Tag Archives: facing difficulties

Salesmanship for Artists and Writers: The Inner Skills

A goal always on an artist’s and writer’s mind is to generate consistently high-quality work, and a continuing question he/she wrestles with is “how can I do that?” Answering that question is bottom-line, and it’s a complicated question that creative people are trying to answer all their careers, and is one whose success in answering distinguishes one from another. Shakespeare produced better text than anyone else; Michelangelo better art; Mozart better music. But creating high quality work is just one of a writer’s or artist’s skills among many others. It’s naïve to think that the best artist is necessarily the most successful artist. To succeed, the writer, painter, actor, composer must accomplish much more than generate excellent work.

Professional artists and writers have careers to manage and responsibilities and expenses. Food must be put on the table. A life of financial risk and the threat of going broke can keep them on their toes and motivate them or it can be paralyzing. To many writers, artists, and performers, their work is not a hobby and is not just a craft and not just an art, but a hard-nosed, deadly serious, ferociously competitive war of survival requiring the skills of the showman and unabashed, unapologetic self-promoter. Those are roles that seem unnatural to many creative people and make them uneasy and unsure of themselves.

color-palette-207082_640Inhibitions are hard to hide, and research and everyday experience alike bear out that many writers—many artists; many creators of all types, many “inner-directed” people in general—are haunted by them, and know better than anyone that they are, and don’t want to be, and wish they weren’t. And everyone on the globe—the most powerful, the most famous, the most accomplished–is inhibited sometimes. It will be impossible to reach your creative goals if your inhibitions are powerful. They are impediments that can prevent even the most talented and gifted writers and artists from achieving the successes they are aiming for. And that can happen, and I’m sure it does, more than we realize or care to admit.

Working in solitude—the lifestyle of the creator–is a way of hiding from inhibitions because inhibitions involve interactions with other people. In fact, one of the main reasons creative people have chosen a creator’s life rather than a more typical life is to be able to work alone, secluded, sheltered, untouched, and away from other people; hidden from the world. But when writers and artists come out of hiding into the clear light of day, so to speak, some essential tasks require that they do something about their inhibitions—give in to them, or overcome them.

When my first major book was published, I was surprised to learn that not every author is sent by the publisher on a publicity tour to promote their book because they “don’t come across” to audiences, and that, it seems to me, is a direct result of inhibitions. One publisher jokingly asked if I would go on tour to promote other of their author’s books; so many writers didn’t come across. Also, every writer and every artist of every type eventually realizes that talent and skill are not enough to guarantee success, though that would be the artist’s ideal world, but that you’d better learn the skills of marketers and salesmen, skills that inhibited people do not perform well. But to survive, they must learn to. Or they may perish, giving up completely, or will go only so far, and will reach a plateau, and will not reach the career peak they otherwise could. All creative work involves showmanship and salesmanship.

hands-545394_640When I was a business consultant for many corporations, I trained hundreds of people to be high-excelling marketers and sales people, and time and again witnessed before my eyes the growth of awkward and inhibited, tongue-tied, self-doubting people into fluent, persuasive, uninhibited people confident and comfortable with themselves. Such a transformation is possible for anyone. Every artist’s and writer’s skill, including marketing and selling—foreign though they may seem–is learnable.

After reading my Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, which lays out practical strategies for living a more vigorous assertive (and hopefully happier) life, a shy, soft-spoken, self-doubting artist/illustrator called me and said she wished she had a samurai like those she had seen in the book to help her market her work (which had won awards) to galleries, clients, magazines, and publishers, and I said, “You don’t need another person. Become a samurai yourself.” She took that to heart and acquired marketing and sales skills coupled with her new self-confidence, and now her lovely work seems to be everywhere.

The Basic Problem

People weighed down with inhibitions don’t express their genuine personalities. That’s the basic problem. Inhibitions such as shyness, self-consciousness, dreading new experiences, feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, guilt that’s out of proportion to the event that caused it, feeling ill at ease with strangers and in social situations, difficulty getting along with others, and excessive modesty are psychological obstacles that affect writers, and artists of all kinds time and again. These “maladies” are based on being too concerned with how you’re coming across, of what people are thinking of you, or trying too hard to impress others. Inhibitions result in excessive caution and carefulness.

Some people aren’t inhibited enough. You probably know some. They’re too impulsive, too rash, too inconsiderate, too outspoken, too hard-headed, too much of a boring windbag everyone wishes would shut up. But the more general and serious problem is being too inhibited.

Many specialists believe that some inhibitions are genetic. But it’s a myth that once your genetic blueprint is established at birth it is set forever. I know a sculptor who was shy all her life, but decided at the age of thirty she wasn’t going to be shy anymore, so she stopped being shy, just stopped. Many inherited traits can be changed by changing behavior.

