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You would think an artistic success would be a good thing, right?
You would think that to be celebrated for your great work and your creative elegance would be just the very thing you need to keep you going. It would be sparkled and engaging and open you up even more widely, more broadly, more deeply to your art.
More likely, though, it will stop you dead in your tracks.
In her fiercely popular TED Talk on the subject of Your Elusive Creative Genius, Elizabeth Gilbert candidly reveals to us that after the blockbuster success of her book Eat, Pray, Love she considered stopping writing altogether.
After all the fanfare, what could she possibly do next that would meet their expectations?
How could it ever top what she’d already done?
Ms. Gilbert compares the paralyzing effects of success with the equally paralyzing effects of failure. She explains that both the rejection by publishers in her early days as a writer and the overwhelming acceptance of Eat, Pray, Love did the same thing: flung her far away from herself.
The pull of the past and the tug of the future will keep you from getting present, and yet the only way to truly create is to be present within yourself. If you want to keep going, somehow you’ve got to get to Now.
“Wherever you are, be there totally . . . you must choose now. No excuses. No negativity. No psychic pollution. Keep your inner space clear.”
– Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
This post was a tricky one to birth.
Not because it is any different than the others in this Series in terms of attention, love, writing, re-writing, editing, or researching. I still wanted to give you every drop of affection and inspiration I can muster in this post, just like I did in all the others – in Ways 1 through 4 – and just like I will want to in the two still to come – Ways 6 and 7.
The struggle of bringing this one to life has not been it’s degree of depth compared to those before or those to come, but the fact that my mind seems to want to occupy the posts before and the posts to come.
And not this one.
The past beckons me back. The future begs me forward.
But what I need in order to create, to bring life, is to be present.
To come back to center, to come back home.
To get back to work.
To get back to Now.
Have you ever struggled with this artistic puzzle, guys? I am sure anyone who has been at their craft long enough has faced this curious trouble. And the truly committed ones have blasted past it, through it, and kept on.
So how do they do it? How do you return to beginner’s mind, the presence of mind, when you are not at the ‘beginning’ of a thing (a project, a piece, an album, a book, a diet, a career)?
When you have triumphs and failures behind you and uncertainty ahead of you, it can be a tough thing to turn off the stories and get quiet enough to begin the task immediately in front of you.
Part of the trick is to recognize that the past and the future are indeed only stories. That is to say, they do not exist.
Everything that has happened to you before is now only the smoke of memory, and everything that will happen next is now only a dream, a ghost, a phantom.
“Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements – inferences, guesses, deductions – it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead.”
– Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity
There is something the beginner’s mind allows us to do that cuts through the tension of ‘before’ and ‘after’ and allows us to emerge organically into the present moment. It is something you cannot do consciously or well when you are gripped by your stories.
It is a curious something, a thing so simple we often over look it and we often tread our muddy heels all over its gently enlightening potential.
That something is . . . to ask questions. And not answer them right away.
Sit down with the stewing, gestating art and wonder about it, wander with it. What does it need? What is it asking of you? What is the new story that is emerging now?
Let yourself not know everything. Let yourself BE in the moment with all its emptiness. Empty of what you think you should do based on the past, empty of what you think you have to do to get to the future.
Empty yourself of the need to re-resolve the past and to fill in the blanks of the future.
Stop chasing Done.
Begin where you actually are.
How often do we allow ourselves to ask questions?
To be with a question and really leave room for an answer to find us. More often, we ask questions – of ourselves or of other people – and even as we are doing the asking, we are jumping all over ourselves to answer. To answer the quickest, to answer the right way, to get the last word in, to answer the way we were taught.
The way we know how. The safe way.
The way we’re sure will work next because it worked before.
But beginners do not have these preconceptions and because of that, they let them selves wiggle a little. They allow themselves to be with the uncertainty of the beginning of a budding thing, to ask questions about it, to let the yet unanswered ‘hows’ tumble out and bat them around a bit – without judgment and without rush.
This is what makes art interesting and malleable. The free forming, the wandering, the letting a thing run wild a while, the process of uninhibited exploration.
Too often we go for the stale answer instead of the fresh insight. We look for the assurance of the past or we look to nail down the assurance of a harmonious future.
We forget to just look at what’s in front of us waiting to be asked, called, summoned forth in it’s own uniqueness.
“To put it still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”
– Alan Watts
What is this emerging art trying to show me?
Where is it trying to go?
How can I express this thing in this moment?
Beginners make play time, practice time, time for unanswered questions, time for new answers to emerge. This is the way in; our entrance into the present moment, the moment when creation can occur because we are empty enough to let it come through.
So as I was flailing around for far too long trying to force this post to get done – to ignore the taunts of the past and comfort myself that the future would work out just fine, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to force the work to fit.
I didn’t have to tell my art how it had to get done.
All I really had to do . . . was ask it to come out and play.
And she did.
And I listened and watched in quiet presence as she led me along the way, in a design I could not have remembered nor predicted.
Because this piece, all of these words and thoughts and beats, began as an uncertainty;
as a question:
What can I offer them in love?
What you are reading now, of course, is the answer.
~ ~ ~
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© 2014 Allison Marie Conway at Glory Begin