In Part 4, you learned that your innate creativity informs many aspects of your life, and that the way we see and how we do things makes each one of us unique. You also learned specific things you can do to encourage and strengthen creativity in your child. In the final part of this series, we’ll look at the most important role that creativity plays, and that is our ability to create our life.
Yes, we really do create our life; it is not something that is done to us. Based on what we think or how we perceive things, we make hundreds of choices every day, both large and small. We choose what we’re going to eat, who we want to be with, what work we like, who we’re going to marry, and a million other things that paint the picture of our life journey. Knowing you can create your life and how to go about that process is the most important skill we can cultivate. We all know what it’s like to feel stuck and trapped. Knowing how to shift things so that we can feel creative again and get our life to work is something we continue to practice and learn. That’s why it’s important that we help our kids understand the creative process.
Remember that the present moment is a mosaic, consisting of many things. Every part of it is real in that moment. Reality is what’s happening in the present moment, so that’s why it’s important to show up like a blank canvas, paying attention to what is really there, taking in what we see, hear and feel in that moment. In that aware moment we can experience the essences that we already have that we like, and we can feel the pain of what’s missing, or the essences that we desire that are not manifested yet. We can set our intention and our trajectory for the essences that we want. We can even see how we can bring them into our lives in small ways, right away.
The present moment is the experience of what has already been manifested or created. Since it’s already so, it’s pretty useless to throw our energy into resisting the parts of it that we don’t like. That’s like resisting the universe. Resistance is a very human thing to do, so beware! Our resistance springs up all over the place. Everything we resist is like a weight we carry on our backs. It consumes our attention and energy and yet produces nothing constructive. Resistance is a useless use of our precious time and energy – we want to consciously get on with the business of creating, not resisting! Noticing when we are resisting and switching to acceptance is one empowering shift we can always make. The present moment has two sides to it: what is already manifest and is real in that moment, and what is as yet un-manifested and exists in that moment as pure potential. When we look at the present moment in this way, we can see how resistance to what has already been created is the wrong place to put our energy and attention, when the other side of the present moment – the pure creative energy/potential of that moment – awaits us.
That’s where the juice is; that’s where we want to be putting our attention. Change occurs not by resisting what is, but by putting our attention on how and in what way we want to create or shape the un-manifested energy that is available all the time, in every moment, so that we can create a life that is fulfilling to us.
Coming to the present moment with a blank canvas doesn’t necessarily mean that in the next moment you’re going to start filling it up. Being present begins with listening, observing, being still, paying attention, being in the question. Sometimes it takes time before we are clear about what to do – or not do. Until clarity comes, it’s best to keep watching, listening, waiting, and cultivating patience. We also want to respect and honor all the limitations that are present. We tend to see limits as something bad. This is not accurate. Limits provide structure. Limits are part of reality, so don’t resist them! There are always limits to creating, and all limits are useful. When we create, we are giving form or structure to unlimited energy that is formless. We take what is formless and bring form or structure to it, and that very structure or form is itself a limit to the energy. The structure itself is a limit to the un-manifested, formless energy – so, learn to love the limits!
Before I end, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the human propensity to judge. Be careful! You’ll need to consciously work to be open to how your child answers your questions, as well as the results your child achieves in her or his actual artistic endeavors. They may delight you; they may horrify you; they may confuse you; they may disappoint you, so let go of any expectations. At the very least, you’ll find your child is different from you! Keep an open mind. Try not to judge. Kids are constantly changing. Allow them this point on their journey. The last thing we want to do is save them from their mistakes, because then they’ll never learn, and their mistakes will get bigger. To quote Einstein again, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” What is a mistake, anyway? Take away the judgment and you’ll find a jewel for growth. Everyone’s path is painful and challenging, so forget trying to protect your child from pain and challenge. It’s just the nature of the journey. Relax and accept it by opening up your own mental, emotional and physical space.
Give yourself the freedom you need so that you can accept uncertainty and come to the present moment undecided. Set your intention to find your own unique and creative ways to respond and participate in your child’s inevitably bumpy and remarkable ride.
My 5-part series on creativity has come to an end. I hope it has given you new understanding, new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and inspired you to consciously create the space for creativity to blossom in your home. Remember, creativity is our natural state.
