Do you remember that catchy song written by Bobby McFerrin in the late 90’s ‘Be happy, don’t worry.’ If you do hum along with me as you read the good news of why the fun of creativity is so-ooo good for us.
Biologist Dr Bruce Lipton explains – ‘Cells, tissues, and organs do not question information sent by the nervous system. Rather, they respond with equal fervour to accurate life-affirming perceptions and to self-destructive misperceptions’ .
What makes us happy is being in the FLOW
Flow is a psychological state in which individuals feel entirely and joyfully absorbed in an activity that challenges their skills and abilities.
The term Flow was coined by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (delightfully pronounced Me-High-Chick-Sent-Me-Hi) Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University in California USA. He was also the founder and co-director of the non-profit research institute Quality of Life Research Center that studies happiness and creativity.
Creativity is not limited to our stereo type idea of picking up a paintbrush, threading a needle, using a hot gun, a block of clay or strumming a guitar it can be a physical activity like sport. According to Prof Me-High-Chick-Sent-Me-Hi the act of stretching yourself, is the first important step of getting in the Flow.
Flow is when time means nothing, your whole being is involved and you are using your skills to the utmost.
‘The best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.’ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
These are big names people, I mean very, very important people.’ Kind of a playful Trumpish lead into this subject of Intuition but conversely I want you to grasp that this is no lightweight subject. Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson all believed that intuition was more vital than logic.
Caroline Myss, the five-time New York Times bestselling author and renowned speaker in the fields of human consciousness and the science of medical intuition said ‘Though many people think that being intuitive is a gift, that view will one day be considered as preposterous as thinking that being born with a sense of smell or taste is a “gift”. Your intuition is an inherent sense that develops in you just as you develop eyes, ears and your other senses. The challenge today is to understand how your intuitive nature communicates with you, as your intuitive sense is as continually active as all your other senses.’
My intuitive sense communicated with me fifty plus years ago with a voice in my head, as redolent of majesty as an old man with a beard sitting on cloud, who gave me instructions to do something creative every day, did not matter what but that it should be something I had never done before. I was galvanised into action. My intuition led me to the final creative stage in recovering from trauma and ill health.
Science now shows a gut decision, intuition, or hunch is not something fanciful — it is based on a depth of experience that stems from our unconscious. Our intuition or gut feelings come from deep in the brain in a region called the insula. Evidence from MRI scans shows that the insula is the cornerstone or wellspring of social emotions.
In 1949 Einstein said ‘Intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience.”
Malcolm Gladwell, writer for the New Yorker, and no slouch when it comes to researching and penning definitive factual work, certainly would not dispute the great man’s words. But he was determined to investigate where modern science was in the study of intuition. In a nutshell he found that intuition is all about the brain rapidly slicing empirical experience and knowledge to prompt — “blink”– the intuitive message. He summarized these findings in his book ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,’ published in 2005.
Okay, you say, you have convinced me that intuition is real and valuable but what has it to do with me being stuck at home, worrying about health of myself and my family, about money and the future.
I have learned that intuition can be trusted to guide you to what is best for you. Whether it is simply planning how to have a productive day in isolation, to exercise, to be creative, what is best for your health and even how to be less fearful of the future.
You have heard that little voice before I am sure, or had some sort of coincidence that you know is a gut reaction. To activate your intuition, find somewhere peaceful, close your eyes and ask your question. Relax if the answer doesn’t pop into your consciousness immediately, trust that it will. The more you practice asking your intuition, the more answers will come. Sometimes in the form of symbols, sometimes a bit cryptic but you’re the creator of these and you will able to read them.
Finally and fittingly I have chosen the man who saved generations from polio, Jonas Salk to have the last word. ‘It is always with excitement that I wake up in the morning wondering what my intuition will toss up to me, like gifts from the sea. I work with it and rely on it. It’s my partner.
I am not religious but I am spiritual (whatever that might mean to you) and a favourite quote of mine ‘Be still and know I am God,’ which will immediately make me feel connected to a higher power. Stillness I believe is peacefulness and quiet.
