Monday, January 26, 2015

What's Your Passion Project?

Filmmakers and film students have passion projects. They may not make money, but they are something that appeals to your creativity, sense of beauty, life purpose or adventure. It may be a long-held dream of yours, or something deep within you that you've just uncovered that needs to be expressed or built. It's something that captures your imagination. It won't be birthed without you making it happen.

I suspect that the movie Boyhood, currently being honored in movie award season, was a passion project for both it's director, Richard Linklater, and the cast who worked 12 years to capture the essential changes a boy goes through growing up as he matures and adjusts to his family divorcing and moving. He considered it a "once-in-a-lifetime" film making experiment. The writers wrote 12 scripts for the film, one for each year's filming.

The film Boyhood, while fictionalized, was adjusted to follow the developing personality and life changes the lead actor, Ellar Coltrane went through from age six through high school graduation. There were significant challenges getting the production team and actors to be available to work on the film for such a significant span of time. Linklater created continuity between the 12 sections of the filming in keeping a consistent tone, weaving in his own take on life experiences and memories. He wanted the film to unfold, much in the way our lives do. The result of Linklater's passion project is a moving film that makes you reflect on the elusive nature of memories and trying to remember what you felt at any one time in your life. It's an emotional illustration of the power of time passing. Don't miss it.

How about finding a passion project of your very own? Perhaps you have an idea, or you may want to allow yourself to germinate some ideas about what your project might be that would make your heart happy.

A passion project could be to start a group, begin doing photography or art, volunteer to help a cause you care deeply about, or build something. It's possible that at watershed moments in life, you may realize that you have finished a passion project and need to develop a different one. I'm currently counseling people who are navigating the significant life change of launching children and moving on, rebuilding a life after losing a partner or retiring from work that was fulfilling. These are all especially good times to develop a passion project.

You might consider what makes you come alive and how you can utilize your own gifts to create change. You will need a vision and a mission. You can have a vision at the micro-level which will just impact you or your family, or you can have a macro-vision which will help create positive change beyond your personal world. Your mission can help you claim your power to engage your passion and build a purposeful life.

A passion project doesn't have to develop into a business, although it could. It's a way to satisfy a deep desire to create something. It can't be done for the money, fame or recognition. It's got to purely motivated to express or create something and to share it with others.

Give yourself some blank sticky notes or a journal and let the ideas begin to germinate about what you can be passionate about creating. When people are dying, they don't ever regret the time spent with loved ones or the time invested in passion projects. It's what gives our lives meaning and significance.

This past fall, I have been progressively losing someone close to me from terminal cancer. It's been a small passion project of mine to be creating an English garden that is becoming a quiet sanctuary, a connection to nature and flowers that I share with my family and a peaceful gathering spot for close friends. It's been very meaningful to be creating and building concurrently with the journey of losing a loved one. I can't wait for the roses to bloom in a few months. It's time to begin considering a different project soon.

What's your passion project? I feel sure there is one or two of them out there for each of us if we can quiet our lives and our minds enough to reflect on it. You don't have to have attended film school to have one. Find someone you can talk with about your passions, and how you could give them life.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Path of Mindfulness

With the stress and demands of daily life, staying on a path of mindfulness takes some effort. Many of us feel pressure to be on 24/7. Mindfulness is considered the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. When we are mindful we notice details---an expression, a flower or leaf. How do we quiet the mind to create this kind of centering peace?

We can cultivate and develop our own ability to be mindful through practice. I enjoy helping my clients develop their own, unique strategy for keeping balanced and mindful. There are many ways to get there. We each need to develop practices we can use daily, as mindfulness needs to be gotten fresh daily, like showering.

When we are mindful, we have more energy, higher levels of compassion for ourselves and others, we are calmer and more relaxed, and are less vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Mindfulness increases self-acceptance.

Here are some ideas for creating mindfulness in your daily routine:

1. Create quiet time for yourself. Silence is powerful, and helps heal and give you clarity.

2. Exercise, to burn off stress and nervous energy.

3. Get outside. Try to spend a little time outside, on a walk or in your garden every day if you can.

4. Create sacred rituals--- a cup of herbal tea and some inspired reading first thing in the morning, a Saturday bike ride, play time with your dog after work, a fireside chat with your partner each evening.

5. Journal daily. Writing allows you to process emotions and events and give you perspective.

6. Take time for quiet prayer or conversations with God.

7. Meditation. Sit quietly and usher out any thoughts that come up. Don't worry about 'doing it right'. Consider this time your daily meeting with yourself.

8. Reconnect with life: do something creative with your hands, observe animals and nature, focus on your breath.

9. Make note of 3 different things you are grateful for daily. Consider your friendships, your body, your home, happy memories, things about yourself.

10. Lie down and do nothing. Be aware of your breath. Scan your body for any tension and let it go.

11. Let yourself feel--anger, sadness, or loss.

12. Challenge yourself to accept what is.

13. Eat with mindfulness--slowly, and with reverence.

14. Taking time for a cup of tea.

15. Express appreciation.

If you are needing some help with getting started, you might check out the simple exercises in The Little Book of Mindfulness: Ten Minutes a Day to Less Stress, More Peace by Dr. Patricia Collard (Gala, 2014). 

I also love the free downloads of guided mindfulness practice you can find through UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center at Their 9 minute meditation on loving kindness is one of my personal favorites, and would make anyone have a better day filled with more compassion and less edges.

Set your mind to cultivating mindfulness in your everyday life. It's all in the details of consciously creating rituals that slow you down and open up your heart.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

36 Questions to Create Connection

Dr. Arthur Aron studies the science of intimacy and love at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York. He's found out a lot of interesting data about how couples fall in love, deepen their connection, and stay satisfied in relationships.  He also studies interpersonal closeness as a cognitive overlap between self and other and how self expansion motivations relate to and can be used to alleviate the common decline in relationship satisfaction over time. He's a fellow of the American Psychological Society, and a main investigator on a major national science foundation research grant. He's an editor for several professional journals.

I was reminded of his work this week when I read the New York Times column on Sunday, January 11, 2015 by writer Mandy Lee Catron for their Modern Love column. Catron tells her own story of using some of Dr. Aron's findings on her own behalf to see if she and a university acquaintance from rock climbing could fall in love. Instead of a lab, they met at a bar and later on a bridge. She tried applying some of Aron's findings. If love is an intense desire to form and maintain a close relationship with another person, then some of the building blocks are kinds of communication that create intimacy, connectedness, commitment, loyalty, willingness to be with that other person and least central, but still part of it, are passion and intensity.

The New York Times writer and her acquaintance used the 36 questions that Aron developed to help build connection. They can be used for bringing you and your partner closer together. You can also adapt them to use in other close relationships. It should take only about 45 minutes. Here are the questions, which should be done in this prescribed order, alternating between the two people:

1.Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

3. Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

4.What would constitute a perfect day for you?

5.When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

6. If you were able to live to age 90 and retain either the mind or the body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

8. Name three things that you and your partner appear to have in common.

9. For what in your life do you feel the most grateful?

10. If you could change anything about how you were raised, what would it be?

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

14. Is there something you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

17. What is your most treasured memory?

18. What is your most terrible memory?

19. If you knew in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are living now? Why?

20. What does friendship mean to you?

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five times each.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's?

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

25. Make three true "we" statements each. For example, "we are both in this room feeling..."

26. Complete this sentence "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."

27. If you were ever to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

28. Tell your partner what you like about them:be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone that you've just met.

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

30. When did you last cry in front of someone else/by yourself?

31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

32.What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you regret not having told someone? Why haven't you told them yet?

34.Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find the most disturbing? Why?

36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it? Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem.

Here are a couple variations:

If you could chose the sex and physical appearance of your soon-to be-born child, would you do it?

Would you be willing to have horrible nightmares for a year if you would be rewarded with extraordinary wealth?

While on a trip to another city, your spouse/partner spends a night with an exciting stranger. Given that they will never meet again, and could never otherwise learn of the incident, would you want your partner to learn about it?

These questions remind me of some of the things I try to develop between couples I see in couples counseling: openness, vulnerability, self-disclosure, expressiveness of emotion, being generous with specific compliments, listening, joining, sharing hopes and dreams, and communicating about fears, values and needs. Have some fun with engaging with your partner if you want to deepen your connection.

And what happened to the New York Times columnist Mandy Lee Catron who embarked on these questions with her friend from rock climbing? They fell in love. Dr. Aron would be so happy, but not surprised.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Happiness Jar

It's always easy to focus on the negative, or the frustrations and disappointments in daily life. No doubt they are always around the corner. It takes character and self-direction to focus on the little moments of personal joy and hold on to them. You can even replay happy or joyful moments through your mind when you need them and change your feelings and body chemistry. Sometimes we all need to do that.

I've heard these happy moments referred to by different names: bliss hits or the petite happiness. We have to consciously refocus ourselves to catch them or they can slip by unnoticed. Often small joys are little things: noticing the colors in the sunrise or a sunset, observing a child, a butterfly, or a family pet, a brisk walk, the fresh smell of a blooming narcissus, an intentional hug, time with a friend, the creamy taste of ice cream, the softness of your favorite jeans after work, the warmth of hot tea, or the amber glow of a roaring fire. These small things and others can bring unexpected joy to a regular day.

Recently, I noticed that one of my favorite writers and speakers, Elizabeth Gilbert, wrote about her own little project of keeping a happiness jar for a year. Gilbert wrote her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love in 2006. She posted pictures on-line of herself with her own huge jar, with a number of little slips of paper inside on which she writes one thing that brought her joy that day. She saves them for a year, so it takes a big jar. What a lovely tool to have on a day when you might be feeling sad or downbeat, to be able to spill out your happiness jar and reread the things that have given you joy in past weeks and months.

Often my patients who are trying to work through depression or grief and loss forget to add in liberal amounts of these petite happinesses. They do help. One of the signs that you are healing from the journey of loss is that you can begin to experience joy again.

Gilbert invited her readers to send her photographs of their own, home-crafted happiness jars, and they were inspiring and decorative. This is a fun idea for adults, or to share with the young people in your life who might enjoy this positive refocus.

Happiness jars? I'd like a really large one that holds lots of joy, and I recommend the same for you.