Christy Smith describes her eight year project, called The Enrichment Project, into the healing and effects of dance and creative arts. The Enrichment Project is about creating radical rituals for daily living, and Christy has finished a manuscript to be published in the future as a book. She says, "By pestering eleven other talented women, I hoped to “just figure this creativity thing out” in about a year or so. We sat down to meals, exchanged bread and salt, and then the real stories began to emerge."
Christy Smith: 00:00 How did I connect with my desires today? How was I present today? Did I take 10 really good breaths? How did I experience balance or imbalance today? Or how did my balance have to shift completely in order to deal with something that just changed the order of how my day was going to go about? How did I interact with my circles? What compassion did I show for myself, and was I able to offer any compassion to others? Did I connect with anything divine today? Did I feel like I communed with the part of me that connects to something larger in the universe, and were there any lessons? Were there any moments where I went, oh, so that's what this is about?
Gavin: 00:46 Welcome to the What Origin? podcast, from muse to manifestation, exploring why and how people create things. On this episode, we have Christy Smith from The Enrichment Project. You can find out more at enrichment-project.com. She's created an enrichment circle of 14 women, and explored the creativity, and dance, and aerial arts to see how it helps in the healing process and builds community. She's also working on a book. She's finished the manuscript, and I look forward to it coming out. So without further ado, let's jump into the interview.
Gavin: 01:28 Your project is called The Enrichment Project ...
Christy Smith: 01:31 Yes.
Gavin : 01:32 And I wonder how your journey into this creative sort of endeavor, if you can give people just a little bit of information, but maybe the history behind how you decided to go this direction with your life.
Christy Smith: 01:45 Yeah, I mean, creativity was just simply an element that I felt was missing from my life. I thought that everything that I did creatively speaking was assembly line, and that I was mostly just borrowing from other people's ideas or just combining things in a way to create something that one of the enrichment women actually called, she called it Frankensteining, and when she used that word, I was like, oh, that's exactly what I used to feel like I did. And I always think that ... creativity was always something that you put on stage, or it was a piece of art that hung on somebody's wall. It was an end product, first of all, and it was something that I felt you had to come up with all on your own. Like you couldn't ...
Gavin: 02:34 What were you in? Sort of like a job previously where things kind of came to a head?
Christy Smith: 02:42 Yeah, I was working 80 hours a week, and I felt like I didn't really have very much time for my own creativity because I was putting ... like anything that I might've been doing at that period of time was trying to keep projects from falling apart. And on the weekends I would go to these dance conferences and I would see these phenomenal performers on stage, and of course I'm thinking creativity is something that you put on a stage, and I'm looking at these dancers going, "Man, how do I do that?" Like they have these conversations with their muses, like their muses answer the telephone when they call, and I couldn't get mine to pick up the phone at all, and that's really kind of how it started. It was only supposed to be a year, and it's drug on now. I mean I've been working on this for almost a decade at this point in time.
Christy Smith: 03:32 So these are very patient women who have allowed me to ask them so many questions. But it was supposed to be just a year of hey, I'm missing this thing, these colors, this creativity from my life, and I think you have it. I'd like to just understand more about how you do what it is that you do. And I had way more questions at the end of the year than I ever had answers, so I interviewed them for another year, and then my house exploded with sticky notes everywhere. I just would write thoughts down and different colors of sticky notes were for different types of things, and I gradually just started accumulating piles. And then I started writing just to understand what it was I was learning in the first place, and that's kind of how the book started. And I was like, well, I'm writing for myself. Okay, well maybe I'm writing it for the other women who have been a part of this project as a thank you.
Christy Smith: 04:31 And then other people outside of our group started asking me, hey, so I hear you're writing this book. Like, what is it about? And as we'd start talking about it, they were like, hey, when do I get a copy? And that's when, it's like the audience changed over time, which I'd have to go back and rewrite sections because it wasn't just a journal entry anymore, it was something a little bit more formed. But what was so fascinating is that across this period of time, what started out as an investigation into the performing arts became much more an investigation into creativity in our daily lives.
