Being in the Zone – Away from Social Media

Hugh Van Cuylenburg, in his book Let Go, encourages us to let go of expectations, fear of failure, shame and “addiction to social media”.  Hugh maintains that social media and related devices such as smartphones  are creating  “planet-wide chirping, beeping, vibrating, pixilated opioid”.  The addiction to social media and these devices has intensified with the pandemic and associated lockdowns and other movement restrictions.  Hugh draws on the work of Stanford addiction expert, Professor Keith Humphreys, to suggest that nowadays we need to take a “digital detox” for our personal productivity and mental health.

Hugh is adamant about the need to break the social media addiction not only for its adverse effects but also for its opportunity costs.  Research has shown that social media addiction, and/or obsession with the news, can lead to unhealthy comparisons, depression, loneliness and cyberbullying.   Performing artists Missy Higgins and Tina Turner have both spoken about the adverse effects on their life as a result of being addicted to social media and being unable to handle the negative comments and criticisms.

Hugh points out that one of the opportunity costs of social media addiction is the inability to access higher levels of productivity and happiness.  He discusses the concept of “flow” or “being in the zone” as a form of heightened focus, immersion and productivity, producing extraordinary levels of achievement and productivity.   Achieving flow brings with it enhanced (rather than diminished) self-esteem, happiness, and the pleasure of realising high levels of competence.  Hugh maintains that social media, with its manipulative and addictive character, is one of the greatest barriers to achieving flow.

Achieving “flow”

One of the features of flow is that when you are in the zone, time seems to stand still and you lose track of time.  Hugh points out that this warping of our sense of time is described as “transient hypofrontality”, a condition that can last brief moments or hours.  The transient nature of this condition in a flow context relates to the “temporary suspension of the analytical and meta-conscious capacities” of our explicit framework and system of knowledge capture and storage – in other words, the prefrontal cortex (our rational brain) gets out of the road of our intuitive, creative and spontaneous brain activity.  We experience effortlessness in performance of a task or sporting activity, access our intuitive and creative capacities (without logical intervention) and achieve a level of competence that is rare for ourselves (and potentially for others).   The flow experience enables us to act from a place of “unconscious competence” – a competence level typically achieved only after many hours of practice.

I recall one day playing a game of tennis at Milton with a friend who was a member of the McDonald’s tennis development squad.  We had played each other regularly and tended to alternate as winners of sets.  However, on this particular day that I experienced being in the zone, I won 6-0, 5-0 (he retired at this point).   It was an incredible feeling – all my lobs would land on the baseline; my first serves were often unplayable; and I could effortlessly hit the ball down the line on either the backhand or forehand side.  I was conscious of being in the flow and kept telling myself to enjoy it while it lasted (being such a rare occurrence for me).   A characteristic of flow is the ability to focus without distraction and some of the benefits include heightened concentration, clear and unimpeded thought processes (no negative self-evaluation) and positive feelings such as happiness, joy, elation and gratitude.

Hugh suggests that to access the flow state more regularly we not only need to undertake a digital detox or break from social media and smartphones but also to develop a “preparation ritual” and utilise our “peak and productive times” (e.g. early morning for “Morning People” and late night for “Night People”).  I find that mornings are the most productive time for me so I almost always write my blog posts in the mornings (I wrote a lot of my PhD in the very early hours of the morning before our infant children woke up).  The concept of a preparation ritual needs further elaboration.

Hugh points out that one of the activities that enabled him to achieve flow was running.  So he has a detailed warm-up ritual that takes about forty minutes and he finds that he slips into flow in the middle of his warm-up.  My ritual for writing these blog posts involves firstly seeking cognitive input in some form, e.g. reading an inspiring article, listening to a podcast, participating in an online conference/summit or watching a video presentation (TED talks are a great stimulus).  I will often make notes and sleep on the topic overnight.  I find that my subconscious brain works overtime and in the following morning I often experience flow when writing my blog post – ideas come to me spontaneously; I have a framework to write to; and I “see” cognitive and emotional connections to other things I have written, read or personally experienced. 

My preparation ritual for social tennis is the practice of Tai Chi – done on the day and a number of days beforehand.  Besides developing my reflexes, balance and flexibility, this preparation reminds me to bend my knees, breathe consciously as I play a tennis shot and maintain my concentration. To use a phrase of Bessel van der Kolk, “the body keeps the score” – the Tai Chi practice is embedded in muscle memory so that, for example, bending my knees when playing a tennis shot can happen unconsciously.  Body memory is very real – you can experience this when someone lowers the height of the driver’s seat in your car without advising you of the change, e.g. your very tall son (you go to sit down and find that you land on the seat with a thump as your body expects the seat to be higher – a similar experience happens when someone switches the location of the forks and knives in your cutlery drawer.)

