One Thing at a Time

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Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchlings off to the sea, one at a time.
“A weakness of all human beings is trying to do too many things at once.”
—Henry Ford

There's no such thing as multi-tasking

The ocean waves do not try to reach shore at the same time.

The leaves on a tree do not try to change color at once.

Each wave, each leaf is a unique manifestation of an unfolding process of living experience. Human beings moving through space and time are also unfolding processes of living experiences.

But the human mind? Especially with gazillions of distractions here in the early 21st century? We are so easily distracted that we miss much of the beautiful unfolding process of life.

I make this claim with confidence because I am one of the most easily distracted people I know. My in-person workshops are quiet also because I teach an intensive amount of information with practical exercises in a short period of time and, if I drop a thread because of distraction, I may never get back to it.

I practice meditation briefly every day but nothing, no meditation I have come across, calms and focuses my attention like drawing or painting. It may not be for everyone but it sure works for me.

In my experience, multitasking is a myth. Trying to multitask can leave you dizzy, drained, overwhelmed. You may be working on several projects simultaneously but you can only take action on one thing or think one thought at a time (no matter how brief that time may be.)

Do one thing at a time. It's a sure way to sanity.
"Two things cannot happen at once; it is impossible. It is easy to imagine that two things are happening at once, because our journey back and forth between the two may be very speedy. But even then we are doing only one thing at a time.

"The idea of mindfulness is to slow down the fickleness of jumping back and forth. We have to realize that we are not extraordinary mental acrobats. We are not all that well trained. And even an extraordinarily well-trained mind could not manage that many things at once--not even two. But because things are very simple and direct, we can focus on, be aware and mindful of, one thing at a time. That one-pointedness, that bare attention, seems to be the basic point."
— Chogyam Trungpa, from "The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Meditation"
I have a long list of reasons why I teach drawing and watercolor. One reason is that the process allows people to quiet their minds and practice focusing on one task at a time. Practicing drawing and watercolor is super mindfulness training.

Wherever you are, you can learn these skills in the quiet of your own home by working with me online.


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Lost in the Stars

Milky Way (study)
Watercolor, 10 x 7 inches
Suzanne McDermott

Looking Out

Two weekends ago, I walked down to the beach after midnight and lay on the sand looking up into the night sky. At the height of the Perseid meteor shower, the moon was just a sliver and the night was perfectly dark. I was watching for shooting stars.

After scanning the sky for a while, I began to really see the stars. Billions and billions of stars twinkling through atmospheric disturbances. The Milky Way cut a wide swath across, illuminating with galaxies through dust and gas and dark matter. I began to perceive the depths of the universe.

The depth and the distance was unfathomable. I felt that I had never really seen the night sky before. I had little to no idea of what I was seeing but as I continued to look out, I felt myself expanding. Admitting that I seriously overuse the word awesome in everyday speech, it literally describes my experience. Awesome.

It may have helped that I'm unfamiliar with most astronomical names and configurations. I can recognize a handful of constellations and name them. I can tell planets from stars. That's about it.

Because I have little preconceived notions of astronomy, I had no intellectual hook that caught me with thinking about what I was looking at. In pure wonder, I was falling up.

I saw a few meteors, most out of the corner of my eye but, as it turns out, they were not the main event.
"When the eye wakes up to see again, it suddenly stops taking anything for granted."
—Frederick Franck
When we think we know what we're looking at, we often don't see at all.

The first steps of my drawing workshops or online courses in drawing and watercolor are all about learning how to see. When students think that they know what they're looking at as they begin to draw, they encounter the root of most problems in drawing.

The truth is that drawing teaches us how to see. Every single time I pick up a pen or pencil to draw anything, no matter how familiar with it I think I might be, I always see something new.

Seeing is not an intellectual exercise. Neither is drawing. Both are processes of discovery fueled by a willingness to be open and curious.

Preconceived notions can be comforting, a way of ordering the universe. But they also create assumptions and are at the root of prejudice. This starts with the simplest things, everyday objects.

We sort of make up our minds about things, people, places and stop really seeing them. Whether or not you practice drawing (or are thinking about picking it up again), try being open and curious. It takes some getting used to, but see what happens.

Raise Your Creative Consciousness

Learn to see better.

  • Develop your drawing and painting skills. 
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  • Yes! Absolute beginners welcome. 
  • No need for artistic talent. No online experience necessary. 
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  • and more... much more!

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Fall 2013 Online Course in Drawing and Watercolor
September 12 - November 28
Last chance to work with me one-on-one in my current online format.

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How to challenge yourself

Suzanne McDermott

Slice of Life

I'm incredibly fortunate and deeply grateful to live steps from a beautiful beach right now. Every day, I take advantage by walking barefoot along the shore for at least 40 minutes. Longer or twice a day if I can.

This particular beach is interrupted by groynes (or jetties in other locations.) Rather than walk up to the dune end or around in the water at low tide, two weeks ago I decided to climb over the rocks at whatever point I approached them. I'm not a climber and have a history of ankle injuries but decided to try it anyway to change things up and give myself a bit more of a challenge.

Here's what I noticed. My focus sharpened, I felt a little braver and more accomplished, used a few extra muscles, and improved my balance. I challenged myself with a little thing and reaped some major results.

Now I'm down with a full-blown head and chest cold. I did get knocked out of commission for more than a few days before I fully understood that I had a virus. I don't get sick often so when I do, it suddenly feels like the end of all things. But it's not, of course. My challenge switched to taking good care of myself while getting back in gear.

I'll clamber over the groynes again but right now I'm exercising my flexibility.

How to Challenge Yourself

Start small

Growth is all about challenge and response. If you practice challenging yourself with small things, when you're faced with a task that seems like an insurmountable mountain, you'll know how to approach it. One step at a time.

Be imperfect

Many people are incapacitated by the notion that in order to do something new, they must do it perfectly. First of all, there is no such thing as perfect. Second of all, I take that back. You are perfect just as you are at this (and every) moment.

Instead of perfection, consider mastery. Mastering a skill takes practice. Practice takes commitment and dedication over a period of time. So...

Be brave

If you're afraid to take your first small step, ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen?" Chances are, nothing of any consequence, especially if you are starting small with one small step.

Expect setbacks

Setbacks in any endeavor are inevitable. Setbacks are part of the challenge equation. How you respond to your setbacks are part of the response equation.

Don't give up when you experience a setback.

Be flexible

As you navigate setbacks, it helps to be flexible. If you're going to be flexible you have to practicing stretching yourself, mentally and physically.

Just as it was a stretch to take your first small step, it's another stretch to take another step after a setback. Even if you're knocked flat on your back by a setback, decide that you're going to proceed and get back on track as soon as possible.


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2 ways to slow yourself down

Suzanne McDermott
Watercolor, 5 x 7

It's August

Time to slow down.

Slowing down is a good thing. If we want to be centered, mindful and connect with other people and the world around us, we have to slow down. Some of us can slow down naturally but most of us need some sort of therapeutic remedy to knock us out of our break-neck pace and obsession with incessant waves of thinking.

Take advantage of the high heat of summer. Allow your pace to adjust to the temperature.

Be lazy! You have permission. Laying off work is a tradition in some places. Most of Europe goes on vacation. Paris empties out. New York psychiatrists abandon their patients.
"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability."
—Sam Keen
2 ways to slow yourself down

Immerse yourself in water

Whether you can pop down to the shore and wade into the ocean, dive into your local pool or lower yourself into the bathtub, submerging your body in water is a phenomenal way to chill and I don't mean cool off (although it should do the trick!)

The ocean.
Salt water heals. When I was a little girl and would scrape my toe or knee at the beach, my father would look at it and say, "Go on into the ocean. That's the best thing for you." He was right, of course. The salt water cleaned my superficial wound and started the healing process. More than that, though.

As JFK once said:
"...we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean."
The pool.
I prefer to not swim in chlorinated water but if that's what you have, then use it. When I go to a pool, I work out rather than hang out. Lap after lap after lap. If that sounds like you, try taking easy laps with breast stroke.

The tub.
My mother used hydrotherapy when I was particularly cranky and unruly as a child. She'd draw a bath and put me in. It worked. I calmed down almost immediately.

It's great to use salts or essential oils or jets but honestly, just putting yourself into water will do the trick. Your brain will change and your body will experience immediate relief.


Pick up a pen or a pencil and draw something in front of you. For fun. Who cares what it looks like? Who's going to see it but you? What it looks like at the end is not the point here.

In this case, the point of drawing is to relieve your mind and to slow yourself down long enough to look at something carefully enough to make a drawing of some sort.

Just doodle if you can't stand the idea of drawing from life. The very act of moving a pen point around on paper will do the trick.

In Roz Chast's writing workshop, she has her students doodle. Here's why:
"I think we doodle to shut the left side of the brain up, like, during a meeting when that's really, really boring. I think it's sort of like having a kid with a crayon. It's like, I know you want to talk through all this, but just draw. So, I found that it's much easier to listen and concentrate if I'm actually drawing, like a little doodle."
Speaking of which

One of the main reasons I teach drawing and watercolor is to help people slow down, get real, bypass racing thoughts, be present in real time. The tools we use in my courses are pencils, pens, brushes, water, color, and paper. We start at the very beginning so that your creative house will always stand on a solid foundation. Whether you have no experience or some experience, your foundation is critical.

As you practice drawing and watercolor, you begin to notice that the light, your experience of time, your perspective, is always changing. Your experience in any moment is never to be repeated. You can't catch it with a camera, but looking back over drawings and watercolors brings some ineffable reminder of connection to a place in time. Because you slowed down enough to connect to your actual experience.

Join us for an awesome training in slowing down, getting to know yourself better and learning to practice and understand drawing and painting as a path to self-realization.

Register in advance for my Online Course in Drawing and Watercolor starting in September at the best price of the year. My advance offer is going out today.

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