Art and Creativity Coaching Articles

A calling through grief – if not now, when?

A calling through grief – if not now, when?

This is going to be a much more vulnerable and personal post than I might usually write. I nearly decided not to write at all and to leave a gap in the schedule, just for one week. A gap that might be redolent of the hole I feel in my life at the moment.

A couple of weeks ago, a very close friend of mine died. He was buried this week. As the funeral approached, I found that my subconscious began to chew over past losses – not just people, but opportunities. Regrets and losses. Life is short.

Grief is one of the most complex conglomerations of emotion – emotions that either battle to the surface and explode or become sublimated into ominous stillness. I tended, as is my wont, toward quietness, a withdrawing where my heart is wincing and shrinking back from the world as just too rough and brusque for me right now.

When grieving, it feels like the world stops. Certainly in that no-man’s land between death and funeral, I couldn’t give myself permission to move on; and by that I don’t mean tuck it all away as a bad experience and forget about it. I mean move on with the banalities of living, continue doing what we do while muddling along between birth and death. I paused within myself and pondered … everything!

The only thing that pulled me back into the present was doing art, specifically my textile art. I had a hiatus in my dry felting over the summer, primarily because I find it too uncomfortable to work with felt and rovings in hot weather. A practical concern that makes sketching and painting better suited for the summer months, and textiles for the winter. But here I was hunched over a piece of felt, stabbing away and embroidering; hours and hours would pass as I sat hunched over my work, aware of the tiny, single fibres of wool, the French knots that barely measure 1 millimetre, the teensy seed beads that so easily skitter away under my fingertips. This microscopic level of focus brings with it an exceptional calm. It’s not for everyone. Usually the reaction I get when people observe me doing my textile art is, “I couldn’t do that! I just don’t have the patience!” I am not so expansive as to be the kind of person to work with a life-sized canvas and a bucket of paint. Instead, my creative expression is a meditation on the small, a coming inwards, a return to the self … it helps me to tap into the never-changing centre of my self, the true self, not the ego. It is a way to be without being overwhelmed and buffeted by the waves of the world; the atom does not mind the hurricane…

I was asked this week to consider the difference between dream-making and reality-checking, to wonder if I err on one side or the other. After much contemplation, I realised that my dream tank was actually pretty empty because I have a ferocious inner critic who squashes my dreams under the pretense of giving me a “reality check”. Isn’t that something we have all experienced both internally from our own voices, but externally from friends and family and supposed well-meaning others? Don’t you realise how hard it is to be a writer? Don’t you know you won’t earn money being an artist? Isn’t it self-indulgent to focus on art when you could be doing something that makes a real difference? What if you get rejected? What if people hate your art/writing/music? What if they laugh at you?

It’s tempting in the face of such an onslaught to roll over and die, certainly to give up on my dreams as too risky and too scary. But as a coach, I recognise from working with other creatives that this is intrinsic to the process. We are mavericks because we choose to go to those areas of the map marked “Here be Dragons!” … so should we be surprised to find dragons once we start exploring?

But the creating of the last week has not been about accolades or achievements. I was driven by a need to create in the face of grief and death. It made me realise that needing to fufill the need is paramount! That was justification enough and this need stands resolute and separate from any argument another person, including my inner critic, might throw at me. This is what some people might call “a vocation”, a calling: the muse calls, and like Odysseus hearing the sirens, I must listen and surrender my fate.

I was going to write about how you can work with your inner critic to achieve your creative goals, how you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, how there are practical things you can do to stay on track. And I will. But not today. Today I would like you to do TWO things for me: REMEMBER a dream that you have, really bring it fresh to mind; then, DO SOMETHING TODAY (not tomorrow or when you “have time”) towards your dream (actually work on it, make a phonecall to a gallery, make yourself accountable to someone, set a deadline for completion, or some other tangible thing).

Life is short and a deathbed regret was never, “I wish I had listened more to my inner critic!” … Time is ticking. If not now, when?

As for me, I shall return to my textile piece; in focusing on the small, I get a better grasp of the bigger picture and that is my “reality check”. Let’s dream together, yet, as every good creative must, suspend our disbelief and fear of dragons in order to continue exploring this uncharted dream-scape of creativity!

©Mav Kühn 2016



2 comments on “A calling through grief – if not now, when?

  1. Joleene Moody
    August 2, 2016

    Thank you for this post. Grief is so different for each of us. Death is a part of life, right? Until it happens and you’re in the thick of it. Then you think THIS SUCKS. I’ve experienced many deaths the past few years and it makes me “clingy” to those around me. I don’t want to lose them. For me, I have to really work on this. And you’re right about creating during this time. It’s incredible what comes from it. Hell, I wrote a screenplay in 6 weeks after my dad died. It just POURED out of me. Really, really great post this week, Mav. x0x0

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mav Kühn
      August 3, 2016

      I’m sorry for the losses you’ve experienced, Joleene. Yes, it is so much a part of life, especially now that I’ve passed the 40 mark. Thanks so much as ever for your comment and support ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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