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goat king
heart mind writing

The Goat King

Years ago I moved to a new place just days before the area was hit with ferocious bush fires. Shortly after  shifting everything I owned into my new home, I had to quickly pack all my possessions up again, and stack them by the door ready for evacuation.

This new home was a broken-down, rambling 130 year old house that I shared with two other renters. It sat on 5 acres at the top of a ridge, in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, Australia. There was no fence and the bush started at our back door and rolled all the way down the valley, which was part of over 600,000 acres of National Park.

Watching The Fire

We spent one anxious night sitting on the back verandah watching the glowing fires out to the west. The winds were forecast to be 80 km/hour and headed straight for us. We scanned the orange glow across the horizon, tracking the movement, waiting for the moment we would have to leave.

The moment never came. The forecast winds only hit 4 km an hour instead of the predicted 80. The next day the local bush-fire brigade came out and did some back-burning in the valley behind our house. It seemed we were safe for the moment.

The day after the back-burning I went for a walk to check things out. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a full-blown raging bushfire run through, because the effect of a tightly controlled back-burn was pretty decimating.

The previous day,  the undergrowth had been thick, disorienting, and difficult to navigate. My first few attempts to get down into the valley to join the track leading to the creeks and waterfalls were
futile. I ended up turning back, fearful I would lose track of where my new house was.

But after the back-burning there was just an expanse of charred soil, warm underfoot, smoke slowly rising from it. Dead remnants of trees still stood here and there. A few had fallen and needed climbing over. The walk to where the valley dropped down now took five minutes, about a quarter what it had when battling through the undergrowth.

An Odd Visitor

So I was standing there, looking over the seared landscape, when a white shape shifted behind a clump of blackened trunks. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, and walked quietly closer
to get a look. And there I saw it.

A white goat had come up from the valley and was walking through looking for green vegetation to eat.

I stood quietly and watched it nose around for awhile. The goat was so white. I wondered if it had bolted from a nearby home, frightened by the fire. It was such a strange sight, so clean and seemingly domesticated, calmly foraging through the charred ground.

After watching the goat for a while, I went back to the house and drew a few quick sketches in a notebook. The image was locked into my memory, and still is years later. I thought it might be good to use in a piece of art somewhere down the line. After I made a note of it I didn’t think about it much for a while.

A few months later, the bush had begun the task of regenerating. Even with the undergrowth returning, the bush was still nicely thinned out and it was an easy walk down to the public tracks.

I’d gotten to the point where I could scramble all over the valleys behind the house and had gotten to know the area very well. At least one day of the weekend was reserved for walking in the valleys, I usually followed the creeks that spread out through the surrounding area, climbing up waterfalls as they gradually got smaller and smaller and almost disappeared, or slowed to a trickle at their source.

The area is famous for the golden sandstone cliffs and ridges, and I would often spot caves high up above the creeks and would make a detour to climb up and check them out.

The Goat King

One series of cliffs had these gigantic golden caves that were eroded into the shape of golden waves about to break over the valley. I tried a few times but could never find a path up to the ledges near the top of the cliffs. Whenever I walked by the creek below them I’d look up above the tree-line and check them out.

One day I looked up as I was walking by and saw another white whiff of movement. I stopped and looked more closely. It was the goat, sitting on his belly, paws close to the lip of the ledge, surveying the valley. There was something about the way he sat that struck me, he was so at home, he seemed like a king looking over his kingdom. I’m sure he must have seen me but he must have felt that I was no threat as he didn’t move or acknowledge me in any way, he certainly shoed no sense of skittishness or fear.

That goat, who in some ways seemed so out of place in that wild environment but had clearly made a life for himself out there, continues to walk the the landscape of my imagination. He represents a model for how I want to be in my own life. He represents the qualities of sovereignty  and resilience that I want to bring to my life. The way he sat there on the cliff was so regal, there was such a strong sense of belonging and ease in the way that goat held himself.

And he brought that same calm presence to the blackened landscape as he did to the recovering landscape. He walked among the charred debris with the same confidence he displayed sitting high up on his throne, present and watchful as the land around him bloomed.

He reminds me that all we need to do when things chaotic is to forage calmly, sniffing after any remaining green shoots.

And he reminds me that we, too,  can simply sit here and be fully ourselves.  Settled, calm, secure in the knowledge that we belong.

