Coaching

Curiosity Cultivates Creativity

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“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” - Albert Einstein

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” - Leo Burnett

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most diversely talented individuals ever, was infinitely curious. He carried a notebook with him wherever he went and wrote down or sketched anything that aroused his curiosity. While best known for his paintings, the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, he was also a sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer and inventor.

Being curious is a way of inviting creativity and can open us up to our unique genius. It opens our mind to make new connections and consider new possibilities. Albert Einstein attributed his brilliance to being passionately curious. Writer Henry James suggested to help your writing, “Try to be someone on whom nothing is lost.” With my writing students and coaching clients, I ask them to shake things up and do new things or visit a place they have never been before. Without curiosity, without "I wonder what would happen if I tried. . .", we would never create anything new.

Between my own creative work as a writer and my interest in nature, my curiosity about the world is finely honed. I love to eavesdrop on conversations or watch people in cafes, not out of noisiness, but a real interest in other people's lives and the wonderful range of possibilities for being human. I often get ideas for my writing that way. I'll make up stories about people to exercise my imagination.

Paying attention and being curious as I walk in Nature is a great way to practice mindfulness and live in the moment. It also allows me to feel connected to and nourished by a larger world. Observing Nature's great capacity as an artist also provides inspiration for my own creative work.

One of the things that ages us is doing the same old, same old over and over again. We do the same thing everyday, drive the same way to work, eat the same foods. The neural nets in our brain actually get rutted by our habits. Developing a habit of being curious and trying new things can keep us open to new possibilities and help keep us young as well as increasing our ability to be more creative.

TRY THIS: What are you curious about? It could be about trying a new recipe or visiting a new store that just opened. It could involve exploring a new place to walk or reading a book about a field you don’t know anything about but feel a pull toward. What can you do today to start building the muscle of your curiosity?

Do You Resist Showing Up to Be Creative?

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Recently I got a note from one of my writing students saying that she was really enjoying writing when she managed to find the time. The three top reasons that people give for not being able to fully show up, move forward or change some area of their life are, "I don't have enough time, I don't have enough money or My health isn't good enough."

On the surface these excuses appear valid and hard to argue with. In truth they always cover up some deeper resistance. When we really want to do something and commit to it we can always manage to find the time, the resources and a way to work around any physical limitations.

Robert Olen Butler who won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of short stories A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain worked full time and had a difficult home life so he wrote everyday on the train computing into New York City. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, was a single mother struggling on state aid in Edinburgh Scotland where she sat everyday in a local cafe writing the first book in the series that would turn her into a multi-millionaire. These stories point to the reality that you don't have to have everything together or know exactly what you are doing or how you are going to make something work to begin whatever it is you want to create. Beginning opens you up to new possibilities.

With my writing coaching clients I start them out with a commitment to write a minimum of ten minutes a day. It would seem like everyone could find ten minutes, but if there are some unconscious beliefs and fears around expressing yourself or being creative then you will put it off until the end of the day and then say you are too tired. This is what resistance looks like.

If you are having trouble showing up to your writing, painting, music or exploring your creativity in some way, stop and get quiet. Take some deep breaths. Ask your deeper or higher self what's in the way. Then just see what comes to you. It may be a memory of your third grade teacher humiliating you in front of the class by criticizing a drawing you did or your father's refusal to let you take the dance class you so much wanted.

Such events really can impact the tender, vulnerable, innocent part of us that is our creative self and years later have us not wanting to risk being creative. If something comes up for you honor your feelings around it. If you feel sad or angry feel those feelings as a way of allowing them to shift and release their hold on you. Then send love to that part of you.

We also resist our creativity because it can take us into unknown territory and our mind which is committed to keeping us safe will put the brakes on when we veer from the routine. Becoming aware of what's in the way of your desire to create and being mindful and patience and kind with your self will help you cross new thresholds into being creative and finding time to show up.