Strategies for Conquering Inhibitions: Be Yourself; No One Else

  • Realize that inhibitions are not a fate. You can get rid of inhibitions.
  • Be indifferent to the reactions of others. There is such a thing as a healthy and liberating disregard for the opinions of others. Don’t stop to think of how they are judging you. Don’t worry what they’ll think of you if you do or say X. Just do and say X. Don’t give a damn what they think.
  • Don’t exaggerate your embarrassment. Why are we so ready to say that this embarrassed me or that embarrassed me, even over the silliest things. When you’re feeling embarrassed ask yourself if what is embarrassing is all that important in the grand scope of things. It isn’t.
  • Overcome self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is really other-consciousness. To believe that every eye is on you is an error. Most people could hardly care less what you look like, what you’re wearing, what you’re saying, and what you’re doing. They’re preoccupied with what they look like, and what they’re wearing, saying, and doing.
  • Never try for a contrived effect. You’ll rarely go wrong if you’re sincere. The people who make the best impression are the very people who aren’t trying to make a good impression. You can’t be fooled by a phony for very long. For example, job interviewers encounter legions of applicants who behave the same as everyone else. Then an applicant appears who lets his or her sincerity come through. She stands out and the interviewer is impressed, and she gets the job. If you’re sincere you’ll favorably impress people, even if you’re not trying to impress them.
  • Be like a baby; be authentic. A baby isn’t pretentious, artificial, or superficial, but just what he or she is. A baby expresses honest feelings and isn’t the least bit inhibited.
  • Be more spontaneous. When you’re anxious about a situation, your spontaneity flies out the window. When you’re spontaneous–with a friend over a beer for example, or your family around the table–you’re not on guard for fear of making a mistake. Your spontaneity gives you courage.
  • Be fast. Do what you’re thinking of doing or saying before an inhibition appears.
  • Speak with greater verve, and louder than you normally would. Inhibited people often speak softly and in a monotone. Raising your voice and speaking in a louder and more energetic voice can free you from social inhibitions.
  • Look people in the eye. Don’t avert your eyes.
  • Be “larger than life.” You might have noticed that people who are self-confident and persuasive literally seem larger. Stand up straight and expand your chest as an exercise. Develop the habit of physical expansiveness.
  • When talking with others stand closer than you think you should, be physically involved, and be friendly. Particularly persuasive and socially comfortable people tend to stand a little closer than most people do. Gesture, smile, move your hands and your eyes. If you expect the other person to like you and you behave accordingly—as though they already do– you will be proven right in almost every instance.
  • Recognize your right to be imperfect. If we were perfect our lives would be very dull– we would be very dull– and we would still find something in ourselves to complain about. And others would always find something in us to complain about too. We shouldn’t think we have to be perfect to be worthwhile.
  • Don’t second-guess yourself. Inhibited people wonder if they did the right thing: “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Maybe I hurt her feelings. I probably should have put it differently,” when more than likely the person spoken to has no memory of what was said or didn’t think it was all that significant.
  • Forgive yourself– for making a mistake, for being too timid, or for saying the wrong thing or making a stupid remark. Perhaps you felt awkward or were intimidated, or self-conscious, or were inauthentic and insincere, etc. Forgive yourself. Then get right back into action and be genuine, be yourself, no one else.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Self-Confidence of Artists and Writers

I went with my wife to a poetry reading to read poems I’d written, and before starting, talked with other people who were there to read theirs. I’d never spent much time with poets, but before beginning the readings there was wine and cheese and I talked with some of the others. As my wife and I found seats, I asked her, “Do you think all poets are as meek as these poets?” I had the same impression during the readings. So many seemed to lack confidence. The lack of confidence is very hard to hide

I wondered if they also lacked confidence when they were writing and how that affected the quality of their work. Then I thought of all the many talented writers, painters, dancers, and actors I’ve known, some of them very close to me, who also lacked confidence or who once had confidence and lost it, and because of that ended their artistic careers prematurely. So I thought this blog post might encourage an artist or two to have confidence and persevere.

This post says, “Take heart”:

ballerina-534356_640_copy2You must never lose the faith that you have the ability to produce quality art successfully and consistently. The desire to succeed and the confidence that you can, along with skill and the ability to overcome obstacles are the most important indicators of eventual success in art.

Artists fail because (a) they lack the necessary skill or (b) they have the skill but don’t have the confidence to use that skill well. If you have confidence and faith in yourself, you’ll reach higher levels of success than other writers, painters, dancers, actors, and performers of equal ability who lack them.

Artists who are sure of their abilities, sure of themselves, intensify their efforts when they fail to achieve their goal, and persist until they achieve it. Self-confidence is the ultimate source of an artist’s motivation.

All great artists of the past were confident.

The will of a successful artist must be indestructible.

 Learned Helplessness

“Learned helplessness” has destroyed the careers of many artists who had all the potential they needed to excel. They met failure and they never recovered. Failure is a necessary part of an artist’s life, bringing with it growth and new learnings, and sometimes sudden leaps in performance. No one met more failures and took more wrong turns and was more average than Walt Whitman until suddenly, seemingly without any preparation, he wrote Leaves of Grass and established himself as America’s greatest poet—ever. If you’re not failing some of the time, you’re not aiming high enough.

Helpless artists believe that no matter what they do, their actions will not lead to success. Consequently, they give up. Learned helplessness was first observed among young animals which had been placed in a situation in which they received inescapable electric shocks. When placed in a different situation, they made no attempt to escape or avoid the shock—they had learned to be helpless. Like those animals, when people believe that their actions will have no effect on what happens to them, they also become passive.

