03 July 2010

Free Your Mind

Photographer: Calisto, Free Your Mind

I had an interesting breakthrough last month regarding a creative project that I've stopped and started on over and over again. It's been going on for a few years and acknowledging the ridiculousness of it all made me come to realize that it would make for a valuable topic to write upon.

It's all about the Buddhist concept of attachment and how it can create unnecessary roadblocks in your creative and business life. Now, I'm not going to spend time giving you a detailed definition of attachment, because it would read like one hot mess.

The jist? It's the energy we invest into a core belief about ourselves, a person or a situation, which is usually based on past experience, memory, childhood conditioning, outside pressures, or our mindset. Basically...it's about not being fully present.

Not sure what this all has to do with artists, healers and business? Well let me briefly bring things back to that creative project of mine, which I've been wearing around my neck for years like albatross bling.

Identify the Issue, Now Let It Go

Photographer: Christian Skoog, Open Hand
PHOTOGRAPHER: Christian Skoog, Open Hand

We've all heard the saying that many fear success. It's said so often that it's pretty much cliché. And a close confidant probed to see if that was the crux of my issue, especially since this project of mine brings unbelievable feelings of pleasure and excitement when I talk about it or share it in it's developing stage. But it's not.

I'm what many outside my close circle may call a hard-to-get-to-know-person (which figures: I'm an only child who never got over it). So for me, it's the people (and their varying agendas) who may attach themselves to my project that's the issue for me. And, because I had made questionable decisions in the past about who I chose to surround myself with, I was using an experience of bad choices as the defining result for what may happen in the future.

Rather than looking at how I had the ability (and now the foresight) to change my own behaviour and not worry about controlling that of others, I realized that I was putting my foot on the brakes because I was attached to the outcome — of what may or may not happen — instead of owning my power and diving into what gave me the most satisfaction. And truthfully, that's just silly.

Accept the Gift of the Here and Now

Illustrator: Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody
[Click to enlarge] ILLUSTRATOR: Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody

In Buddhism, it is said that attachment is the cause of our suffering. It is, for example, about clinging to an idea of how we think things should be rather than accepting them as they are. It occurs when we don't accept that all situations in life are impermanent — that they are only for a time. And in business, attachment can manifest in many ways:

Case Study Cling-On #1

Let's say you're an artist who has made it a goal to sell 10 new works this year because in the past you have only sold one or two pieces. You have worked hard for the year, completing more works than you have in previous years, and get a couple shows happening. Perhaps you sell five of your works in one show, receive no sales from the other, but do garner interest from a new collector.

Your response:

Do you view your new collector as an opportunity for sales and thereby view your efforts a success? Do you celebrate that although you didn't sell as much work as you aimed for that you did in fact surpass your sales from previous years? Do you compare your sales to that of your contemporaries and see it all as paltry? Or, do you see your efforts as unsuccessful since you were short of meeting the goals you set for yourself?

Case Study Cling-On #2

You run a healing practice and want to increase your client base with the hopes you can leave your nine-to-five. Presently, you only have three regular clients per the month and, although you have very little time to push your promotional activities as you'd like to, you have taken small, yet promising, steps to network with a handful of complementary well-being services in your community. As fate would have it, you are suddenly laid off from your nine-to-five.

Your response:

Although somewhat unsettled from your loss of steady pay, do you view this as an opportunity to really dive into building your business and following up with the services you started connecting with? Do you offer your three clients an incentive to refer you to others? Do you seek out other employment while choosing to put in extra work on your business in the meantime? Do you fret about the job loss and stew in the fact that you weren't ready to give it up just yet? Or, when now asked, "What are you up to?" do you describe yourself as being unemployed or do you seize the opportunity to let people know all about your developing healing practice?

Consider This....

Attachment is a funny thing: We will never have complete control over our situations. When our anxieties, our frustrations — our fears — get the hold of us because our situation doesn't look quite like that ideal we have created in our minds, it can stop us from seeing what is really going in our favour and what strides we are making. To become mindful, the Buddha would say to acknowledge these fears, negative self-talk and disruptions, but not to invest and give power to them. They are just thoughts, after all. So let them drift away.

We can spend a lot of time trying to bad talk and diminish our accomplishments, or paint an adverse situation as all doom and gloom. We can also invest a lot of our energy into stopping ourselves from moving forward because of what has, may or may not happen. But we can't control that. So why not consider the present, what you can do, and let go of the rest?

And by the way, for a really great read on this topic, check out Noah Levine's absolutely awesome book Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries. It is positively divine.
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