We Earthbound Creatives often feel the enormous gulf between the magical alignment with our creative flow that we long for and where we are now on our creative path. Getting to alignment doesn’t take sleight of hand so much as it takes knowing some of the manifesting secrets that creatives have used through time. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does touch on the major points: claim your truth, have a daily practice, create a magical space, and, beware the Devil’s bargain. Instead, strike a good bargain with the loving Universe, which is totally on your side.
1. Ritual = Regular Intervals(time+place+purpose).
Each moment is an intersection of time + place + purpose. What makes it a ritual is you repeat it, keeping time (when and for how long), place and purpose the same. I’ve often written here about the power of daily writing, but only seldom have I spoken of the magic of my writing space. Now, before you imagine that I have your idea of the perfect writing space, let me tell you that half the room is filled with cartons and piles, and the corners are stacked with stuff. It was designed to be a bedroom and has an entire wall of closets. The closets are filled with winter coats and boxes of photographs and my supplies for mailing and packaging, art supplies, musical instruments and my five 25-quart plastic bins full of notebooks. So it’s not a pristine, distraction-free oasis.
But my little writing space within the room seems to magnetize me to the chair the moment I enter. To be specific, it’s the objects on my writing table that pull me in so powerfully.
2. Visual cues+placement = magnetic.
My writing table. It’s not a table I sit at to write. It’s next to the chair where I write. To my left is a large desk that holds current projects, notebooks and pens. My writing table is a short, round, carved side table to my right that holds treasures plus an electric gadget that keeps my coffee warm. On my table is a collection of meaningless, seemingly useless objects that are nonetheless mysterious and beautiful. They’re not refuse or afterthoughts. They’re placed there on purpose.
The stones, shells and shards have more intrinsic mystery than any meaning I might assign to them. Even the items that have meaning to me–my father’s dog tags from the Army, the candle of St. Bridget from a drum circle, the strips of fabric from a fire ceremony–have new things to reveal. I have to be present each time I sit. I can’t come to the same conclusions about them, nor should I assign a static meaning to my objects, for that is anti-creative, anti-this moment, and closes off other possibilities. If they can grow and transform, then so can I.
Something so physically static can be an invitation to open up and approach the precipice. This transmission of possibility and potential, of mystery and transformation, this invitation to lean over and fall, happens in a second. As I’m situating myself on my writing chair, pushing up on its arms to raise my body so I can fold my legs under me, I put a pillow on my lap and pick up my pen and notebook. I glance at the objects and begin covering paper with squiggles.
The objects then become witness to my process. The safest witness. The kind that sees all and judges nothing and doesn’t move, but remains present. The kind that reveals and reveals and reveals the more I reveal. My process becomes as trustworthy as their presence. I write my way to the truth that my objects embody. We are all pieces of a whole.
3. Illusion+Truth = Truth
I made a deal with the Universe today. I don’t usually make deals with the Universe. I don’t usually have a thing that I’m willing to give or get, a clear trade, a win-win intention, but today it was clear as clear: “Universe, if I write, will you keep sending me paying gigs?” By that I meant, if I write first thing, in ernest, as if that’s who I am and what I do, if I am that, if I give everything to it, will you respond with love as you always do? And in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to get to the writing, right then and stay there, where I belong. I knew it. I said it. It is so.
This is the complete opposite of a devil’s bargain. Opposite in every way. First, it’s not the devil, it’s God. Let’s say, in case you’re a holist like me, it’s the good side of God. This is important, because the Force is the Force. You can summon up Its power to destroy or create. What do you long to create? What are you willing to destroy in order to create that? In my case, in that moment, my wisdom spoke to me of destroying the illusion that there is something else I have to do first, that there is some more urgent way to spend my time, some way to make money, some way to take care of every last thing before I can sit down to it.
But the illusion was easy to destroy. It fell right over and became a nothing, because illusions cannot stand up to truth. And truth is something you can speak at any time. You have to keep speaking it until you drill down into its core, getting closer and closer to its essence each time. The only way to fail at this is to stop speaking the truth. Because when you get there, it won’t matter how much time it took and how many false truths you slept with. Because time is collapsible, and because the Universe is kind. And because truth is power.
