“If you can think and not make intellect your game / You’ll be alright” (Mitchell).
In our thought centric society, it may seem ludicrous to question whether thought and creativity are compatible. To the reasonable among us, the two are obviously interconnected. Yet it is asserted here that obscured, within the depths of human being, there are movements that render the question not only pertinent but also necessary. Here we will attempt to penetrate into these, often unexplored, fathoms in hopes of adding a modicum of light to otherwise murky waters.
To begin, what is thought? Here we will define thought as the conscious activity of the brain with an emphasis on the incessant internal dialog that pervades most human minds. It commonly relentlessly churns away, day after day, year after year, often depriving us of sleep and of any other type of reprieve from the demands of life. This constant mental self-talking is arguably the source of many, if not all, human maladies. It is the both the result of and the impetus behind a thought-based sense of self.
The computer can be viewed as an extremely simplistic model of the brain. However, there are distinct similarities between the two. They both acquire memories and reconfigure them in myriad forms according to their programming. Though the programming of a computer is obvious and requires no explanation the programming of the human brain is not as straightforward. A programmed brain is one that is conditioned by the past… both the personal past and the collective human past (Krishnamurti). This conditioning causes us to react, often unconsciously, to stimuli in an automatic manner from a fixated perspective. It is so engrained in our basic thought processes that we barely realize it as the basis for our decision-making. Foucault suggests that, from a humanistic perspective, this subjective stance forms the cognitive foundation for human knowledge (Nayar). From this operating modality, neither the computer nor the brain is capable of producing anything original since everything they produce is based upon that which is already known. They produce reconfigured artifacts from the past and are incapable of more. Is this creativity? Here we will define this action of re-contextualizing the past as “making” but not “creating”.
To continue then, what is creativity? Here, we will define creativity as the expression of something new… something beyond the known… something beyond the past. To attend the present, using the past as a reference but not as a master, is to unleash the creativity within (Tolle). When we quiet the thought-based sense of self, a mental image to which most human beings relentlessly cling and would perish in defense of, we allow something indefinable to come forth. It is perhaps indefinable because there is no past reference for it and therefore there are no thoughts or words to describe it. It is asserted here that in this proximity is the burgeoning of creativity and that this birthplace is an endless well from which the new can flow.
Is it possible for a human being to act free of the past… free of knowledge? There are many examples that seem to demonstrate that it is not only possible but it is also more common than might be realized. When it occurs excellence ensues. Consider the basketball player, coming off the best game of his life, that describes his experience on the court as being “in the zone”. During the game such a player loses all sense of time. He is simply playing without thinking… acting purely instinctively. Yes, he is functioning utilizing everything previously learned about basketball and yet is not bound to this knowledge and so exceeds it. Similar experiences have been reported by people in such diverse areas of human endeavor as writing, composing music, painting, dervish dancing, mathematics, improvising jazz, and on and on. During these moments, one is completely consumed by the activity in which one is engaged… to the exclusion of all else including any hope, or thought, of a certain outcome. Children, when playing, often demonstrate this. When they are interested in something, nothing else seems to matter. They become consumed by what they are doing purely for the sake of doing it (Cleese). As adults, most of us have had similar experiences… extended moments in which the persona falls away and we become one with our actions. Picasso is quoted as having said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Creativity often comes unbidden. In such moments one is free from the domination of that self-imposed, and thought derived, sense of self that children lack. However, there are many ways to cultivate it. For some, a path is deliberate meditation. By consciously quieting oneself a state of mind entirely different from a normal every-day perspective takes over. In this state of freedom from the thought-dominated sense of self, creativity emerges and begins expressing itself uniquely according to one’s predilections.
