Writers are artists who use words to convey emotions. To that end, they MUST be in touch with their own feelings, or they will only be able to borrow emotions from other people, other works, and it becomes derivative.
The trouble with this of course is that our emotions are often violent, painful, vulnerable, shy. To strip them raw so that we can access them on demand (or worse, have them naturally raw) can leave the writer feeling like a peeled nerve, leading to a variety of problems.
A person has two basic choices: to have a shell, or a spine. I suggest “spine”. To be genuinely vulnerable, but have pulled yourself back and back, until your vulnerable aspects are like nerves within the spinal column, still protected by bone, but all the skin and sensory organs able to perceive the world. The alternative is a “shell” of ego, where little can get in. The trouble is that this fortress becomes a prison, and can trap us, leaving no where to grow.
So the writer who intends to speak truth, to combine their heart with their knowledge of craft to create “art” needs to have tools to protect the heart and channel the truth of perception and experience.
Imagine this in the “Ancient Child” model: a child self, an adult self, an Elder self. The child has the enthusiasm, emotion, and creativity. The Adult has the craft, discipline, and marketing. The Elder has the sense of Legacy and contribution to things larger than yourself, a commitment to Spirit or a community that will survive your own death.
When these three are in alignment, you approach your optimal performance. When you are too vulnerable and get smacked down, frightened, betrayed, damaged, the “Adult” will protect the “Child” by trying to function on nothing but skill and marketing, losing contact with that precious Child self, losing the potential for art.
This is why the visualization of “Protecting the Child” is so powerful–that “child” needs to know she is safe, or she cannot dance.
A whole lot of people today who cannot dance. That’s predictable, after major life shocks. But there are two basic possibilities: all is lost, or life goes on.
- If all is lost, it is critical to enjoy life to the full anyway. In the end, we all die. In that sense, “all is lost.” And every world religion and philosophy agrees that we must find meaning and joy regardless. Now. In THIS moment. Or we die before our hearts stop beating.
- If there is hope, then despair creates a “strain tunnel” where we are paralyzed, and cannot see the best options. Those who do this are more likely to die, or fail. While those who maintained equanimity are those most likely to find the solutions and succeed. Thank God so many of them have chosen to leave a trail of bread crumbs for the rest of us.
In other words, there is no scenario where it is most logical to curl into a ball and tremble. It may well be a common emotional reaction, but it serves no purpose for a biological organism with consciousness and problem-solving capacity.
That’s what intelligence is: problem solving. Or it is nothing at all.
So lets look at the problem of fear-based paralysis (and make no mistake: depression, anger, grief, despair…all can be considered forms of fear. Don’t get off track!). What is the intention? A life of joy, in alignment with our childhood dreams and deepest values.
ANYTHING that interferes with this is a problem to be addressed. A problem of external events, or internal perceptions, or both.
Our emotions shut down our higher cognitive functions, leading to poor problem solving and the morass of hopelessness. Often there are answers right around us, and we cannot see them because we’re in the “tunnel”. Just a few days ago I was discussing the very common reaction to the notion of a daily practice to maintain balance and create slow, organic growth:
- When things are good, don’t bother me. Why should I discipline myself? All is well!
- When things go bad, EEEK! Don’t tell me about generative processes! Give me a short term solution NOW!
- Then when you cycle back to normal (which almost always happens) you go back to the “why should I bother? All is well…”
In other words, the ego is protecting itself from death, and is willing to kill you to do it.
So…what we need is BOTH SHORT-TERM and LONG TERM tactics.
I will here discuss the single best short-term tactic I know. It is available to anyone with aerobic fitness, such that they can enter “second wind.” This is the state where, after 12-15 minutes of steady-state sweating and puffing, you suddenly seem to “shift gears” and you feel a burst of energy, as if you’ve gotten into deeper rhythm with yourself. Can you do that? Running, dancing, walking, swimming, rebounding, kettlebelling, etc…I don’t care, so long as you are sweating for 12-15 minutes and entering “second wind.” DO NOT DO THIS IF YOU CANNOT BE CERTAIN YOU ENTER THIS STATE. THIS WARNING IS SERIOUS. If you have any doubt at all, do NOT.
