March 11, 2014

Calling on Muses.

Creative Muse

Eight tips for finding our lost creativity.

Being creative is a wonderful feeling. Inspiration hits, a novel idea takes hold, and we lose ourselves in the flow of expression. We feel exhilerated, passionate, focused, and peaceful all at once. We feel as natural in our environment as grass growing out of the earth. These are the good times.

Then there are the not-so-good times. Muses are notoriously flighty, and for whatever reason, they leave us. We get stuck. Our colorful ideas vanish, and our brains creak and groan like outdated machinery trying to revive them. Our hearts feel uninspired by our surroundings, save a rising frustration with their own apathy. The vibrant creative flow we once knew slows to a dull trudge.

Any artist of any discipline knows that these two realities are both certainties of the creative process. This is why we call them creative disciplines rather than creative leisures. So knowing that the not-so-good times are a reality, what can we do with them?

The real difficulty here is that creative inspiration is not something we can force. We have to wait, patiently, for it to come back to us. As humans, we don’t fare very well with anything that requires patience. We fight this waiting period tooth and nail, usually to no avail.

Rather than fight the inevitable, there are some tricks we can practice while we’re waiting, keeping us productively occupied, and often catching the eyes of the muses in the process, drawing them back into our consciousness:

Show up at the desk.

Or easel, or piano, or stage, or wherever it is that creative work may be done. Just as the first step to our day is rolling out of bed, or the first step in our yoga practice is rolling out the mat, the first step to creative work is simply showing up. In almost any pursuit, the first step is the hardest, the one that we resist with stunning reserves of procrastination. If we can just get past that dreaded starting point, what follows is almost always easier. Before we even begin, we can accept that whatever we are able to accomplish will be valuable to us. This removes some of the fear and doubt that procrastination stems from. Then take a breath, and dive in.

Be with nature.

There is a reason that great artists and philosophers are famous for disappearing into the woods. Natural beauty sparks a passion for life deep in the oldest parts of the brain, the places where primal instincts simmer. It’s no coincidence that a fluorescent sky or sweeping view of the ocean catches our attention. We have a connection with the natural world that expresses itself in our biology, brains, and souls. Going for a hike, walking by the ocean, or just sitting in the sun for a bit can revive the pulse of your creative self. Once that spark of inspired awareness ignites, it has the potential to spread like wildfire.

Open the second chakra: Svadhisthana.

Yogi or not, it doesn’t hurt to give this a try. If nothing else, we end up with relaxed bodies and a calm, steady breath. With a little faith in the mind-body connection, we’ll likely find ourselves experiencing a mental blossom of creative thought. The second chakra, Svadhisthana, is located in the sacrum, and is our center of creativity, among other passions. We can work into the second chakra with some simple hip opening poses, such as Half Pigeon, Warrior II, and Lizard Pose. Yoga fits well into creative work times because it can be done pretty much anywhere, and adapted to fit any time frame. Five minutes is enough to have a noticeable impact. If we have more time, then we can work even more deeply to open this part of our body and release new inspiration. Most of our creative passions are ancient pursuits that have been explored for centuries by our predecessors; it follows that we might weave the ancient wisdom of yogic traditions into our routine.

Engage in novel, purposeless creative acts.

The best way to access our creative self is with endeavors that are totally unattached to judgment. If you’re a writer, go paint something. If you’re a pianist, go dancing. If you’re a stylist, engage in some nature photography. If you’re an actor, write a poem on the back of a script. Choosing something outside of the realm in which we are trying to be “successful” is the key. Playing at something we would never judge ourselves in brings a rush of pure creative inspiration to the surface. It’s the unaffected, child-like joy that we spend most of our adult lives trying to recapture. Once we access it, we can channel it back toward the task at hand. We need to be wary of letting judgment and evaluation creep back in. There will be time for those old friends later, once the words are on the page, the design is on the paper, or the lyrics have been put to music. To begin any inventive process, we need some time to free-flow, and that is what this exercise is all about. Tapping into the playful, non-evaluative part of our mind, and letting it ride.

