Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August 31, 2010 - Creativity and Cancer Survivorship

Today I run across this little gem, an edited-down version of a talk by Monty Python member John Cleese on the subject of creativity:

Cleese may sound like an odd choice, at first, to give this sort of talk, but in fact - alongside the brilliant loopiness of his television and film projects - he’s long had interests in being a serious academic. For a while he was Rector of the University of St. Andrews, where I did my Ph.D. (alas, just before my time there, so I never met him). He transformed the Rectorship - until then, a largely honorific, student-chosen position - into one that engaged with the University administration on a number of issues of importance to students.

The advice Cleese gives here is down-to-earth and practical: especially what he says about the importance of “sleeping on” a problem, and also of constructing boundaries of space and time for regular, serious reflection.

Running his remarks through my theological filters, I’m struck by how many times he dances right up to the line of saying something spiritual, but never quite steps over it. (No surprise there, because he doesn't believe in God.) For example, when he attributes creative breakthroughs to the work of “the unconscious,” he could have said “the Holy Spirit” - but doesn’t. When he’s talking about the need to carve out time for focused pondering, he could have said “quiet time for prayer and contemplation” - but doesn’t. Certain parts of the Christian spiritual tradition, such as monasticism, insist on a daily schedule (the liturgical hours) that’s meant to nurture precisely the sort of creative engagement Cleese is calling for, and have produced some wonderfully creative people (ranging from Thomas Merton to Dan Berrigan to Sister Wendy of the art-appreciation videos). We Protestants may be a bit behind the curve on that one, but even we have traditions of spiritual practices that foster creativity and holy insight.

So, what does all this have to do with cancer survivorship? Cleese doesn't mention any connection, but I was led to reflect on something many of us survivors have experienced: how the enforced down-time of a chemotherapy regimen crashed into our otherwise busy, over-committed lives and forced us to spend time reflecting on things we’d otherwise never have thought about (or perhaps not until some long-postponed retirement - and maybe not even then, judging from what I’ve heard from some retired people who report being busier now than when they were working).

It was during the enforced down-time of my chemotherapy, for example, that this blog was born. Since having that experience, I haven’t even needed to try to schedule time for creative reflection. I’ve simply done it (at times to the detriment of some of my more routine obligations, but what’s a credit-card late fee or two, if you’re staying more spiritually grounded as a result of obsessing less over the small stuff?).

Whatever stage of the survivorship journey we’re in - whether in treatment, in remission, in relapse, or in that blessed land some are bold to call “cancer-free” - it helps to let go of the urgent worries from time to time and put them to rest for a while, even if only for the few hours of a good night’s sleep (if that’s possible, health-wise). It also helps to set up those boundaries Cleese is talking about, so we can grab a little time for ourselves, away from the frenetic rounds travel to one medical establishment to another, and trying to respond to some of the demands of our normal lives when we’re not doing that.

Stephen Covey, in a memorable illustration I’ve referred to earlier in this blog, called it “sharpening the saw.” If you don’t stop your ceaseless sawing - back and forth, back and forth - from time to time, and pause to sharpen the saw-blade, you’re doomed to steadily decreasing effectiveness.

So, let’s hear it for self-care, on the cancer-survivorship journey! A major part of self-care is refreshing ourselves at those creative wells, where our spirit is free to engage with the Spirit of the Lord.

1 comment:


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God Bless You ~Ron