We are beginning Chapter Nine, Recovering a Sense of Compassion, by examining the power of words. As you know, words have enormous power, from spells to curses, from treaties to laws. The old childhood rhyme “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is not really true. Words and messages can turn our hearts to stone in an instant. Or they can set us free.
So yesterday, we began to explore what happens when we label ourselves with words like “lazy,” when what is actually true is that we are blocked. Blocked artists long deeply, sometimes invisibly, to find expression. But we are stuck and impotent for a hundred reasons. Calling ourselves lazy for our inability to act upon our deep desire to create just heaps insult onto injury.
Julia points out that, rather than being lazy, the blocked artist spends hours (days, years!) thinking “in terms of great big, scary, impossible tasks: a novel, a feature film, a one-person show, an opera. When these large tasks are not accomplished, or even begun, the blocked artist calls that laziness.
“Do not call the inability to start laziness. Call it fear.”
Fear is at the heart of all those grandiose, impossible standards we set. Fear keeps us from taking even those tiny micromovement steps, or from taking them every day. Fear is the paralyzing poison that seeps through all our good intentions.
Julia writes, “It may be the fear of failure or the fear of success. Most frequently it is the fear of abandonment. This fear has roots in childhood reality. Most blocked artists tried to become artists against either their parents’ good wishes or their parents’ good judgment. For a youngster, this is quite a conflict. To go squarely against your parents’ values means you’d better know what you’re doing. You’d better not just be an artist. You better be a great artist if you’re going to hurt your parents so much…”
She explains that when we choose to act in conflict with what our parents insist is good for us, they may respond with disappointment, anger, and hurt. Even as adults, that judgment echoes within us, and our desire to become artists is perceived as an act of adolescent rebellion.
The problem then becomes that as we try to follow through on our dream, every step towards it threatens to inflict shame or hurt upon our loved ones. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to see how powerful this bind becomes, and how deeply threatening such choices can be.
Thus, we decide, somewhere down inside, that it’s all or nothing. We must either give up on our longings, or else become fantastically successful. If we are not spectacularly triumphant, we will have wounded and alienated our family for nothing.
And this is a recipe for failure, before we even get started. How can we overcome this? Tune in tomorrow.