I have a close, yet at times conflicted relationship with the creative process, as I suppose many of us do.

My ambiguity goes way back to family dynamics, sibling rivalry, and all kinds of messages about my artistic ability that I internalized and then generalized to include all things creative.  Some of these messages were somewhat inevitable – I mean, my ability to do the things that people typically think of when they think of artistic ability is severely compromised and, if you will, underdeveloped. I mean, really, it’s bad. Even my stick figures could use some serious help.

In my twenties I had legitimate panic attacks related to the need to draw anything. Anything at all.  And if said drawing would result in any sort of assessment, the terror was even worse.

When I was getting my masters degree in counseling we were asked to draw a horse, a tree, and a person during an assessments class. In previous classes I had always managed to be absent on the “art therapy” day, but given that this was a summer class I could not exactly miss the entire day.  AND I didn’t know it was coming.

I found myself in the bathroom hyperventilating, and feeling ridiculously foolish. . . and shamed.  Later that evening, I told my roommate, who is absolutely the best artist I know (in the traditional sense), about my “horse, tree, person meltdown.” With gusto, I explained to her that I am NOT creative!  She calmly and in a very matter of fact manner said something along these lines, “What do you mean you’re not creative? Of course you are. You are made in the image of a Creator – creativity is the very essence of the Divine.”

It’s been a process, but I believe now that in that moment with my sweet friend I began to find myself and embrace what I was created to do. I truly believe that we are ALL created TO CREATE – each of us in different ways. When we lose our ability to create, or when it is taken from us, we begin to lose our humanity.

The creative process is the process whereby we find life and meaning and purpose.  It is the process whereby an idea is born, grows, develops, gets squashed, gets repaired, changed, or reinvented, and then somewhere along the way comes to fruition through a progression of thoughts, feelings, and actions, and then ultimately it is something we let go of. We share it with others. Sometimes this process is quite personal, but most of the time it requires relationship and collaboration with others.

The creative process is inherently part of experiential therapy and learning.  The art of walking alongside people on their healing journey while holding space, holding the frame, gently guiding, supporting, and co-creating.  I am definitely an artist, and I get to work with all of you –  fellow artists, each of us refining our craft every day.

There are at least 5 key stages of the creative process:

  1. Preparation, Inspiration, or Brainstorming;
  2. Incubation, absorbing, or processing;
  3. Illumination – the “AHA moment” where it all comes together;
  4. Evaluation – deciding if it is worth doing;
  5. Elaboration – bringing your idea to life; and
  6. A step I added – share it, release it, let it go.

The depth to which I love this process is matched by the depth to which I hate it.  Truly.  I get to create a lot through Natural Lifemanship – webinars, websites, blogs, programs, etc.  BUT, my absolutely favorite creative endeavor is the NL Conferences.  It’s also the thing I hate the most, truth be told.  I think this community probably doesn’t need me to expand on this much, but the creative process can be just gut-wrenching at times.  Those of us with a drive and passion to make a difference in the world, know all about the blood, sweat, and tears that go into our work.  The labor of birthing anything is, at times, painful – pain beyond what we ever thought possible.  Of course, the elation, connection, and love deeper than you ever imagined is what makes it all worth it.

Creativity is not just the work of artists, musicians, writers and designers. It’s an inherent part of the human experience, one that manifests in our daily lives as well as our work with clients and horses. At its core, creativity is our ability to envision new possibilities and create meaningful experiences that deeply resonate, which is exactly what we got to do when creating the Sunrise Summit and Sacred Landscapes conferences for you.

Here’s a deeper look at the creative process that went into designing this year’s NL Conferences and how we have infused every aspect of the conferences with meaningful experiences that you can’t get anywhere else.

Phase 1:  Brainstorming

I LOVE brainstorming and dreaming. I have learned that some people in my life really enjoy this too, and others are annoyed because VERY little in the brainstorming phase ever really comes to fruition.  I have learned that some people want to move straight into the evaluation stage, and so I feel like they are poopooing on my ideas, so it’s best to engage these types when I’m ready to evaluate if the idea is really worth doing.

This phase requires absolutely no commitment, so it’s my comfort zone for sure.  Also, it’s a very important part of the creative process because it is where we find inspiration.  During the planning for our upcoming conference we found inspiration in the natural world and in the many ways that we are nature.  We found so much inspiration as we explored ideas about inner and outer landscapes, and how our horse and human herds live within these spaces.

Mary Reyolds Thompson has explored many of these concepts for much of her life – I almost cried when she agreed to do the online keynote for Sunrise Summit, opening our entire conference.  By the way, if you missed the Sunrise Summit, you can still access recordings.

However, I gain the most inspiration for our conferences from relationship with our students – there always seems to be something we are collectively grappling with.  NL has brainstorming documents planning themes, presentations, and flow for many more conferences to come. Have I mentioned how much I love this stage?

Phase 2:  Incubation

This is the phase where you just set it all aside, and don’t purposely think about your idea. I do my best incubating during the rhythm of making dinner for my family.  I have to keep my computer in the kitchen for this very reason, because it’s when my thoughts are incubating that my best ideas come. I take notes, I keep brainstorming, and it is inevitable that during one of my periods of incubation, it will magically all just come together.  AHA  – that’s it!

The NL Headquarters has been under all kinds of construction, and like many construction projects it has taken way longer than planned.  This has given us a little forced incubation time.  Incubation is typically not my jam – that’s why it happens when cooking, folding laundry, or in the shower.  What I can say, without a doubt, is that unless I walk away and sit on it for a while, the next stage never really happens.

