An irresistible urge to clean out a closet came up the other day. I attacked it with gusto and deposited in a cardboard box shoes I’ll never wear again, clothes that don’t fit, worn out bags, random books, and a lamp I hate.
After finishing, I realized I had been looking for something. Not that elusive black shoe to match the one in the box. Something more important. I was looking for my point of power. The place of stillness. The present moment.
I’ve often been stymied by resistance, which is a great catch-all for negative ideas and beliefs—the programming that lives in what some call the subconscious mind. It’s taken years to understand that what stops me from 1) starting and 2) finishing projects is hiding inside me.
Every spiritual teacher I’ve encountered, in person or books, emphasized the importance of the Now. In the sixties and seventies, as meditation and eastern philosophies integrated into western culture, it became an often-spoofed catch word. Be Here Now! Allen Watts exhorted us.
The truth is, he was right.
The only way to create anything new is from the present. If we try to create from old patterns and memories, we end up re-creating old situations, even if dressed up in new clothes.
If you prefer dwelling on the past, you may identify yourself with childhood experiences, past wounds, slights, or resentments. Hold beliefs about how limited you are, how it’s too late (or too early) for what you want. Think you need more security, money, or free time before you create. You tell stories of what happened.
If you’re oriented to the future, you’re always planning. You have goals, vision, motivational tools, a to-do list. You’re so focused on what you will do that you don’t notice what is happening now. You tell stories of how great things will be.
If we don’t question where our ideas come from and if they are still true, we risk repeating patterns we don’t understand. A stuck pattern is a lens of perception.
If you feel at the mercy of time, other people, or your responsibilities, and can’t seem to start that novel, exercise program, or job hunt, maybe it’s time to look inside. The inner way is not often valued by the outer world, but it’s essential if you want to know yourself.
Here are some simple ways to start:
State a clear intention.
- Decide what you want.
- Write it down.
- Don’t share what you’re doing with anyone. Make this a private space, just you and the contents of your mind.
Spend fifteen minutes a day alone.
- Sit quietly with yourself. In nature. In your favorite chair.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe, and notice what thoughts come up.
- Listen to the voice within, even if it sounds like your dad.
Get a notebook
- Commit to three sessions a week, twenty minutes each.
- Write what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it.
A practical way of clearing the mental residue is to look around at your living space to decide what you don’t need. Cleaning out closets, bookcases, attics, and garages is a physical correlate to cleaning out old ideas. It’s satisfying to cart away physical objects. Plus, it gives your resistance a heads-up that you mean business!
And who knows, you may find your point of power hiding behind that old tennis racket!
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make
you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last week we celebrated Independence Day, a time for family and friends, barbecues, swimming, fireworks, and whatever makes you feel good.
But what if you don’t feel free and independent? What if finances, health issues, time, difficult family members or inappropriate living situations weigh on you? How do you celebrate your independence then?
It might be just the time to stop seeking solutions in the outer world and consider a walk down the inner path. Instead of traditional group activities, you might get more out of a quiet day of hiking in a beautiful place. Or reading an absorbing book, painting, playing with your pets, learning something new, calming your mind.
But what about that picnic everyone else is going to? Won’t you miss out? Not if you’d rather do something else. Not if your inner self is pining from lack of attention.
It takes strength to say no to the crowd. You risk being branded as strange, anti-social, a trouble-maker. The impulse that leads you to forego the picnic for a solitary walk may result in the happiest unforeseen events. A new friend met by happenstance. A stray dog that longs to comfort you. Perfect light on the river illuminating a fish swimming upstream. The book that will change your life at a garage sale for only a dollar. You could miss a lot at that picnic with people you’ve known your whole life.
If you long to answer the question posed by the whispering Self/Soul/Spirit, you want more than the easy answers provided by popular culture. Instead of Superman flying in to save us from our enemies, we seek the true myth, personified by the age-old gods and goddesses that sing through our blood and inhabit the nether regions of our minds.
One of my heroes, late writer Ursula K. Le Guin, talks about the difference between true myth and sub-myth, between Zeus and Superman, in her book, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction
She quotes a story told by the poet Rilke who, when he gazed at a statue of Apollo, it spoke to him. “You must change your life,” Apollo said.
“The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it, and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero—really look—and he turns into a gerbil. You look at Apollo and he looks back.”
Every writer, artist, mystic, and seeker knows that when the true myth rises into consciousness, that is its message: you must change your life. But that’s hard. Maybe you don’t want to. Maybe you’re happy the ways things are. If so, I salute you. But if you wonder what treasure lies buried behind that door you’ve never opened, then consider, what will make you free and independent?
Go ahead. Open it. Try. All you have to lose are the chains binding you to the past.
What happens when we don’t express our creative energy? When something inside blocks us from writing, painting, designing, making music, dancing for joy?
Lots of things can happen, most of them not positive, although some do a good job of masquerading as useful and practical.
- We can become so entangled in our jobs that we don’t take time for ourselves, our families, or friends.
