Between a rock-paper-scissors and a hard place: on writing, performance anxiety, and winning!

We writers can get pretty weird about our work. Depressed. Anxious. Neurotic. Self-obsessed. Hysterical, even.

If writers had enough money for therapy, the mental health field would be booming. But instead what we have is an entire readers market dedicated to writers who write about writing and the struggles we writers face.

Ours aren’t your normal professional struggles. You’ve never seen your plumber or retail manager having a nervous breakdown about a deadline or a line that wouldn’t scan. Lawyers don’t wake up and go, “Maybe I should get out of these pajamas and get a real job?” And no one other than a writer really understands. It’s just part and parcel of the gig.

My students at the community college think I’m nuts because I’ve given myself life-long writing assignments, often with little or no pay. Like this blog here that I ‘m writing at nearly 11 pm on a weeknight after I spent the whole day writing to finish up a year-long project, my Practical Magic for Writers book.

Before I even turned in my final grades and declared school out for the summer, I’d taken on another deadline: Write Club, a head-to-head writing competition that is billed as literary bloodsport. There are chapters in Chicago (where it started), Atlanta, and here in Los Angeles. Basically: Two writers. Two opposing ideas. Seven minutes.

Marya Write Club
Marya Summers defending “Overt” at Write Club Los Angeles, the Bootleg Theater

Contestants get a week. I was assigned “Overt” and my opponent, “Covert.”

In a nutshell it was a crazy week: I sat for full days with a lap top heating my thighs. I wrote decent poetry, then terrible prose, and finally decided to stick with poetry.  A day before the competition, I only had a solid 2 minutes of stuff I liked. Writing five more minutes of poetry – good poetry — in just the space of two days? When I hadn’t written a poem in like a dozen years? Um, hella hard.

The night before the competition, I sat in my meditation group with anxiety so intense that I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a giant rock was sitting on my chest and like I needed to run for a very long time. The next day, the day of the main event, I got up early and took the run my body craved, though I hadn’t run in months, and then I wrote some more. The anxiety wouldn’t let go. Nothing I did would shake it. I kept lowering the stakes:

1) It doesn’t have to be a good poem, just the best you can do.
2) It doesn’t have to be your best, you just have to have something finished.
3) It doesn’t have to be finished, just read what you have and have fun.

But the anxiety wouldn’t let go no matter what I told myself. Even while I was trying to have fun. It didn’t soften until I got on stage. Stage fright has got nothing on real anxiety — in the face of the former, the latter wasn’t even noticeable. The anxiety evaporated somewhere in the stage lights, I think. Just like that.

And then I won.

Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory
The hard-earned Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory

The moral of the story isn’t “anxiety = winning.” Not at all.

The point isn’t “anxiety = pointless, so why am I so silly?” either.

My point here is that anxiety is something that I’ve learned that I just have to live with sometimes; writing and performing have seldom been comfortable for me. Facts are, it’d be nice, but I don’t write to be comfortable. I write because I have to. It’s who I am. Sometimes being me is pretty fabulous, and someone gives me a trophy or a paycheck for it.

You know how beauty queens and glamour girls say, “You have to suffer to be beautiful?” I think what they are saying is about perseverance – that sometimes things are really uncomfortable. Whether it’s a girdle or performance anxiety, it’s hard to breathe, but you tough it out anyway.

Writing is hard. For me. For lots of writers. For those who say it comes easily, well, I really can’t say I like them much. Nor do I trust them. I think they are probably lying.

But what we have, friend, is intestinal fortitude. It’s a Fire Element quality — much like anxiety, which is also the result of excessive Fire energy — that I discuss in my workshops and book Practical Magic for Writers, which will be finished this summer.

Summer: the season of fiery solar energy! What better time to summon our inner creative warrior? Have writing anxiety or need some other writing help? Hit me up. Seriously. I luuuuuvvvvv to help.

