I am slow to process feelings. I wasn’t always that way. I could go into the long story of how that changed, but it’s for another time. Today and for the next day or few, I am writing about feelings that have been bubbling around for the last week or so.
Some of you who check in here every day and read are familiar with the “Open Group for Bedlam Farm.“. Some of you are not. The Open Group is something created by Jon Katz, five time best selling author, a little more than a year ago. It’s simple really, just another facebook group among a few million other facebook groups.
The Open Group was designed to be a place where artistic people of all stripes could bring “their good stuff” and share it in a spirit of appreciation and encouragement. This was not some formal salon of highly recognized creative masterminds. Most of them were his readers, people who shared sensibilities and connected with Jon through his writing. Some were friends and neighbors. But all were encouraged to create, to dig deep, to share real things, be it writing, art, photography, fabric creations, whatever spilled from their soul.
The key word here is “encourage”. Look the word up and you’ll find that it means “give support, confidence, or hope to (someone).” or ” to help or stimulate (an activity, state, or view)”. Jon was hoping to do both. He encouraged Open Group members to create in a spirit of positivity.
And he was absolute in his belief in creating that positive space. People with negative attitudes were relentlessly removed. In fact, when it came to purges of negative attitudes, he has often referred to himself as a chairman Mao – an odd self designation for an affable and otherwise encouraging soul. But anyone who breaks bad and negative in the open group is gone with breathtaking speed and often, with a bit of gleeful humor.
He’s on to something. And it’s important.
Years ago I was in a bad place in my own writing. In fact, I wasn’t. And for a person who’s written his entire adult life, that was not a good thing at all. Looking back, I realize now that it was a sign of a spiritual and emotional death, or at least near death. And part of me must have recognized it when I picked up a book by Julia Cameron called “The Artist’s Way”. Cameron is a writer and screenwriter and half a dozen other creative things, and this book was designed to help someone find their way back to the creative life we are all born with, and somewhere lost.
Yes, we all start out with a creative spirit. I absolutely believe this. Look at small kids play, any small kid, and you see a mind that creates entire worlds from a few stones and sticks, who builds castles out of bunk beds, who tells fantastical stories off the top of their heads, who paint with abandon. And then, somewhere, it dies, or it gets beaten out of them. Ursala K LeGuin, the absolutely wonderful fantasy and sci-fi writer once said “The creative adult is the child who has survived.”
Cameron addresses this in her book. There are 12 things she addresses, and the first is that we have to recapture our sense of safety. It’s the first because it’s the most important. We have to feel safe to try, to have fun, to be and expose ourselves, to stumble and leap and be whatever and whoever we are. I think it is more than something we need to be creative. I think that sense of safety is the key to being able to live a complete and whole life.
I believe this because I’ve read it from people like Jon Katz and Julia Cameron. But I also believe it because I have lived it. I have lived in relationships where I have felt emotionally safe to be me, and in relationships where I have not felt emotionally safe to be me. And when I look back, I can see a pattern. When I lived in a place of safety, I thrived. I did well in my work and I did well in my creative work. My spiritual life was strong. I had energy and joy. And when I lived in a place of relatively unsafeness, where I had to battle to be myself or was continually put down or ignored or challenged, I did no thrive. In fact, I often floundered. I struggled.
If is not that the people who make us feel unsafe dislike us or want that for us. I don’t believe they do. Many of them love us. I never felt emotionally safe with my father. But I know he loved me very much. But often they don’t know how to encourage. It’s not in their emotional repertoire and they don’t know how, or are willing to change.
Watching Jon’s insistence that members of the open group be positive has reinforced something I have believed most of my life. The power of encouragement. I have watched, in just this past year, about 30-40 of the members blossom into extraordinary creatives. I have seem people explore and share emotional depths and heart felt pains and joys. Blogs worth reading have emerged. At least one book has emerged (and more are in the works.). They have shared their skills and taught each other things. Photography and art has popped up everywhere like dandelions in the spring. The world is richer for their work.
And all because Jon created a safe place. There was no need to cut down or critique harshly. it was more important to have a safe place to experiment, play and grow. And from that, in one short year, so much good work has emerged. So many people have been touched. It was safe to be vulnerable. And that allowed for growth. Oh, the growth!
This past weekend, Jon held an open house at his farm. Many of his readers came, and many of us who have created in this safe haven of the Open Group also came. We’ve come to know each other, often only through posts and writings and comments, for a year. But we’re friends. In some cases, deep friends. We laughed, hugged, talked, shared. It was more like a reunion than a gathering. And the joy in each other and our growth was palpable. Look at the pictures we all took and the smiles are everywhere.
Jon admitted last Saturday, that when he started this, he didn’t know where it would go. And that it’s exceeded his expectations. He, all of us, have a new family.
Because it is safe.
I don’t know what to do with this experience. Not yet. But it confirms in a powerful way what I have seen happen in some workplaces I have been in, in my family, in my church. Safety is power. It is transformative.
Pass it on.