The Creative Process: A Portal to ‘Not-Knowing’
Painting By: Laura Basha
The Non-Verbal Language of Transformation
What do artistic expression, personal purpose, and new realities have in common?
This paper explores the parallels between the creative process and the process of transformation, intending to capture non-verbal realms of expression as understandable symbols, both as images as well as words.
One of my ongoing questions is: “What am I not seeing?” Whenever I enter into a dialogue with a client, or put myself in a seminar series or a course for ongoing growth and development, I forget what I know in a sense, so that I can hear newly. I practice “getting amnesia” regarding my intellect and memory and then I do my best to listen from the place of “not-knowing”. From this vantage point I always get a fresh perspective, and I am then open to other’s points of view, am willing to be a neophyte, and so I always “see” something new, often a new way of considering a previously well-rooted and oftentimes well-grounded concept. With high intention to get an insight about one issue or another, I find that pretty much anywhere I look will do if I am listening for what I don’t know.
One of the conversations I have been exploring and reflecting on, is a person’s commitment to global transformation. Global transformation inherently implies a need for listening to the logic of other cultures, a deep respect for the different points of view of others. Given the way each of us views life, given our varied pasts and what we have made them mean, given our years of education and whatever cultural exposures we each uniquely have had, each one of us is in effect, a different culture.
What would happen to communication if we actually listened to one another as if we were each a different culture, replete with our own values and ways of operating that were grounded in a logic perhaps distinct to ourselves, but nevertheless valid and understandable? Communication would have the possibility of effortlessly becoming dialogue: more listening than speaking.
In 1988 I travelled to Egypt with a small group of people with whom I had been studying for the ministry for some time. We hired a boat, a small Egyptian doma, which we sailed down the Nile River with our warm and wonderful guide, Mohammed. We of course approached every conversation with a depth of respect born of the humility that we did not know the culture, the terrain, the language, and we relied upon his expertise not only for cultural information but in reality for our very safety. One particularly beautiful evening as our little boat floated down the river, some of us lay on our backs looking up at the breathtaking night sky of below-the-equator constellations. As Mohammed and I conversed, our conversation turned to our children, and the story unfolded of his recent divorce and the decision of his ex-wife to forbid him to see his 2-year-old son. At the time, I was also divorced and my ex-husband forbade my children to speak with me when they were staying with him. Suddenly, Mohammed and I had no distance between us, no cultural barrier, no problem understanding each other despite his self-conscious English and my non-existent Egyptian. Simply parents, we were bonded through shared heartache and love for our children. It remains a precious moment in my life experience and reminds me of the common thread that runs through our humanity, as well as the transformational impact of listening for that relatedness, rather than being seduced by difference. Compassion, familiarity, empathy, intimacy – all available from listening for and from what we didn’t know.
Now, what if we were to listen to our own intellect and acquired knowledge in the same way? What if we were to listen to the inner silence of what we don’t know, the inner wisdom of “not knowing”, with nothing on our minds but a complete curiosity for what we haven’t been hearing? It is as if we have been listening to the cacophony of our own thinking with such an enamored fascination that the flute music of inspiration has been essentially drowned out. Yet when we can turn our attention away from that educated inner monologue, what can emerge from the stillness is a distinct resonance of wisdom. Implicit in this resonance is an answer to the question that has been raised, an emergence of a solution to the problem, a new realm of possibility that is equally-everywhere-present but which has been obscured by our own attachment to what we know.
This is the walk of the artist, the attentiveness of the creative mind. For purposes of this paper, I am defining “artist” as anyone who taps into the creative Source of all possibility for new insight and even common sense. Life experience becomes the canvas; choice is the brush and paint.
Be here now. This is the stance of being present in the moment. This creative walk is available to each one of us, and can be applied to any project, situation, crisis, or conundrum. Instead of a beautiful painting or dance or poem or piece of music, perhaps the creative Source emerges as a brilliant concept to expand a business vision, or as the insight of a missing equation for a new scientific breakthrough. Perhaps It emerges as exactly the right words that capture and articulate an individual’s personal purpose. Or for a parent at wit’s end with the situation they find themselves in with their teenager, in the quietness of listening to Source from not-knowing, the humility intrinsic in deep listening arises. From this reflective humility a thought occurs to them: Maybe they could listen for how their teen’s thinking makes sense to the teen? As parents they could then see a whole new world which is their teen’s view, and then compassion born of understanding might enter into the conversation, and a lack of judgment and dialogue could ensue, transforming separateness into communion.
