Creativity as Spiritual Practice
Editor's note: Marybeth Leis Druery is a Spiritual Director and visual artist who integrates expressive arts with meditation and spiritual practice. Marybeth has provided spiritual care for young adults since 1995 and co-founded Student Open Circles in 2001 with her partner, Jeff Druery, at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. They mentor university students from diverse backgrounds in personal and spiritual reflection, community service, and leadership development, facilitating weekly reflection groups, retreats, spirituality courses, and provide spiritual direction for students.
It takes “practice” to let go and be with process. I experience art-making similarly to how Gerald May describes prayer: “immediacy in the present moment, honesty of desire, some kind of reaching toward the Source.” In creative expression, students experience encouragement, safety, and stillness that invites creative practice to become a spiritual practice, a way to reconnect with the original, true self, as the obsession with results melts away. Eventually, this new way of being spills over into life, affecting how we relate to others, how we serve, and how we bring love and care into the world.
Here is how that creative/spiritual process unfolded for some of the students in our program:
They arrive, weighed down by the demands of student life. “Jacky,” a Life Sciences student, paints a sea of blood where green wriggling viruses skim the surface and a “ship” of white blood cells zaps them with its hostile purple laser beams. Protecting life, bringing vitality. She mentions how relaxing and stress-relieving it is for her to be here - taking a break from her studies in a way that opens her up to listening to her life instead of opening up her laptop to play a video game. That was what she was about to do when she remembered that it was time for Creativity Circle. So she closed her books, put away her cellphone, and came here instead for a chance to connect and to learn to look at life in new ways. She came here to discover what really matters to her.
“Natalie” paints a hurricane swirl of energy as she mutters about how good it feels to express herself. How it’s been so long, how she doesn’t know what she’s painting, but that her week “has been hell.” With each brushstroke across the page, she unwinds, letting go of the chaos of tests and assignments that have been overwhelming her. She notes that she’s felt swept up in the chaos that's presenting itself on the page in front of her. Being in her first year of university, she doesn’t know how to handle it all or how to stay grounded. But being creative here is a profound chance to notice. It's a chance to remember that she’s okay and all will be well. I ask her about the light at the center of her painting, a still point unaffected by the dark whirlwind around it. Others join in reflecting on this place of light, of who they are within themselves and how they lose touch with that deeper, true place so easily in all the pressures that they feel at university. I offer a gentle reminder that the still point remains, even when they don’t immediately sense it. Who you really are at your deepest core is always with you.
Students often say things like, “I haven’t done this since I was a child,” as they sink into an art activity. For many people, creativity is simply not a part of everyday life. I regularly bring creative expression into reflection with young adults, both individually, and in group settings. There is something about engaging their creative selves that helps young adults to trust each other and to go deeper. Students don’t usually have places where they can express themselves without being graded or judged.
As Lexi neared the end of her undergraduate degree and reflected back on her time in university, she shared that many of her seminal moments occurred in our weekly Creativity Circle. She said: “It’s been a chance to explore life’s big questions and gain many critical insights into my world and myself. For example, when our theme was authenticity, I realized I had never considered what authenticity means to me, and this question has tangibly changed the way I approach my relationships and leadership roles. The variety in types of creative expression we explore (such as painting, drawing, sketching, writing, drama, collage and clay) helps me to see aspects of my internal world reflected in what I create, and to look at it from new angles. I value our focus on process, rather than product.”
Marybeth Leis Druery trained through the Ontario Jubilee Spiritual Direction program and the Fleming College Expressive Arts Practitioner program. She will be teaching the course: Mindfulness, Creativity, and Spirituality within Expressive Arts on June 25-29, 2018 at Fleming College in Ontario, Canada.