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The Link Between Spirituality and Creativity

All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

– From Endymion by John Keats

When I decided to create this blog, I wrote a list of all the potential topics I could think of in the moment on which I would like to write. I didn’t want to start a blog only to find I have nothing to say! From this list I discovered I do have plenty to say (surprise), and I also noticed a disproportionate number of ideas had to do not with exploring spirituality, but creativity.

Initially this made perfect sense, as my immediate assumption is that spirituality (to include a belief in some form of divinity, higher power, spirit allies, conscious universal energy, etc.) and creativity are obviously linked. I like to challenge my assumptions though, considering you never really know if they are true for you, or just an echo of someone else’s beliefs, until you question and explore them.

There are plenty of incredibly creative individuals who are atheists, and that fact alone gives me reason to question my assumption. Pablo Picasso, Robert Louis Stevenson, Vincent van Gogh, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gore Vidal, Terry Pratchett, Ursula K. Le Guin… all atheists. If we assume creativity is linked to and possibly even informed by spirituality, how do we explain these brilliant creatives?

On the most basic level, atheism is defined as lack of belief in deities or the supernatural. Atheists are not unbelievers; to an atheist there are no gods in which to believe in the first place. From that initial point of agreement spring as many different kinds of atheists as there are pagans, with at least some who acknowledge a natural, immanent power at work in every thing. This sounds to me quite like what many pagans believe.

In “Atheism and the Sacred: Natural Creative Power” Eric Steinhart explains that because it is universal, natural creative power is abstract, and because it is an abstraction and not a thing, it’s fair game for atheists to affirm. Later, he goes on to explain the function of natural creative power:

“Natural creative power participates in explanatory relations: Why is there something rather than nothing?  Because the natural creative power of being must be; it cannot fail to create; it necessarily generates.”

A ubiquitous, mysterious force impelled and impelling to create, to bring into being? Hmm, sounds familiar.

Of course, this is not to say that any of the aforementioned creatives supported or support any such philosophy, but it does speak to the idea of creativity coming from somewhere other than our own determination as a more inclusive concept than not.

I think if I were an atheist I would have a difficult time accepting a natural creative power without answering the why of it. Why would such a force, lacking conscious will such as we would attribute to deity, create? This is probably one of the reasons I am not an atheist, as my opinion on this is that without conscious will, there would be no reason to create. And if we attach conscious will to natural creative power, we have deity, or something quite like it.

Call it an abstraction, or relate to it as a being or beings with conscious will, it is clear to me that a spiritual force exists – independent of our belief. That decided, I find that instead of asking:

“Is there a link between spirituality and creativity?”

A more meaningful question is:

What is the link between spirituality and creativity?”

Exploring some comparisons of definition helps to provide an answer:

Spirituality is a search for meaning in life; creativity is a process of experiencing meaning.

Spirituality is a means for recognizing and relating to The Mystery – the dimension to the world that is beyond surface appearances or the ability to fully describe using language; creativity provides a method for deepening this relationship, often finding ways to express it circuitously, as in metaphor, music, and movement.

Spirituality is concerned with growth and transformation through observation, intention and practice; creativity facilitates this process, demanding our awareness, will and prolonged attention, pushing us to move beyond ourselves.

My understanding, then, is quite simply that creativity comes from and is an agent of spirituality, which is constantly seeking to move through us, expressing itself in symbol and form.

I think this is an important idea to keep in mind for anyone who has ever felt a desire to create but squashed it, telling themselves they would never be very good at it, aren’t talented enough, don’t have any original ideas, are too old to start, wouldn’t know where to start, or aren’t an artist, therefore cannot create. Despite modern western culture practically eliminating everyday access to the creative arts by placing the emphasis on art as commodity, valuing only art that sells, the process of making art is a path of discovery, a journey that has no true end. As such, it is not the exclusive domain of professional artists.

The process is what matters, not the outcome. The journey, not the destination.

As with a spiritual practice, we never arrive, but rather are always discovering, absorbing, unfolding, deepening.

It follows that the exploration and development of our spiritual path and practices is also a development of ourselves as channels for spirit to flow and express through. And in turn, by engaging in the creative process we deepen our ability to understand and live our spirituality.

Hopefully my burgeoning readership is as interested in this process as I am, as apparently I will be writing a great deal about it!


As Without, So Within: The Autumn Equinox and our Shadow Selves

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

Can you feel it? That touch of crispness to the air, the sense of settling in mind and body, a quieting. At Autumn Equinox we stand on a balance point, our faces turned toward the inevitable transition to come, even as we celebrate the fullness of what is soon to pass. This is the soft, liminal time when day comes to stand in balance with night, for just a moment, then tips and gently surrenders to night’s embrace for the next cycle.

