You’re an artist when you say you are.
You’re a good artist when you make somebody else feel something deep or unexpected. -Amanda Palmer
As a self described individualist taking pride in self-sufficiency, I understand the trepidation in asking anyone for help.
In 2017, I drove my flatbed truck down to Dallas, Oregon to witness the full totality of the solar Eclipse alone — or as alone as I could be.
Driving down there on surprisingly open highways, I thought “once again the media is hyping traffic problems too much, perhaps it scared people from going”.
The eclipse was a powerful experience where tens of thousands of people were all focusing on the same thing and experiencing uncommon collective awe in the magic of existence.
Afterwards I had nothing to do but head back home.
I use the lesser known navigation app “Waze” and thought I was being clever in choosing the Oregon backroads to avoid the congested interstate. It turns out “Jane” told everyone else the same thing.
As time went on and more people decided on heading back home, the winding single lane country roads — as if capillaries — were having serious thrombosis.
Stop and go traffic moved slowly for miles upon miles which made my leg sore considering my five-speed manual transmission. Eventually it slowed to the point where we were stopped for fifteen minutes at a time before moving another twenty feet. Was there a crash?
I finally got out of my truck and jogged two miles to find a four car ferry shuffling people over a small stream. I asked the man how much does it cost?
I don’t have cash. Do you take credit card?
I had to turn around after investing hours on this path.
Anyone else would have asked the nearest person for two dollars, but not me. I had too much pride to beg. I walked back in poor mood with a perturbed countenance.
Someone I had chatted with earlier while walking to the front, rolled down their window and asked what I learned up ahead. I told them my situation and they raised a questioning eyebrow while saying “well, we’ll give you the $2!” I walked the rest of the way with a springy cheer that others could not fathom in this traffic jam.
How grateful I was. And a powerful lesson in realizing we live in an interconnected society where the smallest actions can be profoundly helpful. Perhaps next time I will ask for the $2.
How many other things do I not ask for out of egoic stoicism?
* * *
Amanda Palmer has an excellent ted talk below (and new book called “Art of Asking”) which explores why many people are afraid to ask for things and how important it is for professional creatives to ask.
Asking for something exposes you to vulnerability and rejection. So we retreat into our lonely shells to avoid potential pain but end up moldering.
She presents a novel idea of working for free but asking for help. She encourages people to pirate her music but asks people to help her out. This has yielded one of the most successful music crowdfunding campaigns where she raised over ten times her original ask of $100,000.
It’s not about how to make people pay for art,
rather it’s about how to ask people to pay for art.
I want to add that there is a critical element which she doesn’t explicitly cover in her Ted talk…
When you ask for something, make sure you give something — even of simplest form. When Amanda was a street performer as a living statue, she would give a flower to anyone who put a tip in her hat.
Sometimes the reciprocation is simply authentic gratitude by telling them “Thank you so much! This helps me more than you might imagine…”
With gratitude, good fortune grows. People want to support those with real gratitude as opposed to the ungracious.
* * *
In Maria Popova’s article on BrainPickings, we are reminded that Henry David Thoreau — the man known for living alone in the wilderness in his hand-built cabin — was in fact supported by his mother and sister bringing pastries every week and how the land was given by a rich friend. Do these supporting people somehow reduce the legitimacy of Thoreau’s writings?
We romanticize struggle of the lone hard-scrabble person scratching their way to success or revelation; but it is the loving support we often fail to mention which paves the way for the greatest achievements in humanity. Behind all the heroes in history from Nikola Tesla to Picasso to Lincoln there are the unsung “Mother Teresas” quietly supporting them.
I reflect on how I claim victory for saving a nearby piece of nature from development. I was no “warrior” any more than another. I was just taking action as part of my flow. The supporting ancestors laid the foundation to where I am now. All the illuminating environmental media and books to inspire responsibility, how the canyon was previously saved from development decades ago, how my parents moved me to this area, how my neighbors gave me the letter from the city, how social media allowed me to get the word out, how my parents taught me to do graphic design, etc. etc. The people behind each of these elements are the ancestors who created divine circumstances which prompted me to take action. Most of them don’t realize they laid down the foundation for me to save the canyon and will never know they had a part. I then ask, who supported them? And who supported them? And who supported them? Who am I laying the subtle foundation of support for? This is the “butterfly effect” where we are all constantly creating realities with the simplest actions.
How my saying a simple word can change the course of reality in ways I don’t consciously realize.
When I asked people for their contact information to be part of a group,
when I asked an environmental lawyer to join us,
when I asked someone to file a freedom of information request,
when I asked the newspaper reporter to do a story,
These are all things where asking for people’s support creates the reality we want to live in.
When I read about Thoreau being supported by his mom bringing donuts, I am reminded of another donut story revealed by Jia Jiang’s TED talk “What I Learned From 100 Days of Rejection”.
Whereas Amanda‘s requests were reasonable. Jia’s were absurd. In his experiment to overcome fear of rejection, he went out of his way to be rejected.
The first time, he asked to borrow $100 from a stranger. When he was told no, he effectively ran away.
The next time he asked for a burger refill and when questioned he stayed engaged. But didn’t get a burger refill.
The third time he went to a donut shop asking for a donut shaped like the olympic symbol. It worked and the worker pieced together an interlaced five ring donut.
Besides overcoming his fear of rejection by asking for something, he also leaned to stay engaged and not “run away” when faced with repudiation. For example, asking why they said “no” to the original request usually revealed important things such as it was not him being weird, but rather they were physically unable to.
