“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open..” ~American modern dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham to dancer and choreographer, Agnes de Mille
Thank you to Maria Popova’s labor of love, “The Marginalian,” for the inspiration for this week’s piece. Popova recently reshared her article entitled, “Martha Graham on the Life-Force of Creativity and the Divine Dissatisfaction of Being an Artist,” from which this quote derives. For anyone who ever feels the compulsion to create anything (which really must encompass every human being, at some point in their lives) Martha Graham provides three catalyzing insights.
1. It is uniquely, divinely appointed to each and each alone to do the thing, to create, to
move toward the dream. If we do not act, the gift that is latent in us becomes lost to the
world. Like the parable of the talents, if we squander our creative inclinations and bury our
gifts, we are worse off than the person who has very few notable skills and interests but who
at least tries to make something with what they have. What good are artistic vision and
talents if they are never actualized?
2. It is not our business to worry about whether it is any good, of any significant worth, or
how it compares to other gifts. How desperately artists of all kinds need to hear this and hear
it again. A corollary could be: It is not for us to overly concern ourselves with the reception it
will receive. It’s our job to do the work, to follow the quickening passion. This point reminds
me of Julia Cameron’s pact with God as she explains it in The Artist’s Way. She pledges,
“Okay, God [or Creative Force], you take care of the quality. I'll take care of the quantity.”
We keep acting, keep producing, and the Creative Force, over time, takes care of the rest.
3. It is our job to “keep the channel open.” What does it mean to “keep the channel open?”
The phrase suggests a spiritual exchange: a communing with something outside of ourselves.
It functions on the presupposition that our creative impulse is powered by that which exists
beyond our biology and understanding. The spark moves towards us through a channel if we
leave the channel open, ready to receive. If creative inspiration, as poet Dylan Thomas
described, is “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” then it is our job to leave
wide the green fuse and invite a lifeforce to pulse through it. In Walking on Water:
Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeleine L’Engle wrote “An act of art is an incarnational
activity.” Merriam Webster defines incarnation as “the embodiment of a deity or spirit in
some earthly form.” The best art, to L’Engle, is earthly form given to spiritual inspiration.
Incarnation happens when spirit and human body become one. It is a kind of sacred
marriage. It requires that we present ourselves ready to receive the gift produced by spirit
joined with body. The inspiration comes to us, and works through us, and we use our bodies
to carry out the creative vision to its full embodiment. No wonder Graham uses the term
“quickening” to describe this process.
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary provides many poignant definitions for “quickening.” There is the medical definition which renders “quickening” as a noun and reads, “the first motion of a fetus in the uterus felt by the mother usually somewhat before the middle of the period of gestation.” Any mother who has carried to full term remembers that indelible, fluttering feeling, the indications that life has set up house within life, vitality nestled within vitality. The verb, “to quicken” receives the following definitions: “to make alive: REVIVE; to cause to be enlivened: STIMULATE; KINDLE; to cause to burn more intensely; to come to life; to enter a phase of active growth and development; to shine more brightly.” If I were to read that definition in the absence of the word, I would think, “Whatever it is, I want it!” Who doesn’t want something that will make them alive, that will enliven them, that will cause active growth and development, that will cause them to shine more brightly? Whatever this quickening is, I want it!
My Blue Flower blog project is my current method for inviting and entertaining the quickening. I write what the spirit prompts me to write, and I try not to overthink it. Is it any good? Who will be interested in reading it? Does it reveal too much of myself? Is it inconsistent? Too personalized? Too pedantic? Is it too scholarly or not scholarly enough? Is it self-indulgent? Is it too long? Too simplistic and short? Has it been done too many times before? All of these questions and more have passed through my mind over this past year of keeping the blog, but I try not to invite them in to settle and set up camp. What I know is that, when I am writing, the quickening is very real. I get in the flow and feel a pulsing of enjoyment and a sense of “rightness,” and a sensation that this is what I should be doing, even if hardly anyone ever reads it. Call it a “soul project,” or a labor of love for my daughters, as I am certainly writing partly for them to read some day when they’re older, should they wish to. Martha Graham tells me that it is okay if I don’t always know if what I’m writing is any good or precisely why I’m even writing it. Graham reminds me that this process extends to mysteries beyond myself and that the point is to keep the channel open. It is not for me to judge, to compare, or to close the channel.
Is your creative channel currently open or closed? Propped halfway? What has been keeping you from doing more creatively? What worries you? Do you compare yourself with others? What can you do this week that will be an act of opening the channel? Remember over the month ahead that whatever is on your heart and in your mind to do creatively that you do not do is lost to the world. Only you can create what you would create with your own, singular perspective, skills and spiritual alchemy. Make a decision today to show up for the artistic vision of your life.