Creativity; An Unexpected Virtue
Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, July 9, 2021. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.
A few years back, I listened to Brené Brown’s audiobook, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” In this thoughtful and inspiring book, Brown offers what she calls “Ten Guideposts to Wholehearted Living.” As I listened to her explain the wisdom behind each point, I realized that there was one guidepost in particular that I not only didn’t practice, but it also terrified me: Creativity!
I’m guessing that this fear came from childhood experiences when other kids laughed at my artwork. Even though I laughed at theirs, it was different when they laughed at mine. Somehow, it seemed like my artwork deserved it; I deserved it. Maybe my fear of creativity came from my adolescence days when I boasted that my bass guitar playing skills were tight. Then, one day, I was invited to play with others. The gig was up! And well, honestly after that point, I was too afraid (though I wouldn’t have admitted it then) to engage in anything creative that I didn’t already know how to do. The fear of failure and being judged was paralyzing.
But that Brené Brown, she is influential. She challenged me and I’m grateful that she did. I have developed some healthy and beneficial assets by taking the vulnerable plunge into creativity.
Our fears about doing anything creative are often reinforced by the obsession to compare ourselves with others. The perceived humiliation of being inferior prevents us from trying anything creative. It’s as if we won’t try something new unless we already know how to do it.
I would often say something to the effect of, “I don’t want to look stupid!” “I couldn’t possibly paint like that.” “I can’t dance in front of people” (unless I was drunk). Consumed by the fear of my creative work being judged and criticized prevented me from even trying. But the fear of the criticism really wasn’t about the creativity. It was as if the criticism reflected my failure as a human. I didn’t need any more evidence.
The only way that I have found to overcome these paralyzing fears brought about by comparison, is to face them – to become vulnerable. Ugh.
Inspired by Brené Brown and my dear friend Katherine, I started painting rocks. In the beginning, the inner voices of negativity, self-judgment, and embarrassment were loud! To get started I bought a few books on how to paint mandala designs on rocks. Katherine gave me one of her masterpieces. There I was, comparing myself to a professional who literally writes “how to” books and another person with a practiced ability to produce something visually appealing, if not captivating. As I looked at my first attempts, they seemed childishly sloppy. I felt ashamed. I wanted to stop. Initially, I was hesitant to show my painted disasters to my always supportive sweetest partner.
Being mindful of the fact that I was engaging in self-sabotaging comparison, I did my best to let go of the thoughts and I persisted. I eventually felt pretty darn good about some of my painted rocks. I recall finishing many of my masterpieces with a gratifying sense of accomplishment. Though I could see the mistakes, I know that I did my best. I wasn’t embarrassed by them. Along with some home-made canned dill pickles using my aunt’s recipe, all my family members got a painted mandala rock for Christmas that year. Other than pickles, cookies, and yummy treats, I’m confident that that this was the first time that I “made” gifts – for anyone. I started to see why Dr. Brown advocates for creativity.
After the rocks, I gave guitar playing another go. I got better. Then a camera materialized into my possession. I’d always wanted a decent camera to photograph our incredibly diverse shared environment.
When I first started out in photography, I felt that familiar sense of shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. I had no idea what I was doing, and it was apparent. Regardless, I persisted. It was here where I discovered the unexpected virtue of creativity.
As Brené Brown points out, creativity breaks down our destructive obsession with comparison. Developing the courage to be vulnerable with our creativity transforms humiliation into humility. Instead of being the slave to perfectionism, we develop the capacity to embrace our imperfection. We become human. But there is more.
I have discovered that engaging in bird photography deeply enhances my Mindfulness practice and my Mindfulness practice further develops my photography skills. As it is also true with a meaningful life, bird photography requires focus, patience, and stillness. The more time I spend in the field with my camera, the more these healthy and beneficial qualities grow and expand in all that I do.
I have found that creative outlets such as painting rocks, playing the guitar, and bird photography foster a sense of interest and curiosity which nurture an attentive awareness. These are the same attributes that a Mindfulness practice helps one to develop. Creativity and Mindfulness work together, hand in hand, to help one live a “Wholehearted Life” – a meaningful and purposeful life.
My fear of failure, for the most part, is nonexistent. My long-lived and well-practiced insecurity, reduced. My preoccupation with perfection is pretty much absent. And my obsession with comparing myself to others is greatly diminished. Yes, I still find myself looking at the work of professional photographers and yes, sometimes thoughts of inferiority arise. Nevertheless, I am quickly able to let those figments of irrational thought go. Those kinds of thoughts don’t benefit my life. Creativity does.
So, what creative outlet is calling your name?
You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!
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