For the love of art

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Last night I had a breakthrough. I did something I’ve been fearful of doing for years. I painted. I went to a painting class with a friend and I created something out of nothing…of course while following instructions. Most folks do not know that I used to paint a million years ago. I was actually quite good. I was going to attend the Art Institute in Paris in my late teens. And….then tragedy happened. I allowed life to dictate my worth. Funny how we give others that power. I stopped painting all together for years. I gave my power away along with every paint, canvas and art supply!

In 2001 I had a head injury and I lost my mind. I lost memories. I lost fear. I had amnesia and didn’t recognize my 6 children. I was 33 years old and I returned to being 19. I left the hospital searching for my paints and canvasses. That accident opened up my creativity for a short while. Then, again, I allowed with great effort and lack of responsibility others to dictate my worth. I stopped painting. I went to several therapists trying to get back the juices. I would stand in front of a white canvas and shake….violently crying in a massive overwhelming phobia as if it was a giant spider coming at me. I cannot verbally express the anxiety that the thought of painting kept bringing me. I stopped because the thought of painting literally made me sick.

Last night, with a birthday friend in tow, we went to a restaurant to paint. It was one of those Wine and Art sessions. I didn’t shake. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t judge myself. It was kid’s play. It was a fun elementary-school painting that I did not take as serious. There were several moments, while painting grass, that my old strokes appeared. I began to feel like Van Gogh again…for a few minutes. Then the internal critique began, “Oh my, the jar is lopsided. Oh, my God, this is crap….” But something mystical happened….

As the adorable young teacher was taking a break a young intoxicated man stopped to talk to her and tried desperately to get her attention. He was slurring his words, being silly, and she tried in a kindhearted and gentle way to move the conversation along so he would leave. I sat there watching this and laughing. EGO had just entered the space. There it was intoxicated, making a huge fool of itself. I saw it clearly. EGO was trying to seduce her just as much as it had been falsely seducing me with my art. I got it. I didn’t see a man. I saw years of self-sabotage waiting to be acknowledged. I stared at it and laughed out loud. My friend and I just giggled like two school girls at the scene developing in front of us.

I returned to my painting. Ego had been critiquing me. It had been denying me from moving forward. So what if it was a silly painting of fireflies coming out of a jar. It didn’t have to be perfect. At that moment I heard my eldest son’s echo, “Mom, it doesn’t matter what you paint…just do it. Create something and little by little you will get your mojo back.”

I have had many who have tried to encourage me to move past this issue. My partner, friends, children and even the little itsy bitsy voice in my heart…but to no avail. Last night watching the young man stand there making a fool of himself while saying something about the paintings I got it. Ego had no business being in my creative time. I love my lopsided Van Goshish painting of stars and fireflies swirling in the night sky. I loved my hands covered with paint. I loved how I felt breathing the mountain fall air as we waited for the next instruction. And what I love most is that I conquered one of the biggest fears I have had for decades. I allowed others to dictate how I should feel about my art. It paralyzed me. It killed part of who I am.

How many of you have allowed another to dictate your worth? How many of you have been paralyzed into deadly anxiety from living out your dreams? How many times can this go on without you shutting the drunken ego off? Sit that bastard at a table and give it some water. Let Ego cool off and move on. YOU get to decide what and who you allow to dictate your creativity, your worth, your love and all that you are meant to do in this world. You got this! I can’t wait for the next class. I might just be inspired to channel Monet!

Dressing the Part

Bearwallow Mountain TrailA few mornings ago I decided to go on a hike up the mountain near our place. As I began trekking up the path I came upon a young man all geared up in what looked like the poster child of a true hiker: expensive boots, nice backpack, walking sticks for climbing the Himalayas, and a great windbreaker. He was standing on the middle of the trail in deep thought staring at the tracks on the dirt. I said, “Good morning.” Took off my headphones when his lips started moving.

“Are these bear tracks here?” He asked with great concern pointing to the soil.

“Yes, they are! You do know you are on Bearwallow Mountain?”

“Are you going up?” He asks with hesitation.

I answered, “That’s my intention!”

“But what about the bears?”

I say casually, “They don’t bother anyone. I’ve been hiking this mountain for several years and have never come across any on the hike. I have friends who have but they are more scared of people than you can imagine. I’ve seen them down on the road while driving.”

“Oh….I don’t know,” He adds while taking off his cap and scratching his head. I saw the fear and anxiety spew out of his pores. He was definitely out of his comfort zone.

I passed him with a smile and said, “Good luck then. Believe me, if you are meant to see a bear you will see one!!!”

As I continued my trek I kept thinking of him and how well he dressed the hiking element. He looked the part. He was ready to climb, explore and experience freedom. I sat on the summit admiring the 360 degrees of mountain ranges with joy on a clear-cool-autumn day. A while later I saw him below reaching the entrance of the path with a map, sunglasses and a complete disorientation that would make a drunken man seem sober. I giggled, not at him, but at how we are in our humanness. We are lost in the illusions of what we expect. He was so confined to the presumption of what would be up on the mountain that he missed the opportunity of enjoying the journey.  And, it is a gorgeous trail.

We play our parts well. Sometimes not so much! Here was this man dressed up to hike on a mountain alone. I can assume this was huge for him to be in a different part of the Appalachians and conquer this moment, which is exciting, nerve-wrecking, and an exploration to something in his spirit. Hiking is a rush, a form of meditation, and a way to join with the dance of nature. I am reminded that I have been him a million times before. I have played the part to a specific drama, said the right lines, worn the perfect outfit, to later find that I wasn’t being authentic to my spirit. I was just acting out what society expected. We tend to wear costumes for the places we expect to conquer. We put the uniform that best suits our purpose and move through the motions of leaving the comfort zone. But, all along the comfort zone is still secretly holding us from venturing outside of our minds. We live on fear and the claws of uncertainty.

I have very few fears. They are not snakes or bears. They are tiny lizards that when crossing my path on a hike I get off the trail running hysterically. Seriously, a lizard, gecko, salamander or whatever looks like one will push me over the edge. I have tried to get to the bottom of this phobia and it seems it’s paralyzing. I am not afraid of spiders, or anything that can actually kill me. I am afraid of a reptile that logically is more frighten of me. How do I go hiking? How do I garden? How do I enjoy nature? Well, I try not to think about it. There is no such thing as lizard tracks…so I must go on through the trails praying I don’t come across one. I don’t dress the part. I know my fear. I don’t pretend to be a hiker. I am a hiker. I sat up on the boulder watching this young guy hoping he found solace and congratulated himself for conquering the mountain…and not coming across a bear. I sent him love from up there, soul-to-soul, padding his back with a “job-well-done affirmation.”

Fear is a costume we choose to wear. I am consciously aware of this. And, unfortunately we attract those things we fear (because I find lizards in places that shouldn’t have them). I know the way fear feels when it’s close to the surface. We dress our parts with pretenses, avoiding the underlining issue for the trauma, circumstances, and/or event. This encounter made me very aware of my own fear of lizards and how much it presents itself when I am doing what I love. Kudos to the ones who surpass the anxiety and find their truth. It is beautiful. If you can undress the nuisance, find the rawness of being vulnerable with yourself, admit it to you and others, then you are far more advanced than many. I take my hat off to you! It’s not easy to show our helplessness.  It’s not fun to show the humanness of vulnerability. But, it is our right to respect those fears in others.  We all deserve at least that!

Our Mental Alarm System

 

Yesterday we went to the movies to watch Brave.  It was great.  I love animated films.  This year promises many choices.  The previews were just as great.  I always have my phone handy when I get to the movies to jot down any good quotes.  And this one just stood out:

“There’s nothing wrong with being scared as long as you don’t let it change who you are.” from the future film ParaNorman.

For most of my life I remember hearing the words, “Be brave.  Suck it up.  Don’t be scared….”  Being afraid was a weakness.  I grew up being more afraid because I believed I was failing at notbeing brave.  I suffered from panic attacks in the middle of the night.  I walked around with anxiety on my shoulders, and later creating a giant hole in my stomach.  I was a mess.  Being afraid became a part of my personality.  Others would assume that I was fine.  Those were my magic words, “I’m fine!  No worries!”

Being scared is the body’s defense.  Something inside intuitively is putting a yellow flashing light of warning in our system.  Like the above quote, there’s nothing wrong with being scared as long as you don’t let it dominate your life.  In my case I was sucking it all in and pretending I was okay with everything.  The responsibilities I added to myself in order to not fail were astronomical and I was a fool for allowing my fears to change me.

Fears are paralyzing.  Some become phobias and later on turn into major disorders.  I don’t suffer from panic attacks any longer.  Those days are over.  If I start worrying about something I start to examine what the root of the fear is trying to tell me.  Am I doing the right thing?  Is this my intuition trying to warn me?  What’s the worst case scenario if I do this?  And, there is the answer.  Stepping back away from the fear allows me to diminish the overwhelming emotional trepidation.  The emotion is just in my head.  Many times I can substitute with positive reinforcements.

Anxiety is fed by the shift in the repetition of daily habits.  When you step out of your normal state of life the fear takes over.  Most people who suffer from panic attacks and anxiety try to control everything.  When something appears in the path that is not part of the every-day function, the emotions take over.  I know this well.  I was constantly being spun out of control with distress.

My youngest daughter suffers from horrible anxiety.  Fear kicks her obsessive compulsive behavior in overdrive.  I have to stop her at times, sit her down, and say, “Ok, what’s the worst case scenario?”  We briefly go through what could happen and then she sees that the fear in her head is much larger than anything in reality.  There is nothing to control.  Being abandoned at birth and spending two and a half years in a third world country have created a fear of abandonment and other monsters.  Now that she’s older therapy and counseling is trying to break through those issues from the past.  Her fears have changed her.  They paralyze her in ways I will never understand.  Even at my worst I did not show it.  I controlled it which was probably just as bad.  Being compassionate to her anxiety is an everyday theme…but not feeding into it is also a challenge.  I want her to understand that control is an illusion.  We have little control of anything.  Things will happen.  She will have good days and she will have bad days.  Worrying over everything is not living.  She is beginning to use breathing exercises to ease the anxiety at night.   It is painfully difficult to see a 16 year old suffer from worrying and distress about so much.  I hope and pray that this is nipped in the butt now that she’s still young.  Behavior modification is important and continuously being emphasized.

The above quote has allowed me to remember that being scared is also good.  Being afraid allows you to step back and then proceed with cautiousness.  If we didn’t have that alarm we would be lost in a world of chaos.  Fear can be our equilibrium of sorts.  It can slow us down just enough to see things.  But, the moment we allow it dominate our life fear becomes a monster.  After all fear = false evidence appearing real.  It’s good to acknowledge it but don’t let it change YOUR life.  I find that meditation, exercise and being in nature alter the state of panic.  And, handing things over to the Divine is always a stress relief!