Bushwhacking a Trail Home

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People ask me all the time, “so…are you an artist?” And these days I say, “I am, because I live a creative life.”  I used to stutter my way through it.  It almost sounds awkward as I write it.  But I’ve become more confident, and it’s this creative life that’s grown my confidence.  Confidence as personal power.  Not power over anyone but the power to transform conflict into opportunity or to disarm and stay curious in the face of a judgment or to relinquish my own agenda on behalf of a collective one.

Re-reading some of my speeches and blogs, I see this extended dance between creativity and power with a consistent focus on the latter.  Like in:

So what’s the link between creativity and personal power, you ask?  How are they related?  From a certain perspective, this all sounds like the language of spirituality or self-help books.

Yet I’ve found the only way to grow my personal power is through my capacity to make creative choices.  And to understand where this capacity comes from, we gotta know more about our brains.  So bear with me while I distill some brain science down to a few essentials.

Bruce Lipton, cellular biologist and author of The Biology of Belief, distills brain science down more efficiently than most.

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(illustration copyright David Laskey, 2012)

Lipton explains that most of our actions and behaviors are driven by the subconscious brain.  It’s this “hard drive” that downloads sensory input from environmental stimuli at a rate 500,000 times greater than the input received by our conscious brain.

Our bodies can’t process the massive data we absorb from every life experience, starting in the womb up until now, so it narrows our conscious experience to a minute fraction of what’s actually happening around us.

The weird part is all that data still exists inside us and is shaping our choices, our interactions and our perceptions of the world.  Yet it’s “subconscious,” so it’s hidden from us.  We don’t know what’s inside that enormous databank except when we observe a repeating pattern in our lives, and then we get a window into the subconscious programming that runs our show.

Trying to stop that subconscious material from operating ain’t easy.  It’s built into our hard drive.  But thanks to evolution, we have a new boss in our brains humbly named the prefrontal cortex.  This mass of neurons can override pre-programmed behaviors if and when we see them happening.

And that’s a big “if.”  Most of the time we’re not present enough to see these behaviors until it’s too late. And many of us are not creating any significant space for self-reflection, so we miss the repeating patterns because we’re not paying attention.

To choose to act in a new way that is not supported by the old software in our brains is a highly creative act.

If I am used to attuning exclusively to the outside world and meeting other people’s needs before my own–because that’s the language of my subconscious programming–my choice to attune first to my own needs makes me an agent of creativity and personal power.

If I am programmed by early life experiences to see the world as threatening and I manage these fears by controlling my environment all the time, my choice to allow more space for improvisation is a vote for creativity and personal power.

I recently mapped the routes I’ve taken to live closer to my personal power.  It’s been the hinterlands of control, judgment, image and dependency that separate me from this personal Holy Grail.  I’ve traced my way back so many times, I’m no longer bushwhacking a path.  I’ve beaten a trail home.  Here’s some trail maps.

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In the foreign land of control, I’m always driving. I know where I want to go, and I don’t trust anyone else to take the wheel.  There is only room for my own agenda.  It’s the survival skill I developed as a child but it’s tight, constrained, and disconnected from the bigger picture.

So when I see the pattern, I choose to get in the passenger seat.  I trust the expansion of possibilities in an experience I can’t predict.  I rest in ‘right timing’ for everything, because ‘only a ripe melon falls from the tree.’  And I’m home.

In the far away country of judgment, I see an attribute of another, or of the world, and I’m separate from it.  It’s bad, while I’m good.  It’s wrong, while I’m right.  I’m intolerant of its difference, and I disown any of its power to reflect something about me I haven’t been willing to look at.

This time, when I see the pattern, I decide to be curious.  I investigate how this attribute of cruelty, selfishness, or manipulation shows up in me.  How do I over-manage information?  How do I cruelly ignore my own needs?  I understand that if I don’t reconcile these patterns inside me, there is no hope of it happening for the collective.  And, once again, I am home.

In the backwater of image, I focus on my presentation.  I worry about title, relevance, appropriate attire, the number of people in my database, not looking stupid, saying the right thing.  I am dishonest about what’s most important to me and how I really feel.

Programmed from an early age to keep my *#@!%*  together, I waste all kinds of energy managing other people’s perceptions, and I am disconnected from myself.  Choosing to give my deeper instincts a voice, I feel vulnerable and exposed, but I access more humility.  I feel more connected to everything.  Home is just around the corner.

In the swamplands of dependency, I need people and things outside of me to feel secure.  My relationships feel like security blankets.  I use other people’ actions to measure my worth and try to freeze the world to make it safe.  Without the people and things to reflect my value, I become needy and scared.

But when I choose to break from my patterns and spend time alone, when I take space from the constant motion of the outer world, I can hear my own song.  I understand the uniqueness of my gifts, and I become more grounded in symbiotic relationships where equity is the “subconscious programming” that sustains life.  Finally, and most definitively, I am home.

When I first started Arts Corps, I knew in my bones that a creative path was a powerful path.  And I observed society’s marginal investments in arts learning as a choice to suppress the power of others.  Yet every day, through the work I do, I see individuals choosing old patterns and giving away their power.  Like they are waiting for someone else to fix the problem.  But it’s only ours to give away or to claim.

If the 99% of us, even some significant portion of the 99%, chose creativity over subconscious programming, our collective impact could redress the untenable power imbalance in the outside world.  Though often said, but rarely practiced, outer reality is just a reflection of our inner reality.  And while making change happen outside us is slow and daunting, there is no limit to our ability to change what happens inside us.  Every time, it’s just a choice.

Lisa Fitzhugh