How to lead a creative life? What does it even mean?
You don’t have to toil away at creating works of art or cultivate a bohemian lifestyle to lead a creative life. It’s much simpler than that.
Creativity is a fundamental aspect of living a good and healthy life. The question is how to find your way back to it, time and again.
What can you do now?
Here are seven hints to remind you how simple it is to get in touch with your creative spirit at any moment.
To help you nurture your creative life in the long run.
1. Stay Grounded, Stand Firm
Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this:
just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.
This advice from 15th century Indian mystic poet Kabir is a superb reminder to stay connected to our physical being and not to let ourselves get carried away by our imagination.
Which is something that happens very easily both on and off stage:
- As actors we need to be strong and resist getting sucked into the story that we’re performing, whether it’s the imaginary situation or the character we’re playing.
- It’s not the same but very similar to our everyday life where we imagine all kinds of things about ourselves, each other and the situations we’re in.
These stories in our heads are the source of much avoidable misery, including bad theatre. Just step into the streets – or underground – of any major city and watch the show.
How many people are really present? What can you do for yourself?
Connect Your Imagination to Your Body
Having a movement and/or meditation practise seems to be the standard solution to this problem. Yoga is probably the most popular. It gives you a moment of respite.
But the thoughts of imaginary things will come flying right back at you as soon as you’ve finished your session. You can only keep them at bay for so long.
The imagination will live its life. Whether you want it to or not. Like William Carlos Williams noted in Spring and All (1923): the imagination is supreme. The solution is to integrate it into your daily life.
And this integration must connect your creativity to your body. It can’t be only in thought. Which is the reason why I’d recommend practising a bit of physical acting or clowning as part of enjoying a more creative life.
It has definitely improved mine.
2. Close Your Eyes
Work of sight is done.
Now do heart work
On the pictures within you.
Rainer Maria Rilke
How do you interpret this piece of advice?
Here’s my take:
Look at the world first. Observe it in all its details. Shapes, colours, behaviours. See it, let it in, feel it. Then close your eyes. Or look into the ether.
Breathe, nurture the feeling. See what images appear. Keep paying attention to the feeling, notice how it evolves – and the images with it. And vice versa.
Don’t lose yourself in the images! Remember what Kabir said!
Follow this dance of imagination and feeling without judgment until you feel it’s your turn to take the lead. And if you’re not sure when that is, try anyway.
Try it exactly when you’re not sure.
3. Be Like an Octopus
The octopus would be my model—
it wants to understand; it prowls
the rocks a hundred ways and holds
its head aloof but not ignoring.
All its fingers value what
they find. “I’d rather know,” they say.
“I’d rather slime along than be heroic.”
Oh to be like an octopus!
We all carry more or less conscious ideas of who – or what – we aspire to be like. These models can be very useful in guiding us towards how we want to be.
Whether it’s on stage or in everyday life, the big question is: how can you make those mental images more real for you? So that they have the desired effect?
What NOT to do: treat them as visions, as external pictures, as future goals. That will only keep you running…
What to do: embody them, go into the details of those images, feel them, live them – follow Rilke’s advice: “do heart work”.
In a regular creative life it is sometimes necessary to let your fingers do the walking…
4. Pass Through the Fear
Take someone who doesn’t keep score,
who’s not looking to be richer, or afraid of losing,
who has not the slightest interest even
in his own personality: He’s free.
Perhaps you are that someone more often than you think.
We are all like this when we pay attention to the small things. In those little moments of full attention. When our mind is full of something other than ourselves.
The challenge is to not make things – ourselves, life, theatre and all that jazz – into such a big deal. Because that’s exactly when the fear of losing rears its head.
In most cases it’s a fear of losing something we probably don’t even have at present. Perfectly absurd, and yet the most normal thing in the world.
It’s our imagination playing tricks on us again. Which is what happens if we don’t play enough with it – for real. We have to train it consciously. Connect it to body, feeling and gesture. Connect it to the physical world.
So next time this fear invites itself, don’t resist it, don’t run away from it, but also don’t let it take command of your creative life. Don’t sit there and be a passive receptacle. Dance with it. And you will pass through it. Rather than the other way around.
Focus on what’s real beyond a doubt.
Legs, arms, fingers.
Value what they find.
