Losing Yourself in the Divine: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice
When you create you lose yourself in your creation. Time seems to stand still and all else is forgotten. You participate in the divine play that is creativity. These moments offer a glimpse of who you really are: a being fashioned in the image and likeness of God. Like the source of all creation, you are a creator, too. It is your divine birthright. The person who says "I'm not creative" is uttering blasphemy. The truth is that you are the Creative Self expressing through the human vessel of your body, emotions, mind, and soul. Creativity flows through you as a universal life force, called by many names throughout the ages: chi, prana, shakti, the Holy Spirit. It is this energy of love flowing through you that also gives life to your creations.
The medium in which you create is irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether you write a business proposal, play a piano sonata, or prepare a delicious meal. You may be seeking to resolve one of life's mundane problems or express deep feelings and insights through poetry. Embrace your creation as a lover and you can break through to another realm. When you stick with it for better or for worse, your creation becomes your guru (Sanskrit meaning "from darkness to light").
Losing yourself in the divine embrace of the creative process, you disappear. Your ego or limited sense of separateness vanishes, and you emerge into the vast ocean that is creativity. This is an altered state of intuitive awareness in which you renounce control from your head alone. Instead, you allow the Creative Self to flow through your heart, your body, and your intuition. Then you are taken to places you can never go in your ordinary waking state. This road leads eventually to moments of divine bliss described by ecstatic poets like Rumi, Kabir, and Lalli.
The desire to realize the natural high found in peak moments of creativity is so basic that, if given no healthy outlet for this urge, people turn to alcohol or drugs for a simulated version. These counterfeit forms inevitably backfire, for they violate an essential ingredient: the human vessel for containing the Creative Self. And that vessel - physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual - can be shaped only through hard work and awareness. We must harmonize these four aspects of our being. For instance, the body and emotions need time to digest flashes of inspiration the soul and mind receive. After participating in laboratory controlled experiments with LSD many years ago, author Anaîs Nin concluded that she didn't need drugs to get high. Her writing had always taken her to a state of heightened awareness. Nin had kept a journal since childhood, developing her craft every day of her life. Regular writing practice was the cauldron in which Nin, the novelist and essayist, was formed. Interestingly, it is her diaries (published in several volumes) that are best known, even though she hadn't originally intended them for publication.
To flourish, creativity needs our full attention and disciplined focus on details. It is a way of life, a way of being and perceiving. It is a form of meditation that leads out from the Creative Self and back to it. The creative process rests on a foundation of attentiveness, skill, and hard work. At her most inspired, the master pianist loses herself in performance, transcending technique and dissolving into the Creative Self. Her ego steps aside and the music plays her. This is possible only because she has spent years rigorously developing her God-given talent through loving practice. The enthusiastic entrepreneur writes an inspired business plan because by acquiring skill, experience, and knowledge he has also cultivated intuition, vision, and love of his work. He's done his homework.
Any practice, spiritual or otherwise, involves making mistakes. Millions of errors are made before the human vehicle is ready for the Creative Self to freely flow through it. A good metaphor is in the art-making process. For instance, in ceramics the clay must be wedged (pounded vigorously to remove air bubbles) before the pot is formed. If not, when the pot is baked in the kiln fire (which is where the transformation occurs), the air pockets will cause the pot to explode. In the creative process we are "wedged" by life, pounded vigorously to remove the air bubbles of an inflated ego.
The yogis call this tapasya, the purification in which inner heat is generated by friction between the mind and the heart. The ego dies hard. When the ego is embarrassed by the revelations of our human foibles, omissions, or transgressions, it experiences frustration, angry explosions, or the slow inward boil of resentment. In the same way, the creative process is humbling. It opens us to rejection and feelings of failure, self-doubt, and unworthiness. That's why so many people avoid it. Creativity's invisible fire burns up all that stands between us and the integrity of our creation. When we serve the work, however, it becomes our teacher. We shape the work, but at the same time the work shapes us. The alchemists described this purification process as turning base matter into gold, tests into mastery, crisis into wisdom.
In serving the work, truth is everything. For example, what we ignore comes back to haunt us. Weak spots a writer glosses over in a manuscript, baking soda the chef forgets to add to the cake mixture, specifications the designer leaves out of an architectural blueprint become teachers. The pot that cracks apart in the kiln was not wedged properly in the first place. The results never lie.
There's nothing wrong with making mistakes. In fact, mistakes are honorable. They are how we learn. But if we think we're above it all, our egos will be burned in the fire of truth. Through embarrassment we find we didn't know it all. We couldn't slide past the truth. What we missed or chose to ignore inevitably trips us and grounds us again in earthbound reality. Brought back to our senses and to the matter at hand, we are reminded of our human being-ness. That is the vessel for our divinity. Try to escape that fact and God or the Goddess has no place to reside in us.
