A recipe for creativity

Surrender

In the middle of last year I was going through a creative slump. It was well after Poetrees had launched and toddled along and I was burnt out from the effort of trying to put the work out there and engage people in it. (Turns out that marketing is not my forte.) I was very fortunate to receive an invitation to do a process called ‘Renewal of Creative Path‘ with a friend, Margaret Hogg and a group of women in her community.

The process really helped me to identify and articulate what I need to be creative by reflecting on the times when I felt most alive and connected. What I realised was that it wasn’t just one thing that gave rise to creativity but an ecosystem of mutually reinforcing elements. This is a rough list that I came up with but I’m sure there’s more…

Financial stability: having work I enjoy that is super flexible gives me the space and freedom to be creative. Any kind of pressure or expectation is death to my creative spark so I have to know that food is on the table regardless of my creative output.

Supportive community: people who allow me to be me, who give me a sense of belonging, who hold me in my vulnerability. They give me the personal strength to allow the vulnerable experience of creativity and also enrich my thinking. Meaningful conversation is a major creative turn on for me and feeds into the next two elements…

Rich life experience: without getting out of the house and doing things I’d have nothing to write about. I need to feel engaged in life and in the world so I have to follow my curiousity, my sparks of joy and go have adventures. Examples include going out into nature, going on retreats, looking at other people’s art, learning new skills, meeting people, following the things that make my heart beat fast.

Deep reflection: for me this comes from solitude. Quiet moments where I can turn those rich experiences over in my mind and make sense of them. In practice it looks like having a chai with my journal at my favourite cafe, sitting in the garden and watching the world go by, going for long walks or meditating. I often get my best ideas first thing in the morning as I lie in bed and listen to the birds.

Unstructured playtime: the actual act of creation needs time, actually turning up to the page or the studio and making the thing. It needs a special kind of time though, the process must be focused but unhurried and, as I mentioned earlier, unburdened by the weight of expectation. It feels like total surrender to what ever mysterious thing wants to come forth.

Enthusiastic audience: this one is not essential but it is a fantastic motivator. Some artists talk about doing the work for themselves alone, for the simple joy of creation, and I can relate to that but it’s not always enough. Perhaps it feels self indulgent, though I strive to overcome that kind of thinking.

The thing that motivates me most is knowing that someone is ready and waiting to see what I’m working on. They have to feel like a safe person for me, someone who is purely curious and enthusiastic with no hint of criticism. I don’t need everyone to be that way, one person is enough. For example I started blogging again because my friend Sarah wrote me an email and asked me to. She mentioned several big experiences I had late last year and said she wanted to read about them and wanted to be able to share it with someone she’d met. Sarah’s always been an enthusiastic supporter of me in general so it was a no brainer, of course I’d write some stuff for her but without that invitation the blog would still be languishing.

I hope you read this and use it to improve your creative ecosystem, the world needs us all to flourish in our gifts! I also hope you take it as an invitation to encourage the artists in your life, you could be the enthusiastic supporter that gives someone else the courage to make a great work of art.

The echo of the shadow

The echo of the shadow

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There is a thread that runs through my heart, through the heart of the Earth and through the heart of the universe. I can’t say where it begins or ends, can’t say which part belongs to which, it is one, long, sinuous line.

This is not something I know with my mind. It is not something I can prove or measure but I feel it to be true. I feel it in the dance of creativity, I feel it in my silent dialogue with nature, I feel it in those overwhelming moments just after everything seems lost.

When I think about ‘nature connection’ I think about it in terms of this line. It’s not confined to making humans go out into the bush and realise the awesome beauty of the ‘natural world’ (as noble and wondrous as that is). It can be any activity that draws people to feel that numinous thread, in themselves, in the world, in the universe. Anything that draws us to realise we are intimately connected to a great mystery.

Late last year this realisation was brought home to me again by a multi-sensory theatre experience “The echo of the shadow” by Teatro de los Sentidos. The ‘performance’ was a labyrinth, taking up the whole basement exhibition space at ACMI. Participants entered the space one at a time, at five minute intervals and wandered through dark, curtained corridors, into various encounters with archetypal characters.

It was surreal.

I felt that I had fallen into Pan’s Labyrinth, a movie set that was still live, a dream made real and tangible.

The experience of being the lone audience member was slightly nerve wracking. As I entered the first room I was acutely aware of the audience’s responsibility, usually diffused among a crowd, now resting heavily on my shoulders. The anxiety left as I was received by the first inhabitant though, replaced with a humble delight – “all this? for me?” I threw myself into the gift they offered with characteristic gusto and was rewarded with one of the most profound experiences of my life.

The labyrinth led me to long repressed parts of myself. Half-way through, an encounter left me so deeply shaken that I cried all the way to the end. This is not to say the experience was harrowing, my tears are sacred and I welcomed the opportunity to release them. The descent was a gentle invitation, there was room to find one’s own meaning in the work and only go as far as one was ready to go. After the nadir were a series of lighter experiences and rituals that didn’t erase the emotion but held space to feel it safely.

It was beautiful. I would do the whole thing again in a heart beat and no doubt encounter whole other reaches of my internal landscape.

There is a kind of magic that I occasionally stumble upon in my creative work, that what is most personal is most universal. The moments when I am able to draw art from my most private, intimate self, generate the pieces that get the strongest response from my audience, touch that universal thread of connection. It seems to me that Teatro de los Sentidos has brought together a group of artists with that shared aim – to express their deepest selves through the creation of a physical metaphorical landscape and so draw out the inner landscape of the participant. The work breaks down the space between creator and audience, thereby troubling the concept of a discrete self and opening the participant to the great mystery.

A few weeks later I had the great fortune to find out a little about the inner workings of Teatro de los Sentidos through a day-long workshop. I was not disappointed at what I found behind the curtain…