An excerpt from The Bright Way: Five Steps to Freeing the Creative Within.
By Diana Rowan
The creative quest is one of the most thrilling journeys we can take. Yet it can also feel overwhelming at the outset. I understand this because I lost touch with my own creativity for decades.
Adrift starting around the age of ten, I only regained my bearings in my early thirties. Despite years of musical study and accomplishments, I felt as if I was clawing around in darkness for a thread of security. Those nightmarish fears performers have? You’ve already seen that I endured them in public: suffering major memory lapses onstage, throwing up before performances, feeling humiliated as I shook like a leaf in front of hundreds of people, running offstage, refusing to go onstage — among other horrors. Performance anxiety is one of the most traumatic and seemingly mysterious problems artists endure. This fear isn’t just theoretical; it was physically, emotionally, and spiritually crushing.
How did I find myself in such a predicament in the first place? My creative journey started optimistically, as many journeys do. I took up piano at age eight. My delight in playing, practicing, and generally being around the piano as much as possible made it clear right away that I would become a professional musician. Perhaps you have joyful early memories of creative encounters, too? As I entered the magical world of music, everything became hyper-real for me. Regular life seemed less vivid, less true, while the musical world bathed me in something golden, bright, eternal. I was home.
It didn’t take long for this reverie to fade. Yes, I was following my bliss, but the ride got rough, and fast. The pressure of exams, recitals, and competitions crushed the joy out of everything. I started avoiding practice, fearing lessons, agonizing over whether I had the exceptional talent to be a professional musician. Maybe you recognize some of these feelings?
Nonetheless, I persevered. I loved music; surely that was a sign that I’d been chosen as gifted? How impossibly cruel life would be if that were not so! But the fears made me doubt my abilities. Were my fears warning me that I didn’t “have it”?
I hoped the fears would fade with time, but they grew worse. The more I accomplished, the higher the stakes became. The battle was relentless. My performance anxiety infected all areas of my life. My short fuse blew small disagreements into major showdowns. I took offense at even the most innocent comments and interactions. I lost trust in my body’s ability to heal itself, became deaf to its signals, and even began to see it as my enemy. In all areas I tortured myself about the ever-present prospect of making public and private mistakes. If any of this sounds familiar to you, I send you a beam of love to fuel your courage going forward.
Casting about for a lifeline, I grappled for that treasure trove of knowledge others seemed to possess. Those in-crowd people who create and perform with joy — why was I so different from them? I needed to exit this vortex, and fast. Performances cropped up regularly. The next exam was always around the corner. And, ironically, the intensity was only going to increase as I got more accomplished. I needed to show up with confidence and inspiration, not as the pathetic figure of weakness I embodied. My ears rang and my eyes watered. I went from vortex to black hole, endlessly craving and swallowing positive feedback, which vaporized instantly. There was no relief. The pressure kept mounting. Nothing made sense. I felt the greatest of fears: that I was alone.
Finally, during my second semester as a music major at the university, I couldn’t bear it any longer. I quit music cold. I was only eighteen years old and believed the life I had hoped for was already over.
Enter the Allies
Take heart. I discovered that my allies had been gathering around me my entire life, and I’ve found this to be true for almost everyone. You have far more support eagerly waiting in the wings than you know. We’ll be finding out who and what your supports are soon. Who and what were my allies?
My parents were still college students when I was born. I enjoyed being the novelty only child among the young, wild Dublin intellectuals of the ’70s. My father became a diplomat for the Irish government when I was three, giving me the opportunity to grow up all over the world, moving countries every four years or so. I got firsthand experience of the wondrous variety of ways that cultures encourage and interpret human creativity.
This alliance of cultures illuminated new possibilities for me, which I will share with you throughout our journey together. As my creative journey matured, I learned how to incorporate these new perspectives. For example, by moving to California I encountered African music masters who introduced me to a playful freedom where “wrong” notes are understood simply as what chose to show up at that moment. Touring with ban-suri maestro Deepak Ram, I witnessed the unabashedly spiritual foundation of Indian music, where surrender to the divine is second nature. Living in Cyprus and Iraq and traveling all over the Middle East, I participated in the ecstatic communing of that region’s music, where the self, the ego, is not the focus. These were the oases I strung together to form a new continent of creativity. Eventually these diverse influences coalesced into an ethos I could live by. Each of these influences is mighty in its own right; together, they form a lifeline guiding me through today’s labyrinthine world.
Bright Way Activity: Who Supports You?
Just as my many allies have helped me, I hope to be your ally as we traverse this Bright Way together. What other allies have been quietly gathering around you? Take a moment to reflect. Who has been silently supporting you over the years? Even someone who gave you one word of encouragement counts.
When I consider my allies, I realize they all have a common quality: they are purveyors of growth. They believe we can grow and flourish at any time, any place. Limitations, as much as these sage allies acknowledge them, are treated as opportunities for growth, not permanent states or indictments. Who in your life has believed in you and pointed out your constant potential for growth? You may well have a fleet of guardian angels that you never noticed before. Write these names and energies down, for your eyes only.
During the unavoidable challenging moments this school of life throws at us, look at your list of allies and feel heartened. You may even feel inspired to deepen your relationship with them, now that they have emerged from the shadows!
If no one or nothing pops to mind, try this exercise: stand up, close your eyes, and feel your feet firmly planted on the ground. Sense each foot in complete contact with the ground. Spread your toes out confidently into the earth. Notice the implicit trust that you’ll stay rooted to the floor rather than fly off. Feel Mother Earth’s unconditional support of you, her gentle presence holding you. You don’t have to grasp for or earn this support. Simply because you are alive, Mother Earth is here as your constant ally. Gather strength from her love.
The Principle of Sacred Reciprocity
Sacred Reciprocity is a South American wisdom philosophy with parallels in most other cultures and eras. In a nutshell, Sacred Reciprocity is the force that seeks balanced relationship in all things so that healthy life can flourish.
Sacred Reciprocity represents an equal exchange of energy that is healthy and helpful for all parties involved. You’ve probably heard the phrase “everything is interconnected.” What does this actually mean? Sacred Reciprocity is an elegant way to grasp and act on the aim of honored interconnection in everyday life. The famous Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” echoes the tenets of Sacred Reciprocity. The more you look, the more you’ll find messages pointing you toward Sacred Reciprocity, hidden in plain sight. Let’s look more closely.
The scope of Sacred Reciprocity, also known as right relationship, allows it to deal in multiple currencies. That is, time and money are not the only ways to get in balance with our creative work — or anything else, for that matter.
For example, if you volunteer at a hospice center, your work benefits the patients, staff, and visitors. You benefit from the love you receive and the opportunity to practice your skill in a low-pressure environment, to name just a few of the possible gifts you receive in turn. Your volunteer work, then, satisfies a core tenet of Sacred Reciprocity, that the exchange be equally valuable to all participants. Only you can determine what equal exchange is for you. We’ll learn more about this when we discuss the practice of honoring your direct experience.
If you have a job you hate, one that drains your soul, no amount of money will make up for this. Why? Because you’re giving away too much of yourself to be in a healthy balance. Further, you’re operating from a place of fear (“What will happen if I give up this soul-crushing job and the steady paycheck that comes with it?”), fear being an additional drain.
There are many permutations of how energy comes into balance. Sacred Reciprocity gives voice to these many dimensions, freeing you up to honor what makes sense for your life both right now and in the long term.
Wisdom traditions of the world have many ways of describing what happens when Sacred Reciprocity is not respected. The original Greek and Hebrew Biblical words for “sin” are amartano and chata, respectively, which also translate as “missing the mark.” In other words, true connection has not been made, and where there is no connection, there is no love. In Hinduism the concept of karma explains how the quality of connection we make leads to either positive or negative outcomes in life. Buddhism takes this perspective: “Every action, good or bad, has an inevitable and automatic effect in a long chain of causes.” Pagan spirituality’s law of return states that what you put out into the world returns to you threefold — emotionally, physically, and spiritually — recognizing many dimensions, Sacred Reciprocity style.
Finally, you don’t have to have a spiritual outlook to live in Sacred Reciprocity: “Humanists believe that this is the only life of which we have certain knowledge and that we owe it to ourselves and others to make it the best life possible for ourselves and all with whom we share this fragile planet.” Sacred Reciprocity applies everywhere, a clear guide for our complex times.
Creativity and Sacred Reciprocity: The Fuel-Fulfillment Loop
When you’re in Sacred Reciprocity, you’re functioning from and sharing your highest self. Your true self comes from a source, however you define that mighty energy, whether as God, spirit, higher power, or life force. Your creativity gives form to this great life spirit. Given the magnitude of this, your creative urge must be fulfilled, and your message must be heard, even if by only you.
A void opens in our hearts when we ignore our creative voice. This hole often gets filled with external activities and expectations misaligned with our true selves. We fall prey to the mercy of goods, substances, and other people, immersed in fearful living. We’ve all been there and will be there again. Yet there are reliable routes out of this dead end. The Bright Way is one of these routes.
Throughout human civilization we have pondered whether the universe is friendly or hostile, or perhaps even indifferent. Living in Sacred Reciprocity, we affirm that the universe is friendly. We know the universe as our beloved collaborator, a perspective that in itself can transform our life for the better. Allow in the positive energy that wants to reach you: lower your shield of fear. Imagine yourself as a solar panel, effortlessly attracting sunny energy. This is available to you right now. We’re in this together. My story is your story. Let’s make our stories shine bright!
About Diana Rowan:
Diana Rowan is the author of The Bright Way. She is a professional harpist with an MM in classical piano performance and a PhD in music theory. She is also the founder of Bright Knowledge Guild, an online creative community that offers students around the world access to her Bright Way system. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find out more about her work at www.DianaRowan.com.
Excerpted from the book The Bright Way. Copyright ©2020 by Diana Rowan. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
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