses were down and so were his. We connected in a way that was genuine and loving and free of the many patterns that have crept into married life. Feeling this raw connection with my husband was worth the whole retreat just on its own.

An alarming number of friends and family called in my first days back. Everyone was curious to know every detail of the retreat — the daily routine, the challenges, the biggest takeaways. Now I’m proud to share my story. And every time I do, the same response comes: “I’m so happy for you. I’m so glad that you did this for yourself.”

MYTH #4: I’m going to drive myself nuts.

My biggest fear was that being alone with myself would force me to look inside: to open up my heart and find some horrible darkness in there. And here’s the biggest revelation of my experience: I looked inside and found nothing to be afraid of. It was just me.

One of the most pleasant surprises of my week at Spirit Rock was how calm and grounded I felt in the first few days. Lifting the external pressures of daily life helped me settle into a quiet place that was truly restorative. My mind became soft and I felt extremely comfortable in my own skin.

The teachers told me I was lucky to be free of self-judgment, as it’s one of the most common symptoms on retreat. How did I get so lucky? Maybe I was ready for this. Maybe something inside of me was waiting all along, ready for me to come home. And that’s exactly how it felt. Like coming home.

Three Questions to Spark Your Creative & Business Dream

Spark Your Creative and Business Dream web

Is there a creative or entrepreneurial venture that’s been tugging at your sleeve but you just can’t seem to pull it off? Maybe you want to flush out your documentary idea after work, or spend time with your oil paints while the kids nap. Or you could be itching to turn your love of shopping into a styling business or your crafting talent into an online store. Whatever the body of work that’s been calling to you, I guarantee it’s matched by an equally loud voice of resistance. You don’t have time to waste: there’s only one moment to speak your truth, share your art and put your ideas to the test. And I believe the world needs whatever’s inside that creative soul of yours.

Here are 3 bulletproof steps for developing your business or creative dream. In fact, each step is a question to put to your heart: WHY you care about this vision, WHAT is available to support the process and HOW can you take one baby step forward today.

1. Why do you want this, anyway?

I spent an entire year trying to write my book with little progress. My breakthrough? When someone finally asked WHY I wanted to write this book in the first place. It took 30 minutes of free writing to get past the surface-level expectations and encounter a more soft, raw place in my heart. I found a fierce longing to own my story and create dialogue about issues that I deeply care about. Once I connected with this immovable driving force, all the scattered ego-level motivations were obliterated to ash. Now I was ready to work.

So I challenge you to start with these questions:

  • What do you really want to do or make?
  • Why do you want to do or make it, anyway?
  • What is your most authentic guiding intention?

If you’re really scared to try something, there’s got to be a good reason for it. Get to the nugget of why you care. The answer may surprise you.

2. What resources are available to you?

For many years, I thought I had to meet huge business and creative ambitions with equally superhuman efforts. But going fast and hard always led me to the same destination: burnout. Every time I crawled back to that safe place of mediocrity, resistance raised its flag of victory. This cycle would have continued my whole life if I didn’t take a step back to build my foundation. I started with a yoga practice and then a daily meditation practice. Then writing classes, diet changes, schedule tweaks and accountability partners. As I slowly built up my resources for balance, clarity and community, I saw an increased capacity to sustain efforts toward a larger-than-life goal. And you can, too. 

Inquiries to ponder:

  • What’s stopping me from reaching my creative vision?
  • What tools do I need to get from here to there?
  • What resources and practices are available to help me?

Whether it’s creating a failsafe morning ritual or signing up for a class, start one thing THIS WEEK that supports your vision. There’s merit to investing in a strong foundation before picking up the nail and hammer to build that house. 

3. How can you take one baby step forward, today?

I’ve been meeting tight client deadlines to deliver market-worthy writing content to my clients for seven years, so why couldn’t I do it for myself? Once I started treating my passion project like a client project (with a real deadline, process and discipline) I was finally able to match the results. With a clear foundation of WHY I was writing, tools to help me along the way and a step-by-step plan for moving forward, I committed to writing the first draft of my book in one month. It may have been a shitty first draft, but I did it. 

Figure out your HOW with a few simple questions:

  • What are all the steps between where I am today and where I want to be?
  • How can I break this down into bite-size pieces?
  • What milestones can I commit to today, this week and this month?

Don’t tolerate disorder or distraction, cuz it’s time to work. You’re on a deadline, after all. 

So there it is, my foolproof 3-step plan to developing your creative voice. Hint: your saving grace is that one guiding intention from Step 1. It’s the compass that will steer the ship home, if you let it. 

How have you managed to pull off colossal passion projects, paid or otherwise? What are your biggest challenges in bringing a creative vision to life? I’d love to hear from you.

How I Failed in Music, Art and Writing (and Why the Cycle Ends Now)

Creative-Process.jpg

 

"There is no value in digging shallow wells in a hundred places. Decide on one place and dig deep. Even if you encounter a rock, use dynamite and keep going down. If you leave that to dig another well, all the first effort is wasted, and there is no proof that you won't hit rock again." -Swami Satchidananda

At the ripe age of 30, I’m noticing a pattern in my life.

I’ve spent my whole life running away from my work. Not the work that promises a secure paycheck and career path, but the work that asks me to put my whole heart on the table for the world to see. It’s a compulsive need to interpret the world around me and turn it into an object that others can experience, too.

