Friday, December 4, 2015

Embrace Your Inner Stories to Build Your Career as an Artist

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.

For more articles by Dr. Payam, please click on the following link:

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

 He is the author of FruitBasket: A Gay Man’s Journey. Available on Amazon

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A New Way of Being

“A New Way of Being”
Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.

Your mind is often busy focusing on one concern or another. Sometimes you might be dealing with remorse about the past, and other times you might be worrying about the future. In addition, you can have thoughts of regret, resentment, and feelings of insecurity which can all be part of your mental activities. Not to mention some of your painful memories from the past or dreams about the future. Sometimes your mind, like a chatter box, can involve critical inner dialogues which can lessen your enjoyment of life. All these are part of your mental process.  It makes sense to learn how to stop listening to the chatter box, and grow beyond your ordinary mental activities.

Worrying and ruminating about real or perceived life problems is common because scientific research on the human brain shows that it is constantly scanning the environment for threats to physical and emotional safety. Also, the brain gives shorter notice to positive experiences, usually only two to three seconds before moving on to the next thought. The negativity bias of the brain coupled with rumination about our problems can lead to anxiety, depression, and an overall pessimistic view of life. Fortunately, this is not a hopeless situation because you can learn to grow beyond the activity of the mind.  As the Persian poet Rumi stated, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

When you grow beyond identifying with the activities of your mind, you can reach a loving open field. In this free space, you are not your thoughts, your intense emotions, and your memories, and yet you are mindfully aware of them. You can mindfully observe your inner dialogue and issues that go through your mind and yet you are not trapped by them. In such an infinite space, you can experience life from a place of clarity where you don’t let your focus move toward unhealthy habits and behaviors. This loving open field is not just another state of mind to get to. It is a way of being.

How can you reach a state of being that is beyond the activity of your mind?  There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to personal growth. Everyone is unique. Everyone needs to discover their own path to enlightenment or personal growth. In this brief article, I attempt to offer what I have learned from Sufi poets and teachers, mindfulness practices, and Jungian psychology when it comes to taming the busy mind. The goal is not stop thinking or feeling, but to choose which thoughts and emotions deserve our attention. We can develop a new consciousness of being watchful of our mental activities and decide whether to focus on something or letting it go.

Given we live in a world that focuses heavily on “I think, therefore I am,” as stated by Rene Descartes, it would be difficult to imagine going beyond our thinking and focus on being. It can be done because others have done it.

As a start, imagine you are sitting in your living room and noticing without any judgments all the objects in the room. For example, you notice the couch, TV, coffee table and few other things and at the same time you are aware of your presence in the room. You are aware that you are noticing all the furniture in the room and yet you are separate from them. You do not over identify with any object in your living room. You are not judging them, analyzing them or making story about them. You are completely detached and at the same time present. I like you to use the same concept as you witness your mind activities. You are looking at your thoughts and emotions going through your mind without judging them and over identifying with any of them. You do not define yourself by them. You are the one who is aware of them, and you can use your will power to choose how much attention you like to give anything going through your mind.

You can enrich this practice of witnessing your mind by inviting your heart to participate in the process. Your heart is a place of connection to love, Divine Oneness, Higher Power, God, Universal Compassion or anything comforting that feels true to you. You can activate the feeling of love in your heart by remembering a heartfelt experience and focus on that. The tool that you have in this process is your focus. “Whatever you focus on, it becomes your reality.” In other words, “You energize anything that you give your attention to it.” So why not energize the love in your heart. You might not be able to stop your mind from producing thoughts, but you can fill the spaces between your thoughts with energy of love. The marriage between the heart and the mind can give birth to a new way of being.

To summarize, you notice your mind as if you are standing in a train station and watching each train of thoughts and/or emotions going by without getting on the train. Instead, you can direct your attention to the love in your heart. You can do that one day at the time, and experience having a new consciousness in partnership with your heart. Welcome to a new way of Being.

For more articles by Dr. Payam, please click on the following link:

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

He is the author of Fruit Basket: A Gay Man’s Journey. In his book, Dr. Payam Ghassemlou writes about the psycho-spiritual journey of a gay man named Javid, in which he struggles with homophobia and having a life purpose. Available on Amazon

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fruit Basket: A Gay Man's Journey

Fruit Basket
Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.
People don't need to travel to exotic places to begin a process of self-reflection. Personal growth is accessible to anyone who is willing to embrace curiosity and engage in self-discovery. In this book, Fruit Basket, I share the psycho-spiritual journey of a gay man named Javid, in which he struggles with homophobia and having a life purpose. When Javid has his last struggle with vanity and begins to dance to a more meaningful tune, his life grows in favor of depth. 

This book is available on Amazon and Smashwords:


I hope you enjoy reading it.

Dr. Payam Ghassemlou, MFT, Ph.D., is a writer, and a psychotherapist practicing in West Hollywood, CA.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Beyond the Circle of Our Everyday Life

Beyond the Circle of Our Everyday Life

Payam Ghassemlou, Ph.D.

As human beings, we need shelter, food, safety, emotional support, health care, human connection,and many other basics. In the circle of our everyday lives, we are busy taking care of these basic needs while accomplishing our life goals. Many years of our lives can be devoted to meeting goals like graduating from college, getting married, buying a house, rearing children, having a successful career, and staying healthy. The rest of our lives can be spent maintaining our achievements, building on them with more accomplishments, or coping with changes and unexpected losses that can happen to us.

