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The Importance Of Getting Off The Grid

29 Jun

I don’t know about you but there are many days when I’m on complete overload. Modern life has created a cocktail of stimuli that is maxing out our nervous systems. We are bombarded by noise, demands, choices, and activities. Unless we take specific actions to decompress on a daily and even hourly basis, most of us are headed for burnout.

 

Sometimes we have to get off the grid. For that purpose, I’ve created a wellness retreat that will take place in beautiful Ojai, California on October 5th, 6th, and 7th. I hope you’ll join me!

During the retreat, we’ll reflect on what brings meaning and value to our lives- separate from the unwanted influences of our day-to-day schedules. Learn to better manage stress, improve your wellbeing, and feel revitalized! For details on the itinerary and accommodations, visit my website.

Take some time to care for yourself and to get away! I hope to see you in October in Ojai!

When Being Off Balance Is A Start

1 Feb

Last night while doing tree pose in yoga, the teacher suggested we toy with our balance by closing our eyes or swaying our arms. Tree pose, if you don’t know it, entails standing on one leg while the foot of the other is tucked above the standing leg’s knee, resting on the thigh. I find the pose relatively easy but as soon as I closed my eyes, it wasn’t. “They say one’s yoga practice begins the moment you feel off balance,” the teacher remarked.

I started laughing- not because the comment itself was funny but because it was so akin to what I’ve been experiencing lately. Normally, we think of being off balance as a sign of overload and stress, i.e. not good. In fact, a sense of balance is something people typically strive to create in their lives. But what if being off-balance was neither good nor bad but a sign of growth and expansion? A sign of taking on new forms and letting go of control? Obviously, we don’t want to be so off-balance that we teeter over and fall but is a little disequilibrium a thing to avoid?

Personally, I hate feeling out of control. I like structure. I like knowing what is going to happen. I like being in charge with a plan, Only life doesn’t work that way. Trying to make it so is exhausting and futile.

The teacher’s statement reminded me of my go to: “Confusion is a sign of learning.” However, for me, learning is productive so I’ll take a little confusion if I know I’m expanding my mind or learning a new skill. But do I really want to invite being off-balance for the hell of it? What “reward” will I get from being off balance? In my day-to-day life, won’t that drive me out of my mind?

Perhaps. Overload is overload and sometimes too much is too much. But I’m reminded that in acting, a similar phenomenon happens in terms of being off balance. There is often a point in rehearsal or filming when despite knowing your lines, your mind drops them. This happens when you’re so in the moment with a feeling or a connection to someone else that you get flustered. It’s a moment of being off balance; off kilter; not knowing what is going to happen that leaves you feeling completely vulnerable and like you’re falling off a cliff. Every director I’ve ever had has loved it when I drop my lines. “Keep going, keep going,” they’ll say. “What you’re doing is brilliant.” And I’ll think – actually, I’ll not think – I’ll keep going – feeling completely out of my skin in free fall and delight.

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So yes, I guess it’s okay to be off balance even if it feels completely weird and counter-intuitive. It might actually be spot on!

The tree can sway and still stay rooted. It’s a sign of being on the path.

 

 

What are You Starting and Stopping?

28 Dec

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This sign was placed at my regular trailhead recently. “How apropos for New Year’s,” I thought as I set out.

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As my feet began the familiar climb I reflected on the fact that the word “START” was placed on a sign known for signaling “STOP”.

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Then when I got to the first look out spot, I noticed the very familiar grafitti on this block of cement. Yes, God woke me up for a reason. What is it that I intend to do this upcoming year and during my life?

I take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve very seriously. For me, it is a time to engage in serious reflection. As much as I can, I slow down and vacate the day-to-day rut of work and domestic life. I try to have very little agenda and a fair amount of solitude post all the holiday revelries. Whether it’s a hike or novels or Netflix, I try to just let myself be. In that process, I can think about the highs and lows of the year, let any residual “ick” float to the surface and release, and begin to imagine possibilities for 2018. And I often find myself pretty tired about now.

As is typical, I have a thousand projects brewing that all feel like they’re going to explode in the first few months of the year. For that reason, I resonate with both “START” and “STOP” for if we’re going to “START” some things, it might mean we have to “STOP” or at least “PAUSE” on other things. There has to be enough space in our lives for creation. And there has to be enough space in our lives to actually live.

