Yesterday I was at Taekwondo practice with my firstborn.
When he asked me to join the group, after his first training, my heart dropped into my stomach. I thought of the legion of attentive parents, watching the lesson. Tentatively I said:
“Nobody else’s parents are joining in.”
“So what?” asked my son, guileless eyes wide.
So what? I thought about being systematically sought out, bullied for being ugly. Too ugly to live. I remembered moving my leaden body to the rhythm of shouts and taunts, drawing myself so far out of it in shame that I kept bumping it into things, this unwieldy mass of limbs. The pit of dread in my belly was wide and real. But looking into my son’s eyes, I could not tell him that the opinions of others was more important than my willingness to take the leap and try it out.
So I am a thirty-eight year old beginner in the Martial Arts.
“Perseverance means having patience. One of the most important secrets of becoming a leader in Taekwon-Do is to overcome every difficulty by perseverance. Confucius said, ‘One who is impatient in trivial matters can seldom achieve success in matters of great importance.'”
Our instructors are great about teaching us the same. Their steady, intent and straightforward feedback builds a structure that makes forward movement filled with ease, although this is one of the most difficult things I have ever tried to learn. So I just continue.
(And I need not have worried. There is absolutely no time to think about anything while training.)
What in your life needs your perseverance right now? That you just continue practising, leaving thoughts to move at their own pace.
The ones of you, my dear readers, who have followed this blog for a while know that in 2010 I decided to take on the tyranny of my own beliefs, internalized from well meaning parents, peers and art school. These were beliefs that in unending circles spouted out shoulds, musts and not good enoughs.
At this time my daughter was on her second year and I realized the return to work was imminent. Were I to ever have time to be a full time artist, it was time to start making some art – any art, no excuses.
The three guiding principles that allowed me to break free from my self-imposed prison of shame, self-doubt, creative blocks and resistance were:
1. Easy access to the act of creation.
2. Create something every day.
3. No need to plan, know or understand, just start playfully.
Four and a half years have passed. During these years I’ve created more than ever before. I’ve also been suffering less than ever before in my life.
But, coming back from Switzerland, about four weeks ago, it seemed I had to work at squeezing myself into the life that just a week ago had seemed wonderful. I felt like an ocean that tried to squeeze itself into the utensils drawer. So many tiny compartments. So little space for expansive processes and uninterrupted time.
Time for a change.
After a few weeks of uncomfortable fidgeting and some simple structural changes, an opportunity presented itself. A storage space, close by, reasonable rent. Easy peasy?
The vulnerability of a shining core
Again and again, I’m surprised, inside myself and in working with my clients, of the kind of strength and vulnerability core desires exude. This past week, I have gathered thought books, pastels, art works from every nook and cranny in our home, in the Engineer’s office, in the far reaches of closets, behind photographs, in the high kitchen cupboards. Tear inducing work. I have been trembling so my bones are shaking, in order to encompass the enormity of what I am allowing myself to do and become.
I never imagined I had created this much. The tendrils of my most protected and naked core dreams have reached all through our home, until they simply did not fit anymore. Time for the dream to move out from the cocoon of our home.
Flashback to eighteen years ago. I had finished High School, with excellent grades. I felt I had earned the right to make independent decisions and although I attended entrance exams at the University of Helsinki, mainly to please my father, I was seeking other options. When I found a school that combined an intensive year long visual art and writing class, I knew it was the right thing for me. The fact that they rented a room I could live in just made the whole thing better.
I applied for a job at a shopping mall, as a cashier, and got it. Having secured a place of study, a home of my own and a job to finance it all, I presented the plan to my father. He took one look at the curriculum, at the price and said:
“Marie, this is the worst mistake of your life. You will regret this.”
So I went and did it anyway.
Taking permission to do what makes life alive
Dreams do not make life easy.
They’re not supposed to.
In fact, the transformational work that is included in any dream from the core will probably bring up everything we are hiding from ourselves to the surface.
Dreams do not [necessarily] bring in millions, or even enough to pay the rent at first.
There are no guarantees. Hard times may be ahead. This is not for wimps.
Proceed only with awareness, gentleness and support.
This is why rational minded people try their best to steer us away from dreaming in the first place. My beloved Dad was absolutely. Completely. Right.
Not when he said I would regret my decision to pursue art.
Just definitely when he said I was choosing a spiralling, backward, hard path, when I could have just driven on the highway [to a well paying job]. He was being the stern parent out of love and concern for me. He could not see into my soul. He did not see the reality of impending death that was driving me. Every road that lead toward deadening myself was too expensive to contemplate.
No money in this world can buy aliveness. The aliveness of a bungee jump lasts for a few seconds, jumping with a parachute, it lasts a little longer. But the skin caressing, soul squeezing, heart pumping aliveness that comes from bringing alive a core dream expands with each step. You just may end up with a life worth living.
If you wouldn’t have to
plan or understand
your dream on a rational level, yet, which next step toward your dream beckons to you?
One day, when I was watching an overload of the Canadian Flashpoint series, that actually show a little bit of the underbelly of high pressure work, they played Courage, Come out and Play by Justin Hines, see video below.
I immediately wanted to draw my own image of the idea. I love the thought of courage coming out to play, because when you’re creating, fear is one thing you can count on. The deal is not to find a way not to be afraid of the unknown, of not having any money, of sucking at what you do, of not finding your audience, of becoming famous, of getting noticed for the wrong thing, of offending someone [I could go on all day]. Remember Georgia O’Keeffe for instance saying: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
Or Rainer Maria Rilke: “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
The challenge is in finding your own ways that allow courage to come out to play.
What works for you? Is it dancing freely in the living room, listening to music, taking a long bath, going bungee jumping, calling a friend, talking to yourself kindly? Or something completely different?
For me, today, it is tackling my writhing to do list, step by step and coloring my hair.
Have a fun day creating and playing with your courage. 🙂
While painting this picture, I was playing around with techniques from the lovely Corey Marie, I love her website! I also wanted to apologize to my subscribers, a plugin had accidentally gotten turned off and that is why you didn’t receive posts in your inbox. I’m sorry!
When I was around thirteen, I read Susan Jeffers’ book Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. The title appealed to me, because I was terrified of just about everything. I was terrified of getting up in the morning. I cried of fear before getting on the school bus, to confront another day of bullying and unhappy teachers. I was terrified of people, I feared being alone and I cringed at the thought of being alone with someone of the opposite sex.
This book was one of the many book friends I had at that time, that showed a happy life could be possible, despite the overwhelming challenges inside and out. What I remember best from this book are the words:
Are you feeling fear of failure, at times? Me too. Are you looking at your vision, stunned at your own outrageousness, wondering how you’ll measure up? Me too! Do you forget to trust the moment and just breathe until you feel your core again? Me, too.
We’re never alone. There is always someone somewhere who can relate, understand, connect.
Deep frozen pizza for dinner
and deep frozen shameful longings
in my dreams
as long as I keep my expressivness secret,
the shame doesn’t thaw
I can keep walking in the mists
of my own mysteries,
never coming alive fully
never risking feeling everything I am.
And it is quite a journey. Whoa! So, the next painting was a very different drawing when I started this morning’s work. As I listened to Bon Jovi [again] and painted, ever so often I had to get up and dance. The Engineer sat safely in the kitchen, working through his flu and I was painting in the living room, dancing like mad to keep the shame from paralysing my body. So what you see is as much a “dancing” as a painting.
The shame kept wanting to grow in the painting, so I let it grow into its true form. At some point, though, Fant (the elephant) decided that T. (the tiger) had been alone in the hot spot long enough, so he jumped into the fray to hold his friend’s hand. I am reminded and want to gently remind you, to choose a safe place for anything concerning shame – painting it, expressing it, exploring it, feeling it, sharing it. You’re not alone.
If you want to purchase this as a print, click here.
Shame and art
Shame is s physical emotion. Do you recognize the hot flashes, the blushing, the looking down, the foggy thoughts, the paralysis, the curling into a fetus position, the fountain of sweat, aching tummy, headaches, breath taking anxiety, hot flash of anger? I do.
The two years after I graduated from art school where a walk of shame. I longed to make art, it was almost a physical yearning. Yet every time I grabbed a brush, a pastel or a pencil, self-hatred started gushing.
There was no escaping it. I had a tape of particularly hurtful critiques and comments that I had collected, that started playing in my head, LOUDLY. It seemed that the very act of making art triggered shame, hatred, anger and it was all directed at myself.
For the longest time I blamed art school and the art world. Yeah, like until five minutes ago. Ugh. :/
But I’m realizing now that the fact that my deepest shame and deepest joy were bound together is nobody’s fault. Not even mine.
When my son was three and a half years and my daugher was one and a half years old, I had a moment of panic. Returning to work kept coming nearer and I knew how the demands of generating money could suck all the time from art making, especially if the art maker was crippled by creative self-hatred.
One day I put down a paper on the floor. Armed with colors, brushes, stickers and my little daughter, I started painting together with my little fire cracker. Safe to say, I was so busy with the raging fire of impulses from my baby daughter, I had no time to hate myself or what I was doing.
After this painting, I still felt the yearning to paint. Love yourself. That was the need I kept hearing inside of me. In order to be able to create, I had to start loving myself and creating from where I was. The following week, when my children were napping, I sat down and fervently asked my inner world to help me combine my inner power and ability to love. Stroke by trembling stroke, I painted this painting.
Brené Brown, who researches shame and vulnerability, talks about shame resilience. Because we all have shame triggers and experience shame, the important thing is not to avoid it, but learn to know those triggers and develop shame resilience. Here is what is included in shame resilience.
1. We recognize when we are feeling shame.
2. We recognize our cultural and social expectations and how we react to shame.
3. We make meaningful and empatethic connections to others.
4. We share it with the right people. Shame cannot survive when we encounter it with empathy and compassion.
Today I invite you to bring your shame into this Compassionate Tea Party and share something, it may be just a symbol for the thing you are thinking about. There is tea, sympathy and compassion here for all of our shame.
How can you let yourself gently move through your feelings today?