by Leslie Zeigler
This is the second installment of my interview with my good friend Ruth Washton, who is both a psychotherapist and someone who practices hypnosis as well.
Ruth told me that there are many ways to induce a trance state, through the use language and metaphor, imagery, muscle relaxation. She likes to use a combination of mindful breathing and suggestions for release of muscle tension. She added that she instructs her clients in the method of deep abdominal breathing and asks them to absorb themselves in the feeling of their body breathing. Breathing evenly and deeply, the thinking mind becomes still as you focus your attention on your body breathing.
This fosters a very receptive state for internal reflection, exploration, and insight. So How is hypnosis used to facilitate creativity? In a mild trance state, a door opens into the subconscious mind, imagination supercedes the thinking, logical mind, the latter receding into the background. From this place, one can project dreams and aspirations in the form of a future self.
Ruth offered a fascinating example. A client of hers performed as a singer in a choral group, and sometimes as a soloist. Her great love in music was jazz and she had performed as a jazz vocalist in the past. The years went by, she married, had a family, and began a career. But she longed to be singing jazz.
Ruth said, “I facilitated a mild trance state and suggested to her that she imagine herself in a jazz club, on stage, and performing, backed by a group of jazz musicians. I asked her to see herself in great detail, to notice the expression of her body, her face and her voice. When she came out of the trance, she said she had pictured everything quite clearly and in detail, particularly a red dress that she was wearing. The following week,she called her piano teacher who put her in touch with a jazz pianist who invited her to sing with his group. She went shopping and found the red dress.”
This is the second installment of a series of interviews with Ruth Washton and her thoughts about creativity and hypnosis.
Tags: Creative Process
by Leslie Zeigler
To explore additional ways of helping people with creative blocks, I interviewed my good friend,Ruth Washton, who uses hypnosis to help people open a door to their creative process. Ruth told me that she defines creativity broadly, to include creative expression both as an art form as well as in creating one’s own life. In a mild trance state, Ruth says, one can become in touch with oneself as the ultimate source of creativity.
Leslie: What is hypnosis?
Ruth: Hypnosis is a state of relaxed attention. A trance state is experienced when one stops following one’s thoughts and instead becomes absorbed in one’s own internal world. Think about being absorbed in a great novel, no longer paying attention to the outside world, perhaps not even hearing someone enter the room or ask you a question. The title of your blog, Leslie, is a wonderful image that can be explored hypnotically. Imagine unlocking the box of creativity: ask yourself what does this box look like? What is it made of? What does the lock look like? What does the key look like? Imagine putting the key into the lock. Will you lift the lid just a bit and peek inside? what do you see?
This is the first installment of several posts about Creativity and Hypnosis.
Tags: Room to Breathe, Taking a Break
By Deborah Atherton
Whether we work at full-time jobs, as I do, or run our own businesses, as Leslie does, we are likely to be running at full-steam Monday through Friday attempting to pay our bills, all the while telling ourselves how much work we will get done on our creative projects on the weekend. We look forward to it; we plan for it; we schedule it.
And then Saturday comes. And before us lie all the weekend chores we don’t have time for during the work week, from laundry and grocery shopping to dry cleaning and buying a new electric drill at Home Depot. Plus all the bill-paying and newspaper/blog reading that couldn’t get done Monday through Friday. And the trip to the gym you are really overdue for. Not to mention the frantic emails from work or clients that mean you don’t really have the day of at all.
And you don’t want to do any of it. Not the writing or painting or photography. Not the laundry or dry cleaning or big box shopping.
What you really want to do is collapse in front of the TV and watch an NCIS or Downton Abbey or Big Bang Marathon or read the library book that is due back Tuesday. What you really want to do is just tear open a bag of chips or make yourself a cup of tea and cookies and not think about anything productive at all.
If you have reached that moment when nothing else seems possible, and your TV or your book or the movie you downloaded exercise irresistible temptation, give in.
Just do it. Watch six hours of the teams we all wish we belonged to, be they the detectives at NCIS or the aristocrats around the dining table or the geeky comic book devotees at a California university. Read the latest from Charlaine Harris or the Jack Reacher thriller or a brain-eating Zombie fantasia. Go through all the Oscar nominees and scornfully dismiss them one by one.
Sometimes your brain needs a break. Even more often, your body needs a break. Being Americans, we have all read self-help books on how to manage and schedule and prioritize our time, on how to organize our lives, on what is urgent and important, or urgent and not important, or barely worth thinking about—and once in a while, we have to throw it all out the door.
Take the day off. Indulge. Let yourself.
Here’s betting that by 10 o’clock Sunday morning (or maybe 11 o’clock Sunday night), you’ll be ready for something a bit different, and that those task lists and chores will seem a little less overwhelming—or at least look like something you can postpone for another week. And that having spent a day actually off, you might want to spend at least a few hours of one writing or painting or heading off to film the polar bears enjoying the weather no one else is enjoying.
It’s your time. It’s your life. Every minute of it isn’t going to be spend fiercely engaged with the struggle to create. Some of it is going to be spent munching snacks and watching TV. And it is my belief that ultimately your creative projects will benefit by the downtime.
Thanks to Eric Ember for permission to use his photos.
Tags: making time for creativity, New Year's Resolutions, where do I find the time
By Deborah Atherton
As the year begins, most of us over 29 (and perhaps, even a few younger) seize the moment to reproach ourselves not just with what we haven’t accomplished in the previous year, but in all the years that came before.
The novels we haven’t written (or read!), the film projects that never got off the ground, the paints drying out in the basement, the guitars sitting dusty and untouched—they all rise up in an angry mob and march on our poor undefended minds.
These are the moments that bring on New Year’s Resolutions. Or perhaps you already made yours, and, a week in, have already fallen short of this year’s expectations.
The question I am trying to ask myself right now is—why, exactly, are some projects languishing in dusty corners right now? Is it procrastination, a lack of genuine interest on my part, a shortage of energy and/or time, or a failure of nerve? Or just an overabundance of projects?
These are really difficult questions, and honestly, I’m still pondering the answers. I’m probably not going to have the answer to all of them before Valentine’s Day, or maybe July 4th. But I am going to try and take a look at each one and figure out what it is actually possible to do in a year, in the full knowledge that, for instance, what I really usually feel like doing on Saturday after a week at my job is absolutely nothing. Which doesn’t mean that if I assign 45 minutes or an hour to doing something creative that engages me, I won’t do it—in fact, I know, if it is a commitment I made in my schedule and my heart, I will.
What I’d like, I think, to feel at the end of 2013 is no regrets. That I did what I could reasonably do, and that even if the new novel is, for example, still only 2/3 done, instead of 1/3 as it is now, that it was a good effort, and the most I could do given my own circumstances. And that I was dealing with the scary parts—submitting, getting rejected or accepted—in an effective way, and not putting off what I did not enjoy doing.
So this year, instead of a list of everything I’m going to finish by the end of next year, I am going to aim for feeling no regrets about my creative work when I uncork the champagne next December 31st—no regrets, and more fun with my work. I invite you to join me!
Tags: finding time to write, holiday juggling, holiday stress, where do I find the time
by Deborah Atherton
Work life balance is hard enough, but there’s something about jingling bells and the smell of roasted chestnuts in the chill December breeze that is enough to send many of us over the edge. Creative people tend to have a lot of balls in the air at any given moment anyway; sometimes it is hard enough to be trying to figure out what comes next in your delicately balanced plot or your apparently-never-to-be-finished painting without adding the stress of buying presents for 1,432 people.
Words of wisdom on this subject abound. They usually involve Making Lists and Deciding What is Really Important and Letting Go of Making the Annual Fruitcake (which nobody eats anyway.) But all that is in itself exhausting, and we’re human beings and our minds don’t actually work that way anyway. We decide to go to parties because we think we might have fun and heard there were going to be peppermint martinis or because the host came to our party last year or because we said yes in a weak moment and can’t back out, not because it is Really Important. We already know what is Really Important, and tend to avoid it at all costs.
What must self-help books and articles do is try to help us work around our own minds, to help get us to do what we know we ought to do. Or may even want to do, but find ourselves continually distracted from doing. The distraction level rises exponentially during the holiday season, and so do the “oughts” and “shoulds.” And most of us, even or especially those with hours set aside every day or week for creative efforts, can’t totally maintain our focus, at least not without arousing the disapproval of others. We don’t want to be Grinches or Scrooges, do we?
Well, maybe we do, at least once in a while. Those articles are at least partly right: we can’t be everything to everyone, even for a month. It’s hard enough to be something for ourselves. And whatever that something is: the book from NaNoWriMo that needs three more chapters, the blog that gets left untouched, the film that can’t quite get edited—we’re better off if we find just an hour or two, somewhere within the onset of social obligations and consumer madness, to spend some time with it.
So say no once in a while (maybe not to the party with peppermint martinis), take a breath, and stare at your unfinished work for a bit, at least long enough to remember what the problems were when you last picked it up. Maybe the $29 you would save at the Cybermadness sale isn’t worth the afternoon you might spend thinking through your project—or at least reminding yourself that you have one.
Tags: beginning the creative process, finding time to create, inner critic, inner voice, making time for creativity, Taking a Break
Tags: getting back to work, Super storm Sandy
Thank you to everyone who emailed or called to find out how we did, indeed, survive the storm. Both Leslie and are were fortunate to live above 39th Street in Manhattan, and so did not experience flooding or power outages (although I did have one strange moment when it looked like the Hudson might come creeping up past 12th Avenue.) The same cannot be said of many of our friends, who lost power and water, had trees fall on their homes, saw their cars float out to sea, and, in some cases, are still waiting for the lights to come back on.
In the face of this disaster, it feels somewhat selfish to say that I did, indeed, spend a quiet week at home, safe, dry, and in the absence of the usual distractions (like, say, going to Starbucks for a cup of coffee, because the Starbucks in my neighborhood could not open without baristas) and, in fact, wrote a great deal. More importantly, I had free time to think and live with my characters and stories—when I was not listening to the sad news on the TV and radio—and unscheduled time is almost always a gift.
I’m back to work now, along with much, although not all, of Manhattan. Nothing looks quite the same—it’s a little scary to realize that a city that’s stood for 400 years is so essentially fragile. Sometimes we forget we live on an island. We are spending a lot of time sharing our stories, which makes us all feel better. And we are all making plans with much more seriousness for the next natural disaster – I have realized that one flashlight, even with backup batteries, does not cut it.
Just wanted to let you all know we’re fine, and that we’ll have a new post from Leslie later this week.
Tags: Hurricane Sandy, perfect storm, Taking a Break, waiting for the storm
by Deborah Atherton
In the Northeastern United States, we are all currently waiting for Hurricane Sandy to descend and disrupt our lives. The early warning system provided by weather satellites and 24-hour media, designed to give time for preparation, manages in fact to fill us with anxiety. Instead of saying “Good night” when they leave work at night, people are asking, “Do you have batteries for your flashlight?”
It’s a kind of exaggerated version of the anxiety we live with all the time now, aware of every disaster, whether it happens around the corner or around the world from us. You’d think we’d get hardened to it, but we don’t seem to; we turn on our computers, our phones, our TVs every day to hear more news. It’s on in the elevator of the building I work in. There is no separation from the rest of the world’s misery, or, as today, our own apparent impending doom, although it’s not actually arriving for another few days, so we have a lot of time to think about it.
I have batteries in my flashlight, I have the 3-4 days worth of food and water FEMA has suggested, I have candles and lots of books to read. I am reasonably sure any flood will not reach the very high floor I live on, and if it does, the entire island of Manhattan is in more trouble than it is ever likely to get out of. So this should be the moment when I pat myself on the back, and pick up one of the scenes I am trying to fix, or finish a chapter in the book Leslie and I are working on.
But no, I keep going back to the Weather Channel, hypnotized by the approaching storm.
We might tell ourselves we can multi-task, and of course, to some extent we can, but no one can stay glued to blow-by-blow reports of the pending apocalypse and get any creative—or even uncreative—work done. And maybe this weekend, it’s an actual imminent threat, but even so—there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Sandy will waltz up the Eastern Seaboard, and either encounter—or not encounter—the other two weather systems that will help create a perfect storm. She is disregarding the wishes of both Presidential candidates, who would just like clear roads so people can go and vote. (That’s another impending event over which I have absolutely no control, but absorbs a great deal of my thought right now.)
The only possible thing to do is turn it all off. Check often enough for safety—and I’ll undoubtedly check more often than that—but try and create a quiet space in which to generate a little quiet thought. Push every little button with a green light and wait until the color fades away. Let go of the apocalypse long enough to know that however much we hype it, it’s just a storm. It is the nature of storms to pass.
Of course, Sandy might just do all that for me. In which case I might have 3-4 days with no news but occasional reports on my battery powered radio—since there is no way I am going to walk up and down more than 500 stairs unless absolutely forced to do so.
And who knows how much creative thinking and work we all could get done by candlelight in absolute quiet in 3-4 days? It might be an experiment worth trying, even without an apocalypse.
Tags: change is as good as a rest, Creative Process, Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith, Taking a Break
In one of last season’s episodes of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess Grantham (played so unforgettably by Dame Maggie Smith) said “a change is as good as a rest,” an expression I hadn’t heard in a while, but which can really apply to our creative lives.
Maybe you, like me, sometimes get mired down in a project. This can happen at any time—you might have a wonderful idea, and then be completely flummoxed about what to do with it. You might be halfway through your book or painting or film or graphic novel, and suddenly lose, not just inspiration, but the will to go on. You might have finished it, and not be able to bring yourself to polish it and set it out on its journey in the world (if you’re like me, this means a virtual traffic jam of manuscripts sitting in your computer waiting to be set free.)
