Can Mindfulness Melt the Snowball of Numbness?

A couple of days ago, I meditated for almost five minutes. I used to do 20 minutes every other day as a bare minimum. I realized that after sitting, my mind was so much more in perspective.

I think that I’m a person who has a lot of thoughts. Maybe not more than most people, but more than some. My mind knows how to race and when I start to take every single thought seriously and try to weigh them against each other, I feel almost like I’m drowning. It leads me to making parts of songs and parts of blog posts pretty frantically, without actually finishing or loving any of them. Maybe there is no room for the stillness and experience of love when the world is racing so fast.

The sitting practice helps me to remember in a very experiential way that each thought is simply a thought, and that I can let some of them go without any horrible ramifications. It also seems that the farther I get away from that practice, the less I engage with other mindfulness activities like Yoga or even just basic stretching. I start getting addicted to the madness and afraid of the silence and stillness that I pretty much forget is even there.

It makes me wonder about addictions in general. The more frantic my mind gets, the more I start turning to alcohol and coffee and cigarettes to find some sense of comfort and ground. Of course, all of these things provide the exact opposite in most cases. But that doesn’t stop the craving for them when my mind is in such a state.  Partly because the thought “I should go get beer” is harder to see in perspective when I haven’t been engaging in my sitting practice.

Another thing that happens, which is pretty embarrassing to type, is that my mind tells me that the chaos and substances will help me to be more creative. Of course, I start writing more often sometimes when I’m in that state, but it’s not usually writing that I end up being proud of or using for any real project. It seems to be a rationalization built out of an addiction to numbing behavior, and as long as I can call it that to its face every once in awhile, it’s rather easy to get out of.

I wonder how many other people experience the swing in the way that I do, where it seems like the farther away I get from health and groundedness, the more I begin to seek out that chaos instead of things that bring me back. It’s quite interesting.

I hope you are well and I hope that getting back into my practice will leave me with more semi-useful things to blog about rather than the zillions of half-finished posts that you never get to see :)

Do you have numbing behaviors that seem to snowball into each other?

Are you just always able to be healthy and happy and motivated to be good to yourself?

 

 

 

Becoming an Expert of Not Being an Expert

In the past many months, I almost forgot I was working on a book. It was still there, popping into my thoughts every so often; but not as something I was excited about. It came up as an example of how I never finish anything and stay as a constant beginner in anything I do. But last week, I decided to actually take another look at it.

It’s interesting to me that part of why I put off working on the book or even opening the file is because I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that I never finished it, that I don’t seem to stick with anything for very long and always change my mind. Different things will set my creativity on fire at different times and I have a hard time once it gets down to really building skills. I’d rather dabble. Is there anything wrong with this?

Benefits and Downsides of Dabbling

Today I’m in a good mood, so I see it all through that lens. I am noticing that as I work on songs today and contemplate the book, the two types of writing feed into each other. It’s enjoyable to work on one and then the other, and go back and forth as I please. I feel like maybe both forms of writing are turning out better for it.

It is now officially impossible for me to say “Here’s this craft I’ve been working on diligently for fifteen years.”  I have played guitar, made jewelry, and written for at least that long. But none of those things became a regular practice that I truly devoted attention and energy to. I would forget about some of them for years at a time, except writing in my journal. Chances are that I’ll forget about one of them soon again, as other things spark up my interest.

Acknowledging Patterns

I realize that next week, I may feel very hard on myself for not having a well-practiced art form. I’ll tell myself that the reason everything I do is so mediocre is that I don’t put enough energy into it, and then I’ll probably zone out on Facebook and numb out that feeling.  Why is it so easy to enjoy the dabbling right now? One answer could be hormones. Another could be the focus of where I perceive value to be coming from.

If I’m thinking about how I should be making a living from my jewelry or writing, it’s easy to get mad at myself for not putting more devoted effort into those things over the years. “If you had worked at writing since high school, you’d be better at it now.” 

But if I’m thinking about having fun and living a life that I find enjoyable and fulfilling, then the dabbling seems fine because it has led to just that. Nobody else gets to determine whether I enjoy doing something, they just get to determine if I get their positive feedback or not.

Who Gets to Decide You’re Doing it Wrong?

Maybe part of the key is to remember where value lies. It is always up to us to live according to our values and to feel worthy, but when we start making comparisons or judging our value through the eyes of real or imaginary others, it feels like it is up to them.

