Dancing With The Muse: Living A Creative Life

“Creativity is defined as the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships or the likes, to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations… etc. It is often synonymous with words such as inventiveness, imagination, innovation, originality and individuality.”

~ Erica Djossa

When I was a child I wrote stories, made up worlds, drew comic book characters, spent hours in the woods playing fantasy games with my friends, and was always making something with my hands. And then somewhere along the way I stopped. Stopped writing. Stopped drawing. Stopped creating stuff just for fun. Of course there were reasons why I stopped, reasons that seemed very true at the time, such as being too busy, or having other more important, more adult things to do, but somewhere along the line I also seemed to pick up the idea that since I did not identify myself as an artist, then creative activity was frivolous and must be left behind.

From listening to many others speak about their relationship to creativity over the years I have come to understand that my experience is actually very common. It seems that at some point a decision is made regarding creativity – either you are an artist or you are not- and depending on how much you value that title, or how much you are supported by others in your life, you then make a commitment to being a full-time artist, or you go to art school. And everyone else leaves their creative joys behind so that they can attend to other, more practical affairs.

As a yoga teacher trainer, one of the questions I get asked most often is “how can I stay inspired?”. I think the people asking me this question want to know how to stay inspired as teachers, but I also think they want to stay inspired as students and practitioners too. And I imagine this desire to stay inspired shows up in all fields, surely lawyers, and chefs, doctors and historians also need to feel inspired in order to bring joy to their vocations?  Historically my answer to this question has always been to nourish curiosity, to look for some aspect of teaching or practicing yoga that does hold a quality of fascination, no matter how faint, and go deeper into study or contemplation of that area. Personally, I have always found that this has the effect of re-igniting inspiration. But now I would add to this answer and suggest that if there is no spark of inspiration related to your field of expertise at this moment (this happens to everyone and is part of a natural cycle so no need to despair about it), then allow yourself to pursue something else entirely for a while. Something creative. Something else that is interesting or inspiring to you.

Start a knitting project. Or learn ballroom dancing. Take pottery lessons, or learn calligraphy. Do anything that will allow you to engage with creativity once again, but without putting any type of expectation on what you are doing. In other words do something creative simply for the joy of it, without needing to be good at it, without it needing it to “amount to something”, because it is not about the finished product, it is about the act of engaging with the creative force itself.

When we are out of relationship with our creative selves life can feel dull and heavy, lacking mystery or curiosity. We can feel stuck in our lives. When we are un-inspired we often feel dry and lifeless. I don’t know about you, but for myself, this has always felt like an awful way to live, no fun at all. But I think that often we overlook creativity as a way of remedying this dullness, and instead, we turn towards passive entertainment such as TV or movie watching, surfing the Internet, or online shopping as a way of filling ourselves up again. However these activities can only fill us up so much, and we may find ourselves still feeling empty at the end of the day. I believe that we all need some type of relationship to curiosity and creativity- not just the “creative types” because I think all of us suffer when we feel out of touch with the creative force in our lives.

One thing that has helped me to stay in relationship with creativity is the fact that I have always considered inspiration and creativity to be a living current, a force of energy that is continually present, always flowing through my life- even when I am not feeling it. This way of conceptualizing creativity has kept me from judging myself too harshly for those times when I have felt dull or uninspired, and has also helped me to see myself as someone who can engage with creativity, despite the fact that I have never identified myself as an artist. It has also allowed me to be more patient with myself when I seem to have lost touch with that creative spark because I know it does not mean that I am not a creative person, it simply means I am not in right relationship to creativity at the moment.

There is a fabulous goddess from the Hindu tradition known as Saraswati, and I think of her as an embodiment of the primordial Muse. She is the patron goddess of knowledge, language, music, and the arts, a goddess whose blessing force is that of curiosity, inspiration, and insight. Originally a fertility goddess named after an ancient river, her name means “one’s own flow or one’s own essence”. When I first learned about her I realized that this was a way of giving a name to the creative force that I felt in my life when I was excited about learning something or bringing something into being.  It had always felt like a divine force that moved through me, acted through me. I believe that we can all attune to this energy, simply by paying attention to what intrigues us, to what interests us. And as we do so we will find that these universal qualities of creativity and inspiration begin to express themselves through us. Like a great river sometimes creativity will take us into little eddies and whirlpools, where we may feel like we are going in circles for a time, but we will always spiral our way out again.  Sometimes our curiosity it will take us along byways, away from the main current, but as long as we remain in the river itself this connection to inspiration will infuse our lives with delight.

One of the primary ways I express my creativity is of course through teaching and practicing yoga, actually I believe that honoring the creative side of teaching yoga has been the thing that helped me reconnect to my innate creativity after those many years where I had put it aside. But teaching yoga is by no means the only way I connect to creativity, and indeed whenever I have felt stuck as a teacher I have allowed myself to get curious about other areas of interest as a way of re-sourcing my inspiration again. For this reason, I always have a number of books on the go, a few different learning projects for the year, and all kinds of arts and crafts projects in various stages of completion around my house. Most of these things I do simply for the pleasure of it, in other words, they do not directly feed into my work as a yoga teacher, and yet what I have realized over the last few years is that the more time I devote to simple creativity in these other areas, the more inspired I feel as both a yoga teacher and student.

So if you are feeling stuck in your life, or in your career, consider the ways in which you are in relationship with creativity, as so much of the time you will find that insight or understanding, new perspectives, and fresh solutions, can more easily arise when you are engaged in creative play. Here are some of my favourite ways to re-source inspiration and creativity when it wanes in my life.

  • Read a good book. Study a topic that intrigues you, get lost in poetry, or simply indulge in a good story. Feed your mind.
  • Do something you love. Bake, knit, dance, paint, sing, scrapbook- doesn’t matter what it is, just do something that pleases you.
  • Make something with your hands. Do some arts and crafts, start sewing, build something out of wood. It doesn’t need to be fancy, or even well done, just engage in creating something.
  • Learn something new. Sign up for pottery class, take a writing course, learn about aromatherapy or small motor mechanics. Don’t put off learning for another time simply because you are busy, make time for it and everything else in your life will be re-inspired.
  • Move in a new way. Try tai chi, or sacred dance, martial arts or cross country skiing. When we move our bodies in new ways our minds open up to possibility. We can begin to see the world and ourselves in new ways.
  • Nourish your mind with art. Go to an art gallery or a poetry reading. Collect images that inspire you on Pinterest, or take pictures of murals and graffiti art in your city. Art is everywhere, but sometimes we forget to see it.
  • Let go your judgments around who gets to be creative. Give yourself permission to play. You don’t need to hold the title of writer in order to write, and you don’t need to have your paintings in a gallery to enjoy painting. Play the piano even if you play it badly, do it because it feels good.
  • Make everyday tasks creative. Approach your business as a creative act. Or reimagine the way you organize your bookshelves or spice cabinets. Consider how you might structure the rhythm of your day in a new way, create rituals out of daily tasks. Design your life with creativity.