Thursday, 17 December 2009

It's your mind's fault...

I've always been interested in creativity, though I'm not sure when I started to think about it using this word. The first time I began to think about it in my adult life was probably when I was working in a language school on the south coast of England, which had a very original and inspirational in-house trainer, Adrian Underhill ; ; Every Friday he would run a short workshop designed to crank open our minds about what we were doing in our classrooms. He would show us how to get students to generate rhyming couplets out of thin air, or how to make a sentence from each student turn into a complete lesson. A simple image or text, he seemed to be saying, had seemingly endless possibilities, if we could only learn to let such possibilities suggest themselves to our minds. I left for my next job in North India thinking that I could now work with anything or nothing, but in fact relying much more than I realised at the time on a small green book full of ideas I had learnt from working with him and others in the school.

Some years later, I shifted my professional attention from the needs of newly-arrived refugee adults from Tibet in India, to those of highly motivated young female trainee interpreters in Tokyo. By this time my confidence that I would always know how to respond had begun to drain away. I wrote to Adrian, and the gist of his reply was as follows: 'Some day, if you're relying on recipes alone,the recipes will run out. The only way forward is to learn a way of approaching things which will take you beyond recipes and formulas, making it possible for you to tap into your own inexhaustible supply of ideas'. This wasn't exactly what he said, but he seemed to be saying that there was something different from the ideas I had faithfully copied into my little green book; some way in which ideas could begin to generate from a source of their own, if only I could find out how to do this.

I then remembered discussions we had had in that early training about a book called 'The inner game of tennis' (Timothy Galway), which got its ideas from an earlier book called 'Zen and the art of archery' (Eugene Herrigel). The tennis story ran like this. A man was practising his tennis serve by serving into an armchair on the other side of the net. He served again and again, and every time his ball missed the chair. In the end, in utter frustration, he hit one last serve towards the chair, not even looking properly at where he was hitting it, saying, 'I've had enough, that's it for today'. When he turned round to go, he saw that the ball had landed smack in the middle of the chair.

The idea here seemed to be that you can often do things much better than you think, and that the act of trying, the involvement of the mind in the sense of conscious intention, was actually a hindrance.

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