When I finally began to do this with my own teenagers, it was an act of letting go within my own thinking, in which I finally granted greatness to my children instead of insisting they absorb my perceptions like sponges, as if I had the only realistic perspective. I remember one day about 16 years ago, I took my daughter to lunch when she was a junior in high school. She became very frustrated with me and I couldn’t understand what had happened since the beginning of lunch was so pleasant. Humility came to me from being more committed to rapport with her than proving to myself that I was right. So, once home, when she finally let me back in her room and I apologized for whatever I had done but told her that I didn’t know what that was, she turned to me with the sudden visage and wisdom of a mature woman and said, “I used to think that everything you told me was true, but now I am becoming aware that other people have other points of view, and I can’t just take your word for it, I have to figure out for myself what is true for me.” Her frustration instantly made sense to me as impersonal, and the result of my lack of listening to how she saw the world.
In the early 1990’s I was a member of SIETAR, the Society for International Education, Training, and Research, created by the founders of the Peace Corps. The strategy utilized by the most effective interculturalists of the day was the strategy of entering into a culture with no expectations or assumptions, but rather with reverence and a listening for what the culture was speaking not just verbally, but non-verbally. In this way the most effective of the interculturalists were the most malleable, open to assimilating into the culture due to the capacity they had developed within themselves to suspend their own knowledge and ways of behaving. They aligned with the resonance of the new culture much as an instrument allows its own vibrational rate to be catalyzed by a tuning fork.
Being catalyzes Being.
So, listening for what we don’t know could be a universal strategy, a globally transformative strategy, because the very nature of not-knowing calls for one to be present in the moment with no attention paid to one’s personal thinking from the past: beginner’s mind.
In January of 2010 I was asked to design and lead a training for the annual company meeting of an international consulting firm, which delivers its work in 8 languages and whose focus clients are Global Fortune 1000 companies. Their work impacts hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. They are in the process of expanding their company’s purpose as well as supporting each employee in defining his/her own purpose in order to best recognize whether their individual commitment is aligned with the company commitment. What became clear in the presentation of my material was that, much like the inter-culturists mentioned earlier, theirs was no longer a question of designing new technology, but rather that each employee be able to discover their own authentic essence within, catalyze it, and emanate the resulting authenticity as they delivered the already mastered technology. This type of awakening is at the heart of the evolution of leadership, and generates humility as well as a fascinated deep listening for another’s perceptions. This is also at the heart of self-actualization, and generates humility and a deep listening for expansion in one’s own listening of one’s self: a new realm of possibility, an emerging reality. From the feedback, the result of the presentation that day was a renewed sense of inspiration for the employees, coupled with a renewed commitment to the company’s purpose, and a commitment by the organization to support each employee in achieving the goals they set for themselves. It became obvious that this would further the actualization of the company’s purpose.
One thing I have learned is that any enlightenment I have attained is not so much the result of noble pursuit as it is waking up to the fact that my face has been in the dirt for a long time and maybe I don’t really know what I’m doing and it’s time to get up, brush myself off and have the wherewithal to listen for what I don’t know. This was certainly part of the process of creating a personal purpose, which finally resonated into words from the essence of what I am committed to. The purpose is in fact now the articulation of who I say I am as a possibility. It took some courage to keep creating just the right combination of phrasing in the face of wanting to “do it right” or “look good” or “look intelligent”, yet now I have a verbalization that I can truly say is the default against which I can measure what I commit to: “I am committed that people are free from the limitations of the past, profoundly present, generating lives of authentic self-expression and joy.”
This process by the way is not dissimilar to the process of creating a painting. In the words of my dear painting mentor, Larry Robinson: “If you don’t hate this painting at some point in the process, it’s not going to be a good painting!” In the realm of creative self-expression there is an angst with which we must engage, working with it, tolerating its discomfort, until harmony unfolds. In the painter’s case, we engage through the brush; in the case of a remarkable human being, through a purpose, a commitment to something bigger than one’s self. If we allow it, transformation has its way with us.
“Look at any inspired painting. It’s like a gong sounding; it puts you in a state of reverberation.”
– Artist Philip Guston
Become a catalyst for your personal purpose, a catalyst for yourself as well as for others in your world. Becoming a catalyst for your personal purpose is like a gong sounding; it puts you and your world in a state of reverberation, transmuting old worn-out discourses into new realms of possibility.
While I was interning in graduate school, the psychiatrist who was the medical director of our clinic for the county’s most challenging persistently mentally ill, became quite frustrated with me for being so idealistic with my patients. He said I was not reality-based enough to be able to assist them. I replied as respectfully as I could that, perhaps he was right, but my perspective was to see the possible best in every patient in order to elicit the same from them, in spite of their presentation. I can see in retrospect that, essentially, this was my purpose – not yet articulated but already living – for my patients: “Free from the limitations of the past, profoundly present …”. I never read the clinical reports on my patients until after I met with them, because I didn’t want my initial assessment to be contaminated by the previous clinicians’ diagnoses. As a result of allowing myself to “not know”, I was able to perceive possibilities with these patients that very likely wouldn’t have occurred to me had I assumed the reality of accepted clinical diagnoses and reports. Of course I read the reports later, but I had by then been able to bring a fresh perspective to what was assumed, thereby achieving some very unusually positive results with patients diagnosed as people who would never improve. Interestingly enough, my work with them was so effective, that a year later the medical director requested supervision from me on my particular methodology.
So when the going gets tough, in the face of resistance, there is a calling from my personal purpose which has me remember what the commitment is: “People being free, profoundly present, authentically self-expressed, and joyful”. If I am creating myself as a clearing for this intention, this commitment I have for myself, and I am suggesting that others get up from the dirt, I had better be vertical myself, with some visible traces of the sludge remaining.
What Does the Naked Eye See?
Were we to suspend our personal perspective, or at least our attachment to our personal perspective, a good question to ask might be: “What does the naked eye see?” With this question we enter the world of symbolism. As we simply be with what is in our midst, from the stance of the naked eye, we would not bring evaluation or assessment, we would bring curiosity and simple interest, synonyms for “not-knowing”. This would allow for seeing something new. The artist must develop a tolerance for the discomfort of not-knowing, because as she exhausts her known ways of creating and the piece is still not working, she must allow the muse of creativity to educate her as to the next step, the next brushstroke, the next note. She is basically listening for the next choice, the answer to: how to proceed?
Listening from this realm of not-knowing, with mental attention turned away from the noise of the stored data of the intellect, and turned toward listening simply through the silence of the “naked eye”, insight emerges. New possibility is heard and brilliance radiates. There is always a background of harmonious music in Life, but what are we listening to: the cacophony of the noise from the thinking in our intellect, our stored memory, or the melodious harmonics of Life Itself?
Inspiration unfolds, taking the form necessary for the fulfillment of the creation: painting to be expressed, words to be written or spoken, parenting to be done, business plan to be developed, patient to be healed. New realities and new realms emerge from the Source of everything and no thing. Empty and meaningless morph into what is needed, according to the character of the thought of the need. We become the conduit through which the creative Source forms Itself. We allow transformation to express through us into our worlds.
Resistance and the Alchemy of Transformation
“The truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off”.
– The EST Training
In every creation of or for something bigger than the way we have previously perceived, is there not the experience of resistance? We begin with what we know, and what we think the creation, purpose, or commitment is. And then as we deepen our alignment with our authentic self, the identity raises its seductive and irresistible head of invalidating reason in equal ratio to the authenticity. All sorts of logical explanation expresses. “If you need a reason, any reason will do” reverberates from transformation days of old. The practice of listening with nothing on your mind, the practice of being fascinated with what you don’t know, allows for a relaxing of the resistance just long enough to hear a new word to express more deeply, more authentically, the promise for the world that is yours. Without focus on the intellect, listening deeply to the intangible resonance of the authentic commitment informs you of its articulation in words.
I am currently in the midst of painting a new painting: “The Alchemist”. The alchemist has accessible to herself all the elements of the universe. Certain combinations of certain elements will result in the transformation of the elements into gold. The creatively self-expressed human being, in this case the artist (and I include myself here, in the midst of creating this painting) has available to herself all the elements of the creative process and has the privileged opportunity of choosing the exact combination which will create the artistic piece or the particular desired result. Sometimes the right elements are unknown, just as oftentimes the right solutions are unknown. Allowing the process of not-knowing through the practice of quieting one’s thinking and becoming present to the sound of silence has one enter into the creative realms of all possibility. This, coupled with expertise of one’s craft, has one able to express those creative realms.
“By dropping your inner resistance to the noise, by allowing it to be as it is, this acceptance also takes you into that realm of inner peace that is stillness … True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.”
– Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks, pp. 6-7
We are so afraid of the unknown. Such trepidation is understandable, when we consider the internal alchemical process in which we are engaged as we put our foot on the path of transformation. Henceforth, we are all alchemists in the laboratory of our lives. We must generate courage born of commitment in order to create a commitment to possibility for the world that flies in the face of entrenched discourses, discourses which have survived the assaults of history and the weathering of time.
Our authentically articulated purpose expressions are projections into form, individually emerging from the collective vision that humanity could create a world where every human being is fulfilled, with no one left out.
The identity has created itself in reaction to known circumstances, so it dupes us into re-creating those circumstances with the myopic grid we have nurtured as an overlay draping our eyeballs. Life doesn’t really have a chance to be authentically seen in this case, as we interpret our experience through this grid, resulting in everything occurring to us as being personally related. The grid is of our making, so seeing things through the grid would automatically contaminate them with the logic of the grid, i.e., our own personally constructed story. Consequently, everything that occurs, everything that is said or done, every comment or opinion, seems personally related to us, which inspires the seed of reactivity. It occurs as obvious from the perspective of this grid, that we are justified in our righteous indignation.