I like to think of the present moment as my throne, and yours too. And believe that how we occupy that throne matters. How do you feel as you sit in that throne? Can you make your home there? When you sit
on your golden throne what perspective does it give you?

writing prompts
heart mind writing

Imagine This …

Imagine This …

You are sitting at your desk

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up as you twirl your favorite pen in one hand and nurse a mug of peppermint tea in the other

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up as you twirl your favorite pen in one hand and nurse a mug of peppermint tea in the other, you blow steam from the top of your mug because the tea is hot and it is very difficult to start writing

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up as you twirl your favorite pen in one hand and nurse a mug of peppermint tea in the other, you blow steam from the top of your mug because the tea is hot and it is very difficult to start writing when a robin bathes vigorously in the birdbath outside your window reminding you how low the water really is

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up as you twirl your favorite pen in one hand and nurse a mug of peppermint tea in the other, you blow steam from the top of your mug because the tea is hot and it is very difficult to start writing when a robin bathes vigorously in the birdbath outside your window reminding you how low the water really is, so you go to the garden to fill the birdbath back up and maybe water the roses, and the rhododendrons by the back fence, before heading back in and then

You are sitting at your desk …

catching ideas welcome presence
creative presence

The Idea Catcher


“I have so many ideas that I’m lucky if I don’t trip over them each morning.”


I love the image of Bach tiptoeing through his room, over ideas strewn on the floor like discarded underwear. Isn’t that just how creativity works, too? Ideas are abundant. Having ideas is much easier than grabbing hold of them and bringing them into the world.

An Embarrassment Of Brilliance

When looking for a good metaphor it often helps begin with nature. And the abundance of creative activity in nature amounts to an embarrassment of brilliance: millions of eggs laid by sea turtles on a beach on a single night; galaxies bursting at the seams; countless fruit rotting under countless trees; the outrageousness of Spring  where whole landscapes burst into bloom for a few weeks.

Maybe you’ve experienced one of those lazy days sitting in the garden, trees swaying, bees droning in the background as a s stream of creative ideas flow through your mind, only to be swept away as you fall into a nap. Or maybe your ideas arrive in the shower. Or you receive wild visions while stuck in traffic. You, too, are the conduit for an embarrassment of brilliance.

Like Bach, ideas are floating all around us like a rabble of butterflies. The next step involves action. We need to pick up an imaginary butterfly net and snatch the ideas we most resonate with, the ones we commit to working on.

Why It’s Hard To Move From Idea To Action

Once we commit to an idea it is removed from the safe bubble marked ‘daydream’ and we start to make a place for it in the real world. Undertaking this process means to risk mucking it up, or being ridiculed.

I have piles of notebooks that I keep in a red box, each one filled with sketches, doodles, ideas. I love that box. It’s like a bright red cocoon for my ideas. They sit there like fat little grubs, readying themselves for the day they’ll burst out into the world.

Flipping through my notebooks can be like walking through a butterfly pavilion.

I safely watch all my ideas and sketches from here, some more viable than others; there goes a lime green one floating up to the canvas ceiling, while another struggles to free its soggy orange wings from the edge of a water feature.

But this is an exercise in separation, too. I keep myself apart and safely view my ideas with both hands tucked into pockets to avoid squashing anything.

In Order To Create

We need to get involved, no more viewing from a distance, it’s time to pull out that net and commit.

Problem: you might find a sense of dread rising when it’s time to do that.

Sometimes, dread comes from the tension between the ideal version of the idea in your head and the flawed version which your limited abilities may actually produce.

And it’s true, the flaws will be there. Ideas are delicate things, their wings can be easily torn, they might not adapt well to a new environment. But the work of adding beauty and meaning to the world involves the realization that a lot of ideas just won’t make it. There’s no need to take that personally, it’s just the truth.

And the beauty and meaning we’re talking about there is the singular beauty and meaning that comes filtered through you, and your perfectly flawed life. That’s the flavor of your personal magic and only you can bring it into the world.

Leap Into Action

Here are some tips for moving from idea to creation. Let’s snatch these ideas as they float past, then do something with them.

Start Small

Small starts are a great way to build momentum. Once you begin the transition from ‘idea’ to ‘action’ it’s like adding oxygen to kindling. I’m an anxious starter and have learned over time to build in small, non-intimidating actions at the start of each project. For writing, a brief entry in your journal can work. For art,  sharpening pencils, organizing paintbrushes, selecting the right paper can be enough to get you settled and ready to make those first few marks. Once you’re on your way your project starts taking over and sweeps any nervous energy away.

Get Present

Being in the moment is a great way to both open yourself up to inspiration, and to grab what the muse offers you and run with it. Being mindful and aware allows your perception to open out a little and gives inspiration more chance to strike. Noticing is a simple writing meditation that can help you get settled into the present moment and open to creative possibilities.

Inhabit Your Body

A great way to get in touch with your creative abilities is to move your awareness down into your body. Your body is a vessel of inner wisdom and connecting with your body allows you to sidestep the bustle of mental chatter. Things are quite here and there is space for wisdom and beauty to emerge.

