Morning Pages as Therapy

As I enter my fourth week in following The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, writing for 30 minutes every day (morning pages) has helped me grow tremendously. I have been inspired to try new things, revived dormant interests, and explored what I am thinking, doing, feeling, and why. The wonderful thing about morning pages is that lessons you learn elsewhere get further explored and/or stimulated in the morning pages.

Recently, I borrowed Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, PhD., from my local library. I read the first chapter, and wanted to immediately reread it again. Last night, I put the book by my bedside and reread chapter 1. Its essential message is that all our fears boil down to the fear that we can’t handle it. The solution is to use the tools in the book to help us retrain our thoughts into realizing that, yes, we can handle it, whatever it may be.

I noted several times yesterday that I seemed to be having a concentrated feeling of anxiety in my chest. The feelings were not as strong as a panic attack, but there they were. Whereas I used to have chronic anxiety, I have been feeling relatively confident and peaceful since I began following the The Artist’s Way and building a new routine around building my writing career.

During my morning meditation, my thoughts kept going towards thoughts and movie scenes that produced anxiety and anger in me. In the movie The Blindside, the adoptive mother goes to look for Michael in his old, gang-ridden neighborhood. In a confrontation with gang members, she tells the gang that she carries a Saturday Night Special and that it works every other day of the week, too.

That scene evokes an I’m-ready-to-fight and Go get ’em! feelings in my chest and stomach. I kept releasing the thoughts, but realized that the thoughts invading my meditation needed to be explored. Since Susan Jeffers book was on my mind, I decided to explore how the basis of my fears might be related to the I can’t handle it lesson that Jeffers says we all learned.

By asking Where have I felt this anxiety before?, I realized that the anxiety is one I have had all my life: that I won’t be good enough (at something) fast enough. Even when I worked harder, the anxiety kept me pushing me forward saying, That’s still not good enough. I remembered how the child Me used to look up to adults, especially my mother and father, to handle things. When they couldn’t or didn’t, I felt helpless. When I faced my own challenges, I was terrified and felt like I couldn’t handle it. Subconsciously, I think that I kept expecting adults to show me how. This is just the nature of being a child who is dependent upon others.

I woke up to the fact that I have been keeping to this pattern ever since. Whatever I observed that my family didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t do, I didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, and shouldn’t do, either. I asked myself, “What other areas in my life have I modeled on my family instead of doing what I honestly should have been doing all along?” Relationships? Sex? Money? I will have to examine each area of my life to recover my own sense of what it is that I want and need to get done.

Every time I ask myself what I should be doing, I get the same answer: Look and listen for the answers inside myself. As Jeffers points out, the truth is that I can handle it. I can only accept what happens to me and what I choose to do because it is the way I want to live. Life is lovely because it is all I will ever really have as I experience my life in this body until my end. So many wonderful things are here, and I am ready to experience them all.

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The Only Way Through It is To Do It

My motto in the last couple of years has become, “The only way through it is to do it.” buddha2

I often get sidetracked by anxiety and guilt. And once I have procrastinated for either of these reasons, I create a domino effect of failing to get things done and feeling increasingly anxious and guilty about it. Whether it is addressing a problem with a family member or facing my financial future, the results are the same. 

Last May, I met a financial advisor. He was calm and plainly told me I could manage my meager funds (and meager they are). I spoke to him in July when he called to follow up. As I was in my final semester of graduate school while packing to move, I had not done any of the tasks I said I would do. The reality is the I refused to do it. He followed up with me in November, in December, and at the beginning of January. Here it is past the first week of February, and I was still putting it off.

As I wrote yesterday, today was my deadline. I thought I would have had enough time to pick a stock or two before calling him. First, I logged into Vanguard and spent an hour reading articles on investing. I felt mostly clear headed about what I needed to do and things to consider. As I read, I made myself a list of important things to remind myself when thinking about investing. Then I called Vanguard and spoke to a rep, who made me realize that it was going to take a while. I took out materials the advisor sent me but I never read, and I reviewed notes I took with him in May. At the end of three hours, I still had not read my IRA Brokerage Account Agreement, which I wanted to read. The small printing made me want to have a fresh mind, so I put it in my bag for tomorrow. I left the advisor a voice mail apologizing for the lack of response and asked him to call me back.

