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When times are challenging for us, either individually or collectively, I find that my photography plays an important role in helping me get through intense life experiences like those we are all experiencing right now. So today I want to share some valuable ideas on ways creativity can help in times of uncertainty.
Life feels so strange when you are tootling along, maybe a bit bored or lethargic, and then something deeply unsettling happens, seemingly out of the blue.
And you are confronted with the big life questions: how to survive when you are faced with pandemics, mortality, aging, illness, financial problems, etc.
Often, when things get tough, we stop doing the things that make us relax and make us happy. We contract with fear or worry; we start focusing on the uncertainty, the pain, and the problems.
But what I would love to share with you today is that, instead of contracting when things get rocky, instead of making our lives less joyful and fun, we can actually use photography, and our love of being creative, to help us cope in tough times.
Using our creativity can help us to explore the world. It can help to take our minds away from obsessive worrying, to look beyond our challenges, to find beauty in unexpected places, and to connect with others.
There are so many opportunities to weave in moments of immense joy from this incredible medium of photography that we all love so much.
So here are my ideas on how creativity can help you in times of uncertainty.
One of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, is extraordinary when discussing the benefits of being creative. But a very simple idea of his is perhaps the most powerful here:
“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” –Neil Gaiman
I never, ever regret spending time shooting.
Even if I don’t get any shots I love, making the effort to explore and take photos makes my day better.
Of course, this is especially true when I hit those amazing moments when I capture something perfectly.
Even if I get zero good shots, I know that every single time I make the effort to shoot, I am feeding my ideas, my imagination, and my creativity.
Even if I get things wrong, make something boring, or miss a shot, the effort of shooting, as well as the experience of shooting, always feels worthwhile to me.
It is a pretty basic but powerful idea to think that we humans just love to make things.
It’s part of what makes us human: to have ideas, to experience the world not just as a way to get our needs met, but as a way to add something to what is already here.
And, of course, I always regret not shooting.
When we are so wrapped up in our lives or the challenges we are facing, it can feel like our struggles are the only things we can think about.
This is especially true when we are fearful and worried. We see everything through the filter of our worries.
And so it is good, in fact, essential, to take our minds away into realms of other possibilities and see the world beyond what is freaking us out.
It’s important to contemplate and see the worlds other people are living, to explore the wilderness, to look at the stars and imagine their eternal timelessness.
To bring the focus of our lives away from the minutiae and worries and toward the vast incredible planet that we live in.
To remember that this is just a moment in time.
We know that life goes on. Every day is new. Challenges are overcome, eventually. Things continue to change. We can rely on that.
The photographer Diane Arbus said that being a photographer gives you a license to talk to people you wouldn’t usually approach. And this is the amazing thing that applies to all of photography, I believe.
Having a camera in hand is an incredible license (permission, even) to try and look at the world in a new way.
So use it.
Use photography to go beyond whatever is concerning you right now. Use photography to see things afresh, to look at new places, or to try and look at the same things in new ways.
During lockdown, I took some of the best photos I had in years. Because I didn’t have the chance to just go out and explore, I was confined to my apartment and had to squeeze my inspiration and imagination to come up with something awesome in this confining situation.
I had to dig deep and think beyond what was ordinarily possible; I had to look at the limited opportunities that I had and make the very best of them.
And I did! My creativity, because I used it daily, because I valued it and fed it, gave me some amazing ideas for great shots.
(It’s important to remember what the wonderful writer Maya Angelou said: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”)
It’s amazing what the imagination can do when given very tight restrictions!
We all face challenges. Life has times of darkness for us all.
It is not unique to hit a point in life that you believe will shatter your spirit or break you from worry.
And yet so often we hide these experiences and feelings from each other because they are strange and oddly embarrassing to share.
But we can use our craft and our creativity to bring light and to share our experiences with others. To show people that we are all human, facing many similar challenges.
This quote from the writer James Baldwin sums up the power that creative people have:
“The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.” –James Baldwin
There are many studies that show being creative is good for our emotional health.
Being creative is often compared to meditation. This is because we get lost in creative tasks, and getting lost in something has a calming effect on our nervous systems.
It’s soothing to be focused on something that is concerned with something beyond the practical, which is about creating something beautiful or interesting or fun.
And, as I mentioned before, anything that moves us away from our worries, that brings us ideas and inspiration, is so valuable during times when it feels like life is sitting on quicksand.
I want to live for more than just getting by. I want to live in a way that is exciting and interesting and electrifying. And yet there is so much that brings us away from the joy.
It’s very easy as humans to get so embedded in our habits, both in how we live our lives and how we think, that it often feels like we are running on autopilot.
This can be especially true in times of uncertainty. We go over and over and over the things that are concerning us. We think of ways to help, what to change, and how to fix things. We talk about our concerns a lot and get lost in endless articles. We discuss, rationalize, and disagree.
But maybe there is no fix, and you can only live with whatever is on your path. The obsessive thinking and worrying is not going to help you at all.
I love this quote from Edward de Bono because, to me, it shows that we can use creativity to break out of old patterns and habits, and to go beyond how we see the world at the moment:
“Creativity involves breaking out of expected patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” –Edward de Bono
This is ultimately all that we have: this present moment. We cannot escape back to the past nor rely on the future. This is what we have now. And to always be sucked into doing or planning or thinking is to miss the only real life that we have:
What is here, right now.
It is so easy to get lost in the moment. But somehow, when we are challenged with any of the things that are hard in life (grief, loss, or pain), the challenge can serve as an opportunity to wake us up.
It slams our attention into focus, and it can be a time when we break. But it can also be a time when we suddenly say: I am going to stop getting lost in the busyness of life. I am going to pay attention to what is actually here.
And by facing the feeling of uncertainty, by acknowledging that it can overtake our thoughts, can seep into our bodies, can overwhelm us, we can start to do something to transcend it.
We can use these times of uncertainty to allow all that is unnecessary and distracting to simply fall away.
And creativity can help us with the whole process. It can help us see what we aren’t seeing. It can open our eyes to all that is fascinating and meaningful and true for us.
Being creative isn’t something to save only for retirement or when you’ve got time. It isn’t to be saved for when your kids are older or for when you’ve completed all your tasks (tasks are never-ending, aren’t they?).
Creativity can help us move through dark times with more grace and understanding. It can comfort us at times when we struggle. It pays attention to that part of ourselves that is so uniquely human, that weirdly, magically, strangely, unnecessary, completely impractical side of who we are.
If we are to enjoy our lives, isn’t it because we are not just doing what is necessary, but reveling in the pleasures and beauty and joy of it all?
Otherwise, what is the point of all of our hard efforts, all of the work, all of the struggles and challenges we face?
What is the point if there isn’t a little bit of stardust to delight our spirits at least once every day?
I hope these ideas have been helpful to you and have ignited your imagination. I hope these ideas have shown you how creativity can help in these times of uncertainty. I would love to know if they have, so please share your thoughts in a comment below.