When forms ask for my religion I write “creative expression and kindness.”
Which always makes harried receptionists smile.
But my response is thoughtful, not sarcastic.
Kindness is obvious. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
Creative expression is a different kind of holy. It’s about caring for our own spirit.
One night in my early 30’s I found myself in a hotel room in London so sick and feverish that I could not move. Couldn’t get to the bathroom for water. Couldn’t lift the phone to call down to the front desk. This wasn’t flu sick, this was scary high-fever, delirious sick.
As I lay in the twin bed, my pajamas soaked through in sweat, I started praying with the only part of a prayer I could remember from a childhood without much religious education, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
In my haze I had this epiphany, “Oh, the Spirit is me. I’m praying for my own spirit for help. Not those just other Gods.”
The next morning, I was fine. It was weird. After such a fever I thought I’d be sick for a couple more days. Or at least be exhausted that morning. Nope. Rested, ready to go to work.
That’s when I started to believe in this spirit of mine, and began to explore ways to get to know it better.
The spirit knows
A definition of religion is a “belief in a superhuman power.” For me, my spirit is my superhuman power. It’s not rational and logical like my brain. Yet it gives me pleasure, heals hurts and helps me figure things out in a way my analytical brain cannot.
The way I tap into that spirit is doing creative things and expressing myself creatively — writing, art, dance, improv, storytelling slams, cooking. And from these small practices I’ve noticed that:
Writing helps us understand.
Art helps us see.
Dance and music help us feel.
Just slam the words down
When I was living temporarily with my mother as she was dying I wrote a blog post every day to stay sane and track what was happening. I’d share the daily updates — some hilarious, some so sad — with family and friends to keep them posted. I read them aloud to my mother at night, which opened up beautiful conversations.
During a difficult time in my marriage I took the advice of my writing teacher Ann Randolph: “dare to bare,” and wrote about the time my husband had to give me an enema.
Oh boy, did I bare all. In the writing I saw love in a new way. And I realized how my husband’s kindness and selflessness was something uncommon and to be grateful for.
People often tell me they want to write a book about their life. Most don’t really want to do the work to publish a book. They just need to write down their stories for themselves. To understand what the heck happened.
Slam down the words. Even just for 10 minutes. That’s all you need.
If you have a good, nonjudgmental friend, ask him or her to listen to you read your words aloud. Speaking what we write is a way to honor what’s in the words, and often remove some shackles. For me, that can be more rewarding than publishing a book.
A peek into our subconscious
Visual expression opens other channels, giving us a peek into patterns and subconscious thoughts, much as some people find in dreams.
I take photos of things that capture my attention. Sometimes I mash up photos in collages. Other times I doodle. I always bring hundreds of postcards to my work with executives to give them a more accessible language to express where their organization is stuck and what they want to be able to do.
Every once in a while, I look at my images and wonder what they’re telling me, what they need from me. Some years the woods call me. This year I’ve noticed photos of gates, windows and doorways. Time for new possibilities and things to explore and learn?
But my favorite form of creative expression is dancing. This is from a woman who had been relentlessly teased by family for dancing like a spaz, totally uncoordinated and unable to follow dance steps.
On Sunday mornings I do Journey Dance, which is a form of ecstatic dance. (Our group reverently calls it Church Dance.) No rules or dance steps. Just great music and dancing to your own groove.
Some mornings my dancing looks more like skipping, twirling, or arms wide open welcoming the world like the opening scene of Maria in “The Sound of Music.”
I often find myself unexpectedly laughing. This past Sunday tears just crept up and I wept. I am not the type to cry in front of people, even family. We New Englanders are adept at keeping that emotional stuff tamped down. But the sadness and anxiety that is very real in my life right now needed a place to show up.
The music was Seal singing “Both Sides Now” at Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday special. Turn that up loud, close your eyes, and sway. Oh, my loving soul.
Creative expression = spirit guidance
Creative expression in all its assorted forms helps us heal, understand and find pleasure in our lives. It is a great gift accessible to all of us, all the time.
We are all creative.
Full of grace.
I wish you the courage to express you to you.
This year I have the great, great pleasure of designing a program and practices around creative expression for the Antacara experience, to be held in Southern France.