Tagged creativity

Making friends with my shadow. ©Cristina Acosta

The Shadow Side of Creativity

Watch toddlers on internet videos when they first understand that their shadows are connected to their bodies and you’ll see reactions from calm acceptance and curiosity to crying and fear. Some of the babies cry as they try to outrun their shadows, only stopping when they are in the shade and their shadows disappear from view. Occasionally, a baby will coo happily at their shadow, possibly meeting an invisible friend for the first time.

I feel like I’ve been every one of those toddlers at some point in my life. The shadow side of my self, defined by Carl Jung as the dark side of each person’s psyche has been the part of myself I’ve come to know and appreciate over the years despite many years denying it, running from it or trying to chase it down. Not only might this sound confusing, it felt confusing.

Duality is confusing for me. The yin and the yang; the light and dark; the tendency to hear my inner voice as two sides of one self – one the “good,” the other the shadowed “bad” side of my psyche. Keeping both sides of the psyche in balance to access the deeper knowledge within requires paying attention to and striving to understand both the light and dark sides of ourselves. Denial only causes projection and a lack of compassion both towards myself and by extension, others.

One of the things I’ve learned about looking into the dark side of myself is that the darkness within me grew with injuries. It didn’t begin with those injuries, I feel the dark side is always present, but it certainly can grow with pain. Those pains became the darkness and grew more darkness. It’s a paradox I don’t understand, but I’ve learned to live with it. And I’ve learned that by shining the light of my attention into the darkness within, I can reverse the growth of my dark side, opening more room for light and life, creativity flourishes. Clarity and peace can move into the freed space and I feel lighter and more creative.

The shadow within shrinks to a manageable size and has become my invisible friend once again. These many years later, deep into adulthood, I am learning again to skip and play with my shadow as I move between the light and the absence of that light.



My watercolors by ©Cristina Acosta

Creativity at Any Age

Creativity is part of our DNA. Put rocks, sticks and a big bucket of water in front of most any child, wait five minutes and you’ll see creativity in action. And then we grow up, learn to be neat, fit in and contain our urges to fling mud. And that’s not such a bad thing. Mud on the living room walls won’t work for most of us.

But it’s not best to stay in a highly controlled left-brain mindset if you want to increase your creativity. Passion, creation, enthusiasm, exhilaration and connection are crucial to a creative life. To increase our creativity it’s necessary to create an environment for ourselves where we can return to our basic creative selves. Whether we need to fling mud to do it, or not. And because we’re all grown-ups we are responsible for our own clean-up, so have at it.

As a career artist, I’ve dealt with the ebbs and flows of creativity most of my life, and continue to learn about myself and creativity through the process of practicing creativity.

So, how do you start being more creative? Here are a few of my ideas to increase creativity:

  • Creativity is a practice. The more you practice, the more your practice deepens and broadens. I focus on traditional forms of creative practice – for example, painting, writing or drawing as a focal point for my creativity. Concurrently, I ask myself during the day how I can enlarge and embellish the creativity involved in a non-art activity, then I try one or more of the ideas that pop into my head.
  • Embrace trying. You can also call this step, embracing failure. Failing is absolutely necessary to any creativity. If failure-equals-shame is part of your thought process, it’s time to set that concept aside.
  • Welcome “not-knowing” if it’s good, if it’s bad, where it’s going, what you’re meaning, what you’re doing. Creativity is about making and/or thinking something new. Because whatever you create is new to the world it is unknowable until you create it.
  • To enter the unknowable you have to relinquish your judgements, preconceptions and habits. When (not if) you find yourself thinking any thought that starts with a version of “I”, “you”, “we”:  should…shouldn’t, never, won’t, can’t, etc., put the thought aside. Don’t get rid of it altogether because at some point in the creative process, judgement is crucial. Just not at the beginning of the process.
  • Start! Seriously, you have to start somewhere. Here and now are all you have.

How to be More Creative? Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.

How can you be more creative? Many women in midlife find that they finally have some time for themselves and want to bring some artistic creativity into their lives. Maybe it’s time to take an art class, or sit down and write that novel you’ve been thinking about for years.

So, how do you move from wanting to be more creative, to actually being more creative? The quickest way to creativity is to set up a repetitive routine for your creative work. Repetitive? Routine? Aren’t those words the slippery slope to boredom and confinement, the antithesis of creativity? You might think so, but actually, most artists and creative types have some sort of routine or ritual to mark the beginning of a creative work session.

Here’s one reason that routine is so helpful to creativity. It cuts down on decision-making. Creative work is all about making decisions and the unknown. Creating something new in any field requires the mind to make leaps to the unknown. Which is why too many unnecessary decisions are distractions from creativity.

If you want to be creative, it’s important to save your decision making for your creative work. To do that, you need a routine. A routine is all about sameness. The minor decisions: what to eat, drink, wear or do are all decided. No thinking is necessary to get you to your workspace. Here’s an example. For about five days per week, I do the same thing every morning. I get up, go to the bathroom, return and put on my yoga clothing that I’ve put on the chair the night before. Step into my shoes and drive to yoga class. By 7:00 a.m., I’m done with my hour class and ready to go home, drink my protein shake, shower, dress, and get to work.

The days I do this, I know that I will get at least some creative work done, despite what may happen in my day that is out of my control.

So, how do you keep that creative space open when you can’t have a routine? Some days are not your own: You or somebody you care about gets sick; an opportunity arises; you are traveling. When your life and time are not completely your own (a common circumstance for women in mid-life), shorten your routine to a ritual.

Rituals can be actions that others wouldn’t notice or they can be obvious. A favorite coffee mug, a path to your workspace, a special necklace you wear on work days, pair of lucky socks, a scented candle, all are examples of touchstones that give us enough of the familiar to ground us as we leap into the unknown outcomes of our creative work session.

Creativity requires decisions. Remember, minimize the small stuff and the big stuff in life has room to grow. Happy creating.