Give Yourself Permission

DSC_0710dddblogPermission. To take time. To dedicate that time to oneself, to one’s dream(s). To do.

This seems like such a simple thing. Yet it is quite profound. Giving ourselves permission.

I give myself permission to play, to experiment, to listen . . . to my characters, to myself. I give myself permission to see what happens next.

Some days I just give myself permission to do nothing at all, at least nothing that seems or feels productive in the sense of creating new poems or chapters, or work for my day job. Ironically, however, those are some of the most productive days as they give us back essential parts of ourselves–energy, equanimity, strength, hope.

My good friend Terry and I experienced a week full of bliss recently during West of the Moon from the beautiful birth of his grandson to heartfelt moments of joy shared with our retreaters to a number of moments when those retreaters gave themselves permission . . . to play . . . to just be who they are . . . to create without preconceptions . . . without judgment . . . but mostly to listen (to their souls, their hearts, the deep down parts of themselves).
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Making Time for Our Passion

Flower in Sunlight on Island

Flower in Sunlight on Island

“Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones,
as the wind extinguishes candles and fans fires.” – Francois de La Rouchefoucauld

I think this is one of the reasons so many people get to the middle of life and feel unsatisfied, disillusioned, restless . . . as if something is missing. Because something is missing.

We tend to learn to put our passions aside. We learn to quiet them, to ignore them.

And for those “mediocre” interests, the ones that may have caught our interest, but haven’t come from the soul, this absence does seem to diminish them.

Fence Textures

Fence Textures

For those passions that are part of who we are, however, the going without, the denial, actually fans the fire consuming us sometimes from within.
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The Obstacle Is The Path

Boat and Boy by Peter van Straten

“Boy and Boat” by Peter van Straten

There is a Zen saying that sometimes the obstacle in the path is the path.

A friend of mine who is not a writer, though he is a very talented visual artist, shared some insight with me once that has resonated with me quite a bit the past few months.

“Consider this,” he said: “in the Chinese language, there is a word for Crisis. Much like words in English, the word is made up by combining two different words. The first symbol is the Chinese word for Danger. The second symbol is the Chinese word for Opportunity.”

On Leadership by Peter van Straten

“On Leadership” by Peter van Straten

When we consider the duality of all things, and the idea that an obstacle might also be an opportunity . . . when we acknowledge that the unwanted condition has a right to exist; that every conceivable state might have a purpose in the grand scheme (even if only as a “learning experience”), we provide ourselves with the chance to grow.

Back in November and December of last year, I wasn’t writing. From August through the end of the year, I was working nearly every day and was utterly exhausted those meager hours each week I wasn’t working.

I was frustrated, but believed that things would slow down in the new year. After all, my job is busiest August through November.

Except when it’s not.
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Live With Intention

Lafayette Wattles Writing

Lafayette Wattles At The Page

“Lean forward into your life. Begin each day
as if it were on purpose.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

I am starting a new trend for myself this very moment. From now on, I intend to begin each day as if it were on purpose. With INTENTION!

And that intention is to write . . .

I’m sitting in a hotel room in West Virginia waiting for my dinner to arrive via room service and I’ve been driving most of the day so I’m too tired to work on poetry right now, but I thought it might be time to return to Write Side Up.

When I got home from WOTM 2014 last June, I immediately started work for a new job and, as a result, I have only written 2-3 blogs posts in the past year. But the past four weeks in particular have been rather illuminating for me in a variety of ways, all of which keep echoing the same thing – I NEED TO BE AT THE PAGE!

Here’s why:

  1. When I spend even a brief amount of time at the page, I write – write – write!
  2. When I’m writing, I’m breathing. It’s that simple. Words are a different sort of air and I feel healthier and more energized and more alive when I’m writing.
  3. Look, I smile . . . all the time. Not for effect, but because that is what comes out of me. But there’s something different about a smile that comes from the heart and one that comes from the depths of your soul. I’m a genuinely happy guy. And I have been told my joy is contagious. In part, I believe, because it is genuine. But the way I feel inside when I’m honoring my soul and writing, that takes my typical happiness to a whole other level. Right now, as I sit here typing, I feel so incredible thanks to the past 10 days in New Harmony.
New Harmony

Roofless Church in New Harmony

Let me explain.
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It’s About Time

new clock resized

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time
has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss

It’s no coincidence that I started my new job on August 4th and I’ve only written one blog post since August 31st.

“Time has flewn!”

