Evolution is Exhausting

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I try to increase my energy level with a sheer force of will. I want to focus, be productive, but my brain is drained tonight. Not even an afternoon coffee could stimulate my intellectual faculties. It’s not just my mind that is worn out; my muscles ache from yesterday’s workout. My triceps, my biceps, my quads, each movement stretches a tight pain out of my body. I’m emotionally drained, too. Implementation of a new element into one of my course threw everything out of balance and I have been concerned about how it will affect my students.

This is the cost of evolution. When you push yourself to keep improving, eventually it takes its toll. That doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. It’s just time to rest. Since I can’t get any work done now, I decided to develop another plan. Instead of working tonight, I will set my alarm for early tomorrow and go to bed early tonight.

I grab a bottle of Diet Coke from the fridge and the Captain Morgan from the cupboard. I mix a drink and settle in. What will my writing reveal tonight? It has already revealed that I am not Wonder Woman, no matter how much I want to be. I have my limitation, but I am happy to have the opportunity to reach them.

We often forget to be grateful for our difficulties. Many of my students are first and second-generation college students who struggle to work and go to school. When they are stuck in the struggle, they forget it’s the very thing they came to America for, the opportunity to evolve. We forget that evolution isn’t easy. The evolution of a caterpillar into a butterfly is not painless. It is stressful.

We should each keep that in mind. Ease is not evolution. To wish for ease is to wish that things stay the same . . . forever. If you want more, to become better, stronger, wiser, richer, happier—whatever you want more of—you will need to struggle. You will need to evolve, and evolving is stressful. Evolution is not for the weak.

How we define the stress is the important part. If we view stress as a noun it is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances,” but if we use it as a verb it means “give particular emphasis or importance to (a point, statement, or idea).” So, stress could be a difficulty we must endure, or serve as an emphasis highlighting where we need to grow. Pointing out what we must overcome to evolve.

You’re not Superman or Wonder Woman. There will come a point when you might start to feel overwhelmed. When that time comes, rest, but don’t quit. Evolution is exhausting, but it’s worth it.

Core Values Part 1

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I sip my coffee in the cool of the air conditioning as I look out the window. The sunlight bounces off everything outside like a spot light in a house of mirrors. Today will be another hot Miami day. I take a few moments to enjoy a casual Sunday morning. I already completed two of the projects that I had on my to do list this weekend. Later, I will work on my academic article.

I pull out my Rituals for Living Planner and review the work I did, yesterday. In the section on discovering my core values, I identified 10 from the list that were most important to me. They align easily with my mission statement. Here are the first five:

Kindness: This is a trait I highly value in others as well as myself. It can also be one of the most challenging. Kindness flows easily when we feel generous or when we believe someone is worthy of kindness. Other times, kindness doesn’t flow quiet so easily. My resent post on tough love illustrates that I sometimes struggle with this concept. For me, kindness is an act of compassion that can meld with the idea of self-sacrifice. I have had to learn how to establish boundaries as well. Sometimes, kindness can also be “no.” There is no rule or formula for kindness. For me, kindness is simply taking a moment before I react and trying to decide what would be best for the other individual as well as myself.

Purpose: My bipolar disorder has taught me that this is probably the most important value for me. Without purpose, I fall into depression and lethargy. I need a reason to exist. The consumer cycle of going to work each day to make money so that I can turn around and spend the money on more things is not enough to get me out of bed in the morning. I need to be making a positive impact on the people around me in a way that supports my personal mission. That’s why I developed a personal mission statement and use it as a gauge for my actions.

Expression: As a writer and an artist expression has multiple purposes. It’s explorative, communicative, cathartic, and often helps me to connect with like minded individuals. That is why I have built a life around those core value, helping students and aspiring writers learn to express themselves through written communication.

Balance Between Individuality and Community: Although individuality and community are often represented as two separate value, I see them as intertwined like ying and yang. Asserting individuality often taxes our communal connections, and upholding community can sometimes stunt individuality. Since I feel strongly about both of these values, I simply try to keep them in balance.

Learning: This value is the core of my happiness. I have a deep need to learn new things, a drive to read and research, to take courses and acquire new skills. I am also drawn to people who like to learn. I love people who get excited by some new idea. That’s why I am involved in higher education. There is always something new to learn. Even teaching is a learning experience.

Those are the first five values on my list. I will share the other five in my evening post.

What are some of your key values? Have you actively designed your life around your key values? What stories do you tell yourself about the importance of those values in your life? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

A New Journal: A Timeless Perspective

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I remove the cellophane wrapping from my new journal, and open it to the first line page. There I write today’s date July 14, 2017. I also record today’s date on the first page of the old journal, just below the date Oct 23, 2016. Nine months was a long run for a single journal. I suppose it’s a testament to how busy I have been. My journaling was limited to a short fifteen-minute blurb while drinking my morning coffee.

