I’m reading a book by the late, great Fr. Thomas Merton called New Seeds of Contemplation*. I’m on page 141 of 304 and am noticing something…
Fr. Merton — one of the most esteemed contemplative monks in modern history — has not used one Bible quote yet.
I. Love this…
I’m of the belief that it’s great for clergy to understand theology at a super deep level, but when it comes to sharing their ideas, testimonies, accounts, and confessions for the general populace, they’re better off using their own unique God-given words.
What if clergy spoke more from the heart than by the book?
Especially nowadays in our postmodern world. We’re so far removed from the historical context of biblical times. Even for someone like me who loves geeking out on this stuff and is dedicated to studying it, it’s a stretch for the brain box.
I believe the stories, poems, and accounts shared in the Bible are timeless (even the horrid elements of it), but it’s such a stretch for people living in 2019 (let alone in America!) to be able to decipher it without strain. It’s almost like clergy and theologians need to speak two languages, each at the appropriate time.
In our church, we have 2–3 short readings (just enough to stay rooted in tradition — which is fantastic) and then the sermon is a very human, personal account from the pastor. It’s a sermon, not a technical Bible study or teaching, per se (it’s a subtle difference at times, but important).
For example, when I go see a doctor about my knee, it’d be weird if, during my appointment, she pulled out her huge textbook from medical school, plunked it down on the table, and started reading from it in order to get me to believe that she knew what she was doing.
No, doc… I’m already here. And I don’t want you to teach me how to be a doctor. My time, attention, and trust are valuable. Connect with me on a human level. Let me know you care. Make me feel safe. And then… fix my knee. I’m not here to be dazzled by your book knowledge. I’m SO glad you understand this stuff, but it’s not my role. My role here, as your patient, is to be healed.
(It’s a rough metaphor, so please hold it loosely.)
Now, of course, there are folks who want to go deep into biblical texts. For them, yes… Make space for them to bust out the good book and geek out.
There’s a difference between a personal reflection on the text and biblical inside baseball.
Most of us want our hearts moved instead of being brought up into our heads more than we already are in life.
[This is another note-to-self; not a critique of any particular individual.]
This book is blowing my mind, btw — methinks it’ll have to be a book study for Patreon supporters soon (link in bio).
So much of life seems mundane. Routine. Monotonous.
It’s like we move around on autopilot, driven by our past internal programs, habits, and defense mechanisms. We tend to skim by most of the day — much of it spent with our gaze directed at the flashy digital devices in our pockets.
But what if all of it was sacred? From the highs to the lows and everything in between?
I’m talking about the internal shift that happens when we get out of our heads and our news feeds and into the physical details of our day-to-day.
When we pay reverent attention to the little thing in front of us in the moment, it transforms from mundane to sacred.
I’ve had a nightmare of a mess on my coffee table for the last week. There are books, magazines, mugs, pens, pencils, my daughter’s sketches, tissue, water bottles, and more all occupying space on this coffee table before me as I write.
Yes, I need to clean it. Maybe later. I’m just too busy.
But then, I stopped and I realized that my entire life’s path has brought me to this very 15’ X 18’ living room that I occupy in this apartment at this very moment. Yes, where I sit now is a sacred space. And so, I put the laptop down, cleaned up the mess, put everything away, and now, I’m back to writing to you from a much refreshed, less cluttered physical/emotional atmosphere.
As I type, this laptop, these keys, these words appearing on the screen that will soon end up on yours — holy shit — what a sacred moment! I mean, seriously, right?!
My dog, Dagny, the mangy Shih Tzu/Terrier laying over there as she has been for the last several hours — what a sacred creature. A living, breathing animal that we’ve domesticated and made part of our family. It’s something we humans have been doing for centuries since we lived in caves. Well, I’m here to say that the simple timeless joys of the human/animal relationship are alive and well here in our urban dwelling!
I used to think that nothing was important or sacred in and of itself. I was of the belief that we internally made up the narrative and thus, it was so.
Today, I’m not sure if this is true. Maybe everything IS sacred at its core. The ‘making up’ we humans do is when we take the sacred for granted and throw the lead blanket of our frantic, sacredness-killing narrative on top of it.
I don’t really know. All I DO know is that when my personal thinking quiets down, a reverence for the sacred seems to emerge in its place.
I remember way back in 2010 (I know, so long ago) when I found the world of blogging. I was working as a golf professional at the time in Reno, NV absolutely hating my career. After some time on the clock searching for other career paths, I found a blog written by a bespectacled bald gentleman named Seth Godin whose written voice immediately captured my attention.
