Monday, October 8, 2012

Winning at Nothing


I remember feeling a tinge of Weary Lonesome, trudging up that familiar hill.
I probably thought I hadn't accomplished enough that day. 

A loose-limbed man appeared at the top. He lurch-trotted down the strip of grass beside the sidewalk with his arm out like he wanted to high-five the woman ahead of me. 

She kept walking without responding, clamping her purse tighter with an elbow. 

His home-run grin didn't falter at all. He veered around the handicapped parking sign, careening towards me, and slapped my hand awake with a solid sting.

I so enjoyed the rest of the walk home. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Truth and Dare Group

Occupy your Self
Allow the truth of who you are

to lead your genuine creative daring

This unique small creative self-inquiry coaching group is open to a few wonderful new members starting in October.

Find out about it here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Mind Stayed On Freedom

Portrait of Fannie Lou Hamer by Jude Spacks, fabrics and paint, 35x42in, 2013

She was beaten and jailed for trying to vote. She wouldn't stop speaking, singing, organizing. She'd say, "We're sick and tired of being sick and tired." 

I first learned her name from a Sweet Honey In The Rock song, which Bernice Johnson Regan introduced saying, "We are here today because of something someone did before we came."

Detail, Portrait of Fannie Lou Hamer by Jude Spacks

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Woman Stops Braining Herself With Carrot Stick

List Misery

A client was deep in the woe-throes. Her mind whirled with worry and self-criticism about everything she wasn't getting done.

"It sounds like you believe that you can't feel better until you do the things on your list," I said, noting the obvious.

She was too polite to say, "Duh!" She re-explained the dire urgencies involved. Her scenarios gathered momentum, careened into side paths, pin-balled off impossibilities.

"Do you think you have to do everything on the list to feel better? Or could you do just one thing?" I asked.

Everything! That terrible anxious bad-girl feeling would not let up until every single crucial item was done. Her mind supplied even more reasons--excellent, compelling reasons. 

Except, so far, they hadn't worked to compel her into action. However much the voice she called Responsible berated her, somehow the flip-side she named Irresponsible wasn't actually doing anything.

Reality testing

"Can you be certain that this theory, the I'll-Only-Feel-Better-When-It's-All-Done hypothesis, describes how this really works? For instance, is it possible that you could start feeling better, out of the blue, even if everything on the List wasn't done? Could you just be graced with a better feeling?"

Well...maybe possible.

"And is it possible that, even if you did everything on the List, you might not feel better, or not for long?"

She supposed so. Responsible might just pile on more items, and keep hounding Irresponsible into obedience by dangling the carrot of temporary satisfaction and threatening with the stick of feeling wrong and afraid. 

And neither carrot nor stick came with a guarantee--she might feel better even without completing the list and she might not feel better even if she accomplished everything on it. 

Plus: running after a carrot or fleeing a stick both tend to be stressful ways to live.

Does it work?

I call my version of the players in this pattern Gotta-Gotta and Can'tMakeMe. Or I use a friend's name for one of hers: Ina Wanna. My client is far from alone in this kind of inner tug-of-war.

The natural satisfaction of doing things we want to can be sucked up into this belief system and used as evidence that the carrot and stick trick worked. But maybe the good feeling came not so much from the Responsible part winning or being right, but from a ceasefire. 

Maybe it simply feels good to put down the carrot/stick and relax into the present for a few minutes. Maybe that can happen before the conditions we think we'd prefer are met.

Do we really have to force, manipulate and boss ourselves around? Does it really help to get things done? It can take courage to even consider dropping the pressure. It's like being a heretic to a cultural religion.

The Happy Ending

My client began to recognize that her pain was in her brain. Her distress wasn't coming from the incomplete list or any of the possible consequences that her imagination could paint so vividly. It was coming from the pattern of conflict happening in her thinking, which didn't reflect reality.

She could see that players in the pattern were innocent. They were both out to protect her--Responsible by motivating her towards helpful action, Irresponsible by insisting on her freedom and flexibility. They were on the same team, really. 

But the conflict wasn't giving her any leverage over getting things done, not in reality. Nor was it helping her feel free. In fact, it was making it much harder to do anything at all. 

