Category Archives: Story

On callings and the myth of suffering

I do not want to fall into a belief that I must suffer for my calling, that it must be hard or overwhelming. I do not believe that at all. In fact, I believe true callings are wells of joy and sources of purpose and meaning that nourish you. And they feel easy when you are in their flow. There are challenges that you must solve or untangle, but all the while you are doing that, you still feel in the flow. You come up against your own limiting beliefs, and must rid yourself of them, and it can feel like a struggle, but still there is a pervasive sense of being carried along.

A calling should bring you to life, make you feel more alive, make you feel deeply engaged and joy-filled from the certainty of how aligned you are to why you are on the earth. When I think about all my callings, they rise in me like lights, drawing me upward, outward, toward more Life, toward more meaning, toward more being… they involve breaking me open, taking me apart, and rebuilding me… but the underlying calling itself never feels like a burden or drain on me. It’s life-giving. It’s life-aligning.

There is a whole story of suffering, of suffering as holy, in the Christian faith. Suffering is seen as a way to honor Christ, which must be so fucked up to him, lol. When did he ever require that people feel guilty for his suffering and thus, throw themselves into suffering more? But suffering is a pervasive story, because it gives the soul something to do, to occupy itself with, to distract itself, it makes you think you are doing something worthy all the while it keeps you small. Rather than shine light with joy brightly into the darkness, you suffer and shrink and hide — all the while thinking your suffering is holy.

Pain is inevitable; suffering is not.

I refuse to live the Christian suffering myth. I am not a Christian and yet, how easy it is to get swept into that old pervasive belief that suffering is holy. That it means you’re doing serious God-work. That it means you are a good soldier for Christ. That it means you are a chosen one. Worthy.

Suffering is a choice. To focus on the aspects of your calling that cause pain, that break you, that make you have to surrender your ego to the unknown and to dwell on how hard it all is, how stressful it is, how impossible it all seems — rather than to do the work of sustaining your own belief, to surrender fully and give yourself over to all the uncertainty, all the unknowns, all the possibilities of greater joy, of greater beauty, to the reality that your soul has been deemed worthy, that you are actually magnificent, that you are holy powerful.

You would not have been chosen if it hadn’t already been determined that you are exactly the right person for the role. You can’t argue with the fact that you have already been determined to be qualified, capable, and to have the capacity to handle the calling. By the time the calling surfaces in your consciousness, when you are told about it, it’s long been decided. There were other candidates under consideration, but you were the one chosen. It is never a question of “can you do this?” But “will you do this?”

The only decision you have to make is yes or no.

You don’t have to decide if you’re the right person, or capable, or if you have what it takes. But what do we do? We fall right into arguing about whether or not we are capable, whether or not we have the resources, abilities, strengths….whether or not we are the right person.

Whether or not we are the right person has never been our decision to make.

We miss the whole aspect that all of that has already been decided because we WERE chosen, and if we had not been the right person, we would NOT HAVE BEEN CHOSEN to receive the calling.

In other words, our version of ourselves has to catch up to the version of ourselves that is known to the Ones issuing the calling. When the Authorities That Be decide that you are the person best suited to the role and the task, you can be sure that you’ve already been tested enough for them to know that and to have made their decision. Their confidence in you should be accepted as a fact, even if your mind has not grown into the same version of yourself as what they know. Remember, they see your potential, your malleability, your ability to grow into, to learn, to rise, to choose courage, they see what you are capable of becoming because of the calling, not just your current state and skillsets. You should assume that you are exactly the right person for the Calling issued to you.

And from that assumption, accept it and go forward.


The difference between touching an audience’s emotions vs touching their souls

I’ve been thinking about how the primary goal of any creative expression is to make people feel something. This truly is why we create. We want to evoke emotions in the audience. Ultimately, that is also why we view and enjoy art (and by art I’m including all art forms and mediums).

We want to be moved. It’s that thrill of not knowing how we will be moved that fills theatres, galleries, cinemas, auditoriums. We have expectations based on genre and the familiarity we have with the artists, but beyond that, we want to experience something new, something that gets us out of our everyday emotions.

