Archive for the ‘Creative Leaps’ Category

Gems of Change

By Joyce C. Mills, Ph.D.

“Gems of Change” was first published in Spa Magazine January/February, 2001. At that time I was living on the lush Garden Island of Kaua’i Hawaii with my husband.  We are now living in Phoenix, Arizona enjoying the splendor of the ever-changing desert.

Recently, while opening small decorative boxes of trinkets, I came upon the many pieces of sea glass I gathered when I was living on the island so many years ago. As I was handling each of the colorful pieces, once broken and discarded, I thought about the many life challenges so many of us face today.  It was then I remembered this story and realized it was time to share it once again. It is my hope that Gems of Change will bring comfort to your lives in many special ways.

The Story…

Since moving to the island of Kaua’i some eight years ago, after twenty-seven years of living in fast-paced Los Angeles, my life has been in a state of total flux. Rather than the peaceful, simple life-style my husband and I sought, we were greeted with Hurricane Iniki, the worst natural disaster to hit the Hawaiian Islands, just ten days after our arrival.

We thought we were moving to paradise, but instead found the move to be fraught with continuous challenge. Over the years I felt like our goal for a peaceful life-style was being shattered into chards of broken dreams. Every time it appeared as if bits and pieces of my life were coming together, something would happen to squash the opportunities from coming to fruition.

A few months after the hurricane I decided to visit our local neighborhood center. While sitting at a picnic table, one of the Hawaiian elders opened a large jar of what appeared to be multi-colored jewels and emptied the contents into a round basket that was on the table before us.

Sea Glass

Sea Glass

Upon closer look, these jewels were really tumbled pieces of broken glass. I became curious and asked her about them. Aunty Martha told me about a beach on the Westside of the island known as “Glass Beach.” She said that rather than soft golden sand, the beach is covered with what looks like tiny pieces of glittering jewels. However, these jewels are really fragments of broken glass that were once parts from various types of bottles, which were discarded out at sea.

Over time, these jagged fragments are washed onto the shore and transformed by nature into colorful gems. These gems are often used to create jewelry, picture frames, flowerpots, sun catchers, and ornaments of various kinds. Aunty Martha then handed me a piece of glass and told me to put it in a special place.

I did as Aunty Martha told me to do and placed it on a shelf next to pictures of my friends and family, all the while thinking someday I’d like to visit that beach.

That “someday” didn’t happen until about a year later, when I noticed that I was still feeling jagged and fragmented in my own life. I had no regular job, finances were dwindling rapidly, and I missed my friends and family very much. It was then that I decided to take some private time for myself and visit this beach. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas as to what I might learn. I just knew that I needed to be there.

With gentle shore-line waves lapping over my bare feet, I walked along the water’s edge, noticing pebble-size pieces of glass glistening like fine jewels in colors of turquoise, emerald, brown, crimson, and orange.

As I walked further, I notice larger, thumb-size pieces of the glass and decided to collect some of them. After an hour or so, the plastic bag I had brought with me was filled with these gems.

Wanting to survey my treasures, I found a cove, and emptied my sack of glass onto a large beach towel. I picked up piece after piece, noticing each shape and color. One particular piece of smooth, frosted white glass caught my attention. I decided to use this piece of glass as one would use a reference book to find answers to a puzzling question. Holding it in the palm of my hand, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and mentally asked it to teach me something I needed to know right now in my life. I turned it over and over in my hand, while waiting for an answer to surface.

In these few moments of quiet meditation, I realized that our dreams, goals, and visions begin whole and smooth like the glass that was once part of a bottle or a jar. However, sometimes we find ourselves in uncharted waters; perhaps feeling like we were tossed overboard. There may be rough seas, high winds, and unclear navigation. This lack of clarity and turmoil can leave us feeling broken and shattered. With time, the edges of uncertainty smooth out, and we can find a safe place on which to land and gleam.

With these thoughts in mind, I began to think about the many challenges and traumas that have jarred my life over the years prior to our move. I remembered how, at first, these difficulties felt like they would break me apart. However; upon inner reflection, I now know that each experience has helped to smooth my rough edges and helped me to look at my life with greater dimension.

