Creativity as Spiritual Practice

I read in The Artist’s Way:

Are you contemplative? Yes.
Do you allow yourself to go on retreat? Oh, well…

Shortly thereafter, I saw a magazine ad for a nearby retreat center. An ad for the same center popped up on social media a few days after that; I clicked, and Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, would be speaking there soon. It was expensive.

A week later, I randomly received a yoga catalog in the mail. I flipped through, and saw that Cameron would be leading a retreat at a yoga center on the East Coast. Even more expensive.

Interesting: I’d considered retreat-ing, and opportunities popped into view.

About a week later, another ad appeared on social media: a FREE online retreat with Cameron and one of my favorite artists, SARK, plus five others. The topic: Creativity as Spiritual Practice. In my wheelhouse, do at my own speed, and free? Sign me up!

I’ve listened to two of the seven speakers so far and gained wisdom from both. As I took notes on the second speaker, though, a rather obvious thought grabbed me:

Creativity is a spiritual practice.

The speaker talked about being told as a child that she couldn’t draw, so she should find something else to do in life. She cut herself off from creativity and became a successful doctor instead. But she wasn’t whole until she recovered her creative self.

I want to write, “Who tells a child they can’t draw, so find another career?” Except, how many of us heard the same message? Art’s just not your thing, honey. You’ll find your thing, don’t worry.

Hogwash.

First of all, Art and Creativity aren’t necessarily the same thing. Too often we get all high and mighty about Art. Art hangs in museums, so the average human can’t make Art. Maybe not, but we can all create. And it doesn’t have to be your career, although it might be. It can be a hobby that fulfills you in ways you never imagined and influences who you are in all spheres.

Secondly, creativity is spiritual. At the least, it connects us to our own spirits. Creative activity is pure self-expression. As a Christian, I believe that humans have been created in the image of the Great Creator. We join God in co-creating our lives, and we image God most fully as we engage with Him in body, mind and spirit. I regularly practice my faith, praying/meditating, worship, etc. Why not fold creativity into that mix? I connect with God in new ways as I create.

Whatever you believe, creative work is less work than flow, getting things down rather than thinking them up. Receiving, not straining, and expressing. Poet Jon Fosse said, “To compose poetry,” he might have said, to create, “is about listening…it is, so to speak, about bringing forth something that already exists…”

Thirdly, creativity is about practice, not necessarily mastery. It’s not something you do just like anyone else. You do you. Not everyone can be Picasso, Matisse, O’Keefe, but everyone can express themselves. It doesn’t have to look like anything specific, and it doesn’t have to look like anything else anyone has made.

When I practice yoga, it’s my practice. I don’t have to do it perfectly, because the best I can do is breathe and stretch my own body, imperfect and healing and differently balanced each day. I don’t compare, because someone else’s breath and stretch makes for their practice. I don’t practice towards an end, but for the sake of my presence in the process.

When our kids were young, we expected them to participate in a sport most seasons: soccer, basketball, baseball, swim. Hiking and biking with family and friends on weekends. We didn’t expect them to be champions, but to enjoy movement, play a game, be active, learn good sportsmanship. Eventually, they’d tried enough sports to know what they liked and didn’t. They understand that physical exercise is a practice, a discipline for overall health.

Why don’t we treat creativity similarly? So what if you can’t draw, try painting. If not painting, ceramics. Try music or writing or collage, mosaic or poetry, jewelry making or sewing or cooking or…

Why oh why do so many young children hear the message that they’re just not creative, especially at, arguably, the most creative stage of their lives? No wonder so many adults don’t believe they are creative. We lose part of our humanness when we cut off our creativity.

Like playing sports, we can play at creativity. And like anything you practice, it gets easier over time.

Creativity is a spiritual practice. I’m all in. How about you?

What’s My Commitment?

I briefly interacted with a gal working one of the booths at BottleRock. She wore amazing eye makeup, intensely purple and shimmery, ombre, with thick, expertly-applied liquid cat-eye liner.

Because I believe in freely and generously offering sincere compliments to friends and strangers, I commented on how beautiful her makeup looked. I also asked how long it took to apply, because obviously it took time.

“Forty-five minutes,” she replied matter-of-factly, like it was no big deal.
“Wow, that’s a commitment,” I responded.

To myself I added, That’s not a commitment I’d make!

I wouldn’t know how to spend 45 minutes on makeup. I could watch YouTube eye makeup tutorials, but I wouldn’t. It doesn’t matter to me to wear that kind of statement makeup.

That interaction has stuck with me. Commitments take time. Time spent = commitment.

Where do I spend my time?

This summer I’ve committed to doing a lot of writing and reading, exercising and praying. But I’ve also noticed the time sucks, the minutes between things where I pick up my phone out of habit and scroll through social media. Periodically I check the “Screen Time” function on my phone which reports how much time I have spent on social media versus reading/research; guess which wins…

I want to say that social media doesn’t matter to me that much, but my time says otherwise.

For now, I’m working on Social-Free Sundays, one day a week when I leave my phone down altogether. I’m also working on microMOVEments, a technique promoted by one of my favorite artists, SARK.

SARK decided that she could motivate herself to get big projects done if she broke, say, “Write a book,” into five minute steps. She could do anything for five minutes, especially if she sprinkled juicy adjectives into the description of each step. For example, one microMOVEment in writing could be: “Write down title.” But it’s so much more fun to “Play amazing title game!”

SARK’s secret is that once you get going, once you commit five minutes to one succulent step towards a larger goal, it’s easier to keep going. But even if you just commit five minutes, that’s still something. You can fill in another five minutes another time. Eventually all the minutes add up.

And what a better use of the in-betweens!