Monday, September 20, 2010

Holy Days
I was raised Roman Catholic. This means, that religion aside, I enjoy ritual. Maybe 'enjoy' is not the right word. I should say rituals tap into a part of me that goes untouched through the normal course of events.
When I left the Catholic Church, as a teenager, it wasn't a matter of drifting away. I had attended with belief and purpose, and I left with belief and purpose. But I was young, and I realized after a while, that I felt like an orphan. It was as though the Church was holding God captive, and without going into a Catholic Church, I couldn't get to Him (as God was called in that time of my life).
I grew out of those beliefs, of course, and even though my reasons for leaving the church remain, I have fond memories and deeply embedded experiences of the rituals. These days I live by a phrase from Gibran's The Prophet: "My daily life is my temple and my religion". I create my own rituals, alone or with friends.
Then, last week a dear friend gave me a special gift, a ticket for Yom Kippur services in the Kehillah community she attends. I had no idea what to expect except that I had been forewarned that the service would be three hours long. I was quite excited to attend.
Maybe I should mention that I have long suspected that my family, especially on my mother's side, had converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition, when thousands of Jews were run out of Spain, tortured, or burned. Those who missed out on one of those options, converted to Roman Catholicism. So part of attending a Jewish service was a way to see what had been taken away. Aside from all that, I have long felt that everyone should celebrate a day of atonement. Let's face it, we all need it.
I found the service to be beautiful, meaningful, moving, and spiritually uplifting. Everything had relevance. And there were candles and historical ritual, a meaningful sermon, and best of all music. The cantor, a beautiful woman with a wonderful voice, smoothly led the congregation through some very complex melodies.
It was not just a time to think about forgiving ourselves but also a time of contemplating the very nature of forgiveness. It was also a time for asking about the nature of the wrongs we commit. How about the failure to stand up for what we believe, is that a wrong against our self or against our community? And if we fail to give words of support to a colleague or a loved one, is that person the only one diminished?
I came away asking myself those kinds of questions. And the experience made me realize that there are many ways to be spiritually connected to the community we live in. Spiritual practice, in fact, is not just about how we feel about God, it's about the energy we put out into the place where we live. It doesn't happen on Sunday or Saturday or any other specific day of the year. Every day is a holy day if we make it that.
I am grateful to my friend, and to the Kehilla community for making this Yom Kippur a special event in my life.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Creative Surrender

Anyone who has read my book, Freeing the Creative Spirit, knows that my approach to the creative process encourages spiritual centering and awareness. When you think about it, creativity and religious or spiritual belief have a lot in common. For one thing, they are both dealing with invisible forces. Both require a commitment to creating a better or beautiful world. Creativity, like spiritual faith, has an appreciation for the past as well as the future even though the paramount concern is the present moment.
Is it any wonder, then, that so many people lose faith in their capacity for creativity? I mean, spiritual seekers can go to weekly worship services, or study with meditation teachers. They can read sacred texts like The Bible, The Torah, or the Upanishads. The faith in creativity, however, has to be self-sustaining.
The greatest testaments to creativity are experience and evidence. Evidence is not necessarily a studio full of paintings or an archive of films, it can be as simple as looking at the hair on your head. The body shows us that creativity is our natural state. The body is constantly creating and discarding. It is part of the transforming universe. The body doesn’t create art directly, but it teaches us that art is only one form of creativity. The body creates hair, water, carbon dioxide, and some bodies even create children. And it does all that without permission from the ego.
When it comes to the creation of art, the ego is the ogre that stands in the doorway. If we can be in charge of our own ego, we have at least a fighting chance of succeeding. Unfortunately, too many of us suffer from an ego that has been influenced, maybe even abused, by other people. If we could get that ego to stand out of the way, most of us would have a far greater enjoyment of our creativity.
Often the ego latches onto a religious or spiritual practice and uses it as a crutch. This can be dangerous. And when the ego latches onto creativity, we lose all autonomy in the creative process. We start trying to please people, always looking for compliments. Our creativity becomes a process of creating a product, not original, authentic expression.
The key to adult creativity, is just like the key to spiritual happiness: surrender. When we are toddlers we have no control of anything, so surrender comes naturally. Consequently, human beings in the toddler state, play day in and day out. Watch toddlers with their food: they play with it! This is where we all began. If we can surrender that ego, we can return to that naturally creative state at chosen times.
I’m not suggesting that you play with your food, but I am suggesting that you surrender your ego from time to time. Whether in prayer or in creative play, the ego appreciates a vacation, and the rest of you will too. Creativity becomes a healthy past time, lowering blood pressure, calming the body, and engaging the mind away from worries and social and financial demands.
Creativity can be meditation, a time of prayer. Try it! It may not come easy at first, but making it a practice can help teach surrender in small doses.