How to Surrender to the Spirit of Creativity
If you’ve been reading here weekly [first, thank you] then you've probably noticed me mention that I am fascinated by language. As I’m writing a piece or exploring a creative concept for Hina Luna, it’s not unusual for me to have a tab open with a thesaurus or the browser ready for looking up the etymology of a word. The one I’m currently mulling over: possession. I’m exploring possession specifically as it relates to creativity, which I’m finding is not entirely unlike the preconceived associations we have around this word.
Here’s what the dictionary has to say about it:
1. The state of having, owning, or possessing something.
2. An item of property; something belonging to one.
3. The state of being controlled by a spirit.
The first two dry descriptors of ownership and assets feel like a grave dishonoring of an entity as sacred as that of creativity. But the last one, that feels more on par with the ethereal, sometimes out-of-body experience of being taken over by inspiration.
I’m reminded of an anecdote shared by famed writer Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. As a little backstory, the book is a sort of manual on how to foster one’s creativity [or, a how-to for summoning the spirit, you might say]. Gilbert preludes the following story with the bold claim that ideas have agency. “Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will,” she writes. When an idea “finally realizes that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else,” but sometimes, “the idea, sensing your openness, will start to do its work on you.” To back it up, she tells a story about an idea she had for a novel but neglected for so many years that it left her — and instead, possessed her friend and fellow novelist.
I’d bet that Elizabeth Gilbert is not the only creative who’s had this experience, I know that I have; which has me nodding in affirmation to her claim that yes, indeed!, ideas [creativity] have a will of their own.
[image of an original drawing -- or, self portrait even -- tucked in as the last page of the Wax + Wane zine, On Earth + Color]
I imagine the spirit of creativity as a ready and willing collaborator that is magnetized to the potential of an open vessel, being the heart and mind of you or me or somebody else. Consider your idea as a houseguest, merely a visitor stopping in with hopes for some of your time and attention. This visitor always arrives unannounced and you may not always feel prepared to entertain them. If you’re fluttering about tending to other obligations, your guest may stay for a while but will eventually decide it’s time to show themself out — and you might even be too preoccupied to notice until some time later when you see your guest having tea through your neighbor’s window!
I just love the romantic abstraction of an idea reincarnating — something intangible living a lifetime in the universe of one person’s mind space and then taking up residence in that of another if it goes neglected. This concept is akin to some already existing old religions that believe in reincarnation, which for me affirms the philosophical comparison between creativity, spirit, and soul.
While this theory of ideas with agency teeters on the edge of new-age theories of “law of attraction”, where blessings are bestowed upon only those in the correct state of heart and mind, creativity isn’t judgmental. Creative spirit collaborates with vessels of all shape, size, and attitude. As the worlds of art, music, and poetry in particular have proven, even angry, depressed, jealous, and heartbroken people make things too; and often really, really beautiful things.
You might share in my experience of witnessing an idea that had once possessed me become manifested through another person, which is then followed by a brief period of mourning over “the one that got away”. If only I’d had more time. If only I’d had the resources. If only I’d been able to work through whatever fear I’d had that was hindering my ability to say ‘yes’. It can feel like heartbreak, as if creativity may never find you again — but hey, this is when the artists and musicians and poets really shine, right? The newly emptied vessel is ready to be filled again.
And who’s to say that the person who’d also had the idea and didn’t surrender to it would have done it better, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel plot — it will remain one of the great mysteries. Call it “silver lining”, but I believe that the space that opens up after one creative idea packs up and moves out, becomes an inviting space for yet another creative spirit to fill. Perhaps it’s one that you feel even more excited to explore, or perhaps the next time it comes knocking you will be feeling more prepared, ready and willing.
There might be something deeper to ponder in regards to which creative ideas we surrender to and those that we don’t make space for and thus leave us. Last week’s blog post invited us to participate in the practice of taking a personal inventory as we enter into a new season. Listening to our intuitive yes’s and no’s [and why’s] can open up space in our emotional, mental, and spiritual capacities. The tiny ember of creative inspiration can perhaps be best seen in the spacious darkness of the void. To acknowledge it is simply to take notice that it’s there, then to actually surrender to it fans its flames.
What does it mean to surrender to creative spirit? [or creative ‘spark’, or ‘wave’; yet another avenue for sensual exploration into words related to the topic of inspiration]. If we go back to the concept of possession by its third definition of “the state of being controlled by a spirit” as opposed to being the one in possession of a thing, then it means to allow creative inspiration to take control, to steer the mechanism of our human vessel.
[putting some of the plant dyed scraps from the studio to use by crafting a quilt square, made without much of an aesthetic filter, free of personal judgement, resulting in an experience that felt creatively liberating.]
So, in those magic moments, when we suddenly feel filled with or possessed by the spirit of creativity, how do we surrender?
First, make space. Clear a room in your heart and mind so that you are able to see the ember when it sparks.
Meditation can prove helpful in quieting all excess inner noise to allow creative spirit to speak.
Rest creates moments of pause and spaciousness in our lives and re-ups our capacity for giving our attention to other things.
When a wave comes, or the inspiration strikes, or the idea sparks, or the spirit comes knocking, this is when you have the opportunity to surrender, which can be supported by
Journaling. It can be so helpful to process on paper. Get it out of your head and start sculpting your idea as you write it out.
Free-writing. Like journaling, but completely uninhibited. Jot down a continuous stream of consciousness without judgement, censorship, or need for punctuation. Whatever comes into your mind in the moment, just write it alldown.
Dreaming. As you lay in bed before sleep, invite in the spirit of creativity to visit you in the dream realm. Dreams can have the powerful ability to speak from our subconscious through symbols; it may be helpful to interpret your dreams by following up with a journaling session or free-write.
Diving in. If you find you have the time, the resources, and the capacity, or if you’re just feeling spontaneous, go ahead and clear the table of all else with one swoop of the arm and become completely inebriated by the arrival of inspiration!
I have a friend who is a singer and songwriter with a natural knack for being an endless wellspring of original melodies. Years ago when I first moved to the island, we shared a live/work trade arrangement at a native plant nursery. One day while working in the potting shed, radio on, she suddenly stopped what she was doing and darted off. Turns out, the spirit of creativity had unexpectedly possessed her with the inspiration for a new song and she needed to escape the distraction of the radio noise to go and write it down before it slipped away. Needless to say, in that moment she chose to surrender to creativity by diving in.
lt may not always be the right place and time to figuratively [or literally if you’re my musician friend] drop what you’re doing for the sake of opening the door to a visiting creative spirit and shouting yes! I’m here! Do come inside!, but when we can quiet the house that is our vessel that is our body that is our life, we will be able to hear the knock at the door when inspiration does come around.
Process these prompts in a journal or read through them and then free-write whatever comes through.
What idea has been neglected in your mind space that you could bring some attention to now?
What has kept you from surrendering to this inspiration?
In what ways can you now open up space to commit to this inspiration?
To listen to while you surrender to your creativity. Click here to be taken to the playlist.