How does one distinguish between creativity that needs exposure and that which needs to be kept veiled? A conversation with a friend triggered this thought. A scientist by profession, she churns out words like a music list on auto-play. It is beautiful, and fascinating — not only the final output, but also the inner process. The conversation moved towards publishing: would something like this sell? Would people be willing to shell out money for the short stories she plans to publish? Should she?
The many sides to creativity
One of the challenges of creativity is timing. And that applies to receptivity too. Put another way, a person does not control the emergence of creativity. Ask any poet, artist, writer and they will share how often their creative expression is an eruption of abundance from within. Not just professionals but even ordinary humans like us go through our ‘moods.’ All of us have ‘that’ experience — of the phases in life where we become conduits of something poetic, something artistic, something different from the ordinary. It is as if some‘thing’ or some‘one’ overtakes us and gets our fingers moving to create art, our pens flowing to write a post, our hands and legs shaking to make music and dance. More often than not, for people who are not in the creative field, this cannot be recreated at will — a testimony to the power outside of our conscious control and nevertheless within us, that facilitates the creative expression.
The creative act
Creative people are slightly different than most. Many an artist train hard and train long and most have a temperament that permits them to plumb their inner depths. They have what we can call ‘a channel’, built over time thorough practice, discernment and dedication , that acts like an expressway for emergence of their inner creativity in the outer world. It is a muscle they have worked with and honed and so naturally they have a better connect to the creative centre within. A question such as the one we grapple with may not arise for them — they know, from the inside. However, we do not and that is because we do not know this creative side of ours and what might it wish of us.
I recall the time where something erupted within me. It led me to write incessantly. During that phase, I must have churned out many a blog — from the ridiculous to the sublime. Any word, any discussion, any experience could be a trigger for my inner reflection and outer expression. However, I soon realised that I could not reproduce it — if I so desired. I did try to, but realised soon to my chagrin that though the words could be spewed out, the inner quality — the feeling sense, the soul quality — was different if it was forced. It was my brush with the power of creativity that lies outside of my volition. Nonetheless, it is a mighty powerful force. Now, as a student of depth psychology, I am inclined to see this eruption as an expression of the wisdom of the Self — that deep wellspring within that connects the dots of our lives.
I suspect that this friend of mine is going through such a phase and experiencing the power within. And of course, contemplating the next logical step: should I publish? This is where it starts to get tricky. Our ordinary logical common sense view of the world tells us, ‘why not?’ What for should she wait? If it is there, then not only should she share it with the world but also make some money off it. But logic is not the only way to life. Common sense is not the only filter to view such an experience. What then is the process?
The slow steps to sharing
A helpful first step towards understanding our creativity is to begin slow. Ask yourself a few questions prior to sharing:
Does the current creative expression emanate from within the person you know yourself to be OR does it seemingly come from another personality (a side that you are unaware of)?
Is this expression a current past time and a way with words OR is there some inner soul stirring in progress?
Is there mere expression OR is there a cathartic process associated on the inside? i.e., is this merely a process of writing OR is this an inner healing in progress?
If by profession you are a creative person — a poet, a painter, a writer, then is the creative expression a continuation, or a variation therein, of your own inner creative process OR is it coming from a space more mystical and deeper than you otherwise experience normally?
Are the dreams like what they were before OR are they more fanciful and seem like an adventure every night you undertake as you sleep?
Listening to the inner
At the outset it may sound odd but it is well worth the while to ponder and reflect over these questions. It may behoove to take a pause should most of the responses affirm the second set of questions. In our current culture, where display is the first instinct, we might well remember our elders who preferred to take a pause. ‘Look before you leap’ is a useful English adage. Given the pace of lives today, there is always the urge to be out there, lest someone else beat us to it, or our creative output be foreshadowed by something else. Modern life and society instils in us, ‘the first to market’ concept.
