We all have moments when we feel like we are completely in the flow. Like the Universe is guiding our every step and synchronicities and miracles abound. Some say this is our most natural state and how life should always be. I love that vision… and sometimes, in my experience, life doesn’t feel like that. Sometimes it feels like there is no flow, or if there is, we’re nowhere near it.
The Divine river may be opening gracefully somewhere, but we’re forging our way through thorny bushes on the side. If we accept the idea that our ‘state of being’ is a major contributor (and precursor) to our experience, how do we interrupt disruptive patterns of thought, feeling or action and reclaim our creative power to get back into flow?
Creative Power: Lost and Found
During a family trip to Europe several years ago, I lost and found my creative power in dramatic fashion over a 24-hour period, and uncovered some valuable lessons about shifting stress and finding flow along the way. The following is glimpse into the moment, and a few golden keys that have informed my steps on the path ever since.
We’d been traveling through Europe as a family for about a month (a blend of work and play) and just as we were starting to grow weary, we entered a leg of our trip that was a blended mix of poor planning and crappy timing. I had recently finished a creative project and was feeling unsure about “what next” and our journey seemed to mirror this uncertainty as we pulled into Biaritz, France on the opening night of a major city-wide event and couldn’t find a place to stay.
The night set in and we picked our way through narrow streets and narrower hotel driveways, stress levels rising to a peak until eventually we found what must have been the very last bed in Biaritz and proceeded to put a large dent in our rental car while wedging ourselves into the hotel parking lot.
The next morning, my wife and son wanted to explore the city, but for some reason I couldn’t shake the bad vibes from the night before. My chest felt tight, my stomach twisted and even my face felt sort of stiff. Normally I’m quick to rebound, but with rising angst about the rental car, our next night’s accommodation and my future, I felt stuck, un-resourceful and afraid to make a move.
I knew I needed to do something to shift my energy or I’d be running the risk of compounding the stress / pain / crash streak. I also knew I’d been forcing things the past few days and clearly this wasn’t working, so I decided to try listening to life for a change and see where it lead me. We walked out of the hotel, my family turned right toward the city and I went left, in the direction of the ocean.
On the Move
I started walking, first slow, then faster, winding my way along a footpath to a treed park above the water. Almost straight away I noticed that as I moved, the physical sensation of stress started to loosen up in my body. My breathing got fuller, my chest and face began to relax, so I went with it. I began exaggerating the movements of walking (fuller arms swings, circles, twisting and turning) and the breathing (from the belly, at first quiet, then with deep sighs that got louder and louder).
Wow. It felt like I was purging something from my body… and it was really coming out. It was a rainy day, so there were very few people in the park. If you were one of them, I apologise. I must have been a freaky site. But after 5-10 minutes, genuinely moving and breathing with the energy that had been bound up in me, I felt like a different person.
As I paused for a moment, catching my breath, I noticed a nearby rubbish bin that was literally overflowing onto the ground with garbage. Soggy, wet garbage. It was actually quite gross and I wanted to walk away, but for some reason in the moment, the purging of my stress and this pile of overflowing refuse seemed to be linked. I noticed an empty rubbish bin about thirty steps away and before I could talk myself out of it, I was making the several trips needed to shift the soaking gross garbage from the overflowing bin to the empty one. Strangely this also made me feel good. And it made me stink.
Washing it Away
Physically I was feeling better and I could sense my energy starting to return, but now I needed to get away from the smell of rubbish, so I headed down toward the water.
Swimming didn’t seem an option (cold, rainy and wild), so I walked out along the pier, hoping to surround myself with sea another way. It was crowded with fishermen and tourists, but the crowd thinned as I got closer to the end, and strangely, the last 30 meters – which had by far the best view out across the water – was completely empty.
With no reason to hesitate, I walked past the crowd right to end of the pier, and as the next stormy wave rolled into the bay, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of ocean air. As that wave struck the base of the pier, it sent a massive wall of water straight up into the air… and then straight back down upon me – instantly revealing why no one else was standing out there with me.
Boom! The crowd cheered.
A band of laughing kids sprinted out to join me. I was soaked from head to toe. Thoroughly cleansed.
Clearing the Canvas
Dripping wet and shivering, but feeling twenty pounds lighter, I walked back along the boardwalk, which wound its way along a cliff just above a small alcove and tiny beach (maybe 100 steps long and 50 steps wide), surrounded by stony walls on three sides the ocean on the other.
The footpath traced along a row of shops and cafes to an old metal staircase that descended to the beach. On this stormy day there was virtually no reason to go down those stairs… except that I couldn’t help noticing a tremendous amount of plastic bags, bottles and rubbish which had been washed onto to the beach in the storm.
