The other day I noticed how tense I was. I wasn’t happy about it – which then made me angry and tense. Then I thought ‘but this isn’t me‘ which of course then made me sad, angry and tense! Not a winning streak, I thought to myself. On reflection, I asked myself when I was last ‘creative’ in the conventional sense of the word i.e. when had I last painted, sung, written, just for the joy of the self expression and freedom (or a sense of) that it elicits? Hmmm. weeks, really. So then the question has to be asked ‘why?’ What is it that stops us in our tracks and removes us from the playing field of creativity? And is the reunion of us with our creativity a good definition of healing?
I have always been creative – it wasn’t something that I practised in order to become it, in other words, it wasn’t a goal, it was just me. In fact, had I had my own way, I would have chosen not to be, as life looked so beautifully straightforward for those not burdened with a creative daemon (!) and relentlessly questioning mind (oh the happy sounds of ‘that’s just the way it is!’ that people would recite to me, as if that was a good enough answer for all the questions!); plus, although I suspect I secretly liked being ‘different’ and ‘anti-establishment’, I also often felt rather lost and sometimes alone, being in the minority.
Growing up in a somewhat conventional environment with siblings and parents that made the choice to go the well-trodden route of marriage, children, mortgages, second homes, and self employment (which is where we all diverge in our family from the truly conventional), I always thought I was weird and wrong for not having those as my own natural inclinations – and, I suspect, so did they. Quite simply, I didn’t fit in; my thinking didn’t fit in and my ambitions were contrary to those around me, both my own family and, more importantly, the greater environment of my local and national culture – that of Britain. Plus, I cared about the environment, which was considered naive and irritating and, overall, creatives were perceived in the same vein as people on the dole, welfare and social services i.e. there was an overall perspective of us as collective social dropouts without much of a clue about ‘how the world works’ and one day we’d all wake up and realize that we’d just gotten it wrong, whilst they’d been carrying the burden of our stupidity and then we’d shape up, grow up, and go get a real job and support the economy!
But no, it didn’t happen that way. I waited for something to make sense, worked in the City (London) as a secretary (for a Far Eastern Investment Company) for two lovely guys, where I had a lot of fun but I didn’t really know what I was doing (which was eventually my demise, but that’s another story!) and the nagging feeling that there was more for me, more of me, just grew and grew like a cancerous ironic void inside of me – there was no stopping it, I wanted more! How Oliver Twist of me!
Taking a step sideways, I remember being on the stony beach of Aldeburgh in Suffolk, UK, (default setting of home for me, no matter where I am in the World and, in fact, where the featured picture of the red umbrella was taken) with my very pragmatic sister one summer’s day, many years ago, pondering this lack of sense of self in relation to the general global community and, out loud, stating that ‘I just don’t want to work in an office!’ to which the prompt reply was ‘no-one does, but you just have to do it!’ as if I was remarkably stupid for not getting how the game worked. Although I couldn’t refute her simple truth, I also couldn’t agree with it. No answers means no answers. If you don’t have an answer you don’t just take the nearest one to you – life isn’t musical chairs… is it?
Earlier, I mentioned feeling sad, angry and tense… what led to that? Well, in this endless search for money in a world of conventional (yet destructive – more on that later) approaches to life, I slightly over-reached and took on a job in triplicate – one I usually teach for 3 hours a week to 35 students, I was now teaching to almost 120 students, 9 hours a week and they are all so different. The joke is I’m teaching ‘Creativity & Innovation’ and have managed to practically cut off my own creative air supply in the process. But why? The hours themselves don’t justify that, even with all the prep and follow up and grading etc., so, is it my overall environment, since our environments are so important to our well-being and happiness, that is impacting my sense of creativity? Maybe the environment is the clue… I have talked about my outer environment, but what of the inner?
Sir Ken Robinson talks about this a lot in his book ‘The Element’ – it’s fabulous – and when he talks about the Element, our Element (which is essentially the experience of being completely in the center of our true passion and being instantly fed by our own aliveness in the process, by that to which we belong) he says ‘when we are doing something that we love and are naturally good at , we are much more likely to feel centered in our true sense of self – to be who we feel we truly are.’¹ My experience of this is that this is when I am being artistically creative I feel happy and relaxed, focused and alive… and so beautifully thought-less. And, in truth, when I am being intellectually creative (which usually means I’m holding my thinking lightly, experiencing it rather than drilling it into another) I also feel this sense of stimulation, joy and freedom – it’s a lovely state of being and so uplifting! Actually, in truth, it’s utterly expansive and I love how that feels, don’t you?
So what am I doing when I’m being creative? Take now, for instance… I just walked away from the computer, picked up my guitar (tuned to DADGAD) and started strumming two notes in a repetitive pattern. Over that order I improvised with my voice which allowed my thoughts to wander, meander, through the fields of my waking dreams. I asked the question ‘what am I doing when I’m being creative, really?’ to which the thought came ‘you’re colouring outside the lines, you’re finding and stating what’s true for you’… ‘outside the lines’ – that seems to be so important. So, in terms of environment, the lines are the repetition of showing up at the same time with the same students, the same environment, same structures… how to keep my sense of self, my sense of surprise and novelty, around such repetition? And, think of the people with office jobs, how do they manage with their repetition, day in, day out? How do they keep their souls alive? Or at most schools? We use television, wine, beer, bicycling etc., is that the answer? Is that enough? Is the repetition the thing that takes us out of our playing field of creativity?
Although we can look to our own schedules and ways of prioritising i.e. where we ‘spend’ ourselves, to assess this, I think that maybe this is also where the outer natural environment (i.e. it’s state of health) can also come in, as a kind of collective gauge… if the use of television, wine, beer, etc., were enough I have a feeling (that I’m not sure how one might prove) that we wouldn’t make choices that are so asleep to their consequences; i.e. if we were feeling alive within ourselves, we’d feel the aliveness of our entire environment (yes, our entire universe!) too. From there, we’d feel and see the consequences of unhealthy or unsustainable business practice and life choices (inner and outer pollution), as they relate to our inner and outer environments, because the connection would become viscerally apparent to us. When I’m in the center of my creative self, my creative identity, I feel a sense of wholeness and undeniable connection, which many would call healing (as healing is commonly considered the experience of reintegration or ‘wholeness in awareness’). That wholeness is an environment. It is also a state of being. Whatever I have to do to maintain that active relationship between my thinking mind and my creative self in balance, I must do. We are here for so much more than just our thinking and doing… we are here for our being.
And that voice of my sister’s on the beach, snapping at me like a sea turtle wrapped tightly in plastic soda hoops, was the direct result of unhappiness. I recognize it as my own, when I’m not happy, when I feel that life’s pressures have made me make choices that are not distinct from the norm, but simply reinforcing it – lives without enough freedom, spontaneity, imagination and joy. The result of tension vs. creative freedom.
So, in terms of the relationship between healing and creativity – maybe healing can be considered an integration, a working model of taking ourselves seriously, our creative drives seriously, and managing our outer environment so that it doesn’t invade that but simply supports it in ways that serve. Maybe ‘healing’ simply means ‘knowing ourselves’? Let me ask you… do you feel creativity has to be for something? – I’m thinking that perhaps it does. But not necessarily in ways that are ‘for sale’; i.e. for me, creativity is for my sanity, my sense of aliveness, my identity, my happiness, my social lubrication (i.e. I’m easier to be around when I’m happy and I’m happy when I’m in my creative genesis). And then there’s the unpredictable outcomes of creativity for society as a whole – no innovation that has impacted our lives in dramatic ways has come from conventional thinking – it has always come from stepping ‘outside the norm’, colouring ‘outside the box’ and going beyond identifiable form into a future that is yet to happen. And we are all part of that future. That’s why creativity matters. And that’s why you matter.
Thank you for reading, and please feel free to comment below – what ‘tricks’ do you have up your sleeve for times when you’ve forgotten that your creativity is actually responsible for your entire life and therefore you have a profound responsibility towards engaging with it?
P.S. Clare’s Club: I should mention that I have started a new adventure to keep me (and those that join) in touch with their creative drive on a weekly basis. Visit the information/signup page and see Clare’s Club for yourself:) I’d love you to join and help shift the tide of commercial and social perspectives on the creative impulse – where it comes from and what it’s for.
¹ The Element, Sir Ken Robinson (pg.90)