What happens when we don’t express our creative energy? When something inside blocks us from writing, painting, designing, making music, dancing for joy?
Lots of things can happen, most of them not positive, although some do a good job of masquerading as useful and practical.
- We can become so entangled in our jobs that we don’t take time for ourselves, our families, or friends.
- We can go back to school, in hopes that more education will spark our ability to create.
- We can become meticulous housekeepers, never a speck on the rug or a smudge on the mirror.
- We can become the most helpful person in the neighborhood, the one everyone comes to for a ride, a loan, or a shoulder to cry on.
These patterns, if freely chosen and intrinsically rewarding, are fine. But if they mask the face of resistance whispering that serving others, being busy, having a spotless home, and doing our jobs better than anyone else ever has, it’s time to put on the brakes and take stock.
My students often say:
- “I don’t have time.”
- “My job is overwhelming.”
- “My kids/parents/friends need me to be there all the time.”
- “Maybe when things slow down, I’ll work on my dreams.”
Maybe you haven’t noticed but the world is not slowing down. We’re expected to do more with less at work. Social media takes up time we used to spend talking to real people. Our phones demand our attention, and only the bravest does not use a phone for socializing, game playing, and entertainment. Even those who write the apps admit they intend to make us addicts.
At worst, blocked creativity leads to depression, lack of fulfillment, bitterness, anxiety, boredom, and seething resentment. The terrm “Prozac Nation” was coined because we use drungs to mask how we feel. It would be easier and safer to spend some ttime doing what we feel like doing.
Everyone has a need to create. For some, the drive is pre-eminent, while for others, it resides in the background. People who do crafts, garden, develop a personal clothing style, and make their homes restful havens are creative just as novelists, musicians, and playwrights are. The energy comes from the same place. The form it takes depends on your interests, abilities, values, and inclinations. Any form your creativity takes is valuable to you.
Unfortunately, creative work, unless it is popular and financially rewarding, is often not highly valuee by others. If your writing, painting, or music does not result in income, it may be considered, by your friends, as well as the IRS, as a hobby. The problem with hobbies is that they are “extra,” not as important, easily pushed to the background.
If you have the urge to create, consider giving yourself permission to start. What would it take to devote an hour two or three times a week to learning how to paint, compose a poem, design a website? What could you let go of, so you can learn about the pleasure that awaits you?
What would it feel like to dance for joy?
Does your inner critic stop you from accomplishing your goals? Maybe with sabotage?
There’s no time. I’m too old to start. Too busy to make time. Too involved with my job to exercise, eat better, start a journal, follow my heart.
The voice of negativity can be a harsh critic. Or, it can be the voice of guilt.
Why waste time on your development when your friends and family need you to care for them?
It might be mildly reproving.
You want to stay safe, don’t you? Have enough money for your retirement? Avoid potential disaster?
The voice of the critic is the voice of resistance.
Resistance does not always have bad intent. Mostly, it wants to keep us safe. Which means, taking no risks, not trying for anything better.
As long as we go along with the program, it bubbles along below the surface like an underground stream.
The minute we have an idea to change our life for the better, it rears up and spouts its negativity into our ears. Suddenly we get busy with worthwhile projects. People need things. The car breaks down. The refrigerator starts making an awful grinding sound.
We have to take care of these things, right? Wouldn’t a responsible person do exactly that?
If you are not doing what you want to do.
If you make decisions to change your life, but don’t follow through.
If you want to be more creative, but bog down due to time constraints, overwhelm, or conflicting demands, it’s time to look at your relationship with your own intention.
It’s time to clear the decks.
Intention is a habit. All habits are formed through repetition. What we hear all the time becomes familiar. What we get validation for, we repeat.
Maybe it’s time to allow our creative, life affirming part to lead the way and validate us for what will move us forward in the larger sense.
The first step is to clearly state our intention.
Take a few minutes and think about what, specifically, you want to do. Then write the statement in the present tense, first person.
I write in my journal for fifteen minutes every day before I go to work.
I walk four times a week for thirty minutes.
I no longer eat sugar.
I finish a chapter of my novel every month.
I take a painting class every Saturday afternoon.
If you have a robust inner critic, you might hear the voice complaining, protesting or arguing with you. You can ignore it. Or, you can simply tell it that you are developing a new habit and would appreciate its support. Whether it acquiesces or not, you go on.
It takes thirty days to develop a habit, so give yourself at least that amount of time.
It can help to track the days when you complete your goal. Post the list in a place where you see it every day.
Is Intention a Force I Can Call Upon?
Many people believe intention as a force in the universe. Lynne McTaggert calls it The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe, the energetic, invisible connection among all living things. Many spiritual writers refer to it as an aspect of Source, the divine, the creative self, the superconscious mind. I think of it as an aspect of myself that Knows.
From this perspective, intention can be called upon. Once we understand that we are more than our ego-mind, more than the physical, more than the inner voice of the critic, we can take active steps to connect to the force of intention. It will help us stay on track when the inner voice advises us that we’re too busy, too tired and too overwhelmed to do what we decided to do.
Writer McTaggart’s studies of the field resulted from interviews with scientists who relayed experimental results that could not be explained by “normal” means. She went on to develop The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World that enlists people via the Internet to change the world through their thoughts.
Scientist Emoto discovered that intention clearly stated, thought or written, changes the molecular structure of water. The Hidden Messages in Water
Physician Larry Dossey writes about how prayer can assist in the healing of physical illnesses. Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine
Intention is powerful. It is available. You too can use it to change your life.
What about you? Do you have an example of when you used your intention to make a positive change?
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!
Do you have an inner critic? Do you recognize its voice?
You know the one I mean. It whispers, “How could you be a writer? Start a business? Stay on a diet? Stick to an exercise program?”
It murmurs in the background, always on alert, ready to stop you from moving forward.
Or, maybe you don’t even hear it. Maybe you stall out in the middle of a new venture. Lose interest. Get too busy. Decide it wasn’t important.
Resistance is a force. It’s human and it’s normal. Everyone resists change. Some a little, some a lot. Resistance seems to be a function of how our brains work, so it’s nothing to judge yourself for. The point is to recognize it, and learn how to work with it.
The inner critic is a form of resistance that is especially virulent because it mimics our inner voice. We listen to the critic and believe we are hearing ourselves. In fact, we’re hearing an internalized judgment from parents, teachers, friends, the community or the larger culture.
You can think of the inner critic as a recalcitrant child, a part of us that has not evolved. It’s stuck in the past. Something hurt it, and now it wants to protect you from experiencing more pain.
Better safe than sorry. Why rock the boat? What if I try and fail?
The problem with this approach is that we stagnate. Potential goes untapped, hopes fade, creativity withers and enthusiasm is lost. All because we weren’t willing to engage the inner critic.
Something as simple as asking yourself if its messages are true TODAY can work wonders. If you engage it, you can find out what it wants. You can help it evolve and come into the present.
Instead of seeing the inner critic as a force to be ignored, defeated, boxed in, argued with, silenced or stomped on, a gentler approach could transform it into an inner ally.
An inner ally supports, encourages, focuses on the positive, sets goals, makes plans, knows that growth is process, is a learner, and remembers that others are more focused on themselves than on judging us.
There are many ways to change your relationship to the inner critic. I have found this simple process to work for me.
1. Sit quietly. If you meditate, pray, or quiet your mind in nature that’s the perfect time for this exercise. If you journal, you can engage your critic with free writing.
2. In your mind or aloud, say “hello.” Allow an image, a sensation or words to appear. Say “hello” again.
3. In your mind or your journal, ask your critic if she is willing to talk to you. (this may be a little unfair, since she’s doing it all the time, but it’s polite, and often changes the dialogue).
4. Ask her why she is giving you negative messages.
5. Listen. Do not argue. Simply listen.
6. Conclude by writing and/or drawing what you asked and learned from your critic.
You can repeat this exercise with any question. You can offer the critic alternative ways of looking at the issue at hand. When you hear a negative message, you can turn it around.
For example, if your critic say, “It’s too cold to go for a walk today. Just stay inside.”
You could say, “Yes, it is cold. But I’ll wear my heavy coat and I’ll feel better if I complete my goal of exercising four times this week.”
With practice, you can turn around any negative programming that’s stuck in your brain. As you realize that your beliefs can be changed, your inner critic will gradually transform into an ally.
7. The last step of this exercise is the most powerful. Conclude each session by forgiving the critic and yourself.
My next post will be about a simple, yet profound method of forgiveness that has helped me shift my critic into an ally.
What about you? Does an inner critic hold you back?
I struggle with resistance.
Not all its forms bother me. If the house is cleaned tomorrow or next week instead of today, no big deal. However, when it comes to my writing, yeah, it’s a big deal. If I make excuses for why I’m too tired, too busy or too distracted to do my writing, I’ve fallen prey to the insidious voice in my head. It whispers:
- “You can’t.”
- “That’s not good enough.”
- “You’ll never publish that.”
- “You don’t write as well as she”
- “You have a job. That doesn’t leave time to write.”
- “Business before pleasure.”
- “How can you take time for yourself when others need you?”
- “It’s too late to start.”
- “You have nothing important to say.”
- “When things settle down, you can write.”
At least now I know that the excuses, the rationalizations, the self-doubt, the procrastination and the other thoughts that stopped me repeatedly are not out in the world, but live inside my brain.
As it turns out, everybody has resistance. Some more than others, but no one escapes. It seems to be a condition of being human, a function of how our minds are wired. Maybe it’s culture, upbringing, pollution. I don’t know why the ego mind throws up roadblocks to any change we intend to improve our lives, but every school of psychology and all spiritual traditions have noticed it. Many named it. You probably know some of them.
- Death wish
- Demon lover
- Negative anima/animus
Resistance is fueled by self-doubt, guilt and fear. Whenever you hear yourself saying, “I should” prick up your inner ears. Resistance may be lurking.
Even if you’re not struggling with a call to write a novel, paint a picture or start a new business, you’re not immune. Have you ever tried to change a habit? Start an exercise program? Incorporate meditation into your life? When you try to change your life for the better, resistance whispers its objections to why you’re better off the way you are. The status quo is safe. It’s here. The territory is familiar. Change means navigating your boat through dangerous shoals. Nobody wants to risk drowning. Or do they?
If you listen to the voice of resistance, before long you lose momentum, get dispirited, realize you’re too busy to make that change, and it wouldn’t be worthwhile anyway. Easier to stay in safe waters.
We defend our own creations, no matter how poorly they serve us. Even people with clearly dysfunctional life styles fight to keep the status quo. Have you ever known an addict, an alcoholic, a compulsive gambler, housecleaner or shopper? A whole institution of self–help programs exist to help people who realize their addictions are killing them. The first step in these programs is always the same. Admit that ego is not the answer, that ego cannot heal itself. We need to call on something bigger to overcome our resistance to change.
A wonderful little book about how one writer identified and deals with his resistance is the The War of Art by novelist and nonfiction writer, Steven Pressfield. I found this book when perusing Amazon best sellers in the category Creativity. I tried the book and am now a huge fan, both of his nonfiction and fiction. The War of Art is inspiring and profound. It is a short book that makes its points in simple language.
Pressfield’s answer to resistance is to act like a pro. If you have a job, you show up every day. Why is creative work any different? Get clear about you want, and buckle down. Take your calling seriously. Make the time, even when it isn’t convenient. Learn the craft. Show up. Don’t take rejection personally. Make a separation between your personal life and what you’re doing. Think of your creative work or exercise program or diet as important. A priority. We do what we think is important. We do what we value.
The other thing you may notice is that we do what we’re accustomed to doing, without questioning ourselves. Have you ever asked yourself, why do I do this activity rather than my writing/art/craft work? Are there any tasks I could let go of? Delegate to someone else? Do I use my time doing what I truly want to do? If not, why not?
Pressfield makes an important point that every professional creative has learned. When you commit to a task, make the time for it and stick to it, the Muse smiles, the heavens move and events re-align themselves in ways you could not dream of before you started.
One day I realized I could change my thoughts. Then I realized I could decide to sit at my desk and write even with the chorus shouting their objections. I’ll still be scared, but resistance won’t win.
For me, it took a serious illness to get my attention. It would have been better to figure this out beforehand, but I’m grateful that I was miserable enough not acting to start taking action. Taking the risk to do what I’ve always wanted to do probably saved my life. I don’t know. You can’t ever be sure, but I’ve learned more about my creative process, having compassion for myself and for everyone who struggles, and who I am in relation to my Self and to Source than I dreamed I would before I committed.
What about you? If you have a story about your own resistance, I would love to hear from you. All voices are valuable in the struggle against the resistance. The more we speak out and tell our stories, the stronger we are, and the more we empower others to start to change their lives.
Getting out of own way is a worthy fight.
To check out Pressfield’s book, you can go to Amazon.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles