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?
I sat down in the hot spot today, feeling grumpy and aware of how much my throat is hurting. Artistic rejection has been on my mind a few days now, because I’m applying for a variety of grants and form filling awakens my fears, doubts and resistance like nothing else.
Recognizing my need for extra support, I’ve asked for the help of a few great friends, sent a text message to my mentor and drawn an imaginary waiting room outside of my studio area for all of my gremlings.
Handling rejection is a professional skill for artists of all kinds
As I’m just beginning to realize that handling rejection is an artistic skill, much the same as drawing or knowing how acrylic color works, I thought I would draw a bit on this.
Caprino: Some people seem to let rejection roll off their back. How do they do that?
Lerner: If you're an authentic , open-hearted person you won't be immune to the feelings of shame, inadequacy, depression, anxiety and anger that rejection can evoke. Rejection is a fast route back to childhood shame. It's not just that you went to a party and no one made an effort to talk to you. It's that you feel you're essentially boring and undesirable, and so it is and so it will always be. It takes a huge amount of maturity, and self-worth to not take rejection quite so personally, and understand that rejection often says more about the person who does the rejecting, than it does about you. I have yet to meet a person who enjoys being rejected. Of course, I have not met everybody.
Caprino: Any advice about lessening the pain of rejection?
Lerner: When we acknowledge that rejection isn't an indictment of our being, but an experience we must all face again and again if we put ourselves out there, rejection becomes easier to bear. You can also succeed by failing, meaning go out there and accumulate rejections whether it's asking someone for a date, making sales calls, trying to get an article published or approaching new people at a party. The only way to avoid rejection is to sit mute in a corner and take no risks.
Create a safe space for your vulnerability
Making art [no matter what your medium of expression is] always involves the risk of being vulnerable. Expressing inner wisdom, for no other reason than that it wants to be born is a tremulous process.
What helps me is to make my studio space safe, sacred, quiet, with lots of room to listen, feel and create.
Shipping your work as a way to gain momentum
Then there is the shipping part. That is where handling rejection comes in. That is where I aim to ship often and with a routine that helps me focus. This is where, with time, I hope rejection can become a driving force to clarifying my niche, always being able to describe it better and better.
So, four ideas that can help build the skill needed to handle rejection:
1. Make your art space safe.
2. Celebrate each minute, hour and day you have spent making art. <3 Every step forward is worth acknowledgment.
3. When you do things that awaken your fear of rejection, ask for help and support.
4. Ship, publish and share your work often. The feedback (and possible rejection) can often give you further clarity on who your niche is.
What steps taken on your art path can you celebrate today?
Sometimes life feels so scary, everything comes too close and it is hard to dare be who you are. At those moments, remember – You are not alone. We’re all challenged by the same fear – what will happen if I’m truly myself?
When we dare be vulnerable, despite being afraid, we find each other.
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. 🙂
I’m reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. While I pretty much hate the title, I have kept gulping down the book all day, despite having resisted the book for years. I actually bought it by accident, not quite getting Amazon’s one click check out for Kindle books. So I’ve been listening to Pressure by Ylvis, [yes, that kind of a day] all day, reading about resistance.
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
Steven Pressfield does a good job both revealing the face of resistance, that too often hides behind the lies we tell ourselves and normalizing it. It is simply a phenomenon that is internal to anything worth doing.
“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”
Don’t let resistance engulf your precious true work. Just sit down and start.
I was entertaining my doubts yesterday, listening to them ruminate about my abilities, talent and the horrible things that are probably going to happen in the near future. When I wasn’t listening to them, pouring more tea in their cups, I was berating myself for not thinking more positive.
But then in the afternoon, I went to see my art mentor. She is crystal clear and very stern. She was talking about how we live in a kind of societal mania today. Using power naps to enable super human days, trying to excel at all the different roles we play in our lives. I suddenly started to see my doubts in a different way. Despite all of their monotonous sermons, they are actually helping me focus on what I most need to do, and leave the rest.
We creatives are responsible for focusing our attention, choosing what is essential and managing our energy. It’s a big task and a skill that needs to be learned with time. Doubts can serve as the signal that asks: “Are you sure about this, how about this thing here?” When we don’t take the doubt personally [i.e. I’m bad] but listen to the signal behind it [Look here! Is this essential, or is it an unnecessary energy drain?] it can help us focus on what we love.
So, what are your doubts trying to bring your attention to, in their humdrum ways? What is the signal behind the brouhaha?
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.
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?
The best antidote against the paralyzing fear of the unknown is creative action in the present. Whatever the emotion, it cannot resist the movement of painting, baking, motorcycle maintenance or dancing yourself to exhaustion.