Thoughts on Creativity — Newsletter #45
A'musings #14 (Jan 2011)
by The Creative Edge Board of Directors:
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Reflections on Creativity for the New Year
The first month of the New Year is the traditional time to set resolutions and as a board member of the Creative Edge, my thoughts turn to the task of our annual writing on Creativity. My mind took me back to a time when I gathered together with a group of women friends to explore the creative process. One of my friends had brought a lovely children's book and casually set it down on the floor where a number of us were sitting. The title of the book was simply Imagine, printed in bold colors across the equally colorful front cover. As my friend begin to open the book to the first page, another woman appeared from out of the corner, at a rather skewed angle and called out..."I'M A GENIE!" There was a moment of silence and then, as she drew closer, an embarrassed laugh, after which, with a rather flushed face, she corrected herself saying "Oh, It's "IMAGINE!" Catching the perfection of it all, we all, seemingly simultaneously chimed in, "I'M A GENIE!"; "You ARE a Genie," (ripples of laughter and giggles flowing freely), "IMAGINE—I'M A GENIE!!!" "You're a Genie"—"We are all Genies!" Rolling now on the floor in utter joy; our voices ringing out in a sing-song of wonder and delight; we had all become as playful and carefree as children!!
The Ancient Romans used the word genius to refer to a guardian spirit that protected all individuals throughout their lives. All persons were born with their own unique genius that looked after them, helping them out of difficulties and inspiring them at crucial moments in their lives. According to the Compact Oxford Dictionary (1991, p. 664), the word genius derives from Greek and Latin words meaning "to beget," "to be born." Or, "to come into being." (It is closely related to the word genesis.) It is also linked to the word genial, which means, among other things, "festive," "conducive to growth," "enlivening" and "jovial." Combining these two sets of definitions comes closest to the meaning of the word genius used in Thomas Armstrong's book, Giving Birth to One's Joy.
In the Middle East, the word genius was linked to jinni, or genie, that magical power chronicled in the Arabian Nights that lay dormant in Aladdin's (meaning nobility of faith) lamp, until a few rubs on the side of the vessel "gave birth" to a sometimes jovial and sometimes not so jovial spirit.
I began wondering how I might resolve to practice awakening the spirit of my own Genie—Or genius. I came across a list that Thomas Armstrong created, naming 12 qualities of Genius. According to him, they are: Curiosity, playfulness, imagination, creativity, wonder, wisdom, inventiveness, vitality, sensitivity, flexibility, humor and joy.
My New Year's wish for myself, and for all of you, is a playful exploration of these qualities in our lives! I for one am delighted to start my New Year with an insatiable curiosity for what magic may present itself in the coming 365 days ahead! Perhaps, every person we meet is unknowingly, a messenger sent to us by our inner Genie. Perhaps we need only to be playful enough to enter into each encounter with open hearts and our most vivid imagination; creating wonder in the eyes of those we engage; sharing our wisdom and inventiveness as we explore new ways of being more present with a sense of vitality that is enlivening, a depth of sensitivity that is healing and a range of flexibility that brings fluidity to all associations; moving fantasy to reality, metaphor to fact, the inner world to the outer world and back again—creating an ever-flowing dance of energy; enabling a sense of ease, delight and humor, along with a joyful and mysterious bubbling up of something deep inside of us—an acknowledgment perhaps, from our very own genius, our Inner Genie, our most Magical Inner Child that we are all indeed Geniuses!
IMAGINE!!!!!! I-AM-A-GENIE!!!!!! YOU ARE A GENIE—WE ARE ALL GENIES! Make it your Mantra!
So, Farewell to the 12 days of Christmas, and Hello to the 12 qualities of our Inner GENIE!
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Ventures to the Creative Edge
I have long enjoyed the myriad of metaphors that the phrase "creative edge" has invoked, even prior to my participation in the fellowship. My earlier imagery of this edge was often of a grand precipice, a cliff's edge vista, in which the beauty of spiritual insights might glow like a mountain sunset. On occasion, usually on special afternoons when the sun was warm and thoughts and winds were still, I could travel there, enjoy the openness, and possibly receive a gift of inspiration. A large creative project might be born from this inspiration. Other times it might simply help to glaze a small section of a canvas, providing a more desirable tint.
Over the years, other creative edges have called out to be explored. Ones that helped me deepen understanding or experience. These travels might also inspire me to paint or write or just smile. I recall one time, just on the other side of a particularly enchanting, creative edge, I came across a spring of inspiration. It flowed gently and easily. I laid still with it until I joined the flow. For a moment, I let go of everything else to experience the glide downstream, but then wished to take note, so that I may recall these moments in future days or years. The spring then turned into a song. When the tune had finished, it was time to go home. I wish I could remember how I found this place, as I would very much like to visit the spring of inspiration again, someday.
While it's fun to recall the beautiful and inspirational edges, this is not always how the edge manifests itself. Frequently, visits to the edge entail discomfort and uncertainty. This is most often the case at the edge of the deep forest canyon, where light is low and animates the long shadows. The path dissipates, footing becomes arduous, navigation elusive. The deeper I bushwhack into the canyon, the more darkness consumes. It is not uncommon for me to get tangled in knurly brush, fall into an unseen crevice, or otherwise tear open an old wound. As tears flow, I wonder if this edge, with its perils, is worth the pain. Then there are the moments where slivers of fresh light shine through the forest canopy, revealing the identity of the shadow casters, and providing glimpses into alternative, potentially smoother paths. I wonder if any of the insights gleaned may someday be relevant to others traversing a deep forest canyon.
Lately, I have noticed my trips to the edge have become less frequent. It seems there is also a corresponding waning in the richness of life. As the new year begins, I make an intention to venture to the edge more often. I also reflect on why this has not been happening of late. As with any traveling, there are expenses. Trips to the edge cost an indeterminate amount of time, comfort, security, and complacency. But the rewards are evident. There are the souvenirs of inspiration, perhaps a painting, some photographs, a new project, or poem, or insights into how to navigate a shadowy path. More importantly, though, is the experience of moving toward, or dancing near, the creative edge. It is the venture which brightens the vision dimmed by complacency, while refreshing and revitalizing the creative soul.
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I find myself in a revelry of memories, past and recent, about Creative Edge gatherings. My first time in this circle I shared a poem called "Sky Signs."
Moon bow has sent star saliently soaring
Letting these words work me now, I am struck with their prescience. Then, I recorded what I saw—the shape of a jester's hat and collar in a pine trees form. The moon was the bow and Venus the arrow. At that time, I was recently divorced, struggling with my role as a teacher and homeowner, isolated and searching. I liked what I found that day at the Creative Edge. There was a painting of a chalice formed by two faces, masculine and feminine, and the bowl was a moon which held a sun. It spoke to me and invited finding connection for a creative journey. With Don's leadership, the wise jester and his court listened and reflected and revealed. And now, I can truly say that it has been an enlightening journey. Opening to a pinpoint of light, learning to understand my dreams, trusting my words and images as part of a process that would bring me to greater awareness, to wonderful experiences deepening in shared life experience.
Pine jester, proud marksman, watches, waits and wills
This enlightening journey of two celestial tools
Glowing resplendently radiant
To leave a lighted path
Across the sea
These days, the evolving group, continues to evoke my admiration because of the myriad of artful offerings which pollinate my own process. There's music of violin, harp, piano, and operatic voice-even the baritone sax of my husband. Exquisite poetry, photography, painting, calligraphy, basketry, collage, woodwork, humor, hurt, experiments, and passions; and how to include all of this feast of creativity.
All past, present, and future gatherings serve as impetus to create, to show up and share our growth, nurture our senses and hearts, and keep our muses around, awake and inspired. Is there a path of light on the sea of serenity? Yes... often... thanks to this court of wise ones: jesters, teachers, musicians, artisans, and great healing mirrors. To this day, I yearn to bask in the light of others' reflections, the places where our templates overlap and find glimpses of synthesis, serendipity and serenity which are the flashes of light on the edge of this universe in Skyline Forest.
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I have two Granddaughters graduating from University of Pacific in May of 2011. One is a budding opera singer, the other a communications major with an interest in film. Wonderfully, both creative people, they are mutually supportive, closely sharing their lives together in the final months of school and previously with studies abroad in Italy together. Now they will go in separate directions.
As I observe their lives, they are each again about to embark in a new life phase applying for several graduate schools in different parts of the country to further advance their emerging lives and skills. They are on the edge of unknown and unlimited new possibilities waiting for notification of acceptance—they are at a Creative Edge! With so much uncertainty ahead, it is a most creative and exciting time, yet potentially difficult. There are no guarantees of success as they prepare to separate for their new ventures. That is the nature of the Creative Edge! It is the place, where with courage, we can move beyond the current known into a future unknown that is calling. However, companionship and support from others helps!
Sometimes being naive is helpful too! I see them with a youthful naiveté "trusting the process," as they must when the path ahead is so uncertain. For both of them, youthful energy, yet undaunted by many of life's pitfalls, makes it easier as they plunge ahead with support from each other and family.
