However long I follow this spiritual path, it never ceases to amaze me how each season continues to reveal different aspects of itself. Previously unseen lessons and mirrors of reflection present themselves with each turning of the wheel. This year Spring wants to talk to me about becoming visible in the world, an idea I have struggled with for most of my life. As a child making myself visible or noticeable wasn’t a terribly safe course of action. While I have learned to overcome this to a certain extent in pursuit of my passions, the unsettling sense of vulnerability lingers, raising it’s head whenever I push up against the edges of my comfort zone.
Pursuing a creative education and career has challenged me in so many ways in terms of visibility. Anyone who has been through the art education system will know the ordeal of having not only your finished work but also all the mess that happens between an idea and that finished piece scrutinised, assessed and judged. I have often thought that art education in the western world is a kind of emotional endurance test…it asks you to make yourself vulnerable, to make your inner workings visible and manifest and then grades you. It can feel very validating if you are deemed successful, but soul destroying and shaming if you are found wanting.
Having said that, learning to separate ourselves from what we create is a worthwhile exercise. Releasing attachment frees us to look honestly at what we have brought into the world and to learn from it, to accept that the majority of what we create embodies a journey rather than a destination. It is also necessary if we are to survive emotionally as a practising creative of any kind in the world – we cannot avoid criticism if we choose to put our work in front of a wider audience. But I find myself asking what is the cost of learning that detachment in the painful way we so often do? Do we make ourselves less visible? Do we learn to hold back? Become focussed on an end product to please others rather than feeling free to take risks and explore the infinite ways to experience and express the authentic voice within us?
The structures and systems of our society do not tend to help many of us in making that deeper internal connection that open us up to living an authentic life regardless of external opinion. Insidious messages about every aspect of who we should be and what we should aspire to flow towards us relentlessly from the modern world. Our media, government and corporations work hard to orientate us towards external criteria as a measure of our worth. We are not often encouraged to seek out what is meaningful or true for us as individuals and the social penalties of stepping outside of these accepted values can be difficult to deal with. It can take a significant amount of motivation and courage to walk our own path and be truly present in our life.
When it comes to creativity, many people never recover from the school system. I have lost count of the number of people I have spoken to at various events who have pointed to my work and said “I would love to do something like that but I was never any good at art at school” At some point in their early years someone measured them against a narrow set of criteria for a narrow range of creative outlets, found them lacking and defined them. The result was a belief embedded in a young consciousness that they were ‘not creative’ and did not have permission to pursue those activities. The joy and inner connection that they may have experienced through these activities was not relevant to the grading system.
I myself was labelled as someone who ‘couldn’t draw’. It took many years for me to realise that there are many different ways to draw and make marks and that they are all valid. It was only as I came to understand that my beliefs about my creativity came from an external voice and did not speak for my heart that I was able to give myself permission to reach for what came from inside.
When I learned that it was okay to express myself in ways that I felt genuinely connected to, that made some part of me visible and tangible, I found I could tap into something that felt altogether different. Though I still sometimes have to remind myself that I am the one who gives myself permission to create, nobody else.
I guess what I’m getting at here is the way in which, for so many of us, the fear of judgement (whether from others or ourselves) and the desire to avoid the emotions that those judgements provoke in us, can send us scurrying back into our shells, our thick defensive skins, rather than risk being visible, vulnerable, authentic. However we came to take on that fear, however we came to believe that an external voice is more valid than the voice in our heart that longs to speak for itself, for many of us it’s a very real sensation. It can feel overwhelming when we start to break out of our limiting beliefs and thinking. We might even self sabotage in the pursuit of our dreams to give ourselves an excuse to run back to the comfortable shadow of anonymity. But it’s important for our own growth that we keep pressing up against those self imposed boundaries and limitations, asking ourselves “does this belief that is holding me back really belong to me?”
The thing is…life doesn’t wait for us. Spring is shouting that message loud and clear at the moment as the wheel turns once more. Everything in nature is getting ready to unleash it’s potential, to create itself, to become visible. We too have potential to release, parts of ourselves that long to be unveiled, empowered with self-direction, given life and breath. In many ways we are no different to the seeds, filled at our core with the knowledge of who we are, with everything we need to manifest and express our true nature. The plant kingdom provides us with tremendous examples of entering into the flow of that unfolding. A dandelion honours the blueprint inside itself, it doesn’t question whether it has the right to be a dandelion or whether it should be trying to be less like a dandelion and more like a crocus! We are in the world to be visible, to be present, to grow into the fullness of who we truly are without shame or fear. And like the seeds, those hidden parts of us have been dreaming of themselves through a very long, cold winter. They have been waiting for this moment, for the return of the sun to awaken them and make them fully alive.