Posts

Enjoyment is in The Waiting… Insight from Martha

Last month I promised to tell you results of my experiment in Radical Fun. This month I will be somewhat cryptic, because although things are in process, they are not yet signed, sealed, and delivered. I will say however, that even the pursuit of these radically fun ideas has, itself, been radically fun.
 
This has led me to think—a rare but thrilling experience for me—and my thoughts are that as I wait for things to be signed, sealed, and delivered, I have the capacity to derive immense enjoyment from the challenge of creating in form what I have pictured in my imagination.
 
It seems to me we do this all the time: we spend months or years in anguished waiting, thinking, and longing for the day that things are signed, sealed, and delivered, and then we will be free to enjoy ourselves. To draw this to its logical conclusion, I suggest we all do what Salvador Dalí was rumored to have done—purchase our own coffins, climb in, and pretend we are all finished with everything, forever.  The fact is, as long as we are breathing, the conditions of our lives will always be in flux, our ships still sailing in, the things we already own potentially dissolving (or disappearing). To accept that fact without anxiety is to enjoy the process of living. Anything less, and we are simply suffering until we die.
 
Try a thought experiment with me: Recall something good that happened to you in the past which required some level of patience. Maybe you started a business and didn’t know for a while if it would succeed. Maybe you fell in love and weren’t sure if the object of your affection would love you back. Maybe you planted weed in the back of your walk-in closet and had to wait to see if it matured before the authorities caught you. Were you relaxed and jovial awaiting the outcome? (Remember I said before the weed matured). If not, if you spent sleepless nights or anxious days anticipating an outcome you could not control, welcome to the club. Most of us do that. Now imagine that you knew beforehand that all would go well—as in fact it did. Imagine the feelings of anticipation, the delight, the happy planning, and the joyful discussions with loved ones you could have had in the absence of that anxiety.
 
Now notice that even if you had been disappointed, that period of positive anticipation could have been enjoyable, in and of itself.
 
I think the key to this kind of enjoyment is to relax around the concept of disappointment. Tension and anxiety won’t make you less disappointed if you don’t get what you want. So you might as well dive in and enjoy optimism knowing that while you cannot control all outcomes, you can control how well you cope with circumstances that hurt your feelings.
 
My favorite story about handling disappointments comes from the India guru Amrit Desai. He had a collection of very rare crystals that he’d accumulated over many years. One day his cleaning lady knocked over a display case and smashed most of the irreplaceable crystals. When she tearfully pointed out her mistake, expecting a violent reaction, the guru shrugged and told her “Those things were for my joy, not for my misery.”
 
This month, accept things for your joy instead of making them the reason for your misery. Hope for your wildest dreams to come true, and then spend all your time imagining, discussing, dreaming, and enjoying the happiest possible outcome in advance. If your heart’s desire does not happen, you have my permission to be extremely disappointed—but not for very long.
 
The fact is, the only reason you are alive is that far more has gone right for you than has gone wrong. Your dreams are for your joy; even if they lie crushed on the ground, you need not make them responsible for misery. If you raise your eyes from the shards you’ll find more dreams all around, and many of them can come true. As Marcel Proust wrote, “If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.” 
 
I’ll update you next month, but in the meantime I plan to enjoy myself!

How to Break Through Old Limitations: Insight From Martha

As many of you know, my system of coaching consists of several conceptual “tools” that can quickly cut through the chatter of people’s socialization and connect them with their essential self.   Recently, I have modified one of the tools, turning it from a paring knife into a sort of Swiss Army affair with additional flanges. Because this exercise has helped me get through the month, I want to share it with you.

