"When the going gets tough, the tough get going" is a phrase we're all familiar with and it's imbedded deep into our culture. It's something we all have found strength in from time to time. This country has been through a lot, and yet again we are in the midst of more than just a National crisis, we are experiencing a global crisis.
It is a weird world to live in right now, and one that continues to unfold each new day with a new oddity. The creature comforts of our lifestyles are slowly being stripped away. It is not unlike wild animals being taken out of their natural habitat and placed in cages. The popular Netflix show, Tiger King displays the innate oddity of having large wild animals placed in small cages. I have wondered lately if we aren't all in some subconscious way relating more to the Tigers in captivity than we are the fanatical characters on the tv show. We are all indeed living in tight, unnatural quarters and there is no one who is free of this experience.
These are TOUGH times, and as I strike out the words on this blog post, we don't know when they won't be tough. Which makes it even tougher.
As uplifting as being tough can be at times, I have found that it has a shelf life. I think most of us can keep going for a lot longer than we'd ever imagined. I think most of us are all being tough right now and doing our best. But my concern is the shelf life nature of this approach to tough times. What can hide in the recesses of this mindset is deep fear and contraction. What can hide in the shadows of this tall "tough" giant is our connection to ourselves.
The real question I've been asking myself lately is...
Is there another way through tough times? Is there another option besides being tough and pushing through? It turns out there is, and it's found in one of history's greatest and strongest figures, Sir Winston Churchill.
Not many of us know that Winston Churchill was a successful painter, and very little of us know that he leveraged painting as a way to move through difficult times in his life. I found this excerpt from a great article describing how Winston got into painting and why he chose to do so.
At the age of 40, Sir Winston Churchill found himself at a career-low: After the World War I attack he ordered on Gallipoli, Turkey, went horrifically awry, he was demoted from his role as First Lord of the Admiralty in May 1915. He resigned from his government post and became an officer in the army. Deflated of power and consumed with anxiety, he took up an unexpected new hobby: painting.
“Painting came to my rescue in a most trying time,” Churchill would later write in the 1920s, in essays that would become a small book, Painting as a Pastime.
The hobby became, for the great British statesman, a source of delight and a respite from the stress of his career. He would eventually create over 550 paintings, crediting the practice with helping him to hone his visual acuity, powers of observation, and memory. The pastime would flourish, and perhaps even aid him, as he furthered his career as a world-renowned writer, orator, and political leader.
A key element to understand is that he didn't paint to become a famous painter or to produce world-renowned work that would lift him to fame in the Art world, no he painted for the joy of it. He painted for the process.
Here is a quote of his approach philosophy of creating,
“We cannot aspire to masterpiece,” he wrote. “We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint-box. And for this Audacity is the only ticket.”
I think the key point and truth that is found in this unknown nature and aspect of Winston Churchill is not that he chose to paint, it's that he painted when things were at their worse. There are articles describing him taking his easel out into the battlefield and painting what he was seeing.
Could it be that one of the strongest, toughest, hard-nosed leaders in World history leveraged creativity to help himself? I would argue that Sir Winston understood one thing about creativity above all else, and that is HE NEEDED it.
As someone who had so many ups and downs in his life, finding painting during a difficult time aided him and became a friend to him. In short, painting helped Winston Churchill help others. He understood that when times were tough, what he needed to do most was help himself first.
It's my belief that he created not only for the enjoyment but for the vast benefits that it presented to him. It would explain why he was so adamant about painting when things were at their worst. It's because when things are at their worst, sometimes the worst thing we can do is GET GOING. Sometimes when things are at their worst, the best thing we can do is the most paradoxical. Creating provides a sense of natural calm most certainly, but one of its secret benefits is its ability to create new perspectives and new ways of processing what's going on around you. It's because when things are tough, our analytical/problem-solving mind is going non-stop 24/7. It can't handle the unknown, so it's running on fumes and is practically begging for a break, yet we continue to engage it with a quick Facebook or twitter check or watching the most recent news just to get updated. It is these very actions that are hurting us, it is these very actions that are limiting our ability to not only move through this but to take care of ourselves during the process.
Being tough and grinding it out will lead to eventual burnout, and potential mental health problems down the road from the unprocessed emotions you're naturally having. Spending time creating, even just for small portions through the day, can allow your analytical/problem-solving mind to take a break and let your intuitive, creative mind take over for a bit. The best part is, you don't have to worry about it working, it naturally works and continues to work throughout the day.
Once you start to experience the natural calm and well-being this side of our mind brings, you will grow to love it and depend on it just as much as Sir Winston Churchill did. The only thing you have to show up with is the willingness to try, and if you can just put the breaks on doing, put the breaks on being tough, and put the breaks on trying to solve every problem in your life right now, you will find paradoxically, the answers are already inside of you, the peace you seek "out there" is already "in here". There is no greater feeling than your Self helping yourself. To know that there is within you a quiet place, an open space of safety and well being and calm, that you can access at any part of your day is the greatest gift you can give yourself for now and moving into any upcoming future problem or crisis. The Coronavirus will calm, and we all know if you've lived long enough, something else will be happy to take its place.
Take some time now, and learn a new road to take when the going gets tough. Remember these wise words of Robert Frost, and trust in them during these difficult times.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
These old truths, these historical figures are here to show us something. Like a ghost from the past presenting a candle to walk through these dark hallways. Saying to us, "Here try this, I've been there before, trust me".
If we're willing to let go a little, it may indeed make all the difference in the end.
Much love to you and your loved ones