Is it ever possible to 'complete' an art-work, and should we even want to?The other night I was having a very interesting chat with an artist over on Instagram about creative process and trust (which is one of the core creative mindfulness attitudes) and she brought up the idea of 'completion'. And this idea of completion struck me as very interesting and one that I needed to reflect on and unpack a little. There was something about the idea of working towards completion in the creative process that bugged me a little and I wondered why that was. So I sat down and had a little think, and this is what I thought...
Is your inner critic bothering you? One of the most common experiences people have shared during the 30 Day Mindful Drawing Challenge, has been the steadfast presence of what they often call their 'inner critic'. I know many of you notice this inner voice whilst you're drawing - and all of us encounter it at some point as we create, or when we have just finished creating something. Using the simple creative mindfulness approaches I share, lots of people have also been commenting that they're ALSO noticing moments when inner criticism is totally absent and how much they're enjoying the space this brings.
At the moment I'm trying to practice the art of no expectations. What's that, I hear you ask? Let me explain. ... You see recently I started a new creative project - the next Stop Look Breathe Create book, in fact. (Woop! I'm very excited.) And I am, as we always are at the beginning of new projects, full of enthusiasm and expectations. This book's been brewing in my head for a long time and inevitably, along with all the sensible and necessary planning (how many chapters, what kind of structure, what practices) there's been a certain amount of rose-tinted daydreaming too. Which is all pretty normal for us human beings, and we mostly recognise these kinds of expectations for what they are, fantasy, but still it's good to be mindful of them.
Now let’s do a bit of myth-busting. Let’s imagine for a minute that creative energy – or inspiration, is like physical energy – or wellbeing. Our physical energy fluctuates all the time, some days our step is full of bounce and we’re active from morning to night. At other times we drag ourselves through the day, collapsing into bed utterly exhausted at the end of it. Sometimes we can’t get up in the morning at all, we take a duvet day, or are simply unwell or even very ill. Our fluctuating physical energy is something we’ve learned to accept. It can be frustrating or even depressing when our energy levels are low, or low on a regular basis, but we don’t expect them to be consistently high.
So here we are in a new year. And as in other years, we no doubt have some positive intentions and resolutions about our lives and about our creative lives in particular. Perhaps we want to paint more, or learn to dance, or get back to that novel in the drawer, and yet this is how we started last year, and nothing really happened, nothing really changed. And because it didn’t happen last year, we perhaps doubt our capacity to do it this year too, so it can be that even at this early stage we’re mentally and emotionally backing off from our resolutions and doubting our capacity for change. And even when we do follow through – the same old negative thoughts and habits can seem to follow us.
Does this sound familiar?
hen we’re mindfully drawing we keep a light mindful awareness on our experience of drawing, checking-in, which means we notice when the comparing thoughts, the I’m-not-as-good-as thoughts, the look-what-they’re-doing-it’s-better-than-mine thoughts appear. And because we’re drawing mindfully we notice our reaction to these thoughts, the emotions that arise, and the capitulation, the sudden acceptance of these comparing thoughts as a truth. And because we’re drawing mindfully we notice that in the space after the comparing thought there is the opportunity for choice, the choice to breathe, feel the pencil or piece of charcoal in our hand, to connect with our heart and not compare.
So how good are you at letting-go? In my last blog I wrote about my own experience with this, and explored in particular the idea that trying to solve the problem of holding-on with our minds, by willing ourselves to let go mentally or physically – come on you must, do it, relax! – was actually counterproductive. After all, it’s our minds that do all the holding on; controlling, pushing away certain experiences and chasing after others, sorting and sifting life, judging and fearing, trying to make things run the way we want them to.
By far the biggest challenge for me in life and in creativity, has been that of learning to let go – to let go with my mind, to let go with my body, and simply be. I think it’s a challenge that we all share. We are programmed for control – and when I say this I am talking about self-control, the attempt to exert an influence over our own thoughts, emotions and experiences whether in the mind or the body. And whilst some of this control is necessary, much of it isn’t. What’s more, it’s often not even particularly effective.