The Artist’s Practice

Can I get real ?  Overwhelm really sucks, doesn’t it?

Wouldn’t it be nice if Overwhelm was like a one shot deal where you experience it, and then it never returns?

Because when Overwhelm sets in, everything pretty much STOPS.

That feeling of joy in your process? STOPS
Creative Flow? STOPS
Inspiration? STOPS
Receiving the reward you desire? STOPS

Your whole head swells in mass confusion to a point where the ONLY type of input seems to be solitaire on your smart phone or binge watching the latest Netflix original.

And in the aftermath, you hear that voice in your head saying,
You did it again…
You’ll never succeed
No one wants your Art anyway
You can’t handle the spotlight

And there we are right up against a HUGE wall with flashing lights saying,
YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH

And how does this feel?
Is this helpful?
How is this working for you?

As my Zen teacher said to me,
Overwhelm is a kind of insanity.

So, how do we get sane and get off the crazy merry-go-round?

 

I’ll share with you, I have been feeling Overwhelm very deeply lately.

In the past four weeks, I’ve moved out of my apartment, moved out of the city where I’ve lived for over 19 years, set up a home, gotten engaged, and went through buying a car for the first time in my life.

Just a FEW life changes at once!

To say I needed some quiet time is a massive understatement.

Why? Because I could feel myself shutting down……..

So, I spent last weekend completely unplugged at a retreat on Manifesting Compassion at Zen Mountain Monastery.

When my teacher looked at me and a whole room and said,
Overwhelm is a kind of insanity

I felt it.
Intimately.

I thought of all I had on my plate, all that was important to me right now,
My relationship with my man
My clients
My tribe
My new home
Planning my wedding
Starting to try for a family
Learning how to be a car owner and take care of it
My health
Yoga and dance
Finding a new network of friends in NJ

SO much…..have you ever looked at all that is on your plate and wanted to go running for the hills?
So, what’s the answer?
What do we do when it’s all there and ALL important?

Sitting there intently listening to my teacher, he summed it up beautifully,
Let things stand in their place, one step at a time.

Practice the ground you’re walking on.

I frantically wrote these words down in my journal, my pen moving as fast as it could to fill the page.

What did this mean for me?

 

After the teaching session, we had dinner and an hour of silence.  My fiance was helping out in the kitchen, so I decided to go for a walk outside.

There was a light snow on the ground, and a path of stone steps leading up into the trees.I felt restless, and started to climb.  When I reached the top of the path, I felt torn.  I wanted to sit down, but didn’t see a place, so I descended again to a bench at the foot of the path.

I felt like a world was swirling inside me…dark and unknown.
I stared at the rising mountain in front of me, and watched birds land in the trees, their evening calls floating across the grounds.

And I checked in, asking
What am I feeling?

And what arose was,
I feel detached.

Instantly, I felt relief.
I felt something loosen.  The overwhelm started to lessen.

I heard my teacher’s voice saying,
Suffering can only arise in the GAP.  Get inside it.  Let things stand in their place, one step at a time. Practice the ground you are walking on.

I had detached in the overwhelm because I didn’t know how to move forward. I had stopped.

I’ve been given everything I asked for; an incredible man, a home, a car…..but what was not fitting was ME. It was my overwhelm, my frustration. In truth, it was me actually LIVING it.

It was hearing everyone’s congratulations and feeling ashamed at my overwhelm.  Why wasn’t I happy and at ease??

There was NO way I could know WHAT I would feel at this point in my life with all these changes UNTIL I was IN it.

Practice the ground you are walking on.

The answer lies in where you are now.
The ground you are on NOW, not before.

The former me, the single New Yorker isn’t helpful here. I’m changing, and the WAY I move forward, and end the Overwhelm is to practice where I am NOW:

Practice being engaged
Practice being a new homeowner
Practice being a car owner
Practice being a NJ resident

Not from OUTSIDE, but INSIDE, in the now.

One step at a time, with each standing in its place.

I was detaching because I was trying to approach these changes from who I WAS.
What I forgot is that change is constant, and who I was yesterday is not who I am today. I am becoming with every new experience.

And I can take a moment, take a breath now, and relax the perfectionist that wants everything neat and tidy. I can just practice…that’s ALL. Just practice…..what a relief.

And this is where Compassion comes in.

Because we are all human. We all do this.  Welcome to the party!

Compassion is your answer to Overwhelm.
There’s a reason you are shutting down.  Most likely you are trying to do way too many things at once, and you probably believe it all has to be perfect.  It all has to look a certain way.

But as you grow, as you receive acclaim, you are changing.  You won’t know what it’s like until you get there. ALLOW for this.

Practice the ground you are walking on.

Because this is where you create.
Not yesterday.
Not tomorrow.

Here.

 

So, check in.
What are you feeling?
What are you detaching from?

And let each thing stand in it’s place, ONE step at a time.
Release the perfection and what you felt it was supposed to look like. Come back to a beginner’s mind. All you have to do is practice.

Allow for the miracle, and watch your Art soar.

