Ask WHY to create opportunities for compassion (Mara Thomas, ASBX blog post 011)

(Join our next Creative Accountability Group, beginning July 31st.)

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Please raise your hand if someone has ever told you, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Y’all. So many times. Over and over throughout my life. This phrase confounded me and angered me. I didn’t understand it. I passed it off as a cliché. An empty platitude from someone who jusssst didn’t getttt meeeee.

Last night marked the just-over-halfway point of the inaugural ASBX Creative Accountability Group, an endeavor that Tamara and I are facilitating for artists who want to move their creative work forward. This experience has been so inspiring, so humbling and, honestly, last night got real.

In that session, something new clicked for me around the way I approach my creativity and my ‘til-now unconscious choice to brandish the whip rather than the olive branch when I felt stuck or unproductive.

I asked the group to examine the roadblocks they experience through an exercise called “The 5 Whys.” This technique was originally formalized by Toyota, as a way to trace a problem through layers of abstraction to its real root cause. Typically, the root cause points to a process that is not working well. Hmmm, process you say? I wonder if artists can relate to that…

Here’s an example:

What is the pat answer you give for why you haven’t accomplished your creative goal? All together now: “I don’t have enough time.” Let’s inspect that a bit through 5 Whys, shall we? (Monocles optional).

“I don’t have enough time.”

    Why?

“Because I am scheduled within an inch of my life.”

    Why?

“Because people keep asking me to do things and I keep saying yes.”

    Why?

“Because I have a really hard time saying no.”

    Why?

“Because I’m afraid if I say no they’ll never ask me to do anything ever again.”

    Why?

“Because I am insecure in my relationships.”

DUDE I KNOW RIGHT? It was so much easier when I thought I was simply managing a ridiculous calendar. Now I have to consider how I approach my relationships?  Well, shit. Let’s all crack open our chests and shine a flashlight in, shall we?

In terms of the Creative Accountability Group, this exercise has so much to offer us in terms of having compassion for ourselves and examining what is at the root of our creative resistance. Here’s another example from the group:

“I am not prioritizing writing.”

    Why?

“Because I am not excited about it.”

    Why?

“Because I’m afraid people will think it’s bad.”

    Why?

“Because I got a bad review last time and it really hurt.”

    Why (is this a problem)?

“Because now I feel like I can’t trust my own voice.”

In this example, I can see the pain at the center of the resistance. Putting our work into the world for public consumption is a vulnerable and brave act. It all but guarantees that some people will have criticisms and critiques. If that knocks the wind out of your sails for a bit, well, ok — you’re human. It’s understandable that you could feel stuck between the ego’s desire for a product and your heart’s need for the process of healing. Uncovering the resistance to the work via the 5 Whys allows us to name it, claim it, and deal with it….with compassion.

That’s when things shifted for me around the phrase “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Now I see the value in extending compassion inward and acknowledging the hurt or pain that has us in its grip. What we need in those moments is comfort and encouragement, not chastisement. If we take the time to care for ourselves, we’ll feel the pull of creativity before too long. It’s always there. It wants to flow through us. We can help it by making space for our feelings and clearing out debris where we can.

Is this hitting home for you? Considering joining Tamara and me for our next Creative Accountability Group, beginning July 31st. This 5-week session is open to everyone! If you’ve got a project you’d like to move forward, but could use some help and an encouraging support network, drop us a line! We’d love to see you there.

Many thanks to our gracious hosts, the NC Center for Resiliency.

‘Til next time,

MT

*Mara has a website! marathomas.com

Hear Mara on Episode 017 and Episode 001 of the Artist Soapbox podcast. Read her testimonial here.

Mara Thomas is a Durham-based playwright, actor, musician and teaching artist. Her newest original theatre piece, YES TO NOTHING, was commissioned by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and played to raving crowds at music venues in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham in fall 2017. Mara is working on a NEW PLAY for the LGP 18-19 season!!!!

Blog post about the Creative Accountability Group:

  1. Take your work seriously: put Creative Resistance on notice!

Blog posts about creativity resources:

  1. Cleaning house: Making space for creativity
  2. Nourish your creative self: Give your creative self a lift with something beautiful
  3. The importance of physical practice: Get out of your head and into your body

Blog posts about creative obstructions that present themselves when you’re on your creative path.

  1. Imposter Syndrome: Who do I think I am? Why even try?
  2. Perfectionism: I’m so afraid that my creation will not be perfect that I never actually do it.
  3. Comparison: I’ll never be as good as that person. I should probably quit.
  4. Distraction: I’ve convinced myself that all these other things have priority over my creativity.

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