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Even undiscovered talent should “Use Your ‘Oprah Effect’”

Diane Burroughs
Diane Burroughs looking sassy

I’m re-blogging some fantastic creative advice from Diane Burroughs, a writer and producer with credits that include Married With Children, Murphy Brown, Martin, The Drew Carey Show, Yes, Dear, and Still Standing. Diane says each of us should use our “Oprah-effect,” which is to say we should empower ourselves by seeing ourselves as a cover girl, spokesperson, and star of our lives.

Sound like classic self-centered narcissism?

Well, it’s not if you’re used to putting yourself and your needs last or if you are unaccustomed to seeing the best parts of your life, especially when you’ve experienced a set back or difficulty, and how you can serve and inspire others.

Like me, Diane found herself getting a new start in midlife. And that ain’t easy stuff. The difficulty of starting over can make us feel like we have little to offer. When I met Diane after we’d both attended an all woman improv show in Culver City in January, she had already begun using her own Oprah effect. She told me then about her new project, Left at 50, which capitalizes on her difficult experience of being dumped by her life partner when she hit the big FIVE-OH.

Hemarya-magazine-feb11r blog’s target audience may be other middle-aged women who have been dumped, but it has great advice for humans of all kinds who need inspiration and self-confidence. Just one of the great gifts Diane’s story offered me is that I’ve been telling myself is a big fat lie — that I’m single because I haven’t accomplished enough. I mean, Diane’s got some impressive writing credits and she’s single, so… Yeah, not gonna beat up on  myself like that anymore. Feeling like a loser definitely doesn’t do much to inspire creativity. That’s for sure.

I have to say, I took her “Use Your Oprah Effect” blog a bit literally; I got a sketch book and a pencil out and drew a magazine cover for “Marya Magazine.”

This is the most fun I’ve had taking advice that I can remember. Hey, why let my grade-school level drawing skills stop me!?

Diane’s post not only got me to picture myself as a badass chick toting a duffel bag, wielding a mic and hiking her skirt just for funsies, it got me thinking about all I’d accomplished in just one month :  I’d flown back to Florida and hosted the memorial poetry slam I’d put together for a friend who had died and in the same month, on a whim, I’d put together a Dream Writing Workshop: Discover Inner Wisdom and Creative Gold  webinar.

Marya Summers on the mic at Dada
Marya Summers as a real life badass

With all the visualizing Diane had me doing, I realized I was envisioning the magazine’s cover teaser blurbs as I identified the experiences I’d had and learned from. (They are currently still being planned out and in rough form.) Ultimately, these can provide me with ideas for articles and poems.

Another thing Diane’s post did for me: it made me keenly aware of the importance of surrounding myself with creative, insightful people like Diane who are committed to being their best selves. Their muse seems to make my own a little more attentive, and I get deeper, juicier work.

CHECK OUT DIANE BURROUGH’S BLOG POST HERE and get inspired yourself!

“The “Oprah Effect”. That is actually a term. Because if Oprah endorses something, people buy it. Remember when Oprah started her magazine and she was…

Source: Use Your “Oprah Effect”

Fishing for creativity in an ocean of mind

So many times I’ve heard the “essay in my head” or the “poem in my head,” the words effortless and organically stringing themselves together, the ideas and the cadences apt. Perfectly so. The ideas and words just flow in my mind, a perfect spontaneous composition.

Then I grab a pen to capture the stream of word-tumble feeling-thought, so I can claim, publish, own this exquisite expressionBut the ideas just sort of land on the page without the same life in them, without the same depth or beauty.

I remember pulling a fish from the Atlantic ocean — the fish’s other-worldly iridescence, the powerful aliveness of muscular swish-jerk from its center. And then, later, how it just lay there — limp, cold, and grey.

fishing-islamorada-2-LThat’s how it feels so often after trying to get down the composition in my head and put it on the page. So often, it feels like that fish that does not want to be pulled from its boundless, buoyant element.

The imagination is an ocean — all potential. When we conceive a creation in our minds, it is limitless, lovely and perfect.  But when we manifest it, we bring it down from the realm of the mind (thought) into the world of the body (senses). As the abstract becomes concrete, the infinite becomes finite. Embodying, grounding, manifesting: these mean limitation.