Stop the Scream

The Scream.

I walk through the open doorway, from the hot bursting sun, into a small room.  The cool air from the air conditioning is a welcome change from the mid 90’s sticky heat, and I feel my breath come more easily.

Then I see it.

To my right, the familiar image takes up the entire wall. This recreation is even 3D and sticks out in all directions, begging me to feel every emotion.

Shock
Pain
Surprise
Horror

And then I turn around and within an instant, the Scream fades away as I stand in front of another piece of art, one I’ve never seen before. A face, looking at me….no THROUGH me, as if to say,

Take a breath.
You are ok.

The tension washes free, as I smile in a deeper knowing. I walk back out into the sunshine, and look back at the sign above the entrance, reading:

The Chamber of Internal Dialogue.

That seems about right.

 

What is your inner dialogue?

What do you tell yourself in your Creative Process?
Do you find yourself wanting to just Scream?

And when the voices get so loud you can only clamp your hands over your ears, do you just stop or persevere?

Many times, the voices in our head are our own worst enemy, especially if they are constantly holding you back and saying,

Nobody cares about your Art
This isn’t good enough to show
No one will pay for your work
You’re a fraud, not a real Artist

That’s enough to make ANYONE scream!  And ultimately, cause you to stop doing what you love, or just find yourself starting a LOT of projects but never complete.

Sound familiar?

Thankfully, there is an answer. And it’s something you can access at any time, at any moment, and never leaves you.  It’s with you right now, as you are reading this.

 

Last weekend, I experienced the magic of Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ.

“Grounds For Sculpture is a 42-acre sculpture park, museum, and arboretum founded on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds. Opened to the public in 1992, it has rapidly become one of the premier cultural destinations in New Jersey, welcoming and enchanting nearly 2.1 million visitors since then. Founded by artist and philanthropist Seward Johnson, the nonprofit Grounds For Sculpture presents and conserves an exceptional collection of contemporary sculpture, offers outstanding programming for all ages, and provides seasonally rotating exhibitions in six indoor galleries.”

I was like a kid on the most amazing playground, taking in each artwork, posing for fun pictures, and loving the variety and scope.  I was in heaven.

My curiosity was especially peaked when I saw a small white hut with a huge recreation of The Scream on the outside wall. But it was the title of the work that really brought me through the open door, The Chamber of Internal Dialogue.

Inside the Scream rose on the right, and I found myself remembering so many moments I wanted to just open my mouth and cry out.

Being cut from a Broadway audition
Falling in dance class
Forgetting my lines in a performance

And then, in 2013,

Losing my home
Going through a divorce
Getting in two car accidents in one day…..

In those moments, I felt like I was failing, and the voices in my head felt like they were pulling me even further down.  I wanted to curl up in a ball and just yell to the world,

STOP!!

But, the thing that had been missing in my life, came into clear focus in 2013.  In the past, I would have just Screamed, thrown my anger and spiraled even more in blame…but now, I had access to what would turn my whole life and Art around.

My breath.

For the first time in my life, I had tools around grounding, around how to come within in the face of disappointment and pain.  And the vehicle for that was always there….it was my breath.

Take a moment, and check in. We can so easily rush through our day and forget this simple tool.  When we get upset, anxiety rises and our breathing becomes shallow.  Then our heart rate raises, and everything goes straight up into our heads.

We are trying to THINK our way out of our experience, and this just creates more anxiety and frustration.  The answer and antidote to this elevated state is to take a moment to ground back in.

How do you do that?

By connecting to your breath.

Close your eyes, place your hand on your belly, and place your attention on your breath.  Allow your belly to soften and fill your hand with your inhale.  Count to ten.

With each breath, allow the space between your breaths to lengthen.

By doing this, you are dropping from your thinking mind which has high-jacked your sense of safety, and come back home.  Home to who you are, not what is happening to you.

Yes, we will all have challenges in our Creative Lives, but the real spiral comes when we identify with the challenge, instead of creating some perspective.

You are not your challenges.

The biggest gift your breath gives you?
SPACE.

It’s in the space, you can take a moment and actually question whether that inner dialogue is true.  In most cases, it’s really just your fear talking.

And when we can ground back down, the urge to Scream leaves us, we remember who we are, and can get back to the work we WANT to be doing, living through our passion, and creating Art that has an impact.

So, place your hand on your belly, close your eyes, and breathe……

How do you feel now? 

 

Having a daily practice to connect with my breath allowed me to move through the worst year of my life, transform my performance, and give me the courage to launch my own business.

And most importantly, it’s brought love back into my life.  You see, going to the Grounds for Sculpture wasn’t my idea…it was my partner’s, and sharing the day with him was a dream come true…..one that I have been looking forward to for four years.

 

Inside the Chamber of Inner Dialogue, on the opposite wall was a open and peaceful face, with fingers raised in a mudra. Like the Scream, it also was 3D, emerging forward and begging me to feel every emotion.

When I viewed this, I remembered my breath.
I remembered who I am.
And I stopped screaming…..

You can too, right now, and at any moment.