Addicted to Distraction: How our Smartphones Add Value or Limit our Lives

I am The Queen of Distraction! There. I said it. It’s not a self-proclaimed title that I am particularly fond of, but it is the truth, and for me the truth always feels liberating. In this moment, I accept my current reality (some days are easier than others when it comes to acceptance!) and as Carl Rogers says, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

What I am working to change is the fact that I continually distract myself from anything and everything: my work, time spent with my family, I distract myself from uncomfortable feelings, I even distract myself from distracting myself. HA! Basically, the list goes on and on. I’m being a little dramatic here, but you get my point.

In looking back, I can see that drinking played a vital role in my need to distract. It was a tool I regularly used to avoid the present moment, because the present moment was never enough. I was unable to sit with my feelings of discomfort. If I was bored, I would drink. If I was angry, I would drink. If I was sad, I would drink. If I wanted to have more fun, I would drink. It was a tool that enabled me to move away from whatever it was I didn’t want to feel.

Now that I’ve left drinking behind I can see that I am still doing this in sneakier, more insidious ways—mainly with technology.

I have recently been reevaluating my relationship with my precious little beloved iPhone. How many of you feel as though you are missing a limb when you leave home and realize that you accidentally forgot your phone? I know I certainly do! I also know there are probably many of you out there who feel me on this because I seeeee you on your phones all the time. Now, granted, that is just my judgmental-self sneaking in and being all judge-y, because really, I can’t know if your phone is a problem for you. Only you can know that. It may not be a problem for you at all. It may be a great distraction that is protecting you from something you just aren’t ready to deal with, and that’s totally okay. YOU get to decide what works for you and what doesn’t, regardless of what others think.

However, if you are anything like me, you might not even realize that it is a problem or that it is creating suffering in your life until you look closely at your relationship with it.

When I got real with myself and acknowledged that I actually crave my phone, I knew I had to go beyond the surface and dig a little deeper, to inquire into this experience of craving. Instead of reaching for my phone on autopilot, I decided to slow it and look at my intentions. I began to look at what reward I was seeking from checking my phone incessantly throughout the day.

I asked myself questions such as: why do I use my phone so much? Why do I feel the need to check Facebook, Instagram, and email so often? What am I hoping to get from my actions? What reward am I seeking? Is this behavior affecting other areas of my life? What emotion am I attempting to avoid feeling?

Your answers might be different than mine, but the only way to know what your answers are is to inquire deeply into your own usage of technology in this digital age. If you want to know why you do anything, get curious. Investigate your thoughts, your behavior, your experience.

When I look closely at my own usage I can see that I am trying to distract myself from boredom. It’s an old friend, or I guess it’s more like an enemy I should say, when I consider the fact that I am constantly running away from it. HA! For me, boredom ultimately comes down to the belief that the present moment is never enough. My mind likes to tell me that the present moment can always be better and that there is always something I can be doing to enhance my experience. I am a glutton.

More, more, more is the name of my game and through deep inquiry I can clearly see how much suffering this creates in my life. Albeit, it is suffering on a small scale, but suffering is suffering, nonetheless. In The Pali Canon Buddha says, “The Noble Truth of the Origin [cause] of Suffering is this: It is this craving.” If you find yourself craving something throughout the day, notice if this causes you to suffer in any way. When you avoid giving into the craving what emotion arises? How does that emotion feel—pleasurable or painful? When you act on the craving how does that feel? For how long is the craving satisfied? Take a close look.

What I have come to know and understand is that I can unwind the neural pathways that cause me to be chronically distracted, through deliberate practice that is geared towards increasing my focus on the task at hand—even if that just involves being focused on the present while enjoying a day at the beach! Shouldn’t be that hard, right? Well, the thing is, for many of us it is hard.

I recently read Deep Work by Cal Newport who believes, as I do, that it’s important to notice how you are distracting yourself in the little ways, because that feeds into other areas of your life—which is exactly what I have found. He asserts that “Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction…it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate.” In other words, if I distract myself every time I feel a sense of boredom, I am training my brain to live in a chronically distracted state which is not only painful, but also keeps me from being able to engage with life on a deep, meaningful level.

Author Winifred Gallagher says, “the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.” A meaningful life is a life of depth, one where we are not constantly distracting ourselves while hanging with our friends or waiting in the grocery line. If we continually allow these distractions to keep ourselves from feeling our feelings, and from deeply being with and connecting with those around us, then we are on some level letting life pass us by.

We are fighting an uphill battle this day and age. The digital age has in so many ways trained our brains to never have to tolerate boredom, because we can always reach for something more interesting than the present moment when our smartphones are close by.

Now let’s re-frame this positively—instead of trying to stop distracting ourselves, let’s instead look at increasing our focus. Where in your life are you losing focus? When do you find yourself reaching for something instead of fully engaging in the task at hand—no matter how small that task is? This is where a mindfulness practice, called RAIN comes in handy.

