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What is Creative Joy? Does it matter?

Sunday, February 3, 2013 by Marianne Elliott

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Have you ever had the experience of writing, creating or teaching something and then hearing from someone who has read, studied or taken part in it and thinking to yourself: ‘She got more from it than I even realised I was putting in it?’

It often happens to me when I’m teaching yoga, which is no great surprise since yoga packs so much subtle power, and acts on levels even the teacher may not be aware of at the time.

I got that feeling when I spoke to Amy Foltz recently about her experience at the Creative Joy retreat last year. I asked Amy if I could interview her about her experience at the retreat and – more importantly – in the six months since because I really wanted to know whether the benefits of Creative Joy had last longer than the flight home.

To answer my question, Amy said she’d first have to explain why she came to the retreat:

Something was missing in my everyday life. I’d been living a lot in my head and in my hands, thinking and doing. I wasn’t paying attention to my heart or what I think of as the whole body, that animating spirit of self-expression. The practical everyday had really taken over.”

As she spoke I thought ‘That sounds a lot like how my life feels when I’ve been neglecting the part of me that loves to dance for the joy of it, run purely to feel the sun on my face, write with no deadline or project in mind, and read books for no purpose other than pleasure.’

When I demand that every moment of my day be ‘productive’, the juice seems to drain from my creativity. Writing becomes a chore – ‘I just need to churn this article out by 5pm and then I can relax’. Even yoga starts to feel like just one more thing I have to tick off my ‘To Do’ list. And when the juice is running dry it is impossible be truly creative. More importantly, it becomes very difficult to find joy even in things I usually love.

Which is why I loved it when Jen Louden suggested ‘Creative Joy’ as a theme for the retreat we wanted to create together.

To be perfectly honest with you, I would never have come up with it myself. When people ask me to suggest topics for workshops and retreats I tend to propose earnest, ostensibly noble subjects like ‘Yoga as Service’ or ‘Writing to Change the World.’

I have a quote at the front of my book, Zen Under Fire. It reads:

I slept, and dreamt that life was joy.

I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

I continue to believe that service is joy. But only when we are serving from a place of having honoured and nourished our own creative essence. When we have made space in our lives for Creative Joy. Talking with Amy this week reminded me just what that means.

When I asked Amy what had stayed with her, six months after the Creative Joy retreat she said:

Amy FoltzA big thing that I’ve taken away from Creative Joy is coming back to those things that are what I would now call ‘essentially Amy’. It makes me a lot more connected and present to my life. I felt like I was doing a lot of things automatically and procedurally, and now it’s like I’m actually here and doing things proactively. … I’m asking ‘What does my whole being need right now?’, paying attention and being mindful.”

Which made me ask myself, ‘What are the things I would call ‘essentially Marianne’? Yoga, moving, story-telling, writing, dancing, exploring, asking questions, caring (a lot). All things that I’ve noticed seem to lose their juice – even their appeal– when I insist on tying them all to measurable, productive outcomes.

So here’s what Creative Joy means to me: Connecting with my essential creative practices for the pure joy of them. Asking ‘What does my whole being need right now?’ rather than ‘What’s next on the list?’

What are the things you would call ‘essentially [insert your name here]’?

What would it feel like to do them for joy, rather than product or outcome?

Is it time to give yourself the gift of Creative Joy?

Here’s Amy’s advice:

Come with an open heart and an open mind, willing to see what you can do, not judging yourself. Savouring the doing of it, not for the sake of having some masterpiece at the end, but for exploring, expressing yourself. Thinking of these things not as an end result, but as a practice, as a process, has been a philosophy that I’ve tried to carry into really all aspects of my life. When the perfectionist in me starts wigging out, I think ‘We’re just practicing. We’re just practicing. Look at the process.’

We’ll be opening registration for Creative Joy exclusively to people on the early notice list on Monday. We’ve already filled a number of the places with our Creative Joy alumni – women like Amy who came last year.

If you want to get on the early notice list (and get the $50 off discount available only to people on that list), you can do that here.

On 6 February, if there are any places left, we’ll open registration to the public.

Read my interview with Amy in full:

Marianne: Amy, what would you say has stayed with you over the past six months since the Creative Joy retreat?

Amy: That it is about the little things I do to keep Creative Joy alive for me as much as the big gestures where I decide to do something for hours or days on end.

Marianne: What was it about the experience of the retreat that brought that home to you?

Amy: Well, maybe it goes back to why I found you guys. Basically something was missing in my everyday life. When I saw your retreat advertised I thought, ‘Wow, that just sounds absolutely glorious.’ Because I’d been living a lot in my head and in my hands, thinking and doing.

I wasn’t paying attention to the heart or what I think of as the whole body, that animating spirit of self-expression. The practical everyday had really taken over. So a big thing that I’ve taken away from Creative Joy is coming back to those things that are, I guess, what I would now call essentially Amy.

