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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Don’t Just Reduce Resistance, Savor Life!


Savor Life collage by Rosanne Bane

On New Year’s Eve, I walked a labyrinth while meditating on what I wanted to let go of and what I wanted to embrace in 2012. At first, I thought “I want to stop being so reactive. I want to respond to difficult people and situations with equanimity.” Then I thought “Equanimity is all well and good, but it could get a little boring. I want more than equanimity – I want to savor life.”

Savoring life will enrich my writing (how can we expect to write well if we’re not paying attention), improve my health and deepen my relationships and sense of wel-lbeing.

So I’ve been thinking of 2012 as the Year to Savor Life. But I may have to rethink that.

As It Turns Out…

Savoring, it turns out, is a lot of work.

Yesterday, I decided that I would not only eat my breakfast mindfully (which I talked about in the Mindful Eating = Mindful Writing post), I would savor life by mindfully eating anything I put in my mouth. That meant I needed to turn off the TV every time I ate a corn chip. Step away from the computer for lunch. Close the book and put away my collage-making or writing to eat a snack. It meant I had to refrain from everything else and focus on the food I was eating.

Food, it turns out, is not as interesting as I thought. Paying attention to food is the opposite of what I’ve done nearly all my life. I’ve used food as a way to numb out and be intentionally unconscious. I used food to go to sleep even when my eyes were open. It’s my own little “zombie-Rosanne-making” technique that I discovered when I was 12 years old and my dad died.

After I finished eating breakfast mindfully, paying attention to each bite and swallow, part of my brain was jumpy from the lack of distraction. I was going through “distraction withdrawal”. Another part of my brain was exquisitely satisfied though. I suspect this part of my brain was the driving force for both the urge to write and my showing up to satisfy that urge.

Hardest Game in Town

As one of my mentors was fond of saying, “Being conscious is the hardest game in town.” It doesn’t matter what you choose to pay attention to – focusing your attention is hard work.

The upside is that no matter what you choose to pay attention to, you get the benefits of that effort in all areas of your life – including your writing. The more you practice paying attention, the easier it becomes to pay attention. (The reverse of this is also true, the more you splinter your attention, the harder it is to pay attention when you want to.)

As you learn to sustain your attention and be conscious for longer periods of time, your thinking gets clearer, steadier and more creative. I’ve learned that developing our capacity for conscious attention reduces writing resistance and gives us the strength to get through the resistance when it does arise.

But there is no easy way to gain these payoffs. The only way to get the benefits of paying attention is to pay attention.

Who Do I Think I’m Kidding?

I’m waking up to the fact that “I want to savor life!” was a euphemism my spirit used to lure my ego into trying consciousness. Sneaky bastard.

And then ego-me went and told everyone “2012 is the year I savor life,” so now I’m committed. At least until everyone forgets the whole “New Year’s resolutions, brand new year, new start, new goals” thing, my Saboteur whispers. If my Saboteur has its way, I’ll be back to shoving food into my mouth with my left hand while my right hand is clicking the TV remote by February. My Saboteur has used lured me into this behavior as a starting point for significant writing resistance in the past.

I don’t intend to let my Saboteur have its way. I’m sure I’ll forget the commitment to eat mindfully sometimes, perhaps even rebel against the commitment from time to time. (Thinking “Who do I think I am, telling me what to do?” is a sure sign the Saboteur is trying to mess me up.)

When that happens, I’ll be compassionate with myself. I’ll acknowledge that paying attention is hard work and remember I don’t have to be perfect, just willing to start over. Like I do in meditation, I’ll redirect my attention back to my original intention without judgment. I’ll recognize the Saboteur at work – “Oh, that’s my Saboteur” – and since my Saboteur always lies, I’ll ignore it. I’ll be firm with myself and affirm that even though paying attention is hard, I can do hard. I’ll remember that I am someone who honors her commitments.

I also give myself permission to change the commitment – but only in advance, not in the moment. “Starting tomorrow, my commitment changes” is a conscious choice; “This time it won’t matter if I don’t do what I said I’d do” is the Saboteur speaking.

I’ve decided to stick with this challenge of eating mindfully.

What is your spirit luring you to pay attention to? What are you willing to do mindfully?

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2 Comments on “Don’t Just Reduce Resistance, Savor Life!”

  1. Sue Cox January 14, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Wow. I enjoyed reading this, and felt uncomfortable about how often my mind aches for distraction and I find anything and give in. Especially when I know I SHOULD be digging in deeper, focusing more not less on the task on hand, working through it even though yes, it just became hard. Awareness is awakening in me. Thanks for that!

    Like

    • rosannebane February 14, 2012 at 9:32 am #

      Hi Sue,
      I don’t know why your comment slipped past my “radar” – sorry to reply so late. Remember: consciousness is the hardest game in town. It’s challenging to focus our attention; many essential things are difficult. And our culture does not support us in paying attention. So be gentle with yourself. Keep challenging yourself to pay attention for a specified amount of time and just notice when your attention slips and gently return your attention to what you want to focus on. We develop our capacity for attention the same way we develop any skill – with practice.

      Like

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