Since I was a little girl, this creative expression has come to me in three forms: singing, artmaking and writing. Each outlet has come to the forefront at some time in my life, becoming my sole focus and desired avenue for “success.” Then this cycle starts:

  • I’m drawn to a new art form “just for fun”
  • It feels good so I put all my time and energy into it
  • People start recognizing my work and the pressure builds
  • Then I attach goals to make money and “be successful”
  • Suddenly it stops feeling good to make the work
  • I abandon the creative process, never questioning why it stopped feeling good or if it’s worth pushing through
  • I crash and burn with disappointment, disillusionment, shame and avoidance
  • A new creative outlet comes to pull my heart out of the depths
  • Again I feel good in the creative flow (it’s a side project so it’s safe)
  • Once it becomes my main focus, the pressure is back on
  • Cycle repeats

The spirit has an infinite number of ways to express itself, but one thing is common: when I near the epicenter, something implodes. An invisible force tries to stop me, protect me and mess with my compass. It’s like the closer I get to entering a planet’s atmosphere and penetrating its core, the more systems go haywire. Navigational tools overheat and melt into themselves. The spaceship rattles. Fire and wind gush up against the ship’s nose, blinding the view. A whole hell of resistance rises against me until I’m ready to call it quits.

For years no one noticed the cycle, including me. It wasn’t until I challenged myself to write a book that I dug deep enough to break the pattern and find out what was on the other side. Now I’ve dedicated myself to the pursuit of this truth: what keeps me from my own heart and my purest calling? Is it worth finding out what’s on the other side? The investigation starts with three big failures: trying to become a musician, painter and writer.

First, I failed as a musician.

It all started when I was a little girl with a passion for music. There was always a song on my heart and I happily sang at home, in church and recitals. My third grade teacher once interrupted class to ask me to stop whistling, though I didn’t know I was making a sound. That’s how freely my voice flowed from my tiny body. Until I hit puberty. Suddenly I was thrown from a small private elementary school to a public junior high school full of strangers, and I became acutely aware of my voice. I shrank back to observe the other kids and see where I fit in. I measured my words carefully to secure my place in the tribe. I stopped singing in front of other people and I mysteriously came down with sore throats, strep throat and laryngitis on the regular. So my creative voice was suppressed, soon seeking another way to burst through the cracks.

Next, I failed as a painter.

By high school, I was so wrapped up in friends, boys and academic performance that I forgot my creative life. But then I took an art class that recalled something from my childhood: the raw desire to create and capture beauty. So I applied to a fine arts program with dreams of becoming a studio painter.

Something changed once I started the conceptual art program at UCSB. Creating art had always been a sweet escape from the pressures of growing up; now it was the main event. I internalized the societal message that making a living as an artist was too competitive and impractical. My studio classes focused more on crit than creativity. Instead of painting from the heart as I had always done, I now stopped to consider how my work fit into the art history canon and how it would sell. I became intimidated by more confident peers and didn’t take full advantage of the available equipment, studio space and mentorship. In short, I held myself back.

I showed up for class, turned in my assignments and partied like hell in between. Boys and booze and beach days were easy distractions. By the time I graduated, I had only put half my efforts into my dream and it was safer to get a job promoting other artists than to be one. Writing for magazines and working at an art gallery was comfortable and practical and kept me a safe distance from my real work. As painting joined music on the backburner, a new passion came to the forefront: writing.

I failed as a writer.

Now living in San Francisco working in the art industry, I started scribbling my own stories on an anonymous blog. Creative writing was just another avenue for the same voice. I enjoyed it so much that I finally found the guts to make my blog public. People started paying attention and asking for more. Then the same thing happened in writing as with visual art. I could create all day in private, finding solace in the discovery and relief that comes with self-expression. But once I opened the door to let my creative writing out into the world, I froze. And the more people seemed to be watching, the more I wanted to hide. So I stopped writing.

Now the cycle is crystal clear. It’s like there’s a gravitational pull that draws me near until I’m ready to pierce the atmosphere, and suddenly repels me back a million miles past where I came from. I bounced off this protective shield 100 times before I ever asked, what is this thing? Where did it come from, what’s its purpose and how do I get through?

To stop the cycle, I had to slow down to see it. 

When it came to writing, something in me wouldn’t give up. My voice wanted to come through with such veracity that I kept trying in the face of resistance. That meant slowing down my career to look inward (including a weeklong silent meditation retreat), taking classes, joining a writing group, developing tools and practices and even hiring a coach. I've been taking the time to investigate this wall with all its old pains and hidden fears: What will people think? Will I lose control? What if things change? Any pursuit of the heart brings me to the bedrock of truth, and maybe I’ve feared the dormant power of my deepest self. Or maybe I’ve just been worried about paying the bills. Either way, the wall has got to go.

I’m determined to break the cycle.

I've spent the past several years building tools and support systems to hack away at this wall, chipping one piece at a time until light shines through. My resolve is more powerful than any cycle: with gentle tenacity I have already gotten as far as drafting my first book and launching my first coaching service. Committing the first hour of my day to writing my book has brought new energy, happiness and purpose to my life. The wall hasn’t disappeared, but I am breaking it down slowly but surely with daily efforts toward my creative dream. And I will not give up, because I truly believe what’s on the other side is worth the effort tenfold.

Do you have a cycle of self-sabotage that keeps you from expressing your creative voice? You don’t have to tackle this wall alone - find out how my new service can help.