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The world seems a little obsessed with “5 Hour Energy.” I’m a little concerned about the long term effects of this drink. I don’t know what’s in it and do not mean to endorse it. But I like the concept. Being in the zone is critical in sports and helpful in just about anything you take on.

That zone is really only about focus. Directed energy in the present moment. This attention keeps you looking in one direction. What could you accomplish if you were willing to give energy in the present moment to one thing? “I choose this.” That’s all focus is. You are in the zone when you say, this is all I’m doing.

Multi-tasking is okay now and again. When necessary, it’s helpful to be able to do it. But when you really want to get something done, be a success, do your best at something, the more focus you have, the better your chances for a good outcome.

No wonder everyone wants this drink.

There’s a lot of scattered energy these days. Multiple e-mails and conflicting demands are coming at us all the time and encourage that helter-skelter focus. On the contrary, anything that keeps our attention on a goal we can wrap ourselves around with energy and passion is far more productive. And it doesn’t have to come in a bottle!

Can’t we generate focus on our own? Without taking something? Think more about what you could do if you were willing. Choose one place you really want to put your energies. Make a commitment and focus your attention.

What human beings can do! Combing energies with others, we can give generously, do phenomenal things in sports, generate money, save the planet. Wow!

It is, officially, NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month.  Though I think this is a noble endeavor, I haven’t yet been able to wrap my mind around the practicality of writing an entire novel in a month.  Being a strong believer in rewriting, I’m not sure I could do it.  However, I see the value in that even if one comes out with a hastily tossed together first draft, it’s a whole lot better than none.  Having something in the works can provide ample motivation to keep going.

But, alas, though I have a novel, it has taken me far more than a month to write it.  Started in the early 2000’s and put on a shelf somewhere mid-way through the decade, to make room for more practical writing assignments.  I’ve resuscitated it over the last year or so and making slow, but steady progress, through the monthly meetings with my blessed critique group. Giving much of my time to non-fiction writing these days, it’s not always easy to find time for fiction.  This constant attention keeps it in my life.

This is why I’ve set up my own National Novel Month (NANOMO)  exercise.  I’ve fashioned it to fit into my schedule and style.  My process is simple: Every day I must do something on the book.  It doesn’t matter how much. Some days I work on organizing the scattered papers. Another I might write a whole chapter.  I could take notes on what is to come or read a few pages of notes.  It’s okay if some days all I can do is think about it for a few minutes.  It doesn’t matter what I do or how much time I spend.  It’s about giving attention to it each and every day.

The point of this, as Julia Cameron says in Finding Water is, “it does add up.”  I plan for as much of the long Thanksgiving weekend as I can to work on it.  Last year, when I did this, I was raring to go by the end of the month!  My small efforts every day had built into a head of steam.  I dug in and got a whole lot done!

It’s a good lesson in perseverance.  Whatever you pay attention to adds up.  You can use this for all kinds of things like making money, improving your look, or getting into college.

I honor the Novel this month by choosing to give it my time every single day.

I always pay attention when I hear the same message from two or more sources.  This time it was about the importance of asking.  You just can’t get it if you don’t ask for it.

Though forming that question isn’t as easy as it seems.  But form it you must. Specifics are key.  The clearer you are about what you’re asking for, the easier it is to get an answer.

There is a second part to asking: Listening.  When you ask another person it’s only right to listen to what they have to say.  It’s not essential that you use everything they offer, but you do need to listen to it all. Carefully.

When you’re asking the Universe or your inner self, it is even more critical that you listen.  You never know where the answer may come from.  So it’s doubly important to listen carefully.  And keep that question in your mind!

Ask well, listen intently and the answer will come.

How is that I can be a few inches above the ground, floating on enthusiasm one day . . .  the enthusiasm of God filling me to brimming, feeling great and productive, shining that light? And the next day, the sun is gone, the printer’s acting up, the cat is trying, I’m getting nowhere? All my enthusiasm drained out of me.
    
It happens, I know.  So, what can be done about it?  Perhaps I could have a back up supply ready.  That could be a list of those things that make me feel enthusiastic: my dream, my projects, my loved ones.

It’s true that sometimes I just need a little downtime. When I can’t make things happen, maybe it’s better to not try so hard.  Take a break, breathe a little.  Getting a change of scenery can sometimes work wonders.  

Maria Nemeth, in her brilliant book “The Energy of Money,” talks about energy leaks.  If we can leak money through small, unconscious expenses, we can also lose physical energy with small, unconscious expenditures of fear and worry.

Keeping a watchful, attentive eye on where my energy leaks are can be helpful.  SARK talks a lot about controlling our energy.  But it begins with observation.  Noticing what drains my energy helps to know how to patch it. Taking good care is always a good place to start.  Listening to find out what my body needs

Another solution might be to stoke the momentum that’s already going, using it. If I’m hot into a project, leave a little bit to get me started tomorrow.  Keep my enthusiasm up around a long-term project by remembering why I’m doing it or finding new ways to go.  Acting while the iron’s still hot always works. I could find small ways to keep the fires burning in between sessions with a project.

Just being conscious of where my enthusiasm level is will likely reveal many ways.  

In honor of the Oscars I wanted to post this. I do believe, as creative beings, art is necessary in our lives.  However, there is a lot of crap out there.  It becomes a meaningful spiritual experience when we behold something truly great. I saw the film “3 Colors: Blue” recently.  It was clearly a great film. Certainly a cut above so much of what’s out there.  But, I wondered, why is that?  I don’t know what criteria is used for the Oscars, but here are mine:

First rate acting, of course.  Since this film was largely Juliette Binoche as the heart, it was her acting which really needed to be on.  And she was fabulous!

As a writer, I always look for good writing.  This film, though brilliantly written, was not about the words. Maybe that’s not so crucial.  Let’s say the writing needs to be top notch to be a great film, there just doesn’t have to be a lot of it.

What it also had was stunning and often thought-provoking visuals.  A film is, after all, a visual medium. Stories should be told substantially through the scenes.  What you see in a great film has almost as much to do with the story and character development as the words they’re speaking.

It is a foreign film.  So the action was sparse, as well.  The thread of the story, though, pulled you along.  That must be a qualification: a strong thread.

It was deep.  About deep emotions and thoughts.  It dared to show day-to-day activities, ones we can all relate to, which illustrate and often confront that emotion.

There was a scene where a cube of sugar is dipped into a cup of coffee.  The writer and director, Krzysztof Kieslowski, in the extras, gave us a rather extensive description of what that action was to represent and how the absorption had to be exactly 5 seconds long.  He told of all the time they took to get just the right sugar cube!  Careful attention to the details is always the hallmark of a great film.

God is in the details.  And so is a great film. A careful (if not obsessive ) eye on everything is essential, making sure everything contributes to the story, pulls the thread and moves the emotion and attention of the viewers.

Sometimes these details come out in happy coincidences (or the hand of the muse.)  In the original version of this story, our heroine was supposed to be seen regularly jogging.  They ended up having to change it to swimming.  This more closely evoked the emotional distance they were trying to portray, as well as giving another blue light to the film.  Perfect!

People who care, bring together the right elements, no matter the budget and allow fate and circumstances to fill in the rest.  Perhaps this comes from the clear vision of the director, allowing for changes, but knowing the true intent.

I think a great film has to have something to say.  Messages of all stripes are welcome. What’s most crucial is that the makers of the film are clear about what it is they want to say and feel it’s important.  I like to see some growth in the main character, too. The film, to be great, needs to have a purpose, a point to make.  (Sometimes that point may be that we need funny movies.  See Sullivan’s Travels – another great film.)

In summary I’d say a great film has to have something to say, to share.  It must have exceptionally good acting (at least from the central character), visuals which, along with strong writing express well, a compelling story.

When you finish watching a great film, you should feel something.  You can tell you were affected in some way.  There’s a sense of awe and quiet.  You know you were just in the presence of greatness.

Part 2 of 2 – see below.  (This post is kind of meant to be read AFTER the previous post.)

I have written before about “The Wealthy Spirit,” a delightful book from Chellie Campbell.  In the book you will find an essay for each day of the year, along with a quote and an affirmation.  One of the essays is about the voices we hear in our heads.  Often these voices came from parents, teachers and other adults we were around as children. In one column Chellie lists the negative voices and another gives us positive words we can use to drown out the negative. Things like “Can’t you do anything right?” or “It’s for your own good,” can be replaced with more loving ones like “You can do anything you put your mind to” or “I appreciate you.”

One of my favorites is “Let’s create some fun together.”  I remember many times, as a child, when I was scheduled to go somewhere and at the last minute, I couldn’t.  Or when I asked if I could do something and was told that I couldn’t.  Children are not always soothed by the facts: “I’m sorry.  The car broke down and I can’t take you.”   “They cancelled the party.  There’s no place to go.”  These messages may not sink in, may not matter when your heart was set on it.  All you’re left with is a feeling of being deeply disappointed.

But what if someone said, “Maybe you can’t do that fun thing, but let’s you and I create some fun together”?  What a wonderful thing to do for a child! Offer him something fun to do.  What else might feel good right now?  Let’s accept the disappointment and move on. There are other enjoyable things in life. “We can sit down and draw or play a game together.  I’d say these are two of a child’s favorite things: playing and getting time and attention.

