Too much in your head?

Listen_to_your_body_it_s_smarter_than_you_-_LoveSurfIf you’re living too much in your head, and not enough in your body, you’re likely an unlived life. Here’s some advice from Tara Brach from her book True Refuge on how to plant ourselves firmly in the universe, instead of living uprooted, with our roots up in the air.

In the early part of the last century, D.H.Lawrence found himself in a society devastated by war, a landscape despoiled by industrialism, and a culture suffering from a radical disconnect between the mind and body. Published in 1931, Lawrence’s words from “A Propos if Lady Chatterly’s Lover have lost none of their urgency.

“It is a question, practically of relationship. We must get into relation, vivid and nourishing relation to the cosmos and the universe…For the truth is, we are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs, we are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal, sources which flow eternally in the universe. Vitally, the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree, with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe.”

When we disconnect from the body, we are pulling away from the energetic expression of out being that connects us with all of life. By imagining a great tree uprooted from the earth, we can sense the unnaturalness, violence, and suffering, of this severed belonging. The experience of being uprooted is a kind of dying. Jane felt it as an “inner deadness” and described herself as mechanically trying to keep herself going day after day. Some people tell me about the despair of not really living, of skimming the surface. Others have a perpetual sense of threat lurking the corner. And many speak of being weighed down by a deep tiredness. It takes energy to continually run away from pain and tension, to pull away from the life of the present moment. Roots in the air, we lose access to the aliveness and love and beauty that nourish our deepest being. No false refuge can compensate for that loss.


Like the Buddha touching the ground, we reclaim our life and spirit by planting ourselves again in the universe. This begins when we connect with the truth of what is happening in our body. The mysterious field of aliveness we call the universe can only be experienced if we are in the contact with the felt sense of that aliveness in our own being. For Jane, the simple practice of feeling the life of her hands expanded to include the wounds of unlived life, and then opened her to the pure aliveness of her heart and body. By connecting with her inner life, by bringing presence to the truth of her immediate experience, she had begun to replant herself in the universe.

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Dancing with Creativity

brainSome artists and creatives fear losing their pain, believing that their pain fuels their creativity. Others on the path to rediscovering their creativity approach creativity as a suspicious object, with caution and with fear, afraid that their creativity will suck them into a whirlpool of unexamined packets of pain.

Both camps implicitly believe in the relationship between pain and creation.

I belong to the second camp. I hold my creativity at arm’s length. I want to bring it closer but I fear losing control. The left brain is a safe haven. Life is a maze that I have often navigated using instructions from the rational part of me. Living like this is safe and contained but it doesn’t always light up my soul. My right brain is moody and not in my control. It is playful and impulsive like a child. Whereas my left brain is black and white and grey, my right brain is Technicolor. To be honest, being creative and living creatively scares me a little bit. And so I wet my feet in the word of feelings and intuition before running to the safety of facts and logic.

But what if creativity doesn’t deserve the bad rep it has acquired? What if we are creative despite our pain, and not because of it?  What if we can be happy, healthy, and functional – and creative? This is what the wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert proposes in her ode to creative living called Big Magic.

I believe that our creativity grows like sidewalk weeds out of the cracks between our pathologies—not from the pathologies themselves. But so many people think it’s the other way round. For this reason, you will often meet artists who deliberately cling to their suffering, their addictions, their fears, their demons. They worry that it they ever let go of all that anguish, their very identities would vanish. Think of Rilke, who famously said, “If my devils are to leave me, I’m afraid my angels will take flight as well.”

Rilke was a glorious poet, and that line is elegantly rendered, but it’s also severely emotionally warped. Unfortunately, I’ve heard that line quoted countless times by creative people who were offering up an excuse as to why they don’t quit drinking, or why they won’t go see a therapist, or why they won’t consider treatment for their depression or anxiety, or why they won’t address their sexual misconduct or intimacy problems, or why they basically refuse to seek personal healing and growth in any manner whatsoever—because they don’t want to lose their suffering, which they have somehow conflated and confused with their creativity.

People have a strange trust in their devils, indeed.

It is easy to get this intellectually, but hard to let go of the mythology of the wounded artist. But we should at least try, as we pick up the pen or the paintbrush for a date with creativity, maybe at a café that plays some wonderful jazz with a dark hot chocolate, no sugar, before we put on our work clothes and game face for a day of creative problem-solving at work.

I may feel a little afraid of my creativity, but I know it heals me. It doesn’t pay the bills but it thaws my frozen heart as I axe some of the ice to pick a wisp of a memory from the years past to capture on the page, or just examine for a few moments before letting it go.

