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Constructive laziness part 2: the six principles

In part two of our thrilling series, we take a closer look at the building blocks of a Constructive Laziness practice. In the coming week’s we’ll apply this Constructive Laziness DNA to specific applications, like self care or creative work, but for now, here is the path to creating your own Constructive Laziness practice.

Full text is below the video.

So, here are the steps or basic tenets of the Constructive Laziness practice.

Step 1: Make some space

Whether we’re talking about creative work, getting your business off the ground, or getting serious about recovery or self-care, cramming something into an overfull life is only going to create more stress. And assuming that “it’ll just happen” because of all your good intentions…well, that’s not gonna work either.

So, the first step is to go into your calendar and schedule in blocks of time. Like, literally, schedule in space for this practice. You will not meditate if it’s not in your schedule and while putting it in your calendar doesn’t guarantee it will happen, it makes it far more likely.

The first step in Constructive Laziness is to make space for ourselves. Our lives are not going to make room for us, so we have to actively and consciously claim it.

Step 2: Do the bare minimum

This step is all about gentle outcomes and tiny actions.

Determine for yourself what is the bare minimum you can do today whether it’s at your day job, in the rehearsal studio, on the meditation cushion, or with your family. This is not a vague thing. This is not about phoning it in. This is about getting real and specific about the absolute least you can do in order to fulfill your commitments.

Why? Because you do too much right now. And it’s causing harm. So, in order to discover the full range of possibilities available, you need to tangibly and scientifically find out what the least amount of effort you can put in looks like.

We are not becoming deadbeats, I promise you. We are rigorously finding out what it means to do “enough.”

Step 3: Take breaks so long you get bored

This is where you stop. Truly stop. You come to complete stillness and you allow your body, mind, and spirit to rest and recover fully.

By committing to the bare minimum, you have bypassed the impulse to cram way too much in. Now, you double down by taking big, long, luscious breaks. Real breaks. A break where you eat lunch and all you do is eat the food instead of multitasking on your phone. Where you lie on the couch and watch the breeze moving the curtain. Where you don’t fill that hole in your schedule when a project ends, you just let it hang there, empty.

We are so spun up and spun out that we experience stillness and present moment awareness as boredom. We get really edgy really fast and we reach for something, anything, to distract us. The things we reach for are not helping us.

I’ve written about the magical magnetism of boredom before. But in this practice, I want to encourage you to let boredom (aka stillness aka present moment awareness) be the thing that pulls you forward into the next thing—not your anxiety, not your fear of empty space, not your need to appear productive.

Step 4: Do a bad job

Writer Anne Lamott talks about shitty first drafts and how necessary they are to getting to solid third, fourth, or fifth drafts. I’m a huge fan of Anne and and a huge fan of shitty first drafts. But I want to take this even further than that.

I’m talking about doing the absolute worst job. Like making the most hilariously, operatically bad version of the thing you’re working on. Why? Because perfectionism is paralysis. And doing your worst sets you free. I want you to try this. Be purposefully terrible at what you do. Write the most over-the-top shitty marketing email of all time. Make the half-assest Worst Parent Ever lunch for your kid. Design the most ridiculously bad research project known to humankind. Just trust me and do it.

If you did this well (and by well, I mean awful) you made yourself laugh. You liberated yourself from the chains of perfectionism and you saw very clearly that you did not die from doing a crappy job at something. You also learned something incredible, which is that you can fix it later. Your self-worth doesn’t have to be tied to your performance. You can suck for fun and sport. And then you can give it another go.

You are allowed to iterate and rewrite and have do-overs. You are allowed to be bad at something, try again, and do better.

Step 5: Let it go

This is the part where you step back at the end of the day or the end of the work session and you punch out in the spirit of Fred Flintstone and you run to your stone car and you yabbadabbadoo the hell out of there.

This is not the part where you analyze and evaluate and discover the seventeen ways you did not measure up today. Where you feel guilty for not doing the bare minimum. Or feel guilty for doing the bare minimum and sneak a couple extra hours of work in to make up for it. Or beat yourself up because you were so freaked out by the idea of actually doing something for yourself that you “forgot” to do that self-care or creative work you scheduled in.

Let it go.

Whatever you did today was enough. You did enough. You are enough. Let the rest go. Tomorrow is a new day. And today, you did good.

Step 6: Do it again.

The final step of the Constructive Laziness process is to start the whole shebang again from the top!

This is why ease and rest and lowered expectations are built into the practice. It’s so we have enough energy to do it again. And maybe to do it again and again and again.

Rather than launching yourself over the 60-foot wall your anxiety and perfectionism creates, you lower the bar to about six inches. You remove the panic and the trauma and the feeling that it’s all a huge ordeal. You remove the pressure to get it right the first time and pressure to finish it all in one go.

You make it so easy on yourself that you can do it again tomorrow. And so you do.

I’d love to hear about your experiences trying and applying Constructive Laziness! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Watch Constructive laziness part 1: the origin story now!

Constructive laziness part 1: the origin story

Tada! A video series! This is the first of a gaggle of posts digging into a practice I developed called (deliciously) Constructive Laziness. Part 1 digs into how and why I created such a thing and who CL can really benefit. Up next: the six steps of a Constructive Laziness practice. Enjoy!

P.S. Full text of the video is below.

The history of Constructive Laziness

I started developing something I call Constructive Laziness in response to my own, terrible, creative practice. I brought all my anxiety, all my perfectionism, and my tendency to overwork into my practice of making theatre—and not only was it ushering me toward early burnout, but it was generating constipated, airless, and inflexible art.

I would kill myself to make something, over-rehearse the juice right out of it, demand way too much of my collaborators, and never be satisfied with the results. Something had to give.

So, Constructive Laziness was born.

I didn’t know what ‘constructive laziness’ meant or what it was, but I knew I needed it. I started by injecting a ridiculous amount of ease into my rehearsal process, and when I started a new work, into my creation process.

But, just a couple of weeks into these investigations, my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Hormonal upheaval, shock, and grief overshadowed everything. But, I had a job and a season of scheduled showings for this new work I was making. So, Constructive Laziness became way more than an approach to creative work. It became a survival strategy.

The practice refined itself and was put to the test as I dealt with three further pregnancy losses, a complete mental/emotional/spiritual breakdown, a job that kept needing me to do it, several creative projects, and, over the past eight-plus months, the wild ride of an almost-full term pregnancy.

I have put Constructive Laziness through the wringer and it keeps proving itself to be amazing and applicable to a bunch of different contexts.

Who it’s for

So, who is constructive laziness for?

This practice is for perfectionists. It’s for anxious people. It’s for sensitives and intuitives.  It’s for overwhelmed, overachieving overworkers. It’s for those of us who feel like we have to prove ourselves every single day, whether we actually do or not. For the people who put both feet on the gas when our bodies, minds, and souls are begging us to pump the brake.

Constructive laziness basic principles

This practice can be applied in a lot of directions, which we’ll get into in future videos. But the basic principles are very simple:

  1. Inject an absurd amount of ease into what you do.
  2. Do less as a means to accomplishing more.
  3. Process is more important than outcomes.

If you are an overachieving anxious perfectionist, your sense of what is “enough” is completely skewed. What you think of as lazy is what most folks would call “doing a good job.” So what we’re doing here with Constructive Laziness is working directly against your habitual tendencies to work way too hard, cut yourself too little slack, and expect way more of yourself than is reasonable.

You never let yourself come to a complete stop. Your engine is always running and it’s revving way too high. Because don’t let yourself rest, you get tired—and not even because you’re necessarily working so hard—just kind of by being alive, you tire yourself out.

But here’s where things get complicated: the more exhausted you get, the more you demand of yourself. Nothing is ever good enough. Which creates an impossible dynamic. So, you never feel like you’re moving forward as much as you want and it leads to things like burnout, procrastination, and giving up.

Constructive Laziness asks you to rest early and rest often. It asks you lower the stakes and by doing so, get more done. It asks you to acknowledge that this is a process, not an all-or-nothing gun-to-your-head one-shot deal that determines your value as a human being.

Next up: the six steps of a Constructive Laziness process

Can’t stop, won’t stop

So, you get through a really rough, chaotic time where you did more than your fair share of heavy-lifting and you think, ‘Ah, I’ve done it. It’s over. I can rest.’ And then, exactly seven minutes later, the Next F*cking Thing hits and all your special occasion, top shelf uncharitable thoughts come out, along with some flying spittle.

Life as a grown-up human feels relentless. It seems there’s no respite, or not nearly enough. Especially for those of us who are bad at relaxing (raises hand).

Looking for rest in all the wrong places

We think that if we go through all this struggle and strain, the universe should balance out somehow and give us a break. And the thought of that rest, that dangling carrot of peace, is partly what gets us through the rough times, but somehow we never actually get a good grip on the carrot even if we get a chance to catch up.

Why? Oh, because we made it up. Yeah, the carrot isn’t a thing.

There’s no vacation on the other end. That’s the bad news. The good news is, there’s a whole other way to look at it.

Look for the spaces between things

Where we get hung up is this idea of Big Effort = Big Rest. We see things in these large chunks when really, it’s better to bring it down the pixel level or the molecular one.

Taking things down to the microscopic, zooming right in, we get to see all sorts of lovely space around and between things, like the gaps between cells under a microscope.

We see that A Stressful Day is not one thing, but many things. Many things surrounded by buffers of space, like commutes or bathroom breaks or waiting in line at the impound lot where you can rest your attention on a nice, long inhale and a big, beautiful exhale. Spaces where, because the trains are all effed, you need to walk to the appointment and move at a slower pace.

This can be a practice—looking for the spaces around things. It can be practice to place yourself consciously in those spaces instead of rushing through the transitions. To make something of them. To find peace within them. To rest all the way through the process instead of hoping it arrives at the end.

Get your finger off the trigger

Problem is, the mind wants to latch on to how small these spaces are, and how they are drudgery, too, like all the other drudgery. Going to the bathroom isn’t a break! How can I possibly find peace while squatting over a reeking john with toilet paper stuck to my shoe?!

And I say: Chill, dear mind. Use your powers for good.

We get to train our cute brainboxes to see about anything. And thus far, they’ve practiced seeing the solid block of intensity. They’ve practiced seeing lack and ‘here we go again.’ They’ve rehearsed the “I’m so stressed ouuuuuuuut” speech for so long, they’ve forgotten there are other scripts to perform…and to write.

But, the first step is noticing what storylines are running on automatic. And how they’re contributing to your overall freaked-outedness. And if there’s a way to just delicately lift the needle off the record player and start looking around for other tunes to play.

Create consciously

And now, having practiced seeing lovely empty spaces, having raised a sceptical eyebrow at habitual storylines, having shifted the onus of great power and great responsibility onto your capable, muscular shoulders, you become an artist.

You peer into these variously shaped spaces with curiosity and creativity—and you think, ‘What shall I make in here?’

Is this a moment where I make a ritual of observing the trees I pass on the way to the subway? All the different tree personalities? How green they look in in the rain? How the wind moves them and shapes their branches?

