It's now a week since I came back from the six day Discipline of Freedom workshop in Wales, with Paul Oertel, Nancy Spanier, and Kath Burlinson. I have so much to digest, and need some time to work out how I might usefully share some of what I learnt there about creativity.
So many of the ideas would be meaningless without the wider context; a context which provided easy acceptance, a sense of security and space, and an understanding of creativity as something much bigger than the individual.
I thought I might perhaps take one idea at a time, and say a little about what that idea meant to me, and how it helped me. I won't be attempting to summarise what happened at the workshop, or to represent Paul Oertel's teaching or ideas.
Today I'm going to look at a sentence in my notebook that says 'focus on your unique expression'.
Inherently paradoxical, 'focus on your unique expression', as I currently understand this, is not an inward-looking, ego-based matter. It's more an attempt to 'get out of your own way' - of distracting or subduing the mind (analysing and judging) and the ego (panicking and screeching) - so that you can find your way to a place where you're no longer 'trying to create', but instead 'looking to see what's there'.
This, to me, is somehow the opposite of technique (although technique is its servant). It's not about 'level', the 10,000 hours, or learning the rules of metre and rhyme. It's not about how fast your fingers can move, or whether your words can compete with Beckett. It's about making a space for your own words, the words that emerge from your experience, your idiosyncratic positioning; all the millions of things that you have seen and heard and felt and done, which, if given the space, will emerge in a way that could not be produced by any other person in the world.
These are the words that come out when you think no-one is going to read what you write, the notes that you play when you're sure no-one is listening. At these moments there's no spectre of whether or not you will be judged to be 'good', no dreaming whether or not you will be seen as 'talented'; at this point, there's no judgement at all, just a putting down of what you see before your eyes. The challenge seems to be how you make the right kind of space within yourself to be able to see these things, rather than producing something that is forced and more consciously 'created'. Then you need to make another space so that things produced in this way can live, rather than immediately being crushed by self-criticism and self-sabotage.
The place where this can happen is not a little blocked-off pit of self-obsession and isolation. I see it as the opposite of that. It's a place where the idiosyncractic shape of each individual is able to open up into a much larger form, made possible by diminishing thinking and ego-activity. In his or her larger form, the individual is able to allow larger currents of nature and humanity to pass through them (rather than the individual mystically generating 'creativity' from an internal source), allowing their idiosyncracy to shape and colour these currents in particular ways. At its best, work generated in this way connects the artist to the larger world, and to their audience (as opposed to being an internalised, self-referential kind of thing); sometimes through connecting the audience to their own sense of themselves as part of that larger world of nature and humanity.