Reflection

Taking time to experience calm and quiet away from social media increases our capacity to access flow and its attendant benefits such as creativity, happiness and fulfillment.  As we grow in mindfulness, through reflection, meditation and mindfulness practices we can experience Calmfidence, achieve higher levels of concentration, and be in the zone more often. 

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Rachel Kable – author, podcaster, blogger and mindfulness coach from Victoria in Australia –  recently participated in a podcast interview with Dr. Justin Puder.  In the course of the interview, she explained that when she first started out practising mindfulness in the more formal way of meditating (e.g. focusing on her breath), she had great difficulty and did not like it at all.  At the time she lived very much in the past and the future, not the present.  She would review past performance and prepare to-do lists for future activities to the point where she would lie awake at night, not being able to quiet her mind.  To sit still and focus on the moment was a real challenge and counter-intuitive.

However, Rachel persisted with formal practice because she had heard of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and wanted to experience them for herself and to share them with others.  As she persisted in her more formal efforts, she found that mindfulness practice increased her ability to focus and concentrate, enabled her to sleep more restfully and fully, enhanced her relationships (e.g. through being present to the person speaking and listening actively, not distractedly) and improving her capacity to be creative in her career endeavours.

Rachel also discovered that she could bring mindfulness to everyday life and the things she already did each day, e.g. cleaning the house, washing the dishes, preparing the meal, driving the car, eating her meals, or sitting on her deck (which provided the opportunity for engaging in “natural awareness”, taking in the sounds, sights, and smells already present to her).  Consequently, she decided that the focus of her mindfulness coaching would be on helping people to bring mindfulness to the activities of everyday life.  To this end, she has developed her blog covering things like self-care, meditation techniques, and simple living.  Rachel’s podcast series, which at the time of writing has 322 episodes, provides lots of practical advice on how to be mindful in everyday life, dealing with issues such as challenging emotions, expectations, stress, decision making and negative self-evaluation.

Rachel has also written a book, The Mindful Kind Book, wherein she provides practical advice and tools to manage overwhelm and stress, enjoy life more, improve resilience to handle setbacks and to practise mindfulness as a form of self-care when engaging in everyday activities, including work.  Her interview is one of many conducted by Dr. Justin Puder who has developed the podcast series, Drop In with Dr. J.

Reflection

Tennis is a very important part of my life and my exercise activity and has been since I was in Primary School (about 10 years of age).   Rachel’s podcast interview reminded me that I need to bring mindfulness more to the fore when playing tennis.  I have certainly used reflection-on-action in the past when looking at how I play tennis.  Through reflection, I have become more conscious of the importance of savouring the moment when playing tennis; addressing my “habit loop” (and related reward system) when experiencing blockages to trying out new tennis strokes; being able to constructively manage mistakes when playing social tennis; and identifying the behavioural and cognitive blind spots that are impeding my tennis performance.

I am often conscious of the technical aspects of playing tennis, e.g. keeping your eyes on the ball, preparing for a tennis shot, choosing the right shot, deciding the stance and position to receive a serve, and identifying the gaps in which to play a shot.  I can become more conscious of when my attention strays to what is happening on one of the other eleven occupied courts and bring my attention back to my own tennis game.

What Rachel’s comments remind me to do is to face my emotions in the moment when playing tennis (e.g. anxiety, fear), name them and decide how to manage them – rather than ignore or suppress them.  It also means acknowledging to myself (and challenging) my self-imposed expectations that impede my performance and enjoyment of the game. 

Rachel reminds us that mindfulness can be practised in every aspect of our life, even having lunch.  For me, for example, that means eating my lunch mindfully, savouring the taste, texture and aroma of what I am eating – not processing emails or planning my day as I eat. 

As we grow in mindfulness through formal processes such as meditation, Tai Chi, or yoga, we can more readily bring mindfulness to our everyday life whether that is driving a car in traffic, sitting on our back deck, working in our garden or just taking a walk.  Mindfulness can accompany us wherever we go and whatever we do – if we only let ourselves drop into present moment awareness.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

The Inner Challenge in Aging

The interviewees involved in the Radically Reframing Aging Summit highlighted the inner challenge involved in aging and the need to mind your brain.  Emily Arnhalt, clinical psychologist, focused on mental health and emotional fitness and encouraged the use of “emotional pushups”.  Uma Naidoo, Psychiatrist and specialist in nutrition, highlighted how food affects our mental health and cognition.  Uma is the author of This is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensible Guide to the Surprising Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, Ptsd, Ocd, Adhd, and More.

In her Summit interview, Goldie Hawn demonstrated the passion for creativity and the enthusiasm for life that has permeated the comments of all contributors during the Summit.  Like Tina Turner, Goldie has found mindfulness practices to be a way to overcome her difficulties and mental challenges as she negotiated her life transitions (including aging) and sought purpose in her life. Goldie has moved beyond her acting career and become an author, director, producer and a dedicated advocate for mindfulness for children.  I have previously written about Goldie’s work in creating MindUP – a developmental program for children built on a solid research foundation incorporating neuroscience, mindfulness, positive psychology and social emotional learning.

