A self divided cannot stand: resolve inner conflict, get more done

Much of my personal and creative life began to fall in place when I started to practice yoga and study yoga philosophy. It was on the yoga mat and in the classic texts that I found the best instructions for healthy thinking and practical spirituality. These enhanced my writing life. (You can read my paper presented at the MLA conference and published in the book Beyond the Frontier here: ” Writing West to East and Back Again: A Yogic Approach to Life-Writing.”)

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Yoga & Writing

In the introduction to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classic Hindu text on physical yoga practices, Swami Muktibodhananda explains that yoga is the union of mind and body (to be clear, they aren’t separate…they just get out of synch or in dysfunctional relationship). This idea from that introduction has become central to my well-being:

Often we observe that when we try to practice self-control and discipline, we create more mental problems in our mind and personality…Therefore before you practice self-discipline and self-control, you must prepare yourself…If harmony is not created in the personality, then self-control and self-discipline will create more conflict rather than peace of mind.

You want to know what this “conflict” looks like?

Imagine your ego self holding a whip demanding that you to get to work and your feeling self complying grudgingly, refusing defiantly or in some way failing miserably. The task could be working on a creative project or going to the gym or doing the dishes. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. The point is that there’s a split in the personality between the self that thinks you should do something and the self that doesn’t want to it. It’s a sort of schizophrenia, almost.

A self divided against itself cannot stand. Or put another way: you are not being able to stand yourself.

I lived like this for years. I got a lot written, published and performed, but I was miserable because I was living in conflict with myself. Basically I’d tell myself I was a loser if I didn’t do the thing I knew I should do. There was some value (moral, financial, ethical, etc) inherent in the action that I felt I “should” do, but instead of focusing on the value, I focused on the action itself. When I lose focus of the “why” of things, I quickly see a hostile relationship between Marya the goal-setter and Marya the goal-fulfiller.

These days, when I recognize a “should” and an aversion to it, I know to look deeper. Why do I think I should do it? What is at the root of the aversion? This sort of reflection really helps me unify my “selves.” When I am connected with my desire — with why I “should” do something –I am able to get to my work in a way that makes me feel good and fills my work with purpose.

What “shoulds” do you wrestle with? Take some time to write about these, about what value these have (financial, moral, ethical, social, etc.). Sometimes we inherit “shoulds” from our families or society without examining them; if they have no value to you, personally, let these go the same way you might discard an ugly chair that used to belong to Aunt Agatha.

I think you’ll find that once you connect with why you want to do something, the aversion will soften or even disappear and you’ll be able to show up for the work you should do because you want to do it.

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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.

Rule breaking, time warping, persona stripping: it’s how legends are made!

I broke rule #1 of blogging.

I didn’t publish a blog for years.  After my move to Los Angeles from South Florida, things inside of me shifted, like my consciousness was tectonic plates and my life was the resulting earthquake. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore or what I had to say or why anyone would want to listen. My professional creative life was the casualty. After over a decade cultivating a readership, I didn’t want to be “followed.” I didn’t have any idea where I was going.

Now, I know some would say, “Hey, that’s the kind of thing that sells…those dark periods, that descent, that drama.” But the truth is, I’d pimped out myself as a writing persona for so long in alternative media, I wasn’t even sure what the real me sounded like or what she had say. I knew I didn’t think mean was funny (Actually, I never did. I was coached to write that way by an editor). I needed to find myself.

(I bet you can relate to that. I’m sure there’s been a time in your life when you didn’t know what to say or what your leadership was. Maybe that time is now. I’m here to tell you: It’s okay.)

In the hiatus, I lowered my expectations and stopped engaging in the activities that triggered “old Marya” behavior. But I didn’t stop writing. In fact, I wrote a lot. In fact, I need to write my projects down now to prove my accomplishments, even if only to myself, so here it goes (I encourage you to take stock of your accomplishments, too.):

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My first improv comedy class show. @ M.I. Westside Comedy.

