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Malcolm Welland  MA, Dip CTP, Member CAPT, Clinical Member OSP

Malcolm Welland, psychodynamic therapist Toronto, Canada

Creative Living

An old man sits by a lake shore in Switzerland playing with rocks and sand, building castles, houses, and eventually a whole village. He does this over several days with the concentration of a child totally immersed in an imaginary world. C.G. Jung states in his autobiography he had an inner certainty that he was on the way to discovering something and yet he says: "... the building game was only a beginning." In another time and place a young man goes into a Paris museum and looks at an incomplete sculpture of a Greek god. The majesty and power he imagines it once had in its pristine and complete state is so powerful that it cannot be contained in the stone. It is as if the presence of this figure is so alive that the poet Rilke feels humbled and imperfect before its splendour. The statue confronts him with the challenge which is expressed in the last line of the poem: "You must change your life".

In the first example C.G. Jung in the grip of a difficult problem said to himself, "I shall simply do whatever occurs to me." and decides to "take up once more that child’s life with his childish games." In the second example the poet Rilke as a result of his museum visit writes one his New Poems titled “Archaic Torso of Apollo. These two stories are not only examples of two individuals coming to a realization but also about listening to something within themselves and carrying the insight forward in a creative endeavour.

Creativity here is understood as a process whereby we listen to those shifting moods, urges, and indistinct promptings in us that need to be shaped and given a voice and then by doing so, encountering a part of ourselves to be claimed into the whole of our personality It is not the finished product with which we need to be concerned. It is the doing of it. Jung continued in his childlike game because there was a question he needed to reflect on. Rilke allows himself to be drawn in by the beauty of the sculpture leading to his exploration of the creative process, an experience untouched on before. It matters little whether it is gardening, exercising, picking up an old instrument long neglected or taking up a hobby because one has always wanted to, we live creatively when we learn to listen to ourselves and carry out into our lives those hints and guesses within us. The British therapist D.W. Winnicott uses cooking as an example. He points out that when preparing a dish one person may follow the directions while another may not, struggling somehow to cook the item even though "there is a disaster or the taste is funny and one suspects the worst." To live creatively is not a matter of talent. It is all about developing the capacity to listen to what needs to be expressed in us.

“… one feels more real and surprises herself (or himself) by what turns up in the mind in the course of cooking." Winnicott reminds us that listening to where we can be creative is not about doing it right or wrong or following a prescribed method, in spite of our hankering to nail things down to make sense of it. We must, to paraphrase the poet John Keats, remain with uncertainties, doubts and mysteries and refrain from irritably reaching after fact and reason. This process, the province of hunches, inner yearnings, reactions and feelings which may open us to ourselves, does require a commitment and time. It starts through the conscious activity of letting things happen. This is not a passive letting go but a more directed approach whereby one allows something to take place within. This leads to considering or reflecting. Is there  a meaning to this which is of significance to us? Is there any "weight" to it? Does it contain anything to be opened up? The third action in this process is confronting our self with the possibility of change. The end of Rilke’s poem is just such a confrontation. He must change but is it possible? What would he have to do? How will this fit with who he understand himself to be? There may in fact be no clear answer at times, and often a waiting must ensue as we sit with the tension. Winnicott summed it up nicely when he wrote: "In creative living you or I find that everything we do strengthens the feeling that we are alive, that we are ourselves." It is about learning to uncover those areas about ourselves where we can feel authentic.

A portion of Rilke’s poem follows. (The translator is Stephen Mitchell.)

"We cannot know his legendary head

with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso

is still suffused with brilliance from the inside,

like a lamp, in which his gaze, ... in all its power,

... burst like a star: for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life."

Malcolm Welland 2008 May not be duplicated or distributed without permission of the author.

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