But, and here is the but… for artists, there is a difference between moving an audience emotionally (surface level) and touching their souls (deep level). And that difference does not come from quality of performance, hard work, or even experience in your field. It does not come because of anything you do, it comes through what you allow.

It comes from surrendering to the idea that you are a channel.

A channel for the sacred, for the divine, for beauty and spirit, for Something Greater Than You. This surrender may or may not be a conscious decision, but when someone gives themselves fully over to this sacred impulse and energy, the result is that an audience is stunned silent. The kind of stunned silence when you have witnessed the raw power of spirit at work, where you are humbled, in reverence, in awe.

The human soul knows when it has been touched by the sacred, and no amount of planning, working, or striving can make this phenomena happen. You can’t set out to achieve it.

You can only empty your Self so fully that the Sacred pours out of you and through you. You can only show up, with such humility and trust in how your are guided, that what emerges is no longer “your talent” but something all of its own power. The greatest artists are those whose trust in this sacred flow is so deep and unbreakable that they appear almost arrogant in their confidence. They are extremely good at what they do, but it’s not just because they practice, it’s because they listen so deeply and so intently to their inner guidance and they heed what they hear. 

They refuse to be led down paths they know aren’t the path for them. They say no to work that others believe would bring greater acclaim or income. They are stubborn and defiant and heed only the advice of others when that advice aligns with what they hear in their heart.

These artists don’t necessarily know when spirit is channeling through them, except by the sense that the work feels right, feels aligned, feels like it’s moving. Sometimes they don’t even know this is how spirit moves through them until an audience reflects it back. Because sometimes it’s only the audience that is aware of the sacredness, while the artist worries he or she didn’t do enough or could have done it better.

To be an artist like this, requires resolute determination to trust your Self the most. This doesn’t mean you can’t take direction from where you should be allowing direction to influence you, but it does mean you step aside, open yourself up as a channel, and allow what comes through you to be pure and undiluted by other people’s endless opinions.

No one can predict or promise that your work will touch an audience’s soul. And really, the audience’s reaction isn’t within your control. What is in your control is how surrendered you are, how humble you are, how willing you are to be the servant of the work, the steward of the vision, the trustee of the story.



Hi there! Welcome to CreativeInsideOut … you’ll find 100+ posts to inspire your creativity, help you overcome your fears, get unstuck and build a better relationship with your art.

This is a curated collection of posts — all written by me — and while I am no regularly posting here, I believe you’ll find a wealth of content to help you follow the energy that lights you up. Be brave, stand firm and have faith.

Your creative expression matters in this world. Even if the only audience you have is You.



Writing from a Point of Knowledge or Discovery | Some Insights

What do you bring to a story when you begin?

There’s a split camp between writers who outline and plot before they write and those who don’t. At the end of the day, what matters is that your method works – so I’m not going to approach this as a right vs. wrong debate. What I’m interested in is how Stories choose us and how we work with Characters to tell their stories. Every writer is unique and so is their writing process. I suspect that how Stories and Characters choose to interact with writers is highly and deeply personal. No doubt there is a underlying spiritual alignment. There’s also an alignment with how a writer receives, processes and moves through the world. Which camp you fall into most likely has to do with your way of moving in the world. Or, in other words, how you best communicate with the Storyworld.

Outside of the writing world (which only sees the finished product), writing appears to be logical, the author in full control. Fictional stories and characters are make-believe. The writer gets an idea, creates interesting characters, figures out what is going to happen (makes it up??) and writes it down. To the outside world, an ingenious for storytelling appears to be unique to writers. People generally credit writers as the originators of the story and my, aren’t we clever for coming up with such fascinating stories!

Ha. Stop right there.

Originators of the story? Let’s say you get a story idea. Where does that idea come from? It’s given to you, isn’t it? It appears in your mind. Can we really claim that we originated it? I don’t think so.

