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What's in Your Artists' Toolkit?

Tools for Overcoming Overwhelm

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“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” ― L.R. Knost



Summer 2023 has been trying. In place of balmy sunny days, we have uncontrolled wildfires, smoke, deadly heat, catastrophic floods, and tornadoes. The news is filled with suffering and tragedy; mass shootings, frightening new diseases, growing crises in education, inflation, strikes, hopelessness, loneliness, mental illness, and addiction, Politics is gearing up for another divisive election year that will intensify heated conversations and polarize families. It’s a lot. I feel like I am on trial, being tested for strength, endurance, and commitment to optimism.

The bad stuff is not going away. In our world of paradox, the bad is the flip side that exists to contrast with the good. Light cannot be seen without darkness, goodness gains strength in conflict with badness. Each of us is strong and weak, wise and clueless, overwhelmed and underwhelmed. Despair is not our only option. We do not have to passively accept things as they are.

You and I are powerful and creative artists. We have the power to imagine a better future and collaborate with others to paint it.
Your artist toolkit holds more than just paint and brushes. Your toolbox contains everything you ever learned from every challenge you have ever faced. You prevailed over many difficult challenges in your lifetime. You have tools to help you stay calm, centered, and mindful in the midst of any storm. Your tools were earned surviving everything life threw at you. Inside you have everything you need to keep you safe, tools to keep you strong, and skill sets that will allow you to “MacGyver” your way out of any situation.

What future will you choose to paint?
You have the power to determine and regulate your internal state. Consider how important it is for you to be a beacon of optimism and hope for those around you. Spiraling despair, confusion, fear, and anxiety are even more contagious than possibility and positivity. You can choose daily to be a super-spreader for joy! Your power tools for managing your own overwhelm are focus, effort, and commitment.

Today I am sharing some of the tools I keep in my toolbox for prioritizing my physical, mental, spiritual, and artistic health. Please borrow them freely, and I invite you to share yours with me and everyone around you.

Values:
What I value is painted into everything I do. Everyone and everything I brush with my words should feel uplifted. My words and imagination are the paint I use to create an inspiring picture of what is possible.
I value peace and do my best to keep my cool in heated conversations and minimize the influence of news, advertising, and social media on my psyche. I prioritize staying above the noise, affirming new alternative perspectives, patience, and calm. I believe that everything that happens to me and around me is working in my favor and for my benefit even if I do not understand it at this moment.

Sanctuary:
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs our most basic need is for safety. Do you have a place where you feel secure and relaxed? Are you surrounded by safe people who welcome your truth? Is there a place in your home where you can retreat to sit in peace and meditation? Peace in the outer world begins with peace in our own hearts, our bodies, our surroundings, our homes, and our communities. What is one thing you can do to create more peace in your heart and home?

Have you created an imaginary sanctuary where you can escape in your mind? If you haven’t done that yet, spend some time creating one, it is a delightful pastime selecting whether you will be in a tree house, a beach house, a mountain aerie, a castle, etc., and the creatures, colors, scents, and sounds that will surround you there. A sanctuary is a place where you feel safe enough to let down your guard and exhale. An imaginary sanctuary is available to you at any time and you can retreat there for even a moment when you are stressed. You might want to create a painting of your sanctuary to remind you that its there in times of need

Treat your mind like a sanctuary. Place strong boundaries around the communications you allow to enter your mind, your home, and your daily life. Doomscrolling and sleeping with the news blaring panic and crisis is not restorative or restful.

Carefully curate truthful sources for your information. With the advent of AI deceptive news practices will soon increase exponentially. Fill your email inbox with messages that uplift and reassure you. Keep inspiring words where you will see them often. Inside your home and your mind speak only positive words and truth to yourself.

