art by cory basil: "cor sequere, follow the heart"
As MOXI expands its network of creatives and grows in our endeavors, alongside the excitement, we have also seen the inevitable creep its way into our operations - stress.
Functioning at a high level to achieve lofty goals, with a sense of urgency and grit is key in attaining success. But what we are finding is most lucrative is our ability to work effectively while maintaining mental, spiritual, and emotional health and well-being.
Stress can so often surface as anxiety that can sometimes turn into numbness - an emotion, or lack of, that seems to plague our society. What if what we need to do instead is feel?
For Issue Three's creative writing element, we have called in a dear friend and expert to offer her wisdom on the matter. What she has to say is quite encouraging.
Rebecca Walker is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Nashville, Tennessee. Her first career was in music as a singer-songwriter, and she jokes that music sent her straight to therapy. She has a private practice located off of Music Row and loves working with those in music both on the creative and business side. The below is written, in whole, by Rebecca Walker for MOXI MAG.
It has been said that artists and creative types are “feelers”. Sometimes they are written off as such. “You know, Johnny, he’s a sensitive, emotional guy.” Many times said with an eye roll.
I would say, we are all emotional people. Each one of us has emotions pulsing through our veins at any given point. Whether we choose to tip our hats to them, or whether we choose to ignore and stuff them is a whole other ballgame. So to put it all on the creatives is a cop-out.
But sometimes I would say that creatives often feel without truly feeling. What do I mean by this? Creativity can come from deep introspection which can lead to deep feelings...which can lead to an amazing piece of art whether visual, musical, or performance. But our walking-around-feelings, you know, the ones that come up on a daily basis, are often times pushed aside or mislabeled. If we mislabel our emotions we can’t feel them or move through them with any semblance of health.
I spoke with a client recently about the overall “malaise” he felt about being with his family over the holidays. He couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but the lack of knowing led to an incredible sense of despair and was impairing his creative process. As a producer, artists were relying on him to not only be alive to the process, but be inspired to create the music alongside them. The despair was keeping him from being his best creative self. He was stuck and he didn’t know why.
A common answer would be to assume that the despair was sadness. After all, isn’t that what numbing depression is? But, upon further exploration, he discovered a deep fear he had that maybe the family he thought he had all growing up was not exactly “ponies and rainbows” and that in reality, his family was just as screwed up as everyone else.
So, why is this exploration important? It allowed him to see the emotion and call it what it actually was. It was fear. And the moment he said the word ‘fear’ outloud, the power of that despair and fear began to get smaller. It still sucked. He was still frightened to admit hard things, but he had a finger on the pulse of what was actually going on in his heart.
When we have the courage to really feel our feelings, name those feelings and tell the truth about them, we begin to give a voice to what is happening inside of us. My client was able to channel that fear into a creative process and even write a great song or two based on his own experience. And what do we know about those songs that come from deep places within us? What do know about art that is created out of longing? It moves other people. Others begin to (hopefully) see their own experience through someone else’s pain. Art becomes meaningful and inspiring.
So, how do we do this?
Learn to Feel
As a society and culture, we are pretty allergic to feeling our feelings. We joke about it, but it’s true. We are constantly running from our emotions. And there are plenty of things to distract us- from binging food to binging Netflix, alcohol, drugs, sex -even good things like relationships, going out, or online shopping (this one is a little too close to home for yours truly). We rarely ever stop to actually feel what is happening inside of us. To feel when we are deeply lonely, or deeply hurt by a loved one. The pace at which we are hit minute by minute with varying emotions by scrolling through our newsfeeds is astounding! I don’t think we were designed to laugh at a meme, scroll and feel sad over the death of an icon, go down further and get mad at a politician’s words, and then smile at a kitten playing in the snow. And this is all within a 5 second window!!
You cannot go over or under emotions, you must go through it. And if we can slow down long enough to feel our emotions, we can begin to care for our hearts in a way that is authentic and healing. I have a chart in my office with 8 core emotions on it. These emotions are: anger, sad, lonely, hurt, shame, guilt, fear, and joy. No one likes my chart at first. They want to add to the chart other words that they deem are feeling words, but I would argue these 8 words distill it down to the purest forms of our emotions. Instead of saying, “I’m frustrated”, say, “I’m angry”. Rather than saying, “I get worked up over my conversations with my publisher”, say, “I’m scared to death they’re going to drop me, so I reluctantly do whatever they say. I have fear.”
Say Your Truth
The next step is telling the truth. Once you have your pulse on what the emotion is, you’ve got to be able to tell the truth about what is really happening. You may be passive aggressively not answering a text from a friend because they said something hurtful the night before at dinner. Rather than ignoring the person and hoping they pick up what you’re putting down, maybe addressing the underlying emotion is the answer. “Hey, I’m actually really hurt by what you said last night. Whatever you said brought up a lot of shame for me which makes me want to ignore your texts and make you pay.” Okay, okay, maybe that’s not your everyday language, but hopefully you get the point. We can’t just say, “I’m hurt.” We must be willing to go deeper than that. It pushes us into the pain, yes, but it also points us to who we are. I have also found that most people cannot argue with feelings. How you feel is how you feel and using this language can cut through a lot of extra words and defensiveness.
That word “process” may sound a lot like psycho-babble, but it’s a pretty important word in my office. To do the hard work of feeling, we may not see the results we want right away. But if we trust the process that all of this will lead to good things in the future, we can have the hope to get us through it all. So what are the results I’m referring to? Less anxiety, less depression, less drama. Sounds good, right? It would seem that to open Pandora’s box of feelings would do the opposite. But in fact, facing what is already inside of you diminishes the side effects. It turns the volume down on the gremlins inside of you because it is going directly to the source.
So what should you expect? There probably will not be a parade of friends and family that welcome this new found honesty and freedom. But you can know that you are modeling something that would give them the same freedom. Who knows? Maybe you’ll rub off on them!
You may also notice more authenticity in your craft. And you may attract others who are like-minded enough to collaborate. Authentic art is sexy. It is alluring. And, guess what-not a lot of artists know how to do it well.
With the age of fast, web-based relationships, the world is actually craving this type of realness. They may not know it yet, but it is what the heart is designed to do! And it only takes one person to start a revolution! A HEART REVOLUTION!! (Which might be a bad 80’s ballad lyric!)
Usher in change, my friend. Your heart (and art) will thank you.