A Plea For Creativity

People have confused motion with progress. ~Michael Mapes

color blast

I’m SO busy.

I don’t think there is anyone in my life who doesn’t say this to me. I’ve said it myself, and each time I say it, I feel layers of internal conflict…my ego knows that this is the “correct” thing to say, that if I’m busy that means I’m consequential, that I matter, while my truer self insists that I want to be busy enjoying my life, deepening my personal inquiry…which for me means slowing down and tuning in, finding flow, being in nature. Being creative enables me to get there.

A yogic concept comes up for me—santosha. Santosha, a Sanskrit word, is commonly translated as “contentment,” and I have struggled to understand what this really means. I can recall times in my life when I imagined I was feeling contentment, yet memory is a fickle thing…how much of this feeling is based on nostalgia or on external circumstances that would inevitably change? And how can we experience true contentment when we’re always doing, always striving, always active? What if creativity is what makes contentment possible?

In light of the Trump administration’s budget proposal, which includes cutting funding for the National Endowment For the Arts, I fear that we as a nation are undervaluing the role that creativity has in our human potential. Creativity, “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations,”[1] provides an open space in which to explore our relationship with ourselves and with the world, to be present. Creativity avails us to lila, universal play, where the child in us gets to follow curiosity, questions, and possibilities. In the modern Western World, creativity has been relegated to luxury after all the work is done or, worse, mere frivolity. Without creativity, we are dull creatures who court mundanity, sadly producing dehydrated and tasteless fruit. In the wise words of William Wordsworth, “The world is too much with us.”[2]

I find it impossible to discuss creativity without bringing up the darker side of perfectionism: when we decide we can’t produce a particular standard in our creation—measured by comparison with geniuses perhaps—we rob ourselves of discovery, of being in process rather than being focused so fixedly on a particular outcome. According to the Buddha, this is a sure-fire path to suffering. Susan K. Minarik, a fellow blogger, defines creativity this way: “It’s the problem-solving processes they exhibit rather than the content or craft that make them so.”[3]

Chief among a score of benefits, creativity reveals to us alternate perspectives. We either witlessly or willfully shift the way we’re looking at things, and our worldview becomes instantly more expansive. Creativity brings order to our world, enhances feelings of wellbeing, and activates multiple portions of the brain, stimulating energy and inspiration, connecting us more positively to the world. And then there it is, arriving swiftly on creativity’s coattails, the unassuming and open-handed, santosha.

In order to experience contentment, it must factor into our list of priorities; otherwise we will make the mistake of disregarding it. How much space on our To-Do list is taken up with chasing an imagined future and on mindless pastimes to recover temporarily from the chase? What is this life really for?

A couple months ago, I began a collaboration with a virtuoso composer who plays keyboard and cello. His compositions are unconventional, occasionally meandering, and while these are the kinds of compositions that compel me, they present unique challenges for my skills in writing melody and lyrics without the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge construct. Last weekend I spent three hours on one tune, ending up with a chorus that I now can’t get out of my head. In this open field I have stepped into, curiosity is piqued: what comes next? Where does the music call for vocals, for silence? How does that instrumentation lead to an idea, to a lilt or a wail? And I notice that something deep inside my brain, in my body, relaxes. Every time. Without needing an outcome, I can enjoy the flow and all the wealth of feeling this process instills in me.

Artful living is a deliberate act. Whether I’m meditating, taking a hike, learning to climb ropes, or practicing guitar, I now know where contentment lives.

[1] Creativity-2nd definition

[2] Wordsworth, Wiliam. Poems In Two Volumes, Volume One (1807).

[3] Minarik, Susan K. “The Positive Benefits of Creativity”.

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