DO This: Morning Pages 

Have-Good-Handwriting-Step-14

Morning Pages is a tool promoted by Julie Cameron in her Artist Way book as a daily practice for anyone interested in creativity, not just writers.  This guy also describes the practice very well.  Basically first thing in the morning, right after waking up, before you get going with the day, while you are still in that in-between mind state, write for 15 minutes in stream of consciousness style.  Just whatever comes out.  Cameron recommends using pen and paper in a journal.  I did the hand journal for about a month and a half, then moved the practice over at 750words.com since I can do it on my smart phone in bed and get some interesting analytics (data nerd alert).  I am going back to pen and paper to slow it down again and get away from the distractions inherent in working on a screen.

I have been doing Morning Pages for about three months now.   Concrete results from doing morning pages:

1. I produce 3x the writing as before. Basically I believe doing the 15 minutes of work right in the morning in the alpha brain wave stage sets up a creative foundation for the day. I find later when I sit down to write a blog post or something else it comes easier and more clear. Even if the topics are completely different.

2. Greater understanding of the dream world in relation to the real world. Since mp are done in that waking up phase while your dreams are still somewhat present, I have noticed that more of my dreams are making it onto the pages. That brings their content into the conscious. Without mp the dreams were forgotten. There was no mechanism to connect the two worlds. There is a lot of understanding going on in the dream world. Good to get it up to the surface.

3. I have built confidence overall. Basically it is about 15 minute job each day. I can find 15 minutes. If I can find 15 minutes for mp i can find 15 minutes for something else.

4.  More creativity in general. Even if you are not a writer, or trying to write, mp is a creative exercise.  Often times, solutions to issues reveal themselves in morning pages spontaneously.  A motorcycle maintenance solution popped in the other day.  As did a stream of good names for a new web site.  And a landscaping solution.  Creative solutions in diverse areas of my life, nothing to do with writing.

5. More clarity to the day:  Doing a brain dump first thing in the morning is kind of like a clean sweep.  You can get all the monkey mind thoughts and inner critic out on the page and start new.

Other Observations:

Long Hand VS on a device:  I did both.  Started out long hand, three pages in a note book.  It was hard to use my hands that way after such a long time on the keyboard.  It felt very slow and I had the desire to want to use some of the writing later, or do analytics on it.  So after awhile I moved the practice to 750Words.com.  Very good interface, good device support, challenges to keep you on task, merit badges, and some interesting analytics.  While I gained the ability to write on more devices, to share the work, and the analytics my nerd desired, I lost some of the soul of the exercise.  Writing long hand is slower and that is good.  You have to actually slow down your brain to your hand speed. You also don’t have a web browser or other apps there to quickly engage with in diversions that come up during the writing. When I write long hand with the phone and computer off, I begin and end the exercise without distractions 99% of the time within 20 minutes.  750words has a handy analytic of start, stop times and words written over time.  Using 750words I have completed the words in less than 20 minutes less than 40 percent of the time.    Due to the ease of indulging distractions on a device, my productivity goes way down.

What to write about.  Some people structure their writing.  Two pages on this, one on that, etc.  I have done it with and without structure. What I find is that without structure many times the stream can get stuck and I end up filling up space with mumbo jumbo words.  That is especially true on 750words where the word count at the bottom of the screen is menacing you the whole time.  If you are sitting there staring at the page, just start writing about staring at the page.  And why the exercise is so hard.  Then write your to-do list.  If you run out of inner critic stuff, or lingering to-do items, start writing about what you are going to do today,.  Meetings, people, events, etc.  If I get stalled (rarely), I just ask “Today would be so awesome if….” and start again.  Never fails.

There are many twists on how to do Morning Pages.  Here is exactly how I do it.

I get up (without an alarm so it is a natural time to awake), take a cold shower, dress, make a cup of coffee, then sit down at a desk to write morning pages.  Leave your phone in another room.  Do NOT sit in the same room as a computer or any electronic device connected to the internet.  I write morning pages at a desk because writing by hand in my lap gets uncomfortable after 10 minutes.  I write before meditating as I have found the clearing out of MP helps deepen the meditation.  I write the pages longhand (not on computer anymore see above) in a notebook that I put aside and never open again.  I try to make my only distraction picking up the coffee cup or stretching my fingers.

  • Pro tip for the to-do list addicted among us:  Put a small sticky note on the desk next to your journal.  When something comes up that you want to add to your to-do list, write it down there.  DO NOT allow your device with the to-do list app to be there, that rathole enabler will distract you.  At the end of the session, transcribe the valuable things from the post it notes to your regular to do system, or simply get them done.  This one upgrade has alleviated the major objection my monkey mind had to not having a device within hands reach – all those amazing inspirational to-do items that came up during morning pages.  There will be a lot.  But this post-it note system ensures they don’t become a rathole of wasted time.

FREQUENCY:

Do every day for 30 days.  Contemplate the effect on your life.  Continue if positive.  Overall, Morning Pages has earned a place in my morning routine due to the clear benefits I have noticed in my life.  It is the second best ROI on 20 minutes I have during the day (#1 being meditation).

SCIENCE:

Normally on Try This exercises, I reference any science I can find behind the exercise.  I can’t find any scientific studies on MP.  But there are hundreds of positive reviews and testimonials on-line.  While I have a proclivity for evidence based solutions, when the evidence is my own experience, I honor that.

Review: The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much ink has been spilt over Coelho and The Alchemist. Here is some more (e-ink).

Having heard Coelho recently with Krista Tippett ON Being, I was motivated to re-read The Alchemist. The first time I read it was shortly after everyone else read it. Just after Bill Clinton was photographed with the book. That is the first and last time I ever took a cue from Bill Clinton. I wonder if he gave it to Hillary? She should probably read it now. And Bill should re-read it. But I digress.

After a 23 year hiatus, the re-read fell a bit short. My first read was in my late 20’s in Italy as a single guy working for Microsoft. I was searching for something and hungry for guideposts. The Alchemist spoke to me on many levels. At that time, it did help me move in the right direction. Re-reading it today at 52 with three children, an ex wife and multiple careers behind me the context was a bit off. When I read the story around the same time as “the boy” it was motivating and engaging. Today it seems a bit naive and idealistic.

Yet I still rate it 5 stars. Not every book has to connect with me the same way every time. This is truly one of the top ten books anyone under 30 must read. In a weird way I might also put it on the list for those over 50 who are looking for an “act three” in life to also read. For at the core it is a story about moving on, about taking a risk, about having faith, about re-discovering what you know but lost. Despite setbacks it is never too late to regain faith. Go ahead, you won’t be disappointed.

View all my reviews

Review: The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

The PilgrimageThe Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

 

A couple weeks ago I had a long car trip so I caught up on pod casts. One of the backlog was the Paulo Coelho interview with Krista Tippett for On Being. I read The Alchemist years ago and rehearing the story and Coelho’ deep spirituality I decided to read some of his other books. I had also been considering walking the Camino de Santiago and wanted to read more about The Way.

Unfortunately, I was thoroughly disappointed in The Pilgrimage. Ok, it was his first book, written very late in life. But there is nothing special about the book. No great insights, no great narrative, lots of weird magical plot lines without much context. It is unclear how much of the story is supposed to be allegory (as he perfected in The Alchemist) and how much is memoir. I found the story unengaging and plodding. I only finished it to write this review, not because the story was enjoyable or interesting. If you are you read The Alchemist and are looking for more of the same, go forward in his works, not back to The Pilgrimage. Give the Pilgrimage a pass.

There are a few tidbits of appealing philosophy tucked into the book, but they are surrounded by ramblings and magical sword searching so as to be almost unrecognizable. For example,

” Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside you.”

“We kill our dreams because we are afraid to fight the good fight.”

“The first symptom in the process of killing our dreams is the lack of time. The second symptom of the death of our dreams lies in our certainties. …the third symptom of the passing of our dreams is peace.”

“All of us seek eros, and then when eros wants to turn itself into philos, we think that love is worthless. We don’t see that it is philos that leads us to the highest form of love, agape.”

