The Healing Power of Creativity

Music in itself is healing – Billy Joel

I recently watched “Song One,” a movie starring Anne Hathaway and Johnny Flynn. It reminded me of “Once” and of “Begin Again.” In all three movies, a man and a woman meet; one at least is a musician; and through knowing each other, they not only create new music but help each other heal from past wounds.

I’ve been talking recently with a younger friend about how when we first meet a stranger, we often see that person quite clearly, and they see us. In fact, it may be easier for us to see a stranger for who they really are than to see the people near and dear to us, because with people we know, there’s usually baggage that gets in the way — our issues, both individual and shared, tend to come to the fore after a while in our interactions, clouding our views of each other. This friend shared a study in which happiness in a relationship was found to be high at first, then take a nosedive; after hitting a low point the relationship either ended or the two people began, slowly, to build trust and learn how to communicate past the baggage, and if they stuck it out, could regain happiness over time.

It struck me, watching “Song One,” that music can be a bridge over the baggage. Perhaps any shared creative effort can be such a bridge (which might explain why so many couples stay together while raising children — which can and ought to be a shared creative effort — and then split when the kids are grown & gone). Creativity requires one to lay aside one’s baggage. In fact, if pursued diligently, creativity almost forces one to become aware of one’s baggage and deal with it. When I began taking singing lessons, all my self-esteem issues immediately leapt to the fore and had to be dealt with. As a writer I constantly struggle with the voices in my head that tell me either that I’m no good or that I’m brilliant (a common complaint, according to other writers, including some very famous ones).

Psychologist Steven Diggs says that it’s a mistake to think we have to “fix” these issues before we can be in a relationship (or, I would think, pursue a creative outlet). It is the relationship itself that holds out the hope of healing and growth, because the issues we need to “fix” will become very obvious! If you’re lucky, he says, you’ll find a person willing to help you work on your baggage and let you help them with theirs. If not, at least you know what you need to do next.

What happens in these movies is that both people are stuck in their issues when they first meet. Their mutual interest in music holds them together when they might otherwise give up and walk away. Really, however, what holds them together is the belief that one of them has that the other can be creative. We tend to live up to (or down to) others’ expectations of us. When a person keeps expressing faith in us, belief that we “can do it,” we are far more likely to try and thus, far more likely to succeed.

It’s not a one-way street in these movies. One person may be the primary cheerleader for the other, but in time, this faith is reciprocated. The helped person starts to push the helper to move out of their stuck place as well. Both grow and become happier.

In all three movies, it’s ambiguous whether this relationship is or will become an enduring “love” relationship. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that both people are healed through the shared creative endeavor.

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