On success, shame and allowing support

successA friend posed a question the other day, “What does success mean to you?”
The answer that came up surprised me and led to some soul-searching. My response was, “To be earning enough money to feel independent and not have to rely on anyone.”

The question had been posted in a Facebook group for entrepreneurs and so the answer related to my business, but it revealed a whole lot more about the layers and the limits I have been creating for myself.

A conversation in the group ensued and as it unfolded, I became aware of how my answer was showing me how I have been holding back and not allowing myself to be supported in certain areas of my life, both financially and in other ways as well. Financial support has been a real block that I have been pushing against constantly, yet unconsciously. This discussion brought it to my awareness.

As a single Mum, I am entitled to certain benefits. I am employed and self-employed. I work for myself and for others, so I claim Working Tax Credit and Child Benefit from the Government. As a recently divorced mother, I am entitled to child maintenance from my ex-husband to help care for our boys. He gives it willingly. Why then, do I feel so much shame when it comes to accepting what I am entitled to?
Do I not feel worthy of financial support?

I believe the answer may be tied to my work ethic and the way I grew up. I was given an allowance from my teenage years, by my parents. A small sum of money either weekly or monthly, to cover my expenses and help me get a handle on budgeting. This meant that I had to allocate and save money for clothing, shoes and toiletries, though I did not have to worry about food and other basics. I chose to supplement this with part time work and earned money (which I saved more often than spending) in a bid to gain financial freedom. Working through my student years, in evenings, weekends and holidays, I was the only one of my friends (as far as I am aware) who made it through Uni free from debt.

For emerging debt-free, I am truly grateful. But what did this work, work, work, be independent mindset (that I created for myself) teach me? I learned always to be looking for an opportunity to make money. It taught me to keep busy and to be self-sufficient. As a 40-something mother I am not sure this belief still serves me. Big boy has been noting of late, how I seem to be working long hours. An all work and not enough sleep ethic is not something I want to pass down. Sure, we have fun, but my children also observe how my working hours often begin again after they go to bed and spill over into very late nights. So what is it about wanting to feel independent? Some misplaced guilt about wanting to do it all myself? I don’t have to. Nobody should.

A few days after the question on success, something came up that really struck a chord. It was a quote in Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver (my current Kindle crush) and it read,
“When you refuse help, you sometimes refuse people the pleasure of helping.”
– Anonymous

It reminded me that all the help and support I need is already on offer (not only financially, but otherwise as well if I can only bring myself to ask) and being given freely and willingly. I was also reminded of the joke about the man in the flood who was sent a helicopter. The help is already there, I just have to learn to accept it gracefully.

I also need to redefine my idea of success in relation to my life and my business…

Success is a day in which I can find things to be grateful for. That is every day, is it not? If I look beyond the shame to the reality of my daily life – doing work I love to my own schedule that allows me quality time with my children – I am already living my version of success. That’s not to say that there’s no room for improvement, but what I have is enough. Anything else is a bonus.

What does success mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Gratitude Daily
begins again on March 2. Join me as I guide another group of people through a 21 day course to create a sustainable gratitude practice that fits into and enhances their lives.

 

Reaping the benefits of slow time

Home

When I wrote In praise of slow time in the early hours, reflecting on my time away, I had not yet experienced the full benefits. This morning, up early again, I felt energised and ready to take on the world. Perhaps it had something to do with the sunshine… or perhaps that’s what happens when you slow down and take time just to be.

Yes, I am back to my too busy self again, trying to squeeze way too much into my weekend, but right now, that’s OK as I have achieved more in the past 48 hours than in certain weeks recently! Remembering to stop is the key when I feel like this. I must not keep go, go, going… things can wait and they will. Sleep is vital. I must remind myself of this and slow down again.

One of the best things about staying away from home is the lack of clutter to distract me. There are fewer jobs waiting to be done, not as many distractions pulling me and as a result I feel calmer… something I want for my own home. So today, the de-cluttering continued. I am clearing out the old to make room for the new… whatever that may be. Old paintings have come out from under the bed, old frames are out the door, and a poster I adore is framed and ready to inspire me in my bedroom… I just want to do more! Something is shifting. I am letting go again… it’s a good feeling. I may resist and resist, but when I do let go, it feels so very liberating. I have also moved the furniture. In my little house, there is little room to move beds and sofas, so the only room in which I can really shift things around is my dining room. As luck would have it, that is where I spent the majority of my time, so a regular moving of tables and chairs really shifts the energy. I love it!

Art has been made, and a video too, timetables have been written and the work I’ve been avoiding is done.

Oh, and I have line-dried sheets when I finally fall into bed. Wait, I can hear it calling. Goodnight. Sweet dreams.
With love,
Julia x

Challenge your artist’s block and prove your limiting beliefs wrong

Last week I asked a simple question on my Facebook page: “What is your biggest block when it comes to making art?”

A flurry of responses ensued as friends answered and commented, acknowledging, discussing and reflecting on the fears and comments of others. My curiosity about the blocks other people experience stems from a desire to understand and overcome my own. There are days when I can paint freely, with little thought for outcome and others when, without even knowing it, I stand in my own way when it comes to making art.

Some of the most talented people I know responded that they didn’t feel good enough or experienced, from time to time, a lack of self-worth. For most, it was a lack of time in the first place, but several people also mentioned an ebb and flow of energy and inspiration or enthusiasm, something which, it was also noted, did not correspond with available time. For many years, I had noticed a spike in ideas and creative energy that would occur at periods when I was tied up in other projects that allowed little time to make art. Then, as the projects came to an end and I had time free to make art once again, the energy and ideas were all gone and when I sat down to create, I was blocked. I recognised this as a pattern.

For many, myself included, a disconnect between the images we are able to create in our minds and on paper is a barrier. It was recognising this and moving through it that allowed me to make progress with my art. Abandoning any idea of what I was trying to achieve and allowing my art to just flow brought an enormous sense of freedom to my art-making. It was not quality, necessarily, that was an outcome of this, but it sure helped with the quantity of work I was producing. As I had no intention of exhibiting and was creating just for the joy of it, quality did not matter, but with practice comes learning and progress. I talked about letting myself off the hook last Summer.

So how do you focus on the process and not get hung up on the end result? Sometimes it can be a matter of “just” creating… of making art even (or especially) at times when we feel least like doing it. Part way through writing this post, I became aware that I had not painted for a few days and in spending time writing, I was choosing this over my art. I made a conscious decision, right then, to step away from the computer and paint. I set the alarm for ten minutes to see what I could create in that short space of time with no intention other than to put brush and paint to paper and let go. The image at the top of this post was the outcome. As I painted, I observed what was going in on my body and in my head. At first, I felt relaxed, happy that I was painting again, but just five minutes in, I was starting to feel tense as I became aware that I was judging my own creation and had to make a concerted effort to breathe through it and let go of an attachment to outcome again. “It does not matter what this looks like” I told myself, “I will share it anyway to illustrate my post and my point. I will paint through this feeling.” As I painted through it, I allowed myself to feel the flow of the brush, to enjoy the colours, to paint regardless of my own thoughts or judgements. Ten minutes in, as the alarm went off, I decided to continue… not because I was happy with the outcome or because I was determined to improve it, but because I was in flow… I was painting and enjoying it.

Just starting can be a block in itself sometimes. The effort needed to gather the necessary materials and begin can seem too big. This was another point raised in the Facebook discussion. When I do make the effort to make art, I am rewarded more often than not, and I find myself asking, “why don’t I do this more often?”. The answer is to have your materials close at hand, so that starting is made easier.

Art is a form of self-expression. It is a way of connecting with ourselves. We can use art to unwind or to process the things we cannot put into words. Some use art to help focus and I have found myself, in recent weeks, doodling on a page as I listen to someone as I find it helps me concentrate. So why then do we feel guilty about making art as some of us do? We feel that there are other things we should be doing, or worry that others think we should be doing something else instead. Freedom of expression is vital to our health and well-being. You deserve to spend time doing things that nourish your mind, body and spirit. Art saves lives.

What can you do to overcome your blocks and shift the energy?
If art is important to you, make art.

Acknowledge and address your patterns.
Challenge your limiting beliefs; prove them wrong…
If you are afraid of the blank page, go pick up a newspaper and make art like Austin Kleon. If you think you don’t have time, switch off the computer or put down your phone right now, go pick up a pen (biro, pencil, whatever, the tools are not important) and draw something (anything, even a doodle) in the next ten minutes. Go show someone. Ask them to do the same. Make art together.
How your art looks is not as important as how it makes you feel.
If art makes you feel good, you deserve to make art.

