Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Poison of Perfectionism

I know what it’s like to feel creatively blocked. Most people do.

One of the biggest blocks we face is perfectionism. Perfectionism is a massive creativity clogger.

We might spend too long on a certain project because it has to be perfect. We don’t allow ourselves to move on until we’re satisfied, and we’re never satisfied. We hold on long after the passion is gone. We let other juicy ideas wither because we can’t give them the attention they need.It’s like neglecting your other children in your quest to be the perfect parent to your first.

We might find that creating isn’t fun anymore. We often doubt our abilities and the value of our ideas because we can’t express them perfectly. We might give up too soon or not start at all because we figure, what’s the point if I can’t do it perfectly?

This is a lie we tell ourselves, that our creations must be perfect to be valuable. I struggled with this one for a long time, in many areas of my life.

How do we let go?

Focus on the passion. Realize that the value is in the process. Seek truth rather than perfection.

My art isn’t perfect. My writing isn’t perfect. Nothing I make is perfect, but at least I’m making stuff. I didn’t use to. Making lots of great-but-not-perfect stuff is better than making nothing at all. Trying and failing is better than not trying.

Let go of perfectionism. Realize that perfection is a subjective term, and what’s the value of perfection anyway, at least in a creative sense. Let your creativity express itself honestly, and the result will be more valuable for it.

The Season of Reflection

“Misunderstood” by Jude Harzer

This is my experimental winter. I’ve had winter blues since I was a child, but this year I decided to accept it and observe it rather than feel angry.

I’ve learned to accept that this is my slower time of year, that this season is for contemplating and reflecting. I do a lot of that in the summer too, but it’s different.

I’ve realized that winter is when all my inner garbage comes to the surface. Any buried fears, hurts, loneliness, anger, or pain of any sort comes out. For years I’ve stuffed it down with food and denial, and while I’ve done my fair share of emotional eating this winter, I’ve also done a lot of “cleaning.”Issues that I thought I’d resolved and pains I didn’t even know were there are floating up for me to work with. They lift their heads and say “here I am!” and even though they seem like ugly little suckers at first, they all have something valuable to teach me. When I learn, I reap the peace and freedom that comes from letting go, and enjoy it all summer long until the next round of “trash picking” arrives. It’s like rebreaking bones so they’ll set properly. It’s painful and liberating. I know that dealing with these feelings authentically is the only way to move past them.

I’ve understood this for awhile now, but I’m writing about it now because the biggest monster of all has risen to the surface, past hurts lodged deep inside. I’ve had a massive headache all day long and I feel exhausted because  haven’t taken the time to sit with him, hear what he needs me to know, and send him on his way. My deepest, slimiest, most gripping fear has come to visit. I doubt this is the last time I’ll see him, but I can feel that our relationship is about to change.

I don’t think I’m the only one who goes through periods like this. I think everyone does to some degree, but not many of us realize it. It’s terrifying and painful when our deep hurts rise up for us to see. We numb them out, we shut our eyes, we pretend they aren’t there, but they don’t leave until they’re acknowledged. Sometimes we call this depression, or a bad day, or getting “triggered.” These times come in all shapes and forms.

Notice when these times come to you. You’ll probably feel tense or grumpy, maybe weepy, you may feel physical discomforts, maybe all of the above like me. Don’t fear it. Meet your monsters, listen to them, and part as friends (or at least call a truce).

Enjoy the peace of letting go.

Wise Words: Keep Things Simple

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Painting: Galaxies Inside 2

My paintings always surprise me because they almost never turn out the way I plan them. I may go in with a plan or an idea that I want to express, but somewhere in the process, that idea changes. Once I finish, I realize that whatever the painting ended up saying was what I needed to express all along.

24X36 Acrylic on Canvas

This painting was no exception. We had a few springy days and I felt my soul stirring. I planned on painting something very gold, warm looking with lots of movement in energy. I wanted to paint hope and excitement. As the painting got away from me as they always do, it grew more white. It looked more calm than I’d wanted it to. It was misty and cold rather than warm and vibrant.

That’s how it had to be though.

After I realized that I needed to be sitting under that tree, I realized that this piece is about patience and faith as we allow things to pass.

Sometimes, the best thing to do it wait. Understand that things pass. Remember that spring comes each year. Observe things as they happen, but don’t let them sink into our hearts. Sometimes detachment is the healthiest thing in the world.

This is the second piece in the Galaxies Inside series. This piece is available for purchase here.

Limiting Ideas, Intuitive Eating, and the Gym

First of all, check out this funny gym picture:

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I love how everyone is smiling. I don’t know about you, but my gym looks a whole lot different 🙂

Several months ago, I posted a piece I wrote in college about why I hate the gym. I meant every word. Yesterday though, Sam and I decided to get a gym membership at our local fitness center, which is actually a really nice facility with really reasonable prices.

I usually can’t stand exercise machines because I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I don’t like “artificial” feeling exercise. I’d much rather walk or run outside, do yoga, go for a bike ride, or go hiking.

It’s kinda hard to keep that up in the winter though.

