What Blocks the Muse?

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
– Picasso

What holds us back from honoring and following our impulses to write a screenplay, take tango lessons, or develop a comedy routine? When we discover a creative means of expression that ignites our passion, awakens joy in us, and restores our vitality, why do we so easily relegate this activity to the bottom of the to-do list? Why do we allow creativity to be peripheral, if even that, in our lives, that thing we do when all the practical considerations are taken care of?

Over many years I’ve watched people, including myself, quite literally come alive when they let themselves sing or dance like there’s no tomorrow or climb up a ladder and start painting a mural on their bedroom wall that depicts what they love. “When I picked up my writing after procrastinating for a year and a half,” Leah said, “everything lined up for me. At last, I was committed to doing what really makes me happy.” When I write poetry, draw, and make collages, I feel deeply satisfied and content in my bones, while at the same time experiencing an almost electric aliveness coursing through my body. Creative expression connects me to the fullness of Being. Making art and writing poetry are spiritual practices for me.

The creative process is life-affirming and transformative. Why, then, do we hesitate to give it more importance in our lives? What blocks the muse?

You’re six years old and the cow you paint in your first grade class is purple and green with two tails and a mustache. Your drawing is singled out and presented in front of the class as an example of what not to do. Or, you gleefully cover your face, arms, and legs with poster paint when Mom isn’t looking, and are reprimanded and sent to your room for making such a mess.

It’s common for our innocent attempts at self-expression in our formative years, and later, as well, to be invalidated or stifled. For many of us, our parents, family members, and teachers had locked their own creative instincts away and were simply unable to celebrate ours. These imprints on us were powerful. Our spontaneous demonstrations of the life force were minimized at best and harshly judged in some cases. Now, as adults, these early experiences of rejection, which have become etched in our psyches, contribute to the inhibition of our creative drives.

Another reason that people consciously or unconsciously fail to develop their creative potentials is that they may be afraid of what could open up in them. Creative expression is a doorway into the unconscious. When we’re immersed in this process we get out of our heads and open to feelings, impressions, memories, and energies that may have been out of our awareness. This unhooking from the thinking mind enables us to drop more deeply into ourselves, which can seem quite dangerous at times.

It’s not just the fear of accessing shadow material that can inhibit creative instincts. Too much joy, freedom, or expansion can appear threatening to our familiar sense of ourselves. We ache to tap into our deepest potentials, but this expansion of identity can be just as unsettling to the egoic mind as tapping into our dark sides can be. To our limited selves it all represents change and a relinquishing of control and conditioned ways of being.

The fear of fear is also a common obstacle. Most of us will do anything to avoid feeling fear. We weren’t taught that fear is just part of being human, and doesn’t have to be resisted. Fear accompanies risk-taking and attempting something new and unfamiliar, both of which are essential aspects of the creative process. Even a small sense of fear can cause us to mobilize our defenses so that, perhaps suddenly, we put down a project or change our minds about pursuing an idea we had been enthusiastic about, not knowing why we abandoned our creative flow.

Creativity can disrupt our sense of surety and predictability. We’re constantly invited to surrender our grip on the known and encounter the unknown. This is exciting and can be scary, as well. Our egoic minds thrive on safety and certainty, and the creative life promises none of that.

These are some of the reasons that we might keep creativity locked away in the basement or may keep finding ourselves in a push/pull relationship with regard to creative goals and activities. Try not to judge yourself if you find that any of these obstacles are true in your experience. Blocks of all kinds are messengers. They point us to domains of our psyches that need attention and healing.