Periods of silence were important to my healing so many decades ago. But just as valuable in helping us to survive these times. ‘Quiet is a part of care, as essential for patients as medication or sanitation.’Said the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale in the 19th century. It is an old-fashioned notion but one that today’s researchers have found is true.
In 2006, the University of Pavia in northern Italy conducted a study of the effects of music on our cardio and respiratory health. Test subjects were given a random series of two-minute musical tracks. The study results found music did stimulate changes in the body but the most exciting outcome came when they looked at the two-minute silent tracks, which interspersed the music. They found that silence was far more relaxing and beneficial to health than music.
In another research on the effects of periods of quiet by a biologist at the Duke University in USA found that mice when subjected to two hours silence a day prompted cell development in the (learning and memory) hippocampus region of the brain.
The quote ‘silence is golden, talking is silver,’ originated in Finland – a land of lakes, forests, and yes you guessed it, stillness. The Finnish Tourism Board recognised the worth of serenity and quietness both of their people and their landscape, seeing it as a valuable point of difference. They have successfully rebranded their country with a tourism campaign ‘Silence Please.’
When in the silence the mind quietens and you are at one in the moment it is easy to surrender. Surrendering is an act of faith, a handing over to a universal love or your form of God trusting that all will be well. Marianne Williamson, the spiritual leader and author said ‘Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us.’
In my book A Journey of Creative Healing, this step has to do with my rejection of the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. In the 1960s little was understood about the disease and its prognosis was grim. My refusal to believe I had a disease of that magnitude stood me in good stead as I viewed my illness as a physical and emotional breakdown caused by shock of the loss of my young husband. But if I had accepted the diagnosis I believe the outcome of a return to good health may well have been very different.
This step of refusing to buy into the fear of the unknown is just as relevant in our COVID 19 world today. There is no other news that fills our screens, blasts from our radios and fills our newsprint than this virus.
Government and health authorities discuss the plight every hour, every day. Hypothesising that if we keep on this trajectory there will be no beds for other medical needs, there will be a dire shortage of respirators. And it does not stop there, so many in our community are joining the long agonising queues at welfare offices and face dire financial stress.
You would have to be living under a rock to not to be fearful.
According to science our primordial part of the brain has an appetite for bad news. In fact this reptilian part of our brain is constantly scanning our horizon looking for anything that will threaten us. If it finds a nub of juicy danger it doesn’t send this through to the neo-cortex of our logical thinking. Instead lizard-synapses-firing it retains it, constantly edgy ready to initiate our fight or flight response. Put simply we are addicted to bad news.
Which, very nicely thank you, plays into our potential for the nocebo effect. Nocebo, (from the Latin I shall harm) is the counterpart to Placebo (I shall please). The Placebo has many ‘pleasing’ studies that show the benefits of a sugar coated pill but the Nocebo challenges even the most radical researchers for the obvious reason they could harm patients. But it is well recognised by the medical world that people develop symptoms or an illness by either suggestion or our own negative conditioning. In other words be careful what you wish for!
The answer is simple make a real effort not to dwell in adversity. We know what we need to do to keep us safe, social-1.5m-distancing, washing your hands repeatedly and stay home.
Restrict the amount of news you listen to. Try not to workshop with your bubble folk every questionable step those in authority make. Set your intention to embrace mindfulness and practice gratitude. Indulge in light-hearted movies, especially anything humorous, sex (if you are still up for it, okay double-entendre weak but hey hey) exercise, dance, sing or anything that will release the good chemicals into our systems.
It was Franklin D Roosevelt, no stranger to adversity himself, who said ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’
Pretty obvious eh? Our lives have already in few short weeks changed dramatically. Following on from yesterday’s blog we are in a better head and heart space having accepted ‘our lot.’
Like Pavlov’s dog we practice social distancing, our hands are hopefully and constantly hot-water-soaped lickety-split clean and we are staying home. And as we settle into our lockdown we have time to reflect on life.
Like I did half a century ago, you may determine there are changes you need to make to live a more productive and happier lifestyle. Or simply, living with your foot off the pedal, go with the flow and allow things to happen organically.
