Six years ago I was making art with a group of people. Toward the end of our time together one of them asked how I'd decided on the colors for my mandala. I said I didn't know and it was pretty much random. The inquirer was skeptical of my choices: "Do those colors really go together?" When she said this I felt self-doubt and then justified it by remembering I've never really identified as a visual artist, anyway. So there.
Then the person next to me said, "Wait a minute," and pulled out a catalog she'd brought with her. She turned to a page with a colorful shawl displayed on it. The shawl for sale contained the same "random" color scheme as my mandala. Everyone at the table was now impressed by my artistic brilliance.
What happened there? The same colors on shiny magazine paper and worn by a stunning model instantly gave validity to my amateur crayon scratchings. Nothing had changed about my mandala, but now people liked it.
'When you create something of beauty, people aren't doing you a favor by liking it. You are giving the world a GIFT.'
I was recently talking to my good friend Kypris Drake about art. Kypris participated in a few Artist's Way courses I facilitated when I was a creativity coach. She said she'd been thinking about the "Artist's Way" book and our work together and this insight came to her: "When you create something of beauty, people aren't doing you a favor by liking it. You are giving the world a GIFT."
Kypris' words struck me deeply. I had never thought about creativity quite like that. How often do I ask for someone's opinion about something I've done with the expectation they will say they like it and then I will feel good? (Answer: Often.) How often do I feel like I'm doing someone a favor by saying I like something they've created? Are we really doing each other such a favor, though? Do our opinions really matter, or is something else going on here?
If creative acts are indeed gifts, who do they belong to? My dad always taught me that after you give someone a gift, it no longer belongs to you. The receiver can think about and do whatever they want with it.
'Creativity is God's gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.'
Creativity in its purest form has a natural flow. In the "Artist's Way," author Julia Cameron says: "Creativity is God's gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God." (If the G-word is problematic for you, it can be amended to "the universe" or "life.") Maybe I picked up on something that day when I was coloring and those hues desired to be expressed, not once but twice. This isn't as hoity-toity as it sounds. In my experience, it's simply the mysterious way creativity operates (Julia Cameron might call it "synchronicity").
For me, the flow often goes like this: I have something I want to express. I find a way to communicate it, maybe through photography or writing (or even crayons). I might not fully understand what I'm trying to convey, but I feel compelled to put something out in the world. I offer up my gift, and how the world then decides to respond to it is none of my business...
...which is easier said than done. Sometimes I feel dependent on positive responses. When this happens, it usually means I'm stuck somewhere. Maybe it's grief, anger, jealousy, or fear. I may decide to look at the places that feel sticky. Or I might choose to wallow in the goo for a while.
Creativity can feel scary because it shows us who, what, and where we are. We can decide to listen to what it's telling us or wait for it to visit again at a better time and place when we're more open to accept a gift of vivid colors flickering in front of us for a moment, and then gone.
I was recently preparing for an uncomfortable conversation when a spontaneous thought came to mind: How old do I want to be in this discussion? It hadn't occurred to me before that rather than reacting out of fear and from an adolescent (or earlier) instinct, I could choose to use every year of my well-earned experience. And it WAS a choice. If I wanted to speak from a child's perspective I could do that. I also had the option of approaching the situation with the wisdom of an adult. In this particular case I chose the latter. And that, as they say, made all the difference.
Are you ready to take a look at your habits and how they may or may not be serving you? Contact Rachel Moore for a free 10-minute chat to see if therapy would be a good fit: rachelmoore.acuityscheduling.com
I recently wrote a guest blog post for the Therapeutic Center for Anxiety and Trauma, where I work in private practice. It's about a time in my life when being creative taught me about what it means to be authentic. You can find the post here, and I hope you enjoy it: Your Voice Is Waiting For You
P.S. Please contact me if you are interested in being added to the mailing list for information about our next Artist's Way Workshop therapy group, which begins February 2017.
My dear clients,
I hope this letter finds you well. This is an open letter because I also want to address those who are considering therapy or are already involved in it. My message is simple: It’s OK to talk about religion, sex, and politics in session. Really, it is. We are taught in our culture to avoid these particular topics in polite company. In general, this is probably good practice. In therapy, however, everything is on the table, polite or no.
