Image by DKunert
Knowing what I know now fires me up with enthusiasm to share this truth: there is a brighter way. What you seek, you will find. I want to impart this to all who approach me about their creative issues and anxieties: there are answers to your suffering and your longing.
My fellow creative seekers reach out to me in many ways: anonymously online, privately via email, safely within my teaching groups and online conferences, through chance encounters in cafés. They believe they struggle alone. Not so: their hidden desires mirror one another’s with striking faithfulness.
I’m honored to be privy to their secret hopes and fears. They yearn to find more meaning in what they do and who they are. These seekers long to be part of a bigger picture, to feel they have something valuable to offer. To experience more joy. To live in flow and connection. To believe there is time and space for any of these things.
Urgency marks their voices. These are not mere wants. They are true needs.
Since these are such powerful needs, why do we hesitate to share our struggles? Tragically, we often blame ourselves for having these needs. We feel ashamed that our deepest desires have become mysteries to us. We mourn the fading of our once-bright dreams. We feel trapped, like passive watchers of our own lives. Perhaps these feelings have been haunting you, too? If so, take heart: you’re not alone, and even more important, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Like billowing clouds, like the incessant gurgle of the brook,
the longing of the spirit can never be stilled.
— ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN,
twelfth-century mystic, musician, and healer
I salute all brave seekers. I salute you. Giving voice to your frustration can be painful and scary. Yet it’s a crucial first step toward fulfilling yourself creatively.
Taking a stand for your desires (even if only in private) automatically directs you toward change, as my harp student Edela explains so well:
“Just listening to music isn’t enough for me. It is as senseless as trying to be nourished by a beautiful photograph of food rather than having food before me.”
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Tortured by Impostor Syndrome
The popular professor tortured by Impostor Syndrome so extreme that he literally pulls his hair out; the pianist who has played for twenty years, though no one, not even her parents, has heard her because of her performance anxiety; the writer who has lost faith that creativity even matters in this crazy world; the successful businessperson who is terrified he will look foolish by indulging his longing to improvise; the dedicated amateur artist who suspects she doesn’t really “have it” and never will; the jaded professional artist who is loath to admit he has tired of his craft; the busy mother who fears she has traded her creativity for child-rearing. Despite how different these people are, their core story is the same: they feel a wrenching disconnection from what they rightly believe are their true selves.
I remember these feelings myself. Simply recalling those grim days activates the horrible pull of that void. The words of Wendolyn Bird, founder of an outdoor preschool, storyteller, and harpist, echo exactly where I once was:
“I’ve stopped performing due to anxiety. I won’t play in front of people, even though I actually love to do so. I feel sad, frustrated, angry, and alone for not being able to just play freely and when I wish to. It stops my practice and/or alters it so that I never learn anything or advance to the point of being able to play even with friends.”
Performance anxiety is an extreme manifestation of the fears we all hold inside us when it comes to engaging and sharing our creativity. As such, it’s a powerful lens through which to examine what it takes to reclaim your creativity for life.
Disconnected From Your Creativity?
It’s hard to believe just how common the suffering caused by disconnection from our creativity is. But I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Repeatedly, and over many years. I thought my problems were unique until I started teaching music and collaborating full-time with other creative people from around the world.
I worked with everyone from beginners to seasoned pros of all ages and backgrounds, and clouds of anxiety, burnout, frustration, and grief haunted us all. People three decades older than I became as vulnerable as little children, crying as they finally exposed their lost hopes and dreams in the privacy of my studio.
The stakes felt hair-raisingly high. The deepest questions of what makes life worth living were being presented to me. Simply living and growing older didn’t answer those questions. As a child, in awe of the adults surrounding me, I always assumed that somehow we’d all just figure things out over time. Now I know how many of those adults must have really felt — and many still feel — inside.
It was a lot to take in and hold. What could I do about it? Even though it was a relief not to be alone in my own struggle with performance anxiety, watching others suffer through it was torture. As the teacher, I felt duty bound to dredge up some sort of solution. But what? For a long time, I was barely one step ahead on the outside and often felt a league behind on the inside.
