Friday, May 18, 2007

Interview with Eric Maisel - Ten Zen Seconds

San Francisco-based creativity coach and author Eric Maisel has been working with creative and performing artists for more than twenty years and has written over thirty books, many of which address the ups and downs of the artist's life.

His recent book, Ten Zen Seconds; Twelve Incantations for Power, Purpose, and Calm, explores techniques for reducing stress, centering, and remembering how you want to live your life.

Eric is engaged in an extensive blog book tour, and I'm excited to be a part of it! My interest in his work is personal; I've used his creativity coaching services and own several of his other books, including Fearless Creating, Van Gogh Blues, and Coaching the Artist Within. My interview questions explore only a facet of how this program works. Please visit the Ten Zen Second website for other blogs and interviews with Eric; more information about Eric Maisel follows the interview.

TH: How might TZS help to organize/prioritize the many ideas and actions that arise each day for a creative person?

EM: The Ten Zen Seconds technique is part of a program for increasing daily mindfulness and helping people learn how to create “islands of mindfulness” in their busy day. By practicing this program you begin to prioritize around meaning and learn how to put your most meaningful work and your cherished obligations higher up on your to-do list, rather than being continually yanked about by deadlines, crises, and day job/money-making responsibilities.

(View the twelve incantations of this program here).

TH: As artists, feedback from the outside world is crucial. How might those who are learning to not be completely dependent on outside sources for validation use it?

EM: The most important incantation in this regard is “I trust my resources,” which in this case you would interpret to mean “I trust my own judgments about my creative work and my creative life and I trust my ability to know what to do next and how to do it.”

The second most important incantation in this regard is “I make my meaning,” which reminds you that you must take responsibility for your choices, your work, and the way you live your life, irrespective of what others say or what others, by their silence, imply. We need others to buy our books, come to our concerts, buy our paintings, and so on, and so our audience must be cultivated—but they do not validate us. That we do for ourselves.

TH: How might TZS help artists remain authentic to themselves and not forego their own identity in order to please the outside world? Or, how might TZS help an artist maintain a grip on her own reality, vs. buying into that of someone else?

EM: The idea embedded in the incantation “I am doing my work” is that I have a solid sense of what I want to do with my life—or, if not with my life, at least with this next hour and this current day—and that it is incumbent upon me, in order for me to respect myself and earn my sense of heroism, to do the things I know that I ought to be doing.

We may not actually feel equal to this challenge by using incantations like “I do my work,” “I am taking action,” and “I an equal to this challenge,” but we begin to put the habit in place of honoring our vision for ourselves and maintaining a grip on the reality we want for ourselves.

TH: When engaging in meaning-making, sometimes artists find that the environment in which they were working may not have been healthy, and in some cases, toxic. How might TZS help an artist continue to create in this type of environment?

EM: First, by identifying which aspects of that environment, if any, can be changed and by then finding the courage to stand up and make those changes (which often means confronting others, including loved ones).

Conversely, if, say, you are working with a rude editor whom you need and whom you know can’t be changed, then you let go of the idea of changing your environment and move to incantation 2, “I expect nothing,” with real eagerness, learning how to detach from the toxicity of the interaction with that editor while still engaging with her.

To expect her to change when you know that she won’t is a common but profound mistake: instead, we detach from that need and, by detaching, reduce our experience of pain in our dealings with her.

TH: On the flip side, how might TZS help these artists find / build a supportive community that will contribute to their growth?

EM: Incantation 5, “I feel supported,” along with incantation 9, “I am open to joy,” can really help in this regard. If you know that you want community and better connections in the art marketplace but also know that trying to make those connections makes you anxious, then using those two incantations to promote an attitude shift and some anxiety management can prove really useful.

You want to change your mind about other people and begin to hold them as potentially valuable, rather than as dangerous, and as potentially on your side, rather than indifferent or hostile. Many of the incantations, among them “I am free of the past” (especially if past interactions now make you wary of future interactions), can help to build this new habit.

TH: There is a lot of talk about the Law of Attraction ("The Secret"), which focuses on visualization and outcomes. What is the difference between the Law of Attraction and TZS?

EM: I actually don’t know what “the secret” and the “law of attraction” are all about, but I doubt them on the face of it. We don’t attract earthquakes, military dictatorships, or the sun setting for all time—the idea that we can attract things (probably wealth, I would guess) strikes me as absurd as inventing gods who look like men.

I suspect it is a version of the oldest con game, namely one person telling another person that they can have something for free, with no effort, if only they will believe and fork over some money for the book, video, and the training program. But, as I say, I don’t know what these hot, new things are, so I can’t say how TZS differs from them. My hunch is that TZS, by promoting hard work, personal responsibility, and the letting go of outcomes, probably stands in opposition to any law of attraction.

TH: What might a TZS plan look like for someone attempting to come out of a creative rut?

