He sat across from me in the booth, tucked in the far end of the diner. He pushed his salad around with his fork as he spoke, keeping his gaze from meeting mine.
“I wake up, and it starts. I’m pretty good about getting going and getting busy before it really lands. When I get in my car and head to work, though, it catches up to me. Driving is the worst. When I get to work, I get a little break from it. Focusing on meeting deadlines and my clients’ needs helps a lot. I try to come home tired so that all I want to do is go to sleep and escape.”
Can you guess what my client (let’s call him Sam) is trying to outrun each day?
Approximately 40 million Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Certainly, there are numerous causes for anxiety, and there are no simplistic or formulaic ways to explain same. Each person’s experience is his or her own. What I can say definitively is that I am seeing more and more clients coming to me with the same kind of anxiety Sam described: Anxiety that can be traced directly to not expressing one’s innate, immense creativity.
Dr. Martha Beck has a great expression with regard to how to best help someone who is in pain. As Martha explains, if someone comes to your door with an arrow lodged in their body, you don’t ask a bunch of questions about how it got there. Instead, you go about the business of removing it as quickly as possible.
The same is true with a client who is in emotional pain; in this case, Sam is nervous, anxious, and antsy because he has disengaged from his creativity. It’s really not important to trace the root cause of why it happened, but rather go about the work of getting his creative expression back online, stat.
And doing that requires my leading Sam back to his childhood and getting a sense of his play history. That is, what did Sam do as a child or young adult that gave him the greatest joy, feelings of freedom and adventure, as well as long, uninterrupted states of being in flow (losing track of time while getting lost in a favorite pastime)?
Often when I begin prodding clients to think back on their play history, they will tell me something along these lines:
“Gosh, I haven’t thought about doing “x” for years! I used to love doing “x”! I can’t even remember why I stopped ….”
Or, “When I was in college, my parents told me I needed to get serious and pursue a degree in something that would support me. So, I stopped my work (in the theatre, in music, in art, in writing, etc.).”
Or, “Well, when the kids came along, there just wasn’t any time anymore for those kinds of things. When they got older, I never got back in the habit of doing “x.”
At some point, life, a person, or a situation intervened, and he or she gave up the activity that gave him or her the unique opportunity to express the very depths of his or her soul. That is, a part of them died.
That death is not simply the absence of the joyful pursuit of being immersed in creative expression.
In fact, the withered part of their soul does not lay dormant. Rather, it becomes toxic and metastisizes throughout the soul, devouring well being (the delicious sense of being seen and heard), and replacing it with repressed, tightly-corked energy that rots and eventually pushes to the fore as anxiety.
This is not a simple “use it or lose it” parable. This is much stronger: use it or suffer.
Take heart. This is simple (maybe not easy) to address.
When you reflect upon the kinds of creative pursuits you once had, include all of the ways you used to engage in imaginative play, following your curiosity with a light and unburdened heart. What were you doing? Where were you? Were you alone, or if in company, who was with you?
Select one of the ways you used to play and mark a date in your calendar this week, to return to it. Julia Cameron calls this an “Artist’s Date,” and these precious dates with yourself (no one else is invited on these) are 2-3 hours spent engaging in activities that lift your spirits, free your mind, open your heart, and make your soul laugh out loud.
They do not need to be complicated, expensive, or Instagram worthy! You decide what activity you want to reconnect with and then, go off and indulge. Each week (notice I did not say each quarter or each year!), schedule an Artist Date and take yourself on a mini, joyful adventure.
When I first began reconnecting with my playful heart, Artist Dates were sweet rain on parched earth. Like a desert landscape after a soaking rain, color began blooming immediately in all areas of my life.
Artist Dates energized me, while simultaneously settled my mind. They helped to seed my thoughts with a great deal more of “What if?” thinking. I began trying more and more daring pursuits with relaxed shoulders and opened up to a multitude of chance encounters and synchronicities.
The Universe loves to play right along with you!
That gnawing knowing inside of you is telling you something. Your racing pulse and anxious mind are indicators that it is time to course correct. Happily, your creativity is right where you left it, months or years ago. Saunter over and reintroduce yourself.
Crouch down in wonder again. Get it wrong. Change up your routine. Put yourself in a brand new environment. Travel solo. Let yourself hear yourself think. Fill your well with color, dance, song, expression, line, movement, music.
Once you begin reclaiming your innate creativity, be on the lookout for Magic in all forms to show up in your life. And, you will breathe and move and live with a softness you may not have known for years.