Riding the Wave

If you're not riding the wave of change, you'll find yourself beneath it.
As for my own surfing, let's just say that when the waves start pushing 10 feet, I get this tremendous urge to make a sandwich.  —Bruce Jenkins
At this time, I am in the home stretch of editing a book project with a release date that is coming right up, have committed myself to posting twice a week to two blogs, am preparing for half a dozen new drawing students, taken on a demanding temporary job, applied for a more permanent job and am itching to pick up my drawing pen and paints.

Just the other day I thought, what I'd really like to do is lay around and read a book.

Many of us find ourselves in acutely or chronically demanding schedules.  Meeting the basic physiological and security needs of the Maslow Hierarchy can pull us into a reactive state of busyness and unconscious panic. Busyness can begin to provide a perverse sense of security and panic can make us freeze, like a deer in the headlights.

My practice during this demanding time is to keep myself in the moment as best I can. I am allowing myself to prioritize and reevaluate several times a day, remembering to breathe, eat right and exercise. I insist on my morning routine.

If I am not accomplishing as much as I think I should be, I remind myself that I am taking action every day (and that using the word should is a red flag).  Even taking a little action every day amounts to a lot in the long run.

Now, it's time to rest!
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You are you

No matter where you go, there you are.
Accept everything about yourself - I mean everything, You are you and that is the beginning and the end - no apologies, no regrets. - Clark Moustakas
I am tempted to leave you with the Moustakas quote alone because it is enough to chew on for quite a while. But I'll continue...

Yesterday, I settled in to my scheduled session for post writing.  I could not produce anything coherent.  It wasn't that I had no ideas — I had too many.  No pegs were falling into the right holes.  It was as if I were trying to breathe out on the in breath.  I was forcing myself to stand up as my body was telling me to lie down. I wasn't easy on myself about any of it.

A rainy Sunday.  I usually enjoy rainy days but I could have used a glimpse of the sun to help lift me out from under my own stormy cloud of confusion.  Writing about this, I thought, is not going to do anybody any good.

But we all contend with days like this.  
With the exception of one or two spots, I have completed my very thorough spring house cleaning.  Now it's time for the deeper work.  My confusion stems from internal clutter and the only thing to clear that out is elimination. Detoxing and knocking off the crummy habits.  Those tasks are part of the big spring cleaning process. The house and studio are in pretty great shape. On to the next step.

In my confused state, I picked up Shunryu Suzuki's book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and opened at random. Naturally, my eyes fell on a relevant passage.
So we say true understanding will come out of emptiness. When you study Buddhism, you should have a general house cleaning of your mind. You must take everything out of your room and clean it thoroughly. If it is necessary, you may bring everything back in again. You may want many things, so one by one you can bring them back. But if they are not necessary, there is no need to keep them.
Time to bump up the meditation.
Here is another passage that I found tremendously comforting —
You may think Buddha attained some stage where he was free from karmic life, but it is not so.  Many stories were told by Buddha about his experiences after he attained enlightenment. He was not at all different from us.  When his country was at war with a powerful neighbor, he told his disciples of his own karma, of how he suffered when he saw that his country was going to be conquered b y the neighboring king.  If he had been someone who had attained an enlightenment in which there was no karma, there would have been no reason for him to suffer so.  And even after he attained enlightenment he continued the same effort we are making.  But his view of life was not shaky.  His view of life was stable, and he watched everyone's life, including his own life.  
Well, my job is to work on making my view of life — and myself — less shaky. Acceptance, further cleaning and better discipline are in order.  It's a process.
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Cleaning Up

It's a dirty job but somebody's got to do it.
In working with ourselves, cleaning up begins by telling the truth. We have to shed any hesitation about being honest with ourselves because it might be unpleasant.  —Chogyam Trungpa
Here's the truth. My studio and kitchen table are littered with loose pieces and stacks of paper from various projects. Everything else seems like it's out of order. What isn't out of order is laced with cat hair. I am not going to discuss my car.

I feel like I don't really have the time to straighten and clean thoroughly. On the other hand, I know that if I don't, the disorder will ferociously nag at me.