The Outliner/Plotters – Are You Really In Control?
If you are in the outline/plot camp, you’ll take that idea, mull it around, think about who the characters should be, create them based on well-established psychological archetypes, then decide what is going to happen at every plot point. You’ll have a solid idea of the complete story and the character arcs from start to finish. Then you start writing.

In this position, you are in control of the story. This is where we often hear writers say “then the story and characters took on a life of their own.”

What is that phenomena? You discover as you’re writing within your established framework that you aren’t quite as in control as you thought you were. Characters “come to life” and start saying and doing things that you hadn’t anticipated. The story may take a turn that works far better than your pre-determined plot point. (And if this doesn’t happen to you, you may be trying to force a story into existence. You’re not trusting the process enough to receive what your story has to give you.)

I believe and it’s been my experience that characters don’t “take on a life of their own” because they already have one to begin with. They exist in their own realm. They are fully formed and as unique and individual as you and I. You did not actually create them. Yes, you worked hard to figure out what archetype to use, what backstory to give them, what color of eyes they should have – and that gave you the perception that you’ve made them up. What if, in this process, what those characters were actually doing was revealing themselves to you in a way that your analytical mind could embrace?

Outlining and plotting are tools that help writers organize. They are a method for interacting with the story and characters. A way for the Story and Characters to work with your mind in a way that makes sense to you as a writer.

The Freestylists – Control Isn’t an Issue
In the freestyle camp, as I’ll call it (and where I reside), you get an idea for a story. It may not even be an idea. It may be a scene with a character or two in it. You listen into that unseen realm. You get glimpses of who the characters are. You get glimpses of a thing or two that happens. You may even see the end first. A lead character moves into your intuitive realm and you start having conversations. You sense their presence, their emotional state, and you listen, listen, listen. Like anyone else, they don’t reveal themselves to you in their entirety up front. You’re still a stranger, after all. You start building a relationship of trust. You may have entire scenes played out in detail to you. You take notes.

Then you start writing. And what is revealed on the page is a surprise to you. It flows out as if you are simply a channel. You listen, you write. You write, it emerges. You are deeply touched by who your characters are, what they go through, the conversations they have with other characters. You are a witness. You realize that they trust you. You’re not just a writer, but counselor, friend, confidante, coach, guide. They are, in turn, invested in your artistic career.

You are not in control of the characters or the story; only of the writing. Their story will be far bigger, far deeper, extend back further and out farther than what you will put on the page. As the writer, you have to make decisions about how to tell the story in the most effective way; yet, it’s never your story to tell.

If you work with your characters, if you trust them, they will collaborate with you. They have insight into what you should do. They’ll work with you to make those decisions. (We talk a lot about a writer’s isolation and forget that our characters are with us every step of the journey. We’re not as alone as we think.)

This method is a natural alignment for writers who move through life by intuition, who move in spiritual realms, who are comfortable trusting the process as open-ended and uncertain.

Either Way, Characters Need Your Trust & You Need Theirs
No matter which process you use, you’re going to work with characters. You don’t have to believe that they are anything more than a figment of your imagination (though I would encourage you to question where the things you imagine come from) to tell their stories. Yet, if you do open up to the possibility that they are more than meets the eye, you will find a rich storyworld where you don’t have to be in charge of everything. Your characters will carry responsibility for who they are, what they do and what they won’t do. Sure, you’ll collaborate with them to shape scenes to be most effective; you’ll cut, you’ll change, you’ll ask them to do a scene another way; maybe have some characters step in or out of the written story; but in the end, it will remain indelibly theirs.

And that’s why we write, isn’t it? To give characters a voice, to reveal their stories, and allow them to touch us.

The Heart of a Mother – Interview with Filmmakers Evelyne & Gabriela Tollman

Two years ago, Gabriela Tollman’s son Charlie was born prematurely. After 11 days, he lost his fight to overcome E. coli. As the pain shattered her mother’s heart, she had no idea how that pain echoed out into the hearts of millions of mothers each year who have a child die. The grief, self-blame and physical ailments she suffered were the beginning of a journey that has brought her to where she is today: Kickstarting a feature film to raise $30K to put the story and the hope and the healing she has found in front of audiences. With her sister, Evelyne Werzowa, her partner in writing, producing and acting in “Secrets of an Unborn Child“, Gabriela stands strong for mothers (and fathers and siblings, too) who miss “the one who was supposed to still be part of our family.”

