Using Hypnosis to Unlock the Box of Creativity

March 11, 2013

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.

Ruth Washton

Ruth Washton

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.


The Saturday Collapse

February 22, 2013

By Deborah Atherton

Saturday Collapse

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.


January 11, 2013

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!

The Holiday Juggling Act

December 14, 2012

by Deborah Atherton

Juggler by Helico via Flckr Creative Commons License

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?

Scrooge Being Warned by Marley

Scrooge Being Warned by Marley

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.

Finding Your Inner Voice

November 26, 2012
by Leslie Zeigler
In this fast-track world we all now live in with iPads, Droids, Twitter, Facebook and Linked In,  we all may fear that if we dare to not have our devices within six inches we will be out of the loop.  I know that I have an ambivalent relationship to my own attachment to my now dinosaur Blackberry. Yet this is the new reality we all live in, and in order to survive, succeed and stay in touch, it would be really hard to turn off and tune out for very long. However, I sometimes think that tuning out is just what the metaphorical cultural doctor would prescribe if there were one.   My recommendation would be that during moments of high stress  (or even  medium or low stress) we turn off our devices to allow time to be creative and engage with our imaginations.
Five Minute Break
It could really be as simple as a five-minute break for reflection while walking to your car or subway (or possibly longer if you have the time.) In order to enhance your ability to do this, try to access your inner voice, which requires giving it some space to emerge. I find that those rare, and sometimes not so rare, moments when we can quiet all those various inner messages that try to demand our attention (almost as if our inner life were like a TV with many channels) are truly magic.   We are all familiar with our ever-present inner critic, who will try to tell us we don’t know enough, or that we aren’t really going to create something worthy of sharing. Perhaps we also hear our daily to-do list streaming through our minds, vying for our attention,  or maybe it is a message you keep hearing related to something your mother told you when you were just four years old.
 Finding Inner Calm
It can be a real challenge to find inner calm, to push the mute button on all these messages, and just relax and let go and let your intuition kick in.  You will not know where it is coming from, or how, but creative ideas and thoughts may just start to flow and it will be magic.  And for extra inspiration just remember the words of Steve  Jobs “don’t let  the noise of other’s opinions drown  out your own inner voice.”

After the Storm is Over

November 6, 2012

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.

The Perfect Storm Approaches

October 27, 2012

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.