Active Waiting

Navigating through a life transition usually means a lot of waiting. Waiting for answers to questions or resolution of difficulties. Waiting for whatever it is that will help you discover your personal path through the thicket of transition. Waiting to shift from whatever has ended to the new beginning.

One way to wait: just sit tight and hope things will go back to the way they were. Won’t happen.

Or sit tight and hope a solution will fall into your lap. That’s a good way to wait — if you want to stay stuck or locked in the box of the old way. And then when you get impatient, you leap way too soon into a possible solution before you have given yourself, your heart, time to know if it’s really the right one. And then find it going wrong, sometimes horribly.

And then there is active waiting. When you actively wait, your main task is to simply pay attention. You don’t have to do anything else just then. Simply notice what is happening around you as well as inside you. Be alert to what appears, and to your responses, as you live your daily life. Be receptive to suddenly appearing synchronicities, nudges from your intuition, or new things or ideas that may startle you with their rightness. Because ideas, insights, and discoveries will show up, but if you are frantically scrambling and scrabbling around in your haste to just get through this time, you could easily miss them.

For a year or two in the late 1990s, I knew I needed a big change, but I had no idea what that change would or could be. It was just a quiet, intuitive feeling that sat gently in my the back of my awareness. My life at the time was good, yet something else was calling to me. I knew from painful past experience that forcing a change, especially one still unclear, could be disastrous. So, instead of leaping into anything, I simply waited for answers to appear. I did not know about “active waiting” at the time, but in retrospect, that’s exactly how it felt.

One summer afternoon, two girlfriends and I, freelancers all, got together for some wine and conversation. I don’t recall what we said, but we were all searching for something. After a while, we did something pretty goofy: We went out to the driveway, put one of each of our business cards on the concrete, created an elf-sized bonfire, and danced around it while invoking answers. Silly, right?

Maybe not, at least for me.

That night before sleep, I asked my intuition to reveal what it was trying to tell me. When I woke up, I had the answer. It was clear and firm, and I knew it was right. I knew it in my heart and in my bones, just as I had years ago when I understood I would be liberating myself from corporate life to become a freelance writer: I was moving from Evansville, Indiana, to Tucson, Arizona.

The Universe had my back. Everything fell miraculously into place. I was a renter, so no house to sell. No kids or partner to consider. As a freelance writer, I could work from anywhere. I had recently met some good people on a work trip to Tucson, so I had some friends. And the moving company, for which I had recently written a business profile, gave me a 50 percent discount on my moving expenses! By late October 1999, I was situated in a lovely apartment in the Mission Palms apartment complex in Tucson.

Of course, with a transition that momentous, there were a few bumps once I got there. But they eventually settled down, and that move changed my life in so many positive ways, it’s hard to list them. The best one was meeting and marrying Ken, of course, which in a very surprising way brought me to this journaling work I love so much.

It all came about because I paid attention, noticed, and stayed alert. I had already learned to trust my inner knowing to reveal the big answers, so I was able to accept this new message. I certainly don’t recommend that anyone else pull up stakes and move across the country on the spur of the moment. Yet I do recommend active waiting during times of transition in your life. Active waiting takes practice; it definitely requires patience. But it will be worth it.

FOR YOUR JOURNAL:
Recall a time when you sensed a change was coming but weren’t sure what it might be. Write for at least 10 minutes about that time: How did you become aware of the impending change? How did it make you feel? When it occurred, what happened in your life?

Have you ever practiced active waiting? What did it feel like? What happened as you waited? How did it feel when the event finally happened?

What about when you jumped too soon into a change, or a suspected change? Any regrets? What might you do differently next time, if anything?

Transitioning Through Life

What are some of the transitions you have faced in your life?

The full list from my 66 years would fill many pages. Here is just a smattering:
➢ Entering kindergarten after nearly six years of being at home all day with Mom and my siblings.
➢ My father’s death when I was 14.
➢ Leaving the church in which I had been raised.
➢ Realizing that my degree would never help me get the jobs I thought I wanted (although it was helpful just to have a degree).
➢ Getting a divorce.
➢ Liberating myself from dispiriting corporate life to become a successful freelance writer.
➢ Over the years, moving across the country several times.
➢ Marrying Ken, my second husband.
➢ Caring for him after his serious brain injury.
➢ Readjusting after his recovery.
➢ Becoming a journal facilitator.
➢ Breast cancer.
➢ The death of my mother.

Each one of these changes represented an ending of some part of my life, and each required a transition—an emotional and psychological adjustment—to discover the next new beginning. Some transitions felt like embracing a dear, old friend after many years apart. Some felt like inching my way through a mine field while blindfolded. Some of them I welcomed with joyful heart; others blasted me wide open with pain. Rarely, if ever, did I move directly toward my original idea of what that new way would be. Rather than being straightforward, the path forward meandered and even circled on itself at times. Yet I learned from each transition, and that helped me weather those that came later.

All transitions follow this same pattern, as Nancy K. Schlossberg writes in Overwhelmed: Coping with Life’s Ups and Downs: “…each transition is like a journey, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. At the beginning you think constantly of the change. The middle period is one of disruption when you find yourself vulnerable: old norms and relationships are no longer relevant, and new ones are not yet in place. In the final period, you begin to fit the transition into the pattern of your life.”

Here is a graphic depicting the transition process, from my wise coach and mentor, Leia Francisco:

So far, I have survived all my transitions, and even thrived as the result of some. Undoubtedly, more await in my future. But understanding the process of transition and writing about it in certain ways has strengthened my resilience and boosted my confidence. In future posts, I will share more this process with you.
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If you would like to listen in to a chat between me and LouAnn Watkins Clark of A Decided Difference about writing through transition, and journaling in general, have a listen to this episode of her podcast. Thanks, LouAnn, for inviting me to be part of your podcast!

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FOR YOUR JOURNAL
What are some transitions you have been through in your life? Make a list of at least 10, large or small, that have changed something in your life. Then choose one to describe in more detail. For instance,
• What ended to cause the change?
• If you could name the transition, what would it be?
• What metaphors would you use to describe the transition?
• If you ever felt stuck in the midst of transition, how did you become unstuck?
• What did you do to take good care of yourself during the transition? (And if you didn’t, why not?)
• What were some of the tools you used to navigate the transition?
• What did you learn as a result of going through it?
• How can what you learned in the past help you navigate future transitions?

Then, after a while, choose another and write about it. Continue over time.

As True As Possible

Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash.

When Ken and I take road trips, he loads his iPod with a variety of podcasts. The miles pass more quickly, and, more importantly, we have some wonderful, uninterrupted opportunities for learning. Occasionally, I hear a comment or statement that inspires or energizes me in some way. That happened this past weekend.

On the way back from visiting my sister in Northern Indiana, we listened to a wise and funny interview from On Being. Host Krista Tippett interviewed poet and memoirist Mary Karr. Mary answered a question about how she began to write memoir by saying, “I think I just got the idea to say something small and simple and as true as possible.” I scrambled to find a pen and scrap of paper to write this down. Her words rang true to me, not only for writing but for my life.

Small and simple and as true as possible: In a world that appears to value only bigness and complexity and, more and more, falsehoods masquerading as truth, her formula cheers my heart. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with bigness and complexity in the appropriate places (although a lot is wrong with those falsehoods). But it’s so easy to get caught up in “shiny object syndrome,” which leaves us constantly grasping for more and more. And more. We not supposed to ever be satisfied with what we already have or to be grateful for it—that makes us somehow lazy or unworthy of respect.

I’m not at all saying we shouldn’t strive to improve our lives or become better people. First, though, we need to be sure we truly want what we think we desire. And then to consider what obtaining it will require of us. Will having it impoverish us in spirit or self-respect, rather than enhance them? Will it allow us to live more purposefully, or distract us from that?

