Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ten Zen Seconds / Interview with Eric Maisel, Part Two

I am honored to have Author, ERIC MAISEL as my guest today. Eric will answer questions about balancing the creative process and creating a meaningful life using a breathing technique with mindfulness to get centered. Arists know that the artistic process has its ups and downs and that it's helpful to see where we are in the creative cycle. Dr. Maisel has used his experience in Philosophy and Psychology, Creative Writing and Counseling to come up with a simple tool that anyone can use to bring their focus to the present moment. For artists, being able to maintain a place of focus is a vital component in a sucessful life.

Anne: Welcome Eric, Can you tell us again the resonant phrases that you came up with in your breathing technique?

Eric: Here are the twelve incantations (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)

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.

Anne: Artists have alternating times of social interaction and self imposed times of isolation. Can Ten Zen Seconds help visual artists find the right balance between creative work/play and the more mundane tasks of "making a living?"

Eric: Yes, by helping you get into the (really good) habit of naming your next work, whether that's painting or doing business, in a calm, mindful, intentional way in a context of meaning: that is, by saying, and therefore remembering, "my painting is meaningful to me" and "my business tasks support my painting life, which is one of the primary ways I make my meaning."

If all those business efforts do not lead to sufficient success, then it becomes increasingly hard to find the wherewithal to do them; but even then you want to reinvest meaning in those tasks, as your painting life, and hence your meaning life, depends on them. The incantations support this repetitive process of "staying on your own side" by helping you name your work, opt for action, feel equal to the challenges you face, and stay strong in the face of all this effort.

Anne: I often find myself running around doing a million things at once, having to shift gears frequently during the day. We artists wear many hats and it can get overwhelming. You do so many things as an author, creativity coach, psychologist and make it look so easy. How does Ten Zen Seconds fit into "shifting gears" during your day?

Eric: So much of it is attitudinal. You can either feel pushed and pulled by everything˜or not. You can get a grip on your own mind and not make "big deals" out of small matters˜or you can turn them into dramas and crises. Stress has to do not with the doing of things but with the thoughts we are holding as we do those things: the thought, for instance, that we have fifty
more things to do, rather than just being present with the thing in front of you, peacefully doing it, without a thought as to those other fifty things. The incantations support this attitudinal shift by helping you completely stop, by helping you trust yourself, rather than worry about what‚s not going to work or what‚s not going to turn out well, and so on. This is all about the art of "getting out of your own way"˜of making things cognitively easier and better.

Anne: The creative cycle is fraught with shifts of highs and lows when we win a competition or we get that unwelcome rejection letter. Sometimes we get thrown off balance and need to readjust our perspectives. Can you tell artists how to use these techniques to stay in the big picture of their creative selves and persevere through the ups and downs of the Creative

Eric: Great question and big question! The complete answer is embedded in incantation 2, "I expect nothing," perhaps the most important of the incantations. It is one thing to have dreams, ambitions, goals, to live joyfully and mindfully, to have hopes, desires, appetites, and wishes˜and it is an entirely different matter to attach to outcomes.

You can want to win a competition and also not care about winning a competition; you can hope that a collector will collect you and also not care if he collects you. The complete trick is to keep doing your part and then deeply surrendering to the fact that you can't control outcomes. When you learn how to "expect nothing," you can appreciate what comes your way without lamenting what doesn't.

Anne: Eric, since this is the last day of the Ten Zen Seconds Blogtour, is there anything that you would like to add to the conversation with all of the wonderful artists who have shared this journey with you?

Eric: Let me just say how interesting this has been for me! I want to thank everyone who acted as tour host, who entered the conversation, and who took the time to read these interviews. I hope that you'll actually give the Ten Zen Seconds technique a try, I really do believe that the results are transformative.

I want to thank Eric Maisel for all the wonderful insights he has given us with his new book. I highly recommend it!
Eric’s book, Ten Zen Seconds, is available from or, in book- tape- or download format on the Ten Zen Seconds website. Thanks again, Eric and happy creating!

Anne Marchand is a visual artist, muralist and teacher. She is a project manger on the Eastern Market Arts Restoration Project in Washington, DC sponsored by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities which dedicates 27 new murals by 25 Washington, DC artists on Saturday, June 2 to the community.


  1. Anne, I'm grateful to you for bringing the idea of CYCLES into the conversation--in/out, and up/down--and how to make sense and balance and continued movement in the face of these swings. These are crucial points. I recall the first time I became aware of the "out in the world time" and the "in the studio time". I was just in my 20s in West Africa and a Ghanaian man who was growing into himself as a writer and painter became my dear friend. On our out in the world times, we went out and gave ourselves to the world, full out, drinking it in, engaging with it, enjoying its stimulation and gifts. Then,in the succeeding days, we consciously planned our down time to process all that we'd seen and learned and to rest and recover. During these downtime days the insights came and the path to turn the world we'd experienced into our path in art became clear. I was so fortunate to have this example early in life. When, in midlife, the art came in for me full force, I used the same strategy. I planned spans of painting days--a painting retreat, in effect. Before going into this space, I cooked soups and stocked the refrigerator, paid bills, and made other practical arrangements so that when I started painting, I could give myself fully to the sacred space of image and story. This is how I have learned to handle the in/out of the Creative Cycle. When I have smaller chunks of time to devote, I use the same principles so that I'm fully there, without responsibilities looming over me.

    The ups and downs of the creative cycle are a continuous challenge. Expecting nothing is the answer, certainly, but so tricky...and one of the best skills an artist can learn.

    Janet Grace Riehl, author "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary"

  2. Thanks for your comment Janet. The ins and outs of the creative cycle are indeed tricky. When we realize that as artists, it's in our best interest to find out as much as we can about the creative processes that inspire us and to recognize that even when clouds go by the sun is still shining. As Eric pointed out, "So much of it is attitudinal. You can either feel pushed and pulled by everything˜or not. You can get a grip on your own mind and not make "big deals" out of small matters˜or you can turn them into dramas and crises." Our whole life is one big thought creation. The type of tools that inspired thinkers like Eric Maisel offer can help us stay in the big picture of our creative selves.