creativity as spiritual practice

Chulo as an old man

Ā Lessons from my Dog: Creativity as Spiritual Practice

For a wonderful and all-too brief period of time my husband and I lived in Colorado, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. I will never forget our first weekend there. It was June and the moving truck couldn’t get up the mountain to our house because of a snow storm. Yes, a snow storm in June! For this native Texan, snow was a rare treat and it certainly never appeared in June. It seemed like an auspicious if chilly start to our summer there.

The snow was fun, although I think our dog Chulo enjoyed it more than my husband Brad and I. Chulo looked more like a bear than a dog. He weighed about 100 pounds and had long curly fur, mostly black with a few rust and white patches on his chest and face. A pound puppy from Redding, CA, his lineage was anybody’s guess but being large, black and very furry hadn”t made Chulo a fan of the hot summers in Redding. He was loving Colorado!

As the snow plows cleared the roads, they pushed the snow into deep ditches. There must have been 6 to 8 feet collected in towering white piles that hurt my eyes in the bright Colorado sun. Not Chulo: he was a dog who loved to play fetch. He would chase anything! Our neighborhood was all dirt roads, hills and pine trees, heaven for a dog who suddenly never had to wear a leash. His favorite game was to wait for us to throw a rock into the deep ditches of snow. Then he would run, leap as far as he could and plant all four legs belly deep into the soft snow, snout first as he tried in vain to find the rock.

He didn’t care that he couldn’t find the rock. He would pull himself out of the snow bank, shake off and wait patiently for the next rock to land nearby. He would play this game tirelessly, we always wore out before he did. What I remember most about those moments was his sheer delight in life and the joyful abandon with which he would fling himself after those rocks, not caring if he ever found one.

Over the past two years, I have been exploring my relationship with creativity and trying to recapture that same playful, magical spirit that Chulo embodied: flinging myself into the creative process without caring about outcomes and final products. I took my eyes off the prize and in doing so, fell in love with the journey. Quite frequently you will find me in my craft room shredding magazines and layering paint on blank pages with the same joyful abandon that my wonderful companion modeled for me fifteen years ago.

That summer in Colorado was magical for me. I had lots of time to play, to write, to draw in my journal and to be outside. We had this enormous granite rock bed in our backyard that became my favorite place to meditate and write. I taught some nature writing classes, took a clay class, a drawing class where I attempted to draw llamas, and mentored a teen boy from a local school on writing poetry. Brad and I hiked frequently and spent time with my mom in her beautiful old Victorian house near downtown Estes Park. Brad was working from home and often had elk peering in the basement window at him.

Looking back, I realize that creativity was my way of connecting to self, to God and to others. It was effortless, playful and full of joy! Then everything changed… I got pregnant which was part of our plan; Brad lost his job – not part of the plan – and followed a contract to Richardson, Texas. I stayed behind in Colorado. I moved out of our mountain home and into a cottage closer to my mom, with Chulo for company. It was a rough time in our lives – being apart, pregnant and feeling insecure about money was no fun. By this time it was winter; it’s bitterly cold and windy in Estes Park in winter. Chulo and I would brave the cold and wind to walk around the lake or around our new neighborhood but the sense of joyful abandon was gone. I cried daily, being pregnant and alone was not the fairy tale I dreamt for myself. My creativity and my spiritual practice took a back seat to the other challenges in my life.

Eventually, I followed Brad to Texas and we settled there to raise our family. Before we knew it, 13 years had flown by and I was even further away from that magical summer in Colorado. I started a business which took over all of our lives, but that’s another story. My love for all things creative, crafty and colorful was buried under piles of laundry, business cards and to-do lists. And my relationship to the Divine was flimsy at best, a few hurried minutes of meditation or an infrequent scribble in my journal we all I could manage. It was definitely time for a change.

For us that change needed to be dramatic, a wrenching, soul-level shift from a place where we were secure, stable and surrounded by friends but unhappy. We reached a point where it was more painful to stay than to go. We packed up our kids, ourselves and our lives and moved back to California, where it had all started. Brad and I met almost 20 years ago in the Bay Area. Now we live in Santa Barbara on the Central Coast and life is good. As I write this, my feet are still sandy from our walk on the beach and I can still hear the sound of the waves calling me to come back.

It took a while to unwind from the hectic pace that was our life in Plano, TX. We’ve been here about 10 months and I feel like I am finally remembering who I am and seeing who I want to become. Looking back across the years to Colorado, I realize that I have come full circle back to myself. Yet, I wouldn’t be me without those 13 years in Texas. I don’t think I would feel nearly as grateful for the life I am leading right now without the contrast of the time we spent there.

Here is what I have rediscovered about myself:

  • I love to make art and write.
  • I love to read poetry.
  • I love to talk about art, poetry and writing with people who get love it as much as I do.
  • I am an academic at heart.
  • I love to teach.
  • I need creative playtime as much as I need to eat.
  • I need to spend more time outside than inside.
  • Creativity is my spiritual practice.

The time that I spend reading, writing, making art, or exploring the depths of who I am are sacred time well-spent. I am closest to the Divine when I am outside, walking on the beach, snapping images, jotting down notes on my iPhone or deep in discussion with Brad. Sadly, I no longer have Chulo to share my joyful creative space. I do have two amazing children who embrace the beach with same joyful abandon with which Chulo played in the snow. Instead of snow banks, there are sand banks along the edge of the beach and the kids fling themselves to the top of the bank, clinging just to the edge and then sliding down, creating a sand slide on which they ride, arms spread, laughing out loud.

I can stay connected to this pace, I think I know how to now and how not to lose that connection to creativity and to the Divine. I just have to make time to watch, to learn and to listen and then take that learning home and leap into my creative process, the white page is my snow bank.