I’m re-running this post with my musings on pain and creativity because it’s been a popular one that many people have connected with… (originally posted May 25, 2010):
Life is always happening. Pain and pleasure and heartbreak and happiness fluctuate for all of us in a never-ending cycle. Don’t allow the difficult times to take away your creative spark. Keeping your muse in your life during periods of emotional and physical pain helps you stay grounded and brings a positive note into a dark time.
I’ve been having a rough month. It started with a visit to my father, who has early-onset dementia that has now progressed to the latter stages. I wanted to ensure I’d see him at least once more before he forgets who I am.
My month has continued with a benign cyst on my head that’s become infected and excruciatingly painful. After toughing it out for a week, I’ve finally accepted the obvious truth that it won’t magically disappear and I’m having minor surgery to have it removed later today.
I’ll never regret the visit to my father, but, of course, it’s painful to see my once-brilliant scientist dad struggling to make mental connections and speaking nonsensically. The trip also brought up emotional pain over the difficult relationship I had with him, now that he no longer exists as that person.
My physical pain seems easier to endure, except for the fact that it makes thinking, working, writing, creating—and even washing my hair—much more difficult. This may become worse before it gets better, after my scalp meets a scalpel this afternoon (ouch!).
But, though intense for me now, these events don’t come close to being the worst physical or emotional pain I’ve felt. We all endure pain in many forms throughout our lives. And, as I experience this rough patch, I find myself remembering yet again the importance of remaining creative through the bad times.
Because if I let go of one of the things that gives me the most pleasure in my life—the creativity that makes me who I am—then I make a bad period even worse.
So I’m offering some ideas for staying creative through painful periods in your life:
Accept the pain. Pain is part of life. We all experience both physical and emotional pain. Not accepting this leads to more suffering because your angst about being in pain adds an additional layer of emotional pain to what you’re already experiencing. And the energy you use being upset, angry, discouraged, etc., about your pain could be used instead for healing and creativity.
Dial down your goals. During a difficult period, you may not be able to spend the amount of time or energy on creative pursuits that you normally do, or that you feel you should. This is okay. Try to write for just 15 minutes. Or even 5 minutes. Anything you do will give your muse some creative juice.
But don’t abandon your creative life. If you put off creativity every time life gets hard, you will only live half a creative life. Creativity adds a positive note to your days when things are tough. Don’t let it be a casualty of your pain.
Show yourself compassion. Don’t add to your suffering by beating yourself up for not sticking to your creative goals. Forget about your creative performance for the last day/week/month/year. Today is all that matters. Just perform a small creative act today.
Write about your pain. Writing about your emotional or physical pain can help with healing or can just lead to some fantastic writing when you dig deep into your suffering and allow it to exist on the page. Try writing a journal entry, an essay, a fictional piece or a poem about your experience.
Don’t write about your pain. Sometimes writing about something completely unrelated to your life is the best way to let go of your pain and embrace your creativity. Try writing a fantasy/sci-fi story or writing about characters whose lives engage you.
Do something completely different. If writing is your primary creative outlet, try making something from clay, gardening, knitting, singing…whatever inspires you. Sometimes life difficulties lead us down new paths, either for the moment or for the long haul.