Although I may not have talked about my depression, I have talked about my need for creativity. Some time ago I wrote in this post: "My mother is the single most important creative influence in my life. She expressed her artistry constantly in our home. She always had some music playing -beautiful, rapturous music, like Rachmaninoff, that just made my soul soar. All the pretty things around me were the work of her hands. Things like the painted kitchen cupboards, my hand-sewn dresses, the living room drapes, the watercolors on the wall, the artful arrangement of knick-knacks on the lamp table, the flower garden and even the molded Jello were all the result of her constant effort to bring beauty into our lives. She always had a project of some kind going and one project just bubbled constantly into the next. With such an example, I could not help but be creative myself!
We all live a life of which beauty is a part. While we are all not named as artists, each of us responds in some way to that which is beautiful. Many of us see a necessity of keeping beauty around us. Vibrant color, fascinating form and designs, exciting textures and patterns seem to fill some part of our soul. In my mind an artist is simply one who makes beauty visible (and certainly audible or tactile) and thereby holds onto the beautiful for a little longer" I still feel this way and crafting is the vehicle by which I can make beauty visible
|pages from my art journal|
Crafting actually does even more for me than satisfy my creative urges. Scientists are beginning to understand the benefits of meditation and are coming to recognize that many crafting activities mimic the meditative process. Crafting is now a regular part of occupational and behavioral therapy. I know that I thoroughly enjoy when I reach the "zen" stage of crocheting or spinning wool. I love the slip of fiber between my fingers and the repetitive movement of my hands. It just calms me. My husband is a scientist and frequently needs to solve problems. He taught himself to knit because he wanted hand-made woolen socks, but he tells me that he keeps doing it because it helps him think through tough problems. When a meditative activity combines with a cognitive activity, such as counting and following a pattern at the same time, you've struck mental gold. It is really good for the brain.
Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi is a behavior psychologist whose studies focus on the "positive" human strengths of optimism, creativity, and intrinsic motivation. Anyone who has been depressed understands how important these functions are and struggles to maintain them. In an October 2008 TED Talk, Professor Csikszentmilhalyi describes something he calls "flow" -- that short intense period of time when we are so involved with something that we lose track of time. We are simply absorbed in the creative process. The professor says that during this time of creative flow, our mind feels as though it is involved in something important and that we are living more fully. This is the key to happiness, he says. I think I agree. Apparently the Buddhist monks, and others who practice and teach meditation, have known this for ages. The trick, of course, is to hit the flow at an appropriate time, and not when the family is waiting for supper!
Crafting also helps my depression when it gives me small successes. Many small successes add up to a feeling of empowerment to face larger challenges. I remember when I learned to crochet lace with thread. I really was proud of myself. To be able to create something so beautiful is a wonderful feeling. To be able to repeat the creation again and again and share it with others (and get their positive feedback) is a blessing. I still love it when my mother watches me crochet and comments on how beautiful it is. High praise indeed from such an important, talented woman in my life.
|pages from my current smash book|
Creative meditation and the mind/hand occupation that comes with crafting also offers me a way to self- regulate strong emotion and to cut off irrational thoughts. And it isn't a pharmaceutical drug, thank goodness! A number of years ago I had a particular responsibility that required me to attend meetings where discussions would often leave me soul weary and very cranky. After a time I started taking my crochet with me and weathered the criticism because I found that it would keep me calmer than when I had only a pencil in my hand. I thought better with my hands occupied and I was better able to keep my mouth shut as well. I find, even now, that when I am creating a page in my art journal or working in a scrapbook, crocheting a simple dishcloth, or looking through color cards, my thoughts are always more hopeful and I feel less chaos in my soul.
So, I want to encourage crafting. This is truly part of the reason I write the blog, not only to see my creative process in print, but to share and help others feel the joy of making something wonderful. In addition to Women's History Month, March is also National Crafting Month. And, if that were not enough to celebrate, March is also National Crochet Month, declared so by the Crochet Guild of America. I'm planning to fill the days this month on the blog with thoughts and projects about women, history and all sorts of crafting, particularly crochet. It will be a busy month here, starting tomorrow with a wonderful interview about a hope chest. I hope you will check back often.
Have any of you felt these same emotional benefits of creativity?