Making the Most of Your Life

Making the Most of Your Life

My friend Curt died a couple of weeks ago. I learned about it on Facebook and was stunned.

Curt was a heart-centered, caring soul and helped me in many ways over the years. He was a person I could trust to be honest, authentic, and to listen deeply. He could also be quite funny.

A few weeks before that an important person in our local music community died quite unexpectedly, a real shock. He wasn’t old. Then, my friend Amy’s mother died, also suddenly.

All of this death and loss is having me consider mortality and how I want to live, how I want to spend whatever time I have left, which may be very little or perhaps many years. There’s no way to know.

What if I only have a few years left? What if I have ten? Or just one? What do I most wish to do with that time? How can I live my best life now?

Death is so clarifying.

“Dying requires that we take the step without proof. We walk through the door. We cannot turn around and go back, so we walk through. The end. No guarantees, no certainty, no assurance. We walk, taking each step not from fear but from love, because a great mystery is blessing each footfall. Our hearts understand that mystery and feel the joy. It is the mystery returning to itself.”

Rodney Smith, Lessons from the Dying as quoted in Daily Wisdom: 365 Buddhist Inspirations

What rises up for me is the desire to do even more of what I love, to make even more time for creativity in my life, to make it even more of a priority. I want to study it more deeply, be in creative community with peers and mentors, sharing with others and dialoguing about art and making.

And I want to enjoy my daily life, the small moments, each act of doing, each interaction with another. And continue to heal or release what hurts or haunts me, so I can be most joyful, alive, expressed.

All this uncertainty and upheaval in the world brings losses, endings, and letting go of various kinds. We can contract in fear or we can open in love to the mystery and wonder.

I’m choosing to make the most of my life now, to shape the most beautiful, rich, meaningful life that I can.

I choose to spend my resources of time, money, energy as much as possible on the things that are closest to my heart, bring me the most joy, and help me live well.

And that’s scary because my fear says I should spend all my time, energy, resources on preparing for a changing world—I’m doing that too—and on making more money. But I might not be around to enjoy that money. Whereas, if I make more time for making art now, I know I’ll be loving my life.

What are those things for you that bring you joy, fulfillment, love, peace?

I invite you to explore this in your heart, your thoughts, and in your journal. Answer, as best you can, from your heart, not your head.

If you only have three years left to live, how do you wish to spend them? What rises as a priority? What would make for the best life?

  • And then, how can you honor those priorities through your choices now?
  • What actions can you take this week, this month, this year?
  • What might you need to let go of or stop doing to make more time, space, and resources for what you most love?
  • What might you need to invest in?
  • What supports do you need to put in place to make more space and time for what matters most?

So much is changing in the world in radical ways. We don’t know what the world will look like tomorrow or next year. This makes it hard to plan. Even crazy-making.

For this reason, I feel there is no better time to focus on what your heart feels most drawn towards, what fills you with delight, or meaning, or love, or joy, even if you are full of doubt and fear about taking those next steps. Whenever something is on our heart path, there tends to be doubt and fear.

There are no assurances, no guarantees, but the path of heart is the best path I know. And it’s the one you are called to for a reason. If you long to dance, then dance. If you long to make music, make music. If you long to paint, please paint. And if you long to study marine biology, do that.

Perhaps you want to play music and study marine biology. Trust that. There may be a beautiful interweaving of the two that wants to come uniquely through you.

The dreams of your heart and soul were given to you for a reason. We need you to follow your dreams.

And if you are longing for support with finding and following your heart’s dreams and desires, check out my Creative Life Coaching & Mentoring.

To your heart-centered life with love,
Maxima

Need Creative Inspiration? Go for a Walk

Need Creative Inspiration? Go for a Walk

One of the times I am most creative is when I have spent an hour or so working on a creative project, and then I go for a walk.

On the walk, ideas tend to start pouring in.

I think this is because I have already engaged deeply with the project. I have connected with it, maybe wrestled with it, maybe made some progress.

And then I let it go. I put my body in motion and relax my mind.

I walk with no agenda. I’m not aiming to think about my creative project. I am not trying for revelations. I just walk and enjoy the scenery and the motion of my body. I let my mind roam.

Often, things begin to click. Stuck places in the work start to open. New ideas come. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the piece I was working on. I hear lines for a new poem. Or have a wild inspiration for a dance piece. Or for a new class I’d like to offer.

There’s a rhythm to walking that is soothing and regulating. It brings body and mind into a union. I am in motion, moving forward in my life. I am going somewhere, doing something, but with nowhere to get to and nothing I have to do.  

I am breathing and feeling the wind on my face and witnessing the world around me. A bird singing in a tree. A squirrel running across my path. Flowers blooming perhaps or leaves falling or snow on the ground. Or maybe a city street or neighborhood.