“You aren’t making money with your art, therefore, it’s not valuable” can come up for me and other artists. That can be true of to you “value” means “making money by selling art”.  But if “value” means that you are engaged with the process of creating it or with the final result, that’s a whole different thing. Maybe your money has to come from elsewhere, or maybe you have to make certain things that are valuable to the world so that they will pay you for them if that’s what matters most to you.

The bottom line is- I can safely say that I have fun dabbling, even if it doesn’t lead to me becoming an expert who blows other people’s minds with my skills.  Maybe I am my own type of expert.

I hope that I can remember this the next time my anger and frustration towards myself kicks in. As I look back at recent rough days, I realize that the self-critical feeling is always based on the eyes of others and not my own. Whether it’s about dabbling in general or about a specific story or song, when I feel like I suck it is always feeling like I suck in the eyes of others or the world. Not in my own eyes. When I feel the air on my skin and the breath in my lungs, I am never dissatisfied with that experience. When I pump out a song or story or post to try and get positive feedback without enjoying the process or actually feeling the creativity, it usually backfires because the whole action was based on other people telling me I’m worthy instead of feeling worthy and engaged in the moment.

How about you, do these things ever come up in this way for you and your writing?

Do you feel like you always look through your own eyes at your work, or through the eyes of others, or through a mixture of both?

Did you feel the wind on your face today and enjoy it for a few seconds?

 

 

 

Cleanliness and Creativity: Nourishing Your Future Creative Flame

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This is a concrete tube that I sit in during my lunch break. I love it. It’s the perfect shape to let my feet and back rest while I listen to music and eat my lunch.

At my new job, one of the things I’m learning to do is to keep the register area meticulously clean. At first it was almost impossible to be paying attention to the customers and merchandise, while also hand-writing receipts and using the confusing cash register and credit card machine and also keeping that area neat.

Now, even with a half a moment between customers, the stapler is in the right spot and the wrapping paper is tucked away. As it turns out, this has some pretty cool implications for enjoying life and creativity.

It began with my kitchen. Anyone with a kitchen knows that it is a haven for projection and sublimation. It is a place full of tools and sustenance and bliss. Or chaos, confusion, and chores. Often times, all of the above. It has bravely stepped up to be the object of arguments between lovers, and has selfishly taken up more than half of many communal house meetings.

I began to be diligent in my kitchen. I noticed that to be able to clean dishes right away, I had to have space on the dish rack. Every time I noticed dry dishes, I put them away. It seems simple enough; but if you are like me and do not yet have a solid grasp on this one slice of adulthood, you understand that I was basically achieving superhero rank.

But there’s more. I noticed that I began to naturally apply this to other areas of the house. I put clothes directly in the hamper instead of letting some collect behind the closet door first. I removed anything from the coffee table that didn’t live there, promptly and effectively. I called people right when I thought about doing it, and checked my email and bank balance without putting it off for ten minutes to check Facebook.

Life is pretty cool this way, I gotta say. And I think that it’s more than just having a clean house and effective systems.

Cleanliness and Creativity

I read a quote recently about how when you feel the fire and the urge to write, you should do it while the flame is hot. A lot of us know that to be true. The problem is, you never quite see it coming.

Maybe you have a week of uninspired days, and then you suddenly are filled to the brim with ideas. You want to write them, draw them, sing them, whatever them. But there are dishes to be done before you can make a pot of almighty coffee and the area in which you want to work is not workable, you have to clean it. That gets in the way. By the time the space is possible to work in, the flame might be out.

But by being diligent with the day to day, you are taking care of that future self, that future chance. Unless you have your environment made into a welcoming atmosphere for whatever arises, you are basically leaving today’s trash for tomorrow’s self. That’s not generally useful, and it’s also not respectful. If you have a guest coming over, you clean. But you are going to be a person tomorrow that you don’t even know yet today, perhaps a person with a huge creative burst. Don’t you want to have things wonderfully ideal for that version of you?

Living Now Instead of Playing Catch Up

I’m wondering if one way for me to enjoy life more is to stop playing as much catch up. To be fully able to be present where I am without having to take care of yesterday’s issues beforehand. Being able to just exist in a home is a blessing, being able to cook effectively and sit and enjoy the space is a great gift. In the past, some of us were given that gift by guardians who payed rent or a mortgage, or older siblings who cleaned up the kitchen. But now it’s not going to happen without our own awareness and attentiveness to our space and what makes us thrive.

