Creating Space for a Happier Life
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“If you do not take control over your time
and your life, other people will gobble it up.
If you do not prioritize yourself
you start falling lower and lower on your list.”
- Michelle Obama
Is happiness growing abundantly in the garden of your life? What weeds encroached on the projects, plans, and goals you planted as seeds last year? Are you harvesting contentment and abundance this November?
Did some of the seeds you sprouted in 2023 bear more fruit than you anticipated? Which of your ideas and plans failed to thrive? Which habits, routines, and practices worked well for you this year? Which realities and obstacles got in your way?
As this year winds to a close this is a great time to weed out what isn’t working and create space for joy and fulfillment to flourish in 2024.
At this time last year, I envisioned myself having fun teaching and traveling... feeling ease and flow... having enough time to explore and experiment with new ideas. I saw myself enjoying my tribe and painting regularly. I imagined myself earning enough money to cover all my expenses. I anticipated reaching 400 people with this newsletter and I am pleased that my subscriber list increased to well over 300. The seeds that failed to thrive were my plans to teach workshops in Portugal and around the state and I spent more time volunteering for organizations I love than was good for me.
To create space for everything we’re inviting in 2024 let’s begin by pruning back the activities, relationships, habits, beliefs, and routines that no longer serve us. As creative people, we need to monitor and manage our energy. We have to deliberately create space for focus, reflection, rumination, and routine. We need silence to hear the inner voice.
Please join me in a "Marie Kondo" style evaluation of every aspect of our lives to decide what we want to flourish and what will be designated a weed. After all, weeds are not bad things, they're just plants growing where you don't want them to be. In 2024 let's give ourselves the gift of enough space for a happier life to grow abundantly.
For 2024 I am calling in more fun, more joy, more artistic freedom, more travel, and deeper connections. I am creating a special garden for serendipity and laughter. I am weeding out thoughts, habits, and beliefs that keep me playing small. Shoulds, coulds, and time sinks need to move into the compost pile. I am going to build stronger fences around my painting practice, my yoga practice, and getting enough rest.
I believe it is possible to craft the life of our dreams if we envision it, pursue it, and believe in it. As creatives, we are better prepared than most to imagine different realities than whatever we currently experience. We don’t need a cookbook or blueprints, or to be involved in film-making, publishing, or any industry to engage in designing a better future for ourselves and others. Creating peace and harmony in our own small life victory garden will encourage others to do the same.
Most of us are missing out on things we want to do because we’ve been too busy saying yes to people and things that do not enhance our lives. Saying yes when we should say no leaves us stuck in frustrating patterns. Saying yes when you want to say no is essentially fooling and manipulating the people you are trying so hard not to disappoint.
I often feel obligated to go along with requests to feel socially included and accepted. But, being nice, being overly accommodating isn’t good for me, or you, and I am not blameless. When I do things from a place of guilt or obligation, it is guaranteed to lead to resentment, frustration, and overwhelm.
Asking yourself “What do I want” “What do I prefer”, and “What don’t I want?” will help you to become more aware and more connected with your inner guidance.
Make note of which things you do already align with your values and make you feel good and examine closely those things you do that create resentment, disconnection, or anxiety.
We are social creatures, with more synapses in our brain devoted to connection than almost anything else. We want to be part of the herd, we want to preserve our relationships, to be liked and admired and so we often take on too much responsibility, too much work, and too much stress.
Most of us recognize when we are in a state of overwhelm, frustration, and anxiety but we are not sure how to get out of it. Burnout is a badge of honor in our society. We are so ingrained in the busy hustle of our culture that we think we are not doing enough even when we are damaging our mental health and diminishing our inner light.
We need our creative power to broadcast our inner light. Our well-being is even more important and contagious than the hate and fear coming over the airwaves.
Consider how you might use your brilliance to create more beauty, more communication, more peace, more collaboration, and more love in 2024. Start to notice where you can begin to step away from what you have been given as cultural norms in movies, video games, books, and religion in favor of your inner truth.
Start by being intentional with your yes. Notice the kinds of requests that align with your values and make you feel good. Could you say yes only to activities that give you a “full body yes”? Is your art practice a "full-body- yes" you want to grow? How can you create more space for your art to flourish in 2024?
If your blood pressure spikes whenever you’re asked to participate in an activity you don’t have time for, pay attention to that. It becomes easier to say no when you know what you want more of and what you are crowding out.
As you inventory your beliefs, relationships, habits, art projects, health, time, and self-care make a list of what you will add, what you will nourish, and what you will move to the compost pile. Go through each area just as Marie Kondo would an overfilled closet. Make room for what you want to flow effortlessly in.
Over the past few years, I released many relationships that left me feeling drained and depleted. Others I have transformed by being more forthright about my needs and expectations from the relationship. It was a huge revelation for me this year that adults can handle being disappointed when I choose my needs over theirs and some even patted me on the back to thank me for modeling self-care for them! Instead of losing friends, I deepened the circle of respect.
Next year, I want to expand in this area and be even more clear about the way I would like to feel seen, heard, and appreciated in my close relationships.
Are there people in your life who sap your energy? Is there room for you to extricate yourself from difficult relationships or transform them into something more comfortable?
Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story about the way habits interfere with our art. It made me laugh… What tends to happen is that when you reach adolescence, you discover all of the other really faster, hotwired ways to feel good, which usually involves sex or substance or spending money. A friend of mine who’s in recovery says, “If it’s not a martini, it’s a man. If it’s not a man, it’s a MasterCard, if it’s not a MasterCard, it’s a muffin.” …So, a lot of people put down the creativity when they find the man, the MasterCard, the martini, and the muffin. The math — whatever it is, the workaholism. Whatever it is that you’re using to numb yourself so that you don’t have to feel. The creativity is a slower, gentler way to do that. So when you find the shortcut, you take it. And a lot of people can point to the place in their life where they stopped creating because it’s when they found all that other stuff. But I never put [writing] down.
So, for some reason, I was lucky enough to have the good sense in a life that has been filled with a lot of bad sense, and a lot of nonsense. I had the good sense to hold onto [my art], and to notice, and realize that it’s something that made me happy in a way that didn’t come with a great price tag that comes with those cheap, hotwired ways to make yourself happy. There’s always a hangover and a consequence from those ways, but with writing there isn’t. It really was my place of stillness. And I think in a weird way it was the beginning of my spiritual practice. I just didn’t know that it was, I didn’t have that language for it. I just knew that it felt good.
There are habits about my health, time, and self-care that I intend to transform this year. Let’s see if I can find the strength to give up my muffins… In 2023 some of the habits I added were more time in the sun and more rest to my self-care routine. I bought a red light the size of my body and used it daily to improve my skin, strength, and vitality.
In 2024 I would like to make kindness to myself and lightheartedness a habit. I will create rituals that guard my need for rest and reflection more carefully and add a new daily exercise to my routine.
How can you care for your body more kindly? Are there small changes you can make in your daily life that might have an outsized payoff in well-being for you?
A belief I released this year was “not enough”. It has taken me years to dig that one out of the soil of my family history. When I believe I am not enough or don’t have enough to handle the barrage of events life throws at me I am unable to act powerfully, I become anxious and want to hide out. When I believe I always have everything I need, people step up to help me, and guidance drops from above. I am then much more effective, creative, and patient with my obstacles and challenges.
My fear and anxiety about the state of the world is another belief I manage by dramatically reducing the inputs I allow into my personal space. I surround myself with voices who amplify my trust that we have the light, the creativity, and the power to transform chaos and darkness into a better world for our children and grandchildren.
Are there beliefs that diminish your light and your capacity to handle life from a position of power? Are there beliefs that you could internalize that would give you more confidence and trust in yourself?
This year I committed to changing my watercolor art style to one that is loose and free. I haven’t lived into my word of daily practice the way I intended so for 2024 I want to continue to reinforce that intention - maybe by doing several 30-day commitments. My goal is to make painting a daily action and for my art to be a source of joy and light that I look forward to with anticipation. Is there something you can add, take away, or transform in your creative practice that will bring you more joy and pleasure?
When you know where your focus is, it is easier to say no. When you create your goals and priorities from choice, it is much easier to build strong boundaries around them to protect your happiness as it grows.
Boundaries are limits you identify for yourself and apply through action and communication. Since the only one you have power over is yourself boundaries are the fences you build around your future happiness. Assess every potential project, opportunity, relationship, habit, or activity for alignment with your core values, beliefs, and current goals.
Setting boundaries and checking fences as a daily practice keeps your priorities front and center and empowers you to create the life you desire.
“No” is a word with just two letters, and yet saying no can feel complicated or wrong. Saying no can be particularly difficult if, like me, you tend to be a people-pleaser and regularly put others ahead of your own needs. The roles we engaged in as children may have gained us attention and affection as children but as adults, they interfere with us becoming our true selves.