- We can go back to school, in hopes that more education will spark our ability to create.
- We can become meticulous housekeepers, never a speck on the rug or a smudge on the mirror.
- We can become the most helpful person in the neighborhood, the one everyone comes to for a ride, a loan, or a shoulder to cry on.
These patterns, if freely chosen and intrinsically rewarding, are fine. But if they mask the face of resistance whispering that serving others, being busy, having a spotless home, and doing our jobs better than anyone else ever has, it’s time to put on the brakes and take stock.
My students often say:
- “I don’t have time.”
- “My job is overwhelming.”
- “My kids/parents/friends need me to be there all the time.”
- “Maybe when things slow down, I’ll work on my dreams.”
Maybe you haven’t noticed but the world is not slowing down. We’re expected to do more with less at work. Social media takes up time we used to spend talking to real people. Our phones demand our attention, and only the bravest does not use a phone for socializing, game playing, and entertainment. Even those who write the apps admit they intend to make us addicts.
At worst, blocked creativity leads to depression, lack of fulfillment, bitterness, anxiety, boredom, and seething resentment. The terrm “Prozac Nation” was coined because we use drungs to mask how we feel. It would be easier and safer to spend some ttime doing what we feel like doing.
Everyone has a need to create. For some, the drive is pre-eminent, while for others, it resides in the background. People who do crafts, garden, develop a personal clothing style, and make their homes restful havens are creative just as novelists, musicians, and playwrights are. The energy comes from the same place. The form it takes depends on your interests, abilities, values, and inclinations. Any form your creativity takes is valuable to you.
Unfortunately, creative work, unless it is popular and financially rewarding, is often not highly valuee by others. If your writing, painting, or music does not result in income, it may be considered, by your friends, as well as the IRS, as a hobby. The problem with hobbies is that they are “extra,” not as important, easily pushed to the background.
If you have the urge to create, consider giving yourself permission to start. What would it take to devote an hour two or three times a week to learning how to paint, compose a poem, design a website? What could you let go of, so you can learn about the pleasure that awaits you?
What would it feel like to dance for joy?
An exercise I use with coaching clients moving through transition is to write their own epitaph. Some are put off by this exercise, but others embrace it. Some find it validates their choices, while others realize their current life does not reflect their true aspirations.
Since we’re all different, what is important to us varies by age, sex, education, income, values, and abilities. And, as we age, our values and perceptions change.
The first half of life is about learning who we are in the world, choosing and establishing careers, and starting a family. For artistic souls, how to express themselves is critical. For security-minded folks, long term safety trumps risky challenges.
Later, as careers progress and families grow, we may find that what was once satisfying has become humdrum, maybe a little boring. At this point, many explore career transition, or develop new avocations.
Difficult life circumstances influence all our decisions. Victims of trauma and abuse who do not receive treatment can find their goals out of reach. They may have financial difficulties, trouble maintaining stable relationships or jobs. They may suffer from a nagging sense that something is wrong but can’t pinpoint what.
Anger and fear not processed block the creative energy that is our birthright. People who want to write, paint, design, or express themselves in any way may find resistance a formidable force.
- I don’t have time.
- I don’t know where to start.
- I don’t have the right education to do that.
- How do I know my work would be good?
These thoughts are negative programming held in the brain below the level of conscious awareness. We can hold beliefs from early childhood to old age without knowing what they are. All we know is that we don’t do what calls us. Not until we learn why we do what we do, can we uncover the beliefs that hold us back.
When asked how they want to be remembered, which is another way of asking, are you on track with your goals? Most people mention:
- Creative Work
- Personal Traits
If you try this exercise, and find you’re not engaged in activities related to your goals, this is a clue that it’s time to work on that negative programming.
Like the ancient goddess of crossroads, Hecate, with her ability to look both forward and backward in time, we can use past experiences to guide change in the present, so we can be more confident about how the future will unfold.
How do you want to be remembered?
The Book of the Center
While I was working on my novel a few years ago, a thought dropped in. It had nothing to do with the book and came with the little jolt I associate with the part of me that is NOT my ego-mind. The thought was, “The Book of the Center.” I heard the words as if a voice had spoken aloud.
The first time this happened I was 28 and it scared the heck out of me. I thought either God was speaking, or I was losing my mind. Maybe both. A self-professed humanist, I had no religious convictions or grounding in metaphysics. I sought help. To no avail. Finally, I realized the voice was a part of myself I didn’t know. It seemed prudent to record what it said. That was the beginning of my awakening to spirit.
I’ve learned (the hard way) to listen. When I heard about this mysterious book, I pulled out a fresh file folder, labeled it The Book of the Center and stuck in a file with other writing projects. Going to write that someday, I thought. Wonder what it means. Sometimes I pondered if Center meant my own center or Self, my heart, a place of neutrality, or something different.
Reading The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself recently, I remembered how my Book of the Center appeared. Finally, I’ve started it.
Journaling for Healing
Between the first intrusion of the voice of my Self and the title of a book I didn’t understand came a lot of years of journaling. In the beginning I journaled to deal with the drama of my life.
