Monday, May 18, 2015

Compassion Fatigue and Creativity ...

Through experience, I understand that 
creative expression, in its myriad of forms, is essential
 to physical and mental health and a rich life.

Carolyn Cowan
in Creative Aging

Hi everyone!

I hope your spring is blossoming. These past few weeks, as I've walked the shores of my beloved lake in the early hours of the morning, camera in hand, I've been struck by the lush beauty of the world around me and the myriad of ways we can find to express it - painting, wood carving, knitting, knotting, photography, poetry, sculpting, flower arranging, stories, sketching, quilting, weaving, singing, dancing ...  The list goes on for ever. 

But what if compassion fatigue has diminished our creative spirits? Researchers tell us that trauma (including the secondary traumatic stress of CF) has an impact on our ability to be creative. We need to feel relaxed and safe to have full access to our intellectual abilities, including our creativity. Under the chronic stress of CF, we can begin to lose access to our creative capacities. Our focus narrows and we revert to traditional, familiar and sometimes rigid ways of being and doing. We seem less able to be open-minded, perceptive, curious and imaginative. In an excellent article on The Hidden Costs of Trauma in the Workplace, HR consultant, David Lee, puts it this way,

... (we) become less flexible, less creative and less intelligent. (We) operate at only a fraction of our creative and productive potential. ... Studies on creativity show undeniably that a low threat environment is essential for creative thought. When people are feeling threatened, their thought process becomes rigid and tradition bound ... Furthermore, when stressed, the mind becomes focused on the stressor. This prevents divergent thinking - the ability to broaden one's perspective to include less obvious associations and possibilities which is the hallmark of creative thought.
So, what's to be done? Fortunately, as Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, says, "It's never too late to start over. It is never past the point of no return for our artist to recover."

But how, exactly, do we go about re-igniting our creative vitality? The short and too obvious answer is to begin by healing our accumulated trauma and grief. But then what ...? Here are a few suggestions to start you back on your creative path:

1.  Learn more about the arts and healing:
To justify your creative play, try reading the excellent research-based website and blog published by the Foundation for Art and Healing whose mission it is to explore the fundamental connection between art and the healing process, while providing active, ongoing support to communities and individuals.   
2.  Discover how others have become more creative:  
I've recently come across a wonderful online journal called, Sage-ing With Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude. It's a visually beautiful online magazine, issued four times a year, filled with stories of how people engage in the arts as they grow older. The articles are short with many beautiful examples of peoples' writing, art work, crafts and performances.
(If you prefer a book format, you could consider reading,  Creative Aging, edited by Karen Close and Carolyn Gowan and published just this year. It is a compilation of the best of the Sage-ing articles to date.)
3.  Make time to be creative:
Like most other things, creative time needs to be carved out of our schedules, often at the expense another activity. If being more creative, with its benefits of happiness, discovery, community, reduced stress and anxiety, and life balance is a priority for you right now, make a creativity appointment with yourself daily, weekly, once a month, or whenever you can manage it. Begin where you are and, as your love for creating grows, so may your ability to "find" more time for it.   
 4.  Prime the pump by returning to your childhood:  
New research shows that adults can be primed to become more creative simply by being asked to think like children. A recent study in North Dakota found that being encouraged to think like a seven year old produced more original ideas than thinking like an adult. So, before starting a project or solving a problem, consider opening up to the mind of your inner seven year old and see what happens.
5.  Accept "failure" as part of the process:
Many of us have shame-based memories when it comes to creative endeavours. These memories can make us afraid to even try something "creative". However, even the most celebrated artists have a litany of "failures" under their belts. (As Carl Jung once said," I recently went to a museum in Germany, and they had a Picasso exhibition. But the paintings were terrible. I think I saw every lousy Picasso out there. He created about 50,000 works, and not all of them were masterpieces.") A lesson worth learning: embrace failure as part - or even a gift - of the creative process. Learn from it and begin again.
6.  Experiment:
Experiment with various creative forms until you find one that is a good fit for you. We're not all artists, writers or performers. Take time and use mindful awareness to discover a form of creative activity that is life-giving for you and then learn more about it, practice it and, most importantly, let yourself enjoy it!

June 19th is Creative Aging Day (and we're ALL aging!) so why not make a commitment to yourself to try at least one creative activity by then?