“Perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat.”
One of the most influential books I read in the last year was Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. So good, in fact, I read it twice.
The author’s thesis is that creativity is a fundamental quality of being human. Images created for aesthetic purposes only, are evident in archeological findings that pre-date agriculture by 10s of thousands of years.
In other words, the need to create for purely aesthetic purposes is vastly older in our species than our need to provide a regular and reliable food supply.
“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
Liz (how she self-identifies) goes on to break down myths around creativity, including the myth that the best creations must come from a tortured life, or that there are “some people” who are just so creative, and others not so. She talks about creativity in the most inclusive of terms, and obliterates the idea that it is selfish or entitled to dedicate your time to creative pursuits.
“Creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
When Bowie left his body in January, and Prince left his in April, mourning was widespread. We lauded their talents, their uniqueness. The media, understandably, didn’t focus on their duds. There was less emphasis on how prolific each of them were in their truncated time on earth, and how each achieved states of flow that have parallels in the mindfulness and yoga worlds.
Bowie and Prince, and countless others, touched deep layers of our souls in part because they completely themselves. They were authentic, and we know that because they were weird. They were relentless in their authenticity. Both became channels of art – music and performance and social statements, and both created for decades with few pauses. The gems of their oevre (body of work) rose to the top of the modern music lexicon.
Were they great because they had some special thing that you and I don’t have? Or were they great because they tapped into the Flow again and again, regardless of critics?
“It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
Stephen Cope, a Kripalu yoga teacher (whose classes I adored when I completed two live-in volunteerships at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in 2001 and 2003) wrote in Yoga Journal in 2008: “This is an aspect of flow in which the experience of performance is perceived as intrinsically rewarding and fulfilling, apart from any external rewards. The performer lets go of all self-consciousness about the performance—and any grasping for outcome or extrinsic reward. She feels compelled by the sheer joy of the activity itself. Studies show that the more often performers have this kind of experience, the more motivated they become to push the boundaries of their mastery.”
But he still wondered: “Just how is it that yoga can help people cultivate flow states? Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who first introduced the idea of flow in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, offers some clues.
“One of the most important active ingredients here is the refinement of attention,” he says. “Training attention to come back over and over again to a complex task allows awareness to become increasingly absorbed in the task at hand.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
This, of course, is exactly what yoga does.”
From a Yoga International article on the same subject: “There is a tremendous amount of clinging to outcome in professional musicians,” says Cope. “They think this is somehow salutary. They don’t realize that grasping creates a restlessness in the mind and actually interferes with their performance.” Cope taught the Bhagavad Gita to the young musicians at Tanglewood, and emphasized the central message of surrendering the results of our actions. “Krishna teaches Arjuna to bring everything he’s got, but to let go of the outcome,” says Cope. “It’s the best teaching for artists. It helped the students to feel free to have joy again in their performances.””
What would happen if those of us who practiced yoga did two things: 1) let go of the idea that “yoga”, particularly yoga asana, is the goal itself, and 2) channeled the tapas (discipline and fire) of our yoga sadhana and meditation practices into creating with flow?
I use “Creating” in the biggest sense of the word: creating world peace, creating art, music and performance, creating a culture of kindness, creating a cozy nook in your home, creating a business, creating a community, creating a moving flow-state yoga class, creating a park bench…
If, for even a moment, you think to yourself that your creation has to be big, or amazing or unique, read this:
“You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think ‘Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me.’ I mean it’s very kind of you to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
The greatest way to be in service, seva, to others is to be in service to the flow of our own authenticity, to seek more union, yoking, yoga, of our own divinity with our mundane existence, with our own body-mind-spirit.
When I studied Anusara yoga, the translation of the Sanskrit word “Ananda” — often simply “bliss” in English — was this sweetness: “Delight of creative expression. To enjoy the freedom of being. To make beauty, to love, to exalt in the goodness of life, to celebrate the Supreme through art / music, to serve by adding more joy and laughter to life (Shakti)”. (from the Anusara Yoga Immersion Manual).
Prince did that throughly. Bowie was manifest. Gandhi rocked it. As did countless others we call heros.
maybe… We are all Prince. We are all made of the matter of creative greatness (not genius — that word implies rareness). If only we could get out of our own way.
“Let me list for you some of the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life: You’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark. You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously. You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life. You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing. You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree. You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.) You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist. You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal. You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud. You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons. You’re afraid your best work is behind you. You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start. You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again. You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying? You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder”- Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
I hope you’ll read Big Magic (or listen to it on audiobook – the author reads it to you, and it feels like conversation with a dear friend). (Regular readers might notice that this post is not the first time I’ve gushed about the book).
As always, I’d adore your thoughts in the comments below. How does creativity show up on your mat? In your life? What does flow state mean to you?
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