Your Creative Self is Waiting for You!

My next nonfiction book has a working title of Your Creative Self is Waiting for You. I am writing it for readers who want to access their creativity in any form. I believe we are all creative. Even those who protest, “Oh, not me, I have no talent.”

We can’t all be famous painters and writers, but everyone can express themselves. Taking a few small steps to give form to our thoughts, images, yearnings, and ideals is empowering.

Writing in a journal, doodling with a pencil, coloring images in an adult coloring book, re-arranging a room, setting a beautiful dinner table, taking time to teach a child—all are creative acts that feed our souls.

With the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Europe, my stress level has gone up. I wondered if writing about creativity is appropriate given the turmoil in the world. But then I remembered how writing eases my tension. Writing stories, especially, feels good.

And I remembered Paul Levy, a wise man who teaches about the negative effects of trauma in the mind, what he calls wetiko. Wetiko is a Native American term referring to the negative mental programming, or mind virus, that causes selfishness, insatiable greed, and the unfeeling wielding of power over others. Levy offers an answer to the question many are asking. What is happening to our world?

A few months ago, I took an online course from Levy. It was profound and inspiring. He said that we all suffer to some degree from the effects of wetiko  It can take the form of the inner critic who judges and criticizes, often urging us to act against our own interests. The good news is that one way to counteract it is with creative acts. So the time spent in the writing room, the studio, the workshop is not wasted. We can free ourselves by opening ourselves.

We are all stressed and anxious. The pandemic is winding down. But now we have inflation, war, cultural polarization, and the juxtaposition of truth and lies which is truly terrifying. All my life, I’ve struggled with discerning what’s true for me. People dealing with the effects of early trauma are often confused about how much to trust their feelings and intuition. I have used many methods to separate the easy messages of the common wisdom from my truth. Opening the channel to the inner world works. That’s why so many people are journaling. Writing memoirs. Taking up painting. Intuitively, they want the different answers that lie within.

So I write about the inner self, the Creative Self, the part that pain, disappointment, grief, loss, and illness have not damaged. The part that reminds us we are more than our experiences. We are creative beings who can change our thoughts. We change how we perceive our lives by playing, making music and art, by writing, and by opening our hearts to people, animals, and plants.

Being creative is not a panacea, and won’t solve the world’s problems, but accessing our creative energy brings us closer to life as it is supposed to be. It will relieve stress, release endorphins, and help distance us from the inner critic. When we play with the Creative Self, we remember who we are.

So don’t say, I’m not creative. Don’t listen to the critic who judges you not good enough to write/paint/build/compose. You’re exactly good enough, right now, to start. And that’s all it takes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Healthy is Your Brain?

About 50 million people worldwide are suffering from dementia in 2021, but the total number of people with dementia is projected to reach 82 million in 2030 and a staggering 152 million in 2050

For Kate Kunkel, the tragedy of this disease struck three times. Both grandmothers and her mother passed away with dementia, inspiring Kate to embark on a mission to understand why this ruthless disease was haunting her family.  During this process, Kate made some startling discoveries and has devoted her life to sharing them with as many people as possible, in the hopes that she can spare others this terrible fate.

Kate’s book, Don’t Let the Memories Fade, is for anyone looking for ways to improve their health and stave off the dreaded diagnosis of dementia. No matter your age, the information and suggestions in this book will help you live a healthier life and feel better!

I particularly like two things about this book:

One, it’s written for the general reader in clear, simple language and from the perspective of someone who has lived through the heartbreak of assisting a family member with Alzheimer’s.

Second, the suggestions it offers—on diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, and creativity apply to anyone who wants to live healthy—especially at and after midlife.

Following the suggestions offered in this book will reduce your chances of developing not only dementia but the other diseases of older age—heart problems, cancer, arthritis–any condition where inflammation is a factor.

Research on the microbiome points to the detrimental effects of the typical American diet, stress, and environmental factors. But simple lifestyle changes can reduce the inflammation in our bodies and give us new hope.

We affect the level of health we experience. It isn’t always easy to change our ways, but the benefits are enormous. Even if you have dementia or other inflammatory diseases in your genetic line, you can change your future and beat the odds! People are doing it every day. This book is a great place to start investigating how to live healthier and preserve your memories.

We know now that cognitive growth can occur at any age. Neurogenesis is the study of how new nerve cells develop. We can learn new tasks and make new memories well into our nineties if we work on exercising our brains! Learn something new. Learn something new that’s hard and you’ll notice how much more alert you feel!

Each chapter has a “checkup” so readers can assess themselves on the topic discussed. Included are practical steps to improve health. Kunkel ends the book with an 8-week program for improving brain health. It includes suggestions for diet and nutrition, exercise, and lots of yummy recipes. A list of resources is included for those who want to know more.  Check it out! You have nothing to lose but your old habits!

