Blog : Creativity and Innovation

The Pain of Gratitude

The Pain of Gratitude

There is something fundamentally challenging about gratitude that goes beyond remembering to practice it. If I truly admit how damn fortunate I am, I usually experience a myriad of feelings: pure love, then guilt, and then sheer terror.

Guilt and terror? That might surprise you. After all, we practice gratitude to help us become more positive and serene, and more appreciative of the good things in our lives. But sometimes, when I’m thinking about how grateful I am for the people, places and things in my life, I can become paralyzed by the thought of all of it just…vanishing. And that’s a terrifying thought indeed.

I don’t believe this stems from a fear of abandonment, or an attachment disorder issue. Rather, it comes from a deep understanding that everything is temporary. My four-year old daughter, jumping up and down naked on the bed, laughing with pure glee, will soon be a memory. My almost-seventeen-year-old cat, who likes to snuggle in the mornings, will also be gone. As will my partner someday.

So, the question becomes: how do I allow myself to fully open and experience the absolute love and gratitude that abounds in these moments, while also fully comprehending that it will never be the same again?

This is not a rhetorical, philosophical question. Really, how do we receive and embrace the good, when we know it can’t last?

I’m reminded of a Carl Jung quote regarding dichotomy (the division between two mutually exclusive or contradictory situations): “But there is no energy unless there is a tension of opposites…”

When I practice tools that help me become more comfortable with dichotomy, I’m better able to sit with this tension without reacting. These reactions typically take the form of any number of distractions and unproductive behavior, including negativity.

While our brains are wired for negativity and, as I mentioned in a previous post, it kept our ancestors alive, we now know we can actually rewire our brains. Ironically, gratitude is one of the best ways to accomplish this. (See Rick Hanson’s work for more on the brain’s negativity bias).

However, if the experience of gratitude can be painful, then where does that leave us?

There are a few mind/brain hacks you can use to hold dichotomy or, as I call it, brain integration. To give an oversimplified description, our brains have two hemispheres, the left and the right, and they quite literally understand the world differently. The left hemisphere sees things in black and white, yes or no, one way or the other. But the right hemisphere allows for a multitude of shades and colors. It can tolerate the tension of division, and can begin to detect webs, or patterns, that are impossible to see when viewed only in a linear fashion (e.g., yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad, etc.).

So how do we facilitate the integration of these two parts of our brains? Well, we have to start by flexing the hemisphere that is most atrophied, which is – unsurprisingly – the right hemisphere. When we have an awareness that these right-brain experiences are 1. available, and 2. valuable, we can bring back the subtle, yet powerful, knowledge of the right hemisphere into our everyday experiences.

How do we begin to “listen” to the vast amount of information offered to us from the right-hemisphere?

First, we have to listen in a different way, as the messages we receive will “sound” different from what we’re used to. For instance, our bodies speak volumes and are directly connected to the right hemisphere. We can start to become aware of the ways our bodies “talk” to us. You might feel queasy when you’re about to give a presentation at work. Or you get goosebumps when watching a scary movie.

Our intuition is also talking to us all the time. Intuition has gotten a bad rap over the years, with many people feeling it’s “airy fairy” or “woo-woo”. However, our intuition is actually “the ability to understand something immediately”. It’s a sense of knowing. And it’s the way the right hemisphere works: by instantly taking in and comprehending the whole picture. Think about the feeling you get when you know someone is lying to you. You might not have proof, but you just know. Or when you get a really good “feeling” about an interview candidate. Eureka moments are possible in this state!

I’m not suggesting that analysis and mental dissection, which are classic left-hemisphere attributes, are not valuable. They absolutely are. However, we tend to get “stuck” in this way of knowing without allowing or acknowledging input from the right hemisphere. As a result, we miss out on the opportunity to understand the situation from a different perspective; one in which the whole (or gestalt) can be understood.

The right hemisphere doesn’t use everyday language (which is housed in the left hemisphere) to communicate. It usually “speaks” without words – you get a gut feeling, or an image or diagram pops into your head seemingly out of nowhere. So, we have to listen in different ways:

  • Making art

  • Creativity (crafting, cooking, gardening, etc.)