Overwhelmed by clutter? Here's my tip. It works like a charm.

Set an egg timer for 15 minutes and take action.

No matter what the task, if I'm feeling overwhelmed or having trouble starting anything, the 15 minute timer trick works for me. 15 minutes is completely doable.

If I take action as soon as I set the timer, by the time 15 minutes are up, I am into the task and hit the timer for another 15 minutes or an hour!  When one hour is up, I'll hit the timer for another hour. I  keep digital timers in several rooms.

I used to clean up after other people for a living.  I've had many jobs that required me to organize other people's stuff.  Up to a certain point, it was interesting because I worked for brilliant people.  I learned a lot going through other people's information. I've always had a knack for systematizing information. It's kind of fun.

When I was 21, I worked at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. I assisted with the concert production and "organized" the owner's office. Bob's office was always in utter disarray. The file cabinet drawers could barely close.  He never cleaned his coffee mug, stirred his coffee with a tuning fork and littered everything with Merit cigarette ashes. Amidst the sliding piles of paper, under sagging shelves of books, was the first personal computer I ever laid eyes on. Bob's theory was that, since the universe is in a state of chaos, attempts at organization are pointless. Nonetheless, that was my job and so I tried. Bob's theory may have served to justify his style but it stuck with me, helped loosen me up and contributed to my humor and delight in the absurd.

It's time for spring cleaning! 
I am very bothered by clutter. I feel so much better when my surroundings are clean and in order that it's really important to me that they are. Right now, I can barely stand to look around.  Last week, I spent three hours looking for my passport. I did not find it. I put it in a very good place but not where it belonged.  Spring cleaning, I thought, is just around the corner.

It's not as bad as it seems.
Really, I do not live in a hell hole.  Things are just extra messy right now.  It's that time of year.  So, tomorrow morning, right after yoga, I am grabbing a box, setting the timer and going at it.
Once I am underway with a cleaning and organizing project, I realize that the tasks are not as daunting as they seemed in advance.  This experience can be applied to most intimidating projects. Once we take action, we think, Well, now, that wasn't so bad.

Sometimes it feels as though I spend half my time making a mess and the other half cleaning up.  Wonderful ideas and results emerge from making messes and from cleaning up.  Tomorrow wonderful results will emerge from cleaning up.  I'll put on good music, inspirational talks and give myself a good pat on the back at the end.

I'll see you on the other side.  Feel free to leave spring cleaning tips and tales in the comments.
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Why do you have to do so much?
Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.  — Ovid
I've been over-scheduling myself. My body (wiser than my mind) is telling me to rest, so that's what I'm doing.  I used to fight the urge to lay around... Too Much To Do!  
One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important.  —Bertrand Russell
Now, I surrender to relaxation whenever I can because, quite simply, it's good for me!  But it's not always easy.  Even as a child, my mother would ask me, Why do you have to do so much?  I thought it was an odd question.
During periods of relaxation after concentrated intellectual activity, the intuitive mind seems to take over and can produce the sudden clarifying insights which give so much joy and delight. — Fritjof Capra
Always something to look forward to!

Put your feet up. Close your eyes.  Inhale. Let yourself do nothing. Resting is one of my most favorite things to practice.

Enjoy this critical part of living and the creative process.


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Patience is not a Virtue

Patience is a practice.
Infinite patience brings immediate results. — Wayne Dyer
Hurry up and wait.  Frankly, that's how I notice myself feeling more than I'd like to admit.  I have an impatient personality that can get the better of me.  But I work with it.

As I was setting up my laptop to write this post, the power cord was twisted and looped into itself.  My impulsive tendency was to pull at the thing in frustration but I worked with it.  I made it the most important thing I could possibly be doing.  Apparently, it was the most important thing for me to do!

When I become impatient, I notice that I move directly into aggression.  It's a completely unconscious change. Not a good thing!

I'm impatient about allowing this blog to evolve.  About allowing my new website to evolve.  About completing the book am I writing.  About creating new work.

The key word is allowing.  Allowing takes time.  The only time is now.  And Now is the key to patience.  The only way to be patient is to be here now.

