I did a thing. A fabulous impulsive thing I’m so glad about! I didn’t set out to do the thing, but it was meant to be. I gave them my money – threw all sorts of money at them – and got an email saying thanks, things fill up quickly so we’ll get back to you within forty-eight hours to tell you if you’re in or not.

Forty-eight hours! What kind of impulsive whim can withstand a forty-eight hour wait? I’m dying. I’ll tell you the story, to help me pass the time while I wait.

You know Cheryl Strayed? Madly inspiring, right? I was far down one of those random rabbit holes online, and I wasn’t thinking about her at all, but my click-fest landed me on a tweet of hers, from just a few hours prior, about a writing workshop she’d be doing in the spring.

I love writing. I wanted to be a writer but was told my style sucked (I believe what my mother actually said was that it was too mechanical). I let it go and got on with my life, in writing-adjacent work in communication sciences, editing, penning hilarious (at least to me) posts on facebook, etc.

I write constantly. I go through reams of paper and innumerable notebooks (LOVE my pretty notebooks), but recently I realized that most of my writing over the years is just me dumping words out. I haven’t worked to improve my writing, or to experiment with it, and I want to change that. So I’ve been vaguely exploring writing courses.

All that’s to say: I clicked to find out more about Cheryl Strayed’s workshop. She said it was at a retreat, so I expected it to be somewhere on the West Coast, inaccessible to me. It’s in Massachusetts, driving distance from home. Oh.

And the dates: I checked and the kids will be with their Dad that weekend. Huh.

It’s a yoga retreat. I’ve loved yoga for more than twenty years and had “yoga retreat by the ocean” written on my page of someday ideas, dreams, ever since a colleague went to one in Costa Rica last year. So, a yoga retreat by a lake (kripalu.org) stirred the pot of excitement brewing in my gut.

The workshop description specifically said to bring a pen and notebook. Okay, that’s not exactly surprising for a writing workshop, but I’ve got a mood building here, people! And I live for pens and notebooks!

There’s a passage in a magical book I bought (in the same way I always find magical books: I go into a little bookshop on my annual trip to NYC and special ones simply call out to me. I don’t even marvel at it anymore, it happens without fail). Well, this recent one is a delicate jewel called How Poetry Can Change Your Heart, and in one part it has a series of questions you go through, personal things. [spoiler] Toward the end of the list: “If a poet were to write about one story from your life, what story would you have them tell?”, followed by … “Why don’t you tell it?”

So, there I sat, in a hotel room in Chelsea, sobbing. Now, every day, I look at the sticky note where I wrote Why don’t you tell it? and I work on my writing.

To recap, I found myself looking at a writing workshop, with an author whose life and writing speak to me on many levels. At a yoga retreat. At a convenient time and location.

The workshop is called “The Story You Have to Tell”.

Less than ten minutes passed from seeing the tweet to submitting my registration. Maybe less than five.

Then came the up-to-forty-eight hour wait. Sigh. It’s later now – thank you for listening to my story while I waited – and I’m ecstatic to report it was not a long wait, and yes, I got the confirmation email. I’m really doing the thing!

The happy coincidences have a rhythm, rippling out, building on each other, swelling into a wave of excitement and wonder. It’s spilling out of me, mostly from my feet, I can’t stop dancing 💃 😊

No Need to Keep Notes

I’m giving a presentation soon to a new group, who aren’t familiar with my radical decluttering methods, but they are professional organizers, so … I’m tempted to ask them: What will you do with the handout after the session is done?

I love Marie Kondo’s approach:

“My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away.”

I come close to following her advice. Here’s my strategy for materials from workshops, lectures, meetings, etc.:

During the session, I take written notes to keep myself focused and engaged, and because, pens (ALL THE PENS!). Writing by hand helps my brain process and remember material better than recording it digitally, but that may be because I went to school before computers, so do whatever works best for your brain. Everything here applies to digital notes as well as paper ones.

While listening, my purpose isn’t to gather all the information, just the key ideas and interesting perspectives. We don’t learn by information, we learn by insight. In her (nurturing, loving) book, The Little Book of Big Change, Dr. Amy Johnson talks about insight as something touching you in a way that effortlessly produces change. “You don’t decide to act differently so much as you simply notice yourself feeling and acting differently.”

