Create for Life

We were born to create. The creative drive – to make something out of nothing from our own sustained effort and imagination – is woven into the fiber of our being. If we accept the axiom of God as creator, and that we are made in His image, then we too are creators!

This goes beyond our most fundamental instinct: to perpetuate our species through procreation. We create because it nourishes us, sustains us, motivates us, heals us, defines us, and connects us to each other and to God.  Through creative expression we begin to understand both our selves and our world.

How is this done? I prefer a broad definition of creativity: any form of self-expression. While for many people avenues such as music, art, or writing are the most satisfying, there are countless other methods of creating that are readily available and deeply satisfying. And they are all fueled by artistic vision.

Think about what gives you joy, wonder, and a sense of accomplishment. You undoubtedly apply creative energy in these activities.

My father loves anything with an engine, and he has always used his creativity to build motorized contraptions beyond the wide-eyed comprehension of people around him. My mother created through gardening, fashioning the most beautiful rock garden in our neighborhood – the envy of the neighbor ladies and her fellow rock garden club members. My son writes poetry – deep and enigmatic, the kind his parents struggle to understand. His professors applaud and say “he has an old soul.” My daughter can write with humor, whimsy, and originality. Her unique way of seeing is evident in her insightful stories. My husband can craft a sermon with theology, language, illustrations, and oratorical flourish that make craggy old men cry. What an inventive preacher!

Despite my conventional appearance I am a “right brain” person who approaches my work with a distinct “differentness.” My leadership style has been described as “thinking outside the box.” What strengthens this method is my proclivity to embrace my creative flow. I am in love with my work  when I am so engaged that I forget about time. It is exciting and energizing to create something new. This makes every day unique, and fuels me through the unavoidable minutiae of community mental health services.

But matters as simple as playing with a child, telling a joke, cooking a meal, or decorating a room can invite creative expression. How about choosing one’s clothes in the morning? Artistic considerations are made with each decision about color, design, shape, form, and texture. Every mood can inspire a new pairing of clothes and accessories. The possibilities are endless … especially if you have a closet as jam-packed as mine!

I recently spent a year writing my memoir about my experience with major depression. This was the most sustained creative process I have ever engaged in. Now finished, I miss the discovery and delight that come from taking facts and turning them into beauty. The creative challenge of selecting a structure, images, symbols, metaphors, syntax, and meaning behind my story was like formulating my own universe. I can imagine the otherworldly transcendence that fiction writers must feel. Writing this blog provides some of that same satisfaction.

Creativity is a natural way of life and it can be a spiritual practice. I learned about this in the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her work involves a self-discovery and renewal process to recover one’s creative vision. Ms. Cameron works with people interested in practicing the art of creative living. She teaches tools that dissolve blocks to creative capacities. She helps people develop and maintain their creativity regardless of their vocation: artists, painters, filmmakers, homemakers, lawyers, social workers … anyone.

One of her key disciplines is the practice of the “morning pages.” This involves starting the day writing three longhand pages, strictly stream-of-consciousness. It is designed to be a form of “brain drain;” there is no wrong way to do morning pages. They are not meant to be art, or even writing. Morning pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, silly, stupid, or weird to be included. The goal is to evade the censor; there are no mistakes in writing morning pages. The logic brain must stand aside and let the artist brain play. It is the triumph of the right-brain over the left-brain.

Several years ago something powerful happened while I was doing my morning pages. I became aware of an area of my life that needed to change, and I suddenly had the clarity and imagination to envision it. A creative and emotional block was powerfully removed. And then it was inevitable; I just did it. Consequently, my life has been much richer. (The specific tale is one for another blog post). I am so glad that I opened myself up to the creative process of the morning pages.

In support of being well and staying well, I urge you: explore many avenues for creativity. Embrace them vigorously and consistently. You will find your life enriched, and you will arrive in places you would have never imagined. Create for life.

“I want to live like a river flows … carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

 -John O-Donahue, Irish poet and priest

 

 

 

 

Do it for Love

A brilliant therapist nearing retirement once gave me a radical way of looking at life and emotions. She said that for most of her training and career she got it wrong when it came to feelings and her understanding and exploration of them. Only in her sixties did she discover that it all came down to only two emotions: love and fear.

