The first day of a new year. I've been resisting writing this blog post because I know I need to write about creativity. We have an equine-led creativity workshop here at the end of the month (see details here, and in the last few weeks I've been totally unclear about what I could possibly say about creativity! Something about the back end of this year has left me questioning what I know about anything, including about how I make my life.
(Because when I think of creativity, or even of art, I don't just mean the process of creating something that would be considered "a work of art". To me, creativity is the process of bringing into the world, in some tangible way, the particular truth we each have inside us. In some ways it doesn't matter what the "product" is, as long as we engage fully in the process. Creativity is how we respond to the lines from the Gospel of Thomas: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." It's more about the life you're creating than about something you make to hang on your wall.)
I wanted to start the new year full of clarity and energy, but instead there's more unknowing. The crazy year that's just ended - of enforced idleness and healing; loss - both personal and shared; fear; unexpected opportunities; and a late, lovely surprise - has overwhelmed my internal navigational system and my habitual process of creation. At times the overriding lesson of 2016 seemed to be nothing more than stamina: holding to a vision even when there seemed no way to realise it. Or maybe it was surrender: accepting not knowing, the abandonment of all plans. But, if I look back to a year ago, I can see both a stubborn continuity of vision and intention - to create a centre for equine-led learning, growth and healing that is also sustainable in an environmental sense - and an enormous shift in the way I'm learning to create and move forward. And that's a good thing.
So actually, even thought it's probably too early to have digested the year that's been, there is something I can say today about creativity, and specifically about how horses can help us to unlock our creativity. Of course they are beautiful, and have inspired a great deal of beautiful art. But it's more than that: it's that horses teach us, at a deep level, how to do partnership. And creativity is a partnership. Between you and your Self (or your soul, or whatever you like to call that part of you). Between you and the universe. Between you and other people. Yes, it's also profoundly personal, and often solitary. But that doesn't mean it's something our little human ego is doing on its own (although many of our current myths about artists might have us thinking that's the case). On the contrary, creativity feels like a process of listening deeply to what wants to be expressed through us, and then doing our very best to bring that into the world. Where that inspiration comes from is, quite literally, a mystery. It's The Mystery. We don't dream it up out of our own head - instead, we have to let go of control enough to let it take possession of us and to grow. Giving our "art" life means letting go of the belief that we own it, that we can control it, or that we can do it on our own. But we also need to exercise initiative, perseverance, flexibility, and courage in giving it form. We need to learn how to dance with it, shifting between activity and passivity, initiation and receptivity, with grace. At its best, working with horses is that kind of dance.
On a practical level, what this has meant for me in the last year is that I've got much better at trusting the "passive"/receptive part of the creative cycle or process: I don't have to be "doing" or making things happen all the time. Rest or stillness are important too, if I'm going to be open to what my creative dance partner has to offer. I've also been exploring ways to invite other people into the process of creation with me - from hosting volunteers working in the garden and on the farm, to finding partners for designing and delivering programmes. Both aspects of letting go in order to move forward have challenged my deeply-ingrained belief that I have to do everything myself, and along the way I've learned how much that independence is linked to a lack of trust not so much of others, but of my own skill and capacity to respond to new possibilities.
Letting go of control has been vulnerable and challenging, but as usual, the alternative is worse. Because the alternative is holding on. If I hold on, I prevent what is within me from finding expression. And then, my muse becomes like a horse whose rider - out of fear - always keeps some pressure on the reins: it either goes dull, or becomes irritable, perhaps even explosive. I don't know about you, but I've spent enough of my life in one or other of those states. So the mantra I have in mind as this new year begins is one I've borrowed from a collection of writing by the fantastic Anna Blake, equestrian blogger extraordinaire: "relaxed and forward". They're qualities we look to create with our horse when we're riding - removing the tensions and resistances that prevent energy from flowing through us and carrying us forward together - but they're also a pretty good guide to how to live, and work, with your muse.