I love hearing what artists and writers have to say about their process. I love hearing about them discuss their craft. Curiously, in nearly all cases, they speak about their best ideas and inspiration coming from outside themselves, ideas arriving fully formed from "somewhere." They write about their experiences saying things like, "I was just holding the pen, or the brush, or the chisel" or "the words or music just played in my head and I wrote them down."
The more I read these kinds of statements, the more I notice that this process not only describes my own experiences with artistic inspiration, but oddly, it is similar to my own spiritual experiences and those I've heard and read about.
I'm not the only one whose made this observation. Julia Cameron writes extensively about this subject in her wonderful books. In Walking In This World she writes, "It could be argued that creativity is a form of prayer, a form of thankfulness and recognition of all we have to be thankful for. . . ."
Over time, I've come to see a real connection between the creative force and the spiritual force which only makes sense--the force and power of generation, or creation is the natural order of life--why wouldn't it connect us to what is divine and holy if we let it?
So how do we go about making the creative process a spiritual one? How do we get inspired (In Spirit)?
First, we have to think about our personal process of revelation or inspiration. For me, brilliant ideas come from without, but they are always received by a very specific thing within. The strength and vitality of this inner receptor is the key to getting brilliant ideas on demand. Whether we call this personal inner core the soul, or the spirit, or the eternal self or whatever, the sensitivity of this receptor and our ability to hear and feel its quiet messages is so important.
When we were little kids, we operated completely out of this place, but the older we get, the more sophisticated and clever we become (or the more insecure we get), the more we tend to listen to all the other voices around telling us who to be, how to behave, what's cool or fashionable or pretty or marketable. In time, that still, small voice inside us just gets buried. It atrophies. It takes some real effort to go back and unearth our essential/eternal self and to carefully tune our ear to its delicate frequency, to give it credence and have enough confidence to act on its urges. But renewing our acquaintance with our essential self can be one of the best blessings of the whole creative process.
Second, take ego out of the picture. Get humble. Art is a generosity, not a performance. One of the main ways we can infuse our creative endeavors with spirit and make them spiritually uplifting to us, is to make them relevant and meaningful to others. This idea is in direct contrast to so much that is at the heart of art today--the deification of "personal expression" and the "novel."
At its heart, art is communication. I believe that the purpose of art is to educate and enrich the soul, to connect souls, to uplift souls, and to teach souls. So much of what passes for art can seem simply like attention getting devices. I always think that when something is created from the head, from the ego, instead of the heart or the spirit, people respond to it with their heads instead of their hearts. There is no spirit to spirit connection. People are not moved or changed by it, merely impressed. This robs art of its very real and potent power.
In past centuries, art was routinely done, but for the very few, anonymously and for the honor and glory of God or country or cause. A career in the arts was a career of service, not egotism. Any time we elect to serve, we open the doors for higher inspiration. Asking to be of service and being open to spiritual help makes us teachable and that kind of humility always improves our work.
Madeleine L'Engle, one of my favorite authors on this subject (and countless others) writes, "We can't take any credit for our talents. Its how we use them that counts. And so there is always, at core, this essential anonymity: we are in the service of something larger than ourselves. We are intended to be conduits for inspiration. There are high thoughts and high intentions and higher realms that can speak to us and through us if we allow it. Ego shuts off the flow."
Third--make use of our angels. St. Francis de Sales writes, "Make friends with the angels who, though invisible, are always with you. Often invoke them, constantly praise and thank them, and make good use of their help and assistance in all your temperal and spiritual affairs."
In my particular religion, this is a very common notion. We are entirely comfortable with the idea that those who have died before us and those who are yet to be born are not only available to help us, but interested in what we're up to and eager to help us. But even if you can't buy into this particular notion, I think its important to understand that the universe wants us to succeed. Creation is the order of the world. As my gardener put it when I was lamenting my Black Thumb, "What are you talking about? Things WANT to grow!"
Fourth--allow ourselves to marvel. And intrinsic to this idea is gratitude. Look up, look out, and be amazed. Be five years old again and see things new. As Rumi (everyone's favorite mystic) says, "Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment and awe."
And then give thanks. Heaven runs on gratitude--the more we acknowledge all the little wonders in our lives and give thanks, the more we see and have to be thankful for. I find its sort of like when I see the first evening star and I'm just in the middle of making my wish and I start noticing more and more stars around it that I hadn't seen before. The more we look and focus on wondrous things, the more we'll see. Pretty soon we understand that we all stand neck deep in wonders.
This is a fantastic byproduct of a creative life. Because we're always on the lookout for new ideas and connections, we're paying close attention. We're living in the present. Life is denied by lack of attention whether our task is cleaning windows or trying to write a novel. The more we stretch our creative muscle, the more we live in the moment.
When we view creativity as an act of faith, an act of the spirit, we can expect the help of heaven. This requires us to live in such a way that we are in tune with that help. After we've received that help and we've acted on our spiritual guidance and given it our best shot, we have to leave the rest in God's hands. He will make that spirit to spirit connection for us. He will take the work to those that need it. It doesn't need to be loved and appreciated by everyone. Really, the work's acceptance--if we've truly taken our ego out of the picture--is not very important and technically, not our business. This idea is tremendously liberating.
So, at least for me, creativity is a spiritual practice, but here's why I think it's so temporally essential: it's excellent therapy for whatever ails us. It's a positive outlet for anger, sadness, grief, and frustration. It leads to forgiveness and self-forgiveness. A dependence on the creative spirit within us reduces all other dependencies. Another favorite writer on the craft of writing, Brenda Ueland, writes, "Why should we use our creative power...? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money."
Creativity exercises the brain. It actually develops it by creating new neuron pathways. It keeps a person's thinking young and vibrant, stimulated, interested and curious. It exercises the ability to change perspectives, to avoid thinking that's stagnant, brittle and small.
We are sometimes kept from a creative life by thinking we have to be "Artists" or by thinking that play, fun and hobbies are a selfish and silly waste of valuable time. I read the best advice ever in Anne LaMotte's Bird By Bird back when it was first published. As someone who loved to write but was neither ambitious enough or talented enough to consider it for a career, this little bit of wisdom changed my life. She siad that I didn't need to quit my day job and write a novel. If I wanted to write, I should just write. I should write beautiful love letters to the people I love, make up stories for my children, write notes of encouragement and thanks to friends. Write a fantastic journal. We can fill in all the little spaces of life with things inspiring and fun. Is not necessary to make a career of them.
I would add: bring creativity to the mundane. When I'm trying to figure out how to do a boring job more creatively and effectively, it ceases to be a chore and starts to be a game. And when we do anything with great love, it ceases to be a chore and becomes a sacrament.
Here are some tips:
--Start small: set gentle goals in the direction of your inclinations. Baby steps.
--Start a project: assign yourself a task and give yourself a due date (Presents!)
--Celebrate success and analyze failures. To the person who cares about learning
something, there are no such thing as mistakes since we learn more from our
mistakes than our successes.
--Hang around encouraging people.
--Don't worry about what we're accomplishing as much as what we're becoming.
--Love process over product. The joy is in the doing of a thing.
--Limits and obstacles are our friends. Too little money, space, time or ability
forces us to think in more creative ways.
--Have patience with learning curves.
--Use worry. Turn worry into inventiveness and projects so that it's constructive
instead of destructive.
--Perfectionism is poison. It's an obsessive, debilitating loop. It mires us in details
and corrects out originality. It's more important to be "true" than to be perfect.
--Competition is poison when it muddies the water, when it makes us operate out of
our ego rather than our inner spirit.
--Know where and when our individual mind opens up and is most receptive--solitary
walks, a warm bath, after a catnap, a bike ride--whatever.
--Practice creative problem solving in all areas of life. Think of all problems as puzzles.
This takes the ego out of them and helps us see them more clearly and objectively.
--Spend quality time alone. That's how we get to know (and like) our essential self.
--Avoid fussing and overthinking things. When we muddy our own waters, it's time to
stop churning and walk away for awhile until things settle.
While January is always a month filled with diet plans and weight loss systems, I hope that at least some of our resolutions will help us live larger, become more and have the effects of our efforts be broader. I hope that we will resolve to live richly and meaningfully--that we will give ourselves permission to play, to put a personal stamp on our own lives, and most of all to marvel. To live in joy, in awe, and in gratitude.