How do I work with my impatience?
  • I notice my impatience.  Awareness is critical.  
  • As soon as I become aware of my impatience, there is space and I have a choice.  I can surrender to unconsciousness and continue to feel impatient, or I can work with it.
  • I pay attention to my breath and make sure that I'm breathing.
  • I massage my hands.
  • I remind myself that if this were my last moment of my life on earth, it would be a shame to not enjoy it.
  • I look at the obstacle that's in my way to see it more deeply.   That obstacle could be anything — a power cord, a person, the tailgate of a car.
  • When I look deeply at whatever I might consider my obstacle to be, that quells my impatience.  And often, a feeling of love arises.   A good thing!
Read Pema Chodron's great article on The Power of Patience.
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Change One Thing

Change one thing every day.
If you don't create change, change will create you
Most people want to change something in their lives.  I certainly have a little list.

You have to make a change in order to create a change.
By intentionally changing one thing every day, you will create space in your life to allow for new change and development.   Even if you're at the stage where you feel as though you want to change something but you don't know what, making incremental, intentional change on a daily basis will allow space for clarity to arise.

We are creatures of habit and form habits with alarming speed.  When we form habits, "good" or "bad", a sort of calcification sets in and our tendency is to conk out — to go unconscious. When we go unconscious, we disconnect spiritually and that is when we get into trouble!

Most of us have pockets full of conk out methods — drugging and drinking, TV, food, cigarettes, and complaining are standard fare.   But another way to conk out is via routine.  Do you ever hop in the car to drive one place and suddenly discover that you've started driving somewhere else out of pure routine?

Make change work.
I'm writing a book and have been struggling with procrastination as I enter into a new phase of the project.  Procrastination is another tried and true method of going unconscious.  It's a mind game you play with yourself.   To be fair, it takes a little wiggling to fit your senses into new phases of any creative project.

To work with this, I changed up my morning routine.  Yes, the wonderful routine that helps me build support for my day.  I did not eliminate the routine but I changed the sequence, reduced the time of one Yoga exercise, added some meditation time and pulled the writing segment out (temporarily) and placed it at the end of my day.   Just a little messing with routine wakes me up because I am forced to pay more attention to what I'm actually doing.  It also makes me truly appreciate the value of good routine I've established! I am happy to report that my temporary change up has taken positive effect.

You can also change a little thing in your physical environment.  Just taking a minute to look around your physical space will connect you to where you are while you consider what you can move or cut loose.

Zen is doing one thing at a time.  Change one thing at a time. Just a little thing.  Even if you change one thing a week - that's 52 things in a year!  Even if each little change seems insignificant, you will be creating space for yourself and priming yourself for more significant change, for grander intentional change.

As you make little changes, pay attention to your breath.  Notice the space you are creating.  You're clearing the path for connection to the new and different.

Here are a few examples of little things you can change —
  • Throw something away
  • Change the radio station
  • Notice your attitude
  • Change your attitude about something
  • Juggle the order of any part of your routine
  • Wear a pair of old shoes
  • Juggle another part of your routine
  • Notice things that do not make you feel good
  • Change one of those things
  • Wear a favorite cologne you've neglected
  • Change a negative thought about someone
  • Drive a different route to work
  • Walk around a different block
  • Try a new food
  • Drink some pure water instead of coffee or soda
  • Sit in a different seat
What little daily changes could you make?
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A Good Foundation

You're already breathing and smiling.
Be a self-starter. Let your first hour set the theme of success and positive action that is certain to echo through your entire day. Today will never happen again. Don't waste it with a false start or no start at all. — Og Mandino
Your body has been lying in bed for hours. Before you hit the floor, do yourself a favor.
  • Wiggle your toes and fingers
  • Rotate your feet at the ankles and hands at the wrists in both directions
  • Point and flex those feet and hands
  • Give yourself a big long stretch
Want to try what I do?  First off,

Brush your teeth and clean your tongue. If you don't have a Stainless Steel Tongue Cleaner, use your toothbrush to scrub. I don't know what goes on in my mouth overnight but I do know that I feel better if it's clean before I

Drink a glass of water. Pure, filtered water. Still drinking out of the tap? My long-time favorite countertop filter is New Wave Enviro's Premium 10-State Water Filter.

