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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Heartbreak Resistance

It's very personal. What is most person can become the more universal when expressed. I'll leave some of that really personal stuff out, but I'll try to tell enough of this story to make you understand how much of a cross-roads it was for me. Well, maybe I shouldn't parade a story this heartbreaking here, since everyone knows who I am here in real life. Ah - I guess it doesn't matter what the content of the problem was. You can guess. It was a baaaad thing. Instead I'm going to talk about the solution.

You know all the stuff people tell about how to get past your self-sabotage? Well, it doesn't work when things are really baaaad. This is a story of what did work for me.

The problem was a huge gaping wound. It had already been resolved, and now I had to deal with how I felt about having resolved it the way I did. Talking about it didn't help. Crying about it didn't help. Freaking out about it didn't help. Couldn't stop thinking about it either. It was eating out a heartbreak.

I'm trained as an artist, but for some mystery reason I was resisting making art. I think what happened is that this thing heartbreak was preoccupied with bothered me badly. Suddenly, making the art became less stressful than everything else I was experiencing.

That's the thing about resistance that I've just learned about from a podcast by Barbara Sher. Learn it yourself here.

Behind resistance is an avoidance of something important, something that totally makes sense. You've got to find out what that is, because it's often hiding from you. Using positive affirmations just signals the resistant part of you that it's time to protect you even more - positive stuff doesn't really work. Positive thinking never helped me stop procrastination; it actually made it worse. In fact, using affirmations can make the resistance so strong, it can cause me to hurt myself to put a stop to all progress. As my friend Chris once said, "Got in a fight with myself and I lost."

If you can find the source of your resistance, then the stress and pressure of not being able to do the thing vanishes. You can go forward with no problem into whatever you've been avoiding. The tricky part is finding something inside of yourself that part of you is dead set about protecting you from noticing while you're busy running in the other direction.

So that's what happened with me. My concern that was eating at me finally outweighed the resistance I'd been experiencing about being an artist. I began to make art. I had to make art - I had no choice. I painted and painted and painted. I hung a huge roll of paper on the wall in my garage and slung paint at it. I pulled out another length of paper, got more of the paints and did it over and over and over. I painted like a fiend for a solid week.

I felt better.

A week later than that, I stood back and looked at the art. It was completely and totally abstract. I had done it without any thought of what I was making. Yet, somehow, accidentally on purpose, images, symbols and scenes had emerged in every single painting.

I sat there and looked at what I had painted. I hung them all over my walls and looked at them. they went floor to ceiling - they were huge. Somehow, these paintings had turned out to look like exactly about what I was upset about. I don't know why I was surprised about that. All of the images in every one of these paintings was directly related to why and how I felt about being upset.

What I had painted in each picture was just like one of those "magic" drawings for kids in "Highlights" magazine, (does that magazine still exist?) where there were images hidden in other images, and it was a game to find what they were and where they were. I had done it by slinging paint around - completely by accident, yet, obviously not by accident at all.

The whole process of what happened totally blew my mind. How could I have been painting completely abstract and had these images emerge in the work? What was really going on that something like this could happen? I rolled up these paintings, stuck them in my storage unit. Later I burned most of them. Think that I have one left somewhere. I have never again painted like that since. It scared me, but at the same time, being able to paint like that satisfied something big inside of me.

I've done little glimmers of being able to paint like that before. I'd been told that I could be a great painter by someone who knew enough for me to believe they knew what they were talking about. They said, "Not just good, not just famous - but great." Tried it for a little while, being a painter. But I didn't like the art scene and had no clue how to get into a gallery. So I became a sign painter. It allowed me to work big, which was something I liked to do. It paid the rent, which was also nice. I didn't like painting in a studio, I liked painting where there were people around, so painting on the street was fun for me.

The really weird part was that, after making these hugs paintings, I wasn't upset anymore about this thing that I'd been preoccupied with for months and had tried to accept but couldn't. Whatever I had done when I painted had resolved what I had been so upset about. It scared me that in order to paint like that, I had to feel that intensity of emotion. But painting worked as the solution to express the pain. I guess it worked because the pain got expressed in a non-verbal way - accidentally on purpose. I did something to externalize how I was feeling that went beyond words. So now - art is what I resort to when I can't use words.

So now, even though it's can be difficult to remember what works when I feel that nothing is helping me. When I get really stuck, sometimes it dawns on me that I can paint.

What do you do when nothing works to express how you're feeling?  

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