Tuesday, May 28, 2013

With A Piece of Chalk (JuBa Films) and Embrace the Shake - Ted Talk

Life is hard, but we have our art!  (Thanks to Gena Lumbroso for sharing this!)
Or maybe the day comes when you think you can't do your art any more. Just watch...
 (Thank you Gretchen Miller for pointing this out!)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Fun Monday Challenge #4

"5 New Things" collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
This challenge is based on Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer's idea of Mindfulness, which is quite simple:  Notice new things.   Just notice new things, even about what we think we already know everything about, notice something new, that you haven't noticed before.  Immediately this puts us in the present, it also makes us aware of context and perspective, and (she feels this one is most important) it reveals to us that we don't know that thing as well as we thought we did.

We know everything changes.  Langer believes we try to hold things still with our minds until we come to the point where we think we know the thing (or person) perfectly, then we treat them mindlessly.  But when we are mindful, we can see the newness and the changing that is happening before our eyes. 

“Virtually all the world’s ills boil down to mindlessness,” she says. If you can understand someone else’s perspective, then there’s no reason to be angry at them, envy them, steal from them.  ... “Once you’ve seen there is another perspective, you can never not see that there’s another point of view.”
(This quote is from the article: "The Mindfulness Chronicles; On 'the psychology of possibility'” - by Cara Feinberg in the Harvard Magazine.  A copy of the article is here:

So here is the challenge:
Go out your door and find five new things, or find five new things about the person you are closest with (or the person you are least close with).  This should result in interest, excitement and elevated positive brain chemistry. 

Try working these new things into an art piece.

For a gorgeous description of this "beginner's mind" or mindful attitude, check out the article on stargazing here:
“Where’re you going?” I ask.
“Pleiades,” she says. “You want to come?”
Feel free to share your work or play on Instagram by adding #14SecretsChallenge to your description, or by adding your photo to our Flickr pool.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fun Monday Challenge #3

"Appreciating 14 Secrets" Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
This week's challenge is about gratitude, from finding little things in our environment to be grateful for, to the bigger things like pets, art making, friends and family.

We know that doing small things repeatedly each day will, over time, add up to big things. I heard a lecture of Rick Hanson's, talking about how he felt like there was a big hole in his heart that he realized only he had the power to fill. So every day he practiced a little something to increase his joy and peace of mind (filling that hole in his heart), which he shares freely with others. So this idea of doing small things, like looking for the good, can change your life.  Hanson asserts that we are in charge of where we place our awareness. Things may be going on all around us as well as inside us, but we are free to place the spotlight of mindfulness on anything. In a way, he might say we are observers and spectators in our own lives. But he would advise being very deliberate about where we place our attention and awareness.

He would suggest that if we spend our days dwelling on resentments and regrets, quite naturally our neural structures that support pessimism, self-doubt, and unhappiness will become quietly, implacably wired together. Alternately, he would suggest that if we spend our days dwelling on the good facts all around us and in us, focused on what makes us happy and grateful, and facing our problems with determination, our neural structures that support optimism, confidence, and happiness will gradually wire together. Which would we prefer, I wonder?

The difference between the neural structures in these two cases is simply how we use our attention. Since attention is pretty much under our conscious control, we have an extraordinary tool at our disposal throughout our day to fill the holes in our hearts, and nudge our experiences in a positive direction.   Over time, we sculpt our neural pathways and our brain in positive ways. Which of course leads to increasingly positive experiences, which in turn sculpts our brain further, in a sort of wonderful, positive feed-back loop.

So this challenge is about some focus-shifting for our peace of mind.  We all deserve that, don't we?

A while back, Gioia Chilton sent the 14 Secrets group some relaxation techniques (Relaxation Techniques and Ideas from Gioia Chilton, MA, ATR-BC).  Two of them fit perfectly here.

Find An Object To Appreciate: (about ten seconds minimum)

* Simply pick out one enjoyable or beautiful aspect of your environment, wherever you happen to be. In some settings it is easier, but you can almost always find something to appreciate.  Examples include an object with a particularly lovely color or texture, a comfy piece of furniture, perhaps a piece of your own art, or another person, a sound, or a personal object (a great pen that has a nice flow of ink, a piece of jewelry, an attractive purse, etc.).

* Focus only on this one object.  Admire it for a moment and breathe deeply and easily as you do it.  (When you do this, you will be activating the parasympathetic nervous system and your relaxation response.)

Maida, B.J. (n.d.) Short Relaxation Exercises handout, McLean, VA:
Family Counseling Center

Appreciation Game: (about 5 minutes)

Now we can take a moment to be intentional about our appreciation for our friends and family. Make a game of it by in turn, telling our partner, friend or child what we appreciate about him or her.  Appreciations can include the "little" things, like the way someone smiles, the scarf they wear, or the sound of their sneeze! Gioia finds long car rides to be a most excellent time to do a round of appreciations.  Have fun with it. (Gioia's daughter calls this activity "saying my loves." Isn't that sweet?  Don't you want to say your loves?)  If we are going to fill the holes in our hearts that Rick Hanson talks about, we need to remember to appreciate ourselves as well, every day. We don't have to wait for others to notice, we get to appreciate ourselves any time!

