I woke up this morning thinking about what to write and…and my brain was empty.
What do you say when your brain has gone blank?
This is what introverts face all the time (self-included)…when we have to say to people that we don’t have anything to say (or talk about not wanting to talk.)
This is also an issue when my husband comes home and wants to greet me and I’m in the middle of writing a sentence that will fly away forever if I even murmur a word…and he say’s “Hi, Honey…”
(We’ve developed a code.)
To help us introverts and others, I’m designing a line of T-shirts you can wear to avoid this problem. (You can send me your order…we don’t even need to talk.)
Do you have any suggestions for the line? You can post them below…quietly.
Patience Is NOT my middle name.
As I age and am aware of the years passing, I still want to do so much, and my tendency is to hurry up. But this week, I was wondering if the path to more creativity later in life might actually require learning to wait.
Many have written, over time, of the virtues of patience:
The poet Rainier Maria Rilke wrote in his famous Letters to a Young Poet, “I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart.”
The writer Leo Tolstoy wrote, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
Even Elon Musk, the fast-moving founder of Tesla said, “Patience is a virtue, and I’m learning patience. It’s a tough lesson.” (I understand that!)
This week I interviewed the founder of the blog site “Later Bloomer,” Debra Eve, for my about-to-be-relaunched Vital Presence podcast. Debra shares stories of people, throughout history, who have blossomed creatively at midlife or beyond.
She inspires with accounts of artists, explorers, and writers such as:
The beloved folk artist Grandma Moses, who became the poster girl for launching a creative career late in life, when she started painting at age 78.
The poet Wallace Stevens, who was particularly prolific late in life, even though he never quit his day job in an insurance company. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry at age 75, just months before he died.
The artist Mary Granville Delany (1700-1788) who began her life’s work in her seventies, creating botanical prints now held by the British Museum. She is also said to be the founder of the art of collage.
The lexicographer Dr. Peter Mark Roget who embarked on his most important work after retiring from medicine in 1849. The world knows him for the Thesaurus that he published at age 74
The adventurer Alexandra David-Néel, who became the first Western woman to visit Tibet’s forbidden city of Lhasa when, at 56, she slipped into the city disguised as a sooty-faced male servant.
Check out the Later Bloomer website for many more fascinating examples.
Advice for later bloomers
When I asked Debra what advice she would give someone like her who is embarking on a creative venture in midlife, she offered this:
“Be gentle with yourself. Have patience.”
I knew Debra had been working on a book of her stories, but when I asked her about it, she told me that she was choosing to slow down the project. She’s not ready to quit her job as a legal assistant, and she’s OK letting the book project wait for a while longer, perhaps until she retires from a demanding, yet rewarding, job.
If a younger coach was working with her, he or she might try to pep Debra up with phrases like: “Take a risk.” “Don’t wait.” “Just do it.” “Quit your day job,” etc.
They may have not yet learned that patience is part of later-bloomer wisdom.
Transformation in a week or a weekend
During my 30’s and 40’s, I attended a lot of transformational workshops that championed thinking big, pushing the edges of possibility, transforming participants (in a week or weekend) and moving projects forward with urgency. Often “breakthroughs” came as you felt yourself being pummeled by a transformational two-by-four.
Today, I don’t need to go to a workshop to be pummeled. Life can do that for me, thank you very much. I can be gentler. I can let time transform.
As Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist) wrote:
“It is very strange that the years teach us patience–that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”
It isn’t easy
Like Elon Musk, I don’t come by patience easily. I’m learning that some projects, like the book I’m writing, have their own life and will take the time that they take.
Dang! I wanted to do it fast.
As I work on my practice of patience, I’d love to hear what you have learned. Have you experimented with stepping back and letting a project follow its own natural rhythm?
Where have you allowed the future to pull you forward rather than thinking that you had to do all the pushing?
I know it may take me a while to learn patience. Fortunately, I can wait.
I usually love the turn of the year, when I set time aside to do visioning and planning, think about the big picture of where I’m going, and get revved up for the months ahead. But this year, my life took a different turn. I was ambushed by a nasty cold, the kind that lies in wait until you say to yourself “Now, I have some space to let down” and then attacks.
This wasn’t the rest time I had imagined. Indentured to a period of forced relaxation, and attached to a permanent kleenex, the last thing I wanted to do was figure out my future. I’ve learned to not think too far ahead when I’m feeling punk and wearing mud-colored glasses.
The only future I could see was the next hour, as I tried to imagine what would get me through an afternoon of feeling dumpy.
When I sat and asked my team of inner advisors for a piece of advice, they offered me this wisdom that I share with you:
Find something of joy. In the next hour.
A new way to look at joy
I’ve often thought of joy as a state enlightened beings achieve, like happiness on steroids. Because I’m still in remedial enlightenment, I don’t have high hopes for achieving an ultimate state of bliss in this lifetime. I’m challenged by my ability to see the not-joy parts of the world around me (aka the suffering) even on the days when I’m feeling especially good. So how would I ever attain this perma-state of enhanced happiness?
One way I occasionally experience joy is when it runs into me. Joy sparkles in the wake of external victories: our team wins, the lottery calls our number, we win a contract or score a date, our child is born or our dog has puppies. Joy like this feels great, but it’s a gift that doesn’t last because it comes from outside. And big successes can’t just be conjured up when you need them.
What I needed was now access to joy I could find in the moment, joy that would get me out of my funk, out of my nightgown, and into the world (or at least the portion I felt well enough to be in).
I decided to concentrate on the suggested assignment and look for a moment of joy in the next hour. It wasn’t that hard. Soon, I progressed to looking for joy every fifteen minutes.
The process is remarkably easy. You just tell yourself you’re going to find a moment of joy and you find it. You take an inner snapshot of anything that awakens your sense of wonder, awe, magic, beauty or whatever turns you on. The moment only needs to last for a few seconds, just long enough for you to pause.
Because you’re not trying to achieve a state, you don’t have to deny that there’s tough stuff in the world. You can delight in the absolutely exquisite, orange mushroom that is growing beside the smelly garbage can.
Joy-hunting shifted my focus.
When I decided that the color royal blue brought a bit of joy to me, I began seeing royal blue everywhere. I had never noticed it was the color of our county’s recycling bins.
You see what you give your attention to.
On my joy-quest today, my first day I ventured outside the house, I found joy through:
- a fascinating conversation with a stranger on the bus
- gazing at Mt. Rainier set against a cloudless sky
- watching my mother almost smile from her bed
- feeling my thighs burn as I ran to catch the ferry
- dreaming of puppies
and those were just a few of the many mini-moments.
Finding simple enJoyment in these moments didn’t have to be significant in any way. I was relieved of the pressure to make something meaningful out of them, or make sense of my life, decide whether an event was good or bad, or determine the direction of the world. Instead, the equation I used was much simpler: did something make me feel a hint of joy: yes or no?
I really recommend this as a practice, especially for those of us who need to occasionally claw our way out of the doldrums. I made it back to the land of the living, where perhaps I’ll start that process of visioning in a couple of days.
Now to you. I’ll give you fifteen minutes: Where will you find your moment of joy?
‘Tis the season of light in many faiths. But not all of us are feeling jolly. This is also a time of year that can feel dark and heavy, especially with what’s going on in the world.
Given all that is dark, how can we find a little light, levity, and lightness?
I recently wrote about bringing in more light this season. Then this weekend, I attended a workshop on Lightfulness, a word coined by Moshe Cohen, a master clown and teacher from San Francisco. Just thinking about the word lightfulness inspired me to relax and breath a bit more.
Moshe has plenty of experience injecting levity into dark and heavy places. As the founder of Clowns Without Borders, he has traveled the globe bringing laughter, magic, and healing to children whose lands have been devastated by floods, earthquake, violence, and war. Challenging places to get people laughing, yet that’s what Clowns Without Borders strives to do, with delicacy and compassion.
Moshe has invited children who are near-paralyzed with fear and trauma to play his games. As they move with silliness and spontaneity, the children can safely release deep, difficult emotions while they enjoy Moshe’s Mr.YooHoo clown persona.
The group of us attending his workshop at Seattle’s Nalanda West Center were mostly meditators. Moshe is often referred to as a “zen clown.” (Thanks to my clown-buddy Lynne Marvet for bringing Moshe to town!) We hadn’t been devastated by war, but we were feeling pretty heavy about the world. We needed Moshe to show us how we could discover traces of humor and lightness in the load of concerns we were bearing. We discovered that levity isn’t just about feeling “up;” it can accompany any mood.
Lightfulness is an opening to a subtle lightheartedness. Rather than playing for guffaws, it invites an inner smile, a sense of whimsey, a touch of humor that can be found even within otherwise difficult emotions, like fear, anger and extreme frustration.
Lightfulness invites humor to come out–but doesn’t force it to play.
