UnBounded: Limitless Joy

© Mary Alice Long

Boundaries. Borders. Barriers.

What does it mean to be bounded? To set limits? To have limits that you find difficult to overcome? To live knowing that there is a barrier to something or someone you want desperately to get to?

Some of the words that rise to the surface when I explore boundaries today are limits, crossing, tied up, safety, clarity, decision-making, reassuring, borderline, cut off, threshold, NO.

By the time I was pregnant as a surrogate mother I had built many barriers to joy. Everybody else’s needs were more important than mine. I felt resentful and angry.

After Will was born, my naivete vanished when following each of his birthdays I was left without resolution–without a word of his well-being.

Over time, my life experience and my dreams helped me to see that I had given away too much of myself and that I had to take steps to bring joy out of the chaos. I came to understand the need to forgive myself and others and to take responsibility for my life.

Crossing the Borderline from Chaos to Joy


When I write I am often aware or working intentionally within the bounds of a beginning, middle, and end to the story. There is, however, no set way for me to write within that familiar progression. As the creator of my story I am the ONE who chooses the container for my words.

When ideas come I write them down in my journal or add them to my notes. When I sit down to write on any given day I look to these drafts. Each title has an energy behind it. It’s easy for me to begin and soon I am into the writing process.


Movement meditation leads me to joy and stillness. I feel a sense of arrival. Instead of movement to change an outer event I am experiencing an inner opening of the gates. Acceptance of what is and letting go of expectations leads to a joyfulness in my process of becoming. Joy moving into stillness brings me back to Self and Self-ishness. I am at the threshold of my experience and grace spills me over into the next moment and the next. My movements reflect my life and help me change my perspective just enough to allow in pain and joy, failure and success.

Making a Rainbow

Often the smallest packages bring the greatest joy.

Yesterday I opened a sealed, well-packed box. When the sun shines during the day and early evening our dining and living room walls fill with the colors of the rainbow. A prism in Ed Nesteruk’s glass art piece makes rainbow colors.

When the sun comes out to play, a variety of colors make our day!

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.

~ Rumi

P.S. I would love to send you my weekly letter.

Mary Alice Long, PhD is a play-based, depth-oriented coach, writer, and artist who practices and teaches the ‘Art of Playing in the Everyday’.

My Northwest Body

Will loved hiking and playing outdoors. We talked about his hopes for a trip to the northwest. He imagined me as his Mom cooking him meals and taking him to places that are special to me on the Olympic peninsula.

No one’s Story is Finished ~Rachel Naomi Remen

The northwest is home. I feel her dampness in my bones. Rain cleanses and heals as I focus on each present moment.

My Rainshadow Body

…is no longer afraid of the Boogie man, running home breathlessly in the dark.

…climbs trees and over fences, loves dogs and horses.

Will © Mary Alice Long

My Animal Body

…is also a red-tailed hawk, raven, sparrow, robin.

…a black-tail deer, Roosevelt elk, harbor seal, orca, sea otter, Olympic marmot.

My Tree Body

…is Douglas and subalpine fir, salal, cedar.

…is boundless and has clear boundaries

…is a dreamer.

Rooted Map © Mary Alice Long

Olympic Peninsula

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Each moment that I bend down to lightly touch a wildflower on the meadow’s edge, look up and notice the clouds drifting between the mountain peaks, or listen to understand Raven’s call brings me happiness. It’s all I need. No more.

Each moment that I…take a photo of subalpine fir tree roots, dig my toes into the sand following a storm, witness a doe leading her newly born twin fawns into the woods, sit by a pond and wait as witness to the unfolding I am remembering.

Each moment I am. The soulfulness of playing. Help me remember.
Rooted Map 2 © Mary Alice Long
Hurricane Ridge Spreading Phlox © Mary Alice Long

Practicing playing in the everyday is not difficult. Do you take your thoughts seriously? We all do. Hold those serious thoughts of yours with a light touch and bring yourself back to each precious moment.

What [moment] is it?” asked Pooh. “It’s this [playful moment],” squeaked Piglet. “My favourite [moment],” said Pooh.

in Gratitude to A A Milne

Want some help in how to embrace everyday moments in your life?

Mary Alice Long, PhD is a play-based, depth-oriented coach, writer, and artist who practices and teaches the ‘Art of Playing in the Everyday’.

I am a Success when I…

Summer Clouds © Mary Alice Long

…notice the graces that appear when I need them most. 

…dare to add one word, one phrase, one sentence to my memoir draft.

…begin to write a letter to my memoir project followers.

…read one page of the novel I have been wanting to read for 3 months.

…pick up one piece of clothing, paper, or a treasure and give, donate, or throw it away.