Perhaps the resistance we experience in causing ourselves to self-actualize, is actually the fear of an identity, a self-created though limiting persona, not knowing how to be present in a circumstance that bears no relation to the originating circumstance around which it constructed itself.
But who did the constructing? It couldn’t be the identity, as the identity, the persona if you will, is itself the resulting construct. Perhaps in listening for what we don’t know, we are allowing ourselves to stand in the clearing of all possibility, the alchemist’s realm of choice with all the elements of the universe available to us, and we then have the charge of interpreting the symbols, the life experiences, that lay in front of us.
The process of creating an authentic purpose is tantamount to delving deep into the silt to find the gold of the authentic self-expression of one’s essence, that which assimilated the identity in the first place. Alchemy takes place first through the alchemist.
“The difficulties of our … work teach us to take truth, goodness, and beauty where we find them. They are not always found where we look for them: often they are hidden in the dirt or are in the keeping of the dragon. ”
– Carl Jung, The Psychology of the Transference, p. 25
This is the power inherent in accessing the creative realm of authentic self-expression. This creative realm can be accessed anywhere needed in life experience, as Life Itself emanates from this realm. One’s life and one’s authentic self-expression becomes the art form.
“Life is greater than all art. I would go even further and declare that the man whose life comes nearest to perfection is the greatest artist; for what is art without the sure foundation and framework of a noble life?”
The more we understand the important role of resistance and the workings of the identity as it creates resistance that appears so real, the more we can tolerate the breakdowns that must occur in order to be dissolved and transmuted into breakthroughs.
What does it really feel like to be creating an accelerated life of possibility? Of course the identity is confronted because possibility unfolds by being present in the Now, and identity is the resultant expression of aligning with memory. Standing in the Now is really what is required for engaging the creative process. What happens to us when we are confronted and experience resistance could be seen as symbolic that we are on the right path. Transformation takes something.
Life is full of metaphors. In fact, one might even venture to say that in each person’s individual life experience, every occurrence is a metaphor of whatever needs to be seen next for one’s own evolutionary process.
We can utilize the arts of theatre or writing, painting or music or dance to gain access to deeper understanding and insight of life’s symbols and metaphors through the feelings they are eliciting; as images, they can trigger certain resonances that lie deep within the memory. These feelings then later coalesce into cognitive form as words which occur as insight. What does the naked eye see? This way of looking from the naked eye is a stance that could be utilized cross-culturally, cross-gender, cross-generationally. And isn’t this the unspoken commitment inherent in our articulated personal purposes: global transformation.
The most powerful way to actualize a personal purpose is to BE the purpose. This is the non-verbal language that is invisible and silent, yet so loud that it radiates and penetrates the environment with its resonance as soon as we simply show up. The work takes place within us.
The concept of a universal application of considering non-verbal symbols as the language of transformation makes sense from the perspective that you would see any symbol within the context of your own culture. The symbols of your own culture would be for the most part known to or available to you to explore. You would interpret the experience as symbolically and metaphorically meaningful within the context of your own cultural perspective, thus informing you of your answer or insight or revelation.
Certain symbols have universal meaning, regardless of education, social standing, culture, gender or generational stance. A “dwelling” can be communicated in a number of different symbols and universally perceived, e.g., a house or a hut or a tent. A bird in flight has a universal symbolic meaning of “transcendence”. Research shows that certain symbols express certain meaning and can resonate on very deep levels which the cognitive functions do not identify but to which the common thread of humanity resonates. The circle, for example, the mandala, is one of the oldest symbols in human history and communicates cross-culturally wholeness, completeness, infinity.
Being present in the listening of stillness, of the silence, of not-knowing, brings the truth of our common humanity to the fore. Listening from the “naked eye” has us resonate with the realms of compassion, humility, generosity, and contribution. Thus we emanate grace. Our very presence then has us sought after and in demand for being a remarkable human being. This is at the heart of every authentic personal purpose for the world.
What if being a “remarkable human being” was no longer remarkable? What if we were sought after and in demand for the very ordinary magnificence that is the hallmark of the authentically expressed human being?
What if by our very presence born of alignment with our own personal purpose, inside the clearing space of the unknown, we were the catalysts for the other, resonating to the commonality of remarkable, the commonality of magnificent? Choices would then be made for the benefit of all concerned.
What if by our very ordinary and remarkable presence we emanated the common thread hidden within great inspirational art? What if by our very ordinary and remarkable presence we radiated the possibility of human life experience being the acme of the fine arts? Standing in the clearing of accumulated personal purposes, we could very well radiate for humanity a new realm of masterful living, with no one and nothing left out.
From the white paper by Laura Basha, Ph.D.
Conference for Global Transformation, May 2010
“Best Paper” Award/span>
© 2010 Laura Basha, Ph.D.
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