In his Summit interview, Deepak Chopra, author of more than 90 books including Grow Younger, Live Longer, reiterated the importance of looking after your brain as you age.  He suggested that one of the major challenges in aging is to overcome “the hypnosis of social conditioning” which prevents us from realising our potential and living the life we truly desire.  Deepak has established The Longevity Experiment through his Chopra Foundation.

Two very stimulating interviewees were Dr. Martha Beck and Jim Kwik who highlighted the role of play and creativity in developing, sustaining and enriching the mind (at any age).  Martha was described by the host, Maria Shriver, as the most creative person she knows.  She is the author of The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self and provides practical steps and exercises to achieve this goal.  In the Summit interview, Martha provided ideas and processes for “reverse aging” and demonstrated the energy and positive mindset that comes from viewing aging with anticipation and readiness to explore new boundaries.  She offers a free, pre-recorded Masterclass on The Five Paths to Your Purpose.

During his Summit interview, Jim Kwik was incredibly enlightening and engaging as his #1 training podcast, Kwik Brain, with 728,000 subscribers, attests.  His articulate and incisive comments displayed his passion for brain development and ongoing brain health throughout life.  Jim is the founder of Kwik Learning which specialises in accelerated reading and learning and enhancing memory and brain performance.  He is the author of Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster and Unlock Your Exceptional Life.

Reflection

There is a lot written about diet and exercise for a healthy body as we age.  Little attention is given to our mind and what we need to do to sustain and develop our mental capacities. The interviewees in this segment of the Summit really brought the mind into focus as a primary area impacting our quality of life as we age.  There is a strong emphasis on the mind-body connection and a constant encouragement to engage in some form of creativity and/or play every day. 

Engaging in mindfulness practices is one way to care for our mind as we age.  As we grow in mindfulness through processes such as Tai Chi, mantra meditations, chanting, reflecting or meditating, we can enhance our attention, develop our brain physically, heighten our capacity for introspection and abstract thought, and gain greater access to our creativity.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

New Perspectives on Aging

Day 1 of the Radically Reframing Aging Summit brought to light many new perspectives on aging, and work, home and city environments that are conducive to a meaningful and enriching life for people as they age.  The four presenters represented people drawn from the fields of academic research and the performing arts.   They were Professor Laura Carstensen, Dan Buettner, Jamie Lee Curtis and Vanessa Williams.   Drawing on their research and personal anecdotes, they strongly reinforced the view expressed by the Convenor, Maria Shriver, that we need to urgently reframe aging because the mainstream view of aging is disabling, denigrating and debilitating.

Laura is professor of Psychology and Public Policy at Stanford University.  She is the author of A Long Bright Future in which she challenges current perceptions of aging and promotes practices and approaches conducive to a long and fulfilling life.  She argues that ageism is everywhere and particularly in the workplace.  She proposes that organisations should readily embrace “age diversity” for the rich mix of talents and experience that it can afford and the demonstrated productivity benefits that ensue.  Laura is the founding Director of the Stanford Center for Longevity which has established The New Map of Life initiative which aims to enable people to live century-long lives that are characterised by cognitive, physical and financial wellbeing and enriched by a strong sense of self-worth, purpose and connectedness while contributing to the greater good of society through their wisdom and experience.

Dan Buettner is a multi-faceted individual, who epitomises the capacity and contribution of people as they age.  He is a producer, author, explorer, award-winning endurance cyclist, journalist, National Geographic Fellow and sought-after public speaker.  He is especially known for his research into super-aging published in his book, The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (2nd edition).  Dan is the Founder of Blue Zones, LLC where he shares his knowledge, research, and lessons learned with individuals, organisations and communities.  His community transformation projects have led to the development of communities across America that enjoy higher productivity, lower healthcare costs and recognition as a great location for living, working and playing. 

In his summit presentation, Dan stressed the importance of a social network as a key element in achieving a long and fulfilling life.  This theme is further developed in a chapter dedicated to this topic in his recent book, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People.  In that chapter, he identifies the desired characteristics of a social network (three or more people)and suggests that a key task in aging is to “curate a social network of healthy, happy friends who care about you.”  He draws on the seminal work of Nicholas A. Christakis to demonstrate the positive contagion that can occur within a social network if the chosen participants support your desired lifestyle as you age.

In the Summit, Jamie Lee Curtis and Vanessa Williams were introduced as “groundbreaking public figures”.  Their achievements as performing artists and authors alone are mind-boggling.  Both have expanded into new arenas in pursuit of creativity and collaboration.  They highlighted the fact that ageing brings with it the potential for freedom and the opportunity to do what you want, unconstrained by other people’s perception of who you are or what you are capable of. They were able to bounce off each other’s ideas as they shared the energy and joy that comes with age, experience, personal strength and a positive vision of what is possible.

