We can find solace in the enormity of chaos and uncertainty.
While the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on this nation, finding optimism and hope can seem like an impossible feat. That said, we’re Californians—we fight on, break barriers, and create and innovate in the face of adversity. It’s just how we’re made. We are a resilient lot of human beings. We rebuild after fires and mudslides, push equal rights legislation through, hold our government and local officials accountable. We march in the streets, we legalize cannabis, and we believe in the power of diversity. We’re home to amazingly unique institutions of wellness, pioneering tech companies, scientific innovators, and we spearhead movements of design, art, entertainment, and community.
So, we wanted to share some of the creativity, art, and thoughtfulness in California as a resource for healing, joy, and togetherness in spite of the mounting stresses we continue to face. Considering the things that have happened in the wake of COVID‚ and because of the wave of uncertainty, we could all use a silver lining. In the words of William Plomer, “creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.”
Art and the act of creating is healing. In a Salzburg Global Seminar on the Neuroscience of Art in 2015, Charles Limb, an ocular surgeon, neuroscientist, jazz saxophone player, and professor of Otolaryngology at the University of California San Francisco discussed the value of the creative process. He defines creativity as “the generation of something new” and art as “the most homogenous form of total creativity.” Projecting the image of a 35,000-year-old bone flute, Limb suggested that “artistic creativity is a hard-wired, deep-seated trait necessary for human survival. We have always needed to innovate; adaptability is at the core of our biology.”
So, can art help us in times of severe stress? Yes. Yes, it can. In a recent study done by the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF), researchers found that 96 percent of Californians with low incomes report struggling with the stress of COVID-19. Mental health has gotten “worse” or “a lot worse” for more than one in three respondents with low incomes, and a substantial amount of people of color say racial discrimination has impacted their mental health. The study, conducted between June 24 and August 21, shows that not only are there seven million Californians living in poverty (18 percent of the state population), the impact the pandemic is having on Californians with low incomes is quantified with nearly 41 percent worrying about getting the coronavirus and 37 percent suffering from the economic impacts of it.
“This has been a tumultuous year for all Californians, and we’re seeing some serious warning signs about the toll it may be taking on the public’s health,” says senior program officer on CHCF’s Improving Access team, Carlina Hansen, who oversaw development of the survey. So, how can we navigate through this levy of anxiety and stress? We can turn inward toward the one thing we can control: practice mindfulness through meditation and outlets of creativity. No, it won’t cure what’s happening, fix the brokenness of this nation, or change the external circumstances we’re all encountering, but it will help lower your blood pressure and give you a healthy outlet and some tranquility when you need it most.
Centers like Southern California’s Art & Creativity for Healing serve low-income communities and families in LA, Orange, and San Diego Counties. Through its affordable programming, the Art4Healing curriculum is designed with strictly guided exercises created to elicit emotional responses from participants who may be experiencing hardship, abuse, loss, PTSD, displacement, anxiety, or just need some encouragement. It does work with local shelters, nonprofits, and veterans to make these courses accessible to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status. While it is not a certified art therapy institution, it’s a wonderful community resource sharing art as a form of self-expression and self-exploration.
This holiday season, to brighten up the way we are experiencing the world in self-isolation and limited social interaction, apparel giant Lucky Brand has also adopted a creative initiative called Homemade Holiday. The concept features several local Los Angeles artists talking about their creative process, what they’ll do over the holidays, offering them an opportunity to share their work with the world on the Lucky Brand platform.
One such artist is Alexis Andra, founder of The Shift Creative. Her devotion to utilizing creativity as an act of kindness is a manifesto to get behind. When asked about her creative process, she says, “It goes something like this: ‘This is an amazing idea. Shoot, this isn’t working out. Ugh, this sucks! I suck. Wait, what if I tweak it a bit? This might work. This is amazing! I am amazing!’ But really, this is exactly how it goes. Many times, it is a rollercoaster of confidence and self-doubt. Ultimately, you have to be willing to flex and rework your idea and see the beauty in the process.”
“[Creativity] is a rollercoaster of confidence and self-doubt. Ultimately, you have to be willing to flex and rework your idea and see the beauty in the process.” —Alexis Andra
Andra also recently launched a podcast called It’s Not What It Seems, where she is adamant about being real. “We can get so caught up in social media that we compare our lives to others, wondering why they have that family, opportunity, and material items that we don’t. We fail to realize that they, like us, have a story and many times it includes a struggle.” Lucky Brand’s commitment to unity through self-expression is refreshing. Other local artists featured are Hank Jenkins, Danny Dodge, and Hilary Corts.
Another local artist featured on the platform is model and painter Torin Ashtun, whose approach to living is simple. “Painting and modeling balance each other. I approach my life one day at a time,” she says. Ashtun creates emotive work around feminine strength and the importance of claiming our individual worth without apology. Her use of color and movement blended with shapes and texture invite you into her world of grace and freedom.
Now, what about mindfulness? Mindfulness is described by Greater Good Magazine in Berkeley as, “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.” Greater Good adds, “Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to think or feel in a given moment.”
The UC San Diego’s Medical School Center for Mindfulness is among the many mindfulness institutions rooted in science and medicine. It has created an entire education sector devoted to the study of mindfulness in an effort to make us better, happier, compassionate, empathetic, more mindful human beings, and that’s something worth celebrating. Most importantly, those resources are available on-
demand for free through the duration of the pandemic.
The program’s research pages states, “Mindfulness-based research has grown exponentially in the last 20 years and has been found to significantly improve a wide spectrum of health outcomes, increase empathy/altruistic behaviors, curb addiction, and increase well-being.” According to the Center’s website, “the practice of mindfulness can help you overcome old habits and patterns, and see outside the box of your preconceived notions, and noting the profound interconnectedness of all things when we put aside our notions of what is separate and disconnected.”
In a video by Dr. Steven Hickman titled Benefits of Mindfulness, Hickman describes the concept of seeing things without the lens of conditioning or habit as the “beginner’s mind or seeing things as if for the first time, with that same sense of open curiosity and receptivity that allows for possibility and creativity in situations that normally seem predictable and dull.” (See mindfulness story on page 16 to learn more.)
The final resource is this: hope. Hope is very real. In an article titled, “The Psychology of Hope,” which appeared on the blog HealthPsych, Dr. Elizabeth Hopper says that the presence of optimism allows us to be more hopeful people. She quotes psychologist Charles Snyder in the article: “In surveys, psychologists have found that hope and optimism are related—more hopeful people also tend to be more optimistic—but the two concepts also have important differences.”
Snyder and his colleagues found that one’s agency is the difference between the two. And Professor Utpal Dholakia wrote in Psychology Today that “hopeful people don’t simply believe that good things will happen—they believe that their actions can bring about their desired goals. Because of this, hope may be especially beneficial for people in stressful or challenging situations—in situations where a good outcome doesn’t necessarily seem like a given.” Dholakia adds that hope is critical “when the chips are down, and when we need a powerful shot of motivation to help us find new ways to reach our goal and push us forward towards its achievement.”
It may seem trite, but hope is your greatest asset. So right now, while the chips are seemingly down, find a creative outlet to express what you’re feeling. You will hopefully feel that beautiful optimism and hope filling your emotional and psychological cup back up. And should you feel a bit disconnected by the lack of social interaction, artist Eric Thaller points to this quote by Albert Einstein: “Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.”