Thoughts on Creativity — Newsletter #50
A'musings #19 (Jan 2016)
Each Board Member has looked at what theme is active or has their attention, reflecting or musing on it as an artist from a creative process point of view. This is about sharing what it is to stand on the threshold of our own creative edge! It illustrates how the creative process applies to more than just making art. The creative process can be an integral part of our lives providing inspiration and direction.
by The Creative Edge Board of Directors:
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December was a "present" month.
I am not a religious person, but I am a spiritual one. The kind of spirituality I
call upon again and again is one that continually asks me to be present with what is.
It does not ask me to rise above circumstances or dis-associate from them, but rather calls me to a deeper intimacy with life and the sea of emotions, which inevitably color it. Again and again, it asks me to be gentle with my inner stirrings, to navigate through each experience, honoring my own unique process of digestion and integration, which inevitably helps me to honor others.
December was a chilling month.
Two days into our trip across country, returning from our cottage in Florida to our
home in California, we received a call informing us that our dear friend and neighbor had passed away. He had fought a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 69. We had said our goodbyes, two days before, knowing it was the last time we would ever see him, but even so, somehow some part of us clung to hope. We struggled with, "if only we had stayed on an extra two days. . . if only." Numb to the weather outside, we grew quiet as we felt the chill of our inner emotional weather.
Few words were spoken as we were attempting to navigate our craft into the heart of the inner storm while outwardly steering our vehicle westward bound on Interstate 10.
December was a shocking month.
Christmas day, at 12:30, we received a phone call from our brother-in-law. Answering with a "Merry Christmas ol' man," we heard a deeply shaken voice cry out" Ally is gone. Ally is gone. We lost her." Ally, our 5 weeks short of 2 year old grand niece, after opening Christmas packages and sitting on her great grandpa's lap, got down, walked towards the kitchen and suddenly began choking. After frantic attempts to help her and the arrival of paramedics, they lost her. This sweet little, joyful Angel died of asphyxiation and heart failure.
One hour later we received another call from our other brother-in-law telling us that my husband's sister in Florida, was hospitalized. We now know that she has stage 3 —4 lung cancer and is now undergoing chemotherapy. She is 67.
December was a sad month.
December 4th—our dear friend passed, cancer.
December 12th—my husband lost his twin brother to cancer.
Dec. 24th —my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
December 25th—Ally passed, heart failure.
Dec. 25th—my sister-in-law diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
Dec. 27th —my mother-in-law died of congestive heart failure.
December is a Soulful month
In the midst of deep reflection, our hearts aching, we are reminded what it is to be fully human. In his book "SPIRITUAL BYPASSING, When Spirituality Disconnects us from What Really Matters," Robert Augustus Masters writes,"Our Spirituality, the cultivation of intimacy with what we are, in our heart of hearts, known to be sacred or ultimate—cannot be left out of any serious consideration of what it is to be human. . . Such spirituality is not removed from the stuff of everyday life but rather pervades and illuminates it with a perspective untainted by egoic or self-serving strategies. . . Soul keeps awareness from getting desiccated or overly detached. Soul asks us to move directly into our pain, meeting it with compassion."
December is an inclusive month.
Life is beautiful, ugly, fierce, tender, tragic, joyful, frightening, loving. It can raise our spirits to wondrous heights and just as easily, bring us to our knees.
Our hearts will break, but Robert Masters reminds us that, "When a heart breaks, it breaks open and the circle of its reach is widened; its wounds only more deeply expose its love."
In the midst of the brokenness and vulnerability we have reached out to one another in ways that feel more authentic, intimate and life affirming. Death has a way of illuminating our lives, reminding us what it truly important. We are all
walking each other home, a bit torn, a bit worn. We are all, sages and fools, saints and sinners, realists and dreamers, hiders and seekers. We are all broken and whole.
We are One. Love is the glue.
We are Light and we are Darkness
And we are the flesh, be it mud or stars
Torn between the two
Yet already the One
Inseparable from the broken Many
—Robert Augustus Masters
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The Sound of Silence (revisited)
I have always enjoyed the mellifluous harmonies and poignant reflections of Simon and Garfunkel. Their song, "The Sound of Silence" is no exception. As a child, I didn't know what the words meant, but loved it, just the same.
A 7th grade teacher gave us the odd assignment of dissecting the lyrics of this song, as a group. Stanza by stanza, junior high kids were encouraged to describe what they thought it meant. In the end, the class was divided between those who thought it described a dream, and those who decided it was an analogy for dying. I found little satisfaction in either interpretation, but had no better one to offer. My subsequent attempts to come up with a more apt interpretation began to erode my enjoyment of this song.