I came across RAIN while reading The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer—a book I highly recommend! The steps are:

  1. RECOGNIZE: The first step to changing any behavior is to recognize the thought that then leads to the behavior. You can’t change that which you are unaware of. You also need to relax into this new found awareness and realize that you ultimately have no control over the thoughts that arise. If you did, you would never have a thought that causes you to suffer because you would simply change it and never allow it again!
  2. ACCEPT: Accept that you have no control over the thoughts that arise. Don’t take it personally when you find yourself craving. It’s not you, it’s simply a neurochemical process occurring in your brain. Don’t try to distract yourself from your thoughts, don’t try to force them to go away, but rather, acknowledge that this is your experience and while you can’t control your thoughts, you can control how you respond to them.
  3. INVESTIGATE: Bring a sense of inquiry and curiosity to your experience. Check in with your emotions and your body. When the craving arises, such as the thought “I want to check my phone” investigate it. I ask myself questions such as: when was the last time I checked my phone? Do I really need to check it right now? Why or why not? How often does this thought arise? How do I feel when I have this thought? What emotions arise? How does my body respond? What physical sensations am I feeling? What am I avoiding?
  4. NOTE: In your investigation, simply take note of what has arisen. When I have the thought that I want to distract myself I notice that I start to feel a sense of anxiety, and that anxiety increases when I refuse to engage in the distracting behavior. My body contracts. I feel a surge of energy that makes me feel as though I need to take some sort of action. All of this is simply feedback about my lived experience. When I acknowledge and accept this feedback I create agency and allow myself the ability to respond rather than react. I can choose to engage in the behavior and see how that feels, or I can choose to use RAIN, ride the wave of craving, anchor into my body, witness my experience, and notice when the craving passes. Because it always does. The mind is pretty much always either in the past or in the future, however, the body is always in the present. We can anchor our minds to the present moment by investigating and tuning into the experience of our body.

Another helpful tool to create lasting change is to break it down into bite-sized chunks. I could completely do away with my phone, but it is a useful tool and I like it. In many ways it gives me pleasure and helps me to quickly and easily communicate with others. So instead of quitting all together I’m working to increase the length of time that I go without it.

I want it to be a tool that adds to my life, not one that takes away from it. Going back to bite-sized chunks, let’s look at how I am working on this blog post. I set myself a goal of going 30 minutes without doing anything besides focusing on the task at hand. In the past 30 minutes the urge to check email arose on seven (!!) different occasions, I used RAIN to ride the wave of craving. In doing so, I am building my focus through deliberate practice and, rewiring my brain in the process.

If you’re trying to increase your focus to complete work, or to spend an hour of uninterrupted, distraction free time with your family or friends it is also helpful to bring in ritual. Ritual is a powerful tool for the mind and psyche that signifies a beginning and end to something. When the same ritual is used consistently it primes the brain for that activity. For writing, I have decided to light a candle when I begin my 30-minute chunk of time and blow it out when I am done. Then I take a short break and repeat. As my urge to distract loses momentum, I will be able to lengthen these chunks of time.

Change is HARD. We all know this. What we are going for here is deliberate practice, not perfection. Knowing that you will inevitably fail many times in your endeavor to create change, The Craving Mind offers us some helpful tips.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up. There is no point. You can’t control the thoughts that arise, you can’t control your genetics, your history, what you’ve been exposed to over the years—it’s all been said and done. Instead lean towards non-judgmental acceptance.
  2. Take it slow. Change is often only sustainable when we approach it in a way that works for us, in bite-sized chunks. If I were to say I’m going to write for six hours without checking email or looking at my phone, I am inevitably setting myself up for failure. Start slow.
  3. Don’t take it personally when you mess up again. It’s not personal. It’s just your brain at work. It’s a neural pathway that needs to be unwound and that is a slow and ongoing process.
  4. Focus on quality over quantity. It’s about deliberate practice. Not perfect practice. Five minutes of writing and riding the waves of craving to distract is much more beneficial in rewiring the brain long term than going big right out of the gate. Start small, practice deliberately, use RAIN, and gradually increase the times you set aside to intentionally increase your focus on the task at hand.

 

Put Your Fear in the Bitch Seat

For the past couple of years I have been a dream junkie. I write down my dreams (the ones I can remember anyways!!) and tend to the symbols that appear in them. I was recently listening to a Jungian Analyst who was giving a lecture on dream interpretation. I know. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?!? But hear me out…

The lecture suggested that if you want to find the complex at work in your life then look at your past ten or so dreams and explore the common threads. I thought, what a freaking cool idea! To my surprise, fear was the predominate emotion in my dream life. I thought this was odd, as I didn’t think that fear was significantly in my life at this moment, but in digging deeper, I realized it was there. Ohhhh, yes, it was there. In a few areas, actually. I’ve just been burying it, ignoring it, and refusing to acknowledge it.

As I continue to tend to these past dreams, and look toward my more recent dreams, I know that some of the underlying fear is related to the direction I see myself moving in the next couple of years. I love what I am doing now—teaching yoga, coaching clients, and blogging, however, I can’t continue to ignore the whispers of my soul. It has been pointing me towards something that integrates all that I have been learning and doing, and I’ve been denying it for quite some time. I’d love to tell you what direction that is—but I’m still really fucking afraid! HA! Soon enough, friends, soon enough. It won’t be long till I can walk hand in hand with fear and “come out.” Because I am using the practices I outline below, and fear is loosening its grip. I’m working through and with the fear and quietly beginning to move in the direction I know I want to go.

Over the years I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter whether our fear is at the forefront, or being repressed, either way, it keeps us small and holds us back.

Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Your fear must be kept in its place. (True emergencies only, please.) Your fear must not be allowed to make decisions about creativity, passion, inspiration, dreams. Your fear doesn’t understand these things, and so it makes the most boring possible decisions about them. Your fear mistakes creativity and inspiration for saber-toothed tigers and wolf packs. They aren’t. Creativity and inspiration are the vehicles that will transport you to the person you most need to become.” If we are to live the lives we are destined to live, the lives we desire to live, then we must discipline our fear, place it in the back seat, and not allow it to take the wheel. Better yet, assign your fear to the bitch seat—the least desirable spot in the car. Because there’s not much space in that seat, plus you have to sit on that uncomfortable little hump, squeezed between two other people. Can you tell I have kids who constantly fight over where they will sit in the car?!? I digress…

Bottom line is that all fear does is hold us back from living a more expansive life. It keeps us from creating. It stops us dead in our tracks. As Jack Canfield says, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

Take a moment to consider something you are afraid of, something that you have not yet acted on because your fear is holding you back. Perhaps this includes making a career change, leaving a relationship, trying out a new activity, leaving behind an addiction, exploring a creative pursuit or following a dream.