Reflection

The Summit provided the opportunity to reflect on what is possible to achieve once you move beyond the debilitating mainstream perception of what aging entails.  The emphasis on freedom and creativity was exhilarating and energising.  Each of the presenters reflected in their own lives and their choices the unlimited potential of aging.

As we grow in mindfulness and develop increasing self-awareness and insight, we can begin to realise the potential of aging and to have the courage to move beyond our own limiting expectations and assumptions and those of others.  

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Savouring Your Subconscious Mind

Paul McCartney in an interview for BBC Radio stated that the melody for the Beatles famous song Yesterday” came to him in a dream.  He literally heard the melody while asleep and when he woke he could not work out where the tune had come from.  He checked with his contacts and friends who had a comprehensive knowledge of songs that had been published and none of them recognised it.  While he had the tune in his head he made up some lyrics so he would not lose the song.  He indicated it was rare for him to use nonsense lyrics to memorise a song but on this occasion, he used the words, “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby….”   

It was a short time later after the dream that he was in Portugal on a car trip which took about three hours that the lyrics started to come to him, “Yesterday, suddenly…”  By the time he had finished the car trip, he had the complete song in terms of melody and lyrics. 

This story of Paul’s experience highlights the power of the subconscious mind, working away below consciousness to solve a problem, complete a song or piece of music, finish an unfinished manuscript or locate a missing object. 

How often have we given up looking for something and found some time later that the item “turns up” when we were not consciously looking for it but doing something else.  Meanwhile, the subconscious mind has created a new significance and a heightened level of awareness for the item so that when you accidently come into contact with the item, you become suddenly, consciously aware that “this is what I was looking for!” – all very amazing.

Reflection

I had been working on my PhD for about five years mentoring a change team in the University of Queensland and co-facilitating an action learning change program, when I got stuck trying to write up the mountains of data I had gathered through workshop processes, observations, submissions and multiple interviews.  At this time, we had planned a family holiday on Stradbroke Island.  It was while we were enjoying a day at Brown Lake on North Stradbroke Island that I had a breakthrough for my thesis,  I was sitting on the shore watching our children play in the shallow part of the lake when a model “came into my head” that integrated my research and insights. 

I had not taken any of my research material with me and was not consciously seeking to solve my writer’s block.   Yet an organisational change model “came to me” that integrated my data, a model for individual motivation at work and the nature of innovation.  I immediately recorded the model using charcoal sticks from a barbecue and pieces of butcher’s paper that I had in my car.   It was only later that I was able to articulate the full meaning of the model and complete my PhD thesis. 

There are times when we need to use sleep, peace and quiet, or stillness and silence to honour our unconscious mind and let it do its work.  I found on another occasion that I had difficulty writing the conclusion to a PhD chapter.  However, like Paul McCartney, it was during a long car trip (again about three hours) that the conclusion “fell out” and I was able to write it down when I reached my destination which was Lismore at the time.

In writing this blog, I will often listen to a podcast, undertake a meditation and/or read an article and make notes.  I will then “sleep on it” and when I wake up the following morning, the structure of a blog post, carved out of my notes, will “come to me”.  Again, it is the subconscious mind at work.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, connecting with nature, experiencing stillness or silence, listening to music, chanting or participating in mantra meditations, we can gain greater access to our subconscious mind and the integrative power and creativity that lies within.  We can continuously savour our subconscious mind through mindfulness practices. 

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Achieving the Benefits of Meditation Through Regular Practice

In his Mindful Monday podcast on the 9th of August, Marvin Belzer emphasised the importance of keeping meditation simple, especially when we are new to meditation – focusing on something that is simple and real such as our breath, ambient sounds, or bodily sensations.  He stressed that this simple focus enables us to experience what is happening now for us and leads to realising the many benefits of meditation such as calmness, clarity and concentration – each of which flows over into other areas of our lives such as family, work, sport and relationships.  He highlighted the need to relax into our meditation, not trying to force specific outcome.  The process of meditation that he described is similar to what I explained previously, though on this occasion there was more time devoted to silent meditation.

In a subsequent podcast on 16th of August, Marvin stressed the need for effort and patience to realise meditation’s benefits – we cannot rush the results.  He maintained that we are not aiming for perfection but need to recognise the nature of the human condition – a realisation that cultivates humility and the acceptance that we have very little control over much of our life.  However, what we can control is our ability to direct our attention – a skill that underpins much of success in life.  Controlling our attention is “doable” if we make the effort of regular meditation practice.  Marvin suggests that what helps here is humour as we recognise the frailty of our ability to concentrate for any sustained period of time without distractions.