4. Truth+Action = Efficiency
This is not a devil’s bargain because rather than selling my soul I’m claiming it. Because I didn’t ask for ideas of ways to make money, or promise to do anything as long as there’s enough money, or any of the other ways I could tell the Universe, “I’ll be what you want me to be as long as you give me money.” I also didn’t tell the Universe, “I’m willing to wait to be alive and to fulfill my god-given dreams, as long as you give me money.” I also didn’t say, “You know, I love all this stuff you’ve given me, so I’m okay doing without the one thing I love and desire the most.”
Why would the Universe agree to such a thing?
Instead I finally heard and felt the urgency and spoke urgently, acknowledging what the Universe has been trying to tell me all along: You can avoid this, you can skirt it, you can set up elaborate systems and trade this for that, you can keep making sand castles with different colored buckets, but I will always be there, ready to help you, as soon as you decide to trust yourself. As soon as you are able to say the words, “I must write”–and for you, dear reader, what is it that you must do?–I will help you make the best deal possible. Because the Universe is efficient.
5. Desire+Inaction = Exhaustion
Keeping a Devil’s bargain usually entails a lot of wasted effort. The effort of avoiding, resisting, ignoring and pretending is enormous. We are never fully at rest, and never fully invested in what we are doing. We are forever searching outside ourselves for the magic formula and the answer to our neverending need. We are constantly mourning for a self yet-to-be while fertively checking that the flame of our desire hasn’t gone out. We are more identified with wanting than with our dream. We know more about being scared than getting through a difficult pass.
We have no idea that opening the door takes only an instant. We’d rather sacrifice our very soul than anger anyone or otherwise upset the apple cart of our daily lives, the very things we need to do in order to render the bargain we’ve already made null and void.
6. Discipline = Freedom
So, yes, the writing table, and yes, the daily writing. Yes, the walking to the precipice and the falling. Yes, yes, yes, to all of that. But also, this: It’s taken me all of a gorgeous, sunny July day in Maine to write this article. We don’t get that many gorgeous, sunny days. Not this year. I should be out on the lake or gardening. Visiting with summer friends, taking a walk and hunting for wild raspberries.
But I’m writing by an open window, and I’m dreaming of ice cream. I’m writing because I gave my word this morning and because it matters to me. There are people out there turning 70 and 80 who are too scared of failing to let themselves express and create what’s in their hearts. And that’s the funny thing about these bargains we make. There is no guarantee that our dream will “come true” should we strike that bargain with the Universe and say, “I’m in! Send angels.”
But, my dearest readers, there is a guarantee if you strike the other bargain. And if you have, you are living it now, and what kind of certaintly would you be willing to trade for a day of creative alchemy?
Notice I said, alchemy, not fulfillment, or goals met, or accollades or anything like that. There are no guarantees. This is important to know. So that you begin with the right intentions and don’t fool yourself about an end goal that will make it all worthwhile. The stones on my table are not hoping to become boulders. The sun is setting. I have nothing to show for myself. The efforts of today will be published online and maybe 100 people will read my words.
When you decide that creating is essential to you, you will get rewards and blessings you cannot imagine from your present vantage point. Instead of navigating yet another cul-de-sac or wrong turn on the path of hoping to not get too hurt, this is where your feet are on the path, pounding their way inexorably home. You might even be whistling. Unless you’re having ice cream.
7. Heart’s Desire+Universe Sending Angels = ?
This is one only you can complete, dear reader. Here’s your chance to forge the bargain of your dreams:
Universe, If I (your heart’s desire)_________________, will you (your equivalent of sending angels)_________________________ ?
After you’ve made your bargain, download my free ebook, 30 Day Creativity Breakthrough. It’s a practical guide to getting started.
I like to think artists are all about making beauty, but they aren’t really. They’re about seeing. Creating through the dark times requires a willingness to face what you see and to give voice and shape to it. This flies in the face of being likable, popular and inspiring, although capturing felt experience so your audience feels it and relates to it as if their own is its own kind of beauty. And closing the distance between you and your audience, creating intimacy with your work, being vulnerable and fearless–These are inspiring acts.
