It was the fall our eldest started college. Once we had heard the parent pep talk and were summarily dismissed, I could hardly tear myself away – the excitement of choosing classes from endless possibilities, the beauty of the autumn campus, the opportunity to form fast friendships. I came right home and registered for The Artist’s Way, a class based on the book by the same title, authored by Julia Cameron.
I’d never considered myself an artist. I’m from a long line of non-artists. Julia Cameron says, “… creative recovery (or discovery) is a teachable, trackable spiritual practice.” I was willing to be taught. To participate in this adventure I committed to writing three journal pages each morning and going on a weekly artist date.
Creativity gurus claim we all carry within us an animating spark of creativity. It adds zest to life, draws us into play, piques our curiosity. I jumped in and started taking my inner artist (who is about age 5) out for weekly dates. We had a wonderful time!
One week we went to the Como Conservatory and soaked in the full spectrum of color. Then we wandered through the Japanese garden where the stone paths, arched bridges and moving water settled us into a peaceful presence.
Another week we went to a fabric store. It awakened memories of going to Amluxam’s in downtown Minneapolis with my mother. My mom pulled out assorted bolts of silky or crisp or nappy yard-goods imagining dresses, jackets, jumpers. The shelves reached to the ceiling. Only aproned women with measuring tapes hung round their necks and scissors peeking from their pockets could climb the ladders on wheels to reach the highest bolts. I went to our local fabric store to look, touch and imagine. I draped fabrics together, combined varying hues, remembered my anticipation watching my mother transform lengths of cloth into wearable art.
One afternoon I took my inner artist to a bead shop. She was delighted! Large bobbles and tiny glass balls; rough hewn clay spheres and shiny silver cylinders; painted porcelain and brushed pewter. Colors, textures, ornamentations! We bought wires and strings, clasps and hooks and took them home, spreading the booty on the dining room table. We threaded our way into the mystery of imagination.
We visited antique stores, thrift shops and garden centers where we found gadgets, tools and curiosities. We carted our cache home to create.
What was initially scary and weird turned out to be joyful and exhilarating. Then the class ended and I let my weekly dates dwindle. Tasks quickly filled the open spots.
I think my creativity challenge lies in my unhealthy need for accomplishment. The committee in my head always wants a product, preferably useful. I get away with yoga, walking and meditation because they promise to produce a healthy body, even though their product is less tangible than cleaning, cooking and gardening. But art? Pretty non-productive. Permission denied!
One reason I go away on retreat is that by the third day the committee is on leave and I can roam through the remaining time without all its negative chatter. I take colored pencils, pastels, water colors. I find a table in a corner, a picnic table under a tree, or an open place on the floor. I spread out my creativity tools and get to play. I illustrate my life, paying attention to details that often go unnoticed. I watch illustrations change over the week, illuminating new views of my inner life. Like icons, some evolve into prayer. One year I constructed a container for all the symbols I collected throughout the week.
I am blessed to spend a couple of mornings a week with an energetic fiveyear- old boy. Creativity is the natural order for five-year-olds. Our screen-free mornings often find us on the floor strewn with Lego or Lincoln Logs, creating amazing structures that are not limited by logic, OSHA or completion dates. We build until lunch time and then we clean up, enjoying the wonderful satisfaction of having almost nothing to show for our time together but laughter, random threads of conversation and love.
Recently we brought out Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals. Whenever your creative juices go dry, this book is a wonderful antidote. Emberley starts you out with drawing quite presentable worms, snakes and ants and then moves through spiders, ladybugs and turtles. Before long your five-year-old companion is drawing very recognizable dogs and you have just created a porcupine jumping over a stone! Five-year-olds have the freedom to not be linear in their approach to almost anything. From these simple sketches we moved right into our grand finale – a green fire-breathing dragon! Amazing. While we were at it, both of us were actively engaged in the present moment. The past was past and the future patiently awaited her turn. Now that is freedom!
Creativity doesn’t have to produce something permanent. Consider the Tibetan sand painting with its elaborate detail that at day’s end is whisked away, swept into the river. A dance performance can transform a bare stage into two hours of vibrant color and spellbinding motion. We can recycle this week’s drawings only to await whatever might take form next week. The process is the spiritual encounter.
By engaging our inner creative child we have fun and learn something. When I work with incarcerated women we walk the 12-steps with scissors and paper in hand. We clip magazine pictures to create a collage describing what our manageable life looks like and another that illustrates our unmanageable life. We build God boxes from construction paper and decorate them with affirming messages. We hold a blossom as a reminder of what is growing in us. All the while stories are shared, tears When we engage in creativity, we withdraw a bit from our organized, tailored, predictable life. We enter the present moment, the only place we encounter the spirit. shed, healing begun. Creativity is a window to the soul.
When we engage in creativity, we withdraw a bit from our organized, tailored, predictable life. We enter the present moment, the only place we encounter the spirit. The challenge for me is to carve out the space to allow that to happen. It is the permission slip I write for myself, Mary Lou has my permission to create today. Please don’t bother her. If you need a permission slip, let me know. I am happy to write one for you too.
Mary Lou Logsdon provides spiritual direction and facilitates retreats in the Twin Cities. She teaches in the Sacred Ground’s Spiritual Direction Certification program. Mary Lou has an MA in theology and a certificate in Spiritual Direction from St Catherine University. She can be reached at 651/583-1802 or logsdon. firstname.lastname@example.org.