The benefits of regular meditation practice

While sustained meditation practice can be difficult, the benefits that accrue are worth the effort and persistence involved.  These benefits include:

  • Creativity – we can develop creative solutions to our everyday problems and realise creativity in our work life.  Creativity is cultivated in an environment of stillness and silence – an environment where our mind is uncluttered and we are not overwhelmed by challenging emotions.
  • Clarity – meditation helps us to clear our minds and open ourselves to self-awareness and to insights into what we bring to a situation.  It also throws light on our life purpose – how we can utilise our life experience, skills, knowledge and values to create a better world, whether locally or globally.
  • Resilience – as we become more grounded through meditation, we can bounce back quicker and easier from setbacks and disappointments.  Meditation builds resilience because it helps us to clear false beliefs, regain perspective and overcome “emotional inflammation” that is prevalent in these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Calmness and equanimity – as we become more grounded in our breath which is always with us while we are alive, we can experience calmness and face the vicissitudes of life with equanimity.  We can use symbolic actions, such as joining our fingers, at any time during the day to recapture this sense of calm and stability.
  • Compassion – as we come to accept our own frailty in the face of life’s challenges, we can become more empathetic towards others and more motivated to take compassionate action to alleviate the pain and suffering of others.

Reflection

Meditation requires effort but multiple benefits accrue if we can sustain regular practice.  If we are not too hard on ourselves – not seeking perfection in meditation practice – we can more readily sustain the motivation to undertake regular practice, no matter how boring the process may feel at times.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can become more tolerant of ourselves and others, appreciate our life and live it more fully.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

The Dark Clouds of Expectations

Expectations, our own or that of others, can be good.  They help us to extend ourselves, go beyond our comfort zone and realise our potential in the various endeavours of our life.  However, when expectations become too great, they can be disabling and damaging to our physical and mental health.  Excessive expectations can lead to unhealthy levels of stress and the attendant negative impacts on our bodies and minds.

Previously, I discussed the tyranny of expectations, drawing on a blog post by Phillip Moffitt, author of Emotional Chaos to Clarity.  In this post, I want to focus on the disabling effects of expectations when expectations become too great.  Recent events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is the catalyst for this reflection.

Impact of excessive expectations on elite athletes

During the Tokyo Olympics what struck me was the number of elite athletes whose performance was adversely affected by excessive expectations, their own and that of others.  An athlete who readily comes to mind is Ash Barty.

Ash Barty, world No. 1 tennis player, was beaten in the first round of the Olympic women’s singles by world No.48, Sara Sorribes Tormo.  The straight sets loss created a media storm.  Barty commented after the match that “she wanted to do really well” at the Olympics but her game was “too erratic” – she made an uncharacteristic 55 unforced errors.  The expectations of others around Barty’s performance prior to the Olympics constantly made headlines in the press – she was  Australia’s only  guaranteed gold medal hope and would meet Osaka in a classic final that would decide who was the real world No.1 tennis player.  Barty admitted after the match that she felt the stress of expectations but did not perform at her normal best. 

What was interesting as an observer, was her failure to demonstrate her normal trade-mark skill of being able to assess an opponent’s strategy and adjust her own game if things were not going well.  As Phillip Moffit points out in his book, excessive expectations can lead to “emotional chaos” at the expense of clarity – the resultant excessive stress can lead to “frazzle”, a state of conflicting thoughts and emotions, blocking out access to personal creativity in the situation. 

Ben Crowe, Barty’s mentor and performance coach, makes the point that one of Barty’s great strengths is her capacity to block out distractions which can take the form of expectations, who is watching the match or any multitude of things that draw attention away from the present moment.  Ben sees his job in part as helping Barty to manage distractions and he gives her feedback after a match about his observations of how she has handled distractions during a match (drawing on both displayed non-verbal behaviour and performance level).  He stated that one of her “superpowers” is to be able “to separate self-worth from expectations of others”.

As Ben explained, you have no control over the expectations of others and limited control over outcomes.  So many things can impact the outcome such as the excessive heat during the Tokyo Olympic tennis matches, the absence of spectators, anxiety about the pandemic and its impacts or personal weariness, ill-health or injuries.  Ben observed that being able to separate your own sense of personal worth from outcomes enables you to separate goals/dreams from whether or not you achieve them.  He explained that Barty’s sense of her own self-worth is rooted in her foundational values of “being a good human being” who is both respectful and respected.  He maintains that her healthy self-confidence flows from a focus on “human-being” over “human-doing” – the being vs doing focus that is prominent in mindfulness.

