I have been so inspired lately by reading the work of Eric Maisel and today I want to discuss one of the themes from his work about creating holistically. This idea has such a beautiful tie in to creating well, and wellness in your life. The overall fluidity of the concept is so simple and lovely.
Let’s start where we left off: with the idea of duality and embracing both sides of dualistic forces. If you remember from last month’s Creatively blog we explored common dualistic pairs: polarized thought traps artists can get stuck in (process vs product, idea vs expression, discipline vs flexibility, being vs doing and so many more!) We explored our tendencies to over-invest in one aspect of these pairs and by so doing neglecting the other. By recognizing that each of these pairs had an opposite, we were able to understand that both of them were equally valid and important parts of the creative process and that both may be called upon at any time.
Working holistically is the logical next step from here. To work holistically we are essentially shucking the concept of duality altogether. We are rejecting any type of nomenclature for our work- instead we are being open to the moment, exactly as it is, exactly as we are- asking ourselves simultaneously- “what does my art” and “what do I need in this moment?” To work holistically, we are requiring of ourselves to be present, open, and mindful in our work. Sound familiar?
It takes effort to arrive at a place where we can work holistically. It takes knowing and understanding what our knee-jerk processes might be when we create, including avoidance tendencies, preferences, and motivations. Do we choose the same subject matter or materials out of safety? Do we use the same inspiration out of fear of failure or changes? Working holistically requires us to say we have no preferences and come to our work fresh and able to give it and ourselves whatever is necessary and best.
There is important work to be done here. What fears do you have about your creativity? What excuses or avoidance are holding you back? What dualities do you default to? In a recent create well minute cast (#37 if you want to listen) I called you to an exercise- let’s expand upon it:
Get yourself a piece of paper and pen. We are going to make some lists:
1) If I were to tell you to go create in this very moment (right now!) why can’t you? Why won’t you? What is preventing you? List everything. Logistics. Money. Tools. Abilities. Everything you feel is in your way from doing something creative right now. Hold nothing back. When you are done, label this list “avoidance/excuses.” (#realtalk!)
2) If I were to tell you to go take your work public (to a show, open mic, gallery, publisher, friend, etc- keep going through opportunities until you find some resistance) why wouldn’t you do this? List all the reasons holding you back. Include internal reasons like feelings, self esteem, value statements about self and work. Take your time to be thorough. When you are done, label this list “fears.”
3) What absolutes and values can you identify about your creative process? For example- “I am process oriented,” or “my work is figurative,” or “I value technique highly,” or “my work is non-commercial,” etc and so on- make a list describing what absolutes and values define your work. This is a tough one so give yourself time to think it through. When you are done, label this list “dualities.”
You have just identified for yourself three major categories of obstacles between you and holistic creating. Good job! Once you know what your obstacles are, you can identify yourself gravitating towards these old patterns and choose a different path. It takes time and repetition to train your brain towards new behaviors, and starts with recognizing old behaviors so you can not choose those.
The power of working holistically is creating your best work and living your best life, because you are creating and living on life’s terms, not yours (and flexibility is a psychological and creative super power!) It is liberating because you are giving yourself endless options and freedoms. Unsurprisingly it starts with knowing that creative brain, your personal creative self, and a healthy dose of mindfulness.
(C) 2019 Creatively, LLC
This month’s blog post is about a concept introduced to me by Eric Maisel (and if you haven’t read anything by him, I highly recommend!) A concept that I am getting to know and experience more- and the more I do the more I grow clinically, personally and creatively- and so want to take the opportunity to introduce it to you: it is the concept of dualities.
Dualities exist all around us in life. Opposite end-of-the-spectrum forces that naturally oppose each other and create tension. Philosophers are no strangers to discussing them- Heraclitus’ theory was based on constant change between opposing forces as the source of all movement and natural existence. He said, ““All things are in flux; the flux is subject to a unifying measure or rational principle. This principle (logos, the hidden harmony behind all change) bound opposites together in a unified tension, which is like that of a lyre, where a stable harmonious sound emerges from the tension of the opposing forces that arise from the bow bound together by the string.” The important concept for us as creative people is recognizing the value of dualistic forces in our own lives and embracing them fully: that neither part of these pairs of power is more valuable than the other.
If you get thinking about it there is no end to the pairs of dualistic forces at work in our world, and really what we are doing is operationalizing concepts so we can talk about them (which is fine- it is what language is for!) But of course, as a creativity counselor, what I am interested in specifically are two categories of forces in your lives- creative dualistic pairs and psychological dualistic pairs. Some of the classic pairs in creativity are process vs product, technique vs idea, flow vs stuck or block etc. In psychology they can be emotional pairs like happiness and sadness, anxiety vs peace. Some even blur the categorical boundaries between psychological and creative pairs such as struggle vs success or perfection vs imperfection. Take a moment to consider what sorts of dualistic pairs have presented themselves in your creative and psychological lives.
Just like step one of the process of creating your best life at Creatively is to know your creative self, knowing what forces are at work in your mind and heart and motivate you are important. If you know you regularly struggle with perfectionism, perhaps you can take time to try to accept imperfections. If you know you struggle with sadness, perhaps there are opportunities to find small moments of happiness. This is the type of room for work recognizing these dualities can give you.
The concept of dualities is pretty simple: both parts of a dualistic pair are equally important and powerful parts of your life story. In fact- in your life you will constantly experience and oscillate between these forces. To value one over the other is to deny important experiences and parts of self and life. As Heraclitus famously said, “It is in changing we find purpose.” And so, Creatives, it is with this topic today I propose to you recognizing areas of resistance in your life- places where we can learn to live our lives more fully and authentically, the way your creative soul was meant live.
(C) 2019 Creatively, LLC
Hello, Creatives! The Summer has truly swept me away in the best possible way- the warm air, butterflies and lightening bugs, soft breezes, sounds of cicadas and frogs, and bright sun green through the filter of leafy trees have taken every moment I can spare- but it does feel good to take a moment to sit and write to you again. I am both excited about today’s topic and inspired by the sensory experiences of Summer- today we will discuss sensory sensitivity in Creative People (say that five times fast!)
Like many of the gifts that our creative personalities give us, this, too, is a gift with two faces. We have explored in blog posts past (or if you have been on the Creatively couches, in the workshops, or in the groups) ad nauseam about the Creative Person’s expanded emotional capacity. The new information: with expanded emotional capacity comes an expanded sensory capacity. These two things together are what allow you to tap into and translate your experiences into your art form. Usually your senses are especially sensitive in the same lane as your preferred artistic expression: dancers are kinetically and tactile-ly more sensitive, musicians auditorily more sensitive, photographers, graphic designers, illustrators, painters are visually more sensitive, chefs and culinary artists may be more sensitive to tastes and smells and so on. While specifically more sensitive in a specific area, you are in fact more sensitive in all 5 senses overall as a creative person, generally speaking. This is logical because this is where our emotional experiences also occur- in the body. We experience and sense the world around us very strongly therefore our real-time input channels are powerful.
This means a couple of things for you, Creative. It means that you need to feed these channels in order to stay well. It means you need to be refueling your sensory channels often because your fuel tanks for these are necessarily bigger because your input levels are stronger, so your responsibility to keep those tanks full requires more regular work and attention (read: regular mindfulness practices and regular creative practices!!) It also means that when you are sensorily deprived, you will not feel well and you will notice. You will feel depressed, disconnected, low energy, like you aren’t experiencing life, poor self esteem, blocked from your creativity, and generally not like yourself (read: regular mindfulness practices and regular creative practices!!) The final thing it might mean is irritability. Let me explain:
Do you ever notice it is really difficult for you to get pulled away from a task, project, experience or moment? This can be pathologized as something else, and maybe in your life it was. Imagine a person without what we are calling a creative personality, someone with normal levels of creativity (after all, all people are creative) looking at a beach scene. Imagine them connected to their experience by 2 hooks. The hooks represent how much attention is invested by absorbing the scene. Someone calls out to them for their attention, and it is fairly easy for them to disconnect from their experience. The same situation repeats for a creative person, except imagine this person is connected to their experience by 12 hooks. This is much more difficult for them to disconnect from. It requires more effort and strain and can generate irritability which might even be misdirected at the person calling to them.
Let’s imagine this same situation again, except now instead of hooks the creative person is holding a bucket, which is already full of water. The person without a creative personality is in the same situation with a bucket half full of water. The bucket of water represents how saturated the person is sensorily in their experience of the scene. Now imagine a lifeguard drives by on a loud ATV right in front of the scene. This adds 4 cups of water to each bucket. Non-creative personality’s bucket can withstand the volume. Creative person’s bucket overflows, again creating irritability. When you are more sensorily connected to your experiences as a creative person, added sensory information can more easily overwhelm and irritate you than a less creative person.
So I said we would bring this back to mindfulness. After all, isn’t that what we are saying by default, that a creative person should also have an increased capacity for mindfulness tools? To be present? Ultimately, mindfulness is the perfect natural tool to harness this gift of increased sensory sensitivity to our experiences, whether they are outside of us in the world, or inside of us in our feelings and reactions to the world. Mindfulness helps us with the element of choice when processing and receiving this information.
Intrigued in learning more and jumpstarting your own creativity and mindfulness program? I am here to help you learn how.
(c) 2019 Creatively, LLC
I am announcing what has now become my yearly Summer blog schedule change!
I am a Summer person and this time each year the outdoors calls to me so loudly that I must heed the summons and scale back on my indoor commitments. It is part of my mindful self care- it means a better me, a better artist and a better therapist! It also means (for now) less blog articles for you. The Summer blog schedule will be: monthly. Released with the newsletter (last week of each month). But- never fear! There is so much blog content- now that I have been posting since 2017- that there is plenty for your #summerselfcare! So read away and check in at the end of each month for something fresh. Since I already posted articles for this month (check them out below!) the new schedule starts in July.
Happy Summer, Creatives!
Yours in Creativity,
Hello, Creatives! This week is about the delicate balance between the input and output if your creative energies. The concept directly applies to the three-parts to “creating your best life” theme for the month of June- the third really to all three parts- knowing your creative personality, the relationship of creativity to wellness, and your daily creative practice.
An important part of your creative personality is the drive to create. As related to your wellness, this both requires and generates energy. This is why I emphasize so much a daily creative practice- to maintain a regular source of creative energies to sustain the energy it takes from to create (circular, you see.)
In other words, we are roughly talking about a personalized equation of creative input and output to sustain your overall wellness as a creative person. This balance is important and unique to you and your health in a long term way.
Also important to note is your equation does not exist in a vacuum- the forces of life regularly change the variables and their weights. Once you establish the basic parameters of your equation it will require regular checking in and adjustment with the stressors of life. I want to reference here as a system for setting this up for yourself a previous blog post article on mindfully listening to instincts. Keeping in mind the concept of finding your creative balance, consider the tool of tapping into you innate instincts as described in the previous blog article below:
Listening to your instincts
Today I want to tap into what I affectionately call in session “the lizard brain” or petting the cat: the natural, organismic, animal part of you. This is the part of you where instinct and body knowledge live, untampered with by your mighty prefrontal cortex. It is a set of natural drives and signals that most living things live by, and in many ways we have evolved away from. For better and worse, we bring in the “intellectual committee” when making decisions, sometimes overriding our organismic needs. There are certainly times for that. There are also certainly times when it is less useful. Ideally, I want you to be able to identify both your natural instincts and your “committee” decisions, and make a choice as to which you need to follow. Since I think human beings are evolved and accomplished at doing the latter (“the committee”) I want to dedicate this blog post to the former (“the lizard brain”). So- let’s take some time and space to check in with yourself: how are you at listening to your instincts?
You may connect with this notion of instincts by one of its many names in today’s society- body knowledge, Mommy instincts, protective instincts, gut feelings, initial reactions, first impressions, etc. It is a visceral screaming of “yes” or “no” inside you. If you have to “decide” about something, then that is probably not your instinct about it.
I was listening to a book (still listening to Caroline Casey) who quoted a zen master on this very topic- she said this zen master described the concept of zen to her as “when I am hungry, I eat, when I am tired I sleep.” What a basic and beautiful example of meeting simple organismic needs. Yet- how often do we neglect to do this? We eat when we aren’t hungry, we don’t sleep when we are tired- yes, I know there are many reasons why- but we can’t deny that the overall effect is neglecting our animal self.
When we neglect our animal self, or “basic needs” in hierarchy of needs psychology, there is a fall-out. One of these is that we lose sight of and connection with that part of ourselves. If we aren’t giving our body what it wants, eventually we stop listening to what it is asking us for, until we finally block it out altogether and aren’t even sure what our instincts are. Another cost of this behavior is- we are in a contestant state of alarm or stress. If, again, you think about an animal without regular reliable food, water, shelter, safety, routine, structure, exercise etc, what you get is a stressed out, unhappy, neurotic animal. For human beings it is the same. When we neglect our basic needs we are constantly plagued by an undercurrent of anxiety and stress.
I want to take a minute and address the difference between instincts and hedonism. In other words, needs vs wants. All livings things also have a survival instinct that drives us to excess (hedonism). It says- “this is good- more!” and is not the same as meeting basic needs. This is something for you to keep in mind as you tease apart what your natural self is asking you for- for now, remember that these two things are not the same.
I said earlier that one of the modern-day society names for these instincts is “body knowledge” and in fact this is a concept touted in psychology (especially related to trauma). Essentially what it means is- your body stores experiences and knows what you need on a visceral level. This means you can trust that your instincts. If you are listening to them correctly, they are giving you an accurate picture of your needs. Instincts know when you are suffering, when you are well, and what you need to stabilize. Your body stores your own individualized instruction manual for the recipe to your peace and happiness. Sounds a little too good to be true, doesn’t it?
To strengthen this natural force within you, you need to tap into it and listen to it often. If you haven’t done this much, or even at all, I want you to start by “petting the cat.” Consider your most basic organismic needs (do a simple inventory) and make sure that they are met. Drink enough water. Eat enough good foods. Be physically active. Be social. Get enough sleep. Adhere to a routine. Eliminate toxicity and poisons. Do this diligently for at least two weeks and record your anxiety and stress level as you go. I promise you will feel more grounded, safe and calm. By “petting the cat” you are getting back in touch with your instinctual natural self by giving it what it needs.
A second step: once you are meeting your basic needs, begin to notice when your “lizard brain” is asking you for something. You will begin to notice fatigue when you deviate from a routine, miss a meal, etc. Begin to make the connection with these natural and basic patterns of cause and effect in your body. Strengthen the connections by noticing them and meeting the needs they are asking you for. As you continue in this work, you might add a meditative practice to quiet your thoughts (eg consciously telling the committee to stop talking to you) and access your instincts. Begin to notice the answers to questions like, what “feels right”?
Over time, my goal for you is not to lose you intellectual capacity, but to supplement it with your strong instinctual knowledge. When making decisions I want you to have access to both an intellectual and visceral information source, and when these differ an ability to choose between them.
Did you know this skill enhances not only your overall sense of wellbeing, but also your artistic practice? Give me a call and let’s talk more about how.
(C) 2018-2019 Creatively, LLC
Creatives, I want to take time today to give you a written reference to accompany some of the early advice I give almost every client that comes through my door: to keep a creative journal, aka sketchbook journaling. With rare exceptions I recommend this to everyone, then launch into my explanation of what I mean- so here it is, for your reference: the creative journaling exercise.
Might you, Dear Creative, keep a daily creative journal? To do this you need three key elements:
And so, if you have successfully arranged your elements, here is the process I recommend to you:
Engage in the process of free response process work. In other words, we are going to have no particular goal or outcome in mind and are interested in tapping into the current of what is flowing freely through our brains. The process can include flowing freely back and forth between drawing and writing, or be focused on one or the other. It should have either a time or page limit- not to exceed 2 pages or 15 minutes- whichever is shorter, more or less.
If you are writing, you begin by writing anything- something- maybe “blah blah blah” until you have tapped into the flow of thoughts- then continue to write with them- sloppy script, incomplete sentences and words, free flow of thoughts just to release into content, until you run out of content or choose to stop. If the content is short you can return to your repeat word “blah blah” or whatever word you chose, until you tap into the next current, or you can choose to be done or change to drawing.