Marianne: That’s beautiful. And how does that make your life different?

Amy: It makes me a lot more connected and present to my life. I felt like I was doing a lot of things automatically and procedurally, and it’s like I’m actually here and doing things proactively. And trying to put as much of what is either my insight or my personality into what I’m doing.

Marianne: And so you say that Creative Joy, can be cultivated and sustained and experienced in the little things, not necessarily in the big things.

Amy: Yes.

Marianne: Can you give me some examples? Like what are the little things that you do differently now than you would have before?

Amy: Well, I really make time for making things, and I pay attention to what it is that my animating spirit really wants to make, if that makes sense. Sometimes it’s words. Sometimes it’s pictures or colours. Sometimes it’s doing something physical like getting up and dancing or doing yoga, but it’s really ‘What does my whole being need right now?’, and understanding that it does actually need something; paying attention and being mindful.

Marianne: That’s beautiful. I love it.

Amy: Well, it’s made my life a whole lot more beautiful. So I love it too.

Marianne: It feels like when you saw the retreat, when you read about it, there was like already some degree of clarity for you of what was missing. Do you think you would need to have that clarity in order to benefit from Creative Joy?

Amy: No, no, not at all. I think one of the other amazing things I found about it was how impressed I was by a lot of the women who were already very in touch with that animating spirit; people who were incredibly energetic and enthusiastic and very open with sharing and expressing themselves. And obviously having a great time and wonderful role models for us; the small groups that we were in, I had four just amazing women in the small group that we met with who were really inspiring.

Marianne: So what I’m hearing from you is this is not just a retreat for people who feel completely disconnected from creative joy. Although it is absolutely for them. But it’s also an environment that could be really refreshing and nourishing for people who already cultivate this in their life, but there’s always room for more.

Amy: Absolutely. And the chance to get away to nurture it, even if it’s something that you’ve incorporated on a daily basis, the chance to really devote a whole period of time where you don’t have the normal responsibilities of day-to-day life helps you deepen those things.

Marianne: Absolutely. One of the questions a lot of people have about this retreat is either perhaps they don’t think they’re a writer, they’re don’t think they’re a photographer or perhaps they’ve never done yoga. And it’s all very well for Jen and Tracey and I to reassure people that there’s no need for any particular level of expertise; that these are simply tools we use to connect with our own animating force—to use your lovely language. But they might prefer to hear from somebody who was there. How did you experience Creative Joy in terms of the technical level of skill that you would need to have to enjoy the experience?

Amy: I think if you come with an open heart and an open mind and you’re willing to see what you can do, and not come in judging yourself, because ultimately the idea is that you can. But doing any of these things are an expression of yourself at whatever level you’re ready to do it.

I had not done yoga in very long time and was very nervous about doing that specifically, and it was wonderful. It was transformative for me to really remember that my body can do some of these things and if I ask it it will do more.

The writing was probably the scariest because as a person that likes words, a lot of judgement goes into the words that come out of my mouth or out of my pen or keyboard, so really focusing on the joy and the process and not the product. And I think that was one of the things that Jen talked about and savouring the doing of it not necessarily for the sake of having some masterpiece at the end, but just exploring, expressing yourself.

Marianne: Yes. Jen has been a teacher for me in that regard. She really has a lot of insight into what gets in the way of our true creative force, and that desire to control the outcome, which I think a lot of us share. But it really does. It really blocks the possibility for what might emerge, and I think that’s one of the things that she teaches so wonderfully in this context.

Amy: Yes. And it’s there in the yoga as well. Thinking of these things not as an end result, but as a practice, as a process, has been a philosophy that I’ve tried to carry into really all aspects of my life. So when the perfectionist in me starts wigging out, I think ‘We’re just practicing. We’re just practicing. Look at the process.’

Marianne: Yes! I love the word practice. It gives me so much space in yoga and in meditation because we use it with both two beautiful senses. There’s the sense for me of being committed; when you practice something it means that you keep doing it- there’s a consistency in practice. But it also has that other lovely sense of rehearsing. It doesn’t have to be perfect yet, and I love that as well. I find those two things bring a nice balance between the kind of commitment that serves me, but with a lovely ease – without that sense of having to get it right.

Amy: Definitely.

Marianne: My last question, which I think in a sense you’ve already answered, is what changes do you think have taken place in yourself out of the experience of taking the time to be at Creative Joy this past summer?

Amy: Well, probably the first one has been how important it is to take the time to take care of yourself in all of the different ways that means: both physically and paying attention to that thing inside, that animating spirit that goes into every aspect of your life, your work, your relationships, your hobby. It really opens your eyes and your heart to life and not just go from day to day.

Marianne: Beautiful. Thank you so much, Amy.

Amy: It’s such a wonderful experience whatever people are coming to it for, and I think probably if you asked every woman, they got something different out of it, but something equally exciting for them. And I can’t say enough how great a time I had.

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