In other words, are we being as true as possible with ourselves when we go after it?

Recently I committed to put together an online journaling program I thought would be easy to create and which would bring in some extra funds. It was to be an “evergreen” kind of program that people could purchase any time and complete at their own pace. No involvement necessary from me. I’ll confess (gulp) I wanted to do this program mostly for some “passive income.” Easy peasey, right?

I wrote most of the first draft but wasn’t satisfied. Then I rewrote large chunks of it, thinking that would help. As my deadline approached, I grew more and more unsettled and unhappy, which cast a shadow over other parts of my life.

Then the light broke through: Even though the topic was one I used to love and was deeply involved with, now my heart was not in it. I had moved on. I wasn’t being true to myself with this program. Or to the people who might have taken it. Furthermore, this program was nudging me away from my new work in writing through transitions. (See more here about this.)

So I emailed the person for whose website I was creating the class and explained why I would not be submitting it. With that, my spirits lifted. And they rose even more when she was kind and gracious about my decision, as I suspected she would be.

Being true to myself once again left me feeling restored and happy to have what I already have.

For Your Journal:

  • Think of something you once wanted so strongly that you could hardly think of anything else—and then you got it. Did having it feel as good as you thought it would? If not, why not? If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, would you still want it?
  • Recall a time when you realized you were acting in a way that was not true to yourself. Did you continue or did you change directions? (No judgment here; simply explain.) In either case, how did you feel? What happened in your life as a result?
  • “Small and simple and as true as possible.” What does this mean to you in your life right now?

Trust

A few posts ago, I wrote about a hawk that sat on the wires outside my window and let me admire its powerful, gorgeous self. I’m writing about another (or perhaps the same) bird today, but from a different perspective.

My computer sits in front of a large window, and across the street is a small woods, where, in late February, the bare skeletons of trees await the springtime greening. As I sat here wondering what to write about, motion caught my attention: beyond the empty branches a large bird gliding, swirling up and up on the thermals. A hawk, perhaps, or maybe a raven or even a turkey buzzard. It’s impossible, for me at least, to identify it at this distance. I watched it continue upward, never flapping its wings, until it flew beyond my range of vision.

When Ken and I lived in Arizona we often watched a dozen or more large birds at a time lazily spiraling upward this way. We had a view from our back yard of almost 180 degrees, so no matter how wide their circling, we could often watch them until they flew high enough to turn into tiny dots against the blue, and then disappear.

Sometimes one or two appear when we’re on long drives. When Ken is at the wheel, I crane my neck to watch them through the windshield as long as possible. I can’t get enough of watching them.

Regardless of location, the sight of these birds sailing so easily through the air, unknowingly trusting the laws of nature to hold them aloft, gives me pleasant pause, even shivers of joy. While my body remains rooted to the ground, my spirit lifts up and up, soaring with them.

These birds sliding so magnificently across the sky have become a powerful metaphor for me. Have trust, they remind me. You are supported in so many, many ways. Your body cannot defy gravity, but your imagination, creativity, and spirit have no bounds. Let yourself lift off without fear. Trust, dear one. Trust.

I needed that reminder today. So my thanks go out to the Universe for sending that lovely bird soaring through my vision at the perfect moment.

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This short, lovely video will give you a virtual experience of flying with flocks of geese. Not quite the same as soaring with hawks, but magnificent just the same:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSxvF6UM25c

The Lark Ascending, by Ralph Vaughan Williams—music that that will let you feel as if you, too, are gently soaring:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ATFC1OAZT4

For your journal:

Some questions to consider: Whom or what do you trust? And whom or what do you no longer trust? Make a list for each one of these questions if you like.  Choose one item from each list to write about in more detail.

A little more close to the bone perhaps: Do you trust yourself? Why or why not? In anything, everything, or just in some ways? Be kind to yourself here and also allow plenty of time.

