Posts Tagged ‘Seeing’

Routine Creativity

zenstonesblogOne of the most important aspects of Creative productivity is striking a balance between disciplined daily routine and remaining open to new experiences and perspectives—flexible and adaptable—so that we can keep our eyes fresh and energy high. Too much routine can be mind numbing, uninspiring and vortex (tunnel vision) inducing; too little routine reduces the chance of flow and any significant productive creative output. While we can find evidence of creative genius unfettered by routine—the Basquiats and Jimi Hendrixes of the world—there is an unsustainable, crash-and-burn quality to those sagas. Even Toulouse Lautrec showed up everyday for his work in a very routine fashion after his nights of debauchery at the Moulin-Rouge.

I was pleased to come across a recent NY Times op-ed article where David Brooks, celebrating President Obama’s recent UN speech, links routine and hard work to Creativity and…world order. He holds up the habits of writers and artists as inspirational and exemplary, citing Mason Curry’s wonderful book on the daily rituals of artists mentioned previously here.  Brooks writes  “Order and discipline are the prerequisites for creativity and daring. Building and maintaining order—whether artistic, political or global—seems elementary, but it’s surprisingly hard”. Indeed.

Henry Miller declared “I know that to sustain these true moments of insight, one has to be highly disciplined, lead a disciplined life”. How do we find this balance? As Creatives we need to ground ourselves in a daily routine–we need to find what time of day we are most productive and build our schedules around that. We need to show up for a few hours every day, no matter what, and simply put in the time at our chosen craft. It has been my experience time and time again that the rewards come, the muses show up, and everything flows from there. It is in the routine that we find the freedom, the inspiration, and most importantly—the staying power to honor the best we have to give—every day.

 

Miksang

EW_Miksang_2

Miksang is a Tibetan word that translates as ‘Good Eye’, and is based on the Shambhala and Dharma Art teachings of the late meditation master, artist, and scholar Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Miksang, at its most basic level, is concerned with uncovering the truth of pure perception. We see something vivid and penetrating, and in that moment we can express our perception without making anything up—nothing added, nothing missing. Totally honest about what we see—straight shooting. As we allow ourselves to become more available to the things around us without the biases, filters and formulas often associated with photography, our experience and expression of day-to-day moments becomes more rich and endlessly varied—beyond what we think. One moment, one shot—fully present.

Your iphone can be a powerful tool for this practice. We’re not talking Instagram here…..it’s all about intention, and is available to everyone, all the time. It’s a wonderful way to give your mind a rest, take a break and get your daily dose of flow.

 

Necessary Beauty

peonies_black_blog To the ancient Greeks, human society was characterized by three values, equal in importance: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. By that definition, the experience of beauty involved the appreciation of Aesthetics, Art and Nature. As someone who has made a living making things look beautiful, I’ve often questioned to what extent I was adding value to more than the clients’ sales numbers or my own satisfaction. I was therefore happy to come across this reference to Beauty a couple years ago—the creation and experience of it—as having equal value as those noble pursuits of Truth and Goodness. Even philosopher Alain de Botton goes so far as to state: “One way evil reaches us is through ugliness”. So, in terms of one aspect that makes life worth living: What is beauty?

In his book aptly titled Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed Howard Gardner speaks to the need to revisit the conception of beauty for this new age we’re living in “lest we succumb to such a joyless, or normless, or pointless existence.” He states that the pursuit of experiences that are beautiful constitute a crucial part of life. Of course this discussion would be irrelevant if more basic needs such as food, shelter and safety weren’t satisfied. Yet, in this time of over-abundance, ironically, we do seem to be suffering from a ‘poverty of discernment’, where aesthetic standards and ideals seem to have been abandoned and replaced by…anything and everything (Miley Cyrus anyone?). And yet…

Does the concept of beauty still hold its value? How do we introduce young people to the concept of beauty? To what extent should the rest of us re-conceptualize traditional ideas of beauty, leaving behind picture-postcard aesthetics and narrow definitions of what constitutes beautiful?