Sometimes our most creative times are not when we are in the studio, grappling with making art. Sometimes they happen when we let go and set our body in a gentle motion, when we step outside of the house, office, or studio, and outside of our to-do lists and plans. When we look around, feel the air, smell and see things, and let our minds wander. When the rhythm of our footfalls tunes us to our heart, soul, and spirit, and to the spirit of the world.

If you are stuck creatively or in your life, this can be especially helpful. Or when you’re seeking new inspiration. But it’s wonderful after any time spent working on, or playing with, a creative project. Even after a very fruitful time.

Beethoven was famous for going for long walks every day after composing—and for shorter ones during the day—and he would bring pen and music paper with him to jot down ideas.

For poet William Wordsworth walking was indispensable to writing poetry. Both employed meter and rhythm, and his walks gave him imagery as well as ideas to use in his poems.

Much more recently, in 2016, Clare Qualmann and  Amy Sharrocks curated a series of walks, talks, and events called Walking Women, which brought together over fifty women artists to share their artistic walking practices.

A Stanford study has shown that walking increases creative inspiration and truly original ideas. The researchers discovered that “A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.”

Here’s my invitation and encouragement to you. Spend some time actively engaging with your project, idea, or problem. Then, let it go and go for a walk.

Don’t go looking for ideas. But, in case they come, you might wish to bring a small notepad and pen or your phone to take pictures with or record on. (Just make sure it’s in airplane mode.)

Sometimes you’ll just have a nice walk. Sometimes you may be led to turn down a new path, enter a shop, or you’ll synchronistically run into someone (or something) you need to meet.

Sometimes new ideas will show up in your dreams that night or as you move through your day the next day. Or a few days later. Be patient. Things are percolating.

You might wish to make walking a regular part of your creative practice as so many artists have done throughout the centuries. The imagination thrives on idleness and rhythm, permission and openness, curiosity and wonder. These are all qualities that are abundant when we go for a stroll.

6 Uplifting, Inspiring, and Informative Podcasts

6 Uplifting, Inspiring, and Informative Podcasts

I am late to the party when it comes to podcasts. For years, people would recommend them, and I would think, “I don’t have time for that.”

But lately I’ve discovered good ways to fit them into my week and the benefits of listening. I’ve discovered the joy of podcasts.

Why Listen to Podcasts?

I keep finding myself getting pretty morose and overwhelmed between news of the world and my own challenges. I needed a way to uplift my energy and shift my perspective regularly in a short amount of time. Podcasts turned out to be perfect.

I can sample them in bite-sized doses and follow my inclinations at any given moment. The range of what is available is like a huge buffet.

If you find yourself getting down in the dumps with all the fear-mongering, divisive, infuriating, heartbreaking news that bombards us, check out these podcasts and notice how they shift your mood, stimulate your mind, inspire your creativity, and bring you back to your heart.

But first…

When to Listen to Podcasts

Some folks listen to podcasts while making dinner. My husband and I almost always make dinner together. We decompress and talk about our day then, so that doesn’t work for me.

Others listen in the car during a commute. But I work from home. I do listen while doing errands sometimes. And I love to tune in on long car rides.

Some people like to listen in the evenings. This seems like a great way to unwind before bed and more nourishing than most of what’s streaming on TV. I just haven’t gotten myself to do it yet.

Others listen while walking. I like to commune with nature and unravel my tangled thoughts on walks. But, because I have fallen in love with podcasts, I do listen on some walks or for part of the walk.

My best time: I listen while I ride the exercise bike. I’m much more inclined to ride the bike when I have something interesting to listen to, and I get to listen to twenty minutes of a podcast at a time. The hard part is stopping when it’s really engaging!

Six Podcasts to Brighten Your Day and Spark Your Mind

This is just the beginning. Part of the fun of podcasts is following the recommendations that pop up or searching for a topic or a speaker or writer I love.

None of these are going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Each of these podcasts has a distinctive flavor, and, in the case of the ones where the host interviews different subjects, they vary greatly from episode to episode.

Find the ones that appeal to you. Sip and sample them. One great thing about podcasts: you can turn them off at any point and switch to a new one. Click on the show name below to go to the podcast.

Scene On Radio

This is the podcast that got me hooked on podcasts. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I started with the series called “Seeing White,” which is about the construction of “Whiteness” and race in America (and beyond) and its present-day repercussions. It’s so good!

Scene On Radio is hosted by a White man, John Biewen, but his regular guest for the “Seeing White” series is Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, who also joined him for series 4 on democracy. Biewen also brings in myriad other riveting specialists.

There’s a season on patriarchy and sexism with co-host Celeste Headlee, which I haven’t listened to yet. The latest season is “The Repair” with co-host Amy Westervelt, which focuses on real solutions to the climate crisis. The little bit I’ve heard I loved.

On Being

On Being describes itself as “Immersive conversations and explorations into the art of living.”

This widely syndicated show is hosted by Krista Tippett, who facilitates deeply engaging, soulful conversations. She interviews a vast array of writers, teachers, and fascinating humans, who are each carrying a piece of wisdom about how to live well in these times.

