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Honoring Your Inspirations
by Gail McMeekin, M.S.W

The journey to life purpose begins with a dance with your creative self. The answers are within you if you engage with your inspirations and dare to follow your fascinations. In order to access your creativity, you must validate and capture your inspirations. These inspirations are precious seedlings awaiting nurturance which will shine the light on the pathway to expressing your true self and partnering with your passions.

Secrets of Highly Creative Women

Honoring Your Inspirations

"It all begins with attraction. Creative inspirations seduce us with the power of a magnet. They lure you, charm you, tempt you, and captivate your attention. Whether it's an idea, a notion, a hunch, a whim, an impulse, a thought, an intuition, a sensation, or a feeling, an inspiration can be any stimulus that pulls you into your creative self. Like passion, creative attractions can be tantalizing. Uniquely yours, inspirations invite you into the world of creative possibility. How do you respond when an inspiration beckons? Do you accept the invitation or discount it? By honoring a personal impulse and following where it leads, creativity is born.

In my correspondence with cantadora, Jungian analyst, and author Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, best known for her blockbuster book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, when I asked her to describe her creative awakening, she replied: "I was born awake in this one way. In my opinion, anyone born in a creatively awakened condition deserves both congratulations and condolences." To the question, "Where do you get your ideas," she responded: "I do not have ideas. Ideas have me." Inviting your creative inspirations into your consciousness alters the course of your life. Being willing to be creatively awake is a choice and not always an easy one. If we choose to invest in our creative self, challenges lie in wait. If we follow our inspirations, we align ourselves with our life force and pursue a path that emanates from our very being.

Inspiration is not just the domain of the ingenious. As innovation consultant Pam Moore says, " We all have the software to be creative; we've just forgotten how to use it." By keeping our intuitive channels and our senses open to discovery, we can capture our unique inspirations. However, that's easier said than done. In the madness of this frantic workaholic era, it is far too easy to rush by the roses and never see the world around you. Too many women are overwhelmed by the awesome responsibilities of home, work, and relationships, and have lost touch with their creative voice. 

In order to relate to your environment and capture your innocent thoughts or visions, you need to listen, observe, and stay centered. This capacity to linger in the unknown and see what happens is the passage to your creative self.

In addition to receptivity and time, we must also grant ourselves the freedom to play creatively. Painter Michelle Cassou, founder of an original approach to creative painting described in her book, Life, Paint, and Passion, and co-founder of The Painting Experience Studio in San Francisco, urges aspiring creatives to "recover the capacity to invent that you had as a child." In fact, as a young French woman, Michelle searched unsuccessfully for the right art school and was even advised to give up painting. Luckily, at the age of nineteen, she discovered The Free Expression School in Paris for children ages five to fourteen and wept with delight. Forsaking traditional art school, Michelle simply painted with the children for three and a half years, basking in their freedom and lack of judgment. As a result, she unlocked her own creative potential. Today, her collection of paintings is breathtaking and she continues to paint prolifically. When she moved to America, she opened The Painting Experience workshops where she offers the richness of uncensored expression to all participants. Had Michelle not listened to her attraction for painting and surmounted the obstacles in her path, including academics telling her to quit, she would have forsaken her true work and her inner self.

For June Levinson, bliss is getting down and dirty with her beloved clay. For years as an art dealer and more recently as owner of the Levinson Kane Gallery on Boston's famed Newbury Street, June succeeded at the business of art. She became a dealer because she wanted to collect art and didn't have enough confidence in her talent as a painter. But ultimately she couldn't hold back the artistic sense within her. After closing her gallery, she began beading, making necklaces and other jewelry, easily selling them to friends in spite of her determination to keep her art as fun not a business. She then discovered that she loved making the beads herself, which led her to the wonderland of ceramics.

June has been both a friend and a fellow explorer of creativity. She has a daringness about her as well as a grounded practicality that is refreshing. 