There is only one page left in the journal, and I will use it today. After, I open my new journal and on the first three pages, I will copy my personal mission statement and the basic principles from a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I copy them into the front of each journal, so I can review them often.

As I have already revealed my personal mission statement in a previous post, I will enumerate the basic principles of The Artist’s Way here:

  1. Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy.
  2. There is an underlying, indwelling creative force infusing all of life—including ourselves.
  3. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives.
  4. We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.
  5. Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.
  6. The refusal to be creative is counter to our true nature.
  7. When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good orderly direction
  8. As we open our creative channel to our creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.
  9. It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.
  10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move towards our divinity.

I return to these principles whenever I find myself placing my own creative expression low on my priority list. Sometimes I get so task oriented that I forget about quality of life. It is pointless to complete task after task, to achieve financial and career goals, without nurturing your soul.

I hope these 10 principles will help inspire some of my creative friends out there in the blogosphere.

New Business Address and Company Car

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It’s the end of another busy day. I’m typing in bed as bunny eyes me from the floor. Her fluffy feet move stealthily across the tile. I’ll be going to sleep soon, but wanted to take time to tap out my 500 words for the evening.

I didn’t get everything on my to-do list accomplished today, but I did make some important strides in the future marketing of my writing, editing and coaching services. I signed an agreement for a new business location, updated my website, reordered business cards, and ordered a new decal for the back of my car (see the image above).

I do my own graphic art for the company because I enjoy working with Adobe Illustrator. It’s one of the many ways I get to express my creativity as an entrepreneur. (It also saves me a lot of money.) The logo for my company was inspire by a painting that I did back in 2012. At the time, I did a series of seven paintings, one for each Chakra and I used two intertwined cranes to represent the throat Chakra. Since the company’s mission is “To enrich the personal and professional lives of others through quality communication,” I felt the image and its significance was appropriate.

Like the website says: “Nothing empowers, inspires, or motivates like a well-crafted message, whether it is professional, creative, or academic.”  As a writer, I value the co-creative act between the writer and the reader. A great message doesn’t merely hinge on what the writer intends to say. It also depends on how the reader interprets it.  When I work as a writing coach, I try to mediate between those two perspectives. I try to help writers see their work through the eyes of a reader.

The same is true with most interpersonal interactions. What we say and do is often subject to the interpretations of those who listen and watch. Sometimes what we intend to convey isn’t what others perceive, so I always try to be kind and patient. I don’t always succeed, but I do my best to remember everyone is seeing things through his or her own lens.

That doesn’t mean that we must always come to a consensus. Sometimes we are just going to disagree, and that’s OK, too. We would have to be brain dead zombies to all agree on everything all the time. We need our differences to challenge each other. Challenge is what makes us grow. That’s why I love what I do. I help others express themselves and their ideas with confidence.

Do you like helping others? What do you do? Why do you find it fulfilling? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Writing 1000 Words a Day

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The clean scents of lime and kiwi shampoo and cucumber and agave body wash strip away the salty musk of the gym. I stood in this same spot 14 hours ago as I struggled to start my day. This time the water is cool, counteracting a day of heat and humidity.

In a clean set of pajamas, I sit at my keyboard, and wait for the tablet to boot up. I pop piece of diced watermelon into my mouth and the pop and crunch of each bite releases cold juice as it is reduced to a grainy pulp.

This is my second post of the day. I have been posting twice a day for a week now. I try to keep them short, around 500 words, but that means I am writing about 1000 words a day. Has it been worth it? Well, I am a writer, writing 1000 words a day. For a while, I struggled to write: my book, academic articles. Sometimes my perfectionist brain gets in the way. There is a big difference between 1000 words and 1000 publishable words.

As a composition instructor and a writing coach, I always tell students that perfection doesn’t matter with the first draft, just get something down on paper. Funny how we can give advice better than we can take it.

My blog is different. I don’t worry about structure or audience, rhetorical devices or literary themes. I’m just having an ongoing conversation with the universe. I play with words and thoughts the way one might arrange wild flowers in an empty bottle. Should I feel guilty for such self-indulgent “selfies.” I don’t think so.

Writing 1000 words a day, whether they are part of a novel, article, or blog is still an accomplishment. It takes dedication to sit your butt down each day and just write, no matter what. The consistent crafting of words also refines your skills, no matter what you are writing about. Am I taking time away from “more important” projects? I don’t think so. I usually don’t do structured writing first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, when my mind is lazy or unruly.  This is my time to just let words flow.

Most importantly, writing 1000 words a day proves I can do it to the only person I need to convince . . .  me. Now, I believe I can do it, and I can do it easily. My fingers fly across the keyboard catching my thoughts as fast as they come, no stopping and over thinking, stacking ideas and images like a child balancing building blocks. “Look at what I can do!” I say to myself with innocent pride. Perhaps the balance is a little off here and there, perhaps my little castle will collapse with the next sentence, but that’s ok. Tomorrow morning, I will start again. It’s not about the product, it’s about the play.

Temporal Anxiety: Key to My Success

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Write. Delete. Write. Delete. The alarm went off at 4:30 am, but it took me 45 minutes to sit down at the computer. I teach class at 9:00 am, so I am starting my day early. Write. Delete. I have the urge to write, but nothing interesting is coming out. I go take a hot shower and come back. Write. Delete. I feel like a cat kneading at the blank page like it’s a lumpy pillow. Write. Delete.

I reach for my leather-bound journal, a depository for the junk that clutters my brain. Perhaps, I just need to get the tap flowing first. Then, I see Pebbles the bunny hopping across the room and the irrepressible baby talk bubbles out of my mouth, “Hi cute little bunny. You’re so cute. Yes, you are.” Oh my, this will never do. I pack up my journal, my tablet, and cellphone. Perhaps I can be more productive at the coffee shop.

After five minutes of freewriting in my journal, I am ready to start typing again. I type a line, take a sip of coffee, and stare at the line I have just typed, my hand cupped over my mouth pensively. Somedays, the writing comes easily. Other days, it’s like this.

I look at my phone and it’s 6:25 am. I hate getting caught in the morning rush, so I decide I better head to campus. A 20-minute drive can turn into an hour if I leave at the wrong time. I pack everything back up and head to the car.

As I drive along the expressway, I realize my problem: temporal anxiety. It’s the thing that makes scheduling so difficult for me. It’s the reason I prefer working in the morning instead of the afternoon. It’s the reason I start projects way before the due date. It’s the reason why it is hard for me to write first thing in the morning when I know I have to go to work. I feel the constant ticking of the clock: your running out of time. I hear the constant countdown in my brain.

You may have experienced this anxiety when you woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. You looked at the clock: four hours until my alarm goes off; three hours until my alarm goes off; two hours before my alarm goes off. That is the kind of anxiety I experience whenever a deadline looms ahead of me.

For the most part, I have learned to adapt. Instead of fighting my temporal anxiety, I use it to propel me forward, to help me succeed. I am not late to appointments. I do not miss deadlines. I manage to pull 500 words out of my brain first thing in the morning before I prepare for class. It’s the narrative I choose to tell myself about this personality quirk. I could make it a problem. I could define this anxiety as a negative experience diminishing my quality of life, but I don’t. I define it as an asset, so it is.

Passion as Compassion

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I take a sip of my tropical drink as I minimize the numerous windows open on my tablet. I have spent the past four hours reading research for a scholarly article. A mix of salsa, club music, and intoxicated chatter drowns out the traffic that passes just a few feet beyond the patio of my neighborhood Caribbean restaurant. It’s another humid evening in Miami, but the whirling fans take the edge off the heat. What a great time to write.

I admit, this blog is my own little slice of self-indulgence. I have no intention of teaching anyone anything, or building a platform for some future enterprise. I am here because my soul loves words, and I have learned that I need to cultivate my artistic passions with the same fervor as my professional goals. I have to make a conscious effort to cling to that idea, though. I can become so singularly focused that my life narrows to a one thin shaft of purpose. That behavior serves me well when I want to achieve a particular objective, but it can also leave me lifeless and depleted.  In my quest for productivity, I can often be more compassionate with others than I am with myself.

I have always struggled with the boundaries of compassion. How much is enough? How much is too much? When does the act of compassion become the crime of enabling? I have found wisdom and comfort in the book The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield. In his book on Buddhist psychology, he writes:

“Living with compassion does not mean we have to give away all out possessions, take in every homeless person we meet, and fix every difficulty in our extended family and community. Compassion is not co-dependence. It does not mean we lose our self-respect or sacrifice ourself blindly for others. In the West we are confused about this point. We mistakenly fear that if we become too compassionate we will be overwhelmed by the suffering of others. But this happens only when our compassion is one-sided. In Buddhist psychology compassion is a circle that encompasses all beings, including ourselves. Compassion blossoms only when we remember ourself and others, when the two sides are in harmony.” (32)

I keep the two sides in harmony by indulging in my passions: painting, writing, reading. I maintain a daily journal and an art journal. I blog, connecting with a community that understands the urge to reach out across the vast expanse of cyberspace to craft a personal space of self-expression.

Thank you for taking the time to visit. I wish you the best with your own quest for self-fulfillment.

 

Kornfield, Jack. The wise heart: a guide to the universal teachings of Buddhist psychology. New York, Bantam Books, 2009.