The Meaningfulness of the Creative Mind

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Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe. John Berger, Author of, “Ways of Seeing”

Creative process can often be like a conflicting dance between body and mind in an attempt to make sense of the object being worked on.

Creativity is an expression of the mind that often causes other people who witness it, such as dance, or who view a piece of architecture, to react in a way as if they have seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World, awe and wonder enter their thoughts when trying to understand how a person could achieve such accomplished quality.

The basis of creativity, according to many scientific and psychological studies, is about our encounter with whatever it is that interests us. We investigate an object in order to get to know it, to reveal its inherent content.

To become involved in another element of life, to study it, to ponder it, or to simply admire its beauty is to become involved, and to know that there is more to life than our everyday mind at first suggest .

Intuition can often be a starting point for the creative process. When a person is intrigued by an idea and then becomes overwhelmed by a strong impulse to get involved with a process. Their own involvement in looking, thinking about, or simply taking a fleeting interest in an idea can create a stimuli that begs to grow into something more meaningful.

The problem is, many people claim to be uncreative. They brush the whole process aside saying its not in their personality, or they don’t have time for dreamy afternoons on the veranda just to draw conclusion about a thing that requires solid straightforward innovative thinking. Little do they know that their brain is wired for creativity whether they like it or not.

Innovative thinking sounds very business-like, creative thinking sounds very artistic — and sometimes, negative to the point of artsy-fartsy.

The language we use to describe various creative processes in different environments describes the same thing, innovative business people, creative workers, gifted artists, inspired writers, and children who have not yet learned to stifle their natural use of creative thinking, are all doing the same thing when they deal with an object that could create meaningfulness for them. They are being creative.

It’s believed that the right side of the brain processes information that we encounter initially by comparing it with what we already know, the right brain will draw on various functions such a memory, signals from the amygdala ( dealing with fears amongst other functions), and a host of other areas of the brain.

But it’s as the brain starts to put things together that it encounters the newness of the object, the bits and pieces that require labels and tags to identify them. That’s when the brain can become very creative about interpreting an idea. So, it decides it might need some help from the left-brain hemisphere, that’s where we keep information that has been labelled. It’s full of ideas that can be pulled up rapidly to identify a speeding car, a speeding red car, a stationary red car, etc. The names of our friends are located in the left brain hemisphere as are the names of foods that we eat without thinking twice about whether they are good to eat or poisonous for us. The brain’s connecting abilities quickly figure out that we can eat the food in front of us. We trust the person who prepared it, we recognise that it’s common to us, we have eaten similar many times before.

If you were invited to a dinner party where the host was unknown to you, you may accept the invitation in the knowledge that you trust the person who invited you into the intimate environment. When you arrive and are seated at the table, you are introduced to your host. His name is Dr Hannibal Lector. This is real life, but the name comes from a fictionalised account of cannibalism.

Your brain will go into a terrible wrestling match with your fast moving feet, wanting to leave quickly, but also knowing that your real world knowledge tells you to settle down and see it as a coincidence. It may not be a creative process really, but the brain will be making some pretty far reaching connections to convince you that you are better off leaving Dr Lector to his guests, and you get down to the next fast-food dive — better the devil you know.

There are some very complex labelling processes that we use to store data on language; grammar has its place in a certain part of the brain, speech is located in another part. They have to make a connection to be able to work together. The same is true of many of the parts of the brain. Not everything about truth and fiction are in separate compartments in the brain, some of them meld into each other and cause either problems, or much better, the beginning of creative processes where paths are built to create new ideas.

The interactions that happen during the creative process are nuanced connections that create new context and therefore offer new possibilities on an “old” idea.

When a highly creative person who has painted in oils for thirty years decides to now begin writing stories, they have a head start for sure, but they will be confronted with a challenge to make new connections about how to materialise old ideas into a new medium.

Dr Iain McGilchrist, in his book “The Master and his Emissary”, which is about the left and right brain and its functions and effects on our lives, claims that left-right brain functions are a contentious debate in psychology and we still don’t know if they are totally independent of each other, or whether they are more of a balancing act in our thought processes.

We are sure that left brain functions tend to deal with abstract ideas as well as labelling objects for future use. The right side of the brain views new ideas and old in context, this allows for space to “play” and see a familiar idea in a new context which can cause the brain to interpret the object or idea in a new light never noticed before.

The painter who now writes stories will learn how to interpret the new context of ideas as a larger connection of thoughts that make up a map (story) for a reader to grasp, and interpret the story according to their creative view of the world.

Reading is also a creative endeavour in that it exercises imagination, problem solving techniques and uses its knowledge of the world and life to create a sensible context to understand the thousands of words in a story.

