Random Thoughts After Meditation

That bag of blame you are dragging behind you? Like stabbing yourself in the heart a thousand times to hurt those who hurt you. It’s not retribution if the other party doesn’t care.

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All that painful stuff from your past made you the powerful, capable person you are today. Stop trying to fix it, teach yourself to use it to your advantage. It’s not going away, might as well make work for you.

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If it’s not inside you, part of you, it isn’t yours. That includes happiness, peace, and joy. None of those come in a shopping bag, they are born in your heart.

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If you don’t let the person who wronged you off the hook, you have to stand there and hold that heavy pole–reeling them in, playing it out, reeling them in, playing it out. Hint: there’s a better way to spend your time.

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The things we hate about ourselves are often our best characteristics turned up too loud. Don’t pull out your faults, tone them down till you can see the gift in them.

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Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach, writer, and speaker. She is engaged in a journal project, sending journals around the world to collaborate with strangers.


Welcoming Fear and Uncertainty

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

Where are my tools?

Where are my tools?

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 month’s. I immediately feel fear, financial stress, and worry. That’s how I face most problems. Trouble is, 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 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 bottom line.

“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 wielding a shovel for all those shovel-ready projects,” Uncertainty added.

“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 not meditate. 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 teach several courses on journaling. I could write a workbook on one of them, and that would reach a bigger audience. And my friend Helen has some really good ideas, maybe we could put a class together that neither one of us could teach separately.

Fear, Uncertainty and Stress immediately began to talk over each other, bringing up reasons why neither of those ideas would work. And I argued with them, facing each objection, thinking it through, and answering it.

At the end of the hour of meditation, I had a plan. I would spend a portion of the next month writing the workbook, another part looking for training clients, and another part working with Helen to see if we could develop an interesting, fun class.

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 ideas that might work. Arguing with them allowed me to overcome objections and refine the plan, to put a time limit on my efforts, and to create time to do it.

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. She is writing a book on One-Sentence Journaling.  (c) All rights reserved. 2009.

Wabi-Sabi Journal Prompts

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that values the time-worn, the aged, the imperfect. It is a philosophy and a way of accepting and giving up control. Bringing wabi-sabi into your life allows you to make room for daydreams, for accepting a simpler life and for valuing the riches already in your life.

A wabi sabi journal is one filled with authentic you, the one that hungers for simplicity, nature, the organic flow of life. Here are a few quotes to help you open your mind to Wabi-Sabi. They make great journal prompts.

You are the person you are when no one is looking.

Anger is only one letter short of danger.

No one can give you abilities. For example, an Olympic athlete works with a trainer to develop her abilities, but the trainer only helps manifest what was inherent all along. Likewise, no one can give you happiness. At most, others simply help manifest the joy that was always within you.snail

Happiness does not mean ‘absence of problems.’ There has never been a life free from problems. It is not the presence of problems, but how we tackle them that determines the quality of our lives.

Blind faith is no faith

One does not win by making others lose.

–All quotes from “Open Your Mind, Open Your Life.” edited by Taro Gold

–Image from Still in the Stream, a site reflecting on Wabi-Sabi in nature.

-Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach. In March, she will teach “Wabi sabi journal writing.”  Visit my other website: Raw Art Journaling.

Music Review: Into Silence, Deva Premal

There are times when I feel scrambly. That’s the word I made up to describe a feeling of doing too much at the same time, reaching for too many files, not getting priorities straight. Characterized by rotating slowly in place thinking, “I must. . .but first. . .no, this. . . ” It’s not a good feeling, it makes you feel as if someone has put your thoughts in a blender and pushed ‘liquify.’

Scrambly times demand a good music background, and I’ve found Deva Premal to be the person whose music calms me down, even when I don’t want to. Continue reading the review.

Listen, no really. . .LISTEN!

When I was growing up, silence was an important part of the family. My father studied every night, adding to his prodigious knowledge by reading, researching and taking notes. There was no internet, so there was a pile of books. It was our job to be quiet.

At dinner, we were allowed to contribute to the conversation if we could quote facts. Our opinions were not valued. My mother’s favorite instructive quote from from Eleanor Roosevelt: Great minds discuss idea, average mind discuss events, small minds discuss people. Whether or not Eleanor borrowed it from Hyman Rickover was inconsequential. If you couldn’t discuss ideas, you remained silent.

I often wonder what to make of the cacophony of cell phones, endless yakking, and noise as part of everyday life. In the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, VA there are now flat screen TVs in every hallway. They are always on, in case the noise of the crowd and the noise of business is not enough. CNN plays every second my bank is open. I’m beginning to feel like I live in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Silence is not only no longer golden, it’s intimidating. Cell phones ring, and are answered in movies, symphonies, plays and meetings. Silence is suspect. If someone asks a question, the first thing that comes to mind is tossed into the waiting space. I rarely see people without a phone or white earplugs anymore. We can’t stand quiet. People in supermarkets describe cereals and vegetables to unseen callers. We hate the sound of our own minds and hearts.
cell phones
We not only multi-task, we multi-listen. Except, of course, we don’t. We don’t listen to a thing. We are just waiting our turn to talk.

