It's intriguing, what you can manifest in your life. When you identify deeply with an idea, a vision.... compulsion takes hold. There's nothing else to it, that's how stuff happens.Read More
This past year, I have been trying to answer the questions of creative identity. Who am I as an artist?
What’s important to me? Why? What do I stand for? What do I believe? Embody as an artist? What drives me?
I have to be honest and say, it’s laborious work achieving clarity about these things. I have found it hard to nail my colours to the mast. But I’m getting there.
I DO know what feels inauthentic though, so every time I pick up a touchstone that doesn't ‘feel’ right, I know. And I’ve picked up many.
Here’s what I’ve figured out so far, here’s where I do have clarity.
Being real about the human experience.
What does this even mean?
It means acknowledging the full spectrum of emotions we experience in response to life. It means being honest with yourself about how you experience yourself and others. Further, (for me) it means affording these experiences actual , healthy expression in order to live a more dynamic, authentic, empowering and rewarding emotional existence.
I know that when I say this, or try to explain it, it always comes out awkwardly. I just sound like a dictionary falling down the stairs. How can I say this in a simpler way?
It means having a hand in creating realities that enrich you, make you big instead of small.
Sigh… so hard to articulate. Are you getting me?
I’m in a distillation process of getting this idea across in simpler terms. Bear with me, I will.
Why is self expression important?
I have always been as close to my sadness / dark side / shadow, whatever you want to call it, as I have been to my light. I always thought this was a bad thing. It’s not.
You know what’s worse? Resistance. Selective entertaining of the emotional life.
Having no container for expressing that which you'd rather not experience, is like sailing a little boat in a big ocean. Fine on a calm day, but when the storm comes you’re kinda fucked aren't you?
Learning the art of self expression will take you on a journey in which you become the ocean. What a powerful thought that is.
There ya go… that’s what’s important to me. As an artist, thats what I stand for.
So, how'd I do?
Reflect and Resolve
As happens a woman with a history of depressive self loathing, at the end of days when she falls short of meeting her own expectations, 2014 draws to a close and she finds herself saying fare well to yester-day-year.
Reflecting on the lessons she’s grateful for, the growth she’s achieved, this woman is tantalised still by the divide between her current self and the self of her dreams, the one who exists ‘over there’. Dividing them, a river of doubt. Once again she finds herself resolving to stop pushing the boat out and blaming her defeat on the lack of a bridge.
Here you stand, in the early fog of this new year, daring to promise yourself that THIS YEAR I will brave the divide between the me who dreams and the me who is dreamed. You are not alone, I stand here with you. Standing here used to scare me, it kinda still does.
I know why new beginnings hold such weight for women like us.
It’s because we convince ourselves that new beginnings are the corners we turn, around which we’ll finally escape our demons. But every time we begin, we inevitably get ambushed by those old, decrepit, gnarling fears.
Outsourcing our power
I know I’m guilty of it, especially when it comes to casting out risk and responsibility to the future me, the one who lives in tomorrow, Monday, next week, next year, as if to say ‘there is no fear where she is, let her do it’. My heart sinks when I think of future me, it’s not fair. All I’ve been setting her up for is sickness, overwhelm and regret.
There’s a younger part of me who hoards powerlessness, it seems to be the only way she can feel safe. I think she believes future me will rescue us. Then there’s everyday, caught-in-the-middle me, walking on eggshells because I’m afraid of upsetting the little one, but why?
Because the little one is more experienced in her truth and when everyday me dares to set about challenging it or releasing the powerlessness, it triggers an inner conflict, a fight for control.
Inner Peace Mission
This is not easy to admit, because it's always been my dirty secret and I feel very vulnerable making it known but I’m telling you this because I know I’m not alone, because I think emotional honesty is important when it comes to struggles with self worth and because naming conflict takes some of the energy from it, freeing it up for the work of making peace. I want peace for my little one, for our little ones.
This powerless inner part, let's call her Jane (my middle name), is so easily torn down. Easily discouraged, dismissed, dismayed, demolished. She is easily diss’d. I used to really hate her for that, I judged her harshly, labelled her pathetic and weak, which just made her even more fragile.