Please do share your thoughts, feelings, experiences and even your art below.
And if you need a creative kick start or a little bit of hand holding as you challenge those creative blocks, please check out my upcoming course.
With my love,
Julia x

Let everything happen to you

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”

Rainer Maria Rilke

What came when I let go... Flower hands

And so I am reminded, again and again, to let go of outcome.

Tonight, I picked up my brushes to paint my hands. I had spent the day imagining this work I wanted to create. I had honed the vision over several hours of work, errands and school runs. I had plotted the colours; planned the method; pictured the end result in detail. Was it any wonder then that what I had imagined did not come. Why was it a surprise that in this creating of perfection in my mind, something would be lost in the making? Because I forget; we all forget. I think I know better; think it will be different this time. It was not. It never is… and this is what I am learning. That this pattern of perfection is an illusion that I have to let go of time and time again in order to release; let go; create freely from the starting point of an empty mind.

And so I go on… delving deeper, moving away from the desire to create something “pretty” and moving towards a truer something… a creation that reflects my inner world; my battles and my victories; my challenges and joys; my darkness and my light.

And so I go on…
And I will remind myself again (and again)…

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”

The breakthrough

Three days ago I wrote about The Slump… that dark moment, part-way in, when I question everything. Familiar with this heavy territory, I also acknowledged that “This is often the moment before the breakthroughs happen… when you ride the storm and come out the other side; brighter, stronger.” Last night I felt brighter and stronger than I have felt in a long time. The breakthrough came sooner than I thought.

On Thursday night, having raised my voice too loud, I was suffering from an anger hangover. The term references what Brené Brown calls “the vulnerability hangover”, a term that she coined when she needed a concept that captured that feeling of, “Oh my God! Why did I share that? What was I thinking?” My term “anger hangover” captures my feeling of, “Oh my God! Why did I just shout like that? What was I thinking?” It was one of those evenings when I was over-tired and going over old ground, asking nicely for things to be done to no response and being faced with yet another challenging episode of big boy picking on small boy, when the fuse blew. When all was finally quiet and boys were both in bed, I was still feeling the aftershock of being pushed to my limits and becoming a person I think (wish, hope against hope) I am not. I feel it in every inch of my body… the tension, the regret, the shrinking into myself, the desire to undo, the reality of what I become when I forget, for an instant, to discipline calmly or to walk away. It was eating me up and I had to get it out, so I turned to my art. I did not know where I was going, so I followed my instinct, went to the pen drawer and picked up the thickest, blackest pen I could find. It was how I was feeling. I rolled out a length of brown wrapping paper and taped it to the table. There is something about the shade and the texture of that paper that makes me feel happy and safe. It is comforting in a way that I cannot describe. I picked up a pencil, lay my head on the paper I traced my profile. It came naturally to me. I still had no idea what I was doing, just feeling my way. I traced another profile… my other side, making two faces staring blankly at each other. With the thick black marker I traced each profile. One appeared a little softer… the me I would like to be. The other I attacked with my pen, drawing in jagged lines, up and down, angry with sharp edges. I scribbled areas of black at the back of my neck where the tension lay and in my chest where I felt the embarrassing pain of the me I had been in that moment and the spikes and lines that came out from my throat were expressions of what I had done. It felt good, letting it all out. And when it was done, it was done. I had released the tension, expressed the feelings and the fear. 

I then turned my attention to the other face. I felt calmer; my edges softer and that came out in the pen, the fluid lines, the flowing, curling waves of the me I wanted to be. It was that simple. I was redressing the balance. I drew out the me I wanted to be and in doing so I became calmer in the moment.

Redressing the balance: how it was and how it should have been

Late Friday afternoon, I listened to an audio recording by Laura Hollick in which she explained how she had discovered a technique which had enabled her to heal her skin and grow in confidence; a technique which she herself had created, just by feeling her way and going deeply into her art. Hearing her describe the technique and listening as she shared this way of working, I realised that I had to share what I had done the previous night for myself. So, last night, when two friends arrived for my evening workshop, we first went through a few tried and tested techniques… playful ways to step out of your comfort zone and let go of the idea of making perfect art; ways to immerse yourself in the creative process and enjoy the pure pleasure of simply making art. And then, I took the leap of sharing what I had tried the night before. We traced our profiles onto paper and I asked each of my friends to think of something that was a challenge for them right now… to go deeply into that feeling and let it out on the paper. I did the same.

In creating my negative head, I could feel myself scratching away with pastel on paper, rubbing and smudging, blurring and spilling every ounce of negative feeling into the dark-edged drawing that was my fearful self. There were glimmers in there too… fighting the dark, but overall this image represented the fear of a beige existence, tied to a job I do not love, a reality that is far from my own right now, but a possibility that seems to be raising its head from time to time. I resist and resist and even thinking about it I feel the darkness descend, starting right in my eyes and moving up over my head and down my neck, into my back, shoulders and beyond. It comes from the fact that I do not have a steady, stable income. I am not in reliable employment, I am feeling my way, just getting by, and how does that equate with a life in which I have a mortgage and two children depending on me? But I trust in the process. I believe wholeheartedly (and some might say naively, but they may never experience) that this exciting and terrifying ride will lead to freedom. And when I say “freedom”, I mean freedom from the cage of other people’s expectations. I mean freedom from being chained to a life that is not your own. I mean the freedom to be me… the me I am yearning to be.

And so, in the other head, I created my colourful life. I filled it with layers of greens and blues and let the brightness of all that I wish for and all I am working towards shine, and it felt good and it flowed freely and easily and I rose above my shadow and felt liberated and ready to take on the world. All of the negativity had slipped away and I was left with a feeling that this was the way forward and I only wished that we had more time.

We shared our stories… the challenges and the desired outcomes and described how we had represented these feelings and how it felt to be creating and sharing amongst friends.

It was a powerful releasing and allowing…a shedding… a letting go… a way of tapping into our emotions and creating a new reality… a brighter future being mapped out right there and then on paper with our own hands. And in sharing we were connecting.

My immediate thought was that a whole day of doing this kind of thing could be so worthwhile… encouraging and allowing people to make imperfect art for the sheer joy of creating and using art as a way of tapping into our emotions and letting go and sharing the story with new friends.

So this is my path. For now, I will continue to map out my own emotions. I will empty the negative into my art and create the positive new. This is my breakthrough. This is my path out of The Slump and not only this one, but any more that await me just over the horizon too.

Letting go: the fear and the brighter path

I would love to know what big breakthroughs you have experienced following a slump. Have you used your art as a path out of the darkness and into the light?
Please feel free to share your experiences here…

With love,
Julia x

 

The slump

I’m there. I am there in the place I always arrive at, but choose to forget: the slump. It is a place that is part of the challenge and I am right back in the thick of it. By the the time I get here, it is too late to turn back. Day 12. I am not even half way through. I have made it this far, why stop now? Because now, the challenges outweigh my energy to deal with them. But I can’t stop. I am in too deep. This is the point at which the easy option is to give up, but then I would be right back where I started and that’s not the point of all this. The point is to push on through. The point it to come face to face with the challenges and keep going regardless… keep going even though I have no clue which direction I will take next or where all this is leading me or even why I am even doing it at all. I get here when I have been burning the candle at both ends, getting up too early, staying up too late, trying to squeeze a little something into a tiny window of time and then getting caught up in the flow and not wanting to stop. Those are the moments when I come alive… the moments I feel happiest, the moments when the creativity is just spilling out and I never want to stop. And then life kicks in and reality hits and I need to sleep, but I just want to keep going, and the house is a tip and we have no milk or bread and have work still to do, but it’s time for the school run and I am late again and I feel like a hamster on a wheel and that’s not the point of this.

Stop.

It’s OK.

It’s all part of the process.

I don’t have to change my life in one hit.

Patience.

Look at what I have achieved. This is not about beating myself up about what I haven’t done, or can’t do. This is the moment to step back and evaluate.

This is day 12. Less than 2 weeks in and I am back in flow. I am doing things that make me come alive. This is often the moment before the breakthroughs happen… when you ride the storm and come out the other side; brighter, stronger. This was about finding my direction again and I have already learned so much about letting go and I have already moved two people to re-commit to their creativity. Is that not progress enough? Patience. Time for a little self-care. Time to talk to myself kindly. Time to give myself space. Time to say that it’s OK just to post a little doodle I did whilst listening to a lecture on an artist last night. Time to breathe. Time to re-commit. Time to remind myself that this is worthwhile. Time to tame the voices in my head.