Reflection

If we define ourselves by our outcomes in whatever arena we operate, we will be captured by the “tyranny of expectations” – our own and that of others. However, if we focus on the process rather than the outcomes and express gratitude for what we have and can do, we are less likely to be caught up in the distraction and disablement of expectations.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection and other mindfulness activity, we can become better at paying attention in the present moment, achieve greater clarity about the present situation (however challenging it might be) and tap into our inner resources including our creativity.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness and Creativity in Our Life’s Work

In a recent presentation for The Contemplative Care Summit, Seth Godin spoke about, Mindfulness & Creativity at Work.  He stressed the importance of being mindful about self-talk and taking intentional action if we are to be creative in our life’s work.  Seth writes a daily post for his creative blog which he has been writing for more than a decade.  He is the author of 20 world-wide best-selling books such as The Practice which is about creative work.  He is also the initiator of many creative projects.  You can find his videos on YouTube, including his five TED Talks.

Self-talk: a barrier to creativity

Seth has previously written about what he calls “the lizard brain” – the amygdala, the part of the brain driven by fear.  He maintains that this is behind our negative self-talk and  can be disabling if we let it control our thoughts.  He challenges the myth of “writer’s block” and suggests that it is a blockage in our thinking created by our fear and perpetuated by self-stories.  He suggests, like one of my early mentors, that a way forward is to write, write, write.  Eventually, our not-so-good writing becomes good and then great – especially if we have a constructive, critical friend who is commenting on our writing out of understanding, comprehension, and good will, not out of ignorance or inanity.

Creative people such as Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, speak extensively about how fear and self-talk can block our creative genius.  Clare Bowditch – singer, songwriter, and author of Your Own Kind of Girl – describes in detail (in this autobiography), the power and pervasiveness of our inner critic.  Worrying about whether our creation, our work, our project, our song/performance or our presentation will be “good enough” sets in train a series of self-stories that can lead to procrastination.  Tara Brach offers the R.A.I.N. meditation – incorporating the steps of recognise, accept, investigate and nurture – as a compassionate way to deal with our self-generated critic.

Seth talks extensively about a specific fear, the “fear of failure”. We tend to catastrophize the outcomes if something “goes wrong” or “does not work out”.   He points out, however, that we do not have control over the outcomes and focusing solely on them leads to inertia and stifling of creative endeavour.  Seth maintains that “failure” and creativity go hand-in-hand and he talks about his many failures. He argues that if you are doing something that you have never done before or that has not been done by anyone else, then the chances of failure are always present – this uncertainty about outcomes defines the essence of creativity and we capture this in our language, “going out on a limb”, “going outside our comfort zone”, “leaping into the unknown” or “exploring new terrain”.

Seth suggests that we need to stay in the present moment and enjoy the process of creating something new – of bringing our creation into the world for the benefit of others.  Focusing on process in a mindful way creates freedom from fear, space to explore and openness to new ideas.  He also argues that we can overcome the nagging concern that we are an “imposter” (posing as a good writer, performer or facilitator) by accepting that you will act as an imposter if you are being creative – you are taking action with uncertain outcomes, you cannot guarantee success, and you are hoping that it will “turn our well” without any “iron-clad guarantee” that it will do so.

Intentional action

Intention provides the impetus to initiate and sustain creative action. Diana Winston offers a meditation process to help us to bring mindfulness to our motivations and intentions so that we can achieve clarity of purpose, align our energy and strengthen our motivation in the face of obstacles.  Leo Babauta offers a three-step process, incorporating clarifying intentions, that  we can use to start doing the meaningful work that we have been avoiding.  He also offers a daily practice to overcome the avoidance that we experience when confronted with difficult tasks.

Ricardo Semler, entrepreneur and author provides a more fundamental approach to access our underlying intentions.  He suggests that we ask our selves “why” three times to get to the fundamental question, “What am I doing this for?”  Unfortunately, our busyness becomes the greatest impediment to accessing our creativity and opening our selves to wisdom, clarity, and fulfillment.  Taking time to be still and revisit our intentions can enable us to achieve alignment with our overall life purpose and access the resonance that this alignment brings.  We can then begin to experience inspiration and intuition – the seeds of creativity.

Reflection

To fully access our creativity, we need to be aware of our negative self-stories, our fear of failure, and our imposter concerns.  By not facing up to the self-critic and the “lizard brain”, we can numb ourselves into inaction and procrastination.   As we grow in mindfulness, through meditation, reflection, and reframing, we can increase our self-awareness, develop self-compassion to deal with our negative thoughts and bring intention and alignment to our creative actions.  The stillness and silence of mindfulness meditation acts an “incubator” for creativity and innovation.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Exploring Healing and Creativity through Music and Nature Imagery

Louie Schwartzberg, time-lapse photographer and filmmaker, in a recent Wonder and Awe podcast, interviewed Lindsey Stirling, internationally famous songwriter, violinist and dancer.  They explored the role of music and nature imagery in self-healing and in stimulating energy and creativity.  Louie and Lindsey have collaborated on a number of projects, including The Big Sur – shown during the podcast interview and featured in Louie’s Moving Art video on Netflix. They identified one key aspect that their individual artistry has in common – Lindsey’s classical music and videos and Louie’s nature photography and videos – both have no words.  They pointed out that in a world of information overload they offer inspiration, a personal emotional journey, self-awareness, and self-healing.   Lyrics, in contrast, can take us down the track of the thoughts and emotions portrayed by the creator.

Healing from grief through music

Lindsey spoke of her grief with the loss of her father and her best friend in the one year, and how she turned to music as a form of self-therapy to deal with her sense of loss and associated grief.  Her album, Brave Enough, enabled her to pour out her grief and to be “brave enough” to feel the intensity of her difficult emotions.  She said that every song on the album was inspired by her feelings of grief and loss.  In her reflection on the loss through Lymphoma, of her keyboard player and best friend, Jason Gaviati, she indicated that the true path to success is being able to “rise from failure”, time and time again.  She stated that her album and related Brave enough tour were about “the courage to feel, to feel everything”.

She wrote the instrumental song Guardian which highlights the way her own grief became transformed into connection.  Working with Mako, she was able to hear the words that expressed her grief in a song called, Lose You Now.  She wanted this music to be light and conducive to reminiscing (e.g., the Monarch butterfly represented her friend Jason) while building hope for the future, despite the sadness of the past.   Louie commended her for her inner strength and ability to manage the challenges of “the journey of life” with all its waves and vicissitudes.

Bouncing back from setbacks and failure

Lindsey Stirling was buzzed off by Piers Morgan during the quarter-finals of America’s Got Talent and was rejected by the judges who variously said she was “not good enough”, “would not fill a concert hall in Las Vegas” and was “not a world-class violinist”.  All of which made her work harder at both her music and her dancing.  Lindsey’s accomplishments since then are mind-boggling.  By 2017, she had 600 Million views of her music/dance videos on her YouTube Channel and, at time of writing, this number has grown to 3 Billion views of her 100 videos.  She made history with her 5 top-selling albums and filled concert halls everywhere (her “Brave Enough tour” involved 83 concerts in 20 countries).  Also, Lindsey and her dancing partner were second on Season 25 (2017) of Dancing With The  Stars (DWTS). As she has proven in her own life, “bouncing back” from setbacks is an essential element in her success.

Parents as models and inspiration

When asked by Louie how she had developed her passion for music, dance and storytelling in song, Lindsey maintained that her earliest influences were her parents who exposed her to the arts, especially classical music.  Her mother was creative in her sewing endeavours, a skill that Lindsey also shared, while her father’s creativity was expressed through writing stories that he often read to her.  Lindsey identified her storytelling as her “greatest gift”.

Gratitude in the midst of loss and pain

Lindsey tells the story of how painful it was to be at the bedside as she and her sister watched her father die of cancer.  In those moments of extreme sadness, they found the inspiration and energy to tell each other stories of their childhood memories of being with their father.  Amidst the tears and pain, she felt an intense sense of gratitude for having had such a life together and a rich store of  wonderful memories.  

This experience was replicated when she took on the challenging task of dancing and playing the violin while hanging from her hair to create the video for the song, Crystallize.  The excruciatingly painful training over three months for this achievement has been  recorded in her Hair Hanging Vlog.  Despite the pain, Lindsey was able to feel gratitude for the feelings of beauty and power that the final performance engendered in her.  Her basic message is that we are all capable of what at first seems impossible because we have achieved hard things before.    She reiterated that “courage and faith can be found through the fear”  and that “gratitude can be discovered by our losses”.

Developing resilience through gratitude

Louie observed that research has demonstrated that gratitude develops resilience.  He maintained that if your mind is filled with thoughts of gratitude, there is no room for negative thoughts.  Both Lindsey and Louie agreed that if you focus on what you have, rather than what you do not have, you are healing yourself, building your energy and opening yourself to creativity.  As Louie stated, “If every experience is a gift, then your only attitude is gratitude”.   As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, “we become what we focus on”.   Lindsey illustrates this idea through her practice of writing in a gratitude journal each morning and night.  She maintained that this practice that started as a chore is now something she looks forward to and enables her to frequently be grateful in the moment.

Lindsey noted that while being able to play the violin, write songs and dance are gifts in themselves, her special gift that she realizes when performing is an “intense connection” with people in her audience as she looks into their eyes while performing.  For her, this is a special place where she sees the beauty in everyone and is consumed with love.

Lindsey has established the Upside Fund to provide financial assistance to people experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic.  She started this fund, which accepts donations, after her father died in hospital and she began each Christmas to pay the hospital medical bills of 10 people.  The name of the fund is based on the idea that we can each “lift where stand” – we are each in a unique position to contribute to the welfare of others based on our life circumstances, location, and the gifts that we are grateful for.  Lindsey particularly works through her fan base to build the fund and support people in need.