To her, the belief of not being able is grounded in truth, absolute truth. When this truth gets triggered I feel her fear so intently that to distance myself from it is, at times, the best I can do.
I no longer hate my little one nor do I still identify completely with her, but in my inner world, she’s still living from that place of fear and is highly influential.
Fear of Flying
Jane is terrified of me flying my own plane. There I am launched, with magnificent wings and a bulging itinerary of ideas, she sits back in air traffic control, but due to her hyper vigilance, she soon sees nothing but danger. Without her confidence I can’t advance my mission and instead am left to linger in some sort of holding pattern before the inevitable crash and burn. What I end up with is that I feel like a shitty pilot, with yet another flop.
I know Jane has my best interests at heart but she serves me up an enormous burden of self doubt and frustration.
This year I want to move beyond the holding pattern, I want to give future me some fucking chance, she’s the one I’m going to become!
I’ve seen a lot of people in their new year writings, choosing a word to guide them through this new year, my guide word has yet to reveal itself, though I think belief is a strong contender.
Leveraging Lessons Learned
Until then, I turn to 2014 as my guide. It was the year of P.
It was the showing up, the identifying of the stepping stones that I consistently have failed to see, that they be enough, that the propelling of my being across the divide, one magnificent leap to ‘over there’ be not the only measure of progress or success. That I stop waiting on my future self to arrive and rescue me and to encourage my current self in building that bridge, so that they may meet half way. To make the effort every day and that my efforts, however small or large, are allowed be good enough. To do this with compassion, faith and care, step, by step, by step.
The goal is to become experienced, as a believer in me
I have personal goals, creative goals, professional and purpose goals, but they all hang in the balance of getting through to Jane, to convince her in letting me go.
Five years ago I couldn’t even believe in myself enough to get out of bed.
I didn’t believe there was life beyond the fog of depression.
I didn’t believe I could be loved.
But I did, there is and I am.
We can do this.
Have you overcome an inner Jane fear? How did you do it and what difference has it made in your life? Please share what you know!
Always, Amanda xxx
Have you ever listened to the lyrics of the Peter Gabriel song ‘Don’t give up’?
Such a heart wrenching depiction of a man at his wit’s end, bereft of his pride, his identity, lamenting the loss of his usefulness, his place in the world, belief in himself…‘I never thought I could fail’. It’s about a man adrift, amputated from his spiritual home.
I find this song so real to life and deeply moving.
It seems he’s struggling with expectations, an implied hand-me-down measure of success, ‘taught to fight, taught to win’ and he believes he has reached a point of ‘no fight left, or so it seems’. It’s a failure story.
First, you have to hear it
Do you have a failure story you tell yourself? I know I do. There was a time I was unaware of it, didn’t realise it was a story. I mistook it as a fact, a personal truth, a dirty secret. Everything I did was an attempt to conceal this truth from the world. I didn’t know it was a product of another burden, the fear of judgement, and that only with perfect behaviour, achieving perfect outcomes, could I have any sense of immunity.
News Flash… there is no immunity from Judgement!
I spent a huge portion of my life trying to avoid judgement. Ironically, in my quest, the unconscious strategies I employed invited lots of it… I attracted the very thing I was pre-occupied with. Isn't that funny (Eh, No!), but that’s what happens. Wherever your energy is invested, life also issues cheques from there.
If you’re invested in avoiding anger, be guaranteed your pay checks will be full of it. Same for disappointment, disapproval, conflict…whatever. These are the arenas of judgement, ruled by a panel of critics.
Retire the Peanut Gallery
The world is full of critics. Oh yes, chalk that down. The thing is, the critics aren’t just out there, in the world… the social phenomena of internalisation brings them much closer to home. That's how we get inner critics.
If enough people are mean to, or hard on you, even if it’s just one (but influential) person and it threatens your lovability, you learn to be mean to or hard on yourself. Same goes for disapproval, expectation, regard, neglect. In it’s simplest form, it’s a case of ‘Monkey see, Monkey do’.
So you pick up the cues, internalise the habit and critisize yourself relentlessly in the hope that this strategy will produce the ‘right’ behaviour to ensure the outcome of complete protection from judgement.
That’s how it worked when you were small right? Your behaviour was shaped to suit those in power. Your job was to avoid upsetting the adults. The unspoken instructions of ‘Be a good girl so I can be happy with you’, really meant ‘Don’t blow my cover child, I’m trying to appear in control here’.
Want a Plot Twist?
Break the pattern! You can’t expect or wait for the hander down of this pattern to change their position before you change yours. You can’t control that, so you have to do the work on what you can control.
As Jesus said ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do’. It’s the only way to release yourself from a story where you’ll always be wrong. You may design scenarios in your head where you argue your position, get to have the upper hand, correct the offending party and bring them to the realisation of their wrongdoings (or is that just me?). In real life, I bet you’ve never have that satisfaction, the outcome that would grant you vindication and peace. Sorry to burst your bubble but it ain’t gonna happen, not that way anyway.
You have to make your own peace. Waiting for another to suddenly see the light and take it all back still won’t undo what is done. It’s kinda like the artist Prince becoming Prince again, still doesn’t change the fact he went off and became a symbol, something we couldn’t call him for a while. Waiting for your peace to be granted only perpetuates the powerlessness that keeps you locked in a cycle of grievances.
Put the stick down
Stop critisizing yourself. In fact, stop criticising others too. Believe me when I tell you this is key, when you do this you’ll be amazed at the amount of energy you’ll free up from operating the default position of always ‘correcting’. Don’t let that be your purpose in life. It’s exhausting, stop it. Use the same habit cue to practice compassion instead.
I’m not suggesting you become a robot here and deny your emotional stress reactions, you’re not perfect, nobody is.
The other day I spent hours on to customer service, trying to resolve an issue with my phone line. My call was repeatedly dropped and eventually I lost it, I screamed the house down in pure anger and frustration before calling back. Calm and composed I was not, so I’m not going to pretend there aren’t days my shit is far from together. You’ll lose your shit too, just remember to forgive yourself, recover and move on.
It’s gonna be alright
If you know the song I opened this post with above, you’ll know Kate Bush carries the chorus. She represents the voice of compassion, arriving to interrupt the protagonist’s failure story with another perspective. Her message is one of love, hope and encouragement, a reminder that he is loved, cared for, supported, that there’s no burden on him to prove himself, no need to be ashamed.
Be like the voice of Kate Bush in this song, develop a compassion mantra. You don’t have to come up with an original one, borrow one from a song or poem or story you like. A mantra I absolutely love to use is borrowed from Three little birds by Bob Marley, ‘Every little thing, is gonna be alright’… Keep it simple.
P…lots of P!!!
Practice, patience, persistence, repeat. I’ll never forget the first time I actually experienced compassion for my own self. I had been ‘in practice’ for about 18 months before it finally came to me, but when it did I was so humbled by it, it’s a beautiful experience.
If you want to read a little about that, I’ve written about it in this post, but I mention it here now because I want you to know it doesn’t happen overnight, you have to do some emotional work and prepare for it. To arrive at self compassion after having been foreign to it is a big moment, very moving, overwhelming really, but in a good way.
Unlearning self bashing and developing compassion requires a leap of faith, you have to hope, keep going, keep believing, you will get there. I’m not saying it will take you the same amount of time as it did me, just don’t expect miracles of yourself or the universe and don’t expect to arrive without the required journey on your behalf.
Nobody else can walk your road for you, but know that you’ll never be alone, on this adventure you’ll meet many fellow travellers, each at various stages, each seeking, so remember to be kind and let kindness be.
Take your time and for now, just promise you will at least show for up yourself, as you are.
State your intention out loud with me now…
“Dear (Amanda), I promise to show up for you”
How does that feel?
Always, Amanda xoxo
If you have an experience to share on this or questions to ask, leave a comment here or you can always email me firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d be delighted to hear from you.
P.S…. Check out my links page for some amazing resources to get you on your way home