On Creativity and Suffering

The dynamics of every living thing

Today a video about creativity featuring David Lynch came across my Facebook newsfeed. It immediately drew me into a gorgeous odyssey and then pushed my argumentative button about halfway through.

First, the gorgeous part: Lynch’s apt explanation of where ideas originate. He says they exist in the world and if we want one for ourselves, we can fish for it through meditation, daydreaming, and embodying an exploratory stance in our daily lives. There are no original ideas, just ones that have yet to come into contact with us. Agreed and beautifully put.

But, Lynch lost me when he suggested suffering cramps creative flow. I whole-heartedly disagree.

Suffering is part and parcel to the natural flow of every created being. It can’t be separated from joy. Those are the twin dynamics underlying creation and growth: suffering and joy, crisis and victory.

Now, I don’t believe that people inclined towards creativity should force suffering upon themselves. Suffering is not a mantle. We don’t pick it up at Urban Outfitters and wear it to prove our creative street cred, despite what we see in our culture’s artist archetypes.

However, when we happen upon suffering in the natural course of our lives — and if we’re paying attention, we’ll acknowledge that this occurs regularly — it can lend a powerful influence to our creativity.

Let’s not forget where most organic creations begin: plants start as seeds thrust into dark soil, human beings emerge into the world attended by screams, groans, and cries. And many of us in the United States use the harsh darkness of winter to seed new ideas — in the form of resolutions — that set the tone for the coming year.

Beautiful, pleasurable things happen in the dark.

The secret is vowing to engage the darkness, the tests, the suffering to see what kind of growth they have in mind for us, with curiosity about what new creations (of mind, heart, spirit and art) they portend.

(I must add, as my coda, that to believe that suffering cramps creative flow is a white male luxury. Women and people of color all know suffering and there are examples galore related not only to creative works, but entire art forms, that grew out of suffering. I would also be remiss if I didn’t suggest that luxury is an erroneous term. Suffering doesn’t cramp creative flow, avoiding suffering does. Ultimately, it’s a gift.)

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