Ways to Work With Pain

What if, even at our most difficult times, we could still make time to create?

I have been preoccupied with the bone-tired fatigue and various symptoms for months now but even as these lift, I can’t help think of the many times I have created when I am in some sort of less than perfect state. Creative living is less finding the perfect moment and more about working with what you have got. So what can you do if you are experiencing pain, physical or emotional?

Firstly, the Morning Pages method that Julia Cameron teaches us in The Artist’s Way has worked for me. Most days I get all those grievances down on the pages, this has been a massive part of my practice over the last few years. I recently watched a great video on resetting your goals half way through the year and Strussed’s advice was to always brain dump before you start on exercises. Journalling as an artist and particularly a writer can be a powerful place for ideas to pop-up.

Often old memories do surface as they would in any therapeutic practice. In week nine of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron asks us to do some archeology to uncover old dreams and even old hurts. As an exercise, I would be cautious to follow this without a therapist if there are any childhood traumas that could resurface. But I do find these exercises and other journal prompts can spark ideas or surprise you with memories. I listed some of my favourite journalling ideas last week.

In my pages I was revisiting a memory just recently and realised how strong my emotions were still towards a more adventurous child. I watched as she fearlessly swung on a tyre off a rope swing. She may or may not have leapt over some water, the memory is fuzzy but my envy was clear. How odd to have held onto this after so many years. This innocuous tale had remained in my mind and wound itself in to my adventurous protagonist probably without me realising.

Childhood memories sometimes resurface in your writing

I found this quote from the French Artist Annette Messager who explains how we must uncover our emotions…

“Being an artist means forever healing your own wounds and at the same time endlessly exposing them”            

Annette Messager

She has worked around greatly traumatic themes of assault and violence.  I hope it is clear from my example that I am sharing something lighter to illustrate the point but clearly all pains and emotional experiences can’t help but influence our work.

So what I would say in some ways we have no choice but to uncover some of our experiences in order to be creative. In fact, we may find they come out anyway. In order to express our true selves, maybe we also need to be mindful of doing so safely.

Even using journalling practices, which we might use as therapy, you may wish to seek help from a professional. Or if not, give ourselves space and time to recover. Build in whatever practices work for you so that you can be safe. I have shared how I have learned to meditate over the last decade. But I would also add that working through these emotions, if done safely, can help us heal. I am not trained in psychology and, please do seek support of a licensed professional if practicing exploration of pain causes you difficulties.

The final way I think I work through emotions that surface, perhaps despite of the pain, is to play games with any idea from different angles. If we have a memory that is feeding our work, how can we change perspective. How did that girl feel when I cautioned her from swinging out over the water? Her perspective may have to see me as annoying or she may well just have been living in the moment, oblivious to others. And this is the fun isn’t it of being creative? We can work through any image and explore it with fresh eyes.

Journal Prompts for Creativity

Whenever you feel a creative block, turn to your journal

Although I completed The Artist’s Way programme two years ago, I still dip in for journalling prompts. Some of these ideas are adapted from themes Julia Cameron asks you to explore. Here are 15 tried and tested prompts for your journal
 
Encourage and nurture your Inner Artist:
1.       A letter to your encourager, Write to someone who has helped you but has no idea that their words spurred you on

A notebook with pen resting on it, ready to write

2. A letter to your detractors, are there some inner critic voices that have stuck in your head? Tell them! But don’t send the letter.
3.       What is your perfect day, if you no obligations. You may be surprised how simple your needs are but you should definitely write as if money is no object. Then take even a small piece of that dream day and put it in your week.


Make plans for the life you want
4.       If you have a list of goals, review them and write down even small ways you have worked towards them. This can be so encouraging and also remind you to break down those goals into more manageable chunks
5.       List places you love going, this has been a really helpful one with so much staying at home in pandemic times. It will be no surprise that I quickly identified woodland as places I want to go as well as missing the theatre and cafes for writing.
6.       Ask yourself what your dream job looks like. If it doesn’t align with what you do right now, what are the steps you can take


Take Account
7.       The five senses of gratefulness. You should probably write what you are grateful for eveyday, but it is fun to think about each sense and write five things for each that you love having: warm socks, a favourite album -all those things that bring you joy.
8.       Friends you have forgotten. I have been working on a book a lot about friendship and this lead to me listing lots of people who have been my friends for a season and how they have helped me
9.        Write your alternative reality. Are there other lives you could have led. Are there opportunities you didn’t follow? Jobs you didn’t take up? I was supposed to move in with a friend when I took up a place in another city, what could have been?
10.   Write down what you remember about your Grandma or any important relative or friend who has died. This can be emotional but also a heartening way to live, remembering small things about a person that was uniquely theirs is a beautiful way to hold the still.
11.   Take Fierce Medicine. As Ana Forrest advises we should take fierce medicine or practice a death meditation to open us up to what we truly want, keep your journal close and reflect on what the thoughts of your last moments tell you. Then follow this guidance to change your life.


