THE INSPIRATION PLACE PODCAST
Well, Hey there, it’s Miriam Schulman, Chief Inspiration Place Officer and host of this Inspiration Place Podcast. I’m here to help you, whether you’re a passion maker and you need to reconnect with your creativity or you’re ready to evolve into a passion professional.
You’re listening to episode 123, and I’m so grateful that you’re here. Shout outs to my new listeners. I have new listeners in Pakistan, Israel, Tunisia, and Hong Kong. Thank you so much for listening. I am so grateful to you.
Today we’re talking all about restoring your artist’s heart. After the collective trauma we’ve all experienced and truthfully still going through all that was 2020 and all that still is, you might be feeling a little bit burnt out, maybe creatively burnt out, maybe emotionally burnt out. So in this episode, you’ll discover why pushing through the stressors of your life maybe causing you creative burnout, how loneliness is actually increasing your sense of not enoughness and finally, an antidote to restore your artist’s heart.
Okay. My friend, doing something a little different with today’s episode. I just finished an amazing book. It’s called Burnout: The Secret To Unlocking The Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagorski. And a lot of today’s show has been influenced by that book. Normally a way to invite the authors to the show this time I couldn’t wait. And another part of today’s show is going to be pulled from a Disney movie.
So all of this of course has to do with your creativity. And there’ll be lessons in here for you. And we have a lot to cover today. So let’s get started.
Since the pandemic started over nine months ago, we’ve all been experiencing a collective trauma. It doesn’t matter whether you know somebody or not, whether you’ve been sick or not, just watching the news, that nightly death toll ticker on the news and living in the day-to-day anxiety of this COVID cloud, this affects you. This affects all of us.
In addition, depending on where you live, the restrictions on your life may also have taken an effect, especially if you live in an area like I do with very strict protocols. And of course, there’s objections may vary not just on where you live, but on your own personal circumstances and your tolerance for risk.
When my friend Amber Walker came on the show to talk about trauma, she defined trauma as a period in your life that could be clearly defined as before said traumatic event and post traumatic event. And I’m already finding myself saying things like pre-COVID. So of course, this is a traumatic event and we need to recognize we’re in the thick of it right now. This comes as close to a traumatic event as any of us have ever experienced.
Now, people who help others through traumatic events are also part of this. We are co-survivors. So during this event, the COVID event, the pandemic, all that is 2020, even though we’re already in 2021, we are both survivors and close survivors of this trauma and the stressful effects that trauma has had on our body.
But here’s the kicker, it’s affected our creativity. When all of our resources are going to managing our stress and the stress around us, it’s exhausting. Now in the book Burnout, which was written pre-COVID, the authors share, “Contact with another person is a basic biological need, and loneliness is a form of starvation.” So just know with all the social distancing measures have been put into place, we are starving ourselves of that basic connection. And as a result, starving our creativity. So if you’re feeling burnt out and unmotivated, please know you’re not alone and it isn’t your fault.
Now I want you to also know as I share this, it doesn’t mean I’m advocating to break health protocols. That’s not what I’m trying to say at all. What I’m saying is recognize the effect that this is having on us. Because when you recognize what the problem is, that’s an important step in any recovery.
Artists, even introverted artists like myself, we need to recognize that we need both autonomy and connectedness. For me personally, my creativity in the last year has definitely suffered. On the one hand, I’m not able to see my friends and family in person, my extended family, my mother, and yet I haven’t been able to protect my introvert time because at home my college aged kids are always around. I love them, sure. But the paradox is I miss both my alone time and my together time, my adult together time ,my with other artists and other business people together time.
So it isn’t that I don’t love my husband and my children. Of course, I do. And of course I am grateful and appreciate that I’m not living alone. Let’s just be clear. But I’m spending time with the same three people over, over again with no break in the role of mother and wife. And these are people who look to me to help them with their stress and their needs, which drains my own energetic reserves. So yes, this has taken a toll on my own creativity.
I bet there are many women in the caregiver role listening to this right now who can relate. Yeah. Can’t just be me, right? This isn’t just limited to mothers, by the way. So many women are also in the caregiver role, whether it’s to their partner or to aging parents or somebody else.
Now, here’s what happens to us women who are in the regular caregiving role for our loved ones. It affects our sleep. Remember in the beautiful children’s story Madeline when the nun who’s in charge of those 12 little girls, she wakes up in the middle of the night because something isn’t quite right. That feeling, I call it that Miss Clavel moment. That is something that as women, we experience quite a lot, that Miss Clavel moment.
So this is referred to in the Burnout book, not as a Clavel moment, that’s my own language, by the way. But the authors of Burnout share, “Women’s sleep is an invisible workplace in which they remain on duty throughout the night,” and not just limited to mothers of newborns. Have you had that experience? When we go to bed without releasing the stress from the day and we’re still in high alert mode, our brain will basically wake us up throughout the night to make sure that the lion we ran from, the metaphorical lion we ran from during the day is gone.
Now, of course, we’re not literally looking for lions. It’s a metaphor, but perhaps you’re reviewing the conversation that didn’t go so well, the thing that we regret we said, or the thing we regret that we didn’t say, or perhaps you’re beating yourself up for things that you did or didn’t do. Listen, I know I do that. That’s what wakes me up in the night, that kind of anxiety. The lion is also the day-to-day COVID cloud that we’re all living under. It’s a pervasive anxiety.
Here is what the research tells us, and this I am pulling from the book. If you have stress and you don’t deal with it, your body will continually wake you up over and over again checking for threats. It’s like the prison guards performing sleep torture on us all night long.
Heck, guess what? Right now, as I write this, I woke up in the middle of the night from my own insomnia, but being that was 4:00 AM, I said, “Okay, this is what writers do.” I threw in the towel. I decided that the creative output of drafting the show notes for this podcast would help. Now normally I would not advocate waking up early to work just for the sake of doing it. But basically what was happening to me is I was drafting this podcast in my head. So it was far better for me just to give in, get up, put those words down.
Now, if I had been perseverating on a different topic, not writing my podcast. Maybe perseverating on something I said, or didn’t say, or wish I had said, one of those types of things, my strategy actually is also to write it down and to journal it. There is something usually powerful, by the way, of writing down thoughts if you have a thought train that is stuck in your head.
If this happens to you, try it. If it works, let me know. I would love to hear from you, by the way. You can DM me over on Instagram. I’m @SchulmanArt over there. You can also leave a comment on my blog or hey, just send me an email. Love to hear from you.
Yesterday as I said I was writing this in the middle of the night. Well, 4:00 AM is not middle of night for everybody, but some people just consider that farmers’ hours. But yesterday I had a difficult conversation with a family member just before bedtime. So that negative stimulus just before bed. Well, that’s the perfect recipe for a sleepless night because what am I going to do with that emotion? That emotion is still in my body when I lie down at night. My body feels the threat and the emotion stay in your body unless you complete this stress cycle, unless you go through that entire tunnel of the emotion.
Now, according to the authors of Burnout, exercise and creative expression are both powerful catalysts to help us move through and process huge emotions. They say, “Like sports, the arts, including painting, sculpture, music, theater, and storytelling in all its forms, create a context that tolerates, even encourages big emotions.”
Now what isn’t completely clear to me from the text, which is why I’d love to have a conversation with the authors, is whether it’s the consumption of the arts that is going to complete that stress cycle. Because they talk a lot about watching a sad movie or reading a sad book, how that really helps us process our emotions or listening to music versus creating our own art. Certainly creating art is a way to process big emotions. In fact, they included this quote, which I adore by Carrie Fisher, who said, “Take your broken heart, make it into art.” So clearly there is that. And I know for myself personally that yes, I can process emotions through my art. However, if I have a lot of stress in my life, I have to process that first separately before I can produce creatively.
Now, if I don’t get adequate rest because I’m anxious, whether that anxiety is about myself, my business, my family, the world, whatever it is, I can’t just push through the next day. And the authors agree. They share, “The idea that you can use grit or self control to stay focused and productive every minute of the day is not merely incorrect, but it is potentially damaging your brain.” What does that mean for us? If we try to push through because the stress of the pandemic, because regular stresses of life.
So if you’re listening to this and we’re like, God bless the pandemics behind us. It’s still relevant because it’s just life. All the stuff, all the things, all of it, you can’t push through it because that’s what leads to burnout.
Now I don’t even think I’ve defined burnout yet. So they take a moment and define it. Now this definition doesn’t actually come from the book, but from the Googles. I found this definition on a site called thisiscalmer.com. It’s their article, The Five Stages of Burnout. This is their definition. “Burnout is the loss of meaning in one’s work coupled with the mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion as the result of a long-term unresolved stress.” Now in particular for women, this is emotional exhaustion.
All right, now that we’ve identified the problem, what do we do about it? But before we start unpacking a solution, I wanted to create one more additional visual for you about burnout. And this comes from the Disney movie Moana. Now, ironically Moana is mentioned in the book Burnout, but not quite in the way that I’m going to present it here. So the authors use the story to illustrate two concepts, and I think their metaphors are beautiful and brilliant. I’m just using it in a third way.
So the two ways they use it, first of all, they share that the heroine in every Disney movie has a quest for meaning. And also number two, they talk about the inner critic. And like I said, their interpretations are valid and beautiful, but for today’s discussion, I want to share with you a third interpretation.
So for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m going to spoil the ending for you. So just so you know, spoiler alert. I only saw the movie for the first time just in preparation for this discussion. My kids are in their early 20s. So they were too old when this movie came out. So I actually made my 23 year old watch it with me, which was super fun.
As with most Disney movies, there are definitely problems. It’s a little bit racist, sexist, cultural appropriation that I’m not totally on board with. It’s better than some of the Disney movies in the past, but I just wanted to put in that little aside comment, just so you know that I’m going to acknowledge it had these issues.
