Writers: free you inner voice!

We can all benefit from taking the time to listen to our inner voices. Writers, especially, need to free those inner voices to remove inhibitions and write honestly.

The Dark Half. Directed by: George A. Romero. Writers: Stephen King (novel), George A. Romero (screenplay). Starring: Timothy Hutton.

‘Learning mindfulness (like life in general) will always present difficulties and obstacles. Perhaps you’re pretty nasty to yourself through excessive self-criticism when things don’t work out how you want them to. The way to deal with this harsh inner voice is to listen to it, give it space to unfurl and bring to it a sense of curiosity in a gentle, warm way.’

Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall. Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies.

When the passion dies

Love can be intoxicating, especially in the early stages of the relationship. Later, when reality kicks in and the intensity cools, it’s the perfect time to develop a deeper, more meaningful love.

When the love drug wears off
photo credit: zilverbat. via photopin cc

Human beings,” I inhale my win’s nutmeg steam, “are walking bundles of cravings. Cravings for food, water, shelter, warmth; sex and companionship; status, a tribe to belong to; kicks control, purpose; and so on, all the way down to chocolate-brown bathroom suites. Love is one to satisfy some of these cravings. But love’s not just the drug: it’s also the dealer. Love wants love in return, am I right? Like drugs, the highs look divine, and I envy the users. But when the side effects kick in – jealousy, rages, the grief, I think, Count me out. Elizabethans equated romantic love with insanity. Buddhists view it as a brat throwing a tantrum at the picnic of the calm mind.”

David Mitchell. The Bone Clocks.

‘What few people realize is that an authentic, loving, meaningful relationship typically only develops once the honeymoon phase is over (another fact the songwriters, poets, and pop stars seem oblivious to). In the honeymoon phase, it’s as if you’re on a drug that intoxicates you and plays with your senses. When you’re high on it, your partner seems wonderful. But you’re not seeing reality; you’re merely seeing a drug-induced fantasy. And only when the drug wears off do you see your partner as he really is. And you suddenly realize that the knight’s shining armor is covered in rust spots, and his white horse is really a gray donkey. Or the maiden’s pure silk dress is only cheap nylon, and her long golden locks are really a wig. Naturally this comes as a bit of a shock. But herein lies the opportunity to build an authentic intimate relationship between two people who see each other as they really are. And as this relationship develops, there will be new feelings of love—perhaps not as intense or intoxicating, but infinitely richer and more fulfilling.’

Russ Harris. ACT with Love.

Peace through acceptance

We can get caught up in hateful ideas promoted by others while life offers much more freedom if we all accept our differences.

Peace through acceptance
photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

Totem, tribal, racial, and aggressively missionizing cults represent only partial solutions of the psychological problem of subduing hate by love; they only partially initiate. Ego is not annihilated in them; rather, it is enlarged; instead of thinking only of himself, the individual becomes dedicated to the whole of his society. The rest of the world meanwhile (that is to say, by far the greater portion of mankind) is left outside the sphere of his sympathy and protection because outside the sphere of the protection of his god. And there takes place, then, that dramatic divorce of the two principles of love and hate which the pages of history so bountifully illustrate. Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world. The laws of the City of God are applied only to his in-group (tribe, church, nation, class, or what not) while the fire of a perpetual holy war is hurled (with good conscience, and indeed a sense of pious service) against whatever uncircumcised, barbarian, heathen, “native,” or alien people happens to occupy the position of neighbor.

The world is full of the resultant mutually contending bands: totem-, flag-, and party-worshipers. Even the so-called Christian nations—which are supposed to be following a “World” Redeemer-are better known to history for their colonial barbarity and internecine strife than for any practical display of that unconditioned love, synonymous with the effective conquest of ego, ego’s world, and ego’s tribal god, which was taught by their professed supreme Lord: “I say unto you, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

‘Imagine you live in a small country that shares a border with a hostile neighbour. There is long-standing tension between the two countries. The neighbouring country has a different religion and a different political system, and your country sees it as a major threat. There are three possible scenarios for how your country can relate to its neighbour.

The worst-case scenario is war. Your country attacks, and the other one retaliates (or vice-versa). As both countries get pulled into a major war, the people of both nations suffer. (Think of any major war, and the huge costs involved, in terms of life, money and wellbeing.)

Another scenario, better than the first but still far from satisfactory, is a temporary truce. Both countries agree to a cease-fire, but there is no reconciliation. Resentment seethes beneath the surface, and there is the constant underlying threat that war will break out again. (Think of India and Pakistan, with the constant background threat of nuclear war, and the intense hostility between Hindus and Muslims.)