Years later, after I'd learned that poems and art need not be representational, I was better able to let my desire to analyze this song fall, like silent raindrops, and enjoy it for whatever it was.
A few months ago, I watched "The Concert in Central Park" for the seventh time. I headed for bed after listening to the Sound of Silence, somewhat in awe after hearing that it was only the 6th song that Paul Simon ever wrote.
As is not unusual, attempts to fall asleep were thwarted by my overly active mind. I had a busy schedule planned for the following day, so by 4 a.m. I bemoaned the cruel irony of the "Sound of Silence" refusing to be silent. As I tried to quiet my mind, a satisfying interpretation of the song presented itself to me, as if a gift, of sorts.
What struck me most were analogies to aspects of the creative process. Silence, especially, took on two meanings. The first was an essential passive role, while the other a hindrance to the active. My attention at that time was drawn to the more passive element of silence—creating an empty space for recognition and germination of a creative impulse.
It is in silence that we can hear the faint calls of higher insight and/or the deeper resonance of primal vibrations. It is in darkness that we glean awareness of the sparks of inspiration, and in stillness, that these sparks may kindle, rather than being blown out.
As the new year has begun and days begin to lengthen, I've listened to the song, once more. This time my attention was drawn to the more dynamic aspect of overcoming silence. The active motion of social creation calls for breaking silence, and resisting the fate of "writing songs that voices never share."
In a world fraught with flashing, hi-def, superficial diversions, the need for artists to actualize their personal calling and bravely paint their vision and sing their song has never been more needed. The prospects of a single voice being heard through the tumult may seem daunting. It is important for the artist to resist the temptation to allow the neon gods to distract or discourage. The collective creative voice may thrive when individual artists inscribe its wisdom on any number of unlikely corners. "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls."
Subtle creative undertones are best discerned in the stillness of silence, while creative forces harness the power of change in the movement of expression.
. . . Or at least, that is the message that I heard, whispered in the sound of silence.
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A recurring aspect of former Musings was my references to dreams. I was part of a dream group led by Don for several years and participated in a Brugh Joy dream workshop many years ago. In a short dream the night before our first gathering, I dreamed that I threw salt down the driveway and watched as it turned to beads of milk that had rainbows in them. Brugh used the word "numinous." Now, years later, as he predicted, it continues to work me. Its many reverberations and interpretations have led me to ephemeral insights and glints of meaning. I wonder at how a simple dream can be infused with so many layers of meaning.
My dreaming, my searching, and my journey continue. My husband and I have been involved in one of Kathleen Sullivan's dream groups, which meets three times a month. I am realizing dreams are flashes of my soul, when simplified as metaphors, are then held in a web of my wonderment. They glisten like dewdrops embellishing the web of life with new vistas, renewed purpose, energy and even release. My body reacts with a shudder of knowing, my roots search out more unconscious terrain, my limbs reach for the fruits of wholeness. I am relaxing around shadowy resistances, fanning the sparks to ignite creative energy, coaxing unconscious eccentricities and fuzzy edges into sharper focus—building a foundation to settle the soul and free the spirit.
In a recent dream, I am assisting a ten-year old boy with an installation for a hologram. Tiny beads catch the light, to produce an abstract leopard print with a clear space in the middle. At the end, I look up to see an oceanic scene—a hologram of sea and sky with the sky as sea and the sea as sky
—yet another creation of my psyche using beads.
These beads of being find their way to touch me deeply, and connect me to a light show of metaphoric images. I enter a deep sleep and dream myself to a holistically simpler and clearer place, relaxing into a fullness that is like a hologram.
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The Miriam Webster dictionary defines creativity as "the ability to make new things or think of new ideas." It is the act of using one's imagination in new ways to solve a problem or create something new.
Jeffrey Davis, (Psychology Today, 5/13/2013), writes that creativity is the act of applying the imagination in novel, beneficial ways. Creativity is a biological and spiritual impulse that arises out of our innate restlessness to make things new, better, beautiful, and true.
Unfortunately, creativity is not honored or even allowed in many of today's schools. In Peter Gray's article, "As Children's Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity," (Psychology Today, 9/17/2002), he writes about his concerns with the decline in creativity.
