I was excited to see that the next guidepost is #6 and that means we are over halfway through on this slow and contemplative exploration of the gifts of imperfection. I’m also excited because it’s about cultivating creativity, which I really want to focus on and put in bold caps, and not really pay quite so much attention to the small font italics tag line letting go of comparison.
Except that Brene is right that creativity does not sit comfortably next to competition and comparison. I know I’m not the only one who learned quite young that ‘I can’t draw’, and that many people have stories of having their creative efforts ridiculed or dismissed, leaving a sense that there are people who are creative (with built in talent which they hone into a skill) and people who are not creative, and who cannot create even if it were a matter of life and death….which, you know, it might be.
Brene’s story is that in her family, creative, playful makery was put aside to pursue the ideals of corporate middle class accomplishments and acquisitions where fitting in while being better than others were the the relational rules.
So along with the idea that there are creatives and there are non-creatives is the idea that there are self-indulgent flaky arty types and there are pragmatic, sensible, busy, productive, effective people who don’t see the point, and don’t have time to be creative, to play, to make something for the pleasure of the making alone.
Of course, we know none of that’s true, that in fact there are only people who use their creativity and there are people who don’t. And unused creativity doesn’t just disappear – like any other unexpressed impulse in us, we have to shove it down and starve it out with neglect or suffocate it with resentment and fear (it takes so much energy NOT being creative!)
And Brene’s research says that if we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Humans are meaning makers – we search for patterns, for connections and for significance to make sense of our experience, our place in the world, our perspective on life. We create to express meaning and as the process of the search for significance. We need creativity to make sense of our own life and we need it to make sense of our collective life too.
It really doesn’t matter what form creativity takes – baking cookies or upcycling old woolen blankets into hot water bottle covers, telling stories or rebuilding an old morris minor – the value of the endeavour is in the make/do/play/enjoy part.
Pause to reflect – part 1
So maybe the best question here is this: What gets in the way?
The embodied aspect
Hilary McBride offers two extra layers which seem pertinent to whether we choose to embrace our creative energies or to squash them. The first has to do with the ways in which we focus on our appearance and how other people perceive us. At its foundation, this is about body image – how we look and how others respond to how we look, or what we imagine they think about how we look. She invites you to imagine that you are lucky enough to own a house. Inside your home are all the resources you need to live well and healthily – a pantry with nutritious food, soft pillows to rest on, a shower in which to get clean…and then one day you look out the window and notice that all your neighbours are out on their front lawn. You go out to see what’s going on and they are all talking about their houses. One of them compliments you on your trim, another expresses envy about the tidy state of your roof, others are comparing the sizes of their house…you look back at your place and notice where things are getting a bit saggy or looking a little worn, so you start to focus on doing what you can to fix it up. You spend more time on the lawn, looking at your house and comparing, talking about it, than you do actually living in your home.
While this is a metaphor for how we stop inhabiting our own bodies and live outside ourselves, our actual embodied reality, it’s also true for anything which we generate (create). A poem, a song, a pie, a picture, a garden, a play, a dance, a whatever – the creative act moves energy from the resources inside to the space outside. It’s not hard to see how the same distancing and objectification happens to our creative expression that happens to our bodies – if we are living on the front lawn, we are likely to be uncomfortably vulnerable to what others think of our creative expressions rather than living in and enjoying the creative flow.
Pause to reflect – part 2
Is this part of what is getting in the way of your creative expression? Or, is the approval and compliments of others part of what motivates you to create?
How important is it that others appreciate, understand and value what you make with your creative energy?
What early messaging did you receive – either overtly or unspoken – about creativity in general and your creative capacity in particular? How has that shaped your engagement with this part of yourself?
The second perspective that Hilary offers on creativity connects with sexuality. Right off the bat, Hilary points out that most of us grew up with a definition of sexuality as being about sex and sexual intercourse, and so she starts off with a couple of definitions, both of which have stunning breadth. The one that struck me is taken from Audrey Lourde’s definition of sexuality, which she refers to as ‘the erotic’ defined as ‘the deepest life force..the personification of creative power and harmony.’ Lourde goes on the say ‘the sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic or intellectual forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between people…and it can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within the world.’
So if I understand that right, she’s saying creativity is part of the ways in which we can connect with others across difference, and embracing our creativity energises us for positive, transformational change.
Creativity is linked to the energy of our sensual desire for connection at the deepest level of our being – our desire for intimacy and pleasure, surrender and acceptance, joy, play, exploration and discovery – all of this, and at the same time, we surrender whilst still holding a clear and boundaried sense of self because we are accepted and accepting of the ones we are sharing ourselves with…. In other words, I guess, it’s a layered concept! And no wonder many of us are scared to create, scared to let those parts of ourselves be known, or are scared because we have never learned how to develop a sense of our own selves with good and wholesome boundaries, which we can consciously choose to soften when we feel safe and loved.
Any creative act is an act of love and trust (of self and others), an invitation into connection (again, with self and others), a request for acceptance without judgement…you can see where this is going. So, given all that, think again about the ways in which you are creative – is there anything new there for you? Perhaps there things you do which you have never considered creative before, but which do express this desire for connection, and if so, does anything shift or change for you if you recognise them and intentionally engage with them as creative expression?
Lectio divina with scripture
I’m pretty sure you know how this works…read the passage slowly – better, record yourself reading it and then listen to the passage three or four times. In the first reading, let the words sink in and be attentive for a word, phrase or image which holds resonance for you. This can be something which holds you for a moment as you are reading or something that returns to you in the silence between readings. It might be something that conjures an image, or connects with an emotion or an idea. It might be attractive, but it may also be disturbing or even repellant. After some silence, read/listen again. Whatever resonates, stay with that in the silence, and open your awareness to connections…where is that word, phrase, image, emotion or idea connecting with your lived experience? What’s the story there? What meaning or significance is there for you in the story? Listen a third time. As you pause in silence again, listen for the invitation, ask for clarity – what are the connections drawing you towards, or what are they drawing forth from you? What do you want to do/offer in response?
You can find my suggestion for a scripture passage here but you may have another passage in mind that you’d like to dwell with.
Play, make, craft.
Of course. What do you usually do for creative joy? What do you do that is for your delight and that links you to the energy of your sensual desire for connection? And do you usually do it with this framework in mind? Whatever it is that you ‘usually’ do, try being more awake and alive to the energy flow of your creative activity – what do you notice?
The thing about creativity is that it gets mixed up with comparison, with production, with gift, skill or talent, and it’s often not so much about pleasure or fun. You are probably familiar with the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’. This captures the whole ambivalence our culture has loaded us with about enjoying our fully natural, fully human, embodied sensuality.
So, maybe the first step for you is to enjoy a pleasurable experience and sensation without guilt. Guilt is like raising an inner flag, indicating that we may have moved outside of or against our values – it means we feel we have done something wrong. The chances are there is nothing wrong at all with the things you are likely to label as guilty pleasures…try this: Eat one chocolate biscuit.
First, buy a packet of chocolate biscuits.
Then, think about eating a chocolate biscuit, about all the taste and texture sensations of biting and chewing it. Then breathe in the smell that wafts up at you when you open the packet, breathe it in deeply. Carefully take out one biscuit and set it aside for at least half an hour, but it could be for longer if you really want to explore extending the pleasure of the experience. In the time between putting the biscuit aside and returning to eat it, think of how the biscuit will taste, and what it will feel like as the chocolate melts in your mouth, the crunchy, crispy crumbs softening on your tongue, the sweet, buttery tastes as you savour each bite.
When you have enjoyed the anticipation of eating your biscuit, go ahead and fully enjoy the pleasure of your sensory fulfilment! Savour it, slowly, slowly and see how much you can give yourself to the experience, how much pleasure you can take in it.