His posts were short and his headlines were — well, short. They were more like asides or post-it-sized notes than they were editorials.
Each one spoke to me...
Drip by drip, one day at a time, Seth convinced me that I could open up this thing called the internet and write directly to whoever might be paying attention at the time — someone who was into the same weird things as I was.
I fell in love with the art form (yes, I said it) of blogging…
Here are some headlines from the blogs I was following back in the day…
From Julien Smith’s blog, InOverYourHead.net — and this was a really popular blog at the time:
The Myth / The Reality
From Seth’s Blog — yes, one of the most popular blogs in history:
Form and function
First, make rice
Fast-forward eight or nine years and the blogging world has changed. A lot. Most popular blogs boast headlines (names not shared to protect the innocent) such as:
7 Ways To Be Happy Right Now
32 Things That’ll Make You Say, “Well, There Goes All My Money”
I Was Labeled The High School ‘Slut.’ It Affected My Whole Life
Even personal blogs carry headlines like…
10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book
What to Do When You Feel Like a Fake (and Why a Shadow Career is Necessary)
HOW TO MAKE 1 MILLION DOLLARS ONLINE (EVEN IF YOU’RE BROKE).
Sure, the old-school blogs I harken back to have hosted clickbait-ish headlines, OCCASIONALLY. But nothing like what the tabloid-laden blog world looks like today.
So what gives? Why the drastic change in tone?
I say it’s because we’re human. We humans want more. We want bigger. More mass appeal. More eyeballs on our stuff.
So we write for new eyes instead of for the eyes that are already paying attention. We write for Google bots instead of human hearts.
I’ve been guilty of this, to some degree. I’ve always tried REALLY hard not to use clickbait headlines. I’ve always tried to keep my voice towards those in my small circle at the time I hit publish.
But there’s no denying that I’ve hosted my writing on a platform that’s meant for broadcasting to new people. And it’s been great. I really owe a lot of the fact that I’m still writing to you today to Medium.
I’m at a place where I want some more of that old-school blogging magic back.
I just want to open up the internet and write a small, personal, heartfelt note to you, dear reader, without worrying about the page views or trending topics.
This is the art of blogging. Not the modern tabloidish kind of blogging, but the kind that the magic of the internet has afforded us. The kind of blogging that’s intended to be small and personal, not epic and bombastic. The kind that whispers to the insiders, not the kind that shouts from the rooftops.
Yes, there’s a time and a place for broadcasting. New eyes are important. Absolutely.
But as messengers, we can’t abandon the eyes we have before us at the moment (yes, I’m talking about the folks on your email list). And we — the ones who are currently enrolled — we already like you. We don’t need you to yell at us, shock us, or try to impress us anymore.
Just talk to us.
I want blogging to be weird again. I want to keep things brief and casual. I want to use insider baseball.
It takes four years to get ‘good’ at any one thing.
It’s true — I’m convinced.
By ‘good’, I mean to develop a grounded sense of competency in it. To surpass beginner-level status and be an intermediate professional at something.
The number four is one of those perennially cyclical numbers. Like the number seven in the Bible, it’s one of those numerical life cycles that just… is.
Think about it... High school. Most degree programs. Leap years. The Olympics. Seasons in a year. Elections. All of these are in four-year cycles.
I’d say the four-year rule applies to creative and commercial pursuits as well. Sure, anyone can hang a shingle these days. From pastors to politicians to consultants and web designers.
But I’ve found the real magic happens at or around the 4-year mark. And I’m speaking from experience.
I didn’t start writing really good web copy for people until the four-year mark.
I’ve been blogging regularly for three and a half years and am just feeling my feet underneath me.
I was a total idiot for the first four years of my daughter’s life when it came to being a dad.
It takes. Four. Years.
The question is — who can wait that long in today’s western world of instant gratification?
Why not just give me the Udemy course and let me marathon it so I can hurry up and call myself an expert (and start charging a premium for it)?
Ugh… This kind of frantic, me-first behavior never leads to a lasting, wholehearted career.
I say we need to start taking the old-school approach. It serves us to settle into things. To find a seasoned four-year-plus mentor and be an apprentice (if even an unofficial one). To take the time to sit with things and become really good at them (especially before charging a premium for them).
We’ve been doing it this way for hundreds of years. But our modern hubris has gotten in the way of old time-tested cycles such as this.
Give yourself four years. Plan and set your expectations accordingly.
Billy Joel was playing at Wrigley Field the other night. I could hear him outside my window.
Piano Man. Uptown girl. She’s Always a Woman. All the hits.
