A few years ago, just before coming out as a Recovering Artist (yes, there is such a thing, if you are an artist in hiding, and I was hiding behind supportive roles, mentoring, excuses, self-sabotage, frequently pulling myself out of situations that happened to me to wake me up to the truth that my life was only well in the areas where I was creative, while it exploited, chewed and spit me out and then forgot about me in areas where I functioned from duty and tolerance), I met a photographer who was paving his way to getting paid for his work. Some of the photos he took were chic, broadcasting the stylistic concepts he was committed to. Other photos that seemed less self-conscious had a richness of colour, texture, succulence and surprise in them that drew me to them.
He noticed that I liked “the poetic photos” more than the work he thought was going to sell. So he offered me a clue about how he took them: “I look through my lense at the object and wait until it moves my heart.. and click then… I didn’t think of selling those.. because they are … something … that is in my heart.”
It occured to me that he was flirting with me. At the same time, he sounded sincere. Being the expert encourager that I am, I suggested that he take more of those pictures, because they had more vitality in them, and I felt that people could heal just by looking at them.
Of course he will hear as many opinions as there are people, but it felt good to state my preferences.
A bit later, I gave myself permission to use my camera in the same way. I would look at a scene that I thought had potential to tell a story, waited in front of it, until I felt my heart was engaged, and clicked. The photos I took in such moments delight me still, a few years later. I can not say if that is because they are memories of very fulfilled moments or because I have a steadier hand when “my heart is in it.”
At this point I wonder if his attitude is the key to all art that makes the heart beat a little faster. You observe something that has promise, allow your heart to signal you, “this is the moment, now”, you capture it, click.
Our lives could be a lot easier too, if we brought the attitude of ”Something That Is In My Heart” to our thinking processes too.
Neuroscientists talk about the “negativity bias”, that what we emphasize in our thinking has to do with an angle that is less than empowering, less than friendly, a problem. While that orientation helped us survive, now, at a time when we can think about more than survival, when we can familiarize ourselves with our inner processes, choose our thoughts, our lifestyles, our professions and what we pay attention to, it is far from being a reliable mirror of our advantages and reality. It is more like a story the mind tells itself, quite unconsciously too, to withdraw or impede contentment. In order to balance that negativity bias, we can lean into the opposite: bring our attention to facts we would never complain about, become a detective for every small and big thing we feel grateful for, notice the good in our existence, and highlight the tasty elements of our day.
Imagine what re-living your most heartful moments and “bathing” in scrumptious memories would do to your gratitude to life.
The good news is, you can let yourself savour your best moments. Every single day, you can think of that day’s juiciest sensations, zoom into them, quite like you would move your camera to a scene that could be your next shot and wait until you feel your heart, and once you feel your heart, decide to keep that memory. Click.
Then, go back to it every time you want to feel it again.
Over time, you will catch yourself thinking in ways you haven’t allowed yourself to think before. Your brain is being wired to pick up the positive and to linger in the good. Your thoughts are turning warmer and kinder. Most poignantly, they are warmer and kinder to yourself. You notice what you want more of, how to take care of yourself, how to grow your gifts, grow the conditions that support you, grow what you want to express.
To me, the concept of being good to me — beyond basic sensible conduct, like avoiding unhealthy habits and predictable pains — , being good to me by picking what makes my heart sing and turning that into material for my art, was mind-blowing, to say the least, an epiphany.
Nothing in the past prepared me for it. While growing up, I did not notice people living like that. I did not get plenty of attention either. In comparison to those those who hogged the nurturers’ attention and almost everyone else around me, my choices were less destructive. So I fell under the radar. I was the reasonable, supportive one among drama kings and queens. I played the role a bit too well and a bit too readily. Of course, those who benefited from me later did not want to change me, or think about the possibility that I needed something too, or they ignored my rare needs.
How you are treated is how you end up treating yourself. When what you know is deficient attention, you don’t exactly register lack or perceive what you are missing. You are missing it nonetheless.
Such a backdrop made me quite unreceptive to the idea of pleasing myself first and foremost. When I heard it for the time, it was so far out of reach that all I could think was: “Maybe it works for them. Good for them. What does that have to do with my life, or with me?” It is funny and disturbing how astute first impressions can be. But I didn’t stay there. From time to time, I do fall into the old patterns that I played too well. It is a “no brainer” to put others first and make things smooth for them, while the “brainer” — aim for balance — is new and needs reinforcement to end up being something “I just do”. Wake-up calls come in the form of “situations” or from the body:
“Enough of that! No more.” “Come back to your craft, come back to self-care.”—Because to a creative, self-care is working on the craft. To be me, I have to create.
And the possibility to pick the best states, click with them in my heart, and use them for my creative projects, that is a thrill to me. What a winsome journey.
Maybe I have discovered a niche.
Photos of the garden in July 2019, the author’s first magenta morning glory
Published on Medium on 9 July 2019