Why Creativity is Good for your Mental Health

Creativity, according to Maya Angelou, is a bottomless pit: “The more you use it, the more you have,” said the novelist. “Creativity is intelligence having fun,” is a phrase often attributed to Einstein. While advertising supremo David Ogilvy came at it from a business perspective: “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative”. We know creativity is alive in all fields of life, from medicine to business and agriculture. But the word –  which derives from the Latin creare, to make – is most often associated with the arts and culture, and is believed to have first appeared in the 14th-Century literary work, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

“Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy – pure creative energy,” is the first of 10 basic principles to be found in Julia Cameron’s bestselling creative guide, The Artist’s Way. It is subtitled A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity because, she tells BBC Culture, “creativity is, to my eye, a spiritual experience”. For Cameron, there is no “creative elite”; we are all creative, she says. And while she began life as a scriptwriter – and continues to write novels, poetry and songs – it has become her life’s work to teach the many thousands from all creative fields who come to her artistically hampered by the demons of self-doubt and self-criticism, or claiming lack of time or talent.

“Many blocked people are very powerful and creative personalities who have been made to feel guilty about their own strengths and gifts,” she says. Her “bedrock of creative recovery” prescription is to write “morning pages” – three pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand writing accomplished on rising, “when our rational, self-editing mind gets out of the way of intuitive inclination”. The pages “develop our creativity and encourage belief in our potential,” she says. “They are non-negotiable.” “The artist date” is her second tool; a weekly experience to thrill, that “woos your inner artist”, such as a visit to the zoo or buying crayons. 

Cameron’s new book, The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention, revisits those two tools, and adds walking “to induce ‘aha’ moments of insight”. The book focuses on listening – to others, yourself, the environment, your ancestors, silence. “People were always asking me how do I continue to be so prolific, and my answer is, I listen – and I ‘hear’ what I should be doing next.” The author’s own listening powers have become more attuned since relocating 10 years ago from the “honking, sirens and whistles” of Manhattan to a mountain village above Santa Fe where “it’s so quiet, I can hear a truck rumbling on the road a quarter of a mile away”. 

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