Category Archives: creativity

Too Much Focus Kills Creativity

Wanderer Above the Mist. Caspar David Friedrich, 1818. Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Wanderer Above the Mist. Caspar David Friedrich, 1818. Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Days, weeks and months have flown by, and some weeks ago I noticed IT had quietly sneaked into my life. It had started to bleed me dry. It made me feel I had lost something precious.

IT was too much focus.

I had become too goal-oriented, too efficient. I had lost contact with a dimension that has been an essential part of my life for decades – more or less random acts of creativity.

In my attempt to build foundations for a work that I love – that is, to support other people who look for a deeper meaning in their lives – I had become so single-minded that I had forgotten to nourish the sources of creativity in me.

The hollow feeling inside me finally got so big that it forced me to see I was about to become a workaholic.

I’m glad I realized what was going on.

At the same time I wondered why I had to go to the other extreme to find the balance. I knew some of the reasons. One is my ability for enthusiasm. I get carried away. And in my eagerness to accomplish something I forget the big picture. I guess this happens to many of us. It happened to me now. And of course it was not for the first time in my life.

After trying to figure out reasons for becoming over-focused I soon understood it was a futile attempt and would not take me anywhere. Instead I decided to explore the content and meaning of creativity. 

What is creativity to you?

What is creativity to me? Here are some of my answers:

Creativity for me is wandering without a destination.
Creativity is enjoying the journey while not forgetting the destination.
Creativity is browsing books and discovering a poem that opens a new insight or a new world to me.
Creativity is remembering the painting of Caspar David Friedrich (above), finding it in my art history book and allowing myself to be absorbed by the image.
Creativity is music that touches my heart.
Creativity is connecting with myself and with others through random acts of creativity.
Creativity is lying on a coach on a rainy day and suddenly getting an idea.
Creativity is having all my senses open – eyes, ears, nose, skin, mouth – to the impressions that the world wants to offer me.
Creativity is seeing beauty in strange places and unusual details or objects.
Creativity is the ability to enjoy when someone else finds exactly the perfect words or a perfect image to express something meaningful, important, entertaining, beautiful, deep, and so on.
Creativity is surrendering to the process without knowing where I will finally be. It is like being a Feather on the Breath of God, like Hildegard Bingen said 1000 years ago in her beautiful lyrics.

You can continue the list. As you may notice – and what now surprises me – is that creativity is not only the capacity to create or produce something creative, but creativity is also the ability to enjoy and experience the fruits of creativity, and beauty in its many forms. It seems to me that is a total confluence of the creator and created, of giving and receiving.

P.S. If you want to read what science says about too much focus, read a very interesting blog by Emma Seppala at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201403/the-best-kept-secrets-exceptional-productivity

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections on Being And Transformation

There are some books, poems, and quotes that have traveled a long way with me. Today I want to share with you some of the words that have touched me, along with a few of my paintings. They are all called “Secret Writing”, and I made them when living in Mozambique.

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“Self-knowing is wisdom. You may be ignorant of all the books in the world (and I hope you are), of all the latest theories, but that is not ignorance. Not knowing oneself deeply, profoundly, is ignorance; and you cannot know yourself if you cannot look at yourself, see yourself as you are, without distortion, without any wish to change. Then what you see is transformed because the distance between the observer and the observed is removed and hence there is no conflict.”
Krishnamurti

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an expression of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about, and that’s what these clues help us to find within ourselves.”
Joseph Campbell

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”
Krishnamurti

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“You need not do anything. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, just wait. You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary. And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked. It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Franz Kafka

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Carl Jung

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation… and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.” Hermann Hesse

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”
Thomas Merton

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting by Maarit Suokas-Alanko

“Don’t stand by my grave and weep,
for I am not there, I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond’s glint on the snow,
I am sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
Don’t stand by my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.”
Unknown Native American

The Beatles Were Right: Let It Be

Energy has been cumulating inside me. It hasn’t had a proper outlet because it has been boiling under the tight lid of somewhat limiting circumstances. For about a week it has made me feel like an old stuffy attic or a stagnant pool where the water is not moving.

I’m talking, of course, about my need to write, about creative energy.

I turned on the tap of words last September, after years in the world of images and visual art, and now it seems I can no longer close the tap.

Why did I start to feel like a boiling water under a tight lid?

March was a very sociable month for me. First of all, our lovely, funny and wise daughter was staying with us, and she brought a lot of fresh, young energy to our home during her visit.

At the beginning of March I spent a fantastic long weekend in Austria, visiting an old friend who is presently working in Vienna. This friend of mine is a lively person with a great sense of humor, and of course we spent those three days laughing a lot together. On the other hand we also wept tears of sorrow when we shared some sad stories of our lives.

A big social event was my trip to Sweden at the end of March. I stayed a week at Ängsbacka course centre near Karlstad, studying Zen coaching. A very intense week passed quickly in the company of inspiring people and with an intriguing topic, in a relaxed atmosphere. (Zen coaching is an approach developed by Norwegian Kåre Landfald, and it aims, among other things, at recognizing our own nature as awareness. This realization helps us to be less identified with our mental positions and judgmental attitudes toward ourselves and others. You can read more about Zen coaching here.)

After a stimulating trip to Sweden I came home at the end of March full of ideas and inspiration. My deep desire was to withdraw into my own world and mull over everything that had happened during the past month.

More than anything, I simply wanted to sit down in some quiet corner and process my experiences through writing.

But of course I could not do that.

The social life continued at home. It was Easter holidays in Finland, the usual several days’ break of springtime.

Blessed haven of privacy

Now, if I have to define myself on a binary scale of introvert versus extrovert, I am definitely more on the introvert side of the scale. Not to the point of being a misanthropist though – I do love the company of people and the exchange of views with friends and acquaintances. But I also need a lot of privacy and time in solitude, and just as I like to travel and meet people I also enjoy exploring the horizons of my inner landscapes.

From the fact that I’m now writing here – in a public library – you can conclude that I’ve finally succeeded in conquering for myself that blessed and longed-for haven of privacy and creativity. My internal and external worlds are in harmony, and I can take a deep breath.

Ah…

Kuumailmapallo

Boiling under the lid

But let us not quite finish the story yet.

You see, my suppressed energy of creativity forced me to make an inquiry into the essence of frustration. Why did I get so frustrated? Why was it so difficult to postpone my writing?

Sure, I have set myself deadlines, but my personal deadlines are very relative, and in the big picture of life there is actually only one real deadline, and it is The Deathline – which, by the way, is getting closer and closer as I age.

I was frustrated because during the past week I have felt like I had been prevented from fulfilling my need to write. That then created another kind of need – a compelling urge to kick hard against the circumstances.

I understand that the more expectations we have in life, the more we can expect to be disappointed, too. The harder we try to control life, the harder it often hits back.

“Panta rei”, said already Heraclitus. Everything flows. Life moves, changes, surprises us. It gets out of our control. – All this I tried to say to myself.

Why then didn’t these philosophical viewpoints help me when I was on the peak of my frustration?

From resistance to relaxation

I finally discovered the answer. My problem did not resolve, because I was not having an intellectual problem. My feelings were very much involved. I had become irritable and crotchety toward my closest people. And isn’t it that having an emotional state like that is not quite acceptable, is it?

So I condemned my “bad” feelings – and that made me feel even worse. On top of my crotchety frustratedness now settled another unpleasant feeling – a heavy weight of moral disapproval.

I soon realized that by means of thinking and judging myself I was not getting anywhere.

I gave up.

It was exactly then that something interesting happened. The very moment I gave up trying to understand intellectually my feelings I remembered my fresh discovery: I can allow myself to feel my feelings as they are! Accept them.

– “Let it be”, like the Beatles used to sing.

I took another look at my frustration. I wished it welcome, stayed with it, spent time with it. I allowed myself to feel its every single sharp edge in my whole being. (But please note that I no longer put that feeling into action!)

What a relief!

I have been studying this lesson with other feelings, but this time it came in the form of frustration. Again I had to remind myself of the fact that it is the resistance to my own feelings that creates my misery. It is the judgemental words of my inner talk that create the tension, whether as acceptance of feelings opens the door to relaxation, and relaxation allows solutions to come to me through intuition, without hard thinking.

My solution was right in front of my eyes. I remembered the public library, the fragrance of old books, the rustling of paper when someone turns a page, the muffled voices of people speaking to each other in the reading room. Could there be a better place for writing!

It was so simple – I just had to look at my feelings with compassion.

But that is often the most tricky part. I’ll come back to that in another post.