Meditate. At the moment, I am working with a particular set of Kundalini Yoga breathing and meditation exercises. Even if you sit for ten minutes and follow your breath, you'll be doing a very good thing for yourself.

Say your prayers.  Give thanks for another day to get it right (and for the luxury and delight of a bed, a roof over your head and breakfast.)  For the last several years, friends have been asking for a print out my prayer.  Look to the right.  You can download your own copy for free.

Feed the animals. It's about time!

Do Yoga. If you do not already practice yoga, start now. It's never too late. Keep it simple. Start with one Sun Salutation then work up to five salutes every morning. It will only take you a few minutes. Beginners can look at this video of the Sun Salutation.

Write three pages. It doesn't matter what you write. Just write anything by hand and keep that pen moving. Something will arise. If you do not do this now, get started. Julia Cameron made Morning Pages famous. I've been doing it for many years. Writing three pages in the morning will help to clear your mind, get rid of garbage thoughts and prepare the way for clear action. This is especially helpful if you work for yourself. I promise that, in the process, you will work out problems that are in your way.

Eat a good breakfast. Here's the rule: Eat breakfast like a queen, lunch like a princess and dine like a pauper. Think about it. Food is fuel. Your body will be driving all day.

How are you going to fit all that in before you leave the house?  Start rising earlier. It's worth it.

This regimen is so ingrained in me that I feel weird if I miss a step. However, I do not mess with my own head if I do miss a step. Sure, I do not always feel like it but I do it anyway.  This little routine creates the support for my entire day.  No matter what happens, I built this good foundation that gives me strength.

Seth Godin wrote a recent post called I Don't Feel Like It. He's talking about work but it's worth reading because we all don't feel like doing something almost every day.  Do it anyway!

Do you have a morning regime that sets your day off to a good start?
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You don't have to think about it.
"Bring your attention to your breathing and realize that you are not doing it. It is the breath of nature. If you had to remember to breathe, you would soon die, and if you tried to stop breathing, nature would prevail."
Eckhart Tolle
from Stillness Speaks
First thing in the morningafter you turn up the corners of your mouth, pay attention to your breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. It's a good way to center yourself before getting out of bed.

In fact, whenever your thinking mind gets the better of you, pay attention to your breath.  Thoughts are the source of emotion.  When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed, remember to breathe.  It's so simple, yet so effective!

For me, the best meditation practices have always worked with breathing. Mantras, not so much.

While I was living in Boston in the early '90s, my friend, Steve got me into Shambhala Training. Steve was completing his Masters in Contemplative Psychology at the Naropa Institute and suggested that I might like this secular approach to Buddhism. There was a Sangha very close by and so I started in almost immediately with Level One: Basic Goodness.

Shambhala Training consists of five undergraduate and five graduate levels of weekend workshops that mostly involve sitting, breathing, walking and listening to talks by instructors.

Who knew how incredibly difficult it would be to sit still and breathe? Simple? Torture! Why? Because our very, very busy minds enslave us to their incessant flood of thoughts.
Spending ten long weekends sitting and paying attention to my breathing was one of the single most important things I have ever done for myself. Why? 

Because I became aware of my thoughts and thinking. Through that awareness, I was able to get a much better grip on being present. Sure, the talks and the teachings were important, but I developed the habit of returning to my breath when my thinking got a little out of hand. This is a great trick.

I'm starting out with the basics here.  I believe in laying groundwork and establishing good foundations.  If we're going to be healthy, wealthy and wise, breathing is fundamental! Just think of what breathing does for your skin, your eyes, your lungs and heart. Your mind!

Pay attention to your breath.  You will become present and what seem like larger issues will start to fall into perspective.  Promise.
HAROLD: "You don't look eighty."
MAUDE: "That's the influence of the right food, the right exercise, and the right breathing.  (she gestures)  Greet the dawn with the Breath of Fire!"
Colin Higgins from Harold and Maude
What does breathing do for you?
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