Sacred Space

I’ve noticed a lot of people have sacred time slots carved into their every day lives.

For some, this comes in the form of prayer or meditation.

For others, it’s undisrupted time spent with spouses or children.

My grandmother and my father both had a similar sacred practice: in the early morning before anyone else had woken, they quietly arose and sat in their bathrobes for an hour or so, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. When I would to talk to either of them during this morning ritual, I would immediately get the sense that I was intruding on something very private. This was their sacred moment, minus the religious part. But it was a spiritualpractice just the same.

I’m not a spiritual person, nor a morning one, so I’ve noticed a lack of these quiet moments in my own life. During the course of the day, there is so little time to simply do what I want, without the disruption of people, text messages, phone calls, emails or errands. I am completely devoid of sacred time devoted wholly to myself.

It’s something I’ve started consciously building into my days.

Introspection is so imperative to the artist, but sometimes so difficult to access because the world is designed to keep us constantly entertained and outwardly focused. Without creating these quiet corners for our minds, we risk never accessing our best ideas or deepest insights.

For the last week, I’ve been creating a sacred two hour period every night leading into bed time. I use this time to do quiet introspective things, like write these blog posts, read my favorite book, reflect on my goals, and then slowly, get ready for bed.

I usually hate going to bed because I am a night owl, and the idea of slowing down long enough to sleep feels like a unnecessary and annoying inconvenience. But for some reason, this long luxurious process puts me just in the right mood to sleep when the time comes.

I’m currently loving these sacred corners of my day, so much so that I’m contemplating building them into my morning as well. I don’t know if these practices fall to pieces when you get busy- but I’m hoping I can maintain them as the year ebbs on and work picks up. Lord knows, we could all use more introspection in our lives. Myself more than anyone!

Action Before Belief

“Believe and you can achieve”
“Believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything!”

I think those are two sentiments that we should consider reversing:
“achieve and you can believe”

Belief in yourself is not essential.
It’s more important what you do
Consistently and repeatedly.
Your repeated actions create a momentum which will gradually build your confidence
After you’ve acted enough you will not feel defeated anymore. You will believe in yourself.

Confidence is a natural consequence of action. Even if we don’t fully “believe” in ourselves at the start of a task, we will certainly believe in ourselves once we have completed it. Our confidence grows in proportion to our accomplishments.

Few of us are gifted with the confidence of blind faith in ourselves
Sometimes there’s no way around the fact we need to see it to believe it.
Therefore, action may precede belief for most of us.
You may need to achieve before you fully believe in yourself.

If you want something, don’t wait for a surge of confidence to get you going. Simply start taking steps toward it. Do it repeatedly, every day, over the course of several months. Watch slowly as your life changes as a result. By the time you have accomplished your goal, you will no choice but to believe in yourself. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

Tug of war: Validation versus Perfectionism

I’m not one of those people who let’s go of things easily.

No. I drive people crazy wanting to continually fix and tweak things, even after time has run out. Hell, I drive myself crazy. but that doesn’t seem to stop me from doing it.

For example, I’ll often post a photograph online and then notice and error and go back and fix it, over and over, a dozen or more times. I do this, heedless of the fact audience has already seen it/doesn’t notice/doesn’t care.

I recognize that this is the same perfectionism that inhibits many artists from sharing their work in the first place.

I think the reason my perfectionism hasn’t completely debilitated me is that my need for validation usually wins this tug of war.

I release my imperfect work eventually because of the positive adrenaline rush I get from sharing it. That feeling dwarfs my perfectionistic need to endlessly hold onto things.

The positive rush of sharing is something I became familiar with back in 2009 when I started sharing my photographs online with the flickr community. The immediacy of this creation-sharing process became addictive- and afterwards, I was never able to fully retreat back into the vicious cycle of my perfectionism again. The desire to share had become as strong as, or even stronger than, my desire to create. It added to my life the second half of the loop I had previously been unable to close.

If you are suffering from debilitating perfectionism and are unable to finish your project, try a scrappy exercise in imperfection; like daily blogging (ahem) or regular, uncomfortable sharing of your work-in-progresses. It will help flex your ‘letting-go muscles’, and will allow you to experience the positive endorphins that come from connecting with an audience. This may embolden you to overcome your perfectionism enough to let go of the work that needs to be finished and move on to the next one.

After all, what is this blog but a counter-attack on my own perfectionism? There’s no way for me to be perfect when I’m blogging in the public eye every day.

Typos, here I come.

Uncharted Waters

“If you are sailing into uncharted waters, expect there will be rough seas along the way. But take heart in the knowledge you are on your way to a new world.”

Storm clouds are heaving on the horizon. It’s that fleeting moment before the sky opens up, when everything feels just on the verge. Do now or regret forever.

I pull on my red dress and grab my camera and tripod. I run out towards the ocean, shouting to my sister who is playing frisbee with her boyfriend on the sand bar.

“Stand in for me while I find focus?”

“Ok” she says, dropping the frisbee. “How bout I just take the picture?”

I plunk the tripod down in the mud. The sky is looking angry now.

“You better hurry,” she warns as I attempt to fix the exposure.

I tell her to wade out deeper in the water. She stands impatiently squinting at the sky, while I figure out focus marks. We swap places and I realize I’ve lost the mark- where exactly was she standing? Shit. She goes back, I refocus, this time I walk out to her before she moves and take her place.

Now it’s raining. Snap snap snap, she pushes the shutter and I fall back into a variety of dramatic poses.