There is a beautiful poem by Hafiz, An Infant in Your Arms. He says,

The tide of my love

Has risen so high let me flood over

You.

Close your eyes for a moment

And maybe all your fears and fantasies

Will end.

If that happened

God would become an infant in your

Arms

And then you

Would have to nurse all

Creation!

If fear was not holding you back, what would you nurse into creation? What would you do if you knew you could not fail? What would you do if you did not fear judgment from others? (This last one being my greatest struggle. Ugh.) Perhaps there is a gift in this imagined fear, the gift of direction. Mastin Kipp says, “Unless you’re in mortal danger, fear is a compass showing you where to go.” I believe there is wisdom in this as there are many others out there who have said variations of the same thing.

For example, another prominent teacher, Joseph Campbell, says, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” Let’s take a moment and explore that metaphorical cave. What exactly is it that you are afraid of? Visualize all of your fears and write them down. What does it look like if the worst-case scenario came true? How does your body react? Take three deep belly breaths, breathing into your belly, expanding your rib cage, and drawing the breath into your upper chest. Don’t forget to exhale! Could you survive the worst-case scenario? Chances are you could. How many worst-case scenarios have you experienced in your life thus far? And look! You’re still alive and kickin’.

Now, visualize your courageous-self walking past those fears and farther into the cave. Visualize the best-case scenario. What do you see? What are you doing? How are you feeling? How is your body responding? Do you feel a sense of expansion or constriction? If you are feeling expansive and open-hearted as you imagine this best-case scenario, perhaps that is a sign to follow your fear, to walk into that cave, for it holds the treasure you seek.

Elizabeth Gilbert says, “I want us all liberated from the path of fear for many reasons—but mostly because it makes for such a damn boring life. Fear only ever tells you one thing: STOP. Whereas creativity, courage and inspiration only ever want you to GO. GO=motion=change=fascination=possibility=growth=LIFE. STOP=well, nothing. And nothing is always more boring than something. So…go do something.” Such brilliant words of wisdom. I fucking love this woman. I believe we are born to create and to witness creation. It is why we are here. Most everything created is the result of somebody moving past their fear. If our fear holds us back, we become stagnant and withdrawn from the raging rivers that feed our soul.

As you move towards that which you want, your fear will continue to arise. That’s okay. Give it a hug and then lovingly tell it to “fuck off.” Okay, that’s not really loving, maybe nicely tell it that you hear it, you see it, but you’re going to act anyways. The goal isn’t to be rid of fear, but rather to work with you’re fear. Again, to use the car analogy–it’s not that you kick your fear out of the car. You just don’t allow it to take the wheel.

It’s awesome that you’re afraid. It means that what you’re doing is important to you. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be afraid. Simply notice the fear. Witness it. Take a few belly breaths and relax behind it as if it were a cloud floating on by. Thank it for pointing you towards that which you desire.

I have also found a variation of one of Gabby Bernstein’s activities in her book May Cause Miracles to be quite helpful in working with fear.

Write: “I am willing to witness my fears” Write down what it is you fear.

Write: “I am willing to see this differently. I am willing to see love.”

Write: “I am afraid to _________. I am willing to see love instead of this.” What would choosing love over fear look like in this situation? Write it down.

Write: “I am willing to be courageous.”

Meditate on: “Show me the way.” Look to your dreams, to synchronicities, to signs from the universe. Trust that you are being divinely guided. Thank your fear, release it, and keep on marching forward. Do this practice, EVERY DAY.

I believe in you. I believe in me. We can do this, friends. Let’s start today. What is the direction your fear is pointing you towards? What is one step that you can take today to move in that direction?

Problem Solving 102

Problems, problems, problems–we all have them. They can be the bane of our existence and paradoxically some of our greatest teachers. Some problems are big, some are small. Some pass quickly and are readily solved, others seem to linger.

If we tune into the body, there is always an accompanying somatic response. Often a tightening, a clenching, sometimes a hunching of the shoulders and a closing of the heart.  When you combine this response with the spinning of the mind that also seems to walk hand in hand with the problems we encounter, it is no wonder we seek solutions! Problems simply don’t feel good. Actually, most of the time they just flat out suck.

In a group called The Rowdies, of which I am a part, I talk daily with brilliant women from around the globe about many various issues.  Lately, we have been discussing problems, and looking at concepts such as, “the problem IS the solution” and “the problem is the solution to another underlying problem.” Are you following? I know, it sounds trippy, but hang in there with me, it will make sense in a moment.

You see, this conversation has become more or less of a “problem” for me.  It has left my mind spinning, seeking solutions. I wasn’t so sure that these two concepts could be applied to every situation or whether one concept over the other was better fitting given the specifics of the predicament.

So I decided to problem solve. I wanted answers. Through my inquiry, I discovered a process to open-heartedly inquire into life’s problems.

Step one: Identify the problem

Is this actually a problem that needs solving, or is it simply something to be experienced? In my example, I didn’t actually need to problem solve, I could have just let it be and moved on. But I was curious. I saw this as something to engage with and wanted to play. Is your problem something to be played with? If so, keep a light heart while you play.

