Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

“TEN ZEN SECONDS”: An interview with Eric Maisel

Eric Maisel will tell us more about how his new book Ten Zen Seconds relates to connection later in April, but here is an overview of his approach. --JGR

Riehlife: Tell us a bit about Ten Zen Seconds.

Eric: Ten Zen Seconds gives you a simple but powerful way to reduce stress, get centered, and remind yourself about how you want to live your life. It "drops 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 thoughts that aim you in the right direction in life. I describe twelve of these thoughts in Ten Zen Seconds. Then you use a breathing and thinking technique I call "incanting" to keep yourself on track.

Riehlife: Where did this idea come from?

Eric: It comes from both Western and Eastern traditions: 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 to help them deal with the challenges they regularly face such as: 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.

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. Eventually I landed on twelve "incantations." Each phrase or incantation serves a distinct purpose.

Riehlife: What sort of hunt did you go on?

Eric: 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 phrase needed to fit well into a deep breath. Then, I tested the phrases with 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.

Riehlife: Which phrases did you settle on?

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)

With the third incantation you name something specific each time you use it. For example "I am writing my novel" or "I am paying the bills." This helps bring mindful awareness to each of your activities throughout the day.

Riehlife:What's one of your favorite ways to use the incantations?

Eric: You can "book-end" a period of work, say your morning writing or painting stint, by using "I am completely stopping." This helps you get ready, center, and stop your mind chatter as you enter your work. When you are done, you can use "I return with strength" to go back to the rest of your life with energy and power.

Riehlife: Besides trying them out, I understand you've figured out a way on-line to experience this in real time?

Eric: Yes, 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 painter Ruth Yasharpour. Each slide stays in place for ten seconds. You can view the slide, and attune your breathing to practice the method.

Riehlife: Where is Ten Zen Seconds available?

Eric: Local bookstores or Amazon both have Ten Zen Seconds. The Ten Zen Seconds page on Amazon is:
http://www.amazon.com/Ten-Zen-Seconds-Eric-Maisel/dp/1402208537/sr=1-25/qid=1167239458/ref=sr_1_25/102-5337867-2282549?ie=UTF8&s=books

The Ten Zen Seconds website also has a bulletin board where folks can chat, and listen to audio interviews that discuss the Ten Zen Second techniques.

Riehlife: You are a prolific writer. What other new books can we look for while we're out there browsing in the bookstore?

Creativity for Life ( roughly my fifteenth book in the creativity field) and Everyday You, a beautiful coffee table book about maintaining daily mindfulness. I'm working on two books for 2008: A Writer's Space and Creative Recovery.

Riehlife: You are involved in a variety of other community-style projects as well.

Eric: I write a monthly column for Art Calendar Magazine, contribute to Art of the Song Creativity Radio, offer creativity coaching training, and work with individual clients. I am happily busy! I look forward to talking to you later in April to explore "Ten Zen Seconds" and how we connect.

Eric Maisel's Ten Zen Seconds is available from Amazon.

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