So you’re sitting there scrounging Netflix for one last show that can pique your interest, while your thumb scrolls Facebook and you’re not looking at the pile of laundry down the hall.
It’s week three or three thousand or whatever of this weird pause in existence caused by a global pandemic.
Part of your brain is vigilant for the ding of an email notification that might spur you into momentary action—but please god, not another message from The Gap or someone about their COVID-19 response. Also, please not yet more invitations to free masterclasses about chakra clearing, how to maximize EVERYTHING ALWAYS, or “the art and science of toilet scrubbing—the Zen way!!!!” *
You’re hungry for something that isn’t in your cupboards or fridge. You’re feeling anxious about things beyond your control. You’re dealing with vague fears about how life will look on the other side of this mess.
You’ve already cleaned the oven and underneath the sink. The laundry is there to be done, but it can wait. It’s not like anyone in the outside world can see the wrinkled t-shirts and sweats anyway. You’ve walked to the window twenty-three hundred and eleven times, looking out at a world that is being slowly invaded by the forces of spring.
Something restless is rising, something wants to be born.
What is it?
Is it the manuscript of a novel you started writing three years ago and can’t bear to look at it again? Is it that pad of sketch paper and brand new pencils you bought but haven’t touched yet? Maybe it’s something more or deeper than these, even. Maybe it’s a creation known as you.
Well, that got serious all of a sudden.
Maybe none of the above describes you, or maybe you can relate to some of it, at least. Your personal situation is likely too complex to be reduced to a couple of paragraphs of tongue-in-cheek descriptions.
By now you’ve probably heard from many experts telling you how to make the most of this strange time. It can be overwhelming sometimes—especially for those of us who are caring for children and others at home. It can feel like just too much to move in the direction of something creative with anxiety, various kinds of stress, and distractions creating so much static in the air right now. It’s a psychological fact that when faced with fear, uncertainty, and too much unfamiliarity, the nervous system tends to move into “freeze” and this often means that we tend to engage in numbing behaviors rather than act in more usual, resourceful ways. The idea of engaging in a big creative project might feel like “the impossible task.” (Follow the link to see a fascinating article about “the impossible task” as a commonly overlooked symptom of depression.)
But what if there’s another way?
Expressing yourself creatively has been proven to have many surprising benefits, including the following:
Reduce anxiety and depression
Boost the immune system
Ease and facilitate the processing of trauma and grief
Shorten the time required for physical healing
Improve relationships and learn new things about ourselves
With all of that in mind, why is it so hard to get started? Seems like drawing, painting, singing, dancing, gardening, writing, baking, or you name the creative thing, would be the first things we’d turn to when we have time. It’s fun, it feels good, and it’s good for us, so why is it so much easier to grab a beverage and zone out?
There are a bunch of psychological reasons, but I feel that the top two for many people are:
1). The tyranny of the perfect—if I can’t produce a finished product, then there’s no use in starting.
2). It’s not “practical”—it’s not going to pay the bills or solve other adult problems.
I’d like to invite you to try something as an end-run around these dragons at the gate.
To get started, please let yourself go back in memory to when you were a child or at some point before you were in high school. Think about something you loved to do back then. Did you love to draw, or sing, or dance—paint with your fingers, make cookies with your mom or dad?
Don’t let me put words in your mouth. You’ll know what’s true for you.
After you’ve found yourself in a memory, doing something you loved, take a minute or two and let the scene grow clearer.
Were you doing this alone, or was it something you did with others?
For example, I used to draw while my mother or father read aloud at night. My brothers and sisters were nearby and we’d usually draw scenes or characters from the stories we were hearing. After the story was finished, we’d show each other our art and talk about it together. We loved it. I loved it. I haven’t sketched for many years. I mean to change that now—even though I’ll be rusty and the horse will probably look more like an ostrich or something.
Do you have something in mind now?
Think about how you can do that thing today—right now, if possible.
Maybe you won’t have the right materials. Improvise. Be creative, be inventive. Maybe you won’t remember how, it’s been so long since you tried this thing. That’s okay.
In fact, it’s more than just okay. It’s the point of this exercise.
There’s medicine in your creative self but the only way to get to it is by letting it come out in fumbling, awkward, imperfect attempts.
Many of us adults have forgotten the creative child and the joys it once took from simple things—from imperfect, unmarketable, unprofessional things. Many of us compare our old, buried talents with those people we see getting thousands of “likes” on Instagram or Facebook, and we immediately walk the other way.
What I’m inviting you to do is let yourself go, let yourself play. Give yourself just 10-30 minutes a day for creating something that’s only yours. Rather than boxing it in with the need for perfection or dismissing it as a waste of time in the midst of so many legitimate adult obligations, allow yourself to experience this part of you that has been waiting to be heard and seen for so long.
In my work with people as a creative guide, I seek to help them establish a “creative practice.” You can read more about that in this older essay. What I’m describing today is one way to begin a creative practice. If you start now and give it a little time each day, within the next month you will find yourself feeling better or gaining more perspective—likely in areas of your life that seem unrelated to what we might commonly call “creative.”
Remember, it’s okay to make a mess. It’s okay to create a blooper reel. It’s okay to start something and leave it unfinished or imperfect.
It’s more than okay—this is how you begin healing the connection to your creative inner self.
You know what? I’d love it if you want to leave a comment below telling us about something you loved as a young person. That might be the easiest first step.
P.S. If you want more help with tuning into the needs and wisdom of your inner self, click here to download my free ebook, “How to Establish Your Creative Self Journaling Practice.”
* I think that chakra clearing is wonderful. And my toilet needs a good scrubbing even if I’m not zen about it.