inspiration

Are You Embracing Joy or Chasing Happiness

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We can spend so much of our lives in the pursuit of happiness that we often neglect to savor or even notice our moments of joy. Happiness feels more a long term goal, something we can be ever in search of. Joy is more an in the moment experience that has the quality of deep satisfaction.

There are certain experiences that universally ignite joy in a person. The sight of a rainbow or a hummingbird or a dolphin or cherry blossoms. A single flower has the capacity to fill us with joy if we let it. Joy is our reward for following what feeds our heart and soul. Our joy drives us toward what feels good to us.

Creativity can be a great source of joy. The act of being creative whether we finish anything or make anything that we consider good has at its core a sense of joyful satisfaction. As a writer with decades of experience it is that pleasure in the process that has sustained me over the years. 

Recently I’ve started working with watercolors having been drawn to purchase a wonderful little instruction kit. My mind thinks I’m not very good but my creative spirit is having fun just playing and learning something new. 

The joy at the heart of creativity is the deep soul satisfaction that comes from creating anything new. We open to the flow of something greater than ourselves and find ourselves fully present in the moment where we seem to have all the time in the world.

Embracing joy is like taking time out to appreciate being alive. Consider for yourself what brings you joy and intentionally increase that presence in your world. What else can you do to feed your creative soul? As we regularly embrace what brings us joy we may just find our happiness.

The Importance of Play

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If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play. - John Cleese

Play is our brain's favorite way of learning. - Diane Ackerman

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct. - Carl Jung

In my recent work with both creativity and writing coaching clients I've found that the key element in getting them out of the doldrums or a sense of being stuck or not being sure where to go with their work is play. Play gets us out of the mind's need for doing and it's focus on product and puts us in the place of being and enjoying the process.

Since creativity comes out of the alchemy of subconscious working in union with the mysteries, play is essential in accessing expanded states of awareness and putting us back into the flow.

This is true not just for art and creative expression but innovation and discoveries in science and technology. I always really enjoyed the books written for popular audiences by Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman that illuminated the way he thought and made his remarkable discoveries. One of the founders of theory of quantum physics. Feynman had an IQ of around 123 which is above average but not close to the genius he was considered to be.

He described his process that lead to his astonishing discoveries as "noodling around", his term for play. He was passionate about the subject and he would just play with different ideas and vantage points and let his mind run with the possibilities.

Ultimately when we engage in creative play in any endeavor it feels good.. Bright ideas, insights and inspiration stream in, time slows down so that hours feels like minutes and we are infused with a feeling of well being. On top of that play encourages variation and doing things in new ways actually builds new neural pathways in the brain which expands our ability to be creative.

So ask yourself, what can I do to add more play to my life and see what ideas pop into your mind as you go about your day. And then have fun!


Are You Adrift in a Sea of Distractions

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I started writing before the development of the personal computer, when cut and paste meant I was down on the floor with a pair of scissors and a jar of that thick white glue that smelled vaguely of peppermint. It was in many ways a simpler time with far less pulling on my attention.

Every morning upon rising I would make my single cup of French roast coffee, dripped through a Melitta, and then sit down to write. There weren't any thoughts like I’ve got to check my email or Twitter feed to interfere with putting words on the page.

If I needed to do research, I went to the library, the sacred hall of actual books. I would flip through the cards in the small wooden drawers of the card catalog to find the book I needed, check it out and carry it home.

Now I love my laptop. It make revision including cut and paste so much easier. It connects me to a larger world. I can Skype my friend in Australia and feel like I’m sitting in her living room talking. I can connect to the web to find wealth of information I need for my work.

Yet lately I’ve been thinking about the issue of distractions. The fast pace of our times pulls us in so many different directions at the same time. We can lose ourselves in the swarm of emails, the compulsion to engage social media, surf the web or check the notifications coming in on our phones.


I’m not suggesting that we need to give those things up. Rather what if we brought more awareness to what we really want to be doing with our time in each moment. What is we asked ourself the question “What would bring me the most happiness and joy right now.” If the answer is to post something on Facebook, great.

Bringing consciousness to our lives on a regular basis helps us chose the activity that feeds us and helps us create more of what we really want in our lives. Asking “what would bring me the most happiness at this time, can help us overcome procrastination and the distractions that can get in the way of our creating.

When I asked myself that question this morning I got that I wanted to write a blog about distractions. Writing is one of the things that always brings me a satisfaction as I tend to be more present and lose myself in flow.

What does this for you. Start being more mindful of what really brings you happiness. Maybe set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour to remind yourself to stop and ask the question and be more conscious of your choices. Play with it. See what shifts for you.

Creating with All Your Heart

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If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing. - Marc Chagall

Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution. - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I recently saw a short film tribute to Chuck Berry, the undisputed father of rock and roll, with comments from John Lennon of the Beatles and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones both saying how much they admired Berry and tried to emulate his guitar work. Berry himself said that his secret was that he felt the music. Berry played with all his heart.

In my own creative work, especially with my writing, I have long been aware of the importance of connecting to the heart; both in the context of finding subjects and themes that make our hearts sing but also creating from the feeling place of the heart, from what we love and care about.

As Robert Frost said, “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” I always know that if I am moved in my own heart by a piece of my writing then it will genuinely touch other people.

For whatever you want to create, imagine dropping down into your heart and drawing on that feeling place for your inspiration and guidance. One of my clients envisions a wooden staircase leading from her mind to her heart and sees herself walking down them and when she reaches the bottom she immediately feels the clarity and expansiveness her heart has to offer.

Centering in our heart gives us access to our connection to all of creation which inspires and informs the highest expression of our creative self. It allows us to live and create from the place of expanded possibilities.



How Do We Allow Creativity to Flow

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When we get lost in a good book it’s because the writer got lost in letting the story come through as they wrote. I remember the first time when I got on a roll with my writing, where I knew I was writing something good. I stopped and looked around the room to see where it was coming from because I knew it wasn’t coming from my everyday self.

Since then I have come to understand writing comes from a dream-like state of consciousness of allowing what wants to be written to unfold. It doesn’t involve thinking or trying to figure it out but rather feeling and sensing what wants to be born and following that golden thread.

All creativity comes from this place of allowing something beyond our understanding to lead us. We can even create our lives from this place of expanded awareness. The trick is to let go of our need figure things out with our mind and our need try to control things to make things happen the way we think we want. Rather we let ourselves be surprised by what wants to unfold. We let go of the resistance we feel to letting go and letting our creativity and life flow.

We focus more on our heart and intuitive knowing. We pay attention to the inspiration that comes from that place and take action from there. We relax into being and let go of the need to push to complete our to do list. We are more present in the moment, paying attention to the world around us.

From this place we can pick up on the clues the universe or our creative self is giving us. Life becomes an adventure in allowing, an exploration of infinite possibilities. What if we think of our creativity and lives as a good book that we get lost in, where we can’t want to see happens next.

How Getting Creative Can Help Our World

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I just watched a video of a 42 year old neurosurgeon from California who dances for his patients to cheer them up during their check ups. He gets them dancing too, including a young woman in a wheelchair seen waving her arms and shimmying her chair. I love that this doctor had found such a creative way to tend his patients spirits as well as their bodies. I imagine it’s a great help to their healing.

It has me thinking more about how being creative can help heal our world. Creativity allows us to access new ways of looking at a problem and find fresh solutions. We touch expanded capacities and find ourselves capable of more we think. We connect more to our heart and spirit. We are often surprised and delighted by the unexpected inspirations that arrive. We can learn to bring the creative process into every area of our lives to help ourselves, each other and the world.

The simplest way to work with this process is to ask a question like “how can I help the world today” or “how can I bring more creativity into my life” or "how can this problem I am having in my life", and then let it go. Don’t try to figure out the answer with your mind. Rather let the response drop in as an awareness or intuition, a flash of insight or an ah..ha moment where you sense you are on to something.

I do this all the time, especially when I don’t know what to do. Like with this newsletter. Three days before the first of the month I had no idea what to write about. I felt completely uninspired. So I silently asked the question “what’s my topic this month?”. The next day I saw the video about the dancing doctor. That inspired the subject of how to work with creativity to help each other and the world.

When faced with the events in the world today and the constant bombardment of information we can easily feel overwhelmed and helpless to affect change. Knowing that our creative self is eager to assist us can help. So ask a question on an issue concerning you, someone or something you care about or the world at large, and see what comes. Then take some kind of action on the awareness, no matter how small. See where it takes you.

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. That’s part of being creative. We expand beyond who we think we are into more of who we really are. The rewards are many including an increased sense of empowerment and happiness. Play with this. The world, as you know, needs our gifts and inspirations now more than ever.

Overwhelmed by Life - Remember to Breathe

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In times of stress our breath can be our best friend. All I have to do these days is listen to five minutes of news, of hurricanes and political tensions, and I start to feel a sense of overwhelm. I become aware that I am either holding my breath or it has gone very shallow. My body tightens up in a fear response where I feel quite helpless in the face of these disturbing situations. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Even when we don’t feel overtly anxious, there can be undercurrents of worry that create tension. Our breath connects us to something greater than ourselves. It has long been key in the practice of mindfulness and meditation. It is the most powerful tool available to us in helping us relax and come to the calm at the center of our being where we know in that moment that everything is okay.

So try this: Take in a deep breath all the way down to the soles of your feet. As you exhale, relax your body. Do this for a few minutes relaxing a little bit more on each breath. You could even imagine breathing in the light, love and support of the universe where you feel safe and inspired by new possibilities.

As conscious breathing relaxes our body and mind, it boosts our immune system and enhances our creativity capacities. It calms the more primitive part of our brain associated with our fight, flight or freeze response and gives us greater access to the parts of our mind involved in creative problem solving. From here we can find inspiration to come up with new solutions for ourselves and the world.

How Do We Bring More Love to Our World

I don’t think any of us will question that these are tough times that can leave us feeling a bit helpless to have a positive, creative impact in our lives and the world. If we view the world solely from our rational mind, we limit our understanding to what has happened in the past or what we think might happen in the future. We limit our connection to the grace available in each moment and to the potential for miracles. We limit our capacity to love our world.

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Science now shows us, based on a study of the earth’s magnetic fields done by NASA, that what we hold in our hearts radiates out to the whole world. It turns out that our hearts have a magnetic field five thousand times more powerful that the one generated by our brain and it is in communication with the magnetic field of the earth.

This means holding love and appreciation in our hearts and feeling it going out to people and places in need actually has an impact. We can do this for people on the other side of the world from us, people in the midst of natural disasters, those in front of us in the line in the grocery store as well as to the earth herself.

I have a great fondness for tree squirrels and sometimes hold my affection for them in my heart and send that love to people and places in need. Recently I was doing this while sitting in my car in the park. I notice a gray squirrel loping in my direction and watched him come right up under my window, sit up and stare straight at me, as if to say, yes! So find what works for you. Play with it. I was delightfully surprised by what felt like squirrel love.

Our heart’s connection to a larger field of awareness may explain how we know things beyond our mind’s ability to understand how we know. We just know. We feel it in our gut, in our bones. This voice of our intuition or inner knowing that doesn’t make sense to our mind.

We tend to let our minds talk us out of the guidance that comes from that kind of knowing because it takes us out of our comfort zone into the unknown. Yet now more than ever we need to tap these expanded capacities for creative problem solving and innovation to be the change for our own lives and the world. We can to bring our heart felt love into our own energy field and the field of the world.

Looking for Inspiration in Unlikely Places

Recently on a trip to the Montana mountains, where we spent a week camped near a river that slowly snakes through a broad meadow, I noticed a pair of baby ducks who were clearly without their mother. I walked down to the water several times a day to check on them and was always relieved when I found them actively feeding and looking to be in good health.

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I have been interested in birds since I was a teenager and enjoy simply watching them. The more I watched these two ducks I was startled to realize that they were two different species, two very different kinds of duck. One was clearly a diving duck as it keep arching it’s body down into the river in search of food. The other was a dabbling duck incapable of diving, feeding instead on the pondweed and aquatic insects floating on the surface.

I have never seen anything like these two orphaned ducks so different yet so a home with each other. They never strayed more than a few feet from each other’s side. Baby ducks instinctively have a strong urge for the sense of safety in being part of a flock and they had somehow found each other to satisfy that need.

It occurred to me that nature was offering me a wonderful example of creative problem solving and inspiration for how we human may benefit from forming unlikely alliances in these challenging times. The ducks reminded me of the importance of letting go of how we think things should be and opening to being surprised by new possibilities.

This really is the heart of creativity, a willingness to play outside the box, to try new things and imagine new ways of being. Since this experience I have found myself more open to conversations with strangers who I might have previously perceived as quite different from me.

Along that same river I spoke with a stock broker from Chicago who has been fly fishing the region for 40 years and has a deep commitment to the environment. I met a rancher from South Dakota who is on a treasure hunt with his daughter and grandchildren, who explained that the directions to buried treasure was left in the form of a poem that, to my amazement, he recited by heart.

Being more open allows for more inspiration to flow into our creativity as well. I am finding it’s enriching my life in wonderful ways and new ideas keep popping into my mind. So try this. Consider the ways that you can be more open to unexpected inspiration and play with it. See if it doesn’t bring more joy to your life.

Feel the Satisfaction of Playing with your Creativity?

True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist. - Albert Einstein

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We are all creative. It’s a natural capacity, that when we are willing to play with it in new and evolving ways, feeds something deep within us. As Irene Claremont de Castillejo insists, “nothing is more satisfying to the human soul than creating something new. . . “. It doesn’t have to be a complicated art project. It can be a simple as cooking without a recipe like I did this holiday season.

I had the inspiration to add chopped pecans to the apple crisp topping. It turned out especially delicious and everyone love it. Granted I had learned the basics of cooking long ago and made apple crisp many times, so I had the foundation to play with. I enjoy playing with new dishes in the kitchen as one aspect of being creative.

What keeps us from exercising a sense of creative play more often? I recently re-watched Ken Robinson’s brilliant TED talk on YouTube, “Does school kills creativity?”. It’s the most watched TED talk ever, with 50 million views. Clearly it’s a subject that resonates with a lot of people. The heart of his thesis is that school discourages creativity by making us terrified of making mistakes.

In school a mistake has serious consequences. We can fail. It can affect jour entire life, so we learn to fit ourselves in the box of what teachers want and expect based on standardized criteria. There is not a lot of room for creativity.

Then there is social pressure that inhibits creativity. Along with the apple crisp I tried a new way of cooking brussel sprouts. I oven roasted the sprouts and the tossed them in a mixture of applesauce and sriracha. As I was about to pour the sauce over the sprouts, a friend leaned in and said with disbelief dripping from his voice, “is that applesauce?”. They turned out pretty good. Everyone ate them including my friend. I learned that next time I’ll try using half the amount of sauce.

The story is the same for all my creative endeavors from the countless rolls of film I used in learning to do black and white photography to the reams of paper as I went through as I practiced the art of writing. I have made a vast quantity of mistakes as I discovered what worked and what didn’t and built the muscles of my creative capacities.

What I learned along the way following my urge to create was to fall in love with the process, mistakes and all. Our creative self is less concerned with a finished product than the satisfaction experienced from the act of creating. When we are willing to play with the process without attachment to outcome we are often surprised and delighted by what comes through us.

As we enter the new year I want to invite you to creative play. Take a minute and check in with your creative self. What would she really like to do. Start with ten minutes a day to ease through any resistance, breathe into any fear of making a mistake, be curious and ask “what else is possible here” and see what comes. Above all have fun.



Poetry: The Unsayable Said

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I was accomplished at writing essays before I started to write poems. As I ventured into writing in a new form it took me a while to figure out that poems were more than very short essays. I had to learn the rules of punctuation and line breaks and the music the words could make. It wasn't until I read poet Donald Hall's essay on writing poetry titled Poetry: The Unsayable Said that I really got the power of poetry. His advice was "if you can say it any other way, don't write poetry."

As my own experience of writing poetry deepened I began to grasp that poetry was the numinous expressing itself through words. More than in any other written form the poet has to surrender to what wants wants to come through. Poetry gives voice to the ineffable, that which is difficult to describe. Poems capture the feeling or soul of the experience. Once I really understood that my poems got a lot better.

Here's a poem of mine I wanted to share to celebrate the coming of spring. It was inspired by an awareness that kept tugging at my imagination. I then had to let myself be surprised by where the spirit of the poem wanted to take me. This is part of the magic and joy of writing poetry.

Spring

Loons drift across the bay
slowly dressing for summer, turning
winter’s drab gray into the elegant
black and white of attraction.

Oaks unfurl their green brilliance
and the melodies of warblers
crisscross the branches
coloring the forest with song.

Still, it is only when the swallows
suddenly appear, looping wildly in a clear sky,
that spring finally opens within me,
as if they have carried the season north.

Suzanne Murray