There is no box

While in Shanghai, I had followed my instincts and persevered to reach Puxi on my own and ran into another spirit on the Pudong waterfront, Dr. Jean Pegouret (French Dr., engineer, linguist, free spirit, part-time Shanghai resident). Jean was a complete stranger to me and yet we ended up spending the whole day together, walking in Puxi. He spoke to me about the country, the city, the customs, culture and couture and surprised me with his fluency in Shanghainese, as he joked with the local people, ordered food at a restaurant and spoke to the metro officials to sort out my ticket situation. I was pleasantly inspired by Jean’s giving nature. He gave me his time, energy and spirit, so freely and had such a great attitude about it. Little surprise we had so much in common – a wanderlust, a comfort and one-ness in an “alien” surrounding, music, writing, very similar thoughts on spirit, philosophy, intellect, connectedness, progressiveness nature, freedom… It did not matter that he was French and I was Indian. Back home in the evening, I was narrating the day’s adventures to my parents and spoke about Jean. In an attempt to understand and place him in her head, my mom’s first question was “What’s his job?” true to the philosophy of her generation and cultural background. I just think Jean’s spirit embodied much more than what “job” he held. Such people have transcended materialism and have an almost ethereal approach to life. They may not fit in a box, but I feel like they are ahead of the majority in their spiritual ascension.


The Science behind Creativity

Creativity – a science? Sounds counter intuitive, doesn’t it? For the longest time, I’d associated the word creativity with “right brained” activities such as singing, dancing, painting, decorating interiors and things you “do as a hobby”. I found that this was a rather common misconception about the concept. I’ve often heard people who crunch numbers on Wall street or those who effect corporate mergers and acquisitions and in general those who work in environments that engage the “left-brain”, say “Oh, but I’m not creative at all” alluding to their non-engagement with the right-brained world. Being someone that straddles both kinds of environments to some extent, I have spent some time thinking about this and have come to realize a few things about creativity — (a) creativity lies not in what you do but in how you do it, in other words, creativity is a way of doing and a way of being(b) creativity lies in what the do-ing means to the do-er and (c) when practiced with intention and awareness, even creativity or creating can be perfected into a science and hence, anyone can be creative!

Even though the framework for creativity can be broken down to an objective science, there is a subjective element to it, in that it is closely tied to one’s life purpose, one’s why. Executing on life purpose has a plethora of benefits such as good health, this feeling that life is one big vacation, the constant presence of awe and magic in your life (I will elaborate on this in another post). Everyone has his or her own unique strengths and gifts and invariably their life purpose is closely tied with those strengths and gifts.  Some people are lucky enough to have identified their life purpose very early. Yet some others may have a hunch, but not follow through with it due to life circumstances, prejudices and other artificial constraints. But for most of the rest of us, it (finding our true purpose) is a journey. The journey of creativity may help with that. Knowing the how, may sometimes help with the unfolding of the why.

Here’s how I’d break down the phases of the creative journey.

1. It all starts with slowing down and paying attention… to the thought, the inkling, the hunch, the desire that strikes you as you go about your life, work, play; observing the thought that enamors or invades your psyche, sometimes in a fleeting way and sometimes more persistent. No matter what the subject is, be it a concept for a painting, an architectural blue print or a proposal for a clinical trial, noticing or paying attention to the thoughts and hunches and daring to see just how far the rabbit hole goes, is really an “artistic” pursuit.  But the art or the ambiguity in it is nothing to shy away from. After all, yesterday’s art(imagination) is today’s science(theory) and today’s science is the basis for tomorrow’s engineering (reality). It all starts with paying attention…to the in-between.

2. Paying attention leads to awareness. The first step to the process of creativity is awareness — awareness of an interest, a passion, a gift even. If you already have awareness of your gift, good, if you don’t, follow the white rabbit. Follow the goose bumps, follow the tears, follow that which makes your heart leap and laugh, follow that which makes you daydream and if you follow it long enough, no matter what your head or your parents or “common sense” tells you, you will have uncovered something. Awareness over time, leads to the formation of a belief, a vision, an ability to see beyond (the box, the state of the art), an ability to imagine…to imagine a line or a connection between the dots.

3. No matter where you are in the awareness spectrum, i.e. whether you have an interest or itch or belief or whether you have knowledge of your strength, which is a step further in the awareness spectrum,  desire is not too far from it — a desire to do, a desire to know, a desire to be, a desire to grow…(and ultimately a desire to serve). If desire is not a word that suits your fancy, then call it an urge or a drive, but an internal ember is essentially the flavor of this next step.

4. If you do desire something bad enough, the Universe conspires to give it to you. I haven’t heard of a more repeated cliche, but I haven’t heard a truer statement either. If your desire is genuine i.e. it originates from deep within you and from a very pure place, you would have begun to manifest it already, in other words, things would have already started to arrange themselves in order to make the object of that desire accessible (not available) to you. Feel the desire, be aware of the desire.  The thoughts you put out to the Universe have a way of manifesting as an opportunity. You just have to learn to recognize the opportunity (remember the paying attention part?).

5. The only way to quench the desire is to take action on it. Once you recognize and embark on the opportunity, do not give up even if you encounter roadblocks, discouragements and naysayers, there really is no substitute for hard work which includes the fortitude to persevere on your vision. When the inspiration is genuine, the effort relentless and the practice consistent, the day is not far when the result will be apparent. The result could be anything from baking a themed cake for your kid’s birthday to building a nuclear reactor to landing a “dream” situation. The result is the connection between two (or more) dots that heretofore were just two (or more) disparate entities in your mind. It is important to not get distracted or confused by those that say “work smart, not hard”, “its in the genes”, “oh, but are you really happy?” etc. It took a lot of hard work (in some shape or form invisible or indiscernible to you) for the smartness to be in place or for the genes to be programmed that way (in “those others”) in the first place. So your belief, your desire and your practice are all you have and you will do yourself a big service by not giving up on any of that. Of course sometimes, the result, can also be a conclusion, a very firm one in your mind and that is also completely worth it.

6. With the validation of result, and continuing practice, somewhere along the road, the conscious practice becomes a part of the unconscious skill-set or repertoire. This way you find that you have moved the needle on your capacity or knowledge. And just like that, the box you were operating in, just grew in size or added another dimension to it!

Creativity is nothing but this process of theorizing and then converting theory into practice, converting belief into knowledge, converting imagination into innovation! And then of course, change is the only constant. Life changes, time moves forward, you change, the state of the art changes, just like day and night and the seasons, it is all a cycle. With the newly equipped knowledge, if you consciously go back to step 1 and pay attention, over time, new beliefs form and from there on, you know how it goes. :). Creativity is therefore this process of identifying the box and then gradually increasing the size of the box, until you reach a point where there is simply no box.

So if in the pursuit of being creative, you do not know where to start or you find yourself stuck at any point, having this framework (translations of the abstractions is in the mind of the reader) may help you understand where you are and help you figure out how to move forward on your journey. To be creative or not is therefore ultimately a matter of choice.