The show has been going on for years, so there are tons of episodes to choose from on subjects that range far and wide.

The Slow Down

This podcast was launched by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, who handed it off to Ada Limón, now our new U.S. Poet Laureate.

Electric Literature called it “a literary once-a-day multivitamin show.” Every single day, the host reads and discusses one poem that she loves. The episodes are about five minutes long and marvelous.

Whether you read poetry or don’t, this is a great moment to slow down in your day and nourish your soul.

Infinite Intelligence

This podcast is made up of short segments from live retreats by Abraham-Hicks, great for listening to on my exercise bike or while driving around doing errands.

If you don’t know about the phenomenon of Abraham-Hicks, I don’t know if this will make sense to you or not. For me, it’s a good shot in the arm of positivity and reconnection to how we can co-create our dreams.

I started listening to Abraham nearly two decades ago, stopped for a long while, and am now diving into these little segments. The message has improved and these snippets can be helpful as a reset for my mood and focus.

Beautiful Writers

This podcast is all about the ups and downs and insider secrets of writing and publishing books.

Linda Sivertsen interviews an amazing cast of writers of all kinds on this show, including the likes of Brené Brown, Steven Pressfield, Ann Patchett, Terry McMillan, Joy Harjo, and even Tom Hanks. The interviews are warm and fun and full of fascinating tidbits. Great for writers and anyone interested in creativity and words.

Creative Pep Talk

“Creative Pep Talk helps creatives reach their potential” says the show description. I just discovered this one and have only listened to three episodes, but I’m really enjoying it.

Andy J. Pizza is an illustrator and storyteller with plenty of heart and experience with the ins and out of creativity. What I’ve heard him say so far is right on, helpful, smart, and encouraging. This podcast is a combination of his monologues with some interviews with other creators on what it takes to create and keep on ticking.

Over to You

What are your favorite podcasts?

Send me a sentence or two about what it is and why you love it. I’ll share some in a future post.

Making Spells: The Magic Power of Writing

Making Spells: The Magic Power of Writing

I have been keeping a journal since I was nine years old. And I’ve been writing poems and stories at least as long. I memorized my first poem—“Little Tree” by e.e. cummings—when I was 11 because I wanted to be able to partake of the magic of reciting a poem.

Writing helps me make sense of the world, and keeps me in touch with my feelings, thoughts, desires, and needs. So that I can better flow with my feelings and meet my needs in healthy ways.

Writing helps me uncover my dreams and the path to living them. Next steps and solutions come to me. But, as much as I rely on my daily journal practice as one key to my well-being, writing for me is about far more than just journaling.

Through writing, we can engage in the joyful, challenging, astonishing act of art-making, shaping words on the page to create magic. That act is profoundly healing, life-giving, and life-affirming. And, it can create worlds, not just on the page, but in our lives.

Powerful language can call us to make changes, develop compassion and understanding, inspire us to new visions.

There’s a reason that the word “spell” means both to spell the letters in a word and to cast a spell or create enchantment.

There is magic power in language used artfully and crafted with care.

Writing in this way connects me to my Deep Self and to all of Life. Inner wisdom and guidance flows through me. Wild imagination flows through me. Playful silliness flows through me. Buried emotions flow through me. Brilliant ideas come to me. Healing and mysterious language appears seemingly out of nowhere. I discover realms both within and without that I didn’t know were there.

That’s why I return to writing again and again as a place of solace and healing and connection. And as a place of wonder and astonishment.

Writing and sharing my writing gives me a voice to connect with others. It creates a bridge out of the separation and loneliness and despair that can overtake me in these hard times. It helps me sort through the overwhelm.

And when I hear the words of others, I am reminded of our shared humanity.

For all these reasons and more, I love to write and share my words and hear the imaginative words of others. It is a powerful balm in these times and also a powerful act of rebellion against the life-negating powers that seem to have too much sway in our world.

We aren’t helpless at all. We are powerful beings. One of our greatest powers is the act of creation. We need to call on this power in these changing times, so that we help shape a world we wish to live in. We do this one gentle word at a time.

If you would like to engage in creative play with me and others, I invite you to join me for Freedom to Write. Whether you are an established writer or a beginner, I believe you will find the process deep, rich, surprising, inspiring, and nourishing. A weekly haven for your creative spirit.

Busyness Kills Creativity—Slow Down and Care for Your Muse

Busyness Kills Creativity—Slow Down and Care for Your Muse

Busyness wreaks havoc on your creativity (and your health and well-being). When you fill all the crevices with work, running around, and noise, you don’t let inspiration come to you or notice things that might spark your imagination. You don’t give your muse what she needs to thrive.

In my last two posts, we’ve been talking about how to transform your relationship with time. If you’re wondering why this matters, here are some key reasons. Plus, a couple of wonderful practices to put a stop to the painful habit of busyness.

Creativity Thrives in Idleness

“How are you? Keeping busy?” It’s incredible to me that people will start a conversation with these words. As if keeping busy were an ideal or a sign that you are a good person.

We celebrate busyness in contemporary society, and often feel anxious when we don’t have something to do. So much so that if we have a few idle minutes, many of us will check our phones. Instead of looking around and taking in our environment. Or letting ourselves enjoy a few deep breaths.

But, when we’re tired, overwhelmed, multi-tasking, or rushing, we are not sparking creativity, which needs idleness to thrive. Long walks, naps, daydreaming, and puttering around are music to the muse’s ears. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way writes about the kinds of simple, repetitive activities that stimulate the artist’s brain, things like knitting, gardening, cooking, driving, and showering.

I am a go-getter myself, and I have trouble sitting still for long without doing something. I will often fill my time with reading a book, watching a movie, or taking care of items on my to-do list. It’s not that any of those things are bad or wrong, but creativity needs open space to thrive. 

The Biggest Obstacle to Creativity Is Busyness

Emma Seppala has studied what provokes our best creativity. As Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, she found that the biggest obstacle to creativity is busyness. She writes, “creativity happens when your mind is unfocused, daydreaming or idle.” And she goes on to say, “We need to find ways to give our brains a break. If our minds are constantly processing information, we never get a chance to let our thoughts roam and our imagination drift.”

Andrew Smart, author of Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing, looked at neuroscience and discovered that your brain is healthier, happier, and more creative when it’s idle. Smart writes, “busyness destroys creativity, self-knowledge, emotional well-being, your ability to be social— and it can damage your cardiovascular health.”

So, how do we stop the habit of busyness and let our brains and our muses recharge?

Here are two simple, but powerful practices.

Stop Telling People How Busy You Are

When you notice yourself telling others how busy you are, stop yourself and change your language. Start affirming a more positive relationship with time. You might say, “My life is very full right now.” You might even say, “I’ve been doing too much, and now I’m going to commit to slowing down more.”

Stop affirming how busy you are and that you don’t have enough time. Stop trying to get approval or sympathy for being busy.

Work with the time you have and give thanks for the abundance of time you’ve been given on Earth. You might use a favorite affirmation of mine whenever I start getting anxious about all I have to do:

“I always have enough time to do what I love and need to do.”

When you are feeling panicked about how you will get everything done, stop and remind yourself that you always get everything done that has to get done. Look at the past. Isn’t this true?

Then, let the rest go. If there is too much to do, it’s time to make another plan. Make new agreements with others if you had deadlines you were supposed to make that are impossible or you took on too many commitments. Delegate tasks to others where you can. Eliminate things from your list or postpone them. Be reasonable about what you can and cannot do.

Practice Being Inside of Time

This is my favorite practice as it is quite magical how it opens up time in your life. I call it Being Inside of Time.

Do only one thing at a time and don’t think of the future while you do it.

Stop multi-tasking. Stop letting yourself get interrupted and distracted by emails, social media, your phone, or other people. Close the open tabs on your browser. Turn off all the beeps and notifications that you can on your phone and computer permanently. They wreak havoc on your nervous system and your ability to concentrate. Put your phone in another room whenever you can, and/or use my favorite setting: Do Not Disturb. Ask others to honor when you need to focus on what you are doing.

I find that the most essential aspect of this is to not run a list in my mind of what I have to do next or that day or on that project while doing something else. Running the list of what else needs doing takes me out of the moment, out of the task at hand, and tends to leave me feeling harried.

So, practice giving yourself entirely to what you are doing in each moment. And then, when the time is up for that activity, go on to the next. Do one thing fully, whether you are brushing your teeth or composing a sonnet. Be inside of time.

This will open time and slow it down in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the experience of things that I thought would take hours getting done in strangely little time when I do this. And it helps my mood and nervous system, and my whole feeling about my life, enormously.

In upcoming posts, we’ll get into some practical tools for sorting through all the many things you feel you have to do, want to do, and should do, and making space in your life for what matters most. In the meantime, I encourage you to try these two practices and let me know what you discover.

The Magical Child, the Wounded Child, and Your Creative Self

The Magical Child, the Wounded Child, and Your Creative Self

We each have a magical child living in us that is intimately connected to our true self and gifts, what we are uniquely good at, and what fascinates and delights us. The magical child holds the key to your wonder, joy, imagination, curiosity, enthusiasm, and playfulness. You need to cultivate a healthy relationship with this child self in order to have access to these talents and qualities that are so essential to your creativity and to your flourishing as all that you are.

We each also have a wounded child in us, or several, who needs our love, attention, and care, in order for us to grow up out of the sabotaging behaviors and limiting beliefs to which the wounded child is in thrall. The wounded child took on limiting beliefs as a way to make sense of painful experiences early on. She has also practiced limiting behaviors as a way to protect herself from further wounding. But now those same beliefs and behaviors are holding us back from being the fully alive, creatively expressed and fulfilled people we long to be.

