No-see-ums (aka ceratopogonidae or biting midges) annoyed Alison and I out of our slumber around 4am on our final morning in the cabins at Cape Lookout National Seascape. Rather than agonize, I got my gear together, exited the cabin in the pre-dawn charcoal gray, and spent some time alone walking along the shore of the Atlantic. Just as the sun began to turn the sky pinks, blues, and purples, another lone figure suddenly appeared from behind the dunes up the coast. Unaware of my presence, she twirled and swayed and leapt to the rhythms of the ocean before dancing out of my line of sight, disappearing behind the horizon as quickly as she appeared. Her movement was uninhibited, joyful, playful, and inspiring.
When children, creative play comes naturally: we paint, draw, pretend, sing, dance, act, play. But, for many of us, we slowly grow away from that creativity. That separation begins when we start comparing ourselves to those around us. We find evidence that "proves" we aren't good enough or that creativity isn't our thing or that there's just not enough time to have a creative practice.
Maybe someone stifled your creativity because of their own insecurities. Maybe it got broken by the system of education that values logical and rational thinking. Maybe your creativity drifted off quietly as you focused on "adulting." Maybe your creativity has been hidden because you're afraid of being vulnerable.
In order to recover our creative health, we need to redefine what it means to be creative. In Brené Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection, she defines creativity as a means of expressing our originality and making connections. Her research on shame shows creativity is vital for living lovingly.
For me to reconnect to my own creative voice and depart from shame, I had to start sharing my ideas, passions, and creations even with anxiety present every step of the way. Here are three phrases the voices of anxiety used to convince me it wasn't safe to share and (after lots and lots of practice sharing anyway) what I learned to be the reality.
Colby, Kurt, and I hiked the trails of Minnehaha on a dreary, drizzly morning to get to this bridge, which was the perfect setting for listening to Join the Birds, their former band. Obviously, both playing music and photographing in drizzle presents some challenges, but, for all three of us, the weather was a welcomed part of the experience. The rhythmic music, the soft lighting, the vitality of the forest - art and nature created a magical symbiosis, a way of being that extended past all definitions. There was no separate entity that was "the artist," we were all creators of the moment.
Colby and Kurt recorded their first and only album in a similar fashion while at Boundary Waters Canoe Area in 2013. Click their photo above to listen to the recording.
Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, you can take ownership of the fact that you are creating something new every day. You are creating experiences every moment. You are a part of the Earth and the Sun and the Stars and you inherently embody the power to create.
I've had my share of breaking the law, but I went through all the proper channels to get the right approval to use the Minneapolis Institute of Art (The Mia) for a creative collaboration with my dancing-queen friend, Elizabeth. On the agreed upon date, we checked in at the front desk and, after a few calls, we were graciously permitted to enter with our gear. Within about 2 minutes, we were stopped by a security guard telling us we could not bring in our gear or do what we were planning to do. I explained the situation, he radioed the front desk, and we were (somewhat begrudgingly) allowed to continue. Every 5-10 minutes, we would go through the same procedure with another security guard. It didn't take us very long to wear out of the routine, but Elizabeth and I made a game of finding a quiet place and getting a few quick shots off before we were discovered again. Our last stop was outdoors, on the railing of the front steps. We knew we had only a few precious moments, so we planned and executed, while watching for the guards to arrive. We could see them coming through the glass doors, so we took off (laughing) before they had a chance to put us through the routine again. Were the guards annoying? Yes. But I'm sure they're not annoying sometimes, too. Were we behaving badly? A bit. But we're good sometimes, too.
Good and bad are subjective and can co-exist within one relationship, one experience, or even one moment. Of course the security guards were trying to do a good job for the benefit of the museum. They were also preventing new art from being made. Of course I realize what a privilege it was to be permitted to get the shots we did. I also know that the images would've been better if we weren't stopped so frequently. There are always multiple things happening simultaneously and each person brings their own perspective to each situation. It's the same with art. So who cares if you make bad art. Sometimes I think the art at The Mia is hideous. That doesn't stop the museum from existing, it doesn't stop them from bringing in new pieces, or protecting the displayed pieces from mischievous women like Elizabeth and me.
Make something and share it freely. It'll be both good and bad and the world will benefit from your courage, vulnerability, and creativity!
Lama Yeshi Choedup and I first met through the MN Literacy Council, where I was volunteering at the start of my career as an ESL teacher. There was a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery near the school where I volunteered and there were three monks who I got to know and learn from. One day, I saw there was an art project by Wang Ping called "Kinship of Rivers" being held at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis where a mandala would be created in honor of the Yangtze River. The monk who would be creating the Mandala happened to be my friend Yeshi. Yeshi completed a small, simple mandala at the event for the public to witness and stand in awe of as they watched him precisely place the tiny granules of sand to create a work of art. The feelings of connection created at this event were palpable. Guests enjoyed the art exhibit, made prayer flags, wrote poems, and enjoyed music to create an energetic connection between us, the Mississippi, and the Yangtze. As the mandala was complete, after hours of detailed work, Yeshi confidently swept all of the sand into a pile, effectively destroying the art he just created. Reminding us all that nothing is permanent, we ceremoniously walked the sand down to the Mississippi and watched Yeshi perform a Buddhist "prayer" before pouring the sand into the river. It didn't matter that Yeshi's mandala was a work of art, what mattered was the connection it created, the energy that was brought into being, and the ritual of the practice.
Click the photo of Lama Yeshi Choedup to learn more about Wang Ping's project "Kinship of Rivers" and the connections created by this art project.
Who cares if you make something that is not liked by others. Even if you make something you will destroy when completed or will never even show to another, making things shifts the energy and creates new connections.
No matter the reasons for our stifled creativity and no matter how we define creativity, here's the reality: we are creative beings. Every single one of us.
We are all here on this planet making a life, making meaning out of our experiences, and making connections. We can be more creative and more intentional about what we create by cultivating the art of making. We express ourselves, our individuality, and our purpose through creative expression.
As I've continued to develop my own creative practices, have I been able to completely let go of comparison and competition? Hell no! Am I nervous each time I share my artistic voice? Hell yes! But I know I don't want fear to stand in my way. I know I don't want to live life stuck in grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, or shame. Creative expression has served as a vehicle for staying present to and moving through all my emotions with less attachment. It has served as connections to people I would've never met. It has served as an intentional focus and spiritual ritual in an ever-changing world. It has served as a antidote to depression and anxiety.