Read an Excerpt
unlock your CREATIVE GENIUS
By BERNARD GOLDEN
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2007 Bernard Golden
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE NATURE OF THE CHALLENGE
"It arouses in me a range of intense emotions, some of which I fight to avoid. And yet they are all a part of the acute gratification I experience when I write. It is part desire and part compulsion, something I feel I have to do. It is in my genes to be a writer." "The joy of my music is in those moments when, although I gently guide them, I feel like the notes, chords, and harmony just seem to flow from some deeply hidden, vast musical reservoir within me." "At times I feel like my painting is my mistress. Each day I awake with visions of her. I long to spend time with her. There are times when all else feels like a distraction. How fortunate I am that my wife feels the same about her writing!" "I add colors, heat them, blow into it and rotate it at various angles. Sure I have some idea of how I would like it to be, but the true excitement comes from seeing where it goes and recognizing that one precise moment when I know it is time to retract the glass from the fire."
CREATIVE PASSION AND CREATIVE GENIUS
Creative passion is an all-powerful and compelling desire to engage in a creative endeavor.Whether involved in writing, composing music, painting, glass blowing, pottery, photography, or any similar adventure, creative passion is the driving force that propels us to immerse ourselves in the journey of sustained creativity. While grounded in emotion, such passion reflects an all-encompassing embrace of the creative venture by our mind, body, and spirit as well.
Such passion is rooted in the child's natural curiosity and openness in exploring his surroundings and himself. At its core, creative passion is the same uninterrupted joy experienced by the healthy, bright-eyed, and beaming child as he regards with awe everything around him, from his mother's face and the colors of his toys to the sounds of the human voice and the taste and texture of food entering his mouth.
It equally originates from the sense of mystery, excitement, and empowerment we feel as children when we discover our ability to have an impact on our surroundings. Whether launching his milk bottle into flight, causing a mobile to move, tapping a spoon against a bowl, or making a parent smile, a child becomes engrossed in his observations, making sense of them and recognizing the impact he can have on his environment. Such excitement only intensifies when he is encouraged to draw, paint, move blocks around, or role-play super heroes. Deeply rooted in creative passion is a drive to imagine and to express that imagination. In doing so we demonstrate our distinctly human capacity, through sheer will, to temporarily transcend time and place.
This book is about helping you develop skills to reconnect with, nurture, and enhance your creative passion, whether you are a full-time artist or seek to become more engaged in a hobby, whether you already feel intense passion or are seeking ways to strengthen your drive to be creative. It is more about fostering openness and freedom to create than it is about identifying specific games, techniques, or skills to become creative. Specifically, the focus of this book is on helping free you emotionally, physically, and mentally to access, trust, and express your creative genius. While it is intended to help you to more consistently engage in sustained creativity, it can also provide you increased openness to engage in being creative in all aspects of daily living.
Creative passion is very much like a loving relationship. After all, creative passion is a form of love. At its best, it leads to joy, excitement, inspiration, gratification, and companionship. Sculpting a bronze figure, transforming a canvas into a captivating sunset, writing a novel or a poem, or striving to perfect a pirouette can impact us emotionally as deeply as many moments of a relationship. From conception, through production, to the moment when we expose our creation to others, embracing creativity can bring us to peaks of ecstasy and long-term gratification. At the same time, sustained creativity forces us to confront challenges that, like those in a romantic relationship, are sometimes difficult and unsettling-the challenge to be true to yourself and to be authentic.
And like a loving relationship, sustained creativity demands an overriding commitment, a promise to maintain the bond in spite of challenges to and fluctuations in the intensity of that passion. We make that commitment with the determination, hope, and optimism that we can manage any challenges that threaten our pursuit.
At the same time, as in a loving relationship, sustained creativity can also lead to a variety of tensions that may include hurt, fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and even guilt and shame. These are moments of tension that challenge our commitment and can lead our creative passion to diminish in intensity. Some of this tension is associated with various forms of performance anxiety.
Although driven to follow our creative passion, doing so leads us to concerns about our performance and fears that we are incompetent. We may be anxious when we move the brush across the canvas and conclude that our efforts do not exactly reflect the vision we hold in our mind's eye. When writing fiction we may feel fear or guilt about revealing our most sacred personal secrets through the words and actions of our characters. We may approach a blank page and experience unyielding anxiety regarding how we should begin a story.