I resisted the idea for awhile. The main reason was that it seemed silly to pay to exercise when I have a few perfectly good workout dvds at home, a yoga mat, and walking shoes. The other reason is that the gym didn’t fit with my idea of living as an intuitive eater/exerciser. It liked it to counting calories and measuring portions rather than listening to what my body needs.

Over the past few months though, I’ve realized that there’s no one way to live intuitively. For some people, this looks like a daily walk and three square meals a day. For others, it’s a gym membership and nibbling all day without set meals. Others may eliminate certain foods from their diet for health reasons. Some might use calories or measuring as a way to gain consciousness of their eating before they’re comfortable to fly on their own. For me, intuitive living is different at different times of year. During the summer, it’s little meals and snacks all day long and lots of walking with a little running and yoga thrown in. During the winter though, I’ve realized that I need something different. I’ve had to change my ideas about my lifestyle, which I was surprised to find were a little rigid despite flexibility being the whole point of intuitive eating.

Here are a few reasons why I no longer hate the gym and why I feel it’s necessary right now:

  • My body has been asking for more intense exercise than I’ve been giving it lately, and though I can bundle up and walk in the cold or do one of the exercise DVD’s that I have memorized, but it gets old. The gym has lots of different options like classes, the pool, plenty of machines, a track, free weights, and sports if for some reason I decided to experiment with that.
  • My knees have been hurting like they always do when I start sitting at a desk for most of the day. I really don’t have a low to no impact cardio option at home, but at the gym I have the pool, a stationary bike, or an elliptical. Any of those are a great way to build strength without taxing my knees further.
  • Sam and I barely see each other with both of us working weird hours and him going to school. He’s been wanting to exercise, so this might be a way to spend some time together in a healthier way than going to Buffalo Wild Wings at 9pm.
  • I’ve been wanting to build a little muscle because I have very little upper body strength (I can’t even do one full-on push up. Not even close.) and I’ve noticed that my abs are feeling a little weak as well. I could certainly do this with yoga or just with old school body weight exercises at home, but I hate the body weight exercises, I don’t really push myself with yoga at home, and I’d rather  do gentler yoga at home. The gym does have a Saturday yoga class I could go to, but weights offer a lot more variety and they’re faster. I even had fun even though years ago I likened the weight room to a torture chamber.
  • This might be a better way to blow off stress after work than munching. I don’t tend to be hungry in the evenings, but I often snack when I get home just because I feel like I should because it’s dinner time or something, and also because I usually feel spun out. Going to the gym after work a few days a week might help me regulate work stress and eating a little better as well as giving me an energy boost, because I tend to come home and crash until bedtime. Sometimes I paint in the evenings, but I’m a morning person and I do most of my artmaking in the morning before I leave. Going to the gym won’t give me more time for my art, but my body needs it. I could use a little more energy to push through these last few weeks of winter.

Flexibility isn’t about rebellion or avoiding things that you think don’t fit in your flexible lifestyle. It’s about adjusting your ideas according to what your body and spirit actually need. Rethink some of your limiting ideas such as “intuitive eaters don’t go to the gym” or “artists don’t worry about what they eat.” Yes, these are kind of silly ideas, but our subconscious can hold a death grip on silly things like these. Pay attention to your limiting thoughts. We all have them. Examine them. Question them. Are they serving you, or do you need something different right now? Do you need rest, or would a short trip to the gym make you feel amazing?

There are no rules, only consciousness, caring, and a little humility.

Are you hanging on to any limiting ideas?

Wise Words: Paint your Reality

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I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to,

and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.

-Frida Kahlo

What Feeds You?

If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for awhile, you know that I’ve had problems with compulsive eating in the past. I’m not one of those people who wastes away when I’m upset; quite the opposite in fact. While I’ve spent lots of time researching the various genetic, nutritional, hormonal, emotional, and cognitive reasons for this and have taken steps to balance them, this tendency still pops up from time to time.

For most of the past year, I’ve had a good handle on eating intuitively. I lost 30 pounds last summer and felt free from any kind of food obsession. I felt fabulous.

I’ve been pretty munchy for the past couple months, especially the last few weeks, and I have a little bit of a “winter coat,” though I’m pretty confident it will go away in the spring. In the meantime, the couple extra pounds don’t really bother me, but the thoughts do. I don’t like thinking about food all the time. I’d rather think about art, writing, Sam, my friends, or just have a clear head sometimes. I don’t like it when food seems like the most comforting, exciting thing in my life. In the week before a party or planned dinner out, the thoughts of food keep popping in my head and don’t go away. I know this isn’t entirely under my control and that certain parts of my brain tend to be overactive, which is why I get “stuck” on certain thoughts (I’ve put lots of research into this.)

To a certain extent though, I can observe this happening and even talk back to these thoughts. One tactic I’ve been using lately is to think “What is feeding me today?”

If the only enjoyable parts of my day revolved around food, I know one of two things. Either I’m experiencing fear and avoiding thinking about something, or I’m not caring for my spirit.

