The art of the nap

Who needs to be schooled in napping? Maybe you. Many I talk to say, Oh, I can never nap! There’s never an opportunity.

You are likely reading this nano book because you have a daytime commitment — and yet your creative work matters to you. You want to perform both well. My life is similar with the art gallery. Its demands are heavy during working hours. While it’s true that we have a team now, which allows for more leeway than I had in the early years, I’ve had enough years in the workforce to speak to this with some small authority. Very small authority, but I’ll speak it nonetheless.

If you are able to re-regulate your daily sleep pattern quickly upon entering your own early morning challenge — and you’re never ever ever a napper — then you can skip this section. This is for those like me, who are boosted beyond measure by a short sweet nap.

Don’t take it just from me, take it from a Harvard-trained sleep researcher. Here’s what Dr. Sara Mednick says in Take A Nap, Change Your Life!, her book about sleep studies:

Imagine a product that increases alertness, boosts creativity, reduces stress, improves perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, enhances your sex life, helps you make better decisions, keeps you looking younger, aids in weight loss, reduces the risk of heart attack, elevates your mood, and strengthens memory. Now imagine that this product is nontoxic, has no dangerous side effects, and, best of all, is absolutely free.

This miracle drug is, in fact, nothing more than the “nap”: the right nap at the right time.

Yes, imagine all that. For the low cost of dozing off for a few minutes. Sign me up. Enhances your sex life and boosts creativity? What’s not to like.

You know what I enjoyed most from Dr. Mednick’s book? Validation. I didn’t buy it for me, I bought it for data for all the doubters. I’ve been a lifelong napper, I didn’t need to convince myself. My wife however …. Friends however ….

Though it is filled with details from troves of research on napping, the above quote distills the benefits succinctly. To understand the science behind the benefits, I recommend diving into Take A Nap, Change Your Life! yourself. Dr. Mednick delineates differences in effects from long luxurious naps to the brief touchdown of a nano nap.

A common misperception about naps is that they require your bed. And a stretch of time. Untrue. The best naps are short naps. And they can happen anywhere.

 

For our purposes here — for your energy pick-me-up, you will want a nap 20 minutes or under. (Long naps of 45 minutes to an hour can leave you drowsy.) Even 5 minutes just closing your eyes and relaxing — without falling into real sleep — is beneficial. Hell, I’ve even taken a one-minute nap. Some would call it closing your eyes for one minute, not napping. But it’s all I could squeeze in. You’d be surprised how even one measly minute of mental cessation makes a difference.

More commonly I’ve taken many an 8 or 12 or 15-minute nap. You won’t fall into the deep slumber you crave at night, and that’s a good thing.

Naps under 20 minutes rejuvenate your brain. Your whole system. Think of a nap as a reboot. You may not power all the way down like you do at night, but those minutes of shut down will refill your cup.

In fact, the only way to duplicate night slumber is to take a nap of 90 minutes or more. This way you undergo one full cycle of deep sleep, that slows your brain waves down from their active beta frequencies of daytime alertness, to alpha (daydreaming), to theta and delta (deep sleep) (though accomplished meditators can sink all the way into theta brain waves and retain a muted consciousness). Ninety minutes is one full cycle, allowing for the much-coveted rapid-eye-movement phase where you dream most vividly.

Three weeks into the 30-Day Creative Morning Challenge I had a couple late nights in a row — I wasn’t reviving with short naps. I knew exactly what I had to do: Carve out an hour and a half for a deep nap in the afternoon. Which I did. Two hours actually. I managed to do my early morning creative work each day, but by the second day — or was it the third? — I was out of sorts. I need my 7 to 8 hours of sleep a day and I was feeling the full brunt of not enough.

I awoke that morning both body and head achy. This persisted for hours. Ah, but once I emerged from that long nap — ahhhh to the second power — I was healed. I was whole again. My God I felt good and natural.

I rarely engage a day nap of this length, but sometimes you have to bring out the big guns.

 

Your lunch break is a great way to carve out 20 minutes. In your car in a parking lot works if you live in a car-centric region of the country. If you live in non-car country, options abound. If you have an office, you’re set. Simply close and lock the door and start your timer.

If car or office are not in your option set, then get creative. Scout around. There are dozens of (semi) comfy locations crying out for napsters like you. Look for out-of-the-way nooks.

My best naps have been … everywhere.

— Leaning against a tree just off a sidewalk

— Propped on my desk in a cubicle

— Slouched against a wall in a chair

— On a couch

— On a park bench

— At a lone conference room table, wiping up a little sleep drool afterward

— In a tight but surprisingly cozy supply closet

— On a short stack of tires (check for snakes)

— On the grassy incline of a berm at a rest area

— Sprawled out on my yoga mat atop a picnic table

— In the back of a pickup truck (there’s a country song in this)

— In a mound of moving blankets

— Against the base of a statue

— At the bottom of a slide in a playground

— Up against a wood pile (check for snakes)

Options abound if you truly seek them out. I’ve gone into a restroom without bodily need, closing the stall door for a few minutes of desperately needed shut eye. My corporate days overlapped with late nights of waning youth, so I had to get creative.

You only need a few minutes. You can even get away with a quick nap without solitude. Just slap on your sunglasses, throw on a baseball cap if you’ve got one, and doze in a public space. Wherever a number of people are milling about — a park, a bench on a city street, a food court, a library — you’re just one more object for the eye to alight on briefly before moving on.

 

A final suggestion for naps: Have a notepad and pen at the ready. Your brain will ideate more in this state than perhaps any other. Ideas will go a-poppin’ as you dematerialize into unconsciousness. And as you reconstitute afterward ….

With enough practice you will attain scribbling mastery, even in the dark, even with your eyes closed. Both when meditating before bed and when dropping off to sleep, my brain likes to toss out one-liners. If you jot thoughts down — just enough to capture the kernel of the idea — then you can breezily return to your restful state.

You’ll find most ideas can be captured in a phrase or two.

So I do. By having the notepad and pen handy, I’m ready. Even better, by doing a quick scrawl it releases the thought — effortlessly I’m back in meditation or back in sleep mode.

It’s the same with naps. You release a nagging thought by capturing it quickly. The way a karate sensei snatches a fly from the air with chopsticks. Catch it then nap on, brothers and sisters.

