Let Yourself Go

I have no idea how, but I'm making a mess of sound and will one day play the ukulele.

I have no idea how, but I’m making a mess of sound and will one day play the ukulele. Kerri says that I already am…

My meditation on the word “how” continues.

At our recent Summit in Holland, Alan and I asked the question, “What would you do if you didn’t have to know how?” It is a great question. The short answer is this: you’d figure it out. You’d try things. And if your first attempts led nowhere you’d try something else.

In this musing I have often written that “how” is something that is known at the end of the journey. We can’t answer “how” with any honesty until the story is played. Today I recognize that there are two distinctly different “hows:” 1) the explanation, “This is how I did it. This is how you do it. This is the “how” that presumes a path or a prescription. When dealing with this version of “how” I ask groups or clients to consider their life story and tell me how they got to this day in this place doing this job, etc.. The answer is mostly, “A clear path with a lot of happy accidents,” or something like, “I have no idea. I didn’t try.” Yes. Ask me how to paint a painting and I will tell you that I have no idea. I’ve painted a thousand of them and I can teach color theory or composition but I cannot tell you how to open to the muse, how to become a channel for something greater to come through. To paint a painting, to act in the play, to write the book, there is something akin to letting go. There is a divine surrender. So, how did you get to this place in your life? Divine surrender. Happy accident. Unstoppable forces.

If the first form of “how” is an explanation, the second is akin to giving permission. I have worked with a legion of blocked artists who set up studios, buy musical instruments, sign up for improv class,…, and then sit in their studio, stare at their musical instrument, and forget to go to class. When they call me, they tell me their story and always finish the telling with, “I don’t know how….” For my fee, I could say a single, simple word: start. Instead, what we usually do in our work together is find their internal permission. When they realize that their block has nothing to do with “how” and everything to do with the fear of being judged (“how” is an internal braking system meant to prevent starting), when they are ready to, as Saul would say, “Orient to their own concern,” they allow that their opinion of their work trumps all others, they give themselves permission. They start. They play.

Recently, a brilliant woman, an attendee of the Summit, a maker of incredible mandalas, sent me an email with a photo of the start of a painting. She asked for my advice. I wrote: make a mess. Paint on top of the mess. Then repeat. Today in my inbox I received her beautiful mess with a note that their would be more messes to follow. She started. She picked up a brush. She splashed some paint. She splashed some more paint in response to her first splashes. That is how art is made. That is how light bulbs were invented.

This morning I laughed when I realized the double definition of the phrase, “Let yourself go.” In common parlance, it is used as a negative, when people give up, when they stop trying to maintain their health or their appearance, “He really let himself go.” The second possible meaning is to start. To go. The next time someone is sitting in their studio and asks me the question “how,” I will respond like this: let yourself go.

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One Response

  1. AA has many beautiful ways or sayings that succinctly state a big concept. One of them is “Do your footwork and then get out of the way.” For most achievements in life there is some preparation or footwork that must be done. It might be a lower level job, or some coursework, or some mentoring. But at some point, when that footwork is done we need to get out of our own way and take that step into the unknown. The rest will come if we don’t get in our own way by trying to be in control.

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