I remember listening to a talk by Ram Dass – the American spiritual teacher and author of the book “Be Here Now” – speaking about personal happiness. At the end of the talk, a man in the back of the room frustratingly described a whole laundry list of problems, from financial to personal, he was facing in his life. Before he finished I knew the question he would pose: how can I, with all the difficulties in my life, ever begin to create happiness? How can I, given my challenges, begin to turn things around?
Ram Dass’ answer was so simple that I never forgot it. Once the man, who was almost in tears, finished, Ram Dass waited till the room was again calm and then he quietly said, “You need to serve. You need to help someone.”
I never forgot these words, especially because at times in my life I have taken this same advice. For me it took the form of teaching. This simple act of giving has been incredibly galvanizing for not just my career in Art but also my Life.
I am writing this today in hopes that it might just plant the seed of an idea that this could be something you too could add into your artistic journey. It is that helpful.
What stopped me for years, however, was the limiting belief that I did not know enough to assume the role of a teacher. What I now know is that regardless of how far along you are, even if you are just beginning, that if you stick to teaching specifically what you enjoy and feel the most comfortable in, then there will always be many, many people who are behind you, who are just not as far along, that you could help.
In other words you are good enough already. Start small, even if it is with just one or two students. Charge something, even if it is nominal, but just start by offering your enthusiasm and your guidance. You will be surprised how many people would just love to be helped along.
There are several huge benefits that very quickly emerge once you begin teaching, even if only in the smallest of ways.
1 You build Authority
If you have to regularly explain to someone about an area of your art, then naturally you will become even more familiar and more assured in your abilities as a teacher. In time this becomes expertise and supplies you with a strong platform to build upon so that your knowledge, your teaching, can grow and become more and more effective. Like your Art, your teaching also improves and becomes stronger with doing. Earning legitimate authority will provide you with self-confidence and tremendous momentum to help more and more people. This authority, not surprisingly, then begins to translate back into your own work, making it stronger and more authoritative in turn.
2 You gain Clarity
Teaching invites you to clarify aspects of your Art Practice that probably till now have been fairly nebulous. For myself, this process of repeatedly clarifying and saying out loud has been incredibly helpful for my own art practice. My best work is always made upon returning from teaching a workshop. When you teach you are constantly saying what you believe to be true, that what is possibly just out of reach is in fact, obtainable. By offering out loud what resonates with you and what you believe to be possible for others, the more easily those same concepts and ideas become true for you. Having clarity is simply a prerequisite for achieving all you desire in your Art.
3 You become filled.
Teaching is an act of giving. It takes energy. This fact can sometimes prevent people from assuming the role of a teacher or mentor. From my experience I have always been amazed that the act of teaching does not really deplete your creative energy. For me, it increases it.
I believe that, at least partly, the reason for this increase in creativity has to do with the “universal law of divine compensation”, detailed so eloquently in Marianne Williamson’s book of the same name. The idea that when we give of ourselves, when we look upon those we can help as more of a calling, as part of our creative purpose as an artist – rather than a job – then the universe tends to favor our circumstances. In short, when we give, we also receive. It is the natural course of things that we shall be replenished energetically, financially or in the form of some wonderful unforeseen possibility.
The fear of depletion rarely comes true. Teaching, helping others who are not as far along as you, can build your creative momentum. It certainly has for me. It also has the possibility to invite a greater sense of artistic community into your life. Best of all, however, it just feels plain wonderful to know that you have actually helped someone.
Most importantly, however, it can provide you with that missing surge of creativity, that sense of personal abundance that doubles back into your own art practice, making what once seemed unattainable in your own artistic journey suddenly entirely possible.
What do you do to refresh and reinvigorate your creative energy?
In gratitude, Nicholas