Finding My Inner Compass

"tangled. untangled", a page from my art journal

"tangled. untangled", a page from my art journal

I was inspired this morning to respond to a comment in a Facebook group I belong to called Art Journal Junkie ( I rarely respond to threads on these pages, but today, I felt called to share my thoughts, which then spurred me to do some thinking and elaborate upon them here.

The post said the following: “Do your pages ever turn out how you imagine them? Mine never do, and I am always disappointed…”.

She was referring to her art journal pages. When I read those words, I felt a deep and familiar pain in my heart. I felt compassion not only for this woman, but for myself in all of the times I was disappointed, and subsequently criticized myself because a desired outcome was not achieved. One of the main reasons art journaling heals me so much is because it is a remedy for this very kind of thinking. One of my favorite teachers and mentors, Deb Jones, would tell us in her visual journaling classes : “Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Stay open to results”. I believe that this is based on Angeles Arrien’s Four Fold Path, but no matter who originally said it, the message has always stuck with me. I hang reminders of it all around my art studio, and have passed it along to my students in my own art journaling workshops.

The beauty of this simple directive is that it frees us from the bonds of our preconceived notions, and from the pressure that we need to have anything figured out or planned out. It urges us to be in the moment so we can receive and listen. Making art, for me, is about opening and allowing, and these four tenets have always helped me to do just that. When I sit down at my art table, my intention is always to show up, pay attention (to how I feel and what wants to flow out of me “good” or “bad”), tell the truth (allowing what I truly feel to be expressed without censoring how or why), and stay open to results (allowing what is meant to flow through and from me to emerge and therefore remain open to possibility I may not have been able to consciously imagine).

As I write this, it occurs to me that not only is it applicable to my creative practice, but even more so to my life’s journey and some current struggles I am having. I just turned fifty, I am dealing with the hardships of menopause, and have been sensing a shift in my career path and my calling over the past year. It has been very unsettling because I am a goal oriented person, and there is nothing tangible to see or grab onto yet, and even if there were, my energy levels and physical and emotional symptoms keep me from moving at my usual pace. The lack of answers and clarity, mixed with my menopausal challenges have been generating considerable anxiety. The practice of letting go of control and trusting that it will all make sense when it is meant to has been challenging me heartily.

So, as this post comes to life, I realize that I need to give this prescription to myself:

1.     Show up. My physical challenges (due to menopause, I think) have made it hard to get moving each day, and the pain I feel makes exercise seem daunting. So I am just learning to arrive each morning into my day, and allow myself the time I need to start moving. If I move slowly, then I am learning that that is ok. It’s not easy AT all, but through this practice, I am finding out what self-love and self-care mean. I have always pushed so hard through every barrier, and this one won’t let me, so I am forced to learn how to be patient and gentle with myself. I am learning that pushing and doing aren’t always (or maybe aren’t ever) the answer.

2.     Pay attention. In the space that I am creating, I am able to notice more nuances. More “signs”. My brain has space for ideas and musings. I am also learning to attune to my body more accurately, and this is helping me understand what I need, and therefore to heal.

3.     Tell the truth. This one is hard, because the truth is not pretty right now! The truth goes against all that I have worked so hard to present in the world: I’m “together”, I’m organized, I’m ok, I’m a good girl, I’m so nice, I’m so agreeable….you get the idea. Well, I’m not any of those things right now (at least not in the way I am used to being). I’m irritable, I have no patience (and therefore am extremely blunt and sharp), I’m unorganized, I’m “unproductive”, my opinions seem to fly out unchecked, and as all of this happens, I learn that not everyone is going to like me or understand me (GASP!). The most important thing about all of this is that I am learning to be ok with that. I am seeing that this is all a part of learning to be true to myself and also that I have historically had a very skewed sense of what all of this means. I had somehow come to believe (through always trying to be a “good girl”) that any deviation from what I thought others wanted or needed me to be was being a “bad” person. My idea of being true to myself was very centered around managing the reactions of others (as if that is ever even possible!) by being unreasonably nice and agreeable, to the point of abandoning and hurting myself.

4.     Stay open to results: What I am seeing is that as a result of all of this allowing, I am learning that telling the truth does not mean I am a bad person. It feels so extreme to me, but I have been told (thank you: boyfriend, friends and siblings) that this is actually healthy and normal, and being direct does not equal being an asshole. Who knew? Kidding aside, I am FINALLY learning to be honest and true to my internal compass, and the people who are important to me and who truly know my heart can see where this is going. In fact, those people are actually celebrating this shift in me, which is a good reminder that I am on the right track! The people who have been in a toxic dance with me are resisting these changes, and there has been a very necessary letting go of some of those relationships, which only helps to remind me of what is real and right.

As I bumble through this time of change and awakening, I am finding in the core of my life and heart, all that is important and necessary. I am learning that I actually HAVE an internal compass. I was always so confused, because before now it was mostly swung to the pull of everyone else’s true north, so much that it actually felt like my own. I have been slowly, in this space of healing, been unknowingly recalibrating the compass of my soul, and am finally heading steadily towards my own truth. I am learning that I don’t need to explain or justify my choices to anyone to get approval, which is a huge one for me. I am so grateful to be surrounded by amazing people who are learning and growing alongside me and reminding me of my strength and the validity of my path even when I cannot feel it.  Just as I have found in my art practice, paying attention and allowing in this way is freeing me from the bonds of my preconceived notions, and from the pressure that I need to have everything figured out or planned out. I am being called to be present in each moment, hour and day so that I can receive and listen, and lean into the unfolding journey of what I have been called here to do.