Or by mentioning their potential doubt before asking, you can overcome their resistance. “This might be weird but would you…”
I could fulfill my life dream by simply asking.
The people who change the world are the people who were met with the initial and often violent rejections. Like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or even Jesus Christ.
These people did not let rejection define them; they let their own reaction after rejection to define themselves. – Jia Jiang
Curiosity, Memory and Creativity.
For years humanity has been trying to define intelligence. Perhaps that is a mark of intelligence … trying to define intelligence?
We have epistemology which is a branch of philosophy concerning the theory of knowledge. We have IQ tests and EQ tests (Emotional Intelligence). We have the theory of multiple intelligences which is very close to giving a better picture of what intelligence is where it splits intelligence into the following categories:
While categorizing different forms of intelligence is wise to accommodate the diversity of human experience, it still doesn’t address the core elemental building blocks of intelligence.
In my experience with a variety of intelligent animals such as squirrels, crows and border collies, as well as with young children, I have found that the number one determiner of intelligence is the level of curiosity. Curiosity is usually manifested in playfulness. Or sometimes … how much trouble they get into! How much do you engage with your environment? Do you listen for the faintest sounds? How about looking at things and really observing the details? Do you smell things? Do you touch things? When was the last time you tasted something that wasn’t food?
Who does these things every second of their wakeful consciousness? Babies and toddlers. It is also at this time that we grow the most in intelligence. We are most genius when we are young children.
But in thinking of all the manifestations of curiosity, it alone means nothing without memory. Indeed when we discover something about our world or ourselves through play and then forget what we learned, it doesn’t help our useful intelligence. The intelligence of border collies is obvious when they remember complex verbal commands. The intelligence of crows and ravens is evident when they remember to use tools. Having a powerful memory is an important tool for the next element of creativity. Of course remembering language and how to use tools doesn’t happen without first a curiosity to observe of experience it.
The last leg of our stable tri-pod of intelligence is creativity. When seen in conjunction with curiosity and memory, creativity is expressed by relating divergent subjects in the mind. By creating theories and inferences. When reading someone’s body language (a Bodily and Kinesthetic category of intelligence) we can make a connection that when people cross their arms and have wandering eyes they are likely disinterested in what your talking about because of distraction, disagreeance or disrespect. We make this connection by joining the visual cue with past experience. When learning about the physical structure of mushrooms and the symbiotic relationship between mycelium and roots through the subject of botany we can also creatively ponder the potential parallels with what we know about our own brain through the subject of psychology. From there we might infer the mycelium web in the soil — which looks strikingly like the neuronal connections in our brain — acts as a brain for the botanical world. Through further research (as outlined in the book “The Hidden Life of Trees”), science has discovered this to be true; trees warn other trees to build their defenses for threats such as pests and disease. Whereas our electrical impulses travel many inches per millisecond, the electrical impulses between trees via the mycelium web travels around a third of an inch per second.
Creativity cannot happen without memory and curiousity.
These three critical elements of intelligence can be seen in their relationship to the three parts of time: past, present and future.
Curiosity is only experienced through the present moment. We cannot play or gather new information in any other part of time except the infinitely small point called now.
Memory is obviously a mental construct of the past which does not actually exist in reality except for what we recall in our mind (and the unconscious collective library [reference Carl Jung]). It is nonetheless an important element to use what we have experienced in previous present states to evolve.
Creativity is analogous to the future. It it is a powerful tool to transform multiple memories of what we have experienced into new methods / ideas / actions.
The past is about what happened, the present is what exists in experience, and the future is infinite potential. Creativity lies in the realm of infinite potential.
Through the act of creativity we are existing in a state of presence and indeed being playfully curious and thereby creating new memories of which will spawn new creativity to be experienced through presence which will create new memories and so on and so forth is the cycle of intelligence.
How children learn language through mere osmosis illustrates their genius. The next question is why does our intelligence — as defined by my three foundational elements — seem to fade as we transition out of young childhood? Many people would say it is because our brain becomes less plastic. But I contend that it is our societal paradigms that shut down curiosity … the first step of intelligence. Sometimes when children ask questions their inquiry is not honored and as this happens they begin to ask less questions. Children who explore are often told that it is too dangerous to venture that far. Climb a tree then be told to get down. Draw on the wall then be told to stop that. Dig a hole in the yard for it to be filled. Acting weird then told to be normal. Singing and told they can’t sing. Playing piano and told to play it quieter. Dancing and told they look foolish. The antidote to the erosion of curiosity is the encouragement of playfulness and exploration. To give them a non-judgemental sounding board to tell their story and cement in their memory the powerful experiences of curiosity to serve as the stemcells of creativity.
The Unification Of The Three Elements of Intelligence
Meditation serves as a reset to our intellectual system. What often happen is we get bogged down with cyclic unnecessary thought patterns and paradigms. It is rigid programming which cripple curiosity by trivializing introspection, play and meditation. It disables creativity because we tell ourselves that we are not creative or good enough. And it doesn’t make room for new memoirs that could prove old biases wrong. Through meditation we can observe and deal with these harmful thoughts and paradigms by focusing on being the observer and consciously shedding light on the parts of our mind which are normally obscured.
An exercise to get in touch with your inner genius is to envision yourself as a child. What do you as a child do? Look up and look down. Look near and look far. Observe the functions of your body starting with your breath and heart rhythms. Touch … everything. Listen as if a dog waiting for it’s beloved human to come back home. Taste the leaves on trees, the grass, your hair, the air. Smell the scents and aromas seeing if you can directionally locate the source. Approach life with full sensuality as if reality itself is your lover.
