I’m not sure when exactly I began thinking of creativity, generally, and of the dynamics of creative living, in particular, in terms of life force, or energy. Those activities and attitudes that are life-giving versus those that take it away. Indeed, I was, you might say, “smacked over the head” with an aha moment recently while conversing with another blogger on this very subject: “I am beginning to think of creative activities as those that generate life…to think of our creative capacities in terms of a life force, of an expenditure of energy that begets more energy, as a form of reaching out…” Yes. A conviction that appears, on its surface, to be have been echoed in my blog’s mission statement since first publication: to use the life within me to beget a more creative life. A phrase whose implications I, perhaps, hadn’t fully grasped when I wrote it.
To revisit that statement, now one year later, I find the words say something different. They convey an understanding of creativity, of creative living, that I hadn’t seen before. (Tell me I am not the only writer who often baffles herself in this way. Wait…you mean, I said that?) The glaring, underlying assumption: that life can somehow create more life. That the thing I make has the power to simultaneously make me. What, I ask myself, has to happen in order for an act of creation to be that transformative? That full of it’s own life? Extraordinary. Much to my subsequent delight, the insightful blogger with whom I was chatting about these ideas–this notion of creativity as a quantity, even an exchange, of life–encouraged me to dig into Jung’s “On Psychic Energy,” an integral portion of is theory on psychodynamics, for which I also, thankfully, found a primer. While the material that follows is not a Jungian-type analysis, I can tell you that I have been influenced by my reading. (But, I have so much more to read…Mandalas might be next.) Here are some thoughts on what it means to think of creativity and the pursuit of creative living in terms of life force, energy, vitality, maybe even libido. I just like to call it “life.”
You’re a different kind of active.
There was a time when I conceived of creative living in terms of method. Utility. A life by design. I determine my values. I set goals. I make decisions. I execute. In that way, by following that formula, I color my life. I fill it with accomplishments. Adventures. Education. Relationships. Meaning. That is also how I make myself. Physically, psychologically, and spiritually. However important that sort of active, practical enhancement of living is–I have to be honest–I am notoriously awful at it. The whole process is too one-dimensional for me. Too compulsory. Too much like drudge work. If I were forced to live that way entirely, I would never finish anything. And, most importantly, that’s not what it means to use the life within me to beget a more creative life.
At the center of all creative activity, for me, is that which is soulful. Indeed, if I had to formally define, according to my own principles, what it means to live creatively, I would say this: Creative living is a mode of living that centers on the infusion of imagination into and the enlivening of my daily activities. Using the life within me to beget more life. It is a proverbial shot in the arm. An energizing of my internal world. (I have to pause for a moment. Am I writing an “introvert’s guide” to living actively and creatively?) Indeed, it is far more natural to me to pour my energy, my life, into those pursuits that feel inherently energizing, vivifying, variegated–big or small. Those that seem to carry a life of their own. Because they, in turn, give life back to me. Much like a work of art. That’s the missing dimension. The transmission of energy. The talisman. The other side of reality.
You make the everyday magical.
I am talking here specifically about activities that represent more than mere expenditures of energy, of life, but that seem to multiply it and return to us just as much as, if not more than, we’ve have put into them. (Didn’t I just write something bizarrely similar about female orgasms, in terms of life and death?) Totalizing experiences. Lush, sensual, and intellectual. That which seems to break through its own borders, that which seems to make its own magic. That which is never an end in itself. Physical exercise might be the most obvious example. And not just for its energizing effects, but as a form of self-expression. Some days, my entire being just needs to run. To move to music. To sweat. To pound pavement. To lull myself into a state of energetic bliss. Movement is also an homage to life.
Cooking, for me, is another. That kind of long, elaborate, ceremonial meal preparation. An ignition of all the senses that is more than merely an aesthetic experience. The stuff of Sunday suppers, when you can actually “taste the love.” I know my Italian-American readers are nodding their heads in agreement, conjuring images of grandma’s Sunday “gravy,” or sauce—depending on where you’re from—simmering low and slow on the stovetop, filling the house with all kinds of incredible aromas. Spending active time outdoors (in the mountains, especially, hardcore trekking not included) is yet another. Writing, learning, thinking, still others. Indeed, there are few activities that are more inherently energizing, to me, than generating ideas. Than allowing one’s entire being to be engulfed by possibility. To become that much sharper, that much more alive. These are the kinds of activities I have, over time, become reticent to give over to someone else to do for me. Because I depend on the life they give me. Their ability to add color, dimension, an unquantifiable “something,” bordering on the ecstatic, even the magical, to my daily existence. To abandon them would be a sacrificing of my life source. Passivity. Inertia. A quiet little death.
Beauty and utility are one.
I had to ask myself on what basis I selected the above activities as concrete examples. Is it enough to say, simply, that they’re energizing? No. To my mind, they’re also beautiful. They represent not just an infusion of imagination into the tasks of daily living, but a conscious effort to make my life more beautiful. A lust for beauty. That, to me, is one of the profoundest expressions of life. I ask myself, now, Is that which sets our souls on fire–that which is inherently life-giving and energizing to each individual, then, a matter of values? It may be.
And, is the quest for beauty any different in life than it is in art? When I think of the intentional shaping of my daily activities, I am aware not only of my desire to create an enhanced sensual, or aesthetic, experience, for myself, but also of a need to move beyond it. To make beautiful that which is useful, functional, routine (like cooking or exercising). To create an environment for myself in which beauty and utility are not at odds with one another, in which beauty is conjoined with other values and experiences, including utility. Octavio Paz describes this type of art, the art of ancient Mesoamerican cultures in which beauty and functionality are fused, as “transmitting a psychic energy…that vital fluid which links all animate beings–humans, animals, plants–with the elements, the planets, the stars.” A move toward universality. I ask myself, then, if this energy of which I speak is not also cosmic. And didn’t Jung suggest that, anyway? If, in energizing, enlivening, and connecting with our own, individual life source more intimately and imaginatively, we are not expanding, allowing ourselves to become more universal beings. If in bringing a concept to life, we both don’t also change.