CULTIVATING A SAFE SPACE TO CREATE
My Spring season has been filled with a constant coming back to my commitment of comfort – I wrote about this in the last issue of Elan Vitae and how I would like to commit to being in my comfort zone. And no, that doesn’t mean that I’m comfortable all of the time, rather it means that I am cultivating a landscape for myself – both internal and external – that supports me and helps me navigate the space in which I find myself. When we have an internal felt sense of safety or safeness, we are able to tolerate distress and discomfort and move beyond what we thought was possible.
When we feel safe enough we are able to create with abandon – in whatever form that takes: writing, art-making, crafting, coaching, singing, acting – you pick your preferred mode of creation! If we don’t feel safe or comfortable enough we find ourselves using all of our energy just to survive. Survival gets you through the most difficult times, but it doesn’t provide a jumping-off place for creativity and creation. You can’t access the profound expanse of your imagination when you are in a place of fear, threat, and deep uncertainty. Inevitably fear, threat, and uncertainty are our companions in this life because we are human. But there are things we can do to help alleviate or even prevent those fears so that we can stand firmly in our comfort zone while stretching into a place of creation.
What if – just like I committed to my comfort zone during the Spring season – I built upon my comfort to step into creation during this season of my life? It’s a question I ponder often because I am a writer and I help people to write books and compassionately navigate their discomfort while doing so. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and experimenting with how we can cultivate a safe space – a haven – in which to create. Emotions, feelings, difficult thoughts, and body sensations are going to come up when you are in creating something that is meaningful and purpose-driven because we are human. If the space in which you create feels safe, though, you are much more likely to be able to maintain and sustain your creativity to the completion of your project.
How do we cultivate a space that is safe to create?
First, we need to look at our creation time as something that is both a sacred and an everyday event – I know, it’s a paradox! There is so much about creativity and inspiration that occurs as a paradox. To do that, we need to show up to the event, and events have a BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER. What will we do BEFORE to prepare ourselves? What will we do DURING to help support ourselves? What will we do AFTER?
I see three internal and external landscapes couched within BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER. These are the landscapes we need to account for when we are cultivating sacred and everyday space for our creativity: physical landscape, cognitive/mind landscape, and time landscape. Our physical landscape consists of – you guessed it – our physical environment and surroundings but also our physical body. Our cognitive/mind landscape consists of the content we are creating and also the thoughts that show up while we are creating in this tricky brain of ours. Our time landscape is the time we give ourselves to create during each session of creativity but also our expectations around how much time it “should” take us to create our masterpiece (whatever that is).
I will use writing as an example because the voice is my context for creation, but as you move through this example, substitute any mode of creativity that suits you!
How BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER Might Show Up
Close your eyes. Imagine a place where you feel safe and creative. Imagine a place where you feel safe to express yourself and share your voice. Where are you? What lives in this space? What kind of lighting do you see? Is there a candle? Soft or bright light? Sunlight streaming in through a window? Are you sitting in a comfy chair or at a desk? Are you in a corner of a favorite room? Do you have a beverage nearby (water, tea, coffee, etc.)? Is there a blanket tucked around your legs and over your lap or is there a pillow behind your back?
If your creative space is outside, think about how you might bring some of the outside elements into your space – with a plant or nature sounds playing while you create if you can’t open a window.
Now let’s move to your physical body. When we are preparing to create our bodies must feel comfortable. Think about what you are wearing – if tags irritate you, make sure the tags on your clothes are removed. If you don’t like the feeling of your jeans on your body when you sit down, wear soft pants instead or something else that suits you. If you tend to get cold make sure you have a layer nearby to throw on. If you are cold you will start to feel your shoulders creeping up to your ears and this in turn will send a message to your brain that you are uncomfortable and that is a cue that you may be unsafe. This can all impact your writing and creation time! Conversely, if you tend to get hot, make sure you have a fan or a cool drink available at your side.
Serendipity favors the prepared mind. Before you begin writing, set your intention for the session. How do you need to show up during this session? What do you need to bring to the page? Boldness, courage, confidence, ease, compassion?
In addition, draft a short outline of what you want to write for this session. This can be as simple as some bullet points and it doesn’t need to be set in stone. This is your moveable feast! Let’s set the menu before we begin. If something comes up that wasn’t on your menu and you want to include it, you will know where it needs to fall – is it an appetizer, main dish, or dessert? When you have a plan it’s easy to see where something fits. When you don’t have a plan you set yourself up for uncertainty and sometimes confusion.
If you notice that you find inspiration when you take a walk or meditate or do another type of soothing practice, then make sure to schedule your writing time after you do this activity. Make sure to give yourself enough time to prepare your body and your mind.
Often when we think of time, we just think of the amount of time we need to write, but there is a pre-time that we need to think about. Pre-writing can happen in the mind – ideas percolate there before they make their way to the page. Allow for this time before you sit down to write a specific piece. If you haven’t had enough percolation time before you sit down to write this may appear as procrastination, but it isn’t. It’s process – you just aren’t ready to write that particular piece yet.
Writing is interesting in other ways when it comes to time. Think about the time of day when you feel you are most creative and also how that overlaps with the constructs of your day. For instance, scheduling your writing time when you will most likely have interruptions – kids coming home from school, client emergencies, etc. – will often result in disappointment when it comes to writing. It’s difficult to be creative when you are expecting or suspecting you may be interrupted.
The BEFORE work you did will set you up perfectly for your DURING time. While you are writing, pay attention to your physical body and its needs. If you notice tension starting to build up in your body, breathe into that space. If your shoulders start to creep up to your ears, take a deep breath and a moment to roll your shoulders back and forward. If you notice tightness in your hips, breathe and take a moment to stand, roll your hips, walk around for a couple of minutes. Honor your body and its needs. Distractions from your physical body may come up while you are writing. We can work with this, give ourselves comfort, and then come back to the page. This is part of the process.
If you did not create an outline of some kind in your BEFORE time, give yourself the compassionate gift of creating that at the beginning of your DURING time. This outline is your best friend. Nurture this relationship. Allow it to support you. Come back to it and tend it. Let it grow and change as it needs to, but give yourself a solid foundation at the beginning. You can use an outline for the smallest of projects – think about it as your Big Idea List rather than an outline if that creates a sense of calm and expansion. What Big Ideas do you want to cover?
If you notice your mind wandering during your writing time, allow your distraction rather than resisting it. Make friends with it. “I see you distraction. What information do you have for me? Is this something I need to attend to now? Is it something that has to do with this piece I am writing? If yes, let’s explore that. If no, then I promise I will come back to this later. I will write it down so I don’t forget.”
As a side note, remember to turn off notifications on your laptop or phone when you are creating. Our mind is excellent at vigilantly keeping us safe and an alert may occur (whether we realize it or not) as something “very important that I need to attend to NOW!” Turn them off for your DURING time.
A temptation for writers is to plan large blocks of uninterrupted time in which to create. The only problem with this is that it’s hard to find large blocks of time during our schedules and unless you have cultivated a regular writing practice in which you are building the muscle of sustained writing, it will be difficult to maintain your stamina. Yes, stamina. Writing (and other creative endeavors) is like any other practice. It takes time to build your muscles and it is hard! You can’t go from not writing to writing for one or two hours or more at a time. It would be as if you had never run a mile before and you are suddenly asking yourself to run a 10k or a half-marathon.
Start small with small increments in your writing time. If you allow for the BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER, you will be surprised at how much you can write in 20-30 minutes. And if you need to start with 10-15 minutes, do that! Start small and increase your number of minutes over time. Process always leads to the outcome.
When you finish your writing session, take a look around your physical space. Set it up for your next session so that it will be ready for you. Your BEFORE time will thank you.
Next, honor your physical body. What does it need right now after your writing time? Thank it for showing up and show it some tender loving kindness by tending to your physical body. Maybe you need to stretch. Maybe you need to go for a walk. Maybe you need to give yourself some food or hydration. Whatever it needs, take the time to provide it.
You have accomplished a lot in this creative session. Acknowledge that. Remember the intention you set for yourself in the BEFORE time? Go back to that and give yourself a pat on the back. You said you would write and you did that. Bravo.
Give yourself the compassionate gift while your thoughts are still fresh to create a little bulleted list of Big Idea content for your next writing session. At the end of a writing session, we always know where we want to go next and it feels SO PROFOUND that we tell ourselves we would never forget where the path is leading. However, we are human and sometimes we forget, so jot down some notes for yourself and your next session.
Give yourself a buffer for your AFTER time. Acknowledge that sometimes, creation time requires more of us. Sometimes we need extra time to gently come back to our day. What is a soother for you? If you are creating something that brings up uncomfortable emotions and thoughts, give yourself extra time on the back end of creating for a little self-care.
Let’s Give Ourselves Space for Safeness in Our Creation
I can hear the eye-rolls from some skeptics in the audience. Their voices are added to the voice of my inner critic: “This all seems way too structured! I can only create when I feel inspired! This feels like too much work!”
Here’s the thing about inspiration and creativity: inspiration and creativity can only truly occur when we feel safe. Emotions, thoughts, doubts, and uncertainty will show up. There will be days of hard and days of soft caress and days of exuberant effervescence that we can barely contain in our creative practice. Through it all, we feel safe when we can support ourselves by compassionately allowing for our humanity and navigating the process and our expectations with intention. We know what soothes our nervous system and what ignites our threat responses. Give yourself the gift of cultivating a safe space for your creations and your creativity to thrive whether you are writing or participating in any other creative endeavor.
Again, for those in the back, serendipity favors the prepared mind. When you create a safe space and show up regularly, the magic you crave happens.