Harold Ramis: The spiritual paradox for creators

Harold Ramis to Judd Apatow, in Sick In The Head:

Harold: Grandiosity is the curse of what we do. There’s a great rabbinical motto that says you start each day with a note in each pocket. One note says, “The world was created for you today,” and the other note says, “I’m a speck of dust in a meaningless universe,” and you have to balance both things.

 

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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.

 

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

(By me)

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A better question than “Can I?”

 

In this episode of On Being, Krista Tippett speaks with social psychologist Ellen Langer about the powerful force of belief. Her research over the last several decades has helped prove scientifically what New Thoughters and self-helpers and the spiritually attuned have long known: That your words and beliefs alter your perception, which then alter your experience.

Langer has an interesting take on how to reframe the question Can I do this?

She recasts it as How can I do this?

Instead of Can I make this happen?

. . . it becomes How can I make this happen?

Can I …? is past oriented, Langer says. When you ask Can I do X?, your brain scans your experience to see how you might measure up, if it’s even possible given your history.

How can I …? thrusts you into possibility thinking. As Langer notes, the questions you ask pull answers to you. Asking how you can accomplish a thing draws potential pathways to the fore.

I’m already asking new questions.

How can I fit two businesses into one workday — art gallery and creative side hustle — and shut it all down by 6 pm?

And . . .

How can I help more in the kitchen?

(Answer: I bought a knife.)

(A very special blade whose heft fits my hand so perfectly I now jump at the chance to sous chef.)

And, from a bald guy in his 50s . . .

How can I be more ridiculously good looking?

Asking questions is fun. Especially in this empowering way.

It’s OK to try this one at home, kids.

 

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Part of his mission

 

“Part of my mission in life is to notice and acknowledge people.”

~ Scott Doyle

When I heard Scott utter this phrase I knew I had to share it with you creators. I’ve been to enough breakfast meetings with Scott to testify: He seriously lives his mantra.

Scott connects. With whomever is around.

He has a special affection for service personnel. To relate human to human. To spark a laugh, a smile, an understanding.

What I’m celebrating is that Scott’s made connecting part of his mission in life!

He doesn’t see it as one of many aspects of his personality, he’s sees connecting in a real way as his prime directive. (Yes, blatant Star Trek meme appropriation.)

Here’s to the connections you make today — the love you bake today — the thirst you slake today — the ache you break today —

 

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Saying no, even to meaningful things

The most difficult things to say no to are those that are meaningful. A charitable event, time with a friend are examples.
When you say no for that day you can also say yes to a later date, when you won’t be so stretched.
Gregg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, claims you have not made a real decision about what is essential to your mission unless you have said no to something you value.
His premise: there are many good activities to devote your time to, but only someone who has clarified their vision knows what — among the many good — can be eliminated.
He goes further.
Until you make that hard-to-make decision to whittle away some of the decent activities in favor of the most significant, then you have not truly focused your life.
In that vein you’ll want to practice variations of “Thanks so much for the offer, but I can’t.”
No frees you.
No frees you up for your big Yes. In relationships, in your creative practice, in your bodily health, in your work hours.
If you want to make an impact, no frees you to your purpose.
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Thriving artists just don’t live off their art

 

Elizabeth Gilbert earned her keep as a bartender till her writing took off. At the Coyote Ugly Saloon. She wrote an article about it for GQ — which spurred the indie movie Coyote Ugly.

I know an artist who makes a living from his artwork, his digital marketing and graphic design abilities, and occasional other freelance gigs.

The geometric abstractionist Piet Mondrian painted conventional still lifes for money, while pursuing his vision on the side, the one that brought him to museums around the world.

Says The Art Story:

A theorist and writer, Mondrian believed that art reflected the underlying spirituality of nature. He simplified the subjects of his paintings down to the most basic elements, in order to reveal the essence of the mystical energy in the balance of forces that governed nature and the universe.

(He painted in a three-piece suit.)

(That’s control.)

Director Quentin Tarantino famously worked at a video store for five years. From Wikipedia:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer actor Danny Strong described Tarantino as a “fantastic video store clerk.”

“[Tarantino] was such a movie buff. He had so much knowledge of films that he would try to get people to watch really cool movies.”

Let your day job/night job inform your dream job!

Had George Orwell not paid keen attention during his drab workingman years, we’d never been given the gift of Down And Out In Paris And London . . .

When actress Shirley MacLaine landed her first big paycheck from a movie she purchased a small apartment building. It may have been only 4 or 5 units, but it was large enough to house her and kindle some rent income should her acting, singing and dancing career fall on hard times. Later she branched out further, penning a series of successful books on her spirited spiritual experiences.

(To this day I think of an evening bath as a spiritual practice. Thank you, Shirley!)

 

“Thriving artists just don’t live off their art. Like good investors they keep diverse portfolios, relying on multiple income streams to make a living.”