This is tricky, because it changes every day. I love walks most days, but some days I’d rather paint, or read a book. Sometimes I just need to snuggle with my cat and write in my journal. Once in awhile I want to go out with friends, or be spontaneous. Sometimes, I’m just sad and need some comfort from something other than cookies. The other day, a snap of beautiful weather filled me like nothing I’ve felt in months.

If you struggle with food or any other compulsion, ask yourself what you get out of it and what you’re really missing. Can you give yourself what you really need? Is something off with your mood? Do you need more excitement or challenges in your life? Have you taken time to pursue your own interests? Do you take time for rest?

I’m still getting the hang of this, and I’m learning to eat intuitively during the winter and deal with low moods authentically rather than numbing them. This is a useful tool that I’m learning to use. I feed my body when it needs it, but I also try to feed my spirit just as often, with spiritual “meals” of walking outside, connecting with others, creating, and a little dash of adventure now and again.

Has anyone else had experience with this?

How to Enjoy Paying Bills

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Happy Monday! That probably looks a lot more chipper than it feels. Mondays aren’t necessarily my favorite days, but I do tend to feel a bit refreshed from the weekend. I like to use that extra energy to tackle chores for the week. Today I’m planning on grocery shopping, preparing some food for the week, and paying bills. That last one is probably my least favorite because I tend to stress about money even if we’re doing fine financially, which thanks to me working more, we are. It’s still not fun, but I thought I’d share a trick that I use to make it more enjoyable. Yes, it’s probably really corny, but it works for me.

Two tips actually. The first one it to use Pixar stamps. Paying the gas bill is much more fun with a Wall-e stamp.

The second, more important tip is to pay bills with gratitude.

I vaguely recall something like this in The Secret, so that’s probably where I got the idea, but while I’m writing out checks or paying bills online, I think about what I’m really paying for and the value I received. Here’s a quick breakdown of how I think about my bills:

  • Rent-Thank you for giving me a place to live, for giving my studio and a kitchen to cook yummy food and a big window with a tree outside to look at while I sit on the couch and journal in the morning.
  • Gas and electric bills-Thank you for hot baths, a cozy home, for light to read and paint by, for powering my computer so I can write and connect with others.
  • Student loan payments-Thank you for helping me study in China and graduate on time. Thanks for helping me start my dream of travel.
  • Phone bill-Thank you for allowing me to call my mom, text my friends, get a hold of Sam when my computer does something stupid and send him cute little messages during the day, and for helping me feel safe because I always have a way to get help in an emergency.
  • Car insurance and fuel-Thank you for allowing me to visit my family and friends, for getting me to the library, grocery store, and art galleries. Thanks for allowing me to get to work in five minutes instead of tramping through the snow for a 25 minutes both ways.

It may seem silly, but I think gratitude is the key to a happy life. When we have gratitude, we see the good in the unpleasant things. We notice out blessings, and we just tend to be a lot more optimistic. This is a big deal for those of us that tend to be vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

I’ll let you know how this works on taxes. 😉

Have a wonderful week!

When I Don’t Like to Paint

I have a secret. For some reason, I feel kind of ashamed of this, but in the spirit of authenticity, I’m going to share it with you.

Sometimes, I don’t like to paint. Sometimes I don’t want to paint.

I beat myself up over that one for a long time, then I read this amazing post at Dirty Footprints Studio, and I realized that I’m not the only one who has this problem. We’re used to seeing the stereotypical artist or writing slaving away for days at the easel or typewriter, littering the ground with crumpled paper but stil working passionately. I thought “I should be like that. I should never want to avoid painting, or just not have a good time painting. I should be a never-ending fountain of creativity and awesomeness, right?

But it’s true. Sometimes I just don’t have ideas (time to fill the well!) or sometimes I don’t like whatever I end up doing, and sometimes I’d just rather do something else. Not many artists blog about his feeling, though I suspect they all feel it at some point. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Part of making good work is making crap sometimes.

I have a painting in my studio that I made after my first sale, when I was all jazzed up about being a professional artist, and it has never seen the light of day and probably never will. I’ll probably just gesso over it so I can reuse the canvas. There’s nothing wrong with it.

My logical brain knows that it’s ok to feel this way sometimes, but my emotional brain always throws a fit when I feel like reading a book when I have some spare time instead of working in the studio or if I paint something lousy. However, I think I just needed permission to be ok with that sometimes. As Connie from Dirty Footprints Studio puts it, I didn’t over analyze it–or let myself go down the road of thinking my creativity is over–my talent is gone–I’m less of an Artist–blah blah blah.” That’s how it is, and that’s the best attitude to have.

I realized that expecting that I’ll always love painting no matter what and never have a bad day is like getting married and expecting to never have a disagreement. An argument doesn’t mean that you’re not in love anymore or that there’s anything wrong with you,  it just means that you’re two different forces who happened to clash one day. No big deal.

I hereby give myself permission to have bad studio days, to not like what I paint sometimes, and most importantly, to let it go. If you struggle with this, I give you permission as well.

Wise Words: The Illusion of Security

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“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Helen Keller