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Archive for the ‘Breathing’ Category

Bear

My younger daughter is attending Girl Scout camp. She’s participating in lots of traditional camp activities like first aid and rock climbing and archery. They’ve made God’s Eyes (those yarn wrapped popsicle sticks that provided days of fun when I was a kid too), and duct tape pouches and they’ve tie-dyed shirts. They’ve sung many, many silly songs and chant-alouds (those not-quite-songs that children echo after a camp counselor) and memorized the hand motions that accompany them; songs that get stuck in their heads so they sing them not only at camp, but at home too, over and over again. (more…)

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ImageNovember is a big month for writers.  First, it’s National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo). People all over the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in the month.  (Interested in learning more, go here. ) Second, if novel-writing isn’t your thing but blogging is, it’s also, conveniently enough, National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The concept is simple for both – get out of your head and just write.

Now to be honest, I had no intention of participating in NaBloPoMo this year. It’s a lot of work, it requires committment and quite frankly, I’m not sure I have the time to post every day this month. In fact, I’m quite sure I don’t have the time, but I’m going to try to make some space for it. I’ve been watching a few bloggers I follow,  introduce their month of writing intentions, and every year I think, “I’d like to do that,” but I always have an excuse why I don’t. 

So it’s time to shake things up in my life. I’m going to attempt it. Jump in with both feet, no advanced planning, just get writing. It requires a couple of concessions on my part: 1) Many posts will probably take a different form than I usually post here due to time considerations and 2) There are going to be some not particularly well-written posts when I just need to get something up and I don’t have the luxury of hours to craft it.  These are both good things in the long run, but I apologize now for any sub-par reading you stumble into. 

So I hope you’ll check in from time to time this month and see how I am doing.  Better yet, participate in a challenge yourself and let me know about it so we can cheer each other on.

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AirplaneWhen was the last time you were on an airplane? What was the most notable experience about the ride?  If you can’t think of something immediately, then, lucky for you it was actually a pretty non-eventful trip.  (I’m a pretty anxious flyer so my response to this every time would be “I noticed we didn’t plummet to the ground in a fiery crash.” But I digress…)

Have you ever noticed how few people pay attention to the flight attendants’ pre-flight safety talk? We’re too busy texting the last messages before we have to turn the phone off, or talking to our seatmates. or flipping through the Skymall catalog to see what random but totally awesome items they’ve come up with in the current issue. I try to listen to the flight attendants each time, not because I don’t know the speech by heart. Mostly it’s because I want them to feel like at least one person out there is validating their effort to try to save our lives despite our best efforts to ignore them. One day I realized something really cool about that safety speech: Each time a flight attendant goes through that speech, they give you the most useful piece of creativity/life advice out there.

See if you can spot it:

The cabin is pressurized for your comfort and safety. In the unlikely event of a cabin depressurization, oxygen masks will appear overhead. Reach up and pull the mask closest to you, fully extending the plastic tubing. Place the mask over your nose and mouth, and slip the elastic strap over your head. Tighten by pulling on the ends. The bag does not need to inflate for oxygen to be flowing. If you are seated next to a small child or someone needing assistance, secure your own mask first, then assist the child. 

Secure your own mask first.

It’s simple really. Make sure you can breathe before trying to save anyone else. You’re less likely to be able to save anyone else if you are dying – literally and figuratively. To paraphrase an old adage, “If the artist (writer/musician/creative) in the house ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.”

In other words, get up in the morning by yourself and write in the silence before you have to make breakfast and get kids out the door to school. Sign up for that yoga class you’ve been dying to take and forgo bringing work home with you once a week. Say no to one commitment you’ve over-scheduled in your life to play guitar with a few friends on a Wednesday night.

Are you aware of what your oxygen mask looks like? Not everybody does or it’s been so long since they’ve used it, they’ve forgotten. If you can’t immediately name three things that feed your soul, fill your well or filter out the negativity in your life, then the first thing you need to do is get in touch with what you truly love in this life. I don’t care if it’s collecting snail shells, writing haiku about barns or Tuvan throat singing, embrace whatever it is and push a space into your life for it.

All those things we really want to do that we never seem to find the time for, the things we say we’ll get to once the lawn is mowed or we’re caught up at work, or once the kids are older, those are the things we should be doing first and fitting everything else in around them. Seriously. I mean come on, you’re doing laundry instead of the one thing that makes you truly happy? I promise, if you shut the door and play your trumpet for an hour, when you come out, that laundry will still be there and you’ll manage to get it done. Or you won’t. On your death-bed, I highly doubt you’ll wish you’d done more loads of laundry.

Secure your own mask first – give yourself just a little bit of what you give away to others. When you can breathe into your own life, spending time doing that thing that makes you happiest, it is so much easier to be present, happy and available for all the other people and obligations in your life that need you to pay attention to them.

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I was out in the garden early.  The heat around here is already oppressive and I wanted to get some work done before I melted. My garden and I have a tenuous relationship at best. Each year I promise it I will be better; I’ll visit every day, take care of its basic needs and help it thrive.

The past few years I’ve been inconsistent at best. I mean well, I really do because the thought of a flourishing garden excites me. And I seem to have a hard time remembering to get down there on a daily basis. I remember early in the day and usually plan to go out in the evening as things are winding down. Then my day barges forward until I am drifting off to sleep and think, “Oh yeah, I was supposed to water today.”

This year, I am trying to be more present for my garden – and more present for myself in the process.  If you are anything like me, and I bet you are, you have approximately 43,000 things going through your brain at the same time.  Most of them probably have to do with the future, whether that future is three hours or three years into the future, or rehashing actions that occurred in the past.  Very little probably has to do with this. very. moment.