  • Spending time in nature

  • Stepping back to see the whole picture – what I call “zooming out”

  • Being embodied (practicing yoga, dancing, etc.)

  • Listening to music

These are just a few ways you can practice tuning into your brain’s right hemisphere.

Bringing this information into our daily lives does take a certain amount of trust. However, when we begin to consciously listen and make the effort to become familiar with what might at first feel very foreign, uncomfortable, and maybe even undefined or wishy-washy, and then implement this knowledge, more will follow.

The right brain can become a storehouse of valuable wisdom. And, it can be really fun (humor and wit are also right-brain attributes!). With a bit of practice, we can become more familiar and comfortable with the opaque and the dichotomous. And getting comfortable operating from this place can feel like coming home.

Ultimately, we’ll be able to more easily manage the sometimes terrifying feelings that can come up when practicing gratitude. And that’s something we can be truly thankful for.

 

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

Imagination: From the Inside Out

Imagination: From the Inside Out

Did you know that imagination is one of the most important attributes of the human brain?

Think about it. Without imagination, Steve Jobs wouldn’t have created the iPad. Picasso would never have created his dazzling works of art. Without imagination, we wouldn’t have anything that nature hasn’t already provided for us.

Wikipedia describes imagination – the faculty of imagining – as “the ability to form new images and sensations in the mind that are not perceived through senses such as sight, hearing, or other senses.”  Simply put, imagination is part of what makes us human.

With our increased research into how the brain functions, we’re getting closer to understanding how imagination works.

So what’s going on in our brains when we are imagining?

The brain is divided into two hemispheres: left and right. Though the hemispheres work in concert to create a unified sense of self and personality, each hemisphere actually attends to the world differently, and therefore processes information in distinctive ways. This provides us with great advantages, including the ability to understand a situation from many different perspectives.

Imagination is based on the creative power of opposition, and is a result of the synthesis between the right and left hemispheres.

The right hemisphere can take in new information from our surroundings, and see the “whole picture”. The left hemisphere is the great “unpacker” of that information; it breaks information down, sorting, categorizing and analyzing.

However, there is a big catch: the information has to go from the right to the left, and then BACK to the right in order to synthesize.

Imagination, insight and creativity all require this integration of the left and right hemispheres.

Let’s break this down:

Brain integration follows a simple formula = R > L > R

Step 1: Right hemisphere (R): New information is attended to in the environment

Step 2: Left hemisphere (L): Analysis, or the “unpacking” of what was perceived by the right hemisphere

Step 3: Right hemisphere (R): Information is transferred back to the right hemisphere to be understood within the context of the whole

In modern society, we often get “stuck” in the left hemisphere and have difficulty finding ways to transfer information back to the right, thereby eliminating step 3. Sadly, that means that we miss out on significant benefits, including increased insight and imagination.

So, how do we “step back to the right” and get unstuck?

One simple place to start is to get into your body and into nature. The right hemisphere is directly linked to our bodies, and perceives and differentiates living things from mechanical things. Going for a walk outside, hiking in the woods, or simply sitting in the backyard listening to the birds sing can all help you get back “into your right mind”.

Today – maybe even right now! – take five minutes to notice your body (not just your head), and shift your attention to the sights and sounds of nature. Live in the city? No problem. Just looking at pictures of nature can make a difference. (Not sure about all this? See Rebecca Clay’s research.)

If you’d like to learn more ways to “step to the right” and discover all the benefits of making it a conscious part of your life, visit Imagination Retreats, where you’ll take a deep dive into your own creativity and imagination and enjoy just the right combination of activity, personal exploration, pampering, and beach time – all in an idyllic, naturally gorgeous oceanside setting.

 

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

How to Bust Out of a Rut in 3 Easy Steps

How to Bust Out of a Rut in 3 Easy Steps

Feeling uninspired at the job? Bored with your relationship? Daily grind got ya down? Don’t panic! It’s normal to get stuck in a rut every now and then. By definition, a “rut” is “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.” Here are 3 simple ways to breathe life back into a situation that has lost its oomph and bust out of that rut!

1) Switch up your routines.

Doing everyday tasks a little differently helps awaken your brain to the present moment, fresh perspectives and creative solutions. So go ahead and put on your right shoe before your left; brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand; alter your commute; and once you get to your destination, be sure to open the door without using your hands!!

2) Bust a new move.

If you’re a ballerina, take a tennis lesson. If you haven’t shaken your groove thang in twenty years, hit up You Tube for a ‘how to crunk dance in three easy steps.’ Gym rat? Take a Yin Yoga class. Our brains grow by trying new things. When you challenge mind and body in new and uncomfortable ways, the growth is exponential. That narrow rut won’t be able to hold you.

3) Send out an SOS!

Ruts thrive in isolation and the notion that you have to handle everything on your own. You may convince yourself that it’s more hassle to involve others even as the rut seems to close in around you. Start with a trusted friend. Tell them you’re stuck in a rut and ask them to help you shake things up by planning a surprise day together where you do something out of the ordinary. Take it to the next level by being blindfolded during the car ride. Letting go of being in control, trusting another person, and engaging some of your lesser used senses will catapult you of that rut!

There are countless little and large ways to ease or thrust yourself out of a rut. An easy way to remember the rut remedies are: wake up, shake up & join up. Ask yourself the following 3 questions: “what tweaks to my routine wake me up to the present moment; what new movements (or sounds or colors) can I make that will shake up the dullness of my comfort zone; and, who can I call on to help me reconnect with my aliveness and creativity?” Go forth and bust a rut, and let us know how it goes!

* If you liked this article, you might like our retreats.

 

Camille-Headshot-1 Camille Bianco MA, NCC

Camille Bianco MA, NCC earned her Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology & Art Therapy from Naropa University. She began formal training in Art Therapy and Meditation in 2000 and continues to incorporate researched-based creative expression and mindfulness approaches into her professional consulting practices. Connect with Camille on Goolge+.

Integration & Flamenco

Integration & Flamenco

The written history of flamenco only goes back about 200 years, but there are oral accounts of flamenco that are much older. There is much debate about “what is true flamenco.” My aim is not even to attempt to answer that question, which is a very slippery slope indeed. Rather,

I would like to share with you what the spirit of flamenco means to me and why it helps explain the concept of integration.

Flamenco originated as an art form in Andalusia (southern part of Spain) as an expression of the cast-aside, the Gypsies (Gitanos), Sephardic Jews and outcast Moors. It began as song (cante) – more like a call or cry – and percussive rhythm, often a wooden cane beating in time on the floor. Only later, were the guitar and dance incorporated. Flamenco is ever-evolving and still finds itself making headlines. (Click here to read a recent example of the fluid and contrasting nature of flamenco and how it is being used as political statement.)

Flamenco is many divergent things…

and one, admittedly, includes polka dots, large skirts and dancing for tourists for money. For me, however, flamenco means not only living with, but celebrating, dichotomies. It is recognition and incorporation of many different parts, the crux of “integration.” Integrating is about bringing multiple pieces together in some sort of unified fashion – even if that “something” is in flux.

Flamenco is – no joke – about the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It kicks my butt regularly, yet I am still dedicated to being a student of its many mysteries. I know it will take a lifetime and beyond to learn, and I’ve become okay with that. I’m forced not only to think about, feel, and hear the complex rhythm (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…) all the while moving my feet, legs, hips, arms, hands and head – optimally with duende (this is an entire other article, but roughly translated means “authenticity/spirit”). Flamenco is fiery and fierce, yet also has moments of surrender and true softness. I love that it makes fun of itself. It is first and foremost music, then movement. I come up against my many resistances while learning it. To name just a few of these inner obstacles: the “analyst” that keeps a safe distance from things that might feel uncomfortably true,  the perfectionist who has a hard time letting go, the timid part that would rather stand back than take center stage, the part that is quick to judge and the one who wants to quit. But, I don’t. I keep coming back for what sometimes feels like torture. It is a genuine type of therapy for me.

I practice facing these parts, learning from them and inviting them all in.

And then there are those moments when it all comes together – left and right, light and dark, absolute freedom from thought, feeling and time, a complete surrender of my body to the invitation of the music.  I’m dancing – not just the right steps, but I’ve become a part of this continual flow of the art form of Flamenco. These moments are rare and come with numbers of hours of dedication, but they happen. This is integration for me.

