Joy Held's Writer Wellness

"Be well, write well."

GUEST POST: Staying Productive in the Cold

Snowy Greensburg J.D. Cook

Welcome J. D. COOK, a fellow student at Seton Hill University. It gets pretty chilly in January during residency in Greensburg, PA, but J. D. sees some benefits. Read on!

“Staying Productive in the Cold”

By: J.D. Cook

This past January the Seton Hill Writers in Popular Fiction Residency reached sub-zero temperatures. There was some delightful snow and ice on top of that. Additionally, my hotel sat on a large hill, the city of Greensburg is filled with hills, and Seton Hill is, obviously, on a hill. Suffice it to say; my car did a fair amount of sliding. I may or may not have seen my life flash before my eyes a few times, but when all was said and done, I managed to make a productive week of it. How is that, do you ask?

Low Temps J.D. Cook

Well, since it was so cold no one wanted to spend a lot of time outdoors. Networking was at a minimum, and I only went out to eat with friends once. So, I did what any writer should do when trapped by nasty weather. I wrote. I didn’t outline any new novels, and I didn’t make any major plot breakthroughs, but I did grind away at some revision ideas. Additionally, I accomplished something I’m not sure I’ve ever really done before.

I wrote, read, and got assignments done while away from the comfort zone of my desk. Most writers should be familiar with the odd sense of Zen that pervades their desk. I’ve taken this to a ridiculous extreme by refusing to part with the desk I’ve written on since middle school. It’s a little beat up, but I’ve done my best work on it by golly. So, you can understand how big of an accomplishment this was for me.

While writing away from my desk was new for me, the wintry weather was not. I hail from the mountain town of Hazleton, which is one of the highest elevated cities in the state. The thing about the extreme cold is that you have no excuse not to hunker down and focus on your writing, or reading. You can’t say, but it’s such a lovely day, and I need to be seizing it. You can’t say that you should be seeing that movie everyone’s discussing. No, you are stuck inside, and as long as you don’t go all ‘Jack Torrance in the Shining’ on anyone, you should be able to get whatever you need to do done. It can be incredibly relaxing just to let go of the outside world for a few hours and focus on a single thing in your house, or in my case a hotel room.  Then, when you come out of your isolation, you’ll leave with a newfound sense of accomplishment.

Overall, the January Residency is usually freezing. It’s a good counterpoint to the June Residency, which is carefree and warm. In January you get to spend more time doing the dirty work of writing. You get to hunker over a hotel room desk doing work. There’s something just as wonderful about that as there is about mingling with my fellow writers, but I could still do without the icy roads.

J. D. Cook Headshot

-J.D. Cook is a Creative Writer in Training. If you are interested in learning more about his journey check out www.jeremiahdylancook.com

Thanks, J. D.

Be well, write well!

~hugs

Joy

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Joy E. Held is the author of Writer Wellness, A Writer’s Path to Health and Creativity, a college educator, blogger, and yoga/meditation teacher. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Romance Writers Report, Dance Teacher Now, Yoga Journal, and Woman Engineer Magazine.

Photo: K. Held

Photo: J. D. Cook

Copyright 2018, Joy E. Held

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Word Power: IDIOT

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What’s In a Word?

There are five primary areas of practice to the Writer Wellness plan. Relaxation/meditation, creative play, fitness and exercise, journaling, and nutrition.

Word power is an occasional comment from me on–words. My love of words is one of the reasons I became a writer.

I’ve never been a fan of the word “idiot.” It is the ultimate insult to someone’s intelligence in most circles. But words, particularly prickly ones like ‘idiot,’ get popularized through overuse by a group or a celebrity or some other pop culture phenomenon. Apparently, “idiot” is a new favorite word in the world of entertainment.

There is the Alpha Books series “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to fill-in-the-blank” http://www.idiotsguides.com/

My daughters loved the Broadway musical “American Idiot,” a rock opera performed by the group Green Day.

http://americanidiotonbroadway.com/

And there’s the “Idiot Proof Diet” with a picture of a cartoon character saying, “I’m a certified idiot,” with a big smile on her face.

http://idiotproofdiet.com/

I mean, who wants to be an idiot? It’s the greatest reverse psychology marketing idea ever, isn’t it? You don’t want to be an idiot so you need the information or the product in your arsenal to prove you aren’t an idiot.