Then tell your story to a compassionate loved one. Perhaps a good friend or mate. If you don’t have someone you trust enough to expound on your sensualization of life then write it down at length describing all the details leaving no stone un-turned. Telling your story helps commit experience to memory.
Then enter a state of no-mind. Go for a walk, sit in silence, pick up a musical instrument, hold a pen on paper, dip a brush in paint … without expectation observantly exist. Creative insight will organically spring forth as does the emergence of migratory birds acting as one or as rippled patterns on the beach. The key to creative success is to not force, doubt or expect anything. Intention is good though. Intention to prioritize time for creativity. Intention to solve a problem. Intention to make music. But no expectation.
What Is Wisdom?
Wisdom comes from intuition; a deeper part of consciousness. Something so deep that is drops out the bottom of our consciousness and joins all other consciousnesses. It is what Carl Jung refers to as the collective unconscious, what I call the collective library of experience, and what some people call the Akaishic record or some other variant of the term. Wisdom is instinct. It is not learned but rather accessed. The level of access is dependent on how clear the channel or strong the connection is. When we get out of our mind and understand that our essence of existence is as the observer (something that exists even without thought or action), then we can more easily access wisdom.
Creativity is a beautiful third element or equinox between intelligence and wisdom. Creativity pulls from both our personal intelligence (curiosity, memory, creativity) as well as the deep wisdom that transcends our separateness. When doing improvisational music, it is true that I am using a certain amount of memory and curiosity, but I feel there is also an element of pulling from something that is beyond me.
If intelligence is a three-sided pyramid, wisdom is the space around the pyramid. Or perhaps the bedrock under the structure.
Wisdom transcends all elements of intelligence. For example, divining with a dousing rod for water in the ground is something which does not entail memory, creativity or curiosity. Having a gut feeling about someone transcends intelligence. The way animals intuitively know what plants heal is wisdom. Having a synchronistic feeling at the same time as a distant friend across the world transcends intelligence.
What do we do with this understanding of intelligence and wisdom?
Once we begin observing and understanding these things we can grow our intelligence and expand our channel to wisdom leading to a more effective and harmonious life. We can remove the blocks to curiosity, utilize tools to increase memory and allow ourselves to be creative. We can learn to identify the states the are more conducive to wisdom flow and prioritize those states more often.
Transmutation is the action of changing or the state of being changed into another form. To put it another way, it is the alchemy of converting lead into gold.
Pain is inevitable in our life. We all experience pain in some form or another. However pain can be toxic to our spiritual and physical selves. One of the best ways of relieving yourself of pain is to write … and then write some more. Writing often takes the pain literally out of you and onto paper. Often when we remove the parasite of pain through writing we can look at it for what it is and often find it so trivial that it vanishes.
However there are some pains that are so entrenched that even extensive writing is no remedy. I recently experienced pain in the form of grief, sadness and anger over the destruction of a natural area of which I considered a sacred place where I derived much wisdom at an early age and throughout my life. Hearing and seeing the daily bulldozers and rock-crushers demolish a sacred mountain of which I view as family was too much for me to handle. Overwhelming pain caused a negative change in my body which manifested in physical issues such as grinding the teeth to inflame wisdom teeth and having bad accidents while working.
What was my solution?
To channel this destructive energy into something productive. To make this bad thing in my life a catalyst for something good. One of the most influential and positive things in my life was that I was unschooled and given freedom to explore the subjects that I wanted to learn. I remember this would have never happened if it wasn’t for a horrible fourth grade teacher which caused me to become so depressed my parent’s took me out of school.
Likewise for the pain of the destruction of wild-lands, I channel this energy into being a catalyst to learn environmental law. I bought myself a stack of environmental law books and enrolled myself into an online course. Knowledge is power and every time I get a twinge of painful anger I direct it into learning environmental law. I went from being disempowered to becoming empowered. If you transmute pain well enough you even become grateful for the cause of your pain. Grateful that it acted as such a catalyst for positive change in your life.
While on the topic of transmutation, we can also transmute sex energy. Sex energy is simply creative energy. This creative energy is one of the most powerful spiritual “compounds” that propels us through life. It is what can create the most beautiful and harmonious things as well as be the source for war and destruction. Too often this creative energy becomes stagnant, builds and causes issues if is repressed / suppressed. It is the equivalent of a pressure vessel full of steam with no outlet. It will cause destruction whereas if harnessed properly it can drive an entire locomotive. The key to a most fulfilling life is to not suppress this energy but to cultivate it and channel it into a variety of creative outlets. Often the act of being creative brings forth even more creative energy to use. Beyond making love with a loving partner, using spiritually fulfilling ways, we can also channel this energy into other creative outlets:
Let it all out and “Die Empty”. At the end of life, will the unexpressed stories / ideas / art / dance within your mind die with you? Or will you express all that is within you?
The more you flow and more you can.
In our modern age of robots, machines and computers taking over every task that humans have toiled, we must begin to to ask ourselves … what can humans do that machines cannot? What is the value of humanity?
Victor Frankl says our last human freedom is our ability to choose how we respond to external stimulus. This is something that no person or condition can take away. Not even a Nazi prison camp.
I also say that our last human VALUE is our ability to be creative. This is something that no external mechanism can replace.
I believe that creativity is that last human asset. Creativity in it’s many forms … visual art, dancing, music, theorizing, poetry … is something that transcends logic, linear thinking and potentially even the localized self. No computer can ever create the same way as humans.