And he was rocking out — he wasn’t phoning it in. Which made me think…
Billy Joel has been singing the same songs for almost 50 years ( the album, Piano Man was released in 1973). How many shows has he played between then and now?
And not just big shows — how many weddings has he played for celebrities and royalty every year? How many nieces and nephews have had ‘uncle Billy’ play at their birthday parties?
This goes for all the pop artists from the 60’s and 70’s. They get up on stage time after time, decade after decade, and play the same handful of songs over and over again.
The audience could care less about the new stuff. Those songs are just distractions. In fact, the audience gets a little annoyed when they hear a song they haven’t heard before. They paid for the hits and they want to hear them, damn it.
And so Billy Joel has to play Piano Man at Wrigley Field in the summer of 2018 just as enthusiastically as he did in the winter of ‘73.
What does this mean to people like me who create content for others? A couple things…
Listen to your audience to find your groove
As someone who creates content publicly (though to a muuuuuuch smaller audience than Joel), it was testament to this fact…
If you strike a chord with your audience, they’ll never get sick of you saying the same thing over and over again.
For example, Seth Godin has been saying the same thing over and over again for decades as well. It goes like this (it was the tagline on his site until recently), ‘Go. Start something.’ That’s it. On repeat. Keynote after keynote; bestseller after bestseller; blog after daily blog — for decades.
Maybe you’ve taken the time and emotional effort to build a body of work, either via your YouTube channel, blog, books, podcasts, or what have you.
And maybe something took off. You had no idea. This thing you lobbed out there went absolutely bonkers. This is insane — you’ve gone viral (or at least micro-viral).
One of the first pitfalls that can come up is the thought that you have to switch it up. It’s easy to fear that people always want new stuff from you. That they’ll think you’re unoriginal for beating that same drum again.
But you have to flip that notion on its head.
Your hit sets the groundwork for a deeper groove to be laid in the minds and hearts of your audience.
This is just the start. People obviously want more. Which can lead us to a certain kind of existential pitfall…
“This is great, but who I am is so much more than that”
I know what you’re thinking because I’ve been there. Your hit is kinda surface-level stuff in your mind, right?
You’re telling yourself that you’re way deeper and more complex than those Top-40-esque hits of yours (as much as you love them). And maybe you are.
I mean, my #1 hit is a post I wrote almost three years ago after one year of daily blogging…
“But I’m not one of these people who just blog about blogging,” I told myself. “My passion is writing about faith and spirituality, not just blogging for bloggers!”
That’s when my adult self stepped in…
“Stop it, Jonas. You are a blogger and people like that about you. Yes, you’re more than that, but own it!”
(Okay, enough self-dialogue. I had to get that out.)
We can’t discount the responses of our audience. If you’re doing your art for a living — or at least, you’d like to — your main job is to serve them, not to navel-gaze.
I’m sure James Taylor knows his creative depths go far deeper than Fire and Rain, but that doesn’t stop him from giving his audience what they want (48 years later!).
Sure, you have absolute creative license to reinvent yourself. I’ve done it a couple times. And each time, it hurt like hell. I remember wishing I was more like Billy Joel (in hindsight) and could suck it up and play an awesome Uptown Girl for the 9,000th time.
Because, here’s the thing…
Your audience has zero responsibility to continue liking you.
It’s harsh, but it’s true. As an audience member of yours, all it takes is one click to unsubscribe from your world forever.
Listen, you’re an artist. Sometimes, you have to make bold moves. I applaud you for it. Just understand the reality of the possible repercussions and proceed accordingly. If the bottom falls out and everyone leaves, go ahead and be pissed, but you have to enjoy rebuilding from the rubble. And your second structure might appeal to an entirely different subset of people than your first one.
Here’s one way to introduce your newer, more heartfelt stuff to your audience…
Sneak your new stuff in, drip by drip
What smart artists who have hits seem to do is this… They keep feeding their audience their hits (ex: their new song sounds a lot like their old songs with different words) and they sneak their new stuff into the background.
They’ve given their audience what they want. They’ve made them feel justified for showing up. And now, here’s a new thing I’ve been working really hard on that I think you’ll really like.
Test the waters and see if your audience bites — even a little bit. If so, put more and more in until a larger portion of your work resembles your more heartfelt ‘interesting’ stuff.
Take John Mayer for example. I like John Mayer. His songs are like bubble gum: tasty for a few minutes and then they lose their flavor and you move on with your day. No biggie.
But then he came out with his Paradise Valley album. I was blown away. It wasn’t quite a 180 — maybe a 90 or a 60 — but he was speaking my language. Others, I’m sure, hated it. But that was a risk Mayer took. If it was worth it to him, he could have kept going on that trajectory full-bore thus alienating his old fans while gathering a new audience of acoustic bluegrassy geeks like me.
This isn’t the first time he’s jumped into other lanes. He did it with his Where The Light Is: Live in Los Angeles album which appealed more to blues fans than his typical contemporary crowd.
However, John Mayer keeps playing Your Body is a Wonderland just as he has for 20 years (damn, I’m old — I bought his first hit CD when it came out).
In closing, notice your hits. Embrace them. Learn from them. And know you will resent them (but they truly are blessings if handled the right way).
Some people in this faith section of the content universe use Bible verses like they’re back in style, but I don’t. To be honest, I’ve felt a little insecure about it. Kind of like an impostor. But after sitting down and writing out a list of reasons why, it made me feel better about it.
Here’s why I don’t use many Bible verses in my writing…
God never stopped talking through us. As epic as the Bible is — and as central as it is to the Christian faith — I don’t believe that God stopped writing through us 2000 years ago. Quoting Charles Bukowski is fun. And Roald Dahl. And Richard Rohr. Inspired words are inspired words. Period. I’m all for the centrality of the Good Book, but I just can’t limit my sources to only that.
I’m more of a contemplative Christian than a Biblical one. At least at this point. Yes, I want to learn more about the Bible, but what I like to focus on is the Christ, not so much the Jesus. The Christ is the thing that boomed with the big bang as Richard Rohr would say. We all are begotten of the father with the same loving, creative, grace-propelling source code.
I’ll be honest, I lack experience. Context is key when it comes to the Bible. Without historical context, any Bible verse falls short. In order to explain the historical context of such verses, one must have more time to study and be more proficient than I currently am. This is something I’m working on, but for now, I’m no Biblical scholar. Just a layman offering his whimsical ramblings on a dailyish basis.
As far as I know, it is not a mortal sin to talk about God without using Bible verses. I think I’m in the clear…
It’s not always appropriate. Sometimes, throwing in a Bible verse fits. But more often than not (especially when it comes to sharing personal testimonies as I do), it’s kinda like, “Ah, man, why’d you have to throw that in there?” No need…
When the Bible turns into a weapon, people get hurt. This is when the Bible turns into a law book (kinda what Jesus was against). Like slamming the final gavel down in a way that says, ”It even says so in the Bible — WHAT NOW?!” I just don’t like that vibe.
Maybe these will help you get out there and start sharing your words about faith without being an esteemed theologian first.
When I tell people that I believe the Bible is largely metaphorical, many think I’m discounting it. But this couldn’t be further from the truth...
The way I see it, metaphor isn’t inferior to literal truth. I see metaphor as being more-than-literal and more-than-factual in that it delivers the full range of meaning that language offers.
In our rational western world (not knocking it — trust me, I love science and am glad my doctor does too), we value things by how literal-factual they are.
Literal-factual language can describe an event. It can tell us about what happened (or didn’t happen). It can help us solve problems in our world. But it falls short when we’re talking about the stuff that carries deeper meaning. It can only speak so far into the experiential impact of any given event.
Hence, we have metaphor.
When we get into metaphor, we go deeper, brighter, and louder than literal fact.
Ancient scribes didn’t write like journalists. They were poetic, mystical storytellers.
When I read that Jesus walked on water, I get that it may not be someone writing a journalistic account of what happened (?). But that doesn’t discount it for me.If anything, it imbues the story with more truth and meaning than a literal recalling of factual events.
As a human, when you tell me a story about something that happened to you — something that moved you at your core, what I really care about is how it landed on your soul.
This is more interesting to me than just what happened to you.
The truth of the matter lies — not solely in factual accuracy — but in more-than-factual metaphor.
This is a fun little game that my daughter tries to play with me.
“You didn’t scare me… Try again.”
She doesn’t understand that this game almost never works, so she gets frustrated.. I’m hardly ever successful in scaring her when she prompts me to.
(Yes, if I escalate my scare tactics, I can get a bit of a jump from her. But not much.)
It’s a universal truth…
When you’re expecting it, you’re essentially unscarable.
(Now, I have to say, the best horror films are really good at scaring the sh*t out of you even when you know someone’s going to jump out from behind the GAHHH!)
Maybe this is the ‘service’ our fears provide. If we’re expecting something horrible, it can’t scare us very bad. So we live expecting the worst (so that, if/when it happens, we’ll be less shocked).
Only thing is, meanwhile, we work and live in a fearful and defensive inner world.
Oh, the client won’t like that. They’re going to tell me how horrible I am, so I may as well round the edges and make this thing mediocre now.
I’m never gonna get hired doing that thing I’ve dreamed about since 9th grade. It’s probably a path littered with disappointment and poverty and despair. I’ll just get this here job doing what I always have until I get that call one day out of the blue.
I really want to tell her how much I appreciate her, but she’ll probably just see it as patronizing and inauthentic.
You gotta let yourself be scared. Stop prepping yourself for the imaginary man lurking in the shadows.
If he jumps out, deal with him.
But until then, don’t let the illusion of him determine your path.
My daughter is a born collector. We can’t walk the dog around the block without her filling her pockets (and mine) up with twigs, sticks, and rocks. By the time we get back home, you’d think we were foraging kindling for an endless winter (I mean, we do live in Chicago).
We stack the sticks and twigs on our front porch where the ‘stick family’ lives. That pile is bonfire-ready at this point. Rocks end up in the pot below the porch (yes, the ‘rock family’).
These things she collects don’t mean much to others. Rocks — who cares? Sticks — kick ‘em outta the way. But to her, these things are wonderful.
Not all of them, mind you. She carefully examines each one before that decisive moment where she either keeps it or discards it. Rory is a curator (and very wabi-sabi at that — I like her style).
As a writer, you must be a collector and curator of words.
If you’re truly a writer, you can’t read a word that jumps out at you without repeating it several times (some of you may even have a notebook — digital or paper — that you keep a storehouse of words and phrases in).
You have no idea where — or if — you’ll use them. Some of them, you don’t even know what they mean. All you know is that you love them. They made you feel something and you have to hang on to them — just in case.
Then, it happens… The wondrous moment when you’re writing and one falls out of your mind and onto the page.
Plop… Just like that. Perfect.
Maybe it’s a peculiar word. You might even have to look it up. When you do, you’re shocked by how well it fits. How much color and depth and shading it provides to the piece.
And then you’ll go. Living your life while keeping that word family robustly stocked with wonderful, whimsical new additions.
Let’s talk about creative projects for a moment. Maybe it’s your book, your blog post, your workshop, your sermon, your event…
Wouldn’t it be so great for the entire thing to flash in our minds from start to finish before we took the first step? To be able to see exactly how it’s going to unfold and to be guaranteed of its success before spending an iota of our time or risk on the thing?
Not usually how it works.
Here’s how it does work… We only see the part of it that we can grab on to.
That inkling, that idea, that initial pull. That’s the only area of our work for the moment. Taking the one step into that.
That tiny piece that you can see, you must start there and let destiny handle the rest.
If you want to bring a creative project into the world, your only job is to take the one step that’s lighted in front of you.
To give you a visual, think about entering a dark cave with a headlamp on. And not a very good one. Like, one of those Coleman ones from Target that only lights up about six feet in front of you (hey, better than nothing). Well, if you were really into spelunking (you spelunker, you), you’d have to take a step before the next six feet were revealed to you. And then the next.
That one first step of getting that thing down on paper — just the bit of it you can see right now — that’s your only work. That’s your part.
This post, right here, started as a text to myself that said, “It’s important to know our role in the creative process and not overcomplicate it.” That’s all I had. As I sit here, I started with that and more is unfolding (along with that awesome spelunking metaphor — damn, I’m having way too much fun writing that word — spelunking, spelunking, spelunking…).
This takes faith. Faith means being okay with not knowing exactly how this thing is going to unfold. It’s exercised by knowing your role — your only role — in the creative process: following your curiosity and taking the one single step in front of you.
Get your epic weekend event out of your head and on paper. Outline it. See it unfold out there, not in your brain.
You might surprise yourself with how it turns out.
I’m not making this stuff up... Many have said it before... Being open and connected to the moment-to-moment spontaneous unfoldment of life is essential to creative growth.
We get stuck when we just sit and stagnate in our heads. And more of us today are doing ‘thought work’ where we spend large swaths of time doing just this.
I live on a slow street in Chicago. At a glance, it might look like a normal, workaday scene at any one moment — parents and nannies walking kids to school. People parallel parking (badly). Those annoying advertisement newspapers in pink plastic wrap being thrown onto porches like mass drive-by litterings.
Most of it, I don’t even notice. I might peek out every once in a while. Check on the weather (from inside — which is peculiar). And then it’s back to work.
But when I mentally step out of my self-obsession — if I can just press pause on my incessant and endless inner Netflix drama of, “How am I and how is my brilliant career going?” — long enough, I can see that there’s more going on right here than meets the eye.
There always is.
Kids are growing up. Parents are proud but terrified at the same time. The newspaper delivery folks are doing what they can so they can go home and hug their kids over a warm meal knowing their bills are paid for another month.
When we’re in adulting-mode, yeah, we see this stuff. We notice it. But we don’t allow ourselves to be swept away by the rich depth and density of life. We neuter our enthusiastic connection with it and keep focus stayed on our ambitions. We put the fearful, insecure ego in charge of telling us how our lives SHOULD unfold. And all the while, we miss the way they ARE unfolding (or are trying to if we’d just let them).
In our digital world, it’s more important than ever to get out of our self-absorbed patterns and admire the physical life happening around us.
When I think that this apartment is over 200 years old, I’m blown away of how many baby diapers have been changed, deaths have been grieved, job raises have been celebrated, and Christmas trees have been erected. Suddenly, I’m taken out of the littleness of my life and tossed into the largeness of ALL of life.
“Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music — the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself…”
— Henry Miller
This is where the good stuff comes from. Not from scanning through Instagram. Again. (Much love, Insta, you’re still my favorite.)
I mean, think of how many shortcuts you take. You take the highway when you could cruise through that really interesting, diverse, and quirky neighborhood you’ve been wanting to explore. Yeah, it saved you seven minutes, but what did it rob from your experience?
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”
— Charles Dickens; A Tale of Two Cities
(And here we have an administration turning higher education into vocational career training — ugh…)
Lately, my life has been the embodiment of what happens when four deadlines converge in the woods (on the same week). Yes, a total cluster f&*k of stress, overwhelm, insecurity, and dread.
The deadline is the scourge of writers around the world, second only to that of the blank page/blinking cursor.
So, yeah… Deadlines have had me down as of late. What makes it worse is that I love my clients. Writing copy for them is a treat. Their businesses, their visions, and the work they do in the world is palpable (and they’re fantastic people to just hang out with — which I get to do). Which means disappointing them is unacceptable.
Playing a role in helping craft their visions is an honor — one I take seriously.
Too seriously, in fact, sometimes.
I caught myself several times this last week in a place of desperation. When writing, I noticed my shoulders tensing up, the scowl on my face intensifying as my fingers hammered the keys, and my breathing becoming shallow and abrupt.
Survival mode... Ain’t it hell?
Now, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve been here a time or four. I’ve grown to be able to catch myself doing it. And to tell myself…
It’s not worth it.
No matter the looming deadlines — stress and angst only kill the creative process.
Now, this is our normal, unconscious reaction. If you’re someone with a strong work ethic, you want (and need, if you’re a paid writer) to get it done. In time.
But beyond the function of propelling you into your seat to work, this kind of stress must be left at the door.
See, when you’re writing (or, creating in general, whatever you do) from a place of unconscious tension and fear, you work from a low, stuck, uncreative vibration.
And nothing good comes out of that. You get mentally, spiritually, (and yes, even physically, sometimes) constipated. The words eeeeek out onto the page. Your survival mind is also a fierce critic, so everything is dulled.
Now you’re getting more and more behind deadline and your work is crap because you’ve been writing in a low creative vibration.
Alright — what to do…
First, catch yourself. Notice what’s happening.
Then, stop. Put the pen down (or close your laptop).
Breeeeathe. In through the nose to a count of four and then out through the mouth to the count of four, relaxing your shoulders as you do so. Throw on a pleasant playlist on Spotify. No, not the death metal workout one. This isn’t the time. Grab the Norah Jones one (you know you have one). Hang out here for 10 minutes.
Know that nothing good comes out of this barrel of stress you’re rolling down the mountain in. Step out of the barrel (your ego is dreaming your stress up, so you can defy the laws of reality and step out of the barrel that’s careening off that cliff).
When 10 minutes is up, relax back into your work (don’t jump back into it). Know that this is a privilege. You get to do creative work for a living. You don’t have to test the city’s sewer lines for functionality. Things could be worse.
Your job is to create. You can only do this from a place of openness and enthusiasm. Seeing how detrimental stress is to the creative process can get you to jump to this higher place in a moment (that’s the great thing about the mind — all it takes is a shift in thinking to get there).
Enjoy. Create. Submit. Sleep. And get on with the great work you do in the world.
