Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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Standing at Water’s Edge: Chapter 4

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Note: Fellow artist Leah Piken Kolidas recently interviewed Dr. Paris on her blog. You’ll find the interview here

Finding Strength In Mirrors

In Chapter 4, Dr. Paris begins to explain the three types of relationships that she believes are crucial to all creative types. Chapter 4 focuses on “mirrors;” those people who validate our strengths, our talents, and our uniqueness.

Chapter 4 begins with a relatively well-known quote from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

It appears this fear of our powerfulness may stem from our childhood experiences.  According to Dr. Paris, many theorists believe people are born with a feeling of specialness. It begins when a baby cries because she is hungry and expects to be recognized, fed, and  nourished. The mother feeds the baby and the baby feels recognized.

As the baby grows into a toddler, a feeling of invincibility emerges. Remember playing the role of your favorite superhero? At this stage, the parent may support the fantasy and keep the child’s self-esteem intact. More often, well-intentioned parents try to protect their child from disappointment and tell the child that s/he does not have any superpowers. Now the child may hold on to the fantasy even harder to preserve his sense of power or the child may fear devastation of his self-esteem if he dares dream of being anybody special.

Can’t relate to the superhero scenario? How about this situation:

As a child you bring home a drawing you did in school and proudly show it to your mother. Mother is preoccupied with other tasks, doesn’t sense your enthusiasm about your drawing, and, in a disinterested voice tells you “That’s nice.” Or, as Dr. Paris adds, the mother finds fault with the drawing.

The mother did not mirror or reflect back the child’s enthusiasm. The child is humiliated for feeling proud and disappointed in her mother. Moving forward, the child decides not to show future drawings to her mother. In fact, the child tells herself that she isn’t very good at drawing which may, in turn, become a block to immersing in creativity.

Our need for validation, for reflection of our sense of greatness does not end with childhood. Our need for the admiration of others continues throughout life. Even the most self-confident person needs to feel validated by others.

At this point our childhood experiences and our lifelong history influence how we deal with current blocks.

Blocks and Fears

Dr. Paris briefly discusses the ability to feel special, the capacity to immerse and receive constructive criticism before discussing blocks and fears. The following are common blocks and fears that artists may face in the realm of feeling special and great.

Absence of Positive Mirroring in Childhood

In this situation, you may have grown up without positive mirroring from others and do not expect to receive this kind of affirmation. To work through this, we must begin to clearly ask for what we need from those around us.  Yes, that may not be as easy as it sounds. Aren’t we taught, especially women, to NOT ask for what we want?

Another alternative, if asking for what you need is not easy, is to visualize someone or an entire audience being appreciative of your work. Perhaps you can then begin to visualize asking for what you want or need to hear.

Fear of Exposure and Not Being Good Enough

I think many of us can relate to this situation. How often have you said to yourself “I’m afraid people will discover I’m a fraud” or that you’ll be “found out.” Or how about this one: “I would have done better if I had spent more time on it.”

Many of these statements stem from our fear of rejection or criticism. Rejection or criticism injures our self-esteem. Therefore we procrastinate, avoid immersion, don’t fully invest ourselves, and shield ourselves from a full creative experience. In some sense, we can’t live up to our own high standards or previous successes. We keep our selves from taking risks.

Fear of Success

This one is key for me. For the most part, I’ve moved past the fear of failure scenario. Nowadays, I tend to fear success. Sounds silly doesn’t it? And where does this fear come from? Fear of change.

Think about it. Success may mean a change in lifestyle; finances improve, new friends emerge, professional visibility increases.

Uh-oh. But I like my comfort zone.

As Dr. Paris points out the creation of anything new involves the destruction of something old, which brings considerable anxiety.

The Fear of Having Nothing to Offer

Ah, another one I can relate to; the fear of having nothing of value to offer or that no one would be interested in our gifts. Ever say to yourself “Who would want to buy this stuff?”

While we need to receive positive mirroring from others in order to be nourished, we also need to be able to provide nourishment to others. The give and take between self and others, or between self and creative medium, creates a mutuality of interaction that underlies our strength and confidence. When we experience being a capable and trustworthy provider to others, we may then feel that we have something valuable to offer through an artistic realm.

Guides

Dr. Paris concludes this chapter with the following tasks to consider.

  • Dare to dream big. Take back your dreams of childhood and reach for them.
  • Evaluate your support network. The presence of others in your life does not mean they provide the kind of support you need.
  • Reach out for support. Be aware of what you need and be able to ask for it.
  • Mentor or teach others. Self-confidence and strength are bolstered when we feel others recognize our skills.

Join Me

I invite you to join me as I read Standing at Water’s Edge. You can purchase the book through Amazon, Dr. Paris’s web site, or perhaps find it at your local library or bookstore. My goal is to post every 7-10 days a summary of the chapter and share any a-ha moments that occurred. I welcome your comments on this and successive posts. Share your a-ha moments and experiences while reading the book. You can join in at any time. If you have a blog and are also writing about your experiences with this book, please include a link to your blog in your comment. I’ll include your blogs at the end of my posts.

Book Outline

Standing at Water’s Edge is divided into three parts with 10 chapters as follows:

Part 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 2: The Light and Dark of Immersion

Part II: Relationships
Chapter 3: The Need for Others
Chapter 4: Finding Strength in Mirrors
Chapter 5: Finding Inspiration in Heroes
Chapter 6: Finding Comfort in Twins
Chapter 7: Connecting with the Audience and Meeting Deadlines

Part III: Stages of the Creative Process
Chapter 8: Approaching Immersion
Chapter 9: Diving In
Chapter 10: Coping with Disengagement and Reentry


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Standing at Water’s Edge-Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: The Light and Dark of Immersion

In this chapter, Dr. Paris shares various scenarios on the struggle of immersion. I love the passage from Joseph Campbell that introduces this chapter:

Destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it. But then a wonderful reconstruction of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life-that is the lure, the promise, and the terror…that we carry within

And so it can be with immersion; a struggle to begin, fear of starting, fear of the unknown, but the promise of a potentially wonderful outcome.

This chapter focuses on artistic blocks and how recognizing and understanding our blocks helps us get past them. And if we don’t recognize the nature of these blocks, we risk staying in a state of being unproductive.

I have to admit here that I still cringe at the word “productive.” The reason being the nine years I spent working as Speech-Language Pathologist. Whether I worked as a therapist for contract companies or whether I worked internally at a specific facility, we were expected to track our hours. Hours spent treating patients, time spent evaluating patients, time spent in meetings, etc, etc, etc. And though I understood most of the rationale for this (e.g. billable time), I couldn’t help but feel like someone was constantly looking over my shoulder. In some ways, it instilled a feeling that we weren’t trusted to do our jobs effectively.

Even today I tend to track my hours in the studio but sometimes I wonder if seeing that time written on a piece of paper contributes to my feeling guilty that I didn’t spend enough time working on my art or if it keeps me from getting started on a project in the first place. You know, because someone is looking over my shoulder checking to see if I’m being productive.

But I digress…..

In this chapter, Dr. Paris shares two examples of artists experiencing blocks and how they dealt with their individual situations (one through therapy, one through addictive behaviors.) But regardless of how these people dealt with their situations, the resolution in both cases revolved around understanding the situation and the significant role relationships play in the process.

It is when we disengage from one immersive experience and have no where else to turn for another immersive experience that darkness can set in. We become vulnerable to this “darkness” which may take the form of loneliness, hopelessness, feeling unsupported, or feeling worthless. The feelings may be fleeting or they may last for a period of time.

I can certainly relate to these feelings. I felt this way when I returned from France this summer. I now realize it was the immersive experience, the sense of community and friendship that made the trip so enjoyable. When I came home, I felt a sense of emptiness, loneliness, and overall blah. This is when I learned the importance of community in my artistic life. That is, connections.

Dr. Paris discusses five symptoms that can result as a lack of immersion and lead to blocks:

  • anxiety and restlessness which leave one feeling lost and without direction (yep, felt that one)
  • distrust and paranoia; lack of trust in the self and in others (sure, sometimes I don’t trust my self, my ideas out of fear of failure)
  • underachievement; that is, it is safer not to immerse and risk failure (yep, related to that one)
  • numbness and social isolation when the vitalizing effects of immersion are not present (makes me wonder if working in a home studio contributes to social isolation)
  • anger, aggression, and violence; connections with other detached and angry persons can lead to aggression

So many lightbulb moments here!

This chapter concludes with a section titled “The Light” and this sentence seems to sum it all up:

We know what we need: to feel special, to feel safe, to feel understood, and to feel connection.

In the guides section, Dr. Paris outlines three points:

  1. To be aware of and respect the fears you are facing. To take a deeper look at what fears you are facing. Awareness of these fears is the first step in stretching beyond them.
  2. Understand your dread to repeat. Here is where you want to identify previous experiences of disappointment, failure, etc and how you coped. Then identify moments of success. Together our memories of disappointment, failure, and success contribute to our fears, dreads, and hopes.
  3. Reach out for support. When you disengage from creativity, turn to other relationships or activities for immersion.

Join Me

I invite you to join me as I read Standing at Water’s Edge. You can purchase the book through Amazon, Dr. Paris’s web site, or perhaps find it at your local library or bookstore. My goal is to post every 7-10 days a summary of the chapter and share any a-ha moments that occurred. I welcome your comments on this and successive posts. Share your a-ha moments and experiences while reading the book. You can join in at any time. If you have a blog and are also writing about your experiences with this book, please include a link to your blog in your comment. I’ll include your blogs at the end of my posts.

