World as Friend: A Radical Shift

World as Friend: A Radical Shift

I wrote this post a couple of years ago after having a startling experience. I never shared the post at the time. It seems particularly relevant now in the wake of my poetry book recently being accepted by a publisher. I hope it inspires you.

“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”– Louise L. Hay

I had a breaking open the other day, beautiful, startling and deep.

For months I have been sending a manuscript of my poems out to presses to find its rightful publisher. Suddenly, I saw how much I was expecting not to find a publisher, assuming that no one could possibly want it.

This is despite the fact that I have had many poems published in journals, been invited to read at literary events for years, received heartfelt appreciation from enthusiastic audiences and even encouragement about this particular manuscript from noted editors.

I see how often I have unconsciously expected to be rejected, shut out, not wanted or just not understood.

It is an old pattern. I anticipate that others will not want what I have to give. And so I sometimes attract those very results I fear.

But here is what came to me suddenly, not just as an idea, but as a deep wonder and inspiration.

Changing the View

What if the whole world is my friend and I behaved as such?

What if I went through my day as if I knew in my bones that I was loved by all of life.

Not in a full-of-myself way, but beautifully empty. Having “no-self,” the way a tree does or a sky. Open, generous, received and receiving.

What if I cultivated a deeper relatedness, a calm sureness and bountiful love for self?

What if I let my star rise, my flower open, unperturbed? What if I let myself be fully loved and embraced? What if I believed in the value of all I am doing?

Letting in Love

If my voice is actually needed here, if I am given these words for a reason, if I am given my love of music for a reason, how do I embody this knowing?

For years I held myself outside the sanctuary of a deeper love, not love from another person, but LOVE itself. And because of that, I have been fearful of so much, constructing imagined catastrophes, feeling I have to do it all by myself.

Golden sun bathes the treetops. We wait for love, while the whole day paints itself lavishly before us. Now I am peering through the curtain, beginning to see something that rends me open.

What if I could allow myself all this grace?

How Might Your Life Change?

How might your life be different if you knew in your bones that you are loved, wanted, accepted and needed by Life?

If you behaved as if you knew this?

  • How would you move differently in the world?
  • What would you do that you have not been doing?
  • How might you be different in your relationships, your creativity, your work, your finances, your play?

Write in your journal, allowing yourself to explore this. Then…

Practice Living As If

Try it on today, even if you are not sure it is true. Commit to acting as if it is true.

See what miracles arise, what synchronicities come to bless you, what revelations present themselves.

See how you feel differently in your heart, how your posture and movement change, what new choices you make. How you become a blessing to others as you stop worrying whether you yourself are loved.

Behave as if you are the beloved of all of Life.

You can play with “what if” statements in your journal and in your thoughts to open yourself to new possibilities.

We often use “what if” in a fearful way, imagining the worst, as in “what if I fail?” Try using “what if” to bring you into expansiveness, wonderful new ways of being, openness to blessings. “What if I knew I was wanted and needed here, loved, a blessing and blessed?”

Try taking this on right now inside yourself and share what comes up for you. How does it feel in your body, your heart, your mind, your spirit?

To Authorize or To Abandon?

To Authorize or To Abandon?

To Authorize or To Abandon:
How Do You Know When a Work of Art Is Done?

How do you know when your poem or novel, your painting, symphony or dance piece is finished and ready to be shared with others?

How do you know when it is time to stop revising, tinkering, perfecting and let it go out in the world?

My friend Sands Hall, novelist, memoirist and teacher, tells a story about someone asking the Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Richard Ford that question:  How does he know when a novel or short story of his is done?

He responded, “When I have authorized every word.”

Author, Authorize, Authority

When she tells the story, Sands Hall notes the etymological connection between author, authority and authorize.

To be an author (a creator, originator) is to authorize what you have written (“give formal approval or sanction to,” also “confirm as authentic or true”), in other words, to assume authority (command, power, “capacity for inspiring trust”) over the material.

Certainly, this kind of manic care in the details is something I have learned to practice as a poet, to question every word, every comma, every line break, every formal choice. Is it exactly what I mean? Does it serve the poem? Is it the best choice I can make in that spot?

Beware of Perfectionism

And yet the goal of authorizing every word or gesture or musical note is an ambitious one, and one that could leave many artists stalled at the gate, never completing a work of art, sometimes never beginning one.

Perfectionism and fear of finishing are two of the major forms of creative block I have identified in the artists I have worked with.

Hence, this ideal may not be the best one to aspire to, especially early on in your art-making life. When starting out or re-starting, I believe it serves you better to generate more art than to obsess over any single piece. It is important to get the flow going and keep it going. And also to keep your joy in the process alive.

Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

But, as a beginner or intermediate artist (or really at every stage), it is also very helpful to get feedback from others. We cannot see our own blind spots. We cannot see our own work clearly or how it affects others. So, getting good feedback from those who understand our work and have deep knowledge of the art form or are lovers of the art form (audience members) helps us grow as artists and refine our creations.

There is a balance to be struck between being a perfectionist who never lets anything be finished (artistic constipation) and being in love with everything you create without working to hone it at all (the dilettante).

Or Do I Just Abandon It?

Contrast the approach of authorizing every word, then, with this famous quote by the French poet Paul Valéry: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”

This is the popularized, abbreviated rendering of what he actually wrote (as translated by Rosalie Maggio in The Quote Verifier and posted on QuoteInvestigator.com):

“In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned; and this abandonment, of the book to the fire or to the public, whether due to weariness or to a need to deliver it for publication, is a sort of accident, comparable to the letting-go of an idea that has become so tiring or annoying that one has lost all interest in it.”

Celebrated poets W. H. Auden and Marianne Moore, both of whom revised their work obsessively agreed with Valéry on this. At some point they simply moved on from a poem, having done all they could.

So, which is it? Do we authorize or abandon? How do we know when our work is done?

It Is Different Every Time

For every artist and for each work of art, you will have to answer this in your own way.

I was once hired by a writer to edit his work, and when we met the first time he told me he wanted some objective standards by which to measure if his work was good or not. He was dismayed when I told him, “There are none.”

In my experience, with some pieces I feel they are done. There is a sense of completeness and harmony, of having more or less achieved what I set out to do. Occasionally I feel a piece is perfect in itself, in its aims and construction, only to later revise it, when someone points out a new suggestion or a blind spot.

More often, I reach a point in revision where I realize that any further tinkering is likely to kill the life in the piece. That, like the mistakes intentionally woven into Persian carpets so that they do not aspire to God’s perfection, the moments of awkwardness in my poem are a part of its aliveness.

I love editing and tend to revise my poems and essays many times, sometimes radically, sometimes just changing a few words or punctuation marks, sometimes I do this for years. In fact, it is often hard for me to read something I have written and not start tinkering with it again.

But with some pieces I feel too distant from the moment of creation to keep working on them. I cannot re-enter the life of the piece. I have to let them stand as they are, in all their imperfections, as a small monument to the time, place, impulse that formed them.

I have, on many occasions, made changes to a piece only to wind up, weeks or months later, reverting to the former version, realizing it is better. I do not consider this effort wasted, however, as the act of revising and re-revising teaches me things about art and my own aesthetic.

When performing music or dance, the deadline of the performance forces me and my collaborators to call a piece done, at least for the time being. In fact, in the groups I work with, we find we need those scheduled performances in order to focus us and bring work to some state of completion. So, we often set performance dates before we even begin making pieces or early on in the process.

Because I am both an improviser and a composer, I experience making art both in the moment with no chance to revise it and lingering over the construction of pieces for months or years. I love both processes, and both have enormous value and validity.

Do Your Best and Let It Go

So, the short answer to the question this essay began with is: You don’t know.

You make your best guess. You work as long as you can given your deadlines or your abilities. You set it aside and come back to it if you can with a fresh pair of eyes and ears. You get feedback from trusted others. You work as long as you can without killing the life in the piece or your own enthusiasm for art-making. (Please be sure to keep that alive!)