I write down questions or connections the material makes in my head, too. Sometimes I make a list of people I want to talk with about the new ideas, or how I can integrate it into existing work. Sometimes I doodle, it’s all good.

Afterwards, I take a few minutes to scan through the materials, reflect on those connections, and notice if I’ve changed – any insights? I make short summary notes of any remarkable ideas or insights and toss my lovely handwritten notes in the blue bin. Some of my clients resist this idea, from fear of losing information they might need later. I ask how often they go to an old powerpoint handout to find information vs how often they google things … and out go the papers. Like everything, there are occasional exceptions: I keep anything special, that I’m going to use right away, maybe share with others. My rule of thumb is, if I’m going to stick it into a file ‘for later’, I file it straight into the blue box. If I have a specific action planned, I put it in the place where it needs to be for that action.

I keep insights in a book I call Magic Lessons. I review it from time to time, usually when I’m adding something new. Some lessons I need to remind myself of repeatedly, and some are just heartwarming to remember. They’re phrases to remind me of how my thinking changed.

I love words. Capturing insights in a poetic way increases their power exponentially, and it feeds my soul ❤️.

The best part about simplifying my outside is that I’ve made space and time to listen to my inside. C. Carver

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP. L. Nimoy’s last tweet before he passed away in 2015.

Not all those who wander are lost. J.R.R. Tolkien

When a soft heart breaks it will not shatter, it will break wide open. K. Lowry


Let’s Get Sentimental

We may not yet have paperless offices, but times have definitely changed when it comes to keeping mementoes. Most of my kids’ schoolwork is done through google classroom, my ticket stubs and boarding passes are QR codes on my phone, and I don’t get many airmail letters with exotic stamps from pen pals anymore.

small mementoes
Duckie and Gumby 4ever ❤️

Cleaning Out Mementoes

So why were my attic, drawers, and cupboards full of sentimental items? I dove in to find out what was there, and what I wanted to keep to treasure. This is what I learned – I’m not suggesting anyone copy what I do, just sharing my experience for you to reflect on and make your own decisions. Keep boatloads of stuff, or nothing at all, no judgment.

Side note: I met a minimalist who kept nothing from the past because he lived fully in the present. I can’t say I could make that work, but I do know that letting go of many (many) things from my past was helpful in processing and letting go of emotions from the past as well.  I also know someone who keeps what I call her “wall of grudges”, full of reminders of times she was wronged. It works for her, giving her a chance to tell her story of woes to anyone who asks. It’s all good.

Name the emotion

As I went through each photo album and box of mementoes, I noticed what I was actually feeling for each one. Not what I thought I should be feeling, but was feeling. The things that filled me with smiles and warmth were easy – my treasures. Other items brought me a sense of pride in myself or someone close to me, also treasured.

medals from my first marathon and my (hopefully) last long race

Many brought me not-great feelings. That didn’t mean I automatically got rid of them, but I had to have a good reason to keep any of them. One good reason was they’re part of our family story, so they’re not mine to keep or not, they go in the “family story” box in the attic for my kids. (See below.)

Other ones that brought up bad feelings were thrilling to toss out – why didn’t I do this sooner?! Photos of people I don’t actually like, even if I’m supposed to, and items filled with icky memories. I wouldn’t re-watch a movie I didn’t enjoy (hell, I often can’t even make it all the way through movies I do enjoy without taking a break), why on earth would I replay scenes in my head of my own bad memories?

I mean, there’s trauma and deep feelings that can’t be tossed out like an old wineskin. I would be the last person to tell you to avoid feeling your feelings. I’m talking about the level of icky I got from picking up that wineskin and remembering the football game I went to with a guy I was dating in my teens. We bumped into another guy I had a crush on … who didn’t know I was with the first guy. Reader, I stood in the bleachers, between the two of them, holding hands with both of them at the same time. I do not need to keep a reminder that I was a shitty person. I made amends where I could and came to terms with my shittiness about that incident decades ago, no need to prolong the cringe.

I also kept things – it seems absurd now that I’m writing it down – that hurt me. An angry note from an ex-boyfriend (not football game related), a weird rant from a family member, and a cruel birthday card were just some of the gems I’d carefully stored. I don’t know if I kept them like my friend’s wall of grudges, to remind myself of how wronged I’d been or what, but ew! I couldn’t get rid of them fast enough.