 

_______________

Excerpted from
The Creative Morning Challenge: Supercharge Your Creative Work in 30 Days

(By me)

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Drop it on the trail: My favorite memoirs start out messy

Ahhh, thank you, Divorce. You’ve spawned many a transformational journey — and consequently some of my most-cherished books.

If you’re a fan of memoir, as I am, you’re familiar with this meme: Post-trauma, the emotionally-scarred embark on a vision quest of sorts — a physical journey that will challenge their idea of themselves — then they return — and write about it — bringing that rich experience to us so we can profit from it vicariously.

Several of my all-time favorite memoirs began this way. Messy:

Wild
Cheryl Strayed

Her mother’s early death and the subsequent shattering of her family sends Cheryl Strayed into a suckhole of despair. Ultimately she abandons her marriage vows and descends into heroin and a type of emotional squalor. Until she alights on the idea of a purging trek, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone, without training. Wild offers some of the greatest writing on the interiority of a journey you’ll ever encounter.

Eat Pray Love
Elizabeth Gilbert

This funny, touching tale of a year abroad — in three diverse lands, each with its own purpose — eating in Italy; spiritual retreat in India, a feast of the senses in Bali — is set in motion after the author discards her marriage and home. Few writers capture the fullness of experience better, from playfulness to vivid spiritual epiphany to the beginnings of a seriously sexy mature romance.

The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific
Paul Theroux

Divorce again haunts the beginnings of this adventure. Travel writer Paul Theroux kayaks from island to island, his aloneness informing his already keen eye for observation. You encounter  those who take him in, those who threaten him (a young islander casually and pointedly prods the canvas skin of his kayak), those who wantonly destroy their own environment (young men who set fires on one island, repeatedly, as a macabre game, one that nearly snuffs out life there).

Tales of a Female Nomad
Rita Golden Gelman

A sudden and unexpected separation from her husband shocks Rita Golden Gelman into such a profound rethinking of her life that she ditches Western civilization entirely. Her purpose becomes living among indigenous peoples wherever she alights, far from the trappings of comfort and luxury. You’ll admire her calmly brazen casting off of all things modern. It may have begun as a lark; it evolved into a years-long way of life.

In Return To Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy, author Chandi Wyant doubles down on wounded beginnings, so to speak. Not only is she suffering through the collapse of her marriage, she’s recovering from a severe bodily trauma that has leeched her of her usual strength and vitality. Still, she sets out to hike the ancient pilgrimage route to Rome, the Via Francigena. You feel her fragility — and her determination — as she hits the trail.

If you love pilgrimages, if you love stories of destabilization and renewal, if you love Italy, if you love spirit and spunk . . . this book is for you.

Here is Chandi Wyant after coaxing her weakened body far beyond its capacity:

Spontaneously, a message comes to me: Drop along the trail the weights of the past in order to receive the gifts of today.

It becomes a mantra that stays with me as I continue on the leafy lane. I start to name the weights and metaphorically drop them as I walk.

My list, said aloud and witnessed by the oak trees, goes like this:

“My divorce. Okay, but what about my divorce? The idea that I’m flawed because I got a divorce. Do I have that idea? Okay, drop it on the trail anyway. The idea that it’s stuck in my body. Yes, that’s a good one. Drop it on the trail!”

I start to swing my trekking poles and point them at the weights I drop, which I picture as plate-sized dung heaps.

“Umm …what about …how I choose the wrong guys? Let’s drop that too, and Mutton Head. Good riddance!”

I stride on, down the car-less lane.

“I’m dropping the idea that I shouldn’t be in my power.”

“I’m dropping the fear of speaking my truth.”

Why do we do that? Play small?

“Drop it on the trail!”

(Buy Return To Glow here. Read more about Chandi Wyant and her current expatriate life here — especially if you want help sourcing your next trip to Italy.) (!)

We all have something we need to drop on the trail. Maybe we can’t envision a trek of any magnitude, but we can easily entertain walking. Daily. Without sound in our ears. Walking steadily forward — away from our anchors — dropping our own plate-sized dung burdens behind us, the ones we’ve been carrying too long.

Some intrepid souls strike out on grand journeys. Think Peace Pilgrim. For many millions more — for the rest of us — there is an enlivening daily practice to be encountered.

It may be a creative practice. It may be a walking meditation. It may be entering the silence. It may be journaling. It may be expressing love energy. It may be whatever you want it to be.

There are many ways to drop it on the trail. Your way is the best way.

One of my favorite ways is to sink into the footsteps of others, through reading. Like tagging along with Chandi Wyant as she step by step, breath by breath, bit by bit, reclaims her power.

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Jeff Goins: “Money is the means to making art”

 

Here’s a novel interpretation of your day job (for those who’d rather be doing something else). Jeff Goins, from Real Artists Don’t Starve:

MONEY IS THE MEANS TO MAKING ART, BUT IT MUST NEVER BE THE MASTER.

The second economy is what Lewis Hyde calls the gift exchange economy, which he argues is the place where creativity tends to thrive.

“The essential commerce of the creative spirit is a gift exchange economy,” he said.

Art, he argues, is a gift, not a commodity. It is not a good you create and hope to get paid for — that’s not how it has worked for most of human history, anyway. For thousands of years, the primary model for art-making was a gift exchange one. Only recently did we start thinking art was something we could charge money for.

In 1983, Lewis Hyde published a book called The Gift, which has since become a modern classic and underground bestseller among creatives. The book explains why many modern artists struggle to make a living off their work: art is a gift, and since we now live in a market economy, there is going to be a disconnect. In the market, people don’t pay for gifts; they pay for commodities. So you must find a way to get paid for the art.

There are three ways to do this.

First is that path of the commercial artist in which you sell your art directly to the market. “It’s a wonderful day when an artist can do their work and make money off of it,” Hyde told me. This is not impossible, but it is far from the norm.

Second is the traditional patronage model where a wealthy benefactor is willing to pay for your livelihood as you do your work. Again, this is a rare occasion and not something to count on.

Third is the path of self-patronage in which you find a way to support the work yourself. “The most common solution to the disconnect between art and commerce,” Hyde explained, “is to get a second job.”

