The Sacred Boundary

Of all the tools in the artist’s toolbox, this may be one of the most important. The price is steep, requiring selfishness, and sacrifice, but the payout is the contract you make with yourself as a creator to own your creative space. Creative space is not just a place to work, but a time, a reserved energy, and a willingness to cut off connections (temporarily) from anything draining your juice. Yes, this includes Facebook. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

The sacred boundary is what protects you and your work from energetic drain and infringement. It’s the time, space, respect you pay to you and your own efforts. It’s the ticket price of entering the show.

The frustrated artists who come to my workshops say, “I could do more writing/ painting/art if only I had: fill in the blank.”

A workspace; spare time; a job that didn’t drain the life out of me; a room with a locking door; two hours away from my kids a week; a husband who could cook his own dinner; thirty minutes in the morning; a shorter commute to my day job; money.

Often when money is used as an answer to what stops someone from being creative, it’s because they can’t see a solution to the other needs and believe money is the solution. Sometimes it is, but most of the time the answer is within grasp, just unwilling to commit.

Often times, in fact most times, the answer is the difficult task of saying “no” to other people and their needs. Yep. That’s the ticket price. No.

It’s hard. I won’t lie. The day you tell your family “I’m not coming to Thanksgiving anymore because it falls during Nanowrimo, the only month of the year when I’m at peak productivity.” Bitter feelings and fights may occur. It may even break down the paradigm of how some family dynamics work, and you’ll have to be okay with that.

I even offered solutions to have them come to me so I wouldn’t lose three days of travel and productivity, I could stay home, write and cook and still make my deadline and see the family unit. There are solutions if you look for them. I staked the edges of the boundary, and held the ground. Am I saying my work is more important to me than my family is? A passive aggressive person might say yes, they might say I need to sacrifice every holiday, event, spare moment to be with my family – but there are many times throughout the year other concessions may be made for family time. And there are ways within November that my family and I can participate if the effort is made from both sides. I’m a pretty good cook, and happy to host.

The point of Sacred Boundary is you are choosing a side, and in that choosing, you are also saying to those people on the other side whom you’ve used as your excuse not to be productive:

“I’m not using you as my excuse to be creatively frustrated anymore.”

That seems harsh. It won’t make you popular. But isn’t that essentially what you’ve been doing? Putting off your creative work… and secretly blaming them for your failure to complete a novel, painting, poem, etc.?

You don’t have to feel like a failure if someone else stopped you from being your truest most creative self, right? It’s not your fault then, right?

Stop blaming them for your failure to commit to your work. It might be hard up front, they may take it personal, just like they’d take it personal if you told them the reason you’re unhappy is because you use them to block yourself. But sacred boundary requires the effort—and in doing so, you’ll see eventual adjustments occur. New dynamics will emerge, possibly even healthier ones, and they will begin to make efforts on their side to respect the sacred space. **Or, they will remove themselves from you completely (more on this later).

When you as an artist say, “This closet needs all the Christmas stuff moved to the garage or a storage unit, it’s going to be my new workspace.” Or “Don’t interrupt me between 7AM and 8AM unless you’re bleeding and need stitches.” Or “On Tuesday and Thursday nights, honey, you’re going to cook your own dinner or order takeout while I get caught up on my chapters.”

Only then, when you stake the claim on your space and energy will the investment in your efforts begin to materialize.

When you say, “I’m going to dump this toxic job, and pick up a lower paying, less frustrating gig so I can focus on my real work.” You may need to save up, or cut your budget, but the outcome is an investment in your total value as a creative.

The key to sacred boundary once you’ve staked your claim and placed your securities: USE IT.

Don’t sit in your space worrying what your kids are doing for an hour. Don’t stare at a blank screen and chew your lip because your husband ordered delivery pizza for the eighth time in a month. I swear to you, if he’s grown enough to place an order, he’s grown enough to make nutritional choices of his own. Let it be. Focus on your work.

The point is to generate a pocket of time, energy, space, and do the most you can with it. Only then will you know what you’re truly capable of, and how much you’ve left at the feet of others during your times of frustration.

**It’s hard to reconcile those who remove themselves from your sacred boundary or life with bitterness. It does happen, and it’s a risk you should be aware of up front. Staking a claim on your path to being a creative means you will inevitably push some people and events away.

Very few people in the world have more of a vested interest in your success than you do, and there are many who will be angry, cruel, or dismissive of your efforts to commit to yourself and your craft.

Julia Cameron has a great term for them in her work, The Artists Way. She calls them crazymakers.

I call them energy vampires or creative vampires. They are the ones who enjoy being around your energy, your creative expressions, your output, but the moment your work, efforts, energy isn’t directed toward their benefit or needs they can become outwardly manipulative and unkind.

Once you stop feeding them, they may decide to move along. It’ll be up to you to decide how much you need those relationships in your life. After years of struggling to own my creative power, I’ve become merciless in recognizing these characters and cutting them loose before they can cause damage. And if I’m unable to cut them loose, I walk away from them completely, even if it hurts.

There are those who would argue that staking a claim and owning space is just as selfish as the energy vampire who’s feeding on you. Who is more selfish?

I would like to point out that we are all selfish. Not a human among us is without the tendency to survive, or need, or want. The difference in owning space for your work, and someone being entitled to your efforts or energy.

A note on selfishness: “selfish” is a grossly overused term in our society. We are conditioned to be “selfless”, women especially, self-sacrificing, nurturing, tend to the needs of others first. It’s become a slander to personal and societal values to want something for yourself. To need for yourself.

There is no glory in false martyrdom. If sacrificing your creative fulfillment for the happiness of others who are completely capable of being self-realized themselves is part of your plan, so be it. But the odds are pretty good, that a closet workspace, a few order-in meals a month, and an hour of reserved time each day to yourself isn’t going to upset the balance of the Universe.

At the end of the day there are people in your life who have legitimate needs and claims on your energy; partners, children, lovers, family, and so on. It’s up to you to find the balance in those claims, and the courage to take what you need as well in a way that’s healthy for you. It will ultimately be healthy for them as well, even if it’s a struggle in the beginning. Relationship is a continuous improvement project, but it takes all parties to participate.

That commitment is what signals the gears, the imagination, to know it’s safe to grant the ideas and the manifestation of art into form. Once you make the sacred boundary contract…let the creativity begin.

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