She described these as two frequencies, explaining, “We are either operating on a frequency of love or fear.”

Whenever I am getting things mixed up and messed up; when I am frustrated, anxious, self-pitying, full of dread, riddled with resentment, doubt or despair, I know which frequency I am on: fear. It is then that I must step out of it, and nudge my weak and wobbly self up to a higher frequency: love. What a splendid relief when I move up to love: I become inspired, purposeful, energetic, hopeful, engaged, and filled with vitality.

Of course, every day presents situations and stresses that threaten to drive me down to that lower vibration of fear. I can’t control what is outside of me. But I have the power to take charge of what lies within me. I can choose not to dwell in fear. Love is much more powerful and life affirming. But will I let it fill me and fuel me? Will I let love be my food, my drink, my air, my words, my actions? That is a goal worth pursuing.

I heard an inspiring lecture about this kind of love years ago at UCLA. The presenter was Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles.  His greatest love was writing, and he dedicated his life to it. An enormous old talent, he entertained the audience with fantastical stories from his childhood. He told of his writing career being sparked, at age 12 in a magical moment when a carnival entertainer, Mr. Electrico, touched him on the nose with an electrified sword, made his hair stand on end, and shouted, “Live forever!” In that moment he decided on a career as a writer, to do what was foretold: live forever.

He spoke with a soft gruffness; his words were like poetry. His theme was about work, career, and making good choices in them. “Do it for love,” was his repeated chorus. He told stories of how everything good that he had ever accomplished, he did for love. “Absolutely nothing else,” he said, “ … only for love. Not money, not ego, not fear, not fame, not to please someone … only for love. Whatever you do; do it for love.”

He told a poignant tale about being asked to write an article for Pro Football Magazine. The editor wanted an article written by the celebrated author. But on the topic of football, Bradbury admitted, he knew little and cared even less. He was completely blocked and unable to produce something. He feared he would not meet his deadline. Finally, he decided to watch a football game … and fell in love with what he saw. The block disappeared. He then wrote a beautiful poem that was published in the magazine.

Bradbury marveled, “I could only do it when I did it for love.  And that poem was so damn good, they put it on the cover of Pro Football Magazine; they sold more copies than ever … and it was the first time in history a damn love poem was on the cover of a football magazine!”  The crowd erupted in applause.

I have never forgotten his story.  On a certain level, this is the central message of nearly every religion, including Christianity. Love conquers all. Perfect love casts out all fear. God is love; love is God.

This is my goal: to do what I do for love, and nothing else … to live in love, not fear.

Please consider sharing any thoughts you have on this subject by posting a comment. I would love to hear from you.

The Mind and Body Benefits of Yoga

For years I have heard about the benefits of yoga and have intended to give it a try. But I never seemed to get around to it. About a year ago that changed. I attended a yoga class and was astounded at how great I felt – both during the class and afterward. The results were immediate and powerful. Now I am committed to doing yoga 1-3 times per week. How did I move from contemplating to taking action?

At the time, I was reading a terrific book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. It gave me a better understanding of how habits shape our lives and how we can shape our habits. Specifically, it helped me look at the habit loop of “cues”, “routines”, and “rewards.” Soon I was making a number of changes to enhance my quality of life. I initiated new routines to produce different rewards. Starting yoga was one of them.

My lifelong habit of running daily had produced many good mind and body results. But I suspected yoga would be a great counter-balance to my somewhat stale workout routine. Armed with some new ways of thinking from Duhigg, I was ready to move forward on my goal of trying yoga.

Soon I went to a yoga class. I found it both calming and energizing. It was a fine physical workout, but it also helped me feel centered and attuned to my breathing. The focus on balance and core strength was terrific. Over the course of a few sessions, I felt longer, leaner, and less tense. Over time, I seemed more connected with my body and regulated in my emotions.

