To thine own self be true

“To thine own self be true,” said William Shakespeare.

This sounds great, but how do we even know what it means to be true to oneself? Young children seem very free to express their true nature. A child’s laughter is one of the most beautiful sounds: full, joyous, and resonant. Unfortunately, many of us learn to squelch that natural laughter, to subdue our energy, or to be “seen and not heard,” so that by the time we are adults we have difficulty knowing who we are.

Society encourages us to look a certain way, speak so that other people will approve of us, follow the trends that are popular. Today’s pre-teenagers already wear makeup and speak in voices they imitate from TV or video. I recently spoke with a 60-something woman who told me she was going to let her hair go natural. She has been straightening it since she was in her 20’s and covering the gray since the age of 40. “I think it’s time for me to find out what I really look like,” she said. “I don’t even know what my natural look is!”

How can we truly express ourselves if we don’t even know who we are? We need to learn to re-connect with the Real Self, the inner self. Exploring our true nature can be an exciting prospect. We can begin by learning to quiet the outer mind. All of that brain chatter that says we should think, talk, or act in ways that are “appropriate” must cease so that we can become still and listen to our own inner voice.

Concentration exercises are especially helpful for calming the mind. A simple breathing exercise can do wonders. Inhale deeply through the nose, hold the breath for a moment, and then exhale through the mouth. Do this a few times, rhythmically and easily. Then breathe naturally, and simply observe the breath. You will find your mind becoming quieter.

Spend some time alone in this quiet state. You can write, take a walk, enjoy a creative activity, or simply sit. Once you become accustomed to enjoying your own company you will find it much easier to express your true nature.

Meditation is another way to discover more of the Real You. Meditation is a form of inner listening. With a still, calm mind, this practice feels nourishing. Deep meditation can be more relaxing than a nap. Daily meditation can aid anyone to know the self that exists beyond the physical body and the five senses. This higher self can provide answers and give us guidance when we learn to listen.

Remembering night-time dreams and learning to interpret them is another wonderful way to know the self. Dreams come from the inner self or subconscious mind and give guidance to the outer self or conscious mind. The key to understanding dreams is to learn the language in which they communicate.

Keep a dream journal by the bed to capture the dream upon awakening. Dreams can clue us into our life purpose, our own attitudes and state of awareness, and can even connect us with other people and resources. There are famous tales of inventors, scientists, artists, writers, musicians, and entrepreneurs who received inspiration from dreams.
drawing_writing_journal
To start using dream-inspiration for creative expression, write down in your dream journal, “I want to remember my dreams.” Then, ask your subconscious mind a question. In the morning, make sure to write down the first thing you remember, before you hop out of bed or start talking or thinking about your day.

A couple of years ago I was writing a book on visualization. It was a revision and update of a book I’d written thirteen years earlier. The first book had gone out of print, and I had been told that the title was not catchy. I couldn’t seem to come up with a good title for the new book. I had lists of possible titles, some recommended by other people, some that I had considered. None was exactly right. So one night I asked for a dream to give me the book title. In the morning, as I awoke, I heard in my mind the words, “The Law of Attraction and Other Secrets of Visualization.” I immediately wrote it down in my dream journal. I decided to use that title for the book, and it has turned out to be highly successful! The book sold out in the first year and went into a second printing before the year was over.

Listen to your inner self. It will guide you, so that your creative expression comes from your heart. That is the road to fulfillment and to aiding others with your unique gifts.

So you want to write a poem?

People who long to write sometimes stop themselves with a self-critical editor who says, “You’re not a writer.”

A writer is someone who writes. So if you want to write a poem, write one.

Write every day. Even if you find your writing tedious or boring or uninspired, by writing every day, you will become a writer. It’s that simple.

Where can you find inspiration? So many sources! I first kept a dream journal in college when a friend in a creative writing class told me that the inspiration for her poetry came from her dreams.

Keep a journal by your bed and tell yourself before sleep, “I want to remember my dreams.” Then be faithful, upon awakening write down the impressions in your mind. It may be an entire dream, a feeling, a fleeting image, some words. It doesn’t matter. Don’t judge it, just record it.  Even if you don’t remember a thing, you can write what you think or how you feel upon awakening.

From your dreams, circle the nouns and the verbs and put them together into sentences. Or take each line that you’ve written, preface it with the words, “In my dream,” and string them together. You have a poem!

Another way to compose poetry is to ask friends to give you words. Seven to nine words seems to be a good number, maybe up to ten. Or you can look around the room or listen for the first words that pop into your mind. Use some form of those seven to ten words to make a poem.

Play with words. Play with the sound, the rhythm, the images they evoke. Poetry, unlike prose, does not have to be made of full sentences. Experiment with the images.

Don’t be concerned about meaning. Think of a poem like music or abstract painting and let the sounds or images carry you into a new realm.

