Friday, October 30, 2009

The Joy Diet - The Trick to Treats

While in the past weeks it has often been a challenging shared journey through Martha Beck’s book, The Joy Diet, this week on “Treats” was a bit different. The Joy Diet definition of a treat? “Anything that makes you feel like smiling.” While the lists of favorite things were a bit slow to compile early on, as I went through the week more and more simple treats would just pop into my mind.

I have to admit I felt a bit like a slacker this week, indulging in a few of my favorite things on a daily basis. I’m learning that perhaps my work ethic cramps my happiness a bit. Even if I’m not doing something on my list, my guilt or anxiety about not doing it often kills the joy I’d otherwise have indulging in a treat. It looks like I need a lot more practice on balancing between doing not-so-enjoyable things and treating myself well.

One of the exercises this week was to catalog our sensory delights. While the exercise called for five things, in the spirit of simple extravagances I decided to add a couple more:

I love the taste of:
1. Dark chocolate
2. Congee with pork and thousand year egg
3. Vanilla ice cream
4. El Presidente’s arroz con pollo (in my neighborhood)
5. Our homemade mushroom risotto
6. Cherimoya
7. Empanadas from La Continental (in Buenos Aires!)

I love the sight of:
1. An older couple holding hands
2. Puppies playing
3. My guy’s smile
4. Flowers in a garden
5. The light playing on buildings as the sun begins to set
6. The Mountains out west
7. The Pacific Ocean

I love the feel of:
1. Cashmere
2. Sun on my back
3. Being massaged
4. A good tango dance
5. My man, holding my hand
6. Soft, furry, warm kitties (or puppies)
7. A nice comfy bed

I love the smell of:
1. Coffee
2. Norma Kamali’s perfume
3. Nag champa
4. Meyer’s geranium scent washing liquid
5. Oatmeal cooking in the morning
6. Thé des Lumieres (from Mariage Frères)
7. Homemade bread in the oven

I love the sound of:
1. Wind chimes
2. A running stream or waterfall
3. Bird songs
4. Rain
5. Wind in the trees
6. Thoughtful, emotional music
7. An old-fashioned stovetop coffee percolator

One interesting experience I had this week was a risk that morphed into a treat. I participated in a workshop offered by Mark Lamb, called “Inside Out, Moving in the Moment.” The class explores ways to generate movement in the moment, along with improvising text, and personal story. In the class we were to explore the possibilities of movement invention while moving non-judgmentally and with a deep sense of play. This sounded like just the right step to take on my desire of heading in a direction that brings together music with performance art or theatre. I’ve wanted to explore and learn more about disciplines beyond music making, particularly storytelling and movement. It was my small scary step in the direction of a big desire.

Interestingly, in this setting I had a chance to use Martha’s suggestion to practice divine decadence. My invented movement motif flipped me 180 degrees and turned my back to the audience – and it reminded me of Miles Davis. Years back I’d attended a concert and he played almost half of the performance with his back to the audience. Years of training to give to the audience, to connect with them, to never turn your back were tossed out in mere seconds. My spontaneously improvised text and movement came together in a mini-performance that felt authentic and powerfully freeing. What a real treat! I came out of that class excited, feeling like I’ve just discovered a much BIGGER playground. This new adventure brings with it many new things to learn and ways to grow into myself. I have a feeling I'll be going back to this risk-treat again and again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Joy Diet - The faces of Risk

You can listen to my musical response to facing risk while you read this post by clicking the play button below.

Facing Risk - improvisation#1 on D (for Desire)
Helen Yee, violin ©2009

Maybe the Joy Diet is working, or maybe I've gotten too truthful with myself to deny that my desire to create needs to be acted upon. It seems that Martha's goading to take a small scary step and to "walk into the monster's maw" has inspired me to face my fears and put something out there. What's there to stop me? The faces of risk:

1. The risk of "it's not up to my standards" -- Whether due to perfectionism or pride, not wanting to put work out in the world until it's just right has often kept me from starting. The prospect of creating a wonderful, genius work of art is daunting. I never feel prepared enough. There's often some piece of knowledge, or skill, or training, or achievement that I think I must have before I'm qualified to even attempt. So the blank page has often been the result.

2. The risk of "looking like a fool" -- And then there is the fear of being ridiculed or criticized. We all hope that our work will be well received, but it is painfully obvious that it makes no sense that the fear of bad reviews should keep me from creating. Martha's words need to stay with me: "Any risk worth taking is worth taking whether it leads to success or failure. The criterion by which you should decide which dangers to face, and which to avoid, is not your chance of succeeding but the depth of your desire." In my vision card for this week, the idea is to not focus on the nasty pointed teeth of the beast, but the heart's desire that can only be reached by passing through the fear.