Book Outline

Standing at Water’s Edge is divided into three parts with 10 chapters as follows:

Part 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 2: The Light and Dark of Immersion

Part II: Relationships
Chapter 3: The Need for Others
Chapter 4: Finding Strength in Mirrors
Chapter 5: Finding Inspiration in Heroes
Chapter 6: Finding Comfort in Twins
Chapter 7: Connecting with the Audience and Meeting Deadlines

Part III: Stages of the Creative Process
Chapter 8: Approaching Immersion
Chapter 9: Diving In
Chapter 10: Coping with Disengagement and Reentry


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Standing at Water’s Edge-Chapter 1

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Standing at Water’s Edge: Moving Past Fear, Blocks, and Pitfalls to Discover the Power of Creative Immersion by Anne Paris, Ph.D, arrived on the scene in 2008 and became an instant hit and highly recommended among many artists. Paris is a “clinical psychologist who specializes in helping artists and other creative people reach their potential.”

I remember reading an excerpt online in 2008 and being instantly drawn to the book. I received it as gift later in the year and promptly put it on my bookshelf. This often happens with the many books I want to read. Buy them, shelve them, sometimes forget about them, and eventually read them.

I believe, however, that a book comes to us, or we remember it and read it, when we need it. Such is the case with this book.

After witnessing some curious messages from the universe last week, I remembered this particular book, pulled it off the shelf and read the sleeve. Then I sat down and read the introduction. The introduction alone hooked me and I started reading the book in earnest late last week.

My intention is to share with you my learnings and a-ha moments as I read the book. If you’re feeling stuck, dealing with fear (of failure, of success, of getting started, of moving forward, etc), or struggling with blocks to creativity, I think you’ll enjoy this book and hopefully find it beneficial.

Chapter One: The Challenge of Immersion

In this chapter, Anne Paris defines creativity as coming from a state of experience she calls “immersion.”  That is, an experience of total connection and engagement. You know, being “in the flow” or “in the zone.” And we’ve all experienced that. Paris further explains that the experience of immersion can be found in many realms: creativity (artistic expression), spirituality, intimate relationships, play, learning, parenting, and psychotherapy.

As Paris states “It is not the activity, per se, that generates immersion, but the doer’s internal state and engagement that define it.”  However, it can be quite frightening to immerse ourselves in an activity.  Instead, we often choose not to dive in, protecting our vulnerable selves but diminishing our sense of aliveness and connection.

Can you relate to that? Sounds like our friend fear is at work here. In this chapter, Paris also describes several universal fears that block immersion: fear of letting go, fear of loss of control, fear of annihilation, and fear of emotions.

So we have the immersive state, or being in the flow. Then we have fear of immersion due to blocks. The other player in this is what Paris calls “disengagement” or the time when we evaluate our work and perhaps feel threatened by judgment. This is when we are out of the immersive experience, perhaps after we have finished a piece of work. If we feel inadequate during this period, we need to find other sources of immersion, such as play, relationships, and so forth, in order to restore our energy. This, in turn, rejuvenates us and allows us to reengage with our artwork.

At the end of this chapter, Paris offers three guides that summarize the chapter and offer suggestions for working through the challenge of immersion. These include: making immersion the goal, accepting movement in and out of immersion, and engaging in alternative realms of immersion.

I had several a-ha moments when reading this chapter and several pages are marked in red ink with notes and underlining. My most significant a-ha moment, however, came when reading guide #3, engaging in alternative realms of immersion. I have always had some difficulty transitioning back to work after a vacation. In the last couple of years, this has become even harder.

What I realized by reading chapter one is that when I am on vacation, I am totally immersed in the vacation. The end of vacation represents the time of disengagement. It often takes me 2-3 days before I can get my groove back and work in the studio. What I need to do is engage in some other immersive activity that will assist me in getting back into the studio (something other than sitting like a lump in front of the computer, if possible :-))

This realization was like a light bulb going off for me. It has helped me to stop blaming myself for being lazy when this period of disengagement occurs. I’m not being lazy, I’m just working through the disengagement from one immersive experience to re-engagement in another immersive experience.

Join Me

I invite you to join me as I read Standing at Water’s Edge. You can purchase the book through Amazon, Dr. Paris’s web site, or perhaps find it at your local library or bookstore. My goal is to post every 7-10 days a summary of the chapter and share any a-ha moments that occurred. I welcome your comments on this and successive posts. Share your a-ha moments and experiences while reading the book. You can join in at any time. If you have a blog and are also writing about your experiences with this book, please include a link to your blog in your comment. I’ll include your blogs at the end of my posts.

Book Outline

Standing at Water’s Edge is divided into three parts with 10 chapters as follows:

Part 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 2: The Light and Dark of Immersion

Part II: Relationships
Chapter 3: The Need for Others
Chapter 4: Finding Strength in Mirrors
Chapter 5: Finding Inspiration in Heroes
Chapter 6: Finding Comfort in Twins
Chapter 7: Connecting with the Audience and Meeting Deadlines

Part III: Stages of the Creative Process
Chapter 8: Approaching Immersion
Chapter 9: Diving In
Chapter 10: Coping with Disengagement and Reentry