This struggle isn’t just about you and me. It’s about all of us. Even those who appear to live creative and successful lives on the outside often feel like frauds on the inside.
Returning To Your True Self
This sense of disconnection casts a dreadful spell over our world. The consequences? Increased anxiety, depression, frustration, lack of motivation, loneliness, creeping hopelessness about our capabilities and even our futures as work options shrivel and mortality rates rise. This malaise infects our spirits, our families, our communities. The pain is real.
Astonishingly, given the scope of this scourge, an antidote does exist. It has for a long time, and it is hidden in plain sight. It is an approach, a way of life, that is simple and can be applied to every creative activity you engage in. It is a path that returns you to your true self, resurrecting your innate joy, honing your complementary powers of skill and intuition, and giving you the courage to reclaim your purpose, your creativity, and your destiny.
Whether you believe that life has inherent meaning or that the whole of existence is a preposterous accident, this way still holds true. From the spiritual teachings of Plato, Buddha, Jesus, and St. Catherine of Siena to diverse world belief systems, all the way to the nihilism of Nietzsche, the existentialism of Camus, and the “unselfing” of Irish philosopher Iris Murdoch, the conclusion has been the same: the meaning of life is to connect with life.
And what is one of the surest and most beautiful ways to connect with life? In a word, it is to engage your creativity.
I have many favorite stories of the rewards gained from living this philosophy, so let me highlight just a few: the photographer rejecting plans to attend law school and transforming a jaded perspective of their work as being “just a cash register” into an unprecedented devotion to cultivating artistic community. The accomplished veteran musician catapulting herself to an inspired level of artistry after twenty years of uneventful practice. Our Edela, a retired school principal who fulfilled her lifelong dream of taking up the harp and performed in public regularly within a year of working with me, despite a seven-decade-long history of performance anxiety.
And Wendolyn, whom you met a few pages back at the height of her frustration? She reports on performing at her daughter’s wedding, an event of huge import and pressure for her:
“An exuberantly joyful day for me today! After forty-five years of playing the harp and practicing in a way that no longer serves me, I found my own rhythm and joy. My connection to the harp has greater depth now, and I found an entryway into allowing myself to be with what was deeply congruent with the essence of me in the moment. I am grateful to have this place to share my joy. Thank you to any who have received this moment with me.”
BRIGHT WAY ACTIVITY: What Brought You Here?
Take a few minutes to consider where you are right now. What fears and stressors are holding you back from living creatively? Write down your reflections. Let’s get a baseline of where you are as we prepare to walk this path together. Know that change can happen anytime, anyplace, at any age. Let’s make it happen for you.
The Power of Changing Your Mindset
I must share an essential truth with you. I have learned from decades of teaching and creating that mindset is everything. By mindset, I mean what you believe body-mind-spirit about yourself and about what’s possible for you.
Simply put, if you believe you can do something, you can. If you don’t believe you can do something, you can’t. If you place limitations of any sort on yourself, I have to tell you, they will play out.
While this might sound scary, the opposite is also true: if you adopt a mindset of possibility, growth, and unlimited potential, your life will blossom in response. This is the mindset I invite you to adopt on our path — always from a compassionate place of love, growth, and connection — so that your life reflects your innermost dreams. You have the opportunity to let go of old ways of thinking and being that have held back your creativity — until now.
Changing your mindset is exhilarating, liberating, and, yes, rigorous. I hope you receive this invitation wholeheartedly and voluntarily. You are in charge on this path. There are no gatekeepers on the Bright Way, no bosses; it is your courage that urges you on. Propelled by your courage, you’ll self-initiate into the great secrets of creativity that have been known throughout the ages.
Creativity Is Connection
When you create, you connect. As you engage with your chosen activity, you become one with it. We’ve learned from physics that when we interact with something, we change it. This interaction is connection made manifest, sparked by your direct engagement.
