I find it rather amazing that something as beautiful and transformative as self-expression can also be a point of immense insecurity for a lot of us. One would think that the inherent human desire to create would have some sort of defense system in place that would keep this kind of self-sabotage at bay. Creativity is, after all, the only reason we are even here. If it wasn’t for our primordial desire to create life (sexual energy), coupled with the ability to learn and later teach (cognition), you wouldn’t even be reading these words right now. How is it that this miraculous gift has turned against itself and become a source of fear instead of power?
In my own personal journey to find my unique voice, I’ve come upon many obstacles that have threatened to hold me back. In the early stages of my life the obstacles were mainly authoritative. I let the limited beliefs of society stand in the way of my own intuitive feelings and so limited myself in acquiescence.
As I got older and gained some independence, I found myself limiting my true voice because of a desire to fit in and to be accepted. Even though I was among a particularly creative group of peers who were also looking to discover themselves, I still felt the need to follow the crowd and form to the collective mold.
When I became an adult and made the decision to remove myself from the all- consuming world of professionalism and instead pursue a life as a wandering artist, I came upon an entirely new set of limitations. I found myself faced with the necessity of survival and the cold hard truth about making a living off of ones art. Even though I was in a position to create and to express myself at any given moment, I was constantly being forced to make incredible sacrifices in order to enjoy that freedom.
Even when I finally caught a break and helped form the band of my dreams, I still found myself unable to express my true voice. This time it was because of my self-doubt and the need to compare myself with others. Even though I knew I had strengths that were mine alone and with them, was contributing to the whole, I couldn’t seem to stop focusing on my weaknesses.
With each of these confusing periods I was forced to make a choice. I could either allow myself to be consumed by the voices of limitation or I could find a way to silence them so that I could hear my own. This was a little bit easier when I was a kid because I was able to use the passionate fires of adolescence to burn off any unwanted distractions. I just placed anyone who didn’t agree with me in the category of “The Man” and used my natural sense of defiance to sustain me. But as I got older my resilience started to crumble and I needed to put in a lot more effort in order to stay on track.
I’m not going to sit here and say that the methods I have used to get “unstuck” were magical cures that forever greased the creative wheels. I don’t believe such a thing exists. Inspiration is like the breath, (In fact the word inspiration actually comes from the Latin word Inspirare, which means ‘the drawing in of breath’) it comes and it goes but it can never be captured or contained. Once we take it in we have to be prepared to release it when the work is complete. As artists, we have to learn to look at our commitment to making art like Mahatma Ghandi looked at his commitment to truth. We need to be committed to creativity, not consistency. We have to focus on the work in front of us and try not to worry about what is coming next.
So, with all this in mind, I would like to share some of the methods I have used to break free from the creative blocks I have experienced over the years. These suggestions are in no particular order and all serve to clear a little space for the presence of inspiration. Some may be more useful than others depending on your particular proclivities but I can say with confidence that each has its merit:
#1. Avoid the familiar and comfortable
When it comes to shaking things up and doing something new, I find that it is incredibly helpful to get away from familiar surroundings and influences. Travel is a great way to achieve this but if getting out of town is too tall of an order, just getting out of the house for a day or two can be helpful. Camping has always been a go to for me but even an overnight stay at a hotel or a friends house can serve to pull us out of our comfort zone and expose something fresh and new.
#2. Try something new
You can get as extreme as you like with this one. Maybe your idea of trying something new is skydiving or alligator wrestling or giving yourself a face tattoo (I have some experience with this one ;). Maybe it’s something simple like going to a concert you wouldn’t normally go see or attending an energy-healing workshop. What you choose to do isn’t nearly as important as the simple act of doing it. Just opening yourself to a different set of sensory input than you are used to can have a profound effect on the way your mind works and might even unlock some hidden ideas that you didn’t know you had.
#3 Seek silence and solitude
For me, this has been one of the most enjoyable methods of all. By taking some time away from the noise and distractions of the modern world, I have found it much easier to turn down the volume my thoughts and tune in to how I actually feel. Just by immersing ourselves in an environment of stillness and tranquility we are tapping into and aligning ourselves with that energy. This can serve to settle our nerves and allow a greater sense of space to draw ideas from.
#4 Adopt a new artistic practice
When my family and I first moved away from our support structure in Colorado and set up camp in North Carolina, a place where we had no friends or family or connections to draw from, the feeling of change was over-whelming. Everything felt so new and different and because of this, it seemed quite natural to try and express those feelings creatively. For me this came in the form of wood burning or “pyrography”. I had never in my life attempted this craft before but because I was already so far out of my comfort zone and had no external opinions to value or reject, I gave it a shot. At first, as you might expect, I was absolutely horrible at it. I couldn’t get the temperature right or make straight lines or even be consistent in my designs. But because no one was there to criticize me, I just kept at it until I started making progress. After a few months of practice I found my self totally consumed with inspiration and a drive to create. Pretty soon, this new found confidence in my artistic abilities started to flood back into my normal practices and boom, I was back in the flow. Because of this, I realized that inspiration has no borders and once it is discovered, it can be transferred into any direction you desire.
I have obviously already mentioned this in several other places through out my writing but I honestly don’t think I can express the importance of this practice enough. Meditation, for me, is kind of like all the other methods rolled into one. When I first decided to dedicate myself to a regular sitting routine and learned how to pay attention to the rhythm of my breath, I found myself able to deal with the confusion of life like I never could before. It was almost like a thin layer of covering was being removed from my eyes and was allowing me to see the world in a whole new way. I even started seeing into the deeper levels of my actions and was able to be more honest with myself about what I really wanted and how I wished for the world to see me. Because of this clarity, I was also able to focus on the natural evolution of my creativity instead of trying to squeeze myself into whatever boxes I had fit into in my past. Developing a dedicated practice of letting go and opening up allowed me to clear away so much of the unwanted junk that I had been storing in my heart and in turn, to use that space as a guesthouse for the temporary lodging of inspiration. (Shout out to Rumi for the guesthouse metaphor!)