Helpless-oriented artists attribute their failures to personal inadequacies—they’re think they’re not smart enough, or not talented. Their thinking is self-defeating. Their expectations are negative—“I won’t succeed. This problem is too much for me.” The act of painting/dancing/ writing becomes unpleasant, even painful, an activity to be avoided. Helpless artists lose focus and can’t concentrate. They worry, continually question their worth as artists, and begin to put out less and less effort. Good work habits disappear. They avoid challenges and risks. Their performance declines.

 Disappointment Needn’t Lead to Discouragement

You’re an artist; you know what it is to be discouraged. When you’re deeply discouraged you’re weak and vulnerable. You’ve been deprived of confidence, hope, and spirit. Your courage and strength abandon you. If you’re to succeed you must get them back right away, taking immediate action with strong determination. Lay the discouragement aside as though putting it in a drawer. Get back to your work. The will of a successful artist needs to be indestructible.

Rather than conceiving of yourself as a beaten person, hold a completely different view: you are a person who has been set back—as happens–but yet a person with important accomplishments ahead and a rich life of creativity to lead, a decisive, courageous, fearless person.

sisters-74069_640Self-doubt and self-confidence are affected by the comments of other people. Someone saying, “You can do it; don’t give up” can save a career. Seek out encouraging, supportive people. When Impressionism was beginning in Paris in the nineteenth century, and the Impressionists were being attacked on all sides by critics, other artists, and the public, they banded together and met frequently in their homes and cafes. Their mutual support strengthened them all. Today artists and writers living great distances apart, strangers to each other, support and encourage one another via networks of blogs.

Accepting setbacks as an unavoidable part of the artist’s life is essential for maintaining an unshakeable motivation and the high spirits needed to do good work. Look for what caused the discouragement and make decisions as to how to move forward now. Maintain a sense of proportion—“It’s bad, but it’s not that bad.”

James Joyce’s Dubliners was one of literature’s landmark collections of short stories. It was rejected by twenty-two publishers, but Joyce never lost confidence in himself or faith that it would be published. Jack London’s stories were rejected 600 times before the first one was published, but within two years after that first success he was one of the most popular novelists in the world. Publisher after publisher rejected e.e. cummings’ first book of poetry, but he wasn’t deterred and continued writing. When it was finally published, he included a dedication which read, “With no thanks to…” followed by the long list of publishers who had turned it down.

ludwig-van-beethoven-62844_640(1)Resilient artists adapt. What could be more discouraging for a composer than losing his hearing and being unable to hear the music he was creating? At 51 Beethoven was deaf. As a substitute for hearing the actual sounds, he removed the legs of his piano and placed it on the floor so he could feel the vibrations of the music.

Discouragement is so much a part of the creative person’s existence that if you don’t develop the resiliency and energy to recover from it, you will have difficulty surviving.

 Confidence and Faith

Maintain an optimistic frame of mind: “I’m in a funk, nothing clicking, the ideas not coming. Discouraged. But I’ve come out of this kind of thing before and I will again. I am (your name), the same person who… (wrote, painted, won, achieved…) and I can again.” Persist.

Look to your past successes. Past success is the most powerful and direct basis for confidence. If you have proof that you have the ability to achieve what you want to achieve—the skills, motivation, and know-how– because you’ve succeeded in the past, you will try to achieve it again. If you feel that way, you’ll be confident and will not likely be stopped by self-doubt, an artist’s main psychological obstacle. You’ll have high expectations of success. You won’t dwell on past failures; you’ll think about them not as true failures, but as temporary conditions and useful lessons, bumps in the road, not the end of the road. You’ll dwell on past successes. Even the most self-doubting artist has had past successes to reflect on. There is always something positive to fasten onto during periods of doubt.

Develop your skills. As your skills improve, your self-doubt fades and is replaced by confidence.

Don’t be intimidated by difficulty; don’t hide from challenges. Rather, seek them out, welcome them. You progress by tackling increasingly difficult challenges. Two artists may be equally competent. The one who has an effort-will-win-out-and-my-skills-can-improve orientation will not be discouraged by initial difficulty. But the “helpless” artist will immediately lose confidence and may not recover.

Recover quickly. Temporary self-doubt after a setback is a natural reaction. What matters most is how quickly you take action and regain your confidence.

Bearing this post in mind and practicing these prescriptions should increase your confidence, and that should be reflected in your perseverance and the success of your work.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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The Artist as Warrior

“The tramp of warriors sounded like a thousand convulsions of the earth. The shouts of warriors, the whistling of arrows, the thunder of the feet of foot soldiers and the hooves of chargers did not cease.”

“Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy.”

“When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.”

“The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’”
(From the Samurai Way)

martial-arts-291051_640Each time I visited a successful painter friend of mine I saw the same unfinished painting on the easel. Nothing about it changed month after month. Not a single new brush stroke touched the canvas. Then she moved away and I didn’t see her for a number of years. When we got together again I asked, “Whatever happened to that green pastel that was on your easel so long?”

She said, “I never finished it.”

I said, “You were afraid.”

She said, “I was terrified of it.”

I know a talented young writer who contacted 100 agents in hopes of getting his first book published. He had worked extremely hard on the book and it was very good. He thought of making it a trilogy, and had mapped out the next five years of writing. One agent showed interest and the writer was hopeful, but then the agent lost interest. Discouraged, doubting himself, having lost confidence, not wishing to be so disappointed again the writer stopped writing creatively and devoted himself to his teaching career.

I know an opera singer who has had a successful career, but suddenly and inexplicably after five years developed a fear of performing and for two years retired from the stage. She’s performing again but doesn’t know if that debilitating fear will ever return.

Each early morning I go into my work room upstairs and settle down to write. Now I’m in my element–confident, contented, primed and ready to work. I’ve been writing so long and have produced so many words. Generating text is second nature to me—easy, effortless, without strain. Yet, there is another emotion that is there with me some days. I pause, fold my hands in my lap, and ask myself, “What are you feeling now? Why are you hesitating?” And I answer, “I am feeling fear.”

paintings-316440_640“What are you afraid of?”

“I don’t know. Possibly that I won’t have my skills today; that I won’t be successful; that I’ll let myself down. I really don’t know.”

“Is that so important? Writing is such a small part of life.”

“Right now it is the most important thing possible.”

Bear in mind that I’ve had success writing. Also, I am no coward. I rescued a woman from a would-be rapist–chased him, caught him, fought with him, wrestled him to the ground, and held him till the police came. Yet when I sit at the computer to do the thing I do better than anything else sometimes I’m scared.

We speak of writer’s block, but that’s too narrow. There are sculptors’ blocks and actors’ blocks and ballet dancers’ blocks—the drawing back (intimidated, helpless) from the art we love and have performed many times before–being stopped by some powerful obstacle or set of obstacles that are not out there in the world, not visible to the eye, but are inside us.

The Samurai

The samurai–the finest warriors ever to walk this earth– were ordinary men and women who were trained to perform extraordinary feats of courage. Just as writers, artists, dancers, or actors face internal obstacles that interfere with their work, so did the samurai. The bulk of his or her training (there were women samurai) was devoted to overcoming those inner obstacles that are no different than the obstacles artists of all descriptions face—anxiety, procrastination, self-doubt, hesitation, fear of taking risks, discouragement, over-analysis, depression, apprehension, impatience, and more.

target-211225_640The release of the arrow is the most difficult problem archers face; they think too much, as often do artists, explaining the sudden loss of spontaneity, the sudden loss of skill. Fear is a dragon that often keeps us from success. The samurai was taught: “Strike through the dragon’s mask.”

The samurai’s mind was trained to be fudoshin—to be “immovable,” to never budge from the main goal (for the artist, to get the work done.) They were taught that when your thoughts get “caught” (toroware), or “stopped” (tomaru) on internal obstacles, you will have trouble executing any action—when your mind gets “hooked” or “snagged,” the way the opera singer’s mind was snagged for two years. Better to acquire tomaranu kokoro, “a mind that knows no stopping,” that flows smoothly from idea to idea without being stopped.

What I did in my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life was to pluck the wisdom of the samurai off the battlefield and apply it to everyday modern life producing a book of musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship” so that people might overcome the internal obstacles that are troubling them.

Zen and the Samurai

The warrior class was the first segment of Japanese society to embrace Zen. From the twelfth-century on Zen became known as the religion of the samurai. What explains the fit between these two apparently different approaches to life?

Zen is many things—a religion, a philosophy, a life-style. It is also a psychology, a psychology of action, grounded on decisiveness, spontaneity, strength of will, adaptability, courage, and bravery. It was this psychological aspect of Zen which appealed most to the samurai, for to rush forward to face the enemy even if only death awaited him, he needed what Zen taught—to act without hanging back, without reservations, and with total commitment.

Warrior Artists

samurai-67662_640The elite samurai were members of the cultured, aristocratic upper classes—the daimyos, the lords. Bunbu ryodo “The united Ways of the pen and the sword” refers to the tradition of the warrior artist, master swordsmen who were also poets, calligraphers, and painters. The famed Miyamoto Musashi is considered the greatest samurai swordsman who ever lived. He was also one of Japan’s foremost artists whose work today has a place in Japan’s national art museum.

Samurai Maxims

“A warrior must only take care that his spirit is never broken.”

“Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”

“Let your mind be free to function according to its own nature.”

“Stick to the larger view of things. If your vision is narrow your spirit will be narrow.”

“Adversity in life is essential to training.”

“The end of our Way of the sword is to be fearless when confronting our inner enemies and our outer enemies.”

“If you walk, just walk. If you sit, just sit. But whatever you do, don’t wobble.”

You needn’t look too far or too hard to see that these maxims and the inner training of the samurai Way apply to the artist’s life. Like the warrior, if the artist is to grow, it will be from within. The artist’s work, like a warrior releasing an arrow, should be like a drop of dew falling from a leaf or a fruit falling when it’s ripe.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Decisive Choices

“We have to learn to pay close attention to our lives right now, not just tomorrow or next week or next year–or even in an hour.”

Moments of Decisive Choice

cliffsDuring the Nazi occupation of Europe there were rescuers and bystanders. The majority were bystanders. They stood by. Rescuers helped people who were being hunted. They hid them; they fed them; they helped them get away.

