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Creative Expression and Learning

Why be Creative?

Audio Introduction Creative Expression

Creativity may not be a subject that immediately springs forth in your mind when thinking about ways to enhance your health. Often people associate creativity with the arts, music, and drama, and fail to realize the inherent need everyone has to express creativity irrespective of the form it takes. The denial of this avenue of expression can result in serious impediments to a person’s health and well-being through the person’s inability to release their unique gifts and, in turn, contribute to the world around them. Instead, a seemingly routine existence becomes a way of life, in which play, excitement, challenge, fun, and risk taking seem to be relics of childhood, inappropriate for responsible

Creative expression and learning are based on a flowing dynamic that utilizes imagination, spontaneity, an element of magic, and self- confidence, without fear of being judged right or wrong in technique. No one taught us as children to incorporate imagination, play, fun, expression, breaking the rules, and learning by doing into our daily behavior. It came naturally to us. Whether in a sandbox or exploring nature, children instinctively create with few inhibitions and then learn about the world through their doing.

The HELP program is based on the importance of recapturing these elements within our life. Unfortunately, one of the by-products of growing up is a letting go of many of these elements in life. A notion that they are somehow frivolous, unimportant, and certainly not appropriate behavior unless undertaken in a well-defined area such as sport or drama, is a message that many receive in school and at home.

Edward de Bono on creative thinking

Creative Thinking

The HELP program is all about a new message: creative expression and learning by doing are essential components of adult life, even though we may not be aware of their importance. Why be creative? One answer is that it is fun to express ourselves creatively. Another reason is that the universe is in a constant state of change, and this calls for creative responses on our part to situations that may not respond to the same solutions that worked previously. Creativity is a natural phenomenon in a changing world.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness

Creativity has been applied in the health-care field since human beings first began to take responsibility for developing means by which to heal themselves. From the experimentation with plants and herbs came most of the remedies that are known today. There has been a childlike curiosity as to new and different ways to learn by trial and error without concern of being judged frivolous.

One of the better known recent cases of this creativity in healing was Norman Cousins’ foray. A former medical writer, Cousins was diagnosed as having a crippling collagen disease in 1964. Cousins, with the approval of his doctor, decided after an initial stay in hospital that such an institution was no place for a sick man. If he was going to assume the responsibility for battling this disease, he was going to take a creative approach, move into a hotel room, and break the rules. He decided to introduce two therapies for addressing his condition -large doses of laughter and vitamin C- while at the same time slowly eliminating painkillers and other drugs. Through watching old Brothers’ films and classic episodes of “Candid Camera,” Cousins observed that 10 minutes of belly laughter produced an anesthetic effect lasting at least two hours, and reduced his sedimentation rate, which indicates the severity of inflammation or infection in the body. Cousins recovered, having reversed what was considered a degenerative and life-threatening disease, through his creative approach.

In his best-selling book Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins not only recounts his recovery process but also talks about the importance of creativity. He relates stories of his encounters with Dr Albert Schweitzer and Pablo Casals, and the significance of creative expression in accounting for their health, longevity, and contributions to the world. He concludes, “Long before my own serious illness, I became convinced that creativity, the will to live, hope, faith, and love have biochemical significance and contribute strongly to healing and to well-being.”

As time has passed, the creative solution to his disease that Norman Cousins employed has been documented by neuroscientists. Laughter produces increased levels of endorphins and encephalins in the brain: these act as the body’s own pain-relievers.

The lesson is not to wait until you are faced with a life-threatening disease to tap into the power of creativity, but to bring it into your life now. While it is not always appropriate to let go of routine behavior, it is clear from the example of Norman Cousins and others that once you are successful in taking a creative approach to life, the very institutions you may be grappling with may find your innovation an effective tool and adopt it. Norman Cousins was later offered a position as lecturer at the University of California Medical School. While it is not possible to prove beyond a doubt that creative expression will increase your lifespan, it most certainly will improve the quality of your life, which will in turn serve to enhance your health.

Reflecting on Creativity

As part of the reflection process, take a moment to answer the following questions regarding the role of creative expression and learning in your life, and record the answers in your journal:

  • Do you currently have any pursuits that you feel allow you to express your creativity?
  • Do you see life as a learning experience in which your sense of play is far more relevant than being right or wrong?
  • When asked by a friend who you have not seen for a few weeks what you have been up to, do you respond with any anecdotes that have elements of creativity, or with the same old thing?
  • In reviewing your current responsibilities, are you approaching them from the perspective of creative expression and leaming with a flowing dynamic, or are you stuck in a set routine and a pattern of problem-solving responses to life?

Your answers will give you a good indication of the role creative expression and learning currently play in your life. If you could lead your life differently, would you choose to inject a degree of creativity, knowing that creative expression and learning are beneficial for all EXPRESSION AND LEARNING aspects of life? Helping you to answer this question, by putting it into action, is what this component of HELP is all about.

Funny, Smart George Carlin

Creativity in Action

If we look beyond the creative arts to aspects of our lives where we would not expect to be engaged in creative expression and learning, the challenge becomes how to be creative in these areas. When examining your work, family, and other daily responsibilities, do you approach them with a sense of creativity, or does routine seem to be the order of the day to help you get everything done? What stops you from approaching these things creatively is the conditioning you have had since school. It is now time to approach life from a slightly different perspective, to allow creativity to flow, to forget about school learning and putting the “right” answer down. It is time to create the reality that you believe in. The following 10 steps may be helpful in stimulating the creative process.

1. Develop a vision of what you want to create.
The first important stage in the process of creative expression and learning is to think about the result you would like to create. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s choose to create an enhanced level of health and fitness. You may choose to be more specific than that and focus on a single measure of well-being; the choice is yours as to how specific you want to be with your desired result. Without having a creative vision in sight, it is difficult to focus on creative expression.

2. Examine and evaluate the existing reality.
The next stage is to review the existing situation. Examine the daily steps that you are taking in the area of health from an objective point of view, not getting caught upThe next stage is to review the existing situation. Examine the daily steps that you are taking in the area of health from an objective point of view, not getting caught up in what you like to think you are doing but being very clear about what is happening right now. It might be that, with regard to your desired result of improving your health, at the present time you are reading about ways to go about it.

3. See the gap between your vision and reality as the place for the magic of creation.
It is time to take action to bring your desired result into reality. You have a result in mind: health enhancement. You also have a clear view of your current reality: reading about how to bring it about. What you need to do now is to bring the creative process into action and therefore make your desired result a reality. The gap between what you desire to create and what you are presently doing is the playground for the magic of the creative process. Rather than letting it frustrate you, embrace it as the catalyst for your learning.

Creation is all about magic. Having a vision of the desired reality. For a magician this may be sawing an audience volunteer in half without hurting them or breaking free of locks and chains while sinking underwater. Next the magician must deal with the reality of how to create that result, given the fact that saws do cut people and locks are meant to be opened with keys above water. The magic of creation is producing the desired result despite the challenges of the existing reality.

HELP is based on this approach to creativity and learning. There are few people who, when asked in their older years or at a time of physical, mental, or emotional impairment what they would like to create, would say no to health enhancement. Just about everyone would choose to have more energy, have less pain, and feel younger at any time in their life. Once you have made that fundamental choice of what you would like to create, and made a commitment to it, the magic of creativity and learning has begun.

The details of the existing reality may not be clear. People have a way of obscuring reality by seeing what they want to see, or avoiding hard truths in favor of fitting in. The reality in the health area is that first, you as an individual have genetic strengths and weaknesses, and, secondly, given that genetic foundation, HELP offers a range of components that take a creative approach to health enhancement:
physical exercise, stress release, food awareness, stretching, quality environment, breathing practices, connection, service, calming the mind, group support and communication.

The existing reality may be that none of these areas is currently in your life. Perhaps you cannot imagine how you could make your vision of health enhancement a reality given your existing commitments and responsibilities. This is when the magic of creation comes in; when you have a strong belief in the vision irrespective of the existing reality, and a dedicated commitment to bringing that vision into reality no matter what the perceived obstacles. The components that are laid out in HELP are a springboard for this creative expression and learning by doing, not only in terms of health enhancement, but in relation to all aspects of life.
4. Accept trial and error as a given in the process of learning by doing.
This is where the learning process comes in: by experimenting with ways that involve letting go of right and wrong, venturing into new territory, taking a playful approach, releasing the fear of failure, and asking the question “What if I do it this way instead?”Know that all the different paths you take, whether they directly lead to the desired result or not, are part of creative expression through learning by doing.

Creativity is not about achieving the result in the shortest period of time or getting it right all at once; rather, it is about tuning into your intuition. Evaluating and adjusting the process by taking stock of where you have ended up. Then leaming from this and carrying on with a spirit of fun, adventure, and challenge, while always keeping in mind your desired result. Perhaps you decide to take up a new sport as part of your goal for healthy exercise, only to find it is not for you. Let it go and venture into new territory.

5. Defy old patterns, logic, rules, the “right way,” self-consciousness, and ask “What
When allowing creativity to flow, you begin by disbanding the notion that there is only one “right way” to do something. The duality of right and wrong answers has resulted in blinders being placed on the creative process. When faced with a task, no matter how simple, ask whether there is a way to do it other than how you have dealt with it in the past. When driving the car to a routine destination, is there another “right way” to get there that may present more fun, challenges, or stimulation?

Examine the sacred cows of your right and wrong approaches in life, and experiment by removing these blinders and allowing yourself to learn new ways of doing things, breaking out of old patterns and unleashing a whole new life. It may very well be that the HELP components are not at all mutually exclusive to activities you are already engaged in. That they do not require letting go of other responsibilities and, in fact, may provide you with more energy and time to do more things!

A second limitation on our learning and creative process is our self-consciousness. In addition to there being a “right way” of doing something, there was often a bonus or reward for being right-good grades, praise, monetary compensation, awards-when we were growing up. This not only reinforced the approach but also made the situation of being wrong or different that much more undesirable, with the feared ridicule, failure, rejection, inadequacy, and embarrassment to be avoided at all costs. This self-consciousness has led most of us into patterns of sticking to terrain that is familiar, practical, clear-cut, and follows the rules of the game where the risks are far fewer. It is far less risky to imitate the dietary patterns of those around us than to venture out and create a new way of eating that may expose us to ridicule.

It is important to take a few risks by playing the fool, breaking the rules, veering off into unexplored territory, and not being concerned about how others may view the practicality of these ventures. History is filled with examples of great inventions and contributions that involved people not being afraid to look foolish in their learning-by-doing approach which violated all previous protocols.

Norman Cousins was not the least bit concerned with a possible future as a lecturer at a medical school while lying in bed laughing his way to health with the help of the Marx Brothers. He followed his creative instinct: if negative thoughts and environments contribute to illness, what if positive emotions such as joy and laughter were programmed into the healing process? Could they be catalysts for recovery? Norman Cousins took the creative step of asking “What if?” and so began a process of breaking into new territory. Everyone can incorporate the “What if?” strategy into their life, just by simple questions that will allow creativity to flow and learning to take place outside of the constraints of being judged crazy.

Neils Bohr the Nobel Laureate in physics, when responding to a newly proposed scientific theory, was quoted as saying, “We all agree that your theory is crazy, but is it crazy enough?” The Wright Brothers in developing the airplane, Einstein, and many others whose creative genius has changed the world, broke the rules and veered off into new territory with no concern about others perceiving them as foolish. Yet their examples seem to have little effect on most people in breaking away from the crowd, and taking the risk of being judged foolish or frivolous. It is far easier to conform to group and peer pressure than to allow yourself to experience the fun and challenge of creativity and learning by not going along the same old path.

Are current perceived obstacles to health enhancement based around fitting in with the group and being fearful of venturing out to create health in your life?

6. Know you have the power to be creative. “I am not creative and never have been” is a common response at this stage of the process. Contemplate for a moment the idea that you are creating a reality, which is “I am not creative,” and then living it. A self-fulfilling prophecy whereby the denial of your creativity then brings about that reality. Psychologists who have investigated what makes some people creative and others not have found one common denominator: the creative people truly felt they were creative while the others did not. No other factor seemed to distinguish the two groups other than this belief in themselves. It is time to let go of that self-fulfilling prophecy and begin to create. When creating a healthier lifestyle, the key is to know that you can do it.