Conversely, maybe your problem doesn’t need to be solved, maybe you just need to feel your feelings in regards to the situation and let it go, with no action at all. If you can determine that now, in step one, then great! Feel the feels and let that shit go. Problem solved!

The bottom line is to get very clear on what the problem actually is. Sometimes our mind can trick us into thinking that something is a problem, when in fact, it really isn’t. Inquire with curiosity.

If you’ve identified that this is, in fact, a problem where you want to take action, move to step two.

Step two: Get clear on why this is a problem

What about it is problematic? What characteristics and qualities make it a problem? Check in with your body. How is your body responding when you are thinking about this problem? What is your mind saying? What emotions are you feeling when you think about the problem?

Clarity is of utmost importance when it comes to disentangling the situation.

Step three: Open your heart

Open your heart by literally placing your shoulders back and broadening the chest. Breathe into your heart center. It is hard to problem solve when we are closing in, and often it is our hearts that hold the answers we seek. When we open our hearts we create expansion, we open ourselves to the possibilities. We make room for creativity.

I love Tony Robbins heart meditation for problem-solving. Step three is a great place to try out this meditation. The electromagnetic field surrounding the heart is greater than that of the mind, thus scientifically indicating that the heart a very powerful force. It often holds the answers we seek. Ever heard the phrase “follow your heart”? It knows things that the mind doesn’t.

Here is the process:

-Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes

-Think about your problem that needs solving

-Place both hands on your heart and breathe deeply, directing the breath into your heart center

-Answer the question: What are you proud or grateful for that your heart has guided you to give, do, feel, or enjoy?

-Have gratitude for your heart. You didn’t have to earn it. You didn’t have to do anything, give anything, accomplish anything, or be anything to get this powerful heart. Something loved you enough to gift you with this heart that beats over 100,000 times a day.

-Think of one event you are grateful for. Step into it as if you were there. What do you feel? Smell? See? Hear? Fill up with gratitude.

-Think of a second moment that you are grateful for. Breathe it, feel it, step into it.

-Think of one more moment where you felt immense gratitude

-Think of a coincidence that led to something you are grateful for. Was it a coincidence or were you guided?

-Keep breathing into your heart center

-Revisit the initial problem, but continue to stay with your heart, breathing into it

-Ask your heart: What do I need to focus on? Remember? What do I need to do in this situation?

-Write down what your heart has to say, and use this answer as part of step five.

Step four: Know exactly what you want

If you have identified this situation as a problem, it is obviously something you DON’T want. Instead of focusing on what you don’t want, draw your attention to what you DO want. Make a list. Get very clear on this. If you are trying to problem-solve without a clear vision of where you are headed, you may find yourself with just another problem on your hands!

Step five: Brainstorm solutions

Get creative. Be ridiculous. There are no limits here. The more you brainstorm, the more likely you are to find a solution. It takes many bad ideas to get to a good idea, just ask Einstein.

Step six: Try out a potential solution

Take one of the steps you’ve identified as a possibility, either from your heart meditation or from the list you made in step five. Be willing to fail. If you fail to solve your problem, give another one of your creative solutions a try.

Okay, now that was Problem Solving 101. Now we will move on to Problem Solving 102.

IF YOU FIND YOURSELF UNABLE TO TAKE THE STEPS YOU HAVE OUTLINED, THEN LOOK AT THE POSSIBILITY THAT “THE PROBLEM IS THE SOLUTION TO ANOTHER UNDERLYING PROBLEM”

If this is the case, the reason you are unable to actively seek solutions is because solving this problem would open you up to another problem you may not be aware is lurking beneath the surface.

Ask yourself:

Why am I unable to take the steps I have identified?

What am I afraid of?

Do I believe the steps I have outlined may create additional problems for me? Problems that could be worse than the original situation?

What is the worst case scenario that can happen if I do solve this?

What is the worst case scenario if I don’t solve this?

Asking and answering these questions can take you to some underlying beliefs that you may not want to face, which is the REAL problem here.

An example here would be that you are completely lacking in the self-care department and you are totally stressed out and a wreck, and it has become a huge problem for you. You KNOW how to do self-care, but just aren’t making the time for it, or can’t find the time, so you fail to take action. Or you take action for a few days and then fall back to old habits and find yourself with the same problem over and over again.

Perhaps the REAL problem then is what it entails to take the steps to self-care. It could involve setting boundaries with work or with your partner. Something you find hard to do or are unwilling to do because of potential problems THAT would create. So in that sense, your problem is the solution to the underlying problem of having poor boundaries. Of being unable to speak your truth and state your needs. Your problem keeps you from having to problem-solve the even harder task of boundary setting and truth telling. It in essence, solves THAT problem for you.

Also, if you find yourself unable to act, it is helpful to reflect back to your answer from step four, knowing what you want. This is the tricky part because you have to be grounded, you have to know yourself, you must have strong boundaries and you have to be clear that you can actually get what you want.  That your ‘wants’ don’t involve controlling other people or living in fantasy land.

If what you are wanting is security (which is an illusion we all cling to), to be special, to belong, to have approval, to not have to set boundaries, to feel good all of the time, or to not have to feel at all, to have everything go your way, etc. Then take a look at and unpack those beliefs. Maybe this isn’t an outside problem, but an inside job. A cleaning up of beliefs. If what you want is something that is unattainable, such as wanting approval from somebody who will never give it to you, then you won’t be able to solve your problem, because your problem is tied to underlying beliefs and that in and of itself is the REAL problem.

I get it. This is confusing. This is a convoluted and complicated process because the underlying problem could be completely unconscious, something you are not aware of. If that’s the case and you find yourself stuck, seek out a coach or a therapist, somebody who can help you unpack the issue.

IF YOU ARE ABLE TO TAKE THE STEPS YOU’VE OUTLINED, AND YET THE PROBLEM PERSISTS, CONSIDER THAT “THE PROBLEM IS THE SOLUTION”

This points to surrender. To accepting what is.

Can you trust that this is exactly what the universe had planned for you? That this problem is actually saving you from a fate that could be much worse? Or that this problem is here for you to experience growth in a way that is not possible through any other experience?

If you’ve exhausted your creative problem-solving solutions and are met with road block after road block, then perhaps the problem IS the solution. Acceptance IS the solution.

Regardless of what you uncover in this process, step seven is the most important.

Step seven: Remember that this too shall pass

It always does. I saw a quote on Facebook the other day, the author was noted as “The Universe” which is perfectly fitting. It said, “Whatever your problem or challenge may be, laugh at it. Laugh long and hard. Because you are forever and it is temporary.”

It IS temporary. Yes, yes it is. As James Hillman says in The Myth of Analysis, “…the complexes are life itself; to be rid of them is to be rid of life.” Our problems can be a beautiful reminder that we are ALIVE. What a gift. We must embrace life with all of the light AND dark. We can’t know pleasure without pain. When all else fails, remember that this too shall pass.

The World Needs Your Creativity

“Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody ‘a creative person’ is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the senses for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it.”

–Liz Gilbert

Creativity has been on my mind for quite some time. When I think back to my childhood and when I look at my own children, I see how innately creative children are.  All day long they are engaged in fantasy and imagination and are continually exploring their world with fascination, and through this, bringing creation forth.

Every day I receive the fruits of my five-year-olds creative labors in the form of gifts, pictures, structures, dances, and song to bear witness to.

At what point do we lose our connection to our God-given innate ability to create for curiosity’s sake, for the sake of fun, and simply for no reason other than we just want to and we don’t know why?

Creation and creativity are our birthright.  Whether we realize it or not, all day long we are engaged in creation.  We wake up in the morning and decide what to wear, an act of creative expression.

We prepare meals for ourselves and for our families, bringing together different ingredients in a creative act. We engage in our daily activities and our work, which is also a creative process, albeit often times not one we think of as creative, and rarely is the type of creativity that we are longing to bring forth.

I was recently listening to Carolyn Myss on audio while I was making the long drive from Santa Barbara, back to Humboldt, my home base. She was describing how creativity manifests through the chakras, beginning with divine inspiration and insight, which is received through the upper chakras, the chakras that are calibrated to the non-physical and our internal power.  The inspiration passes through the fifth chakra, located at the throat, where we speak the idea either to ourselves or someone else.

It continues its passage down to our heart chakra where we get a felt sense of what it would feel like to bring this inspiration into fruition.  It is then that things begin to get clouded up in the lower chakras, which are the chakras that engage us with our physical or external power; these are the chakras where we bring things forth into this world.

This is where our creativity gets blocked, gets stopped in its tracks, and is unable to grow roots into its physical form.

In order to engage in our creative expression, we must work through the blocks in our second and third chakras to bring forth that which wants to be brought forth.

What have you been divinely inspired to do? Is your soul longing to paint or draw? Do you feel the call to write? To create a blog or write a book? Are business ideas swirling around in your head but unable to take root? The creative inspiration that calls to us is limitless in its possibilities.

How do you know a creative idea is divinely inspired? You will know because it will be tugging at your heart strings, it will not let you go unless you fight it for so long that it decides to move on to somebody else who is ready to bring this inspiration into the world; although it will never be the same, because only you can uniquely bring forth that which you have been called to do.

The idea often may seem extremely absurd. And crazy. But it won’t leave you be and you must act because transformation will be the result.  Expansion will be the result.  And if we are not expanding and growing, we are not fully living.

Our minds regularly get in the way.  The energetic imbalances in our body’s subtle energy system get in the way.  These imbalances are the result of our life experiences such as being children who were taught in school that failure is wrong and bad. Being taught by our society that we must be productive and focused on outcome, instead of engaging the world with a spirit of curiosity and inquiry. Perhaps we experienced compare and despair at a young age or were told our creations were not up to par.  All of these experiences can hold us back.

Creativity allows us to play.  It is our birthright to play and to explore, just for the sake of playing and exploring.  Sometimes this will bring forth some great work of creation that transforms many, sometimes the act is just meant to be transformational for yourself.  The thing is, you cannot know. And you must trust. Creativity is bigger than you, and while it is expressed through you, once it is in the world, it is out of your hands.

Liz Gilbert says, “The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody:  courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, and trust…” If you are held back in any of these areas, you will never see the fruit of the creativity that is longing to be born through you.

You MUST work through your creative blocks.

“If you bring forth that which is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.” The Gospel of Thomas

As your creativity passes through your seventh, sixth, fifth, and fourth chakras, it makes its way to the third, located at the solar plexus.  This is our core.  Our site of personal empowerment, where our ego and self-esteem reside.  Where we engage our self-discipline and confidence.  This is also where our spontaneity and sense of playfulness emerge.  If you’ve got a creative idea, but feel unable to bring it forth, explore the questions below, focusing your attention to your core as you ponder the following.

If I fail at this creative endeavor, will I feel shame? If yes, explore why.

How is my self-esteem? Can I handle any criticism I may receive?

Am I lacking confidence?

Will this be an act that will be transformational? Can I handle this transformation?

Do I have the self-discipline to manifest this creation?

Do I have the personal power to meet the challenges that I will face?

Am I indecisive?

Will my ego get in the way when it comes to outcome? Am I attached to outcome?

Can I create for the sake of playfulness alone? If not, why?

After you’ve worked through those questions, draw your attention down to the second chakra. This is located in our lower abdomen and has often been associated with creativity because this is physically the site of all creation.

It includes the reproductive organs and is literally where we give birth. Our emotional identity, our desires, and our right to feel and have pleasure all live within this chakra.

Guilt also lives here, and guilt can be a huge roadblock to creativity because we often see creativity as a waste of time when we are engaged in our busy lives with the endless responsibilities we have taken on.  Bringing your awareness to your lower abdomen, explore the following questions.

Will this creative act take time away from my responsibilities? Is this a problem?

Will I feel guilty for taking the time and resources needed to explore this inspiration?

Is there a financial risk involved in this pursuit? Am I willing to take that risk, why or why not?

Will this change my life physically or emotionally? Can I handle those changes?

Am I deserving of this?

Do I have proper boundaries in my life to create space to nurture this into being?

Am I allowed to engage in this act just for pleasure’s sake or for the sake of curiosity? Am I attached to an outcome?

Is there some outside power or authority which is keeping me from this?

Am I too depleted to have the endurance to create?

Am I addicted to control?

Am I in a scarcity mindset, believing that this has already been done, so why engage?

After you have explored all of these questions, you will have more information to know why and where you are blocked.  To know what beliefs are keeping you from bringing your inspiration into reality.

Once you have processed your blocks, only then can your creative idea pass through the first chakra, the root chakra, and take root into the world.  To plant the seedling and nurture it into the strong and majestic full grown tree that it was meant to be.  To be transformed by the experience of engaging in this act.

It will always involve risk and will involve leaving your comfort zone. Alan Alda says, “The creative place is the place where no one has ever been.  You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you will discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

We find ourselves through the creative process.  We learn about ourselves and we learn about the world.

It is a transformational act, even if it is only you who has been transformed in the process.  But you can’t know who or what will be transformed, you simply have to trust. You have to engage.  You are creative, you are creation. As Martha Graham says, you must remember, “There is only one of you in all time, the expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.” Only you can bring forth that which is within you.

Take the first step today, and explore what it is that is holding you back. The world needs your creative expression. Without creation, we have nothing.

How to Step Off of The Crazy Train and Take Time to Just BE

The Crazy Train—it’s a train I regularly find myself riding.  And the funny thing is that I hop on without even realizing it until I find myself in a semi-crazed and frantic mode with my hair so wind-blown it is permanently standing on its ends. It is then that I decide it is time to step off, even if only for a moment.

If you live in this Western Culture where it has been ingrained in us since birth to value more, to be more, and to do more, then you too probably know what train I am talking about.  We probably waved to each other yesterday while both riding on it.

I don’t have to tell *you* that life is busy and sometimes it seems as if we have too much to do and not enough hours in the day to get it all done.  We may find ourselves constantly living in our heads, thinking about what needs to get done next rather than living in the moment, fully present with what we are doing right now.

These past few weeks have been particularly crazy–shuttling kids to and from school, to and from activities, coaching soccer, working on my Ph.D., teaching yoga, teaching other classes, writing, planning more work to add to my schedule, caring for the household, investing in my marriage and other relationships.  I am paradoxically trying to find balance by doing more.

And while I love the work I am doing and the activities I participate in, I simply forgot something in the midst of the hustle and bustle.  I forgot that I am a human BEing, not a human doing, and I need to take the time to just simply BE. To savor the moment that is so quickly passing me by.

As Rob Bell says, “We are meant to feel the depth and density of everyday moments.” If we are caught on the hamster wheel, we lose this experience, and may soon find ourselves spinning on a wheel that is out of control if we don’t take time each day to step off, to just be.

When I first got sober, I was meditating every day, multiple times a day.  The benefits were immediate and immense.  I felt more at peace, calm, less reactive, and more grounded.  As my plate started to overflow, my meditation practice fell off—as happens to so many of us.

The other night, I found myself in that frantic mood I just spoke of—not a crazy frantic—just mind racing from one thing to the next, thinking about all I had to do and get done.  I decided to just sit for a moment and shuffle my Oracle Cards to see what the universe had to offer up.

Of course, “Slow and Steady” was the card that I drew. “…Moving too quickly will only yield unripe fruit with a bitter taste. Slow down. Breathe. Meditate. You’re not a human doing. You’re a human being. Just be.”

I took a deep breath. Wow. “You’re not a human doing. You’re a human being.”

Those words really struck a chord.  Just like the acorn who transforms into the majestic and radiant oak tree just by surrendering to nature’s process, maybe I too am like the acorn. If I can slow down and take the time to just be, will my life unfold as nature intended?

We are here to fully experience all that is unfolding around us. To co-create. To love. To deeply know ourselves. To know the Truth. Stepping off the train doesn’t mean you stop participating.  In fact, it means you are participating more fully.

The Oracle Card went on to say, “Everything will work out if you can apply the brakes and become more aware of what’s happening in this moment.  A calm focus on the now, breathing in the beauty of your surroundings, will restore your power to consciously co-create your world.”

Funny thing is, the very next day I forgot all of the wisdom this card had offered to me. Ha! I had so much to do to get ready to leave town and my mind was onto the next thing, even before I was! Not surprisingly, I lost my phone.  Panic set in. I’m leaving town! I have a ten-hour drive! What will I do without my podcasts and audiobooks!?!?

Then it clicked…oh, I can just be. The universe was obviously nudging me in that direction. As soon as I found acceptance, I found my phone.  And I decided to take the advice that was offered.

Instead of engaging my mind and listening to all of my favorite authors and speakers, I decided instead to tune into my body—which has wisdom to offer that the brain is not capable of. I cranked the music LOUD in the car. I felt the music. I sat there taking in the depth and density of each moment. I was present. And it felt divine! I felt calm and grounded.

Next time you find yourself riding The Crazy Train…

Just Notice

Notice what your mind is doing. Is it present with the now, or is it in the future thinking of all that needs to get done? Notice how your body feels in reaction to these thoughts. Are you holding tension? Notice your breathing—is it shallow? Is it rapid?

Just Breathe

Take a few deep breaths to slow the mind down. Know and trust that life is unfolding just as it should, and that really, you don’t have any control. Breathe into the fact that you are here to experience this life in a physical form—to BE. If you’re caught on the crazy train, you will miss so much if you don’t take the time to consciously breathe it all in. To savor the depth and density of the moment.

Just Be

This can be in the form of mediation or a mindfulness practice. Anything that will drop you back into the now and help you to slow it down. You can sit in stillness and just listen to the sounds you hear. You can crank up your favorite song and notice how it feels in your body as you listen. You can focus on your breath. Taking these momentary pauses throughout the day can help us to be more present, to be with life as it is.

No matter how busy we are, we can all find time.  When you’re brushing your teeth, when you’re sitting on the toilet, when you are in the car, before or after eating a meal, you can even set a timer on your phone to send you reminders throughout the day.  The list is endless when it comes to opportunities to slow it down.

Don’t forget your true nature—you’re a human BEing. Take time, right now, to be just that and only that.

Cleaning Up Shop: How Simple Things Can Change Your Life

A few months ago I decided to go on a mission and clear out the 30,000+ emails that had accumulated in my inbox (sounds fun, doesn’t it!?!). Easier said than done—this process took hours to complete! I vowed to keep up with a clean inbox—never again would I subject this myself to this kind of torture, but lo-and-behold, last week I found myself looking, once again, at an inbox that was full to the brim—to the tune of 15,000 emails.

The problem was that I was being inundated with stuff I did not want to be receiving. And initially, I had only dealt with the surface problem—deleting. When, in fact, what I needed to be doing was taking the time to unsubscribe. This process is much more involved, but upon embarking on this process I had a profound realization—that I was actually missing out on so much good stuff by allowing all of the crap to continue to infiltrate my life. I was missing out on inspiration and opportunities I wanted to participate in because of the excess and overwhelm that I was allowing to creep in.

I love what Marie Kondo says in her life-changing book, The Magic Art of Tidying Up, “Focus on what you want to keep, not what you want to get rid of.” In my initial sweep through the inbox, my focus was on what I want to get rid of. This time around, I took a different approach and focused on what I want to keep. And the results have been revolutionary—there is SO MUCH good stuff coming my way that I had failed to see.

I wondered, where else in my life was this occurring? I found it:

  • In my relationships—hanging onto certain things that needed to be let go of, so that I could focus on the good, what I love about these relationships
  • In my lack of focus career wise—following every interest, letting that puppy in my mind sniff around anywhere and everywhere that intrigued me, left me scattered and working on a million different projects and kept me from diving deep and focusing on the good stuff—the things that really spoke to my heart
  • In my day-to-day life, allowing myself be continually distracted cluttered up my brain, and had become a really bad habit, again, keeping me from that which truly brings joy to my life
  • In my organizational system—I had sticky notes everywhere, a planner, note pads, journals—I was all over the place

In his book, How to Be Here, Rob Bell states, “Our external environments mirror our internal lives…it’s extraordinary how even small changes in your exterior environment can deeply shape your interior life. Clean, intentional physical space can dramatically affect how calm your mind and heart are.”

I consider my technological life to be an important aspect of my external environment as I spend so much time on the computer. And what I was seeing—my inbox, my Facebook account, the files on my computer were all a cluttered mess! And I can see how this had mirrored my internal environment as well. So I cleaned up shop! The results have been tremendous. I now find myself focused, organized, inspired, and full of joy as a result of the great things that are flowing into my life (and inbox!) simply because I cleared out the clutter. I made space for what I really want.

Where in your life are you feeling overwhelmed by the clutter? Perhaps it is your house, your closet, your desk, your car, or…your inbox…

Choose ONE place to start. It can be tempting to want to dive in and deal with it all, but this will just lead to overwhelm. Focus on the one. What one area do you want to filter through?

When dealing with this one aspect of your external environment, remember to focus on what you want to keep, not what you want to discard. What elements in this space are speaking to your heart? Tune into your body’s response when you handle each item. When you are reading an email from a company you have subscribed to, scan your body. What sensations are you feeling? If you feel open, light, expansive—it’s a keeper! If you find yourself tensing up, shutting down, tight in certain areas, it’s one to discard. This same process applies to material items. If you’re cleaning out your closet, touch every item and tune into your body’s response.

Marie Kondo says, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life.” The results are nothing short of phenomenal and effects will be felt in all aspects of your life.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Key to Mastery is Failing First

The 2016 Summer Olympics have got me thinking about the concept of mastery and how I can take my pursuits to the next level.

If you are anything like me, you have probably dreamed of success, but your fear of failure has been standing in your way. We tend to think things such as:

  • “If I fail, what does that mean about me and my value as a person?”
  • “What will people think of me?”
  • “Will I be able to withstand the shame of being seen as a failure?”

The fear of shame is what has held me back: Fear of being seen as “bad” or “incompetent.” The result of this fear is that for the better part of my life I have tried to play it safe: Taking calculated risks, but never risking greatly, nor often. The problem with this strategy is that it keeps you small, and it also prevents you from attaining mastery.

Over the past two years, I have been fortunate enough to have had a lesson drilled into my thick head from our kind and benevolent universe: Failure is the path to mastery. We must walk this road to attain that which we seek.

But it’s not simply just failure that we need. It’s failure combined with deep, deliberate practice. I just recently finished reading Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code. He talks about how deep practice is an interesting paradox: We have to practice by operating at the edges of our ability where we are going to make mistakes, and that to master something we must struggle—but it must be a targeted struggle. This means working at your edge, making a mistake, and diving deep into that mistake to find strategies for improvement. So basically, we are practicing making mistakes—we are seeking them out—which seems counterintuitive.

Be willing to suck. That is how you learn, but only if you pay attention to where you are failing.

It’s been said that practice makes perfect, but that’s not entirely accurate. We must practice smart: Finding the sweet spot where we are operating at the edge of our ability. And we must stay at that sweet spot, which means constantly evaluating where that spot lies in relation to our practice.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to take to the next level, and it’s my ability as a yoga teacher, coach, and writer. At one point, my list included about 10 of my various interests, but let’s get real: We can’t achieve success or mastery at everything. We’ve got to hone in. We have to narrow our field of vision to dive deep.

I learned through my studies that mastery is the result of myelin insulating neural circuits, and it grows according to certain signals that are sent as the result of your practice. And luckily, myelin is like a muscle: When you use your muscles in a certain way, they respond by getting stronger. Similarly, myelin is also a living tissue that responds by getting faster and more fluent when we are using our skill circuits during deep, deliberate practice. But to build that precious myelin we must fire these skill circuits in the right way by trying to do things that are hard—things that we can at this moment barely do. We need to be at our edge to build that myelin!

Such relief! A light bulb went on when I realized that it is myelin that creates mastery and myelin is like a muscle that I can build. This means that through deep, deliberate practice I can become the yoga teacher that I have always dreamed of being—skillful, intuitive, responsive, and dynamic—through intentional, deliberate practice and immersion in this skill.

If you’re ready to take your practice (whatever that may be!) to the next level, consider the following:

  1. Hone in and be willing to make mistakes.

You’ve got to narrow your focus. What is it that you want to master? What skill is it that you are seeking to improve greatly? Making mistakes and struggling is a necessary component of building myelin, and thus, attaining mastery. In the myelin building process, struggle is not optional—it’s a neurological requirement for your skill circuit to fire optimally. It’s a paradox in that the circuit must fire sub-optimally as well: Mistakes must be made and we must pay attention to those mistakes to get those circuits firing in a way that leads to mastery of our skill. If you have a fear of failure or a fear of making mistakes, dig into why you have this fear before moving forward. Are your desires important enough to make you willing to face your fears?

  1. Immerse yourself in the field.

You must immerse yourself in that which you seek. If you desire to be a master yoga teacher, train with the masters: Seek them out, take their classes, watch classes online—every day. Absorb the picture of the skill until you can imagine yourself doing it.

  1. Break it into chunks.

Break the skill into its component pieces. Memorize those parts individually, then link them together into larger groupings. To use the yoga teacher example, break the class into its component pieces. Take just the opening, then deliberately study and practice the opening postures of the class you plan to teach. Practice many variations so that you can responsively and intuitively adapt to the needs of your students. Next, move onto the next chunk of your class, and so on and so forth. Then link it all together. Master teachers in the making often record themselves teaching and then take their own classes to determine what worked and what didn’t so that they can fine tune.

  1. Slow it down.

Slowing it down is vital because it allows us the time and space to closely attend to our errors. When we attend to our errors in this way, we are creating a higher degree of precision with each firing of the circuit. In his book, Coyle talks about how precision is everything when it comes to growing myelin. This means taking your time when you deliberately practice.  You don’t have to practice at the speed you would teach—slow it down to find that precision and those neural circuits will fire, allowing you to teach effortlessly and with ease after your many hours of deliberate practice teaching.

  1. Embrace failure.

Be willing to suck. That is how you learn, but only if you pay attention to where you are failing. Hone in on the failure. What exactly wasn’t working?  Slow it down and find a way to remedy that which wasn’t working. Then practice again.

  1. Learn to feel it.

This deliberate practice can’t just be done all in your head. You must feel it.  It must be an entire-body mode of practicing. There are many yoga teachers out there who have thousands of hours of class and a lifetime of knowledge—but they live in their heads. I can always spot these teachers versus the teachers who are living in their bodies. They feel the pulse of the class—they know the feeling their instruction is trying to convey. I have a more profound experience in classes where instructors have learned to feel it.

  1. Stay in the sweet spot.

Once a section of practice finally becomes easeful, there’s no need to practice over and over and over again. Yes, practice makes perfect, but only deliberate practice within the sweet spot. Find your next sweet spot, where you are making mistakes and operating at the edge of your abilities and repeat steps one through six.

  1. Be patient and kind with yourself.

Keep in mind that it takes 10,000 hours of deep, deliberate practice to master a skill. It is not going to happen overnight. But with this deep immersion, you will continue to improve and be well on your way to success. Don’t give up—believe in yourself. The world needs YOU—and it needs you out there offering up your very best.

YOGANONYMOUS-Writer-Stamp

Check out this article on Yoganonymous!

 

 

Save

Save