Monday, April 16, 2018

Gays in Search of Meaning

Gays in Search of Meaning


Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

Many gay people are acknowledging a need for a more meaningful way of living to avoid a motionless and purposeless existence. Lack of depth and meaning has caused many gay people to experience feelings of boredom and emptiness. Such feelings have forced many to look for something outside of themselves in order to feel content. Some indulge in drug use, excessive drinking, or brief romantic affairs, while others might engage in excessive shopping, traveling, or overeating in order to cope with their negative emotional states. Even though such activities might feel pleasurable and provide a momentary sense of euphoria, they do not lead to a real experience of vitality and aliveness. There is a different kind of intoxication that involves the experience of the soul. Such experience is beyond the ego’s need for cheap thrills. By embracing what is inherently sacred about our gayness, we can start to live a soulful life.

While we, as a community, fight against discrimination and progress toward equality, we need to take time to embrace the numinous qualities inherent in being gay. We need to honor the spirit that exists within our gay souls. For the most part, our current culture places a great deal of emphasis on maximizing one’s pleasure through consumerism and minimizing one’s need for a deeper purpose in life.  Couple that with internalized homophobia, which prevents gay people from gaining a deeper understanding of gayness. Internalized homophobia is the internalization of shame that many gay people have been forced to experience growing up in a heterosexist society. By working through this internalized homophobia, a path toward an understanding of the deeper meaning of gayness can become more accessible.

The essence of being gay is love. We come out in order to love freely. Many gay people experience love in the form of romantic relationships. A conscious participation in a romantic relationship—which includes working through what we project onto each other—can serve as preparation for a different experience of love. Beneath our gay love affairs, there is an empty space waiting to be ignited with mystical love, waiting to be known for the sake of a deeper love affair—the kind of love affair that takes place at the level of the soul. This is expressed in one of Rumi’s poems:

 “The minute I heard my first love story,

I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,

they’re in each other all along.”

A love that begins in a romantic relationship needs wings to fly beyond the field of personal connections and into the realm of the transpersonal. We help such love to grow wings by attending to our inner garden and weeding out toxic shame. The more we embrace our gayness with a sense of pride, the more room we can make to love and approve of ourselves.

On our journey inward toward our true essence, we need to deal with the mind. Our mind can be like a wild horse that, through meditation, needs to be tamed and taught to bow down to our heart. The heart is where the flowers of Divine love bloom and the fragrance of such love fills our inner emptiness. We can connect with the sacred place in our heart by gently closing our eyes and concentrating on anything in the universe that helps to generate feelings of love in our heart. Neuroscience tells us whatever we focus on becomes our reality. In other words, “You energize anything that you give your attention to.” So why not energize the feelings of love in your heart? This is how we can embrace our true essence and add more love to the world.

Humanity is facing difficult choices pertaining to our future survival on the planet. Given the threats of climate change, war, poverty, racism, homophobia, and mass shootings, we as gay people more than ever need to participate in the healing of the world. We can make a difference. Triumphs like the way we took care of our dying people during the AIDS crisis when the Reagan administration turned its back on us and how far we have come in our struggle for equal rights are truly a reflection of how courageous we are as a community. Our courage can continue, and we can advocate for issues that can make this world a better place. By honoring our gayness and letting it become a strong foundation to stand on, we can “love the world back to health.” Our involvement in helping the world can also add meaning and purpose to our own individual lives.

By focusing on the love in our heart and cultivating an awareness of the world soul (Anima Mundi), we can trigger an awakening of healing energy that could transform our current civilization. LGBT people are only a small percentage of the population, but our contributions to helping solve our current global problems can be enormous. When we connect our gay soul with the soul of the world, not only do we start tapping into a deeper purpose for our existence, but we also begin to experience the oneness of life.

© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Vortex of Love


When I notice my small house plant by the window, I see a love affair between the plant and the sun. This connection gives rise to the plant’s movement toward the light, and the sun validates this movement by pouring light on the plant. It is as if the plant is saying to the sun “I love you, and I need you,” and the sun keeps giving. In the words of the Sufi poet Hafiz, the sun never tells the plant “you owe me”. Such a love affair “lights the whole sky”.

Just as my house plant spontaneously moves toward the sunlight, there is in each of us a natural impulse for moving toward wholeness both individually and collectively. This striving toward wholeness can lead to embracing oneness of our humanity.
As my Somatic Experiencing® studies progress, I become more convinced that this movement toward wholeness and embracing oneness needs to involve working with our collective nervous system. We all have an autonomic nervous system that given proper care can shift toward a social engagement system. This engagement can be infused with kindness when we focus on our loving resources in life and the bodily sensations that accompany it. Through somatic awareness, we can notice the sensation of love in our hearts and let it intoxicate our nervous system. From this grounded emotional base, we can lovingly impact our social engagement system.
When we become a kind and supportive resource for each other, on a collective level, we are letting the sensation of love, like a thread, weave our nervous system together. This is how humanity can embrace oneness not just as a beautiful concept but as a lived experience. By tracking the sensation of love, we are imprinting our nervous system with the power of love. We are teaching our nervous system to shift away from greed and competition and stay with the desire to cooperate and connect. The world in its current state needs more love. With one nervous system at a time, we can learn to release the effect of our unresolved trauma which often blocks our movement toward wholeness and redeem our aliveness. Increased somatic awareness of aliveness can help people not to stay frozen in oppressive political circumstances and march toward liberation.
For many, the journey toward wholeness can be in a circular motion. When I recall supportive resources in my life, I often notice a warm pleasant sensation circling around my heart, and one of my hands spontaneously moving in a circular motion above my chest and getting closer to my heart. When I slow down the movement, it is like entering a warm life-affirming vortex of love which is opposite to the vortex of trauma. The image that arises spontaneously is a whirling dervish dancing in ecstasy and merging with the Beloved.  As I notice the sensation, I can go deeper and deeper into the vortex of love and move toward homeostasis of oneness with humanity. This is what the wisdom of the body can do for us. As Carl Jung stated, “often the hands know how to solve a riddle with which the intellect has wrestled in vain.”

I am grateful to the Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute for providing training and tools that has deepened my personal journey toward wholeness.

 © Payam Ghassemlou, Ph.D., is a SE student and a psychotherapist (licensed marriage and family therapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Healing Our Fragmented Rainbow


As a gay man who understands the importance of a supportive community, it saddens me to realize how disconnected gay men are becoming from each other. The essence of gayness is love. We come out to love freely, and yet many of us who broke free from living a closeted life and moved to gay neighborhoods such as WEHO, Castro, or Chelsea are not finding a nurturing connection under the rainbow flag. It is even worse for many gay men of color who often feel marginalized within the community. The experience of being a minority within a minority places them at higher risk for discrimination. When as a community we don’t strive toward building a safer and more welcoming environment, it fragments the rainbow of our unity.

Many gay men that I have the privilege of listening to reported feeling humiliated by how they were rejected by other gay men. For example, a number of gay men who are relying on apps such as Grindr, Scruff, or Tinder reported the rejection takes on a more brutal level on those apps. The shame they experience is often a result of being negatively judged about their looks, age or ethnicity. Such shaming experiences make these men build walls and avoid connection. It is not uncommon for these men to experience depression, suicidal ideations. and health related problems that not only stem from feeling estranged from the gay community, but also growing up with homophobic mistreatment.

For many of us, growing up gay was painful due to homophobia. Schools felt like a scary place for those of us who were scapegoated as queer. As a community, we have been very successful in addressing the trauma of growing up gay. Raising awareness about the issue has helped many people become concerned about the mistreatment of not only LGBTQ kids but also any youngsters who do not flow with the mainstream. In addition to raising awareness, we have done a great deal of activism to fight discrimination against LGBTQ people. However, I believe we can do a better job with embracing diversity and creating solidarity among our community members.

As human beings we are not meant to live an isolated life. The need for connection through community involvement is healthy and necessary. When such a need does not get fulfilled, it can lead to emotional pain. This pain coupled with a lack of connection to a supportive community becomes a recipe for addictions. Working in the gay community, I have learned the rate of addiction is higher among gay men who experience a sense of isolation or exclusion. I also have noticed gay men’s disconnection from one another leads to feelings of emptiness and apathy. Such painful emotional experiences might also cause them to engage in thrill seeking activities like risky sex or dangerous sports.

Gay men who tend to blame their loneliness on how they look can spend a great deal of money on cosmetic surgery and other unnecessary procedures. When it comes to finding a friend or boyfriend, showing love and kindness provides a better result. As a community, learning to know ourselves and working through the emotional injuries that were inflicted on many of us while growing up can add vitality to our struggle for equal rights and protect us from reenacting our lonely childhood experiences. For some of us being bullied and rejected were the norm. Since what is familiar tends to get repeated, many of us are at a higher risk for unconsciously reenacting our painful past. Just like the rainbow that needs sunshine and rain to be complete, we need to access our inner light to make our wounds conscious and wash them away with healing tears that come from sharing and having regard for our traumas. External changes such as marriage equality or the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy alone cannot heal us from the homophobic mistreatment and rejection we received growing up.

When I started practicing psychotherapy in the gay community over twenty years ago, we did not have hook up or dating apps. Since then, I have noticed a dramatic shift in not only how gay men relate to each other but also people in general. We are given tools of technology without the consciousness of knowing how to use them in service of embracing oneness. This is a missed opportunity, and one of the reasons why so many gay men feel disconnected from each other. The disconnection also comes from turning these apps to a hunting ground. As human beings our ancestors were hunters. Having sexual desire without the participation of our higher self to facilitate such fulfilment can create such a hunting environment. This intense quest for hooking up not only happens on apps but also at bars and clubs. Gay men need to stop hunting each other and start loving each other. This issue of objectifying one another on hook up sites is not just limited to gay men. Humanity in general is creating a mess out of the tools of technology.

Some gay men who attempt to meet others on apps or in person wear a persona that can become a barrier toward building a real and healthy connection. Often such a persona involves rejection of the anima (Jung's term for the feminine part of a man's personality) and oppressing it with a fake “straight acting” masculinity. Many gay men who as children were made to feel ashamed for being in touch with their feminine side are more vulnerable in relying on such persona. They put pressure on themselves to act extra masculine at the expense of being affectionate and emotionally present. Without healthy integration of our masculinity and femininity finding true love can be challenging. The feminine side of love desires a nurturing relationship, and the masculine part helps to find and protect it. This lack of partnership between the feminine and masculine side is not just limited to some gay men. Many heterosexual men who were raised to deny their feminine side also having difficulty with maintaining intimate connections.

Rejection by other gay people can hurt more than the rejection by homophobic politicians and institutions. Not having a welcoming community can make the coming out process very painful for those of us who need validation and support during it. Given the negative health consequences of experiencing alienation, there is a high price to pay for not embracing a more inclusive and welcoming gay community. Our community leaders should bring more attention to the need for building a more nurturing environment. As gay people, we are naturally creative and industrious. We are often a small percentage of any population and yet our societal contribution is enormous. I take a great deal of pride knowing not only gays, but also our courageous lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and other queer members of our community have always stood up for causes that make this world a better place. In such a short time, we achieved a great deal of civil rights, faster than any other oppressed groups in this country. Triumphs like taking care of our dying people during the AIDS crisis when the Reagan administration turned its back on us and how far we have come in our struggle for equal rights are truly a reflection of how courageous we are. Given the fact that we know how to make changes quickly and effectively, it is time we put more effort into our own backyard and take a better care of each other. Somewhere over the rainbow as Rumi puts it, “beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field” where we can connect through love. Somewhere over the rainbow, as a community, we can make authentic connections. We can be more empathic toward each other’s pain of loneliness, and we can embrace our true gay essence.

© Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a writer and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How Can I Achieve My Goals?

