This morning, as I read of the multiple closings and cancellations in the arts communities in particular, a heavy sigh of sadness came over me. But, the news also lit for me a spark in terms of what small offering we each might make to somehow curb the fret brought on by these swirling developments. I am a big believer in the small ripple of the simplest (well) gesture. As a creative person, I instinctively pivot my energies towards the act of making/offering art as a refuge. Such was the case this morning, and my "pivot" rendered the following...
Creative muscles? Yes, we all have them — tucked quietly back there in the soul. Given the ongoing pound of the 24 hour news coverage of the coronavirus, and the limitations the virus is placing on our social interactions, there has never been a better time to access the super power that is our creativity. In order to call on them however, we need to pay that muscle some attention - just as we might at the gym with abdominals or pectorals or biceps.
In a recent social media post, the author Elizabeth Gilbert trumpeted the simple act of “doodling” as a soothe. In doing so, she referenced childhood and how we instinctively turned to crayons and paint and clay and such as a practice for assuaging anxiety. Remember putting on a smock of some sort, gathering up our materials and getting intentional about checking out of the morning’s troubles and checking back in to ourself through the doorway of creativity? So, why not recall that well-proven fix, right now, as an antidote to the drumbeat of the virus and its escalation - at least for some small moments in our day? The balm has never been easier and can be as simple as repurposing our ever-present devices. Create art, or just consume it… no smocks necessary.
Just how does one tone the creative muscle? Through practice, practice, practice… In the creative workshops I offer throughout the country I share the following five-limbed approach for doing just that -- a rather easy to follow game plan for calling on and exercising our creative spirit and build up emotional resilience.
The first step in tapping into our artistic side is to heighten our senses and create some conditions for a clearer perception of things. This is simply not possible unless we eliminate or tone down some of the hindrances - those things in our life that are NOT serving us and clouding our true perception. It’s widely noted that “where attention goes, energy flows”… Subtraction looks like turning off some of the noise in your day (screens and commotion) for a few minutes, reconnecting with your breath and quietly taking stock of where we spend our energy. What are the things that lift your spirits and make you feel grounded and at ease? What are the habits (or people) that detract from our pleasants and create a feeling of tension or (dis)ease? Just notice what you notice. There is nothing to fiddle with at this point. Perhaps in this space of reflection you might set an intention to let those things which are NOT serving you fall off through modifying certain habits or imbibing smaller doses?
Inquiring In is a natural extension of Subtraction. Now that you have taken some stock of the joyful (and not so joyful) aspects to your day, and made some space to get quiet, hopefully you have tapped into a clearing of sorts - a space and frequency in which you can better hear. This is the time to look around and notice where you see beauty. At this juncture, I often pose this question to my students, “what for you is poetic?” There is no wrong answer here. Essence is a seven letter word for something only YOU can hear. Listen, and go there. Perhaps it is something in the natural world that seizes your senses. In expressing yourself creatively through writing or a musical instrument, do you soothe the soul? Do flowers speak your language? Maybe planting yourself on a porch with a sketchpad, reading poetry, or collecting found objects hits for you a reset? As you begin this probe, here are five (first step) suggestions, easily accessible through your phone or computer, which might begin to light some sparks.
- Poem a Day: Poem-a-Day is the original (and only) daily digital poetry series featuring over 250 new, previously unpublished poems by today's talented poets each year. Visit the site, sign up for Poem-a-Day, and each morning a poem arrives in your in-box.
- Canva: Canva is an irresistible (free) app which opens the door to a host of creative distractions. With its very simple graphic interface, users can instantly create a host of colorful social media posts, invitations, presentations and cards for any occasion.
- YouTube: We all love YouTube for its ability to keep us informed. Beyond the laugh tracks and breaking news and tutorials explaining how to assemble that chair from IKEA however, there lies countless lessons on how to make every imaginable thing. From setting up an Instagram account, to making composite photographic images, to building a bonsai, YouTube has the scoop. And, it’s free and open 24 hours a day.
- CAMERA PLUS: This inexpensive iPhone app is just one of the countless tools for transforming your iPhone images. It is especially fabulous for macro photography and capturing flowers.
- Google Arts & Culture: Learn something new everyday through Google’s Art Project, which works in concert with over 250 institutions in a unique collaboration with the world’s most acclaimed art institutions, enabling people to discover and view artworks online in extraordinary detail.
Commit to Small Moments…
As you begin to recognize that connection with your favored subject or medium of creativity, the next step is to deepen that link. Take a look at your day and identify some of the non-negotiables such as sleeping, eating, walking the dog or working. These necessities, of course, grab considerable portions of our precious 24 hours. Can we designate such status to our newfound creative practice, reframe it as a nourishment of sorts and make it too a must? That act alone can feel empowering, and is the beginning of that build up of our emotional resilience. This slice of our day does not need to translate to a hefty chunk of time. Small moments are perfect. The important thing is to make the daily commitment to sit down with that book of poetry, the art app on your phone, a lovely violin concerto, your set of watercolors and E X H A L E.
Share the Merit…
This is a concept swiped from the Buddhist teaching which suggests that one shares the light (or merit) gained from their spiritual practice — beams it out into the world for the benefit of all. Share the Merit, in this instance, simply swaps out the “spiritual” practice for "creative" and invites us to go share the end result of our creative small moments.
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases;
it will never pass into nothingness;
but still will keep a bower quiet for us,”
John Keats in his Book I of Endymion shared this lovely verse. This joy achieved by the act of creating or engaging with that “thing of beauty” is not limited to one, but is magnified when shared with others. And, there’s also the reciprocity factor as we gift something creative out into the world and experience a bit of gladness in that act. Technology can serve as a wonderful ally in this step!
Finally, if you truly want to get stronger in mind and soul, repeat, repeat, repeat the steps outlined here. Make joy a daily non-negotiable. With practice, the creative muscle strengthens seamlessly, and that power can sustain us in immeasurable degrees... especially in these hours of "social distancing". Amidst he drumbeat of “daily notifications”, shift in our current collective funk is possible. I'm not making this up! Calling on our creative spirit is a readily available prescription to begin that transformation now. So let us wash our hands, be on alert, pay proper attention to the medical community’s advice, and remember that taking good care also includes tending to the mind. Regular field trips to the soul… we are ALL better for them!
Susan Currie is a West Palm Beach-based Author and Photographer where she serves on the faculty of the Palm Beach Photographic Centre. Her books include BreathTaking, Gracenotes and Once Divided, all published by Shanti Arts. In the creative workshops she teaches throughout the country Susan shares her signature practices of “Slow Shooting” and incorporating mindfulness techniques into the creative process. www.susancurriecreative.com.