It doesn’t matter what we do for a living or what we feel we are accomplishing in life. From time to time, most of us find ourselves asking the question, Is this all there is? We don’t have to be artists to feel creatively blocked, yet how can we reclaim a sense of creativity when we least feel able? It may begin with something as simple as breathing.
Consider the word in-spiration, meaning both something that stimulates us to create as well as the drawing in of breath. In it, we discover a catalyst for reclaiming the imaginative spark we feel we have lost. When we are stressed, some of us actually hold our breath. We begin to feel less energized, less animated. We lack direction. We may slip into depression. What underlies this lassitude may be a form of soul sickness, and no one describes this better than Shaun McNiff in his book Art Heals, “Art does not profess to rid the world of suffering and wounds. It does something with them, realizing that the soul is truly lost when afflictions cannot be put to use.”
Yet what meaning has art to one who feels no creative pull? How can we reawaken that sense of wonder we all felt as children, the feeling that everything from a cloud to a cooking utensil is potent with magic? Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way offers, “For those of us who have become artistically anorectic yearning to be creative and refusing to feed that hunger in ourselves so that we become more and more focused on our deprivation, a little authentic luxury can go a long way.” She then goes on to define luxury as having nothing to do with “penthouse views, designer clothes, zippy foreign sports cars or first-class travel.” She speaks instead of the luxury of time “with friends, time with family, above all … time with [ourselves] with no agendas of preternatural accomplishment.”
Let’s try giving ourselves time to truly be self indulgent rather than time spent checking out watching television or staying busy doing routine tasks. Begin with the breath, letting come what may and being with whatever arises. Chances are, if we are attached to attaining peace, chaos will ensue. This may appear as disordered thoughts, maybe even a loud noise outside. Distractions can be a function of the Trickster, an archetypal energy which emerges when we become too rooted in a singular way of thinking or being; wanting what we want and not welcoming what is. Trickster provides the chaos needed to get us unstuck. McNiff says if we welcome chaos, welcome our fears and resistance and stay with what ensues; if we stick with the process and listen to our breath and body as opposed to the rambling mind, we will move into our creative being, once again. “Stuck,” he offers, “is being somewhere other than where you are.”
If we can work with how we flow best rather than to try and fit ourselves into some kind of creative mold, expression comes more freely. Some of us need the discipline of setting aside daily time to create. Most art, music or writing teachers encourage and even demand we do this. Writers write, preaches writing teacher Larry Donner, portrayed by comedian Billy Crystal in Throw Mama From the Train. And most of us do. Yet Larry himself remains stuck with writer’s block until he reclaims his passion for life, spurred on by student Owen, played by Danny de Vito. Larry needs Owen’s zany Trickster energy to spark his creative buzz.
Regular time set aside for inspiration does not mean we sacrifice spontaneity and the joy of living. In fact, creativity feeds from the stuff our lives are made of! If we deny or suppress engagement with life, we eventually reach an impasse which can go on indefinitely. We may even become sick, laconic or depressed. The longer the need to create goes unsatisfied, the further away from our essential nature we wander until the return demands a healing journey of sorts. In this case, a system such as Cameron’s twelve-week program to reclaim our creativity may be helpful. Yet we can always simply return to the breath.
Setting aside time each day to sit with ourselves and breathe can help move what is stuck. Others of us work best when staying mindful of our internal process, attuning to cues and attending to our needs and desires. Inner attentiveness helps us follow our muse no matter what must be laid aside at the time she arrives. Walks or contemplation in nature may not only grant us a sudden burst of inspiration but greater peace of mind.
When we go with the flow, our lives unfold moment-to-moment. In Garry Ross’ movie Pleasantville, David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are all too aware of the messy complications of modern society. David sits in front of the television, watching reruns of Pleasantville, a spoof on such ‘sixties shows as Ozzie and Harriet. Jennifer is a self-described “slut.” A t.v. repairman (Don Knotts) suddenly appears onscreen, giving them a magic remote control. When they find themselves transformed into Pleasantville’s black and white world as Bud and Mary Sue, their ingenuity reveals its limits and ultimately transforms not only these two but all that surrounds them. At first, Jennifer thinks that it is simply passion that converts the two-toned characters into color. Eventually though, she realizes that this new dimension of life is imbued with something more subtle and meaningful. When the characters begin to honestly reflect on feelings and longings, when they begin to challenge the status quo and create life with heart; when they begin to live soulfully, their world becomes awash with brilliant color. Creativity, lived through them, changes their whole world.
Everyday places, people and things become food for artistic expression if we observe them openly and with care. Yet if we do not allocate regular reflective time for ourselves, if we fill the hours with the demands of others and/or anything but our own creative endeavors, we starve the artist within. Let’s not get caught in the inner dialogue which reinforces I am not an artist. I am not creative. Nature is constantly reinventing herself, and we exemplify the human aspect of that natural world. We are all artists. No matter how we express what is unique to us, whether it be a small flair to setting the table, the unique colors we choose when we dress ourselves for the day, or creating art for its own sake, we can make a statement that impresses originality in the corner of the universe we call home.
Artists are not always healed people, but they can teach us how to engage the transformative aspects of emotional upheaval rather than experience the madness that occurs when imagination turns against itself. ~ Shaun McNiff