Friday, October 24, 2014

Monster Mirrors Part 1

For years now, I've been working on a graphic book about self-reconciliation called The Innocence Trip: How to Kiss and Make-Up When You've Been Fighting Inside. 

This summer, I ditched the self-helpish version I'd labored over, and tried a new approach. It starts with a little cartoon about how scary thoughts seem realer when we argue with them and then goes into an illustrated memoir about my own (in-progress) liberation from guilt-tripping and other made-up mind traps.

Working on this version, I've had the turvy feeling of walking out beyond the edge of my maps. A spot of ground the size of my foot appears as I'm stepping on it, bringing a dizzy thrill. Or, What Next? doesn't appear yet, so I wait in not-knowing, and tend to other things.

Here's the cartoon intro, in time for Halloween. 

To be continued....

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fun With Your Plastic Brain

Neuroplasticity Success Story 

A friend suffered from chronic pain for years. She experienced her first sustained relief after working with a healer whose methods apply new findings about neuroplasticity--how the wiring of the brain can transform.

She continues to practice what she learned. When she first feels the painful sensations, she reminds herself that the pain occurs only in her brain, not elsewhere in her body (where physical causes have been ruled out). Then she redirects her mind to something else, like singing a song.

Simplistic as it sounds, changing the channel this way has been revolutionary for her. She has stopped reinforcing the neural pathways of pain and has tangible evidence that they are dwindling. She is relaxing into longer and longer pain-free periods.

The Pain is in the Brain

This friend's experience suggests a powerful way to look at transforming your own mental pathways. The first, crucial step is to realize that the difficulty you face is happening in your brain.

This reframe looks simple, and sometimes it is. It might be easy to remind yourself
that pain is in the brain if you already believe it doesn't really indicate something wrong in the body or the world, even though it might feel like it does.

But often it may seem irrelevant or inaccurate to see the pain as in the brain--especially when it looks like a difficulty lives outside, in our circumstances, with the brain only passively, objectively pointing it out.

The Mind is a Magician

The mind's job is to project its interpretations outwards and to believe its own conclusions. It creates the often highly adaptive illusion that its interpretations actually are reality.

This illusion makes for useful efficiency in many circumstances. We can go with our brain's best guess without being distracted by awareness that a guess was involved.

Usually the show
is seamless. We might only become aware of the brain's magic of projecting interpretations as reality when there's been a misinterpretation of sense stimuli for some reason--when a mirage dissolves, for instance. But we're also influenced by a skillful illusionist when we believe there's no interpretation happening at all.

The Brain Behind the Curtain

Remember in The Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back a curtain, exposing the Wizard as he manipulates the mechanisms that have been producing such impressive illusions? The magician brain sometimes has these Wizard-of-Oz moments, intoning "Pay no attention to the one behind the curtain"--it tries to hide its own role in creating our experience.

I know someone who lost her hearing in one ear. When she's in bed, the window is to her right, the side where her hearing loss is almost total. So now she hears sounds from outside the window as if they were coming from the left, inside her apartment.

But for her, there is no as if. Her brain confidently informs her, for instance, that a dog is barking outside her bedroom door (since she has no dog, she finds this unnerving). Her brain continues to interpret information as it did when she received sound data from both sides of her head
. She gets to see the magician brain at work, spinning a story which might just as well be fiction as non-fiction.

What about mental distress?

It looks like a (forgive me) no-brainer to say the painful mental-emotional patterns that lead to creative blocks happen in the brain. For instance, if you get harassed by jeering critical voices when you try to work, obviously the problem is in the head; where else could it be?

But it can often feel like painful patterns are just the way things are, as if they were simply happening to you. Without really noticing, you may experience the discomfort of a habitual pattern as if it occurred out of reach of the brain which actually creates and projects it.

You might believe that the pain of those critical voices was caused by people who said
mean things like that to you long ago. If so, you're believing a fixed story of a past. However insightful it might be about the origins of the pattern, such a story hypnotizes you into forgetting that the pain now is being invented in your current neural pathways--which can change.

Working Worst Under Pressure

Maybe as a deadline careens towards you, pressure starts squashing your inspiration.
You just need another few days, or a better night's sleep. If you had more money or fewer responsibilities breathing down your neck, you'd be fine....but right now you have a real problem. You didn't make it up. It truly seems like the difficulty is happening outside the brain's jurisdiction--the oldest slight-of-hand in the mind's bag of tricks. 

When you stop to consider, you see that the pressure problem comes not from the actual deadline, or the number in your bank account, etc, but from your reaction to these conditions, salted with ideas about your limitations and priorities, with a side of self-concepts about your worthiness, and so on. All that originates in your brain, not in the calendar or the bank's computer.

The Future is an Act of Imagination

You might be watching a gripping mental movie about how not meeting that deadline will lead to your eating out of garbage cans and applying all your creative zip to reorganizing the  bags in your shopping cart.

"Fix it! Emergency! Emergency!" Your protective mind just amped up its job of convincing you that what it shows you is reality. "This pressure is real," it insists. And it is real, inside the mind that is experiencing it. As real as the phantom limb pain which the brains of amputees locate in a body part that no longer exists.

Future Fear

Fear can sound as certain as a meteorologist predicting the chance of dawn tomorrow morning. But fear does not have the predictive power it seems to.
Sure, maybe you'll find yourself pushing that shopping cart on the street, and maybe you'll be loading it with high-end organic goodies in the supermarket.

Where does fear exist? Is it in the future circumstances and consequences you want to avoid? However helpful it might be to consider possible outcomes when planning, they haven't happened yet and have no actual reality. Fear occurs only here and now, through the mental process of imagination and the bodily sensations that reflect it.

All creative blocks involve fear in some form--
fear of failure, success, or embarrassment, fear of change, of loss, of people's opinions. And no matter what their content, fearful thought patterns can change, once you realize that the pain is in the brain, nowhere else.

Got it. Then What?

OK, so now you're convinced by your reframe: you have your brain
to thank for the experience of a block, not external circumstances, past, present or future.

Based on the success story we started with, your next step would be to find an effective way to change the channel and stop reinforcing the mental pathways that got you into this pickle. With practice, that old road to suffering will disappear from disuse, as new mental pathways strengthen. Brain research confirms that this is literally, physically the way it works.

Where's The Remote?

How exactly to change the channel? This is a creative endeavor of its own, calling for experimentation. Getting creative about freeing your creativity has to come out of the particulars of your challenges. What might happen if you noticed the specific mechanism of a block and then consistently interrupted it with a change of focus at the first signs?

Here are a few approaches you might want to play with.


For brain circuitry to change, it first has to stop doing what it's always done.

When people can't use an arm because the relevant part of their brain has been disabled by stroke, re-training the brain begins with stopping using the arm that still works. The 'good' arm is bound in a sling so that some of the neurons that direct it can re-wire to control the other arm. Intensive practice with the 'bad' arm creates the new pathways that are needed.

Experiments have shown that neurons that fire together wire together--if different neural pathways are often used at the same time, they begin to physically integrate with each other until it becomes difficult to re-differentiate them.

The habit of a creative block may be made up of a lot of different coordinated factors. To stop, to put the pattern in the equivalent of the 'good' arm's sling, might mean to practice inhibiting one or more factors in an almost mechanical way.

For instance, I write very slowly. I've never been able to write a quick and dirty first draft, and I've tried. (It might be dirty, but it sure isn't quick!) The functions of editing, rewriting and writing new parts are usually all mixed together for me.

I've noticed that I often go back to the beginning of a piece and reread, while editing, to orient myself before writing what's next. Sometimes that's useful, but I'm guessing it's often part of how I slow myself down.

So I'm trying out stopping rereading what I've already got. When I don't know what's next, I simply stop myself from backtracking. I'm not being rigid about it, but my hope is that this might start to differentiate rereading and fresh writing from each other, and give me more efficiency and flexibility in my writing process.

What part(s) of your block could you practice stopping?

Curing Illusion with Illusion

Neuroplasticity research has led to relief for amputees with phantom limb pain. Often a missing limb is experienced as painfully stuck in a position it was in before it was removed. New treatments use mirror boxes constructed like the props for a magic show. In them, the brain 'sees' a mirror image of a missing limb and moves it; this allows the brain to stop sending out its message of stuckness.

When affirmations work, perhaps a similar trick is involved. You convince yourself that your illusion of stuckness has already been resolved. You might experiment with giving yourself tangible signs which mirror that the block or problem is already over.

For instance, if you chronically start worrying about money instead of giving yourself over to the next steps on your project, you might open a special bank account that you tithe a percentage of your earnings into, to symbolically or literally fund creative time. There are some other ideas about breaking through money blocks here; (remember, the pain is in the brain, not the cash or lack of it).


Our friend at the beginning of the article takes her attention off brain-created pain sensations and throws herself into singing. When attention engages freshly, its previous focus disappears.

We've all experienced this. While you're ripping open an envelope containing the answer you've been waiting for, you don't really notice the toe you just stubbed. And if you don't feel pain, it's not there.

We often practice this kind of common sense anyway; now neuroscience explains that it actually rewires our brains. So when you catch yourself feeling stuck, put your attention somewhere else. Get involved in something completely different--go for a walk, or set a timer and doodle for 10 minutes, or, or, or....