In this situation, I think we must sometimes take the Dowager’s words to heart, and just go do something else. Ideally, this something else might be a cruise around the world, or at least a trip to Disney Land; but in real life, if you aren’t able to just pick up and take yourself elsewhere, it might be going to hear a band on Friday night instead of settling down in front of the TV, or taking a walk in the park if it’s not something you do every day, or even (God forbid)
tackle cleaning out the garage or hall closet. Or, if you are feeling creative but just hating what you are doing at the moment, you might pick up your camera (if you’re a musician) or some paint brushes (if you are a writer) and try a different way of expressing yourself.
What probably isn’t going to help is sitting with your work and ruminating endlessly over it. Of course, we all do this, and some of it is necessary. But if you are entering day 3 of rewriting the same sentence or playing the same phrase or tearing up a sketch for the 14th time, it may be time to turn your back, shut the door, and pretend what you are doing never existed. Our brains are strangely subject to trickery of all kinds and if we announce loudly to ourselves, “Well I’m done with that!” they usually believe us, not noticing the little asterisk we have put for ourselves next to it (i.e., *for today). Especially if we attach some little reward to it, like that walk in the park or maybe a rejuvenating cup of coffee at our favorite coffee shop. (Note: our brains are gullible, but not so gullible as to believe cleaning out the garage is a reward, although an hour of that might be enough of a threat to produce all kinds of new and energizing ideas.)
So to those of us who are stuck today I offer a guilt free pass to go take a walk, take a break, visit our local Starbucks WITHOUT the tools of our trade, and just sit and watch all the poor people slaving over their computers. A change is as good as a rest. Maggie Smith said so. And who among us would challenge either Lady Grantham or Professor McGonagall?
Tags: absentminded, daydreaming, forgetfulness, madame tussauds, making time for creativity
Is there a relationship between absentmindness and creativity?
On a recent Friday night, my mind lit out for home and freedom quite a bit before my body managed to make it out of the office. My thoughts were revolving around a conversation about history and ghosts at the end of the work day with one of my esteemed collaborators. I made it all the way to the bus stop before I realized I had left my wallet and Blackberry behind. Back to the office I trudged, in the pouring rain. By the time I managed to finally squeeze on to a packed bus, it was past 7. I was immediately distracted by the landscape of the buildings and people surrounded by raindrops, many of them scurrying into Mme. Tussaud’s (a very appropriate place for ghosts and history).
Of course, I left my umbrella on the bus.
If I hadn’t been distracted, I would have walked in my front door at least an hour and a half earlier and a great deal dryer.
I don’t know about you, but this isn’t all that unusual for me. In the middle of necessary daily activities, my mind is often somewhere else, very likely turning what I’m seeing or doing into a scene or story of some kind. I construct elaborate back stories for strangers (the woman opening a chocolate bar next to me on the bus; the sales clerk at Rite Aid; the barista at Starbucks). I sink my Manhattan landscape into the Hudson River and envision what the rest of the city would look like. I have a glimpse of an underground tunnel and instantly the city is connected not just by subways but secret passageways. I am struck by lyrics to a song that hasn’t yet been written while prowling the sales racks at Macy’s.
In consequence, I usually live in a mild state of distraction. This doesn’t happen when I am sitting down one on one with another human being, or when I am actually working on something that interests me, but when I am in a group activity that doesn’t completely catch my interest, or doing the things we usually do by habit—commuting, shopping, cooking.
Half my creative thinking is done in these intervals of absentmindedness. (The other half seems to be done when I’m falling asleep or waking up, but that’s another post for another time.) Although I am not paying attention to the external world, I am completely absorbed in my internal one, and the thoughts and images that come to me while I am barely avoiding walking into open manholes stay with me when I finally make it home and sit down to write.
This state of absentmindedness may be why creative people often say, when interviewed—I do my writing or painting or filmmaking or composing because I couldn’t do anything else. It can be a bit of a challenge operating in the workaday world when much of your mind is in another place entirely. But all of us have to operate in both worlds to some extent, and, after all, one feeds the other. The people in your life who value you will learn to put up with your moments of abstraction, and if you are lucky, the people you manage not to run into on the street will pull you out of the path of any oncoming buses. Our minds, after all, are only absent from this particular moment and place—they are completely present somewhere else, exploring and building worlds and stories and images and melodies.
It might make you late to dinner once in a while, but in the long run, being absent minded is often just part of being creative. And, if there is somewhere you really, really need to be, you will just have to join the real world for a little while, knowing that the other world is always there, awaiting your return.
Copyright 2012 Deborah Atherton. All rights reserved.