If you are drawing, you begin by drawing anything- try to stay away from forms that are too informative and directional like icons (hearts, stars etc) as they can keep you rutted rather than flowing- scribble or doodling are pretty good- until you are into a flow of drawing. If you are a 2D artist you might go back to some of your sketching/drawing techniques like hatching, contour with continuous line drawing, stippling, and so on.
Ok so let’s say you do this. You spend 2 pages or 15 minutes drawing/writing in your sketchbook journal, organically recording images and thoughts, every day. Why do I tell you to do this? The frustrating answer is the more you do it the more you will answer this question for yourself. The more immediate and satisfying answer is both a creative and wellness one: creatively you are generating creative energy by regular creative output and a daily creative journal is an important part of this, and from a wellness perspective you are downloading thought clutter from your brain (scientific terms) which will aid you in being more mindful and decrease symptoms fed by thinking problems like depression and anxiety.
So, Creative, will you give creative journaling a try?
(C) 2019 Creatively, LLC
Creatives: just like all of you my time is compact and any room to be creative is golden. Just like all of you the struggle to find time to do my art is real. Just like all of you I struggle to be mindful of my emotional signs and signals that I need to pump the brakes on my other “priorities” and take care of myself by making time for my art.
Remember that I always say that artists have to create to stay well?
Remember that I always say that your most important way to refuel and be well is to be creative?
Remember all the encouragement to have your own daily creative practice?
Remember all the mental health goals to be mindful of our personal state of well being, and personal and emotional needs?
As you continue to grow in these things you will begin to notice when you have to shove all else aside (and in my case) pick up a brush.
Today I am tired. Today I am spacey and disconnected. Today I am irritable. These are my early signs. Signing off, Creatives, to practice what I preach, because I will be painting.
(C) 2019 Creatively, LLC
Today I want to consider the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule: the simple idea that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes. It is an idea used in business, economics, safety, mathematics and more, and something I want to borrow and talk about as a model in a general sense for responsibility and decision making.
Safety management offices regularly use this model to assess risk: assuming that 80% of accidents, for example, can be attributed to 20% of risk factors. We can turn this on it’s head and consider in terms of effort and productivity: what if 80% of our successes could largely be attributed to 20% of our efforts? What if there was a key 20% of things we would do that would snowball exponentially into an 80% gain in our lives?
Oftentimes I hear from the creative artists that sit on my couch themes such as high levels of time commitments, extreme standards levels of perfection in their work, constant negative comparisons of themselves with other artists and so on. Essentially, the creative drive is in overdrive and escalate to paralyzing levels, preventing artists from doing creative work. Unfortunately what has happened is innate energy to create has turned inward into disabling pressure: we feel like no matter what we do, how hard we work, how many events we attend, how much we commit to, we will never be enough.
I think you can see where I am going with this. Twenty percent of your efforts can be responsible for 80% of your outcomes. In other words, 20% effort can be sufficient, whereas 200% effort can be disabling. It is a matter of applying the effort in the most beneficial way for your mental and creative health.
What is true is taking care of your mental health is fundamentally important to the creative flow which ultimately sets you apart as an artist. This is an important part of your 20% and not nurturing and caring for self is a nonstarter for creative success. What is also true is by not creating you are also severing yourself from your mental wellness. I hope what you are beginning to see is a creative person’s 20% looks like a balance of quality self care and regular creative practice.
The specifics of what your 20% self care and regular creative practice looks like will be specific to you. This is the work that we do at Creatively! My job is to sit across from you in a room and listen to you describe your challenges and successes in your life to help you sort out this very path to success. When you have your 20% formula in practice, you will begin to experiment the magic of your 80% success and happiness. This is the “creating well” that I am always talking about at Creatively. Get that flourishing and watch yourself begin to live your happiest life!
