They may be the two most important words in an artist’s life.
Every time we step away from our creative work, we risk it being the end.
We return to the keyboard, the canvas, the clay, the rehearsal, the notes. And every fear that has ever thrown its weight against us steps up. Every reason to not continue argues for its right to live. Every ounce of fatigue, doubt, boredom, discontent tugs at us: “Not in the mood.” “Not feeling inspired.” “This is crap.” “Another day.”
There is more at stake than us being artists.
There is more at stake than the work not getting done. It’s NOT about us. It’s not about our talent. It’s not about reward, or recognition, or accomplishment.
It’s not about us.
The art we are called to make, the stories we are called to share, the music we are called to express — it needs us.
It needs us, because there is something more at stake.
A heart somewhere, just one perhaps (one is enough), will see, read, hear what we have allowed to be expressed through us. A heart that, in that moment, will recognize something of itself.
Whole lives are turned on the point of that moment.
New perceptions experienced.
That point. That still, small point, one second in time, when the Light of our art enters a soul and changes it. It is no small thing, my friends.
It matters so much more than you can ever imagine.
What themes have captured your attention lately?
Light and darkness. Our relationship to them. My relationship to them. How they define each other, and what role they play in creative soul healing. How they create contrast and how we use them to shape our perceptions. I have a good friend, Chris Estes, a brilliantly intuitive photographer (Different Breed Photography); the other day he was playing with self-portraits. He mentioned how he uses the Light to hide what he doesn’t want others to see. That struck me. I’ve always thought that it’s the Darkness that hides things, but he was right. Where we shine Light creates the hiding places for the things we don’t want to see. Or don’t want others to see. Or for what doesn’t want to be seen. Conversely, I have found that there is much to be seen in the serenity of the Dark. The Dark can be a form of Light to the mind and spirit. Which leads to this whole question of revelation and what is revealed and whether it is revealed in the Light or in the Dark, or whether we should be revealing as much as we do these days to public energies. But that’s another issue.
As a writer, I don’t work with visual light and darkness in my art (it plays out in emotions and contrast for characters). As a spiritual guide and healer for combat veterans, I deal with Light and Darkness in the depths of energy, wounds, and transformation. We tend to think (or at least I used to) that what is hidden in the Dark must be revealed in the Light in order to transform and heal. And there are certainly wounds that do need Light to heal. On an energy level, Light diffuses dense, stagnant, stuck energy. But Darkness is where Life begins, and it’s in the Dark that growth and transformation occur most fiercely. It’s also where distraction falls away and our senses become more perceptive. It isn’t a bad thing to be in the Dark; in fact, it may be what nourishes you the most. And that’s a very freeing concept for many people to realize.
The whole concept fascinates me and continues to challenge the assumptions I have.
How does Light/Dark relate to healing?
First, we need to define healing. Healing is new growth that restores a sense of well-being and reconnects a person to their innate power. It is NOT erasing wounds or undoing anything. You damage your body, and it doesn’t “undo” the damage, it grows new cells to fill in the gap, reconnect, or transform. The same is true with soul wounds. It’s very important to know what you mean by healing before you try to do anything with it. Healing is transformation. It’s becoming someone new, because wounds and pain and trauma change you. You must start from where you are now — not where you were before you were wounded.
In healing, Light and Darkness are synonymous for Being Seen and Remaining Hidden. And in woundedness, there is a need for both. Too often, we push people to Be Seen, exposing them in a fairly harsh and glaring manner, thinking that if Light shines on their Darkness, healing will automatically occur (the reality is that many times we’re just scared of their Dark). Light can actually be damaging. If the soul isn’t ready to Be Seen, the vulnerability of exposure can be overwhelming and even traumatic. For soul wounds to be ready to Be Seen, there needs to be a high level of trust, safety, and respect by someone who offers genuine care and unwavering acceptance.The heart listens all the time, and responds like a flower to the sun, pulled toward Life by the power of Love and Acceptance. You respect someone’s pain, and hold up a vision of them whole and empowered, and they rise to it. This respect and nurturing is what allows people to come to a place where they can tell their stories, and express what happened to them, what they experienced, or what they caused to happen.
Being Seen, when a soul is ready, is therapeutic because it reconnects you to your sense of belonging. Our stories matter. Every story matters. And each is as valid as any other. This is why creative arts are innately healing, they allow the soul to reveal at its own pace what it needs to express. There is no forcing, no expectation that someone is waiting for you to “get it out” — it emerges in the safety of its own perfect timing. And what needs to Remain Hidden is given full permission to stay in the Dark. It may eventually need to Be Seen, or it may need the safety of the Dark — but either way, the soul can heal when it has the support and permission to do so.
As creatives, we get wounded. Sometimes more from our own ruthlessness toward ourselves than anything else. It’s a constant challenge. We are continually sinking our roots down deeper and pushing forth toward the sun. All the while buffeted by criticism, self-doubt, being misunderstood, and not understanding what Spirit wants to express through us. We need the Dark to protect what is not ready to emerge, we need projects that we permit to remain Not Seen, so that we can heal in the Dark. We need the Light to allow the parts of ourselves that need to Be Seen to have their place in this world. And to show us what our own Light looks like.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pressure we feel to know where we’re going in life. How little room we leave for mystery, curiosity, the unknown, magic. I’ve had several conversations lately with people in transition, some have been thrown into unexpected and unwanted change, others have a deeper sense that there is more for them and so they’ve set out to find out what that more feels, looks, tastes like. What they all have in common is the sense that they “should” know or pressure to “just decide and get on with it.”
