There have been two books I’ve read recently that deserve big recognition for their ability to express the subtleties of man living in consort with Nature and the mystery of inspiration. It’s Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear that takes the prize, however, for boldly being able to give meaning to and explain the creative process and the pathways to choose for achieving the most positive results.
She begins her book with a simple question and answer, “What is creativity? [It is] the relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.” This blog, by the way, is primarily about witnessing such inspiration and marveling in the creative process involved.
Gilbert eloquently describes the moment that one’s revelation of an idea occurs is when a person is open to receive the thought that may have been there but they were not cognizant of seeing it. Kinda like the thought of the potential for art being everywhere exists around us but it takes the perceptive individual to notice. She likens an idea to a living entity that gets its life force through a person, as if the person is the vehicle for bringing it to light. If the person is unwilling to engage the idea, not receptive or too late to act on it, then the idea goes elsewhere looking for another individual to entice. She describes an example when her idea for a book was passed to another author simply through a hug. It was not the best timing for her to commit to the idea so the idea left for another host and this other author wrote a wonderful book involving this same idea. The idea was never discussed between the writers in advance. It only came to light when Ann Patchet (the other author) was describing her new book, State of Wonder. You might think Gilbert would be incensed that her idea had been “stolen.” How would you react? Instead, she appreciated Ann Patchet’s work and was delighted that the idea finally came to light. One does not have ownership over an idea, she notes. The idea has ownership over you.
This concept makes sense when waves of ideas come and they go. They aren’t always there but when they are, it’s always magical to see many ways the idea can manifest itself.
I’m having one of these moments in a new series of artwork I’m trying to produce. The concept has been with me for a while but I’ve just now gotten the chance to fully act on it. Her book gave me the impetus I needed with the suggestion that the idea will go elsewhere if not used. Now I’m fully immersed in it; albeit, while trying to manage my business(es), which is probably my other creative idea(s) that I’ve been nurturing for the last 8+ years.
She likens living in the moment while manifesting the idea as the most magical experience, full of pure joy, of which I can attest, when it happens:
“You may know this feeling. It’s the feeling you get when you’ve made [or done] something wonderful and when you look at it later, all you can say is, “I don’t even know where that came from.” You can’t repeat it. You can’t explain it. But it felt as if you were guided…It’s the most magnificent sensation imaginable when it arrives…[maybe] not a more perfect happiness to be found in life than this state, except perhaps falling in love.”
She calls this having a genius, as the Romans did, not as we do now “being” a genius. The difference keeps the creative person’s ego in check. This is contrary to those pinned with the label of genius (i.e. Harper Lee) or the self-absorbed artist, singer (e.g. Kanye West) or actress or lawyer, politician or any person for that matter who thinks they are, unique, one-of-a kind. They can be either too scared to create again having reached a pinnacle or too frighteningly egocentric when they do. We are all creators and living life fully is in the act of doing something. I call it “finding Balance.”
She describes the paradoxes involved. The moment the idea comes and you act on it is sacred and related to divine mystery, which I agree. I often explain coincidences that happen as more than just mere coincidences. However, she warns that although you must take the work involved seriously, you cannot think it too important or let it torment you or create such disruption that the work becomes a burden, then you lose the miraculous flow. The creative idea is then affected and becomes too heavy when it needs to remain light, not necessarily easy but enough so to bring joy. Life is about creating (the process) not necessarily the results of what you create. It’s great if the result is a masterpiece or a best seller, as her book Eat Pray Love was, but the intent cannot be just for this goal. There is too much pressure and a set up for self-destined failure, which may be why Harper Lee never wrote anything after To Kill a Mockingbird. Ann Patchet’s work is so highly regarded not only because she is a wonderful writer but mainly because of her similar philosophy, “I don’t write for an audience, I don’t think whether my book will sell, I don’t sell it before I finish writing it.“
Gilbert states, “in the end, creativity is a gift to the creator, not the audience.” I would even say and creativity should be received gratefully, giving gratitude to the Creator. She says the creative work must be the most important thing to live artistically but not matter at all in order to live sanely. Again, finding that balance, while always being grateful and enjoying the good and bad of what you do. That’s a lesson I remember my father telling me, no matter what you do in life, make sure is something you enjoy doing.” This way you can overcome hardships that will happen along the way.
Gilbert’s book is all about the creative process. How the idea forms, how one chooses or doesn’t choose to act on the inspiration and how there is work involved when you choose to act, which she humorously calls the “shit sandwich.” I don’t have a problem with this language because it is aptly named when you understand the reasoning behind it. It refers to all the frustration involved and hardships to overcome in making the idea materialize. You’re either willing to eat the shit sandwich, that no one wants or chooses to eat, or not. How badly do you want to make your idea work? There are lessons in this book for everyone to follow. Persistence, not perfection, pays off. The shit sandwich is what happens in between the bright moments of the easy flow of inspiration. There are other lessons: trust in what you love, learn from fear, be open-minded and curious, say yes to inquisitiveness and interests because they are often clues pointing you to a path that you might not fully see, stop complaining, get doing.
I chose this book for my book group as a philosophy book not as a self-help. We enjoyed discussing during our Mardi Gras celebration — enjoying life in the doing — as described in my previous post.
This was just after the previous book we read last month called Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, which is another one that I’d highly recommend. Sy Montgomery is a Naturalist who’s written a series of books that demonstrate Man’s symbiotic connection to Nature through the many experiences she has encountered. This one has to do with her observation and what we can learn from highly intelligent octopuses (not the more popular, but incorrect octopi). When reading her account, you learn how remarkable these mysterious and often feared creatures are but also how human emotions can become entangled and elevated with another type of being. As the book jacket states, her story “reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds.“
This is what I wrote to my book group about it. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see the connection between the two books and my delight in discovering them, coincidentally seeing how they relate to discovery and Art Is Everywhere:
I loved this book, btw and gave it a 10, which I rarely give, but it really spoke to me. I’ve been enamored with the sea and all its mysterious creatures, which is why I probably collect and paint seashells, sea life murals and have enjoyed a fresh and marine fish tank for over 20 years. Fish, surprisingly, also have personalities.
Sy Montgomery coincidentally mentions Cozumel as her first dive and likens it to something similar to visiting an alien planet right here on earth…It’s on my bucket list to go deep sea diving but until then, I’m going to go swimming with whale sharks (extra video ref). I learned about how this phenomenon came about through the Racing Extinction film (very worth watching even with some overtly political overtones). It aired in December but you may still be able to see it on the Discovery Channel?
Following suit on the philosophy take-away regarding this book about Karma and Consciousness,* I’m choosing Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear. I believe it was written as a followup to her Ted Talk on Creativity that I was so impressed with that I emailed the book group about way back. I just discovered she’s expanded it into book form. We’ve read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love and Committed before and discussed how she can have a somewhat self-absorbing nature to her writing but even though her stories are shared from personal experience, this broad topic on creativity and inspiration may grab our group of very creative ladies both collectively and individually.
I almost chose another book, Nonesense, the Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes and will still recommend because I think it might be the perfect followup to Gilbert’s book. This one is filled with unknown facts behind veils of deception — from what you think you might know. Both books seem enlightening for living in the present.
Montgomery marries science with poetry in her descriptions of her dives along with her cultural knowledge in explaining the meaning of karma and consciousness.
“The desire to change our ordinary, everyday consciousness does not seize everyone, but it’s a persistent them in human culture. Expanding the mind beyond self allows us to relive our loneliness, to connect to what Jung called universal consciousness…Plato called the animus mundi, the all-extensive world soul shared by all of life…Karma is interchanged with destiny…but the idea of karma has a deeper and more promising meaning than fate…Our karma is something over which, unlike fate, we do have control. “Volition is karma,” the Buddha is reported to have said. Karma, in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, is conscious action. Karma is not fate, but, in fact, its opposite. Karma is choice.”
In her chapter, Consciousness to think, to feel, to know, she describes the following reflection about the meaning of the Soul while attending a Tahitian church service, she “understands the power of worship, and the importance of contemplating mystery…in all our relationships, in all our deepest wonderings. We seek to fathom the soul…[The Soul] gives life meaning and purpose. The Soul is the fingerprint of God. Others say that soul is our innermost being, the thing that gives us our senses, our intelligence, our emotions, our desires, our will, our personalities, our identity. Perhaps none of this is true, [but as she sits in the pew she ponders,] I am certain of one thing…if I have a soul — and I think I do — an octopus has a soul too.
Strangely enough, she contemplates this idea (which I think has to do with connection and creativity as it takes on its own life as the title of her book) while she is transported by the pastor’s sermon to the “Gilbert Islands, where the octopus god, Na Kitka, was said to be the son of the first beings, and with his eight strong arms, shoved the islands up from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean…Immersed in mystery, my natural response, even on an expedition in the name of science, is to pray.”
Perhaps I’m more reflective with my birthday a day away, but not thinking there is really a connection to this, except that these two books brought great inspiration, in a timely and interconnected way that is beautifully mysterious. I am grateful to have read them and I can only hope their inspiration will be sustained, at least for a while.