Friday, February 4, 2011

Dismantling old habits and the power of platform shoes

Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive. - Edith Wharton

I’ve been working with Surrender in my fearless painting practice. Surrendering to whatever comes up while I’m painting, which is usually those nasty gremlins trying to derail me. “You just messed things up!” they will taunt. And so I surrender to the fact that maybe I did make a mess. “Oh, you are painting a cutesy, dull painting.” Okay, that’s what I’m doing. It is interesting because each time I surrender to that moment’s reality, a new one manifests. The pretty picture quickly becomes one in danger of being screwed up; the ugly piece suddenly is precious and not be be messed with any more.

What I am discovering through a practice – or more accurately, devotion – of surrender in my painting is how I need to apply it to my whole life. I am noticing how resistance is my default setting. Dinner needs to be made and I am thinking about how I would rather be outside taking pictures rather than standing over the cutting board chopping veggies. I have to grocery shop and I drag myself there, thinking about the valuable writing time I am missing out on. I feel like a fish thrashing around in a net: caught and struggling against being where I am in that moment.

Yesterday I was walking the dog and it was a gloriously sunny day. After days of bitter wind chills, gray skies and snow showers, it was a welcome treat. Except I wasn’t paying attention; I was thinking about what I would do when I got home and whether we needed to do our full walk or if I could get away with the abbreviated version. Thankfully, I caught myself. I mean, the sun was warming my face, it felt good to move my body and feel the blood pumping (it is a cardio workout given the extra 50 pounds of winter clothing I am lugging around) and Moose’s tail was wagging away. It was a moment to lean into, not resist.

If Shine is my word for 2011, I am realizing Surrender is the path that will lead me there. I need to rewire my thinking to move beyond resistance. Because resistance is merely keeping the veils of fear, confusion and doubt in place. When I practice surrender and allow myself to experience what is before me - rather than focusing upon what I desire or what I am pulling away from - then I experience a fuller sense of myself and my world.

This brings me to another habit of mind I have been trying to dismantle. I’ve mentioned before the book Mindset which presents two models of thinking: a fixed mindset that views talents and abilities as static and set and our experiences as confirmation of that stasis; and a growth mindset that believes in the possibility of growth and development and responds to challenges as opportunities to develop one’s skills and from which to learn and expand.

As a parent, I am mindful of promoting a growth mindset to my daughter. We talk a lot about working hard, learning from our challenges and enjoying the process. Recently, I had a chance to walk my talk and I failed the pop quiz. Okay, so here is my shameful secret: remember my plea for support for a video I created as part of a contest to win money for a charity? Well, I wasn’t selected. Sure there were 196 entries for 40 prizes and yes, I had very short notice and went into it telling myself I didn’t stand much of a chance and what was important was my willingness to try.

But seriously, I wanted to win. I wanted to win not only for the prize money for my charity, but because winning would have been a confirmation of my creativity. It would have been the ultimate form of Authority granting me permission to call myself an artist. And let’s be clear: I put myself out there. I solicited support from my Creative Art Mamas, Muses and Mentors and I asked a lot of people to look at my work.

I felt like I was back in junior high school. Back when I was painfully aware of myself as outsider; previous friends had morphed into the Cool Girls and I was left by the roadside. I was desperate to be accepted by them, but I knew I shouldn't dare dream to be cool. It was my buffalo sandal moment. These were The Hip Shoes to wear when I was growing up (similar but different from the "Woody" platform sandals sold at Thom McAnn.) They were the shoes Linda Ronstadt wore with rainbow socks in a Rolling Stone Magazine spread and every girl had them. I convinced my mother to buy me a pair and then I too self-conscious to wear them. I think I feared teetering off the platform bases and falling in front of the cool girls but the reality is, I doubted my right to wear them, to lay claim to any part of that coolness. That was the ridicule I feared: the voices mocking me "You dare to believe you are something more? You are and always will be a geek!"

So yeah, I felt called out when I learned my video was not selected. I was stunned not to have at least made it to the second round of interviews. Of the videos I watched, I was certain mine was more compelling, more thoughtful, more emotionally inspiring. I figured I had a chance. So when I got the email “thank you for participating but unfortunately ... “ I wanted to tuck tail and hide. I retreated into the fixed mindset reaction of this being confirmation of my not-having-what-it-takes. I told no one for days and I carried within me the attitude “I’ll never do that again!” And I retreated into my wounded preteen shame.

But I caught myself. I recognized my habitual pattern of reacting and decided to consider things from a different perspective. First, I entered to prove to myself I could do it. While making the video, I returned again and again to the notion of staying true to myself, true to the whisperings of my heart. I tried to make what I wanted to make and not be swayed by doubt and notions of "ought to." I realize now I still held back. The angle of the contest was innovation and “a fresh start.” They wanted to know what new project you would create with the prize money and that is where I betrayed myself. I had an idea, but felt it was too raw to present just yet. I didn’t feel ready to share it. So I went with a fully baked idea – the current projects already in place by the charity – and believed my passion would carry me to success.

I had passion, but I lacked total trust in my original idea. Now I know. Now I see that next time I will put it all out there, playing my best game and surrendering myself to not having it all perfect. I will not hold back out of doubt or insecurity. I will certainly still question myself and my vision but I will try to surrender to the uncertainty of it all. The only certainty is playing it safe never allows for growth or for learning. Nor does it allow for pure joy.

my fearless painting which Cowgirl declared to be "A Swirl of Love"

I will wear those platform sandals AND the rainbow socks and kick up my heels in the pleasure finally participating fully in my life.

(and for those of you who somehow missed out on my pleading and cajoling, here is the video which I am very proud to have made. I am laughing now at the notion Ford Motor Company assumed any kind of cool status. They had their agenda, and I have mine.)


  1. you write so beautifully Lis!
    isn't it amazing, the deeming of something worthy or not based on what others think? how many times i hunker down not fully being who I truly am, for fear of being seen for all the I really am! this is my take-away from your post. thank you for sharing this! here's to living out loud, shining our light VERY bright!

  2. Oh, I'm so delighted to have finally been able to see the video!! So beautiful and waayyyy too cool for frumpy old Ford:) Ford?!!:)

  3. Ford who? pffft.

    oh how all of this speaks to me...i swear, i have my own version of the platform shoes...only i didn't even consider myself worthy enough to even BUY the much-coveted Badge of Coolness.

    thank you so much for sharing all've made me realize how much i still 'dumb' myself down....


    kickin' up my rainbow socks right beside ya...;)


    ps. awesome video, btw...way too cool for Ford...Volkswagen? *maybe*...:)

  4. A truly awesome video! Yes, you should have won. It just means you have to take a different route - and I know you will!

  5. what a beautiful, thought-provoking post, Lis. I always enjoy my visits to your space. and I think your video is awesome!

  6. You must know in your heart you didn't need that confirmation of your are an amazing creative spirit! So stand up in those platform shoes (do you really need them?) and be proud of what you did.


    p.s. I voted for your beautiful and moving video