|be healthy | August 2016
Three paths to creative health
by Ann Crews Melton
Ann Crews Melton
Contrary to the stereotype of successful artists as long-suffering addicts, we are often at our most creative when we are taking care of our health. Beyond regular sleep and exercise, maintaining our mental, spiritual and emotional health plays a key role in fostering creativity. Creativity can manifest itself in a myriad ways, whether pursuing a life as a professional artist or making up new recipes or creatively solving a problem, from engineering to parenting. Try carving out time for one (or more!) of the following three paths to explore your own creative impulses and boost your overall health.
1. Mindfulness: There's an app for that
Mindfulness meditation seems to be an increasingly popular antidote for our overstimulated lives, and while a meditation app may seem like an oxymoron, the Internet abounds with useful (and often free) options. My personal favorite is Headspace (headspace.com), an app built around simple 10-minute meditation sessions that markets itself as "a gym for the mind." The audio recordings are led by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk turned secular mindfulness guru who will lull you into calm relaxation with his crisp British accent. You can download a 30-day trial for free, and if you opt to subscribe you'll have your choice of themed meditation packages on creativity, relationships, kindness, anxiety, performance, pregnancy -- you get the idea. The creativity pack -- 30 days of 15-minute sessions -- starts out using simple visualizations and adds on tasks like doodling or journaling, with the aim of clearing more space in your mind for original thoughts to emerge.
2. The Artist's Way
In church groups and artistic circles I repeatedly heard about this book called "The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity," so a few years ago I decided to give it a try. Written by Julia Cameron, the book offers a self-directed 12-week course for unlocking your own creative potential and developing the courage and practical skills to pursue your creative dreams. The book is centered around two main tasks: "morning pages," a daily journaling activity, and "artist dates," where you go on a weekly date with yourself to witness something that inspires you -- art, a play, a film, music, nature, etc. As an introvert, I found the artist date particularly liberating: designated time to be alone, absorb beauty and dream big. The book gives you permission to be creative and connect with forces larger than yourself -- in Cameron's lingo, the Great Creator, but you can interpret this higher power any way you wish.
3. The buddy system
Protecting our emotional health involves supportive relationships, and we as communal creatures sometimes create best with input from others. Some women prefer to create in groups -- think quilting circle -- while others use a single artistic partner to stay motivated and inspired. Eichelle Armstrong spends her days as operations manager at Dakota Stage in Bismarck, but she also has an active writing life maintained through a cross-country friendship. Armstrong met her writing partner, Anjulee Enriquez, while in college at Arizona State University, and even though the creative duo is now split between North Dakota and southern California, the two meet at least weekly via Skype to share ideas and writing projects.
"Arts aren't valued as a whole in our society -- as an artist you're sent the message you need to get a 'real job' -- so there's a lot of external and internal pressure to meet expectations," Armstrong says. "Having people who can validate you is really helpful. In all honesty, I don't know that I would be actively pursuing writing if I didn't have my partner."
Armstrong explains that having a buddy gives her writing time validity. Emotionally, the friendship boosts her self-esteem.
"As an artist, everything comes into question all the time -- Is this idea okay? Am I crazy?" Armstrong says. "So someone to remind you, 'Oh yeah, I'm kind of good at this' is really helpful."
Whether with a buddy, alone with your phone, or curled up with a journal, choose a path to explore your own burgeoning creativity and care for your emotional, spiritual and mental health along the way.
Ann Crews Melton grew up in Texas and landed in the North Dakota prairie after nearly a decade spent in Boston and New York City. She is a writer and editor who lives with her husband and daughter in Bismarck.