In Secrets Of An Unborn Child the lives of two sisters intersect. Clare loses her baby and Anna, in the midst of an emotional crisis, inadvertently abandons her child. The film follows the two sisters as they overcome their worst fears and help each other rebuild their lives.

It isn’t everyday that you meet women filmmakers who have the raw courage to crack open their hearts and so intimately reveal very personal pain.  Gabriella and Evie, as she’s called, are two mothers (yes, they both have 6-year-old boys) who are passionate about letting the grace of learning to let go, reach out and gently touch the souls of those who are afraid that if they do let go, they’ll lose their child forever. Experienced filmmakers, Gabriela and Evie embrace film as a pathway to bless the human spirit. If you are or know a  mother who has lost a child to illness, injury, war, violence, accident, please read and share this post. And know, that in your journey, you are not alone.

And if you are a mother who is blessed with a child, then join us in celebrating life, resiliency and the power of the human heart.

Tell me the story of how you each became filmmakers.

Gabriela: Evelyne and I have been acting in and writing plays since we were six years old.  We grew up under Apartheid in South Africa. Freedom of speech was sanctioned. Film was a safe place to express ourselves, to escape the lies and to tell the truth.  After immigrating Evelyne went on to theatre school at LACC and studied Screen Writing at the Writers’ Bootcamp in Los Angeles. Evelyne has directed one short film and hopes to direct more in the future. I attended UCLA as a theater student, but was always drawn to the Film department.  After graduating UCLA I learned Film Editing and I wrote, acted in and directed my first short film THE LAST GUNSHOT about the social implications of Apartheid. It screened in over 30 festivals including the Cannes Short Film Corner. After that I was hooked. I have directed over ten short films since then. They have played in festivals all over the world including Sundance, and won several awards. I am very excited to be making my first feature film with Evelyne.

What part of filmmaking is “the energy that lights you up” for you?

Gabriela: I love the entire process of making a film from writing to filming and editing. I also love the collaborative process of filmmaking. I see film as a spiritual medium. One where you distill an aspect of the human experience, examine, it, live with it, experience it and grow from it. I love that is a medium that combines all other mediums such as writing, painting, acting, editing, etc. I also love that it allows the audience to experience a world through images.  I have always likened film to hypnosis as it affects people on a deep subconscious level. That to me is very powerful.

Tell us about your journey with Secrets of an Unborn Child. This is a very personal project for you, one that has required you to be vulnerable and share your own grief and journey via the two protagonists – where did you find it in your soul to bring this personal pain out into a very public light?

Gabriela: I have always worked from personal experience in my films. As a South African immigrant I grew up during Apartheid and I witnessed a lot of fear and violence. My first short film THE LAST GUNSHOT explored these themes and the familial implications of Apartheid. In some of my other short films I’ve explored themes of intimacy, isolation and violence against women.  SECRETS OF AN UNBORN CHILD was motivated by a real experience I had when due to complications I gave birth to my baby at 7 months. He struggled to survive, but didn’t. It was a painful and difficult experience. I started to write the script with Evelyne. I was compelled to explore the theme of survival after the loss of a loved one. Writing this project has helped me heal. Finding an outlet for pain has always helped me feel like less of a victim and less vulnerable. The pain I felt after losing my baby was overwhelming. I hope that this project can help those experiencing loss feel less alone; and let them know that some day they will feel happy and alive again.

Evelyne: When Charlie was born too early, with a terrible infection, they tried everything: blood transfusions and a life support machine. After just 11 days the doctors told them it was hopeless. They were faced with a very hard decision. They decided to turn off the machine. His hands went into Mudra as if giving thanks to his parents for letting him go. Gaby suffered from depression, physical ailments and negative thoughts, that maybe it was her fault somehow. And then we began to write together. Write about her struggle, the negative voices that plagued her. The guilt that somehow she may have caused this. The voices she longed to hear began, “Mommy, I’m OK. It wasn’t your fault.”

This film is the story we want to tell of two sisters who come together to help each other. The sister Anna, who I play in the film, is lost. Stuck in the role that so many parents get into. Full of frustration, anger, overwhelmed at parenting and her child. She has an emotional breakdown and walks away from her small son, leaving him in a boiling hot car. We wanted to tell the story about what it means to love and loose. What is means to make bad decisions, and the road back to love.

What is your dream for this film? What do you want it to do in the world?

Evelyne: Our dream for the film is that it reaches a wide audience of people who it can inspire and help.  Three million babies die each year. This is more common than we know. It is not talked about a lot. How can you heal from loss? What does it do to a marriage, etc.  And then on the flip side there are so many parents who don’t realize having a child is a gift. There is a staggering amount of child abuse and children being forgotten in automobiles each year. I want people to realize how lucky they are and that we all have an incredible ability to find god, love, and heal if you dare.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing the script?  The most rewarding?

Gabriela: The most challenging part for me was honoring the truth of my experience and not backing away from it. Having the guts to communicate the depth of the anxiety, fear and sadness I was experiencing.  The most rewarding for me was that as I healed, my character healed. The more Clare listens to her own voice, meditates and gets in touch with that deeper part of herself the more rewarding the process became.

Evelyne: The most challenging thing for me was making sure I did not dismiss or downplay what this experience was like for Gabriela. The pain, the fear of physical ailments manifesting and the voices she heard calling her from another place were all real. Allowing her to put that on the page then making sure they pushed against Anna (my character) in the film. Anna is the opposite of Clare (Gabriela’s character) she pretends everything is OK. She can’t face the pain inside and tries to deny what she has done to her own child. The two sisters ultimately push each other to face their darkness. I also wanted to make the story is engaging for everyone, not just those who have experienced loss. It is about being open to Consciousness or God and your subconscious. To listen, to hear, really hear your soul. Everyone can relate to this. How am I alive, really alive? How do I love? And do I have the courage to step into being alive, not live my life on the outside.

Even though the pain of your characters is based on your own, your characters have a life of their own and they are not you – what has it been like working with them? What have Clare and Anna taught you? How have they surprised you?

Evelyne and Gabriela: What a beautiful question. Writing Clare has taught us that we all have a process that helps us heal. As a society we can be so judgmental when it comes to healing and death. We live in a society that says “get on with it, put on a happy face.” The sisters’ father in the film, Monty, tells Clare “Come on, get on with it; people lose babies all the time.” Clare taught us that every phase of life has a purpose. That we learn from every experience. That pain can be an incredible teacher. We don’t need pain to grow, but if you are faced with it don’t deny it. Clare teaches us not to run from pain just because it is uncomfortable. Be with it, connect with it, connect with yourself, be still, that’s when true healing can occur.

Anna, on the other hand, reminds us to listen. She gets too stressed, too flooded by life that she can’t relax when her child is talking about birds that can talk. She is driving, lost in frenzy; then leaves her screaming child in a boiling hot car. Anna is who we all can become if we don’t stop, breath and take life in. We think of her often in the frenzy of life.

Was there a point where you nearly gave up on this film? If so, what motivated you to keep going?

Evelyne and Gabriela: Sometimes Gabriela worried that reliving the story, the trauma would not be good for her health and psyche, but it has been just the opposite. This journey has given her energy to inspire others, to share her journey. Healing is a process, it doesn’t happen over night. What definitely kept us going is that getting this story out there can help others not feel so alone.

How has this film affected your relationship as sisters?

Evelyne and Gabriela: Working on the film has helped us tremendously. We compliment each other. Gabriela is not afraid to go to the dark places and Evelyne likes to find the humor and irony. There is a lot of that in the script and we laugh alot at ourselves and at our characters.

How does your collaboration work?

Evelyne and Gabriela: We will talk about a scene, what we’re trying to say in it and then one of us will usually take a stab at it and the other one will then do the rewrite. Gabriela wrote all the internal dialogue and I would say “love it, or, wow, you went too far with that!” We help stretch each other. Some scenes we wrote five times. For example, we wanted to give  the character Michael (Clare’s husband) a voice, about how he feels with the loss. We tried everything and a physical action seemed to work best. It’s a painful, beautiful gesture that you can’t say with words.

Where are you at in your own spiritual journeys? What does “faith” mean to you now? 

Gabriela: My spiritual life deepened immensely after the loss of my baby. I tried desperately to understand why. I sought out the books of Louise Hay, which helped me. I read MANY MASTER, MANY LIVES by Brian Weiss. This book changed my life. It helped me understand the world in a different way. It helped me understand we truly are all connected and that we are all here to learn and grow. That nothing is random and life really is supposed to be full of joy. Another person that affected me deeply and helped me heal is Marianne Williamson. I began going to her talks on Monday nights. I felt so lucky to meet her, she was so open to me and really helped me. I began following and studying A COURSE IN MIRACLES. I continue to do the lessons each day. I really have learned that so much about our life is what we think; that we do have control over our thoughts and our mind. That each day, each minute, we can chose between love and feeling connected to something bigger, brighter and more beautiful or fear.

Evelyne: As an artist, as a mother, as a wife I think you get tested a lot. We’ll, I do.  I come up against my own beliefs opposed to others’ beliefs. And then I have to let go and breathe. We’re all in this together. I remind myself to come from love, and I meditate, find the quiet, so I can hear the silence, the soul, God, whatever you want to call it. I’ve seen miracles and magic in my own life that gives me faith. My own son was diagnosed with Legg Perthes disease.  I don’t think this is a random thing, I think it can be a gift for all of us, a gift we can give others. The night of my son’s diagnosis I felt an energy come into my room, spin around my son and that’s when I knew he would be okay. The world of healing came and found me. I didn’t seek it out, it found me. But that’s another story. On the day we said goodbye to Gabriela’s baby, Charlie, his hands went into mudra. I saw that as a sign he was going back to God and that blew me away. You can’t make that stuff up. If you’re open you can see it and there have been more miracles I have witnessed.

What role does fear and faith play in your creative life?

Gabriela: Creativity has always been an act of faith for me. When I feel any fear or negativity creep in I write about it or create something about it and that diminishes the fear. I think that’s why making this film continues to be so cathartic for me; it helped get me out of my fear.

Evelyne: I feel blessed, I know it sounds corny or crazy, but often when I write, it just comes through me. Later I read the draft of a script I’m working on and I think “How did I write that?” it just came through me.

How is it to be a mom and a writer and filmmaker and actresses?

Evelyne: Out boys are best friends. We are very lucky. We have play dates, they sword fight and we edit together. We have passionate conversations and our boys love being a part of it. The other day my son said to me” “Mommy, you talk to Auntie Gabriela five times a day. You have a lot to talk about!”

We are playing Clare and Anna in the film. We thought about maybe casting other actresses, but this film is tailor made for us. As ex-pats from South Africa, we also deal with violence in the film and motherhood. We have been acting together since we were little and this is a natural extension of that.

What is it like for you to be the scriptwriter and also the actress who must embody that character?

Evelyne: It’s wonderful; we know these characters so well. We have lived with them for such a long time. We’ve done writing and acting exercises with them, written their dreams, their best childhood memories and their secrets. It’s also intense to share the shadow side, but we feel so safe working together.  We have that sister bond where we can just give each other a look and we know what the other is thinking. We are both huge Ingmar Bergman fans. This is our Persona, our homage to Bergman.

Learn More and Support “Secrets of an Unborn Child” at Kickstarter.

Follow on Twitter: @Unbornchildmv

View Gabriela Tollman’s  website at


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