Balancing Everyday Life with the Creative Life, Part 3: Talking to Eric Maisel

 

Dr. Eric Maisel

Eric Maisel, America’s foremost creativity coach, columnist for Professional Artist magazine, and author of 40 books, is doing a month-long blog tour to discuss his brand new book, Rethinking Depression, and I’m excited that my blog is the second stop on his tour and he is with us here today! Eric is one of my heroes and one of my favorite authors. I’ve read 12 of his books, and I return to them frequently, especially when I’m in need of emotional support, a cheerleader, or some new “dragon slaying” techniques. I’ve read Rethinking Depression and I think it’s destined to be one of my all time favorites! Reading this book is like taking a master class on how to shed negative labels and create an authentic life of purpose and meaning. 

The first part of the book takes a look at the common human experiences of unhappiness and sadness. Taking them out of the shadows and acknowledging their existence is the first step in reducing their power over us. Eric asks us to take as much control as possible of our thoughts, attitudes, moods, and behaviors and to view our freedom to take control over our lives as a joy and a blessing. Another important step is deciding to focus on making meaning rather than on monitoring moods.

The second part of the book presents an extensive program for living an authentic life based on three fundamental questions: “What matters to you?”, “Are your thoughts aligned with what matters to you?”, and “Are your behaviors aligned with what matters to you?”  This time Eric asks us to remove the protective blinders we have put in place to avoid the many painful facts of existence and the shortcomings of our personalities, and to don the mantle of meaning maker – and to be clear with ourselves – that we are the only one who can make our lives meaningful. He points out that nothing is more important than meaning yet nothing is so little investigated, and he encourages us to understand and embrace the fact that personal meaning is a completely subjective affair and that it can shift and change. Once we accept this view, meaning is always available to us – it is always waiting for us.   

The best part of the book for me is the 20-element program Eric designed to help us organize our lives around what matters most to us. Not only will following the program help us find personal meaning and make it real in our life, it also offers support in eliminating the unhappiness that comes from inauthentic living. Eric states that not all unhappiness will vanish if we follow the program; we’re human beings after all, and not immune to pain. But he promises that a lot of our unhappiness will. 

Eric – welcome to my blog! First of all, I want to say that I am a huge fan and I’m very excited about your new book! Because I connect so closely to your work on the psychology of creativity and creativity coaching, I started reading Rethinking Depression in terms of how it might help an artist live an authentic and meaningful creative life. But the more I read, the more I realized that some of my thinking and attitudes in both my everyday life and my creative life were in need of a tune-up. I seem to be always working on “balancing my everyday life with my creative life”, thinking that if I could only achieve that goal, I would be in my studio more frequently. But I began to realize that I was wearing those  “protective blinders”  you speak about and that it isn’t always my busy everyday life that keeps me out of the studio, it’s me wanting to avoid confronting those “dragons” that often show up at my studio door. 

Here is my first question: Removing our blinders and taking an honest look at the dualities inherent in the creative process requires that we accept not only the magic – those moments when we’re in the flow and everything is going beautifully – but also doubt, fear, anxiety, discouragement, disappointment, and despair – to name just a few of the “dragons” that can get in our way. Can you make some recommendations for how we can say an unconditional YESto the negative aspects of the creative process and slay those dragons so that we can get on with it, do our work, and make ourselves proud?   

Eric: Everything that we need to know is embedded in the word “process.” It is the truth about process that we make mistakes and messes, start on projects that never come alive, do a percentage of excellent work and a percentage of mediocre work, stall on some days, and engage in a remarkable dance of attachment and detachment as we care about our work while also not attaching to the outcome. Once we understand process and genuinely honor it, we can begin to take the “bad with the good” with what amounts to equanimity!

Donna: In Rethinking Depression, you present a program for living an authentic life organized around three questions: “What matters to you?”, “Are your thoughts aligned with what matters to you?”, and “Are your behaviors aligned with what matters to you?” Considering those questions brings up competing things that matter for the artist who has chosen the creative life as a way of making meaning and who also desires a meaningful everyday family life. Trying to “balance everyday life with the creative life” seems more like wishful thinking than supportive thinking. Can you suggest an alternative way of thinking about it and some strategies for dealing with competing pulls?  

Eric: The simplest answer is that you maintain a creativity practice, say perhaps for the first hour or two of your day or in whatever way works for you, and when you are done you decide that you are really done and you return to the rest of life. You might use as a mantra or affirmation “I return with strength” as a bridge from creating to the rest of your life, to remind yourself that you haven’t completely exhausted yourself in the service of your work and that you have strength left for the other tasks in life. It is completely possible to create for a certain number of hours every day and to also be available for your family and your other meaning needs for a certain number of hours every day: the only thing standing in the way of that possibility is a person’s own unwillingness to honor both creating and relating. 

