Recently, I planned a wonderful evening of art and creativity at home. My wife was away for the evening at her knitting club which meant Calvin-the-cat and I had the whole house to ourselves. Calvin and I pretty much agree to let each other do our own thing except when he wants to go outside or get his food bowl filled or give me the occasional leg rub to let me know he’s still around and not to step on him.
There was one problem. On this particular evening, I came home from work in a mood. Anxiousness had settled in and my three companions – worry, anxiety, and fear were busy making trouble. Nothing in particular happened during the day to set them off. Just a series of insignificant things that built up over the hours. Yep! I felt annoyed. And my resistance was high to starting any kind of creative pursuit.
Often, I give in to these guys – worry, fear, and anxiety. I turn on the TV, take a long nap, or look for comfort food in an effort to soothe my troubled thoughts and give in to my anxiousness and resistance. But on this particular evening I had a few hours all to myself to do what I love – watercolor, collage, and drawing. So, despite the bad mood and the anxiousness, I sat down at my art table and began to mix colors in order to paint the card stock I’d taped to the table. The voices of my inner critics were loud and clear:
“That looks stupid.”
“Couldn’t you find a better color?”
“This is dumb.”
“One of the neighbor kids could do a better job at this than you.”
“You want to be an artist? Seriously?”
It went on and on like this, the voices of these critics; worry, anxiety, and fear spinning their tale of resistance and putting up barriers at every move. They pummeled my brain with self-pity, self-loathing, and attack. I noted this but kept on painting.
“Well I like it,” I said it out loud.
I didn’t feel any better, but I did feel glad I was not letting these guys stop me from doing what I loved despite how I felt. I decided not to try and figure out why I felt so moody because I knew I would soon get lost in a maze of complexity that would tie me up for hours. I chose to focus my attention and intention on my art. While I recognized the noise of these critics, I enjoyed brushing beautiful colors onto the page. I was coming to a new awareness that I have a choice about which voice to listen to and that I can focus on doing what I love regardless of how I feel.
While I waited for the watercolor to dry I went out to pick some fresh basil to make pesto. I love hot linguini smothered in pesto sauce. I live for the summer when I can pick basil fresh from the garden. My inner critics weren’t happy about this either.
“It is way too hot to be picking basil. You should have done this in the morning.”
“I bet this stuff is going to taste like crap.”
“We want to take a nap.”
“You guys are relentless,” I said to them out loud. Luckily Mary was gone, and Calvin doesn’t speak English. I finished making the pesto. It was delicious. After dinner, the watercolor was dry, and I started leafing through magazines to find pictures for the collage I wanted to create. Every page was filled with staring and unsmiling people who looked like I felt – Annoyed! Eventually I found a few pictures I liked, glued them on to the watercolor cards I painted earlier and put on my shoes to take a walk. The critics were back,
“You should take a nap.”
“Yeah! Let’s take a nap.”
I was exhausted from focusing my attention on doing what I love because I am not very confident about my art and I was trying not to let my inner resistance derail me from drawing and painting. As I moved outside, waved to neighbors, listened to the birds, and enjoyed the cooling evening air, the voices began to quiet down, and I began to relax. I felt good that the anxiousness that plagued me earlier didn’t stop me from doing what I love. Here’s one of the collages I made. It’s like my Inner Artist and Inner Author were jumping for joy that I made the decision to keep going. Instead of arguing with the voices and giving in to the resistance, I gently laid them aside and let them talk, but I didn’t let them drive.
I realize now that anxiousness is just there. I used to think if I read enough self-help books and tried harder I could eventually make the worry and fear go away. But this anxiousness also comes with energy which I enjoy. I just don’t always like its form. So now I practice just looking at anxiousness as it arises and disappears like the weather; sometimes stormy, sometimes sunny, and everything in between. And even though it is a frequent visitor it is not who I am. It is not a call to action or inaction. It’s just there. And it’s up to me to choose to do what is most important and satisfying for me despite its warnings and threats. I try to be more gentle and compassionate with myself now. There is a kinder voice within too:
“You’re doing great, Mike!”
“You’re not Van Gough but it’s not bad.”
“Learning a new skill takes time and practice. You are sticking with it.”
So simple, but what a victory. I can listen to the crass voices of the inner critics or I can choose to listen to a softer, gentler voice (which sounds a lot like the voice of my Mother). I’d love to say worry, fear, and anxiety stay put in the back seat. But even now as I write this post, their voices are ringing. Oh! They are still there for sure.
“Are you seriously writing this?”
“You are NOT going to publish this.”
“This is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done.”
“NO! ONE! CARES!”
“It may be stupid but not as stupid as letting you guys drive. Get into the back seat and shut up!”