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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

On survival mode

Exhibit A: She unexpectedly got pregnant and then married. They were living long distance, until he moved to Canada when the baby was born. But his business was in the US, so they went down south, only to get “invited to leave the country” a year later. They arrived back in Canada with a toddler and $200. They made things work but just months before they opened their restaurant, baby #2 showed up. Surprise! But still, she felt guilty that she hadn’t moved forward creatively. She hadn’t made anything in years. Was she still an artist?

Exhibit B: She spent four years in a depression, facing down suicide several times, surgery, weight gain, eviction. She moved in with her mom and only just got her own place and a job three months ago. She was a finalist in a comedy competition a few weeks back—her first time doing stand-up—but the thought of doing it again is exhausting and overwhelming. She wants to work on her one-woman-show, but can’t find the energy. Is she self-sabotaging?

Exhibit C: Within one calendar year, they went from a three-week hospital stay to coming out as transgender, ending their marriage, starting a new relationship, parenting two kids through major transition, and navigating their own transition. So…how’s the novel coming along?

It’s easy to see from the outside, or with hindsight, but when we’re deep in weeds of survival, we rarely understand—or give enough credit for—how much of ourselves that takes.

There’s a huge difference between survival mode and creation mode. How do you tell which is which?

But first, a word about ableism

Our cultural obsession with productivity and the expectation that we all adhere to a continuous robotic level of output is deeply messed up.

It causes serious damage.

No person can be—or should be expected to be—consistent or competent or functional all of the time.

We are human. Shit goes down.

All of us experience periods when we don’t have the room for a single goal or aspiration—we are working our asses off just to stay above water. Sometimes, no matter how hard we paddle for breath, we sink and struggle. These times can last weeks; they can last months or years. For folks experiencing structural oppression, they can last generations.

But somehow, we all feel the pressure to constantly lose weight and get raises and travel the world and create masterpieces.

Sometimes, the masterpiece is making a hundred bucks last until Friday. Sometimes, the weight loss we need is to drop the pressure of unreasonable goals.

And I say this as a person obsessed with dreams.

Accepting the fact of survival

The main reason I could make my Paris dream a reality—besides unbelievable amounts of privilege—was surrendering to survival mode…for six years.

Dreams and creative work couldn’t happen until my divorce, depression, and cripplingly low self-worth were addressed. That meant learning about self-care and, more essentially, self-love, doing a lot of work in therapy, and rebuilding my life from the ground up. It meant getting sidelined by a rage that lasted two years and finding a way through that. It meant figuring out a balance between income-earning work and the hours and hours of unpaid labor it takes to stay mentally, physically, and psychically healthy (an ongoing, lifelong project).

Once I’d come to a place of relative competency with all of that, I had the psychic room to dwell on What Might Be. And I had the spoons to spare to make a start at it.

(If you have not heard about Spoon Theory, drop everything right now and read up.)

And now: acknowledge yourself

So. If you are in survival mode or are coming to suspect that’s what’s going on, I urge you to be gentle with yourself.

Instead of beating yourself up for being 40 and not having your novel done, how about acknowledging yourself for surviving debilitating illness, loss, litigation, career transition, or, for God’s sake, gender transition? Instead of looking at all you haven’t done and haven’t accomplished, how about giving yourself some credit for what you’ve endured, what you’ve been through and breathed through? Instead of measuring yourself against other people’s performances of success—the photos of babies, the awards, the show dates, the weddings—how about giving yourself a trophy for the valiant effort of paying rent and making it through today.

I mean it. This is not a consolation prize or a participation award.

This is a real and deep acknowledgement of the improbable act of survival. The heroic effort of staying here with us on Planet Earth. The majestic display of human resilience in the face of adversity, change, illness, oppression, catastrophe, and a culture who believes you should be a smiling robot.

It is also an acknowledgement of what you’ve given up. The dreams you’ve sidelined. The goals you’ve put on the shelf. The selves you’ve stripped. The things you had to let go of so you could face the job at hand.

The labor of survival

If you are in survival mode, it’s usually not because you want to be. Most of us working to stay level would love to aspire to great and glorious adventures. And so, there’s resistance to deal with, too. Or rather: acceptance that needs to happen. Grieving. Some anger.

But, I have to say, there is beauty, too.