I have to come back to this principle time and again. To remember that my willingness to create must co-exist with an acceptance of imperfection. That my desire to have and to hold what I have imagined may come at the cost. But, oh, how delicious those inspirations can be when they are lovingly prepared.

Get my FREE GUIDE to overcoming obstacles so that you get moving and get your writing project done.

 

And there I was talking to a tree

I’ve never thought of myself as a tree hugger. I mean, I love nature. I enjoy sailing, hiking, sunbathing, kayaking, and bike riding. I’ve even done some protesting of GMOs.

But I know people deeply committed to eco-preservation. These people chain themselves to trees or to each other and block destruction of the environment, like the Everglades, enduring heat, injury, and dehydration, until the authorities eventually haul them away to jail. I deeply admire these people. Still, I don’t see myself as a tree hugger. I mean, I admire martial artists. That doesn’t make me a ninja.

Heart leaves
Wearing their hearts on their leaves

Still, I surprised myself the other day when I did everything short of hugging a tree to make myself feel better. Here’s what was going on:

For no real reason other than it was a Tuesday, my chest was tight and there was lump in my throat. One way I deal with anxiety is to dial up my productivity. Sometimes it helps.

On the Tuesday in question, I applied for a DBA for Wholly Creative, learned online software to help my business, organized my workspace, brainstormed with my assistant about other opportunities, and met a friend for lunch. I felt powerful, full of momentum. After lunch, I crashed for a half hour and took a nap. But by the afternoon, the tension was still there in my chest and throat.

So I tried the opposite approach: do less.

I walked to to the beach. I wrote for a little while. I watched the children throwing buckets of water at each other, the waves rolling in, couples sitting on blankets in the soft sand together, the golden light of the setting sun bathing the whole scene in such magical light that even the garbage seemed enchanted. But the breeze, waves, and sunset didn’t do much for the constriction I still felt, like an unseen hand was reaching down my throat and squeezing my heart.

I packed up my things as the breeze blew colder, and as I walked toward home, I was drawn to the coral tree that stood in the grassy area along the beach. It’s complex root structure fascinated me. Its branches rolled like cursive into the punctuation of bumps and nubs.

I slowly approached the tree, more curious than committed to an action, still with this discomfort, this dull aching in my chest and throat. I thought about doing a couple lion’s breaths, sticking out my tongue with a forceful exhale, which sometimes helped a little.

Instead I began talking to the tree. “Hi there. You’re an interesting tree. Do you mind if I sit here?” I climbed onto the horizontal portion of the trunk and settled in. “I used to have another tree friend back in Florida.”

And then I began to tell this tree about another tree, a Green Buttonwood, that used to grow along the sea wall in Lake Worth. I used to sit on its similarly sideways trunk and listen to the waves slop against the seawall while I wrote. The days I spent there with the tree, I unburdened so much in the pages of my notebook. During our time together, I went through several boyfriends, my father died, I went back to graduate school, my daughter moved in with me and I became a full-time mom. I experienced and learned so much with that tree, that I developed a relationship with it. I started to call it my tree.

Then the fences went up. Hurricanes and time had damaged the sea wall, and a restoration project was underway. I couldn’t get to my tree without climbing under the fence. I wrote the city a letter expressing my concern about the tree. I was told by the city’s arborist that there were others who inquired, too, and that the city was looking into what could be done to preserve the tree.

My new friend, the Coral Tree
My new friend, the Coral Tree

One night as I walked in the moonlight to the park, I let out a howl. The tree had been uprooted. Its trunk and limbs, sawed into pieces, were in a pile.

“Murderers!” I shrieked and ran toward the fence. I lifted the chain link and crawled under it. Surveying the damage, I let out a roar, as much furious at my helplessness as at the person or people who had done this.  And then began to sob. I rested my hand on a large limb, as I looked at the severed pieces lying casually on the grass.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry.” I cried in the darkness as the leaves limply hung from their drying branches. “I tried. I didn’t know what else to do.”

That night I walked home with a bundle of smaller branches in one arm, dragging one large leafy branch behind me. Weeks later when they had dried enough to burn, I lit a funeral pyre and said goodbye. I saved one two inch piece of a large branch from the fire. It moved with me to California. I keep it on my altar.