But then two comedians (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant) come up with an idea for a television show called “An Idiot Abroad.” And even though the word idiot still rubs me the wrong way, this reality series is hysterical in a funny and perhaps a not so funny way.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1702042/

While he’s never actually referred to as the idiot, Gervais and Merchant have convinced Karl Pilkington to visit the seven wonders of the world because he’s a stay-at-home-and-happy-to-be-there Brit who’s not the most culturally aware fellow you’ll ever meet. Or maybe he is. What’s so funny is seeing yourself in what he says and does in all these countries when faced with some culturally bizarre (by some terms) foods, customs, and traffic. Imagine Archie Bunker getting a back wax in Brazil so he can wear a Samba costume to Carnivale. That’s Karl Pilkington, just no recliner or cigar.

For instance, not too long into the travels, he becomes obsessed with toilets when he discovers that they are not the same abroad as he’s used to at home. He hates crowds, parties, and planning, so everywhere he goes Gervais and Merchant have arranged for Pilkington to participate in some major cultural phenomenon that tests his patience and sometimes his stomach. Mostly what Pilkington does is complain. He witnesses the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil and all he has to say about it is the price of a can of Coke is too much, and they can get away with it because there is nothing to compete with.

Needing a voice of reason among the cackles, I turn to Webster. “Idiot, n. 1. Psychol. A person of profound mental retardation.” Just when I think this isn’t going to help, I read, “No longer in scientific use and considered offensive.”

In my opinion, it is ignominious to call someone an idiot. What’s your opinion on the word idiot?

Be well, write well.

~hugs,

Joy

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Joy E. Held is the author of Writer Wellness, A Writer’s Path to Health and Creativity, a college educator, blogger, and yoga/meditation teacher. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Romance Writers Report, Dance Teacher Now, Yoga Journal, and Woman Engineer Magazine.

Photo: K. Held

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Copyright 2018, Joy E. Held

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Am I Meditating?

How Do You Know If You’re Meditating?

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There are five primary areas of practice to the Writer Wellness plan. Relaxation/meditation, creative play, fitness and exercise, journaling, and nutrition.

“Success is never a destination—it’s a journey.”                 ~Satenig St. Marie,

Unless we have a homemade brain wave monitoring machine, we usually don’t have the means to measure our level of success with meditation in a scientific sense. We can feel certain changes and measure them to a degree. The average meditation journey should experience three specific measurable stages:

1.Tension-this is where we notice just how tight our jaw bones are, how sore our backs are and how busy our minds tend to be.

2.Letting go-this is when we notice some of the tension releasing and our breathing is slowing down.

3.THERE-this is when we become aware of very few things, less and less bothers us physically and mentally we realize our thoughts have slowed down, and we can control whether or not we want to follow monkey mind down its ragged path. We do not follow monkey mind.

These stages coincide with known and studied brain wave activity.

1.Tension = Beta (busy, busy, busy mind)

2.Letting go = Alpha (focused awareness on our breath and what it’s doing, fewer thoughts)

3.THERE = Theta (just about to cross the hazy boundary into slumber-ville)

Sleep isn’t meditation, and theta is the gatekeeper of sleep, so the goal is to remain relaxed and aware at the alpha level. Regardless of how messy the day has been, a successful meditation session need only give us a conscious pause from the issues we’re dealing with and that’s enough. Yep. It only takes a few minutes a day to meditate successfully. But what does a successful meditation practice “feel” like?

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This brings up the question of goals. Should we have goals where meditation is concerned? Is it better to let things take their course and follow along?

Like yoga, meditation is a blend of healthy balance. It’s right to set a goal to meditate for a specific amount of time each day. It’s right to practice particular habits like sitting still and watching breath flow. But it isn’t right to set expectations beyond the realm of the realistic. Why? Because unlike measuring the fact that our brain activity actually slows down during meditation, it creates more stress to attach a measurement or a benchmark for meditation. “If I don’t find perfect peace in my life in three months of meditating, I failed and will give up meditating.” Or “I should notice a major shift in my actions in a set period of time, and if I don’t I will stop meditating because it just isn’t for me.” These are normal examples of our “quick fix”, I-want-it-now mindsets, and this doesn’t work with meditation.