All right. This is called the “Spider technique” because we are going to imagine that the fear involved is arachnophobia.
- Choose the aerobic exercise you are going to practice. For the sake of this explanation, let’s say it is walking on a treadmill at a serious incline. NOTE: you may well want to do this in private, or where you have a measure of privacy. The reason will be clear soon.
- Treadmill it is. Sit next to the treadmill. Now, imagine that spiders are crawling all over your body. The “worst case scenario.”
- Do this for 10 minutes, until you are fully engaged emotionally. “Crying out of your nose” is a good measure. GO THERE. Really sink into your misery.
- Now…get onto the treadmill and start walking. You don’t have to consciously think of the spiders any more.
- In 12-15 minutes you will enter “second wind”. At this point you can either continue, or quit.
That’s all there is to it. You will find that every time you do this exercise, your reaction to the fear stimulus will diminish by about 25%. No kidding. The reasons are complex, but it has to be felt to be believed. If you have aerobic fitness, do this today.
Of course, not everyone has aerobic fitness. What can THEY do to “shock themselves” short term? Well, remember that your emotions are controlled by your mental focus, the way you use your body, and the language you use.
Use the “Morning Ritual” and the “Five Minute Miracle” at the same time.
- For 10-20 minutes move your body: walk, joint mobility, yoga, dancing, etc.
- While doing this, deliberately smile (even if it feels like a mask!) and hold your posture in a configuration of power and confidence.
- Chant affirmations at the same time. If “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better” doesn’t work for you, find one that does. Here are some to get you started: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-carmen-harra/affirmations_b_3527028.html
- Focus on what you are grateful for. Gratitude, love, and faith are the antidotes for fear.
- Now think about your FUTURE goals. Visualize them as if you already have them, and attach your “gratitude emotions” (past and present) to the future accomplishments. The mind doesn’t know the difference between reality and something deeply imagined (this is why dwelling on future disaster can be as bad as the real thing. The precise same thing is true with future positive possibility!)
- Lastly, affirm that you CAN and SHOULD accomplish your goals.
This is the M.A.G.I.C. formula: Magic = Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction.
Anchor it into your body. Spend approximately equal amounts of time on each phase.
Next, every three hours breathe deeply and slowly for 60 seconds.
Do these two things and you will “interrupt” the negative spiral of fear AND begun to sow the seeds of positive action. Remember: fear is “fight or flight”. If you take POSITIVE ACTION based on the emotion, it is survival based, and tremendously powerful. But if you have nowhere to go and no one to fight? It turns inward and chews you up alive, steals the joy from your life, poisons your relationships.
What is your goal? TO BE HAPPY. On the animal level that means “avoid pain and gain pleasure.” That’s core “belly brain” stuff. The process of emotional maturation (“heart space” is about attaching these basic animal emotions to more and more sophisticated and long-term goals and behaviors that build tribe and loving relationships. The process of spiritual maturation takes these same drives and attaches them to things larger than our egos, which will survive our own lifetime.
There you have a map: short term and long term. Today, right now, get started. Here is a link to instruction on proper breathing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9jmO6xwFfs
Sixty seconds of Googling will find you more. Get started. DO IT. If you don’t, the fear can eat you alive, I kid you not.
(We will be discussing post-election anxiety Saturday on the Lifewriting show. We’ll be doing a LIFEWRITING radio show this Saturday November 12th at 11am pst to work on these things. Phone Number: (724) 444-7444. Call ID: 137903. http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/137903. If you would like copies of the Ancient Child and Warrior Sleep programs to combat stress, they are available free of charge to members of Lifewriting Premium, only $1 for the first month. In addition, this program is PERFECT for writers who want to make a difference in the world, and you will be able to participate in the “Revolutionary Writing” webinar series showing you how to take your emotions and channel them into powerful commercial art. WWW.CREATETHENARRATIVE.COM is your doorway. The next class is Saturday at 3pm pst, and all past classes are available online. Join us!)