The Pain of Creating

Summer work  - The Pain of Creating

I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. My most romantic dream about writing is being like Ernest Hemingway living in the Florida Keys, sitting at a typewriter (okay, a computer), writing in the morning, and spending my afternoon and evenings at the pub down the street sharing drinks with locals and tourists.

But in the process of contributing to this blog, I am learning that writing is not such an easy task. Drafting original, meaningful pieces is at best difficult and at its worst devastating. This experience has given me a new respect for those who are artists, whatever their medium and style.

In his book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes, “I think taking life seriously means something such as this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation, of the grotesque, of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise it is false” (Becker, 1973, pp. 283-284). To create something meaningful, or original, or substantive requires the pouring out of one’s self, a giving of one’s heart and soul. To initiate a new perspective, or insight, or understanding requires vulnerability, the willingness to be criticized and to, perhaps, discover one is wrong.

One does not have to spend much searching for the word “innovation” in today’s news. Innovation has become the new magic word whether you are in business, sports, religion, government, or medicine. In today’s market, to be “innovative” is to be cutting edge, living outside the box, and immediately brands you as an expert and visionary. The problem with being innovative is it requires little or nothing of the individual. If one is innovative, there is no prerequisite of being vulnerable. Innovation can quickly be adapted, re-shaped, even discarded, and in most cases, with little damage. The innovative CEO receives his or her golden parachute, the innovative coach moves onto a new team, the innovative politician moves onto the next possible popular idea. Innovation can, and does at times, bring about change, but rarely to the degree to which change was promised.

Creating, on the other hand, requires engaging with the painful, the traumatic, and the limitation of this time and place. The author who creates a book sacrifices time, personal resources, and maybe even relationships to produce this work. If the book fails to sell, he or she cannot recover that which they have sacrificed—it is gone, never to be retrieved. The same is true for the potter, the painter, or the musician.

To create requires the creator to immerse him- or herself in the chaos and messiness of creating. To create one must submerge him- or herself in their own being, to feel the confusion, the angst, and the darkness that serves as the basis of this new thing that he or she is generating. It is this internal wrestling that enables the artist to see the world from a more emotional, spiritual, and psychological perspective.

What genuine painters do is to reveal the underlying psychological and spiritual conditions of their relationship to their world; thus in the works of a great painter we have a reflection of the emotional and spiritual condition of human beings in that period of history. If you wish to understand the psychological and spiritual temper of any historical period, you can do no better than to look long and searchingly at its art. For in the art the underlying spiritual meaning of the period is expressed directly in symbols. This is not because artists are didactic or set out to teach or to make propaganda; to the extent that they do, their power of expression is broken; their direct relations to the inarticulate, or, if you will, ‘unconscious’ levels of the culture is destroyed. They have the power to reveal the underlying meaning of any period precisely because the essence of art is the powerful and alive encounter between the artist and his or her world. (May, 1975, p. 52)

Often, as clients enter our office, they are seeking an “innovative” change to their lives. They are seeking a new skill or ability that will make their life better or less dreadful. And while these innovative changes may bring about temporary relief, the core issue or problem remains. At that time, the client returns because the innovative skill or ability has lost its effectiveness. What the therapeutic process needs to offer this client is the opportunity to craft that life and perspective that he or she desires. As the therapist, we walk along with this individual as they go through the painful process of creating this new life. Our presence enables the client-artist to confront the darkness and chaos that has inhibited starting this new life and creation that brings perspective, and with it hope.

Creating is painful, and the artist-individual willing to create is a rare and precious creature. In a world of innovation, the need for the artist-individual has never been needed more.

Becker, E. (1973). The Denial of Death. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

May, R. (1975). The Courage to Create. New York, NY: Norton.

— Steve Fehl

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