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WHY does the song, book, or movie strike a chord with you?

Navigating the labyrinth of our memories and scar tissue inside of us is hard. We may want to learn more about why we are the way we are, or why we feel the way we feel, but knowing ourself can be surprisingly hard.

I recently wrote about about how Gretchen Rubin suggests shining an indirect spotlight on what’s going on inside of us by seeing what we’re doing. Identifying external “tells” can be easier for those of us who may not be adept at sensing their feelings, or those who find their own feelings drowned by the feelings of those around them.

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves also suggest looking outward to develop a better understanding of your internal landscape:

If you’re having trouble looking within to spot your emotional patterns and tendencies, you can discover the same information by looking outside yourself at the movies, music, and books you identify with. When the lyrics or mood of a song resonate with you, they say a lot about how you feel, and when a character from a movie or a book sticks in your head, it’s probably because important aspects of his or her thoughts and feelings parallel your own. Taking a closer look in these moments can teach you a lot about yourself. It can also provide a great tool for explaining your feelings to other people.

Finding your emotions in the expressions of artists allows you to learn about yourself and discover feelings that are often hard to communicate. Sometimes you just can’t find the words to say what you are feeling until you see it in front of you. Listening to music, reading novels, watching films, and even looking at art can act as a gateway into your deepest emotions. Take a closer look the next time one of these mediums grabs your attention—you never know what you’ll find.

It’s strange for a 31 year old woman, but I find myself addicted to Let it Go from the movie Frozen. I listen to Idina Menzel’s strong and and powerful and vulnerable rendition of the song, and it seeps through my porous body into my soul.

Elsa speaks to me. Like I her, I am more accustomed to concealing or suppressing emotions instead of feeling them, of always being pleasant than allowing myself to be human, of being what I am expected to be. But like her, also creating things by plucking the emotions from my heart and drawing letters from them, my castle of words, strung together word by word. Like her, trying to let it go, trying to let go of things beyond my control.

elsaIt’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

Let it Go, Frozen

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Do you know what you’re feeling?

feelingsSometimes our inner self is confused, or lonely, or in disrepair. But it can be hard for us to recognize that in ourselves. Like my patron saint, the wise and wonderful Gretchen Rubin quotes: Surprisingly little clues are offered to us about who we are. For some of us, surprisingly little clues are offered into how we are feeling.

I’ve had this experience myself, when anxiety has crept into me, without my realizing till its too late. The same for sadness. Little by little the weight added up, till the burden felt too heavy to bear.

How do we recognize  – and act on – these feelings while they are still manage-able, before they have snowballed into something scarier?

Gretchen Rubin suggests shining an indirect spotlight on our feelings, which can be otherwise hard to put our finger on. While we may find it hard to recognize our squishy, shape-shifting feelings by looking inside, we can do a better job by identifying trends in how we behave when we are feeling a certain way.

For instance, when Gretchen is anxious, she reads kidlit. Gretchen’s sister’s voice shakes when she speaks when she’s anxious. The psychologist Harriet Lerner says she starts under-functioning on the practical, real-world skills, those that don’t come naturally to her.

I realize I go quiet when I’m anxious. I sit on the edge of the seat, instead of sinking in, like I belong. I worry about what I will say, instead of being present in the moment. When I’m sad, I can spend time lying in bed thinking, instead of getting up and starting the day. My purse and my fridge, like my head go messy. Externally, I create an environment that mimics my internal world. And so, to feel better, I start fixing my external world and as I do I find myself being repaired.

A wonderful affirmation from Louise Hay on this idea:

I make housework fun. I begin anywhere and move through the rooms with artistic flair. I toss out the garbage. I dust and polish those things I treasure. We all have a set of beliefs. And just like a comfortable, familiar reading chair, we keep sitting in these beliefs over and over again. Our beliefs create our experiences. Some of these beliefs create wonderful experiences. And some of them can become like an uncomfortable old chair that we don’t want to throw out. I know that I really can toss out old beliefs, and I can choose new ones that significantly improve the quality of my life. It’s like housecleaning. I need to clean my physical house periodically, otherwise it gets to a point where I really can’t live in it. I don’t have to be fanatical. I do need to be clean. Physically and mentally, I fill the rooms of my house with love.

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Getting lost in the work

marcusRevel in the process, not in the results. A wise aspiration, so difficult to execute.

If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you were bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word that you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.     Marcus Aurelius


How does it feel when you get an idea for a book?

butterfliesAs writers–aspiring writers, we chide ourselves–we often wonder where writers we admire get their ideas from. We look at the book we hold in front of us, look at the colors and the typography, look at the photograph of the author at the back, run our fingers on the thick paper of a color the author chose with care, and wonder: where did the author start? where did the idea come from? what does getting an idea feel like? how will I know when I get an idea for a book?

Sometimes ideas feel BIG, they make their way into us in a way that we can’t help but notice, shaking us to the core. Elizabeth Gilbert describes how she feels when she chances upon such as idea (or, as she would say it, how it feels like when the idea finds HER) in her beautiful book on creativity, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

When he told me this story–especially the part about the jungle swallowing up the machines–chills ran up my arms. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up for an instant, and I felt a little sick, a little dizzy. I felt like I was falling in love, or had just heard alarming news, or was looking over a precipice at something beautiful and mesmerizing, but dangerous.

I’d experienced these symptoms before, so I knew immediately what was going on. Such an intense emotional and physiological reaction doesn’t strike me often, but it happens enough (and is consistent enough with symptoms reported by people all over the world, all throughout history) that I believe I can confidently call it by its name: inspiration.

While the birth of a book can sometimes start with Big Ideas finding us, it is just as likely to start with something smaller, a little feeling, a little curiosity that makes us go Hmmm – something that we’re more likely to miss. Those of us who have trained ourselves to listen to the little voice inside us know that we may be on to something (or we may not, but that’s fine, too!).

Here’s how Gretchen Rubin describes getting the idea for her wonderful, life improving book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives.

As a writer, my great interest is human nature, and in particular, the subject of happiness. A few years ago, I noticed a pattern: when people told me about a “before and after” change they’d made that boosted their happiness, they often pointed to the formation of a crucial habit. And when they were unhappy about a change they’d failed to make, that too often related to a habit.

Then one day, when I was having lunch with an old friend, she said something that turned my casual interest in habits into a full-time preoccupation.

After we’d looked at our menus, she remarked, “I want to get myself in the habit of exercise, but I can’t, and it really bothers me.” Then in a brief observation that would absorb me for a long time to come, she added, “The weird thing is that in high school, I was on the track team, and I never missed track practice, but I can’t go running now. Why?”

“Why?” I echoed, as I mentally flipped through my index cards of happiness research to find some relevant insight or useful observation. Nothing.

Our conversation shifted to other topics, but as the days passed, I couldn’t get this exchange out of my mind. Same person, same activity, different habit. Why? Why had she been able to exercise faithfully in the past, but not now? How might she start again? Her question buzzed in my head with the special energy that tells me I’ve stumbled onto something important.

Finally, I connected that conversation with what I’d noticed about people’s accounts of their before-and-after transformations, and it struck me: To understand how people are able to change, I must understand habits. I felt the sense of joyous anticipation and relief that I feel every time I get the idea for my next book. It was obvious! Habits.

Elizabeth Gilbert describes how The Signature of All Things grew into a living and breathing book when she followed a little curiosity she felt, a little voice that urged her to garden.

…I discovered that I did not want to merely cultivate these plants; I also wanted to know stuff about them. Specifically, I wanted to know where they had come from.

Those heirloom irises that ornamented my yard, for instance– what was their origin? I did exactly one minute of research on the Internet and learned that my irises were not indigenous to New Jersey; they had in fact originated in Syria.

That was kind of cool to discover.

Then I did some research. The lilacs that grew around my property were apparently descendents of similar bushes that had once bloomed in Turkey. My tulips also originated in Turkey–though there’d been a lot of interfering Dutchmen, it turned out, between these original wild Turkisk tulips and my domesticated, fancy varieties. My dogwood was local. My forsythia wasn’t, though; that came from Japan. My wisteria was also rather far from home; an English sea captain had brought the stuff over to Europe from China, and then the British settlers had brought it to the New World–and rather recently, actually.

I started running background checks on every single plant in my garden. I took notes on what I was learning. My curiosity grew. What intrigued me, was not the garden itself, but the botanical history behind it–a wild and little-known tale of trade and adventure and global intrigue.

That could be a book, right?


I kept following the trail of curiosity. I elected to trust in my fascination. I elected to believe that I was interested in all this botanical  trivia for a good reason. Accordingly, portents and coincidences began to appear before me, all related to this newfound interest in botanical history…

The little voice and the BIG voice are both speaking with us – we just need to listen.

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