This post was co-authored by Eliza Wing.
You must do the thing you think you cannot do. -- Eleanor Roosevelt
So many of us who wish to find a more creative approach to our lives struggle with motivation, self-criticism and doubt. We wonder: How can we produce high-quality work? How can we manifest the creative impulse we feel? Too often a creative drive that we experience can spark but then fizzle out because of our lack of confidence.
We worry. How can what I produce be valuable when there is so much that is beautiful and intelligent around me? We want to know. How can I, as an artist, writer, business leader, develop a productive, meaningful path to creativity?
Chogyam Trungpa's seminal book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, describes a potential path for those interested in spiritual development, including meditative and loving-kindness practices. His words are also apt inspiration for those of us exploring our creative dimension.
Trungpa advises us to "feel that you are not special, but ordinary, extra-ordinary." His advice seems contradictory, especially when we apply it to the creative urge. We've been trained by history and society to believe that the "true" creative must be special, different, even elevated. But living with the ordinary as Trongpa suggests helps us see that this is not so. Instead, we can begin our journey by adopting some of these "ordinary" tenets inspired by his teachings:
Notice that goodness is all around us. Begin to notice the brief, beautiful moments that your interaction with the world brings you. The sound of a bird's wings as it moves from branch to branch, the flash of sun coming from behind a cloud, your child's hug (no matter how quick and rare). This appreciation allows you to see just how lovely the ordinary is. In the words of acclaimed painting instructor Charles Hawthorne: "Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision -- it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so."
Acknowledge that you are fearful. Let's face it. Creating is daunting. Living is difficult. How much of your day do you spend masking the fear (which can manifest in all sorts of ways) -- are you neglecting writing that book, starting a painting, crafting a business idea? Are you instead tweeting (too much), checking email, having a little more wine than is useful for clear creative expression? All distractions. If you can stay with your fear, letting yourself experience rather than avoid it, you may find other feelings within the fear. There might be sadness, anger or anxiety. Or all three! In any case, your goal here is to be gentle with yourself. Now is not the time to add to the fear by piling on criticism. Be tender with yourself. Forgive yourself for perceived lapses and inadequacies. You will find yourself much more able to free up your creative flow.
Be simple. The most effective works get the basic stuff right. Whether it is composition, narrative structure or the moving crescendo of a speech, remember the essentials and get them right. How easy it is to over-complicate things and to stray from our core idea! If you can capture what it is that inspired you to begin your project in the first place and keep referring back to it as you move along, you will help yourself immensely. This is not to say that things don't evolve as you develop them. It is merely that we can fall through one rabbit hole after another until we are past the point of no return.
"Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box." -- Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
Chaos. It's everywhere. And there's nothing wrong with letting it nudge you out of complacency. So, while you keep it simple, you play at the edges. Think of any practice that you are working to perfect. It isn't static. Instead, once you have mastered one element, you realize that there is more to learn. In Trongpa's tradition, the closest corollary is coming back to the breath in meditation. We sit and our mind wanders. And we bring it back, acknowledging that our mind has strayed and appreciating that we can return again and again to our foundation, our idea.
As long as I tell the truth, I feel that nobody can touch me. -- Henry Rollins
Be true to yourself. At base, Trongpa's message is to be truthful and kind -- advice that applies directly to our creative selves. It is not about the labels you give yourself or your work, no matter what your work may be. It is, in the end, you and an ordinary white canvas, a blank page, an expectant audience. If you can gaze at the empty space and connect with your common, ordinary human impulse you will see that you are no more special than the rest of humanity. And that is okay. As you connect to your work and your audience with humility and honesty, the impact of your desire to connect will feed you and will inspire others.
It is you, extra-ordinary in your ordinary approach to what inspires, that will produce the most truthful, moving work.
Eliza Wing, the former president and CEO of Cleveland.com and president of Sideways, now runs Wing Consulting. Wing, who is also a writer and a painter, brings extensive online editorial and digital expertise to her clients. She strives to integrate creativity and creative thought into all that she does.
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