Petronella Phillips Devaney
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May 2016
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Living Creatively

May 26, 2016   

What does it mean to live creatively? Is it just something artists do? Writers, musicians, poets?  If that really was the case, it would make the creative a pretty exclusive domain, wouldn’t it?  Not much hope for all the non-artists in the world.

But there is another way of looking at the whole concept of creativity.

When we widen out the scope, one of the things that fascinates us about artists is their ability to view life, and to live their lives, from an original and personal perspective. They get to spend their lives making beautiful things, often living in interesting places, far from the madding crowd. It’s not just what they’re trained to do or what they do for a living, it’s how they live, how they experience life, and how they turn that experience of life into art. At the heart of it, we see in them a passion for living authentically, and not according to some kind of norm that’s been imposed on them.

Often, what we see most of all, and what is most attractive, is their apparent freedom: freedom to do the work they have chosen, yes; but also that enviable freedom to live in a way that feels right to them.  A life that isn’t dictated by the conventional demands of employers or mortgage repayments.  A life with values that are personal, not just handed down by schooling or parents or creed.  The image of the artist is imbued with a wildness and refusal to conform to the mundane which, if we let it, calls to something inside ourselves that also longs to be wild and free.

What would it be like to live like this? To see life entirely through one’s own eyes and to make choices and decisions that come from the heart rather than from how some kind of societal authority tells us we should do it? So often our heads are filled with instructions, telling us what we must do to succeed, to get the right job, to be socially acceptable, to find a partner, to get ahead. And there’s a conflict, because these instructions often feel contrary to our nature. We might rebel a bit, complain a bit, but then, somewhere down the line, we find ourselves waking up each morning to the same old grind, in a relationship that isn’t really working, or to no relationship at all, and we look at the artist and the entrepreneur, those magical people who seem to have mastered the way to live according to their own lights and we think, how did they do that? How did they escape?

DW Winnicott,  one of the three great pillars of psychoanalysis alongside Freud and Klein, said there are just two ways of living: creative living or compliant living. To live creatively is to experience the world directly, to see with your heart, to feel.  To make decisions based on what you really experience of the world around you. Obviously this takes a certain amount of courage and clarity – it’s not for the risk averse.  It certainly doesn’t mean life is going to be one continual bowl of cherries.  What it does, is it allows you to gradually become more open to your own potential,  to face up to your demons, to use your own unique talents. And this, according to Winnicott, is the recipe for a  psychologically and emotionally – and physically – healthy life.

The alternative and, quite evidently, the lot of many, is to live compliantly, ignoring or repressing individual instincts and intuition in order to follow a path that has already been laid down and well-trodden; the ‘safe’ path, the path of conformity, seeking not for what one truly desires, for the fullness of life, but for security which is also a form of dependency.  And this, Winnicott says (but surely we can see it for ourselves?) is a profoundly unhealthy way to live and one which inevitably leads to mental, emotional and physical disorders, all of which are on the rise.

So there it is. To live creatively doesn’t necessarily mean you need the gifts of a David Hockney or a JK Rowling.  It means trusting in oneself and seeing life as consisting of something bigger than just having a job that pays the bills.

And living compliantly isn’t simply about earning one’s living in a non-artistic way – no, you can certainly have a regular job and still live creatively.  It’s more about what happens when you relinquish your individuality and free will to a handed down concept of what you should do and who you should be.

In the end, it’s the choice between approaching life as an adventure or choosing to play it safe.  Winnicott says the reason creative living is healthy is because it connects us with our own reality, it’s about being true to yourself. Compliant living is unhealthy because it disconnects you from your instinctive self.  It’s false.

Many people come into therapy specifically because they sense this disconnect, and it’s not making them feel good. They may have achieved or acquired many of the things they’ve been told make you happy – and yet they don’t feel happy.  Something’s wrong, there’s an emptiness, a lack of meaning, a yearning for something more, something different.  They’ve made a life, yes; but they’ve left behind an important part of themselves.  In therapy we begin the process of re-finding the lost self, healing the parts that have been hurt or damaged, and discovering how to become, in the words of Jung, the person we are meant to be;  the person we were from the very beginning.