Backwards aspirations

In her book, the life-changing magic of tidying up, Marie Kondo uses the term “aspirational clutter” to describe items we keep in hopes we’ll be the kind of person who uses them someday. They might be craft supplies or kitchen gadgets, and often they’re whole rooms full of exercise equipment. She advises passing them on to someone who will use them.

When I went through my boxes of mementoes and photo albums, I found many that I realized were aspirations about my past, so I called them “backwards aspirational”. These were pictures and items I kept, trying to prove to myself I’d been the kind of person who lived that way. I had a matchbook from a trendy bar – I don’t smoke, have no memories of my evening there other than a vague recollection of crowds. But was there.

I had a whole book of photos from a teenage party weekend – oh the crazy things we got up to! Except, I was invited to tag along with a friend so her parents would let her go. She spent the weekend with a guy, I didn’t really know the others, and they all paired off anyway. Except for one guy, that I did not pair up with. Awkward. I wanted to have the life those pictures showed, so I kept them as if that would make the fairy tale come true.

Oh the freedom that came with discarding my backwards aspirations! I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, especially myself. Many great weekends with friends did happen, even when there weren’t pictures (thank god) to prove it, and when there were, they’re reminders of true fun and misadventures.


Family stories

I mentioned this above – I want my kids to have some information about their family history but I don’t want to burden them with tons of crap they don’t want but feel obligated to keep. I found balance by settling on one nice wooden box, not too big, that holds our family stuff. The pieces and pictures I enjoy are displayed around our home, and the rest is waiting for a day when the kids have an interest in it.


Maybe this fits with the aspirational items section, but it was striking enough to me that it gets its own. I hope I am not the only one who kept photos for many years for no reason other than, wow, do I ever look good in this shot. I appreciate a good hair day or sunset lighting as much as the next person, but overall, keeping these pictures made me feel bad. I saw this skewed gallery of how I used to look and wondered when did I “lose my looks” as if that’s a real thing. I found pictures where I looked so good, I barely recognized myself. Basically I was keeping pictures of when I looked like a stranger. The things I love about myself have very little to do with my looks (other than my eyes, man I love my blue eyes) so over-valuing my photogenic moments left me unsatisfied. I kept a couple that had happy memories associated with them, and waved bye to unrealistically good-looking Karen.

a zine made as thanks for help with an art project that left me feeling ultra strong and ultra feminine

Once they’re gone, they’re gone

I used to keep things out of fear. Fear that if I got rid of something and then regretted it, there was no way to ever get it back. I then had the tragedy of important things stolen from me, and while it sucked, it also taught me life goes on in all its messiness without those things. I feel waves of sadness from time to time, and they pass. They’re just things. The joy and memories they represented don’t stop existing, in fact, I keep those memories closer because their physical reminder is gone.


I have a digital treasure box too (that’s what the folder’s called 😊), with scans and photos, not too many. I cull through my photos online all the time, only keeping the truly joyful. It’s fun to take millions of pictures and keep them for awhile, then as I remember the event, I like sorting through and picking one or two that really capture the moment. Through the school year I scan or save copies of work the kids do, and at the end of the year I pick just one each, one special reminder of that year. I like having fewer things, it makes each one feel more important.

greeting cards
special cards from special people

At the end of all this, what was I left with? Tidied up emotions from the past, a lightness in my soul, and a small collection of pictures, cards, files, and items with deep personal meaning – reminders of adventures, people (and pets) that enriched my life and reflect what I treasure.

Facing Illness with Grace

How To Be Sick Well

I’m a bit unwell, and writing what I need to hear today.

Awhile ago I had a (congested) laugh when I was coming down with a cold and googled ways to think about minor illness. I’ll talk about the helpful advice below, but the funny one was an article about karma. It said that the cold was caused by something negative I’d done and I should be glad that it wasn’t worse – that it could have led to a horrible rebirth, such as a “hell being, hungry ghost, or animal.” 

