The Art of Connecting

Yogassan-116592-m Yesterday's blog post was about the fine art of being who you are.  I didn't really mean to write a follow-up post, but as is sometimes the case, yesterday's post caused a lot of comment and got a lot of traffic.  Which always makes me realize I've hit a nerve.  And makes me ponder more about what I wrote.  Which often leads to me writing more.  This is why I'm a novelist, because I'm incapable of writing short.  My short stories are always 25 pages, and I've never, ever written one without thinking, maybe I should turn this into a novel.

But back to the subject at hand.

I wrote about how the most successful writers and entrepreneurs and creative professionals are those who are most gloriously themselves because we are drawn to them.  I don't know about you, but I love it when somebody is not only passionate about some strange interest but confident enough to talk about it.  Give me somebody blabbing on about his rubber band collection and the true meaning of rubber and I'll listen for hours.

I also wrote a little yesterday about how connecting with something bigger than yourself is the key to gaining this confidence in who you are and the ability to be yourself.  And I want to delve into that a bit deeper today.

What, you say, does being yourself have to do with connecting?  Everything.  Because it is through connecting with a higher power that we gain access to our higher selves.  And it is through our higher selves that we are able to express the true essence of our beings to the world.

Connecting entails regularly getting in touch with something greater than yourself, whether you consider that something God, the goddess, Allah, the universe, the divine, Source, or your ancestors.   But what if you don't have an established religious or spiritual tradition within which to work and you're a bit nervous–perhaps even put off–by all this talk of connection?

I like to think that I get all my great ideas and inspiration from my higher self, the part of me that is not worried about judging others and comparing myself with them; the part of me that is not concerned with paying bills and worrying about whether to put bleach in with the next load of laundry.  In other words, the higher self is that part of me that is not my ego.  And I also consider my higher self to be one and the same as that bigger something that I desire to connect with, whether I call it source or universe or the divine.

The good news is that your higher self is easy to connect with.  Here's some ideas to try.

1.  Relaxation.  Get yourself a meditation or self-hypnosis CD and listen to it regularly.  Hypnosis CDs first get you to focus on your breath and deeply relax, and this is the heart of meditation.  So doing hypnosis can be a way to back into a mediation practice if the thought of it freaks you out.

2.  Meditate.  Start short, with 5-minute spurts.  Slowly lengthen the amount of time you sit.  As mentioned above, all you have to do is focus on your breath to meditate.  When thoughts disrupt your concentration, as they will, simply acknowledge them and let them float away.  My good friend Rabbi Rami recommends concentrating on a one-word mantra with your out breath.  Words like love, Lord, home, peace, heart will all work.  Having a mantra can give your ego something to do and help keep you focused, but it is not a necessity.  Experiment and do what works best for you.

3. Pray.  One of my favorite saying ever (and the theme of my novel) is, If it's love, the Lord won't mind.  I think the same is true of prayer–if it is sincere and done with love, the Lord will not mind how you do it.  Don't worry about form or format, just start praying.  And if you don't believe in God, pray to your higher self or the great, gaping, huge and beautiful universe.

4.  Move.  Many people find peace and connection in movement.  Walk slowly and purposely or just walk.  Dance.  Try belly dancing or ecstatic dance.  Or try Qi Gong or yoga.  Moving your body can open up mental space and allow intuition and ideas to come through.

5. Play with Paints.  Or crayons, or drawing pencils, or charcoals–whatever captures your attention. Messing around with art supplies activates the right brain and turns off the left.  And that in turn relaxes the brain and allows space to open up to guidance.

It is best to make a regular practice of one or more of these techniques, but even if you only do them once in awhile you will benefit.  So, tell me–what are your favorite ways to connect?  How do they impact your writing and life?

Writing and Laundry: Constantly Seeking Zen Moments

My daughter is grown and gone, married now and thinking about having kids of her own (if the stupid army would ever let her husband come home).

But sometimes often she comes to the house to do her laundry.  Which is why, last week, I ended up down the basement folding a large load of clothes from the dryer, which needed to be done before I could do my own laundry.

I will admit, I was feeling the wee-est bit resentful.

But then I started thinking about when she was a baby and I washed diapers.  (Yes, Virginia, there was a day when women washed their own diapers.)  A friend–older, wiser, and more experienced as a mother–had told me how much she loved doing laundry for her four children, folding the soft, white diapers, the tiny onesies, the little pink and blue sleepers.  So every time I started to get bored or cranky about doing laundry back then, I'd remember her words and try to pull myself back into it by focusing on the good parts of the task.

My friend was very Zen, though she didn't know it and actually considered herself a born-again Christian.  But being where you are, appreciating it, and staying present, is all very Zen, as I have learned and continue to learn from my Zen friend Derek.

My best writing times are Zen, too.  I'm constantly working to find the magic key to being present, staying in the flow, and deal with distractions (ie, ignore them).  I find it easy to be totally engaged when I'm doing my own work, less so when I'm working on assignments for others.  But it is imperative that I find ways to focus and be present no matter what I'm doing.  So here are some of the tricks I've learned:

1.  Shut down all inboxes.  This will allow you to resist the urge to check email, just real quick, and see if anybody has written you. Which then leads to the even more irresistible urge to answer them.  And by the time you've answered them, yet another one has come in…You may also wish to put your phone on silent and close the office door.

2.  Set an intention.  Sit quietly for a few moments (see below) and focus on what you want to accomplish.  Ponder what this will take, or review your notes before you launch in.

3.  Meditate or breathe deeply for a few minutes before launching into a writing session.  This can clear your mind and allow you to begin refreshed.  You can also do a written meditation and get the dreck out on the page

4.  Set a time limit.  Dave Lakhani talks about the power of an hour, the idea being that you set aside an hour, eliminate all distractions, set your intention to write, set a timer, take a deep breath and dive in for the duration.  Short, focused bursts of writing can really get the job done.

5.  Keep a notepad or a stack of index cards beside your computer to jot ideas down.  Then, when you get a flash of brilliance, you can make a quick note of it to peruse later.  This also prevents you from stopping in the middle of what you are doing and googling your latest idea, which can then lead to a lengthy distraction through the internet.

6.  Buy a brain entrainment CD which can help you stay focused.  I like the ones here.

7.  If your attention wavers, bring yourself back with a quick breathing exercise you've figured out ahead of time (say, take three deep breaths) or a statement.  One I've used successfully is, "Spirit come back to me, I need you here with me now."  A bit odd, I know, but I got it from a Christiane Northrup newsletter years ago and I've always liked the ring of it.

8.  Take breaks.  Do an hour and then get up and move.  I know I'm guilty of becoming one with the computer and sitting for so long that my knees creak and all my muscles complain when I finally do get up.  Much better for mind and body to move regularly.

Those are my tricks for finding Zen states in writing.  Anybody have any others?

Writing Flow: Turning Off the Worry Faucet

A few days ago I wrote a post titled, What About Not Writing? which pondered the question of whether it was ever a good idea to take a break from writing.  As is often the case, the post garnered some interesting responses, because, well, I have fabulously interesting readers (Brief aside: as a general rule, writers are the most fabulously interesting people in the world, except for the occasional odd duck crank).

Some commenters echoed my thought that writing is so much a part of me it is hard to imagine taking a break from it.  And others mentioned the value of taking a break to refill the well (a concept which I heartily endorse, as long as that break doesn't stretch out too long).

But one commenter, Rebecca, lamented the fact that it is so easy to let the demands of daily life get in the way of writing.  She inquired how I cleared away my mind to be able to write and asked that I write a post about this topic.  So here it is.

Clear it Out.  For starters I think its really important to cultivate some way to clear your mind.  Meditate, pray, write in your journal for a few minutes to get your yas-yas out, take a quick walk, whatever helps you to clear your brain.  Even taking a few deep breaths when you sit down to write can really help.

Set an Intention.   You probably have some sort of goals for your writing, such as, finish a novel, write a screenplay whatever.  Take that goal, chunk it down into a doable task, and then set an intention.  For instance, I am going to write 3 pages today.  Or, I will finish the rewrite of chapter 10.  Then, when you sit down to write, remind yourself of this intention by closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and repeating it several times out loud.

Ask for Help.  And I don't mean from your family.  Ask whatever higher power you might believe in to guide you and help you to stay focused.  If you don't believe in a higher power, ask your higher self.

Use Your Subconscious.  This falls into the Be Prepared category.  Take the time to look at whatever it is you want to write about the day before.  I know, I know, you don't have time.  Listen, everyone has five minutes.  Forget about the first five minutes of American Idol (it's just Ryan blabbering anyway), open your file, scan it quickly, ponder what you need to do next, close the file, go watch TV.  This helps way more than the time it takes to do it.  You'll get your brain engaged and ready to work and be focused, which makes it easier to turn off the worry faucet.

Keep a Notebook Handy.  Keep a small notebook or scratch pad right next to your computer.  If you get one of those distracting worry thoughts, pause for one minute and write it down.  You need bread at the store?  Write it down.  You remembered an appointment?  Write it down.  Then make a habit of checking over these notes at the end of your writing session and dealing with them accordingly.  Note the appointment on your calendar, make your grocery list, whatever.

Keep An Idea Notebook Nearby.  Same theory as above, only for ideas.  Many creative types start working on one project, only to think of 20 others.  I'm taking the  Complete Idealist Blissness Action Camp course from Marney Makridaris, and she talks about Complete Idealists as creative types who sometimes struggle because of how differently we think. She recommends using an idea file as a way to harness all your brilliance without losing your train of thought.  I used to keep an idea journal, but I'm so visual, if I don't see something, its gone from my mind, and all my ideas got buried.  Now I use a cool open-topped wooden file box that came from my Dad's long-defunct printing plant.  Added bonus is that I think of him every time I put in or pull out an idea.

Start With Negativity.  I know, sounds counter-intuitive, no? But the idea is to just give into it.  Rant and rave. Complain about how over-worked you are and how wretched your children are.  Wail about how much you don't want to do everything on your to-do list. Write all your negative thoughts down, or think them, or shout them, whatever you want.  Set a timer and limit it to five minutes.  There.  Now all the bad stuff is out of your brain, freeing you to write.

So there you have them, my best ideas to keep your brain clear while writing. Stay tuned, because coincidentally I have a post on a similar topic drafted.  I will put it up in the next couple days.  And, for those of you who have not subscribed to my ezine, The Creative Equation, please do, as the next issue is all about The 7 Essentials for Creative Flow, which are the bedrocks of my writing process.