At the other end of the age spectrum, I too stand at another creative edge! Having passed my eightieth birthday with reasonably good health, but decreasing physical energy, I am fully aware of life's final downward slope. Once again in my life, I too surrender to life's new possibilities and trust the process as it unfolds. Yet for me, differing from the girls, trusting the process—the creative process—requires more letting go of old expectations and old ways of coping that came from my many years of life experience.
For all of us, the practice of letting go of the old and opening to new possibilities is essential at this stage! This is the vital and often overlooked second step in the creative process—the doorway to a wellspring of new creative possibilities. It allows us to be receptive to an inner process of the third step—hearing the inspiring voices of the Muses. Inspiration is what comes from our mysterious deeper unconscious in answer to our challenges as they occur.
My life is very much like my Granddaughters and their's like mine! For all of us, we must remain unafraid and open to new possibilities as we stand at the brink of our creative edges. With welcoming support of friends, family and what ever inspiration the Muses may bring to us, we can not only survive but thrive on life's new challenges.
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Today my husband and I spent most of the day cleaning out portions of our garage. We organized, cleaned out unused items, adjusted shelves to optimize the space—chores we've been meaning to do for some time, but could never find the time. By the end of the afternoon, when we finally ran out of energy, I had a car load of items to take to the thrift store. Once that was done, I loaded up three more boxes of items to take to my place of work. These were objects that I had been saving for my own creative moments: interesting boxes, numerous picture frames, intricate shells and fascinating stones, art books and other wonderful 'treasures'.
It was an emotional roller coaster I was riding repeatedly today. With each object I pulled from the pile on my art supplies shelf, I would remember the potential that led me to keep that particular item. Here was the roll of wire that I imagined being used to make some wild figure. There was the brand new suitcase-like box that I was going to decorate for a friend. The sketch book with its pristine white pages was going to be filled with imaginative drawings and dreams, while the bowl of sea shells was going to grace one of my many found object sculptures.
With each article I picked up, I again felt that surge of possibility—what could be birthed with this? Where could my imagination lead me? So many chances to craft something from scrap materials and my own creativity—this was why my shelves are filled to overflowing. And yet today, I was continually faced with a choice—do I keep these unfulfilled dreams alive by saving that particular object, or do I acknowledge that it's time has passed? Over and over again I had to make the choice: keep it or get rid of it? Let it go to someone else, or save it for myself?
Ultimately, my decision process came down to this: knowing my time to devote to making art was limited, and knowing I would probably never have time to do all the projects that waited in my cramped garage, was I willing to let another person use these potentially amazing materials for their own art? Was I willing to release these supplies and thus admit I didn't follow through with a dream? Could I consider the chance that by surrendering these objects something even more artistically amazing would come to me?
For many of those materials, the answer was yes, I was finally willing. I wanted to be free of the weight of those unrealized dreams. The burden of unfulfilled creativity was feeling oppressive and unproductive. I wanted to believe that by letting go of material possessions something even better would become available.
It helped to know that my cherished treasures would go to the non-profit art center where I work. Time and time again I have seen the joy that comes when one of our artists finds just the right item in our found-object boxes and creates a one-of-a-kind sculpture. I've heard the participants, most of whom have limited resources, speak of how wonderful it is to have access to an abundance of art materials. I have even felt great pleasure when I see something I donated being appreciated and used in a beautiful creation.
Knowing all this didn't mean I purged every potentially useful object from my shelves—goodness knows I still have tons of supplies that could morph into artistic expressions. But I'm learning to spread the wealth around—to be a tiny bit realistic with my dreams—to acknowledge that I have other parts of my life to live and that simplifying can be satisfying. Is it time for you to release something? I did, and it feels good!
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I heard a PBS program on giving. One person called in stating that a chemical, dopamine, increases when we give from the heart. Let me trace back some dopamine moments of recent vintage.
I take you to my favorite Carmel restaurant, Sushi Heaven, within easy walking distance from the Carmel Foundation, where my Wednesday class ends at 11:30. If I pace it just right, I can walk to Sushi Heaven, seat myself at a table near the window, be served in a timely manner, and dine leisurely from my box lunch, and arrive in Pacific Grove in time for my afternoon class.
On the last day of class this December, a rainy outwardly gloomy day, I found myself eating soup, sushi, sashimi, rice and salad and drinking hot green tea. My purse held, among other items, a copy of my newly published book, in case I wanted to read it again. But, instead, I pondered my last year, and felt a warmth that matched that of the green tea, arising within. If it were to have a name, it would be called "gratitude."