There’s a liberating and radical simplicity to saying ‘fuck you’ to fitness plans and watercolor classes in favor of early bedtimes and focused recovery. I got a secret thrill out of relentlessly and shamelessly clearing my calendar during my year of miscarriage. Nope, nope, nope. Nothing that steals my energy gets to stay.

I no longer had room for bullshit. And if you’re in survival, neither do you.

The work of survival is beautiful work.

You do what’s best for you, no matter what. You put what is essential first and you ruthlessly remove the rest. You pare down. You get lean. You get real about self-care. Really real. You surrender. And there, you find a power you didn’t know you had.

You see who is really there for you. The numbers are small, but the people are extraordinary.

If you can release the energy-thieves of resistance and anger quickly, you might have a whisper of creativity to spare. Not, maybe to write screenplays or plan expeditions, but to let your survival be artful and a little lovely.

To find pleasure the 20-ounce coffee you need to get through the night shift, instead of guilt or self-recrimination. To find relief in the sleepless overwhelm of new parenthood. Liberation in no longer trying so hard to appear perfect and together and in control. Compassion in the midst of hard loss.

Survival is human work. The work of flesh and blood and souls. It is not the realm of shiny, smiling robots, but a path of warriors who have faced the enormity of this human life and, somehow, kept breathing.

How are you navigating survival? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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?”

Finding your way back to center

I launched a book two weeks ago. A few days before that, I wrote a different book in an intensive three-day workshop process, while co-facilitating said workshop. All told, it was two or three weeks of solid work without a day off. Followed by a week of emotional fall-out (aka constant crying) from some Unexpected Interpersonal Drama the popped up along the way.

Not the worst it’s ever been by any stretch, but definitely a taxing time.

At the end of it, facing my first free day, I felt this tense combination of urgently needing to relax and a complete inability to let myself rest. It was like my engine was still revving alarmingly high and I’d forgotten how to shut it off.

Before my own personal self-care awakening, I spent years in this state. And based on many conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks, many of us do.

Relaxation is a skill

We think it should be innate and obvious—but we practice the opposite so rigorously, running ourselves into the ground with stress and overwork and a compulsion to Go and Do, that relaxation becomes forgotten wisdom. Rest, recovery, relaxation, self-care. All of these things are actual skill sets that we get almost no encouragement to practice. Until it’s too late.

So, how do we find our way back to center when we’ve spun out of balance?

Look it in the eye

The first step, as always, is awareness. A little self-check of ‘hey girl, looks like you’re off the rails’ is often enough to start the process. This isn’t an invitation for a bunch of criticism and recrimination. We don’t need to dogpile punishment on top of a white-hot engine that has momentarily forgotten how to gear down. We just need a gentle, Psst, It’s Time from the little internal voice who always knows what’s what.

A reminder that even if we’ve forgotten how to kill the ignition, we can at least take both feet off the gas pedal to start.

Remember what worked before

In my case, I had this hilarious blank. I’ve spent years building up a massive personal toolbox of self-care practices, but at the moment I needed them, I forgot every single one.

So, just take a minute and calmly think back to what has worked in the past. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal—you don’t have to concoct a huge lavender-scented antioxidant recovery strategy for yourself right now.

You just need to remember one or two things that worked to settle you, and do them.

For me, it was a bath. A 20-minute bath with some sea salt and a couple drops of essential oils. I did this two or three days in a row and it was enough to start the process of unravelling the parts that were wound-up tight.

Trust your tools

Is a sea salt bath the silver bullet that’s going to save your entire life and solve all your problems? Nope, but it’s going to be the One Thing that reminds you of All The Other Things that really work to bring you back into balance.

That bath is going to remind you that you haven’t spent time around big trees and silence in awhile, and you’re going to get yourself to a park or a forest. It’s going to remind you about eating well and drinking enough water. It’s going to let you know that it’s totally okay to book an extra therapy appointment or acupuncture treatment. That what you need is a really great hug and an afternoon reading young adult novels.

It reminds you to make conscious choices on behalf of yourself.

These individual practices bring the big picture back into focus: that going deep with self-care has always served you, and it’s safe—and appropriate and necessary—to do that now.

Clear some space

This is where I tell you to say no. This is where I ask you point-blank if that other person’s needs are really and truly more important than your own well-being.

This is where I ask you how far down the Minimizing Your Own Health road you really want to travel. And where I ask you, gently but firmly, to not go to that barbecue party and not acquiesce to that unreasonable deadline and not offer yourself up as punching bag and serving wench to anyone who walks by.

