Just recently one of my students emailed me with a question about my upcoming teacher training program.
She had been researching various educational opportunities in the expressive arts world and was feeling confused about how to proceed. She wasn't sure which program would best suit her needs and she also wasn't sure how she could make all of this work in her already overfull life.
Here's the response that I gave to her that I would like you to see because I think it's instructive and possibly helpful:
"I really appreciate you sharing all of your thoughts about trying to figure out the next step for you on this Expressive Arts journey you have embarked upon. I know there are a lot of pieces to try and fit into this puzzle.
The best advice that I can give you is something that I got from a teacher of mine many moons ago. Her suggestion for what to do when you are faced with a confusing decision was to sit down with a piece of paper and write out all your options.
Make a two column list with all the pros and cons for each potential choice and when you are done.... and here's the clincher... tear up the paper and do what you want!!
In other words, the most important question you need to be asking yourself is "What is your heart calling you to do?"
It sounds like you are trying to figure everything out ahead of time instead of just listening to your intuitive guidance and trusting that if you follow where it leads you, things will fall into place in ways that you can't even begin to imagine.
At least that's always what's worked for me."
This little interchange got me thinking about the whole issue of needs. And wanting. And how do we think and feel and respond to our longings and spontaneous wishes.
I know that what's true for me, and I doubt that I'm alone, is that I often plain flat out don't have confidence in my desires. If I discover that I want something, I will more often than I like to admit have an initial response of suspicion to the thing I'm hankering after. I just don't trust myself when I get that spark of hunger and interest in something.
There's a part of me that immediately puts those desires under pretty intense scrutiny as soon as they have the temerity to raise their sparkly little heads. And then sadly, will sometimes push them back underground where they can't threaten me with their hungry insistence.
But why? Why is it so hard to just joyfully accept my desires? To feel excited and not so skeptical when they appear on my radar?
BUT I DON'T KNOW WHAT I WANT!!
One of the big stumbling blocks around desire is feeling blank or blocked when confronted with the question "What do I want?" You might get so far as knowing that you want something, but you convince yourself that you really have no ideas regarding what that something might be.
This is never the truth. You always, always, always know what it is that you want.
It's just that sometimes the thing that you are yearning for is really scary because getting it means you will be changing the status quo in your life in a big way. So you unconsciously block the true awareness of what your heart is yearning for.
I have been partnered with my husband for over 15 years and we have a remarkably compatible and joyful marriage. But we knew each other for 5 years before we finally got together romantically. And during that time I knew that I liked him... a lot... but I could never let myself feel that I wanted anything more than a friendship with him.
Part of it was the fact that he was 13 years my junior and I couldn't wrap my head around being with a man that much younger than myself. And there were other external factors that made me reject the whole idea of us as a couple.
But there came a time when I could no longer deny the fact that I crazy about him. I had to admit that he wasn't merely in my life as a symbol of a really great potential partner. He wasn't a "template" for the kind of man I wanted that maybe I would get to have someday in the future.
He was "the one". And part of me knew it the whole time. I just needed for the scared part of me to catch up with what my heart had total clarity on... probably for 5 years.
When you are feeling totally baffled around your desires and are caught up in believing the fiction that you really and truly just don't have a clue, try asking yourself this question:
"What is it that I am too afraid to want right now?" and see what shows up.
NOBODY LIKES PEOPLE WHO ARE TOO MUCH
I have been threatening for years to make a T-Shirt that says Needy, Greedy and Proud Of It that I would give to my students as they walk in the door of one of my retreats.
And even though I don't have those t-shirts... YET... I always let my students know that I support them in expressing their needs. I try to make sure that they get the message early on when they attend one of my events that having needs is not a bad thing or something to be ashamed of.
Which often makes people very uncomfortable because it goes against the grain of a lot of internalized messages that advocate NOT expressing your neediness.
We are taught that if we are unhappy about a situation or want something to be different than it is that it's better to just not say anything about it.
If something isn't to our liking ... for example, in my studio if someone wants more light or less heat or goddess forbid they can't find the color black on the paint cart, they will often choose to suffer in silence. To put up with not having what they want.