I knew my precious writing time would be quite elusive for a few months. But I have managed to find smatterings here and there. I have also been reminded of a few things about TIME, itself, over the past few weeks. A few things we all probably know intuitively, but often lose sight of.

It takes time to find time. to make time.

But it IS usually there to be found . . . and made . . . and shaped as we’d like.

We sometimes become overwhelmed by the fragments we devote to so many other things, to “multi-tasking” in our every-more-busy lives, that we tend to accept that there’s just no time left, that it’s just not there, and as a result we often give up on trying to find it, make it, shape it.

And make no mistake, it takes energy to find and to shape time, but much less energy than what we spend by feeling guilty or by filling with resentment over not having time to do the thing we are called to do.

If you already spend enough time doing the thing you love, then you should stop reading this and get back to it. If, however, you struggle occasionally or frequently to find time for yourself, to dedicate time to yourself, then maybe it will be worth a little of that precious time to read on.
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What To Do When Feeling Lost, Stuck, or Lacking Motivation

Stricken With Self-Doubt by Just.Luc

Stricken With Self-Doubt by Just.Luc

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  – Sylvia Plath

Of course, as discussed before, there are several other enemies including a lack of motivation. In my experience, a lack of motivation often stems from one or more of the following things: doubt, fear, an inability to focus and/or to concentrate due to anxiety or feeling overwhelmed from too many responsibilities/distraction, or lost interest.

I’ve written some about fear and anxiety and about self-doubt. A lack of interest seems to explain itself – find the thing that interests you, about which you are truly passionate. Being overwhelmed often requires us to break our tasks into smaller steps and to set intentions for each of our essential responsibilities and then remind ourselves of those intentions.


One thing that helps me with all these challenges appears below (hint, it has to do with other people).

There are times in most people’s lives when they feel doubt – about a relationship, a sport, a college (major, class, career direction), a job, some other pursuit. Anything that requires a choice brings with it the potential for doubt. And we can doubt just about anything related to those decisions we make . . . or have to make . . . or want to make (before, during, and after we make the decision).

That doesn’t even take into account the doubt some people have about themselves.

At various points in our lives, questions arise. Do they really like me for who I am? Who the heck am I? Am I fooling myself? Do I have the ability needed? Is it done? How do I know?

Writers, artists, and other people chasing their creative dreams occasionally encounter various forms of doubt, fear, lack of motivation, and other obstacles. As a matter of fact, among many creatives I know, self-doubt is one of the biggest obstacles they have to overcome.

I’m not going to pretend one thing works for all forms of doubt. But I will say this, one thing I’ve learned that helps me regardless of the reason behind the doubt is the knowledge that each step taken gets me closer to my goals.

Another thing, that helps me even more than that, is reminding myself what my intention is for chasing those goals in the first place.

What Am I Writing For?

Answering that question (and reminding myself of the answer whenever I feel stuck, unsure) has helped me more than anything.

A third thing that helps me stay inspired . . . that reminds me that those obstacles can be overcome . . . is the accomplishments of my friends and colleagues.
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Being Receptive – Creative Sparks Take Many Forms

sparkles on water

Children are extremely perceptive and absorb what goes on around them long before they can talk or even comprehend language. They are like finely tuned receivers that pick up much more than is merely said. They are receptive and attuned to every mood, feeling, and change that goes on in people around them.”
– Theodore Isaac Rubin

I just got back from an amazing week in Historic New Harmony where my friend Terry Price and I led a week-long retreat for writers called West of the Moon Retreat. It was our third year doing the retreat and, somehow, each year tops the last.

One of the underlying intentions for the week was to encourage the writers to be RECEPTORS or RECEIVERS (i.e. to more RECEPTIVE – like those old Pioneer and Bose receivers that allowed stereos to pick up so much extra musical goodness that was bouncing around the stratosphere).

We invited them to be OPEN to whatever sort of inspiration might present itself rather than going into each writing session with preconceptions about how their inspiration would come to them.

There’s a need to approach each writing session with a specific intention, a focus, but we discussed how writers often go into a session expecting their inspiration to come in a specific way. As a result, we set our dials and tune in to that one way and we tend to dismiss so many other signals instead of recognizing that our body and our unconscious mind reach out to us in a variety of ways.

After showing the writers a series of yoga poses (not to be confused with ninja moves) put together in a brief sequence for the purpose of opening them up for those myriad signals (any image, color, word, sensation, etc), I finally had my own chance to walk the walk, so to speak. And what a walk it turned out to be.