In midlife, I was embroiled in a difficult relationship that made no sense. By then, I had learned to meditate, work with my own energy, and use healing methods to address my issues. With this situation, nothing worked.
One day I sat at my computer, opened a new file, and wrote my latest take on The Situation. Although I judged my relationship problems as too petty to bring to the attention of my deeper parts, I decided to try anyway. I typed a single question: “What is going on with me and this person?” Then I sat with my keys on the keyboard and waited.
After a few minutes I wrote whatever came up, without thinking or judging. No voices spoke, no visions came, I just wrote.
What I wrote was not profound or particularly clear, but it made enough sense that I asked another question, waited again, and wrote again.
That was the beginning of me using writing to connect with Self.
The more I dialogued with my Self, the more useful the exercise became. It took several years to convince me I was talking to more than my ego-mind (one of my issues is self-doubt), but I kept going. No one read my journal. I didn’t talk about it. I just kept writing because it seemed like the right thing to do. Also, I’m a fast typist and the faster I write, the easier it is to bypass the mental critic in my head.
Many others have discovered this method. It’s even mentioned in books on journaling. I teach my journaling students how to do it. The great thing is you don’t have to learn to meditate, take a class, or learn special techniques. All you need is a notebook and pen or a computer, and a mind willing to open.
An Easy Exercise for You
Have you tried it? If not, this could be the time. This is how it works.
- Assume you have an aspect of your identity that knows more than you do, that loves you, and is willing to communicate.
- Settle yourself and clear your mind.
- Ask your Self a question in writing. About a crisis, a choice, a pattern you don’t understand. Anything you want to know about yourself.
- Write what comes.
- Refrain from judgment.
This works. I swear. You may have to be patient, but persistence counts.
If you give this method a try, send me a comment about your experience. I’d love to hear your reaction.
I was sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for a specialist’s opinion on how to handle a potentially life-threatening situation. She was called to an emergency, so I had plenty of time to read the book I’d brought. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer is a plainly written book about the Watcher within each of us.
He speaks about the voice in our heads, the one that yammers, criticizes, exhorts, judges, and generally finds fault with what we do. I know that voice. I also know it is not the “I” who can connect to my deeper wisdom. Most of my thoughts are coming, not from my deep self, but from programming, what Buddhists call “monkey mind.” Shamans and others refer to it as “predator” and “judge.”
Beliefs and ideas are thoughts. Not physical reality. Singer makes the point that if you notice who is thinking a thought, you put distance between the thought and yourself. Then you can ask, “Who is thinking that thought?”
Also known as the Self, the Soul, the Heart, Consciousness, Awareness, Connection, Atman.
I call that part of me The Creative Self, since it is the source of the energy that supports my growth. It is also the energy I call upon for physical creativity–in my case, books, stories, writing of all kinds.
The analytical mind dwells on the past, recalling memories, and on the future, what might be. It is never in the moment.
The Creative Self is different. Its home is the elusive present time that every spiritual tradition mentions. Even when we try, exactly how to get there is something of a mystery. As it turns out, it can be simple. All I have to do is stop thinking. Stop letting monkey mind rule my life. Stop worrying about what could happen, what might be the problem and notice where I am now as I watch myself. This is not easy. It takes intention and persistence, but it can be done.
When I was learning to meditate, I knew there was more than one “I.” Maybe that’s why I started attending meditation classes. They were secular, aimed at teaching students how to visualize our energy so we could understand ourselves better. We learned to ground ourselves by dropping a cord of energy from the base of our spine into the center of the earth. We visualized our chakras and learned how to feel them and how to remove unwanted energy from them. It was all fascinating and eminently practical. Grounded, I could navigate my life better. Without other peoples’ energy in my field, I was less susceptible to the demands of others.
The lessons never stopped. Once you realize you are not your ego mind, that something larger than you not only exists, but can be accessed, there is no going back to a wholehearted acceptance of the drama that monkey mind concocts.
The Watcher watches. It does not exhort, command, or judge. It watches my thoughts and feelings. It watches how I react to the events of life. Of course, I must remember to access it, which is the hard part.
That day in the doctor’s office, it said to me, in the form of a thought dropping into my head, “Why do you worry so?”
My first reaction was to defend myself. To say, “Well, this could be serious. I’ve been sitting here for two hours. I’m nervous and upset. With good reason.” Then I had to laugh. I had just read Singer’s reminder about the Watcher. To withdraw from the drama that the analytical mind loves so, I stepped back (mentally) and remembered myself as Watcher. Soul. Heart. Creative Self. Which had just spoken directly into my mind!
That seldom happens without asking a direct question, either in meditation or in my journal, but that day my reading prompted it and I was grateful. The journey into my Center was neither quick nor easy. I was a stubborn, willful student who sabotaged myself at every turn. But in time I learned.
Journaling to access my Creative Self, my Center, is one of the best practices I’ve used to help myself. My next post will be about how that started and what kept me doing it for more than twenty years.