Finding Creative Flow Around Illness and Stress

Even when you're dealing with your own terminal disease, you can still nurse your creative flow. - Pyragraph
Flow. Every artist relies on it. Celebrates it. Needs it. I would like to add “nurtures it,” but that has not recently been my experience.

When you are working full-time, single and living alone, caring for a parent in decline, and—oh yeah—dealing with your own recent entry into the world of the terminally diseased, nurturing your creative flow quickly drops to the lower end of your day-to-day priorities.

Where did my creative flow go and how the hell do I get it back?

How do I hang on to it when my hands are, every day, so full of non-creative concerns and obligations?

I figured out early on that I was just going to have to get used to being, to varying degrees, disconnected from my inner flow. So I decided that a rationing of sorts was in order. A new priority emerged—at the very least, I would stay connected to other people’s creative flows. Read. Get out to shows whenever possible. Just try to stay tuned in.

I also decided quickly that it’s OK to ask for help. Whether it’s performing at Low Spirits or putting together a medically-themed fine art show, ask for help. Don’t worry about painting the Sistine Chapel right now. Embrace teamwork as much as solo work. Be happy with small connections and accomplishments. Inching forward is OK. Each step counts as much as the destination.

Finding creative flow can be hard

The other devices in my creative flow toolkit are medicine and religion.

The day-to-day stresses I now face often feel never-ending, and they can be grueling at times. I’m always plugged into a very long to-do list, so sometimes I need extra help taking my mind and body offline. With careful planning and a spiritual approach, I sometimes carve out a few hours of a weekend just to unplug, and let my mind and spirit relax. This is one of the added benefits of some of the cancer-fighting medical marijuana I use.

More often, I will employ the practices of Buddhism to help maintain the balance I need, so I can feel more like a creative human, less like a mouse on a wheel. Meditation and the medicinal words of Buddhist teachers work quickly to calm my mind and bring peace to my frenzied spirit.

Flow. Maybe, if you’re careful, you don’t really have to worry about it. It will dwindle, but not dry up.

The trick is to remain vigilant and grateful.

Adjust your expectations. Seek and welcome help. Stay tuned in to the larger creative flow that surrounds you. Find (or create your own) spiritual path to help maintain some balance in life. And last, but not least, meditation and medicine have always been employed to help humans break through their blocks, to reach and stay connected to their innermost spirit, and the creativity that flows from it.

Author’s note: Along with Valerie Roybal who also has written for Pyragraph, I am helping put together a show looking at art and illness: Adaptations, at SCA Contemporary. It is currently soliciting entries; please see the Call for Entries below.

Call for Entries: Adaptations
June 2014
Curated by Sheri Crider, Patrick Nagatani, Amy Clinkscales and Valerie Roybal

SCA is seeking works for Adaptations: An Exhibition About Survival. The artworks selected for this exhibition will address the adaptations people make when faced with profound disease and illness. Adapting for survival is common in nature. Plants and animals adapt to changes in environment, especially when conditions become extreme. Adaptation requires the ability to make adjustments, change, or evolve to prevent the internal transformation of disease (and the treatments of the disease) from becoming lethal. We are asking artists what adaptations: emotional, physical, spiritual, etc. he or she has had to make when confronted with disease. What does it take on an individual level to survive and live with a disease?

Submissions will be accepted from November 1, 2013 to January 10, 2014. More information and submission requirements can be found at:

About SCA: SCA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is dedicated to facilitating space for experimental, innovative and contemporary art. SCA presents exhibitions by emerging and established, local, national and international artists working with large-scale sculpture, painting, print, drawing, photography, installation, sound and video art.

Photos by Amy Clinkscales.

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