Moshe invited us to play with huge, colorful, plastic bags that we floated in the air and then caught. At first, we just delighted in the game, but then Moshe offered us some variations. We were invited to bring to our game a feeling of frustration, a too-easy assignment for most of us. As we tossed our bags into the air, Moshe asked us to notice feelings within our bodies. Sometimes he suggested we try on a feeling such as floating, then switch it to frustration, then return to floating.
As we explored moving with our frustrations (discovering that play and deep emotion can go together), Moshe invited us to inject a little lightness into whatever we were doing. He did not tell us how to do that or what lightness meant. We found it in our individual ways.
There were no rules for lightfulness…(that would have defeated the point). Silly loves experiments.
Sometimes lightfulness comes through the twinkle of an eye. Or discovering a little oddness in a movement. Perhaps we find it as we become curious. Or find ourselves in a little game with a partner. During the workshop, we explored lightfulness through our awareness without needing to make some else laugh.
Lightfulness lives happily in quiet spaces, inhabiting a glance, a shrug, a small movement, a funny inflection in the voice. Lightfulness does not try to be funny. It lives best in a subtle connection with another person, in a wink, a secret smile, a moment of mutual wonder even in the midst of an argument.
Thinking about my last week, would there have been any way to add levity to that awful customer service encounter? When I think about it retrospectively, it was pretty absurd. Could I have taken a time-out to just laugh at it? Or could I have found a way to play with the customer support person who was robotically trying to solve my problem?
Any little change might have allowed me to breath better. And stop banging my keyboard in frustration.
Sometimes feelings come up when I’m alone. What to do then?
Maybe I could:
- Make a funny face while talking on the phone (not on video!)
- Become fascinated by something completely small, like a spider web and put all of my attention into it.
- Make a weird, small noise.
- Become fascinated by just about anything…or anybody.
- Spin in a circle.
- Step out of my emotion for a moment, to see it from afar and then step back into it (if I want to…)
- Replay a difficult conversation in my own head in gibberish. (Or grunt sounds.)
I bet you have some great ideas!
Shakespeare, (now dead), author of many works, and Cathy Salit, (very much alive), author of Performance Breakthrough, would agree that “all the world’s a stage” and a lot of life and leadership can be viewed through the lens of performance. As actors in our own drama, we can try on different moods through which to play a scene. Without striving to fix or change anything, we can shift our performances and open the door to a little levity.
Lightfulness suggests that we have more room for creating our experiences than we might have originally believed.
As we celebrate
This month is a time of light and celebration in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism as well well as the pan-African Kwanzaa. It’s a perfect time to practice lightfulness, injecting lightness and levity into pain and heaviness, and looking for that famous crack that lets the light get in, as Leonard Cohen sang in his hymn-like song, Anthem.
I love and cherish finding still spaces for myself at Christmas time, hoping that a light bearing mystery and possibility can once again be born out of darkness.
Whatever your faith, may you find light, levity, and lightfulness as we move towards the new year.
You know the adage: “The past is the past,” often spoken as if the past is over and no longer a dynamic force in our lives.
But is that so? Doesn’t the past still act upon us? And if that’s true, can’t we be a partner in the exchange and shape the story that we make about our experiences?
This weekend, wanting a dose of inspiration, I listened to a marvelous interview between author-educator Parker Palmer and journalist Steve Paulson, exploring the topic, “Creativity and Aging.” I transcribed it so I could offer a few highlights for you to use, regardless of your age.
Parker defined creativity broadly as anything you do that is life-giving. He offers this caveat:
“You can’t live a creative elder life if you’re still tangled up in regrets about the past.”
Our relationship with our regrets and our pasts is something we can make more conscious and possibly transform. To develop this idea, Parker shared a poem by David Ray, titled, Thanks, Robert Frost
The poem begins:
Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought…
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear…
Read the full poem here.
How beautiful. To hope that the past will turn out to be all right–something we can bear–something that need not limit us from living our most creative life now.
By letting go of regrets and allowing yourself ‘hope for the past,’ Parker says you “clear the deck for creativity–which always requires freedom.”
“Nothing creative comes out of trying to prove something to anyone.”
If only I had known this years ago.
He gives us a stunning quote by Florida Scott Maxwell from her book The Measure of My Days.
“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done you are fierce with reality.”
You can’t rewrite your past, but you can shape its story. By claiming your past as an amazing experiment, you transform regret into something you own, a fertile compost from which to create something new, something bold, something that is indeed fierce with reality.
