Creativity, Resistance and Soul-Care
How creativity can lead you homeward.
I recently listened to a podcast conversation between Krista Tippett and Elizabeth Gilbert about creative living which echoed some of the lessons I have learnt over the last three years.
I believe creativity is a joyful gift, a regenerating force, a source of vitality, a grace, a birth-right. It is not the domain of the elite or the specially talented, it is the inheritance of each individual born into the human family. There are a thousand ways to leave your unique fingerprints in the world. If you give a young child a blank piece of paper and some crayons they will instinctively create and play without shame or fear.
We are not born with hang-ups about our creativity.
So what happens to us?
- We may be shamed out of our unique creative expression in a defining childhood moment
- We may absorb a materialistic worldview that says that if creativity is not ‘useful’ i.e. doesn’t result in financial reward of practical use, then it is of no value.
- We may come to consider creativity a luxury, something only to be indulged in when all the responsible, grown up things are taken care of.
In the process of opening my heart to the personal creative project that would become ‘Not All the Leaves Are Falling’, I learnt some important lessons about the value of creativity in my own life that I never want to forget.
I share some of my own journey here in the hopes that it may prompt you to consider the value of creativity in your own life. As you read my story, I invite you to consider your own relationship with creative inspiration, to open your mind to the potential connections between creativity and soul care, and to be attentive to how you might be able to befriend creativity and make space for it in your own life.
Creativity is Not a Luxury
As I have shared in ‘The Album Story’, the years just before I began recording ‘Not All the Leaves Are Falling’ were some of the stalest and driest years of my life.
I was still on a healing/recovery inner journey but was on stable ground. After a break from the ‘real world’ and a 14 month stint in a marketing role, I took a giant leap of naiveté and started my own freelance writing and social marketing business.
Anyone who has ever started their own thing will know how utterly consuming it is. Even though I am a words person, I was not really swimming in my natural waters and as time went on I became brittle and stressed, stale and desperate. In a vocational sense, I was not speaking at my true pitch and my voice was getting tired.
In all of this, music and songwriting – my most treasured natural habitats – had become luxuries I thought I couldn’t afford. I thought I didn’t have time for the indulgences of creative expression. I was living on my words and my wits, had a business to establish and bills to pay.
My creativity and my vitality withered. It was like some living, breathing, dynamic spirit in me had atrophied, suffocated and was lying buried.
In hind-sight, what happened next is that my creative subconscious, my true self, staged an intervention and began to appeal to the determined ‘ego in charge’. In the midst of the desert, I felt a clear SOS signal from my soul that I had return to and tend to the batch of songs that I had written several years earlier during a time of professional disruption and personal pain.
As the recognition grew that returning to these songs really mattered, and my willingness to do something about it took hold, my deep inner soul resistance to doing so also came more clearly into view. I began to better understand the resistance, the tight holding that was going on underneath the surface stress.
What is at stake?
I didn’t want to sing those songs. I didn’t want to continue to work with the emotional realities behind those songs. I wanted to be done with that stage of my journey. I just wanted to move on. But the trouble was, as I strained to get on with my life I was leaving part of me left behind, buried alive.
I felt embarrassed to still be carrying pain. I felt ashamed of my old-fashioned, country-music leaning, sincere, emotional and intense songs. A scraping sense of social insecurity made it almost unbearable to bring them to the light of day. I loved songwriting, but I didn’t have a good relationship with the songwriter, her style or her story.
This project only came to life because ultimately Grace worked within me in a way that gave me the courage to move from shame to self-acceptance and from resistance to risk.
Showing Hospitality to the Stranger Within
The healing journey I had been on had involved dealing with childhood trauma. It had been tidily tucked away under my high-achievng, high-functioning self until a perfect storm triggered the unprocessed trauma in me at the age of 26.
Looking like an adult and feeling like a child – a child overwhelmed with intense and difficult feelings without the anchor of understanding – is an excruciatingly uncomfortable thing to experience. Healing and recovery takes time, it needs skilled professionals to bring understanding, and a few special people with the capacity to bear witness and do some of the journey with you. The people who are my greatest heros, are people you will never hear of – they are friends who have chosen to face, feel and process trauma and in doing so have emerged limping but transformed – carrying compassion, insight and costly gifts to offer others.
My own story is mild compared to theirs, but I have learned that downplaying the reality of my own experiences is not helpful and merely prolongs recovery. Trauama is trauma. Pain is pain. Healing and grace are needed by all.
Learning to companion my traumatised shadow self was not easy and I relied heavily on the healing presence and gentleness of my God through this journey.
Turning towards this batch of songs was another stage in the journey.
In a bid to re-claim my creativity I had to learn patience. I had to let go of my frustration that I still carried some emotional pain and be willing to sing the songs I didn’t want to sing.
I had to learn hospitality towards the anxious and traumatised self that showed up in my songs, my life and my relationships. This part felt like an unwanted stranger to me sometimes, a stranger that threatened to mess up the tidy boundaries of my capable life. Befriending this difficult stranger has been one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life.
I recognise in hindsight that my emotional intensity and sensitivity and creativity were all entwined and I could not recover one without the other. To reclaim my creativity, I had to reclaim all of me.
Choosing to document some of those songs from the painful chapter was me choosing self-acceptance over shame. It was my way of saying to myself and to the world, ‘these songs come out of my life, out my heart and they are a part of my story that I need make a hospitable place for them in my life.’
The Mysterious Grace of Creative Inspiration
As soon as I had the courage to bring these songs into the light of day, a fresh wave of creativity re-entered my life and I felt reborn. Recording, playing, singing, working with Luke to bring my songs to life, was so much fun. It set loose a new dynamic power in my life and in psyche. Light, fresh-air, energy, bubbled up. The world turned from grey and white into colour again. I laughed a lot more. I was interested and interesting again. I had a piece of ground to stand on that knew my name and that felt like mine.
A whole new batch of songs came to me. My creativity and my soul were free to work together. It was such a joy to find myself reconnecting in a mature and new way with the mysteries of creative inspiration. In a short space of time I wrote The Year the Birds Came Back’, ’Sunset Road,’ ‘Not All the Leaves Are Falling,’ and finished ‘Aubade’ a song that had been stuck for seven years. I loved the reconnection with my deeper self and the experience of patterning with the mysterious force of creative inspiration that is both wholly other and Holy Other.
Honesty, Courage & Sarah Maclachlan
I was aware through this process that I could choose to just document these songs for my own sake and not share them with others. That would have been a legitimate and worthwhile investment of time, money and energy.
But creativity seems to generate in me a sharing impulse and as I have come to accept and enjoy my own songs, I am able to to send them out in the world knowing that there will be kindred spirits who will also connect with them.
Sarah McLachlan gave me great courage at this time. Watching her perform ‘Angel’ live on TV had been a defining moment for me at the age of 14 so it was interesting that her music crossed my path again during this creative renaissance. She had gone through a divorce and her ‘Shine On’ album told the story of that difficult chapter. I loved the emotional honesty in her songs, the space and permission I felt it created for my own emotional world, and the courage it must have taken to wear her heart on her sleeve. Recognising how much her honesty and courage meant to me as a listener helped me risk some honesty and courage of my own.
’Not All the Leaves Are Falling’ has been a personal creative project that has helped me to reclaim my creativity and to care for my soul. This process been a great gift to me and I hope the songs might be a gift to you.
How did your creativity express itself when you were a child?
Is there a place for your creativityy to find expression in your life currently?
In what ways has creativity brought joy or energy or vitality?
What messages have you received about your creativity that have caused you to shut it down or keep it away?
Have you lost your connection with creativity along the way?
What might happen if you were to create time and space to reconnect with your creativity?
What inner resistance do you notice when you thinking about making time and space for your creativity?
What within you needs space and time to be able to unfurl and unfold?
What’s the worst that could happen if you nourish your creativity?
What’s the best thing that could happen if you nourish your creativity?