You don’t have to be good, you just have to be devoted.
I was working with a client last week who is afraid to write what she really wants to write. So afraid, that she’s convinced herself that she can’t write. It’s really fascinating to see how our minds can sabotage us in our efforts to create. This condition of self-sabotage is common among creatives. We want so desperately to express our thoughts and feelings through our chosen art form, to express what is really true about us, but there is something in us that resists. Something that lies dark and fearful in the lower brain, and keeps telling us that we just can’t do it. We don’t have what it takes. Those afflicted with such a head-voice live in a very conflicted state: wanting something and simultaneously believing that we are not equipped to have what we most want. I am the perfect coach for people so afflicted, because I, too, have suffered from this odd contradiction.
In cases like this, being a good coach has very little to do with being a good writing teacher, and a lot more with being a good soul-searcher, being able to disabuse the client of some of her mistaken assumptions about the way creativity works. The resistance this client felt grew out of her fear that her writing would not be of interest or worth to anyone. This is a truly debilitating assumption—and totally false. But the stymied state this assumption engenders is totally logical: who would want to write or create if they believed doing so would result in being ridiculed, or even worse, dismissed? Not creating becomes the mind’s method for protecting itself from danger.
So how to proceed when you are so afflicted? It doesn’t have to be a complicated process and years in psychotherapy. Some simple trainings of the mind-body connection can help. Body awareness can disarm debilitating patterns by changing the habituated responses of the brain. Here’s one technique:
1. First, sit quietly for a moment or two with your eyes closed. Breathe deeply and focus on the breath at it enters the nostrils. Try to relax your shoulders. Get present in the body.
2. Next, put your body into the physical posture it takes when you are fully feeling your problematic situation—the mood, feeling, or emotion that accompanies the belief that you can’t create. In the case of my client, it was feeling unable to perform, and fearful of being ridiculed if she did perform. I encouraged her to let the body feel the small, self-contracted state of being “less than,” then hold this posture for 45 seconds.
3. Then, let the body embody the opposite of this contracted state; let it take on a more expansive and positive state that might accompany having finished a piece of writing, or having received praise for her creative effort. It might be standing tall, pulling the shoulders back, raising the arms. The body will do this fairly easily, so you don’t have to think about it too much. Just try to embody the opposite physical stance of the earlier bad one, and hold this for 45 seconds.
4. You can move back and forth between the postures if you want, getting a clear felt-sense of how the body contracts and then opens based on what messages the brain is giving it.
5. The next move in the exercise is find a place somewhere in the middle of these two postures, finding a posture that embraces the courage to move forward into a new state and out of the afflictive one. This simple physical movement helps train the brain to do what you want it to do, instead of remaining mired in destructive (and false) belief. This new stance will give you access to the wisdom of the body and to the natural creativity of the mind.
The body is so powerful; and it reflects any contracted mind-state that keeps us from moving toward our deepest desires. But it also has the capability of relaxing our grip on those mind-states. This simple exercise is one of many ways that we can re-train the brain to think in ways that will serve us better, that will give us access to our deepest wisdom and creativity. When we change the body, we change the mind. When we open the body, we open the mind. When we release the tension in the body, we release the contraction in the mind. When we release contraction in the mind, we have more resilience to act in our own best interest, instead of remaining mired in negative thought and behavior.
Poet Mary Oliver might have been saying a similar thing when she wrote these amazing words from her poem “Wild Geese”:
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
I urged my client to believe this: You don’t have to be good, you just have to be devoted. Assume the body posture that represents you accomplishing your desire. Put yourself in front of the computer, over and over, and write about what you love.
Thanks for showing up at LifeArt Studio today. Join us here for workshops, reading groups, and coaching that explore how to foster our best creative practices.
Yours in artfulness,