January gift

The new year brings re-focus, shiny months stretching out before me, just waiting to be filled with accomplishment.

My list is long.

It’s good, on January 31, to be on the other side of holiday travel and time away, to be caught up with my back-log at work, ready to re-engage.

It’s a familiar process, one I repeat often in my digital life.

Now in my seventh year of blogging, I no longer feel defeated by the gaps in posting, by my lapses of creativity.

I’m just happy to be here, thinking, reading, writing, doing my bit.

This year I’m planning another book, looking forward to the energy and the push that comes from the writing, the burst of words spilling onto the screen.

That’s the gift of the beginning of the year, looking ahead, planning it out, putting dates on the calendar…deadline dates, vacation dates, family trips and events.

Time isn’t promised to anyone. But we expect it, we hope for it, we plan for it. We hunger for it.

I’m hungry, eager for the coming year…for the time I’ll spend with family, for the long days of work and fulfillment.

What about you? What have you planned for the coming year? Will this be your time to thrive, to fulfill a promise you made to yourself, or someone else? Will you stretch yourself and be a bigger, better version of you on December 31?

What gifts will the year bring to you? And what will you give in return?

~ Sheila

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Best blogging practices – 20 ways to improve your posts

I’ve been blogging since 2010, and now and then I like to review a bit, take stock, and see what I’ve learned along the way. This is my current roundup for bloggers…whether you’re just starting, trying to grow a following, or simply writing to express yourself…this isn’t about list building tools or social media magic. These are my favorite dos and don’ts for blogging as a writing form.

  1. Be yourself, be authentic…it’s tempting to try to sound like popular writers…as clever, as moving, as profound as others out there…and maybe you will be all those and more. But regardless of anything else your writing evokes, it should be real, sound like something you would really say. That will come across as natural and genuine, and be much better than trying to copy someone else, however successful. No one can speak in your voice and style but you.
  2. When you have an idea for a post, write it down. You may remember it later when you sit down to blog, but you may not. (I always think I’ll remember, and often I don’t. I finally learned to take my own advice here.) I’d say the same for a specific phrase or thought you want to use…easier to write something down in the moment than try to remember the perfect word flow two days later.
  3. Use photos, quotes, stories, and tell your story. Even if you write a food blog or a DIY blog, or write on a very narrow subject matter, you’re still sharing your point of view. Using tools to bring your personal style and voice to your writing is always a good thing. In general the more successful blogs are well-defined in subject and tone. Readers know what to expect, and that’s helpful for building a following.
  4. Before you publish a post, use the preview function and read your post as it will appear when you’re done. No one’s perfect, and I’ve caught many a typo in my work. No matter how much you try to prevent spelling errors or spacing issues, sooner or later something will slip by your eagle eye. Don’t let fear of making mistakes be a barrier to writing. And remember, even after you’ve published a post, you can edit and update it when you see your mistake.
  5. Similar to #4, read in preview mode for the flow of your content. Often I let a post sit in draft form for a few days and re-read it to be sure I like the flow, and that I’m not wandering off topic. Re-reading your work after it sits for a while will help you see it with fresh eyes, and as a whole piece. That said, as a blogger, you’re not attempting to write a novel or produce a white paper. Don’t over-critique or analyze your writing, or you’ll never hit the publish button.
  6. Some writers follow the same format for all their posts, and others use a variety of writing and formatting styles…list posts, holiday or birthday wishes, photo posts, poetry posts, vacation or travel posts, pet peeves or random items…anything can work, as long as you’re writing from the heart. If you’re concerned about falling into a rut, ask input from other bloggers you admire.
  7. Some bloggers follow a calendar for blogging with different types of posts on different days of the week. I haven’t done this myself, but I see the benefit. If you’re struggling to be consistent, or come up with material for your blog, consider developing an editorial calendar with a strategy of specific types of posts on specific days of the week.
  8. You can link to other sites that give a writing prompt, and that’s a great way to connect with writers who have similar interests. It’s also a way to grow your readership.
  9. If you use photos, edit them! You can probably crop, enhance, or somehow improve your photos to make them more appealing for your post. You can also find free photos on sites like Pexels.com.
  10. One of the best tips I can offer is: be consistent! When I post consistently and regularly, I notice I have new people following my blog. When I neglect my writing, that usually results in losing readers, and slows growth. Having said that, I try to remember that I’m blogging / writing out of choice, and if life is crazy, I don’t let blogging make it crazier. I want the blog to work with my life, not the other way around. Priorities and balance are important values to hold in the blogging world. It’s easy to get lost in the challenge of posting, being relevant, creating new content.
  11. Use categories and tags for your posts, these will help readers find your work.
  12. Link your blog to at least a couple of social media sites…I link to Twitter and Facebook. From everything I read, it’s best to not be active on too many social platforms…just dilutes your efforts and will be too distracting to try to keep up for most people.
  13. Invite comments! And when readers comment on your blog, respond to them. Some successful bloggers don’t do this, and I’ll admit, I’m sometimes guilty of missing this opportunity as well. But I think it’s a good practice to follow, and helps build a community, helps you get to know people who are visiting your blog regularly.
  14. When someone follows your blog, check out theirs. I don’t always follow a blogger who follows me, but I try to visit in response to a follow notice. If nothing else, I can leave a comment, thank them for following me, and see what they’re writing about. I’ve found some wonderful writers doing this, and again, this helps to build a community.
  15. Once I connect with another blogger, I try to read their posts often. That doesn’t mean I read everything, but I try to visit their blogs regularly, as a way of maintaining my place in the community. When I read other blogs, I often comment. It lets writers know I’m engaged and part of the community.
  16. Be generous. I don’t always post to be informative…some of what I write is more in the genre of personal growth/development, working out my issues by writing them out. Perhaps even through those posts someone may learn something. (One of my life functions is being a cautionary tale.) But I also like to write posts that are intentionally educational or informative, whether a list post, like this, or sharing a recipe or new website I’ve found, a tool or app that works well, or even a link to another site or article I find valuable. I also love to feature quotes…those are simple posts to do, but they can have a big impact.
  17. It’s ok to share your ups and downs. As a blogger, writing directly to readers, you can say just what you want…what’s on your heart. While I don’t think blogging should be an exercise in self-absorption (not every post on my blog is about me or my life) this is your opportunity to use your stories and insights to offer a message…a message of caution, of hope, of perseverance, of triumph, of loss. Sometimes my posts are about something funny, and I like that too. Mixing up the serious subjects with something lighter is a good thing, I think. Whatever you choose, let the sincerity and real-ness of your stories shine through.
  18. If you’re writing about difficult personal issues, be careful and thoughtful about what you share. Whether you have a small following or a large one, once you launch a post into cyberspace, it’s out there. My personal opinion is that you can share a lot generically, but respect the privacy of others, especially anyone you may reference  directly in your writing. Some bloggers are very open about any and everything going on in their lives, relationships, health, etc. I prefer to keep my private life private, at least in the details. I’m ok to write in broad strokes about relationship challenges, struggles with personal issues, etc. I can do that and still maintain a certain level of privacy and dignity. If I write about a struggle, I’ll be honest with what I say, but I don’t have to disclose every detail to make a point.
  19. I don’t use profanity in my posts, though some very successful writers do. That’s not who I am, and I don’t need to write like it is. Some bloggers introduce controversy, others have a very empathetic/sympathetic tone to their writing. I think it’s ok to occasionally mix your emotional tones, but I wouldn’t do it often. Readers grow to expect a certain vibe from you, and it’s probably best to be consistent in general. Look at how your favorite writers do it…don’t copy their material, but you can learn from a successful blogging formula or strategy. Again, very important to speak / write with your authentic voice.
  20. Be friendly! Friendliness will come across in your writing tone. Even if your writing is very dark and emotional, readers will likely connect better with you if you sound approachable; if you sound relatable; if you sound like a real human being they could sit down and talk with.

