Wednesday, 20 June 2012

burning and firewalling

Having written in my previous post about the creative force of constraints, it strikes me that it's also possible for a dynamic system to be overly-constrained.

Excessive constraints can come from what could loosely be described as 'outside' the system (remembering that such systems have extremely permeable boundaries; that things are constantly moving in and out and through them; and that even their 'insides' are partly constructed from bits of other, larger systems that are technically 'outside' of them).

Examples of external over-constraints could be work-related demands (sorry to keep making this more complicated, but 'work-related' demands are subtle - the apparently external pressures of work may be, in many types of work, subtly internalised as well...), financial pressures, family obligations etc etc. Excessive constraints might also be loosely 'internal', in the sense that they've become part of the structure of the system through time. Examples of this might be compensatory or protective responses to trauma; cognitive feedback loops that are negative and critical; or a belief such as that other people must always be put first, even if this comes at a cost to the system itself (which, of course, is an aspect that distinguishes human dynamic systems from other kinds of biological systems, as I said before, - consciousness, damn it...).

Highly constrained systems can be very 'productive'; as the interactions and feedback loops continue and feed into/off each other, more and more emergence pops out - in terms of creative products, perhaps more and more ideas, or pages of writing, or paintings, or whatever. But if the constraints are too fixed, too inflexible, or perhaps too many (could this also be if consciousness/will is driving the process at the expense of other aspects of the system?) the emergence of the consciousness-approved 'creative products' may start to be accompanied by other kinds of emergence, aimed at relieving the system of the effects of the too-forceful constraints. Perhaps irritation might emerge, for example, or anger, or chronic physical problems. And if these attempts to balance the system are ignored, it seems that the system can begin to burn itself up. I don't think biological systems with more limited, or no, consciousness, could do this. Slime moulds, ant hills etc, are constantly adapting and re-balancing erosions or threats, moving away in a different direction, repairing any breaching ....

As someone who has, until recently, been massively over-constrained both externally and internally, I have learnt the importance of firewalling. I first read about this idea in relation to dynamic systems in an article in the New Scientist a few years ago about the economic crash. The writer was pointing out that increased connectivity seems to be seen, culturally, as mainly 'a good thing'. It's a key idea in many interpretations of theories such as complexity and actor network theory, and also underpins commentaries on the social effects of social networking sites such as facebook. However, the writer here was pointing out that increased connectivity of what were once multiple economic systems could be disastrous. He was arguing that  if things become too connected, they lose the resilience they had when the interactions were more localised and distributed. In this situation, if there's a crisis in one part of the system, the whole thing goes down, whereas before, when the interactions were confined to more localised sites, the system could repair or change direction without too much effect on it overall. His suggestion was that financial systems needed to be 'firewalled' - that blocks should be deliberately put into such systems to interrupt the connectivity; to slow it down, or stop interactions completely in certain areas.

As a previously overly-constrained system, I have had to learn the importance of firewalling my multiple interactions, in order to slow down the creative emergence. This might seem an odd thing to say in a blog that has spent the last couple of years bemoaning its author's creative stuckness. But that's because, having burnt myself up, I had been thrown into a period of enforced interaction reduction. Since the workshop in Wales, I've begun to experience the loveliness of bubbling creative emergence again, which seems to currently be flowing with relative ease within the constraints of my new daily practice.

I'm still, however, coming to terms with the upending of my previous assumptions about creative work. The 10,000 hours and all that. You do need to do the hours to improve technique, as we probably all agree. But this other thing I've been exploring - that thing that is not technique, but soul, artistry, subtlety, connection, the open channel - for an over-constrainer like myself, that in fact seems to need the opposite of the 10,000 hours.

I keep reading things about the necessity of 'keeping the fire going' under one's creativity. I think I know what this means, in the sense of keeping the connection to that need to create; to the intention, the desire, the necessity, and to the practice of it. The need to contact it every day, to not become overwhelmed with the distractions of earning a living, and the multiple other kinds of distraction.  I also read often about passion. What I don't seem to ever read about is the opposite - the possibility that too much passion and fire, too many interactions in too small a space, can lead to burning.

If you're already burning, it seems to me, you don't need to increase your hours, increase your pressure on yourself, however satisfying it may appear to be, in the short term, in terms of your productivity. Perhaps what you actually need is to make SPACE, to make room for oxygen to flow around things. To firewall the HOT, overly-constrained interactions that are leading to burning emergence (and actually burning you up) so that the natural bubbling of your creativity can instead become a sustainable spring, warm and nourishing, rather than scalding...

Akasha, or space, is understood to make room for things and to be the receptacle for all substances. It accommodates selves, matter, the conditions or media of motion and rest, and time. It is the base or support to accommodate all things... It's nature is formless and its extension infinite...

Shivkumar, M. (1984:38)

Davide's image from Mexico

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