Here are some poems I made from the random word exercise:

Beckoning
Beckon, forthright, cultivate, ginger, fresh, sallow, wonder, bleak, harvest, genuine

The bleak landscape beckons me
Quietly, gingerly, I step out
Wondering what fresh places to cultivate
Is there something genuine
Beneath that sallow earth
That a forthright laborer
Can harvest?

Unfolding
fathom, silk, peace, love, white, gentle, far, touch, blessed, trust

How gentle your loving touch
Deeper by far than the ocean
How can I fathom the blessed peace you bring me?
I trust this unfolding,
The white silk veil falls away

 

peace_tile

All I want is peace

Peace, love, green, flower, sanctuary, black, comb, fashion, trial

All I want is peace.
In the deep longing for love
something green reaches for light
What is this flowering?
Where is the quiet sanctuary
in which all is known?
Does it exist?

Black has its purpose.
Still, waiting, resonant
with the soul fashioning
its next movement.
Some trials are worth continuing.
If I comb through the past
will it reveal the source of this unknowing?

 

Another way to write a poem is to pick particular qualities or states of being that resonate with you and turn them into people. An excellent book for stimulating your imagination this way is The Book of Qualities by Ruth Gendler. I highly recommend it.

The following poem, “Solitude,” came to me in feeling images as I pondered solitude and its seeming opposite, intimacy. As I focused on my own experience of aloneness, I felt within me the similarity of solitude and intimacy. It came forth in this way:

Solitude

I have grown used to Solitude
She befriended me when I needed her.
A constant companion
She is comfortable and familiar
and even peaceful.

A little while ago
I told her we needed to change
our live-in arrangement.
She can visit
but it is time for us to take a break

There is space now
for her sister Intimacy to move in.
Few people realize
how closely related they are …
The touch the same places.
The difference is who they allow
to share them

Writing poetry can be a way to free the creative mind to express. Allow yourself to play with words. You can choose a particular form like haiku or limericks or classic sonnets, or write in free verse. Think of words as the raw materials you use to create, just as a sculptor would use clay or a painter acrylic or oil paint. A chef uses food and spices and a musician creates with sound. When you approach writing as play, you’ll find joy in the process.

Sometimes that seems more valuable than the finished product.

Please share your poems in the comments below along with the process you used to create them!

I make things

“I am not an artist, I make things.”

A dear friend of mine who paints and writes, teaches and leads workshops to teach teachers how to be creative, told me one time that she does not think of herself as an artist. “I am not an artist, I make things,” she said.

This simple statement changed my life. It gave me freedom and permission to enjoy the creative process without so much self-critical judgment about whether it was good or not.

The creative impulse is inherently ours. I believe that our essence is creative and we are most happy when we express ourselves.

When we think of ourselves as “creative,” we may make art or write or decorate a house or garden or cook. If we think, “I am not creative,” we feel restless or may think we have Attention Deficit Disorder. We have lots of ideas, sometimes so many we don’t know where to start. We might try to stifle the creative urge by eating, sleeping, drinking or procrastinating.

Why would anyone want to stifle the creative urge? It seems unnatural to suppress creativity. I think we learn to do that. Children may be taught to “get rid of” excess energy or be told that they can’t draw or paint or sing. As adults we often operate from beliefs we adopted long ago. One experience of feeling ashamed for singing off key or being too loud or not following instructions can spark a lifelong belief in not being creative.

What if, for a month, you decided “I am creative”? What if every day you did something creative without any judgement about whether it was good enough? Try listing all of the things you like to make. Maybe you use your hands or your pen or your voice or your body. Do one of these things every day. See how you feel!

At different times in my life I have allowed myself to be free to be create. At other times, I have killed my creativity with harsh judgments. Recently I decided to do one creative thing (at least) each day without regard to whether it was good enough. I discovered that many of the ways I like to create are useful. Somewhere I had come to believe that being creative and being useful were incompatible.

So I was judging myself as being uncreative when, in fact, in one week I expressed my creativity in these ways:

 cooking three soups and some interesting breakfast dishes

  covering an empty box with adhesive paper to make a trash can that matched the receptacles I made to hold  markers and pens from covering empty coffee cans with the same paper

  making an altar by covering a plastic tub with fabric

  making a dream journal from a notebook that I covered with an image cut from a magazine

  framing a drawing of an angel cut from a magazine for the altar

  decorating a work area with plants

  writing two poems

I was reminded of a class I took in college when I was studying Women’s Studies. Called Women’s Imagination, the question posed in the class was “Why are there no great women artists?” This was in 1978, when most of the artists who were known in the world of fine art were men.

I learned in the class that there were painters and writers who used male pseudonyms so that their work would be accepted in society, but there was also a condition in which women expressed their creativity through objects that were consumed rather than hanging in art galleries. So in many periods of history, women’s art took the form of embroidered tablecloths or handmade clothes or delicious meals. Because these were used and often used up, their creators were not recognized or acknowledged.

The Mayans describe time by saying that Time is Art. In Western society we have mutated the idea of time to be Time is Money. When we value time in dollars, we may come to devalue creative activity for the sake of creating, for the pure joy of putting things together in a new way.

About a year ago, I noticed a series of nighttime dreams in which time was an issue. In most of these dreams I was late for something, or I noticed a clock and became aware that the time had passed for something I was supposed to do. I wondered why the clock or issue of time was so prominent. In all of these dreams, I recognized the feeling of having missed out on something.

Reflecting upon my waking life, I discovered that these dreams always accompanied a feeling when awake that I was “missing the boat,” that there was something I was supposed to be accomplishing or doing that I was not doing. It was always unpleasant, with a kind of gnawing feeling in the area of my solar plexus.

When I am creating, I never have this feeling of time running out. There is a feeling of joy and fulfillment. For me, I especially enjoy creativity when I am making a gift. Something about sharing my self-expression that brings me fulfillment. Not too long ago, someone posted a challenge on Facebook to offer a creative surprise to the first five people who responded. I decided to participate in it and found myself grateful for the “excuse” to make something for other people.

I made different creative surprises for the five people who responded: a personalized bookmark for one, a mandala for another, a poem for another, a door hanger for a mother who meditates with an image of a meditator (so her kids would know when she wanted to be left alone for her spiritual practice) and my favorite, a doll.

side dollFor some reason, the idea of the doll came to me immediately when the fifth woman responded. I visualized what I wanted the doll to look like and how I would make her. I had an empty shampoo bottle that was somewhat hourglass shaped. I thought it would make a perfect body. I wanted to make the doll from “found objects” so I had my eye out for yarn for the hair, fabric for the dress, a children’s hair tie for the collar of the dress, and pipe cleaner arms. The only thing I bought was a wooden ball for the head and glue to put her together.

Thinking about the doll and looking for the objects to make it brought me great delight. I was not sure whether my friend would appreciate her as much as I did but the joy of making it infused the doll and she received my love and creativity along with the thing itself.

Making that doll also reminded me of the final project that was part of the Women’s Imagination class. Our final assignment was open-ended: to do a creative project. I had no idea what to do. As I was pondering this, I browsed in a bookstore with my older sister. I was looking through an illustrated book of dollhouses, poring over the details of the tiny furniture.

“Why don’t you make a dollhouse for your creative project?” she suggested, “You’ve always loved them.”

What a great idea! This is why I love people; they can stimulate you to think in ways you might not otherwise think. She was right, as a child, I had loved dollhouses. Some of the first dreams I remember are those of very intricate and detailed dollhouses. Although I had one, it had molded plastic furniture. I longed for furniture that actually worked, with drawers that opened and closed, lights that turned on, stairs that a doll could climb.

I decided to do it. I found three sturdy cardboard boxes for the three rooms. I figured I could make a living room, dining room, and bedroom. As soon as I thought about it, I immediately started to “see” in things in my environment a new use for them. I bought some balsa wood at a craft store and used it to cover wooden boxes. Three matchboxes stacked on top of one another, covered in balsa wood with tiny beads glued to the front made a three-drawer dresser with drawers that opened and closed.

I had a microscope when I was in junior high school and still had a box of microscope slides I had never used. I saw those slides, and immediately could see in them two tiny glass-topped coffee tables. So I took some square beads, painted them black, and glued them to the bottom of the slides. Voila! Two glass-topped coffee tables. That set the tone of the living room, which had to be a contemporary design.

How could I make couches to go with the coffee tables? I took a couple of oblong wooden blocks, covered them in a fake leopard-skin fabric, and glued them together. A perfect little couch. I made another one, so that the living room now had two couches to go with the two tables.

More discoveries produced little objects. An empty top to a shampoo bottle made the perfect base for a leather button, which made a footstool. I even sprouted a live plant from a carrot placed in water and planted it in another bottle top, then used string to make it into a hanging planter.

I became so enthused with the creative process I could hardly sleep. Everywhere I looked I saw something that could be made into a little piece of furniture: the lid of an orange juice can became a serving tray, covered with a plastic coated playing card. I cut other cards to make matching placemats to go with the serving tray.

My friends were astounded that I spent my entire spring break, at my mother’s home in New York, staying up most of the night making the dollhouse furniture. “Why are you spending so much time on it?” they wondered. It was a pass-fail class so I didn’t need a grade.

I was making it not for the grade but for the joy of creating. The class assignment gave me a purpose for doing the project. For years afterwards I carried it with me throughout many moves until unfortunately it was ruined in a flood.

Even though I no longer have the things, I have with me the memory of the creative process, the joy of discovery, and the recognition that what I brought out in me through doing this was an ability to see potential. I could see the potential in the microscope slide, the bottle tops, the blocks and beads and fabric. The need to find a way to make a couch or table or bed or bookcase stimulated me to find resources I could use.

Part of the fun of this project was making things that would otherwise be thrown away into something useful. Today there is a word for that: “repurposing.” Little did I know that as a college student I was doing something that would become popular nearly 40 years later!

Please share your creative ideas in the comments below!