In order to heal the wounded child and cultivate healthy relationship with the magical child, you need to be loving, wise, and supportive of the child within, to listen to her feelings and needs, her dreams and desires, to attend to her passions and talents. You also need create good boundaries for her, and a sense of safety and provision for her needs. You need to let her know that there is an adult self within that is taking care of her.

The child self holds a special relationship to your creativity and your life, both in its magical and wounded aspects. If you have suppressed the child self, believing you need to “grow up,” and that being child-like is unseemly, you have probably squashed an essential element of your creative fire, joy, and ability to pursue your dreams.

Your Many Selves

Each of us has many “selves” within that contribute to the unique constellation of us. You may have parts of yourself that are courageous and others that are fearful, parts that are confident and others full of doubt, parts that are skilled at math or sports or painting, a part that is organized, one that is rebellious, and so on.

Each aspect of self brings specific gifts and challenges. By befriending them all, you can call forth their unique gifts and learn to help them through their challenges. You can transform their destructive patterns into helpful ones. In this way, you gain their cooperation and reduce resistance to expressing yourself creatively and following your dreams. You need each of these selves on board in order to live your fullest life. Each one has profound abilities to share, many of which are vital to your creativity.

Re-parenting Your Inner Artist

We need to learn to re-parent our child selves, no matter what kind of parents we actually had or have. When we become adults, it becomes our job to be the loving, nurturing, responsible parent to our inner children, to help them shine in their gifts and grow up out of their limiting beliefs and behaviors or learn to navigate them better. Part of becoming a true adult is letting our parents off the hook of needing to parent us any longer and instead parenting ourselves.

All of this begins with building a relationship with the child self (or selves) within. Through dialogue, awareness, presence, and love. Start by getting to know your inner selves and inviting dialogue. Listen to what the child self within is feeling and needing. When we are angry, hurt, fearful, or resistant toward our creativity, it is usually the child self that is the one who is triggered and often, without our realizing it, is the one who is now in charge of our behavior and beliefs. So, you need to do a little investigative work to uncover the fearful, harmful, limiting stories you are telling yourself about yourself, your creativity, gifts, dreams, the world, and other people.

When you connect with the feelings, fears, and false stories inside, and meet them with compassion, care, wisdom, and love, you can transform them. You can connect with your wise, all-knowing Self, and from that wise Self teach the wounded self the real truth about who they are, their gifts and dreams. This truth comes from the Ground of Awareness or Beingness, which is also the Heart of Love. By speaking to the child from this wise and loving place, we free the extraordinary gifts of the magical child within and gain access to our full radiant aliveness.

Practice: Re-parenting the Child Within

The next time you feel hurt, angry, fearful, doubtful, or resistant toward your creativity (or toward anything in your life), take some time to tune into your child self. Ask what she is feeling and why. Reflect back to her in the same words she used what you heard. Then ask what she is needing and reflect that back, again using the exact words you heard. Show that you truly hear and understand her feelings and needs.

Now, notice the stories she is telling herself, the meaning she is making about “reality.” What is she fearing is true? For example, “My art is terrible.” “Nobody will ever want my art.” “I’ll never make it as an artist.” “The world doesn’t support people like me.” “I’m not good enough.” “People will laugh at me.”

What age is this child self that is triggered? Just take an intuitive guess.

Now from your loving, adult self, speak to that child as a loving, supportive, encouraging parent. What would you say to encourage this child’s unique gifts and passions and help her with her challenges? Tell the child within what’s true and supportive. Encourage their creativity and dreams. But without lying to them. Children know when we are lying. So tell them the truth, but the deep truth. Note: You have to step fully out of the wounded self and into your wise, adult, loving self to do this.

You  might say, “Your art has wonderful, exciting, original things in it, and you are still developing your skills. Be patient. It keeps getting better.” Or you might say, “I don’t know if you will make a living as an artist, but I know you can keep making art and sharing it, and that is a very good life to live.” Or “I know you have something of deep value to share through your art.”

This takes practice and repetition. It’s not something we do once and are done with. But, the time and attention you give to this practice can change your life dramatically.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Turn Your Self-Doubt Into Generative Questions and The Challenge of Self-Worth for the Artist

How Do You Know If Your Art Is Good?

How Do You Know If Your Art Is Good?

“Do I have a future as a poet?,” my student asked me during our coaching session the other day. “You have a present as a poet,” I replied. “You are writing poems and enjoying it. It is bringing blessings to your life.”

Over the years I have been asked this question in one form or another by aspiring artists. And I have wondered about my own creations. Essentially it boils down to “How do I know if I am any good?”

The short answer is you don’t. And you never will. Unless you decide that you are good or that your art is good.

But even deciding that you are a good artist, or that some creation of yours is good, can be a tricky business.

The Dance of Self-Worth

In order to thrive as an artist and keep making art, you need to encourage and support yourself. It is up to you to cultivate belief in yourself, your voice, your worth, the value of what you make, and your right to make it. This is vital. And can be challenging.

