Saturday, May 31, 2014

The roots of creation

In my experience -- as a writer and an artist, and having been married for 10 years to a gifted musician -- creativity emerges from a confluence of three components: the desire to create, an overflowing well of inspiration, and the impulse to take up the tools and bring a work of art into being. The problem comes -- assuming you have the desire and the discipline and the tools (and yes, you could consider that the tools are a fourth component) -- when the well of inspiration runs dry. 

For me, and, I suspect, for other artists as well, inspiration comes from two major sources: things I've personally seen or experienced, and other people's creativity.  So once the well runs dry, our impulse is strong to "go somewhere" -- to leave the studio and gather more experience: either directly or through viewing the works of others.  And if what drives new overflow is the work of others, then there's always a slight feeling of guilt -- for me, anyway -- when I return to the studio and create the response: that I've somehow piggy-backed on someone else's inspiration rather than tapping into some deep inner knowing of my own. From there it tends to be a quick slide into "you're not really an artist, you can only copy" -- which triggers a deep-seated frustration, often accompanied by creative paralysis.

But this morning I've discovered a new insight into the creative process. I've been reading Cynthia Bourgeault's book on Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, and I'm now at the section where she's taking apart the work of the mystical philosopher Jacob Boehme.  "What makes Boehme's work readily navigable," says Bourgeault, " is the strict congruity between microcosm and macrocosm: between the inner world of personal spiritual striving and cosmogenesis on a far vaster scale."  So when she explains, in this next sentence, Boehme's theory on the root of Divine creation, it's easy to draw a parallel to individual creation.

So here's the quote that struck me: "In order for outward and visible creation to emerge, the divine must undergo a compression into somethingness, and this entails a passage through the fiery matrix of desire and its frustration; hence Boehme's core cosmological principle: 'Pain is the ground of motion.'"  For Boehme, divine creativity emerges out of the confluence of desire, impulse, and the ache for resolution.  "What is born out of the struggle between desire and its insatiability is, to be sure, anguish," explains Bourgeault. "But this anguish is simultaneously sensibility, the capacity for self-reflective awareness.  Boehme's explanation of how this happens," she goes on to say, "is a stroke of pure genius:

'No thing may be revealed to itself without contrariety.  If it has no thing that resists it, it always goes out from itself and does not go into itself again.  If it does not go into itself again, as into that out of which it originally came, it knows nothing of its cause.'"

What this says to me is that we should not be so quick, when that well of inspiration runs dry, to "go somewhere," to leave the productivity of the studio and seek outside ourselves for inspiration; that in fact the frustration of that empty well could ideally drive us deeper, back into ourselves, and that in so doing we have the opportunity to tap into that larger well of true, divinely originated creativity.

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