Last time we looked at vocation and how spiritual practice can be used in your work. In the final post of this series, we explore practices for creativity that are relevant whether you see yourself as an ‘artist’ or not – they may even be an essential part of your life if you want to be happy and sane!
Creativity is usually defined as the process of creating something new, original, or valuable using your imagination. It tends to be seen as a useful skill – one you can develop that helps you to be more productive or make money by selling stuff. That’s the marketing angle, but creativity is so much more – and so much more important. Practices for Creativity include things like:
- Creative self-expression
- Active Imagination
- Fun and Play
- Cultural participation – books, music, films, museums, galleries, etc.
- Creative Practice – writing, art, music, photography, dance, film, gardening, cooking, crafts, drama, design, etc.
- Creative Community – writing groups, art collectives, etc.
Creativity isn’t just for artists, writers and bohemian types, but it wasn’t always seen that way. Up until the Renaissance, creativity was a matter for the gods and the muses. Only the Creator could create. If you wanted to create something you prayed for divine inspiration, and whatever you created was seen as a mere copy of the original Divine Idea.
This changed during the Enlightenment when creativity as a human attribute became more widely accepted, along with the idea of genius and the rise of individualism. Perhaps this is why many people still believe they can’t be creative. They know they’re neither divinely inspired nor endowed with great genius so think they can’t do it.
But everyone is born creative. Creativity is fundamental to life – it’s what life does – but that natural instinct is slowly conditioned out of you, if you’re not careful.
Creativity is a way of life – a perception or state of mind that can be applied to everything. It involves imagination, playfulness, and openness, a way of seeing beneath the surface level of reality to the deeper truth within. William Blake called this ‘double vision’, which means using insight and intuition to see through appearances to look into the soul.
As we saw earlier, the soul expresses itself through imagination and creativity. In A Complete Guide to the Soul, Patrick Harpur says:
“Everything depends on the creative act of imagination. The more we imbue the world with imagination, the more the world is ensouled – and the more soul it returns to us, singing with meaning.”
Imagination is often confused or conflated with fantasy. It’s seen as unreal, or less real – just a dream or an illusion. But for Romantics like Blake, Imagination is reality – “the living power and prime agent of all human perception” as Coleridge said.
Seen in this way, anything can be done creatively by sharing your spontaneous passion and joy for life. Creativity then becomes an act of love. When you create something, you connect with others and the world around you through passion and curiosity. In Woman Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes says creativity means:
“having so much love for something – whether a person, a word, an image, an idea, the land, or humanity – that all that can be done with the overflow is to create. It is not a matter of wanting to, not a singular act of will; one solely must.”
When you live like this, everything you do becomes transformative. Every creative act becomes sacred – an act of worship and a source of grace. A cup of tea made mindfully and with joy is consecrated. A smile is a creative act if it comes from the depths of your soul.
Obviously the nature of your creation will depend on the state of your mind and how aligned you are with your soul and deeper intentions. And it should go without saying that creativity isn’t necessarily about producing art, writing books, composing music or making films. It’s possible to do all of those things without being remotely creative.
But what if you do want to create art?
In that case, you need to remember that creativity isn’t just imagination – it also requires action. You have to put your imagination into form and that involves a lot of work and self-examination and reflection. And silence and listening and dreaming and adventure and asking awkward questions. But mostly work.
You can just play and have fun and see what happens – that’s fine. This is essential during the early stages of the creative process when you’re looking for inspiration and ideas. But overall, creativity doesn’t mean spewing stuff out without thought in an orgy of self-expression.
If you want to create something specific, like a book or a painting, you need a structured approach that involves craft and reworking and experimentation and feedback and time. There’s a whole process involved in creating a piece of art and it’s easy to get stuck along the way. Details here: A Writer’s Guide to the Creative Process
The ego is one of the biggest obstacles to creativity because it gets hung up on worrying about what other people think. (See my definition of ego here.) It also tries to control the process too much, or avoids it altogether, which is guaranteed to make you miserable.
The myth of Kronos eating his children is a good example of an over-controlling ego pushing creative ideas back down into the unconscious. You can also see it in the various stories about Hercules and his twelve labours, where he goes about clobbering mythical creatures – symbolic of the ego squishing intuitive ideas and the imagination.
In A Complete Guide to the Soul, Patrick Harpur describes how the ego cuts us off from the source of our creativity:
“Nature was only the first casualty of the rational ego. It was followed by all the other manifestations of soul: imagination was downgraded to fantasy, the province of women and children, whose status was equally reduced; and the past was no longer a perfect state we had descended from, but a dark superstitious place we must transcend. Eventually soul itself was looked upon as a fantasy or illusion. If spirit is always striving to break free of soul, the rational modern ego is precisely the delusion that it has succeeded.”
This delusion is running strong now with moves afoot to rollout a technocratic control grid of total surveillance. No room for creativity there – just Kronos devouring everything and everyone he can get his dirty mitts on. And it won’t end well, if the myth of Hercules is anything to go by (details here).
If you want to be truly creative you need to overcome the delusions of the ego, and that’s one of the functions of spiritual practice. It helps you to recognise the interconnectedness of life and that you’re not separate from reality, as the ego believes. Creativity is a way to reconnect to reality and return to sanity.
But don’t take it for granted. Creativity needs to be nurtured and protected from situations and people who would trash it. You need to make space in your life for creativity to flow, although it won’t flow constantly even in the best of times. Creativity is like a tidal river – it ebbs and flows – so you’ll have fallow or dry periods in amongst more active, productive periods.
Fallow periods are different from creative blocks. When you’re in a fallow period something is usually incubating in the dark and you don’t feel frustrated or restless or desperate. When you’re stuck or blocked it feels different, like something has gone awry. Your creative energy has disappeared down a black hole in a kind of soul loss.
When your creative energy is blocked, it doesn’t go away – it gets repressed into the unconscious from where it gets misused or turns destructive. If you’re blocked for long enough it can turn into a full-blown psychological or spiritual crisis, and you may need to do some shadow work to reconnect with your life force.
The waters of your creative life can get blocked or polluted in various ways. It could be because of negative emotional complexes within you, and/or the toxic state of your psychic environment – the culture you live in or the people you’re surrounded by.
The outer tends to reflect the inner (and vice versa) so it can be difficult to untangle. Your creative ideas are easily mixed up with the negative distortions of the culture. But creating something may be one of the best ways to work it out of your system.
For more on dealing with creative blocks, read Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers – easily adapted for any kind of creative work.
One way to support and nurture your creativity is to join some sort of creative community, such as writing groups and art collectives. But even if you prefer to work on your art alone, your creativity will be fed (or not) by whatever groups you belong to in your life, through family, friends, work, and so on.
Seek out groups and communities that nourish your soul and imagination and support your creative life. Any part of your life that doesn’t give you the freedom to think for yourself and learn and grow and explore and imagine possibilities, will crush your creativity (and soul) over time. As my favourite Clarissa Pinkola Estes quote says:
“I love my creative life more than I love cooperating with my own oppression.”
Creativity is an especially important response to the Mind War we’re all subjected to, and to the digital systems we’re surrounded by. This will become clearer over the coming years as algorithms and AI encroach into every area of our lives. An algorithm isn’t creative, it can’t come up with anything new. All it can do is compare datasets and make predictions (guesses).
Our digital technology has become a demiurge, creating a world that imitates real life. For example, digital music is very different from the original audio, the actual waveform, and the analogue recording of it. A digital recording takes multiple samples of a waveform, the audio signal, and then reproduces it. The higher the sample rate, the closer to the original audio you get, but it’s never exactly the same. It’s a crappy imitation.
What we want is something real, authentic, and alive. What we’re increasingly surrounded by are plastic or digital copies.
This is why creativity is so important – it’s the only sane response to such a destructive culture. You have to honour what’s real and true within you, your natural instinctive nature as a human being to live and grow and create.
Being creative, even in a small say, is empowering because it reconnects you with your soul and increases your options. It reveals new perspectives and helps you to maintain your humanity during hard times. For more on the power of creativity and the need for a creative culture read this excellent article: Sparks Will Fly
More on Creativity:
- Musings on the Muse
- A Writer’s Guide to the Creative Process
- Being Creative in a Mad World – the qualities you need in order to create