Inner birthing, however, needs time and space — it needs the safety of a container strong enough to hold it. Much before it became common scientific knowledge, humans across civilisations had rules for an expectant mother. To make them appealing to the mindset of that time, they were clothed in the language of myth and had a historical continuity. Modern science discovered that some specific agents called teratogens cause harm to the foetus and that a pregnant woman does indeed need special care and protection. The protection is for the safety of both the growing foetus and the expectant mother. In a near analogous manner, the process of inner re-birthing needs time, space and above all protection. It needs to be held — much like a young sapling needs a nursery — before it can be out in the wild.
I recall the pain I felt once when I had shared a poem of mine with friends during a phase when I had just started writing poetry. They appreciated it deeply. Instead of feeling overjoyed, I strangely felt dejected and disappointed. Back then, I did not know why, but today I do. My first poetry came out when I was a tottering adolescent trying to find my identity in the outer world. In due course, I started writing poetry to please and to receive applause and the more I did, the more I strayed away from the inner voice. I checked out dictionaries for fanciful words and used them, I copied poets and twisted sentences to make them rhyme, but my soul was not there. Soon the poems stopped, as did the applause.
The next time, I was careful, albeit veered to the other extreme. I wrote poetry again while in college but I did not share at all. Only a handful knew what I wrote but as I look back today, I feel glad. What helped me was that I was shy and those poems were way too personal — so I did not have the courage to share. But what those verses did was that they gave expression to me — they helped me express my soul as I navigated my life transition from adolescence to youth. They were really about my own inner life and did not need an audience to either validate them or challenge them.
Sometimes, a creative act is just that — it comes from the deep wellspring of the unconscious and needs expression without display. But this is not an easy thing to endure, especially so in modern times, when our immediate reaction may be to capitalise on that creativity.
“Creativity sometimes needs the protection of darkness, of being ignored. That is very obvious in the natural tendency many artists and writers have not to show their paintings or writings before they are finished. Until then they cannot stand even positive reactions. The passionate reactions of people to a painting, the exclamation, ‘Oh, this is wonderful!’, may, even if meant in a positive way, entirely destroy the chiaroscuro, the mystical hidden weaving of fantasy which the artist needs.“
—Dr. Marie Louise von Franz
From outer to inner: impressions and expressions
Dr Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist went through a mid-life crisis. Starting somewhere 1913, he had a period of what he called the ‘Confrontation with the Unconscious.’¹ As he lived his outer life as a psychologist and psychiatrist, on the inside he faced his inner voice and the demands of the unconscious⁴. All of this remained hidden from the outer world — not just till his death but even beyond. In fact, it was only in 2009 that the Liber Novus, or the Red Book, was published and made available to the public. Of course, not all of us have such intense engagements with the unconscious as Jung had.
Not only Jung, or mystics and spiritual people, but everyone, does engage with the other side sometime or the other in life. Common people like us experience a crisis at transition stages of our lives. A hallmark of such a phase is a distinct connect with something other than oneself — what Jung calls the SELF⁵, a term he borrowed from the Upanishads to explain that inner centre of wisdom which orchestrates the blueprint of our lives. In fact, all mystical traditions insist upon secrecy, because in their view, the sacred is secret and only initiates are permitted to part-take of it. Baba Muktananda writes in his autobiography, ‘Generally speaking, one should keep secret the divine experiences with which one is blessed by God, but here I want to describe some of them for the benefit of seekers.’³ Note the words, ‘generally speaking’ and ‘some.’ Not all of us however, may have such a deep connect with the other side like Jung had or mystic like Baba Muktananda have. So how do we, the common people, know that creative acts of a phase are to be shared or are to be hidden for the moment?
How do we, who are not so well versed in the language of the soul, decide on what is to be done with our creative expression? This is a tricky question, the one that my friend asked as well. The answer is not too easy. One preference, and this is purely mine, is to pause and go slow. Before you share it out, sit with it. Share it, if you wish, with a very small selected few — usually a handful of people — not for feedback or for validation, but for sharing.
Questions that help me decide whether to share or not, include:
Am I sharing with the intent of getting a validation OR am I sharing this with the joy of flow?
Do I hope to capitalise the current expression OR am I content with the world not knowing about them?
Am I in the midst of a life crisis or a transition currently — anything that puts a strain on me emotionally, mentally and psychologically OR is it la vie quotidian, business as usual?
How am I perceiving myself: do I find surprised to see aspects of me that I never knew existed OR is this expression something that I always knew I had, but never explored enough of?
Is there an experience of inner heaviness or inner lightness — a sense of being dragged by life, or a sense of being liberated — where I sense, feel, think and intuit more than I do normally OR do I find life is the same as it was the day before?
Do I find that the creative act often overpowers me and I feel compelled to engage in it — disrespecting my regular boundaries of habit and time such as sleeping, eating etc. OR do I seem to be more in control of it and that not engaging with it is equally ok with me?
To those of us who work with dreams and have an intimate relationship with them: are my dreams somehow more richer or disturbing and have a qualitatively different feel OR are they inwardly of the same energy levels as earlier?
Nourishing the wellspring within
While this may not be comprehensive, and may not work for everyone, I find that these questions help me to pause and reflect. In my own strategy, if a positive response to the first set of questions outweighs the second set, then I know it is a moment to pause — it is not yet the time and space to share outwardly. I find that when I pay heed to it and stay silent, then something grows within. A teacher of mine uses the analogy of a pressure cooker — something within needs that space and time to be cooked — and while the initial smells may tempt us to open the lid, the final product is not going to be what it ought to be. The yogis use the word tapas to refer to this inner heat and fire of transformation that one needs to work with and more importantly live through. An attempt at outer sharing too quickly, may short circuit this inner process of cooking and wean us away from the task inside.
In the ultimate analysis, the voice within knows. The creative work itself will tell us what it wants us to do. This of course, requires us to have an attitude where we recognise that the creative expression has as much a voice on the table as much as our body and mind that has supported and helped give it expression. If we are able to be a bit still and engage in an honest inner conversation, we will know what next to do: to share or to hide. If it says a yes, we should go ahead and then share to the world — for not sharing would be a travesty to the inner soul. And yet, at other times, we may have to be like Dr Jung — allowing things to simmer long enough that they re-shape us completely. In the autobiography, published after his death in 1961, he writes, ‘All my works, all my creative activity, has come from those initial fantasies and dreams which began in 1912, almost fifty years ago. Everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them, although at first only in the form of emotions and images.’¹
Carl Gustav Jung in ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’. Vintage Books ed. Random House, NY, 1989. pp. 170–199.
Ibid. p. 192.
Swami Muktananda in, ‘Play of Consciousness — a spiritual autobiography’. 3rd ed. SYDA foundation, NY, 2000. p. 71.
The word ‘unconscious’ became popular through the works of the father of psychoanalysis Dr Sigmund Freud. Post enlightenment Europe had taken rational awareness to be the only reality and Dr Freud showed how reality — in the psychological space — consists also of what is not observed or is unknown to the human ego — the ‘unconscious’. Dr Jung expanded upon the construct of the unconscious and found that not only do we harbour forgotten memories and repressed contents in the ‘personal unconscious’, as Dr Freud held it, we also hold within the energy, wisdom and savagery of the entire ancestry of being human in the ‘collective unconscious’. Psychologists have worked since to understand the nature of the unconscious and while it seems like a 19th century phenomena, the construct is actually very old — as old as humanity. Traditional cultures speak about the connectedness of humans — with their ancestors, amongst themselves and with the future — and though the words they use are different, they hold valid the vast unseen and unknown forces that shape our intentions, desires, feelings, choices and thereby our life.
Many are the manifestations of the Self. On the one end, is a renewed capacity for life expressed in vivacity, creative self-expression, soulful conversations and even mystical experiences AND on the other end, there is a depression without cause and a sense of inner alienation and darkness and seeking for the lost soul within. While we cannot get into details here of the myriad expressions, we do know that life transitions and especially mid-life are points of time in our lives where we are prone to a wakeup call and the voice of the Self can puncture significantly the daily rhythm of our life.