During the immediate post-Sputnik period, in the late 1950s, the U.S. government encouraged identifying and fostering giftedness among American schoolchildren, in order to catch up with the Russians. The Torrance Tests were developed by E. Paul Torrance, a University of Minnesota education professor. Though most of his colleagues focused on standard measures of intelligence, Torrance chose to focus on creativity, the central variable underlying personal achievement and ability to adapt to unusual conditions.
In the most popular tests, the stimuli are marks on paper—such as a squiggly line or a set of parallel lines and circles. The task is to make drawings that incorporate and expand on those marks. The drawings are scored according to the degree to which they include such qualities as originality, meaningfulness, and humor.
Research has shown strong, statistically significant correlations between childhood scores on the TTCT and subsequent real-world achievements. High scorers ". . . tallied more books, dances, radio shows, art exhibits, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed. . ." than did those who scored lower.
For several decades we have been suppressing children's freedom and now we find their creativity is declining. Declining TTCT scores signals a "creativity crisis."
Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform that restrict children's lives today. In the real world most problems have more than one right solution, making creativity crucial to success. Our educational system assumes there is one right answer to every question and one correct solution to every problem. This system punishes children and their teachers for daring to try different routes.
One way to provide students with opportunities to learn that there may be more than one right answer is with creative problem solving. Done in small groups, it takes time to go through an often messy process and takes much longer than one person, usually a teacher, solving the problem and telling students how to do it. However, they probably won't remember that answer, but given the chance to work at solving a problem in small groups, students are more likely to understand and remember the process. They may also learn that there may be more than one way to solve problems. Learning how to work together is another benefit of small groups.
We must also provide children free time outside of school to play, explore, be bored, overcome boredom, fail, overcome failure, to do all that they must do in order to develop their full creative potential. Believing in a child's abilities, and offering choice and support will encourage a child to create.
According to Joanne Foster, EdD, play is a foundation for exploration, discovery, invention, and creativity whether you're a painter, musician, sculptor, dancer, photographer, or writer. Unstructured learning opportunities are springboards for the more structured requirements (like effort, perseverance, resilience) that are ultimately necessary to attain goals.
Parents and teachers can help children learn to trust themselves, to take sensible risks, and do what they love to do. They can encourage children to be innovative and playful with pen, paint, crayon, paper, stone, clay, musical notes, sand, or whatever medium for creativity they choose. This will empower children to want to create—fueling that initial spark with a variable mix of passion, chaos, and clarity so it can ignite and become creative expression.
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Last year I posted an article on the Creative Edge home page titled: On Finding The Value and Joy of Aging. In it are listed the 7 necessary basic tasks for conscious aging by Jane Wheelwright, a student of Carl Jung. I highly recommend it to you.
The 1st task is accepting the reality of death—death as a part of life and our journey through it. These last few years, as I pass age 85, death is a vital theme always in the background of my mind—thankfully, it's without fear. Given my age, it is highly possible that death will take me sometime in the next several years. That's a reality! I am curious, of course, of its unpredictable actual timing and what my experience with it will be. I am also reminded of the value of seeing death as a friend, not something to fear. This is particularly true if one encounters painful incurable physical problems at the end.
I feel I came into a peaceful relationship with death a little over 20 years ago, while studying in Zurich with a group of psychologists. The mysterious gift of life actually continues to be very strong in me. However, I feel the importance of being ready when my time comes, and consequently, why I am writing on this theme.
The theme of death for me is also the theme of "going home." It is the theme of returning to the mystery of our beginning—with conception and birth. Going home, has been a popular dream theme throughout my life, and now I believe it is the final theme of death—active in this recent dream:
As I walk down a path on my way home, a rocky wall tilts the path into the water of a pond. Fully dressed but unconcerned about my clothes or the water, I forged ahead holding my wallet high. Wading through to the other side, I continue down the path. Plunging through bushes, I discover to my surprise, I am at the ocean shore. Turning away from the ocean, I continue to search for another way onward toward home through houses near the shore.
For me, the interesting parts of the dream are the wallet, and the turning away from the ocean or death. In many traditions, death is across the river, or across the great ocean. Looking at "my way home" as my journey through life, home is the return to the mystery of where we come from, or death. The wallet symbolizes my identity and desire to protect it from emotions—the passage through the pond. It is also the desire to keep my identity intact ahead, as I continue on the path of life. Then finally, for me in this dream, I turn away from the final passage of death to be found by crossing the great ocean I have discovered. By calmly turning way from the ocean, and by continued searching for the path, it indicates it is not my time for death!