Find Inspiration
12.   List song lyrics stuck in your head. This is a great way to realise what you are focused on. You can even make an inspirational playlist if the songs inspire you.
13.   What books have you read recently? What are their commonalities, its surprising when you realise how you are going through a phase- I have read or listened to lots of classics, need light humour or adventures to listen or read about.
14.   Plan your dream holiday. I took this one to a Pinterest board in the end. Even if it is not for now, it felt good to think we might go on holidays again. Some of the ideas may be far in the future as they are not practical for our family but I felt lighter just taking the trip in my head
15.   Who do you admire and what do you admire about them? This can be interesting one to reflect on particularly if you follow people online but don’t know them. What are the things that you find so inspiring?

I would love to know if these journal ideas work for you. They always help me through a creative block.

Creating on Little Sleep

As always, little sleep leaves me grumpy and less creative.

I have written before about trying to be creative and a parent. When I don’t get the chance of a decent night’s sleep, much time to be quiet or alone it effects my mood a lot. But if I can’t have a creative outlet, I’m downright grumpy.

I accepted a few years back that my time to create write or play at crafts, have Artist’s Dates would be in short snatches. Built in deadlines help me anyway so that is a bonus if anything. But what is also clear is in these weeks where my mood has been effected, my creativity gets a bit stilted.

Adding in brain fog I have developed since my January run-in with covid, I am literally and figuratively struggling to find the words to write. Dragging the idea out feels like squelching through mud. According to Elizabeth Gilbert this can give you a creative fear. As I wrote recently, I worry that the idea is running away.

So along with resting when I can, I have been trying to find ways to lift myself into a better mood so I can get creative, even just a little. Mostly I have been trying to improve my mood by getting out in the early light and using meditation. All the things I know help. They do enough that I dare to open my work in progress a couple of times this week.

So how have I helped myself? More sleep is not possible, though that would certainly help. Instead, I listened to music:, sometimes to pump me up, sometimes to rouse emotions, sometimes to float away. I have often worked with music on. Sometimes it provides inspiration in itself. A character who is obsessive about 70s singer song writers comes to mind, as does The Rites of Spring and the folklore that has inspired me. These moments listening often spark a story.

I tried to take more walks. On my walks I take photos of things that inspire or I sit and look at the trees a while trying to identify a tree. It was a hawthorn I discovered later. Not only do the places provide background for my woodland work-in-progress, but having time in nature can soothe my mood too.

Finally, I am try to forgive myself for taking a little time away from creative work. It’s hard, I want to blog every week and write creatively three or four times too. But really I have to be realistic about what I am able to do right now. Hopefully I will get a bit more sleep now my son is back at school and in a routine and it will inspire me to take time out to be more creative again.

Meditation For Fidgets

It occurs to me it is a decade since I first took a mindfulness course. I still can’t sit still.

If you are like me and struggle to do nothing there are simple soothing activities I recommend and also ways to make yourself feel cosy. But alongside these suggestions I am, after all this time, still trying to meditate daily. It’s been a crucial practice this year as I cope with my ongoing illness but it’s often the main thing I will do to relieve stress. The problem is I have never been good at staying still.

Here are my to five ways to meditate for fidgets like me:

Guided Meditation

By now I know that lying or sitting waiting for bells to chime gets me making to do lists in my head. Instead, I will listed to Guided Meditations by Richard Latham, use Hay House podcast or Growing Mindfulness by Michelle DuVal. I know most of these recordings by heart now, but the opportunity to either follow instructions or even better go on an imaginative journey works best for me.

Lying Down

Though it makes me feel lazy to admit it, I don’t do well sitting for meditation. Even in a class when I did attend, I would sit on my knees rather than criss cross because, again, can’t sit still. I love this cartoon about all the thoughts that go through your head as you try and meditate. I get so preoccupied by my discomfort that I feel a failure at meditation. Of course, that’s part of the experience but honestly I wouldn’t have stuck at the practice so long if I was only allowed to sit.