I like Gardner’s new criteria for beauty; it allows for a much broader range of possibilities:

  1. The object/subject is INTERESTING.
  2. Its’ FORM is memorable…sufficiently powerful or evocative.
  3. There is a desire to ENCOUNTER THE EXPERIENCE AGAIN, due to liking, curiosity, or a feeling of awe.

…So much more to work with there. At the end of the day I do embrace the cliche ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. The sooner we each identify what is beautiful to us, the sooner we can fill our lives with beauty as a virtuous path….I think it helps to have a new framework.  What makes you ‘Tingle’?

Image copyright Sacco & Watt.

Tip#5: How to have Lots of Ideas

©Maria Ferrari

©Maria Ferrari


The last ‘Tips’ post spoke to the importance of having lots of ideas whenever we’re trying to solve a problem or move our lives forward in some unprecedented way, as our first ideas are most likely perpetuating old ways of thinking. There are numerous tactics floating around out there. Some are more specific than others, and have been popularized by creativity experts such as Michael Michalko, Edward De Bono and Eric Maisel. All are about shifting perception, fostering a spirit of discovery and encouraging free flowing connections. Here is a distillation, with my own take, by way of explanation.

Sharpen the focus. The more specifically you define the problem at hand, the more infinite, original, (and appropriate) the possibilities. Contrary to what many think, creativity flows more freely from constraints and parameters. This is why some artists (Jasper Johns with his flag series) limit their subject matter and concentrate on creative process: how many variations are possible here? It becomes less about the what and the why and more about the how. Begin your brainstorming with questions to laser-tune the focus as much as possible. The likelihood of ‘Flow’ is much greater here as well.

Saturate yourself with inspirationYou need what I refer to as ‘fresh eyes’. Scan the universe for information and ideas related to your issue; fill your head with relevant facts, perspectives, ideas. Be joyful and curious in your approach. Be open to ideas coming from seemingly unexpected sources; seek them out, push beyond your comfort zone (it’s called that for a reason!). It’s all about connecting things in new and different ways. You will surprise yourself.

Set an ‘idea quota’. The popular version of the idea quota, often used in brainstorming sessions in business settings, is the ‘Paperclip’ model: come up with 20 uses for a (paperclip) in 10 minutes—no editing or judging of ideas. The time pressure takes thinking and judging off the table, and can produce some wonderful fresh ideas. The next essential step for this approach to be effective requires an editing phase, or the ‘verification’ as I refer to it in the formula. Which ideas are viable and useful? The best ideas then can be pushed and further developed through mind-mapping, below. This tactic is actually the least interesting to me personally, yet one of the most popular in business settings.

Engage with the Formula.  Another approach integrates the formula for creativity I’ve put forth in previous posts here, allowing right/left brain interplay to occur. Once the problem is defined, saturate (above) then let it go . Set an idea quota, but give it time to allow for the subconscious connections to occur— maybe  5 ideas a day for 5 days in a row. The first 5 might be the hardest, because you’ll be ‘thinking’ too hard, but then ideas will start to flow more freely. Chances are they’ll come in the form of ‘mindpops’ when you’re in a relaxed or distracted mode. I could write a book (hoping to) around this one approach. You could also call this one ‘summoning the muse’.

Work Visually. A much used tool in business brainstorming and strategy sessions is mind-mapping.  Countless software versions have been developed as a result, which I find relatively useless because the real power of mind-mapping comes from the free flowing physical aspect of charting and diagramming thoughts and ideas by hand, with big juicy markers, on a huge piece of paper on a wall, table, or floor . The mind-map breaks us away from a linear way of thinking, which I find often jams my brain because there should be some logic: A precedes B precedes C—too much thinking involved. When you work with ‘idea pods’—continually breaking the thinking down, jumping to other pods, capturing ideas as they pop into consciousness. There is no editing involved, to the contrary, this is hugely stimulating, and sometimes even emotional because it connects us more with what we’re feeling. The mind-map also lets you see all your thoughts and ideas–it’s like a crazy picture of the mish-mosh of your brain. When you can visualize all the seemingly unrelated and undeveloped thoughts, patterns emerge, new connections are made and you have the benefit of this hugely therapeutic mind-dump. I use this approach for my weekly to-do lists as a way of organizing and prioritizing my thinking.

