Deep Creativity
eBook - ePub

Deep Creativity

Inside the Creative Mystery

Victor Shamas

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  1. 241 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Deep Creativity

Inside the Creative Mystery

Victor Shamas

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About This Book

A psychologist illustrates what creativity is, where it comes from, and how you can fulfill your creative potential.

Deep Creativity reveals the findings of Victor Shamas's 30-year exploration of the creative process. Rather than observing creativity in others, he delved into the experience directly in order to uncover hidden truths and break free of common misconceptions. Deep Creativity turns fundamental assumptions about creativity on their head while offering fresh perspectives on the scientific method, fractals, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, plate tectonics, mind and consciousness, hero myths, the life cycle, sleep and dreams, mothers' intuition, the nature of wisdom, peak experiences, and even the Gospels. Written from a research psychologist's perspective, Deep Creativity portrays the creative experience as a bold adventure filled with passion, turmoil, inspiration, sacrifice, sheer joy, self-transcendence, and unconditional love.

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Creativity without the Box

“Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties.”
Gail Sheehy
In Deep Creativity, the process matters far more than the product. Through this process, the artist comes in contact with an extraordinary source of joy, fulfillment, and transformation. If we draw the analogy between creativity and juice extraction, the artist is far more likely to see the process as the juice of the fruit, whereas scientists and the general public may look for the juice in whatever product remains at the end. For the artist, the finished work is more like the rind; all of the psychological and spiritual nourishment has been extracted through the creative experience. “The object isn’t to make art,” wrote Robert Henri in The Art Spirit, “it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”9
Fortunately, some of the inspirational qualities of that experience remain in the product and get conveyed to the public. That is the function of great art. When we look up at the Sistine Chapel, listen to a Mozart sonata, or encounter a Walt Whitman poem, we might just get an inkling of what the artist experienced during the creative process. In this regard, the value of the product cannot be dismissed. But our results-oriented society tends to place more emphasis on the product than the process, which allows people to overlook what is most essential and exciting about creativity. The scientific community is particularly susceptible to this oversight.
When we shift the priority from the product to the process, we can begin to see creativity in a new light. Old assumptions fall away, and we gain fresh insights into the nature of creativity, beginning with this:
Tenet #1: Creativity is not what you think.
Two separate points can be found in this one statement. The first is that the tendency to equate creativity with thinking is misguided and unproductive. Albert Einstein once said, “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery.”10 Considering the source, this assertion may come as a bit of a surprise. After all, Einstein’s intellect is perceived as one of the most powerful and far-reaching in human history. And yet, when it comes to the creative process, he recognized that there were other forces at play—ones that extend beyond logic and rationality. To say the least, Einstein’s position is a radical one; the psychologists who study creativity have not yet caught up to it.
For the most part, creativity researchers assume that new thoughts emerge simply by recombining existing ones. While there is no question that this can and does happen at times, the danger lies in reducing all creativity to mere computation. If all thoughts arise from other thoughts, then where did the first thought come from? Here is the logical flaw in this argument. In philosophy, it is known as an infinite regress problem, which means that the sequence of reasoning has no end. To say that old thoughts give rise to new ones does not explain creativity at all, because at some point in the past, a new thought had to be created without relying on the existence of another thought. In fact, existing thoughts may often serve as a barrier to the creative process.
We often hear the aphorism: “Think outside the box.” The reason this advice makes no sense is that our thinking creates the box in the first place. If we want to understand creativity truly and deeply, we have to jettison the thought processes that handcuff our own creative capacities so that we can begin moving into the experiential realm where creativity resides. Rather than thinking outside the box, we must live outside it.
There is a second point to be found in Tenet #1. Creativity is not what you might think it is or expect it to be. If you have been influenced by the research literature, then some of your assumptions about creativity may be unsound. For instance, you may think that creativity is the domain only of certain exceptional or eminent individuals, whose creative gifts are linked to their superior intellect. But it turns out that the relationship between creativity and intelligence is not particularly strong. In fact, research with dementia patients has shown that the loss of brain function can actually enhance certain artistic abilities.11 Even our most basic ideas about the nature of creativity can be called into question.

Redefining Creativity

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome, if we seek a deeper understanding of creativity, has to do with the way it has been defined. The textbook definition of creativity identifies two criteria for something to be creative: novelty and value. Novelty means that the creative product must be outside the realm of what is acceptable, traditional or standard. In a testing situation, researchers look for responses that are statistically unusual, meaning that they occur rarely in a population. Value means that the creative product is useful or adaptive, addressing a particular need, serving some function or providing a certain degree of benefit to someone in our society. This criterion exists to help distinguish creativity from the ramblings of lunatics, who may generate novel streams of information that make no sense to anyone else and serve no apparent purpose.
Neither criterion aligns particularly well with the realities of the creative process. Artists engaged in this process are generally unconcerned with either novelty or value. When it comes to novelty, their experience is not lessened by knowing that someone else arrived at a certain idea or conclusion before they did. And value is something that others assign to their work. Artists already know that each creative experience is inherently valuable, regardless of the outcome.
When we focus on the process instead of the product, two very different criteria for creativity emerge: freshness and transcendence.


This is the felt sense that the particular experience you are having is unique and extraordinary. Although freshness and novelty may appear similar, they are as different as first-person and third-person approaches. Freshness is a subjective determination made by the artist based on the intensity of what is being experienced at this moment. We can mistake freshness for novelty because the first experience of a certain kind tends to have the greatest intensity for most people. With each repetition, spontaneity disappears, and the intensity diminishes as a result of habituation. But for the individual who is mindful, each experience feels fresh. You can do exactly the same thing every day, but if you love it with a passion and are fully present in the moment, you will feel as if you are doing it for the first time.
I had the privilege to live in Italy for three months, in a picturesque Umbrian hill town called Orvieto. In the center of the town sits a magnificent cathedral, the Duomo di Orvieto, which draws millions of tourists every year. The first time I saw the façade of the Duomo, with its golden mosaics, elaborate statuary, and huge bronze doors, I was so overwhelmed by its beauty that I could hardly speak. I continued to visit the Duomo on a nearly daily basis for the duration of my stay; each time it had a similar effect on me. The experience of looking at that façade never lost its freshness—not once. The artists that created this magnificent work managed to capture and convey some element of their own inspiration that continues to be felt by admirers like myself more than six centuries later.
When you encounter the reflections of great artists, you get the sense of their overwhelming capacity for freshness. Composer Peter Tchaikovsky told an interviewer, “It would be vain to try to put into words the immeasurable sense of bliss which comes over me directly when a new idea awakens in me and begins to assume a definite form. I forget everything and behave like a madman: everything within me starts pulsing and quivering.”12
Although Tchaikovsky mentions the awakening of new ideas, the intensity he describes is not dependent on novelty. A case in point is the occurrence of unintentional plagiarism, which is particularly common among songwriters and composers. One day you wake up with a melody in your head, which you are thrilled to discover. Later, you find out that the melody was one you had heard before, perhaps on the radio. The fact that someone else had already composed it does not take away from the freshness of your creative experience.


This second defining quality of creativity has to do with the experience of moving beyond your own limitations. As you engage in the creative process, you may get a sense of expanding your knowledge base, breaking through false or restrictive assumptions, uncovering new thought processes, restructuring your worldview, solving a mystery, or discovering new abilities. The creative process tends to stretch you in some way, pushing you in terms of your ability to respond to circumstances that are far beyond the ordinary.
Within those extraordinary circumstances lies the passageway to a fundamental and profoundly fulfilling realm of experience—one that is likely to be inaccessible to most people in most situations. Mary Wigman, the expressionist dance pioneer, described it this way: “During the process of artistic creation, man descends into the primordial elements of life. He reverts to himself to become lost in something greater than himself, in the immediate, indivisible essence of life.”13
Here, Wigman captures two very important ideas related to Deep Creativity. One is that the creative process leads to an essential, core layer of reality. Two is that this reality can only be accessed by losing yourself. The most important form of transcendence, in terms of Deep Creativity, is self-transcendence. In the creative process, the artist escapes the restrictions of personal identity in order to become something altogether different, as we are about to see.


Transcendent Imagination

“Imagination rules the world.”
Napoleon Bonaparte
The creative process takes many forms, which can vary from one individual to the next. In some well-known cases, artists have maintained that their creative style is mechanistic. For instance, pointillist painter Georges Seurat eschewed the idea of creative inspiration, relying instead on new technologies and theories of form and expression as his primary influences. Commenting on the public’s response to his work, he asserted, “They see poetry in what I have done. No. I apply my methods and that is all there is to it.”14


Regardless of the accuracy of Seurat’s claims pertaining to his own work, there is no denying that creative inspiration has played a key role in the creation of much of the world’s most beloved art, literature, and innovation. And inspiration is inherently a transformative process. Many artists claim to undergo a personal transformation through the creative process, ending up at a very different point than where they started. This leads us to a second fundamental principle of Deep Creativity:
Tenet #2: All creating is becoming.
Novelists, playwrights, and actors often describe the experience of embodying the characters they are creating. Similarly, artists may feel a sense of merging with their subject. D.H. Lawrence captured the essence of this experience when he observed, “Art is a form of supremely delicate awareness and atonement—meaning at oneness, the state of being at one with the object.”15
Musicians and composers have reported the sensation of channeling what John Lennon called “the music that surpasses understanding.”16 Composer Richard Wagner felt that he could merge into a universal current of sound vibration: “I feel that I am one with this vibrating force, that it is omniscient, and that I can draw upon it to an extent that is limited only by my capacity to do so.”17
Electronic recording artist Steve Roach merges into the sound stream he is creating by immersing himself completely in his compositions. As he is working on a new piece, he runs it through a sound system that fills every room of his house. That way, the sound penetrates his awareness continuously throughout his day—even while he sleeps. And he may work on a single composition for weeks or months at a time.
Scientists are more reluctant to acknowledge their experience of merging with their subject matter, perhaps because of their concern for objectivity. But as quantum physicists have shown, this concern may be based on a misconception about scientific objectivity. “The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived,” wrote physicist Erwin Schrodinger. “Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist.”18
Entomologist Bob Sluss once confided to me that his understanding of insects stemmed from his ability to experience the world from their perspective. “I have moments when I can feel what it’s like to be a wasp,” he told me. “That’s how I learn most effectively about their behavior.”19
To become something or someone ...

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