Phase 3:  Illumination

Usually, all the preparation, inspiration, and incubation sets the stage for a clear moment of illumination.  This moment happened during a call with one of our students as we were talking about feeling a bit lost and displaced as our digital community has grown.

I sense deep in my soul that our wider community is grappling with an innate desire for place.

Since 2020 our world has become more and more digital. It has allowed all of us to expand in powerful ways, but it is also the great paradox in the human services professions, because our field is one of connection, relationship, and hands-on experience.  In this digital landscape, especially one in which most of our students have trained only online with us, to have a place that our NL Family can call home is simply magical.  In this stage (which I circled back to later) I felt a strong sense that this conference would be all about introducing our community to their home with us.

Phase 4:  Evaluation

Very few ideas actually make it past the evaluation stage.  This isn’t always my favorite part because I feel like some of my best ideas die here because of practical things like money.  Damn!

This is where we put pen to paper, do surveys, collaborate more, and try really hard not to get defensive when others think our idea isn’t worth doing. It’s here that you decide if you are going to forge ahead or go back to the drawing board.

Stage 5:  Elaboration

Elaboration is all about bringing your idea to life.  The active work of creating, destroying because you hate what you created, starting over, making mistakes, crying, cussing, and all the feels. Sometimes LOTS of cussing, but once we’re into this stage we don’t quit, because we know that it matters.  It is important and worth doing.  Even when we begin to doubt that it was the right decision we remind ourselves of the journey we went on to get here.

Stage 5.5:  Illumination Take Two During Elaboration

The blood, sweat, and tears happen in the elaboration phase, and sometimes the thing you are creating takes on a life of its own.  I love when this happens because it means I get an extra dose of illumination!  Illumination feeds my soul and keeps me going when we’re in the trenches of the thing that matters.  This also helps me prepare to let it go, because I begin to realize that it was never really mine.

This year as we were planning Sacred Landscapes, I found myself focusing on the experience we are creating more than ever – the experience continued to draw my attention and my heart.  This conference is all about the EXPERIENCE!

We have planned how we will walk together (we discussed this a bit in this webinar), how we will move together, and how we will transition from one thing to the next.  How we will be together has become of the utmost importance as we plan. I have attached the NL Principle of the Circle which will guide our time.

You will get to explore and move throughout our NL Home to find all kinds of treasures – literally, we’ve been shopping for and planning a treasure hunt for you.  Walking, moving, exploring, and finding little gifts left just for you.  We have thought deeply about how you might spend your time between sessions.

Mary Oliver and I have spent an enormous amount of time in prayer, meditation, and thought as we plan the community property blessing that will take place the first night, and as we prepare for how we will come together as a community in preparation for each day and as we integrate all we have learned at the day’s end.

Each evening two food trucks will arrive so that you can linger on property for a bit longer.  One ice cream truck and a taco truck called “The Raging Taco” who tells us to “Surround yourself with tacos, not negativity.”  Yes please and thank you I say!  Thank you NL Conference for telling us what you need!  Of course you needed tacos and ice cream!

The Darling Daughters will play their folk music rife with sweet harmonies and healing stories during our Family Dinner the first night and at our opening and closing ceremonies for the online conference.  Terri Schanen with the Darling Daughters is a NL certification student and she reached out to us because she has written songs inspired by previous conferences.  Experience, experience, experience!  Yep, this conference has taken on a life of its own.

Each evening you can go home and rest or you can pick your flavor. . . at the ice cream truck and then from among a litany of activities to quiet your mind and your body, or energize it in a way that intentionally creates space for incubation and integration.  There will be sound healing, drumming, meditation, story telling, and cowboy poetry, allowing us to connect with each other in new ways.

The teaching at this conference will be mind-blowingly good.  We’ve told you all about the presentations on Facebook, and you can see the detailed schedule for Sacred Landscapes here, complete with all presentation descriptions.  We know they’ll be good, which is why this year we are allowing NL certification students to apply conference attendance toward parts of Basic and Advanced NL Certification requirements (details can be found in your email).

This conference is about experience in every single sense of the word – even the tacos matter!

Jonathan Stalls beautifully (and unknowingly) summed up the purpose of this year’s conference in his book WALK: Slow Down, Wake Up, and Connect at 1-3 Miles per Hour when he wrote:

“It’s a practice of giving oneself to what can be learned or gained through experience and not just ideas of the mind.  Once this embodiment takes shape and begins to live within you, the mind often has no choice but to let go and to adapt.  You move with, cry with, and laugh with the story and the song of who you walk with.  There is no turning back to what were only ideas.”

This, my friends and my NL family, is what our conference is all about.  It’s a practice that we engage in together.  I promise you it will be worth your very precious resources – all of them.

Stage 6:  Share it, Release it, Let it go

I added this stage because this one is often the hardest for me.  To officially be finished and share it with the world can feel so vulnerable.  I have been frozen by perfection many a time at this stage – I’m ready to let it move from my hands to yours, but have just one more thing to change. . . and then another. . . and then another. . . and on and on.  I must admit that solid deadlines do wonders for this struggle.  The conference is coming y’all!

This conference will soon be yours.  It will belong to all of us.  We will create together.  I have butterflies in my stomach as I adjust just one more thing and trust that what the NL team has created will be exactly what it is supposed to be.  Registration closes on Thursday, October 19th, and we come together on November 8th.  I hope you can join us!