Maybe your ideal art studio is a full blown mess. But it’s a certain type of mess, I would imagine. A mess of art supplies that can be worked with. A mess that lets you be your creative self, rather than a mess that gets in the way of that.

Just imagine that your favorite musician, artist, writer, or researcher called and told you they were coming over tomorrow and really hoped they could get some work done at your place. How would you set up your space for them? Don’t you deserve at least that?

Preciousness of Time

Another factor in this for me is the preciousness of time. Suddenly, free time to enjoy my space is much smaller than it used to be. It makes me extra motivated to keep it as wonderful as I can so that when I wake up on my day off, after a quick vacuum and a pot of coffee, I am ready to enjoy myself and the day without having to spend an hour cleaning up what I mindlessly left behind.

Plus, if I do feel creative or an urge to just relax, I can do so. I don’t have to let those gosh darn dishes get in the way of that.

How about you, do you set up your space so that your creativity has a space to thrive when it arises?

Do you think there are things you could do that would make your space more welcoming to your creative bursts?

Do you think keeping a clean kitchen is super easy? What are your methods for doing so?

Creativity, Productivity, and Self-Worth

When I was writing more short stories, I tried to “play” with toys like I used to as a child. I thought this would help me get my creativity flowing. It was hard, like something was in the way of the river that used to flow effortlessly.

Sometimes that river still flows. I create a new necklace design, or make a song unlike any others I’ve made so far. It’s a great feeling, one that I’d love to have at the push of a psychological button.

But if there’s one thing I learned from great books like the Happiness Trap and Daring Greatly, it’s that you can’t control or force feelings.

In this post, I will explore a few things in my relationship to creativity that have been prominent in the past week.

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Some of my necklaces. Etsy store coming soon I think!

Here’s one frustrating chain of events that happens regarding necklaces:

1. I start creating from a free creative place. I make some cool macrame design that I’ve never done before.

2. I decide to do that design again, on another necklace.

3. I start making necklaces that all have that design, or some variation thereof.

This happens with more than necklaces. It happens with my songs. I never used to think about how a song would be received when I wrote it, but now I do. If one song is received very well, I am more likely to play it again or to try and find why it went over so well so that I can incorporate that element into other songs.

On some days, the goal-less innocent free-form creativity feels like it’s taking a back seat to the “get-er-done” mentality, connected to the “do things that other people like” mentality. It’s less creative, more productive. Sometimes this is useful, like with necklaces- especially if there is a style that is selling. Then I definitely want to make more of that type, because I’m trying to make that my livelihood. But that mentality does not need to touch my music, and it also isn’t useful to have it around the clock with the jewelery.

So where does it come from? I think I have a feeling about at least part of the story.

Creativity & Pleasing Others & Self-Worth

I think one strong factor in this process is the phenomenon of pleasing others. It’s truly an amazing one. The fact that you can do something creative, sometimes with no intention of even showing another human, and get praise can actually rock your world a little bit.

Suddenly, that reward is part of the process on a visceral level. If you sing a song and someone likes it, even though you didn’t expect them to, that feels good. You just made someone happy for a moment with innocent goal-less creativity. The next time you sing a song, or make a piece of art, part of you may wonder if someone will like it. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If they don’t, the something that wasn’t even missing before is now missing. Sometimes it can still feel fun to share, but sometimes, the fun is zapped and you are left confused about where it went.

A couple of times last week, I’d play at an open mic and finish and feel horrible about myself. Full of shame, like I should have never even touched a guitar in my lifetime. People would be saying nice things, but I didn’t believe them. I was expecting a reward to change how I felt, and it didn’t. I realized I had to look at what was going on, or else it was going to be a nasty spiral. Whenever shame is playing a part in what’s going on, I turn to Brene Brown’s work.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks about attaching self-worth to what we create. Here’s an excerpt from page 63: ” Because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.”

She explains how sharing your art or project is an essential part of Wholehearted Living. On the next page, she writes “With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, this scenario is completely different…Yes, it will be disappointing and difficult if your friends or colleagues don’t share your enthusiasm, or if things don’t go well, but this effort is about what you do, not who you are. Regardless of the outcome, you’ve already dared greatly, and that’s totally aligned with your values; with who you want to be.”

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Playing at the pool party at my apartment complex! You can also hear my new song Supermoon

Her words helped me see the situation more clearly. I was beginning to confuse people liking my work with the joy of creating it. If I’m playing guitar and focused mainly on what others are doing, trying to assess the value of my performance that way, it’s a disaster. One person talking or walking away can be converted in my head to a definite sign that I suck. Really, that’s not what that indicates, and I know that, but in the moment that’s how it feels.

