Safe harbours & places of refuge when life gets stormy
If you have followed any of my social channels over the past few years, it might seem as if I project a positive, upbeat attitude. Let me be clear, that is not always how I feel. I try not to be guilty of making my life look better than it is. But, I don’t see the point in putting up all the bad stuff that happens along the way. I think there is enough unpleasant news already. We live in a world of fear mongering and false news. There seems to be an inappropriate appetite for bad news. In all this chaos, I am trying to produce a creative outlook on life.
In private, I believe everyone needs a sacred and safe place, to be themselves. This could be a physical space or even a relationship, hopefully both. Somewhere to turn when you need a break from the stress of life. Something which can always be counted on for love, support and understanding. In the modern world, I think this kind of thing is becoming increasingly difficult to find and rely on.
I thought it might be a good thing, as we head into the last hours of 2017, to highlight some of the people and messages which have helped me through some tough times. I check in with these words of wisdom on a regular basis. It is almost like putting some air in a leaky tire on your bicycle. Who knows why it keeps getting low, but if you don’t attend to it, you are riding on the rims and risking permanent damage.
I don’t think of myself as a naturally joyful person. I do not walk around with a Pollyanna kind of attitude. In fact, some of my biggest attitude problems are born out a tendency to prepare for the worst possible outcome in any situation. My rational has been, that these terrible things do not usually happen, so I will be pleasantly surprised when they don’t. But there is a deadly trap in this kind of thinking that I had no idea about until recently. As Dr Brené Brown writes in an article for Oprah.com Catastrophizing – How to Feel Joy Without Fear
Though I study scary emotions like anger and shame for a living, I think the most terrifying human experience is joy. It’s as if we believe that by truly feeling happiness, we’re setting ourselves up for a sucker punch. The problem is, worrying about things that haven’t happened doesn’t protect us from pain. Ask anyone who has experienced a tragedy; they’ll tell you there is no way to prepare. Instead, catastrophizing, as I call it, squanders the one thing we all want more of in life. We simply cannot know joy without embracing vulnerability—and the way to do that is to focus on gratitude, not fear.
When I feel fear rising up, as it does on a regular basis, the last thing that comes to mind is to be grateful. I am simply not wired that way. I also think fear has taken on a life of its own. Not just with me, but with many people. There is a low-grade and sometimes a fever, of fear which people are feeling all the time. This producing chemicals in the brain and body designed to make us take some kind of physical action. After the flight or fight, the body naturally flushes out those chemicals and we return to normal. The flushing out is not happening, though. Instead all those chemicals build up. We all know what happens when there is too much pressure, something gives. We get sick, we break down, we get depressed.
The trick then, is to be aware of what fear we are carrying around with us already. As well as identifying new fears before they take hold. Then, insert gratitude instead. Seems too simple to be effective, but it truly does work. That is where being vulnerable comes in, I think. Another emotion I would rather never feel. I’ve had to stare down being vulnerable every day. With every piece of writing and every video I publish I feel really vulnerable. Like I’m putting my heart out on a table and inviting people to come on over and step on it. But every time nothing bad happens to me, being vulnerable gets a little easier.
I am getting the hang of identifying gratitude before I feel fear. It almost works like insect repellent. I cover myself with a bunch of grateful thoughts and then go about my business. Fear has no place to attack me. While I am focusing on gratitude I have the added benefit of not feeling the need to think of all the bad things that might happen and try to build defences against them. Being grateful is far more calming.
Another life changing lesson for me was becoming clear about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Until very recently I was the goat in this video. Always trying to point out what was good about the situation, instead of showing empathy like the bear. Every time I realize I am being called to make a choice, when every fibre of my being wants to be the goat, I climb all the way down into the hole, as the bear and listen with an open heart.
Years ago, my Auntie asked me to participate in an OWN Lifeclass, (which is part of the Oprah Winfrey media group), for The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I didn’t know anything about the book or the art class format, but I felt like this could be something. Boy, was it ever. The book spoke to me on so many levels, it was as if it had been written for my particular circumstances. Combined with the art course I was challenged to be creative with paper in a way I had not done since design school. I was a young student once again, filled with a desire to create and I loved it. I was truly sad when it was over and the little book I made is a treasured creative art project. This started me wondering why I don’t have more creativity in my day-to-day life?
Around the same time that I agreed to take the course with my Auntie, I also invited her to attend something called the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. This conference is the brain child of Chris Guillebeau who writes a blog called the Art Of Non Conformity. In fact, he is a proper, published author as well. Have a look at his site and get inspired. I particularly like his second manifesto, 279 Days to Overnight Success.
By following Chris, I have been reminded that anything in life that is worth having will take time to accomplish. I don’t mean material consumption of goods and services. I mean personal goals, the tough stuff in life. Changing a bad habit into a good one. Completing a u-turn in my career. Being healthy in my physical body. These things have taken and continue to require persistence and patience to develop. Nothing is a quick fix or an instant make-over. But these kind of pursuits are worth the effort.
Around the magical age of 40, I began to ponder the question, why? What is the ‘why’ of my life? What am I meant to be doing? Who do I want to serve? These are pretty heavy, maybe existential questions. Thanks to the work of Simon Sinek, I realize I have the ability to seek the answers. Because for much of my life, I felt I had ‘pre-selected, limited, choices’. Kind of a pessimistic view, I know. But another one of those tricks I used to keep myself down, not act too recklessly or risky. Play it safe. Predict the outcome. After walking this straight path for most of my life, I started to wonder if there might be more? Yes, sounds like a midlife crisis, but thank goodness for that!
Simon’s groundbreaking TEDx talk starting a discussion about ‘why’, which has had far-reaching consequences for many people and the organizations they work for. My personal ‘why’ is ever so close to being something I believe in, right down to my toes. The final step probably requires even more vulnerability on my part, in order to broadcast it!
Since I started making youtube videos, my world has opened up to a whole host of content which I had no idea existed before. In the typical old-fashioned way of thinking, I assumed the platform was full of cat videos and kids playing video games. While that is true, there is so much more as well. In fact, the very genre I am writing here – the blog, has turned into – vlogging, over on youtube. People all over the world are creating a dizzying volume of video content, everyday! Sorting through all that can be challenging due to the sheer volume. However, after many hours spent, (wasted), I have found some great content creators, (youtubers).
One of the darlings of youtube is Casey Neistat. He was a movie maker, doing indie, documentary style projects with his brother, back when youtube was starting to get big. Early on he jumped on to the platform because of the freedom it allows creators to explore. One of his videos, sums it all up for me – DO WHAT YOU CAN’T. I like the no-nonsense kind of attitude that Casey has. It harks back to the grand generation, not someone who is 10 years younger than me. “Do the work,” is something Casey is known to say. I completely agree.
Halfway through 2017, I started the practice of the morning pages. I have tried to journal before and I have kept them all. Half started, half-hearted volumes fill a box back home. These efforts always began with such enthusiasm and then, life gets in the way. The way morning pages works, is the same as the wealthy barber’s concept of pay yourself first. Write the pages first thing in the morning. Hand written, 3 pages. Nothing could be simpler. But, the brain craves novelty and change, so even now, I still find myself staring at the page wondering what to write. I push through that and write anything and everything that comes to mind.
I am not reading the pages yet and I certainly don’t want anyone else to. That is the point of them. To get out all the clutter and nastiness from the corners of your mind. Let the pages have it, so those thoughts are resolved. They are free. They don’t haunt me anymore. They lose their power. My pages have a whole bunch of fear in them. All kinds of fearful thoughts are poured into the pages each morning. What ever needs tone swept out of my mind in the morning goes into the pages. Every now and them something inspiring comes up too! I don’t try to predict what will happen because the road always has twists and turns in it, every morning.
“Pages clarify our yearnings. They keep an eye on our goals. They may provoke us, coax us, comfort us, even cajole us, as well as prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. If we are drifting, the pages will point that out. They will point the way True North. Each morning, as we face the page, we meet ourselves. The pages give us a place to vent and a place to dream. They are intended for no eyes but our own.”
― Julia Cameron
Personal development takes a whole lot of consistent effort. But, these things I have mentioned are not really that difficult in and of themselves. Rather it is the day-to-day practice that usually trips us up. I’ve worked on a bunch of other stuff over the years, but these things are the most important aspects in my life right now. Other stuff will come in later, once I have mastered this.
- Gratitude over fear – Dr Brené Brown
- Empathy rather than sympathy – Dr Brené Brown
- Daily creativity – Dr Brené Brown and Oprah Winfrey
- Excellence through patience and persistence – Chris Guillebeau
- My personal ‘why’ statement – Simon Sinek
- Do the work – Casey Neistat
- Morning pages – Julia Cameron
Join me in this creative journey. I think it will be worth your time. I look forward to hearing from you! Use any form of communication which feels comfortable. Email, social media or even, if you want to give me a call, I can reached at cwestermark on Skype. Together, let us see where we can take this.
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Daily Creatives Resources:
: : “Fruitless at 40: Rediscovering My Creative Power”
: : After 25 years, why I walked away from my beloved career
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Our travel year:
: : We are a Canadian family, on a year-long trip, planning on 32 cities, 18 countries over 4 continents.
: : Dad is working in Europe and Asia, Teens are doing distance education for grades 11 and 9, Mom is keeping it all together, writing, taking photos and making videos.
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