I also found the exercises Petrus gives Paulo during the trip to be useful. I have tried them all. While not as spiritually transformative as daily meditation, they are interesting diversions. Try them.

DO This: 10 minutes of REAL conversation

This exercise is a combination of active listening and free flow creativity that has popped up in a couple of quite diverse events recently, including the Search Inside Yourself newsletter, a mediation retreat and a Catholic mens group.  Every time I do this exercise I learn something new and grow the relationship with the other person.

Grab a friend, lover, acquaintance, or even a random stranger (I did this once at a coffee shop and it was an AMAZING thing), and take 10 minutes to do the following:

Be in a place where you can hear each other clearly and there will not be interruptions and you will not be self-conscious.  Flip a coin to see who starts.  Set a timer for three minutes.  Each person 3 minutes to talk, while the other listens mindfully without comment.  The initial talking should be done stream of consciousness style – without editing or overthinking.  Talk about anything, the weather, what you are doing in the day, how stupid the exercise is, the silly looking person across the room, whatever, the key is to just keep talking non-stop for 3 minutes.  As you speak, simply notice what emotions arise, what you say and how you say it.  The key is to listen mindfully without interrupting and to share without self-critique or editing.  After both have spoken, spend the last 3 minutes in normal conversation together debriefing and reflecting on the exercise.

When I have done this, it is amazing how long talking for three minutes feels like.  It is also interesting to note all the feelings that come up while trying to fill 3 minutes.  When listening, I find myself striving to jump in and encourage someone having a hard time filling the time, or wanting to comment on something. It takes focused effort to allow the speaker to speak.  When speaking and having someone paying full attention for 3 minutes, it is an amazing gift.  Likely those 3 minutes are the most time during that day that you will be consciously aware you have another beings FULL AND UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.  That is an amazing blessing and reminds me to give that level of attention to others more often.

 

DGC Glossary: Gainfully Unemployed

Gainful unemployment has gotten a bad rap as basically lazy freeloaders leaching off society who can’t risk losing benefits by getting a real job.

I am trying to rehabilitate gainful unemployment.  Or take “gainful employment” down a notch.  Often “gainful employment” involves slavish dedication to someone else’s goals in exchange for money that maybe some day you can make enough of to finally pursue your own path.  Employment implies working for “The Man”.  Usually all the money gets consumed maintaining the support systems around earning the money and the hamster wheel spins ever faster.  Regardless of income level.  Stepping off or being kicked off the hamster wheel often elicits a truly Orwellian desire to get back on.  Western society teaches us that “gainful employment” fundamental to everything it means to be alive.  I have a problem with that thesis.

What if unemployment was simply not working for The Man.  What if rather than demonizing the unemployed as lazy freeloaders, we encouraged them to take the time to examine their path and find work that more authentically fit their true selves?  Recently I have been running into more people who are getting it right.  After reading The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami, about the revered path of a wandering mendicant in India, I was struck by the stark contrast in how the unemployed are treated.  In India or Tibet, a buy on the street begging might just be an enlightened guru.  In America that thought wouldn’t even cross anyone’s mind.  The Puritan’s sure did a number on us our collective consciousness when they implanted “hard work” = “good person”, “no work” = “sinner, devil” into our collective consciousness.  What if more people took time pause and consider their path? What if we encouraged it?  Contemplation of your path is the “gainful” part.  If more people were living in alignment with their strengths and authentic selves, wouldn’t we all be better off?  Sometimes that takes a couple tries, and a couple pivots and pauses.

For the last three years I have considered myself “gainfully unemployed”.  I have not had a boss, nor have I been the boss of anyone.  While not on a 9-5 schedule, I have pursued many projects and activities to help myself and others.  I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating the path, the goals, the type and form of goals, exploring various diversions, and connecting with many people and places.  I have invested time and money into many projects across the spectrum.  This blog is part of this contemplation path.  While I don’ t know what the exact destination is, there is alot of activity.  Sometimes it is better to journey than to arrive.

So “gainfully unemployed” is actively taking time to contemplate and explore the path in life on your own terms.  Something I highly recommend for at least a year for everyone who can.