Mindfulness, music, nature, and dance

I have previously explored the relationship between mindfulness and playing a musical instrument.  Lindsey stated that when she plays the violin for herself (not for her work) she finds it meditative.  She is completely in the moment when she dances and particularly when she is doing so in nature.

Louie as an “action man” is not a practitioner of formal meditation – he experiences his mindfulness through immersion in nature which he contends increases his capacity for “courage, creativity, kindness and compassion”.

Both Louie and Lindsey suggest that to be more mindful and focused on the moment that we should not be obsessed with the end goal but experience the process fully, whether it is playing an instrument, learning a dance, taking time-lapse photography, or developing a video.  Louie stated that after 40 years of time-lapse photography, he has only a total of 16 hours of high-quality film – he indicated that a day’s work would typically produce 2 seconds of useful film.  To him the process of observing and photographing the beauty of nature is what brings him joy, healing, and happiness.  He can walk in nature when not filming and notice the quality of light and how it reflects on plants and flowers.  He can walk mindfully in nature, engaging all his senses.

Louie articulated his belief that nature cultivates gratitude and mindfulness when he presented a Ted Talk on the theme, Nature, Beauty, and Gratitude, which featured his movie titled Gratitude that incorporated his time-lapse photography and his fundamental belief about the need to be grateful for everything in life.

Reflection

Nature stimulates reflection, healing, energy, gratitude, and creativity.  Music and dance, in their many forms, can have similar outcomes.  We have a choice in terms of how we spend our time and what we consume mentally and emotionally.  We can grow in mindfulness and enjoy all its benefits through exposure to nature, music and dance or we can become overwhelmed by information and the news and the negativity that they often engender.

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Image by sun liming from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Developing Wonder and Awe through Nature and Music

Louie Schwartzberg – author, time-lapse photographer, cinematographer, producer, and director – has developed a series of podcasts that bring science and nature together in a very personal way and opens our minds and hearts to nature’s beauty and power.  His podcast series titled Wonder and Awe is available on his website, Spotify, and iTunes. 

I first came across Louie Schwartzberg in 2016 when I heard his stunning TED Talk on Nature, Beauty, and Gratitude which featured his movie Gratitude.  I was inspired by Louie’s capacity to engender wonder and awe through time-lapse photography of nature.  He maintained that nature cultivates gratitude and mindfulness.  Louie’s website, Moving Art, has a collection of his movies, mindfulness-based blog posts and other resources designed to develop appreciation of the beauty and invaluable resource that nature provides.  You can view his videos that depict emotional states that are developed as we grow in mindfulness, e.g., courage, forgiveness, connection, patience, creativity, happiness, and gratitude.  Louie argues that being fully present in nature can be healing and life changing.

Music and nature – developing wonder, awe, healing, and creativity

In a recent Wonder and Awe podcast Louie interviewed Lisbeth Scott – singer, composer, and songwriter – who is famous for her musical scores for movies such as Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia as well as her singing and song writing featured on Spotify.  In the far-ranging and enlightening interview Louie explored Lisbeth’s musical inspiration, her composition techniques and the exceptional breadth and depth of her musical knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity. 

During the interview, Louie shared snippets of music compositions by Lisbeth, including music that they collaborated on such as the soundtrack for his film on Machu Picchu, one of his many films featured on the Netflix series, Moving Art, which is now in Season 3.

They discussed the healing power of music and its ability to release emotions and transport people into a world of wonder, awe, and joy.  Lisbeth mentioned that she is inspired not only by nature itself, but also by images of nature, other images, and conversations – as she hears it all as music playing it in her head.  In her compositions she attempts to track the visuals with matching music “to take people on a journey”.  Both Lisbeth and Louie agreed that the creative process at some stage involves “letting go” – letting inspiration and intuition take over.

Lisbeth thought as a child that she could not sing – in fact, she used to hide in a cupboard to sing.  Her rich and adaptive vocal capacity was discovered by a friend and was influential in her being engaged By Hans Zimmer to provide the vocals for a movie – and her music career and her association with movies began at that point.  As Chris James points out we are all born with a musical instrument – our bodies as natural resonators – and a beautiful voice that needs to be uncovered and discovered.

Reflection

The power of nature and music to generate wonder and awe is enhanced when two people of the calibre of Lisbeth and Louie collaborate – a world famous composer and musician collaborating with the creative genius of an outstanding time-lapse photographer and filmmaker.  Both sought out nature and its unique sounds, such as the sounds of river water, as children.  Louie contends that his own intimacy with nature has convinced him that “immersion in nature increases our capacity for courage, creativity, kindness and compassion”.

Nature and music can enable us to grow in mindfulness and enrich our lives in every dimension. Lisbeth and Louie provide the medium for us to experience nature and music in a uniquely integrated way. 

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Image by Susann Mielke from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.