Artist’s Way Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety

Week one of the Artist's Way program is about recovering your sense of safety so that you might explore your creativity with less fear.

As young artists, we do not receive support and encouragement; instead we are given cautionary advice, and pushed towards sensible careers that offer security and status.

As a result, many of us become shadow artists, and surround ourselves with declared artists, who are different from us not necessarily because they are more talented, but primarily because they are more audacious.

We admire artists, seek them out as romantic partners, and live a second-hand artist's life through them, but we deny the artists within ourselves.

We create shadow careers that involve supporting or managing artists — blocked filmmakers become film critics, blocked painters design software products, blocked writers run media or advertising businesses — but we continue to judge ourselves harshly for not becoming creators ourselves.

As a result, our lives often become a disconnected experience, with a sense of missed purpose and unfulfilled promise.

I wanted to become a writer when I was young, but my parents wouldn't hear of it, so I got an IIM MBA degree instead, and created a career in marketing, then advertising, then media, moving closer to artists with each step, even becoming a talking head/ public intellectual for a while, but never quite allowing the artist within myself to emerge.

The question then is: how might we shadow artists take ourselves more seriously, recover from our creative blocks, and nurture the creative child within?

Perhaps, the key is to cultivate a beginner's mind and look at creation not as a grand act but as a daily practice, like yoga, or meditation, or training for a marathon.

Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time a very good one.

Writing with a beginner's mind might take away the burden of perfection, the expectation that everything we create will be profound, or professionally produced, or (in the age of a million social media micro-influencers) perform.

If the desire for success is not the driver for writing, the fear of success might also recede into the background.

If writing (or healing/ learning via writing) is it's own reward, our writer's block — if it doesn't disappear entirely — might at least become more like porous sand, and less like hard stone.

But, a beginner's mind is not enough; we shadow artists also need to deal with our internalized, limiting, negative beliefs.

All of us have a long list of reasons why we can't be successful, prolific, brilliant, creative artists.

Stripped to their essence, our multiple negative beliefs reveal a central negative belief: that we must trade one good, beloved dream for another. In other words, if being an artist seems too good to be true to you, you will devise a price tag that strikes you as unpayable. Hence, you remain blocked.

To become unblocked, we need to acknowledge these either/ or beliefs, identify the cultural or personal sources of these beliefs, let them go, one by one, and replace them with positive affirmations.

Today morning, I wrote my first three morning pages, a 2000-word, 21-item list of all my fears and worries that keep me awake late into the night, and send shivers down my spine in the early hours of the morning.

My primary limiting belief is that writing (or meditating, or running, or painting, or playing the piano) is essentially an escape from these real problems into an imaginary world; that the only way to reclaim my self-worth is to first fix these problems, before I indulge the artist within.

But I never seem to have the physical/ mental/ spiritual energy to work on this long list of to-dos, so, instead, I end up binge-watching season 1-6 of Game of Thrones or playing Clash of Clans.

Here, then, is my first affirmation:

Work, money, body, love: everything is a little broken, but everything is exactly as it ought to be.

Let's begin again.