Monday, in Taekwondo training, my considerate instructor said it was time to test me for the yellow belt. The others had done the test before Christmas, when I was lying in bed with fever.
All my inner walls slammed up. I wanted to flat out refuse. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run away.
Instead I disconnected my brain and just waited for the test to start. I wish I could tell you that I aced it. Did not. I was pretty bad. But I did it. Tomorrow I get my belt.
What I learned during the lesson was that when I’m afraid, I tense my shoulders into a knot. I try to push myself into succeeding. It doesn’t work that way. Instead I prevent my body from doing what it knows how to do.
I went walking and running on ice yesterday. My intention was to explore how fear moves in my body. Just spend some time with it, experiment. I found a nice spot, a dirt road covered by bumpy, wet and slippery ice. Yellow sneakers, trembly knees, strong breaths out. Despite my mind’s screeching, fantasies of a broken nose and panic, my body knew what to do.
Relaxed, yet alert, my body, supported by my conscious breath, walked pretty normally. My feet kept slipping and sliding and correcting the balance with the appropriate movements. My shoulders kept trembling and numbing with the force of fear running like electricity through my muscles. But it was just sensation. An experience.
My taekwondo instructors keep telling me that the fear is normal, the bumbling around is something everyone does and the answers are inside.
I take their words to heart and bring them with me into the studio. Here I throw everything into the inner fire.
And paint for my life.
What are you afraid of? What would help you stay relaxed and alert in the midst of feeling your fear?
More and more, I am becoming a fan of our shared humanity. The unpredictability of it all. The shadows behind every facade of perfection. The embarrassing truth.
In the beginning of August 2014, I was the recipient of a windfall. An opportunity to make art for a year. This was the first time since art school in 2003, that I have had a chance like this, to delve into art making with some real time. In my own art space, to boot.
Expectations soared, of course. After all, isn’t it the epitome of happiness, to be able to make art, almost full time? (I can hear the universe giggling in the background, while writing this.)
The work of an artist
What I had conveniently forgotten, of course, is the true work of an artist. To feel everything, experience all nuances of what is happening, to knock on inner doors or knock them down and drink deeply of the cup of life. Then, make art about it.
So, instead of feeling happy, suitably grateful, productive and inspired, I found myself resistant, edgy and defensive much more of the time than I thought proper.
All of my ideals of making art, all of the uplifted expectations of the artist’s life crashed head on with the raw loneliness of the studio, the reality of putting paint on canvas in a suffering world. To make art, instead of having a “real job”. There is a reason why we avoid empty space and big reaches of time. It all opens up the door to the question: Why am I here? Does anything I do matter? At all?
I asked myself repeatedly: If I feel like this while making art, what’s the point?
Vision rubbing against reality
What I’m coming to realize – excruciatingly slowly, again and again – is that there is no “there”. No perfection, no people who always succeed, no teachers who always walk their talk, no impeccable work communities, nothing finished. It makes me gag with disappointment, because the mixture of light and dark is so heady, hard to comprehend. But there is some relief, as well. Nothing has gone wrong. I can stay in this discomfort, aware of the temptation to seek solid ground and just hang out with the raw and tender moment.
This blog should have been written on Saturday, instead it incubated until today, Monday.
As an empath, I experience my feelings as both a blessing and a curse. The blast of them, while leading to great aliveness, is at times of imbalance, just way too much. Learning to discern which are mine and which aren’t, helps immensely.
I’m suspecting I’m not alone in saying that life has been full of changes lately. On Thursday, it was time to just rest, which I continued through the weekend. Today, Eren’s comment on my blog gave me the idea to write down self-love ideas that help me with self-care during these times of rapid change.
What does self-love in action mean to you, in the midst of your changing life?
To celebrate that, I am publishing my first piece of empath exploration, although it feels very vulnerable. I will publish one illustration of my empath experience, every Saturday, while they last.
The first ten watercolors in the series are painted while I was studying with Caroline van Kimmenade in her excellent program From Suffering Sponge to Sensitive Savant. She has also graciously allowed me to use the phrase “Untrained Empath”, which in my opinion summarizes the overwhelming experience of being one and the potential we can embody once we learn to understand our gift. Having said that, I want to add that there is no affiliate program involved, I only mention this program because I liked it.