I still have a lot of educating to do, and I am reconsidering whether I want to do a brokerage account. I have to compare the cost ratio of mutual funds to cost ratios of funds I want to pick and see what the difference is. I am not going to decide tomorrow, either. Taking the time I need is fine as long as I take the time, no matter what it is. More importantly, I have freed up mental space otherwise taken up by an increasingly anxious and guilt-ridden mind.

2014 is all about the breathing through and moving on.

When Setting Goals Backfires

All my life, I have worked in a goal-oriented manner: get A’s in school, get to college, find a job. If the task did not start off good and go in a straight path towards getting better, then I abandoned it. I needed to make money! I needed to support myself! I needed to protect myself (via money)!

I did not have the patience for things that did not result in perfection. Each thing I did had to show results, goals, achievements. I had to do so. I was driven to prove myself to everyone about everything I did. I was jumpy, angry, and constantly worried about what others thought of me and what I did.

What I wanted to be, deep in my heart since I was a child, was an artist. I wanted to draw like my sister Madeline and like my second grade classmate Kevin W. I wanted to make arts and crafts like my mother’s best friend Rose F. I wanted to paint and make a living painting like my fellow BU student Heather Morgan and like my first painting teacher, Peter.

I had wanted to act. I wanted to sing. I wanted to dance. I wanted, wanted, wanted, but did nothing that lasted. Each time I tried, fear sizzled in my veins. After several times, the sizzle would steam and choke my lungs with panic. I would retreat into boredom, wasting time with time wasters. This start-try-stop cycle went on for years, often with month- and yearlong gaps in between attempts. Meanwhile, I needed to work and found jobs that I rationalized I could do.

Two-and-a-half years into my college studies of Business Administration, I took painting and drawing classes for non-art majors. I loved painting. The first few sessions, my still life objects were floating all over the canvas. I noticed other students were sketching first with some brown paint and linseed oil before they started. I decided to try it.

My teacher Peter F. saw me sketching and said: “Who taught you how to do that?”

I stopped and said: “No one. I just looked around and saw other people doing it. It looked like a good idea so I thought I would try it.”

My teacher just nodded and said nothing more. Later in the semester, I asked him for his opinion as to whether I should switch majors from business to painting. Did he think my paintings were good enough to apply? Ultimately, he said, it was up to me. What did I want to do?

What did I want to do? That question has plagued me my entire life. Whatever I did want, I told myself it had make sense, to be practical, and I had to be good at it as quickly as possible. The fear was hard enough to take when I went to work for something that I did not really care about.

What if I gave my heart to something that mattered to me, and there was something wrong with it? What if I was criticized? What if I was not good? What would I do then? The only thing I could think of was that I would be forced to give up what I loved to do. What was the point of life then? Given my low self-esteem, I could not adjust.

Instead, I put myself in positions where my work was not a reflection of the true me and so, even if the criticism hurt, I had the core pain of me protected against future pain. The trouble was that I also kept the internal pain from being released.

So how does this all relate to goal-setting? Because I was hyper-focused on goals, I wanted to rush through what I was doing. I could not stand the messy process of writing for pay, for work, for anything other than perfection. My 2008 NaNoWriMo novel Butterfly Wings is so, so far from perfect. If I wait for perfect, then I will never do anything.

This came up today in this Huffington Post article about success and motivation by James Clear.  The only thing that will help you achieve goals, if that’s what you need, is to do something – anything! But achieving a goal is and must be a by-product of doing what you love. And you must do what you love often. Get it wrong, get messy, learn from your mistakes, and do it again.

For me, it is writing about things that matter to me and sharing my thoughts with others. I also love fantasy novels and would love to write a fantasy story. That will have to wait. After Butterfly Wings (or whatever it is that it will end up being called), I think I have a sequel to that story in me. I am finally excited to say that I am looking forward to that process.