When I play guitar and stay in my body, focused more on feeling present and enjoying the physical sensations of playing, then the person walking away doesn’t bother me. I may not even notice. And because I stayed present and didn’t get obsessed with what others might be thinking, I may actually be able to take a compliment at the end because I didn’t already made up my mind that it was a disaster.

Creating Versus Producing

When I’m trying to use any creative project for an actual income, it’s an interesting line. Creating and producing are two different things. Both are sometimes necessary.

I can produce necklaces very fast when I need to, just like I can produce writing or songs. I can also take my time and create necklaces, writing, and songs. I can wait for that playful part of my brain to chime in, notice the feeling of that, and make the most of it when it arrives. Like I said, I don’t expect to force it to come. I’m sure I can cultivate a friendly relationship with it the more I learn to look it in the eye and not confuse it with its distant relatives, like the people-pleasing impulse.

How about you, do you have an interesting relationship to creativity depending on how much you are relying on it for income?

Do you think it’s easy to zap into free-form creativity with no expectation of a result, or do you always create with an eye on the prize of how it will be received?

Do you show all of your creative projects to others or are there some for just you?

Have you been enjoying this time of year?

 

 

 

Curiosity, Meet Convenience: Hidden Stories

Remember that feeling in middle school where you introduce a friend to your parents, and you feel torn in half as you suddenly  realize there are different and sometimes incompatible versions of yourself to keep track of? Sometimes that feeling still happens when you introduce friends from different circles to each other. You are different versions of “you” with both parties and suddenly you have to find the middle ground, and it’s not always comfortable.

Blending Worlds to Deepen The Depth of the Moment

I am many people throughout the course of the day. Sometimes, I am mindful and curious and aware and gentle. Other times, I’m fast, furious, focused, and indulging in the convenient.

But the other day the two worlds met. I was eating a corn tortilla and found myself wondering how many people’s lives were involved with the whole process of making them.

From the plastic wrapper they came in to the fields the corn was grown in to the design of the package and the light switches at the factory that pumps them out. How many people were involved? Hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions if you really got right down to it (since each piece of the factory was made in another, and those people were technically involved with these tortillas…you get the idea). Who turns off the lights at the factory, what do they eat for dinner when they get home from work?

Singing Songs to the Cows

I spend half my time in a rural area. I sit on the porch and watch cows. One of them has big white spots and he’s going to turn into food someday. I watch him graze and let my heart ache a little with the awareness of his imminent demise that he has no idea about. He’s just eating grass in the sun.

But someday, people are going to eat him. They will taste the burger and not think of the girl that sat on the porch, folded book on her lap and spiderweb-filled mini-guitar singing songs to the cow as he nibbled on grass by the river. They won’t think of her or her story at all, just the food on their plate and other things on their mind at the time. How could they possibly know about her, never even mind what she had for dreams last night or for breakfast or how she gazed curiously at her corn tortillas.

I wonder about these stories that can infuse our convenient moments with curiosity. It’s easy to buy a package of corn tortillas, but it’s also possible to have curiosity for them.

Loosening the Grip of Our Own Story

In the past few days since the corn tortilla incident, I have applied this type of curiosity to other things and moments that otherwise can feel rather habitual. Brushing my teeth, making coffee, walking around the grocery store. And I’ve discovered something wonderful.

Stories are everywhere, curiosity can always be kindled. Every item on the counter, every car in the lot, every person walking by- stories on top of stories on top of stories.

It’s fun to jump into another story to see the context of our own. It can get us out of our own head, and it can bring some magic to an ordinary moment. It can also be great fuel for the imagination for writing stories and songs or working with a business problem in a new and creative way.

I feel moved to share this little tidbit because it has really stuck with me, and getting to stuck in our own story can sometimes limit us in terms of what we imagine. Imagination is great, use it whenever you can, especially when it can bring you a greater amount of gratitude and appreciation and awe for the little things in life like corn tortillas. glowy jen and zeek on couch

Are there convenient things that you take for granted a lot that may contain stories you never even imagined?

Do you think that it would be fun to look at life with this type of curiosity sometimes, or would it just make things too complicated?

Do you stare into lit up windows and wonder about the people who live inside and what they might be like?

I hope everyone is well :)