A few weeks ago, I finished up an 8 week ballet course I took through the local college’s community education program. I’ve always wanted to dance and I hoped that this class could help me set some new groove in my brain and muscle memory that might help me to move in expressive ways. I had a great time, I learned some new things, and I loved closing my eyes at the barre and pretending I was a prima ballerina preparing for rehearsal, but I realized something startling: as much as I love watching dance, painting dancers, choreographing in my head, I didn’t love dance. At least not the nitty gritty details of it. It felt more like a workout class than a starting point for a new creative medium. Even more startling, I was ok with the fact that I wasn’t that into it. It wasn’t even because it was hard and I was giving up. I just realized that it wasn’t what I wanted. At least not right now.
I have a habit of writing myself long to-do lists, making grand plans (because it’s good to dream big), and wanting to try and learn everything. Lately, I limit my to-do list to just a few things and if I don’t get those done, it’s not a biggie. It’s ok that I don’t feel like taking voice lessons right now or brushing the dust off my piano books, or auditioning for theater. I’m only bringing a couple library books home at a time instead of a huge cloth grocery bag full of books on dozens of subjects.
Sometimes, especially this time of year, I might feel sad or anxious without knowing why. These feelings used to scare me because they felt out of my control. Each winter, I’d tense up and panic because I just knew I’d be doomed to months of sadness until spring when nature would allow me to be happy again. I do feel sad or unmotivated sometimes, especially in these dark evenings, but I know that mood will change and that I can actually do something about it. Keep busy. Just sit with it and appreciate it the contrast. Look at the gray, snowless landscape and appreciate its beauty the same way I appreciate spring flowers and bright summer days. I can accept that energy and perky moods don’t come as easily at this time of year, but I can still be joyful and productive.
My diet isn’t perfect. My body isn’t perfect, or even at my perfect weight right now. That’s ok. My relationships aren’t perfect. My art and writing projects don’t always turn out perfect. I just keep working on them until I like them and that’s that.
This may sound like a lot of giving up, or narrowing my mind because I’m not interesting in everything in the world at the moment, but it’s actually freeing to not want or expect myself to do everything. I bring home less library books, but I read more. I make shorter to-do lists, but I get more done. My life is less chaotic, overwhelming, and I have so much less guilt.
It’s not giving up, it’s making peace with what is and what I am right now. It’s trusting the cycles and seasons of my life and that if something is meant for me, there will be a time for it. There are no lost opportunities. It’s realizing priorities and what really matters. Living in the moment instead of only living for some ambiguous “when” in the future. Most of all, it’s accepting that I have everything I need to be happy here and now, even if I don’t have money to travel the world right now or if I’m not taking music lessons and blogging every day and working full time and square foot gardening and sprouting grains in my kitchen and working out. Right now my priorities are paying the bills, taking care of myself, spending time with my husband and family, having fun with my art and writing, and taking things day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment.
If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
I really don’t need to add anything to that, but haven’t we all spent some time in all three places?
I’ve struggled with both depression and anxiety, and the only way to let go of them was to learn to live in the present, which requires a great deal of trust. When we trust, we can let go of the future and focus on now, because we know that things will work out.
When we don’t trust, we live in fear and scramble around trying to put the future together rather than let it come together the way it needs to.
I’ve thought about this quote many times lately as I constantly rein myself back into a mindset of love and trust instead of freaking out about what the future holds. Yes, the unknown is scary and overwhelming. Yes, we need to lay a foundation for a good future, and we absolutely should do a little planning ahead to help things run smoothly.
But anyone with any experience know that things don’t always go as planned. In fact, they rarely go as planned.
So why try to force them?
Let go. Go for a walk. Watch the sun go down. Notice the abundance and joy that exists in this moment, and know that things will always work out the way they need to, and that your job is to trust and love everyone.
It’s that simple.
I’ve been meaning to read “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” by Sylvia Plath for years and last night, I finally did and I loved it. I love Sylvia Plath because something about her life and work draws me in. She’s one of those writers I feel like I know somehow because I relate to her so well.
I have no intention of offing myself, but the connection between creativity and depression fascinates me. The thing I think I relate to the most though, is her struggle to own her writing. To trust it.
You see, Sylvia wanted to be a highly-paid travel journalist and to publish short stories in popular journals. Poetry was just a release for her and sadly, she didn’ t become famous until after her death. She agonized over every word, she doubted herself even though she was a fabulous writer of prose and poetry. She married a successful poet and felt that she lived in his shadow because her career never took off in her lifetime. She waited for that validation from other people-the publicity, the paycheck- to be happy and acknowledge her gifts. She didn’t trust herself at all, and I think it was that turmoil that finally killed her.
I know what it’s like to be depressed, to agonize every every word and feel like I’m dragging the prose out of myself because I can’t reach that place where it flows naturally, to fear and yearn and strive but feel like I always fall short.
Sylvia, why didn’t you see how amazing you were?
After reading Johnny Panic, I realized how important it is to trust our gifts. We need to trust our creativity, recognize our talents and put them to work. Enjoy them whether we’re making money from them of if we’re not quite there yet.
I know I’ve doubted myself. All my life I’ve wanted to be an artist and writer, but after a few years of a near creative paralysis, I actually considered that maybe that wasn’t my calling. Maybe I should give it up, go back to school and get a real job. Now, I realize what a heinous thought that was.
You have gifts. We all do. They’re meant to take care of us and to make the world better. Hiding them is irresponsible. Here’s a few tips for trusting your gifts and bringing them out into the world.
- Develop self-love- In order to trust yourself and recognize your gifts, you have to love yourself. When you love someone, you see their strengths. When you don’t like someone, you only see their weaknesses. Make friends with yourself.
- Take care of yourself- if your emotional, physical or spiritual channels are plugged up, your creativity won’t flow. Take care of your body, express your emotions, give yourself the emotional space you need to have stillness so you can really think and ponder about things. Keep everything open; the flow of emotions, your bodily systems, and your mind.
- Find a safe place to play- if you don’t feel safe to experiment, express and even fail, you’ll always be stuck in some serious creative muck. Find a safe place, whether it’s a physical place or a mental state that allows you to open up and let things pour out. Don’t worry about making money yet. Don’t worry about anyone seeing what you’re doing. Let go of the urgency. Once you’re comfortable doing this in your safe place, practice moving it out into the world.
- Be like a child- Do children doubt themselves? Do children worry about what other’s think? Do children ever worry about failure, or that their scribbles aren’t good enough to adorn Mommy’s fridge? Play. Make a mess. Paint with your fingers if you want.
- Keep your mind open and be optimistic- Don’t be afraid to try new things if you discover one thing doesn’t work for you. Instead of putting a price tag on your satisfaction, invent your own definition of success. Enjoy doing what you’re doing just because you love doing it. Find the good in struggle, because struggle is all about learning.
- Be grateful for your gifts-You say “thank you” when someone gives a gift, so be grateful for your talents. They’re there for a reason; to make you happy, just like a gift that comes wrapped up with a bow.
- Know your purpose- Know what these gifts can do for you, your loved ones and the world. Even if you’re not sure, just understand their value. If this is hard, make a list of all the things you can do with your gifts and your life, then go back and read it and see which ones hit home with you. Keep refining this list and pondering it until you get it.