Being intensely creative can be an intoxicating experience. Consequently, there is a tendency among creative individuals to conceptualize the process in ways that are not realistic. These false theories usually fall into one of two categories. In either case, the error gets in the way of developing a true (and therefore more useful) understanding of the creative process.
Creative people do not always understand their own creative process.
Mystics, poets, and artists of all kinds can sometimes come to believe that their creativity (or inspiration) is not their own. That is, the creative process can seem so remarkable and astonishing that ideas and impulses seem to come from somewhere else or from someone other than the creators themselves. These individuals modestly assume that they could not possibly have come up with such impressive results on their own. For some, the source feels in some way divine and is presumed to lie with “the Muses” or with God. For others, the origin must lie in a mystically enhanced version of the unconscious mind. Both scenarios place the origin of creativity outside the conscious ego. The creator is just a channel.
In this post, I want to present another example of the associative workings of the unconscious mind. Years of strenuous psychotherapy and much “soul searching” have made me sensitive to the meaningful little clues and useful responses the unconscious scatters through our lives. We all have these experiences, but many of us, not understanding their potential value just shrug them off. I recorded this simple incident in one of my notebooks. To set the scene, I should mention that I was living the hermit’s life in a forest shack on the edge of the Canadian wilderness at the time.
The human mind has two aspects, one of which can be a nag and the other a source of great wisdom. (Image: Gutenberg)
When Scottish physician and writer Arthur Conan Doyle created his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, he gave the immortal sleuth some character traits not considered virtues. Foremost among these dubious qualities would be Holmes’ chronic problem with boredom. Another negative behaviour, his cocaine habit, stems directly from this noteworthy inability to stay afloat in unstimulating situations. Doyle wished us to see that Holmes’ mind was so powerful it required huge amounts of intellectual “fuel” to keep it from stalling.
Arthur Conan Doyle used his famous character, Sherlock Holmes, to exemplify the perils of boredom for those with powerful intellects. (Photo: Wikipedia)
In reality, anyone with a decent mind faces the same situation. We know that all human beings tend towards “psychic entropy” when alone – the least stimulating situation a person can be in. It is less obvious that persons of greater intelligence may suffer the same fate even when among others if the milieu in which they travel is of insufficient sophistication. The danger is, as it was with Holmes, boredom followed by sudden descents into severe depression.
Conceptualization is a skill. The process involves working out an idea or explanation and formulating it mentally. Everyone can and does conceptualize, but like all skills, some people are better at it than others. Speed matters for many of those who consider themselves intelligent. They demonstrate their erudition and big IQ numbers – and impress others – with their ability to come up with swift conceptualizations of just about anything that crosses their path. Or so they think. In reality, we are all familiar with the person who can snap out ideas and explanations that sound plausible at the time, but which soon prove incomplete, inadequate, or just plain wrong.
Solid conceptualization (putting the pieces together) needs time and all of the mind’s resources. The language portion of thinking must be supplemented by association, intuition, etc. (image: pixabay.com)
I once saw a short film about the famous experiment where research scientists gave brushes, paint, and large sheets of paper to a number of chimpanzees, and then left them to their own devices. Soon, the chimps became so engrossed in daubing colour on the paper that they neglected their usual mating and eating habits. In a sense, they had become crude abstract artists! The important thing to note is that, while mating and eating are necessary for survival, daubing paint is not.
Mind related activities can be so absorbing we neglect vital functions such as eating. (Photos: public domain)
The chimps were demonstrating that mind-related activity is so powerfully rewarding it can overpower even such basic life-sustaining drives as hunger and lust. If the effect is so strong in chimpanzees, we can easily see why human creators, with their more-powerful minds, behave the way they do. Here is the doorway that humans have walked through as we evolved beyond being just animals. Once our intelligence reached a certain point, mind became the primary driving force in our evolutionary development. Importantly, this is true not only because we became better at hunting and gathering, but also because mind is useful for much more than sharpening our survival skills.
Over the course of my life, there have been a number of nights where I have dreamt of my own death. Psychologists claim that dreaming of your own demise is a sign that you are about to change. I believe this is at least partly true, but might argue for serious intentrather than actuality. The story I am about to recount occurred during a period when I was recovering from a nervous breakdown and in the midst of learning that I was a type one manic-depressive. The dream did precede the abrupt cessation of mystical behaviour that had tormented me for many years. However, the change did not stick.
It can be a rough ride, but gazing into crystal balls or consulting oracles will allow you to dialogue with your unconscious mind. (Image: public domain.)
In the dream, I died a sudden death in a train wreck when the locomotive engineer took a curve too swiftly, toppling the train from its tracks into a forty- or fifty-foot-deep ravine. Death came on impact with the ground below. Just before the fatal accident, I remember leaning from a coach window and seeing, not far ahead, the engineer doing the same at an opening in the diesel engine’s cab. He did not seem to be paying much attention to his driving duties, a reflection, I am sure, of my own shocking self-neglect and depressed indifference to my fate at that time.