Creativity informs many aspects of our lives – not just an artistic product we are creating. Creativity involves the way we look at things. For example, walking down the beach one person may see the plastic scraps and bottle caps as litter; another person may see them as materials for a collage. We are all unique. What is your child’s unique way of seeing things and interpreting them? You’re only going to find out by asking, and asking will give your child the opportunity to explore and strengthen her creativity and find her own uniqueness. Take every opportunity to ask your child questions about how s/he thinks about something – a book, a movie, the new house down the road, the lasagna at your mother’s house, the flowers to plant in the garden this summer, the design of the new school flyer, the amusement ride, the shirts and pants s/he likes, the arrangement of the furniture in her bedroom, etc. Once you get an answer, ask, “Why?”
Creativity also shows up in how we do things. How do you vacuum the room – up and down, across, diagonally, one small area at a time? How do you like to clean, where do you start? How do you sort out your clothes, your socks? How do you save money? How do you like to cook eggs? Any time you are tempted to tell your child how to do something or what to do or when to do it, etc., stop and turn it into an opportunity to let your child explore his creative nature. How would he do it? What are his suggestions? How does she see it? What’s important to her? Let your child surprise you. Since you’re both in this together, you can take notice of how you see things as well, and share with your child. No one is either right or wrong. Rather, you both want to see if your creative way is useful and has essence for you.
Problem solving is another great way to strengthen creativity. Many people find they are most creative when they have something to respond to. What are some ways we can solve this problem? How can we resolve this? What can we create to solve this issue? What invention to solve this necessity? How can we make this or that better? What is the question to ask? What are the essences we want? What are the feelings we want? What forms can we create to manifest them? See my blog on essence.
More than ever, we live in a time where our children are going to have to think outside-the-box for solutions to problems. Albert Einstein said, “You can’t solve a problem using the same thinking that created it.” Insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Both of these observations speak to how our thinking and habitual conditioning keep us from coming to the present moment undecided, with a blank canvas, so that we can really see what there is to see. Einstein also stated, “I have no special talents; I am only passionately curious,” and, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Both curiosity and living in the question are wonderful tools to teach our children that will also prepare them for the most important role of all that creativity plays in their life.
What role is that? You’ll discover it in the final part of this series. It’s none of the above, though the above will train you and your child for this role. And, you’ll learn how to deal with the very human tendency to judge.
As you’ve been reading this series, I hope it has occurred to you that cultivating creative skills is the opposite of what happens in many classrooms. Under pressure to get good test results, teachers stop asking. They tell. It’s quicker that way, and then everyone’s on the same page. They tell what is important in a story, they tell why it is important, they tell what will be on the test, they tell how to do this and that and that there is only one way. In too many classrooms today creativity is stifled. Students are not asked to think for themselves. Consequently, they don’t get to know who they are. They haven’t practiced how to explore their minds, how to inquire, and how to create. Bringing creativity back into the classroom is an essential task for all educators. Most teachers excel at creativity. It actually happens quite naturally once the fear of test results as well as time restraints are removed.
What is the Process of Creating? How does it Happen?
The act of creating is not as difficult as one might think. Being creative is innate to us; it’s tied in with our imagination. Remember those early humans who imagined the worst in order to survive? We’ve been strengthening that imagination muscle for a long time. Our well-developed ability to imagine is one of the things that sets us apart from all other species. It’s part of who you are, and you can rely on it, but you need to use it consciously. Making up worst case scenarios about the future as well as making up fantasies about the future are not productive ways to use your imagination.
Creating takes place in the present moment. This may be obvious, but with our overactive minds we are usually not in the present. We’re in the made-up world of our thoughts. Children, however, don’t have as busy minds, so this will be easier for your child. You can come into the present by taking a deep breath, feeling your feet on the floor, listening to the sounds around you. Quiet the mind. Relax. Ideas come. How? When you are relaxed, you are a conduit for inspiration and ideas. They drop in – just like that. No struggle. Resistance is the antithesis to creating. Resistance is like throwing a rubber ring around a circuit of electricity: the electricity immediately stops. Your resistance stops the flow of ideas.
Being open and non-resistant is very important if we want to be conduits. Yet it’s challenging for us to be non-resistant. It seems like we’re always in resistance to something: there’s not enough time; it’s too noisy, I have to finish cleaning, the garage needs to be cleaned out, my hair doesn’t look good, I gained another pound; I don’t like the steak the waiter brought me-it’s overcooked, etc. Make it a point to tune in a few times a day and see what you are in resistance to at any given moment. When we recognize the resistance, we can then choose to consciously release it. We can accept what is so, and leave it at that, until the time comes when we can change or transform it, if it can be changed or transformed.
In other words, the present moment doesn’t have to be perfect in order for you to create. The present moment is always a mosaic of many things – some pleasant, some not so pleasant. Just because some unpleasant fact is true in your present moment doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative. However, if you resist the fact instead of just accepting it, then that resistance will stop you from being a conduit for the energy of ideas. The resistance stops you from showing up in the present. You’re off in your head, resisting. Become conscious of it, and you have the choice to release it, to let it go. One technique that helps with acceptance is to think of releasing your resistance into the ground. Once you release resistance, that energy you were consuming for resistance is now free for creating.
Besides freeing yourself from any resistance to what is so, you also want to release/free yourself from conditioning, beliefs, and thoughts, because they will also get in the way of your showing up fully in the present moment – undecided about reality. Remember the metaphor of the white canvas in Part 2? If you show up with your conditioning or any thoughts, you no longer have a white canvas on which to create. Your canvas is already covered – there are blotches all over it, each blotch representing a thought. That may be OK for art therapy, and art therapy has its uses, but it is not creating. It is not tapping into your creativity. Creating is about newness and it can only happen in the present moment, when you show up fully with all your energy; when you bring a blank canvas to the present. Just like you need to remove the clutter from your environment to create, you also need to remove the clutter from your mind.
Creativity happens when we free ourselves to tap into that un-manifested potential of the present moment. This is when inspiration comes. It can’t help but come because the un-manifested energy is always present. The energy of potential and uncertainty bring aliveness to every moment. They provide the juice of life, and they are components of every present moment, not just a few moments once a week. The energy and potential for creating is always present, so the question really becomes: are you going to be a conduit, or not?! Are you free to create?
Once you set your intention for creativity, don’t be surprised where and when your ideas come. Those ideas and inspiration want to slip in, and they’ll find a way! Because they seek the path of least resistance, they may come when you least expect it: when you’re brushing your teeth, washing your hair, getting on the bus. These are times when our busy minds are out of the way, and we are more able to be a conduit for the energetic flow of ideas. Then inspiration can drop in; it’s that easy.
Once you are inspired and have ideas, manifesting them is another matter. As Einstein pointed out, creating is messy. It is not a linear process, so you’re going to have to get your hands wet and allow the messiness, confusion and experimentation that is part of the process of bringing something new into reality.
Creativity takes many forms. Your child might be creating a picture, building a structure, making a piece of pottery, creating a dance, playing an instrument. But creativity goes way beyond what we consider to be actual artistic products and artistic pursuits. In Part 4, we’ll look at all the ways creativity shows up in your life, and what specific things you can do to encourage creativity in all aspects of your child’s life.
How do we free ourselves to be open to the present moment where our creative potential awaits? In Part 1 you learned that the uncertainty inherent in every present moment is what allows us to create. Yet humans are wired to respond to uncertainty by imagining the worst case scenario. Another default position of the human brain is to want to control and dominate, or become subservient to one who dominates, as a response to fear and uncertainty.
Dominance/subservience was a solution for the early human tribes because it held them together and helped them to survive, but it does not serve us any more and hasn’t for centuries. This model remains our default position today unless we employ consciousness. When we free ourselves from our brain’s default responses and our conditioning, we open ourselves to the present moment and our creative potential.
Control is an illusion, anyway. When we use consciousness, we can see that the only thing we can really control is our own behavior – our own perceptions, beliefs and choices. The famous Serenity Prayer serves us well:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
The only thing we can really change is ourselves. It takes courage to move past our conditioning and inaccurate perceptions. They’re bound to pop up when we become parents, and especially when we set our intention to provide the freedom necessary to nurture our child’s creativity.
What to do? One way to set yourself on the track of consciousness instead of knee-jerk default responses is to nurture your own creativity along with your child’s. Equalizing the playing field so that you are both “students” is something your child will love. One of the most honoring and respectful things any one can do is to come to the present moment undecided. Children naturally do this because they don’t have much history yet. They haven’t formed opinions; they are open to what the present moment holds. To see a parent approach the present moment with the same openness is pure delight for a child. You’re on an adventure together, and you’re both in the front seat. The driver is your intention for creativity, and the fuel is the unknown potential in the present moment.
You’ll have to fight your conditioning, such as father knows best, I need to be in control, I need to set the rules, as the mother I need to know all the answers, it needs to be done my way because I’m the parent; a good parent can control their kids, etc. etc. Find your particular flavor of conditioning, and use your consciousness to rein it in.
You will find the present moment is always neutral when you arrive unfettered by your beliefs and conditioning. It’s like a white canvas, ripe with potential. There are limits in the present, of course. To use the metaphor of the white canvas, the limits to creativity are the size of your canvas, the colors of paint that are available, your current skill level, whether you have 5 fingers or were in an accident and now have 3, the amount of time you have and so on, but seeing the limits is part of seeing the present moment. There’s nothing wrong with limits. We are always creating within certain limits, and that’s fine.
Preparing and maintaining the mental, emotional and physical environment with freedom in mind is the primary step for both you and your child. To prepare the actual physical environment, a cleared space free from distraction and noise works for most people. In order for me to create, I need open space on all three levels: emotional space free from pressure, an open mind free from thoughts and any agenda or plan, and a physical space that is clean, refreshing and free from clutter. Physical health is important, too. If you’re tired, stressed, or worried, you’re not going to have the energy to create. Same goes for your children.
Just what is creating? How does it happen? You’ll find out in Part 3. In the meantime, try to notice the conditioning and thoughts that come up as you parent your child. When you imagine giving them the freedom to create, what thoughts come up? When you think of allowing yourself the freedom to create, what thoughts come up? Experiment with coming to the present moment undecided about reality. What does that feel like? All of these exercises will help you become more aware and conscious.
Often the more we try to do well by our children, the tighter our grasp becomes. Providing the freedom to create starts with you. You’ll need to relax and let go, and you’ll probably need to go against your conditioning. You’ll also need to confront your fears and the human tendency to want to control. Control is the opposite of creativity. Creativity needs freedom.
Freedom is an essence we all desire. In order to be truly free, we need to learn to be OK with the uncertainty of every present moment. It is the uncertainty of the present moment that makes creating possible. You might say that in every present moment we are walking the edge between what is known and already formed, and what is unknown and unformed. The uncertainty of the moment and its potential will be explored in upcoming sections, but for now let’s look at why uncertainty is hard for us. By nature, humans are afraid of uncertainty. Brain research has shown that the primitive part of our brain is wired to think uncertainty means the worst is about to happen, because that’s how early humans survived. They learned to imagine and anticipate the worst case scenario. A rustle in the grass might be the wind, but if you didn’t imagine it was a hungry tiger about to pounce, you risked being lunch.
Flash forward to the 21st century, and humans are still carrying around that primitive brain. And the brain’s default position is to imagine the worst case scenario. Of course in reality most of us are not in continual life/death situations, but the primitive part of our brain doesn’t know that. There may not be any more tigers, but whenever you respond to uncertainty with fear, your brain sees tigers and puts you in survival/flight-fight mode, with adrenalin coursing through your body. In the 21st century, we have emotionalized survival. If we allow our default position to go unchecked, we’ll see the current uncertainty as a life/death situation. We’ll live in a constant state of stress and worrying, including making up worst case scenarios about the future and our kids.
For eons, humans responded to uncertainty by trying to control the environment as much as possible through force and domination. This inclination to dominate, or be subservient to a dominator who will dominate on your behalf, was part of a biological contract that held the early human tribes together. It worked very well. The primitive part of our brain is still wired to think this is the successful way to respond, and so the desire to dominate and control became another default response whenever fear arose. However, as we know, this response doesn’t work anymore and hasn’t for centuries. Trying to dominate and control, or becoming subservient to a person who dominates, leads to destructive choices and takes away the freedom essential for creativity.
In order to provide an environment of freedom for ourselves and our kids, we’re going to have to fight these default positions by using consciousness. The ability to be conscious, to pause, reflect and consider what is accurate and what action is in our best interest, resides in the newer part of our brain – the pre frontal cortex. It takes a conscious decision to be conscious! In Part Two, we’ll look at how to get around these all-too-human default positions. In the meantime, notice whenever they arise in your life, and the fear or uncertainty that causes them. The more you can become conscious of your own default behavior, the easier it will be to make the changes that will lead you and your child to the freedom to create.
Writing at home often for a variety of reasons helps children appreciate the usefulness and practicality of writing. Some suggestions: your child can add products to your grocery list, write down on a large whiteboard where he is going when he leaves the house, make a simple list of what he wants to do the next day, write down a memory of the day. Look for short, practical writing opportunities that do not involve sitting down for a half hour or longer.
The examples above involve using repetitive words, so your child can also build vocabulary and spelling skills. For the grocery list, you can make a list of the products and food items you buy regularly and print it out using a large font. Your child can use the list to locate and then copy an item onto this week’s grocery list.
A large, magnetic white board can be used for all your family happenings. Hang it in a family gathering place like the kitchen or the hall. Make sure it’s big, and have plenty of colorful chalk or markers handy. When your child goes outside to play, she can write it on the board. She’ll be using many repetitive words, like, I am going to play with Maria; I am going to play in the backyard; I am going to my art class, etc. She can even add the time to practice clock skills.Other family members can write on this board as well. It’s great for kids to see their parents do the same thing they do. It lets them know writing is valued. If a parent leaves early to go to work, the white board can be a nice place to leave a short, special note. For kids, reading a nice message from a parent beats reading Dr. Seuss any day!
Besides being practical, writing can be for fun, too. For example, hide things and write each other clues to find them, or use written clues for a scavenger hunt. Your child can draw and label a map of your backyard or her bedroom. As you can see, there is no reason for kids to get the idea that all writing involves sitting down for long periods of time. Writing standing up and on the fly is an excellent way for kids to practice writing. It’s fun, it keeps the blood circulating and the brain active and aware. Before you know it, you’ll have a confident writer who views writing as normal as getting dressed every day.
When your child says she or he is bored, take it seriously. First, try to understand from your child why she is bored. Sometimes kids stop engaging not because they are bored, but because they feel their participation is not valued or supported.
However, if this is not the issue and your child is restless and frustrated because “there is nothing to do”, then sit down with your child and explore ways that will lead back to participation in life. The antidote to boredom is engagement. How can you help your child engage?
Because we live in a physical universe, we may think that the answer to boredom lies in finding the right physical form; for example, a book, a trip, a new toy, a play-date, going to a movie, drawing a new picture, etc. This is what we tend to do as adults. We put all of our attention on finding the right form.
But life is a feeling experience. What we lose sight of is that it’s not really the form that brings us pleasure and engagement. It’s the feelings we experience as a result of a form that bring us the “juice” we’re looking for.
The pathway out of boredom is to start with the “juice” instead of the form. What are the feelings that we want to experience? What essence qualities would we like right now? What’s missing? Some common feelings or essence qualities we may desire are: fun, freedom, expansion, creativity, adventure, challenge, growth, peace, sanctuary, inspiration, ease, simplicity, balance, insight, clarity, community, friendship, contribution, service, sustainability, beauty, partnership, collaboration, wholeness, acceptance, joy.
Talk with your child and guide him or her into an exploration of the feeling experiences he or she desires. What feeling experience is missing? Come up with a few essences. This will be new for you too, so try it with your child. You can each write down 1-3 essences that you desire. If you get stuck, you might start with identifying 3 essences that you have already. They might be beauty, family, sustainability, joy, freedom, etc. In fact, if you can attention the essences that you already have right at this moment, you will start to feel more engaged with life.
Once your child has identified 1-3 missing essences, brainstorm together a list of the different forms that might bring your child the essences she or he desires. Notice that there is always more than one form that can bring your child that essence experience.
As you’re making your list of the possible forms, don’t go too far out into the future. Look at the resources that are available right now, as well as the present circumstances, because there will always be limits or limitations to what is possible, and that’s fine. You may not be able to produce that missing essence immediately, but you can set your course in a clear direction toward that essence. You can also begin to bring that missing essence into your life right away in small ways.
These are the steps out of boredom. We’re not used to looking at life this way because we become so enamored of the physical form. However, if you can teach your child at a young age to begin identifying essences and to put essence before form, you will be giving your child a priceless tool for navigating through life. Think of all the poor choices we make in life because we confuse the form for the feeling. For example, kids on drugs are often looking for peace. If they could identify that peace is the essence or feeling that they desire, what other forms could they find that would bring them peace?
The essences we desire are the best guides for our lives. Instead of making choices based on our fears or our mental ideas of the perfect form, we can use the feeling experiences we desire to set our course. In this way, we can ensure that the choices we make in life are authentic and fulfilling.
“Do you want to read your new book, work on math, or just chill for 10 minutes?”
“Are you going to get your breakfast this morning, or would you like me to?”
Giving kids choices is an excellent way to introduce kids to their own power – not unlimited power, but power within a defined structure, a structure that they can handle. With choices, a child is given the opportunity to think, explore the options, and imagine.
But it gets even better. Giving kids choices gives kids the opportunity to be responsible for their choices and actually see and experience the consequence of their choice. The icing on the cake is that they get to see that if they don’t like the consequence of their choice, they have the power to choose differently and change their choice to something that they do like.
How much better can life get?! Every step of the way, your child is thinking, taking responsibility for her or his actions, learning to be self-directed and learning that life is what we choose to make of it – it is not something that is “done to us”. Rather, we are very powerful. We hold the brush that paints the canvas of our lives.
Kids who get to make a lot of choices are kids who feel powerful. Whenever you find yourself in a struggle with your child, figure out how you can give your child more power in that situation by structuring the situation with choices.