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.

Stepping into the space between

Australian magpie in flight.

It’s been a number of months since I completed the Space Between Stories online course with Charles Eisenstein. At the time I was mildly disappointed, I wanted to change direction and I thought the course would do that or at least point the way. Instead it pretty much confirmed the holding pattern I was already in. The various speakers seemed to suggest that the right moment would present itself without my control.

At the time this was frustrating, I went to a three day retreat in the middle and was bouyed up by the beautiful community of deep ecologists and spiritual Earth seekers, which only compounded my dissatisfaction with my ‘ordinary’ life and with the artifice of the Space Between Stories online community. Now though I have to acknowledge those speakers were right.

Three weeks ago I resigned from my very secure, reasonably well-paid bureaucratic position in a government institution. The work I did there was good work, the people I worked with were lovely and all had their hearts in the right place. There were opportunities for me to learn and grow and make a difference in the world but it was prey to the usual frustrations of working in strict hierarchies. I’ve known for some time that I needed to leave but I wasn’t sure of my next step and then, after a particularly difficult week, the answer was startlingly clear. I just had to quit.

I did it with grace, ruffling as few feathers as possible but it got to the point where I just knew I couldn’t work there anymore and so I resigned without knowing what the ‘next step’ would be.

Over the past three weeks a number of ‘next steps’ have presented themselves to me. Things that I never even thought possible have been offered. What is even more surprising is that each week my ideas about what I want to do in life and my vision for the future have changed and deepened. Things that I thought I wanted have been rejected in favour of more radical paths, paths that I hadn’t even been aware of until I gave myself permission to dream larger, until I chose to step out of the structures that were keeping me secure.

I am taking this opportunity to experiment with following my heart. I don’t know what the future will look like but I know that the Earth will be at the centre of my life. I want to prioritise my relationship with the more-than-human and see where it leads. I look forward to sharing the journey with you!

Dancing with shame

Back Creek heading into a tunnel

The other day I got to meet some awesome new people who are living close to the Earth, growing vegies in their backyard and building community. Lots of big ideas were thrown around about worker cooperatives, festivals and financial collapse. It was exciting but, if I’m honest, also a little intimidating. Why is it that instead of being happy about people embracing new ways of living/being I turn it into some kind of judgement on myself?

They had boxes and boxes of zines from Doing it Ourselves and were generously encouraging my friend and I to go through and take what we needed in exchange for a donation. My friend amassed quite a pile but when I looked at it I felt sick. I imagined reading all those ideas and strategies and comparing it to the life that I lead now and finding myself wanting. A pile of what could be a gateway to inspiration and creativity was looking to me like a big pile of shame – some kind of indictment on my way of being in the world.

I work full time in a public health organisation, I get paid to look at the big picture of what’s going on in society and develop strategies that will change the way people think and act so that we all have the opportunity to be healthier and more connected. I work with awesome people who are genuinely passionate about the work that we do and care very deeply about making the world a better place. And yet, yesterday, in a bid to garner the approval of these ‘cool new people’ I found myself dismissing my work and the way I feel about it by calling myself a ‘wage slave.’

I’m not writing this post to get sympathy for myself or to beat myself up, I just think the strength of my reaction is interesting and I’d like to unpack it. At the end of the day I was exhausted and fuzzy headed,upon reflection I wonder if this was the result of ‘performing’ for the ‘cool new people.’ One of the topics that came up in conversation was burn-out. Apparently there are a lot of people around suffering from burn-out and I wonder if there’s a connection. Burn-out is a product of doing too much, of feeling driven to perform, perhaps I’m not the only one who can feel berated by a stack of zines I haven’t even read yet.

Reflecting on the train this morning I wondered what would happen if I ran a workshop that deliberately created that sense of shame. Delivering to people a list of criteria for the ‘perfectly sustainable human’ and then inviting them to reflect on how this list makes them feel. When I think about shame in terms of the impact on our community rather than me personally I can see the insidious ways that shame operates to keep us small. Marketing is all about encouraging a sense of shame of ‘not enoughness’ that we must buy our way out of. When we are measuring ourselves against the standard of ‘perfectly sustainable human’ we are perpetuating a cycle that prevents us from opening up, connecting with others and creating the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

Activists, radicals and other idealists have the courage to see what is wrong with the world and dare to hope for something better. They carry the shame of humanity on their backs, but if their action is borne of shame it will inevitably lead to burn-out and if they are judging themselves they are bound to judge others and create disconnection along the way. We need to name this shame collectively, to bring light to it, and support each other to operate from a place of love and care. As one of the ‘cool new people’ pointed out to me, in practice our actions may look very similar but when the feeling that drives us is love, our lives can be gentle, peaceful and nurturing as well as revolutionary.

Hello new economy

Judy Wick’s Good Morning Beautiful Business is an inspiring read. Judy speaks plainly about her journey of entrepreneurship from  the late 70s through to the present day. She describes the values of cooperation and community that shape her and later underpin a style of business that is genuinely life enhancing.

GoodMorning_small

This book has changed the way I think about business. I have always viewed entrepreneurship with a degree of skepticism, those who succeed seem to attract an almost religious following. Money for it’s own sake has never made sense to me and is certainly part of what is driving the Earth into crisis. Yet I’ve also grown disillusioned with the community and not for profit sector I have worked in for the last 15 years.

The largely thankless (by which I mean poorly paid) work of the community sector is so much at the whim of the politic of the day and rarely seems to generate the kind of radical, long term, sustainable change that I know is necessary. I’ve been looking for alternate ways to make a difference and Judy’s vision of the Local Living Economy is compelling.

In her book she describes money as just one strand in the commercial relationship. When business owners live in the communities they serve, they can see the results of their efforts, for better and worse. They become accountable to the community in a way giant corporations never can be.

I don’t have the skills to run out and start a business but, after seeing what Judy managed to create, I’m prepared to add it to my list of castles in the air.

DEBRIEF: The flow game

Last Sunday I was going to run a workshop but the universe had other ideas. I am prepared to admit that my marketing was a little ad hoc, definitely something to work on in future. However Sunday was strangely perfect.

A week or two before the day it became clear that we were not going to get the numbers to do the Work that Reconnects. I had a day or two of angst over this and then I decided to take the pressure off and change the plan.  My partner in crime, Linette, is a Flow Game host so I decided we could just do that and whoever turned up could join in. If no-one showed up then we could just play by ourselves and it would be a good opportunity to reflect on where the work is going.

As it turned out one other person came along (which was lovely) and it was just as well there weren’t more because the space we planned to use was double booked and we had to move. The venue had a lovely atmosphere and lovely community around it but as a workshop space it was a little chaotic. I think in future I will look for a more contained venue, it could be difficult to create a safe space when other folk need to wander through from time to time.

In a way I’m glad the workshop didn’t go ahead and I got to learn these things gently with the very flexible Flow Game and not the whole Work that Reconnects shebang. The game itself was very enlightening, my question was about grounding a career that is aligned with my purpose. I got a lot of powerful questions in return about talking to people and having meaningful conversations. It inspired me to offer my workmates a taster of last week’s Art of Hosting training (18 people said yes, huzzah). After lunch we were feeling a little questioned out so we spent an hour doing collage and creating visual affirmations to represent the morning’s insights, here’s mine:

Flow Game collage

Going forward Linette and I have agreed to do something (the Flow Game, the Work that Reconnects, some other thing that takes our fancy) every couple of months. As soon as we decide what our next grand adventure will be I will post it here but feel free to drop me a line kiri @humansarenature.com if you’d like a personal invite.

The art of meaningful conversation

Recently I’ve been making connections between a variety of different ideas but haven’t known how to articulate them. There is something about the human need for meaning, belonging and importance that connects to our environmental crisis.

On the one hand I’ve been reading Eckhart Tolle and Brene Brown. I’ve found enormous personal insight in their work and it has helped me to push myself toward being a better and happier person. In the face of environmental crisis it might seem like this personal journey is self-indulgent but it’s not.

Consumption is driven by numbing behaviour, when we take the time to say “I am enough, I have enough, I am grateful” and do the work to believe it and feel it. Then we are freed from the need to consume mindlessly. That’s not even the half of it though, we have gifts to offer the world that we squander in our mindlessness. We are not fulfilling our potential as a species because our greatest creative gifts are burried beneath a flood of stuff.

The pursuit of money over meaning is killing us.

A mind map of the environmental crisis

This week I attended three days of training on the Art of Hosting. On one level what we learned was a collection of tools and group processes for engaging people in generating creative solutions to social problems. What the hosts modeled though were ways to keep people present and engage in meaningful conversation. They drew the group to recognise our common humanity, to step out from behind our professional identities, engage with what matters to us and apply it to our work.

Meaningful conversation is fundamental to society’s transition from destruction to sustainability. When we make peace with the present moment we stop trying to impose our will on the world and come to appreciate what is given and what we have to give. As we realise our fundamental worth we stop needing to prove it with bigger, better, faster, more and we naturally make space for others to be present and call forth their better/higher/buddha nature. This creates the grounds for genuine dialogue, it’s the only way that change can happen and the only way we can come up with the kind of creative and innovative solutions we need.

The cauldron

I’ve had so many ideas and thoughts bubbling away lately. I thought perhaps it’s time to air them out. Let this be a space to launch interesting conversations and see what flies.

Next week I’ll be starting the We are wildness 30 day challenge. I thought it might be helpful to have a place to capture my reflections on the experience (and keep me engaged in it).

I will use it to let you know about the ‘Work that reconnects‘ workshops I run based on the work of Joanna Macy.

It’s an opportunity to share my experience of parenting, exploring ways to keep myself and my son connected to nature in the middle of suburbia. I’m about to embark on a new career, hence the bubbling of ideas. I am meeting someone different for lunch every week with a view to sharing ideas and expanding my knowledge of who is interested in the human/nature connection and what the current thinking is.