There is an interesting relationship between creativity, self responsibility, and self truth. Ask your favorite creative person where their inspiration comes from and they are likely to find their way back to their self and their history. Many “self help” books aimed at writers, singers, and painters will devote a section on unlocking the power of your unconscious. There are often exercises that will help you use your own memories of all sorts to inspire your creative work. When our own personal history is available to us we tend to use it, all of it, the good, bad, and the ugly, to find something meaningful to get up for in the morning.
This is where the trouble comes in for some of us. Treading into the unconscious and discovering what is there can propel us away from ourselves like a dog that just stuck its nose in a bee hive! We will spend hours of busy work doing things that need to get done or exhausting ourselves for others to keep from looking back in there. It’s absolutely a human thing to do and a common habit in a world so full of distraction.
When you see that favorite creative person of yours however, you’ll notice something about them that you just love. They don’t care what others think about them. Not in an indifferent ultra independent kind of way. Rather, in a way that you admire. They seem “comfortable in their skin” and they have a quirkiness about them that lots of people seem to like. This quirkiness may put off an equal amount just the same! It’s not unlikely that this person has put some time into understanding who they are and accepting their uniqueness and more. They have likely found a way to express it that gives something back to the world around them and they are completely happy taking responsibility for it.
The mighty prolific Terry Brooks offers us a glimpse into this challenge of self mastery with his now classic fantasy series “The Sword of Shannara”. This the first novel of what would become a series of series based on a fantasy world of elves, dwarves, and humans seeking peace, love, and understanding, captures the plight of the creative and indeed loving spirit.
For inner awareness not only reveals to us how to uniquely contribute to the outside world but also provides the scaffolding for deep self compassion that just has to emanate out toward others. The combination is a life worth living focused on giving. In Terry’s story we find our protagonist, Shea Ohmsford, confronted with the sword he has been searching for. As he takes it in hand it reveals that it is not to used for any corporeal purposes of destruction but is a vehicle for an intense trip on mindfulness.
“In the vortex of emotion and basic self that comprised the center most region of his being,
the bearer of the Sword of Shannara came face to face with himself…Shea’s mind seemed to
explode within him, and he was paralyzed by what he saw. He struggled wildly for his grasp
of the vision of self that had always sustained him, for what had been his hold on sanity,
fighting to shield himself form the awesome view of his inner nakedness and the weakness
of the thing he was compelled to recognize as himself…The images cleared with frightening
sharpness, and abruptly he saw another side to himself, a side he had never been able to
recognize-or perhaps had simply refused to accept. Here was an accounting of every hurt
he had caused to others, every petty jealousy he had felt, his deep-seated prejudices,
his deliberate half-truths, his self-pity, his fears-all that was dark and hidden within himself…
He could not accept it. He could never accept it!…But he had to accept it. It was the truth…A
warm, pulsating feeling spread rapidly through him, bringin no new vision of self, but only a
deep, inner awareness.”
Shea isn’t destroyed by his own truth but tolerates the shocking revelations that the uncanny sword brings to him. He will go on to use it to bring down the villainous “Warlock Lord”. Not unlike Frodo in Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”, Shea was chosen innocently enough by a Gandalph like figure, Allanon the druid, to seek out the sword and confront the evil spreading throughout the land and symbolized by an almost spirit hardly human foe. Both Frodo and Shea might represent the childlike innocence that we so often bury down deep and hide away. These characters have not bought into the false beliefs of those who stand to gain from deceit and deception. They seek joy and love and are always compelled to adventure out into the world when things get too comfortable at home.
Modern science might call these types of characters, “securely attached and autonomous” as in the child development research of attachment theory . We get this distinction when we have been able to talk over the rough spots that emerge in life with caregivers who are able to contain our strong emotions and reflect back a view of reality that is balanced and coherent. We tend to develop more resources to remain curious and interested about our life history and how it can be used to connect in the world, even when it puts us in a negative light. When this process has been full of anxiety, misinformation, shameful experiences and a lack of interest in our own story, we tend to become more shy and even frightened of our historical selves.
The historical self is, the part of our self system that is largely influenced by autobiographical memory. Not to be confused with the “experiencing self” that is more connected to the “here and now” experience of the body. The historical selves have the history of our behavior related to the various needs we all have over a lifetime of development. While most of us won’t be confronted with the Sword of Shannara anytime soon, while pursuing our creative interests and trying to bring creativity to everyday life, we may be confronted with the triggering of autobiographical memory and find it an intensely distracting experience. While parenting, teaching, working on projects with others, we are bound to stir up some self truths that we have become used to avoiding.
When we robotically and mechanically repeat patterns of behavior that we would like to change but “do it anyway” it can be a sign that an historical self or two has learned to take over in those situations, squeezing out our more connected experiencing self that keeps us tied to our body and “keeps things real”. Rogue historical selves have a way of biasing our view of our self and the world in the most cynical and pessimistic of ways. They do this with high doses of emotion like fear, shame, and rage.
“Brona’s (Warlock Lord) mortal existence was only an illusion. Long ago, whatever means he had employed to extend his mortal life had
failed him, and his body had died. Yet his obsessive conviction that he could not perish kept a part of him alive, and he sustained himself
through the very sorcery that had driven him to madness. Denying his own death, he held his lifeless body together to achieve the immortality
that had escaped him. A creature exisiting as a part of two worlds, his power seemed awesome. But now the Sword was forcing him to behold
himself as he really was-a decayed, lifeless shell sustained only by a misconceived belief in his own reality-a sham, a fantasy created by force
of will alone, as ephemeralas the physical being he had made himself appear. He was a lie that had existed and grown in teh fears and doubts
of mortal men, a lie that he had created to hide the truth. But now the lie was exposed.”
Well let’s just say this was not a stellar day for our dear old Warlock Lord. Or maybe it was. Brooks doesn’t send him off to an EMDR therapist and that may be just as well. He may not have been ready for change. Like all of these villains, if they only knew about modern psychotherapy approaches that focused on processing autobiographical memory and could handle the daunting scientific challenges of including subjectivity in treatment, they might have gotten some help!
So as you set about your quest for creativity, remember that your most precious inner wisdom might be all caught up with a little valeman or hobbit-like you that feels too angry, anxious, or ashamed about what “the world” is doing to hold you back. There may be powerful historical selves that are cynical, pessimistic, or down right mean, that keep any childish hopes dashed by short sited realism and idealism. It’s no wonder that we struggle to get out of bed and take responsible for the world we live in when we are compromising our creativity to hide away our past. There are plenty of Warlock Lords out there that are willing to profit from what we are willing to do when we are paying attention to our own needs and desires.