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4 Myths of My Silent Meditation Retreat

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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.

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

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"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.

How My Life Changed When I Started Writing My Book

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I’ve been quiet online for the past 15 months. Very quiet. Not because I don’t have anything to talk about (I have more to say than ever). It’s because I’ve been reserving my energy for a very special incubation period behind closed doors. An internal journey to heaven and hell and everything in between. I’ve been writing a book.

I’m one of those people that used to say, “I’ll write a book… one day.” As a young 20-something, I thought I had all the time in the world to write my book. Surely the time wasn’t now; I needed to grow my career, support myself in the country’s most expensive city and invest in my new marriage. I needed to build a blog audience and take more writing classes and put in my 10,000 hours before I could call myself an author (or an aspiring one).

That all changed one day in August 2014 when a family member invited me to lunch to “talk about an opportunity.” The last thing I expected was for her to confront me about turning my blog into a book, and offering mentorship to get me started.

“Write a book? Now?” I almost spit up my iced tea.

“Yes, now,” she smiled from across the table. “You’re ready.”

“I don’t even know where I would start.”

“I’ll help you. Baby steps.”

And so I’ve been on this journey, one baby step at a time. I’m proud to announce that the entire book is WRITTEN and I am 80% through editing the second draft. This baby is REAL and it is HAPPENING. It’s been a wild ride of newfound energy, heart opening, self-doubt, fun, frustration, boredom and ecstasy (more on this later). In a nutshell, my life has completely changed since I committed myself to writing this book. Here’s how.

It feels like I’m coming alive again.

I never knew how much energy I’d been missing until it rushed back to me. Where I had once felt overworked and lethargic, I began feeling huge bursts of energy during my writing sessions. It’s like my body was screaming YES PLEASE, MORE PLEASE! YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING RIGHT! This energy was accompanied by a sense of contentment and well being that burned right through my heart. It’s like I was falling back in step with my authentic rhythm, or like my soul was coming into healthy alignment with my actions. There were other good feelings, too:

  • Feeling less scattered and anxious about the future
  • Looking forward to doing something meaningful (instead of wondering what I’m supposed to be doing)
  • More wholehearted focus toward one clear goal
  • More excitement about what’s coming next
  • More sense of “flow” and getting lost in the moment
  • Deeper connection with my true self

I’m bolder in how I show up in the world.

For a couple years I’d been criticizing myself for not being more confident and self assured. I chalked it up to be a personal problem that needed years of therapy or medication or The Secret to fix. Turns out, all I needed to do was start honoring my true voice. As soon as I started incubating my little soul endeavor in private, I noticed that my outward life changed too. I’m not saying I’ve magically transformed into an extrovert or a Tony Robbins, but I’ve definitely found more empowerment and boldness to be myself. Some things I’ve noticed:

  • More trust in myself and more fire to speak up
  • Less pressure to find “big success” in other parts of my life
  • Motivation to take care of the temple: waking up early, eating better, exercising more, drinking less
  • More to offer to the people in my life

Once I step away from my morning writing session, the most important thing to me is already done, so what happens out in the world doesn’t matter so much. And that frees me up to receive more happiness and spontaneity in other parts of my life. It’s like a secret weapon that’s always with me — my sword of truth.

It seems the universe is meeting me halfway.

Passion is sticky. The more I talk about my excitement for this book, the more positive vibes come my way. At first, I worried that investing so much time in my book would suck energy from other parts of my life (especially my business). Turns out that in the year I did the least marketing and intentional outreach, I made the most money. I got my highest paying writing job this year. New clients fell in my lap, some of them from across the world. I received a raving review that kept me smiling for days. My dinner conversations with friends became more vibrant and genuine. Why? Because I have been feeling more alive and showing up more boldly in the world! And it seems that when I take a tiny step in the direction of my dreams, the universe meets me halfway.

What will happen with my book? Will a major publishing house pick it up, will people read it, will anyone like it? It doesn’t matter. I’ve already gotten back tenfold what I put into it. Every morning that I sit down to spend my hour with the book, I’m showing up for myself. I’m investing in my heart and my creative voice. I’m beating resistance and listening to that silent, steady drive inside of me: WRITE. And it feels damn good.

Spring Special: 8 Week Coaching for Creatives

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And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -Anaïs Nin

It’s the first day of spring: time for new growth.