These days she is luxuriating in the opportunity to study ceramics at the Radcliffe College Ceramics Studio, meet interesting people, and express the artist within her, instead of promoting the art works of others. Without all of her previous responsibilities, June delights in being a beginner: "I have a lower standard for myself in ceramics than I did as a painter when I compared myself unfavorably to great artists like Robert Motherwell. When I made my first bowl, it was cock-eyed and off center, but I was so excited. I brought it home and said to myself, the popcorn won't mind. I use it all the time. I'm more forgiving of my results now. How censorious can you be about a bowl? On the other hand I look at it and say there's all the wonder in the world in a little bowl." June's utter joy in the process has unlocked a whole new focus for her life. Like her grandchildren whom she takes on exciting adventures, June's playful jubilation with ceramics has re-connected her with her own child-like wonder.

Challenge: Personal Attractions

Reserve for yourself at least 15 minutes of quiet time every day to simply listen to your thoughts. Find yourself an impenetrable hide-out (you can if you really want to) and relax into the silence. Allow your inspirations to flow into your awareness. Leave your internal censors at the door and accept whatever shows up. Sometimes ideas that seem silly hold great wisdom. What inspires you? What do you feel excited or passionate about? What kinds of books or magazines do you read? What kinds of people do you most like to talk with? What kinds of interests or projects are you drawn to in your leisure time? If you went back to school, what would you most like to learn about? What do you fantasize about? What are your aspirations? 

What kinds of activities stimulate your creative expression? Do you long to paint or write or build or organize or sing or play something? Select a method for capturing your images, such as writing, taping, drawing, role-playing, etc. Save any thoughts or feelings you want to, but honor them all. Note everything and anything that comes to mind. What is your intuition urging you to explore or experience? Let this exercise be the beginning of a creative journal or idea book or a collage. You will be surprised at the wisdom in your own internal guidance. This daily date with your creative voice could change your life. Trust your process.

The women profiled in this book describe an uncanny openness to the stimuli all around them. They notice the unusual and make connections. For instance, while I was on the phone with Emmy-nominated actress and jewelry designer C.C.H. Pounder, she commented: "I'm talking to you right now and three hummingbirds zoomed by the window, and it was almost like they stood there in mid-motion, posed, and said, 'Hello.' As that vision comes, I think, wouldn't they be great in the back of a painting or on a piece of jewelry? So it's just a little flash but I'll remember it."

When I interviewed harpist, musician, composer, and singer, Deborah Henson-Conant, she had been up all night composing. I asked her how she could do that and she said: "When I'm not in the 'all night' mode, I can't even imagine doing it. But the minute I need to work that way, I can suddenly do it. Sometimes I do it because I'm on a deadline, like when I wrote my first scores to debut with the Boston Pops, and the adrenaline gets me through. Other times I feel like a scientist working all night in my laboratory. At those times, it's not 'work,' it's exploration and discovery and it's nearly impossible to stop once I catch the scent of what I'm trying to express. Composing, for me, is putting the sounds together so they have meaning, so they speak for my heart. My mind speaks to me in stories, but my heart speaks in music and it's music that adds the dimensions of color, emotion, sensation, mood, and movement to the stories."

Deborah recalls a life-changing experience for her at age ten when she first heard a piece by Claude Debussy: "It can't have been the first piece of classical music I ever listened to, but when I heard "La Mer" playing on the radio one day, I was so overwhelmed emotionally that I was really incapacitated. I remember I could not get close enough to the stereo. When my parents came home, I had actually crawled underneath it, under its little feet, and was lying there sobbing. I remember feeling like a craven animal; it was like needing drugs or something." In this moment, Deborah discovered the power of music to move her profoundly both emotionally and physically. Her life ever since has been the pursuit of this rapture.

Stress management consultant and humorist Loretta LaRoche uses lots of strategies to create and stimulate new routines. Loretta is not just funny. Her humor teaches people to stop "awfulizing" and "catastrophizing" the unimportant things in their lives and stop stressing themselves  needlessly. As a result, she finds an endless array of material in the everyday: "I'll tell you what really gets me going. I walk a lot. I find that when I'm taking a walk, sometimes, I'll burst out laughing because something will just hit me. I also get a lot of new stuff when I'm actually doing a talk, and I do what I call my 'Oprah' portion, where I ask people to tell me their stressors. And that gives me a whole new arsenal of material. I'll do a little repartee with people and feed them back what they're saying, and then we'll add to it. Because the whole idea of what I'm trying to promote is to exaggerate the very thing that disturbs you. Also, being out in nature certainly stimulates my creative bent. And then I try to be alone as much as I can. I really feel that's sacred time for me. I get up early, I sit in my chair in the morning, and have my coffee, reflecting on what stirs my creativity. And I read voraciously."

