Priorities, Part 2

In the last post (June 27), I wrote about how a sense of priorities can get distorted by what we learn about our parents’ and other significant adults’ expectations of us in that area.

Because so much of what we learn as children resides in our subconscious minds, it takes awareness to recognize that programs are running us that we absorbed without any selective sifting. Because of that, we may not recognize that we have two basic sets of responses to accomplishment: the desire to please and the desire to displease.

The desire to please is the desire for approval and reward. (Sometimes the approval is the reward, but sometimes we’re looking for more substantial and material gratification.) Essentially, we don’t know we did well unless we get the gold star, the gold ring, or some other form of outside approval.

The desire to displease is the desire for autonomy. We don’t want our accomplishments to depend on the approval of others. We do everything we can to make sure we don’t get that approval. However, that resistance is as much a reaction to outside forces as the submission of the approval seekers.

I think that most of us have both kinds of reactions in varying degrees. Some may be approval seekers most of the time, with occasional moments of rebellion. For others, rebellion dominates.

Neither mental condition leads to making sensible and creative choices about what we want to accomplish.

This is step two of prioritizing: Ask yourself why you want to or don’t want to do whatever is on your agenda? For example, does the idea of paying your bills makes you want to gag (assuming you have the money to do so), or do you feel such anxiety that you pay all bills weeks ahead of time? The advance payment is fine, but the force that drives you to do it might be a problem. Are you either compelled or revolted by a grim parental voice telling you that responsible people pay their bills?

If you hesitate about the creative writing course you want to take, do you hear a parental voice saying that creativity will never pay the bills?

Listen for those voices. They have a lot to tell you.

Priorities: Part I

Do you ever get paralyzed when you have more projects than you can count on your fingers and toes? This is how a creative mind can degenerate into chaotic explosions.

It happened to me today. I thought about the two minibooks I’m working on, one a guide to pet care with Bach Flower Remedies, the other a collection of short stories, and several other projects I am doing. One is the second volume in the Dragon’s Guide to Destiny series.

I could feel myself inching towards panic mode. I will never get this done, I thought. Then I thought, Maybe I won’t. So what?

With the second thought, I realized how, at least for me, creativity can run amuck: when it collides with the accomplishment ethic. In itself, that ethic is fine. Completing what we start gives a feeling of satisfaction. Trouble starts when the urge to accomplish becomes burdened with a lot of baggage. This isn’t the baggage you chose to pack for your journey through life. It’s what others gave you to carry.

Labels on this baggage include “You must accomplish more than is humanly possible in order to be a worthy human being,” “Do that, or I won’t love you,” “Only struggle and suffering yield worthwhile results,” and other heavy burdens.

If you’re carrying that weight, knowing it is the first gigantic step towards dumping it. In recent years, children and young adults have taken the radical step of divorcing their parents. A less drastic step could be to divorce yourself from those of their beliefs that don’t serve you.

I’ll write more about doing that in the next post.

Baby Time

This time of year is best described as the parade of the baby animals, in which fawns, baby raccoons, and tiny turkeys march through the back yard.

This year the fawns have been first, wobbling through the grass with more enthusiasm than grace. Their excitement is contagious. I can almost imagine the world through their eyes: “Sun! Grass! Leaves! Movement! Mom!”

To see the world through new eyes is perhaps one of the most creative acts possible. When we clear away old prejudices and ways of both being and seeing, new possibilities spring forth. Even if they enter our awareness with a fawn’s awkwardness, their liveliness is irresistible.

They remind us that once we, too, were new to the world.

Last week another baby opened his eyes for the first time, my grandson, Lyric. His father (my son) and mother are ecstatic and exhausted.

Welcome to the world, Lyric, and may you find it a creative playground.

You Don’t Have to Know What’s Wrong to Make it Right

You Don’t Have to Know What’s Wrong To Make It Right

The other day I was trying to fix a page on one of my web sites. (I do my own html coding.) No matter what I did, the correct version of the web page wouldn’t upload. It was getting towards the end of the day, so, despite my temptation to beat this problem to the ground, I left it for later.

The following morning I fixed the problem with no difficulty. I never figured out out what technical problem had caused it to not work the day before, but I decided it didn’t matter, as long as the issue was resolved.

Now I have to learn how to apply the same casual attitude to life’s problems.

Maybe because so many of us are indirectly influenced by Freudian thought, we believe that in order to solve a problem, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional, we have to burrow down to the deepest roots and discover the what, when, and why of the original problem.

Sometimes that’s a good idea. A person who becomes traumatized every time she has to drive on a bridge will most effectively overcome this issue if she can discover and dissolve the original trauma. (This is a foundational practice of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), which I employ every day.)

Sometimes, though, rooting around in the past and reliving just how awful it was can have a negative effect on our ability to create in the present and the future. I’ve known too many people who decided they were so irreparably damaged that no amount of self-help, rehabilitation, or positive thinking could pull them from the quicksand of personal history.

To get stuck in such beliefs robs us of our creative abilities. It says that forces outside ourselves have greater power than we do. It stains the bright colors of possibility with the dark hues of what was.

I don’t recomment pretending the past never happened, but letting it pull us back prevents the future from pulling it forward. Don’t let the past overshadow the promise of what is to be. Yeats said it far better than I could in the poem, The Two Trees:

Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile,
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while.

(The complete text of this poem is at

Gaze instead into that which inspires and encourages you. Again quoting Yeats:

Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.

At any time, we always have two choices: fear or love. Fear shreds our ability to joyously create. Love is the great enhancer of all creativity.