Is this a moment where, in the in-breath between the kids leaving and the work email binging, I take up a pen and write several sentences all in a row? Whether it’s a journal practice or a novel or a I-dunno-I-just-have-this-idea.

It might even be the kind of moment where you see a pattern you’re ready to stop. A boundary that it’s time to build. A hole you patch up, for real this time, instead of leaking your precious life force out of it and giving away your power.

And I should tell you there’s no limit to possibility here.

A dear friend of mine and I have created an imaginary escape hatch for days that are Entirely Too Much. It’s a magical place called Fuckthisshit Island and no one is invited there but us. We have BBQs and fancy cocktails and dig our toes into the warm sand. We leave all the bullshit behind and take a moment to catch our breath.

Choose again

So then, the task is to gently build a little muscle around making these conscious choices.

We don’t need to make an epic project out of it. It’s just seeing, ah, I can do this again. And if you can do it again then it can become a real thing in your life. You create a habit, you make something, but more deeply affecting than that: you build trust.

Trust starts to knit itself between the part of you that really needs a rope to hang onto when things get squirrelly and the part of you that knows, now, how to make that happen.

Because it isn’t necessarily Life And The Universe keeping you from rest or from the space to create, it’s that subtle, fragile trust in yourself. That when the opportunity comes, you won’t sell yourself out.

That you’ll allow yourself to notice the spaces and to bring gentleness into your experience. That you’ll fill the spaces well and for your highest good. That when the chance to fill the spaces comes again, you’ll build the muscles you really want to build. The present, creative, funny ones.

The muscle to hold a spacious moment in your hands like a tiny bird and ask, “Should we sing now? Should we sleep? Or should we fly?”

Inner work, outer effort

The process of realizing dreams or bringing creative projects to life is always a balance between internal and external work.

This is, for me, a distinction between dreams and goals. Goals and goal setting always has this kind of aggressive rah-rah quality of articulating a specific, measurable goal, giving yourself a deadline, and Doing All The Things to get that shit done. Lose ten pounds by Christmas! Sell a million copies by April 2020! Get married and have a kid by…ech.

I used to love goals. But honestly, after My Lost Year, focusing on outcomes and taking on arbitrary, anxiety-provoking deadlines no longer resonates. Too much stuff has gone sideways in my life for me to feel okay within the rigid structure of goals.

But I do have dreams and very clear aspirations, some of which come with specific timelines. And I know these things will change me on some deep, alchemical level. Because the juicy stuff always does.

Dreams bump you up against all your stuff: limiting beliefs, unprocessed pain, and your own individual cosmic curriculum of lessons and areas for growth. They also take a lot of hard, boots-on-the-ground work.

Dream doing always involves efforting on the inside and the outside.

Which is why getting attached to goal-like outcomes is a dangerous gig. You may think that, say, writing your screenplay is about starting your career as a professional screenwriter and selling your first script. But this project may be actually about developing a writing practice and learning to self-promote. The outcome of selling a script is your (and your ego’s) idea of what this project is ‘for,’ but your cosmic curriculum might be different.

So, let’s just jump over to the idea of a cosmic curriculum (and I promise I’ll stop using that term).

We all have a path. Whether it was determined before we arrived on the planet or whether it’s being written as it’s being lived is really irrelevant. You are here to be, do, and learn very specific things. You don’t get a course syllabus printed out for you at the beginning of life. You find out about your assignments as you live them out.

And, once again, we continually bump up against our ego as we move through our assignments, who has definite opinions about what should be on the curriculum: fame! loads of money! sexy brunch every Sunday! easily identifiable markers of success which come at regular and predictable intervals!

This is why we’re so baffled when our expectations aren’t met by the outcomes of our projects and dreams…because we believe our egos to be in line with our path.

What we seek are outcomes. What we get is growth.

Case in point: In 2011, about a year after I arrived in New York, I did a long run of a show I made. My intention, and my material need at the time, was to make money. Our goal was to sell tickets and get paid. That didn’t happen. Throughout the seven weeks of the run, I freaked out about how we were failing to achieve our goals. I was so obsessed with how much or how little revenue we were bringing in that I couldn’t see the true function of this production.

Over the course of the run, we attracted something like 20 or 30 reviews. Everything from major news outlets to well respected magazines to bloggers moved to write about the work. This? Is unheard of.

One reviewer attended what ended up being a private, one-on-one performance. Before the show started, I was devastated and crushed there was no one in the audience but her. But that show turned out to be the single most intimate, magical performance I’ve ever done in my life.

The purpose and results of that production, while not ones I sought, formed the perfect set-up for what came in the two years following: big international tours that relied heavily on our press coverage for their success, and the beginnings of me learning to actually trust the process.

Often the roadblocks we encounter come from ‘inside the house.’

A need to inhabit a new, leadership role can force you to look at old, unresolved feelings of unworthiness. These feelings must be worked through or you can’t fully become a leader. The inner work is necessary for the outer work to get done.

These moments of internal effort often have the effect of pausing progress or activity on the external level. Which can be provoking. It might make you feel like the internal work is a distraction or taking you off course. It might feel like a waste of time. I assure you, it’s as much a part of the success of this project as any other effort.

The key is to be aware of what’s happening.

I was just part of another project where the intended outcome was money. Money, however, was the last thing that was coming to us. What came instead were communication problems, interpersonal confusion, and frustration. Finally, I realized I needed to let go of the money outcome completely and focus in on understanding what the actual (larger, deeper) purpose of this project was. When I did, I saw that I needed shift into a heart-centered place of compassion and serve the project from that place. I stepped into a spiritual leadership role I had neither acknowledged or fulfilled in my quest for dollars.

Then, of course, everything in the project started to flow—the external work could progress unabated because the internal work had been done.

So much of the personal and spiritual progress I’ve made in my life is thanks to my biggest dreams and creative endeavors. My dreams have asked me to face deep-seated fears and the way I keep myself small. These are not self-help side-projects—they’re necessary for moving forward with the project at hand.

Think of them as assignments within the larger assignments of our dreams.

The beauty of realizing dreams is not that we get to check a box that something got done or achieved. The real purpose and value of pursuing our dreams is that they ask us to grow as human beings. Dreams and creative work will always offer us opportunities for hard work where we roll up our sleeves and get things done. But they’ll also offer us the vulnerable, foundation-layer opportunity to look at ourselves and transform ways we don’t expect, but deeply need.

What is your dream asking of you now? How does it want you to grow?

Peeking under the hood: on avoidance

I have a friend going through divorce right now, and the money thing is really messing her up. So much so that she finds herself falling asleep inches from her laptop with The Sopranos playing because she’s terrified of giving her mind any space. Give that thing an inch, she thinks, and that core fear, that horrible anxiety, those whispers about security and scarcity will turn into an impossible roar.

We are so afraid of What’s Down There that we avoid looking at ourselves at all costs.

We think we’re irreparably damaged, filled with violent, chaotic pain that’s waiting to consume us. We’re terrified we’ll drown.

Oddly enough, this is how we know we’re getting somewhere.

If your ego (that sage, but stunted Protector Of The Status Quo) has the rabid dogs barking this close to your conscious mind, you’re closer to a breakthrough than you think. Remember the ego fights dirty and it fights to win. It will do anything and everything to survive because its survival means keeping everything the same. The big trouble is, your default impulse is growth. Progression. Evolution. Expansion.

This makes the ego really, really uncomfortable. So it blows up your core fears into giant fun house mirror monsters and goads you into turning away from change.

This cannot and will not work. You’re built for transformation. You are wired for spreading your freaking wings and taking flight. But, you’re also human. And our species has gotten a lot of mileage out of backing the eff away from suffering.

Let me set the scene.

So, your ego parks this barking, rabid dog by the door marked Obviously Where You Should Go Next. And you walk up to the door, get terrified, and walk away. Maybe you try again the next day, maybe you put if off ’til the weekend. But then weekend comes and you’re busy with kids, so you think: Monday, Monday. And you do sincerely, earnestly glance at that door again on Monday, but ugh, that dog is still there, and workstufflatelaundryblah. So you walk away. And you walk away. It really doesn’t take long, like a week maybe, before the walking away becomes stone-cold avoidance and you’re binge-watching Nurse Jackie, unable to deal with your life (*raises hand).

This will-I-or-won’t-I dynamic takes a lot of time and energy. It’s layered in with shame, self-recrimination, and accumulating feelings of failure. It’s sitting on top of a nice foundation of whatever core fear your friendly ego has poked and inflamed. Avoidance bleeds outward from the original problem or situation and takes over everything. And the net result is a massive and painful disconnection with yourself.

Because, my darling, you are all of these things. The transformation, the fear, the urge, the avoidance, all of it. And it’s okay.

The solution is not a large thing. (It never is, by the way.) It’s a tiny, tiny thing. It’s to sit down right now wherever you are (and okay, if you can’t sit, just do it standing in line at the bank or hanging one-handed from the monkey bars) and take five big, beautiful, mindful breaths. Right now. Do it. I know “it’s stupid” but do it anyway.

Good. Thank you.

And now I want to you to do The Next Small Thing, which is probably something like Drink A Glass Of Water or Rip Your Eyeballs Away From Instagram And Get In The Car Because You Are For-Real Late. Do that thing and then there will be the next one, which is Eat Something Green or Notice The Blossoming Trees As You Walk or Respond To That Email Where You Have To Say No To Someone.

Start to notice that your day is full of these moments and micro-choices.

And that the dynamic of stuckness and panicking on the other end of stuckness doesn’t have to run your day. It doesn’t have to be insurmountable. You can dismantle avoidance by pressing gently on the gas when you feel your body or your intuition or your alarm clock say, ‘It’s time.’ You can soften its edges by busting out five big-ass breaths. You can allow yourself to fail at these small things and live to tell the tale. You can bring an element of curiosity to the whole gig and ask, ‘What if?’ before, say, letting yourself go for an aimless meandering walk instead of timeboxing your life into efficient oblivion.

And once you’ve built up a nice résumé of accomplishments like Ate Lunch Before 3pm/Contemplating Murder and Responded To Passive-Aggressive Text Message, you can glance over at that door again. And that dog.

Oh! I should tell you. That dog isn’t actually there.

Take a pink rubber eraser and squeak-squeak-squeak that thing out. Imaginary dog. Made-up bullshit. Never existed. Good, okay. Now, look at that door. The one marked Obviously Where You’re Headed Next. And contemplate this idea:

Whenever you approach a new level of development, you must pass through a threshold.

This threshold might require you to jettison some old belief structure that doesn’t jive with the incoming new world order, or you may need to address some old fears or traumas that have held you back. This is a rite of passage, pay-the-piper kind of thing.

It’s not the funnest thing in the world, I recognize. But this is Growth in a nutshell. You outgrow a skin, and you have to shed it. Old pain, outdated beliefs, unworkable fears…these are the skins you peel off as you progress.