I wrote a few articles for Palm Beach ArtsPaper about my experiences in California. I wrote a narrative essay “Trapped” about childhood traumas and escapism, and I performed at Spark Off Rose. I wrote lots about yoga philosophy and practices and how these could be applied to the writing process. I was asked to present on my research at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Conference, and then I was asked to submit that paper, “Writing East to West: A Yogic Approach to Life Writing,” to a new book project, Beyond the Frontier: Innovations in First-Year Composition. I also wrote a lot of poems and essays that I have left unpolished and stored unceremoniously on a flash drive. Oh, and I spent a year doing improv comedy…quite badly, in fact.

None of these projects were things I was sure of. (Some days I still wonder about what I’m doing with my life: a yogic approach to writing?) I struggled because what I was doing was new for me. I’d left behind the smartass, hard drinking, shameless Marya Summers that I’d capitalized on in South Florida. It’s hard to invent yourself, but it’s harder to strip down the persona and show up authentically, with no mask to shield you. I have been cultivating humility and grace; it’s made my humor gentler and wiser, I think.

Now, I’m back. It’s not a new Marya, it’s the real Marya. As myself, I’m vastly more… I was going to say more Zen, but I had been zooming around on a endless tank of an ego-boosted fuel blend of anxiety and shame in the opposite direction of  Zen for so long that, now, even being in the zip code of Zen seems like some serious Sci-Fi technology.

My point is that transformation is possible, and it’s never too late to start. But you have to let go of something if you want to reach for something else. You have to be brave enough to trust that you are enough.

Get my free guide Get Moving and Get Things Done.

Take your writing (and your body) in new directions

THURSDAY NIGHTS, MARCH 3, 10, 17, 24 & 31, 7-9 PM !

Creative Flow: Yoga and Writing Workshop 

Consciousness meets craft in this course that uses ancient principles and practices to stimulate modern, creative writers of all genres.  Students will be guided through movement designed to develop focus, draw inspiration, stimulate imagination, and manifest creativity. Each session will include exercises on the mat and on the page. Participants will share their new work in a format that allows for supportive feedback.  This course is for every body — stiff or limber, young or old, beginners or experienced practitioners.

Santa Monica Yoga, 1640 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405. 5 SESSIONS. $150. $125 if purchased by Feb. 24. Space is limited to 12 participants. Sign-up early to ensure your spot!

Paypal msflambe@yahoo.com.

Go with the flow!

After seeing how yoga changed my creative life, I had an idea! Why not teach a combination yoga and creative writing class! So I recently completed 200 hour yoga teacher training at Santa Monica Yoga. The training included anatomy, alignment, philosophy, and practical teaching experience. And now I’m leading a workshop called Creative Flow, which is a combination yoga and writing experience. Here’s the course description:

Consciousness meets craft in this course that uses ancient principles and practices to stimulate modern, creative writers of all genres.  Students will be guided through movement designed to develop focus, draw inspiration, stimulate imagination, and manifest creativity. Each session will include exercises on the mat and on the page as we focus on aspects of writing (character, imagery, voice, pace and rhythm) and develop creative attributes (compassion, awareness, discrimination and discipline). Participants share their new work in a format that allows for supportive feedback.  This course is for every body — stiff or limber, young or old, beginners or experienced practitioners.

If you’re interested, let me know. The current class is full, but I’ll be starting a new one in the spring. I’ll notify you with the details, if you’d like.

Moved to write

Stuck in a rut? I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between writing and movement. In my journal, I was considering how yoga had changed me during graduate school:

Also, stretching my lower back, particularly in downward dog, accessed something that no therapist ever had. It unleashed emotions I didn’t know I was holding. I spattered my blue rubber mat with tears. As my body was freed, so was my thinking. As my emotions were released, so was my creativity. I was astonished at the changes I saw in myself. Others noted the differences, too.

And then trolling the blogs today, I found a piece by Kelly Barnhill, who writes about how an accident injured her dominant leg and she began favoring the other.

And you know what’s weird, once I started favoring the left, my writing changed. I began thinking in images. My use of language became more intuitive, impulsive and rhythmic. Metaphor made more sense to me than explanation. I embraced surrealism, fabulism, the fantastic. I became this writer. And, barring any more car accidents, I’ll likely stay this writer.

So what are you waiting for, writers? If the physical impacts the creative, then don’t just sit there cursing your writer’s block or formulaic writing. Get moving in new directions, physically. You’ll find yourself in new places, creatively. Makes sense.