Back in 2010, I wrote, “The Remarkable Lives of Service, Therapy and Companion Dogs” (pg. 32) for Natural Awakenings Pet. The article focussed on Southeastern Guide Dogs and the training involved in preparing a dog for their special support role. Ironically, AquaNew had one of its first Watt-Ahh® advertisements placed in the same issue as my article – a year before I would begin to work with their company.
Recently, AquaNew asked me to write an updated article featuring Southeastern Guide Dogs’ newly expanded facilities and special events. I took part in the Guide Dog Experience and learned more about the life of service dogs and guide dogs. CLICK HERE to read about my adventure.
Over the years, I’ve used mindfulness and meditation exercises to gain greater clarity in my work and career. While I know that many people explore guided meditation for relaxation and to de-stress, they may not realize that it can also be used to enhance communication skills with colleagues, remain grounded no matter what the situation, and to chart a course for a better work experience.
For this reason, I was honored to work alongside Cindy Readnower of Skinny Leopard Media to create “Mindfulness in Work and Business.” Whether you are exploring mindfulness exercises for the first time, or seek to deepen your practice, this course is designed to teach you tools for creating a better life. In it, we explore several different mindfulness tools, including affirmations, setting intentions, guided meditation, and visualizations. Once a student completes this course, they will have the foundation to practice six new mindfulness meditations and exercises that can be utilized at any time.
For those reading this blog, I’d like to offer you “Mindfulness in Work and Business” for only $10 – that’s 60% off of the retail price. This offer ends Feb. 3, 2017. Here is that link: MINDFULNESS
When in the middle of a personal crisis, there are three expressions that are guaranteed to shut down communication between me and a well-meaning advisor: “Everything happens for a reason,” “This too, shall pass” and “Be in the moment.” The sad fact is that I too use these expressions when at a loss for something to say. While they may be very true and relevant to the situation, somehow they do nothing to make me feel any better, and it as if my own words are coming back to mock me at the most inopportune time.
Yes, everything happens for a reason, and sometimes that reason is a poor decision. I have no doubt it will pass … but when faced with an injury or illness, that moment can’t come quickly enough. Will meditation and quiet reflection provide greater clarity for better decision-making in the future? Will it help me get through discomfort with greater ease? Definitely. The problem is, pleasant distractions from the dis-ease provide instant, but not often long-term relief, and being in the moment requires facing a few internal demons, and who the heck wants to do that? Essentially, how do you be in the moment when the moment sucks?
I hate the term, “stress management.” To me, I get the image of a vicious, rabid animal running around the room wreaking havoc, with me standing on the desktop and swatting it with a broom before it can bite me. When someone in the next room offers, “You need to learn how to manage your stress,” I look down at the creature and think, “I don’t want to manage it! I want to get rid of it!”
“Manage” implies that it always has to be there.
Stress has become, for many, the common state of being – so much so that we no longer see the animal that’s constantly in the room with us, nipping at our heels. We may not even realize that it did bite us, and we are now infected with a poison that suppresses our immune system, making us more susceptible to heart disease, gastrointestinal distress, high blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, and a host of chronic illnesses. And it seems that no one is safe from it.
Jolt cola and powdered donuts were all we needed to get by during my undergrad years. Back then, those of us who went to school full-time while also holding down jobs (sometimes, more than one) loved to practice one-upmanship. “You think you’re tired? I was up until 2 a.m. studying for an exam after having to work late. I got – maybe – four hours of sleep.”
When we entered the workforce as graduates trying to climb our way up the corporate ladders, starting at minimum wage and the bottom rung – the landscape changed, but not the sentiment. We were proud workaholics who didn’t mind bragging about working a 60-hour week on a 40-hour-a-week salary. We were “team players” who were going to make something of our lives, even if we were overtaxed, overstressed, undervalued, underpaid and tired all the time…
If you think a full moon and Mercury in Retrograde put a damper on your best laid plans, hold onto your seat.
Symbolically, the total solar eclipse brings change – and who the heck wants that in the middle of a perfectly good work week? But more than that, it means getting rid of the old, worn out and toxic beliefs in order to shed a light of clarity on what’s in your best and highest good.
Today’s a good day to “take out the trash.” Consider what negative emotions, patterns of thinking and behavior, and possibly even what relationships are unhealthy for you, and vow to toss them out of your life. It’s also a good time to consider what it is you’ve always wanted to accomplish or become, and take one step to do or be that.
While the eclipse may happen overnight – voiding out toxic patterns and replacing them with positive ones will take time and regular reinforcement. For example, to this day, I sometimes have negative self-talk that likes to creep in. When it does, I remind myself “That is not who I am anymore,” and consciously replace it with a more positive thought. I, like many, am a work in progress.
