FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF THE CREATIVE IMPULSE

“… I drew [The Little Winter Gardens] several times and there was no feeling in them. Then afterwards — after I had done the ones that were so stiff — came the others. It is the same with the clumsy and awkward things. HOW IT HAPPENS I CAN EXPRESS SOMETHING OF THAT KIND? Because the thing has already taken form in my mind before I start on it. The first attempts are absolutely unbearable. I say this because I want you to know that if you see something worthwhile in what I am doing, it is not by accident but because of real intention and purpose”.
Vincent van Gogh – letter to Anton Ridder van Rappard

Starry Night. Van Gogh

Starry Night. Van Gogh

The past year has been a laboratory of alchemical processes destined to define what I believe might be my life purpose. As part of the mourning and action- reaction chain of events resulting from having to leave a life to begin another in a constricted and estranged place; I have been compelled – even force- to move into a “conflict zone.”

I used to say that we need to open our coffins and face the skeletons inside to truly live. Easier to say that done! In the midst of working out some milestones for a project I set myself to build, I realized how much I resist exposing my own and deep truth to the world and how deeply I fear to find out is was just an illusion or I do not have what is takes.

Because the Universe has a “style of humor” of its own, synchronicity catches on when you less expect. I have been postponing taking action, those specific actions than would surely throw me into the realm of the unknown. I am afraid of the consequences they might bring. Lights and shadows, they are indistinguishable in the process of transformation, they both threaten my comfort zone.

Of course, what you resist, persist; thus, “ACTION” has been a ghost chasing me all over social media, books and even in my ideas and proposals to others. I see my patterns and symptoms smacking me on the face and experience first-hand the unrelenting calls of my soul.

Writing about my experiences helps me clarify things. Speaking vulnerabilities brings me closer to others while making the monster of inadequacy and “not good enough” shrink. I feel less alone…

As I explored ways to convey an idea in a workshop for women I was preparing I reflected…

Art is a varicolored answer to the first line on the canvas. All art begins with an intention, with the search for something unknown that seeks expression. It’s the same with everything in life, until the urge becomes a verb, nothing happens. What we believe or think in itself is nothing, until an action – or the lack of it- determines an outcome.

Here is where the creative process and our story get tangled. Thoughts, beliefs, desires, loves, dance with ideas, instincts, impulses and the uncontrollable need to express. An empty canvas stares at you while you try to make sense of the blurry realm spinning around and overlook the silent presence witnessing it all.

Fear…

Fear is a master trickster; it can take the colored yarns of dreams, ideas and passions and turn them into a tight knot. Between  “what is and what could be” there is a “neutral space;” the edge between two worlds, a vacuum filled with possibilities challenging us to make choices.

Uncertainty is such an unbearable companion!

If you are like me, the only discernible thing here is the many strategies of disconnection swinging around the place – is too late, too long, too difficult, I should be exercising, this room is such a mess, I forgot to check my mail…you name it! – I spend so much time running away, against and toward the experience, that when I finally make a decision I am completely exhausted or the opportunity flew away.

It does not stop here!

What about the “should’s” and its three horsemen of the apocalypse! Guilt, shame and unworthiness; they are eager to join forces and make our creative anguish a high alert flashing light to avoid taking action at all cost.

Van Gogh said – “If you do nothing, you are nothing.”

If I translate his words into the artistic process and that of life; I shall say that, as a rough drawing becomes a sketch and this a painting; it is through the dedicated work and the incorporation of those fleeting thoughts and insights occurring while working, that a vague original idea consolidates.

Van Gogh advised to keep working no matter what happened. He knew that while our ultimate goal is not clear, or even unknown, it will become clearer as we work and seriously explore. His self-professed goal was to bring the expression of emotion into Modernist painting. The desire to express passion was the focus of van Gogh’s vision; it was the engine of his endeavors. His complex and tumultuous life story could have hindered his legacy; but his soul was bigger than his fears and he is without question the paragon of success in the expression of passion in the arts.

If such a genius went to experiencing the painful anguish and need to search for ways to express his soul; faced rejection and failure and stood tall, who am I, simply mortal, to expect being spared from it?

What I have learned…

Looking Back

I feel I am just taking baby steps in the matter, and yes, I get frustrated and make faces in my inner mirror. However, I know now that there will be a time when I will be able to see the traveled path. That is how we really appreciate the enormous courage of being human and imperfect; when we realize that even broken, terrified or exhausted, we indeed stood up and kept walking before, no matter where or how, we kept walking.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Puppies love to play and chase their tales, they go on circles and get dizzy. Get the picture? So it begins for me! I start jumping from one activity to another and get caught in distracting alibis. I breathe shallowly, move chaotically and feel anxious and mad. I surrender my power to fear and watch a movie, run an errand or read. It lasts as long as I am busy. When I stop… truth looks me in the eye.

Compassion

There is nothing more dreadful than consciousness when we know what we are doing! This “something” watching us can be really unmerciful. I have discovered, though, that awareness is never as hard as I am when judging myself for my weaknesses and mistakes. I enter this “who -cares, -what- difference –will- it- make”- mode and give away my power to shame and guilt.

Why is belittling and self-deprecation so addictive? What is about light and glittering goodness that make us feel naked and hide?

I bet you have as many answers to these questions as attempts to embrace your humanity. I sure do! The path has been long and winding, but it has finally led me to self-compassion. I know now that when my soul knocks, it triggers my tale-chasing-puppy- inner self. Instead of pulling my hair and scream NOT AGAIN! What is wrong with you? I do my best to remember that something awesome is happening…

I am about to meet my true self and go with my purpose in a date. I know what to expect. I gently allow my inner kid to express her fears and allow her feelings to be. I tell her that is OK, that we all have been there and I will do my best to help her move a step at a time. I remind her we are walking together with a promise of hope and trust, and we shall become better and better at it. One day we will look back and see how much we have accomplished.

Beginner Mind

Known by Zen Buddhism as Shoshin; it refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even at an advanced level. We tend to think in sequences, always looking towards what we will be able to do in the future instead of focusing on the next step right now. In doing so, we skip over all the little experiences that color our journey and make it unforgettable. We overlook the fact that falling down, as well as getting up, is part of the learning process.

Beginner’s mind is also known as a “don’t-know-mind.” It is said to be the wisdom of the warrior. It means keeping an open mind and responding according to circumstances, not according to how we assume things should be.

I am guilty of trying to become an expert to soon, or worse, feeling one. This sets me along a traveled path that is closed to Possibility. A  “don’t-know-mind” leaves room for intuition, for the new and adventurous. It is the mind of our kids, one filled with wonder and appreciation for the little miracles of ordinary life.

Hang to the Why

Even an artist often believed to have been “spontaneous” and unpremeditated, had a thoroughly thought and creative deliberation metaphor to help him stay focused. Van Gogh found, and created the element through which he could live; his flame-metaphor. This metaphor allowed him to fully express his burning desire for expression, his conviction concerning the centrality of passion to existence. This belief was as essential to the man as to the artist, thus the shape of a flame became his distinctive brush stroke, a signature.

As Van Gog understood; this visionary circle of the simultaneously invented and the discovered; is a dance between the soul and the mind, the ability to think both, consciously and subconsciously. Is the territory of the WHY, the only force powerful enough to navigate uncertainty and the unknown, the force closest to our Higher Source.

We all need our personal metaphor, the unique poetry of our soul expressed in a vision and whispering: “Grow, grow.”

I have been exploring mine. I have no idea how being an ambassador for beauty and meaning expresses itself in the day-to day life. I am not sure what my brushstroke looks like or even if I have gotten one…

I shall rely in our shared humanity and trust, as he did; that passion will find its way home, and the unrelenting pull of purpose will continue to ask for embracing my call.

In the meanwhile I shall repeat unceasingly: A.C.T. – action changes things.

 

“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.”

Vincent van Gogh

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TIME FOR LOVE

Flying-Puppy“In the flush of love’s light, we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are, and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.”
Maya Angelou

 

 

How many times we have been told that we choose our thoughts and even how we feel. It has been hard for me to deal with that notion as I tend to be in a “longing” kind of mood as old as me. I wake every morning, having to remind myself to count my blessings – I slept well, I have a bed, birds are singing, it is a rainy day, (I love those). I follow my morning routine, get a coffee and go back to bed to read or write about my impressions and meditate (or at least try!).