Christy Smith: 05:11 And our journeys took us offstage into family situations, into work situations, dealing with past traumas and tragedy and grief, and really got very internal with a lot of the stories that we began discussing. And that's really where the crossover between creativity and life, and life and creativity, and this element of healing came in for us. And it's as those journeys for us went offstage, I think that's when other people really started getting a lot more interested in what it was we were doing.
Gavin: 05:51 Do you feel like some of this is primal? I like to sometimes picture cavemen or early civilizations or native populations, they do dance, they do rituals. And there's actually research, like the type of drumming they do is meditative, and we use that in our own meditation. But do you feel like some of this is just natural and it's something that when you get into it, it's applicable to a lot of people? Not everyone, but it's something you found that hey, when people practice this art, they felt better or it helped them come to terms, and maybe that's sort of also a primal thing we're rediscovering.
Christy Smith: 06:38 Yeah. I think that is absolutely the case. I mean, sitting around a fire telling stories is probably how a lot of this all began. I know one of the enrichment women in particular, Theresa, actually dug out a high school essay that she wrote about how man had always created art from the earliest cave paintings, the stories they told around the fire, and so this was her thinking about this at a very young age. And yet she grew up thinking that she herself was not creative because she was more accomplished in problem solving and spreadsheets and things that were maybe considered a little bit more left brain than right brain. So as a part of this project, she discovered a lot of what she does as a tour manager for international artists is actually extremely creative. It's just how you apply that term.
Christy Smith: 07:37 But from a primal perspective around the healing aspect of it, because the ... so there are 14 other women; there were 12 of us originally, and then three others joined us part way through, we're all dancers or aerialists. And the healing element for me like really came about as I realized that so many of our stories, our histories, were tied with abuse or rape or traumas of that nature, and getting into dance, which is such such a supremely physical art form, was a way in which we could connect with a part of ourselves that we felt had maybe been taken away or damaged in some way, and it was a reclaiming of that aspect for us.
Gavin: 08:27 That's really interesting. I appreciate you sharing that. I know those are hard things to talk about. I wanted to say, I didn't mean to cut you off, but I wanted to say a lot of people do yoga and things like this that are more structured. What do you think kind of the difference between sort of say a structured class and having to sit there and find a muse and find some creative way to express a certain art form is? Like do you think people might benefit from the things they've learned in yoga, but to go into a studio and just be like, what do I do?
Christy Smith: 09:07 Yeah. It's interesting. I had the chance earlier this evening to do a little session with two of the women, and they both were spending a lot of time talking about the classes that they're teaching. One of them is a yogi. She was teaching a yoga class tonight as well as a style of belly dance known as American Tribal style, which is very kind of structured. It's fascinating because there's a vocabulary of movements for fast songs and one for slow, and all of them have visual cues. So you can have never met a dancer before but dance together because it's a language. And then the other woman teaches children dance. So she has like a tap class and ballet students. And both of them were talking about their creative processes in terms of how they structure the content for their classes, which is something that we never would have picked up on years ago, what they get inspired by in terms of putting that together.
Christy Smith: 10:08 And we talked a lot, we spent a lot of time on the project because the preferences of these women really varied between those dancers who were choreographers, who would go into the room and need to have this really intense conversation with their muse, and map everything out and make a spreadsheet, and I'm trying not to look in the mirror right now because that's probably me. And then there were the dancers who would just like have some music put on or even better, or worse, depending upon how you see it, would have musicians improvise live music.
Christy Smith: 10:47 So they would have no idea what they were going to be dancing to, and then they would go out in front of an audience and just do it. And then there were all of these different shades between choreography and improvisation, like this American Tribal Style that I mentioned, which is a little structured but also improv. And I just found it so fascinating to really dig into why they prefer different styles, and then to see them change what their preferences were over time. Like I challenged myself to dance to musicians improvising, and it was one of the scariest things I've ever done, ever.
