The mental battles that humans face are real – that is, they are based on problems which exist in the ordinary world we live in. An example of such a battle, is the battle between creativity and acceptance. The dilemma is whether to make one’s mark upon the world, or accept the world as it is.
Creativity is the art of bringing something novel to the world. A writer may want to put their vision into print; a visual artist may want to set their vision onto a canvas of some sort; a business person may want to create an organisation that does something new. What comes with the territory, is the urge to shape some part of existence in a different or memorable way.
Creativity often comes with the desire to ‘make a mark’. There is a whole industry based around brands and intellectual property, which is designed to protect the original marks, designs and patterns people come up with. The reason for brand protection may be financial, or it may be more to do with protecting an identity.
Acceptance is the art of accepting what is already in the world. A person interested in their own mental health may want to learn acceptance in order to be calmer. In general, health is disturbed by frustrated urges, and can be repaired by dissolving those urges into acceptance.
A person may have spent their life trying to make a mark on the world around them. We create businesses; we accumulate property; we make families. All of these, we may feel, are things to fight for. But a side effect of that fighting is that, when the battle is frustrating, we take damage. Like soldiers in a fight, we start to bear wounds as a result of the world fighting us back.
Acceptance can bring peace, in that an accepting mind does not need to waste its energy pushing against the world. Fussing, fighting, crying, raging – all of that can end, if acceptance can be achieved.
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN CREATIVITY AND ACCEPTANCE
You will have noticed that, as soon as you try to create something, you experience periodic difficulty. Our society has two diametrically opposed ways of dealing with this difficulty. In simple form, the main social messages are these two:
Persevere – keep going, and you will eventually achieve your goal. You can do anything you set your mind to.
Accept – learn to be at peace with the world. The universe is big, and you are just human. Relax, and be kind.
THE SERENITY PRAYER
The serenity prayer is very popular. In current form, it asks for
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
courage to change the things I can
wisdom to know the difference
But how do we tell the difference? Unfortunately, the things of this world do not come ready with labels written on them, saying ‘you can change this’, or ‘you can’t change this’. There is a rich area of experience where we will not easily know whether to change things, or to accept things.
THE PARADOX OF ACCEPTING WHILE ACTING
Those familiar with meditation practice will know that there is an alternative, quite paradoxical, possibility. Strangely, after spending time learning simple awareness in meditation, one can experience a greater, not lesser, ability to act. One would think that such an apparently passive thing as meditation would encourage passivity, not activity. But it seems not to be the case.
The way I think this works is the following. Think of a martial arts practitioner engaged in a fight. If the practitioner is not able to accept what is, then they have two efforts to make: firstly, to see clearly, and secondly, to act clearly. In the same way, someone who wants to achieve something in life, but who has mental health problems, has two efforts to make: firstly, to stabilise themselves, and secondly, to act clearly.
How can the martial arts practitioner make themselves more effective? By learning, firstly, to accept what is, and to see clearly. Then their actions are more likely to be directed by wisdom rather than fear. In the same way, when we suffer from anxiety and depression, we can make ourselves more effective by first learning to accept what is, and to see clearly. Then, our actions are more likely to be directed by wisdom and peace, rather than fear and disturbance.
HOW ACCEPTANCE CAN HELP CREATIVITY
There is no doubt that some creative individuals have thrived on anger and frustration. Experiences of abuse and injustice, for example, can drive people to wish to express themselves determinedly with words, images and actions. But, sooner or later, it is possible that angry energy fades. If you believe that we are more than angry beings, then anger is arguably not a consistent source of energy. Works of art may end up being rather narrow and one-sided.
In contrast, if a creative individual can learn to accept with world they live in before then comment and act upon it, then it can make their art more powerful. One reason for this is that expressive creativity depends, in part, on empathy. Creative art and business cannot happen independently from the rest of humanity. An ability to make a connection with others is thus extremely helpful in creative endeavour.
If a creative person can encompass acceptance in their approach, then arguably they can be more effectively creative. Just like the martial arts practitioner who has learned to see clearly, the ‘accepting creative’ can direct their actions from wisdom, rather than fear or anger.
WHAT WE CAN DO NEXT
If we find ourselves raging against the world, wanting to ‘get it back’ for some perceived injustice, then we can take a step back ourselves. We can begin to train ourselves in the art of acceptance, so that our actions are perhaps quieter, but more effective.
If we suffer from mental health problems, then we can be honest with ourselves, and learn to see before we act. Such clear sight requires acceptance. We are often too lazy to analyse the world we are trying to manipulate, so we carry on trying to make it do our will, not realising that we have created a vicious circle of selfishness. We can see it when people argue. Watch carefully, and you will see two people being impatient, each trying to take short cuts to outdo the other. That kind of competitiveness is very tiring for everyone. More importantly, it is also a root of personal anxiety and depression.
Instead of being angry and uncontrolled, we can train ourselves to see calmly and clearly. We are then in a position to apply our creativity effectively. We may still wish to challenge the status quo. But, because we are doing it from the ground of personal acceptance of everything around us, we will be more balanced and nuanced in our challenge.
Every day, we have a dilemma between making our mark on the world, and accepting the world as it is. We experience conflict, and are often unsure whether to persevere, or accept. It is genuinely difficult to make those decisions.
But there is another way. Rather than alternating between action and acceptance, we can act WITH acceptance. Paradoxically, it seems that meditation (training in calm awareness), though apparently passive, enhances our ability to act effectively. Instead of being driven by fear or anger, which alienates others, we become driven by awareness and empathy, which engages others.
If you find yourself in a frustrated mess, angry at, and impatient with, the world, then start the training. Teach yourself to see calmly and clearly, before you do anything at all. You can then apply your own creativity effectively. You can still challenge and change the world, but in a deeper way, from the strong ground of personal acceptance.