The Only Way In: How We Maintain Creative Presence (Beginner’s Luck Series)

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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.

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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

26 thoughts on “The Only Way In: How We Maintain Creative Presence (Beginner’s Luck Series)

  1. Erika

    This is a wonderful post, Allison. I totally get you about being stopped when success is getting high. We got to this succes because we created something in alignment with our divine core. But in experiencing this access there is this danger that we lose this alignment and let ego take over because we get under pressure to kee the standard or top it. This way it is falling apart. I remember the singer Falco. When he was notified that his song Amadeus was number one in the US charts he fell into depression. He did not see a way to top this and he lost motivation.
    I think success for what we do is wonderful. We simply mustn’t forget how we achieved it. And this should motivate us to even align more with ourselves which makes us steadfast in our doings and in the love we feel for whatever we do. What is success? To feel this fulfillment when we love what we do and do what we love! Thanks for this great post, Allison!

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Dear, dear Erika,

      Your words and thoughts are so absolutely thorough and perfect! Thank you, thank you for these insights you share – I totally feel your energy.

      I love what you say in the very core of your beautiful message here: “we lose this alignment and let ego take over” – you are so SPOT on. Maybe after all that is why I wrote this particular piece – so that artists keep going. Just as you use the example of the number one song stopping Falco in his tracks, how tragic, right.

      Sounds like, at the end of the day, it’s all about finding our way back Home. Not being haunted by past or future but letting now be. ;)

      Thank you so much, as always, for sharing your elegance and talent!!

      Peace and light, always,


  2. Chris

    Hey Allison,

    Love the beginners series! Vulnerability is undoubtedly the first step to self-actualization. I really dig your insights!


    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Hey Chris,

      I am SO happy to hear this! I really, really dig that you are here, my friend!

      Thank you for your kind words – always feel welcome here. ;)

      Blessings and light, always,


  3. Noelle

    When I tried to get published the first time, back in my thirties, so much ego was tied into it. Whether I was successful or not at getting published determined whether I perceived myself as happy or successful. Now, I have sent off a book for the first time in 15 years. It was amazing how after it was gone it was actually gone. I knew it had a life of it’s own. I could follow up with emails or letters, but beyond this, whether it has a life and what sort of life it has is wholly out of my control. I feel such immense peace knowing the work is an extension of a me that has already come and gone. If it lives again in the published work, grand, but if not, so be it. And if it lives large one day, grand, but so be it. That version of me has already departed. The one that mailed the book. She left 6 months ago and there is someone else now standing here writing this post. Thank goodness. It frees me up to move onto something else. If I have to worry and wonder whether it will be successful or not, or if my happiness is dependent on what happens to it, well then I’m trapped. If it is published and were to be hugely successful, I hope I have the good sense to feel no differently. If I have to be married to everything I’ve already done I won’t get to near half of what I still want to do. Blogging has helped a lot with this. I see people with their copyright comments on their posts. I get it. No one wants their stuff taken, but on some level that worry or concern is about scarcity. Being worried you only have so much good in you and if someone absconds with it, well where will you be? But if I keep posting and I worry less about what will happen to each piece, the well from which it came never seems to have a bottom. So creative genius, success, what happens next are all only important to the extent I worry about them. If I don’t worry and just focus on what I’d like to be doing today, well, everything is grand. So I write this and enjoy some chocolate. Life is good and somewhere is a piece of me sitting on some editor’s desk. I hope she’s well and shines bright when someone finally reads her. She was a good lass.

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Dear fabulous Noelle,

      I just read and re-read your gorgeous comment twice. I am absorbing every blessed word and thought! Everything you say resonates so deeply with me it is astounding. Your insights are so glowing and real. I love how you say this: “I feel such immense peace knowing the work is an extension of a me that has already come and gone.”

      Isn’t that the STUFF. The letting go of what we have created in love. The ability to separate ourselves from the reactions, from the imaginary ‘future’ and be content to know we have birthed our thing. It is exquisite what you say and I thank you deeply for sharing it because it clearly comes from wisdom and light. Thank you for shining it here, I am blessed.

      Also very much loving your thoughts about copyrights and the scarcity mentality. I have thought the very same things you bring up here and it is awesome to read that you feel the same. What is it we are trying to cling to? And in our fear of someone stealing it, what are we really afraid of? Is it worth the angst? I don’t think so, at least not for me in this moment. If someone uses my stuff, I can know it was sent out in love.

      And exactly as you say, the well of love and creativity has no bottom. It can only multiply. . .

      I’m so incredibly grateful for your spirit.

      Sending peace and light your way, always,


      P.S. I’ll join you in the chocolate, my dear friend. ;)

  4. Alejandro

    Hey dear angel,

    Thank you so much for writing another heart felt and beautiful piece…there is much content to comment about, wonderful, incredibly interesting and deeply insightful that I really don’t know where to begin. I know, I am going to start by commenting on the picture “Entrance” that guides us into this journey; how appropriate that selection was because as we engage in the process of creating new art, whether we obtain success or not (that really doesn’t matter at all), we artists enter into a very special place…our “Creative Zone” where we are completely free to commune, and play with our thoughts and ideas; letting that rush or wind of creative energy engulf us from head to toe, like a powerful mantle that covers and guides us through the entire process.

    Thank you Allison for sharing Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity, I watched it some time ago and she does a good job in clearly describing the creative process, in her particular case, writing but equally applicable to any other art form.

    The other concept that I want to touch a bit because I think it is crucial to living a full and rich life (and I don’t mean rich in terms of wealthy possessions), and it is the “Here and Now”. There are so many people who though existing in the present, live their lives either in the past or in the future. I love the way you put it:

    “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.”

    How sad to spend most of our time either in past memories or in future unknowns, and at the same time miss the magical “Now” moments…the ones we are creating minute by minute, those which truly enrich our lives and provides meaning.

    I believe that every now and then we tend to fall into the pattern of living our life and doing things in a more rigid way, and perhaps we are concerned with what people may say or think of us if we act a bit wild and crazy or start doing something completely different…will people accept it? or even a better question, will people accept US? and to be very frank about this, why concerning ourselves with what others say or don’t say. Do we create art for others or because it is part of who we are, and whatever is bubbling inside of us, deep in our hearts and minds must come out and become visible…some will love it and some will hate it, who cares…that is the true nature of creation!!!!


    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Dear, dear Alejandro,

      Your words are an absolute joy to read. Knowing that this post served you and resonated for you is just so awesome. AWESOME. ;)

      Thank you for picking up on so many of the things I tried to flesh out in this piece, when someone gets into it, I believe, it means for sure it didn’t come from me, but came through me – from that place that connects us all. That is the work that matters, the good work, the work we are meant to do. Thank you for your kindness in engaging with this, here and now.

      You are so right, we artists do enter into a ‘zone’ – a rich place within. I love that you call it that, it’s perfect. And to your other thoughtful point, it is sad to see beautiful creative folk stuck in either the past or the future story. The good stuff is the story emerging in the present if only we could get out of our own way and let it come through – as you say elegantly – like the wind.

      Thank you for your light and spirit, dear one. I’m so grateful for your presence here.

      Peace, always and always,


  5. Holistic Wayfarer

    A rich, layered post, A. I loved that talk by Gilbert (whom I’ve been quoting out the wazoo, although I don’t subscribe to her worldview). You seem like you’re deep in a time of wrestling with your grander self. Thank you for the reminder to drink fully of the cup life put in our hand already – now.


    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Hello, hello D,

      I’m so very glad to hear from you, thank you for your beautiful words and thoughts! Yes, Gilbert always touches something in me and I loved this talk. I get a kick out of her realness, if that makes sense. I’m curious what you mean by her worldview? Would love to hear more but only if you’ve got the time.

      It is my absolute joy to share with you guys and I’m thrilled to know this resonated for you. As for being “deep in a time of wrestling with your grander self” – I dig that. You could be spot on, friend.

      Wishing you much peace and light – A ;)

  6. Gabriela LeBaron

    Thank you for writing what you write Allison!! Lately I have not had time to read, but am relaxing with your blog right now. I especially love this post! I love “stop chasing Done”.

    I’m actually “beginning again” so this beginner series is very relevant to me!!


    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Oh wow – G!! That is so awesome! I am totally revved up for your new beginning – your energy always comes through to me so fierce when I hear from you. You are so damn stellar, friend. I know time is thin as paper these days and finding time to read can be a real hat trick, so I thank you most humbly for taking the time to read this and to leave such an awesome comment.