Another instance in one’s life where creativity occurs is in that state of mind between sleeping and wakefulness or in dreaming. The sustainment of this state of mind can be developed. For instance, it is said that Thomas Edison, who still holds the record for the number of US patents, often sat in his chair holding his arm out with ball bearings in his hand in an attempt to maintain that state between sleeping and wakefulness… that dream state where creativity often dwells. If he went too far and fell asleep, the ball bearings would fall out of his hand into a metal pan beneath and the sound would wake him up (Cleese).
As alluded to previously, jazz musicians often report similar experiences when performing improvisations. The term “stream of consciousness” is often used to describe a state of mind in which they act without thinking and thus allow some other aspect of themselves to take over. Many other musicians can also attest to such an experience when composing or performing. There is a similar phenomena reported by many others… artists, comedians, and actors to name a few.
Though neither advocated nor condemned here, the use of mind-altering drugs or alcohol can also elicit such a response. For example, in a documentary it was stated that the initial idea for the personal computer came to its originators while in a hot tub smoking marijuana. The problem with depending upon chemically induced creativity is that it has negative backlashes in the form of addictions and the associated mental and physical health issues. The toll they can take is great.
The commonality in the examples above is that when the conscious thinking mind is quieted, through whatever means, creativity occurs. The new emerges. It does not matter how one achieves this state of mind. The point is that the quiet mind is the creative mind and that it can be cultivated. It is capable of great feats that depend upon breaking our conditioned fixated perspective and opening up to something new. Great geniuses, whose ideas and discoveries have dynamically changed our world, often report that it was a moment of sudden epiphany that brought the answers to their questions. They were not logically derived. Often they do not feel they can claim authorship for them. It was as if they came from somewhere else (Cleese)(Hawkins). As with Edison and many others, a state of mind conducive to creativity can be cultivated. There is a genius within each of us… we just need to understand how to access it (Hawkins).
The tyrannical thought-based sense of self is a cruel taskmaster. When we allow such thought structures, which could be referred to as the ego, to rule our consciousness we are extremely limited to and by the known. The egoic mindset is the basis of fear and of desire. It could never be satisfied for long lest it lose its grasp on the reigns of control. When desire is the master of our minds we wear blinders to everything beyond that which we desire. Further, everything we experience is judged as either serving that desire or not. If something serves our desire, we embrace it and call it good. If something does not serve our desire, we call it bad and push it away. This constant battle, a negative cycle between polar opposites, drains our energy and leaves us nearly ineffectual in our lives. This deficit of energy can be directly linked to issues of physical health (Tolle). We become caught in, and bound to, this duality of good and bad. For many, if not most, it is a way of life. Ironically, when we let go of conscious thought and so our fear and desire, great beauty is often revealed. This beauty can be welcomed into our experience and is always at our fingertips. It has been there all along. When we let go of expectations often there is something we did not expect that is even better than that which we wanted. It was always there but we were blinded to it by our desire… our thought-derived sense of self.
A person can think anything and call it real or true. We witness this every day in countless examples. When observed without judgment, it is astounding the dedication people instill in bolstering their beliefs, which are simply thoughts they have given energy to. In this observation is concealed a powerful locus of discovery. It belies a basic tenet regarding thought in general. Thought is ultimately devoid of validity. If any thought can be considered true then no thought could be. It is only our belief in the validity of a given thought that gives it credence. Everything we think, and therefore believe, is strictly a matter of personal perspective. Whether conscious or not, it is a decision. The words “life” and “change” are synonymous and the impermanence of all things is an obvious aspect of our lives. Everything comes and goes including our thoughts and perspectives that on one day seemed so true and important and in the next are completely contradicted and/or forgotten. Realizing this we can, without regret, relegate thought to functioning as a simple, yet multi-faceted, manager and expression of memory and calculation. As such it is a tool we can access in much the same manner as one can, for instance, access ones own hand. It allows us to work in marvelous areas that no other life form on planet Earth is capable of and yet simultaneously we can realize that it does not function well as the master of our actions.
