Withdrawal Symptoms

He’d forgotten just how addictive crime can be. Repeat offenders are motivated more by withdrawal symptoms than necessity.
                                                                Sue Grafton

usual-suspectsThe Usual Suspects

Withdrawal symptoms are real. Drink less coffee than usual and you are likely to get a headache. Emotional states work the same way: we each have go-to emotions and reactions. Do something different and you are likely to feel “off” for a while.

Practice: Identify an emotion that you find tiresome. Slowly — to avoid withdrawal symptoms — start to distance from it. Different methods work for different people. One that works for me is saying, out loud, “You again?”

Related practices: Feel-good Giving, Play


don’t worry please please how many
times do I have to say it
there’s no way not to be who you are and where.
                                                       Ikkya, version by Stephen Berg

Please. How often do you ask yourself politely to do or not do something?

Practice: The way you talk to yourself is the way you talk to yourself. As an experiment, (please) add please.

Feel-good Giving

Give when it feels good, stop giving when it stops feeling good, and find another feel-good way to give.
                                                       Gemma Stone

People wise up and worry their hearts have hardened. People open up and worry they’re no longer discerning.
Instead, notice what feels good to you and what does not – when giving, when taking, when walking down the street.

Practice: Talk with yourself about what feels good. Other people have opinions about you and your gender. You have stereotypes about yourself. Make sure you’re giving what you want to give (and when, and how).

Walking Companions

Don’t feel you have to give [the occupying army] the right directions when they ask you the way: these are not your walking companions.
                                                       Jean Texcier as quoted by Caroline Morehead

walkingTogetherJean-Marie Guyon

There are people, known and unknown, who are your walking companions: people who show you the way and cheer you on.

Practice: Identify one of your walking companions and think hard about the benefits you derive from knowing that teacher, that painter, that neighbor. That friend.
What do they help you do? How can you use their “company” more effectively ?

Alert Emptiness

I try to create an alert emptyness in myself.
                                                       Paul den Hollander

Empty. Alert. Two mind-body states that can be hard to recapture, although both are natural in early childhood.

Practice: Notice whether an activity you chose repeatedly, whether running long distances or listening to Mozart, brings you to “an alert emptiness.” Sometimes identifying a desired state can heighten our experience of it.

Related practices: Loneliness


“Play is not the default mode of life; seriousness is.
                                                               Bob Mankoff

It seems to me that some people’s default mode is in fact indifference. Others default to bemusement or to anticipating the next outrage.

Practice: Identify your go-to state, then jazz it up. If you tend toward suspicion, explore paranoia. If your default state is pleasure, try delight.

Play with being more of who you are already.

Related practices: The Fun Factor

Know Thyself

“Know thyself?” If I knew myself, I’d run away.


Self-awareness gets good press while checking out — overeating, watching television, lighting up — rarely does. So far as I can tell, both are human appetites.

Practice: Notice what you say to yourself when planning an activity linked to self- awareness or self-improvement. Ditto what you say to yourself before you check out. These “editorials” may or may not represent your conscious beliefs.

Whose beliefs are they, do you suppose?

Rough drafts

Cartoonists draw rough draft after rough draft to find an image they want to use. In daily speech, we correct and revise, trying to get to the heart of the matter.


Does the way you speak express what you mean? Are there thoughts and emotions you tend to leave out?

Practice: If you suspect that something you’ve said falls short, it probably does. Keep talking —rough draft after rough draft.


I wanted to be sincere and outrageous and friendly and rude and experimental and conventional.
                                          Chris Ofili


Theoretically, certain of your attributes wouldn’t seem to apply to the same person. But here in real life, it possible to feel both shy and bold. Humble and proud. Lazy and ambitious. You get the idea.

Practice: List a pair of apparent contraries that apply to you. Then inhabit it — by which I mean, notice that you are a curious mix of qualities and bring both contraries to the present moment. This one, right now.

Clubhouse rules

Years ago, I heard about a neighborhood club of the backyard variety created and run entirely by the children themselves, who had just three rules:

1.     Don’t act big.
2.     Don’t act small.
3.     Be medium.

                                                       Thayer Cheatham Willis

Practice: Notice when you puff up or shrink down. Try to identify what has you acting bigger or smaller than you are: It’s typically a sign of trouble.

Fortunately, the trouble is rarely in the present.

Related practices: Writing Fiction