Like most people, my creative journey began as a child. Drawing, painting, and playing on a mini keyboard, I would follow my creative bliss. But when I entered my pre-teens, my creative impulses got snuffed out by a belief that what I was creating was stupid, so I stopped all forms of creative expression.
Several decades later, and with a devastating personal loss, I engaged with my creativity again. It started with a friend’s suggestion that I attend art therapy to help me through the grief I was struggling with. Another friend took me to a weekly Buddhist meditation group. The combination of the creative work and spiritual work rapidly improved my wellbeing and I’ve continued to notice the inextricable link between the two.
There is something about clearing the mind in a calm, meditative space that opens it to receiving fresh ideas and inspiration for creativity.
My creative projects are generally in the form of science fiction novellas and visual art. These have been my staples since I first started writing and drawing as a child. Although the sources of inspiration have evolved over the years, as have the tools I use, the core process seems to have remained the same:
Clearing the mind makes way for the myriad ideas to fall from the ether.
I like to think of ‘the ether’ as the great oneness of all things. As philosopher Alan Watts would say: “I am a unique expression of the oneness of all things” and I wholeheartedly agree. I also believe that every creative output (i.e., a story, a chapter, a painting, a piece of music etc.) has its own identity as a unique expression of the great oneness and that anyone can access it.
Silencing the inner critic during those moments of inspiration is essential, to ensure it does not kill the creative expression before it has taken its first breath. But when the creative energy has been completely expunged, it usually helps to invite the inner critic back into the studio, because it can offer guidance on what we can do better.
The creative process is, of course, slightly different for everyone and it can change over time. It never ceases to amaze me how fluid creative energy can be and how people perceive their own creativity. It was from this place of fascination that I asked several creative people in my network to share with me the nuances of their creative practice.
From those interviews, my first solo book was born. Titled: Art for Happiness: Finding your creative process and using it, the book helped me, and my readers, to understand some of the common themes in the lives of professional creatives. Those themes included:
• A regular creative practice was vital to their wellbeing because of the joy, satisfaction, and sense of agency it brought to their lives.
• There was a clear interdependence between: personal wellbeing, spiritual peace, and creativity. Being in nature was consistently mentioned as having the power to elevate all three: wellbeing, connection with spirit, and creativity.
• Other sources of creative inspiration included the work of other artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and poets etc. Childhood memories were also mentioned as a strong source of inspiration. Whether those memories were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ did not seem to matter, they were still a source of inspiration.
• A willingness to experiment, coupled with self-belief and a commitment to continuous improvement shone through as enabling factors for the professional creatives I interviewed.
Around the time I published that book, my spiritual practice was evolving, and I became interested in creative visualisation. Although contemporary interpretations of the term focused on visualising one’s future success, I was more interested in exploring how the discipline of creative visualisation can enhance a person’s creative practice. From the interviews I conducted, and the academic research I undertook, I learned:
• Creative visualisation exercises, like dreams, can reveal our inner guides as they lead us through a scene or experience. Aspects of our own subconscious, these guides can be called upon to provide inspiration for our creative work whenever we need them.
• The act of capturing what we have seen during a creative visualisation exercise can bring an extra layer of texture to the inspiration we’ve drawn from the exercise. It is the act of writing about it, drawing it, speaking about it etc. that calls forth our own interpretation of what was visualised, and therefore exercises our creative thinking.
• Letting the vision sit alone for a while after we have captured it can give the vision some time to percolate through our conscious mind before we start to bring it to life in our creative practice.
A year or so after publishing Creative Visualisation: Access your Imagination and Enhance your Creative Practice, I found myself reflecting on the life event that had brought me back to my creativity. Finally, I felt ready to confront that phase in my life, to re-acquaint myself with the pain, and write about it.
But writing my own experience was not enough. I was curious to know how other people use their creative practice as a method of recovering from grief and loss. And I wanted to pull those findings into a book that would be useful to anyone struggling with grief. This meant the book had to be short, sweet, and easy to read because people who are in deep grief usually find it difficult to absorb more than a few sentences at a time.
So that’s how the book Beyond Blue: Creative Approaches to Releasing Grief and Flying Free was born. Although it’s a short book, it offers a summary of the research on grief: the types of grief, the phases of recovery and the possibility of personal growth beyond grief. The people I interviewed for the book included professional writers, artists, and an art therapist. Unsurprisingly, there were several key themes that emerged from our interviews:
• Creative work offers a sense of agency to the person doing the work. The very act of holding a pen, or a paintbrush, or pressing the fingers onto a keyboard can offer the creator a sense of control. That feeling of control can be incredibly therapeutic for someone who is suffering from a loss.
• The sensory and tactile aspect of making music, painting, weaving, or any other artform, offers an embodied mode of accessing difficult feelings. More so than talking about difficult events, expressing the feelings in a non-verbal way can be a faster and more direct route to releasing difficult feelings.
• The experience of being in the moment, fully present to what is being created, allows the creator to gently separate from, and observe, the difficult feelings associated with the grief.
• The subject of the creative work can offer the creator a means of reframing the connection they once had to what has been lost. Reframing has therapeutic value during the process of recovery because it helps the griever to put some distance between the loss and their feelings about it.
Creative work calls upon all aspects of the self – the intellectual, physical, and spiritual – and therefore offers the opportunity for integration between those aspects.
Looking back on the 10-year period in which I conducted all that research, interviewed all those professional creatives, and wrote the books in my Inspiration & Creativity series, I now understand that it helped me to integrate the parts of myself that had been obliterated by grief and trauma. The physical, spiritual, creative, and intellectual dimensions of my psyche were finally reunited, and they continue to work together to help me live my best life while doing what I love.