Finding the life under my work

I want to write. Write something nourishing and life-giving. I’m on draft number seven and it is absolutely bland and tasteless. As if I used plaster of Paris instead of flour to bake my bread. Lynda Berry describes writer’s block as that sticky moment when you show up to play, and the world with which you want to play is dead. Nothing plays back.

I know this feeling oh too well. I know it on stage as an improviser, when the scene feels lost and I, burning with embarrassment, try desperately to find its life. I know it when I work crazy hard at writing a piece, but when people read it they go “meh.” I know it when I am in a conversation, and I tell the old same story, slip into a rehearsed role. The moment feels fried into a tasteless crisp.

I’m interested in ideas, stories, experiences that are alive, that have legs of their own, that cannot wait to crawl out into reality and into your eyeballs, then nestle into your mind to haunt or delight you. I’m interested in doing work that is life-giving, or at least perturbs the old structures that weigh us down.

But how does one do work and write and facilitate and improvise and converse and cook and love in a way that is alive? I don’t have the holy grail, BUT I have held it in my hands. I know intimately what it feels like when I show up to play and the world is there to meet me. When I enter a state of flow and the magic of life unfolds effortlessly under my fingers.

This is the place from which I want to be writing and doing my work. Instead of trying harder and writing draft number eight, I make a collage about what it feels like to do my best work. A place I sometimes refer to as “home.” I dig out a handful of magazines and summon my scissors. As I page through, I ask myself, “What does ‘home’ feel like?” I notice the images I feel drawn to and cut them out. After thirty minutes my floor looks like a stamp collection. I follow my fingers as they pull out the images that are most meaningful. I resist thinking about this, I allow my gut to guide me. I arrange the images into a collage. I am surprised by some of them. I take time and listen for what they could be telling me and then jot what they say below each image.

This is a place of …

  • Being vulnerable: choosing to open myself to fully feel, experience and be seen
  • Opening: a beckoning exploration, a leaning into what is unknown and surrendering to the moment
  • Dissolving: the feeling that I am being found by it, carried by it, moved by it as if I play the music, word, image, scene and it plays me
  • Discovering: accessing momentary magic, touching what is fleeting and fragile, being surprised by life
  • the Sacred: a sense that I am accessing — and that I am — something vast, powerful, infinitely wise and limitlessly strong
  • Being soothed: a sense that I am held, respected, loved, that I am safe
  • Spaciousness: a peaceful stillness and vast plane of freedom

I can’t say that my strategic mind is pleased with this exercise. Twiddling your thumbs over pictures hardly looks like pushing towards that perfect draft. But I’m starting to question my story called “work hard and figure it out.”

When I feel nourished, I can nourish others. When I feel free and spacious, I can give the gift of my open and unconditional presence. When I feel connected to the world, I can take my place in it, use my voice in it.

Getting to know the place from which I do my best work helps me nourish it, access it and work from it. The collage-making has helped me in three ways:

  1. It reminds me which activities feed my soul and bring me alive. I now prioritize doing more of them. In the past week I listened and danced to live jazz, I improvised on stage, I spent time with friends who see and love me, I watched the river and the sky as they meander slowly by.
  2. It helps me remember what this life feels like. The combination of words and image has become a mental touchstone for me. When I find myself getting anxious or worried as I sit down to work or get ready to perform, I can mentally hold the moments of flow in my mind and feel it wash through my body.
  3. It helps me connect. It helps me hold hands with the part of my psyche that is unperturbed by tiny anxieties of deadlines, headline news or what you might think about this post. The part of me that is stitched firmly into the wholeness of life and rests patiently into the process of our collective becoming.

May you find some time to discover images that bring you to life. May you find time to follow the activities that bring you to life. May you spend time discovering and nurturing the inner garden that feeds your own life and that of the world.

“The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there’s no doubt about it. The world without spirit is wasteland. People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who’s on top, and so forth. No, no! Any world is a valid world if it’s alive. The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.”

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers

By | 2017-06-28T18:44:06+00:00 June 30th, 2015|Categories: From this to that|0 Comments

About the Author:

The shape of an instrument informs its sound. The shape of Hannah’s work was forged in South Africa under the oppressive political system of apartheid. For the last three decades she has pursued the question: “what does it take to create a life-affirming world?” She has done so as community leader, design professional, researcher, facilitator, professor, improviser and artist.

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