Kathleen Hirsch | Creativity and risk
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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Creativity and risk

The Courage of Swans, the Wisdom of Owls

What is the courage of the swan among ducks? 

What is the journey from solitude into trust?

Dare we scratch our harsh stories against the grain of life, and risk that they will become things of beauty?

These are questions poets ask themselves as often as they take in breath.

Jung, a poet in his own right, spent his whole life searching for a language that would do justice to his insight that we are each “a splinter of the infinite deity.”

He was far from alone.  Who doesn’t long for that voice that will not only convey our deepest experiences, but – harder and harder it seems, for so many – know that it is heard.

Swans float among ducks in the silver of autumn where I walk these days.  They remind me of what is possible.  Just as owls called to my friend, Nancy Rappaport.

Sometimes, we are given voices when our story falls apart.

Two weeks ago, I sat in an off-Broadway theatre as Nancy performed a remarkable one-woman play that she has composed about her journey through breast cancer, and her accompanying pilgrimage into a deep, mystical faith in the healing presences that she has found on long walks through Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA.

In giving us this gift, it seemed to me that night and now, days after, she transformed herself into a swan among ducks, a poet of healing.

With unflinching candor, she relates her shock at her diagnosis (she is a doctor), her fear, the dehumanizing process of medical procedures that so often shear away what trust we have in western medicine.

What called her from the terror of the hospital corridors to the silence of the cemetery?  What path, what voices unheard by the ordinary ear, led her to its deep and healing mysteries?

I know Mount Auburn Cemetery as a beautiful patch of tranquility, a mecca for birders and history bounty hunters eager to explore the many tombs of the famous there.

For Nancy, the cemetery became a source of communion, and its beauty a space of healing. There, the call of the owls in the deep, hidden glens evoked the presence of her late mother and the intimations of an overarching love.  As she struggled with the decision to refuse conventional plastic surgery and faced her fears of dying, she returned time and time again to the solace of the quiet stones, the centuries-old trees, the birds.  In its silences, and in the visitation of the owls, she found it in her to trust the process of recovery, and a new hunger to live a life of gratitude, immediacy, beauty and joy.

As I watched her, rapt, move across the stage, changing from street clothes to johnnie to beach flip flops, wrapping herself up in her beloved prayer shawl, or in meditation as the strings of a cello provided gorgeous accompaniment, I was aware once again of how essential and courageous it is for us to scratch the truth of our journeys on the air and into the relationships we cherish, to create story and beauty out of the hurts that tear us from innocence to wisdom.

Such messages are a form of ritual, just like the praying with incense, or the breaking of bread. They become the gifts that break life open and allow us to see the labyrinths we only recognize by walking them, the healing koans we discover only by returning time and again, until their mystery breaks open for us.

“In the end the only events of my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world erupted into this transitory one,” wrote Jung at the start of his memoir, Memories, Dreams and Reflections.

Nancy’s play, Regeneration, gave voice to such an event and we are the richer for it.  Her ordeal revealed allowed us to see the metamorphosis of pain into wise beauty.

Regeneration will be performed again.  Information will be posted October 29, 2017 at 6 p.m. at this link:






Colored Chalk Before It Rains

How wonderful is colored chalk?  And did you ever stop wishing you could squat down with a thick stick of bright pink or yellow or green and bring the world up to the standards of your dreams?

Children’s graffiti is always revelation.   The other day I stumbled upon a small cache of dreams right there on the asphalt of the park, by a bench that undoubtedly held a mother or some suitable female substitute, while two girls made the world a brighter and happier place.

It takes so little.

In response, I offer my own bits of wishful thinking for the start of the last precious month of meandering thoughts and bright blue moons…

Love your friends

and your friends’ children;

Be generous.

Live by grace.

Practice positive regard.

Be unstinting.

Pursue excellence.

Wear your mother’s jewelry.

Loan your favorite books.

Bring gifts back from your travels.

Dance – whenever you can!

Look those who serve you in the eye.

Be Grateful.


Practice infinite patience.

