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.

Wild Grass

College Ballet

Right hand on the barre, I lift my leg into passé, placing my ribs over my hips, and sending energy down my supporting leg.

I fix my gaze in front of me, and exhale.

I gently bring my right arm to meet my left, forming a beautiful arc, a continuation of the shape.  Fingertips alive, they point towards one another as if to say,

“Me too”

And I balance.

My mentor, Spence Ford, is teaching the class, a Broadway veteran and former Fosse dancer.  She has watched me since college, guiding me along the way, encouraging my growth, and challenging my skills.  She taught me how to be a dance captain and infuse story into my choreography.

And I’m still learning today.

Walking to the barre, Spence asks us to consider what is going on in the balance.

Where is our body?  What are we focusing on?

“So much of our practice is letting go of what doesn’t serve us, allowing it to fall away, until all we are left with is our breath.  Yes, we stack our bones, and send energy through the shape, but what can we let go of?”

 

I’m sitting on my meditation cushion for an all day Zen retreat at the Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn.  Titled Wild Grass Zazenkei, the participants form a silent circle, our gaze lowered as we begin to count our breath.

Except my eyes want to close.

Within the Zen meditation tradition, you keep the eyes open, and today, even with a good night of sleep, I am fighting. I keep opening them back up, but I’m struggling.

Why am I shutting down?

Our teacher begins to recite a poem called Wild Grasses, and with each intonation, I feel myself coming undone.  Tears start to fall, and soon I’m weeping.  In closing, she invites us for one-on-one, face to face teaching with her.

Wiping my tears, I line up, my questions soaking my shirt.

I enter the small and private room, and sit across from my teacher, her large eyes open to receive.  We are sitting so close, and I grab my heart and choke out,

“I’m flowing like a river today, and lately my eyes want to close, especially when I am meditating with a group.  I’m frustrated.  I feel I have worked so hard to be aware of what is going on, and don’t want to return to the past.  It’s not that I want to fall asleep. I want to be awake. Why do my eyes want to shut?”

She looks at me with such warmth, and then calmly answers,

“Shut them.  You’re forcing it.  Allow, and see what arises.  You don’t want to lose yourself in the constant seeking outside.  Stay connected.”

I never expected this teaching.  I thought I was doing something wrong by letting them close. I never considered the alternative.

After talking it through fully, I bow in gratitude and return to my cushion in the main room, or Zendo, with the other retreat participants.  The desire to shut my eyes has evaporated with my tears.  I sit energized and come back to my breath.

Then it returns, the need to close my eyes, and I do. And what do I see? Behind my lids I see white flowers and loved ones.  I see joy and dancing. I am completely surprised.

Was this what I was turning away from?

I’m still learning.

Closing my eyes actually connected me back to myself.  I didn’t fall asleep, and it was easy to open them back up.  There was no struggle, I wanted to return.  I actually wasn’t leaving.  In giving myself this permission, I opened up.  This was the path to staying awake.

And I balanced.

Guided by my teachers……
Wild Grasses

Have you looked at the Wild Grasses?
Rising so high,
taking over the landscape,
undulating as the wind blows?

Have you looked at the Wild Grasses,
really seen them up close?

The sun shines down,
illuminating the stalk,
revealing little orbs dotting the skyward line,
a thin multitude of possibilities…..

What do you see?

Seeds

Seeds of hope
Seeds of anger
Seeds of despair
Seeds of inspiration
Seeds of, well….anything

Dance
Words
Music
Art
Pen to paper
Foot to floor
Dream to deed

Do we let this all be,
wild and moving in the wind?

Or do we chop them down, gather each stalk, and decide which can stay?
Do we hold them so tight, they snap in our grasp?

They grow,
constantly arising,
dripping with golden kernals.

Have you looked at the Wild Grasses?

Let go and allow.

What seeds will you plant today?

How will you balance?

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