Creativity is something we tend to resist in ourselves. We grow up believing “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”, or “I am not an artist”. And with the forces of industrial civilization demanding that we do things just so, followed by endless assessing and reporting on how well we do things just so, we have all succumbed to what I call The Disease of Being Right. Wrong must be avoided at all costs. Such is the short leash on our creativity.
In his book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon MacKenzie discusses how he used to go into elementary schools to teach students how to make sculptures from sheets of steel. When he began each class, he always started with the same question: “How many artists are in the room? Would you please raise your hands?” The pattern of response was invariable. The first graders were all in, leaping in the air, hands enthusiastically shooting for the stars. But with each successive grade, less hands were seen waving in the air like they just don’t care. MacKenzie notes, “By the time I reached sixth grade, no more than one or two (raised their hands) and then only ever-so-slightly—guardedly—their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a ‘closet artist.’”
Indeed, the care-freeness of fresh young minds was, and continues to be, usurped by the pressures of the intellect, as well as fears of being judged for standing out and doing things wrong.
Picasso famously wrote, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” This is certainly true in today’s rush-and-ready-kids modern world; where time is of the essence, good grades are a must, knowledge is everything, and where the future surpasses the present moment.
Being creative, however, is exactly what we need from kids today. And the world needs it from you as well. Because when someone is creative they are more joyful. That’s because creativity is a means of accessing and expressing our life force and natural gifts. Through creativity we tend to our authenticity, to that which wants to have a voice. It’s where we become alive, engaged and in wonder.
Creativity not only connects us to our deeper nature, but it moves us into more intimate union with all of life. In fact, they—our deeper nature and all of life—are the same thing. Going inward, as we must do on the creative path, we hear whispers and gather intuitive nudges from hidden worlds that change who we are and how we perceive life. Creativity brings this awareness increasingly alive. An inter-mingling dance between our inner life force and the forces of life consumes us further with each stroke of the brush, inspiring us, pulling us more deeply into secrets of the Great Mystery.
“I will whisper secrets in your ears, just nod yes and be silent.” ~ Rumi
That is partly the purpose of artists—to thin the veil between this world and the unseen. A great musician connects you to the music of your soul. A poet helps you feel the nuance and beauty beyond the literalism of this world our eyes get deceived by. An ecstatic dancer reminds you how to be free in your body as you were when a young child, freely feeling life move you.
Creativity does not necessarily mean you are a musician, dancer or painter. While we typically associate creativity or art with these endeavors, creativity is actually more about how you live your life—how you create it. With your energy, thoughts, words and actions, you are always making up your life. Each moment there lies in front of you countless ways to create: how do you sit, where do you look, what do you drink, do you drink, how is your hair, where are your hands, what do you say, how do you speak? We are always making our life up, even in mundane moments; some do it more consciously than others. But my point is that creativity begins with the assumption that, by the very nature of being human, you are a creator. You don’t have to be a deft guitarist or virtuoso with a stencil to be an artist. You are born an artist. You are born to create!
“Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art.” ~ Miguel Angel Ruiz
Children know this; unafraid they are to pick up a crayon and wildly draw, to sing out loud at a dinner table in front of people they have never met before, to let loose on a dance floor as if no one is watching. They are in their bodies where creativity is felt; not in their heads calculating their every move, wondering if something is right or wrong, killing their spirit with self-judgment, worrying if their creation will pass the test. They just jump in and begin without fear. That is until they learn that creativity should be done a certain way and has negative consequences.
Like my friend’s son, who in grade seven came home to show his parents that the tree he painted in class got a big fat F! He failed art, somehow. It was then that he decided he never wanted to do any art again. So upset he was that he even began to purposefully fail all his classes as an act of rebellion. I don’t blame him. We take something that is meant to be such a natural expression and arbitrarily judge it through our grading system.
Imagine the impact the F and his response to it had on his capacity to create in all areas of his life?
