Want to recover creative flow? Adapt a service mentality.
“It is not what we create, but where we create from that matters.”
These words plunked down on my head during a time of immense creative frustration. I had lost my Self somewhere along the paved road to professional progress. I had traded in contemplation for constant output, sacrificed my sanity for success, and unconsciously placed a great deal of my self-worth in the slippery hands of social media. Essentially, I was writing to keep up.
This is not an unfamiliar experience for many modern creatives. The spiral starts when we begin comparing ourselves to others—feeling a painful sense of lack, questioning our own voice and worthiness. Questioning if we have anything of value to put out into the world. Then questioning if what we do have is good enough. An exhausting and constrictive path.
If we aren’t careful, this voice will trick us into staying small. In a global study done by Adobe on creativity, only one in four people believe they are living up to their creative potential. So how can the rest of us move from constriction to a place of creative freedom? How can we begin to live up to our creative potential? Many spiritual traditions tell us that in times of distress we need to shift our focus—to widen our field of vision, to stop obsessing about ourselves—and move into a place of service.
In The Book of Joy, his collaborative venture with the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu argued that we are wired to serve: “We shrivel when we are not able to interact. …We depend on the other in order for us to be fully who we are.”
When we move into service, the heart becomes more open and conductive.
Possibilities emerge. This holds true for our creative selves too.
During a recent interview I was asked the question, “How can we bring more spirituality into our creative pursuits?” I suggested starting with one simple question. Ask yourself, again and again: How can my creativity be in service to something other or greater than myself?
This doesn’t have to mean God or a divine entity. It could be. But it doesn’t have to. Your dance could be in service to a dragonfly. Your music could be in service to the human capacity to feel. Your writing could be in service to your grandmother or the rights of women. Your painting could be in service to the way the light hits the surface of the water at a particular time of day.
How can my creativity be in service to something other or greater than myself? When you ask yourself this question you move into a naturally curious and spiritual place. You contact the yearning within to connect and contribute rather than compare and conquer. You move closer to the wise voice within that knows you have something to offer, and that it is enough. You create from a different place with a different purpose. You create in service to something Other, and this pulls you into expansion.
The beloved poet Mary Oliver posed a radical question during a rare interview. She asked, “What does it mean that the Earth is so beautiful, and what shall I do about it?” Her question implies a sense of responsibility. A responsibility she felt towards serving the beauty of Earth through her poetry. Provoking reverence was her activism. Through her words, we come to revere Earth. Once revered, we can no longer see Earth as an object or commodity to consume. We become her advocate. We have felt her holiness in our body.
Holiness is expansive. It moves us beyond ourselves into a larger mystery. We stop and become aware of our place within a delicate network. We move from producer to participant. We begin to experience that we are not creating alone, that the world around us is creating all the time, that creation is holy, and we (by our creative expression) weave ourselves into this holiness. That is what matters.
That is enough. More than enough. It is transformative. And awakening. And terrifying. And jolting. Whatever is created is simply an offering, a byproduct of a deeply sacred process and meaningful act of service.
When we begin to think of creativity as an invitation to participate rather than a demand to produce, we take an expansive step towards our own creative flight and freedom.
Our gaze has shifted. Now we watch with wonder the natural propensity of the creative heart to participate and serve through artistic expression.