Notes on listening to myself

I come from a long line of busy people. It’s very possible that you do too.

‘Idle hands are the devil’s playthings’ or however that phrase goes, could have been stamped on the wall of the house I grew up in.

Except it would have gone more along the lines of ‘mom’s coming, look busy’. Being engaged in the act of listening to myself didn’t count. Maybe this is why meditation became so important to me as an adult.

At a young age, I learned that adults do not like to see a kid just sitting around, doing nothing. You are already presumed guilty, or lazy, or worse. If you are doing nothing instead of your chores, doubly so.

So you learn to have a dust cloth on hand, and pretend that you care about dusting, because that’s safer than being accused of Doing Nothing. Because that’s bad, and then you’re guilty. Now go do something!

If you don’t have to go do anything, you can make something up right now, and it’s fun.

Doing nothing has value that many people forget as they enter adulthood. Children know important things that adults forget all the time, such as how to make up stories and pretend and make something out of nothing. Children know about listening to that internal voice that plays and creates.

Unless someone taught them otherwise, kids create naturally and effortlessly throughout the day. They can hear something we adults quite forget to listen for. Is it curiosity, a creative urge, a muse, an inner voice?

As we grow older, we are programmed to stop listening and start doing instead. Something, do anything, don’t just sit there staring into space.

That’s not being productive, and you need to learn how to become a productive member of society, so you don’t turn out like so-and-so, that lazy good for nothing. And scene.

I am just as guilty of the over-doing, and by the way, there’s that word again, guilt. Must spring into action, now. Aaaaarrggghhh!

Kids naturally know how to muck about and spend long hours being. It’s called ‘play’, it’s how they learn, and it’s fun. There’s a lot of permission for experimentation, and it’s the process, not the product, that often matters most to a child.

I had the opportunity to learn this for myself years ago, when I was hired to teach art classes in a high end children’s art school in Chicago. The parents and nannies of the kids dropped them off, and picked them up again after class. This was a school attended mainly by children from well to do families, and I met more nannies than parents during the time I worked there.

The school had wonderful tools for making art, including a good sized working kiln, as well as a spacious classroom with lots of places to let classroom projects dry, so the kids could leave them all week and pick them up next class.

Early on, I noticed that the kids in my classes very often forgot which art piece was theirs, when they came to class the following week. I was always surprised by how detached they were from a piece they’d created a week ago. They just wanted to make a new work of art, and be in the process again.

Because the parents ‘needed to see finished projects’, according to the director of the school, the teachers were careful to have the kids sign their work, so we could identify who did what. The parents, not the kids, needed to see the end result. The children loved the process, and would get lost in the joy of creating for the entire class time.

Creating happens in the present time only. Listening does too.

That was more than 25 years ago; while I’m certain that a lot of those art projects hit the dustbin years back, I know that the process of listening to the inner creative muse, to following the urge to create with joy and permission, is still somewhere with all of those kids. At least I hope so. Maybe they’ll remember to instill that same permission in their own children.

Being immersed in a creative project does involve doing something, taking action of some kind. It also involves and demands lots of listening, trusting, experimenting, and playing. Being very busy doesn’t cut it, while working in creative mode.

Actual creating takes a completely different kind of energy than busy work. Creating takes emotional involvement, and that takes listening, letting go, going deeper, taking risks. But it all begins with listening. Those who are afraid to listen will have a hard time getting deep enough to create their true work. Listening takes practice.

My media and tools have changed many times since I was an artist child, but listening has been the true constant. Whether I create a dress, painting, workshop, podcast, or article, I have to listen to myself with kindness. This doesn’t mean I always do so! However, my daily meditation practice helps me keep much of this in perspective, and I’ve learned to listen to myself better over the years.

How about you? Has listening to yourself changed the way you create, or what you create?

©Kris Cahill
‘See the Show’ ©Mikael Kristensen on Unsplash

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