restless peasant: life, changing :

ritual

After reading 21 Rituals to Change Your Life by Theresa Cheung  recently, I felt compelled to revisit the concept  of Journaling as this was one of the rituals recommended in the book and something I had attempted after reading Julia Cameron’s,  The Artists Way. I’d also been aware previously from countless other self help tomes and through my membership of a global group of business improvement facilitators many moons ago, about the power of journaling, or writing down your thoughts each day or maybe a summary of your day. It seems that it is almost universally accepted as a major contributor to success and productivity, especially for creative types.

In the past I have had mild success with turning journaling into flow state like spells of really creative writing and indeed have developed a great many ideas that were otherwise just idle thoughts, when in that mode in the past, but had never made the connection with this process and the (relatively unimportant in the global scheme) reasonable success I have had.

So far blah blah!

It wasn’t until I eventually picked up the yellowing copy of A Life of One’s Own by Joanna Field (Marion Milner) that I had intended to read (among the many other must read books gathering dust on my shelves) many years ago, that I came to realise how powerful the habit of writing down my thoughts and ideas from each day could become.

In this book first published in 1934, the author Joanna Field (Marion Milner) asked a simple question:

“What will make me happy?”

She then uses the 220 pages that follow to describe how she used her own intimate diaries to delve deep into her own psyche and, much like a detective would, takes a very practical approach to observing her own reactions to seemingly everyday and somewhat overlooked stimuli. It’s a fascinating study that is hard to put down.

Early on in her investigation she realises that there are probably two versions of herself. One she called her  deliberate self and another, seemingly far more interesting version she called her automatic self.

The book in its entirety is a fascinating read and a refreshing new approach to the endless quest we have as humans to understand our own minds and to make sense of the world around us. And of course the subject of happiness!

However, for the purposes of this post, the most enlightening passage I’ve come across so far is when the author describes her two levels of thought. In Chapter 3, Exploring the Hinterland she puts it like this:

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“Once more I tried, this time 6 months later. I had not read through what I had written on the two previous occasions and could not remember at all what I had put. This time, however, I did not begin with the word God, but with the phrase ‘I believe’. 

I BELIEVE . in God, etc. – that’s no use – God – some-thing large up in the sky rather like a canopy – and a shrinking fear inside me – memory of pain, when I have said: ‘Oh God’, the ache of foreboding and fear of consequences – dread – when I have said: ‘God help me’ – ‘God, let me not be late for school’ – panic, terror – unreasoning, in which only God can help – it’s terror of wrong-doing, of disapproval – it seems a long time since I felt it. God – a far-away altar to a man god -Abraham on the mountain – the God of Moses with piercing eyes that burnt one’s face – no, it was a burning light, the face of God, that blinded one – St Paul was also blinded – and God, no, the Lord, was not in the Fire – yet I feel he is very much fire – the queer awe and terror and excitement of watching a heath fire and fighting it – the living fury of the flames – this is as God – fierce, destructive, beautiful, inhuman – the sun also blinds one – I cannot look upon his face – he is joyful and strong and aloof – Balder the beautiful – the light of his countenance is new life in one’s limbs – but he is far away, benign, and not a force to be feared and wondered at, as the Fire – Fire – a queer thing sometimes glowing inside oneself – sometimes a little flickering flame – God – the woods and forests stand aloof- great beeches on the Downs with a brood-ing life of their own – rain, persistent, uncontrollable, wind. – sometimes malevolent, howling, furious seas, personal but In-human having purposes, apart from men’s little affairs – a vast brooding existence – more than a mass of water – the Earth, a gentler being, passive, bearing fruit, more man’s slave than the sea and the wind and the fire – when these are tamed it is more on sufferance.

All this puzzled me a great deal. I thought ‘What is the good of imagining I accept what the scientists are saying about the nature of the universe if all the time part of myself is believing something quite different ?’

Might not these apparent beliefs of my automatic self, although I had no notion of their existence, possess the power to influence my feelings and actions? And was it not important that I should find out how to control the beliefs of this part of myself, since they seemed to take so little account of what my deliberate self thought?

One day I showed some of these outpourings to a friend. We had been children together, often living in the same house, and had had exactly the same religious teaching. She said, But where on earth do you get such ideas! I never think like that!’ But I said, ‘Nor do I. If you had asked me what I think about I couldn’t have told you a word of all that. It was only when I let my thought run on absolutely freely in writing that I dis-covered such thoughts. Perhaps you have another mind too which has ideas that you’ve never guessed at.’ She said, ‘Perhaps’, but did not seem inclined to try the experiment.”

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What I think this describes is that when physically writing down her thoughts, the author was sliding into something akin to a flow state, she was accessing what she termed her deeper mind, below the superficial surface somehow. It’s as if we have the capacity to gloss over our true feelings in order to present a facade to the world that is more acceptable to society…as if!

This is the Power that gurus speak of when they talk about Journaling or keeping a Diary…it isn’t the content itself that is important, as I will shortly demonstrate, but the fact that it illuminates the underlying state of our minds…and illumination is exactly what it can bring to us. Through this one simple ritual we can pull out new ideas and develop old ones to a level that we couldn’t even conceive of before. It is a truly fascinating concept that I will now be pursuing with greater vim than before…I needed this insight, perhaps a prompt to say…read the books you thought you would be fascinated by instead of leaving them to gather mould on the shelf!

In Julia Cameron’s Artists Way, the first practical exercise she recommends is what she terms Morning Pages…a free writing ritual that you undertake every morning, committing to scribbling down at least 3 full pages of text with a pen or pencil, just as Joanna Field described back in 1934.

I started doing morning pages on 26th May 2017 and lasted until the 30th! Although I see now that I also did it on 14th September 2017 just for one morning…

To be honest it felt stupid and a bit like a teacher saying you had to do it, just because. It didn’t make a great deal of sense to me, I didn’t understand fully why it was necessary. BUT now I do and with the enlightenment of someone’s direct experience from 1934 brought by Joanna Field I now get it and recommend it.

Part of the reason I felt stupid doing it at first was to do with the fact that it was stream of consciousness stuff…writing quickly in order not to lose thoughts or even to become blocked…it seemed like a lot of writing being done that would never see the light of day because it wasn’t about anything in particular…wasted efforts maybe?

From today, I’ll use Restless Peasant as my outlet for this…sorry Julia, no more pencil scribbles, but hopefully a mind opening ritual anyway. For posterity, here is my first Morning Pages from 26/05/2017:

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“My first go at Morning Pages is a bit of a puzzle for me. The idea of course, is to unblock my creative, artistic side. Yet, I find myself seeking out a Palomino Blackwing 602 in order to write these first scribbles.

That Palomino, I think, represents Resistance as Stephen [ Stephen Pressfield]- the War of Art guy says.

As a concession to my Resistance, I went with the Palomino, although it’s a much sharpened one and actually hurting my hand to grip it, as it’s so short now.

Palominos, Molskines, Caran D’ache ([FixPencils], Berol China Markers, all tools that I’ve needed over the years in order to get in the write space but never have……

Instead I’m a writer who doesn’t write much. An artist, once promising (35 + years ago) who hasn’t painted , other than that short burst around meltdown time before Buddhism when I produced a small canvas or board everyday.

I am also a guitarist who doesn’t play guitar, a Volvo dabbler/twiddler who doesn’t ever get round to doing much in the garage.

After I decided to do this, I instinctively went looking for the perfect place/tools with which to do it – Resistance again. But I found a community at Julia Cameron’s site where the insistence was on hand writing – so here I am with my scribbles.

Everything is in place now, I have no excuses. I need to embrace the Kitchen Table – my own advice after all!

I’ve had some writing success, I can make nice websites. I can sell books. I can engage people with my writing and move them to comment, challenge and slowly come round to accepting challenging ideas.

BUT, am I a writer? I always thought I’d be visual and then musical, but music is a mystery still.

Maybe I don’t have to decide, at least yet anyway?

For now, these morning pages will be done, I won’t miss out a day – no excuses, no Palomino required. Let’s just see where it goes.”

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Lagom

With idea generation not being a particular problem, I live in what I’ve always thought was confusion about how to keep track of creative ideas, how to turn them into real projects, and how to see those projects through to any sort of conclusion. Failing to note them down causes anxiety that they will be forgotten. Noting them down causes anxiety that there are just too many ideas, projects and dreams to follow and no where near enough time to do so. Maybe the problem isn’t a problem, but a built in sense of what’s right. After all, a long time ago I used to worry at length about why I can’t make myself do stuff sometimes, only to ponder it and find out that it’s because somewhere in the gut I know I wasn’t doing it for the right reason in the first place. Could the same be true of these projects building up in lists and notes? Are they there for the wrong reasons? Are they vanity projects?  Maybe. But, I think for at least some of them the problem isn’t a problem, it’s a way of life that is ingrained in  me and it is probably best described by the Swedish word Lagom. I’ve always liked old Volvos for their other worldliness when compared to ordinary cars like Fords and Vauxhalls. I’ve always liked the idea of Ikea and feel good there. When I fish, I use only old ABU Cardinals and Ambassadeurs. I played with Lego extensively as a child. Truth is, I’m taken with Scandinavia and Nordic stuff. I’m a sucker for Wallander, Lund and Salander. Is Lagom what’s been happening to me? Am I just deeply aware of what’s enough and unable to fight it? Is this why I can’t even force myself to do stuff, to maximise ideas for greater financial gain? Is this due to there being an obvious trade off with time being used for stuff that deep down I maybe don’t want to be connected with. Is this why I am a knappeter and not a high flying go-getter?  

