The Creativity Conundrum
We’ve previously blogged about the idea that we’re all born with the instinct to make sense of the world around us by practising playful creativity. That’s all well and good but where does the sustained need come from and what it has to do with our health and state of mind? By the time we reach early adulthood, this idea of carefree creativity takes on an altogether different meaning. Creativity is something for the kids right? Or maybe those strange, bohemian arty types? But that outlook doesn’t quite cut the mustard in today’s world, does it?
The World Economic Forum cites creativity in its list of top 10 skills for the coming years and “emotional literacy” has entered the lexicon of essential 21st-century leadership skills along with collaboration and problem-solving. The latter are all essentially forms of creativity. So why is it we sometimes feel all buzzed and full of get-up-and-go and at other times we just want to snuggle up under a blanket and vegetate?
Our body’s nervous system drives a lot of these behavioural impulses, including our need to express ourselves creatively in some form or another. Creativity comes from the same place as curiosity and our desire for social engagement; so it’s hardwired. Think of it as a current that emanates from the mind in the same way our heart generates a pulse through our body. That’s already a step closer to understanding why it’s so essential to our health – it creates the mood music to which our mind and body dance. In this regard, it’s part of a natural cycle that, under normal circumstances, harmonises with a whole range of biological and environmental systems.
In saying “under normal circumstances” an interesting question comes to mind. It has to do with the generally accepted view of what is meant by creativity. It has in many ways come to mean something outside of the ordinary; like a super talented writer, musician or dancer. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this definition, it is a rather narrow view of the activities that can and should fall under the creativity banner. So for example, preparing our daily meals, or repairing an item of clothing are also acts of creativity. In fact, almost everything we do with intent and purpose can be regarded as creativity because it is likely to “make” a contribution someplace in the infinite Smörgåsbord we know as life. It’s just that the impact may not always be immediately visible to us.
However, and this is the real problem, we can become conditioned to seeing essential creative activity as chores, and that’s a very slippery slope in terms of our wellbeing. When we begin to treat an opportunity to be creative as a chore, rather than purposeful and mindful expression, we instantly lose sight of its value; thus breaking the circuit of consciousness that is the precious alliance between our body and mind.
“The Creative Adult is the Child Who Survived.”Ursula Le Guin
When we embrace our creativity we’re not simply scratching an itch; it is tuning in to our most fundamental bodily functions like sleeping, eating and moving. Creative expression supports our well-being in much the same way as any of the aforementioned needs. It also exercises and builds our emotional literacy because we are simultaneously taking notice of what is going on inside and around us, including subtle social cues about how other people may be feeling about the same situation we are navigating. It is in essence socialised learning; the cognitive process we have evolved to collectively make sense of our lived experience.
This socialised learning is a perpetual process whereby we move together towards new ways of being and in so doing co-develop new models of behaviour and shared sensibilities. It’s the “nuts and bolts” workings of people in places; life and society. It’s how we learn the skills of patience, acceptance, and trust as well as the understanding that we all come into this world emotionally whole as a birthright and that artificial or poorly designed social structures erode this natural state of equality. This means the burden of effort required to navigate the psycho-social and economic highways-and-byways of life is not evenly distributed. The costs in terms of time, energy and emotional labour for some are insurmountable and social trauma ensues.
At the start of this life-long journey we are whole as a birthright then, over time, artificial or poorly designed social structures erode the natural state of creative equality. This means the burden of effort required to navigate the socio-economic highways and byways of life is not evenly distributed. The costs that need to be borne in terms of time, energy and emotional labour for some are insurmountable and social trauma ensues.
The capacity to hold space for one another is the most powerful skill we possess. It serves as the emotional container in which creative energy thrives through connection. Yes, it can often feel daunting to trust the creative source and submit the senses to the vulnerability of deep listening. It means riding out the discomfort and fighting the urge to be in control. The inevitable rewards are new insights and heightened empathy. In today’s world of increasing complexity and information overload that is nothing short of a seventh sense. To paraphrase the great Leo Tolstoy, the sensibility that allows us to feel and know love is the same one that helps us heal the pains of life’s suffering. In other words, our creativity makes the squeeze well worth the juice.