I’m going to be honest with you: I didn’t want to write this newsletter. I had an exhausting and emotionally trying week and the thought of creating something new filled me with dread. But then I remembered our definition of creativity: “Creativity is the ability to take what exists and change it into something new through unique responsive acts.” (1) Creativity is not about making something out of nothing, but responding to what is; it is not forcing your feelings aside but allowing them to flow.
In the book Radical Acceptance by psychologist and Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach, she states: “The way out of our cage begins with accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives, by embracing with wakefulness and care our moment-to-moment experience.” (2) This sounds simple, but is not easy. In my own meditation journey, I have struggled to find acceptance, fighting against emotions or thoughts I’ve labeled as wrong and need to be fixed. Though as Elizabeth Gilbert said in an interview I have listened to repeatedly: “…anything in my life that I ever fought has fought me back.” (3) Here she is talking of fear and how the only way to move through fear is to move with it; to not expect yourself to be fearless, but to embrace it as a natural part of a creative life. I recently shared this interview with my students and we discussed how both learning and creativity require ambiguity, a willingness to enter into the unknown. But creativity can also be a guidepost, a way to tap into what’s real and respond to your moment-to-moment experience.
Let me share an example:
At the end of last year, I was on a week long meditation retreat. This was my third retreat, but I was finding the same patterns emerging: fear, aversion, overwhelm, doubt. The last being one of the “Five Hindrances” to a meditation practice, a persistent state that impedes awareness (4). So I decided to ask a teacher how to be with doubt and he told me to focus on mindfulness of the body. I remember him gesturing to my hand on my knee and saying “Just like you know you’re hand is on your knee” and I looked up at him with a questioning look, worried that I didn’t truly know this and he responded “No, not your thought about it. The felt experience.” And so I did just that. Every time a thought of doubt arose, I pushed it to the side and returned to the felt experience. It wasn’t long till I felt my mind calm and my awareness still. Moments stretched and I found myself feeling content, not pushing or pulling at experience, just being. It was then that I realized that when I didn’t trust my mind, I could turn to the body.
But doubt returned when I came back from retreat. The mind took over as I rushed to catch up with life. I found it hard to sit with my felt experience when there was so much to worry about, too much.
So I turned to creativity. I took a pencil to paper and I wrote this poem:
Trust Studies #1
Hand on arm
contact with pillow
Gaps of air
ready but waiting
Page under palm
weight at rest
Known. In responding to what was, I was reminded of what is. Creativity gave me a way into my experience, an acceptance in the name of art. I was no longer fighting with reality, but allowing it to exist in all its beauty. This practice became a poetry series I call “Trust Studies” and a continual reminder that creativity is first and foremost an act of paying attention. As Tara Brach says: “When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next. But by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants and fears.” (5)
So the next time creativity just feels like another thing to do, don’t do, pause, and listen for what needs to be known.
Living is a creative act,
Everyday Creativity Tip
If you’re feeling stuck, take the advice of Shaun McNiff:
“…although thinking has an important role in creating, we tend to think too much. Thus, a primary goal [is] getting out of our heads and into our bodies where we are carried and influenced by essential movements and spontaneous responses to them….” (6)Shaun McNiff, Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression
Put your creative problem aside and engage the body, whether that’s through a walk, dance, exercise, meditation, breathing. There is a lot of research on the importance of incubation for creativity (which I will cover in a future newsletter). You are not your most creative when you are holding too tightly to finding an answer. Allow yourself to take breaks, move, and day dream. Only return to the problem when you feel refreshed, grounded, and able to respond with flexibility.
1. Shaun McNiff, Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression, p.2
2. Tara Brach, Ph.D., Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha, p.25
3. CIIS Public Programs, interview with Elizabeth Gilbert: “Magic, Fear, and Creativity“
4. Tricycle.org, “Practicing with the Five Hindrances”
5. Tara Brach, Ph.D., Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha, p.52
6. Shaun McNiff, Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression, p.13
Originally published September 1, 2019 on the Creativity in Context Newsletter by Evelyn Thorne.
Share your ideas!
Contact us or comment below!