“What is it with the rubbish today?”
Before I had a chance to answer, I found myself climbing down the stairs, somehow “called” to deal with it. Fortunately, there were four big empty bins on the edge of the beach and with my soggy garbage training from earlier, I got right into it. Within about fifteen minutes I had completely cleared the beach of plastic debris.
All that was left was a big stick which I took to the water’s edge and hurled into the sea.
About three seconds later, the stick washed right back up to my feet. Huh? As I picked it up, a little voice seemed to pop into my head. It simply said, “Now your canvas is clear.” Turning around to face the beach, I had a feeling I knew what the little voice meant.
Over the previous year I had developed a practice of drawing large sacred geometric shapes and mandalas in the sand (with much smaller sticks than this), so it appeared this was my chance to expand the expression. I began by drawing a giant Seed of Life being cradled by two huge Humpback Whales.
With the Seed and Whales at the center, I followed the muse outward until the entire beach canvas was covered with a vast mandala design – including a pod of dolphins, a giant sun and a human or two swimming in the drawing. The last remaining space was near the top of the beach where the words “ONE FAMILY” just seemed to fit perfectly.
I was so consumed in my vision quest-beach cleanup-drawing mission that I was completely oblivious to the crowd of people who had begun to gather on the cliffs above, watching from under their umbrellas. As I finished the last stroke of stick on sand and stepped away from the picture, the whole walkway erupted with applause.
Give it Away
I climbed the steps and sheepishly slipped past several smiling faces into a nearby café to meet my family. For the next hour, we enjoyed anonymously watching people stop in their tracks to appreciate, absorb and discuss the message of the mandala.
It was humbling to see how people responded to something so simple, which for me had started as a simple effort to release stress, ‘clean up’ my energy and recover my creative power. For some reason it also felt great to know that with the rising tide, the drawing and all of the energy that went into it, would be washed away and carried out to sea.
By the time my family and I left the café, our issues from the previous day seemed a million miles away. The logistics of our next steps had mostly resolved themselves (including the rental car!) and the issues that still needed clarity seemed to have more space around them. Most importantly, we felt better, lighter, more connected to each other and the flow of life.
Along with the immediate relief from the pressure of our situation, a few key lessons emerged that have helped me move through blocks and free up creative energy in many areas of my life since:
Motion creates (and shifts) emotion
When we’re feeling creatively or energetically stuck, that ‘stuckness’ builds and manifests in our physical body. Tuning in and moving the energy physically is often the most direct way to begin unraveling blocked energy elsewhere.
Once we’re moving, the flow has a way of finding us
There are certainly times when stillness is the greatest source of inspiration, but stillness can also be addictive, and often it isn’t until we begin taking steps and following impulses that the path and energy of the moment really reveals itself. When our physical body is clear, connected and in motion, it becomes a sort of magnetic compass to the flow and currents around us.
Be willing to trust and follow unexpected impulses
When we’re open and moving with the energy of life, there is an element of spontaneous emergence that often defies our mental reasoning and in some cases even our logical preferences. I didn’t choose to clean up that soggy rubbish or plastic ridden beach because I wanted to. I did it because in the moment I felt compelled to, and somehow those quiet impulses lead the next ones, which ultimately revealed the path.
Water and nature (in all forms) help
When seeking flow and creative power in life, there is no greater working model and source of inspiration than nature. The cleansing, clearing, renewing impact that time in nature has upon us trumps any amount of discussion or mental reflection.
Simple, authentic actions ripple out. Seeds planted, grow.
In our quest for great creative fulfillment in the world we often think of the big things (write a book, make a film, launch a brand, etc.) but its powerful to consider that when we are truly present and connected, even simple expressions naturally blossom in ways that we never could have imagined. The beach mandala experience for example (which almost started as creative therapy) became a creative seed that evolved into an entire global project called Peace in the Water, bringing together thought leaders and creative expression from over 80 countries around the world to raise awareness and positive visions for the ocean and its sacred life forms (with a specific focus on whales).
Faith in the flow of life
Interestingly, a few years later I learned that the little beach that I had cleaned up and drawn the giant Seed Whale mandala on, was the very beach that was once used to deliver the harpooned bodies of whales during commercial whaling days in France. Of all the places I could have ended up that day sharing the message of “One Family”, I’m grateful that the “flow” lead me there.
Overall this experience renewed my faith in the flow of life and left me with the knowing that no matter how disconnected we may feel, we are only ever a few steps or breaths away from reconnecting to Source. The thorny bushes are enticing, but the river always awaits.
Consider an area of your life or creative work where you currently feel stuck, blocked or otherwise disconnected from your creative power. What’s one thing you could do today, right now (in the next ten minutes!) to move that energy and open up to flow?