This ability to be receptive through the five senses is fueled by passion and curiosity. Writer, photographer, and stone sculptor Maureen Murdock talks about this communication with the
medium: "The way I work with photography is that I'm responding to the images I see in nature, isolating them, and then pulling out what I see. I may see a feature in a stone that you might not notice until it's printed in my photograph. So, it's always a kind of looking--maybe a way of saying it is that I am looking for the nature spirits. As a stone sculptor too, I'm trying to find the face in the rock, or what the stone has to offer. A lot of my ideas come in dreams but what inspires me most is looking at other people's art and nature."

The natural world is often a source of inspiration for creative women. Multi-talented designer Diane Ericson describes her own alliance with the power of nature: "I've been making things since I was a tiny kid. I pretty much lived in the canyon behind my house. I feel like the best thing that happened to me in my childhood was that I got left alone--not left alone physically, but left alone to just be who I was and explore what was important to me. So I really just got to be in my own rhythm most of my childhood. I would sit for hours and watch this tiny plant struggling to come around the edge of a rock and make its way into the world. I feel like I learned everything I ever needed to know living in that canyon."

Nature has always been an inspiration for me too. I was lucky to grow up near an "enchanted forest" with a web of streams under the pine trees, as well as a nearby polliwog pond set among miles of rocks with caves to climb into--perfect settings for the imaginative escapades of a young girl and her neighborhood playmates. While we occasionally puffed a few cigarettes in one of those caves, mostly we acted out dramas. Or alone, I relished the wonders of the seasons and felt connected to the earth. I spent many joyful hours being calmed by the utter stillness and beauty of my pine forest and celebrating spring with the birth of the baby frogs. These places were essential anchors for me back then, just as painting on a deserted Nauset Beach on Cape Cod has become for me more recently.

Many of the women I interviewed for this book remarked on the importance of daily walks and gardening. Fashion designer Sigrid Olsen says: "I can't separate the grounding of creativity from that of the person. And what I do to stay centered is pretty much connected to the outdoors. I've gotten away from it because I've been traveling a lot, but I do a power walk outside every morning. Nature is the most grounding influence in my life. In the good weather, I try to be outside as much as possible. I live in a beautiful area and I travel to lovely places. I spend a lot of time in California by the ocean and in the hills. If I lived in New York City all the time, I don't think I'd be able to be as balanced as I am."

Tranformational guide and coach Marilyn Veltrop says that being in the garden or walking in the woods or on the beach profoundly influences her creative process. In her dissertation on the transformational journeys of business leaders, Marilyn says: "I had numerous instances where I would go out on a meditative walk in nature and sit with a question that I was not clear about. And I would get wonderful responses in short order. 

For example, when I was pondering how many people I wanted to interview for my study, I found myself drawn intuitively to pick up this little branch on the path with eight side branches on it. Eight has always been a significant number for me and this was further evidence that I had the right number. I also find myself out in the garden weeding and realizing that it is a metaphor for what needs to happen in my work."

This ability to sense and be receptive to our environments stokes the creative process. "You have to be sponge-like," says artist and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston teacher, Carmella Yager, "so you cultivate a rich inner life--because you are going to transmit things through yourself with your own vision, or at least try to. Having the interior freedom to be clear about what is going through your filter takes a lot of sorting, examination, reflection, and time, time, time. It seems to me that there has to be room for puttering--time for just feeling and inhaling what comes in. And that's different than 'wasting time' and it's important for us to recognize the difference and not be in such a hurry with our grand scheme."