We talk ourselves out of what we want by telling ourselves that our needs are petty or unimportant. We convince ourselves that we can do without it because under no circumstances do we want anyone to know that we are dissatisfied. We don't want to be seen as selfish or demanding.
Most of the time what we are really doing is protecting ourselves. If we keep our desires invisible we won't risk being disappointed or heartbroken if we try for something that we're not sure we can actually have.
I hear this all the time from women around the issue of partnership and romance. I have had many conversations with clients and students where I will try and tease out of them what they think would really make them happy in a relationship.
And they will come up with the list of qualities that they have been holding close and hidden in their secret heart of hearts.
And after they have spoken the list out loud they will look at me wide eyed and incredulous and unfailingly ask " But I can't really have all of that! Can I? I'm afraid it's too much to ask."
So they stop asking.
OK. OK. I'LL ASK. BUT ONLY IF I KNOW FOR SURE THAT THE ANSWER IS YES
Of course, there IS no guarantee that you will get something just because you want it. But you for SURE won't even come close to it if you never even try.
The real secret around the whole issue of longing is that getting what we want isn't really the most important thing.
Where the juice is is in the longing itself. We are already feeding our deepest sense of aliveness by simply allowing ourselves to FEEL the wanting. To HAVE the wanting. To make space for it to even exist.
Once we get something that we want it rarely matches up to what we thought it was going to be anyway. Our longing and our wanting just gets us in the door... it propels us forward .... it gets us engaged with life.
When we follow our desires we are saying a big old YES to the journey, not necessarily to the the destination.
We get ourselves in trouble when we hold back our desires because we are afraid we will be disappointed. We want some kind of guarantee that if we want something we will get it exactly the way we see it all worked out in our minds.
And we miss out on getting things that we could have never even possibly dreamed up.
BUT WHAT I WANT IS REALLY WEIRD!!
Another way that we shut down our desire capability is by thinking that everything we want has to make some kind of sense. Or be socially redeemable. It has to be acceptable in one way or another. And to fit in with who we think we are or are supposed to be.
There is a level of desire that is by it's very nature just goofy and wacky and fun.
If we are really paying attention what makes us happy there are things that we want that can be kind of quirky and offbeat. It's related to the childlike part of who we are that is coming out to play.
For example, my husband and I have a DVD collection filled with some of our favorite movies. We tend towards fantasy/adventure things like The Pirates Of The Caribbean series, The Mummy, and the X- Men.
And, very much like children, we will watch our favorite films over... and over... and over again.
Right now we are in the middle of watching one of our favorite TV shows, Buffy The Vampire Slayer .... all seven seasons... for the EIGHTH time!!
I must admit that it's a little bit risky for me to talk about this here. Even though watching this series makes me incredibly happy, I still judge the fact that I want it. And that I not only want it but that I continue to do it.
There's a part of me that wants to find something wrong with this kooky little passion of mine. So that I'll stop indulging myself. Which I can tell you right now is NEVER going to happen.
But the part of me that loves and trusts my whimsical, goofball self is more than willing to accommodate this other part of me because I know that doing so is feeding something deeply important and essential.
For some strange and unfathomable reason I need things like Buffy to keep my soul and spirit happy, healthy and alive.
Which is the point to all of our longings ... whether they be serious or silly they are always leading us in one direction. They are always taking us closer and closer to our core authentic self, to our inner point of greatest aliveness and to our felt sense of being at home in our own skin.
Which is the only thing that we ever really want when you get right down to it.
If your heart is calling you to spend some quality time with a paintbrush and your everloving creative muse I have a couple of fabulous opportunities for creative play and self expression coming up in the next couple of months.
In December I have one of my very popular Painting From The Wild Heart weekend workshops at the Creative Juices Arts Studio in Oakland. I try to host one of these events every December as a way to give folks a way to stay grounded and centered in themselves in the middle of all the predictable holiday madness.
And in January I will be hosting a week long Painting From The Wild Heart retreat in the Napa Valley wine country of Northern California. I love this retreat because it sets the whole tone of the coming year for me and reminds me to make creativity a priority in my life. Plus it's a lot of fun and is always attended by the coolest people!!