There also seems to be a perception therapy is only about one’s inner experience or interactions with close family or friends. Anything that affects you affects you, however, whether it comes from your mother or a member of congress. We live in an expansive world with a lot of input from many different sources. All of this is valid to discuss in therapy.
Another misconception about therapy is therapists are only interested in things that happened in the past. It’s true a client’s growing-up experience is often a good place to start. It’s not the only place that deserves attention, however. In EMDR, the modality I use most often, we are trained to work with the past, the present, and the future. What happened to you in the past? What is occurring in your inner or outer world right now that bothers you? How would you like to handle it differently in the future? Focusing on each of theses areas is important to good mental and emotional health.
When you come to session I hope to foster a safe and open atmosphere where you can feel free to talk about anything. If I fail to do this, I apologize and will seek to do better. My intention is to meet you wherever your heart and mind are in the moment.
Take good care and please let me know if you have any questions. I’m available to listen to what you have to say.
Many people are feeling strong emotions this week after a contentious presidential election. Some are joyful and others feel distraught. If you fall into the latter category, this post is for you.
It may seem strange to talk about grief outside the context of death. Yet loss comes in many forms. Some people in the U.S., especially those who have been historically marginalized, are feeling the loss of a sense of safety, normalcy, or hope. Whatever you or others may think about the validity of these responses, it is important to have tools to help you move through feelings of loss if you are experiencing them.
Although Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' work was important to an early understanding grief and loss, we have moved away from the traditional Five Stages of Grief model. When I worked as a volunteer counselor at hospice we were encouraged to help our clients move through William Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning. The tasks can occur in any order. They are:
Task #1: To Accept the Reality of the Loss
You may have thought the world was one way when you went to bed on Election Night and then woke up to find it quite different than you expected. Shock and denial are normal responses when the unexpected or unthinkable occurs. You may want to hold off on facing reality for a while. Eventually you will understand and accept the situation. For now, take care of yourself.
Practical suggestions: If others try to push you to talk about things you’re uncomfortable with, kindly and firmly let them know you’re not there yet. My friend Jennifer McCabe of Pluck With Purpose uses this phrase: “That’s a no for me.” Another option is to say: “I’m not available for that right now.” Listen to yourself and take baby steps toward acceptance if you're not there yet. You'll get there.
Task #2: To Work Through the Pain of Grief
When your emotions come, they may be stronger or different than you expected. It’s important to allow and accept them. Name your emotions: anger, fear, rage, defeat, disgust, sorrow, empathy, compassion, resignation. Remember, feelings are inherently neutral. Healthy emotions are meant to be felt and then released, not necessarily acted upon in the moment.
Practical suggestions: Get a journal and write down all the things you are feeling, no matter how wild or inappropriate you think they are (burn the pages afterward — safely — if you like; this can feel cathartic too). Talk with a friend you trust and let them know you want to express yourself without judgment. Cry, scream, paint, dance, or sing your emotions. You may feel silly, and that's OK.
Task #3: To Adjust to an Environment in Which the Deceased is Missing
This task is about returning to your day-to-day life. Although your sense of self may feel shaken, you are still here. And your values are probably still intact. You may need to adjust your internal, external, or spiritual worlds going forward. Perhaps situations that worked before don’t seem to fit anymore. This election might have sparked a new or buried sense of purpose for you. Loss can transform you and stimulate growth.
Practical suggestions: Take an inventory of your values. Write them down, then rank them according to importance. Connect with others to get support. Examine your home, your job, and your relationships and see if there are any adjustments that need to be made. (A word of caution: It isn’t advised to make rash decisions when you feel overly emotional. Put major life choices on hold until you complete Task #2.)
Task #4: To Find an Enduring Connection With the Deceased While Embarking on a New Life
Don’t forget what you have lost, while also moving forward with a sense of hope. Remember what is important to you. It will feel tempting to think you can’t do anything in the face of major change. You can. We still need diverse voices in the world from all sides.
Practical suggestions: Consider volunteering for or donating to organizations you care about. Speak up for individuals or groups of people who are vulnerable. Reach out to communities in need and offer your skills and knowledge.
Wherever you land on these tasks, honor where you are and accept it. You feel this way today. Tomorrow may be different. Others may criticize you or try to shame you for having an emotional response to the election. They are allowed their opinion. You can decide in the moment whether you want to engage or move along. Take care of yourself. Have courage, ask for help when you need it, and be well.
Note: It's important to know that grief and depression can look similar. Grief usually comes in waves. You may feel OK one moment and then unexpectedly not OK the next. This is a typical response to grief. However, if you find yourself waking up every day feeling hopeless and despondent, it may be time to reach out for help from a professional. If you are in crisis, please call 911, or (for San Diego residents) the San Diego Access and Crisis Line: 888-724-7240
There is a term used in art called "chiaroscuro," It refers to the contrast between light and dark, and it comes from the Italian words "chiaro" (clear, light) and "oscuro" (obscure, dark). I first learned about it in my undergrad art history class and heard it again later when I worked at a newspaper. We were running a story about that year's national spelling bee winner, and “chiaroscuro" was the winning word. For some reason, it's always stuck with me (partly because it’s fun to say out loud).
A few years ago, a friend and I met for coffee. I was facilitating a weekly support group for artists through my creativity coaching business at the time. My friend had attended the group and said she wanted to share a critique. The problem, she said, was that I didn't acknowledge how hard it is to make art. Art is hard, she assured me, not easy. To me, my friend's words sounded like the reflection of a deeply held negative belief about creativity and the world that I didn't share.
I did agree with her opinion to a certain extent, though, because I am drawn more toward the "chiaro” than the “oscuro” side of things. Although both perspectives are important, I think everyone naturally gravitates toward one pole or the other. I'm more Luke Skywalker than Darth Vader, and in the rare moments when I do put on my Vader helmet, it's not a pretty sight.
Staying true to my principles, I chose to respond to my friend's comments this way: "My goal with this group is to show people for one hour a week that things can be different, even if for just that one hour. If one person who needs to hear that message gets it, I have done my job." Illumination is one of the gifts I have to give the world. It's up to the other person whether or not they want to accept it or not, which is fine. It won't stop me, however, from expressing my true belief that hope and joy are possible.
Today it feels like we are in dark, unbalanced times; perhaps we’re in the middle of an “oscuro” era. The world feels uncertain and the path is unclear. If you are a natural light seeker, please reflect yourself brightly and without shame. We need you now. And if you feel a deeper communion with your shadow side, share your experience so we can understand and connect with you. Everyone has dark and light inside of them, and we all have a choice how we want to use that energy.
When it does feel like the world is tilting too far toward despair and choosing hope seems impossible, please think on this...
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it — always.” ―Mahatma Gandhi
A post of mine was recently published on the blog for the Therapeutic Center for Anxiety and Trauma, where I see clients in private practice. The post talks about why hobbies are important and how you can find one that works for you. If you don't have a favorite hobby already, or even if you do and you want some encouragement to continue, check it out here.
P.S. If you are looking for a safe, comfortable space to be creative with others, our drop-in group Coffee & Creativity begins Monday, Aug. 8.
Are you a creative person who feels like something is missing in life? Maybe you don’t know if you’re creative or not but you want your life to have more purpose and meaning. For many of us, writing, creating art, or singing are necessary for our mental and emotional health. A couple of things can block our self-expression, though, including perfectionism and trauma. You may be surprised to learn small traumas from many years ago can still be affecting you today. Unfortunately, artistic type people are often told when they are young that creativity is useless or a waste of time. These “small” hurts can build up and cause you to cut yourself off from your creativity and joy.
When my clients come to see me, I have a unique understanding of where they’re coming from because I have been and am a creative person myself. I have struggled with similar issues of perfectionism and trauma around my own creative pursuits. I am also in training for EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy to help my clients overcome trauma. For more information on EMDR, please click here.
If you would like to learn more about my counseling services, please visit my website: www.rachelmoorecounseling.com. Or contact me at: email@example.com or 619-272-6858 x706. You also may schedule a free 10-minute consultation to see if counseling is right for you.
I will be facilitating a 2-hour workshop on overcoming writer’s block June 12, 2016, at San Diego Writers, Ink in Liberty Station. For more information or to register, please visit: Unlocking Writer's Block
Rachel Moore is a Marriage & Family Therapist Registered Intern #76799, employed and supervised by Jennifer Costanza, LMFT #49250
Rachel Moore, MA, MFTI is a Marriage & Family Therapy Registered Intern in San Diego, CA. Rachel specializes in EMDR therapy for writers, artists, and musicians.