How Can I Achieve My Goals?

Many successful people often follow a sensible plan to achieve their goals. Such a plan can be summarized in three steps. Once you implement and commit to the plan, you are more likely to manifest your desired goal.

1)      Write It

Any successful plan starts with goal setting, that once written down and clarified, is more likely to give you the result you want. Some goals relate to the betterment of a career, finances, education, and others have to do with family, lifestyle, and changing habits or attitude. No matter what you are hoping to achieve, write it down first.

Writing down your goal increases the accountability and helps you stay committed. Without commitment, you are less likely to achieve your goal. The act of writing down your goal makes it real and visible. You can increase your accountability by having your written goal somewhere where you can see it every day.

Your goal needs to be written in positive and inspiring language. Expressing your goal in an affirmative manner can help generate good energy to support its attainment. If you are working with someone on clarifying your goals, make sure a goal setting session is done within an uplifting context, and the entire process embraces confidence and decisiveness.

Your goal needs to be manageable and specific. Based on my experience helping others with goal setting, I often find it helpful to prioritize one’s objectives and focus on one goal at the time. Working on too many goals at the same time can lead to burn out.

Writing down your goal and clarifying it can involve using images. Finding images from magazines or other sources helps you create a vision of how the achievement of your goal can look. For example, if your goal is going back to school and getting a degree in film and television studies, find images that speak to your heart and reflect how the achievement of such a goal looks like to you.

2)      Believe It

Believing in your goal is another essential step. So many beautiful life visions never manifest because of the lack of this important step. Do your best to let go of doubt and negativity around manifestation of your goal. It takes some effort to sustain a positive belief system during this process.

Believing can be a challenging step because it can make you feel vulnerable. When you believe in your goal and the result does not go your way, you can feel disappointed. It is important to note, believing is different than expectation. Expectation can set you up for disappointment and feeling of failure. You might find it helpful to believe in your vision with the attitude of humility that everything unfolds according to the divine intelligence and for the good of all. At the same time, balance that humility with confidence in yourself and your ability to co-create with the universe.

It is easy to get attached to the result of your goal setting and lose perspective on all the variables involved in making your vision come true. Some people might feel entitled to have their vision manifest and contaminate the goal achievement process with arrogance. Embracing humility helps you to approach the process with trust in the universal intelligence. Such trust can free you from obsession and attachment to the result.

It feels wonderful to have passion and a strong desire for something you would like to happen. Even greater, if you tap into your confidence and believe in your ability to make it happen. When you balance all that passion, desire, and confidence with the trust that the universe has your best interests in mind, you can enjoy the journey. This is a paradoxical approach to goal achievement.

3)      Do it

Clarifying your goals and writing them down with the attitude of confidence and a healthy sense of reality needs the support of the final important step: do it. Doing it is about the action needed to support your goal achievement and avoid delaying it.  The first course of action is identifying resources to support your outcome. Make a list of anything you can think of that has the potential to help you. For example, if you are an artist and looking for paid work in your field, make a list of all the resources that can help you in this process. After compiling your resource list, make sure to use it.

Do what it takes to meet your goal by taking daily actions. Write everyday if your goal is to complete your film script. Exercise as many days your physician recommends if you plan to lose weight. Study everyday if your goal is to pass the bar exam. No matter where you are trying to get, make sure you are taking daily steps toward your destination. Eventually, all your actions will add up and increase your chance of success.

It is important to be kind to yourself during this process. Mistreating yourself by criticism and reminding yourself, “I am not doing enough,” is only going to make your process difficult. Also, comparing yourself to others who tend to be a few steps ahead of you is not going to be helpful either. Just focus on one step at a time needed to make your vision a reality.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Balancing Act of Sexual Desire

The Balancing Act of Sexual Desire

Given many gay men have received negative messages about their sexual desire growing up, addressing the issue of sexual compulsion needs to be done delicately and carefully without reinforcing shame or internalized homophobia. There is a developing need to address the issue of sexual compulsion, and helping people to fulfil their sexual desire in concert with consciousness and balance. Denying and repressing sexual desire is not a helpful way to cope with any sexually related issue. The balancing act of sexual desire involves expressing your sexuality in a way that does not leave you feeling empty and destitute.

When sexual gratification becomes your exaggerated area of focus, you can become a slave of sexual desire. When your relationship to sex is dominated by an endless desire for hooking up without any regard for how it can affect you and others, you are not in control. Such loss of control can have damaging life consequences which include contracting a sexually transmitted illness, damaging one’s relationships, jeopardizing one’s career, legal problems, and loss of self-respect. Being in denial about your relationship to sex can make it difficult to seek help. Bringing consciousness to your choices about sex can lead to healthy sexuality.

An important step toward liberating yourself from the bondage of any damaging behaviors is by focusing on growing bigger than the problem. As Carl Jung stated, “We don’t solve our problems, we outgrow them.”  You can do this by focusing on personal growth and expanding your consciousness. There are many paths you can take to evolve beyond your problems and psychotherapy is one of them. Psychotherapy might be what you need to bring a balancing act in your relationship to your sexual expression. It takes courage to face life challenges including addictive behaviors of any sort and cultivate new coping skills. In addition to counseling, there are many community based groups including SCA (Sexually Compulsive Anonymous) that can support you on your journey toward recovering from sexual choices that make you feel bad about yourself.

Sex fulfills different functions for different people. You might turn to sex to numb yourself from painful emotions. Substituting sex for dealing with life problems is not going to make those problems go away. No one said life was going to be easy and free from difficulties. You can learn to face life and expand your “window of tolerance” when it comes to feeling your feelings. The life damaging consequences of any addiction is far more painful than embracing your uncomfortable emotions. It takes psychological and spiritual labor to develop a conscious relationship to your erotic desires and how to go about expressing them.

When you prioritize sex as your most important need and pursue it in an excessive amount, it can indicate that you don’t have something more purposeful in life to focus on. When you began to give up your pathological relationship to sex, you need something better in its place to enrich your life. Giving up anything life damaging and time consuming provides you with free time to pursue something worthier. By embracing your feeling of curiosity, you can explore new activities and life purpose and add more meaning to your life. With the support of counseling, community based support groups, and your own will power, you can focus on something bigger and more meaningful in life than being preoccupied with sex.

© PayamGhassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When the Need for Connection Trumps Authenticity

As a baby, you were an authentic being. Your laughter and tears were real. You were also helpless and depended on your caregivers for survival. Your caregivers had an important role in helping you feel securely connected to and loved by them. The depth and genuineness of your current connection with others stems from how successfully your caregivers managed their role as an attachment figure. This complex interplay between the quality of attachment formed between a child and a caregiver and one’s current ability to form significant connections with others has been discussed extensively by many experts in psychology, including Dr. Gabor Mate. In one of his talks, Mate has discussed how the need for attachment can trump authenticity. When as a small child, your survival depended on your caregivers, you were more likely to do whatever it took to stay connected to them even if it meant hiding your true feelings. For example, if your caregivers did not approve of your genuine expressions of anger or sadness, most likely you hid them in favor of pleasing or staying connected to your caregivers. In other words, for the sake of survival you had to choose attachment over authenticity.

The impasse of being real versus the need for survival continues into adolescence and creates a unique challenge for gay youth and others who did not flow with the mainstream. As a LGBTQ youngster, if you felt unsafe to express your real essence, you probably had to create a fake or “straight acting” identity to protect yourself from homophobic mistreatment. The need to hide contributed to the dilemma of choosing survival over authenticity. It is important to have empathy for your struggle of growing up in a heterosexist and homophobic environment that made it scary for you to express your true essence. It is important for many LGBTQ people to learn how to honor their true essence and work on healing years of oppressive homophobic mistreatment. The price of not individuating is summed up by a quote by Oscar Wilde, "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."

Being real and authentic can be a struggle if you spent most of your childhood finding expression of authenticity as a threat to your survival. What helped you to survive as a child may not serve you today. Relying on the old survival mechanism of pleasing others has become a barrier to be fully present in your significant relationships with others. The process of letting go of such a survival mechanism in favor of honoring your true self involves psychological labor of reaching out to your younger self. The inner child is the part of you that was forced to hide and not show his or her genuine feelings. This part of you needs help to connect with others without the mask of pretending or people pleasing.

In summary, since your ability to be authentic with yourself and others has a lot to do with how you were treated growing up, it makes sense to examine how your past impacts your life today. Psychotherapy can help you not only to heal from childhood mistreatment that can hinder building healthy relationships with others, but also other major life events that contributes to such problems.

© PayamGhassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com

Thursday, February 16, 2017

  Embrace Your Inner Stories to Build Your Career as an Artist By Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

Life without art is like a blank canvas. Artists add color to our lives with the genius of their creativity. They inspire us, make us laugh, and add meaning to our lives. They also bring awareness to social justice issues that affect us all. Great literature, films, live performances, poetry, music, paintings, drawings, sculptures, documentaries, acting, comedy, blogging, fashion, design, photography, and other art forms come from the hard work of artists. Many of these artists sacrifice a secure, conventional lifestyle and go through a great deal of financial hardship in order to make art. Without their sacrifice, many great pieces of art would never be produced. Artists deserve appreciation for enriching our lives, but they are often criticized for their choice of career and for not flowing with the mainstream. Such lack of support can add more suffering to their lives. 

As an artist, you can benefit from understanding how to navigate the challenging journey of working in the creative field. There are many sources to aid in such understanding. One of the most accessible ways to build creativity is to listen to your own inner stories. Your inner stories can be found by paying attention to your inner dialogues or self talk, dreams you have at night, the contents of your fantasies and imagination, intuitive messages, and the sensations in your body. In this brief article, I will discuss how the way you relate to your art and your path as an artist can be influenced by your inner stories, and how working with them can add vitality to your artistic journey. It is best to approach your inner stories in the context of psychotherapy in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed by what you might encounter. A psychotherapist who has experience and training working with the art community can be helpful companion on your journey. 

Let’s start by bringing awareness to what you are telling yourself about your creative process. You might notice your internal dialogues consist of comparing yourself to others who are more successful. For example, when you say to yourself, “My work is not as good as my friend who just got a job as a staff writer for an HBO show,” you can discourage yourself from becoming a prosperous artist. Comparing yourself to others who are more successful in their artistic careers is a recipe for triggering feelings of internal shame and inadequacy. These feelings of inferiority can discourage you from pursuing your path as an artist. Everyone’s path is unique, and there is no need to compare yours to others. Your mind, like the magic lamp, can be illuminated by the creativity of your inner genie. But your creative genie can stay locked up inside your pessimistic self talk if you don’t stop the negative chatter box.

Be creative with how you deal with discouraging negative self talk. You can find inspiration in the story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp when it comes to dealing with life’s obstacles. As soon as you notice your negative dialogue, say, “Abracadabra,” and let the genie out of the bottle of pessimistic story-making. Do some sort of creative work or say positive affirmations about your creative career. Like Aladdin, turn your life into an amazing odyssey and defeat the sorcerer of negative thinking.  Sometimes the habit of negative self talk has to do with a deeply held belief system that you acquired as a result of growing up in a less-than-optimal family environment. With a help of an experienced therapist, you can uncover the root of such dysfunctional belief systems that give rise to negative self talk and undermine your confidence in your career as an artist. 

A powerful source of self-understanding and becoming a more conscious artist can come from paying attention to the dreams you have at night. Some of your dreams can shed light on your struggle with your creative career. When you wake up in the morning, write down what you dreamt about in your dream journal. By analyzing your dreams with the help of a trained person, you can learn about the content of your unconscious. Working with the unconscious is important because within the unconscious resides creative potential and the answers to many of your life’s mysteries. Dream work can also deepen your relationship with yourself. It is an important way to honor your unconscious. Inner Work, a book by Robert Johnson, is inspired by Carl Jung’s teachings and describes a helpful process of how to understand dreams. Many people have found this book to be a helpful introduction to working with the unconscious.

How you fantasize and imagine your place in the world of art is going to impact your relationship to your creative career. This relationship can be contaminated by the images of failure you might hold in your mind about your journey as an artist. You need your imagination to help you create art – not fear. Using your imagination to worry about your creative path is not the best use of your creativity. Practice mindfulness as a way to avoid getting caught in the negative contents of your mind. In the 1960s, Thich Nhat Hanh brought mindfulness to the attention of Westerners. A variety of mindfulness practices exist today. Many of them were inspired by teachings from the East. For the most part, mindfulness involves bringing your complete attention to your present experience on a moment-to-moment basis with acceptance and compassion. Using mindfulness, you can observe your physical, emotional, and mental experiences with kindness. You pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment, and you can use your sensory awareness to stay fully present. For example, when you wash the dishes, you can see and feel the soapy water on your hands. Taking a walk and noticing without judgment how life unfolds around you is another simple mindfulness practice. You can attend classes at UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center ( to learn more about mindfulness. The more you avoid getting entangled with the negative images and fantasies about your career, the more serenity you can experience on your journey toward becoming an accomplished artist. 

There are times when, with help of an experienced guide, you can engage your imagination and have a dialogue with the images that come up for you. For some artists, it is necessary to understand the images that come from the inner world, which can help to know the self. Consciously dialoguing with the images of the unconscious is part of a process called ‘active imagination’. In his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung provided an inside view of his own experience with active imagination. Jung had conversations with inner figures he encountered during the practice of active imagination, which felt intense yet enlightening for him. 

Intuitions are also part of your inner stories, and they can guide you on your art-making path. The key is to not confuse intuitive messages with negative thinking. They come from different sources. Negative thoughts often come from an insecure place in your mind that needs healing. Intuition comes from a deep place inside you that is connected to a power greater than yourself. Everyone can improve his or her ability to receive guidance from the sacred place inside. A powerful practice for developing your intuition is meditation. When you quiet your mind, paying attention to your breathing and relaxing your body, you knock on your inner door. A door will open, and you can enter in a meditative space. In that quiet space, you are detached, listening to the song of stillness. You are experiencing a deep silence which purifies your mind. The more you visit this space, the more you can cleanse your mind. With each visit to your meditative space, you enter deeper and deeper into your soul. You get closer and closer to your real essence. Meditation can lead to finding your true voice and positively impact the way you relate to your art.

Your body never lies, and that is why it is important to pay attention to the sensations in your body. Your relationship to your artistic career can be experienced as bodily sensations. These sensations, like a story, can range from neutral and comforting to tense and distressing. As you think about your career path, you might notice tension in your body. Some people might sense tension in their shoulder or neck areas. By paying too much attention to distressing sensations in your body, you make yourself feel worse. One way to create more serenity in your body is to make neutral or pleasant sensations your total focus. The more you focus on the part of your body that is neutral or pleasant, the less you energize the distressing sensations. Somatic psychotherapy offers many tools that can help you work with the sensations in your body and liberate yourself from being trapped in negative bodily sensations. One must always check with his or her physician to rule out any underlying medical problems for distressing bodily sensations.

Finally, there are times when, no matter how hard you work as an artist, your art cannot support you in making a decent living. This is not an uncommon situation. Many artists use their non-art-related skills to support themselves. The need to support yourself and the need to fulfill your creative destiny do not need to be in conflict. Creating an opposition between these two legitimate needs is not helpful. You can make room for both of them in your life and let them work side by side to get you closer to the vision you have for your artistic career.  It takes a great deal of patience, discipline, and good time management to work in a non-art-related profession while making time to follow your dream. It helps to be part of a supportive community of artists that help each other not feel alone in such journey. As a community, artists can unite, advocating that more funds and resources be made available to them to create art that ultimately enriches everyone’s lives.

© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California.