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The Artist and Her Critic

There was once a great Artist. 

In her youth, she brought her artistry to everything she did: dancing, drawing, singing, and writing.

She didn’t draw a line between creating and playing. Playing was an integral part of whatever she was creating.

Her heart was filled with light. She felt alive with passion, curiosity, and inspiration. Her enthusiasm permeated everything she did.

Then one day she met the Critic.

The Critic didn’t create art himself, but he had lots to say about her work. He made piercing comments and judgements about everything she created.

The Critic started hanging around the Artist quite a bit. The more time the Artist spent with the Critic, the less interest she had in creating art.

She began spending her time watching and comparing herself to others, desperately trying to fit in. She lost her center. Her path became dark and uncertain. Her inspiration withered.

She wanted to shield herself from the Critic. But the more she looked outside of herself, the stronger the Critic’s voice became. Now, just like her Critic, she too began spending her time commenting and criticizing others. 

The artist grew up into a lovely woman, but her light that once shined so bright was overtaken by shadow.

Then, one day she met a young girl fully absorbed, playing with paper, scissors, and glue. This young girl was busy creating, indifferent to what others thought about her art.

The woman saw her own Artist in this young girl and she began to remember who she was.

The woman began feeling lighter. She started to sing. And dance. And laugh with joy.

She remembered that she, too, is an Artist. In that moment, she became free once more.

Know the Critic’s Place

The Critic can be seen out in the world, but the most pernicious one lies within us.

To be sure, the Critic has his place. He’s important because he helps us see a different perspective.

The Critic can be a powerful ally who shows us the darker side of things as well as the flaws or weaknesses in our creative ideas and work. He can point out areas for our improvement. He can help us stay grounded and humble.

The Critic also creates doubt. Doubt is healthy for psychological development.

The Critic’s place, however, is after we create, not before.

Celebrate the Artist

But too many of us allow the Critic to rule us, dominate us, own us.

Contain your Critic. If you leave him unchecked, he will silence and disable your inner Artist. And when that happens, we all suffer the loss.

Your Artist is your connection to love, light, joy, imagination, enthusiasm, play, passion, and wonder—all of your creative power.

Your Artist is the gatekeeper to your soul. Nurture her daily and she will become a continual source of joy and meaning in your life.

Like a delicate butterfly, she is gentle. Be kind to her. Give her space to grow. She wants to fly. Let her free.

How to Work With Your Shadow (Part 2)

In the previous post, we defined the shadow as our disowned self that contains all the parts of us to which we are unaware. We also explored a wealth of benefits derived from getting to know our shadow as well as the consequences of ignoring it.

Now, let’s take a look at some ways to approach and begin working with the shadow.

Seven Tips to Begin Working with Your Shadow

1) Cultivate Self-Compassion

Before you begin working with your shadow, it is helpful to cultivate a sense of unconditional friendliness with one’s self. In Buddhism, this is called Maitri.

Without friendliness and self-compassion, it is difficult to look at our darker stuff. If you try to always be a good person and strive for perfection, or if you’re hard on yourself when you make mistakes, it is difficult to confront your shadow.

If you’re accustomed to feeling shame or guilt, you need to transmute these emotions with friendliness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion.

Start by accepting your own humanness: “to err is human.” Remember that we all have a shadow, so there’s nothing wrong with facing it. It’s when we ignore the shadow that it owns us and real problems arise.

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It’s Called The Shadow (Part 1)

It’s always standing right behind us, just out of view. In any direct light, we cast a shadow.

The shadow is a psychological term for everything we can’t see in ourselves.

I came to understand the importance of knowing my shadow, and working with it, when I wrote a biography on a spiritual teacher.

It can be difficult to accept that you have a shadow, if you’re not familiar with this psychological insight. We go to great lengths to protect our self-image from anything unflattering or unfamiliar.

As such, it is easier to see the shadow in another before seeing it in one’s self.

Seeing the shadow of this spiritual teacher helped me understand how someone can be gifted in one area of life while remaining utterly unaware of poor behavior in other areas.

Every human being is susceptible to this.

I personally find working with my shadow to be a challenging yet rewarding process. Anyone interested in experiencing greater authenticity, creativity, energy, and awakening will certainly benefit from shadow work.

Let’s start by taking a closer look at what the shadow is and how it comes into being. Then, we’ll explore five benefits for working with your shadow.

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Are You Feeling Restless?

It’s so common that it avoids our detection.

Restlessness. It is the primary neurosis of our time.

That, at least, was the observation of the great Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung.

He made this observation over 60 years ago. I believe it’s truer today than it was then.

A neurosis is an excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession. It’s a sign of mental imbalance. It produces unnecessary stress.

Restlessness implies an inability to be still—to come to rest, to be able to fully enjoy periods of play and reverie.

Signs of restlessness abound:

  • A materialistic, consumer-driven culture obsessed with the new
  • An unending pursuit to accumulate more money, titles, and things
  • Parents chauffeuring their kids to an endless procession of activities
  • A collective addiction to social media sites like Facebook

It’s truly difficult to avoid feelings of restlessness in modern life.

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Finding Moments of Stillness

Did you ever love something so much that’s just out of reach?

There are periods in my life where I feel very connected to a deeper part of myself. In those moments, I feel very still.

I can sit and gaze at a tree with a sense of wonder. I can walk through the woods with deep feelings of reverence.

Then there is the rest of the time when that connection doesn’t feel so strong, when I have difficulty being inwardly calm.

In these times, I’m often aware of a feeling of disconnection. I know a different state of being exists. I can vaguely recall it. Sometimes, I can almost taste it.

But it’s just out of reach.

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7 Steps to Discovering Your Personal Core Values

As a life strategist, I’ve come to appreciate the power of values.

I’ve observed that individuals experience greater fulfillment when they live in accordance with their values. And when individuals don’t honor their values, they don’t feel too good.

I’ve noted this in my own life as well.

Why Are Core Values Important?

Values are a part of what we are. They highlight what we stand for. They can represent our unique, individual essence. They guide our behavior, providing us with a personal code of conduct.

When we honor our personal core values consistently, we feel fulfilled. When we don’t, we feel incongruent and are more likely to escape into bad habits to feel better.

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Good Habits, Bad Habits

Bad habits come easy, don’t they?

Bad habits form quickly and require little effort on our part. They are largely the result of not paying attention.

We all have bad habits.

Good habits are an achievement, a triumph over the more primitive parts of our brain. Good habits take effort, persistence, and consciousness—especially when establishing them.

Let’s not call them good or bad; we’re not making a moral judgment here.

Instead, let’s call them supportive and unsupportive habits to our overall wellbeing.

Establishing Supportive Habits for the Future

Unsupportive habits are things we do on a regular basis that don’t support our physical health or our psychological wellbeing.

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In the Pursuit of Happiness?

Please pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and consider: how happy do you feel as you read this?

If you’re not feeling happy, how do you feel about that? Survey your feelings carefully and be honest. (And if you’re feeling happy, please keep feeling happy.)

We have a cultural bias toward happiness. The prevailing belief is that we’re supposed to be happy most of the time, and when we’re not, something is amiss.

This seems to be the case in all consumerist cultures, which encompasses all modern societies. It is especially so in the United States. After all, Jefferson singled out “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.

The Tension Related to Happiness

Back to my question: If you aren’t feeling happy as you read this, do you notice any tension in your body? Do you feel any mental or emotional distress? Not feeling happy is one thing; how we relate to unpleasant feelings is something else.

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The Secret to Long-term Happiness

Positive psychologist and author of Authentic Happiness Martin Seligman draws a distinction between pleasures and gratifications as two very different ways of realizing happiness in the present moment.

Last week, we explored three ways of enhancing our pleasures. Now, we turn our attention to gratifications.

Pleasures versus Gratifications

Like pleasures, gratifications are also very enjoyable, but they don’t necessarily evoke any raw feelings like pleasures. Whereas pleasures require little, if any, thinking, gratifications often involve thinking and interpretations.

Examples of gratifications include reading an engaging book, dancing, playing a sport you love, and immersing yourself in a stimulating conversation. With gratifying activities, time stops, we lose self-consciousness, and we become totally absorbed in the activity.

Gratifications last longer than pleasures; pleasures tend to be short-lived. Gratifications don’t habituate as easily as pleasures do.

As we saw, pleasures are about engaging the senses and feeling emotions, but gratifications are about contacting a higher part of us: our personal strengths and virtues.

In terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, pleasures are the satisfaction of our basic needs, especially biological ones. Gratifications, in contrast, are the result of higher needs, like our cognitive needs, aesthetic needs, self-actualization, and self-transcendence.

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Three Ways to Maximize Pleasure

I’m always looking for ways to cultivate a more positive state of mind. I’ve observed that I’m more creative, productive, sociable, and grounded when I’m feeling optimistic. I’ve witnessed how I adopt disempowering behavior when my mental state declines.

In Authentic Happiness, founder of positive psychology Martin Seligman points out that we have two distinct ways of experiencing happiness in the present: pleasures and gratifications. Today, let’s look at pleasures.

Pleasures have sensory and emotional components like comfort, delight, ecstasy, excitement, and orgasm. Pleasures, however, tend to be short-lived, and many of them have negative consequences.

Pleasures are an enjoyable part of life, and Seligman doesn’t suggest eliminating these sources of transitory happiness. Instead, he offers ways to maximize our experience of them.

He offers three suggestions based on current research:

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