JA: Firstly Eric, can I say how much I appreciate you visiting my humble little blog, and how thrilled I am to have you. I've been reading your books for quite a few years now and they are all good, but your latest "Ten Zen Seconds" has really intrigued me. What is Ten Zen Seconds all about?
EM: It’s actually a very simple but powerful technique for reducing your stress, getting yourself centered, and reminding yourself about how you want to live your life. It can even serve as a complete cognitive, emotional, and existential self-help program built on the single idea of “dropping a useful thought into a deep breath.”
You use a deep breath, five seconds on the inhale and five seconds on the exhale, as a container for important thoughts that aim you in the right direction in life—I describe twelve of these thoughts in the book—and you begin to employ this breathing-and-thinking technique that I call incanting as the primary way to keep yourself on track.
JA: Where did this idea come from?
EM: It comes from two primary sources, cognitive and positive psychology from the West and breath awareness and mindfulness techniques from the East. I’d been working with creative and performing artists for more than twenty years as a therapist and creativity coach and wanted to find a quick, simple technique that would help them deal with the challenges they regularly face—resistance to creating, performance anxiety, negative self-talk about a lack of talent or a lack of connections, stress over a boring day job or competing in the art marketplace, and so on.
Because I have a background in both Western and Eastern ideas, it began to dawn on me that deep breathing, which is one of the best ways to reduce stress and alter thinking, could be used as a cognitive tool if I found just the right phrases to accompany the deep breathing. This started me on a hunt for the most effective phrases that I could find and eventually I landed on twelve of them that I called incantations, each of which serves a different and important purpose.
JA: What sort of hunt did you go on?
EM: First, I tried to figure out what are the most important tasks that we face as human beings, then I came up with what I hoped were resonant phrases, each of which needed to fit well into a deep breath, then, most importantly—which moved this from the theoretical to the empirical—I tested the phrases out on hundreds of folks who agreed to use them and report back on their experiences. That was great fun and eye-opening!
People used these phrases to center themselves before a dental appointment or surgery, to get ready to have a difficult conversation with a teenage child, to bring joy back to their performing career, to carve out time for creative work in an over busy day—in hundreds of ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. I think that’s what makes the book rich and special: that, as useful as the method and the incantations are, hearing from real people about how they’ve used them “seals the deal.” I’m not much of a fan of self-help books that come entirely from the author’s head; this one has been tested in the crucible of reality.
JA: Which phrases did you settle on?
EM: The following twelve. I think that folks will intuitively get the point of each one (though some of the incantations, like “I expect nothing,” tend to need a little explaining). Naturally each incantation is explained in detail in the book and there are lots of personal reports, so readers get a good sense of how different people interpret and make use of the incantations. Here are the twelve (the parentheses show how the phrase gets “divided up” between the inhale and the exhale:
1. (I am completely) (stopping)
2. (I expect) (nothing)
3. (I am) (doing my work)
4. (I trust) (my resources)
5. (I feel) (supported)
6. (I embrace) (this moment)
7. (I am free) (of the past)
8. (I make) (my meaning)
9. (I am open) (to joy)
10. (I am equal) (to this challenge)
11. (I am) (taking action)
12. (I return) (with strength)
A small note: the third incantation functions differently from the other eleven, in that you name something specific each time you use it, for example “I am writing my novel” or “I am paying the bills.” This helps you bring mindful awareness to each of your activities throughout the day.
JA: Can you use the incantations and this method for any special purposes?
EM: As I mentioned, folks are coming up with all kinds of special uses. One that I especially like is the idea of “book-ending” a period of work, say your morning writing stint or painting stint, by using “I am completely stopping” to ready yourself, center yourself, and stop your mind chatter, and then using “I return with strength” when you’re done so that you return to “the rest of life” with energy and power. Usually we aren’t this mindful in demarcating our activities—and life feels very different when we do.
JA: That sounds really interesting. Which incantation will be most helpful in assisting me to turn up at the blank page or canvas every day?
EM: I recommend to readers that they go through the twelve incantations, read the explanation for each, and then pick one or two that resonate the most for them and give those a try.
For one person, “I am equal to this challenge” may prove the most effective bridge to creating, for another person it might be “I trust my resources,” for a third it might be “I am taking action.” It might also be an incantation of your own creation—I suggest that readers create some incantations of their own, finding just the right words to drop into a deep breath that will assist them in whatever their objective is, whether it’s “doing nothing,” working hard on a project, or “vanishing” into creative work.
Any one of the incantations may prove to be a magic bullet, but it will be a different incantation and a different magic bullet for each person, so quietly and carefully going through all twelve is the starting point.
JA: I often feel resistance to my work while I'm creating. I fall in love with it first, but then begin to doubt. It is during this doubt phase that I'm most likely to discard the work or set it aside and begin again. While this might be the right thing to do at times, I find I have a lot of unfinished work stored in my studio. How can I use the Ten Zen Seconds incantations to help me persist beyond doubt and solve the problems of the work?
EM: Getting work finished—and not just finished in a draft way, but in a “finished” finished way—is very important. If we don’t finish our work, we get disappointed in ourselves, we doubt our ability to “really” do the work, we experience little joy from our own efforts, and we don’t have the experience of making sufficient meaning.
A starting place is to use incantation 7, “I am free of the past,” to help you get free of the past of not completing—to consciously and mindfully tell yourself that you are through not completing things, that that difficulty is behind you, and that you intend to stop doing that. Then you might try a variation of incantation 3, “I am doing my work,” and name as your work “I am finishing this painting.” Breathing-and-thinking “I am free of the past” and “I am finishing this painting” just might do the trick.
JA: Most of us wear multiple hats everyday. How can Ten Zen Seconds techniques help with overcoming the perception that there just isn't enough time in the day to do all the things we want to, or even have to? Can this technique make more time in my day?
EM: It can! Or rather, it can increase the number of “islands of mindfulness” in a person’s day. It is not possible that we accomplish everything in life with the same mindful attention, nor is that required. We can “space out” while we do some mechanical work or watch a few television shows. The trick to meaning-making is to pick our meaning-making places: to decide that the next hour gets my mindful attention, because that is when I am painting, but the hour after that doesn’t, and that the hour after that does once again, because that is when I am having that serious chat with my son, and so on.
We do not have to allow everything in our day to have the same adrenaline-doused, rushed, uncentered quality—if we can’t add extra hours (which in fact we can add, by getting up earlier and getting to our creating first thing), we can at least add extra mindful hours, and that is a big deal.
JA: Is there a way to experience this process in “real time.”
EM: By trying it out! But my web master Ron Wheatley has also designed a slide show at the Ten Zen Seconds site www.tenzenseconds.com that you can use to learn and experience the incantations. The slides that name the twelve incantations are beautiful images provided by the painter Ruth Yasharpour and each slide stays in place for ten seconds. So you can attune your breathing to the slide and really practice the method. The slide show is available here.
JA: How can people learn more about Ten Zen Seconds?
EM: The book is the best resource. You can get it at Amazon by visiting here. Or you can ask for it at your local bookstore. The Ten Zen Seconds website is also an excellent resource: in addition to the slide show that I mentioned, there is a bulletin board where folks can chat, audio interviews that I’ve done discussing the Ten Zen Second techniques, and more. It’s also quite a gorgeous site, so you may want to visit it just for the aesthetic experience! I would also recommend that folks check out my main site, www.ericmaisel.com, especially if they’re interested in creativity coaching or the artist’s life.
JA: Is the book available in bookshops in Australia?
EM: Ah, that is a question that authors can’t answer! I know that I have many readers in Australia and that both creativity coaches and creativity clients in Australia know about my work, but as to whether a given book of mine exists there—that is knowledge I do not possess! If you can’t find the book, make a fuss—making a fuss in life always seems to work!
JA: What else are you up to?
EM: Plenty! I have a new book out called Creativity for Life, which is roughly my fifteenth book in the creativity field and which people seem to like a lot. I also have a third new book out, in addition to Ten Zen Seconds and Creativity for Life, called Everyday You, which is a beautiful coffee table book about maintaining daily mindfulness. I’m working on two books for 2008, one called A Writer’s Space and a second called Creative Recovery, about using your innate creativity to help in recovering from addiction.
And I’m keep up with the many other things I do: my monthly column for Art Calendar Magazine, my regular segment for Art of the Song Creativity Radio, the trainings that I offer in creativity coaching, and my work with individual clients. I am happily busy! But my main focus for the year is on getting the word out about Ten Zen Seconds, because I really believe that it’s something special. So I thank you for having me here today!
JA: Thank you! It has been very interesting and exciting to have you here!
JA: Wow, wasn't that something! Eric Maisel, here! on my blog!
JA: You know something, I'm not going to just leave you all high and dry at the end of such a long post. I'm going to promise you more! Yes, more excitement right here!
I've actually tried out the first incantation "I am completely stopping". It works wonders! I've used it to have a break from my studies which, up until now, seemed to fill my mind all the time. I've also used it for instant relaxation. Again it works instantly and seems to even have a cumulative effect.
I promised you more... I've begun a project to create an artwork in response to each incantation and this is my first one - I am completely stopping... which gives me an idea... see you later!