I want you to nope out on anything that asks you to draw fumes from your already-empty tank for someone else’s benefit.

Does this mean you are offloading all adult responsibility and becoming a self-serving hermit? Uh, no. It means you’re taking a hot second, a solid week, or as long as it damn well takes to feel like yourself again, which is the adultest thing I’ve ever heard of to do.

Chill out about chilling out

There’s a thing that can happen where because you risked a lot to actually take care of yourself for a minute, you feel like you have to Achieve Ultimate Wellness And Personal Transformation.

I give that a no.

It would serve you way better to do a half-ass job at relaxing. For you to stare off into space and completely forget that you were planning to make a decaf almond milk latté, listen to Bach, and read the Dalai Lama’s writings.

Try doing nothing and see how difficult that actually is.

Rest and recovery are not things to accomplish or perform. They aren’t boxes to tick. This isn’t status-update-worthy stuff.

It’s sweaty pajamas and asking for help with the dishes. It’s making it to the farmer’s market, not because you’re going to post about it on Instagram, but because holy God those strawberries are so shinyredsublime they heal a part of you. Because pressing your forehead to the trunk of an ancient oak grounds you. Because watching a bird take a bath in a puddle is so simple and beautiful, it unwinds some of the burdensome complication you didn’t know you were carrying.

Get permission if you need it

Years ago, my psychiatrist would advise me to do the bare minimum. I loved her for that. Now, I keep a couple of friends close to me who, when I can’t seem to let myself off the hook, will do it for me.

These “permission slip friends” are folks who know how hard you work, who see how you put a hundred-and-ten into everything you do, and how deeply you serve everyone in your life. These are people who have your highest self in mind at all times. These are the people who you call when you need permission to phone it in for a second in order to get yourself right.

One of my dearest friends created a beautiful hand-painted sign that reads: Permission granted.

We could all use a sign like that.

What do you do when you can’t seem to slow the spin cycle? Share your strategies in the comments below.

 

Losing your lower self

Dreams are a lot of work.

You’re outside your comfort zone—raw, naked, vulnerable. And you’re working your ass off for something that’s a risk. Maybe it’s utterly new or scarily costly or dangerous to your physical safety. Maybe it’s not supported well by your friends or your spouse or, say, a consumerist, productivity-obsessed culture that eats human souls for tapas.

You’re dangling in the wind and hustling like a mofo all the livelong day.

That shit? Is taxing.

That’s not quite all, though is it? It’s tax season. Your lease is up in a couple months. Your bathroom sink just sprung an objectively fantastic leak. You have to bake 26 gluten-free, peanut-pristine cupcakes by 7:35 a.m. Your boss is crawling directly up your butthole. Your internet connection sucks, and you slept approximately 3.7 hours last night.

You’re TIRED, man.

Ah. But, wait, there’s more. You’re a perfectionist, albeit a recovering one. You’re introverted and sensitive. Your self-esteem could be better (thanks, childhood trauma). Your recurring back injury is threatening to recur, along with your recurring alcoholism. And today, at some point, a subtle or unsubtle combination of the world’s shittiest trifecta—capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy—will come over and slap you in the mouth.

Have we hit exhaustion? Oh, yeah. I think we’re there.

So, does anyone blame you for making out with a pint of chocolate ice cream and six consecutive episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine?

No, we freaking don’t.

It’s just that you do it every day. Or, at least, more often than you’d like. Enough that your Internal Okayness Monitor is on orange alert. We’re not at red, yet, thank god. But we’re way beyond that peaceful, lagoony bluey-green right now.

When pushed to the limit, we take refuge in our lower selves.

We do the things we know aren’t healthy or helpful. We skip out on self-care. I have been known to actively resent the things I know will help me, like meditation or exercise or looking on the bright side. Sometimes, I just want to be angry and blamey and victimy for awhile.

Sometimes, my pain and rage needs to be heard. And seen.

And sometimes, I need to eat an entire pie. (Pumpkin. With whipped cream. Screw you.)

There’s a subtle connection here with last week’s post on surrender, and I think the common element is that vibrating tension of rage. We work so damn hard on so many levels, and it doesn’t get acknowledged. Not really. Not enough.

So, let’s start with that.

I acknowledge you.

I see you girding your loins and stepping out of safety every single day. I see the risk you take in being who you are. Fighting to use a public bathroom. Doing what’s best for your kids amid judgement and ridicule. Dealing with bullshit microaggressions while launching your new career. Walking the tight rope of “wellness” and the razor’s edge of paying rent.

I see the battles you wage and the risks you take on behalf of your highest, most divine self. And I see the world undermine you and tear at you with its claws.

I see you. I hear you. I feel you.

And even though you feel terribly, desperately alone, and like the hits come from all directions at all times, I’m with you. We’re with you. There’s a whole lot of us. We’re here and we’re watching. Allies. Fellow travellers. Wounded healers, all.

We don’t see you as a freak making life harder on yourself. We see a valiant hero, slashing through the tangled woods.

Now, let yourself rest.

We’ll watch over you while you sleep. Trust us. Imagine that we’ve formed a circle around you, facing out. This is your protection. Here, we’ve gathered some lovely soft leaves for you. Your only job, and I know it’s not that easy, is to let yourself rest.

You know the effects of chronic stress. Of a body always in a state of fight or flight. You also know, intuitively and implicitly, that you can’t go on like this indefinitely.

So, in whatever form that takes, explore the experience of deep rest. Let down your guard for a moment. Sink into it. Like the softest blanket. Rest.

And, when it’s time, eat a piece of fruit.

Something bracing and alive. Like grapefruit or a cold strawberry just from the fridge. Something with that green, awake flavor that seems to contain all of life vibrating inside it.

Now, drink a glass of water. Drink it all the way down until the glass is empty.

Let these things cleanse you from the inside and trust that’s what they’re doing because they are.

See this not as a “healthy snack” but as a sacred ritual. A freshening. A conscious newness. An intentional act in the face of the world’s ridiculous, random folly.

This small offering is a link connecting you with Life and Earth. That which you are. Pure. Unfettered. Part of the larger organism of oceans and plateaus, one-celled creatures and herds of elephants. Fellow travelers. Wounded healers. The heartbeat that started when you were a tiny secret in the womb. Part magic, part carbon, part electricity.

And now, you rise.

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!

Let yourself be

So often, we hold our dreams or authenticity or creative practice hostage. We tie them up, swing a naked bulb over their heads, and scream in their faces: GIMME ANSWERS.

We look for anchors in the storm, believing our dreams to be the storm.

We ask our creative work to pay our bills and rent, or else. We demand our nascent passions to achieve excellence no matter what, our creative meanderings to be going somewhere, leading to something. We force matters of the heart and soul to answer the question, “What is the point?”

Uncertainty isn’t the problem, adulting is

Somewhere along the way we were lied to.

Someone or a bunch of someones told us that being an adult means knowing things for sure. It means having a plan and making things happen. It means making a contribution, whether it’s financial, spiritual, or societal. It means delivering.

And yeah, as an adult human, you have to show up for Regular Life. You have to get yourself to work and pay the electric bill and make sure the kids are fed. You have to function. In spite of a lot of things, sometimes.

But you also need to understand where the practice, expectation, and skill set of being a grown-up ends. You need to know the places in which you can stop being so damned efficient. And Such A Good Person all the time.

The challenge is, once we wade into those waters—the murky spaces of self-care, creativity, authenticity, spiritual practice, and frivolous dreams of Thai cooking classes and adventures in Kenya—once we step off the adulthood assembly line, we’re quickly out of our depth.

We don’t know how to play for the sake of playing. We don’t know how to noodle. How to drift. How to let an idea or a poem or a moment just be, unfolding as it will, changing shape, and merely existing. We fear the open, rich potential of uncertainty.

We demand things have purpose. We look for measurable outcomes. We turn ideas into products and projects, and require immediate results. We drag the tender sprouts of our dreams back onto the assembly line as fast as we can.

But they refuse to go.

The rigor of allowing

Miles Davis said, “Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.”

Allowing yourself to be in the open, unstructured space of creativity, intuition, and dreams is a practice. A rigorous practice. It’s a skill that artists understand implicitly and work extremely hard at. For decades.

Do not underestimate how challenging it is to be authentic.

For me, as an artist, that is the work.

Getting out of my own way and allowing the words, ideas, and images to flow through me and onto the page. Letting the weirdness be weird. Asking for it to be even more strange. More surprising. I want my work to tell me something I don’t know. To articulate something I didn’t know I felt. To clarify what it means to be alive in a way my Very Smart Rational Adult Brain just can’t with its to-do lists and timelines.

