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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.

 

 

Attitudes of Gratitude

22 Nov

This morning, I tried hard NOT to flail my arms out in African dance class as I had surgery last month and don’t care to rip stitches out prematurely. But how can one not feel joy when you hear a drum beat? Drums are akin to our hearts. They are the pulse of life itself – lub dub, lub dub. Years ago when music therapists and myself would bring drums into groups at the Hebrew Home for the Aged, even acute stage Alzheimer’s patients would tap a hand or a foot, despite being practically comatose and near death’s door.

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I have the privilege of taking African dance with a magnificent teacher. I studied African dance fairly extensively in college, so it’s part of my blood. However, the reason I love my teacher is because she understands dance as a form of worship. She practically radiates something higher than herself.

Dance is a way to express joy and praise; a way to mourn and rage.

I dance so I don’t forget I have a body that is often far superior to my mind. The body has its own knowledge and its own divinity. As Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric!” and as Hafiz waxed eloquent:

Every child has known God, Not the God of names, Not the God of don’ts, Not the God who ever does anything weird, But the God who only knows four words and keeps repeating them, saying: “Come dance with Me.” Come dance.

This is the week of giving thanks. Dance reminds me of the vitality inherent in gratitude. Often, thanks is pretty basic: I slept well last night. This coffee tastes terrific. Friends make me smile. Strangers can be kind. Let me give you a hug. The dog wagged his tail. I’m doing what I love. It rained in LA. Sunday is football. People still care.

Amen.

 

 

The Beauty of Boredom

16 Aug

Boredom isn’t really in my repertoire. Raised an only child, I learned to entertain myself at an early age and never really felt bored. I came to appreciate that there is plenty to do in life.

Yet every now and then, particularly when I’m super pooped like I am right now, I have to spend a day doing almost nothing. I always find this somewhat frustrating. I mean what could be more boring than just sitting on the couch or lying in bed when it’s sweltering hot both inside and outside? Just being is not terribly exciting, thought provoking, stimulating, or pleasurable. Nonetheless, I sometimes work myself into such a frenzy of career demands that the exhaustion comes with the territory.

I dislike these days yet I know there is beauty in boredom. Watching the hours tick away, not even reading or watching t.v., I find myself in a weird free fall. Just sitting here on the couch in the last hour I have noticed the sky change from pink to violet and now I see the moon almost full. I have painted two pictures and emptied my mind of weeks of teaching and travel. I have felt spaced out and my head has buzzed with a weird tingling vibration.

And I know this is absolutely vital to my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

The other day I was so happy to be home I bought three bouquets of flowers for different rooms in my house. Today, I noticed each arrangement yield more to its blossoms. When we’re bored, we start to pay attention.

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Tomorrow is another day. The to-do list never ending. The I-want-to-do-list even longer.

Yet today I had moments of boredom and in those pockets of empty space, I heard the still small voice that beckons me. As always, I doubt where it will lead me, yet know I must find the courage to follow it. Without the down time, I wouldn’t have paid attention to its presence.

The Crawl-Curse To Finish Lines

13 Aug

Finish lines nearly always kill me.

I remember running long distances with my dad. The last half mile was especially brutal. Our street, called Shadow Knolls for a reason, was a steep incline reminiscent of San Francisco hills. My dad would sing army songs so that I wouldn’t quit.

“I’m gonna be an air borne ranger, live the life of thrill and danger! Here we go! Here we go!”

Yeah, right.

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There are small and large finish lines in life.

Some people struggle with procrastination, yet I seem to have no problem starting things. I prepare my taxes first thing in January. I make lists and get things done. I write daily like a good little soldier. Discipline and routine ground me. Yet when it comes to that last fifty yards, for accomplishments that are significant, that’s when I suddenly want to quit.

To cross the finish line means something.

There is a reason athletes tear up on the podium at the Olympics and we tear up watching them. To cross the finish line is to acknowledge the journey traversed and the lessons learned along the way. It’s important to honor one’s hard work.

To finish we have to dig deep down within for that last spurt of energy. We have to call on that reservoir of power within that we don’t actually think we have. We must realize that we are bigger than we think and worthy of personal investment.

We also have to deal with the responsibility that comes with success and the flack that often accompanies it as well.

All of us have patterns that don’t serve us. Farting around with finish lines is mine. I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m afraid of finishing.

When I finished my masters in psychology I basically told no one and simply went to work the next day. I almost didn’t take my licensing exams because there was so much paperwork to fill out and did I really need the credential? My book is now pretty much done and I have a potential publishing date for Fall 2017. Do I really want it out there? We’re finishing post-audio on my film after hiring a composer to write beautiful music. Do I really want anyone to see this thing? I have three more classes to finish another masters. Yet what is the point? The degree won’t do anything for me.

Resistance always rears its head wanting to sabotage us.

At the end of the road every mishap that can happen, most likely will. This is just to see if we not only have it in us to finish, but if we have it in us to finish with dignity.

Quite frankly, I’d rather act like a four year old diva and have a tantrum or meltdown. Because finish lines suck.

Yet they are significant markers that help shape us.

So suit up, show up, and don’t let up.

It’s important to finish.

Are We Our Stories?

13 Jul

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The other day I posted a narrative about my mother’s incarceration on my blog. It’s an old story. Many people in my life are familiar with it. And like that news story that airs too many times, the story can grow very old.

Why then do we tell our stories? What is the point? It is to our benefit or detriment? In the telling do we transcend our narratives or reinforce them?

These are fundamental questions in the world of psychotherapy. Narrative matters. It’s important to communicate and unburden traumas. It’s important to share and to be witnessed. In fact, the primary solace of narration often comes from having an audience. We no longer are fully alone in our stories that caused pain and made no sense.

Yet retelling a story over and over can paradoxically reinforce it.

It’s a super fine line. Some feel adamantly that we share until we no longer need to. Period. It’s no one’s business to tell us when we’re to be done. And it’s certainly no one’s business to tell us what we do or don’t feel because our stories are etched into the landscapes our psyches. Those traces remain.

Freud wrote of repetition compulsion where people keep enacting aspects of the trauma with the hopes of mastering it yet often don’t. However, in play therapy, repetition compulsion in children’s play usually gives way to new narratives. Kids eventually get bored with the old “play” and create something new.

Is it possible though to start identifying with the narrative to the point where it defines our lives and limits possibilities? Is it easier to keep telling the same old story because it’s familiar and has become our identity? Do we do this because it’s too terrifying to face the blank page and not know what the hell the story is? What if the new story is terribly boring? With nothing juicy or dramatic?

Who is the auteur of our lives and who decides the story’s end?

There needs to be a story arc and we get full creative license to shape it.

We get to decide where plots are headed. Unlike with the original stories, we have so much more power and control than we realize. By deconstructing our narratives, we move into the imaginal realm and transcend ourselves. We get to become.

In fact, we are NOT our stories. We are not even the characters we play. These are all aspects of ourselves, which is why people so readily relate. They see parts of their experiences too. Yet as soon as I’m done writing a complete story, from beginning to end, or after playing a character, I have moved on. I’m looking for the next story.

Weird And Uncomfortable Are Invitations…

11 Jul

“Weird and uncomfortable are invitations; pain is a signal,” my yoga teacher said one evening in class. We were lying on our backs with blocks positioned under our rib cages and necks. This left the heart cavity rather open and exposed. We moderns have a tendency to hold the exact opposite posture. Sitting at desks hunched over our computers we often collapse our chests into concave positions. Furthermore, many of us unconsciously guard our hearts by wrapping our arms around our bodies self-consciously.

When we do something new it often feels weird. We can interpret that strangeness as an error. Yet my teacher suggested something entirely different. While pain is always a signal that something is wrong (and that we should stop doing whatever is inflicting it), different or uncomfortable often leads to something better.

Remember that first time you took a sip of coffee or had a bite of avocado or sushi? They might have seemed a little “off.” Well, I can’t speak for you but I worship avocados and sushi and can’t wake up without my morning coffee.

Why then do we resist the weird and uncomfortable? When these could be portals to the unknown, leading to something affirmative and good, what are we afraid of?

When we break patterns we become disoriented. What was once engrained and regular gets deconstructed and then reintegrated into a new form. This is the essence of transformation. It demands that we break outdated modes of being.

Observe children having their first experiences in water outside the womb. Infants being given their first baths often wince in distress while babies at swim lessons cling to whomever is holding them. Yet within moments they’re splashing, laughing and smiling. Suddenly the creatures in plastic diapers are now fish.

My cats used to sit in front of the screen door meowing with longing. They were desperate to chase the birds. Yet whenever I scooped one of them up in my arms and took them outside, my little tigers became terrified of the big wide world.

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All learning requires discombobulation. I remember a school teacher once saying, “Confusion is a sign of learning.” My little mind thought this was a complete contradiction. How could learning be confusing? It was supposed to be clarifying. But not always. On the road to mastery, we scramble our pre-existing knowledge base. We stretch our minds outside of their comfort zones. I once studied Greek and recall saying many times in frustration, “This is Greek to me!” Then suddenly Greek was Greek to me. I could read it. The hieroglyphics made sense.

Weird and uncomfortable are invitations. Pain is a signal.