Create for Life

We were born to create. The creative drive – to make something out of nothing from our own sustained effort and imagination – is woven into the fiber of our being. If we accept the axiom of God as creator, and that we are made in His image, then we too are creators!

This goes beyond our most fundamental instinct: to perpetuate our species through procreation. We create because it nourishes us, sustains us, motivates us, heals us, defines us, and connects us to each other and to God.  Through creative expression we begin to understand both our selves and our world.

How is this done? I prefer a broad definition of creativity: any form of self-expression. While for many people avenues such as music, art, or writing are the most satisfying, there are countless other methods of creating that are readily available and deeply satisfying. And they are all fueled by artistic vision.

Think about what gives you joy, wonder, and a sense of accomplishment. You undoubtedly apply creative energy in these activities.

My father loves anything with an engine, and he has always used his creativity to build motorized contraptions beyond the wide-eyed comprehension of people around him. My mother created through gardening, fashioning the most beautiful rock garden in our neighborhood – the envy of the neighbor ladies and her fellow rock garden club members. My son writes poetry – deep and enigmatic, the kind his parents struggle to understand. His professors applaud and say “he has an old soul.” My daughter can write with humor, whimsy, and originality. Her unique way of seeing is evident in her insightful stories. My husband can craft a sermon with theology, language, illustrations, and oratorical flourish that make craggy old men cry. What an inventive preacher!

Despite my conventional appearance I am a “right brain” person who approaches my work with a distinct “differentness.” My leadership style has been described as “thinking outside the box.” What strengthens this method is my proclivity to embrace my creative flow. I am in love with my work  when I am so engaged that I forget about time. It is exciting and energizing to create something new. This makes every day unique, and fuels me through the unavoidable minutiae of community mental health services.

But matters as simple as playing with a child, telling a joke, cooking a meal, or decorating a room can invite creative expression. How about choosing one’s clothes in the morning? Artistic considerations are made with each decision about color, design, shape, form, and texture. Every mood can inspire a new pairing of clothes and accessories. The possibilities are endless … especially if you have a closet as jam-packed as mine!

I recently spent a year writing my memoir about my experience with major depression. This was the most sustained creative process I have ever engaged in. Now finished, I miss the discovery and delight that come from taking facts and turning them into beauty. The creative challenge of selecting a structure, images, symbols, metaphors, syntax, and meaning behind my story was like formulating my own universe. I can imagine the otherworldly transcendence that fiction writers must feel. Writing this blog provides some of that same satisfaction.

Creativity is a natural way of life and it can be a spiritual practice. I learned about this in the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her work involves a self-discovery and renewal process to recover one’s creative vision. Ms. Cameron works with people interested in practicing the art of creative living. She teaches tools that dissolve blocks to creative capacities. She helps people develop and maintain their creativity regardless of their vocation: artists, painters, filmmakers, homemakers, lawyers, social workers … anyone.

One of her key disciplines is the practice of the “morning pages.” This involves starting the day writing three longhand pages, strictly stream-of-consciousness. It is designed to be a form of “brain drain;” there is no wrong way to do morning pages. They are not meant to be art, or even writing. Morning pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, silly, stupid, or weird to be included. The goal is to evade the censor; there are no mistakes in writing morning pages. The logic brain must stand aside and let the artist brain play. It is the triumph of the right-brain over the left-brain.

Several years ago something powerful happened while I was doing my morning pages. I became aware of an area of my life that needed to change, and I suddenly had the clarity and imagination to envision it. A creative and emotional block was powerfully removed. And then it was inevitable; I just did it. Consequently, my life has been much richer. (The specific tale is one for another blog post). I am so glad that I opened myself up to the creative process of the morning pages.

In support of being well and staying well, I urge you: explore many avenues for creativity. Embrace them vigorously and consistently. You will find your life enriched, and you will arrive in places you would have never imagined. Create for life.

“I want to live like a river flows … carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

 -John O-Donahue, Irish poet and priest