I’m a real tender heart. Sometimes a glimpse at a disaster like the ones most recently in the news will take me down a rat hole of thinking about all the suffering that’s going on in the world, and I can barely function.
How can I be joyful and nourish my own creative spirit when people are suffering?
How can I go off on retreat to make art when there are children dying in Africa?
How can I go to music camp in the summer when in my own community there are poor kids, abused kids, kids who will never get to explore the creative pursuits that could blossom into passions?
Or what about the people I know in my own life — friends or acquaintances who are depressed or stuck, struggling financially or with their health, or simply unable to pull themselves out of a victim space? How can I write silly songs and dive into a Creative Sandbox ArtSpark-making session knowing they’re miserable?
It’s easy to empathize ourselves into a state of mournful paralysis, but rather than asking “how can I possibly..?” the better question is “how can I not?”
In my years on the planet I have come to the following conclusion:
Creating more suffering in the world by stifling my own joy does not make the world a better place. (Click to tweet this.)
I submit that the fact that other people are suffering is the lamest reason EVER for not following your joy. (Click to tweet this.)
Pursuing happiness at the expense of someone else is unconscionable.
But following your creative joy doesn’t hurt anyone. And even though you may not be saving starving children on the other side of the planet, pursuing happiness in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else is making one tiny part of the world better. (That part being YOU!)
And making one tiny part of the world better creates ripples that affect a much bigger part of the world.
Look at it this way:
When you’re living more fully in your own joy, you bring that energy with you everywhere you go.
When you’re happy, content, with a well-nourished creative spirit, you’re more pleasant to the people around you. You have more energy to give.
When your spirit feels starved, you’re likely to be stingy with your energies. If you feel undernourished it can make you feel downright nasty, and next thing you know that nasty feeling leaks out as rude behavior, passive aggression, snapping at your family or the barista who doesn’t make your latté fast enough, flipping off the driver next to you, or worse…
Of course mean behavior doesn’t all spring from an undernourished creative spirit, but starving yourself out of empathy for a starving friend doesn’t help anything — it just doubles the amount of suffering.
When you’re nourishing your creative spirit, you feel a sense of joy and gratitude for your life, you’re less cranky and a whole lot more likely to be generous with those you come in contact with. You’re simply more pleasant to be around, and that ripples out.
Joy is contagious. So is suffering. It’s a choice. (Click to tweet this.)
My mom always told me, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Choosing to suffer by not nourishing your creative spirit because other people are suffering is compounding one wrong into two. And that’s definitely not right.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s an idea: use your creative expression to make a difference.
- Write a song or a poem or a story with a meaningful message (I like to do this with satire)
- Create a piece of art to lift someone’s spirit or inspire them to change (that’s what inspires my ArtSparks!)
- Sell your creative expression to benefit a charity and reduce someone’s suffering
You’re a Creative — I’m sure you can come up with a whole slew of great ideas. Art can be a powerful tool for good, but not if you sit on your hands, lamenting about how you can’t possibly create because people are suffering.
So what are you waiting for? Go get creating!
PS – Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
This post was originally published on November 7, 2012, after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
Dena McKitrick says
It is a similar thought process that delivered me from the “evil” of the news. I stopped reading the news or watching the news over 30 years ago. It was not helping the world one iota for me to get all depressed about the news. I have discovered that when I need to know whatever it is, I will be informed somehow, and in the meantime I don’t have to trudge through all the adrenaline causing input that eats away at my soul either. I work at creating something every day. Lovely practice. Thank you for the encouragement Melissa! -Dena
Melissa Dinwiddie says
I came to the same conclusion about TV news about 25 years ago, Dena. Actually, about TV in general: I realized all the bad news was bringing me down, which was not helping anyone; and I realized that seeing all those airbrushed “Beautiful People” was feeding me distorted body image and self-hatred.
Stopping watching TV was a life-changer for me. 🙂
Without details, I’m just now coming to the end of 10 years of very elaborate self-imposed experiences seemingly designed to teach me this very thing: that my self-deprivation does NOTHING to help the deprivation of others–be it a deprivation of joy, light-heartedness, finances, shelter, loving care, good drinking water, or whatever. My not-having does not help heal the not-having of others…period. It does not create light, only more darkness, more suffering…mine.
Guilt for my joy and abundance is a heavy-duty gremlin, alright! So glad to hear others who know this speaking out about it. It’s not conventional thinking. It’s often called “selfishness”. And it’s really hard to stand against this gremlin all alone. For me, anyway…. Thanks, again for writing this, Melissa.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Heavy-duty gremlin is right! It’s very hard to fight against the programming that NOT depriving oneself = selfishness. But oh, so essential! 🙂
That is best time to create something. As a song writer and composer I am part of a long line of creators that respond sadness and disaster with soothing words and sounds and sometimes a cathartic cry (I recording myself wailing the say of Sept 11). Here’s my first response to Hurricane Sandy. I grew up in NJ on the shore and the place I used to live was under water like I remember happening during the last big nor easter from childhood.
Mighty the skies
The earth cries
Gather up your children
Wade in the water and pray
Burn the candles
Burn them bright
We’ve made it through another day.
Now we can start anew
Now we can start anew
It’s not done, but I will finish it. The feeling has not left me.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
You know, it’s interesting — music, and poetry too, is one form of creating that seems to be sanctioned post-tragedy.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful lyrics, Keith! I hope you finish that song. I’d love to hear it.
I have a bunch of songs in my google drive and they just sit there and bubble up when I find the time or work on them or a band or project needs them. I just keep a lot of balls in the air. I am not one of hyper focused people that only does one thing at the time. It’s not always good but it is my work style. Deadlines will change that but otherwise…
Irena Ellis says
Indeed. Timely reminder with everything that is going on at the moment!
On my arting journey/path, I have managed to combine the two (longing to somehow alleviate the suffering of others and my own creativity) when I created an interactive installation exhibition for Amnesty International: Butterflies Among Walls, in Czech Republic. https://arting.me/creating/past/butterflies-among-walls-for-ai-czech/
There is so much we can do as artists to help. Being miserable by not creating is the last on that list.