A Leap of Faith

The Art of Life

Creativity and Leadership Series with Mary Moynihan

Reflections on art, creativity, leadership, and self-esteem


Mary Moynihan pens a series of articles exploring creative reflections on art, creativity, leadership, and self-esteem. The articles appear monthly in the Smashing Times Newsletter and on Mary’s website marymoynihan.ie.

Mary is a writer of novels, poetry, films, and plays, and a creator of art and photography. She is Artistic Director of Smashing Times International Centre for the Arts and Equality and Artistic Curator of the annual Dublin International Arts and Human Rights festival.

Chapter One, titled ‘The Art of Life: Beginnings’ can be read here.


Double Spirit. Photo by Mary Moynihan


A Leap of Faith

By Mary Moynihan

The gift of creativity belongs to each one of us. We are all creative; we just need to remove the blocks that stop us from being creative, to go on a journey of letting go, discovering how to let our creativity happen.

In the book House of Games: Making Theatre From Everyday Life, Chris Johnston (1952–2017) wrote that we all have creative potential. Johnson believed everybody has the potential to act and to be creative, as we all have the necessary skills such as language, movement, memory, imagination, emotion, impulses, rhythm, and an experience of life itself. The Brazilian theatre practitioner and founder of Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal (1931–2009), believed that anyone can act, as everyone can be creative. What is important is to have a belief in one’s own creativity which requires confidence and self-esteem. When we take this ‘leap of faith’ and believe we are creative, our self-confidence grows, and we immediately become more capable. What Johnston and Boal are saying is that imagination and the ability to use it is the gift of everyone who chooses to accept it.


Worthy of an Artist

It is important not to self-censure, not to allow our inner voice to tell us we are not creative or good enough, to ensure that we do not develop a self-image of ‘creative inadequacy’, as this is a form of disenfranchisement. When it comes to creativity there should be no hierarchy as every individual possesses the ability to be creative and imaginative.

In Johnson’s book, he tells the story of a participant in a theatre workshop who blocks his own spontaneity by refusing to accept his creativity. The participant refuses to engage in the workshop as he believes he is not creative. Instead of trying to reason with the participant and persuade him that he is creative and should join in, the facilitator decides to sit with the participant, and they talk. After a while the participant admits he is afraid and when he is asked what his fear feels like, the participant replies that he feels like a ‘naked boy hiding behind a wall. The group are on the other side waiting to have a good laugh.’ And the facilitator in that moment points out that this is an image worthy of an artist.

You can easily create your own self-image of creative inadequacy, believing and convincing yourself that you are not creative. The ‘cop’ in your head is a voice inside of us that consistently tries to put us down, a voice that is sometimes negative and critical. This voice may be keeping us safe by telling us we cannot achieve anything or what we are doing is no good. It is important to recognise that we have to find ways to quieten this voice and to go beyond it. This voice is like a critic or negative companion that tries to pull us down instead of lifting us up. Take a moment to become aware of this voice, consciously turn and listen to it, then tell it to stop, order it if you have to. Then imagine you have a voice inside that is constantly encouraging you, praising you and lifting you up, urging you to take proactive risks.

In recent years I have met numerous people who work outside the arts, in science, engineering, medicine, and business. They all possess creative abilities. It is not only artists who are creative. We may ask: do some artists possess unique attributes that not all of us can have? Or do we all possess the same basic attributes? What determines the quality of the work is the level of determination that we apply to the implementation and development of those attributes. In other words, it is to do with the quality of the vocation and how determined we are to recognise, access, and develop the gifts we already possess. Artists are often filled with self-doubt, yet at the same time are possessed of a powerful faith and self-belief as they work on an ‘imaginative transformation of inner feelings’. This may lead to the creation of artworks that are vibrant and relevant or connect in some way with people’s lives.


You Are Enough

What you can do to develop creativity is to begin by accepting that you are already creative – to think of yourself as being confident and capable of creativity. By getting you to think of yourself as already creative, you are taking a leap of faith where your confidence will grow and your capabilities flourish.

Mark Rylance is an English actor, playwright, and theatre director. He was the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, from 1995 to 2005. He has acted in films such as Dunkirk, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and Bridge of Spies. When talking about advice for young actors, he says: ‘If I could distil all my completed notes into three words, they would be “you are enough.” What is happening to you is you don’t feel you’re enough so you are putting more effort into it than you should be doing. . . If you believe you are enough, you will be in the centre of yourself, your voice will be centred, your movements will be centred and the audience will also believe you more because they will feel, they will also believe, that you are enough.’ I find those words to be very powerful.

Whether you are starting out, are already on your journey as an artist, or are someone who simply wants to become more creative, there are many paths to follow. An artist can be self-taught, attend workshops and training programmes, work with a mentor or fellow artists, or follow a combination of all these processes. If you do not work in the arts and simply want to develop your creativity, start by taking part in some kind of artistic activity such as reading a book or going to a film or dance class or to a concert. Surround yourselves with people who are positive, supportive, and kind, and who will nurture you as you nurture them.

