Trust the Wanderer, Discover the Artist
The deadline was fast approaching for a book I had been working on for five years. But I was stuck. I couldn’t write anymore. I simply couldn’t complete it.
My conscious mind exerted itself as I deployed every technique I had learned, calling forth every ounce of self-discipline within me, but to no avail.
It’s a troubling experience for a writer, and it’s all too easy to beat yourself up about the matter, which I did. Perhaps it’s similar to a painter losing his inspiration to complete his canvas.
The problem feels pervasive, but it’s not. The “stuckness” is often a signal to merely step back—to let the unconscious go to work (or rather, play). Doing this, of course, takes courage and faith (especially when you’re on a deadline).
Although allowing one’s mental faculties to recede into the background is a very natural thing, for most of us adults, it’s a challenge. Learning how to drift into reverie and listen to the unconscious—something second-nature to a child—is difficult for most adults.
If we’re successful in letting go of wanting to change our stuckness, we discover that we are the source of our feeling stuck. We are in our own way, through the interference of a particular attitude, a limiting belief, or an inflexible position.
In stepping back, we open ourselves up, relaxing our position. Our perspective often changes as a consequence, redirecting the flow of creative psychic energy back into our work.
Finding Psychic Wholeness
If we’re intellectually-minded, this brings us to the question: why do we get in our own way in the first place?
From a Jungian perspective, we can say that it’s because we’re not integrated—that we lack psychic wholeness. What is psychic wholeness? A harmonizing of opposites: conscious and unconscious, rational and non-rational, masculine and feminine principles.
Numerous scholars including Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Ken Wilber demonstrate that, especially in Western civilization, we have been dominated by the masculine principle since classical antiquity (if not prior), reinforced by our Judeo-Christian mythology.
Simply put, we live in a hyper-rational world that doesn’t value the non-rational, the intangible, the feminine, the dream, the mystery, the miracle. We’ve suppressed instinctual forces, a divine power found in the natural world. We are cut off from this power, split into animal and spirit—an artificial dichotomy that must be healed if we are to realize psychic wholeness.
We praise the waking state of the conscious and undervalue the sleep and dream states of the unconscious. And yet many great teachings and teachers extol the virtues of the dream state: Lao Tzu, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Advaita Vedanta, Jungian psychology, and Tibetan Buddhism, to name a few.
Embracing the Artist Within
Our next questions are of greater practicality: What can we do about it? How can we tap into the feminine forces of the unconscious? Here, we can take our cue from the artist.
The true artist gives reverence to the unconscious by whatever name she might call it (and many call it “God”). This doesn’t make the artist idealistic, theistic, or naive; it makes her self-aware, for it is only after she can acknowledge the source of the creative impulse—something that lies outside of conscious awareness—that she is able to dip into this eternal wellspring as needed.
And so the artist allows her mind to wander, to relax her gaze, to become, in a sense, absent-minded. Externally, it can look like the artist isn’t working, and in a culture that prides itself on constant busyness, this poses yet another challenge: not only must the artist submit herself to mysterious inner forces; she must also deal with the expectations of the conventional outer world.
The conventional world judges the artist for her unusual behavior and what it takes for her poor work ethic. The artist faces critics of her lifestyle as well as critics of her creations. As a consequence, the artist’s path is in many ways a lonely one. We come to understand why there are so few genuine artists among us.
I believe, however, that to varying degrees, the artist exists within each of us. Left unchecked, though, life has a way of beating the artist into submission. Locating the artist within calls for an inner path of discovery, requiring us to say “yes” to our call to adventure. For acknowledging the artist within is merely the first step, courageous as it may be.