Monthly Archives: November 2011

Imagining Sisyphus Happy

But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?
Albert Camus

This morning, washing dishes, I spied a black squirrel creeping along a fence outside my kitchen window carrying a huge bread roll in its mouth, its light brown burden, almost as big as itself, extending sideways like a tightrope walker’s balancing bar.

The squirrel inched its way across the fences surrounding my backyard before jumping into a neighbor’s tree. Scrambling into the tree, it lost the roll. After a brief pause, looking down at the fallen roll, the squirrel scampered down, recovered the roll, and climbed back up the tree.

Back Up The Tree with Treasure

Observing this, I thought of Sisyphus. In the Greek myth, the Gods punish Sisyphus for his crime, the specifics of which are debated and rarely mentioned, by forcing him to push a boulder up a hill. The task is arduous and takes all day. As soon as he reaches the top, the boulder rolls back down the mountain and he must descend and repeat the task the following day.

According to Albert Camus, Sisyphus is representative of the human condition, endlessly toiling at repetitive tasks without hope of success. From Camus’ perspective, the torture of being conscious of the futility of the task is nullified by accepting it and continuing, by being stronger than his task, by scorning that it is punishment. At the end of The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus exhorts, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Life is full of tasks that are never-ending, futile to believe will ever be completed, but necessary: washing dishes, doing laundry, emptying the in-box, paying bills. Perhaps not as physically exhausting as rolling a boulder up a hill, but potentially torturous nonetheless. If we resist doing the tasks, they become impediments, obstacles, irritants. But, if we accept them fully and do them willingly, they lose their power to torment us.

Watching the squirrel struggle with the bread, I smiled at the absurdity of it, and at the persistence of the squirrel. The lack of doubt, the perseverance, the acceptance of the situation. And somehow, connecting the squirrel and Sisyphus, I found myself deeply accepting the household tasks that waited for me, even enjoying them.

And in that state, I could imagine Sisyphus happy.

A Creative Space of Your Own

Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it.

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Do you know what kind of work environment is most conducive to your creative productivity?

One of my favorite reading rooms: the A. D. White room in Cornell University's Uris Library

Do you dream of a seriously cool office? Have you ever had a workspace that looked like it should work, but didn’t?

Where we work has an impact on how we work. Sometimes, we need to work wherever we happen to be, but for our daily routines, we can establish an inspirational space.

Be prepared to experiment until you find a place and then stick to it.

Things to think about as you plan:

  • What do you want to see? Do you want to see nature, or will nature distract you? Do you want toys or art to look at? Are there colours that invigorate you?
  • What do you want to hear? Does music help you focus? If so, what music? And what quality of player do you need? Do you need silence, or the hubbub of a crowd, or something else?
  • What do you need to feel? If you are thinking about your comfort at your chair or your desk, you probably aren’t thinking about your work. Do you work better if you are slightly warm or cool?
  • What do you want to smell? Fresh flowers? Coffee? Essential oils
  • What do you want to taste? Coffee, mint, lemon, toothpaste, licorice?

All five senses are conscious of your environment. It is possible to use them all to inspire you.

Even a simple routine involving a comfortable place to work with something to drink and the ambient sounds touches all five.

If you are struggling to find a routine to support your creativity, spend some time experimenting with your environment. Change one element for a week and see how you respond differently to the space.

For inspiration, here are some photos of where writer’s write. Here are some written descriptions. And here, Ken Scholes mentions that his constant is the music on his iPod. The Guardian ran a long series on writers’ rooms. And finally, a longer piece on where writers write and why from Poets & Writers.

Me, I like to work on my bed or a couch with a cup of tea or coffee beside me, listening to silence or mellow music without lyrics. The only trouble is my lap gets hot from my laptop, so I’ve been eyeing one of these lap desks. And I think my back would appreciate a reader’s pillow.

Have you given thought to your work space? What environment helps you move forward creatively?

Do You Notice the Good Stuff?

Human beings are wired to notice the bad stuff in life. In fact, we are so good at noticing the bad stuff that we sometimes miss the good stuff.

And, most of the time, there are good things and bad things going on at the same time. By choosing to notice and affirm the good things, we can train our brains to bring those things to awareness rather than letting them slip past unnoticed.

Stop and Smell the Flowers

The Big Bad Wolf won't get you for looking at the flowers. It's straying off the path without noticing the big teeth that gets you.

This morning, the kids were late for school. It was the first day that was cold enough for hats and gloves, and the kids decided they needed scarves, too. Eventually, one was ready and I went outside to encourage him into the car. In a moment of inspiration, I realized I had time to snap a photo of him because we were still waiting for the child inside. But, my intended model was my camera-shy child and I was not sneaky enough.

So, I ended up with this:

And the child is...where?

The beauty of the morning sunbeams caught by my camera took my breath away for a moment. I looked up and noticed this:

Good Morning, Sunshine!!!

And, we were still late for school, but I was less stressed.

And that, my friends, is the power of noticing the good stuff.

Do you notice the good stuff? Or does the rough stuff get in the way?

Sometimes You Just Have To Hang

I need a nap.

Seriously, I need to balance the movement patterns in my body and a drowsy nap during which I drift in and out of sleep would be perfect.

The Four Movement Patterns

Betsy Wetzig has developed ways of working with four basic movement patterns that reflect underlying neuromuscular tensions in our bodies. The four patterns are Hang, Shape, Swing, and Thrust.