This quote is on Jill Conyers website which explains mindfuless indepth

The Shakti Mat

For years I have lain down for meditation but this year I really upped the practice with a Shakti mat, ie an accupressure mat and pillow. I think this has really helped with my recovery in most recent months. The theory is that after about twenty minutes dopamine reacts to the mild pain of lying across the spiked mat. You lay with a thin layer of clothing on so it is only a very mild pain. I will often shift and move and having that discomfort makes you more mindful, rather than relaxing so much you fall asleep. I find often it helps with emotional release. It may not be what you are hoping if you want to meditate to relax, but often the reason we don’t like to stop is to avoid our emotions. Mindful meditation is a lot about being present and watch as emotions drift over us like clouds.

Lavendar Eye Pillow

I love lavender as it has some happy memories of my Grandma as well as always been considered a restorative. For someone so easily distracted, blocking out light with a lavender eye pillow really works. Often I will listen to meditation on my headphones, a hygge headband adding compression and the eye mask blocking the light. Sensory distractions reduced, I have just about a chance of staying mindful.

Mindful Walks

Another great way to meditate is to take mindful walks. Again there are guided meditations I use. But you can also take in you surroundings, observe the feeling of your feet hitting the ground and the sensations of the air, sounds around you. It is a good practice to concentrate on sounds because it is so interesting to find out that something irritates you. Some days you only hear noisy cranes and parakeets near by others, when you tune in to the birds, and hear a woodpecker. Again you can watch you emotions and sensations pass over you.

For me, meditation has been a lifeline. I am not sure that all teachers would say I am doing it in any orthodox way but by finding ways that work for me, I help myself be calmer even if I will never learn to sit still.

Inspiration is like magic

Is inspiration so ethereal that it can run away from you?

I am worried that inspiration whisks away in the time I take to grab hold of an idea. I have been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She believes firmly that you have to open yourself to creativity and grab inspiration when it strikes.

I have written before how I think inspiration is everywhere. In fact it is very easy for me to get caught in a new idea. I have tried and tested ways of getting them down into snippets, sometimes if it is a character, I may write them a short story. And if I feel stuck, I just look around and start writing about what I see. That may not be a very inspired practice but I tend to find that as I start to write what I see, my imagination will follow. She will tell me what a character might do in a circumstance or ask me to see how I feel in that moment, so that I flit into a different perspective.

But Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t just tell us to be open to pure inspiration, she tells us to be ready. She tells us to work at them. She concedes you need many things to be ready. A sense of artistic entitlement that you absolutely have permission to be creative. A practice of working with what life throws at you, rather than resist it. As the quote below explains, ideas are out there, they are…

energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic is a very inspiring thesis to read. It tells you to get on with it. And if we follow the logic of her idea: the Universe wants me to know this right now. Our lessons, inspiration, come along at the right moment and are they are there to help us. And so this book coming along and telling me to grab the ideas because they will spring away is exactly what I need to hear.

It is also terrifying! My time is limited, my energy levels are pretty low, as I have explained. What do I do if these ideas float through the window and I am distracted or napping?

I think sometimes it might be about letting something go. An idea that has gone stale will get lost in a quagmire. As she says, “Done is better than good.” She reminds us we have to practice and sometimes we have to let it go. Kill your darlings, know what is still fresh and get on with it.

I have found her book a really good boost to my writing though I haven’t been able to do much. I like how she too is fascinated by creativity and where it springs from.

Have you developed your creativity based on Big Magic?

  • Time to Unplug
    Usually my ideas come easily, just my time is short. At the moment I am a little short on both so I am unplugging for a while. See you after the break.
  • Reminiscing is simple inspiration
    Away at my mother’s house, I have been enjoying the items that bring back memories It’s odd how the smallest thing can send you off into your memories. This last week we have been away at my mother’s house for a change of scene. Everyday I have been noticing things with a funny jolt of … Continue reading Reminiscing is simple inspiration
  • Do you have time to read?
    A frequent preoccupation, I think about how my Summer of reading might pan out I have mulled over how Mum’s get time to read before because it is a constant battle. Ultimately, though I love to write and journal, my deepest, longest love has been reading. Often it is escapism. I have been having a … Continue reading Do you have time to read?