You know that feeling when you’re all bright-eyed about some project you’ve been working on, but somebody’s careless comment suddenly makes you feel not so confident? Well, maybe that’s just me. But I was having a rough time navigating various rejections (and, let’s be honest, perceived rejections) a few weeks back, and it got me thinking about self care for the minor day to day heartbreaks that sometimes come along with the creative life. It occurred to me that someone else out there may deal with this from time to time, so I wrote this piece, Ten Cures for a Creative Person’s Vulnerability Hangover, which, to my delight and honor, was published in The Daily Positive, and I thought I would share it with you, too… just in case you ever have a need for such tips.
This is a message for anyone who feels out of sync with the season, whose inner world seems to be clashing with what’s happening outside. Because grief and sadness can arise in springtime, same as in winter. And when the heart full of sorrow meets a shimmering mountainside covered in late snow, the effect may be to dispel the clouds within – or to drive a sharp stone point into the tender center of being. And when our eyes are still welling with tears even when we’re looking at a field of vibrant new wildflower blossoms –
It can be so easy to think we must be doing something wrong.
How could we still cling to this pain when every insect and dewdrop and neighbor around us is singing “Happy Happy Joy Joy” in 16 part harmony? We must surely be a stubborn fool, says the critical mind (or at least mine does). We must be in love with our sadness, to hold so fast while all creation conspires and strives to wrest it from our grasp.
Well, this is simply to say that ours is a universe of cycles within cycles. And while the seasons are powerful teachers, we have our own inner seasons, as well – the timing of which is not obligated to line up with the solar calendar that regulates changes in the weather at our particular spot on the globe.
So if you’re experiencing a deep emotional process that seems to be at odds with what nature is doing all around you; if turning your attention to the flourishing of springtime doesn’t instantly erase your grief, your distress, your heartache; if the phenomena that are currently making all your friends giddy are actually sharpening your pain and leaving you feeling lost, confused, or alienated –
Please, please, please, above all, PLEASE do not beat yourself up any further. We don’t all go through our periods of profound inner challenge at the culturally appropriate time. It’s ok to be sad in springtime. You are NOT doing it wrong.
Try to stay open, as much as you can, even when the temptation is strong to implode.
Remember that “beauty” is not synonymous with “elation.” While the onslaught of color and light can feel overwhelming during a period of depression, if we can stay present, we may find ourselves stunned and indescribably moved by the perfect symmetry of a richly purple rose unfolding beside our door. A wild thunderstorm can jolt us for a moment out of our small-s self and bring us into direct communion with the Divine.
And, if spring is bringing a difficult emotional landscape into stark relief, remember the most important lesson of the seasons: All things pass.
All things pass.
ALL things pass.
You can feel free to be fully present with what is in your inner world, knowing, with the part of you that simply knows, that the pain you feel now will, like the clouds, inevitably shift, change, transform, and finally, pass.
I am not someone who believes that my life was better before smartphones existed. I love my hand held digital devices. They make me feel like I’m on Star Trek. And for people like me who are not gifted with natural social ease, email and texting have opened far more possibilities for communication than they’ve closed. (That, of course, could be a whole other post.) I like the electronic word and I’m not ashamed to admit it!
But … There can be such a thing as too much. My job involves planting my face in front of a massive Mac screen for 8 (or – usually – more) hours each day. Then I go home and, for fun, put up websites. It gets to where I can feel my eyeballs vibrating from the continual barrage of photons. And even though the vast majority are “friendly fire,” when the range is point blank, the impact is significant.
And I think I feel the onslaught more acutely when I’m in a relatively more energetically open state. Earlier this summer I was lucky enough to attend a couple of camps that had an opening effect on me, even as they showed me where and how I could perhaps exercise a little healthy discrimination in terms of what I’m inviting in.
In the weeks following those camp experiences, I find that some things I’ve typically thought of as relaxing and pleasurable – don’t feel that way just now. For example, I’m having a hard time making myself sit down and watch a tv show – even one I ordinarily enjoy – even in a format with no commercials. Even if I actually WANT to catch up on a story I’m curious about.
What do I want to do instead?
Well, I’ve become more aware lately of activities that have what I perceive as a soothing effect on my spirit. The sensation is like Throat Coat tea for the soul. Or, as in this description I just encountered in The Arabian Nights: “coolth of my eyes,” suggesting, as the footnote to this curious phrase says,
Arabic “Kurrat al-ayn”; coolness of eyes as opposed to a hot eye (‘sakhin’), I.e. one red with tears. The term is true and picturesque so I translate it literally. All coolness is pleasant to dwellers in burning lands …
— translator Sir Richard Francis Burton
I read that and thought, Dang. That describes it perfectly.
I’m sure all of these things are pretty much “duh” in terms of what to do to energetically recover from digital overstimulation. But they have been refuge for my heart, medicine for my mind, and balm to my spirit.
Interacting with paper instead of a screen: reading books, writing letters, drawing pictures in my sketch pad with an old fashioned pencil.
Specifically – going to places where I can hear the wind, but not the sound of traffic.
3. Acoustic music
Lately I’ve found my way back to instrumental folk and classical music – and it’s like I’ve been wandering through neighborhoods I’ve never seen before, right in the middle of towns I thought I knew.
(especially water that’s outside, and especially especially, water that I can be in without any clothes on)
Since I already mentioned drawing, here I’ll note how satisfying it has felt to create art in public places – like this mural I was invited to help with, which is on the wall of the studio my housemate is turning our garage into.
I did the yellow. 🙂
And you know, it was past my bedtime when they invited me to this painting party, on an evening I had set aside for self care through physical, mental, and emotional rest. But as soon as I had a brush in my hand I knew on a visceral level that this WAS a type of rest that I was also deficient in: rest for my spirit.
Rest from interacting with human arguments and demands. Rest from mechanized processes. Rest from filtering all that which is poisonous and trying to make it clean. In a way, painting felt just like floating in a pool of liquid light.
Ok, I still needed sleep. But even before I went to bed that night, I felt like I’d already had a pretty sweet dream.
I am up late on this windy, rainy Sunday night waiting for my partner to get home from Minnesota. He texted to say he’s just passing through Boonville — another twenty minutes. I have to get up early in the morning to drive to St. Louis for massage school but I haven’t seen him since Friday morning and I won’t see him again until late tomorrow night so I’m staying up past my bedtime for a goodnight kiss.
This Sunday I’m unusally fussy about starting the work-week tomorrow. This is my last session of massage school and in only seven more weeks I’ll be done entirely. But thse past three weeks I’ve felt so annoyed about the driving and the long days (even though it’s only two days a week). I’m feeling victimized by my schedule, even though I created it, I’m still sure it’s the right thing, and it will be over in less than two months! I’m holding the intention that I will feel more upbeat about it when I wake up in the morning and I’ll recognize lots of things about the day tomorrow that will make it worthwhile. (Because they’re there, I am certain. I just have to take note of them!)
I tried to cram too many activities into this weekend. They were all really good — sometimes fun, sometimes inspiring, and I connected with a lot of friends — but today after church I felt totally drained! I had planned to follow THAT up with this bike ride on the Katy Trail organized by Missourians for Safe Energy but when I got out of church (ten minutes before we were supposed to gather, still needing to eat lunch and change from church clothes to bike-riding clothes) it was cold and a light rain was falling. I didn’t know if they were going to cancel the ride or not. I said Forget it, and went to the Chinese buffet.
I realized tonight I mentioned the Chinese buffet in my last post (that’s two out of three posts) — I really don’t spend every day obsessing about it, but as a matter of fact this weekend I was obsessing about it, and I think I know why: Because I wasn’t giving myself time to rest and process new stimuli and integrate the big experiences, I was feeling undernourished, run down, low on resources if you will, and getting to a pretty urgent situation. Up stepped “food and plenty of it” as the old familiar cure-all, the easy and obvious way to feel like I’m being taken care of. Of course, the needs that really needed feeding were not of the hunger variety (I got a clue from the fact that all sorts of old addictions were jabbing around for attention, not just eating) and so even though I gave in to the craving, and did in fact enjoy my Chinese buffet experience, by nighttime I was still feeling unsatisfied on the inner level, feeling squashed and tired with too many expectations (self-imposed, to be truthful).
Having already ditched my diet for the weekend (with a spirit of “Screw it” that I haven’t seen that much in the past two months since I’ve been on it) I decided to ditch my workout too (which was supposed to have been covered by the bike ride — now would require a trip to the gym), stay inside in my PJs, work on my last dissertation chapter, and take a salt bath. I think it was the right decision. After my bath I do feel lighter, more relaxed. I use a whole 2 pounts of salt and a squirt of Castille soap for lavender and a few bubbles — not enough (I hope) to trigger my partner’s allergies. After ten minutes or so I find myself melting into the salt water … feeling connected with the ocean. One of my massage teachers recommends this combination as an energy cleanser. I think it’s bliss.
Well, the traveller is home, so I am off to collect my kiss! Good night …