Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Preemptive Creativity

by Troy Chapman

The world, as far as humans are concerned, is made up of categories and types, of large groupings and classes. This is how our minds work on one level. The work of creativity is to disrupt this process, to scramble our habitual categories and rearrange them differently — to put things together in new ways and thus see them in new ways.

One broad category we apply to the world, for example, is likes and dislikes. Most of us divide the world up this way: things I don’t like and things I like. There are a couple of ways to shake this up with creativity. The first is to simply make a list of 10 things we like and 10 things we don’t like, then switch them around and pretend the don’t-like list is the do-like list. I couldn’t care less about sports but I love playing music, so I would switch these two for a week and replace the time I would normally spend playing guitar with watching games and talking scores and yelling at the TV.

We can do this with food, people, activities or any number of things. The idea is to do 10 things (or even one thing for that matter) we would normally avoid to treat them as something we like doing. So we’re not doing them with a “this is stupid” attitude, but really trying to be like the people who love this thing, whatever it is.

Another way to shake up our like/dislike way of seeing the world is to get rid of it completely and come up with another way of categorizing the world. We can replace it, for example with “things that will teach me something new” and “things that won’t teach me something new.” Then instead of asking “do I like or dislike this or that” we ask “will it teach me anything?” Or we can organize the world in terms of “things that wake me up” and “things that put me to sleep,” spiritually speaking, and do only those things that wake us up. Or go with “familiar/unfamiliar” and focus on doing things that are unfamiliar. If you shower first thing in the morning then have coffee, switch it around, or take your coffee outside or turn on music instead of the news. Drive to work by a different route or go to a flea market instead of the opera. The possibilities are endless.

What’s the point of all this? Simply to keep our lives from becoming spiritual clichés. Clichés start out as meaningful truths, but after awhile the truth is lost and just the empty words are left. It’s the same with life. Things that start out as meaningful activities lose their meaning with repetition and become empty habits. If we’re not careful our whole lives can become empty habits, and taking some pre-emptive creative action disrupts that. Like finding a new way to phrase the truth of an old cliché, it gives us the access to the truth and meaning we might have lost.

Beyond that, creativity makes us more flexible, more pliable, which translates into spiritual resiliency. When we engage in creativity as a spiritual practice, it makes us quicker on our feet when life throws us one of its curveballs. It’s the reason for all practice: to be ready for the real thing. Life is creative, so practicing creativity makes us more adept at life.

Of course habit serves us too in the efficiency department. If we got rid of all our habitual behavior we probably wouldn’t get much done. It’s about balance, so I’m not suggesting we disrupt our whole lives here. If we just do one small thing a day in a creative way (i.e., in a way that we’re not used to doing it) we’ll feel more awake and alive as a result.

So, rearrange something. Shake yourself up a little. Your spirit will thank you.

Painting by Troy Chapman

1 comment:

Sid Leavitt said...

Another post of your usually high caliber. I was especially struck by the idea of switching the do-likes and don't-likes. I think it takes us even a little beyond the Golden Rule. Thanks.