If you begin dance classes, let’s say tango dance, you will meet an instructor who will demonstrate various moves that you must master with your feet. It will at first appear to be simple walking steps, then you are told how important it is to keep the upper body still and not use it to express the dance — everything is from the waist down in tango. At first, it seems so simple to walk eight steps in a sort of square. There is no swaying of hips, or twisting and turning, just walking.

At this point your instructor shows you what they mean by demonstrating an “ocho”, eight steps that are the basis of the tango dance. Your partner will have the same eight steps, but walk them backwards, as you lead by moving towards your partner.

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Photo by 7 SeTh on Unsplash

Your “lead” comes through your ability to use your hands and forearms to give very light and small signals to your partner. These signals are slight touches with pressure, releasing pressure of the hand to indicate the free space to move backwards, a light pressure on the back to indicate your partner’s move towards you.

A slight turning of the hips, and bending of the knees will feel like a turn is about to happen for the partner, forearm pressure to the side of his or her body will confirm that you are going to turn to the right. Then, a beautiful turn, with a ‘brush’ along the leg done just right gives you both a feeling of having a “moment” of unity that we can interpret as creativity.

All very small and gentle signals that must be learned and mastered to be able to dance like an Argentinian Tango Master. Oh yes, you must also learn to walk like a cat and dress like Zoro. It’s all great fun, but deeply creative.

The creative process in tango, just as in other arts, is the ability to understand first that you need to practise using the body to express an idea of spontaneous improvisations based on eight steps and the character of the dance.

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

The only way the brain can make sense of all of these new ideas is to make connections between what is already known, then draw conclusions and compare those conclusions with what your dance teacher is telling and showing you.

A slight adjustment in how you do the tango walk, like a cat, begins to offer new information that you can, in a way, walk like a tom cat strutting his way through the barrio. It’s a lovely feeling when your feet grip the floor and the other muscles begin to fall into place to create the feline gait.

Tango is a creative dance. It has eight steps and various ways in which a couple can learn to turn. The creativity is left to the couple who attempt to intuitively work together without speaking, to feel the movements and follow each other through an unexpected series of flourishing movements that even surprise the leading dance partner.

To dance and not walk, to sweep the arms gently, and gesture with the hands, not flapping the hands about, but learning the secrets of touch and nuance that creates a communication between two people.

It’s these lovely feelings that we experience when being creative that give us a feeling of understanding ourselves and finding meaningfulness in our actions. This is the mystery of creativity — it’s use and result gives meaning to life.

There is no barrier to being creative. We often discover that our level of interest in a subject will determine whether we will be any good at it. Some people hate to dance — they find it too uncomfortable and too public an activity to ever get into it. They may discover that their mind has more of a bent towards solitary activities where they can easily get into flow, or concentration, and achieve a meaningful experience by writing or designing.

It’s important to know what you like. Trying to do something because it looks good isn’t a reason to believe that we could also be great at doing that thing.

Dancing requires that we possess agility of body, and that we can accept a teacher telling us to do things, again and again, without becoming disheartened.

The creative part really begins for us when we have a few moves down, and then we can experiment with combining all that we have learned.

One very important thing to learn is that we are conditioned to walk in a certain manner, and we have a set of hand and arm movements that ensure we don’t offend people in public places.

Tango, or any other dance such as The Hustle, needs flourishes and sweeping movements that show grace and dexterity of body — here comes that tom cat again. We didn’t learn how to do any of this in everyday life, we learned how to be conservative and measured with our movements.

Dancing with what at first seem to be odd and extrovert body movements, can cause the rigid thought processes to rebel and send us warning messages to leave the kitchen. Creativity will encourage us and reward us with understanding if we persist and learn to accept that we have a lot to understand before we experience the outcome.

Dancing gives us the opportunity to discover how much more the human body is capable of, how enjoyable it is to discover that there are movements that evoke deep feelings and emotions in ourselves that create meaningfulness and joy.

In becoming truly creative about our actions, whether it be painting, writing, dancing or music, means that we must understand the difference between learning to push the buttons that make loud noises, or to mix colour onto a palette, and the deeper experience of overcoming ourselves physically and mentally. Just because we can’t hold down a C chord on the guitar first time doesn’t mean that it will never happen.

Many creative people have proved that practice makes perfect in the skill of controlling the instrument, the body, the brush and pen etc. Once a certain control and skill is reached in most things, there is always room for creativity to show you that there is more waiting to be discovered, if you are inspired to investigate and discover.

Written by

Berlin Notes — Writing about the Creative Art of Living http://seandurham.eu

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