My husband adores TikTok. Whenever he finds a short video he thinks I’d like, he texts it to me. During a recent rough patch, he got in the habit of texting me a funny video first thing in the morning. Since he gets up before me, he could do it before I was awake. I’d grab my phone while still in bed and laugh at whatever he sent me. It helped ease me into my day.
Once in a while, though, he also sends me a TikTok from which I can learn something. The other day, he attached a clip of someone asking the Dalai Lama how to get rid of negative thoughts. The wise man said that negative thoughts result from two things. One, a self-centered attitude where we’re too focused on our own wants, needs, goals, opinions, etc. Two, we accept that reality is as it appears to us in the moment, and that is rarely true. He advised turning toward altruism and not automatically “accepting” the negative thought.
Those of us working in creative fields know a lot about negative thinking. We can be our own worst critics, for example. And we often feel slighted, taken advantage of, overlooked, misunderstood, underpaid, undervalued, underappreciated, and so on. We spend a lot of time wishing the systems and industries we work within were different. When it comes to our fellow artists, we sometimes dip into jealousy, envy, resentment, and judgment. We might then hate ourselves for that.
The funny thing is, we’re often wrong. Things are not always as they seem. We think because someone said our price was too high, we are being undervalued. When really it probably just means our price is too high for that particular person at that time and maybe for very personal reasons. We think a friend cheated us when they “steal” one of our marketing ideas, when really they admired it so much they wanted to try it for themselves. We think it’s our own stupid, dumbass fault when we drop the piece of art we’re working on, when really it’s just that our body is fatigued and needs some rest.
Some define altruism as, “the belief or practice of disinterested or self-less concern for the well-being of others.” Others define it as, “an action to promote someone else’s welfare, even at risk or cost to ourselves.” When I was younger, I mistook those definitions to mean I could not benefit in any way from the act. I’ve come to understand that “doing for oneself” can at certain times be selfish, but “acting from oneself” is usually not.
We don’t have to sacrifice all of our time, wealth, talent, and effort in service to others. That’s not sustainable in any way. But when we keep the higher purpose in mind, it makes our own efforts more pleasurable, and we’re less likely to feel negative. We can act from a place that not only fills us up, but benefits others.
One sure-fire way out of negative thoughts for creatives, for example, is to sink into the world we’re creating in our art and serve the art itself, or to focus on the joy the art will bring to the people who see it or buy it, or to make something special for a friend for their birthday. It’s not about working for free, it’s about making enough money to be able to afford to give something away if you want to. It’s not about changing our styles or methods because a customer demands it, it’s about honoring our creativity enough to discern whether what they’re asking feels like a fun challenge or an unreasonable adjustment. It’s not about accepting someone else’s bad behavior because we want to be “nice,” it’s about recognizing their behavior is not moving us or them toward a higher place and standing in our truth for their sake and ours.
And it’s about letting go. When the Dalai Lama said negative thoughts often come from focusing on “I, I, I,” I don’t think he means we should never think about ourselves. I think he’s suggesting we focus less on the parts of ourselves that are always grasping for some perceived want, or need, or judgement about what is right or wrong. Instead, to take a deep breath and move back toward that “I” that is our center. The place that knows that the things that are done to us are not of us. The place where deep creativity in all its original, honest, risk-taking forms can truly thrive.
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