I can’t do that. I’m not talented enough. If only I was…
As a child you didn’t bring logic into your creative pursuits. You simply played. As responsibility and the governance of life grew, you forgot how to wonder and believe in magic. You were taught by teachers logical thinking, by family proper behavior and your peers how to fit in. Creative thinking was wrong, foolish, and just plain silly.
Although I had never actually seen a professional production, I created lavish theatrical shows as a child. My family garage became the theater. A rolling chock board transformed with paper and crayons into a backdrop. Toys from the playroom toy box were the props and my parents closets served as the costume shop. I wrote fantastical stories and cast the rag tag neighborhood gang. I even created beautiful programs from old construction paper and sold ten cent lemonade at intermission. These shows weren’t logical. They probably didn’t even make sense, but I was unafraid. I believed in possibility.
In Sussical, the Musical, the character of young Jo Jo’s imagination creates a world of beauty in the pool of his bathtub. He builds a land far greater than anyone has ever known. He simply believes anything is feasible. In Cinderella, the title character trusts that a pumpkin can transform into a carriage, and mice her footman. She accepts this solution which allows her to attend the glorious ball.
To be a brilliant artist you must let go of “should” and “must” and expand beyond what the logical mind can fathom. Can you allow yourself to be like Cinderella, Jo Jo and Little Nick?
Exercise: Cut out pictures of items you love from magazines and newspapers and paste them on to a hard cardboard surface. Try a unique flower, an amazing animal, the Rocky Mountains, a tropical island, or anything that inspires you. Perhaps it takes you to a place you’ve never been. Display the creation in a highly visible space and return to it daily. Call on it for expansive guidance.
Exercise: Keep a dream journal. Each morning immediately after you wake, write down your dreams. They become harder to remember later in the day, so straight away is best. Choose one of those dreams and write a poem or story or create an art piece based on the dream. Don’t edit yourself. Allow it to be as fantastical, zany and as nonsensical as your dream.
I ask a simple question of my Facebook community. “What is the biggest obstacle or block to your creative passions?” I receive an overwhelming number of answers that all share a similar theme: fear and money.
With the boob tube in front of me, I gape at the current administration’s attack on the arts. As they viciously call for the elimination the NEA, it isn’t surprising that fear and money are taxing the minds of my colleagues and friends.
In childhood I was taught being an artist was frivolous. My father repeatedly advised me to become a lawyer as “I loved to argue” and “I’d make good money”. Similar to his wish for me to learn to play golf, that wasn’t going to happen. To be fair, he has since recanted, and is incredibly proud of my accomplishments. So, why haven’t I come around? I have always made a living as an artist, but there is a fiscal ceiling that I have not allowed myself to penetrate.
This month I’m chanting the Lakshmi mantra. Lakshmi is the hindu god of abundance (Wealth, fortune and prosperity). In a financial transition from a steady stream to the unknown, I’m taking a leap of faith and have been calling on the energy of abundance to support it. Is that magical thinking? Maybe it is. Does it help? Yes, it does. It allows me to focus on a spiritual perspective of my finances. And the meditation practice has provided insight.
In many spiritual and artistic circles we have collectively bought the narrative, “If you are truly spiritual or truly an artist you should live a life of poverty and suffering”. I know this idea is bullshit, but a part of me must still subscribe. In acts of “generosity” I often impart my knowledge and skills for free. Or I down play my worth and undercut my fees to secure a job. Money is energy exchange. As such, this is a self worth issue. My biggest obstacle is overcoming me. The best way for me to break through this ceiling is to believe I am worth it.
Exercise: Write down everything you take in and everything you spend in a notebook. Even the $1 for parking and the $2 pack of gum. You might be surprised by what you discover.
The Empty Screen...
I sit at my desk and scooch my chair to the exact distance I can comfortably place my hands on the workstation without feeling suffocated. I pull the tattered throw pillow from behind my lower back, and fluff it, so it can offer the precise amount of lumbar support. My spine elongates beautifully like a giraffe. I inhale a deep “pranic" breath while opening my laptop. The reassurance of the start up noise is a morning seed sound igniting my system. I am prepping, reminding my spirit that I am ready to play. After offering thanks to the Great Creator, I ask that all spirits both known and unknown gracefully guide me through the forthcoming process. I gaze at the screen. Fidgeting in my seat, I look at my iPhone and check for Facebook messages. I stare back at the computer then close my eyes and draw an additional breath.
I am terrible at this. I didn’t go to school to write. What oatmeal will I eat after my morning session and should I have apples or blueberries in it today?
I fidget more attempting to locate the correct support.
How old is this chair anyway? I’ve gotta get a new one. New sheets would be nice too. Why did I study theater?
I look back. I write a sentence, and then another and another. I pause before reading them aloud.
These are shit! Ahhhhh! Keep going. Allow. Allow. Allow.
Looking out the large picture window beside me, I peer into my neighbors’ cluttered office littered with old chocolate candy wrappers, forgotten newspapers, and a lifetime of dirty clothing.
Why don’t they ever pull down their blinds? I want apples, definitely apples with cinnamon, today.
No one is listening except the Great Creator. I place my hands on the keyboard and let them type with wild abandonment, not worrying about punctuation, sentence structure, or even content. I abruptly stop, gape into space momentarily, take another breath and review what is written.
It is brilliant, sort of. Actually, it is shit, but there is one sentence that is worthy. This affords me the confidence to continue. I write another sentence; I check Facebook again; I fidget. Then write another lousy sentence that might eventually become satisfactory. My stomach growls loudly as I press away from the desk and stand. Knowing that tomorrow I will return to face that decent sentence, in that horrible paragraph, and begin the meditation again.
Exercise: Set a timer for 20 minutes and write without stopping or editing yourself. Record whatever comes from your brain, even the negative thoughts. Allow it to take any form or shape it desires.
Editing a documentary is a tedious, painful, and glorious process. My editor and I have been watching hours upon hours of footage of Invisible. This is not only my documentary filmmaking debut, but I am also a character in this personal film. Invisible traces my search for knowledge regarding the little known, often debilitating syndrome called Fibromyalgia. I’ve had the good fortune to interview my mother, meet four other amazing women to chronicle, and investigate the syndrome by speaking with hundreds of patients, experts, and physicians. From all of this incredible information my editor, co-writer, and I are attempting to carve out a cohesive, focused story.
As an artist, I am continually making corrections or changes in my work. When in flow, I allow creative projects to ebb in and out without attachment. When I am not flowing, I feel stuck, angry, anxious, and overwhelmed. Ultimately, I have the opportunity to shape my life by being my own editor. As a multidimensional creative, I try my hand at something that might feel scary because something that I’m currently doing just doesn’t feel right. It is like one of those “choose your own adventure” books fromchildhood. There isn’t one right story; there are only options.
I can even edit how I see life. My personal daily “sadhana” practice guides me to my inner compass. Every morning I practice asana (postures) and sit in meditation to listen to my highest self. When attentive to that guide, the Great Creator, Ibring consciousness to my heart’s desire and knowledge to where it should be edited and focused.
Edit your wardrobe! Take everything out of your closet. If you have not worn something in a year, pull it aside. It will not come back in style. It just won’t! Then go back to the remaining clothes. If you do not LOVE an article of clothing, get rid of it!
De-Clutter your life with the trash bag challenge. Take a single trash bag through your home and fill it with items to give away. If you are questioning an object, ask yourself a most simple question: “Does this bring me joy?” If you hesitate, let it go. You will be surprised by how fast the bag will fill up!
The Good Will or any other reputable charity is happy to take your edits and offer you a tax donation letter in exchange!
Now that you have created space in your home, take a trip to that local thrift store or five and dime. Give yourself thirty minutesand a financial limit (Mine is $20). Scan the store for anything that inspires you. Once you unearth it, transport it home and offer it a special space or place of prominence. Perhaps even write a story, compose a song, or create a piece of art inspired by it.
This week I’ve been questioning the origin of inspiration. The root of the word “inspire” means spirit, and to take in or to draw breath. In yoga that it is referred to as “prana” the sustainer of life, also known as my “life-force”. If breath is everything, maybe every little thing can inspire me?
In my youth, the film Xanadu taught me about imagination. In this movie musical, nine muses visit the earth to help motivate others to pursue their dreams and desires. One of the muses (Olivia Newton John) is incarnated as a girl named Kira, and with the assistance of Danny, (Gene Kelly) a man she inspired forty years before, they guide artist Sonny (Michael Beck) to open a roller disco. I loved this horrible film! I sang and danced on our shag carpeted living room floor to its soundtrack and choreographed new dances to its disco beat. Most importantly, it taught me that creation might come from beyond me.
I have been told there is no such thing as originality and only seven stories exist that are retold in different ways. Therefore, I’m drawing from the collective consciousness. Perhaps it is the dance of my breath with that of the universe. People find all sorts of ways to tap into this unconscious dance, such as prayer, meditation, yoga, singing and running.
“I actually tend to be moving in some form when I am being my most creative with new ideas”, says Broadway actor Josh Davis. “I could be driving or walking or playing fetch with my dog, but the movement allows my mind to think of other stuff while my sub conscious can go snooping for creative ideas.”
My multi talented writer-actor-educator friend Daniel Lendzian says, “Anything can (and does) inspire if you allow it. I try to focus more on opening the channel, looking at things from different angles, and allowing myself to be vulnerable.”
I tend to access that channel in the shower. There is something about the relaxation of the body, the trickle of the rain-like water, and the soothing sound that places me in an almost meditative trance. I often wish I had a pad of paper and pen in there! It feels like the dance of co-creation.
In this crazy world you are constantly bombarded by images and sounds, with more coming daily. That’s an abundance to absorb, but it allows for ideas to arrive more frequently. How do you choose from so many options? The idea will be so nagging that you can’t help but write, paint, or compose it. If it doesn’t nag, you shouldn’t do it. Let that breath be someone else’s muse.
Keep an Inspiration folder on your computer. Anytime something thrills you, put it in there. It can be images, websites, articles, mems, or anything you truly love. When you are lost for the next idea or project, simply open the folder and find a treasure trove of possibilities.
Take a bath. Perhaps add some essential oils or lavender. As you lie in the tub, begin to notice your breath without attempting to change it. After a few rounds of breath, begin to lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation, taking a pause at the end of both. Allow the water to surround you, but do not pass out! Let whatever thoughts come as they may, but do not focus on them. Once you have entered a relaxed state, and something sticks, you know the muse has found you.
Early this week I trekked to my friend Katie’s studio, 1617 Lab, in Santa Monica and I experienced a pilates training session that blew my mind, body, and spirit. I was a professional dancer in my twenties, I’ve practiced and taught yoga for over fifteen years and have been a gym bunny my entire adult life. I consider myself “body aware”. However, she took one glance at me and proclaimed that I needed to find my “energetic back body”.
A few days later I flew to New York City to teach in the Three Sisters Yoga teacher training program. We discussed the concept of duality. In Hinduism, Shiva (Purusha) is recognized as the embodiment of pure consciousness, and Shakti (Prakrati) as the embodiment of pure energy or our nature. Shakti is life-force, feminine energy, wisdom, and the great mother of movement and change. Shiva is: the unique embodiment of awareness and consciousness, masculine energy, and the unchanging observer. This dance of consciousness and energy is experienced within each of us, regardless of gender. Only when Shiva and Shakti merge can action, movement and creation arise.
This discussion led us to the current state of politics, the division in our country and the concept of light and darkness. We considered, what if the darkness we are experiencing in the world is a reflection of a personal internal struggle? What if the merging of the front and back body, the divine feminine and masculine, the light and dark, is the responsibility of us all as individuals? In other words, hate can’t drive out hate. And maybe love can’t drive out hate either. Perhaps self reflection, self love, and actualization drives out hate.
As an artist, I like to present my front side. I perform, get attention, and even acclaim. In this “social media, twenty-four hour news, the president is a reality star world”, it is easy to do. However, it is my duty as an artist to examine my back side. In every masterpiece both the light and the dark are explored. Consciously or not, the creators of art are exploring these themes. They write, paint, or choreograph some part of themselves that is in need of healing. As a yogi and an artist, I’m learning to honor the backside of my mind, body, and especially my spirit.
Take out a piece of paper and write about how you are feeling regarding your current situation. Not what you have read on the internet or witnessed on the news, but what you are actually experiencing. Then read the words aloud. Allow yourself to be angry, sad, or even content and happy by sitting with the feelings without judgement.
Lay flat on your back on the ground. Begin by taking a breath and scanning your body from your feet upward. Feel the weight of your backside on the earth. Don’t miss any body part as your awareness rises up to the crown of your head. Take a few breaths and repeat the action in reverse ending back at your feet. Pay special attention to any areas of tension and give extra breath to them.
As an artistic child, I created on blind trust. I colored outside the lines, took two toys and positioned them together to form something new, wrote plays that were non-linear, and choreographed new dance steps.
Around adolescence I was taught critical thinking. The Little Nick in me desperately wanted to be the best. I believed my teachers and was rewarded. I learned techniques that sharpened my skills. I grew.
But over time, the little instinctual voice I honored as a child was taken over by Mr. Critic. He was a sensible adult, and his voice grew with intensity, becoming opinionated and loud. Eventually he brought a chorus of voices with him. Because of this cacophony of sound, I could no longer hear or express my truth. I lost my guidepost. Until I discovered the gut brain.
In the Tantric system, the third chakra (Manipura Chackra), is located just above the solar plexus. The yogic theory is that there is great intelligence in this area. Personal power, self-esteem, and self-discipline all reside within this part of the body, as does your instinct.
Western medicine is beginning to explore the concept of a second brain in the gut. Known as the enteric nervous system, there are neurons embedded in the walls of the alimentary canal, the long tube of your gut.
“The second brain contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system”, says Michael Gershon, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. “This multitude of neurons in the enteric nervous system enables us to feel the inner world of our gut and its contents.”
Emeran Mayer, professor of physiology, psychiatry and bio behavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, says, "The system is way too complicated to have evolved only to make sure things move out of your colon. A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut.”
When I feel butterflies in my stomach, for example, it is my nervous system’s response to psychological stress. That is information. And once I start paying attention, by noticing the sensations and feelings, I have an understanding of myself. I can apply that to all areas of my body. That knowledge is the key to intuition. When I listen to that quiet instinctual voice within, I can make fruitful decisions.
Does this sound overwhelming?
Start small. Ask yourself a simple question. “Do I like cantaloupe?”, or “Is my favorite color blue?” Where in the body do you FEEL the answer? Is there tightening, or is it at ease? Over time, you will begin to understand the signals of the body. Then you can respond accordingly.
Another technique is to try five minutes a day of mindfulness meditation. Sit quietly either on the floor or in a chair with your back straight. Close your eyes and follow your breath. When a thought comes up, notice it. Then allow it to pass. Try not to form judgement or opinion about anything that you observe. Over time, you will be able to discriminate between what is noise and what is truth.
Trust is a daily practice. When I listen to my body and the wise inner voice, it leads to art in a playful and authentic way. With the freedom to explore, I co-create with the Great Creator.