A what point do we say, “Yes I am that”

 

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“Life is a lively process of becoming” Douglas Macarthur

Recently, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for some time, at a small local art show where she was displaying her beautiful ceramic work. I was in awe of her skill and courage to purse a more challenging vocation in the arts, rather than her formerly safe job as a teacher. As I excitedly embraced her, I said, “I didn’t know you’d be here today.” To which she replied, “It’s good to see you too, and you should be here too.”

In a rather diminished and child-like voice I said, “I’d love to…maybe…one day.” The rather different response inside my head instead was “Um, duh, No. Why would I be here. I don’t have anything to offer. I’m not a bona fide artist. I’m not formally trained in any medium, why would I be here?”

But then I thought, hang on a minute, over the past few years haven’t I’ve tried my hand at ceramics, photography, sewing and print making and writing. Surely this counts for something, and isn’t there a clue here as to what my passion might be?

While I hadn’t been prepared to call myself anything remotely “arty”, I have been in exploration mode, looking for a new world in which I want my future self to inhabit. The journey into creativity isn’t an easy one for people with low self-belief. Criticism is rife in our world at the best of times, sadly, it is deeply intrenched in the world of creativity. I was beginning to tire of pretending that I wasn’t creative so, I’ve decided I am going to give myself permission to…

  1. Mess around and waste time, paint and/or fabric or whatever other materials, as I practice, practice, practice
  2. Try different creative pursuits, mediums, techniques
  3. And EXPLORE!

Explore! Remember that thing we used to do as kids. Get dirty, climb things, cut and paste anything we could get our hands on, and sticking them to anything and everything we could find.  We’d try this with a dash of that and then asked, what if I turn it upside down, or inside out, add a little salt, or soil or a beautiful leaf that’s just been offered to us by the autumnal apple tree in our backyard? “What if?”, is what we constantly asked. We didn’t look for outcomes. We looked for solutions in the process itself. Creativity in childhood is a vibrant, courageous and brilliant time. But sadly, as we get older, some of us can lose this precious skill, this gift.

As soon as I had a quiet moment I explored my ideas around how I saw myself in relation to creativity. I realised that when I got my ego out of the way, and it’s demands for impossible standards of skill and qualifications, that I was slowly growing a nice little body of creative work that wouldn’t look out of place at a small local art show.  Importantly, despite not having a Doctorate in creativity, I can at least call myself an Artist-in-training and heaven forbid, even display some of my work!

So far there have been a few wins in the photography stakes, particular success with one of my favourite subjects, flowers. That’s one of my babies at the top of this post. And with each blog I write, there is often a “like” here or there, so my writing can’t be too bad either.

Then I thought I’d try my hand at a long burning desire to screen print on fabric. While these first attempts are quite simple, I just fell in love with the vibrancy and joy that comes from even the simplest of designs. I also love the tactile nature of this process and you get to see the results immediately. This simple leaf design has become one of my favourites and as it’s printed on a tea towel, it makes drying the dishes just that little bit more pleasurable. I did say a little bit!

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The print below was made by creating simple butterfly cut outs from the cheapest of cheap materials, newspaper! I started with orange on one side and blue on the other and then one of those happy accidents happened, and the two colours began to blend, creating a beautiful purple in the middle. Who would have thought!

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The person who couldn’t call herself creative or artistic also made quilts, various other funky bags and soft toys. The list seems to grow the more I look!

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She who has struggled to call herself creative also crocheted these baskets and then as I looked at what else I’ve crocheted, the list grows here too.

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It’s so easy to forget what we have achieved over time, to dismiss the many things we have tried or created simply because we don’t consider ourselves “qualified”. If you grew up with little emotional support, or for whatever reason suffer with low self esteem, you too might also be very hard on yourself and think that what you achieve is never enough. I know that my crochet basket photo is not perfect, and that I’ve probably made a few mistakes in writing this post, but I’ve decided to leave a few flaws here and there. There is no longer room in my life for perfectionism because it affected my health, and I’m certainly not wasting any more time waiting for the day when I’m supremely qualified or perfect. It might matter if you’re a brain surgeon but I’m not a surgeon who works on bodies, my work is in the mind and why we think what we think. Which is why I’m exploring an old/new passion, exploring vulnerability by exposing my work and my journey, and learning to be brave through creativity and seeing where it takes me.

So when someone asks me what I’m “doing with myself these days”, I’ll bravely reply that I’m a CREATIVE-IN-TRAINING. I will no longer skirt around the issue or make excuses for what I do. With my brave boots on, I step forward into my ever evolving life.

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I invite you to join me in declaring what it is that you love, and finding ways that you can become at one with that thing that you love.

Don’t waste another day not living as a whole person.

It’s your life. Live it wholly and fully.

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Are you dodging fake bullets?

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“Happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Dumbledore

Being an electrical activity, a light bulb moment has the ability to make your body feel the zapping, surging force of a lightning strike, and yet, all that  has taken place is  a couple of microscopic neurons suddenly exploding! In a good way.