While Texas struggles with the aftermath of unprecedented flooding in Houston (last week’s stats: 51 inches of rain, 56,000 calls for help, and 450,000 people who may need federal disaster assistance), here in the Northwest we are facing a different kind of emergency: crackling dry lands and massive wildcat forest fires burning in eastern Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
As a striking September sun glows red in the sky and smoke and ash fills our clouds, the plans my husband and I made weeks ago for an easy jump-in-the-camper road trip through western British Columbia have morphed into (you guessed it) a “staycation.”
But what about our sought after break time? Vacations may be at risk in our work-obsessed culture, but they are super important to our well-being. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less presents compelling evidence to support how rest, from sleep to vacation, not doing more, is key to our productivity (I recommend reading!).
So with our trip canceled, my husband and I are challenged to continue the vacation spirit while staying at home. Vacations aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be, but a great one is when I return home renewed, feeling a new spaciousness. (Even if I’m not, I admit, always rested.) So how will we keep the magic of adventure while sticking around home? And celebrate the joy of just being together, which is what we really wanted from our planned vacation?
I’m fortunate to live on an island, where many people come to vacation. However, even living in a vacation-able location, we’ve surrounded ourselves with a small plantation of projects, each as hungry as the carnivorous plant Audrey in The Little Shop of Horrors, with her irresistible, “Feed Me!” I can’t walk anywhere without tripping over one of them.
Some of my projects feed my spirit, like writing and riding my horse, so I may choose to continue with them, even on vacation. (Hey, I’m writing this blog!) But how to limit myself to just a few select projects without listening to the full chorus of items on my to-do list shouting, “Do me! Do me!”
Trust me, I can create new projects quicker than a whippet can fetch a ball, especially when they’re going on my husband’s “honey-do” list.
This will be an experiment and I’ll share the results.
As we start, here’s the seven-step strategy guiding us:
1. Create a few vacation priorities.
Not too many. Our vacation was going to be a time to simplify. Priority number one: enjoy each other. Priority number two: a few fun things. (I’ll include writing, riding and dancing.) Priority number three: relax. When we go camping, just fixing a meal together becomes an adventure. Why can’t we create that same feeling at home?
2. Let go and take a break.
One key as we start is to let go. No sense thinking about the vacation that might have been. (A good idea to remember for life…)
My husband’s first request was: take a break from our routines. Dead on! Our first event was to hitch up the camper and travel to nearby Tacoma to take a walk. Was the camper necessary? No, but it gave us a little feeling of adventure on our very small jaunt off the island.
3. Do it with joy
A question guiding our choices is: Will this bring you joy? Anything we do, including some of those projects, can be done with a spirit of surprise, gratitude and joy. If we stay at home, watch movies and experience joy, we may be better off than if we’re running ourselves into the ground on a stress-inducing, action-packed, we’re-supposed-to-be-enjoying-ourselves “Fake-ation.”
4. Take easy excursions to rekindle wonder.
I want maximum enjoyment with minimum hassle, like our short trip off the island. What matters isn’t where we go but how we go. I want to walk with that wonder-filled gait I’ve used to explore small alleys and cobbled streets in Europe or India. (And a relaxed vacation state of mind makes it easier to miss a ferry without fretting!)
5. When we choose to work on a project, do it with clear intention.
This is the tricky part. We may desire to do a few projects, because they’ll be fun (or occasionally, necessary). But when the project “on” switch gets thrown, it’s hard to turn it off. I’m trying this four step process: 1) Be clear about our intention in doing a project; 2) Set a time limit; 3) Clock in by acknowledging the start and out at the finish; 4) Complete the process by celebrating with each other what we were able to do or learn. (Hmmm. Wonder if I’ll want to keep this system after the staycation!)
6. Nourish the creative.
When I can take time off to explore my creative side, I am nourished. So the camera I was packing for vacation becomes my ticket for exploring the neighborhood with new eyes.
7. Be grateful
Above all, this is an opportunity for us to take note of the simple stuff we often take for granted: the very fact that we can take a vacation: how talented my husband is fixing our camper; the tastiness of our home-grown raspberries. The tastiness of our home-grown raspberries.) Nature is a living at-home art show! Last week, I was fascinated by the intricate design of the bug’s wings I found smashed against our bathroom walls. Now, I’m looking forward to the spider webs of September. (Fortunately, in my house, there’ll be plenty!)
William Blake once suggested:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
This week, I hope I’ll have time to experience timelessness, and find new eyes with which to observe my old life.
Maybe we’ll spend a night in the camper just to remember how comfy our bed at home is! Or learn to create more mini-vacations in our densely packed lives.