I told this story to my new tree friend as we sat together looking out at the ocean. And then I settled in to write a poem about a girl in a tree. “Her heart relaxes in this hammock of arteries and veins.”

#whollycreative #whatsyourstory

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When you’re afraid to go there

It was a perfect day for a beachside BBQ. A cool breeze was blowing in off the Pacific. The sun was shining full and warm. I’d awakened with the sun at about 6:30 a.m., an hour earlier than my alarm, and made pancakes and eggs. I had enough time that I’d even considered going to a 10 am yoga class before meeting with a new friend to go to her co-worker’s BBQ party.

Then I reconsidered. I was overcome by an urge to stay in, to gather myself. Not understanding the urge, I started to gather things. I began putting what I would need for the day in a pile on the corner of the couch: towel, sunblock, a change of clothes, phone charger, a cooler full of sodas, snacks. Then I remembered: I was taking my bike, so I started to rethink, unpack, and regroup.

IMG_2356The closer it got to “go time,” the more I felt like I should stay. Something wasn’t quite right. I tidied the bathroom. I put away some clothes in the bedroom. I organized the files on my desk. I started double checking things. Was there enough food and water in the cats’ bowls? Did I close the refrigerator door all the way? I was now officially late.

“Go,” I told myself aloud. “Stop fucking around and go!”

But my resistance was strong. I considered texting my apologies and staying home and watching movies.

“What are you doing?” I said again out loud. “You’ve been looking forward to this!”

I stopped for a moment and took a breath. I paid attention as the inhale expanded my body — my neck, shoulders, and chest were tight. And that’s when it hit me… I was afraid! I didn’t know these people. I didn’t know if I’d fit in, or if I’d be physically comfortable there (too hot, too cold, too hungry, etc.), and that was enough to create unconscious fear. (When this happens chronically, it’s called anxiety.)

What’s weird is, I’m constantly told how brave I am. People say to me “I wish I had your courage” because I travel alone, because I play my guitar and perform in public, because I’m willing to try new things – improv comedy, spoken word, sailing, sky diving, entrepreneurship.

People assume that because I do these things that I’m not afraid to do these things. They are wrong.

I’m afraid a lot. But the fear involved in the “big stuff” like jumping out of planes and into new things is easier to deal with than the everyday fears of the “little stuff” like the beach party. The big stuff is easier because I know I’m afraid so I can face the fear, but with the little stuff it’s easy to overlook the fear. When I don’t see it, I’m not able to challenge it; then, I’m unconsciously controlled by fear.

Writer’s block is just like this. Like the beach & BBQ outing, writing is something I want to do. But deep inside, I’ve also been afraid. I dawdle and procrastinate when I am afraid “to go there.” For years, I was unaware of this fear, so I was really hard on myself for not writing more. I’d tell myself I was never going to amount to much (even when I was working as a weekly columnist) and I’d feel like a fraud around writers and artists who were prolific. In essence, I compounded my yucky feelings (fear) with more yucky feelings (shame).

And I wondered why I just couldn’t be more creative!?!

IMG_2005
I faced the fear of sharks, freezing, drowning, and loss of control when I learned to sail…but it’s still not as scary as writing.

Does anyone create well when they are afraid and ashamed? Self-actualization and self-expression are high on the pyramid of the hierarchy of needs and safety and acceptance are at the base. It’s difficult to deal with the needs at the top if we haven’t met those at the bottom. In fear and shame, I couldn’t build a happy, productive creative life.

My point is, “Just do it!” (or as my friend put it the other day “Just sit down and fucking write”) is not the answer for someone who is deeply and unconsciously afraid. I had to build a healthier relationship with my feelings and creativity. Awareness of the fear lets me begin to negotiate my way through it. Then writing is like sky diving: I face the fear, lean into the resistance, and take the plunge.

In case you were wondering, I also made it to the party. And I had a great time.

Watch my free webinar Practical Magic for Writers to learn other approaches to move through resistance and enhance creativity or click on the button to get my guide to overcoming procrastination, How to Get Started and Keep Moving.

