We’d all be more creative if we paid less attention to the surfaces — our goings and doings — and more to the depths, our knowing and being and the nothingness that underlies everthing. When we take silent time to meditate, a shift happens within. Our consciousness expands, our awareness deepens, we come into the presence of what the physicist Albert Einstein once described as “the most beautiful emotion we can experience…the [underlying] power of all true art and science.”
This power – our creative intelligence – is in us all. We don’t acquire it, any more than we acquire our fingers or our feet. Accessing it is largely a matter of removing the barriers we place between ourselves and this innate, powerful potential, allowing it to flow more freely.
Meditation dissolves those barriers.
I used to teach a module called Creative and Imaginative Practice to postgraduate students, a class made compulsory by our farseeing Director of Studies, so that many students who would not be attracted to such a course had to attend. In the first session I would ask for a show of hands in answer to the question: Hands up those who think they are not creative. Always at least half the room put up their hands.
This is clearly crazy. To be alive is to create. Everyday we make hundreds of ideas, experiences, feelings and things, from our morning outfit to evening dinner but our society destroys creativity. All societies do. Nobody is born “uncreative” — just observe any child — but by the time we have grown up, the majority of us have disconnected from that vital source of energy and power. (And on university campuses is where you will find many of the most disconnected, prisoners of concepts and analysis and the tyrant intellect, alive only from the neck up, animated only by opinion).
When thinking about our creative capacities, it helps to think about two dimensions of our intelligence, the rational and the creative:
• Conceptual intelligence aims to control; creative intelligence aims to allow.
• Conceptual intelligence communicates through thoughts, concepts, opinions and ideas. Creative intelligence communicates through feelings, emotions, imaginings and intuitions.
• Conceptual intelligence analyses and critiques; creative intelligence absorbs and explores.
• Conceptual intelligence categorises; creative intelligence disrupts.
• Conceptual intelligence looks out, seeing human reality as material and fixed (shit happens!). Creative intelligence looks in, seeing human reality as imagined and co-created (shift happens!).
• Conceptual intelligence persuades through intellectual opinion and argument. Creative intelligence persuades through story, symbol and song.
• Conceptual intelligence enjoys art, writing and music as entertainment. Creative intelligence enjoys art, writing and music as expression.
• Conceptual intelligence likes answers; creative intelligence likes questions.
• Conceptual intelligence sees failure as avoidable and a defeat. Creative intelligence sees failure as necessary and a learning opportunity.
• Conceptual intelligence consumes. Creative intelligence creates.
While the rational and analytical conceptual intelligence is often contrasted to the creative, and laying them out like this might feed that view, that’s actually like setting your right foot against your left, or your in-breath against your out-breath.
They are designed to work together.
The problem — the pathology — most of us live with is that we are completely out of balance. We have both a personal and a social tendency to privilege conceptual intelligence over creative intelligence, and habit and training reinforce that tendency.
Those who take time to stop and meditate immediately see this for the mistake it is, how it is limiting their lives. Nobody would tell you that your left foot is more important to walking than your right — but rational and analytical brain power is privileged by schools, workplaces and other institutions. Which is why as you go through life, trying to make something of yourself, you feel constrained or frustrated. It’s as if you were trying to walk with one foot tied behind your back.
Understanding, owning and honing your creative intelligence opens you to the world, and the world to you, in a whole new way.
Today, new technologies and understandings are confirming some, and changing other, long-held ideas about creativity and inspiration. Chief among those that are changing is that the word “creative” is no longer applied only to a particular set of activities — writing, drawing, singing. It is now being understood as a condition of consciousness, a type of attention and awareness.
Like meditation, creation is a condition, not an experience. Not even a process. It is a condition of openness through which the creative spirit is able to freely manifest. “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited,” said Plutrarch.
In this understanding, any activity can be uncreative. You can paint or sing or draw or write in an uncreative way. You can mop the floor, cook the dinner, do the filing or mow the lawn in a creative way. To be creative is to employ an attitude, an inner approach, that is defined by wakefulness, presence and openness while happily focussed on the task in hand.
You don’t even have to do anything to be creative. In fact, in order for creative inspiration to arise, a part of your mind has to in a state of “being” rather than “doing”. Guatama Buddha, sitting still under the bodhi tree, apparently doing nothing, was as creative as it is ever possible to be.
Indeed, it is not so much the person who is creative, or even the activity. It is the moment. In order to be created, it needs your presence, your attention. You, and the activity or nonactivity, are the conditions, the conduit through which creative consciousness expresses itself in this world of ours.