With my partner still out of work and unemployment benefits about to run out, I am wondering we will heat our home for the winter.
I am one of the lucky ones, and I know it. At least I’m not wondering where home will be.
Here in the United States, not only are we dealing with a pandemic that has shut down life as we knew it, but our politicians are so busy playing partisan games that there is still, after months of talks, no relief in sight for Americans facing joblessness, homelessness, and worse. We may wish to make a plan, but the variables are overwhelming: How long will the pandemic last? How will the election impact us all? How much longer can the markets hold out before we have a major crash? It’s enough to paralyze the most decisive of people.
It’s times like this that a strong connection to our inner compass becomes critical. Unfortunately, society tends to discourage us from developing that inner knowing.
As children, we are introduced to an ever-increasing pantheon of authority, from parents when we are little, to teachers and community leaders as we grow, and ultimately encompassing governments and others who materially define what is acceptable and what is not at a societal level. If we march to the beat of a different drum on any level, we are likely to find ourselves first reprimanded, then punished and ultimately exiled from the safety of the group.
It’s enough to make most of us stop trusting ourselves entirely.
To protect ourselves, we internalize the admonitions of all these authority figures. The externally-oriented guardian of our psyche – let’s call her the Navigator – is infected by these external voices and is transformed into an Inner Critic: a voice that “protects” us by reminding us not to be ourselves, to mistrust our instincts and ignore our inclinations in favor of the “wisdom” of other people who “know better” than us.
When systems begin to break down and the external authorities begin to fail, though, we can find ourselves suddenly rudderless in a stormy sea.
Listen for the Different Drummer
While most of us become dependent on external authorities and their internal expression as the corrupted Navigator/Inner Critic, there is another source that we can turn to. If the Navigator is the guardian of our external experience, it is the Muse who is guardian of our inner world. The Muse protects our soul, the very essence of who we are. The Muse is the one who plays that different drum.
The good news is that, even if we haven’t been listening for a while, the Muse is still there drumming, waiting for us to hear her call again.
If we abandoned her, we may need to make a journey back to that place where she remains. It can be a difficult and frightening journey into long-abandoned territories and through memories of grievous creative wounds. But once we recall her into our lives, the Muse can help us counter the critical narratives and restore balance, allowing the Navigator to resume her rightful role providing healthy discernment about the situations and dangers that surround us. Additionally, the Muse can unfailingly tell us what is right for us in the moment, regardless of outside confusion.
In chaotic times like these, this type of certainty is absolutely invaluable.
Reconnecting to Your Inner Knowing
The best way to reclaim confidence in your inner knowing is to practice it, starting with low-stakes situations and applying what you learn to more serious scenarios as your confidence grows. This is one of the reasons that having a regular creative practice is so incredibly valuable: it offers you a low-risk way to practice connecting to your imagination and intuitive guidance. Over time, you learn to better recognize these promptings, and to trust them as valid inputs for real-time discernment and decision-making.
This is not to say the journey is simple. In many cases, it is uncharted, and you will have to make your way by trial and error.
A journey of self discovery is like the proverbial bear hunt of preschool fame; and as “Going on a Bear Hunt” warns us, there’s no going over, under or around it: we have to go through the uncomfortable places. And we have to confront the bear.
My own journey as a creative solopreneur has been marked by more errors than successes. I have, at times, questioned the value of both my art and my ideas. It was easier to give away my classes and coaching, less daunting to auction my original art, than to risk setting a price and being rejected. When my anemic attempts to begin selling didn’t meet with immediate success, it confirmed the Inner Critic’s narrative that my work was useless, and that I should stick to my practical path as a career administrative professional.
It was my Muse who suggested that perhaps this wasn’t an either/or situation.
A Balanced Approach
As we reintroduce the Muse into our lives, the goal is not to to replace but to complement the Navigator. Even in chaotic times, there are outside factors to be considered. However variable they might seem, there are possibilities and probabilities we can factor into our decision making.
Even when chaos levels are high, we can ground into the Muse-given knowledge of what is right for us, regardless of outside circumstances; then, the Navigator can help us discern what’s possible within those circumstances.
In the example I gave above, I began with a realization: I am an artist in a cubicle. “What if,” I asked myself, “I could find a way to integrate these aspects of myself instead of having to choose between them?”
It has taken a long while to even begin to transform that idea into a practice. Most of my early attempts felt forced and flat, instead of integrated and multilayered as I’d envisioned, and it was frankly uncomfortable at first. But there was no going over, under or around it: I had to go through the discomfort. Eventually, though, I began to see how I could select and combine elements of other practices (here let me call out Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journaling and Catt Zelda Gellar’s Cosmic Smashbooking) to create a unified left-and-right-brain space in which to do my work.
Eventually, promising signs began to appear. Visual notetaking and graphic frameworks help me identify and stay focused on priorities by making them visible. Integrating my entrepreneurial priorities into my monthly and weekly logs brings my professional competencies to bear on my creative entrepreneurial goals, allowing me to translate them into objectives and tasks, and helping me measurably move toward my goals. As I see the cross-pollination of left-and-right-brain practices blossoming in more and more ways, I am gaining confidence in my own idea, and am beginning to articulate just what it is I am doing to integrate these two approaches in a way that honors and enhances both the professional and creative aspects of who I am.
Clarity Within Chaos
I still don’t know how I will heat my home this winter, and external factors such as the pandemic, election and economic instability make it difficult to predict just when my partner may be able to return to work. But I have clarity on my personal mission: to create art and experiences that help those I serve to manifest their creative potential in ways that make our world more beautiful, joyful, loving and abundant.
Because I am clear about my personal mission, I can anchor into it and lean into the current uncertainty: how can the art and experiences I create support others through this pandemic?
The primary way I hope to do this is through my creative mastermind group Council of Muses. We’ll kick off our second year in December with Vision 2021, a full-day virtual visioning retreat. Monthly report outs and creative practice videos will commence in January, along with quarterly creativity retreats in March, June, September and December. New for the 2021 I’ll be scheduling Open Studio hours throughout the month so members will have access to support between the monthly calls; and I’ll be sharing my “Artist in a Cubicle” journaling method in real time as it evolves.
When I ask how can I support others, though, it’s also about acknowledging the devastation this pandemic is creating for so many of my colleagues in the administrative professions. Many businesses, whether due to lost revenue or simply adapting to remote work, are suspending or even eliminating traditional administrative support roles. Competition is high and wages are dropping for the positions that remain. I know what it’s like to be unemployed and unsupported. From April 2013 through May 2014, my household was under-employed, then double-unemployed. By January of 2014, I couldn’t afford the dues for a club I was a part of at the time. Just when I most needed support, it was gone.
I can make sure my colleagues don’t have that same experience. I can be here for them now.
That’s why, until further notice, I’m offering free month-to-month membership in Council of Muses for any administrative professional who is between jobs. Email me at email@example.com for more information.
What inner certainties can you anchor into in these uncertain times? How might you leverage that anchor point to lean into the potentials of the current chaos?