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

 

Quiet the Analyst & Honor Your Shadow:

Quiet the Analyst & Honor Your Shadow:

5 fun and safe ways to express your “wild thing”

What is your Shadow, and how can you honor it? In Jungian psychology the Shadow is an unconscious aspect of your personality. The conscious ego does not fully identify with this aspect of self. However, our Shadow is often the seat of creativity and recognition and integration of our “darker side” can actually be freeing and revitalizing.

While the Analyst in us – the part that wants to “make sense if it all” and interpret the meanderings of our minds and psyches – means well, it isn’t always helpful. Sometimes it is important not to “tame” these “darker” parts, but rather to find healthy, fun and appropriate ways of expressing them. Here are 5 ways to express your inner wild thing:

1.       Howl at the moon

I mean it. Go outside. Feel your feet on the earth and take time to moon gaze. If you want to make a sound – do it. You might be startled to hear yourself and – dare I say it – even enlightened by these sounds, be it guttural or simply a whisper.

 

2.       Messy your hands

Grab some acrylic paints or chalk pastels and simply play with mixing the colors using only your fingers. Absorb yourself and delight in how the colors mix. Notice how your fingers slide over the paper when covered with this media. Don’t worry. It isn’t “supposed” to be anything. It is just fun.

 

3.       Dance unabashedly

Put on a tune that you can’t help but move to. We all have at least one. I’m a little embarrassed to admit mine. They are The Lion Sleeps Tonight (listen to the original Zulu version) and, yes, ACDC Thunderstruck. Find a clear space where you can move as much as you want to. Let go. Your body will do the rest – if you let it. My inner head banger deserves to be let out on occasion, if only in the confines of my home. (This song actually came on during my partner’s and my first date. He said it was a “high risk” move to begin to head bang to it, but I literally could not help it. I’m glad he didn’t judge me – too much – for it.)

 

4.        Free write

This can be a bit tricky for people. It is finding time to disengage from our internal critic and allow ourselves to just write – about anything. There is absolutely no thought about grammar, spelling or punctuation. Our 8th grade English teacher would hate this. You might even notice that your penmanship looks different. That is a good thing. You have tapped into a different part of your brain.

 

5.       Go on an adventure

It can be in as little as 5 minutes or much, much longer. Take time to not have an agenda and see what you might experience and learn. Have fun!

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

 

 

Creativity & the Brain

Creativity & the Brain

Why and how does creativity affect the brain?

It feels different when we are in a “creative flow” and this is due to the structure of the brain. The brain is divided both vertically and horizontally. There are three distinct, but interconnected, hierarchies of the human brain that evolved overtime. They are

1) the brainstem (our “lizard brain”),

2) the limbic system (our “mammalian brain”) and

3) the neocortex (what makes us human).

The brainstem is like our autopilot. It controls the things we don’t have to “think” about such as balance and heart rate. The limbic system is the source of our emotions and instincts, and the neocortex is only in the brain of higher mammals. The prefrontal cortex (PFC), at the front of the neocortex, is responsible for cognition and reasoning.

Our brain is also organized horizontally and is divided into two hemispheres,

connected by the corpus callosum. The left hemisphere specializes in language, logic and facts. It is linear and conscious. The right hemisphere is the seat of emotion and is non-linear. It is beneath consciousness. One of the extraordinary aspects of creative expression is that it bypasses rational thought and logical assumptions.

Creative expression

targets the right hemisphere and limbic system of the brain, which are visual, sensory and emotional in nature. (The right prefrontal cortex is deeply connected to the limbic areas of the brain and is central to affect regulation.)This allows art and imagery to circumvent psychological resistance, which is typically analytic in nature. The Arts (in all their forms) also allow for the externalization of these very inner experiences and gives them shape and form outside the body and mind. Creativity gives expression to that which cannot, because of the structure of the brain, be spoken. This, in turn, provides opportunity to re-imagine concepts of self and identity. Scientists have also discovered that the very act of creating – integrating the brain both vertically and horizontally – reduces anxiety, depression and pain, decreases blood pressure, strengthens immune functioning and improves attention and concentration.

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!