Creativity can feel elusive and unattainable. Throughout my own life, I’ve often struggled to think of myself as creative, and failed to nurture my own creativity. Why do we do this? Most simply, because we have been told (and have learned to tell ourselves) that we are “not creative,” that creativity is a commodity or quality to be acquired, and that it’s a scarce resource only a few special people we call artists can possess.
That story about creativity just isn’t true.
So, what is the truth?
Creativity is the process by which imagination becomes reality. It exists in bountiful supply within everyone and calls on our innate gifts of curiosity, attention, and loving connection so that we can live fuller and more meaningful lives.
When we uncover this truth about creativity and build a practice to discover and express our inner creative self, what follows is nothing short of total personal transformation.
Besides being fun, creativity offers a path out of stagnation, unhappiness, self-judgment, and the kind of robotic living that leaves so many of us feeling unfulfilled. Creativity is a forgotten cure for these life-depleting ailments and a spiritual practice for returning to your truest self and living a life you love.
With this in mind, I would like to encourage you to come back home to what I call your inner creative self and help you more fully express this in your life.
What do I mean by this phrase? Well, since creativity is the process by which imagination becomes reality, we can think of the inner creative self as the source of imagination. Creativity is the action that springs from this special place inside us.
Your inner creative self is like a part of your soul, and it has been with you from the beginning of your life. It’s curious, open, and playful, delighting in new ideas, the joy of discovery, and the endless diversity of human expression. You may have forgotten about this part of you or learned to ignore it, but it can never die. Much like the concepts of the soul or the mind, it’s hard to describe the inner creative self in words, even though it is an undeniable, essential part of each of us.
It can be easier to experience it viscerally. . .
Think of a time you did something that engaged you so completely that you lost your sense of time, or even of your own physical presence. It could be anything—chopping a pile of wood, building a delicate house of cards, or playing make-believe in the yard as a child. This is the feeling of being absorbed in a task, responsive, open, and integrated in mind, body, and heart.
In my experience, we can feel our inner creative self when we are fully engaged in this way in the present moment and expressing our creativity consciously. This state can certainly be achieved through traditional creative arts such as writing, painting, dancing, sculpting, singing, etc., but it’s not limited to those pursuits. When it comes to creative expression, the possibilities are endless.
The trick is that we can’t “think” our way into the inner creative self. It’s more like a muscle that we can develop through active practice. This practice is creativity itself, a combination of how we look at the world and the actions we take to bring imagination into reality.
Call to mind your favorite artist, musician, writer, or painter. Anyone you love for their art has committed to their own inner creative being. They have honored the truth of their deepest selves, bringing it into the world through their own imagination. These artists seem not to care what people think as they express themselves in larger-than-life ways. They revel in activities that would make most of us feel shy or ridiculous.
We grant these people special latitude, saying they inhabit a plane of existence high in the rarified air of “artistic success.” We celebrate their spontaneity and eccentricity. We hope they’ll show us even more of themselves, right out in the open. Yet most of us are terrified to offer ourselves this same kind of freedom. We’re dazzled by the beauty of someone living out their innermost creative desires, and meanwhile, we wait for permission to explore the truth of who we really are.
We can feel the same freedom as the artists we admire; we can grant ourselves the same permission to be weird, wild, and wonderful. How? The key is to practice. Think of a sport. No novice can walk out their door and ski jump off a mountain, or flip through a gymnastics routine. No amount of believing you can do those things by itself will make it happen. But you can teach the body and mind to achieve astounding feats, step by step. This is the promise of practice.
You have the right (I might even say the responsibility) to restore your creative function and to reclaim the spirituality, healing, and joy that belong to you. Please stop waiting for an invitation to be yourself. Start right now, right here, by diving into creative action and establishing your regular creative practice. It’s easier than you think, and also a whole lot of fun.
Having a regular creative practice sends a powerful wake-up call to your inner creative self, which in turn begins to work its magic on every aspect of your life, imbuing everything from mundane tasks to your highest calling with curiosity and possibility. You reconnect to the love of experience and playfulness and find they are inexhaustible resources. You rediscover the joy of creating. You begin to fall in love with life again.
My hope for all of us is that we can approach life with the eyes and heart of an artist; with the courage to transform anything that is painful or not working through this practice of creative imagination. Remember that skinned knee? Assessing with clear eyes, making space for nurturing and growth, providing loving shelter: this is the healing that creativity can bring to your true self—the self you’re learning to know, accept, and love.
It can be so simple, too.
You know how every once in a while you do something and the little voice inside says, “There. That’s it. That’s why you’re here.” … and you get a warm glow in your heart because you know it’s true?
Do more of that.
This article is adapted from The Creative Cure: How Finding and Freeing Your Inner Artist can Save Your Life (Hierophant Publishing, 2021), by Jacob Nordby. Foreword by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way.