The Magic of the Pause

Do you ever feel like there are just NOT enough hours in the day to get everything done?

So much is involved in being an Artist today, and it can feel overwhelming keeping up with social media, promotions, your friends and family, and then there’s the actual CREATION part…

You have this finite amount of time to
write the chapter
paint the canvas
choreograph the dance
plan out the show
edit your footage

So, what happens when you go to sit and actually DO your Art, and nothing comes?

Your mind is racing a million miles a minute going through a laundry list of To Do’s. You find yourself literally listing out groceries instead of being able to create.
Inspiration has gone OUT the window…

It can be so frustrating, right?

This is the FUN part!  This is the part we live for as Artists….so why does it dry up?

And more importantly, what can we do in that moment so we can actually create our best work and actually deliver to our audience?

How can we connect back with our Muse and feel that glorious flow again when we are so stressed OUT?

 

Last weekend I went to one of the most delicious and affirming workshops.  Led by master writing teacher, Christian McEwen, she led us in a one day retreat titled,
Learning to Pause.

In front of us, she offered a thick pad of drawing paper surrounded by colored pencils, pastels, and wax crayons.  One by one, we each tore a crisp sheet from the wire binder and were instructed to fold it in half.

On the left side, she wanted us to draw what a Frenzied State looked like to us.  Then on the right side, she wanted us to draw our state of flow and ease.

I had picked many colored pencils for the right side, but when I thought of the Frenzy, there was only one pencil that made sense…..
black.

The left side of my paper was colorless, marked by strong black circular shapes forming a huge exhausted eye, the lack of sleep and wrinkles in hard lines. I found myself drawing arrows pointing down, and black tear drops.  This was frenzy to me.  Black, colorless, heavy……a giant dragon eye drooping under the pressure.

Then, I picked up the colors and drew my place of inspiration.  Waves of water, rays of sunlight and energy, pulsing over smiling lips, and spirals in vibrant blues and purples.  Nature in all her glory, opening me.

I was struck by the stark contrast, and then Christian spoke about what happens in between.

Because this is the REAL question, right?

We all experience the tired black dragon, the darkness and hard lines in our life.  How do go from the frenzy to the flow?

The answer lies in the fold of the sheet we were drawing on, the crease we had formed from one to the next….

The answer is in the Pause.

It’s when we can stop all the insanity, and just connect back with the world around us.

Take a moment right now, and connect to your five senses.
What is the environment around you? Take in the details around you.
What do you smell right now?
Whirl your tongue around your teeth. What do you taste in your mouth?
What do you feel on your skin?
Close your eyes, and open your ears.  What sounds are around you?

And what happens in that moment when you place your attention on your single sense?

You come present.
The whirlwind in your mind takes a break.

And it’s in this break, this magical pause, that you re-set.

And in the re-set, the Muse comes in.

“Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste.  It’s what everything else isn’t.”
-Theodore Roethke

 

We can so easily forget how important a moment of pause is to our livelihood as an Artist.  This class was a huge reminder for me. I literally walked in 10 minutes late, breathless from booking as fast as I could to the workshop doors.  I felt self conscious, embarrassed, and frustrated.  This workshop was about Learning to Pause, and I was in a frenzy to get here!

Clearly I needed this……

Christian gave us 30 minutes to go outside on the Brooklyn street and noticed up to 8 things, writing a free form poem or short writing.

This felt like a huge gift.  I walked out, and found myself falling in love with so much on the street….a plastic cup, a worn out Toyota, a house sparrow chirping noisily in the tree….I realized inspiration was ALL around me.

And 8 poems emerged….in only 30  minutes.

Why?

I was taking the pause.  I was coming present.  There was no rush, AND I was open to take in my environment. All the other To Do’s fell away, and the Muse came in.  In fact, she had never left.  Now I was actually open to see her, walking alongside me on the concrete of Brooklyn.

J.K. Rowling conceived Harry Potter on a stalled train.  She was forced into a pause, and one of the most popular characters of our time was born.

And the beauty is, we all possess this ability.

And I want to be clear, this is not about disconnection or distraction. I’m not talking about binge watching or playing candy crush.

The pause is coming back to your actual experience NOW. It’s bringing your senses back on line; getting out of the monkey mind of your past and future fears, and actually taking IN your reality.

So what is that for you?
What is your moment of pause?

When you think of a sheet of paper with Frenzy on the left and flow on the right, what nourishes you?

Take out a piece of paper, and write these down.  Place them somewhere you can see them, and re-visit.  Place them by your instrument, or in your studio, or on an inspiration wall.

And now, give yourself permission to take a pause, today, and for this next week.

We need to return to the basics.

 

The Muse enters in when we take a pause.

So look up.
Smell.
Taste.
Touch.
Feel.

Your life is a miracle.

Take in the wonder around you…..then express what is most alive in you.

 

 

Photography by: Caitlin Cannon

Order Switch

NikiCity_020

Wait, there has to be a mistake….I didn’t hear my name called.

I stood catching my breath, after just nailing the dance combination and singing my heart out at the callbacks for the National Broadway Tour of A Chorus Line.

And this wasn’t the first time I had been in.  I had been called back for the Broadway production, and was invited in by casting for the Tour.

I had done everything the same.  I sang the same song, I knew the choreography forwards and backwards.  I wore the same outfit, and I had nailed the infamously hard pirouette sequence.

So, why was I cut?

I just gave the performance of my life.
Was it not enough?

As I watched other friends and peers stay for the next round, I found myself blinking back tears, lowering my eyes as they started to sting.

I didn’t want to be seen like this.

As quickly as I could, I made my way to the dressing room, and changed out of my sweaty leotard and tights, and around me other dancers who were cut were voicing their disbelief and denial,

Why did I even come today?
I totally messed up the dance!
They weren’t even looking at me.
The show must already be cast.
Well, back to the day job.

And as I stuffed my leotard and feelings into my backpack, so many emotions rose in my throat, choking me off.  I was both angry and deeply confused.

I had thought for sure after being in callbacks for Broadway, I would book the Tour.

I was wrong, and I never did the show, and casting actually never called me back in.  I went from being seriously considered to no longer considered.

Just like that.

 

It’s Maddening, isn’t it?

You spend hours, days, weeks, years on your Creative Process and building your craft.  You put your heart and soul into your work and then you stand up, put it out there for your audience, and say,

HERE I AM!

You are giving your all, full of energy, hands open, eyes open, just waiting for approval, waiting for validation.

And what do you hear?

Next!
Nope!

Or even worse….crickets.

It feels completely unfair, doesn’t it?
It feels completely unbalanced.

You are giving so much.  Why isn’t it being returned?

 

Integrative Therapist and Coach Tom Tynan breaks down the world into two types:

The Givers and the Takers.

It’s pretty much exactly as you would imagine, the Givers always give first in order to receive, and the Takers take first in order to give.

So, what commonly happens?

Well, the Givers become exhausted.  They go through endless roller coasters of feeling good when they give, and then burning out when they are not recharged.  Basically, they give until they are empty.

Sound familiar?
What category would you put yourself in?

How many times have you given endlessly with your Creative work and saw no return?
Do you then feel motivated to try again?

So, what’s the answer in this cycle, since as Creatives, we so desperately want to give?

What do we do in that moment of crying out,
PICK ME PICK ME!

We need to learn how to RECEIVE.

I recently asked a writer in my tribe what it means to “Receive as an Artist”, and he couldn’t answer.

Bingo.

I know I never had an acting, dance or singing teacher give me tools or any teaching around receiving. In truth, it was a completely foreign word in my performance career. I kept viewing it all through what I had to give.

And even more so, we need to reverse the process so we don’t burn out as Artists, which means we need to Receive FIRST, and then GIVE.

So, what does this mean for you and your process?

There are two elements here to consider,

1) Having the quiet space before we go into action and into our work to actually receive our creative inspiration
2) Being able to receive what we are actually given by our audience, whether they are people hiring us or taking in our art.  Our audience is directly tied to our livelihood as Artists.

For that former dancer who was so heartbroken and frustrated at the Chorus Line callback, I didn’t have any kind of daily practice to recharge. I was pretty much operating on two extremes,

On and Off
Highs and Lows

Now I start my day with meditation, have a daily gratitude practice, and go to yoga weekly. I now have a way to open to receive BEFORE the action, to calm my monkey mind, a place of quiet.

And this may be different for you, but ask yourself, how do you recharge? And I don’t mean, distract. I’m not talking about binge watching Netflix or disappearing into social media for hours. This isn’t about escape, but about nourishing your Creative Being.

The powerful question is, how do you fill your Creative cup back up so you feel inspired?

Because the magic is, when we are able to recharge and fill our own cup, then we have the capacity to receive the rejection or being cut or experience the disappointment and use it as information.

Information instead of judgement.
Evidence to continue, instead of give up.

For whatever reason, the creative team behind A Chorus Line decided I wasn’t right for their show, and if I had these tools at that time, I could have taken a step back and known this was not a reflection on my ability.

But it was a reflection that I was burned out. And it was information to move on to the next opportunity and the next creative team who would value my talent.

We can so commonly get caught in the belief that we are not enough, that our work is not enough, but for all you givers out there, I have a gift instead:

Receive first, and then Give with your Creativity.

And ask yourself the simple question,
How AM I enough as an Artist?

Next time you find yourself caught in the frustration and feeling like no one cares,  make a list of how you are enough.  When you phrase the question this way, it can only be positive.

Because it’s from that place of knowing what you actually bring to the table, that your greatest work will occur.