I was reflecting on how I spend a week each year in Taos, New Mexico at the Mable Dodge Luhan House co-leading a retreat with author and performer Suzanne Falter-Barns (www.howmuchjoy.com). Another Taos Writer’s Spa is coming up at the end of July this summer. We create a circle for women where we are safe, fed, supported, heard, and given gentle, individual direction, and then do we soar! I think back to a week in which my heart grew two sizes bigger because of my gratitude for simply being around women who are healing, claiming their talents, and throwing their arms open wide and declaring “YES" to the creative process.
It brings home (again) the tremendous, roaring, hunger/need/craving/lust we have for rest/downtime/sleep/being time. I see this so often with my coaching clients. Clients hear a clarion call to reinvent their lives yet they are often unable to do so because of exhaustion. When you are chronically tired and over whelmed, you can't create. You can't hear what you really want. When you are caught on the on-going gerbil wheel of life, you can't become still enough to listen to your deeper wisdom.
I believe the creative process has three stages: gestation, fruition and regeneration. Or, brewing, spewing and spacing. Or, listening and waiting, creating and organizing, then lying around watching clouds. What we do in the West (perhaps readers from other countries can tell us if it is any different outside the Western mindset) is neglect to rest. We adore, adore, adore producing. We love checking things off our list. . . -Project plan written? Check. Novel outlined? Check. Sistine Chapel touched up? Check. Rest? What have I done to deserve a rest? I should create another project (or ten) before I take a vacation! Or even a nap.
The result? You hit the wall. You become blank. You quiver with ideas that never quite make it into form. You feel flat. You don't finish projects. You may find yourself whining (A LOT). If that is the case, what you need is a vacation from creativity.
Wait. One or two of you reading this may be saying, “You want me to what? Take time off? But I haven't written/painted/sung/danced for years. I don't need a vacation, I need a whip!" If you haven’t been creatively productive, you may think you’ve been resting and therefore the last thing you need is more time off. Only you know what? Thinking about creating and then not creating is more exhausting than building a couple of pyramids. Not creating when you wish you were produces an abundance of guilt and guilt is a HUGE energy sapper. Just as shadow comfort* can masquerade as healthy comfort, not working can disguise itself as rest. The result: you are neither creating nor resting, and this excruciatingly uncomfortable phase of beating yourself to an artistic pulp can last for years. You may think, “I need more discipline. I need another book on the creative process. I'll join that Artist's Way group. " No. What you need is a creativity vacation. It is the best way to break the cycle of:
a) not creating
b) creating without breaks in between projects
c) raising the bar
What do I mean by raising the bar? When you say, “I’ll write 15 minutes a day or sketch out a quilt design this week" and then you do that but suddenly, that isn’t enough. “Writing for 15 minutes/sketching a quilt was too easy, I should have written for twelve hours/quilted a cozy for my car. " I have seen more creative people than I care to count who claim they will be happy when they do X (publish a book, get a painting in an exhibit, paint their bathroom) and then when they do X, suddenly it isn’t enough (publish a book becomes write a best-seller, have my own exhibit, paint my entire house). Striving to do better is fine but the source of artistic growth is not built on chronic dissatisfaction, which depletes our ability to be present and grateful, two of the deepest sources of joy. Artistic growth AND joy in life are built on acknowledging and celebrating ourselves each step of the way, taking ourselves by the hand and saying, “That was grand. Let’s sit here and be with what we did for a few moments (or days, or weeks) before we start something new. "
A vacation from creativity is a time out in the endless cycle of productivity. Enough! Let me just be for awhile. . . content, slow, soft. What makes a creative vacation nourishing is:
a) You don't work
b) You don't beat yourself up for not working (now that is harder)
c) You do things that allow you to vegetate, healthily. For me, listening to opera, reading novels, seeing a lot of good movies (Akeela and the Bee for example) and lots of time just sitting outside watching the grass grow (I live in the Pacific Northwest where you can actually do this).
Where are you in the cycle? Are you due for a vacation from creativity? See you at the movies!
Jennifer Louden is a best-selling author of five books, including her classic, The Woman's Comfort Book, and her newest, Comfort Secrets for Busy Women. She's also a creativity and life coach, creator of the Inner Organizer, and a columnist for Body + Soul Magazine. She leads retreats on self-care and creativity around the country. Hear her live on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius Channel 112 every Sunday at 8 am Pacific, 11 am Eastern. Visit her world at: http://www.comfortqueen.com and http://www.jenniferlouden.com