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Worry, Anxiety, Fear: Obstacles to Creativity

“Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Evil Erin

“Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Evil Erin

“The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate,
your mind from worry.
Live simply, expect little, give much.
Scatter sunshine,
forget yourself, and think of others.”
~ Norman Vincent Peale

I’m torn between two thoughts this week. Well, okay, I have a gazillion thoughts popping around up there among the noodles, but I mean two blog post thoughts. One is on worry and how it sometimes gets in the way (of writing, of everything). The other is on being different and prejudice.

The former is one of the primary obstacles for writers and artists and it also often mucks up happiness for people in general. The latter is one of my biggest pet-peeves. Only the term pet-peeve seems like much too small a concept when it comes to being different.

Prejudice of any kind is one of the very few things in life I truly abhor!

It rattles me to the very core. That’s why almost all of my writing focuses on misfits, on people who are different races, mental and physical capacities, shapes and sizes. The recent circumstances surrounding a certain basketball team owner’s comments sparked a few new thoughts about that.

So, this week I’ll dedicate Write Side Up to “Worry -> Anxiety -> Fear -> Panic,” to quote a friend. Next week’s post I’ll dedicate to prejudice and to being different.

For all its potential evils, the Internet, and Facebook in this instance, also allows us to interact with people all over the planet. To share ideas, to glean insights, to raise questions. Yesterday morning on Facebook, a talented writer friend posted the following (and rather than just lift a few of the phrases, I thought it warranted a full-on theft, so the following quote appears in its entirety):

Worry -> Anxiety -> Fear -> Panic.

“Apparently Worry is a thought process in response to ‘an ill-defined threat often anticipatory in nature and created by the imagination.’

‘Worry can be useful to helping to find solutions to problems; however, worrying often centers on problems that cannot currently be solved. Thinking soon becomes very negative and doom laden, and this is misusing the imagination.’ (By the way, feelings of doom and hopelessness can spiral a person into a depressed state. Unnecessarily.)

Fear is in response to a well-defined threat or present danger. It engages our Fight or Flight response. Survival is the focus, whether physical or mental or emotional or spiritual. If this state goes on for a long while, it can be very tiring. Fear motivates good change. A move away from a real threat to our well-being. But, while Fear can help save us as we respond to a concrete threat, Worry is a misuse of our Imagination. I sometimes wonder if we give Worry power over our Imagination, if that constant state of thinking can help materialize a true Threat…like a self-fulfilling prophecy. (And it makes you feel really really yucky and unbalanced.) It pushes the Good Moments aside for imagined bad moments.

So unless you’ve got a well-defined Threat breathing down your neck today, use your imagination for Good. That’s the Super Hero I want to be: Super Imagination Girl! I kick Worry Monkeys to the curb (and anything or anyone attached to them) with the flick of my pen! Just thinkin’.”

First of all, any allusion to Super Heroes or Ninjas or Jedi has my attention.

Second of all, self-doubt (i.e. worry that they might not have something worthwhile to say, or that they might not be able to say it in a worthwhile way) is a huge obstacle for many writers and artists working in other media. The worthiness component indicates self-judgement, but the often crippling result is that the worry part often gets in the way of the trying part. And that’s a shame.

"Worried Eggs II” by Domiriel

“Worried Eggs II” by Domiriel

I love the question, Karen raises.

There’s irony in that the thing being worried about (for example, am I capable of writing a worthy novel) may become a real, perceived threat to the act of writing in the present and cause me to be unable to write a worthy novel (the self-fulfilling prophecy). But there’s also irony in that THE WORRY itself, the anxiety caused by being overcome by worry, being overwhelmed by it, that is what becomes the actual threat in the present.

Worry keeps us focused on what might be, it propels us, often without our cognizance, into the future. And that’s where we spend the present. When that worry turns into fear, the fight or flight response kicks in, but usually there is little we can do to remove the threat, since it is a product of the imagination, aside from finding ways to get out of our own way (out of our conscious thinking).

Writers sometimes worry about the outcome and, as a result, have a difficult time getting started. It is almost impossible to settle into a creative act and to fully immerse yourself if you are worried. Focus is directed to the imagined possible outcome, emotional energy is redirected to the fight or flight response rather than being used for diving down deep where memory and the imagination meet. That’s where the creating happens – in that very out of the way place and it requires a slowing down – it takes solitude of a sort, it takes stillness – to get there.

But when worry becomes anxiety becomes fear, the imagination is so preoccupied there’s not much room for anything else.

