Category Archives: inspiration

Too Much Focus Kills Creativity

Wanderer Above the Mist. Caspar David Friedrich, 1818. Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Wanderer Above the Mist. Caspar David Friedrich, 1818. Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Days, weeks and months have flown by, and some weeks ago I noticed IT had quietly sneaked into my life. It had started to bleed me dry. It made me feel I had lost something precious.

IT was too much focus.

I had become too goal-oriented, too efficient. I had lost contact with a dimension that has been an essential part of my life for decades – more or less random acts of creativity.

In my attempt to build foundations for a work that I love – that is, to support other people who look for a deeper meaning in their lives – I had become so single-minded that I had forgotten to nourish the sources of creativity in me.

The hollow feeling inside me finally got so big that it forced me to see I was about to become a workaholic.

I’m glad I realized what was going on.

At the same time I wondered why I had to go to the other extreme to find the balance. I knew some of the reasons. One is my ability for enthusiasm. I get carried away. And in my eagerness to accomplish something I forget the big picture. I guess this happens to many of us. It happened to me now. And of course it was not for the first time in my life.

After trying to figure out reasons for becoming over-focused I soon understood it was a futile attempt and would not take me anywhere. Instead I decided to explore the content and meaning of creativity. 

What is creativity to you?

What is creativity to me? Here are some of my answers:

Creativity for me is wandering without a destination.
Creativity is enjoying the journey while not forgetting the destination.
Creativity is browsing books and discovering a poem that opens a new insight or a new world to me.
Creativity is remembering the painting of Caspar David Friedrich (above), finding it in my art history book and allowing myself to be absorbed by the image.
Creativity is music that touches my heart.
Creativity is connecting with myself and with others through random acts of creativity.
Creativity is lying on a coach on a rainy day and suddenly getting an idea.
Creativity is having all my senses open – eyes, ears, nose, skin, mouth – to the impressions that the world wants to offer me.
Creativity is seeing beauty in strange places and unusual details or objects.
Creativity is the ability to enjoy when someone else finds exactly the perfect words or a perfect image to express something meaningful, important, entertaining, beautiful, deep, and so on.
Creativity is surrendering to the process without knowing where I will finally be. It is like being a Feather on the Breath of God, like Hildegard Bingen said 1000 years ago in her beautiful lyrics.

You can continue the list. As you may notice – and what now surprises me – is that creativity is not only the capacity to create or produce something creative, but creativity is also the ability to enjoy and experience the fruits of creativity, and beauty in its many forms. It seems to me that is a total confluence of the creator and created, of giving and receiving.

P.S. If you want to read what science says about too much focus, read a very interesting blog by Emma Seppala at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201403/the-best-kept-secrets-exceptional-productivity

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust – You Can Handle The Stress

Trust and acceptance have been themes that I have explored a lot, particularly during the last year, when I have been building foundations for my work as a Zen coach. I have been experiencing stress at times, but because my effort has felt so rewarding, I have kept going.

Then a couple of days ago I ran across a very interesting video on TED talk that gave me a new perspective to trust and acceptance with relation to stress. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, presented results of some recent scientific studies on stress. Her short talk gave me real moments of illumination.

I won’t go into the scientific details. McGonigal explains them much better than me. You can watch  the video at the end of the post, but here’s a few discoveries that will definitely stay with me for the rest of my life:

  • When you experience stress, it is your body helping you to rise to the challenge you’re having. Appreciate your body for its response – the pounding heart and the constricting blood vessels. How you think about stress matters. Don’t consider it your enemy, but your ally.
  • Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection. ( This is related to a hormone called oxytocin that the body pumps out during stress response, just as it does adrenalin.)
  • When you choose to view your stress as helpful, you create the biology of courage. When you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.

And then the important and big discovery, particularly from the point of personal growth and happiness:

  • Chasing meaning in life is better for your health than avoiding discomfort. Go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.

Here’s the video:

P.S. Yes, to celebrate 2014 I decided to change the appearance of the blog. Not much, but a little. I still like simple, minimalist style.

In Front of A New Scenery

Joel meren rannalla

It’s been an intense and interesting year, this 2013. I started to write my blog at the end of January. On my About page I told that I will ponder the question: Who am I really.