All this to say, while there is no frothing canine guarding the door, there may be a bit of discomfort ahead. But, you’re good for it. Because it’s no more discomfort than some of the other line items on your résumé: Setting Boundaries With An Unreasonable Five-Year-Old, Going To That Divorce Mediation Meeting, Looking The Cashier In The Eye While Paying With Food Stamps.

Avoidance is an attempt to escape pain.

But, we are humans, so pain is inevitable. It’s just that our imaginations get out of control and we imagine our pain to be much larger and more overwhelming than it needs to be. We can practice taking tiny doses of discomfort one at a time, and witnessing ourselves succeed at them. Sitting Down To Meditate Even Though It’s Been Two Weeks Months. Turning Off Netflix And Going To Bed. Making Actual Dinner. Using Your Hand To Pick Up A Journal Instead Of A Smartphone. Trying Just Trying To Forgive.

These are not tiny, pointless things in the face of some massive ordeal.

This is movement and momentum. This is building strength. This is witnessing your own power. This is loving the wholeness of yourself. This…is progress.

What are you avoiding right now? What skin do you need to shed in order to grow? Share in the comments below.

Stepping into the fray

I didn’t want to meditate this morning. I’ve been doing this meditation practice with ice lately, training myself to focus in the presence of discomfort. It’s not pleasant (that’s the point), but it’s effective, and I moved around my house in the space before entering discomfort with that cagey resistance that most of us know really well.

I knew I had to go in, but I wished that I didn’t.

I did the practice, and that cagey resistance was waiting again on the other side when it came to going for a walk. It’s a perfect spring day—I don’t know what my problem was. Sometimes, I resist the best things for the dumbest reasons. I went for my walk and I passed a polling station and I wondered if part of that dodgy vibe I’m picking up is because today is the NY primary and a lot of people are on serious tenterhooks. This whole country is, when you think about it.

It feels like a verge we’d never be on, but here we are.

And aren’t we always here? In one way or another?

That cagey resistance is part of my every day. So is that feeling of being on the verge. Of being one step away from a fray I’m always going to have to enter.

And there’s a feeling of wanting to run and hide, but also a feeling of not wanting that at all. This subtle, internal push-pull locks me up and makes it all much harder than it needs to be. Most times the answer is to just do the thing. Stop fretting at the side of the pool and get in already. It’ll only be cold for a second.

This is how it is with change. We know it’ll be uncomfortable—we’re not stupid. But, we forget that’s not the point.

The discomfort isn’t what we’re choosing, it’s the change.

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like a choice, though. It feels like you’re forced into a situation of sinking or swimming and maybe you resent the part of it you didn’t choose. But, you’re here, in the water, so you’d best get on with things. I felt that way when I got divorced. I didn’t want to be single, but the person I was married to was leaving, and that’s just what was happening. Resistance hung me up for awhile, but eventually I understood that I needed to set about choosing how I wanted to be single because that’s what I was now.

Same with the miscarriages. Same with every time depression comes to call.

And honestly? Same with every day I wake up and resist the practices that are keeping me alive. Every time I face down some Big New Something like moving or really learning to be an ally or trying to get pregnant again.

We’re always on the verge. We’re always stepping into the fray.

We’re always making that giant choice to face What Is and act without knowing how things will turn out.

I want to acknowledge that in you. Because sometimes what might seem like the Tiniest Nothing Thing, like, do I wear a dress today? is the opposite of tiny. Ask any transgendered person. And sometimes what we’re facing down is speaking the truth in the face of oppression or acting directly against accepted ways of existing. Sometimes, there could be consequences that are really painful, and that’s the risk we’re taking when we step in.

That cagey resistance thinks it’s trying to save our lives. But it doesn’t actually have that power.

The only thing that will save us is to walk right off the edge and see what happens on the way down.

You can’t stay on the edge forever. It doesn’t actually work that way because that edge isn’t safe. There are scary consequences there, too. Which isn’t to say There Is No Safe Space. It’s just not where you think.

The safest place you can be is at the moment mid-step when your foot has left resistance, your weight has shifted, and gravity is pulling you toward What Is.

That moment of free-fall is the safest place in the world.

What are you resisting right now? What’s waiting for you on the other side? Share in the comments below.

The air we breathe

I realized the big dream of my life eight years ago this month. I traveled to Paris, solo, to write. The intention was to immerse myself in artistry in a city that had captured my heart and soul ten years before—and to change my own life. I knew I was supposed to be an artist. I knew that’s who my true, authentic self needed to be.

I finally let her.

But, when I got home (a small city in Western Canada), everything fell apart. The re-entry was rough. I no longer fit in my own life. I was stifled. I didn’t know how to bring my Paris self into my world back home. Depression moved in.

I remember one night, unable to sleep, I slipped out of bed and went to the room I used as an office. I was desperate, reeling and coming unhinged. I didn’t know what to do. I reached for my journal and tried to write my way to clarity. As I wrote, I began to combust with a blinding, white rage. I collapsed on the floor, ripping at the pages of the journal, gripping its hardback cover with white knuckles, and tearing the book in half.

I sobbed and sobbed, on my knees, ruined journal still in my hands. I was lost.

There are times when we see with devastating clarity that our dreams—our authentic selves—refuse to stay quiet. We understand that marginalizing them and making them small is killing us. We feel the rage take over. Our bodies rebel. It’s terrifying.

But, what did we expect?

That our true selves would tolerate being shoved aside? That day jobs and dinner parties and placid status quos would satisfy the wild, unbridled, creative spirits we are?

It doesn’t work.

We are uncontainable and we will not abide.

Oh god, I wish we could. I long to be satisfied by a straight-ahead life. I wish I wanted what The Other People seem to want. Martha Graham called this a blessed unrest, but how difficult it is to remember the blessedness.

I’m so sorry. You’re going to have to live your dreams and inhabit your authentic self. No matter how inconvenient or uneconomical. No matter how much strife it may cause. No matter whose feelings you hurt.

You have to.

Your authenticity is the oxygen your body requires.

There’s nothing more to it than that. And so you must, without knowing how any of it will work out or what ruination may await, get yourself into a studio. You must write your poems. You must finish your film. You must let your insatiable curiosity gorge itself on the world.

You must, as I just did, bear the annual crisis of faith when you file your taxes and see how little you made and how much you spent on your creative work, your self-care.

See moments like this as reckonings with the true cost of your survival.

They are.

This isn’t to say you’ll never make money at your passions. That’s beside the point. The point is, the world was not built for the wild-haired creatures of light that we are and that costs us something. We learn to bear it or, better yet, budget it in.

Without it, you don’t exist. You go dry and curled at the edges. You become a husk. You fade. Your rage sets you on fire and eats you alive.

There is nothing wrong with you.

God, I want to scream it. There is nothing wrong with you.

You are a precious flicker of light. A candle in the vast blanket of bland darkness. Your anger is real and it’s true. Your pain, your hunger, I believe them. Your longings are a bread crumb path out of prison. Follow them. Please. Suck in the breath of air you so desperately need. Let your rage burn down the walls that contain you. Know that many of us are where you are, or have been, or will be. And that becoming yourself, while done alone, is not done in isolation.

Claiming space for yourself claims it for all of us. The benevolent colonization of an empire of secret gardens, tangled woods. A country built of light and clean breath. A place where we can live.

How has your authentic self asserted itself in your life? How did you respond? Share your stories in the comments below.

 

The edge of surrender

I call the year spanning from July 2014 to June 2015 My Lost Year. During that time, I had two miscarriages and two chemical pregnancies (miscarriages that happen so early, it’s like you weren’t even pregnant at all, but ah, you were, you were, you swear you were).

My body, mind, emotions, and spiritual sensibilities were chopped and churned. There was so much blood, so much confusion, so much pain. My memory of that year is shot—I cannot place anything in time, even now. The phrase ‘I’ve blocked it out’ is apropos, though that implies some kind of conscious choice in the blocking, which doesn’t feel like the case.

A year of my life was just gone.

I emerged from that time broken and enraged. I felt like a failure, and like I’d been robbed. After enduring all that suffering and loss, the world owed me a baby for God’s sake. I was a blood-soaked warrior, kneeling in the killing field, screaming pointlessly into the sky.

But I live in New York City. And pointless screaming, while common, doesn’t go over.

What I didn’t know then was that the very end of my rope was the perfect place to be: a potent moment of pure potential disguised as hopelessness, loss, and rage.

I was on the threshold of surrender.

Surrender gets a bad rap. Many of us were told early in life that a “quitter” wasn’t something you wanted to be. Failure was also terrible and to be avoided at all costs. Actually, any kind of poor judgment or lack of ability to predict the future was frowned upon. (You should have known better…) Really, what you wanted was to get everything right on the first try, stick with it, and succeed at all times.

But, we don’t always succeed in the conventional way. I’m stating the obvious, but is it, actually, that obvious? That we really don’t know, going in, what will happen or how things will turn out? That we’re often so obsessed with getting something right, we’re blind to the ways in which we’re getting it wrong?

And that the harder we struggle to reach our desired outcome, the further away that dangling carrot gets?

It’s like a boxer getting their ass kicked, but they keep staggering to their feet, only to get knocked down again. And again. And again. Why does she keep getting up? Why not stay down? Or more to the point, why not just get out of the ring altogether? Get some ice on that eye. Have a hot bath, maybe some tea. Crawl into flannel jammies and call it a day already, sheesh.

We try so hard for so long that we make ourselves suffer. We effort and persevere and strive ourselves to death. Why?

We forgot how powerful we are in surrender.

In surrendering, you set yourself free. The outcome that had you in chains, and the struggle that locked you up further is gone. The ego you built up around achieving this thing vanishes. The identity you constructed, I Am The Person Who…, disappears. You become, in that moment, your true, expansive, and unlimited self.

Just by letting go. Just by saying, with every cell of your being, Uncle.

When you truly and actually surrender, you shed your small self and step into the largest version of who you are. The self that is open and vulnerable. Majestic and unencumbered. The one who can see things afresh, and is willing to embrace change.

Because that’s all that’s being asked for here at the edge of surrender.

Only change.

Things aren’t working. It’s time to try another way.

It’s so simple, but we complicate it. We make ourselves bleed. We make ourselves feel bad and wrong. We followed the rules to a T, but the rules screwed us over so fuck them and fuck you and fuck everyone in your apartment building and on your knitting team, too.

Hey, it’s okay.

It just isn’t working.

I don’t know why. Probably none of us do. It’s not the right time for one reason or another, or for no reason at all. It might never be the right time. So let’s back ourselves out of this box canyon and find something else to do.

This? Might be called failure. (And don’t we have a lot of baggage around that whole scene?) But it might also be called embracing what’s real.

The key here, and the hardest part, is to actually surrender.

Not just a little. Not for the afternoon. Not by keeping one foot in the door because maaaaaybe if you tweak your approach slightly and re-write the copy and work nights for another couple of weeks…no. I mean honestly and courageously face the fact that you and this particular thing are not working out, and let it go wholly and completely. For real.