Many politicians talk about how we need more jobs; however the jobs of the yore are not coming back. Over a hundred years ago we had the career of the “lamplighters” who lit the kerosene street lamps. But with the advent of new electric lights, this job was quickly made irrelevant. We are seeing the story of the lamplighters being played out across industries today.
This is ultimately a good thing (once again “bad” things being a blessing in disguise) because it forces us to shift towards the last remaining thing that can never be replaced … creativity.
As a successful large-scale steel sculptor, I have learned tools and methods to cultivate creativity. This also includes how to enter the “flow state” which is the present state-of-mind of which insight is spawned.
With the remaining time, I want to cover two broad subjects: How to cultivate creativity and how to be effective in it:
We are all given the paradigms of what the world is and who we are at an early age. We can spend our entire lives trying to overcome these paradigms. Some things people have heard are criticisms of their own creativity which therefore shut down any further expression as well as phrases like the “starving artist” or “you only make money as an artist when you’re dead”. These are toxic concepts which create failure. How do we address these belief systems?
Self-awareness is the flashlight in the darkness of unquestioned paradigms. Prioritizing time throughout the day to become present and observe our reactions to external stimulus as well as watch our own thoughts is key to realizing where these belief systems came from. Once we have identified self-limiting programming we are able to dissolve it with the following…
The power of visualization.
Visualization which is the ability to sense things in our minds … the ability to daydream, recall a musical composition, choreograph dance, see colors on canvas, feel softness of a pet all in the mind. Visualization is the stem cell of creativity. Powerful people from Olympic athletes to CEOs use visualization to see their goals before actually manifesting it in reality. But the kings of visualization are those who use it for creative endeavors. Let me explain one of the most powerful times you can use visualization…
Hypnagogia is the transitory state between wakefulness and sleep. This is a powerful time of visualization because disparate parts of your brain begin talking with each other. Your normal logical mind full of paradigms of what “should be” begins to quiet but is still active enough to consciously guide the other parts of the brain in constructive visualizing. One thing about this hynagogic quasi-dream state is you often forget by the next morning which leads me to the next tool…
The importance of writing.
How many times have you had such a good idea that you didn’t need to write it down because you thought you would remember … and then forgot?
This happens to me all the time and I have learned my lesson … Write down everything.
Let me give a metaphor, your brain is like a small desk which can only have three pieces of paper visible at anytime. If you need to look at anything else, you need to file away one of the papers in order to make room for the other information. Writing allows you to expand your desk so you are able to look at dozens of papers. In essence writing is an extension of the brain. Writing does two things. First our minds often are filled with worries, tasks and thought-loops which bog down our brains and disable us from entering the flow state of creativity. Writing allows our minds to relax from thinking about it by putting these things outside of ourselves onto paper. Secondly, writing coalesces the nebulous, an important element of being effective.
Many creative people have trouble getting past the state of day-dreaming and actually manifesting their dreams in reality. This is where coherence comes in. A 60w lightbulb only dimly lights a room whereas collecting all of those photons into a single laser beam gives enough power to cut through steel. This is what I call “coalescing the nebulous” and is the single most important aspect to becoming effective at turning creative visualizations into reality. Besides writing, we must focus our efforts with perseverance and organization to manifest our creations.
Living a balanced life.
The effective creative person must learn how to balance themselves. The past is what we evolve from, the present is where we create and the future is what we plan. Many of us tend to focus on one of these more than the other. Having an imbalance here leads to stagnation and spinning one’s wheels. Likewise it is important to balance productivity versus production capability. In other words, taking time from work to sharpen the saw … but also not perpetually “sharpening the saw” either.
Ritual and routine.
One of the ways to actually bring these diverse tools practically in our life is to create daily rituals preferable in the morning and at night. For example writing three pages of anything and everything that comes to mind first thing in the morning will go a long way to resulting in a more focused day. Taking time to intentionally visualize right before sleep can result in the answers you have been looking for. Going for a daily walk as a form of meditation is another way of which to derive creative sustenance and self-awareness.
Meaning and authenticity.
Your creative endeavors should come a place of authenticity. Not so much thinking of what is commercially viable but rather what feels right to you. Remove all restrictions from creative endeavors and that is how you find new solutions, genres, and concepts to make a better world.
Why Are You An Artist? What Drew You To Your Craft?
I am an artist for three reasons. Truth, Freedom and Expression.
Art is one of the truest forms of expressing the deepest truths of our existence. Whereas in normal prose, we understand through logic and superficial consciousness; in art we understand such abstract concepts like emotion, human archetypes, belonging, interconnectedness, curiosity, etc at a deeper level of knowing. Art serves to remind us what we already know but often forget.
In terms of freedom, being an artist allows me to do as I wish without normal constraints of others jobs. I am free to go for a hike anytime. I am free to dress the way I want. I am free to speak however feels right. In the art world, there is acceptance of the eccentric unlike any other field.
And finally, art allows me to express myself. It allows an outlet for my emotions. Art allows my river of consciousness to be uninhibited. I believe creativity is the highest form of human expression.
Now let’s talk about why I am specifically a sculptor. The three dimensional nature of sculpture creates a gravity that cannot be ignored. Sculptures create and modify the literal space we inhabit. I have a particular penchant for large-scale public sculpture because of the accessibility to all. I believe it improves the quality of life for all people who interact with it by providing speed bumps to our normal hustle and bustle in the linear world of concrete and boxes. To lift people’s eyes from their phones. To encourage curiosity. To suggest there is still mystery and magic in the world. Public art breaks up monotony and therefore creates a crack for the seed of organic thought and self-awareness to sprout roots.