Everything comes to life this time of year: wildflowers, baby animals, bright new ideas. Do you have a seedling dream that wants to stretch toward the sun, reach deep into rich soil and bloom something magical? If you have a tight little flower bud within that’s ready to open, I have something to help.

Is your big dream ripe for the taking?

My new TRUE NORTH program is designed for creatives and entrepreneurs who want to SAY, CREATE or INVENT something big and share it with the world. In honor of longer days and warmer skies, I’m adding a little sweetener to help you switch gears from “thinking about” to “taking action” toward your big important soul dream. From dormant to flowering, in other words.

You will get:

Everything in the TRUE NORTH program, including:

  • 8 week curriculum to reach a major milestone in your creative or business dream
  • 6 weekly strategy sessions for customized planning, tools and solutions
  • 2016 Vision Guide
  • Step-by-Step Roadmap
  • Unlimited personalized text message support between sessions

Regular program tuition = $1,495

You pay: $1,295

That’s right, I’m offering all the potent clarifying and kickstarting power of TRUE NORTH at a $200 discount. That’s enough savings to buy a plane ticket, iPhone or warm weather wardrobe. Or you can keep those two crispy bills in the piggy bank and invest them in your bursting-at-the-seams creative or business vision (coming soon).  

Just 3 spots open – get yours by March 31!

The Spring Special has limited availability on a first-come-first-serve basis. Sign up by March 31 to take advantage of this targeted curriculum and hands-on guidance to support your creative or entrepreneurial venture for 2016.

Spring is a special time of year. Let the season’s momentum draw you one baby step outside your comfort zone this month. There’s warm sunshine waiting, I promise.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a free 15-minute consultation.

 

 

Happy Birthday to Me: My Quiet & Persistent Dream

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Happy birthday to me! 30th birthday, that is. As a gift to myself, I’m doing something I should have done a long time ago: launching this service.

I’ve heard that one’s 30s are the decade of not giving a $#*&. I’ve also heard that it’s the time to start being yourself. So what better time to share something that’s been on my heart since 2012? I kept this dream secret for four years because it didn’t fit my business plan. It was less flashy, more risky, less profiting and more vulnerable than the boutique marketing agency I had in mind. But the longer I ignored my inkling of a dream, the more pronounced the signs became that something was wrong. Client deals gone awry; mysterious physical ailments; general malaise. I dipped a toe in my secret dream, incorporating pieces of it into work I was already doing. You see, I recognized that most people coming to me for “marketing” really needed something deeper. I just didn’t trust myself enough to say it.

In fact, I spent years putting trust in the wrong place: fear. I believed everything from the voice in my head (your audience can’t afford it, you’re the blind leading the blind, who do you think you are to have fun AND make money, the list goes on). The thoughts were too painful to look in the eye so I shoved my dream deeper into the closet, hoping the dark would snuff it out.

The dream found its way into my life anyway. It snuck under the door, seeped into my subconscious and found dramatic ways to get my attention. I was finally so miserable in my career that I blew it all up, took a year to slow down, practice yoga, do a weeklong silent retreat, and hire my first business coach.

I’ve been working with Zoe Wild over the past six months to clarify my own vision, what’s in the way and how to show up in the world as my authentic self. The changes have been tangible:

  • I went from talking about writing a book for one year to writing the first draft in 30 days
  • I found clarity in my ever-elusive “life purpose” and business vision
  • My mysterious stomach problems went away
  • There are also reports that I look “alive” and “happy” and that my “whole energy has changed.” You decide.

So here we are, my 30th birthday, my quiet and persistent dream. I did a super secret soft launch before the holidays and got great feedback to cater this program to the needs of real people. You may have seen my New Years Special that gave me the chance to work with three amazing creative, smart women to plan their best year yet. In the process, I’ve been through the whole roller coaster of inflated ego and crippling self-doubt and wanting to hide under a rock. Getting on the ground to DO THE WORK gave me an incredible gift: it confirmed that none of this is about me. It’s about the dreams of the people I want to help. Talented, intelligent, creative, industrious people that have so much to offer our world. And I believe every one of those dreams matters.

Here it is: the fruits of my labor. Check out the new service list below and pay special attention to True North Coaching for Creatives.  

 

Kirsten Shaw Service List

Thank you to the mentors, coaches, friends and family that have supported me along the way.

P.S. First book coming soon.

 

 

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