Keep the Channel Open
Last April, a small group of long-time LifeArt Studio peeps concluded a four-month “radical accountability” group. It was, by all markers, a remarkable experience for all of us. Lots of gains; lots of insights; lots of shifts in perspective happened over our time together. As we’ve said over and over, we always work more efficiently, productively, and happily when we are checking in regularly with supportive colleagues who can encourage, advise, and straighten us out when we get derailed in our process. The movement toward high goals in this group was quite impressive over our time of working closely together. Art was created. Relationships were formed. New jobs were acquired. New practices were implemented. And quite a few burdens were released. I was humbled by the diligence and dedication of these powerful women.
So a few weeks ago, I gathered this group here at the Studio, just to see if the gains had “stuck.” When we’re striving toward new accomplishments, or toward changes in our personal habits or belief systems, it’s important to make sure that the gains remain integrated within us, and not just temporary during the period of intense support.
Thinking that members of the group might have flagged in their commitment to their goals (as I had!), I sent them all this inspiring quotation from choreographer Martha Graham. Graham was responding to fellow choreographer Agnes de Mille who was sharing her anxiety over what she feared was a theatrical failure. She told Graham, “I have a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I can be.”
(Just a note before I go on: if the great Agnes de Mille can have doubts about her capability, then no wonder the rest of us do, also. Right??)
So here is what the very wise Martha Graham said to de Mille:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
Ohmygod, this is so good I can hardly stand it! Let me say the words again: It is your business to keep the channel open! Keep the creative juices flowing. Keep the dedication high. And keep the radical sense of potential alive in your heart. This is your work, now and always. I have printed Graham's paragraph numerous times and stuck it all over my house. I can’t hear these words often enough! And of course, I wanted my clients to hear them, too.
So on a rainy Tuesday night, holding the idea of keeping the channel open in our minds, we addressed a series of questions to make sure we could stay on target through the rest of the summer. I offer them to those of you who may also need a mid-summer examination of those goals and intentions you set for your summer.
In what ways are you still working on your 2018 “project for growth”?
(Be appreciative of the ways, however small, that you are still moving forward with the project.)
How have you effectively and wisely re-shaped or re-directed the project?
(Remember what the Stoics told us: in some cases, the task that keeps you from doing your work IS your work!)
If you have dropped the project, what were the circumstances that led to that decision?
fear. . .an event. . .a non-supportive habit. . .inertia. . .lack of inspiration,
collaboration, or motivation. . . false beliefs. . . need of instruction. . .
need of a cohort
The questions to ask:
• How have you generously and compassionately considered these circumstances?
• How have you hated, or maligned, or blamed, or groused about those circumstances? (Note: all of these behaviors “close the channel”!)
• And finally, do you believe that you are being given circumstances that are not helpful to you? (Trick question! You know that EVERY circumstance that is in front of you is uniquely designed for your benefit. The work is about finding that benefit.)
Learning to be brutally honest about what is derailing us from a project is actually a very important gain that comes from undertaking the project in the first place. This is part of the “self-study” creatives must constantly practice in order to stay the course of a long and challenging growth project. As the questions above imply, you don’t want to beat up on yourself when you appear to run off course. You want to take the opportunity to examine what is keeping you from moving forward. The thing that is keeping you from moving forward is the issue that is trying to get your attention. Go ahead, give it some attention.
Here is an antidote to a seeming miss-step on our path: Identify the small ways you have stayed on course: and for these be grateful. And even better, write these gratitudes in your TIA Journal.
Don’t have a TIA Journal? Come see me immediately! It will help.
What is your Practice? That is, what is the spiritual technology that “keeps your channel open.”
So Martha Graham admonished her friend to keep the channel open so her spirit could experience the creative impulse that is ready to move through her. Sounds good, you might be thinking, but just how does one “keep the channel open”?
Answer: It’s through a daily Practice of quieting the mind, opening the heart, releasing judgments and attachments, and dropping resistance to what is. We call these practices spiritual technologies. It may be meditation, or prayer, or journaling, or breath work, or just sitting quietly and listening to the voice of God. It’s always there, but hard to hear if you’re running full speed all the time.
So take a break. See what happens. I’m quite sure the channel will open.