(excerpted from the book, “There’s No Business Like Soul Business”)
“Each word before leaving my lips seemed to have passed through all the warmth of my blood. There was no fibre in me which did not give forth an harmonious sound. Ah, grace! The state of grace! Each time it is given me to touch the summit of my art, I recover that unspeakable abandonment.”
— Eleonora Duse
The “War of Art”
As conscious artists and enlightened-entertainers-in-training, we have to fight a never-ending battle for our art. Or so it seems. Our implements of war are not guns and bombs, but awareness and attention. And the only enemy we ever truly have to face is “the enemy within our own household.” (Mystically speaking, this refers to our consciousness.) Finally, the greatest “act of war” we can take is to “be still and know,” to “take our bloated nothingness out of the path of the divine circuits,” as Emerson would say.
Still, we fight skirmishes almost daily. Mapping out the terrain we want to conquer. “Humping it” through the jungles of our mind, where voices echo from behind every tree. Trudging through the thicket of our heart, where a firefight of unresolved emotions threatens to cut us down at every turn. Slugging through the swampland of our soul, where strange and terrifying creatures stir just beneath the murky depths.
And this is just to get out of bed!
Resistance. Procrastination. Competition. Fear. Doubt. Worry. Desire. Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk! These are just some of the combatants we confront as we sneak behind enemy lines, secure the bridge, and try to claim that frickin’ hill! But claim it we must. Whatever that hill is to you: your daily script pages, writing a song, rehearsing a scene, researching a character, having a production meeting. The path to our creative potential seems riddled with land mines. But there is a strategy to winning this war. Ironically, however, it begins with giving up the fight. In fact, the first step to claiming any kind of victory begins with one simple act.
Heal Your “Broken Art”
Whether or not you consider yourself an artist, you are a creative being by nature. Yes, even if you are a studio executive. We were all created out of the same Creator (or Creative Intelligence), which has endowed us with Its creative capacity. As the ancient teaching states, “Ye are gods.” This could have just as easily said, “Ye are creators.”
That being said, many of us — even the “artists” — have experienced so much criticism and negative conditioning around creativity that we suffer from a “broken art.” And what does that feel like? Much like a broken heart, only the core of the wound is around our artistic endeavors — although it ultimately permeates every area of our lives and sense of self. Approaching the object of our artistic affection brings up emotions akin to a jilted lover. We feel anxious, unsure, self-doubting, angry, sad, depressed. We procrastinate making a connection to the object of our “art.” We are bipolar in our relationship to it — an “approach-avoidance” pattern — feeling both an aching to be in its warm embrace, and a fear of getting burned by it. We’re not ourselves. We get involved in addictive, self-destructive habits, like eating or drinking too much, compulsively cleaning our office, mindlessly surfing the Internet, and watching infomercials all the way through!
We think there’s something wrong with us: We’re lazy, stubborn, chemically imbalanced, creatively impaired, karmically challenged — just plain retarded! Maybe we’re not meant to do this after all, maybe we’ve been lying to ourselves all along, maybe this whole “creative thing” is just a pipe dream — maybe our dad was right and we should get a “real job”! In fact, a career in the food services industry is sounding really good about now…
That’s not the problem. You have a broken art. Your art is aching. It has Coronary Artistry Disease! It hasn’t been given the kind of love, attention, and recognition it needs to feel nurtured — initially in your childhood, then later by you. Your broken art feels abandoned, betrayed, wounded, stepped on, walked all over, treated like a doormat, cheated on. And there’s only one way to reverse this hardening of the art-eries (I couldn’t resist). Take off all the protective armor, open your art, and risk breaking it all over again.
Everything in this book is geared, in one way or another, to giving you back to yourself, to reconnecting you with your heart and your art – and making a living at it. By doing the work in these pages, you are taking a big step on the road to recovery. But you’ll need to do some very specific things to really heal your art. The rest of this chapter is dedicated to that.
Feed the “Starving Artist”
I’ve already talked about the destructive effects of Starving Artist Syndrome. If you believe you have to be starving in some hovel to create great art, you’ll set up a personal law — through the power of your belief — that manifests as either living in a shack while you slave away at your craft, living abundantly but too guilty to create at all, or giving up altogether in favor of a career that affords you something other than mac ‘n’ cheese.
The problem with this thinking, besides being a false concept of the creative process, is that it sets up an “either-or” mindset. Damned if you do and… well, you know. But that’s not how life operates. There is no lack in this infinitely abundant universe. The key is to think in terms of “this AND that,” versus “this or that.” You can choose to be rich AND brilliant. Pacino, Streep, and Hanks are all pretty good actors AND have made a few bucks. Spielberg, Fincher, Eastwood, and Howard are powerful directors AND their bank accounts are doing okay. Ron Bass, Akiva Goldsman, and Steve Zallian are Academy Award–winning screenwriters AND million-dollar ones. At the height of Picasso’s career, he could doodle on a napkin and pay for anything.
That’s artistic success, baby!
