This year, for the first time, I wrote out a sort of 'strategic plan' for my business. I decided what I wanted to accomplish for the year, what my top priorities were, and how I was going to achieve them. I decided that the one thing I wanted to accomplish this year, even if I got nothing else done, was to build a steady teaching schedule. I felt very good about my plan and my ability to make it happen, and for a couple of months, it seemed like everything was on track to work exactly how I had planned it. Then it all fell apart. I spent two weeks tearing myself apart for a commission, rushed to try to prepare for my upcoming workshops, only to cancel them when no one registered. That's four workshops that I've canceled this year due to low enrollment. It seemed to me that my "plan" wasn't really working after all.
It was clear that I needed to try something different. After spending some time feeling down on myself, going for acupuncture, and giving myself a much-needed spa day, I realized that I've been pushing far too much with my mind and ignoring any input from my heart and intuition. I've become very familiar with the overwhelmed, overheated, anxious decision-making that happens when I try to think my way out of a problem. It's been happening when I try to decide how to spend my day, how to organize my studio space, and how to move forward with my art and teaching.
Making art, writing, teaching, these are all heart-centred activities. But I've been living in my head, basing my decisions on what everyone says I should do, and on numbers and stats, rather than on what feels right to me, and what feels in line with my purpose. I do think there's a significant amount of rational thinking required to be self-employed (taxes aren't based on feelings, after all) but I don't think it has been helping me to rely entirely on rationality.
I can tell I'm using my head to make decisions and am disconnected from intuition when I feel tightness in my chest and heat in my head. I can tell that I'm using my intuition when I feel a flurry of warmth in my belly like something is sprouting and wriggling around—something that can't wait to come into the world.
My acupuncturist has told me on a few occasions that my heart is out of balance. She explained that the heart is sort of like the emperor of the body: when it is healthy and functioning well, everything else is able to function at its best. When it isn't, everything else gets out of balance. While it seems like medically my heart is working just fine, I do recognize that I need to pay more attention to my metaphoric heart—the seat of my intuition and inner wisdom—by taking better care of it and listening more closely to it.
Here are several ways that I've been practicing connecting with my heart's voice:
Spending time in nature
My current favourite way to get out of my head is to head straight to the river. In this city, we're blessed with a semi-wild river valley park system where we can very quickly escape the bustling city and be in nature. My favourite thing to do is wander the trails, following birds and other animals, and taking in all the colours and scents of the trees and plants, until my mind clears and I can see things as they really are. It feels like magic: seeing some baby geese or a bird I've never seen before can cut the connection I have with my ruminating worries and stress almost instantly, giving me the space I need to deal with problems more gently and easily—although often the "problems" simply disappear!
This is a technique that I've often used in creative contexts and that can be super helpful when I'm having trouble seeing answers. All I do is write what I'm grappling with at the top of the page and then keep writing whatever comes to mind, no matter how inane or uninteresting or small-minded it seems for as many pages as feels necessary. This is something that has to be done long-hand—writing on the computer just doesn't have the same connecting effect. If I'm upset about something, writing it down often helps to put it in perspective and see that it's much smaller than I thought, or at least helps to point out where my thinking is going wrong. It can also help new ideas bubble up from my subconscious and show me connections that I didn't see before.
Lately, when I start feeling that tightness triggered by a problem or question, I'm trying to train myself to breathe it out rather than getting caught up in it. Sometimes just a few deep breaths pulled into my belly will do the trick while at other times I need to very consciously continue breathing through other activities until it eventually releases.
Focusing on feelings
During my last acupuncture session, my therapist recommended that I spend some time thinking about how I want my business to make me feel so that I can use those emotions as a compass for making decisions. This is something that I've practiced before in my personal life—using Danielle Laporte's Desire Map book as a starting point. But for some reason, I hadn't thought about what specific feelings I wanted to get from my business—I just knew I wanted it to make me feel "good". So I spent some time breathing and free-writing and discovered three emotions that resonated strongly: connection, recognition, and freedom. Now when I'm contemplating a decision, I can see if the outcome lines up with those feelings for a better idea of what I should do next.
I've been trying to maintain a regular meditation practice for years and have been struggling big time. I signed up for the excellent service Headspace a year and a half ago but more often than not I would fall asleep right at the beginning and I found it more frustrating than anything. I'm not sure what shifted but in the last month or so I've focused on being more consistent with the practice and have recently noticed that I'm not falling asleep anymore. I love the way that Andy, the face of Headspace, frames the meditation practice: as a way of training the mind. I really do feel like the more I do it, the more I'm able to rein in my mind—putting it to work on the tasks that it does well and asking it to please calm down when its help is no longer needed.
Reading Tarot cards
I find Tarot cards mesmerizing and fun to play with. I have the Shadowscapes deck and the images are captivating. While I usually rely on the book to tell me what the cards mean, lately I've been trying to dive into the rich imagery to glean insight instead. I think about what story the card is telling and what that might mean for me. It's another way to pull out of my head and see things in a different way, more heart-centred and creative way. If you're interested in learning Tarot, Biddy Tarot has some great resources.
Improvised belly dancing
I love dancing, and I especially love belly dancing, but for some reason, improvised belly dancing has been a sticking point for me. When it comes time to improvise in class I often freeze up and feel flooded with anxiety. I've been focusing on working through these blocks with some success lately and have discovered joy in letting my body move freely. The more freedom I find in my body, the more my mind is able to let go of its strongholds and I feel like I can move more gracefully through my days.
In a recent interview on the On Being podcast, writer Rebecca Solnit talked about how our society is somewhat obsessed with certainty. We have this idea that if we think hard enough we will know what our lives will look like and how exactly we can shape them.
I keep thinking that one day I'll hit on the exact right plan to make my business and creativity thrive, the right systems to stay perfectly organized and on track, the right practices to stay healthy and anxiety-free forever. But that is not how it works. We all have to continuously re-evaluate and change direction and try new things and go back to old things and take leaps and trust ourselves and always keep going.
Having a closer connection with my heart and the wisdom that it contains will (hopefully!) help me navigate these choppy waters more smoothly.
As I did this work connecting with my heart, I realized that the reason I had decided to focus on teaching was not because I love it more than art (though I do love it). It was because it felt impractical and impossible to put the practice of art ahead of teaching. Teaching felt like a viable source of income whereas making art did not. Elizabeth Gilbert says that we shouldn't try to force our creativity to support us, that expecting financial security from creativity is the best way to kill it. But making things has always been my first love, my biggest love, and the thing that I am best at doing. So that needs to be my first priority, whether or not it becomes financially viable.
Now I have a new main goal for the year, one that came from my heart: To create an explosion of art and creativity in my home, my community, and online. To make as much as I can, document it, get it in front of audiences and buyers, and find a path to earning a living through it.