I call it active meditation. When I was pulling weeds, I was trying to just pull weeds. When I started rehashing past events or making future plans, I brought myself back to the weeds. When I was picking strawberries, I tried to focus on the act of picking. I noticed, for the first time ever, the little “pop” sound that happens when I pull the berry from the stem. I mixed compost into the soil and studied the rich color of the new earth as it joined the old. I breathed, I enjoyed the stillness. Each time I realized I was someplace else other than my garden (which happened a lot), I brought myself back to the garden.

There’s a phrase a dear friend once introduced to me that I try to remember in these types of moments:

“Let your soul and mind be where your body is.”

My body was in the garden, I brought my soul and mind back there repeatedly. It’s going to take A LOT of practice for my soul and mind to stay there, they’d much rather wander off someplace to examine some fuzzy piece of the future and chew on it for hours like a dog with a rubber toy. But if I live up to my intentions, we’ll all be in that garden a lot this summer and can practice and practice and practice.

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Self-medicating

How do you deal with your anxiety?  Here’s a partial list of some of the things I do:

  • I watch television.
  • I spend too much time on the web.
  • I start some sort of unnecessary but suddenly urgent home improvement project.
  • I eat white flour and sugar.
  • I stay up too late.
  • I pace and complain that it’s all too hard
  • I read way too much of the newspaper
  • I talk on the phone for the whole evening

Any of these sound familiar to you?

Anxiety is tough. It’s what makes us play just one more game of sudoku on the computer, or have just one more glass of wine, or decide that we must absolutely clean out and organize that closet now! (By the way, if the last one describes you, feel free to come over to my house any time you feel anxious.) Anxiety is one of those absolute creativity blockers.  I know people (several actually) who’ve lost years of writing time by promising themselves that tomorrow night is the night they turn off the television and write again.

What we’re doing is emotional self-medicating. Anxiety is one of those leftover primal fears. It’s worrying about a hypothetical future where we can’t possibly know the outcome no matter if it’s twenty years from now (I’m going to run out of money and be a bag lady) or 20 seconds from now (I’m going to sit at the piano and not be able to come up with a song that doesn’t suck.) Anxiety is a hard emotion to sit with and so often we distract ourselves with things useless to our creative selves. The problem with emotional self-medicating is it doesn’t really cure the problem.  Sure, anxiety disappears momentarily as you get caught up in voting for your favorite dancing pair so they don’t get sent home next week, but as soon as you turn back toward Act II of your play which really isn’t working, all the anxiety washes over you again.

The truth though is if we wait for the anxiety to dissipate completely without ever journeying into whatever is making us anxious in the first place, we will never fell better.  You won’t feel less anxious about writing by spending your evenings reading other people’s work. You won’t feel comfortable shooting a short film by watching a John Hughes marathon on tv.  You have to get your feet wet, your hands dirty and you have to be scared for a little while.  That’s all there is too it.

And while you’re wading into that anxiety by taking small steps, a funny thing usually occurs. The anxiety calms down.  Maybe not immediately, and maybe not the first time you  try it. Little by little though, you’re brain realizes you can do it, you can take those small steps because you are taking small steps and it’s not horrible. You can’t think your way out of it, you just have to do it. Anxious or not, there comes a time where you take a deep breath and dive in.

Dive in.

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Clearing Space

We’re having a yard sale this weekend.  Time to get rid of the stuff that piles up and gathers dust in life as kids get bigger, hobbies change and we focus our energies elsewhere. I’m practically giddy at the thought of all of it being gone. We’ve all heard Americans have too much stuff and I know in my own life that’s true. Still, compared to many (not that I try and compare myself to others often), my life is compact.  We live in a small house and try and keep our stuff to a minimum and yet we still end up with an incredible amount of things we don’t need, want or use.

Too much stuff blocks creativity.  Energy can’t flow when we have clutter lying on every flat surface and closets are bursting and when we keep objects out of obligation and not because we love them. You can’t create if there isn’t room for ideas to percolate, move and bounce around. If you’re a writer, it’s hard for characters to speak if all the bills are piled around you.  If you cook but there isn’t any counter space for your cutting board, you’ll never develop that new recipe. If you scrapbook, you can’t get the pages of your vacation scrapbook finished when you surround yourself with photos dating back ten years.  You get the idea.

I had a spare room I wanted to turn into a writing space but the amount of effort it would take to clear it out overwhelmed me.  My coach asked me what was the minimum I could do that would make the space workable for me?  I decided that if I could clear off the desk everything else would be to my back and I wouldn’t have to look at it. Ten minutes of packing it all into plastic bins and I was done.  Suddenly, I had a space where I could write – and breathe. After that, I built in time each day to spend a few minutes going through those bins and cleaning out that room but it did not take the place of my writing time.  As the room cleaned out, so did my headspace and my creativity flowed.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not about living in an immaculate living space.  Trust me- a small house with two creative young daughters and three furry dogs will never win a photo shoot in Better Homes and Gardens. It is about feeling like you can breathe in your own space. Creativity does not thrive in chaos. Try this: find one space in your home where you live your creative life – your desk, or the kitchen counter or the view from your bedroom floor where meditate every morning.  Is it cluttered?  Are there things in your view that you think, I really need to put that away, throw that out, go through those things?  If so, they’re blocking your creativity. Spend 15 minutes today cleaning up that space- don’t overwhelm yourself with 6 hours of de-cluttering, just spend fifteen minutes moving that unwanted stuff out of the space and watch what happens.

During the month of July I am offering a “Jump Start Your Goals” special.  Have a project, a dream or a goal you just can’t seem to get moving on? Contact me for a special four-week ultra-focused program of individual coaching for only $100. Let’s kick start your dream into action today.

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