Especially when this is hard to do.

Protect innocence.

Honor beauty.

Conduct your life as if goodness and love were the highest names for the holy

and you its nearest willing host.

Just saying…





A Creative Invitation


Some of you are “distance,” and so will only be able to join us in spirit, but if you are close by and wishing for a chance to dive deep for a day of creative exploration and meaning-making, consider joining me with my talented book artist friend, Susan, for a day of play, discovery, fun and memorable moments.

Here’s the announcement:

Illuminating Our Stories: A Creativity Lab

with Kathleen Hirsch and Susan Porter 

 In this day-long workshop, we will celebrate the un-mined stories that live in us, using writing prompts and a rich array of visual materials to explore emerging themes and narratives.  Our process will combine writing, mark-making, collage, and mixed media.  Students will explore story — fiction, poetry and memoir — through prompts, individual creative time, and sharing. By day’s end, participants will have completed a series of illuminations, one written piece, and several working drafts that they can complete at home.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

9:00 AM to 4:00 PM

311 Forest Hills St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

 $115 per person (includes materials, pre-payment required)

Space is limited. Contact us to register at

 susaneporter33@yahoo.com  or  kathleenhirsch2016@gmail.com

Susan Porter’s multi-dimensional art journals blur boundaries between collage, printmaking and book arts. She teaches others how to use color, imagery, and text to create their own one-of-a-kind journals. Her work can be viewed at coloringbooksandjournals.com.



Spring Into Your Creativity

To My Fellow Writers, Seekers, and Artists

With the thaws this winter have come a few exciting creative ventures.  Upcoming is one that, if you are local, you may want to check out:

On Saturday, May 13, I am collaborating with a highly gifted book artist, Susan Porter, to offer a new workshop called Illuminating Our Stories: A Creativity Lab.  It weaves together my creative and contemplative writing techniques with Susan’s astonishing color, collage, and folding repertoire.

For more details, go to “Spirit Works” via the home page at http://kathleenhirsch.com/.



On Election Eve: The Tree of This Moment

Tonight I will bake apples, light candles, break bread, knowing that this tree, this day, will never be repeated.  Alongside our anxious hearts, our canvassing and postings, our prayers, miracles not to be believed flare into the cracks of our man-made world.

Things not to be believed stop for just an instant the sound tracks of our heavy hearts.

Believe.  Imagine.  Tomorrow we will need both.


Making New Friends — A September Letter

Dear Friends,

As a Girl Scout many years ago, we sang a song many of you no doubt know:  “Make New Friends, but Keep the Old.”

A year ago, I reached out to a woman whose work I had long admired, the career coach and author, Gail McMeekin.  Her books, “The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women,” and “The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women,” had both been real inspirations to me at various times in my life, and I have given them as gifts to others.

You know that there are hidden webs of belonging all around you when the following happens.

Gail, it turns out, had read my book, “A Sabbath Life: One Woman’s Search for Wholeness,” and had done the same thing with it that I’d done with hers — passed it along, shared it around.

In the course of things, I discovered that one of those friends to whom she’d passed it is Janet Connor, whose extraordinary book, “Writing Down the Soul” has had a place of honor on my bookshelf for years!

I felt that, in the middle of the road, so to speak, I’d discovered long-lost sisters.  A conversation was begun.

And it hasn’t ended.

Janet is a go-getter, who writes books faster than I can fold my laundry, and who keeps a dozen other projects in the air, including her own on-line radio program, “The Soul-Directed Life,” an interview show that has a theme a month and features thinkers and writers and ordinary folks who’ve walked a journey she feels it worth sharing with her audience.

Today at 2 p.m. I will patch into her show as the “guest speaker” of the week, on the theme of — you guessed it — Sabbath life.

I will attach the url here, should you be interested in joining.  (The program plays again in the coming days, on a schedule available on the site.)


I am grateful to Gail and to Janet for this chance to refocus my own scattered September energies on the theme that means most to me — contemplation in a world of action, mindfulness in the midst of our hectic days.

Peace to all of you,