Joyful Creativity

I paint as a way to relax—specifically, I use inks, watercolors and acrylics, to create abstract and mixed media art.  I’m self-taught, having accumulated used and new books on drawing, color theory, painting, collage, mixed media, etc.  My ‘how to make art’ instruction books, take up two full shelves on the bookshelf.  I love sharing my art and talking about making art with other artists; and vacations wouldn’t be complete without devoting some time to strolling through local, art galleries.  Even my internet bookmarks are an indicator of my passion for art—it’s astounding the amount of information that is posted by giving and talented artists.

Art books picture cropped

If I was looking at the above-description about someone else I would assume that person had always had a natural love and affinity for making art.  Yet, this is not the case for me. As I was growing up, and well into my adult years, I was certain there was NOT a creative bone in my body.  I remember in high school art class being mortified to share my drawings, painting, pottery, you name it, with the rest of the class.  My clumsy attempts could never compare with those who possessed real artistic talent.  Unlike me, they were innately creative.

My first attempt at painting came one summer afternoon in 2007, when a creative, paint-dabbler friend of mine brought her easel, paints and brushes over so we could play outside together.  I covered the patio table, and had jars with water and containers ready for mixing paint.  I looked at my friend expectantly, and asked, “What do I do now?”  She smiled, handed me a paint brush, pointed to the tubes of paint and the canvas on the easel, and suggested I start painting.  I said in a worried, slightly infuriated tone, I don’t know how!  “So what,” she said, “just have fun.”  A quiet explosion happened.

Working creatively is an absorbing experience.  We may be completely unaware of time passing and have no conscious thought until we look up and see the stars twinkling outside.  By then, we realize that we totally forgot to take sustenance of any kind.  In this way, creating is like meditation.  This state is often referred to as ‘being in flow’.   Since working from a state of flow is not relegated to the arts alone, I would offer that creativity is found in all walks of life.  Ever hear of creative accountants?  Even the way a person successfully negotiates a sale or finds the solution to a scientific conundrum can feel creatively energizing.

When we finish and look at what we’ve made using our imagination, the feeling can be overwhelming.  We stare in wonder at our new creation, be it a poem or book, song, painting, garden or building design.  This new thing that never existed before comes from a place unique within our hearts.  It bears our personal stamp, like a fingerprint.  It is what is true within us.

Achieving this state of concentrated mindfulness is when one feels the most alive.  Furthermore, there are multiple avenues of creative expression that are potentially fulfilling.  Matthew Fox (2002), author and Episcopal priest, suggests that exercising our creativity is the path to experiencing a joyful life.  He states, “…what the artist is experiencing is far more than ‘actualizing one’s own potentialities’—it is experiencing the Divine joy itself.”

Like me, I suspect other souls have lurking, creative monsters within, just waiting to be liberated.  Rather than judging those impulses to use your creative imagination as unworthy, untrained or silly; consider that, as Matthew Fox suggests, exercising your creative imagination is your path to true Divine joy.  Wouldn’t you agree that finding joy is a truly worthwhile endeavor?  If you pay attention to what fires your imagination, you may discover the fuse and light your own explosion.  Below are a couple of humble examples of the days I’ve been quietly, absorbed, in the ecstatic state of flow.

 

The first time I fell in love with one of my paintings

The first time I fell in love with one of my paintings – 2007

A recent abstract

A recent abstract – 2012

 

Fox, M. (2002). Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.  New York, NY:  Penguin Group, Inc.

 

It’s Time to Reinvent My Life

Today, I’m at a crossroads.  I’m not talking about the everyday small choices and decisions we rarely think about.  I mean a real, honest-to-God, CROSSROADS!  The kind of shift that happens when you suddenly have a radical, new perspective, your life is forever altered from this point forward, and “the earth …moves …under your feet.”

A Brief History

Twenty-four years ago, I took an administrative assistant position with a public port.  I was the single mother of 8-year old twins, and the port was the most exciting place I had ever worked.  I was part of something the world depends on—international trade.  Within a few years, I moved to a new role administering construction contracts.  Again, it felt like I was part of something larger than myself, watching the transformation of two-dimensional blueprints into roads, shipping terminals, or huge, mechanical cranes that lift and move containers from ships two to three times bigger than a football field.

Eventually, I began training others to administer construction contracts and service agreements.  I liked what I did every day.  As others became confident in my abilities, I was asked to lead the Contracts and Purchasing Department and given a whopping raise.  Oh, and along with the added compensation, the organization paid for me to go back to school and complete my college degree.  How great is that!!!