~ Jeff Goings
Real Artists Don’t Starve

 

 

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The simplicity-complexity loop

We start from simplicity, then we complexify — because we  must to experiment our way toward our aims.

At some point the astute creator simplifies — cutting out the extraneous, the barely profitable, the impossibly time-consuming, the energy drags, the nags, the drains, the inefficiencies, the misaligned, the things that buzz darkly in our brains in off-hours.

We get as lean as we can in our processes.

To live more purposefully.

Then slowly, inadvertently, we complexify again.

It’s not a sin. It’s a result.

Complexity in our lives is the result of our aspirations. More specifically, it’s the predictable outcome when we take action on goals and whims.

Knowing that life will get complex should give us comfort. It’s only because we want so much that it has become so.

Which means every time we recognize that too muchness has overwhelmed our lives, we can take comfort in that too. All we need to do is clarify our truest desires. And then pare down from there.

Simplify.

To that beautiful place where you’re living at your perfect pitch. Your ideal rhythm. You get to work and sleep and breathe and play and be homeful in the right proportions.

(Knowing that at some unguarded point you will complexify again.)

(But maybe just maybe not quite so much.)

Embracing the Simplicity-Complexity Loop has an advantage.

Awareness. Once you’re aware of the process, it’s easier to say no to wants that overly add complexity.

Trivialities don’t have the same pull when you want to live on the simplicity side of the loop.

 

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Something to remember in this polarized climate

We are all beings of light with a common flame.

~ Scott Doyle
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You’re always in alignment with something

I have an engineer turned client whisperer friend I meet every Sunday morning. Or at least the Sunday mornings when we’re both in town. So — many a Sunday morning but not all, since we’re both travelers by inclination and occupation.

One morning Scott was speaking of an in-law who’d sunk into a deep rut of self-obsession with his problems in recent years. To the point it was all he spoke of. And consequently all he seemed to believe in anymore.

His mind’s event horizon had imploded. So narrow was his focus that solutions lobbed in conversation could not be heard by him. Not in a real way that might open his mind and hence his experience to other possibilities. Possibilities that might free him from the life issues that plagued him.

I’ve been like that too often to note here. In every crisis I’ve lived through there’s a moment so tiny and tight and suffocating I’m forced to burst out of the confines of my own thought — or forever languish in a living hell I’ve become too small to improvise my way out of.

“You’re always in alignment with something. You just have to figure out what it is.”
~ Scott Doyle

Liberation comes one what if at a time.

What if I don’t accept I’m doomed to live this way till the end of my days?  

What if there are options out there I could see if I raised my head up a little? Breathed a little? Created a space to free flow better thoughts a little?

I’ve learned to trust in transformation because of the turnabouts that have come my way once I relinquished my relentless obsession with current facts.

Once my mind gets playful even a little bit, it’s often astounding the resources that come my way. Options spring to life in front of me.

I don’t even have to see them in my mind’s eye. I don’t even have to envision the solutions. I just have to allow my thoughts to conceive of a different outcome than the current trajectory.

Something about this freeing of your mental limitations draws to you a wider range of interventions.

A new, slightly improved reality intervenes . . . and keeps doing so . . . until ultimately you’re standing in a vastly improved place.

As Scott says, you’re always in alignment with something.

Looking at my expectations is my gut check for what I’m aligned with. If I’m expecting nothing but woe, nothing but travail, it’s time to change that alignment. Till I’m aligned with the invisible winds of uplift again.

 

 

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Answers come from doing: 5 brief examples

1. The answer to what direction I should take early in my life came from freelance proofreading. During downtime at a financial firm I hung out in the art department.

Yes, there was a cute girl on the dayshift. But I also was thrilled by the playfulness of what they did in that room. It was like advanced kindergarten. Drawing, cutting, pasting. Lots of laughter. Because I was always helping out they eventually hired me.

I rose into management from there.

2. Which gave me the confidence to go out on my own. So I quit New York City and hit the road for a year in an old van.

3. Which led to opening an art gallery …

4. Our third location hit the sweet spot for art-buying clients. Without diving in to those first two spaces — and learning from them — we couldn’t have refined our approach. That was, oh, only nine years into the art biz.

5. I was on my fourth trip exchanging artwork with artists myself to save money on shipping during the crash … before it dawned on me I could save our business by becoming an art transporter.

Most answers come from doing, not thinking.

~ Jen Sincero

A useful reminder: Whenever you’re stuck, do something.

Anything.

If you don’t feel a calling, take a step in the vaguest direction of interest.

Take a job, take a class, take a train . . .

But don’t take a pill. That never amplifies a situation.

Putting yourself in the flow has a way of drawing forth options. More revelations come from action than inaction.

(Another useful reminder: Follow the fun . . . it rarely steers you wrong.)

(Of course it’s gotta be what’s fun for you … not others.)

 

 

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