#beingthemoment – words and mindfulness

I sometimes doubt my words.

I started a story this morning that turned out to be about a magical tree.  A magical tree?  Hasn’t that been done already?  Done and done, as they say.

Almost before I had written the first sentence a little voice in my brain said, “That story’s been told.  You are not doing anything new.  Who’s going to care?”

Words.

All I have are words.

Playwright Sarah Ruhl, in her wonderful book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater, says this:

If it is true that there is nothing new under the sun and that there are only two or three basic human stories worth telling, then the contribution of the playwright is not necessarily the story itself but the way the story is told, word for word. (p. 25)

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And here is the tree that I wrote about:

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tree by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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I have spent so many moments in my writing career second-guessing my writing.  Only when I focus my attention on the words, on the beauty of a word, on the surprising aspects of one word against the next, only when I give my words their space, do I make my writing come alive.

I have started listening to the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day podcast.  The words I discover by listening to the two-minute-long explanation and usage notes enchant me.  ReciprocateGrimalkinTatterdemalion.

Being with words?  It is my way of being in the moment.

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What is your relationship with words?  Do you collect words that are special or significant?  How do you know when you have found exactly the right word?

#beingthemoment – encore

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Any hut in a storm by Mike Green is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Over the weekend I had some very good news on a writing effort.  Normally I might have felt glad for just a few minutes, and then I would mentally brush it off and go on to the next thing.  – Not relishing the moment, not paying attention to how it felt to have this success (finally!).  Merely going on with my life, pushing it to the side as other everyday concerns grabbed my attention.

But this time I didn’t do that.  I stopped, mentally, and I simply noticed: Wow.  This feel really good.  It’s wonderful, in fact.  I’m going to savor it, not throw it away.  How does it feel to have my work affirmed and to finally reach a goal that I had hoped for, and longed for, and that frustrated me when it did not happen . . . let me take the time to notice how it feels.  Let me take the time.

This was not what I normally do.  In fact, normally I rush out and tell everyone I can think of.  And that does feel satisfying, to share good news with friends and loved ones, of course.  But in a way it also rushes things, it makes it harder to really savor the moment.  Maybe that is because I’m so busy telling everyone about the good thing that has happened that I’m not actually feeling the good thing.  Not enjoying it, but broadcasting it instead.

I don’t mean to say that there is something wrong with telling friends and loved ones about the good things.  Friends and loved ones enjoy celebrating your accomplishments, of course!  And we should include them in our circle of celebration, since sharing good news multiplies our blessings, as the saying goes.  Yet I realized that by slowing down, by noticing how it feels and what it means to me and to my creativity as an artist, the accomplishment feels more complete, and more complex.  It lasts longer.  It tastes better.

Is this what “being in the moment” feels like?  I think so!  How amazing.  Over the past few weeks of my #beingthemoment project, as I’ve noticed details, thought about my intention, breathed, felt gratitude . . . these activities seem to have prepared me to be able to enjoy, really enjoy, this new accomplishment.

I picked the image for this post – a red hut in a snowstorm – because I thought of it as soon as I began writing this post.  (I had used this image for a different project, and it popped into my mind.)  Any hut in a storm.  Isn’t that what our creative lives are about?  We make our artistic projects from inside our daily lives, daily lives that entail making meals for our families and driving the kids to school and shopping for groceries and filling the car with gas.  But deep inside our minds is a small red hut that harbors our artistic life, sheltering our creative selves from external ups and downs, protecting us long enough to make inventive and inspiring work.

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Have you received good news lately?  Did you share the good news with those around you?  Did you do something to celebrate?  How did you make that good feeling last as long as possible?

#beingthemoment – wrap-up

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gratitude. =) by Karrie Nodalo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Once again it’s Sunday evening, and over the past six weeks I have had an opportunity to experiment with mindfulness strategies, with six approaches for being present, for being “in the moment.”

What have I learned?

I call this blog “Lab Notes” because of my relationship between writing and the world.  Lab notes are something that scientists keep.  Scientists are curious about the world, and they keep lab notes to record their progress, their observations, their thoughts, their questions, their understanding of the thing they study.  Scientists study things to to learn about things they don’t know yet, and to deepen their understanding of things they do know.  Scientists often do experiments as they study something new in the world.  Scientists, along with everyone else in this world, are trying to make sense of what is happening around them.

As are writers.

So, in calling my blog “Lab Notes” I am trying to make sense of what is happening around me.  Whether it is in a fiction sketch, a poetic snippet, or an essay like this one, I am exploring – through my writing – what the world means and what it is like to be in this world.

And that brings me to mindfulness.

So many people have shared with me their own yoga, meditation, or faith-based practices of mindfulness, and especially gratitude.  As human beings we are so easily distracted by the things that are going wrong, distracted by problem-solving and how to make it better, that we are not in the habit of noticing what is already good, what is going well, what we have to be thankful for.  Writing is a way of noticing everything, especially in the small details, and it is a way of making sense of it.  It is a way of being in the world.

As is mindfulness.

This week: Feel gratitude

This week’s strategy was Feel Gratitude – and a number of people responded that they keep a gratitude journal, in which they write down things they are grateful for, as a way of noticing the gifts and small pleasures they enjoy in their lives.  For myself, I found myself blending in some of the other strategies with gratitude this week, like making a flavorful stew, a stew that gave me a richly comforting experience in which I could savor the moment. (Is that too many cooking metaphors?  Oh well!)  For instance:

  • Taking a daily walk with my nineteen-year-old son, I reminded myself that I do feel grateful that he still enjoys my company and looks forward to our time together.  I often remind myself of my intention: to spend time with my child and to feel my body moving across the earth.  Along the way I try to notice the splash of the little waterfalls in the creek that flows through the urban forest park we are walking in, the sound of the water that I find so delicious.
  • Feeling frustrated about getting stuck by a creative block on one of my writing projects this week, I decided to mentally back and remind myself I’m lucky to have the time in my day to work on a creative project, that many many people in the world do not have time for creative activity like I do, and that even if I’m feeling stuck, I am confident that I will have the time and the imagination to eventually work it out.  I tell myself that my intention is to express my creativity and imagination through something brand-new, that no one has ever seen or read before. – and how exciting that is!
  • Recently my little amateur jazz combo met to rehearse – I play piano – and some of the other musicians emphasized how important it is to get good enough on our pieces to “play out” in an open mic night, etc.  Being goal-oriented, at first I was swept up in their directive conversation.  But as we started to play, I reminded myself that music – especially jazz, is a brand-new song every time you play; that improvisation is all about writing the music as you go, about not having pre-conceived or pre-written music to perform, but about expressing yourself creatively through the notes you play.  The essential experience and beauty of our music was in the playing, in the feel of interacting with each other musically, and in having made an original creative imaginative thing that had not existed before.

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Here is a list of the six strategies (below) from an article on mindfulness, and my goal was to become more mindful and to be in the moment – one strategy per week.

  • Week 1 – Intent: What is your intent as you do a task?
  • Week 2 – Details: What are the little details of what’s around you?
  • Week 3 – Breathing:  Take 3 deep breaths when stressed.
  • Week 4 – Move your body:   Take a walk or stretch to take a break from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Week 5 – Create white space:   Block out time to do what you want to do, not what you “have” to do.
  • Week 6 – Feel gratitude:  Stop and acknowledge how much you have, the blessing and abundance of being alive.

Next steps

Now for the hard part:  how to bring it all together.  Or is it?

Remember back a couple of weeks ago, when I said I was going to try visiting the library and browsing, like you do in a bookstore?  These are the library chairs where I sat and wrote about my experience (below).  Don’t they look welcoming?  Wouldn’t you like to sit down and with a good book and read, just read, for an hour or two?  Perhaps the only thing better might be if someone brought you lunch and a hot cup of tea . . . but even so, just being there, sitting down and letting the warm inviting space of really good books surround you . . . there is something so comforting about it.  Let’s make a pact to come back sometime and talk about libraries and books and the printed page and ideas and imaginary worlds and sweet images that poets bring us.  It will be an adventure.

#beingthemoment

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Photo by Theresa Barker.

#beingthemoment 6

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gratitude by keico taguchi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Hello everyone!  Here I am, and it’s Sunday evening again, and I’m ready to start Week 6 of my “being in the moment” experiment.  I have really enjoyed hearing from you, other bloggers and writers, about your interests and practices in being more mindful and present in the moment.  Thank you!

Last week the focus was on creating “white space,” time to spend on myself in whatever way I wanted to.  I am happy and surprised to report that I had a chance to browse in the local public library (as though it were a bookstore), which was a new experience, and it felt great.  I’m also remembering that one day I took a small notebook and pen to an appointment but arrived early, found a new coffee shop to sit in, and wrote something new.  That also felt great.