Kate consults with people to improve their brain health. You can see her podcast at Brain Health Matters.

 

 

 

 

Now Is The Time

Well, here we are. It’s been a month since I’ve attended a meeting outside my home. A month since I’ve taught in a classroom. Since I’ve had lunch with a friend, gone to a movie or stood in line at the grocery store. Even for an introverted writer who loves solitude, staying home this much gets weird.

Every day I bike through my neighborhood with my dog. She’s well over a hundred in people years, so we don’t go far. Lots of stopping and sniffing. I want her to keep her muscle strength as long as possible, so I persuade her even when she’s reluctant. She gains enthusiasm as we progress and on our way home, she trots along beside me, wagging and smiling. I put her inside and go out for a longer, harder ride. Sometimes I walk a Bosque trail. Most days I visit the local park to sit under a Ramada and watch people playing with their dogs and kids.

Everywhere I go, people greet me. They wave from cars and porches. We exchange anecdotes about our dogs, our shopping challenges, the weather. I know twice as many of my neighbors as before the pandemic. Maybe because more people are home. Maybe because community is our only bulwark against the waves of tragedy and fear sweeping our land.

It’s so odd that now we express our love for each other by keeping our distance.

I’m one of the lucky ones who can work at home and order what I need. And suddenly there was plenty of time. The perennial excuse evaporated overnight. Without appointments, errands, and classes, I could be wildly productive.

But it’s a month in and I’m just beginning to settle down. I have written. I always do. But my productivity did not escalate with the additional time. I found myself dithering, staring into space, watching shows on Netflix I didn’t even like.

My old responses to stress—procrastination, obsessing on unimportant details—re-appeared. My thoughts and fears about the pain and suffering hovering over the world like a black cloud was the culprit.

I meditated and prayed about it. Took the practical steps feasible for me. Reminded myself that I am safe. I am healthy. At this moment, I have a place to live, food to eat, beautiful animals to keep me company, friends to call and zoom with. And now, I’ve started offering writing workshops via zoom. Why not? Virtual training may be the new normal.

Finally, it occurred. This is the time. To stop making excuses. To look at my reactions to the changes in our world without flinching. To walk the talk. Be honest. The reason I’m not working on my new book for six hours a day is because I’m nervous!

When I’m nervous, I procrastinate. I read every email, news reports, the latest statistics. Being informed is fine, but knowing all the details doesn’t help.

So what does? What helps us live with uncertainty? This is what I came up with

  • Acknowledge feelings. It’s okay to feel anxious, stressed, impatient, depressed. Feelings denied only pop up later. Now is the time to admit that I’m human. I’m upset. I don’t like this. I want it to end.
  • Make self-care a priority. A walk, a bike ride, a yoga tape, an online exercise class. Deep breathing, meditation, stretching, dancing around the living room. Now is the time to move—bodies and emotions so those negative thoughts don’t dig in
  • Keep in touch. Call, skype, email, zoom, wave from the porch. Make a new friend while out walking the neighborhood.
  • Help someone. What can I do? Who needs help?
  • Tolerate uncertainty. There’s no telling how any creative project will turn out, so that’s nothing new for a writer. It’s a good skill to master. Now is the time to let go of trying to control things. It was mostly an illusion anyway.
  • Take small steps. Now is the time to say, I don’t know, and move forward. The best cure for paralysis is action. One foot in front of the other.
  • And most important, notice negative thoughts. The what if’s. The it might’s. None of them are real. They’re just thoughts. And thoughts can be changed. Dissolved. Replaced.

I am safe.

I am healthy.

I have what I need.

I can adapt.

I can create.

I can do my work.

I can love.

Believe in Miracles

Do you believe in miracles? 

Sure, you might say. I’ve seen miracles. And I expect to see them again

Or, There are no such things. Science has explanations for everything.

Actually, both perspectives are right. Miracles are prayers answered, hope fulfilled, stories of the seemingly impossible, inspirations that change lives, the melting of hardened hearts, personal transformation. But how do these things happen?

Contrary to what our senses tell us, science informs us that everything is energy. The observer affects the observed. Our thoughts influence what we perceive, how we feel, and whether we are joyful or depressed.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man is a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”

Traditionally, a miracle is an event we don’t expect and didn’t foresee. It comes out of the blue, full of meaning, an object of wonder so marvelous it points to a reality beyond our reach. In a religious context, we can see this as God, the ground of being, or as manifestations of supernatural powers.

What is miraculous in one culture may be ordinary in another.

In the west, people interpret spontaneous recovery from serious illness as a miracle, and persons with unusual healing powers as miraculous beings. In some earth-based cultures, thunder and lightning are considered messengers of the divine, while recovery from serious afflictions is the result of energetic interventions by a shaman or spiritual healer. And perfectly ordinary

Saint Augustine said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, only to what we know about nature.”