Slowly, like the frog heating up on the stove without realizing he is being cooked, I became incredibly busy.  I lived for the weekends when I could relax and think about something else beside the office.  However, on many Friday nights, I would slog home with the solemn intention to complete armloads of work, and a deepening sense of guilt that I was not meeting the expectations of others.  Even better, were the Saturday mornings I would get up to drive to the office.  I was a veritable hamster churning on the wheel of industry.

Something had to change.  My solution—work until 5 o’clock going to meetings, answering emails, responding to the questions of others, providing support to employees in the department—then from 5 o’clock on, I would work on my projects.  After that, I would go home.  No more weekends—mostly.  This was an improvement???

Dawning Awareness – The Longing Within

To be fair, I don’t believe that working 12-hour days is wrong, so long as one feels absorbed and joyful in the experience.  There are those lucky few who find themselves compelled to work for hours and hours because they can’t tear themselves away from an absorbing project.  Such an experience could be energizing.  Matthew Fox, former Catholic Priest and author of “The Reinvention of Work,” distinguishes one’s “work” from a “job” by suggesting that work is a vocational calling.  He explains that work has a connection to the Universe, the unfolding of creation.  I imagine work in this context would be fulfilling and life expanding.  You might enjoy reading an interview with Matthew Fox where he explains the role of work as it relates to the health and well-being of the individual and society (http://www.personaltransformation.com/Fox.html).

Throughout my life, I have experienced the wonder, fascination, and longing to feel connected to the spiritual.  As my career progressed and my personal circumstances changed, I began to feel this compelling desire within me to do something meaningful.  I dreamed of touching people in a way that left them happier, stronger and free from fear.  I wanted to share with them a life of adventure and joy.  (Oops!  Physician, heal thyself, before attempting heal anyone else.)

Sending God the SOS

Last winter I let the Universe know I’m ready for change.  I prayed, “When I retire God, I’d like my next, wonderful career, where I am helping others, earning a great living, and able to work into my triple-digit years, to be ready and waiting for me to enjoy.  In the meantime, I’ll step toward whatever miracles you’re going to brew up on my behalf by reading, researching and networking with others to figure out what that wonderful life looks like.”

The funny part, is that I believed I needed to wait to experience this joy—the adventure of a wonderful life.  I wasn’t going to retire for another eight to ten years.  So there was plenty of time for God’s spirit-magic to unfold.

God’s Belly-Laugh

I’ve heard the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  Hmmm, is that thunder you hear?

Remember the great opportunity to lead a department, the wonderful compensation, the overly-busy life?  Guess what!  I discovered this past spring, I was losing my job.  The circumstances felt particularly painful—with people talking behind my back, but refusing to talk to me when they saw me; writing everything they disliked about me and then sharing it via email; and having it progress so far that there was no way to heal the damage.  I was suddenly, after 24 years, persona-non-gratis.  It was time to leave. 

As painful as the experience was, there were bountiful lessons.  I was a partner in the situation.  To say otherwise, is to suggest I was a victim.  All of us contributed one way or another to the outcome.  Furthermore, I can honestly say that everyone involved (including me) is a good person.  Finally, I know I am only responsible for me—for how I respond—for what I learn.

Hold Onto the Wings of Change.

Grieving is, by it’s nature, to be in the midst of change.  Losing a partner, moving to a new city, recovery from an illness, or losing a job, are examples of having to let go of something.  Even good changes require that we leave something behind.  The irony is that the harder we try to cling to what we had before, the more difficult it is to move to a place of peace.  Those wonderful individuals, who exhibit outward calm and grace, are not unlike the rest of us.  They, too, have experienced loss and change.  Yet, they have the ability to go within, mourn a loss, let go of the past, and adapt to change.

Many of us stay in jobs that we hate, getting up every morning wishing we were doing something else.  While I didn’t hate my job, I’d had a deep longing for something new.  I felt as though I had spent a lifetime (24 years qualifies, I think) in the same place.  I was stagnating.  So although, I miss the place that was my tribe for 24 years, it is time to go within, mourn, let go, and adapt.

Being at a crossroads means it is time to figure out who I am and what I want to do with my life.  What a magnificent gift!  Hold onto the wings of change—it’s time to create a new story.  It’s time to reinvent my life.

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