Gavin: 11:22 I'll have to try each guest's thing once, right? But I think that'll be a good thing. This is definitely new to me. But it sounds kind of like you started a project to learn about creativity, and you ended up with best friends, almost. The connection, the fact that, well this is creativity and on the surface level, like I kind of talk about it on this, obviously. You get a creative idea, you create it, da-da-da-da. But then I always somehow get to a point where the person has like a very deep connection with it, right? So it kind of sounds like you wanted to be outside looking in, and then it ended up being like best friends almost. I don't know, or I mean-
Christy Smith: 12:12 Yeah. Well, so all those sticky notes that I had all over my house, they eventually found themselves grouping into seven different areas, and those seven areas became the structure of the book itself. So I wound up grouping the stories into those areas. So they were places where the stories either all confirmed one another, like we're all dealing with the same things, or they were areas where there were very different opinions about how to go about something, or they were areas where I realized that they were just things that I personally needed to work on. Like the story about, or at least the gradation between improvisation and choreography, the element that came out of it, I started calling these seven areas touchstones, because they were like stones I had to pick up and hold on a daily basis.
Christy Smith: 13:02 But the touchstone that came out of that was presence. As a project and program manager, I was really good at thinking into the future and I was really good at like lessons learned, and I was not good at all about being in the present moment. And so that gradation between choreography and improv, some dancers felt much more present where they were creating on the spot something with musicians that had never been conceived before. Other dancers only felt completely present when they had rehearsed a choreography so many times that they were like the actor who knew their lines so well that the words just came out naturally as they were speaking, right, with all of the little nuances. And that concept of presence became something that I have to think about and engage with on a day to day basis. And as you're talking about the group of women that maybe I felt like I was standing on the outside looking in, and then becoming best friends with them, one of the other touchstones that I landed on was circle.
Christy Smith: 14:04 And we were, we are a circle who who can hold space in that way. Several of the women are trained in council sharing, which is a style of speaking with other people. A lot of times you'll pass around like a talking rock or a talking stick, and it's designed to help keep people from interrupting or crosstalk or allowing people to say what they need to say within the container of the space that's been created, and there's so much beauty about that. And as I started working on this concept of circling with them, again, it's one of these concepts that became something that transferred into my daily life, into how I will hold a meeting at work or how I share space with my husband when we both get home from work.
Gavin: 14:57 There are ways that when you develop a practice, it starts getting incorporated in small ways. And so I'm curious as to how it has manifested, or maybe if someone doesn't have time to pursue dance and pursue the creative things, maybe they have a very busy life, what ways have you seen it help improve, and are there without doing hours and hours of dance, little things you can do? Maybe the person has two jobs or this or that, and I don't know, but are there things that you just kind of added in, and you're like, wow, I didn't realize that.
Christy Smith: 15:40 So I'll share one story from one of the participants, and then I'll share with you a practice that I started for myself earlier this year. So one of the women, Jaya, she's also a yogi as well as a dancer and loves nothing else but to just like fall through the portals of her yoga mat for as long as humanly possible. But she also has three kids, and at the time she had a Norwegian exchange student, and two dogs and bunnies, and two jobs, and she was running a circus, and, and and and. And she would carefully structure her day so that she could have like a half an hour to herself so that she could be creative. And she told me she felt that creativity was like a finite store. She'd get to that point in her day where she's like, okay, and now is the point of my day in which I get to be creative.
Christy Smith: 16:32 And she would just stand there with her yoga mat tucked under her arm going, "I don't what to do. I don't know where to start". And she said she felt like she used up all of her creativity earlier in the day getting her son to eat brussels sprouts.
Christy Smith: 16:45 And so a lot of times it's about claiming creative credit. It's about giving ourselves credit for things that we do that really are creative, but we may not have just grown up believing that that's what creativity is. So she concocted this whole story about brussels sprouts, that they came from an interstellar galaxy and they were left here by aliens, and so by eating these brussels sprouts, he was taking into himself like, because he was really into aliens and superheroes at the time, and it worked. And it was a really creative story. I was like, I mean, should be a kid's book first off. But you need to give yourself credit for doing that. And that was just a real revelation for her, and for me at the time. These kinds of little practices where something that we've learned then becomes slightly formalized, and maybe we find ourselves doing it again and again, I'm not going to say OCD, I mean, I feel like maybe there's a little bit of that for me. I like doing things in order-
Gavin: 17:50 I'm a creature of habit. I wake up and it's like auto mode, coffee shop, boom, same thing. I think habits are a big, big deal, like recognizing habits. And there's good habits and bad habits. But also, like you said, I think monitoring your thoughts. Say something positive to yourself. Kind of like, hey, that actually was cool. I don't know. I've seen different ... I see things online of people just dealing with something in a very creative way or weird way or, but what was your story about your practice?