When it is observed that these endless combinations of conscious thought do not serve us and that they actually inhibit our creativity and ultimately affect our health, it is easy to drop them as the bad habit they are. Certainly, a thought-based mode of living is taught to us from generation to generation as an unquestioned method of dealing with the challenges of life. This unconscious conditioning has been passed down through countless generations and has likely become a genetically entrenched basal aspect of our humanity. A personal evolution and revolution of consciousness is required in order to transcend this conditioning. The situation can be likened to a fire in one’s house. The act of spending time being afraid of the possibility of a fire in the future is conscious thought dominating ones life. However, when there is an actual fire in ones house, there is no time to think. You get out of the house. Thought is not required for action and it often stymies it (Krishnamurti).
It is clear to see that conscious thought is not required for participation in life although facing such an idea is terrifying to the thinking mind, which is determined to maintain its death grip of control. Certainly we have been taught that when situations in our life become difficult, we need to think our way though them. Here we assert that nothing can be further from the truth. None of the constructs of conscious thought have ever worked to cause any type of social reform or to solve any problem at its root. Politics, religion, educational systems, and etc. come and go but the greed and aggression of mankind persists. We can try to force certain ideals onto a society but they do not address the issue at its source and so are, for all intents and purposes, ineffectual. Superficial changes may occur and so issues may shift in appearance and in form but the essence of the issue remains. Endless confrontations based upon the injustices of perceived realities have ultimately done nothing to change the state of human affairs. Realistically they are thought constructs in conflict. In order to change our society, each of us must undergo a radical personal revolution from within and this cannot be done when we are ruled by the thought-derived sense of self… the ego.
Seeing this, as the artists of our own realities, we human beings must be vigilant to create and maintain a lifestyle… a state of mind within our selves… that is conducive to creativity. We have been shown the way through countless examples throughout the ages as well as through many who are living today. However, it must also be realized that endeavoring to end the thought-derived sense of self is a continuation of it. It is only through the judgeless observation of the actions of thought that it can end. When we see, in action, the pain and unhappiness that the ego causes we naturally end it in much the same manner that we might stop any activity that we perceive to be hurting us. Stumbling, unbidden, into a state of mind that is free of thought, we can walk a path toward an expression of our own creativity and nothing feels better.
In conclusion, though here we have separated the action of thought and creativity, we must realize in the end a more holistic perspective. For there seems to be no clear delineation between where creativity separates from thought. Perhaps this is the terrain of the amorphous human mind, where all blurs into who we are. The point here is that it is only when the thought-based sense of self is quieted and the so the tyranny of thought is brought to an end, that creativity may arise. At this point, thought properly becomes a tool to be employed by the quiet mind, which allows creativity to emerge and flourish. Therefore it seems apparent that a thought-dominated mind is the antithesis of creativity thus limiting and ultimately curtailing it. Yet thought is also an integral aspect of creativity when it is used as a tool instead of allowed free reign as a cruel taskmaster. This is a quintessential example of the paradoxical nature of the human mind. Substances such as antibiotics can be both cure and poison depending upon how and when they are used… and so it is with thought. Before dismissing the notion that one can be free of a thought-based sense of self, try it. What is there to lose? Try quieting the internal dialog by simply observing it free of judgment and then see what happens (Krishnamurti). This simple yet powerful act may catalyze a dynamic revolution of consciousness within and may ultimately usher in a new way of life. For it is asserted here that to the extent we can be free of thought… to that extent can we be deliberate creators in every aspect of our lives… to that extent can we be creative.
John Cleese: “so, Anyway…” | Talks At Google
AtGoogleTalks – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-p44-9S4O0
Hawkins, David R. Power vs. Force: the Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior. Hay House, Inc., 2014.
Krishnamurti, J., and D. Rajagopal. Think on these things. Krishnamurti Foundation India, 2008.
Joni Mitchell. If. Hear Music, 2007
Nayar, Pramod K. Posthumanism. Polity, 2014.
Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: a Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Hachette Australia, 2008.