What does creativity have to do with the body, anyway?
One of my mantras is ‘Creative energy is physical energy.’ I find myself saying this a lot in the workshops I teach, and occasionally to myself when I get very stuck.
Often I see creatives who are burnt out, yet upset at themselves for ‘not having enough inspiration’ to make new work. When they talk about their creative block, they are visibly exhausted. Their shoulders are slumped. If I let them sit in a quiet room for a few minutes, they look like they might actually go to sleep.
Yet they are paying no heed to their physical state - they insist that they’re being ‘lazy’ or ‘unproductive’ when they can’t write a novel or put together their new album.
We’re often taught from a very young age to separate ‘mental’ tasks from ‘physical’ tasks. You do your writing at a desk, and your running on the field. You don’t mix the physical and mental experience.
We’re also taught to expect high mental productivity, without any attention to our body’s energy levels. That is, we see exhaustion as a merely physical experience, not a mental one.
But exhaustion is both mental and physical. When we push our body or mind beyond its limits, we get burnout.
Creativity requires us to recharge our batteries regularly. This means giving our bodies room and time to re-fuel. But sleep and food aren’t the only things we need. We also need to recharge our soul by doing things we love, or by being around people who fill us with joy.
I don’t care what you’ve heard - joyous activity of any kind is not wasted time! Having fun gives us more energy.
Try this: think of something that you really, really love doing. Maybe it’s painting, or gardening, or spending time with your friend’s dog (let’s face it, dogs are amazing). I personally love reading about ancient mythology. Don’t know why. I just love it.
Imagine that you’re about to go and do your favourite thing. How does your body feel?
Now think about something you hate doing. Maybe it’s the washing up, or maybe it’s your tax return. Imagine doing your least favourite thing. How does your body feel now?
Most likely, you feel energised by doing something you enjoy, and drained by the thought of doing something you hate.
That’s a physical reaction happening in your body. It’s not rocket science - that’s how we’re supposed to work. Body and mind together.
Okay… but what if creativity itself seems to be the problem? What if coming to your creative practice - be that writing, painting, or whatever - fills you with dread and drains your energy away?
The simplest way of describing this situation is: the fun has gone out of making your art.
As soon as the fun goes out of it, your body slumps. Your energy level drops. Occasionally - especially if creative anxiety is the culprit - you might feel stressed out, and your thoughts might flee away to any other kind of task. Writers who spend their writing time scrolling on Facebook - I’m looking at you.
There is no simple one-size-fits-all solution to the creativity slump. But the body can often give us the clues to the puzzle. We can learn to re-connect with the body through various means - posture exercises, body-centred meditation, yoga, even dance.
When we bring the physical experience into the picture, we can quickly isolate the things that excite us, drain us, scare us, or irritate us. This kind of information is deeply valuable for getting out of creative blocks.
Like I said, I can’t give you a quick fix for your creative slump. (I’ll be writing more about different causes of creative blocks as time goes on.) But I can definitely give you a good place to start.
First, you might find it helpful do a body scan meditation. If you don’t know how to do one, you can find a good one here - or search ‘body scan meditation’ on YouTube until you find one that you like.
Then, think about something about your art that excites you. Maybe it’s something you’ve made that you’re proud of. Maybe it’s a work of art (painting, poem, song) by your favourite creative artist. Maybe it’s an idea that you have. Maybe it’s the process of making it.
Locate the excitement in your body. Is it in your chest? In your belly? How does it feel? Does it tingle? Is it warm? Is it static, or does it play? Does it stay in the same place, or does it travel? Let it fill your body as much as it can.
And then, just be with it.
Don’t rush off to make something right away. Don’t fall prey to our productivity-driven culture where you always have to deliver.
Just be with the part of your creative practice that fills you with joy. Let it recharge you. And then ask: what does it need?
Maybe it needs time. Maybe it needs a walk. Maybe it needs a nap!
Let your creative spark lead you, instead of driving it to some pre-determined point.
After all, we don’t make art because we’re cogs in a machine, stamping out results. We make art because it sustains us.
And that’s what it’s all about.