Christy Smith: 18:30 Well, yeah, so the seven touchstones that I wound up with are desire, presence, balance, circle, compassion, spirit and integration. And at some point, and it was like four years in, I was like, huh, maybe I should actually designate a stone for each of these. And I was like, man, why didn't I think of that years ago? So I take off these little stones I carry around in my pocket, and I still have them, and I have set them all out in a semicircle, in an arc on my bathroom counter. Because one of the things that I am not good at doing is brushing my teeth and flossing. I'm terrible at it. I would much rather like just curl up with a book and go straight to bed and not have to think about it. And so what I make myself do is pick up each of these stones while I'm brushing my teeth and flossing and think, okay, so how did I connect with my desires today? How was I present today? Did I take 10 really good breaths?
Christy Smith: 19:36 How did I experience balance or imbalance today? Or how did my balance have to shift completely in order to deal with something that just changed the order of how my day was going to go about? How did I interact with my circles? What compassion did I show for myself, and was I able to offer any compassion to others? Did I connect with anything divine today? Did I feel like I communed with like the part of me that connects to something larger in the universe? And were there any lessons? Were there any moments where I went, oh, so that's what this is about. The flashes of integration. And I mean, first off, by the time I get through all seven of those, I'm usually done with the routine. And second of all, I started that at the new year, and it's now we're a couple of days into February, I have only missed doing that one time. And for me that's huge.
Gavin: 20:39 That's great. I've got to tell you I just went to the dentist, and yes, definitely brush and floss if you can. I missed it for a little while, and I have a great dentist, but it gets expensive if you have anything complex. So yeah. It turns out some of those things, the eat your brussels sprouts, maybe I needed an alien story for brushing teeth. So I've got to touch on the obvious here, and I know directly from women that work in the corporate world that it can be male dominated or it can have a different feel, and we've heard a lot of stories, and I think it's great for groups to come together with commonalities, right? Like I go to different groups. Did you make a conscious choice to have a group of women, or is it maybe easier to do that research, and I know it's a touchy topic, but is it easier to sort of research and build that community or maybe it just happened. I don't know.
Christy Smith: 21:49 I feel like it just sort of happened. I definitely hear you about the work environment. I work in cybersecurity, which is a very male dominated field. I think in IT in general, women, the statistics I saw for last year, that 28% of the workforce in IT is female, and within the security industry it's I think 11%. So I'm definitely outnumbered. So that's where I work now. I didn't, I was working in telecom when I started the project, but I mean these were people that I saw in the dance world around me, and there I guess are some men that belly dance, and maybe more that do aerial arts.
Christy Smith: 22:33 But you know, these were just the people that I saw. I don't think I thought too much about the fact that I was creating a group of only women when I started it, apart from like these are just the people that I see at weekend retreats. Most of us live in different cities, different parts of the world, so we don't get to see each other face to face that often, and I just really wanted to get to know them better.
Gavin: 22:58 Well, it's a great story, and I think hey, if you're a guy and you want to go belly dancing, I've heard good things, and yeah, I've seen a lot of aerialists on like America's Got Talent and various things. It is really fascinating and it takes a lot of strength to do it right.
Christy Smith: 23:17 Well, I'll tell you the tipping point for me when I realized that I really could write this book for others, because I thought, well, this group of women in particular are the only people that might ever want to read my words about this, was talking to an acquaintance at a party, it was a friend's husband. And he's like, oh, so what's your book about? And I said, "creativity," and we started talking about these seven different areas. I was in the phase where I was just starting to be able to name them and I didn't quite have the names quite right. And we went through them and he goes, "Oh, that's fascinating. These are the same things that I deal with." And he loves 3D printing and flying drones, and he went to town on all of those things. And at the end of the conversation he said, you know ... we talked for like an hour at this party, and he goes ... I heard you were writing a book, but since it was about women, I heard you were writing a book about women. But since it was about women, I figured it wouldn't have anything to do with me.
Christy Smith: 24:17 And he's like, now I really want to read it. I think it's relevant to me. My first response, like my gut response, was like how many times in my life have I mentally done the math to change he into she, like across my whole existence. But I realized that he wasn't being rude, I mean he was just genuinely interested, and that's when I went, well, maybe this does have an appeal beyond just this group of niche dancers, right? Maybe it transcends genders and maybe there's more to be said here.
