I am currently in the middle of my yearly January Painting From The Wild Heart retreat in the wine country of Northern California, and I'm feeling pretty good.
Usually, by this point in the workshop I'm starting to get kind of fried. I'm still enjoying what I'm doing but I can feel myself fraying around the edges. But this time it's much better because I went into this retreat in a very different way.
These painting workshops require a great deal of organization which means actually BUILDING a painting studio ...from scratch... every time I hold a retreat.
Unlike yoga or writing workshops, where the facilitator only needs to bring a yoga mat or a laptop and some handouts, I have to cart bins full of paint and lights and all kinds of art supplies to my workshop venues. And easels. And tray tables. And on and on. And then put all those things together to create a functioning art studio.
And I HATE doing that stuff. It's not just that it's hard, time consuming work. The worst part for me is that keeping track of the thousands of details like "How many bottles of paint do we have?" or "How do we get the lights in the best position?" just makes me want to cry.
Faced with those tasks I collapse internally into a space of overwhelm and inadequacy. I get anxious and insecure. I'm not confident and at my best. I know it sounds ridiculous, but negotiating all those concrete and spatial particulars is something that I just don't feel very good at.
But I have continued to do it anyway because I love the workshops so much and this was just one of those necessary evils that allowed the retreats to happen. So I did it.
Which meant that I always ended up beginning the workshop feeling drained and stressed. It set a tone of cranky depletion. Which only got worse as the week went on.
Over the years I have gotten more and more help from students and trainees. Which has been great. But I have still always been involved in the set-up to a certain extent.
Part of it was guilt. I felt like setting up the studio was the menial dirty work and I didn't want to put that off on someone else. It didn't seem fair.
But lately my husband has come on board and has been helping me out with growing my business. And he sat me down one day and confronted me around this issue by saying " Listen honey, you have to just let this part of the job go and do what you're good at... which is creating the sacred magical space that allows people to have the experience of growing and healing through the creative process. This is your gift. And you are the talent. People are not paying you to put the lights up in the studio. Mick Jagger does not drag his own amps onto the stage before a concert."
Unfortunately, I mentioned that little conversation to my students at the retreat and now they are calling me Chris Jagger.
But what this got me thinking about was the concept of energy leaks.
Because forcing myself to do something that did not play to my strengths and put me in a state of stressed out worry made me feel like that soul sucking critter from the Alien movies had jumped on my face and wouldn't let go.
The idea behind energy leaks is that even though on some level we are connected to unlimited divine and spiritual forces we are also trying to channel all that wondrous goodness through a finite human body.
Which means that we have limits to the energy that we can actually use. And it is important that we conserve that energy. That we create containers that can hold that energy. And that we respect and steward that energy.
We can always make choices to do things that raise our energy levels. Like my favorite energy booster which is creativity.
Dancing, painting, writing, drumming, singing are all things that we can reliably count on to fuel us. These activities feed us and give us juice. Which is one of the reasons that I love being creative and I am constantly supporting others to create.
Taking care of our bodies through exercise, plenty of rest and eating our organic veggies is another way that we can keep our energy levels high and humming.
So is taking time to meditate and to play, hanging out with people who love and support us and getting plenty of hugs.
Being out in nature, just simply having fun and doing what we love are also sure fire energy pick-me-ups.
And then, of course, on the other side of fence are those things that drain our energy reserves. And that list looks like the exact opposite of the energy revitalizers.
Lack of sleep, too much sugar and no exercise will pull the plug on our vitality quicker than you can say "couch potato."
As can spending time with people who are always critical or demandingly high maintenance. And not making the space for our creativity to thrive can leave us feeling all droopy and wilted, like a plant that gets left in a windowless closet without any sun.
One of the biggest energy sucks is stress of any sort which can include things like being stuck in traffic on long daily work commutes to dealing with a chronic illness. As well as making ourselves do those thing we are just not naturally wired to do.
And of course all those huge life changes like buying a house, moving to a different city, changing jobs - willingly or unwillingly - getting married or divorced, having a baby or the death of a parent are always energy draining even if those changes are something we want and chose.
I think of of our internal energy system like a pool of water that expands and contracts like the tide going in and out.
So when we have been giving ourselves the good stuff we are filled to the brim with clear, lovely liquid, just sloshing around and bathing our insides with sweet and holy sustenance.
When we are in this state of fullness we feel all plump and permeated with juicy goodness which means we have plenty of reserves and even an overflow to give out to others. It allows us to be relaxed and satisfied at the same time as we are bursting with our own inner sparkle-ness.
But when the pool begins to drain our energetic system starts to get all shrunken and dried up.
We get puckery like a prune. Instead of sweet sloshing there is much internal creaking and lots of dust flying around. We find ourselves feeling wheezy instead of whizbang. The sparkle has shriveled and the plumpness becomes parched.
Of course, this energy pool is something that is never static or stable. Be definition it is "fluid" which means it is constantly rising and falling.
Stress and unpleasantness, doing things that we don't necessarily want to do, dealing with difficult people and other things that might drain us are just part of being alive.
We aren't supposed to keep ourselves filled to capacity at all times. That would be unrealistic to expect.
But our baseline energy levels ARE our responsibility and maintaining them at a reasonable elevation is a basic part of self care and self love.
The problem is that most of us run around pretty much on empty a great deal of the time. And then wonder why we feel so grumpy and exhausted.
We somehow assume that it is normal to be depleted. That we are superhuman beings who never need to rest or eat well or play. That being stressed out is our lot in life. And that this way of being is actually sustainable.
We forget what it's like to feel nourished and content. To be overflowing with our own succulent aliveness.
Or even like there's gas in the tank at all.
So I want to gently challenge you today to take an energy inventory of your life. To tell the truth about your stress levels and your tiredness. To really admit to yourself how long you have been in what you have been calling a fleeting bad mood that has now become more of a lifestyle choice.
If you come out pretty high on the ornery end of the scale, if anxiety is your middle name or you are constantly in "ass dragging" mode, you might consider checking in on that inner energy pool.
And if all you can see is a rapidly drying, mud filled puddle... please... Take a nap. Or a walk. Get a hug. Put on some music and dance.
And maybe even practice being the star of your life for awhile by asking for help in carrying your own version of those pesky amplifiers up on the stage.