What We Ache For:
Creativity and the Unfolding of Your Soul

by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. ISBN 0060011963.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 12/11/1006

Creative Life; Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

I didn't know when I began reading What We Ache For that it included writing suggestions. But, in hindsight, writing is the major form of creativity in which Mountain Dreamer expresses herself. Her definition of creative work is, "that [which] makes something new from the paradoxical combination of a focused intent and a willing surrender to something larger than us." She writes of opening herself up to unexpected twists and turns within her [and anyone else's] creative endeavors.

Each of her chapters ends with two sections: one is "For Contemplation," and the other is, "Writing Exercises," both of which are meant to help the reader go deeper into his or her search for creativity. She asks her reader to substitute the reader's form of creativity for her word "write."

In her Beginnings chapter, Mountain Dreamer suggests that if what you are doing bores you, then, stop and begin again. One prompt which I will try is that of taking a sentence or phrase from a book and spending seven to ten minutes expanding upon it. Or doing the same thing with a picture. She uses three components of daily practice when she begins her writing time: a time of contemplation, a time of physical movement and some journal writing to integrate her spirit, her body and her mind. These become rituals which signal the unconscious that the time of creating is to begin.

She writes, "If our creative work helps us to be with what is in this moment with a compassionate heart and willing acceptance of what we cannot control, if it enables us to open to the joy of being alive, to seeing and co-creating the meaning that sustains us, these are the things that will ripple out into the world from us whether or not anyone ever reads the words or music we have written or sees the painting or play or film we have created." To be creative is personal. It is to grow and become more expansive.

Mountain Dreamer endorses creative activities with a group such as a Story Circle Writing Circle and she also encourages timed activities which create a container for our art. Other suggestions are that each meeting of the group start and end with a small ceremony or ritual.

The chapter, A Necessary Silence, stresses the importance of solitary time. She says, "To create in any form, we have to be willing to engage our intent and then let go and allow this grace, this flow, this unpredictable and sometimes chaotic energy that is both what we are and yet larger than us, to direct the process." We must risk failure. There is never a guarantee that others will see and feel as we do and will appreciate it enough to publish it, buy it or spend money for tickets to see it.

The last segment of the book describes her own process as she begins a writing project including ignoring the inevitable voices of the inner critic. She writes of her life as an artist as an example for others, and of building a community of support. To keep one's creative work totally for oneself, she says, leaves the process of creation incomplete. I wonder about that. There are examples of poets, for instance, whose work was discovered only after their deaths. Were they not creative? Finally, she writes, "I am drawn to the creative process not because I think the creative process will bring me happiness, but because when I write I am happy."

What We Ache For is not a memoir; however, Oriah Mountain Dreamer invites us deep into her psyche and her process. It could be used as a tool for enhancing one's writing. It is also be a portrait of an artist. What We Ache For conveys deep feeling and an invitation for us to experience those feelings ourselves.

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