The soaring birds have become my metaphor for trust. Are there metaphors that represent trust for you? How would you describe them? How did they come to your attention? How does it make you feel when you contemplate them? How can they help you navigate difficult times? Write about them with as much detail as possible. And I would love to know about your metaphors, if you’re willing to share.

Change and Transition

Back in 1999, I joked with friends that I was living in a rut so deep, it might be time to hang pictures on the walls. At the same time, I could sense that a big shake-up was on the horizon. Fortunately, past experience had taught me to not force change in my life, so I patiently waited for the answer to appear. Eventually, it did: a move from Southern Indiana to Tucson, Arizona. I had met some good people there on a work visit earlier in the year, so I knew I would have some company as I adjusted. Amazingly, all the details fell smoothly into place. As a renter, I had no house to sell. As a freelance writer, I didn’t have to worry about finding a new job. Even the moving company gave me a huge discount on hauling my stuff across the country because I recently had written an article about them. I got to Tucson, found a lovely apartment in a beautiful complex where some of my new friends lived, and settled in.

Despite all that, the transition was not so smooth.

Change and transition: Back then I did not know they are different. If I had—and if I had known how to better prepare for transition—my early months in Tucson might have been easier.

“Change is the event, the outer reality facing you: job loss or job promotion, change in a career, move to a new town or country, major change in the family, or the loss of a loved one,” writes career and life transitions coach Leia Francisco in Writing Through Transitions: A Guide for Transforming Life Changes. Transition, though, is “a reaction to a change in role, relationship, situation, or life view significant enough to affect your life and functioning,” according to Leia. It’s the psychological and emotional process you undergo while moving through the event.

My transition resulting from the cross-country change in location required a lot of emotional adjustment. My new friends were not as available as I had hoped, and I sorely missed my large circle of friends in Indiana. Tucson is a huge city, compared to Evansville, and required a lot of driving and often being unsure of my way. Even some small things, like no longer needing my favorite cuddly sweaters in the desert “winter,” made me sad and homesick. I remember standing on my balcony one day and crying as I talked on the phone with Lynda, my best friend back in Indiana, wondering if I had made a huge mistake. She assured me that I had not and that eventually all would be fine.

And it was. The move proved to be one of the best things I have ever done. The best of that best thing: I met Ken, now my husband, who later became the inspiration for finding my calling as a journal facilitator. I slowly gathered a circle of wonderful friends, including a wonderful writers group, and happily adjusted to having only two seasons: “really hot” and “not so hot.” And I discovered Trader Joe’s and shopped there weekly. (If you are a TJ fan, you know what I mean!)

Change is happening everywhere, all the time. Just when we think our lives are settled, wham! Change. Just when we think we have it made, look out! Change. When a cherished dream falls apart, more change. Even when the change is a positive, desired one that makes us happy, we still have to make the internal shift. All these changes require a transition process.

These days, I’m coming to the end of yet another cycle of change and transition. As I wrote about in my last post, Wandering, Meandering, and Yet…, I had to grieve and let go of a journaling program I created and loved, but which didn’t work out as I had hoped. (This was a “non-event transition,” which requires adjusting to the reality that a goal or dream will not come true.) Fortunately, I have found a new path, thanks to wise and compassionate coaching from Leia Francisco, who now also offers a class to train journal facilitators in her Writing Through Transitions program. This past summer, I became certified as a Transition Writing Specialist and will soon begin offering proven journaling programs in navigating through life’s transitions. Some will be local, here in Indiana, and I also hope to eventually offer them online. I will also continue to offer some of my other journaling programs too.

I’m excited about this transition—and about knowing how to better navigate the many more that are sure to come. I’m even more excited about sharing this valuable information with you. Stay tuned for future posts about writing techniques and exercises that can carry you through any transition life can throw at you.

Wandering, Meandering, and Yet…

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.” Thomas Merton

Ever have one of those days—or weeks or month or years—where you just can’t seem to get where you think you want to go? Instead, you wander and meander and backtrack and….finally end up exhausted and frustrated. Maybe you even choose to quit. Yet, later on, you come to see that this was the best route to get where you really wanted to go, even if way back in the beginning you didn’t know you wanted to go there.