(Bold highlights are mine.)

An apt statement to this effect is Your day job enables your dream job. It seems like an Austin Kleon dictum (see this on keeping your day job, for example) . . . but I haven’t been able to find the exact quote. Someone somewhere was pithy on this point, about your day job ultimately begetting your dream job. If I’m able to find the source I’ll come back and note it here.

I love how Jeff Goins puts it above: Self patronage.

When we think of it this way, any job we have that keeps us in avocado toast and shelter while we tackle our art at the margins is a dream enabler.

Someone: What work do you do?

You: Dream enabling.

Someone: I thought you moved furniture.

You: Well, that too. 

Office and toilet cleaner, paper boy, yard guy, tire changer, valet, ranch hand, dishwasher, busboy, waiter, proofreader, graphic designer, manager, art gallery owner . . . they all were stepping stones into my creative career.

It makes it more worthwhile, doesn’t it, to frame it that way: To work so you can act as your own patron for your dream career.

In today’s world, every creator who doesn’t have a Theo — as Vincent van Gogh did — can engage in self patronage. In fact, you must.

 

Check out this book:
Real Artists Don’t Starve:
Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age
Jeff Goins

 

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“Something profoundly transcendent occurred that made that outcome obsolete”

Why do I include excerpts from books that are not ostensibly about creativity? Because every experience speaks to the creative moment — that blip in time when you are alive in the present helping create what comes next.

Plus, this particular excerpt reminds us there are resources beyond imagining within our reach . . . sometimes we don’t even have to reach for them. Nor even ask for them. Sometimes the colossal creator force of the cosmos comes unbidden.

It’s good to remember it’s there. So we can tap into it.

Enjoy Mara Gleason’s account of a sudden encounter with the Great Mystery at the heart of our existence. From One Thought Changes Everything: (bold highlights are mine, to create signposts along the way):

I didn’t tell my parents until almost six years later, but within three weeks of starting my seven-month study abroad program in Buenos Aires, I was held up at gunpoint.

I’m going to relay what happened to me that night: not for shock value, but because it revealed something to me about the nature of human existence that I only fully came to understand many years later, when I started to learn about an understanding of the mind referred to as “the three principles” that I describe in this book.

That night taught me a truth about what we humans are made of, which is now the truth I help others uncover in themselves (and in a much less dangerous and dramatic way). To be honest, I couldn’t really understand or describe what happened to me that night in Argentina until I learned about the principles behind the human experience a few years later.

Two new girlfriends from my exchange program and I planned to go to a restaurant and then to a tango bar in a cool neighborhood of Buenos Aires called Palermo Viejo. It was similar to areas of Brooklyn, New York.

Only a couple years earlier, it was gritty and off limits, but it had become hip; all the 20-somethings liked to hang out there after dark. Perhaps (or obviously) naively, the three of us felt relatively safe walking around the area, as we were surrounded by other people. There were certainly much more dangerous areas of the city. Anyway, I don’t remember feeling especially on guard.

After dinner, we set off for the tango bar, which included walking down a quieter street without any restaurants. About halfway down that block, out of nowhere we were cut off by two guys on a motorbike. Because the three of us would’ve been smushed too tightly for the width of the sidewalk, I was walking a teensy bit ahead of the other two girls, so I stuck out just a hair ahead of them.

That hair was the difference that led me to have a profound out-of-body experience, as opposed to just getting spooked and running away … as my two friends did.

When the two guys on the motorbike hopped up on the sidewalk in front of us, the man on the back jumped off and grabbed me on my arm – by my upper bicep, to be exact. My girlfriends were able to escape before either of the guys could grab hold of them.

In telling this story, I have often been asked about what happened to the two girls. Why did they leave me? Did we ever talk about the incident later? All I can say is, I don’t know.

Maybe I would have run away, too, if no one had grabbed my arm. And because I am still here today and the experience actually ended up being quite amazing, I never felt the need to ask them, “Why did you leave me there?” It seemed much simpler to just go on being friends with them and leave the incident behind us.

Once the man had my arm firmly in his grip, he reached down his pants, and I distinctly remember the last couple of “Mara” thoughts I had (meaning the familiar, in-my-body recognizable voice I know all to well) were, “Ughhhhhh, seriously?! He’s going to pull his dick out?!”

I felt a wave of fear and disappointment, as I figured, “OK, he’s either going to expose himself to me or full-on try to rape me. This is not going to be good.”

But before I could even finish following that train of thought in that familiar “Mara” tone of voice, I felt the cold metal tip of a gun against my temple. And the last thought I had was, “That’s not his dick he just pulled out of his pants. That’s a gun.”

And then, the world went silent.

That voice that was always yip-yapping in my head just shut up: the one that is constantly chit-chatting about where to go and what to do; asking how I am feeling, how do I look, what do I want to talk about, what’s next in life, yada yada, so on and so forth, all day long.

It just stopped.

It was as if somehow, it knew something. I say “it,” because in that moment, I felt myself go away, and some bigger intelligence kicked in that knew more than I did. It understood that Mara’s little yip-yapper was irrelevant. There was nothing in the realm of me that had any knowledge of how to deal with this situation.

So without intentionally doing it, I simply shut up and got out of the way. Or it, that larger intelligence, knew to put me to the side, much like you would push a clueless, distracted pedestrian out of the way of an oncoming bus to save their life. All of my thoughts, all the noise that usually makes up the mind and the identity of Mara Gleason, went quiet.

In that silence, something amazing occurred. I will try to describe it, but I’m going to fall short. Words cannot capture it. You see, now I’m back in my little yip-yapping Mara mind, trying to describe something that was far beyond the littleness of me. So please forgive me if it sounds silly or trite. I’ll do my best to be honest and clear about what occurred with the language I have, but the experience was truly beyond me.

When my head fell silent upon feeling that gun against my temple, the sensation that emerged in the silence was indescribably huge, like a wave of vast energy. Not the personal energy that makes us feel revved up, but pure, impersonal energy. Beautifully quiet. The buzzing, raw force behind life, like a kind of super knowing. Not a brain knowing, but a much bigger spiritual knowing. Without the separateness of my “Mara” thinking, I was merely an energetic experience connected to the fabric of all energy: not an individual drop, but the whole ocean.

