Art and the Practice of Compassion

Compassion is a much misunderstood word. 

From Merriam-Webster

compassion


sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it 

The most important part of this definition is the word others'. This is often how we see the world, especially artists. We see the world as others outside of ourselves and our own creative bubble. And it's often easy to both feel, and have compassion, for these others, but not ourselves.

One of the main tenets of Buddhism is, “May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.” 

The important part here is, all sentient beings, which includes ourselves. As artists, why is it so difficult to practice self-compassion? How many famous artists were compassionate towards others, yet self destructive, whether through drugs, alcohol, or other destructive behavior?

Compassion needs to start with each one of us by being compassionate towards ourselves. A good example would be in changing how we talk, or think, about ourselves, and our work. We often tend to use negative self-talk, like:

I suck.
My work sucks.
No one will like or understand this.
Why should I even try?
This is pointless.
Who am I fooling? I'm no artist.
and on and on.

Compassion needs to start with ourselves and treating ourselves better. One way is to reframe how we look at ourselves. Instead of saying, I suck, or, My work sucks, try to reframe it without casting blame. I'm having difficulty with this, or, I don't know where this is leading, are better types of statements that don't blame ourselves, or our work.

Another way to express self compassion is by taking more breaks and giving ourselves time to recharge, instead of grinding away until everything we do becomes a dismal chore. It's also important to treat ourselves as being important and worthy. If you've been using the same old, worn out brush/pen/mallet/tool of your trade, then purchasing a new one that will make your work flow easier is an act of self-compassion.

Unfortunately, many of us carry around the legacy of an uptight puritanical background that labels self care as being selfish. 'Do for  others before you do for yourself' can leads us into the abyss. A much better way is 'do for yourself so that you can do better for others.' 

Remember that compassion starts within.

~ MB

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