Saturday, April 14, 2012

Thoughts on Creativity

Note: I wrote this before Easter; sorry for the delay in posting.

I was listening to a couple of podcasts this past week and found an interesting connection between some of the material that was shared and my journey with Centering Prayer and mindfulness. The first podcast, which I can't remember the title of, was by Alan Watts, and he made a comment about the innate contemplative nature of children. And then later in the week, I heard the On Being podcast "Creativity and the Everyday Brain" in which Krista Tippett and Dr. Rex Jung made reference to the current process of the socialization of children in our society. In their dialog, they mentioned the sad fact that children now have schedules which are filled with activities and constant stimuli. One of the commentator noted that there is little "down time" for many kids these days. This trend seems to bemoan a cultural attempt to quickly assimilate children into adulthood. My wife shared a story this past week about a child that was traumatized with a B on his grade card. When she contacted the parent to console the child, she was shocked at the parent's disappointment and lack of concern for the emotional well-being of her child. I don't want to seem as if I am mentioning this observation to be a negative naysayer or a prophet of doom and gloom, but I note it for reflection pertaining to the ministry of the church. Where can we contribute to facilitate practices that will nurture creativity?

Here is an interesting clip of Tippett and Jung's conversation:
Ms. Tippett: I want to ask you about another one of these ideas, and this is, again, as a parent. Now this is one I've never seen industries built on, but it's something that's to me proven true in life, that there's a connection between boredom and creativity, or between not having things given to you to do and then, you know, I think I've felt that with my children. When they actually are bored, it may be a really good thing for them ultimately because they have to come up with something. But then recently, I also interviewed a humorist, a very creative, brilliant person named Kevin Kling, who also just talked about, you know, being a child and how, back then, he did not have a schedule [laugh] and how much time he and his brother had just hanging around with nothing to do and actually how much came out of that.

Dr. Jung: Yeah. I think, yeah, I talk to people about my childhood and how recess was the most important class of the day.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Dr. Jung: So there's the knowledge acquisition portion and then there's the place where you have to let the ideas flow. If you're always in knowledge acquisition mode, which is important, you have to put ideas in your head in order to put them together in novel and useful ways. But if you're constantly in knowledge acquisition mode, there's not that quiet time to put it together. This gets to another important creative trick, I guess, if you will, but almost invariably you hear, how do you induce transient hypofrontality? How can you do that? Some people's brains, as we reported in our studies, are more set up that way.

You hear lots of stories of, you know, in history from Archimedes' bath, where he discovered density by immersing himself in a bath and looking at displacement, he figured out he could measure how much gold is in a crown or something like that and cried, "Eureka!" But this warm bath or the long walk of Beethoven or Kekulé awakening from a dream and imagining a snake swallowing its own tail and thinking of a benzene ring. All of these have in common this hypofrontal state, whether it's induced by a warm bath, walk, meditation, exercise, yoga.

Ms. Tippett: There's free space in there. There's what we might call down time.

Dr. Jung: There is down time where your brain is not engaged in ongoing cognitive activity. Even exercise is a way to do that where, you know, you're just working your body, but you're not working your cognitive resources, and it induces this work space for you to meander around and put ideas together. And everyone knows the trick that works for them, the shower in the place or the yoga class or some people drink [laugh]. It's a lot of ways to get there, but a lot of people know — creative people, in particular, know what trick works for them to get away. And for your children, to get back to your question, that's an important space to cultivate, that recess from knowledge acquisition. You have to have the raw materials in place to put together, but you also have to have the time to put them together.

Jung says that you have to have raw materials (data, information) but you also have to have time to put them together (space). It seems like common sense, yet this logic seems to elude many preachers, teachers and other leaders. In my opinion, too much of church life is concerned with the raw materials. I was taken by these thoughts as I read the current Hebrew Bible portion of the lectionary lessons: Jeremiah 31:34 which states, "No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more." So now it is time for me to abandon the keyboard and create some space to connect some of my inner thoughts on this matter!

Peace (space) be with you!

P.S. Last night's showing of "Testing Toddlers" on ABC's Nightline was a sad affirmation of the theme of this post.


RC said...

Mark, thank you for sharing this important and wise post. I have just read an interview with Sara Maitland in Christian Century which I think is related. She reflects on the difference between the silence an artist seeks in contrast to that of the contemplative. Here's what she said: "The conflict between wanting to be an artist and wanting to be a hermit—to put it in crude language—remains, and I do not know how it can be resolved. Solitude for writers in particular exists so that they can hear their own authentic voices. The aim of religious silence is to get your own authentic voice to shut up so that you might hear something of the voice of God. The aim is to eliminate that clamorous voice of the ego so that you can hear a voice which is other, which is not unique to you, which you cannot own and which you cannot replicate. So there is a fundamental conflict."

I think we need both kinds of silence. Thomas Merton wrestled with this, too, in his essay "Poetry and Contemplation."

I'm grateful for our community engagement of and dialogue about these kinds of dynamics, so I'm deeply deeply grateful for your post.
--Blessings and grace, Rickey

Mark Wills said...

Thank, Rickey. These are some interesting ideas with which to sit!

Anna Cotton said...

I think you are on to something very important here. Down time (space) allows for not knowing, which in the experience of a mindful believer can allow for God’s spirit to act. Perhaps the best creative moments occur at that still point.
I’m with Jana, the emphasis on testing and grades breaks my heart. Saturday afternoon I went to local fair, and I visited the booth of the neighborhood elementary school where a colorful art display caught my eye. I met the principal who was so proud of what their art teacher helped the students create. She wanted folks to know she cared about her school's connection to the community. But she didn't have a chart showing test scores or student grades, she had an art display. Wow, what a neat idea!
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and connections.

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