I was not raised in a religious or even particularly spiritual home, but I knew that what I was experiencing was the definition of a power greater than oneself. Because my self, driven by my normal thinking, was gone.

Yet there were small glimpses of little, personal “Mara” thoughts that came to me. Like a “Whoa!” that popped in as I realized I was looking at the gunman’s hand on my arm, but I couldn’t distinguish a physical end to my body and a start to his. Everything blended together.

Then, when I looked beyond him to a tree that was growing out of the sidewalk, I couldn’t really separate this singular blob of energy that was he and I, from the tree. Again, no end and no beginning: just one continuous flow.

And then I vaguely remembered that when he originally put the gun to my temple, he’d said “Dame tu billetera.” (“Give me your wallet.”)

I had not made a move to find my wallet, as I was too absorbed in this experience of one, continuous energy.

What was perhaps the most surprising and lovely aspect of that oneness was that I felt an enormously profound love for the man holding my arm and a gun at my head. Not the kind of love we normally think of, like the love we have for our romantic partners or our family. But rather, a deeply impersonal love that goes beyond our separate selves, our ideas, our preferences, our expectations: a much more universal love. Something that could only come through silence.

As I was having this experience, which I would describe as an “out-of-body” experience, he, my mugger, began to have it, too.

How do I know? I just know. Because for a moment, he and I were the same. I was in him and he was in me. We were one. As well as the tree and everything else, I suppose. I recall feeling completely confident and at peace.

Whether he shot me then and there, or whether I walked away and kept living my little Mara existence, I knew that there was a greater intelligence behind life and there was no real end or beginning.

And then, a thought came through. I felt a wave of fear wash over him (or us?), and I opened my mouth to speak the only words I would say to him during the entire experience.

I said, “You’re scared, and that’s OK.”

I do not remember if I spoke the words in English or Spanish, nor do I know if I spoke them out loud or just “energetically” (believe me, even I don’t know what that means, but I’m telling it exactly as it happened). And really, I don’t know if I was speaking to him or to me — or if that bigger it was saying it to both of us.

Was that a comment on that moment, or a larger comment on the experience of life?

After the words were said, he looked into my eyes, and his whole body softened. We exchanged a moment of knowing, of acknowledging what had just happened. And then, I gave him his hand back. I took it from my bicep and put it back down alongside his body.

Then I turned and walked away.

After a few slow steps, I picked up the pace and started running down the sidewalk. Heading back in the direction of bars and restaurants, I remember having a loud, clear “Mara” thought come back into my head: the first one, it seemed, in a very long time: “You should go into a place with people.”

I caught up to my friends, and panting, I walked with them into the first bar we came across. Funnily enough, it was named Diablo. And then it all came back. Once I was inside the doors and could see the safety of other people sitting and chatting, all of a sudden all of my “Mara” noise came flooding back into my head.

It was like a marching band coming down the street, and my mind quickly went from total silence to loud, blaring, clashing, banging noise. That feeling of vastness, peace, love and total knowing had vanished, and I became horribly uncomfortable, terrified and doubtful as I heard that voice in my head start yelling at me: “What the hell just happened?! Why didn’t you just give him your wallet? Holy shit, that was scary!!”

My heart was racing, my head was swimming and I thought I might pass out. I also remember feeling incredibly tight inside my body, like I’d gained a lot of weight and tried to put on a tiny pair of jeans.

But within seconds of having that anxious voice screaming at me in my head, I suddenly thought, “Wait a second. STOP! Stop it, Mara! That wasn’t scary. Why are you scaring yourself right now? You’re fine. You’re alive. You’re not in danger. And actually, that was an incredibly beautiful experience. That was the most ‘safe’ you’ve ever felt in your life. Not in a personal way, but in a spiritual way. You were just an energy and for once, there was nothing to be afraid of. And now you’re just scaring yourself with all of your thinking.”

In that moment, I realized that you could only feel fear through thought, that you could only feel separate or alone through thought. But for thought, we are OK. Truly, deeply OK. I calmed down again and realized that I was just a girl standing in a bar with her friends.

After a brief exchange of, “Are you OK?” “Yeah, you? Yikes, that was so crazy. I’m glad we’re OK,” we ordered a round of beers and carried on – for the rest of the night and the rest of the semester.

The next day, I tried to explain the experience over the phone to my boyfriend who was back in New York, but he didn’t get it. All he said was, “What?! Are you fucking crazy?! Why didn’t you just give him your wallet?!”

I tried to explain that what happened was not in my control. It wasn’t something I did on purpose, but after a few moments I gave up. I couldn’t explain my experience, and frankly didn’t even understand it myself, so I tucked it away. I remember feeling sad that I couldn’t explain that huge, impersonal love I’d felt, and that I’d never come close to feeling love like that anywhere in my life.

Even today, when I share the story with clients, they try to explain it away according to their personal experiences, citing things like “Oh, that’s just adrenaline,” or “Well, you’re lucky that guy didn’t just pull the trigger.”

It’s understandable that people have that response, and I probably would have, too, had I not experienced it firsthand, but they’ve missed the point. I’ve had adrenaline rush through me many times in my life, and that’s not what happened to me.

I’ve been bungee jumping and skydiving. I’ve been woken in the middle of the night by the burglar alarm while staying at my house alone. That’s adrenaline. It’s a far more personal experience in the head and body, and your thoughts go crazy.

This was wholly different: beyond me or my body, and it seemed to emerge as a default when my thinking became almost nonexistent.

Yes, I am lucky he didn’t pull the trigger, and I am certainly happy to still be alive today. Yet I hesitate to even say this, as it can so easily be misinterpreted as arrogance or bravado: I don’t think it’s luck or coincidence that kept him from pulling the trigger. I think something profoundly transcendent occurred that made that outcome obsolete.

For a brief moment, he and I experienced a oneness and an impersonal love that made any action such as pulling a trigger a non option. Temporarily, we were not separated by our thoughts. We were the formless energy of life having a shared experience.

Everything was perfectly … OK.

And it was beautiful beyond words.