(C) 2019 Creatively, LLC
I have to title this post “Make the Time for Art” because this is so very crucial for Creative People! Creatives, not for the first time, I have tell you again how vital it is for you to be creative for your health and wellness! In my graduate thesis, I discovered very robust findings that the more creative the person the more impactful creativity is on their overall wellness. In other words, you need to create to be well! Not only is it crucial for you to be doing creative work to stay the best versions of yourselves, but never has it been more important to the fabric of humanity for creative visions to be shared to make room and hope for growth and change. Creativity lays the foundation for where we go in the future, and that, creative, is you!
I know that even if you agree with me, and all of this sounds good, that life gets in the way. You may have a 9-5 job that occupies your time and leaves little time for any creative endeavors. You may be in a creative job but feel trapped in your creative business agenda and unable to invest in your own creative pursuits. You may have finished art school and not sure what to do with your art next. You may feel generally stuck or uninspired. You may feel inhibited by imposter syndrome. You may be raising children or supporting family members and feel you have no time to invest in your creativity. Money may be an issue. Resources can be a problem. Even our own bodies give us limitations. Believe me, I get it. As an artist I have faced some of these myself.
What I can tell you is it is normal for your creative journey and how and where you invest your time to change over time. You may go from a full time art student to a full time administrator with art as a side-hustle. You may be a dancer or a musician performing with a company and end up investing instead in a different profession and enjoy music and dance in your community as a performer or even teacher. You will need to create your creative journey over and over again. It will be frustrating to do this. You might feel like you sold out, failed or let yourself go, but this is just the normal process of change in life. You get to decide what you want to do with your life and creativity and when, and your pathway is your own.
In a recent #createwellminutecast (airing Thursdays on FB and IG stories) I shared a tip to get you started to find windows of opportunity to get reengaged in your creative work. Check it out- it was episode 13- but essentially the tip was write out a schedule of your typical day, and indicate ANYWHERE YOU HAVE 15 MINUTES OR MORE UNUSED. This time is enough for you to do some version of creative work. It is trial and error to see how and what fits into your life. It requires acceptance of where you are and what works.
My second recommendation to you is see how you can plug yourself into your creative community. There are opportunities all around you to get engaged and find your #creativetribe. I post things regularly that I find on my IG story under “creative ops” and keep a running list on my website- but there are many many more! Try some things and get yourself plugged in. The culminative energy of creative people working together is beyond compare and the motivation of events, classes and even little project deadlines keep you engaged.
Finally, change is hard and fitting yet one more thing into an already packed schedule I realize is a hard sell. That’s really what I am here for! To help you tease apart what is getting in the way of you and your creative work and blocking you from living your best life. Reach out to me at Creatively- I am here to help!
(C) 2019 Creatively, LLC
Hello, Creatives! Finally, some warm weather with the promise of Spring in Maryland. I hope you are getting outside and feeling inspired (remember the “Getting Inspired with Mindfulness” post? Worth a re-read). This week, I want to help you capitalize on the powerful impact nature and weather has on us and our creative process.
Remember, Creative, you are sensitive, and you are sensory. You have strong emotional reactions to many things, and are very impacted by information coming in to your sensory system (sights, sounds, textures, smells, tastes). Change is very powerful because during a time of change our senses are very heightened to absorption (think jumping in a cold pool on a hot day- those first few seconds are potent!) All totaled, you have a powerful stream of energy to tap into during a seasonal change. And- the best, most mindful way to capitalize on this energy, is to go get in it- get outside!
I want you to physically put yourself into this energy stream and take what nature is offering you- like the plants stretching and unrolling their leaves into the warm sunlight after a long winter- absorb the energy and refill your stores. Biologically it is needed and healthy, emotionally it is restorative and creatively it is regenerative. This is so powerful!
Here are some ideas that might help you in your efforts:
And finally, of course, come to counseling! Let me support you moving forward and creating your best life. You are worth it. The life you will live when you do the work is worth it. Natural periods of potent energy like this are an ideal time to start working changes in your life, and I’m here to help!
(C) 2019 Creatively, LLC
The information provided in this blog is from my own clinical experiences and training. It is intended to supplement your clinical care. Never make major life changes before consulting with your treatment team. If you are unsure of your safety or wellbeing, do not hesitate to get help immediately.