I am a Success

…when I say one kind, loving word to Michael when I am angry with cancer’s effects on our life together.

…when I take the time to prepare nutritious meals, get enough sleep, exercise, and go on regular play dates for self-care.

…when I reach out to to someone who needs support.

…when I take the time to document the Beauty that is all around me.

Love that Color!

I am a Success

…when I write a story and share it on Medium and on other social media platforms

…when I keep trying even when all the evidence says, no way!

…when I say what I have to say without concern for what others may think of me.

…when I can shift my perspective just enough to let someone else in.

Mary Alice Long, PhD is a play-based, depth-oriented coach, writer, and artist who practices and teaches the ‘Art of Playing in the Everyday’.

Memoir Writing: A process of discovery

Love is the Thing

There are many underpinnings that lend support to the structure of my story. Every room in the house that I have been building through my storytelling is filled with love.

The Gift of Play

By the time I reached my mid-30s and gave birth as a surrogate mother I had forgotten much of what I knew about play. Thank goodness my dreams persisted and helped me to understand how important play is to my well-being.


I need look no further than my dreams to understand that in my lifetime I will only touch the surface of what is possible. There is so much more to experience.


My journals are a testament to the fact that I love to write story and create, making something from nothing. I write morning pages, haiku, and respond to writing prompts to get me going. I write down words that I want to look up later, my dreams and what I notice about the setting, characters, and actions that visit me as I sleep or during my waking hours as daydreams or visualizations. My journals are also visual and contain just about everything in my life–paintings, drawings, lists, projects, calendar, planning, my intentions, what I do, what I am most passionate about in this moment and the next.

I write everyday in my journals or if for some reason I am not carrying my journal with me, I will find a napkin, torn off bit of paper, even my hand, a fallen leaf, or a stone has acted as a blank slate for my writing.

Because I’ve kept my journals over many years I can explore my past dreams and experiences through the threads of my writing. The patterns that I see are notes that have consistently helped me to understand my life experiences in greater depth. These patterns come with an attitude that my life experiences are not done with me and will continue to inform my life for as long as I care to pay attention.

Archetypal Forces

Without conscious awareness there are energies that can be dangerous.


My life experience and reflections have led me to an understanding that I am happiest when I accept what life offers from one moment to the next. When I am faced with things I would rather not do, when fears arise, when challenges emerge, I remember that I have the tools I need to play and create something new from the muck of life and from the wellsprings. Choosing ways to play in the everyday moments of my life continues to be transformational as I continue my daily practice.

Patterns Broken

I can and did break old patterns no longer needed. I continue to make adjustments. Each time there is a deepening and integration that takes place.

The One Thing

Each of us carry our thing into life circumstances. Whatever our family deal is climbs on for a ride and comes along. So for me, what I carry into all of my relationships is ‘I have to have a voice and freedom to play with all of it.’


Staying with what I know and am comfortable with is not always the best choice.

Are You Ready to Deepen your Life Experience?

Mary Alice Long, PhD is a play-based, depth-oriented coach, writer, and artist who practices and teaches the ‘Art of Playing in the Everyday’.

Permission Granted

Permission to play with a soft focus so you can relax into life.

Permission to worry, to obsess, to write, to be a bit antsy. To just breathe, walk slowly, and write in your journal again and again.

Permission to bend like a small branch or ground your Self with deep roots. Permission to change your mind; to use off-colored language, swear words; to use words that a nice girl doesn’t say. Permission to eat too many potato chips and, then, indulge by eating a pint of chocolate mint ice cream. Permission to prepare, savor, and sip a cup of hot, ginger-mint tea while listening to an audio that brings laughter because you have been there and because the woman speaking helps give you permission to raise your voice and sing your song. Permission to just sit and observe the shadows created on your deck when the sun shines on the snowy porch rails. Permission to listen to the rush of cars going too fast driving by your home. Permission to not enjoy noise that mask the bird songs and the quiet you love. Permission to call out as Raven in 1000 voices-irreverent and trickster-ish. Permission to ignore the dust and listen to your love’s concerns. Permission to say something hurtful and make amends. Permission to cry while watching a romantic comedy. Permission to not explain why you are crying. Permission to write and let your nose drip because you are in flow and you don’t want to stop to find a Kleenex. Permission to not be totally prepared but to go ahead anyway and do the thing… Permission to wait for inspiration. Permission to give all you can when you want to and to laugh at what others take seriously.

Permission to reach out and ask for help and permission to be disappointed.

Permission to keep at it. Permission to realize that even the best of intentions don’t always produce the intended results. Permission to be okay with that.

