Image by nikkytok via BigStock
As Gregory Sampson awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found his bed transformed into a gigantic slab of stone.
He couldn’t see the change – the room was pitch-black, so opening his eyes or closing them made no difference at all. But he could feel it. The bed was rock-hard. And cold. There were no sheets. His pillow had vanished.
Lying there on the cold stone in darkness, he could hear nothing but the sound of his own breathing and his heart thumping in his chest. Reaching out on one side and then the other, he felt nothing but stone. Rolling over, at full stretch, he felt the edge of the slab dropping away on his right. And the same on his left.
Gregory had the uncomfortable thought he was lying on a stone altar. The kind used for sacrifices.
Crawling to the edge of the altar, he reached down, but could not touch the floor. The blackness dropped away beneath him… how far?
Slowly he worked his way along all four sides of the bed, reaching down at full stretch, without touching the floor at any point. He felt a stab of terror. How high was the altar? Was he lying atop some vast pillar, where one false step could plunge him screaming to his death?
Eventually, with no other way of testing, he started to ease his legs over the lip of the slab. His feet swung in the darkness, with no floor, nor even the narrowest of ledges for his toes to grip.
Further and further he lowered himself, until he was almost at full stretch, shaking, with only his fingertips hooked over the ledge above him. Still nothing: just his feet swinging in emptiness.
Another inch… and he panicked, unsure whether he had the strength to pull himself back up by his fingertips.
His left big toe brushed against something solid.
Taking a deep breath, Gregory let go of the rock with his left hand, holding on by his right fingertips alone… and felt light-headed with relief as his left foot touched down on firm ground.
Moments later he was kneeling on the ground and kissing it, before collapsing against the stone slab, shaking all over with relief, then laughter, as he realised the absurdity of his fear of the bottomless drop.
But where was he? How did he get here? And how was he going to escape?
He soon sobered up when he realised he was just as stuck as before: for all he knew, he was on a ledge above a precipice… or in a dungeon with no exit… or lost in a maze like a rat … or his captor was about to return and eat him… or…
He started to panic all over again, as the phantasmagoria of horrible scenarios filled his mind. Eventually he slumped down in despair – and found himself sitting on something hard and uncomfortable.
Reaching behind him, he discovered the object was in his pocket. With another rush of excitement and relief, he found himself holding a torch!
Quick as a flash he pressed the switch and filled the cave with light. For indeed it was a cave, its surfaces covered in drawings. He took in bison, horses, and a rhinoceros, before his survival instinct took over and he started scanning the walls for a way out.
It didn’t take him long to circle the chamber, and spot – a doorway! Scrambling towards it, he found a staircase winding slowly upwards.
He clambered up eagerly, oblivious of the effort. It wasn’t long before he felt a breath of fresh air wafting downwards. Pausing, he switched the torch off – and saw light glimmering above him, revealing his path to freedom…
You may not have experienced the exact same situation as Gregory, but from time to time we all find ourselves in a dark place.
Things go wrong at work. A relationship ends. Business dries up. You lose your job. You get ill. Etcetera.
At times like this, it’s natural to focus on survival. So we forget about the luxuries of life, and focus on the essentials – the things that we believe will make a difference and solve the problem.
Often, creativity is one of the first ‘luxuries’ we throw out. We have more pressing, practical concerns, so it’s time to put away the paints and paper. We’ll come back to them later, we tell ourselves, when the storm has passed.
This is understandable, but it can be fatal for your chances of solving the problem.
Because your creativity is your light.
It’s like the torch in Gregory’s back pocket. Right there at your fingertips. Fully charged, as if by magic.
Take out the light and switch it on, and things will look very different.
But instead of doing this, most of us, like Gregory, waste time scrabbling around in the darkness, conjuring up imaginary demons, and cowering in the corner. All the while, the solution is within our reach.
No, the torch didn’t magically transport Gregory out of the cave. But as soon as he switched it on, he saw things more clearly and felt more courageous. He could look around him, see the situation for what it was, and find a way out.
I’ve experienced this myself plenty of times, when I was going through a tough period: after all, what could be more trivial and impractical than writing poetry?
So I left my poetry notebook in the drawer and soldiered on bravely. Joylessly. Uncreatively. “Once I get through this”, I told myself, “I’ll reward myself by with some writing time”.
These days I’m a little more (ahem) enlightened. I’ve come to realise that taking some time out for an hour a day, or a few hours a week, won’t make the situation any worse.
And if I spend that time writing poetry, it makes a world of difference to me. It lights me up. It makes me calmer, more focused, more confident, and more creative. And since I’m the one who has to deal with the challenge, it makes sense to do whatever it takes to ensure I’m at my best. Even if that means poetry.
Over and over, I’ve seen the same pattern when coaching clients who are going through a difficult time. The challenges they face are hard enough, and rarely solved overnight. But what makes everything ten times harder, is that I can see they’ve lost their creative spark.
When I ask about this, it turns out that when the crisis struck, they stopped creating (apart from their paid work). It felt like an indulgence they couldn’t afford. Fiddling while Rome burns.
Which makes perfectly logical sense. But human beings, especially creative ones, are not logical creatures.
Because although drawing a few sketches, or scribbling a few lines of verse, or playing a few notes on a guitar won’t solve that roadblock in your career, or fall-out with your partner, or snarl-up with your nightmare client, it will make a difference to the one person who can make a big difference to the situation: you.
It will bring the light back.
It will bring your smile back.
It will bring your energy back.
It will bring your confidence back.
And it will bring your creativity back. Which tends to be pretty darn handy when solving problems. 😉
Deep down, we all know this. But in the middle of a crisis, it’s easy to forget.
Sometimes it takes someone else – like a coach, a teacher or boss, or a friend – to give you permission to ‘go create’.
So if you’re struggling right now, and neglecting your creativity, take this as your permission:
Switch on the light.
Over to you
How do you treat your creativity when things get tough in your life? As a luxury to be jettisoned? As a refuge? As a resource that can help you?
Has your creativity ever helped you through a crisis? If so, how?