That “anything” can include behaviors that are objectively healthy or contribute to your well-being (many of the exercises and interventions named in this very book apply), but can simultaneously mask your soul’s true calling. I see this all the time, especially with women, myself included. We feel unfulfilled in one arena of our lives (usually the arena of living our true purpose), because we compromise our own needs next to society’s expectations, or in our strong desire to nurture as mothers, wives or daughters. I’ve been in a constant state of tug-of-war between my aging parents’ needs and those of our family business, and the big dreams I have for myself that inevitably give way to accommodate those of my family. When an important element of our desire is missing, we end up in pain, which is simply a signal that something warrants our attention. Depending on what that something is, the call for attention can take the form of depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues, or physical pain if we are processing psychosomatically. We meditate, practice gratitude, run it off on the treadmill or stretch it out in yoga to blunt the acute edge of the knife that’s needling us. Because such practices make us feel so good, we can end up chasing the high they give us to mask symptoms of our pain, just as we do with drugs. These health-conducive behaviors can actually be to our detriment if we start using them not just to keep us strong and resilient, but to numb out to the source of our discomfort or dissatisfaction. So when things bubble up, pay heed and stay aware. Use interventions and remedies to remind yourself of how blessed you are, how many resources you have, and to keep yourself strong and psychologically upbeat so you have the courage and will to get out there and remedy the source of the pain. Not to numb out to it in the first place.

Tonight, consider journaling about: What “healthy” behaviors might you be using to distract yourself from discomfort? What is the source of your discomfort?

“Chasing the high” can also manifest in our creative pursuits. We achieve one success and relish the high so much that we want more. We hustle to try to recreate that feeling, to oust the first success with something even more powerful, and we compete with ourselves to stay relevant. We end up beginning to resent the very thing that gave us so much joy. I mean, we even have an expression for when an artist makes one great contribution, and then is not able to recreate that same level of success: “one-hit wonder.” As a society, we put such pressure on ourselves to perform at higher and higher levels, and then are quick to judge or alienate when our goals can’t be repeated. In the modern era, this is an insidious trend on social media platforms. There are some high-profile cases documented where instagram “stars” who have hit a stride with their beautiful images then feel a mountain of pressure to continue to churn out that level of high quality material and ultimately crack under the pressure. The irony is, much of it is a depiction of “real life” that’s actually completely contrived. One young woman who rose to instafame with beautiful photos of her home (which to many viewers appeared mansion-esque from the photos) admitted she lived in an apartment, and would take shots of just one corner, buying lovely (and expensive) accessories to beautify it and create the illusion of perfection and grandeur. Her followers were buying into the fantasy en masse, though the reality behind the camera was a cramped, messy, unkempt apartment. Just the frame captured in the camera lens shone, like the end a penny that’s dipped in cleaning solution on one of those infomercials on TV. She ended up miserable, living a lie under a mountain of debt. Ultimately, she couldn’t keep up with appearances, and bravely came forward to tell the truth behind the fallacy. Essena O’neill is another example of a young woman who racked up followers posing for pictures in which her perfect body (accompanying quite a perfect face) was always in perfect form. She came forward to tell the truth of how mean-spirited and insecure she had become, trying to get increasingly challenging shots to meet the expectations of her growing fan base (on which her advertising revenue was also dependent).

My point in telling you all of this is to alleviate some of the suffering you may be causing yourself when it comes to “chasing the high” of your creative outputs. These are not meant not act as a drug for us, addictive and ultimately toxic. On the contrary, our creativity is our ultimate outlet for expression, the purest gift and a cornerstone of being human. It’s a birthright as ancient as we are. To date, the oldest art we have evidence of comes from caves dating back approximately 40,000 years. That means we were expressing ourselves creatively long before we we even had language. We’ve known how to draw before we could talk. It just comes naturally. Allow your creative flow to be expressed naturally, without the pressure for it to be something, or the need to channel it into success, financial or otherwise. And if it does lead to those places, that’s just a testament to the fact that your fellow human beings are resonating with your art and it’s evoking emotion, feeling and reaction. Those outcomes are not the ends in and of themselves, and that’s what you need to be mindful of. We tend to chase external validation once we’ve gotten a taste, which is to our great detriment when we attach our self-worth to our creativity. I’m guilty of the same; once I realized my writing was resonating with people, or that my sharp wit could make folks laugh, or even that I could sit in front of a camera and instead of freezing up, talk to it as if it were my oldest and dearest friend, I began putting pressure on myself. When would that writing become a source of income? After all, if it was any good, surely someone would want to pay me for it, right? When would I get my next on-camera gig? When would people realize just how much I could do with those skills? When would I be…famous?

The pressure around those questions was quickly beginning to suck all of the joy from my natural skills and abilities, and I had to check myself. I was stymied around any present-moment bliss I could achieve from simply relishing the awesome creative potential sitting inside of me as it manifested in the world around me. This was the gift. Once I began to release my choke-hold on my creative potential, stayed present to how it wanted to manifest, and got more mindful to the process, I began to seriously enjoy my creative output. Taking improvisational comedy (“improv”) classes has helped tremendously with this, because it involves creating comedic scenes live and in the present moment, no scripts and no plans. As I work my way up the ladder of training in improv, I’m more and more liberated from the pressure to create for any reason other than finding the present-moment joy from it.

So, moral of the story is this: stay super conscious and aware of when your creative gifts are wanting and needing expression, as well as when they cease to bring you relief, joy, ease or balance. Realize that all creative pursuit is magic, a gift of our humanity, and let it be enough to simply enjoy its expression. When you feel stress around your creative expression, back off and allow yourself to recalibrate. Know the difference between when it’s time to walk away from a project for a little while, and when it’s time to walk away for good. Art is art, not science. It is fluid and imperfect and commands constant inspiration. It does not warrant being contained, demanded of or commanded. It wants you to love it, nurture it, and feel passionate about it.

From those good qualities, all good things come.