Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cultivating Creativity

Perception is a funny thing. It would be redundant to say that it's relative, yet we always have to remind ourselves of that. Wether it's in our aesthetic taste or how we perceive a situation or person, we are viewing information through a set of subjective lenses. Those lenses become filters, filters become rules, and then at some point those rules become so steadfast that we can't even see something that's plainly before us.

Take a tree, for example. When I say tree, a mental picture is conjured up and a sense of knowing bubbles up along with it. "Yes, tree, I know what that is." Do I really though? Or am I mistaking the word for the experience? What's the difference?

Fall along the mighty Mississippi River- photo by Wanaree Tanner

It's kind of like half watching a movie, yeah, I "watched" it, but did I notice all the subtle cinematic intricacies, secondary plot lines, or even the soundtrack? After all, someone orchestrated every shot and every movement to express a very specific idea or feeling.

In the same way, I only half watched the world around me. A tree was a tree, it had it's value, it had it's place, but the list of trees I actually knew was profoundly shorter than the list of movies I'd fully experienced. Learning to share their space, be observant, and not pass judgment reset my perception. An entire microcosm was revealed, with leading characters, struggles for life and death between numerous incects and animals, all playing out on the stage of a single tree.  It was then that I realized I could never really "know" a tree. I can experience it in a moment, list it's characteristics and qualities, but I can't be the tree. Claiming to "know" it automatically subjugates it to a severely inadequate label, and can turn a vibrant living being into a sterile litany of words.

What does this have to do with art or with inspiration? While beautifully spun words can be very inspiring, there is no replacement for the inspiration born of an experience free from preconceptions.

Which reminds me of a piece of advice sometimes given to to young authors: "Don't write anything at all until you've experienced something. Don't even write for the school paper. Until you've experienced something, there's nothing to write about." One might think this means we have to go get a motorbike and ride across the country or hop on box cars like bohemian hobos, which can create an experience free from preconceptions, but it can also happen while occupying the same space with a tree as an observer instead of as a knower.

Somewhere within that practice is jet fuel for creativity. At least for me, it's in being open, in being observant that the seeds for inspiration can germinate. All the words and chatter (both internal and external) about inspiration can place it on an unattainable pedestal. Obsessing over finding it, harnessing it, marketing it, defining it, capturing it, when it's readily available all around us for the low, low price of being open and aware. It's not something someone can give or sell to you, it's there waiting for you.

The pursuit and perpetual searching can transform into an active living flow, with moods and seasons that tolerate no expectations. When it's allowed to be and arrive at will, it gives birth to the the clarity that noting man creates can ever match the wonder of what already is. Surprisingly, this takes the pressure off. You can simply become a contributor to the creation that is already happening all around us all of the time. Create and be at peace.