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Creativity bucket list

oprah

So here it is, my creativity to-do list. (Almost) all of the stuff that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And now I’m GOING TO:

1. sing

every day, self-taught voice lessons, then join a choir

2. dance

whenever I feel like it, take a class

3. collage

make use of the scraps and images I have collected and left idle for years

4. crafts

make more postcards and presents for friends

5. gardening

help out at the community garden at least once a week

6. cooking

learn some new recipes

7. ritual

establish daily rituals to bring attention and intention everyday life

8. meditative state of mind

be more present, focused and accepting of what is – in everything I do

9. connection

take simple steps to connect, especially with strangers

As I said before, how can you find inspiration without interaction? And reaching out is also a matter of practice. Here’s one easy measure to take (you’re going to laugh,  but it’s really that simple): Lately, when I need to research a problem I’m having with a service provider (insurance, cell phone company, the airline that lost my bag…) instead of wasting time clicking through pages of FAQ online, I call the help line and speak to an actual human being. And guess what, I’ve had some surprisingly warm conversations with call centre staff! (Who are probably desperate for a friendly word themselves…)

10. oh yeah, and blogging 🙂

I’ll keep you posted on how all that goes!

This is a reminder of some of my sources of joy, not a must-do list. It’s about experimenting and having fun, not achievement. To sum it up with the eternal wisdom of Oprah 🙂 :

Do one thing

When I first conceived the idea for this blog I thought I’d set myself a challenge: Engage in one creative activity every day. 

Now I’m realizing that a possible danger with that project is that I might end up turning creative experiences into just another source of pressure, something that has to be done. Those of us prone to achievement-addiction can easily trick ourselves into making even our leisure activities all about performance and ticking off to-do lists.

On the other hand, if you want to establish a positive habit it does take an initial effort and laying out some sort of plan to guide you in that process is usually helpful, even necessary. I recently read the following definition of “willpower” which I think is really helpful. It demonstrates how we can utilize the concept in a positive way on the path of self-development (this is from Charles Eisenstein’s The Yoga of Eating where he presents his approach to establishing healthy eating habits by trusting your body’s own messages instead of clinging to diet dogmas…):

The proper function of willpower and self-discipline is to extend wisdom and insight into times of imperfect clarity; to remember and apply the messages of one’s inner voice. For example, if you are engaged in joyful work, when distractions come you may need to remind yourself of what you really want to be doing….True discipline is really just self-remembering; no forcing or fighting is necessary.

And that’s really how most of us feel about bringing more creativity into our lives, right? It’s what we truly long for but there just never seems to be enough time to write, draw, practice the guitar etc. on a daily basis. I’m already finding this “not enough time” syndrome creeping back into my life although I’m currently unemployed and haven’t even spent any time job-hunting thus far! I have been spending my days doing things I enjoy and find meaningful – what a joy and relief compared to the days waisted sitting in an office! – but I can see I need to establish somewhat of a routine to not let any one of my priorities fall by the wayside.

So establishing routines is one side of making time for what’s important to you. (I’ll give you the scoop on what my routine is going to consist of in the next post – I’m getting busy…!)

But when it comes to being “creative”, I think it’s also valuable to examine what that really means, i.e. aren’t we actually creative in many more ways than those conventionally subsumed under that headline, which tend to focus on strictly artistic activities? Being creative doesn’t always have to be about specific designated activities. Feeling creative I’ve come to think is primarily about expressing / exploring my own true self. In everyday situations that can mean simply not blocking my full potential which naturally wants to flow and manifest itself. I intend to be in visceral connection with my intuition, my physical and emotional state at every moment. That awareness can tell me what it really is that I need or that I am capable of in any given situation. THE most effective way to tune into that intuition is conscious, deep breathing. And that’s something we can all do, all the time.

 

relax

Be courageous and enjoy it!

I saw a young woman on the train a while ago, reading a book with this title. I don’t know the book, but I decided right there and then that I wanted to quote the title one day 🙂 And it happens to perfectly describe the gist of a documentary I saw last night that I found truly inspiring!

“Thoth” by Sarah Kernochan portraits the NYC-based street artist who goes by this name. He’s invented a persona and performance like none you’ve ever seen! That’s all I’m going to say, you need to see it for yourself. Highly recommended if you need some inspiration on how to

embrace your own self and start to act originally, i.e. authentically and with your own style.

Travel updates!

Yo, check the “West Coast & NYC” pages for tales of indulgence and adventure in Big Sur, Yosemite and San Francisco – and a photographic addition to each of the previously published pages. The next two weeks are devoted to resting and family time in Oregon before the grand urban finale of my trip in New York City!

