“As long as he doesn’t hit me anymore, I can get through.” “If the pain would just subside enough that I could watch a little TV.” “The loneliness is crushing me, I’ll just have one more bowl of ice cream.” “Look, I’m doing good to have a job, I don’t like how they treat me, but I need to work.”
Survival is about finding food, about breathing, about adapting enough to the pain to make it through the day. Survival mode is the lizard brain, fight or flight, it’s not depression as much as it is hopelessness. It’s the idea that things can’t get much better even though we are fighting, fighting with every action. It’s when going numb seems like the best alternative.
Survival mode says, “Don’t give me that positive thinking crap, let’s talk about reality.” For Survival Mode, long term planning is an hour from now. It’s making a choice between paying to go to the doctor or keeping your cell phone. Survival mode is about living but having nothing to live for, it’s about being angry and sarcastic. It’s Scarlett O’Hara saying “As God is my witness I will never be hungry again”, it’s the empty nest Mom, it’s Life in The Fast Lane. Survival mode is the commission salesman at the end of the quarter, the prisoner sentenced to twenty years, the husband who lost his wife to cancer.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” C.S. Lewis
Theologian C.S.Lewis is not telling us that friendship is unnecessary, he’s saying that without friends, philosophy and art, we are all in survival mode, all the time. Love and Grace are not required to survive, lizards do very well without them. Truly living, living beyond survival, is about finding love and grace.
It takes a decision to leave survival mode, to climb out of the cavern. When you decide that survival mode isn’t enough, the Creative Beast gives you your first glimpse of hope, inspiration defeats resistance. Resistance wins when you are in survival mode, make no mistake, it is that dark and evil. Inspiration beats resistance, every time; it hands you a pencil, the camera, the harmonica. Grace hands you hope, it throws a rope ladder into the hole and says, “Climb out!” Inspiration and Grace are the best tools of the Beast, when you create something, anything, you are climbing out of the hole.
Why does creativity save your life? Because it pulls you out of survival mode. The act of creating implies hope, it demonstrates your search for meaning, it helps you find emotion again. Your Creative Beast only dies when you do, he’s buried in there somewhere, generously giving you his energy for survival mode, but he is in there. The last thing you want to do in survival mode is play a song, paint a panting, write a sonnet. Survival mode is about getting through, there is no extra energy, inspiration is a distant memory. Grace is gone.
Creation starts with an emotion, and even if that emotion is rage or frustration, it is better than being numb. Does writing a few words in a journal keep you alive? I wish I could ask Ann Frank. Does singing keep away the pain? I’d like to talk to the slaves who were in the cotton fields about that someday. Does loneliness kill you? Every songwriter in Nashville could probably answer better than I can. Creation (art) is about declaring your existence, about telling others you are here, about saying, “I am not numb.” No; creating something might not save your life, but it might give value to your life. Creating something is your soul’s way of saying “I matter.”
Survival mode is going around. So is inspiration. Ask your Creative Beast to help you find Grace today and inspiration will appear. Show us that you can power through resistance by declaring your own unique power to change the way the rest of us see the world. Who will benefit most? Like any gift, the gift is in the giving: you will.