What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas

I just spent a weekend in Las Vegas with my husband’s company, celebrating a milestone. It’s a very interesting place. It is a fantasy land for adults, where people can feel rich, successful, important, sexy, tipsy, and without normal restrictions on their behavior. Instead of seeing Mickey Mouse or Lightening McQueen come to life, there are scantily clad women with drinks, and slot machines making kachinging noises that sound like money and magic.

I find it interesting that some people feel like they have to be in this sort of situation to be able to play. Inhibitions are lowered through drink, lack of sleep, and slogans like “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” so they can feel safe doing something different. The range of ways to play is pretty limited, though. Drink, sex, gambling, shopping, and watching shows are the primary options. We had a chance to go hiking in Red Rock Canyon, which is another form of play, and one I prefer. There is dancing and swimming available too, although these also lean towards the superficial.

What if all of these means of play are actually attempts to feel connected, heard, and valuable? What if all the showing off of skin and expensive clothes is a way to attract attention, if the sex is a way to make a real human connection, if the luxury is a way to feel important? And what if there are other ways to get there? Finding ways to actually talk with the people we interact with could help us feel connected. Hearing others and feeling heard happens not through being a high roller or sitting in a VIP box, but through the sort of play that levels the playing field and lets everyone learn about each other with curiosity and non-judgment. We feel important when our ideas are heard, valued, and used if they fit. Not just when we have marble floors and Egyptian cotton sheets.

My point is that bringing LEGO® Serious Play® to a group of people who work together can help everyone feel important, heard, connected, valued, valuable, and validated. Without the expense of a trip to Vegas, without losing money gambling, without throwing up from drinking, without seeing each other as flesh to buy and sell. And without needing to bracket it away so that it stays in Vegas. Play can be part of everything, connection can be renewed, communication improved, relationships grown, potential maximized.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the weekend away. It’s fun to go on vacation, and it’s fun to spend time with my husband without our kid around. The company threw a heckuva party Friday night, and then a heckuva party Saturday night, too. Given my design, the way I’m wired, I enjoyed the parts where I talked with people more than the parts where it was too loud to hear. I also enjoyed the creative and unexpected touches – the mermaid in the swimming pool, the monkey dressed like Elvis, the acrobats. But I’m glad that I don’t have to go to Vegas to feel connected, important, or creative, and I don’t have to leave that part of me there when I come home.

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Calming the Fear of Change

Starting a business creates a lot of change. I’m getting healthier at the same time, which also leads to change. And a lot of this change is nerve wracking. So in my process to becoming healthier I’ve been exploring ways to cope with all of this fear of change, and I’d like to tell you what I’ve learned so far.

One: Check in with myself here and now. Part of this is asking if my fears are true (if I lose weight will I really be more vulnerable and less powerful than I am now, overweight?) and looking around at the world (hmm, she’s pretty powerful and she’s slim; violence against women happens no matter the woman’s size; being strong and fit is actually more likely to protect me). Even more, I check with how my body feels. The weight isn’t literally melting off me. I don’t change weight by the second. So, how do I feel right now? Do I feel strong? Safe? Light? Content? I’ve found that the more happy I am with how I am right now, the more willing I am to change. When I feel like I’m supposed to change, I get resentful and dig in my heels to prove I’m ok the way I am.  When I check in with myself and feel acceptance and love, it’s ok to let things shift.

Two: Connect with the flow of the world. This is something I’ve done so far in meditation. Don’t get me wrong, I usually meditate for less than 15 minutes, often only 3-6 minutes. I don’t do it daily, either. But even in this short amount of time, I find I can feel like I’m a part of the universe, and the universe is a part of me. There is no barrier around me, keeping me separate. I am made of star stuff, as is everything around me. And everything in this universe is in flux. Things are born, grow, and die. Expand and contract. Breathe and move and shift. I am moving in synch with everything around me. When I get into this frame of mind, it’s ok to change. It’s not like I’ve got a solid floor under my feet which I’m trying to dig up and replace, which feels very disorienting and upsetting. No, I’m part of the great slow dance of time, and my floor is no more solid and permanent than any other part of this universe.