Televised funerals of the famous pan over the audience while an announcer identifies the the A-list attendees. We don’t even know when silence is appropriate anymore.

Here’s a clue: when someone else is speaking, performing, or there is a screen with information on it, it is appropriate to be quiet.

Look around your house. How many TVs are on right now? What other noisemakers are running in your vicinity–music? Coffee grinder? Radio? Silence reduces stress. Silence opens the door to ideas, solves problems, allows forgiveness, yields the floor to joy. Enjoy it. Try it. For five minutes at a time. See how quickly you like it.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. She loves silence for long stretches of time when writing, creating alternative books or listening to others. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2008 QuinnCreative.com

Stress-Reducing Meditation

Stress will wake you up at night, and keep you awake. Whether you want to get to sleep or get back to sleep, you have to turn off monkey-mind. Monkey mind is that immediate worry state, list-making need, or repetition of nags that starts when you wake up and gets louder until you can’t possibly get back to sleep.

insomnia sheetWhat you need to get back to sleep is a combination of relaxing technique and meditation that blocks monkey mind. Here is one that works well. It might take a few tries to get it right, but it’s worth it. You’ll be asleep in no time.

Relaxation technique:
1. Lie down in a comfortable position, eyes closed.
2. Wait for monkey mind to start–all those negative thoughts and self-talk that start up at night with a vengeance.
3. Say “hush” and draw out the ‘sh’ sound, like you would soothe a baby.
4. Keep repeating “hush”, but imagine yourself walking down a hallway.
5. The hallway turns into a path–any kind of landscape you like
6. Note the detail in the landscape–smells, flowers.
7. Take your time about noticing details.
8. As you walk through this landscape, become aware of any tension in your head or neck. Imagine that it is draining away through your fingertips. Flick the color out onto the flowers. They will turn that color. [You don’t have to actually flick your fingers, just in your imagination.]
9. Relax your head and neck, and continue to your shoulders. Again, let the tension drain out through your fingertips, flicking it off.
10. Breathe in deeply, through your nose, to the count of three, hold it for the count of three, and breathe out through your mouth.
11. Release all your tension in your ribcage and solar plexus through your arms.
Notice if the color is the same as the other tension. Flick it off.
12. You are strolling now, with no effort.
13. The tension in your thighs and rear drains out through your footprints. What color is it?
14. The tension in your legs and ankles drains out, too. You are leaving behind all tension as you walk away.
15. The tension in your feet is draining out, too. You are perfectly relaxed.
16. Breathe again. On the in breath say, “I am” and on the out say “letting go,” [just in your imagination]

When I do this with people, they are generally asleep by the time I get to item 10.
It’s important to keep yourself in the vision and not let monkey mind start up a to-do list.
Let me know how it works for you!

—Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer who knows that insomnia is what the mind creates to punish you. See her work at QuinnCreative.com   Image: Quinn McDonald, pencil on index card. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Natalie Goldberg, Live

Last week I took a writing workshop from Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones. The book opened the world of creativity to thousands of writers who began to keep journals and write as a practice of creativity, understanding, and introspective exploration. She has written eight other books as well.

This course, on memoir-writing, was taught through the Sedona Art Center, and held at the Sedona Creative Life Center. The class was almost totally unlike what I expected. I had a vague vision of sitting around tables with older women, all of us discussing writing.

Instead, Natalie sat in the front of a sacred-space-like room and the class (close to 100 men and women of all ages) sat, theater–style in the room. She encouraged us to move the chairs until we were comfortable, and proceeded to lead us through a series of writing exercises that brought out amazing sentences, phrases, details and ideas. For example, she would give us ten minutes to complete the sentence, “I remember. . .” We were not to stop writing till she told us, and we were not to edit or cross out words. You’d think you wouldn’t be able to start, but most of us weren’t able to stop!

She called on volunteers to read what they had written and made supportive comments. If you didn’t want to read, you didn’t have to. We wrote by ourselves and in groups. We wrote with her prompt s and with ones we made up. We did 10-minute writings and one-minute writings. We read our writing out loud, but we didn’t comment on anyone else’s writing. We just listened.

The writing sessions were interspersed with Zen-based meditation. She taught us how to focus on breathing and the separation from the frantic world most of us inhabit allowed us to write more clearly and directly.

Natalie is engaging, interesting, and a relaxed teacher who can pack a great deal of learning into an easy, non-stressed week. This group discovered our own talent, ability and enthusiasm for writing. Do the same and take one of her workshops.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who is currently developing online and in-person journal-writing classes, including Journaling for Perfectionists, Wabi-Sabi Journaling and One-Take Journaling. Contact Quinn to get on the notification list for her journal-writing classes.