Wednesday, May 24, 2017

60-second Meditation

We have to start somewhere. And on those days when focusing on anything for as long as 60 seconds seems challenging, this very mini-meditation may help you shift gears.

Even if you meditate regularly and for much longer periods of time, sometimes derailing a runaway train of negative thoughts is the best thing you can do in the moment.

And a moment may or may not be 60 seconds long.

I found that after after doing this meditation, I felt more focused, and in fact I wrote this blog with more ease than usually happens.

So why not visit the url below? It'll only take 60 seconds.

60-second Meditation

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Lambs Do It

The other morning I saw a flock of sheep and lambs. The lambs ranged in age from recently born ones who followed their mothers on very shaky legs to some slightly older ones.

The older lambs were learning that legs were perfect for leaping and bouncing and frolicking through the meadow. They expressed their joy at being alive in bodies with every careless kick of their heels.

Later on, when I was thinking about what I’d seen, I thought, “The magic is that they are whole and perfect. They don’t doubt themselves or lack self-esteem. They don’t hear voices telling them they should be cleaning or writing worrying about the future. They will never know guilt.”

And I wondered why I couldn’t be like that. That question turned out to have its own magic because it sliced away the layers of guilt and “should” and self-doubt and the long list of things I should change about myself. At my core, I’m as whole and as perfect as the lambs—but most of the time, I forget that.

What’s the difference between me—and you—and the dancing lamb or the fawns who raced through my former back yard or the bright-eyed curiosity of baby raccoons? It could be those big brains that humans take pride in. Anyone who has ever upgraded their operating systems knows that each new upgrade creates many chances for error.

Imagination, for example, is a great human gift, and I count it as a priceless upgrade, but it doesn’t discriminate between imagining the best and imagining the worst.

Maybe the biggest problem is that the initial user’s manual we get to go with our big brains is the long set of instructions we get from our parents. Animal parents also instruct their children but mostly about real dangers—like humans. Our parents teach us about dangers that may or may not ever come to pass.

This leads to the unique human mental/emotional state called anxiety. It’s difficult to kick up your heels when you’re worried about what might happen in thirty years.

If I want to experience that I’m perfect, I need to live less in the past, where I learned all the things I should worry about and all the things for which I should judge myself. I also need to stop taking all those worries and judgments and expecting more of them in the future.

That’s called living in the present. That’s what lambs do. We can do it, too. Photo credit: Keven Law, Los Angeles, USA

Friday, May 12, 2017

Songs That Inspire Me

As a writer, I often find myself in awe at the gift of poets and songwriters to say in a few words what may take me pages.

This week I'm sharing two songs that have recently inspired me.

The first many of you will know: "Dear Prudence," by the Beatles (from the White Album). The song was inspired by Mia Farrow's sister, Prudence, who was with the Beatles in India at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's weeks-long retreat in Rishikesh, India. Prudence was intent on learning Transcendental Meditation well enough to teach it and stayed in her room most of the time. The Beatles were worried about her and tried to draw her out. Though they didn't succeed, they wrote the song. (For more detailed information, see this article.

For me, the song is a hymn to being in the present moment. You can listen to it here.

The second song, "You'll Never Be the Sun," was written by Irish songwriter Donagh Long. This version is sung by Irish singer Delores Keane and American singer Emmylou Harris. Many other versions are around, but this is my favorite. "Life is tough, but you'll get through it" has rarely been expressed so poetically. You can listen to it here.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Shedding Season: What We Can Learn from Cats

It's the season when cats take off their winter coats—all over the place. Being the humble slave of two black cats, I have particular reasons to notice the results of the shedding process.

I notice two things about shedding. The first is that it's messy for me. The second is that the cats, once having shed their fur, ignore it. They have truly shed it, and it no longer belongs to them.

We humans don't have the same ease with our own shedding of beliefs and habits. If you've ever tried to release a habit, you will have noticed that it doesn't fall away as readily as cats' fur. It seems to have a stickiness about it.

Cats know that when the weather gets warmer, they need to get rid of excess fur so that they’ll feel comfortable. Humans, however, even though they may intellectually know that the release of a negative physical, mental, or emotional habit will ultimately make their lives for comfortable, emotionally feel that they need the comfort they’ve come to associate with that repeated pattern.

We can also make the shedding process more difficult when we blame ourselves for not being able to do it. You'll notice that cats never blame themselves for anything (even when we think they should). Remember, they're thinking about how great it will be to get rid of that fur. If we can shift our thoughts and feelings to the reward of feeling better, we can more easily shed.

This reluctance to shed can take many forms. I am currently in the process of revising a novel I initially wrote a number of years ago. I know it needs some major—and drastic—changes, but I read so many words that I really like. I hate to push the delete button, but I must if I ultimately want to write a better book.

So, up until now, the process of revising and editing has been emotionally messy. I’ve resisted it and tried countless ways to change it and still hold onto the words I like. It hasn’t worked and let me to a massive writer’s block yesterday.

Instead, I cleaned the house, going after those clumps of fur. Today I have decided to write like a cat. I will look at those words, appreciate them, and know that there are a lot more where they came from. I will shed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Is Blogging Harmful to the Brain?

Note: Since many people are subscribed to my blog here, I'm continuing to post here. This post is also on my site at http://www.cmbarrett.com

I was at an event with friends last night. One said that too much immersion in social media lowers intelligence. Judging by some of the posts that come onto my Facebook feed, I would say the damage has been done.

Here, though, is the irony for a writer. Long gone are the days when you could submit your book to an agent or publishing house and sit back and let them do all the publicity work. (It is quite possible that those days never were.) Even traditionally published authors are now expected to put on their big-girl or big-boy pants and engage with social media.

Some of this engagement is downright soul-sucking, for example decoding Amazon algorithms. What, you might ask, is an algorithm? In its simplest terms, it's the secret formula that enables readers to find your book among the millions of books on Amazon. For me, though, the word "algorithm" conjures up memories of struggling with math, and that makes me want to curl up into a ball and read the nice book I found at the library.

I have no doubt that trying to master algorithms harms the brain, but I will conquer them. Maybe.

Other forms of social media are somewhat less frightening in the math department but still challenge me. One must always avoid saying "Buy my book" in either a shout or a whimper. One must think of entertaining things to say. This is difficult to do on demand—which brings me back to blogging.

I abandoned this blog in November, 2016, around when I first stepped into algorithmic territory. Having finally figured out how to link my blog to my site, I have returned. I don't know how often I'll post here, but I'm aiming for once a week. My aim is not that good.

Still, I'm excited to be writing my first Word Press blog entry, so for me that's a win.