Play is a chunk of time to do something you really love to do.  For me, it would include creativity.  Doing art is how I like to play.   I emphasis doing because play entails some kind of activity.  While taking a bath might be thoroughly delightful and a healthy thing to do, it is not, strictly, “play.”  Playing might be taking a walk in the woods.  Better still, swimming.

Play is an amazingly healing thing.  But I think most of us don’t play enough.  Sure, there’s rest, but I’m talking about play.

One of the gifts of play is to use it when you’re otherwise disappointed by plans.  When plans change and you’re given a gift of time.  What are you going to do with it?  Sometimes that can be overwhelming.  Especially when you’re used to working all the time (see below).

Many times, when I find myself with unexpected time, I just don’t know what to do. Surely there must be something productive I can do with it.  That would be the thing to do, wouldn’t it?  Particularly since I’m always feeling behind. This could be a chance to catch up.  But then I find myself whining, “I doan wanna.  I want to do what I was planning to do!”

Wouldn’t it be great to use this disappointment to do something good for yourself? I try to keep a list of ways to play when I find free time. Play can be a perfect filler when your energy is cranked up anyway. Though I’ve not been very good at it (see the previous post), I think it’s important to figure out what would be fun for you.  Knowing this can really help a workaholic!

I happen to think that it’s a personal definition.  For some, going to a party is fun.  Not so much for me.  There are, of course, harmful ways to play.  But what I’m trying to get at here is just that one person’s play is another’s bore or turn off.

What a shame most of us didn’t have parents to model that for us.  Wouldn’t it have been great if we were taught how to make fun from disappointment?  Given tools for discovering what fun and play is for us?  What a great skill it would be to take with you into the world!

Now I am all for things that are productive AND play. Ultimately, isn’t that the idea?  To get to a place where everything is play. Cool, now I’m playing the Work game, digging my work, playing this part. Oh, now it’s time to play the Family/Loved Ones game!  Now I get to play with people I love.  How cool is that?  Next I’m going to be playing the Game of Caretaker, tending to needs.  Tomorrow I think I’ll play the Sports Game. . .

Life would feel a whole lot better if we played all the time.  What an amazing gift to give the art of re-setting to a child!  Easy to do, too. Just help them to find alternate plans. Create fun with them. Show them how good it can be when what you wanted or expected doesn’t show up!

Giving presents is what everyone does – especially at this time of year.  Can we be more creative and find other ways to give?

What may come to mind first is giving money.  That’s an easy one to do, if you have it. You don’t have to have a fortune to give money, though.  In some spiritual circles, you’re encouraged to give, even when you don’t think you have it. Giving money can make you feel abundant.

Another one that comes readily to mind is giving time.  This kind of giving can manifest in many different ways.  You could, of course, give your time to help someone with a chore.  Sometimes just showing up and spending time with someone can be a gift.  It might only be your company that makes someone feel less alone.  Other times your presence might support what someone is doing.

Giving time, of course, can be about volunteering.  So often our time is taken up in self-centric activities, such as earning our wages or tending to our surroundings. Volunteering your time, giving it freely for the good of someone else can be very freeing.

Giving can mean handing over some of your possessions to those with less.  Maybe it is a gift you’ve purchased just for someone special. A phone call or letter might touch someone’s heart at just the right time and be a gift.  As I’ve found recently, giving my attention to a project can make a real difference.

An area of giving that doesn’t get talked about much is giving to yourself.  Maybe there’s something you’ve really been needing lately.  If you take the time and the money to go out and get it for yourself, that can be considered giving.  You might just decide to give yourself permission to go after what you want or to be sad because you didn’t get something you wanted.

Giving can happen spontaneously.  It can be so fast you could miss it, if you’re not watching. You could be walking along the street and come across someone who’s dropped their packages, stoop over and help them gather their things. Opening the door for someone who’s struggling. Giving someone space to express their opinions without interrupting or arguing could be a generous gift at times. Others may just need you to give them permission to be who they are or your acceptance for what they’re trying to do.

Perhaps you could give of yourself – something you know, what you’ve learned or what you think.  You could give a recommendation, a referral or a kidney.  I often like to give compliments. Giving encouragement can also be very helpful.  You could give a day off, a free pass, or a leg up.

Whenever you can give something to yourself or someone else, most particularly something of your own, it warms and expands your heart. And strengthens your giving muscle.

In a recent issue of Cheryl Richardson’s newsletter, she talked about listening to your body.

The body is a wonderful communicator if you but listen to it.  If you don’t, it will make itself known. Try ignoring the signs that you’re overwhelmed, overworked and under tended.  Watch your body poke you in the chest and force you to sit down and rest.

The body doesn’t lie.  It will let you know when you’re hungry, when you’re cold, and when you’re angry.  Your body doesn’t get caught up in maybe you should or maybe you shouldn’t.  It doesn’t care what others think.  Listening to your body and heeding its call can help you avoid a lot of problems and pitfalls.

When I want to know what I’m thinking, I get quiet and listen to how I feel.  How my body is feeling. The body is much easier to read.  Are my muscles tight, where are my shoulders, how am I sitting?  Is my throat dry, my eyes sharp, my energy high?  I have found this creates a direct line into my thoughts. All that’s needed is a little space.

During the day it always pays to take a moment to check on how your body is feeling.  (Even if you don’t have time to sit and analyze your thoughts.)  A quick scan will help you find center again, adjust your position and focus more intently on what you’re doing.

It is so important to pay attention to these physical indicators.  They will help you have a much happier and easier life.  As well as a more productive day.

I have been running lately.  More than usual.  Doing two jobs – one much harder than my usual one.  Seems like everyone wants me for something, all the time.  I’ve even had things to do after work!  Today was the first day I took a real lunch – away from my desk.

I find this a difficult way to live.  Perhaps there are some who’ve become accustomed to it.  That might be even worse: to be numb to the time and connection missing.

I encourage those who live in this constant stream to take some time this weekend to really relax and see how it feels.  Can you do it?  Think about steps you could take to find more time in your life (outside of vacation) to slow down a little and listen to your thoughts.

Some may be resistant to that, but there’s really nothing so scary in your thoughts.  When you take the time to listen, sometimes, you will find they calm down. All they really wanted was a little attention. You may still, afterwards, be moving at the same speed, but there will be a calmness at the center, reminding you.  You might be more willing to take those steps to bring more quiet into your life.  All from taking a little time.

Even if it’s just a minute or two here and there. Honor your thoughts’ need to be heard.  We can all find a little time to pay more attention.

What do you do when you’re humming along, moving in the flow and then thwack!  You stub you toe?  You might stub it on an obstacle  left in your foot path,  a hiccup in your plans, an unexpected bill or illness.

If you’re like me, your reaction is to get mad at yourself for not paying attention, not seeing the hazard ahead.  It’s quite easy for me to skip off into other times I haven’t watched where I was going or how things like this ALWAYS happen to me!

It’s difficult when you’re smacked in the face by an unforseen obstacle, such as a car or computer breakdown, expectations unfulfilled and other such left field stray balls.

This wayward ball  can often throw you off course and leave you feeling defeated, angry, victimized or otherwise closed to the abundant flow.

I find it hard at that point, to bring myself back.  This week, I was flowing along, paying good attention and allowing all the little things to fall away.  I’m not going to get hung up on this and allow my thoughts to go negative, I say.  I’m staying present and happy with life.  No, that’s not going to get me either . . .  What happens?  I find myself in a massive traffic jam.  I get a little crazy when no one is moving at all. “Usual” traffic progresses, albeit slowly.  But when there’s an accident or lane blockage, there is, what feels like, no progress.  Minutes go by and the car only moves a few inches.  It’s at this point I begin to panic and wonder what I’m doing there!  I calculate the time wasted, stress over the wear and tear on the car and end up cussing at my life, along with the other drivers.

Very negative. Very closed.  Very unhappy.

It irks me to know I have such limits.  Why can’t I accept all that happens?  Why are there some things I can’t float through?  I know my fussing does nothing to move me any closer to my destination. There seem to be tributaries of my negative thinking.  Say I accept what’s happening now.  But, I ask myself, how many other times have I been in this situation? Why haven’t I been able to get myself out of this?  What flaw has kept me stuck in this predicament, susceptible to such frustrations?  If I sit long enough, I might even find someone else to blame for it.

It’s true that many walls that toes stub are much bigger and thicker than interminable traffic.  For instance, if I was in the car that caused this jam . . . Surely, sitting behind the wreckage, I have the time to control my thoughts, gain perspective, and put myself back on track.  Before I slam into that threatening wall.

I guess it’s hard when you’re facing the culprit, head on.  But, I feel, this is exactly the time to work on it.  The best tactic seems to be to talk with yourself.  Out loud, if you can.  Tell yourself it’s okay.  Heal the wounds first.  Make sure you show concern for yourself and the situation you are in.  You might slide into gratitude, if you’ve calmed yourself down enough: “I’m grateful it wasn’t my accident. I’m grateful for the cell phone so I won’t leave anyone hanging.  It’s a nice day and the music is humming.”

This is a the time to remind yourself there’s nothing you can do about it  at the moment.  If there are changes to be made, they don’t have to be enacted right no. Assure yourself that it will end and you will be able to clear your head and make a new choice.

This is really good practice. Not only will it make you better able to brush off smaller things, it will also prepare you for those bigger obstacles. Watch your progress and see how often and how quickly you can find that flow again.

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