In the hustle of everyday life it’s easy to forget that each one of us is actually operating in two worlds. Most adults were raised to focus only on the world of doing: goals, lists, milestones, schedules, business, busyness and “what’s next.” But this approach only takes into account half of who we are, leading to a constricted life resulting in chronic stress, frustration, dysfunctional independence, overwhelm, and anxiety. Another, deeper aspect of who we are exists in the world of being, full of things that makes our heart sing, connect us to our compassion, ignite our creativity, evoke laughter, and make us feel alive! When we ignore this essential part of who we are, our spirit is dampened and we feel off-kilter, disconnected. Our lives lose their meaning and we start wondering about the purpose of our work, relationships and the things that fill our days.
Tapping Our Whole Selves
The need to see and express the fullness of who we are as body and soul became so clear to me while having a conversation with a revolutionary entrepreneur who teaches wholeness to young girls, boys and adults. Her business, disguised as a sewing studio in the South Bay, actually serves a higher calling.
Based in Redondo Beach, California, Joyce Zappellini has taught hundreds to sew through day courses and camps for girls and boys, as well as evening classes for adults, since Sew Creative Café was founded in 1989. I first met Joyce five years ago when my two daughters, Caitlynn (then 12) and Jacquelyn (then 7), expressed an interest in sewing and I found her lovely shop. Walking in, there are bright, colorful fabrics, threads, and a row of sewing machines with samples of handmade treasures covering the walls.
As my daughters worked with Joyce to hand-pick swaths of fabric and work on a variety of projects over the year, something interesting happened. Through one lens they were sewing pillows, purses, skirts, tops and stuffed animals. But seen a different way, they were actually being encouraged to access and cultivate qualities like courage, gratitude and intention. The physical action of sewing was creating a deeper connection to their spirit, and the self-esteem and self-confidence that resulted were palatable.
“When we think we are just humans, slugging through our days without seeing our wholeness, we feel cut off, stifled and disempowered,” explained Joyce. “I know how much pressure there is on kids these days with academics and sports. My classes satisfy the creative part of the soul where everyone can express freely in a safe environment without the pressure.”
Bringing Spiritual Essence into Physical Form
With each stitch, Joyce was seeing the students’ whole selves and encouraging them to cultivate it by bringing out their own authentic expression from within. Each project, therefore, becomes a physical representation of that wholeness, an expression of both body and soul, to behold and appreciate.
In my work as a coach, I often use inquiry with teams and individuals for self-discovery and exploration. As I spoke with Joyce, I wondered what would happen if more often we chose to see one another’s wholeness in our professional and personal relationships.
Here are seven soul qualities from Joyce’s creative approach to consider for your own life:
1. Build Courage
A woman in her late 20s, Claire first came to Joyce’s studio as a little girl. “She’s so intelligent,” said Joyce. “She also has trouble being related to by others and has a strained relationship with her mother, who is very hard on her.” Out in the world Claire is often afraid of making mistakes. She’s worried she won’t be accepted, will be criticized and harshly judged. As a result, Claire is unlikely to take risks or think creatively for fear of being rejected. Joyce’s class offers a different environment. Claire is able to try something new, make mistakes and learn how to fix them. She relishes this experience so much, she named Joyce’s class “courage class.” Joyce beamed when she told me, so delighted that Claire is learning and developing new skills.
Coaching Inquiry: How do you make others feel safe to express themselves? Do you allow yourself to build resilience through your own mistakes?
2. Cultivating Gratitude
Joyce’s store was abuzz with conversation and a cranberry scented candle burned on the front desk. A smile sprung to life on my 12-year-old’s face and then expanded like one of those fireworks on the 4th of July. She was nearly bursting out of her skin with excitement. “I know exactly what I’m getting everyone for the holidays! I’m going to make each person something special, a sewing project just from me!”
Coaching Inquiry: Do you allow your expressions of gratitude to bring YOU a ton of joy? Where in your life do you give from a place of obligation or sacrifice? When do you notice you’re coming from authenticity instead?
3. Experiencing Freedom
Creating a place in the world like Joyce’s studio that doesn’t dictate a certain way we have to be, allows us to open our minds. From that place, we can think new thoughts and listen deeply to the wisdom within.
Coaching Inquiry: Try this sentence completion exercise. “One way I could allow myself to be more open is___.” Then try , “One way I could allow myself to be even more open is___.”
4. Nurturing Curiosity
A petite little girl from India came into Joyce’s studio one day with a crude red line drawn down her arm. She shared with Joyce that her mom had freaked out when she saw it, yelling at her because it looked like a deep wound. Joyce’s approach was to stay neutral, be non-judgmental and ask questions so she could hear what was really going on. She asked if the girl had meant to make the mark look like a cut. “No,” the little girl replied. “I was just so bored in class.”
When we let our knee-jerk reactions run the show, we often miss out on the learning and the deeper truth of what is really happening.
Coaching Inquiry: Where are your snap judgements or reactions getting in the way?
5. Encouraging Growth
When we let our lives and our work get routine, we can feel underutilized and stagnant. The joy of being a part of creation—whether it’s sewing a quilt, starting a new job, building a company, or trying a new recipe in the kitchen—is a part of who we are at our core. A sense of growth, expansion or contribution to something bigger than ourselves helps us feel on-purpose.
Coaching Inquiry: How are you allowing yourself and others to contribute and connect to a sense of value in what they do each day?
6. Fostering Learning
“I like to teach my students to think” explained Joyce. “When students ask me how to do something, I don’t rush right in. I let them think about it for a minute. I might ask, ‘Well, what’s your next step?’ They light up when they’ve figured it out!” Joyce loves watching them develop their ability to think and be more self-reliant!
Coaching Inquiry: Where are you rushing in to problem-solve for others and cutting them off from their own learning opportunity?
7. Honoring Self & Others
When we allow the entirety of who we are to be expressed, we are our best selves. Joyce’s real magic is that she sees the essential nature of her students, as whole, complete and capable, just as they are. She simply appreciates them. There are many ways we can do this for ourselves, in our work environments, with our children and in our relationships.
“Sewing is meditative. When you’re in the zone you don’t think about anything else, you just enjoy being creative. It is peaceful, non-competitive, calming and fun,” said Joyce. “When sewing with others it builds camaraderie, friendship and a community.”
Coaching Inquiry: Give this meditation two minutes of your day today. What would it be like if I saw everyone as whole and complete, doing the best that they can in this moment?
A Future to Behold
These seven qualities reveal just a small piece of the fabric that makes up the grand tapestry of who we are—souls with bodies. Activating soul-centered qualities in ourselves and others, and bringing them more fully into view, allows us to feel more integrated. Our work, therefore, becomes a physical representation of that wholeness. From that place, we begin to live life to its fullest, creating a masterpiece to behold and appreciate.
My life has been a tapestry of
rich and royal hue, an everlasting
vision of the ever changing view.
— Carole King