Slime along, like Stafford’s octopus.
While letting the deep currents of existence itself
sweep away your doubts and fears.
5. Let Go of the City
Tired of all who come with words, words but no language
I went to the snow-covered island.
The wild does not have words.
The unwritten pages spread themselves out in all directions!
I come across the marks of roe-deer’s hooves in the snow.
Language but no words.
When you are overwhelmed by the daily onslaught of words, pictures and empty postures, it is time to pass through stillness to find meaning again…
In the old days – that ended only about 25 years ago – it was usually enough to leave the city. Even just leaving the house could do it. People couldn’t reach you. And you couldn’t communicate to all and sundry just like that.
There was something like a natural limit to our exposure to bullshit.
Today we have to make much more of an effort to find or create stillness for ourselves. Much, much more.
Use Poetry and Offer It Yourself
How can Tranströmer’s old poem – or any other poetry for that matter – help you live a creative life? What can you do if you can’t leave everything behind for a place like Thoreau’s Walden?
But maybe that’s exactly what you can, if you understand what Walden is. It’s poetry. It is within you when you read it. And without you when you see it.
Remember there is nature wherever you are. You are part of nature yourself. There is a snow-covered island within. Let your imagination run free. Go wild.
No one will see those marks in the snow but you.
And if you choose to show your language, whether it be in writing, acting, singing, dancing, painting…
Or in a simple smile or gesture –
Chances are that you’ll inspire someone else to share their language too.
6. Give Yourself a Good Start
One puts down the first line… in trust that life and language are abundant enough to complete it.
Whatever you want to do, don’t just do it. Do it with enough care so that it can take on meaning – for yourself and for others. Make it count.
Learn how to count to one.
Turn that into a practice and your creative life will probably flourish like never before (I’ll send you a postcard from nirvana when I get there myself). You can practise counting to one in a thousand different ways. Anything countable is up for grabs.
Take Five, Count to One
Lift your eyes off this screen and look around you right now. There must be plenty of things. Start counting: one. Start again: one. And again: one. Etc…
Try it on your own movements. (And save a small fortune on mindfulness classes.)
Try writing, following Wendell Berry’s example: put down the first line, don’t throw it on the paper. And if a line’s too much, just put down a word. Or a single letter. Or a line or a dot.
This, by the way, is also how you become a good improviser on stage and in life. Whatever you do, whatever you think you’re going to do: take the first step, don’t skip over it. The world existed before you did.
Being aware of how you begin requires you to be in heightened state of awareness before you begin. The foundation of all beginnings is stillness – a stillness in which there is room for informed choice. Intelligence, even.
That’s how to cultivate an abundant response from life and language.
That’s how you give yourself a chance.
How you give the world a chance.
7. Honesty Lasts the Longest
You must feel when you write…
You must disentangle all thoughts. You must disconnect all shackles, weights, obligations, all duties.
You can write as badly as you want to. You can write anything you want to… just so you write it with honesty and gusto and do not try to make somebody believe that you are smarter than you are.
If you wish to live a long creative life – or create something worthwhile – you’d better heed the old Scandinavian proverb: Honestly lasts the longest.
The quote from Brenda Ueland hardly needs any comments. If you’ve read this far, you understand exactly what she’s talking about.
Whatever you do – do it with feeling – practise with gusto – don’t just go through the motions. And you will find a way to express yourself honestly. Your language.
Go Do Your Thing
There’s nothing to wait for. No major secrets. Just a few hints here and there.
All I or anyone else can say is: try them, try something.
And one fine day, you might look back on a long creative life with plenty of achievements – humming the refrain from Damien Jurado’s song Florence-Jean:
I had a way to express myself
I had a way to be honest
Great album altogether, by the way.
Great title: The Horizon Just Laughed.
That sounds like a healthy perspective on life. The horizon, the world, God almighty and every possible angel – they laugh whenever we expect something from them.
How it all works remains a mystery.
How to Lead a Creative Life
Your best bet is to try something and try again. Trust those who’ve gone down the path. Those who’ve lived a creative life by listening for the heart of things.
Listening with intelligence, mind you. Leading a creative life is not a fool’s errand.
So don’t sit around and wait for the universe or any ethereal entities to help you.
Some people might. But I wouldn’t count on it.
Count on yourself first.