As entertaining as it is to think about being a hungry ghost (idea for my next short story), blaming me for my illness was NOT HELPFUL. When I got sick or hurt as a child, my family was angry at the disruption and burden it caused. I’d live in denial, ignoring symptoms until things either went away or got so bad I couldn’t hide them anymore. It took practice and caring friends for me to acknowledge illness calmly. Thinking my cold was payback for some misdeed in my past was not the route I wanted to take. Also, being reborn as an animal doesn’t seem like a punishment, at least not if I could pick (sea otter all the way – seriously, they have POCKETS! Shedd Aquarium on Instagram).

What advice was helpful?

I knew my thinking about the cold was making my situation worse. The physical symptoms were what you’d expect, my reaction to them felt out of proportion – that’s why I turned to google. I’ve since had different health issues, and find myself returning to these lessons. Illness is part of life, it’s as natural as joy, but my thinking gets clouded by pain and poor sleep and I need these reminders about how to be sick. How to be sick well. 

Focusing on the present

Is step number one, basic. I let go of worrying about how I’m going to feel later in the week when I have to do some physical work, or if my nose will be drippy when I do a presentation (spoiler: It was. It was also nowhere near as bad as I’d imagined it would be.) 

This is harder and more important with illness that might be a serious or long-term issue. I hear my brain saying, “What if [insert nightmare scenario here]?” and feel worse, of course – I can create some horrifying scenarios! So, I learned to take “What if?” as a cue to shift to “What is?”. What is happening right now? What is helping? What is my body able to do?


Mostly that I am not being reborn as a hell-being, and also that I have a comfortable place to rest. That my children are old enough to understand and take care of household tasks. With the cold, I could be glad it wasn’t something worse. Even with worse issues, I appreciate the chance to talk about health and aging with my kids. And a shoutout to Canada’s (flawed but… awesome) healthcare system 🙂🇨🇦  

bookshelf with cards and kids' notes
It helps to have a cheering squad: “Think of the great things you do.”

Connection, Compassion

I wondered to myself, what would the Dalai Lama do? I think he would consider the seven billion souls on this planet and know that some of them are feeling illness. He would send kindness to them, compassion and empathy. I smile just having the loving-kindness thoughts. I send kindness particularly to those who don’t have the comforts I just felt gratitude for. I can empathize with people in my life facing their own challenges and learn from them too.

Letting tasks / productivity go

Rest has value. There are times – being sick is one of them – when rest has more value than most other tasks. When I’m unwell, I take responsibility for making sure the kids and I have food to eat and that’s about it. I do what work I can, and don’t do what I can’t. If I’m not obsessing about how awful it is to be sick, I can do a lot more than when I’m wallowing in self-pity. 

I get sad about things I miss, or things I didn’t get done – I feel the sadness and it moves along, as all feelings do. 

puppy giving me kisses
puppy kisses fix everything

People like helping, I let them

Most people are glad to be of help. I know I feel a sense of belonging and usefulness when a friend or neighbour asks me into their life to give them a hand. (Bonus: Good karma!) I might not need much help to get through a cold, but with limited energy, my appreciation for small gestures expands like a get-well balloon. 

So, I started writing this in a bit of a funk, hoping to talk myself into grace… and tada! It worked, and I will leave you with one more tip: When you answer your door in pyjamas at 3 pm on a sunny almost-summer day, people trying to sell you things make awkward apologies and leave quickly 🙂

Expect the Unexpected

I love to plan – LOVE setting out all my upcoming adventures in my calendar, dreaming about what I’ll do on that weekend in Manhattan or what chores to tackle before a gaggle of teenagers fills my basement for a sleepover.

A lesson I have to learn repeatedly though, is that whatever story I tell myself about how the future will play out is wrong. Always. My imagination can’t ever create the wild realities that come to pass.

Don’t believe the story you make up about the future

I don’t remember exactly what I pictured for the month ahead back in March. I know I expected to find a winter camping trip fun but stressful, sharing close quarters with my kids and their friends. Instead it was a soul-warming reminder of the magic of being outdoors and easy family living in the simplicity of a yurt. We’ll go for even longer next year.

kids by a frozen lake

I’d been sure that I needed strategies to deal with the noise, with the differing bedtimes, with the physical discomforts. One of my strategies was to avoid getting hangry – minor irritants grow so big with hunger – so I got preoccupied with making a meal when we arrived. Luckily (what did we ever do without instant communication?) my daughter texted about being at the waterfront and that snapped me back to the real reality, not the story I’d told myself about how hard everything would be. I laughed as I slipped and slid down the icy trail to join everyone at the frozen beach, and soaked up enough enchantment there to feed me for days.

I could tell a hundred more stories of my faulty predictions, and even when I know I’m clinging to guesses, I find it hard to imagine any other version of events, so the guesses feel like truth. To break the trance, I used to play with outrageous possibilities in my head – then the universe would laugh at my feeble attempts, making my outrageous ideas mundane compared to how life actually unfolded.

So again, I’m learning to not even get on the ‘future fantasy’ train. I save my mental energy for enjoying the present moment, with time for doing concrete planning that’s necessary, covering the basics, getting started and trusting that things will work out. I’m picking general themes for future events rather than detailed plans – so our yurt adventure was about “savouring winter” before the thaw started. As soon as I stood on the shore and realized that, I didn’t give things like bedtimes a second thought.

Leave space for woes and windfalls

A month ago, I was oblivious to the version of the world where a vibrant colleague dies of cancer, sewage pipes rupture, I’m given a car, adopted cats join our household, and a freelance opportunity turns into a master class in creative writing. Yet a few weeks later, here I am, listing woes and windfalls that weren’t part of any plan.

two cats by a door
Rookie and Meeko ❤️

One of the monthly reflection questions in my planner (www.passionplanner.com, not an affiliate link, just an awesome product) is “How are you different between this past month and the month before it?” and there are months I write, I see it all better.

A wise friend described stages of her children growing up as a sheet of tissue paper being pulled back as each stage passed, removing some haze, and she could understand more clearly. Sometimes the haze that’s lifted is so thick, new light and understanding flood in and I See it All Better.

These leaps of insight are both surprising and not. With hindsight, I can see the ripening of an idea or an impulse, hear it bubbling up in conversations or echoed in quotations I saved from books. As with my broken pipes, there are conditions that make new insights more or less likely to happen, though there’s no telling what is going to flow when the break occurs. And while yes, some insights do turn out to be sewage 😕, thankfully not many do, so maybe a better analogy is a flower: I hear and read and share ideas as seeds, then water and feed them with stillness, breathing, meditation, time outdoors, walking, noticing, and they blossom. When my days and brain are too full to do those things, the seed doesn’t sprout, or if it does, I don’t notice. Having a decluttered life and mind both allows for more of these leaps of insight and gives me the space to respond (mostly) calmly to the broken pipes.

This is why I don’t put much energy into setting specific goals and tracking my progress towards them (How do you want to live your life?). Life is too wonderfully random and full of surprises to expect to move from point A to point B in a straight line. I plan, staying unattached to the specifics, and leave all sorts of space for unimagined possibilities to unfold. I know the directions I want to go, with clarity about what matters to me, so I know which opportunities to jump on, and what can fall by the wayside if need be.

Add a Contingency Budget

At work, budgets for big projects always include a contingency expense line of 10-15% for what I call the “expected unexpected” situations. We don’t know what will go wrong or turn out to cost more, but we know that something will. It’s also possible that an opportunity will arise and we want to have funds available to take advantage right away, not have to scramble.

I do this with my home budget too, and most importantly with my time/energy/life planning. About once a month we have a home day where we can simply be. No tasks, no ‘shoulds’, no planned social events. At work, I protect my first hour of the day for taking care of woes and windfalls. If it’s a dull day, I use it to maintain my zero inbox and decluttered space so I stay on top of my productivity game the rest of the time. And when there’s excitement… I can jump right in!

There are stars you haven't seen 
and loves you haven't loved. 
There's light you haven't felt 
and sunrises yet to dawn. 
There are dreams you haven't dreamt 
and days you haven't lived 
and nights you won't forget 
and flowers yet to grow. 
There is more to you 
that you have yet to know. 
~ Gaby Comprés


Letting “Sunk Costs” Go

I sometimes keep things or stay in situations that I know are a mistake, just because I spent a lot of time, energy, and money making that mistake. It’s hard to let go of my “investment”, but as soon as I do I wonder why I didn’t move on much sooner – the freedom and space are luminous compared to the darkness of living with a constant reminder (or denial) of a mistake. I am learning to let go sooner and sooner, and I’m basking in the lightness it creates in my life.

A story

A friend of mine has a new car that plays music from their phone automatically. They apologize in frustration each time they start the car up and it blasts a surprisingly annoying song. They haven’t figured out yet how to get the car to recognize playlists, so it always plays the first song alphabetically on the phone. I ask, “Why don’t you just delete that song?” and their testy reply is, “I spent a lot of money on that album.”

That’s not the only song they don’t like on their phone – there are literally hundreds of them, usually bought unwanted as part of an album, and sometimes just from changing musical tastes over time. There’s no getting the money spent on them back of course, it’s not like they can be sold secondhand. The money is gone: Sunk costs.

Imagine that every time you turn on your car, a song you love starts playing. Imagine opening your music app and being happy with everything you see – with no reminders of your cringe-worthy boy band phase or regret at the tedious guitar solos you tried to like to impress a lover. Let. Them. Go.

A second story

We have a tedious government reporting system at my workplace. It is full of details (no joke, every clinician has to record what they do in 5 minute intervals for their entire workday every single day) but the details aren’t organized in any meaningful way. It was developed for a different purpose in a different type of organization, but the government  drooled at the “accountability” of having all that data and imposed it on us.

When the system was first required of us, we had lots of meetings with the government about how to implement it, and about what the information from it was – and was not – telling them. Over time, they started to see reason. We eventually felt close to a decision that we could stop all this wasteful work when someone in authority said, “Huh. Maybe we should rethink this.” Such relief! There was even clapping from one group.

It was, however, a premature celebration: My counterpart from another organization got up and made a heated speech saying, “I have spent three years of my life putting this system into place. I won’t hear of dismantling it!” They spoke about all the staff training time, the investments in software, and the reorganization of their own internal information systems to match the government one. “Changing things now would be too big a burden.” Our comments on the burden of wasting more time on the current system went unheeded.

That was almost 20 years ago and we’re still stuck with the meaningless system. Imagine what we could have achieved in those decades if we’d let go of the initial lost time and put our energy into something better. 

A story with a happy ending

I ❤️ NY. I find any excuse I can to be in New York City, wandering the streets, ogling the art and architecture, and finding quirky nooks in parks or buildings where I can sit and write. On one trip, I signed up for a walking tour of a couple of neighbourhoods I was interested in, thinking I would get the insider’s scoop on the best nooks. I was wrong. I got a bitterly out-of-work actor, fairly new to NYC himself, telling a large group of us scripted stories and taking us to places filled with other walking tours.

padded chair
comfiest nook chair ever

The walking tour wasn’t cheap, and it was two hours long. I knew 15 minutes into it that it wasn’t what I wanted. I gave it another 15 minutes “just in case” (never works) then realized I had two choices: Stay with the group for another 90 minutes, possibly seeing an interesting thing or two but mostly feeling unsatisfied, or politely leave, and spend those 90 minutes exploring on my own. Money wasn’t part of the decision because the money was gone, it was simply a matter of deciding how I wanted to spend my time. The answer was clear, and I greatly enjoyed the adventures I had on my own walking tour, complete with a unique nook find 🙂

What’s your story?

What mistakes have you made that you’re holding onto for no reason other than what they cost you? Can you picture how lovely your life would be without them? You can’t get the time or money back, but you can decide to put it all behind you and stop spending any of your present and future energy on the mistake. The freedom will feel wonderful, I promise.

ps The picture at the top is the Rose Room at the NY Public Library – a favourite indoor place to write but not at all a secret nook… I don’t usually take pictures of those sacred spaces 😉

Freedom from The Scary Pile

When I was young and in a new job, one of my responsibilities was approving (or not) requests for government funding in an area I didn’t know much (okay, nothing) about clinically. There were rules and politics and personalities involved in each decision and I didn’t like doing it. The requests came in by mail, a handful each week, and I felt a pang of dread with each envelope.

I would open them all, glance through them, and sigh with relief at the ones that were easy to approve. I’d quickly deal with those, doing all the associated paperwork while the not-easy ones got added to the pile: The pile that I would get to “when I had time to focus,” or “when I’ve had time to reflect.” The Scary Pile.

The Scary Pile sat in the dark corner of a shelf, as far from my workspace as possible. It pulled on me the way the ring pulled on Frodo. I wanted to pretend it didn’t exist but felt its constant weight.

Sometimes I would sift through and tackle a few of the difficult ones from The Scary Pile, but it was nowhere near as rewarding as working on the easy ones where the answer was ‘yes’. Of course, people were upset at the delays, so the pile got even heavier with self-criticism and shame piled on top. All these years later, I can still feel the gnawing pit in my stomach as I write about it.

On a sunny walk to work one day, I imagined what it would be like going to an office without a scary pile. That glimpse of freedom felt unrealistic, but motivated me enough to take care of the three oldest letters in the pile first thing. Which gave me an idea… 

Each day as I was leaving my office, I put three things from the scary pile onto my desk, with papers for a task I wanted to do peeking out from behind them. I could face three difficult things, especially if it meant I didn’t have to worry about The Scary Pile the rest of the day. For each of those three, I made the calls that had to be made, asked the dumb questions, challenged the egos trying to skirt the rules, and said ‘no’ when that was the answer.

I got through the pile. It was a bit of a shock to have emptiness where guilt had filled my gut. As each new letter came in, I dealt with it right away, easy or hard (which led to my magic email strategies). 

Do you have a scary pile? Messages you’re avoiding? A mess of a drawer filled with who knows what tasks left undone? A project you don’t fully understand or maybe disagree with so you keep putting it off? Can you picture how it would feel to be free of it?

I do my most focused work first thing in the day, so I use that time to face challenging work. Everyone’s brain and body schedule is different so freedom from your scary pile might be found at the end of your work day or through evening ‘second wind’ sessions – you know yourself best so you get to pick :).

What The Scary Pile taught me was that the only thing harder than doing the difficult tasks is not doing the difficult tasks. 

Now, the time I usually realize that I’m avoiding something is on my walk home from work, as my brain sorts through the day and I notice things that aren’t so obvious in the moment. So, my strategy is, when I go in the next day, I have to take care of that work before I get my morning coffee – crazy right? but so very motivating, it’s magic!

me holding a coffee by the christmas tree
with my beloved coffee

A few words about things taking the time they need, and yoga

My first yoga class echoed with laughter as a friend and I twisted our bodies into awkward knots. We were young, at a gym to get a workout, and paid no attention to the meditative or relaxation parts of the class. A bit older, I lay on my mat in a library basement, no longer acting silly, but reciting my grocery list in my head while the instructor talked about mindfulness. I joked about it with the neighbour who went to class with me, and she said she found the lessons from Lotus, the instructor, profound. I started paying attention… and had glimmers of insights, but it was another decade before I was ready to truly appreciate the spiritual wisdom my teachers were offering. 

Now, I carry learnings from yoga instructors through all parts of my life, literally with each breath (and I just read a post by Val Boyko reminding us to breathe). Here are a few of the most impactful:

“Savour what’s happening”

This is from a video (Yoga Mind and Body) that I did from a VHS tape for years. I think of it as an introductory link from the physical to mental. I started not just noticing how a pose or movement felt, but also enjoying it, savouring all the sensations. I often repeat the phrase to myself when I’m doing something new or different. It’s a pretty good mantra for life, right? Savour what’s happening. 

“Commit to stillness”

I think I gasped out loud when the instructor said this in a yin class. Her immediate meaning was, let your body stay still in this pose. In my heart I knew it meant so much more: There is deep power in simply stopping and being still. Anywhere, anytime. I commit to stillness many times a day, and as an overall approach to life. 

“When this feels complete to you”

What a concept! Let my own body, and my own mind tell me when something is complete. It may be a yoga pose, a meal, a relationship, emotions, a walk, a piece I’m writing in my journal, a dance session in the living room, or adding rosemary to my famous focaccia. I simply notice if it feels complete to me – no rationalizing or angst, it simply is ready to be done or it isn’t. 

“Wait for your body to let you in”

This is also from the video linked above. In physical terms, this helps me refrain from pushing too hard. I stretch to the point where I can savour the sensation, then I wait (in stillness… see how this all fits together?!), my body starts to let me stretch a bit further, and I hold that until it feels complete. Mentally, it helps me avoid rushing my emotions or thoughts – things take the time they take, and my body, my heart, will let me in deeper when the time is ripe. 

“Feel the whole earth under you, supporting you”

I heard this in a pregnancy yoga video, and – let’s blame it on hormones – cried out loud at the feeling that all of mother nature was holding me up (honestly, at 200+ lbs I was tired of fighting gravity). When I do outdoor yoga in the summer, I feel a special joy with this thought. It also linked later for me to the buddhist idea of interconnectedness – that there are 7 billion humans here, all linked, all supporting and supported by each other. 

purple yoga mat and block
love my purple

Like the way my yoga practice shapes my body, these words of wisdom shape my inner world every day. I am forever grateful to all the yoga teachers I’ve had, and hope that the ones who met me early in my journey forgave my irreverence. I expect they knew that their words would ripen in my heart and that I’d see their wisdom when I was ready 😊 

Let the Snowflakes Settle

As I got better at noticing my emotions and my internal state in general, I often felt that it wasn’t what it “should” be, and then I’d feel a drive to change it. I had a whole host of techniques to fix my thinking.

If I was worrying about something, my strategy was to think through a worst-case scenario to reassure myself it was going to be manageable. If I had insomnia, I’d do calculations to figure out when I had to fall asleep and wake up to be functional the next day. When my imagination was obsessed with building a fantasy future, I had a list of distractions to snap myself out of it. When I was busy or flustered, I’d name the signs – restless body, shoulders hunched, edgy voice, mental chaos, irritability – and write out ALL THE THINGS rattling around in my head. The list usually overwhelmed me even more.

This was all done with a background of my inner voice scolding me for letting my life get out of balance. Then scolding myself for passing judgement. Then trying to fix my thinking about that.

Can you feel the spiral? I could – I knew that none of this was working.

To get to a calmer place when my inner state was less than zen, here’s what helped me the most: Not doing anything about it.

In The Little Book of Big Change, Amy Johnson uses the analogy of a snow globe to describe a busy or flustered mind and she points out that a snow globe is self-settling. When you set it down, the swirling snowflakes eventually go still. In fact, the only way to stop the swirling is to stop doing anything.

So now when I notice that my mind isn’t settled, I just leave things alone to let the snowflakes calm down by themselves. I don’t need to fix anything.

It works like magic – sometimes as quickly as in a couple of breaths. Other times it takes awhile, but during that while I’m not actively struggling to change things, at most I’m taking a pause while my body and mind figure it out in the background.

So I’ve decluttered my mind of all those strategies to fix my thinking 🙂 Freedom!

calm winter scene
calm stillness, all is settled



What I’m Reading Now

I’m a big fan of meditation and yoga, and everything I’m learning about buddhism is bringing me more and more wisdom and inner peace. I’m also irreverent and sarcastic, and probably used to make fun of people who talked about ‘inner peace’. Life is messy 🙂 

So, while my reading lately has been spiritually enriching (Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost touched my soul in ways I didn’t know were possible – I’m still re-reading it often, then sitting in awe while I digest it), I thought I’d drift back into mainstream business productivity books for some straight-talking, practical inspiration.

Wow, did I find it with Greg McKeown’s Essentialism! . This guy has a fancy MBA and is writing for corporate business types and entrepreneurs and what he is saying is pure gold. 

He says, “I’ve coached “successful” people in the quiet pain of trying desperately to do everything, perfectly, now. I have seen people trapped by controlling managers and unaware that they do not “have to” do all the thankless busywork they are asked to do.” SAME. HERE. I’ve been both the person doing it and the coach to those still trapped. 

He gives reasons and ways to eliminate and say no to everything that isn’t essential. And in doing so, to produce better, more fulfilling work and enjoy a more fulfilling life. 

“I challenge you here and now to make a commitment to make room to enjoy the essential. Do you think for one second you will regret such a decision? Is it at all likely you will wake up one day and say, “I wish I had been less true to myself and done all the nonessential things others expected of me?””

Give this one a read, your life will be better for it, guaranteed.

(Nope, no affiliate links – I don’t get money for any of this, just sharing my enthusiasm!)