      If it helps you in terms of time, you can actually check out this Beginner’s Series on iTunes (all the episodes stream for free there, too):

      Super star love your way, brave swordswoman. ;)

      Onward, love. XOXO

  7. Joy

    Thank you for sharing this. I just started teaching a new class that is giving teenagers the tools to be successful in school and life and many of them have had a hard time of it, and/or once they are successful, don’t know how to stop thinking about their past failures…a million different issues. I think I am actually going to reference your ideas in my class!

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Dear Joy,

      WOW!! You are so incredible and amazing – I know I’ve said this to you before but I’ll say it a thousand times, I have the highest respect and admiration for TEACHERS. That you are working with teenagers who have had a hard time moves me to the core. Bless you, bless you for the work you do. I applaud you and I’m so grateful to you for being a brilliant light in this world. Bravo, my sweet friend! ;)

      If these words sound like something that would encourage your students by all means please share them! I would be so humbled and honored to know that. In fact, you have pretty much made my day with your words and ideas. Yes, yes. Day made. (And it’s not even 7am yet – nice. haha)

      ROCK THE HELL ON, JOY!! The world needs you and I’m so freaking glad to know you.

      Peace and light, always,


  8. Meg Evans

    Yes, it’s all about just letting the work unfold and do what it wants to do, without distractions! In today’s world we’ve gotten so conditioned to think in terms of production schedules and continuous improvement and all that other workplace stuff, sometimes we forget that’s not what art is about. Stepping back from the self-imposed pressure and simply asking what’s happening here, in the moment, is indeed a very effective way to get back in the flow. Thanks for the reminder. :)

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Hello, hello Meg,

      I love that you said this!! YES, friend, our industrial society is so hyper focused on mass production and faster, faster. No wonder it’s a real trick to slow down and savor. But that is what art is all about, isn’t it. “Stepping back from the self-imposed pressure. . . ”

      Such a hugely insightful point you make. Nothing crushes the spirit like pressure to fill in the future.

      Thank you for your beautiful light! ;)

  9. Robert

    Wonderful thoughts in your post Allison.

    One for me to take 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? ‘ Yes, I get it!!!! Another piece of the jigsaw falls into place, thank you for that enlightening remark :)

    Namaste dear friend
    Blessings and love


    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Dearest Robert,

      I always love hearing what touches you! Thank you so much for taking the time to share with me what your favorite take away was. Even more awesome that we are piecing the puzzle together – together. So, so glad to know it, my dear friend. ;)

      Sending you so much love and peace,

      blessings and light,

      always and always,


  10. Jackie

    It is something I wrestle with. When I was writing my first novel, I read a little book by Brenda Euland called If You Want to Write. She recommends the dawdling, noodling and puttering required to breed good ideas. She equates the joy of writing with a child threading beads on to a piece of string. I loved all that imagery and I really was that child. Now, everything I write has to have a purpose, an end result, there’s less time for puttering and tootling and all that beautiful part. I miss it so badly and yet sometimes feel like I’m on a train and the next stop isn’t until three towns away!

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      My incredibly brave and talented friend,

      Thank you so much for sharing this – I love the imagery of the child threading beads. Brenda Euland sounds like a beautiful artist, as are you. ;) The dawdling, the noodling, the puttering . . . luxuries in so many ways, yeah?

      I hope in some way you are able to tap into that beautiful part – your writing on your blog always seems like it comes from that treasured place, the intricate delights and surprises of the elegant mind of Jackie M. ;)

      Super sized hugs and light your way, my friend. Here’s to the wander – and the train ride!


    1. Allison Marie Post author

      You are so FIERCE, friend. Thank you so much.

      I am thrilled you loved this one! That is the best. Dig me a quote about phantoms, right. ;)

      Big love – XO

  11. Rob

    I enjoyed listening to you reading this post, Alison. I must apologize, Allison. I thought that I had followed your blog only to discover that I hadn’t or somehow unfollowed you. Mea culpa!

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Hello, hello dear Rob,

      I am so happy to see you here, thank you so much. ;)

      I hope you like the Beginner’s Luck Series!

      Have a most beautiful Saturday, my friend!


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