Why do we find ourselves following the same routine over and over?  I find great comfort in having familiar items and routines to stay in. But then, when I find myself in a new situation with some time on my hands, I suddenly notice so much going on around me, and it stimulates my creativity.  It’s just hard to remind myself of that when my wonderful familiar writing desk beckons.

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I am exploring these six strategies (below) from an article on mindfulness over a period of six weeks.  My goal is to become more mindful and to be in the moment; to avoid feeling overwhelmed, I’m a taking one strategy each week.

  • Week 1 – Intent: What is your intent as you do a task?
  • Week 2 – Details: What are the little details of what’s around you?
  • Week 3 – Breathing:  Take 3 deep breaths when stressed.
  • Week 4 – Move your body:   Take a walk or stretch to take a break from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Week 5 – Create white space:   Block out time to do what you want to do, not what you “have” to do.
  • Week 6 – Feel gratitude:  Below.

Week 6: Feel gratitude

Feel gratitude — It’s easy to move from one experience to the next without really noticing or acknowledging your gratitude. In as many moments as you can, simply stop and acknowledge just how much you have. It might be as simple as your healthy body, your pet, loved ones or the beautiful food. When we are truly present, we tune into the blessing and abundance of simply being alive. (From A present you give yourself, and others:  being present during the holidaysThe Seattle Times)

What do you do to feel gratitude?  Do you keep a “gratitude journal”?  Do you say thanks during your worship time or other faith-based activities?  Is feeling grateful a regular part of your day-to-day life?

Bonus:  “52 Weeks of Thankfulness” project, link to Miriam Hurdle’s “Showers of Blessing” blog post

Next week:  Wrap-up

#beingthemoment

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Space Forms, art by Dan Corson, Beacon Hill Light Rail Station, photo by Theresa Barker.

#beingthemoment – Week 5

Last week: Move your body

As I walked each day with my son this week, I tried to keep in mind the intent of my walk (being with my son and also enjoying the outdoors) and to think about the details around me (the feel of the path under my feet, the droplets of rain on my face, the sound of my son’s voice). I was also breathing and trying to notice how my body was feeling.

All we have is our bodies, right?  The experience of our bodies – whether we are cold or warm, whether we can breathe freely or with effort, whether we are experiencing pain or comfort – is a powerful influence on our lives. – More than we realize, at times.

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Over the past four weeks I have been practicing one strategy at a time to help me become more mindful and to be in the moment.

  • Week 1 – Intent: What is your intent as you do a task?
  • Week 2 – Details: What are the little details of what’s around you?
  • Week 3 – Breathing:  Take 3 deep breaths when stressed.
  • Week 4 – Move your body:   Take a walk or stretch to take a break from feeling overwhelmed.

I am exploring six strategies from an article on mindfulness over a period of six weeks.  Each Sunday evening I have been posting an update on how that week went and a description of the next week’s strategy.  I picked the hashtag #beingthemoment as a reminder that I am striving to “be” the moment, moment to moment, and not rush through my life or be too distracted to enjoy the time I have.

Week 5: Claim white space

Claim white space — Before you start drowning in the activity of the holidays, create some air pockets for yourself with white-space time. White space is time blocked on your calendar with no preset agenda. It’s the time on your calendar where you get to choose what you do. Always start your white-space time with a few deep breaths to become present and then ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Or “What am I inspired to do?” White space allows you time to give yourself what you need.  (A present you give yourself, and others:  being present during the holidaysThe Seattle Times)

Okay, confession time:  I don’t do very well at scheduling time for myself.  I suppose more often I squeeze in time for that little bit of writing, or a quick walk to the library to pick up books.  But I don’t generally linger at the library – or set aside time to hang out there.  My daughter said to me the other day, “Let’s go to the library and pretend it’s a bookstore, and browse!” and I thought, what a great idea.

But this week’s strategy reminds me that there are a couple of things I’ve wanted to do for a while and have yet to do them.  One is to go see the current art exhibit at a local art museum, the Henry Gallery at the campus of the University of Washington.  The other thing is to take the light rail train down to South Seattle and do a self-guided tour of the public art at each station.

This week I’ll try to put “white-space” time into the calendar for those things.  And I’d like to borrow Sara Yao’s questions, both about my own state of mindfulness, and about my writing:

  • What do I need right now?
  • What am I inspired to do?

How about you?  Do you use writing to be more mindful?  What do YOU need right now?  What are YOU inspired to do?

#beingthemoment

Aztec-patterned screen dedicated to El Centro de La Raza community organization, art at the Beacon Hill station for LINK light rail, photo by Theresa Barker