Monday 21 June 2010

Musings on Creativity, with a little help from Elizabeth Gilbert

In the space of a week I have, quite literally, devoured two books by the wonderfully talented and inspirational writer Elizabeth Gilbert. Those of you who are familiar with the phenomenon that was Elizabeth’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love will recognise her name. She is a brilliant writer, an extraordinary woman, and someone I felt a kinship with from the very first moment I read her words. This kinship is not because we are both writers. What made me recognise my connection to Elizabeth Gilbert was the way we view the act of writing itself, the creative process, and how closely it links with divinity.

All artists, across all disciplines, often speak of an entity or thing that resides outside of themselves, a thing that helps their creative projects, that provides inspiration and, sometimes, drops the fully-formed work of art directly into their minds. Artists have described experiences whereby they feel they have become a channel through which art and creativity are manifested into our physical reality. I have felt this myself. When I am in the ‘zone’, you could say, when my writing is flowing from my mind down through my fingers and onto the page with almost lightening speed, I know that something else is working through me. Something outside of me is helping me, nudging me along.

As I’ve continued to develop both my writing and my spiritual life over the last few years, I’ve come to realise that these two aspects of life can not be separated. In fact, as Julia Cameron talks about so passionately in The Artist’s Way, art and creative pursuits are a spiritual process. Being an artist is a direct link to the divine. Artists work with the divine to create works of art. That’s the beauty of a creative life.

In a video I discovered on You Tube, Elizabeth Gilbert gives a thought-provoking speech about her belief that the artist is not a genius, rather the artist has a genius – that entity or thing that resides outside of them but who offers support and guidance during the act of creation. Elizabeth discusses this idea with reference to ancient Greece and Rome, where people believed creativity came from another source, not from human beings. “People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source.” The Romans called this “sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius.” The genius was the entity that provided creative inspiration to assist the artist in their work. Elizabeth goes on to say that during the Renaissance, when the human being became the centre of everything, “above all gods and mysteries”, people began to refer to specific artists as being a genius, instead of having a genius. This put a lot of pressure on one individual and “creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance.”

As a writer, I sometimes suffer from crippling self-doubt; it seems to come with the territory. I do not consider myself a genius, far from it. But I do feel pressure to write something brilliant, to prove my abilities. Yet something I have learnt of late, and something that Elizabeth Gilbert’s speech has given substance to, is that my only requirement as a writer is to turn up to the page and to write. That’s my job; to turn up, to commit to writing, and then to get out of the way. Because if any kind of creative energy is going to come through me from the divine source, the ‘genius’, that is waiting in the wings to assist me, I must be, first and foremost, open to it. When I step out of the way, stop trying so hard, stop trying to write the most perfect sentence ever constructed (which I say is an expectation placed on a lot of writers, even if only by their own egos) then a true act of creation can occur.

What Elizabeth Gilbert is saying in her speech was informed by the situation she found herself in, after the monumental success of Eat, Pray, Love, as she was trying to write her next work, with a world’s expectations on her shoulders. Would she ever write something good again? Could she ever top that success? And that’s when she realised; to have “the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up”, to continue to write was all she could do. Writers live a creative life; we must turn up to the page. But creativity itself is not something that comes from the self, from the individual. Creativity is larger, grander, than mere human existence. Creativity is spiritual, it comes from the divine.

If you feel so inclined, and have a spare twenty minutes, watch Elizabeth’s speech –

Wednesday 2 June 2010

The Creator in Me

May proved to be a very inspirational month for me, both in my writing and my spiritual life. It began with the Reiki training I completed over two weekends to become a Reiki Master/Teacher. Not only was this a blessed gathering of five beautiful and inspiring women, it was the realisation of a goal I set for myself some two years ago, not long after I’d studied Reiki 2. For those reasons, it was a powerful experience – I was surrounded by love and unwavering support from my fellow students and my amazing teacher, and I was fulfilling a dream. What a blessing!

But the blessings didn’t stop there. In fact, as is always the case with Reiki – the course is only the beginning. The real journey is what follows, as the energy body shifts to release old blocks and stale patterns that only hold us back. Since finishing the course I have felt much more connected to the creator in me – the artistic, creative person that resides deep in my heart. She’s probably that same little girl I once was who loved to spend time drawing or writing or playing the piano. I’ve managed to hold onto the writing well into adulthood, but admittedly the others have fallen away. And yet she’s still inside me, the little artist, and now I’ve opened myself up to commune with her again. Through strengthening my connection to Reiki, my connection to my true self has pushed to the forefront. I’m ready to embrace the artist in me!

Once I’d put this intention out into the universe it should have come as no surprise – as of course it didn’t – that opportunities would present themselves and I would be guided to shake the cobwebs from my artist self and get proactive. So now I find myself out of writer’s block and in to free flowing creative expression. It’s a wonder I can keep the smile off my face, as any writer knows - overcoming the debilitating writer’s block, whether self-imposed or not, is like seeing the sun shining after a long dull winter. There is no better feeling for any artist than the act of creation, in whatever medium. For me, it gives me not only a focus, a direction and a sense of purpose, it also allows me to feel as free as I can be. When I’m creating, I just work better – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. That elusive equilibrium I wrote about in my last post seems entirely within my grasp. In fact, I’m living in balance every single day, so long as I don’t deny the artist in me. She’s got a loud voice, and she must be heard.

I am also nurturing my artist self in two new ways, things that have been in my life’s periphery for many, many months, and which I have now both the courage and opportunity to attempt. In two weeks I will be starting a weekly drawing class to encourage the little artistic girl I once was to make an appearance in this adult me. And I am also setting up a collaboration blog with my wonderfully talented sister who is a photographer. She’ll take pictures and I’ll write some flash fiction. Two artists coming together to create. Wow, another blessing!

And so the inspirational month ended, in a small village during a trip to Yorkshire; I visited what was once the home of the Brontë family. I knew the Brontë sisters to have been authors, but on the walls of their home I saw fabulous art works by Charlotte – she was a creative entity, a true artist whose creative expression, it would seem, was her purpose in life. As I stood staring at her accomplished drawings I knew I owed it to all those magnificent, inspirational, artistic women who have gone before me, to not let fear hold me back from self-expression.

I am an artist, after all. The creator in me sings proud and true.

"I'm just going to write because I cannot help it."
- Charlotte Brontë