What are you choosing today?

The Creative Path Has Potholes

The creative process, no matter what you’re creating, encounters moments of discouragement. It is at such moments that we often feel most alone. We know that, while others can sometimes shine a light to help us through the darkness, ultimately this process, in both its high and low moments, comes from within us.

I post this quote as a reminder that even in the moments of feeling alone, we tread a path where others have passed.

“And you know of course that many times before I finish this book I shall hate it with a deadly hatred. I shall detest the day when I started it. It will seem the poorest piece of crap that was ever set down. This feeling will reach a fine peak on about the 500th page. Once I pass that I will continue to work in a state of shock. And when it is done I will be lost for a long time.” John Steinbeck, from Journal of a Novel, his detailed account about writing East of Eden

If you’re interested in reading this book, it’s available at

Filling in the Blanks

This week brought a milestone in my life. My partner and I have decided to close our business, which has been on the Internet since 1996. I intend to continue with the courses and consultations I give. I will also continue writing the nonfiction and fiction that’s been central to my life for a long time.

I’m hardly contemplating idleness, but I’m feeling the sense of a big gap from where I’ve been to where I’m going. In a lot of ways this is the essence of creativity.

Creativity is all about the gap, the emptiness, and the uncertainty. If not effectively harnessed, it can be about fear, the “what’s going to happen now?” feeling.

Yet it can’t be any other way. Going back to the days of the typewriter, if I have a piece of paper that already has type on it, I can’t use it to write something new. My new typewritten words will blur into those already written. I need a fresh, blank piece of paper in order to create something new.

I remember that whenever I rolled a piece of paper into the typewriter, nothing intimidated me more than the vast emptiness of that paper. It’s the difference between “what’s going to happen?” and “what am I going to create?”

The second question empowers us. It reminds us that we do have the ability to shape our worlds. It prompts us to know that every choice we make begins to fill that blank page.

I have made many choices by default through sloppy thinking and by allowing fear to dictate my decisions. Today is the perfect day to remind myself that I can be deliberate and creative in my thinking. I can imagine what I want for the future and make choices that will bring my vision to reality.

What choices are you making today?

The Bear Walked By

Yesterday evening, as I sat at the computer, I noticed a dark, shaggy form in the yard. I was sure I knew what it was.

In early June, yearling male bears are evicted from the family home and sent off to start new lives elsewhere. For reasons unknown to me, my back yard is on their route.

Upon confirming that it was indeed a bear, I went upstairs to make sure it didn’t topple the big garbage can that sits at the beginning of the driveway. It gave the can a sniff and proceeded on its way.

What does this have to do with creativity? When I first moved to the Catskills in 1993, I was, due to a traumatic encounter with a bear in Yellowstone National Park, terrified of bears. The idea that one could lounge in my own yard literally immobilized me. Now I’m pretty casual about a siting–not that I plan to turn one into a pet.

Imagination makes the difference. In the past, I imagined the worst, envisioning many creative forms of death. Last night I used my creativity to wonder what it might be like to be a young bear, still small in bearish terms, alone for perhaps the first time in its life, unsure of its future.

We can create anything with our imagination. What did you create today?

The Beauty of Junk

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” -Thomas Edison

People who don’t use their inventive abilities spend their lives tripping over various forms of junk that are aspects of their lives. Maybe the junk is a job whose moving parts have begun to rust. It might be a relationship that’s coming to a creaking halt. It could be the feeling that each day is going to be like the one that preceded it.

To be inventive means looking at that pile of junk and imagining a different way to arrange its parts. Maybe some parts have to be thrown away, and others need to be polished or filed.

For example, your primary relationship might not be running well. Imagine its elements: you, the other person, the various ways in which you communicate and work together (or against each other). Maybe the junk is resentments or anger held over from the past that are gumming up the moving parts. Maybe you’ve given up on the hope that anything can change. You might think you need a new relationship, but maybe you need a new vision.

What would happen to the pile of junk in your life if you looked at it as a potential masterpiece? You might not invent a light bulb, but you could light up your world.

What the Owl Taught Me

Last night before I went to bed I heard an owl hooting. Since my house is surrounded by forest, this is a normal occurrence. The difference was that I listened.

This owl reminded me of an improvising musician. Its basic theme went like this:

Hoot hoot
hoot hoot

It experimented with several variations, and with each it seemed more and more pleased with itself. The hooting got increasingly enthusiastic. I was reminded of Walt Whitman’s, “Song of Myself”:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

That’s the beauty of creativity. When we connect to the pure knowing of our inner beings, what we express has the potential to transform the world.


Creating Can Be Easy

Recently I listened to an interview with Carol Look, who teaches EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and who has created some very useful teaching tools in audio and DVD form.

In the interview she described how, if you’re in a negative mood, you can shift your focus. Some of the methods she listed were petting your cat or dog, taking a walk in nature (which can include a city park), and listening to music you love.

This may sound simplistic, and I’d rather say it’s simple, by which I mean easy. Because of its ease, simple methods for changing one’s mood get overlooked. We are so trained to believe that only the complicated and difficult methods can help us change our lives. That’s another way of saying we must struggle and suffer so that we appreciate the achievement of our goals.

The trouble is, after a long journey of struggle and suffering, we are often too exhausted to be appreciative. We’d rather take a nap.

When we, instead keep it simple, we’re able to enjoy the journey. The purring cat or tail-wagging dog, the pleasure of watching birds fly, or the pure enjoyment of music you love are their own rewards. When we change our focus, we aren’t waiting to be happy. We are happy and ready for more.

What could be more creative?