We are creative beings right from the get go. As children we imagine; we play; we discover. The process morphs with each stage of life, and thus what it means to be creative changes at 4, 14, 40, and 74. But the urge to create is fundamental to our well being, and essential to our experience of the good life. Creativity is our spirit breathing, infusing life with our energy.
There is no manual for how to be creative or to live creatively—thank goodness! That would really spoil the fun. As daunting as it feels sometimes, the object is to make it up as we go, even the rules. Will you color inside the lines or outside the lines—your choice!
For the most part it is not a conscious act: creativity happens. More often than not, we notice when it's not happening. We feel stuck, uninspired, and life tastes like an endless bowl of oatmeal. How do we reignite our creative flame?
An inspiring intent is one way to start the creative ball rolling; play and curiosity work too. For some of us, the creative juices don't get pumping until we find a quest that really excites us, like baking the world's best brownies, teaching the cat to pee in the toilet, or learning to juggle. Once we've found a goal that truly engages us, we are off to the races.
But should inspiring intent elude you, it's time to get curious and play. Open-ended explorations can be a challenge for our efficiency-minded, over-achieving, goal-seeking selves. While we may channel some of our exploratory energy into YouTube and Facebook meanderings, it's important to venture into the 3-D world as well. One friend asks people to bring a single ingredient with them to his house, and he makes a meal out of whatever appears. We have a tray of river rocks that supplies hours of mindful/mindless play. Step into a bookstore and follow your nose, or read a course catalog and figure out what you want to be when you grow up. Find some way to let the pick-up sticks scatter and see what you discover.
Limits are a gift to creativity. A designer once said (we forget who), "I can create a fabulous room for $500 and a mediocre room for $5,000." Her point was that limits force our imaginations to kick into high gear. Along those lines, we once gave ourselves the challenge of $200 and 5 days to furnish a studio apartment. Who knew that what visitors would love most of all was the "dragon" we fashioned out of candy wrappers, a.k.a. trash!
Next time you are feeling at a creative low ebb, impose some limits—even silly ones—and see what magnificence your mind manifests.
Creativity takes time. While time limitations can sometimes be an inspiring kick in the pants to our mental brilliance, more often than not our creative musings love to luxuriate in an abundance of time. One interesting experiment had children complete a drawing in 10 seconds. All the children finished it in the same way by making a picture of a clock, the first and most obvious way to complete the drawing. The children were then given 10 minutes to finish the same drawing, and in that expanded time they came up with a wide range of playful images—a cat, kite, plate of food—using the very same elements. If you really want to give free flight to your imagination, give it plenty of time to spread its wings. (Here's a 2 minute video about the experiment.)
Share your creativity and acknowledge it in others. A writer friend always keeps his ear tuned to the well-turned phrase, and when he can, he reflects it back so the person speaking can hear and appreciate their own sparkling language. What a gift! Creativity shrivels when stockpiled; it is something to be shared with others and celebrated at every turn. Fortunately creativity is contagious, and the best way to become infused with it is to acknowledge whenever a spark crosses our path.
Commit small creative acts every day. While creativity is innate, we can develop it through daily practice and play. By engaging our creative muscle often in even teeny tiny ways, we keep the juices flowing. In fact, that's both the method and the goal: to infuse the mundane with our life energy in thoughtful, fun, playful, imaginative, interesting, unique, and beautiful ways.
Think of how and when you were creative over the last week. What ignites your creativity?
Create your own experiment. We know you can do it! What would get you to approach the tasks of life more creatively over the coming week?
May your creativity sprout up in unexpected and joyful ways this month,
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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