Note: If you're looking for general information on my psychotherapy practice, click here. If you want to learn about my specialized work with creative people, click here.
The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself. The ones who express the inexpressible — without brush, hammer, clay or guitar. They neither paint nor sculpt — their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They see and don’t have to draw. They are the artists of being alive.
In my psychotherapy practice, I often draw from a body of work variously referred to as mindfulness-based, acceptance-based, or values-based therapy. These approaches emphasize developing nonjudgmental awareness of oneself and one’s environment; a part of having a more accepting awareness of oneself is discovering a clearer sense of what’s important, one’s values.
Ideally, values guide our actions and research suggests that when they do, our sense of satisfaction with ourselves and with life tends to increase. But things aren’t always that easy: as we manage our daily lives, we are faced constantly with decisions to make, from the mundane to the potentially life-changing. These choice points are often emotionally charged — whether or not it makes sense to us that they should be — and we can find ourselves caught up in knee-jerk, emotional reactions, resulting in outcomes that are decidedly not consistent with our values.
Further, sometimes our values are not that obvious. Ever had someone say, “Just be yourself” and then think “What does THAT mean?” Or, maybe you’ve had the experience of feeling that there was some “right” response to a situation you’re faced with, but you just can’t seem to think of it. We can see how being able to tap into our values would be helpful, but we’re not clear enough on what they are for them to be of use.
It’s been my experience that creative people have a ready-made, direct line to their values, but often aren’t aware of it. When you’re deciding whether something you’re creating is “right” — the right phrasing, the right look, the right sensibility — you’re tapping into the place your values live. Creatives know how to pause and feel what’s “right” — skills at the heart of mindful practices — but often feel those abilities are limited to their specialized creative niche. In fact, they are not. In my work with people, we practice following that creative conduit and learn how to open it up in other domains, like money, family, and work, to guide values-based decisions in those areas. As we bring this critical component of art to life, life starts to make more sense — and to feel more creative.
One of the things I find perhaps most exciting about this insight is how many people already have that kind of access to their values; it’s just a matter of learning to recognize it. Whether you’re making a full-time living off of your creative powers or you’re a very part-time hobbyist whose fan base is indistinguishable from family and friends, it’s likely we can mine your creative practices and identify the deep vein of your values to help enrich your life. To my way of thinking, this is part of what it means to be an “artist of being alive.”