This circle of everyday life, our daily routine, is the plane of existence that most people are familiar with. It is the outermost circle enclosing the inner circles in the continuity of existence. Many people, not awake to anything beyond day-to-day existence, can let life happen to them as if they are in a trance. To be in the trance is to live life in such a way that one is completely identified with her or his social role and status. This kind of over identification can prevent people from living an authentic life and going beyond the mundane.

Life in a trance gets shaken up when an unexpected loss happens. For example, a number of individuals who lost their high profile jobs in the recent US economic recession became seriously depressed. Since they completely relied on external circumstances like wealth, privilege, and class to define their personal identity, the humiliation of losing this status made them feel worthless.

During the same era, there were others who were gainfully employed but they felt discontented. People in this category believed they did not climb the success ladder high enough. They developed tolerance to the highs of external accomplishments and then needed more success to feel the same high. In addition, these people could not feel good about themselves when they compared their successes to others’ which seemed more impressive. Such comparing can cause self-imposed suffering. A whole lifetime can be spent on a roller coaster of feeling accomplished versus discontented on this plane of existence.

Luckily, we have other choices. Some of us are exploring another plane through a journey of self discovery. We can embark on this journey through deeper psychological and spiritual work, which will enable us to experience the numinous in everyday life and transform our suffering into the gold of consciousness. When we work on knowing ourselves and bringing this consciousness to our day-to-day living, we are transforming our lives.

One need not abandon the business of navigating the circle of everyday life in order to participate in the journey of self discovery, but we need to navigate with a quality of consciousness that not only helps to fulfill our responsibilities but also get closer to our “True Essence.” There is nothing wrong with making money and enjoying the fruits of our labors, as long as we are not doing it for the purpose of covering up our inferior feelings or falling into a trance of over identification with a certain status.

On the journey of self discovery, the progression into the core of the circle, our True Essence, is a circular motion, not a ladder. We go around and around the circle of existence, and we can get stuck in one track if we don’t do the inner work of understanding ourselves. It is like walking a labyrinth only a little way and staying on the periphery, not going to the middle to receive the spiritual and psychological gift given there. To move to the next track and journey toward the core of the circle, we must make a commitment to knowing ourselves. Each moment of growth and insight can help us journey closer. The more evolved we become the closer we are getting to the truth of who we really are.

Everyone can find her or his own unique approach to a meaningful existence. My initiation to this journey happened at a young age with the realization that I was different in being gay. My attempt to understand the meaning and purpose of my gayness pushed me out of the collective into a journey of self reflection and understanding myself. At the same time, this journey empowered me to stand up to homophobia. For others, this change can happen when they turn losses and tragedies into transcendent experiences and as a result become evolved human beings.

To know ourselves we need to encounter the unconscious. Having a guide in this process is essential. We need support in understanding what we might encounter. There are parts of us of which we are not completely conscious. We could think of them as layers of our personality that impact our interaction with ourselves and the world. How these layers impact us depends on our relationship with them. Progress toward our True Essence is difficult if we don’t have a conscious relationship with different parts of ourselves. Also, working with the unconscious is important because within our unconscious reside creative potentials and answers to many of our life mysteries.

Writing is one of the simple and yet valuable tools we can use for self discovery and to build relationships with different aspects of our personality. I find it very helpful to write in my journal about the way I handled certain life challenges without being hard on myself. Journaling helps me learn more about myself and become more aware. Also, journaling can be a place where we record our dreams. In working with our unconscious, we are helped by paying attention to the images that manifest in our dreams. By analyzing our dreams with the help of a trained person, we can learn about the content of our unconscious.

On our journey toward our True Essence, we need to develop a quality of attention that focuses on the present moment despite all the distractions. One way we develop such presence is by paying attention to our breathing. Awareness of breath is a simple practice that helps us to be in the moment and develop a deeper relationship with ourselves. We can also bring our awareness to the present moment by paying attention to our bodily sensations. For example, sitting on my office chair, I can notice the comfortable experience of having my back supported by the chair. Such a sensation of comfort can only be noticed in the present moment.

Reflecting on our life experiences and discovering their meaning not only gives our lives a sense of purpose, but also enriches our life journey. The journey of knowing oneself is a very personal experience for each traveler. The goal is to have an ongoing connection to our True Essence.

Arrival at such a connection is not the end of the journey. It can be a doorway to an even stronger, more conscious connection to something greater than ourselves. It can be imagined as a drop of water merging with a Divine Ocean where one can experience Oneness. Each traveler can experience her or his unique merger with the Divine Ocean of Oneness. There is no end to the journey of knowing oneself for the sake of union with a power greater than oneself. The path is infinite, and it starts with a willingness to wake up, depart from the outside periphery, and step inside.

For more articles by Dr. Payam, please click on the following link:

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

He is the author of Fruit Basket: A Gay Man’s Journey. In his book, Dr. Payam Ghassemlou writes about the psycho-spiritual journey of a gay man named Javid, in which he struggles with homophobia and having a life purpose. Available on Amazon