Tag Archives: creative process

Primary and Elemental

Two books in my current stack, having a conversation with each other:

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by educator par excellence, Sir Ken Robinson, PhD; and poet David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity.

Robinson advocates for finding your Element: that place where your natural talent and passion lie. Whyte’s sea is the metaphorical setting for the voyage we take through our working lives.

I have been reading Robinson cover to cover, as research for a creativity and innovation program I’ve helped to develop. For Whyte’s poetic meditation, I tend to page through here and there, dipping my toes in the water as it were.

I love it when books begin to have a conversation with each other. Here’s how it went yesterday:

Robinson: “When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose, and well-being.”

Whyte: “We need, at every stage in our journey through work, to be in conversation with our desire for something suited to us and our individual natures.”

Robinson: these issues “are of fundamental importance in our lives and in the lives of our children, our students, and the people we work with.”

Whyte: “The human soul thrives on and finds courage from the difficult intimacies of belonging.”

Robinson: “Being in your element often means being connected with other people who share the same passions and have a common sense of commitment.”

Community, commitment, passion, our true natures. Sure makes sense. Sounds good. But now listen to Whyte:

“…but it is almost as if, afraid of those primary intimacies, we have unconsciously created a work world so secondary, so complex, and so busy and bullied by surface forces that, embroiled in those surface difficulties, we have the perfect busy excuse not to wrestle with the more essential difficulties of existence, the difficulties of finding a work and a life suited to our individual natures…”

Woa. If finding the Element is so elemental to our well being, and if the soul thrives in the intimacies of belonging, but that primacy is covered over with secondary busyiness in the working worlds we’ve created…how are we going to pull it off?

Let me bring in a third voice here, someone I ran across in my coursework. Good old A.H. Maslow:

“…out of this deeper self, out of this portion of ourselves of which we generally are afraid and therefore try to keep under control, out of this comes the ability to play—to enjoy, to fantasy, to laugh, to loaf, to be spontaneous—and, what’s most important for us here, creativity, a kind of intellectual play, which is a kind of permission to be ourselves.”

I’m going to build the next link here and say that I don’t think we can really attain the sort of Element-supporting intimacy with others that Whyte asks of us (and Robinson implies), if we’re not being ourselves. If that’s the case, let’s suppose in the service of the primary and the elemental, that it is play (especially play at work) which is our missing ingredient.

Or, to spin the words primary and elementary just a bit, maybe it’s time for recess.

Janus and the Big Tent

Janus is the Roman god with the two faces, one looking forward and one back (or: in opposition). In the 1970’s, psychiatrist Albert Rothenburg coined the term “Janusian Thinking” to describe the oppositional energies that are often present in creativity.

An image of Janus hangs on the wall outside the creative studies library at Buffalo State College. (It’s fitting that he hangs at the threshold, as Janus was also the god of doorways and passages…)

Head of Janus. Butler Library, Buffalo State College

Head of Janus. Butler Library, Buffalo State College

I just returned from my first two weeks as a student at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State. I learned many wonderful things, among which was this concept of Janusian Thinking. I’m holding onto it, in fact, because in order to embark on this education (which will lead to a Master of Science degree), I’ve needed to expose my personal understanding of how creativity has manifested in my life (from the artistic point of view), to challenges and probably also to changes. A dear friend, upon hearing my intention to begin the program, asked: “Aren’t you afraid it will destroy the magic?”

Yeah, sometimes I have been.

But my first two weeks in the program showed me something else that I find just as important as theories of contradiction and paradox: diversity. My cohort is made up of professionals in painting, photography, food science, consulting, communications, academia, government, etc. As we came to know each other over the course of the two weeks, it became abundantly clear that “creativity” is a Big Tent kind of place. There’s lots of room here—for the science, and the art.

As I think about it now, perhaps the role of Janus as presider-over of doorways (hence, beginnings) is just as significant to creativity as his role of embodying paradox. Perhaps it’s in developing comfort with polarities (art/science; inspiration/measurement; sensing/thinking, etc, etc) that we really come to appreciate being lifted over the threshold, and into the tent.

Buffalo Bound: The Creativity Quest

Recently I’ve become aware of the many ways that people respond to the question of “creativity.”

For some, it ‘s a fluffy,vague, floaty immateriality—the stuff of bohemia.

For others it bespeaks their own artistic expressions–expressed, or stifled.

Others see creativity (as was described in a newsletter from Innovation Tools which I received today) as “a poor stepchild to innovation.”

And there are other points of view which, I suspect, see both innovation and creativity as primarily value-adding strategies, falling short of also appreciating them as essential components of an engaged, curious, and generative orientation to life.

All of these impressions—and more, I’m sure—are about to be thrown into the hopper for me, as I begin my Master’s studies at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at the University of Buffalo next week.

I enrolled in the program with the aim of enriching what I offer through Stages of Presence. Some people, I have found, can easily grasp the idea of bringing artistic competencies into the workplace. For others, it feels like an indulgence, or something too loosy-goosy for these serious times.

But in one sense, it all really comes down to creativity. And I do think most people, given time to explore what creativity means to them in their lives, can associate that value with the work that they do.

The creative spirit finds its way into our lives in many diverse ways. From artistic applications, to measurable outcomes, by broadening our understanding of what “creativity” means, we invite ourselves to experience it both with more variety and more depth.

I’m looking forward to reporting what this new broadening at Buffalo will bring.