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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 We’re no longer active participants in an activity that was once common ground for all.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.”

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.