P.S. My good friend, Tom Kuegler, is throwing an online summit to help you become a full-time writer and blogger. It’s free and I had the fortune of being one of the presenters interviewed in it (along with other incredible bloggers such as Chris Brogan, Tiffany Sun, Tim Denning, and more. Being that it’s online, there’s no need to fly anywhere to attend. You can watch it for free on your couch when it airs (on March 20th). Click here to sign up.
☠️Warning☠️ Full disclosure☠️: That link above is an evil affiliate link. This means that, although the summit is free, should you then go on to buy something from Tom and he gets filthy rich, I might get kicked down a few bucks (at no extra cost to you).
William Blake often wrote about how we mix up God and Satan. He mentioned how many of us think that God is all about restriction, inhibition, caution, censorship, etc. Blake said that it’s those qualities that disintegrate the imagination and murder the innate freedom and passionate enthusiasm that wells up within us.
Blake called this inhibitive force Satan. “For nothing is pleasing to God except the invention of beautiful and exalted things.”
“Enthusiasm is the all-in-all.” — William Blake
Is Blake speculating? Is it irrational to put a ‘God’ and ‘Satan’ label on these qualities? Well, maybe.
I’ve often heard one version or another of the following line from spiritual seekers…
If only I could get to [enter name of any exotic, far away land here], I’d be able to have a true awakening.
I’ve heard the same kind of thing from seculars in the creative world.
If only I could get those dream clients, I could start putting myself out there in a way that expresses the ‘real me’.
I’ll just come out and say it…
Your most profound spiritual awakening/creative expression can only be realized right here in this very mundane moment just as you are rather than in some idealized situation away from it.
Removal from life is simply not possible.
Wherever you go, there you are.
As within, so without.
Humans have been writing this stuff in ancient texts for thousands of years — it’s nothing new.
Escapism is a great relief, temporarily. But eventually, we come home to ourselves.
I don’t want to be taken somewhere else. I want to wake up to my life, my love, my work, my health, my creativity, my abundance — in this moment, right here in this messy apartment living room with kid toys strewn about the floor.
Since we can’t remove ourselves from life, our only option is to join with it. To love it. To love and accept ourselves in it.
Love will transform normal, ordinary, life into extraordinary life. It will end our desire to remove ourselves from life. — A Course of Love
This isn’t about accepting what we don’t like. It’s not about spiritually bypassing our dislikes. I’m not suggesting ‘making due’ with the outer conditions of life (the job, the non-job, Janet from accounting, those unpaid bills, the sickness, etc.).
It’s not about accepting externals. It’s about accepting internals and freeing yourself up for... More.
It’s about accepting that you don’t like whatever it is you don’t like. Then, and only then — when you’ve accepted how you feel — can you respond to your life truly. Only when you’ve accepted how you feel do you quit placing the permanent labels on the externals of your life ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Only then can you deal with anything from a place of peace and relaxed movement.
We’re talking about radical acceptance of Self in relationship to your life.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the stuff/places we think will take us where we want to go — IF they show up in their proper place as effects of inner-change, not attempted causes of it.
It’s just a matter of getting the equation right.
I swear, if I trip over that toy unicorn again, I’m gonna freak…
First, a disclaimer… We, as a culture, need to chill a bit when it comes to ‘getting better’ (yes, that’s why I baited you with that headline, because maybe you’re someone who’s a biiiit — shall I say — driven to succeed).
A lot of us in our culture today are severely unhappy due to the constant thriving and striving to improve.
We need to knock that shit off. Seriously. We’re here. We’re alive. We’re breathing. We have life and light flowing through our veins. It’s all a gift.
I believe more focus should be placed on celebration and connection with life rather than improvement born from an ego ideal that won’t make us much happier anyways.
Okay, there’s my disclaimer.
Now, we’re human. I get it. We like to get good at stuff. Yes, there are a lot of ways to get good at things (practice comes to mind), but as I write this, I can’t think of many in my experience that’s been more powerful (yet subtle) than this:
To get good at something, stay in the conversation around it.
Now, what I’m talking about here are things that are more creative/intellectual in nature rather than physical/athletic. Although you future Olympians may find some nuggets of truth here as well.
I’ll take writing as an example. Yes, I’ve done (and still do) the work… Years ago, I’d trade in hours of sleep every night for hand-copying old long-form sales letters. I bought every book I could about the craft. I’d read blogs I loved for hours (this was back in the days of Google Reader when you could just keep scrolling through the archives of blogs like a long book).
But all the while, I stayed in the conversation. I stayed curious. I talked to people both inside and outside of the writing world about it. I’d talk to myself about it all day long. I’d contact my favorite writers and try to pick their brains (there are a lot of unanswered emails out in Gmail land somewhere). I had serious doubts about the way things were being done. But I knew that if I stayed present in that world and did my work, I’d grow and learn and evolve. And I did.
It’s happening right now with my spiritual studies. I’m going to school to become an interfaith minister and we’re currently studying New Thought pretty heavily (I won’t go into what that is here — you’re a Google search away from the answer). For some time now, I’ve been running into some doubts and inner challenges around it.
But I’ve stayed in the conversation. I’ve hung out at my spiritual center, taken classes, accepted mentoring, talked to people, challenged people, and asked questions knowing that this is a long-term game. It’s why it’s supposed to take us years of study and apprenticeship to be able to do this work.
All the knowledge and insight in this realm — or any realm, in fact — doesn’t come from watching a few videos, reading a few books, and taking a few courses. Yes, they’re stops along the way. I don’t mean to discount them. But none of them are the finish line.
It takes staying in the conversation for the duration. It takes patience with yourself. It takes staying in through the dip to see what’s on the other side.
We need to let go of the notion that ultimate knowing and uncertainty will ever come. Getting ‘good’ at something takes patience and tenacity. It takes being humble while having an insatiable curiosity. It takes knowing when you’re ‘doing it wrong’ so you can change it up. And it takes knowing that the possibilities of improvement are endless.
So what’s the rush?
Stay in the conversation and you won’t be able to help but grow.
In our culture, most of the encouragement is to take control. What we like doing — that’s the reason we enjoy sex, drugs, art, and religion — what we like doing is surrendering. They’re ways of losing yourself.
I see it all the time in several of my chosen fields of interest…
In entrepreneurship, it’s all about taking control and making sh*t happen. Hustling. #JFDI.
In modern spirituality, it’s all about hitting perfect Yoga poses, meditating like David Lynch, or summoning the Law of Attraction and proclaiming to the universe what you want so it brings it to you.
In creativity/writing, it’s all about how Stephen King or Anne Lamott or Steven Pressfield ‘does it’.
It’s all about doing, perfecting, and getting it right/better.
Our human egoic control-freakishness has gotten out of hand. Especially since we now have the cultural notion that we can fully manipulate our individual worlds via our smartphones.
In the modern world, we have this inner conflict going on where the ego is sprinting towards more control, but the soul is yearning for more surrender.
This is why people are sprinting en masse to South America so they can trip out on ayahuasca. Not judging here, and this is nothing new, but is this not a thing?
Can you feel it in humanity right now?
Reversing the course of this cultural river is going to take time, patience, and care. But I ask you, right now, just to notice it.
Where are you white-knuckling your life, work, and art? What are the areas of your experience that you find yourself banging your head against a wall?
Know that you have every ability to surrender into the bliss of this very moment, right where you are.
I’m going to start with the point and then I’ll back it up from there…
We have to take a break from our work. No matter how much we love it (but especially if we don’t). It’s good for our work. And it’s good for us.
Yes, I’m talking about the Sabbath. No, I’m not trying to get you to be religious. This is timeless practical wisdom, so hear me out…
Right now, Monday is our family day. This is awesome because it’s the day that the rest of the city works, so we can go do fun stuff without the crowds.
But really, it’s the only full day that works for us. Since my wife works with high school students, Saturday is her busy day. Since I do ministerial things, Sunday is a busy day for me. We’re both busy Tuesday through Friday and so, Monday it is.
It’s a luxury that’s working for a short while. Soon, Rory will be in kindergarten and our awesome family Mondays will be no more. (Don’t make me cry right now, okay?)
It’s unconventional, but Monday is our Sabbath. It’s hard enough to take a Sabbath day on Sunday (when it makes sense), but taking it on Monday when the rest of the world is working (and some of that world wants you to work too) is a super-extra challenge.
And it’s a super-extra-duper challenge when you actually enjoy your work like my wife and I do. Keeping myself away from my work is like lifting a damn elephant off of my chest (albeit a tiny one, because my current bench press standing is meager at best).
You don’t have to be religious to benefit from the age-old spiritual refreshment that comes from taking a Sabbath day.
A day that proclaims to the world — but more importantly, to yourself — that you are not a slave to your work.
(We can take this suuuper deep because we can start asking ourselves what we’re slaves to — our phones, our diets, our habits, our self-doubt, etc. — but I’ll keep this missive short.)
Call it a Sabbath. Or just a weekly day off. Whatever you name it, it’s not easy for the ego.
But in order to put out the work that best represents you and live a worthwhile life, the soul needs to breathe.
Yes, it’s a challenge, but it’s one worth fighting for.