Eric Maisel, one of my favorite authors on creativity, just came out with a little gem of a book on centering techniques that only take a few seconds to implement called “Ten Zen Seconds”. Since stepmother/mother relationships often involve lots of potentially tense moments where you’re flying by the seat of your pants, I thought this would be the perfect thing to share with women looking for some immediate help in the heat of the moment.
I’m honored that Eric agreed to be the very first “guest star” on our blog and answer some questions about how this technique can be applied to mother/stepmother conflicts.
What is Ten Zen Seconds all about? Can you give us an overview?
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.
Where did this idea come from?
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.
Intriguing.... And where did that hunt lead you?
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!
(I was part of this online “test group” and I found it not only fascinating, but incredibly helpful. I’m still doing these things on a daily basis and they’re not hard to remember. But I do keep a crumpled piece of paper in my purse with all twelve incantations, just in case.)
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.
So which phrases did you settle on?
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.
(come back tomorrow for Part 2 of the interview, in which Eric will answer questions such as...)
JM: The relationship between mothers and stepmothers is traditionally considered to be helplessly antagonistic, but it doesn't have to be. How can the Ten Zen Seconds method help reduce those nasty feelings that mother and stepmothers often feel toward one another?
© 2007 Jennifer Newcomb Marine
These are vital topics for our times with so many blended marriages and relationships. It's hard to be on either side, and especially hard to maintain equanimity. Thanks for exploring this topic today.
Janet Grace Riehl, author "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary," www.riehlife.com
Anne Marchand said...
With so much division in our society, it's good to focus on " a bringing together" technique for reducing stress, centering, and living a more peaceful life. Thanks for hosting the interview with Dr. Eric Maisel.
Anne Marchand, visual artist, www.annemarchand.com
Jonathan B. Singer, LCSW said...
We can't over estimate the value of a good deep breath.
When I was a crisis counselor for suicidal youth, I used my own version of a "ten second zen" to ground myself so that I could be grounded with the child and his or her family. Before walking into the therapy room (in which awaited a family whose child had just tried to die by suicide), I would stand in front of the door, close my eyes, take a deep breath and think "trust the process" or "today we will make a difference" or whatever came to mind. I would exhale, open my eyes, put my hand on the door nob, put a smile on my face, inhale and open the door. When I would race in to the chaos it was easy to become part of the problem... I found the deep breath and the accompanying thought to be invaluable in my work.
I'm interested to read how Eric applies the ten second zen to stepmother/mother relationships.
Jonathan Singer, clinical social worker http://socialworkpodcast.com
April 17, 2007 9:49 AM