What is creative spiritual living? And how can you be healed by it?
Sometimes it is easiest to define a thing by thinking about its opposite. What does it mean to live a life without creativity? Without spirituality?
I imagine it as a drab world where you stay in the lines, do what you’re told, and never dream of more. Your heart never expands or contracts with great feeling, there is nothing new or different to excite your imagination. Life is gray. There is no meaning beyond what you see in front of you. Things, people, places are not to be liked or disliked, loved or hated, but tolerated. Days come and go, not much different from each other.
It’s no accident that the world I just described is pretty much what depression feels like to me. I’ve experienced depression a few times in my life—in fact, I’d say he’s been a frequent visitor, but thank God, he doesn’t take up permanent residence. (I do wish he’d give me a schedule, though. He’s always choosing to be a houseguest at the most inopportune times!)
I truly believe I saved my life through creative spiritual living. I experienced a trauma as a child (maybe one day I’ll share that with loyal group members, but not yet). I was also an introvert, so instead of letting the pain show (I didn’t want to be a bother), I began writing. Journal entries, poetry, stories, dreams from the night before, dreams of the future, letters to people who wronged me, letters to people I was too shy to thank for being my friend (because nobody does that when you’re twelve).
Writing saved my life. It was my way of recording my thoughts about the world, about God—who I hardly knew at that stage in my life because we did not go to church—and most importantly, about myself. Journaling allowed me the luxury of self-examination at an early age, though I did not realize at the time that was what I was doing. Journaling began to heal me—a healing still underway and that I am committed to for my whole life.
Why is writing so powerful a tool for healing? (Yes, I’ve researched this.)
Two reasons. First, the act of writing encourages the conscious, logic-driven side of your brain to make sense of what thoughts and emotions rise up from the subconscious. The act of writing—even stream-of-consciousness style writing—first requires the brain to recognize a thought or emotion for what it is and structure it so that the hand can recreate the patterns that give shape to words. Word choice, itself, is an act of definition. So even in the simple act of writing a single phrase, you are giving the power to your conscious, logical mind to create order out of the chaos you feel stirring around in your depths. Writing is creating logical patterns that have meaning beyond the lines and curves scratched onto the surface of the page. Writing allows logic, structure, symbols, emotion, artistry, pattern-making to not just co-exist, but create something that communicates your Truth as you feel it at that moment, as you felt it in the past, as you want to feel it in the future.
Which brings me to the second reason writing is such a powerful tool for healing: the wounded person, using both her conscious and subconscious minds, is able to put her thoughts and feelings down on paper. Creating order out of the felt chaos is the first step, but the second step is where true healing begins.
When you examine what you created, you are now looking at an object, therefore you can see it objectively. It is no longer you, or even part of you, it is now a separate thing. (This is why many writers refer to their works as their children or their babies—because like babies, once you birth them, they take on a life, meaning and purpose all their own. They are outside of you, becoming their own entity.)
Even in your journal, this writing marks a particular space and time that will never come again. You will never be the same exact person who wrote that. Re-reading the piece you wrote, even just several minutes after writing it, you come to it with new insights about what you were feeling and thinking. You’ve grown. Every time you come back to a piece of writing, you will see something different in it because you are different from the person you were when you wrote it. That is why writing is paramount to healing—because it shows your own growth over time.
And when you are aware of your own growth, you can then consciously work on those issues that bother you or give you pause in your life.
Through writing, you are able to interact with your past self, your best self, your wounded self, your future self, whichever self you choose.
JOURNAL EXERCISE: Think of a difficult time in your past. A time when you felt alone and lost. Now write that younger you a note of encouragement. Tell Younger You that you pulled through. Tell Younger You to hold on, that life gets better, that what is happening now feels horrible but better times are right around the corner. Use details from your life to prove it to Younger You. Be positive and encouraging. Above all, be compassionate to Younger You. Sign it with: Love Always, Your Future Self.
FOLLOW-UP: Next time you feel alone and lost, re-read that note you just wrote. Imagine it is Older You writing to you now. It may seem like a silly exercise, but if you do it, you will heal the residual loneliness from that time when you were young, and you will provide your present self some much-needed perspective when the going gets tough.
If “time heals all wounds,” play with time and speed up the process.
Creative spiritual living is about consciously creating your present so you can live your best life.
Get outside yourself. Do something new. Write about it. Grow. Repeat.