Re-Imagining the Creative
In his 1973 book “The Denial Of Death”, Ernest Becker writes:
How many people have an independent gift to give to the cosmos in order to assure their special immortality? Only the creative person can manage that. When the average person can no longer convincingly perform his safe heroics or cannot hide his failure to be his own hero, then he bogs down in the failure of depression and its terrible guilt. [emphasis mine]
In “The Denial Of Death”, Becker argues that we as humans grapple with two seemingly opposing facts: 1) that we as humans seem to have significance, and 2) that we are mere animals and are subject to all natural laws, most notably that we will die one day.
He suggests that to overcome these two opposing facts, the most satisfied among us make ourselves heroes of our own narratives; that we find the courage to create our own stories. From this, he writes that depression occurs when we realize our attempts at creating the life story we desire have been half-hearted, or when we discover our failed attempts have been exposed to others.
What is the nature of this creative person? Simone de Beauvior offers some clarity in her 1948 book “The Ethics of Ambiguity”:
In Plutarch Lied Pierrefeu rightly says that in war there is no victory which can not be regarded as unsuccessful, for the objective which one aims at is the total annihilation of the enemy and this result is never attained; yet there are wars which are won and wars which are lost. So it is with any activity; failure and success are two aspects of reality which at the start are not perceptible. That is what makes criticism so easy and art so difficult: the critic is always in a good position to show the limits that every artist gives himself in choosing himself; painting is not given completely either in Giotto or Titian or Cezanne; it is sought through the centuries and is never finished; a painting in which all pictorial problems are resolved is really inconceivable; painting itself is this movement towards its own reality;
“painting itself is this movement towards its own reality”
A song never written is a lost opportunity to weave into the fabric of the universe. A song, once written, becomes an inextricable component of reality. The existence of a song comes down to a handful of moments, a sliver of time, and a Creative with the strength of will to shape nonexistence into existence, to make the imaginary salient imagery. Before “Walkin’ On The Sun”, Smash Mouth seemed impossible. After “Walkin’ On The Sun”, Smash Mouth seemed inevitable.
Regardless if we know it or not, we are all songwriters. We are all artists. We are all inherently creative, the same way nature is. What makes humans different is we have (seemingly so) the ability to write our own songs. What song are you writing? The song of love or the song of hate? The song of connection or the song of disconnection? The consumerist song of environmental destruction or the activists song-cry for help?
The same opposing facts that humans deal with (as referenced above in paragraph two), systems deal with as well. The same feedback loops that humans have (i.e. if a person is not sleeping enough or eating well, they get sick), systems have as well.
There comes a point when an individual gets tired of being sick (tired, unhealthy, unhappy etc.), and making the people around them feel sick, so they change. They transform their identity, into something less sickening, into something more regenerating. This is not easy, and rather it can be very difficult, heavy, work, especially if done alone. For me, this happened when I left ‘my culture’ for the first time and was alone living in a small Thai village. There I was confronted with my unhealthy habits — desire, habitual drinking, low-self esteem etc. — and, due to circumstance, forced to deal with them. Many parts of me died. Many parts of me transformed. When I came home, in many instances, there was nobody, or no place, to grieve these deaths, or share these transformations. I had to find my own way.
This was my creativity. My poetry. With words and without.
We need to support each other. Feedback is coming in — increased rates of depression and suicide, unhealthiness, obesity, ecosystem destruction, endangered species etc. It seems a lot of the global systems that raised us are failing, falling, coming closer to their death.
In the poignant story, the Giving Tree, a boy befriends a tree, and as he grows older, he cuts the tree down, until it is reduced to a mere stump. Even though the boy continues to take from the tree, the tree shows absolute compassion and continues to give.
Generally speaking, the Creative (intuitive) has been ‘cut down’ by the ‘system’ — where the intellectual /rational /logical /linear /positivistic /masculine etc. has been ‘pushed up’. Paradoxically, as we experience the death (Re-balancing) of our systems, it will be the Creative that will be needed to Re-Connect and Re-Imagine. More specifically, it will be the Compassionate Creative, the Creative that has absolute compassion for the people and institutions that cut them down, it will be the Compassionate Creative that will be needed to help us grieve, acknowledge and honor each of our unique gifts, and bring forth a more connecting and connected tomorrow….
See Re-Imagining Grief for another angle on the transformational power of art
Lead Author: Andrew Sblendorio
Andrew is interested in plants, fungi, trees, permaculture, philosophy, fermentation, and music.
Anchor Author: Daniel Rudolph (last 5 paragraphs)
Daniel Rudolph is interested in exploring alternative, experiential learning opportunities for people of all ages. He is passionate about forming community, and building public spaces for meaningful, transformational gathering. Currently he is spending a lot of his time learning juggling and facilitating gatherings. He also enjoys writing and sharing poetry. Daniel is a very curious and playful person and is always open for creative collaborations.