If you are devoted to the Creative Self, you will encounter the same tests described in the writings of saints and mystics throughout the ages. These include highs and lows, agonies and ecstasies, inspired moments, and dark nights of the soul. Some periods feel charged with "greening" (to use Hildegard of Bingen's term). Juicy and fertile, you are full of aha" moments - breakthroughs and discoveries. Inspiration gushes like a geyser.
At other times you feel dry, lost in an arid desert of disinterest, depression, and barrenness. Emptiness prevails and you wonder if maybe you haven't lost your talent and skill along with your connectedness to the source of creation. You are haunted with questions like Will I ever have another creative idea? Am I all dried up? Have I used all the creativity rationed to me in this lifetime? A battle with the demons of self-judgment rages within.
The literature of both art and mysticism abounds with descriptions of this phenomenon, a black void that seems totally enveloping and all-pervasive. Read the words of biblical figures like Job, poets like Saint John of the Cross and Rainer Maria Rilke, spiritual leaders like Saint Teresa of Avila, artists like Vincent Van Gogh. They all gave voice to the darkness within where, paradoxically, the Creative Self is to be found. Artist and recovered mental patient Mary Barnes once wrote, "In order to come to the light, I have to germinate in the dark."
You don't have to go out of your way to find these experiences. We all face our terrors at one time or another. It's part of the human condition - losing a job, filing for divorce, going into bankruptcy, having a serious accident, dealing with a life-threatening illness or the aftermath of a natural disaster, surviving the death of a loved one or the loss of a love. But if you see crisis as an opportunity, an invitation to personal renewal, then life itself becomes a creative process.
Those on the creative path who have journeyed fully into inner darkness and have come back to tell the tale seem to be saying, "These are the dues you have to pay. Life will pound you vigorously. Can you stand up to it? Do you have the strength and tenacity? Do you trust the creative process? Have faith in the source of creation."
Life's tests are the kiln fire that transforms us into conscious vessels of the Creative Self. However, if we cannot embrace challenges as teachers, our human clay can explode. Unable to handle the heat, some cast themselves as victims and become bitter. They may become violent, depressed, take refuge in addictions, resort to criminal behavior, become irretrievably insane, or even commit suicide.
How can the human vessel contain the limitless divine Creative Spirit? Like the birth of a baby, it's a mystery yet it happens every minute. Here the discipline side of the creative process is essential. It has been said that art is 5 percent inspiration and 95 percent perspiration. The same can be said for the creative process of living. You show up each day, do the work (whatever form it takes), follow where your next inspiration leads, and pay attention as the challenges unfold. This is as true in your occupation as it is in your personal life. When you are committed to seeing your life as a work in progress - as the creative process beckoning to you – then creativity becomes your spiritual practice.
Day after day your devotion to creativity will enable you to merge with your Creative Self. Your destiny will unfold from within. Your life will become the unique work of art it was meant to be. An ancient Chinese story tells of an old master ceramist developing a new glaze for his vases. Each day he carefully regulated the heat in his kiln, worked painstakingly with the chemistry of the glazes, and experimented with them over and over. He labored devotedly day after day, yet the effect he had envisioned continued to elude him. Having applied his vast store of knowledge and skill and having exhausted his human power, the master concluded that his life was over. He climbed into the kiln to be fired along with his vases. When his apprentices opened the kiln, they beheld a magnificent sight. All the glazes were sheer perfection, like nothing their master had ever achieved. He had become one with his creation.
In embracing creativity as our spiritual practice, we commend ourselves into the Creator's hands, knowing that our goal is to disappear. And when we do, we become one with all creation. The divine spirit dances us, it plays its music through us. We become the instrument through which the divine flows like a river to the sea. All the pilgrimages, all the prayers and chants in all the temples and churches of the world are meaningless unless we are devoted to living in and through the Creative Self, to live as the image and likeness of God.
If life force energies are not moving creatively, they will become destructive (as so-called holy wars have taught us). Destructiveness is the Creative Self turned upside down. Something has taken a wrong turn, and, like cancer, it devours the source of its life. The cure is found in creativity.
When your Creative Self calls, go with it. It is God speaking. Listen to your Creative Conscience, the voice of the divine guiding you each day. It resides in your heart. Go there and roam. That is your true temple.
©Lucia Capacchione. All Rights Reserved. Excerpted from "The Soul of Creativity" published by New World Library.
Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D, A.T.R, is an internationally known art therapist, corporate consultant, trainer and best-selling author of 12 books including, Recovery of Your Inner Child, The Creative Journal, and The Power of Your Other Hand and her new title, Visioning: Ten Steps to Designing the Life of Your Dreams (Tarcher/Putnam).