Helping You Create Your Best At Home, At Work, and in Life

3/31/20

How Now Brown Cow?


My grandfather, "Pep," used to ask "How now, brown cow?" every time we spoke on the phone. At the time, it seemed a quirky, silly thing that made us laugh. Now Wikipedia informs, "The use of the phrase "How now brown cow" in teaching elocution can be dated back to at least 1926." Interestingly, it's also currently the title of several children's books. And it's a good question. 

We spend time obsessing on the past, and we worry about the future; yet, all we ever really have is right now, this moment, then the next. When we mindfully focus on what's before us, we can answer "How now?" We know how we're feeling, what we're thinking, and why we're doing what we're doing. 


Presence– being right where you are, however you're feeling, aware and focused on who and what are before you now, in this moment, and then again in each next moment– is difficult in a world that feels designed for distraction and encourages us to multitask. Neuroscientists have proven that when we try to do multiple things simultaneously or cogitate on the past or future, we do more poorly at simple tasks, we focus less, have difficulty learning, and we accomplish less. When we single-mindedly focus in the present, we can mindfully pay attention in each moment, on purpose, without judging what's happening. 

When we create our day and tasks with presence, fully immersed, we forget time and may not even look at the clock. When pressed with a list of goals and deadlines, it helps to pause and breathe and refocus when getting distracted. Then you can get back to doing one thing at a time, with full attention. 

The past is gone and the future is largely a result of the choices we make moment to moment on our path. As you set about creating your day today, try setting your clock to "NOW," and move intentionally, immersing fully in this Now and the next. 


3/28/20

Simplify

As mentioned in my recent post, at heart I'm a minimalist, and love the idea of freeing my life by simplifying and letting go of what's not needed. Not an easy task for someone as un-simple as me. 

This spring, with more time on my hands (what with cancelled yoga and mindfulness classes and no trips to visit my grandchildren while staying home during COVID19), I'm capturing what I can of the beauty around me as I watch how nature comes and goes. It gives pause to consider that all of us, regardless of privilege or social standing, are born and will die. Life is what happens between. And when we stop to see how vulnerable and beautiful it all is, we feel connected deeply to the earth, the sun, and each other and hope it will last. But of course, it won't– the nature of nature is to grow and change and become and let go. 


All living beings in nature except us humans (and our furry domesticated friends) live simply, building natural shelters, without a need for special bric-a-brac or knick knacks for their nests and caves, and wearing their native skins. Sure, some are gatherers and stash nuts, and others are hibernators to preserve their energy during the winter; but all plants and many animals often just eat as they come to their food. And so must many people who are underprivileged, or homeless, or sick, or unemployed. 

When we simplify, we can make space in our homes and free our hearts and minds to focus on what matters. We can simplify by giving things away, and also by watching our thoughts and feelings and letting go of worry and fear- fear of losing our loved ones; fear of not having enough; fear of being without; fear of not keeping up with others; fear of not being good enough; or even the fear of feeling our anger, sadness, discomfort, and fear. With less cluttered homes and clear hearts and minds, we can use our resources, time, and energy to do what's most important. We can focus on being healthy, active, creative. We can be kind, helpful, connected, open. Knowing there's enough for all and sharing, we can better enjoy our short stay here by being fully alive, with courage no matter what we may be facing. 

As Janis Joplin so perfectly sang, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" (Me and Bobby McGee, written by Kris Kristofferson). What if we could all free ourselves from fear itself? What could you lose today that may free you from anxiety, and what might you gain? You can start by noticing and letting go of anxious thoughts, and simply enjoy being alive now, being you, being satisfied wherever you are, and giving a hand up to others as you can.

3/27/20

Use What You Stash

Any one else out there a bit of a hoarder of anything? 

At heart I'm a minimalist, though very aware that I have more than I need. Can a person have too many books? (I don't know everything yet). Journals? (so many thoughts and sketches to jot down!). Art materials? (always fun to try new stuff, and imagine the possibilities!). Shoes? (my tootsies must be barefoot comfy; and I prefer bare feet, so I've yet to find the perfect pair). Well, ok, those are my areas where I 'stash my nuts' so to speak. I have no problem clearing out my clothing and kitchen; I don't gather makeup or cleaning products; I could easily simplify my husband's office, closets, and garage; and could also easily clean out my friends and family's overflow areas- though I might take home a few books, art materials, or journals if I found them. And useful things- I just emptied my mom's house, and brought home good furniture I don't need (will be giving it away) and cleaning materials (why let them go into a landfill unused?), toilet paper (good idea huh?), and only a few of her 'cherished' pieces that she collected over the years. 

Speaking of toilet paper: I'll admit, I have enough for several months, even before bringing home mom's. Note: I always have enough for several months. Years ago, when I couldn't afford gold, I thought if the bottom dropped out of our economy, gold may not be that helpful anyway- you can't eat it or wipe your butt with it. So, I decided to invest in toilet paper, just in case. Not gobs, but, a few cases to just stay ahead, with a little more than enough for now. 

