When Walking Meditation Fails

This morning, I headed out for my usual walk and meditation. Almost from the beginning, something didn’t feel right. My pace was a little slower, the sun was a little higher. But the weather was fine and I was feeling strong.

After I crossed a busy street, the meditation that usually relaxes and delights mecommon-sandpiper_504_600x450 didn’t work. Was it the long list of items still to do before the Design Your Life Camp? Was it the new Persuasive Writing Class I’m teaching on Wednesday? I don’t know. I tried following my breathing. I tried listening to every sound on the walk. I tried imagining letting go of each thought. But my mind raced and bounced, worried and fretted. There are sandpipers here in the fall, shore birds hundreds of miles from shore. I felt that misplaced.

It happens. Even long-term meditators have days in which meditation is difficult. I decided to let it go. Instead, I plugged in and listened to a novel that took a bit to get into, but that I am now enjoying.

I wanted to worry about it. I wanted to figure out why. I wanted to beat myself up for . . . listening to my inner critic. It doesn’t happen often, but when I can’t muster the gift of meditation, I move on. Tomorrow will be another opportunity. It’s hard to be OK with not connecting with a practice that is generally refreshing and invigorating. But the more you are OK with it, the sooner the strength comes back. And I trust it will. It’s important not to beat yourself up, not to over-think it (hah!) and not to quit. Other than that, some days are better than others.

-Quinn McDonald will get up and continue doing walking meditation tomorrow.


Day 26: Adapt Until it Works

Day 26: Using what you’ve learned.
We experimented with writing styles, locations, times. Now it’s time to choose what works and leave behind what doesn’t. Knowing, of course, that no decision needs to be final, and we can change to adjust to what works best today.

Wisdom from the Comments:
From Krystyna: “I remember . . . saying in despair to my therapist “Am I just going round in circles”. . . He said: “Maybe you need to go round in circles. Maybe you need to keep coming back to the same thing and looking at it from a different angle. Going round in circles can be a very valuable thing to do.”

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Moon caught in tree. © Copyright 2012 Quinn McDonald

Experimenting is a revealing and interesting action. What you think is true is not, what you were uncertain of swims into focus. Like a shadow forming itself into a shape in the dark, we recognize that what we gave up was serving us after all.

I shifted walking times, writing times, places. And what conclusion did I come to? That hiking is not walking meditation, that unless the discipline happens early, the rest of the day won’t connect.

There may be days I don’t want to walk first thing in the morning, but I have to ask why. Is it too cold? Put out a scarf and vest the night before. Am I too tired? An earlier bedtime is useful. I would love to sleep till I’m no longer tired and go to bed when I’m finished doing what I want to do, but that schedule doesn’t serve my creativity.

Experimenting has shown me: I need to get up and do walking meditation in the morning, first thing. Once the day hooks me, I’m not going to struggle to do the meditation.

I need to write when I come back from walking meditation. At that point, my ideas are fresh, my goals are stepped out, my dreams are vivid. Waiting allows it all to dull like a peeled apple.

If I want to enjoy the fabulous weather, I need to plan an additional hike. Walking meditation is not hiking, and as much as I love to do both, there will be days I can’t. A walk that doesn’t require driving, a lot of equipment, or car keys is best. I’ll manage that. I must. When I come back, do the writing, and then the work day begins.

I still have to figure out how to fold studio time into the day on a regular basis. It always comes last–even after I write the blog. Often, it’s just too late. I’m still working on that, because in my head, the financial work comes first, everything else next.

What have you learned from your experiments over the last weeks?

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art. She needs to get back into the writing habit.

Day 19: The Work of Writing

Day 19: What’s turned up for you as you write? (or, start with the first post in the series.)

Ink and watercolor pencil on paper.

Wisdom from the comments:
From Dawn Herring: “Yes, we need to pause and pay attention to the wisdom we hear as we write in our journals. It can be rather forthright, definitely intuitive, and sometimes obvious without our realizing it.”