Creating is such a solitary pursuit. Consequently often the only voice we hear concerning our personal creative process and our desire to have both a meaningful everyday life and creative life is our own negative voice – the voice of judgment that says there must be something wrong with us if it’s not all magic every time and every day. Eric makes it clear that our judgment of our experiences can be either positive or negative – it’s entirely up to us. Removing the blinders and accepting that there are – and always will be – both positive and negative aspects of the creative process and everyday life has both humbled and freed me. 

What do you think about what Eric said about the truth of the creative process, and how do you honor those ever-present dualities?

You can see the rest of Eric Maisel’s blog tour for Rethinking Depression here.

Thank you so much Eric for sharing your thoughts about the creative process and living the creative life with us today!

Happy Painting!

7 thoughts on “Balancing Everyday Life with the Creative Life, Part 3: Talking to Eric Maisel

  1. Leilani Squire

    In answer to Donna’s evocative question: It is about process. I never know what’s going to happen when I sit down at my desk and face the page that is waiting for me. Sometimes the writing goes smoothly, other times it’s the hardest work I can do-trying to find the story or where the main character wants to go. But as long as I keep going, as long as I stay put and do the work, it all works out in its own way. Sometimes in the oddest shapes and at the most unexpected times. I agree with Eric that we are the ones responsible for making our lives meaningful. Who else could it be? For me to be the one responsible to live a meaningful life empowers me. When I am fully engaged in taking responsibility for meaning making in my life, whether it’s in the creative realm or the daily life realm, that’s when I’m most fulfilled and push through, even in the darkest times. And the more I invest my time in meaning making, the more centered and balanced my life is, the possibility of falling into depression diminishes. To live a life free of depression is worth living a life of meaning making. I get sad and unhappy, how I could I not? I’m human and a poet. But I’m also happy and fulfilled. Thank you, Donna, for the great dialogue with Eric. His wisdom and insights are invaluable to the artist and creative person.

    Reply
  2. Donna Post author

    Hi Leilani.
    You have expressed what it means to take responsibiy for making meaning in our everyday lives and in our creative lives in such beautiful way! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.
    Donnaj

    Reply
  3. Liz Beceden

    You may be interested in Charlie Rose’s program yesterday, April 3, still available on his website:

    Eric Kandel of Columbia University on his book “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, And Brain From Vienna 1900 to the Present.”
    I need to read this book…sounds really interesting.

    Liz

    Reply
  4. Tammy Wiedenhaefer

    Hi Donna,
    I am home, rested and trying to absorb everything I learned from you this past week! I cannot begin to express what an impact your class had on me. I had so many “aha” moments that I have to sit and digest it all for awhile. I am especially impacted by your Eric Maisel series on the blog. Reading the blog entries after experiencing your passion in person means so much more to me. I no longer feel alone with my dragons, and I now have some hands on tools to help me battle them. I am actually looking forward to facing the dragons rather than dreading them each day, and thanks to your teachings I am looking forward to seeing the direction my artwork takes.

    FYI- April Showers is as meaningful to my husband as it is to me!

    Reply
  5. Terri Rea

    First of all, thanks Donna, for being the wonderfully generous soul you are. (loved the birthday call from the gang at Kanuga!). But I’m really referring to your generosity in sharing all these terrific resources. I bought the book and am enjoying it already. The whole issue of authenticity in life and art – and it how it manifests, evolves through the life cycle fascinates me. I like the destigmatizing of how one feels, rather than labeling. As a psychiatric nurse I’ve always been saddened by the don’t ask don’t tell nature of depression by virtue of the label. it continues to fascinate me how sometimes I can just paint freely and fly. Other times not so much!
    Keep those blogs and wisdoms coming!

    Reply
  6. Rosa Vera

    Donna,

    Thank you so much for the article from Eric Maisel. I am also “channeling” your class at Kanuga, which I enjoyed so so much. I am ordering the book today. This “process” road has been a roller coaster ride with thrills and angst. Thank you for your blog. I have been reading it for years. Hugs.

    Reply
  7. Ruth Armitage

    Hi Donna,
    I am re-reading this post during a low time, and I appreciate it so much. It is so helpful to remember that we are not alone in our doubts and fears an challenges, that others in the creative process share the same struggles. I think that balancing the creative and relational aspects of life is sort of like a tide that one rides. It is much harder to swim against the tide, and more fun to ride it!

    Reply

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