Therefore, it would do us well to embrace the dark times.
Embracing the dark times brings to bear all the discipline, fortitude, trust and courage we’ve honed in our daily practice of creating something every day, no matter what. The sheer stubbornness that’s carried us through times of no time and no space and no ideas and cardboard-flat experience shows up as the commitment we need to face the empty page, canvas, room or camera and tell it like it is, now.
It pays to hone the skill of being the last one standing, or the one to whom it all comes down, the keeper of the stopped buck, passed from hand to hand of well-mean-ers and not-quite-readies. And to then plant that thing right in the ground, knowing it will bear fruit. Willing it to bear fruit, even as we surrender to the timing, the form and all the particulars.
There is a word for the intersection of discipline, fortitude, trust and courage: Grit. Sandpaper has grit. Its roughness makes it king to anything it rubs against, except, perhaps, steel or air. We become masters of the dark times and show our audience the way through by being the grit that rubs the darkness smooth.
One way I stay on the creativity train is by writing something down just before I turn out the light at night. It’s often a poem or a prayer. It’s my last-ditch effort to connect with what’s in my heart before surrendering to sleep, the place where the alchemy of dreams can have its chance at healing my anguish. There’s something about that moment before sleep when I always have the impulse to tell it like it is in a way that I might not in mid-afternoon or first thing in the morning. It’s as if I’m writing to a wiser part of myself and saying, “Yes, I’m aware of this, I can finally own it. Let’s see what you can do with this.” And with just a hint of, “Please.”
Here is a poem that I wrote before bed while still reeling from the shock of a close friend’s diagnosis.
I am waiting for mortality
To shear me of my denial
And lead me to an edge
I have been dancing toward
But have not seen,
To startle me with candor
As cold as finality and
As hot as shame at having been
Complacent and in denial.
I am petitioning mortality
To take from me everything fake
And true, so that I can
Finally be here, unashamed
And bare, blazing with a passion
Of which I am sure.
I am waiting for mortality to bring
Me certainty before it’s too late,
Because I feel mortality’s slap,
My whole being a reddened cheek
That hopes to fade before
Someone sees, yet desperately
Feels this may be the one chance
To face the refiner’s fire,
And be forged into something
Lasting and strong.
I am waiting for mortality
To shear me of my denial
And wondering why
I can’t offer it up
As a matter of course,
A daily practice,
Until mortality takes me.
And I wonder if we aren’t still infinite beings,
But that we need mortality
To take us that last leg of our becoming
Or we might be tempted to
To avoid the acute discomfort
Of having left behind
Every tiny familiar thing
We carefully crafted to confirm
And celebrate our misguided story
Of who we are.
Another creative act in dark personal times is to faithfully record our dreams. This means being faithful to things we avoid in waking life: illogic, loose ends, irrational alliances, walking around naked and pooping in public, being in dark places, flying.
I am thinking if I were in the army I’d keep my partial plate at the barracks so it wouldn’t get broken in combat.
I am walking along thinking this and around a bend I am on a familiar grey shore where long dark oblongs bob in the water. Ebony whales, logs, piano keys bob in grey water, while the tan cliffs rise up before me, and circling a little closer with each hesitation, black panther-like, uneasy animals pace underneath the cliff head.
I have climbed up before but now I can’t get a foothold and you have shimmied up before me, you and another, and I want to call for you to come back and stick your hand down for me, but I don’t want the circling, sniffing beasts to see I am stranded down below with them.
It crosses my mind they might be friendly. I wake with a start.
3:37 a.m. Your side of the bed is empty. Some time later I heave myself out of bed and slip on my crocs and head to the guest room to make sure you are there.
The door is closed. I’m sure you are sleeping. I go back to bed and shoulder my way tensely back into sleep.
At 7:30 it’s daylight. I have a dream to tell.
When we create fearlessly and simply from what we are witness to, perhaps the most powerful thing we model is not knowing. Presenting the truth without tying it up in a neat package, drawing handy conclusions and useful how-to’s takes courage, but also gives courage. Our audience knows when we are full of it and needs us to be the ones to not flinch when the darkness comes to be written down, danced, or sung.