From Marjorie: “. . .more often than not, I go back and read one or two (or more) of my prior posts before beginning to write. It helps me orient myelf, but I also notice things I’ve written that I hadn’t noticed while writing them. Or I’ll see what I’ve written in a different light than when I wrote it.”

From Daien: “After getting off to a great start, five days in I did what I usually do, which is to stop. What was different was that I continued to read your posts and everyone’s comments, as well as continued to count myself one of the sojourners. But I wasn’t writing, and I wasn’t walking.”

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Like Daien, I haven’t been writing every day. I’m still trying to find the time to write without interruption. In the morning, which is really a preferred time, things need to get done. If I put it off, I lose East Coast time–the time when the East Coast is awake and starting the business day.

I’ve been walking later in the day–at lunch–because the weather is perfect, and this is the time of year I want to walk and know I’m in the desert. January is a time when Brittlebush and a few other trees bloom. I want to experience those subtle desert seasons, so I have to build in a time to walk in the dry riverbed of Skunk Creek.  I’m trading working early morning for a lunchtime walk. This won’t work if I’m teaching, but it works for when I’m not. So I’m writing when I get back from the walk. I have the most benefit of meditation then.

And I’ve made another switch. I’m writing on the computer. Shocking, I know. All that truth about having to hand write. And I still want to write in a journal. But I’m experimenting with writing on a computer. For several reasons: I type really fast, and can get more written down–process more. I’ve been touch-typing since I was 10, and I simply feel very comfortable typing. So comfortable, that I type my pages with my eyes shut. It keeps me from editing, and I can do what I was doing using a pen before–ripping through words down to meaning.

I separate journaling from this kind of writing. For me, journaling is a creative act that encompasses both visual expression and writing. And I do that in heavy-paper journals. I might do some collage, I might build a journal. But the pages I write after walking help me dig down into the creative well and make sure the stream that comes up from that is a fresh spring of ideas. That work is best done, at least for me, with a keyboard, an open heart and closed eyes.

What discoveries have you made? Have you quit, but still lurked with us? Let us know how this time is working for you.  It’s not about success and failure. You are exploring the wayward path of your wandering. Where have you walked and what have you seen?

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who is digging for her own creative source for 30 days in the company of some interesting people.

What Grows on my Walk

Every morning, I walk three miles. Sometimes it’s five miles, but most of the time, it’s three. It’s walking meditation–where I am aware and in the moment. It’s interesting to see what I notice and what shows up every morning–an ever-changing show of natural lessons that reveal themselves.

Here’s what I saw this morning that gave me food for thought:

In the desert, grass is hard to come by. This grass was not only growing in our sandy soil, it was four feet off the ground, and inside a Stop sign pipe. Now, that’s determination! Even more incredible, the grass in the pipe seems to be healthier than the grass on the ground!



All winter, I noticed a house that had a swatch of green grass. Really green. Preternaturally green. One day, I stopped and took a closer look. Sure enough, it wasn’t real grass, it was fake grass. Plastic.

The only real grass in this front yard is the small weed in the front, just-right-of-center in the above photo. That just-mowed look is strips of plastic.

Then I took a closer look. In the middle of the sea of plastic, was. . . a weed.

Not only was it a real weed, the owner had sprayed his plastic with weed remover. I wish I’d been able to talk to him when he found a real weed on his fake grass. A few days earlier, I’d taken a photo of the weed, but it blended in too well. This photo, of plastic and the war of the weeds, is far more eloquent.

Maybe if he’d seen the determination of the Stop sign weed, he would have caved and let it grow.

A weed, of course, is just what we call it. It’s wild grass, or a plant in a place we don’t want it. I love making these discoveries on my morning walk. I’m not going to draw any conclusions for you. You can do that so well on your own.

-Quinn McDonald is a walker, writer, and creativity coach who strives to live in the present moment.


Having a Meeting with Stress and Fear

When you own your business, you have freedom to set your schedule and choose your clients. You also have freedom from a regular paycheck, group-reduced healthcare costs, and shoving the blame for bad decisions somewhere else. Not all freedoms are equal.

Fear, uncertainty and stress make for a bleak personal landscape.

In a down-turning economy, you would think that many companies would offer training to help their reduced workforce do the work of more people. You would think, but that is not happening. So this morning, I decided to have a meeting with my fear and uncertainty.

Looking at my schedule, I see it’s not as full as last quarter. I immediately feel fear, financial stress, and worry. That’s not surprising.  But those emotions doesn’t solve problems. So I sit down to a meeting with my fear and stress. This is actually a great form of  mediation–and meditation. Instead of pushing all thoughts out of my head, as many ways of meditation instruct, I invite fear, uncertainty, and stress in. I sit with them, and ask them what they have to contribute.

“If you don’t get work soon, you will lose the house,” Fear said, getting right to the biggest possible scary result.

“But you only know training and writing and journaling, and that isn’t being used in this economy,” said Uncertainty, “and you don’t know anything about medical jobs–the only ones that have been rising in this economy,” Uncertainty added, quoting facts to make sure I felt deep, proven uncertainty.

“You are too old to get back to school, and that would take too long to retrain you, so you better stop eating or driving, because you are in bad trouble,” Stress said.

“Thanks for letting me know, ” I said, “but once we’ve established all that, what comes next? You’ve told me what isn’t working, but what can I do that will work?”

Fear, Uncertainty and Stress were quiet. Fear spoke up first. “Well, if you don’t do something, you will be in big trouble.”

“OK,” I said, “But that’s the same thing you already said. I want to hear something I can do, undertake, think about.” Again, Fear, Uncertainty and Stress were quiet. They had not been quiet for a long time. Every time I sat down to meditate, they would clamor so loudly that I could feel every muscle tensing. I spent all my time chasing them out of my head.

By inviting them in, listening to them, and asking for specifics, they had exhausted their efforts in the shortest of time. So we sat there, in silence, until I said, “Well, I have two new ideas for journaling courses. And my book is coming out in July, so I have work to do to prepare demonstrations and classes for book signings.”

Fear, Uncertainty and Stress immediately began to talk over each other, bringing up reasons why those ideas wouldn’t work. Uncetainty was the Devil’s Advocate. Fear was the Nay-Sayer, and Stress asked for more ideas to present to the committee. I refused to argue, instead, faced each objection, thinking it through, weighing the logic, and answering it.

At the end of the hour of meditation, I had a plan for classes, demos, and several fresh ideas for promoting the book. I would discuss them with my Creativity Master Mind Group to find the strengths in each idea and discuss areas of uncertainty.

I felt happy and hopeful. Because I sat down with Fear, Uncertainty, and Stress and listened to them, I saw that they didn’t really have good ideas. They were disruptive and bothersome, but the more I chased them out of my meditation space, the more time and effort they used. Inviting them in and facing them reduced their importance and gave me enough space to come up with interesting, workable ideas. Arguing with them allowed me to overcome objections and refine the plan, to put a time limit on my efforts, and to create a schedule to the entire plan.

Meditation is not sitting in perfect inspiration. It’s work, and it doesn’t always demand an empty mind. Just a clear one.

Quinn McDonald owns QuinnCreative, a business that offers training in communications, including writing, public speaking, and turning horrible PowerPoint presentations into interesting, informative communication tools. Her book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be published in July of 2011.

Talisman: Staying and Being Still

We all need tools to work with. Some of us also need a bit of magic to make the tools work right. Many cultures carry bundles or bags that hold important talismans, each representing a memory, a power, a dedication or prayer.

A gathering of prayer, power, and stillness in a talisman

I’ve carried around my bundle and worn individual pieces for years. But now I wanted to carry them with me, not in a bundle or leather bag, but in a group to wear when I create rituals, when I do soulful work, or when I need to be reminded to stay and not to flee. Difficult situations crop up, and it’s easy to run away from the emotions. Better to stay. Pain is real, but when we sit with pain or fear it often diminishes it. When we flee, our imagination gives our fear fangs and faster speed.

So I gathered my talismans that remind me to sit, be still, to stay with fear and listen. I had them put in one place so I can wear them when I’m in meditation, when I”m with a client who is in a hard place–to remind me of the acronym WAIT–Why Am I Talking? To be still. To stay.

Silence is a powerful force. Life is a verb, and sitting still to stay anchored in the now, without making excuses about the past or project success into the future is hard. I need these pieces:

–A bone hand to remind me that there is a hand on my shoulder in both comfort and weight to keep me still. It is in a mudra–a position of prayer.

–An otter tooth. Otters make tools out of whatever is at hand, and then they play with them. They are inventive and fun-loving, hard workers and loyal. All good to have close at hand. An ancient piece from the fur trade days.

–A silver tab with Hebrew writing–the first words of the bible: “In the beginning.” Every story starts there. Every solution does, too. The bone tab at the bottom contains a figure from a journal page I called “The Letters After Z.”

–A carved piece of mountain mahogany, showing a tree on the shape of a walking stick. When I work with clients, I walk their path with them. It’s hard work, and a walking stick helps keep me still and grounded.

–A small carved river stone, with the figure for moving on it. It represents constant change, as the water running in a river smooths a stone.

–The tooth of a wolf. The wolf is loyal and territorial, can be a predator as well as prey, in a long chain of complicated relationships.

–Another silver tab with a bone carving from The Letters Beyond Z. This silver tab has Chinese writing on it–“stranger.” We gather information best when we are strangers, when we are “others”–part of the group, yet separate. Creativity grows in that space, which is often lonely and must be so.

— A titanium pendulum, bound in gold. For balance and occasional divination or alchemy. I’m not saying “no” to either one.

–A Tohono O’odham (“Desert People,” part of the Pima Nation) hand, cast in silver. It has markings that identified Oks Amachuda–Listening Woman, one of the first female medicine men. It’s good to stand with those who came before us and listened.

It’s a heavy piece, as is the meaning of the talisman. It makes a great sound when I walk. A smooth sound that reminds me of being outside, in the wind, close to running water.

Eating Chocolate as Meditation

The surprising mixture of hot spice and sweet is one of the great pleasures of a simple life. It wakes you up and calms you down. How hot?  Not melt-your-mascara hot, but spicy-kick hot, mixed with sweet. Chewy is a big plus in this mix.

This combination has the benefit of slowing you down as you eat. Most of us eat in the car, in the airport, while reading, phoning, texting. If you can’t slow down for your food, you are missing the great enjoyment in life that is cheap, easy and oh, so important to inner peace.  Something that’s chewy and sweet and spicy will be part of  heaven.

Chocolate covered mango with a kick
Chocolate covered mango with a kick

When I saw the dark-chocolate covered mango in Trader Joe’s, I had to try it. When I took a closer look and saw that it was not only dark chocolate covered mango, but sprinkled with hot pepper bits and salt, I thought I’d experienced perfection.

OK, not perfection in the visual department. It looks like bad doggie.  But the taste is heaven. No bolting this for me. I notice the texture first, then the heat

Mango, thick with chocolate, glowing with heat
Mango, thick with
chocolate,glowing with

comes up with the creamy chocolate. Finally the gritty salt heightens the sweet and the texture.

Eating dark chocolate covered mango is a mindful experience. I eat it slowly. I linger over each part of the experience. I delight in the chocolate melting, my tongue surprised by the salt. These aren’t pieces to wolf down, these are slow, lingering, mindful, zen-meditation chocolates. Who knew chocolate could be meditation?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach and mindful chocoholic.