In my last essay I talked about one of the most fundamental skills for artists and for artful living, Coming Alive to the World, the skill of waking up through our five senses to the sensual, physical world around us. In that essay, I gave you a number of fun, simple practices you can do to wake up more to the sensual world. These practices will reward you greatly, while also building this fundamental skill. If you missed that post, you can read it here: Coming Alive to the World

In this essay we visit a related, essential, core skill for artists and for anyone wanting to live a full, rich life: waking up to your inner world.

If you want to make great art—whether on page, canvas or stage, or on the stage of your life, making your life your masterpiece—you need not only to open to feel the world around you deeply with all five senses, you also need to cultivate your ability to feel your inner world acutely. You need to become fluent in what is happening within, to attune your senses to your own body’s processes—the sensations in your skin, in your muscles and bones, in your head and feet—and, harder still, you need to cultivate fluency in your emotions, feeling what you are feeling moment to moment and noticing how you feel that emotion in your body, because our bodies are where emotion shows up and is experienced.

Tuning to our inner world means noticing sensation and emotion not only when it is strong but when it is subtle, noticing the layers of sensation and emotion—not just the perpetually achy shoulder but also the languid little toe and the dead spot of no feeling in the sacrum (or wherever you have trouble feeling)—not only the highs of elation or the flush of anger, but also the flickers of annoyance or boredom, the soft breath of contentment, the edgyness of excitement or nervousness, the tremor of sadness barely felt. To do this means moving through the fear we all seem to carry that our emotions will overpower us; instead we move out of habitually checking out, distracting ourselves, avoiding our feelings, keeping our focus outward rather than inward.

Why do this, when feeling our emotions feels so fraught with danger, so uncontrollable, and is so difficult to do for many of us? This deep well of emotion, when felt in the body with presence, is our treasure trove for making art that touches others and makes a difference in the world. Without the depth of emotion, art becomes cold, heady, abstracted and/or boring; it doesn’t move, touch, inspire, surprise, astonish or shock our audience. And the same is true for us in our relationships. Without being present to our emotions, there is no one home to connect with in a meaningful way. Feeling our emotions, developing emotional fluency, is also our own road to healing and well-being. There is no other road.

Feeling our sensations brings us into our aliveness, into our bodies with their extraordinary wisdom and presence, and makes us a more available conduit for inspiration to flow through. We become a more dynamic being and we open the channels through which our art and our lives can then manifest in remarkable ways.

Waking up to our inner selves means feeling not just the seemingly static sensations and emotions (which are never really static) but sensing the movements of the body, our proprioceptive sense, and noticing the ever-shifting tides of emotion within. It also means being able to observe our thoughts, without believing them, cultivating the witness, who stands apart from the thoughts, not caught in their incessant eddies, but able to hear them, notice, observe the movements of mind at a remove.

And finally, waking up to our inner world means coming alive to the invisible, but nonetheless felt, realms of the Spirit, the movements of the soul, the essential Self within, the livingness inside of things, the unseen orders. Not to take on anyone else’s belief or dogma but just to actually sense and open to what we feel or experience in our spirit and in the spirit in things, the sense of something ineffable, beyond the visible, perhaps the life force itself.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me from among the hierarchies of angels? the poet Rilke wrote, grappling with his own feelings about the spiritual realms. He also believed an angel dictated many of his poems to him. By opening himself to questing and questioning, wrestling with his angels and demons, by opening to the spiritual realms, he received creative inspiration, guidance and wisdom that his readers find extraordinary to this day. He was able to speak to those deep places within us, so hard to give voice to.

This radical aliveness on all levels is a great gift to our world as well as to the Self, and it is a necessary core skill of the artist who wishes to make exceptional art.

You can try the following practice at home to help you begin to cultivate these abilities more deeply. This is a meditation I use frequently in my classes:

Give yourself a few minutes. Get comfortable, close your eyes, and take a few deeper breaths. Invite yourself to welcome and notice how you are feeling in your body right now, just simply noticing sensation wherever and however it is present. Perhaps you notice the sensations of breathing, of sitting in the chair, of the clothes on your skin, or any tightness or relaxation of the body. Then, invite yourself to notice how you are feeling in your emotions right now, and how you feel those emotions in the body, allowing the layers of emotion, whether subtle or strong, to be felt, acknowledged. If you feel numb, that too is an emotion. Move on from there to notice your thoughts or simply the quality of your mental body at this time—very active, cloudy, distracted, anxious, peaceful. Witness the thoughts as if they were clouds floating through a sky, not attaching to any thoughts, but simply noticing them floating by. And finally, invite yourself to feel how you are feeling in your spiritual body right now, simply opening that question and sensing, allowing whatever comes in response, tuning in to the possibility and sense of Spirit in you and around you.

You can do this at any time to become more present, more available to life and to yourself. And as you do this over time, you will develop a greater fluency in waking up to your inner world. Try it and let me know how it is for you.

To your artful life, maxima

P.S. Join me for Writing Your Way Home: Connecting to the Self and the Sacred and experience profound tools for hearing your wise, inspired and playful inner voices, as well as being in deep conversation with the living world.