Spend some time with a guru.

Admiring the craft of the masters fills us with our most private and ambitious daydreams. These dreams in turn act as fuel for our work. Writers might read an exceptional book, a book like the one they hope to write. Musicians might sit and listen to the artist who taught them to love music, the artist they hope to one day fill the shoes of. Painters might wander through an art gallery, reflecting on the thousands of brush strokes that transformed what were once blank canvases into masterpieces.

The exciting thing about our gurus is that they make our dream a distinct possibility. It is possible to be that good. To take your craft to that level. To make that kind of impact on the world. Gurus open the window to possibility, inviting us to follow. We know that we can, because we are human, just like them. They didn’t have a special passport to the land of the gods, they arrived there in a glorious tornado of imperfection. And so can we.

Actively release distractions.

Sometimes “trying not to think about it” doesn’t work. We need an outlet in order to remove distracting thoughts that are blocking us. This looks different for different people, or even for the same person on different days. The same thing doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes I have to go for a run to clear my mind, sometimes venting in a top-secret journal does the trick.

Other days, a conversation with a friend, or 15 minutes listening to music will work. We have to come up with a tool box of venting strategies that work for us, and then employ them as needed. These tools are as essential to our creative work as our laptops or paintbrushes. The least productive thing we can do is to smother the intrusive thoughts; they will just keep popping back up. Acknowledge them, give them the attention they are asking for, then move on with a clean slate.

Transform competitors into kindred spirits.

There is a difference between being motivated and being competitive. Motivation ignites us, and causes us to push ourselves from a source of internal drive. Competition also ignites us, but can be poisonous in that it involves large amounts of judgment and comparison. Nothing kills creativity faster than judgment and comparison. Save the rivalry for something that actually lends itself to competition, like a rugby game. The creative process is not a rugby game, and we do not need to take down the other artists in our vicinity. By viewing other artists as rivals, resenting their success, or plotting to out-do them, we are actually depriving ourselves of the opportunity to become better in our own work.

We can learn much from those pursuing similar goals, and gain perspective that we will miss if we isolate ourselves. Not to mention the support networks that inevitably emerge when like-minded people come together. Many creative types tend toward independence and introversion, which are helpful to us, because the work we do is very personal. We just have to become aware that connection is also a good thing, and that it will help us to grow when we cultivate connections, rather than build walls or keep scores.

Find the balance between discipline and space.

Creative people can’t have it one way or the other, we need both. Without discipline, we have nothing but shapeless ideas, floating around within the walls of our minds. Birds in a cage, pretty and promising, but in need of release. We must sit down and do the work in order to grant our ideas their freedom. On the other hand, without space, discipline can become suffocating.

We need to know when to take a step back, let the page cool, let the dust settle, and return with a fresh perspective. This balancing act is ongoing, and the only way to be successful in it is to acknowledge its evolutionary nature. Every day will be different, every day we will have varying reserves of our resources to give to tasks.

We must learn to self-assess, and determine what is needed to tip the scales toward balance. More discipline, or more space? When we aren’t sure, making a decision is as simple as reflecting on our past few days’ activity log. Have we been avoiding our desk? Floating about cleaning or snacking or facebooking? Then sit down and get disciplined. Have we been chained to our desk in a frenzy of activity? Sweating under to-do lists and deadlines? Then it might be time to come up for air. Take a walk. Play with a pet. Have a conversation with a real person. Get some space.

Knowing that there are steps we can take to coax our inspiration out of hiding, we should also keep in mind that creativity is a cycle, like the seasons, the tides, or even the rituals of waking up and going to sleep each day. A cycle or process needs all of its parts, and the meaning held by each part would change without the others. We aren’t going to be on fire all day every day, but we can make good use of our time, inspired or otherwise, by exploring the practices that help us to grow.

We don’t have to worry, wondering whether the muses will return. They always have, and they always will.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Gabriela Pinto via Flickr

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