Interestingly, and not surprising, research suggests that children who are the most creative are less likely to garner favoritism from teachers than students who conform more to teacher/behavioral expectations. Assuming teachers, like most of us, had their creative life force sucked out of them and were stricken with the Disease of Being Right, then creativity would be unsettling. For creativity is not about conformity, but uniqueness; and, as nicely delivered by Twyla Twerp, creativity is “an act of defiance.” So in a school system where obedience, compliance and conformity reign, we can expect creativity to be seen as a threat and misbehavior.
Yet in a world where the old continues to fail us—our social, economic and political systems come to mind—, aren’t bold acts of creativity what we need? Do we not need new ideas, new ways of looking at things? Especially given that within the next two decades many believe that 40% of jobs will be automated? Doesn’t it behoove us all to, as L.R. Knost so wonderfully puts it, “grow our tiny humans into adult humans who are independent thinkers, compassionate doers, conscious questioners, radical innovators, and passionate peacemakers”? She goes on to remind us that, “Our world doesn’t need more adults who blindly serve the powerful because they’ve been trained to obey authority without question. Our world needs more adults who challenge and question and hold the powerful accountable.”
A creative mind does that. It forgoes the need to fit in for the sake of dreaming big, honoring uniqueness, and heeding the whispers of something bigger than the individual self. It says No to the demands and expectations of others to say a resounding Yes to what is calling from within.
Each of us is born with a calling. Something is needed of us as we grow into this world, something most in the industrialized world have long forgotten.
Stoking the fires of creativity is a process of helping you remember who you are and your gifts. You don’t need to dream up anything big; in fact, starting small may be the wisest choice. Each brush stroke, guitar string strung and letter typed will open you more to your spirit and your creative nature. Each will lead you on a path to the unexpected where aliveness waits for you.
16 Practices and Mindsets for the Reluctant Artist
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ~ Maya Angelou
1. Assume you are naturally creative
As stated, so many believe they don’t have a creative bone in their body. They believe they cannot draw, have two left feet, or can’t sing, when in truth, all of us can draw, dance and sing. Children don’t draw symmetrical houses, move on beat, or sing in perfect pitch, but they don’t care because they don’t believe they have to. This frees them to be present and playful and to ride the rhythms of creativity with their imagination, feelings and physicality. In this, they remain remarkably open to joy and inspiration. And isn’t this what we all long for?
“Joy is but the sign that creative emotion is fulfilling its purpose.” ~ Charles Du Bos
2. Just begin
It can be incredibly hard to start a creative project. I know the magnitude of inertia that prevents me and others from beginning to write an article or book. The inertia tricks us, however. It makes us believe that we aren’t ready yet. But in truth, inertia is like first gear in a car. We must start very slow if we are to go into second, third, fourth and fifth gear. This is especially true if we haven’t much experience driving the car—if we haven’t put pen to paper for a while. What you may find, though, is that the more you commit to your creativity, the easier and quicker you move through the gears. And sometimes, you begin roaring in fifth!
3. Do it for you
Creativity can be scary if we think we need to create for others—for their approval. “What will others think?” you wonder. “Will it be good enough?” If we begin with the idea that we are making something for others we set ourselves up to avoid our paints and instrument. But if we do it just for ourselves, then we are less likely to get in our own way.
This can be difficult if we believe that it’s not okay simply to relax into our own space for a while, to self-indulge and self-care. Spirit-evasive beliefs such as, It’s bad to put myself first, cause us to seek to please others more than ourselves.
Despite our limiting self-concepts, creativity indeed must begin as an incredibly selfish act. You do it because it brings you joy, you get to express your native gifts, and you get to contemplate life’s mysteries. Paradoxically, this selfish act may just be one of the best ways you can serve the world. For, you can’t give away what you don’t have. The more joy you generate within, the more you can share without.