The grey clouds in the sky seem the stuffing of an old silver bed cover with glowing patches here and there. As they move slowly, I think to myself – this would past too – What is “this”? That is the question.

When I was a kid, I remember praying for enthusiasm. I was a very responsible and stubborn kid; I spend hours studying, practicing and perfecting whatever is that I was up to. Even then, though, I felt as my inspiration and persistence were fueled by a “heavy” passion, defiance or even a sense of duty. It was hard work and struggle imposed from within, a painful mix of resilience and hope going along with an endless zest to uncover the truth.

The truth here is a very wide concept, made of the many existential questions I have asked myself since childhood. Answers have come and gone, dressed up in experiences, books, therapy, studies, relationships and artistic endeavors. There have been moments of absolute pleasure, infatuation and recognition, as well as despair, sadness and giving in.

I was told once I was an “intense” person. The comment was made in the context of a conflicted relationship and intended to point out the “villain” flaw responsible for the problem. It crushed me… not because I thought it was the root of the problem, but because it was true. I felt that the inner world I had been immersing myself to find answers was being erased at a stroke and I would never be loved…

That inner world was loaded with blurred and strange “things” exerting a strong pull on me. Some were indescribable, others painful and there were those that only could fit into the category of “magic.” I felt busted! The inner attic of my heart and soul could be a mess, but It was a mess I was exploring with the timeless memories of our humanity and the promise of continuity.

Today, I can acknowledge with a smile, that I am indeed intense. Nothing goes in the bucket of indifference to me. I experience every good or bad mood, event, discovery, emotion and wonder in all its beautiful force. Sometimes is damn difficult, too much to bear for a vulnerable and breakable human being! Add to that, my inner critic’ tendency to beat myself out for taking in that much, and the “inadequate-self” who jumps into “fixing mode” right away.

There are those quiet days, when I sit in bed and ask again – it is a new day, shouldn’t my soul be rising as the sun?

I think of enthusiasm then, and face the culprit behind its disappearance; love. The love I have a lifetime craving from the outside because it is so hard to find within.

Circumstances are bad measures for our worth; it is so easy to get caught in others’ definitions of success. It is also common to get trapped in our story and edit those scenes that speak of a different world; a world that asks for self-love and the courage to show up and let myself be seen.

Perhaps enthusiasm is just the result of an unshakable faith and trust in the WHO I really am and my gifts; joined with the willingness to believe that no matter how “out of context” life seems to be, the Universe is plotting to do me good.

I keep going through this process of learning to relax and flow. It is a choice I have to make every day (or even every minute if I can remember to turn the autopilot off).

The sun is rising and my soul is sleepy…
Let compassion and acknowledgement carry her into the world today.
Let a choice define the moment as an adventure,
And walk the path with “How amazing!” lenses in the senses and
A grateful and open mind,
Miracles shall find me…

And you my dear reader, how does enthusiasm reveals to you?

 

Image Credit – http://cutearoo.com/2011/03/10/its-a-bird-no-its-a-plane/

The Wheel of Life

“To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.”
― John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

Crack

Loser shame…this remark shook me deeply today as I was trying to find relief for the feeling emanating by a small event on Friday’s night.

I realized I have been dealing all my life with shame; haunted by the fragility of my shell and clinging to the silent hope that it will end someday. I cannot accept my own mistakes and imperfections because it is like opening the door to the monster of “they were right;” I am a loser, a small being trying to play in the arena of the great talents and winners, with no other weapon than love and will.

How can I enter a world of “glamour and elite” if an unmerciful spotlight – as those in the towers of a maximum security prison – is chasing my every move, threatening to expose me as a fake!

Glamour? Elite? What in the heck am I talking about?

It is hell to step out and open your heart completely naked to others. It is harder when you secretly feel that you do not have the right to do it, you feel like pretending to be touched by the Gods and to be able to read their magic code. It is a game of life and death, all or nothing.

You have been accumulating the expertise and resilience needed to battle over years; it should be ready by now!

What is wrong with you?

It takes just a tiny moment, less than a second to understand you are not going to make it that day, is all blurred, lost, and you would have to face the audience and say, I am sorry, I cannot remember and leave the stage.

Yep. I messed up playing at an event.

It happens to all, not a big deal, people tell you and you smile and agree on the outside, while the inside is going through your toolkit of self- improving techniques and adult intelligent attitudes trying to shake off the empowered loser and the shame of not being perfect.

Yes, it happens! But it happened to you, and your entire story comes down, crushing you and speaking the many voices you tried to ignore while growing up, turning a life calling into an obsession or worst simple stubbornness.

Self-doubt emerges tall and strong. Back to the past, the starting point!

There are indeed Dragons living within…

At the moment I stood tall, went back to my seat and clapped and cheered the next player. Somebody in the audience asked the presenter if I could play another thing. I listen with horror.

The weird thing is that he said something in the line of – we know, or have been told (not sure) that she plays amazingly beautiful, perhaps she could play something else?…

Back to my old story! I don’t have anything else! Caught with the hands in the Cookie Jar again! You should have something else!

The school director asked me if I had the score, which I did! So it was settled that I will play again after the “Star” finish his presentation (this said with respect and admiration, I love the kid and is amazing to see how big he is in the literal and metaphorical sense of the word). I was actually embarrassed to play after him and to have a “breakdown” with him present…

The night went on. IF this was my old story, I would have left crying and completely distraught; this time I danced, sung and play the Cuatro (Venezuelan instrument) till the night was over. I was a life force life. I have to admit I am not sure if it was making up for something or just because I allowed myself to be seen and my shame to transpire openly and dissolve into my other selves.

When the time came to leave, a couple of women came to me. One of them told me that she had almost cried. That it was so emotional what I have played. I thought it was the first one, which went well! But to my astonishment, it was the one I had to read! Both told me how much I have touched them. I thank them for bringing me “back home” to a place of worthiness and compassion.

Still, I have been having real trouble to let this run through my system and heal the many wounds around my right to be a pianist.

During the weekend I have been moving around followed by the unrelenting dark cloud of failure. I have been turning my eyes away, focusing on making sense of the all the drama around a tiny experience than nobody but me seems to be fixed on!

Why is that, why do we cling to the horrors and overlook the gifts?
It is just me?

I imagine people commenting, whispering and even enjoying my “stumbling”. I see myself small and isolated. – “The world will not look at me the same. I just gave up my cover!”

Can you begin to understand the power of a story based on the belief that I am not good enough or worthy of the passion and wonder I feel for music and the way it touches me?

As I write these words in an attempt to atone for my weaknesses and imperfection, I can see clearly the exaggerated, almost hilarious script running through my head! Are you kidding me! No wonder why you are terrorized by and feel trapped by the gifts you love and give sense and purpose to your life.

It is such an unhealthy hate-love relationship constantly been fed by my inability to accept the fragility of life, to overcome my need of external validation and the fear to actually realize that “I am nothing!”

How much time of my life am I willing to sacrifice in the name of a personal image build upon fear, rejection and the “should’s” that will make me feel loved?

How can I expect to be loved for who I am, if I cannot love myself?

It is a long journey of compassion and innocence, a true leap of faith, the one I am taking to meet the girl, woman and soul filled with visions of magic, tenderness and amazement. The fragile creature who stands alone in the midst of her hopes and dreams, her strengths and vulnerabilities, and doing everything in her hands to be loved to feel worthy; is summoning the courage to move through shame and fear, self-doubt and criticism and stand up for her humanity.

Yes, I am afraid…

Afraid of:

—losing my way.
—not being able to honor those invisible forces pushing within my soul and heart, asking me the last self-sacrifice, to show up raw, naked complete imperfect and to trust that somehow the light in me will fickler and connect with others.

I am afraid…

—that I will ever be able to grasp and express how unbearably and beautiful is to be human, to love what all your heart, to dream the impossible and to bear a life that does not match my expectations.
—to admit I stop breathing every time the thought “I will never make it” enters my mind.
—the feeling that whatever purpose or heroic path the Universe entrusted me with, it forgot to bestow me with the necessary weapons (magic or not) for the task.

What if I am just a shell of strength and accomplishments hidden a weary pantomime plenty of losses and failures?

I am just a human being admitting how hard is to be one; how much I long my life to be meaningful and easier. How much I dread to show up and be rejected. How much I long to belong and be remembered… to know that I truly exist and there is reason for me to be here.

I long for someone to believe in me, even when I give in and turn my back to life; someone who knows what I am going through and points at the sun, the stars or the bright moon on a dark night…
Someone different than me…

I want so much for my students, for the people I love, for the world as a whole, for nature and the future!

How can this simple and small woman aspire to inspire others to keep the light glowing if she is fighting to keep her own coal burning?

Perhaps just admitting here that although my life might not be the example of strength, accomplishment and courage I ask for it to be; I wouldn’t trade any of those invisible moments – sometimes tragic, sometimes magic – when I enter the sacred and touch the infinite… Those fleeting moments when my soul and I seem to walk as one and I know all is right…

There is such love and surrender… I then understand why a Higher Intelligence would like to become human and experience life; why unlimited divine sparks take refuge in mortal temples and patiently await to bloom.

For that,
—I am willing to risk to be seen without disguises.
—I am willing to move back on stage to voice the wonders and beauty of the extraordinary and the ordinary dwelling in the soul – mine, yours, the world’s…

For that,
—I willingly sacrifice my dreams of perfection, the ego’s shell of “having it all figure out” and offer the imperfect and brutally honest song of a human being committed to just BE…

Rumi said…

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

May I find the poetry in it,
May you find the poetry in it,
May all living beings find the poetry in it…

Persistence

Persistence

“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power,
but because its persistence”
Jim Watkins

At times I wonder whether there is a secret to progress in our spiritual and day-to day existence. Some days, life flows easily. We cruise along enjoying the ride feeling energized and empowered; we savor our experiences and even test our luck. Others, we seem to be plunged in a dark cloud; our attention wanders and we lack motivation and drive. In those days the smallest of the efforts requires a real choice, a pure instance of will.

When the progress seems so slow that is almost imperceptible, what is the secret to keep up? Simple, Persistence…

Like most virtues, staying engaged for the long haul must be cultivated, practiced and valued. On less than perfect days, even a little inner effort can go a long way. If we stay with our intentions through thick and thin, storm or sunshine; each drop of effort accumulates and winds up, making a gradual but huge difference in our inner experience and goals.

In the “piano world” we know about the “slow-fast” practice; which stand for going maddening slow when facing a difficult passage and gradually pulling the metronome faster notch by notch. It feels like eternity! Nevertheless, if you have forced the speed before being ready – physically, mentally and emotionally – the passage will fall apart in the worst of moments and you will have not only to re-learn it; but fix the bad habits that came with being impatient. A real nightmare…

How do we summon persistence? What is behind it?

In my case persistence comes from remembering what really matters to me and what I fear the most. Both serve as sources of momentum to push me forward.

The former, has to do with the intrinsic value I draw from the activity and the joy and wonder I am rewarded with. It is not a secret that when we are passionate about something, it is far easier to persist, even if the results do not come as fast as we would like to.

When I play very difficult music or I am lost in a canvas, I can feel terrified of getting nowhere or of messing up the work already done. I find myself silently asking – What am I doing? What are you trying to prove? Who are you to do so? – It is just when I ask – Why; why are you doing this? -that I stop and connect with a deeper sense of purpose, the calling shaping the “Who” I must become.

I imagine and feel in my heart and soul the musical phrase already accomplished. I can actually hear the sound and the mysteries unveiling through it! Or I see a pictorial outcome that is far better that what I could have ever imagined; because I allowed the painting to speak to me. In those moments I know… I am looking into a threshold in time and space. I have been given a piece of eternity and to make it happen at will, I need to push forward, I need to persist.

The second alternative (what I fear the most); is focusing on the obsessive and nagging though screaming at me- what would have happened if you had actually conquered resistance and did not give up? Where would you be? I do hate this…. Fear of regret over lost possibilities, is powerful enough to keep me doing whatever is that I am up to, even if it means struggling forever.

Thus, when the muse of divine spark is missing and I cannot summon it; I think about regret. I go back to other occasions when I lost momentum or wasted whatever little effort I had put on. I think about having to start again, not with the fresh attitude of a beginner facing a new task; but with the annoyance and guilt of knowing where I might have been if I had persisted.

It sounds cruel?

Do not misunderstand me; I know that sometimes I will fail to persist. I would even fail to use any of the above alternatives. In those times then, I shall appeal to a third wave. I shall sigh and tell myself- Human, Mercedes. I am sorry but you are human –  I smile, forgive and start again.

What is your recipe for persistence?