 

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Encouraging news for weird wacky creative types

For a guy steeped in creativity I can’t believe I missed Richard Florida’s book in the 2000s . . . and even in 2010 when the revised, expanded, remodeled 2.0 version came out.

But then again, I was busy. Busy with success when the first book came out. Busy staving off impending doom during the crash years when the improved and updated version came out.

But I’m reading it now.

And here’s a tidbit to hearten all of us in creative fields. Not only does the future belong to us, so does the present.

But don’t take it from me, an all things creative enthusiast, take it from Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist.

Here, from The Rise of the Creative Class (Revisited):

Capitalism has expanded its reach to capture the talents of heretofore excluded groups of eccentrics and nonconformists. In doing so, it has pulled off yet another astonishing mutation: taking people who would once have been viewed as bizarre mavericks operating at the bohemian fringe and placing them at the very heart of the process of innovation and economic growth.

 

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Larry Dossey: Answers to questions posed the night before

From Larry Dossey’s latest book:

Exploratory Dives into the Unconscious

The dream experiences of physicians, inventors, mathematicians, and scientists reinforce the image of the One Mind as a repository of information and intelligence that can be put to practical use.

This view was sanctioned by Arthur Koestler in his brilliant exploration of creativity, The Act of Creation. Koestler called dreams an “essential part of psychic metabolism…. Without this daily dip into the ancient sources of mental life, we would probably all become desiccated automata. And without the more spectacular exploratory dives of the creative individual, there would be no science and no art.”

A spectacular “exploratory dive” into the unconscious was taken one night by Elias Howe. For years Howe had struggled unsuccessfully to perfect his sewing machine, but he was plagued by problems with the needle. Then one night he dreamed he was captured by savages who dragged him before their king.

The king issued an ultimatum: if within 24 hours Howe did not come up with a machine that could sew, he would die by the spear. As time ran out, the menacing savages approached Howe, their spears raised for the kill. Holding up his hands to ward off the inevitable, Howe noticed that each of the spear points had an eye-shaped hole near the tip.

He awoke full of excitement, realizing that the hole in the sewing machine needle must go at the tip, not at the middle or the bottom where he had been trying to place it. He raced from bed to his workshop, filed a needle to the proper size, drilled a hole near its tip, and inserted it in the machine. The rest, as they say, is history.

In his monumental book Our Dreaming Mind, Robert L. Van de Castle, former director of the University of Virginia Medical School’s Sleep and Dream Laboratory, cited several instances in which the minds of scientists frolicked nonlocally during dreamtime, with stunning consequences.

He reported that early in the 20th century, researcher Edmond Maillet sent a questionnaire to a group of mathematicians who had worked in their profession for at least ten years. Four of his respondents described “mathematical dreams” in which a solution actually occurred during the dream; eight acknowledged finding the beginnings of a solution or useful idea while dreaming; and another fifteen described how on waking they had achieved complete or partial solutions to questions posed the previous night.

Srinivasa Ramanujan, the 20th-century mathematician, is considered a giant in his field. Certainly Ramanujan enjoyed an advantage over his colleagues: his dreams included an otherworldly mentor. In a 1948 article in Scientific American entitled “Mathematics and the Imagination,” he reported how the Hindu goddess Namakkal would appear in his dreams and reveal to him mathematical formulae that he would verify on waking, a pattern that continued all his life.

A world-changing dream occurred in 1869 to Dmitri Mendeleyev, a professor of chemistry at Saint Petersburg, after he went to bed frustrated by his attempts to categorize the chemical elements according to their atomic weights.

“I saw in a dream,” he reported, “a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper. Only in one place did a correction later seem necessary.” The result was the periodic table of the elements. The dream also enabled Mendeleyev to predict the existence and properties of three new elements, which were discovered within the next 15 years.

Perhaps the most famous example of a dreaming scientist is that of Friedrich A. von Kekule, a professor of chemistry at Ghent, Belgium. Kekule was attempting without success to determine the structure of the benzene molecule. He fell asleep while sitting in a chair and saw atoms flitting before him in various structures and patterns.

Soon long rows of atoms formed and took on a twisting, snakelike pattern. All of a sudden one of the snakes seized its own tail in its mouth and started to whirl in a circle. “As if by a flash of lightning” Kekule awoke and began to work out the implications of the dream images. This led to the idea that benzene was a six-carbon ring structure, which revolutionized organic chemistry.

In an address to a scientific meeting in 1890, he concluded his talk to his colleagues by honoring his process of discovery: “Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, and then we may perhaps find the truth.”

One of the legendary discoveries in modern medical research, insulin, is dream related. Frederick Banting, a Canadian physician, was conducting research on diabetes. Awakening from a dream one night, he wrote down the following words: “Tie up the duct of the pancreas of a dog. Wait for a few weeks until the glands shrivel up. Then cut it out, wash it out and filter the precipitation.”

This procedure led him to discover the hormone insulin, which proved lifesaving for millions of diabetics. It also led to Banting’s being knighted—an interesting word, considering his nocturnal revelation.

The list of scientific discoveries influenced by dreams is quite long—James Watt’s discovery of how to make spherical pellets that could be used as shot; David Parkinson’s discovery at Bell Laboratories of the all-electric gun director known as the M-9 device, the precursor of guidance systems used later in antiaircraft and antiballistic missiles; Ernst Chladni’s invention of the euphonium, a new musical instrument—on and on.

Dreaming remains one of the most common pathways of entering the One Mind. As the collective nature of consciousness becomes more fully appreciated within science, skeptical scientists will understand that to be called a dreamer is a high compliment indeed.

From One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part Of A Greater Consciousness And Why It Matters by Larry Dossey.

Did you catch this phrase above?

“… on waking they had achieved complete or partial solutions to questions posed the previous night.”

This is a reminder to us all — creatives or otherwise — to pose questions. Especially in the night! Pose a question to an issue that’s vexing you when you go to sleep. Try it a few nights to see what the deep recesses of your mind comes up with.

I’ve had good results with this method — and regret telling you now how often I’ve used it to good effect and yet had forgotten about the process. This method had fallen out of my repertoire for problem solving.

It’s like mislaying the key to a treasure chest.

Now, thanks to Larry Dossey, it’s back.

You might give it a whirl too. If something has been gnawing at you, something unresolved, what can you lose?

Steep yourself in the issue shortly before sleeping — then ask for a clear solution.

Keep a notepad handy . . . .

 

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Sun thru overhead palms

Thoughts from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

The message in some books resonates so completely that the book becomes a part of your intellectual resource. More than another book in your personal library, it becomes a compass point.

I’m on my third read of such a book: Essentialism by Greg McKeown. More accurately, the third round, since I read it the first time and then listened to the audio version the second and third times. McKeown’s crisp and deliberate British accent drives the message home, beyond what mere reading can do.

His is a voice that so exemplifies the message that listening to McKeown’s delivery is akin to injecting the essence of it straight into your bioneural network.

You feel it emotionally as much as you get it intellectually.

Which is important. We only act on what we feel. And we take the best actions when our feelings align with our intentions.

We are drawn to what we need.

My third go at Essentialism is down to one thing. I need its message.

Running a gallery in a massively disrupted retail environment while launching a series of books on creative spirit living while optimizing my health while maximizing family and friend time is . . . daunting. It can be WTF inducing. A bewildering competition of priorities that too often cancel each other out.

Maybe you are going through something similar in your own fashion. Too much calls at us these days. We also call on ourselves to take on too much. If so, you might benefit from reading Essentialism.  The subtitle says it all: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

It’s a relentless paring of inessentials to get at what is most essential for your life.

Here are some of Greg McKeown’s ideas. Just the kernels. Read the book for a full fleshing out.

— Chapter 7 is about play

A whole chapter. My heart beat a little quicker the first time I came upon this section.

I’ve long thought down time was as important to the well lived life as work and relationships. McKeown gets that. He makes play the merry soul of the philosophy of Essentialism. Without play, without relaxation, your brain and body burn out.

If you want to lead an effective, idea-oriented life, downtime is key. Sleep, play, renewal, movement, nothin’ time . . . that’s what we’re talking about. I love this man.

— “They would rather be understaffed than hire the wrong person quickly.”

— “If it isn’t a clear yes then it’s a clear no.”

McKeown riffs of the Derek Sivers formula: If it isn’t a Hell Yeah then it’s a No.

— “An essential intent is both inspirational and concrete. Both meaningful and measurable.”

— Essentialism asks two things of you:

1) “What is the one thing you can get really good at that will make an impact?”

The author quotes Jim Collins:

“If there’s one thing you are passionate about that you can be best at — that’s what you should be doing.”

2) “How do you know when you have succeeded?”

— Essentialists create space to think, explore, play.

There it is again!

Most books on focus and productivity ignore what makes life worth living: relationships, time to explore, optimal health. They ignore the other factors leading to great vitality. Not McKeown. Oh, I love him so 😉

“A non-essentialist is too busy doing to think about life.”

— “An essentialist creates space to escape and explore.”

— An essentialist starts small and early.

— “A routine makes success the default result.”

“Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles. Without routine the pool of non-essential distractions will overpower us. But if we create a routine that enshrines the essentials we will begin to execute them on autopilot.”

“Instead of consciously having to pursue the essential, it will happen without our having to think about it. We won’t have to expend precious energy every day prioritizing everything.”

“We must simply spend a small amount of initial energy to create the routine, and then all that is left to do is follow it.”

— “When there is a high level of clarity, people thrive.”

— An essential intent (a purpose statement) includes:

A concrete and inspirational intent

And a decision that eliminates 1,000 later decisions

— Ask . . .

If I could become truly great at only one thing, what would it be?

And . . .

How will I know when I’ve succeeded?

— For good measure — and perhaps to compete with Marie Kondo — he throws in a question about how to manage your closet:

“Do I absolutely love this?”

Instead of:

“Is there a chance I’ll wear this in the future?”

— The same question applies to all things in life.

— Explore, eliminate the non-essential, execute

— The word priority for 500 years was singular only.

There was no such things as priorities, as there could be only one.

— “If it isn’t a clear yes then the answer is no.”

McKeown goes back to this idea throughout the book, so it bears repeating here too.

— Essentialists ask:

What can I go big on?

Non-essentialists ask:

How can I do it all?

 

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An experiment: 30 days of waking up 2 hours early to do The Work

It’s dark out, man, when you get up that much earlier . . .

Why oh why 2 hours early?!

Have you been frustrated with how your hours spin away from you in the day? Feeling like you’re not quite getting the best of your creative self? I’ve been in that zone, vacillating between days of electricity and days of chaos.

Here’s my situation — my life is lived in 3 modes: Read more

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Ideas over money: James Altucher

The old ladder metaphor has shifted. There’s no longer a ladder. It’s more like an amusement park. And we are all invited to play in it. There’s more opportunity for abundance than ever. This is the new paradigm of this century, a century where ideas take precedence over money in terms of creating abundance.

~ James Altucher, from Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth

 

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Meditation junkie: Mollie Player interviews me in her latest book

Mollie Player has a way of drawing out stories you don’t expect to reveal, insights you didn’t know you had.

Check out this in-depth interview below, from Mollie Player’s book The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation. Woven into the narrative in The Power of Acceptance are interviews with six long-time meditators. Each has a strikingly unique perspective to share. I’m honored to be one of them.

She’s been one of my favorite writers ever since I read You’re Getting Closer: One Year of Finding God and a Few Good Friends.

Before that even.

A few years ago we stumbled across each other’s websites somehow — you know how it is in the Internet Era, you’re never quite sure how you wormed your way to where you landed. However it happened, whoever found the other first, no importa! What matters is I found a soul compadre. A female inverse doppelganger of sorts.

What Mollie does exceptionally well is distill her esoteric searching into human-shaped vignettes that pull you in. She is real. You sense her quirky as clearly as you feel her relentless seeking.

Whatever situation she’s in, she pulls you into the reality of it — while deftly sweeping you up in her greater purpose.

Enjoy the interview . . .

MEDITATION INTERVIEW #2: The Artist

For twenty years, Evan Griffith and his wife have owned and operated a sizable art gallery in Palm Beach County, Florida. Evan is the consummate artist: deep thinking, profound, highly excitable, and just the right amount crazy.