It’s like a tiny little tendril waiting patiently, knowing which direction it wants to head in, but it remains stagnant until we turn on the light of understanding. Then a literal explosion of forward momentum occurs and a whole new thought, idea, belief can be born.

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Image: pbs.org

I experience these explosions often, as there is still so much growing up to do. Several light bulb moments occurred recently. Last year I employed the services of a writing mentor  because while I felt my writing was good enough for my blog, I wanted it to be better. I hated the thought of making mistakes. (Yes, perfectionism is an ongoing theme in this blog). Unfortunately my mentor has become super busy and is no longer able to assist me. When I read her email ending our working relationship, I was shocked, sad, and then immediately thought, I’d better find someone else quickly. While I appreciated her writing prowess, I also realised that I enjoyed her company and the excuse to visit a quirky writer’s cafe on the other side of town. The frist lightbulb illuminated my need to get out more, and that I, personally had to make this happen and not rely on others to create the opportunity. The second lightbulb shone brightly on an important issue that needed addressing. The idea of releasing work that hadn’t been “scrutinised.” Scrutinised is such a harsh word. It means to examine closely, carefully, with critical attention, the latter being the anxiety provoking action that I like to avoid. Scrutiny might result in being told I’m not as good as I hoped. Such insecurities definitely need a coach, a mentor, a backstop, or is it a crutch? The silly thing is, I’ve got a dozen drafts sitting, waiting release, but without being scrutinised, they sit, stacked up, blocking my faucet of creativity.

Advice is under your nose

I shared this situation with my partner, who is a very down to earth type, and who I sometimes think is too black and white to understand the complexities of an anxious mind. But his was the advice I needed. He pointed out that I always looked to others for support, back up, to rubber stamp me before I took action. He asked me, “What would happen if your blog was successful, and you became popular?” I told him I didn’t know. “You’re afraid of success,” he said.  I’ve heard this said before and it never made sense to me. Something about being successful means having to then take responsibility for yourself. I told him I didn’t see why I would be afraid of ‘fame and fortune’. His simple reply was, “If you are successful, then you’ll be out there, on your own.” Many successful people will tell you that it’s lonely at the top, but what my partner meant, was that I would have to stand on my own two feet, I’d be responsible for my own success or downfall. As I was journalling my way through these new ideas, these words popped in my head.

“If you keep a low profile, you won’t get hit by a critic’s bullets”

–  Wisdom Elements

Perfectionists hate criticism and obviously the more successful you are, the more likely you are to be noticed, leaving the field wide open for supporters and detractors to enter in and spray you with bullets of what they really think!

To remain buried at ground level, to become familiar only with the roots and stems of our growing potential, means we never actually see the beautiful blooms that grow above the ‘safety zone’. How sad to never see the unique shape and colour that comes from our own blossoming. It takes courage, resilience and perseverance and the mind of a self-actualising warrior to pop our heads above the field. And courage to know that any criticisms are just fake bullets and reflect more about the critic than their target.

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As someone who is learning to tune in to her own intuition and universal signs, I was able to see things differently. Whereas I thought that losing my writing mentor was a sign that perhaps I wasn’t to continue writing, when I tapped in to my body, I realised that this idea didn’t feel right because I love communicating both in written and verbal form. Instead, I saw that losing my mentor, was yet another opportunity for me to overcome my fears of imperfection and to learn to be independent, to stand on my own two feet. I may not have learnt this as a young person, but regardless of age, I can learn it now.

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Can you take a single step forward?

Stepping forward into new territory is often anxiety provoking, but remaining still, stuck in fear stagnates our growth. The question then becomes can we find the courage to yell, “Jump!” and follow through, or will we remain in the undergrowth like fungi, amongst old, outdated beliefs that do nothing but decompose our life potential? Remember, above the undergrowth is sunlight and your own blossoming self.

Is there an area of your life where you can take the first step towards sunlight?

 

Beginners Perfection Curse

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Image: theseeds4life.com

 

“There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” Erin Hanson

When I was little, like so many children I would try anything. I would attempt to fly, bake a cake with mud and flowers and paint and draw whatever inspired me at that moment. None of it attempted for money, praise or recognition. The beauty of childhood is that we do these things purely for the experience of the experience, for the ability to try something new, for the challenge of making the unknown into something known. It is a beautiful Divine existence that sadly, for many of us, will last a few of our precious early years of life before the flame is all but extinguished.

Readers of this blog will know of the angst I’ve felt as I’ve tried to negotiate my way through the maze of man-made thoughts ought to and shoulds, and back into the beautiful valley of Divine inspiration. My old ways of doing this was to simply become way too busy to make time for anything remotely creative, but a brush with poor health forced me away from the drone-like activity that had become daily life, and turned me back towards the winds of inspiration. Back into that time of childhood exploration.

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Let me be upfront here and announce that while my intellect knows the process, knows the deal and the pitfalls, it’s still a challenging path to walk. I absolutely know that the only way to become better at something is to make a start and practice, practice, practice. Makes sense right? No one, not even Einstein was born knowing how to ride a bike, and yet, my loopy thought processes believed that it’s ok for others to be beginners, but just not me. Can anyone else relate to this kind of thinking? No beginners mind for this gal.

