today i am one of the stops on eric maisel’s blog tour about his book ten zen seconds, the next step in mindfulness practice. on this book tour, author and creativity coach eric maisal has discussed a wide variety of topics relating to creative work, from writing to fashion design to song writing as well as psychological issues such as stress reduction, going through life transitions and mood disorders.
in our interview today, we will focus on – staying focused.
too many ideas? staying focused on your work
IM: many artists are a constant fount of ideas, images, impressions – often more than they can handle. they often come so thick and hard, it’s difficult to stay focused with anything. i am sure you have helped many artists with this – can you give an example?
EM: the idea behind ten zen seconds is that it is both possible and desirable to get a grip on your own mind and make good decisions about what thoughts you want to entertain. if you are a creative person and working on a particular project, you want to be focused on that project and lost in the trance of working, rather than allowing in other, perhaps interesting but also distracting thoughts.
a creative person needs to complete projects in order to feel successful”having a million thoughts but not having those thoughts amount to anything won’t feel good over time.
so you would use the incantations to keep you focused on your current project and to help you keep stray thoughts at bay. you do this by carefully naming your work, using incantation 3, the name-your-work incantation: for instance, “i am working on chapter 3.” this focuses you on the task at hand and keeps stray thoughts at bay.
in addition, you might use “i am equal to this challenge” to remind yourself that all those other thoughts amount to a kind of challenge and that you are equal to quieting them, letting them go, and sticking with the project at hand.
taking responsibility for the actions of our mind
IM: i like how you talk about carefully naming your work, “keeping stray thoughts at bay” and seeing those thoughts as challenges. now what would you suggest to someone who is so frazzled that half of the time they can’t even remember to use the incantations?
EM: the same thing that i would say to someone who said “i am so frazzled that half the time i don’t remember to pick up my children from school.” i would say, “some things are responsibilities not to be shirked.” it is a person’s responsibility to get a grip on his mind and to think the thoughts that make him most ethical, most efficacious, and “all that he can be.”
naturally he can rationalize away that need for personal responsibility by claiming to be too frazzled to think his own thoughts, but i would not tend to buy into those rationalizations. most of us are not suffering through constant bombardment, famine, and the other horrors of war: we are just leading busy middle class lives that absolutely allow us to think the thoughts that we want to think, among them these incantations, if we choose to take responsibility and think them.
focused breathing and thinking: practice, practice, practice
IM: this is very interesting. it brings up two questions. first, distractibility (which is very similar to, if not the same, as being frazzled) is often seen by psychologists as a relatively stable personality trait. do you disagree with that, then, and how do you help people “get a grip”?
EM: i think it’s both a trait and a state, which to me means the following. you may have a much higher vigilance level than ordinary, maybe for genetic reasons, maybe because you are the survivor of sexual abuse in childhood or for other nurture reasons, and have a harder time concentrating than the next person for what are or have become “trait” reasons.
but even a trait is not a prison sentence. i believe that in the moment traits translate into states that can be noticed, disputed, and managed.
it may be “our nature” to get easily distracted and we can still manifest presence by announcing to ourselves that we intend to take responsibility for our reactions to something even as deep-seated as distractibility. this is what people with “a practice” learn to do: to handle not only their states but their traits, imperfectly, to be sure, but relatively consistently and well.
the ten zen seconds method of attentive breathing and intentional thinking supports this in a particularly simple and particularly useful way.
combining the 12 incantations with the 12 steps
IM: my second question is this. by suggesting that one’s thoughts are a responsibility as important as parenting, you are proposing quite a large paradigm shift, and i find that very intriguing. you give some great examples in your book about how using ten zen seconds have helped people make important changes. can you give an example of how your approach has helped make that paradigm shift?
EM: one of the largest shifts possible is the movement from using to sobriety. i’m currently working on a book with dr. susan raeburn, an addictions specialist, called creative recovery, that outlines how combining breathing-and-thinking practices of the sort described in ten zen seconds with traditional recovery practices, like 12-step programs or their secular equivalent, add up to a more complete recovery program.
that a person deeply hooked on the biological, psychological, and existential level on a substance or behavior can let that substance or behavior go, not just for the moment but for all time, is the very paradigm of a paradigm shift!
if you want to learn more about eric maisel, visit his web site.
this was the second last stop on the ten zen second blog book tour. make sure to go to the last instalment, tomorrow, june 1, at painterly visions, where artist anne marchand will chat with eric about applying ten zen second techniques to help visual artists focus on the daily creation of artwork.
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