It's not a competition, it's a doorway. -Mary Oliver
The arts are a rare form of pure compassion. And by that I mean the old Latin meaning "to suffer with." They have a unique power to simultaneously connect us deeply with both ourselves and others. What else does that? Compassion does not mean to deny yourself... but to turn inward--to explore identify and experience, to express the depths of who we are, and turn even our pain into something beautiful and useful--being present to someone else. Compassion and art both start within and pivot outward. Even if no one reads your poem or hears your music, the tangibility of it outside of yourself suffers with you. And if others are lucky enough to hear it-- you, your creative act, and your audience become a triad reverberating with understanding and joy, even in great loss or heart break. This kind of compassion makes us human. It quite literally turns our sorrow into joy or magically multiplies our joy with which we began.
The reason I stuttered in the interview from my earlier post, was because I had forgotten. Music for me had stopped being compassion and had become a type of self-centered, fear-based, slavery. I had become a cruel taskmaster pushing myself towards my own arbitrary goals. I had only looked outward. Creativity that stems from people-pleasing is not sustainable. Art requires vulnerability--scary, uncomfortable, vulnerability. Seek ye first approval and you miss out on all the joy and compassion.
Here are some tips for making art an act of compassion and avoiding burnout:
1. Tend to your spirit more than you tend to your technique. As a Christian, for me this means spending quiet time in prayer, journaling, and seeking to understand scripture. No matter your religious practice, find time each day to listen. It is easy to lose touch with how you really feel when the voices of the world are loud. Once you realize how you feel, you may find you need help processing or healing wounds. You may need to seek a professional counselor. Invest in your spirit more than you do your craft, as it is difficult to feel compassion for yourself and others if you are angry, hurt, or even tired. Ask yourself: where does my inspiration and joy come from?
2. Play. Don't just practice or slave away at creating a product. Set aside time to explore. If you find yourself unable to "play" in your own art form, take up another one for fun. Approach whatever you make while you're playing with curiosity and wonder, not judgement.
3. Pour yourself out in service of others. This for me is the quickest and easiest way for me to see how much the arts matter in my world. While the compassion of art sings through even if no one sees or hears your creation, the act of sharing it will go beyond yourself and the joy will spread. Where can you serve those who are less fortunate? Which dark corner of the world can you make brighter and more beautiful by sharing your work?
4. Join our community here at Lumina Arts Incubator. I found my way out of burnout and fear by joining artists in community, serving others and unleashing joy. For those in the Wilmington, DE area, we have an Artists Way Creative Cluster coming up soon (read more here) and also a peace camp for the children of Wilmington who are eager to meet you. No matter where you live, like us on Facebook for encouraging words and more info about some exciting opportunities for artists of all disciplines coming soon. Join our mailing list here.
You are not alone in your pursuit of excellence. We are all walking through a doorway that is this process, as Mary Oliver reminds us.
The journey is never over, as I seek to remember why the arts matter in a time like this. It feels restorative and energizing to put down the perfectionism and pick up compassion. And shockingly, as I live into this frame of mind, I feel that my playing has improved a lot. When we each sing our own life song, the unique gift that makes us who we are, a deep and selfless compassion undoubtedly pours out with ease. I believe this makes the world, with all it's cacophony, an exquisitely beautiful place.