The One Constant
Updated: Jul 29
When I was a teenager, I had big, somewhat ludicrous dreams.
I wanted to write music for movies, be a musician, be an author of fantasy novels, be a poet, gain purpose in something that allowed me to create and make something from nothing. I also drew a lot of elves and fairies, though art was never something I considered as a career.
As a twenty-something, I continued to have a lot of big dreams. I did go to college for a bachelors in psychology, as I had a hunch I might want to go into teaching elementary, but by the time I was ready to graduate I had gone through several other career goals, from being a Cognitive-Behavioral therapist to being a Speech Pathologist. I minored in English also, as I had continued to write. I wrote several novels and submitted them to agents. They were all rejected of course, but I still got that far! I also considered being a fine art photographer. Occasionally I would get the itch to paint and would spend an evening filling several canvases with acrylic before getting it out of my system.
During early motherhood I finally decided art could be a valid career choice and hopped around from new goals of fine artist and illustrator, without having any real plans on how to get there. Then somewhere along that route I got frustrated and returned to writing. It wasn’t until after I turned thirty that I really began to have problems with the way I’d hopped from one stone to another without finding anywhere to root. It seemed that every other month I was having an existential crisis. I would often think back on my many endeavors and try to find that one constant. What hadn’t changed all those years?
I was certain that if I could find my constant, that I would find my ideal career. Or, as we are sadly taught here in the states, I would find my worth.
At first I thought writing was the constant. But I knew that I couldn’t be an author and a mother. Sure, lots of authors do it and they pull it off just fine and they’re total badasses and I admire that, but I have a tendency to obsess over my writing until it’s all I think about. Even at dinnertime, I’d be playing over the same scene in my head, trying to write it out. I didn’t want to be a vacant mother. So I began to pursue blogging as an alternative. I tried mom blogs and baking blogs and a Poetry-365 blog. I even started this year with a new blog, The Hiking Creative, which was quickly stomped to bits by Covid.
Another constant has been photography. But the weird thing about photography, at least for me, is that it’s never been about the resulting image. I can have a blast freelensing flowers all day, or winding film, or finding that perfect focus, but once the shutter is clicked the thrill is over and I’m off to find the next shot. I have hoards of unedited photos haunting my Lightroom library and several exposed rolls of film in a coffee canister in my fridge. Don’t get me wrong, I love photography, and it’s in my blood, and I won’t deny that I’m decent at getting a great shot of Goo in black and white. But it’s not a career for me. It’s simply my passion. My hobby. Something that I can tinker with to unwind or keep my eye trained.
For years I racked my brain trying to find this constant. What was it that kept me going back to painting? To music? To baking bread and thinking I could open a vegan bakery? To writing a novel and researching agents? To looking up yoga studios to find out what sort of teacher training programs they have? Bookbinding? Illustrating Edgar Allan Poe stories?
And then, just a few weeks ago, I figured it out. It dawned on me in a way that was totally anticlimactic. I was painting intuitively after doing a short yoga practice, listening to quiet music that put me in a quiet mood, and the brief thought passed behind my eyes so delicately as if it had always been there. I didn’t even lift my paintbrush from the hot press.
Turns out my one constant has always been: Creative Flow
Of course! For me, it’s never been about the end result. It’s been about the journey. My life is a menagerie of stone-hopping, from one experience to the next. Even with writing, it was never about writing THE END. It was always about the whole experience of writing in general. Same with photography, with yoga, with bookbinding. What do they all do for me? They bring me to the Flow state.
For those of you who might be wondering what the Flow state is, there’s a beautifully informative article about it here on the Positive Psychology website. But to sum it up for you, it’s that state you slip into when you’re doing something you really love. Time passes, background noises are tuned out, even hunger and discomfort might arrive but you don’t notice, because you’re totally engrossed in what you’re doing. It’s being “in the zone.”
Once it all clicked for me I understood why learning how to paint intuitively has been one of the most important skills I could learn. Not only has it allowed me to enter this Flow state whenever I sit down with a paintbrush, it’s given me the tools to enter this same Flow state in other endeavors. Suddenly I understand why cutting soft hot press paper and folding it for a book is one of the most soothing parts of my day. Or why I can get totally zen just by washing windows. No seriously.
So how has this helped me realize my “worth” or “purpose?” The answer is pretty simple. Now that I know the why, the what has become sort of irrelevant. I no longer need to sit here and decide what “my” colors are, or worry my artistic style is shifting. I no longer need to fear I’m wasting valuable time by trying something new. And while my art may serve an emotional purpose to others, blogging about my experiences, sharing things I’ve learned, and even binding tiny sketchbooks gives me the opportunity to help others achieve their own state of Creative Flow.
But I’ve learned there’s a catch
I’ve noticed that on days I don’t start with a yoga practice, even a small one, I can’t get into the Flow state as easily. In fact, I’m more likely to sit in front of the television and zone out on House Hunters the entire day. I’ve also noticed that the Creative Flow flows better when the house is tidy, when I have a candle lit, when I have quiet music on. And there are bonus points—and bonus zen moments—when I get a bit of meditation in as well.
So how do I do all this with a kiddo running around? I’m not even sure I know anymore. I think I’ve just learned how to work in small bursts throughout the day, when Goo is entertaining herself. Right now she’s playing with her Sonic the Hedgehog toys as I work to finish this up. Then we’ll be off to pick the doggo up from the vet and then home to make lunch and finish up some laundry.
The key seems to be not to plan when it will happen, but to just keep the conditions right so when the opportunity presents itself, it’s a simple transition from mother-mode to work-mode to Flow-mode.
So how Do you achieve creative Flow?
For me it’s all about getting into a calm almost meditative state, but for you it might be totally different. Some people find their Flow by jogging, or playing sports. Others find it while surfing, sailing a boat, or birdwatching. The key is to find something you love to do…and do it.
If you find yourself making a ton of excuses, you probably haven’t found the right thing yet. This passion will be something you can’t ignore, something you will do in between stirring the pot of pasta on the stove. Or watch videos of when you’re folding laundry. Or study on your own at midnight after a long shift. And if you’re a mom like me, you’ll find the time. If you can’t find even the tiniest moment, then that’s your first goal.
Make. The. Time.
If you need more info on how to achieve the Flow state, or want to learn more about it, I highly recommend the Positive Psychology article I mentioned above.
And if you have any questions, feel free to ask!
Until next time, may your zen be super zen and your house stay tidy without any effort.