We Don’t Cure the Disease – It Cures Us
“The ego hates to rest. The ego doesn’t want to let God, or sleep, mend up the raveled sleeve of care. The ego would like to handle all that itself, thank you. As artists, we must serve our souls, not our egos. Our souls need rest.” ~ Julia Cameron
Recently, my hands and arms stopped working. The pain and weakness started immediately after finishing a sculpture (that I just happened to work on relentlessly – exhaustingly – for 3 weeks solid). At first, I recognized that I had overworked and decided to take “a break”. I continued to work on smaller, easier things for awhile, but as much as I stubbornly tried to soldier on, my hands just wouldn’t work. I had ZERO strength to use a hammer or even grip my pliers. Then the ache started moving around, from finger joints to elbows, to wrists, to biceps, to shoulders and triceps, and then down to my fingers again. My doctor called it “migrating pain” and said it is typical of autoimmune disorders and so ordered a series of blood tests. Then I noticed a hard lump on my wrist…not a cyst (I’ve suffered from ganglions before)…but a hard, painful lump. That was investigated with some diagnostic imaging.
This is beside the point of my post, and I won’t describe all of the places my mind has been in these last few weeks. As it turns out, my arms and hands are A-ok. My tests came back negative and all of these details are inconsequential. Technically, I don’t even feel the need to know what gives….because I got the message. Eventually.
There is a point to my whining. Keep reading.
The pain is now subsiding, albeit gradually, but I still decided to take this past week off to get some rest. It seems that to be certain I would actually follow through with my intention of resting, the Universe CLOBBERED my body with the worst cold I’ve had in a very long time. UGH!!!! Talk about kicking a girl when she’s down. I can’t do much of anything now, although I’ve still been trying to do some light cleaning, organizing and a bit of gardening, because Heaven forbid….idleness. I tell myself that it’s just a change of pace that I need, but really, deep down I know that’s my stubborn ego trying to stay in control. My excuse has been “I feel much worse when I’m not doing anything.” But the truth is, I’m restless. I don’t want to sit with the discomfort, although that’s likely EXACTLY what my body is asking of me: to be still, reload and draw inspiration from within again. To rest and read and write…and maybe take some slow, mindful walks through the forest if I feel up to it.
It only took me 3 weeks to surrender to that message.
Evidently, sometimes I’m not so bright for a smart gal.
Working for myself is the best thing ever, but it comes with many challenges. Art is a process that happens naturally through me, but having a business? Well, not so much. It has been an important goal of mine – to create a business out of doing what I love, being true myself and creating an artful life. Hell, if I’m going to spend 30 or 40-ish hours a week working at something, it should be something I love.
Life is short!
Normally, persistence is a personality trait of mine in which I take pride. I have been quite tenacious in the pursuit of my goals, one of which is to support myself and my family through the making of art. At some point over the last couple of years, though, my persistence somehow began to morph into something else: Stubbornness. Not sure when that happened exactly, because it was an insidious process.
I think that persistence is the personality trait that moves us forward. It’s how we overcome difficulties and obstacles and keep us in line towards our goals. Sounds like a really good thing, right? Yet, its shadow, stubbornness, is not so constructive. It’s a hinderer, not a helper. Stubbornness, to me, sounds a lot like: “Soldier on in the name of “progress and development”….no matter what the cost.” Stubbornness is a tough, closed-minded bully. Instead of progress and development, it leads to the spinning of wheels and eventual stagnation. It narrows my horizons and leaves me feeling tired and uninspired. It seems that the boundary between stubbornness and persistence is very thin and they can be quite difficult to tell apart. Sometimes they seem to interweave, even.
To be honest, even though I adore my work, there are aspects of it that are difficult and painstaking and well…..WORK. Persistence is necessary to get through those times, but when the line between persistence and stubbornness becomes blurry, I lose my balance. I become so set on the goal that I stop feeling my feels and ignore my inner guidance.
The script that often runs through my head is – “Life is too short. I have so much I want to do and so little time. And the icing on the cake is that I must make a living, too.” It’s a lot of pressure!
Sound familiar? I have a hunch that I’m not the only one.
I’ve discovered that pressure, while very motivating, is the anti-inspiration. Yes…..Inspiration and motivation…Two more concepts that are closely related, yet very different! But I digress.
My question is: Where did this stubbornness come from, and at what point in time did I become a workaholic?!
Well, I have a few ideas and perhaps these will resonate. If not, feel free to click your way out of here! I probably won’t even see you leave. 😉
In my case, perhaps my stubborness was born out of trying to prove myself….to myself. I am my toughest critic, by far. For many years I believed myself to be incapable of “getting my act together.” I was flighty and couldn’t stick to anything long enough to become great. Oh, I had a tonne of interests and hobbies, but you know what they say: A jack of all trades is a master of none. I dabbled and was mediocre-good at a whole lot of everything. But I truly felt lost and un-focussed.
Something was missing.
When I started ReLOVED I felt as though I had FINALLY found the thing I could stick with. My passion! My bliss! I could spend every day, all day (and I did), bending silver and making new things out of old things. And it even now it continues to evolve into bigger, more complex, more challenging projects that keep my heart happy, my mind focused and my hands busy.
Maybe I possess some subconscious belief that now that I have finally found my “calling” in my mid-life, that I need to make up for lost time. Or maybe on some level I still don’t believe it, and think that I’m going to get bored and change my mind or lose my motivation and momentum….or maybe that my passion will up and leave me. Maybe I have abandonment issues. Regardless, it is apparent to me that I have a whole lot of fear that I’m calling something else in the name of professionalism – like “industriousness” or “prolificacy”. I’d call it success, but my definition of that word is a moving target, so it doesn’t quite fit.
Yes. A part of me feels that I’m nothing if I’m not busy and working, and that I’m only as good as my last piece. A part of me still identifies with my inner teenager, who was often called disorganized and “lazy”…and I guess I’m hell bent on proving them wrong. SO I guess this is also about proving myself to others, too.
Sometimes I forget that “artist” is not what I do, but who I am.
At this point I see that my body is just a whole lot smarter than the rest of me. If I’m not going to make some time and space for rest and play, my body will ground me as it has done in the past and it will continue to do. How else is it going to keep me in line if I’m not willing to listen?
So as it turns out, I am grateful for aches and pains and sickness because we don’t cure the disease…it cures us.
I’m now at the point in my career as an artist that I’m capable of creating a pretty good piece of art whether it is inspired, or not. I have the skills to work with my materials and I know what looks good, so I can create, regardless. But that is not AT ALL what I want. When inspiration is lacking in my work I am left feeling incomplete and depressed. Once touched by inspiration, it is something that we, as creators, continue to seek for the rest of our lives – anything less feels incomplete. But inspiration doesn’t work that way. Inspiration can’t be actively sought, and we can’t stubbornly work our way to becoming inspired. Inspiration is mysterious and illusive….yet so simply attained in spaces of curiosity and playful openness.
It is my plan to continue being curious, and allowing that playful openness….Perstistently. And sometimes, to make art just for art’s sake. 🙂