Archive for July, 2013

I am a Gardener. For some people, that may not seem significant that is unless you look at the size of our gardens. A large amount of summertime energy is dedicated to trimming, planting, weeding, grooming and creating, so much so that we rarely choose to travel in this season. Those who visit our home frequently ask us for the name of our gardeners at which point Jim and I simply share that they are looking at them and no, we don’t want any gardening contracts.

Despite the work involved in this rather large project, the garden is a source of many lessons. The most significant of these lessons is what I call, ‘three feet at a time’. This lesson first appeared in 2002 when Jim and I began construction of the Garden Labyrinth.

A labyrinth, in case you are wondering, is in the ‘maze’ family however, designed to lead you in and out without getting lost. It has been used by different cultures to represent a pilgrimage, for walking meditation and for community building. Our labyrinth is 40 feet in diameter, a gravel path separated by gardens filled with thyme and lavender.

Back to the building process; on day one I walked into the back yard where Jim had marked the pathway in the lawn. As I examined the size and the scope of my work for the week, creating the border garden, I felt myself in a state of overwhelm. A few unmentionable expletives erupted from my lips. Panic set in. Where upon Jim appeared with a yard stick, set it down in front of me and gave me the following instruction, “Place the yard stick down, mark off the first three feet, dig up the grass, till and add fresh soil. Pick up the yard stick, mark off the next three feet, repeat. Do not look up; keep moving forward three feet at a time until you are finished.” Four days later I looked up and realized I had completed my assignment.

Three feet at a time comes up every time we begin a new garden project, this year creating a shady glen at one corner of the property where scrappy grass, weeds, moss and wild violets needed to be cleared first. As I looked at the scope of the project, I reached for the yard stick and marked off the first three feet. It works every time.

I actually use this lesson over and over again in all aspects of life. As someone who tends to see the big picture before the individual parts, I can easily get lost in overwhelm. You may notice yourself in this zone as well. Overwhelm can lead to procrastination, a sense of being stalled or send you off in a tail spin.

The principle of three feet at a time can pull you out of both spinning and stalling every time. The idea of three feet is to break down the whole into chewable chunks, those bits which you know you can take on now and which when added together, lead you to accomplishing the whole. Along the way you get to experience a whole bunch of little successes, points in time where you can derive a sense of satisfaction for accomplishing the first steps of the whole. And this builds your sense of accomplishment and your self-esteem.

Much of my coaching practice is dedicated to helping people break down the overwhelming into chewable chunks. For some people it comes naturally. Not so for others. Here are a few suggestions for applying the three feet at a time principle:

1)    Name the project and the outcome you wish to achieve. Visualize it and make it as real as you can.

2)   Work backwards and look at what steps you need to accomplish to get there.

3)   Take each step and ask yourself what the first three feet are. Repeat until you have a sense of what needs to be completed.

4)   Take on the first three feet. Don’t look up – keep repeating until the first chewable chunk is completed.

5)   Celebrate and acknowledge yourself for what you have accomplished.

6)   Take on the next chewable chunk and repeat the process.

7)   Always remember to celebrate each step of the way. This builds you up and fuels the fire to continue.

The Glen - a plce for energizing and reflection

The Glen – a place for energizing and reflection

                  Final Word

I have been very grateful for the garden lessons I have learned and how they have leaked into other aspects of my life. I enjoy resting my head on the pillow at night and reviewing the day behind me and feeling grateful for each three-foot section I have accomplished. While three feet at a time may seem simplistic, trust me, it is a valid and powerful strategy. Are you ready to tackle your life three feet at a time?

Until next time…


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I have made a commitment to myself this summer to set aside one day (or more) every week to pursue creative endeavors. In my late teens and throughout my twenties I studied art, pen and pencil, charcoal, and oils. I took classes with artists who were protégés of Arthur Lismer, on of Canada’ Group of Seven. I even sold a few pieces and had several paintings leave for places unknown when my colleagues from Australia, South Africa and England purchased my work.

And then one day we moved to Alberta and for some reason the paint box was put away, tucked into a safe place in the basement. I did have other creative outlets such as rug design and rug hooking and other similar crafts, but my hands never touched a paint brush.

When we returned to the east, I dove into work and teaching part-time, then back to school for another degree. At one point during this time, I attended a show of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings and while the brushes still remained untouched a little fire was lit. I found myself saying, “Someday I will get back to my painting”. Of course the’ some days’ became weeks, months and years.

Fast forward to 2013: I received an e-mail from OBO Studio run by Tracy Lynn Chisholm and Emily McLeod advertising a workshop called ‘Paint Your Horizon’. An interesting title, I thought – a great metaphor for life. (I am always looking for such metaphors). I sent Tracy an e-mail simply saying this looks like fun, congratulations. She responded by saying,  “Thanks for your inquiry, I have you registered in the program”. This was the first ‘happy accident’.

Although it had not been my intention to register, I did not say anything to Tracy. I knew it was time to make friends with the brushes again. I loved the workshop, the technique and felt at home with the brush in my hand. It is like riding a bike!

I immediately signed up for another workshop entitled ‘Georgia O’Keefe’. Now this one absolutely had my name on it! While this time the medium was pastels, I once again felt at home. I also noticed that even if my state of mind was not feeling aligned with my creative juices, it didn’t matter. Once I start I am lost in the process, my head clears, I am engaged, I relax and breathe and for a change, I am totally in the moment. The experience offers me everything I teach to others – another happy accident?

The next SIGN occurred on my birthday. Each year I order my Life Path report from my colleague Shaina Noll. Based on numerology the report identifies the key themes for your life in any given year. One of the themes identified for me this year is ‘Multifaceted Creativity’. Nothing like bringing the point home and evidently, the time is now, where upon I signed up for my third workshop, Flower Play.

Flower Play introduced me to the idea of ‘happy accidents’. Designed to be free zzfrom and abstract, the process of painting a masterpiece occurred through a series of steps where you literally add paint to a canvas in layers, and allow the painting to emerge. No photos to copy, no specific design to emulate, no rules to follow. I felt an unsettling in my belly. It
was one thing to pick up a brush; it was another to trust my imagination. In the previous workshops I had used an image to guide my work. OMG!

As my painting grew, many happy accidents happened: an accidental splattering of fuchsia paint all over the canvas, watered down paint dripping down the canvas when I stood it upright, and a few smudges here and there.

The happiest accident however was when I grew frustrated with my tools and tried to correct something with my finger. The feeling of paint on my finger tip was sensual, the effect amazing, and from that moment forward my finger tip became my brush. It was so cool and so much fun. And as for that initial trepidation, I felt like the lion had been let out of the cage as my fingers attacked the canvas with shades of indigo, purple, violet, yellow and several shades of green. The result may not be a masterpiece but it makes me joyful!

Dorothy's Garden

Dorothy’s Garden

Final Word

I suspect life is full of happy accidents. Likewise I am convinced that many of us may be ignoring them or pushing them away. Life might be very different if you picked up the paint brush again, opened your heart to happy accidents and began painting the canvas of your life in a way that frees you. Is it time to let your lion out of the cage?

Until Next Time,


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