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How to Use Compassion to Your Creative Advantage

We’ve had a thrill here in blogland: The Studio Mothers blog post Four Simple Ways to Create More and Worry Less just spent five days on the WordPress “Freshly Pressed” page. Many thousands of new readers have found this endeavor of ours, and many hundreds have become subscribers. To all of our new friends and supporters, thank you, and welcome!

I’d like to pick up on a theme that I touched on in the aforementioned blog post. One of the four strategies I outline is to “Get comfy with crotchety Aunt Zelda.” What this strategy entails is embracing your inner critic/self-doubter/lizard/purveyor-of-all-things-negative by serving her a cup of tea and leaving her to sit comfortably on the sofa while you return to your creative work. Why should you serve your creative nemesis a cup of tea, rather than bashing her on the head with the nearest heavy object and then heaving her carcass out the door? Here’s why.

The first reason is the most obvious: Aunt Zelda is, unfortunately, a zombie. There’s nothing you can do to truly kill her; she’s going to keep coming back. Just when you think she’s finally buried for good, there she is again, dragging herself through your front door in that one-size-too-small purple blazer and matching skirt. Aunt Zelda is an inevitable part of the creative process. You’re going to have moments of self-doubt. You’re going to have moments when the project you’ve devoted yourself to for six months with excitement suddenly seems like total crap. You’re going to have moments when you’d rather clean the bathroom with a Q-Tip than actually get your butt in the chair and do your work. This is how it is. So forget trying to remove Aunt Zelda to a faraway island inhabited solely by flesh-eating ants.

The second reason is this: Compassion is a deeply powerful way to dissolve conflict. Like gratitude, compassion is incompatible with resentment, anger, anxiety, and ill-will. When you genuinely feel compassion for someone, you let go of judgment, disappointment, and thoughts of revenge. And in that space, you are able to experience freedom from the many traps we set for ourselves.

The first person you might practice compassion on is yourself. Stop for a minute. Are you carrying around regrets? Are you punishing yourself for things that you did or didn’t do in the past? Try to see yourself as you were in those moments and allow yourself to truly experience compassion for that person — you, the hot mess that you might have once been, or perhaps still are. Seriously, was there ever a point in your life when you said, “I know, I’m going to do X. It’s true that Y would be a much better option, but I’m going to stick with X even though it will only bring me unhappiness and disappointment.” Uhm, no. At any point in your life, you have only ever done the best that you could do. Given whatever circumstances you were dealing with, you made the choices that you thought best at the time. Maybe those choices ended up hurting you or someone else. That’s how it is. This doesn’t mean that you don’t apologize for doing things to other people that you now consider wrong; it means that you apologize and then set down the heavy boulder you’re carrying around. Giving yourself compassion doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook. There is no hook. There’s just this crazy journey that we’re on, all doing the best that we can do. We wake up today, and we start over again. Every day. So the first place to practice compassion is with yourself. Go gently, and allow all that energy and background noise to feed your creative bandwidth instead.

Let’s turn back to Aunt Zelda. When she shows up with her negative comments and irritating personality, look at her for who she is: a nasty old bag who has nothing better to do than try to smash your creative intentions into smithereens. Gosh, it must be awful to be like that. She must’ve had a pretty rough childhood! There’s no point in trying to argue with her — she’s too stuck and stubborn to hear reason. “Thanks, but no,” is all you need to say in response to her unpleasant zingers. And when you smile at her with empathy, she shrinks back into the pillows. She deflates. By serving her a dose of compassion and even amusement along with that slice of lemon cake, you utterly disarm her. Compassion is incompatible with resentment, anger, anxiety, and ill-will. And not just for the person on the receiving end, but for the person who is giving.

So while you’re making a cup of tea for Aunt Zelda, make one for yourself, too. Then, while Aunt Zelda fusses with her napkin, let your creative expression rip.


16 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love this scene. Spot on!

    June 27, 2012
  2. This was just what I needed to read today. Thanks!

    June 27, 2012
    • Thanks, Lydia — I appreciate you saying so 🙂

      June 27, 2012
  3. Beautiful post, I can totally relate and am busy thinking up a name for my inner critic. Thanks!

    June 27, 2012
    • Awesome, cindajo! Let us know when a name emerges — always curious 🙂

      June 27, 2012
  4. Way to go, M! Your star gets ever brighter.

    June 27, 2012
  5. Excellent post as always, Miranda — and congratulations on getting so many new subscribers! How exciting is that? I’m really psyched for you!

    June 27, 2012
  6. LOVE the use of ‘Aunt Zelda’ as a metaphor for our own inner critics, by the way! I definitely have my own ‘Aunt Zelda’, who takes ghoulish delight in telling me I suck…

    June 27, 2012
  7. I can relate to this immensly, especially “You’re going to have moments when you’d rather clean the bathroom with a Q-Tip than actually get your butt in the chair and do your work.” It’s so frustrating – I want to work on something but I find I’m doing everything BUT that!!

    I also have a good friend who could use these words of wisdom about compassion for ourselves…I’ll be sharing this for sure. Thanks!

    June 27, 2012
  8. This exactly! Thanks:)

    June 28, 2012
  9. This was so well-written and infinitely helpful! I love this blog and will continue to follow for years. I loved your aforementioned post as well, and this one is exactly what I needed today. Thank you so much for this wisdom.

    June 28, 2012
  10. Congrats on the new exposure, M! That’s fabulous and well-deserved. I’ve been out either out of town or battling torrential tropical storms for the past month, so I have a lot to catch up on. And I love that you’ve named your internal doubting Thomas Aunt Zelda. 🙂

    June 28, 2012
  11. alisonwells #

    Hello Miranda and all, Great news on freshly pressed and a lovely article that makes absolute sense. I’ve been away from here for a while, things got too hectic while I self-published a fun novel (about a housewife and a spaceman) as well as much blogging but I hope to catch up with you all again. I’m about to head off on my first writing retreat for 8 days in a cottage at a sea cliff edge, my first quiet writing time since my first (of four) kids was born 12 years ago. I’m almost afraid it will be too much of a change from the chaos but it will be an interesting perspective from the other side, will let you know how it goes!

    June 29, 2012
  12. A very wise truth written in a way that’s easily understood and remembered. Lovely!

    June 29, 2012

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