And then you bless your creations and send them out in the world to make their way, so that they can bless others.

Chime in here: How do you know when your work is done?

My Big News! A Dream Come True

My Big News! A Dream Come True

I am over the moon!

My full-length book of poems, Fierce Aria, has been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press. Whoo!

The book will come out next Spring, but pre-sales will start soon.

I started work on assembling this manuscript back at the start of 2010. It’s been a long and winding road. Loads of twists and turns, loads of challenges and growth, blood, sweat and tears.

I am finally realizing my dream of being a published author. I’ve been published in literary journals and on blogs for years, but to have a book of my own is huge for me, a major milestone in one of my life dreams.

I have learned so much in the process about poetry, revision, working with editors, presses and publication and contests and more. Also about persistence, fostering creative community, and realizing our dreams.

I’m eager to share what I’ve learned with you.

If you want an inside view of my creative journey from first draft through revision to publication, if you want to hear the juicy details of the ups and downs, and get to read some of my poems, I urge you to join me on Patreon now.

Patreon is where I share my work and process in an intimate way with my besties, and I would love to share it with you.

I’d love to be able to thank you publicly for being part of my creative community.

Your support and companionship here on Brilliant Playground mean a lot to me.

Maxima leaning on a tree

If you join me on Patreon now at any level, you get your name in the acknowledgments of my book and loads of other goodies along the way!

For as little as $3, you get your name in lights (well, ink), my undying gratitude, and insider access to my work and creative process. And you get to be a bonafide patron of the arts. How cool is that!

I cannot do what I do without you. I’d really love for you to join me there, get your name in my book and other great rewards and show your support. Will you?

You’ll be helping me reach another important goal, getting my first 100 patrons on Patreon, which helps me keep creating and teaching.

Please take a moment to check it out:

https://www.patreon.com/maximakahn

To your creative blossoming,

Maxima

Singing Our Way Home

Singing Our Way Home

One of the tenderest and most beautiful moments in my mother’s final days was the night before she died.

My brother Josh sat singing to her for hours as she lay breathing raggedly, eyes closed, sunk deep into herself. And one by one all of my siblings and me, our spouses who were there, two of her caregivers, all clustered around her bed in the small darkened bedroom, sitting on chairs and on the foot of her bed, touching her body with love, while Josh continued to sing.

May the longtime sun shine upon you,
all love surround you,
and the pure light within you
guide your way home.

That was one of the songs he sang over and over, singing our mother’s soul home.

It occurs to me that singing each other home is one of the greatest gifts we can give in this life. Not just at the moment of death, but all through our lives from birth onward.

I’m told in aboriginal Australia, every person has a unique song, which the elders hear while the child is still in the womb. (At least I’m told it used to be this way.) The whole tribe learns this song and sings it to the child as he or she grows, when she falls or he cries or needs reminding of who he is. Singing her home to herself.

holding hands, touching with love

Whether in music or poetry, through our dancing or teaching, counseling or healing or simply touching each other with love, whether through firekeeping or by listening deeply to another, singing each other home to our souls is the highest expression of each of these arts and a priceless gift.

If we remember this as our purpose, or part of it, while we are making art or cooking a meal or talking to a stranger, we can elevate our lives and the lives of others immeasurably and do a great service to all life on this planet.

We can help to sing Earth home to her soul, her radiant, healthful aliveness in the web of life, through our rituals, our honoring and gratitude. We can do this for all things, whether supposedly inanimate or animate.

And thereby we renew our world. We sing the creation into its fullest expression. We guide our way home.

Singing our way home to ourselves is something we cannot do alone. We are designed to need others to help sing us home—whether they be human others or animals, plants, weather spirits or angels. We are part of an intimately interconnected web that we are required to depend on for life.

As humans we are given the unique quality of forgetting who we truly are, losing our way home. Our myths in all cultures throughout time tell of this getting lost, forgetting and remembering, finding our way with the help of others.