If you are out of touch with your inspired self, then making a date to connect opens the window. In the wise words of acclaimed writing teacher Brenda Ueland, in her 1938 book, If You Want To Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit: "Inspiration comes very slowly and quietly. Say that you want to write. Well, not much will come to you the first day. Perhaps nothing at all. You will sit before your typewriter or paper and look out of the window and begin to brush your hair absent-mindedly for an hour or two. Never mind. That is all right. That is as it should be, -though you must sit before your typewriter just the same and know, in this dreamy time, that you are going to write, to tell something on paper, sooner or later. 

And you must also know that you are going to sit here tomorrow for a while, and the next day and so on, forever and ever."

Research is one sure way to explore your attractions in depth over time. Miriam Nelson was happiest as a child playing outside and doing a variety of sports. She got a pony when she was six years old, skied, swam, and played soccer. Her whole family was very active but somehow she knew she wanted to be a scientist. As an adult, she merged her two loves of fitness and science by becoming a women's fitness expert. At Tufts University, her research on the benefits of strength training for women and how it slows the aging process as well as promotes health and nutrition is extraordinary. As Miriam says, "I loved science. I was fascinated with discovery and looking through microscopes. Every study that you do, you find out something different than you expected. We always go into a study with clear hypotheses, but we usually find some additional factors that are fascinating as well. I also love working with students--they're so enthusiastic and excited and their energy fires me up. Another benefit is getting to know personally the older people that participate in our studies. A lot of them have become really dear friends." This affection for her subjects reflects her strong commitment to her investigations and the promise of longer and healthier lives for women.

Besides noticing your inspirations, you must find a way to capture them. Many creative women keep journals of their insights and ideas. Chronicling your awareness, meandering thoughts, and feelings honors their value and signals to you that your creative process deserves attention. Sigrid Olsen keeps a sketchbook of her ideas, including swatches of fabric and color she collects.

"I might see something in a retail store, in a museum or a magazine, or on a person that sparks an idea and I think, that's an interesting color combination that I haven't put together before. We go to Europe four times a year to see the print and fabric shows and that's a very inspirational trip. And I might say, I love the idea of a black and white group followed by watery cool colors. Then we'll do something hot and floral and then switch to something mysterious in spice tones. I'm always looking at the flow of color for all four seasons."

Renowned chef Lydia Shire, whose career was nurtured by Julia Child and who now owns two famous restaurants in Boston--Biba's and Pignoli's--still creates her own menus with partner Susan Regis. Lydia also deliberately collects her brainstorms: " What I do is read a lot of books and magazines. I do my homework, and something will jog my interest. I keep a kind of a balance in my head all the time. For instance, I'll think, we haven't had a skirt steak on Biba's menu for a long time and I'll say to myself--perhaps for the spring or summer--I don't want to do any more sirloin. Then maybe I'll feel like I want to be in Mexico, so we'll make white corn tamales to accompany the skirt steak or some kind of tomato dish. Or Susan will say, 'Let's do a capon.' And I'll say, 'And let's do it with this kind of marinade' and she'll say she was thinking about the same thing. But we have fun--we go to her house or my house--and she brings her homework and I bring mine and we recreate the menu for each season, which is 120 new dishes every year just for Biba's. So I always say that I think what I get paid for is writing these menus."

Alice Aspen March is an authority on the effects of television viewing on the family and the co-producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary Latchkey Kids. As Alice has learned for herself, in order to develop our creativity, we have to give it our full attention: "Time is absolutely vital to the creative process. We have to figure out how to take it and give it to ourselves. Only when we realize the kind of attention we need to be creative, do we realize the value of our time. I don't think any of us learned about this when we were growing up. I know I didn't. No one ever said to me, 'Alice, this is your time. What would you like to do with it?' I never saw this role-modeled either. So I have had to learn the process of asking for the time I need to dip into my creative well. And learning that has taken a very long time."

This article is excerpted with permission from Chapter Two of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women: A Portable Mentor by Gail McMeekin and published by Conari Press in 2000.

Gail McMeekin, M.S.W. is the author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women: A Portable Mentor (Conari Press, 2000) and a new book The Power of Positive Choices which will be released in 2001. She is the owner of Creative Success in Newton, MA which offers career and creativity coaching as well as personal and professional growth research and writing.


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