The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘The Bodacious Book of Succulence

We all want to feel more grateful. The powerful benefits that stem from a gratitude practice are ones that science now validates and that spiritual traditions have always claimed. More than a decade ago, Oprah introduced us to the idea of keeping a gratitude journal and recently social work researcher, Brené Brown has highlighted the importance of gratitude in her interviews with resilient people. But what gets in the way of practicing gratitude? I’d say grudges. Grudges are often not part of polite conversation. But, in order to become more grateful we have to work on our grudges.

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To live a creative life is to encounter frustration, jealousy, envy and to hold grudges. Grudges are a feature in our emotional weather system. They can be deep seated or have happened just yesterday: the biting comment from a trusted mentor that occasionally surfaces, the friend who doesn’t invite you to submit to her ‘zine though she’s invited all your writing buddies , the shopkeeper who says that your greeting card line looks ‘amateurish’. Having grudges is not the problem; it’s how deep they go and how long we hold them. And, that we forget there can be sweet joy in releasing them.

Getting off Grudge Island

In The Bodacious Book of Succulence creativity author Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) talks about a place that many of us reside– the place in our consciousness where we replay, repeat, and sift through old hurts, grudges, resentments, and slights. She imagines this place as Grudge Island. All the inhabitants on the island are stooped over from carrying the weight of their grudges. SARK says that holding grudges “allows us to be right and live in the past” and that they “are companions of struggle and blame.”

In my creativity workshops, I often ask people to describe what their Grudge Island looks like, the nature of their grudges and the length that they’ve hung on to them.  After reflecting on this exercise, a participant once exclaimed, “Goodness, I don’t just visit Grudge Island, I’ve built condos there!”

The first time I did this exercise, I started out with two pieces of paper and a pen. I thought, oh, this should only take a few minutes. As I got in touch with recent and old hurts, I found myself reaching for more paper and markers. As I wrote, I began reliving and experiencing the anger, hurt and loss of the events that shaped my grudges.

By the end of the process I had filled 25 pages (front and back) of my grudges and ego wounds! I was indeed a longtime resident on Grudge Island! I held a thirty year grudge against a six grade teacher who had forgotten to give me information so that I could compete in the city wide spelling bee and a fifteen year old grudge against a young man who told me that getting a PhD was useless and would not serve the African American community. I wondered what new energy could emerge from releasing these grudges.

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The medical community’s interest in the connection between anger, grudge holding and well- being has increased dramatically over the last decade. Dr. Luskin, director of the Forgiveness Project at Stanford University, has lead pioneering research about how grudge holding affects our capacity to live a thriving life. Dr. Luskin notes, “Dwelling on a past conflict and the damage inflicted by another person, doesn’t hurt them, but it hurts you like heck. They own your nervous system, and they ain’t good landlords.” Studies suggest that grudge-holders tend to be sicker than their peers who are able to release grudges and forgive more quickly. If a person is a chronic grudge holder they can expect more visits to the doctor, cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal distress.

I decided to destroy my grudge papers. I ripped them into teeny tiny shreds. This felt incredibly satisfying. Then, I began to knead them (also oddly satisfying). I then promptly took my ‘grudge dough’ and dumped the pile in the garbage. After I dumped the grudges, a very calm and peaceful sensation ran through my body. Feeling cleared of these grievances was a powerful return on my time and attention. The funny thing is that now, many years later; I can’t even recall the specifics of most of those grudges.

The more we share about our very human capacity to hold grudges, the more support we can receive for releasing them and experiencing the joy and vitality available to us in every moment. This energy becomes fuel for new creative projects.

Dealing with grudges first, makes way for gratitude.

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A version of this article originally appeared on September 25 in The Chapel Hill News.

Photo credits include Thinkstock

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Envy is a vocational hazard for most writers. It festers in one’s mind, distracting one from one’s own work, at its most virulent even capable of rousing the sufferer from sleep to brood over another’s triumph. Bonnie Friedman, ‘Envy, The Writer’s Disease’ in Writing Past Dark

What role does envy play in your creative life? While preparing for a creativity workshop, I found a list that I created several years ago, ‘Ways to help with the inner critic/judge’. One entry was ‘Write or collage your ‘Envy Hall of Fame’ and move on’. This made me reflect on my ongoing relationship with envy and jealousy.

For a long time I struggled with the sting of persistent feelings of envy and jealousy toward other writers and creative folk. I felt I was the only one. And, for many years I felt ashamed of my feelings and kept silent about them. As a culture, we rarely seem to acknowledge envy and jealousy in a healthy way.

When I came across the musings on jealousy by creativity author Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (SARK) in her book, The Bodacious Book of Succulence, I felt seen and witnessed:

“I wish we would all have more clear, truthful, jealous outbursts. We all feel jealousy. I feel it often, about both odd and common things…Jealousy only points the way towards where we might like to go. It is a gift(an oddly wrapped gift)…Practice saying loudly and firmly I AM SO JEALOUS.”

She notes that most of us believe that we’re inferior if we feel jealous yet when “jealousy is shared consciously when felt, its power disappears”. She also says we try to protect others from being jealous of us by sometimes denying our own good fortune. And that our silence and a sense of scarcity is what “feeds” jealously. Agreed!

Bonnie Friedman reminds us in her excellent meditation on jealousy (‘Envy, The Writer’s Disease), that jealousy is about projecting the perfect and good onto others which is often illusory. She argues that with any projection we unconsciously give our power away to someone to judge our talent, or accept our work, or even accept our vital self. And, of course once you’ve given away a part of yourself, you resent the other person and then become metaphorically hungry, unable to find fulfillment except fleetingly. According to Friedman, we long to say ‘yes’ to ourselves.

This brings me to the ‘Envy Hall of Fame’. I came up with the idea in the midst of doing a liver cleanse and a 40-day Kundalini practice for anger, grudge holding and jealousy (many alternative health modalities believe that anger is stored in the liver). I came to realize that intense envy and jealousy are often our inner critics’ favorite weapons. So sitting down and writing or making a collage of folks that one is truly envious of can be therapeutic and can help redirect our inner critics. And, once you release that energy, you can move on. It’s not like you’re never going to feel those feelings ever again, you will, but your inner critics can’t beat you up in the same way.

Over the years I’ve found the best antidote for envy and jealousy is good self-care, a return to my own creative work and creative community. The work waits for us in all its possibilities and imperfections, to be settled into and explored.

Do you admit to your envy and jealousy? Do you write about it? Confide in friends? If you were going to create an Envy Hall of Fame, who would be in it?

(Photo credit-image blossoms)


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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