I’m going to begin this post with a Really Lame Metaphor. (RLM, for short.)When you wake up each morning, you’re in a vulnerable place. You’ve been sleeping, you’ve been dreaming, you’re wide open. You’re receptive. You’re a vessel. In my RLM, I’m going to call you a big bowl. AND, since it’s your life and you’re creating it, you are also the potter, the creator of the big bowl. When a potter makes a bowl, she designs it, sits with it, shapes it, makes it beautiful, and then she sends it out into the world to contain whatever it will contain. Someone could put a plant in it, or soup, or cigarette butts. The bowl is still beautiful. The artist created the bowl to be beautiful no matter what other people decide to put in it.
So, my RLM actually brings me to a Really Important Point. (RIP?) One of the best things you can do, as the artist of your day, is to start it by consciously designing who you choose to be, by setting intent, by praying, by reminding yourself of your dreams and goals. Any practice that works for you, that connects you to something deeper than, say, Fox News. I don’t think it matters how you do it. I think it matters that you do it.
Reaction and Pro-action
I’ve written about the onslaught of unconscious emotions and thoughts, and some of the ways I’ve learned to respond to and become more conscious of such onslaughts. This is a good practice, and is always going to come in handy. But in my own experience, a more proactive approach was eventually necessary, too. At some point, I realized that living in a constant state of reactivity wasn’t healthy. “Oh no! Here comes another emotion! Quick! Do something!” It left me feeling panicky whenever I woke up in the morning. So I began a morning practice a few years ago that has been invaluable. It’s how I shift from that feeling of always being “on guard” to knowing that my life is my choice, my own work of art. It’s how I start my day. The difference is palpable.
The potter in the aforementioned RLM doesn’t sit with a big root ball or a bunch of soup trying to shape the bowl around some pre-determined contents and try to figure out a way to make the bowl beautiful with all this crap she has to put into it. Likewise, if you’re the artist and the big bowl, and you start your day without shaping or refining or defining what you are or want to be (setting your intent) then it’s like allowing the world and all its drama to decide how to shape you. (Okay, I TOLD you it wasn’t the best metaphor – but you do get the idea, no?)
Begin your day with some kind of practice — renewing your commitment to your dreams, setting intent to be peaceful, remembering who you want to be. Eventually, you create yourself so that no matter what comes in, you’re able to remain centered and focused throughout the day.
This isn’t to say that we’re not meant to have compassion or sadness or grief. This IS to say that the average person is somewhat addicted to negative emotions and fear — otherwise, Fox News wouldn’t be nearly as successful. When you have a morning practice you return to again and again, then you find the grounded and centered part of you becomes much stronger and stays with you for longer periods throughout the day. Does it guarantee a perfect day with no depression or ups or downs? Not at all. But do it a few days, and then don’t do it a few days, and you’ll see why I’m sitting here making up pottery metaphors to prove my point. It’s cumulative and it works.
What To Do
Morning Pages: My personal favorite for about 10 years now. I had a writing teacher who was into The Artist’s Way from the day it was published. She assigned us Morning Pages, and I’ve been doing them ever since. This is three pages of long-hand unedited bad writing. You’re allowed to write anything. The idea is to get it all out and just keep writing.
Prayer and Meditation: Don’t let the fundamentalists scare you away from your own definition of the word “prayer,” okay? I was having lunch recently with two of the coolest women you could ever know. Both of them work for the Dogwood Alliance, my favorite environmental group, and we were discussing despair and burn out in the world of saving forests. I asked them how they continued on in spite of so many challenges and obstacles. Without hesitation, both of them said, almost in unison, “Prayer.” Daily prayer. They each talked about their own practice and we all agreed in the power of that daily connection the divine, meditation, whatever. When I first graduated from college, I used to write daily letters in my journal to God. I was crazy unhappy in my PR job, and I wanted to be a writer or songwriter, and I filled page after page admitting this dream to my angels and myself. Eventually, my soul had to stop ignoring my words!
Vision journal: When I facilitate retreats we do this as an activity. You cut up magazines, pull out pictures, paste them into your journal, onto a poster, anywhere that allows you to see visual ideas of your idea of beauty, peace, a bigger you. There aren’t any rules to this one, but people just love it.
Dreams and Goals: Remind yourself of your dreams and goals. Write them on postcards. Write them in the present, in the affirmative. Read them aloud to remind yourself that you get to decide what’s going to happen in your life. (In my previous blogs on bulimia, I talked about setting intent to heal — this is the time to do that as well.)
There’s also yoga, there’s visualization, there’s much to say about meditation. You will find your own practice once you get started. I change routines depending on what’s happening in my life at the time.
Living clearly and consciously takes work. I don’t mean struggle. I mean that it takes choosing. And choosing again. And then again. As I get clearer in my own daily life, I am less tolerant of my own whining and my own unhealthy patterns. With daily practices, these old patterns don’t stick around as long anymore. And that has taken work. It’s easy to be someone who gets up, grabs the paper, turns on a TV, and gulps down a few pots of Starbucks. It’s easy to let the world shape you, piss you off, make you self-righteous about all the wrongs to which you have fallen victim. It’s easy to rush, to fill your every minute with to-do lists, and to live a distracted life so full of “stuff” that you never ask yourself who you want to be. It takes courage to make a choice daily to be bigger, to get clearer, and to recognize when you are reacting. It takes daily practice. Begin your day. Now. And begin it again tomorrow. And the day after that. And in the meantime, I’ll try to find a better metaphor!