Permission to stop when it’s time and continue if you haven’t said it all.

~Permission Granted

Writing Process: Lets Lick the Words from Our Fingers

One can’t be an expert in process. By its very nature process can’t be mastered. Because it’s not finished. And who knows what will happen next? ~Nancy Mairs, Ordinary Time

I have years of writing stored in my journals and in my computer files. (Maybe you can relate)

While working on my memoir manuscript the other day a question came to me,

If my writing hasn’t been published, is someone reading it?

If it’s true that we live multiple existences in parallel universes then it is possible that my writing in another sphere is being read and even widely distributed.

My night and waking dreams have convinced me that I actually know very little of what is possible. Could it be that the characters in a variety of dreamscapes (both my own and others around the world) are not only reading my writing but helping me to re-write my life stories?

As Nancy Mairs wrote, who knows what will happen next?

Process has no ending. I recognize this even as I work to complete my memoir, I Would Have Named Him Peter.

I write everyday. I start each day handwriting in my journal. I keep my pen moving across the page filling 2-3 pages of my journal or more. My morning writing is a spilling out of whatever is inside me that wants to show up on the page. My dreams are integrated into the body of my daily journal and visual journaling.

In the last year I have been writing in short bursts of 5 minutes. This practice has increased my understanding of the value of being consistent in my writing and has spilled over into other areas of my life. For example, I set the timer for 5, 10, or 30 minutes to organize my studio, add to my visual journal, paint, or do the laundry. If suddenly my puppy, Will, needs my attention or I am distracted from my writing for any number of reasons (happens right?) I can easily stop and shift gears knowing that I can go back to my 5-minutes of writing when I have tended to the matter at hand.

At this point in my memoir writing process I am deepening, shaping, and completing.

I don’t know what will happen next. Isn’t that part of the fun of writing and creating a life?

I hope you will follow along as I discover what’s next in the next autumn, winter, spring and summer of my life. I would love to share those life experiences with you.




Record a Life: New Insights about Bodily Symptoms + Letting Go + Integration

While enjoying a lunch break with Michael I began to think about my morning…

My day began with writing in my journal, stretching in my studio, and broadcasting. I haven’t been feeling well going on 6 weeks. My lack of energy and over all ache has led me to slow down, hibernate, retreat. I have been handwriting entries in my journal and realized only in the last few days that developing a relationship with my bodily symptoms will help me to understand their language.

My lack of energy and general disease in my body has slowed me down, helped me let go and schedule time off from some of my responsibilities. I am exploring new options for a healthier living, taking afternoon naps, and drinking lots of water. I am focusing on one thing at a time which is very unusual for me given my love of diversity. Tending to the soulfulness of everyday things is becoming rooted in a spiritual practice that I can’t define but identity as central to my life and life’s view.

Just before lunch after taking my golden retriever puppy, Will, for a bit of outdoors play, I made my way to my upstairs studio to begin the process of clearing out my file cabinet that has remained untouched since settling into our new home 4 years ago. I set my timer for 30 minutes and began to go through the files one by one in one of the large drawers. When the timer went off with the familiar ‘Playtime’ I could hardly move my locked knees. I stretched, moved around my studio, and stumbled my way downstairs to prepare lunch for Michael and I.

Lila, our Bassett Hound, wanted to go outside and Will, who is now over 6 months old, settled in under the dining room table. With each spoonful of soup, I began to think about each piece of paper that I had placed in the recycling bag. I began to associate each dated file, resource, and entry with my son, Will, and the age he would have been during that year. One of the first files I found (remembering its now 2018) was dated 1998. Will would have been 11-years-old. With my recognition came tears and stiff, almost immovable muscles across my shoulders and back. I realized that I have been holding onto these files and other things in my studio. Could keeping these items over the years be a way of holding onto what was lost to me over the years?

For almost 30 years I was in the dark as to my son’s life. It was only last year that I heard from him by phone, was able to meet him in-person, and then less than a month later learned of his death due to progressive cancer.

Recently I began to transfer some of my memoir’s handwritten journal entries in to a computer file. I have started to transfer my newest journal entries. I have high hopes that I will be able to sort through the many other entries I have in multiple journals related to my memoir story. It all seems very chaotic. It helps me to remember that I carried around similar feelings when I was working on my doctoral dissertation, Surrogate Mother: A Phenomenological Naming of Who She Is–Personal Story, Mythology, and Dance. Eventually I was able to put the puzzle pieces in place to create a complete picture of story, myth, and dance.

As I go through my existing memoir journal entries and write reflexively in my daily journal I find myself dragged into the underworld where I am asked to see both the dark and the light, the tension of the opposites. I find my Young, Mother, and Aging Self there.

