When we're creative, we are most fully alive. The excitement of the lead worshiper, the musician at an instrument, the artist at the easel comes closest to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life, and so rarely do.
Perhaps only sex, sports and religious ecstacy provide a similar sense of being part of something greater than ourselves. But creativity leaves an outcome, an artifact, that adds to the richness and complexity of humanity and the future.
Healthy and productive creatives are remarkable for their ability to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. When a person works in the area of their expertise, worries and cares fall away, replaced by a sense of bliss.
Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all healthy creatives, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, ministers would work for businesses where they would earn twice as much as they do at churches, and would-be musicians and actors would stop waiting tables and get a “real job” where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.
Creativity often requires effort and struggle and the willingness to endure anxiety, since creative efforts usually have the potential of failing, of being criticized, and even being rejected. Some people are unwilling to make the necessary effort to endure the unavoidable anxiety—the “resistance” as Steven Pressfield calls it, in his extraordinary book The War of Art—and therefore never live up to their full potential.
Not all people have the same capacity for expressing their creativity, since it, like all other capacities, is a product of both nature and nurture, of genes and developmental encouragement.
But there is a form of creativity that has nothing to do with artistic talent. It is the personal creativity of the healthy self that makes original, unique and effective rearrangements of one’s interior life. This inner creativity is in turn expressed outwardly in new, more adaptive and harmonious ways of living such as spontaneity, flexibility, and originality.
The birthright of the healthy self is creativity: the ability to invent, to perceive old patterns in new relationships, or to rearrange old patterns in new ways. Everyone with a healthy real self has the potential for leading a creative life and successfully dealing with challenges and problems.
Most people fulfill only a small percentage of their potential for creativity, unaware of the creative energies they possess either on artistic or personal levels. There are many possible reasons for this failure.
Any creative endeavor, such as writing music, facing a blank canvas, or beginning a new project at work or at home, can bring on anxiety. This tension leads to symptoms such as depression, sleeplessness, irritability, or inability to concentrate. These are normal reactions to our fear of embarking upon the unknown, and can lead to “resistance,” such as avoiding the activity, becoming excessively involved in it or simply giving up.
These dark periods can be good teachers. It should be the work of creative tribes to encourage, refresh and mentor fellow creatives when they inevitably encounter these challenging times. Those of us who are guides—however we are labeled: minister, mentor, friend, neighbor, conference leader—must tell those in pain it will not last forever; there is a light at the end of the darkness and they will see it.
We should not rush through, leap over, nor skip over the “resistance.” It is good for us to feel it. Not fun, but good. That means we will have some dark days. Historic cultures saw this resistance as a necessary time of incubation and transformation. Yet this sacred space is the very space we avoid.
When we avoid resistance, we avoid tension, spiritual creativity and yes, transcendence. However, if we persist through these anxieties, we will discover meaning by the very act of completing the project.
It is in creative acts—from artistic masterpieces to everyday innovation and problem solving—that we are most alive. This healthy self enables us to experiment in work, as in love, to find and achieve the sense of personal meaning essential for a fulfilling life.
Randy Elrod is a creative who lives to spread influence by mentoring and encouraging influential people to diffuse ideas and create culture. More of his thoughts can be found regularly at randyelrod.com, his paintings at elrodart.com, and his gatherings for creatives and worship leaders at recreateconference.org.
CCS's INDIEadmin service can help independent creatives with administration of their copyrighted works, so they can be free to focus on their creativity.
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