4. Lead from your heart, not logic
“We often know things imaginally, aesthetically, or harmoniously before we know them rationally or conceptually.” ~ Richard Rohr
Though most believe the brain in the head is the center of intelligence, the heart is actually mission control. As discussed in this article I wrote entitled, The Adventure We Long For Lies in our Childlike Heart and in Feeling the Unexpected, recent research in neuroscience shows that over 50% of the heart is comprised of neural cells making it a brain in its own right; 80% of information travels from the heart to the head-brain via the Vagus nerve and only 20% travels the other way around; and the heart processes information quicker than the head-brain. The heart is in fact central to human intelligence. And we access this intelligence through our feelings.
Trusting and acting on your feelings—also known as felt-sense, felt-knowing or intuition—is essential to creativity. Feelings are like a wellspring of knowing finding us somatically from the depth of our being. Logic cannot determine the source of them, and is not meant to, but can, and is designed to, effectively work with them. Intuitively, for instance, I’ll suddenly feel in my chest what words want to come forth through me in my poetry writing; or I’ll feel a spontaneous rise of intelligence pointing to the next chord and words in my song writing. Somehow I’ll just know! Logic works in service of the heart’s knowing to turn those feelings into words and to order the words and chords into a particular sequence.
“Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.” ~ Albert Einstein
The heart draws from the ethereal world while logic draws from the world of form. Both are necessary in the human experience. But if you lead from logic more than your heart, you may find yourself editing out your creativity before it has a chance to fully emerge, leaving it with less depth and feeling. In your attempts rationalize your felt-knowing too quickly, you’ll disconnect from your body and lose the creativity speaking to you. And, personally, I hate having to lose inspiration because I usually never get it back.
More so, when we don’t allow our hearts to lead, our creations cannot truly serve the planet, and may actually cause great harm. The historic destructive nature of man’s creations is symptomatic of so many people being disembodied.
5. Ground in your body
Creativity begins in the body, not above the neck. The head helps, but the driving force, as stated in the previous point, is feeling, not thinking.
We were not encouraged to feel as children. I don’t mean emotions (although they, for most, were not encouraged either), but rather our intuition. We weren’t encouraged to feel our way through life, to trust our heart, to lead from felt-sense. We were expected to sit for hours on end studying linear material when what we really wanted and needed was to be set free in the great outdoors. The demands of the thinking world forced us to leave our legs, arms, belly, heart, and other feeling centers for the more measurable terrain of the linear mind. As such, the West is a highly disembodied culture. It’s why so many are afraid to dance, to let their voices loose in song, to set their hands wildly free in messy artistic abandon. We are bound by layers of conditioning that have left us far from the lithesome, meandrous beings we were as children.
Try to find regular ways to get in your body, to feel again. A warm shower often brings us ideas because we soften below the neck. A jog, dance class, bike ride or hike can help return us to our senses. Or you can do what Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, does—“inversion therapy”, which is hanging upside down for a period of time. Whatever works, right?
6. Be willing to create with uncertainty and improvise
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” ~ Woody Allen
My dance teacher used to repeatedly call out to us, “Don’t decide. Discover!” It was her way of getting us out of our heads and into our feeling-bodies. We were encouraged to trust our body to lead—to become present, avail ourselves to our somatic intelligence and follow its impulses. To do so, we had to dwell within a tabula rasa—a blank slate: to slowly move without consciously shaping our move in advance. This same wisdom is useful in all acts of creativity.
In some cases like writing, planning can be helpful. But often, planning can limit our expression and joy. Children are our teachers here. They don’t plan before they color, build a sand castle or sing a song. They just begin and play with whatever arises within. They don’t waste time deciding, instead they jump into the fun of creation, improvising along the way; such is their bubbling eagerness to play, to create!
One of the reasons we like to plan is to mitigate the potential for mistakes or judgment from doing it “wrong”. If we have everything planned just so then we are more likely to get it right, and receive that gold star of approval! Spontaneity and improvisation are thus vulnerable in the West where planning and preparation is King, and where we are evaluated to death! Trusting the wellspring of somatic intelligence is a stretch when the thinking mind reigns.
We cannot avail ourselves to the unexpected if we are busy adhering to the expected, including what other’s expect. We cannot discover if we are too busy trying to decide. The wisdom of uncertainty is that you allow the certainty of spirit to work through you. Creativity truly depends on how much you get out of the way, how much space you create for life to find and fill you.
”Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” ~ Agnes de Mille
7. Make way for messiness and mistakes
“One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.” ~ A.A. Milne
Artists call mistakes “happy accidents”. You thought you were painting a tree, but suddenly your spilt ink reveals what looks to be a murky pond right where the tree was. You choose to go with where the spilt ink is taking you and discover that the pond is much better than the tree you thought you wanted. It’s not what you had intended, but you discover it’s what wants to happen.
Messiness and mistakes are unintended outcomes that, quite often, are in service of something bigger than you may be cognizant of at the time. When the weather sours it may initially feel like life is working against you, but when you look closely, you discover that you were meant to be indoors in front of a fire having a conversation you didn’t know you needed to have. The curve ball is actually doing you a great favor. The difficult injury is giving you the time to finally write your book; the job loss leads you to the woman of your dreams.
What seem to be blips in your creative unfolding may actually be opportunities. Each error in your performances crafts your precision even sharper, so long as you are willing to learn from them. The stumble in your dance class leads to an unexpected and delightful twist to the choreography.
I’m not suggesting all curve balls are meant to lead you in new directions. Sometimes you simply need to wind your way back to your original course. What I am suggesting is to be curious when each arises; wonder where mistakes and messiness may be leading you. Maybe it is wise intelligence causing your hand to spill ink or your feet to stumble on the dance floor; maybe your soma knows something your rational, controlling mind does not.
Maybe your diversions are urging you towards the remarkable in the unremarkable, the beauty in the bleak. Maybe in loss, just when you thought everything is taken away, you discover the perfect foundation to build from.
8. Don’t force your way through stuck
There will be moments when you get stuck. It will seem as though inspiration has vanished altogether, never to return. You may resign yourself to thinking that it was good while it lasted, but not meant to be; that you are destined not to be creative, for that is what you’ve always experienced. But creativity has its own timelines. Like wind, it comes and it goes. When it arrives, wonderful! Play with it! But when it leaves, it may simply mean that you need to take a break. Moving your body, having a meal, meeting up with friends may be necessary to create the inner space for further inspiration.
Or your creative lull could mean that Mystery needs you elsewhere, for just around the corner a discovery awaits you—a chance encounter with a stranger, a funny shaped cloud, a song in your car—that will give you the inspiration you need for the next level of your creativity.
9. Be prepared take notes
While we’re speaking of breaks and walks, be sure that you keep a note pad near by. Smartphones are great for this, offering a place to write down thoughts or record them through voice dictation. The surprise element of creativity means that it can come at any moment. You may wake in the middle of the night with a eureka! You may suddenly be flooded with clarity while driving (in which case you must pull over before recording your thoughts!). You may have an idea come while listening to a band play. Creativity is mercurial, and so we must be prepared for when it arrives.
10. Pay attention to your inner critic
You’ve heard this one countless times, I’m sure, but it’s worth mentioning again. We all have one, a little fella inside who thinks it knows what’s best. It won’t be afraid to deliver its opinion about you—about your deplorable project, your limited capacity, the criticisms others will undoubtedly give. Whatever you do, don’t believe its shallow words. It’s just a tape recorder, spewing all that it has heard and held since you were a child. For, if you listen carefully, you may just discover that what it is saying is the exact same thing your parents told you, or your teacher. And perhaps even in the same tone.
More to the point, the inner critic is simply doing its job, albeit in not so loving ways. Its job is to protect you from being hurt more than you already have been. The louder the words, the more hurt there often is. Its intentions are therefore noble, but its ways annoyingly disruptive.
