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Introduction, Workshop 7: Soul Practices

In "Spirit in Practice," a Tapestry of Faith program

Our creative souls need nurturing and understanding. How do we remain creatively open? Where does our inspiration come from? How can we embrace our negative selves? What can we say to our internal judges and critics? How can we best share our creativity? I believe that we are each highly creative with important gifts to share, words to speak and write, lights to shine on ourselves and others. In order to do this work we need tending, planting, weeding, nourishing. This is all work we must do in our interior gardens.

—Sark, Living Juicy: Daily Morsels for Your Creative Soul (Celestial Arts, 1994)

"Soul practices" are those spiritual practices that engage our creative selves. As the quote above claims, each of us is a creative person; but as adults fulfilling various roles in society, many of us don't often feel creative. When it comes to creating art, we feel even less so. Long ago too many of us accepted the notion that "I can't draw" or "I don't have an artistic bone in my body." At some point—often in childhood—we came to believe that other people could be artistic, but not us. It's hard for many of us to put ourselves in such company as poets, painters, photographers, authors, and dancers—our creativity doesn't seem to match up.

It might be helpful, then, to first expand our assumptions about what is creative. Think about cooking, storytelling, decorating, or gardening. All of these are creative acts; all of these bring into being something that would not naturally have emerged.

For that matter, think about starting a friendship, rearing a child, or nurturing a long-term relationship. These, too, are acts of creation—there is no blueprint to follow, no instruction book with step-by-step directions. Healthy, loving relationships require you to respond in the moment, to "make it up as you go along," to take what's in front of you and transform it. In other words, they require you to create.

So all of us are, in fact, creative. Yet even if we limit ourselves to thinking of creation in the terms with which most of us are most familiar—that is, artistic creation—we still can claim our own as creative beings. Not everyone will compose music as well as Duke Ellington, or write poetry like Nikki Giovanni, or paint like Georgia O'Keefe. But why should that be our goal?

What if we detached ourselves from the outcome and instead focused on the process? Our attachment to outcomes is a problem that hinders more than just our ability to express ourselves creatively. Over and over again in our lives, this issue is a stumbling block. It could even be said that the core of the spiritual traditions of humankind is the encouragement to become free from such attachments. Worry about how someone will respond—the outcome—keeps us from speaking up. Concern about failure keeps us from taking a risk and trying something new. Again and again we find ourselves hampered by our attachment to the outcome of a given situation.

So even if there were no other benefit, engaging in a regular practice of artistic creation provides opportunities to practice releasing our attachment to an outcome, and does so in a safe way. If at the end of a painting session you really don't like what you've done, you can always paint over it or throw it away. But you'll have had the experience of painting, and that in itself is a good thing.

This workshop encourages engagement in creative expression for the purpose of the engagement itself. Time spent immersed in clay, paint, or pencil on paper can be just as profound and powerful as time spent in prayer. Creativity can be a spiritual practice.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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