Jan Phillips is an award-winning photographer, writer, multimedia artist, and national workshop leader. She is the author of many books, including Marry Your Muse and God Is at Eye Level. Here, Jan shares some ideas on establishing a relationship with your collaborator in creativity.
Sounds True: How does somebody make a commitment to their own creativity?
Jan Phillips: The whole point about the concept of “marrying your Muse” is to recognize that our relationship with the inner world is every bit as important as our relationship with the outer world. If we want to experience the Muse, to really know and feel her as a collaborator in our creative work, then we have to commit our time and attention to her on a regular basis. We have to have a quiet, private space to be with her. We have to make it perfectly clear that when we are in that space we are not to be interrupted, that what we are doing is as sacred as prayer.
We have to establish a discipline of silence and space where we give our time and attention to the deep below. Imagine trying to have a love affair with someone without setting aside any time to meet. Time is the medium of our relationship with the Muse. If we don't provide an opening for her to enter and merge with our consciousness, then we don't have a right to complain about lack of imagination or inspiration. We are the ones keeping the door locked.
Sounds True: What do you think is the most important action someone can take to develop creativity?
Jan Phillips: It helps to get clear about the whole point of creative expression, since so many of us have been trained to think of it as a self-indulgent or frivolous activity that should only be engaged in when everyone else's needs have been tended to first.
I don't think the Creation ended on the seventh day. I think every one of us is continuing to co-create the universe. I think we each hold a critical piece of the puzzle. We are living in a culture more committed to profit than people. Rarely do you hear anyone speak of the prophetic and redemptive power of our creative work, of the potential our creations have to foster change and alter consciousness. But it is only our creative work that really matters. We came here to create. Our souls had a divine purpose and they needed our bodies to fulfill it. This purpose—whatever it is—is only achieved through our creative and imaginative expressions. The question is never “Am I creative?” The question is “What am I being called upon to create at this point?”
To be aware of our own potential and calling to contribute is an important part of the creative process. Being conscious is the first step—conscious of our words, thoughts, and ways of being with others. Paying attention to who we are and coming to grips with why we're here is a crucial part of the creative process in my opinion. Because the work we put out into the world has a force of its own, and we want to be mindful of that—mindful of what we're up to, why we're up to it, and how we're going to accomplish it. And of course, to have any kind of mindfulness practice, one needs to have a place of one's own that is absolutely private—and to go there regularly to be with the beloved, the Muse, the creative spirit within us all.
Sounds True: That reminds me of an interesting distinction you make between art designed as a product and art whose main purpose is a kind of healing.
Jan Phillips: I encourage everyone to give expression to their creative voice whether there's money in it or not. An essential thing about our creative work is how it heals us, brings us back to our center, and calms us down in the midst of the frenzy. For me, it's a holy experience.
In order to be commercially successful as an artist you not only have to be totally committed to your work but a relentless marketer as well. It's a full-time job and then some. But to get the benefits of creativity, you only need to sit down, claim some time for yourself, and make what you want to make—a poem, a homemade card for someone's birthday, a song, whatever it is that seems to be brewing in the deep down. It's a matter of maintaining contact with the spirit, staying mindful of our life's bigger mission. It keeps our light bright when we create.
It's not always about a product. The bigger picture is that we stay awake to the fact that we are creators of our lives. Creativity is as much about the process of living as it is about the products we create.