It’s important to know when to start and when to stop because we can’t have the foot on the brake pedal and the gas at the same time.

It’s also important to simply look around while in motion. When I did this morning, I was greeted by this sweet friend.

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Here’s to 2018 and a wonderful New Year’s!

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Feng Shui the Psyche for 2018

20 Dec

Call me superstitious but I take the transition between one year into the next very seriously. How one spends New Years’ Eve isn’t so important but the period leading up to it is: the week between X-mas and New Years can be a valuable time to take stock. It’s an opportunity to think about all that has transpired and to set a template for what one wants to create.

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The only way to do this though is to carve out space in our schedules and psyches for contemplation. Who can think straight when our minds are running a million miles a minute and when our bodies are bone tired from pushing to the limits?

In Chinese thought, Feng Shui entails “a system of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of energy (qi).” To have qi moving with ease throughout a home or office, the furniture needs to be arranged in a way that optimizes its flow. If we were to apply the same concepts to our lives, we need enough spatial freedom in our schedules and psyches for qi to flow at maximum efficiency. If the Feng Shui of our inner lives is inadequate, some rearranging and prioritizing of how we’re spending our time and energy might be in store.

The last two Decembers I’ve had to consider, “If I’m this tired now, how will I feel in the New Year?” I want to start 2018 with a feeling of vim and vigor but I can’t if I’m emotionally, physically, and mentally depleted. How do I hit the re-set button? What can I stop doing or take a short break from?

I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. Modern life is pushing us to move faster and faster. Our smart phones keep us constantly connected to work, friends, family, and information. Rarely do we get a break unless we turn the damn things off. Even when things are wonderful, we’re over-stimulated and taxed. Abundance of any kind comes with stresses too. We have to manage the bounty on our plate and even nutritious food is unhealthy if we’re stuffed to the gills.

If we don’t take stock, we suddenly find ourselves crushed under a wheel of demands and stresses we can’t manage. Then the feeling of being victimized by “it” only adds to the stress.

But pain is information. It’s trying to tell us something. We can take cues from when our energy feels blocked, gummed up and low. Usually, that is a sign that it is time to practice some feng shui. For me, that means slowing down and doing less. It means not going to the gym but to the hills for a walk instead. It means spending more time in quiet and less time in the car. It means telling people I’m getting off the grid for a bit and that I might not be so quick to respond to calls, emails and plans. But I can only put rest into practice if I clear space for it.

Before the new year starts, it can be good to write down what we want to release from 2017 and what we want to create. But we also need to consider what is realistic when mapping out our goals, projects and intentions. Rome wasn’t built in a day. So perhaps we focus on a few things for January, February and March and then concentrate on other items during the remaining months. The key thing is that there is enough psychic space to keep the energy moving through freely. Otherwise, we don’t think well, sleep well, or relate well. Perhaps new years intentions aren’t so much about goals as about how to live and love well and how to embrace our passions without losing ourselves in the process.

 

Which Is More Stressful? Doing What You Love Or Not Doing What You Love?

29 Oct

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I’m a firm believer that following one’s dreams is not only life giving- it’s a necessity. When we don’t pursue our hearts we run the risk of growing old, resentful and disconnected from our life force.

That said, chasing a passion extracts a cost.

There is never balance. It’s a constant juggling act.

I remember a loved one suggesting that I consider art a hobby and not aim for it as a career. Creating for the sake of creating should be reward enough.

At some point toying with passion isn’t enough though. At some point, if you are serious about yourself and what you have to offer, you become serious about it all. It’s not about whether or not you actually hit the big time; it’s about whether or not you actually swing at the bat.

The funny thing about pursuing a goal is that it requires a degree of relaxation too. Trying too hard stunts creativity and spontaneity, so you have to loosen the grip a little. But if you want to be in the game, you have to practice, sweat, get dirty and deal with stress and exhaustion. That’s just the way it goes. No one who is remotely successful achieved anything by wistfully dreaming about it. Creativity requires risk and action. It will throw you off kilter and plunge you into the unknown. Forget security. It will require last minute decisions, schedule changes, and sacrifices. It will mean that not all will understand or even support you. In fact, most won’t even care. And that’s okay. Because the only person who needs to care is you.

Because which is more stressful? Doing what you love or not doing what you love?

Most new mothers would never go back to the hospital and say, “Thank you. I’m returning my child. I miss eight hours sleep.” While they might dream about eight hours sleep and miss aspects of their previous lifestyles, most wouldn’t trade their children in for simplicity and convenience. That wouldn’t enter most new mothers’ minds beyond mere fantasy.

So which is more stressful? Doing what you love or not doing what you love? And who and what do you make sacrifices for?

I Am Not A Damn Smart Phone; I Am A Body!

10 Aug

Today, in an act of defiance, I left the house for a hike and purposely left my cell phone at home. I typically take it with me even though I have a no-talking-on-the-trail rule. I like to have it in case I want to photograph something and because the hills are remote, it’s not a bad idea to carry it. Today however, I couldn’t bear to take the damn thing with me.

I debated at first. During the ten minutes it takes me to walk through the neighborhood to the mountain, I thought to call a friend I needed to get in touch with today. I also contemplated listening to a podcast. I could make use of the time and multi-task, right?

I’m so sick of multi-tasking! We reply to texts while our cars idle at traffic lights, we answer emails while we’re standing in line at the grocery store, and we talk on the phone while washing the dishes and cleaning the house. While all of this makes us extremely efficient, I am so tired of constant device time. I want to hear silence in my head for once and to look at something that is not virtual.

I never want my smart phone to become an appendage. If you look at people walking around these days, phones look like an extension of individuals’ bodies. I want my body to remain what it is – flesh and blood! I don’t want it to grow a selfie-stick or I-Phone.

On my hike, I started to feel a peace descend on me that I haven’t felt in awhile. I smelled sage, saw a butterfly cross my path as opposed to my screen, and felt myself sweating profusely in the Southern California sun. It reminded me of surfing because you can’t take your gadget out into the ocean, nor would you want to if you could. Your life depends on paying attention to what you’re doing – watching the tides and sensing the momentum of the waves.

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Our bodies too are like waves. Each inhalation and exhalation is a cycle. We need to be attune to them if we are to live in an embodied state.

For an hour and a half I was free- blessedly free. When I returned, I made breakfast and felt completely in the moment. I didn’t resent my work or my computer when I had to eventually get down to business. My body and mind had needed a break and they got one. I felt refreshed.

Seth Godin recently wrote in a blog post, “Every time I see a toddler in a stroller with an internet device in hand, I shudder.” Me too. Will that kid grow up knowing how to sense his or her body? Or how to access his or her imagination? The other day a friend and I noticed that little kids these days hold picture books and try to swipe the page or press a button. This breaks my heart. Will there come a time when books can’t hold a child’s interest because there aren’t any whistles or bells to stimulate the nervous system? Are we there already?

Technology robs us of boundaries and privacy, if we don’t set limits and reclaim quiet corners of our lives. For instance, when I was writing my book, I refused to answer non-emergency email except for during certain times of the day. I’m trying to get back to that personal protocol. I also have started to power down my devices by 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. unless I’m working on something special. I value my sleep way too much and am not a night person anyway. When I stay away from screens a few hours before bed, I sleep a full eight hours. This is something that matters to me. I am a body; not a machine.

We do everything in front of a computer. We work on-line, we pay bills on-line, date on-line, read on-line, make travel arrangements on-line, etc, etc. etc. Modernity isn’t going away. It’s here to stay. But I can carve out time for my body. I can power down, look around, and sense my surroundings. Because I am not my damn smart phone! I am a body in a human form and that is something that I never want to take for granted.

Are You Learning The Right Moves?

19 Jul

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I’ve been taking an intermediate ballroom dance class this summer. Most of the class members are retirement age. Other than the teacher who is young and cute, I am the youngest person there. And I’m a “woman of a certain age” so that tells you something. But dancing is ageless.

It’s the same people every week. Some are married and some come alone, as we always shuffle partners. It is a privilege to be around others who know how to commit to a practice and to each other. There is wisdom and grace in it.

One learns much from partner dancing. You have to know whether you’re leading or following and how to adjust to the nuances of the individual you’re partnered with. Much is intuitive and nonverbal. When you’re really in tandem with the other person, it’s easy and fun. It feels effortless and right. But sometimes you have to struggle a little before you get the steps and rhythm down. Dancing keeps you on your toes in more ways than one. You have to pay attention. You can’t check out.

