the curse of the creative mind ~ and its hidden blessings

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There is a curse that seems to come with being a highly creative and sensitive person. If your life is fuelled by creativity then I bet you are familiar with its name: FEAR! If that doesn’t ring a bell it has many nick-names and especially likes to make itself known as Anxiety, Self-doubt and Panic. I wanted to write a personal blog post about this because Fear and I have been on a first-name basis for several years. In fact we know each other so well that Fear has introduced me to its special friend Depression on more than one occasion. Unlike Self-doubt and Panic, Depression isn’t fleeting. It is all-consuming. You don’t want to get to know Fear to the point where it throws Depression into the mix. Trust me on that one!

What I have finally come to learn is that Depression itself isn’t the problem. Fear isn’t the problem either or the many ways in which it manifests itself. The problem lies in the way we go to war against it. “I’m going to beat this,” we say, and we fight and fight and fight, but it will always be a losing battle … Why? … Because you cannot get to know the depths of your own creativity if you are only willing to embrace the parts of yourself that you consider acceptable. Your creativity exists in its full potential in that space between fear and inspired action. Take fear away and there is no space. If all you have is inspired action how can you recognise it as such? Like with everything in life we need to experience both sides to gain appreciation and gratitude for what is good. We cannot fully understand how blessed we are to live in peace until we hear stories of war or experience it first-hand. The further towards the extremes your experiences are, the bigger your space for learning and creating. If you have lived through war, rather than hearing stories about it, your gratitude and appreciation for living in a peaceful country is naturally much higher. Similarly your creativity comes to life in that space of awareness. When you have experienced panic, anxiety and depression you are in a much better position to recognise inspired thoughts when they show up. This is fantastic! But how do we stop fighting all the negative thoughts? This is where I have been stuck until two things happened. I read the book “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I re-watched the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” Ok three things happened, I also had some personal stuff going on that spurred me into facing my deepest fears head on. I was ready for answers, ready to receive and as the saying goes when the student is ready the teacher appears. In my case the message I needed the most came wrapped in a little book that caused a big change in me.

In “Big Magic” Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear as an inevitable part of the creative process. She writes “your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.” The goal at this point isn’t to get rid of the fear, but to make space for it, because “when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.” As someone who seems to always be in a battle with fearful thoughts this rocked my world. I don’t have to fight anymore! It’s normal to be afraid! What is avoidable though is the fight. Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t fight her fear in any way whatsoever. As mentioned she makes space for it. Lots of space. Not only that, she addresses her fear by the name of “Dude”, takes no shit from it and gives it a speech every time she embarks on a new project, which as you’ll read below makes for hilarious reading:

“Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting – and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

I just LOVE this! How freeing to know that this incredibly successful, best-selling author who delivers the most confident, well-spoken speeches, is just as consumed by fear and equally afraid of failure as the rest of us, yet she chooses to drag that fear along for the ride. This ties in beautifully to the movie “A Beautiful Mind” which is based on the true story of mathematician and Nobel Prize winner John Nash and his experience with Paranoid Schizophrenia. My point of comparison is to the way in which he eventually learns to accept his hallucinations as creations of his mind. He stops fighting them and stops listening to them. There are some powerful scenes in which he carries on with his daily tasks around the two main figures that he thought to be real for so many years and who still talk to him daily. He stops giving them attention. They don’t go away, but they no longer control his life.

All of this came together at 6am during my morning walk today. This blog post literally wrote itself in my head while I was walking, as if someone was reading it out loud to me. That in itself is a testament to how well this way of approaching creative living works because let me assure you I don’t have a habit of 6am morning walks. I like my sleep. Way too much. I struggle terribly to get out of bed in the morning, but in the last couple of days I have understood that my “I can’t” thoughts are nothing but my fear reacting to something new and unfamiliar. By recognising this I can allow space for those thoughts and put them in the back seat while I take charge of where I truly want to go. And I want to get up early. So now I do! and now I will! And in return I created a space for creativity to flourish. A blog post was written. A post that would have never existed in quite the same way had I not gotten up at 6am and declared:

“Dearest Fear, I’m starting this new morning walk thing, now you’re welcome to come along with me, but creativity and I are going to brew up some new ideas and though we welcome your input we’re not going to follow your path or walk at your speed. In fact, Buddy, we’ll soon be running and though I understand you’ll do your best to keep up, you are to stay behind us at all times.”

Suddenly fear is not so paralysing to me, more like a little pathetic and desperately attention-seeking.

What fears are holding YOU back? What would happen if you made space for that fear and allowed it to be there while you continued on with your dreams full force?

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What if you stopped listening to the negative self-talk, knowing that those thoughts are not the truth? Your fearful thoughts are simply a creation of your mind as you go through the natural creative process. They arise from fear because fear reacts to change. What if you recognised this part of the process and continued on without letting it slow you down or depress you? What could you achieve if you had nothing holding you back? Make a deal with your fears today and create that important space around them so you can put your energy towards the areas that really matter.

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Minna Burgess, info@minnaburgess.com, tel: 0432 953 003

(Of course nothing is ever as simple as what can be put across in a short blog-post. If you would like to read more about fear and creativity I highly recommend the book Big Magic, more information here. )

Camilla HansenOctober 7, 2015 - 12:47 pm

Beautifully written. Inspiring too.
Will be reading Big Magic for sure. X

connie lawsonOctober 7, 2015 - 8:39 pm

oh honey you have written this so perfectly, and it resonates with me so very much – now to face my own demons xxxxx mwa mwa you are amazeballs

Ali RussellOctober 9, 2015 - 2:59 am

oh Minna! Brilliant!! I have been crippled over and over for the past 20 years. Fear still has controlled a huge part of my everyday…. The anxiety I get from even replying to a customer FB message in fear that I have done something wrong… Day by day I go head to head with fear and some days fear wins. But I love this and may just read the book!
It is a very tiring existence dealing with mr anxiety, while fighting off master depression all because little old fear is stirring the pot!
Thank you! X x

minnaNovember 2, 2015 - 3:39 am

Absolutely Ali, I agree, it is exhausting! The book is brilliant and I really hope you read it, I know you will love it. The other thing that works well to control anxiety for me is to keep a gratitude diary. There’s also a great app called “Happier” which is like a gratitude diary but with photos 🙂 It’s really great. I’m really glad you got something out of this blog post.

minnaNovember 2, 2015 - 3:40 am

Thank you so much Connie 🙂 I’m so glad it resonated with you 🙂 xxxx

minnaNovember 2, 2015 - 3:40 am

Thank you Camilla 🙂 xxx Definitely read it, you’ll love it.

KarenMarch 13, 2016 - 11:25 am

What a awesome read Minna. Thank you so much, fear is something that plagues me constantly. My beautiful ten year old daughter is very creative and suffers anxiety which really impacts her creatively. She has huge potential but won’t even explore it. I will share this post with her and buy the book you mentioned. I know fear holds me back creatively and I’m looking forward to overcoming that challenge. Thank you.

[…] A big turning point for me, when it comes to my reactions to Fear and feelings of inadequacy, was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. She talks about Fear being a natural part of the creative process. It makes sense really when you keep in mind that Fear is just trying to keep us safe. As photographers we are creating and exploring new ways of viewing the world, – this step that we take out of our comfort zone during times of creativity triggers Fear to step into action. Once we are aware of this we can consciously allow these thoughts to flow through our minds, acknowledging their existence but not attaching any importance to the message they have to offer. (I wrote another blog-post that goes into this in more detail. You can read it here.) […]

minnaMarch 15, 2016 - 12:06 pm

Thank you so much Karen, I absolutely love your work. I have a ten-year-old creative daughter too, she loves to draw but can be very hard on herself too. I hope your daughter responded well to the article. I wrote another one that I think would speak to you, it’s on the blog at http://www.minnaburgess.com/FirstMoments

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