A young woman arrives at the next table. I see only her back. She takes off her jacket, shakes off the rain, and hangs it on the chair next to her. She, also, a lone diner. Soon, she was enjoying her meal. As I pass her table to leave, I notice she is writing in a journal. I take the book from my purse, tell her that this will help her if she ever needs more inspiration and give it to her. She is a lovely woman, probably near the age of my granddaughter, who is in NY and will not be home for the holidays. We shake hands, and I leave after I tell her, "I feel so happy!" Although I ate a full meal, I feel lighter than when I entered the restaurant.
Fast forward a few days, I am taking three planes during the holiday season from Monterey to Hayden, an airport near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where my youngest son and his family live. As I reread my schedule, I notice only a brief time between planes on the final flight. Also, that is the last plane that evening. Arriving in San Francisco, I notice an earlier flight, and request change. Sternly, I am told, "That will be a $50 charge." I find that reasonable for the peace of mind that will present. (It's less than a therapy session, I rationalize.) The agent repeats the cost. I accept. A boarding pass is written for me and handed across the counter. "How do I pay?", I ask. The terse voice changes to softness. The harsh look melts. "Hurry, they are loading the plane now." Quietly he says, "Merry Christmas!" and with a broad smile waves me on. Dopamine again at work, for both of us, I imagine.
Returning home after my holiday, I go to the local thrift shop, a place that allows me to indulge easily in whims of my choice. I see a maroon down jacket, original tag, $125. I try it on. I look like mushroom sprouted after a deep rain. Chandra, a young woman who lives at Rippling River, a local community for people of limited income, also shopping, but about to leave empty-handed. "Chandra", I say. "Try this on." She takes off her jacket and slides into the silken lining. It fits perfectly. She asks the price. "If you like it, I'll buy it for you as a belated holiday present. You are always so gracious when we meet. I would be delighted to do that."
She pats the jacket and holds it towards her as though it were precious. "Please add that to my bill," I tell the cashier who is enthralled by the event unfolding before her. "That will be fifteen dollars, twelve for the jacket and three for two books." "I don't need a bag", Chandra says as she stuffs the jacket into her backpack. "Me neither", I say as I carry out my two books. Dopamine in full force, and my smile as broad as that of the airline ticket agent as he wished me "Merry Christmas."
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Browsing my dusty library shelves, I happened upon a well-thumbed copy of The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, by Brian Swimme. (1996) Pulling it out of the stack, and fanning through several pages, a heavily underlined passage leaped into focus:
"...Cosmology, though it is consonant with science, is not a science. It is a wisdom tradition drawing upon not just science but religion and art and philosophy. Its principal aim is not the gathering of facts and theories but the transformation of the human.. Cosmology aims at embedding a human being in the numinous dynamics of our solar system..." (emphasis is my own)
Dr. Swimme suggests that our cultural semantics is in serious need of transformation. Our language needs to better reflect our current level of scientific understanding— He offers an obvious example: "We may know that the earth is not the center of our solar system, yet we persist in saying that the sun, goes down at the end of the day. It is ... our primate perceptual habits of consciousness that cause us to see it so..." In our technological quest for producing and storing knowledge we lag in transformative processes of learning to see and feel our place in the world "in a way that is actually congruent with what is happening."
It was at this point that I began to wonder if Swimme's concepts might meld well with those I'd gleaned from Joseph Campbell's The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. If a consumerism life style reveals ones personal cosmology (Swimme) and our Artistic Vision reflects one's inner space (Campbell), might we apply their concepts, in backwards fashion, ala art historian, to our own life's work and thus reveal the substance of our own subconsciously selective cosmology?
Aside: I'm sure Carl Jung fits in here somewhere...
As a painter of visual metaphors, I've begun reexamining my last three decades of work with a new curiosity. What I'm observing is a persistently humanistic subject matter, and a major theme that begins with lone figures, lost in variations of the duality of shadow and higher consciousness, progressing in evolutionary fashion, toward a full-spectrum, integrated, collaborative collective that appears to generate its own mystical source of light. I've yet to discover any indication of a centralized gravitational force. Nor do I see any evidence of my having nailed down a Universal Truth. Instead, what I AM recognizing is a valid series of illustrations of finite dynamics; each implying a temporality that can be outgrown once recognized.
With no emphatic gravitational center, no hard edges, and no solid substance in my implied model of the cosmos. perhaps what I've been journaling with paint all this long time can be summed up with: "Life as Process." Hardly anything New. My imagery has been providing me with patty-down-the-rabbit-hole-views of transitional stages along the way of awakening to the Process itself.
I'll be the first to confess that viewing ones life's work through a lens of cosmology can be very unsettling. I do not recommend it to anyone who values a restful night's sleep. Perhaps only Transcendence offers the ultimate Truth in our quest for clarified awareness.
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