These myths or sacred stories are a guidebook to help us live well on Earth, honoring our interdependence, our magical gifts, walking our heart paths, heeding the call of our souls.

Let us remember to sing each other home and to ask others to help sing us home. Let us sing these sacred songs in our art-making, in all we do.


For more on how art calls us home to ourselves, read The Extraordinary Gifts of Poetry and Art, or engage your own soulful creativity with this creative exercise: Create an Ode, or discover your soul’s home in Why the Heck Am I Here?

Living Life as Prayer

Living Life as Prayer

Sometime this past year I set the intention to live my life as prayer.

I have carried this intention, less clearly named, for most of my life.

I remember a summer when I was around 15 or 16 that a young homeless man granted me three magic wishes.

I wished to become a great musician, and to grow closer to God. I don’t remember the third wish.

What amazes me about the two wishes I do remember is they are still my heart’s deep desires, to be a great artist, to dwell in union with the Divine.

My Beginnings

I grew up in a largely non-religious household. My parents were agnostic, philosophers and intellectuals, questioning everything. We kept a few of the major Jewish holidays.

Then, when I was about 10, my parents started attending a very open-minded congregation that was just forming. I did eventually go to Hebrew school for a couple of years and have a bat-mitzvah.

But, throughout my childhood and beyond, my connection to the Divine was allowed to develop on its own in a very pure and personal relationship that my parents found both mystifying and enviable.

Although I have carried a deep closeness with the Divine since I was a child, naming my intention to live my life as prayer has given a clarity, a shape that brings the commitment more fully into my daily life.

What Does It Mean to Live My Life as Prayer?

That is an open question, a generative question, one to keep asking and living into the answer.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” —poet Rainer Maria Rilke

Some Answers

To live my life as prayer means:

To live in deep devotion and connection to the Goddess (the Divine Feminine that we need so much in our world now) and All That Is.

To be a prayer for peace, for love, for wonder, for beauty, for Grace. To embody that in my being and doing.

To infuse what I create with that intention. To listen deeply to the song of the world, the wisdom of the world, and move in accord with it.

To offer up all that I do for a larger purpose and to live in alignment with my highest values.

I think about the life of a monk or nun, but out in the world.

How can I be a beacon of that which matters most to me? How can I serve the Divine in all things, in all moments?

How Do I Practice Living My Life as Prayer?

I aim for devotion in my actions, for deep care, for alignment with an understanding of the sacredness of all things.

I aim for presence, awareness, awakeness.

I cultivate gratitude and appreciation, a sense of the abundance and grace of this life.

And I also let myself feel the deep sorrow, the rage and fear, at all the lack of care and respect for life, all the dishonoring.

I keep repeating my intention to myself to remind myself of it. Almost always when I remind myself, it is a moment in which I find myself forgetting, caught up in the daily and the small self. By repeating it, I hope to return to a deeper connection and intention in my being and doing.

What Does It Mean to You?

Does it resonate with you to live your life as prayer?

What does it bring up in you, inspire in you? What questions does it raise?

If it doesn’t resonate with you, what do you live in service to? What matters most to you? What guides your life?

You might want to explore this topic in your journal.

Remember, these are living questions. Meant to open us into deeper inquiry and awareness, deeper being and living.

May they inspire your life to take on greater fullness and depth and joy.

I’d love to hear your responses here in the comments. Let’s be real with one another, because life is precious and we were given these amazing hearts to connect with.

If you are curious about working (and playing) with me one-on-one in my Creative Life Coaching to help you walk your heart path, I have space to take on a few more people right now. You could set up a complimentary Discovery Session, and we’ll explore together whether we are a good match at this time.

Maxima Kahn is a poet, creative life coach and teacher. She works with heart-centered artists and dreamers, helping them to unleash their creative brilliance and create lives of passion, purpose and deep play. She blogs about the creative life, writing, and artful, soulful living at www.BrilliantPlayground.com.

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