Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Creativity As A Spiritual Practice

The above clip is Julia Cameron talking about her theories on the intersection of creativity and spirituality.  For her, creative impulse comes from God -- or whatever spiritual entity or impulse you have within you if that gives you some sort of squicky feeling, so don't get squirmy about this just yet.

What she means is that this comes from our inner voice, our deepest selves, our soul motivation, and it is an expression of that which is best in us.

But it is what Julia says in this clip and in her Artist's Way books about needing to fortify and nurture this creative spirit that most applies to me at the moment, I think -- because it is something I've always taken for granted while I push myself until I'm flat out dry. In the above clip, Julia says this:
When someone who is officially on a spiritual path picks the toolkit up, it often works very well because they are already willing. You know, on a spiritual path, you go through dark nights of the soul. And I think my toolkit is very helpful for walking through difficult times: it refills the well that is being fished out of when you are trying to help so many people. One thing that I think is important is that it says "be a little bit selfish." And I think that is wonderful advice for people who are in the field because they run the jeopardy of being burned out from over-giving, so this creates a balance....
When you make art, you are making an act of faith, you're in effect praying. I think when we don't pursue our creativity, we find ourselves feeling restless, and irritable and discontent[ed]. And when we do pursue our creativity, we find ourselves feeling unexpectedly happy.
Having spent the bulk of the last few years either practicing law largely in a public interest capacity or working in politics on issues that matter greatly to me, I'm in touch with the need for avoiding burn-out.

For example, early on I was representing children in abuse and neglect cases and a lot of juveniles in trouble when I was in private practice as a big chunk of my work, and then switching over to being an assistant prosecutor where I was doing the same thing just from a different level of authority and public responsibility.  All of it was overwhelming for me, because the lines got completely blurred between work life and personal commitment due to the high stakes of each and every case -- people's lives were, quite literally in certain types of cases, at stake.  And that wasn't something I could just leave at the office, so my brain was working on these things pretty much 24/7.  Not healthy.

For the last several years?  I was working on politics from the inside and the outside, trying to push forward political action on issues that sorely needed a voice:  justice and the rule of law, reform of child abuse and neglect laws and treatment, poverty, women's issues, you name it.  Again, not issues I could just park at the end of a very long day, so there was no real break for me -- it's just how I'm hardwired, I'm afraid, and it took over to the point that I could not shut down for rest even when health dictated a need to do so.

All this to say, I'm all too familiar with burnout on a personal level because I failed to do the one thing that, as Julia says above, to "be a bit selfish" to hold something in reserve for my own health and sanity. 

I have a habit of putting all of me on the table when something is important -- it's a gift and a failing, all wrapped up in one exhausting little package.

But it hasn't always been just work life, it is also life at home:  I subsume my own needs and wants a lot for what I think the others in my house want or need from me.  Don't a lot of moms do this to some extent?  Put yourself dead last on the "to do" list, and place helping with homework, housework, laundry, children's taxi service, cooking, more cleaning, more of everything for everyone and less and less for you?  I know I do that pretty much unconsciously all the time -- it's my autopilot default setting unless I consciously make an effort to override it by choosing -- deliberately -- to make space for something I want or need just for me.

I find when I haven't done that for a while, when I've sublimated my own needs for far, far too long, I start getting irritable and antsy, because it almost always involves me putting off writing time or something as simple as a walk to clear my head so that I can do something else for someone else.  That sort of resentment build-up is good for no one, and when I finally do break down and take some time for myself, I realize all over again how important it is for my sanity -- and everyone else's, too -- that I do that daily.

One of the things that helps keep me in balance the most is doing the Morning Pages that Julia recommends. 

I sit down with my coffee first thing and write out, long hand, three whole pages of whatever is filling my brain at the moment.  Just dump it all on the page, so to speak.  After a while, I've identified patterns of things that are bugging me, things I really want to try and do, things that have built up that need to be addressed...and I'm a much, much happier person just for sitting down and dumping it all out as a giant blurt on the page.

When I stop doing them?  I get grumpy all over, because I'm missing that time for a conversation with myself.  I've realized that, more than anything, the last few weeks:  I need to do these morning pages every day, no matter what else life may throw my way in the future, that has to be non-negotiable.

So it is all of this that I am mulling on this packing day before I leave tomorrow for this seminar.  There is a lot stewing around in here, a lot to tackle and sort through and move forward on as I go.  I'm not quite certain what to expect, because there isn't a schedule online to tell me what we'll be doing -- and my Type-A inner self is notoriously horrible about travel surprises, but I'm trying to be zen about it and just take it as it comes.  Honestly, it is probably good not to know because then I can't obsess about details and will be off-balance at the start which always shakes things up for me.

All this to say, I hope to have a full report for everyone on how things go, but right now?  I need to get packed or I'll spend the weekend in the buff and no one wants that!

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