Most good artists I know have doubts or questions about their work. They are always reaching higher, seeing their flaws or where they could grow, the next mountain they can climb in their artistry and skills. And wondering if a particular piece is working well or not. One day, your new creation seems like pure genius. The next, it seems utterly worthless.

A modicum of doubt is healthy and can keep you stretching as an artist. It can also keep you from being a deluded ego-maniac. More than a modicum can stifle your imagination and your best work.

It is good not to rest on your laurels, be self-satisfied in your art, think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Humility is helpful when dealing with the extraordinary power of art. A willingness to be a beginner again and again, to keep learning and growing in your art is excellent.

So, we aim to dance with humility and faith in ourselves. Loving and supporting our work and being willing to see how we can grow. We aim to cultivate a healthy sense of our gifts, our strengths, our beautiful uniqueness, and also our weaknesses and limitations.

Seeking Validation from Others

It’s normal to seek validation from others, even to need it—we are hard-wired to want to belong—but it’s a slippery slope. Giving the power to determine your worth as an artist to a teacher, critic, committee, gallery owner, or audience is dangerous indeed. That’s why one of the core skills of an artist is being able to self-validate.

But, let me return to the original question. Can anyone confer on you the title of “good artist”? No. No judging committee, no prize, no teacher, no amount of audience or sales guarantees that for you.

There are no ultimate metrics to measure “goodness” in an artist or in a work of art. There is imagination and craft and technique, but in the end, whether what you make is good is a deeply subjective matter.

It’s Subjective

I have heard wildly famous musicians whose work leaves me cold or bores me. It’s technically virtuosic but it lacks heart and vulnerability. It feels like empty show. To me. Remember, I said this is all subjective.

The work of every good artist, and great artist, is hated by some people, often many people. Not everyone likes Michael Jackson, not everyone likes Beethoven. All good artists, if they put their work out to a wide enough audience, will find detractors, both among critics and audience.

Mary Oliver, one of the best-selling contemporary poets in America, was lambasted by some critics. And pooh-poohed by some of her peers. Does this mean she is a bad poet? No.

There are hugely popular novelists whose work I think is just awful. Both unskilled and unsatisfying. Does that mean they are bad artists? Who am I to say?

But What About Technique?

Yes, there are recognized parameters of technique, craft, skill, but often what is deemed “good” or “bad” art has much to do with current trends and the dominant cultural paradigm at the time.

Is dissonance appreciated in music or considered noise? Is painting allowed to be non-representational? Are we open to the fresh rhythms, images, and expressions of Native American poets, or do we judge them by the standards of a White, largely-male, and often-academic canon?

So many now-famous artists were ignored in their day. Emily Dickinson couldn’t get her poems published. Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t sell his paintings. The list goes on.

In the end, it is you and your art. And your audience. Do you love what you do? Are you learning and growing, studying your craft and the work of other artists? Do you strive to make the best art that you can? Do you share it with generosity and a sense of service to others? Are there people who enjoy it?

Wonderful. You are a good artist. Now, go make some art.

The Gifts (and Perils) of Focus

The Gifts (and Perils) of Focus

This is the beginning of a two-part series on Focus. We’ll look at how you can bless your creativity and your life with its gifts. And, avoid its pitfalls.

Focus is about getting out of overwhelm, over-doing, and the feeling of spinning your wheels. It’s about aligning your life with what matters most to you. It brings fulfillment, clarity, and ease.

What it’s not about is driving yourself with an inner taskmaster or eliminating other delights from your life. It isn’t about having a maniacal single purpose with nothing else going on.

Focus gives you purpose and momentum. Perhaps you feel your primary focus needs to be on your work, or school, or your family right now. Perhaps you decide to put it on finding a partner or learning a new skill.

Once you name your focus and give it your attention, you can fill in around it with other things that bring enjoyment and spice. You’ll also fill in with things that are necessary or important—like care of your finances and your health.

But you know your primary focus. And you understand why you may have to let some things go, some things be dormant or more quiet, why you might need to neglect some things for a period of time. Instead of trying to do it all.

Knowing your focus lets you off the hook of trying to do everything and all at the same level. So you don’t go crazy and exhaust yourself. Or get discouraged and never reach your dreams.

We need focus. In our art and in our lives. And it can feel harder and harder to choose and maintain focus in our “distraction economy.”

When You Have a Lot of Interests

Having focus means we choose where to give our life energy—to which art form, creative project, or aims. Within your creative life (and any area of life), choosing a primary focus can be enormously freeing, helpful, and satisfying.

Choosing a focus doesn’t mean you can’t work in more than one art form, or have more than one interest at a time. I am a writer, dancer, and musician. Each one gives me something different and vital. But I can’t do them all at the same level all the time.

Writing has been my primary focus for many years. Knowing this gives me clarity in how I use my studio time, nourish my muse, and grow as an artist. And I can choose to shift that focus for periods of time.

