Exploring Life is a gathering place for people interested in living a creative life. The central question of this work is, “How can you live a creative life?” The raw material used to fashion a creative life is subjective experience. Your experiences are entirely unique. No two people share the same experiences in life. You inhabit a unique life space that is entirely your own. This is terrain on which you create the narrative called, “My Life.” The situations and circumstances of your life provide the underlying ground of your creative practice. Your life course unfolds in the space between the thoughts, feelings, and mysteries moving through your inner life and the situations and events that approach you from the outer world. It is in this space that you encounter the full force of your own life. This primal frontier, between what you can and cannot control, is medium of your creativity.
My work presumes that deep creativity is a core discipline of a creative life. There is no method or template. The “discipline” I am describing is not a method or process. It does not consist of stages or phases of development leading to a desired destination. You must come to terms with the fact that “The Way” does not exist. You must find your own way. A creative life is about finding ways to live inside the questions that inspire and haunt you, not following other people’s ideas and advice. The creative feels the urgency of the deeper questions of life and struggles to find their own way through them. They place their faith in experimentation, trial and error, self-evident beliefs, direct felt experience, and lived evidence.
The creative does not live in a state of exile nor are they tortured. Creative living is about learning to do something good for self and others at the same time. In this sense, good means meaningful, authentic, and helpful. Deep creativity is not about making things, it is about crafting experience. In this sense, creativity is the underlying ground of living a life worth living. You will find creatives in any domain They embrace the spirit of the philosopher-poet. They may or may not be involved in the traditional arts. Not all artists are creatives; not all creatives are artists. Artwork can lack creativity. Artistry is one variation on the theme of creativity. Creative living is possible for everyone.
What are the most important elements of a creative life? No two people will answer this question in the same way. Below I describe the five basic elements that ebb and flow in my creative work, but they are not a template for you to follow. The idea is to take what you want, adapt it, change it, perhaps call it something else, and then work with it in your own way.
- Creative Practice
A creative practice is the foundation of living a creative life. The medium of deep creativity is subjective experience, which occurs in the space between what we can and cannot control. Creative work is a conversation with your reality. An interesting emotional reaction, for example, might become the inspiration for creative work. Or something more material, like writing the book we’ve always wanted to read, might inspire creative work. Or I might have an experience causing me to realize that a long-held belief was misguided and undertake the inner work of revising my worldview. These kinds of primary encounters with experience conjure the energy and motion that makes deep creativity possible. Creative work may not take you where you want to go, but you will always find yourself heading into new frontiers of experience.
The central dynamic of creative living is authenticity, not a self-centered drive toward happiness or feeling good. Every experience, good or bad, offers raw material for creative work. The creative possesses an insatiable curiosity about the nature of experience, why things happen the way they do, and how they can cultivate improvement. They know that embodied experience, not intellectual abstraction, is the only way forward. For example, the creative feels the presence of aging as the primal force of life moving through them, not as an adversary they must do battle with. They know that constraints, even when they are unwelcome, inspire creative work.
The creative knows they can never “know” anything in the sense that they achieve full comprehension. They resist the temptation to name something too soon because it insults the vitality and uniqueness of the thing being named. For a creative, the names of things are all questions, never answers. When someone says, “That is an oak tree” they become more curious. They might inquire, “Who says it’s an oak tree and why should I believe it matters?” Instead, they see a unique living being, not a class of trees belonging to the same theoretical family. Moreover, they do not presume to know what a tree is because it insults the creative energy of life. Creatives refuse to be blinded by names and labels because they know every time something is named it dies.
Deep creativity is what creatives innately do in response to the full force of their own life. Sense perception, not information, is the habitat of the creative. Living a creative life is a choice to engage with the full force of your own course in life in imaginative ways. They have little tolerance for theory, abstraction, objectivity, expertism, or faith. For a creative, direct felt experience is their learning environment. Creative work is how you become more fully alive.
Introspection nourishes self-awareness. Creatives are attracted to the wonders, hardships, and mysteries of inner life. This has nothing to do with self-centeredness or rampant individualism. They know that self-awareness is fundamental to deep creative work. Self-centeredness, egoism, or narcissism are obstacles to creative work. Introspection generates insight into that elusive shapeshifter called, “I.” We think of introspection as being solely an inward journey, but greater self-awareness generates potential in the outer world. In this sense, an introspective journey occurs in the space between inner life and the outer world.
Writing is a core discipline in my creative work. I have kept journals most of my life. However, journal writing may or may not inspire introspection. Recording the surface daily events without venturing into the worlds beneath them is not introspective. A journal provides a space in which you can write about yourself to yourself to discover things about yourself you did not know. You never have to think about what to write because subjective experience is always right in front of me. Sometimes, gratitude will influence my writing, at other times, hardship. Creative work begins when we search for patterns, ideas, and hidden meaning within a journal entry that offers potential for living.
Ideation is the foundation of a creative practice. Ideas provide the essential raw material for creative work. Ideation begins with a firm intention to create something of value in the world. It is the process of ideation, not the result, that matters most. We facilitate ideation by developing skills including concentration, focus, discernment, pattern recognition, incubation, awareness, mindfulness, and meditation.
Creatives thrive on engaging in work they value. An inspired project provides a context for creative work. They are a way of taking something of importance and giving it new form. The hallmark of an inspired is a state of absorption in the task at hand. In other words, the work inspires a state of flow. It is the quality of engagement, not the resulting product, that is the foundation of a project. A creative knows that “products” emerge on their own under the right working conditions. In this sense, creative work is fundamentally different from traditional forms of work driven by productivity systems.
I focus my creative energy on projects. This has become even more important during the Covid-19 pandemic because each project offers relief from a wretched uncertainty. Not only are projects an outlet for deep creative work, but they also provide a space for cultivating wellbeing. The essential dynamic in a project is flow and complete absorption in the work at hand. The reward is the work, not the result. And all creative work involves experimentation and finding a way through the labyrinth of trial and error that ensues. The experience of setbacks and failures are only opportunities for discovery. There is no failure void of potential.
Projects infuse ideas we value most with intention and potential. They provide a space to experiment and improvise with ideas you value. The essence of a project is quality of engagement with creative work and stimulate flow. Genuine creative work infuses your spirit with an innate sense of purpose, energy, and fulfillment. The product of outcome of a project is secondary to the creative experience, but the results of your creative work are shared with others in some manner. In this sense, a project is a bridge between your inner life and the outer world.
Friendships are fundamental to wellbeing. The lockdowns and restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has limited social gatherings. Human beings are not meant to live in isolation from one another. Virtual communications are a shabby substitute. Creative work cannot thrive in isolation either. While there is a need to work alone, creatives also seek collaboration. To live a creative life means opening and risking creative self-expression in the world around you. Undertaking formal or informal collaborative endeavors to co-produce something of mutual value is essential to living a creative life.
A collaborative endeavor can be something as simple as going on a nature walk with a companion. The collaborative aspect is to make the experience of walking together as meaningful and rewarding as possible. A collaborative venture may be complex, such as organizing a vibrant online community of interesting people focused on producing something that matters. Collaborative ventures are about depth of connection, not group productivity. The quality of a collaborative endeavor hinges on the depth of connection between the participants. The value of that community also hinges on the quality of engagement and interaction.
Collaboration brings your creative work out into the open and provides a way to connect with others. In a deep sense, creative work is ultimately about cultivating relationships. This demands the courage to share your work in the spirit of building an expanded sense of community in your life. Genuine collaboration grounded in the spirit of friendship not competition. In its highest form, collaboration culminates in the wisdom of belonging.
One day, I will die. One day, you will die. While we are alive, some of our loved ones and friends will die. And as the pandemic has tragically taught us, there is no way to know what tomorrow, if it arrives, will bring. Impermanence is a harsh truth that refuses to leave us alone. It is also a source of profound beauty and wonder. We have less control over life than we like to believe, and it is the limits of human agency that provides the foundation for wisdom.
Wisdom consists of life lessons hard earned through years of creative engagement with life. Every human life is potential source of wisdom. When we discover meaning and value in an experience, we contribute it to the ongoing discussion of how best to optimize the experience of being alive. Wisdom originates in direct felt experience, not books. You cannot find wisdom in a book, only read about it. The full force of an individual life makes wisdom possible. You discover wisdom in your life by creatively engaging with your reality.
The culmination of a creative practice is the development of personal wisdom. Deep creative work constantly broadens and expands the experience of being alive. Against this backdrop of constant personal growth, we recognize that our time here is fleeting and fragile. The most we can hope for in life is to leave something valuable and practical in the hearts and minds of the loved ones and friends we must leave behind. Our body becomes compost for the earth, but the spirit of our presence can contribute to the lives of our loved ones that continue on without us.
These five elements form a loose assemblage of elements that, for me, help to stimulate creative living. Creative work is dynamic and often divergent. There is a wildness in it that refuses to be tamed. How I cultivate a creative practice is nothing more than how I do it. This is not a self-help framework. You help yourself by finding your own way, not by following other people’s prescriptions for a better life. The only expert that matters is you, not gurus proposing to show you the way. You are the guru of your own creative life. Only you know your life, your experiences, and your hopes. There are no substitutes for this. Take what resonates with you and make it your own. Find your own way.
- The five elements of a creative life are also the categories used to organize articles. My view of how these elements work is simple. A dynamic creative practice is the foundation. Introspective journeys, inspired projects, and collaborative endeavors are the core activities of deep creative work. And wisdom is, I hope, what I discover along the way.
- A good article exploring the connection between a creative life and wellbeing is, The Creative Life and Well-Being. Of interest is the discussion outlining the differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. The pursuit of meaning is deeply associated with a creative life.
- In her book Big Magic, Melissa Gilbert suggests to “unleash your creativity.” In contrast to the article above, she defines creativity as engaging with any experience that make you happy or brings you joy and offers a template for living a creative life. Creative work does not always produce happiness, nor is creativity always a positive force in the world. Criminals are creative too. In her review of “Big Magic,” Zoe Williams criticizes the foundation, assumptions, and expression of Gilbert’s ideas. The subtitle of the review reveals her approach: “With sufficient Courage and Enchantment, everyone can unleash their inner ice skater.” A philosophy of life that nourishes individual and collective wellbeing imbues creative work with a deeper sense of meaning, purpose, and wisdom.
- The mental health benefits of creative work are significant and often overlooked. Creativity is a positive response to the constraints, restrictions, and limitations imposed by pandemic stress. Increased engagement in creative work helps to alleviate anxiety, especially under the duress of Covid-19. For me, CBT means creativity-based therapy, rather than cognitive-based therapy.
- I enjoy listening to podcasts about creativity after my deep creative work is done for the day. Chase Jarvis offers an interesting podcast exploring the lives of creative people. The Accidental Creative offers a podcast exploring where ideas come from. The Unmistakable Creative offers an extensive collection of podcasts focusing on optimizing creativity.