The Creative Impulse
June 2014
illustration

“Freedom” bronze
© 

When you were a child, did you dream that when you grew up, you would become a personal assistant and sit at a desk for 9 hours each day answering the phone and writing emails? Neither did I. Yet this is exactly what I did as my job for many years in the responsible world of adulthood.

For children, being creative is natural and instinctive. As a child, I did not define it as ‘artistic’ or ‘talented’ or ‘special.’ Designing, performing and making things was synonymous with playing and having fun. At junior school (aged 8–11), my numerous extra-curricular activities included dancing, acting, gymnastics and violin lessons. Though I achieved varying degrees of skill and success in these, I also paid no attention to my sisters when they teased me about the screeching noise that sounded more like an animal in pain than music. I appreciated having time to myself to practise my violin every day and cherished the acknowledgement from my teacher that came with the small improvements I made over time. My real ambition was to be be a witch (a good witch, of course), because I loved the idea of mixing weird and wonderful ingredients to create magical potions that could heal ailments, or make people feel happier.

At some point, though I wasn't aware of it at the time, the adults around me shifted their intention, from nurturing ‘play’ and ‘learning’ to the rather more serious business of ‘education,’ namely education with the aim of getting a good job, career progression and preparing for adult life. Thus my focus shifted too, from being in the present to emphasis on the future. My teens became a constant race towards exams, goals, and achievements. My mind lived for attainments in a future where the here&now was just never good enough.

Unfortunately, most parents and teachers simply propagate what they know or are influenced by onto their children, and with good intentions. More likely than not, a similar process they went through themselves (if it was good enough for me…). Children and grown ups crave certainty, which in the modern world generally equates to the delusion that a good degree, job, house, spouse, friends, family, etc. will give us security and stability to live out our adult lives.

Then, some twenty or thirty years later, how many of us end up in therapy to lament the lack of encouragement we received (or in some cases too much support, which creates a alternate kind of pressure to constantly perform) from parents and teachers to accomplish our childhood dreams?

When I reached this point, the question for me was when did I let go of my dream, my creative instinct, and instead start walking a path where I solidified my limitations, not just for my ‘self’ but also in my perception of the ‘selves’ of my family, friends, colleagues, and so on?

How many times have you found yourself saying, ‘It's just the way I am’ or ‘I'm no good at [fill in the blank]’ or ‘She always gets mad when I [fill in the blank]?’

We cling to our identity as though our life depends on it. Otherwise, who are we? We imagine that by retelling the story over and over of our little foibles, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, will somehow define who we are and make us a unique individual. Yet this is not freedom. This is putting our ‘self’ (and others) into a box.

Many of my clients think that they are ‘not creative.’ The truth is closer to admitting that we are insecure and that fear is the only thing limiting our creative expression. We don't want to be vulnerable, or even to concede that we may not know how to be. And then, to take the leap and be a student again. The gestation period of taking action, any endeavour that will make us creatively vulnerable (be it writing, painting, making, dancing, playing music, designing, collaging, anything that we love to do for the simple enjoyment of doing it) is really difficult. We are impatient and harsh with ourselves, especially in staying with the discomfort of a process that has yet to generate a form, mould, and structure, and is still only flashes of inspiration and disconnected scenes. Such creative endeavour is not always fun, yet the enormity of the pressure we put on ourselves to create something ‘beautiful’ is overwhelming. A first draft, let alone a ‘novel,’ takes months of drafts and edits, even years of writing several ‘bad’ novels beforehand. Creativity is in the practice, maybe half an hour each day to begin with. The delightful and exciting will emerge, without force.

Simply make a little time to do something you love and start. Don't worry about what your family and friends will think. They are more concerned with what you think of them! There is no ‘right’ way to be creative. Explore and experiment, have an adventure, see what you find and have a sense of humour.

It's funny to think back on my childhood in relation to my life now, and see that working as a life coach and massage therapist is essentially being the good witch I wanted to be. I am, in fact, living my dream!