As I entered my sixties, my spirit and body seemed misaligned. My sleep was disturbed by wakefulness and the dreams I did remember were wild and troubling. I had pain in my hands, hips, and feet, for which aspirin and monthly massages brought only temporary relief. Could these symptoms be related to the aches of advancing age, or were they yet another, different manifestation of the anxiety that had plagued me years earlier?
I had learned through painful experience that anxiety can erupt in a variety of puzzling forms, though years of reading, spiritual work and therapy had gone a long way to alleviate mine. In addition, I had misplaced the drive and inspiration that keeps me engrossed in my work, transporting me to that blissful place of such total absorption and concentration in which hours can fly by like minutes.
Not that my work was going badly. My routine of drawing, painting, and finding ways to market what I created kept me busy. Art shows were scheduled, painting commissions were contracted and my work continued to chug along the usual course. I relied on my dependable network of family, friends and collaborators to keep me on course. Still, there were unrealized dreams that haunted me.
I felt a longing to work in clay as I had, on and off, for the past 15 years. Working at the pottery wheel grounded me as nothing else could. I dreamed of my own pottery studio. My other yearning was to write and illustrate stories. This desire had been in my heart for over a decade, but I had not yet followed that path.
These dreams seemed lofty and unreachable at first. My inner critic, The Discourager, whispered all the reasons why it wouldn’t work: “How can you find time to improve your skills when you have so far to go? Why would you even think you have enough talent and determination? Are you smart enough? Why not stay in your comfortable niche?” The Discourager knows my weaknesses and secret failings as no one else does.
I knew I had to silence this inner voice every time it spoke if I were to forge ahead. Sustaining creativity is not an easy process. It comes from courageous exploration of unknown territory.
The familiar labour pains and yearnings were hints that change was coming. I sensed that if I could ride out this earthquake of the soul, I would settle into a higher plateau. From my years of teaching art, I knew that almost everyone who leaps off the cliff into the realm of creative expression feels discomfort, self-doubt and fear. Did I really want to disturb my routine and take on the intensive learning and practice necessary to achieve new goals?
To maintain the vital creative force that enriches my life, I knew that I must step off the familiar path into the thorny thicket of the unknown. Uncertainty and fear are part of the proceeding, prodding me into using unfamiliar tools and accepting new ways of thinking. My life has been one of learning to listen and give credence to signs that mean change is coming. My destiny is to accept, even welcome, upheaval and be patient with the process instead of fearful of the future.
From 25 years of encouraging people to get in touch with their creative impulses, I knew what I needed. Trusting my intuition was an important element of success. Conversations with my wise women friends were also key, and would provide me encouragement and the strength to gather my wits for another leap forward.
My mind seems most creative and fearless as I drop off to sleep or as I awaken. Ideas come to me when I’m unguarded—between the waking and sleeping world—as I dip down into the sea of unconsciousness. This realm is a fertile area of accepting reverie; thoughts drift by and seem to develop all by themselves into plans. I took advantage of this, and kept a note pad by my bedside to scribble down images and thoughts as I awakened.
I worked with my life coach and trusted friends, talking about my ideas and firming up my goals. As I stepped through the processes, my ailments were lifted and my sleep much improved. In fact, the more attention I paid to the tasks at hand, the better I felt.
If you are similarly looking to sustain inspiration or renew creativity, here are some concrete steps that have been helpful to me:
- As you form your goals, allow yourself to think big.
- Keep a notebook by your bed for thoughts that come to you during dreams.
- Meditate by solitary walking, yoga, or just being alone. Get outdoors!
- Make drawings or paintings for powerful imagery to carry you forward.
- Visualize, in daydreams or writing, what your idea would look like fully realized.
- Pursue allies. Schedule regular meetings with trusted people—a life coach, a therapist or your best friends. If you meet with friends, make a pact to “trade time” to work on obstacles to your goals. Start with the framework: “If it weren’t for (list specific obstacles) I would (name your dream, no matter how absurdly out of reach).” Brainstorm solutions to these obstacles. List all solutions no matter how humorous or weird.
- Form affirmations specific to your ideas. Ask for exactly what you want. Write them down and read them aloud each day. Revise and polish as needed.
- Take action. Honour your desires by placing specific goals high on your “To Do” list. Take concrete steps, however small, towards realization. You may not make steady gains. Instead of regular progression, your style may be like mine: gathering energy and courage for the periodic leap forward.
- Expect your inner critic or harsh judge to make the occasional appearance; however, don’t allow this spoilsport to pour shame or discouragement upon you. Destructive thoughts have withered many a good idea. Say “Stop!” to negativity and move on.
Once your goals are established, be steadfast. I had to be ruthless budgeting my time, giving up leisurely lunches or whiling away entire mornings with crossword puzzles and magazines. Creativity is a demanding goddess. Determine when you’re most alert and preserve that time to work on your goals.
It’s been nearly two years since I first voiced my desires and made a vow to fulfill them. Whatever the adjustments and sacrifices, the value and satisfaction I’ve gained have been well worth it. I’m now walking six miles a week—an activity denied to me by pain two years ago. I happily work in the pottery room added to my studio last summer. And I’ve written and illustrated a fairy tale, The Berry Fairies of Alaska.
When I’m discouraged, I remind myself that great things never come easily; there will always be chasms to cross. It helps me to remember that I’m not alone. I read about other creative people—artists, actors, novelists, poets—who have faced stumbling blocks of discouragement and found ways to overcome them.
We are smarter, more creative and more courageous than we realize. The world needs, as never before, fresh ideas and creative solutions. We can all be a part of those solutions and find fulfillment at the same time. Start now!