But feeding the starving artist in you goes beyond merely the monetary aspects. If you harbor a withholding consciousness toward yourself in this area, you’re likely to be depriving yourself in other ways as well. It’s like the idea of spiritual ascetics, who think the way to God is by starving themselves, isolating themselves, and sleeping on a bed of nails! While I understand their reasons, and bless their path, I don’t believe you need to torture yourself to reach enlightenment. And I don’t believe you need to chew glass or contort yourself into bone-numbing postures to achieve artistic Nirvana either. You don’t need to be in painful, insane relationships that end in bloody betrayal and heartbreak in order to write deep, passionate love stories or love songs — even if Tom Petty supposedly did just that to rip songs out of his soul. And you don’t need to be a neurotic mess to be a great writer or actor — although I knew an actress who refused to get therapy for fear that if she “healed” she wouldn’t be able to act any more!
I’m not passing judgment. Every artist has a right to put themselves through hell to create something heavenly. But I am challenging the idea that you have to suffer for your art. Suffering is not a requirement, it’s a choice. In every moment. In every project. The point is, it’s not an either-or issue. You can have great art AND happiness. You can create great work AND be a functional person. You can get your act together — and still have enough material to write that second act! If you’re living in the world of normal human beings, I guarantee you’ve got a warehouse full of painful experiences to draw on — more than you could use in a lifetime. And if that’s not good enough, look around. The world is full of suffering. Millions of people have already done the heavy lifting — and continue to. Just be empathetic, compassionate, and perceptive, and you’ll have a palette full of all the emotional pain you’ll ever need to cover the canvas of your creative life.
So how do you “starve” your artistic self? Like I’ve touched on, if you’re harboring a belief that good art comes out of pain or suffering, on some level you’ll create painful circumstances; you’ll sabotage relationships that could’ve otherwise thrived; you’ll blow opportunities that could’ve fulfilled your creative and practical needs; you’ll send a message to the universe that says, “I’m not worthy,” “I can’t have all of my needs met,” “I don’t deserve to be happy,” “I’m afraid if I’m fulfilled, I’ll become artistically empty.”
There’s a reason many artists are unhappy, broke, in dysfunctional relationships, and on an emotional rollercoaster — and it’s not because that’s the nature of artists. It’s also not because people with emotional or mental problems are more likely to become artists than healthy people. It’s because of the ego’s long-running war to rid the world of art and its inherent power to set us free. The dimension that art arises from is a mystery with the capacity to transform the soul. That’s a big threat to the ego’s reign. And over the centuries it has sought to scare us away from this realm — or at least render us relatively impotent in it — by deriding, judging, and spreading a smear campaign about it.
This has conspired to create a limited belief system around the creative endeavor, a belief system powered by our fear, a belief system that becomes our experience when we accept it. Many creative people have consciously or unconsciously signed this contract and bought into its litany of lies. And because “a lie acts as law until it is neutralized” many artists continue to starve themselves, believing there is a famine — when in fact they are surrounded by fields “white unto the harvest” and “cattle on a thousand hills.” In other words, unlimited wealth and abundance!
So how do you release these lies and reap this bountiful harvest? First, you become conscious of the false contracts you signed under duress — and tear them up. Next, you create a new contract in consciousness by affirming the truth of your divine birthright:
I am a thriving artist!
I am rich AND artistically fulfilled
I am happy AND dynamically creative
I have a totally abundant life AND I’m a prolific creative genius!
And then you begin acting as if it’s so.
This might mean “getting therapy” and becoming a healthy, functional person again. (If you’re reading this book, I imagine you’re willing to do this.) It might also mean being willing to have a healthy romantic relationship that lasts longer than a few months, trusting that you can still write great love stories or songs without all the drama and theatrics in your real life. It might mean that you become willing to “adopt a life of luxury,” as Deepak Chopra says. This will look different for different people. But essentially it looks like having enough of what you need — more than enough — an abundance of everything. You might be thinking, “Well, of course I want this, what do you think I am, a masochist?” No, not consciously. But the mind always moves toward its definition of pleasure. So if you’re experiencing lack, limitation, pain, or suffering in any chronic way, you’re getting a psychological or emotional “payoff” from it.
Feeding the starving artist also means nourishing your creative self by living a life of variety and adventure. It means breaking out of habits and routines; taking a different route home, eating at a different place and eating something you never thought you would, shopping at a different store, traveling to a different vacation spot, hanging out with different people, reading books and magazines you wouldn’t otherwise look at. Feeding the starving artist within you means being open and available to the infinite creative input and possibilities that exist in every moment.
Rather than living in lack and suffering to generate creative expression, a sacred artist binges on a banquet of abundance, variety, sensual, soulful, and spiritual possibilities. Can you imagine what you could create out of that alchemy? Life really is a cornucopia of delights. Let your inner artist feast on it until it is fat and jolly with fulfillment. Then watch it burst forth with a level of creative strength and stamina heretofore unimagined.