Using personal discomfort and ritual as tools to create separation between places and mindsets

It was certainly not what I was expecting. A brief mediation and an a
cappella mantra (“om namah Shivaya”) before the main event—a phenomenal Creative Mornings Nashville on Anxiety by FoxFuel Creative’s Colton Mulligan.


It was my first Creative Mornings event, so I had no idea what it would be like.  What I found was a room full of easily 200 creative folks of all disciplines. Next-wave, open-plan co-working space in East Nashville courtesy of wework Nashville. Bomb-ass coffee. No business card swapping per unspoken rule, but lots of people talking with other people about making stuff.

So when Sadie Hart
(@sadiehartmusic) rang a tingsha and invited the crowd to be a part of
“a little mindfulness time” before we got started, I got the same
squirmy feeling I get when someone sits down in front of you with a
guitar and says “I’d like to play you a song I wrote.” 


Part of it was a jaded “oh Lord, really?” attitude that seems to have become many Nashvillians’ default outlook as our city has grown its creative and new economy influence. Lots of us feel that we’re no longer cool enough to live here. But the larger part was my backpack full of rocks. It’s hard for me to look intent and earnestness in the eyes and not feel the uncomfortable abashedness that comes from existential intimacy extended by a stranger.

I was delighted to be dead-ass wrong on both accounts.

So because I’m not going to be a jerk in public if I can possibly help it, and following her direction, I grounded the four corners of my feet and lengthened my spine. Breathing in and out, I noticed that I was paying closer attention.  (Actually, I noticed it in retrospect.  At the time, I was simply noticing my lengthened spine and four-cornered feet).

As she began singing the mantra, I heard and felt the way that this big open shared space full of people began to hang heavy with intent.  A bunch of people were working really hard at disconnecting from whatever was outside and what might be about to happen, and to open their minds to what was.  In here.  Right now.

So this Stetson-wearing yogi led us to create separation between the demands of the outside world and what we were about to hear … a talk on where anxiety and creativity intersect.

And it was fantastic.  I left feeling energized, hopeful, and maybe possibly a little less jaded about the business of creativity than I’d been two hours before.

Stick with me. I promise I’m getting to the work-related part.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about how ritual functions with groups of people. Church services do it. Group fitness does it. Wearing a Boy Scout Uniform and reciting the Promise in unison does it.  

The meditation and song put us out of the rhythm we’d been in.  On purpose. The rattle and hum of 200 different people gently aligning intentions felt weird and different.  On purpose.  By creating a time, a place, and head space that were precisely not the everyday, I (we) became something different … more focused, more present.  On purpose.

So what does this all mean for work?

Well, while I think beginning every day with group meditation could sound good in principle, there’s a high, sour religiocorporate tang to the idea of mantras being piped throughout the office before the morning bell rings.


But what it does suggest for me is that working some sort of mindfulness ritual into the beginning of the day is important. For #freelancers, it’s doubly so.  Here’s why.

When I had full-time, corporate job, every day began and ended with a 30-minute commute. I would make the drive, in good traffic and horrible, with either an audiobook playing (always fiction, never business) or in silence. Whether I knew it at the time, the commute was creating a liminal space between home and work, career and hearth, brain and heart. Reconnection through separation.

Now that my commute is either 13 stairs or a few minutes to the public library, that ritual is missing.  And after this morning, it’s something I feel like I need to get back.

Enough talk. We want action.

  1. Give the Headspace mediation app a try.  10-minutes guided mediations with a nice British guy.  It’s fantastic. It works.  Everyone in my house says I’m more pleasant when I use it. They’re right.
  2. Exercise. Especially if you’re non-athletic. Or a couch potato. Or human. I like the mindless point-it-and-go misery of running. I don’t use music, and rarely listen to audiobooks.  I find that this is a perfect place to use a mantra. “This run. This mile. This lap. This step.” It fits the rhythm of my run, and it’s hard enough to keep straight in my head that it works almost as effectively as reflecting on a koan.
  3. Rise with the sun. Set with the sun. It’s so easy for worktime to become anytime you’re conscious when you freelance. Fight the urge and reclaim your day by getting up early-ish, working when it’s light outside, then closing the laptop and re-engaging with the rest of the world as it grows dark.  It really works.  When I manage to do it.

So there it is … use ritual to create separation between work and life. It’s hard to do the first time. But it gets easier with time.

Now close this tab and get back to doing billable work.



Photo Credits:

The pics of Colton speaking and Sadie smudging come from Creative Morning Nashville’s Instagram Feed.  If you shot them, holler and I’ll add you to the credits.  And the 1984 Tribute image came from The Inspiration Room’s review of DoubleTwist’s launch video from alllll the way back in 2009.

Why is coal threatened to appear Christmas stockings for bad little boys and girls? The backstory is a holiday sweet wrapped around a horrific little nugget in the long history of human cruelty. And it has an interesting tie-in to a beloved Christmas carol.

There are those who will try and tell you that the coal is one of two gifts (along with bread) held by angel tree toppers in Victorian England. Bread and coal represented food and warmth for the poor. How sweet. And untrue.

Coal actually represents the charred remains of children sacrificed in flames by proto-Druids as the highlight of their fell Solstice eve revels. The children were blindfolded then marched one by one into an enormous figure of a man made of sticks and wicker. Once this wicker man was filled, the door through which the children entered was bolted shut and the effigy was set alight. The screams of the innocents creating a ghastly descant soaring above the throbbing drums and primitive skirling of drone and chanter as the adults danced around the flames, wearing nothing more than lamb’s blood and holly leaves.

The next morning, the remaining children of the village were marched out to the still-smoking pile and forced to gather the cooling coals – all that now remained of their friends – and carry them back home. The children were told their friends had left them gifts of coal to warm their houses through the long, bleak midwinter. None the wiser, the children would set their friends’ charred remains alight for the Kriyftsmaff meal and sing the Druidic carol that we now know, sanitized of course, as “Deck the Halls,” but whose lyrics read, in part, at the time:

“See the blazing hearth before us / made of coals our friends left for us”

Poor little ones. They had no idea. Until the next year rolled around.


So yeah. Coal. A whimsical reminder of our self-destructive heritage.

So instead of brooding in our seemingly innate propensity to destroy our young to stay warm, why not come out and rage against the dying light of the year with laffs, funny video films, friends, and holiday quaffs. December’s Luxury Prestige 3 tickets are on sale now.