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the 3 C’s

If you are seeking a life of freedom. A life that is free of orders, of traditional 9-5 work and free from money worries, you’re gonna need a strategy for the way you spend your time. There is a habit I call the hierarchy of activities that I recommend:

Create first, then Curate and if there is time left Consume.

I hear so many people complain that they can’t get their ideas off the ground, but when they get in front of their screen in the morning, before they know it, it’s afternoon already! This is due to random and incessant Consumption of crap on the web.

Create; the things you make, be they digital or tangible will inspire you to greater and greater endeavours. Keep making things every day. Don’t give up on ideas too soon.

Curate; the world is for consumption. If you have an audience or a tribe already, you can save them time and effort and make them love you even more by bringing together the information and artefacts that can really help them or interest them. Curation is this sense is creativity in another guise.

Consume; in articles like this one, consumption is frequently held up as the bogey man to be avoided at all cost. Rampant Consumerism of course should be approached with trepidation, but careful and artful consumption of information and beautiful things can inspire and educate us. Besides, busyness is usually just that; we all need to walk in the woods from time to time.

Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard. Henry David Thoreau


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habit

Changing your life in even a small way will almost always be subject to the forces of resistance, monkey mind, self destruction or whatever you prefer to call it. All of these conditions are the same force in action. Your “self”; the collection of beliefs, memories, prejudices, traits and learned (taught) behaviours (habits) you’ve collected to date getting in the way of you trying out new ideas.

Your “self” isn’t you. Hell, you aren’t even your name when you think about it. That’s just a couple of words your parents decided to attach to your bones. However, given that things are the way they are it follows that if you want to do something different to the usual, change something about your life in a permanent way when you’ve repeatedly failed to achieve this in the past; you must introduce it as a new habit. No amount of goals and targets and management systems will make this happen, but making it an ingrained habit will.

Habits are formed over a much longer period of time than you would ever imagine and the ones you have most difficulty changing are the deepest seated. Well, it’s possible that you’ve tried too hard and maybe tried to change too many things at once in the past in the mistaken belief that you must introduce changes fast and furiously to make up lost ground. In my experience this is wrong thinking, in fact too much thinking can also be more damaging than not enough when it comes to changing your ways to those of true freedom.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I meditate regularly and that I’m a member of a Buddhist meditation group. Regular meditation has been useful in helping me to decide what is important and in what direction I should go next and that’s all good of course. But…one of the bigger benefits that meditation has brought to me is to give me permission to trust my feelings and to know that there is no need to over-think things. Feelings will always out perform thoughts. In fact, Buddhists commonly say that thought isn’t our highest state of existence.

Having a feeling that I want to do something is enough to encourage me to try it. Feeling excited about trying something should be reason enough to stick your toe in the water. If I feel that something isn’t right for me, no amount of trying will help me to form a new habit around it. This is a good way, for me anyway, to decide which way to go. It’s another form of Knappetting in a way and it seems that this comes to be a regular feature in a life lived in freedom…it meanders to no pre-set destination. This again stays true to Buddhism in that we try to always be present, to live life with full attention to each moment. The antithesis of that is to constantly be mulling over the events of the past or projecting ourselves forward to the future; either way we miss the present moment. The past is gone and the future isn’t here yet; all we have is right now. Learning to embrace Now is a skill everyone should work on.

But, how to form new habits?

One at a time for a start and daily and for at least a month. If you have lots of changes you want to make, well it’s possible that you can introduce 12 new habits in a year, but I suggest applying the Knappetting formula again here, because one new habit might have a knock on effect on the ones to follow, even making them obsolete, so don’t be rigid and keep an open mind about what comes next.

Remember too that measured time is a figment of our imagination. Your age doesn’t matter, whether you start introducing a habit on 1st January or 23rd December is immaterial (calendars are great companions of resistance and procrastination) and your experience and qualifications matter not a jot.

If you are interested in changing habits the you can do no better than Leo Babauta’s zenhabits.

Photo Credit: tinamathis via Compfight cc


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