Some say if you haven't used it in a year, you should give it away or throw it out. But, you never know. I recently took out a set of Neocolor II water soluble artist crayons that I was given as a 10-year-old while sick in bed with Scarlet Fever. I tried them a few times over the years, and wasn't sure what to do with them, but felt they were a special gift, so always stuck them back in my desk drawer. The other day I took them out and LOVED the result I got. Yes, these crayons sat for 50 years, mostly unused, and now, having improved my art skills, they're one of my new favorites.

As I sit in my newly dubbed 'artist residency' (social distancing for Covid19), I'm happy to have my supplies. There's no harm in gathering stuff, as long as it brings joy and utility and doesn't prevent others from having it or pose other hazards. Now that I've stashed enough for a rainy day (or months of virus isolation, as the case may be) I'm settling in to see what I can create from it. And slowly I'll see what I can let go of.

My inspiration for creativity today, then, is determine what you value, then stash wisely– maybe enough and a little bit more is the right amount. If you have something you've been saving, take it out, dust it off, and fool around with it. Play, experiment, and use what you have to create in a new way. And if you find stuff you're hanging on to and don't need, consider letting it go to someone who'll be delighted to have it. 

3/24/20

Keep Moving

Sometimes we zip along, other times not. Do you ever feel like you're crawling along and not getting much of anywhere? Maybe your creative endeavors have stalled to a near stand still? And where are you going, anyway? 

Exercise is movement to engage in life. We flex and extend our approximately 640 skeletal muscles to move our bodies so we can do what we want and to take us wherever we go. (We also have involuntary smooth and cardiac muscles). Our Western culture teaches a vigorous, fast forward, "no pain/no gain" type of movement ethic, whether in the gym, the office, at home, learning, and wherever. Eastern cultures promote exercise more conducive to living a long, healthy life, with emphasis on syncing breath and movement, and in ways to bring ease instead of pain. 

As long as we're moving directionally and intentionally, we continue to stay engaged in life and can grow creatively. When things are moving slowly, trying to force or speed them often backfires. Sometimes you need to pause and clarify goals, then you can keep moving along and creating as you can. Even if it feels at times like slow motion, remember incremental movement adds up, and that's what will take you places. Move along now, and exercise to engage in life and to create your heart's desire.  

3/21/20

Be Well and Hang On

I've several pre-scheduled Tuesday posts, so today I'm writing an extra post to reflect what's currently happening. COVID19 is a game changer leading to great uncertainty, insecurity, fear, and disruption, as well as pain and suffering for many. It's easy to fall into despair feeling powerless. And it's true, there's a lot of this that's just unknown and out of our control Here are a few things you can do to help create some peace, strength, and resiliency within this chaos: 

1. Wash your hands often, with soap or antibacterial soap and hot water, especially each time you're in contact with people, stores, or packages. 

2. Practice social distancing to help slow the spread of this virus, and stay connected to family, friends, and neighbors by touching base often.

3. As much as it's available to you, eat nourishing foods and take your vitamins. Maybe plant a victory garden to share veggies and herbs with your family and neighbors this summer. Drink plenty of water and minimize things that weaken us, such as alcohol and smoking. 

4. Get some outdoor time, and immerse yourself in nature if possible, preferably in the morning each day.  Sit on the ground, hug trees, connect with the sun and the earth. This will boost your mood, your vitamin D levels, and optimize your melatonin to promote better sleep. 

5. Exercise and move your body. Do yoga, take walks, bike, run, or anything else you enjoy. Try some online classes to learn new ways to move and stay strong, flexible, and balanced.  

6. Take several breathing breaks during the day. You can just sit, watch your breath, feel and accept what you feel, and allow yourself to get still till towards finding your inner calm. Acknowledging our anger, sorrow, and fear can help us get through these difficult emotions.

7. Create and lift yourself. Take out those markers, crayons, yarn, fabric, wood, clay, or whatever media you have around. Make art or craft or catch up on cleaning and making your environment as beautiful as possible. Or, take out that musical instrument and let it sing. Sing out loud, play, pray, meditate, dance, nourish yourself with uplifting writings, and anything else that can bring you joy in this moment. Just create, and enjoy feeling the power of what you can make now.

8. Notice your thoughts. Acknowledge that COVID19 information can trigger us to a fight/flight/freeze nervous system response: If we live in this ramped up mode, we will create more anxiety in ourselves and those around us. As often as possible, shift negative, fearful thinking to purposely thinking happy, kind, grateful, and healing thoughts. 

9. If you're fortunate to live with other people or furry enlightened beings of one breed or another, take time to hug, talk, and be together, giving strength, hope, and support to each other. 

10. Stay tuned to the daily news, and watch more than one station to get a more complete view of what's happening. Limit the amount of time you spend on this to get a break from the anxiety it may produce.

11. Turn off all devices at least 2 hrs before bed, and get a great night's sleep.

12. Help as you can. Share your art, your talent, your time, your resources, and use your privilege and strengths to help the best you can.