With meditation, the less you expect, the more you receive.

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To answer the question of what successful meditation feels like, beyond the physical and mental releases (which may not feel gigantic, but they occur,) the positive results of regular meditation show themselves in our everyday actions.

1.We are more patient.

2.We smile more.

3.We laugh bigger.

4.We appreciate little things more.

5.We share more.

6.We hold the door more often.

7.We focus better.

8.We are healthier.

9.We are brave.

10.We trust more.

11.We think the best first.

12.We are less critical of ourselves and others.

13.We are more accepting.

14.We are more loving.

15.We are more truthful.

16.We are more understanding.

17.We are more creative.

18.We are more of who we were meant to be.

19.We are better drivers.

20.We are better listeners.

It’s a long journey worth every step. Do you have any meditation stories to share from your journey?

Be well, write well.

~hugs,

Joy

JoyHeldHeadshot3

Joy E. Held is the author of Writer Wellness, A Writer’s Path to Health and Creativity, a college educator, blogger, and yoga/meditation teacher. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Romance Writers Report, Dance Teacher Now, Yoga Journal, and Woman Engineer Magazine.

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Photo: K. Held, 2011

Copyright 2018, Joy E. Held

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Avoid These Seven Workout Mistakes!

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Avoid These Seven Workout Mistakes!

1.No pain, no gain- Listen to your body. Know when it’s had enough. This takes a great deal of practice, however, to know the difference between whining and warning. Better to pull back before something gets hurt.

2.Timing-an erratic workout schedule confuses your body and your brain. Try to exercise close to the same time each day.

3.Not enough exercise-it takes the body and brain up to twenty minutes just to warm-up and be ready to exercise. Devote enough time to your workouts to make them productive.

4.Talking too much- Focus on the workout for the body and don’t complicate things with comments or running conversations. Do focus on breathing.

5.Too much water-Drinking fluids during a workout can cause stomach cramps because when the liquid hits the stomach blood rushes to digest it. This drains valuable oxygen from the muscles which need it for energy. Drink before and after a workout but try to avoid drinking during the session.

6.Not enough recovery time-Plan exercise routines of varying intensities and space them out over several days.

7.The wrong clothing-Wearing improper clothing will interfere with the body’s ability to move safely. No jeans or big floppy shirts that cover your face when upside down in Downward Facing Dog pose. You need to breathe!

Do you have any workout experiences to share?

Be well, write well.

~hugs,

Joy

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Creativity Activities To Begin the New Year

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Creativity Activities to Begin the New Year

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the

                intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.

                The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

                                C.G. Jung

                                Psychiatrist

 

Creativity is effort applied to problem-solving resulting in something that didn’t exist before. Creative play is anything that constructively enlivens your spirit while challenging your mind. While the brain helps organize the materials and the process, the mind/spirit supplies the energy and the daring and the questions necessary to find new answers.

 

Hobbies are also known as creative play. Think you don’t have time for a hobby? Find activities that are creatively productive but that add dimension to your writing as well. However, it is advisable to engage in creative play outside the writing world. Perhaps you will see how writing is connected, even foundational, to all the arts in some way.

 

Creative Play Tips

 

  1. Collage: Spend no more than 3 hours creating a collage from magazine cut-outs that relates to some aspect of your current writing project.
  2. Letters: Write a letter, poem, or journal entry as one of the characters from your current work-in-progress.
  3. Positive Affirmations: Use index cards and create a set of positive affirmation cards for yourself that encourage you to stay on task, finish a certain number pages, send queries, etc. Carry one per day in your pocket.
  4. Scrapbook: Create a scrapbook page about some honor or goal for your writing. Put a picture of yourself writing on the page and state the honor/goal.
  5. Contact me: Write a letter to me.
  6. Connect: Attend a writing conference.
  7. View Art: See a play, art exhibit, or a movie.
  8. Exercise & Write: Take a walk with a small notepad and pen. Stop and make notes about anything that pops into your mind.
  9. Gaming the Old Fashioned Way: Play cards or a board game with family and friends.