7. Develop momentum along the way and use it to carry you forward. There is no better way to help you get over the obstacle of not believing in yourself than to be successful at creating. The key to this is to set small and achievable creative steps on the way to your creative vision. This will allow you to see that you do possess the magic which will carry you forth in reaching your ultimate goal. The importance of building up momentum in the creative process by taking small steps cannot be overstated. When setting goals in your health-enhancement program, remember to make them attainable to allow you to develop this momentum.

8. When stuck, go back to the vision and look at the big picture in relation to the reality. There will be critical moments along the way when you will require patience, faith, confidence, and a restating of your creative vision to keep your focus. Realizing this before experiencing the feeling of being stuck will allow you to approach that challenging situation with a perspective that will lead to even greater learning. If you focus exclusively on the fact that you are stuck, it is often difficult to find your way out. You could be in the midst of creating a healthier lifestyle and fall ill; remember to keep your vision. Be patient and take a step back. Look at the big picture and you will find the answers to extricating yourself and continuing toward your goal. This is the key to learning by doing when all is not going according to plan.

9.When completed, accept your creation and acknowledge it. Once you have successfully completed your vision, take time both to accept it and to acknowledge what you have created. In the process of creation the completion of the vision can often be a difficult period. Whatever your creation, take time to acknowledge the fact that you have completed it, and accept all the steps along the way that resulted in it coming to fruition.

10. After acknowledgment, feel the energy being magnified for your next creative vision. Through this process of completion and acknowledgment, you set the stage for your next creative vision to take place, with the energy reinforced from the creation you have just concluded. By enhancing your own health you may decide to help create opportunities for others to share the benefits of your experience. The creative process will continue as long as you have a vision and a desire to create it.

Creativity Weekly

The HELP program is the perfect place to test this approach to creative expression and learning. The vision of enhancing your present health is a goal with which most of you can identify. The creative part is making it happen in your life now. Once you have been successful in this domain, the same creative process is applicable to other areas of your life. To make it happen now, follow the 10 steps detailed in this chapter:

  • Develop a vision of what you want to create.
  • Examine and evaluate the existing reality.
  • See the gap between your vision and reality as the place for the magic of creation.
  • Accept trial and error as a given in the process of learning by doing.
  • Defy old patterns, logic, rules, the “right way”, self-consciousness, and ask “What if?”.
  • Know you have the power to be creative.
  • Develop momentum along the way and use it to carry you forward.
  • When stuck, go back to the vision and look at the big picture in relationship to the reality.
  • When completed, accept your creation and acknowledge it.
  • Through completion, feel the energy being magnified for your next creative vision.

By allowing creativity to flow into your life you will feel a sense of balance and integration that is beyond description. For those of you who have accepted and acknowledged your creative visions in the past, this experience is a familiar one. For the rest of you, allow HELP to be a catalyst for this experience of creation.

Creative Maladjustment

Helpful Hints for Creative Expression

  • Use your journal entries as a tool for creative expression through your writing, collage, sharing.
  • Try local drama, art, music, or other expression classes.
  • Look at current relationships, whether at work or home, with family or friends, and let the mind go with creative options. Be creative in implementing the HELP components in your life.
  • Get together with friends and organise times to entertain yourselves with skits, comedy, and so on.
  • When confronted with a problem or feeling stuck, use the 10 creativity guidelines in exploring options.
  • Make time to sketch, paint, play with clay, not being concerned about perfection.

Further Reading

Cameron, JuliaThe Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Tarcher/ Perigree, New York, 1992.
Cousins, NormanAnatomy of an Illness, WW Norton, New York, 1979.
Diaz, AdrianaFreeing the Creative Spirit, New York, HarperCollins. 1992
Fritz, RobertThe Path of Least Resistance, Fawcett Columbine/Ballantine, New York, 1989.
Kent, Corita & Steward, JanLearning by Heart, Bantam Books, New York, 1992.
Oech, Roger vonA Whack on the Side of the Head, Warner Books, New York, 1983.