Seven Seeds of Creative Success: Part 2

Last month I introduced the notion that creativity is a process with numerous stages, each with its own function and value. By understanding and attending to these stages with care, our experience of the creative process becomes more fluid and effective. I have chosen seven concepts to share in this column, gathered from research on creativity and human potential, including interviews with a variety of creative people. These seven "seeds" have contributed to creative success in my own life and in the lives of those I have interviewed.

In Part 1, we learned about Commitment and Inspiration, the first and second seeds of creative success. Without commitment, the creative journey never truly takes hold in one's life; without inspiration, we often give up when confronted by the inevitable struggles that will unfold as our creative journey proceeds. If you have taken time this past month to plant these two seeds of thought in the fertile soil of your psyche, you have already improved your chances for creative success! Let's continue the discussion with a few more seeds ready for planting.

Seed Three - Nourishment. The creative process is, in essence, the development or growth of one's unique potential. With growth, there is a rhythm that must be honored, so that we do not grow too far too fast, becoming overwhelmed in the process. Learning to take time for nourishment is integral to effective growth...it sets the standard for all that is to come as we learn to challenge ourselves more. There were many times in my creative journey that I was "teased" by an opportunity to market my talents, and I would work to the point of exhaustion, hoping to make the most of the moment. Unfortunately, the outcome of these efforts was often disappointing, and it would take months, sometimes years to recover from the discouragement that ensued. This is often the breaking point for many fledgling artists...one or two heavy blows can be enough to submerge the creative impulse for many years to come. If, however, we learn to nourish ourselves properly as we grow, we learn to challenge ourselves more appropriately, and to take time to recover before we exhaust our resources.

Nourishment comes in many forms, but the basic need is to develop self-esteem, the bedrock of the healthy personality. Whatever we can do to nourish our self-esteem is advantageous to the creative process...it will see us through the frustration, discouragement and rejection that are inherent in this journey. Psychotherapy can be nourishing, as can bodywork, exercise, rest, recreation and play. Going to workshops or conferences, taking classes, getting out in nature are wonderful ways of feeding the soul. Being in the company of others who support and encourage our creative process is a splendid method of nourishing ourselves. There is no substitute for being able to open ourselves to the riches that others are willing to offer us, if we can learn to receive and to make good use of these gifts. Nourishment is essential if the creative process is to sustain itself over time, so this seed deserves special care and attention.

Seed Four - Courage. Now we come to the seed that provides the real thrust of the creative process...courage. Without this element, our journey will meander and eventually stagnate or cease altogether. Courage seems to be a quality that many people have trouble developing in themselves, perhaps fearing the burden of responsibility it might entail. In my research on the self-actualizing personality, I discovered that people who challenge themselves are more comfortable with anxiety and more able to tolerate ambiguity. It seems that tension is a necessary part of the drive to become more, so it is vital to the creative process to learn how to use anxiety to our advantage.

As we develop self-esteem, we become more capable of challenging ourselves, and by doing so, we build upon our risk-taking skills. I encourage my students to become more adventurous, to try things that are new and different and then to evaluate the experience afterwards, measuring their comfort level throughout the "adventure". How scary was it? What did you learn from the experience? How can you use this information to your advantage? Then it becomes a matter of taking the elements that worked and building on them, in order to tackle even greater challenges farther down the road.

Courage comes from the French word for "big heart"...creative people need big hearts to take the risks necessary to creativity. Taking risks involves the use of will, a muscle-like element of personality that can be strengthened and developed by will-training exercises. In Rollo May's The Courage to Create, he suggests that "Courage is not the absence of despair; it is rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair." By learning to use our will and challenging ourselves despite our fears, we become more effective at taking risks, and more successful in our creative endeavors.

Seed Five - Playfulness. This element of the creative process serves the function of teaching us how to recover after we have been challenged. As we learn to nourish ourselves, and to develop resources that facilitate its flow, the task of recovery becomes easier. However, while Nourishment serves to build us up for the work of Courage, Playfulness addresses the need for letting go. Now there is a need for retreat, to assimilate all that has happened, by getting away from challenge and playing for awhile. This is a time to elaborate on simplicity...to invoke the imagination while recovery takes place. By taking a break from the work of creativity, we invite new insights and ideas to bubble up from deep within our hearts and minds. Sometimes our recovery will come after a hard fall...perhaps we have even landed flat on our faces after taking too great a leap in our journey. In this space, humility, awe and respect can return to us, in a flow that will encourage and enlighten us as we grow further.

Some suggestions for being playful: writing inspirational quotes or poetry on sidewalks, sending silly cards to friends, coloring with glitter crayons, decorating eggs when it's not Easter, having pets, playing with bubbles, reading picture books, taking bubble baths, fingerpainting, daydreaming...you get the idea. By connecting with a child-like wonder of the world, we revitalize our potential and the infinite possibilities that await in our imagination.

Now we have learned about five seeds of thought: Commitment, Inspiration, Nourishment, Courage and Playfulness. Imagine for a moment that you are writing these words on an indelible surface deep in your mind. Write the words with red ink, and watch the ink soak into the surface that you are writing upon. Then imagine each of these words becoming a seed, and see yourself planting these five seeds in the fertile soil of your mind. You need do nothing more than this for now...the seeds have a life of their own and will find their way to consciousness when you are ready to use them. Next month, we will learn about two more seeds of creative success. In the meantime, this quotation by Gaugin may nourish your creative process, inspire your courage and remind you of the benefits of a playful imagination:

"At that very moment, when the most intense emotions fuse in the depths of one's being, when they burst forth, when the whole concept wells up like lava from a volcano, is there not something like a blossoming?"

I encourage you to welcome your blossoming and to look for the final installment of this 3-part series in next month's issue. Until then, stay creative!!!

1998 Marybeth Bethel