GET STARTED AND KEEP MOVING ON YOUR WRITING!

The Art of Doing without Doing

“Practice the art of doing without doing”: it’s on a Post-it stuck to a binder for what I call my “Phoenix Feather” project. “Phoenix Feather” feels good in the mouth; it’s fun to say. I had a childlike wonder as I used crayons to draw a picture of a red and purple feather. Then I slid my artwork into the front the binder to impart that energy to my work there. I’ve learned that feeling good about my project helps me approach it in a way that lets work happen easily rather than as part of a struggle. I’ve been making much progress on this project because it feels fun, wonder-filled, and inviting.

Another Post-it on the binder reminds me “I can of my own self do nothing. John 5:30.” And a third, a paraphrase of the Gayatri mantra, a highly revered Hindu prayer, invokes the source of all inspiration and creativity:  “You who are the source of all power, whose rays illuminate the world, illuminate also my heart so that it, too, can do your work.” I’m eclectic when it comes to spiritual inspiration! There’s wisdom and guidance from so many sources.

I love that invocation in the Gayatri. When I’m connected to Source, letting divine energy move through me, my work is effortless. It becomes doing without doing.  In my search for more on the topic, I found this post by Lindsey Lewis on Daily Cup of Yoga: 5 Ways to Master the Art of Doing without Doing.

You might also try my tips on procrastination, How to Get Moving and Get Things Done, which is my own kinder, gentler way to entering flow.

#whollycreative #whatsyourstory

Free yourself from a dysfunctional mind-body relationship

I think it’s fair to say I’ve lived in my mind for most of my life. I’m a reader and a writer. I’ve also been in school nearly my whole life, except for a five-year window in the 90s before I became an educator.

Other than for vanity reasons, I never gave much thought to my body. Through my twenties, I punished it with long hours of work and school and got few hours of sleep. Through my thirties, I replaced the school work with independent study and writing. My genetics kept me slender even though I got only a little exercise. The important work was mental not physical, after all. As a scholar and a writer, I need a brain; my body is secondary.

More, there wasn’t much motivation to be “in my body.” I always ached, literally head to toe: chronic headaches, neck stiffness, back aches, knee pain, foot cramps. I just thought that was how it was, and though I saw a chiropractor and massage therapist, I thought managing pain was a normal part of having a body.

Seriously.

I lived for the times I was “checked out” while reading and writing, “zoned out” when I was performing or teaching, or “numbed out” from drinking.

At 40, things changed when I began yoga, which is when I started to really feel what was going on in my body. I had huge emotional releases – lots and lots of crying – just moving through the poses on my mat. Sometimes I’d have to drop into child’s pose to sob. Even though I had a wonderful consciousness shift after I began my yoga practice, my body actually became more painful. Some days (not all) my knees ached so badly, I had trouble walking.

Even after I quit drinking a couple years after beginning yoga, I’d wake up slowly and have trouble moving. “I need the first hour of the day to stare in my coffee and mutter,” I’d say. As recently as a couple weeks ago friends would invite me to morning yoga and I’d say, “I can’t do anything before 11:00 a.m.; I don’t move well in the morning.”

And I thought this was normal. That’s life, right? You get old and your body hurts.

But this morning, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. on my own. When I put my 47-year old feet on the floor, they didn’t hurt. I didn’t have to limp to the bathroom with one hand on the hallway wall for balance. I put both feet down and stood up. Then I started shifting my weight back and forth, stepping in place. My feet were limber, sort of like hands. My toes felt longer, sort of like fingers. I started to dance. My whole body had an ease to it, I’d never felt sober.  I felt lighter, taller. I started to swing my arms over my head and then I sang as I danced around, “I feel good…in my body!”

Seriously.

What had changed? I’d had two sessions of rolfing (deep-tissue work that stretches the fascia, developed by Ida Rolf), which had worked out the adhesions in my connective tissue. The places that were bound up had been pulling my body out of whack, and the problem had compounded as the years went by.