In the outer world, we are reaping the second harvest, celebrating the fruits of our labor and giving thanks – the Witch’s Thanksgiving. This is the time to get our homes and gardens in order, preparing for long winter months. A last good cleaning while it’s still warm enough for open windows, finishing up projects begun with the energy of summer, and preparing to mulch the garden and plant bulbs with the first frost, anticipating next year’s bounty come again.

On the other side of the mirror, the inner world, we see our activities of the outer world in reflection. The feast of the second harvest becomes a memory to cherish, a sensory promise that though we may wander through dark places on our inward journey through winter, light and warmth and bounty will come again; the wheel turns. So too our outward efforts to cleanse and prepare our homes and gardens for winter’s bite may find their reflection in mental and emotional preparation, as we clear our minds of thought patterns which no longer serve us, and our hearts of things left unsaid, mending any tears in our relationships as best we can rather than leaving them for a day that never comes.

As with outer world preparation, this inner world preparation serves the ultimate goal of ensuring that next year’s harvest will be more bountiful, or at least as bountiful, as this. It prepares the way for our deep work of winter, our shadow work. The harvest of this is our personal continued evolution, a stronger, brighter, more deeply connected soul.

Like Persephone, we are about to step through a door to dark places, a journey to the underworld, our inner world. This is the place our fears and prejudices reside, our self criticisms, deepest doubts and all that does not fit with the way we wish to see ourselves. In repressing these qualities from conscious awareness we create shadow selves, and it is these shadows we intentionally seek out as we turn to the dark time of the year.

Shadows are tricksters, they evade and hide and disguise themselves as rationally acceptable thoughts and actions, justifications and rationalizations- anything to ensure they are not seen and exposed. Very often if we see them we’d rather not acknowledge their existence. Very often much of our lives are dictated by our shadows without us ever knowing it. After all, how does one recognize a shadow in the dark?

To see many of your shadows you need look no further than the people around you and your reactions to the things they say and do. This requires cultivating a still awareness, a willingness to observe yourself. A quality you’ve denied in yourself is often a quality you are very aware of in others. Observe in your interactions with others when you have a strong, reactionary impulse to something they say or do. Reactionary, emotional responses often herald your own shadow.

As an example, I had begun to notice that whenever my partner would speak of his art and how he could make it viable as more than a hobby, I would have an immediate emotional reaction where a number of criticisms would pop into my head, all seemingly very rational. My impulse was to knock him down, for his own good. This is not easy to see, or admit to once seen, but having admitted it to myself I was able to drag it into the light and examine it. What I saw was my own shadow. My reaction had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with what I had been telling myself for years about my own art. I’ve spent half my life knocking myself down, “for my own good”.

Projection doesn’t only encompass negative qualities, and a shadow isn’t necessarily dark. Look to those you admire most, those who you may have placed on a pedestal. What is it about them you admire, what qualities are they reflecting back to you? In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes those who gravitate to and surround themselves with artists but deny being artists themselves as “shadow artists”. What qualities are you gravitating toward that you have denied in yourself? Why have you denied that quality? That denial is also a shadow, and its discovery can lead you toward greater personal fulfillment.

Once seen and named, the shadow loses power and you can begin to work with it, to transform and use it as an impetus for healing and growth.

One way to work this transformation is to give each shadow you expose a name. This is beautifully and hilariously portrayed in Harry Potter, when Professor Lupin teaches how to defend against a Boggart. I’m uncertain whether shouting, “Riddikulus!” on spotting one of your shadows will be very effective, but naming it is. Give it a ridiculous name, something that identifies its effect on you and simultaneously dis-empowers it. When it comes up in the future you’ll be more aware of it, and less directed by its effect on you. I’ve named my shadow from the previous example Statler.

Another effective method of dealing with your shadow is to mentally travel back in time and identify exactly when it made its first appearance. It may have arisen from a personal experience with a parent or teacher, some figure of authority. Perhaps it is less easily identifiable and more of a cultural construct. Since childhood we have been inundated with invisible scripts that we may have unknowingly allowed to direct the course of our lives, lurking in the backs of our minds, a growing shadow. Identifying the source helps you to put things in perspective and take back control of your life, write your own scripts.

Finally, own it. Wallowing in blame only creates another shadow. Ask yourself how you contributed to the growth of this shadow self, and decide what you want to do about it.

In doing this work we learn that what we believe to be our reality is entirely malleable. In doing this work together, as a seasonal ritual, we create a compound effect that has the power to affect the consensus reality.

Bring in your harvest, give thanks for what you already have, prepare your garden and clear out your house – within as well as without.

May the blessings of your harvest increase, year by year.

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