When I look back over my life, never in a million years could I have predicted I would come to this good place where I am now. Married to the love of my life after being divorced for more than twenty years. Leaving corporate life in 1993 to be a freelance writer (and actually succeeding at that for about two decades!). Then in my late 50s finding my calling in becoming a certified journal facilitator, originally inspired by the experience of caring for my husband after his brain injury. Who woulda thunk? Not me.

Life is like that, as you already know. The weirdest, seemingly most inconvenient, painful, or unexpected experience can send us down a whole new path, which can lead to places we never imagined. I’m grateful for everything that has brought me to this point, maybe even more for the painful than the pleasant ones because they taught me more.

These past few months have been particularly vexing. I spent most of 2017 working to get a new journaling program off the ground, one I loved and was excited about. For whatever reason, it didn’t work, and finally, I had to grieve it and let it go. Then, I wasn’t sure what my new focus might be. Like the river in the photo above, I felt like I was wandering aimlessly in a bleak landscape.

Fortunately, I have been through this kind of situation before and trusted that somehow the answer would reveal itself. I journaled and pondered, contemplated and journaled some more. Talked with wise friends, who were very patient with me.

And slowly the answer appeared. I now have a new focus for my journaling work that makes me happy and enthusiastic once again. I’m not ready to reveal it yet but will soon. (Don’t you love suspense?)

The Thomas Merton quote above has long been one of my favorites. I can go for long stretches and forget its wisdom. But every time I come back to it, it restores me and encourages me to embrace my wandering, knowing that I will eventually come home.

For your journal:

Write about a time when you believed you were headed to a certain destination, only to be (apparently) thrown off course by Life, but you later discovered it offered you a whole new landscape to explore. What were the circumstances? What did they mean to you? How did your life change as a result?

What is a quotation that inspires or energizes you in some way? Copy it into your journal and describe how it makes you feel, why it resonates with you, times it has helped you. (I have a tiny journal into which I only copy short quotations that are meaningful to me. It is a valuable resource when I need to be uplifted or inspired.)

Find a photo that symbolizes the way you feel. What metaphor does it evoke in you? What emotion does it produce? Why is it such a good symbol at that moment? Write about it with as much sensory detail as you can, even wax poetic if you like.

Mysterious Messages and Meanings

Movement outside my large home-office window caught my eye: a gorgeous hawk (a Cooper’s, perhaps) had flown in to sit on the utility line directly in my line of sight. With its back to me, tail occasionally flicking for balance, it sat for several minutes, regally surveying its environment. I watched it with awe and gratitude. Then it lifted up and flew to another nearby spot on the line, where it rested again. Finally, as I craned my neck to watch, it spread its powerful wings and flew off out of sight.

I had seen hawks in our neighborhood but never before had one come so close or stayed so long. As a believer in synchronicities and messages from the Universe, I immediately pulled out my Medicine Cards book to investigate what Hawk’s message might be. When it flew in, I was writing my previous blog post, Brains and Change, and feeling a stir of excitement and enthusiasm again after a time of feeling scattered and unsure about some aspects of my work. Hawk’s appearance at that moment felt significant and validating.

The book explained that Hawk is a messenger that teaches me to be observant and watch my surroundings, even for the obvious, because “life is sending you signals.” The magic of life was coming to me, it said, which could “imbue (me) with the power to overcome a currently stressful or difficult situation.” Pay attention! says Hawk, for I am “only as powerful as (my) capacity to perceive, receive, and use (my) abilities.” Hawk medicine is “a totem that is filled with responsibility, because Hawk people see the overall view….Hawk medicine people are aware of omens, messages from the spirit…” therefore I should “be aware of the signals in (my) life—so notice and receive them.”

Since that day, several strong intuitions have come to me—messages I could not ignore. The first was a message so clear it was as if someone had spoken it directly into my ear. It told me to take my cell phone downstairs with me when I went to work out—something I never do. But I did as ordered and within minutes, a call arrived from someone I dearly love who was in the midst of a crisis.

Another message was even more crucial. My mother was in hospice, and my husband and I were going to leave on Tuesday morning to see her. But then I knew that we had to go on Monday. We were able to see her one last time that afternoon; Mom died the next morning before we normally would have left for the six-hour trip.

We returned home on Wednesday, and the next morning I had a brief but distinct dream in which Mom and I were talking on a phone, and in a faint but clear voice, she told me she was okay and not to worry, creating a feeling of deep peace within me. Her voice faded, and then as I looked up, there sat a magnificent brown- and black-feathered hawk, looking right into my eyes.

As I write about these intuitive events, and others, in my journal, I continue to discover more information and am amazed by what I can learn if only I pay attention.

What signs or synchronicities have come to you? What meanings have you given to them? How do you allow them to play out in your Living, Breathing Story?

Brains and Change

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Max Planck

Anger, hatred, and intolerance really are only stories we tell ourselves, as are compassion, love, and inclusion. With so much of the former flying around today, it pays to understand something about neuroplasticity, or the capacity of our brains to change over a lifetime. The more we do something, including having the same thoughts and performing the same actions, the more our brains physically conform to them, so that we keep thoughtlessly keep repeating them, regardless of whether they benefit us or harm us. Even more crucial, being exposed to the same things over and over does the same:

“…the external world comes to be represented within our brains and actually forms our physical brain’s synaptic (nerve) connections so that we have a model or mirror of the external world. As inside, so outside. As above, so below. This happens through our internalization of the stories that are being told around us.” (Lewis Mehl-Madrona, PhD, in Healing the Mind Through the Power of Stories.)

Thus, the more we hate and are exposed to hate, the more our brains lead us to hate. The more we love and are exposed to love, the more our brains lead us to love. All the vitriol we are now exposed to on a daily basis is changing us because of this process of internalization—but we can make it a positive change if we make a conscious effort to change our stories about what is happening in the world and within each one of us. Focus on love, compassion, and inclusion instead. Focus on what you love and would love to see happen instead of being overly and unendingly angry about what seems to be happening (righteous anger in the face of injustice is good and often necessary, but channel it into more positive emotions and actions instead). Work for positive change in ways that satisfy you and make you feel good, instead of hating and fighting against the people and policies you don’t like. You can tell which path you are on by the way your actions and thoughts make you feel inside.

One person at a time, we can restore ourselves and so create a better story for everyone. Yes, it’s hard but yes, we can.

In your journal:
Write about a positive change you would like to see in the world and how you might help it come about in positive, loving, compassionate ways. This does not have to be an earthshaking, grand, or grandiose thing. Remember that, often, the best thing we can do to promote positive change is to do the smaller things we can do within our own sphere of influence. What can you do in your own family and circle of acquaintances to make their world a better place?

What does having a body mean to you?

Sounds like a silly question, I know. But think about it. Your answer determines how you live in that body, which determines a great deal of how you experience reality.

Is your body simply the mechanism that carries your head around, or is it, as Mary Oliver wrote, a “soft animal…that loves what it loves”? Is it more of a prison or more of a sacred space? A done deal or an evolving answer? Merely a lump of conscious meat or something more mysterious, even miraculous? Separate from everything else or inextricably joined with the entire whole of creation?

I’ve been thinking about this question while working on a journaling program about how we embody our stories (our thoughts about our experiences). Because that is what we do: Through the vehicle of our body, we live out the thoughts that create our experience of reality. We cannot pull the mind and the body apart, like Legos; instead, they are one, a whole entity together. In a process so deeply complex we likely will never fully understand it, our bodymind uses thoughts and physiological responses to create our experience of reality.

