This is part of my upcoming memoir – Permission to Land: Searching for Love, Home, and Belonging. (Other previews can be found here on Elephant, and others at www.marcibrockmann.com. Thank you for reading, hearting (if you like what you read) and sharing, if you are so inclined.
“The more ways we have to connect, the more we seem
desperate to unplug.” Pico Iyer, The Joy of Quiet.
Stillness and quiet are necessary for mental health. I’d been hearing this, or something like this, for years and dismissed it. But, being forced by life circumstances to spend a lot of time alone over the last few years, I realized that had I spent much of my life avoiding being alone. I sat in my living room and listened to my house, the wind outside, the human noise of my neighbors. I walked hundreds of miles on the beach, drank cases of red wine, burned millions of calories at the gym, and cried tens of gallons of tears. I read Thich Nhat Hahn’s wisdom about mindfulness and healing, but I still couldn’t find happiness or peace.
I thought about crawling into bed, pulling the covers over my head and hibernating, but that felt like giving up and I’m too stubborn to give up. I refused to believe that my life was destined to be flat, lonely, and disappointing. There had to be more to life. I could be mom and Mrs. Brockmann, but where was Marci? I had to figure out where she was so I could get to know her again. I wandered around my house trying to figure out how to make myself happy. I was lost. How does one go about finding one’s self and happiness?
Sometimes, when we reach an epiphany, the moment is so palpable that it almost feels like the Universe is shaking us awake. One recent spring, I had this moment. Sitting out back on my patio, I was sipping a glass of wine reflecting on my day and as the sun started to set and throw deep orange and pink across the late afternoon sky, I realized that I wanted to paint again. I wanted to recreate on canvas that brilliant, outrageous sunset. I have always been an artist. I took fine art classes in drawing, painting, and photography in college and made a meager living as a photographer before I became an English teacher, but it had been a LONG time since I had picked up a paintbrush.
The Universe compelled me to pick up a paintbrush again. Bearing witness to one glorious sunset called me to action. After one short trip to the art store for supplies, I began to paint. At first, I felt stiff and awkward, trying too hard to impress myself. It was stilted. My first creations were less than inspiring but encouraging enough to keep me going.
I started to spend most of my alone time in my studio painting. The goal was to learn how to paint again, and as I focused on blending colors and representing images on canvases, I found myself. It was cathartic and moving. I felt creative energy bursting through me. I was finding purpose in artistic creation. Creating something new out of our own vision of the world to communicate how we feel, what we think, who we are or are becoming is one of the amazing parts of being human. We are all born with some drive, desire or need to create. As children, we are close to our imaginations, which is the primary vehicle through which we learn about the world, so we are compelled to create connections to explore our worlds. As children, we hadn’t yet learned the hateful art of self-deprecation and self-criticism, so we were freer to express ourselves unabashedly. Sometimes, as adults, we find it hard to connect with that ancient, necessary part of ourselves.
Starting a new painting is exciting and full of promise. Many artists have shared this awe in creating a new world on a canvas. Norman Rockwell once said, “every painting [was] a new adventure…[it’s like] always looking ahead to something new and exciting.” Seeing a new painting take on shape and depth is birthing something new that never existed before.
While focusing on blending colors and composition, what I didn’t plan on or realize was, I was allowing myself to process and reflect on my life, choices and feelings. I learned to appreciate my mistakes and myself in all my imperfections. Just like a painting can be restarted when it doesn’t turn out as planned, so could my life, my course. I could take another path.
Another invaluable lesson, maybe even the best lesson I realized through painting is that it can be a pleasant surprise that a painting doesn’t turn out as planned – it can actually be better. Predictability is stagnation. The unexpected is exciting and offers new challenges. Sure, my life hadn’t, so far, turned out as planned, but maybe that meant that it was going to be better than I ever imagined. I had hope and the ambition to surpass all my previous expectations. Learning to appreciate the unanticipated and serendipitous reminded me that I was flexible and loved spontaneity. Life’s little surprises were what made it fun and joyous.
Beauty could be found where it was least expected. Within a few months of rebirthing myself as an artist, I sold my first commission and had a collection of landscapes and abstracts in my own show. I launched my artist’s website and am started a second career as an online art gallery owner. I’m happier than I ever thought possible. And when I stopped looking for love because I was focused on my own life and art, a wonderful new man, a great love, walked into my life.
Being alone, sitting still, paying attention to our inner voices, being introspective and reflective about our choices, actions, and feelings and searching for the things that feed our souls will give us a profoundly new sense of ourselves… dare I even say, a healthier, stronger and more accepting sense of ourselves. It’s the time of stillness, solitude and serenity that allows us to process our thoughts and feelings about our lives. So much noise screams through each of our days, though our connections with family and friends, work associates, school mates, through social media, and interaction through our ever-present cell phones that our own thoughts can easily become lost in the cacophony and swirl of contemporary life. It is no wonder so many of us feel lost, adrift, dissatisfied.
We each owe it to ourselves to listen carefully to the Universe and our own yearnings to find that which inspires us to look for the beauty in ourselves, and the world in which we live. When we are still and quiet, focusing inward into our own breath and heart, listening carefully…only then can we hear our own truth.
Everything can be a creative act. Even teaching is a creative act. When I’m blocked or one creative avenue stops talking to me, I lose the sense of a painting or characters in the story get hazy, I turn to another form of art. I sing for a while or I write something different or paint a new picture or encourage students to read a new book, play a new instrument, paint new pictures or edit their writing. Everything is sort of folds in on itself and is inter-related, everything speaks to something else. Some of the most prolific artists are artists that have taken different creative avenues to open themselves up.
One of the things I learned from painting was patience. If I paint too quickly and add too much color too soon, what I wind up with is mud. It works the same in writing. If I try to rush and idea or character or experience what I wind up with is a bunch of mush. So, I take a step back. I regroup, take a shower, go have a drink, have sex, go out with some friends, cook a meal, go out for one, or have a nap. There are a million things you can do to recharge your creativity to coax it out of its hiding places, but the one thing that you shouldn’t ever do is give up.
I may have taken a hiatus from creative creativity now and then especially when life got crazy busy, overly dramatic and difficult but I always came back to it. It was always there for me, calling me back to the temple of the divine to create something new and beautiful or at least just to create. The sheer act of expressing myself in words or in color or in song is enough to make me joyous, gleeful and feel harmonious and one with the world that we live on and are a part of.
I encourage you to do this yourself. Find something inspirational and don’t judge don’t over analyze or overthink. Just jump in with both feet and have a good time. Find that long lost kid inside of you. And like my mother did with the finger paints when I was a little girl, stick both hands in and don’t be afraid to make a mess.
Recently, someone asked me how I am able to tap into my creativity and find that spark that creates something new. It is a process that is simultaneously complicated and simple. My art studio, where my paintings are born, is always flooded with music, light and the shelf to my right is always stocked with a delicious selection of high-end dark chocolates. I can find inspiration in a song, photograph, story, a conversation, almost anything can trigger something in me that I’m driven to express, but chocolate is king. Chocolate is my Greek muse (or Mexican, actually).
Whether our self-expression is in the form of writing, music, visual arts like drawing or painting, tattoos and body art, culinary arts, physical activities like dance, or anything else for that matter, what inspires ideas to burst forth from our souls? How can we unblock our creativity?
After surveying (and probably annoying) more than a few creative people, I have compiled a list of strategies and practices that we can use to tap into our creativity regardless of how we express ourselves and let loose the passions of our souls.
- Create conducive environments or spaces that give us the space and freedom to let lose our inhibitions.
- Find like-minded, open-minded people with whom to collaborate and with whom to bounce ideas around.
- Observe the randomness of life and appreciate serendipity – our ability to notice the world around us and translate that into something else is uniquely human.
- Appeal to the Universe or spiritual muses for inspiration (just as the ancient Greeks).
- Ingest delicious and evocative foods that literally feed the body and soul.
- Use alcohol or mind-altering drugs, which can loosen inhibitions and quiet negative self-talk (those these are not recommended in excess).
- Peruse the internet, print media, and social media for inspiring ideas and photographs as many times the work of others is a catalyst for our own work – Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Snap Chat, YouTube…
- Exercise or dance – either solo or socially – the movement of our bodies can increase in circulation that unblocks our chi enough for creative juices to flow.
- Listen to music to create a mood and release emotions and to encourage movement or calm.
- Watch a movie, video or read a book, article or poem to recharge, help memories resurface and focus closely on images and senses.
- Self-reflect on feelings and responses to situations and relationships in your life.
- Laugh – the release and relaxation of shared laughter is invaluable – and sarcasm is a sign of intelligence and creativity (just ask Seth MacFarlane).
- Walk or hike in nature while breathing deeply and taking in the beauty of the natural world – all that exists in harmony around us is often very helpful.
- Fall in love and/or have sex– the energy, resurgence of youthful enthusiasm and physical passion have fueled centuries of beautiful art.
- Spend time with small children – their unbridled energy and exuberance and lack of critical, self-judgment can be very refreshing as they inspire us with their wonder and excitement.
- Think deeply and with focus– whether it’s just staying positive about the creative task, trying to look at things from a fresh, new angle can help us home in on what we are trying to communicate.
- Daydream – allowing ourselves quiet time to let our minds drift off into randomness can often lead us to new, unexpected places.
- Walk away – walking away from a creative project and giving ourselves time can give us the distance we need to release pressure, change our perspective and recharge our energies.
Who knows, maybe even reading this list inspired creativity? Now wouldn’t that be serendipitous?
(The picture is a painting of mine called Rainy Day Sun, painting available for purchase, also in custom prints, decorative pillows and silky scarves just in time for the holidays.)