On Community, Creating, and Pushing Past the Fear

This past weekend I was reminded—again—of the essential nature of community, and the vital importance of sharing our true selves. We are wired to seek out others with whom we feel like we “belong.” As Brené Brown says in Braving the Wilderness, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.”

Even those of us who are introverts want to feel that connection with others who get us and support us. Brown also says, “Never underestimate the power of being seen.” And yet, in order to truly feel like we belong, we have to show up as our authentic selves.

In a creative setting, where we’re putting out something we made, it can feel like we’re offering up a piece of our soul. I find that to be so risky emotionally. Brown agrees: “True belonging is not passive. It's not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It's not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it's safer. It's a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.”

But the rewards for that risk are great—when you’re accepted for who you are, or your work touches others, it’s deeply satisfying. I work at home and really miss the camaraderie of coworkers. Online groups fill part of the gap, but I also crave personal connection.

Last weekend I had the chance to go to the opening of an exhibit featuring a painting that includes one of my poems. And although it meant driving eight hours to Houston over on Friday and back again on Sunday—and I was nervous because I’d also have to read my poem aloud at the event (risk!)—I grabbed that chance. What made it even better was that I’d get to stay with one of my dearest friends, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. To be able to spend uninterrupted time catching up with her is a rare treat, and immensely nourishing. (More connection!)

The exhibit was called Color:Story 2019, by amazing artists Leslie Gaworecki and Marlo Saucedo. I met Leslie at Lucky Star Art Camp. Last year she put out a request for words to feature in a collaborative work with Marlo, so I submitted my poem “What If.” I was thrilled when they chose it, and even more so when I saw the finished piece (pic below, and more on my Facebook page).

It felt amazing to be part of a collaboration like that. Then they decided to create more pieces along those lines, and were approved to exhibit them in a show. I figured the opening would be fun, and I knew it would meet my desire for connection, but I didn’t anticipate how very much it would fill my soul.

Their space is a huge warehouse subdivided into studios, and before the opening we were able to wander around and see all the other artists. Being in a place dedicated solely to creativity, I felt a special kind of energy that was inspiring and rejuvenating. (It also made my hands itch with the desire to grab a brush and start painting!!)

It was incredible to see my piece in person, and all the other beautiful pieces in the show. The other writers’ work was amazing. And then hearing that work read aloud, and feeling the appreciation of the crowd, brought a whole new level of energy.

It wasn’t quite enough energy to keep me from being increasingly nervous about my turn. But since my poem actually talks about feeling the fear and doing it anyway, I couldn’t possibly back down! I managed to read it all without losing my place or misspeaking—or tripping on the way up—and afterward, several people told me how much they liked it. That meant the world to me. Writers so often send our word babies out into the universe and don’t hear anything back…to get affirmation that our words touched someone makes all the effort, uncertainty, and fear worthwhile.

Seeing such a large group gathered to support the writers and artists was fantastic. It was like getting an infusion of love and appreciation. And seeing all of the artists gathered in that studio space, inspiring and encouraging each other, really brought home to me how important it is for creatives to have a community. Whether it’s “in real life” or virtual, having others who understand the challenges you face and can cheer you on is invaluable.

Especially when we’re starting out, that inner critic can really be loud, and can stop us before we have a chance to get going. Sharing with others who have been there before, who struggle with their own inner critics, really helps us keep going.

And then having others appreciate your work when it’s out there in the world—wow. We create because we have to—because there’s something inside of us that wants to be born, and if we don’t let it out, part of us withers away. We also create to bring joy, or solace, or inspiration to others. Our own pain or happiness, while personal in detail, is universal in feeling. Sharing it heals both the creator and the viewer. Everyone is lifted up. It’s magic, and I’m grateful to have finally gotten to a place in my life where I can experience it for myself.

If you’re feeling that urge to put something out there, remember this. If even one person is touched, it’s worth the vulnerability and the risk. The world needs your voice. Each of us has something unique to share, and someone else needs to hear it because it will benefit them. Don’t let fear keep your voice bottled up inside. Something that can really help you push past fear and doubt is the book The Artist’s Way. Read that, and find your community, and as Rumi says, “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.” The risk is great, but the reward is enormous.

What If


Go For It

In honor of the new moon tonight, and fresh beginnings, here are three poems (from three incredibly wise and wonderful poets) that inspire me to take bold action in pursuit of my dreams, and to live life fully. May they inspire you as well!

If It Is Not Too Dark

by Hafiz (from I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy /

Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky)

 

Go for a walk, if it is not too dark.

Get some fresh air, try to smile.

Say something kind

To a safe-looking stranger, if one happens by.

 

Always exercise your heart’s knowing.

 

You might as well attempt something real

Along this path:

Take your spouse or lover in your arms

The way you did when you first met.

Let tenderness pour from your eyes

The way the Sun gazes warmly on the earth.

 

Play a game with some children.

Extend yourself to a friend.

Sing a few ribald songs to your pets and plants—

Why not let them get drunk and wild!

 

Let’s toast

Every rung we’ve climbed on Evolution’s ladder.

Whisper, “I love you! I love you!”

To the whole mad world.

 

Let’s stop reading about God—

We will never understand Him.

 

Jump to your feet, wave your fists,

Threaten and warn the whole Universe

 

That your heart can no longer live

Without real love!

 

Moments

by Mary Oliver (from Felicity)

 

There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.

Like, telling someone you love them.

Or giving your money away, all of it.

 

Your heart is beating, isn't it?

You're not in chains, are you?

 

There is nothing more pathetic than caution

when headlong might save a life,

even, possibly, your own.

 

Don't Go Back to Sleep

by Rumi (from Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks)

 

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

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Be Your Note

I found this lovely Rumi poem the other day and it really resonated with me. I can be plagued with self-doubt, especially about whether or not my creative work is valuable and helpful. If you ever have that feeling, perhaps it will encourage you to continue on, as it did me.

Each Note

God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.

Each note is a need coming through one of us

a passion, a longing-pain.

Remember the lips

where the wind-breath note originated,

and let your note be clear.

Don’t try to end it.

Be your note.

I’ll show you how it’s enough.

Go up on the roof at night

in this city of the soul.

Let everyone climb on their roofs

and sing their notes!

Sing loud!

Jalāl, Al-Dīn Rūmī. “Each Note.” The Essential Rumi. Trans. Coleman Barks. San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1995

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Bless and Release

 

I just finished Anita Moorjani’s book “Dying to Be Me,” where she relates her incredible near death experience and subsequent complete recovery from lymphoma. It is an astonishing and powerful story, and her messages really resonated with me and stretched my mind.

One main message is self-acceptance. She makes an interesting point when talking about this—that while she now lives from a place of joy rather than fear, it doesn’t mean she always thinks positive thoughts. She says that we all have negative thoughts, and since they are part of us, they are something we should accept. Rather than resisting or fearing negative thoughts and emotions, we should feel them and let them move through us.

Now I don’t know about you, but I resist my negative emotions very strongly! This was a fascinating idea to me, that I could just accept them and then they would go on, and that was actually healthier than trying to avoid them.  

It seems to echo something my yoga teacher talked about recently, which is the concept of “bless and release”—if something is bothering you, rather than getting caught up in it, give it your blessing and let it go. In other words, accept it, let it move through you, and release it. This feels like a radical approach to me, and I’m really quite thrilled to start playing with it.

There is a poem I love that expresses this concept much more beautifully than I ever could. So I will let the amazing mystical poet Rumi have the floor this week:

The Guest House

--Rumi

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

 

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

 

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.