Gavin: 24:52 I have a friend who's addicted to bikes and I've been sort of mentoring him. So now that you've worked on this project for a decade, what's next? I mean, do you feel fulfilled? Or it sounds ... You're very systematic, I would say. You like taking notes, you like documenting, you like creating the story. But is there another story or do you feel like, wow, I'm fulfilled and I have this passion?
Christy Smith: 25:20 That's a great question. In some respects, I will have to keep picking these touchstones up every day probably for the rest of my life. They might change the names of them, or how I engage with them will change, but I feel like I've developed, I started calling them radical rituals in creative living, and I feel like that's something that I will continue doing. The book itself, the manuscript, is done and I've given it to my editor right now. I do not have a publisher yet, so I'm moving from this very like hermit, this decade of super hermit time where I've just been off in my own little mental world, which I love being there, to the point at which I get to talk about this publicly, which is terrifying, but also really exciting in many ways to share what it is that we've been working on.
Christy Smith: 26:09 Over the last couple of years, one of the ... so the touchstone that was the hardest for me, the one that I resisted naming, like I changed the name of it even as recently as two years ago, is spirit. And I had an extremely difficult time coming to the conclusion that a daily interaction with spirit was something that I needed. And then when I did, I had a really hard time with the fact that I'm a novice at this subject matter at all. Here's something that people have been talking about since we were sitting around a campfire in primal times, and what new thing am I going to have to say about that?
Christy Smith: 26:52 So I fought that one, and I fought including spiritual practices in my day to day harder than I think anything else in the book. But of course, sometimes what we fight the hardest is often what's going to change us the most. I've had the opportunity over the last few years to work with a couple of practitioners of the shamanic arts, which is a very old way of using a rhythmic drumming and transport to bring back healing and support for the community. Not something I ever thought I would get myself involved in, and that in and of itself is a whole other story.
Gavin: 27:32 You hear like shamanic culture, drumming, well there's actually like a beta and a theta wave in your brain, and if you drum at a certain pace, I mean music kind of does it, but it's shown that if you drum at that fast pace, it can actually sync up with your brainwaves and allow you to have an experience, I guess I would say free experience. I mean, I'm sure there's a lot of chemicals and things that do that. So it is really interesting to learn about some of those things in shamanic culture. Also, they have a lot of spiritual guide.
Christy Smith: 28:13 Yeah. I mean the work that I do on more of a regular basis is done without chemicals. I do use drums sometimes, but a rattle is a little bit more portable, and I love the fact that I can, I actually will rattle for myself. There are shamanic drumming apps out there that you can find where they'll just play at a particular tempo. But I love being able to take the rattle and move it from ear to ear and over my head and behind because it changes the head space that I'm in. And it was so weird, like when I started, I was like, oh, I'm just making this, my brain is making this up. But I just, I would bring back these things. I've started, in this work that I've been doing, I've tapped back into reading tarot cards, which is something I've kind of done off and on, mostly for myself over the years, and I've been able to offer that to others as a service.
Christy Smith: 29:11 And so you were asking me about like, what's next? I think that was kind of what started this whole conversation. But for me, this reading for other people has really become the "what's next?" I started a project at Burning Man in 2017 where I read cards. I was with Circus Combustus and we set up a camp on the esplanade there, and people would come through to see a circus show, and some of them would wind up in my corner of the woods, and I'd do a reading.
Christy Smith: 29:44 And I bought a big set of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot cards, the ones that everybody is super familiar with, and I called it Radical Ritual, Burning Man that year, that was the theme. They have a theme every year. And I would pull one card and after we read through the card together, I would give the person that card, so I was meeting each archetype. And it was phenomenal for me to be able to meet the cards in that way, especially in a setting like that.
Gavin: 30:17 It was a pleasure talking with you, and I appreciate your time.
Christy Smith: 30:21 I really appreciate your time as well. Thanks very much, Gavin.
Gavin: 30:28 Thanks for listening to this episode of the What Origin? Podcast. You can find out more at whatorigin.com, or join the conversation at Facebook.com/whatorigin.