Look, we are creatures of emotion and imagination. We have the capacity to feel and to think and to imagine. Our brains are always on. One of those things (a thought, an emotion, etc) can spark the others without our consciously setting out to do so.

That’s part of being human.

But it’s also part of what gets in the way of our realizing our dreams, or even chasing them sometimes. And it sometimes gets in the way of our being happy (regardless of whether we chase our dreams or not).

“Understand not everything is meant to be understood . . .” by deeplifequotes

“Understand not everything is meant to be understood . . .” by deeplifequotes

The key is finding ways to become cognizant of the differences Karen pointed out between fear and worry. Fear being a real, in that moment, threat. Worry being an imagined future possibility (and that doesn’t mean you have to think about the future, you can worry that a thing has already happened that you hope hasn’t happened, but since you don’t know in the present moment, it’s still a possible future consequence that is being given time and space in the present).

So, what can we do, if we in fact identify the culprit, WORRY invading our lives?

The answer will be varied, as we’re all different, the reasons behind our worry are also different.

Here are a few things that might help you get out of the chattering-in-the-head mode so you can be present:

Breathing ExercisesWe humans live in our heads. All of the time. Hence the universal appeal of external methods to help get us out of our heads for a bit.

But one thing we often forget is that we also live in our bodies. All the time. The mind, the body, the emotions . . . they’re all connected. And sometimes, rather than dulling the mind, which often leads to worse feelings afterwards and a lack of productivity in the moment, we might get out of our heads through our bodies. By breathing. By moving. By training our brains to focus in on specific things.

Yoga – most people think yoga requires you to be a contortionist, that you have to be super-bendy for it to work, but just sitting still, just slowing down and being aware of the moment, of your body, of your breath, that is yoga. You can do it in a chair, on the floor. You don’t have to go to a studio or be on the mat.

Two poses I like for just slowing down and calming the mind are Savasana (Corpse Pose) and Viparita Karani (Fountain of Youth or Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose).

Get Outside (to Walk and to Observe) – walking by itself is great, but you can still spend the whole time going over and over and over what might come to pass, which is why honing in on the moment is important).

Focus on the air. What’s it doing? How does it feel?

Is the sun out? How does that feel?

What sort of shadows does it create?

What can you smell? Or hear?

What do you truly see?

Allow your senses to be fully engaged.

Most of us tool around on our walks in these beautiful settings (myself included) totally oblivious to the setting itself. We feel good, often much better just by being there. Often without even paying much attention once we’re there. So why do we feel better? You can get an idea of the answer if you allow yourself to engage your senses. If you see something and you slow down or stop and really take it in, you suddenly become aware of the moment and of the place. You are truly present in time and space.

And here are a few things that might help get out of the fight or flight response that happens if worry leads to fear (which Karen also indicated can lead to panic):

Find a Pose – I love Yoga Journal. You can find an assortment of poses with photos on how to do the pose and they also break down the therapeutic and the physiological benefits (i.e. how the poses can benefit the body, as well as the mind and the emotions). Look at all these poses that can help with ANXIETY. That’s right, you don’t have to do an entire sequence to reap the benefits.

Just Stop – Jon Kabat-Zinn defines MINDFULNESS as “moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness.” He claims, the ONLY MOMENT we are EVER ALIVE IN is NOW.” He also says we need to pay attention in the moment.

Meditation– no, that is NOT medication. Nice try! Here’s a simple video with a few suggestions on how to meditate. And this article alludes to “Meditation And Your 40,000-Year-Old Brain.”

Free-Write – (if you’re a painter, then just have at it with no purpose aside from adding color to the blank canvas and see what you get). This is not about quality. It’s merely about letting go! You can still pick something you might want to work on, a new poem, a specific scene for the novel, but don’t worry about using it. Allow yourself fifteen minutes or half-an-hour to just spew words on the page or the computer screen. And if you can use a notepad and a pen or pencil, let your body be part of the process.

This can be quite freeing (no pun intended). And here’s an article on a few of the benefits of free-writing in a journal.

Play – give yourself time to be playful (which free-writing is also aimed at).

“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.” – Brian Sutton-Smith

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” – Carl Jung

“Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” – Henri Matisse

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles . . . by the ears,
by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” – Mark Twain

Let’s be honest. If it were as easy as saying, drag your thoughts away, none of us would worry for very long. But Twain’s comment is still on point. Do what you can to free your thoughts from your troubles. It’s already a huge undertaking to turn inward, to hold your breath and dive to your very depths in order to tap that wellspring, and to create.

