Today we continue the interview on Eric Maisel’s book Ten Zen Seconds. If you missed the first part, it was published on May 7, 2007. In today’s discussion, we focus on some of the incantations that writers and artists may have difficulty with. They are also the key for centering and mindfulness in difficult moments.
Quinn: Incantation 2–I expect nothing is about detachment. What’s the difference between detachment and not caring?
EM: To do excellent work is different from expecting that our excellent work will be rewarded. To live a moral life is different from expecting not to be hit with an earthquake just because you’ve been ethical. To care about your child is different from expecting her to become a brain surgeon or a millionaire. Caring is completely different from detaching from outcomes.
You want to have dreams, goals, principles, desires, and all the rest—while at the same time detaching from outcomes.
Q: How does admitting that we are not in control of the outcome compare to taking responsibility and planning? Isn’t visualizing success–as you discuss in the book the top of p. 170–expecting an outcome?
EM: To visualize success is not to expect success. Every process of affirmation, whether verbal or visual, helps you do your good work and opens you up to the possibility of betterment. But opening up to the possibility of something and expecting something are two very different things. Your visualization process may help move you from the fifth-best player in your
league to the third-best player in your league—but if you are expecting the MVP trophy for your efforts, you will be disappointed and you’ll have negated a lot of the good work you did during the affirmation process.
Q: How does emptying yourself of expectations mesh with making an income?
EM: If you expect your novel to be liked just because you wrote it, a narcissistic stance adopted by an awful lot of people, the likelihood is that it will not sell and you will make no money. If you do the work of writing an excellent novel and the subsequent excellent work of marketing it
to agents and editors, and then let whatever happens happen, you are entirely more likely to make money. When I circulate a book proposal, I expect nothing, because I have no idea what might be wanted at any given moment, what shape the industry is in, and so on. But because it is as good a proposal as I can make it, it sells—more than twenty different times in the last dozen years.
Q: Can we achieve all that in 10 seconds?
EM: That’s ten seconds multiplied enough times to make it a habit. If you use the Ten Zen Seconds method once a year, it will serve you that one time but that isn’t the same as having turned it into a practice. If you use the incantations on a daily basis, using your favorites with real regularity, you will begin to achieve the outcomes available to you: less stress, more
calm, more power, and a better sense of what meaning you want to make.
Q: So, is this cumulative—do many 10-second centerings begin to add up to more?
EM: Yes! It begins to fundamentally change you, so that you are less impulsive and more thoughtful, less reactive and more active, less scattered and more centered, less depressed and more optimistic. It is actually a complete program for personality change and betterment, despite its apparent modesty and simplicity. You really can’t “completely stop,” “trust your resources,” “do your work,” “free yourself of the past,” “open to joy,” “make your meaning,” etc. on a regular basis without dramatically changing your personality and improving your life.
Q: Why are these 10 seconds particularly useful to writers?
EM: The hardest thing that a writer has to do is not to write but to get herself centered to write. She has to move herself from her everyday pace and her everyday monkey mind into the trance of working, which most writers and all would-be writers have great difficulty doing (and don’t actually know to name as the problem). The incantations and the TZS process are perfect for helping a writer make that profound daily movement from ordinary mind to creative mind, because they are simple, concrete tools that support that exact movement. When a writer incants “I am completely stopping” and “I am working on my novel,” she is doing precisely the thing that she needs to do to ready herself to write.
Q: Let’s say we have success in Moment One–right after an incantation. Then we fall back in on ourselves–house uncleaned, angry, bills to pay–all very un-Zen behavior. Also pretty likely behavior. Now what?
EM: More mindfulness! You want to notice where your mind just went and get it back. So you say to yourself, “Here I am working on my novel and I just hit a rough patch and so my mind sent me off to think about the messy house, so as to help me avoid thinking about my novel, and I won’t tolerate that. No! ‘I return with strength’ to my novel. I won’t let my mind—and a little
anxiety—pull me away from my work.” That’s exactly what mindfulness means: noticing what your mind just did and evaluating whether or not you are happy with what it just did. If you aren’t happy, you decisively get your mind back under your own control.
Q: You often speak of meaning making as a vital part of art–how can 10 seconds make meaning?
EM: You make your meaning by consciously making meaning investments in the very next increment of time in front of you. You decide to write your novel or to watch television in real time, and it is in real time that you make your meaning or fail to make your meaning. You’re done with your chores and now it is work on the novel or turn on the television: this is the meaning choice point of your evening and exactly the right time to incant “I am completely stopping,” “I am working on my novel,” and “I make my meaning.” Those thirty seconds of aiming yourself in the direction of meaning can make all the difference between a stint of creativity and some ordinary entertainment.
Q: How can customizing the phrases make 10 seconds resonate throughout your day?
EM: When you create an incantation of your own that you love—one client loves “right here, right now,” for instance—you have produced a personalized centering charm that contains everything you need to say and everything you need to know to keep yourself present, productive, focused and calm. It is a great blessing to land on an incantation, whether it’s one of mine or one that you create—that holds a wealth of centering power in just a few words
and a few seconds.
Eric’s book, Ten Zen Seconds, is available from amazon.com or, in book- tape- or download format on the Ten Zen Seconds website. On the site, you can practice the incantations while looking at calming watercolors
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer. She is teaching a course in one-sentence journaling, starting May 14.