10. Color: Color in a coloring book. Draw or paint.

What creative ideas are you planning for the new year?

Be well, write well.

~hugs,

Joy

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A Liquid Mind Can Be Messy

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A singular goal of meditation is to learn acceptance and therefore patience. If we accept the truth of ourselves and decide to live that authenticity in our daily activities, we will surely become more aware of our inadequacies. By the same token, we notice these weaknesses in other people. “We are only human,” (and flawed ones at that) becomes an overused excuse for not wanting to make the effort to be better, to change.

If meditation practice brings us face to face with our true natures, then why would we want to do it? Because knowing the reality of who we are releases us from the burden of trying to be something and someone we aren’t. It’s a very liberating feeling to make choices from a strong and energetic place of, “This is who I am, and this decision comes from that source, the me-energy I am.”

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How can a few minutes of sitting motionless and without dwelling on thinking bring us to a place of fully understanding our true natures? These moments are the only ones in the day when we are free from having to meet anyone else’s expectations. Our lives are all built upon living up to the demands, requests, promises, and instructions given to us by other people. They are perfectly within their rights to offer these requests.

Our personal stress comes from trying to meet obligations put upon us that do not match what we believe about who we are and what we’re capable of. It’s stressful to be inside this pressure yet it’s how everyone’s life is lived in contemporary society. There are rules, boundaries, expectations, precautions, and on and on that define how we live. These demands do not have to define who we live our lives as.

Meditation allows us to discover and stay connected to our authentic selves and later it gives us the strength to accept and appreciate ourselves and others regardless of flaws. Because we learn in meditation to accept and appreciate our true natures, we are better equipped to offer the same considerations to other people. But we’re only human.

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I call this having a liquid mind because during meditation I am soft and flowing physically, mentally, and emotionally and the feeling is like warm water all around and through me. After taking a deep cleansing breath, opening my eyes, and getting up from the meditation cushion, I notice this liquid feeling, and I make a point to say to myself, “I will do my best to carry this warm, juicy feeling into my experiences today.”

Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it is messy. Like a coffee cup filled beyond the brim, hot feelings can overflow and burn me when I encounter people with agendas, misconceptions, and fears.

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I’m only human, a flawed one at that, but I try to pause before I respond to the burning liquid being thrown my way. I try, but sometimes, because I’m only human, my true self says, “You need to clean that up, honey. I left my maid uniform at home.” And I go back to the cushion seeking more practice at patience and acceptance.

Is meditation helping you cope with something or someone in a better way?

Be well, write well.

~hugs,

Joy

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Housework Is Not Exercise

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“I’m going to clean this dump—just as soon as the kids are grown.”

                ~Erma Bombeck

Erma Bombeck is probably the reason I love being a Mom but hate cleaning. She always wrote about hating housework. I read her in the local paper when I was young and to this day think of her column about changing the toilet paper roll every time I do it. She’s the one who asked many years ago why she was the one person solely responsible for refilling the toilet paper when the house was full of other capable people who could accomplish the chore just fine. But any time she sat down, well, being the only one “in charge” of the changing, sometimes she was caught without. Why didn’t the person who used the last sheet recognize the condition and refill the roll instead of leaving it to her? Bombeck never discovered the answer to my knowledge and neither have I, but I keep extra rolls really close by because it happens all the time. Why me?

Cooking and baking are very spiritual, satisfying activities for me, but I really would rather not have to clean house. I love a clean house, and I’m good at cleaning, but it drains me to the point I have nothing left with which to exercise. And I love exercise. However, I’ve never quite bought into the concept of housework as exercise. The idea is flawed in many ways.

1.Exercise is enjoyable. Cleaning house is not. Who wants to clean hair off the floor behind the toilet for heaven’s sake? The bending required isn’t healthy and neither are the fumes. No physical benefit and no improvement in breathing technique. But I know the gunk is there and eventually I have to swab it out at the expense of my exercise for the day. Ugh.