A key part of the creative process is the journey inward. The aim is to connect with an inner energy or presence that is both inward and outward. Paradoxically you have to travel deep within in order to connect with the universe. Creativity, art, and life itself are filled with paradoxes (apparent contradictions) which we can never intellectually ‘understand’, yet have to find ways to live with. It can also be about letting go so we can sense what has to be revealed to us.

The American Theatre practitioner Stella Adler, when talking about acting, refers to the freeing of the self as essential for actors and for the process of creativity. She believed that the majesty of acting required a dedication to a life-long path toward artistic, spiritual, and physical fulfilment. Adler, like Rylance, believed in the power of the uniqueness of the self, to believe in one’s self as ‘only you have the privilege to be you.’ It is important to learn as much as you can from those around you – however, your uniqueness lies within. Finding a way to be true to one’s self is not about self-indulgence or narcissism, but about being free while working with others and the universe.



Going back to Rylance, he talks about society’s obsession with clarity, facts, and information – some of which, for example in relation to scientific findings, are very important. However, creativity is not just about the intellect; it is about sensory beauty, too, and having ‘soul’. Rylance says, ‘By that I mean there is some relationship between our physical, material lives and our imaginative, spiritual lives, whatever that relationship may be.’ He is talking about a wider context, a fundamental human energy where you are open, vulnerable, and able to freely communicate and connect with something deeper, beyond what we can see.

A key part of this is spontaneity, which is key to creativity and being in the moment. Spontaneity is often the opposite to logic. Logic gets in the way of unpredictability and, as artists, embracing unpredictability and chaos is often a place where freedom can happen. Spontaneity is about behaving in such a way that what you do feels natural and free: you do what feels good, and it happens without any form of planning. You are not thinking about what you do, you simply do it before you even think about what it is you will do. Inner and outer resources become boundless and infinite. Words associated with spontaneity are abandonment, ease, uninhibited, and naturalness. You are letting go of self-censorship, there is a willingness to let go, to be open and vulnerable, and at the same time to have an absolute belief in yourself that, as the great actor, director, and teacher Deirdre O’Connell (1939–2001) said: ‘right or wrong, you are right.’ When it comes to creativity, there are no right or wrong ways and the work is unique to each person.

A key part of developing a creative state of being is learning to let go, to surrender. An actor for example needs to be free and easy on stage, and not self-conscious. When I was teaching actor training I witnessed artists reach a heightened creative state. The actors were improvising a piece of text or a scene from a play when suddenly interesting work started to happen in the space. The actor is not forcing or making the work happen. Instead, the actor’s creative impulses are flowing naturally and freely. Later, the actor will say he or she was not making the work happen, that they were not forcing the creativity nor were they in control. Rather it was happening to them. I watched an actor in class one day as they created an incredible piece of improvised work that was mesmerising and engaging for all those watching. You couldn’t hear a pin drop. Nobody moved, the work went on for about twenty minutes and was effortless. Afterwards the actor explained that it was like she was no longer in the driving seat of her own body, she said she felt and could see very clearly that she was in the passenger seat of herself, and someone or something else was driving the car. I thought that was an interesting metaphor.

However, you cannot directly teach spontaneity. You can set up the circumstances which can engender or lead to spontaneity, and part of that process is attempting to let the work happen rather than making it happen. The work is usually highly creative, exciting, and inspiring.



Performing artists regularly aspire to be in a heightened state of creativity, to create work that is exciting and transformative. When transformation happens on a stage it affects those watching in a profound way, creating an energy in the space that everybody becomes a part of. There is an extraordinary power in the work; something invisible has become visible and the artists are creating in a heightened state of being with an energy and presence. When you are in creative state – whether you are an artist performing or someone who is attempting to come up with creative ideas – you are very much in the moment. You are not thinking or forcing anything. You are letting the process happen naturally.

‘Non-doing’ is a key part of a creative state of being where you are in the moment and surrender completely to creative impulses. I have always enjoyed reading the Tao Te Ching, the classic Chinese text by Lao Tzu comprising philosophical verses on how to live life with integrity and goodness.

According to the Tao Te Ching, non-doing is not just about doing nothing, it means to leave nothing undone. Patience is required. The Tao has the description of a pond going still, the mud settles so the water can become clear. It is about remaining still until the right action appears. When we practice non-doing, we may do what is necessary to allow things to happen, then step out of the way and let things unfold. We do nothing, yet ‘nothing remains undone.’

Another example in the Tao is that of growing a plant. You establish the right conditions such as the earth or clay, water, natural fertiliser if needed, and sunshine where feasible. After that, you leave the plant alone and let all the elements act naturally. In this instance, even though you are doing nothing, you are doing something. By doing nothing you let the plant grow. When it comes to acting or being creative in any way, it is the same. You set up the conditions that are needed to let creativity grow, then you leave it alone and let it happen. Creativity is a process where you set up the conditions such as freeing the body and mind, getting rid of what you don’t need, letting go of blocks, and recognising that a lot of what you need is already there, inside of you and around you, and in your interactions with others or the space. Breath and deep breathing are important, which reduces stress, freeing up the body and working without tension in a flexible way. Flexibility in the body supports flexibility in the mind so you can respond instantly. You allow yourself to work from an instinctive place rather than an intellectual place, responding in the moment. The American actor and teacher Sandford Meisner (1905–1997) explains that you learn to leave your brain at the door and bypass the more intellectual or critical side of yourself so that you can work in a freer way through the body, with others, and in the space.