Author of Burn, Baby, Burn: Spark the Creative Spirit Within, he’s also a talented writer. His blog, The World Is Freaky Beautiful [now Notes For Creators] is a passionate exploration of the intersection of creativity and divinity.

Here are his answers to my questions.

How long have you been practicing meditation? What was your first experience of meditation like?

In my teens in the ‘70s, my very conservative yet searching Christian mom brought me to a yoga class that ended with meditation. Later in high school and college I sporadically experimented with meditation.

By my senior year I became so enamored with the possibilities that I created an independent study course in Human Potential with a friend — approved by the college! — that focused heavily on exploring different types of meditation, yoga, guided imagery, affirmations, New Thought books, sleep experiments and more.

It sounds so normal now, but it felt daring at the time, a little less than four decades ago.

The most memorable early meditation I can recall was with a candle—simply focusing on the flickering flame. We were high so it really doesn’t count. But it intrigued me enough to want to try it in a normal state of mind. Once I did so, mind-altering substances utterly lost their appeal. To me it was the difference between a sloppy beer-party tryst and falling in love. Deep, life-long, love.

What made you continue to meditate?

From my earliest meditation attempts in college, I took to it right away. Even while experimenting with different forms of meditation, I felt profoundly at home in the process. From then on, meditation was a part of my life—though I didn’t develop an ironclad daily meditation process until many years later, after an intense spiritual experience.

What is meditation to you?

Single-pointed stillness.

More specifically: An enveloping shift sparked by single-pointed attention in silent stillness.

You start with you and your little mind silent and focused, and when it goes well you spring through a cosmic bliss portal.

Describe for me your meditation practice. Do you focus on a thought or image, or just not think at all?

My favorite practice is what I call love zazen. In zazen you sit comfortably and attentively. As thoughts come, you notice them, then let them go.

My method is similar: First, you sit quietly and comfortably, engendering a feeling of love or appreciation in yourself. This becomes quite easy once you get the hang of it.

If you’re having difficulty with it, though, conjure up someone you adore. Or something you relish doing. Or a favorite place, a treasured memory, or an experience charged with affection. Focus on that person or experience until you feel washed in appreciation or love.

Then focus on the sensation, and let go of the image that sparked it.

Next, begin to observe your thoughts. One by one, notice them, then consciously fill them with the love you’re feeling.

Often thoughts of things you’re keenly grateful for will come up. Love and appreciate them. If a thought about some difficulty in your life arises, let your loving appreciation sensation surround it, too. Find something to appreciate about that difficulty. Appreciate the hell out of it!

As you do this, whatever rises up in your thoughts will whisper away, and you’ll be left with just the loving appreciation sensation. I swear by the moons of Jupiter that I’ve resolved more issues this way than by any other method. If I miss a day of this practice, I miss it in the way you miss a person; I’m actually sad about it.

Another favorite meditation of mine is a listening meditation — simply sitting comfortably erect, and listening. You become attentive to the sounds surrounding you, as well as the sounds and feelings within you.

If you’re out in nature you might hear a brook, birds, a dog barking, squirrels skittering along tree branches, wind picking up and dying down, blowing through and around what surrounds you.

If you’re in a more urban environment, you’ll hear cars and people and snatches of conversation. You’ll hear sirens or music or doors or creaking.

I’ve practiced this in New York City on Ninth Avenue with jackhammers going — it still works. After a while you’ll start hearing the beat of your heart and the coursing of blood through parts of your body. A little while longer and you’ll swear to God that all the sounds are being orchestrated together. You begin to feel part of a great symphonic movement that is being played through all the elements of Earth.

Is there a learning process to meditation?

Yes! It’s primarily learning to relax into the process. And learning that sitting in silence for five or twenty minutes — whatever your commitment — is meditation. Regardless of outcome.

Many people think they’re doing it wrong … they’re not.

Sitting softly erect, going calm, slowing your breathing down, focusing on the method you’ve chosen is all it is. Even when you feel unfocused much of the time. With practice, the pauses in between mind sparks become longer, more sensuous. You begin to feel the space between your thoughts … and it’s voluptuous. Rapturous even.

In time that spaciousness envelops even your thoughts. It’s a loving saturation that comes to permeate the entirety of your being. Soul, mind, body, the external world … they all meld into that loving, saturated emptiness.

I use the term emptiness because that space is devoid of markers. It’s a complete absence of all the things we normally associate with existence. And yet emptiness doesn’t do it justice. Because it’s also dense with life energy.

What might you tell a new meditator to help them through the first part of the learning process?

I would tell them to take it easy. Flubbing it is meditation!

Pick whatever method feels natural to you and go for it. Fifteen minutes of Internet research will reveal at least fifteen different methods. There’s no wrong way to evolve your way through your meditation practice. Try as many methods as you need.

You’ll find yourself coming back to one or two favorites. That’s your cue. Explore those that intrigue you most.

Have you ever experienced a healing through meditation, bodily or otherwise? Can you tell me about it?

I’ve experienced many healings that I associate with meditation — bodily, financially, creatively, relationally. I even credit it with helping me find my life partner.

The first time I realized meditation could be used for healing was while reading a magazine. I think it was a yoga magazine, or Oprah’s magazine — something with a cool spiritual slant.

There was a brief article about how meditators could stop headaches.

Immediately, I sat up a little straighter.

I’m a meditator! I thought. Why can’t I do this?

I decided to try their simple process: After my first inkling that a headache was coming on, I stopped everything and got into a meditative space. After going deeply into my meditation, I brought my conscious awareness into, rather than away from, the point of pain.

Then I visualized conduits and pipes running through the area of pain with pressure building up in them. Then I imagined myself turning a valve to off gas the pressure, releasing the tension, releasing the pain.

The very first time I tried this, it worked! Maybe only a month or two into experimenting with this game I never had a headache again.

Techniques like these are counterintuitive. We’re always shrinking from pain. We unconsciously tighten up around the pain points, in an attempt to block them. But meditators — people with sufficient practice accessing that deep state of consciousness where reality plays out fluidly within the body-mind — can transform the pain with their focus.

Incidentally, I’ve described this process to a number of people over the years. I’ve never seen it work for a non-meditator.

Regarding other types of bodily healing, years ago I settled into a simple pattern whenever I would feel some kind of distress coming on: At the earliest opportunity I would drop into meditation and bathe the area with love and healing. Then that night before falling asleep, sitting in bed, I’d drop into meditation again.

At the end of my usual meditation practice I would envision healing … and then fast-forward to the morning. I’d see myself waking up and feeling wonderful—amazing—having almost forgotten that I even had an issue.

Then I’d see myself remembering the issue and smiling, thinking to myself, Oh yeah, that’s gone. Love that process. I love how things work out so freaking well when I set the intention deeply.

With this, I’d lie down and drift off to sleep.

This process has worked astoundingly well for me, to the point where I can go years without getting sick. It’s only when I get cocky about it and don’t go as earnestly deep in my visualization that I seem to have issues.

Sometimes we talk about meditation as if it’s a similar experience for all. And we now know that the same regions of our brain are activated no matter which practice we use. What do you think: how close is what one person calls being “in touch with God” to the feeling experience another has of mere “rest and relaxation”?

It’s like sex. There’s a commonality. But within that commonality there’s a widely diverse experience, from rote to ecstatic.

Belief matters, even in meditation.

Intention and expectation frame the meditative moment intensely. Once I believed it possible, asked for it, and then went into meditation allowing for a deep spiritual connection, that’s what I got. My God was it ever mind blowing. Even now, sometimes it feels as though my neural circuits are being overloaded, in the best of ways. As though my own wiring is being rewired into something better.

Do you have a particularly fond memory of a meditation experience?

Here’s a funny experience that happened with my friend Gil, who was in the independent study course with me. In a book we read by channel Jane Roberts and spiritual entity Seth we read that in a rare instance someone expands too quickly in consciousness — and then bursts out of existence. It’s as though their body was not equipped to handle the sudden energy surge.

This became a running joke with us. As in, “Watch out, I’m feeling the meditation vibe tonight; I might combust at any moment.”

Late one night we both decided to go down to the lake and sit on a berm and meditate.

That night was windy as hell. In Florida we get these intense storms, and this was the precursor to a particularly intense one. No rain yet, just wind that was whipping limbs and trees around. We settled down to meditate, but after a short while I became uneasy — wildly uneasy. It just felt off, eerie.

We were in the pitch dark, side by side just a couple of feet from each other. The wind had picked up even more. I wasn’t gripped with fear as much as foreboding, as though something terrible was about to happen.

I opened my eyes and glanced at Gil. I could only see his silhouette, but he seemed to be deep into his meditation. Not wanting to disturb him, I silently got up and headed back.

My girlfriend was in my dorm room and I spilled out how relieved I was that she’d shown up—I was that unsettled.

Maybe five or ten minutes later, Gil comes bursting into my room, flinging the door open so violently he almost destroyed it.

“Whoa, Gil, what’s wrong?” we both blurted out.

As soon as Gil could regain his breath, he huffed out: “Jesus, I thought you had combusted!”

How often does meditation feel good in the moment? How often are you itching to get out of the chair?

It always feels good to me. I drop very quickly into the meditative moment. I almost never find myself itching to stop soon — but I would certainly allow myself to do so if I were having difficulty.

I don’t set a timer or have any kind of prompt that ends a meditation session. I simply stop when it feels right. Consequently, a meditation can be just a few minutes to twenty, thirty or even forty minutes long. Most of my night meditations probably last twelve to twenty minutes.

During the day I am apt to drop into very short visualization-type meditations to suggestively pre-cast how I’d like an impending experience to turn out (a meeting, a negotiation, a conversation, an activity) or to ask for guidance or a solution to an issue.

Sometimes I may be getting away from meditation and more into asking. I guess you could call it prayer. But I see it all as part of a continuum so I rarely make those kinds of distinctions in my own mind.

What about when you’re depressed or angry or in a bad mood? Does meditation still help you feel better? How often does it help you get out of your rut? How often does it fail to do so?

Some form of meditative or contemplative or envisioning moment is my go-to method for any and all stresses. As well as all joys and triumphs and satisfactions. There’s nothing in my life that I don’t take into my practice of silence. It is that helpful.

The more I bring with me into the silence, the easier life unfolds. It’s that simple.

It is so effective a process for the turbulence that comes my way, that I know almost no other way to deal with issues. I say this with great respect for the importance of exercise, sleep, nutrition, expression and loving relationships as other pillars of a well-lived life.

I’m powerfully drawn to writing meditations as well. In fact, many days a week I write a Vision Page in the mornings. I also practice moving meditation, most commonly through walking. While driving I often speak affirmations aloud.

What’s the best thing about meditation for you?

That it is so interwoven with the rest of my life that I can take it with me wherever I go.

What are your spiritual beliefs? Are they grouped together as a recognized belief system of any kind?

I draw from many sources, Eastern and Western, contemporary and traditional. Though my beliefs align closest with New Thought spirituality, I’m open to wisdom from a wide range of paradigms.

My mother and brother are traditional Christians and I love talking to them about their experiences. But I also incorporate aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism and Daoism. I am especially drawn to contemporary spiritual voices from the last one hundred years, including channeled material. The Abraham and Esther Hicks duo is a favorite in that area.

There’s not an issue in my life that I don’t resolve first through a meditative-spiritual frame of reference.

To try to put it succinctly, this is how I view reality:

— This realm is a playground of creation.

— It is malleable, though as with any game, there are powerful guidelines.

— We come here to hone our creation power … and to play in whatever ways are most compelling to us.

— We choose to be here.

— We are souls within souls within souls within the Ultimate Soul.

— In the greater reality everything is permeable; we all ultimately overlap in soul consciousness.

— We live many lives, in many dimensions, going from adventure to adventure.

— Life is eternal and joy-seeking.

— We are growth-oriented beings.

— Our soul-minds mold our experiences, including the events and people that come into our lives, and it is our task to learn how best to do this.

— Love, generosity, creativity, exploration, appreciation, enthusiasm, kindness, compassion … when we live these highest of qualities we have the greatest well-being.

— Giving is receiving (and receiving allows others to give).

— Ultimate reality is beyond my comprehension; even so, I can grow ever more in tune with the Divine Mystery at the heart of all creation.

***

Excerpted from The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation by Mollie Player. Check it out.

 

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