I wish I could do all these things perfectly myself; sometimes I’m more successful than others. But these are the guidelines I try to follow. Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear from other writers!

~ Sheila

Growing up, growing an audience

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Most of my blogging has been for fun, as a creative outlet, a way to learn and experience technology, and a way to pry open my shell a bit.

For all I’m a talker (once I open up), most of the time, I can sit quietly and keep to myself with no difficulty. I’m more introvert than extrovert.

But I also enjoy engaging with kindred spirits, and that’s one of the joys of blogging, and writing in general.

So I’m beginning to look around and find ways to grow the blog, and my new site Story Revisioned.

Though I’m not good at self-promotion…that’s never going to be a comfortable seat for me…I do like the idea of sharing, and having a way to hear from readers who are willing to engage, or fellow bloggers who are also writing, sharing their stories, and looking for connection.

So that’s what I’m doing here, and will be doing in some other venues…just looking to reach out a bit more, see who’s out there in the big world, plant my flag.

See you on the playground!

~ Sheila

 

Launched!

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Happy Birthday! My new site is up, and it feels good to see it live, even knowing it’s a work in progress.

It’s been a joy to work on this project, sometimes diligently, always with a goal of creating a way to give back.

Some of the posts on the site have migrated over from Grace and Life, and after some soul searching, I’ve decided to keep this blog going as well as the new one. This one is more personal, and the place for Riley and Jack photos, recipes, the Sheila side of life.

Story Revisioned is about my story from a different perspective; but hopefully, it will not only be about my story. The vision is to have others posting, sharing, commenting: to create a space that is inviting and nurturing.

Please stop by! I’d love to have visitors, now that the lights are on and the door is open. I’d be honored if you join my email list, and even more thrilled if you share your story and leave feedback.

Last, the Kindle edition of Choose Your Purpose, Love Your Life is up. It will be free from May 26-30. Please download if you’d like, and if you read, I’d be grateful for a review.

See you on the playground!

~ Sheila

Choose Your Purpose

My book posted on Amazon today. Big. Happy. Smile! Here’s the link:

Choose Your Purpose, Love Your Life

The paperback is the only version up at the moment; the Kindle edition will be up in a few days. I printed the book through Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand service. It was a little slower than I expected, but overall it was a relatively simple process. Every step was digital, first uploading my manuscript and cover design, then downloading digital proofs and various elements of the book…cover, back cover and text, blurbs for Amazon’s page, interior proof.

I was able to speak with representatives for CreateSpace a few times during the process, and I had a project manager from the point of committing to print the book. (There was an initial phone conversation as well, when I had an opportunity to ask questions and clarify pricing.) Throughout the steps to publishing, CreateSpace offers an email or phone option for support and questions, and they were very prompt to reply or call when I contacted support. I particularly appreciated the phone option. I’m usually comfortable emailing or using chat to address my questions, but there were a few times it was helpful to actually speak to someone.

The whole process cost a few hundred dollars. Yes, this is a self-publishing venture, which means I didn’t go the route of finding a publisher and all that involves. I did purchase editing services, and the book was professionally designed. The digital files will be converted to Kindle format, and that’s a nice add-on to going this route. I uploaded and converted my earlier two books to Kindle myself, and in general it was also a simple step-by-step experience. However, there were a few spacing issues I couldn’t resolve, and I hope going this route will result in a more professional Kindle product.

My only concern tonight is the pricing for the paperback is higher than I listed. My set price is $12.99, and when I looked at the Amazon page earlier tonight the book was priced at $16.14. Now how did that happen? Looks like I’ll be calling support in the morning!

My next adventure is marketing…I’m sure I’m doing this backward, because I read that I should be creating an amazing launch for the book, which I haven’t done. This is a real-time experiment, learning on the job, seeing what happens. I’ll be launching the new site in a few days, and offering the book there as well. If nothing else, anyone out there planning to do their own book can watch and learn from my trial and error.

Have I mentioned one of my life roles is to be a cautionary tale?!

So this is both an announcement for the book, and a bit of a review of CreateSpace. I’ll follow up to share the experience as I progress…how the Kindle conversion goes, the marketing efforts, what I learn. Maybe this can be an informal lab for self-publishing…look over my shoulder as I learn by doing.

Hope you’ll come along!

~ Sheila

 

 

 

Top 10 ways to soothe when you need relief

I know a bit about needing relief. I’ve felt that many days, from different sources of stress: relationships, health, financial pressures, uncertainty over a looming decision, all difficult in different ways. Depending on the weight of the issue, sometimes it feels like I can barely function, other times the worry is like an overlay…or maybe an underlay… on top of everything else going on.

When I’m struggling with something heavy on my heart, I need to cocoon and hide myself. In the hardest moments, I want to sleep. I know that’s a sign of depression, and though I’ve never been clinically depressed, I know sleep is a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotional issues.

I also find it hard to stay focused and be productive. I’ve learned that action is a good antidote to feeling sad, but it can be hard to jump-start myself.

My automatic response to distress is to mask what’s bothering me…not sure if somehow I think that will make the situation go away, or if it’s a retreat from confronting what’s painful…if I ignore it, I won’t have to deal with it.

My way of describing this is “putting on the face.” You know, when you act like life is normal, you greet co-workers, go through the motions, even manage to smile and do whatever is on your agenda.

But all the time, inside you’re dying. You’re dying to hear from someone, or about something, or afraid of an approaching deadline.

You’re afraid.

Fear and I are old friends. I can tell the extent of my stress by the persistence of the “engine” of fear I feel running in my stomach. You know when you hear references to the feeling in the pit of your stomach? Yes, that’s the one I mean…fear that is so real you can feel it.

It wakes me up at night, this fear. It rouses me from sound sleep to course through me, my mind moving back to familiar grooves as I think about whatever the issue is, once again.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, sometimes there’s not one.

Some fears do come true, and there’s no changing that. Tests come back with scary results. People die. Bad things happen.

Some situations are not about circumstances that are beyond our control, but about people who are beyond control. Wouldn’t life be easy if everyone did what I want them to do? Well, that’s not happening either. Or at least, not in a predictable way.

So, how can you find relief, some measure of peace, some way to cope that’s healthy and sustainable?

Because let’s face it, there are all sorts of answers that are not healthy, not sustainable, not realistic.

I can’t sleep my troubles away, don’t want to medicate to handle life, and living in denial doesn’t help either.

So this is what I do…my top ten ways to comfort and soothe when I’m in the valley:

  1. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I imagine the worst. I just go ahead and get it over with. What if my worst fears come true? What will happen then? Of course I can’t foresee exactly what variables could come into play. But by going to my imagined worst-case scenario, I create a vision of what I would do, what I could do. By facing the worst, I can have at least a minimum plan of response. Maybe I’d need to travel, or consider how a situation would impact financially. I try to think through options in advance. Instead of seeing this as dwelling on the negative, I view this as confronting and planning ahead so I’m prepared, as well as I can be.

  2. Once I’ve imagined the worst and think of how I would address it, I imagine the best. What if the best possible outcome happens? What then? I imagine how that result would impact me…even good outcomes can create change, and I want to be aware so I can be prepared for the good as well as the bad. At least this step is positive and more hopeful than the first, so it’s an easier exercise.

  3. I think about things that I can do to soothe in the moment. Sometimes that means doing something physical, like a work out, or just getting out and going for a drive. Other ideas: clean something, paint something, cook something. Do anything that is a positive physical act that gets me moving and helps me feel productive. Stay on top of day-to-day chores. Nothing is more paralyzing than letting go of your physical environment when you’re mentally stressed…if you’re already fragile, living in chaos will only make it worse. Put your mind on auto-pilot and force yourself to keep a routine going. On the other hand, if you can’t do something active, try being still. Meditate and just breathe.

  4. I have a number of “go to” authors that I read when I need encouragement or comfort, or even a challenge to hold on and breathe and be strong. Knowing whose voices will speak to my heart and mind is a good tool to have in my arsenal to ward off sadness and depression.

  5. I think about who among family and friends I can reach to, not necessarily to talk about what’s troubling me, but just for the connection. When I can have a “normal” conversation about the day-to-day, it reminds me that there are a lot of wonderful people and good things in life beyond the concern of the moment, and it helps to distract me for a while, at least on a surface level.

  6. I talk out loud to myself, usually while I pace, or drive. This one may seem strange, and I don’t do it when I’m with anyone else, but it really helps me to work through my plans, fears, hopes, etc., to hear the words out loud. It’s almost like I can move outside myself and get a little perspective.

  7. I try to get out and meet a friend, have dinner with someone, do something to break my day or evening, change the conversation going on in my mind. That can’t happen every day, but having something on my calendar helps me to look forward to a change of pace, and something that is uplifting. This also includes things like doing something helpful for someone else…anything that gets me out and connecting with other people is a mood lifter, and a distraction, and that’s healthy. I try to do this even if I’m not in the mood to do it at the beginning. Acting my way to feeling better is a positive way to improve my mindset.

  8. I write. I’m a writer, so that’s therapeutic for me. If I can put what bothers me into words, I can get a better grip on the whole thing. I can vent, rant, be sad, talk it all out on paper, and oddly, writing through an issue gives me a different perspective than talking it through out loud or with someone else. It also gives me a record to review down the road. It’s a good check to see if I’ve sorted myself out and resolved what’s troubling me. I don’t try to keep a daily journal when I’m stressed, I write as I feel the need. But I do keep what I write, sometimes just until I have an answer, and sometimes longer if the issue is deeper, and something I may need to visit again.

  9. I talk it out with a trusted soul. Depending on the issue, everyone in my life may know what’s going on, or only a select few. I don’t like to air my issues casually, but being able to open up to the right person or group can do a world of good.

  10. I pray, if possible, out loud, or I sometimes write my prayers. If you’re not a praying person, this one won’t help. For me, there’s relief in taking my heart to God, and believing that he hears and cares about what hurts in my life.

So that’s it. I hope, next time you feel your fear, some of these ideas will help. And if you have a great strategy for dragon-slaying, please share…I can always use another weapon in my arsenal!  ~ Sheila

Some days

Back working in Alaska again for a stretch, and picking up the threads of all my projects. I seem to have a never-ending list! Not that I think I’m alone in that. Who doesn’t have a list?

Lately my list has been a little fuller. I’m brushing off some long-unused skills and trying to recall what I’ve ever known of design programs. Admittedly most of my knowledge was via on-the-job learning. Back in the day, when I was in college, Adobe products weren’t even a glint in a designer’s eye. Now I’m learning with books, and the ever-helpful tutorials that abound online. I’m doing this as part of a multi-prong approach to creating digital income, and it occurred to me that it would be helpful to have a few more skills in the digital world.

So there’s that, and my second Kindle book which has been languishing for the past several weeks, waiting for me to pull it out again. Then my blog is wondering if I moved away and forgot to pack it along.

And there’s work, as in, what I am actually paid real money to do.

I’m so grateful to live in a time when so much is at my fingertips. It’s a rich experience, learning and growing, all at the touch of a few buttons and some time and effort.

But, I remind myself, life exists off-line as well. It’s easy to get sucked in by the vast world that lives behind my screen.

And if I’m always looking that direction, I miss so much.

Like this:

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Riley and Pete the Cat, preschool mascot

Or this:

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The boy, blowing bubbles for Gram

I don’t get bubbles from my laptop. I don’t know…maybe I don’t visit the right sites?

Nothing replaces reality. I can do a lot from my sofa, and learn a lot without going into a classroom. But on days when I feel like I haven’t looked up, I stretch and yawn and remember:

What I’m really invested in is out there, the people in my life.

I’ve always been able to draw that line between my work and personal life. I find it a little more challenging when work can follow me home, follow me to the sofa, be in front of me as soon as I click on my screen.

It takes discipline to create income out of hobbies, out of interests that have potential. And I want to be one of the people that finds that key to unlock the door.

But I don’t want to get sucked dry by the process, consumed by the ease of access.

I realize, now while I still am in the formative stage of creating online work, I need to set boundaries and schedules. Yes, I want to be able to work from anywhere, and anytime I choose.

But I don’t want to find myself working everywhere, all the time.

That’s not the plan.

Is it?

Aaahhh…there’s a difference in convenience and flexibility, and being consumed by the tool I’m using.

I don’t want the dream of creating my work world to become the monster that devours me.

For now, that isn’t likely to happen. For one thing, I can’t generate income without a regular job, which keeps me grounded and tied to a somewhat regular schedule. These thoughts are really about the future.

But this is the time to plan. What do I want more of? Endless time online?

Or bubbles?

Which do you think I picked?

Happy Sunday!  ~ Sheila

Thanksgiving grace

Thanksgiving is here, the one holiday of the year that is, by name and spirit, inspired by the grace of gratitude.

We gather, we talk, we prepare, we eat. Oh yes, we eat. It’s the beginning of butter season, and all things good.

We list the things we’re grateful for. And for most, the list is some version of a litany of the important people in life…spouse, children, family, friends; important pillars of life…health, home, job; important attitudes of life…thankfulness, forgiveness, joy.

I feel all that, and more. I am so grateful. But today, “more” is my special focus.

This year, “more” is all the uncertainty and upheaval the past few months have brought to my life.

Uncertainty doesn’t sleep well, doesn’t feel comfortable. It has become the knot in my stomach, the question behind all my plans.

“What next?”

And yet, even as I sat and gathered myself this morning, sitting hard against the wall by my bed to focus my thoughts, start my day with calm and quiet, I knew: the coming joy is rooted in this time of in between, this period of lostness.

I’m walking in the valley of indecision so I can choose, and choose wisely.

These are the days of hard questions: what do I want? What is essential?

The voice in my mind answers: my partner is essential. Family is essential. Faith is essential. The rest…the where or how or the timing of the choices…window dressing that puts the pretty bow on the real gift. The real gift is the people, priorities in order, values in place.

Knowing who I am, whose I am, who I am with, and who I love are the bedrock essentials. Nothing else matters…not where I live, or how I earn income, how big my house is, how often I travel. Because I know the answers to the essentials, I can take a breath, step back, let the details sort themselves in good time.

It’s easy to get that confused…to take the people and relationships for granted and treat the externals like they’re most important. I can admit I’ve done that, acted like all the “big” decisions were the drivers of life. They’re not…they’re context, but they’re not the heart of the story.

This year I’m not hosting the holiday feast..the trappings of my physical life are in a Public Storage unit in Washington. I don’t have all the externals together…no decorating for Christmas this weekend, or gathering family for the perfect Christmas card pose.

Family is scattered, and I don’t have the pretty bow to wrap us all together.

But I know the answers to the questions of heart, the essential ones that frame the rest.

And I am so grateful. I have my Thanksgiving list. And when we go around the table to say what we’re thankful for, I can acknowledge: the uncertainty, the question of “what next?” points me to the deepest joys. The very not knowing becomes a gift to show me: security is in the intangibles of my life, in the people and the love that isn’t tied to an address, or a piece of furniture, or an orderly path.

So yes, today I’m celebrating that I have no permanent home at the moment, just a permanent mailbox address. And I have no vision for where I’ll be next year, just a vision of who I’ll be with. I have no forecast of my annual income for 2015, but I expect to cover all the usual needs of life.

I’m in between, and I’m grateful. I may look lost, but I’m not.

I’m full of expectation, full of anticipation. What turn will my story take now? And how will my choices and my life lessons be a light to shine for others?

Happy Thanksgiving! May you all know “who” is on your list when you go around your table, or you recite to yourself the joys of your life. When you know who is important to you, the rest is just glitter.