Update from across the Pond

I’m sorry I’ve been so bad about keeping this blog up to date. Being mostly off the grid, traveling these past two weeks and being so full up with impressions that I don’t even know how to start writing about them do not combine in favour of this blog. In short, I spent a highly inspiring, joyful and deeply touching week at the Esalen Institute on Big Sur taking a singing class with the wonderful Vernon Bush. I will eventually try to distill all of the wisdom that was imparted there concerning creativity and inspiration into a blog post here.

My stay at Esalen was followed up with a road trip back up and down Hw 1, really getting to know that overwhelmingly beautiful stretch of the coast until I felt it was “my Big Sur” :). And then heading on to Yosemite for four nights. Truly a “temple of nature” as John Muir called it. And it does look just like in Ansel Adam’s photos! Especially when the sun breaks through the clouds after a spell of rain. “Epic” seems an appropriate term to describe it. I will try to finally get some photos uploaded to the “West Coast” page and / or photography page ASAP. I’ll have more time now that I’m back at my dear Ojai Foundation for another 3 week volunteer stint. I am happy to be back here. For the first time in my life, I feel I couldn’t go on traveling just now. I am so overflowing with impressions and emotions from these past weeks, I need this quiet, familiar place now to process it all and let the beautiful seed that was sown grow roots in my heart.

Leaving / re-entering

As announced in the ‘About’ section, I’m about to go on a journey. I’m leaving Germany in a week to travel, volunteer and visit family in California, Oregon and New York City.

I’ve traveled  quite a bit and lived abroad before, and after the mandatory excitement, anticipation, last-minute hustle and also melancholy at the thought of leaving friends and places dear to me – suddenly today a feeling of near-comfort and contentment set in.  I know this about-to-go-on-a-journey state of being so well, it actually feels more like I’m re-entering a space that is familiar to me than leaving for the unfamiliar.

These past weeks, I had several random encounters and conversations with strangers and superficial acquaintances – they came to me in defiance of own social withdrawal. I have to admit that I usually try to avoid getting on the same train home with colleagues whom I don’t know well because I dread the tedium of forced small talk. But lately it was as if people were coming after me to refute my prejudices about them! And what do you know: They all had inspiring stories to tell about their own journeys and each one of them admired and encouraged my plans to leave me job in search of something “better”…

Fate giving me some support at last? The unconscious mind opening up to the world now that it’s “safer” because I’m about to leave? My conscious perception of self and world might refuse to agree to either of those propositions. Experience might tell me otherwise.

Be that as it may, my past travels have always led me to a happier and richer (inner and outer) place. I can’t wait to go out and broaden my horizon, and I wish that I’ll be able to transform that outer space into a spaciousness within which will be with me, be me, always, no matter what the circumstances.

I was recently introduced to the marvelous poetry and philosophy of David Whyte and the following poem could not be more appropriate to the beginning of my journey*:

 

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life

were a progressive and cunning crime

with no witness to the tiny hidden

transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny

the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,

even you, at times, have felt the grand array;

the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding

out your solo voice You must note

the way the soap dish enables you,

or the window latch grants you freedom.

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.

The stairs are your mentor of things

to come, the doors have always been there

to frighten you and invite you,

and the tiny speaker in the phone

is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation. The kettle is singing

even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots

have left their arrogant aloofness and

seen the good in you at last. All the birds

and creatures of the world are unutterably

themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

 — David Whyte

 

*See David Whyte recite the poem at TED: http://youtu.be/5Ss1HuA1hIk

Happiness is a sunny day

1378212298-488   Spring has sprung at last! We sun-starved northern Europeans are coming out in droves. You seriously see people just standing on the sidewalkes, faces turned towards the sun, worshipping our hot, bright star. What would be considered mildly deranged behaviour at any other time of year is completely acceptable now.

I was thinking how odd it is, that the Sun – something so constant and so simple – is experienced like a revelation again and again, every year of our lives. Just stepping outside on the first sunny day of the year makes me feel instantly happy. Nothing in my life has changed of course. Intellectually I’m still fully aware of the worries that I wallowed in just yesterday. But today I just don’t FEEL them anymore. I feel nature’s warmth and light and amazingly, in this moment that is all it takes to be happy.

Which leads me to two questions:

1. Is it OK to just be happy? Just like that? For no intellectually or emotionally “profound” reason?

I recently had a conversation pertaining to this with a fellow member of an NGO I volunteer with: We have educated ourselves about so much that is troubling about this world, and we’re volunteering our time and energy to engage with all this negativity – albeit to make a tiny contribution to ameliorating it. But heck, do we sometimes envy ignorant people who don’t watch the news, who don’t inform them selves about other’s suffering, who know so little and apparently care even less.

Like my superior at work the other day: He obviously isn’t ignorant, he’s just disinterested. Talking about my wish to move out of his project – which essentially helps companies use their relatively limited CSR efforts to promote themselves – and into a project that deals with the potentially life-threatening conflicts that are resulting from the scramble for scarce resources in developing countries – he said “I’m just NOT AT ALL interested in that”. Wow.