Three Steps for Getting Out of the “But We’ve Always Done It This Way” Mentality and Unleashing Creativity
Silly me … When I began my transition from journalism to fiction writing, I likened it to doubling the family recipe when houseguests were coming to dinner. Following the, “do the same thing, only bigger,” principle, I approached a 300-page novel as I would a 1200-word feature article.
Turns out (and as other writers reading this might expect), while a few essential components remained the same (catchy intro, body of relevant info and a circle back to the beginning with a strong wrap-up), a short article is clearly not a novel; nor are nonfiction articles sci-fi/fantasy thrillers.
I then moved onto the way its “supposed” to be done. I outlined settings, my characters, my plotline and sub-plotlines. I began a style sheet to make sure my characters’ dialogues were consistent and that the reader got the “great reveal” several chapters before the characters did. These are all wonderful, time-tested tools, and I would never try to diminish their value. But for me – it wasn’t working. I was still trying to do what I’ve done for the past decade as a professional writer. I’d edit as I’d go along, I’d craft a story linearly, and my subjects would behave just as we’d expect.
I’d about given up entirely were it not for the fact that my characters were developed just enough as to wake me up in the middle of the night with random scenes floating through my head … And there began the Grand Experiment. My story began to flow again within days of succumbing to my characters’ nagging. Here’s what works for me (feel free to take what you can use; discard the rest):
The Grand Experiment: Three Steps for Writing Out of Bounds
Write Spatially. I wanted a very linear outline and a story that easily went from start to finish. Instead, each day I would begin writing whatever scene happened to come to mind – no matter where it fell in the story, even if all the details hadn’t been carved out yet … I could change it later. On days where I came up empty, I would choose a character and write or expand upon their bio. Invariably, they would “reveal” something to me that I could use, and a new scene would be born. By writing out of order, it freed up my creativity and allowed the characters to act of their own accord vs. following a script. Remember, there’s time later to rearrange the content and edit.
Allow Your Characters to Be Unpredictable. I had one scene where the protagonist was acting exactly as I would – as almost any “real” person would, and yet something didn’t feel right. It was too … predictable. As part of my Grand Experiment, I wrote down the most illogical statement that this very logical character would make and – aha! This sparked a new plot device, and a much better scene followed.
Write Without Reserve (i.e. don’t edit as you go along). (You know, like what I’m doing with this article? Don’t do that.) When working with a short feature article, you have the luxury of working and reworking a paragraph until it reads in just the right way. Try that with a novel, and you’re more likely to be obsessively trapped rewriting your first scene indefinitely. It worked in the movie Groundhog Day, but I wouldn’t suggest it as a daily practice. Trust me, you’ll have plenty of time to edit later … and edit again … and proof … and then edit some more.
Try Your Own Grand Experiment
Feel like an experiment? I understand that what works for me may not be for everyone. However, I always ask people to consider an idea before dismissing it. Below is an activity for trying your own Grand Experiment …
Step 1: Pick a random scene – somewhere in the middle of your story – and begin writing from there. If you don’t have a story, use a writing prompt (many are available online). Do not edit as you go. If you need to, write over, under, or around an error. For example, if you started off in a blue room and you’ve decided later that a red room is much better, have the walls change color or make the characters dispute the color of the walls.
Step 2: Introduce a character, object or event – and then have them do something unpredictable. I just gave you one example. The walls of this scene are changing color – why? After fifteen minutes or so, stop.
Step 3: Go do something else. Put this experiment away. If the scene is a good one, you may be able to revisit it, working it into a future story. If this method worked, then repeat the process for other projects.
Bonus Exercise: Can you apply this method to other areas of your life – beyond writing? Where in your life can you randomly try something new, random, or unpredictable?
“If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.” ~Thomas Jefferson (Or … someone else. No one is really sure.)
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
In today’s business climate, we have analytics for everything. If we can’t measure, weigh, track and chart it – if it’s not tangible – we tend to dismiss it. I’m not saying that analysis is not important. It is an essential component to great decision making. However, what happens the minute you’re forced into making a time-sensitive decision when limited data is available? Conversely, what happens when all the numbers point in one direction but that sinking feeling of dread in the center of your stomach suggests something else?
Sadly, modern thought doesn’t have much room for anything that can’t be analyzed and added up through logic. As a result, intuition holds little practical use in the traditional business realm. And yet, intuition remains as one of the most vital components in business planning. Whether you believe that intuition is the subconscious mind pulling in data that you’ve collected through a culmination of past experiences, or you believe in some form of divine guidance – the results are the same. Information is being accessed and brought to your awareness.
While there are many ways to access this information, I’d like to share one that I’ve had a great deal of success using. I refer to it as the three-step process for rapid-fire decision-making. Many use a similar process, but may refer to it as something else. Please read this process from start-to-finish before going through each of the steps.
