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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?

On having a backup plan

As a young artist, my dad always used to encourage me to have a fallback plan. The deeper I got into my creative work, the more looming this nebulous thing became.

Fallback.

What did it mean?

I assumed it meant there was no effing way I’d make a living in theatre and dance. Or it meant that I would probably fail, so I should have something else ready to occupy my time and pay the bills.

Over the years, it got so I wasn’t able to think about my creative passions without Plan B sidling up beside it, like a plus-one at a party. I didn’t necessarily invite the backup plan, but there it was, drinking rum punch.

Eventually, that connection solidified even more. Like: if I am creating, then a backup plan must be present.

This caused a series of problems.

First, it assumed that the creative work was not the backup plan. That these were two distinct, and probably antagonistic, entities. It implied that the backup plan would pay the bills and the creative work would not. And buried in all of that was the assumption that paying bills should be part of my creative work’s job description in the first place.

But, should it?

In the history of Melanie Makes Art, which began when I was a toddler, making money has almost never been part of the motivation, drive, and urgency to express my human experience in various forms.

Granted, Paying Bills becomes prevalent in life at a certain point. But why did it get suddenly and fervently get mushed together with creativity like an incredibly high-stakes blind date? Jane, meet Susan. Susan, meet Jane. You two will be moving in together now.

This doesn’t mean income can’t be part of the motivation to do creative work, or that motivations can’t change over time. But the danger comes when unconscious associations happen in our brains without our consent. Beliefs like these limit us in ways we aren’t aware of, because we can’t even see them. We don’t know they’re operating or how they got in.

And yet: there they are.

Somewhere along the way, Art + Backup Plan got linked in my brain. And Money was the unexamined bassline rumbling underneath it all.

So, for fun, let’s just sit for a moment and give a new idea some space:

Creativity can exist separately from a backup plan.

God, what could it mean for us?

If our creative work was free from backup plannery:

  • We could just do our creative work. Like, actually focus on it. Without feeling like we’ve left the stove on or forgotten our kid in a Target parking lot.
  • We might feel super motivated to kick all kinds of ass.
  • We might also discover we’re terrified. That the backup plan was our security blankie and, now that it’s gone, we’re really wigged out.
  • We might feel pressure. Uh oh, we’re actually on the hook for producing something.
  • The problem of paying bills would still exist and still be a thing we need to figure out. But it’s over there now. A little further away, like at least three inches.
  • We might feel lighter and looser, or we might feel untethered and lost.
  • We might fail at our creative thing and be mortally embarrassed and/or disappointed.

Okay. So nobody dies from cutting the lil’ imaginary umbilical cord between Dreams and Plan Bs. The sky does not fall. The earth’s crust does not crack.

But all of our problems don’t suddenly solve themselves, either.

In fact, we may have more problems. Raw feelings like fear and pressure to produce and vulnerability. Which might attract some tag-along barnacles like resistance and futility. We might have to encounter failure. And then we might wonder what the point of creative work is.

So, it’s worth acknowledging that we actually get some pay-off from this backup plan thing.

Plan B keeps a whole lot of complication at bay. It lets you have one foot in and one foot out of your dreams. It allows you not to fully commit, or to risk, or to fail. It’s a back-alley permission slip to not be 100% authentically you and, as a bonus, you get to blame someone else for it! Thanks Dad. Your backup plan crap kept me from being a really successful artist.

Oh dear.

Now, what the hell do you do?

For my money, you find a really comfy spot on the couch and settle in for a spell. Because this is officially A Lot To Process. In unpacking the unexamined connections between Plan B and your dream, you’ve also had to confront a bunch of big feelings about letting those two things be separate, and in the process realized that the payoff from not fully committing to your creative stuff may be holding you back, but that committing to it might mean failure and humiliation.

Here, have a muffin. Still warm.

Okay.

So, here’s the real stuff. I only personally know one or two artists (and by know, I mean, like, I’ve met them in person a couple of times) who don’t have something resembling a side gig, day job, or patchwork of various forms of hustle in addition to their artistic practice. In fact, even the artists I know who can live off their art and solely their art still earn income from projects that are more work-for-hire than their own pristine artistic vision.

There is no Artist Rule Book in which it’s stated: Thou art not a real artist if thou hast a side gig.

So, reframing the backup plan as a standard issue day job is a possible strategy.

But. It’s not really about that, is it?

It’s about the commitment piece. Fully inhabiting your unruly, creative, authentic self. Without reserve. Both feet in. No backup plan.

There is no fallback to being 100% You.

Even though being you is, at times, terrifying, expensive, confusing, complicated, inconvenient, upsetting, boring, exhilarating, unappetizing, exhausting, and about sixty-seven other very descriptive words.

Can I posit here that it’s not your creative work that needs to be divested from the heavy burden of The No-Fail QuikPay Securify Backup Plan 2000, but…you?

That your trembling, beautiful, tender-unfurling-leaf of a self just needs to be allowed some real breathing room? Without the pressure to deliver or perform? That you get to be an artist because you say you’re an artist and that self-defining is your right (and possibly your superpower)? And that the expansive, airy quality of running around naked with no backup plan has its own unexpected payoff, I promise?

You as naked, authentic person might fail. You might feel pain, or you might cause it. You might fully commit to a thing that just stops appealing to you at a certain point along the way. You might change your mind seventy-eight times. You might have dozens of false starts and never get a project off the ground and give up completely and sell the farm and dye your hair green and say fuck it all, I’m going to live on a boat and homeschool my children.

All of this is totally okay. I believe it’s what scientists call Living.

But, we can choose to live without burdening ourselves unnecessarily. And punishing ourselves for not carrying that weight “well.”

C’mon.

Set it down. Let’s go skinny dipping.

 

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.

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.

Stop holding yourself back

My Big, Beautiful Dream, the one that took my breath away and filled me with sparkling hope and promise, was to spend a year in Paris writing a novel. I saw myself so clearly: speaking French fluently, typing away in small cafés, wearing ballet flats, and stripy boat-neck tees.

I didn’t do a thing about it.

I talked about that Paris dream for ten years. The entirety of my twenties, which is the readymade decade in which to spend a year in Paris. It’s what your twenties are for. But I put it off. Or rather, I put my dream on a pedestal where it could remain perfect and unsullied. Like a rabbit’s foot I would rub occasionally for luck.

One of your fellow readers expressed a similar conundrum.*

She said, “Part of me doesn’t want to start because then I won’t get discouraged.”

That’s a real thing. I think we’ve all been there. And for a lot of us, inaction is a very safe, very comfortable default setting.

First off, this is not a character flaw. This is just a natural manifestation of fear (of both failure and success), and a very human desire not to be rejected or disappointed.

And the other thing is, all of our limiting beliefs are like that.

What are limiting beliefs?

Little mental buzzkills that are actively preventing you from moving yourself into first place and getting your dreams done. They’re like sweet lil’ grannies who just want to keep us safe and sound indoors where they can see us.

But the stuff we need is outside.

Just beyond what we already know and have experienced. Risk. Adventure. “I don’t know if this would work, but…”

Now that you’re all pro meditators and experts at watching your thoughts, I have a challenge for you. Pay attention at how limiting beliefs pop up in your brain.

They can (and will) be about anything. How much support you deserve. How creativity works. How much success you’re allowed. You’ll likely project your limiting stuff on everyone around you, and famous people, too. (We all do this.) We assume Famous Person X had a rich daddy, which is The Only Way People Get Ahead In Installation Art.

Notice how that lets you off the hook.

Notice how it lets you not try. How it keeps you safely away from change. Limiting beliefs are the go-to parachute for anyone looking to get the hell away from the business end of their comfort zone.

They are a very efficient way to shut down a dream and stop the power of creative thinking in its tracks. They cast you in the role of victim and take away your power.

I refuse to let that happen.

You have resources that you don’t even know about. You have resilience. You have creativity and intuition. You have a brain in your head that can learn all those things you don’t yet know and adapt to all those situations you yet haven’t encountered. You have passion. You have drive.

And the things standing in your way right now aren’t even real.

They are thoughts. Electrical impulses in the brain. Probably habitual, meaning, patterned in years and years ago by God-knows-what dubious source.

Habitual thoughts sound like The Truth.

Trust me. They aren’t.

What limiting beliefs have you discovered lurking in your brain box? How might you diffuse them? Share your experience in the comments below.

*And please send me your biggest struggles and challenges related to dreams and self-care. What keeps you up at night? Email me at melanie at redballoonacademy dot com.

 

 

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: