The cure in creativity

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Ella Jardim

“At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer.”   Rachel Naomi Remen

Some time ago, a woman with an astonishing and uncanny ability to tune into my mind and heart, suggested I look at creativity as a way to promote physical healing. Despite her spookily accurately psychic skills, I politely thanked her for her advice, but long-standing physical health issues like mine, required a more aggressive approach like supplements, continuous mindfulness, mediation, eating all the “right” foods, and working with a naturopath and/or integrative doctor. Oh, and don’t forget a good dose of self-help books, workshops and courses. Sounds exhausting doesn’t it? And yet, for ten years, that was my modus operandi, and yes, I was exhausted on all levels. If you listen to the many experts, particularly the social media medical “experts”, mine was the textbook approach for holistic health and I, was its number one student. At times I made some progress, only to take one step forward and two steps back. It’s been slow and frustrating and didn’t really create the change I knew I needed.

In fairness, the one thing I didn’t do well was meditation. Sitting for 20 minutes or more left my legs feeling numb and I found the whole process painful. Chronic thinkers have great battles during meditation. I know, I know, the battle is a sure sign we need it more than most people, but this ongoing battle wasn’t getting me anywhere. That’s when I thought I’d try the other thing I’d been resisting and that was take the psych’s advice and try creativity.

Since leaving childhood behind, I became estranged from any form of artistic pursuit. Not because I wasn’t interested, but because my carefree childhood evolved into adulthood shackled by perfectionism. Like oil and water, perfectionism and creativity don’t mix. It’s basic chemistry and you can’t change that, but you can transform it.

Two years ago, my daughter began sewing classes.  I watched with envy as each week, she brought home wonderful new creations, resplendent in vibrant and funky fabrics. I’ve never had a desire to learn to sew, and yet, something about the art of making, the attraction of beautiful fabrics and the joy of holding something you created kept pulling at me. I knew then that creativity, the thing I’d been trying to ignore had finally found a way to reach me, handcuffed me and wouldn’t let go.

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Annie Spratt

Despite my chronic perfectionism issues, I found the courage to dive in. Things went well for a while because as a beginner, I could rationalise that mistakes were natural when learning a new skill. But as time went on, the mistakes naturally continued, as each new project had it’s own challenges, and some days my brain malfunctioned due to chronic insomnia. This is where the battle to transform perfectionism into creativity really began.

My programmed mind repeated it’s well worn howl that I was hopeless, incompetent and why couldn’t I remember things like everyone else. On and on it went, but something had shifted in me. A little voice said, “I’ve had enough”. There are times in our life when we reach a crossroad. We’ve learnt enough to know that these intersections represent the opportunity for deep, profound change. But do we have the courage to take the path never travelled, to step into the darkness of a new and as yet unknown path? I decided that I’d had enough of doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome, and following the old road that got me nowhere. It was time for something different.

So in that moment of angst, as I sewed another row of stitching that had to be unpicked, again, I stood on the threshold and took a deep breath. I quickly processed the thoughts in my mind. “Here’s the chance for change kiddo”, my little voice said, trying to be heard over the perfectionist mind. “Take the stitch unpicker, breath deeply and in a meditative and mindful way, gently unpick the stitches. Go on, you can do it.” And so I did.

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Image: keep calm-o-matic.co.uk

Two things happened here. Firstly, I found that I could use the “mistake” to not only rip the stitches out of my perfectionism trait, but secondly, I could use this as my kind of meditation. I know that mediation is very good for stress reduction and for general health, but with my hyperactive mind, I needed to find another entry point. Unpicking stitches did that for me, as did the process of sewing. This might sound strange to non sewers, but there is something therapeutic in the chugging rhythm of a sewing machine.

I won’t lie and say this process was easy because it wasn’t. With each stitch, my mind would try to derail me with constant little snide remarks. “Careful you don’t rip the fabric. Is anyone else unpicking their work? I can’t believe we have to do this again?” But just as we do in meditation, I watched the thoughts, let them pass and went back to work.

My process of discovery, of healing through creativity is just beginning. While I’ve never recovered my health completely, I have made progress. But more than physical progress, I’ve made emotional and spiritual progress. I’m better able to deal with physical ailments but importantly, I live a more peaceful life, regardless of my physical health. And that is the true gift I found in creativity.

Is there something your heart has been calling you to follow that you might be ignoring? Perhaps today you can take one small step into exploring this call.

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Image: quotes gram.com

 

Throwing Caution, Paths and Purpose to the Wind

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I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination – Jimmy Dean

Today, as I write this, the wind is blowing ferociously, the remnants of a tropical cyclone. The wind also acts as a great metaphor for this post because, today, I have let go of the need for a path or purpose, of a mind constantly searching, and instead have thrown myself at the mercy of the wind, allowing it to guide me. It’s a leap of faith.

In today’s world, not seeking direction sounds like madness. How can one be happy about not finding their purpose? Isn’t it the holy grail, the thing that will make us happy?” Well, yes and no.

Yes, we all like to know why we’re here, how we are to use the gifts we are given, and not waste time going down multiple “wrong” roads.

