It wasn’t a well-thought-out, analytical choice based on data and research. It was an accident.
While struggling with seasonal affective disorder in the always-dark-and-cloudy Puget Sound, I bought some paint and canvasses and started playing. Miraculous! For the moments I was engrossed in the creation, my spirit broke through the wall of darkness that not even the best 10,000-lumens therapy light could entirely banish, and I felt nothing less than transcendent joy.
I got more paint and more canvasses. Pretty soon, my house looked like an art gallery. I had more energy to give to my business of helping others break through the barriers holding them back.
Soon after, I used my graduate psych library access to research the subject of light and depression and found that it is a staple in the treatment of all kinds of depression, both my seasonal variety that disappears with the sun and the year-round variety. The research results clearly show that cognitive therapy with a qualified therapist, plus light therapy, plus daily moderate exercise is the best road to wellness for most depression that is caused by how you’re thinking about life, and pharmaceuticals should be added to the mix only in cases of very severe depression, including bipolar disorder.
And my accidental discovery of the effects of swirling colors around? That was there, too! A robust literature documents the value of creative activity on both biochemical and situational depression, researched for my book "Journey Out of SAD" in 2011 and added to the relevant chapters. I also tried creativity exercises with the folks who were coming to me for advanced Reiki treatments for both seasonal and year-round depression. I also started to encourage time for tangible creation to all the people who came to me wanting a new job or career, wanting a new direction in life or more inner peace.
After three years, I had my own collection of case studies of people who found all their searches enhanced by the creation of tangible objects. There is something about an object that one can hold, fashion, create from nothingness or from a mass of raw materials that touches something very, very deep and powerful in the human soul.
Not everyone was thrilled. I expected that but; sadly, so many people had to be inspired, cheered, gently bullied or frankly bribed to even give tangible creation a try. I discovered – eventually – that the problem was one of specific words and their meanings.
“I’m not artistic. I’m not creative,” the resisters insisted.
Fear of failure. That perennial problem of not wanting to look “foolish” in the eyes of the undefined other rears its head again. We don’t want to draw unless we can earn kudos. And we don’t want to do something that children do, quadrupled. Yet it is in the parts of our brain that don’t care about evaluation that our road to inner peace lies.
Our ancestors didn’t worry about whether they were “artistic” or not – they just got on with creating.
Create something tangible every week. Get paper and inexpensive paint and just swirl the colors around, without trying to turn out a masterpiece. Buy a furniture kit. Little old unhandy me has dressers and chests I made myself. Learn to quilt or crochet on You Tube. Carve or embellish. Get engrossed! Even handyman repairs can be creative if you are tackling a problem and crafting a solution from your soul. Paint a wall a different color.
Do anything that allows you to create something tangible and activate areas in your brain that release the neurotransmitters that biochemically calm your thoughts and bring you to inner peace. Take a deep breath. Remember what you used to love, what others have talked about, what is printed in the paper, what books in the library document. Pick one. And play.
Victoria Leo (www.soaringdragon.biz) is a registered mental health practitioner, a Karuna and Usui Reiki healer and teacher, a certified life coach, a health and careers coach, and a spiritual coach with Masters degrees in bio and psych. She is also the author of Take Back Your Lost Heart, 101 Healthy Meals in 5 Minutes or Less, and Salle and the Alien Invasion as well as Journey Out of SAD. Send articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.