Enough for now. It’s about developing a mindset for more creative thinking and being. Back to the CS mantra: “Change is an art form and creative productivity is a muscle we can build.” Would love to hear any tricks you all may have up your sleeve. I’d be happy to feature them here with credit given 🙂

And for some fun…..A great list of very specific tools for creating ideas can be found at creatingminds.org.

What is Your Ikigai?

cherryblossomsI first came across this term a couple years ago in a TED talk by Dan Buettner on “Blue Zones”—communities (there are 4 in the world) whose elders live with vim and vigor to record setting ages. Okinawa is one of them. Ikigai proved to be one of the core factors contributing to life expectancy. It’s one of those words, often found in other languages, that sum up an idea requiring much explanation in our own. Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an Ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s Ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life—Passion, Purpose, and Fulfillment. It could be as simple as caring for a grandchild. It’s what makes us get out of bed each day.  Here in this country seems everyone’s looking for  their Ikigai. People are in search of themselves—their ‘Mojo’—unlike any previous point in history. Where did it go? Those that know their Ikigai don’t miss a beat when asked what it is—who wouldn’t want that feeling?!  Here’s the good news:  Creativity leads us there by tolerating uncertainty, opening to wonder and joy, becoming fully present, letting go, trusting the process, tuning in to intuition, allowing for the new and unexpected and opening to grace. Have you lost your Ikigai? Do you know where to find it?

Tip #4: More Ideas Create Better Ideas

EW_CJ_dollheadThe difference between Einstein and the rest of us is this: when looking for a needle in a haystack most of us would stop when we find one. Einstein would continue to tear the haystack apart until he found every possible needle. Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents. Both of these creative geniuses knew that the best way to arrive at the one great idea was to have lots of ideas–many of them perhaps mediocre. I remember being blown away by a series of paintings at MOMA several years ago, not by their obvious beauty but from their title and explanation.  The series was entitled the ‘No’ paintings. The explanation was that with each piece, once the artist got to a place where he thought he was done, he would say ‘No’, and keep pushing to make it somehow better. I absorbed this message in a very powerful way; it changed the way I approached my work from then on.

The first idea we have is seldom the best idea, because it’s reproductive (one we, or someone else has already had) and not necessarily the best solution to whatever problem we’re dealing with, whether personal or professional.  It helps to have a spirit of discovery, a willingness to look at things in new ways, and let go of the need for perfection. Coming up with lots of ideas isn’t always easy, but the likelihood of a more elegant solution, and noticeable change will be the result.

 

 

 

.

 

 

Have you used up your future?

A few years ago, as I was heading into a period of sabbatical, soul searching and reinvention, I found myself feeling very lost and a little unhinged…..and yet a little excited at the same time.  I realized I had left behind so much that had identified and grounded me to that point—my career, home, friends, lifestyle—in order to create some space to explore new directions.  The words ‘lose yourself to find yourself’ resonated daily in my head. The ‘losing yourself’ part isn’t easy; much of it involves dis-identifying with so much comfort and ease….why would we choose that? In need of some guidance I reached out to an advisor of sorts–a spiritual ‘coach’ more or less. As I was grumbling about my career winding down, my empty nest, my dissatisfaction with just about everything in my life at that point—framing it all as some sort of failure on my part, he laughed. He said “Elizabeth, you haven’t failed at anything. That’s the problem…..you succeeded at all of it. You simply used up your future.”