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“Come out of your miseries!”

“Come out of your miseries!” This is the calling of the meditation retreat I attended.

Did it work? Did it help? Yes. I don’t know. Yes. I don’t know.

First, let me say that it was an amazing experience. To keep silence for nine days, and sit still for many hours of each day in a group effort was unique, of course. The things I thought I would struggle with were easy, and the things that I expected to be easy were surprisingly difficult.

The retreat was held in a rural camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a short distance from Yosemite Park. Imagine a kid’s summer camp, only one with no swimming, no arts and crafts, no team competitions. The men and women attending the event were housed separately, ate separately, and only saw each other at group sittings, three times a day, and during the evening program. The silence began on the first evening and lasted until mid-way through the ninth day. Then the silence was lifted so we could discuss joint clean up efforts and end-of-event logistics.

The silence was easy. The sitting was hard.

When I thought about group silence, I thought about it in the context of how it is to be silent in normal life. When you’re silent in a crowd, you either feel anti-social, or a sense of loneliness. But in this setting, because we had all agreed to be silent and to maintain that at all times…no chatting except to ask questions, very softly, of the staff…it didn’t feel awkward at all. In fact, on the ninth day when we could speak and the atmosphere was full of voices, I missed the quiet. It felt like something precious had been lost.

The schedule was rigorous, up at 4:00 am and meditating by 4:30. Breakfast break at 6:30, with the first group sitting from 8:00 to 9:00. There were additional meditation hours when you could choose to meditate in your room or in the hall, and a lunch break, then a rest time between noon and 1:00.

At 1:00 there was another period of private meditation, followed by another group sitting from 2:30 to 3:30. We had a simple tea at 5:00, just fruit and hot tea or beverage of choice (no carbonation though). The evening sitting began at 6:00, followed by an evening “discourse” on the techniques and the philosophy behind them. There was another short sitting after the discourse, and then lights out by 9:30.

I can’t do justice to the whole event in a blog post, so I’m not going to try. I’m going to write a book about it, sharing the details of the days and some of my personal struggles that prompted me to attend.

It was powerful. I can’t claim to have perfected the meditation technique, and I’ll also be honest to say that I think the silence and being disconnected from the electronic world (another thing I thought would be hard, but was surprisingly easy) were as important as the actual meditation for me.

The sitting was hard. We sat in rows, eight across and eight deep, everyone sitting on large foam cushions, piled with more cushions, bean bags, some using special little wooden stools, or even stadium chairs to give better back support. It was still hard. For the group sittings we were asked to maintain our positions without movement if at all possible: these were called “Sittings of Strong Determination.” The first few minutes of sitting still were not difficult, but it’s amazing how you begin to stiffen even in a short period of time, or how you begin to feel an itch or tickle or some other distraction of sensation.

The whole point was that we were learning to observe our respiration and physical sensations and to recognize: this too shall pass. The idea is that you retrain your mind to not react to the sensations you feel…you keep a calm and balanced mind as you sit and ignore the impulse to move or scratch a tickle. I sneezed twice and had to wipe my nose…couldn’t help those movements.

We used no mantras, no visualization…just silence and our bodies. As the hours of group sittings went by, you could hear soft creaking noises as people tried to shift ever so slightly to relieve their positions, without a real motion of movement. You would hear coughs or throat clearings, and occasionally someone would get up and leave…you could hear footsteps and then the door to the entry area open and close.

But for the most part we sat. We sat and sat and sat.

And between sittings, (sittings themselves were not supposed to be a time to think about your miseries, or your life issues, or the big questions, just focus on your breathing and sensations). Between sittings and the times of private meditation, I did think.

The process is supposed to help you master your mind and purify your mind. The whole program is based on a universal code of morality and goodwill and compassion toward everyone. If it sounds hokey, it wasn’t. If it sounds simple, it certainly wasn’t.

But neither was it difficult.

It was a rich experience of clarity and creativity, and I found that surprising, though I’m not sure why. I think it is that I had no idea silence and sitting could be so powerful.

Am I glad I participated? Yes! I don’t know if I would do that same event again, but it has made me curious about other events of this nature. I learned that there are many different styles of meditation, so I assume there are other resources for learning and experiencing.

One of the things I came away with was the realization that although I regularly read and have a quiet time of reflection, I have never had a set time or a disciplined approach to my quiet time. Meditation is not something you do between reading emails or getting a second cup of coffee. This made me want to be more intentional and deliberate about my quiet time, choosing a time of day to sit and focus, and creating a goal of being disciplined about keeping that routine.

I’ll have more to say I’m sure…after nine days of silence, I feel words pouring out of me! But for now, that’s the quick version. I need to have some time to sort out some of what I learned, some of what I thought, and some of what I hope to gain.

And hey…even though I didn’t work out once during that time, missing my cream in my daily coffee and eating only fruit at night was a pretty good diet! Though the scheduling was pure coincidence, I think I’m in pretty good shape to head into Thanksgiving. Well, that’s one immediate benefit, to say nothing of the ones to come as I make sense of the whole experience.

More to come!

~ Sheila

Checkbook surprise

A few months ago I published a little ebook on Kindle, (shameless plug) and then with the house listed and life turned upside down, I largely forgot about it. Not that I wasn’t interested. But I was overwhelmed, and preoccupied…too busy with craziness at the moment to focus on my budding self-publishing career.

So imagine my surprise when I was balancing my checkbook in September and noticed a deposit from Amazon. The first thought that flashed through my mind was that this was a refund for something I had bought from Amazon. But I immediately realized that didn’t make sense…I buy with my credit card, so anything that was refunded would show up on the card activity, not in my checking account.

It actually took me a couple of minutes to realize…this was a payment to me from Amazon! It was a royalty payment for my book sales!

And it was for a grand total of $20.24.

Alright, I’m not making a fortune here. But do you know what that represents?

And yes, I do understand that self-publishing in the digital world is not quite the milestone as say…having a book hit the New York Times best seller list.

But still…I actually made money from something I wrote, and something someone else bought.

And a few days ago, it happened again. This time the deposit was only for $16.74, but it was there.

And it whetted my appetite. If one little book generates two small deposits, maybe there’s opportunity for more.

Haven’t I been looking for ways to move my income stream to the digital world? And isn’t this income?

Well, so far I could do a couple of fast food meals, or a few rounds of morning coffee. It’s a modest beginning.

But it is a beginning.

Do you ever think about the end of the story? You know, the way movies often start…at the end, showing the outcome of the story, then taking you back to see how it all unfolded?

That’s the scene I play in my mind. I’m not forecasting that I’ll become a famous author, or even a wealthy one. I do have a fantasy that I’m self-funded, and looking back to how it all started…little by little, growing into a steady stream of deposits that support more than a coffee habit.

I’m thinking about other titles…what books do I have in me?

I’ve been curious about the Kindle publishing platform for a long time. I buy Kindle books on a regular basis, and I wanted to walk through the process to experience it…see how easy or difficult it was, see what it would be like to have a book on Amazon.

Well, now I know. It actually works!

Not that I was skeptical. I’ve certainly read enough from others who have published via Kindle to know that it is a legitimate publishing venue, to say nothing of having the powerhouse of Amazon behind it.

And let me say, just to be clear, that I am a hearty and staunch supporter of independent bookstores and printed books. But I am a realist, and I believe there is room for both digital and print books, for online retailers and the brick-and-mortar shop as well.

But there’s no doubt that for someone like me, digital publishing offers an opportunity that I would likely never have in the print world, at least not at this point, not with my approach.

So I’m grateful for the incentive that two little deposits in my account have given me.

And I’m doing a little daydreaming about the end of this story.

Here’s the other thing. I’m sharing this to say, if I could do this, so can anyone else. The digital world is amazing…levels the playing field in so many ways, and opens the door to creativity and determination and ambition. Like a little engine that could, I hear myself….I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!

And you can too! See you on the playground!