AN INTERVIEW WITH ERIC MAISEL
I’m so glad to welcome Eric Maisel, author and creativity coach here today. I did a brief overview of his new book, Ten Zen Seconds a few weeks ago but today, I get the chance to ask Eric a few questions to help me center and create in a more postitive way.
SGT: So, Eric, for those who are visiting today, can you do a ‘ten’ second overview of your centering concept and incantations, just to get us started.
EM: The basic idea is to marry some useful cognitions with the benefits and power of deep breathing. Was that more than ten seconds
SGT:Nope, ten seconds on the dot. :)
SGT: When I read the first incantation, "I am completely stopping", it stops me cold.
How can I look at it from a different perspective?
EM: Many people have tremendous trouble with this first incantation and even experience it as a "near-death experience," which sounds very dramatic but which speaks volumes to the way we are rushing around, afraid to stop for fear of encountering emptiness and the void.
The "different perspective" from which to look at it might be that, like it or not, real presence involves exactly that sort of stopping, creativity demands our presence, and if a person wants to do her deepest work she will need to "buy into" the idea of stopping, even if there is some (or a lot) of initial panic associated with the process.
SGT: So, true, I didn't realize how much I am afraid of stopping. I like the idea of right here, right now better, it makes me feel that I can be actively engaged in life and art and stay focused but how can I do my best work with no expectations?
EM: The incantation "I expect nothing" refers to outcomes, not to dreams, hopes, ambitions, or goals. It is wise not to attach to outcomes, because outcomes are not in our control. We can’t, even if we pledge an arm and leg, guarantee that our next novel will work—it may or it may not. We can strive for excellence, do everything in our power to master our craft, and so on—and then we let go, honoring that we can’t make happen what we can’t make happen. To expect nothing is to allow for everything and to not be disappointed by reality.
SGT: Speaking of goals, memorizing all 12 incantations is a little overwhelming, what can I do to make using them easier?
EM: Easy! Just pick one or two. I think that the best procedure is to go over the explanation of each one and see which ones feel most congenial and useful, then commit to using one or two on a regular basis.
It is a very big deal to breath-and-think even just one or two useful things in a habitual way. What if you were "open to joy" and "equal to every challenge" all the time? That would be a tremendous blessing—and one that you could get from using just those two incantations.
SGT: How can the incantations help me before and during an art opening?
EM: That depends a lot on what aspect of art openings give you the most trouble.
For an artist who has trouble making the necessary small talk and promoting herself, I might suggest that she try "I am taking action," to remind herself that this is an event that requires her whole-hearted effort.
For an artist who fears that she can’t speak eloquently about her paintings, I might suggest that she try "I trust my resources," to help remind herself that, especially if she’s practiced her artist’s statement and her rap, that she has adequate inner resources to present herself well.
The way to use the incantations is to think through what’s true for you and what particular challenges you face and then to select one or another of the incantations accordingly.
SGT: What incantations would you suggest when someone critiques my work?
EM: Again, it would depend on what part of the interaction tends to prove hardest for you. Let’s take one possibility. Let’s say that every current critique always puts you in mind of a particular painful criticism that you received at the hands of an art school instructor many years ago. What now happens is that the two fold together, the current one and the past one, and so every critique, even mild ones and even flattering ones, end up hurting, because that old critique comes to mind.
In that scenario, I would use "I am free of the past" in a mindful, habitual way to help excise that barb. Then you can come to the present critique and take it in entirely on its own merits, without any residual pain from that old toxic criticism.
SGT: Is there a way to use the incantations to frame my time from one task to another, for example, domestic duties to studio time to teaching to exercise?
EM: Yes, I think they are perfect for that use. First of all, it is vital that we make conscious decisions about moving from one activity to the next, so that we make each movement with requisite strength and arrive at that next activity calm and centered. That’s why completely stopping and then mindfully naming your next work are built into the process.
What you are saying in essence is, "Okay, I’ve done the laundry, now, rather than thinking I need a break and to watch a little television, I’m going to announce to myself that I am turning to my novel—and I am going to turn in that direction right now, without fuss." That’s the sort of strong transitioning that the incantations "I am completely stopping" and "I am doing my work" support.
SGT: Can you explain the difference between ‘following your bliss’ and ‘meaning making’?
EM: To my ear, "following your bliss" makes life sound much easier than it in fact is. I think that we have to do tons of things that hold no particular meaning for us, like writing marketing emails and so on, that support our meaning-making efforts—the effort to get our book known, for instance, because we think it has something to say—things that feel nothing like blissful.
My fear is that the phrase "follow your bliss" makes it seem as if our work should be fun, soulful, easy, exhilarating, and so on, whereas it is those things only a percentage of the time. But it can always be meaningful, even if it is rarely blissful.
SGT: Say you’ve been ‘meaning making’ creating your art and it doesn’t sell even with your best marketing efforts. Can the incantations help in dealing with disappointment and frustrations?
EM: That is where "I expect nothing"—not your favorite!—comes in.
It is easier to keep trying if you haven’t attached to the idea that your work should have sold on the first, second, third, or fourth attempt.
Salespeople know that it is often the tenth person who will buy after the first nine have passed.
Artists, even when they are also salespeople in their day job, seem not to understand this and get disappointed and defeated after their story is rejected by six or seven magazines—as if seven is some astoundingly large number. If you do your best creative work AND your best marketing work (two things that most artists do not do in tandem) AND use "I expect nothing" in conjunction with "I am equal to this challenge," you put yourself in the best position to continue and to achieve success.
SGT: Maybe after a difficult period, I’m uncertain about what is meaningful to me. What would you suggest?
EM: Such a big question!--Big enough that I am doing a whole book on what making meaning implies and entails.
I think that at such moments we have to do a number of things, among them getting back in touch with the plan for our life, if we’ve articulated one, and with our cherished principles, if we’ve identified them, and make a new (or renewed) decision about what would prove meaningful and where you want to make your next meaning investment.
There is no answer separate from a subjective appraisal about what seems meaningful next, based on an evaluation of not just recent experience but the totality of experience. The incantation "I make my meaning" takes this all into account, once it is deeply understood.
SGT: Do you use these incantations on a daily basis? And if so, which ones
are your favorites?
EM: Actually I use one not on the list: "I am perfectly fine." I wouldn’t promote a phrase with "perfect" in it to anyone else, but it’s the one that I use the most!
SGT: If you had to choose one incantation to take with you today, which one would it be?
EM: You mean, like to a desert island
SGT: Thank you, Eric, for joining me here today. Your blogtour idea is an original and creative marketing idea and I’m happy to be part of it. You’ve not only found a great way to market your book but you’ve created a new blogtour community and given many artists, writers and creative types a chance to meet and share. I find your centering concept in Ten Zen Seconds
very helpful and I’m glad to be able to get this information out there for other artists to use.
If you'd like to experience the 'Ten Zen Second' concept for yourself, check out Eric's website at http://www.tenzenseconds.com You can order the book as well as and try out a sample meditation by clicking on the bottom menu.
I’d also like to ask a question to blogtour hosts and readers out there, what other questions do you have for Eric? Leave them in the comment section and I’ll take them back to Eric and post the answers here for you.