I’ve studied a lot. 2 Masters degrees. Several post-grad degrees. Learnt from the best in the field in a range of disciplines from marketing and writing to personal growth.
At a ‘head level’ I’ve got a lot tucked into my little brain.
It wasn’t until studying — no, wrong word — experiencing Creative Mindfulnessthat I unlearned what I thought I knew and discovered more about myself, my relationships and how the shield I kept between me and the outside world was holding me back.
Here’s what I discovered:
1. Life patterns are everywhere … it’s in taking time to notice them that meaning is found
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.” — William Blake
Anything you’re working on or towards reveals your life pattern. Every action, every thought, every emotion is held within the ‘grain of sand’. Noticing it becomes a key to self discovery.
I live in Australia. And on trips to Melbourne I’d road-wrestle trucks wanting to nudge me out of my lane. It became a David and Goliath battle — or so each trip felt. Truckies would loom up so close they blocked anything but their bulging shape from my rear view mirror.
Part of me wanted to stay put in my lane, determined to hold my ground. The other part wanted to shift out of my middle-lane comfort and avoid the pressure.
Every time I drove that road, the pattern repeated. Me accelerating to get out of their way by moving into the faster lane; slipping into the slower lane and letting it all go by; or staying in my own lane and dealing with the rising stress in my body.
By the time I reached Melbourne I felt as if I’d played an hour of cat-and-mouse.
One day I stopped and looked at this pattern. I mapped it and saw a recurring issue.
This ‘annoyance’ was a life metaphor masquerading as a traffic problem.
It was in noticing the things unruffling me, that I found a life-pattern I’d played out with bullies my whole life. Mapping the clues visually broke down the pattern.
Nowadays, I drive to Melbourne without a truck on my back.
2. ‘Mind knowing’ + ‘body knowing’ = trust
“The moment you change your perception, is the moment you rewrite the chemistry of your body.” — Dr. Bruce Lipton
Two levels of knowledge live within each of us. One type of knowledge (the stuff needed to get by in life) tricks the mind into having a logical process in place. If 1+1=2, then 2+2=4. The other type of knowledge is more holistic and involves a deeper awareness between the body and the subconscious.
I was a master at the first kind and remained in my head to logically manage the world for as long as I could remember. It was the only way I’d made sense of it. Emotions felt too out of control to let loose.
Creative Mindfulness is about finding the loose thread and unravelling it, as I discovered.
Family patterns run deep. My mother’s response to uncomfortable emotions was to blame the other person as ‘difficult’ and remove them from her life.
Unconsciously, I was repeating the same pattern. Fusing a problem with the person.
It’s hard to see what’s close to you, right in front of one’s nose. While trucks blocked my rear view, familial patterns of emotional warfare narrowed the lens around how I managed the present.
While part of me ‘knew’ this— that logic part of me that over-analysed everything, I found this pattern difficult to break. It felt as if my mind was a thick-walled castle, and my body the moat trying to absorb the emotional fall-out when dealing with a personal issue — especially in relationships.
Learning how to trust myself was hard. I’d trusted ‘knowledge’ gained externally for so long that self-trust felt uncomfortable. Particularly when tsunami-like emotions threatened to drown me.
Trust involves staying in the moment. Not because I was a masochist and wanted the pain. No. I needed to listen to what this ‘noise’ shattering my body was all about.
A simple technique called ‘journaling’ coupled with an awareness around what was happening inside my body brought up a silly childhood prank played at my expense. 8-year-old boys can be cruel.
The emotional noise I was resisting was fear. Fear of how rejection felt. Of not being good enough to be part of a group. Of not being smart enough. Of looking different to everyone else. Of feeling disconnected. It was an old childhood scar that needed balm.
Easing the emotions behind this didn’t mean the memory was gone, it meant the meaning I placed around the memory shifted.
I was able to collapse the triggers hooking this emotion. Their power to bully me gone.
3. Emotional triggers reveal unhealed wounds
“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” — Brene Brown
I’d made an unfortunate comment at a morning tea one day: “These biscuits are stale.” Unwittingly I’d said it to the person who brought them. I apologised. I bought her flowers to ease my guilt. Shame followed. Another fall-back pattern emerged: Create humour at my expense. The more patterns I ran, the more down on myself I became.
How could 4 words trigger such personal angst?
The pattern wasn’t that I had foot-in-mouth disease, that was more bad manners.
The trigger brought reminders of blurting the bleeding obvious. Of disrespect. Of lack of gratitude. Of speaking without thinking. Patterns I recognised but had never worked through.
The time to address them had arrived. Unfortunately — and fortunately — to unpack them in a group setting.
In the old days I would have run. Too much explosive bonfire energy. Too much self-blame. Reptilian me would have made-off with the first sign of mascara running. The tension to not flee was crippling.
Staying with this emotion, and working through it, in the group I was part of, brought out my shame. To be honest, I didn’t handle it well. I stared at a picture on the wall as I fought back tears. I grit my teeth. And counted (my default for managing any form of pain).
In this deep and shameful moment I learnt what it was to be imperfect, to be seen as imperfect and to be vulnerable to this. It was the beginning of accepting this simple human truth with a spirit of self-compassion that I started the long journey home. Towards myself.
Self-acceptance can feel like an over-worn phrase. It is. Yet we live in a time where ‘success’ is a word others measure us by. Regarding money, relationships and health. Imperfection walks side-by-side with success. The most successful people (in the traditional meaning of this word) have a long history of unsuccessful times.
And this is another pattern. Whatever success is to you, you can be assured the road to it is paved with un-success. It’s in crossing the burning bridge, trusting you’ll make it to the other side that helps start the journey. Once a pattern is exposed, there’s no going back.
4. Growth is in the ‘pause’ — the reflection —and the questions waiting to be asked
“Growth is uncomfortable because you’ve never been here before — you’ve never been this version of you. So give yourself a little grace and breathe through it.” — Kristin Lohr
When logical thinking is easy (as it was for me), it’s a natural fall-back state for any problem. In hindsight I can see I’ve literally run through life. If there was an unfilled moment, I’d find another degree to study. I was out to prove all those who ignored me wrong. I was smart enough. I was worth it. I kept telling the part of me that didn’t believe it.
I wanted to be taken seriously — and that, I thought, meant being smart. I interpreted this as having letters after my name. Unwise choice. Because in the rush to ‘know’ more I traded ‘being’.
In fighting oneself there’s only one loser. Self.
In coming back to ‘pause’ and reflecting on life patterns, helped me build a relationship with my vulnerability and embrace imperfection. Hearing the small voice of self-pity who’d kept old stories of ‘look-what-I’ve-coped with’ alive helped me release their hooks and bring about an internal peace.
Paul Simons says, “You don’t have to create it. It’s already in existence.” He’s talking about his art, his singer-song-writer talent. Most people who understand the power of creativity know exactly what he’s talking about.
What we seek is already in existence — our challenge, and our power, is in harnessing it. Like an unexpected gift, insight comes to those who seek. Creative tools are ways to make this happen more easily. For while the mind is in a ‘flow’ state, the work of insight and sense-making can happen.
5. Personal hurdles are diving boards to deeper insight
“Always go with the choice that scares you most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow.” — Caroline Myss
I’d ignored my personal hurdles for so long (preferring to focus on professional ones) that instead of the hurdles being diving boards, I locked them together until they formed a platform.
Amazing what’s impossible to see when you’re ‘above it all’.
Group work was a thing I avoided like the plague. Team work (in my way of thinking) was for teams. Not individuals. Not ‘people like me’. I could lead a team. I could inspire a team. I just didn’t like the role of being in one — without leading it.
The idea of ‘accepting’ someone else’s ideas that I didn’t think would work felt irksome. So as part of my self-growth I ‘had’ to do group work. But I didn’t. — I chose an old pattern. To disappear. Agree. Shut-up. Be respectful (appear to be). Play my part. But at all costs: don’t get involved. And get out of there as soon as possible.
Yet another ‘pattern’ to unpack. And while it may look obvious what it was — it wasn’t. It was born of arrogance, yet it was so much more than that. I discovered it had more to do with ‘running’ — I didn’t want the journey, merely the destination. Working in a team was slow. Confounding. Frustrating. I wanted the end result. Another certificate. A well-done. A tick to mark off life’s accomplishment calendar.
In life, as in team work, the journey often alters the destination. It was another metaphor screaming to s-l-o-w — d-o-w-n and not look for the branded certificate to ‘prove’ something that I didn’t believe I had internally.Searching for ‘symbols of proof’ to justify time on the planet is escapism.
And this is the thing with patterns. Awareness of them is embryonic — still forming. They’re incomplete because the pieces need shuffling (just like a jigsaw) to understand how they fit together.
The creative process is about 3 things: curiosity into the pattern itself (giving enough time to explore it fully), finding key themes within it and coming to an ever-evolving realisation of what coming to know oneself is all about.
While I’m still a little resistant to group or team work. I now understand why. And this helps when my internal cavities cringe into a tiny ball while I don a well-worn mask to join the group.
Self-knowledge is humbling.
6. Mental balance is an experience, not a mindset
“Becoming is better than being.” — Carol Dweck
Life balance only begins with internal balance. We are not walking brains. We have an embodied mind. Through school years, this beautiful connection is broken because the focus is so tight on literacy and numeracy — achieving grades. Yet the learning of these subjects becomes easier when aligning the whole self to the experience.
Decades ago I taught young children (5–8 year olds). I noticed how quickly a free young spirit could become commodotised because of the structure mandated in educational settings. Their young bodies were asked to be still, not in a mindful centred way that helped them discover an inner stillness — more of a control applied with power and external motivation. Stars, stickers and stamps worked.
Looking back now it was the beginning of training these young minds for the fodder of a work house — not gently lifting their whole being to a higher level.
I know now that schools can be extraordinary places if a child’s education is treated from a holistic perspective.
Creative mindfulness has taught me how to be more centred and more present in the moment. It’s shown me that my innate creativity (which is in all of us) needs to be invited into anything I’m doing. It’s not an add-on — it’s an essential part of being. A way of thinking. An approach to problem-solving. A tool to expand insight and awareness.
Skills needed in the classroom.
7. Color, texture and line are tools of insight as well as design
“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. It is a process; it’s not random.” —Sir Ken Robinson
Using creative tools may mean expressing an emotion as a colour or a line, yet this thinking limits their use.
In the same way that a grain of sand represents the DNA of a beach — a line, shape, hand gesture, textural flourish or colour swish also represents an as yet unrealised insight.
Expression is a cool way of disengaging the logic mind and allowing subterranean ‘knowings’ to emerge. Talking only leads so far — especially for the person who’s ‘in their head’. Thinking too much about a problem can feel like an internal ping-pong match playing on center court. It dominates. Sweats. And takes a lot of time to score a point.
Representing a problem visually — not with artist-quality sketches, but everyday scratchings — helps link random notions (which are rarely ever random).
This places the problem externally. And in doing so, it becomes a point of reference seen from a different perspective.
It’s also a simple way to release pent-up stress around whatever is raising angst.
8. Self-denial is a form of self-burial
“Conformity begins the moment you ignore how you feel for acceptance.”
― Shannon L. Alder
What’s the difference between someone in a grave and someone in a rut?
Nothing. They’re both dead. One just doesn’t know it yet.
I thought I was alive. Busy working through the self-actualizing schedule I’d set. Rather, I was existing. Treadmill living. Conforming to things I no longer believed in. The corporate race. The one that asks a person to slog through their job bringing only part of them to work, leaving their essence at home.
It’s in becoming present to the ‘who’ that turns up everyday — not running from this person— that opens a new world. One of curiosity around a connective depth of thinking possible when not shackled to a race for which meaning has been lost.
Self-awareness leads to self-knowledge. A vital ingredient for growth, for success and for living to your fullest potential.
Being creatively mindful isn’t about navel gazing. It’s about discovering life’s patterns and pausing long enough to map them and make sense of them. And … ensuring the whole body is involved — not choosing to stay as a head-on-a-stick, disembodied and disengaged.
Hard lessons? Yes. But as the journey always reveals the destination — one worth taking.
9. The present moment is a snap-shot of your life
“Without change there is no innovation, creativity or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” — William Pollard
In writing this heading, I’ve paused to check my desk. I’d like to say it’s perfectly tidy — organised like a neat, well-composed sonata.
To my left is an ipad with today’s daily readings. A miniature chair reminding me of things I hold precious. Bobby pins. Hand cream. In front: 9 purple sticky notes used as prompters for a course I’m putting together. To the right: 3 tiny roses from the garden. A Dior postcard. A paper crane cast in plaster holding a spray of coloured pencils. 2 pen containers, one white the other black. A mirror. A tissue box. 2 notebooks. A pair of sunglasses. A fridge magnet my son made in kindergarten. A script ready to be filled. And a microphone. I have a big desk.
The list isn’t to say it’s untidy. It’s to say that so many parts of me exist in this one space. I could walk through my home and find ‘me’ in so many corners. Not an ikea collection — me. In moments where I placed a book to remind myself it’s unfinished. A print draws me to past travels. Personal art works depicting more than another could know.
My desk is a snapshot that I could mine. For patterns of being. Those unfinished notes of living a busy life.
If I were to take this one ‘noticing’ and consider the placement of the objects. Their connection to each other — the space they occupy, the reason for them I would discover something interesting about myself that I didn’t know. Perhaps that I’m ready to discover. Our eyes see what we’re open to.
Self-discovery is a life-long pursuit. To know oneself more is to grow. And personal growth is the bedrock of change. It’s the cusp of personal success. It’s worth the time it takes to seek greater clarity.
10. The creative spirit wants freeing
“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.” — Yo-yo Ma
How long has your child-like self been banished from your life?
The sand pit was once a place of discovery. The doll house a place of make-believe. The coloured crayons a place of exploration.
These are the tools of creativity: discovery, make-believe, exploration.
As adults we find the creative spirit in the movies we watch, the football games cheered at, galleries and shopping trips.
Yet these are passive activities. Asking us to observe and watch the creative spirit of others.
Creativity is a muscle that needs exertion and engagement.
It atrophies when not used. Its desire is to create in words, with lines, objects representing embryonic ideas. Creativity needs action, in the same way your body asks you to move, in sync and in step — so does creativity.
For when the whole is activited — mind, body and creative spirit — a beautiful trilogy unites. This is the birthplace of living a successful life. It’s a place where your mind and body work as one. Directed to a meaningful purpose. Aligned with your goal. Not distracted. Not doubting. Instead trusting the process because the whole is greater than the individual elements.
Unity between these elements creates clarity. And from clarity comes purpose. The core driver of us all.
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