And indeed it has been a year of explorations. Towards the end the year has become even more intense.

In general it is simply about still wanting to do something meaningful in my life. I have matured slowly, and I have had to spend a lot of time trying to understand myself better. I started my life with a heavy baggage, but I bless the lessons it has given me. Life has become better and better by the years.There is more stability and inner harmony, and more trust in life and in myself. I do have my ups and downs and some days are grey and dull, or gloomy and distressed, but in general I nowadays return like a pendulum to its equilibrium position.

So I truly feel grateful as the year closes. It has been a year of great discoveries and realizations. It has been a year of making new friends and finding new connections. It has been a year of studying and learning new skills.

I have so much enjoyed the fact that I can connect with people in other countries and even on the other side of the globe. It has been great to realize that “family” is so much larger than just our biological family – which is also important – but that there are friends and like-minded souls everywhere, and thanks to new technology it is possible to stay in contact with them.

It has been a year of opening windows to new vistas, and a year of looking behind doors that I thought were permanently locked. A year of shaking hands with strangers who turned out to be friends. A year of finding sudden support and encouragement from people who I had never met before.

It has been a year when I have felt that life is carrying me. I just need to allow the flow of life to take me to the next place, to the next moment, in front of a new door, to a junction of two roads, to new encounters.

So I end the year thanking life for everything it has brought in front of me. I also thank you, my dear reader, for visiting and reading the blog. I wish that the new year will bring you moments of deep realizations, important discoveries and a lot of patience and acceptance in front of life’s surprises and mysteries.

The Beauty of Northern Lights

Photo: Pekka Sammallahti

Photo: Pekka Sammallahti

This photo was taken yesterday by Pekka. The place is in Lapland near the border of Norway.

I want to share the photo with you because it captures the beauty and the power of northern nature in winter. It is in nature that our small “selves” often give way to something bigger, and we get a chance to change our limited perspectives to something wider and larger.

Beauty is one of soul’s values, and it needs to be nourished. Look at the photo and let the words of the Navajo poem carry you to a place of beauty inside yourself:

IN BEAUTY MAY I WALK

In beauty
may I walk
All day long
may I walk
Through the returning seasons
may I walk
Beautifully will I possess again
Beautifully birds
Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen
may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet
may I walk
With dew about my feet
may I walk
With beauty may I walk
With beauty before me
may I walk
With beauty behind me
may I walk
With beauty above me
may I walk
With beauty all around me
may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of
beauty, lively,
may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of
beauty, living again,
may I walk
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

What Wishes to Come to Being through You?

Kuva itsestä kuvaamassa

There is something really nice about aging. Whether others like me or not is less important to me than what it used to be when I was young. I just want to live my truth.

What I’m saying is: of course it is nice if you like me, but I do not need you to like me.

Can you see the difference?

As I have been thinking of issues of aging and my need to live my truth, I remembered some thoughts of a Jungian analyst James Hollis in his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. (I spoke about his book already in one of my earlier blogs.)

Hollis divides life into two halves. The task of the first half of our life he describes like this:

“One has to have separated from the parents long enough to be in the world, to make choices to see what works, what does not, and to experience the collapse, or at least erosion, of one’s projections. By this age, the ego strength necessary for self-examination may have reached a level where it can reflect upon itself, critique itself, and risk altering choices, and thereby values as well.”

The second half of the life may begin as early as at the age of thirty-something, or much later. It has two major tasks: 1) the recovery of personal authority and 2) discovering a personal spirituality.

What fascinates me about this distinction and what I want to share with you is the way Hollis defines personal authority.

“What constitutes personal authority? Stated most simply it means, to find what is true for oneself and to live it in the world. If it is not lived, it is not yet real for us, and we abide in what Sartre called ”bad faith”, the theologian calls ”sin”, the  therapist calls “neurosis”, and the existential philosopher calls ”inauthentic being”. Respectful of the rights and perspectives of others, personal authority is neither narcissistic nor imperialistic. It is a humble acknowledgement of what wishes to come to being through us.

And how about discovering a personal spirituality? According to Hollis this is closely allied with the task of recovering personal authority.

