Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Internal Combustion

The internal combustion engine was a major technological breakthrough. No need to constantly feed the engine with an external source of energy, such as steam from a coal burner. Last night, when I got together with a group of friends, I saw a different version, but just as powerful source of internal combustion.

What motivates you and drives you? Where is your source of energy? Do you need to be constantly fueling up from external sources, or do you have an internal source?

When we look externally for love, affirmation, or direction, it can be a bumpy and difficult ride. It is like the engine with the timing off. Fits and starts. You may be riding along smoothly for awhile, but then, apparently out of nowhere, the car is hesitating, perhaps stalling. Or it may feel like driving around town with the gas gauge on E,....ready to dip below E,.... and not finding an open gas station anywhere. Panic. Anxiety. Frustration.

If the external sources of affirmation of our worth is what we are relying upon, we will be forever looking for others to refill us, make us feel good again, so that we can go out again feeling comfortable and confident. I used to live this way. I was forever looking externally for my cues. The external was always more important than the internal. It is exhausting. And completely unsatisfying. It makes for crappy relationships. And a constant need to be refilled.

Slowly, over time, almost without being aware of how it has changed my way of living, I have learned to look inside first. To figure out what I need, and to take care of my needs. Sounds pretty simple. And it is when we are taking care of the external needs. But, when you get used to looking outside all the time for your cues of what you should do, it is not easy to make that shift to understanding what you really need to make yourself happy. To look inside and see what your heart really wants and needs. And it is not easy to start to say "no" to those things that will only deplete you. If we are not filling our own needs first, we have nothing left to give to others when they need us.

This is what I found amazing about making that difficult transition. The more that I look inside for guidance and to satisfy my needs, far more comes from the outside than I could have dreamed possible. That old saying about how you have to love yourself before others can love you is true. It also applies to our work as artists. If we have to win competitions, get rave reviews for all we do, sell out at shows, etc, etc, etc.....there will never be enough to feed the demand. When we are feeding ourselves inside, and doing the work that comes from our heart, those external sources of admiration are easier to receive, but we won't need to own them. If we try to hold on too tightly to the praise, the notoriety, it will probably slip away, or become tarnished in our tight grip. We will become frozen in time. Afraid to move from that moment in the sun.

None of this is easy. But it is essential to living a rich and full life, as an artist, or otherwise. Our culture of externals is a big challenge to all of this. Face it, few of us will get rich as working artists. But we will have a full and rich life in so many other ways if we give ourselves the gift of doing the work we are meant to do. It is easier to find joy and satisfaction in doing work that gratifies your soul, than in being able to buy a bigger house, a bigger TV, a smaller cell phone, a newer car....whatever. Consuming to fill that void inside never works for long. We will always want more. But we can fill that void by creating beautiful work, and sharing it with the world. And we will do the planet a favor by consuming less of some of those other things anyway!

This season of joy has become a season of externals. The newspaper is full of sales fliers for the latest and greatest electronics, which will all be obsolete in a year. Perhaps by taking the pledge to Buy Handmade that is going around the Internet right now, we will be able to reconnect with our more essential needs. Better yet, make as many gifts as you can. Give a gift of your handwork. Connect with your gifts, and share them with others. Give a few gifts to those who never expect to receive one. It may mean a few less trips to the mall, a few less dollars spent, but a few more hours connecting with your soul and spirit. And it is a chance to play outside your usual sandbox! Play in a different media, experiment with a idea. Have fun, and spread it around a bit! The joy will find you in the process.

1 comment:

Janice said...

I love this post! It's so true . . . we have to "fill" ourselves first and not look to the outside to fill us up. We're constantly being bombarded by the media with what we need - bigger and better. I've taken the pledge to Buy Handmade this year. Buy a piece of an artist, or as you say, make handmade gifts. There's nothing better than a gift from the heart! It's that connection we're all seeking.