How to Channel More Creative Energy

Do you sometimes feel anxious for no apparent reason? Great!... You could be on your way to tapping into some extra creative energy. The eminent, existential psychologist Rollo May suggests that: "Anxiety is associated with creativity. Anxiety means the world is knocking at your door, and you need to create, you need to make something, you need to do something. It is a stimulus toward creativity." Easy to say until you start feeling anxious. So before we look at creativity let's reflect on some of the causes of anxiety? Anxiety can be a reaction to certain unwanted life conditions. A person, place or thing may upset us and the first reaction to something we don't want is to run away from it. Therefore anxiety generates energy within us.
But some of us use this energy to try to avoid anxious feelings and thoughts by numbing them with alcohol or drugs. Others sublimate their anxious energy by 'doing' things like making or spending money, seeking thrills and physical pleasures. The problem is that often these things do not lead to any real or permanent satisfaction. However creating or making something can give us a deeper sense of achievement, purpose and satisfaction. Those who have successfully built a cupboard or a piece of furniture, cooked a fabulous meal, painted or drawn a picture, created and tended a garden landscape or decorated a home will have experienced this.
We can think of anxiety as having 4 dimensions and 3 levels.
The 4 dimensions begin with the physical aspects of human being:
-Physical anxiety is triggered by threats to our physique and physical well being. For example a violent attack, the experience of dangerous environments, diseases, hunger and thirst.
-Emotional anxiety is closely connected to the physical in that we translate physical experiences into emotions such as fear, pain, pleasure, happiness and love.
-Intellectual anxiety is triggered by the thoughts we construct in our minds based on our stored information, knowledge, ideas and beliefs about life and the world in which we live.
-And finally Spiritual anxiety can be triggered by an infringement of our personal boundaries. These are set by what we value, the ethics and morals we hold dear and the personal meaning we give to life.
Of course these four dimensions are interconnected and inseparable in a healthy functioning human being. However when our four dimensions are integrated we have access to tremendous amounts of personal energy to apply creatively. The three levels can be thought of as:
-Subconscious and
The first level is the anxiety that we are Conscious of and are consciously dealing with directly in the tasks, challenges and problems we face day to day. These are situations, people, places and things we recognise as the obvious causes of our anxious feelings.
The next level of anxiety is Subconscious and connected to real concerns and worries we have about certain situations in life; health, relationships and money for instance. However in order to get on with life we tend to put these worries to the back of our minds. But the energy and feeling of 'background' anxious thoughts is always present and can leave us feeling a tightness in the chest or with a queasy tummy.
Feelings of hunger, dehydration, hormone imbalance or even uncomfortable clothing are often first experienced and registered Unconsciously but they can surface as bad feelings that get attached to environments or people we interact with. It is an interesting fact to note that most daily anxiety we experience is unconscious and free floating that starts life as a physical symptom. For instance - we might suddenly experience the normal actions of a colleague or friend as annoying when in fact we are just feeling hungry or thirsty. We can then unconsciously translate these physical feelings into emotions and thoughts that we then express and turn into actions which create an event with a negative outcome.
So how can anxiety become a source of creative energy? There is much research to suggest that doing something creative is a good cure for anxiety and some very creative people draw on anxious feelings for inspiration and energy. For example - the celebrated poet and writer T.S. Eliot S (1888 - 1965) believed - "Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity" and the philosopher Charles Frankl (1917 - 1979) thought that - "Anxiety is the essential condition of intellectual and artistic creation." I think we can trust that these people had something of value to say on the subject.
How do we reconcile anxiety with creativity? The first thing is to recognise that anxiety is fundamentally about the fear of the unknown and directly related to the fear of death. Creativity can be thought of as a response to the fear of death and destruction. A good example of creativity in action is the interplay between high and low entropic states in the universe which scientists are beginning to believe caused the most creative momet ever 'The Big Bang'. Or rather the 'big expansion' as it's fast becoming known.
The most fundamental act of creativity expressed by human beings is the act of procreation and it is well document that during war time and disaster birth rates increase. The psychologist Stephen Diamond Ph.D. offers that: "Anxiety stems from conflict and creativity is an attempt to constructively resolve that conflict." So the trick is learning to use feelings of anxiety to generate the energy to face life's challenges head on and respond rather than escape from them. Creativity can then begin to be about facing our fear and finding the courage to create. To do that we must be willing to take a risk.
I often start a day on creativity by inviting delegates to pair up and draw each other on small PostIt's. After two minutes of drawing I then ask them to show their partner the drawing they have made. At this point many people express anxiety at showing their drawing to the other person for fear of being judged as a terrible artist or offending the person with the likeness (or lack of) they have produced. This is the point at which we openly discuss the relationship between the energy of anxiety and it's impact on creativity. The key is to harness the energy of our anxiety and turn it outwards towards creative action rather than allowing that energy to turn inwards and inhibit us.
Art therapy is an interesting example of how anxiety can be sublimated, relieved and understood through creativity. We need energy to take action so by utilising forms of creative expression to generate energy like drama, writing, drawing, painting, dance and music therapists can work with the nonverbal symbols and metaphors that people produce within the creative process. In this context anxiety is translated into artwork and depression and anxiety can be more easily communicated and understood by the person who is experiencing them.
So next time you feel anxious, first celebrate that you now have the extra energy for some creativity. Secondly check where it's coming from and get strategic. Is the root cause physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual? Once you've identified the source see if you can harness that energy and reframe your thinking to redirect the anxious energy towards creating something. If you're hungry or thirsty use that energy to create something interesting to eat or drink by combining some tasty or unusual ingredients.
If it's emotional, intellectual or spiritual produce a symbol or representation of your feelings, thoughts and beliefs. It could be a number, an equation or a poem, a sentence, a word or a doodle. Maybe just make a sound; hum or whistle a tune or write a short lyric. Anything that releases your emotional anxiety into the world as an object so you can look at it and maybe share it with others.
Once you get used to making the connection between anxious feelings and creativity you will gradually develop the habit and a new capacity to go directly towards creatively responding to life's challenges. Finally Carl Jung suggests: "If you have nothing at all to create, then perhaps you can just create yourself." After all the more we learn about the universe and our place in it through modern science, quantum physics and evolutionary biology and psychology the more the meaning of life seems to be less about finding yourself and more about creating yourself.

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