The red dress, a baby elephant, a secret love letter, and some nothings

Origami. A voice that popped up in my head a few months back. I tore some paper out from a register and tried my hand at attempting to create something (what exactly, I now forget) out of nothing. But the paper was rectangular, thick, and lined – not right for origami. I forgot all about it till I chanced upon a set of colored origami sheets on Amazon as I explored stationary and craft supplies to fill the hole in me that only creating something seems to fill.

They arrived soon, perfect little squares in all colors of the rainbow.

I went on youtube and my first attempt was a red dress. It caught my eye, and I fancied wearing it, and so I made it with my little square of red paper. It was beautiful. Emboldened by my success, I moved on to create a little pink heart that held within it a secret compartment for scribbling messages of love.

Creating something is a wonderful feeling. In those moments that I was folding paper, I was in the present; my attention focused on understanding and executing the instructions of the folds just right. I happily showed off my creations to the husband who remarked that whatever else I did, or did not do, I was always up to doing something, which I took as a compliment.

A few days later I thought of making something else. As I combed through the list of youtube videos, I came across one on making the sun. The sun has always had a special place in my heart. Yellow cheers me like no other color. The warmth of the sun as I lie on the grass in the park near my house bakes me till I feel like I’m happy and content, fresh out of the oven, sleepy but happy to be alive in this world. And so I set out to fold, one at a time. It was a complicated origami, or maybe I lost attention, or maybe both, but I was stuck, and after many minutes of folding I had to give up and call it a day.

My showing off the red dress and the little heart to my family on whatsapp meant my sister knew my latest fancy. She sent me a video on how to fold a lotus, a thing of beauty that grows even with muck around. I tried creating a lotus, one fold at a time. I didn’t have the level of mastery required, and so once again, I gave up.

Try something else, I thought to myself, and found myself trying to fold a blue square  into a baby elephant at one o’clock at night. I followed through till the end, and this time, I had something. I asked my husband in the morning what it was, and he surprised me by calling it an elephant. That’s probably the reason I married him – he surprises me in wonderful ways.

They are all my creative babies: my perfect red dress, my shy pink heart, my sun that was not to be, my lotus that couldn’t grow that day, and crumpled little baby elephant. I love them all.

I learned something from all of them, about success, failure, love, striving, and play. I learned that I should play, and pay attention. I learned that all my attempts will not be successful (and that’s ok). I learned that I love my baby elephant even (or maybe, especially?) because it is confused sometimes for a rhinoceros, and sometimes, simply for a ball of crumpled paper. I learned that if I pay attention and focus, I can create beautiful things. And my corollary, if I choose not to gainfully use my creative energies, I can create worries and fears by watering them till they grow beyond my power of control. I learn that the whole day passed, but it is this midnight hour when I am alone, and building, and creating that my heart starts to unwind and starts to sing, ever so softly.

red dress

pink heart

sunlotus

blue elephant

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Too much in your head?

Listen_to_your_body_it_s_smarter_than_you_-_LoveSurfIf you’re living too much in your head, and not enough in your body, you’re likely an unlived life. Here’s some advice from Tara Brach from her book True Refuge on how to plant ourselves firmly in the universe, instead of living uprooted, with our roots up in the air.

In the early part of the last century, D.H.Lawrence found himself in a society devastated by war, a landscape despoiled by industrialism, and a culture suffering from a radical disconnect between the mind and body. Published in 1931, Lawrence’s words from “A Propos if Lady Chatterly’s Lover have lost none of their urgency.

“It is a question, practically of relationship. We must get into relation, vivid and nourishing relation to the cosmos and the universe…For the truth is, we are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs, we are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal, sources which flow eternally in the universe. Vitally, the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree, with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe.”

When we disconnect from the body, we are pulling away from the energetic expression of out being that connects us with all of life. By imagining a great tree uprooted from the earth, we can sense the unnaturalness, violence, and suffering, of this severed belonging. The experience of being uprooted is a kind of dying. Jane felt it as an “inner deadness” and described herself as mechanically trying to keep herself going day after day. Some people tell me about the despair of not really living, of skimming the surface. Others have a perpetual sense of threat lurking the corner. And many speak of being weighed down by a deep tiredness. It takes energy to continually run away from pain and tension, to pull away from the life of the present moment. Roots in the air, we lose access to the aliveness and love and beauty that nourish our deepest being. No false refuge can compensate for that loss.

..

Like the Buddha touching the ground, we reclaim our life and spirit by planting ourselves again in the universe. This begins when we connect with the truth of what is happening in our body. The mysterious field of aliveness we call the universe can only be experienced if we are in the contact with the felt sense of that aliveness in our own being. For Jane, the simple practice of feeling the life of her hands expanded to include the wounds of unlived life, and then opened her to the pure aliveness of her heart and body. By connecting with her inner life, by bringing presence to the truth of her immediate experience, she had begun to replant herself in the universe.

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Dancing with Creativity

brainSome artists and creatives fear losing their pain, believing that their pain fuels their creativity. Others on the path to rediscovering their creativity approach creativity as a suspicious object, with caution and with fear, afraid that their creativity will suck them into a whirlpool of unexamined packets of pain.

Both camps implicitly believe in the relationship between pain and creation.

I belong to the second camp. I hold my creativity at arm’s length. I want to bring it closer but I fear losing control. The left brain is a safe haven. Life is a maze that I have often navigated using instructions from the rational part of me. Living like this is safe and contained but it doesn’t always light up my soul. My right brain is moody and not in my control. It is playful and impulsive like a child. Whereas my left brain is black and white and grey, my right brain is Technicolor. To be honest, being creative and living creatively scares me a little bit. And so I wet my feet in the word of feelings and intuition before running to the safety of facts and logic.

But what if creativity doesn’t deserve the bad rep it has acquired? What if we are creative despite our pain, and not because of it?  What if we can be happy, healthy, and functional – and creative? This is what the wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert proposes in her ode to creative living called Big Magic.

I believe that our creativity grows like sidewalk weeds out of the cracks between our pathologies—not from the pathologies themselves. But so many people think it’s the other way round. For this reason, you will often meet artists who deliberately cling to their suffering, their addictions, their fears, their demons. They worry that it they ever let go of all that anguish, their very identities would vanish. Think of Rilke, who famously said, “If my devils are to leave me, I’m afraid my angels will take flight as well.”

Rilke was a glorious poet, and that line is elegantly rendered, but it’s also severely emotionally warped. Unfortunately, I’ve heard that line quoted countless times by creative people who were offering up an excuse as to why they don’t quit drinking, or why they won’t go see a therapist, or why they won’t consider treatment for their depression or anxiety, or why they won’t address their sexual misconduct or intimacy problems, or why they basically refuse to seek personal healing and growth in any manner whatsoever—because they don’t want to lose their suffering, which they have somehow conflated and confused with their creativity.

People have a strange trust in their devils, indeed.

It is easy to get this intellectually, but hard to let go of the mythology of the wounded artist. But we should at least try, as we pick up the pen or the paintbrush for a date with creativity, maybe at a café that plays some wonderful jazz with a dark hot chocolate, no sugar, before we put on our work clothes and game face for a day of creative problem-solving at work.

I may feel a little afraid of my creativity, but I know it heals me. It doesn’t pay the bills but it thaws my frozen heart as I axe some of the ice to pick a wisp of a memory from the years past to capture on the page, or just examine for a few moments before letting it go.

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Feeding my soul with Shel Silverstein’s works

Shel Silverstein intrigues me. His books, like the best children’s books, have a deep wisdom in them that makes me pause and wonder. The Giving Tree makes me aware of the dangers of selfless giving; The Missing Piece teaches me that no else else can be the missing piece in our soul, that only we are responsible for filling the void in us (with sunflowers, sunshine, sunsets, starry skies, some art, and maybe some wine?), and the book of poetry, Falling Up has little treasures that I absorb, such as the dangers of being too hard on yourself. Another Falling Up ditty “Mirror Mirror” I read recently teaches me the necessary limits of truth telling.

Queen: Mirror, mirror on the wall,

Who is the fairest of them all?

Mirror: Snow White, Snow White, Snow White—

I’ve told you a million times tonight.

Queen: Mirror, mirror on the wall,

What would happen if I let you fall?

You’d shatter to bits with a clang and a crash,

Your glass would be splintered—swept out with the trash,

Your frame would be bent, lying here on the floor—

Mirror: Hey…go ahead, ask me just once more.

Queen: Mirror, mirror on the wall,

Who is the fairest of them all?

Mirror: You—you—It’s true,

The fairest of all is you—you—you.

(Whew!)

mirror

This lesson will seem rather obvious to the pragmatists of the world, but for the more idealistic, this can be a source of strain. The writing on the wall is clear: self-protection trumps truth-telling. There’s plenty of time for truth-telling, but getting yourself out of harm’s way is the first step.

Did you enjoy this? Do sign up to receive updates to the blog.

Have an idealist in your life? They might enjoy reading this. 🙂

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WHY does the song, book, or movie strike a chord with you?

Navigating the labyrinth of our memories and scar tissue inside of us is hard. We may want to learn more about why we are the way we are, or why we feel the way we feel, but knowing ourself can be surprisingly hard.

I recently wrote about about how Gretchen Rubin suggests shining an indirect spotlight on what’s going on inside of us by seeing what we’re doing. Identifying external “tells” can be easier for those of us who may not be adept at sensing their feelings, or those who find their own feelings drowned by the feelings of those around them.

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves also suggest looking outward to develop a better understanding of your internal landscape:

If you’re having trouble looking within to spot your emotional patterns and tendencies, you can discover the same information by looking outside yourself at the movies, music, and books you identify with. When the lyrics or mood of a song resonate with you, they say a lot about how you feel, and when a character from a movie or a book sticks in your head, it’s probably because important aspects of his or her thoughts and feelings parallel your own. Taking a closer look in these moments can teach you a lot about yourself. It can also provide a great tool for explaining your feelings to other people.

Finding your emotions in the expressions of artists allows you to learn about yourself and discover feelings that are often hard to communicate. Sometimes you just can’t find the words to say what you are feeling until you see it in front of you. Listening to music, reading novels, watching films, and even looking at art can act as a gateway into your deepest emotions. Take a closer look the next time one of these mediums grabs your attention—you never know what you’ll find.

It’s strange for a 31 year old woman, but I find myself addicted to Let it Go from the movie Frozen. I listen to Idina Menzel’s strong and and powerful and vulnerable rendition of the song, and it seeps through my porous body into my soul.

Elsa speaks to me. Like I her, I am more accustomed to concealing or suppressing emotions instead of feeling them, of always being pleasant than allowing myself to be human, of being what I am expected to be. But like her, also creating things by plucking the emotions from my heart and drawing letters from them, my castle of words, strung together word by word. Like her, trying to let it go, trying to let go of things beyond my control.

elsaIt’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

Let it Go, Frozen

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Do you know what you’re feeling?

feelingsSometimes our inner self is confused, or lonely, or in disrepair. But it can be hard for us to recognize that in ourselves. Like my patron saint, the wise and wonderful Gretchen Rubin quotes: Surprisingly little clues are offered to us about who we are. For some of us, surprisingly little clues are offered into how we are feeling.

I’ve had this experience myself, when anxiety has crept into me, without my realizing till its too late. The same for sadness. Little by little the weight added up, till the burden felt too heavy to bear.

How do we recognize  – and act on – these feelings while they are still manage-able, before they have snowballed into something scarier?

Gretchen Rubin suggests shining an indirect spotlight on our feelings, which can be otherwise hard to put our finger on. While we may find it hard to recognize our squishy, shape-shifting feelings by looking inside, we can do a better job by identifying trends in how we behave when we are feeling a certain way.

For instance, when Gretchen is anxious, she reads kidlit. Gretchen’s sister’s voice shakes when she speaks when she’s anxious. The psychologist Harriet Lerner says she starts under-functioning on the practical, real-world skills, those that don’t come naturally to her.

I realize I go quiet when I’m anxious. I sit on the edge of the seat, instead of sinking in, like I belong. I worry about what I will say, instead of being present in the moment. When I’m sad, I can spend time lying in bed thinking, instead of getting up and starting the day. My purse and my fridge, like my head go messy. Externally, I create an environment that mimics my internal world. And so, to feel better, I start fixing my external world and as I do I find myself being repaired.

A wonderful affirmation from Louise Hay on this idea:

I make housework fun. I begin anywhere and move through the rooms with artistic flair. I toss out the garbage. I dust and polish those things I treasure. We all have a set of beliefs. And just like a comfortable, familiar reading chair, we keep sitting in these beliefs over and over again. Our beliefs create our experiences. Some of these beliefs create wonderful experiences. And some of them can become like an uncomfortable old chair that we don’t want to throw out. I know that I really can toss out old beliefs, and I can choose new ones that significantly improve the quality of my life. It’s like housecleaning. I need to clean my physical house periodically, otherwise it gets to a point where I really can’t live in it. I don’t have to be fanatical. I do need to be clean. Physically and mentally, I fill the rooms of my house with love.

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