Being the ‘thought detective’ that I am, I wondered, why am I so damn hard on myself? Why do I expect to be perfect from the get go? What kind of unrealistic expectation is that, and where did it come from? And, how did I even realise there was a problem?

Well, I recently took up sewing and joined a class of beautiful sewing soul sisters. I love the therapeutic way the machine lulls you into ‘the zone’ and I get to play with beautiful fabrics which nourish my soul. I recently completed the main part of a small child’s quilt which I make to donate to a kids in need. The almost completed item just needed a few lines of decorative sewing to complete it, but the lines are random and require the sewer to let go and just sew a few swirly lines. The completion of this quilt hinged on six random lines of sewing and yet, I couldn’t do it. I procrastinated for days until I had to take action. The first attempt was ok as was the second but then I sewed a rather bad line. I stopped and felt myself tensing up, then without missing a beat, my brain, affectionately called ‘Tofu man’ started up. “You should have spent more time practicing. Look at the complex work the other ladies are doing and you can’t sew a few lines that don’t look like you’ve been binging on booze. You should just stop before you embarrass yourself”. On and on it went and worse still, it became more vicious as it continued. I took the quilt home and just stared at it, feeling numb. How could such a simple thing leave me feeling sad, defeated and empty?

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I love sewing, I love being able to use my hobby to make things that I can gift those in need. I love the companionship of my sewing classes, but if I didn’t take control of Tofu man and his insatiable appetite for cruel criticism, I would end up giving away yet another thing I loved, all because of a bunch of inherited thoughts and beliefs. Wow, this was tricky territory. In the past I blamed my parents, after all, they were highly critical but to them, it was their way of helping me make the right decisions, to avoid mistakes that I would later regret. However, their fears were not my fears. They grew up during a long and brutal war, they never fulfilled their childhood dreams, they knew the world as being unpredictable and scary and so they sought to arm us kids with the necessary defences to protect ourselves. Problem is, all this does is lead to living life in fear, always waiting for something to go wrong, which it does if that’s what you focus on, and it removes any sense of trust that things might go right. It also blocks creativity because the act of creating requires imagination, courage and trust in oneself.  So blaming parents was not going to get me anywhere. Instead, I found forgiveness and compassion more helpful, but it still didn’t remove my angst.

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Image: sewhandmade.info

This is where the leap is required. I’ll be honest and say I hate the leap! I’d become so used to my companion of many years called the ‘Control freak’ that I’d developed that horrible condition called Stockholm syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which a hostage develops empathy and positive feelings towards their captor. Despite the pain and suffering my control freak heaped upon me, I preferred to remain in the comfort of the know as opposed to leaping into the unknown, even though, deep down I knew that it was bound to be better than where I was, that I would be removed from the stale breath of the one who speaks words of ill towards me and instead find a new and invigorating companion.

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To leap is to leave Control Freak behind. But leap I had to. As I took out my slightly imperfect quilt, I reminded myself that the child that receives it will be joyous and grateful and will not have grown into a critical adult yet. The imperfect lines mean a human made it and not a machine, and if I was honest, as a first attempt, it was pretty good.

The healing begins

I won’t lie and say that I am cured of perfectionism, I was after all quite perfect at self-criticism. No one could catch me in the self rejection stakes because I was a world champion. Not a great claim to make but an honest one. Re-wiring the brain of old habits isn’t always easy but I’ve found a few techniques that help.

  1. Before I begin something new I take a few deep breaths and try to centre myself and close the door on Tofu Man.
  2. I remind myself that I am exploring new territory and like an explorer I may stumble over rocks, then walk easily through green valleys and possibly find a gem during my travels
  3. If I notice Tofu man trying to edge in, I’ll tell him to go sit at the back of the bus because I’m now in the drivers seat.
  4. If I feel like I’m not doing well, I’ll close my eyes and breath again, and really feel into it. I’ll remind myself that this is an exploration of the heart and soul and not a “real” life and death situation, and no matter what the finished product looks like, it’s living in the process that really matters.
  5. I also remind myself that the healing that results from overcoming this debilitating perfectionism condition will lead to better mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. I’ll focus on health, not squiggly, imperfect lines.
  6. And most importantly, I remind myself that in 100 or even 50 year’s time, that no one, absolutely no one is going to care if I sewed a straight line or a crooked one!

So dear perfectly imperfect friends, don’t bow down to a bunch of neural circuits that will cut you off from joy and fulfilment. Instead, join me and gather up your shield and sword and embody the warrior princess or prince. Then go in to battle with your old nemesis, your old you, and fight to regain that childhood part of you that loved creating, without the monster and megaphone that was always trying to correct you, to stifle you, to accuse you of wasting time and money, all of which you may have taken to  mean that you weren’t good enough. I know most parents never intended for this to be the message but as children, we lacked the cognitive skills and life experiences to truly understand what was being said, but now we know better. Now we can make a truly remarkable change.

I encourage you to release those old, outdated fears and walk a new path, even if the way isn’t absolutely clear. What’s one step you can take towards reclaiming your right to full expression living, faults and all?

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