But if your thoughts are entwined with your worries, breath-holding becomes involuntary, you flounder in the shallow end, and often never truly submerge. You never fully immerse yourself in your unconscious and let it take over. You never get into any sort of flow.

“How much pain they have cost us,
the evils which have never happened.” – Thomas Jefferson

I bet if we went back over the past year, decade, longer, and sorted out all the worries we’ve had from all the real problems that actually happened, one side of that scale would far surpass the other.

Think of all that time and energy spent worrying being used to do the thing you love.

Don’t get me wrong. I worry. Worrying is, as I said before, part of the human condition. The trick comes, I believe, in recognizing worry for what it is and squelching the anxiety before it takes over.

Here’s one suggestion I came across recently for calming the mind, emotions, body:

“Begin with the Lotus position, sitting crossed legged with hands resting on the knees, palms up. The most important thing is to remember to breathe. To calm the rapid breathing often accompanying panic attacks, focus on your breathing at first, a five count in and a five count out, but let the breathing become natural. Let the breathing set the rhythm of the practice. Eyes should be closed, listening to the rhythm of the breathing. After five or ten minutes here, the body should feel calmer.” (This tip comes from an article on “10 Yoga Poses to Fight Depression and Anxiety” which can be found here).

“Don’t worry. Be happy.” Nice song. Wise words. Difficult task. But you can do it. Hopefully a few of the above tips will help. After all, I’m hoping you get to the page, too. Speaking of which, it’s time for me to work on some new poems.

Keep after it, y’all!

““Understand not everything is meant to be understood . . .” by deeplifequotes, “Worried Eggs II” by Domiriel, and  “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Evil Erin are all used as per Creative Commons License on Flickr.

New Harmony Writer’s Retreat

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler by bitesizeinspiration

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil
reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler by bitesizeinspiration

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on” – Albert Einstein

What a great thing to pass on!

While I was in grad school I met (and made) a wonderful friend in fiction writer Terry Price. He’s the epitome of a Southern Gentleman: polite, kind, compassionate, and always ready to help others. I think I saw much of my favorite parts of myself in him (at least the parts I hope I possess), accept the dude has one awesome accent and so much southern charm all he needs to do is smile and he’ll sweeten your afternoon tea.

His nickname is Sunshine for a reason.

One of the first things Terry and I did, without any actual coordinated plan to do so, was interact with writers from all the genres at Spalding (poets, fiction writers, non-fiction scribes, playwrights and screenwriters) and try to bring them all together. It just seemed a natural extension of who were were (and are).

Even today, we both agree, some of the best parts of our time at Spalding were those hours spent mingling with such a mix of creatives.

At Ucross, I was able to experience something similar, only this time I was able to engage with artists who worked in other media (visual artists, musicians, as well as writers). It’s difficult to convey how electric and invigorating that is.

In addition, at Ucross, I got a taste of just how succulent this thing writing is when given uniterrupted time and space to devote to it. I can’t even express how wonderful that is, but imagine being given a chance to just immerse yourself fully into that one part of yourself that calls to you the most (often the part you tend to ignore or put off or not listen to as much as you’d like).

Terry and I started the Round Table on Facebook in an attempt to encourage other creatives to pursue their dreams. We had been throwing down our own gauntlet back and forth and we decided why not include others.

Our intention is to spark others into being true to themselves and into giving themselves permission to follow their calling (if not full-time, at least some of the time).

Shavasana During Morning Yoga

Shavasana During Morning Yoga

Three years ago we decided to create a retreat that offered time and space for writing (and for other creative endeavors), while also sharing some of the techniques and tools that have helped us make our creative life part of our everyday life.

They really are the same, after all, we just tend to learn by the time we reach adulthood to block out that call to create.

And that can lead to a sense that something’s missing, feelings of frustration and of being unfulfilled, as we unintentionally ignore an essential part of who we are.

As Picasso put it, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

That’s what the West of the Moon Retreat is all about. Providing fellow creatives the opportunity to remain (or to return to being) an artist as a grownup.

There’s time and space to write, morning yoga to get you into a flow, an abundance of creativity energy, and a wonderful spirit of community.

Check out the new website here. And if you have any questions, contact Terry or me through the contact page. Regardless of whether or not you can attend a retreat or create one for yourself at home, give yourself a little time to listen to that deep down part of yourself. And keep after it!

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler by bitesizeinspiration is used via the Create Commons License on Flickr