Another view is that the miraculous shows itself in the everyday world—in nature, in the love between people, in a child’s smile.

The miraculous may simply be something we do not yet understand. When we use the power of intention, affirmation, gratitude, or prayer, we are harnessing energy in the living field that connects us all. We do it to change our lives, which means we acknowledge our connectedness in the field of life. Nothing is really separate. If I love you, I love myself. If I hurt you, I hurt myself.

When we understand this, we notice that our thoughts and words change our perception of reality. If we persevere with those new thoughts, our actual reality changes too.

If I pray for healing for my friend, and my friend recovers from his illness, is that a miracle? Or the effect of intention on the web of consciousness that binds us together

You decide, according to what you believe.

For 101 stories of everyday miracles, check out the new anthology, Believe in Miracles, by Chicken Soup for the Soul, available now for pre-order. My essay, Please Pass the Holy Water, is one of the stories. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Easy Methods to Reduce Holiday Stress

Yes, we love the holidays. Family, food, out of town guests, parties, long lunches, shopping, and evergreen trees in the living room. Of course we do. But it can be overwhelming. Too much family, food, guests, parties, lunches, and shopping. What happened to the tree? Is it still tied to the roof of the car?

When November arrives, we go on alert. The pumpkin is still sagging on the porch when it’s time to plan the Thanksgiving guest list and find the perfect tree. We have to do it all on top of our regular jobs, family responsibilities, and creative work. And guess what? Sometimes we can’t.

The best response to overwhelm is to back off. Let something go. Scratch a few items off that to-do list. Decline an invitation or two.

Failing that, here are some simple methods to relieve holiday tension. They don’t require long periods of time, gym memberships, or complicated shoes. When you feel overwhelmed, out of sorts, pressed for time, or frustrated, try one of these exercises.

Remember to breathe. Nice and deep. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. Bring the air all the way into your body. Imagine it as golden light filling your organs, spreading through every muscle, nerve, and tendon. Release your breath as golden energy out your hands and feet. Do this for five minutes.

Go outside. Stand or sit and observe what you see. A tree. A patch of grass. A squirrel. Your neighbor’s dog chasing the squirrel.The FedEx truck parked down the block. Stars shining through the bare branches of a cottonwood tree. Do nothing but observe your world for five minutes. (Can be combined with deep breathing.)

Remember who and what you love.  People, animals, places. Ideas, books, that action movie you saw last week. Bring your attention to your chest at the level of your heart as you remember how good it feels to care about someone or something besides yourself.

Mentally step back.  If you’re judging yourself or another, stop. Notice that everyone is doing their best with the resources they have. Forgive yourself. Forgive them. Notice that you may not have the whole story about why people act the way they do. You may never have it. Forgive them anyway.

Laugh at yourself. It’s the holidays and you’re the only one who can make them great.

 

What are your tips for decompressing?  What can you add to my list? 

Change Your Life, Reduce Your Stress

Meditation is an easy, simple way to calm down, reduce mental chatter, and take more pleasure in life. For many years, my meditation practice has formed the foundation of my creative work. It helps me listen better, understand what my body needs, and stay present for the inevitable setbacks of life.

My friend, Caroline Orcutt, teaches Mindful-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at UNM Continuing Education. I attended her last class and found it helpful even for an experienced meditator. Taking the time to learn to slow down and breathe mindfully is a wonderful gift to give yourself. It may even rewire the brain to improve decision making!

Mindfulness helps us to tap into our own inner wisdom to cultivate a different relationship to our challenges. With this practice, we develop the ability to respond consciously rather than react automatically to situations, even stressful ones. Many who participate in the program report that the experience has helped them not only with stress and challenges, but with all aspects of their lives.

The MBSR program was developed in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, professor of medicine and long-time meditator. He wanted to see if mindfulness practices would help patients with chronic pain who did not respond to medication. The results exceeded all expectations. Since then, interest in MBSR has grown over the years and is now offered in hundreds of locations across the country and the world.

Benefits of MBSR include increased awareness and concentration, an ability to cope better with stress, a changed relationship to problems and pain, improvement in health, and a greater enjoyment of life. Devote some time to yourself this fall and join us for a potentially transforming experience.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
FREE Orientation/Information Session: Mon, Sep 23, 6–7:30pm
Fall 2019 / 8-week class / $275

Mon, Sep 30–Nov 18, 6–8:30pm and Sat, Nov 9, 9am–3pm

Instructor: Caroline Orcutt, MA, Qualified MBSR Teacher, UCSD MBPTI

Call 505-277-0077 or go to ce.unm.edu to register.

Discounts for seniors, students, Agora, groups. UNM tuition remission accepted.