Before you start to think that I don’t know what change is really like, your fear is legitimate and mine must not be that bad if a little meditation can make it better, let me tell you it took me a looooong time to get to this point in my life. I’ve made a lot of changes with the help of therapy, since I was in no way able to cope with making them on my own. For example: I gained weight in high school as a way of coping with feelings I had no other way of dealing with. I felt like I was no good, I didn’t want to live in my own skin, and overeating gave me some numbness so I didn’t have to hate myself every single minute of every single day. I wouldn’t admit to my therapist that I had a weight issue for years. Years! When I did lose weight, I gained it back again while I was still going down. I weighed 244 in high school – a doctor told me I was 100 lbs overweight. I could probably count on one hand the number of months in my life since then that I’ve been under 200 lbs. One time when I was losing weight – slowly – I got scared and gained back 40 lbs in one week. One week. That’s a lot of overeating. Little by little, with the help of therapy, and friends, and growing up, and finding the things that I love, and finding ways to love myself, and learning about compassion, and meditating, I have found a way to not gain 40 lbs in one week. This is, for me, huge. I hope my experience can help you too, but all I am doing is sharing my experience. You are a different person, maybe your fears are worse than mine. But let me tell you, I’m within spitting distance of 200 lbs again, and it will be a big deal to break through to the other side. It means not using food to cope with anxiety, and fear, and boredom, and confusion, and frustration, and fatigue. Do you know how much anxiety and boredom and frustration come with starting a business? Raising a kid? Lots. So when I tell you that these tips are helping me, I don’t mean they’re nice. I mean they are helping me cope as an adult with painful and difficult feelings, and I’m shedding my extra padding and that’s scary. I’m coping with the fears around not succeeding in starting the business of my dreams. I’m coping with the fears around actually succeeding too! I’m staying connected to the flow of the world, not finding a hole to hide in. If it can work for me, there’s a good chance it can work for you too. So I want to share it with you. I promise, you are not in more pain than me, you are not more scared than me, you are not more safe than me. We are all riding the waves of the breathing of the world, and seeing that can make all the difference.

Wild Creativity

I went looking in the library for a book. It wasn’t on the shelf, but I looked around at the books that were shelved nearby, and picked a few to read. One that caught my eye was Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel. I think a lot about the difficulties associated with being creative, and thought he might have some ideas on how to help people overcome their fears of being creative. He actually does have a number of good ideas and exercises, but there is an undercurrent that is really bugging me: he talks about the wildness of creativity, and how people need to hang on to their wildness to stay creative.

On the one hand, I agree that there are people who are driven to create, who channel their energy and wild nature into their art, and who would probably be a little wild even if they weren’t artists. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who are comfortable within society, who appreciate their blessings and want to help other people, who are also creative. Their art might not feel wild, but it is no less art.

I remember reading a biography of some painter when I was a kid. This artist was most definitely wild, barely fitting into society, with bad manners and hurtful interpersonal interactions and self-destructive behavior. Somehow it was ok because he was a brilliant artist also. This isn’t the life I would wish for my child, to be on the edges of society and channeling sociopathic behavior into art. I want him to have the things we all want – love, connection, work we feel matters, and also a creative outlet for his great imagination.

When I was in college I worked on the literary magazine with the slogan “Because Poetry Hurts.” It seemed like all artists suffered. It was what made them good artists. I don’t think that’s necessarily a given any more. Maybe great suffering does lead to great art. But maybe great love, or compassion, or acceptance, or joy, could also lead to great art.

With all the blocks to creativity in our everyday life, adding in the expectation that artists must be wild, or must suffer, or must be unable to manage life in some way into the mix is just not helpful. It’s a societal misconception which I hope is becoming less common. It makes it that much harder for people who don’t think of themselves as creative types to venture into that strange world of creativity, if they think they might be called on to do things they don’t want to do or feel things they will find painful.

Maybe, at the end of the day, creativity feels scary because it does feel a little wild, a little out of my control. Dr. Maisel certainly does address a number of situations that can block people from completing their art, and has good suggestions for continuing to move forward. I just hope that everyone, from the most mild to the most wild, will feel comfortable trying something creative. Even if it’s not something that would get you accepted into a graduate degree in fine art, it’s still valuable just as it is, in whatever shape it arrives in this world.