Two examples of how we embody stories:

Say you read a post on Facebook. The words in themselves have no meaning except that which you assign to them—the story you make out of them. And these words anger the bejesus out of you! Immediately, thanks to those thoughts, your muscles tense, your stomach hurts, your blood pressure and pulse zoom skyward. Your body pours out cortisol and adrenaline, which cause damage when you produce too much over time. Anger also compromises neurons in the brain, which, again, is not healthy over time. You feel separate and divided from other people. If you respond in anger to the post, that only keeps your internal cycle going and likely escalates the situation—round and round you go! But not in a good way.

Now say you see another post. Only not only do you agree with this one, it makes you happy. Your internal story about this post is positive. Now your body feels lighter. Your blood pressure and pulse drop into or stay at healthy levels. Your brain produces dopamine, oxytocin, endorphin, serotonin, and other biochemicals that produce feelings of happiness and help you stay calmer and healthier. You feel more connected to others and, at the moment, see the world in a better light.

Either way, all of this happens because of your thoughts—which only have meaning because of the stories you create with them. Which thoughts would you rather have? Which effects would you rather have produced in your body?

(Now, this does not mean you can’t ever be angry or that you need to ignore or stuff your anger. Anger is a useful and necessary emotion, as are all emotions. Just be aware of what it can do to you, and learn how to manage it better.)

If you want to explore the stories you embody, here’s an exercise in contrast you can try, with your journal or without:

Recall a time you had an intense negative reaction to something you read or saw. Or, even better, wait until you experience such a reaction and have your journal handy. (Perhaps it is a political ad or post, which often elicit explosive reactions these days.) As best you can, write about the story you create about this thing: What are your thoughts about it? Why is your reaction so negative? And what reactions are happening in your body at this time? Pay close attention and write them down too.

Then, still sitting with your journal, simply change your thoughts. It likely will take a few minutes. Choose something that makes you feel happy, even joyous, or something that soothes you. It can be a memory or something you imagine, but let yourself feel it deeply. Or you can give yourself a hug—wrap your arms around yourself, or tenderly stroke your arm or your face. (This produces oxytocin and reduces cortisol. http://self-compassion.org/the-chemicals-of-care-how-self-compassion-manifests-in-our-bodies/) You can add slow, deep breathing to this. Once again, write about this experience with as much detail as you can.

As you do this exercise, don’t judge or criticize yourself for either position. This is simply meant to demonstrate how thoughts create our experience of reality. And how we change our Living, Breathing Story by changing our thoughts.

Write Your Life Better

Many of us get stuck in our ruts and move through the routines of our lives without giving much thought to what we could be. But what if we actually took a bit of time to deeply imagine and write about our best possible future selves? It could be life-changing.

Much of the research into expressive writing—writing that simply expresses what is in our hearts and on our minds—asks people to write about a traumatic experience or an emotional upheaval. As it turns out, this model as created by Dr. James Pennebaker is a therapeutic exercise. Many of the writers in about 300 studies since the mid-1980s have experienced better physical and emotional health, along with other benefits.

However, Dr. Laura King wondered if it was necessary to write about something painful to receive the benefits. So she and her colleagues conducted studies in which they asked people to write about positive experiences instead. Many of these people also experienced positive outcomes, such as a boost in psychological well-being, improved overall performance, significantly more happiness, and in some instances, even better health.

One of her exercises is called the Best Possible Future Self. She asked people to write for twenty minutes for three days in a row, using these instructions: “Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.”

One thing I add to this exercise is to choose a future date when you want to be living as your best possible self and write that date on your journal entry. Then write in present tense, as if you are already living this life. Write in the style of “I am doing this” instead of “I will do this.” Using present tense for a future event helps you to move toward your goals by making them more real to your brain.

If you like, you can begin by sitting quietly for a few minutes, eyes closed, and letting your best possible future blossom in your imagination. Then pick up your pen and go!

For the best results, do this exercise on the next two days too. You will learn more about yourself and your priorities. You might also better understand your motives and emotional reactions, along with gaining a feeling of more control over your life. All of which will enhance your Living, Breathing Story.