Finally, I leave you with a song, the darkest love song I’ve ever written. I can’t tell you what it’s about, really, except it was my truth at the time. And the lyrics kept running in my head the whole time I was working on today’s edition. It’s not a studio recording, but it will do. I wrote it back in 1996 and recorded it today, head cold and all. I hope you enjoy it.
Focusing solely on creative output leads to burnout. You will run out of ideas as your flow becomes stagnant. Your inner gremlins will gain a foothold, and it will be difficult to push them back. Worse, you will forget who you are and instead run on who you used to be, and then wonder why it all seems so repetitive and uninspiring.
If this is you, it’s time to focus instead on feeding, nurturing and rediscovering your creative soul. You can think about this in terms of diet. What are you feeding your creative self? Do you even know what inspires and nurtures that part of yourself? Sometimes it’s a throwback or a constant and other times, it’ll be something brand new and surprising.
You know how sometimes you find yourself doing things that seem to be vestiges of a prior set of priorities or a life you had but has now passed – except for this one thing? Maybe it’s a friendship you keep up that’s damned unlikely and doesn’t fit your narrative, or a habit you’ve clung to, or, in my case a couple hours a week of a job that I keep saying I’m done with!
Hello Dear Reader,
Thanks for reading this far. I know – Low bar, right? What can I say? I’m easily pleased. 😁
I guess I’m feeling just a little bit heady and giddy after the weekend I had with my coaching peeps in San Jose, re-energizing my business, connecting with all the love and support my heart can handle, and learning (and un-learning!) so much that will help me create a life I love.
And that’s what I want for you, too, of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here writing you a big, fat letter, now, would I?
What makes your heart ache with longing, jealousy and/or dread? Go there. It’s your spirit recognizing a piece of itself that hasn’t yet found a home in your conscious awareness. It’s been locked out and wants to come home.
What is it? Writing a book? (Or writing anything?) Making art? Travel? Paring down to almost nothing and going ultra-light? Writing a blog? A poem? Being a self-employed artist? Counseling? Healing? Being with babies and moms? Something that doesn’t have words to describe it yet?
Okay, fair enough. Then do yourself a favor and sit still and breathe into that longing. Breathe, breathe, breathe. And say inside yourself: “I feel you. I know you’re there. I’m ready for you. Come out and teach me. I’m strong enough now. I have support, supports I don’t consciously acknowledge, but I trust they will make themselves known. I promise you. I’ll listen and be faithful to you. I can do this.”
It’s not about making money or making it, or getting followers and readers, popularity, or looking good. It’s about becoming bigger. Becoming a bigger you, perhaps a version of you that defies all the previous stories you’ve believed about who you are. (Enter the nausea.) It’s about being willing to trust something bigger, and in so doing to enter unfamiliar realms. To be terrified and thrilled, to be humbled and delighted. It’s about waking up and being alive.
It’s a deeply personal, spiritual, ultimately nourishing, and sometimes lonely thing. It’s the only work that only you can do. You can read all the books and write in all the chat rooms, and post the memes, but in the end, only you can enter that space and commit to your souls’ longings.
Do you know how much energy you use to suppress anything new and unwieldy from coming into your life? Do you know how much the world needs ALL of you? Do you know what you don’t know? Of course not! None of us do. That’s why it takes courage and is difficult to follow the soul’s calling, but also why it’s the only alive choice. It’s the only choice for those of us who believe in a healed world.
Try this everyday for a month: “Today, I’m willing to be bigger and more alive than I was yesterday. I say yes to my soul’s longings. I choose to trust that stepping into the unknown is the strongest, safest, most powerful thing I can do. I choose to believe I’m equal to a bigger potential than I allowed yesterday. I surrender to Something wiser.”
Or simply, “Yes.”
Then take one action. That’s the key. Self-esteem, self-confidence, new habits, growth: These are not done mentally. They are built through tiny actions. Tiny actions open up the tiny box we’ve built around ourselves to keep us from failing and being disappointed. Tiny actions take 1 nail out of one wall of our tiny box.