The Empty Space Within

Creativity and self-esteem are intrinsically linked. For both, it is important to be open to yourself, to your own natural insight, and to trust your own natural responses so everything will fall into place. Both require a realisation that we are enough; creativity must be recognised as a journey, and we must learn to let go. As the Tao says: ‘A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving. A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants. A good scientist has freed himself of concepts and keeps his mind open to what is.’ We have to discover how to simply ‘be’. This is a state of being that is integral to both self-esteem and creativity.

In terms of my own process of working on my self-esteem, I discovered over a period of time that even though I wanted things such as love and success, I rejected them internally due to low self-esteem. I carried out actions to sabotage what I wanted, causing hurt and experiencing loss along the way. I discovered that if I want to have or take something I have to first allow it to be given. I eventually figured that out. As the Tao says, sometimes to go forward we have to go backwards, and the longest way is often the most direct.

Self-sabotage is something many of us do without even realising it. We deliberately block or cause damage that will stop us from getting what we want. Self-sabotage is a paradoxical behaviour that many people (including those we deem ‘highly successful’) fall prey to, where they ‘do. . . things that block their success or prevent them from accomplishing their goals.’[1] This can result from a fear of failure, perfectionism, or low self-esteem, all of which I have experienced. (I will explore self-sabotage in later chapters in this series.) A key part of working on ways to let go of self-sabotage is to work on self-esteem and to develop your own inner sense of self.

Working on a sense of who I am and the journey towards high self-esteem is a very rewarding process. As part of that journey, I became aware of an empty space that was deep within me. Initially, I saw this space as negative, calling it an ‘emptiness’ or ‘lack’. I was preconditioned to see this darkness as negative. I subsequently discovered, however, that this ‘void’ is a core part of my being, an important, positive, and integral part of me. In a description of what ‘Tao’ is, I came across the words ‘formless and perfect’. These words made perfect sense in relation to my ‘void’, without any logical ‘knowing’. As the Tao reads:


It is serene. Empty.

Solitary. Unchanging.

Infinite. Eternally present.

It is the mother of the universe.


I feel this space inside to be part of the original me, whatever that is. Drawing on words from The Tao to describe it, I would say it is like an ‘eternal void’ that is a source of creation, filled with ‘infinite possibilities’, replete with infinite worlds and understanding. It is empty yet nourishing, capable and inexhaustible; the more I use it, the more it produces. It is hidden and dark but always present, a way to the light without looking. I can use it any way I want. The Tao encourages us to hold or stay in our centre as a place to stop thinking, and if we are content in ourselves we can find a place of peace without confusion or sorrow. I can travel all day without leaving home and stay serenely in myself. No matter how I roam, I will always be in touch with myself, with who I am, and I am not alone, but one with the universe. As the Tao suggests, when I return to my source and use my own light, I am practising ‘eternity’.

This ‘emptiness’ is paradoxically both known and unknown to me – and yet I don’t need to intellectually understand it, to realise its value. The Tao refers to a sculptor making a clay pot; the emptiness holds whatever we put into the pot. Accepting this space within is part of becoming comfortable or content with myself, to simply ‘be’, a state of being that is integral to both self-esteem and creativity. If I believe in myself, I don’t have to convince others of my worth. If I accept myself, I don’t need the approval of others and am not a prisoner to the opinions of others. I cannot be fulfilled by looking to others to make me happy, or simply by having money, possessions, security, fame, or success. When I am content with what I have and with simply being myself, many doors will open. As the Tao says, ‘When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’



We often think we have to go ahead, to reach the finish line first, instead of letting ourselves fall behind, where we may find ourselves as we really are. According to the Tao, to let go is to become fulfilled. Let go so everything is possible and what you want will come to you. Have you ever noticed when you are in the middle of a difficult situation or trying to do something difficult, that if you step back or detach yourself for a while, everything can seem clearer? Stepping back from something we are trying to understand or figure out actually helps us to understand it more. Sometimes, by doing nothing, we are doing something to help resolve the issue. Learning to observe and to trust our inner vision is important, to give ourselves time to listen, observe, and be open so things can come and go. Have faith in the way things are.

I will finish with a poem I wrote as part of The Stargazer Whispers.



by Mary Moynihan


The sky is my soul, the stars are my light,

day is my breath, the source my night.

Sun is my joy, the moon watches above,

to be guided, protected, by nature and love.


What passes us by is not meant to be,

what is always present we don’t often see.

When one door closes, another opens,

instinct will tell you what remains unspoken.


Listen to the landscape, it is active, alive,

shall bring you to stillness, a place to thrive.

Let go of force, simply let your life be,

to guide you in love like an ocean free.


Find your rhythm, come dance with me,

destiny unfolds, your spirit is free.

[1] https://www.betterup.com/blog/how-to-stop-self-sabotaging