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Creativity Self-Coaching Guide
By Chris Dunmire | Updated September 22, 2018
These reflections are based on The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path through Depression by Eric Maisel, PhD. In 2002 the book was a finalist in the Books for a Better Life Award through Rodale books, and in 2008 New World Library released the paperback edition noting in the introduction:
"Vincent Van Gogh's depression was so severe that he cut off his own ear and has come to be remembered as an icon representing the lives of tortured artists everywhere. And he is not alone. Depression and anxiety seem to come with the territory for artists, writers, actors, and other creative types regardless of the specific medium with which they express themselves."
Maisel, a coach, therapist, and author of dozens of books on creativity and meaning writes, "I believe that depression in creative individuals is best thought of as a meaning crisis caused by chronic, persistent uneasiness, irritation, anger, and sadness about the facts of existence and life's apparent lack of meaning."
Through The Van Gogh Blues, Maisel addresses this meaning crisis and the depression it brings. He says, "In order to counter this kind of depression, creators must become meaning experts, learning to navigate through the terrain of meaning. They must engage in conversation with themselves about what is meaningful — and then work a plan to create that meaning."
These reflective questions, organized by chapter, are based on the readings in The Van Gogh Blues and are designed to inspire creatives to make the most of their quest through the material.
Maisel asserts the cliche “creativity and depression go hand-in-hand” is true and that “creators are not necessarily afflicted with some biological disease or psychological disorder … but are caught up in a struggle to make life seem meaningful to them.”
Maisel writes that as you read this chapter “you will come to understand what a meaning expert is, what she does, and why you must become one.” Was that understanding fulfilled by the end of this chapter?
Maisel states that a meaning expert would tell a client that “the task of meaning making rests squarely on their shoulders” and they have to “come to grips with what they intend their life to mean in order for their depression to lift.” If you are currently in the ‘depressed client’s’ shoes, try to slip on the ‘meaning expert’s’ shoes to fully understand what this means. How has your perception changed?
Regarding a “vocabulary” centered on meaning issues, Maisel uses terms such as: meaning crisis, meaning restoration, leaky vessel, meaning containers, and meaning problems.
Maisel invites you to engage in a self-reflection about the meaning of your life.
Maisel provides four intentions that must be held in order for you to live an authentic, meaningful life.
Maisel shares a “simple model used in cognitive psychology for dealing with the serious problem of negative self-talk.”
Maisel sums up the chapter with the powerful conclusion that “you are what you think,” and describes the deep work and self-training needed to make meaning-making possible.
Maisel explains that “opting to matter” means seven things, and lists them.
Maisel argues against accepting “postmodern meaninglessness” by answering with compelling reasons why we have to “come back to mattering.”
Maisel addresses the question “What are the facts of existence with which a creator must reckon?”
Maisel draws a parallel between the myth of Sisyphus and how it is possible to “reckon with the facts of existence” as a creator in a cruel universe.
Maisel describes the fundamental “anxiety cycle” at play in creative people’s lives.
Maisel discusses a common linguistic trick we play called the “yes, but” trick.
Maisel offers the affirmation “I am the beauty in life” to help creators change their mind and heal their hearts.
Maisel writes, “A vital aspect of self-support is reminding yourself that success is not a measure but a feeling.”
This chapter details how addiction, like depression, is a meaning problem, and that “restoring meaning is the centerpiece solution to the problem.”
Maisel describes the usual “path” to an addiction.
Maisel discusses why a “happy bondage” is anything but happy and outlines the “Addicts Task” if you are to dispute your happy bondage and prevent the addiction from winning.
Maisel distinguishes between healthy narcissism and unhealthy narcissism. Note that both can contribute to meaning problems and depression.
Maisel lists eight ways to reduce unhealthy narcissism and increase healthy narcissism.
Regarding the chance to repair oneself, Maisel states, “It is on your remaining freedom that you must bank everything.”
Maisel sums up the chapter with pointed questions about self-repair.
Maisel states that “intimacy is neither a myth nor impossibility.”
Maisel brings out that “Unfriendly relationships between two artists is all too common,” but yet, “there will be more meaning in a creator’s life if they forge relationships with other creators.”
Maisel notes, “The centerpiece of a meaningful life for creators is meaningful creating.”
Maisel describes the state of “soulfulness” that creators regularly feel when they fully engage in the creative process.
Maisel states that “There is no meaning without action,” and “meaning does not exist until it is made and that life has no meaning until a meaning is forced upon it.”
Maisel illustrates several ways he might assist clients to “act out” singing, painting, or writing in order to “enact a problem in real time.”
Maisel makes note of a “practiced response” that will be needed to thwart off meaning threats and meaning crises“ or else paralysis and depression will set in.”
Maisel introduces the concept “for the sake of the peach.”
© 2007, 2018 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.
Chris Dunmire inspires creativity, connection, exploration, and expression through the award-winning Creativity Portal™ Web site. more