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,

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.

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.



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.

Your Marker Map

I’m drowning in a pool…..and I can’t swim.

This is how it can feel sometimes, right?

We have so much on our plate as Creatives.  Not only producing our work, but the marketing, the pricing, the collaborations, and relationship building.  And then what about research and education….and having fun??

Didn’t you get into this field because you LOVE it?

So, you find yourself binge watching Gilmore Girls  on Netflix for a whole weekend and in the corner sits your:

Unfinished script or novel
Half painted canvas
Memory card that needs to be uploaded to your Hard Drive
Website ideas
Book full of songs to be learned

And while it may feel good at the outset when you watch the first episode, once it’s all over you are right back where you started and no closer to receiving the acclaim you desire with your Art.

The reason?


I get it!  We’ve all been there.  Just like my client, Nadine.

Nadine is forming this amazing Non for Profit aimed to empower teenage girls through art and dance.  However, in order to launch this project, she needs to line up funding, sponsors and donors.  And to do this, she needs to be able to lay out the program and also be able to speak about the program clearly and succinctly.

She came to our coaching call saying,

Nikol, I feel like I’m in a pool and all the things I need to think about are these little rings all around me….and I can’t swim!


I began by saying,

First of all, the water is warm, like bath water.  Secondly, you are now sitting very comfortably in a float, with a cooling drink.  Now, from HERE, what do you see?

I took Nadine out of a threatening situation and gave her a safe vantage point where she could actually LOOK at all the elements that were important to her.

What happened next was magical.

Not only did Nadine then clearly share all she was seeing, she was able to clearly lay out a full format for her program, and when I reflected it back to her, her eyes widened.

She actually had all she needed already….it was just obstructed by the Overwhelm.

When she got off the phone, she smiled widely at me and said,

Nikol, I’m out of the pool now and I know exactly what I need to do next.

And this all happened within 30 minutes.  Imagine making a shift that quickly.

What could that mean for your Art?
What could that mean for your Career?


So, in order to make the shift, let’s begin with what actually occurs in Overwhelm.

1) Things pile up in our life
2) We can’t see. Our sight becomes affected because ALL we see is the pile, and nothing else.  Our view narrows.
3) We believe the only answer is to shut down and stop all action
4) We then disconnect from the situation we believe is causing the Overwhelm
5) In disconnecting from the situation, we actually disconnect from ourselves and what is really going on underneath

And this cycle repeats again and again, and keeps us from achieving our Dreams.

So, what can you DO?

You can:
1) Get it out of your head.  When things are swirling constantly in our heads, you can feel like you are on a loop and going crazy.
2) Translate ALL that is around the issue that is giving you Overwhelm
3) Give your Overwhelm a Voice
4) Come into the Observer, releasing attachment to your current state and identification.

Have you ever heard yourself say,
I AM Overwhelmed?

When we make these kind of “I AM” statements, we are believing we are fixed and unchanging, and the situation is fixed and unchanging.  We have identified with our state.

But here’s the good news…..change is a constant.  Your emotions rise and fall, and your state changes throughout the day.  You are becoming and changing in every moment.

You may be experiencing Overwhelm, but it is only a piece of your experience and not the totality of who you are as a glorious Artist.

And as an Artist, guess what you have readily available to you?


So, let’s grab some markers and a blank sheet of paper.

Ready to play?

The way to shift your Overwhelm quickly is through a really fun tool called a Mind Map. And this is what I used with Nadine and with all my clients.

According to Wikipedia:
“A Mind Map is a diagram used to visually organize information.  A  mind map is hierarchical and shows relationships among pieces of the whole.  It is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words, and parts of words are added.  Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those.”

The Mind Map was first popularized by British popular psychology author and TV personality Tony Buzan, but has been traced back as far as the 3rd century by a noted thinker visualizing concepts of Aristotle.

Clearly it works.

Buzan brought this term to the general public with a series he hosted on the BBC TV back in the early 1970’s called Use Your Head, promoting the concept of a tree-like structure and “radial thinking”.

Buzan was really highlighting the concept of non-linear thinking.  Which, as Creatives and Artists, we can all relate to, right?

This is a gift of the Creative Process…..non-lineation.  So, why not use it to address our Overwhelm?

Why not Use Your Head to free up the resistance that is stopping you? And do it in a fun and Creative Way?

So, grab those markers, and that blank sheet of paper, and in the middle of the page, write down that thing that overwhelms you, or that project that you so deeply want to complete.

Try these guidelines:

1) Start in the center with your project or the cause of your overwhelm
2) Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map
3) Don’t edit, and let everything come out onto the paper
4) Develop your own personal style

This is a great opportunity.

It is actually WHERE we shut down that we have the opportunity to learn.  We’ve made something HUGE and it just needs to be broken down, into small manageable pieces, so we can actually SEE it.

The mind map is a visual tool that allows the swirl of your mind and the blindness that occurs to calm, and for you to actually gain understanding.  You will be able to lessen your anxiety and create one step moving forward.

Because, just like Nadine…you actually have ALL you need within.  You’ve just lost sight of it.

So, grab your markers.

What do you SEE?

Post your Answers and Mind Maps Below!