There are many things that can affect the creative process for better or worse. There is practically a genre of self help books just to address the most common problem for all writers and artists: being blocked. It is a terrible thing for a creative person when no ideas will come. I tend not to have that particular block. Mine is more about being flooded with ideas all which make me a little high. I have to work pretty hard to sort out which are flights of fancy and which are viable and worth pursuing.
For the last week I have had a particular phrase running through my mind: standing in a place of infinite possibility. It began last Sunday morning on my way to church. It was a beautiful fall day, crisp but not cold with a sky that was completely clear without a single cloud. Seeing the eternal blue made me think: I am standing in a place of infinite possibility.
During worship I contemplated and even spoke about being in that condition. It meant standing between fear and courage, between despair and hope, between paralysis and action, between hate and love.
For an artist like me it also means that at the beginning of every project it feels like I have been given a beautifully wrapped present. Anything could be inside. It could be ugly socks or a gold necklace. Of course the way my mind works the socks are often preferable because they make me think of all the amazing hikes I could take in them - and the idea of the gold necklace makes me a little a shamed and wondering where I might wear something so lovely and useless. Nonetheless imagining what is in the box is sometimes better than the actual present.
This week was the regular meeting of a book club I belong to. I always look forward to our unpredictable conversations. This time we were discussing a book I brought to the group: Illuminations by Mary Sharrat. It is a work of historical fiction about the life of Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard was a Twelfth century nun and mystic whose writings, musical compositions, and book illuminations made her famous. She eventually became an abbess running her own nunnery, and an advisor to the Pope. This was no small feat in her day. I was most interested in what my friends would say about her visions and the mystical experience.
Some thought they were very interesting and even inspiring. Others thought they were simply a sign of mental illness or symptoms of some other undiagnosed physical ailment. Hearing that, for just a moment, I was still a little disappointed that people were so dismissive. But I was not surprised by these reactions particularly when discussed in the context of the story. Visions are elixirs, intoxicants, hallucinogens. They can be sheer pleasure or frightening torture. It is no wonder that they are terrifying to many people. It has always felt strange to me that they are not part of everyone’s experience.
I have always had them. And in fact visions are kind of what I do for a living. My job as an artist or designer and writer is to take the fantasies in my head and turn them into something either tangible or perceivable to others. When I am doing it right my work results in something helpful to someone else.
Creativity and the spiritual experience are completely intertwined for me. I believe in God. I believe God has communicated to me and through me. However, I do not think that is terribly special. I believe there is that of God in everyone. God communicates to everyone in a way we can each best understand. God communicates through each of us particularly when we are acting or speaking with integrity, compassion, and love.
This Sunday morning the weather is very different. It is very common this time of year to have a dense morning fog and that is what I see beyond my window. I am reminded that a week later I am still standing in a place of infinite possibility. The mist is quite beautiful and mysterious. It presents a whole other set of choices. I am between reality and dreams, between knowing and belief, between community and solitude, between inside and outside.
When the Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s wife was dying it is said that he could not resist the urge to draw her portrait on the death bed. He could not deny his role as the observer recorder outside looking in. When I first heard that story I felt a wave of emotion. There was someone who actually understood my experience. More often than not I feel like an observer looking in on a world I am not really part of.
And yet standing in that place I have the vantage point of being able to turn and see the entire universe. I am standing in a place of infinite possibility. I cannot remain there forever. Every day I have to step back from that place and harvest the fruits I grow in the land of make believe. I am grateful for the gift of being able to go back and forth and the opportunity to share it through my work.