The third possibility is genuine peace. You acknowledge your differences, and allow them just to be. This doesn’t get rid of the other country, nor does it mean that you necessarily like it or even want it there. Nor does it mean that you approve of its politics or religion. But because you’re no longer at war, you can now use your money and resources to build up the infrastructure of your own country, instead of squandering them on the battlefield.

The first scenario, war, is like the struggle to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. It’s a battle that can never be won, and it consumes a huge amount of time and energy.

The second scenario, a truce, is definitely better, but it’s still a long way from true acceptance. It’s more like a grudging tolerance; there’s no sense of moving forward to a new future. Although there is no active warfare, the hostility remains, and you are resigned to the ongoing tension. A grudging tolerance of thoughts and feelings is better than an outright struggle, but it leaves you feeling stuck and somewhat helpless. It’s a sense more of resignation than of acceptance, of entrapment rather than freedom, of being stuck rather than moving forward.

The third scenario, peace, represents true acceptance. Notice that in this scenario your country doesn’t have to like the other country, approve of its being there, convert to its religion, or learn to speak its language. You simply make peace with them. You acknowledge your differences, you give up trying to change their politics or religion, and you focus your efforts on making your own country a better place to live. It’s the same when you truly accept your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to like them, want them, or approve of them. You simply make peace with them and let them be. This leaves you free to focus your energy on taking action—action that moves your life forward in a direction you value.’

Russ Harris. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Learn to accept your pain

In today’s society, where we can often feel alone, with little guidance to help us with our problems, we can learn new ways to deal with our pain.

photo credit: Diana Mehrez via photopin cc
photo credit: Diana Mehrez via photopin cc

There can be no question: the psychological dangers through which earlier generations were guided by the symbols and spiritual exercises of their mythological and religious inheritance, we today (in so far as we are unbelievers, or, if believers, in so far as our inherited beliefs fail to represent the real problems of contemporary life) must face alone, or, at best, with only tentative, impromptu, and not often very effective guidance. This is our problem as modern, “enlightened” individuals, for whom all gods and devils have been rationalized out of existence. Nevertheless, in the multitude of myths and legends that have been preserved to us, or collected from the ends of the earth, we may yet see delineated something of our still human course. To hear and profit, however, one may have to submit somehow to purgation and surrender. And that is part of our problem: just how to do that. “Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials as came to those who passed away before you?”

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

When we encounter painful content within ourselves, we want to do what we always do: fix it up and sort it out so that we can get rid of it. The truth of the matter (as you have likely experienced) is that our internal lives are not at all like external events. For one thing, humans live in history, and time moves in only one direction, not two. Psychological pain has a history and, at least in that aspect, it is not a matter of getting rid of it. It is more a matter of how we deal with it and move forward.

The “acceptance” in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is based on the notion that, as a rule, trying to get rid of your pain only amplifies it, entangles you further in it, and transforms it into something traumatic. Meanwhile, living your life is pushed to the side. The alternative we will teach in this book is a bit dangerous to say out loud because right now it is likely to be misunderstood, but the alternative is to accept it. Acceptance, in the sense it is used here, is not nihilistic self-defeat; neither is it tolerating and putting up with your pain. It is very, very different than that. Those heavy, sad, dark forms of “acceptance” are almost the exact opposite of the active, vital embrace of the moment that we mean.

Steven Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy.

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Open up to your pain

Pain is inevitable in life. That doesn’t mean we have to suffer from pain. By making room for it, in our bodies and in our lives, we can make the experience a little less bitter.

Open up to your pain
photo credit: – Matso – via photopin cc

This notion of ageing and death is insupportable for the individual human being, in the kind of civilization we live in it develops in a sovereign and unconditional manner, it gradually occupies the whole field of consciousness , it allows nothing else to subsist. In this way, and little by little, knowledge of the world’s constraints is established. Desire itself disappears; only bitterness, jealousy and fear remain. Above all there remains bitterness; an immense and inconceivable bitterness. No civilization, no epoch has been capable of developing such a quantity of bitterness in its subjects. In that sense we are living through unprecedented times. If it was necessary to sum up the contemporary mental state in a word, that’s the one I’d undoubtedly choose: bitterness.

Michel Houellebecq. Whatever.

‘In expansion mode, rather than trying to get rid of unpleasant feelings, we open up and accommodate them. We make room for them and allow them to come and go in their own good time. It doesn’t mean we like them, want them or approve of them; we just stop investing our time and effort in fighting them. And the more space we can give those difficult feelings, the smaller their impact and influence on our lives.

There’s an ancient Indian tale that illustrates this point very well. An old Hindu master was fed up with the continual complaints and grumbles of his apprentice. So one day, he asked the young man to fetch him a cup of water and a bowl of salt. When the young man returned, the master said, ‘Now tip a handful of salt into the water.’ The apprentice did so. The master then swirled the water around in the cup until all the salt had dissolved. ‘Now taste it,’ he said to the apprentice. The apprentice took a sip and screwed up his face in disgust. ‘How does it taste?’ asked the master. ‘Horrible,’ said the apprentice. The master chuckled. ‘Yes, very unpleasant,’ he said. ‘Now follow me.’

They walked down to the edge of a nearby lake, and the master said, ‘Now tip a handful of salt into the lake.’ The apprentice did so. The master said, ‘Now taste the water from the lake.’ The apprentice drank from the lake, and this time he smiled. ‘Not so hard to swallow, eh?’ said the master. ‘This salt is like the inevitable pain of life. In both cases, the amount of salt is the same; but the smaller the container, the greater the bitterness. So when life gives us pain, instead of closing in around it, like this cup, we would do better to enlarge and open, like the lake.’

Russ Harris. The Confidence Gap.

Turn obstacles into opportunities

Try to be aware of your own apparent limitations, learn to accept them without judgement and find energy where there used to be obstacles.

Dear Life by Alice Munro
Dear Life

For years and years I thought that stories were just practice, till I got time to write a novel. Then I found that they were all I could do, and so I faced that. I suppose that my trying to get so much into stories has been a compensation.’

Alice Munro. On Dear Life: An Interview with Alice Munro by Deborah Treisman from The New Yorker.

‘By being with yourself … by watching yourself in your daily life with alert interest, with the intention to understand rather than to judge, in full acceptance of whatever may emerge, because it is there, you encourage the deep to come to the surface and enrich your life and consciousness with its captive energies. This is the great work of awareness; it removes obstacles and releases energies by understanding the nature of life and mind. Intelligence is the door to freedom and alert attention is the mother of intelligence.’

Nisargadatta Maharaj. I Am That

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness

You can learn to live well, says Maya Angelou (born this day 1928) by enjoying life’s little gifts. And forgiveness is the one gift you can give and get every day.

Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now by Maya AngelouLiving well is an art that can be developed: a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings and assurance that the world owes you nothing and that every gift is exactly that, a gift.‘

Maya Angelou. Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

‘Your mind may have a lot to say about forgiveness. It may say that you aren’t strong enough to forgive, that you shouldn’t forgive, or that everything will be better once you forgive. In our experience, strong emotions come up when people think about forgiveness. You may feel anxious, sad, tense, relieved, or content. The key to dealing with these reactions is practicing loving-kindness toward your experiences. They are not your enemy—nor is forgiveness. See if you can imagine giving yourself the gift of forgiveness. You may have to give yourself this gift many, many times. Sharing a cup of coffee with a friend is a gift to yourself; drinking, using, or bingeing and purging is not. Saying no and refusing to be taken advantage of is a gift to yourself. Smiling at the cashier and sharing a joke with a coworker is a gift to yourself; spending hours ruminating on the unfairness of it all isn’t. Reading this book and allowing yourself to soak it in is a gift to yourself. Life will ask you every day, sometimes many times during that day, whether you choose to let yourself off the hook or not. Isn’t that wonderful? Who knew you could be empowered to give yourself a precious gift every day?’

Victoria Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello. Finding Life Beyond Trauma: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Heal from Post-Traumatic Stress and Trauma-Related Problems


How to deal with self-criticism

Self-criticism is part of what the mind does. Don’t ignore your inner censor. Listen, smile, and make peace with those thoughts.

Still Writing by Dani ShapiroIt helps to think of that inner censor as a beloved but annoying friend who has moved in for the duration. That friend is never going away. So you make peace with your inner censor. You say some version of, thanks very much for sharing, and then move on, past that censoring voice, and into your work.”

Dani Shapiro in an interview with Salon.com, talking about her book Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life.

‘Learning mindfulness (like life in general) will always present difficulties and obstacles. Perhaps you’re pretty nasty to yourself through excessive self-criticism when things don’t work out how you want them to. The way to deal with this harsh inner voice is to listen to it, give it space to unfurl and bring to it a sense of curiosity in a gentle, warm way.

I used to be very self-critical of everything I did. When I first practised yoga, for example, I thought about how bad I was at doing the poses. The voice telling me I’m bad at yoga comes back occasionally, but now I simply notice it and usually smile when I hear it. The negative thought usually dissipates quickly after that and I and I can carry on with my yoga (which I am now better at through steady practice!).’

Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall. Mindfulness Workbook For Dummies