Please hang in there, you are not alone. All of us around the world are in this together, and we'll all be touched by it in some way. Rather than moving in fear, we can connect and embrace our vulnerability and rise up to our highest humanity. Wishing lots of health, strength and peace to you and your loved ones.

3/17/20

Cross the Threshold



My brother-in-law is suffering with ALS, which is slowly damaging his nerves and taking away his abilities. A talker and storyteller who loved to share advice, he's only now able to communicate with great difficulty. When I visited recently, he had his computer out so I could read what he was writing: "A goal without a plan is just a dream;" his point, that without a plan, we're not going to arrive at our goals or succeed in life.

Once we decide what our creative focus is, we may have a specific plan and process to implement it. We can set the goal, plan, make the time, begin, and then enjoy seeing our creation unfold, just like Joe always encouraged.

The creative process can't always be planned out. Sometimes we might not have a clue as to whether our concept is even feasible. In this case, we need to dream first, with a loose exploratory idea of how or if we can proceed. We make our goal, imagine, take an experimental step, let that inform us, then take another step. We can enjoy the process, with each little step like a new threshold we cross, guiding us to our next. This way we make little plans, and in time they just might bring us to our goal.

So take your best step forward, enjoy your creative journey, and let each step guide your plan.

3/10/20

Aim Your Direction

Some creatives are specialists, focusing their life's energy in one area, and some are generalists, creating in various areas. To be creative, we need to finish; and to finish, we need to decide what we want to make, then focus, till we're done.

The Oxford online dictionary informs that focus is "the center of interest or activity," "the act of concentrating interest or activity on something," and "the state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition." In yoga we learn to gaze our eyes in particular directions (drishti) when in different postures to help develop concentration and focus consciousnessAnd in neuroscience, we learn that the eyes are very connected to our vagus nerve, and can help us to heal from stress and PTSD, for instance, with methods such as EMDR or Brainspotting. Our gaze connects us to our nervous systems, to balancing, and also leads us to our target, such as in archery.

My neighbor is a piano teacher and concert pianist. It's what she does. She focuses on this, her one big thing. She practices daily, and knows what and why she's practicing. She creates music and pianists, and she's really good at it and loves it.

My biochemistry professor at Boston College spent his entire career exploring and understanding one enzyme, aspartate transcarbamylase, which is responsible for an early step in the production of pyrimidine rings that are used to build nucleotides in DNA and RNA. Through creative questioning, experiments, and learnings, he helped to advance understanding of this critical pathway for the medical community. Some of us might be bored working in such a single-pointed area for life, but Dr. K. was always enthusiastic and focused, knowing his goal and plugging on.

I'm a generalist with many interests ranging from science, health, and yoga to inventing, writing, painting and music. I've spread my creative energies in many directions, and the learnings from each area cross-fertilize one another. When too many creative projects are in progress, I lose focus and some get let go. What I keep focus on is what I progress and succeed on. The key is to decide the current point of interest, and then to keep sight on it till done.

To be more creative, choose your center of creative interest, then concentrate your gaze, interest, and activity on it and see how that goes. Enjoy your focus, and focus the most on what you enjoy and what will sustain you.

3/3/20

Look Around

Mindfulness is paying attention and noticing what's happening around us and inside ourselves, right now, without judging anything. And there's so much going on in and around us at every moment. Paying attention helps us to connect with people, our experiences, how we're thinking and feeling, and what we're creating.

Most of us divide our attention between self-care, family, friends, jobs, and other activities and organizations. Our digital devices, social media, gaming, TV, and other entertainment also vie for our time and focus. And we track what our competitors and others in a similar art are creating. How can we learn to notice and leverage when, where, and how we pay attention so we can enhance our creative outcomes?

Every moment is an opportunity to become more attentive. We can take several pauses in our day and just breathe and notice our feelings and thoughts. Connected to what we're thinking and feeling, we can better notice what excites and enlivens us– that's where we can best put our creative energy.

We can stop, listen, and look around often to pay attention to who and what's around us. If we focus all our awareness on what other artists or companies are doing, we might slip into a place of always trying to imitate and play catch up to them. We can look in new ways, seeing not just what our competitors are making, but also what they may be missing. Aware of what's already created lets us imagine and create growth and opportunities, for instance exploring what their idea would be like combined with an idea of ours.

Next time you're looking for ideas to advance what you're creating, notice if you're always approaching from the same angle. Then, like the giraffes, see how you can stretch your neck and look beyond your normal view. Maybe you can branch out and go somewhere new to feed your ideation. You can take a trip to the library and browse magazines that you'd never look at; or to a new museum; or to a different type of store; or to a movie you wouldn't normally choose. Or you can talk to strangers or listen to a podcast or TED talk on a topic you know nothing about. Browsing new areas helps fertilize the imagination, making new connections in our minds that can open up our innovation.

If we always look in the same direction, we may miss everything else. Pay attention, look around, and see what new comes up and how it enhances your creative practice.