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3 years ago · · 0 comments

Here’s Where Creativity Begins!

First, my dear daughter Amanda Tate‘s own brand-new daughter, Miss Emma Jane, gives us her first smile, on Christmas Day 2017…

Next, today, on what my dear brother, Simon Wolf (from Great Britain), calls Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), the little maestro offers up her very first musical creation.

I suppose this is where it all begins!

(See Tom Hanks video immediately below )

3 years ago · · 0 comments

Creating Something New with Our Lives

Oblique strategist, Brian Eno, tells us to: “Put down the brush and use your hands.”

In other words: leave the familiar for the sake of creating something new.

Creativity researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, helps us by defining 9 characteristics of truly creative process —

The external dimension centers around our: 1) setting at least some general goals we have in mind; 2) building right into the process some form of feedback about how we are doing; and 3) making sure that the challenges we face reasonably match our abilities.

He goes on to address necessary, internal elements: 4) our being focused on what we are doing; 5) our staying present-centered; and 6) our maintaining an internal locus of control (“I can do this”).

Finally, Csikszentmihalyi suggests three further aspects of creative process, ones which really are neither exactly external nor internal (or, still better, are both/and): 7) the absence of our typical sense of self; 8) a stepping out of our more normal sense of the passing of chronological time; and 9) with whatever we’re doing, it’s being done, not as a means to any end, but rather as an end in and of itself.

Back to Eno’s “putting down the brush”: today may I surrender to creative process by letting down into what Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow,” which by the way, is itself no more, no less than the very process of creativity as defined above. Eno’s “using my hands” suggests making art (or anything else creative in my life, for that matter) by consciously letting go of the conventional, and allowing for the possibility of something new to come through.

3 years ago · · 0 comments

Focus as the Key

The Indigo Bunting

by Robert Bly

I go to the door often.
Night and summer.
Crickets lift their cries.
I know you are out.
You are driving late through the summer night.
I do not know what will happen.
I have no claim on you.
I am one star you have as guide;
others love you, the night so dark over the Azores.
You have been working outdoors, gone all week.
I feel you in this lamp lit so late.
As I reach for it
I feel myself driving through the night.
I love a firmness in you that disdains the trivial
and regains the difficult.
You become part then of the firmness of night,
the granite holding up walls.
There were women in Egypt
who supported with their firmness
the stars as they revolved,
hardly aware of the passage from night
to day and back to night.
I love you where you go through the night,
not swerving,
clear as the indigo bunting in her flight,
passing over two thousand miles of ocean.

(from Loving a Woman in Two Worlds)

Danish existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote a book entitled “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.” He was writing about focus. What is it to focus on a single thing? And what has this focus to do with living a life faithful to the creative instinct?

I have reflected elsewhere about the innumerable distractions that may often arise when I am given the opportunity to actually create something new. It’s as if the human soul wants two things simultaneously: 1) to heed the call of originality, “going where no one has gone before,” and 2) to stick with what’s familiar, the tried-and-true.

Thus it is going to require an extra dose of gumption to first aim for creating something new in our lives — whether it be a single project or an entirely new career path or relationship. Second, we have to persevere in our aim, setting aside all else “to will one thing.”

I find it personally helpful to write down my objectives, both long-term and short-term. Nowadays, with smartphones everywhere, I particularly like using my ever-handy calendar as my conscience. Tracking today’s goals, broken down into bite-sized bits from a larger, overall goal, accomplishes two things. It does keep me focused on the prize, the long-term wish. But I also find that tracking each day’s progress provides needed perspective. Namely, I can actually feel my forward movement as I check off each calendar item’s completion. (Otherwise, at least for me, it can be very hard to observe gradual, day-by-day progress, “down in the weeds.”)

So it is that we build originality into our lives — both in the small things and in those greater — by committing to daily chipping away; some measure of trial, error, and adjustment; and keeping track of our overall progress.

Why not join me today in picking something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time, something that requires your breaking up the routine? Take a few minutes to separate that larger task into its constituent, smaller tasks. Commit to tackling each mini-task, a day at a time, making sure to track your progress.

I am quite sure I’ve never reached a single important goal in my life without just this kind of focus.


3 years ago · · 0 comments

Happiness: More to Do with “How” than “What”


by Carl Sandburg

I asked professors who teach the meaning of life
to tell me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss
the work of thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile
as though I was trying to fool with them.

And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out
along the Des Plaines river
and I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees
with their women and children
and a keg of beer
and an accordion.

(from Harvest Poems)

Premier psychological researcher of creative process, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, studied human happiness for decades. He discovered that simply being fully present to what is correlated more strongly than virtually anything else with what his research subjects defined as the happiest moments in their entire lives. Following directly on these studies, Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow” asserts that when we are in that specific, mind/body state — “in the zone” is how we often describe it — that’s when we all report being the most contented.

More recent findings in brain science support a view quite parallel to both Sandburg’s poem and Csikszentmihalyi’s decades of research: that happiness is not fundamentally some intricate theory about life (approached somehow through the left brain of rational thought), but rather an experience of living (accessed instead via the right brain’s “non-rational” knowing).

So whether, as in Sandburg’s poem, you like crowds or not…nature or not…families and children or not…beer or not…music or not: it matters far less what you do to gain happiness than how you engage with whatever brings you joy.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet most of us find such present-moment living, in flow, incredibly elusive.

I heartily recommend your picking up a copy of Richard Bach’s classic tale, “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.” In this timeless story, Bach depicts a character whose most radical teaching was, in essence, for all to be happy — by showing up, truly showing up in their lives. (This extraordinary “messiah” in fact courted martyrdom for bringing that simple message to audiences everywhere.)

So it is that we are given opportunity to find contentment in life — even if at times that means “turning lemons into lemonade.” This isn’t about ignoring pain or wrongdoing. (When required, do address both; but be careful about having either define you.) Ultimately, it is about folding even highly unpleasant life experience into a creative, overarching tapestry — embracing both dark and light — one which is less and less contingent on what comes our way than how we face it.

Medieval Persian poet, beloved Rumi, puts it this way:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

3 years ago · · 0 comments

Mindfulness Explained

One of the simplest definitions of mindfulness I’ve yet run across:

“Mindfulness is simply the process of noticing new things. It is seeing the similarities in things thought different and the differences in things taken to be similar.”

– Ellen Langer, Harvard

3 years ago · · 0 comments

The Goal of Goallessness

Letters to a Young Poet (Chapter 4)

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and…try to cherish the questions themselves…Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.

One of the keys to living creatively requires that we learn to tolerate ambiguity, or not knowing, even as we “trudge the Road of Happy Destiny” (from the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous).

The Christian New Testament defines “faith [as] the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” But modern poet, T.S. Eliot, cautions us to:

“Be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.”

Or to put this in contemporary, tongue-in-cheek parlance: “Be careful what you pray for…you just might get it!”

How then are we to set personal goals? Living creatively mandates that we do. But we must also learn to hold our goals lightly, staying open to them morphing into some new , unanticipated direction as a very function of our having initially committed to them.

Poet Rilke advises that we “cherish the questions themselves.” There is a kind of radical trust entailed here, one that reminds me of something my dear friend Steven admonished me with quite recently. “Bobby, we are both deeply into mid-life or beyond, and has God not provided for us to now? Yet today we decide that maybe this is time where the Universe will no longer ‘assist’ us in moving forward?” We both laughed good-naturedly at our respective lacks of faith.

So, if it is to be faith that carries me through life, then in order for my life to be original, as in living out “my original face before I was born” (from Zen), I must hold to a faith that is at least as comfortable asking the right questions as it is in zeroing in on any given answer.

I have found inspiration — in this venture of “faithless faith,” of Rilke’s “living the questions” — by means of an ancient Sanskrit word (from the Indian scripture, the Bhagavad Gita). That word?  Nishkamakarma. First introduced to this term some 35 years ago, ironically in a Christian seminary, and by that school’s founder, this ancient phrase (really) has only ever grown in importance across all the intervening years:

“To do one’s duty, with faith in God, and without attachment to the fruit of one’s actions.”

Going east on a westbound train? A performative contradiction? Or most simply, some incredible paradox?

Something exactly like all of the above. Any less of a goal, and we risk selling ourselves, and our “happy destinies,” way too short.


3 years ago · · 0 comments

Nurturing Your Creative Self

We Are Many

by Pablo Neruda

Of the many men whom I am, whom we are,
I cannot settle on a single one.
They are lost to me under the cover of clothing.
They have departed for another city.

When everything seems to be set to show me off as a man of intelligence,
the fool I keep concealed in my person takes over my talk and occupies my mouth.
On other occasions, I am dozing in the midst of people of some distinction,
and when I summon my courageous self,
a coward completely unknown to me swaddles my poor skeleton in a thousand tiny reservations.

When a stately home bursts into flames,
instead of the fireman I summon,
an arsonist bursts on the scene,
and he is I.
There is nothing I can do.
What must I do to single out myself?
How can I put myself together?

All the books I read lionize dazzling hero figures,
always brimming with self-assurance.
I die with envy of them;
and, in films where bullets fly on the wind,
I am left in envy of the cowboys,
left admiring even the horses.

But when I call upon my dashing being,
out comes the same old lazy self,
and so I never know just who I am,
nor how many I am,
nor who we will be being.

I would like to be able to touch a bell
and call up my real self, the truly me,
because if I really need my proper self,
I must not allow myself to disappear.

While I am writing, I’m far away;
and when I come back, I’ve gone.
I would like to know if others go through the same things that I do,
have as many selves as I have,
and see themselves similarly;

and when I’ve exhausted this problem,
I’m going to study so hard that
when I explain myself,
I’ll be talking geography.

(from Selected Poems)

There is an enormous challenge that arises, at least for me, most any time I engage in creative process. Or better, most any time I even contemplate opening into a creative space…

What do I mean here?

I have noticed over the past several decades of adulthood that — as much as I thoroughly enjoy the products of creativity that tend to emerge from within me, given half a chance — I am also prone to getting highly distracted, or “busy,” right on the cusp of diving deeper into a creative opening. I have (only half-) jokingly told friends and students down through the years that, faced with an opportunity to sit down and compose music or drum alone to my favorite recordings (two of my favorite, actively creative pastimes), I will, perplexingly to me, choose rather to vacuum the floors of my home, otherwise tidy up, or occupy my precious time with most anything else, as long as it keeps me away from doing what it was I thought mattered most to me, namely, giving over to pure creative process.

What gives?

I infer from my above, avoidant behavior, now well-observed over many years, that there is a kind of death that creativity asks of me. It is perhaps a “small death” (French’s “la petite mort”) to my ego-self, but one that is surely big enough to keep my creative self at bay. Notice I introduce here my “creative self.” That gets us right to the crux of the matter…

My conventional sense of self (the ego) certainly prefers its routines. My creative self, on the other hand, aims to “un-routine” things. And therein lies the fatal rub; fatal, that is, to said creative adventuring. The ego-self will stave off creativity’s “un-routining” invitation into newness at most every turn. (Which is why Carl Jung referred to the creative act as an “opus contra naturam,” literally, a “work against nature,” or going upstream against the more comforting familiarity of the ego’s conservative instincts.)

So what is it that I must do, if I am ever to let go into the creativity some significant part of me desires so much?

I’ve come to find certain times of the day most propitious. For example, I write this current post before 5 am, which though crazy-sounding, I realize, is also a time long before my conventional, far more linear mind has yet kicked in…more like the dreamtime than “daytime rules.”

I also think that forming habits or protective rituals — ones which afford me more ironclad time and space for creative emergence — also can help. If I plan a regular, sacrosanct chunk of time, say every Tuesday evening from 6-9, and disallow all vacuuming of floors during that time (!), I’ve found that such habit formation makes for a far more reliable means of actually jump-starting creativity.

But why all the fuss about creativity, the so-called “creative self,” and so on?

Several influential psychological innovators — from Jung to Abraham Maslow to Rollo May to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi* — have all pointed out that creativity, far from being a luxury, is for the human psyche a necessity, not unlike eating, drinking, sleeping, and breathing. In fact, if I wish to do more than simply physical survive (as with the prior four needs), and instead psychologically and spiritually thrive, it may well be that nurturing my creative self stands at the very head of my list of essential weekly, if not daily, priorities.

So, for today…this day: let’s all agree to put aside our vacuum cleaners and 10,000 other distractions, and engage actively, with full intention, in mother invention — creative necessity herself.