I was trying discover who I was as an artist.
Looking for a way to shake off my early conditioning and an excessive dependence on external validation.
Rather than using random acts of creative expression, in 2008 I chose to to dig into my psychological blocks in a very systematic way, using the story of the Handless Maiden as a catalyst. This made the process not only a lot less scary, but also way more effective.
The result was a series of 7 collage-paintings based on the story which turned out to be both pivotal and transformative, and which helped me work through some very deep-seated blocks in my creative practice.
Without realising, I was doing the work of balancing the second level of the 7 Level model similar to the Chakras that we’ve been looking at as a way to assess the needs of our creative business or career.
As we’ll see in this post, balancing the second level is critical when it comes to developing the authentic creative expression that will ultimately propel us forward in our career or business.
The original label I found for Level 2 - Conforming: Becoming part of a Community shows that, in essence, this level is about our need to belong and feel safe. (Although, this can be a double-edged sword.)
Where Level 1 is all about structure, survival (and money), grounding and stability, Level 2 is about identity - both how we find our place in a group, and self-identity.
So on the surface, it is concerned with how we see ourselves in the context of our social and professional milieu; about our social skills, and emotional intelligence, when interacting with others - be they fellow artists, clients or teachers.
It is also about how we begin to assess and analyse what we’ve learned from our teachers/professors/mentors, and the masters that went before us. This helps us decide what is meaningful for us. And what we need to let go of in order to develop our self-image, and discover our own unique value.
Level 2 - creativity as the seat of the self
Given my experience with the Handless Maiden, it’s not surprising that as I began to dig deeper into this level, I realised that our need to belong very much conditions our behaviour as artists: how much we are or aren’t able to take risks; how far out on a limb we’re prepared to go; how we balance the demands of our outer persona, with the intuitive needs of the inner self.
This necessity to balance our external and internal needs makes Level 2 inherently binary and, as such, all about duality and polarity:
Because this level is the realm of the senses, the gateway between the internal and external world, it is here that we need to do the work to reclaim our shadow-self, to understand our ‘dark’ side as instinctual energies that need channelling appropriately.
Flow and boundaries
The flow of this level is responsible for the dynamic energy so essential for growth, change and transformation; the deep-seated desires that drive us to achieve what is difficult - what Judith Anodea calls,
“...the seed of passion and enthusiasm essential for developing energy and power.”
It is at this level that we are stimulated to create by our interaction with world - a flow of energy that happens in both directions when we make and share our art.
Where there is flow, containment of the flow is also necessary. So it is here that we learn to set appropriate boundaries - both with other people, and also within ourselves in terms of the eternal creative dichotomy of self-discipline versus the freedom to experiment.
Balancing Level 2
If this level is not functioning well and we are not able to truly express ourselves, we will stay stuck, unable to evolve creatively, unhealthily hung up about doing things ‘right’. So of course, this is the level where we come into contact with - and, hopefully, resolve - our creative blocks.
Equally, imbalance or lack of development at this level may cause us to crave constant movement, change and excitement, making it difficult for us to complete what we start.
We might also attract what Julia Cameron calls in The Artist Way, ‘crazy-makers’: people who embody to an excessive degree the very things that we’re afraid or unable to express.
When this level is functioning well, however, we are able to let go; to yield to, and trust, the process. We recognise our right to feel, to play and to experience joy. We are able to embrace change without losing our core stability.
To restore balance at Level 2, we need to pay close attention to our subconscious needs and patterns of behaviour: Where our growth is restricted, we need to identify patterns of holding and fear (particularly as they relate to our fear of being rejected by our community), and encourage change. Where our need for change is excessive, we need to dig into the source of our fear of being constrained or limited by commitments.
In both cases, we can use our creative self-expression as a way to release the pressure of our emotions. The language of feeling that comes from our unconscious holds the key to the significant, and potentially transformative experiences in our lives.
Liberating the flow of our own emotions in a constructive and planned way - as I did with the Handless Maiden - promotes natural healing. Recognising our blocks as a source of trapped energy helps us to release them.
The importance of Level 2 for our creative career
So, in terms of developing our creative career or business, Level 2 is where we wrestle with our identity and put to rest our creative blocks. It’s also the level at which we learn to trust - and flow with - the process rather than rely purely on outward validation.
Where Level 1 is masculine - all about building blocks and tools - Level 2 is a feminine, mysterious level in which we dig into our subconscious in order to learn how to bring our best and most authentic work out into the world.
Developing balance at this level supports our work at the next level - Level 3 - in which we differentiate ourselves from the crowd and reach out into the world with confidence and self-esteem.
Level 2 Health Check
To check on the balance of your second level, journal the answers to any of the following questions that resonate with you now:
How's the balance of your second Level? Share your thoughts in the comments :)
Read the next post about Level 3: Being an Obliger Can Stall Your Creative Success