Let your ego feel that punch to the solar plexus, that full-body oooof, and also that moment of free-fall afterward where a lot of existential room opens up under your feet and you plummet for a good long minute or two. (You might need to cry a little at this point. I support that 100%. Go ahead and let some pressure out of the tires.)

And then feel what happens next.

It might be a little like: in breath, out breath, blink. It might sound like a bird chirping or a taxi driving by. You might notice, say, the way the light falls on the sofa or how the woman across the room shifts in her seat.

That’s what surrender feels like. Grounded and free and simple. Like the present moment just flashed its boobies at you and smiled as if to say, “See? It’s not so bad here. We’ve got birds. We’ve got snacks. What took you so long?”

And what, oh powerful, surrendered one, do you want to do next?

Working with time

I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship to work and time lately. Making time for creative work. Retreats as a way of moving forward quickly in a short amount of time. Multitasking as a concept. I’ve been in a number of vastly interesting situations, many of which are outside my preferred way of working, which is, in a nutshell: a little bit each day always toward a process-oriented deadline. Like, “I’d like to have my first draft done by X,” or “I’ve got an in-progress showing next month.”

This is my jam. However.

In the past several months, not only has my own lovely, spacious bubble has been popped, but I’ve had the opportunity to observe people in their natural habitats (all very different from my own), and to hear from you, my incredible readers, on a regular basis. What follows is the contemplative results of my observations and experiences in something like chronological order.

Lessons from illness

First, I was sick for two months straight. Not I’ve-got-the-sniffles sick, but laid out on the couch, and curled in a ball for the entirety of December and January. (Everything’s fine, don’t you worry for one second.) It sucked royally, but it gave me a peek into what it means to have seriously reduced capacity. I could not turn my illness off or control it in any way, so the idea of fitting work around it was impossible (and laughable). Meanwhile, I had a significant process deadline scheduled for the end of February, the first draft of a brand-new work, so I felt the pressure to get work done.

My creative work, paid work, and domestic labor depended on me grappling with the question, ‘How do I work while sick?’ Now. My experience was temporary—others living with chronic illness or disability, not so much. I know for a fact disabled artists have written far more eloquently on this subject than I, but the education of my experience is worth sharing.

Be okay with doing less.

Sometimes a lot less. Sometimes nothing.

Ask for help.

I thought I knew how to do this before. I was deeply wrong. This is a critical skill to learn, and keep learning.

Let shit go.

My house was a disaster for two months, I wore the same thing every single day, and no one had clean underwear. Meh. I also had to make difficult choices about which of my projects to focus on and which to (at least temporarily) let go.

Count on impermanence.

Illness, much like grief, is a state that tricks you into believing it will never end and there will be no reprieve. Stay extremely present and maximize Windows Of Wellness as they arise, however random and however brief.

Lessons from overwork

Next, I attended a staff retreat intended to root us in the big picture of the group’s mission and vision, and to collectively orient ourselves to our goals for 2016. The idea was to pluck us from our usual contexts and the demands of client work, so we could immerse ourselves in collaboration and creative thinking. The only trouble was, client work still had to be done.

Over the course of four days, billable hours gradually took over, shoving the juicy stuff into the margins. People stayed up late, hunched over their laptops until past midnight. Folks skipped out on retreat sessions because they had to prepare for client calls later in the day. Other people pinballed between priorities, never finishing one thing or the other. A bunch of us got sick after returning home. As I observed this process unfold, it reaffirmed my commitment to several things.

Multitasking doesn’t work.

For me, anyway. There’s research to back me up on this, but just watching people try to do it was exhausting—and trying to collaborate with people who were all over the place was crazymaking. Try working in focused chunks of time instead. (They can be short!)

Important before urgent.

If you do the urgent stuff first, you’ll fight fires all day and never get to what’s important to you. Dreams, big picture work, creative time; it all gets shoved to the bottom of the list unless you put it first in your day.

Self-care, self-care, self-care.

There were a couple of people who, as I put it, ‘managed their introversion well’ at the retreat. They took their alone time and made sure they made enough space to recharge. But for a lot of us, the pressure to engage and appear busy and “do” ourselves to death took a terrible toll.

Lessons from mindful immersion

After the work retreat, I went on a retreat for my own creative project with two collaborators. It was intense and immensely productive. It was also in the Rocky Mountains. We went in with a couple of intentions, but no plan. We rode the present moment, allowing it to reveal what was needed at any given time.

The result was pockets of incredibly deep work that emerged organically from a foundation and backdrop of self-care: we ate well, we meditated, we moved our bodies, we spent time outdoors, we watched ridiculous comedies, we rested. The whole 72 hours were spent attending to the present moment, nurturing our project, and offering our whole selves into the process.

Intensive work works.

For projects where your collaborators are far away, or if it’s difficult to do a little work every day, short bursts like retreats are an incredible way to focus deep and move forward quickly.

The process works.

There is absolutely no need to impose arbitrary plans or outcomes onto the process (assuming you paid attention to the urgent vs. important business from above). The process can be trusted to reveal exactly what is needed, and what process-based milestone is asking to be attended to next.

Get some distance.

The beauty of a retreat isn’t just the focused time on your project, it’s the perspective you gain on your regular life. Rather than just getting through the day, you step away, and see things clearly. What habits of action or thought need a re-set?

You gotta power down.

Staying aggressively present and committing to process with your whole self—physical, mental, spiritual, emotional—is hard freaking work. Laughter and lightness lets you come down and give your innards some actual rest. (Watch Magic Mike XXL. Seriously.)

Lessons from family

The re-entry from my retreat was all about family. I stayed with a friend who has two young kids, and then visited my parents for several days. I was reminded, yet again, that family time is full-on. It’s as intense as a retreat, and for folks with kids, that intensity never stops.

Some people can hustle both work and family at the same time, but I’m no longer satisfied with feeling fractured and pulled in too many directions. More and more, being fully in the here and now is the way for me to create a calm mind and good relationships.

Surrender.

Instead of tearing yourself apart about what’s not getting done and what boxes aren’t getting ticked, release completely into the present moment. Trust yourself.

Dwell in a place of love.

Take a step back and see what’s really important, what really endures, and what needs the full force of your heart center right now. Instead of struggle and tension, bring all your love to bear on a situation and watch what happens.

What have you learned about the relationship between work and time? Share your genius in the comments below!

Sticking with it (no matter what)

When I ran marathons, the race always broke itself into thirds. The first part was all excitement and endorphins. The last bit was full of ‘almost there’ guts and glory. But that middle third? A big ole boring slog.

How do we keep ourselves going?

Motivating myself in a race is a real mixed bag. Latching my focus onto someone’s back and imagining them pulling me forward. Taking it one mile at a time. Rationing nutrition and fluids to break the time up and give me things to look forward to. Trying to achieve a transcendent mind-space where my body is running but my brain is somewhere else. Singing stupid songs over and over.

Whatever works to keep me going, I’ll pull it outta my butt and do it. But let’s get more intentional, shall we?

There are several challenges facing A Practitioner Of Practices whether it’s a self-care routine, daily meditation, or the doing of dreams. Each one contains the key for how to turn it into fuel.

The missed day (or two days or two weeks)

We fall off the wagon. It happens. When I was training, my coach would say, “If you miss a workout, let it go and move on.”

Let it go. Catch the next one.

Don’t beat yourself up. There’s no need to turn a day or a week of missed practice into a personal debt you have to pay back. Forget trying to cram in two practices a day when you can barely manage one. No one’s watching. No one’s keeping track of your commitment on their cosmic abacus.

Climb back up on the wagon and start again. Even if you start again seven thousand times.

It’s fine. We all do it, except for the tiny percentage of robot people who never miss a day of anything ever. There are fifteen of them and seven billion of us.

Getting derailed

Our best laid plans and great intentions sometimes get blown to pieces. A night of insomnia, a week of puking kids. A sudden change in work schedule. A deadline dog pile. Time gets compressed and your priorities slip to the bottom of the stack.

A quick and honest assessment will let you know if this is Just Life or if this is a self-destructive pattern at work.

If it’s self-destruction, congratulations! Your next few therapy sessions are all planned out. (Also, read all of Debbie Ford’s writing on the shadow.) If it’s Life doing its thang, the best way to deal is to adjust your expectations and break your stuff down into smaller pieces.

Do less, but make sure your work stays on the radar.

Meditate for five minutes (or five breaths) instead of fifteen. Write a paragraph instead of a page. Maybe your practices happen in smaller pieces more frequently throughout the day. Maybe micro-actions are actually what you needed all along.

Losing steam

Waning energy or motivation is the ‘middle third of the race’ in a nutshell.

Other than singing ridiculous songs to yourself, it requires a regular re-engagement with the big picture. Why are you chasing this dream in the first place? Why is it important to you?

Re-connecting with the Why gives your daily practice purpose.

Create a mantra that reminds you of your big picture and repeat it daily. Schedule a weekly check-in with yourself (even if it’s five or ten minutes) to connect with your purpose, dreams, and goals.

Remind yourself how high the stakes are for you—not to put extra pressure on yourself, but to ensure that your soul work stays top of mind and top priority. Making my creative work my first priority was, for me, a matter of survival. I reminded myself of that every day, especially when I got scared about having enough income or faced making big changes.

Blockers

Sometimes you can’t move forward on your thing because there’s something else sitting right in the way. Fixating on moving that boulder is one way to go about it, but if it won’t budge, take a step back.

Rather than focusing on this specific task, what else can you do to meet the goal?

Say you want to develop your intuition and have been practicing the gratitude-writing ritual. The writing part of the ritual has become blocked by a change in your partner’s morning schedule that makes it impossible for you to sit and write before work. Rather than get attached to I-must-sit-in-total-silence-writing-in-this-gilded-notebook, reconnect with the broader goal: tapping into your intuition and getting clarity on certain areas of your life.

Take that goal with you into the shower or the subway. Let the sound of the water clear your mind, then ask your intuition for clarity. Listen for, and expect, a response. I have a friend whose intuition speaks up as she drives her kids to gymnastics.

There is more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to realize a goal.

Meh, it doesn’t matter

Ah, the sneaky wiles of doubt. Fear masquerading as boredom. Self-belief springing a leak. These come on as a subtle wave of Whatever that takes the wind right out of your sails.

The best antidote to The Mehs is self-awareness backed by a toolbox full of tricks.

Understanding that a motivation slide is often a manifestation or fear or doubt is critical. Rather than flog yourself for “not caring,” show yourself compassion and tenderness. One you’ve named the problem accurately, you can begin shifting those thoughts into more positive ones.

It’s a perfect time to bust out an affirmation practice. Or create a vision board and place it where your eyeballs can’t help but witness the colorful glory of your dreams. Make an amped-up playlist full of songs dedicated to your dream (or to shaking off doubt). Recruit an accountability partner to help you stay on track with weekly meetings, or just reach out to a friend who can talk you through the slump.

Set up a bunch of fun, positive, and supportive structures that derail this subtle internal slide and give you energy.

How do you keep your practices and dreams going when the energy or motivation sags? Share your insights and strategies in the comments below.