“It is of paramount importance that our spirituality be validated or confirmed by fidelity to our personal experience. A spiritual tradition that is only received from history or from family makes no real difference in a person’s life, for he or she is living by conditioned reflexive response. Only what is experientally true is worthy of a mature spirituality… A mature spirituality will seldom provide us with answers,  and necessarily so, but will instead ask ever-larger questions of us. Larger questions will lead to larger life.”

What wishes to come to being through you? What is your answer to that question?

The Time Zones of Life

It’s poetry this time…

I walk around the lake.
I walk and the voice of the wind has changed.
It’s deep, it’s metal.

I walk.
And I know, as I walk, that my footprints on the track will be gone,
soon,
when the rising sun melts the frost.

I walk.
And I know, as I walk, that the sordino of the leaves is gone,
for now,
and I know
with that wind
I will have gone, in one second,
through the time zones of my life.

I walk around the lake.
I walk myself to myself,
I walk to stories and poems,
to images and sounds,
to yesterdays and tomorrows.

©Copyright of the poem: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“Don’t take it personally”

Kahdet kasvot“Your blog posts are nowadays more personal than what they were when you started”, a friend said recently. He added it was just an observation he had made, and not really a comment on whether it was good or bad to be “personal”.

“There is no privacy in life.” I think it was Vimala Thakar who once said those words in some of her books. She certainly did not refer to tabloids that publish revelations of celebrities’ private lives. If I remember the context correctly, she meant that we are all interconnected. We may think that we can do something in the privacy of our life, but on a deeper level, or in a bigger picture, our lives are connected to each other and to the life of our planet, and therefore matter, in one way or the other, to everything.

So what is it then – to be personal? Or to take something personally.

The word persona comes of course from Latin, where it originally referred to theatrical mask. Persona played an important role in Carl Jung‘s theories. He defined it like this:

“The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.”

(The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious” (1928). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.305)

Now you may have noticed that I like to use ingredients from very different sources – because, at least for me, that often brings about new insights. So I ask you to allow me, in my eclectic way, to put together Vimala Thakar and Carl Jung, because that creates an interesting equation: if we all carry this mask – the mask that both tries to impress and conceal – we come to a conclusion that we are all governed by similar, universal laws. This raises more interesting questions: If we all somehow accepted that we carry this mask, wouldn’t it be a relief to start taking it less seriously? In other words, we could stop trying to continuously hide ourselves – and then the need for locking away our lives behind a veil of intense “privacy” would become less?

Seeing that, the big illusion of our time, the one that deceives us into thinking that we continuously have to prove or defend our individuality, would burst like a soap-bubble.

On a deep level there is not so much difference between my story and your story. Of course there is variation between different people, but ultimately, what we so often try to defend or what we try to reveal and emphasize is, after all, just a mask.

Can you see what I mean? Imagine a huge amount of masks, every one of them saying: “I am unique and different from everyone else.”

We do need that mask called personality to make it through life – but being conscious of the mask makes a big difference. Ultimately, what is there really to defend about a mask – particularly when every one else is defending their own mask?

After saying this I already hear someone asking: “Is there then anything behind the mask?”

That question leads us to a gate that opens to the world of spirituality. (Although I think that “spirituality” is not any specific department in the totality of life. All life is spiritual, and spirituality is life.) My personal experience is that there definitely is something behind the mask.

The most recent discovery that I have made into this theme is the approach of  A.H. Almaas. He uses the word “essence” to desribe our “true nature”.

I finish this post and leave you digesting that mysterious “something” behind the mask by quoting A.H. Almaas:

“Essence is not an object we find within ourselves; it is the true nature of who we are when we are relaxed and authentic, when we are not pretending to be one way or another, consciously or unconsciously. Essence is the truth of our very presence, the purity of our consciousness and awareness. It is what we are in our original and undefiled beingness, the ultimate core reality of our soul. Essence is the authentic presence of our Being; it is, in fact, Being in its thatness. Different spiritual traditions have given it different names: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam called it Spirit; Buddhism calls it Buddha nature; Taoism calls it the Tao; Hinduism calls it Atman or Brahman. The various traditions differ in how they conceptualize Essence and how much they emphasize it in their teaching, but essence is always considered to be the most authentic, innate, and fundamental nature of who we are. And the experience and realization of Essence is the central task of spiritual work and development in all traditions.” Spacecruiser, p.8