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.
The concept of “the quintessence” has more than one historical root. Here I will deal with the one that really does have roots, the one that involves sacred trees. It may seem strange that people once considered certain trees (and by extension, groves) sacred, yet there is a simple logic to the belief and – not surprisingly – a link to modern psychology.
Trees are a source of the mysterious quintessence, which is an externalization of the unconscious mind. (Image: Wikipaintings)
Most of us associate the practice of worshipping trees, or worshipping among trees, with the Celtic peoples of Western Europe. Tacitus (writing about Celts in his book Germania) says, “The Grove is the centre of their whole religion. It is regarded as the cradle of the race and the dwelling-place of the supreme god to whom all things are subject and obedient.”
Does reason or emotion rule the mental roost? Or is there another factor? (Image: public domain
Nothing happens in this world without some kind of energy to power it, to make it manifest. That being the case, what powers the human psyche where so much of what is important in this world occurs? The most obvious candidates are the powerful urges of emotion and the more precise logical functions of reason. Most often, opinion divides between these two options while a minority (trying to be moderate and sophisticated) take the middle ground and say that both reason and emotion power the psyche in a sort of psychic balancing act. This, they claim, yields the proverbial well-balanced person.
The unconscious mind produces an associative running commentary on our thoughts and surroundings. (Image: public domain.)
The Unconscious Observes and Comments
In earlier posts, I have written about synergistic thinking, the deliberate combining of logical (linear) and associative (non-linear) thinking. Logic is a product of the conscious mind and as such it is a thinking tool we all, with varying degrees of skill, deliberately employ. Associative thinking is how the unconscious works and can be both hard to understand and elusive in its actual – often powerful – workings. As a result, in the last few decades, a great deal of confusing superstition has gathered around the unconscious. Here is a gem from page 39 of Susan Shaughnessy’s excellent book about writing, Walking on Alligators: “The only thing we know for sure about the unconscious is that it isn’t like us. It is different from the conscious mind. It looks through our eyes, but it sees differently. It uses other rules to organize what it sees. And then it passes along its conclusions in a tantalizingly inexplicit way.”