Living with a Creative Mind

Living with a Creative Mind

Recently I did a workshop called “Living with a Creative Mind”, with Julie and Jeff Crabtree, and I found it really valuable so I thought I’d share a couple of the insights from the day. Julie is a psychologist who has undertaken research into mental health and creativity, and Jeff is a professional musician. Through their work they aim to “help creative people to lead a long and productive creative life while avoiding the pitfalls and the perils” (from their website).

By the way, I’m not getting any sort of payment or benefit from this post – I just want to share what I think are some valuable things to understand about your creative mind.  Sometimes it’s a hard slog. The drive to create can feel like a burden as well as a blessing. These ideas really helped me. I’m only going to touch on two concepts but there were so many great ideas in the workshop it’s definitely worth exploring their work further. For more information I’d recommend you go to their website, try to get along to one of their workshops (they are based in Sydney but they travel) or buy their book.

The Creative Ecosystem of the Mind

I found the term ‘ecosystem’ a bit strange, but it’s basically the ecosystem that exists in the creative mind. However, I love cycles as a conceptual tool. I’ve spent many years using and teaching Action Research, which is a cyclical process. So I found the notion of the Creative Ecosystem, which is cyclical, really easy to grasp. The idea is that there are four stages to the creative process: seeing, thinking, making and curiosity. Like the action research cycle, these can happen in any order, but they are all necessary. I know in my writing a lot of ideas are triggered by asking ‘what if?’ For the Tales of Tarya, it all began when I asked, what if you did enter another world when you took on a character onstage? The seeing part, for me, is when you watch the world, or do research, and take in what you are discovering. Years of doing theatre meant I knew how a show comes together and what it takes to perform. The thinking part is that stage in the process where you tease your ideas out, make links, ask further questions to develop your story. I think this is the hardest part for me. I can feel like I’m trudging through quicksand. Finally, comes the making, the stage we tend to think of as our creative practice. Yet as this cycle shows, this is only one stage in the process.

I think this is very freeing, as it means it’s okay (and in fact vital) not only to spend time on research, but also on daydreaming and questioning and playing with ideas. And watching people! Curiosity is a core part of the process. The cycle also offers a solution to creative blocks. As Julie and Jeff said, if your creativity is not working, you can ask yourself which part of the cycle has fallen down. It also means it’s really important to keep your curiosity engaged – go out and experience new things. A great excuse to travel (not that I need an excuse)!

Nine Aspects of the Mind

Much of the focus of this workshop was looking at the nine core aspects of the mind: sense, focus, emotion, ego, energy, attitude, space, action, and thought. These aspects are based on the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is best known for his work on flow. Flow occurs when someone is so immersed in what they doing that they achieve a state of energised focus. There’s a great post about what flow means for writers by author Isobel Blackthorn, here (click to follow the link).  You can find out a lot more about the nine aspects of mind on the Crabtree’s website and in their book, but for now the important idea is that each of these is a continuum. For example, the aspect of sense (how we connect to the world through our senses) can be insulated (ie not feeling very much at all, protected from input) or skinless (feeling everything).

What I found revelatory was that creative people tend to live at both ends of the continuum, sometimes swinging between them and sometimes feeling both at the same time. For example, in terms of ego, they can feel incredibly confident, almost arrogant, in their creative abilities, but also feel an incredible level of self-doubt. I’ve recognised these sorts of dualities in myself across the different aspects of mind, and I’ve always felt like I should be trying to find balance and stability. But this workshop pointed out that when you are going through your creative cycle, you need the different extremes at different times in the cycle – you may not want to feel emotionally raw while you’re doing your thinking and planning, but it can be very useful during the making. The solution is to recognise that a creative life is a tidal life, and to accept the tides as part of your creative practice. This is very freeing. Becoming aware of your tides, you can start to recognise what tidal phase you are in, and plan your creative practice to suit.

For me these ideas are really valuable. They take the pressure off – I don’t have to try to be a particular way in order to create. I can recognise where I’m at in terms of my cycles and tides and use that energy. If you’re curious to know more, follow the links in the post to learn more about how to live with your creative mind.




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