Creativity and the Grace of Gratitude

If the only prayer you say in your whole life is “thank you”, that would suffice. - Meister Eckhart

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At its heart I see creativity as a celebration of ourselves, our lives and our world in all the myriad experiences and possibilities that come from being alive including the difficult. Creativity allows us to marvel at the gift of our lives. Lately I’ve started to see it as a way to express gratitude. And gratitude it turns out can bring all sorts of benefits to our lives.

Recently I read a research article on the proven benefits of focusing on what we are grateful for. Physically it strengthens our immune system, lowers blood pressure, increases energy and vitality and improves the quality of our sleep. Psychologically it improves overall mental health, increases our ability to handle stress and brings us more joy, optimism and life satisfaction. Socially it allows for stronger interpersonal relationships and increases our feeling of interconnectedness as well as making us more forgiving, generous and compassionate.

Gratitude also works in a mysterious spiritual sense opening the doors to support from the universe. The English word gratitude comes from the Latin root grata or gratis meaning a given gift. The word grace, meaning a gift freely given that is unearned, comes from the same root. The ideas and inspirations that flow through creative acts always feel to me like grace.

There are lots of ways to focus on gratitude. Keeping a journal where each day we make a list of a least a few things we are grateful for is a popular one. Letting the people we care about know that we appreciate them is another. We can say thank you when someone holds the door open for us. I always wave a thank you when a car stops for me when I am crossing the street. When I’m out for a walk I often say thank you to the trees or birds and feel more connected to the earth.

Then there is being creative. What in your life would you like to celebrate with gratefulness. You could dance it around the living room, draw it in chalk on the sidewalk, sing it in the shower, write a poem, plant a flower or bake a cake all with the intention of expressing gratitude. 

Being grateful opens our heart and spirit so we can actually be more receptive to the creative impulses that are swirling around us. Take a minute right now. Focus on something or someone you are grateful for. Feel yourself open and expand as you do. What do you want to create from this place.

Playing with the Imagination

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Imagination is more important than knowledge. - Albert Einstein

You must give birth to your images.
They are the future waiting to be born . . .
Fear not the strangeness you feel.
The future must enter you
long before it happens.
Just wait for the birth,
for the hour of new clarity

- Rainer Maria Rilke

I often say to my writing and creativity coaching clients that your imagination is smarter than you are; like intuition it gives you a deeper, faster, more expanded means of gaining critical insights and making important connections than the more limited workings of your linear, rational mind. Whether you want to write, engage your creativity more fully or develop an ability for creative problem solving, your imagination is an essential tool. To exercise your imagination try the age old favorite of looking for shapes in the clouds; or go sit outside on a bench to watch people go by and make up stories about their lives; or go to a park and lean against a tree and imagine what it would say to you if it could talk; or lay down on the earth and ask her what simple thing you could do to help the planet. Then be open to the ideas, images or thought that arise in your mind.

One exercise I like to work with is asking advice of an imaginary mentor. You think of a question and then write the answer yourself as if you are getting a response from someone you admire. You can ask Einstein, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson or your grandmother. A woman I worked with did this exercise and received what was clearly really good advice. Unaccustomed to using her imagination in this way she asked, "how do I know if I am actually channeling this person or if I'm making it up". It's a great question because when we use our imagination it will feel and seem like we are making it up. And that's exactly how the imagination works.

We have a hard time trusting the information and ideas we get because we live in a culture that dismisses the power of the imagination but saying, "oh, you're just making that up" or we tell our children "it's just your imagination". Imagination is a tool of human consciousness that is underdeveloped in the modern world. Yet the more you engage it and play with it the stronger the connection becomes and you will begin to feel the quiet excitement and joy that comes from expanding this ability, that will give you new ways to looking at problems and solving them.

You can even ask your imagination for suggestions on how best to cultivate it. Sit quietly for five minutes following the flow of your breath and calming your mind. Then be open to what your imagination has to say to you. Try writing without thinking for ten minutes as if you were taking dictation from your imagination. Or you could ask your imagination what it wants from you and then answer the question by writing or drawing or even spontaneous movement where you let the thoughts and feelings flow.