This, by the way, is why we love art and artists. This is why we crave adventure.

Not because it’s predictable or contained. Easily digestible. Rational. But because it stops us in our tracks with its wild honesty. It cuts us to the core. Makes us feel human and alive.

The practice of working in this open, surprising space is not easy.

(I mean, it was easy, when we were kids. But now, we’ve been adulting so long, we have to relearn all the kooky wonderful genius we had when we were seven.)

Recovering yourself

Michelangelo sculpted by removing the rock that wasn’t the statue. Read that again. The sculpture already existed, fully formed, within the block of stone. Michelangelo’s job wasn’t to create the work of art. It was to remove everything that wasn’t the work of art trying to get made.

Same goes for you.

It’s not about adding artistry. It’s about uncovering authenticity.

Your task is to rigorously, relentlessly remove everything that isn’t authentically you. This is vastly harder than it sounds.

And so to demand unreasonable and inappropriate things of your creative, dream-chasing self (have purpose! pay bills! serve the greater good!) works against this already-difficult job.

We’ll get to all that

If you haven’t already, go find the work of poet Nayyirah Waheed. Fall into her tiny droplets of image and feeling and wisdom, and swim around for an hour. This artist is deeply and irrevocably herself. She speaks from the center of her being and, you can feel it, writes to heal and understand her experience. The work’s authenticity is crystal clear.

But her impact goes way beyond that.

She answers questions I didn’t know I was asking. She articulates my humanity in ways that stun me. She opens me. She heals me.

The effect of her authenticity ripples out way beyond her.

We are all like this.

We don’t do it in the same way. We’re not all going to be famous or published poets. That part doesn’t matter in the least. We all have an impact that is much larger than ourselves. Regardless of whether we’re “professionals” at whatever it is we do.

Just by existing. Just be being you in the world. I urge you not to underestimate this.

Your impact is clarified and magnified by the work of becoming authentic. The intentional effort of allowing. The courage to step off the assembly line and into the murk. Of chipping away the stone that isn’t you.

This what we’re doing here, people.

This is what dreams are. What creativity does. What self-care facilitates. This is why it’s critical that you let yourself journal and experiment with writing plays. Why your futzing around with paints while the kids nap is deeply important. Why your longings for mountain peaks aren’t distractions, but necessary clues. Why that weird “thing” you doodled on a napkin isn’t something to be feared, but to be followed.

This—the studied practice of letting yourself be and do whatever the hell feels delicious and true—is the Why behind everything I write to you each week and the work I’m asking you with all my heart to do.

What is your authentic self asking you to do now? How can you allow this space and time enough to be? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

The dream chaser’s manifesto

I am a singular and necessary element in this vast, creative universe.
I am necessary.
(I will say it again and again, until my cells resonate with the sound of that truth.)
I am needed here.

I walk a path toward a purpose all my own.
That task is mine.
Some may walk with me, but none can tell me which way to turn.
My life is a gift from something much larger.
I am here to honor it.

This who I am: I am love. I am loved.
No matter the circumstances of my birth, my childhood, and what happened after.
If I have forgotten this, I need only be reminded.

My dreams matter.
They are my soul’s calling, my heart’s longing, my truest self in the process of becoming.

They are to be honored as reverently as I am to be honored.
They are to be nurtured as tenderly as I am to be nurtured.
They are holy. They are sacred.

I am sacred.

Dreams are pure expression of the world’s authentic self:
the sun’s light and heat,
the flower’s scent,
snow on the mountain.

If the flower is not watered, it wilts and dies.
No one disputes that.
And so I reject the idea that I must empty myself out.
That I must place myself and my work well after everyone else’s needs.
That I must fit into dusty, rigid systems.
That the value of my dreams is measured in the number of dollars they produce.

My significance is much older and greater than commerce or industry.
My value is that of rushing rivers.
My worth measured in deep breaths of cold morning air.
Watch the trees reach skyward.
Watch the sun rise and paint the sky with sweeping, vivid color.
That’s me.
That’s my work.
My impact will not be diminished by small thinking.

I am here to heal and be healed.
Teach and be taught.
I am here to shine.

I am more powerful than either of us know.
My wisdom older than either of us can conceive.

I feel the world.
I sense its pain and the suffering of its people.
Don’t tell me lies about What Matters and What Is So because I feel the world so acutely, I can describe to you the harmony of its cries.

