Honoring Our Creative Survival


We are in survival mode, literally bunkered down as we wait out this crisis. Our freedom is limited, scarcity mindset is heightened, and our wellbeing is acutely critical. In times like these, it is best to take it one day at a time and not get caught up in the unknowable future. While this advice is always true for thriving, it is not always necessary for surviving. And yet, I am 3 weeks into shelter-in-place and it has not been as scary as I feared precisely because of this practice. My motto has become “If I am okay today, that is enough”; this a learned survival tactic to get me through the long haul. No matter how long this pandemic lasts, we can rely on our inherent creative survival methods. 

When I last sent this newsletter, I was certain of my instability in the face of isolation. To combat this anxiety, I committed to letting life surprise me and celebrating creative resilience. And what I discovered was all the ways my psyche knew how to take care of itself. It knew when to ask for help or give myself a work break, and it also knew when to cry or tune out. 

Humans have evolved over millennia to deal with crises; our nervous systems are wired to protect us; I call this creative biology. 

For instance, the vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body, and it is designed to tell our brains when we are unsafe through gut instinct (1). Our brains rely on our body to know when our safety is compromised and regulate accordingly; this is the classic fight or flight response, but there is also freeze and fawn (2). Fight bets our survival on staying aggressively engaged, flight on physically escaping, freeze on mentally withdrawing, and fawn on blending in. While most of these responses are connected to the sympathetic nervous system meant to quickly react to a threat, freeze comes from the parasympathetic nervous system, meant to calm our reactivity. “When the other strategies are not possible or successful, the body enters a state of energy conservation” through dissociation or disconnection (3). This means that if a bear attack is imminent, our bodies will dissociate from pain in order to dull our experience. This is a brilliant creative response. Our bodies have literally learned how to lessen our suffering in the face of death. Through this lens, we see that dissociation is our body’s inherent creative process to trauma, and instead of judging ourselves for disconnecting, we can honor our creative resilience. Integrative trauma therapist, Dr. Odelya Gertel Kraybill says it best:

“I have discovered the importance of claiming more than nicely tamed positive emotions and outcomes as evidence of resilience. I make it a goal as a therapist to help clients to see each of their symptoms as a creative response to adversity, without whose help the client may not have survived. 

Most clients are heartened at the mere thought of such a possibility. In a paradoxical way, many find that when they appreciate the value of symptoms they have long feared and despised, when they honor them as creative responses to their own unique situation, then they can reconsider their symptoms as a set of vulnerabilities that also manifest as resilience.”

(4) Odelya Gertel Kraybill Ph.D., If Trauma Is Transgenerational, So Are Resilience and PTG

This reminds me of Joanna Macy’s four stages of reclaiming your life’s potential: Coming from Gratitude, Honoring our Pain for the World, Seeing with New/Ancient Eyes, and Going Forth (5). It’s important that creative insight and action come after honoring both our foundation and our suffering; we so often only value the visioning and manifestation of our creativity instead of appreciating the lived wisdom that led us there. Every coping mechanism is our body’s creative response to suffering; by thanking our innate creative survival, we can recognize our inner strength. Or as one of my meditation teachers Heather Sundberg likes to say “Find the root of caring…Sometimes you need to reteach a thing its loveliness.” So no matter how you are handling this current crisis, know that your creative survival is wise and worthy. It’s okay to take it one day at time. 

Living is a creative act,
Evelyn Thorne


Everyday Creativity Tip

This is an activity I designed to help people recognize their everyday creative resilience. Remember that small c creativity is our individual insights that lead to Big C impact. This is best to do with a partner (can be done over phone or through video conferencing), so that you can get an outside perspective on your creative process. 

Steps:

  1. Write down a change you made to better your life. Do not explain why you made the change, just describe the action. 
  2. ​Now write 5 Whys, i.e. 5 reasons you made this decision, digging deeper with each level for what led to this change.
  3. Then next to your 5 whys, write 5 Whens; Reflect on what moments or experiences led to each insight. 
  4. When you are done, share with a partner. The partner should listen for the “How”, your creative process or practices for making this decision, and reflect back what they heard. This will reveal the creative wisdom you’ve cultivated through lived experience.

Example
Action: I quit teaching

Why:When:
Teaching is overwhelming.When I still was working 6 days/week with 2 classes I’d taught before.
I want space to pursue my writing passion.2 years of teaching led to a clear idea for a book on creativity. 
I feel more alignment with writing than teaching.Recognizing the surge of pride and connection to life after writing versus the collapse after teaching.
Writing helps me process my thoughts and emotions.Noticing I feel more confident when writing and able to process complex emotions or thoughts. 
I am more introverted than I thought.Choosing to write about when I feel insecure and realizing I need time to process my emotions. 
Creative process or practices:reflection, integrity, communication, writing, boundaries, balance, emergence, visioning, joy, unlearning 

Footnotes

1. Marlysa B. Sullivan et al. “Yoga Therapy and Polyvagal Theory: The Convergence of Traditional Wisdom and Contemporary Neuroscience for Self-Regulation and Resilience”, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00067/full
2. Acuity Counseling, “Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn? What is ‘Trauma’?”, https://www.acuitycounseling.net/2019/05/30/fight-flight-freeze-or-fawn-what-is-trauma/
3. Image © Sarah Schlote. Illustration by Carolyn Buck Reynolds. “Hierarchical Autonomic Nervous System Responses”, https://equusoma.com/the-polyvagal-theory-and-horses/
4. Odelya Gertel Kraybill Ph.D., “ If Trauma Is Transgenerational, So Are Resilience and PTG”, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/expressive-trauma-integration/201810/if-trauma-is-transgenerational-so-are-resilience-and-ptg
5. Work That Reconnects Network, “The Spiral of the Work That Reconnects”,  https://workthatreconnects.org/spiral/


Originally published April 5, 2020 on the Creativity in Context Newsletter by Evelyn Thorne.


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Living is creative act

Published by Evelyn Thorne

Evelyn is a writer, educator, and facilitator who helps people unlearn misconceptions and limiting beliefs about their creative identities.

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