With my new insights, I am moving forward knowing that it will be necessary for me to continue to breathe into my bodily symptoms and find ways to come to a visceral understanding of the cycles of change and my part in them.

For you, the reader, it is my greatest hope that through the sharing of my story you will find your own unique ways to find soulfulness in the everyday of your life (which is also the soul of the world). More than ever it is important for me to understand that change happens in the everyday moments of our lives.

An almost imperceptible accumulation of daily change ~ Jane R. Pretat

Personal Story, Birth, and the Real Deal We Call Life

After years of writing my personal narrative, many deep, interwoven conversations, visual journaling, and performance…in less than a week…

I will say his name * meet him in-person * hold him in my arms.

January 23, 2017, on what would have been my mom’s 95th birthday, William called me. He told me how scared he was to leave a voice message asking me to call him. He asked me about his story, how he came to be.

Today I booked a flight to visit William in-person. Next week we will meet for the first time. He’s leaving the hospital after undergoing major surgery Monday evening. William’s cancer has moved from his skin, to his lungs, and now to his brain.

The phone rings and William says, They got it all.

He is hopeful and I am expectant once again.

The thing is, he is real to me now. For years, I have been using the phrase, my surrogate son. What a relief to be able to say his name, William, and know him as a person who loves to watch sports, wants to find work as a sports journalist, hike hundreds of trails.

Over the next few days, I will be gathering some of my journals, photos, and other treasures so that I can share them with William when we visit next week. Poems, memoir writing, research from my doctoral dissertation on surrogacy, performance-storytelling.

The first time we meet

Just making the reservations for my shuttle to the airport and flights was a struggle. Crying at the bank, at the pharmacy while trying to get through to the pharmacy clerk who is holding Michael’s medications post-stoke for ransom! Crying in the art studio while collaborating on a flyer for our fundraiser. I am tripping and almost fell yesterday because I have so much in my head and forgot about my feet. I keep reminding myself to ground. I’m wondering if I should rent a car but I am also concerned that I won’t be as focused as usual while driving the Los Angeles freeways.

Feeling the immediacy of the moment. I am grateful for the real deal, live life to the fullest!

I invite you to check in frequently here and on the Play=Peace blog.

Read the follow-up story Sit Back and Enjoy the Trip

Play and Relationships: Synchronicities & Communication

One evening, a couple of weeks ago, I watched ‘Forrest Gump’. I haven’t seen or really thought much about this film since it came out in 1981. The next day and ongoing over a couple of weeks, I started hearing Forrest’s name and “Run Forrest”. Not once, not twice, but multiple times.

Some examples:

  • On the ferry traveling to my daughter’s home for my grand-twins birthday party I heard a man say Forrest Gump’s name and then he yelled “Run Forrest, Run!”
  • During Sunday Morning NPR I listened to an interview with a singer-songwriter and heard her say, “Don’t Stop Running across the Finish Line”
  • “Keep Running!”
  • In an earlier podcast, I speak about how writer and creative coach, Julie Jordan Scott, used the metaphor of ‘crossing the finish line’ as a writing prompt during a recent Perioscope episode. I shared my writing following that episode. I drew myself crossing the finish line in my journal.

Now I see myself saying, I’m not Stopping Running across that Finish Line!

In a recent interview, Alan Alda, a well-known actor and writer, talked about communication. He reflected during the interview on how he was at one time talking with a woman and only seeing her as a ‘blob’. He thought he was attending to the person but discovered that he really was talking at her, not with her. He was not seeing her.

Synchronicities (meaningful coincidences) are all around us. However, if we are closed off, have our boundaries closed, are not receptive–we don’t notice and can’t see what is right in our space.

Real, deeply felt communication happens when we attend and are present to the other person’s needs.

Synchronicities and heart-felt connections are important parts of our lives that offer us opportunities for joy, meaning, optimal health, and real connection.

What synchronicities do you notice?

Want to learn more or work with me as a mentor and creative coach? I’d love to talk with you!

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New Moon Inspiration

The New Moon just before the August eclipse is an important day to set intentions as you move forward on your playful journey.

A great many people inspire me on a daily basis: Flora Bowley, Karen McMillan, Steve Dahlberg, Christine and Drew Gilbert, Julie Jordan Scott, Sheila Bender, Terry Tempest Williams, Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, Lisa Sonora, and many others…

My intention is to birth what wants to emerge through my play-based, depth-oriented work in ways that are heart-felt, embodied, life-giving, financially sustainable, and generous to myself and others.

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Want to learn more or work with me as a mentor and creative coach? I’d love to talk with you!

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Create a Life that Comes from the Heart