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Painting by Gerhard Richter

“It takes so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price… One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.” — Morris West

Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence. ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

“Transformation is the way of the soul. Each soul has an inborn code and an instinctive guideline that can both aim our energy and protect our lives. This inner Dharma or law of being depicts our true nature and can unfold our unique way of being and contributing to the world. What we learn from myth is how an awakening of human nature can make us each a part of healing culture while helping restore the vitality and abundance of the earth.” — Michael Meade

To be an artist is a lifelong effort to recognize and affirm the deepest part of ourselves. To cultivate the soul is a noble effort. The only reason to learn marketing, which may not come naturally, is to be able to keep eating and working. The work to grow the truest part of yourself will meet an endless stream of challenges. We expect that opposition from the world we live in, but obstacles also originate from personal fears and hesitations.

The only way to prove our doubts wrong is to work and keep working. Every finished work is proof we’re up to the challenge.

There is a world of beauty and truth to be discovered by working. Artists work like miners digging for gold, sometimes laboring for a long time before striking a vein. That vein leads to the soul, the core mission, the real self. The example of those who have succeeded is both encouraging and daunting, daunting because even they don’t know how they succeeded. If that’s the case, they can’t teach you very much. I suspect it comes down to a combination of persistence and focus on the right means.

Self denial is a fatal flaw in creativity. Not recognizing and supporting your best impulses, forcing yourself into an ill-fitting straitjacket is suicide. An artist has to learn how to recognize and avoid the myriad snares laid by the world, but that’s only the first Herculean task. Once you have dealt with the external you will come to the internal fault lines. Courage, self confidence mixed with humility, even a touch of foolishness seem to be required to be a dreamer.

I’m one of those people who is always astonished at how the so-called real world works. I have a tendency to believe in magic and to underestimate how self interested most people are. I meet people here in San Miguel who have lived their lives of practical necessity but who, now that they’re retired, want to “be creative.”

But they are so full of self critical hesitations and fears that they can’t start. They won’t give themselves encouragement. Their eyes are fixed on the outer world and its imagined judgments. They are looking for those secret tricks that must somehow be involved in making art.

The creative process demands freedom, joy, playfulness. It’s not a grim enterprise. Just the opposite. It’s intense play done with mastery of the technical steps needed to accomplish the soul’s desire.

Beginners would do well to clear away as many preconceived notions as possible and then proceed to listen to inner impulses and follow them. What others think is neither here nor there. Your first task is to find out what you need to create. An inner space has to be cleared for this to happen. Fears, anxiety, shoulds and shouldn’ts just clog up the works. First comes freedom.

That’s the starting point.

Whether it’s writing we’re talking about or any other kind of art, the best attribute of the artist is focus with love. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with simple means.

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