|One of the things that I love about the creative process, at least most days, is how it keeps me honest. The truth is where the juice lies and as long as I'm "keepin it real" I am continually blessed with an abundant sense of energy and aliveness.
However, aliveness does not always translate as easy peasy. Aliveness is intense and intensity can be more than a little scary at times. Aliveness requires that you make room for all of your experiences and sometimes the thoughts and feelings that you are trying to fend off most fervently are coming up to point you exactly in the direction where you need to be going.
In this article I want to share with you a teaching story that I think is a great example of how our attachment to keeping the hard stuff at bay is what gets in the way our connecting up with our full creative energies. I wish I could credit the following tale, but my memory fails me. I heard it somewhere many moons ago in a workshop or lecture I attended and have loved it ever since.
The story goes like this. An elderly, respected, very wise, holy man is making a pilgrimage to various monasteries to see how things are going in the world of enlightenment. He arrives at one such establishment and asks to be shown around. These monasteries are of course also schools where people come to learn about living life devoted to spiritual practice, and like high school there are grades or levels of training and experience.
He begins his tour by visiting a gathering of first year students.These are raw newbies, who are still a little wet behind the ears, spiritually speaking, but very excited about getting to meet this esteemed master. He sits with them awhile, and then asks them a question, which goes something like this. "How many of you here still experience things like anger, lust, jealousy and hatred?"
The newbies eyes get very wide, a little horrified by the question, and then he starts to see heads shaking vehemently around the room. "No, no, no, siree. Not me! Are you kidding? I am well on my way to enlightenment. I NEVER feel those things anymore. In fact, I really and truly, cross my heart, honest to god, can't even remember when I DID feel those things. It's so long ago now, those nasty old feelings are like a distant memory to me."
He listens to this outburst for a while, then gently smiles at them, bows and takes his leave.
He goes and visits the second, third and fourth year students and asks them all the same question, with similar results. Although the longer they have been in the monastery, the less vehemently do they shake their heads and by the 4th year they are beginning to suspect that this may be a trick question.
So now he arrives at the 5th year students. This group has been in the spiritual trenches long enough that they have begun to figure a few things out. He asks them the same question, and there is an explosion of energy. The heads start bobbing again, but this time it is up and down.
This gang just falls all over themselves, one outshouting the other and what they are saying are things like "Hell yes, I feel angry. In fact, this guy, sitting next to me is really pissing me off right now! I am tormented by lust. I mean who knew that this celibacy thing was going to be such a stone cold drag. I am so full of envy, I'm surprised my eyes don't pop out of my head. I totally resent having to get up at 4 AM to go and sit with the rest of these clowns while they fart and belch and snore. This is not what I thought I signed up for when I decided to devote myself to God!!!" And on and on and on.
The old master grins broadly, gets settled in and begins teaching them at a whole new level. Now that they are willing to fully embrace all their craziness with humor and compassion, it means they are at a place where they are finally open to receiving the richness of what he has to offer.
One of the attractions of creativity is the implicit promise that if you are being truly creative you will automatically and at all times experience joy, a free flow of energy, and even ecstasy if you are lucky.
Well, I am here to tell you that that is one of the biggest crocks of hooey that you will ever come across. The truth is that often the creative process sucks. Whenever you sit down to be creative you are automatically brought face to face with yourself. And what that means is that initially you are brought into very close, very uncomfortable proximity with a wide variety of your most despicable demons and your slimiest and smelliest neurotic patterns. In other words, all of those things you have probably spent most of your life trying to avoid.
Do you have a conviction, deep in your bones, that all your best efforts will never bring you love ? Do you have a life long fear of failure? A desperate need to please? A deep sense of inadequacy that makes the Grand Canyon look like a dip in the sidewalk? See catastrophe around every bend? Does your perfectionism paralyze you? Your shame keep you small? Your need for control backfire into repeated experiences of self sabotage?
When you engage with authentic creative work, you are unwittingly inviting these things to come roaring to life, pushing and crowding their way to stage front and center of your psyche. And believe me, this process is never very much fun. Why do you think that the history of famous creative types is littered with alcoholics, reefer heads and dope fiends? This stuff is hard and upsetting to deal with and is the number one reason why people don't allow themselves to fully pursue their creative visions.
Creativity CAN open you up into vast reservoirs of energy that are fed by profound experiences of joy and pleasure. But first you need to go through certain dark portals in your psyche. You have to recognize and accept that engaging with yourself creatively means that you are inviting your worst fears, your greatest shame and your most tender, aching heartaches to the table. And that sitting with those old wounds in a spirit of conscious curiosity in order to allow your true self to flourish creatively is good and holy work.
Facing these painful and frightening places in yourself takes tremendous courage. And holding your nightmares, your humiliations, or your low opinion of yourself, with equally tremendous compassion can be a powerful healing process. As painful as this can be at times it is so,so worth it because in the end, whatever holds you back from expressing yourself creatively is really the same stuff that holds you back from experiencing a fully engaged, heart centered life.
And isn't that what we all really want?
STAYING CREATIVELY ALIVE: KEEPING YOUR EYES OPEN, YOUR JUICES FLOWING AND YOUR SHADOW GREASING THE WHEELSMonday, February 9th, 2009
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