Meet Your Muse/Meet Your Self : A deep conversation with spiritual director and artist Colette Lafia about creativity and the spirit

“What really matters is who you meet in the writing. And who you’re invited to be meeting, in the writing of your book. What is it that writing this book wants to teach you and tell you about what it means to be you on your journey, at this time in your life?”--Colette Lafia

Colette Lafia is a spiritual director, artist, and author whom I interviewed recently about how creativity is connected to the spiritual life.

How It All Began

It all started when I received her recent newsletter, where she wrote:

“For three uninterrupted hours, I painted, stroke after stroke, layering color upon color. Something was guiding my brush, something that knew what to do. The instructor left me alone, giving me the space to explore what was moving within me and pouring itself onto the canvas.  As I painted, I felt the creative faucet within open, and what had been dormant began to flow. A voice in me kept saying, Yes, with each new stroke, and I could sense the rise of my spirit. That day, I painted a large midnight blue mountain sitting against a purplish sky. Through painting so freely, with childlike openness and curiosity, I felt I was touching God and God was touching me.
 
“From the first brushstroke, painting offered me a spiritual connection to my deepest self. It has been a way of stepping into the unknown with curiosity instead of fear. It has offered me a way of being with myself that is accepting, encouraging, and loving. It has asked me to be both strong and soft. But more than anything else, painting continues to teach me to let go and trust, to not cling to any hoped-for outcome, but rather to be fully present in the journey, relishing every step along the way.
 
“Kandinsky, the 19th century Russian artist, wrote in his slim book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, “The spiritual life, to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement forwards and upwards. This movement is the movement of experience.”
 
“I’m struck by Kandinsky’s belief that art-making and the spiritual life are one—the ‘movement of experience.’ The spiritual life is creative by nature—it’s an experience that is dynamic, mysterious, and generative.”

Creating = Being True to Yourself and Your Spirit

To be completely with a creative desire and follow it without interfering, or imposing conditioned expectations on it, can be a glorious experience. It can bring us into a direct, liberating relationship with the divine.
 
It also can bring us up against our edges of self-growth, as we are drawn into self-criticism and judgment, and the internalized expectations of the culture. As soon as we make the work more important than the Self the work enables us to meet up with, we run the risking of “gaining the world but losing our soul.”
 
How do we find the courage, in our creative process, to stay with what’s really in us — rather than ignoring what wants to be known through us in favor of “accomplishing” something external?
 
This is part of what Colette and I explored when we met recently in her San Francisco home to have a deep conversation about the connection between creativity and the spirit.
 
Connecting through Retreat

I had met her once before, years ago, when I did a one-day retreat with her. I don’t even recall the topic, but I do recall the experience of settling in very deeply into my heart, rooting around there and finding more nourishment than I had been expecting. I credited Colette’s patience, loving kindness, and willingness to not know for what had opened up within me. And I knew — for she had freely shared it — that some of the joy she had found had come through inwardly difficult passages, as happens with all of us at times.

So I found her to be genuine, trustworthy, and a truly devoted spiritual being. In a tradition other than my own, but one that I was open to and interested in.

When I read the newsletter that you read up above, I felt in the presence of a kindred spirit. Not only did she see a correlation between creativity and the divine, but she had actually taken the spiritual part enough to heart to take it on as a vocation. I was raised in a literary family, so I had the gift of fine writing and books from an early age — but I was not raised with that faith in a divine connection which Colette had talked about, and modeled..
 
And so I reached out to Colette — partly out of hunger for bringing these worlds together, and partly in recognition of a kindred soul — and invited her to have a “deep conversation” with me. Not an interview, where one of us would be on the outside and the other on the inside, answering questions — but a mutual exploration, a gift of each other’s wonderings and presence, to see what wholeness the contributions of both our explorations might bring.
 
Warmly, hospitably, Colette wrote back, “I would greatly enjoy and appreciate being interviewed by you. Let’s make that happen.”

Connecting through Conversation
So last Monday, we spent an hour together in deep conversation in the quiet of her San Francisco home. She sanctified our coming together by lighting a  candle and saying a prayer invoking the highest good for everyone involved.

Then we sat and listened to ourselves and to each other, as the revelations tumbled forth and compounded. Until it was clear to both of us that something wonderful was taking place.

This fertile, luminous conversation is available for you to listen to now, and take nourishment for your own creative journey.

 How do we find the courage, in our creative process, to stay with what’s really in us – rather than ignoring what wants to be known through us in favor of “accomplishing” something external?

Colette’s gifts and explorations include these gems (there are more in the actual recording): 

“For myself, the battleground happens once [what I’m creating] starts to become a ‘piece of work,’ and it starts to live outside of me, and I start to become judgmental of others looking at it, of critics looking at it.

"That’s been my learning curve. And that’s where my spiritual life has helped me, and continues to really help me to stay connected and trusting what’s coming from me, and not – in some ways – over-identifying with it. 

And when that inner battle comes up, how do I respond to myself? Because I think there is a tension that comes up – when I want something to be a certain way, and it doesn’t want to be, or it can’t be, or that’s not what it’s about, and I find myself struggling to try to force it into something.
 
“That relationship that I’m having to myself in that moment is really an important part of self-growth. Do I use a condemning voice? Do I use a critical voice? Or do I find an encouraging voice, a loving voice, a tender-hearted way of being with myself that says, ‘Okay. Let it be. Be open. Let go’? 

"That’s where I find that the battling and how we actually relate to ourselves in the battling can be an incredible place of listening to a voice that’s kinder and gentler, to move us forward.”

Listen to the Conversation and Be Nourished

If you’d like to shift from trying to produce writing to seeking to become who you’re meant to be through your writing—

—then join this deep conversation by receiving it, and letting it percolate inside you. See how the divine in you can be the Muse that inspires your creative life — whether writing a book, feeling more fully expressed, or anything else that makes you comes more alive.

To listen to this podcast, click on "Deep Conversations"  on this site. (There's also a transcript on the web page that you can download..