This COVID 19 event has set the world asunder. No one can forecast what the future holds. Hopefully the world will rebel against the pace of life and greed that was ours over the past few decades. Employers may find that people working from home are more efficient, happier and healthier. We may find ‘looking out,’ for each other is a preferable way to live. Even come to the conclusion that less is the new more.
One of the main drivers for me in changing my life was ‘finding the silver lining’ in a situation. It was difficult at first as my circumstances were pretty wretched and the nubs of thankfulness had to be dug out past anger and powerlessness. But it became a habit over time.
In today’s lingo it is ‘the practice of gratitude.’
Robert Emmons is the professor of psychology at UC Davis, University of California and for over a decade, he has been contributing to the scientific literature on the study of gratitude and well-being. His studies show ‘the practice of gratitude’ improves physical and psychological health, and it allows people to form stronger relationships and become more resilient.
The practice of gratitude I found kept me in the moment. I did not make, and have never made a list of things I was grateful about. As the habit grew it was more about appreciating the little moments in daily life that bring contentment or delight Maybe it was watching my children play, maybe a scudding cloud in a blue sky or a new shoot on a plant in the garden.
I enjoyed these smiley moments so much that I focused on encouraging the moments of pleasure to blossom to stretch in my mind.
My mind of course was releasing endorphins, happy chappy hormones – not that I knew that at that time – practicing mindfulness or indeed living consciously was not yet in the dictionary.
Yes I know your life needs planning, priortising and setting goals or targets but now with our enforced isolation isn’t it an opportunity to live as mindfully as possible, that is deliberately being aware of the little good moments that life gives us? The practice of gratitude take us immediately into the present moment. In the present moment there is no looking over our shoulder no worrying about the future, just simply the now.
Eckhart Toll, the spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now said ‘The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment. You create a good future by creating a good present. ‘
Psychologists will tell you that ACCEPTANCE will be always be the objective of therapy because without it no significant progress can be made. It was the fulcrum in my recovery from multiple sclerosis and the rawness of overwhelming grief over fifty years ago. .
The world is in crisis and we are all struggling with fears of loss, abandonment and deprivation. IT IS WHAT IT IS.
So for any real progress back to some form of normalcy we must Accept that COVID 19 – IS WHAT IT IS.
It takes no prisoners either physically or financially. It has little regard for a country’s economic stability. No regard for its victims either rich or poor, famous or commoners. (Prince Charles being the latest). It has no regard for the hardships that its ravages will bring to society.
As Peter and I weather our voluntary imposed self-isolation following two six-week working cruises around Australia, we have come to terms with the unfolding progress of the disease in Australia. We acknowledge that our 14-day stint may well become substantially longer.
But acknowledgement is very different on the emotional Richter scale to the inherent power of ACCEPTANCE.
To come through this traumatic time in a well adjusted way we need to go beyond an intellectual understanding of its potential and really dig deep to face our fears and emotions.
It takes a pinch of courage, of which I am sure you have a lot, to probe and investigate these fears. As we do it we should brook no stiff upper lip. No repressed emotions open up your bruised heart to rail and grieve. Unburdening ourselves will lead us to a deep level of Acceptance. Not always easily done but so worth persisting. You know you have achieved when the conflict is gone, or an old fashioned way of putting it is that you are spent.
This heart felt place can help you see troubles through new eyes, the joy of loving others, the joy of nature – especially the bounty of butterflies we are seeing currently here on the Queensland coast of Australia.
Sometimes the worst of times can you lead you to the best of times.
Recently I have fallen in love with the teachings of Jeff Foster, a young English teacher, an astrophysicist and now author of several philosophical books that lead us to our heart. Jeff expresses my conviction that we will view life differently and I will let his words do the work of inspiring you.
‘Life will eventually bring you to your knees. Either you’ll be on your knees cursing the universe and begging for a different life, or you’ll be brought to your knees by gratitude and awe, deeply embracing the life that you have, too overwhelmed by the beauty of it all to stand or even speak. Either way, they’re the same knees.” ― Jeff Foster, Falling in Love with Where You Are