I have yet to experience one of a woman’s greatest mysteries: the ability to create life. I imagine a mother as she gives birth, opening in body and soul like the mouth of a river, to every emotional landscape she can know. Flowing from this mystery is our capacity to create in service to what and whom we love. The creative act, whether it manifests as an infant, an architectural center of the world, a small piece of art, or a simple meal—stems from our assent to the unknown. And from our assent to joy.
In the West, however, the creative process is defined as a path of suffering. The woman who identifies herself as “an artist” or “a creative” is one who, by Western standards, is inclined to a life of pain and even annihilation. The unknown reaches of the human experience in which she journeys lead her to isolation, joylessness, and destruction. I believe this attitude about the creative woman derives in part from the cultural assumption that “joy” means oblivion. Oblivion to our emotional depths, and to the possibilities therein. Observing everyday rituals designed for the sharing of joy, such as family dinners and evenings on the town, we feel the gravitational pull of numbness in the form of alcohol, food, compulsive phone usage, and other addictions. With joy and oblivion so enmeshed and so encouraged by Western culture, the desire to know, to channel, and to celebrate full emotional lives can seem like the urge to self-destruct.
It’s true that pain is a part of the creative process. Yet, while we experience it beyond the boundaries of the oblivion our culture prescribes, it isn’t in itself destructive, but instructive. Our emotional lives, including their pain, are the closest vehicles we have for knowing our essence as natural, interdependent, physical beings. Our emotions connect us with the seasons and mysteries of life that create, destroy, and shape us. Because our culture has lost and hidden the tools to help us navigate these connections, we can become consumed by our emotions without knowing how to use them in service to our creativity.
In turn, our emotions can embody a sense of chaos. Common definitions of chaos include confusion and meaninglessness, terms we relate to our suffering. Yet, a more obscure—and vital—meaning of chaos is the infinite source of our creativity. In her essay, “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Audre Lorde illuminates the mythological origins of the word chaos as the birthplace of eros, or love. What can feel destructive in the chaos of giving birth (through procreation and creation), is really the process of moving through suffering into the unknown, and then, into the experience of love. And love, as I define it, is the joy in our ever-deepening connection with life.
When related to appropriately, chaos is both temporary and necessary. We have to first assent to working through (and feeling through) the pain and cultural prohibitions surrounding our emotional lives. As we heal our relationships with our emotions, they reveal the information we need to navigate them in service to our creativity. The more equipped we are to work with our pain as it arises, the more prepared we are to accept the inherent mystery in our lives, the greater the capacity we have to know and create joy. As women and as artists, committing to this path of joy is not only our right-- but our responsibility.
The inspiration, the information, and the support we need to devote ourselves to joy vary from woman to woman. Yet, the foundation of this process is for us to simply and consistently consent to our emotions-- in whatever form they take. The joy in creation emerges as we assent to the chaos, the pain, the mystery, and the love at the core of every woman.
1. What has led you to accept or reject the role of an artist or a creative?
2. How do you believe that your community and your culture at large encourage or prohibit creativity in women, in girls, and in general?
3. How has your emotional healing transformed your relationship to service and your own creativity, and vice versa?
As you explore the bond between your emotional healing, creativity, and service to others, I recommend the following books as resources:
1. Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde. Throughout the book are the author’s poetic and cogent convictions about the relationship between power, language, collective activism, and love. “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” is, I believe, the most impactful piece in this work.
2. When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chӧdron. Combining humility, humor, and down-to-earth language, this book provides transformative guidance on relating with compassion and presence to our pain and healing.
I explored the multiple meanings of the word chaos on dictionary.com.
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