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That Place of Permission

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ~Anais Nin

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.


i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay

~Lucille Clifton

Have you felt called to a different kind of life than the one you saw modeled for you or the life you were expected to fulfill? As a culture, we are fascinated by entrepreneurs, innovators, artists, and free-thinkers. We think, “How do they do that?” Where do they find the gumption to take such risks? From the sidelines, many of us envy their apparent fearlessness. Maria Popova, the brilliant author of the Brain Pickings blog, reflects on the trailblazing life of astronomer, naturalist, and educator Maria Mitchell in her book, Figuring, and asks the question:

“Where does it live, that place of permission that lets a person chart a new terrain of possibility, that makes her dare to believe she can be something other than what her culture tells her she is, and then become what she believes she can?” (32).

“Where does it live, that place of permission?” Indeed. When we have within us the makings of a different sort of life, when our talents and our passions call us to something more, we can either push past our apprehensions and access an internal, spiritual permission, or we can retreat to the shadowy realm of observation of those who are doing what we wish we were. We can become what Julia Cameron calls “shadow artists.” The term “artist,” as I apply it here, encompasses anyone who wants to step out of the expected, the usual, the conventional, or the safe. Cameron explains how we often seek out and enjoy the company of artists [innovators, free thinkers] while not making art ourselves. “Shadow artists are gravitating to their rightful tribe but cannot yet claim their birthright. Very often audacity, not talent, makes one person an artist and another a shadow artist -- hiding in the shadows, afraid to step out and expose the dream to the light… Shadow artists often choose shadow careers --- those close to the desired art, even parallel to it, but not the art itself” (27).

If you are curious to explore the notion of stepping outside the shadows to begin to do what truly lights you up, I highly recommend The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. It has become a touchstone text for me and for creatives around the world. The solution to being stuck in fearful paralysis seems to involve three key directives.

  1. Connect with your Higher Power, and ask your Higher Power for guidance and support. Consistent early morning meetings with your Higher Power work wonders, but you could do this at any time of day. It just needs to be consistent. You’ll be amazed at what begins to bubble up for you and at the clarity of the messages you begin to receive..

  2. Seek out guides: people who are doing what makes you come alive and who can be a source of inspiration and support. By this, I don’t necessarily mean people you can meet in person. They don’t even need to be living. Find authors, speakers, podcasters who build you up in your resolve to find that place of permission. Let them be voices of permission in your life.

  3. Support others who want to do what you want to do. Forming a community that helps others step out of the shadows will support you at the same time. Isolation can be the friend of that inner critic. Connection is its enemy. Set yourself up to be supported.

I am learning to listen to the inner, creative voice of my Higher Power and to silence my critic. I am practicing simply doing what is in my soul to do, and whatever the reception to that is, I know my Higher Power will support, restore, and refuel me. Fear of failure, perfectionism, and over-concern with people’s responses kept me back from doing what I was meant to do, from doing what truly makes me come alive.

What steps can you take this week, this month, towards silencing the critics (internal and otherwise) that want to tell you are not trained or skilled enough, that you will look like a fool, that you will fail and hate yourself for it? Who can be your guides? Who can you ask to join you on this path towards uncharted territory? Are you ready to find “that place of permission” that will allow you to be what you might have been?

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ~George Eliot

“What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,

Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” ~Goethe, Faust

“Then the time came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin

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