Many people hesitate to say no, even when they are overstressed, overbooked, and just too busy to take on anything else. If you struggle with this, then you are not alone. It's important to learn how to say no to people and their requests.
This year I said yes, to something I knew I shouldn’t have. I said yes to being treasurer of the Florida Watercolor Society. They needed my skill and enthusiasm and I wanted to expand my circle of artist friends even wider around the state. However, as I got more involved in learning my new role I began to feel how big a job I had taken on. It felt like work. The weight of the time commitment and the constraints of my responsibilities to FWS began to give me sleepless nights, anxiety, and distress.
In the past, I would have overridden my body’s response so I could live up to my word. I would have kept doing something that didn’t bring me joy to avoid disappointing the board. I would have ended up disappointing them anyway because I am not passionate about being treasurer and we would have all suffered for a year or two. Instead, I broke with my old patterns and voiced my concerns and feelings. A great thing happened! The president, the board and I all agreed that I should not take on the treasurer job and that there would be no hard feelings. This was huge for me. I was able to say no and there was no drama! The job will be reconfigured to be less burdensome on the next treasurer and I can go back to creating more joy for myself in another form. If this is something that might interest you, please reach out to Jackii or Nina.
Before you say no, figure out what it is you truly want. Is it a “full body no”, a “not now”, or a “maybe later”? Take all the time you need to think about it.
Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Culture and civilization have overwritten the software system of the body so much and told you not to trust what you know, instead, what you trust are the rules and the mores of the fear-based, scarcity-based grasping… this is how you have to act, this who you have to be to be safe”.
Your body is very wise. It is tempting to overrule your innate wisdom with a litany of shoulds and expectations. As creative people, we need silence to hear our inner voice. We have to create space for focus, reflection, rumination, and routine. Quiet allows us to monitor and manage our energy and to get clear on what it is that is trying to come through us into the world.
When I first started listening to my inner voice I found it helpful to practice asking my body for insight. I get a somatic vibration in my lower belly that gives me a clear response to almost any situation. You might feel it somewhere else. I get a clear “eew”, “aaah”, “run-away” or “more of this”. My body instinctively knows what is and is not right for me. Your own body will share with you where to set your boundaries around everything that matters to you. Start by finding how and where the “full body yes” and the “full body no” manifest for you
As each request for your time and attention arises take the time to ask yourself if saying yes will make you even more tired, anxious, or burnt out, or if it will bring you joy and expansion. Does saying yes support your goals and values? Will saying yes prevent you from doing something else that is more important to you?
Saying no will never be easy. Saying no is not simple and the closer you are to the people you are saying no to the harder it will be. The paradox is that the people you love the most are the ones you should be able to be most honest with but in fact, those are the people you want to hurt the least. I had to practice several times before finally telling my family I wanted to spend Christmas away from home this year.
When it comes time to say "no" be firm - not defensive or overly apologetic - and polite. Always begin by expressing your gratitude and honor.
“Thank you” (no but) “and no”.
“Thank you for thinking of me and no I’m not available”.
“I greatly appreciate you asking me and no I can’t do it”.
This signals that you are sympathetic but will not easily change your mind if pressured. Be clear. If you lead people to believe you’ll say yes later, they’ll be more disappointed with a later no. Skip excuses. If asked for an explanation remember you don’t owe anyone one. If the other person is a manipulator they will manipulate anything you offer. You don’t have to do the dance.
If you have the time, desire, and connections, offer an alternative person or resource for them to investigate.
Saying no can be empowering and liberating. It may take practice. Remember your needs are important and your decisions and choices are how you build the future you desire. Being transparent about your feelings, needs, and limits leads to healthier, more authentic relationships. It models for others how they can protect their priorities, too. Saying no can help you feel better about yourself, and your overall experience of the world.
In this crazy world around us, we are going to need to harness every bit of our creative resources to become the visionaries, creative thinkers, artists, and builders our planet needs. We will need our collaborative strength to embrace the idea that life on this planet isn’t about to end any second now. We can plant an audacious garden of hope, apply our creativity to address our problems, and get busy growing a new future that is healthier for the whole globe. It is possible to envision a better reality that we can call into existence: one where there is abundance, fairness, freedom, health, peace, equity, safety, and joy for all! Please join me in that new possibility for ourselves and the world in 2024.
I hope I have given you some food for thought and a new way to create a garden of space for a happier you in 2024. I would like to offer my mentorship, guidance, and advice in creating new possibilities for your art in 2024. I am happy to share my insights and my knowledge with you.
I welcome the opportunity for conversation, cooperation, collaboration, and commissions.
With Light and Delight