But it wasn’t just my body. Two days after my first appointment, a girlfriend who’d known me for fifteen years called. She’d seen me through heavy workaholism and functional alcoholism, when I’d been alternately high on progress or booze, and she’d stuck around to see a new more peaceful, sober me. I’d answered her call while I was walking on the beach and watching the sunset, and I felt energized about my writing and the work I’d done developing Wholly Creative. I was bubbling with enthusiasm. For the first time in years, I didn’t feel like I had to slog through the day.

“Are you on a bender?” she asked. I didn’t understand what she was asking. “You sound like your old self… You sound happy.”

I’d been sober for four years, and while I’d cultivated more peace, I hadn’t felt this good since when I got those regular doses of “spirit” that allowed me to feel really free in my body. I’d had little windows of elevation after yoga or dance or a bike ride, but pretty quickly the window closed and I was back to the slog. My friend was right. I felt alive again.

Today, it occurred to me there is a correlation to how I was doing mentally and how I was feeling physically. I am more inspired and more creative because my body is functioning better. Talk about mind-body connection, right!?

With still eight more sessions to complete the rolfing process, I am ever more amazed by how we can increase the quality of our creative and intellectual life by tending to the body. And it’s not just mind and body, it’s spirit, too.

Get my free guide to Get Moving and Get Things Done.

Writing (and everything else) is a Spiritual Experience; or, a Rock Can Inspire a Dream

Just about anything you devote yourself to will lead you to spiritual wisdom if you let it.

For instance, much has been written about the spirituality of baseball (click for a rabbi’s take on it). You’ve probably heard of  the zen of motorcycle maintenance (here’s Forbes take on it). There’s even the tao of comedy (this lady’s killing it with this approach).

My creativity altar
My creativity altar

For me, writing has provided the spiritual adventure of a lifetime. It’s been the impetus for leaving bad relationships, for understanding the nature of love, for coping with trauma, for creating community, for taking up exercise, and for getting sober. While I was a columnist, writing was also a sort of therapy, connecting me with the outside world in a way that made me get out of my emotional pain — rather than looking inward, I had to look out and around. It was one thing that helped me not collapse into despair.

So while lots of wonderful people go to a sanctuary of some religious affiliation to get their spiritual experience, I get mine by showing up for my writing practice. I can tell how “spiritually fit” I am by looking at my relationship with my creativity. Am I disciplined and showing up regularly? Am I showing up with reverence for the “magic” that happens when I get in the zone? Am I humble when I am blocked or uncertain? Am I loving and accepting of myself and my work when it isn’t awesome?

I used to think that my writing career as a columnist and poet was a measure of my awesomeness: my drive, my talent, my connections. When I got stuck or I failed, I was full of self hate and shame. I’ve learned over the years that my intellect is not “mine” (I was just born with that innate intelligence into a family that nurtured it), my talent is not mine (again, I’ve nurtured it, but the aptitude was inherent), my will is not “mine” (all the energy I derive for that will power comes from food and air and lessons others taught me), and my love of writing is not “mine” either (many people share this love).

Oddly, before I really did some spiritual growth, I used to brush off my successes (“Of course I’m a columnist, I’m good at writing! That’s not really an achievement!”) and really focus on my failures.  I’ve learned that I can celebrate success, but I have to give credit to EVERYthing that contributed (thanks Air! thanks, Food! thanks, Mom and Dad! thanks, Editors! thanks, neighbors for shutting up often enough for me to get work done!). To me this “EVERYthing” is a lot like what people talk about when they talk about ONEness, or how everything is one.

This also gave me a new relationship with the “f” word — failure. It’s not all on me. A host of factors play into my non-success. I’ve learned to interpret these occasions as an opportunity to renew my commitment to my craft or project, to exercise my humility, and to contribute to creative growth as I try again but in a different way.

Writing is not my religion, but it is my practical approach to spirituality. Instead of telling me the WHAT of spirituality (which is what religion does in its dogma–its code of beliefs), it has shown me the HOW. For me, that’s a wonderful approach because the HOW is inclusive of people of all faiths (or none at all), while the WHAT is exclusive to a specific religion. We also could use more practical spirituality in our everyday lives.

