Walking Bravely and In Great Happiness

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As you may know, I declared this My Year of Creative Living. So far, I’ve taught myself to play the ukulele; took a tap dance class; spent a weekend dabbling in abstract painting; and, participated in a three-week blogging course.

What I’ve learned so far from these activities: creativity is the core of feeling really alive. I’m never so giddy, conflicted, anxious, thrilled or joyful than when I’m in creative mode. It’s a definite high, folks… I highly recommend it.

My current endeavour is… writing a book (ahh!). I’ve hired an amazing writing coach to guide me through this process and keep me accountable to the task (which is worth its weight in gold), and I feel like I’m diving into my most personal, meaningful creative pursuit yet. Its exhilarating and terrifying at once, which is the very definition of entering “the arena” of vulnerability, as Brené Brown calls it.

I was listening to Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey speak about creativity in their latest meditation challenge podcast, and their explanation of creativity hit me on a whole new level:

“Creativity is the root of our biological existence.”

Our bodies – each and every cell – are constantly evolving and responding to brand new conditions. Chopra defines creative living as bringing freshness and renewal to each day, each circumstance. In this light, it’s easy to see that we are all – by our very biology – creative beings and the tired notion of creativity belonging only to artists and writers swiftly abates.

Creativity lives in our divine freedom to choose our response to any given moment.  The ability, however, to bring the freshness and renewal of creativity to each moment is, you guessed it, a practice.

The practices of letting go of comparison, staying present and cultivating your awareness for what’s true for you in this moment (and not what your long-standing, self-limiting stories tell you) nurture your creative life. And it nurtures what you are likely seeking for yourself: to feel alive, to feel worthwhile and to feel so very you as much as possible in your life.

I invite you to rebrand yourself as a creative being, starting today. I mean, you already are a creative being… and now you have the choice to start seeing yourself this way and living your life from this perspective.

What would it be like to approach your job, your marriage, your parenting and your personal growth as a “creative type”. As an artist, even? As someone who walks “bravely and in great happiness”, as so beautifully said by artist Robert Henri?

It is, after all, in your nature – in your very cells – to do it.

 

It’s All About Andragogy, Baby!

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I took up tap dancing and playing the ukulele at the same time. I had not done either in the past and had not shown any previous affinity or talent for either. I pretty much launched into two different artistic forms from the same starting point.

Three months on, I’m loving one and ready to quit the other.

Why?

Interestingly, I boil it down to the learning process. Not the art form, not my degree of talent, and not my level of effort. It’s andragogy, baby. I chose two different approaches to learning these artistic endeavours and that has made all the difference. Let me explain.

To learn to tap dance, I signed up for lessons at my local recreation centre. It’s a structured class with about a dozen of us middle-aged mommas trying to replicate the fun their tiny tots have in dance class. Our instructor is a young, spritely thing who LOVES tap almost as much as breathing. Important to note (and I’m foreshadowing here), she is the same instructor of all the tap classes for kids at the recreation centre.

To learn to play the ukulele, I decided to teach myself. Without much of an action plan, I bought the ukulele and a beginners instruction book, and then found a bunch of websites and YouTube videos hosted by ukulele junkies who love to show other people how to do it.

At tap class, after a four minute warm-up of tapping our toes and heels in unison, our teacher demonstrates a random step combination and then has our group repeat this combination up and down the length of the room. Then she shows us another random combo. We follow. Then another. We follow. In our hour-long class, we learn about five or six of these combinations. Think of it like doing piano scales for an hour. Except that each week, the combinations are different. One doesn’t build on another. It’s just random combination after random combination. And just as I’m getting the fancy footwork down for one combo, it’s time to stop and learn a new one. Sigh.

With my ukulele playing, I began by learning to tune the thing (a very good place to start) and strumming some of the basic and most-used chords. Then quite quickly – and quite naturally, I might add – I looked for a song I could start playing. One website suggested mastering “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” as a good start. Hmmm… no thanks. I had to jump to something more fun, so I found “Someone To Lava” (If you’ve seen the movie, Inside Out, then you might recognize this song from the short animated film that was shown before the feature).

I found the tablature (fancy name for chord sequence) for this song and also the video on YouTube, and then just started practicing along as best I could. It was a slow start for sure, and I struggled with changing chords and strumming properly. Every so often I would stop and just practice changing from one chord to the next. Or I’d practice a different strumming pattern. But I could always recognize what I was playing and how it fit into the whole song. And almost every time I’d play along to the song, I could see where I was improving and what I needed to work on. I’ve noticed my progress in not having to always look at the ukulele to change chords, and that my strumming has become more natural. I keep my uke in my office and find myself picking it up to quickly practice my song before starting into some other task.

Can you tell which one I love and which one I’m ready to quit? Yup, tap dance class is becoming a bore and I’m missing more classes than I’d like to admit. And every time I see my ukulele, I smile and want to keep going.

The thing is, there is a solid theory behind why this is happening (read: it’s NOT just me and my fickle ways!)

The theory of adult learning basically states that certain conditions need to be met in order for adults to thrive in learning environments. For those lovers of lifelong learning – like me! – out there, it was Malcolm Knowles who identified these conditions or principles for maximizing the learning experience for adults (and, yes, they differ from what children need). The one principle that I think helps explain my experience is this: for grown-ups, learning has to be goal-oriented and relevant. Basically, in order to keep motivated, adults need to know what they are working toward, to see the relevance of what’s being taught and how it relates to the overall learning outcome. If the goal is not clear and if the applicability of each segment of learning to that goal is not evident, then motivation to learn drops.