Right now, in your imagination, call up a persistent problem that you have been unable to solve for yourself. Maybe you never get the rewards you feel you deserve, or you can’t get rid of the clutter in your home, or your health just keeps failing you. Maybe you can’t stop kidnapping zoo animals and hiding them in your bathtub. Whatever this problem is, the persistency with which it occurs and your inability to make it go away show that it is hiding in a mental blind spot. You are the common factor in all these situations, and the likelihood that they are happening to you by sheer random bad luck is vanishingly small. I know you don’t know what you are doing to cause this problem, but I’m willing to piss you off by saying that you are doing something.

(By the way, we were all educated in a system where the “right” and “wrong” answers were determined by the system’s definitions. In that sort of environment, you can argue your way from a C- to a B+ by making excuses, pointing out how much stress you are under, or showing the teacher where the test was wrong. Don’t even try that here. If your life isn’t working, you can be sure that there is a cause and effect reality at play. For example, if you tried a thousand times to make fire by bashing two rocks together, it would not be your teacher’s judgment that would show you failure. You could not argue the rocks into creating fire for you or into feeling sorry for all the stress they are putting upon you. Your life gives you solid, empirical evidence that what you are doing does not work.)

Now comes the tricky part: Holding your problem in your mind, relax all your muscles and breathe deeply and without effort. Instead of thinking about your problem, feel the energy of the problematic situation as a sensation that affects your entire body. You may notice strong emotions arising without quite knowing what they mean. Just keep breathing, and if you are tempted to become analytical, repeat in your mind words like “let go,” “relax,” and “be still.” Keep feeling. Somewhere in this welter of emotion, you will connect with a sensation of yearning. Oddly, you may not feel this as your own yearning; rather, it is the problematic situation itself that is yearning to change. Where you may think you want a certain person to love you, truly and romantically, the situation may be yearning for you to stand up for yourself. Where you may believe it is up to you to organize those papers in your office, the situation may be begging you to bring in another person whose filing skills are better than yours. Where you may think you should take charge of your teenagers, the situation may be yearning for you to relax and laugh with your children, to accept them without reservation and to trust them to keep themselves safe.

It may take five or six minutes before you get even a flicker of this sensation. We are so used to working these problems in our minds that letting go to see what wants to happen can at first be a baffling experience. Let the emotional power of your wish for a better life motivate you to persist in this exercise until you can feel what your life is begging for.

You will then be faced with some interesting choices, because the situation will not be yearning for what you already know how to do. It may not even ask you to do something that you think is logical or “right.” Feel free to go back to your old methods of dealing with this issue. The next time it kicks you in your teeth–and it will–this exercise will be waiting for you to reorient your approach. When you take the leap of faith to do what your wilder instincts recommend, you will break through old limitations and find that the problems evaporate.

How to Make a Vision Board: Find Your Life Ambition

"Vision Board" by Amy Palko

“Vision Board” by Amy Palko

Since childhood, I’ve had a vivid recurring dream in which I can move objects without touching them. When I awaken from the dream, I can’t believe it isn’t true. For hours I’ll glare at objects—starting with cars or furniture, gradually lowering my sights to scraps of Kleenex—incredulous that I can’t move stuff with my mind.

Except that now I can.

A friend just gave me a gizmo called Mindflex, a game that includes a magnificently dorky-looking headset, a console, and a little foam ball. The headset transmits your brain’s electrical activity to a fan in the console that blows the ball into the air. By thinking different thoughts, you control the fan, and thus the altitude of the ball.

The fact that this works delights but doesn’t surprise me. The discoveries of physicist Werner Heisenberg, not to mention my recurring dream, long ago convinced me that the mind influences physical matter. If Heisenberg’s work is unfamiliar, let me translate the theory into Californian: “Consciousness can shape reality.”

This oversimplification makes my brain wince…which moves the Mindflex ball, confirming for me that the New Age ideal of mental magic—the notion that thoughts can create reality—is kinda, sorta supported by evidence. My goal is to teach you how to use one aspect of that magic, something indubitably cheesy but surprisingly effective. I’m talking about a vision board.