I used to be entirely pragmatic with no “trimmings”; however, now I see the value in creating altars and practicing rituals to support my creaIMG_3654tivity. As a pragmatist, I put my altar on the bookcase in the living room beneath the wall-mounted TV, where my focus naturally rests when I’m sitting on the couch, where I often write.

I have an image of the Hindu goddess Saraswati (she rules creativity and intellect), some candles, flowers, and a stone printed with the question “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I often light the candles as I hope to spark some new idea or let creativity shine. I look to the water (in the vase and in the Saraswati image) as a reminder to let things flow and not to be too rigid.  The flowers remind me of the organic cycles of creativity (not always blossoming). And the stone I will often pick up and hold in my hands because grounds me as much as it reminds me to invest in what I really love and to dream bigger.

I’ll be leading a FREE webinar on Practical Magic for Writers. Join me and learn more about simple practices to infuse your writing life with joy, inspiration, and vitality.

Learning to love Monday

Poor Monday. Without fail, people bitch about it every week. And it’s not just people who hate their jobs. (If you hate your job, do one little thing every day to find a new job — you’ll feel happier just plotting your escape).  Even for people who like their work, Mondays can be difficult. After the weekend, it’s not easy to get back in gear for the workweek.

The thing is we expect 0 to 60. And that’s not good for us. And it’s not the sort of energy Monday carries. Monday is named after the Moon. Unlike the previous day, Sunday, charged with energy of direct light, Monday is meant to be reflective and sort of dreamy. It’s a good day for intuition and insights. It’s more mysterious and more subtle than the energy of Sunday. Which makes it a terrible day to get back to the grind. Grind energy is good on Tuesdays, which is why its traditionally the more productive day of the week.

Don’t fight Monday. It doesn’t mean you have to take the day off or you’re totally screwed if you have to report to work. Save the tasks that lend itself to this energy for this day. Know that you’re going to be a little slower, like you are moving through a dream.

Last week, excited about a new project, I jumped in on Monday, determined to learn a new software program and complete a project. Halfway through the day I was so frustrated that I updated my Facebook status saying that the project made me want to kill myself, my laptop, and the internet. (My sense of drama is strong every day of the week.) It didn’t occurmondaybreakup to me until later in the week that I’d picked a crap day for my project.

This week I’ve reordered things. Mondays are a good day to use intuition to explore ideas, imagine ways to develop projects, and to start setting up to jump in on Tuesday.

Planning your schedule to align with the mood and quality of the day will help you work smarter. It will also help you learn to love Mondays.

Sunday (Sun) Fame, Wealth, Success, Spirituality, Wishes

Monday (Moon) Reflection, Dreaming, Emotions, Intuition, Creativity

Tuesday (Mars) Strength, Courage, Passion

Wednesday (Mercury) Communication, Cunning, Excitement, Change, The Arts (It’s a wacky day. Work with its wackiness.)

Thursday (Jupiter) Expansiveness, Adventure, Abundance, Health. Named after Thor.

Friday (Venus) Love, Fertility, Birth, and Romance. Named after the Norse goddess, Freya.

Saturday (Saturn) Responsibility, Protection, Banishing negativity, Tasks

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The dark side of awesome …

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Free to be me!

Self-help is such a huge industry that it’s become the M.O. for many of us who want to be the best selves we can be. But in some ways I think it’s become insidious in its negation of who we are.

For instance, perhaps I could watch less TV. Then again, I enjoy stories. The shows provide an escape, and I also learn and am inspired by what others see as mindless drivel.

Take The Almighty Johnsons, a kiwi show about four brothers who are Norse gods. The gods’ attributes contribute both power and weakness to their characters. For instance Ull, the god of hunting, while good at games and finding things, can easily cross the line into stalker territory. Bragi, the god of poetry is a natural at PR, but he is also a bit of douche, using his powers to get women in bed. These gods can’t deny their powers, nor the fact that there is a dark side to them.

The_Almighty_Johnsons_season_2If I were among the pantheon, I would be the goddess of the escape. When I was young, I had a knack for breaking in (and out) of places, though seldom causing any real mischief. I wanted to move between spaces, explore different worlds, and I couldn’t see any reason why I should be locked out or in. I slid out of my bedroom window at night, and I wandered into people’s homes, into schools, into hotels after hours. This may have developed because, unless I was in trouble, I was virtually invisible in my family. I could leave for long, unaccounted for hours and return without having to explain myself.

To checkout of the void of a lonely childhood, I read books that transported me to other worlds. I remember fondly Désirée, a very long historical romance novel about Napolean and his lover, where an entire week went by and I existed in a different place in time even when my face wasn’t in its pages.

When I was locked up  – first briefly in juvenile detention and then for about a year in a behavior modification program – for running away from home as an adolescent, I escaped by constructing elaborate fantasies and daydreaming my way into other realms that were more appealing than the church pews I was forced to sit in the entire day to be reprogrammed. I never made an actual break for it because though I’m dreamy, I’m also practical, and I knew I’d be better off in the long run there than on the streets.

After being locked up, I learned to immerse myself in academics, using scholarship and achievement as a socially acceptable form of checking out of the real world. In my early adulthood my problems, like my abusive marriage to an older man, went away as I immersed myself in literature and philosophy. When I abandoned my marriage, I escaped my troubles with drugs and alcohol and men, none of whom I kept around for long. As I got older, I gave up the escapes that were the most destructive. I made a commitment to better self-care. I also committed to a few other things: To my daughter (which kept me in the same geographic place for 18 years), to my writing, to my cats, and to Truth. Not necessarily in that order.

The expression of escape changed. Fundamentally, however, I am still a free spirit. Especially when it comes to ideas.

I have a friend Paul, who regularly calls me because he has “figured something out.” I’ll answer the phone and he’ll deliver some truth he has arrived at such as “It’s all love…love is not the exception” or “If we’re suffering, we’re in ego.” Generally there’s a long story that accompanies the realization. I made the mistake once of saying, after he delivered his punchline (the realization), “Well, Paul, that’s an absolute, and absolutes usually aren’t true.” There was a long moment of silence for the dead idea.

In the interest of our friendship, I have had to learn listen to Paul’s stories and not to respond with the exceptions that do, in fact, unravel his theories. Some people like the solidity of Desireeabsolutes; it makes them feel safe. As the goddess of escapism, I’m also the queen of exceptions because exceptions allow the mind to wriggle free of the confines of a governing concept.

“I can see how you would be difficult for people,” our mutual friend John said (I tend to collect friends named after the apostles, evidently). “You’re hard to pin down.”

In fact, one of my favorite things about teaching English was that I teach thinking – that is how to think, and what people have thought, rather than a specific point-of-view. For me, my superpower is that I think fluidly, I am often unattached to ideas, and I can see things from multiple perspectives.

Sure this comes with its challenges, for instance, I can be indecisive. But when it comes to my relationship with Truth, it actually is helpful. I’m not talking about truth with a lowercase “t” as in “Did you take the garbage out? Tell the truth.” I mean the Truth about the nature of being, about why we are here, where we go when we die, and what it all means (if anything).

I’m very comfortable with a multiplicity of views. And I’m very comfortable knowing that these are questions that point at the infinite (God-type stuff) and that my intellect and language is finite and so my thoughts and words can only generally point in the direction of what I am discussing. And when this infinite shifts and takes on new form, I’m comfortable going “and there it is again over there contradicting what I just said.” It’s part of the mystery of life. And I can know it and revere it without being able to explain it.

Of course, part of the nature of being in flow like this is that I tend to not attach myself to things like money or people for very long. It has its challenges, for sure. And when I get on a self-improvement jag, I can sometimes start yanking at the roots of this thing, forgetting that in doing so, I’m going to eradicate what makes me me. I named after the wind, after all, and destined to slide between cracks into spaces that want to be explored. And like wind, I may settle down, but never for long.

It seems to me that my job is to know my power, to explore new opportunities to use it, and to do my best to use it responsibly – with the understanding that sometimes my power is more powerful than my will to control it.

The dark side of awesome is still awesome. What’s your superpower? What’s its dark side? How can you help save the world?

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