Do you have the courage to go looking for the magic in you?

breatheMany of us have been taught to be safe. The world is scary, unpredictable. Do the safe thing, for who knows, what might happen. And so we are safe. We don’t take risks. We don’t speak our truth. We skim life, instead of diving deep and getting engrossed in the juicy, messy business of living our life. We do the best in the situation we find ourselves in, instead of choosing to put ourselves in worlds where we want to be. Sooner, or later, we find that we  can’t hear ourselves anymore. There’s a deafening quiet where there should be an inner radar. And then, because we don’t want to feel like hiding our gifts and our voice and our  idiosyncrasies in the treasure chest that stays locked in our hearts anymore, we start…opening up. We begin, in the search for ourselves, and in search of the magic hidden inside of us.

I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us as human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels-that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

Elizabeth Gilbert

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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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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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Getting lost in the work

marcusRevel in the process, not in the results. A wise aspiration, so difficult to execute.

If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you were bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word that you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.     Marcus Aurelius

                 

Strange, weird problems

say wha

It seems like we all suffer from strange / weird problems. Today, I was speaking with someone who shared his problem with me: he remained calm and unperturbed in stressful situations. While the rest of the team scurried in the face of an impending audit at his office, he remained calm and unfrazzled. The problem? The head of the office found his behavior strange – it seemed he wasn’t as engaged as the others. This is not the first time I had heard of this – my husband suffers from the same cool cucumber syndrome.

Other strange problems I’ve spotted include:

  • finding it easy to yes, but hard to say no
  • being harder on yourself, but more understanding of others
  • easily advocating for others, but not being able to advocate for yourself
  • knowing how other feels, but being clueless about what you feel
  • being able to see a situation from so many perspectives, that your own is just one of them, instead of being the most important perspective

What are some strange problems that you grapple with? Would love to hear in the comments.

Did you enjoy this post? Follow the blog to come along my journey of learning to live better.

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Getting rid of the golf ball stuck in my throat

throat chakraSometimes it feels like a golf ball is stuck in my throat – the words I want to speak don’t come out. They go back down, sometimes lodging heavily in my heart, sometimes weighing heavily on my mind.

How do I open up my throat chakra, I ask my husband. Practice everyday, he said. He doesn’t know about much about chakras, but he knows me, and he knows the answers. The only way I can unblock my throat chakra is by practicing, starting to speak. Maybe a thin voice comes out, squeezing around the golf ball stuck in my throat; thin, like a singer’s voice on the decline, but I hope it grows stronger with practice.

We were on holiday recently when I rediscovered the beauty and restorative power of music: sufi songs; old hindi songs with a word or two in urdu, maybe, just maybe, the most lyrical language on the earth; new songs, some with personality, some with a sameness that blended into each other.

I sang along as we drove through the vast majestic mountains of stone and sand and multiple colors. At first, my voice was weak and limited to a narrow band from years of being forgotten, but as I sang, it grew stronger. Maybe it was the strength of the mountains seeping into me?

I feel compassion for my voice. It has been suppressed on occasion and so it is scared.  It takes some time to make it past the golf ball stuck inside, and when it does come out, it wavers, it is shaky. I send it out, shaking courageously into the world.

I draw on the first day of art class. It is my attempt at a self portrait and after drawing what looks like a sad woman, I scribble some crosses on the neck. The teacher knows when she sees my work, that I am showing her what is inside, telling her something about me, but she does not know exactly what. Do you have a thyroid problem, she asks – she has noticed the dark squiggles? No, that’s my throat chakra – it’s blocked.

I try and open it with sodalite and lapiz lazuli, and singing in the mountains, and saying I don’t like this, and I will not be treated this way.

The throat chakra is expression and expression is creativity. With my throat chakra blocked, I fear creating, I fear making mistakes. Maybe the golf ball stuck is perfectionism?

So, I give myself, little by little, permission to not be perfect. I give myself permission to write shitty first drafts and say rambling sentences which have a seed of an idea that may take root – or may not, and that’s ok too. I give myself the permission to wreck my journal, to squirt it with lemon juice, and stitch some pages together, to doodle all over it, including the edges, to rip out pages and lose them because loss is part of life, and part of creation. I give myself the permission to break an egg and squish it, shells and yolk and all, letting the shards dig into my hands to see if it really does unblock me as it is touted to do, and find that heart does feel lighter and the censor in my hands that keeps a finger on the backspace is a little bit more relaxed, like after a few glasses of wine.

My throat chakra opens slowly in the midnight hour as I sit on laptop and go clicket-y click. I type to know what I think, what I feel, and what I must do. I type to become.

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On the blog:
Oil pastel therapy and imaginary planets, far, far away
Smashed eggs and banana bread
Letting go of perfectionism and wrecking my journal

From blogosphere: 6 tips for clearing your throat chakra
A wonderful book on chakras: Eastern Body, Western Mind

Is your aspiration wise – or unwise?

I was reading Tara Brach’s “True Refuge – Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart,” in my midnight hour of quiet reading and drifting, when I came across this passage:

In the Buddhist teachings, the conscious recognition of our heart’s deepest longing is called wise aspiration. Yours might be for spiritual realization, for loving more fully, for knowing truth, for finding peace. Whatever its flavor, the awareness of what you care about energizes and guides your practice. As Zen master Suzuki Roshi taught, “The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.”

Do you remember the most important thing? Or is it buried, somewhere deep below the buildings and the rubble of false aspirations and achievements?