How can that which was born with us, which lives with and inside us, our 24/7 companion can be so elusive in revealing itself?Read More
14 months ago I did a google search that changed my creative life.
I typed "Art retreat Ireland", hit return and winced. Two things were going through my mind: 1) I shouldn't be doing this.
2) I need to do this.
Search presented it's results and the next thing I know I'm looking at a web page offering 'A Space for Dreaming", in 8 weeks time, in Bantry, Co Cork. A couple of days later, I'm in the post office sending off a postal order to secure my place. I made arrangements to kennel the dog, cattery (yes I made that a verb) the cat, I hurled next month's rent under the bus, followed by Ms Inner Critic, booked a hotel room.... and then I panicked. What was I doing going to an art retreat?
But, of course I knew.
I was going to find and entrench myself in a creative community. I was latching on. That there would be amazing art workshops was a bonus, but I was looking for something more, connection.
I went with that intention, I showed up, I got in there and I made myself known.
The creative identity doesn't exist in a vacuum.
You can't just don your apron and go about your day if there is nobody around you to play with, talk to, learn from, cheer. Who will you share your creative joy with? Your discoveries, your challenges? Who will encourage you, who will inspire you? Who will understand?
In his book 'Show Your Work', Austin Kleon address the 'lone genius' myth about being a creative. This is the misleading (and damaging) idea that the 'true' artist is inspirationally independent, not in need of social stimulus, a lone genius at work. Kind of like an immaculate conception, his muse just arrives, directly on the horse of God. I must say, I can relate. I always used to place artists on pedestals, attributing to them the classification of genius.
Kleon refers to Brian Eno's reflection on being an art student in which he says,
'like all art students, I was encouraged to believe that there were a few great figures like Picasso and Kandinsky, Rembrandt and Giotto and so on who sort-of appeared out of nowhere and produced artistic revolution.'
However, unsatisfied with this, Mr Eno discovered that there was no such thing as an immaculate conception, that
'there was sometimes very fertile scenes involving ... all sorts of people who created a kind of ecology of talent. And out of that ecology arose some wonderful work. So I came up with this word “scenius” – and scenius is the intelligence of a whole… operation or group of people. Let’s forget the idea of “genius” for a little while...'
Thank GOD! I don't have to be a genius to make art! Phew... where's me crayons?
How liberating is that?
And I've found it to be true. I was always 'creative', I always had creative friends, but at one point in my life, I went off course and fell into a more rigid set up. I found myself sneaking my creative life, because I was alienated from my sources. And while my creative self still managed to survive, the longing inside me for something more grew stronger than the need for safety. I knew what I needed to do was to surround myself again, find a scene in which to implant myself, create the conditions under which I could not just survive, but thrive.
That art retreat in Bantry was the 'coming out' of a creative identity I had been afraid to embody. I refer to it and my decision to show up, as the gift that keeps on giving. It has led to my connecting with artists and makers all over the world. I have been inspired and encouraged to grow and flourish and I'm always nurturing and growing those connections.
Every connection I've made since stems from this. It's like being listed in the creative Golden Pages! I am now a proud member of a group here in Ireland, a network of creative entrepreneurs brought together by Tara Prendergast, a creative business strategist at the helm of Biscuit. I have joined many networking groups in my time and I have to say, I've always felt like a bit of a spare at the meetings and events, maybe it's a bit cliche, but I just 'never fit in'. Maybe it's just me, but I think creatives need to do that kind of thing waaay less formally (although no less effectively) and Tara knows this, so our get togethers feel very different.
Moral of the story?
So, what I'm saying to you is this... GET OUT THERE and find a community. Stop waiting until you're 'good enough'. It probably won't be a geographically convenient community, so, to quote a friend of mine at the dinner table,"stretch or starve". The kind of people you're missing in your life are not all contained in your local area, it's not 'handy'. You wont bump into them or happen across them by chance. You have to reach out but let me tell you, it's worth it.
Join a FB group, take a class, pm an artist you admire, comment on their threads, their blogs, we don't bite, in fact we love that! Why not go the whole hog, give yourself a panic attack and sign up for that retreat that you have always found excuses not to attend.
You're always welcome to come and play with me in Sligo!! That's what I'm readying for you there, a big ol gathering place for all our creative selves to get together, be nurtured and inspired.
One more thing
A friend I recently made, only made possible through this kind of reaching out, gave me a little book the other day called "When I loved myself enough", by Kim Mc Millan. It's a beautiful little book celebrating the gifts we are capable of giving ourselves, once we make one very important decision.... that we are worthy. I have it open right now on my desk... here's what it says...
"When I loved myself enough, I quit settling for too little"
And on that thought....
Always, Amanda xoxo
"Hope and Memory have one daughter and her name is Art, and she has built her dwelling far from the desperate field where men hang out their garments upon forked boughs to be banners of battle. O beloved daughter of Hope and Memory, be with me for a little." ~ WB Yeats
When I recently came across this statement by WB Yeats, I immediately understood what he meant. I was blown away. I can't even tell you what it affirmed in me. Only a poet could nail it.
Ever since I can remember, I have sought refuge from the world. When I was very young, I remember imagining a secret underground space in our garden. In this space, me and my friends could gather and we would have a world, all to ourselves, in which we could play. My coveted world was a safe space, a fun place, a thing of wonder.
As I got a little older, I got my wish.
I grew up in the countryside. We spent long days building camps, forts and bases. This was our turf. We would gather, sit on blocks, arranged in a circle, they were like altars. We would tell stories, jokes and tales, tease each other and play.
Hay barns, fields, farms and forestry were the canvas on which to express ourselves and that, we did. We created a world of our own, we tended to it. We belonged. It was our place of retreat, the fortress of our becoming.
Those were the best days. I feel blessed to have known them.
I think I have always yearned for that again. A world in which I could devote myself, to be free again, to be me again. Because we should never stop becoming, should we?
We think 'adulthood' is the destination.. once we grow up, there's no more becoming, there's no one else I could be. This is it. This is me. We settle.
I was just thinking about it today, it's not about growing up.. it's about growing out. Pushing out our edges. Embodying as much of ourselves as we can.
I think this has defined my journey all along. I now know, this is what my recurring dream, the one in which I discover secret rooms in endless houses, is about. I believe I have been all my adult years trying to find my way back to a time in my life I cherished. It was sacred. I believe it's what has brought out my creativity and why creative practice has become so important to me. It is my way in to the practice of devotion.
12 Years ago, I began envisioning an idea of a gathering place, somewhere that would act as a touchstone, somewhere I could gather with the likeminded and delve in again to 'becoming ourselves'. It's a world I have been itching to create.
But first, I had a lot of learning to do, a lot of mistakes to make, a dose of what it costs the soul to settle. I had to get really fired up. Now It's clear. I've identified the way in, the way back to devotion is to exercise our creative powers. The powers through which we can express and shape ourselves.
To me, this means to engage in activities and with people that help you reconnect with your true self, your essence. To keep alive in you, your hope, your joy, your spirit. To animate in you, the person you already know you are, want to be or are becoming.
I want to build a camp for that.
Somewhere to retreat from 'the desperate field of battle'. To connect you (and me) with others who will get it and want the same thing. To find a tribe, a community, a sense of belonging. Think of it as a charging station.
I've been readying myself for years. It's time.
I'm in the early stages of building my dwelling, far from the maddening crowd; in honour of hope and the nurturing of memories of who we are, though creative self and soul nourishing activities.
I have found a space, in which I will host gatherings. It's in the vibrant and inspiring Craft Village in Rathcormack, Co Sligo. Right in the shadow of the majestic Ben Bulben, less than a mile from the resting place of WB Yeats and right on the Wild Atlantic Way. In this space, there are ancient faery forts, nature trails and authentic round wicker huts. There is a creative community and a weekly market. It's welcoming, it's recharging, it's enchanting.
There is such beauty and inspiration in this place. It feels so right (and a little bit wobbly). I know I have found a place to call home and to continue the work of becoming. And I want you to accompany me.
We are all artists. We just need a space to find ourselves again <3
My new creative space, Pilgrim Soul has been born. I'll post more updates as they happen.
I'm so excited (and nervous) but mostly excited.
I'll be creating a mailing list soon (ahem, the perpetual long finger) so you can sign up & stay in touch!
Always, Amanda xoxo
All my life I’ve been drawn to creative people. In my experience, there are two basic types.
The Little miss (and Mr) Sunshines
The openly expressive creatives. Ah, these boys and girls are fun. You feel good in their company. They are interesting and inspiring. They make you think, they make you smile. They’re curious about you, themselves, the world. They’re interested, engaged, connected. They have intriguing practices. They thrive on abundance. They own who they are and rock it. They’re passionate, they know how to LOVE but they’re not ashamed or shy about hating what they can't love.
I’ve never left an openly creative persons company not having felt inspired.
Have you ever hung out with a repressed creative person? Welcome to shitty town! Not fun.
They seethe in their paralysis. They scathe in their scarcity. Stagnant, resentful, they are consumed with self loathing. So much so, should one dare to see in them, anything other than the pathetic creature they believe themselves to be, then they will loathe you too. They channel all their energy away from appreciation and into cynical critisicm. You leave their company feeling like someone just put a wet blanket over your fire. Because they did.
They are the wet blanket.
Which creative type would you rather be around? Which would you rather be?
I’ve been both.
Facebook has this app. If you sign up, it offers you your memories on the anniversary of the years they happened.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been confronted with all the memories leading up to this day in 2010.
2010 was the year I’d rather forget. It also happens to be the year I began the process of recovering my creative self.
Here are some of the photo memories FB reminded me of from around that time.
You know what I see when I look at these photos? A vessel… a hollow girl, who was completely worn out in her mission to contain herself. I was a Gollum.
To look at these photos still hurts. Because I remember her. I remember being her. It was hell to be her and it was hell to be around her.
It’s also still quite emotional, I’ve been trying for 2 days now to figure out how to write about it…every time I tap into what I remember about this version of me, tears roll down my face.
Why? Because I know now who was inside that vessel. My little miss, without her sunshine. An abandoned girl, her fire smothered by the wet blanket of a person she was horrified to have become.
That’s what the tears are about. I cry because at that time, I thought the part of me who is sitting here typing this right now, my creative self, was dead.
It’s the strangest thing, to remember such grief and now to experience such gratitude for having been wrong.
Within days of these photos being taken, I called truce on a long standing war with my self. For the first time in my life, I declared a definite. I was done.
That decision came from my bones, it was a commitment.
This was my mantra… and to this day, I find it to be true.
That moment marked the leaving behind of emptiness and the beginning of a journey in which each step has been about filling the void with love and passion and joy and….. ME!
So how did I do it?
I began a couple of practices, which I will share in the coming weeks, one of which was noticing what makes me feel alive and seeking out those experiences.
What those experiences had in common was true self expression.
Lemme tell you… I expressed the shit out of myself! It was amazing and I highly recommend it.
I found myself once again in the company of openly creative people. The ones who own it. I was encouraged, I was inspired. I was reminded of the me I wanted to be.
It was the fuel that fed and the path that led back to my creative fire…and oh my god, this time, I let it burn.
What gallant people are the openly creative. I want to be like them.
So, what burns your creative fire?
Always, Amanda xoxo
Something in me changed last year. I can't explain it. For someone practiced in the habit of pushing the boat out, I did something very out of character.
I'm a bit of a control freak, a fixer... a need to always feel on top of, if not ahead of where I'm at.
As if readiness suddenly arrives, announcing with total confidence that a journey may begin.
It's a well rehearsed worry, based in the belief that I'm not ready, not good enough...yet'.
Then almost a year ago, I kind of threw myself out the door only half dressed. It was a fit of inspiration and I've been running around like a half naked women trying to dress herself in motion ever since. (Might explain the dreams)
So, what I realise now is that the not ready...not enough, has to be part of the journey. You can't wait for that to expire first, before beginning something.
You have to start somewhere. Although it's a hard habit to break, what I also realise is that when inspiration strikes, you get infected by something more powerful than worry. When truly, deeply inspired, the driving seat is reclaimed.
I'll be honest. I'm easily overwhelmed. It doesn't take much to stress me out.
Yesterday, as I traveled between 3 meetings, covering over 300 miles, I absorbed a huge amount of information, support, guidance and assistance. My mind, although stuffed, also (as usual) found room for question and doubt.
I spent my day with 3 people, non of whom question my readiness or ability. Each took time out of their day to help me navigate the next steps on this path, they only see my potential. This has been the case not just yesterday but over the past few months. I have had nothing but believers, encouragers and teachers show up for me!
"Oh my god, what have I done!" I confided in one, who is a friend I've know a long time. "well, you can't give up" was her response. Simple. That was NOT an option.
You know how they say sometimes we can't see the wood for the trees? Well, my friend saw me struggling in the thickets, she grabbed a strimmers and she hacked.
Taking out her phone, she googled something I had been 'unable' to find through my 'I can't' filter, made a call and within minutes, we had a plan.
As I was driving home, my heart still racing, my throat tight and the knotted ball in my belly, I got so sick of myself and this reaction to challenge. Stress and overwhelm... it's exhausting and it does me no favours.
So I had a re-frame. I asked myself "why am I the only one worried about my ability?". "Why am I driving home from a day filled with guidance, inspiration and challenge with a feeling of dread?"
"Why don't I reach for gratitude instead?" And so I did. And suddenly, everything felt better, it all felt right.
I only have where I'm at, now, today. Where I'm headed is dictated entirely by me embracing that. I have to stop worrying about the lack of a woods because there 'aren't enough' trees. There will be, in time but only by planting them, one by one, by one.
One tree at a time... that's my plan.
I want to follow this up with a practice, so that I don't just arrive at it via anxiety anymore. I want to cultivate Gratitude, make it my go-to. I've spent too many years cultivating dread... I'm done.
If you have any suggestions on cultivating gratitude please let me know! I love music and audiobooks, so suggestions are welcome :)
So this is Christmas... and what have you done? (I love that song)
In april 2014 I made one little promise that is changing the way I see, care for and express myself. It has been so powerful... I wanted to say something about that, to show you that one little promise is all it takes. As another new year approaches, this lesson is what I'm taking with me.
So, I made a short clip, which I'm sharing with you, reflecting on my creative awakening. I hope it inspires you to do something amazing for yourself this new year <3
I've learnt a LOT of really good stuff about growing, moving forward and how progress really is the result of accumulated effort.
My word for this year has got to be PRACTICE.
Coming out of my creative closet has been such a powerful experience for me that has transcended the art. What I've discovered is that it's the doing, the KEEPING ON DOING that moves me. Might be an obvious one, but I never understood this. I used to only ever give myself 'one shot' at getting results that could only ever be achieved by way of a regular and consistent showing up. Wow... things feel so different now that I've gotten that.
I'm excited about 2015 and I'm grateful for the year that's been. I feel so lucky.
I wish you all a beautiful, safe and healthy holiday season. I can't wait to start mine <3
Here's the video, I hope you enjoy!.
Love Always, Amanda xoxo
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