Imagination is one way we access our deeper mind. It is a place where you shed your everyday self, where sparks fly and time stands still. It requires a bit of solitude and idleness. It asks that you slow down and sit still with your mind clear and expectant. It asks that you be willing to play.

Are You Embracing Joy or Chasing Happiness

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We can spend so much of our lives in the pursuit of happiness that we often neglect to savor or even notice our moments of joy. Happiness feels more a long term goal, something we can be ever in search of. Joy is more an in the moment experience that has the quality of deep satisfaction.

There are certain experiences that universally ignite joy in a person. The sight of a rainbow or a hummingbird or a dolphin or cherry blossoms. A single flower has the capacity to fill us with joy if we let it. Joy is our reward for following what feeds our heart and soul. Our joy drives us toward what feels good to us.

Creativity can be a great source of joy. The act of being creative whether we finish anything or make anything that we consider good has at its core a sense of joyful satisfaction. As a writer with decades of experience it is that pleasure in the process that has sustained me over the years. 

Recently I’ve started working with watercolors having been drawn to purchase a wonderful little instruction kit. My mind thinks I’m not very good but my creative spirit is having fun just playing and learning something new. 

The joy at the heart of creativity is the deep soul satisfaction that comes from creating anything new. We open to the flow of something greater than ourselves and find ourselves fully present in the moment where we seem to have all the time in the world.

Embracing joy is like taking time out to appreciate being alive. Consider for yourself what brings you joy and intentionally increase that presence in your world. What else can you do to feed your creative soul? As we regularly embrace what brings us joy we may just find our happiness.

The Importance of Play

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If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play. - John Cleese

Play is our brain's favorite way of learning. - Diane Ackerman

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct. - Carl Jung

In my recent work with both creativity and writing coaching clients I've found that the key element in getting them out of the doldrums or a sense of being stuck or not being sure where to go with their work is play. Play gets us out of the mind's need for doing and it's focus on product and puts us in the place of being and enjoying the process.

Since creativity comes out of the alchemy of subconscious working in union with the mysteries, play is essential in accessing expanded states of awareness and putting us back into the flow.

This is true not just for art and creative expression but innovation and discoveries in science and technology. I always really enjoyed the books written for popular audiences by Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman that illuminated the way he thought and made his remarkable discoveries. One of the founders of theory of quantum physics. Feynman had an IQ of around 123 which is above average but not close to the genius he was considered to be.

He described his process that lead to his astonishing discoveries as "noodling around", his term for play. He was passionate about the subject and he would just play with different ideas and vantage points and let his mind run with the possibilities.

Ultimately when we engage in creative play in any endeavor it feels good.. Bright ideas, insights and inspiration stream in, time slows down so that hours feels like minutes and we are infused with a feeling of well being. On top of that play encourages variation and doing things in new ways actually builds new neural pathways in the brain which expands our ability to be creative.

So ask yourself, what can I do to add more play to my life and see what ideas pop into your mind as you go about your day. And then have fun!


Are You Adrift in a Sea of Distractions

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I started writing before the development of the personal computer, when cut and paste meant I was down on the floor with a pair of scissors and a jar of that thick white glue that smelled vaguely of peppermint. It was in many ways a simpler time with far less pulling on my attention.

Every morning upon rising I would make my single cup of French roast coffee, dripped through a Melitta, and then sit down to write. There weren't any thoughts like I’ve got to check my email or Twitter feed to interfere with putting words on the page.

If I needed to do research, I went to the library, the sacred hall of actual books. I would flip through the cards in the small wooden drawers of the card catalog to find the book I needed, check it out and carry it home.

Now I love my laptop. It make revision including cut and paste so much easier. It connects me to a larger world. I can Skype my friend in Australia and feel like I’m sitting in her living room talking. I can connect to the web to find wealth of information I need for my work.

Yet lately I’ve been thinking about the issue of distractions. The fast pace of our times pulls us in so many different directions at the same time. We can lose ourselves in the swarm of emails, the compulsion to engage social media, surf the web or check the notifications coming in on our phones.


I’m not suggesting that we need to give those things up. Rather what if we brought more awareness to what we really want to be doing with our time in each moment. What is we asked ourself the question “What would bring me the most happiness and joy right now.” If the answer is to post something on Facebook, great.

Bringing consciousness to our lives on a regular basis helps us chose the activity that feeds us and helps us create more of what we really want in our lives. Asking “what would bring me the most happiness at this time, can help us overcome procrastination and the distractions that can get in the way of our creating.

When I asked myself that question this morning I got that I wanted to write a blog about distractions. Writing is one of the things that always brings me a satisfaction as I tend to be more present and lose myself in flow.

What does this for you. Start being more mindful of what really brings you happiness. Maybe set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour to remind yourself to stop and ask the question and be more conscious of your choices. Play with it. See what shifts for you.

Creating with All Your Heart

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If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing. - Marc Chagall

Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution. - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I recently saw a short film tribute to Chuck Berry, the undisputed father of rock and roll, with comments from John Lennon of the Beatles and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones both saying how much they admired Berry and tried to emulate his guitar work. Berry himself said that his secret was that he felt the music. Berry played with all his heart.

In my own creative work, especially with my writing, I have long been aware of the importance of connecting to the heart; both in the context of finding subjects and themes that make our hearts sing but also creating from the feeling place of the heart, from what we love and care about.

As Robert Frost said, “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” I always know that if I am moved in my own heart by a piece of my writing then it will genuinely touch other people.

For whatever you want to create, imagine dropping down into your heart and drawing on that feeling place for your inspiration and guidance. One of my clients envisions a wooden staircase leading from her mind to her heart and sees herself walking down them and when she reaches the bottom she immediately feels the clarity and expansiveness her heart has to offer.

Centering in our heart gives us access to our connection to all of creation which inspires and informs the highest expression of our creative self. It allows us to live and create from the place of expanded possibilities.



Are You Looking for Your Potential

We spend January 1st walking through our lives
room by room
drawing up a list of work to be done
cracks to be patched.
Maybe this year
to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives
not looking for flaws
but for potential.

Ellen Goodman

Most of us spend a lot of time and energy focused on what’s wrong with our lives, all the ways things aren’t working, all the mistakes we’ve made and all the things we want to change. These thoughts take us either to the past or the future and out of the present moment. This creates a great deal of resistance that feels like tension and stress in the body and blocks the flow of energy in our lives. This makes it difficult to consider what else is possible for our lives and the world.

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Looking for what’s wrong is a speciality of our mind which is committed to keeping us safe. This actually makes changing anything difficult. From the place of our minds we are afraid to look for our potential because this takes us into the unknown. Our mind wants certainty. Yet every new beginning in our life has always involved a dance with fear and a leap of faith.

Our heart and its knowing can help guide us into unknown, opening us to our potential and expanded possibilities. This awareness comes to us as intuition or felt sense of what to do. When we take a step new possibilities are more obvious. When we allow ourselves to be in the moment creative inspiration comes.

So how do you access more of your heart’s knowing when you have a decision to make about doing something new. Take a few slow deep breaths. This actually signal to the body that all is well, that you are safe. Consciously relax your body with each exhale and feel yourself arriving more into the present moment. Place your hand on your heart as you do this. You will generally just get a sense of yes or no. The heart doesn’t give a long explanation of things. You just know.

I use this technique to access my knowing all the time with wonderful results both in my own life and with clients. You really do know. Your mind wants to second guess everything but your heart knows. 

You feel in your gut what you are, dynamically pursue it - don’t back down, don’t give up - then you”ll mystify a lot of folks.- Bob Dylan

How Do We Allow Creativity to Flow

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When we get lost in a good book it’s because the writer got lost in letting the story come through as they wrote. I remember the first time when I got on a roll with my writing, where I knew I was writing something good. I stopped and looked around the room to see where it was coming from because I knew it wasn’t coming from my everyday self.

Since then I have come to understand writing comes from a dream-like state of consciousness of allowing what wants to be written to unfold. It doesn’t involve thinking or trying to figure it out but rather feeling and sensing what wants to be born and following that golden thread.

All creativity comes from this place of allowing something beyond our understanding to lead us. We can even create our lives from this place of expanded awareness. The trick is to let go of our need figure things out with our mind and our need try to control things to make things happen the way we think we want. Rather we let ourselves be surprised by what wants to unfold. We let go of the resistance we feel to letting go and letting our creativity and life flow.

We focus more on our heart and intuitive knowing. We pay attention to the inspiration that comes from that place and take action from there. We relax into being and let go of the need to push to complete our to do list. We are more present in the moment, paying attention to the world around us.

From this place we can pick up on the clues the universe or our creative self is giving us. Life becomes an adventure in allowing, an exploration of infinite possibilities. What if we think of our creativity and lives as a good book that we get lost in, where we can’t want to see happens next.

How Getting Creative Can Help Our World

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I just watched a video of a 42 year old neurosurgeon from California who dances for his patients to cheer them up during their check ups. He gets them dancing too, including a young woman in a wheelchair seen waving her arms and shimmying her chair. I love that this doctor had found such a creative way to tend his patients spirits as well as their bodies. I imagine it’s a great help to their healing.

It has me thinking more about how being creative can help heal our world. Creativity allows us to access new ways of looking at a problem and find fresh solutions. We touch expanded capacities and find ourselves capable of more we think. We connect more to our heart and spirit. We are often surprised and delighted by the unexpected inspirations that arrive. We can learn to bring the creative process into every area of our lives to help ourselves, each other and the world.

The simplest way to work with this process is to ask a question like “how can I help the world today” or “how can I bring more creativity into my life” or "how can this problem I am having in my life", and then let it go. Don’t try to figure out the answer with your mind. Rather let the response drop in as an awareness or intuition, a flash of insight or an ah..ha moment where you sense you are on to something.

I do this all the time, especially when I don’t know what to do. Like with this newsletter. Three days before the first of the month I had no idea what to write about. I felt completely uninspired. So I silently asked the question “what’s my topic this month?”. The next day I saw the video about the dancing doctor. That inspired the subject of how to work with creativity to help each other and the world.

When faced with the events in the world today and the constant bombardment of information we can easily feel overwhelmed and helpless to affect change. Knowing that our creative self is eager to assist us can help. So ask a question on an issue concerning you, someone or something you care about or the world at large, and see what comes. Then take some kind of action on the awareness, no matter how small. See where it takes you.

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. That’s part of being creative. We expand beyond who we think we are into more of who we really are. The rewards are many including an increased sense of empowerment and happiness. Play with this. The world, as you know, needs our gifts and inspirations now more than ever.

Making Mistakes

Life is "trying things to see if they work. - Ray Bradbury

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. -James Joyce

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Recently I worked with a client who was really blocked in her writing and painting. Through our coaching we were able to discover that the root of the block was a fear of making mistakes. Once she identified that bugaboo her writing and painting started to flow again.

Our culture and educational systems teach us that mistakes aren't okay; that there are real negative consequences to making mistakes. Yet the only way we learn is by our willingness to make mistakes and see what works and what doesn't.

From my own years of writing I have had countless pages that were practice that never really took off and I had many scraps of poems that were never finished. I always knew that this was part of the learning process of being a writer. Yet I also found that the stories and poems that really wanted to be completed would stay with me through the process of growing in my craft.

This really helped me to show up and just play with the process and allow what wanted to born come through me. This and just being able to play with the process is really an important part of being creative in any form you work with.

A friend once told me about a book on creating art that was called, One Continuous Mistakes. I never bothered to read it because just hearing the title was all I needed. My creative self immediately intuited the truth of it. I felt could feel that the secret to really being in the creative process is indeed a willingness to make mistakes and see where they lead.