They are things like buying a drawing pencil and a notebook, choosing a journal, talking into your voice recorder for 5 minutes about something you’re too shy to say to someone else, throwing out a piece of clothing that makes you feel like crap every time you see it in your closet, taking out a blank sheet of paper and making up the title of the memoir of a really fascinating, together person, locating your library and maybe going in, hanging out in a bookstore or an art store or a music store, looking up dance and yoga classes.
What’s your tiny action for today? Don’t worry if it’s big enough. Just make it tiny enough to be doable.
You can do this.
Don’t even worry if it feels brave or difficult. Just do it. There are no wrong ways to tell your soul, “I’m listening.” Take five minutes for yourself and just listen.
That’s an action, too.
by Phyllis Capanna © 2016 joyreport
Sometimes it’s inspiring to see how others create. I love to read about the creative routines of some of my favorite writers. Well, here’s a peek at my workspace.
What’s your favorite thing in your workspace?
If “Where do I begin?” is your creativity quagmire, start here.
Your time is your life. Give yourself permission to use it the way you really want to. Here are some suggestions for getting a handle on it. Once you get into the habit of setting aside time on a daily basis and get a handle on your physical space, you will know where to begin, I promise. It’s waiting to have a clear idea of what to do before setting aside the time that makes us never actually get to doing anything.
There was a time when we left our phones at home. Attached to the wall. We even went into our bathrooms without them. We didn’t know it, but we were living on the edge.
The best thing to do is put the phone in airplane mode or leave it in another room. Your mind will come up with a million must-do things, including stuff to look up online. Breathe through these urges until they pass. Then:
Set aside 5 minutes.
I like to use a timer. This lets my mind and body relax. I know, I know: your timer is on your phone. If you can’t have it in the same room with you and not check it every 30 seconds, use a different timer. Or just watch the clock. Better yet, forget about time until someone knocks on your door. Then:
Do it every day.
You know that time and place you just carved out? Do it again the next day. But make it longer on day two. See if you can put a fence around 30 minutes for yourself. Play around with the time and place until you hit on something that works. Then:
Do something fun, different and goal-less.
Here’s a list of things you might do during your you-time:
Take out your dusty guitar and play around on it.
Write a journal entry
Listen to music lying on your back
Take a walk with a camera
Go for a bike ride
Savor a tall glass of water or cup of hot tea
Take ten deep breaths
Find wild mint
Forage for berries
Listen for as many different bird calls as you can
Walk without a destination
Sit under a tree
Light a candle
Plan a garden
Reclaim the Rest of Your Time, Too
Now that you have a handle on 30 minutes, take a look at the other 23 1/2. Just for one day, keep track of how you spend your time. If your schedule is different every day, you might opt to do this for a whole week. It’s easiest to do it right in the moment. Just like tracking money, if you leave it to memory you’ll probably forget something. We go unconscious all the time. Keeping track of your time can help you pinpoint the time sucks in your life. You may think it’s the time you spend helping your partner find his keys, but actually it’s your after work shopping stops.
Just write the facts and see what you find out about how you spend your time.
If your inner critic starts piping up with what a lazy, no-good, time-wasting bum you are, laugh. That’s right, laugh! Know why? Because your inner critic’s fly is open and there’s spinach between her front teeth.
What’s your favorite way to zone out?
We tend to do our zone-outs during transition times in the day. It’s late afternoon and almost time to start cooking dinner or wrapping up your shift. It’s 9:30 and you’re good for nothing but not sleepy yet. Whatever it is you do, I’m not going to bother suggesting you stop doing it. I’m going to say this: Could you take one of those and turn it into a mindful, deliberate, intentional time just for you? Because, clearly, you need something during those times.
Before you turn on the device, open the fridge, or get into the car, take five minutes and breathe. Really. Five whole minutes of breathing. For extra credit, drink a tall glass of water. Seriously. Then see where you are. If whatever it is has lost its appeal, then maybe it’s time to do something else. Then:
What else is taking up your mental space?
Besides getting a handle on your time and the things your do to waste it and zone out, it can be illuminating to know that physical things can create mental clutter.
Look around your space right now. Are you surrounded by stuff that makes you feel good? Do you like it? Love it? Do you have a happy living space? Is it too cluttered? Is it easy to get around in? Does it lend itself to the things you like to do the most? Is there a space that’s just yours, that you can do with what you will?
There are no right or wrongs here, but there are right and wrong for you. You may not understand at first why some of the answers to the above questions are what they are. For example, you may have been thinking all along that you like being surrounded by your great Uncle George’s railroad memorabilia. Yet when asked if your living space makes you happy, you wanted to answer no, not really. Good information. You may not have what it takes right now to change it, but it is good to know.
So there you have it. Daily private you-time, conscious use of all your time, and keeping a physical space that’s pleasing and conducive to your flow. All that without addressing the things we traditionally blame for our lack of creativity: other people, circumstances and lack of inspiration.
Try it for a week and let me know what you learned. I’m curious to know how this works for others. I have depended on these three things for years.
Until next week, I hope you’ll check out my new free pdf articles, consider joining my mailing list by using the links to the right, subscribing to this blog via email, also to the right, leaving a comment, and sharing this or other posts that have touched you.
Honestly, if all the good Lordess gives me in this entire life is loads and loads of time and space, endless blank notebooks and bottles of Mont Blanc ink, a roof over my head, food, great friends, and music, I think I will be able to forgive the decidedly sparse flow of money.
So what if I’m having an endless adolescence. It’s my first adolescence actually awake, and I’m enjoying flopping about freely as I should have done when I was 12 through 20 but didn’t because I was too busy sleepwalking and keeping myself from dissolving from anxiety and grief and confusion and terror. And then came drugs. Which solved everything. For a while.
Anyway, that’s an old story. Today’s story is just fine with me:
I uploaded to Createspace the Soul Messages Workbook: The Complete Course in Developing Your Own Inspiration Oracle Cards. I also purchased a block of 10 ISBNs. How’s that for throwing your hat over the wall?
I began a new story. I won’t call it a novel, but it’s an idea I’ve been playing with, and I started it today, because:
I started a new writing class–as a student. Last night was the first meeting, and of course you have to admit to things like goals, so I have been given the assignment of starting that story. Fiction being my scary new kind of writing. Does anyone else totally idolize things they aspire to but feel incompetent to accomplish? Right now I feel like anyone who’s ever written a fiction anything is a god.
So, I missed my Wednesday posting time, and I’m doing it now, at 11 p.m. Has anyone else noticed that everybody who’s selling something has a deadline of midnight tonight, September 30? I’m trying to decide whether to subscribe to an online coaching/biz community for witchy woo-woos like me.
So here’s the thing: The whole time I was working on the files for the Workbook, buying the ISBNs, perfecting the cover, converting to pdf, proofreading, learning Pages 5 on my Mac, etc., etc., etc., there was this voice in my heading saying I’m wasting my day just sitting on my butt. It wasn’t until I pulled out the blank page and started writing that story that that voice quieted. That voice is like error messages on the computer. You can’t always take them literally. They just mean something’s wrong. It’s still up to you to find out what it is.
Outside the rain came down in wild torrents, blown by the wind against the windows. Water came coursing down the dirt road that leads to the lake. My partner went out, as she does in every heavy rain, to scratch little pathways into the road for the water to drain into the woods instead of into the lake, where it would deposit residue from our cars. The cry of the loon makes us both look up, then at each other. That one thing is enough reason to go out in the rain and divert pollutants from the lake.
“Fiction is where you get to talk about what you want to talk about,” asserted my teacher last evening. “What do you want to talk about?” she asked me. I mumbled something about this place, the lake, my partner’s ancestors, the deep history here.
Is it possible I could let myself go into a story and a life that have exactly everything that’s right, in them already?
Tell me about your scary edges, and what you are avoiding. (Ooh, that reminds me of a great writing prompt. I think I’ll update the writing prompts page. Check it out.)
And one more thing: I just got up to bring my partner a towel, and for some reason remembered Mrs. Thomas, my 6th grade teacher. I’ve written about her back in the 30 Days of Joy days. But this is what I remembered tonight: She believed in me. Remember, somebody believed in you, probably still does.
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by Phyllis Capanna © 2015 joyreport
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