It may take focused intention to recognize that a block mechanism is in process, and to then redirect that attention energy elsewhere. Or, it might be as easy and natural as cooperating with the urge to let out a sigh, stretch your body, take a drink of water and refresh yourself. 

You don't have to know the solution yet--that may come anytime as the gift of an insight from your deeper intelligence. Your channel to the infinite and mysterious source of all creative inspiration is still here, no matter what temporary weather of  reactivity you're experiencing. 

Would you like to explore how you can more fully discover 
freedom from stressful mental habits
and live with the clarity and ease of your natural wisdom?

Truth and Dare Coaching invites the liberating laughter
of seeing through scary self-made illusions
to the reality of your own brilliance in action.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dark Joke

One black hole says to another, "You are so self-absorbed!"

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Theory

Road to the Pond (digitally edited oil sketch by Jude Spacks, 2014)

A friend felt she'd made a big mistake. Even though it had come out alright in the end, she obviously had to buckle down to some hard-labor inner work now. Where had she gone wrong? The story echoed resoundingly with unhappy themes from way back when. What ghastly hidden motives, tendencies and confusions needed to be untangled and cleared up? (In a most compassionate and forgiving way, of course). There must be something important to learn from all this. She'd called to ask for my help to go digging for it.

So many times I've diligently set about 'dealing' with an inner world snafu like this, believing I couldn't get over it until I'd bravely dived into the depths, mining for insights. But lately I've been semi-retired from busying my brain this way, even though I was pretty good at the job--a useful one at times, no doubt.

I saw a little cartoon in my imagination: I'm homeless, rattling a cup for spare change, with a cardboard sign saying, "Will delve for food."

A theory popped out of my mouth. "Fresh new neuropathways are being built, ones leading to creative, healthy ways to respond to experiences like this. So it's best not to send a whole lot of thought-traffic through right now. Let the mind slow down, give the new ways some space to develop. If you spin out a high volume of serious thoughts, they'll have to take that big old superhighway which you really don't like traveling on anymore."


"Did you just make that up?" she asked. 

"Yup," I said, "I guess so. What if there's really nothing to figure out? The voice of wisdom is notoriously still and small. Easier to hear when it's quieter inside. Amble on down a country road, without any hurry to get there. This whole experience has gone into the past now. Why not just let it be over? Play hookey from the school of Learning What's Wrong With You That Caused 'Mistakes'." 

"I can't tell you how relieved I feel hearing that," she sighed. 

My cat stretched in her sleep and tucked her nose under her paw.  Pretty soon, my friend got off the phone to go spend time with her son. 


"Don’t give rise to any thought, and discover who you are."



Would you like to explore how you can more fully discover 
freedom from stressful mental habits
and live with the clarity and ease of your natural wisdom?

Truth and Dare Coaching invites the liberating laughter
of seeing through scary self-made illusions
to the reality of your own brilliance in action.
Fill out this questionaire, and we can have a (no charge) conversation
to explore whether we might be a good fit to work together

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Drawing Papers

drawing of papers by a window; (c)JudeSpacks2014
Those Papers I've Been Meaning to Deal With For Over A Year

Before giving this prompt to my Awakening Vision Course, I tried it myself: Draw something you feel negativity or rejection towards--anything from boredom to aesthetic disgust. (I asked that they not choose anything oozy or smelly). 

An experiment: Could aversion survive the beam of unbiased attention that engages with the act of drawing? Nope, not this time for me, anyway. My area of paper chaos had been evoking a mild cringe of shame and obligation every time I walked by it. Now this has simply dissolved into light and dark contrasting.

In class, I read a snippet from The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (A No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Novel by Alexander McCall Smith): "If Mma Soleti thought that Daisy Manchwe nursed an undying hatred towards her for stealing her husband, then she was probably right. She would have seen the daggers in the other woman's eyes; daggers in the eyes were always visible, sometimes even through sunglasses."

I urged people to look at their object with daggers of rejection in the eyes to start with, and to let that energy transmit right onto the page--no holding back, no trying to accomplish results.

What we noticed: it's not easy to maintain daggers in the eyes. Starting that way can liberate some people from a notion of responsibility to
make things look good which stifles direct involvement with what they perceive. But eye daggers naturally and quickly transmute into pure, keen attention, and even these not-worth-looking-at items began to glow on everyone's pages.

My papers remain unsorted. I walk by with a friendly smile for them.


“ is the best thing that i ever do. First of all because it gets me to be so silent. To not be blurting out what i think about this or feel about that. Second, I become an open observer, jotting down visual notes about something i see. And third, it puts me in the world of praise. To be looking upon an object and taking the time to sketch it is an innocent, unaggressive, and grounding act. It is where bliss resides. It is pure BEING. “

--D. Price in Moonlight Chronicles