“Darling, I say this with love, the idea that you were ever in control was just an illusion”. My dear friend Leisha said this to me (with tremendous love) almost five months ago, the day after receiving the devastating news that I had miscarried our baby at 13 weeks pregnant. It was profoundly sad. I was in shock that the future I had been creating (literally) was not going to eventuate. I felt as though the rug of our plans for the future had been pulled out from under me. I know I’m not alone, sadly many women experience miscarriage and certainly all of us experience some kind of trauma or loss in life. At some point, we all have a realisation that uncertainty is inevitable. And now, in the midst of the health crisis we find ourselves in, we enter a moment in time where we are collectively reminded that we are not in control.
For me, it’s the second time in the span of six months when the future has suddenly become one giant question mark. And although it’s quite a different situation, I feel compelled to share what I’ve learned about how to create courage when we feel we don’t have any. How to create courage when we need to carry on, even if it’s into an unclear future. How to adapt to the new reality and exist within our new set of circumstances. We cannot control what happens to us, only how we act (or react), and what we make of ourselves and our lives moving forward.
In times of crisis our lives as usual, our priorities as usual, and our behaviour as usual, will change. And we know that even in the best of times, change is scary. We spend so much of our lives trying to control and create the next moment. I for one have been on a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions as I think about the implications for our loved one’s health, our team and our business, our family members who are healthcare providers, and the most vulnerable people in our communities. At times, I have felt nearly paralysed by the fear of the unknown. None of us have answers right now. So when we are faced with truly not having control, how do we create courage for ourselves to carry on?
When we have nothing to do but be human (like during a pandemic), our creativity is not a luxury. It’s not just a fun way to pass the time and make something we can post on Instagram. It plays an essential part in how we get through tough times, practically as well as spiritually. Don’t get me wrong, fun and lighthearted creative activities like painting and drawing will certainly help us reduce our stress right now. It’s a proven way of helping our sense of calm and well-being.
I have heard meaningful stories in the last week of creativity at work within our circles. My sister and brother in law, who are both nurses in Chicago, had several community members sewing protective face masks for them to wear at work when their health department runs out of PPE for medical staff. The aged care facility where my aunt resides has enlisted strict visitation restrictions, so my uncle has been standing outside her window to wave and connect through the glass. My parents told me about a neighbour they just met, a chef, who kindly offered them extra fresh fruit from his restaurant which is now closed. Through the media we have heard stories of community music from Italy, and people helping their elderly neighbors with errands. I’ve seen videos of inspiring ways that families are spending the extra time together at home. It’s happening all around us, acts of the courageous creative human spirit.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said it beautifully: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that there is something else more important than the fear.” Knowing that we can do something that can affect ourselves and others in a positive way is more important than our fear of the unknown, and is a more productive use of our feelings when we find ourselves in a crisis.
I believe the most important way to activate our creativity in uncertain times is something very simple. We must seek to create what we need in the world. Have you heard that idea: “Write what you need to read, sing what you need to hear, paint what you need to see”? That’s where we start. Here are some of my daily creative practices that help me create courage when I need it, which you could implement in any way that feels most natural to your mind and life.
Create what you need.
That is… if you feel you need reassuring words, then speak the words you need to hear to your family and friends. Say reassuring things to the people in your neighbourhood as you pass them on the street. If you feel you need extra holds and cuddles, squeeze your kids and partners tight. Wrap your arms around yourself for a big self hug. If you need imagery that is the opposite of what we’re seeing all over the news, go outside and photograph some lovely clouds and leaves. Share the beauty of what you see that still exists in the world with your loved ones on social media. If you need to feel resilient, write down a list of the people you consider the bravest and most resilient people you know. Then imagine what advice they would give you, or give them a call and ask them.
Create some calm.
Take time to sit in the quiet. It’s easy to continue scrolling and letting input in. You know when you click too many things on your computer, and it takes the machine a minute to process what you want it to do? Sometimes it even gets stuck and you need to restart. We are like incredible machines, and all of our input needs processing time too.
You may call this meditation, you may call it stillness, you may call it prayer. However you categorise it, it’s beneficial. It helps you understand yourself so that you may be helpful to others and to yourself.
Finally, create an outlet.
One of my favourite books on creativity is Creative Quest by QuestLove. In it, QuestLove says: “For me, creating things is about finding a place for feelings that would otherwise interfere with ordinary life”.
Get it out. This part is vital. Remember what I said about input? This is where the processing can become output. I like to sing and let out big audible sighs, move my body through stretching and dance (turn on some tunes and let loose in the lounge room!), and express myself through visual art: painting, collage, drawing, and other arty outlets. Every day may be different, with what’s going to work and get all which is contained within you, out of you. When we turn our input into output, we have the chance to understand topics and feelings for ourselves, from our own experience, and we create a sense of ownership over them.
My darlings, I say this with love… being human is uncertain. Our choice is to either live in fear, or to assess if there is something more worthy of our energy. When we lost our baby I had to learn to take life one day at a time. One long bath, one lounge room dance, one crafty session at my desk, one song on my guitar at a time. Each day, I found outlets and in them I found courage to keep creating the next moment of life. The benefit of being human is that we are creative, expressive beings. If we must move through life in spite of uncertainty, let us find outlets of love, words, music, movement and deep breaths, painting beautiful visions of the future, one brush stroke at a time.