When we make our mark on something through creative engagement, we see our true selves reflected back. This mirroring gives us a deep sense of belonging and meaning. Our existence is affirmed. We know that we matter. Our confidence is restored. Your entry point to this way of life? It’s what you already possess: your creativity.
This is why creativity matters in and of itself: it is a reflection of you that literally makes you feel more, well, you. It confirms your place in the world. It acknowledges your dignity and your right to exist — and everyone else’s — simply because you’re alive.
Creativity reminds you that you are worthy in and of yourself. Therefore, it is the act of being creative that matters most, not the products of your creativity, because creativity has no agenda beyond life affirmation through connection.
Disconnection Is Terrifying
Disconnection is one of the most terrifying sensations we experience as human beings. Think of the immediate and intense distress babies feel when separated from their parents. When we get disconnected, we feel horribly unsafe. Disconnection doesn’t have to be dramatic to have an impact. Simply feeling set apart from others in everyday life can trigger extreme anxiety and depression.
Disconnection from our true selves is perhaps the most frightening of all when, severed from source energy itself, we wonder if life has any meaning.
Our survival as human beings depends on being connected. The reality is, most of us wouldn’t last more than a few days alone in the forest. Surviving, let alone thriving, demands creativity. Humans are not endowed with protective fangs or formidable physical strength. We don’t even run very fast relative to other creatures!
Our superpower is our spectacular creativity. It’s our adaptability rather than our strength or intellect alone that has allowed us to survive. Creativity is by its nature ever changing. Adapting to the present situation, creativity then elaborates on it, bringing forth ever more vital expressions of life force. The circle of life turns: creativity affirming life, life sparking creativity.
Creativity Protects Us During Radical Change
Our creativity has protected humanity through millennia of radical change. Creativity urged us to evolve. If we want to keep evolving — if we want to further our individual and collective life force — we must stay creative. All this points to creativity’s grandest message: life is worth affirming and amplifying, because it is the energy of connection — love — made manifest.
Many types of therapy aim to reconnect us to the world, to ourselves, to our source. Astounding breakthroughs can happen when we reestablish the connections in our lives, as neuroscientist Candace Pert affirms: “Love is an integrator and a healer, but you have to do the work to love yourself, and you can start by loving others. That’s the core of human health.”
I had a stunning revelation during deep meditation when I suddenly perceived how everything is interconnected. A wave of relief washed over me, and my life changed forever. While this may sound incredible, my direct experience tells me that when connection is restored, we are safe again. Fear fades, love takes center stage, and we become ourselves once more.
This illumination has stayed with me, and those close to me have remarked that I have been more myself since then. The change can become permanent because once you receive this knowledge, you can’t un-know it. This is why your creativity, your direct engagement with life, is so important: it reconnects you, for life.
Engaging your innate creativity is one of the quickest, safest, most available, satisfying, and positive ways to do this. As Above, So Below: reclaim your creativity, reclaim your life. By being creative, by actively engaging in your life, you will remember who you are.
Welcome to the magnificence of your true self. Engaging your innate creativity is one of the quickest, safest, most available, satisfying, and positive ways to restore your connection to yourself and to the world at large.
©2020 by Diana Rowan. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted with permission from the book: The Bright Way
Publisher: New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com.
The Bright Way: Five Steps to Freeing the Creative Within
by Diana Rowan
While creativity may seem like a leisure-time luxury, it is actually the engine of cultural advancement. All human innovations, from cave painting to the internet, have been fueled by someone’s ideas and follow-through. Our creative acts require more than just ideas; they also require ingenuity and perseverance, confidence and courage, the ability to dream and to do. The Bright Way helps you cultivate all of these. A simple yet profound program of inspiration plus action, designed for a lifetime of use, the Bright Way System empowers you to access motivation and make progress, find joy in building your skills, and courageously share your work with the world.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as a Kindle edition.)
About the Author
Creative alchemist Diana Rowan is founder of the Bright Way Guild, a virtual learning environment dedicated to transforming and inspiring a global community of creatives. She is also a musician and composer, performing and teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the world. Visit her website at DianaRowan.com/