Consider how you can act to improve the safety of others. Notice how people respond when you walk into a room, do they light up or do they close in and protect themselves? Can you register the energy of a room? Are you sensitive enough to feel who in the space is sad, anxious, or angry? As a teacher, I got to practice creating a space of safety in my classroom. A space where all are welcome just as they are, a space with boundaries protecting the occupants from outside stress, teasing, or threats. Creativity is blocked when we are worried about survival.

Creativity/Imagination/ Possibilities
Hope arises when you believe a desired outcome is possible. Ask yourself how the future might look if everything goes your way. Creativity is your artist's superpower. As an artist, you are trained to look differently and see what others miss.

Just having an idea, a vision or a plan brings it into existence as a possibility. As an artist, you are a specialist in ideas, solution-seeking, experimenting, revising, and reiterating. Once a vision exists in the imagination of an artist all it needs is your creativity and collaboration to shift it from impossible to possible to likely.

Try this Mantra: I have the power to create the life I am designed to live. I am motivated to create positive change around me. I have the strength to carry my purpose forward. I am guided and supported in all I do.

Painting:
For me, painting brings gratitude. I paint subjects to uplift and inspire me. I love my studio and the abundance of art supplies at my fingertips. I take lots of time to draw and paint the near and dear people and elements within my circle. Some of you have joined me for vision board workshops where we created images to inspire the new year. Painting your future visions is a powerful way to bring them into reality.

For others, painting is a way to get pain and emotion out of the body and onto the canvas or paper. Either way, the act of creating is transformative.

Support:
Being alone and isolated in a party of one is not healthy. Surround yourself with people who see you and appreciate your uniqueness. Stitch yourself into a web of people who remind you of your strength and make you laugh. Take the time this week to acknowledge someone who is always there to cry or celebrate with you when you need them. Now more than ever we need supportive friends, family, and animals.

Summer is also a time when many generations of family gather together. It is a great opportunity to reach out to older members of your tribe for their wisdom. Ask them how they did it. You may find their survival stories of war, hardship, loss, and persistence make your own troubles seem small in comparison. Ask for advice, listen to their stories, and tell your story too. Find a child and follow them in their curiosity and explorations for a day to reconnect with optimism and joy.

Look around you. Are you surrounded by people who are positive, learning, and choosing joy and healing? Do you have someone to call and share your ups and downs? Notice your own energy around others. Notice who makes you feel drained and tired and who makes you feel energized and strong. Make a commitment to walk away from those who want your company in misery and victimhood.

Community:
Are you aware that a close community is a better preventative for depression than any pharmacological intervention? We are living in an epidemic of loneliness that will not vanish on its own. Too often, we choose our community by default. The social network sucks us in, or we’re picked for a certain team at school. We have the chance, instead, to choose who we belong to with intention.

If you do not already belong to a tight-knit community you can build your own with a little focus, effort, and persistence. One place to start is with your own judgment of others. How can you be more inclusive of your colleagues at work, in your school, or neighborhood? Are there people around you who also feel excluded you could reach out to give them access to more social engagement? Are there relationships you could repair and restore?

You have watched me grow and expand my own community of artists through this newsletter and my art gatherings. I found many kindred souls in my local art clubs and guilds. By volunteering for leadership in these organizations I am welcomed with warmth and invited to participate by the inner circles of these groups. Every organization I know needs leaders so opportunities abound. In my experience, leadership always gives you more than it takes. I started building this new community after retiring from teaching in 2020. Trust me, it is never too late to make new true friends and there is no such thing as having too many friends.

Collaboration:
Tightly-knit, coordinated teams of motivated, creative people can change the world. Cooperation, connection, and the power of being in sync is getting more important every day. We do better together. When we work together, we have more fun. Technology allows us to collaborate simultaneously with dozens of people we’ve never met or who live on the other side of the earth. Never before have we had so much in common with everyone else. Never before has diversity offered more opportunities for creative problem-solving.

Skillsets:
Sharpening your skills is just as important as gathering the right tools. Skills allow you to use your tools more effectively. When everyone around you is stressed and under pressure, communication skills are critical for staying calm, centered, and positive.

For the past several years I’ve been honing my communication skills. I am taking responsibility for the role I play in my own life dramas and learning to communicate my needs without anger, passivity, or defensiveness. I am not always successful but I am much more aware when resistance arises and where my body constricts with different emotions. A one-minute breath and positive affirmations to myself that I can handle anything helps me to stay calm.

Listening is an underrated skill, often considered a “soft” skill. Connecting with others to collaborate and build community requires active listening. People who feel heard and validated are more willing to listen in return. Active listening means holding direct eye contact, rephrasing what you hear, and allowing the person speaking their own experience without judgment. Communication is only 7% of the words we speak, the tone is 38% and body language is 55%! So stand with confidence, make eye contact, smile, and touch appropriately.

Meditation/Prayer
Meditation is a tool and a skill that allows you to be safely present with whatever is happening around you. There are many forms of meditation and all help you to find inner peace. Prayer is when the conscious mind speaks to Universal power. In meditation, the mind is open and ready to receive inspiration and guidance from your inner higher power.

Take a few moments every day to check in with yourself. Ask yourself: How am I doing today? What am I feeling? Don’t judge your answers or immediately try to “fix” how you’re feeling. Just become aware. Ask your heart what it is experiencing and what it needs in order to stay open.

Mantra:
Mantras are like soap for the mind. They clean the corners and crevasses of your subconscious mind leaving you feeling refreshed and lighter. Each has a specific vibration made from sound combinations honed over the centuries. This is a favorite mantra meditation of mine:

Hummee Hum Mantra: it means I live in the present. I am open to new ideas and perspectives. I am in balance with my inner and outer existence.

Acceptance:
Acceptance involves two steps: First, acknowledge your situation with clarity, focusing on the facts you know to be true. Second, identify one step to move forward with less stress and struggle.

We tend to underestimate how much ruminating on stressful situations drains our energy. Practicing these two steps of acceptance when you find yourself caught in a loop of negative thoughts helps to focus your attention on what you can control and take productive action, however small.

Gratitude:
When you send gratitude into your most challenging circumstances you master them. Being able to send gratitude for the experiences most people would describe as hard, and brutal... is a sign to the Universe that you are complete and ready to move on. You are surrounded by magic and miracles waiting for you to notice them.

Place your hands over your heart and breathe it full of light. Imagine this light expanding with each inhale, and shrinking again with each exhale. As the source of the light, know that your heart carries this energy within, for yourself and to share.

Mantra: Where there is a light, there is energy; where there is energy there is purpose. Being centered makes me aware of myself, my existence here, and my purpose.

Contentment:
Find moments every day to savor and soak in a sacred moment or two of contentment. Maybe it's your morning coffee, reading to your children or grandchildren, a cozy fire, clean sheets, or the contentment that might be waiting for you in your garden. For inspiration look no further than your dog or cat. Our cat sleeps for hours stretched out in complete and total contentment.

Patience/Abiding:
Patience is a calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one we have in mind. Abiding means living with conditions that are not as we wish them to be. Having grit means you are able to abide by difficult challenges without losing your cool.

Try this Mantra for more patience abiding by whatever is happening around you: I release my need to control everything around me. I trust that all will be well in divine timing. I connect to the Universe and accept any wisdom I receive.

Movement:
If you're looking for a Swiss army tool to realign your energy, movement is the key. If exercise were a drug it would outperform any pharmacological antidepressant. Your body is designed to move. It really doesn’t matter how you move; walk, dance, stretch, run, lift weights, swim, box, bicycle, skateboard, or do yoga… all that matters is that you get your heart beating, your breathing deeper, and your butt off the sofa every few hours.

You will feel your spirits rise as soon as you do. Notice how long the effects last for you. You may find that a good exercise session will lift your mood for 48 hours or more.

Sleep and Rest:
Sleep is another powerful tool for combating overwhelm. Lack of sleep is a major predictor of “all-cause mortality” including cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and suicide. Sleep isn't just about rest. It's about the body repairing itself. If you want to improve every single aspect of your life and wake up feeling refreshed and rested each and every night make sleep a priority - carve out an 8-hour window to sleep every night.

Sunlight:
Sunlight’s impact on our well-being includes increased motivation, productivity, confidence, improved mood, better sleep, and enhanced physical health. On the surface, it doesn’t seem to make any sense - but it’s true! According to Jacob Liberman, OD, Ph.D., when sunlight enters the eyes, the entire brain lights up. Sunlight stimulates our optic nerves, awakening our visual perception and making everything seem brighter and more alive. Exposure to full-spectrum sunlight in the morning causes our bodies to produce serotonin, which not only helps later on with nighttime sleep but improves mood throughout the day.

Just 15 to 30 minutes in direct sunlight daily can do the trick. It’s as simple as taking a stroll outside, tending to your garden, walking the dog or finding a sunny spot to relax in. You don’t need to spend hours in the sun to feel its mood-boosting effects. So, next time you’re feeling down, take a moment to step outside and let the sun work its magic. Even a short dose of sunlight can do wonders for your mood and brighten your day.

Extensive scientific research links sunlight to reduced stress, enhanced mood, regulated circadian rhythm, improved Seasonal Affective Disorder, the release of endorphins, a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, elevated energy, social connection, and reduced loneliness. If you’re curious to learn more follow these links:


Grounding:
Placing your bare feet on the Earth will absorb and release stuck negative energy and send it back to you recharged with positive energy, warmth, security, and peace.

As you stand on Mother Earth repeat this Mantra: What is of the Earth, returns to the earth. I am held safe in its embrace. Being grounded gives me a solid foundation.

Joy/Play/Laughter
It hardly needs repeating that taking a break for play, joy, and laughter will help you to shift your energy from negative to positive. By definition, play is about being creative, free, and unbound from limitation. Treat yourself to frequent play breaks, watch programs that make you laugh, and collect joy every day.

Laughter yoga is a practice where alone or in a group you laugh out loud for no reason at all. See if you can laugh for two or three minutes and notice how you feel afterward.

Signs of Hope:
Collect signs of hope and beauty from whichever media you trust. I particularly like my subscription to Nice News. It's free and it's all positive.

I collect new stories that give me hope. When people like me make a paradigm shift with global problems like climate change it raises my spirits. I read this story today and want to share it with you.


I've shared my favorite tools with you today; Values, Sanctuary, Creativity, Imagination, Mantra, Support, Community, Collaboration, Skillsets, Listening, Acceptance, Gratitude, Contentment, Patience/Abiding, Movement, Sleep and Rest, Sunlight, Grounding, Joy, Play, Laughter, and Signs of Hope.

Whenever you find yourself in the downward spiral of despair, confusion, fear, and anxiety reach into your artist's toolkit and pull out one, two, or more of these tools. You have a full toolbox already. You’ve used them before surviving everything life threw at you.

Thankfully you now have a few new tools you didn’t have before and you know where to go to acquire more. There is nothing to buy, no need to wait. You can put them to work right now to alter and regulate your inner state. You do not have to passively accept things as they are.

You and I are powerful and creative artists. We can use our creativity to transform challenges we haven’t encountered before. We know how to stay calm, centered, and mindful and abide by any storm. We can imagine a better future and collaborate with others to paint it.

Jack Kornfield says “You don’t have to fix the whole world, but you can reach and mend the places that you can touch.”

What future will you choose to paint? Whom will you invite to collaborate with you? Where will you shine your light?

If you would like my guidance and advice in sharpening your tools and adding to your toolkit I am happy to share my insights and knowledge with you.


I welcome the opportunity for conversation, cooperation, collaboration, and commissions.


With Light and Delight

Susan

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