Our creative abilities connect and contact many different aspects of our humanity. Take time to reflect on these two excerpts from Mirabai Starr’s book “Wild Mercy.”
When speaking of art, we most often think of the finished product whether it be a painting, a drawing, a performance, a sculpture, a poem, or another expression of creativity. Today, you are invited to consider the evolving process of creation as described author and teacher Mirabai Starr who believes, that each of has the capacity to offer something new to the world. It does not come quickly or easily, but few things of any depth or value ever do. Mirabai writes:
A miraculous event unfolds when we throw the lead of our personal story into the transformative flames of creativity. Our hardship is transmuted into something golden. With that gold we heal ourselves and redeem the world. As with any spiritual practice, this creative alchemy requires a leap of faith. When we show up to make art, we need to first get still enough to hear what wants to be expressed through us, and then we need to step out of the way and let it. We must be willing to abide in a space of not knowing before we can settle into knowing. Such a space is sacred. It is liminal, and it’s numinous. It is frightening and enlivening. It demands no less than everything, and it gives back tenfold.
There is a vital connection between creativity and mysticism. To engage with the creative impulse is to agree to take a voyage into the heart of the Mystery. Creativity bypasses the discursive mind and delivers us to the source of our being. When we allow ourselves to be a conduit for creative energy, we experience direct apprehension of that energy. We become a channel for grace. To make art is to make love with the sacred. It is a naked encounter, authentic and risky, vulnerable and erotically charged.
The muse rarely behaves the way we would like her to, and yet every artist knows she cannot be controlled. Artistic self-expression necessitates periods of quietude in which it appears that nothing is happening. Like a tree in winter whose roots are doing important work deep inside the dark earth, the creative process needs fallow time. We have to incubate inspiration. We need empty spaces for musing and preparing, experimenting and reflecting. Society does not value its artists, partly because of the apparent lack of productivity that comes with the creative life. This societal emphasis on goods and services is an artifact of the male drive to erect and protect, to engineer and execute, to produce and control. Art begins with receptivity. Every artist, in a way, is feminine, just as every artist is a mystic. And a political creature. Making art can be a subversive act, an act of resistance against the deadening lure of consumption, an act of unbridled peacemaking disguised as a poem or a song or an abstract rendering of an aspen leaf swirling in a stream.
The very process of creating art is valuable and generative, even if no one else ever sees it. Mirabai Starr reminds us of the freedom of childhood and encourages us to be courageous and to embrace our creative nature once again. While we may consider childhood to be in our distant past, a child is still within each of us today.
When you were a child, you knew yourself to be cocreator of the universe. But little by little you forgot who you were. When you were a child, everything was about color. Now you pick black as your automatic font color, because that is the coin of the realm. When you were a child, you traveled from place to place by dancing, and now you cultivate stillness, which is great, but you are forgetting how to move to the music of your soul. You can hardly even hear that inner music over the clamor of all your obligations. . . .
Yes, you are worthy of art making. Dispense with the hierarchy in your head that silences your own creative voice. . . . It is not only your birthright to create, it is your true nature. The world will be healed when you take up your brush and shake your body and sing your heart out. . . .
The part of our brains with which we navigate the challenges of the everyday world is uneasy in the unpredictable sphere of art making. We cannot squeeze ourselves through the eye of the needle to reach the land of wild creativity whilst saddled to the frontal cortex, whose job it is to evaluate external circumstances and regulate appropriate behavior. Creativity has a habit of defying good sense. I am not arguing, however, that the intellect has no place in the creative enterprise. The most intelligent people I know are artists and musicians. Their finely tuned minds are always grappling with some creative conundrum, trying to find ways to translate the music they hear in the concert hall of their heads into some intelligible form that others can grasp and appreciate.
What a creative life demands is that we take risks. They may be calculated risks; they may yield entrepreneurial fruits, or they may simply enrich our own lives. Creative risk taking might not turn our life upside down but, rather, might right the drifting ship of our soul. When we make ourselves available for the inflow of [Spirit], we accept not only her generative power but also her ability to [overcome] whatever stands in the way of our full aliveness.
You do not always have to suffer for art. You are not required to sacrifice everything for beauty. The creative life can be quietly gratifying. The thing is to allow ourselves to become a vessel for a work of art to come through and allow that work to guide our hands. Once we do, we are assenting to a sacred adventure. We are saying yes to the transcendent and embodied presence of the holy.
In his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes:
Each of us is born with two contradictory sets of instructions: a conservative tendency, made up of instincts for self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, and saving energy, and an expansive tendency made up of instincts for exploring, for enjoying novelty and risk—the curiosity that leads to creativity belongs to this set. We need both of these programs. But whereas the first tendency requires little encouragement or support from outside to motivate behavior, the second can wilt if it is not cultivated. If too few opportunities for curiosity are available, if too many obstacles are placed in the way of risk and exploration, the motivation to engage in creative behavior is easily extinguished. 
How might we cultivate curiosity, openness, and the ability to change our minds (the meaning of the Greek word metanoia, usually translated as “to repent”)? A contemplative practice is anything that helps us open heart, mind, and body to union with God—the source of creativity. And so nurturing curiosity can be contemplative!
Below are just a few suggestions to stretch your curious, creative muscle. As you try one or more, I invite you to observe the reactions in your body and brain. Notice resistance, tension, fear, excitement, surprise, delight. Whatever your response, give it some space and time to unfold. Do you feel anything shifting? Later you might journal or talk with a friend about the experience.
- In a situation that seems boring or mundane—like waiting in line or at a stoplight—pay closer attention to your surroundings, using all your senses. You might even strike up a conversation with the stranger next to you.
- Spend some time working hard on something you’re passionate about, be that practicing an instrument, studying a complex issue, or pushing yourself just a bit harder in a workout. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn.
- Change the way you take in news and explore other journalistic sources and mediums. Listen to, read, or watch news from different political perspectives and other geographic regions.
- Take a different route or use public transportation to a familiar place or visit a new place, for example a farmer’s market, grocery store, church, library, or park.
- Seek out and get to know people who are quite different from you (in age, interests, field of work, socio-economic status, culture, or religion). Listen a lot and share honestly from your own life experience (avoid abstract ideas or giving advice).
- Recall a belief you’ve held about the world or God that has changed over time. What information or experiences altered that belief? Bring to mind another belief you hold now and question your assumptions, playing “devil’s advocate” for a while.