3. The risk of "disappointing others" -- I think the earlier chapters in The Joy Diet, Truth and Desire, have helped me look within and really know what I feel and what I want or need. With a clearer idea of those things I have already found it easier (not easy but easier) to say no to people. And it has worked, keeping me from overextending myself, and lowering my stress and anxiety levels. Nonetheless, one of my small risks this week involved saying no to someone, and though it was difficult to do I was tremendously relieved once I'd done it.

These were my monsters, this week at least. I'm sure I'll put names to a few others as my experience with taking risks grows.

And what about my musical response to facing risk? While I play music regularly I have put off creating and sharing any new pieces of music for a long time. The audio clip above is my way of stepping into the monster's maw. It's not finished or perfect, it's not going to win a Grammy, and I might find it a bit disappointing, but it is far better than promising myself that someday I'll start writing again without taking action.

When I walked over to the stereo to start up the cello drone I had expected a nice bed of A, but somehow out came the D drone. In the interest of welcoming the unexpected and "collaborating" with the unplanned, I decided to just go with it. During my improvisation I tried to keep a spirit of walking to the edge of risk in the piece. What does it feel like to walk to the edge and take a jump? To find another edge and push at it a little more? How do I deal with feeling uncomfortable and a bit scared? It feels great to finally break an internal barrier that was keeping me from moving forward, no matter how small this scary step was. And now that it's out there, I wonder what I'll want to risk next...

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Joy Diet - Creativity lessons from The Fool

For as long as I can remember, I've considered myself a creative person. Whether it was visual arts, music, or more lately, dancing -- creativity has been part of what I do. So, I thought this week's chapter in the Joy Diet would be easy. The only problem was: I wasn't setting out to create a work of art. Martha's instructions were to write down our most pressing heart's desire in the form of a question such as "How could I...?" and then write five possible answers. My desires this week were little things like "I want to know what my calling is" and "I want to feel more grounded and less anxious." I found I could play Martha's game and creatively come up with some answers, but I wasn't feeling satisfied with it. Something kept nagging at me.

I wasn't feeling any more grounded. I wasn't feeling any less anxious. My to do lists didn't help. Busyness didn't remedy my angst that I wasn't getting any closer to my desires. Also, I am very fuzzy on the particular shape my big desire should take. Making a living as an artist? All this nebulousness was making me very uncomfortable. I did what any self-respecting sensible, logical person would do -- I pulled a tarot card to gain some insight on my problem.

What a gift! It seems the Fool wanted to talk to me, and had been trying to get through to me all along (as you'll see from the article and video links below). My patterns typically involve using the exacting force of logical thinking to solve problems. It feels good when I can reason out a problem. Yet, as I was trying to move toward my big desire with analysis, all I got was paralysis. And anxiety.

What I missed is the possibility that weighty questions about my purpose in life can be approached with a sense of foolishness, nonsense and fun. Seeing this, I felt immediately lighter. I could take the Fool's leap into the unknown. A tiger may bite his leg but he is oblivious to it. He makes the leap into the void with a smile on his face and his eyes wide open to the possible. And the first loop in the endless cosmic hula hoop is a circle around his heart. I could likewise place my desires at the center of my leap into the void -- to move toward a desired new life with a sense of playfulness, openness to possibilities, and trust that the right answers will spontaneously appear. The lesson for me? That to feel less anxious I should not cling to the ground but get comfortable with groundlessness.

Underscoring the lesson of The Fool, were some things I came across this week. The New York Times had an article, How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect, that describes studies in how priming the brain with nonsense and disorientation actually increases people's abilities to recognize patterns. It looks like most of Martha Beck's "mind yoga" suggestions for increasing our creativity have scientific basis! They force our brains to make sense out of nonsense, thus spurring creativity.

And this video shows the power of fun as a motivator. What's your experience? Does the idea of allowing more foolishness and fun into the mix free up your creative thinking on big desires?

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Joy Diet - Playing with desire

Genuine desire. Pick a pebble, any pebble. Twice this week, my desire had to do with being happy with myself. I know that sounds like a vague notion. I was facing a busy week returning to certain elements of my working life and artistic life after a quiet period spent introspectively. Partly, I didn't feel ready. It felt as if someone had gently nudged me from a soporific dream state and strapped me into the capsule of a rocket. And before I could prepare myself mentally and physically, the shuddering of the spacecraft provided the rude call to wake up and steer myself into orbit. My to-do list this week was long, including a couple of days dedicated to being out of town on business. Knowing that I’d lose two days to something that was not my heart’s desire made me anxious -- I would be missing out on time spent doing things I enjoy. The simple desire to be happy with myself was enough. I wanted to take action on my list without anxiety and self-flagellation.