In yoga class we do a combination of stretching, relaxation, strength exercises (especially abdominals), and balance work through holding poses. Gentle music plays in the background while the instructor guides us to breath slowly, concentrate intently, progress at our own pace, and challenge ourselves with the poses.

At the end of the class during the final meditation, I was surprised by the emotional release. It was cathartic. Despite the concern of some conservative Christians, there was no Buddhist spiritual agenda. I lifted up my own simple prayers befitting my personal religious beliefs. I must have expelled whatever negative energy my body had been holding. I felt light and limber – simultaneously free and connected.

I was brimming with physical strength, mental clarity, and spiritual vibrancy. It was so gratifying and restorative that I have stuck with it. Now yoga is one of my favorite personal wellness practices. I love what it does for me.

The benefits of Yoga have been well substantiated for a wide range of health issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, chronic pain, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and many others. Consider the following articles:

1)   http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/01/12/scientific-basis-for-yoga-benefits/10693.html

2)   http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/yoga/CM00004

3)  Jan 1, 2013 – Evidence Based Medical Benefits of Yoga,. Indian Journal of Science, 2013, 2(3), 1-4,                                        www.discovery.org.in http://www.discovery.org.in/ijs.htm 

I encourage you to try yoga. Take a class at your local gym or look up “Yoga Classes” on YouTube and practice it at home. If you are like me, your mind, body, and spirit will soar. That’s what I call wellness.

Run For It

Today I ran the Orange County ½ Marathon and I am on top of the world. I ran with my friend Jeannine and we reduced our time by 8 minutes since our last race. We both felt an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. We have been training for months, had to register and pay in advance, battle SoCal traffic, and wake up at 4:00 am to negotiate a crowd of 15,000 other runners at the start line. Are we crazy? No, we are runners. But … why do we bother?

I have been a runner most of my life – never a champion, but steadfast. I had a poster on my dorm room wall in college stating, “The race is not to the swift, but to the one who keeps on running.” I have kept on running, and it has benefitted me immensely. I never gave it up for anything other than pregnancy or prolonged insomnia. I joined a running club as I recovered from depression 11 years ago, and it has produced profound blessings. With the support of the group, I have run two marathons and six ½ marathons. I run most days of the week, in the morning before work (but after coffee). Most importantly, I finish every run happier than when I began. It jump starts my day and ratchets up my endorphins. In my opinion, it is better than any antidepressant; it is not only free, the side effects are actually positive!

Someone recently asked me when I started running and why. I pondered for a minute and remembered: it was the summer after I turned 6 years old in Minnesota. Pam, my best friend from kindergarten, had moved into a newly built home ¾ of a mile from my house, down a long dirt road. My purple bicycle with the banana seat couldn’t forge through the thick sand. I had to walk. But, it took too long! I soon learned that I could get there faster if I ran. This left us more precious time to build forts, play monopoly, or roughhouse with her English Springer Spaniel “Jingles”. When I ran home (to meet my 6 pm dinner curfew) I noticed something else important: I gained a sense of wellbeing and a pleasant mood after running. I loved that feeling.

It has been 42 years now, and I have kept on running. Sometimes it’s a solitary and interior experience; other times it’s about camaraderie and community. Yet, in all its forms, running has helped me recover from pregnancy and childbirth, manage the strain of parenting young children, prevent and overcome depression and anxiety, face the daily stress of full time work, and adjust to the changes of the empty nest phase of life. Maintaining a comfortable weight has been another advantage – and no small miracle.

Being in a running club has enhanced my motivation and provided connections to other goal-oriented people who want to be healthy. My fellow running club members each have a unique story about what this sport has done to improve their quality of life and to overcome some kind of adversity. Their stories are varied and truly inspirational. For me, it is both a habit and a discipline which supports my balance and overall wellness. I plan to keep on running.

Clear it with your doctor first. Then, I encourage you to try it too – whether you walk, walk-run, or run. Regardless, you are getting outside, breathing fresh air, and moving. This all contributes to holistic health. If you like the support of a group, you can find a local running club on “meetup.com”. Get going now … run for it! You will be happy you did.