courting creativity

“I believe that the most important thing for humanity is its own creativity”

Pondering this surprising statement from His Holiness the Dalai Lama helped me understand my seemingly irrational preoccupation with the mystery of creativity.   It affirmed for me that courting this unknowable movement is indeed vital work.

Creativity heals.  Its movement shifts stuckness and contraction.  It can shatter a lifetime’s domestication and dumbing-down, returning one to wild untamed authenticity.  In an inexplicable way, it acts to reconnect us with something much greater than the small world of our self-preoccupation.  Perhaps we know it best by the ache of its absence.  The noted physicist and creative thinker David Bohm explained to me that the absence of creativity does not imply neutrality but that destructivity flows into its absence.  We don’t have to look far for hard evidence of this fact.

But why do we need to “court” something that’s an inescapable quality of our aliveness, our being?   If our creativity is innate and immanent, why can’t we just “turn it on” at whim?    Why do we so often feel totally separate from the flow of creativity?    Whatever you may think of Pablo Picasso as a person, he was unarguably creative, and he’s on the mark when he opines, “The chief enemy of creativity is common sense.” 

Common sense:  the accumulation of received ideas and beliefs we have about everything, including creativity.

Shedding our common sense, and resisting the mind’s pressure to replace it with any other overlay of conceptual clutter, defines our courtship strategy.   We strip naked.   We return to zero. 

In the words of the poet Hafiz:   “Zero is where the Real Fun starts.”

So if we’re tempted to believe that we aren’t capable of creative work or original thought, we need to ask, “Why?”   Who or what gave us that idea?   I’ve heard people claim that they don’t have a creative bone in their body, while freely admitting that they can read, write, cook, garden, parent, and perform a host of creative activities.   Why has creativity become separated out from life and only associated with so-called ‘artistic’ pursuits?   It’s interesting to note that around the time art products became commoditised, creativity took the same path.   Suddenly it morphed into something that could be defined, taught, marketed.   No one seems to have caught on to the utter illogicality of marketing something that everyone possesses by default.   Duh?   (For sure, idea-generation techniques can be learned, but genuine creativity lies on the other side of ideas altogether.)

An insidious veil of words has obscured the beauty of innocent making.   Yet the urge to make things, to experience the wonder of bringing something unique into existence, is shared by us all.   It brings profound satisfaction and a sense of wholeness.   But what we don’t feel so happy about is the arrival of the inner critic who wastes no time assuring us that our work/play isn’t real art, isn’t really creative.   It can’t be, because we don’t have art school training or spectacular talent, because we’re too old or too young.   Can’t be, because our work doesn’t look like the ‘real’ thing or the ‘real’ person, or it doesn’t look like a Picasso or a Rembrandt.

We can list every elegant definition in the world, yet we still won’t have any true understanding of the mystery of creating – we’ll just have more barricades between our effort and the possibility of a genuine creative encounter.  We are caught between a rock and a hard place.

And that’s exactly where we start.   We concede that while creativity is part and parcel of our being, it‘s nothing personal.   We remember how we played as children – before we were exposed to “common sense” and learned a lot of lies about life.   Before there were rules.   Back when we were eager to play any game and curious about what we didn’t know, rather than being defensive of what we think we do know.

Creativity and grace have a lot in common.   Like the God word, grace has become contaminated with concepts.   Jiddu Krishnamurti, who was a great mindshifter for me, insisted that grace was not something one could know from an ego perspective but, rather, a movement that could only arise in the ego’s absence.   We could say the same about creativity.

How do we go about disappearing (our ego-thing) into playful curiosity and wonderment?   Well, in my playground, I pat it on its wee cloud-like head and put it gently to the side.   I court the immanent muse instead.   I use strategies that invite me to the edge of my convictions.   In some of my group workshops we let dice and cards make the decisions for us, so that we can relax into the process and forget about whether or not we’re doing it right.   When we no longer have to worry about rightness we begin to notice that a new vista of possibilities is opening up – and that creativity is alive and well in us after all.   We are, as sparks of creative potential, free to discover and unfold without limit.

my seven fail-safe strategies

In my playground, immanent creativity – often referred to as ‘the muse’ – is decidedly She.  For millennia She has been portrayed in dozens of cultures and lands as the Great Mother, a goddess with a thousand names.  In our modern intellectual era it seems anachronistic to ascribe gender to this ineffable dynamic.   No problem – however we choose to conceive of It and refer to It makes no difference whatsoever.  It couldn’t care less.   It’s totally unmoved by expectation, ever wild and utterly untameable. 

That said, something responds to our acknowledgement and appreciation;
something responds to courtship…  

1          Set up space – a salon befitting a regal muse.  For me, that implies quiet, beauty, order.  Have somewhere to sit in silence, as well as areas in which to play.  We need a place where we can take time to be silent, to receive inspiration without pressure or distraction.  She will come.

2          Show up – commit.  Let Her know you’re serious.  Showing up isn’t specific to the studio.  Creativity is responsive to our attention, curiosity and presence – wherever we are, and whatever we’re doing.  Everything weaves itself into our work.

3          Resist the familiar – it’s the same-old, same-old.  She doesn’t do old or habitual.  She isn’t a follower of fashion or fad.  She’s always at the cutting edge.  Actually, She IS the cutting edge.

4          Question everything – especially your reflexive reactions.  She’s a jealous lover.  She won’t show up if you’re in bed with your beliefs.

5          Befriend risk.  No risk, no encounter.  She enjoys a hearty joust with the dragon called Doubt, but it usually makes itself scarce when she shows up.

6          Play with chance – i.e., ways of sabotaging self-certainty and fostering an innocent mind.  She seems particularly fond of this little strategy.

7          When tired, lie down; rest.  She’ll often drop in with clarity and inspiration when you’re in a heap of weariness, frustration or confusion.  Have a notebook handy.

– mls

NB:  Although I have personified creativity as a ‘muse’, and as ‘she’, this is only for poetic purposes.  Creativity is not an object.  It’s not something ‘outside’ of us.  At the deepest level, spontaneous creativity is a quality of the Life force that lives us.  To court creativity is to make a conscious, open, orientation towards that unknowable force, Life’s infinite capacity – which we’ve never been separate from.  We’ve just been hoodwinked by assumptions of separation that have hardened into beliefs.

The Dalai Lama XIV quote is from Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama.