Retiring to Grow—Our Lifelong Need to Create

by Dr. Terry Nyhuis

Art for Art’s Sake?

I recall having dinner with a friend who had recently retired. He was eager to show me his creative woodworking projects. He restores cabinets, repurposes things, and creates “vintage” signs. 

I connected my friend’s healthy joy with some things I had read and thought deeply about in my early morning contemplation time. Carl Jung, an amazing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, has much to say about my friend’s and a million other forms of creativity: 

Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him his instrument. 

Nothing is more poisonous to the nervous system than a disregarded or checked creative impulse. 

We know that every good idea and all creative work are the offspring of the imagination, and have their source in what one is pleased to call infantile fantasy. 

The dynamic principle of fantasy is play … without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. 

What Is Your Form of Creative, Fantastic Play? 

Jung suggests, and I agree, that we are seized by creativity, more than we conjuring it up somehow. What form of art seizes—or seeks to seize—you?

It could be a lot of things: 

  • Stringing words together (one of my personal favorites!)
  • Gardening 
  • Working with wood, metal, or other materials 
  • Painting, making music, dancing 
  • Cooking, hosting a meal 
  • Knitting, quilting, sewing 
  • Helping someone smile, cry, sigh, hope 

The list goes on and on. Your way of creative fantasy-rich play is as unique as are you. 

Creativity During the First Half of Life

As busy as I was in career life, I usually found time to create. 

Some of the time it was a part of my work: stringing words together for a lesson handout or PowerPoint slide or creating a discussion that engaged people. 

Other times it was at home: building something from wood or hosting a safe place for small groups and open sharing. 

Creativity During Retirement 

Then I retired from career life and my space to create exploded. For awhile it was almost too much spaciousness. 

Then I grasped the metaphor of a second kindergarten. I felt like a kindergartener again and said, “Hand me the big crayons!” I played with all kinds of creative outlets: gardening, music, crossstitch, and photography. 

I continue to play with different forms of creativity. For now, word-stringing and woodworking have seized me. 

It is a whole new experience, truly- not having to worry about perfection, feeling free to question, explore, experiment, and have fun without worrying about the opinion of others.

Go With Your Creative Impulse 

Reread the second quote from Jung above, “Nothing is more poisonous These are straightforward words with a strong warning. To restrict or ignore the creative process is to risk your whole health. 

If we agree with Jung, then we take seriously the practice of play therapy. How did we get the idea that creative play is a luxury, time off, or nonproductive? Creative play keeps us healthy and alive. It makes the other parts of our lives—relationships, spirituality, work, sleep—healthy and meaningful. 

Now, Go For It 

Here is another quote I’ve lived into in the last few years: 

It is important to give up expectations, and to consider all experiences  ―even the negative ones― to be just another step on the path. Then go forward. 

RAM DASS, VEDANTA (HINDU) 

Often we are our own worst art critics. I am the first to see how my words don’t string out quite right. I look at something I made with wood and see where I didn’t get all the glue sanded off before finishing. Then Ram Dass reminds me to give up expectations and see all my play as just another step on the path to health, vitality, and joy. 

So, what are you doing here, still reading this? Go play. 

Featured photo by Alex Mihis on Unsplash.

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