I hear where I am needed.
Even if others aren’t listening.

There are more of us than you can see.
More powerful than you can imagine.
We are necessary.
We are sacred.
We are gathering strength.
We walk our paths, seek our purpose, hear our callings, chase our dreams.
We dismantle old structures, create room enough for all.
We do not separate.
We need no validation, no permission.
We find our way to ourselves and each other as sure as the light finds the leaf.

We are the dream chasers.
The water-finders.
While the walls crumble to dust all around us,
we slake the thirst of the world.

 

The urgency of finding stillness

If you want to connect with your dreams and purpose, you need to hear yourself.

It’s not that you need to hear yourself think—it’s that you need to hear yourself not think.

Thinking and mental chatter, all that habitual processing and analyzing and worrying, is the mind’s default setting. It is Monkey Mind 101 to have a brain so filled with swirling clutter that you can’t identify your dream amid the flying thoughts, let alone prioritize it among all the brush fires alight in your mind.

You need to create some space. You need to find some stillness.

You need to slow the general frenzy and get clear about what you want. In a few weeks, I’m going to start talking about your intuition, the single most powerful dream navigating tool there is. My book is filled with intuition workouts. This is a critical skill. But, your intuition is only discernable in stillness and silence.

So, consider this fair warning, and a nudge to start training.

Inner chaos (to which you may have just added sixteen well-thought-out New Year’s Resolutions) might be your status quo, but it is not a life sentence. In fact, it’s the easiest thing to change because it requires nothing but a few mindful breaths.

This is where I tell you unequivocally that meditation can save your life.

I would love to make light of the repeating thoughts in people’s heads. I would love to crack a joke here about grocery lists and sexual fantasies and what to have for lunch. But, I’m afraid it’s much more dire that that.

The thoughts most of us have rattling around in our heads eat away at our life force, self-worth, and power.

I know people who keep apocalyptic, end-stage climate change front and center in their minds. I know folks for whom suicidal thoughts are regular houseguests. There are others who wake up with money stress every single day. And still others who, quite rationally, fear for their lives and the lives of their children.

So, this isn’t about grocery lists. This is about survival.

Rather, it’s about moving from a state of survival to a place of grounded and empowered strength.

You do that by sitting your ass down every morning, closing your eyes, and watching your breath.

Meditation is the easiest thing in the world to do. And it’s also the hardest. Your athletic mind will throw up every excuse in the book not to do it. (Which makes perfect sense. Nothing marks the end of monkey mind clearer than sitting down to practice.)

But, let’s address the big one directly.

How can something so ridiculously simple actually work?

Your problems are so intricately unique and complex, how can sitting with your eyes closed help?

Most of us operate our minds with a foot on the gas, another on the brake, hazard lights a-flashing, while we white-knuckle our way into oncoming traffic. Meditation is consciously taking your feet off the pedals, loosening your grip on the wheel, and letting the car gently coast to a stop.

You are, at the very least, no longer adding fuel to the fire. But, there’s more.

As you focus on the breath, you create a breath of space between You and Everything Else.

The financial panic, the pain and loss, the state of the world. Instead of having its hands wrapped firmly around your throat, it’s a few feet back. Over there, where you can see it clearly. Where it’s not actively trying to take you out.

This tiny breath of space between you and the world is the space in which you get your feet underneath you. It’s the space where you see which fires need fighting and which fires are simply not your fires. Where you move past the storm of emotion and start to understand responsibility and action.

The space gives you clarity, and it gives you choice.

You cannot access your dreams and your purpose in an environment of fear and chaos. You have the power to change the environment.

All you need to do is watch the breath. It’s bloody miraculous, if you think about it. It costs nothing. It requires no elaborate training. You already have the prerequisite skills. You can start right now with ten deep, mindful breaths.

In fact, do that.

Stop reading right now and take ten glorious breaths.

What happened? Did you do it? Or did resistance pop up and convince you that it was more important to finish this article and get on with the day?

I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t start meditating “later.” Start now. (Start now, start badly, remember?) And start small. Ten minutes in the morning, or if that’s too much, five. If that’s still overwhelming: ten good breaths before you get out of bed. When you feel stressed or scared during the day, pause, take five breaths, and carry on.

This is not about reaching enlightenment in thirty days or less. This is about saving your own life one breath at a time.

Because this is 2016, there are amazing tools to help you start: