Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book inspired this essay; I then posted it in the LegendFire Nonfiction forums for critiques, and this is its final resting place. Enjoy.
Nourishing Our Creativity
From the depths of our souls, the waters of creativity flow in an unceasing river, invigorating our psyche and our life when expressed. The moment of expression gives substance to the creativity within our minds, and how that expression happens depends upon the interests and abilities of the person artist, writer, scientist, designer, chef, ect. There are countless ways we can express our creativity, but there are also many ways our creativity can be stifled, the river blocked and saturated with pollution. Such pollution may be due to others or ourselves, where we allow negative and vindictive thoughts to belittle our own creative talent or else we may try to reason our way out of expressing it with claims that we’ll do it another day. Stifling that creativity can lead a person into a listless feeling, where they may feel depressed, frustrated, unheard, lonely, angry, torn, and/or lost.
How can we combat that? First, recognize there is a problem and why you may be feeling such negative and/or painful emotions. Explore what may be causing the blockage in your creative river. Is it yourself that’s stopping the flow? Or can outside factors be contributing to the blockage? One’s environment and social circles can very easily influence our psychic health, which in turn can either nurture or pollute the creative waters. There is numerous ways our environments may wreak havoc with our psychological health: lack of social support, discrimination, harassment, abuse, overwhelming pressure at work or at home, negativity and belittlement from family or friends or coworkers or bosses, inability to afford the basic needs for survival. Some of these factors may be outside our control, but even then, not all hope is lost, for there are ways we can cleanse the pollution from our creative waters. For those factors outside one’s control, try recognizing those factors and the fears and worries that may accompany them. Next seek other people who provide support through encouragement and active nurturing of yourself and your creativity; this can come in the form of compliments, providing a safe place to create, providing constructive feedback that uplifts not degrades. Then provide time in your day where you can sit and create, even if its only for five or ten minutes, and just focus on expressing your emotions in a tangible way through creative outlets such as writing, art, games, cooking, research, music, dancing — whatever expression works best for you.
Other factors in one’s environment can be remedied by changing that environment. Sometimes it’s possible to seek a job that provides a more supportive and nurturing environment, one that celebrates the individual and provides constructive feedback that aims for improvement. A stifling job environment is one that routinely discourages the person, providing negative feedback that tears down their work and offers little in ways of improving it, belittles the person and degrades their creativity (or self) as worthless. Such a job should be avoided and dropped if it is reasonably possible to do so. Never stay in such a negative and demeaning environment, no matter how good the pay. You are worth more than that, and no one deserves such negative and demeaning treatment. By changing your environment directly, this may help dismantle some of the blockage within your creative river, and once you find or create that nurturing environment, you will find the strength to be able to tackle the rest of the process yourself. It’s hard to nurture our creativity if our environment is constantly barraging us with negativity and poison; such words and actions can seep into our psyche, far more than we may realize.
Always look for resources that can help you transition to a safer, more nurturing environment and group of people. These resources do exist, and although they may be hard to find, its worth it in the long run, for then you can use these resources to help create your own supportive environment and group. If resources are scarce, try creating your own resources, and try finding people to help you in this endeavor; by creating the resource yourself, you are powering through that blockage and freeing your creative river yourself. However, there are many situations where such an action may not be possible for a person, so do not tear yourself down if you find that you simply do not have the strength or energy or ability to power through the blockage on your own and create those resources you seek. Very little people have such fortitude, and there is nothing wrong about it. We are all made differently and composed in very different ways. Recognize your strengths and limits, and although it is good to push against our limits at times, also recognize when pushing your limits becomes destructive. The drying up of the creative river can be a sign of this; pain, anger, frustration, depression, fear, loneliness are also signs of something wrong with your life. Take the time and energy to explore what may be causing such symptoms, and do not be afraid to seek help from others. There is only so much you can do alone. Human beings are social creatures, and thus, the people around us can be incredibly helpful in nurturing our psyche and creative river. Those same people can also be a force of destruction, and thus evaluating if they are destructive or nurturing is also incredibly important to your psychological health and the health of your creativity.
The art of creating involves time and commitment, and these are perhaps two of the most important actions you can take. Give yourself permission to create, and then take that initial step to begin the process. Once you begin, don’t fear failure. Recognize it as a learning step and a chance for you to better your creative expression. Failure can be healthy as long as we recognize that everyone fails, that failure is not proof that our work is worthless and will do no good. On the contrary, failure provides us with information on how to improve our ideas and create anew. Be wild, and when failure happens, tell yourself that you can do better and you can succeed. Don’t let the doubts and fear of inadequacy throttle your creativity and growth. It helps, in such times, to be around people who are nurturing and supportive, people who see your creativity as a wellspring of potential. These people can help you pass through your failures and come out the other side wiser and more experienced than before.
Remember, as much as the above techniques are important, the most important action you can take with your creative expressions is to stay with it. No matter what happens in life, stay with that creative impulse, and remember, “it is essential, even though often painful, to put in necessary time, to not skirt the difficult tasks inherent in striving for mastery. A true creative life burns in more ways than one.”(1) If you find it hard to stay with it, try providing support to others, and through that encouragement of others, you may find a little nagging voice telling yourself that if they can do it, why can’t you? Also, be willing to recognize when you may need help, and don’t fear asking for it. Your loved ones and those that see the potential and good in your creativity will be eager to help you nourish it and clean it of its pollutants. Remember, that you are not alone in your journey, and that it is good to create, good to express yourself through your art, whatever form that may take.
Our environment, the people in our life, and our own mind can all either pollute or invigorate our creative river. As humans, the need to create is a necessary component to life and our wellbeing, and that river of creativity flows deeply within all of us. It’s as important as any other part of our life, and it also needs nurturing and protection to keep it healthy and flowing. So take the time to examine your wellspring of creativity; recognize the factors that may be polluting it and actively work, seeking help as necessary, to healing that aspect of your psyche. Remember that expressing your creativity is good, is valuable, and holds worth. The more you give substance to your creative ideas, the better you become at your art, and the more it enriches and invigorates not just your life but those around you.
1: Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D, Women who Run With the Wolves, (New York: Ballatine Books, 1995) pg. 317.