Creative activities – and the creative approach to life that often accompanies them – can also help us become more emotionally adaptable.
Creative activities are rewarding as outlets for self-expression. They feel good, they are centering, and they give us a sense of accomplishment. And they’re often fun! But besides these more obvious benefits, creative activities can also change the way we approach our lives.
When we work creatively, we dive deep. We pause, look at what we are making, check inside and ask “Is this working?” and then bring up something of value that we might otherwise never have discovered. As we pause/look/check/incorporate, we create something new and authentic.
Because our brains get better at doing whatever they do, the more we practice diving deep, the better we get at it. Regularly doing creative activities often leads to a more general diving deep, allowing us to become more proficient at sensing and incorporating the less obvious aspects of ourselves and the world around us. This increased facility for sensing and responding to the whole of our present circumstances makes us more aware of ourselves and our surroundings, and more adept at adapting to change.
When we make the effort to check in with our deeper natures, we also tend to forge ahead more surely. If we look only at our superficial thoughts and feelings, and we try to make a change, it’s as if we are trying to move an iceberg by pushing on the tip. We may manage to lean it over, but it will eventually spring back. Diving deep allows us to travel below the water’s surface in our mental/emotional submarine, where we can take in the whole iceberg, home in on its center of gravity, and exert our efforts exactly there. The movement that results may be smaller, but what moves stays moved.
I see this dive-deep/move-forward-surely process often in therapy. Clients who tend to make the most profound changes may begin a session by simply describing a situation. But then they pause, check in with some murkier, less clear part of themselves, and bring to the surface what they find. For instance, they may begin by describing a situation that made them angry. “When he did that,” they might say, “I was so mad that…” And then they pause. “Well, it wasn’t just that I was mad. I got mad, but really, I was hurt.” Then we can deal not only with the surface feeling of anger, but also with the deeper feeling of hurt that triggered it.
Engaging in a creative hobby can not only train the brain, but can lead to changes in what we do with our lives. A friend in the construction business for most of his career began to create small oil paintings a couple of years ago. He found the practice centering, calming, and self-reflective, so much so that now he is taking the necessary steps to become a professional artist – a reinvention.
If you’re already doing something creative, keep doing it! If not, experiment with different art forms. Begin with the forms of creativity you enjoy taking in. If you like to read, consider writing. If you like to listen to music, consider learning to play an instrument and/or composing. If you like to look at art, consider painting, photography, sculpture, pottery. If you like movies, consider acting – or making movies yourself. If you enjoy walking in gardens, consider starting one.
One of the best books on living more creatively is Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. For specific training in diving deep, both in life and in creative activities, see Eugene Gendlin’s work with Focusing at focusing.org and his concise handbook on the technique of Focusing, Focusing.
As discussed in more depth in another post, maintaining an experimental attitude toward life keeps us more open to experiences and to other people and helps us be more resilient in the face of difficulties.
Acceptance frees us from unrealistic hope and unwarranted anxiety, self-compassion from self-criticism, and forgiveness from the weight of unforgiving.
Relieved of these burdens, we are more able to adopt an experimental attitude. We can face our lives with open minds, seeing them as ongoing experiments. When things shift in unanticipated ways, we can say, “That was my path, but this is my path now,” adapting to the present moment as it arrives. Instead of conforming to the limits of past patterns, we can try things out, see what happens, and adjust our view of reality – and our next steps – accordingly.
An experimental attitude gives our ReBalancers the power to craft new strategies on the fly whenever new challenges occur. These new strategies, once created, cannot be uncreated. They are always there, ready whenever we need them, helping us to feel confident that we can handle whatever unknowns life (and UnBalancer) hands us with curiosity, resourcefulness, and equanimity.
What to do:
- Create and dive deep. To train your brain to respond more fully to yourself and your surroundings, do something creative on a regular basis, then practice applying the dive-deep/move-forward-surely process of creative work to your daily life. See Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity for more on living creatively and Eugene Gendlin’s book Focusing for a way to integrate subconscious needs, wants, and desires into your conscious self.
- Experiment. Maintain an experimental attitude toward life to stay open to experiences and to other people, and to grow ever more resilient in the face of difficulties. Experience your life as an ongoing experiment, rather than as a fixed path. For more on experiments and the experimental attitude, see the blog posts The Experiment and How to Design an Experiment.
COMING NEXT: Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
Handling Change, Part I: Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion
Handling Change, Part II: Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness
Handling Change, Part III: Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude
Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
COURAGE: “The difference between those who successfully reach the end of their Hero’s Journeys and those who do not isn’t better opportunities, more strength, or superior allies, but the courage to get up and try again, even when the odds seem insurmountable and discouragement feels overwhelming.”
NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:
Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)
Please let me know if you find it in other locations!
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)