Bystanders claimed they had no choice because the penalty for harboring fugitives was death. Rescuers said they had no choice but to risk death because they were doing the right thing. But each did have a choice. The rescuers could have said, “I won’t help,” and the bystanders could have said, “I will.” They each made a decisive choice.

We make decisive choices all our lives. At one time or another we’ve chosen to be brave or cowardly, to be happy or not, to fall in love or not, to shirk our responsibilities or live up to them. You make a decisive choice to take a risk to start a new career, to face up to a serious problem, to end something or start something, or to get yourself out of a miserable predicament.

We fell in love with freedom as children and have been trying all of our adult lives to have more of it. During moments of decisive choice you’re as free as you’ll ever be. You come to an impasse, then say, “I’ve had enough of this routine, of this style of life, of these habits, of thinking the same old shop-worn thoughts, of this place, of these people. It’s time to change.” You’re bold. You declare yourself: “This is what I believe and this is what I’ll do.” The happiest people in the world are the ones that have made up their mind. Then you set sail; you catch the wind.

Moments of No Choice

Just as there are moments when you make a decisive choice, there are moments when you should make a decisive choice, but don’t. Moments of no choice are moments when you would be happiest leading one kind of life or another, but lazily or fearfully you follow the course already set.

You would think that being in a bad situation, people would want to find a way out. Lizzie would start a better life as soon as she leaves Ted, and she knows that. No one has to tell her Ted is no good for her; that her life is being ruined. But months pass and she makes no choice. Lizzie never leaves him and her life stays the same. People look at her and say, “What a shame. What a wasted life.”

Burt makes no choice, permitting his loneliness to continue, coming home from work, switching on the light, and as he does every other night sits down on the edge of the bed to wonder wearily what the rest of the world is doing. Many people moan about their troubles, but do nothing to get rid of them.

Have you noticed how many people who make no choice are leading lives that are beneath them? How many can’t seem to imagine a better life? How many doubt themselves and lack confidence?

 Choice-Point Living

sunrise-165094_640We have the freedom at any point to freeze the action of our lives, take a step back, and decide to continue as we are or to start out in a more promising direction. At any moment you’re at liberty to:

1. Stop the action, reflect, and make an honest appraisal of your life as it stands. Is it progressing the way you want?

  1. Will you continue it as it is, or will you change its direction? You don’t have to wait until next week or next month, or until you feel completely up to it. Right now as you read this you can stop the action, look up from the screen, and ask, “Do I really want to continue my life as is, or should I change it?”
  1. Plan the changes you’ll make. Set goals because if you have goals clearly in mind you will be motivated to achieve them, be more persistent in pursuing them, more self-confident, better able to overcome obstacles, and more successful.
  1. Take decisive action and do what you’ve decided to do.

That’s intentional Choice Point Living–purposely stopping, appraising, deciding, and acting. It may start when you find yourself thinking, “Everything is fine—I’m leading a good life and have so much to be content with. But yet, yet, I can actually feel in my gut, feel physically, that something isn’t right, something is seriously wrong somewhere, and something should be done.”

 Points of No Return/No Retreat Societies

In your life there have been and will be again points of no return, periods of total commitment. Now you’re fully mobilized for action. There is no longer any other choice to be made, no “should I do this or should I do that?” or “Should I wait?” There’s no stopping you from the direction you’ve consciously chosen. Now there is no time for second thoughts. Everything is clear to you. Everything is perfect. You can remember some of your points of no return and how glorious you felt making up your mind and committing yourself.

Among Native American warriors there were “no retreat societies.” These warriors declared themselves. They were in the fight to the finish, and there was no going back, no retreating. Your points of no return have been like that. They’ve been some of the happiest times of your life. Once you were decided you were in it straight to the end.

What points of no return do you remember best?

Is it time for another?

The Single Purpose of This Present Moment

japanese-cherry-trees-324175_640We’re accustomed to thinking of broad vistas–of where we will stand in life and how well we will be doing in six months or five years or ten or twenty. We neglect to notice how uncertain life is and how time is racing, how our lives once gone are gone forever. We’re no different than cherry blossoms that don’t last long in the wind that blows them from the tree. All we remember is how beautiful they were. Our lives are five minutes long.

We have to learn to pay close attention to our lives right now, not just tomorrow or next week or next year–or even in an hour. Why concern yourself with how you’ll feel a day from now, or in a minute, or what may happen, when far more important is what needs to be done right now, this present moment.

Gather your strength, or courage, or defiance into a decisive choice. Come to life.

 

Moments of Decisive Choice—Strength, Freedom

Moments of No Choice—Lack of Confidence, No Change

Choice Point Living—Conscious Change, New Goals, Setting Sail

Points of No Return—Total Commitment, Strength

No Retreat Societies—No Going Back, Happiness

The Single Purpose of This Present Moment—Awareness, Confidence, Focus

 

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Days End: A Story of Courage and Love

sunset-190922_640Far below me, a woman as tan as tree bark lay on her back on the sand. White-tipped frothing waves came in from the ocean, and life went on down there.

I was looking down from the high balcony of my sister Sharon’s hospital room. Sharon was in bed in the room behind me–not asleep, yet not fully awake, but in a dazed state between because of the morphine they gave her all through the day and when she called for it at night. Her pain was very bad.

I watched as a few hundred feet away people in white outfits played tennis on green courts on the roof of a tall pink hotel. I knew they should not be blamed for their happiness, any more than Sharon for her misery. But I was thinking that somehow it was unfair that they were running so, graceful and strong, close enough to wave and smile at me while her disease had spread through everything. Everything was gone.

I had seen on the floor of her kitchen the scale that was there to measure the dwindling of her existence, and sheets of paper on a clipboard hanging from a nail on the wall that recorded it: ninety-eight pounds, ninety, eighty-eight…, and a calendar that had Xs on days she wasn’t healthy enough to work that in recent months had become all Xs. Against a wall was a full-length gold-framed mirror that had once held her face and her shape as she turned to adjust a blouse or straighten a skirt. The mirror was dusty.

All that remained now was the steady withering of her small, faltering body, the daily indignities, the terror and inconceivable loneliness of dying, the sorrow of leaving this world. When I stood over her bed that late afternoon she looked at me with shamed eyes and said, “I’m a mess aren’t I,” and my heart broke. What could I do but tell her she was still beautiful? How will I ever remember without pain her looking up at me so gratefully and saying “Thank you brother,” as I handed her a glass of water?

Her mind was in a tangle because of the morphine–sensations and floating dreams blended together like a band of swallows swooping and falling and words from the voices of people slipping in sideways, echoes of words, as words spoken in a museum closed for the night might sound, or a murmur, or just splinters of sound descending like coins in a pool. Images were loose in her mind of such memories as that of an ironing board, a dress with a faded floral pattern, a photograph of her sitting at a desk smiling, then the suddenly remembered sensation in her finger tips of peeling an orange or pulling strands of hair out of a brush. And all the while she was a sponge soaked with emotion: love and despair and courage and fear.

At times she felt she was merely a body beyond repair, but there were moments of great clarity when she realized she was truly a person. Then she became suddenly proud and triumphant: “I am alive. I am a human being. I am still of value.” And then shortly the dreaded thought returned: It will end; soon it’ll end. It was all so sad, she thought: the sun would last, the earth would last, and there would always be stars, but not she. She was greedy for life–another day, another hour–but didn’t a person so young have a right to be? Only thirty-seven. There should be more shouldn’t there? Above all she mustn’t lapse into self-pity, mustn’t wail, “Help me please, I am suffering.” That was all there was to it, she thought, the only victory, as outside in the priceless world flamingo clouds drifted by.

The room was regaled in yellow chrysanthemums. Sunlight spread across the balcony and the warm breeze thronged in as visitors arrived to pay their respects. Sharon wasn’t resentful or jealous of their good health, that irresistible glow they had, that incandescence, and looked forward very much to their bringing their good cheer and love, smiling like children, she knew, to keep her spirits up. Someone told a joke that was followed by laughter. How hungrily a person’s thoughts swarm over joy among sorrow.

When visitors were talking among themselves she lay back, listened, and felt one of those hundreds of emotions for which there are no words. She knew some people thought compassion was a useless emotion, but she thought it the kindest. It didn’t alter the fact that soon her life would end, but yet there were glimmers of light just knowing that one person could care so much for another, asking nothing in return, opening a secret door and entering on the private island on which the other person lived, and then you and they weren’t so lonely, if only for that time. A nurse slid a thermometer between Sharon’s lips business-like, glanced at her briefly and impersonally and with cold, gray, restless eyes gazed out at the sky while she waited for the thermometer, took it out, looked at it, and said, “One o one, not bad at all.”

How do you explain life? What does a person live for? Sharon wondered as she was turned over, grimaced, and was sponged. You expected the answer to become clear if you lived long enough, and to be profound: the meaning of life was X or Y, perhaps Z. It was a question worth asking. It was probably joy. Yes, that was it all the time: the joy one feels. And she had known joy. No one could say she hadn’t known exquisite joy.

A doctor she didn’t know then came into the room to see her, and looked at her, looked at her eyes, and jumped back as though he had been punched, and said, “I feel your power coming out to me. You have a very strong will.”

 

It was the silence that settled as softly as pollen on the hospital room when toward evening everyone went home that I will recall. “I remember once when,” Sharon said, thumbing through her stack of memories. Suddenly she said, “Do you remember that summer day at the lake the wind was so wild and the waves were as tall as buildings, the library when I was looking for a book?”

That day when as children—she eight, I ten–we inhabited our bodies with inexpressible joy, she on the sand holding my hand, laughing. Suddenly a wind picked up and into the air flew a thousand birds. Clouds raced each other headlong across the black sky, and wave upon wave –a procession of liquid walls—rose and rose and rose majestically, ascending one after another like great hills of water that then lunged and plunged like a field of gray-green wheat bowing under the wind, shattering on the shore into a multitude of broken stars. Hills of water that seemed to pause for a long moment at their fullest height and then to crash to earth with the sound of artillery, our hearts beating with excitement, with awe, with fear, with terror. Just a moment before there had been not a breeze, not a breath of wind, but now all the wind in the world seemed to be concentrated on that strip of earth– a lion of a wind, unleashed, untamed, cool, cold, with a bite and sting, bringing–pouring in to us–the odors of water, of fish, and of the wind itself, the steady hoarse roar of the foaming waves filling the air like thunder, my losing then all sense of physical existence, being liberated and free. Behind us bathers took their children’s hands and dashed for the shelter of the beach house, and strong men dragged rowboats higher up onto the beach away from the surging water, leaving behind ruts in the sand. Nothing was the same; everything in motion, everything in flux, everything changing: wind, waves, sky, everything. That same day she stood on tip-toes on a stool down the aisle in the stacks at the library, reaching for Little Women, and watching her I realized in that instant that she was irreplaceable; I could not do without her.

