Saturday, April 21, 2007

INTERVIEW: Eric Maisel - Ten Zen Seconds (1)

Today, it is my honor to interview internationally known author, speaker and creativity coach Eric Maisel, Ph.D., as he tells us about his new book, Ten Zen Seconds. We will be discussing his new approach to mindfulness as it applies to creative people with busy lives.

Ten Zen Seconds is structured around 12 incantations (phrases, similar to affirmations, that do a particular kind of inner work). When combined with a specific kind of mindful deep breathing, these incantations are used in a variety of circumstances to promote a greater sense of calm, focus and inner strength. [For an overview of Ten Zen Seconds, click HERE to read an extended interview with Eric Maisel.]

Those of us who choose to make creativity an important part of our everyday lives, perhaps even a source of livelihood, experience the challenges of making meaningful work while responding to the demands of the marketplace and a daily domestic routine.

Here, Eric offers practical suggestions for using Ten Zen Seconds to address these challenges.

KP: Welcome, Eric. Thank you for stopping by the Quiet Little Life, today.

Your book Ten Zen Seconds includes many personal anecdotes from clients and test subjects describing the ways they have incorporated practices from the book into their daily lives. As a busy author and creativity coach how do you, personally, use the Ten Zen Seconds breathing and meditation techniques to bring added meaning and focus to your work?

EM: I like to create "islands of mindfulness" that are qualitatively "more mindful" than the rest of the day. Like everyone, I am doing one thing after another and trying to pay attention to details, do good work, and get tasks checked off my to-do list. Through all of this I am mindful, but situations arise where I want to be "more mindful" than ordinary, because the situation is more meaningful.

It might, for instance, be a scheduled phone conversation with an editor or literary agent in which the fate of some book is determined: before this "more meaningful" event in my daily routine I will use incantation 1, "I am completely stopping," and actually stop—not slow down, but stop—remember to expect nothing (incantation 2), and name as my work "Get clear on my agenda," "Make a good list of questions," etc. I use the TZS technique to demarcate my activities, adding "extra mindfulness" where and when I feel it’s needed.

KP: We live in a world of expectations. Our clients, families, bosses, community groups, even we, ourselves,expect that we will fulfill our responsibilities and produce reliable outcomes. Yet, in order to create original, meaningful work we often must release all expectations and mindfully create in the moment. This duality can lead to stress. Calling on your background in philosophy and psychology, how would you recommend that one resolve this apparent paradox when using Incantation 2 "I expect nothing"?

EM: It is easy enough to see how "unreasonable" expectations would produce stress. By why should we be so wary of holding "reasonable" expectations, for instance that our editor, who has loved everything of ours she’s seen, will love our next book, or that our next painting, in which we are demanding nothing new of ourselves, will turn out as well as our last paintings? One vital reason is that such expectations do not allow for changing circumstances and genuine process.

What if we are already "beyond" our current painting style and are just going through the motions with our current painting? Our growth process, which we naturally want to cultivate, is at odds with the life of this painting and what is likely to happen is that we will look at the painting, realize that we do not want to paint this sort of thing any longer, and move on.

If we were holding the "reasonable" expectation that the painting ought to turn out just fine, we would be disappointed and might not even be able to recognize the moment for what it is, the signal of a growth spurt. When we "expect nothing," then we can not only accept the "death" of this painting without pain but be equal to the moment and open up to our next work. It is exactly for such reasons that we want to "expect nothing."

KP: I have found the customizable Incantation 3 "I am doing my work" to be particularly enlightening. As I named the activities I was engaged in, at any given moment, I began to realize how often I found myself multitasking. How might this incantation be customized to reflect the necessity for occasional multitasking in the course of a busy creative person’s day?

EM: There are two kinds of multitasking, the kind where you are doing one thing, then a different thing, then yet a different thing, one right after the other; and the sort where you are actually doing two things at once, like talking on the phone while you’re checking your email.

For the first sort, the idea of "book-ending" each task, so as to set it off from the one before it and the one after it, can prove very useful. You use incantation 1, "I am completely stopping," and the name-your-work incantation, incantation 3, when you start the task, then you use incantation 3 again, this time to "put the task behind you"—for instance, "Done with that letter"—and incantation 12, "I return with strength," to ready yourself for the next, maybe completely different task. For that other kind of multi-tasking—well, we should all stop doing that, as it is the very opposite of "being present"!

KP: I often tell the singers I teach that awareness of breathing is foundational to building a healthy, powerful, flexible voice. How might a busy singer, with limited time to prepare, incorporate Ten Zen Seconds techniques into a regular practice routine, which already includes stretches, breathing and vocal exercises, plus preparation of repertoire?

EM: The first step is always to go through the twelve incantations, slowly and mindfully, and find the one or two that feel most useful and resonant. It is very difficult, verging on impossible, to incorporate all twelve in a regular way into your life, but it isn’t hard at all to incorporate one, two, or even three.

For a singer—for all performers—incantation 6, "I embrace this moment," is a very important and powerful one, because many performers are, because of performance anxiety, actually "wanting to be elsewhere" and wishing they were elsewhere, and incantation 6 helps remind them to surrender to the fact that they are where that they are and that they might even experience the moment as joyful!—especially if they add on incantation 9, "I am open to joy," to remind themselves of that possibility.

KP: Eric, thank you for your thoughtful answers. I appreciate the insights you've shared.
To read other bloggers interviews with Eric Maisel about "Ten Zen Seconds" CLICK HERE.

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

INTERVIEW: Eric Maisel - Ten Zen Seconds (2)

Today, I host author and creativity coach, Eric Maisel, Ph.D., as he tells about his new book, "Ten Zen Seconds: Twelve Incantations for Purpose, Power and Calm."

Ten Zen Seconds is written in a straightforward, easily understood style. I chose to read it slowly over the course of about ten days, going through it in a way that allowed for reflection and experiential use of the ideas.

I used the techniques just as suggest, and the past two weeks have been very productive and calm. I look forward to seeing how this new way of framing mindfulness wears over time.
Here ERIC MAISEL answers additional questions TEN ZEN SECONDS.

KP: 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.

KP: 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.

KP: 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.

KP: 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.

KP: 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.

KP: 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 ( ) 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 at

KP: How can people learn more about Ten Zen Seconds?

EM: The book is the best resource. You can ask for it at your local bookstore.

Or You can get it at Amazon by visiting:

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, , especially if they're interested in creativity coaching or the artist's life.

KP: 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!

KP: Thank you, Eric, for sharing your insights and expertise. I look forward to reading your next book.

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tiny Blackberry Tarts

Late night cravings are the fairy-godmothers of inventive cooking.

I went to the grocery store this evening in search of blackberry* something-or-other to bake and found nothing prefab in either the freezer or bakery sections. Here's what I came up with:

[preheat oven or toaster oven to 350F]

- 1 box frozen mini fillo shells
- 1 bag frozen blackberries
- 1 jar blackberry jam

1) Spoon a enough blackberry jam into each mini fillo shell to fill it about half way.

2) Nestle as many frozen blackberries as will fit (2-3) in each partially jam filled shell.

3) Bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes, or until berries and jam are hot and bubbly.

No matter how tasty they look, it's best to let them cool slightly before taking a bite.

Right out of the oven, the juice in the tarts is very hot. It may burn your fingers or tongue if you get impatient and try to eat one too soon. Trust me, I know.

(*NOT the electronic device)

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Spring Peepers

I heard my first spring peepers (not to be confused with Peeps) of the season tonight when I went out to the grocery store at 9:30 PM to get ... well, something to bake. I was having a craving for boysenberry pie, which is nearly impossible to find in New England, but that's another story.

Peepers are little nocturnal frogs I've never seen, only heard. The males' mating call can be heard for quite some distance. They sound like crickets on steroids.

The sound of the peepers is one of the first signs of Spring, arriving late here this year.

WARNING: Peepers and Peeps are not interchangeable. Peepers do not belong on graham crackers.

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Nuked Peeps S'mores

Ode to a Purple Peep
a poem by Kay Pere

A bland expression on its face,
Upon a paper plate,
A graham cracker beneath it
The peep awaits its fate.

It cannot run. It cannot beg.

Its belly bulge, a chocolate egg,
Like they do in Winnipeg,

The peep that I just ate.


Does this make me a one ode purple peep eater?

[Microwave approximately 20 seconds. Eat open-faced or cover with another graham cracker while still gooey for the full Peep S'mores experience.]

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing