A few years ago, I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, a tick-borne bacterial infection that’s rapidly becoming endemic in North America. Once the disease moves into the chronic stage, the bacteria attack and destroy many of the body’s organ systems. For three years or so, before I finally found the treatment that would eventually eliminate the bacteria from my body and lead to healing and recovery, I was very ill.
I’m a writer. Language is soul food, for me. It’s how I discover what’s real and true, what is calling me next, what belongs with me and what doesn’t, and so much more. It’s how I parse the patterns that weave our world and the subtle energy worlds together. It’s how I share my heart with my community. It’s how I explore and discover the inner lives of the beings with whom we share this planet, and those that inhabit other dimensions and other realms of existence.
When I’m not creating, some essential spark flickers and dims, leaching joy and color from my life.
During the last of those three years, when I was too ill to work on my book or do anything requiring sustained periods of creative output, I’d sit up in bed, sweaty with fever. Shivering in a nest of quilts and blankets against the chill that invaded my bones, I’d dream up mini-versions of the energy alchemy practices I’ve created for my own delight and exploration ever since I was a child.
For the better part of a year, I jotted these down in a notebook and shared them on social media every few days, offering them freely to anyone who wished to play with them too.
As my health and energy returned, the impulse for writing down these mini-practices faded, and I returned to working on essays and other, long-form works.
Then, a couple of months ago, my lovely assistant gathered all of the practices I’d shared into a single document. Astonishingly, we ended up with a collection of 150 of these mini adventures in creative consciousness — crafted one daily practice at a time. Without ever intending to do so, I had the content for my next book, To Be Soul, Do Soul (available now! get your copy here).
When I began writing To Be Soul, Do Soul, I had no intention of creating a book. Given my fragile health at the time, I didn’t have the stamina to conceive of a book-length work.
I wrote because writing returned me to joy, even (especially!) in the heavy seas of debilitating illness. I wrote because these practices, which I’ve been creating and exploring for more than 60 years, have formed a powerful, unshakeable foundation for my life. They’ve expanded my vision and understanding; deepened my partnership with the world, the Devas, and the subtle energy realms; and transformed my life in utterly miraculous ways. They’ve gifted me with a life rich in wonder and magic.
Sharing them is my prayer, and my way of saying thank you for the grace that holds us all in unwavering love and tenderness.
I share this story with you, because it speaks to something essential about who we are.
We are the Sacred incarnate, and one of the essential things about us is that we are creative, generative beings. The creative impulse has deep roots in our psyches, and isn’t easily demolished. It takes an immense amount of energy to resist or suppress our innate desire to create.
Even when your creative capacity is diminished by illness or circumstance, your creativity emerges from the soil of your life with all the will and fervour of a dandelion pushing its way through the cracks in a concrete sidewalk.
Creativity is life-force asserting itself, no matter what.
Some creations seem to arrive full-blown, requiring only that we keep up with the speed of their descent into matter. The structure they require is that which will give them shape and form. Typically, their essence is so powerfully present that the shape they need to take is obvious right from the start.
This creation cannot be anything but a novel; that one is clearly a triptych, rendered tone-on-tone, oil on canvas. Such creations kiss you on the shoulder, revealing not only their essence, but also the pattern and form best suited to the life they have planned for themselves. All you have to do is follow their lead and do the work of bringing them to life in the shape that’s theirs to inhabit.
Other creations are subtler, more elusive — they require you to construct a structure that will give them shape and form, as well as a structure that will hold you, their creator, through the long labour of bringing them to completion through consistent devotion to your craft, one sentence, one brushstroke at a time.
Artistic maturity requires right relationship with structure. Each creation has its own needs, form, and demands. Structure is shaped by these elements, but it is also formed out of your own needs, and the shape and demands of your life.
The structure I used to create my newest book is very different from the structure that shaped my first two books. In part, this is because I’m at a different stage in my life now than I was back then. When I wrote my first book, my children were young, and my business was highly complex, requiring considerable time, energy and creative attention. So, the structure I created to hold me while I wrote was shaped as much by these variables as it was by the fact that a novel demands a different shape than a collection of poems or energy alchemy practices.
Structure holds you through the complexities of creation. Structure is built of boundaries chosen by you, both because they support you in the process of creation, and because they reflect the essence of your project.
When you resist structure, you resist the foundation on which your creation is built.
This resistance is often — though not always — a form of fear. And, as I’ve mentioned before, creative fears are always about one of two things: Fears about yourself and your creative abilities; and fears about how your creation will be met by the world.
Make friends with structure, and you’ll make friends with support; provision; the soul of your project; your own body, thoughts and feelings; the place your creation will occupy in the world, and so much else that you need in order to bring your creation to life.
Structure liberates your creative self.
Structure is not a prison. It isn’t made up of rules and routines that stifle your creativity, or force it into a predetermined shape. Structure is a lap that cradles both you and your creation while it’s gestating. Structure is the bedrock on which you build your creation.
The most effective structure is one that supports you, your own unique way of working, and your life as it is right now. If you’re a night-owl, it’s no good blocking off early morning studio time on your calendar. You’ll be fighting your need for sleep, and you’ll feel frustrated and tired rather than inspired and energized.
Similarly, if you’re raising a young family, a structure that supports you to work on your art when your kids are in school or asleep will be far more effective than one that demands that you get to your desk or studio during breakfast or bath-time or after school.
Much of this is common-sense, based on knowing yourself and your own creative rhythms and patterns, and giving yourself permission to create a structure that works for you, rather than one planted in shoulds and oughts and someone else’s notion of what you need in order to make your art.
You don’t have to be anything other than you are, to do your work. You don’t have to be super-disciplined, super-powerful, gimlet-eyed and steely of will, in order to successfully complete your project.
You are in relationship with your creative self, and like any relationship, yours will thrive when you give yourself the time, space, support, love, devotion and nurturance you need to do your creative work.
Will is a limited resource, best used a fire-starter. It is not fuel for the long haul. Willingness, devotion, discernment and kindness are far more effective in constructing a structure that will support your artistic endeavours.
Instead of trying to impose a rigid routine and fighting your need for sleep or play, movement or rest or time with your kids, feel your love and longing for your future creation. Focus on the qualities you wish to express through your art, and embody them in your everyday life.
Most importantly, remind yourself that you don’t create alone.
You collaborate with the Deva of your project, with the people and places and tools that support you in making your art, and with other beings, both in the physical and non-physical realms, who are invested in your creative success.
If you feel isolated, alone and overwhelmed by the enormity of your creative vision, or struggle to take the actions you know you need to take consistently, in order to complete your creation — consider seeking the guidance of a skilled mentor, and the support of a community of like-hearted artists and makers.
You are not meant to create in a vacuum. Despite the myths of the lone ranger, the mad artist, the poet secluded in a cabin in the woods, most of us thrive when we’re around other creative folks who are also working on their art. Being around other devoted artists is inspiring. The right creative community lends you courage, strength, creative power and determination. It reminds you, daily, that the world needs you, your unique creative vision and voice, your particular art.