Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recently, a colleague of mine said, "I've noticed you're saying 'no,' a lot."

The striking thing was, she meant it as a compliment.

You've had those moments when you're just not sure what you want to do with yourself, right? Is this job right for me? When should I start / expand a family? Where should we go on vacation? How did that annoying piece of decor manage to come with us when we moved? Should I start / change an exercise routine? What is that random object on my desk?

Some people [yogis] call it "monkey mind," others [shrinks] call it "ADD."

I call it, "not having a pre-occupation of the moment." When one has a pre-occupation of the moment, there is a default thought that one can turn to when bored, annoyed, or otherwise under-stimulated. For instance, if your pre-occupation of the moment was "bread pudding," every time you had a down moment, you would be thinking about bread pudding. I.e.: Where can I get bread pudding? Is bread pudding easy to make? How can I find the best recipe for bread pudding? I wonder if I could eat bread pudding for an entire meal... etc.

Pre-occupations-of-the-moment are a godsend. They provide a soothing effect, because there are answers to the questions they raise, many of which can be determined with a simple google search, or series of delightful conversations with people knowledgeable on the subject.

I love having pre-occupations-of-the-moment, and often try to have several going at once.

Even still, there are occasions on which I find myself wondering about what I am doing with my life.

And, when one is wondering that, not google nor any length of series of delightful conversations with knowledgeables will be able to supply a satisfying answer. Perhaps this is why larger questions of career and life are often referred to as one's "occupation" (minus the pre-).

What many of us experience in this state is a rampant, trying-out of opportunities. Someone suggests a consulting job or a business referral or an introduction to another person in a similar field, and we say, "Yes."

We try things, frantically measuring them against the voice in our monkey ADD minds to see if anything's registering on the "what to do with my life" scale. Sometimes something sort of does but sort of doesn't, and it's hard to assess what of it worked, and what didn't. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed trying to take up opportunities simply because they were presented, that we forget what we were taking things up for to begin with, and fall into what someone else thinks might be a good idea for us.

As you can see, there are many pitfalls to having too large an occupation, and not enough pre-occupations.

So, I began saying, "No."

Recently, I said no to a proposed speaking engagement [I get stagefright, and only something spectacularly aligned with my goals warrants facing it], no to continuing a networking group with people I respect and admire [my time and energy was better spent on marketing that was more in tune with the way I enjoy promoting my business], and no to the idea that I will live in New York City forever [I love New York, but it's a big world out there!].

Does this "saying no" instantaneously provide clarity on every aspect in question in terms of what to do with myself?


But, it does establish clear boundaries in my head - and boundaries, I have found, are the baseboards of creativity. As soon as our limits are clearly defined, we begin to see more clearly the resources we have to work with. Have you ever felt overwhelmed with a project, then sat down, created a budget for it, and instantly saw how doable it was? Even budgetary constraints can be a blessing, when it comes to creativity, because rather than have infinite options to and from which our minds can bounce and deliberate, we can see a limited list of choices to be made, and easily determine which of those viable options will be most pleasing.

So, I'm going to keep saying no, until it's perfectly clear exactly all the directions I would not like to go, and finally I box myself into exactly where I would like to go. And, if I'm boxed in, I'll already be contained therein, and the answer to the question about what I'm doing, I suspect, will be right before my eyes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Send me a photo caption!

I am doing an experiment to foster creativity in myself and the readers of this blog. That means you!

Please send me a photo caption - for a photo that doesn't yet exist. It can be anything - a person, place or thing, or something more ethereal. It can be abstract or specific, leading or obscure. For example:
- "The Silliest Kid in the World"
- "Adventure Walk"
- "Looking for Transformation"
- "Awakening Delight"
Post your caption to the wall of the Sarah Sloboda Photography facebook page. I will select the captions that most inspire me, and try to capture the essence of your caption. You can keep up with this experiment on the Sarah Sloboda Photography facebook page - and if you're not already, be sure you're currently a fan.

Send me a photo caption!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Blinking Yourself Wise

I blink. I wonder, how many times in a day? When I was 15, I had a boyfriend who was looking in my eyes one day and said, "You blink a lot." So, perhaps I blink more than the average person.

When I blink, information seeps in. Not visual information from the outside world, but information from the inside. Maybe from inside my own head or my own heart. Maybe from some unknown inner world I wouldn't begin to explain here, as there are many other more gifted and credible resources on the unknown.

Whatever you believe, you know that the minute you stop trying to think of the words to that song of which the tune is stuck in your head, they come to you.

I am supposing - just supposing - that it is entirely possible that this is somehow related to what happens when we blink.

I walk down the street, taking in an exorbitant amount of New York City street information - colors, people, signs of danger, oncoming traffic, cultures, religions, sales pitches, images, architecture, communication between people, sounds of the train coming or going - and all of this information is processed by my brain, in order to decipher what of it, if any, is pertinent or needs reacting to. I have what seems like a million strains of thought going at once, from all the external stimulus, not to mention new business strategies, new creative ideas, what's going on with my family and friends.

Yet, somehow this information seeps in.

Information like, "I would like to spend more time in Europe." Or, "There is still more to be said about the peacefulness of watching the sun go down on a warm night in the lush green summer of Ohio."

How does it get in? Every moment possible is filled in this city, and whatever's not full I take the opportunity to fill with ample use of my iPhone's capabilities.

There must be some secret portal where wisdom sneaks up on you, so that you get it, even when you are not thinking about getting it - even when you are thinking about everything you possibly can BESIDES getting it. Reading on the subway while listening to one's iPod can't even stop up this magic portal!

So, I am supposing, it has something to do with a blink.

In meditation, or in deep concentration, we close our eyes, we let images and thoughts come to us, and we release them just as easily. Anyone who has practiced any exercise to help clear one's mind, can certainly attest to the fact that there is wisdom there, once the clutter has cleared. "Ah ha!" we think. "There really is something brewing with all of this life experience! Insights are forming - I just need to give my mind the space to see them clearly."

But for me, lately, I haven't made time to sit and meditate. I just keep going about the day, enjoying my portable electronic devices as a well-loved distraction from the otherwise bombardment of stimuli from city life. And yet, this information is still seeping in.

"Go for a walk," says the information to me. And when I take that walk, a connection occurs to me, or I run into someone I've been needed to see.

One would think, if it's just a blink, as opposed to a long period of concentrated close-eyed-ness, maybe not as much information can come through. But as a photographer, I wonder if it's something like a camera - there are two ways to let light in on a camera: 1) the length of time the shutter is open (blink versus long meditation), and 2) the size of the opening of the aperture. So, maybe, if I am toying with larger questions in life, it is like the opening of the aperture is VERY wide, and all it takes is a blink to let the information in.

Here's an experiment, when you're walking along, minding your usual business of incessant multi-tasking, just notice whether there is other information coming to you. You will know "this" information because it will seem calmer than other details, and speak to you in command sentences. It will be merely suggestive, yet firm. It will make you aware of an alternative to the way things are.

What wisdom can you find in a blink?