But the other extreme are those of us who are so caught up in their own or others’ suffering that (subconsciously) they rarely permit themselves to be happy, secretely asking themselves whether that wouldn’t be naive or even irresponsable.

Happiness is full of strife.

2. Or is “simple” happiness actually absolutely NECESSARY?

Philosophies such as Buddhism would affirm that, holding that happiness is fundamentally simple, though certainly not easy to achieve. At it’s core it is precisely about choosing to focus on what is enjoyable right here, right now – no matter how small or ordinary it may be. Happiness certainly can take on many shapes and can exist simultaneously with worries and woes. Life is often about the melancholy, the bitter-sweet. And it’s good to embrace that.

But I think it’s very important to also allow ourselves to experience the “fun in the sun” kind of simple, child-like, pure happiness. Without intellectualising, without critiquing. As grown-ups most of us have forgotten how to just “be”. One of my yoga teachers likes to remind her students:

Retain an element of playfulness in everything you do.

Which brings me back to my topic of creativity/inspiration. Is it happiness that gives access to inspiration, or an experience of inspiration which brings about happiness? Obviously it works both ways. Having ANY source of joy will give you the strength you need to seek out inspiration and to change your and others’ lives for the better. But engaging in a worth-while cause or interesting activity will also make you happy.

The question is: Which is more difficult to access? Joy or inspiration?

I recently read an apt quote that was quite thought-provoking for me*:

You don’t need to wait for something ‘meaningful’ to come into your life so that you can finally enjoy what you’re doing. There is more meaning in joy itself than you will ever need.

The same author goes on to say that a confluence of inspiration and enthusiasm in what you do brings about “creative empowerment”, makes you experience yourself and your tasks as in alignment with your true nature, in connection with a greater Whole.

So I’m vowing to start with what is accessibly to me right here and now. I’m going to have fun in the sun. I’m going to say “It’s OK to be happy” and hope that that will thaw the grounds of my being so that inspiration can take root and creativity can grow.

*It’s by Eckhardt Tolle. This was the first book I’ve read by him, without being aware of what a following he has. He’s not saying anything new, IMO, but I like the concepts that he has developed to provide a fresh, more personal access to Buddhist teachings.

Something(s) I’m grateful for (II)

The other thing I’m grateful for today is having re-connected with a friend who ‘went missing’ for a while. She contacted me after a year of being out of touch (for reasons that were quite understandable, it turned out). We met up yesterday and rediscovered shared interests and what connects us.

Most importantly, she is one of a few friends whom I feel truly  blessed to have in my life. They are women whom I admire for their fierce independence, their confidence, warm heart, creative self-expression and intellectual curiosity. Having been chosen as a friend by such special people makes me feel pretty good about myself. And that must be the prerequisite for believing in my own potential, be it to be creative or anything else I aspire to.

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So there you have it: happiness. It often appears unexpectedly. You’ve got to look out for it and seize the opportunity when it presents itself to you.

It can be creative when you’re learning a new skill; inspiring when you’re with great people; and it enriches your being by connecting you to capacities for empathy, affection and dedication within you.

Sure, these observations aren’t exactly revolutionary. But in the end we all have to make them for ourselves, often again and again throughout our lives. So they bear repeating.

Something(s) I’m grateful for (I)

“Something I’m grateful for” might become a regular theme line on this blog.

I expected my first blog post to deal in some way with issues that are weighing on me, causing me dissatisfaction, giving me the blues. Stuff to be ‘worked through’, the blog becoming a tool for auto-therapy. Because, let’s be honest, folks who write about their lives publicly just ’cause they’re so damn happy that they wanna share the love don’t exactly make up the majority. Truly happy people (whatever that is) tend to be just that: happy. And thereby self-contained and not in need of airing their happiness to the anonymous world.
It seems that when most of us feel an urge to connect and to share is usually when we are feeling a lack of connection and when we are caught up in self-referential thoughts and want to ‘share the load’.

But it so happens that yesterday I was feeling unexpectedly and exceptionally grateful. So this very first blog post of mine is, quite wonderfully, about a form of happiness. The kind of gratefulness I experienced was not the kind that is mixed up with a sense of obligation. No, it was the kind that just makes you feel pretty damn’ good about your life.

So here is the first thing I’m grateful for today:

I am grateful that I was offered, and seized, the opportunity to take part in something worthwhile and inspiring:
A friend of a friend who has recently made a no-budget documentary was looking for dedicated volunteers to record the translated voice-over. I signed up. And what did I find? ‘Sacrificing’ a full day of my week-end to do this unpaid job didn’t drain me like my office job. It actually energized me! To be part of something I find truly worthwhile, together with people who are dedicated and inspiring, and learning a new skill (which, I was pleasantly surprised to find out, I’ve got talent for) – that was the best spontaneous decision I’ve made in a while.