All the Pretty Pictures

Next to the Mindflex on my desk is a photo box containing many images I’ve torn from magazines. I plan to glue them all to one large piece of butcher paper. The resulting collage will be a vision board; its purpose, to depict (and lead me to) my desired future. This whole process makes me roll my eyes—as I was trained to do over the course of my very rationalist education—but damn if it doesn’t work.

Sometimes.

I’ve made several vision boards that bombed out, and some that were so successful that the hairs on the nape of my neck prickled for months. Years ago I glued up a headline that said MAKING AFRICA WELL. I thought it was a joke—oh, sure, like I could do that—never expecting that a few years later I’d be invited to speak in Africa and while there meet folks who are healing African ecosystems. Suddenly, I found myself volunteering to work with them.

I’ve discovered there’s a trick to making a vision board that brings forth such improbable coincidences. It starts with avoiding common pitfalls that result in faulty, inoperative models. Many people hear the basic instructions—”Find pictures of things you want in your life and stick ’em where you can see ’em”—and create virtually identical collages: a wad of cash, a handsome husband, a gorgeous body, a luxury car, a tropical beach.

Snore. These images constitute our culture’s idea of the good life. Even a rich, happily married beauty queen with a Porsche in the driveway and a house on the ocean will crank out this same damn vision board. This has no juice at all. To really work, a vision board has to come not from your culture but from your primordial, nonsocial self—the genetically unique animal/angel that contains your innate preferences.

When you start assembling pictures that appeal to this deep self, you unleash one of the most powerful forces on our planet: human imagination. Virtually everything humans use, do, or make exists because someone thought it up. Sparking your incredibly powerful creative faculty is the reason you make a vision board. The board itself doesn’t impact reality; what changes your life is the process of creating the images—combinations of objects and events that will stick in your subconscious mind and steer your choices toward making the vision real.

Vision Board 101

I’ve known for some time that staring at objects while holding pictures in my head makes reality oddly responsive. I was persuaded of this by two events so striking and improbable that I’ll describe them to you in some detail. Both occurred while I was illustrating a children’s book, which was never published because: (1) My animal/angel didn’t really want to create it; (2) I got tired after doing about 25 percent of the illustrations; and (3) the book basically sucked.

Anyway, one illustration I did finish depicted a startled elephant. I wanted to paint it from a child’s perspective, with the pachyderm rearing back, lifting one front leg, raising its trunk, and opening its eyes and mouth in surprise. I had no photographs that showed this scenario, and it wasn’t the easiest thing to imagine. So I went to a circus, found an elephant who seemed to be parked in neutral, crouched down in front of him, and squinted, imagining what he’d look like with his leg lifted and his trunk raised. The elephant looked back at me…and adopted precisely the pose I was picturing. He remained in this awkward position for several minutes as I scribbled a sketch.

Just days later, I was working on another illustration involving parrots (this children’s book was set in post-genocide Cambodia—what fun for kids!). In the midst of my research, I learned to my surprise that there was a species of parrot indigenous to my own turf in Arizona. I stared at these parrots in my bird book, wishing that one day I could see a living specimen. At that moment, I swear to God, I heard a scratchy thump, and three rare parrots landed on the window screen less than a yard from my face.

That’s when I began believing that animals respond to intense visual images held in the human imagination. So does my Mindflex, and perhaps even complex phenomena like one’s love life or career. I also noticed that the mental state that produced the elephant and parrot miracles was very different from the hankering I directed at my usual goals. And I’ve come to realize that you need to get into that mind-space if you want your vision board to work for you like a short-order cook hopped up on Red Bull. Here’s how to do it….

Step 1: Please Your Animal.

There are two basic procedures involved in creating an effective vision board. First, instead of cogitating about familiar images, scout for the unfamiliar. Your mind can’t do this. Your animal/angel self can. Just page through a magazine (and walk through the world) noticing things that trigger physical reactions: a heart thump, a double take, a gasp.

The only responses involved should resemble these:
“Ooooh!”
“Aaaahhhhh.”
“Whoa!”
“!!!!”
“????”

These “thoughts” register in your stomach, your heart, your lungs—anywhere but your head. You can’t produce them in response to cultural clichés or abstract ideas. Nor can you always know why your body reacts to an image. Wondering, then finding out, is one of the most delicious things about assembling a vision board.

For example, as I rummage through my current collection of images, my body is utterly unmoved by photos of mansions or designer clothing. What interests it are pictures of an abstract sculpture, a dried leaf, and (overwhelmingly) a map on which the migratory route of the springbok antelope is shown in red. !!!! Go figure.

Though it makes no logical sense, I know from experience that gluing these pictures on one big page will begin catalyzing something beyond my mind’s capacity to calculate or conceptualize. If you’re not already accumulating images that rock your socks, stay alert. Whenever you find them, filch them.

Step 2: Let Go Mentally and Emotionally.

Most folks master Step 1 easily, gathering new and interesting images by the bushel. It’s like making the Mindflex ball go up: You stare at the ball and picture it rising. Powered by the output of electricity from your brain, the fan starts to blow, et voilà! Up goes the ball. You do this with focused, intense thinking—something you’re almost always engaged in.

Step 2 of making a vision board requires something trickier: not thinking. This is the counterintuitive process that makes the Mindflex ball descend. To do it you must relax completely and let your mind go blank. You don’t concentrate on the result you want—i.e., the ball going down. In fact, you concentrate on not concentrating. Slowly the fan decreases speed and the ball begins to drop.

This is exactly what you should do once you’ve created a vision board. Stop thinking about it. Lose it. Recycle it. The biggest mistake aspiring reality creators make (aside from that predictable cash/tropical island collage) is continuing to push something they’ve already set in motion. You’ve felt the repellent energy of salespeople desperate to hook you—it makes you sprint away so fast, you cause sonic booms. Don’t use that results-oriented energy.

Anecdotes about vision board success always include statements like “Then I forgot all about it until the very moment, years later, when I found myself standing on the Champs-Elysées, holding that exact plaid umbrella!” The key phrase is “forgot all about it.” The purpose of the vision board is to focus your attention—briefly. After that, the less mental strain you feel, the sooner good things will happen. That initial intense focus helps us create “search images,” and by relaxing, we increase our chances of noticing the things we seek. Then it’s time for the trickiest step of all….

Step 3: Be Still and Still Moving.

Making a vision board is not a substitute for elbow grease. Magical co-creator or not, you still have to do stuff. For example, I want to be better at social media—you know, all that Faceplace Twootle Googler stuff. So I put a headline on my vision board: SOCIAL MEDIA GENIUS. I tried reading blog posts and signing up for all sorts of new online accounts, but I was making zero progress. Two weeks later, I was working on my laptop in a bookstore when a man with a kind face asked me if I liked my computer. He turned out to be a social media specialist and an extremely nice guy, and I hired him to be my social media genius. He’s brilliant, he’s motivating, and he’s kicking my ass, teaching me how to accomplish my goals. I wanted the Force to give me fish; instead, it sent an expert fisherman to teach me.

This is the zone of reality creation: regularly picturing delights that don’t yet exist, emotionally detaching from them, and jumping into action when it’s time to help the miracles occur. I’m barely learning this, to be (in T.S. Eliot’s words) “still and still moving.” But in the moments I get it right, every step I take seems to be matched by a universal mystery, which obligingly, incredibly, creates what I can’t.

So that’s my 411 on vision boards, but please, don’t believe me. Try it yourself. Do it as a lark, a hobby, a physics experiment (though calling it that may cause Werner Heisenberg to spin in his grave like an Olympic ice dancer). While you’re oohing and aahing, cutting and gluing, I’ll be wearing my fabulous headset, making the Mindflex ball follow my mental orders like my tiny foam bitch. If you happen to know I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me.