The sun was beginning to set as I bundled the many gems in the towel. Once I was home, I placed them in a large, clear glass jar and tumbled them over and over again. Each time I turned the jar, I saw a new design emerge.

As I look at that jar today, I realize that those once broken chards have become the vibrant colors in a personal kaleidoscope called my Life.

A Kaliedoscope Life

A Kaliedoscope Life

Take a few moments to reflect on your own life, and share with us what you may use to bring beauty to the chaos and confusion you may sometimes be called upon to endure.


Dr. Joyce

Joyce C. Mills, Ph.D. LMFT LLC
Creative Solutions for Positive Change
Registered Play Therapy Supervisor
Co-director of The Phoenix Institute of Ericksonian Therapy

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“Go to your fields and your gardens,

and you shall learn

that it is the pleasure of the bee

to gather honey of the flower,

But it is also the pleasure of the flower

to yield its honey to the bee.”   ~Kahlil Gibran


Each morning I slowly meander into the kitchen and fix my wake-me-up cup of coffee.  

Mmmm, the smell of freshly brewing coffee fills the air as I watch, somewhat impatiently, as the rich, dark liquid begins to drip through the filter into the glass pot.  I then pour that first cup and sip slowly, enjoying the rich taste as it goes down.    For me, it is a cup of pure wake-up joy.   As I think about it, wouldn’t it be nice to begin and end each day sipping from a cup filled with joy?    Perhaps it could lead to another kind of wake-up feeling.       

A Cup of Joy

A Cup of Joy

How many times do we rush through our day not even thinking about the gifts we may have received that day. . . gifts that fill our inner cup of joy?  Perhaps it was a smile from the supermarket check out person, or a hug from your child.  Maybe it was a kind note from a colleague at work letting you know that you did a good job on a project or, perhaps you received a phone call from a friend or relative you hadn’t heard from for some time just saying that he or she had been thinking about you and just had to call. Most of the time these simple gifts go unnoticed and we remain focused on what’s not going well. 

This Steppingstone is meant to remind you to reach for your cup of joy each day and to decide what is in it or what you want to fill it with.   Find a quiet place, take a deep breath, and ask yourself the following questions.  The answers may come to you in the form of thoughts or images.   Grab a sheet of paper or your favorite journal… write down the questions below and allow your heart to respond.


  • What gives me joy in my life?

  • With whom do I feel full, respected, joyful?    

  • What would I like to be doing in my life that I am not doing?   In other words, what joy am I postponing? 

  • Next, look at the answers to these questions and ask yourself:  “What am I willing to do that will bring joy into my life today?”  

  • The next step is simple . . . Just do it!


Dr. Joyce

Joyce C. Mills PhD, LMFT, LLC
6609 N. Scottsdale Rd. Bldg. G-103
Scottsdale, AZ 85250

© 1999 All Right Reserved ~ Joyce C. Mills, Ph.D.
Reconnecting to the Magic of Life

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Creating a Peace Garden

Since the tragedy that struck America on September 11th, I have received countless calls and e-mails from therapists, teachers, and parents around the country asking what they can do to help their children at this time of sadness, fear, and uncertainty. During one such conversation, a friend said that her ten year-old son felt fear most of the time and didn’t know what to do.  After a few days of contemplation and meditation, I had a dream in which children were creating a “Peace Garden.” Upon awakening I decided to nurture the message of this dream. Gardens are powerful metaphors for our lives. We decide what we want to plant and nurture, as well as what we want to trim back or remove altogether.

After tearfully watching the Day of Prayer televised on September 23rd, I took some quiet time to reflect on what I was feeling. During these reflective moments, the faces and voices of the children of Harlem singing the African American National Anthem, “We Shall Overcome” continued to stream through my mind. Shortly afterwards a ritual for creating a “Peace Garden” became clear. It is my hope that the creation of a Peace Garden becomes a foundation of every home and school, and that the seeds of a peaceful resolution germinate, blossom, and flower for our children and our planet.

Creating a Peace Garden

Creating a Peace Garden

The following ideas for creating a Peace Garden are shared from my heart to yours.

Materials needed:

Rocks of various sizes, acrylic paints, brushes. Optional are plants, flowers, or a tree.