2.Exercise has recognizable rewards like tone muscles and improved attitude. House cleaning has little if any rewards. I no sooner am dumping the mop water down the drain as a person or a dog is coming in the room with dirty feet or paws. “I just mopped!” is greeted with, “Looks nice, dear.” Grrrrr.

3.Exercise has many success stories. There is no one to my knowledge (if they existed there would be a reality TV show about them) who has lost weight, toned up, and kept off the pounds from cleaning house.

“I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes—and six months later you have to start all over again.”

                ~Joan Rivers

 Household chores must be accomplished, however, and many writers have designed a routine to think about writing projects while folding laundry and mentally working out plot problems while running the vacuum cleaner. But these jobs don’t count as exercise, so it’s off to the gym! Have you achieved fitness by cleaning the house? Prove it!

“Women with clean houses do not have finished books.”

                ~Joy Held

 

“Be well, write well.”

~Joy

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Creative Being

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Creativity, like beauty, is sometimes “in the eye of the beholder.” A homemade greeting card with hand printed sentiments looks cheap to some people while to others it says the creator means to share a heartfelt idea with more than just a dollar bill. Many, many people are mistaken when they believe they aren’t creative. We are all creative to some degree every day. It’s a matter of how and collecting the ideas into something meaningful to someone else.

“I’m sorry that our country and the people do not consider the arts as vital to our well-being as, say, medicine. Suffering is unnecessary. It doesn’t make you a better artist; it only makes you a hungry one. However, to me the acquisition of the craft of writing was worth any amount of suffering.”

                ~Rita Mae Brown

I wish I could draw more than stick figures. Somewhere in my grade school days, I remember a teacher saying, “Your handwriting is perfect, but the picture of the cat leaves something to be desired.” I didn’t continue to practice my drawing after that.  Today when I journal and want to illustrate my writing, I still feel frozen and hear, “I’m not good at this so don’t try.” And I cut pictures out of magazines and collage instead. It’s another means of creative expression, but I still wish I had been encouraged to continue drawing or at least left alone to discover my limits. Oh, well, onto plan B. Write. The teacher said my penmanship was excellent and that’s where my energies went. Stories, posters, poems, letters, you name it, I wrote it. And then I decided I wanted to be a teacher.

“…the creative process is an artist’s industrial secret. Why clue the competition? When times are hard, the ‘divine flame’ gets one invited to dinner and written about by art historians. Why jeopardize one’s insurance?”

                ~June Wayne

In college for my teaching degree it was important to come up with interesting ways to present the same old information to students. Writing was my go-to option and lo-and-behold, the evaluations and letters of recommendation I received from my college professors said, “Joy is very creative.” It was too vague a statement to me like people who say something is “very interesting.” It’s a veiled meaning for odd. Yep, creativity is odd? That’s one negative message I refused to hear.

“Art does not take kindly to facts, is helpless to grapple with theories, and is killed outright by a sermon.”

                ~Agnes Repplier

Must be time for me to stop trying to justify creativity and just be creative. Do you consider yourself creative?

“Be well, write well.”

~Joy

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Lost On the Treadmill

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As is my practice after car trips, I cruise by the fitness center on the way to the hotel room. Good. A treadmill and space for my yoga mat.

Unload the car and change for my workout to release the tensions of getting lost on the way to the hotel. A new highway had been recently changed and the directions we received literally took us into a brick wall. After driving a few miles out of our way because there were no other exits off this highway, we found a parking lot to turn around in and head back. We could see the hotel from the highway, just couldn’t get off the highway to find it. Several miles down the road, an exit appeared and we zig-zagged our way back to the hotel. Nice hotel and not their fault the Ohio road department built a brick wall where their parking lot used to be. Moving on.

I want some cardio first because it serves several purposes. Study after study says it’s the best for chewing up belly fat the fastest, it helps with thinking, and it releases more toxins than any other type of exercise and that is very relaxing. Plus if you don’t focus well during cardio workouts, you will fall off the equipment or stumble on a rock if you’re walking or running outdoors. I chose the treadmill over the elliptical. Ellipticals irritate old ballet injuries in my hips and glutes.