Toward preparing for death, significant steps have already been accomplished—with my spouse for personal matters, and with the Creative Edge Board for organizational matters. The organizational plan now in effect, is to next year hand over the helm of Creative Edge to the Vice President, my daughter Carol Mathew-Rogers. She has started an extension of Creative Edge located in Sacramento (CES), where she is already offering her own workshops. She is also sponsoring new CES workshops with other facilitators. The first is a writing workshop with Pia Spector starting in January 2016. Creative Edge prepares to live on with new life!
These steps I have taken are also a part of turning away from the strong identity I have developed, and protected, over a lifetime—adjusting to a softer more appropriate late stage identity consistent with "conscious aging!" Thus freed, I am able to live in accordance with step 7, "joyfully, playfully, and more fully present, with whatever life presents."
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Today is a glorious sunny winter day, where the brilliant light shines through the stark branches of my red maple tree, illuminating my backyard garden in its soggy splendor. I am tempted to go outside, but I know the enticement of the rays belies the truth of the temperature. It may be sunny, but it is still cold outside—a brisk 52 degrees! I elect to stay inside my warm home, yet I am caught by the mystery of the movement between two states of being. Warmth and cold, light and dark, internal and external—there is a cycle at work here that intrigues me.
A colleague recently wrote about ancient Celtic thin places, "the porous membrane 'between' what we often perceive as either/or realities, where one 'reality' touches another and an exchange takes place."* In thin places, the truth that seeming opposites are deeply related becomes apparent. They are thresholds that coexist, influencing each other in unforeseen ways.
I think the creative process generates one of those thin places—the tension between what wants to come forward and be expressed, and what it takes for such a birthing to occur. For myself, there are times when the need to create is so great that I cannot stop it from happening. The color must be splashed on the page, or the clay molded into a particular shape because if it doesn't get expressed, something isn't right; something isn't complete—it's an insistent need that must be gratified.
More frequently, though, my creative process looses energy and I never allow the vision to be born. Something halts the process. I can find all kinds of excuses—the dishes need to be done, it's time to walk the dog, my studio isn't clean enough or it simply is the wrong time of day! I hide behind the busy patterns of my daily life, not admitting that I am scared: scared that I won't successfully express what needs to be made; scared that I might bring forward some information or emotion that is uncomfortable, strange or simply so novel that life changes forever. If this creative energy manifests in my world, what is going to happen? How will I handle it? Change is frightening, even a change from an artistic idea to its actual creative expression.
So the challenge becomes how to appreciate that threshold place and allow myself to be transformed by both possibilities. When I create something, whether it is a poem, watercolor or sculpture, what can I learn from the experience? Can I let go of any critical inner voices that rise up to challenge the experience? Will I take the time to sit with my creation and let thoughts and reactions free reign? When the energy to create dissipates, what will I do? Will I take a moment to consider why I allowed it to happen? Does the energy that I thought needed to be artistically expressed need to be articulated in another way? And most importantly, can I be compassionate with whatever happens, and simply appreciate the duality of the creative cycle?
The wind starts to rattle the windows even as the sun continues to brighten my kitchen. My thoughts have rattled through me enough for one day, so it is time to move on. I look towards my studio, where paint and paper, stones and wire share space, waiting for me. Who knows what thin place will next capture my attention?
Sandra Lommasson, "Noticing the Thin Places" —Bread of Life blog 12/28/15
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Barbara Rose Shuler:
A seascape painting sent to me out of the blue started me reflecting recently on the creative influences of my childhood, especially those from my parents. I spent my early years in a community located in the wild and lush seacoast of southeastern Alaska, a frontier of fjords, snowy mountains, dense green forests, islands and spectacular inland waters. This natural setting lives within me as a permanent well of inspiration though it has been many years since my last visit.
The painting arrived last year from an estate that belonged to a woman of my parent's generation who had known them in Alaska. When she died her sons kindly contacted my brother and me wondering if we would like to have it. My mother had given the painting, her own artwork, to this family when we were too young to even remember its existence. It now hangs in my home, a marvelous part of my mom from long ago reminding me of her abundant and joyful creative spirit.
My parents shared a zeal for learning, creative projects and meeting life with a can-do, adventurous attitude. Alaskan frontier life was ideal for them and they loved it, bringing their intelligence, imagination and many skills to people and circumstances they found there.
My father, a scientist and physician, brought inventiveness to his profession, helping people heal, saving lives and taking time with his patients in a way that rarely happens in medicine today. In his personal life, he designed and built boats, invented electronic gadgets and unique household items, investigated the natural Alaskan world around him and read voraciously on all manner of subjects.
My mother, a writer and artist, produced plays and pageants, wrote poetry and books, hosted radio programs, painted Alaskan and other scenes on canvas, studied music and also read avidly. Together they were socially active and admired, I'm sure guiding stars of their community. Though for my brother and me, of course, they were just our parents.
The seascape is precious to me not only as an unexpected treasure created by my mother, but also a testimony to the life gifts received from these two souls who valued imagination, art, science, discovery and what we call here "the creative edge."
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Within eight days, one Saturday after another, I experienced concentrated tender tending.
First, there was a memorial celebration of life for my son-in-law, a man who died suddenly at the age of 44. It was held at the place business that my late husband began and my daughter carried on. Later she added her husband as a partner. Blackthorn Hot tubs and Spas in Salinas fairly recently redecorated it as a showroom of fine quality. There, about a hundred people shared sorrow and story—a life remembered came into play. My daughter fully felt the tending of all present and the grace of he who had departed.
Then, the second celebration was the following Saturday in Oakland. It was a Bat Mitzvah, a Jewish Rite of Passage, as one of my sister's granddaughters, in the presence of friends and family, celebrated her coming of age. It was the shift from childhood to womanhood for a 13 year-old girl. Her study for this event was prolonged and intense—learning Hebrew, chanting the messages of the bible, as well as preparing a speech that would express clearly her feelings. It was an essay to read aloud to those congregated in the temple.
Hannah spoke from her own heart, her desire to be of service to others as she crossed the threshold indicated by this day. She read with conviction and clarity, strong words that spoke of having a soft heart, to be of generous nature, not only monetarily, more so actively in everyday life. Smiling at others, including strangers, she spoke of being generous in feelings, dissolving judgments that might hinder connections, even briefly, to carry a sense of caring.
After the morning service, a luncheon, followed in the evening by a dinner. There the young and the old danced, no partners needed in the manner of youth with elbows akimbo and legs darting in all directions. With loud music, disc jockey broadcast, they bounced around the large room as the older adults smiled, unable to hear each other over the loudness—reconvening conversation when the music stopped.
Hannah and her young girlfriends, a bevy of teens, spent energy ignited by celebration and consuming an abundance of sweets from the dessert bar.
The events were well celebrated for myself. Two consecutive Saturdays held the rites of passage that honored both mourning and the one that announces the coming of womanhood.
Now again in the quiet of my own home, I more clearly know the circle we all travel. I am grateful for others with whom I get to share my elongated journey. I feel well tended as I tend to others.
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Louise Gray Tindell:
"My creativity is an act of my soul. I am rooted in the creativity of the entire universe. As I flow creatively, I give to others the gift of my example. . ."
"The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. . . But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment. . ."
—Thich Nhat Hanh
January—Our new roof and a new central A/C
February—"Playing on the edge." On the third of each month
March—A female family gathering
April—A family Easter party, work for the adults and play for the children
May—A wonderful massage & lunch gifted from my daughters
June—A Minnesota vacation with wonderful friends
July—Inside/Outside at Spirit in the Arts—Always a creative evening
September—A beautiful wedding at Foresthill
October—Physical Therapy for my left shoulder which I really needed
November—Asilomar Weekend with special friends & Creative Edge in Monterey
December—My Uncle Max turned 97 years old and is still going strong
January—Precious, Beautiful Rain with no flooding in our area, a double blessing
The future has always been unpredictable but it now seems it moves far too fast and with little regard as to who gets trampled by events. I have been meditating, closing my eyes, breathing in, opening my heart, letting my imagination grow into a sunny large field, relaxing, and letting go of my fears this moment. Each day I see the smallest part of me and/or see the expanded part of me.
Nana Louise is always coming up with creative and educational ideas for the grandkids. This summer I took a huge box, letting the kids paint with chalk and decorating with stickers, all over with their favorite choices. I, of course, had to cut a swinging door with a knob and cut a window on the back. The grandkids love playing in it. It is simple and yet is in continual use as they have time to themselves and stimulate their imaginations. Also, the boys love listening and talking about the books, bringing their favorites to the couch. I love it too.
We had my daughter, son-in-law, and our grandson moving in our home late September until December. We were glad to help them while they were looking for another house. They were surprised their old home sold in a week, leaving them two weeks to vacate. We all worked together and enjoyed their company. One of our grandson really enjoyed always having an adult around that he trusted and knew they loved him. When they left, we were happy to be able to open all our doors and they were happy to be in their new home, especially our grandson having his own room again.
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