How fast life goes” she whispered weakly. “It isn’t much longer than a mosquito’s life. Why does it go so fast?” The world is such a huge, well-traveled place; yet when the end of a life nears, all distances collapse and it comes to that: a little room, a little bed, a pair of eyes looking on, someone weeping.

The pain had flecked Sharon’s black hair with white and it was short from the treatment and no longer long and flowing. Her once-pretty face was gaunt, her cheeks gray, her body tired of suffering. Her long pianist’s fingers were so thin that her ring had slipped off and was lost. But there in her gray, lonely, fading beauty there was still about her that same gentleness you could ruffle with your breath, the same fury in her fierce eyes, the same poise, and the same mystical elegance.

Night came; the day was gone. Over the city shone a blue light and the chrysanthemums stood in a black vase on the table. Beyond the glass door and beyond the stars was darkness upon darkness. The faintest light lay on her face, and on that face was neither pain nor resignation nor fear nor sorrow, but peace. I placed my hand flat on her chest–she could feel pain no more–and she opened her eyes and looked into my face with a gentle sweetness. And then looked down at my hand and placed her left hand lovingly upon it.

 

I only regret that I was helpless to shape into words all that I was thinking of her and hoped she understood how I loved her and how I would carry with me and cherish the memories I have of her, that every year I would commemorate her birthday; that whether I am bending to tie my shoelace or asking for a fork she never leaves my thoughts. In my mind all my life I will see her long black hair flaring in the wind that day with the wild waves bursting, our lives passing, changing, and flowing like those waves; her dying young.

I felt such tenderness toward her that could I, I would have died for her and was so regretful that I could not suffer her pain for her, and was powerless to help her, and that she is now gone entirely from my life and from this world. Until I die I will feel the immense weight of grief for her and now I ask her forgiveness for any sadness I ever caused her through thoughtlessness or selfishness; and wish her somehow to know that I intended no harm and am so terribly sorry.

 

In the parking lot I saw Sharon’s favorite nurse and called to her and caught up with her and told her of my gratitude to her for the great gentleness and goodness she had shown my sister. I told her I would never forget her kindliness and thoughtfulness, and that I would think about her in the future and would never forget her. She told me what a good patient Sharon had been, how she had never complained and was always so nice and had good manners, and how it made her very sad to say goodbye to her.

I did not know as a boy that memories of that day at the lake, though intangible, would persist through all the successive years, nothing as real. Or that our lives would change so immeasurably as had those waves under that wind.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Strange and Perplexing Disorder: My Mother and Emily Dickinson

MomScan_20140825 (3)Sometimes we are oblivious to the serious problems people we know are having. And when we learn about them sometimes we’re shocked. As shocked as some people reading this post, one of my growing up memories, will be.

In high school I won an award and there was an assembly. Sitting on the stage, I looked down at the faces in the audience and there in the third row was my mother. My eyes stung with tears, I was so touched by her being there. I thought of the courage it had taken for her to come alone. Under my breath I whispered, “Good going Mom.”

When you are an agoraphobic you are one of a minuscule portion of the world’s population, and you seem terribly odd because the simple act of leaving your home alone fills you with helpless terror and requires great bravery on your part. And so you are odd, and that is no secret to you. But you try to hide the fact.

You are a person of considerable mystery. Your problem is the least talked about and least understood psychiatric disorder. And the most difficult to treat.

“You’re afraid to leave the house? What do you mean?” (They are stupefied. You really can’t mean that.)“It is very hard for me.” (You are understating.)

“Yes, a person can get hit over the head or robbed these days.”

“Those things don’t scare me in the least. I can take care of myself.”

“Then what are you afraid of?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Very much.” (Because it seems so weird to me.)

“Most of all of the space out there—the immensity of it.”

“But I’ve known you for years and I’ve seen you outside your house many times.”

“But have you noticed that I’m never alone?” (My husband is with me, or my wife, or a close friend—someone I can put all my trust in.)

When you are out alone in that immensity you sweat, you worry, you feel faint, and you have difficulty breathing. At times the tension builds and you feel that any moment you will scream. All that’s being asked of you is that you go alone down the familiar street to the familiar train station and catch a familiar train and go to the doctor, and then return home again in two hours. You go over and over meticulously in your mind the details—the steps–you must carry out before you can open your front door again and set foot into the sanctuary you feel you never should have left. First walk down the street to the station, (That’s not so bad, is it?), then sit in the waiting room (Be ready; you will be afraid), then sit in the train looking out the window, then…Then on the way back, everything in reverse.

The problem is the mind. The mind is the trap. How can you master the mind when there is nothing to master it with but that same mind that is not perfectly well?

