3 Ways Creatives Can Invite Darkness to Play (+ a video poem)

Gustave Dore’s engraving from the 1860s of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inferno_(Dante)

“In the middle of our life journey I found myself in a dark wood. I had wandered from the straight path. It isn’t to talk about it: it was such a think, wild, and rough forest that when I think of it my fear returns.”
– Dante, Inferno, Canto I

DARKNESS CAN DAUNT CREATIVES & SOLO-PRENEURS – the literal December kind of darkness in the Northern hemisphere as well as the neurological kind in the right hemisphere. The two kinds can get entwined. I’ve danced with Melancholia since a boy, and without missing a beat each November she begs to waltz through the next few months.

The various moods Melancholia brings with her I call “Moods of the Woods,” the ones rich with mystery that, comfortable in shadows, flee from too much exposure. I find ways to play with these moods so we might create something new and alive.

The science of creativity reiterates darkness’s benefits. See recent studies by Modupe Akinola of Columbia University and Hagop Akiskal of the University of New Mexico as well as the well-known ones by Kay Redfield Jamison, the renowned psychologist at Johns Hopkin whose creative and scholarly work also fluctuates in bipolar waves. Not only can bouts of mania lead to profuse idea generation, but the ensuing low waves can help creatives and entrepreneurs in an area that less successful creatives lack: perseverance.

Read more to learn three ways you can invite darkness to play this season, and add to the conversation below about darkness and creativity. 

1. Create into the mood.

When you’re feeling doubt, grief, melancholy, or despair, move your hands and fingers. Sketch into the mood, shape something out of clay or building blocks, or simply write with why into metaphorical questions: What does this mood feel like? Look like? Sound like? 

A few winters ago, I imagined darkness like the little brother I never had and wrote this poem. (I cut this video to send to a musician who lives cross-country whom I’m “playing” the poem with soon.)


I’ll be “playing” that poem and a few others with jazz trumpeter Freddie Jones and flutist Cornell Kinderknecht on December 21 at the United States’ second-largest solstice celebration in Dallas, Texas. (Join me?)

2. Celebrate with others.

The above celebration is a case in point. This month, I instigated the first HV:CREATE – an informal meetup for creatives in New York’s Hudson River Valley. On December 7, over 20 high-caliber creatives, entrepreneurs, and a Fortune 500 consultant showed up at a small cafe at 8:30 am. Why? To meet, connect, and inspire each other. And to keep from going Jack Nicholson-in-the-Shining-nuts during the winter in the woods.

Imagine a simple way you can instigate your own meetup or celebration, or go on retreat with others.

3. Micro-hibernate.

Really. Turn off the iWorld. Close the door. Recline. Dream. Retreat. For a few hours. A day. Several days. Most of us need real support doing this. I actually have to co-train clients to remember how to retreat by themselves. But just as the creative mind can thrive by sparking it up with others in celebration, it also craves deep, quiet time not even tethered directly to creating or plotting or planning. Use this handbook (good for both genders). Follow these guidelines or make a Retreat Manifesto or make space to hear your calling.

Me? From for most of the last two weeks in December, you won’t be hearing much from me. I’m taking several days to visit family, to offer one performance, and then to take a week alone to hole up in the Thoreau Room (no less) at a lovely place devoted to supporting writers.

I’ll be taking your good cheer, your brilliance, and your wild enthusiasm for all-things about the art & science of captivating creativity with me. And for that I am deeply humbled and grateful.

Take good care of and provide for your best self this season.


What do you, as a creative or entrepreneur, think about playing with darkness?

See you in the woods,


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