We’ve done a gross disservice to civility and relationships by not maintaining dance as a routine social practice. In previous generations dance was something everyone did. Now ballroom dance is ascribed to those on “Dancing With The Stars” while the rest of America sits home watching. We’re no longer active participants in an activity that was once common ground for all.

I love the politeness of couples dancing. The women tend to wear dresses and the men nice dress slacks. Sure it can be saucy and sexy but there is always a sense of respect and a very clear boundary. There is an intimacy that is both sweet and appropriate and men and women seem to enjoy one another’s company. Tonight someone’s pet poodle sat on the sidelines as we swirled to Frank Sinatra and Mr. Bubule. Community matters and so does dancing with the people in it.

 

 

8 Essential Steps to Unblocking Creativity

13 Jul

All of us have creative slumps. The question is what do we do with artistic impasses and how do we avoid eternal inertia? Is there any benefit to a slow period or is it indicative of self-sabotage and stagnation? How do we self-correct and get back on course?

Creativity has its ebbs and flows. That is its nature. Yet when this vital force becomes inhibited, we lose traction in our work. We then squander our creative energy and impede productivity. To get back on course, it can be helpful to diagnose the issue and take action.

Usually, there is a combination of inner and outer factors- some minor, some major- that all contribute to resistance. We may be battling powerful inner demons or more insidious things like multi-tasking, lack of focus, and spending too much time doing things we don’t want to do. Here are eight essentials for getting back on course to pursuing your dreams:

  1. Invite Curiosity and Compassion

Beating ourselves up about being blocked will never solve the problem. It will just leave us feeling more defeated. Instead we can invite curiosity and compassion into what is going on. This provides invaluable information that we can leverage.

Sometimes we get blocked because we’re going through a hard time emotionally and have personal issues in our lives that need to be addressed. It’s wonderful when we can channel our immediate feelings into our art but sometimes we need to focus on the problem at hand and to heal. This allows some perspective and distance we can later incorporate back into our work. Regardless, our very “stuck-ness” might be rooted in issues that could be mined for gold.

Compassion invites ease into the creative process because we’re no longer trying to strangle things with our efforts and frustrations. Instead, we’re problem solving.

  1. Distinguish the Business Side of Things from the Creative

When creativity is our vocation this creates tension between creative tasks and administrative ones. We can’t abandon our craft, nor neglect the business aspects required to get our work out into the world. We must do both.

Clarity on how to strike this balance creates more space for creative execution. Marking, raising funds, and tending to details are paramount but they need to be treated as separate from raw creative output. Otherwise, we’ll feel frustrated and unfulfilled when we get too sucked into the business side of things. We need time for the muse as well.

And yes, social media is good for self-promotion but it can also deprive us of precious creative time. Consider only using social media at specific periods during the day or hiring an assistant to help manage it.

  1. Seek Mentors

When it comes to mastering a craft, we want to learn from the best. Seek out professionals whose work you admire when it comes to learning your specific art form. There is always something to learn, no matter where we are on the path. When Jane Fonda was hired on “Grace and Frankie”, she immediately started working with an acting coach despite being a veteran in the field.

Mentorship helps us stay accountable to our goals and saves us time. Why reinvent the wheel if someone who has paved the way before can give us some tips? Not only that, art is collaborative and based on relationships. Mentorship helps foster the relational aspects of the industry that are so vital to success.

  1. Let the Field Lie Fallow

In farming there is the tradition of letting fields lie fallow so the soil can replenish itself before planting crops again. For those of us running on empty, burnt out from work and responsibilities that have left us bone tired, we need periods of inactivity. Without pause, it is difficult to get in touch with our creative impulses, particularly when our lives are moving at such a fast pace that we can barely keep up. Creativity demands periods of down time. This allows us to refill the well and fosters dreamtime. Some of the most innovative ideas come when lounging on the couch, washing the dishes, going for a walk, or reading a novel for pleasure.

There is a story about a goose that laid a golden egg a day. Her owner became greedy and forced her to produce more. Eventually, she stopped laying any eggs.

  1. Explore the Tension Between Surrender and Will

Creating is a weird balance of surrender and will. We need to take action. For instance, a screenplay doesn’t write itself. We have to turn on the computer and type. On the other hand the real magic lies in being receptive to ideas that emerge when we aren’t necessarily “trying” so hard to create. When we push too hard for an outcome, we can strangle the moment- on the page and on the stage.

