I have been on a quest lately to find out what it is that truly makes me happy.
I'm trying to learn to tell the difference between the considerable fulfillment I experience when I am being productive and simple, straightforward happiness.
I have actually had them very confused my whole life. I have often thought that satisfaction with a job well done was the same as happiness. And it kinda-sorta is.
But happiness is grace. It often feels totally undeserved. I certainly don't have to work for it. In fact, I don't have to do anything at all. It's like a visitation. And I can't really make it happen.
But I do know that I can invite the possibility of that grace into my life when I am out in nature, or spending time with people I love, or being present while one of my students has a creative breakthrough.
And one sure fire method for stepping into the path of grace is making time and space for my own creative expression.
So simple, huh? Creativity=grace=happiness. One completely no-brainer answer to the "how to be happy" question is just be more creative.
But maybe it's not so easy as all that. Because even though I am crystal clear on the connection between the two, even though this whole creativity thing is my mission in life, I often don't do it. And I don't like to admit it but I have the same excuses as everyone else.
Addicted to busy in all the wrong places
The big one of course is finding time in my busy-busy life to be creative. Which more often means making time and choosing to be creative. It means making creativity a priority. Putting it closer to the top of the list. And for many people it means putting it on the list at all.
But why oh why is that so incredibly hard? Why do we fight so ferociously to keep the things we want most out of our lives? Why do we continually make choices to do things that don't feed us and in fact often drain us of our precious life energy?
Good questions, all... and I'll be darned if I have the answers! Because even though I am ( as my husband is so fond of reminding me) Ms. Creative Juices Arts I still struggle with this one as much or more as anyone. But as the saying goes, you are compelled to teach what you most need to learn.
So even though I can't claim to be the kind of an expert who has it all figured out I HAVE spent a large portion of my adult life asking these questions and so here are some things I've discovered on my path to creative fulfillment.
Creativity nurtures me. It fills the well and GIVES me energy. It calms me down and makes me happy. It takes me into other realms where I feel connected to spirit and brings me experiences of pleasure and grace and a sense of being blessed.
It allows me to feel whole and on purpose and like I am connected to what my dear departed grandmother with her Polish accent and questionable grasp of the English language referred to as my "Oomp".
Now why, you may be wondering would someone avoid doing something that made them feel so bright eyed and bushy tailed?
It's mostly because I'm not USED to feeling that way. I'm much more used to feeling depleted and harried and worried and stressed. Those are emotional and physical states that I have experienced a lot and that I identify with. In some unsettling and twisted way they make me feel more like me.
So making myself happy just plain makes me feel weird.... although a very, very GOOD kind of weird.
Underneath the feeling of having my identity tweaked when I'm having too good of a time lies an even more painful place which is the feeling of not deserving to feel that good. I have a thermostat for pleasure and that thermostat is set to be very, very low.
It's something that I see all the time in my classes and workshops. Someone will be painting away and they will tap into a place of tremendous energy and delight. And before too long they will start to get a little panicked. They will start to worry that maybe these positive, glowy feelings are a bit over the top.
And if I don't watch them like a hawk they will immediately try to find ways to shut those troublesome, blissful feelings down.
We all have that invisible automatic shut-off valve because having that much fun and that much joy brings us up against ancient feelings of shame or inadequacy.
It gets too close to all those times when we were made to feel bad for being too energetic, too alive, or just plain too much. Which means that being creative can also bring up feelings of grief for the many the times we weren't supported to be our full radiant selves.
And lastly we often simply don't know how to contain that much pleasure.
There's just not enough room in our nervous system as it is currently configured to hold a large amount of zippy wonderfulness.
It's like we need to go to the creativity gym. We have to get bigger creativity muscles. We have to create a larger creativity and juicy aliveness container.
We have to grow larger to hold that much vitality and at the same time learn to tolerate a certain level of discomfort that comes with being that much bigger.
That much more ourselves.
I have a couple of retreats coming up in my Oakland studio in the next few months. One of my long time local students came to me today with tears in her eyes . She had already signed up for one of the workshops and had told me earlier that she couldn't do both because of money. But she recently had a realization that the money issue was totally bogus.
She really WANTED to come to both. She actually DID have both the time and the money. But she was afraid of what people would think if she treated herself that well. She was afraid of the envy and the judgment that would come from the outside and the self attack she would suffer internally if she made the choice to be so frivolous, so lavish, so self indulgent.
Listening to her tell me this made ME want to cry.
People, we have GOT TO STOP THE MADNESS!! We have got to STOP putting our own needs and desires on the back burner forever.
Oh dear... I'm so sorry... I don't mean to yell... and to get so cranky and bossy with you all... It's just that I have some incredibly strong feelings about this. I see people denying themselves things that they want, things that are good for them things that would make their lives so much better...all the time.... and I guess it just makes me a tad testy.
What I want to say is this: It's really, really, super really OK to feed your hearts desires. To be generous with your everloving bodies and souls. To take care of yourselves. To give yourselves what you long for and need to be happy.
And not just a little bit happy. Not just happy for 5 minutes stolen here and there. But happy as a baseline. Happy as something that we expect and even begin to take for granted.
I know, I know. Things are difficult and crummy and scary and hard for lots and lots of people. The suffering is real. But there is a level of it that is self inflicted. There is a part of the suffering that we bring upon ourselves for no other reason than that it's always been done that way.
It's what our parents and grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles did. It's what most people we know are doing now. And we don't want to stand out to much from the pack on this one.
Plus misery and depletion is a time honored tradition.
But it's time for a new tradition. It's time to begin the process of waking up to a pattern of self-neglect and soul starvation that is largely unconscious and even supported by the larger culture.
It's about recognizing that pattern and making the choice to change it, which includes nourishing yourself creatively.
It's about asking your self (and myself!) the question "When did my own pleasure, my sense of well being, my own self care become such a low priority in my life? How did that become something that I willingly agreed to? That I became complicit with?"
"And what kind of help and support do I need to begin to change that pattern?"
One of the reasons I get confused about the whole productivity issue is that my work truly DOES make me happy. It makes me incredibly happy to create the space where other people can be fully, creatively alive.
I have three opportunities for that kind of happiness (for me AND for you) that are happening in the next few months. They are truly great ways to nurture that deep hunger of the soul. ( And body too.... one of my students recently said to me "Hell, I would come to one of your retreats for the food alone!!)
So if your creative spirit has been hounding you for a nice big dose of creative expression time go to my schedule page and see if any of my upcoming workshops might be just what you're needing right now!