Creativity as Relationship

Dwarf Crested Iris by Stephanie Thomas Berry, a pastel

There are different kinds of creative practice. 

There is the technical practice of one’s craft—the time spent becoming more and more proficient, building skill and developing mastery. This is important and necessary. It requires vulnerability and a willingness to see our flaws and our strengths. And it demands we lean harder into our flaws. We have to be rigorous and consistent in our work, to the best of our abilities. This requires self-discipline and vision and a sort of courageous ruthlessness. 

But this is not the kind of creative practice I am talking about. 

The practice that requires our spiritual rigor is the practice of creative relationship. We must know what feeds us, and develop a deep and committed relationship with whatever that might be. What might feed you? What fascinates you, pulls you into unknown territory? What calls to your spirit with a power that makes it painful to not answer? Or perhaps you’re still yet in the fog of your own desire, and that thing that calls to your soul is unclear, shrouded in mist? The body is your compass. There is a breadcrumb trail into your wilderness, and it requires only that we keep picking up the crumbs, following the scent until our path is clear.

Once on the path, our devoted attention is our first offering of gratitude for that relationship. We build upon our commitment with our time, humility, and our willingness to serve. This relationship becomes a living thing; it brings us into a state of expansiveness and wonder. Conversely it can leave us confused, even despairing, if we neglect it. The solution then is to return to the path, and find our way back in.

My own creative practice is fed primarily by two relationships: my relationship with the natural world– perhaps more specifically, the intimate landscape around my home; and my relationship with the dream world. 

To be in relationship with the natural world seems almost a creative trope. Who isn’t nourished and inspired by an oak tree crowned in splendorous green, or a hawk wheeling overhead? But there is a particular quality to a creative-spiritual relationship, It is the work of intentionally  activating one’s inner world, and moving deep into that aspect of ourselves. So when I am absorbed in the work of sketching a trillium, I am weaving my inner world to that of the flower before me. It is an act not just of reverence, but of true worship, where one becomes the other. I take the flower into myself, or perhaps she allows me into herself. Or maybe even it is an opening, a shared space we both inhabit. Trope or not, it is transcendent. 

I walk the same trail nearly every day. I know this trail in a way that is hard to put into words. Certain places have different resonances. One place is a wellspring—I have been gifted countless creative visions and stories in this one place—too many to count. I can say with certainty that the land speaks to us, and not in the language of science. We are far removed from the intimacy with the land that our ancestors had, but we can be sure they knew this in a way that we have forgotten. The old stories make this plain. A rebuilding of that level of relationship is the sort of thing I’m talking about. It is not objective, it is deeply subjective, intimate, and complex.

My practice of dreamwork, my relationship with the Dream-maker, is the other foundational relationship of my creative practice. I write down my dreams in their own notebook; I title them, and if I have time, I journal about them, exploring associations with waking life, the emotional fabric of the dream, and whatever else might tumble onto the page from my pen. 

Dreams are an entirely different realm; they are slippery, elusive as salamanders, slippery in a riverbed. But the potency of the dream cannot be underestimated. If we are journeying deep into the inner world, there is no more reliable trail than that of our dreams, and no more fascinating study.

But what does it mean, exactly, to be in relationship with dreaming? Besides the commitment of recording and studying dreams, there is the need to honor the dream, to acknowledge that its value is always greater than we might esteem, to approach it with reverence and humility, and perhaps most importantly, to accept the dreamworld as potent and real. 

This last assertion—that the dreamworld is real—seems almost laughable when examined against the constraints of our logical, scientific paradigm. We are comfortable with the idea of archetypes as an intellectual construct. But when they show up in our dreams its as if we’ve been struck by a bolt of lightning. That’s the kind of real that I mean. The dreamworld is real because it has its own realm, a potency and landscape that is not just woven through our waking world, but is the primary source from which our own world arises. This is what indigenous dreaming cultures have asserted, and what my own dreams have made clear to me. To be in relationship with that world is to experience a proximity to wholeness that is of singular importance.

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