In an article by MJ Ryan, who is a resilience expert, one particular resilience strategy caught my attention, and that is to cultivate gratitude. Ryan asks herself the question: "what in my life or myself can I be truly grateful for right now?"  She reminds us that this should be about what we really appreciate, not what we think we should appreciate.

Ryan tells a story of Lauren, a 17-year-old, who had lived in 12 different foster homes since she was 8. When she moved from place to place, her possessions fit in one plastic trash bag. She was about to “age out” of the California foster system, with no place to live, no money, and no job, but she was optimistic. When she was 10, she lived with "Mommy Jean."  "Mommy Jean" gave Lauren a pebble and told her to carry it with her always.  Each time she felt it, she was to think of something she was grateful for.  Every day since then, Lauren has been using this touchstone and finding things to be grateful for and slowly, over time, she grew her optimism.

Ryan says that if she could, she would hand us all a little pebble right now. Not only to help us practice gratitude but to remind us that, like Lauren, we can survive the challenges that life sends our way.  This little story is a wonderful reminder of the importance of "saying our loves,"and how doing small things repeatedly each day will, over time, add up to really big things.

Challenge: Take any or all of the above ideas and reflect on them in an art piece.  Try going into that quiet inner space while doing this.

Feel free to share your work or play on Instagram by adding #14SecretsChallenge to your description, or by adding your photo to our Flickr pool

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fun Monday Challenge #2

"Quiet Mind" Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
I was reading Christine Carter's blog post for Raising Happiness in which she describes the reasons for quieting our monkey minds, our constant inner chatter, how part of the brain that is so caught up in the chains of the past and the expectations for the future that it keeps a running commentary going even when we are in conversation with other people.  How in the world can we "be here now" with our inner monkeys constantly chattering?

And of course as artists we've all had those quiet moments of flow where we are so lost in out art making that the words and chatter drop away, and all there is is this present moment, the art materials and the artist at play.

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel prize-winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow,  suggests that the noisy verbal part of our brains is slow, processing only about 40 bits of information per second (slow?). The creative, intuitive, non-verbal brain processes about 11 million bits per second (OMG).  That is amazing.  So if we turn down the chatter and listen to the stillness what will happen?  Will we be using our non-verbal brain?  Will we develop more flow moments?

To try to practice deep wordlessness, Christine Carter turned to Martha Beck's  Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.  Beck says it in the quiet mind, the non-verbal part of the brain where the magic happens; it's there that we make necessary associations to solve problems and play creatively.  She suggests we take some time to stop thinking in words. Beck feels that’s always been the way humans entered the zone of creative “magic”.  Who among us wouldn't love more time in the zone of creative "magic"?  Her book has many techniques for activating this zone and here's a simple one.  It involves mindful breathing, inhaling slowly and deliberately, exhaling with equal mindfulness and when you are at the end of the exhale pause a moment to listen for your heart beat.  Then repeat the cycle several times.  This technique takes us to a very friendly quiet space in no time.

But if you have ten minutes (only 10 minutes) do her guided meditation “Seven League Boots” of Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.   Just click on the live link for the book, scroll down to the free downloads and you will see the "seven league boots" exercise.  It's the most valuable 10 minutes anyone can give you, and it's free.

So here's the Monday Challenge, we'll be engaging that magical quiet, creative place.  You can do this with either the listening to your heart beat, or the "seven league boots" exercise.  They are both awesome.  So before beginning call to mind a puzzle, a difficulty, a concern that your mind has been working on with the verbal side of your brain.  Just one will do for this exercise.  Then proceed to the breathing and listening cycles (see above) or to the "seven league boots".  Once your mind is quiet, try creating some art from that space.  Let it stay very intuitive.

When you are finished, look at your art piece and look for the symbols of the solutions to the puzzle or difficulty.  The creative, quiet mind speaks in metaphor and symbols.  It may take a minute or two to see them, but they are there.  Our wisdom is within us!

Feel free to share your work or play on Instagram by adding #14SecretsChallenge to your description, or by adding your photo to our Flickr pool.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fun Monday Challenge #1

Over at 14 Secrets we were thinking we needed some more virtual activities, so here it is Monday morning and here's a virtual activity for you. Sometimes Mondays can get folks down, because it's not the weekend anymore, it's time to get serious, time to get to work. So why not let the creative part of your mind have some fun while the serious part of your mind is hard at work.  Take a look at our challenge, and let your creative mind puzzle over it and see what comes from it.

Take a peek at this video, (it's short, don't worry) and then think about times in your life when things were not "going well" and that some how grabbing the art materials at hand was a huge help. You made good art, maybe not art that others would look at as good, (that doesn't matter) but art that you look at and feel satisfied. There's an inner dialogue with your inner artist, and there's a feeling of understanding and being understood.

Can you remember those times? Well, here it is Monday morning, it's not the weekend, (sigh...) but you can make good art!

"Your creativity is waiting"  Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper

Once your inner artist has played with this challenge, if you would like to share your work, you can do so at Instagram by adding #14SecretsChallenge to your description, or by adding your photo to our Flickr pool.