Put against the context of my tap dance lessons, you can see why my motivation is waning. I have no idea what we are working toward in that class. We are doing isolated combinations and the steps aren’t building on each other. But I do know exactly what would have motivated me in that class: having the instructor show us a fun and level-appropriate choreographed routine to start, saying “THIS is what you are going to learn by the end of our time together.” Then she could have spent time in each class showing us several of the combinations, starting at with the first sequence and getting the chance to master each before we move on. If I knew that each week I’d be practicing combinations that would eventually tie together to a complete routine, I’d be practicing in my sleep!

Instead, each week I go there knowing I’ll learn some random moves that I will easily forget by the next morning and with no motivation for remembering them. What’s the point? We’re doing completely different moves next week.

But my ukulele playing is altogether different. I started really early in choosing a song I was going to learn. I saw the goal up front: I will learn “Someone To Lava”. And every time I sit down to practice, even if it’s just to practice one or two chord changes, I know that it fits into the bigger picture of playing that song. I’m motivated to keep going because I’ve seen my progress and I know that every time I practice, I’m getting close to my goal of playing the whole song.

So what does this mean for you? Well, if you’re putting yourself out there to learn some new artistic endeavour, pay special attention to HOW it’s being taught. When we lack motivation to keep going with something, we are so easy to blame ourselves for lack of will, lack of talent or lack of skill. It’s easier, then, to give up or make excuses and to, worst of all, give up trying anything else because we already assume it’s us, not them. But sometimes it is them. Not everyone knows what it takes to motivate adults to learn. If you’re trying something new and finding your motivation starting to wane, maybe it’s that the goal hasn’t been made clear to you or the relevance of a particular lesson hasn’t been made evident. Then you can {gently} encourage your instructor to make these things clear for you, keeping you motivated to keep going (and in my case, to keep tapping).

 

 

 

 

My Year Of Creative Living

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“Creative living…is about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”  

– Elizabeth Gilbert

I was really struck by this statement written by Elizabeth Gilbert in her latest book, Big Magic.

I actually believe I was meant to read this statement when I did. I had been feeling a simmering of sorts for a while and when I read this sentence, I sat up and took notice. Yes!  This is what’s been simmering: a more creative life. I had been feeling a deep-seated charge inside to get more of “me” out “there”. I want to live a creative life. I want to live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear. This will be my year for creative living!

It feels a little like the past couple of years have been serious years for me. Lots of deep work; lots of deep reflection; lots of quiet inward gazing. I don’t know what it is, but for me, 2016 feels like it has to be about living out loud. Letting go of seriousness and letting in fun. It’s going to be about testing waters and playing with expressing myself in new ways (read: not just by writing my blog). I’m taking a page from my kids’ playbook: if something looks like fun, try it.

Here was my first taste: I have a deck of self-care cards, which is basically a deck of 52 cards with different intentions and inspirational tidbits on them. I pick a card every so often to see what the universe wants to tell me at that moment. Back in December, I chose a card that said “Resurrect a childhood dream. Let your passion take flight.” Ok, sometimes these cards are dead-on with their messages and I’ll read something that resonates big-time for me. This card, however, fell flat for me. I kept thinking back to what I dreamt about in my childhood and came up empty. I couldn’t think of one childhood dream that I’d want to resurrect.

Later that day, I was searching online for a painting course at our local recreation centre when I came across a course description for tap dancing. My jaw dropped. THAT was my childhood dream! To tap dance! I remember pretending that my shiny black Mary Jane’s were tap shoes. I remember bringing those shoes to school and lying to all my friends about taking tap lessons. I dreamed about being the next Shirley Temple with the blonde curls and the cute skirts, charming everyone with my dimpled smile and mad tap skills.

Alas, I never took a tap lesson in my life. Until now.

So, okay universe… thank you for the message! I signed up that week. And I start in a week and a half. That got me to thinking: what else have I always wanted to try and haven’t? And with that, I came up with a list of 10 creative acts that are completely new for me that I want to try in 2016. They are, in no particular order:

  1. Tap dancing
  2. Playing the ukulele
  3. Writing a book (yes, a book.)
  4. Building something (out of wood, I think)
  5. Decorating a cake – like one that you’d want to buy in a bakery
  6. Painting an abstract painting
  7. Left-handed drawing/sketching
  8. Writing a poem (or a prayer or a song… whichever way it decides to come out)
  9. Voice training – to sing, orate or otherwise be in better control of my voice
  10. Write a series of jokes… like for a one-minute comedy routine, or something.

Let me say, for the record, each one of these things scares me. I mean, really scares me. Life would be a whole lot easier if I didn’t choose to do any of these things this year. But I am curious. And this IS a year of fun. So I’m doing it! I’m doing them all!

I’m going to take on one creative act per month (save for the summer, when I will practice some of those that are a bigger commitment, like ukulele-playing) and write about it here. And, you guessed it, the themes of vulnerability, shame, courage, connection and compassion are going to show up… because putting more of “me” out “there” is a big, new, scary arena with a whole audience of critics I’ve avoided most of my life.

So, welcome to a new chapter of showing up, being seen and living bravely. Onward, upward!