What about the fact that I am feeling like I have no direction?
What about the new pieces of art that are being created… more stuff to find a home for when I am trying to clear the clutter?
What about the fact that I need more work; need to make more money?
What about the fact that I don’t have a defined style and all the artists whose work I admire do?

I don’t even have to answer those questions right now. They are not important. They come ffrom the part of me that puts the brakes on. Acknowledge that they exist and move on through.

This is natural. It’s part of the process. Embrace the unknown. Push. On. Through.

What do you do when you hit the slump? I would love to know what you do when the slump hits you?

A lesson in letting go

An arrangement of cut-outs on my table

On Friday, I decided to let go and see where the “I don’t know” would take me.
I let go of the desire to make good art and embraced the fact that, as I picked up my scissors, cut into my painted papers and pasted them onto a pre-coloured background, I had no idea what I was making or where the work was going. The idea was just to play, to create freely without ideas or expectations.
Now, if the truth be told, this idea of total freedom was not entirely true…
The one expectation I had was that the piece I was creating would be of a size that could fit into a particular box frame I had waiting for it, if I deemed it worthy.
The one idea I had was that I would create something inspired by the work of Jonathan McCree, whose works of “almost symmetry” had so inspired me.

What I was not expecting, when I felt I was coming close to just trying the piece in the frame, was that it would not fit. The background paper which I had cut some weeks earlier was not, as I had thought, the size of the frame. It was a little larger and I had been collaging away without realising that what I was creating would be so much larger than the frame that even a careful cropping to the edges of the image would not be enough to squeeze it in.

After careful consideration, I decided that this was a lesson to me. I chose to see this as a happy accident, pushing me out of my comfort zone, reminding me not to be attached to a particular outcome and forcing me to take the work in a direction I had not intended.

Just before the cut

So, feeling less frustrated by little hurdle than I was excited by the possibilities, I moved forward with the piece, carefully cutting round the shapes with a view to reassembling them on a different background to fit the frame. I loved the new shapes that emerged. I was thrilled by the different configurations I was able to make. It may take a little longer for me to figure out how to finish this, but I am happy to wait. The way the individual elements looked once separated from the background gave rise to a whole stream of unforeseen options that would never have arisen had I stuck with my original path.

Another cut-out arrangement on my table

Today, I am grateful for happy accidents.
I am loving my lessons in letting go.
I am looking forward to seeing where the next step takes me.

Do you have any stories of letting go and how doing so has impacted your life or your art? I would love to hear your experiences. Please feel free to share them here.

With love,
Julia x

Letting myself off the hook

Letting myself off the hook from Be Creative Daily on Vimeo.

So here I am, enjoying this freedom and feeling a fresh sense of optimism as though things are slowly slotting together and making sense, piece by piece, day by day, when I stumble upon the work of the artist Jonathan McCree.

McCree’s paintings spoke to me in a very immediate way, as art occasionally does, on a level I find it hard to explain, as though there is some sense of familiarity, like a deja vu or ancient knowing… a heartfelt connection that cannot be described.

So I dug a little deeper, found out a little more and discovered a video of the artist talking about his work. It is ten minutes long, but I have had it on watch and rewind, watch and rewind, watch…

And now, I understand exactly why his work spoke to me. I know why this art came up on my radar right now. In the artist’s words:

“Usually when I work on anything, I am trying to devise a strategy for unknowing something. It’s much more interesting for me if I don’t know what I’m going to do, so I tell myself all the way through, “I don’t know, I don’t know” so it’s almost like a mantra. And for me, the strategy of doubt and constant questioning or deferral of what the project is about is usually the best way to end up somewhere and I don’t know at this stage where I will end up.”

This is where I am. This is what I feel. This is what I trust.

When the artists talks about his approach to his work he is speaking about something that can (and indeed should) be applied to almost all aspects of our lives… letting go and allowing things to unfold.

I started on a collage this morning:
symmetry
colour
pattern
nature
It is inspired by Jonathan McCree and I will developing this further.
When I do, I will share it here.

I want to see where the “don’t know” takes me, both in art and in life.

It is an interesting place to be… I feel like I am on the edge of something.