When heading home from the two days spent out of town, my desire turned to something very elemental. I wanted time with my instrument. The yearning only intensified with days separated from any music making. No playing, no singing, no humming. I now realize I need music like I need air.

And then there was The Big One -- the desire so difficult to allow myself to have. Because it was always warned against, because it is completely impractical, because only silly dreamers can entertain the thought of making a living as an artist. I don’t want throw myself completely into trying to make it happen only to wind up proving the naysayers right. Also I’m afraid it is too much to ask, so I’m tempted to discard this pebble. But I won’t do it yet. I have a hunch I can benefit from spending more time keeping this one in my pocket, familiarizing myself with the ache of holding it. I want to conduct an experiment: let’s see what happens to this desire if I keep it close, if I resist the notion of tossing it back into the heap.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dreamboard - Running at the full harvest moon

I was excited to see what would emerge with this Full Harvest Moon Dreamboard because I've been feeling a lot of changes lately. This dreamboard seems more dynamic and active than my last one, and for good reason. October is often a hectic month for me, and this one is no exception, though not for the usual reasons.

Running, jumping, diving into the next phase of my life seems to be a large part of what I'm sensing is on its way. Along with this, there is a mood of mystery and theatricality about what's coming -- the curtains opening, the eggs hatching, gestures of reaching toward the unknown, the moon and lanterns illuminating the night. It also looks like I'm longing for celebrations and gatherings for some well-deserved pauses from all that action!

If you're interested in making a dreamboard yourself and sharing it with others, check out Jamie Ridler's Full Moon Dreamboards Online. Check out what others are dreaming for themselves for this full moon here.

Enjoy launching your dreams!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Joy Diet - Getting to the Truth

I think I’m getting the hang of nothing! The fifteen minutes of nothingness has now become a practice of twenty minutes each day, and I stuck to it this week. Of course they don’t call it “practice” for nothing – my mind is ever busy wandering from obsession to preoccupation and back again. But it seems I’m a bit less discouraged now, and looking forward to sitting in meditation rather than dutifully forcing myself to. And I’m able to be more relaxed about noticing thoughts and letting them go.

Joy, however, still seems like a reward being withheld until I’ve satisfied a few prerequisite chores. Don’t get me wrong, I am beginning to find the process satisfying and comforting, but I’m wondering where the joy is in this Joy Diet. Nothing? Truth? It seems like the first couple of menu items are not as obviously joyful as what’s coming: Desire, Creativity, Risk, Treats, Play, Laughter, Connection, Feasting.

The week of Truth has revealed some of my monsters lurking in the deep. While I appreciate that being honest with ourselves is a necessity, why do the questions in this “menu item #2” focus on hurt and pain? I hope the next chapter will address the positive side of our truth, rather than only what we’re unhappy about. Some of the monsters revealed this week? I’m not good enough, I can’t live up to the hype, I’m feeling overwhelmed, I should have learned to play the piano, I am scattered and can’t focus, I am lazy and unmotivated. I get it when Martha Beck says, “If you make a habit of this, you’ll find that your ‘bad’ feelings are exactly the ones that you most need to explore. The feeling you think is bad beyond belief may be the only teacher in the universe from whom you can learn genuine goodness.” If my “pains” are coming more from my stories than about reality, I can more easily realize that I’m free to leave suffering behind. Sounds good to me. Martha Beck suggests we flip the pain-story, “trying permutations and explanations for it until you feel the open, satisfying sense that you’ve stumbled upon a story more true than the one you’ve been using to hurt yourself.” Again, this seems like sensible and good medicine, getting us to a greater truth than the original pain-story. But joy?

I did feel a little soothed by offering compassion to myself with the phrases: “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be free from suffering.” But beyond that I’m not quite sure how to care for my “inner lying scumbag.” As suggested I also tried thinking of things I could do to bring more love into the world. Unfortunately, while I can think of a good number of actions that fit that description, I don’t comprehend how this would heal my wounds and pains. Maybe, like last week’s Nothing, I need to practice more and try to remember what Martha says:

“It is the truth that offers us this freedom, the freedom to test what we are taught, to accept what we feel in our hearts, to believe what we know in our bones, and to love ourselves – including the worst aspects of ourselves – until we see through enough of our illusions to discover who we were really meant to be. At this point, we will have dismantled the biggest lie, the most profound denial of all: the denial of our own inestimable power and value.”