She dared to look within and explore who she would be without the whole pattern. What would really happen if she tried, just for the moment, stopping this carrot/stick schtick (which wasn't working anyway)?

She saw that without buying into the Responsible/Irresponsible drama, she'd be simply a person, breathing in and out--maybe picking up the telephone, making a note on a piece of paper, asking a friend a question. Taking care of the nitty-gritty of the list (or not) with the sweet, familiar peace and freedom of her own presence. Grateful. Willing. Unafraid.

It only took an instant.



"In the desert you see a river mirage and you are thirsty.  
The more you chase it, the further away it moves. 
You can never quench your thirst in that river.
This is samsara. You want to quench your thirst and 
you move toward an object of enjoyment and you get no enjoyment.
Once you know, by your experience, that it is only a mirage, 
that no river exists, this understanding alone is enough.
You will not run after these things. You will stay where you are.

This is the rise of desire, 
to quench the thirst running after a mirage.  
And nobody is happy running after imaginary rivers in the desert. 
Nobody is happy. One desire leads to another desire.
Who is there that says, “I am satisfied”?

So we have to turn to that which is beyond suffering and misery.

When a desire is fulfilled, for a moment you are happy.
If you watch closely, you will see 
it is not the object that gives you happiness.
In that moment there is no desire, 
and your mind is empty.
This emptiness gives you happiness. "


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Shake Your Meaning-Maker

Looking in Mirror of Aging Beautifully


Thanks to a recommendation on Havi Brooks' ever-wonderful Fluent Self blog, I recently read How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable by Suzette Haden Elgin.

One of my fave examples in the book describes a conflict between coworkers following a successful sales meeting. The woman is furious with her team member because she sees him as having lied when he claimed to have confirmed with a key supplier. Worse, she thinks he made her complicit in the lie because she couldn't correct him in front of the client.

From the man's point of view, he didn't lie at all. He had a good-enough understanding with the supplier, even if it wasn't in stone. At the most, he shaded the truth in an acceptable, even necessary, way.

The underlying problem? Though neither knows it, they each perceive the situation through the framework of a different metaphor, with a different set of implied rules.

Hers: Life is a Traditional Schoolroom--in school, if a statement is literally false, it's a lie. His: Life is Football--it's ok, even skillful, to pretend you have the ball when you don't or to fake a pass--all part of how the game is played.

It was like they were speaking entirely different languages.


What Language We're Speaking to Ourselves

We often don't notice that we've assigned meaning to a situation within a metaphorical framework, much less what that underlying frame is. Our unconscious imagery can seem like the only neutral, realistic way to see a situation, and we don't realize how it has influenced and limited our perception. Metaphor can be like water to fishes--we don't notice what we're swimming in.

For instance, we may live by the metaphor Time is Money. Or Time is a Thing (which can be divided into bits, quantified, allocated in various ways). How different the perspective offered by Time is (infinite) Space, or Time is an Ocean without a Shore! Not necessarily a better, or more accurate perspective. But by including other ways of seeing it, the experience of time opens into greater richness.  

My idea of a good time: consciously playing with the metaphors we're using to organize our perceptions. This limbers up the ever-creating mind, giving us the joyful flexibility of seeing that we're making things up all the time. Which can free us from blocks and conflicts, external or internal.

Star Mirror (fabric, paints, mirror)


Messing with Metaphors

Metaphor was the topic for our most recent Truth and Dare (Occupy Your Creativity) group call. The day before the class, I needed to make some decisions about money. I started to notice a vague anxious discomfort. I couldn't identify quite what was causing it. So I tried out a version of an exercise I'd designed for the group. What if this weren't about Money? What if it were about School, for instance?

What kind of School story might fit this situation? 
I thought I already took the test and aced it, but now I find out it hasn't happened yet, and I forgot to study for it at all.

If this were like a Journey, what aspect would it be?
It's a dark and stormy night and no room at the inn.

What if this were a Place? What would it be like?  
A sinkhole.

If it were a Game?
Tennis, except I'm trying to play both sides of the net.

How about a Relationship?
A child who has angered an adult and doesn't know why or how to fix it.

Scanning for the most resonance, I picked the sinkhole image.

What does this remind you of? What's the association?

That teaching story about someone falling into a hole in the road a bunch of times, but getting out of it quicker each time, and then going around it, until eventually they take a different road that doesn't have a hole in it.

I looked for how the money situation matched this. What was familiar? What hole had I fallen into again even though I tried not to?

Now the tennis-on-both-sides-of-the-net image was tugging on my sleeve. My association was about trying to manage what other people think and feel about me instead of just attending to my own business and giving my best game. That was indeed a hole I have some practice falling into and trying to go around.

I felt something click into place. Suddenly I could see that I had been making myself nervous about what another person might think and feel, as if I must be a bad girl if they felt displeased. Instead of looking out at others and worrying about their reactions, I could really check into where I might be out of integrity. I found it! (a way I hadn't communicated clearly). Easy to own up to and correct. Liberation! Out of the sinkhole for now.

Money had been a dream image, a clue, a breadcrumb dropped by the psyche to follow home.

"Metaphors: knowledge existing 
in several states simultaneously 
and without contradiction"
–from the novel Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson

Phoenix Mirror (fabrics, thread, paint, mirror)


A metaphor is a mirror showing you an image of your truth. (That would make a mirror a metaphor for a metaphor ;-)).

Metaphorical description can bring poetry and fresh perspective. And a metaphor can sometimes take us beyond description. You can unpack its rules and different aspects to inform and expand what you see about whatever you assigned that metaphor to. It can point you to the wisdom available in peripheral awareness that hides if you turn full frontal logical attention towards it.

This kind of meaning-making works a bit like dream interpretation, or consulting an oracle. It calls for associative, fluid, creative interpretation.



As it happened, I consulted the I Ching just before leading that Truth and Dare Group on metaphor. I got hexagram 51 (Shock) changing to 41 (Decrease).

This seemed to predict something disturbing about the class that would lead to diminishment of some kind. I furrowed my brow. The group had been going so well. Was it time for a pendulum swing, for it to fizzle in some shocking way? Was it time for some ego-decrease for me?

Maybe I could see this as a wake-up call to shake me out of identifying so much with whether the group seemed to be thriving. I utterly, completely, wholeheartedly love this group. But if I were making it mean something crucial about my own success/failure, I was certain to experience shock and loss if things didn't go the way I expected and wanted.

So why not drop the framework that I'd be evaluated on my teaching/facilitating, or even on my degree of ego-attachment–-as if this were some make-or-break final exam? Why not drop even the familiar Life is School metaphor that supported that frame? I breathed a relief sigh, and launched into the group happily, riding a metaphor of adventure, or surfing, or maybe yeeehaw meaning-wrangling rodeo.

When 2 people unexpectedly had to leave early, I thought, Oh! That kind of decrease!


Want to play? 

Pick a metaphor, any metaphor, (or a few) for a situation that you'd like to see freshly.

Answer some of these questions, or find others that intrigue you. What if this concern were some kind of a dream, or a house, an animal, a game, illness, weather pattern, building trade, relationship, country, food, family connection, terrain, body part, music, job, picture, journey, school, sport? 

Let the answers be brief stories or phrases. Write quickly, grabbing the first thoughts that come, especially the quirky or unexpected. Most important: leave interpretation for later. Don't stop to make sense out of what you find. Just check into another possibility, make up another image. Keep answering until you feel a bit of relaxation of your mental grip/attention on the concern or situation you started with.

Then choose an image that feels mysterious, confusing, intriguing or resonant, and investigate what your associations are to it. Forget completely about the situation you started with. What does this image mean to you right now? What does it remind you of? How would you define it? If you had to explain the meaning of this phrase or image to someone from another planet, what would you say? Repeat with other images that call to you. Don't skip over this step as it can really pull out the less-obvious significance in your metaphors.

Finally, look in a non-literal way for what this meaning sparks as a connection to the concern you wanted perspective on. Does it give you a different language for it? Does it shift things, or bring an aha?

I'd love to hear what you find out.

Angel Mirror (fabrics, paint, thread and mirror)

I tried this out at the end of the day, looking back on it. What if the kind of day I'd had were a country? Poland.

Poland? How would I describe what Poland means to me? That despite centuries of various kinds of oppression and hardship, people there have a gutsy, grounded love of life that shines through.

Huh. I had felt ill and heavy in the morning, out of sorts with myself. But there had been a love of life shining through, all day. Nice to notice!

If you'd like to hear about the next openings for Truth and Dare (Occupy Your Creativity) Group, sign up on the upper right of this page.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Recipe for Deciding

No Dichotomy

I can modestly say I'm pretty good at Flying By Seat O' Pants. But sometimes it seems like a little decisive foresight might do a world of good for the home team. In the game of life, it can help to pick a card, any card, and go from there, without back-talk. 


Here is one of my fave current mind toys:

Ingredients: paper, pen. 

1. Make a list of "Things I might want to do" related to the decision-needing topic.
  • Drop any concern with How? or Why?
  • Abstain from But... and Because...
  • Include the silly, improbable and fun.
  • Include variations on themes, different configurations of possibilities.
  • Don't pre-qualify. Go for speed and quantity.
2. Do something else for a little while. 
  • Take a 10 minute Field Trip.
  • Or: hum a tune 
  • Get a little snack
  • Take a walk
  • Pat a resident pet.   
3. Recall a recent satisfying decision, big or little. How did it feel?
  • Confident? Playful? Light and energetic?
  • Did the decision seem to make itself without resistance or second-guessing?
  • Did you sense this would be a fine move for all concerned? 
  • Did you feel like if it didn't work out, you'd just try something else?
4. From the feeling-state of happy deciding you just recalled, read each item on your list, listening to your heart and gut.
  • Cross out, ruthlessly, anything that makes your energy sag. Be a warrior: the pen is your sword. 
  • Circle anything that has a lift, a whiff of enthusiasm, a Yes. 
  • If you truly Don't Know yet, write DK next to the option. 
  • Let yourself be surprised.
  • Move quickly. Don't linger or cogitate.
5. Acknowledge:
  • No=Yes. No is yes to you, to your truth right now.
  • Don't Know=Yes also. Are you willing to whole-heartedly Not-Know about this option for now? 
  • Don't Know is a place to stand and step on from, just like No and Yes are.

Voila! You have made decisions. To continue....


"If it's not a Hell, YES! it's a No."--Marie Forleo 


6. Pick a circled option, a Yes–preferably a 'Hell, YES!'
  • Make a list of small, clearly-defined actions you could take to move towards it.
  • Clearly-defined means you can tell when you've done it, and it's within your power to do on a day of average wattage, not genius. Time limits often work well for defining actions. 
  • Do something else for a little while. Mental sorbet: clear the palate.
  • Come back and circle and cross out those actions, yessing the ones with a lift....
  • and do one of the Yes's
Repeat as needed. ;-)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Difficulty at the Beginning

Want a reading, based on the wisdom of the I Ching Book of Changes, about a difficult beginning in your life or work?  
  • Jot down the topic you're curious about. 
  • Pick a number between 1 and 6. 
Read the post, +/or scroll down to see the advice that corresponds with your number....
Intersection (markers) Jude Spacks 2011

After the sluggishness of a creative mud season, what a relief to get a fresh start! Bright, sparkly, new ideas jostle for attention. The mind zips around like a crazed puppy, trying to sniff everything at once.

In this phase of beginning anything, so much is in flux. We may feel scattered and breathless at the variety of all that wants to zing into being. The strands of different possibilities intersect and tangle with each other, making it hard to see which comes before what, and who's next.

When you're blessed with a springtime of creative growth like this, how can you skillfully handle the confusion and chaos that may roll in with it?

The I Ching suggests we "arrange and organize the inchoate profusion of such times of beginning, just as one sorts out silk threads from a knotted tangle."(Wilhem/Baynes). We need persistence, patience, and a delicate, sensitive touch to help things sort themselves out. Sometimes the best way forward is to hold back from seeking quick results.

"Restless action interferes with the creative process unfolding. If we can persevere in non-action and disengagement, the Creative will resolve everything correctly."
--A Guide to the I Ching, (Hexagram 3, Difficulty at the Beginning) by Carol Anthony


Want a reading about a beginning in your life or work?  
  • Think of a topic you're curious about
  • Pick a number between 1 and 6
  • Read the advice below corresponding to the number you picked.
  • Keeping an open mind, can you see how this might apply to your situation?
1. If you meet a hindrance, don't act just for the sake of action. Dissolve inner obstacles within your beliefs and attitudes. Without abandoning your goal, pause, take thought, and don't be too proud to ask for help.