You can also work on multiple projects at a time. Some artists need this cross-pollination to do their best work. And you may have goals in different areas of your creative life, goals for creating art, learning, and sharing your work, for instance.

But I slow my progress and artistic development when I lack a strong focus, when my priorities aren’t clear, and when I don’t stick to those priorities. Then I feel frustrated and disappointed with how little progress I have made. I need to narrow my focus, know the order of priority of my projects and goals, and have a realistic plan for reaching them. Otherwise, I tend to flail, doing a little of this and a little of that.

The proof is always in the pudding. Are you completing things you are proud of? Creating your best work? Growing as an artist and in your life? Most of all, are you enjoying your life?

Choosing a Primary Focus

Start by choosing a primary focus. This might be a creative project or goal or a focus for your life as a whole right now. What is calling to you? What lights you up? What would feel the best or make the biggest positive difference in your life right now? What is your one thing if you had to choose one thing for a time?

Right now my artistic focus is the book I’m writing on how to live a passionate, inspired creative life. As long as I didn’t get crystal clear that my book was my primary focus, progress was painfully slow. I kept getting distracted and derailed. I had my hand in so many projects. And was also juggling too many small (and large) goals all over my life. I felt overwhelmed and like I was always falling behind. And it felt like nothing was getting done.

Perhaps you don’t yet have a focus or not enough. You go into your creative space and just dabble. You go about your life, answering to whatever is most urgent that day. Or you are overwhelmed with too many projects and directions.

Let Your Heart Be Your Guide

Focus, when chosen well—from your heart’s deepest desires and soul’s needs—gives you excitement, energy, and relief. And both the process and completion brings fulfillment, joy, and a sense of accomplishment.

I invite you to choose a primary focus in your creative life now, and perhaps one in your life as a whole. Here’s how.

Try this: Pour out all the projects, goals, desires, pursuits that you have going in your life now or have been thinking about. Dump them all onto a piece of paper.

Go through them one by one. Which ones spark joy? Which feel exciting or draw you? Which connect to a deep sense of purpose or meaning? Put a star or a heart next to those.

If something feels heavy or too hard, perhaps the time is not right for that now. If something feels like a should rather than a want to, cross it off or find a way to connect it to something you truly desire. Maybe you need to hire support with it. If something feels urgent, is that urgency connected to a goal or dream that’s truly important, or is it a false urgency, coming from unhealed trauma or anxiety?

Winnow down your goals and projects. Cross whatever you can off the list. Now, choose a primary focus in your creative life and/or in your life as a whole. If you cannot choose one, choose three and rank them in order of priority.

You can decide the time frame for this choice. Perhaps you start playing with this by just choosing a singular focus from now until the end of the year. That’s just two weeks away. So your focus might be to enjoy the holidays and let yourself rest. Or to finish a project that is near to completion. Or to spend time harvesting the outgoing year and visioning the new. Perhaps you are ready to choose a primary focus for 2022.

Focus Is More Than Just Choosing

Once you know what your focus is, you need a plan for how you will move toward it and keep it alive in daily life.

Focus can include detailing the steps and timeline. Right now, I’ve given myself the goal of editing one big chapter of my book every two weeks until this draft is done. Your focus might be a learning goal: To master watercolor technique or learn to play Bach’s solo cello suites. What’s your plan for how you will do this?

Whatever the focus, and whatever your steps, you also need a way to remember to take those steps, check how it’s going, and adjust as needed. You need encouragement, support, accountability. I have both an editor who is helping me with my book and a writer friend that I meet with regularly to share.

Remember, you don’t have to do it alone. We need mentors and companions on the path to our heart’s dreams.

Support for Your Passionate Life

If you would love radical clarity on your focus, I’d be honored to support you with one-on-one Creative Life Mentoring. This is a magical combo of life coaching, creativity mentoring, and soul whispering that is tailored to your specific needs, desires, dreams, challenges. It is a profound gift to give to yourself.

Stay tuned for part II on Focus in which I share some recent pitfalls I fell into, how I got out, and more.

Dealing with Disappointment in Art and Life

Dealing with Disappointment in Art and Life

Recently, I suffered a big disappointment. It felt like a physical blow to the chest. I was reeling with pain and shock.

In a moment I will share what happened and the six steps I took to recover from it. It is important to deal with disappointments in a good way, so they don’t block you from what your heart desires. So you are free to create your best art and your best life.

All artists and dreamers face disappointment in our lives. It is the nature of the game. If we dare to dream big, if we have big hopes and aspirations, if we pour our hearts and souls into our beloved creations and have the courage to share them with others, we can also fall hard, fail spectacularly, and be deeply disappointed.

This truth is a main reason why many people stop themselves from dreaming at all or daring to follow their heart’s dreams and their soul’s callings. Why so many people feel a hole in the center of their lives, something vital that is missing.

If no one dared to dream big, if no one dared to create art from their heart’s rich store and share it with others, our world would be a very bland, cold, and brutal place. That’s why it is so important to learn how to deal with disappointment, why we need to learn how to “fail better,” as the saying goes.

A Story of Disappointment and a Metaphor for Art and Life

When I was twelve years old, I took horseback riding lessons. One day, while learning how to ride over a series of jumps, the horse threw me off her back. I went sailing through the air and landed in the mud. I was startled and shaken, but unhurt. The instructor told me to get right back on the horse and try again. She said it was very important that I do this, for two reasons: First, so I would not be afraid to ride again. Second, so the horse would know she couldn’t throw me and get out of going over those big jumps. So the horse knew I would not give up so easily.

That horse is your art or your dream for your life.

When Things Don’t Go As You Hope

Earlier this year, I applied for an Individual Artist Grant from the California Arts Council. I worked so long and hard on the application, refining every bit of it, getting feedback from others. Somehow I thought for sure I would get this grant.

And I felt that I needed it both financially, and, even more importantly, as a leg up in my creative career. Getting this grant would be a validation that I hoped would open doors to other grants, awards, and opportunities. I have been working so intensely on writing for decades without much recognition or support. So this grant opportunity had a lot riding on it for me.

By now you have figured out that I did not get the grant. I felt stunned when I read the email and so disappointed.

I have dealt with a great deal of disappointment in my creative life. I have applied for many things that I have not received, and opened hundreds of rejection letters from literary journals to which I submitted my writing. Of course, I have also received wonderful acceptances and opportunities, had many publications, been invited to give readings more times than I can count.

This was not one of those moments. This was a bitter, painful disappointment.

How I Recovered Myself and My Art

Here is what I did to deal with it and get back on the horse.

1) I let myself feel the feelings all the way through.

This is so important. I didn’t stuff them, minimize them, or try to make myself wrong for having them. I cried. I swore. I banged my fist. I paced around to move the energy. And I met the feelings with love and compassion.

2) I shared the experience with trusted others.

I texted my husband at work immediately. His beautiful, quick reply was perfect. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. Your time will come.”

I also shared about it with my patrons on Patreon the next day, when the feelings were still raw. One of the things I love so much about Patreon is that, because it is a private group, I can share intimately about my creative life, projects, and works-in-process.

Sharing the feelings helps air them out and not let them fester. And I want my patrons to know the truth about the ups of downs of a creative life. I received lovely messages from several patrons in response.

3) I paid attention to what I was making it mean.

Yes, I was disappointed not to get the grant, but what was causing the real suffering was what I was telling myself about it. “I will always be passed over. I will never be recognized for my art. Other people always get the awards, and I don’t.”

I noticed the old false beliefs and painful wounds connected to these stories. I have a wound around feeling invisible, unseen, unheard, under-appreciated that goes back to my childhood. Unfortunately, I also have a deep-seated fear of being too visible that connects to my family heritage. It creates a bad double-bind.

Out of this old pattern, I have tended to re-create invisibility, or lack of recognition, for myself in painful ways. Having that old pattern and false belief triggered by not getting the grant was what was causing the most suffering. I could see that.

Recognizing the old patterns and where they come from, I could question the old stories and see that they are coming up in order to be healed.

4) I gathered helpful information.

Thanks to sharing on Patreon, my dear friend Molly texted me to express her condolence, and she shared an essential piece of information that made all the difference.

She told me how I could access a list of all the applicants and who got the grant. (The Arts Council was sharing this list.) I was stunned to discover that many writers and artists who are way more famous than me, and who have done wonderful things, also did not get the grant. These artists, I felt, had considerably more reason than me to be disappointed. This really helped explode the stories I was telling myself.

5) I soothed the feelings and fears.

Not receiving the grant provoked fears about money, as well as about never getting the recognition I long for and need in order to have a more thriving creative career. I had to meet those fears and soothe them, let them know what’s really true, or more true, both about my current situation and my future prospects.

When we are inside of old stories, limiting patterns, beliefs, and fears, we filter outer evidence so that we tend to only see, or see more of, what supports our limiting beliefs. And we ignore evidence to the contrary of our limiting beliefs.

So, I needed to have compassion for my hurt, and show myself what was actually true, contrary to my fears. I have enough funds right now to cover my needs. I have received other forms of recognition. I am growing in my art and life, working on healing these patterns. The future is unknown. All I can do is work and play towards what I love and dream.

6) I got back on the horse.

The very next morning I was in my studio at my regular creative time, writing, working on my next book. I keep doing what I love, what matters most to me.

Whether you have experienced a recent disappointment or one in the distant past that you still carry, these same steps can help you to feel, heal, and move forward. Learning how to deal with disappointment is essential to a healthy, thriving creative life and to living your heart’s big dreams. For the benefit of all beings.

I invite you to share a take-away from this post below. What spoke to you most? What can you use in your own life?

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