Wow. That simple shift in perspective, that I had fulfilled my vision for my life up until that point and I simply needed a new script to follow…felt so empowering and relieving somehow. By choosing to operate from a place of abundance rather than lack changed my inner dialogue. It’s simply the ebb and flow of life. To choose to bloom again is not always the easiest choice….but it’s far richer and enlivening than staying tight within the bud.

Synergistic Enterprises

As our workspace is being redefined these days it’s very common for many of us to have more than one title—a network of enterprises. More and more we’re having to stretch and expand ourselves to cover more territory professionally; those of us in mid-life who are re-inventing as well as millenials who are cycling through several jobs early on. I see this as a gift–an opportunity to play in a much bigger sandbox. When people ask me what I do, simply responding ‘I’m a photographer’ doesn’t begin to cover it, especially because it doesn’t speak to the distance I’ve traveled and experience I’ve gained since first calling myself that in my twenties. The fact is I have two seemingly completely separate businesses now—photographer/visual asset developer/creative director on the one hand and blogger, coach/consultant/change agent on the other. And yet they feed into and off of one another more seamlessly with each passing day. I’ve stopped trying to make it an either/or proposition. Each path benefits from the nourishing perspective of the other, and both represent my passions, skill sets and life experience. This new paradigm we’re living in, though not without its challenges, does allow for a more holistic approach to our professional lives—no longer either or, rather— both and all. I don’t think I could have gotten away with it ten years ago.

Although a little overwhelming and uncertain at times—with flexibility replacing security and a paycheck—this new model in the workplace is also a gift, an opportunity to grow and engage with people and ideas in multiple ways. It makes room for a fuller expression of our life experience, our creativity—our humanity.

Creativity Matters

This is a post which appeared a couple years ago in another version of this blog. I’m bringing it back because it best communicates why I started this blog, and what the real focus here is. Shift and change are the results, no matter what.

Most things that are interesting, important, human are the result of Creativity on some level. When we are involved in it it makes us feel good, it keeps us young and ideally there is an outcome that enhances the quality of our existence….whether a freshly baked cake or the Mona Lisa. There are a lot misconceptions of what Creativity is. One is that some people are and some people are not Creative. This is a myth. We are all Creative. To my mind Creativity is as much, if not more, a necessary human attribute than intelligence, especially these days. It’s a survival skill. It means having imagination, being resourceful, self-directed. It means being open, looking at things in new ways, taking chances, and taking advantage of the unexpected—being able to tolerate uncertainty and chaos.  And most importantly it is a pathway to the mysterious, miraculous, unpredictable, undefinable, uncontrollable—things we live for like bliss, love, beauty, joy, inspiration, dreams, vision, awe, wonder, significance and transformation. What if we could learn how to have more of these things in our lives? What if there was a course in Creativity? What would the syllabus look like?

—I’ve since come up with some answers to those questions…so please stay tuned!

Fresh Eyes

Marcel Proust wrote: “The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having fresh eyes.”

It’s a bit like rebooting your computer. What moving to a new place and/or traveling do offer is a different perspective, a shift in our thinking—new possibilities, happiness! Until….we become again habituated to our daily routines and surroundings, losing that refreshed feeling.  What was once new and exciting inevitably fades. This is why some people are addicted to change…and most of us love to travel. Neuroscience supports this. So how can we have ‘fresh eyes’ without a move or travel?

Most of us walk through our days not even paying attention to our surroundings. We are slaves to the chatter in our heads.We can make a conscious decision to see the beauty we miss, daily—faces, geometry, architecture, colors, clothing, kitsch, nature…it’s simply a choice to pay attention, differently. Have you ever thought of how many shades of green there are, or yellow, or white? Pick one color and use your iphone to record as many variations you see over the course of a couple days. See how this wakes you up and enriches the quality of your day…..or choose any visual theme that speaks to you. Try using  your iphone to tune in rather than tune out.

 

Enable Javascript