A great way to bring awareness into your body is to let your feet be flat on the floor and imagine that you are breathing in and out through the soles of your feet. As you breathe do a simple body scan , moving your attention down from your head–to your throat, the center of your chest, belly, pelvis, knees, feet. Even a few seconds of this has a settling effect and you can feel the difference.

Fail Often

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Samuel Beckett

Lowering the stakes is a great way to begin a project. Realizing that your self-worth is not tied to every blog post, painting, or workshop that you create is a blessed relief! Is it really a problem if this blog post tanks? or if an illustration looks a bit out of whack? No. It’s tempting to aim for perfection but th truth is that the more you’re prepared to fail the more you produce.  And BONUS: the quality of your work improves dramatically.

Give It Some Air

I used to be a drug and alcohol worker, and one thing we did was to sit with clients as they wrote down what they saw as the ‘good’ and ‘less good’ aspects of their substance use. This exercise had a profound effect on people, it was often the first time that all the desires, consequences and judgements, good and bad, that had been swirling around in their heads was released, and they had a different perspective on them.

You can get this same effect with your ideas–by telling someone else about it, or putting it into another format–I often sketch my blog post ideas, or write a mini description of an illustration I want to do. A simple shift in perspective can really freshen things up.


Ideas are tender beings, sometimes they just need to work in the dark for a while. It’s like being in a cocoon, if it’s opened up too soon everything is lost. No one can tell you when, either. Only you can know.

Leave Foot Prints

At 5 years of age I got a pair of ‘Bata Scout’ school shoes. They had lion paw prints stamped into the sole, and at the back of the shoe, just above the heel, was a tiny opening with a secret compass tucked inside. I remember walking in the dirt and checking out my foot prints with the air of a seasoned jungle explorer.

We can also leave footprints of our creative projects. I keep notes of each stage of creation whenever possible. When a project tanks, it’s footprints are left behind for you to retrace and get a sense of where and why things went wrong. Sometimes you can even pick up a failed idea and set it in a new direction.

How About You?

What’s your favorite way to get from ‘idea’ to ‘action’? Do you use some of the methods outlined here, or do you have your own strategies? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

bell mindful
presence practices

Morning Bell

“We have long forgotten that activities can be simple and precise. Every act of our lives can contain simplicity and precision and can thus have tremendous beauty and dignity.”

― Chögyam Trungpa, ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’


Wandering a local spiritual bookstore a few days ago, looking at beautiful and expensive Tibetan bells and their accessories–cushions, strikers, mallets–I could feel the ‘want’ rising through my body. The desire to have just the right things to supplement my mindfulness practices—to make them more ‘special’ and ‘holy’.

While Buddhist principles are still a strong guiding influence on my life, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been connected to an actual Buddhist community. My meditation practices have largely fallen into the earth, into my body, into the daily interactions of my life.

These are the places where I choose to carve out space and time for my meditation / mindfulness practices. While I still participate in more formal practices, mostly yoga nidra which has come to the forefront these days, but also sitting meditation,  and a smattering of regular yoga, my focus is on finding ways to integrate presence into my daily routine.

But I’m feeling less need to fit myself into these forms and am finding myself excited to adapt practices I know and let them find their own form in my everyday life.

I’m doing another round of Yoga Nidra training next month, and afterwards, will be offering individualized yoga-nidra meditations as part of my presence coaching. While I’ve been doing my pre-course preparations and readings I’ve been giving thought to how I want to be bringing people out of our meditations so they feel grounded and ready to re-engage with their day. I’m thinking about incorporating the use of meditation bells as a way of moving people out of Yoga Nidra and into a more everyday state of consciousness that will leave them feeling alert and aware of their surroundings while remaining grounded in their bodies.

And this is where that feeling of ‘want’ comes in–taking this simple and useful idea and complicating it with thoughts about needing some kind of ‘special’ bell with all the right accessories. Even as these ideas come up I see them as unhelpful–it’s such a reflexive response. But having that response got me thinking about ways to be more appreciative of the tools that I do have, and how to practice using them more consciously.

So my new, mini presence-practice involves taking a few minutes each day to set up my not-expensive bell and a few garden variety accessories and simply ring the bell with awareness.

It feels important to bring a spirit of play and creativity to this, so I’m moving the bell around in different settings and encouraging myself to treat it as a way of appreciating all the little details of my daily life. That will include lots of bell ringing in the garden. And also in forgotten, and not forgotten, corners of our house, favorite places in my neighborhood—I want this bell and this practice to touch as many areas of my life as possible. The goal is to find my own way into using these bells, to develop rituals and ways of working with them that honor ordinary life, and the beauty embedded within it that we can so easily miss.

When I see the bell sitting on a tuft of mossy ground-cover it seems as at home there as it would on a bell cushion. The birch stick used to strike the bell fits nicely in my hand, and there are so many things to notice as I hold it; the feel of the papery bark, the smooth fleshy section where the bark has worn away, a small patch of lichen clinging to one end. There is a slight curve to the stick in the middle which means I have to be even more attentive as I strike the bell if I want it to ring cleanly.

When the bell rings I hear it in the world of birds and breezes, the world of neighbors pottering in their garages and gardens. I hear the tone of the bell, unbounded by the walls of my house, free to ring out slowly, steadily, making its way through the world.

heart mind writing

The Art Of Noticing


How do you feel when you face a blank page?

Some days it’s not a big deal for me, some days it’s difficult.

When it’s good, writing and creating is like something fresh and vivid pouring itself onto the paper.

Then there’s the not-good times. The block shows up first in my body–as heat, as tension–it’s like I’m a thermometer and the red mercury of dread is rising up through me.

That feeling reminds me of exams I’ve taken where I sat, pen in hand, mortified as every drop of knowledge evaporates, leaving me stuck on a hard seat staring at the sheet of paper demanding answers from me.

Most of my experience of writer’s block is somehow related to false expectations. Set by me, or a someone else, as if I’m being examined and about to be ‘found out’ as lacking something.

I’ve developed a practice that helps me with all of these things, that is changing my relationship to writing, it’s called ‘noticing’.

Noticing is my way of dissolving false expectations, and tapping into what lies underneath all of that anxiety. It’s a way of claiming a small victory for myself. the small victory of starting. Which often leads to a snowballing effect–once I’ve pierced the crust of my anxiety I’m free to mine all the good that lies beneath it.

This Is How It Works

Start by writing the word ‘noticing’ at the top of your page, and begin to write whatever comes into your awareness, in this moment. Anything counts, if the pen is moving, this is working. There is no quality requirement here, we just record what’s happening in the moment, even that is just a starting point, if you veer away that’s fine, too.

Whenever you get stuck, or need a moment to regather, or simply want to follow a new train of thought write the word ‘noticing’ again keep the pen moving:

Noticing the boys walking outside my window, chatting away. The sound of geese? ducks? the light is low and I see grey through the window. The room is warm. Noticing tension in my head. At my temples. I’m tired and flat. Noticing the light falling on the page, how my hand casts a shadow over the tip of my pen and each word is written in shadow then moves into the light as my hand moves across

The repetition of the word noticing does a few things. First of all, writing the word noticing means that before I come up with my own first word, ink has already met the paper: no blank page. It sounds insignificant, but with writer’s block there are no insignificant victories. There’s writing, and there’s not writing.

The word noticing also gives me a focus, I have a clear simple action to perform, that keeps me from spinning my wheels.

I also like the rhythm of the word: ‘no-ti-cing‘. I often write it out a few times when I’m stuck and just enjoy that rhythm, and what it draws out from me:

noticing noticing noticing … a plane flying overhead, the small of my back is tight, I’m leaning forward in my chair, now shifting a little, my back has eased slightly , still tight. the window just brightened, the sun is out and there’s a mess of garden hose all lit up on the ground outside.

No grammar check, no spell check, no checking anything here. The exercise is all about getting the pen moving, and touching base with your present moment experience.

Noticing is for everybody. The great thing about this exercise is you can’t get it wrong, because you’re just recording what is coming into your field of attention as it happens. And also, you can’t get it right, because no matter how fast you write you can’t possibly capture with pen and hand all the things that are you are noticing in any given moment.

Ideas of right and wrong become completely irrelevant. Take that! Inner Critic.

It’s a great practice to begin a writing session–that’s my favourite use. I also find it calming, and will often ‘notice’ for a few minutes before writing an email, or filling out a form I’ve been stressed about, or even if I just want to sit and do some journalling (I never know what to journal about, so noticing is really helpful there. )

I’ll sometimes take a pen and paper out into the garden when I’m supervising my son’s play, too. It’s nice to sit out there with a cup of tea, do a bit of noticing, run around with the boys for a while, do some more noticing. It’s a great way to check in and touch base.

You can go as lightly or deeply as you choose to with this. Sometimes, I’ll start off noticing and hit an idea or a feeling that really draws me in and the noticing becomes something else entirely– a blog post, a starting point for a poem, or a painting.

Anything can happen.

And Hey! Did you know I’ve written a whole ebook on noticing for you?

It’s called ‘Notice Your Life’ and it’s free for you to download right now!

Just fill out the form at the bottom of the page, then hit that big orange button to get your copy delivered.

You will also receive the Welcome Presence newsletter with tips, blog updates, and conversations on being more present in the world.