"What will others think?" and "Is this really good?" are a duet of paralyzing concerns that to some degree are a very natural part of every creative endeavor. This is in part because any act of creativity reveals to others and to ourselves certain facets of who we are. Words, music, photography, dance, and pottery are just a few of the many languages that communicate aspects of one's unique identity. Sustained creativity often leads to a finished work that is as revealing and as personally unique as a fingerprint. It should not be surprising that, just as many of us experience tremendous anxiety about public speaking, we would also experience anxiety related to expressing and revealing ourselves in a manner other than the spoken word. Many of the most successful actors, entertainers, artists, and writers indicate that they experience fear and anxiety during the pursuit of their craft. Those who are most successful report that they have learned a variety of strategies to manage it so that it does not become overwhelming. At the same time, many also acknowledge the beneficial aspect of such anxiety and actually experience uneasiness in its absence.
Anxiety can be a powerful resource that heightens your attention to your surroundings and to yourself. It prompts you to become hypervigilant and alert to the details of your perceptions, thoughts, experiences, and sensations. This sharpened focus is essential when exploring both the world around you and your internal landscape. Through this focus, you become more deeply engaged and present with the creative process, attending to and sorting through the observations that will become and already are a part of your memory bank. Similarly, heightened attention helps you attend to the details of imagination, the generation of new ideas, images, and perceptions. Anxiety, aside from increasing the attention required to find what you seek, also enhances your openness to the surprises you may discover along the way.
I embrace this form of anxiety as an essential component of my creative passion. It accompanies the most rewarding and productive moments of my writing. At such times, I feel alive, challenged, and empowered. I am in a state of what Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyhi has described as flow. It is a state of mind and body during which I feel totally absorbed by the task at hand, a loss of self-consciousness, and loss of a sense of time. It is a unique form of flow, one characterized by excitement and a genuine sense of fluid movement, even though I am sitting still in front of my computer. It is creative passion taking center stage in my focused attention.
While my conscious thoughts revolve around the content of my writing, interspersed among them are positive, supportive, and encouraging bits of self-commentary such as "I really can do this," "This is fun," "Wow! I really like the ideas I am addressing," "I deserve to have fun," "I like where this is going," "I know I can trust myself," and "I have no idea where that thought came from, but it certainly fits in!" These are just a few of the thoughts that consciously and unconsciously buoy my passion and enable me to embrace the momentum and content of my flow. At such moments, I feel joy, satisfaction, contentment, hope, and empowerment.
During moments of creative flow, you also react on a physical level. You feel energized, and may even experience the subtle changes in breathing that often accompany such tension. At times you may notice a leg shake, a finger tapping, or your tongue periodically darting against your teeth. These physical responses are symptoms of a nervous energy, a tension that is predominantly one of excited exploration against a backdrop of low-level, threatening anxiety.
Although perhaps less intense, I find it comparable to my experiences when scuba diving or flying in a glider plane; it is the feeling of soaring associated with the miracle of defying gravity. As with these activities, self-consciousness periodically interrupts my experience of flow. Sure, there is some apprehension, a distant thought or fleeting image of my vulnerability, but these are soon placed where they should be, in the distant recesses of my awareness.
During such moments, I step back to observe myself and marvel at the experience. These moments of reflection further escalate my enthusiasm and a full embrace of the moment. There is a sense of freedom in such moments of creative passion, very much like the soaring that is a part of those sports. My experience of flow is also accompanied by a heightened attention to detail and a desire to further explore all that I feel and observe.
I wish that I could easily access this intensity of passion each and every time I write, but the reality of the creative journey does not always follow my preferred route. While I may embark on a creative venture with some sense of direction, embracing creativity also demands that at times I let the momentum of the process be my guide. Likewise, remaining somewhat passive to the medium with which you create will further fuel your passion. Whether you are dealing with words, ideas, music, paint, dance, clay, or crafts, creativity requires that you freely step back and let the medium lead you.
Another factor that contributes to the vacillating intensity of creative passion is the nature of the aforementioned creative process. At its best, true creativity is characterized by collaboration between your conscious and unconscious mind. You can consciously work at being creative, but you are also dependent on your unconscious mind, that part of your psyche over which you have no direct control, to provide inspiration. And yet, such dependence does not imply that you should sit idly and wait for your unconscious to give inspiration as a gift.
By consciously valuing and embracing those attitudes favorable to creativity, including self-compassion, you become more fully alert and receptive to what the deepest part of your psyche has to offer. And by consciously maintaining this mind-set, your unconscious is reassured that it is appreciated and welcome to work its miracle and share its riches-what we then call "inspiration." Inspiration may arrive as a phrase, a concept, an image, a framework of a short story, several lines of a poem, a melody, or, as Mozart describes, a complete symphony.
Once that inspiration arrives, you resume your chosen creative journey with increased intensity and momentum, only to once again stimulate your deeper mind to further action. In essence, this is what this book is about, helping you to increase access to and collaboration with that part of your mind that, though hidden, is essential for the rewards of sustained creative engagement.
MOMENTS OF CHALLENGE
But being creative, freely exploring yourself, and allowing the process to occur can be extremely threatening. While it can bring elation, it is also marked by discrete moments of intense anxiety that distract, inhibit, or even block you from moving forward in your creative quest. At such moments, your willingness and capacity to fully engage in sustained creativity is strongly challenged. Judgment appears much too early and impedes the freedom of thought and action that is essential for creativity to flourish. Self-critical and pessimistic thoughts may form the overriding content of the assessments you make about your ability as well as the products you create. These thoughts may give rise to experiences of fear, anxiety, and even guilt or shame that may, in turn, cause physical tension. This all-encompassing impact, experienced both consciously and unconsciously, threatens your passion. Consequently, you are at risk of losing focus and concentration. Ultimately, you may experience less connection and presence with yourself and with the medium with which you are working.
At times, negative emotions intensify and foster reduced production and flexibility in your thoughts. Discomfort, as well as the fear of experiencing discomfort, dominates your efforts to move on. Like deer mesmerized by the glow of headlights, you may experience a form of tunnel vision and become fixated on the paralyzing impact of the negative tension. Creative passion often fails to compete with such powerful forces, resulting in an urge to withdraw from further engagement in the creative process. In response, you may refrain from thinking and taking actions that further your creative quest. Not only do you experience pressure to disengage from the creative moment; simultaneously, concerns that previously held a low ranking in your interest suddenly seem to necessitate your focused attention.
CREATIVITY AND THE CHALLENGE TO BE AUTHENTIC
At such moments, the challenge to be creative reflects the lifelong task that each of us faces. As we progress from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood, our needs to feel secure, connected, adequate, and loved often compete with our needs to be ourselves. When they do, we may overly value the concerns and expectations of others (as well as unrealistic expectations for ourselves), failing to recognize, trust, and accept our own emotions and thoughts and the imperative to embrace a forever changing and evolving self-identity.
Pressured by these needs and our culture's socializing influence, we are often held hostage by our fears, anxieties, and feelings of shame and guilt regarding who we are and who we wish to become. Even when we're able to identify our feelings and thoughts, we become paralyzed in expressing them. In the extreme, many of us lose touch with our feelings and beliefs, including those that define our experiences as being truly meaningful in our lives. For some of us, anxiety, depression, and anger develop as reactions to feeling alienated both from others and from ourselves.
It is this very concept that resonates so strongly with a statement made by one of my graduate school psychology professors. He suggested that "all techniques in psychotherapy, regardless from what school of thought they originated, were ways to help individuals give themselves permission to be themselves." After over thirty years of clinical practice, I still have not come across another statement that is as succinct or accurate with regard to the purpose of psychotherapy. Stemming from a combination of life experiences and biological factors, many of our emotional problems result from barriers we have unwittingly created to avoid acknowledging who we really are, what we believe in, what we feel, and who we want to become. Much of my passion in clinical work derives from helping individuals gain the freedom to reconnect with themselves in ways that allow them to increase access to their internal realities, emotions, beliefs, and values. In the process my clients learn to distinguish between those thoughts and feelings they can trust and those that are driven by the need to conceal their true selves, thereby developing the ability to overcome obstacles to living an authentic life journey. They become more fully engaged in choosing a more satisfactory career path, pursuing a passion, or improving their relationships with themselves and others.
Excerpted from unlock your CREATIVE GENIUS by BERNARD GOLDEN Copyright © 2007 by Bernard Golden. Excerpted by permission.
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