It is now time to leave. The door opens—the assault of the open air–and you mutter to yourself, Be strong. Then, hours later when you have completed the dreaded journey and are safely home again, everything in that domain welcomes you back—the refrigerator, the dining room furniture, the light fixtures.

My mother never as an adult saw the interior of a grocery store or a butcher shop, but called in the family orders item by item and had everything delivered, did not shop for clothes for herself or us except by mail order, did not take her children to doctors or dentists, but had them go alone, never walked down one flight of stairs to do the laundry in the basement, avoided crowds and never went to circuses, zoos, ballparks, libraries, playgrounds, beaches, concerts, or museums, and avoided elevators and all other enclosed places.

When you are as she, you often say after sleepless nights of anticipating opening the door and leaving, “I would give anything not to have to go. Can you please come with me?”

“NO (a stern voice), you must go alone. You have to master this thing. You have to do what you don’t want to do. That’s the only solution, the lone treatment. Do what you don’t want to do.”

I’m sure my mother never realized she was sick. My father never expected her to be any different than she was, and never all his life mentioned her affliction, nor did she ever speak of it, nor did we, her children. It was no less a part of her than her arm, and if a person’s arm is deformed, you never bring it up. When my father took her outside and stayed close to her–as though they were attached by a string–no one would have known that were he to leave her side– absentmindedly in a parking lot, for example–she would to some extent have lost her mind.

Yet, she was in love with the world–the glitter of lights and the sunsets and the dawns; the shades and shapes. Her absence from it made it all the more beautiful to her. She marveled at people; how they seemed so blasé and reckless out on the streets–as impervious as rocks.

I think to her the apartment in which she sought refuge and dwelled so happily was a garden glittering with precious stones. In it, keeping her company when everyone was gone, might just as well have been hummingbirds and blue jays and lilies of the valley and Roses of Sharon– bird baths and white columns and caterpillars. Utensils were rubies, chairs diamonds, books emeralds, toys on the floor scattered sapphires.

In that tiny domain she darted like a thrush among the five rooms, lifting, sorting, storing, repairing, pushing, sweeping, mopping, cleaning, wiping, washing, drying, folding, spreading, fluffing, rushing, straightening, puttering, submerging dishes in bubbly water–working, working, working–confident, capable, efficient, masterful–the queen of our lives. She was the center of the family about whom everything orbited and whose sweetness, gentleness, caring, affection, and kindliness she shared equally among us, and which filled every crevice of our home.

Everything she needed to exist contentedly was within reach–a tiny, perfect world—we, her family, walking through rooms, or sitting, or coming in or going out the doors. It was clear that on certain days each moment in that apartment and whatever happened therein filled her with inestimable joy. Then she might have thought:

If all the griefs I am to have
Would only come today,
I am so happy I believe
They’d laugh and run away.

If all the joys I am to have
Would only come today
They could not be so big as this
That happens to me now.

It was very near her thirtieth year that Emily Dickinson deliberately decided never willingly to leave her home again. She had been a prolific letter-writer since childhood, but letters subsequent to that year became more important to her than they are to most people because they were her “letters to the world,” and the replies she received were her sole means of escape from the imprisonment she had chosen.

She was as out-of-touch with the world as my mother. The news from “out there” came second hand to them. It was not something they experienced directly. Dickinson had no interest in the Civil War—the period of her flowering– and no interest in contemporary writers. It is doubtful she read a single poem of the other living American poetic genius, Walt Whitman. Eventually, Dickinson refused to be in the same room as visitors, her isolation now complete.

Were my mother a poet, she too might have written:

The soul selects her own society.
Then shuts the door.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How a Better Life is Reached

“If you and I were as serious about a better life as we say we are, we would be willing to fight for it. We would always be certain of where that better life lay. We would take a clear and steady look ahead, knowing that we must never take our eyes off that life. We would look neither backwards, nor sideways, only forward. We would have no silly illusions, but would face life head-on, facing up to whatever it brings–good or bad. Once having decided on the life we’re looking for, we would move immediately to it, never delaying, never dawdling.

“When we faced difficult situations, we would not hide from them, but would go ahead to meet them, maintaining high spirits and complete faith in ourselves. We would never ignore or underestimate an obstacle, but all we would ask is where it is and how to get to it by the shortest route. We wouldn’t back off, not for a minute, not for any reason. We would always be moving and making progress toward that better life, never deviating or slowing down because we’re too lazy, or afraid, or self-doubting, or discouraged, or have been set-back by circumstances.

“You wouldn’t have to ask where we intended to go in life. You would be able to tell by watching us. Our undeviating aim would be to reach the life we can envision, letting no impediments keep us from it. We would know that in this life courage is a necessity, but that there really is nothing to be afraid of and no reason to hold anything back. Getting closer each day to a better life, our energy and strength would be boundless. Others would let go of their dreams, but we wouldn’t. We would draw from deeper inside and be willing to exhaust ourselves for the sake of our happiness.

“We would never lose the expectation that no matter what, we will succeed. Knocked down, we would maintain our confidence that all will go well as long as we get up. Knocked down seven times, we would get up eight. For that is how a better life is reached”

(From my updated eBook Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life.)

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

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