Just hanging out

  • Hang: This is the go with the flow pattern, the hang out and see what is going on approach. Psychologically, hangers look for experiential understanding from within and take in a gestalt impression rather than specific details. To experience the Hang movement pattern, try some smooth and slow movements and follow the impulses of your body.
  • Shape: This is the organizer pattern. Hatha yoga postures are classic shaping movements.
  • Swing: Swing is about ebb and flow, back and forth, finding balance in movement. Psychologically, swinging is collaborative, taking turns.
  • Thrust: The driving pattern: pushing forward, goal oriented. Kicking and throwing are thrusting movements.

Each of us can use all the movement patterns, but we tend to get into body grooves, habitual approaches. The warm-up for almost every InterPlay event uses gentle practices to encourage us to play with all the patterns. These practices enable us to stretch ourselves in a safe, easy environment, and, eventually, to break our habits by choice at times.

Playing with the patterns regularly also helps us attune our body awareness so we can sense when we are out of balance and know what our body needs to get into balance.

A Body Out of Balance

For example, as I am preparing my house for sale now, I am using three of the movement patterns heavily.

  • Swing: Collaboration with my husband and my kids is an ongoing process, heightened now by the stress of changing our environment.
  • Shape: My husband and I are busy shaping our house, clearing clutter and boxing things up to create the image we want to present to potential buyers. Moving furniture, folding laundry, and putting toys where they belong are all shaping activities.
  • Thrust: All of the activity associated with preparing the house for sale is goal-oriented. Forward motion must be maintained.

There is a distinct lack of time for chilling, hanging out, seeing what’s going on, and responding to an impulse in the moment.

As my body craves the opportunity to Hang, I am reminded of The Complete Wisdom of Hangers from Susan Main, Leslie Warren, and Randy Newswanger.

  1. Being is enough.
  2. You don’t have to accomplish anything.
  3. You probably won’t change.
  4. Let Thrusters have their way.
  5. Whatever.
  6. Speed in overrated.
  7. Transformation is overrated.
  8. Alarm clocks are an evil tool of the Military-Industrial complex.
  9. A day without a nap is a wasted day.
  10. You can’t understand easy focus until you’ve tried no focus at all.
  11. Eat chocolate daily.
  12. Walk….Stop….Lie down.

I need more Hang in my life. Is there one of these movement patterns that you could play with in your life that might bring you more balance?

Self-Care for Creatives

Do what the dice say.

Whether we are paid for our creative work or not, creative people have stressors that are directly related to our work: the need to be productive and avoid procrastination, solving the problem at hand, self-doubt, finding time for subconscious creativity and for experiences that introduce new ideas and images to our thinking, etc.

There is a certain level of stress that helps prod us into action. Deadlines, for example, can be useful for some people. And other levels of stress push us into a state of overwhelm and meltdown. We must have tools to pull us back from the brink if our stress threatens to overwhelm us.

A Thought Experiment

What makes you feel the opposite of stressed?

If you don’t have an easy answer to that question, try this exercise: Take a few moments to imagine how your body feels when it is stressed. Then take a few moments to imagine what the opposite of that feeling is. Really feel it in your body. And then, try to recall the things that you have been doing when you have felt that way before.

So What?

What animal are you when you do them together?

There isn’t a particularly good word in English to describe how our bodies feel when we feel the opposite of stressed. Some people use flow or openness to describe the feeling. In InterPlay, we call that feeling grace. Notice that we are using grace to name a physical sensation.

We can choose grace for ourselves. We can notice the specific things that create grace in our bodies. And, choosing to do things that give our bodies that experience of grace is a powerful practice of self-care.

An Example

I was in a big rut this week.

I haven’t been writing. NaNoWriMo has started and my kids are moving forward at good paces, but I haven’t written anything beyond a few emails and now this blog post. I have been cranky about this.

My husband and I are preparing our house for sale, an interesting challenge with 4-year old triplets underfoot and while homeschooling our eldest child. We are buying a charming house about a mile away that has more land for the kids to play outside. And, despite the fact that this is an entirely voluntary move, the work involved is substantial. So, it is not surprising that I was tired and stressed.

Unfortunately, I was also losing my cool with my kids. Which was not cool.

I knew I needed to change things up.

When I waddle, I giggle.

Under normal circumstances, changing the dynamics with my kids is often as simple as playing with iMuseCubes, an iPhone app that shakes virtual dice and provides a movement and a sound for you to create simultaneously. 3 rounds of that usually shakes me out of a bad place. If the kids join me, it can go on for some time and become hysterical.

But this week, I knew iMuseCubes wasn’t going to be enough. I needed something that would create a deeper feeling of grace within my body. Something that was specific to my needs to loosen my stress associated with the house and to be more compassionate with my kids.

And, reflecting on my need, I found a tool. It was a song, On The Line by Cris Williamson and Tret Fure. This song always has a profound effect on me. In the lyrics, the changes in a family as children grow up and leave home and elders die are reflected in the laundry Mama hangs on the washing line. And, although I usually cry during the final verse when Mama has died and Daddy hangs his own clothes on the line for the first time, the rhythm and melody of the song are upbeat and get me dancing. Dancing and singing along, I remembered with my whole bodyspirit that my time with my children is short and that my love for them and my joy in their being is bigger than my frustration at any given moment. And I was able to reconnect with them from that place.

Sometimes, words alone can be a salve in our wounded times. Sometimes, creative movement can help us through the rough spots. But sometimes, we need both.

And our bodies know.

If we notice what happens in our bodies and make note of what makes us feel grace, we can use that knowledge to take care of ourselves. We can choose to give ourselves experiences of grace. And we should. Our bodyspirits will thank us for it.

How can you make a moment of grace for yourself today?

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