I notice words elude me now, this is very much still a work in progress. But feel free to share what the images evoke and awaken in you, if you feel like it. <3
I was out meeting my accountant today. Things are moving in my company and we were crunching the numbers to see how everything adds up. My book keeper is gentle as a doe, yet I walked away from my encounter both weary and overwhelmed. The urge to make art, create, move hearts and energy, transform creative blocks with freedom and exuberance seems to mix poorly with numbers.
Somewhat later, I talked to a friend. She asked me:
“What would you and your family look like, if you hadn’t been making art all of these years”?
This image immediately popped to mind. My parallel future self, without the presence of transformative art making, would be an obese therapist, listening to everyone else instead of creating herself.
Images of my husband working full time at some nameless company (because when you don’t have time for your art, giving it to someone else becomes verrrry hard), imbalances in my relationships with the kids, all the shopping I would do to make up for the lack of direct creativity flashed through my mind. Then I remembered.
Some years ago I was studying expressive art therapy. During those studies we were required to engage in therapy of our own. At one moment there, painting a sky big and blue, talking to the therapist, I had the clearest flash of insight; studying expressive art therapy was the perfect compromise for the little girl caught in between mommy’s and daddy’s wishes for me. An academic degree (Dad) that incorporated the arts (Mom).
That moment and insight was a crossroad. I left my therapy studies (for the second time) and went on to pursue art making, for real.
That choice. Making art every day. Has transformed my life experience.
I’ve learned to stand and contain chaos, to let completely opposite feelings or concepts play with each other in the same space. Art has taught me to start where I am and say yes to whatever is born. Creating every day has taught me to trust the void of not knowing, lean into beliefs of uselessness and open up to uncertainty.
Without art my life would be more rational and controlled. And less alive.
If you would create something, just for you, today. What would it be? [mental note: the more useless, the better. You do not need to justify creating.]
June was chock-full of client work with interesting, dedicated people who threw themselves into making art and learning about their creativity. Now I’ve been winding down to holiday mode, spending time in summerland with my children. Time is starting to loose its meaning and I have difficulty remembering what day it is. Lovely!
On a more personal note, I have been exploring what it means to be an empath. This year, I’ve been working with Molly Gordon and Caroline van Kimmenade, both of whom I can heartily recommend. It all started out with the intention of checking out what is going on with the profitability in my company, my sense of having one foot on the break and the other on the gas and the recurring phenomenon of ending up either broke or exhausted.
With Molly, I have learned to instantly access my core, my deep trust in the goodness of life. I am now able to look out into the world and feel supported. No matter what is going on, I KNOW it is all alright. Nothing has gone wrong, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
The program “From Suffering Sponge to Sensitive Savant”, that I’m enrolled in with Caroline is a bit different than traditional coaching. This is pure training for an empath. I’ve learned to understand my ability of being able to viscerally feel what others are feeling, discern what is mine and what isn’t and what to do with inner phenomena that originate from someone else.
So far, I feel like someone has given me an encryption key to my life experience. Everything makes so much sense now. So, I’m vacillating between accepting where I am and making small changes in my everyday life.
The changes I’m noticing this far are:
– It’s easier for me to make art, take&make time for making art and hear what I need [as opposed to taking care of everyone else and ending up resentful and exhausted.]
– Although I am still super-sensitive and aware of emotional fluctuations, I am able to discern what is mine, what isn’t and I know what to do in both cases.
– I now KNOW, beyond all doubt that I was never broken.
– The exuberance, joy and lightness that I remember from my childhood grows stronger every day.
– Being with my own intense kids is so much easier, because my inner clarity is now a stable flow. I can maintain the loving kindness that they thrive in.
The challenges I’m aware of are:
– It’s a LOT of work. I get immobilized with an influx of emotional static and it takes a whole lot of sifting, sorting through, writing, jogging and breathing to organize all the sense-material coming in [but it is infinitely better than it used to be].
– It’s lonely. I used to morph out to meet people, like an emotional Barbapapa, always finding the facet of my own experience that fit what my empath senses were telling me was appropriate. Now, I’m getting used to a whole new way of communicating and just being me. Scary!
– I’m way off my comfort zone, practising something completely new and not doing it particularly well.
But you know what? It’s so worth it. Because for the first time in my life, I can genuinely say that I am starting to feel this affectionate regard for myself. Not awash with the feelings of others anymore, I can differentiate who I am and I like what I see. There is a sense of inner logic to my past, I can see how things have led up to this point.
I’mwishing you a sunkissed summertime, with lots of goodness and gentleness.