Three-Step Process For Rapid-Fire Decision-Making
To begin, consider a business problem in which you need an answer. I would start with something small, and as you validate this process, then move on to larger concerns. Sit with this problem for a minute, and clearly articulate in your mind a brief overview of the situation, and what your goal is surrounding this issue. You may find it helpful to have a pen and paper here to take notes on your answers. When you’re ready, begin …
Step #1:Start with a “yes” or “no” question. You’ll notice in some of my other writings, I’ll expressly suggest that people pick open-ended questions and meditate on the answer; but for this process, we’re breaking it down into the simplest form. When I asked you to sit with the problem for a minute, this was you “setting the stage” surrounding your question. Keep it simple: ask a “yes” or “no” question.
For example, if you are considering taking a contract position with a new company, you may ask yourself (in your mind or aloud), “Should I accept the current contract with XYZ company?” Answer “yes” or “no” in less than three seconds. Don’t try to weigh the options – “yes” or “no.” If you see neither, than the question needs to be reframed. For example, you may ask, “Will I be happy working on this new contract?” In less than three seconds, answer “yes” or “no.”
Step #2: Check in with your body and your emotions. Does what you’re feeling support that initial answer? What do you notice – both physically and emotionally? For example, do you feel a lightness of being and happy, or do you suddenly feel tightness in your stomach and shoulders followed by a feeling of dread? Make a mental note of everything, even if something seems silly – it could be your body giving you a clue. For example, maybe that company that offered you the contract is a Fortune 500 that you’ve been eager to work with for years. Your immediate response is an unquestionable YES! Of course I want to work with them. Who wouldn’t? And yet, as soon as you answered, your face felt flushed and you developed a sudden headache. You now have a conflict between step number one and step number two. Consider why this may be. In this example, perhaps you feel as if you’re not up to the challenge and fear is holding your back. Or, maybe you sense that working with this company may not be as wonderful on the inside as it appears to the outside viewer. If your feelings are positive, consider this a “yes” response. If it feels negative, consider this a “no.” Therefore, you may have two answers that are “yes” (or “green lights”), two that are “no” (“red lights”), or one of each. Move on to step three.
Step #3: Analyze the situation. This is where you bring logic back into the equation. Consciously consider the pros and cons of this company. If time permits, do your research. Is there anyone who currently works with this company (or has in the past) that you can reach out to with questions about the work environment? Are there questions you need to ask the company itself before reaching a decision? What can you find out about them online? If time does not allow for this type of research, at the very least, you will need to logically consider your choice based on the information you currently have access to.
Going back to our example – maybe you realize that you’ve had this fear reaction with many new projects and you’ll be okay once you get started. Or, perhaps your fear is recognition that you need additional training, and once you receive it, then you will be equipped to handle the new assignment. Maybe you are fearless, and this job is in alignment with what you do every single day. In this case, why is there hesitation? Is it simply that you don’t have time to take on another assignment … or something else? Analyze the situation; is your answer a “yes” or a “no?”
Look at the Outcome. When you look at all three steps, if you have received three “yes” answers (“green lights”) or three “no” answers (“red lights”), your result is clear. In all other cases, you with have two of one or the other – meaning the answer weighs heavily as a “yes” or “no.” You may choose to go with this as your answer, or, as those pesky Magic 8 balls will tell you, “Ask again later.” Sometimes, timing IS a factor, and you must revisit the situation in a day or two or when more information comes to light.
The other day, I was watching two colleagues arrive at my door with camera equipment, backdrops, umbrella lights and extra clothing changes. And, I was struck with an odd little thought … We are making history.
No, not the sort of history that makes weary travelers fly thousands of miles to sit in the very pub that Shakespeare frequented or to visit the former home of Jane Austen … a personal history.
I remember experiences from my past that were wonderful, ones that I wish I could revisit for a day, ones that I wish I could remember more clearly … ones that can never come again. Either because I am no longer a child, the place no longer exists or some of the people are no longer alive. Too bad I didn’t take the time to drink in the experience at the time – the folly of youth.
So now, when I see my colleagues arrive so that we can begin filming an online course we are creating, or when I’m sitting on a beach blanket enjoying homemade brunch with friends on Anna Maria Island, or – as in the photo above – watching a Key West sunset the day after the Spaniard proposed to me, I absorb as much of these moments as I possibly can. It’s as if I’m reminiscing in reverse, and a small part of me is twenty years in the future looking back and smiling at what I looked like before my hair turned gray, laughing at insecurities that don’t seem to matter anymore, and spending time with friends who may now live in different parts of the world. The Future Me recognizes its significance, and she sends a message to the Present Me, reminding me to take nothing for granted.
I watch the events around me unfold with a profound sense of wonder and nostalgia. And, if I ever lose that sense of wonder, if I ever begin to take my life for granted, all I have to do is remember a moment from my past that will never be again. It jars me into a realization that this moment is magical and should be revered. Once I recognize this, there is nothing but gratitude.