Shoes tied and step on the well-worn rubber band that will hopefully take me to sweat-city in about twenty minutes.

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Push start. Nothing. Push every other button on the panel (this is also what I do with my forehead on the keyboard when the computer isn’t responding. My husband loves fixing it when I do that.) Nothing. Try fist. Maybe the buttons are unresponsive because this treadmill shows its age with the wear on the tread, labels peeling. I don’t care as long the damn thing will just come on and start pushing me. Nothing.

I get off and look around the whole machine for a hidden restart button. Kinda like when I have to reboot my computer because I have fifteen or twenty different things open all at once and the system implodes under the strain. I check the electrical plug, thinking it may be so old that it’s a manual. If that’s the case, I’m walking around the parking lot twenty times. Seems to be plugged in alright. Then I direct my attention to the one thing I have intentionally neglected because I don’t know what it is. A silver metal square is hanging from a frayed blue nylon cord. I think it’s the heart monitor which I have no use for because I’m already aware that my heart rate is pretty intense because I got lost on the trip, it was further than I expected, the roads were….. Anyway, I cave and go to the desk and ask for help.

“Did you put in the key?” says the kind young woman behind the counter.

Sigh. The desk clerk returns to the fitness center with me and takes the metal square on the end of the cord and attaches it to a worn down image of a key. The square is a magnet. It is literally sucked into the front of the panel by the power of the magnet. She pushes start and poof, tread rolls. Outsmarted by a piece of equipment again. Such is my existence. But I felt much better after the workout and the writers conference the next day was excellent.

Has a piece of exercise equipment ever gotten the best of you? Do tell.

“Be well, write well.”

~Joy

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You’re Lost-Don’t Panic

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Getting lost is a disconcerting sensation. For many goal-oriented people, being lost means something, somewhere broken down along the lines of their motto, “I cannot cope with the worst case scenario, so, I will over-plan to be prepared if the worst happens.” While making a plan, then working that plan is a valid approach to achieving success, the best of us can get lost. Coping with the reality might be easier if we practice meditation because the feeling of being lost in our own minds and bodies but not experiencing panic is possible. Then it’s a matter of transferring that lesson to real life situations.

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The key is surrender. The first few minutes of sitting in meditation is normally a challenge almost every time we go to the cushion. That’s because we are so used to holding on to things. It’s a natural sensation to want to hold on. In my opinion, everyone is born with the desire to hold on because our bodies are constantly pulled on by gravity. It makes sense to me to hold on to things, people, and myself simply because it’s how we function in relation to the earth’s pull on our beings. Surrendering to this awareness of being held onto by gravity is the first step when sitting in meditation.

Up to the first ten minutes of meditation practice is basically about noticing gravity’s hold over our bodies, organs, and senses. Simply notice, then intentionally start at the source of the pull and work upwards through the body to relax or let go of the worry about being pulled down all the time. It’s very normal to feel everything settling downward (some people note this as being “grounded”), and it’s at this point of everything being settled down we try to surrender it all to a feeling of weightlessness. We let go of the worry. Surrender to gravity’s pull then allows the anxiety about whether or not it’s working to surface and face it. At this point, it’s possible to get lost in the lightness of being and just breathe until the session is ended.

It’s surrendering to the power of being lost and letting go of expectations that we practice on the cushion then try to recall when we get lost on the highway or in a tricky plot pattern we’re writing. In meditation we keep breathing and follow the breath to the end. In real life, we should apply the breath to keep us calm and working toward correcting the wrong turn or the wrong speech or the wrong choice. Everyone gets lost. It’s easier for some than others to deal with being off-track. A few moments of being lost in your own mind every day and surfacing to a better place, in the end, is one possible way to learn how to deal with the real world situation of losing your way no matter how much you plan in advance.

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All the outlines, maps, and global positioning devices in the world cannot teach us how to cope. Those are tools for dealing with and correcting the problem. Applying lessons learned on the meditation cushion to daily realities is one method of coping with being lost along the journey. It happens to everyone occasionally. For those goal-oriented folks like me, the key is adding “get lost” to the plan.

“Be well, write well.”

~Joy

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