Be aware of this little one inside. Pay close attention. Even write down what it has to say. The more conscious attention you can give it the less power it will have over you. It loves to control you from the shadows, so turn and face it, and kindly say, “Thank you for telling me I suck. I know you are trying to protect me from getting hurt…. and, I’m going to make magical music anyways!”
11. Schedule time in your calendar
Creativity must be made a priority, otherwise it may never happen. This is especially true in today’s hectic world where kids must be shuffled to soccer, groceries must be bought and prepared into meals, and bills must be paid. Time is shrinking, especially for nuclear families that don’t have the community they need to raise their children. So we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that we tend to our creativity.
Scheduling time in your calendar is a way to do this. Book it in; call it “Me Time”. And, equally important, protect this space. Make a promise to yourself that you will not allow distractions and coaxing friends to lure you from your creative time.
12. Know that depression is normal
There may come a point, and this is certainly true for writers, where you get depressed. After working on a creative project for a while the doubts begin to hit hard, you are sick of writing, you are sick of your material, you are blocked, and suddenly your creative process feels like a thousand pounds weighing on you. To the couch and Netflix you leap!
This is perfectly normal. Creative projects that demand long-term commitment can ask a lot out of us. We find ourselves stretched emotionally, mentally and even physically. Depression does not mean the end. It just means that balance and self-care are in order. Take a break, perhaps even a week off. Go into nature. Go to places where you know you are most rejuvenated. Do something that will make you laugh. Take your mind off of the project for a while, and when time, you can return.
13. Find alternative locations to be creative
Not all creativity has to be expressed indoors or at your office. I often bring my laptop to the beach and my guitar under a tree. I write poetry on dance floors. Writers seclude themselves for weeks on an island. Painters bring their canvas to a park.
Be creative with how you express your creativity. There are no rules with creativity, including how to approach your project. Moreover, by changing location you may find new inspiration; something unique to the environment you are in might stir you. And when you return home or to your office, you may discover a new sense freshness.
14. Beware of “I’m not ready yet”
Many feel that they must have just one more thing in place before they can begin: attending another writing workshop, finishing their Masters degree, gathering more research, getting a clearer vision. And while sometimes you need to do those things before starting, more often than not, they are simply ruses of the inner critic, or saboteur, wishing to keep us from beginning at all. Honest self-reflection is needed. Are you just procrastinating? Are you really not ready yet?
Because what you may find is that once you do get that research done, you’ll hear another voice inside say, “Well…. actually… you just need a little bit more research”; or, “Um… well… how about a PhD? That will definitely take you over the top!” Meaning, that will definitely keep you from doing it wrong!
For reasons already outlined, it can take a lot of courage to step into the creative arena. And so your critical, discursive, deceptive mind will do everything it can to keep you from stepping into the vulnerability of the unknown.
15. Take baby steps
Baby steps keep us moving forward at a pace that is kind and patient, and that respect how creativity wishes to unfold. There is nothing wrong with big leaps, but when first stretching our creative muscles there is wisdom in establishing a rhythm; and the continuity needed for this rhythm may live longer with small manageable chunks.
That is the gift of not having all the pieces in place: we are forced to move forward blindly to a degree, to only be able to move so far, and in this restraint we have to proceed bit-by-bit, one step at a time.
“To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play.” ~ Albert Einstein
The creator in you is the child set free. She roams your imagination unencumbered. He dives deep into the heart of your feelings. She makes-believe knowing that everything is simply all made up!
From one branch to another this child swings, exploring the jungle of possibilities each of us has inherited deep in our soul. As all playful minds know, the sky is the limit. When one plays, anything is possible.
So just play! Play as a child would, holding your brush loose, open in wonder, mercurial in mind, nimble in body, improvising, discovering. Let the playfulness of your inner child joyously direct your creativity and create your life!
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults