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.

Letters to trees

I recently discovered that you can write letters to trees within the City of Melbourne. I work near the CBD so I have a number of favourite trees that I pass by most days.

To a colonnade of Deodar:

Hello my darlings, the flower and garden show is on again and so for several weeks I have to walk around the park and miss my morning guard of honour. I miss you all terribly. When I walk under the vaulted ceiling of your mighty branches my inner voice is hushed, I feel grounded and centred by your deep presence. In a matter of moments I pass you by but it’s only when I am denied this ritual that I realise the importance of the way you bookend my day.

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To a Moreton Bay Fig (pictured):

I sat among your roots and played ukulele for you the other day. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Your roots make an excellent place to sit.

To the grandma tree (unsent as it’s not in the City of Melbourne):

I long to lay my spine against your wide trunk again.

Sadly none of the trees have written back to me but I remain hopeful. If anyone from the City of Melbourne happens to be reading this post, I would love to volunteer my services to respond on behalf of the trees near my work.

The power of presence

My son and my mother walking together.

On the face of it the Forum process is deceptively simple. A group of people sit in a circle and silently offer their presence to one another as they take it in turns to step into the middle and speak about what is going on for them. A facilitator sometimes asks questions of the person in the middle or offers various techniques to encourage them to go deeper into what they are feeling. When each person finishes their time in the centre, the silent witnesses are invited to become mirrors and offer reflections. They speak in third person about what the protagonist shared, what they noticed or what resonated with them.

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Surrender

Surrender

Earlier this year at the Wild Mind festival I attended an embodied writing workshop with Maya Ward. As a poet I expected to write poetry. Much to my chagrin what came to me were some cheerful words and a snippet of melody. A week later it was still running around in my head so, even though I didn’t really like the melody, I took the time to sing it out and write some more lyrics.

The resulting song has been a prayer, an affirmation and a blessing. I have sung it to myself and to other people in my life whenever the reminder to surrender was needed. It has brought numerous people to tears (which I count as a good thing) and brought me enormous peace. Now I finally have the courage to share it:

Serenity, wonder and peace are yours
The infinite mystery of life
Wholeness, connection and balance are yours
If you surrender to strife.

Let go and let come
The earth will keep turning
The work will get done
Let go and let come
The universe is waiting for you.

Kindness, compassion and love are yours
Softness of a warm embrace
Happiness, humour and joy are yours
The laughter of children at play.

Let go and let come…

Silence and stillness and solace are yours
Because sometimes you must go within
Nurturing, comfort and weeping are yours
If you can learn to give in.

Let go and let come…

Envy and anger and greed are yours
Because they too have something to teach
Community,  family and friendship are yours
If in your heart you make peace.

Let go and let come…

The universe is waiting
Your own heart is waiting
And we’re all here waiting for 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.

UPDATE Workshop: Our Earth, Our Self

NEWSFLASH: We’ve had very low interest in this workshop (probably because of the clash with Buddha Touched the Earth) but we’re not cancelling, oh no, we are going with the flow. My cofacilitator, Linette, is going to bring the flow game and we are going to use the time to ask some big questions and do some deep reflecting, feel free to join us, upstairs at Friends of the Earth in Collingwood.

Reigniting hope and sustaining action in the face of crisis, an experiential workshop.

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