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The Soul of an Artist: Top 20 Characteristics to Invoke Your GPS

We are here to create. But we cannot create from the soul of who we are unless we cultivate an awe and faith in something larger and more powerful than our contempt for our own imperfect self-expression and our fear of ridicule.
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"There is only one real deprivation ... and that is not to be able to give one's gift to those ... one loves most..." -- May Sarton

We are here to create. But we cannot create from the soul of who we are unless we cultivate an awe and faith in something larger and more powerful than our contempt for our own imperfect self-expression and our fear of ridicule. How is it that we deny ourselves the joy that comes from surrendering to our own original nature?

For more than six decades, I've witnessed far too many refuse the claim check for their unique voice. Part of the culprit is buying into the belief: "I think, therefore I am." We suffer under the illusion that creation is reserved only for the "gifted and talented" and not for the rest.

Let's reconsider. What would happen if we "messed around" with a far more liberating possibility that goes: "I AM, therefore I create." This would be telling the truth with a capital T.

There is not a moment when we are not all artists creating our narrative, whether we know it or not. We cannot help but create. It is our nature. Sure, we might not be too thrilled about our results. We might be hanging back, holding out in far too small a box, because we've been taught to believe that creating is not our job. I say, "says who?"

What does it mean to take on your birthright as an artist? Ask any child. They don't know otherwise. Toss a small kid the paper airplane you've made out of scrap, and they will automatically fly it. Hand a tot a color crayon (hopefully not near a wall), and he will make a mark. Scoop up a piece of clay and share it with a girl in nursery school, and she will turn it into whatever delights her soul with glee. Little ones have not yet learned to fear, hesitate, discount where adventure calls. Nor have they taken on the burden of judgments. They create because it is written into their character as surely as a wagging tail is written into a dog's. They create because they have been willing to voice a healthier mantra than the one employed by the bored, the stressed, and the isolated.

"I create because I AM." Time to shake the dust off the sandals and get moving! You want to feel more alive, don't you? OK, then. Let's "have at it." The following is the first installment of what restores my own soul's GPS. I have been doing the tango with my own relationship with art-making all my life.

You would have your own answer, and I'd love to hear about it this week. All I know is that when I have felt disconnected from the soul of who I am, that core beyond circumstances and conditions, the best way is to sit with my soul for a bit and find my way home. When I get stuck in the tedium of world affairs, or daily events leaving me depleted, it is my practice to return to the creative act in its infinite forms. Sometimes, the restorative is conscious breathing, a walk in nature, or stepping outside for a few deep, cleansing breaths, or spying the hummingbirds circling the salvia. Sometimes it means finding the nearest park in Metropolis and stopping by for a brief time in between obligations.

Always, however, it means turning within, becoming still, meditating on that stillness, and awakening to what is within, which seeks expression. Whatever works is fair game. But when I do, I am reconnected with the artist of soul that lives in my DNA as a gift from my ancestors, as does yours. Of course, as long as we pretend that inner yearnings do not matter, we remain estranged. Ask the corporate tigers with whom I've worked, who only come to their inner artist after the body has said "no" to their self-denial through heart attacks, hypertension, migraines, ulcers, diabetes, addictions, and, yes, the "big C." Whenever we say "no" to the soul of the artist within, the price is high on the body, mind, spirit and relationships who we assign the heavy lifting. This is the real deprivation to which May Sarton refers in her many journals. When we say "no" to bringing forward what has never existed in our own original way before, we become a deaf ear to the inner GPS that is here to help us through the labyrinth of fear, doubt, and discouragement.

What, then, are the characteristics of the soul of the artist, which can serve as a self-test, a checklist of sorts, by which to measure your artistic intelligence at the present time? The following 20 are those I've observed over a professional life spanning nearly 45 years:

Top 20 Characteristics of Soul Artistry:

1. Love of adventure.
2. Willingness to step into the unknown.
3. Desire for discovery.
4. Non-attachment to outcome.
5. Willingness to get lost.
6. Receptivity to get found.
7. Sense of humor.
8. Delight in sharing the process.
9. Capacity to stay present.
10. Acceptance of the unknown.
11. Devotion to trusting the process.
12. Disregard for approval or disapproval.
13. Self-permission to learn 1-12 over a lifetime.
14. Self-compassion.
15. Longing to bring harmony and beauty out of chaos.
16. Attitude of the alchemist: curious about impossibilities becoming possibilities.
17. Tenacity in staying true to what matters most to heart and soul, no matter what.
18. Capacity to begin anew when the ego says "why bother."
19. Refusal to stay permanently discouraged.
20. Joy through playful surrender and creative collaboration.

I create because I AM. The point is that anyone can cultivate the above who chooses. It does not matter how you spend your "non-studio" life. When you enter the domain of the creative, or those who dare, it will have a cross-fertilizing effect on the rest of your life that cannot help but revitalize what ails you. It does not matter whether your materials of choice involve ink and pen, oil, watercolor, musical instruments, clay, wood and nails, soil and bulbs, watermelons or bok choy, storytelling or prancing with children. All that matters is that you allow your "I AM-ness" to call you into whatever direction delights your heart and soul. It does not matter how good you are or how awkward you feel. It does not matter whether you make it into a juried show, bake-off, or Idol show. This has not a blessed thing to do with honoring the soul of the artist. What does matter is that you honor your own creative process as a way of stepping out of the box of limited thinking that steals life away from you by "stinking thinking."

What does matter, then? All that matters is that you give over to whatever longing has been held in your breast, embedded from your ancestors, for far, far too long, discounted and judged as irrelevant or detrimental. As long as you are not harming life, say "yes." Just "say no" to whatever "can't" and "shouldn't" stops you short of feeling more alive, keeps you penned in with the pigs in a sty that dishonors your spirit.

I tell you this: The greatest burden you can give your children, your children's children, and those who love you is your own unlived life. We cannot burden the ones we love with our own unhappiness, boredom or regret. If you do not pick up the gauntlet and run your own race, others will be left with the fallout. I am not kidding. Not a day goes my in my practice, or outside it, when I do not meet those who have felt the heavy, impossible weight of shouldering the unhappiness of ancestors who were not true to their gift.

Love Letter to the Artist in Waiting

I know it is not easy. I know that you've had your share of people laughing and making fun of your original creations, even when they did not mean to hurt. I know that this fear of not being understood has affected your willingness to risk more creative living, has caused you to draw back. I know that you have suffered the pain of hesitating on doing what is important to your soul, even when it doesn't make a bit of sense to your head or ego.

What I want you to know is this. Now is your time. I'm not fooling. Tomorrow is too late. By then, you will have forgotten what is rising to the surface in your heart that deserves a good listen, that deserves that we take it seriously, happily, that deserves we "hear" and express it.
Forget perfect. The story tells us that even God had to create our universe over time. Can you not, then, be more patient with yourself? What will it take for you to forgive yourself for being simply human, alive with longing, desiring something more that holds aliveness, meaning, and surprise?

I'm waiting. No one can bring to life what you have stored within you! No one can tell your creative story like you! No one! I say: Come on out and play! Why wait? It will be so much more fun with you along for the ride.

Be the love,


Your turn: What restores your relationship with creative restoration? What "juices" your body, mind and spirit when you need more aliveness? Whose work revitalizes and inspires? Please be specific. We are building a list for other readers who want to jump start their own process.

For those who wish accompaniment: Copies of "The Love Project: Coming Home," available in second printing. Contact me, below.

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