The Non Process of Imagination

My friend Victor Dougherty is an accomplished musician who recently gave a public talk entitled “Imagination.” In it, he describes his “process” of song writing, which struck some chords with me as well (sorry, but it’s in our brains now and I’m trying to let this flow, so let’s just move on). As background, it is worth noting that Victor comes from a musical family who regularly performed in public, and that he learned how to play guitar and other instruments, as well as sing confidently, from an early age.

When it came to song writing, however, something he first attempted in his teens, Victor noticed something very frustrating. Because his creation was based on all of his thoughts about what an awesome song should contain, rather than his feelings, it sounded somewhat disappointing at best, and it had been laborious to produce. Yes, he finally produced a playable song, but he never enjoyed playing it, and did not attempt to write another song for seventeen years, such unpleasant toil it had seemed.

Over the years, though, as Victor pursued a spiritual path that included daily meditation, something shifted. Stillness had opened up a channel through which inspiration could freely flow. With the mind out of the way, chords, lyrics, etc. would just begin to show up as if by magic. His “song writing” became more directed toward picking up the guitar, vocalizing in some manner that might range from yodeling to geese calls, just keeping loose, and seeing if anything happened. Some pretty amazing things did happen, but if nothing showed up on a given night, no biggie, he’d just give it a try again tomorrow.

The creative process also evolved into a barometer of spiritual wellness for Victor, and contains a lesson for all of us trying to progress in our own creative journeys (whether we do that through what is formally called art or in other innumerable ways for inspired self-expression). When the channel to spirit is blocked, the energy does not flow. What causes this stuck energy? The anger we carried around all day about that thing the person said to us or the horrible thing we heard in the media. The worry expended on an upcoming bill or task.

It doesn’t take much to trap us in our thoughts, and once we are defensively holding onto some negative energy, we sure as hell are not going to be a conduit for the new and unknown, which then becomes an unwelcome intrusion into all of the busy-ness we just created for ourselves. Right, we are going to get this figured out with our thoughts, fix it, and then the needed peace and serenity will be restored to our lives. Except it doesn’t really work that way, does it? The more we hold onto, the more control we try to exert, the more our goal eludes us.

Like Victor, I no longer try to “think of some awesome thing to write.” Instead, I work on getting myself right, and then I will be open to that which is truly alive in my life, to the source of all creativity. When a poem then arises from stillness and begins to manifest itself upon the page, I am swept up in the flow and feel of it, what it is teaching me, its supple ability to glide into existence while I give thanks for its exhilarating energy, the peaceful knowledge that it will guide itself with surety in response to the heart’s desire. And regardless of whatever anyone else thinks of it, I got to experience and record something that had meaning for me rather than just cleverly arranging words into some academic notion of what a poem should be. I do tweak the content that comes through the initial download, but the process of opening up and allowing things to come forth of their own accord has a magical and very energizing quality to it, a sense of myriad elements coalescing into a gestalt that will surprise me with a new insight. It never feels like an assignment I am struggling to complete.

When we are still, the inner critic eventually heaves an exhausted sigh, packs his bags, and leaves. We don’t argue with him because he is, as we all know, simply wanting attention and the chance to stand in the way. Yeah, he’s still lingering outside the door, looking back through the window, peering in dejectedly and pleading with tearful eyes for one more chance. That’s how he got back in the last time. Let’s just remain calm and he will truly fade away.

©John Greenleaf-Maple 6/18/17 – text and artwork

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