Demystifying what it means to be creative.
How self-compassion could be your new best friend.
One of the greatest misconceptions we have of what it means to be “creative” is that we need to be erratic messes who spend more hours drinking bourbon than sleeping.
The myth of the Bukowski’esque individual lost in a sea of his own suffering desperately creating masterpieces to stay afloat is equal parts romantic and equals part depressing. Yet this myth has now become an embedded belief that many archetypal creatives hold — that their suffering is their greatest source of inspiration.
And to a certain extent, this is true. Suffering is contained in all aspects of our life and, therefore, can be a wellspring of inspiration. But as much as it can inspire us to move and create, it can inhibit us from moving at all.
Suffering is everywhere. We suffer when we don’t get what we want or when our coffee is too cold. We suffer when we’re running late to a meeting, we suffer when we lose 1000 “fake” Instagram followers and we suffer when we are criticised. Suffering is a part of the shared human experience, so it’s only natural we would suffer through our work, “creative” or not.
“Self-esteem is present when we succeed. Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly when we fail.” — Kristen Neff
But we have a choice as to how we interpret and relate to this suffering. A way to not allow the suffering to turn into a crisis or worse yet something that completely derails our lives and torments our mental health and wellbeing. We can channel the suffering into our work and allow it to motivate us to create, through the practice of self-compassion.
Self-compassion is a way of befriending ourselves.
This is a foreign concept for many of us. We tend to beat ourselves up with the hard and well worn stick known as ‘expectation’. The expectation to create innovative, beautiful, meaningful, well-received ideas is largely created by ourselves. Sure, there’s the pressure of clients, stakeholders, bosses — but the harshest judgements tend to arise from our own minds.
Take a moment and reflect:
When you look in the mirror as you awake. What’s the first thing you see? What does your mind tend to incline itself to? Is the narrative “Shit, I look good today, my eyes are poppin!” or is it something along the lines of “I wish my skin was better” “My nose is so big” “If i lose a few pounds here..”
I’m going to take a guess, it’s the latter. Why? One reason may be due to the psychological phenomenon known as ‘negativity bias’ or the tendency to focus more attention on what could go wrong in the present, in the future and, at times, what went wrong in the past.
From an evolutionary perspective, this makes a lot of sense — we needed to respond quickly to internal and external threats. But for many of us, we don’t have the problems our cave man ancestors did. We don’t need to keep an eye out of sabre tooth tigers or figure out how we’ll survive winter. These days our worries stem from belief we need to constantly do and be better than everyone else, especially the person we think we need to be.
With this worry comes our judgements. “I should be doing more!” “I’m going to hustle my way through this!” “Why can’t I just get this right?”
“Rather than wandering around in problem-solving mode all day, thinking mainly of what you want to fix about yourself or your life, you can pause for a few moments throughout the day to marvel at what’s not broken.” Kristen Neff
Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of where we perceive inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Teacher and researcher in the field of self-compassion, Kristin Neff expresses self-compassion as being composed of three main parts: “self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.”
This is our capacity to be gentle with ourselves. Our ability to understanding and non-critical of our experience when life doesn’t go out way or our capacities fall short of our expectations. When we can begin to relate to our human experience of life with greater empathy and softness, we naturally cultivate greater emotional equanimity. Our capacity to meet each moment and it’s challenges with greater resolve and balance.
The understanding that we are human, surprisingly is lost on many of us from time to time. What does it mean to be human? It means to be perfectly imperfect and constant work in progress and an experience that is not impervious to suffering. Reflecting on how human we are is critical to our lives when we consider we are of the nature to all experience moments of confusion, judgement and things going wrong. All of us. Greater ease and clarity comes to us with this simple but profound understanding.
What mindfulness teaches us first of all is that our attention can be trained on the present moment. The present moment isn’t always rosey and peaceful, but not surprisingly, the present moment is where life actually occurs. When we are mindful we are able to contain all the positive and negative thoughts that we experience through out the course of our lives without numbing them or denying them. We can begin to see them for what they are. A transit object, one that comes by and leaves just as quickly.
With the practice of meditation we cultivate the stability of our mind and the openness of our heart in order to meet our lives with a greater sense of calm resilience. We treat ourselves like we would our best friend — with encouragement patience and understanding.
Self-compassion not only cultivates a greater sense of wellbeing but also drastically effects our power to tap into our intrinsic creativity.