And there is the saving grace that the movie did not end with romance for the teenage girl who is on a quest to find herself. Put that little social commentary aside.
However, the movie is visually beautiful. And the music is by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The music is beautiful and the art is absolutely beautiful. It starts off it’s modeled after Polynesian culture in Tahiti. So gorgeous.
How the movie starts off is with the grandmother talking about the legend and the myth of Te Fiti, who they believed was an Earth Goddess that gave life to their Island. And the inhabitants worship the goddess Te Fiti who brought life to the ocean, and the source of power was said to be her heart. And in the movie, they represented this heart by a green amulet.
As with most mythical objects, think about the ring from Lord of the Rings or the elder wand from Harry Potter, many sought the power of this heart. And ultimately it is stolen by Maui who is a shape-shifting demigod of the wind and the sea and a master of sailing.
Without her magical heart, the goddess to Te Fiti disintegrates. And as she dissolves and Maui is escaping and he flees from the scene of the crime, Te Kā, the lava monster, rises from the sea to strike down Maui and vanquished him. We see the volcanic demon believing that the demon seeks the stone for their own, but in the fight, the heart, the ambulant is lost to the depths of the ocean.
Now, the consequence of the goddess losing her heart, it hurts not just to Te Fiti, this earth goddess, but it also plagues the village of our heroine, who is the strong-willed daughter of the chief. So not quite a Disney princess but close.
As the plot unfolds, the ocean chooses her to reunite her with this mystical relic. I mean, they literally have the relic just wash up on the shores at her feet. And it is her quest to return the heart to Te Fiti to save her people. So they can save the people from the blight that has been put on the Island because Te Fiti no longer has her heart.
Now I’m going to skip over some plot points, but here’s the ending. And I’m completely going to spoil it for you.
When Moana finally reaches the Island of Te Fiti, and so she reaches it. She’s about to place the ambulance back into the goddess, but she finds the goddess is missing. Where the goddess had laid is an empty shape. You are believing that the goddess had rose from the earth and left. And not just that the heart is missing, but the goddess is not there anywhere. Not part of the Island.
And this is when one has her aha moment. She realizes that Te Kā, the lava monster, is to Te Fiti, but she is corrupted without the heart. And the reason she chased Maui and fought Maui was not from jealous rage, was not because she was trying to steal it, but because that was her heart.
Here’s what’s important for you. The lava monster is the personification of what it looks like to be burnt out. Literally devoid of creative life. If you look at the Disney character of Te Kā, the lava, the shape, the dried lava is cracked and it’s burnt and it’s all lava and molten lava and ash. And now when I think of burnout for myself and for you, this is what I picture. I picture Te Kā.
But here’s the thing in the movie, Moana restores the heart to Te Fiti. She says, “I know who you really are. I know who you’re meant to be.” She gives the heart back to Te Kā and the ashes lifted, and she is green and abundant once more.
As artists, we are both Te Kā and Te Fiti. When we are filled with our artist’s heart, when we are filled with passion, we are Te Fiti. We are abundant and we create. However, our artists hearts are so easily lost and taken from us from the stresses of life because either we push ourselves too hard or life takes it from us. Just as Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti and what happens then? We become as burnt out as the lava monster Te Kā.
Now what I’ve been finding these days, so clearly, so acutely in myself and in the artists I coach and in my friends and in my family members, I see their sadness and the rage. I’ve seen it in so many people who just burst into flames, literally lava flames raging with not enoughness. Just whatever it is that they’re doing is not enough. They feel they are not enough. And I’m going to bring this back to the book Burnout because this literally blew my mind when I read it.
The authors write, “Sadness, rage, and the feeling that you are not enough are forms of loneliness. When you experience these emotions, connect.” This is looping back to what I first shared with you earlier. All these social distancing, all these changes in our lives. If they’ve left you feeling isolated and alone, if you’re feeling lonely, you’re going to feel emotionally exhausted. You’re going to feel burnt out. If you’re feeling not enough, if you’re feeling this way, the antidote to this is to restore your artist’s heart is to connect.
Now I know right now the circumstances are more challenging. So this isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. Can you call someone? Can you schedule a Zoom coffee? Maybe even walk outside with a friend with your mask on. I know each time I connect with humans, even when it’s imperfect, I do feel better. And I hope you do too.
Your art is important and you are enough.
All right, my friend, that’s what I got for you today. I’ve included links to everything we talked about in the show notes. Schulmanart.com/123. Don’t forgot I have the Passion Portrait Workshop for you. Maybe that is the answer to help you restore your artist’s heart. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to paint portraits but don’t know where to start or what to do, this four-part video series will help you get started painting portraits in water color. Just go to Schulmanart.com/videos to get started.
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All right, my passion maker, thanks so much for being with me here today. I’ll see you the same time, same place next week. Stay inspired.
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