Walk out into your yard or garden with your child. Let your child choose the area he or she feels would be the right place for the Peace Garden. This does not have to be a large area.

If you live in an apartment, or have very limited space, use a small planter box to house your Peace Garden. It is not the size of the space that is important; the importance is on the intention.

Time of Day:

The time of day you choose to create your Peace Garden is optional according to your personal family schedule.


Once chosen, create an open space, clearing away any brush or obstacles that may be in the way. While doing so, ask your child to picture clearing away any worries or fears he or she may be experiencing. Take your time in this part of the process. Giving voice and action to inner feelings is a way of honoring our humanity and connectedness.

Planting Peace:

Gather rocks of various sizes and put them in a pile near the area you and your child have just cleared. Next, you and your child choose a rock, hold it in your hands and meditate for a few quiet moments on the word, message, prayer, or picture you want to paint on it. When you and your child are finished painting the rock, place it anywhere in the Peace Garden area.

You may wish to plant a tree, shrub or flowers in the garden also, but it is not necessary.

If your child is having a friend or friends over for a play day, invite them to participate in the creation and perpetuation of the Peace Garden. They can be asked to bring a rock of their own, or use one that you have provided.

Spiritual Pollination:

Like the tiny particles of pollen carried on the wings of butterflies from one flower to the next with the sole purpose of perpetuating regeneration and life, it is my belief that our prayers, messages, and images are transformed into tiny particles of “spiritual pollen,” carried on the wings of angels with the soul purpose of perpetuating healing and peace.JOYM Create a Peace Garden 2

At this time of great challenge and uncertainty we must remember
“Fear is the messenger, Faith is the Message.”

Shared with blessings for peace…

Dr. Joyce

Joyce C. Mills, Ph.D. LMFT LLC
Creative Solutions for Positive Change
Registered Play Therapy Supervisor
Co-director of The Phoenix Institute of Ericksonian Therapy

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The Importance of Play in a Down Economy

By Joyce C. Mills, Ph.D.

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

~ Plato.

We can hardly open our computers, read a newspaper, or watch the news without hearing about the “down economy.” We work harder, attend more meetings, seminars, and workshops that are supposed to give us the keys for turning our businesses around, and read as many inspirational books as possible, but somehow that magical “law of attraction,” isn’t creating the magnetic success we hope for.

As a Play Therapist and Creative Coach for over thirty years, one ingredient I see missing in these meetings and workshops is the profound importance of play…to experience life with a playful mind.  Without it we only think in concrete terms.  We all know that concrete is fixed not fluid – and we need flow in order for new ideas to develop. 

In a groundbreaking book, “PLAY: How it shapes the brain, Opens the imagination, and Invigorates the soul,” Dr. Stuart Brown with Christopher Vaughn, writes “For us, play lies at the core of creativity and innovation.” They go on to write “If we don’t take time to play, we face a joyless life of rigidity, lacking in creativity. The opposite of play isn’t work, but depression. If we’re going to adapt to changing economic and personal circumstances the way that nature armed us to do, then we have to find ourselves having some play time virtually every day.”

Related to this statement, Dr. Brown continues to share, citing a clear example when Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) built robotic probes to explore solar systems when they noticed they were having a hard time replacing the retiring engineers and scientists who had put men on the moon The company thought it was hiring graduates from the top schools such as MIT, Stanford, and even Cal Tech, but found something else was missing. These young grads simply could not problem solve like the elder engineers who came before them. What was the missing ingredient? You guessed it…play. The older engineers grew up taking things apart, seeing how they worked, making soapbox racers, and playing with their hands. Following this revelation, JPL included questions related to youthful play as a standard part of its job interviews.

Looking to other areas of business, we clearly see the indisputable success of Google.  It has whole floors with games and play stations, and other forms of fun, socialization, and relaxation. Why? If time is money, why would a company invest so much space and finances in providing employees with “fun stations?” The answer is simple…it makes you feel good!  In a nutshell, when we feel good, we are more productive, resourceful, creative, inventive, happier, and less stressed. 

Play Stations

Play Stations 


I carry this same belief throughout my personal life and business. If you look at the photos of my office on my website www.drjoycemills.com or click on the link taking you to StoryPlay®  – you’ll see fun stations everywhere. 

Play creates a joyful environment in which compassion, collaboration, and innovation can flourish.  While play is not the only element we need to turn things around, my belief is when we can all “play together,”  and when we open that playful nature within ourselves, we will find the innovative solutions needed for transforming down to up.

So, here’s my prescription for putting Play into your personal and professional life:

  1. Be silly – blow bubbles every day. Go out and buy bottles of bubbles and give yourself a few minutes of bubble blowing time each day. If you have employees, surprise them with a bottle of bubbles on their desk.
  2. Be creative – keep a small container of colorful Play-Doh® nearby and create a shape with it. Maybe by playing with Play-Doh, we’ll find ideas to create more “play dough.”
  3. Be artistic – when you are looking for solutions to a problem.  Use crayons, markers, and blank paper to draw, scribble, or doodle shapes, designs or images.
  4. Be balanced by taking a break.  Take time each day to play catch with your kids, friends, or employees.
  5. Be inspired where you have coffee or take lunch breaks.  Create “fun stations” with games, music, and art materials for employees to use.
  6. Be imaginative and inspired by telling stories. Problems and resolutions take on a different energy when they become part of a story. 

Articles jam packed with information to explore about the Play and the Workplace can be found by going to Linda Naiman’s creative blog:


Joy and the Dragon

Joy and the Dragon

I invite you to share your play ideas. How do you play? As Plato so wisely instructs… “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” How would you have people recognize your “play factor?”



You are invited to bring more Creativity into your life and business at “Creative Leaps.”

Joyce C. Mills  

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Joyce Mills, Ph.D.

Turtle Island

The Turtle Island Project

According to Native American legend, the back of a giant turtle supports the earth.   The Turtle’s slow and deliberate movement provides for changes of times and seasons.   An impenetrable fortress, when the turtle is threatened – it finds strength inside.  It makes progress only when it sticks out its neck.   The ancients called this whole world “Turtle Island.” 


I would like to share an experience that helped me fully understand this process.  Have you ever found yourself in a moment of utter frustration over some situation that seemed totally out of your control, and only when you released that “control” did something positive happen?  My awakening to this concept happened on a cool drizzly Sunday morning, about 5:30 am, when I was awakened  and someone told me to start the fire for the Sweat Lodge, which is the ceremony culminating our annual Turtle Island Project – Women’s Healing Journey retreat in Northern Arizona. 

Sisters: Women's Healing Journey

Women's Jealing Journey Sisters

Normally I am a grumpy bear when someone wakes me that early, but this morning was different. It was the first time I was asked to start the fire for our Sweat Lodge ceremony and it was an honor to be asked.  Without any words, I was handed a small, worn leather pouch filled with wooden matches.  I quickly put on my warm thermals, zipped up my quilted ski jacket, tucked the matches and another pouch containing prayer tobacco inside my deepest pocket and out the door I went.

It was one of those amazing Arizona mornings where the ridges of the mountains seem to be painted on a background of cinnamon, plum, and luminescent haze.  The cedar and pine trees were moist and fragrant.  In the solitude, I understood the kind of quiet, where even silence can be heard, was perfect for soul-searching

Walter Parent Sweatlodge

Walter Parent Sweatlodge

As I walked up the stony mountain path towards the Sweat Lodge some hundred feet away, thoughts about our quest to move to Kauai swirled through the quiet spaces of my mind. While reviewing the current status of our dream, thoughts quickly turned to worry. It had been over two years and five real-estate agents later, and in spite of working diligently to sell our home in Los Angeles in order to make this move, not one offer had been made.

To add to the worry, we had borrowed money for a down payment for a small home in Kauai, thinking our Los Angeles home would sell easily and allowing us to pay off the loan within very short period of time.  But with the crumbling real-estate market, and trying to pay two mortgages on very little income, we found ourselves with but a few months’ rent left from all of the equity we had amassed over the years.  The possibility of losing our home to foreclosure was too close for comfort. I was very frightened and I found myself wondering if these obstacles were signs telling us that we shouldn’t move; that the more prudent course of action was to abandon our dreams.

Womens Healing Journey

Huffing and puffing, I came to the top of the hill where the sweat lodge and fire-pit had already been prepared for the morning ceremony the night before.  I stood there for a long, quiet moment – taking in the majestic view from that mountain crest before kneeling down near the logs which encased the forty-some-odd lava stones that rested within its center.


Reaching into the tobacco pouch I took out a pinch between my fingers, held it up towards the sky and then began to say a prayer for the well-being of all who entered the Sweat Lodge, as I had been taught to do. After finishing the prayer, I placed the pinch of tobacco within a small opening, a “doorway,” that is left slightly open between the logs, and proceeded to light one of the matches I brought with me. It went out almost immediately.

I moved closer and lit another match, quickly placing it on the dry kindling.  This time there was a slight smoldering and then… nothing – it went out again.  This process of lighting match after match went on and on until I just had two matches left. Feeling frustrated and very much like a failure at being able to start a fire, I traipsed back down the road and walked upstairs where my spiritual sister was beginning to stir.

“Hey Sis, I don’t think I should be the one to light this fire.  No matter what I do, I can’t get it lit. I only have two matches left.”  Offering a slight smile of reassurance my sister chortled, “Get back out there Joyce, and light that fire with whatever you have left. Just stay with it!”  So… back up the path I walked all the while thinking to myself,  “She must know something that I surely don’t know.”

Kneeling down on the cold, moist ground once again, I lit one of the two matches I had left and placed it on the dry pocket of kindling and paper, as I had done before. Small flames began to flicker and I leaned forward and blew on them in order to keep them going.  However, no matter what I did, they seemed to have a mind of their own – continuing to quickly dwindle into nothingness.

Realizing I only had one dry match left, I moved closer to the logs and maneuvered a few pieces of the wood around and carefully struck the match on a nearby rock.  Waiting a few moments so that the fire was well lit on the end of the match, I reached inside once again and lit the dry kindling. Finally, the flames grew stronger and I breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, that feeling of relief was short-lived because the flames began to steadily grow fainter until they were completely out… again!

Having no matches left and feeling very much a failure, I thought to myself, “I couldn’t even light a simple fire”. With fists clenched in frustration, and tears of desperation streaming down my cheeks, I looked up towards the Heavens and shouted at the top of my lungs, “DEAR GOD, I NEED HELP. I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE.”

Within moments, I heard a slight rustling coming from the bushes nearby, and found myself looking face to face with a sweet, dark-eyed deer. She just stood there looking at me for a few long moments, cocking her head as though to communicate some sort of understanding about my sad situation. Simultaneously, I heard a loud whooshing sound and turned to see what it was. The seemingly dead fire was suddenly blazing brilliantly within the center of the fire-pit!

What was more unbelievable to me was that, very uncharacteristic of a deer, was that it stood there – watching with me as the fire continued to blaze.  Her head still cocked with that “knowing” look, the deer slowly turned and walked down the same path she had come – conveying a silent message that I needed to hear.

I just stood there – taking this moment of magic within my being. “What had she come to tell me?” I wondered to myself.  As I began to walk back down the road to the house it began to rain. By the time I got back to the house, it was pouring. “Oh no!” I thought to myself, “After all of this and now the rain will probably put the fire out. Well, at this point it is out of my control, that’s for sure.”

When I got back into the house and dressed for the Sweat Lodge, I told the women about my morning’s adventures with the fire and the deer.  As we walked up the hill through the rain, I wondered if the fire would still be burning or had been doused by the rain. I suppose there was a part of me that wasn’t the least bit surprised by the fact that there, in front of us, the fire was still blazing.

I think what I learned from this experience is that when you believe in yourself – it takes a lot to put out a good fire. And in times when it feels like there is no more energy left to spark the flames of our desires, it is important to remember that a simple breath of faith can ignite that fire within each of us once again.

Please feel free to leave your comments about how this message impacted you – causing you to remember some similar, life transforming event.

Oh, I almost forgot, I wanted to invite you to click through to learn more about the Turtle Island Project .


Joyce C. Mills, Ph.D. LMFT LLC
Creative Solutions for Positive Change
Registered Play Therapy Supervisor
Co-director of The Phoenix Institute of Ericksonian Therapy

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