No, because seeking “the” path and purpose is not only exhausting, it can actually throw us off track, off our path. Confused? So was I, which is why it has taken me over a decade and a battle with poor health to get a handle on this.

Here’s what I’ve learnt. Years ago, a wise teacher told me that as a perfectionist, I wanted to know “every damned step” before I made a move. At the time I thought, well yeah, of course I do, otherwise how can I know which way to go, right? She also said, “The steps only appear, once you make the first move.” At the time, this made no sense. How can I step forward if I can’t see where I’m supposed to step?

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Well the secret is in stepping where there is no step. Sounds crazy but stay with me. I’ve learnt that we often don’t get a billboard with arrows saying “Go this way”. Instead, we have to make the first move in whatever direction “feels” right and then the next step appears.

This is where intuition comes in. It’s that gentle sensation, like butterfly wings that flutter around your heart, hinting that you’re onto something. It doesn’t give exact instructions, just a feeling, a hint to use our soul as a weather vane, see which way it’s pointing, then head in that direction, no instructions, just follow the breeze. When we take the first step, if it’s in alignment with our soul’s desire, and not just our head, then the universe will reveal the next step. It’s our reward for being brave, trusting and using “feeling” as a compass, not just logic.

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Intuitive Processes and Creativity

Here’s how this intuitive process worked for me. Regular readers know that 10 years of poor health forced me to examine how my thoughts were impacting my life and health. Perfectionism is bad for your health and your career. I could no longer work in my field of marketing communications, or do much else. On the advise of a stranger, I took up a creative pursuit. Mine was sewing. The stranger also suggested not doing it as a career or creating a business, but simply as an exploratory process. I had no idea what she meant. Perfectionists only do things that have useful outcomes, but being unwell, I had no choice but to do art for art’s sake.

Stepping into the creative unknown, I had no idea how or why it would help, just that I should trust my gut and follow this lead. Creativity restored my connection to my intuition, calmed my mind and allowed new insights to emerge. My health improved enough for me to consider my other passion, protecting our beautiful planet. But in what capacity? The next invisible step was about to emerge.

Recently I saw a story on the environmental impact of plastic bags, and decided to stop moaning, take action and find an organisation I could help lobby for a ban plastic bags. My search led me to the website of not-for-profit group, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. They help protect wildlife, their habitats and campaigned against plastic bags. Something about their website attracted me, like a hidden force. It was a heart flutter moment that prompted me to call and see if they needed a volunteer. I spoke to the lovely manager who gratefully accepted my help. I felt an instant connection.

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Image: Wildlife Preservation Society Queensland

Remember, if we take the first intuitive step, the universe will reveal the next. It did for me. The manager said they welcomed all help, but desperately needed someone with marketing communications skills. Bingo! When I surrendered the need to know the path, magic happened. I was happy to help make coffee but instead, the universe gifted me the chance to use my work experience and do something purposeful. As an added bonus, and to confirm I was in the right place, I discovered that the manager and I both share a love of sewing.

While I still have poor health days, challenges managing teenagers and juggling the needs of a family, relinquishing the search for a purpose has led to internal peace. When I gave up the need to know, a purpose found me. And it’s not to say that this is “the purpose”, it’s what is right for me right now. It’s all about letting go, and letting be(come).

Intuition is your greatest gift. If you can’t feel guidance, make time to be still for at least 5-10 minutes every day, whatever time you can spare. Don’t discount the advice of family and friends and your own mind, but always check in with your internal compass and see which way it’s pointing, because your heart and soul will always be your best guides towards your next step.

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Have you felt any flutters that might be trying to guide you?

Beginners Perfection Curse

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Image: theseeds4life.com

 

“There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” Erin Hanson

When I was little, like so many children I would try anything. I would attempt to fly, bake a cake with mud and flowers and paint and draw whatever inspired me at that moment. None of it attempted for money, praise or recognition. The beauty of childhood is that we do these things purely for the experience of the experience, for the ability to try something new, for the challenge of making the unknown into something known. It is a beautiful Divine existence that sadly, for many of us, will last a few of our precious early years of life before the flame is all but extinguished.

Readers of this blog will know of the angst I’ve felt as I’ve tried to negotiate my way through the maze of man-made thoughts ought to and shoulds, and back into the beautiful valley of Divine inspiration. My old ways of doing this was to simply become way too busy to make time for anything remotely creative, but a brush with poor health forced me away from the drone-like activity that had become daily life, and turned me back towards the winds of inspiration. Back into that time of childhood exploration.

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Let me be upfront here and announce that while my intellect knows the process, knows the deal and the pitfalls, it’s still a challenging path to walk. I absolutely know that the only way to become better at something is to make a start and practice, practice, practice. Makes sense right? No one, not even Einstein was born knowing how to ride a bike, and yet, my loopy thought processes believed that it’s ok for others to be beginners, but just not me. Can anyone else relate to this kind of thinking? No beginners mind for this gal.

Being the ‘thought detective’ that I am, I wondered, why am I so damn hard on myself? Why do I expect to be perfect from the get go? What kind of unrealistic expectation is that, and where did it come from? And, how did I even realise there was a problem?

Well, I recently took up sewing and joined a class of beautiful sewing soul sisters. I love the therapeutic way the machine lulls you into ‘the zone’ and I get to play with beautiful fabrics which nourish my soul. I recently completed the main part of a small child’s quilt which I make to donate to a kids in need. The almost completed item just needed a few lines of decorative sewing to complete it, but the lines are random and require the sewer to let go and just sew a few swirly lines. The completion of this quilt hinged on six random lines of sewing and yet, I couldn’t do it. I procrastinated for days until I had to take action. The first attempt was ok as was the second but then I sewed a rather bad line. I stopped and felt myself tensing up, then without missing a beat, my brain, affectionately called ‘Tofu man’ started up. “You should have spent more time practicing. Look at the complex work the other ladies are doing and you can’t sew a few lines that don’t look like you’ve been binging on booze. You should just stop before you embarrass yourself”. On and on it went and worse still, it became more vicious as it continued. I took the quilt home and just stared at it, feeling numb. How could such a simple thing leave me feeling sad, defeated and empty?

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Image: pinterest.com

I love sewing, I love being able to use my hobby to make things that I can gift those in need. I love the companionship of my sewing classes, but if I didn’t take control of Tofu man and his insatiable appetite for cruel criticism, I would end up giving away yet another thing I loved, all because of a bunch of inherited thoughts and beliefs. Wow, this was tricky territory. In the past I blamed my parents, after all, they were highly critical but to them, it was their way of helping me make the right decisions, to avoid mistakes that I would later regret. However, their fears were not my fears. They grew up during a long and brutal war, they never fulfilled their childhood dreams, they knew the world as being unpredictable and scary and so they sought to arm us kids with the necessary defences to protect ourselves. Problem is, all this does is lead to living life in fear, always waiting for something to go wrong, which it does if that’s what you focus on, and it removes any sense of trust that things might go right. It also blocks creativity because the act of creating requires imagination, courage and trust in oneself.  So blaming parents was not going to get me anywhere. Instead, I found forgiveness and compassion more helpful, but it still didn’t remove my angst.

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Image: sewhandmade.info

This is where the leap is required. I’ll be honest and say I hate the leap! I’d become so used to my companion of many years called the ‘Control freak’ that I’d developed that horrible condition called Stockholm syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which a hostage develops empathy and positive feelings towards their captor. Despite the pain and suffering my control freak heaped upon me, I preferred to remain in the comfort of the know as opposed to leaping into the unknown, even though, deep down I knew that it was bound to be better than where I was, that I would be removed from the stale breath of the one who speaks words of ill towards me and instead find a new and invigorating companion.

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To leap is to leave Control Freak behind. But leap I had to. As I took out my slightly imperfect quilt, I reminded myself that the child that receives it will be joyous and grateful and will not have grown into a critical adult yet. The imperfect lines mean a human made it and not a machine, and if I was honest, as a first attempt, it was pretty good.

The healing begins

I won’t lie and say that I am cured of perfectionism, I was after all quite perfect at self-criticism. No one could catch me in the self rejection stakes because I was a world champion. Not a great claim to make but an honest one. Re-wiring the brain of old habits isn’t always easy but I’ve found a few techniques that help.

  1. Before I begin something new I take a few deep breaths and try to centre myself and close the door on Tofu Man.
  2. I remind myself that I am exploring new territory and like an explorer I may stumble over rocks, then walk easily through green valleys and possibly find a gem during my travels
  3. If I notice Tofu man trying to edge in, I’ll tell him to go sit at the back of the bus because I’m now in the drivers seat.
  4. If I feel like I’m not doing well, I’ll close my eyes and breath again, and really feel into it. I’ll remind myself that this is an exploration of the heart and soul and not a “real” life and death situation, and no matter what the finished product looks like, it’s living in the process that really matters.
  5. I also remind myself that the healing that results from overcoming this debilitating perfectionism condition will lead to better mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. I’ll focus on health, not squiggly, imperfect lines.
  6. And most importantly, I remind myself that in 100 or even 50 year’s time, that no one, absolutely no one is going to care if I sewed a straight line or a crooked one!

So dear perfectly imperfect friends, don’t bow down to a bunch of neural circuits that will cut you off from joy and fulfilment. Instead, join me and gather up your shield and sword and embody the warrior princess or prince. Then go in to battle with your old nemesis, your old you, and fight to regain that childhood part of you that loved creating, without the monster and megaphone that was always trying to correct you, to stifle you, to accuse you of wasting time and money, all of which you may have taken to  mean that you weren’t good enough. I know most parents never intended for this to be the message but as children, we lacked the cognitive skills and life experiences to truly understand what was being said, but now we know better. Now we can make a truly remarkable change.

I encourage you to release those old, outdated fears and walk a new path, even if the way isn’t absolutely clear. What’s one step you can take towards reclaiming your right to full expression living, faults and all?

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