My sculptures become landmarks in people’s experience and consciousness. The child growing up passing my sculpture on their way to school has been imprinted with it by the time they are an adult. The young friends who meet at my sculpture and go on to get married have their experience marked by it. The business person who walks by my sculpture during their lunch hour has it in their heart. In nature, we often have landmarks to go by such as hilltops, rivers and trees; but in cities we have public art which serve a comparable purpose. The sculpture enters the sub-conscious of people’s experience and I hope it inspires positivity, a fertile curiosity and a heightened awareness.
I choose steel as my medium for it’s fluid malleability and easy translation into large scale.
What Is The Mission Of My Craft?
My purpose in life is to make the world a better place. I believe art can speak the deeper universal truths. I intend for my sculptures to inspire curiosity in people and to derail people, even if momentarily, from their tracks of normalcy. To create space that provide an excuse for people to stop, breath, look around, listen and become aware of both the inner and outer worlds.
What Is The Most Satisfying Aspect Of Your Art?
My art is my progeny. They will outlive me to go on to tell stories. They will go on to reproduce their purpose of creating inspiration. The most satisfying part of my art is not intrinsic within the piece, rather is in the hearts and minds of people who experience my art. Knowing that my art elevates our living environment and has a positive effect on people’s lives is the most fulfilling part of my career. I make art for humanity.
What Is The Greatest Challenge Of Being An Artist In Your Genre?
The greatest challenge is being a steel sculptor is procuring the tools and space to work. My paintbrush and palette in sculpture is the welder, angle grinder, plasma cutter and other tools. I began my tool collection at 14 years old when I had a job as a dishwasher at a local wine and jazz club; I invested all my money into tools. Having the space to house the tools, materials and work-area can be a challenge. For many years, I have fabricated outside in all the elements: wind, snow, rain, freezing to 120 degree heat.
What Recommendations Do You Have For Aspiring Artists?
One must be devoted to one’s art to an obsessive degree. Spend hours immersed in art. Thinking about art. Creating art. Drawing ideas. Practicing. Strive for your own definition of perfection.
To be successful, you must coalesce chaos into form. I believe inspiration exists in an etheric un-defined state. Our consciousness can witness it, but is up to us to manifest reality from the nebulous cloud of inspiration. Think of a laser focusing light into a cohered beam enough to cut steel.
Not to be confused with devotion, by immersion I mean being enveloped in the art world. Go to art galleries, talk with other artists, visit art museums, study the artists you like, read books on art, write about why you do what you do. Likewise, you become like those you hang out with. Choose your friends and environment wisely.
Sleep is often underrated in our society that rewards self-denial to attain greater goals. Getting at least eight hours of quality sleep will reward your creative inspiration and productivity immensely. Sleep cleans the brain of toxins that would otherwise lower our intelligence and stamina. Sleep also puts the mind in an important dream state that make sense of existence at the sub-conscious and un-conscious level.
I have experienced burning the candle at both ends and ending up with adrenal fatigue. It took me a full year to recover. Since that time, I now spend more time maintaining the “machine”.
Be authentic in what you do. Be honest. Maintain integrity. And create from a space that fulfills your heart. Express yourself in an empowered way that makes you alive and abuzz with ecstasy. Do what makes you want to dance. Don’t let others dictate your path. Always ask yourself first, “What do I want?”
In the book “The Artist’s Way”, the author presents the concept of morning pages. That is where you write three pages of anything and everything that comes to your mind the first thing in the morning before you do anything. This clears the mind of nagging thoughts and worries that bounce around in our consciousness throughout the day and act like having too many applications up on your computer. It bogs us down. I often find that the process of simply writing out a problem or question in detail, reveals the answer. Writing is a form of meditation.
Speaking of computers, it is best to limit our use of technology. Studies have shown that the mere presence of a turned off smart phone reduces our intelligence including emotional intelligence. Technology provides distraction on what would normally be uninterrupted focus. Here are some recommendations to break the addiction to devices that sell your attention to companies. Turn off your phone at night. Avoid reaching for the phone to check in during the morning. Remove social media applications on your phone which push notifications and track your every move. Turn your screens into greyscale to be less attractive. Log out of accounts each time when you are done. Turn off the computer before you walk away. Tell people to call you instead of text.
We came from nature. We derive sustenance from nature. Nature has been shown to relieve stress and provide inspiration even in the darkest times. Walking in nature washes away the haggard dust of civilized life to remind us of our deepest truths. Nature is the epitome of art, freedom and creativity. In nature we are content. Nature charges our batteries of consciousness. Prioritize nature.
Erik Satie is an under-appreciated french pianist from the 1880’s who composed music unlike any other. This unsual music reflects the peculiar man behind it. Satie would only eat white foods, carried a hammer for self-protection, had a thing for umbrellas and was ridiculed as a less-than-diligent pianist in the conservatory.
In listening to his music, we are taken to a melancholic and introspective space within the mind.
When I close my eyes and allow his popular Gymnopedie No. 1 to infuse my consciousness like tea leaves in hot water I am taken to a world that is always rainy with grey clouds. I look out my windowpane to see a young girl dressed in color walking a dog while holding an umbrella … A sense of connection with unattachment. The flowers outside my window enjoy the rain. But there is a loneliness to this mental space the music creates. There is a sense of loss coupled with an acetic independent hope. A dichotomy of a silent mind with introspection. A balance of melancholy with contentment. There is a sense of growing age that makes you look upon your years in retrospection. Furthering the dichotomy is the sense of static micro-centric time while the broader world continues on with the irregular ticking of a loping antique clock.