If you’ve ever surfed, you know that catching a wave requires being out there in the water. You have to suit up, show up, and paddle. However, you actually catch the wave by sensing its momentum and allowing it to propel you. The wave takes you just at the moment when you are in the right position. Then you pop up on the board. Creating is like that. It’s a tension between exerting effort and then letting go.

We work through blocks when we practice “being” in the midst of doing.

  1. Go Where the Juice is!

Sometimes we’re blocked because we’ve lost our passion for a project. When this happens, it can be helpful to explore something that excites us instead. This doesn’t mean that we’ll never complete what we start. We need to finish projects even when the going gets tough and tedious. However, sometimes we need a shot of vitamin B. Moving in a different direction might supply this boost.

Tracking where there is artistic desire and pleasure is helpful. We don’t need to know why we’re drawn to certain projects. Sometimes our most creative ideas come out of left field. Be open to surprises! This is the beauty of the Mystery.

  1. Keep the Train Moving

I’m a huge fan of the Nike commercial, “Just do it!” Often what we most need to do is to lace up our sneakers and get our butts out the door. Momentum is essential for moving through creative blocks. No matter how much we might be prone to procrastinating, we must keep the train moving. If this is as struggle for you, have an accountability partner. Schedule tasks and times to do things. Despite the block, keep moving. Even if you have to take a break from one project, work on another one. Or, if you’re super stuck, try creating in a different medium for a while. Just keep doing something. This primes the pump.

It can also be helpful to note that the root word of discipline is “disciple.” Instead of viewing discipline as drudgery and rigidity, think of it as sacred. We when our devoted to our craft we engage with the Divine.

  1. Conceptualize Your Life as a Work of Art

Even though we all might dream about Oscars and fame, creativity is a process, not a product. Furthermore, creativity is inherent in all aspects of our lives: building and maintaining relationships, raising children, making meals, growing a garden, even getting dressed! Keeping this perspective reminds us of how vital creativity is to our wellbeing. It is our life force.

Not only that, creativity allows us to organize the chaos of our lives- and to make something of beauty from it.

Our lives are works of art. We get to call the shots- if we maintain this perspective. As Albert Einstein once said, “Logic will take me from A to B– imagination will take me anywhere.”

On Aesthetics

2 Jan

The first time I was in Venice I was sixteen years old. While traveling, I had a major crush on the high school water polo who couldn’t give me the time of day. In the end, it was the British tour guide who got my heart despite a ten year age difference between us.

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His influence on my life over a number of years dramatically impacted my intellectual education.

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Yet there comes a time when recognizing beauty becomes in-bred. Your own beauty suddenly radiates from within. There is no longer a need for someone else to draw it out – as lovely as that is….

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It’s the beauty that has always been there waiting for its turn on stage.

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The Italians know that beauty is eternal despite how it alters with time and light.

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Italians also love company. They are always together. You rarely see anyone alone. They find beauty in being together and in being.

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They take their time, no one gets things in to go cups, and everyone drinks lots of wine and coffee.

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Italians also flirt. I was in the company of this man for five minutes and you’d think we were long lost lovers.

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Beauty is important. It’s one of the conduits to heaven and reminds us of the Divine present among us. In drama therapy, we say that the aesthetic choice is usually the more healing one.

Lost in the Woods?

1 Dec

I’m convinced that the most exciting times in our lives are those in which we don’t know where the hell we are or where we are headed. They are also the most scary because the unknown can make us feel so lost.

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Dante wrote, “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there.”

Most of us want order and control in our lives. We want to know how much money is in the bank, who we’ll fall in love with and when we’ll retire. Sometimes we want this kind of certainty more than wonder, joy, and mystery because let’s face it: the latter three invite more ambiguity. Wonder, joy and mystery can’t be structured, manipulated or planned for and they can disappear as quickly as they make an appearance. They aren’t the by-product of a game plan. They are the ball soaring through the air but when you least expect the touchdown.

Direction typically emerges out of intention. What is it that you most long for? What are your passions and how do you want to live your life? What do you want to be remembered for and what do you want to give to the world? Who and what do you love and who and what loves you? As 2016 draws to a close, instead of thinking about New Years resolutions, perhaps it’s more wise to reflect on these questions because out of the questions answers emerge. Out of the undoing and the not knowing comes clarity, focus, and manifestation.