EM: The first step is always recovering the belief that what you do matters, at least to you. You want to recover the sense that you are committed to your creative life and that you are willing to take responsibility for your creative life. To help encourage these feelings to return, you might try incantation 12, “I return with strength,” as renewed strength is one of the key ingredients to starting back up with something as arduous as “real creating.”

Another piece of the puzzle is reminding yourself that there is no perfect time to begin, that you are always in the middle of something, and that beginning is the thing to do, an attitude supported by several of the incantations, among them “I am equal to this challenge,” “I am taking action,” and “I embrace this moment.”

TH: Have you noticed any trends about who uses what incantations across gender, age, or creative path?

EM: The one constant is that women are much more likely to adopt self-help mindfulness practices than men, perhaps in the ratio of 10 to 1. It is not at all unusual for me to run a workshop that has 18 women in it and 2 men. In fact, this past weekend I facilitated a small Coaching the Writer Within workshop that 9 women and 1 man attended.

As to age, I think that cuts across the board, as does creative path, both in terms of creative discipline and accomplishment. Of course, I believe that these methods are great for everyone, including adolescents and older children—and men, too, if only they wouldn’t stubbornly cling to their refusal to ask for directions when they are lost!

TH: How might TZS work in conjunction with journaling, counseling/therapy, or other forms of self-introspection?

EM: In a seamless way, I think. Other methods of self-awareness, growth, healing and introspection have their important place in a person’s life but they are not typically available as a tool or strategy when you are driving along and want to center, are in a meeting and want to reduce your stress, have fifteen minutes at your disposal and want to work on your novel for a bit, and so on.

Most other methods and systems are not designed to promote mindfulness quickly and “in real time,” whereas that is the main function—and strength—of the Ten Zen Seconds method.

Ten Zen Seconds can be purchased through Amazon. To learn more about Eric's new projects as well as his creativity coaching services, visit

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Fire and light

I am not unlike the fire I lit in the firepit today where I attempted to burn away the bank statements and fallen branches and dead leaves from last year and weeds that have no other place to be. I love fire. But the pit smoldered and sputtered and smoke pillared and billowed and infiltrated the neighbors' yards. Layers of material needing to disappear only suffocated under each other, stifled pathetic little flames and sent out white gray warning smoke signals for hours making the pile virtually impossible to get near.

Next time I will burn quick and high and hot.

I removed the hateful humming flourescent light from the kitchen. There was nothing technically wrong with the 50" x 18" box of dreadful dead light for the one room where the most time is spent. But when it's on you can hear the humming upstairs, sometimes and indicator of whether or not someone is home yet, or whether someone is watching TV in the dark or passed out, or whether you accidentally left it on when you finally crawled into bed. There is nothing to put in its place, but there is a lightness in knowing the hum will never be heard again for any reason.

Listening to:
Radiohead -- You, Nude, High & Dry, Videotape, 15 Step, All I Need

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Tonight is the full moon. My favorite. I am creating a space outside for moonflowers to climb underneath my window. Moonflowers bloom at night and are known for giving off an intoxicating scent. If all goes well, I will post pictures.

One of my best friends in the world had her first baby at the end of March. She grew so large and full, and now there is this extension of her, outside of her, and I love the idea that this little boy will know and so unconditionally love the wonderful woman that I am so grateful to have known since college.

Usually I send a crocheted blanket, but I'm pretty sure I had already sent them one a few years back, so baby Ethan got a handmade doll, fashioned in the Waldorf style. About 6" x 6" of squishable softness. Some Waldorf dolls don't have facial features, presumably so the children to whom they belong can use their imaginations about how they look at any given time. Because the Waldorf / Rudolph Steiner school I attended for only a few years in grade school shaped a lot of who I am and what I hold dear today, there will inevitably be more references made to it throughout this blog.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Start over

There is a thunderstorm blowing through right now. Which probably means I shouldn't be on the computer.

This is a real thunderstorm -- "real" means true bright bluish bolts of touch-down lightning followed by the sound of the sky shattering. It reminds me of when I was a girl living in Colorado, where the prevalent thunderstorms always felt like opportunities to start over. The driving rain would wash new gulleys in the driveway, or wash out the dirt roads altogether; the lightning might splinter a tree, or cause one to completely explode. If possible, I would park myself outside somewhere to watch; if my aunt was in town, she would join me.

Always, the intoxicating fresh and clean scent of sage hung in the air after the clouds and the lightning and the rain blew by. The storms wouldn't hang around in Colorado like they do in Ohio. The billowing purple monsters forged through the sky and the sun would come out again, and inevitably, UNFAILINGLY, the rainbow.

Full color, sometimes double, arching over the mountains, or over the house... run run run through the neighborhood to get the best view, over pitted dirt driveways and through scrub oak and sage.... we're clean again, shining with new(er) promise and hope -- see? There's the rainbow. Now we can start over.