creative living

cultivating my own voice

I was journaling today about how I feel as though I am going through a process of unwinding when I received an email from one of my brothers about vocation. Serendipity at its best. I was writing that I feel as though I am unwinding from what society expects of me and that I am moving toward what the life inside of me requires to thrive. I equate the process, in my mind, to that of a vine unraveling itself from its anchor point, withering, and then becoming what it was meant to become. In my case, a tree (metaphorical of course). The link that my brother emailed out was a Richard Rohr blog post about allowing Life to lead you to your vocation. Which may or may not be what earns you money. The post was totally on point for what I was writing about and feeling on this chilly, rainy day in Utah.

In writing about unwinding, I was also contemplating choice. On one level it often feels as though I don't have much choice, (in order to keep my home I have to pay my mortgage on time) and on another level I have too much choice, (which loaf of bread to buy, what to paint on the next blank canvas, what story to write next?), and the realization that the creative process is all about choice. I also realized that there is a whole litany of people, an entire movement, telling me that because I have this ability to choose that I am in charge of my own outcomes. But that is not exactly true, is it? Because if it were, I would be winning the lottery every week or getting rich off my art. Really, all that I am in charge of is how I choose to respond to the outcomes Life hands me. The choice is in the curl of the wave - resist and struggle OR, accept and surrender - and also when the wave lands on the beach. Once I'm on the beach, do I choose gratitude or grief or anger? And then the questions become: How do I live my life with greater intention and purpose? How do I surrender to what is and still move forward without apathy? And I think the key lies in finding joy in the service of whatever it is I choose. And I thought, what am I willing to give up to experience that joy? What am I willing to let go of to live the life of my dreams? Abraham was willing to give up his son Issac in service to God. Am I willing to give up my art, my writing to God? Am I willing to sacrifice my creative spirit to the service of the Divine? I don't know how that would actually serve Life, but yes. Although I struggle with the being willing part! Maybe what Life is asking me to surrender are outcomes. How do any of these questions help me cultivate my own voice?

During this unwinding it has become clear to me that I would like to simplify my life. Simplify my processes and expectations. And simplifying not only the expectations that society holds for me and I have for myself, but also the expectations that I have for Life. And by doing so create more clarity in my voice and vision for my life. While I was thinking about how and what exactly I could simplify, (I mean I already konmaried my house!), it occurred to me as an aha! that maybe my lack of vocal / creative clarity doesn't stem from having too much choice. A more accurate statement might be: I like what other people are doing so much that instead of appreciating and basking in the creativity of others and allowing it to inspire my own voice,  I try instead to mimic whatever they are doing. Admiring the loud and true voice of other creatives and also feeling a bit jealous, I often abandon my own true voice and copy them hoping their vision will ring true for me as well. But when it doesn't ring true for me, (as inevitably it won't!), when it falls flat, I feel defeated. I feel defeated in large part because deep down I know I could have used that time and energy listening to my own heart, cultivating my own voice.

There have been flashes - moments in my life where I allowed Life to flow through me in ways that were unique to me. And in those moments I thrived. But society always found a way to hook me back in. Whether through playing to my insecurities about "fitting in", the desire to be popular, or the simple need to have a roof over my head, I continually found myself copying the much stronger voices of others instead of strengthening my own. And it was during those times of not living my own life that I would drink in an effort to silence the despair of my heart. But now, choosing conscious sobriety, having vowed to sit through the discomfort that self awareness brings, there is a feeling of relief as my own truth emerges and a deep feeling of gratitude that comes from recognizing and cultivating my own voice. And by doing so I am able to surrender in bigger waves; to trust the process and allow Life to lead me to my true vocation.

photo by: moi hiking the peak of highland bowl / ski season 2011

photo by: moi hiking the peak of highland bowl / ski season 2011

being present

There is magic in being present. I know that sounds like such a cliche and the phrase is so ubiquitous that it feels like a cliche as well. But, personal experience has taught me that there is magic in being present and that it is anything but a cliche.

These last couple of months as my bank balance dwindled and I have relied more and more on my stellar credit I would jokingly tell people that my nest egg had sprouted wings and I needed to make sure it didn't completely leave the coop. Since I haven't had any practice until now being a full time creative, that meant (and maybe means) getting a job. And with all of that weighing on me - the money, the job, the feeling that I am somehow abandoning my dreams - I would find myself in the throes of crippling anxiety. Anxiety about an uncertain future or a harry past. What ifs clouded my brain: What if I couldn't find a job? What if I don't sell any art? What if no one likes my book? What if I have to sell my house? Nearly paralyzed with fear over non-existent events, my mind had trapped me into inertia. I couldn't write. I couldn't paint. I couldn't move! All I could do was cry. It was at times like these that I would often turn to alcohol for relief. Thank God for my meditation practice! It allowed me to refocus on my breath and recenter myself in this world of now.

Staying present is hard work. Especially when we are bombarded with information. Social media, TV, radio, our friends & family, our senses become overwhelmed with too much, often impertinent, information. It takes real effort to tune all of that out and focus on what is happening in the now. And while our electronics can get in the way of our ability to be present, the biggest culprit is really the mind. Our minds have been trained to be anywhere but here. The mind travels to the past with longing, regret, or shame and then jumps to the unknown of the future where anxiety and uncertainty live. To throw a leash on that and make it heel to the present moment is a daunting task. Training the mind to heel requires a level of awareness; awareness that the mind is even rambling out of control in the first place. When you can get the mind to heel then peace has a chance to take root and blossom.

Well, I know my mind wanders. I have that awareness. I just didn't realize the extent it roamed until I stopped drinking. And because I no longer have that distraction, or the distraction from friends that I used to drink with (that's another story), and because I have so much more time with myself and no place to hide from my current circumstances, I can either choose to stay present or drown in anxiety caused inertia over events that I can't change or LIFE that hasn't yet unfolded.

To me, it's a no brainer. I would rather be present to the glorious unfolding of this life. And therein lies the magic. Because LIFE really is glorious in all its messiness and all its beauty. And when I am present for it I see how blessed I really am. I have realized that most of the anxiety and fear I experience is a. learned, knee jerk reaction to life; a habit. Because I know it's a habit I know it can be replaced with the healthier, more pleasant habit of being present. Being present is an invitation to experience what is real. Being present reminds me that living does not happen in the past or the future, but right now - in this moment. And it shows me beyond reasonable doubt that right now, in this moment, I have everything I need and am surrounded by love. And that knowing, fills me with a deep sense of gratitude. Because LIFE, when given the opportunity, will do anything to support us. We just need to stay present for it.

original art by  cecilia anthony

original art by cecilia anthony