Why does not knowing where you are going in life make people around you so squeamish? Why are people scared when someone admits they don’t know what they want to do or where they want to go in life? It’s as if people simply can’t stand uncertainty in others for more than a few moments, and if you linger “too long” in the Land of Uncertainty, they write you off as unstable or immature, or one of those people who “doesn’t have it together.”
How together are we supposed to be? Career, marriage, home ownership, children, their college, retirement savings. Maybe squeeze a few days of vacation in there somewhere. Follow the path and everyone stays comfortable, right? Why? Because then others don’t have to second guess their choices in life. They can stay on the path and settle for the happiness it offers up, instead of going out there and defining happiness for themselves. It’s just easier (or so we are taught) to stay small and conventional and safe. Since everyone else believes this path is paved with gold, it feels warm and comfortable.
Until it doesn’t. Or something stops working. And a part of you wakes up and realizes there just might be other paths.
Granted, some of the traditional path can indeed bring you genuine happiness. And a life on another path doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll be any happier. But what staying on the safe path does is keep you from realizing how powerful you truly are – it keeps you from playing big, from reaching for genuine joy instead of settling for others’ definition of purpose and destination. It keeps you from ever finding out how much of an impact you can actually make on this journey on earth.
Don’t you want to find out? What if life can really be more meaningful, joy-filled, driven by a purpose led by Spirit? What if these times of transition are not times of being “lost” – but instead absolute gifts that allow you to rebuild and redesign your life to be even better than before?
I’ve always followed intuition more than logic, and I can honestly say doing so has never led me wrong. Down uncertain paths that were unknown? Yes. Through months, sometimes years of sensing where I might be going, but not seeing how everything fit? Yes. Along detours that actually turned out to be the path I was meant to be on? Yes. I’ve lived in the Land of Uncertainty. I know what it feels like. I’ve built up a tolerance for it; I’ve seen time and again how the Universe works its magic and delivers something far better than I could ever come up with on my own.
So, I trust it. I know the periods of blindness in life are just as important as the periods of vision. I know that after the darkness the light will come – it always comes. I know that it takes patience and faith and that you have to fight to choose patience and faith, over and over and over again. But the fight is worth it.
Not knowing where you are going is a sign that you are indeed right where you need to be. Now. You are led, not by desperation or taking action because fear is driving you, but because the Universe works to orchestrate everything needed to bring you to the next place.
And remember, the Universe always works for the highest good for the most people possible. It’s NOT all about YOU, as much as it IS about you. Sometimes we are held in place because there is someone else our life needs to bless before we can move on.
Early on in my self-employed career, I was going through that phase where you seek out a million articles on how to market your work. Fear drives that process more than true learning and pretty soon you’re overwhelmed. Everyone has an opinion about how you should market your work, what you should and shouldn’t do, and the deadly sins to avoid. At that time there was a huge push toward internet information marketing, and at that time, everything in me said: no.
I didn’t want to run an internet information business. I didn’t want to grow a list. I didn’t want to do A, B, & C and get E, F & G. It felt pushy, it felt inauthentic. I still cringe at those long-form web pages that try to convince you of how much you’re getting while you scroll for miles to find the “discounted” price is $299.
Oh, I understood the sales logic behind it all. But it wasn’t me.
And when you’re just starting out, you aren’t sure if it’s okay to be you. What if you do it wrong? What if everyone else is right? I was in that confused state when I ran across the following short blog post by artist Keri Smith, whose message gave me permission to be me and whose words of advice I have kept as my guiding light when seeking clients and promoting my work. I’ll let her speak to you here, because her message is what being an artist is about. Authenticity. Trust. Knowing that you are led. Responding to what moves you.
Without knowing it, I have been giving lectures based on a “do-nothing” approach to illustration and design, employing terms like “don’t promote”, “ignore your audience”, “fuck the money.” A recent interview I did goes into this a little more. This is not to say I “do nothing” to promote my work, you do have to put things out in the world so that others can see and respond to them. But I do feel strongly that all of the techniques, calculating, obsessing, entering contests, trying to get awards (annuals), wanting to be a rock star in your field, trying to land “the” great job, trying to be like someone else who is successful, trying to target your portfolio, trying to be cool, and schmoozing, don’t actually help to move your career forward.
If i look back over the course of my career so far, it is only when I stopped trying to do all of those things and focused on the work that the good stuff started to happen. Only when I relinquished control to some extent and focused on the things that moved me did I start to attract some kind of success. And this method of “doing the opposite” of what I was taught required much less effort in the long run. (Instead of sending out hundreds of mailers, as they tell you to do in art school, I sent out a few here and there to places I really responded to.)
So I guess the questions that I learned to ask myself where, “what the hell makes me want to stay up all night so I can work on it, forgetting entirely about the fact that sleep exists as a possibility?” “what makes you get up in the middle of the night to scribble something down?” “what is in my nature?” (NOT “what should go in my portfolio?”, “how do I target an audience?”, “how do I get more work?”) none of the artist’s whose work I respond to try to ‘target an audience’.” – Keri Smith
When we respond to what moves us, we follow our hearts and the Universe’s guidance for what aligns with us.
It’s okay to be yourself. It’s more than okay, it’s necessary.
What if it all works out?
What if it turns out better than you imagine?
What if every moment spent in fear and doubt isn’t wasted, but necessary to grow faith and confidence?
What if you make what you want to make?
What if you say what you want to say?
What if no one actually has the power to stop you?
What if you stop worrying about “what if’s”?
What if you being you is all that actually matters?
What if you say “yes” before you get over the fear?
What if there is nothing to overcome, and only everything to become?
Yes. What if.