Priming the Pump for Inspiration

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Over the past few months, I’ve felt frustrated. I love writing. It’s like dancing for my soul. Yet, when I sit to write only a stray sentence or two comes and nothing else.

I became interested in this phenomenon. What was the cause of what is commonly called “writer’s block”? As my frustration grew, I sat less often to write. I felt despair that I would be able to get back in the groove, so to speak.

I read my past writings. Some were good, and I wondered who wrote them and my frustration increased. I would sit quietly early in the morning and make sure I didn’t have distractions. Nothing changed. A few sentences came and that’s it.

One day I picked up a book of poetry by Billy Collins. I was grilling hamburgers and wanted to read between turning the burgers. As I read, my mind felt freed. Ideas came flowing and the apparent blockage was gone.

The next day, I continued the practice of reading what inspired me and left me with questions. Boom. Ideas flowed and the blockage wasn’t there. As I thought about this, I realized that my mind had gotten into a rut so to speak. Busy doing stuff and little or no time to disconnect and allow the creative flow.

I wondered if this isn’t at the root of all creative blockages. We get caught up in the rhythm of life. The getting up, going to work, coming home and going to bed routine that becomes all life is. This routine gets more and more entrenched, and creativity ebbs until it’s mostly gone.

The way out is to stop. Find out what inspires you. Could be seeing a movie; walking in the woods; gazing at a sunset; a fine meal. Whatever it is, approach it outside your routine. Make the time to fully enjoy the experience. I don’t claim that my realization is universal or will help you. What I do know is that it is right for me and may help someone else reading this. If it does, let me know.

What bugs you, may unburden your soul

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If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?
– Rumi

One of my biggest challenges is a dance with anger or its father, irritation. When I look outside myself and see what I don’t like, I feel an irritation. When I ask someone to do something that I want and they don’t, I feel irritation that often bubbles quickly into anger. When something I expect to happen doesn’t. I am annoyed.

This morning, I was thinking about the limitation of irritation in my life. As I did, the Rumi saying above appeared. Reflecting, I realized irritation was a way for me to strike back at my discomfort. I want to bend whatever is bothering me to my will. This reaction has been part of my life experience so long it is automatic.

Rumi’s words remind me of a quality that I admire in others who plumb the depths of their fields of endeavor. I was reading a story about Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the math world’s most prestigious award, the Fields Medal. This story explored her life and passion for math. She approached each unknown as a world to be discovered. She entered these journeys of discovery knowing that when it was complete her understanding of the problem she was considering would be far different than when she began and it excited her.

The unbridled commitment to exploration without holding on a fixed outcome is my opportunity as well. I can enter a committed exploration of what is at the root of my irritation with a knowing that my discoveries will enlighten and perhaps surprise me. What is absolutely true is that my “status quo” will be disturbed and that is always uncomfortable and good.

So off I go.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

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There was a moment when I realized that the end of my life was getting closer. I’m not afraid of dying or that the time is shorter than I realized. It’s just sobering to know, with absolute certainty, the end of coming at full speed.

I look around and wonder, what would I be doing right now if say, I found out I have 3 months to live. Of course, I would be acting differently than I do today. I would make sure I said goodbye to my children and wife. I would seek out friends and teachers and thank them for all the gifts they shared.

Each morning would be a gift that I would appreciate for its preciousness. Each interaction would be treasured because it could be my last with that person.

An interesting question, I have is, “so what keeps me from having this experience of preciousness right now?” Is there some special signal I’m waiting for, like a doctor’s prognosis, before I treat my day as a gift?

The answer I have is hilarious. I’m afraid to change my status quo if I don’t have to. While I’m living without the fullness of being present in each moment, I’m choosing to be stuck until a stick of dynamite is lite and the fuse is burning quickly down.

I write this note because one of my great joys is writing. I love to write, as I am here, from my heart. Write because I feel alive when I do. Write, because it is who I am.

So without the death sentence being presented by someone else, I grasp this moment and write. Write for myself and if you find it valuable you as well. Write as if my life depends upon it, because a life of being present does.

I will continue to bring my heart and soul to these pages and share that with you.

What’s your limitation?

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A few years ago, I was approached by someone in my community with a familiar request. “My business isn’t what I want it to be,” he said. “I’m not making the money I want, and I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?”

I thought about his request for a few days and said, I was available to see what I could do to help. He said he’d get back to me about a time to start. Two years passed and not another word.

A few weeks ago, he raised his hand, so to speak, and said he is now ready to do whatever it takes to get his business where he needs it. We met for coffee. I shared my observations of what was holding him back. He enthusiastically agreed that the observations were “right on” and said,  “Let’s get started”.

We set up a time to begin and some “homework” for him to do in the interim so our time together would be productive.

Today was the day of our first meeting. It didn’t happen. Other priorities arose and he has suggested we meet sometime later.

This story is like so many that I encounter. We all want the most out of our lives. We want the best relationships. The most fulfilling work. We desire absolute abundance. Then we experience something that’s less. Why?

At the heart of the matter are beliefs that confuse and obscure our way. We think we can’t or should have all we desire. We settle for something that we don’t really want. Then, maybe when the despair of some other pain is unbearable, we say, “Enough”. We are ready to do what it takes to change what we don’t like about our lives. We take a few steps and something distracts us and the cycle continues.

I’ve had this type of distraction too. I know what’s up. I have settled. Then there is a spark of difference. Something that appears IMPOSSIBLE happens. I’m reminded that the there are no limitations and I endeavor, right now, to remember that the seemingly impossible is possible and it can be true for everything else in my life.

Dissapointment and the Jack in the Box

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I was watching a child crank the handle on a Jack in the Box. He was lost in the Pops go the Weasel music. At the point we all know, Jack erupts from the box and the child lets out an exclamation of surprise. The child immediately puts Jack back into the box and begins cranking again. This went on for almost a half hour.

It stuck me that this childhood experience is recreated day after day in most of our lives. I think of a particular situation in my life. I have a colleague who promises to support a project that is very important to me. Every time it’s time for this person to act they don’t do what they promise.

Their behavior is consistent and clear. Yet, I continue to want them to do something different. I want them to honor what they promises and every time they don’t I act surprised. So I’m not much different than the child with the Jack in the Box.

Simple, right? Yes and a life spent in being hopeful that others would do what they say, no matter what their actual behavior is, plays itself out once again. I am the person who is the author of my disappointment, not my colleague. They are as predictable as I am.

I can change my experience by accepting what’s true and acting from that reality. When I choose to do this, my disappointment disappears. The choice is now mine and not that of someone else and that’s real power.

What did You Say?

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Do you have the tendency, when you hear someone telling you something they have already shared, to speak or at least think, “ You already told me that”? I do. Last Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were exploring the back roads of our area. She was telling me a story about someone we knew and my response to her was, “You already mentioned that to me.”

In a flash, I realized couple of things were happening. I mentally noted that I knew what she was going to say and I stopped listening to my wife about half way through her story. Not so good, if I’m committed to having a great relationship with her. In fact, this type of “checking out” isn’t a very useful approach whether the person I’m talking to is my wife, friend, co-worker or customer. In all cases, I am not “listening” to the person so I have disconnected from them. I’m sure they realize that I’m not present.

We are so polite in our culture that we don’t ask, “Were you thinking of something else?” when we sense someone we are talking to checks out. Without this feedback, we are often unaware of the impact of our habit of shutting down our listening.

We also deny ourselves a clearer understanding of what they are communicating. We have decided that hearing something one time is the same as full understanding. I know I feel this way at times, yet it can’t be true.

When I’m not fully listening to someone, I have a number of other things going on. I might be thinking about how to respond. I might be thinking what they are saying is either stupid or great and get lost in those assessments. I might just be thinking about dinner. Whatever is going on, it’s unlikely that I really heard everything they were saying.

Why not listen again? Maybe I’ll learn something that allows me to connect with them in a more meaningful way. Maybe I can find out how to be of true service to them, rather than wondering how this conversation is going to benefit me. Maybe I’ll just show them some respect.

So when you think that someone is about to repeat a story you believe you already know, consider how you can connect with them more sincerely and how you just might learn something of great value, both to you and them.

Thomas

Beware of leaping off the cliff

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First, a reminder- I’m writing this blog for myself. I’m a continuous work in progress, and I use this blog as a place to help me sort things out. Even when I occasionally write in the third person, what I’m writing about is something that is in my face and calling for my attention.

Do you ever notice how quickly you leap into something with no consideration for the purpose of your engagement? You may say, “Not me, I’m very cautious”, but as I consider this phenomenon in me and those I know, I have the feeling it’s something that is part of all our lives.

Say I’m walking in the mountains and I’m in the midst of the most beautiful sights imaginable, I can be distracted by a passing thought that has no linkage to what I’m doing right now. More practically, I‘m writing at my computer and a random thought appears. Maybe I wonder about what’s happening with an old friend, or what the weather will be like tomorrow. Whatever the distraction, I immediately leave what I’m writing and Google the area of inquiry.

This non-deliberate distraction is what I’m calling jumping off the cliff. Instead of walking along the path that I’ve laid out for myself, I jump off the cliff into thoughts or activities that don’t have any purpose except to scratch the itch, so to speak, of a random thought.

A word of caution about what I mean by “walking along the path I’ve laid out for myself”. I’m not referring to blindly following a plan set down in the past. I’m talking about the deliberateness of this moment. It’s like deciding I’m going to walk from the living room to the kitchen so I can pour a glass of wine. Sometime after arising from the couch, and before I arrive at the refrigerator, I’ve forgotten why I’m in the kitchen. My attention was placed on random thoughts that arose, and by engaging them, I have now forgotten my path.

Today, I’m going to pay attention to the distractions that take me off the path. Each time I have chosen to focus, I have a calmer, more fulfilling day.

Thomas

P.S. I did not follow a few thoughts to find out what emails I have as I was writing this. You know what?  They are still there now, and the world didn’t dissolve because I chose to finishing writing rather than switch to my email. Imagine!!