What once was and what will be.
In listening to his Gnossienne, we are taken to an equally rainy world. A place where deep introspection takes place. Our mind meanders through a dreamy space where we see the archetypes of humanity from the soft to the hard. In most all of Satie’s work we feel the push and pull of polar dichotomies. As we drift and flow we scale peaks and descend into valleys. We feel a melancholy angst of loss. Perhaps this reflects his potentially tormented heart from the early relationship dissolution with his one and only love in life. We can feel this heartbreak as we project our own losses onto the experience of the music.
In the age of machines, robots and computers replacing human tasks with greater efficiency, economy and effectiveness, we are left to ponder with posthuman angst…
What is left for humans to do? What is the value of humanity?
My answer to is creative expression. It is debatably the only thing that a computer or machine cannot do.
So let’s examine how we can cultivate this incredibly valuable resource.
Creativity comes from a place of acceptance, going with the flow, having an open mind and being in a state of reception. Consequently we were in our most creative bliss while in early childhood. It was a time when we didn’t have perceived limitations, self-imposed rules and concrete paradigms. We were open to all potentials … even imaginary friends and fairy tales.
But over the years well-meaning parents, friends and teachers told us how how things “should be”. About what we should and shouldn’t do. About what is real and isn’t real. About having “realistic” perception. We even heard jokes about how artists don’t make money till after they die. Or about the over-used phrase of the “starving artist”. All of these things from the collective society programmed us to “fit in” better and be a good citizen, but dimmed our light bulb of creativity.
The first thing to do in order to cultivate creativity is to realize and address self-limiting belief systems. If you believe you are not very creative, you must eliminate that paradigm in order to become creative. If you believe you can’t be extremely successful as a professional creative you must erase this in order to attain success. Our thoughts create our reality. Even outside of the new-age philosophy of “Law of Attraction”, there is a psychological phenomenon called “confirmation bias” where we look for and remember the things that confirm our beliefs while disregarding and forgetting things which are contrary to our beliefs. Indeed this confirmation bias even happens for negative self-limiting belief systems.
Self-awareness is important for identifying our limiting beliefs. Mindfulness can help us observe the thoughts crossing our mind like clouds in the sky. With regular introspection, we can label what thoughts are helpful and what are not; in so doing we can begin replacing the negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Some of these positive affirmations can seem elementary such as “I love and accept myself”, but are nonetheless powerful to the sub-conscious. Since we are talking about the sub-conscious, it is important to support these intentional thoughts with emotion because emotion is the language that percolates into the depth of sub-conscious. Feel the happy, bright, light feeling when you are confident in yourself and excited about new potentials.
Much like reprogramming self-limiting belief systems, we must also give ourselves permissions to break rules, be wild and go with the flow. I have gone to a variety of creative and esoteric workshops where the main gist is to create an environment where people can finally be free to express themselves. Indeed with conscious awareness we do not need other people to give us permission, rather we can give ourselves the freedom. I suggest creating a time and space everyday where you are alone and can express yourself however it feels right. This can include painting, drawing, dancing, singing and writing among other things.
Speaking of writing; recording your thoughts with pen and paper is one of the most powerful actions you can do towards cultivating creativity. According to the book “The Artist’s Way”, a wonderful way to start the day is to do something called “Morning Pages”, where you hand write three pages of anything and everything that is on your mind. This is completely unfiltered with no intention of having anyone read what you have written. With morning pages you write without regard to grammar, spelling or composition because those restrictions slow down the recording of pure stream of consciousness. Writing down all the stuff that bounces around in our minds does two things; releases them from the mind and allows us to look at them more objectively. By recording your thoughts outside of your mind, you are able to let go of all the chattering superfluous thoughts in the brain which slow down creative reception. The reason why we often think of the same thoughts over and over again is the brain’s attempt at remembering what it deems important … even if it’s as mundane as a song you heard on the radio. Writing gives our minds permission to let go of trying to remember all these things. It also allows us to view our questions and issues outside of ourselves. In other words writing –which is the the process of externalizing the inner world — allows us to objectively view the problem. Indeed half the problem is simply wording the question correctly. It also transforms often ephemeral angst into something more concrete. Let me explain further … Have you ever had a day where you just were in a funk? Things just didn’t feel right and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. You hit all the red lights while driving. The checker at the grocery store was slow. The weather wasn’t good. You spilled your coffee and stubbed your toe. It’s only when you start asking yourself the questions necessary to verbalize what you are feeling when you can identify the root of the problem. This makes what was hazy feelings into solid words which allows us to look at and solve it externally. Most of the time, I begin writing about something that is bothering me where I don’t know the solution, but by the end of several pages I discover to the answer because I was able to understand the situation better.
Moving on, let’s talk about another dichotomy of balance needed towards cultivating creativity … The balance between striving towards excellence and the paralysis due to perfectionism. I believe our society has become lax in striving for excellence. In the era of twitter and texting, our forms of communication has become elementary. People go to grocery stores with pajama pants. Newscasters have become more like reality TV than formal orators of information. And comedy has been reduced to base overt crassness as opposed to interwoven subtle complexity. I believe the many ills of our modern society is partly a result of the lost pursuit of excellence. Having said that, too much perfectionism can disable us from doing anything. This can be seen in the phrase “I will do ______ when….” or “if only ________, then I will…” or “I’m not good enough for _______”.
To give more specific examples, we might tell ourselves the following:
This paralysis of perfectionism also relates to other non-creative areas of life:
Creativity flows best when we do not fear mistakes and accidents. Creativity comes from the exploration of the unknown.
Imagine a magical forest with mysterious creatures, plants and crystals yet to be discovered. There are no maps or laid out paths. You can choose either to be the person who perpetually prepares to make the expedition perfect but never actually accomplishes the dream, or you can be the brave person to just do it and learn as you go. You could also call this improvisation … another synonym for creativity. The most successful and creative people are the ones who foray into the unknown depths of experience and make due with the skills, tools and circumstance they have right now … they do not wait for the proverbial weather to be perfect. The most effective creative people invite accidents and rejection as learning experiences to evolve and improve from.
Visualization is one of the most powerful tools for creative reception. We all know how athletes who visualize their performance prior to the actual event do better than those who don’t. With visualization we are able to improve kinesthetic, social, health and creative performance.
A swimmer can visualize the arm strokes and feeling of enveloping water as they glide through the laps.
A stand-up comedian can visualize telling their stories and how to react to different crowds.
A sick person can visualize themselves healthy to activate the very real healing abilities of the placebo effect.
And the creative person can visualize the invention, painting, choreography or phrasing before actual physical manifestation.
Visualization or “day-dreaming” is yet another thing we need to give ourselves permission to allow. Once I prioritized time to visualize without restriction, I found the world within my mind’s eye, including dreams, became more vivid and powerful. As our inner world becomes more vivid, our outer world follows.
I consider visualization a form of meditation because I define meditation as coherent thought. We are meditating whether we simply observe our thoughts like clouds passing in the sky or focus on a specific thought-feeling.
For greatest clarity, insight and well-being we must maintain our consciousness as we maintain our bodies. Two simple habits to bookend our day is to spend twenty minutes in the morning writing and spend fifteen to twenty minutes visualizing and meditating before bed. Speaking of going to bed, I want to highlight a powerful twilight state of consciousness which is a powerful time for creativity…
Hypnagogia is the transitional period between wakefulness and sleep. It’s a powerful time for creative insight.
We actually experience REM like sleep states right before real sleep and can enter a lucid dreaming type state. I have also learned there is extrinsic and intrinsic thought. Extrinsic thought is reason and logic where neurons fire with other neurons that are close by. However intrinsic thought is feelings and intuition where neurons fire with distant neurons in the nether regions of the brain. Intrinsic thought is achieved during sleep and the twilight zone between awakeness and sleep. The twilight zone is a blend of theta and alpha brain waves. So next time you can’t sleep at night, try asking yourself questions.
Speaking of such, let’s talk about how sleep is yet another important tool to cultivate creativity. Obviously the brain is the organ of creativity, so we know that creative ability is tied to brain performance. Sleep is critical for brain performance because it is when the brain flushes out toxins. One of the main neuro-toxins flushed out is something called beta-amyloid which forms brain plaque. Indeed sleep problems are dementia and alzheimers because of the lessened time spent cleaning the brain.
Referencing the article “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds” in the Wall Street Journal, the average iphone owner interacts with their phone 80 times a day which equates to 30,000 times a year.
Applications, social media and devices sell your attention to advertisers. The more they can get you addicted to “engaging” with their service or product, the more money they make. They employ the same psychological manipulation as casinos; giving small rewards that cause a spike of dopamine thereby getting us addicted. But unlike many addictions, we have convenient and seemingly legitimate arguments as to why we must keep getting the “hit”. We use it for keeping in touch with loved ones, accessing information online, scheduling meetings on our calendar, waking us up in the morning and communicating with clients among a thousand other uses.
Researchers are showing us that our recent reliance on smartphones is negatively affecting our productivity, intelligence and socialization. One study shows that when people hear their phone ring or vibrate their blood pressure and heart rate increase while problem-solving skills decline as our focus is further diluted.
The most damning of studies showed the mere presence of a smartphone negatively affects how well we perform on intelligence tests. The proximity of the phone was directly connected with the performance of focus and thinking. They also found that people who have become most dependent on their phones were the ones most negatively affected by the proximity experiment.
Another study found that students who didn’t bring their smartphone to class scored a full letter grade higher than students who did bring their smartphone.
Smartphones are making social interaction broader while less deep. With face-to-face interactions suffering the most. “The mere presence of mobile phones inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” The downsides were strongest when “a personally meaningful topic” was being discussed.
Indeed “Imagine combining a mailbox, newspaper, TV, radio, photo album, public library and boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object”.
Makes for an irresistible substance on par with heroin.
Here are some tips to break the technological chains….
Get a landline phone with “Link2Cell”. Link your cellphone to the base station via bluetooth and only have the secondary receiver in your office or main place of occupancy. This allows you to have the critical functionality of the phone while removing the tempting applications and notifications that only distract from the important things in life.
I have installed a call blocking app which sends everyone to voicemail. I do not tolerate interruption in the precious awareness what I am doing. The only people I’ve whitelisted are people who might call me in a medical emergency.
Avoid carrying your smartphone on you. Put it out of visual sight. Referencing the above study, the closer your phone is to you the more the brain drain.
Another great way of maintaining presence in reality is to keep your phone in your car while running errands. Whether we are in-line at the bank, grocery store or appointments, we so often mindlessly stare at our phones and completely ignore the other human beings around us, thereby missing opportunities for connection, networking and opportunities.
Avoid responding to texts immediately. When you do, the other person will likely respond immediately, then you will have respond immediately and now you are stuck in a clunky attention sucking conversation loop, once again pulling you away from more important things. By responding 30-60 minutes later, that’s 30-60 minutes of extra focus and an avoidance of a trivial conversation. If someone needs to talk urgently, tell them to call you. Phone calls relay more information in less time with less chance of miscommunication compared to text.
Avoid unnecessary apps and do regular purges of apps you don’t use. This reduces distraction and also protects your privacy since many applications clandestinely surveil. A prime example, of an unnecessary application is the “Facebook Messenger” app. You can access facebook from the browser which limits push notifications and privacy issues. Whereas with the facebook app, they will constantly remind you of notifications and to sell your precious focus. While you can’t send messages on your phone without the application — let’s face it — there are few conversations on facebook that need instant response. Get to it when you have access to a desktop. Once again, remind people that if they want a quick response just call. Also email is always preferable to facebook.
Set a technology schedule. Turn off or completely silence your phone at least a half hour before going to bed. Nothing disrupts our precious circadian rhythms than getting a notification right when you are about to fall asleep. Not to mention the blue light of the screen that tricks the primal body that it is midday. Upon waking in the morning, avoid grabbing for your phone to check email, facebook and other notifications. Use a real alarm clock instead of your phone to avoid tempting dependence. You have just spent hours away from technology in a technology fast; make sure you break that fast with awareness. Starting the day right with clarity and focus is enhanced by a combination of writing three things we are grateful for, going for a walk, reading something inspiring (not the news) or writing down stream of consciousness thoughts.
Avoid reliance on the convenience of the smartphone. There is no doubt that there are some very useful features on our smartphones. Calendar, notes, calculator and flashlight to name a few. But every time we access these useful non-inherently-distracting tools we are are tempted by distraction inducing social media and “fun” apps which we invariably check in on after using our useful ones. Instead keep a small planner like this one…
…which fits in your pocket or purse without notice, you can always transfer your appointments to your cloud calendar but this breaks the chain of reliance and distraction. Keep a notebook or piece of folded paper for taking notes. Multiple studies have shown that taking notes longhand makes for better retention of information than using a phone or laptop. It’s also faster, will never crash or run out of charge. Great excuse for buying nice pens too!
Make sure you sign out of websites and applications which distract. When we impulsively go to “check in”, we encounter an extra step of logging in which can snap us out of habitual reflex and remind us to not give our precious time to this superfluous brain drain. This is very a effective damper on convenient distraction.
As for using technology to reduce distraction, I recommend installing an application called “Rescue Time” on all your devices which will measure how much time you spend doing productive and unproductive things. The statistics can be insightful and provide reminders of just how much time-wasters certain things can be when culminated over months and years.
Sometimes we hit a mental roadblock in our day. Perhaps we lack inspiration or motivation. Perhaps the mind becomes foggy and we are just drawing blanks for answers. The ubiquity of this lack of mojo we encounter in our day can be seen in such phrases as “writer’s block” or the “3 o’clock slump”. Instead muddling through or staring at your work in a trance, take a 5 minute break. Get up and go for a walk. This gets blood flowing and provides a change of scene which can be enough to nudge the boulder of momentum over the hump. Or try laying down, closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. This puts the brain in a different wave state and can once again nudge that boulder the right way. This 5 minute break can extend up to 15 minutes without becoming an excuse to just avoid work and is justifiable in our haste modern schedules.
Many successful creative companies are realizing the value of this and encourage their creative people to take breaks, play and chill out. These people know that the increase in morale, inspiration and motivation leads to more effective creativity. Would you rather have 2 hours of 100% productive happy imaginative effective work or 8 hours of 10% productive dull unimaginative uneffective work?
Having opportunity to play, walk and meditate for small intervals throughout the day enables the ultra-productivity to flourish.
Writing is one of the most powerful exercises for gaining clarity, focus, insight and creativity.
This is detailed in the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, where she describes the effective daily habit called “Morning Pages”. Morning Pages is where the first thing you do every morning is hand-write three pages of anything and everything that comes to your mind without regard for spelling, grammar or composition and no fear of anyone else reading it. Some might call this stream of consciousness. This is extremely effective for finding clarity and creativity.
Writing down your inner thoughts and feelings does a couple things…
Releases incessant thoughts from the mind by relinquishing the burden of the mind from remembering them. Both good and bad thoughts repeat themselves in our mind in an attempt to make sure we remember whatever it is the sub-conscious mind deems important. By recording these thoughts on paper, our mind can let go since we know it is recorded outside of ourselves. Once the mind releases the cyclic thoughts, new inspiration can take hold.
Writing is an extension of the brain. It allows me to externally observe challenges, emotions and thoughts. Once we pull up the nebulous things from our sub-conscious and put them into concrete words we can deal with them.
Furthermore, writing is a form of meditation. My mind is singularly focused on the task at hand. I strongly suggest trying “morning pages” and seeing how much more productivity and clarity you find throughout your day.
Go forth and claim your most valuable tool humanity has … creativity.
According to the dictionary, “Creativity” is defined as:
“the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”
With synonyms such as:
I would go on to say that creativity is the act of approaching our human experience with curiosity, seeking novel ways of expression and pushing the boundaries of what has been done.
In exploring the definition of creativity, we see that it is not limited to art. Coining a new phrase, wearing unique clothes, joining words together, finding a solution to a problem, scheming new theories from disparate subjects … these are all expressions of creativity. Likewise, we are all creative because it is our human nature. Just because you cannot draw or play music does not mean you lack creativity.
Creativity is the one thing which can never be replaced by machines or robots.