2. In the midst of challenges, something unexpected happens. You truly can't tell if it's a windfall or a set-back. Be cautious about premature solutions. Don't give in to pressure to make a deal that might compromise your integrity and independence.

3. You will not be able to find your way without more perspective. This isn't a time to try to wing it or slide by. For now, stop seeking resolution, ask for spiritual guidance, and wait for clarity.

4. Relax pride and take the risk of being the first to reach out for a connection. You need help in order to make real progress; there's no shame in this. Collaborate. All goes well.

5. Your good intentions are being misunderstood; explaining them won't help. For now, continue in the background without making a big deal out of it. Take one small step at a time, until the situation gradually clears up and the way opens to proceeding on a larger scale.

It seems like you're not getting anywhere and the difficulties are too great. You're understandably discouraged. It's natural that sometimes things just don't work out. But do not indulge in an attitude of resignation and defeat. Rid yourself of the effort to shore up any self-image. You have nothing to prove.

"Times of growth are beset with difficulties....But these difficulties arise from the very profusion of all that is struggling to attain form. Everything is in motion: therefore if one perseveres there is a prospect of great success, in spite of the existing danger."
--I Ching Book of Changes (Hexagram 3, Difficulty at the Beginning) Wilhelm/Baynes trans


Could you use some help with further untangling your mind about something? 
See if Truth and Dare Coaching might assist.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Entering Retreat

Self Portrait, markers, Jude Spacks 2012
(See younger self-portraits and reflections on arting about less-than-sunny stuff here).

This year for my birthday I gave myself a big present: a 10 day creative retreat at home.

I've taken other open-calendar periods like this in the last few years, and I'm starting to get the hang of what kind of structure supports me in risking unpremeditated new work (or just a humble return to any art practice when rusty).

This time, as my own private retreat leader, I wanted to take more conscious care with entry and exit practices.

I remembered a moving story from The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander. At a competitive university, students in a music performance class were given only one requirement to get an 'A'. They had to write a letter at the beginning of the course, pretending to look back on the experience from the perspective of themselves at the end of the class, explaining why they deserved their excellent grade.

Something about that appealed to me. The students' letters are full of authentic discovery of their own passionate commitment to their craft. But my own commitment, my own edge, has to do with retreating from the incessant habit of anxious self-evaluation which asks, "Am I doing the right thing? In the right way? How about now?" So projecting why I might "deserve" any evaluation, even a positive one, at the end of the retreat seemed a little off.

On the first day I brainstormed a list of things I might want to work on, and decided on a very attainable minimum to ask of myself daily. Then I found myself writing a love letter to my embarking self as if from myself on the final day. It felt like a great way to get oriented. It surprised me. Here's what came out:

Dearest JudeNow StartingRetreat

Thank you for being so honest about what you want. Thank you for your courage to take a retreat without really knowing what it would be about. Thank you for risking that I would be somehow disappointed or feel let down by you and do the sigh of Not Enough.

I'm so sorry for all the times I've done that. Of course it makes it so confusing how much to "take charge" and how to find the privacy of really resting into I Don't Know.

I am so grateful for this time we had together, Precious. It was so grace-filled, so full, so beyond enough! I love your willingness to keep experimenting with what structure helps us know freedom, and when resisting can be bondage.

I love how spacious this time was. I love how refreshed and sparkly-alive I feel. Thank you for this gift, Beloved!

FutureJude of Post-Retreat

It all came true!

Today, post-retreat, I wrote this report:

Was SO happy with the Conditions of Enoughness (Jen Louden's term) I'd set up for retreat. As so often, the main challenge was to wholeheartedly agree to the 'enough' part. And even partial-heartedly cooperating was actually enough in itself, too.

I don't need "Not Enough!" to vanish quicker or never appear again. I just want to hypnotize myself less often into identifying with it. As long as I don't turn that crank, the NotEnough pattern is harmless (actually, it's an artifact of early adaptation that is simply a form of love). I am not a victim of this habit of anxious attention. I am not the long-suffering roommate of inner havoc-wreakers and meanies. I'm the space, honest to god. Just the space, the alive holy space of it all....

What would be in your love letter from a future to a current self on the borders of beginning and ending something?