“You’re all blurry!” she cries. Stupid me, rushing. The shutter speed is too slow. She can’t capture my motion when I move quickly. I have to hold my poses longer.

Now it’s really starting to rain.

“Just a few more poses!” I say, clutching my dress.

“Ok…” she says dubiously.

The thunder crackles. Snap snap snap.

“Done!” I yell, tossing her one of my props which lands in a distant patch of ocean and starts drifting the other away.

My sister rolls her eyes. “I’ll grab that, you get the camera.”

We grab, we run. Along the beach towards the bank. Now we are covered in rain. We run up the stairs towards the cottage, the storm nipping angry at our heels

We arrive on the porch as the sky opens up. Monsoon disaster. We throw shut the doors as the rain screams down. The wind picks up the neighbour’s basketball net and drops it onto my sister’s boyfriend’s car.

“Better call your insurance.” my sister says.

Good storm.

The Shot Before the Flight

2926670-duckhuntRecently, I made the mistake recently of exposing some of my very early-stage ideas to the ruthless scrutiny of outsiders.

This rarely goes well, and I know better than to do this under normal circumstances. Young ideas need to be coddled and protected, like vulnerable children. You need to keep them close until they are strong enough to withstand exposure to outside criticism.

That’s the usual law I abide by. But in the case of this particular idea, I wanted to be accepted into a program which was designed to develop early stage ideas, so I went for it, despite my better judgment.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise then when this idea was brutally rebuked by the judges. The judges didn’t seem to understand or like the idea. And their feedback was cryptic and frustrating. It basically amounted to: they didn’t like your movie. It sucks.

Is this because my idea is, in fact, terrible? Or is it because it’s unusual and new, that it bears no comparison? And…does it matter, either way?

I had to sit on this criticism for a while today. I take criticism of my work very seriously. I’m not the type to disregard people’s opinions off-hand. Yet, if I were to follow the line of this criticism, there’s a good chance I would start second-guessing all my choices at this very early stage of development. There’s a good chance I would lose faith completely in the project and give up.

How much weight should we really assign to such feedback in early stages?

It took me an afternoon of reflection, but I think I’ve come the conclusion that I haven’t gone far enough down the rabbit hole yet to put weight into it. Let people tell me they hate it when I’m done the first draft. Don’t tell me now, before it’s even been translated to the page!

So, people don’t get my concept. This has happened plenty of times before in the past when I’ve shared early-stage ideas, that’s nothing new. And even if it ends up that I waste a few months pursuing something that turns out to be ill-advised and stupid- is that really a waste of time?

Past experience reminds me that no writing pursuit is a waste of time- even if your idea doesn’t appear to go anywhere initially: Dead projects give way to better ideas. Failed ideas morph into successful ones. If you’re passionate about something, you need to let it percolate in your mind a while, and give it the opportunity to develop into something better.

There are safeguards in place to protect fawn from being hunted too early in their life-cycle. Likewise, we need to create similar safeguards to prevent our work being torn down before it has legs to stand on. I can’t allow my babies to be shot out of the sky before they’ve even had a chance to spread their wings.

Following this event, I found myself revisiting this amazing old blog post I had clipped by Steven Pressfield. If you haven’t yet read any of his incredible works (like War of Art), I highly recommend running not walking to pick them up…

“There’s an axiom among artists and entrepreneurs: to succeed, you have to be arrogant or ignorant or both. What that means is you have to blow off every response that says it’ll-never-work. Be arrogant. The nay-sayers are idiots. Or ignorant. Stay stupid and plunge ahead…..Almost no one recognizes a good idea at the idea stage. And the more bold the idea, the more people will be blind to it. That’s human nature. It’s the way the world works. If you’re seeking reinforcement from outside yourself, you’re in for a long, lonely haul. The answer to self-doubt is self-reinforcement.”

With that, I’m forging ahead with confidence. It’s too early to be listening to the cynics.

Digital Minimalism

I’ve been reading a fantastic book lately called Deep Work by Cal Newport. While I was already familiar with a lot of the concepts- such as blocking out long uninterrupted time frames to devoted to a single tasks (to create flow), and minimizing distraction- the book formalizes a lot of these processes into concrete methodologies which are scientifically proven to be effective in creating better output and happiness.

I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in increasing their output and doing what he terms “knowledge work” (like writing or research).

Now comes time to implement this in my life.

I’ve downloaded an app called “Focus” for my computer, and have made a habit of now turning off my phone while timing and logging these deep work sessions, which can last anywhere from 1-4 hours.

So far it’s going pretty well. I’ve gotten quite a lot done in the last two days since formalizing this practice. I don’t think I was particularly bad at focusing before, but it does take some concentration to be able to resist the urge not to break off into more “fun” respites, like facebook, while the timer is on. I’m looking forward to seeing the results as I continue on.

Next, I’m quietly disengaging from a lot of my social media life.

This is a tricky one- as sharing my work online has become extremely valuable to me in terms of personal fulfillment and branding.

I plan to continue doing this by pre-scheduling posts in this blog the night before, then limiting my email/social media checks to twice a day- one morning and one night. I’m hoping by reducing these interruptions throughout the day I can accomplish more writing and also invest more in my real-world relationships and passion projects instead.

Check out this very interesting article on the concept of digital minimalism by the author on his blog (Take the concept of minimalism one step further into the digital realm and there you have it. It sounds like what it means.). It’s a very interesting conversation- it may be something you are interested in implementing in your own life.