I love being with my niece Kate.
It’s not just about her being a joy to be around – it’s also about what happens to ME when I am around HER.
When I am with Kate, I give myself a rare permission to be free.
Free from rules
Free from expectations
Free from pressure to be productive
Free to relax
Free to try new things
Free to make mistakes
Free to be happy, silly, spontaneous
When I am with Kate, I feel my tight-fitting, ever-present adult “uniform” fall away as I relax into my loose, comfy, uninhibited childlike self.
I only see Kate a few times a year, so when I do, I make big plans. There are always crafts to do, books to read, excursions to take, playgrounds to explore, and dance videos to make.
Our most recent visit involved a sensational watercolor paint project. When I saw Andrea Nelson's instructional reel on Instagram many months ago, I saved it immediately. This project had “Kate and Rachel” written all over it. Our family beach trip couldn’t get here fast enough as I eagerly anticipated doing this activity.
Finally, the trip arrived. Seated at the big dining room table in the beach rental, Kate took charge of removing the supplies from the box I’d packed everything in.
Just as I hoped, Kate oohed and ahhed over the brand-new watercolor palette, the quality paper, the array of silky paintbrushes, and her aunt’s superb organizational skills.
“You remembered everything,” Kate commended. “My teacher would say, ‘Rachel, you are top notch!’”
Feeling pretty proud of myself at this point, I was eager to get started. Kate and I watched the tutorial, grabbed our Sharpies, and drew freeform lines from one side of the paper to the other. Where the lines intersected and made sharp corners, we rounded them out. We traced a roll of masking tape to add circles, and then it was time to fill in the spaces with paint.
“There’s no right or wrong way to do this,” I said to Kate (and also to me).
“Is this making your brain relax?” I asked her (and also me).
“Those are interesting colors… why did you choose them?” I asked Kate (and also me).
“Look at us! We’re artists!” I said to Kate (and also to me).
For over an hour, Kate and I were in a state of creative flow. Occasionally, we’d look up from our papers to praise any new additions or bold moves the other had made.
I wasn’t surprised when a few of the eleven houseguests became interested in our project and asked if they could have a piece of paper, too.
As soon as those freeform lines were drawn, it got quiet very quickly. Family members from age eight to seventy found their inner artist, letting their minds wander with a pen and paintbrush.
Noticing the calming effect of this process on its creators, I was inspired to do a little research. Turns out, this art form has a name. Formulated in 2014 by psychologist Dr. Pavel Piskarev, Neurographic Art is created by making lines on a page, smoothing the intersections where lines meet, and filling the resulting spaces with color. This process is meditative, allowing people to transform stress and gain perspective on current challenges. Neurographic Art has been used as a healing aid for stress relief, anxiety, chronic pain, and grief.
With these benefits in mind, I decided NOT to put the project supplies neatly away when I returned home from my trip. I intentionally left them on a counter where they were visible and accessible.
Can you guess what happened?
Over the past month, I’ve been drawing lines; rounding edges; painting circles. I’ve found myself saying, “It’s ok if you can’t finish it today,” “I love the risks you took with those colors,” and “You’re an artist!”
Just as the research indicated, this creative process has been greatly beneficial. It helped me figure out next steps to a problem I was having. It helped me process feelings I was having about my role as a parent to young adults. It helped me gather strength for a medical issue my loved one is facing. It helped me reset when something went terribly wrong.
But what struck me even more strongly than the feeling of being calm was the feeling of being cared for.
Allowing myself this creative outlet felt similar to the way I care for Kate, my kids, my husband, my parents, my friends, and even strangers.
Could I be on to something? I wondered.
The Practice of Looking after Yourself is an area of exploration in the Soul Shift journey that many travelers, like myself, find to be challenging territory.
Is it any wonder? We are conditioned to produce, accomplish, compete, and care give BEFORE we play, rest, explore, or dream. But when nurturing ourselves is something that has to be EARNED, we don’t receive it often enough. It then tends to come only when we burnout, get sick, or combust from resentment and anger.
Just as I tell participants of my Soul Shift online course and in-person retreats, I am a work in progress when it comes to looking after myself. But consistently giving myself permission to sit down and create over the past month feels like a real breakthrough.
I certainly didn’t get here overnight, but like the rounding technique in art, the Soul Shift process taught me how to identify my sharp, damaging edges and take intentional steps to transform them…
the critical inner voice
the unreasonable expectations
the rigid timetable
the unforgiving standards
The softening process has happened one self-honoring choice at a time, which has led to a hopeful discovery:
Love for ourselves is how transformation occurs, not just in our own hearts, bodies, and minds, but also in our relationships, our communities, and in future generations.
Every brush of self-love offers a chance to restore our inner resources so we can better manage the constant flow of life’s challenges.
Every self-compassionate response deepens the healing pathway that leads us back to our childlike wonder and joy.
We are artists.
We are worthy.
We are top notch.
Watch us as our personal masterpieces come to life, one true color at a time.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Speaking of artists, have you downloaded the free POCKET PROMISE booklet with the beautiful cover design by Jenna Ziemer? I have been thrilled to hear how people are cutting out the pockets and giving them to their kids and other loved ones. Because the booklet contains copyrighted material from my new book, Soul Shift, it is only available for a very short time.
If you have been wanting to sign up for the Soul Shift journey that is offered once a year online, please do so soon. Registration closes in a few days. This upcoming session will provide hand in hand guidance and community support as we take steps to soften our sharp, damaging edges by practicing new, healthy, healing habits. Because the Soul Shift online journey is self-paced, you can begin at any time after the September 18th start date and go at a pace that feels right for you. Lessons take about 10 minutes each day and come in your email inbox. Members also have lifetime access to the course content and can refer to it when needed. You can read all the details about the course by clicking here.
Last but not least, a small, beautiful group of people have signed up for the restorative, in-person Soul Shift retreat happening in the North Carolina mountains on Oct 27-29. There are still spots left, so please don't delay if you are interested in joining us next month! Click here to get all the details.
What you can expect to gain from the retreat and course:
“The Soul Shift weekend retreat, led with loving hands by Rachel Macy Stafford, fueled me far more than anything I have experienced throughout the past five years my life. Not only was I able to connect with myself and nature, but the connectedness I felt with the other participants was unprecedented. Everywhere I turned, there was a welcoming face, gentle hands, and encouraging words to support my path. It is this softness that I still carry with me today. The way things look and feel are different, because I am different. I am more ‘me’ than I have ever been. I look forward to continued solace and growth as I take steps to integrate the components I learned at the retreat along with the ways my heart felt connected to something much bigger than myself.” -K.L.
“I cannot say this about any other course I have taken… SOUL SHIFT has CHANGED MY LIFE for the better. It felt like I was taking an important ride with a close friend who totally understands me. I was truly impressed with all the ways Rachel engaged participants in thinking through the most personal, and most challenging obstacles. She made the work possible, and even joyful, as we got to laugh out loud and hold each other’s hands through the private community.” –D.G.
“To say Rachel’s work has changed my life is an understatement. It has had a ripple effect. I am so grounded and so secure in my place in this world now that I want to help others feel that way too. We all have different paths in how we can get there, but we can get there. I was beginning to doubt if I would ever get there before Soul Shift.” -B.F.